Category Archives: News

Loony Tooner

Cartoons employing anti-Semitic tropes became a thing again last week.

The memory of the New York Times International Edition’s offering of a Portuguese cartoonist’s depiction of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog, magen David around his neck, held on a leash by a blind, be-yarmulked President Trump – had barely begun to fade.

Enter Ben Garrison.

Mr. Garrison’s oeuvre is decidedly anti-establishment, always provocative and often offensive. His favorite targets, in no particular order, have included former President Obama (depicted as a snake), Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve, George Soros (a vulture) Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer (also snakes), international bankers and Hillary Clinton (a mere groundhog – and a kisser of a demon’s ring).

And the cartoonist’s hero, as you might have guessed, is President Trump, whose reciprocal appreciation of the Montanan caricaturist came in the form of an invitation to last week’s White House “Social Media Summit.” The gathering, which took place last Thursday, was billed as a focus on the “opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.”

“Honored to be invited to the White House! Thank You Mr. President!” Mr. Garrison gushed in a tweet, which, perhaps unexpected by the cartoonist, swiveled the spotlight back in his direction.

“Back,” because the cartoon that became the spotlight’s focus was one the cartoonist drew in 2017 and was denounced at the time by the ADL. The artwork depicted then-U.S. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and retired General David Petraeus being controlled by strings held by George Soros, who, in turn, is shown suspended from strings held by a hand labeled “Rothschilds.”

Subtlety, as noted, is not Mr. Garrison’s specialty. Presenting “the Rothschilds” as nefarious controllers of the world is one of the oldest and most persistent anti-Semitic themes out there.

That particular piece of artistry was commissioned by another of Mr. Garrison’s admirers, radio host Mike Cernovich. That would be the fellow who helped promote the bizarre “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory about Mrs. Clinton’s purported running of a human trafficking ring, which led to a credulous man firing an assault rifle in the D.C. area pizza parlor ostensibly involved in the criminality.

“The thrust of the cartoon is clear,” the ADL contended at the time. “McMaster is merely a puppet of a Jewish conspiracy.” With the recent resurrection of the cartoon last week, an assortment of commentators called out Mr. Trump for having invited Mr. Garrison to his event.

This is not, of course, the first time the president has been seen by some as coddling people with less-than-kind views about “Jewish influence.” He first fueled such speculation himself when, back in 2015, he told members of the Republican Jewish Coalition: “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians, that’s fine.”

Then, in 2016, a Trump campaign commercial featured images of Mr. Soros, the object of vehement anti-Semitic scorn in Europe; Ms. Yellen, then Federal Reserve chairwoman; and Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein – all of them Jews – with the candidate warning about “global special interests” and “people who don’t have your good in mind.”

And then there was the other campaign ad that depicted Hillary Clinton labeled the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” superimposed on piles of money, next to a large six-pointed star.

Then, the following year, after the violence at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was Mr. Trump’s comment after the mayhem, that there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the Confederate statue issue – although only one side prominently yielded a crowd of marchers chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”

There are many reasons why many people don’t find Mr. Trump to be their cup of tea. Some include on their list of accusations that he harbors, or tries to encourage, anti-Semitism.

Which is nonsense.

His Jewish daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, his full-throated condemnation of anti-Semitism (“Our entire nation… stands in solidarity with the Jewish community,” he said after the Poway shooting, “We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate which must be defeated”) and his unbridled support for Israel’s current government make the thought unthinkable.

As to the “evidence” to the contrary above, none of it is dispositive. Yes, it was all pounced upon by lowlifes like former KKK leader David Duke and Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin to claim the president as one of their own. But, while the neo-Nazis are welcome to their fantasies, each of the instances of Mr. Trump’s alleged anti-Semitism can be regarded as, if somewhat tone-deaf, benign.

There’s no reason, though, to be so understanding about Mr. Garrison. Portraying “Rothschilds” as devious puppet-masters can reflect only one thing, and it’s not something pretty.

And so it was to its credit that, the day before the “Social Media Summit,” the White house rescinded Mr. Garrison’s invitation, thereby denying those who seek to portray the president as insensitive to Jews a new hook on which to hang their hats.

