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Say It Ain’t So, Mike

In 1990, attorney Mike Godwin introduced what became known as “Godwin’s Law,” the contention that if an electronic discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on for long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone to Hitler, ym”s.

Philosopher Leo Strauss referenced something similar back in 1951, coining the means of argument that compares an opponent’s view to that of Hitler as “reductio ad Hitlerum.

Over recent weeks some critics of the U.S. administration have characterized its approach to curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons as dangerous appeasement, and President Obama as a reincarnation of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who famously crowed that the 1938 Munich Agreement with Germany heralded “peace for our time.”  Less than a year later, of course, Germany would invade Poland and Europe would be plunged into World War II.

Needless to say, even for those among us who consider the Iran deal ill-advised, there is a considerable gulf between proudly waving a piece of paper as proof of an evil man’s good will and an arduously crafted and enforceable agreement requiring an evil regime’s submission to intrusive inspections and monitoring.

But, inflated though it was, the Obama-Chamberlain comparison was one thing.

Another thing entirely was Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s contention last week that President Obama was marching Israelis “to the door of the oven.”  The candidate – no other way to read it – was calling the president a Nazi.

I have personally always found Mr. Huckabee’s voice to be a refreshing one in the political arena.  On moral and educational issues, the former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist minister generally reflects ideals valued by most religious Jews.  He has visited Israel numerous times. And he has a sense of humor (very important in my book), as evident in his naming the musical band he formed, “Capitol Offense.”

But his Iran deal comment was grotesque.

To be sure, the designs of Iran’s leaders today can certainly be compared to those of Germany’s 77 years ago.  That doesn’t, however, make anyone who wants to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapon dreams without declaring war a Hitler.

Criticism of Mr. Huckabee’s words drew fire not only from Democratic politicians but from nonpartisan groups like the ADL, and from Israeli officials.  Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, called the comment inappropriate and Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, while stressing that Mr. Huckabee was “genuinely concerned” with Israel’s future,  said: “Dear Mr. Huckabee, no one is marching Jews to the ovens anymore.”

Mr. Katz’s chiding, however, came from a brash Zionist place, evident from his further words: “That is why we established the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces; and if necessary, we will know how to defend ourselves by ourselves.”

To those of us familiar with the phrase kochi v’otzem yadi, such braggadocio is saddening. In this case, though, it’s also entirely beside the point.  What was offensive about Mr. Huckabee’s words wasn’t their insinuation that Israel is helpless; it was the vulgarity of the comment itself.

To wax meta, the comment is itself a comment – on the state of political discourse in the United States today.  Yes, there has always been a measure of rudeness in political partisanship, a small serving of snark in the way politicians and their fans refer to other politicians and theirs.

But there once was some degree of dignity that reined in excess when it came to political speech.  No more, though.  Decorum has left the building.

Part of the blame, of course, is the media.  Not just talk radio and other electronic forms of verbal blood sport.  But print media too, which seem to endorse not only “If it bleeds, it leads,” but “If it’s hating, it’s a high rating.”

And so, politicians eager for attention vie to outdo each other (and in Mr. Trump’s case, to outdo himself) in outrageousness, hoping to seize the news cycle for a day, or even a few hours. That all the shameful showboating seems to garner increased support says something about at least part of the contemporary electorate, and it’s not pretty.

What’s even more disturbing, though, is that even Jews are drawn into the jeering crowd around the boxing ring.

“The response from Jewish people,” Mr. Huckabee said as the criticism of his “oven” remark swirled around him, “has been overwhelming positive.”  How overwhelmingly sad.

There’s hope, though.  Later, the candidate admitted that, “Maybe the metaphor [of the oven] is not a good one.”

If he continues on that more thoughtful track, he may yet win back his dignity.  And who knows?  Maybe it will even prove contagious.

© 2015 Hamodia

Is Metzitza Bipeh In Fact Dangerous?

A tentative agreement was reached yesterday between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and an association of mohelim and Orthodox representatives with regard to the practice of metzitza bipeh.

An article of mine that appeared in Haaretz yesterday on the ostensible tie between the rite and the cold sore virus (which can be dangerous to babies) can be read here.

Letter to Editor in Hamodia

The following letter appears in this week’s Hamodia:


“John Doe New Yorker”’s diatribe against Mayor de Blasio is an unfortunate example of how some “commentary” these days in Orthodox media mirrors the worst of the angry rhetoric and illogic that passes for political commentary outside our community.

Emboldened by anonymity, the writer mimics the overheated labor union leader who blamed the mayor for indirectly causing the recent murders of two police officers.

The mayor’s sin?  Having publicly shared his personal experience of worrying about the safety of his son, who is black.  (Mr. and Mrs. de Blasio told their son that he should act respectfully and obediently in any interaction with police.)  That, the writer contends, told “society’s worst elements that the men in blue are the enemy.”

He then interprets the mayor’s efforts to keep the recent New York protests of grand jury decisions peaceful (which they overwhelmingly were) as a “failure to stand up for” police, as if police are always in the right – and as if declaring that falsehood would have discouraged, rather than encouraged, violent reaction.  What nonsense.

We visibly Jewish Jews are fortunate to live in a place and time when we do not feel threatened by the police.  If, chalilah, there were some rash of suspicious police actions against young members of our community, would Jewish mothers and fathers not be concerned, and not advise their children to act with caution in the presence of police?  If we wouldn’t, we would be criminally negligent parents.

One can feel, and express, support for police officers (who deserve it), be critical of those who refuse to accept a grand jury’s decision, and even point to excesses on the part of some minority activists, all without unfairly smearing innocent people.  We don’t have to buy into the crass “us versus them” narrative of partisan hacks.

