Category Archives: Israel

The Interview

RSP – It has been almost a year since the release of my latest book, “Tzadka Mimeni: The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility.” Recently, Dr. Alan Brill interviewed me about two of my books and general thoughts on Torah and life as they emerge from my writings. The interview in large part is reprinted below, and can also be accessed here.

Alan Brill: Recently, I interviewed Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn about his new book. In that book, the only rabbi mentioned by Einhorn as his personal friend was Rabbi Steven Pruzansky. That, in turn, lead to this interview giving the world further insight into the Right Wing side of Modern Orthodoxy.

When asked about his Orthodox affiliation, Rabbi Pruzansky replied:

Labels are hard for me. The two primary rabbinic influences in my life – Rabbi  Chait and Rabbi Wein– defy easy labeling. I choose to fly solo, taking the best from a variety of different movements and when necessary distancing myself from those movements on certain issues. I’m happy to be RWMO, but that doesn’t fully categorize me either. I’m a voice in the RCA but not that influential… Most of the organizational and rabbinical politics accomplish nothing and, frankly, bore me…  I prefer to see myself as a “country preacher.”

Pruzansky’s down home preaching has made him both a role model for some and a problematic lighting rod of controversy to others. One of my former students, who currently serves as rabbi in a major Modern Orthodox pulpit, has a congregant who forever urges him to be more like Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, urging him to use Pruzansky as a role model. On the other hand, some consider Rabbi Pruzansky as a Jewish Jeremiah Wright (G-d forbid!- RSP) tainting all those who applaud his sermons.

My interview with Pruzansky, however, is not on his politics, his controversies, his view of President Obama, or his views of Open Orthodoxy. Rather, I turned to his books in order to understand his basic religious message.  He is the most articulate of the local Orthodox rabbis, and he has written three books:   A Prophet for Today: Contemporary Lessons of the Book of Yehoshua (2006),Judges for our Time: Contemporary Lessons of the Book of Shoftim (2009) and his latest, Tzadka Mimeni: The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility (2014).

The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility (2014) is a clearly written and direct work reflecting his sermons and preaching. The message is that we have to make proper decisions in our careers, marriages, child rearing, and financial dealings.  We have to take responsibility of our lives with its necessary challenges of career, marriage, and child rearing.  The book is a musar book emphasizing self-sufficiency, right choices, and a (very) strong Protestant work ethic. Even quotes from popular works like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers belie a concern for the formula for success.

The work is a model of the implicit Centrist Orthodox critique of the Haredi life. One should plan for a career, not get married until one support a family, don’t let rabbis make your decisions, no learning while supported by others, and not to expect miracles in life or politics.

The country preacher’s thoughts on the book of Genesis show the importance of free enterprise, the necessity of the small state rejecting the state giving free handouts which make us into slaves, the importance of being anti-union, the fundamental importance of being pro-private property, and the necessity of gun ownership. The book is solid musar for Republican values – with some nativism and tea party ideas included.  The book surprised me in how much it was built on yeshivish musar works and not YU related works. But unlike those musar works, here we have a proud use of personal responsibility  for one’s worldly life.

Arguments on the topic of personal responsibility have been hot one in recent years. For example, there have been numerous shows on FoxNews by Bill O’Reiley among others on the topic of personal responsibility (herehere andhere),; Nicholas Kristof penned a response, Now, there is a recently released study by the political scientists Mark D. Brewer and Jeffrey M. Stonecash,Polarization and the Politics of Personal Responsibility (2015), which argues that the idea of personal responsibility is the fundamental divide in the US today between liberal and conservative and the notion of personal responsibility can be used to sort out the current divisions surrounding race, gender and religion.

The book is gold mine for an anthropological study of upper middle class Centrist Orthodoxy. If we want to compare Pruzansky’s message to an opposite work, I would recommend the works of Rabbi Avraham Twerski’s musar. Twerski also deals with the contemporary anxiety of making money and the struggles of family life, but Twerski does not stress responsibility, rather he stresses the importance of turning to God, seeking comfort in prayer, coping with stress, maintaining one’s self esteem by being part of community, and assuring his readers that God will extend his mercy to the unemployed like he helped the Jews in Egypt. A message like Twerski’s creates a very different religious anthropology than that created by Pruzansky’s message.

Pruzansky’s book can also be compared to the 16th century Polish Rabbinic homilies- by the Kli Yakar, Levush, Maharashal Maharal and others– on wealth, family, and responsibility as discussed in the still untranslated work by Haim H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (Jerusalem, 1959). Unlike the poverty of Rabbinic Jews in the 19th and early 20 th century, the upper middle class concern with making wealth of the 16th century  Polish city Jews deserves comparison to our own age.

The other volume discussed in this interview  Judges for our Time: Contemporary Lessons of the Book of Shoftim (2009) uses the book of Judges to understand contemporary Israel politics. Modern Israeli politicians are compared to the flawed ancient Judges, ethics are learned from the prophet driven battles, and the need to utterly destroy one’s enemy is learned from the battle against the Canaanites.  The volume makes use of many of the recent Israeli Religious Zionist commentaries produced in Hardal yeshivot on the book of Judges that seek to draw modern political messages from the early prophetic books.

I thank Rabbi Pruzansky. Read the interview, learn about this country preacher, one of the leaders of Right Wing Modern Orthodoxy.

The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility.

1) What is your message of personal responsibility?

First and foremost, it means the assumption of personal decision-making about one’s life choices. Major issues in life must be decided by the individual and cannot be outsourced to others. Only in that way can the individual’s unique personality be expressed and realized. Add to that the importance of accepting responsibility for failures or mistakes, which builds character and deepens integrity, and provides a platform for learning from one’s experiences.

2) What is the need for self-sufficiency?

Ultimate decisions on choices of spouse, career, place of residence, etc. must be made by the individual (even after he or she consults and receives guidance from others); otherwise, the person is living someone else’s life.

No person, however, is ever completely self-sufficient. We rely on family, friends and community to provide us with the framework and infrastructure in which we can grow, live and thrive. But we should strive for self-sufficiency in terms of decision-making.

For some, the advantage to having another person make critical life decisions for a questioner is that it frees the questioner from having to take any responsibility for his decisions. For others, that might relieve them of the insecurity engendered by those very decisions. For most, I would think, it deprives them of the capacity to develop and enrich their personalities and to live as free people.

I note in Parshat Lech Lecha: “Individuality is not only a blessing but a fulfillment of God’s will in creation. We are allowed – even encouraged – to pursue our individual talents and destinies, all within a Torah framework. We may become Jewish doctors, lawyers, artists, musicians, inventors, scientists, businessmen, entrepreneurs and thinkers. To live in a box stifles creativity, and the attempt to produce cookie-cutter children grows stale…”

3) What is the esteem gained by being part of the Jewish people?

To be a member of the Jewish people is a privilege and a gift. In essence, it is to be entrusted with carrying G-d’s moral message to the rest of the world. One naturally should feel pride in the assignment, but that pride should not feed one’s ego. Rather it should be used as motivation to fulfill the mission that G-d granted us. Indeed, it should induce humility – the humility of the servant executing his tasks on behalf of the king and knowing that the sense of nobility he feels is not innate in him but a reflection of his role as servant.

4) Should people go to rabbis to make decisions for them?

A person should always consult others before making a major decision about which he is conflicted, just to hear other ideas and perspectives. But for a person to allow another person to make a major decision for him is abdicating one’s own humanity and living someone else’s life. That is essentially slavery (avdut), and the antithesis of the image of G-d (tzelem elokim) and right of free choice we were given. Rabbis can have greater insight at times, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that rabbis necessarily have divine inspiration and an unerring perspective on world affairs.

Rav S. R. Hirsch spoke of the tzelem elokim as man’s capacity to be a free-willed being. A failure to exercise that capacity is essentially dehumanizing. Of course, it has to be exercised with care. Man not only possesses a nefesh hasichli – spiritual and intellectual inclinations – but a nefesh habehami – animalistic tendencies – as well. One must be careful to use his gift of the image of G-d (tzelem elokim) to promote the former and harness the latter.

