A piece I wrote about the misuse of the American flag was published by NBC-THINK on Flag Day, earlier this week. It can be read here.
I have defended Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on a number of occasions in several public venues. But I was chagrined by her reaction to the recent Hamas/Israel war, and express why here.
My most recent Ami column can be read here.
It takes an impressive degree of repugnancy for a Republican lawmaker to evoke condemnation from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Enter newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
She earned that dishonor by doing things like suggesting that no planes hit the Pentagon on 9/11, claiming that horrific school shootings were staged “false flag” operations and asserting that the Clintons are mafioso-style murderers. She also posted the first “like” on a social media assertion that “Mossad was on the ground on in [sic] Dallas on 11/22/1963!” (Lee Harvey Oswald, a member of the tribe? Who knew?)
Not to mention her sharing of a video asserting that “Zionist supremacists” are conspiring to flood Europe with migrants in order to replace its white population; and her wistful musing that “a bullet to the head [of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] would be quicker [than removing her through democratic means].”
And her suggestion that California’s deadliest wildfire was caused by “lasers or blue beams of light” shot down from outer space, likely with the involvement of operatives of the “Rothschild Inc, international investment banking firm.”
You get the idea.
Yet, despite Mr. McConnell’s characterization of Ms. Greene’s “loony lies and conspiracy theories” as a “cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” the crackbrained Congresswoman would only tiptoe back her 9/11 and school shooting charges, stonewalling about all else.
Her sole defense seems to consist of the praise she’s received from former President Trump (like his congratulatory tweet after her election win: “Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!”). Well, yes, definitely, a real winner.
Last Thursday, the House voted 230-199 (11 Republican members voted with the Democrats)
to remove Ms. Greene from her committee assignments (Education [!] and Budget). The next day, she finally uttered the word “sorry,” but only for “all those things that are wrong and offensive,” without further specification.
But her outrageous imaginings, with the “Rothschild Inc.” lasers (Lazers?) from outer space, “Mossad” and “Zionist supremacists” references (and others about George Soros, who, like “Rothschild,” is, among neo-Nazis and other moral misfits, a stand-in for Jews), are a reminder of how frequently conspiracy theories point to… you know who.
From the ancient Egyptians fearing an Israelite overtaking of their land to the less-ancient Greek orator Apion, who explained how Jews engage in human sacrifice and cannibalism, to the Christian blood libels of the Middle Ages, to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which “exposed” the Jewish plot to manipulate governments and dominate the world, to the Nazi canards about Jews, to those popular in some Muslim circles today, Jews have been prime objects of an odious assortment of frightful fantasies.
According to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Conspiracy theories are the way weak minds deal with complex situations.” Granted. And by their very nature, conspiracy theories need conspirators. But why the Jews?
Political scientist and historian Dan Cassino says Jews have so often been blamed for all manner of misfortune because “There is a perception of Jews as the Other — a part of society, but still somehow foreign. Couple that with resentment over Jewish success in certain areas of society, and they’ll be blamed for things that are otherwise just ineffable.”
But there are other ethnic and racial and religious groups that also stand apart within larger societies and, while some are disliked and even attacked by bigots, none are characterized as some sort of diabolical cohort bent on destroying all that is good and righteous. Blacks may be hated and Koreans envied by parts of America’s underbelly. But there has never been a “Protocols of the Elders” of Nairobi or Seoul.
No, the vilification suffered by Jews is sui generis, one of a kind, unexplainable by any normative analytical construct. It is rooted in something residing in a realm beyond the reach of social science.
“Rabi Shimon bar Yochai said: ‘It is a halachah well-known that Esav hates Yaakov” (Sifri, Beha’aloscha 69).
Rav Menachem Ziemba, Hy”d, reportedly addressed the odd use of “halachah” in that statement by noting that Rabi Shimon generally perceives ta’ama di’kra, the reason or logic behind things the Torah says. Here, though, said Rav Ziemba, the tanna contends that when it comes to hatred for Jews, there is no logical explanation. It is simply a halachah, a truth, as inexplicable as it is inescapable.
There will, in other words, always be Esavs in the world, and they will always seek, even in the most deranged ways, to vilify the progeny of Yaakov.
© 2021 Ami Magazine
Since assuming office, President Biden has nominated many people for cabinet positions and other high government posts. Many of them are members of the tribe, and all of them are highly qualified for their proposed roles.
Well, with one possible exception, the subject of my Ami column of last week, which you can read here.
Back in the day — by which I mean this past spring — I was a resolute non-masker. When shopping, of course, I followed stores’ rules. But in shul, I was part of the majority of attendees who, while shunning hand-shaking and coughing in other people’s faces, chose to not self-suffocate. In my long-favored hashkamah minyan, which required masks, I was granted permission by the maskers to sit behind a mechitzah in the back of the room.
But today I wear a mask religiously, both meanings intended. Because my objection to masking had only been because I felt that the benefit of covering my mouth and nose was outweighed by the danger to my health in not receiving sufficient oxygen. I could feel, I felt, that I wasn’t getting enough air.
