Trump v. Clinton

Donald Trump is a showman, an entertainer, a braggart, superficial, occasionally crude and coarse, and not very knowledgeable about the major issues of the day. So here’s why I would vote for him in a heartbeat over Hillary Clinton.

Barring some unlikely chain of events, Trump will win the Republican nomination for president. A brokered convention still remains a possibility, but voters tend to coalesce around a winner in the latter primaries. Trump has won almost two-thirds of the Republican primaries, and as he routinely notes, people do not like to associate themselves with losers. Notwithstanding the candidacy of Ted Cruz, who is still preferable to Trump among the remaining candidates, it would be shocking if Trump did not win a first ballot majority despite the cries of the pundits.

It remains true that establishment Republicans and committed Conservatives are less than enamored with Trump, many openly despise him, some are plotting a third-party Conservative candidate, and a handful would even prefer the election of Hillary (if her well-deserved indictment does not materialize) over that of Trump. Trump has a relatively short history as a Conservative, and a slightly longer one as a Republican – but anyone who gave tens of thousands of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, to Hillary herself, to Nancy Pelosi and a host of others will give true Conservatives the jitters.

But just what is the Republican Party? It is an alliance of like-minded people around a certain set of ideas that the American people in the most recent national elections have come to reject. Laments about the quality of this or that candidate aside, Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections. One can blame the candidate’s flaws or missteps, or the policies proposed, and certainly the cannibalization of the Republican candidates that occurs during every nominating process. Food for thought: the only time in more than two decades Republican presidential candidates were not disparaging each other in bruising and ugly primary battles occurred in 2004, not coincidentally the only time in that time span that the Republican nominee won the popular vote. That year saw only one Republican candidate – the incumbent President George W. Bush. Here’s to the return of the smoke-filled room

The bottom line is the same. The Republican Party is a party that has mostly good ideas but has not won presidential elections with those ideas, for whatever reason. Purists should take note: there is a certain intellectual elegance and endearing obstinacy in preferring to lose elections while going down with the ship. But it doesn’t help the nation, the world or the party to keep losing.

That’s not to say Trump will win or that Cruz would lose. Who knows? Any Republican has an uphill battle against Hillary Clinton due to the nature of the electorate and the concentration in large states of devotees of free stuff. For sure, Trump as president will be a disappointment – but Clinton as president will be a constant irritant, even ignoring her execrable policies that are intended to promote class warfare and divisiveness and punish the successful in order to reward the clueless.

Clinton is a liar, a crook, an active participant in the largest pay-for-play scheme in the history of mankind, someone who accomplished nothing as a Senator and only harmed American interests as Secretary of State, and whose main qualification for office – this, from a feminist icon – is that she is the “wife of…” Worse than all of that, she is an awful speaker, shrill when she tries to be passionate, and consistently inflecting the wrong word IN the sentence she IS speaking at any GIVEN time or the wrong syllable in words she used for the sake of emphaSIS. Her presidency would be unbearable.

To use Trumpian language, she would be a “disaster!” on Israel, continuing the policies of harassment of Israel, subtle support for the BDS movement organizers who are all Democrats, pressuring Israel not to build in its heartland and not to take elementary measures of self-defense , and continue down the suicidal path to the creation of another Palestinian state. Of course, Jews will find every reason not to vote for Trump the Republican, as they would find every reason not to vote for Cruz or Kasich the Republicans. Jews would vote against Moshe if he ran as a Republican, as, of course, he would. See Joseph Epstein’s WSJ article “On the Political Stupidity of the Jews,” and nothing more needs to explained. Jews have voted themselves into political irrelevance – and think they are the kingmakers.

Of course, just because Hillary is a “disaster!” on Israel doesn’t mean Trump will be “incredible!” on Israel, but the known unknown (Trump’s coyness – and shallow grasp of the issues) is preferable to the known known (the Hillary hostility). That most secular Jews do not feel like that is attributable to their fragile and halfhearted support for Israel, all their pious protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Not for a moment do I believe that Trump believes that he will be able to fulfill even half the blustery promises he is making. Mexicans will not pay for the wall even if it is built. He is not deporting 13,000,000 people. Iran would love to have the US abrogate the nuclear agreement, now that it has the billions of dollars it craved and the European contracts it craved even more. Anyone who believes that Trump will slap a 35% tariff on imports should quickly summon for consultations Mr. Smoot and Mr. Hawley, whose tariff legislation in 1930 plunged the United States and the entire world even deeper into depression. It won’t happen. He is the great unknown and that carries great risks, but Trump will likely compromise, settle and declare whatever deal he makes “incredible, the best deal ever.”

Here’s what will certainly happen in a Trump presidency: the culture will change and largely for the better. I wouldn’t mind four years without hearing the phrases “politically correct, micro aggressions, safe spaces,” and other such claptrap; four years in which a president and others can say freely that “all lives matter,” in which the radical Islamic enemy abroad and within is named, identified and targeted, and in which police are respected and goons disrespected; four years in which the emasculation of America that Obama has presided over disappears, along with the constriction of the First Amendment that entails. People have had enough of the moral posturing of the faux victim, which has resulted in nothing less than in the increase of the numbers of faux victims and even the possible causes of victimhood. People are tired of having to whisper the truth because murderers, evildoers, or sinners will have their feelings hurt by it, even unintentionally.

No one wants to live in a country and be harassed for faith, for belief in the Bible, for service of G-d, and no one I know wants to be ridiculed for clinging to their religion (or their guns, for that matter). That dimension of American culture has been so debased in the Obama era that even the uncouthness of a Donald Trump comes as a welcome relief. People are exasperated about having to constantly second guess themselves when speaking, writing, or even thinking, lest they offend someone for who knows what. Imagine that – Trump as redeemer of the popular culture!

If there is a reason why so many people are voting for Trump across the country – and many of them would be characterized as “not traditional Republicans” – it is for that reason alone. People are dismayed over having to watch every word and be accused of some “-ism” if they laugh at a joke. People are distraught over an America where hard work is penalized, where illegal aliens soak up the tax dollars of the tax payers, where people enter America from abroad with ease (and unknown numbers of those visitors arrive with hostile intentions), where our enemies are on the ascent and America boasting about leading from behind, where wages are stagnant and the American dream is stifled. A lot of people apparently don’t care what the Republican elders feel or what any politician says. Democracy is a most unwieldy form of government.

All of the above will be exacerbated under a Clinton administration (how can she escape indictment? It boggles the mind and evidences a rigged system.). Political correctness will get a shot in the arm. It is a weird election year that is symptomatic of the problems and discontent afflicting American society. This is worse than the usual “these are the best candidates available?!” or the hackneyed “choice between the lesser of two evils.”  Most presidents in the last half-century have left office with negative ratings (Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are the only exceptions). These two currently have negative ratings, and only wishful thinkers assume that means their popularity can only increase. It can easily descend even more. There are people on both sides of the political divide who genuinely despise both likely candidates.