5) You define the goodness in matriarch Sarah’s life as successful. How is the Torah’s goal success? 
   Faithfulness to Torah certainly does not guarantee wealth, but why would we define “success” by the size of one’s bank account? Sadly, too many people are afflicted with that mentality. Chazal spoke of the virtues acquired through poverty, although they didn’t of course recommend it. The poor and the rich are both in challenging situations, and that is the basic test of man: to be able to serve G-d under all circumstances, and we are all therefore placed in different circumstances. But faithfulness to Torah produces success as we should define it – being a proper servant of G-d, at peace with G-d and man, blessed with family, and an absence of any sense of deprivation. etc.

6) When is it OK to blame the victim – such as Dinah- for not showing personal responsibility?
   We don’t blame the victim enough in our society. Usually the victim plays some role in his victimization – usually but of course not always. It is the concept in torts of contributory negligence, which is perfectly logical but rejected by most people when it comes to their personal lives. Distinctions are necessary – of course, im ain deah, havdala minayin? (without knowledge, how can we make distinctions?) – and not all cases are identical. Even in torts, contributory negligence is adjudicated by percentages, 1% to 99%, and everything in between.

That being said, no person has the right to harm, molest, assault or otherwise take advantage of any person, even if the victim is responsible for his bad choices. The onus of guilt remains on the perpetrator. Thus, contributory negligence is a matter of civil, not criminal, law. A criminal cannot excuse his crime by saying the victim should have known better than to walk in a dangerous neighborhood. Chazal were clear that Dina went out looking for trouble and found it – but that is a moral lapse. It did not give anyone the right to attack her.

7) How does revelation on Sinai connect to the value of responsibility?

If man was created as a free-willed being capable of being held accountable for his actions, part of Creation has to entail the revelation by G-d of His will and morality to mankind.

That is how the Jewish people enter world history, never to leave it. We were liberated from Egypt in order to be free-willed beings who can receive His Torah, serve G-d and transmit His morality to others. The Torah is misplaced if it is given to human beings who are not responsible for their actions. We have to use our minds to understand G-d’s will as best we can and control our bodies – rein in our impulses – to serve him as well.

8) Why and how do people need limits on their lives?

It’s this week’s sedra – כִּ֠י יֵ֣צֶר לֵ֧ב הָאָדָ֪ם רַ֖ע מִנְּעֻרָ֑יו. (“Man’s inclinations are towards evil – i.e., instinctual gratification – from his earliest youth.”) Man’s animalistic tendencies will emerge unless they are constrained and redirected elsewhere. Man left unchecked – by Torah, law, conscience, society, etc. – will naturally try to consume, abuse and torment others. Man left unchecked lives a pure animalistic – animal soul nefesh habehami existence, seeking only to gratify his physical needs as best and as frequently as he can. That is why we were given the Torah and the nations limited by the Noahide laws.

9) What do you say to someone poor and born into a cycle of poverty with lack of models for responsibility? 
Personal responsibility includes responsibility for others, especially the needy or downtrodden. Far better than the handout is the personal involvement in their lives – mentoring, guiding and, when necessary, easing them through and out of financial hardship. But we do not believe that circumstances define a person. Hillel “obligated the poor” (mechayev aniyim) to achieve and lift himself up as he did, (Yoma 35b). If it is done by one, it means it can be done by all.

Nonetheless, growing up in hardship – whether the inner city or the Pale of Settlement – makes it more difficult, and that’s where character and values are indispensable. What ails society today is not the dearth of money but the dearth of values. So many people have money and still have corrupt values.

10) The approach in the book has little on mizvot, ritual or Torah, almost everything on marriage, finances, child-rearing, career, and stress of life. What does this say about the community and its issues? What does it say about your approach to the rabbinate?

Nothing! We are defined as a people of mitzvot but that was not my intention in writing. There are many books that deal with the technicalities of Jewish observance. But one can be a Shomer Mitzvot – and be corrupt, even have idolatrous leanings, and not at all feel a connection with G-d. Those are greater focal points for me, because I assume observance of Mitzvot.

11)  If this is the Torah perspective, then why have there been so many rabbinic scandals- both financial and sexual- in the last few years?

It seems like a lot, but in actual numbers it is not that many in real terms. More than 3% of Americans are either in prison or on parole. What percentage of rabbis are miscreants? Far less. Of course that is small comfort when even one is too many. That being said, the Torah is perfect, not the Jews and certainly not the rabbis. A depraved person who learns Torah is lambasted by Chazal, because he will eventually use the Torah for his depraved purposes. Sadly, none of this is new.

12) Where do books you seem to have used like  Thomas Sowell and Frederich Hayek on economics, Frank Chodorov on libertarianism,  and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers fit into a Torah perspective?
In a general sense I am a big believer in “believe there is wisdom among the gentiles” “chochma bagoyim taamin.” If non-Jews have a particular insight into the world, or they frame a Torah concept in an especially enlightening way, then I am delighted to learn from them and use it. But “don’t accept that there is Torah among the gentiles” “Torah bagoyim al taamin” – they do not have a divine system through which they can sustain and transmit those ideas.

13) Is it just coincidence that the perspective in your book in favor of the small state, anti-union, pro-private property, pro free enterprise, and the importance of gun ownership is very similar to certain Republican platforms. If one is already a Republican with these positions, then why do I need Torah?

What’s the cart and what’s the horse? The Torah always has to be the foundation of all our ideas and values. To the extent that Torah ideas coincide in certain aspects to the Republican Party, I am gratified – for them. Good for them, but it doesn’t really affect us. In any event, the ideas and values in the Torah are of divine origin; the Republican Party platform? How shall we say it? Less so.

The puzzle then is why so many Jews are practicing Democrats – and the answer is that overwhelmingly they are not practicing Jews.    But when the Republican Party deviates or would deviate from the Torah, I would not hesitate at all backing away or repudiating that part of the platform. Bear in mind that politics in America is inherently secular but that Republicans are much more likely to be churchgoers and religious than are Democrats. That itself certainly plays a role in explaining the symmetrical aspects of the conservative philosophy and the norms of Torah.

14) Should shuls have gun clubs? What role does the gun club play in your shul?

The gun club is not officially part of Congregation Bnai Yeshuran  but most of its members are somewhat affiliated with the shul. We did offer (off premises) firearms training years ago for those interested many years ago. We also hosted karate for many years, which I consider quite similar. Self-defense is important for all Jews, a basic Torah requirement. We need not be squeamish about the right to defend ourselves. I do not believe we have any hunters in shul!

Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim

  1.       What is your concept of a national leader based on your book?

The ideal leader is a righteous autocrat who is wise, honest, humble and devoted to the welfare of his people. It is no coincidence that this models the philosopher-king; it should. The problem is that the theory is great but it is hard to find such people in reality, at least not in a sustained way. The failure of Jewish leadership in ancient times – and the accounts of the few exceptions – is the story of Jewish history.

  1.       How is the leader to bring national solidarity?

National solidarity, for Jews, comes from a shared sense of commitment to G-d’s service and therefore our national destiny. We all have the same mission but we were all given different roles in that mission. The task of the leader is to actualize the fulfillment of the national mission by facilitating the performance of the individual roles.

  1.       Why do we need pragmatic thinking in politics and to accept less than ideal judge who make  mistakes?

    I don’t think we have to “accept” poor leadership but the reality is that we have to endure it and overcome it. There is mediocrity in every field, so leadership is no exception. Personally, I think we are too hard on leaders who make mistakes. As long as they accept responsibility and have learned from them, they probably have an advantage over leaders who think they are infallible. In American politics today, there are no second acts. But Israel – and many other countries – has a habit of recycling leaders who have been rejected before. In fact, almost every prime minister in the last three decades has been booted out of office at least once and then restored – if not to the top job then to other top positions.

The world is divided into righteous and wicked, but most people are entrenched in that third category, the intermediates (beinonim). They will usually know what is right but lack the will to see it through.

  1.  What is the concept of the degradation of community?
    Often during the period of the Judges, when just part of the nation was attacked the tribes that were unaffected felt no need to join in the battle because they lost a sense of nationhood.. Too often, the Judges went to battle with just a small number of tribes, and even then participants had to be solicited. This happened to Gideon, Yiftach, and Shimshon’s case – when he had to fight alone – stands out even more. The sense of community – of nationhood – was lost, and as we saw, only a king governing from a new national center – Yerushalayim – could restore that unity.
  2.  In your opinion, why should Jews (or Israel) ignore the Geneva Conventions and other human rights conventions?