© 2019 Hamodia

Baffled by Batson

On a summer morning back in 1996, someone entered a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi and shot four people to death. The prime suspect was a man named Curtis Flowers, who had been fired from his job at the store less than two weeks earlier. He also owed $30 to one of the store’s owners, one of those murdered, for a cash advance she had given him on his paycheck.

The gun used in the crime was never found, but several witnesses claimed to have seen Mr. Flowers near the front of the store the morning of the murders.

Mr. Flowers stood trial six times. Four verdicts were overturned, and mistrials were declared in the two other cases. (The Fifth Amendment “double jeopardy” ban on retrial for the same crime only applies after an acquittal.) Flowers, who has been held on death row for nearly 20 years, is an African-American, and prosecutorial bias was repeatedly alleged, as was racial bias in jury selection.

On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Flowers’ final murder conviction, with Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh writing for the majority. Flowers will likely remain in state custody until a decision is made to either retry or release him.

No one but Flowers knows if he was guilty of the murders; he claims innocence. What is interesting, though, about the High Court ruling is its pivotal contention that excluding black potential jurors from those chosen in his trials constituted illegal bias.

Some background: Prosecutors and defense lawyers generally conduct short interviews with members of a jury pool. Those with clear connections to the case are routinely dismissed, as are people with connections, say, to police officers when an officer is on trial, or to a medical field when a principal is or was a doctor in that field.

Then, though, there are “peremptory challenges” – the right of a prosecutor or lawyer to reject a jury candidate for no given reason. That right is generally assumed to be based on the rejecter’s inchoate suspicion that a juror would be biased in some way.

A limitation on peremptory challenges, however, was imposed by the Supreme Court in 1986, in a case, Batson v. Kentucky, in which it ruled that a prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenge may not be used to exclude jurors based solely on their race. That exception to the right to peremptory challenges has come to be known as a “Batson challenge.”

Some might (and some surely will) say that a lowly non-lawyer like me has no right or standing to take issue with a High Court decision. So I’ll frame my take on the Batson challenge merely as a simple expression of puzzlement over it.

To be sure, dismissing a potential juror just because he is black or Asian isn’t right. Racial bias simply isn’t justifiable. Unless, that is, it seems to me, the race of the person can reasonably be seen, in and of itself, as signifying a likelihood of bias.

In other words, attorney Joe Whiteguy may harbor the feeling that blacks are inferior humans and don’t deserve to judge anyone. But if he harbors no such feelings, but rather just sees it as likely that the average black American will feel an affinity for a black defendant, or animus toward a white one accused of some crime against a black person, is his use of a peremptory challenge to reject a potential juror because of his race different in any essential way from rejecting a candidate because of a family connection to the case?

I don’t know if all black Americans see themselves as “family,” but I think many clearly do. There is a “black vote,” after all, and there are “black causes”; and a “black perspective” is a staple of many media. There’s nothing in the least wrong, of course, with ethnic or racial camaraderie or pride. But is being concerned that it might bias a juror in a case involving someone of his or her ethnicity or race really unreasonable?

As in so many things, the key to a clear perspective may lie in placing oneself in the shoes of the other.

So I imagine a case where an Orthodox Jew is on trial. I’ve never met him and am not his close relative – we could without any problem be co-eidim on a kesuvah or a kiddushin – and find myself part of the jury pool. A lawyer for the defense or prosecution looks me up and down, dwelling on my yarmulke and tzitizis, and, without any questions, says “thank you, sir, for heeding your summons to appear for jury duty; you are dismissed.”

I might feel a bit insulted. (Actually, when I was peremptorily rejected as a juror once in a case where no Jew, much less an Orthodox one, was on trial, I was indeed perturbed!)

But would I be justified, in a case like the posited one, to feel that an injustice had been done to Jews or Judaism, that my dismissal was the result of base anti-Semitism and thus illegitimate?

With all due respect for the seven Burger Court Justices who comprised the majority in Batson v. Kentucky, I wouldn’t.

© 2019 Hamodia

Vaccination Proclamation

The threats and vulgarities bellowed by several visibly Orthodox Jews at members of the New York State Assembly in Albany after it narrowly passed a measure ending religious exemptions for immunizations were ugly and wrong. No less wrong, though, would be to generalize from the uncouth activists to the entire anti-vaccination camp.

