Category Archives: Contemporary Life

Oren’s “Ally”

Last week, a Muslim Arab named Abdul Azeez shot and murdered five US soldiers at military recruiting centers in Tennessee on the last day of Ramadan, and the Obama administration, puzzled, will not leap to conclusions about the motive of the attacker. Of course, a ten year-child with a casual familiarity with the news could tell us what the motive was, and so the officials responsible for protecting the American people must be seeking some motive “other” than the obvious.

This ongoing flight from reality – and the dramatic changes that have been wrought to American foreign policy in the last six years – is the subtext of Michael Oren’s “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.” For those who wish to know the inside story of the deterioration of relations between the two countries since Obama became president – a willful and intentional distancing from and disrespecting of Israel and the traditional alliance and friendship between the two countries, it is a fascinating, and at times, riveting read. Oren, a New Jersey native who was Israel’s ambassador to the United States for four years of the Obama presidency, had a front row seat to the tumultuous twists and turns, and as an historian, a keen eye for both small details and the big picture.

Oren’s portrait of the life of an ambassador, at least Israel’s ambassador, is wearying in the best sense of the word. There were times when I felt tired just reading about his day. The early morning calls to and from Israel, the rowing on the Potomac for some private time, and then the lobbying, speeches, travel, embassy management, daily crises and endless cocktail parties late into the night followed by more calls to Israel, are enough to drive anyone to drink, which seems to be what people do at the nightly cocktail parties anyway. His personal story is compelling, notwithstanding the gaps in his narrative. A young oleh who becomes a lone soldier and within a relatively short time finds himself on official business in the Soviet Union and then sitting as an advisor to the Israeli mission at the UN was apparently more than an IDF paratrooper but likely involved in some clandestine work as well. His access to high government officials, long before his official posting to Washington, is unusual by the standards of the average American oleh, and his rise – which took decades – nevertheless seems meteoric. He can be excused those gaps.

By all accounts, he is immensely talented and articulate, and as a reader of both of his prior history books, I have learned that he is a perceptive historian and keen analyst. Reviews of “Ally” have extracted the sound bites, the inside baseball of who like and dislikes whom, and confirmation or refutation of certain events that were rumored to be true. Oren does rebuff some of the conventional wisdom of the last few years: in one celebrated incident, Obama allegedly dissed Netanyahu by leaving him to eat dinner with Michelle and children, disappearing for hours and leaving Netanyahu to stew in the White House alone. Oren debunks that, claiming that Michelle and the girls were not even in the White House that night and Obama merely said he was going to sleep (at 9:00 PM) and the rest of the team of Israelis and Americans worked for several hours. Of course, Oren is also reporting just what he was told and saw, and it is unclear why the sleep excuse was better than the dinner excuse – but nothing can hide the unprecedented animosity between the leaders of the two countries. Much of Oren’s work as ambassador seemed to be defusing explosives and smoothing over rough spots in the relationship. He failed, but only because the experiences, world views, value system and interests of Netanyahu and Obama are so incompatible.

Leaving aside the commonly reported anecdotes, a few points struck me about Oren’s experiences. The book focuses on the tug of war between the two identities Oren bears within him – as an American and as an Israeli, no more poignantly reported than in the book’s opening when Oren had to surrender his US passport and renounce his American citizenship at the US embassy in Tel Aviv before assuming his post in Washington. It is quite moving and the range of emotions – and tears – palpable. (His wife and children retained their US citizenship.) Yet, it is equally clear that Oren retains strong and mostly positive feelings about America, which is welcome, if only in that it sets him apart from other American olim who feel some compulsion to appear more Israeli by disparaging the land of their birth.

With that, Oren is not a typical American oleh in that he is a mostly secular Jew with a strong sense of Jewish identity. He tends to regard the religious component of Judaism (that is to say, its essence) as just one (oftentimes lamentable) aspect of the kaleidoscope of pluralism that he cherishes, and so the Orthodox, their lifestyle, the obligation of mitzvot, and even the settlement of the land of Israel are perceived more as inconveniences than they are desiderata. The cultural and national facets of Judaism animate him more than the religious, which dovetails with his upbringing, but leaves him grasping to find cogent reasons why the modern Jewish people has any claim to the land of Israel more substantive than that our forefathers once lived there.

As such, he did and does find the settlement movement to be an irritant, and if he doesn’t fully subscribe to the execrable theory that but for the settlements there would be peace, he doesn’t firmly repudiate it even if he acknowledges that they too are Israelis whose views must be considered. Similarly, he clings to the two-state solution fantasy, even if (better than the political left) he realizes that the time is not yet ripe and might never be ripe for another partition of the land of Israel. Like others of his background and temperament, he yearns for the halcyon days of Ben-Gurion, which in reality were not so peaceful but during which Israel’s international reputation was much more favorable, cushioned as it was by the detritus of the Holocaust.

Yet, Oren is also acutely aware of the unique role he was given. Secular Israelis are always a little suspicious of Americans who make aliya (who leaves a land with everything for a land of milk and honey?) and continue to perceive them as Americans. To Israelis, he remained Michael (not Mee-kha-el) and I was curious – he doesn’t say – whether Netanyahu generally conversed with him in Hebrew or in English. (He often drafted Netanyahu’s English remarks but Netanyahu also wrote his own or deviated from the text with the soaring oratory to which we have become accustomed.) Indeed, Oren’s appointment followed a Netanyahu pattern in his second tenure as Prime Minister, in selecting for prominent positions a non-rightist (Oren, Livni, Barak) so as to buy protection from a hostile media and a potentially adversarial US administration. It didn’t always work, although in fairness, it might have been (and be) worse without that moderate cover.

Read from a broad perspective, the book can be used to answer one bewildering question: if Iran is the enemy of the United States and Israel, and Israel and the US are allies, then why is the United States strengthening its enemy Iran while weakening its ally Israel?

The answer will trouble Obama’s Jews who also claim to love and support Israel. Obama has endeavored to undermine the relationship between the two countries from the very beginning of his term. It is well known that Obama sought to create daylight between the diplomatic positions of the two countries from the moment he took office, in two ways. The first was by demanding a settlement freeze, followed by an Israeli surrender of territory and the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu was resistant, although he did weaken several times – conceding the establishment of an Arab state in his Bar Ilan speech or acceding to a ten month settlement freeze in order to induce Mahmoud Abbas to negotiations. Both were coerced by an Obama administration that has never tired in its demands for shows of good faith by Israel and only Israel, and neither worked, for reasons much discussed in recent years. More importantly, notwithstanding all these concessions, Netanyahu was still blamed for the absence of peace; Abbas? Never .Indeed, Oren – like others – concludes that Obama’s hostility to Israel made Abbas’ positions even more hard-line than they otherwise would have been.

The second way that Obama has impaired the US-Israeli relationship is by reorienting US foreign policy away from support for Israel (and even pro-American Sunni Muslim countries like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and towards Iran, as bizarre as that sounds. I can’t help thinking that the hand of Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett is behind this, but do not exclude Obama’s own radical ties as he ascended the political ladder in Chicago. Oren maintains that the key to Obama still lies in the two autobiographies he wrote, in which his radical views are delineated, but too little attention was paid to them.

Thus – in an exchange that is especially prescient these days – Oren in conversation with Henry Kissinger was incredulous that the US would allow Iran to become a nuclear power and thereby end American hegemony in the Middle East. Kissinger: “And what makes you think anybody in the White House still cares about American hegemony in the Middle East?” Indeed, and it is therefore not surprising that Obama could acquiesce in Iran’s nuclear program even as Iranian leaders and mobs shout “Death to America!”

There is something ominous in Oren’s behind-the-scenes political accounts, some of which have recently precipitated White House calls for apologies and corrections for the airing of unpleasant truths, and that is this: Obama has tried to shield himself from accusations of being anti-Israel not only by doing the obvious nice (helping extinguish the Carmel fire) and the political nice (supporting Israel at the UN) but also by surrounding himself with Jews (Emanuel, Axelrod et al) and using them as his attack dogs against Israel. In fact, the only Democratic politician who publicly stood up to Obama was the disgraced Congressman Anthony Wiener, an odd duck for several reasons including his marriage to an Arab Muslim who is a leading advisor to Hillary Clinton, a public friend of Israel but in private, as Secretary of State, as nasty to Israelis as any Obama-ite.