I am not saying Israel should categorically ignore the Conventions, which have a value even if they have changed over time. It does purport to regulate the conduct of war between nations, and does it successfully except when it does it spectacularly poorly (such as when a nation chooses to breach it and suffers no consequences – Syria, 2013). Nor did it help Jews during the Holocaust.  But if one side in a conflict vitiates the Conventions, then it is foolish to abide by them and give the enemy the advantage. E.g., an enemy that hides behind civilians, that attacks civilians, that does not fight in military uniform, etc. – in that context, the Conventions should not apply. Indeed, most of the world would not similarly restrict themselves, and so Israel should not be subject to that double standard.

  1.       Your position seems very different than those Roshei Yeshiva who teach that human dignity and human rights are never removed from a person. Do you have any thoughts on why you see things differently?

Not at all. I believe very strongly in human dignity and human rights because all human beings are created b’tzelem elokim. But I believe as well, and would be surprised if the other Centrist rabbanim did not, that human beings can so tarnish their image of G-d (tzelem elokim) that it is gone. That happens when a person becomes an animal, completely under the sway of the animal soul (nefesh habehami). Nazi murderers were in that category, like prehistoric man who did not possess an image of G-d.

I can’t believe that other Orthodox leaders would perceive them as human beings like the rest of us, just sinners. Those who wantonly stab innocent people because of their lust for Jewish blood are in the same category. Their image of G-d is so corroded that it is gone. That is why society executes those people.

Indeed, the executed prisoner is called the cursed of G-d. G-d had a certain plan for human beings when He created us and gave us an  Image of G-d. These murderers forfeited that and leaving them hanging from a tree is an “embarrassment” to G-d whose plan went awry. So hang them and take them down right away.

  1.  How and why do we use the prophets  of Navi for guidance?

If we can’t learn from it, then there would have been no point in recording it for posterity.  I make this point in the introduction to the book on Yehoshua: “The Jewish people had many prophets…so why are only the words of 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses recorded? Only the prophecy that was needed for future generations was written down, and that which was not needed for future generations was not written down (Megilah 14a).”

In Rabbi Wein’s approbation (haskama) to that book he wrote that it is “an excellent piece of work and scholarship. The danger in it and the criticism that you will undoubtedly receive is in your attempt to fit event and insights from Sefer Yehoshua to the present-day Israeli scene. Many of the leading rabbis of our time have warned against attempting such comparisons.” Wein continued his words: “However, this is not a unanimous opinion for otherwise what is the purpose of studying Tanach…”

Those are the two sides. My efforts were along those lines: to extract from Yehoshua and Shoftim – the books that describe the initial conquest and settlement of the land of Israel – all the lessons that we can apply to the modern conquest and settlement of the land of Israel. The similarities are eerie. And if we can’t gain this wisdom from the Navi, “what is the purpose of studying Tanach?”Actually, we do not learn halacha from Navi but only from Chazal, but this is a different quest.


A New Low

“Kill the Jews, tra la la la la.”

That could be the headline of recent article in the New York Times (it was sent to me; why any Jew would subscribe to or read the NY Times escapes me) that described in graphic detail the music that “Palestinians” are producing, singing, and selling in the land of Israel. It is no longer possible to be shocked by the Arab culture of blood lust, violence and hate. It is deeply rooted in that society, and feeds off similar dysfunction across the Arab world. It is not fair to say it can never change; but it is reasonable to predict that it will not change for the foreseeable future, and not until there is a revolution of morality and decency in the Arab/Muslim world.

What is shocking – maybe it shouldn’t be? – is that the NYT reported this vile display of Jew hatred and genocidal fantasy dispassionately and amorally. Songs such as “Stab, Stab,” “Jerusalem is Bleeding,” “Run Over, Run Over the Settler” are treated almost whimsically, as if they represent some proud cultural achievement, as if they advance a positive agenda, objective or aspiration for Arab society. The Times writers – one of them a Jew, as no one should be surprised to learn – included not one word of criticism of the songwriters, singers, sellers, or the abhorrent content of the songs.

Is there another group in the world whose genocide could be celebrated in song and garner the same placid response from the august American media? Would KKK music achieve the same renown and would the lyrics be featured by the Times, along with the videos? Would the Times similarly gloat over Jewish music that threatened death to Arabs, necessary to safeguard the Land of Israel? Of course the Times wouldn’t – and not because such a concept would be unthinkable to Jews who, as John Adams wrote two centuries ago, “have done more to civilize man than any other nation.” (Apparently, we have not become completely successful in that quest – not in Arabia, not in Europe, and it seems not in much of America).

It is because the Times – which has always harbored a special animus for Jews and Israel going to back to when it was a Jewish-owned newspaper (it no longer is) – has reached a new low in singling out Jews as the only people in the world whose murders can be celebrated in song. This is merely an extension of traditional NY Times reporting that has always equated the deaths of the Jewish victims of Arab terror and the Arab terrorist who murdered them. As in, “Three Die as Violence Erupts,” when the eruption of violence was solely the murderous rage of suicide bomber who killed two Jews alongside him. That repugnant headline is actually benign compared to other headlines seen across the world that describe how “Israelis Shoot Palestinian to Death!” that gently omitted the relevant fact that the Palestinian shot to death by the Israelis was in the process of stabbing Jewish babies and their mothers in the neck.

In the genocidal war being waged against the Jewish people, the New York Times is an accomplice. Now is not the time to lament the death of journalism or the absence of journalistic ethics in modern media, but to make a simpler point. In the war between the civilized and the uncivilized, the NY Times and other media are on the side of the uncivilized. It would be understandable if they subtly acknowledged the hypocrisy and fear that leads them to condemn the virtuous and laud the evildoers, but it is absolutely intolerable that – good writers that they are – they make it seem as if they are sincere or even-handed, as if they are just reporting the news.

What are civilized people dealing with? Watch this, a video of an interview on Arab TV with a mother whose son was killed while in the process of stabbing Jews. Note her boasts about his achievements, her sorrow about the young man not taking his mother with him to shaheed-land, her heartfelt desire that all her sons should become martyrs while murdering innocent Jews, and the finale, when she reveals the flinty side to her own personality and how she sees herself making a future contribution to the world.

There is something that is normal, human, maternal and decent that is just missing from that woman, maybe more than something.

Of course, it would be unthinkable that the NY Times would feature that woman whose barbarity is on display for all, and whose lack of concern about the welfare of her children would, in civilized countries, attract the attention of the local Division of Youth and Family Services. She could use an intervention, to say the least. But why would the Times ignore her, if they have? She shares the same goal as the songwriters and singers. Is she less entertaining, and therefore undeserving of a Times platform? Is it that she has not set her rant to a catchy tune? Or is that her primitive rage would strike such a nerve in the average reader that they might, Heaven forefend, feel some sympathy for Israelis and come to respect a shoot-first, ask questions later approach to Arab terrorists?

It would be enough to state that the Times should be ashamed, but it is not clear that their reporters and editors are left with a sense of shame. Basic human instincts just do not register. There is a pronounced inability to move beyond even the trite expressions of even-handedness (would that there would be evenhandedness!) and observe the reality of an Arab world that has breached all norms of civilization, for whom the Geneva Conventions are a farcical sign of Western weakness, and whose violent rage is stoked by the fecklessness of the Western media, the American president, and the world’s diplomatic elitists.

Those songs incite violence against Jews. The NY Times reported those songs without a word of moral reproach, but with an abundance of empathy, indulgence and tolerance. That Arab society (to a large extent) is pathologically sick – most of the victims of Arab violence are still Muslims – is a given; that enlightened Westerners should lend it credence, support and sympathetic coverage is, on balance, even more sick. Westerners were raised with an antipathy to genocide and an appreciation for basic human rights. Those rights, in the Times’ view, do not apply to Jews, whose deaths are encouraged and celebrated through songs.

And the Jews then support the Times, so that they – the Jewish readers – effectively subsidize the promotion of even more articles that will call for their own deaths, and, of course, pardon the murderers of any responsibility for those deaths.  It was Lenin or Marx who said that the Communists will hang the capitalists with the rope they sell them. Jews who read the Times with their morning coffee should know they are helping their enemies destroy themselves. Not a cheerful thought to contemplate while downing a Danish.