Guilt for the murder of the officers rests only on the murderer and on those few miscreants who called for such violence.  That doesn’t make for compelling, righteously indignant op-eds.  But it serves truth, which is what we as a community and Hamodia as its organ should be fostering.

Rabbi Avi Shafran

“Overheard” — New Hamodia Column


“Overheard” is a new column of quotes and occasional commentary that is being published by Hamodia each Wednesday.  The first offering is below.



 “I know [Hamas] well.  They have no relation to Islam, from their highest ranking sheikh to the youngest of them. Many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, asked me to marginalize Hamas and were opposed to my reconciliation deal with it.”

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, to the emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during a meeting in Doha, according to the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.  Mr. Abbas also confided to Mr. al-Thani that Hamas tried to assassinate him in 2006.

(He should have taken his friends’ advice.)



“We Germans will never forget this.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, recalling how Nazi Germany started a world war that resulted in the deaths of millions and resulted in her country’s reluctance to enter into conflict.  In the case of ISIS, though, she continued, she believed her government had to make an exception, and deliver weapons to Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq.

(Who’d have thought that German militarism would ever be cheer-worthy?)



“What a world we live in.”

CNN host Brian Stelter, incredulous, to his audience after curtly dismissing his guest, British Muslim activist Anjem Choudair.  Mr. Choudair had defended choosing “9-11” when asked to count numbers for a studio sound-check, telling his host “Well, you know if you had a sense of humor, maybe you would have laughed.”

(Welcome to reality, Brian. Stick around a bit.)



“When they asked me questions about the Holocaust, because they hadn’t heard about it, it was very difficult to respond as a professor without getting emotional.”

Dov Waxman, a Jewish professor of political science, recalling his first teaching job in Ankara, Turkey, at the beginning of the Second Intifada

(“…hadn’t heard about it…”  As Brian Stelter said, “What a world we live in.”)



“On Sunday, there was a rally in London to protest something I never thought would need protesting in modern Britain: the rise of anti-Semitism.

Historian and Daily Telegraph (London) columnist Timothy Stanley

(Actually, it needs considerably more than protesting.)



“It could be seen as provocative in some parts in Brooklyn if it was parked in certain areas, I guess. It doesn’t really bother me too much.”

Unidentified Brooklyn resident, when asked by the New York Daily News for a reaction to a license plate “HAMMAS” on a black Dodge in the Bay Ridge neighborhood.  The car also sports a Palestinian flag.

(“All it takes for evil to prevail…”)



“LOL And how much is it in spare parts? Check and see if you can get kidneys or livers there is demand.”

A supporter of ISIS, responding in a tweet to a like-minded person who had tweeted that Yazidi captured by the group were available for purchase as slaves for anywhere between $180 and $350. 

(Hearts, however, they have little use for.)



“With love to Mom, from Avram. Lodz Ghetto. March, 1943”

Inscription on an amulet made from two old coins, found in the ghetto’s ruins by a Polish man whose heirs turned it over to the Shem Olam Institute for Education, Documentation and Research on Faith and the Holocaust, located in Kfar Haroeh in Israel.  The amulet was apparently intended to be a keepsake in the event its creator were to be murdered by the Nazis.



“We appear before you today, after having lost our dearest beloved, who was loved by young and old alike – the famous puppet, who angered the enemy for many, many years… the heroic martyr Muhammad Al-Arir, who would put a smile on the faces of children…”

The moderator of a recent episode of the Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV channel’s “Pioneers of Tomorrow” children’s show, paying tribute to the actor behind the giant bee character Nahoul, who was killed in the Gaza war.  Nahoul famously encouraged a boy from Jenin to attack his Jewish neighbors and “turn their faces into tomatoes,” and encouraged a little girl to follow her dream to become a policewoman so that she could “shoot the Jews.”  Nahoul asked her with a smile, “All of them?” and then, when receiving an affirmative answer, replied “good.”

(The only good malevolent giant bee…)


“He told them he was sick and didn’t want to eat.”

A fellow hostage of journalist Stephen Sotloff, H”yd, murdered by ISIS terrorists, describing how Mr. Sotloff managed to fast on Yom Kippur while in captivity.

(Yesh koneh olamo bisho’oh achas…)

© 2014 Hamodia

Pesach is Coming!

The two essays immediately below are several years old but I thought I’d post them here all the same, in honor of Pesach’s imminent arrival, and in the hope that readers might find them worthy of thought, or even of sharing at the Seder table.

Other Pesach pieces that might be of interest can be accessed by clicking on “PESACH” in the category list below to the right.



I’m happy to report that my regular weekly essay will now be appearing in Hamodia, a popular Orthodox daily newspaper.  The essays will appear in the Wednesday issue of the paper.  You can subscribe to Hamodia, which offers a wealth of worthy fare, by clicking here.

Hamodia is permitting me to post the essays shortly before each Shabbos following their print publication.  And so they will appear on this site then.

I will also be posting here other articles I have written, either for other periodicals or exclusively for the website.

Thanks for checking out this site, and please return often.


Note to Readers

I have added a new category to those listed to the right: “Oldies (Hopefully Goodies)”.  Older, often lengthy pieces will be posted under that category. 

The first article to be posted there is titled “Graphoanalysis: Science or Snow Job?”, and concerns the popular pursuit of divining people’s character from their handwriting.  It appeared in Ami Magazine in 2011.


Ksiva Vachasima Tova

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all visitors to this site a ksiva vachasima tova : May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for the coming year.

Thank you for visiting and reading the thoughts offered here.

Articles about Rosh Hashana can be accessed by clicking on “Rosh Hashana” in the “categories” list to the right, below.

May 5774 be a year of only blessings for you and yours.