This fear of defying Obama – and it is a fear – will weigh heavily on Democratic and especially Jewish Democratic Congressmen in the upcoming deliberations over the Bad Deal with Iran. (It’s very American; we have had the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Square Deal and now we have the Bad Deal.) Chuck Schumer is in an unenviable position only because he is a politician. He yearns to succeed Harry Reid as Senate Democratic leader –and if he opposes Obama on Iran, it is extremely unlikely even though Obama will be gone from office. Democrats will come under intense pressure, and for supporters of Israel and a strong America, it is not enough to vote no. They have to solicit other “no” votes as well. Democrats are forced into bitter struggle between the right choice and the expedient choice.

There was also an astonishing level of personal animosity towards Israel and its elected leaders that was apparent in many ways. One stood out: in autumn 2012, Netanyahu planned a military strike against several of Iran’s nuclear facilities. He was threatened by administration officials with dire consequences if he attacked. He didn’t. A year later, those same officials ridiculed him as a coward using a common barnyard epithet. And the White House routinely publicized proposed Israeli attack mechanisms to warn Iran and remove the element of surprise. This is the Obama for whom 7 of 10 Jews voted.

It is also distressing, albeit commonplace, to recognize the politician’s knack for the redundant repetition of code words that mean little and are often utter falsehoods. Oren almost laughs recalling the incessant references of the Obama team to the US-Israeli alliance as “unbreakable and unshakeable.” Even as the administration was trying to break it and shake it, liberal Jews still loved to hear the words, which matter to them more than actual deeds. Oren doesn’t say it, but that phrase could take its place with “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” “Iran will never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon” and “in case of violations, sanctions will snap back.”

Additionally, while on the topic of words, Oren notes that there is no greater dichotomy than the politician’s suave, dignified posture in public and the rampant vulgarity and crudity that take place off-stage.

But with all the turbulence in recent years, there still is a pervasive sense that the US-Israeli relationship is unbreakable and unshakeable, transcends even the hostility of any particular president, and can really “snap back” given effective and sympathetic leadership in the future. That is because, as Oren underscores eloquently, the intrinsic values of both countries are similar, rooted as they are (at least fundamentally) in the Torah and shared notions of human rights, personal freedom and universal morality. In that sense even the term “ally” is limiting. I once heard President Bush (II) emphasize that the Saudis are allies but the Israelis are friends – and friends share a closer bond than allies.

Oren’s Ally is a well written, engaging book, filled with trenchant analysis that clearly articulates a widely held view in Israel. Mistakes do creep in to any book and here as well. Omri Casspi plays “in”
the NBA, not “for” the NBA, and more egregiously, Senator Joe Lieberman was a candidate for Vice-President in 2000, not 2004. But even as one can take issue with certain policy conclusions and even some of his world views, Michael Oren – a dedicated servant of the Jewish people, now a Member of Knesset from Kulanu – has written a book that gives us an enthralling inside view of all the complications, complexities and vicissitudes of the relationship between the United States and Israel, a relationship that is bound to get more prickly in the coming months. For sure, the nature of that alliance will be a critical issue during the coming presidential campaign assuming that Jews finally wake up and cease casting their political fortunes with just one party, indeed, the party that is actively engaged in enabling Israel’s most implacable foe to acquire the deadliest weapons known to man.

More importantly, on a personal level, Oren’s tale is captivating – the New Jersey kid who dreams of becoming Israel’s ambassador to the United States and fulfills that dream, after making aliya alone. It is the dream of every oleh – to settle in and make a positive contribution to society – and thus both an American and an Israeli success story.

Obama is No Fool

On some level, it is not surprising that Barack Obama, son of an anti-American, anti-Western Muslim, and John Kerry, grandson of an apostate Jew, would empower the radical Islamic State of Iran with a nuclear weapons agreement that weakens the United States and the free world and endangers the very existence of the State of Israel. It was equally obvious that an agreement empowering Iran and guaranteeing its production of nuclear weapons and continued propagation of terror would be signed eventually. The only uncertainty was when, precisely, Iran would determine that it had extracted enough concessions from its interlocutors so as to declare victory.

Obama is no fool, although he does take his audience and his supporters for fools. It is hard to determine whether he believes his own rhetoric. Few – especially Iran – believe that the agreement will “prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” as Obama opined. Even fewer should believe that “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.” Only the willfully delusional will argue that Obama’s folly has “stopped the spread of nuclear weapons” in the Middle East. (On the contrary, it will jumpstart Saudi Arabia’s drive for a nuclear capability and perhaps even Kuwait’s and the Emirates – as none of those countries will wish to rely, and sensibly so, on America’s promises.)

Perhaps, most egregiously, is this whopper: “the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.” These deceptive words mask the sad reality that the agreement actually requires 24 day notice before any inspection takes place, and even then Iran has the right to refuse the inspection and refer disputes to a committee for endless discussion of the matter. Imagine, for a moment, if the police had to obtain a search warrant from a judge and then had to give 24 days’ notice to the suspects! That is ludicrous when applied to the search for contraband like illegal guns or narcotics; it is positively obscene when proposed for the search for nuclear weapons.

Add to that the sanctions relief – sanctions that will never be snapped back – and that will furnish Iran with billions of dollars and bolster the Iranian terror regime that will foment worldwide terror and murder an untold number of Jews, Americans, Westerners, Christians, non-Muslims – and many Muslims as well; the arms embargo that will be lifted sooner rather than later; and the absurd reality that Iran has violated each agreement it has signed in the past and effectively employs the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya that permits it to lie and dissemble in order to spread the jihad against all infidels – and this agreement is an epic catastrophe in the making.
So how did it happen? If Obama is not a fool, what is he? Venal? Not necessarily. Only dupes will believe that the United States negotiated from a “position of strength.” Hah – only Iran ever walked away from the negotiations, and several times, and Iran easily played an American negotiating team desperate for a deal at any price. Following the pattern of Obama’s dealings with Syria, all of his red lines vanished during the negotiations with Iran (and Syria is widely believed to still possess chemical weapons, despite its assurances). So what is it?

Oddly, Obama has never been coy about his real goals. His supporters, though, especially Jewish liberals but others as well, have intentionally blinded themselves to those goals and satisfied themselves with empty rhetoric, toothy smiles, and invitations to lame Chanuka parties and Pesach seders (some even held not on Chanuka or Pesach).

It is this: in 2008, Obama was criticized when he commented that President Reagan was a “transformational President,” violating the liberal code to which he otherwise adheres that one should never praise a Republican for anything. His critics were mistaken; Obama wasn’t praising Reagan, he was just making an observation. Reagan was a transformational President in ways that Obama disapproved but Obama saw himself in that same mode – as a president who would fundamentally transform the United States.

At the risk of subjecting myself to the same criticism, I will state the obvious: Obama has succeeded in that objective and has become a transformational President, but in so doing has grievously harmed the United States internally and externally. He has transformed the domestic scene by creating entire new classes of dependents, expanding enormously the welfare state, forcing millions (and in coming years, millions more) on to government funded health care, and subsidizing a considerable underclass of unemployed and underemployed Americans. Globally, Obama has transformed America into an unreliable ally, an adversary to longstanding friends and a follower in a world without a powerful leader. The international field has been left open for bad actors to exploit – and they have, gleefully. His projection of American power is minimalistic and antiseptic, designed to inflict enough damage to quiet those Americans who believe in the goodness and morality of the USA and are therefore supporters of a robust use of force but never enough power to actually win a war, accomplish any strategic goal or intimidate America’s traditional enemies.