Donald Trump may not be able to revive the American dream, the problems are that entrenched. (Cruz would be better.) But he will be able to revive the American spirit, unless he too is aborted by the purists, the perfectionists and/or the short-sighted.

New Leadership Needed

Not long ago, someone asked me why we do not say Tehillim in shul after davening because of the “situation” in Israel. (We recite Tehillim every afternoon as a prayer for the recovery of the day’s wounded.) I answered with a question: if a poor person approached you and said he was starving, and you had food or money to give him, would you say Tehillim for him or give him the food or money? He answered, “of course, I would give him the food or money.” I continued: “Well, G-d has blessed the Jewish people with sovereignty over the land of Israel, and blessed the State of Israel with guns, tanks and planes. G-d has made the Jewish state the eighth most powerful country in the world (according to the Indian group that measures these things). If the government – for whatever reason – chooses not to use their guns, tanks, planes and power against their enemy that dwells within, and instead chooses to subject their citizens to the threat of daily attack, then what exactly do you want G-d to do?”

Make no mistake about it – I am pro-Tehillim in a misnagdic way. But the person who is ill and spurns medical treatment and prefers to rely only on Tehillim is (Ramban aside) acting improperly. Prayer without our own efforts is hollow; our own effort without prayer is disjointed. Passivity in the face of danger is usually criminal.

One can certainly disagree with the theology but one point should be indisputable: G-d generally gives every individual the tools to deal with whatever problem arises. Certainly in the instant case, it is so. There are many such tools available. After seven years in office, PM Netanyahu has run out of steam and is failing to provide the most basic needs to his society – to use the tools at his disposal to protect them and to defeat the enemy. That failure of leadership – of vision, ideas and implementation – means that it is time for him to go. With the government on the verge of collapse anyway for unrelated missteps or internal politics (It clings to power by one seat), it is timely to appreciate his accomplishments in several spheres and graciously usher him into retirement.

Of course, that won’t happen, as the Israeli voting public is as malleable as is the American voting public. Both respond to powerful speechmaking regardless of what follows, and no one in Israel today gives a better, tougher, more impressive speech than Binyamin Netanyahu. In the next campaign, he will promise security and how only he knows how to deliver it; he will vow that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon, and how Yerushalayim will not be divided, and how the settlements will grow, flourish and prosper under his rule as never before and as only he can. And he says it with such passion that few seem to realize or care that every promise is false. And they are made in campaign after campaign, as Israel continues to elect right-wing governments that implement leftist policies.

Take the latter, for example. Israel is routinely criticized by the Obama Administration, the European Union and the United Nations for building settlements in the “occupied lands.” It was the cause of Hillary Clinton’s 45 minute tirade against the PM several years ago – building apartments in the northern part of Israel’s eternal capital city. The world regularly and repugnantly equates the building of settlements with Arab terror, excusing Arab terror by explaining that Israel provokes it by building settlements. The world is on a campaign to boycott products from the settlements in Judea and Samaria, beginning with mandated labeling, as recently ordered by the Obama administration accompanied by the falsehood that this was an old policy. (Perhaps Israel should insist that American products come labeled with “Made in Occupied Indian Territories.)

And the sad reality is that there is very little building in the settlements at all. There has not been a new settlement built in decades, and even natural growth has been limited. The Defense Minister retains control over building in Judea and Samaria, and every single act of construction needs his permit – which he is loathe to give.  Even legally purchased properties – good Jewish money given to Arab sellers eager to sell, profit and move on – are disapproved. In Hevron, just a few weeks ago, Jews were expelled by the IDF under orders from the Defense Minister from a property that had been bought, paid for and registered. Now they are in limbo – they can’t move in, and of course they can’t get their money back from the Arab seller. Right-wing government…Likud…sure.

So Israel finds itself in the worst position: blamed for building settlements while not actually building settlements. The logical response should be, well, if Israel is being blamed anyway for building Jewish homes in the heartland of Israel, they might as well do it. At least deserve the calumny!

These travesties could be overlooked if the Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, was at least fulfilling his assigned task and maintaining security. But he is not, all his bluster and tough talk aside. Jewish blood is spilled in the streets of Israel on a daily basis, and this week, non-Jewish blood as well – an American student from Vanderbilt University, graduate of West Point, tours of duty with the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, met his untimely fate in Jaffa, stabbed to death by an Arab terrorist. And what is done to take the war to the enemy, to change the dynamic, to secure Jewish rights in the land of Israel in perpetuity, to assure that innocent people can walk the streets of Israel without threat of being stabbed, speared, gored or shot?

We know much more about what is not done. Last week, a Cabinet Minister in Israel recommended that the families of terrorists be expelled from Israel. That suggestion was shot down: it can’t be done, collective punishment, etc. Another recommended that the bodies of the killed terrorists not be returned to their families for a hero’s burial; that, too, can’t be done. It’s not nice, and it will only rile them up even more. (That the terrorists currently hold the bodies of two murdered Jewish soldiers doesn’t seem to matter.) Destroy their homes? It takes years, and that too is collective punishment. The new Attorney-General recently said that if the family turns in the terrorist, their home will be spared (otherwise, they won’t turn them in). In other words, more immunity from retribution; the terrorist murders innocent people, he will be caught anyway within a short time, if alive, but the family can save their home by having him arrested. How convenient, how foolish, and how much does that incentivize terror?

Both the Chief of Staff and the Defense Minister recently criticized those who kill the terrorists who are committing their terrorist acts. “There is no need to empty a magazine on a 13 year-old girl with a knife.” Spoken like people who never walk in public without being surrounded by six bodyguards. Perhaps they don’t realize that pedestrian traffic on the main streets of Israeli cities is way down in the last half year. Only those without a choice – without any other options – walk freely but cautiously. And the Prime Minister speaks eloquently about the perseverance and tenacity of the Israeli public, of the fortitude that has seen Jews through tougher times, and how Jews should not give in to fear but continue to move about the land of Israel without restraint. Spoken like someone who never walks in public without being surrounded by twelve bodyguards, and with a square kilometer of streets around him closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

This is classic politician talk: idle praise of the constituents distract from his failure to act.

There are many Arabs who are employed by Jews and so have easy access to stores, malls, roads, etc. and then exploit this compassion to murder their employers and customers. The prudent suggestion that Israelis stop hiring Arabs was also rebuffed – unfair, will provoke more terror, bad for the economy, etc. The Arabs and their leftist Jewish sympathizers have become adept at discouraging any possible means for deterring or preventing Arab terror, except for their favorite one, surrender. The law, and a bizarre notion of morality, is a powerful weapon in the terrorists’ arsenal.

