Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A post office near Pico-Robertson was the site of shooting last night.
According to a Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson, a manager of the Preuss Station Post Office at 1200 South Alfred Street was shot in the hand last night.
The manager observed a suspect trying to break into the building. The manager confronted the suspect, a struggle ensued, and the manager was struck in the hand by a bullet. The suspect fled and has not been apprehended. The gun was recovered by police at the scene.
The shooting was reported about 8:10 pm, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Times also reported that the manger’s injury was not life-threatening.
Helicopters could be heard hovering over the neighborhood and surrounding areas late into the night.
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Mapping L.A. project, until last night’s shooting, the last violent crime to be reported in or around Pico-Robertson was an assault with a deadly weapon at 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 9 in the 8600 block of Airdrome Street.
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February 27, 2012 | 7:53 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
One year ago, Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi’s troops were marching toward Benghazi, the unofficial capital of the Libyan rebels. Qaddafi was calling the rebels “rats,” and a 10,000-person massacre seemed inevitable. But on Purim itself, in Libya (historically part of the Persian Empire), NATO made the decision to intervene, saving the pro-democracy rebels. “Nahafoch hu”—the opposite of the tyrant’s plan occurred. Fortunately, Purim has been a bad time for tyrants in modern as well as ancient times.
Yet strangely there are still some rabbis that question whether democracy is the best alternative to tyranny. Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh in Israel recently said, “Rabbis aren’t bound by democracy’s restrictions.” He stated that the democratic process “distorts reality,” because it creates a false middle ground of compromise. To Rabbi Levanon, this is why rabbis are committed to the uncompromising “absolute truth” of Torah, and are not committed to democracy.
In the Book of Esther, we learn that the lives of tens of thousands of Jews were at risk in the Persian Empire because the whims of King Ahasveros and his minister Haman almost led to our destruction. What we learn from the Megillah is the danger of unchecked power, as in any system of absolute dictatorship the welfare of the masses is subject to the whims of one person. A dictatorship may appear to work out on occasion. Ahasveros’ predecessor, Cyrus the Great, was a virtuous leader for his time, allowing the Jews to return to Israel, among other displaced peoples who were returned to their lands. However, because the Persian emperor was considered the prime deity, allegiance to the capable Cyrus was then transferred to his successor, the capricious Ahasveros. Together with the malicious Haman, Ahasveros emerges in the Purim story as an unchecked power that almost led to our destruction. In the long run, dictatorship never works, because the masses are subject to the whims of a few. There is no good alternative to a responsible democracy.
Contrary to Rabbi Levanon’s model—that we cannot support democracy since we must only be committed to an “absolute truth”—is the talmudic model, which demonstrates a discourse of argument, diversity, and collaboration.
In the democratic process of the Talmud, the rabbis held a very strong belief in the value of dissenting opinions. The Mishnah asks, “Why do we mention an individual view along with the majority (accepted position) unnecessarily?” One answer is, “That if a first person says, ‘so I have a tradition,’ a second will say to him, ‘You (first person) heard it as the opinion of so-and-so (an earlier third person)’” (Eduyot 1:6). The position will be eliminated based upon his historical dismissal. However, there is another reason given: “That a court may approve an individual view and rely on him” (Eduyot 1:5). The first explanation suggests that we preserve minority positions to set a precedent for their complete rejection in the future. However, the other opinion suggests that we preserve minority positions in order that future generations can be aware of them and rely on them. The latter opinion suggests a Talmudic democratic process, as the majority position is chosen but the minority position is still of great value.
Still another Talmudic position suggests that the unaccepted minority position is also true: “These positions and those positions are (both) the words of the living G-d” (Eruvin 13b). Yet even more than valuing truth, the rabbis value peace. In a cosmic battle between shalom (peace) and emet (truth), peace struck truth down to the earth (Bereishit Rabba). The rabbis teach via metaphor that the value of peace usually trumps the value of truth.