Worse, while America’s friends – Israel, Britain, France and others have been disrespected and trampled upon, and America’s allies – like Saudi Arabia – disregarded and slighted, America’s enemies for generations – Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and others – have been revived, resuscitated and emboldened. Obama must believe that those countries were antagonistic to the US because of some personal pique on the part of all his predecessors, the much despised Yankee imperialism, or some other American failing. Apparently, it has not dawned on Obama that those countries were enemies of the United States because of their corrupt ideologies, depraved and repressive regimes, and the absence of any shared values or interests. All his predecessors were therefore wrong, misguided and short-sighted; hence, the unctuous absurdity that he uttered: that the Iran pact “has achieved something that decades of animosity has not,” as if the “animosity” was just imprudent and the quest to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons repugnant and jingoistic.

It is clear that the status quo was working, that sanctions were taking a toll, and that Iran was suffering. It was also clear that Obama always opposed the sanctions (he resigned himself to claiming credit for them only when Congress passed the legislation overwhelmingly) and that military action by the US against Iran was never  seriously contemplated by Obama. Indeed, a variety of Israelis have noted that Obama has been more worried about an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program than about Iran’s nuclear program. Thus did Obama forfeit all American leverage, if he ever intended to use it.

It is crunch time for American Jews, especially liberal Democrats in Congress and their Jewish supporters. The Iran deal must be stopped, and all means of pressure from Jewish organizations, donors, individuals must be brought to bear. I don’t want to hear how Charles Schumer is Israel’s “guardian” if he votes to give a nuclear bomb to Iran, nor am I interested in Torah musings from Cory Booker. Kirsten Gillibrand must be told that this will make or break her relationship with her Jewish constituents. G-d bless NJ’s Bob Menendez who has endured great hardship and been persecuted by the Obama administration in an effort to silence him – and has remained steadfast in his opposition to this sellout. AIPAC must use all its influence and not worry about future access; future access will not matter once Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, and perhaps not even if they are given billions of dollars to foment more terror.

We should also crack down on politicians who claim to have “Israel’s back.” People are stabbed in the back by those who betray them, and everyone walks in back of a coffin. Forget the back, the clichés and the empty promises. I pray that liberal Jews will not seek face-saving measures to avoid confronting the harsh reality that is before us – the betrayal of Israel through the reversal of three decades of US policy.

But none of this is only about Israel. It has been US policy for decades to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by rogue states; for the first time, under Obama’s failed leadership, the United States is birthing and subsidizing the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a rogue regime, and the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. It is time to ask the question: are Jews committed more to the Democratic Party or to their identity as Jews? It should be an easy question to answer – but I recognize that for so many, it is not.

Much has been made of the failure of the US negotiators to secure the release of four American citizens currently being held prisoner in Iran on trumped-up charges. Frankly, I’ll be surprised if they are not released within a few months – and not surprised at all if they will be used as a bargaining chip by Iran, with or without administration connivance. As in: Iran declaring next month that the four will be freed if Congress approves the agreement, thereby cynically placing the onus of their continued captivity on Congress rather than on Iran. It is an unsubtle form of blackmail.

It sounds trite to argue, as many have, that Obama is doing this for his “legacy.” Jimmy Carter also had a legacy, as did Neville Chamberlain. Indeed, we should recall now Churchill’s stirring rebuke to Chamberlain when he returned with “Herr Hitler’s” signature on that infamous piece of paper: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Recall as well Chamberlain’s pathetic excuse uttered on his deathbed: “Everything would have been all right if Hitler hadn’t lied to me.”

More than seventy-five years later, the naïve Chamberlain again walks among us. The Churchill’s of our age are being marginalized and lambasted, just like the original was. We are left with the inevitable results of a failed presidency that has remade America in a way that threatens the American dream and the stability of the world. Obama’s peculiar blend of arrogance, messianism, naiveté, and disdain for traditional American leadership has brought Iran to its feet and America to its knees.

It was all, so sadly, predictable. Can it be reversed and stopped in time? Once again, the Jewish people are alone, with the world community acquiescing in arming our most bitter enemies with genocidal weapons. If that does not serve to concentrate our minds during these Three Weeks as we commemorate the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash and other calamities in Jewish history, and doesn’t induce us to examine our behavior and repent, then what will? If we do not realize now that we are living in historic times and on the verge of great transformations, then when will we?

P.S. For a sobering view of the hubris and foibles of politicians and their grand pronouncements, see this:

The common denominator? Wendy Sherman, lead US negotiator with Iran, also led the negotiations with North Korea.

Our Generation’s Mechitza

Has Modern Orthodoxy lost its way?

We can’t begin to answer that question without a working definition of Modern Orthodoxy, something that seems to bewilder many people. I have always embraced the definition suggested by my teacher, Rav Aharon Rakeffet, shlit”a, that a Modern Orthodox Jew is “a Torah Jew in a Western milieu.” That seems about right, because the cornerstone – the foundation – must always be the Torah. The Torah Jew in a Western milieu will encounter challenges that he simply would not meet and require applications that would not be necessary in a more cloistered environment.

To read some of the reactions of the fringe Orthodox left – if they are even still part of the Torah world – to the Supreme Court’s recognition of same sex marriage is to conclude inevitably that a certain wing of Modern Orthodoxy has fallen out of the skies. Suggestions abound that as a result of the new ruling the Torah must change, that Torah Jews must accept this decision or be adjudged guilty of some unspecified moral outrage, that failure to embrace the homosexual agenda will lead to mass defections from Torah, that this sin is different from all other sins because it is popular in the circles of elitist opinion makers, that we should abandon our propagation of the seven Noachide laws, etc.  Really? It is fair to ask: Who are these people? Do they think that they are the very first generation of Jews that ever faced a conflict between the Torah and some “modern” value? Remember that ancient Greek and ancient Roman values were quite “modern” in ancient times. Indeed, every generation has faced a divergence between Torah values and some contemporary norm, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for the Torah and surrender to the will of G-d would be superfluous.

The grave error they make is in perceiving modernity as the anchor – the pillar around which the Torah has to be manipulated and reformed. To put it in our language, modernity to them is the ikar (essence) and the Torah is tafel (secondary), G-d forbid.  Those attitudes give Modern Orthodoxy a bad name, and any Torah Jew would be justified in rejecting it.

There is another issue, however, that has drawn much attention and has emerged as the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable interpretations of Modern Orthodoxy, and that is the matter of women’s ordination. Jewish and general newspapers are inundated on a weekly basis with reports of new ordinations, new hiring, and new candidates. It is as if a PR firm recommended that advocates flood the print media as often as possible – daily? –to give the impression that this phenomenon is growing in acceptance, is normative, and opposed only by a handful of sexist troglodytes who have moved to the extreme right where they belong and are best forgotten.

Far from it.

The inadmissibility of female ordination needs no prolonged discussion. (I’ve written extensively on it, including here .) It was so obvious to Professor Shaul Lieberman z”l of the Jewish Theological Seminary that he dismissed it 35 years ago as “a joke and mockery.” Orthodox Jews across the spectrum rejected it as heretical when Reform Judaism and then Conservative Judaism introduced women rabbis a few decades ago.  The title doesn’t matter, and too much time has been wasted creating and then arguing over various acronyms that all purport to do the same thing but, to some, in more palatable ways. I prefer honesty – truth in advertising. It is what it is. Let’s deal with it.

What is truly astonishing – even eerie – are the similarities between the intramural war over women’s ordination currently on the agenda and the battles over mechitza that were waged a century and then a half-century ago. It is no coincidence that the point of controversy is exactly the same: egalitarianism. It is the contention that men and women are absolutely equal and identical, and any distinctions made by law or custom must be discarded or amended to comply with a modern and progressive world.

Consider: The abolition of mechitza won support because their advocates asserted the need for “religious equality.” The Mechitza was viciously attacked in America by a Reform rabbi who claimed that putting women in a “cage” was an affront to religious equality. There was no reason for Jewish law to treat men and women differently, he opined. The year was 1855. Even he – David Einhorn – did not contemplate a female clergy and it would take another century before the Reform movement was willing to make that leap, also on grounds of religious equality. The same holds true for the ordination of women. It is all about equality.