There are many measures that could be taken, especially in a Middle East racked by turmoil and instability, that could greatly ameliorate the problems. But, as noted here in the past, the Netanyahu government has taken a conscious decision to tolerate a certain number of dead and wounded Jews (and non-Jews) in order to achieve ephemeral policy goals. And despite Netanyahu’s efforts to court the American non-Orthodox establishment through formal recognition and carving up the Kotel, the Reform and Conservative leadership and base would be the first to turn on Israel if any effective measures were ever taken to suppress and then eliminate Arab terror. After all, war has to be antiseptic, bloodless, compassionate and quick, or liberal American Jews will be offended; we can’t allow that…

The bottom line for the Israeli impotence is this equation: can’t + can’t + can’t = won’t. And this equation:  Won’t + won’t + won’t = Jewish blood spilled on Israeli streets every single day. Netanyahu and Yaalon have run out of ideas. They should be thanked for their service and move on. The time has come for new leadership – a leadership of proud and faithful Jews who will prioritize the preservation of Jewish life, the Torah and the land of Israel. That new leadership can take all measures necessary to quell the threats to the safety of the Israeli citizen, and the public relations will take care of itself.

The only question is how many more Jews must be murdered or maimed until this is done. Perhaps we should be saying tehillim – that G-d in His mercy should send us righteous and wise leaders in the short term, or maybe even the Messiah in the shortest term.


Circular Firing Squad

Much can change in politics, and pretty quickly, but Republicans currently face a choice that is as agonizing as it should be obvious. In a perfect world, the United States would elect as its next president the exact opposite of the present office-holder: a true conservative, advocate of lower taxes and limited government, proponent of the rule of law, a believer in American exceptionalism who sees the US military as a force for stability and good in the world, an advocate of the projection of American strength and values, and a staunch, unabashed, unapologetic supporter of the State of Israel.

A choice between that individual and a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is really no choice at all. Clinton is a promoter of none of the above, ethically challenged, with no purpose for her candidacy beyond the pursuit of power and money, and the need for payback to all the contributors to the Clinton Foundation, the world’s largest, most successful and most intimidating pay-for-play scheme. America, as noted here years ago, is in decline, and the election of Bernie Sanders would hasten that decline. He is the living embodiment of Gordon Liddy’s definition of a liberal: “someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.”

That choice is obvious. But what if that is not the choice, as it increasingly appears likely? What if the choice is between the unpredictable, mercurial Donald Trump and one of the aforementioned? Or,  assuming that Hillary Clinton is not indicted (as she clearly should be) or is indicted and then is pardoned by President Obama (think Friday night, midnight, story buried, and by Sunday all sides claiming it is old news and time for the country to move on)?

Nothing is certain, and a neat, tidy nomination or election does not seem to be in the cards. A brokered convention would be fascinating, with the drawback that this process is already far too long and such would make it even longer. But a giant like Abraham Lincoln was only nominated on the third ballot, and for the first 125 years of American history, brokered conventions were the norm rather than the exception. There are obvious differences, but Trump’s candidacy recalls that of William McKinley in 1896, McKinley also being despised by the party elders. Said one Republican boss during the campaign: “Everyone is against McKinley, except the people.” And then McKinley was nominated on the first ballot and then swept to victory.

Everyone is against Trump – I am not too keen on him myself – except the people. All the wags who have incessantly noted that 65% of the Republican voters in the primaries and caucuses to date have voted against Trump don’t seem to notice that 70%,75%,85% and 95% have voted against the other candidates, respectively. If not for Trump’s personality, temperament, character traits and shallow command of the issues, his string of victories would have sealed the process if another candidate had won those same victories, and the media would have been trumpeting those successes as evidence of “Game Over.” Everyone is against Trump, except for the people. Well, as Winston Churchill sardonically noted: “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” And the candidates, all of them without exception, know that, exploit it, and talk to the voters in clichés, empty slogans and sound bites. Candidates who speak the truth to voters – of problems that won’t be solved and needs that will not be satisfied – are also known as ex-candidates.

What is most troubling is that the Republicans have become a circular firing squad, shooting at and trying to kill each other’s candidacy. There is a growing sentiment among many Republicans that they would rather have Hillary Clinton win than Donald Trump win. Said in a more palatable but still illogical way, the most important outcome they seek is a Trump defeat, no matter who else is elected president. It is hard to conceive of a sentiment that is as short-sighted, foolish or self-defeating.

Granted, Donald Trump is a flawed candidate, but it does occasionally seem that the conservative establishment prefers a Democrat victory because it then has something to rail against for four years, to raise money and keep their jobs. It is more difficult for right-wing talk radio or cable news hosts to defend the inevitable failures or missteps of any conservative administration (usually: “it’s not conservative enough!”); it’s just easier to rant against something, especially the liberals, and Hillary Clinton would be a godsend for that industry.

And it is embarrassing that a great country like the United States has a presidential election process that is less dignified than a circus and boasts more clowns than does the circus. But it really comes down to a simple calculation that Republicans should start making now, if they didn’t do it yesterday: by what measure would Hillary Clinton be a better president in anything that Republicans, Conservatives and/or Jews hold dear than any of the current Republican candidates including Donald Trump? I cannot think of one.

Clinton would continue and escalate the class and racial warfare in America. (Is there a more racist slogan today than “Black Lives Matter”?) Clinton would accelerate the distribution of free stuff and the redistribution of wealth that has crippled the American economy and stifled the income potential of the middle class. Clinton has already bartered the global interests of the United States for personal profit, and was a bust as Secretary of State, having left office with American statecraft in shambles with enemies emboldened and allies frustrated and angry. She has surrounded herself with Muslims with radical ties and is beholden to hundreds of millions in Muslim money that underwrites her “foundation.” Her America will not be for sale; parts have already been sold.

On Israel? It is true that Trump is an unknown – “unpredictable” is his term, not to mention “neutral.” But how can that be compared to Hillary Clinton’s overt hostility to Israel from her disdain for Israel’s PM (haranguing Netanyahu with 40 minutes of relentless invective for bidding out apartment construction in the northern part of Yerushalayim, which, of course, hasn’t even happened in reality) and her discomfort with Israel’s right of self-defense to pressuring Israel to make even more suicidal concessions to the Arabs to create another “Palestinian” state in the quixotic hope that such will satisfy the Arabs’ lust for Israel’s demise (a lust, by the way, that, the local Arabs aside, most of the Arab world has abandoned in order to join forces with Israel against their common enemy, radical Islam). And that enemy, it should be noted, grew and flourished on Hillary Clinton’s watch.

