A Judaism-informed thought about free speech, born of Twitter’s cancellation of President Trump’s account, is at:
Those who blame President Trump for the January 6 attack on the Capitol, who point to his years of belittling and vilifying people and his egging on of the large crowd of supporters shortly before the mob violently descended on the seat of Congress, are missing something important.
To read what, please see:
There’s probably no great rush among Iranian science majors to choose careers in the country’s nuclear research program. For good reason. The positions — and their holders — have often proven short-lived.
Over the past decade, at least five major Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated, the most recent one, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh — thought to be the mastermind behind Iran’s nuclear program — just last month.
Whether Mr. Fakhrizadeh was killed by a hidden, elite sharpshooter squad or, as Iranian security officials have said, remotely, by satellite-controlled gunnery equipped with facial recognition software, the killing was clearly sophisticated, well planned and well executed.
Which, of course, made Israel a prime suspect. The motive was certainly there.
Because JCPOA, the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” a.k.a.“the Iran Deal,” itself lies gravely wounded — the U.S. pulled out of it in 2018, and Iran has subsequently violated some of the agreement’s major restrictions, including the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to stockpile and the purity to which it is allowed to enrich the element.
And so, Israel, the “little satan” Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened, would understandably like to see Iran’s nuclear development program, well… set back. Fewer nuclear experts, fewer capabilities to create nuclear weapons.
But whoever was ultimately behind the scientists’ untimely ends, the labor-intensive setting up and execution of the projects “on the ground” was overwhelmingly likely to have been the work of Iranians.
Could they be mercenaries hired by a power like Israel or the U.S., or Iranians sympathetic to Israel? Anything is possible. But it’s also possible that the people who made the hits happen are operatives of one of two Iranian anti-government groups.
Those of us who qualify for senior citizen discounts on buses and trains likely remember when — yes, youngsters, it is fact — Iran and Israel were close allies. Iranian-Israeli military links existed, weapons projects were undertaken in tandem and El Al operated direct flights between Tel Aviv and Tehran.
That was back in the days of the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ruled Iran from 1941 until 1979, when the Iranian Revolution brought Islamist Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini back from exile and the mullahcracy began.
The Shah fled to Egypt, where he died the next year. At the time, his son and heir to the throne had the throne persisted, Reza Pahlavi, was a trainee fighter pilot in Texas. Today, 60 years old and living in Maryland, he still aspires to return to Iran — and to return Iran to its happier past.
Reza Pahlavi leads a body called the National Council of Iran for Free Elections, an umbrella group of exiled opposition figures seeking to overthrow Iran’s current government. The would-be Iranian leader claims to have clandestine supporters within the Iranian military, including the Revolutionary Guard.
Similarly seeking to replace the mullahs is the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which aims to establish a pluralistic, multi-party and democratic system in Iran.
Sympathizers in Iran of either of those groups could have been the actual assassins of the late Iranian nuclear scientists. What is undeniable, though, is that Iranian resistance movements exist. And one or more of them may be working together with… whatever outside power is trying to keep Iran from joining the international nuclear weapons club.
That fact should give pause to President-elect Biden, who has expressed his desire for the U.S. to rejoin the Iran Deal. To be sure, there are rational reasons to try to do that, especially if the restrictions on Iran are tightened, something Mr. Biden has pledged to pursue. The deal, after all, did prevent what Iran is openly up to now.
But there’s no hurry. The U.S. sanctions currently in place continue to take a devastating toll on Iran’s economy; the country’s inflation rate is currently running around 40 percent. And the brazen assassinations — along with the 2018 Israeli operation that “borrowed” important documents outlining Iran’s nuclear designs, and a series of explosions over recent months that have destroyed a centrifuge factory, a secretive military installation and a missile facility — have surely made Iran’s leaders keenly aware that their country is rather vulnerable to formidable adversaries.