Rav Kook explained that a society of peace is only possible when the foundation is one of argument. Moses was the greatest leader, yet even he did not rule alone; he appointed a Council of 70 that evolved into the Sanhedrin—with its spirit of argumentation, representatives from every city, and local as well as national councils—which was eventually instrumental for the Talmud. There is an ethos of democracy and representative government underlying the foundations of Talmud. While dictators can carry out massacres on a whim, the Jewish idea is that one execution in 70 years evinces a “bloody court.” Only where there is collective engagement in policy can there be a strong enough foundation for the good and just society.
Majoritarianism, Economic Inequality, & Republicanism
Democracy has deep roots; however, the modern secular version of democracy has some liabilities. One primary danger is majoritarianism, where all decisions are made by a majority, regardless of its effect on people. Thus, in a majoritarian system, major laws can pass even if only 51% support a law and 49% strenuously object, without regard for whose rights may be infringed. Minorities (such as the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Catholics in Northern Ireland, and the secularists and Christians in Egypt) would be particularly vulnerable in this type of system.
The political scientist Arendt Lijphart offers a blistering critique of majoritarianism. He distrusts “straightforward majority rule in which both majority and minority would simply promise to behave moderately,” adding: “This is a primitive solution to ethnic tensions and extremism, and it is naive to expect minorities condemned to permanent opposition to remain loyal, moderate, and constructive.”
Instead, Lijphart advocates for “consociationalism” to provide universal participation within a society. In heterogeneous societies, it is essential for 1) power to be shared and 2) group autonomy: “Power sharing denotes the participation of representatives of all significant communal groups in political decision making, especially at the executive level; group autonomy means that these groups have authority to run their own internal affairs, especially in the areas of education and culture.” These two core principles comprise “consociational” democracy. The Talmudic system, as we have seen, shows respect for minority opinions through procedural legitimacy (legal respect) and through treasuring these minority opinions (attitudinal respect), and is not merely dismissive. Conversely, democracy today runs a risk of majoritarianism.
It might be a stretch to say the Talmudic model is consociational. However, the Talmud definitely takes steps away from majoritarianism and toward consociationalism. The idea of procedural legitimacy, with “participation of representatives of all significant communal groups,” is hinted at in the Talmud’s requirement to include minority opinions. This inclusion ensures that majorities cannot simply ignore minorities forever. Second, the idea of representation by one’s “own community” is suggested in the Sanhedrin’s inclusion of a representative from each community. The point is that good intentions are not enough; to believe that intentions are sufficient is “naive.” Rather, respect for minorities must be institutionalized (albeit in their own way) in consociationalism and the Talmud.
To be sure, the Torah demands that we reject perversions of justice even within a democracy: “Do not be a follower of the majority for evil; and do not respond to a grievance by yielding to the majority to pervert (the law)” (Exodus 23:2). We must engage in civil disobedience when society goes astray; however, society ultimately must have procedural legitimacy and the rule of law, as espoused by Max Weber’s secular concept of rational legal authority. In a commentary on the previous Biblical verse, the rabbis promote some level of conformity to the majority (where the majority rules by procedural legitimacy): “Follow the majority! If the majority rules ‘impure,’ it is impure; if the majority rule ‘pure,’ it is pure” (Midrash Psalms 12). Civil disobedience, on the other hand, is a protest against the seemingly unfair and arbitrary measures that lack procedural legitimacy. Civil disobedience has deep Jewish roots from Abraham protesting G-d’s decision to destroy Sodom to the civil rights and Soviet Jewry movements.
On an individual level, freedom is attained through spiritual means (Avot 6:2), but on a collective level, freedom is attained through political compromise. While the personal religious realm is one of ideals, the public political realm is one of pragmatics, where the perfect is the enemy of the good. Pragmatism and compromise are necessary to ensure that things get done. The Midrash teaches that there is the heavenly Jerusalem (an ideal of ideals) and the earthly Jerusalem (embedded in messy difficult discussions). Being a modern Jew requires that we balance our most idealistic commitments with the need to create change in a complex, ambiguous world. We must always remain committed to procedural legitimacy, because the ideals we hold must be enacted in a valid manner, with complications and compromise.