But those are our enemies and their songs. Now, a few words from the good guys. While Arabs sing about murdering Jews, Jews sing about life, virtue, service of G-d and happiness. Could that infuriate our enemies even more?

In a world of good and evil, good will prevail.



The Inanities of John Kerry

It would be unfair to think ill of John Kerry because he is the grandson of an apostate Jew, who changed his name from Cohen to Kerry and pretended to be an Irish Catholic, even if such a pedigree has inevitably shaped Kerry’s views towards Israel. After all, you cannot choose your parents, grandparents or any relative. But he can be ridiculed and lambasted for making one of the dumbest comments in recent history, one that if analyzed shows either intense animus towards Israel and Jews, a warped view of life and personal responsibility or all of the above.

Intruding where he is unwelcome, has nothing to offer and can only prop up another aging anti-American dictator, Kerry is trying to “calm” tensions in Israel. He offered this gem: “We continue to urge everybody to exercise restraint and restrain from any kind of self-help in terms of the violence, and Israel has every right in the world to protect its citizens, as it has been, from random acts of violence.”

Forgive the run-on sentence (this is an administration populated by people who don’t speak intelligibly outside the four ells of the teleprompter) and parse the words themselves.

We continue to urge everybody to exercise restraint…”  Surely Kerry must know that asking the attackers and the defenders to exercise restraint is a certain formula for a massacre if the aggressors choose, strangely, not to heed Kerry’s importuning and the attacked, foolishly, comply. He must be able to intuit, on some level, the repugnance implicit in the moral equivalence of the violence used by the barbarians to stab and shoot innocent Jews and the violence used by the civilized to thwart them. The equation alone is so monstrous that only malevolent, spiteful minds  – of which the world, clearly, has many – could utter such drivel and presume it sensible and reasonable. It is tantamount to saying: “Jews, die! And don’t kill anybody while in the process of dying.”

This inversion of morality placates and emboldens the evildoers – a clear Obama administration goal transparent in its dealing with Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and the Palestinian Authority – and can even be understood as evidence of the world’s corrupt double standard towards Israel and the Jewish people. It doesn’t make it right – in fact, it is very wrong and abhorrent – but not atypical enough to warrant any attention. But Kerry continued to call on all sides – but he meant the Jews – to “restrain from any kind of self-help in terms of the violence…” Before scrutinizing this breathtaking inanity, it is only fair to include Kerry’s succeeding clause, in which he conceded (reluctantly?) that “Israel has every right in the world to protect its citizens, as it has been, from random acts of violence.” How gracious of him.

Doesn’t Israel’s right to “protect its citizens” negate Kerry’s call for restraint on all sides? How can a nation defend its citizens by exercising restraint, unless the true defense that Kerry is seeking – one that will end all conflict – is Israel’s surrender to its enemies? That would, at least in his mind, end the cause for violence, notwithstanding the minor detail that Jews were savagely massacred in Hebron in 1929, across the land of Israel in 1936-1939, and victimized by Arab terror in the 1950’s and 1960s – in the former cases long before there was a Jewish state and in the latter cases long before the ”settlements” became the “obstacle to peace.” So the unctuous call for restraint, i.e., do not kill the attacker nor harm him in any way, is nothing more than a bland acquiescence to the mass murder of Jews. There is no quantity of liberal Jewish palaver about how great to Israel a friend Kerry is, was, or will be that can reverse the implications of his call to shackle the innocent so the murderous can have free reign. His moral compass is askew.

Even the phrase “random acts of violence” – the same gibberish uttered by Obama after Jews were massacred in a kosher supermarket in Paris earlier this year (where’s the last place one would think to find Jews? Obama: A kosher deli, of course) – understates the problem and does not properly assign blame to the perpetrators of these murders and attempted murders. The acts of violence might be “random” in terms of victims selected for carnage but they are not “random” in the sense of being haphazard or unsystematic. The Arab enemy is attacking innocent Jews and trying to slaughter as many as they can because of the blood lust for Jewish life, the cult of death and glorification of martyrdom that permeates the world of radical Islam, and their rejection of any semblance of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel or even any non-Islamic  sovereignty over any territory claimed for Islam.

That is not “random” at all, but rather a focused effort to rid the Middle East first and then the world of any Jewish national and perhaps even individual presence. This is genocidal jihad, and the hackneyed response of liberal Jews and peaceniks has always been to attack anyone who points this out and exposes how foolishly misguided they have been. In the alternative, they seek reasons for the violence that rationalize and even justify Arab terror. Those pretexts always include the lack of a peace process, the building of settlements, the attempt to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, the lack of rainfall, etc. (For all the false clamor about Israel’s desire to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, I really wish they would.) Those who think that the genocidal jihadists can be placated – like Obama, Kerry and their acolytes, even some in Israel  – should really not be allowed near a microphone or in any building where the crafting of foreign policy is taking place. They are dangerous people.

All of which leads to the one of the dumbest statements of the year, a year in which a healthy competition for that title is ongoing. He urged all sides to “restrain from any kind of self-help.” In context, Kerry must have been urging Israelis to ignore their government (the same government that he conceded has the right to “protect its citizens”), as that government has urged all Israelis who possess firearms to bear them in the streets and with them subdue and/or eliminate any terrorist who dares to raise his hand against an innocent person. In essence, “Israel” has the right of self-defense, but not the “people of Israel.” Huh?

But who in his right mind would ever demand that someone not engage in “self-help”? Answer: only a person on the political left who feels that government is responsible for everything in the lives of the citizens. It reminded me first of Ronald Reagan’s quip: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” But Kerry’s sentiment is worse than bizarre: Who ever tells people not to help themselves? New Jersey is the only state in the Union where citizens are not permitted to pump their own gasoline, and that too is peculiar. Who would tell someone not to defend his own life but to wait for someone else to come along and defend it for him? And if it’s too late, tsk tsk tsk, and we will shed crocodile tears and call for an end to the cycle of violence. That is beyond bizarre. Underneath that nice head of hair, what is Kerry thinking?

Self-help is the foundation of personal responsibility. The very suggestion that one should “restrain from any kind of self-help” is paternalistic, and when the self-help is actually defending one’s life it is downright cruel, and in this context, nothing less malicious. It is clear from the reaction in the Arab world and their fellow travelers in the West that they are distressed that the Arab attackers  in the recent wave of Arab terror have mostly been killed while trying to kill Jews, rather than being captured, arrested, tried, convicted, incarcerated and then shortly thereafter released in a prisoner exchange – a pattern to which they became accustomed and mostly enjoyed. Maybe that is the change in status quo that has them all riled up.

Kerry’s musings show his evil intent, and his offensive ramblings prove his irrelevance to the protection of both Jewish life and Western civilization. Israel needs a stronger hand, and it needs more – not less – citizen involvement in self-defense and taking the war to the Arab terrorists.

Kerry, for his own good and for the good of the world and the Jewish people, should just go to Iran and help them build their nuclear weapon. If his engineering skills are as keen as his proficiency in diplomacy and his coherence in thought, the world will be able to rest easily for decades.



On the car radio the other day, I listened to an interesting debate between Dennis Prager (on his show) and someone named Jay Michaelson who writes for the Forward and other liberal organs. Michaelson had lambasted Dr. Ben Carson, Republican candidate for President, for articulating his support for the Second Amendment  in this way: “The likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if people had been armed.” Dr. Carson later added: “Basically, what I said is when tyranny occurs traditionally around the world, they try to disarm the people first.”

For these truthful and eminently reasonable statements, Michaelson attacked Dr. Carson for his “rant,” called him “ignorant,” and thoughtfully added that Dr. Carson’s declarations are “profoundly anti-Semitic, immoral and disgusting.” And of course the conservative candidate was then assailed for invoking the Holocaust.