Can anyone imagine Donald Trump embracing and praising Suha Arafat after she just accused Israel of poisoning the water wells of the Arabs in order to kill Arab children, as Hillary Clinton infamously did? I can’t, even if Suha is not his type.

And even if Trump has not been the extraordinary businessman he claims he is, Hillary Clinton has been a serial incompetent, a failure in every post she has held, who has advanced in life through sweetheart deals, political payoffs, threats, bluster, her husband’s coattails, and an overly generous media. Is there another candidate who would be allowed to get away with shutting out the media, taking no questions from inquiring, objective reporters day after day after day?

Sadly, Ronald Reagan has decided once again to sit out this election, and thus a choice has to be made among the candidates who are running. Jewish Democrats (the choice of adjective and noun are intentional; most are Democrats who happen to be Jews, not Jews who happen to be Democrats) will vote for Hillary Clinton. All the Jewish Democrat politicians will be singing her praises, puffing her record to make her into an honorary Jew, and proclaiming her love for Israel to their voters who have no memory and no interest in acquiring one. Most Jews will fall for it because that is what they always do. They will vote for the Democrat because that is what Jews – largely estranged from the Torah – have done in every election since 1924. It is an unblemished record of willful blindness and self-marginalization.

But Republicans have a choice. Possibly bad is better than definitely bad by any standard. It would be a great race if Charles Krauthammer (R) ran against Joe Lieberman (D) but that is not happening. We should beware of Republican bigwigs who, like Shimshon of old, would bring the idolatrous temple crashing on their own heads as long as their enemy suffers as well. Shimshon was justified; the bigwigs are not.

Trump detractors should be mindful of the fact that any Republican presidential candidate has an uphill battle against any Democrat candidate. The Dems have a near 200 electoral vote lock before any election begins, owing to their control of most of the largest states because of their large urban, unionized and minority populations.  They only need another 70 electoral votes. A disenchanted Republican base that does not vote or the rise of a third-party conservative candidate will ensure a Clinton victory, which, absent an indictment that sticks, is the strongest possibility now in any event.

Bismarck characterized politics as “the art of the possible.” People who are frustrated by today’s political scene, the nastiness, the human foibles on grand and daily display and the superficiality of the electorate are numerous but probably not the majority of Americans. Are the other Republican candidates preferable to Trump? I think so, but I have only one vote, and by the time New Jersey votes (I think our primary is in December 2021) it won’t matter.  But our Sages taught (Megila 31a) that the old and wise can build by tearing down, while the impetuous youth can destroy when they think they are building. Be wise. Don’t tear down unless you know what you are building in its place.

Those who wish to lose the election in order to save the party will wind up losing the election and the party, not to mention the country.

Obergefell and the Jewish Community

(This was originally published on It is reprinted and supplemented here.)

The Obergefell decision is going to impact negatively on Jewish life in America, both legally and culturally, although the blow will be cushioned because of the gradual nature of the deterioration.

Give credit where credit is due.  Seldom has a social movement succeeded in revolutionizing American society with the speed that was exhibited by the advocates for same sex marriage. If we recall that in 2008, both Democratic candidates for the presidency opposed same-sex marriage, it means that in less than a decade, the nation, its laws and values, and the very foundation of marriage were fundamentally transformed in ways that are both obvious and unpredictable. Advocates achieved their goals at breakneck speed by framing their cause as one that is rooted in the practice of individual rights and liberties, mooring themselves in the language and rhetoric of the civil rights movement.  And therein lies one of the primary dangers ahead for the Jewish community and other religious groups: the equation, now subtle but perhaps in the future more overt, between proponents of traditional marriage and racists.

That does not bode well for the Jews and others who adhere to the Judeo-Christian ethic on which American moral norms were once based. We are all familiar with the statement in Masechet Chulin (92b) noting that even the notoriously decadent Generation of the Flood did not have the gall to “write a marriage contract between two men.” That inhibition has been eradicated, with its converse now enshrined in American law. For the first time, something the Torah defines as a sin for both Jews and non-Jews has gained official recognition, popular acclaim and legal protection. We failed in our obligation to ensure that this society adhere formally to the Noachide laws. That failure was perhaps inevitable, as religious Jews are indeed a minority within a minority and with limited influence on popular cultures and mores.

Certainly, efforts have been and will be made to protect the religious liberties of adherents to traditional morality who do not wish to associate with or be seen as sanctioning marriages that violate their religious sensibilities. Those laws will work for a time and to a point, but they will not protect “offenders” from the expenses and stresses of defending themselves against the foreseeable lawsuits for refusal to rent a facility or provide personal services for a same-sex wedding. Nor are those laws guaranteed to withstand the scrutiny of courts that are uncommitted to constitutional precedent but simply write into law their personal moral predilections.

In other words, it is entirely predictable that a shul that refuses to rent its social hall to a same-sex couple – or even to announce in its bulletin the upcoming nuptials – will be sued, be compelled to hire lawyers to defend its rights, have the laws it thought protected their religious freedoms be overturned, and/or be treated to the public scorn worthy of a place of worship that decided, willy nilly, to deny membership to blacks for reasons strictly limited to race. Even sooner than that , a Jewish-owned kosher catering hall (in Borough Park or New Square?) will be sued for denying its facility to a same sex couple that wishes to have a glatt kosher wedding on its premises. The expense of the lawsuit will render any proposed legislative protections ephemeral and hollow.

Those who believe that this a farfetched, unrealistic nightmare would do well to consider the case of Bob Jones University, the religious Protestant college located in Greenville, South Carolina. Their long-standing policy – revoked only in the year 2000 – barred its students from engaging in interracial dating or marriage, which, unfortunately, they based on their reading of the Bible. In 1982, the United States Supreme Court upheld the IRS’s revocation of Bob Jones University’s tax exempt status on the grounds that such racial discrimination violated public policy. It does not take a great leap of faith or imagination to envision a similar process unfolding in the near future that challenges the tax exempt status of shuls, yeshivot, or other Jewish institutions that cling to similar “repugnant” or “outdated” notions of traditional marriage. That the differences between racial discrimination and same-sex marriage discrimination are abundantly clear and eminently justifiable will not matter one whit to the institution that is sued or harassed and threatened with financial ruin protecting its own religious liberties.

Indeed, the threat to the tax exempt status of religious organizations that oppose same sex marriage was admitted by the Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, Jr., during oral argument in this case, and noted by Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent: “… [t]he Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. … There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.” That is the frightening new world that we have entered, and in which promises of legislation that will allegedly shield religious groups or individuals should provide little comfort. We are at the mercy of tomorrow’s libertine, legal crusaders.