The vaccination issue, of course, is controversial, and particularly fraught in New York, which has been greatly affected in the current national measles epidemic. In the state, the most cases of the disease have occurred in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo immediately signed the bill, adding New York to a small handful of states that do not allow exemptions on religious grounds, including California, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi and Maine. Medical exceptions will still be granted, but not those based, as many have been, on claims of religious obligation.

While the New York legislators’ intentions were laudable and, during an epidemic, arguably obligatory, the removal of a religious exemption in any governmental mandate is of concern. It is a precedent that one wishes hadn’t been necessary. The legislature, although not motivated by anti-religious sentiments, felt that it was.

The vast majority of Orthodox Jews, as it happens, fully accepts the advice of the overwhelming mainstream of medical experts – as has been Jewish practice from time immemorial – and, accordingly, vaccinates their children. A minority of Jews, however, joining a minority of non-Jewish American “anti-vaxxers,” shuns vaccinations – at least certain vaccinations, like the one for measles. Some imagine harmful effects caused by additives used in the production of some vaccines; others object to the sheer number of vaccinations given babies and young children, or to the schedule of their administering.

A more radical fringe of vaccination opponents believes that vaccinations represent a conspiracy among government players, drug companies and the FDA, or some combination thereof, either intended, for reasons unexplained, to harm the citizenry or out of simple venality.

Vaccine conspiracy theories appeal to, well, the conspiracy-minded. But they crumble in the jaws of the Pulitzer Prize. That is to say, since the highest journalistic achievements are exposés of wrongdoing, and since drug company and medical device issues have often (and even recently) been subjects of such dogged reportage, it is entirely safe to say that were there in fact any sinister plots to push vaccines on a too-trusting populace, enterprising reporters would have long swarmed over the schemes, revealed them – and collected Pulitzers as a result. (Unless, of course… the… reporters are… part of the conspiracy…)

The concerns of less paranoid opponents of vaccination, though, aren’t difficult to understand, even for those of us who disagree with them and embrace vaccinations as a blessing. Many medical orthodoxies, after all, have, over the course of history, turned out to have been wrong, and erstwhile medical truths revealed to be fictions. There’s even a name for such about-faces: “medical reversals.”

And so, while I don’t expect future medical consensus to reject vaccines, it isn’t beyond the pale of possibility that some additive might be revealed to have caused greater harm than assumed and discontinued, or current vaccination schedules might be shown to have been too ambitious.

To be sure, one hopes that all would agree that a school or other building where an immunocompromised child is studying should be off-limits to unvaccinated people. But

even those of us who don’t endorse the anti-vaccination concerns and feel that the anti-vaxx camp is misguided should have the ability to allow others their convictions, be they right or wrong. To throw all vaccine-suspicious folks – moderate sceptics, conspiracy theorists and legislative chamber shouters – into one basket is just the sort of generalizing that we rightly decry in other contexts (like when all of us Jews are “incriminated” because of some who have acted less than properly).

The Gemara (Yevamos 14b) tells us that Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, despite disagreeing about the halachah regarding an important marriage law, took pains to maintain shidduchim among their respective members. Thus, we are taught, they fulfilled the Navi Zechariah’s admonition to “Love truth and peace” (8:19).

It’s not absurd to invoke that example with regard to the machlokes between pro- and anti-vaccination schools of thought. After all, Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai were dealing with a most important issue, and each camp felt that the other was entirely mistaken. And still, there was peace and comity between them.

And so, while those responsible for public policy may need to take a broader view of all the factors regarding issues like vaccination requirements, especially during an epidemic, the rest of us, no matter how passionate we may be about our personal vaccination beliefs, should not belittle others for their personal convictions and choices, and pause to internalize and proclaim the need to love not just truth but peace.

© 2019 Hamodia

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s Alleged Sin

I haven’t written publicly about the brouhaha that erupted when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to the detention facilities on the southern border as “concentration camps.”

But my personal feeling is that if she was guilty of any sin with that reference it wasn’t maligning the memory of the Holocaust, but rather consciously using a phrase that she likely knew would seize attention – although she did so in the cause of concern for asylum seekers.