It is difficult to escape the sense that liberals are threatened by the Carson candidacy as it might tend to diminish the support of a voting bloc whose near unanimous voting patterns in the past are again being counted on heavily by the Democrats. Carson’s life story is so compelling – raised in a broken, one-family home in a dangerous part of an inner city, only to be saved by the determination and will of his mother, and who becomes an acclaimed neurosurgeon – that it imperils many liberal shibboleths, especially the ones that demand government intervention in every aspect of life and diminish the role of family and personal responsibility in an individual’s destiny. The liberal fear is palpable, as Dr. Carson’s intellect, integrity and humility (three qualities not often seen in politics, and certainly not in tandem) make him a formidable candidate and challenge their world view. The attack even sounds, to me, a bit racist…

No people invoke the Holocaust more than people who criticize others for invoking the Holocaust. It is as if a group of Jews (usually, liberal journalists) have assumed the responsibility of being guardians of the legacy of the Holocaust and only allow it to be used on their terms. For example, Mr. Prager pointed out that the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, recently invoked the Holocaust in urging European hospitality to the hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria and comparing them to European Jews who found no haven before the Holocaust. (The differences are staggering, of course. The Syrian exodus seems to be disproportionately young people who have chosen – perhaps wisely – not to fight for their country, they have bypassed several countries on their way to Europe, and (who knows?) might harbor in their midst an untold number of jihadists capable of wreaking havoc on the European continent or in the United States. None of that was applicable to European Jews.)

Asked whether he considered Rabbi Sacks’ statement a similar exploitation of the Holocaust, Michaelson stammered, couldn’t answer, conceded the point and tried to change the topic. In other words, invoking the Holocaust is appropriate when it suits a favored political goal but not when it supports a disfavored political goal. There is more than an element of hypocrisy in that.

But on the substance, can it be plausibly argued that Ben Carson was wrong?  The facts are that Jews were disarmed before the Holocaust, that Jews in Europe who wished to fight were severely handicapped by a lack of weapons, and the most frequent request from partisans was not for sympathetic editorials or eulogies in liberal publications – but for weapons, the more the heavier the deadlier, the better. Can anyone reasonably assume that the Nazis would have been able to round up Jews in town after town, city after city, with little resistance, if Jews had been armed? It is so obvious that it beggars the imagination that any reasonable person could challenge it.

Would an armed Jewish community have been able to prevent the Holocaust? Probably not, although it certainly would have changed Hitler’s calculus. That, too, is obvious; if it would have made no difference to him, he would not have made the effort to disarm all Jews. And all Dr. Carson said was Hitler’s ability to accomplish his goals would have been “greatly diminished.” Exactly which part of that is “anti-Semitic, immoral and disgusting”? Indeed, one can cogently argue that, given our history, advocating for gun control that limits the access of Jews to weapons for self-defense is “anti-Semitic” and “immoral;” others can decide whether it is also disgusting.

In essence, Michaelson attempted to underscore his support for gun control by invoking the Holocaust – and Godwin’s Law – beating to the punch anyone who would try to draw lessons from the Holocaust about the elementary right of personal self-defense. That is as exploitative of the Holocaust for personal and political use as anything that has evoked the same criticism.

In the end, the radio conversation veered into a general discussion of gun control because Michaelson was unable to show that Dr. Carson’s contention was “anti-Semitic” (itself a bizarre accusation), “immoral,” or “disgusting.” He was game enough to be interviewed and take the heat, but without apologizing for his vitriol or hyperbole. (He should also retract the contention in his article that the Second Amendment does not protect individual gun ownership. Not only did the drafters perceive such but the Amendment’s long legal history has also vindicated that reading, to the chagrin of liberals. Try to amend the Amendment, if you wish, but don’t read into it what is not there.)

On that note, Michaelson tried to invoke the Israel experience where gun ownership is widespread but much more regulated than in the United States. One need only look at the recent Arab savagery in Israel and the number of Jewish civilians armed with weapons who are first responders at the scene of Arab terror to realize gun ownership is both widespread and useful. (Of course, Israel could really benefit today from “knife control” legislation, as knives kill and maim, and little is done to prevent their proliferation among the Arab population. After all, it’s never the people who are responsible for their actions, it’s the weapon, or the sellers of the weapon…)

Michaelson got a fair hearing and, of course, is entitled to his opinions. Would that he granted the same to others!  But Jews should not be so promiscuous in flinging accusations of Jew hatred against people they despise for their conservative politics, or really anyone who is not an actual Jew hater. So, too, not every invocation of the Holocaust merits rebuke or we will not be able to learn anything from or apply any lessons of the Holocaust. That itself – the tendency to deny the relevance of the Holocaust to anything – is itself a form of Holocaust denial. Of course, Holocaust references can be abused, and the Holocaust is sui generis as an historical event, but the Holocaust can also be instructive as to man’s capacity for evil, the dangers of passivity in the face of that evil, the relentless hatred of Jews that persists in many quarters, basic human rights including the right of self-defense (a right that, even today, makes much of the world and many liberal Jews extremely uncomfortable when practiced by Jews) and man’s responsibility towards his fellow man.

Too much time and energy are wasted on trying to prevent the last Holocaust, when our efforts should focus on preventing the next one right now in the planning stages in Iran, among the jihadists and other enemies of Israel.

To criticize Dr. Carson – a lover and keen supporter of Israel and the Jewish people – on these grounds is outrageous and deserves repudiation. He wrote yesterday in the Jerusalem Post: What I do know however, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is that I never intended for my words to diminish the enormity of the tragedy or in any way to cause any pain for Holocaust survivors or their families.” What his political opponents – and this is what it is all about – are touting as an apology is nothing of the sort but actually just an expression of his elementary decency as a human being.

It is just one of the characteristics that those same political opponents – especially including Jews – would do well to learn from him.

Grim Calculus

The land and people of Israel are again experiencing one of those spasmic eruptions of Arab violence that are always a rude awakening to the complacent. Too many Arabs feel unrestrained enough to shoot, stab, murder and maim innocent people, and too many others join in the post-attack celebrations. It’s the law of the jungle, except insofar as only one side remains inhibited from fully responding. And even as attacks proliferate, and parents in major cities are keeping their children home from unprotected schools, there is some consolation in that most people are not being stabbed or shot, and the most dangerous places in Israel are still safer than Chicago or Washington, D.C. But that is small comfort.  What can be done?

Terror cannot be absolutely stopped because it is nearly impossible to thwart a crime in progress by a perpetrator who does not care whether he lives or dies and might even prefer death. But it can be deterred, especially by imposing penalties on societies that spawn such monsters until the decent among them rise up in protest. Such penalties have been outlined here and elsewhere, with more vitriol directed at the recommenders than even at the terrorists. It has not yet been accepted that, while there may or may not be a military solution, there certainly is no diplomatic solution. Israel is engaged in a zero-sum game for its very existence and should be taking game-changing measures to protect its existence and the lives of its citizens. That it is not done is arguably attributable to two factors: such deterrence comes with a heavy diplomatic price for Israel and, most regrettably, the murder of Jews by Arab terrorists confers a diplomatic benefit of sorts to Israel.

The latter needs explanation so as not to be misconstrued as suggesting that Israel wants the terror, allows it to happen in whole or in part, or doesn’t strive to prevent it and protect its citizens. None of that is true – but, nonetheless, the horrific murder of Jews does allow the government to claim, rightly, that it can make no strategic concessions in such a precarious security environment. It eases the pressure from hostile foreign elements, here including the present American administration, at least for a few weeks. When it happens again, there’s another reprieve of several weeks. And so it goes, horror after horror, shooting after shooting, stabbing after stabbing. This sequence will also die down – invariably then promoting a call for new concessions and the release of the terrorists who committed the aforementioned crimes – and then the grisly carousel starts turning again.

The former proposition is also true. Israel sustains and tolerates a hostile population in its midst – sworn to its destruction and including also Arab citizens and even some Knesset members – because the diplomatic outcry that would come from taking the necessary deterrence is perceived as intolerable. Notwithstanding the obvious hypocrisy – the number of deaths in Syria in the last five years is probably at least five times greater than the number of Palestinian deaths in the last 100 years – Israeli politicians are intimidated by the fear of diplomatic pressure and pejorative UN resolutions. Witness PM Netanyahu’s feckless acquiescence to another settlement freeze in response to an Obama threat not to veto pending resolutions in the U.N. that call for a Palestinian state, declare all settlements illegal, condemn Israel as an occupying force, etc.

This kowtowing to Obama might seem prudent in the short term but paying this diplomatic blackmail will eventually catch up to Israel. What’s next? Will Israel cave in and cease responding to rockets from Gaza if threatened with a hostile resolution? Will Israel cave in and agree to a Palestinian state, cave in and divide Yerushalayim, cave in and accept the bogus Palestinian “right” of return? The problem with

paying extortion is that once you pay, the price just keeps escalating, so why pay even once? This is true especially because, as certain the sun rises in the east, Obama will recognize a Palestine before he leaves office. (And why not? He’s recognized and embraced every other rogue entity on the planet – Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, etc.)