Consider:  The abolition of mechitza was supported by some genuine talmidei chachamim, some of whom wrote learned treatises purporting to explain how the presence of a mechitza, while preferred, is not imperative. The same holds true for the ordination of women, except for the irony that there are more sources in halachic literature that preclude women rabbis than there are that mandate a mechitza in a shul, which, in fact, is not even mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch. There were proponents of mixed seating, but their view did not prevail over time as it was a minority and unpersuasive view. No one thought to say “eilu v’eilu.”

Consider: Many wonderful Orthodox rabbis served for decades in congregations without mechitzot, and other great – even legendary – rabbis took down their mechitzot for the Yamim Noraim in order to accommodate the larger crowds in attendance. So, too, there are a few well-known rabbis who have become the advocates for female clergy. Regarding mechitza, some of those older rabbis made their peace with it, and many never did, knew what they were doing was wrong and always longed for the day when mechitzot would again grace their shuls. Why did they allow it?

Consider: The prevailing argument was that the egalitarianism of American society would never tolerate the separate seating of men and women, and it was underscored that women would widely abandon Torah Judaism and stop coming to shul if forced to sit in the aforementioned “cages.” The removal of mechitza was therefore intended to stem the tide of the alleged defection of pious women from Orthodoxy, what we would call today a kiruv move. The exact same reasoning is applied here today – the expressed fear that if women are not ordained they will take their talents to the non-Orthodox movements and the Torah world will suffer a grievous loss. That argument either depreciates the Torah commitment of the modern woman or it is positing that the target audience is influenced more by feminism than it is by the Mesorah.

Consider: There are voices proclaiming that female clergy is by now entrenched in Jewish life because there are a dozen or so ordainees, and the Torah world – even the Modern Orthodox Torah world – has to accept that reality. But in the early 1960’s, there were more than 250 shuls without mechitzot that were members of the Orthodox Union, the OU. More than a half-century later, there is (I think) but one OU shul without a mechitza (a shul “grandfathered” in, literally; “if mixed seating was good enough for my pious grandfather, it’s good enough for me”). Every new shul that applies to the OU must have a mechitza. In the early 1960’s, there were dozens of members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the RCA, who served in shuls with mixed seating. Today there are, to my knowledge, none. (I assume there must be one or two, I just don’t know of any.) Indeed, employment in a mixed seating synagogue is a barrier to membership in the RCA. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, even RIETS dispatched its musmachim – willingly or unwillingly, above the table or beneath the table – to shuls without mechitzot, if only, technically, for brief periods of time. Today, I bet not.

In effect, this breach of Torah norms – the lack of mechitza – was effectively reversed within several decades. For example, some of those OU shuls put in mechitzot and some became members of the now-fading Conservative movement – but at least clarity was obtained and amita shel Torah preserved. It required a change in Jewish culture, a greater assertiveness and self-confidence on the part of Orthodoxy, and a recognition – undoubtedly driven in large part by the Young Israel movement and the more right-wing Torah world that burgeoned after the Holocaust – that we can adhere to Torah norms even in the face of a hostile dominant culture and even if the values of the “modern” world cause a measure of discomfort and dissonance to faithful Torah Jews. So be it. The no-mechitza culture was reversed also because, well, it didn’t work, and too many Jews who rightly perceived it as a compromise with Jewish law continued to compromise themselves completely out of Torah observance.

The same battle is underway today. The ordination of women – so obviously forbidden but deemed necessary because of modernity, egalitarianism, kiruv, compassion, or pressure – is the mechitza of our generation. The traditional Torah world – what we call the “right-wing” world – need not join the battle, except to lend its pressure from the outside, because they do not even hear the clamor. It is the Modern Orthodox world – Torah Jews in a Western milieu – that has to preserve its honor and its fidelity to halacha through a protracted, visible, public and explicit defense of the Mesorah.

That means that the same institutions that waged the battle fifty years ago must redouble their efforts and ensure that this generation of Jews remains committed to Torah. It means that the OU has to clarify to its constituent shuls that hiring women with “ordination” crosses a red line – the equivalent of tearing down the mechitza. It means that the RCA has to firmly and unambiguously renounce the notion of female clergy, and distance itself in one way or another from members who have brazenly breached these norms in their eagerness to expand the role of women in Jewish life or their devotion to Western values – and their conflation with Torah values. It means that the Roshei Yeshiva in RIETS have to impress upon the public and their disciples the gravity of the violation of Torah implicit in the institution of female ordination.

It also means that, sadly but invariably, those groups or individuals that continue to promote the legitimacy of female clergy will have excluded themselves from the Orthodox world, like their predecessors did – some of whom were also very fine people – who were passionate proponents of mixed seating.

This is not the place to discuss appropriate roles for women, something that has already been addressed at length in this forum. The issue here is focused: will the Orthodox rabbinate and lay leadership respond quickly, appropriately and forcefully to the mechitza controversy of our day, or will it wait a long fifty years – like they did with the mechitza issue itself – before regrouping and reasserting the supremacy of Torah over Western values?

If they choose silence – or silent protest, which is tantamount to passive acquiescence – then they will have validated the right-wing Orthodox world’s traditional ambivalence, even iciness, towards Modern Orthodoxy. But if they choose to act, in concert and with the full weight of Torah authority, Mesorah and myriads of ModOs alongside them, they will delineate the appropriate boundaries for the Jew in the Western world and preserve the Torah for generations to come.

My guess is that they – we – will enter the fray, clarify what is acceptable and unacceptable, and join our generation’s battle for Torah, the honor of men and women, and the perpetuation of the Modern Orthodox ideal. Already the major organizations referenced above have a consensus approaching near unanimity that female ordination is an unacceptable breach of the Mesorah and places its proponents outside the Orthodox world. I trust that the coming struggle will respect all personalities but will focus on this critical battle of ideas – ideas that will determine the course of Torah for generations to come.

Disorder in the Court

Last week was not a particularly good one for jurisprudence, integrity, marriage, morality, common sense and even the United States’ viability as a nation. Two court cases undermined traditional notions of morality and marriage, respectively, and enshrined in law – or at least purported to – draconian limitations on the pursuit of self-help as well as a dramatic redefinition of marriage that will hasten the decline of the American family if not the American polity itself.

First, a New Jersey jury found JONAH liable for consumer fraud. JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) is a referral agency that helps people struggling with unwanted same sex attraction. It was sued by a number of patients – all instigated by the Southern Poverty Law Center, ranging far afield from its stated mission – who were unsuccessfully treated and could not overcome their same sex tendencies. The victims claimed that they were guaranteed recovery if they did the hard work necessary and protested some of the unconventional methods used by some of the therapists. They sued for recovery of the fees they paid – as well as substantial damages that now threatens the very existence of the organization. And they won.

The fix was in even before the trial started. There is no conceivable way JONAH could have prevailed.  The trial judge ruled that the court would not allow any evidence that homosexuality can result from a mental disorder or youthful trauma – that such science had been settled and was no longer under discussion. Of course, the case effectively ended there because if homosexuality is not the result of any disorder, then why would anyone treat it? Why would anyone try to cure what does not need to be cured or attempt to abandon what the court ruled is a normal, healthy expression of sexuality? Why, indeed.

The dark secret is that many mental health professionals continue to maintain that homosexuality can result from some disorder but they are petrified to say it publicly or to put it in writing. Once the psychiatric establishment amended the DSM over forty years ago to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder – a decision based not on science but on politics and pressure – the expression of any dissenting views has been chilled. There is real fear of ostracism and employment termination, and so professionals play along. But once the court here ruled that it would not even entertain any evidence that homosexuals need or can benefit from therapy, even if the patient wants it, there was no way JONAH could prevail. Psychologists do not treat people to change their eye color or their right-handedness, so of course, under these parameters, the jury found JONAH liable for consumer fraud.