But was that really wrong?

A thought experiment to entertain:

Imagine if it were Jews, not Guatemalans, who were fleeing abject poverty and violence in their country and arriving at the US border, and who were relegated to guarded camps, without adequate provisions and with even small children separated from their parents.  And then some activist Jewish public figure used the term “concentration camp” to refer to the outrage.  Would he be roundly condemned for having desecrated the memory of the victims of the Holocaust?

Maybe he would.  But I very much doubt it.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was not equating the current situation at the border with the Holocaust. She was just using rhetoric that (as she and others have noted) was not inaccurate (since “concentration camps” is a phrase used for any such confinement, including of Japanese citizens during WW II) and which she hoped would call attention to the plight of refugees today.

Anyone who believes she is insensitive to Jewish concerns or Israel is welcome to view her use of the phrase as an outrage.  To me, though, the real outrage is how readily some of us fall into the cesspool of political brawling and knee-jerk accusations that have come to characterize our country of late.  

Retaliation Insinuation

Pretty open-and-shut, it would seem.

At a 2014 festival-cum-ski-race northeast of Anchorage, Alaska, a large crowd of revelers was being overseen by a small crew of state police.

One of the officers, Sergeant Luis Nieves, approached a group of merrymakers to ask them to move their beer keg out of the reach of minors. Russell Bartlett, one of the celebrants, objected. When spoken to by Sergeant Nieves, Mr. Bartlett refused to respond, which was his constitutional right.

Nearby, another trooper, Bryce Weight, was questioning some suspected underage drinkers. Mr. Bartlett, who was old enough to legally drink and seemed to have availed himself of that permission, approached and, moving very close to Officer Weight, told the policeman to leave the young people alone. Weight pushed Mr. Bartlett away, and Sergeant Nieves came over and arrested Mr. Bartlett. According to the officers, the arrestee was slow to comply with their orders and was thrown to the ground, threatened with a Taser and handcuffed.

Mr. Bartlett testified later that Sergeant Nieves had taunted him: “Bet you wish you would have talked to me now.”

That assertion was the crux of a lawsuit filed by Mr. Bartlett, under a federal statute that allows a citizen to seek damages when a police officer violates his constitutional rights. He claimed that his arrest had been retaliatory, punishment for his silence.

The question of whether Mr. Bartlett’s refusal to answer the officer’s question was the real reason for his arrest and thus qualified as grounds for such a suit reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and a majority of the Justices recently ruled that the fact that the officers had other, unrelated “probable cause” to arrest Mr. Bartlett precluded his right to file such a claim.

Writing for the majority – Justices Thomas, Ginsburg and Gorsuch concurred only in part; Justice Sotomayor filed a dissent – Chief Justice John Roberts asserted that the Court has a responsibility “to ensure that officers may go about their work without undue apprehension of being sued.”

Some contend, though, that, all the same, the ruling was overly broad and infringes on another responsibility of the Court: to protect citizens’ right to free speech.

That’s because the recent ruling will make it easier for police to arrest a participant in a protest or rally for anything from holding a sign whose sentiment the officer finds objectionable to filming a policeman’s actions, each of which arrest would be a violation of the citizen’s rights.

The Court did not straightforwardly permit such illegal arrests, of course. It still required that a violation of an actual law be the reason for an arrest. But in cases where it isn’t clear whether the violation was the real reason for the arrest, or whether the arrest was due to an officer’s retaliation against protected free speech (even where, unlike in the Alaskan partying case, there is actual evidence of the latter), the decision disallows lawsuits by those claiming their arrest was because of their views or speech.

The vast majority of law enforcement officers are upstanding and dedicated to the responsibilities and limitations of their authority. But, as in every profession, there are also bad apples. And in a profession that confers powers to its members well beyond those of ordinary citizens, the potential for adverse consequences is magnified.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has made clear that police can arrest citizens for virtually any offense, from driving a mile beyond the speed limit, not fastening a seat belt, loitering or jaywalking. Then there’s “disorderly conduct” or “failure to obey a lawful order,” not to mention “affray.” (Never heard of that technical term for a scuffle or confrontation with another citizen? You’re far from alone.)

