Banana Republic?

(First published at, January 1, 2023 )

After a series of American objections to Israeli policies (culminating in the annexation of the Golan Heights more than forty years ago) led to protests and suspensions of signed agreements with Israel, Prime Minister Menahem Begin called in US Ambassador Samuel Lewis and gave him a tongue-lashing: “Are we a vassal state? Are we a banana republic? Are we 14-year-old boys that have to have knuckles slapped if they misbehave?” And Mr. Begin continued: “You cannot and will not frighten us with punishments… Threats will fall on deaf ears… We shall not allow a sword of Damocles to hang over our heads. The people of Israel have lived for 3,700 years without a strategic agreement with America, and it will continue to live without it for another 3,700 years.”

     We are missing a Begin-like response today.

      The American government’s hostility to Israel’s new administration is offensive. That is not ameliorated by the fact that it is being prompted, aided, and abetted by so-called American Jewish “leaders” whose progressive politics darkens their attitude towards the Jewish state. The United States has routinely interfered in Israel’s elections, and its domestic and foreign affairs, but the extent to which it is attempting to micromanage Israel’s democracy, duly elected government and policies is unprecedented and shocking.

       We are hearing US government officials stating openly that Israel may not expand settlements in Judea and Samaria and better not annex the central part of our ancient homeland. Furthermore, Israel may not change its rules of engagement under fire for either our military or our police. We may not amend the law and limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court nor amend the “Grandfather Clause” of the Law of Return that has engendered the Aliyah of mostly Gentiles to Israel over the last several years, if not longer. Israel may not change the status quo on the Temple Mount – i.e., it must maintain discriminatory policies against only Jews – nor may Israel’s Knesset enshrine religious freedom protections in our laws to prevent violations of conscience created by the new immorality sweeping the globe. Similarly, Israel may not take preemptive action against Iran if it so chooses without prior coordination with the US, knowing that prior coordination will certainly abort the potential success of any mission and knowing, as well, that the US will never take preemptive military action against Iran.

      Most critically, and repugnantly, Israel is being ordered that its newly elected government may not implement any of the policies on which it was elected and for which the government was formed. In essence, the US will only support the new government if it continues the policies of the government that was routed from office and rejected by the people.

      Many Israelis reflexively fear the wrath of Uncle Sam and would willingly forego making any improvements to life in Israel that irritate our benefactor. That contention was never sound, although it was certainly more plausible in Begin’s time that it is today. There is a fear of cutting off American military assistance, but let’s face it. The amount is a pittance in the US budget, not that substantial in Israel’s budget, and – since it is all spent in America anyway – essentially subsidizes the American arms industry which would be the first to protest a cut off. And Iron Dome money is an investment that benefits the US as much as it does Israel.

     How much money are we taking about? By comparison, the US has provided Ukraine in one year with the equivalent of 15 years assistance to Israel. It squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan the equivalent of centuries of assistance to Israel. It is not about the money. It is more about the fear of the unknown, of being disfavored by an older sibling whose approval we crave. But nationhood requires independence and life as a banana republic can get very slippery.

      Add to America’s condescension towards Israel the FBI’s demand that it investigate the death of the shaheed (as the PA media described her) journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Apparently, the FBI has concluded its investigations of the dozens of journalists and thousands of civilians killed in America’s twenty-year war in the Middle East. And, apparently, it has no time, interest, or resources to investigate the Jew hatred and related attacks that are sweeping across the United States that has made Jews the number one targeted ethnic group in the entire country.

      If interference in domestic affairs of another country is fair game, here are two suggestions: a learned colleague noted that Israel’s Ministry of Justice should send Israeli investigators and attorneys to determine why assaults on Jews go unprosecuted in America – why Jews can be attacked on the street and brutalized and their assailants, if arrested, released immediately on bail, and rarely prosecuted, convicted, or incarcerated. That certainly is unacceptable and should be a high priority for Israel.

      Additionally, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, now headed by the estimable Amichai Chikli, should form a task force to investigate the prevalence and virulence of Jew hatred in America and issue a report that is balanced and caters to no American political party’s agenda. Indeed, such is within the mandate of the ministry which seeks to nurture close ties with Jewish communities around the world and, if necessary, come to their defense. There might not be a Jewish community outside of Israel today that is more under siege than is American Jewry – both spiritually and physically.