A religious homeowner that refuses to rent out his basement apartment to a same sex couple – not to mention the caterer that refuses to provide food for a same sex marriage – will find themselves in profound legal trouble. Once opposition to same sex marriage or relationships is defined as bigotry – and as the Supreme Court dissenters in Obergefell conceded, that is the import of the Court’s decision – all putative legal protections will not matter. American law does not protect bigots; it prosecutes them, it has them sued, and in the case of one upstate New York couple who refused to rent their farm for a same sex wedding because it violated their Catholic faith, it sentences them to weeks in an indoctrination camp to cure them of their biases. Their sentence, including a $13,000 fine, was recently upheld by the Appellate Division.

All of which begs the question that advocates of same sex marriage successfully raised during their campaign: What possible harm can accrue to you or me if Jack and Joe or Fran and Sue are allowed to marry? This question has several answers; unfortunately, none of them resonated with the popular media (including the implicit threat to religious liberty). But this revolution in our conception of marriage will dramatically alter the way children are educated and socialized in this society.

Marriage is already a troubled institution in a land that celebrates individuality and permissiveness and chafes under any type of moral restraint. Imagine a society in which children are taught that boys can marry boys or girls, and girls can marry girls or boys – that any combination in sex or number is “normal.” Identity confusion will reign with all the attendant consequences to one’s pursuit of happiness and spiritual growth. Imagine living in a society in which polygamy, polyandry and polyamory are legalized and normalized (after all, once marriage is legally redefined, there is no logical or legal reason to permit same sex marriages and prohibit marriages involving multiple partners.) The cherem of Rabbenu Gershom that proscribed polygamy for Ashkenazic Jews will be a dead letter, and our aspiration to build holy homes will be so out of touch with prevailing norms as to make religious Jews outcasts (or even greater outcasts) in civil society. That phenomenon has bedeviled us since the 1960’s but will be exacerbated in the near future.

Additionally, the decision signals that opposite-sex parenting is not the ideal environment in which to raise children, which is the exact opposite of what the Torah encourages and what millennia of human history has reinforced. That attitude can seep into our world as well.

The Court has now spoken and its decision will not be reversed anytime soon or perhaps ever.  Notwithstanding the above, we might be able to tolerate a “live and let live” scenario, but SSM advocates have always been less interested in rights and more interested in legitimacy. The issue that transcends the Court decision is one that we have faced before with mixed results: how can Jews remain active and viable members in a society that is in steep moral decline, and whose cherished values are antithetical to basic Jewish norms? There have always been individual halachot that set us apart from the rest of society. Kashrut regulated what and with whom we could eat; Shabbat provided us with a spiritual cocoon for at least one day a week to enjoy unmitigated holiness; Taharat Hamishpacha sanctified marriage and elevated the marital bond beyond the mere provision of mutual physical pleasures. Now, for the first time in memory, a particular halacha – the ban on same sex relationships – is perceived by the American legal system, if not also by a substantial part of the population, as morally abhorrent and indicative of an archaic and particularly detestable form of hatred.

Jewish children raised in such an environment will be hard-pressed to see the beauty, wisdom and Divinity in a Torah that communicates such principles while viewed through that distorted lens. And if such a sentiment goes unchallenged and unrefuted, their commitment to mitzvot will necessarily wither. We will need to redouble our efforts to ensure the survival and relevance of our Torah-based morality.

The other factor to ponder is that the Court has, again, reduced Constitutional jurisprudence from a system of objectively-based rights to the personal whims of five justices. Five justices who could on their own redefine marriage (about which the Constitution itself is completely silent) could also redefine the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and exercise of religion to the detriment of Jews as well.  The ongoing efforts to criminalize or penalize certain types of speech on campus or the workplace are a harbinger of such encroachments on our freedoms. Could a statute define the public reading of Vayikra 18:22 as unlawful  “hate speech”?  Not any time soon, one would hope, but there are few guarantees for the future. A government of laws provides more security than a government of men (and women). Sadly, at present, laws do not mean what they seem to say as much as they mean what the Justices say they mean, and the fact that the Court overturned the laws in support of traditional marriage democratically enacted in dozens of states is also ominous.

The sky is not falling, and assuredly the Jewish people have faced greater challenges and threats during our long sojourn in the Exile. But the sky is darkening, and the moral decline of America, as symbolized by this and other Court decisions as well as the breakdown of the family, does not bode well for the future. A lower percentage of adult Americans are married than ever before and a greater percentage of children are born out of wedlock than ever before. Obergefell  is just another step in this societal deterioration.

Is the picture irredeemably bleak? Well, yes, but that too is part of the birth pangs of Moshiach. The pre-Messianic world, which is now physically at war with itself – there is no place on the globe safe from the scourge of Islamic terror –  is also a world that is witnessing a collapse of the moral and ethical norms that enabled mankind to stay afloat, even if uneasily, for millennia. It is a world that is ripe for Moshiach – and that demands that we Jews strengthen ourselves in our faith and commitment, never weary of preaching G-d’s morality in a polite and appealing way to our neighbors, and maintain the courage of our convictions despite the legal and rhetorical assaults against us that can be expected.

There are some laws that protect a minority that all good people should welcome, and other laws that purport to protect a minority but instead encumber, inconvenience and prejudice the majority. That is what the Obergefell decision accomplished. The world may have changed for the worse, but we hope and pray that it can still – and soon – change for the better.


Antonin Scalia: Orthodox Justice

   Well, almost, but not quite. But even “almost” is a high praise for a devout and pious Catholic.

The sudden passing of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia leaves a void not only on the Court but in the legal world. Scalia was a revolutionary thinker and, even if there are successors and followers, few have demonstrated the knack of writing with his trademark verve, flair and color. Scalia was born for intellectual and legal combat, enjoyed it immensely and engaged in it without hesitation. There has to be few pleasures in life for legal scholars greater than reading a Scalia dissent – pungent, cogent and forceful. My series “The Law and the Law,” which contrasted Supreme Court decisions with the Torah view on the particular cases at hand (all accessible on this site) occasionally relied heavily on Scalia’s dissents for the most articulate and reasonable expression of constitutional jurisprudence.

But “Orthodox”? Consider.

Scalia was a so-called “originalist” who perceived the role of the Supreme Court as attempting to ascertain the original intent of the Framers of the US Constitution and then applying that interpretation to the matter at hand. As such, he venerated the Constitution (and the legal precedents established in the early years of Supreme Court jurisprudence) in the same way that a religious Jew venerates the Bible. Indeed, an analogy can be made between the way “originalists” approach the Constitution and Supreme Court case law to the way faithful Jews approach the written Torah and the Talmud and Codes. Everything is sourced, the system is self-contained, and what is required at most is the application of traditional principles to new situations.