The Nieves ruling doesn’t disallow violation of First Amendment rights lawsuits in cases where a “probable cause” arrest is for a crime regularly ignored by police, like jaywalking.

But what if a citizen claims that an officer has arrested him for, say, not following an officer’s order quickly enough – “resisting arrest” or “failure to obey a lawful order” –  and a video shows the officer stating baldly during the arrest that he doesn’t like the arrestee’s picket sign or chant? A few weeks ago, the arrestee could file suit under federal law. Now, it would seem, he cannot.

As Justice Gorsuch noted in his partial dissent to the majority opinion, “Criminal laws have grown so exuberantly and come to cover so much previously innocent conduct that almost anyone can be arrested for something. If the state could use these laws not for their intended purposes but to silence those who voice unpopular ideas, little would be left of our First Amendment liberties.”

The Justice went on to invoke a phrase from a 1987 case, Houston v. Hill: “The freedom to speak without risking arrest is ‘one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation’.”

It’s often difficult, even impossible, to tease out any person’s inner feelings.  But, Justice Gorsuch is saying, in a “free nation,” an accusation of malign intent deserves, at least, its day in court.

© 2019 Hamodia

Mountains to Climb

Ever find yourself in a long “10 items or less” supermarket line waiting for the cashier to check the price of kumquats for the lady who apparently considers all her fruits and vegetables to count as a single item?

Well, even if you have, you might compare your experience with the recent one of the hundreds of people bundled up in minus-20-degree weather waiting patiently in line on a narrow path more than 26,000 feet above sea level to reach the summit of Nepal’s Mount Everest. And, in the supermarket, you weren’t likely laden with an oxygen tank – a necessity at that altitude – whose contents were steadily diminishing.

What’s more, you probably didn’t have to navigate past the body of someone who died while waiting on line before you.

What makes people do things like climb what they consider the world’s highest peak (which in fact is probably Gangkhar Puensum in Bhutan)?

After all, according to mountain guide Adrian Ballinger, “humans just really aren’t meant to exist” in such places. “Even when using bottled oxygen,” he explains, “there’s only a very few number of hours that we can actually survive up there before our bodies start to shut down. So that means if you get caught in a traffic jam above 26,000 feet … the consequences can be really severe.”

Indeed. At this writing, 11 people are known to have breathed their last on treks to or from the summit of Mount Everest this year. The quest has claimed the lives of almost 300 people since 1923.

I suspect that those who spend considerable amounts of time, effort and money – the average price paid in 2017, for permits, equipment and guides, to climb Everest was approximately $45,000 – are impelled, ultimately if subtly, by the human search for meaning.

Nineteenth century secular philosophers argued about what ultimate essential goal motivates human beings. The German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche contended that it was power; another German, Sigmund Freud, that it was pleasure.

Both tapped into something real, although they were, like all secular thinkers, blind men trying to figure out an elephant. That Hashem has granted humanity bechirah, free will, and that we can, as a result, actually accomplish – change the courses of our lives and, ultimately, of history – is a power unparalleled in all of creation. So the “will to power” that, unfortunately, mostly yields bullies and tyrants is, in its most refined expression, the exercise of gevurah, “strength,” that Ben Zoma defines as “hakovesh es yitzro,” one who, by force of will, overcomes his nature (Avos 4:1).

And Freud was on to something too, as the Ramchal begins Mesilas Yesharim with the surprising statement that the most basic ideal of life is the pursuit of pleasure. Ultimate pleasure, that is – the pleasure of “enjoying the radiance of the Shechinah.” But the German secularist, of course, couldn’t see past the temporal, ephemeral yearnings of this world to the ta’anug ha’amiti, the “singularly genuine pleasure,” of the next.

Which brings us to the third nineteenth century conception of human motivation, that of the Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard. He wrote of the “will to meaning” – the yearning to achieve some truly meaningful, ultimate goal in life.

His approach was popularized by a Holocaust concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, whose 1946 book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” was deemed by a Library of Congress survey to be one of “the ten most influential books in the United States.” By the time of Frankl’s death in 1997, the book had sold over 10 million copies and had been translated into 24 languages.