The temporary diplomatic respite Israel gains when its citizens are attacked and murdered by Arabs also provides a needed release valve for many American Jews, and even some rabbis, who are more comfortable mourning and grieving death than they are promoting self-defense and Israeli supremacy. That’s not to say they prefer death, G-d forbid, just that they are more comfortable with victimization. Many rabbis (I exclude myself) have stock sermons lamenting the loss of innocent Jewish life and how we have to not despair and how we have to fight evil – but become tongue tied when actually asked to defend any real world practice of fighting evil. This is a strain in Jewish life that won’t easily disappear.

It is typified by Golda Meir’s famous quote: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” I have never found this to be a very intelligent statement nor an especially admirable sentiment but it does resonate with a large segment of American Jewry. There are too many people who prefer the narrative of victimhood than the narrative of victory or power, as if enduring the violent loss of innocent lives per se conveys moral virtue and inflicting pain and suffering on evildoers is necessarily reprehensible. (In fairness to Golda, her second proposition in that famous quote is absolutely true: “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” )

I don’t envy PM Netanyahu his job, whose problems do not lend themselves to facile solutions. But he is stuck in a grim calculus of his own making. Long ago he hinted that terror that did not actually take Jewish life would not draw a muscular military response (a robust rhetorical response, of course, is always forthcoming). For example, the road I most frequent when I’m in Israel – Highway 443 – has been subject to stoning (i.e., the Jews who travel there, not the “road”) for well over a year. There has been damage and some injuries but no deaths. No death, no real response, and the road remains largely open to Arab traffic from Samaria.

So Netanyahu has to strike this ghastly balance: “accept” on some level a relatively small, defined number of Jewish deaths, few enough that they do not mandate forceful military retaliation but not too many Jewish deaths that would either compel him to respond with overwhelming, transformative actions (and risk diplomatic denunciations) or do nothing and jeopardize his political standing. The precise number that triggers the response – but never the effective steps of deterrence – is a mystery. For comparison’s sake, Ariel Sharon endured the deaths of hundreds of Jews before the Netanya Park Hotel Seder night massacre pushed him over the edge (30 Jews was murdered that one night, including seven couples, husbands and wives, r”l) and prompted him to launch Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. Again, “accept” does not mean he desires it; just that he has rendered himself impotent in responding. Today’s Jerusalem Post just reported that one more massive terrorist attack will result in Operation Defensive Shield 2. One more…)

The “Palestinian President,” Mahmoud Abbas, whose term expired 7.5 years ago, has his own grim calculus, and that accounts for the ongoing dispute in Israel as to whether he is fighting terror or fomenting terror. In truth, he is fighting terror. In truth, he is also fomenting and inciting terror. That is not a contradiction at all. He has to satisfy enough of the lust of his people for Jewish blood in order to maintain his own position and street credibility without going over the tipping point with too many Jewish deaths at which point the Israelis will either send him packing or give him the Arafat treatment – banish him to his Ramallah compound where he can stay until he dies. The Abbas magic number – above which the Israelis end his career, below which his own people will end his career – is also a mystery.

The only way to end this macabre dance is through strength, not weakness. To freeze settlements for one, to ban Jews from ascending the Temple Mount (and not for halachic reasons) for another, just invite not only international pressure, as phony as it is, but also actual disdain. No other nation in the world will stand up for Jewish rights in the land of Israel, and certainly none if the Jews don’t do it ourselves.

The civilized world in Europe and America is nervous enough about the growing jihad that it will need a convenient scapegoat on which it can blame world insecurity, their own decline and their own spinelessness. We need not look too far for that scapegoat. With the Western world’s strategic positions collapsing in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and in America, it stands to reason (as they see it) that the United Nations should be entertaining resolutions about Palestinian statehood and the like, because, you know, that will solve all the world’s problems and mollify the jihadists.

The diplomatic storm is coming anyway, so Israel might as well do the right thing – protect its citizens, restrict the rights of the terrorists and their supporters and celebrants no matter how many they are, settle the land of Israel in its entirety and prepare for a rocky road ahead.

This wave of terror will end soon but others will start. Tempering the assertion of Jewish rights and the preservation of Jewish life in Israel by trying to placate Barack Obama is a fool’s errand. He will make every effort while he is in office to weaken Israel incrementally, and this will happen no matter what Israel does. Attempting to wait him out – his term ends, mercifully, in fifteen months – is attractive but misplaced. Who knows who will succeed him? And why should the march of Jewish destiny be held hostage to his or anyone else’s whims and prejudices?

The prophecy of the return to Zion that has unfolded in our day should supersede the wishes of any politician. It should also give us needed strength and confidence in the road ahead. Jews did not return to Israel to cower in the face of the enemy nor calculate how many Jews must be murdered before the might and wrath of Israel are awakened.

“He who saves one Jewish life, it is as if he has saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a).


G-d’s Hand in History

(The following was published as an Op-ed in the Jewish Press, on September 11, 2015 –  RSP)

Fourteen years ago today the clenched fist of Arab-Islamic terror smashed into the United States of America, murdering almost three thousand innocent souls, devastating lives, shaking America (at least temporarily) out of its complacency and nudging the American polity into several Middle Eastern wars. Those wars have not ended well; indeed, the situation on the ground has become more violent and deadly. The desultory and reluctant conduct of these wars by the Obama administration – snatching defeat from the jaws of potential victory – has left the region and the world on the verge of accommodating Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Iranian hegemony over much of the Middle East.

On an individual level, the brutal and unprovoked attacks on September 11, 2001 were a vivid reminder of the fragility of life. Thousands of people at work or on their way to work rose that morning in anticipation of a normal, uneventful day, just going about their daily routines until such time as they would return to their families and loved ones. Alas, their good-byes that morning were the last ones they would extend, their lives ended in sudden acts of unimaginable horror. When the Yamim Noraim begin, we remind ourselves repeatedly of our own vulnerabilities, the tenuousness of life itself, our gratitude for the gifts and opportunities

Hashem  has bestowed upon us – each according to His will – and of our rededication to utilizing those gifts and opportunities in His service. That is the judgment of the individual that consumes most of our attention.

But there is another judgment occurring on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippurim whose stakes are even greater than the judgment of individuals, and which this anniversary of the Arab terror of 9/11 renders so palpable: the judgment of nations.

As we say in the Musaf of Rosh Hashana, in the blessing of Zichronot (“Remembrances”): “And of the nations it shall be said: Which one will merit peace, and which one the sword? Which one will suffer famine and which will enjoy plenty? And all creatures will be remembered and recorded for life or for death.” It is true that the suffering of nations is felt most in the travails that befall the individual – but it is also true that even innocent individuals can be ensnared in the tribulations of nations and suffer accordingly. We live as individuals, but we also have our fates intertwined with those of the country in which we reside and that country’s enemies and adversaries.

If we have some (emphasis, some) control over our own fates – “Repentance, prayer and charity avert the harshness of the [divine] decree” – how do we understand our almost complete helplessness in avoiding the consequences of the national judgments that also take place? Are we just pawns in history, bounced by forces beyond our control? Is it possible to understand G-d’s plan in history beyond the rough outline provided to us in the Torah and the words of the Nevi’im ? Is there a divine message that we can discern amid the murkiness and gloom of today’s global scene – in which country after country, seemingly without any end in sight, is battered by terror and war, refugees and displacement, evil and its bitterest enemy, apathy?

G-d’s ways are inscrutable, and even if the last chapter is known to us – the coming of Moshiach – the prior chapters are still being written and read. But one thing should be clear to all Jews: world events are designed to shake us out of our lethargy and embrace our divinely-ordained role in history.

The Gemara (Yevamot 63b) states that “punishment does not befall the world except on account of the Jewish people.” It is not that we bring misfortune to the world, G-d forbid, as our and G-d’s enemies are fond of saying; the exact opposite is the case. The Jewish people have brought untold blessings to mankind from the very beginning of our existence and down to our very day. The world benefits from the technological, scientific and intellectual genius of the Jewish people and is continually challenged by the moral code of conduct to which we aspire. That has been reciprocated, often and in many places still today, with hatred, overt or subtle, with physical violence and rhetorical scorn, and with persistent, baseless and scurrilous attacks on Israel’s legitimacy and/or conduct, all thinly-disguised assaults on the Jewish people.