This is the place where one gigantic “l’havdil elef havdalot” is necessary, as G-d’s Torah must certainly be distinguished from man’s (even enlightened man’s) Constitution. Nonetheless, the analogy is still apt, because the intention of the Framers, as Scalia saw it, was that the Constitution serve as the permanent framework for self-governance and the preservation of individual liberties. If each generation saw fit to tamper with the Constitution and drastically transform it according to the prevailing winds, then that Constitution would not survive and the American republic would also collapse, as have other societies with malleable founding documents. Indeed, many of those other societies crumbled in the wake of sudden loss of personal freedoms that had been guaranteed by charters they later deemed obsolete. Those nations usually wound up in the throes of dictatorship.

To revere the Constitution is to make it the anchor of law and governance, and amended only via a rigorous and deliberate process that fully reflects the wishes of an overwhelming preponderance of the American society. Scalia felt it was a betrayal, and downright bizarre, to impose on the Constitution rights, values, doctrines, penumbras, and personal judgments that were simply not there.

He asked, in effect: how can capital punishment be unconstitutional, when such sentences existed when the Constitution was enacted? How can privacy or abortion be a Constitutional right when the former went unmentioned in the text and the latter was a crime for more than 150 years after ratification? How can same-sex marriage be guaranteed by the Constitution when the Constitution does not mention marriage – any type of marriage – at all?

What offended Scalia was not so much the policy implications (those are personal to each judge) but the notion that laws were not being made by legislatures – the people – but by nine people in black robes, all unelected, and all with but temporal existences. He recognized that, whatever his personal view, states could pass laws allowing abortion, as states like New York, New Jersey and California did years before Roe v. Wade; but there is no Constitutional question that is being raised (except perhaps whether the Equal Protection Clause applies to fetuses). Sometimes the Constitution is just silent on a particular issue. The identical reasoning applied to same-sex marriage or other “social” or “political” issues the Court was called on to resolve. He rightly saw the reluctance of legislators to vote on these matters, preferring the Court to do their dirty work for them, as cowardice that was unworthy of this Republic.

Laws should reflect the will of the people, through their elected officials, in almost every case. The Constitution cannot be transformed, distorted or upended simply based on the whims of nine Justices. It is a powerful argument, not only on the merits but also practically. There is no certainty in law – and there should be certainty in law for society to remain orderly and functional – if the personal predilections of a handful of people are routinely substituted for the judgment rendered by the Founders as to how they sought to form a “more perfect union.”

The other side against whom Scalia warred argued that the Constitution must be a living document that evolves with the times, and that it must always reflect the values of the current generation. That is to say, it should cease functioning as a practical guide to governance and freedom and be relegated to the status of an ancient text trotted out for confirmation of a particular bias but never as a definitive expression of an American virtue, ideal, aspiration or source of law.

That attitude explains the current uproar over Scalia’s replacement, an unseemly spectacle that began before his body was even cold. It underscores the sad irony of a president who has regularly run roughshod over his constitutional limitations and a Congress that has failed to assert itself properly in the scheme of checks and balances. Each group, but certainly the political left for the greater part, is seeking to implant on the Supreme Court another politician in the disguise of a legal scholar, someone who can be relied upon to adhere to certain policy conclusions regardless of their Constitutional propriety. That is not what the Supreme Court is supposed to be, and that is not how Scalia saw his role.

For decades, the Supreme Court has functioned in the exact opposite way to that of the Halachic scholar. The Court is result-oriented, where Halacha is process-oriented. The politicians who sit on the Court have for too long decided what legal conclusion they wish to reach, and then buttressed that conclusion with half-baked Constitutional pseudo-precedents or, more frequently, inventing new ones out of thin air. The Justices do not analyze the sources and reach an objective decision. Jewish law – some notable exceptions aside, such as the bias to free an Agunah – looks at the process, precedents, the facts and circumstances and renders decisions objectively, although not dispassionately. That is why the confirmation process today is so contentious; an impartial justice is not being appointed as much as another partisan politician is being elected for life and given a black robe.

The Scalia approach to the Constitution outlined above is quite similar to the way the Halachic jurist approaches the Torah, and here’s the rub: Scalia’s legal antagonists, those who wish the Constitution to be a “living, evolving” document, find their parallel in the non-Orthodox movements who view the Torah from the identical perspective. They also see a Torah that must evolve with the times, a Torah that must adapt to new values and bend to new and more powerful winds. To them, the morality of the Torah is always subject to change because of the new and allegedly “higher” morality as enunciated by each generation of modern man.

Thus, it astonishes, perplexes and vexes a Scalia-like Halachist that the non-Orthodox routinely embrace new values like pluralism, egalitarianism, feminism and others, force-feed them into the Torah system and emerge with a peculiar amalgam of laws and rituals that seem Jewish but only barely so. When the anchor of Torah is disengaged, what is left is a ship of Judaism that is buffeted by the prevailing winds and navigates unsteadily through the treacherous waters of modernity. It can never guarantee safe spiritual passage for any Jew, as history itself proves. Thus, it is no accident that so many Orthodox thinkers felt such a bond with Antonin Scalia; it was not only the policy but especially the process in which we found the symmetry of approaches.

Lest one exclaim that before anyone idolizes the Constitution we should recall that the Constitution permitted slavery (!), we should recall as well that so did the Torah. Of course, neither document (L’havdil, again) extolled slavery and favored its survival but rather recognized its reality and tried to limit and, over time, eliminate, its inherent excesses and potential for human degradation. (For the Torah view of slavery, see the appropriate section in my book “Tzadka Mimeni: The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility” available here or at the top of this page.)

But consider as well that the Constitution contained within it the laborious process by which it could be amended, and in ways that could even contradict the intention of the Framers. An amendment was, in effect, the result of a new Constitutional Convention on one issue. Naturally, the divine Torah has no such provision but the Torah did give the Sanhedrin and the true Sages of every generation the right to make ordinances, and certainly to apply the Torah’s principles to new situations. That is how modern Halachists reckon with electricity on Shabbat, new technology that assists couples dealing with infertility, and sundry other issues – all in compliance with the divine vision. In that way, we adapt modernity to the Torah rather than adapt the Torah to modernity.

I only had the privilege of meeting Justice Scalia one time, and he was as many have described him: warm, gregarious, funny, sharp, and brilliant, and a great raconteur. Read his dissents, if only on the Obamacare cases and in the Obergefell decision to get a true flavor of the man and his mission.

His struggle in the American legal sphere will go on without his mighty pen and intellect. Not surprisingly, our parallel struggle in the Jewish world will go on as well, a struggle that should engage all Jews and in which we hope to reclaim our brethren for the world of Torah and the true service of G-d.