So, the incoming Biden administration would be wisest to let the pressure on Iran continue to build — to enforce the sanctions in place, to encourage the Iranian movements seeking to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to continue to strengthen whatever entity it suspects has been undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
© 2020 Ami Magazine
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.
The Forward ran an opinion piece I wrote about abortion. It can be read here.
For the past month and a bit, my weekly columns have been appearing in Ami Magazine. My agreement with the periodical allows me to share links to the pieces on its website, but not to share them in their entirety in other ways.
So I’ll be posting links to the pieces, and their first sentences, in the future here, in addition to articles that may have been published elsewhere.
The unhealthy confusion of Torah values with politics brings disrepute to Torah and harm to Torah Jews.
No party platform can substitute for our mesorah.
As a community, we ought to clearly and proudly stand up for the Torah’s stance on societal issues, embracing a worldview that identifies with no party or political orientation. Our interests may dovetail with a particular party or politician in one or another situation, but our values must remain those of Sinai, not Washington.
Moral degradation infects a broad swath of the American political spectrum. In the camps of both liberals and conservatives, many political players are on a hyper-partisan quest for victory at all costs.
Good character and benevolent governance are devalued, contrition is seen as weakness and humility is confused with humiliation. Many politicians and media figures revel in dividing rather than uniting the citizens of our country. Others legitimize conspiracy theories. None of this is good for America, and certainly not for us Jews.
Shameless dissembling and personal indecency acted out in public before the entire country are, in the end, no less morally corrosive than the embrace of abortion-on-demand or the normalization of same-gender relationships. The integrity and impact of what we convey to our children and students about kedusha, tzni’us, emes, kavod habriyos and middos tovos are rendered hollow when contradicted by our admiration for, or even absence of revulsion at, politicians and media figures whose words and deeds stand opposed to what we Jews are called upon to embrace and exemplify.
These are not new problems. But the challenge seems to grow worse with time. If we don’t stop to seriously consider the negative impact of our community’s unhealthy relationship with the current political style, we risk further erosion of our ability to live lives dedicated to truly Jewish ideals.
We Jews are charged to be an example for all Americans.
Serious moral issues — truth, loyalty, contrition, vengeance, tolerance — are at the heart of much of today’s political discourse. Whether we realize it or not, many of us have come to be guided in such matters, at least in part, by politicians and media figures with whom we share neither values nor worldview.
We are a people charged with modeling and teaching ethical behavior and morality to others. It should be inconceivable for us to be, and be seen as, willing disciples of deeply flawed people who are now the de facto arbiters of what is morally acceptable. We should be ashamed when Torah leaders seem to have been replaced as our ethical guides by people of low character and alien values.
As Orthodox Jews, we live in a benevolent host society to which we have rightly given our loyalty. It is thus important that we not be regarded by the American public as turning a blind eye to the degradation of our moral climate in exchange for political support for parochial interests.
We must not allow ourselves to be co-opted by any party.
There are issues of great importance to us, like education funding, anti-discrimination laws and the affordability and safety of our neighborhoods, and we rightly advocate for our positions.
But we must reject the efforts of those who, for self-serving electoral gain, seek to turn Jews against any party or faction. Our practical focus should be on recruiting allies and building alliances, and we ought to shun partisan posturing that only alienates us from those who govern us.
We must ensure that Israel is not used as a political weapon.
We must oppose efforts to turn support for Israel from a broad consensus into a wedge issue. Although we may rightly be concerned about trends regarding Israel in some corners, indicting an entire party as anti-Israel is not only inaccurate but has the potential of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nor should any party’s strong support for Israel become a justification to blindly support its politicians in every other matter. We should advocate for Israel’s security and other needs without painting ourselves into a partisan corner.
We should vote as Jews, not partisans.
Nothing stated above is intended to address anyone’s voting choices. We write simply to caution against the reflexive identification of Orthodox communal interests with any particular party or political philosophy.