Some wage open war on Jews across the globe. Others, especially the hostile elements in Europe and America, are still inhibited by the rancid Jew hatred of the Holocaust and so hide their contempt for all Jews behind the veneer of hatred for Israel – BDS and the like. All of this is contemptible and lamentable but little of it is new. It has accompanied us since Sinai, and the spasms of violence that erupt across the globe – so Chazal are teaching us – are on our “account.” When they fight against us, it is because they are waging war against the Jewish idea. But even when they fight each other, and bring enormous, unspeakable suffering upon themselves, at the root of their discontent is the distortion of the Jewish idea and a rejection of   G-d’s plan for mankind.

As Rabbi Berel Wein once explained, “it’s because of us but it’s not our fault.”

The Wall Street Journal (April 3, 2015) featured a graph that noted the current population of the world’s religions and their future growth. (By 2050, the global Muslim population will almost match the global Christian population, each near 2.8 billion people.) Today, there are 2.17 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, 1.4 billion Hindus, even 1.3 billion unaffiliated. At the very bottom of the graph – the last line – are the Jews, hovering at or above (!) zero. We are not even a rounding error in the world’s population, less than that. We are not just statistically insignificant; we are statistically improbable.

“Hashem did not desire you or choose you because of your numbers, for you are the smallest among the nations” (Devarim 7:7). Yet, history revolves around the Jewish people. We are not afforded the luxury of being bystanders but rather of being in the forefront of every major world event and discovery. Our national homeland was not placed at the end of the world – say, New Zealand – where we could safely develop our spiritual aptitudes far from the madding crowd and high above the fray but rather at the crossroads of civilization and in the middle of every conflict.

No nation in the world tries harder to do good to all – even strangers – and no nation is as despised and reviled for those efforts. What does it all mean?

It means that G-d chose us as His vehicle to bring His morality to the world and effectuate His will in history. Rav Shlomo Aviner is fond of quoting Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), the famed Italian philosopher and historian who posited – three centuries ago – that whereas the histories of the nations of the world are profane (meaning secular, guided by natural and political forces), the history of the Jewish people is sacred, directed by G-d, and not at all bound by the general laws of history. What applies to other nations and what happens to other nations simply do not apply or happen to us.

It is astonishing that Vico should have recognized that; it is even more astonishing when we – the Jewish people – do not and instead go about our business as if our destiny is that of all nations.

Rav Zvi Yehuda Hakohen Kook zt”l regularly expounded what he called “Masechet Yisrael,” the “Tractate of the People of Israel,” both because it was worthy of study and because it underscored G-d’s plan for us in history. He highlighted three phenomenal dimensions – wonders – of the Jewish people: the wonders of our abilities, our survival and our influence. (See, for example, Rav Aviner’s annotated edition of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook’s “Orot, Yisrael U’techiyato,” footnote 266.)

We are an extraordinarily talented people, whose contributions to mankind have transformed the lives of billions of people. We need not even mention the disproportionate share of Jewish Nobel Prize winners, a mindboggling statistic that defies rational analysis. As a nation, we have been endowed by the Creator with capabilities that are designed to facilitate mankind’s pursuit of moral perfection, the material good and the welfare of all. The former is the very purpose for which we were given the Torah and prophecy.

The wonder of our survival continues to defy comprehension. No people has ever suffered the devastation of invasion, defeat, destruction, and exile – and twice – and then remained an intact nation that reclaimed its ancient homeland after 19 centuries. It is so inexplicable in human terms that it is the source of relentless irritation to our enemies, who deny it formally but are awed by it privately.

And, despite our insignificant and paltry numbers, the influence of the people of Israel on world events is itself astounding. Scarcely a day goes by without a Jew or the Jewish people in the headlines. The preoccupation of the world – actually, the obsession of the world – with the tiny State of Israel is a constant reminder to us of the expectations that the world has for the Jewish people, our outsized impact on social trends and political movements, and the uneasiness of the world’s powers with this upstart nation that, as the boxing saying goes, punches far beyond its weight class. It has been repeatedly noted that Jews have been in the forefront of great social and intellectual movements of the last two centuries – some good, some not so good – Jews like Freud, Marx, Einstein and others. Many of the high-tech innovations that have revolutionized modern life have originated in Israel.

These are all “wonders,” but none are inherently innate to the Jewish people. They are gifts from Heaven, all intended to provide us the tools with which we can carry out G-d’s will for mankind. Occasionally, perhaps more often than that, we have used these gifts inappropriately, for our own self-aggrandizement or for mere physical gratification, and forgotten or ignored the Giver and the purposes for which it was given. At those moments in history, we are sent reminders, sometimes gentle ones and sometimes less so, that we have strayed from the proper path. The road to return then opens before us, if our eyes wish to see and our hearts are receptive to the messages.

The Torah we were given, Rav Avraham Kook wrote (Orot, Yisrael U’techiyato, Chapter 5) is “not the imagining of the heart, not human ethics, not just worthy desires or appropriate fantasies, not the abandonment of the material world in any of its aspects, not the rejection of the body because of its ‘impurity,’ not the renunciation of life, society, government and authority because of their lowliness, and not the repudiation of the world and its natural forces that were corrupted by sinful man – but rather the exaltation of all of the above.”

This is the future towards which we are heading, notwithstanding all the challenges we face, the incessant Jew hatred that still afflicts too much of the world, the seemingly endless terror and war that is thrust upon us and other good people, and the rebuff of the Divine idea and moral code that is at the core of mankind’s discontent and moral perversions.

“Those who rise up against Israel rise up against G-d” (Tanchuma, Beshalach 16). It is a truism of history that wars against the Jewish people are a displacement for the real adversary that confounds our enemies – their war with the Creator (see Rambam’s Epistle to Yemen). We are simply convenient targets, but attacks on the Jewish people elicit a Divine response in history, and judgment of those nations ensues.

On the annual Day of Judgment, each person is judged both as an individual and as part of a nation. We live our lives not only to perfect our souls in this world but also to advance the goals of the Creator. If our personal judgments are enigmatic, then our judgment insofar as we are part of a nation is even more impenetrable. Those are the mysteries of life and are the exclusive domain of the Judge of all mankind. We can never comprehend why some lives were snuffed out by the godless forces of evil and other lives were spared. All we can do is thank Hashem for His blessings and commit our lives and resources to living in broad, historical terms and not just in the mundane matters of daily life.

The Gemara states (Sanhedrin 97b): “Rabi Eliezer said: ‘if the Jewish people repent they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed.’ Rabi Yehoshua said to him: ‘if they don’t repent, they won’t be redeemed? Rather the Holy One, Blessed be He, will cause a king to rise over them whose decrees are as harsh as those of Haman, and they will repent and be restored to the good.”

The king whose decrees will spur our repentance is not someone like Nimrod, Pharaoh, Nevuchadnetzar or Titus; it is someone like Haman – a Persian descendant of Amalek who harbored genocidal ambitions against the people of Israel.

Some things never change.

And some things can change. When we realize our individual vulnerabilities, the opportunities we have been given and the great stakes before us, the moment for both individual and national teshuva beckons. May we all be worthy of inscription in the book of life, and may the current turmoil and our response to it prepare us for redemption and the coming of Moshiach.

The Denial

President Obama’s insistence that he is not an “anti-Semite” may not be remembered as vividly as President Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” if only because Nixon said his just once while Obama has had to invoke this defense repeatedly in recent weeks, and to an increasingly skeptical audience. Sometimes, indeed, the Prez doth protest too much, methinks. He did state that there is “not even a smidgen of evidence for it,” but then again he once said there is “not even a smidgen of corruption” at the IRS (February 1, 2014). There must be a smidgen of something somewhere.  In any event, Jew hatred is a matter of the heart, and unknowable save through words and actions. Some of the words and most of the actions of this President do not bolster his reputation as a friend of the Jews.