Kotel Controversy

Here in Israel, the recent Cabinet decision to segregate the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple Mount) into traditional/Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Western-influenced modes of worship have ignited passions on all five sides of the issue. From one perspective, the decision merely enshrined into law what had become a de facto non-Orthodox place of worship for several years already. From another perspective, the decision enshrines into law not only a violation of the status quo that had been in effect for more than fifty years, but also authorizes an especially vulgar violation of the sanctity of the holiest site in Jewish life. It’s not a mixed blessing but a mixed curse.
We start with the positive aspects of the decision. Permission to the non-Orthodox to hold sway over part of the Kotel defuses a major source of tension between Israel and part of American Jewry, and counteracts the incessant pressure and threats they make against Israel when they feel disrespected. Threats by Jewish secular politicians and the Jewish “religious” politicians to reduce their support for Israel if their demands were not met bore fruit, even if those threats were idle. (Remove the “Israel factor” from non-Orthodox life, and the substance of their Jewish commitment largely reads like the Bernie Sanders platform.) But reduction of acrimony is always a good thing.
Secondly, the decision has effectively banished the Women of the Wall and their provocations away from the main Kotel plaza and into the non-traditional section. This most certainly must stick in their craw, but does accurately define how the Torah world perceives them. Thirdly, as the location is not visible from the main plaza and need not be seen by traditional worshipers at the Kotel, the Kotel will no longer be a constant flashpoint for media stunts and public relations ploys. Rather, each Jew can choose his/her place of worship and not be affronted by the presence of the “other.” As such, it fulfills a pluralist vision, for those who worship in that temple. It purports to express a “live and let live” philosophy.
Sounds great? Here are the problems and they are serious. The decision, purporting to be accommodating, is one of the most divisive acts in Jewish life in decades, and perhaps not since the Reform movement’s patrilineal descent ruling in 1983. One of the greatest expressions of Jewish unity – that all Jews could gather at this sacred space, the remnant of the Holy Temple, and worship precisely as our fathers and mothers did for centuries – has now been shattered. The fraying bonds of Jewish unity will be further torn, hanging by a bare thread.
Secondly, and this irony should not be lost on any thinking person, the laws of Mechitza are derived (Masechet Succa 51b) from what took place on the Temple Mount. The fact that Jewish law requires a separation between men and women during prayer is derived from the very practice that took place on the Temple Mount that stands directly above the place where descendants of those very Jews are now brazenly flouting that very provision. So, why exactly are they there?
Some, to their discredit, have pointed out that there was no Mechitza in place at the Kotel until 1967, and generations of Jews prayed there in mixed or at least separate fashion. The ears that hear such a statement should tremble: for 19 centuries, the Kotel was controlled by non-Jews: Romans, Byzantines, and then for centuries, Muslims, followed briefly by the British. Should we act today in the sovereign State of Israel exactly as our enemies treated us – and the Kotel – during the years of our dispersion and persecution? To answer in the affirmative is to acquiesce in a breathtaking lack of Jewish pride, sense of Jewish nationhood and awareness of the historical moment. There was no Mechitza for centuries because our enemies, occupiers of Yerushalayim, did not allow it. And sovereign Israel should do the same?!
Additionally, even if we ignore for a movement that the Reform movement for generations rejected the concept of the Return to Zion, it still renounces the traditional Jewish dream and objective of rebuilding the Temple. Do they recite the thrice-daily prayer that the Temple should be restored speedily and in our days and the order of worship therein be restored? I think not. So, why exactly do they want to be there?
And the only way we identify the place in question as the Temple Mount is through the Mesora, the unbroken transmission of Jewish law and lore, that is rejected by the non-Orthodox movements. Indeed, the official position of the Palestine Authority is that there was no Temple Mount, fanciful and spiteful to be sure, but a clear denial of our tradition. (Not to belabor the incongruity, but the “Palestinians” are the group that lacks any tradition of living in the land of Israel for any appreciable amount of time.) In essence, Jewish groups that deny the Mesora are claiming their “right” to worship as they see fit in a place that is ours due to our Mesora and preserved by those faithful to that Mesora.
Furthermore, the non-Orthodox must surely concede that the way they wish to worship – mixed pews – is itself a violation of that very Mesora. And, although the decision currently prohibits the use of musical instruments or flagrant desecrations of Shabbat in the non-Orthodox zone, give that time. The will of the G-d of Israel, to them, must always defer to the gods of pluralism and religious freedom. Religious freedom is the freedom to construct your own religion. That is a Western value that animates too many Jews; but is it a Jewish value that should find expression in the holiest place in the holiest city in the holiest land on G-d’s earth? No.
It is inconceivable that the Vatican would open a Protestant church in its jurisdiction, or that Shiite sites might allow Sunnis to worship as they wish. (Given the world scene, free people can differ as to which scenario today is more unlikely!) Thus, allowing “all Jews” to worship as they wish in the name of pluralism engenders a variety of interesting possibilities? Jews for Jesus? Joint and commingled prayers among all religions? Should the new Kotel area become a venue for the performance of intermarriages? After all, one good Churban deserves another… On some matters “live and let live” shows a religious relativism that undermines what is sacred.
The decision, which I believe is well-meaning, harms the unity of the Jewish people, the sanctity of the place, and the integrity of Halacha, and those are in no particular order. It turns the Kotel into a shrine, in the worst sense of the term: the sanctification of a wall, of stones, with little consciousness of the G-d whose presence sanctifies the place, the G-d whose law we are enjoined to obey, and of the generations of Jews whose faithfulness and fidelity to Halacha kept alive the prophetic vision of Jewish national life that is now being realized.
There is something to be said for the notion that the Israeli-Jewish public is composed of a variety of tribes that has to find some way to co-exist, not just in order to deal with the real and pressing threats of our foreign enemies but simply because that is the way it has always been. In the ancient past, each tribe had its own character and interests, even if all were committed to Halacha. Our modern tribes differ in that commitment, and so historic compromises were made to foster co-existence. Control of Jewish status issues – marriage, divorce and conversion – were given to the Rabbinate. Public observance of Shabbat and Kashrut were guaranteed. Both commitments ensured the unity of the Jewish people. What is today characterized as “caving in to the ultra-Orthodox” was the simple recognition that the guardians of the Jewish faith and way of life – Torah-observant Jews, and not only the “ultra-Orthodox,” which the elitists use as a slur against a segment of the population that the average Jew is supposed to dislike – were best positioned to maintain the traditions, the unity and the faith of Israel. Here’s the open secret: we still are. That fact alone should promote a measure of deference to changes in the religious status quo.
It is unconscionable that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinate of Yerushalayim were not consulted on this matter, and that the Rabbi of Kotel was consulted and basically ignored. The Minister of Religious Affairs was similarly not consulted. A neutral observer would likely conclude that matters of religious practice at the Kotel fall under the jurisdiction of any one of the aforementioned agencies. It is interesting that just two weeks ago Israelis were expelled from a building they had lawfully purchased in the holy city of Hevron because they allegedly did not have the appropriate authority from the Defense Minister under whose jurisdiction such purchases come. I suppose the difference between encroachments on the jurisdiction of the Defense Minister (who then unabashedly reverses the actions that were taken) and encroachments on the jurisdiction of the rabbinical authorities (which are ignored) is that the former has men with guns at his disposal and the latter do not.
What is well-meaning in the decision is not just the desire to reduce tensions in the Jewish world but also the attempt to keep the non-Orthodox in the fold, to limit the alienation they feel from Israeli life and Jewish destiny by placating them. The problem with this legitimization is that it almost closes the door to a complete return to true Jewish observance, and that is ultimately unfair to them and to their children. The reality is that the non-Orthodox movements exist – but the undeniable and tragic reality also is that their rate of assimilation, intermarriage and attrition from Jewishness is horrifying and catastrophic. We are losing souls, and the process of accommodation that the current decision implies has proven to be a failure.
The proof will soon be apparent. Some perspective is necessary and perhaps this too played a role in the decision. The fact is that the Kotel location will be available 24/7 but will be rarely used. Don’t expect a vatikin minyan or a midnight Maariv. Daily public prayer has not been a focus of the non-Orthodox for many decades, and the new space will be as unpopulated on a daily basis as are the non-Orthodox temples on a daily basis, notwithstanding that there might be a few exceptions. Their Kotel area, born in rebellion against G-d, will be a place for special events – and those who demanded it will still not be satisfied and will make further demands and threats.
I do recognize that there is even a difference between the informal use of the Robinson’s Arch area and official approval that ratifies a new situation. But can it be stopped? In this regard, there have been many unfortunate Israeli initiatives in the past that have been thwarted by the Arabs. As if on cue, the Wakf, the PA and the Jordanians have expressed their vehement objection to the plan. Expect the resurrection of the deceitful Arab claim that Israel is trying “to undermine Al Aksa.” Indeed, the location here is closer to Al Aksa than all the other times this lie was uttered; this too is a lie but Arab lies often affect Israeli policy. The plan may have to be abandoned in order to forestall Arab rioting.
Additionally, the Jerusalem Post reported last week that 60% of Israeli Cabinet decisions are never implemented. Many are announced to great fanfare and receive significant media attention – and then, nothing. One example: a Cabinet decision around ten years ago to move all (or most) government ministries to Yerushalayim. The politicians were lauded, the hypocritical world was outraged, the West denounced it, and since then, nothing. One reason suggested was the lack of money to implement many decisions, notwithstanding the great enthusiasm generated when they are announced. A better reason might be the frequent change of governments and ministers, each with their own priorities, which sees these pronouncements place on the back burner.
Who knows what the future of this decision, scheduled for next year, really will be? What is more pressing than accommodating all types of worship at the Kotel is the disastrous loss of souls to the Jewish people. To my mind, this will hasten that process, not delay it. Worse, the place on earth that was most suitable to unite all Jews will no longer exist in that form and serve that purpose.