Democracy is not perfect, but it is the best model we have for navigating a messy human society in modern times. The right to live with freedom is rooted in the Torah itself: “Thou shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). This passage concerns the Yovel laws (jubilee year). However, while democracy ensures that everyone has equal civil and political rights, it makes no assurance for economic rights, and economic inequality results. Thus, everyone can vote and run for office, but they are not constitutionally guaranteed an economic livelihood to support their families. To ensure such a guarantee, something else is needed: government health care, soup kitchens, and other social services. The Torah has this unity: “liberty” refers not only to political liberty, but also to economic liberty from landlessness and indebtedness.
Columbia University Professor Alfred Stepan, a leading political scientist on democratization, has contrasted “democratic transition” with “democratic consolidation.” Democratic transition involves the replacement of dictatorship with a polity that fulfills all formal characteristics of democracy (“free and contested elections”). But after democratic transition, democratic consolidation is still necessary to ensure that democracies are “the only game in town.” Once democratic consolidation has occurred, “the behavior of the newly elected government that has emerged from the democratic transition is no longer dominated by the problem of how to avoid democratic breakdown.”
Professor Stepan lists “economic society” as one necessary supporting condition for democratic consolidation: “Modern consolidated democracies require a set of sociopolitically crafted and accepted norms, institutions and regulations—what we call ‘economic society’—that mediate between the state and the market.” He goes on to say that “even the best of markets experience ‘market failures’ that must be corrected if the market is to function well. No less an advocate of the ‘invisible hand’ than Adam Smith acknowledged that the state is necessary to perform certain functions.”
Professor Stepan then quotes Smith’s assertion that government has “the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice.” Here we see Professor Stepan echoing the Torah’s double meaning of “proclaiming freedom.” For example, the creation of a permanent and hereditary slave underclass inhibits democratic consolidation, even if some slaves might achieve a skilled job, or if selective emancipation is possible. While freedom in its formal characteristics might refer only to political liberties, freedom can only be “consolidated” with economic liberties (or “economic society”) as well. The Yovel laws can count as part of the governmental consolidation of economic society, in that they “protect…every member of society from injustice.”
From a Jewish perspective, we know that even more than granting rights, the Torah gives us obligations. Maintaining a free and just society is not easy and requires the effort of all. In addition, even when the democracy is not in a Jewish state, we are called upon to support the government: “Seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you and pray for it to G-d, for through its peace will you have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7). Furthermore, the state protects us: Rabbi Chanina, the deputy Cohen Gadol, says, “Pray for the welfare of the government, because if people did not fear it, a person would swallow one’s fellow alive” (Avot 3:2). This is why we are bound by the laws of the land via Shmuel’s mandate of “dina d’malchuta dina,” the law of the country is law (Bava Kama 113a).
This is another important critique of democracy: republicanism. It is not enough for everyone to vote for policies that specifically benefit them. There must also be some spirit of patriotism and community, as in John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” The great Harvard Professor John Rawls taught the “Veil of Ignorance,” in which a hypothetical citizenry votes on the laws in their society, without knowing where they will be in society—rich, poor, strong, weak, etc. This forces people to consider the general good instead of their own specific interests. Along these lines, Adam Smith cites the government’s “duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and public institutions which it can never be in the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain; because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.”
When Adam Smith writes of the government’s duty to erect public works, institutions and other laws that would never be in the interest (or ability) of a single individual, he also is asking something of the government and its citizens. He is asking for the government and the people to not only vote by considering their individual interests, but to research the issues, become informed citizens, and do what is best for the polity. As the institution of Yovel did in ancient times, so we should do today. While Judaism does have a notion of representation (shaliach adam k’moto), the appointee is still expected to be knowledgeable and accountable.
Unlike Smith, some capitalist economists such as Milton Friedman have criticized democracy on the grounds of efficiency. They claim that voters are irrational and unknowledgeable, and make the government and country less efficient through their voting patterns. This criticism dates back to the earliest democracies. In the Republic, Plato critiques democracy through the narration of Socrates, as “a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike.” A more recent criticism is that democracy does not provide adequate political stability, since power shifts so frequently. More cynical critics claim that democracy is merely an illusory façade masking an elite oligarchy.