The jury was left with no real choice, notwithstanding the hundreds of people who have been helped by JONAH and were able to marry (or remain married) and parent children and notwithstanding JONAH’s own assertions that its “success” rate is consistent with that of successful therapy from other afflictions or addictions, a rate of perhaps 15-20%. It is not as if the desires disappear and the person is completely reoriented; rather, patients were urged to face the reality of their condition and sometimes in harsh ways, and then received behavioral tools to sublimate the desires and lead a heterosexual life. It won’t work for everyone – JONAH never made such a claim – but it has worked for many. So who are you going to believe –the jury, “science,” or these lying eyes?

Only a layman can fairly ask: how is it possible for a man to change into a woman – and be honored, feted and praised as courageous for doing so – but a homosexual cannot change into a heterosexual? Indeed, the possibility itself must be suppressed and denied, and all who participate shunned by civil society. Here is one answer: it is because the manipulators of morality and the debauched social engineers have decided that homosexuals are a protected class and homosexuality the equivalent of a religion, that it is normal and that the rest of society must accept it as normal, and change therapy challenges all those notions and must be repudiated. Sex changes also must be protected because they also challenge conventional society. Everyone else must kowtow to them and live on the defensive, afraid to speak the truth we all recognize. Thus, there is a bill pending before Congress that would ban even talk therapy for unwanted same sex attraction. Can anyone name another condition for which therapy is banned even for someone desperate for it?

It is a strange world we live in.

Like the American Psychiatric Association’s waffling on this issue, the court’s ruling, which informed the jury that homosexuality both should not and could not be treated, was politics and populism, not law, unsuited to a courtroom and unfair to the defendants. It is also unfair to religious Jews: the only options recognized by halacha for the homosexual are therapy (if possible) or celibacy. The verdict is therefore an outrageous assault on individual freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

The ruling should also terrify mental health professionals who now are subject to lawsuits if therapy fails, and especially if the malady being treated can be deemed by some to be normal, healthy and worthy of celebration. (Maybe the alcoholic is just an unusually thirsty fellow…so why treat alcoholism?)  No one maintains that homosexuality must be treated – but to deny the right of someone with homosexual tendencies to seek treatment is bizarre, unjust and dictatorial. Such is the power of the homosexual lobby to intimidate, threaten and harass anyone who disagrees with its agenda.

Thus, it was quite predictable that the Supreme Court would find in the US Constitution a “right” to same sex marriage and even more predictable that Justice Kennedy would provide the deciding vote and write the majority decision. It was classic Supreme Court jurisprudence, in the worst sense – placing an arrow on the target and then drawing a circle around it. Bull’s eye! The scathing dissents are all worthy of reading because they underscore the sorry state of the American judiciary and the utter absence of any semblance of constitutionality, democracy and legal coherence. It is telling that none of the other four justices in the majority wrote a concurrence; can one add gossamer to already thin air?

Obviously, the Constitution makes no reference to marriage (a purely state issue) and so it can contain no “right” to same sex marriage. It is all made up, and for the crass purpose of social engineering. Kennedy gamely wrote that the legitimate, natural expression of love is limited to two people. Why that is so is a mystery; and even a first week law student could explain that such a sentiment is dicta and not binding on anyone. The fact is that there is no logical reason Kennedy or any supporter of this decision can offer as to why polygamy, polyandry or polyamory should not also be constitutionally protected for those who wish to practice it, nor incest for consenting adults. There is a father and daughter in Kentucky, for example, currently incarcerated, as they – both consenting adults – have sired several offspring together. ACLU, where are you? Why can’t they express their love for each other as well, or must they too be victimized by such obsolete Biblical inhibitions?

Even further afield, those who object that bestiality should remain illegal because it does not involve two consenting adults seem to miss the point that one can slaughter an animal without the animal’s consent. Surely if slaughter is permissible, a romantic evening together –steak dinner by candlelight followed perhaps by some dancing – should not be the subject of state action.

That is a joke (I think) – and of course this is not meant to equate all sexual sins – but what is no joking matter is the threat to religious liberty posed by this decision. All of Kennedy’s protestations notwithstanding, people of faith – people who believe in G-d’s Bible and its objective moral laws and attempt to incorporate those laws in their daily lives – will suffer as a result of this decision. Wait – it won’t be that long – for a same sex couple to demand their right to hold their wedding in a church or synagogue. A refusal will result in prosecution, lawsuits and/or loss of tax exempt status. Wait – perhaps a little longer – for a rabbi, priest or minister to be sued for refusing to officiate at a same sex wedding. The homosexual lobby masterfully (and disingenuously) conflated same sex marriage with interracial marriage; consequently, religious institutions or individuals that continue to object to same sex marriage will be no better than racists. Recall that Bob Jones University lost its tax exempt status in 1983 because its policies banned interracial dating (it rescinded the policy in 2000). Get ready, people of faith. Our heads are now on the chopping block.

That is the invariable next step now that individuals have already lost their religious liberties and rights of conscience. The Mozilla CEO was hounded out of his position because he contributed to a ballot initiative in California that – successfully but now futilely – opposed same sex marriage. Bakers, caterers, photographers, and florists have all refused to lend their personal services to same sex weddings on grounds of religious conscience, have all been sued, and have all lost. A New Jersey church refused to allow its beach front property to be used for a same sex wedding, was sued and lost. A couple in northern New York was sued and fined $13,000 for refusing to rent their farm for a same sex wedding. To top it off – right out of the playbook of North Korea and Communist China – that couple was ordered by the court to undergo sensitivity training in order to regain the good graces of civilized society. The Communists always called those facilities “re-indoctrination camps.” Such is the new America, land of the unfree and home of the depraved.

And here’s the secular danger to the decision: it will result in the collapse of the family, already under siege in this hedonistic society. American youth, already bedeviled by gender confusion and late to marry, if at all, will grow up in a society in which there is no preferred family structure – no vision of an ideal family unit that has the best chance of rearing healthy, well-grounded, and productive children. The radical homosexual activists would have us believe that it does not matter whether one is raised by a mother and father, two mothers, two fathers, one mother, one father, or any other permutation thereof. But, of course, it does, and G-d – and common sense – teaches us otherwise.

Do not believe any study that claims that it doesn’t matter; all purported studies will be politicized, fabricated and dishonest. Indeed, this process has been fraught with such studies. One much ballyhooed study was recently exposed as a fraud. The WSJ two weeks ago reported the following: A UCLA graduate student, one Michael LaCour, released a study last year entitled “When Contact Changes Minds,” which claimed that people’s opinions on same sex marriage dramatically shifted when they were visited by homosexual activists. Opponents were converted into supporters after one twenty minute conversation. Only the report was a fake! Others tried to duplicate his results and could not, and now the former student (Princeton revoked its offer to him of a professorship) is claiming that he discarded his raw data. Sure…and that is what passes for “science” today.

The homosexual activists are not seeking equal rights but wish to upend the social order. They don’t want to live and let live, or conscientious objectors would not be pilloried or harassed out of business. (See Jonathan Last’s “You Will Be Assimilated” in the Weekly Standard of June 22, 2015.) It would not be surprising if teaching parts of the Bible will soon be construed as hate speech, if those parts are not altogether excised from the Bible.

This agenda is fueled by a classic tactic of the left in America that has gained traction in last decade: the depiction of any dissenting opinion as “bigotry” and any dissenter as a “bigot” whose views are unworthy of discussion. This is never meant sincerely or earnestly but as a trick intended to stifle debate, as if the public square needs to be sanitized of the arguments of their adversaries. (Read the new “End of Discussion,” by Mary Katherine Ham and Guy Benson.) And this stratagem works! That is why expect it to be used against anyone who rejects the Supreme Court decision and continues to oppose same sex marriage; it is why there has been such relative silence from rabbis and others, with the focus not on the immorality of the decision and its consequences but on the reasonable need to safeguard religious liberties in the wake of such a decision. Good and decent people are afraid of being called bigots.

Of course, there are no greater anti-religious bigots today than the homosexual activists. (Can two play the same game? Probably not!)