I once heard Nechama Leibowitz z”l quote her brother as suggesting, after the Six Day War, that Israel should return the Kotel to Jordan. Otherwise, the day won’t be far off when Jews will turn the Kotel into a “Discotel.”   Those who are rejoicing should take notice, and focus more on substance than on symbols.

Spell Check

Many young people today have forgotten the art of spelling, if only because easy texting depends on the absence of vowels. And “spell check” (some sophisticated programs were developed here in Israel) enables a youngster to type without regard to proper spelling because misspelled words are automatically corrected. Certainly anyone who rights (!) anything quickly learns the limitations of “spell check,” but I have also learned that transliterating Hebrew words triggers the “spell check” in ways that are humorous, insightful, and occasionally absolutely profound.

For example, my use of Mishpacha (family) was corrected to “mishap ha,” which could occur in families that are careless, or in which one jokester loves to sprinkle the floor with banana peels. Mechutan (the in-laws) became “me human,” a plea for understanding, sensitivity, or at least a request for civilized treatment (fortunately, I have been blessed in that regard). Nefesh (soul) was changed to “necessary,” which is certainly true even if not entirely definitive.

“Spell check” obviously struggles with death. Avelut (mourning) has been transformed into “a rout,” or “a slur.” The former is a prevalent sensation upon the death of a loved one, as the survivors often feel defeated and overwhelmed, and the latter is best omitted from a eulogy. When the nifeteret (deceased woman) became the “niftiest,” it was clear that sometimes the eulogy can write itself.

Theological positions are frequently staked out. Maharat (the woman ordained by the neo-Conservatives) was perceived as a “Maharaja,” a royal position to be sure but not necessarily implying any religious connotation. Conversely, musmachim (men who achieve true rabbinic ordination) became “mustache,” a compromise between the beard favored by most rabbis and the clean-shaven few. Eilu v’eilu (these and these… are the words of the living G-d) is our understanding of a true machloket, a rabbinic dispute in which both sides have halachic validity. But when it is used frivolously, or to justify heretical or unacceptable positions, it metamorphoses into “evil veiled.” That’s not me talking; that’s “spell check.”

I have seen Halacha (Jewish law) become “headache,”which it is to some, sad to say, but to others, it is a “Hibachi,” whose use on Yom Tov has triggered discussions of the appropriate application of Jewish law. The finer points of Halacha often generate Sheilot, some of which are invariably “shallow,” but deserve to be answered anyway. Sometimes the answer is “no,” and the item in question becomes an “issur” (a forbidden substance) with which some people take “issue.” The Shulchan (Aruch) was not the code of Jewish law but a “Sultan,” who was an authority in his own right. And a Korban (offering in the Bet Hamikdash) was actually spelled as “Korean,” many of whom have a real affinity for the Talmud, and probably Seder Kodashim.

Shuls became “ships,” on which those who lose kavana (concentration) can sail during services. That can also happen when the davening (prayer) becomes “deafening,” the bane of many Shuls. But Shuls (obviously a word with diverse meanings) can appeal to our “souls” and also occasionally be a home for “shills.” Shuls should be welcoming to everyone. After all, gerim (converts) are just trying to “get in,” a process that can be “grim” if conversions are sought for the wrong reasons. In a shul populated by misnagdim (who are by no means “misanthropes”), a chasid might feel “chased.” After Shabbat, we say havdala, whether or not we are in “Havana,” but why would we be, especially since Cuba is still not a free society?

I tried to wish everyone bsorot tovot (good tidings) but it went right to the “Baptists.” And just as well. I’m sure I’ve missed dozens of other Spell Check specials. The lesson is that it is hard to keep track of all the subliminal messages we send whenever we put fingers to keyboard.