On a more positive note, one of the greatest endorsements of democracy is exercising our freedom to vote at all possible opportunities. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, in a letter written in 1984, explained that all American Jews must vote, since we must express our hakarat hatov (gratitude) to the leaders of the great nation we reside in. Rabbi Kaminetsky dismissed those who doubt the impact of their individual vote, noting that recent elections have been decided by just a few hundred votes. “Therefore, I urge all members of our community to fulfill their obligation to vote for those who strengthen our nation—whether materially or spiritually.”
Rabbi Ahron Solveitchik went further in explaining our commitments to rights and obligations to ensure that we pursue justice for all in society. “While contemporary civil law has evolved from the Torah (from the mishpatim, in which humanity is in the ‘image of G-d’), the Torah maintains a core distinction from civil law: whereas modern jurisprudence is completely and exclusively grounded in human rights, Torah jurisprudence is additionally founded upon the pillar of duties. In terms of human rights, tzedek and mishpat are used together (Tehillim 89:15). Thus, we do not inflict an injury on others because it would violate their human rights. Their rights come first, and from this comes our duty to not harm others. This is a universal duty: When one delves into the halachah, one can readily see that the Torah does not make a distinction between Jews and non-Jews within the realm of mishpat and tzedek…. A Jew should always identify with the cause of defending the aggrieved, whatsoever the aggrieved may be, just as the concept of tzedek is to be applied uniformly to all humans regardless of race or creed.”
Democracy today is far from perfect. The three main challenges addressed here are majoritarianism, economic inequality, and republicanism. The Talmudic tradition helps to alleviate these problems and should be looked to for its wisdom on these matters. The first critique, majoritarianism (mob rule), is addressed by the Talmudic respect for minority opinions and the Torah requirement for procedural legitimacy. The second critique, economic inequality, is addressed by the Torah’s recognition that liberty has political and economic elements. The third critique, republicanism, is addressed by the Torah’s sense of duties in addition to rights.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explains that all people are equally a part of redeeming the world in what he uniquely coined “Judaic democracy.” He points out that we all can serve G-d in our own way: “Every person possesses something unique, by virtue which he differs from the thou, making him or her irreplaceable and indispensable – the inner worth of a one-timely, unique, never-to-be-duplicated existence, which can and must serve God by self-involvement in the drama of redemption on all levels.”
Thus, the core value of collective freedom is Judaic democracy, which compels us to grant all individuals equal opportunity to create change in society. While communism, notorious for restricting individual opportunity, did not succeed, there are still many other government models that are antithetical to the spirit of Judaic democracy. This Purim, as we reflect upon the dangers and pains the Jewish people have undergone over centuries while living in totalitarian regimes, let us remember that hundreds of millions of people are still not free today—and that they may have an opportunity to expand their freedoms. Concomitant to our search for personal spiritual liberation, we must advocate for the physical freedom of all others. What is at stake in our activism to bring freedom to all people around the world is nothing less than the dignity of humanity.
The world has undergone tremendous changes since last spring. Mubarak went down, Tunisia has fallen, Yemen is in turmoil, and Hezbollah is embroiled with instability in Lebanon and Syria. This past year may actually have been one of the great revolutionary years in modern history. Political commentators have reached back to the 1848 revolutions to draw comparisons, and Time named “The protester” the person of the year. Major protests occurred not only in the Arab World, but also in parts of Europe, the United States, Asia and Africa. No one could have expected that global governments would have changed in the ways they have. There is an opportunity for Jews today to unequivocally call for the freedom of all people and the abolition of totalitarian regimes. Living in a democracy requires all to engage in collective matters and to educate ourselves to the most pressing contemporary issues beyond our parochial sphere. Further, we can look to our core Jewish values to educate us on the moral values needed in every democracy to value every person in addition to the system itself.
This Purim, as we learn about the dangers of tyranny, may we learn to convert our gratitude for living in modern democracy into action that helps to make others free.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Director of Jewish Life & Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, and a 6th year doctoral candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology. Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
February 27, 2012 | 12:30 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
He said it, we didn’t.