There are compelling secular arguments that have been made in the failed attempt to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. (See “What is Marriage” by Girgis, George and Anderson, in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Volume 34.) Marriage is not primarily an emotional union of two people but a bodily union (with an emotional component) that can produce children. An emotional union only is really just a glorified friendship that renders marriage inherently unstable, as friendships come and go. This is already a problem in traditional marriages, as is the tendency to veer away from committed monogamy, but this situation will now be exacerbated. Marriage shapes and is shaped by the cultural cues that are extant; transforming the institution will transform it even for heterosexuals. And, as noted above, traditional marriage also reinforces the ideal of opposite-sex parenting, while same sex marriage threatens the religious freedoms that Americans have long cherished and that have made America unique in the annals of mankind.

The bitterness, acrimony and censorship that the homosexual activists have inserted into this discussion – and with which they prevailed – have already made us more fearful and less free. And if you doubt that, just ask the businesspeople pestered by the new McCarthyites and ask the well meaning people at JONAH as well.

But the moral dimension transcends all. Russell Kirk wrote: “True law necessarily is rooted in ethical assumptions or norms; and those ethical principles are derived, in the beginning at least, from religious

convictions. When the religious understanding, from which a concept of law arose in a culture, has been discarded or denied, the laws may endure for some time, through what sociologists call “cultural lag”; but in the long run, the laws also will be discarded or denied.”    This is precisely what has happened to American society.

It is thus the rampant secularism that has been an affliction since the 1960’s that now defines American society. It accompanies the mindless pursuit of hedonism that in part is also responsible for America’s retreat from global leadership. Relatively few Americans are interested in the critical issues of the age, and of those who are interested many of them are not particularly helpful. All this greases the slippery slope down which the United States is sliding. There is hope for a renaissance, but it is faint and dimming.

The Talmud (Masechet Chulin 92b) states that even the antediluvian degenerates who practiced homosexuality did not go so far as to “write marriage contracts between men.” The familial system set up by G-d establishes opposite sex parents as the natural and most effective people to raise children. Such an arrangement is best for human beings, for children, and the most stable for society. It is normal and proper. But we have long moved past slouching towards Gomorrah and have already lurched past Sodom.

Even worse, there are nominally Orthodox rabbis (even serving nominally Orthodox synagogues, although both designations will have to be revisited in the near future) who celebrated the Court’s decision, one gushing that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Breisheet 2:18; he was likely unaware that G-d then presented the first man with the first woman as a spouse and not with the second man. Sometimes, you just have to read on!). Another opined that Facebook has paskened that homosexuality is now permissible and it doesn’t matter what the rabbis say. Well, actually, it doesn’t matter what he says; but the breathtaking shallowness and intellectual vacuity of some people aspiring to the rabbinate is shameful and alarming. Is ordination of such empty vessels worth anything? Not that I can see.

Personally, I am saddened by anyone who is suffering from these problems, and all the court decisions, parades, weddings and hijinks change nothing. It is important to reiterate that no person should be persecuted, assaulted, bullied, etc. for any reason, and certainly not because of predilections of one sort or another  – nor should people of faith be bullied, assaulted or persecuted for their adherence and commitment to G-d’s immutable law. And we should distinguish – as the Torah does – between sins of the flesh (which reflect human weakness) and sins of the mind, ideological sins that come from a rebellious soul. The latter are far worse. Indeed, it is far worse to deny that the Torah forbids homosexuality than it is to engage in homosexual activity, especially if the latter is performed out of compulsion. We should not deny the sin, nor should we ever celebrate the sin. We should see them as part of the class of sinners, which, unfortunately, to one extent or another, includes all of us.

But civilization will pay a heavy price for this aberrant decision, as other departed civilizations already have.  Those who think that the homosexual activists will rest now that they have won the right to marriage are gravely mistaken. They will continue to press their agenda until all people are forced to consider homosexuality a moral and legitimate expression of human longings, and until all notions of objective, Biblically-based morality are a dead letter. And those who supported the homosexual agenda thinking that it was all about love and freedom and live-and-let-live will soon realize that they have been the greatest victims of consumer fraud.

May G-d have mercy!

“Cure” for Racism?

In the wake of the horrific massacre of nine people – studying the Bible, no less – in the black church in Charleston, President Obama lamented that America is “not cured” yet of racism. He is right.
Indeed, there are many other maladies of which America and the world itself are not yet “cured.” We are not cured of Jew hatred, or bias against Christians or people of faith. We are not cured of homicide and theft, of robbery, burglary and assault. We are not cured of evil, hatred, slander or gossip. We are not cured of malice and impropriety, of adultery and immorality. We are not cured of foolish talk and self-destructive behavior. We are not cured of mental illness. All those maladies still exist but the good thing is, like racism, they exist in very small groups and sometimes just in demented or decadent individuals.
We are also not yet cured of demagogues who cannot lead or inspire but can incite – and proffer abundant platitudes disguised as wisdom. Is a cure possible for any of this? Of course not.
The answer is so simple that one wonders why such risible statements are uttered in the first place. The great conservative thinker Russell Kirk once wrote: “the perfection of society is impossible, all human beings being imperfect.” Of course America is not yet “cured” of racism; no country in the world, no civilization that has ever existed has been “cured” of any evil doctrine, deed or temptation. That is the essence of the human dilemma. Why the President should think otherwise is a mystery, unless he believes that – since he can slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet – he can also eliminate bad thoughts and evil behavior from the human race.
Only perfect people can create a perfect society, and since there are no perfect people, it stands to reason that there is no perfect society. To the liberal mind, that is unconscionable and unacceptable, and must be a source of great vexation. It is also responsible for a lack of perspective, an absence of deliberation and a foolish rush to judgment about American society.
Is America a racist society? Certainly not, although there are obviously a small number of people who hate blacks or Jews or Christians or whites or anyone else. The proof of the contrary is in the response of all Americans to these brutal homicides: universal condemnation of the murderer. I even heard rumors that he was denounced as an extremist by the skinheads and other white supremacist groups –and that is saying something. Everyone I have heard considers the murderer to be a monster, obviously deranged but not clinically so or he wouldn’t be responsible for his actions. But he can’t be normal. No normal person could think like him and certainly not act like him. The sooner he is executed, the quicker our society can be cleansed.
And the reaction of the church members was uplifting in its grace and nobility. Those who hastened to forgive were acting in accordance with Christian doctrine, but I hope that he is not forgiven enough that he escapes a speedy execution (or at least execution; nothing in the American judicial system is speedy).
The widespread denunciation of his heinous acts speaks well of American society but unsurprisingly so. Sure, slavery was the great evil of America’s founding, but the American people are also the only people in world history to fight a bloody civil war – still the bloodiest war in American history – in order to free slaves. That was unprecedented and unduplicated, and reports of the virtues of such a nation filtered to Eastern Europe in the last third of the 19th century and sparked the great immigration to the United States, especially of Jews. This is what they heard: brother fought against brother in a war whose primary cause and consequence was the abolition of slavery. Let that sink in. G-d liberated us from Egypt; the Egyptians didn’t fight each other so Jewish slaves could go free.
As a result, people flocked – and still do – to a country that guaranteed freedom and liberty, that attempted to share its values with the world, and that constantly wrestles with the morality of its actions. How many other countries are like that –that Obama should bemoan that America is not perfect?
There is something both odious and unctuous about the President’s remarks, as if his disappointment that America is not Utopia changes anything about human nature or solves any problem. Of course America is not Utopia. Only Utopia is Utopia, and Utopia doesn’t exist in reality.
What is truly remarkable is absence of racism in American society, notwithstanding the reprehensible homicides of a lone gunman and haters that exist here and there. It is a particularly hollow claim in a country in which wealthiest entertainers and athletes are black, and where the most powerful politicians are black – including a president elected twice by a nation who, in his words, has racism in its DNA. And this from a man who spent 20 years in the pews of a church in which he regularly heard sermons from a racist black preacher. Is there a racist politician today who can get elected to any office, even on a municipal level? But as Shelby Steele wrote, asserting the claim of ongoing racism furnishes an ongoing “entitlement to power.”
Are there people who don’t like one ethnic group or another? Yes. There is not a country on earth that contains perfect people who love and appreciate everyone. That is not to say that hatred is built into the DNA of mankind – everyone has free choice to be loving and tolerant or spiteful and narrow-minded – but Obama might as well decry the continued existence of tornadoes and hurricanes in a nation that could put a man on the moon. He might as well lament the persistence of poverty in an affluent nation (wait; he does, hence his drive for redistribution of wealth).
It is a shame, but an unsurprising one, that Obama chose a moment in which he could have united Americans in shared grief and politicized it with complaints first about gun control (as if there are no laws already in place outlawing the murderer’s possession and use of that firearm; actually, had some of the churchgoers packed some legal heat that night – as is common in shuls in Israel – the event might have had a different ending) and then about racism (as if what happened reflected a societal flaw rather than the work of one evil loser). Obama’s error was underscored in last week’s sedra, the query of Moshe and Aharon to G-d: “Shall one man sin, and You will be angry at the entire congregation?” (Bamidbar 16:22)
The anguished search for and failure to find Utopia engenders an interesting conclusion noted here in the past and verified by a host of social scientists. Conservatives tend to be happier people than liberals. Because liberals expect perfection, they are irritated by the foibles of human nature. Nothing is ever good enough and the liberal is therefore pained by the deficiencies of mankind, but always pained, as mankind is always deficient in something. Conservatives are more realistic, more willing view the present as satisfactory, if not even satisfying, and less likely to live in a constant state of discontent.
That and more explain the tendencies and clumsy rhetoric of the man who currently occupies the Oval Office. But even his missteps should not distract us from the epic sadness in Charleston, and the crime that touched every person of faith. The refinement of the survivors and the victims’ families, and the support shown from every quarter of this country, shows the elementary decency of Americans of all backgrounds and all walks of life.
Even the disgruntled musings of the President in perpetual political mode cannot nullify that essential truth.