But then I found research that showed that oxygen levels did not decrease as a result of masking — even when the masker was engaged in strenuous exercise (a category in which I don’t think even energetic shukkeling belongs).
And so, I realized that it was really just the discomfort of breathing warm air and enduring fogged eyeglasses that argued against the public health benefit of wearing a mask. I was being a shul snowflake.
Though there are the inevitable gadflies who claim there is no benefit to masking, the evidence for its helpfulness in stemming the spread of infections is compelling. To be sure, there is only limited evidence that mask-wearers are less likely to contract Covid-19, but the real benefit of masking is to prevent infected but asymptomatic people from spreading the virus — in other words, to protect others. For that, there is ample evidence, both from lab experiments and, more importantly, from analyses of the rate of virus spread in communities and countries where masking is routine and others where it is spotty.
And so, masking in groups, is, most simply put, an act of chesed.
Then there is the public perception. Although I write as a private individual, my day job is with Agudath Israel of America, where I interact with the media and the public. The image of the chareidi community, despite that it is very large and very varied, is that its members shun masking. That is a problem.
Because — at least to the limited extent that the perception of chareidi mask-shunning is true — it gives people, other Jews and non-Jews alike, the impression that our community doesn’t care about others.
At the Keynote Session of Agudath Israel of America’s recent (virtual) national convention, the organization’s executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, offered a heartfelt, impassioned reiteration of the imperative to follow current health authorities’ advice, and declared that religious Jews who disregard precautions like masking and distancing not only potentially harm the health of others but bring about the opposite of the fundamental Jewish imperative to make “Hashem’s name beloved to others.” Chalilah on both counts.
Personally, ever since I’ve become a masked man, I have come to better appreciate something my dear father, a”h, would often say. And, having been yanked by the Soviets at the start of World War II from the Vilna yeshiva in which he had been studying and banished with his friends and their rebbe to the frozen taiga of Siberia, he was amply credentialed to offer the lesson.
“A person,” he taught his children, “can get used to anything.”
What he meant was that, whatever new situation might confront us, it should never be seen as an insurmountable obstacle. With equanimity and time, we can handle things we never would have imagined were handle-able.
As challenges go, wearing a surgical mask around others rather pales compared to chopping wood in 40 degrees below zero weather. But the lesson is the same.
And, indeed, now I’m so accustomed to my mask that I sometimes forget that I’m even wearing it.
Many hands are being wrung over what, oy vey, the “new normal” might be for perhaps even years to come. I understand the angst.
But I imagine my father just saying, reassuringly, don’t worry, you can get used to it.
© 2020 Ami Magazine
My Ami column with the title above can be read here.
An article I wrote for Religion News Service about what New York’s draconian Covid-19 rules affecting Orthodox communities evidence about the rules’ crafters can be read here.
I have no beef with anyone who wishes to take issue with anything I’ve written. But I do object to the publication of something that blatantly and irresponsibly misrepresents what I have written. Like this recent piece in the Forward, ostensibly responding to an earlier one I wrote in the same medium.
If you read my essay, you will see that nowhere did I argue or insinuate, as Mr. Nosanchuk claims, that that “only Haredi Jewish leaders can speak for our city’s Jewish community.”
Nor does associating me with “violent attacks against journalists” have any respect for truth. In fact, it insults it. I have publicly and repeatedly condemned (in print and on-air) all such behavior, and didn’t reference it at all in my Forward piece, since it was irrelevant to its thesis.
And if Mr. Nosanchuk wishes to attribute to me the claim that Orthodox “practice of Judaism requires an exemption from public-health restrictions,” he really should be required to show where I have ever written such a thing. I have not. What I did write was that New York Governor Cuomo’s recent edicts were illogical and unfair — to any and all houses of worship.
I, further, never insinuated anything remotely like the contention that people should “risk their health or the health of their loved ones by attending a large indoor religious gathering.” Nor would I ever do so.
And I nowhere suggested that non-Orthodox rabbis “have no right to opine on the issue because they interpret Jewish law differently” than I do. I simply noted that non-Orthodox Jews are not hampered as much as Orthodox ones are by Mr. Cuomo’s draconian rules — and that representatives of the former should not call the latter “blasphemous” for standing up for their rights as Americans. The ugliness and falsehood of that accusation was what my article was about – and something Mr. Nosanchuk chose to utterly ignore.
As to his accusation that I align myself “with a small minority within the Haredi community that has flouted public-health restrictions and resorted to violence against fellow Jews who disagree with them.” That is beyond untruth; it is perilously close to libel. He maliciously created it out of whole cloth.
As he did his statement that I have resorted to “claims of antisemitism” against, presumably, the governor. Never have I ever made such a claim, not in my essay, not in any other writings and not in private conversation.
Finally, I didn’t “try” to “spin” the NYJA’s words as name-calling. Its words were name calling, at least if one considers “blasphemous” an insult. I really think most people would.
“Black Lives Matter” is a phrase that can describe any of a number of groups or an amorphous social movement. Is anti-Semitism pervasive in any of the groups or the movement itself? Are there signs of a healthy response from black public personalities toward Jew-hatred in general? My thoughts on the matter are here.