      The sad reality is that for all the bluster, America is in decline. It is essentially bankrupt, carrying a debt of over thirty trillion dollars and sustaining its economy only by printing money. Its work force is shrinking as government handouts of the freshly printed money to favored constituents disincentivizes work. Its borders are porous and millions of migrants are pouring into the country, further sapping its resources. Some of those illegals have already introduced into America enough Fentanyl to kill every American several times over. Its infrastructure is collapsing. The recent cold wave killed dozens of people and its electricity grid is unable to fully heat many parts of the country. All that is third world stuff. And its politicians are focused on grandstanding for the cameras, earning money for themselves, and keeping power by suggesting how more awful life would be if their opponents were elected.

     It is also in Israel’s interest, as has happened over the last decade, to cultivate and strengthen ties with other superpowers around the world. America is perceived as weak across the globe (Ukraine has paid the price for that) and nations such as China, Russia and North Korea show it little deference. Israel, then, is a ripe target for bullying to try to regain for the US some international prestige.

      The contempt that the American government has for Israel’s new administration is breathtaking. It deigns to prescribe for Israel who can be a citizen, who is a Jew, how its police and army should conduct itself, what laws we can pass, where and how we can pray, and even where we are allowed to build our homes and factories. In due course, the Americans will insist on setting the price of every Milky and choosing who can light the torches on Yom Haatzmaut. There is no other country in the world to whom it would present such dictates – and no other country in the world would pay any attention to it if it did. Israel should listen respectfully and make its own decisions based on the will of the people and the unique requirements of a Jewish state. That does not mean that we should act in a needlessly provocative way; it does mean we must always act in our interests and refrain from constructive acts only when the balance of national interests weighs against it.

     US resistance – including that of American Jews – to Israel becoming more Jewish should be met with a “thanks for sharing.” Prime Minister Netanyahu is making a mistake if he visits America presuming he will convince them to act on Iran but fully aware that he will just be handed a list of things that he may not do. We should stop the preemptive apology tour and we should forcefully reject the implication that we are a banana republic whose existence depends on American largesse and beneficence.

     Those days are long gone and we should act like it.

Modern Clash


   Ben Shapiro’s exposure of the failures of Modern Orthodoxy has generated a lot of waves. Most of those who define themselves that way, he opined, fall into one of three classes: the Secular Orthodox, whose values are almost exclusively engendered by Western progressivism, which they conflate with Torah; the Nervous Orthodox, who try to maintain Jewish values but without attracting attention and so issue statements that require careful scrutiny to understand what they mean and then clarifications after people understand what they mean; and the Clumsy Orthodox, who are faithful to Jewish values but fear the progressive reaction in maintaining them publicly. They try to have it both ways and end up satisfying no one. His main objection is to Modern Orthodoxy’s  wholesale internalization of Western values as if they are Torah values and the concomitant rejection of Jewish values. It is what I termed years ago in these pages the “Orthoprax,” who perform the mitzvot that correspond to their world view but do not feel bound by others, and their value system is utterly alien.

 Rabbi Michael Broyde took issue with Ben Shapiro’s approach without directly engaging or refuting his arguments. Rabbi Broyde’s basic point is that we must follow the lead of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai who chose to surrender to Rome rather than confront them in battle and was granted “Yavneh and its Sages” which preserved Jewish tradition (and even the royal house of Israel) to live another day and to survive, with G-d’s help, until today. This accommodationist approach has at times served the Jewish people well in exile, and Rabbi Broyde posits that if securing our rights means that we have to acquiesce into granting rights – said another way, become accustomed to sinful behavior – to groups whose conduct is anathema to our traditions, that is a price worth paying. It is a plausible argument.

     Yet, like many uses of historical analogies, they are less persuasive upon analysis than they appear superficially. First, Rabban Yochanan was himself unsure whether he did the right thing in sacrificing the Bet Hamikdash for refuge in Yavneh (Berachot 28b) and some of his most distinguished colleagues (like Rabbi Akiva) disagreed with him and thought he erred grievously (Gittin 56b). That it all worked out is no proof that this was even the best way, as Rabban Yochanan on his deathbed sought to reassure his students that redemption was imminent and they should prepare a throne for Chizkiyahu the king (i.e., the Moshiach) who is coming. But that has not happened yet. Since G-d runs the world, we do not know what would have been the outcome of a different approach; it is the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Just because event B followed event A doesn’t mean that event A caused event B.