At a speech Sunday, Feb. 26 to thousands of followers in Chicago, Farrakhan acknowledged that “they call me ‘Farrakhan the anti-semite,’ ‘Farrakhan the hater.’”
Hey, you know what? They’re right!
In this latest speech, Farrakhan, 78, accused Jews of being behind plots to assassinate President Barack Obama, of taking over and destroying Hollywood, and of basically ruining society.
According to the Chicago Tribune:
Farrakhan drew a distinction between noble Jews and followers of “the synagogue of Satan,” and he pointed to a recent incident in which the publisher of a Jewish magazine suggested Israeli security forces could help preserve Israel by killing Obama. He attacked Israeli policies, while also directing criticism at perceived Jewish influence in the U.S.
“Jewish people were not the origin of Hollywood, but they took it over,” he said, blaming the entertainment industry for degrading the country’s morality.
As evidence of the assassination plot, Farrakhan pointed to an editorial written by former Atlanta Jewish Times publisher Andrew Adler in which he imagined a far-fetched scenario in which Israel would kill Obama in order to install Vice President Joe Biden as President.
“Who heard about that?!” Farrakhan shouted to his audience. “Not too many of you. Why the hell didn’t the media tell you about what that man said about killing the man in the White House? Talk back to me! It’s because they protect their own regardless of their evil!”
By “they” Farrakhan means “Jews.”
If someone who was actually in that audience or swayed by the puffed-up minister’s rant is reading this, just allow us to point out:
1. The Andrew Adler story was reported EVERYWHERE. Google it: a million web pages will come up. Within one day of Adler’s inane attempt at humor, he was fired. The entire organized Jewish community of Atlanta called for Adler’s ouster. Who will ‘fire’ Farrakhan for his hateful comments?
2. Jewish voters voted 80 percent for Obama in 2008, more than any voting bloc other than black Americans. Jews still support Obama far more than any other voting bloc other than black Americans. Where is the hatred Farrakhan speaks of?
3. Jews WERE the origin of Hollywood. They didn’t take it over. The founders of the great Hollywood studios were almost all Jewish, many of them from the same area of Eastern Europe. The movie industry is one of the great cultural contributions of the Jewish immigrant to America and the world. Jews don’t control Hollywood—it’s a complex industry. But thank God SOMEONE invented it. Otherwise, for entertainment, we’d just have to sit around and watch YouTube clips of Louis Farrakhan.
4. Finally, Louis Farrakhan hasn’t found any way to get attention other than one of the oldest ways—vicious anti-semitism. Instead of inspiring and opening up the hearts of his followers with his God-given gifts of eloquence and charisma, he turns them against their fellow Americans. Shame on him.
To see the video, click here.
February 27, 2012 | 1:58 am
Posted by Tom Tugend
A brief groan of disappointment swept through the crowd of some 200 Israelis gathered at a Westside hotel with the announcement that the Iranian entry, “A Separation,” had beaten out four other finalists to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film.
Among the runner-ups was Israel’s contender, “Footnote,” which depicted the rivalry between a father and son, both talmudic scholars, and Poland’s “In Darkness,” a Holocaust-themed film about a dozen Jews hiding in underground sewers during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
An Israeli movie has made the elite list of five Oscar finalists in four of the last five years, but without garnering the top prize.
[For complete Oscars coverage visit JewsandOscars.com]
This year’s outcome was a repeat for Joseph Cedar, director-writer of “Footnote,” whose war film “Beaufort” suffered the same fate in 2007.
However, tribal pride was somewhat salvaged by the impressive triumph of “The Artist,” a black-and-white homage to Hollywood’s silent-film era, which won five Oscars, including those for best picture, director, actor, costume design and original musical score, at the Feb. 26 Academy Awards ceremonies.
“The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius is a French Jew, who told The Journal’s Danielle Berrin that his parents and grandparents survived the Nazi occupation by hiding in the French countryside.
Producer Thomas Langmann is the son of famed French director Claude Berri, whose parents were Eastern European Jews and whose first film, “The Two of Us,” dealt with a French Jewish boy hiding from the Nazis.