Personally, I would not level such a crude accusation against the President.  I can’t see into a person’s heart, but I am inclined to quote a currently- beleaguered presidential hopeful on a matter of even greater importance: “What difference does it make?” The fact is that there were two recent presidents, Truman and Nixon, who privately expressed much ill will towards Jews, but at critical moments, each made historic decisions (Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948 and Nixon’s airlift of weapons to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973) in the face of intense pressure to do neither. So who really cares?  By the way, who exactly called him an “anti-Semite”? I haven’t seen that anywhere, from any Jew in any official or influential capacity. It makes his feigned, pained reaction seem more like an attempt to change the subject than genuine disappointment. Whether Obama is an enemy of the Jews or a friend of the Jews matters less than what he does to the Jews – and to the United States.

We can take him at his word, and still note that Obama has historically been intimate with a number of overt Jew haters – friends, supporters and pastors – and those Jews that he has known tend to be, if not always anti-Israel, then at least unsympathetic to Israel and halfhearted in their Jewish commitment. For sure, there have been many outright Jew haters who kept faithful Jews in their employ, from Nebuchadnezzar who had Daniel on his payroll to Ferdinand and Isabella whose finances were managed by Don Yitzchak Abravanel. And there must have been Jews then who looked at the Jewish ministers who served all those monarchs and determined that they can’t be all bad, because, after all, Jews work for them.

Of course, the President’s offense at being called by some unknown person an “anti-Semite” (“it hurts”) is just a tad treacly, especially given his interest in allowing Iran, a nation that has consistently called for the annihilation of the Jewish state, to develop nuclear weapons and the capacity to use them against Israel. (Of course, “not on his watch.”) That is certainly not the act of a Semite-phile, unless the Semites in question are Arabs, but even they are opposed to the Bad Deal. That searing emotional trauma – of having his love for the Jewish people questioned – might also be doubted by those who perceive Obama’s desire to subsidize Iran’s support of terror to the tune of $150B to be indicative of an uncaring attitude to the fate of Jews in Israel and around the world who have been the targets and victims of Iranian terror for decades, among others. Somehow, having a White House seder before Pesach and a White House Chanukah party before Chanukah are not as meaningful criteria by which to assess a person’s friendship for the Jewish people.

His protestations are also less than credible, if only because Obama habitually iterates clichés that are either demonstrably false or convincingly incredible. For example, just several days ago, he told a group of mostly gullible Jews that if Iran breaches the agreement, sanctions will “snap back” into place. That, of course, is not possible, as existing contracts would be honored, those existing contracts could sustain the Iranian economy for a decade or two, and the “international community,” which Obama purports to “lead from behind” would not go along in any case. Sanctions removed will not return, even after – especially after – Iran gets its nuclear weapon.

He also told those credulous communal leaders that “the military option is still on the table.” That is true. Unfortunately, that “table” is located in a sealed room in a locked house on a remote part of an inaccessible island, but it is on the table. The future president will not have the same military options that Obama has because Iran will be even closer to completing its nuclear program, with perhaps even more unknown sites, and with an even greater chance of the reactors all being “hot” – radioactive – with even deadlier fallout from an attack. Contrary to what Obama says, a future president will have fewer military options. But it is good to know that they will still be on the table.

Clearly, Obama never intended a military strike against Iran and did what he could to thwart Israel’s planned attack. Once Iran became aware of that hesitancy, it gained the upper hand in the negotiations and parlayed that into a stunning diplomatic success, and a humbling diplomatic defeat for the United States. Besides, Obama’s love of diplomacy and distaste for raw power (except against US allies) engenders the absurdity that negotiations are always preferable to military action up to and until the time Iran develops its weapon. Of course, once it develops its weapon it is too late to use military force because the potential Iranian retaliation serves as a deterrent. But it is comforting to know that the military option is on some table, somewhere.

It is worth recalling that during the Senate confirmation hearings of the hapless Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense (true to predictions, he had a brief and undistinguished record after he was confirmed), Hagel blurted out that US policy towards Iran was one of “containment,” i.e., to allow them a weapon and then ensure that Iran be deterred from using it much like the Soviet Union was “contained.” This was said to the horror of the sitting Senators and the consternation of his handlers, who quickly handed him a note of correction that he dutifully read into the record that America’s policy was not containment but the preclusion of the Iranian bomb.

Well, it is clear that Hagel gaffed by telling the truth. By all indications – except for the empty words that emanate from the White House – US policy is containment of the Iranian bomb as nothing will be done to prevent its development if the Bad Deal passes. Then – by which time Obama will be in retirement – the US will learn that the Soviet Union, Evil Empire though it was, was a rational actor with whom nuclear stalemate was possible, while Iran is an irrational, apocalyptic actor bent on fulfilling its demented religious vision of the future.

There is not a credible military option on any table in North America, sanctions are not snapping back, the inspections regime is a farce, the Iranian windfall will lead to an increase in global terror, and the embargo on conventional weapons will soon be lifted as well. Iran is the only country in the world that has an intermediate range ballistic missile capability (2000 miles) without having a nuclear weapon, and they are developing an intercontinental range ballistic missile (more than 3000 miles). What are both for, if not the obvious?

All threaten the peace and security of Israel – and America. Assuming that Obama is not an “anti-Semite,” one would be hard-pressed to perceive what policies a real “anti-Semite” would pursue that are different than the ones Obama is pursuing. And that matters more than his anguish about being called an “anti-Semite” or whether or not he really is one.

As bad as the Bad Deal is, Obama’s search-and-destroy mission against all opponents of the Bad Deal, especially Israel and the Jews, is just a sign of bad faith and maybe worse. Indeed, Obama has stated that only Israel opposes the deal and he has singled out Jewish groups – and their money – for opposing him. Note that well: notwithstanding that polls show most Americans opposed to the Bad Deal (and Jews are far less than 2% of the population) and notwithstanding that hundreds of military people and the bulk of the Republican Party are vehemently opposed, Obama chose to underscore Jewish opposition – and their money. Even liberal Jewish groups, some, of course, quite tentatively, exposed these code words for what they are: an attempt to make this a Jewish issue and stoke the flames of Jew hatred, of choosing between the President and the Prime Minister, between loyalty and dual loyalty, between patriotism and treachery, between peace and warmongering.

To date, few Democrats in Congress have had the courage to defy Obama. All have been subject to pressure and some to threats. It is simply implausible that Democrats would support this deal when so many have said for two years that they would not support a deal that acquiesced in an Iranian weapon, that did not include rigorous inspections of all facilities, in which the Iranians did not have to account for their past nuclear development or halt their support of global terror, or have the sanctions regime end not immediately but gradually. This Bad Deal does none of that, and will go down in American history as one of the sorriest examples of politicians placing party over country. There is no other way to say it but that Democrats are arming with weapons of mass destruction a nation that chants “Death to America” and has been at war with the United States since 1979. Those are the leaders of a nation with a death wish.

The Deal is Bad, the optics are bad and the words are worse. No wonder Obama has to deny constantly that he is an “anti-Semite.” Real anti-Semites have always accused the Jews of being a fifth column, of dual loyalties, of egging the world into wars, of using their money and power to manipulate politicians to do their bidding.

It is quite irrelevant whether Obama is or isn’t an “anti-Semite” but he is forced to deny that slur because he fears the severance of the umbilical cord that connects most Jews to the Democratic Party. Jews are a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, and more importantly, Jewish money, sad to say, plays an enormous role in funding the Democrat agenda. Frankly, I believe Obama’s fear is misplaced and most Jews’ ties to the Democrat Party are far stronger than their ties to Judaism or to Israel. He need not fear Jewish abandonment of the Democrats – but what those Jews need is rhetorical cover, an explicit denial of “anti-Semitism” and equally public statements of love and friendship for Israel.

For those Jews for whom liberalism is their true religion, these affirmations allow them to sleep easily at night and write checks to the Democrats by day. They too will bear part of the blame if the Bad Deal passes and they will share much of the blame when Iran gets its bomb. They will have regrets, but they will assuage their grief at community rallies and prayer vigils, and then support the next Democrat who tells them what they want to hear.

As long as the Democrat insists – swears! – that he is not an “anti-Semite” and is hurt to the core by the very accusation. And if the Democrat can shed tears while saying it, that is a bonus.

Obama’s denials of this unsourced accusation is just damage control, an attempt to mend fences with one of his parties’ main sources of support especially now that he knows that his Bad Deal is likely to pass. Will the Jews ignore this hostile act? My guess is that Iran will not necessarily get their bomb even with the deal – other events can intervene – but Obama will get his Jews back.