There indeed seems to be an innate human aspiration to achieve something “meaningful,” to aim at some larger-than-oneself “accomplishment,” no matter how strangely some people may define that for themselves. For one person, such meaning may entail achieving a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most slices of pizza eaten while riding a unicycle and simultaneously juggling balls. For others, the grand vision is the scaling of a mountain, even – especially? – if it entails danger.

For others still, namely those of us who recognize our Creator and His will for us, the accomplishment to reach for is a spiritual one, achieved through Torah and mitzvos. At certain times in history, aiming for that goal also entailed great danger. In our own times, baruch Hashem, it does not, although it may not offer a simple, obstacle-free and easy path.

As for us, well, while we may wish the Everest climbers every good fortune, we’ll be focusing in coming days on a very different mountain.

Have a happy and meaningful Shavuos.

© 2019 Hamodia

A Midrash Comes Alive

At one point in an address to the United Nations Security Council earlier this month, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., reached for a yarmulke, placed it on his head and read from a Chumash.

A video of what he then said went viral, propelled by supporters of Israel, prominent among them the worldwide Evangelical Christian community. Ambassador Danon’s words were translated into Spanish, Polish, French, Portuguese and even Turkish, and reached many tens of thousands of people. At this writing, the clip continues to gain momentum on social media.

Earlier in his speech, Mr. Danon introduced in brief the “four pillars” that, he said, link the Jewish People to Eretz Yisrael.

The latter three bases for Israel’s legitimacy, Mr. Danon explained, were world history, international law and the pursuit of international peace. He cited the Balfour Declaration, the U.N. Charter and the fact that “a stronger and safer Israel means a stronger and safer world.” Later in his speech, he elaborated on those ideas.

It was the first portion of his explication, though, the one for which he donned the kippah, and that has come to be called his “Biblical Speech,” that captured the attention of so many.

Mr. Danon quoted from Bereishis (17, 7-8), where Hashem appears to Avraham Avinu and promises:

And I will establish My covenant between Me and between you and between your seed after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be to you for a G-d and to your descendants after you. And I will give you and your descendants after you the land of your dwelling, the entire land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be to them for a G-d.”

“This,” Mr. Danon added, holding the Chumash aloft, “is our deed to our land.”

Of course, that is true. My first reaction, though, was to wonder whether it was proper, from a strategic perspective, considering our place in galus, to proclaim that truth in a most public and important international forum. Maybe, I thought, the lesser “pillars,” rather than the overtly religious one, should alone have been put forth.

But pondering the happening a bit more, it became impossible to not be reminded of the first Rashi in the Chumash (echoing two Midrashim), explaining why the Torah begins with an account of the creation of the world:

“For if the nations of the world should say to Klal Yisrael, ‘You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],’ they will reply, ‘The entire earth belongs to Hashem; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper. When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us’.”

And so, Mr. Danon’s presentation of his “first pillar” would seem, at least to me, to have constituted essentially a contemporary fulfilment of the Midrash’s predicted scenario.

The Palestinian representative, Riyad Mansour, was not present for Mr. Danon’s speech. After making his own presentation moments earlier, in which he condemned the United States for recognizing Yerushalyim as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Mr. Mansour left the room, returning only when the Israeli representative had finished.

But other “nations of the world,” including the Arab ones – and Mr. Mansour himself, no doubt, at least after the fact – did indeed hear Mr. Danon’s words. And the Midrashim came to life.

There is, though, another important, if less enthralling, truth to remember here.

While it is important for the world to recognize the fact that, geopolitics and nationalism aside, Eretz Yisrael the land is indeed bequeathed to Klal Yisrael, we Jews need to remind ourselves of something else: The bequeathal, while eternal, is not unconditional.

This Shabbos in shul, we will read the “tochachah,” or “admonition,” in parashas Bechukosai. For the same reason that it will be read in a low voice and quickly, I will not excerpt it here. But we all know what it says, that it conditions Klal Yisrael’s right to inhabit Eretz Yisrael on our acceptance of Hashem’s laws. And we know, too, that we were expelled en masse from our land twice.

The latter three of the pillars cited by Mr. Danon are unrelated to shemiras hamitzvos. But the first one, the main one, the one that reflected that first Rashi, very much does depend on Jewish behavior.