      Second, and more importantly, Rabban Yochanan’s accommodationist approach is more reasonable in the face of impending doom and destruction – the Churban­ – than it is as we advance towards complete redemption. Indeed, in the dark and dreary exiles where Jews barely clung to our spiritual moorings and our lives and were content enough just to be left alone, the capacity of Jews to spread our divine values was limited. Fortunately, the last major exile to afflict the Jewish people has been the American exile, arguably the most pleasant and congenial of all exiles. Certainly, there are threats and dangers that come from nefarious outside forces, like Jew hatred and the violence it spawns, and there are also those threats and dangers that are self-inflicted wounds, like assimilation and intermarriage. As a Jewish commentator once wrote, the problem in America is not that the Gentiles want to kill us but that they want to marry us. It is the place in which, ideally, the Jewish values can be propagated without fear and can compete quite well in the marketplace of ideas.

     We sell ourselves short if we think that if we wish to propagate the morality of Torah to the broad public – to show them how their lives would be better – then we risk arousing the ire of powerful Roman legions who will vanquish us. If anything, large scale Jewish abandonment of Jewish values in the public domain leaves the impression that we have nothing to offer and there is nothing special about us.

      It is hard to refute the fact that the American exile has been the stopover that is most amenable to fulfilling the Gemara’s teaching (Pesachim 87b) that “G-d only exiled the Jewish people among the nations of the world so that we should gather in converts.” But why would any Gentile want to join the Jewish people if we dilute, mute, or conceal our message? Why would any Jew want to remain part of the Jewish nation – a persistent problem in America – if Jews have nothing to contribute to society other than “let me just secure my rights, even if it means compromising my values”? That message is uninspiring and so most American Jews today are, frankly, uninspired.

     For sure, we need not join every cultural battle. But on issues that affect the viability of the Jewish family and how best to maintain our faith in a society plunging past decadence in outright depravity and the denial of any objective truth, the accommodationist model no longer works. And the proof is that only sin in the Torah that has its own lobby and legal protections is impairing our children’s acceptance of Torah and faith in Hashem. Whatever passions, lusts or devotions motivate the SSA advocates, too many Modern Orthodox children struggle with the divinity of the Torah’s unequivocal prohibition and thus question the imperative of sundry other mitzvot.

     It is this failure of Modern Orthodoxy – whether in its secular, nervous or clumsy formats – that exercises Mr. Shapiro. The Mitzvot are our wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations; when we change the topic for fear of social media attacks or something even less frivolous than that, they will never perceive us as a great nation.

     Do the Modern Orthodox have anything more compelling to share in the marketplace of ideas and values than “let’s just all get along”? If not, then it is hard to see how or even why it should survive. It becomes just a social construct with some rituals for ethnic flavoring.

      Fortunately, there are more than Mr. Shapiro’s three aforementioned groups. There are still Modern Orthodox Jews and Rabbis who love the Torah and its mitzvot and are not embarrassed by them or by any Jewish values, and do not hesitate to speak of them with firmness, kindness, sensitivity, and tact. They live by the credo of Rav Moshe Isserles with which he beings the Shulchan Aruch that “one should never be ashamed in front of other people who deride him in his divine service.”

     Those people exist – but they need to speak up and spread the beauty of Torah without fear of human beings and their Twitter or Facebook accounts. After all, it was the same giant, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, who chastised his students that their fear of man exceeds their fear of G-d.

Ask the Rabbi, Part 20

(This is almost the fourth year that I am answering questions in the Jewish Press forum entitled, “Is it Proper?” All the rabbinic responses – and more – can be read at

How should we treat friends and family members who intermarry?

There was a time not too long ago when intermarriage was a red line that even impious Jews knew not to cross. And if they did, they were ostracized. That changed approximately fifty years ago, probably because of the skyrocketing number of intermarriages as well as an increased number of other Jews who were also no longer that pious.

The results should have been anticipated. In economics, as in life, you get less of something when you penalize it, and more of something when you subsidize it. Consequently, the more intermarriage becomes acceptable among family and friends, the more they occur, to the extent that most marriages involving Jews in America today are intermarriages. In the non-Orthodox community, the rate of intermarriages is over 70%, an astronomical figure that does not bode well for the future of American Jewry.