Paralyzing Paradigms

Some things seem to be done only because they have always been done, notwithstanding that they are wrong, harmful, embarrassing, senseless, immoral or obsolete. Patterns become established, paradigms become fixed and real thinking – or re-thinking – ceases. There are few more inane defenses of a particular action than to assert “this has been our longstanding policy,” and yet, in many circles, on a variety of issues, that passes for a reasonable explanation and an end to a discussion of the matter. A few examples will suffice.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the decade-old Congressional law mandating that American citizens born in Jerusalem can be recorded as having been born in Israel. As predicted here six months ago, the three Jewish justices (and two others) upheld the traditional US policy of not “prejudging” the outcome of negotiations by officially recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Obviously, as noted, it didn’t have to be. Recording country of birth in a passport does not articulate diplomatic policy as much as it states a geographical reality. The Court could have easily concluded that this notation is procedural, not substantive, and reflects a reality that is acknowledged across the world in other disputed territories (see the dissent of the estimable Justice Antonin Scalia). But if the feckless Jews on the Court do not wish to recognize the historical and geographical reality of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, why should the six Catholics?

The broader point is the soundness of the “policy.” As mentioned in the Court’s opinion and by Obama administration spokesmen, the longstanding “policy” of the American government has been not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but to leave the matter of its status to the negotiations between the parties. This policy has existed since Israel’s founding, and has been embraced by Presidents friendly to Israel and unfriendly to Israel. But does this “policy” make any sense? Of course not.

It strikes me that the policy has its strongest advocates in the pro-Arab, striped pants contingent at the State Department, and even friendly presidents saw no reason to change the policy and risk antagonizing the bureaucrats at State, especially since successive Israeli governments, to their discredit, have never pushed for its modification. It behooves Americans – and especially American Jews – to recognize that the denial of recognition applies to all of Jerusalem, from 1948 on, and has nothing to do with the Six Day War and the Old City. But Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and it is obviously in Israel, a verity denied acknowledgment for my little grandson who, as far as the United States is concerned, was born in a city without a country.

Forget, for a moment, reality (as politicians often do), and examine the “policy” on its face. Jerusalem is not recognized as capital of Israel because, officially, “it is a matter subject to negotiations between the parties and the US does not wish to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations” (for almost 70 years). But didn’t Obama call for a two-state “solution”? Hasn’t Obama insisted on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders? Didn’t Obama demand that part of Jerusalem be made the capital of the “Palestinian” state? Aren’t those all matters “subject to negotiations between the parties” for which the US also should not wish to prejudge the outcome? Why is the matter of Jerusalem singled out for special diplomatic treatment? Clearly, consistency is not a requisite of American foreign policy.

And shouldn’t we expect more from President Obama? After all, Obama unctuously – and bizarrely –asserted recently that he is “the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat” in the White House. Shouldn’t this almost-Jew recognize the intrinsic connection between his own Jewish people and the City of Jerusalem? Or is this another example of Yiddishe Mazal: who would have thought that the “first Jewish president” – as per New York Magazine – would turn out to be a self-hating Jew?

The “policy” makes no sense, and maintaining the “policy” makes even less sense. The stated fear – prompting turmoil and unrest in the Arab world – is risible, especially given that the Arab world only knows turmoil and unrest. If Israel does not begin a campaign – no quid pro quo, just elementary integrity – to have the US recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, then shame on Israel. And Obama can do it with one stroke of his fabled pen. Perhaps that will boost his popularity among American Jews above the 41% level to which it has fallen.

Take another failed paradigm. The other day I was listening to a former Palestinian Arab activist, turned pro-Israel, who stated that peace is impossible now given the culture of violence in the Arab world. One non-Orthodox rabbi asked: “for those of us who still believe in the two-state solution, to whom should we talk?” The answer was: no one. There is no one to talk to. Her disappointment was palpable. A generation of Jews – maybe two – has invested so much into encouraging or cajoling a surrender of Judea and Samaria and the creation of another Palestinian state that those advocates are simply lost and bereft without that vision, lacking any means of moving forward. They are trapped in the old reality, paralyzed into thinking that the world that is long gone is still there or will soon return. The wise person sees the nolad – what is foreseeable, what trends are probable – and adjusts accordingly.

On another topic but still with another paralyzing paradigm, America’s culture wars heated up with the curious case of Rachel Dolezal, deposed president of the Spokane NAACP, who was exposed this week as a racial fraud – a white girl who claimed to be black and identified as black, to the chagrin of her parents. Granted, we have to allow for some mental illness and moderate our tone, but she did assert the victimhood of a black identity and was rewarded with some of the spoils generally assigned in the American political system to blacks with grievances.

That is troubling, because those spoils are designated for real blacks and not wannabes. But can a person claim a new racial identity? Can a white claim to be a black or vice versa? Indeed , if a man can claim that he is really a woman trapped in a man’s body, why can’t a white person claim that he is a black trapped in a white body? And in both cases, utilize the basic medical procedures to coordinate the exterior with the interior? Shouldn’t a world that celebrates gender fluidity also celebrate racial fluidity? Why can’t a Scandinavian claim that he feels very, very Chinese?

The great Shelby Steele (in his new book, “Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country”) insightfully refers to these excursions as “poetic truth,” which ignores or even rejects actual truth in order to assert “a larger essential truth that supports one’s ideological position.” One of the afflictions of American society is the license taken by anyone to create “poetic truths” that are thrust upon others and enforced through the moral intimidation known as political correctness.

The original sin – the paradigm that paralyzes progress and precludes rational discussion – is the segregation of American society today into disparate groups. “Identity politics” has little room or interest in an individual, and one’s worth and standing are only determined by identification with a particular group. Of course, there are favored and disfavored groups, but where the group is the ticket to rights and privileges, the individual becomes devalued. It partly explains the Dolezal phenomenon, but also why Americans have become so polarized and acrimonious. You are your group, and all others will relate to you as they would relate to your group. That degradation of the individual can only be reversed when “identity politics” is ended, and that will not be in this election cycle, if ever.

Finally, the rampant promiscuity on college campuses has created expectations of amorous activity in both men and women that has necessitated the creation of speech and conduct codes, with rigid rules that purport to define acceptance or rejection of one’s lustful advances. To be sure, feminism – among its other grand achievements – has succeeded in making some women as lecherous as many men. A new “yes means yes” campaign has begun, which undercuts the traditional role of seduction, not to mention marriage.