That most vital point didn’t belong before the Security Council or the world. But it well belongs in every Jewish heart and mind.

© 2019 Hamodia

Repeal the Right to Guns?

A sampling of recent weeks’ gun news:

  • Pursuant to a tip, authorities found more than 1000 firearms in a home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood (not quite reaching the record of the 1,200 guns and seven tons of ammunition L.A. police seized from another home in 2015).
  • A Fawn River, Michigan mother, Pauline Randol, was shot dead, allegedly by her 9-year-old adopted son.
  • A Highlands Ranch, Colorado school, with 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, was attacked by a gunman who shot nine high schoolers, killing one of them.
  • On the last day of classes at the University of North Carolina, a gunman killed two people and injured four.
  • Murder/suicides by gun took place in Maine, Florida and California.

An estimated 1.4 million Americans have died in all the wars in U.S. history, going back to the American Revolution. Approximately the same number of civilian citizens have died as a result of gun shootings – since 1970.

Gun deaths in the U.S. aren’t the result of murders alone, but also of accidents and suicides. In 2016, while 14,415 people died in gun homicides, 22,938 people used firearms to commit suicide.

New Jersey Senator and Democratic presidential candidate (and who isn’t one these days?) Corey Booker has proposed a radical plan to reduce gun violence. It includes a ban on assault weapons, the closing of loopholes that allow domestic abusers to buy guns and, most ambitiously, the creation of a national licensing program that would require prospective gun buyers to undergo extensive background checks by the F.B.I., including fingerprinting and interviews, in order to obtain a renewable five-year gun license.

Sounds draconian. But a 2015 study showed that after Connecticut introduced a similar gun licensing program, gun deaths in the state dropped by 40%.

And it wouldn’t be as draconian – or, at least, not as apoplexy-inducing in some circles – as… repealing the Second Amendment.

Just reading that phrase, in those circles, evokes images of governmental tyranny and persecution of citizens deprived of the means of resistance. And outrage at the unthinkable violence such a move would inflict on a heretofore Constitutional right.

But the Constitution isn’t beyond change – the Second Amendment, after all, is itself an amendment to the foundational document. And if anyone really thinks that owning a gun (or 1000 of them) will protect him from the wrath of a gone-insane, malevolent federal force, with arsenals of tanks and rockets, the crazed fantasist shouldn’t be allowed to own a penknife.

To be sure, repealing the Second Amendment is a long shot. But it’s not an outlandish one. Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens favors it, and harshly criticized the landmark 2008 Supreme Court District of Columbia v. Heller decision that enshrined an individual’s Constitutional right to keep a gun. Mr. Stevens wrote that “the text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains” that it was meant to allow for “a well regulated militia,” and was intended only to prevent Congress from disarming state militias and infringing on the sovereignty of the states, not to grant individuals a right to gun ownership.

Another personage, with a similar surname, the conservative columnist Bret Stephens (who, not long ago, helped bring his employer, the New York Times, to apologize, and apologize and apologize, for its inclusion of a cartoon with anti-Semitic imagery), has also advocated for the repeal of the Second Amendment, calling it “a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts.”

Washington Times columnist Cheryl Chumley begs to differ, contending that the Second Amendment is verily divine, based, as she contends, “on rights given individuals from G-d, not government.”

How so? Because, Ms. Chumley explains, the amendment “restricts government’s ability to strip citizens from their G-d-given rights to self-protection.”

Indeed, many of us do feel more secure owning a firearm, and guns have been used to protect innocent people. But there are less lethal instruments – like TASERs or pepper spray – that can also be used to defend oneself against an assailant, but which are unsuitable for committing suicide or for the sort of school and synagogue mass shootings that have become, Rachmana litzlan, almost commonplace these days.

Although it’s unarguable that fewer guns in society will mean fewer gun deaths, there may be no point in advocating repeal of the Second Amendment. So far, not even the amount of gun violence that occurs daily has inspired anything more than an op-ed or two supporting such a radical move.

But it’s alluring (and I speak, as always in this space, for myself alone, not Agudath Israel of America) to imagine an America with a mere fraction of its current 393 million civilian-owned firearms.

© 2019 Hamodia