As a result, there are incessant demands to tolerate and even celebrate intermarriages. There are constant efforts to reform the Torah, to see the bright side and to remove any remaining stigma. These are all foolhardy and reflect a lack of Jewish commitment and an excess of unconditional love – a concept, unknown to Jewish parenting, that has been fabricated to rationalize acceptance of all sorts of bad behavior.

Friends are ordinarily those with whom one has shared values and interests. It is hard to imagine Jews having shared values with those who intermarry. Dealing with family members is more problematic, as we are admonished not to turn away from our own flesh (Yeshayahu 58:7) and could possibly be a good influence even on miscreants. Certainly, Jews should not participate in intermarriages, whether family or friends. Besides being forbidden, how can any Jew celebrate an event that heralds the demise of the Jewish people?

A relationship should be retained, doors should be kept open, but without acquiescence in a grave sin, which itself sets a bad example for children, friends, and the community. May Hashem spare us such tzarot!

Is it proper to casually sit on the floor (say, to play with one’s children or at kumsitz) when it is not Tisha B’Av? 

There are sources that discourage us from sitting on the floor because that is a sign of mourning. It is not universally accepted and I have only heard of this reluctance on Shabbat, and even then it is rarely observed. And for good reason. 

We need not fear innocuous acts because of a mystical concern that such will engender an undeserved and deleterious fate. That borders on superstition which has a genuine harmful effect on our spiritual state as it removes us from true reverence for Hashem and an appreciation of His goodness. This is certainly so when we do something that is not a sin whose intentions are proper. 

Just the other day I got down on the floor to play with my five year old grandson. I noticed his joy (unexpressed, of course) that we were now on the same level, and I, on his turf. That bond surpasses any fear that we fabricate in the false and frantic hope of manipulating Hashem’s scales of reward and punishment in our favor. 

We should fear only Hashem – and not that sitting on the floor will bring misfortune upon us. Tamim tihiyeh im Hashem Elokecha – be wholehearted with Hashem. That is our task in life. 

Is It Proper to Own a Gun?

It is proper, it is recommended, but it is certainly not for everyone.

The Torah places a priority on Pikuach Nefesh (preservation of life) and to the extent that owning a firearm enhances personal safety, it is a no-brainer. One enormous caveat is the necessity for licensing, training, safety, and ensuring that the weapon is always properly locked and stored, away from children but available for immediate use.

Our long history has taught us that when government has a monopoly on force, it usually ends sadly for Jews. Dictatorships often first collect the weapons owned by private citizens, the better to execute their nefarious and restrictive policies without opposition.

The rise in Jew hatred in America, words for sure but accompanied by routine eruptions of physical violence, should put Jews on notice that their safety is not guaranteed. As much as we support the police, the authorities are useful when it comes to investigating crimes and making arrests; they almost never prevent crimes. As the old saying goes, “when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.”

Additionally, many jurisdictions today have prosecutors who refuse to prosecute, so attacks on Jews often go unprosecuted and the assailants unpunished, something that is not sustainable in a civilized society. It is important to realize that most gun owners, like most police officers, rarely fire their weapons in hostile situations, and for civilians, merely displaying the firearm most often deters the criminal.

The greatest Jews – Avraham, Moshe, King David, and others – bore arms when necessary to protect their lives and the lives of the Jewish people. We have to overcome the squeamishness that the exile has engendered in Jews. Guns are not for everyone but undoubtedly, if word got out that Jews were armed, the number of attacks on Jews would plummet precipitously.

The Sane Middle

 Is there a middle ground between Never Trumpers and Always Trumpers? Never Trumpers disregard any of the former president’s achievements and preferred a doddering, barely coherent octogenarian in the White House to Donald Trump. Always Trumpers are those who, in Trump’s own words, can witness him shoot someone in cold blood on Fifth Avenue and still vote for him. The middle ground, eminently reasonable, can commend Trump for his policy successes and even his political instincts, and still criticize his occasional outlandish statements, rhetorical excesses, obsessions with the last election, and unfortunate choice of dinner guests. The bad he does should not drown out the good that he has done.