But the problem is not excessive concupiscence among young people. That has existed since Adam and Eve. The problem is the expectations of promiscuity, the casualness of coupling, the nonchalance of the hookup culture that is bound to leave some party, subsequently scorned the day after, irritated and despondent even when yes meant yes, and certainly when intentions are left ambiguous.

How about changing the expectations? Hey, here’s a crazy idea: how about saving sexual activity for marriage? Really, has anyone ever thought of that?? That way there will be no need for oral agreements, written contracts, or legal stipulations in the presence of two witnesses. There will be no misunderstandings or lawsuits. It will also help young people learn a little about self-control, also a good virtue to cultivate in life.

It will happen eventually – some time before Rachel Dolezal decides she is Asian but after Jerusalem is recognized by the United States as the capital of Israel.

Liberal Policing

Unmentioned, as far as I know, in all the discussion about the escape of two convicted murderers from the Clinton Correctional Facility (the name itself could be the title of a future article on politics!) is this simple fact: had the murderers been executed, as murderers should be, they would not be currently on the lam, people in the vicinity of the escape would not be hiding behind closed doors with all local schools closed, and we would not be talking about them. Much of the opposition to the death penalty ignores its basic justice and focuses on the dangers of executing the innocent (whom, of course, no one wants to execute, just like no one wants to imprison the innocent); but it fails to consider the danger to society posed by keeping the convicted violent alive, either on their fellow inmates, prison guards, or – as now – innocent civilians who might be caught in the crossfire.

That is simply a sidebar to the return to the 1970’s that American society is now undergoing – the increase in crime, the urban discontent, the persistent sniping at the police and authority and the lingering notion that much of urban America is a failed society that cannot be redeemed. Politicians – especially liberals – are looking assiduously for answers in all the wrong places. Cities with the most restrictive gun control laws are – not ironically but predictably – the most violent places in the country. Those laws keep guns out of the hands of the law-abiding, not the violent and depraved. The evisceration of the “stop and frisk” policy of the NYPD has led to an increase in shootings and homicides, and mostly in depressed communities. Who would’ve thought that?? Criminals who no longer fear being stopped, frisked and arrested are now carrying firearms more frequently, and they are not being stopped and frisked. Those results were, unfortunately, almost impossible to foresee (by those wearing blinders). It just seemed to them more likely that a decrease in “stop and frisk” would have engendered a more grateful community, whose criminal elements would now desist from illegal weapons possession out of respect for the respect shown them.

Do people with ideas like that really exist? Yes. And not only do they exist but also they largely govern America’s cities. The consequences are obvious.

More importantly, police shootings of civilians have decreased dramatically over the last 10, 20, 30 and 40 years, but you wouldn’t know it from the hullabaloo across the country. Police conduct – from Ferguson to New York, from Baltimore to Texas – is ab initio judged unfavorably. The police are suspects in any confrontation with minorities and presumed to be guilty even if after due process has found no cause for prosecution. Since the Baltimore riots, violent crime has escalated in Baltimore and there has been a spike in homicides and other crimes in the depressed neighborhoods. The same has occurred in other cities in which the police have found themselves under siege.

It is as if the police have absented themselves and said: “You don’t want us? You only find fault with us? You blame us for any confrontation? So, live without us. See how much you enjoy that.” A black man died in police custody, and Baltimore erupted in violence, arson and mayhem.  Politicians and racial hucksters of all types descended on Baltimore to make their statements and castigate the police. The next weekend, nine blacks were shot to death in Baltimore, presumably by other blacks. No politicians, no hucksters, no statements – and no riots. Go figure.

In my work as an attorney, I met the occasional police officer who bent the rules (usually, to facilitate the prosecution of someone who otherwise could not be charged) and some who were arrogant and condescending. Then as now, the overwhelming majority are not like that but are attempting to do an impossible job – protecting the innocent from an underclass that is essentially fatherless, uneducated or just undereducated, with little prospects for income-producing jobs that can support families if indeed they desired to support their families.

It doesn’t have to be like that nor does it help to blame everyone else for one’s own problems – the standard approach today. Intact families usually produce decent, law-abiding children. Even in fatherless families, strong mothers have been able to control and guide their offspring into becoming productive citizens. I knew teenage delinquents who were hesitant to be released from custody on bail or on their own recognizance because they feared the repercussions from their mothers who awaited them in the courtroom. On several occasions, I personally witnessed mothers smack their sons upon their release to the extent that court officers had to intervene, so disappointed and disgusted were the mothers with their sons’ misconduct. I trust that still exists.

But blaming the police has been added to blaming the society, the white establishment, slavery, etc. for all the ailments of the black community. Such is misguided, self-serving and plain wrong. Whatever one says about the tragic encounters between police and black men who have died in the recent past (and it seems clear in hindsight that some of the situations should have been resolved without fatalities) it should be noted that the police were not engaging choirboys and choirgirls, nuns and saints. Almost everyone was involved in some past or present unlawful conduct, not conduct that merited death but conduct that was criminal – petty theft, trespassing, outstanding warrants, failure to pay child support, resisting arrest, etc. I can’t say that no police officer ever randomly selects an innocent individual for excessively harsh treatment (I represented any number of people charged with resisting arrest – but no underlying crime!) but it is and was extremely rare.

It should be possible to acknowledge that some of the victims here died unnecessarily and also concede that they were up to no good, and that no good attracted the attention of the police. And then their real problems began. But would you rather have the police not intervene, looking away so as not to confront wrongdoers? Well, that is Baltimore in the weeks after the riots, and that is New York City where crime is up and arrests are down for much the same reason. It’s a terrible choice for each police officer: ignore crime-ridden neighborhoods and leave the innocent to their fate (and come home alive every night) or try to arrest the bad guys and be automatically accused of bias, and then watch the arrest and the force used to execute that arrest on YouTube painting you in the eyes of the world as just another yahoo cracker. Why bother?

And here’s the police dilemma, and why I tend to support the police despite occasional missteps that stem not from prejudice or overzealousness as much as from the need to make split-second decisions under great stress. Much was made – and not unfairly – of the black man shot in the back by a police officer (since fired and charged with murder) in South Carolina. Even if the deceased ran two blocks to escape arrest on an outstanding warrant, he need not have died and being shot in the back is never easy to defend.

In New York City not long ago, a young police officer thought he saw a gun in the waistband of a young black man who was walking away from him. The officer ordered the man to stop, pulled his gun but did not shoot that man in the back. The man instead turned, and fired his weapon into the head of Police Officer Brian Moore. The officer, highly acclaimed during his five years on the NYPD, was 25 years old at the time of his death.

Moore did not shoot – and he was murdered.

In such an environment, it makes one wonder why anyone would want to be a police officer and risk one’s life to protect people in the inner cities, some of whom seem less than appreciative of the role of the police officer. Worse, if Moore had shot his killer first – before he himself was shot – he would have been pilloried by the liberal media as another reckless, hateful white cop gunning down blacks. The difference between the two outcomes – and between life and death – was a split second. Was Officer Moore hesitant in responding because of the negative publicity of the other incidents, because of the open season on police officers across the country, because of the fear of being presumed a racist murderer if he had fired first? We will never know.

It shouldn’t be like that. The irony is that police shootings of civilians are a tiny fraction today of what they were even forty years ago. A further irony is that blacks are worse off today by every indicator than they were before the Obama presidency which they supported almost unanimously and which was supposed to bring them salvation from all their ills. Nothing will change until the black family is reinvigorated and stabilized, and the black community begins to accept responsibility for its own failings. Nothing will change until there is an outcry in the black community against the dysfunction in their homes and the criminals in their midst, and a return to values.

Indeed, nothing will change as long as the outrage against the one white cop who kills a black youth dramatically exceeds the outrage against the hundred black youth who kill each other and some innocent bystanders as well. Ultimately, the fault lies with the evildoers – not with the people who try to prevent the evil or have to pick up the pieces afterward.

So where are the leaders – black or white, politicians or preachers – who will say that?