To that end, let us commit to being guided only by Torah perspectives and strive to insulate ourselves, our families, students and congregants from being influenced by the objectionable speech and conduct that have come to infect many parts of the political spectrum.
When we vote, let us do so as Torah Jews, with deliberation and seriousness, not as part of any partisan bandwagon. We are not inherently Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals. We are Jews – in the voting booth no less than in our homes – who are committed, in the end, only to Torah.
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg
Rabbi Avi Shafran
Dr. Aviva Weisbord
It surely wasn’t Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s intention to lead with his chin or to guide Joe Biden to choose a running mate sure to help him in his bid for the presidency. But he did both.
To read what I mean, please visit: https://www.amimagazine.org/2020/07/22/talking-head-leads-with-chin/
Like most everything these polarized-perspectives days, talking about the police seems to demand the taking of sides — either with ‘em or agin ‘em.
But, of course, that’s nonsense. One can, and should, fully acknowledge the importance of law enforcement, the debt of gratitude we owe officers who put their lives on the line and the fact that the majority of them are public servants in the very best sense of the phrase — while simultaneously acknowledging that a systemic problem, at least in some areas, seems to exist in policing today.
The list of police shootings and unnecessarily violent restraints of unarmed people needn’t be reviewed here. In many cases there may have been reason to fear an attack by a suspect, but in many there was not. And the infamous cases of misconduct we’ve witnessed with our eyes over recent years are the product of bystanders’ phone cameras. There were likely many similar unrecorded ones.
And so “police reform,” even for those of us who deeply respect police, should not be an offensive phrase. There are reasonable measures to be considered.
Currently, for instance, military veterans are given preference in police hiring. An assortment of state and federal laws — some dating back to the late 19th century — require law enforcement agencies to choose veterans over candidates with no military backgrounds. One in five police officers is, quite literally, a warrior, returned from Afghanistan, Iraq or some other assignment.
While the intent of front-listing veterans is a laudable one, the mindset of a soldier is not the one that will necessarily produce the best results in an officer of the peace. A reassessment of law enforcement recruiters’ favoring of ex-soldiers, people who are used to dealing with enemies, not citizens, may be in order.
Then there is training. In most countries, joining a police force is no simple affair. In Germany, for example, police recruits are required to spend two and a half to four years in basic training to become an officer. Basic training in the U.S. can take as little as 21 weeks and rarely runs longer than the six months required in New York City.
And the first emphasis in police training in the U.S., understandably, is on procedures and self-defense. Expanded training time would allow for more focus on things like crisis intervention and de-escalation.
An even greater potential reform would be transparency in negotiations between police unions and municipalities. More than 85% of union-bargained police contracts in major cities around the country include language limiting oversight or discipline of officers.
As a result, officers have been rehired even after being fired for fatal shootings. In 2011, an Oakland, California officer won his job back in union-negotiated arbitration after being fired for fatally shooting two unarmed men — one, in the back — in two different incidents mere months apart. In 2014, a similar union-demanded arbitration reinstated a Miami detective who killed an unarmed man in a shooting that a review board called “unjustified.”
And those are the known cases. Disciplinary records of officers are often kept secret. To its credit, New York City recently announced that its log of cases of officers who have been disciplined would be made public. That should be standard practice in all police departments.
Another good idea would be the hiring of more women officers. Just about 13% of officers nationally are women; in New York City, the figure is just shy of 15%. Women (apologies to anyone who imagines that women are no different from men) are less likely to use force or escalate a tense situation.
And, finally, a good amount of police reform would happen on its own if police were simply paid better than they currently are. Some states compensate their police fairly well and offer many benefits. But others don’t, and few occupations entail the degree of danger that policing does. Treating police as the true professionals we expect them to be would make a police career more enticing to more people, and increase the pool of those wanting “to protect and to serve,” who wish to demonstrate, in the words of the New York City Police Department motto, “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect.”
© 2020 Rabbi Avi Shafran