     Donald Trump is a complicated person, which is not an earth-shattering observation.

     The good should be undeniable by any objective observer. He presided for most of his presidency over a booming economy, full employment, a relatively secure border, prosperity and peace. No president has ever been more supportive of Israel. The list is well known but at its core was the ability to look at the Middle East with fresh eyes rather than with the stale cliches and overt biases of generations of State Department officials, some of them Jews, who succeeded only in weakening Israel and inflaming the region. Many of those failed and tendentious diplomats do not forgive Trump for his extraordinary successes, and never will.

     But Trump is not a Baal Mussar, never was. He doesn’t think before he speaks or tweets, never did. Occasionally, this redounded to his credit when it unnerved and intimidated America’s enemies, but usually he was harmed by his intemperate statements and verbosity. In retrospect he received poor advice and implemented terrible policies during the Corona pandemic but, to me,  he lost the presidency not through a rigged election but during the idiotic daily press conferences he held that accomplished nothing and showed the impotence of his government. 

     It was this desperate need for attention that I think is at the heart of his Kanye West dinner fiasco. True, the n’kiyei hada’at (scrupulous people) of Yerushalayim would never dine with anyone unknown to them (Sanhedrin 23a) but Trump apparently never aspired to that designation. So his dinner guests were a mentally ill, unbalanced Jew hater and an unknown fascist wannabe. Apparently, Trump was more troubled by West’s desire to run for president (that would be even more of a clown show) than by his anti-Jewish ramblings and bizarre fantasies. 

     He also never apologizes or admits errors of judgment or deed, which again marks him as a non-Baal Mussar, but is prudent given the relentlessness of his haters, the social justice warriors, and his media critics. It might be prudent but it is bad form and unworthy of a morally serious person.

     So the Never Trumpers are ungrateful and the Always Trumpers overindulgent. What does the Sane Middle (i.e., mesuggest?

     Had Trump decided not to run in 2020, he would have been one of the most successful presidents in history, even accounting for the pandemic. Americans would be grateful and even Jews – hard core Democrats though most might be – would have seen the hand of Providence in the election of an outsider (indeed, a TV celebrity) to the presidency – and all for the purpose of recognizing Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital,  Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, the Abraham Accords and a host of other good deeds. Alas, he ran again, in an environment in which election rules were unprecedentedly “fluid.” And so he lost.

     Nevertheless, let’s be clear. His 2016 election was a fluke. He lost the popular vote by a wide margin (sure, lefty California drives up the numbers) but he only squeaked through in the electoral college. A shift of – what do they say? – 55,000 votes in three states would have elected Hillary Clinton. Indeed, a shift of 77,000 votes in three states would have re-elected Trump in 2020 even though he lost the popular vote by an even larger margin. But winning the electoral college while losing the popular vote is like drawing an inside straight. It is a rarity and a poor election strategy. 

     Thus, Trump should not run in 2024. He will lose if he does run, and if he fails to gain the Republican nomination, he will ensure the defeat of the party’s nominee. He cannot win because he lacks sufficient support and those who will not vote for him ever will not vote for him ever. He cannot change that and so cannot win. It is telling, and should worry Republicans, that the Republican presidential nominee has won the popular vote only once since 1988 (Bush in 2004). That’s one win and seven losses. That is a bad record. He can run to raise money but eventually people will see through the scam (fund-raising for candidates but not spending that money, which eventually a candidate can keep for himself). If he drops out, it will be because the money has dried up, no matter to what is otherwise attributed. And it is just as well. Part of the piling on underway because of his ill-advised dinner guests – call it “Trump’s Political Last Supper” – is an unsubtle message even from his erstwhile supporters that it is time he (and we) moved on.

     Always Trumpers, these days a dwindling number, do themselves a disservice by seeing no flaws and by not being objective. Never Trumpers always overreach by manufacturing flaws (racism, Jew hatred) that are untrue and incredulous, and by not being objective. What is Donald Trump, ultimately? He is a character, a media personality, impetuous, impulsive, and not very deliberate – all undesirable traits in a leader – but a man who changed history, who made political breakthroughs that no one could have, who won one election that only he could have won and lost one election that only he could have lost.

     We should be appreciative of all the good that he did. And he should know when it is time to recede from the public eye and retire gracefully.

What are the chances of that?