In addition, the veteran Woody Allen won the golden statuette — as always, in absentia — for his original screenplay for “Midnight in Paris.”
Asghar Farhadi, director-writer of “A Separation,” which centered on the conflict of a husband and wife in a complex and difficult society, struck a note of international conciliation in his acceptance speech.
He spoke of his country’s “rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics” and of his countrymen as “people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”
In a backstage interview, Farhadi heaped special praise on Poland’s Agnieszka Holland, the half-Jewish director of the Holocaust-era “In Darkness,” describing her as “a great director, a great filmmaker and a great human being.”
The Oscars night viewing party was hosted by the Israeli consulate and the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), and while guests acknowledged some sense of disappointment at the Israeli entry’s outcome, most tried to look at the bright side.
Israeli Consul General David Siegel noted that Israeli movies and television programs were showing the world that “Israel is not just about conflict but has become a fountainhead of creative talent. … We’re now the people of the book and of the film.”
Documentary filmmaker Dan Katzir sounded a similar note of optimism, observing that “with each year, Israel gets closer to winning an Oscar.”
Eli Teme, co-chair of the ILC, said that Israel had been honored by just placing among the five nominees and expressed the hope that Iran, having been recognized by the American movie industry, might feel a bit warmer toward the West.
Another guest was John Fishel, who served as the long-time president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and will chair the upcoming Jewish Film Festival.
“I can only say that Israel has come a long way,” Fishel said admiringly.
February 25, 2012 | 11:14 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Two prominent filmmakers, one Israeli and the other Iranian, sat down together on the same stage on Feb. 25, and nothing happened.
So no news made for good news, to the relief of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The organization had invited the five directors vying for the Oscar in the best foreign-language film category to discuss their craft at a symposium.
In light of Tehran’s policy of no contact between its citizens and Israelis, there was some quiet concern that an incident might mar the occasion.
Only last week, for instance, an Iranian soccer team had pulled out of a match with a Serbian team, because the latter was managed by Avram Grant, an Israeli.
Before a full house at the academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the directors faced the audience in a single row, flanking producer Mark Johnson, chair of the selection committee.
Fortuitously, they were seated in alphabetical order according to their film titles. So the lineup, left to right, was “Bullhead’s” Michael R. Roskam (Belgium), “Footnote’s” Joseph Cedar (Israel), “In Darkness” director Agnieszka Holland (Poland), “Monsieur Lazhar’s” Philippe Falardeau (Canada) and “A Separation’s” Asghar Farhadi (Iran), the latter accompanied by a translator.
So, by chance, Israel’s Cedar sat second to the left and Iran’s Farhadi on the far right. In response to a reporter’s question, moderator Johnson said that the Iranians had not requested any special seating arrangement.
During the two-hour panel discussion, Cedar and Farhadi did not speak to each other directly but joined their colleagues in chuckling at each other’s jokes and politely applauding their respective remarks.
The same applied when Holland discussed her film about a dozen Jews hiding in underground sewers during the Nazi occupation of Poland, a theme directly contradicting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s insistence that the Holocaust never happened.
All the panelists used hand-held microphones, except for Cedar, whose stationery mic was fastened to the armrest of his chair.
The symposium is always held on the Saturday before the Sunday Academy Awards, and Cedar, who is Shabbat observant, walked two miles from his hotel to the theater, something almost unheard of in motorized Los Angeles.
In 2007, when Cedar’s war film “Beaufort” was also among the five finalists, he consulted his rabbi and was told that he could not use a microphone during the symposium. As a result, only those in the first few rows could catch his remarks.
This time, Cedar consulted a different authority, who advised that the director could speak into a mic, as long as he did not actually hold it in his hand. That solved the problem.
February 24, 2012 | 2:28 pm
Posted by JewishJournal
Earlier this week, it was discovered that Anne Frank had been baptized in a Mormon proxy ritual. This news came one week after news that Simon Wiesenthal’s parents had been posthumously baptized as well.
February 24, 2012 | 12:29 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
It is the question that so many wonder but few investigate, about which we are long on opinion but short on fact: “Who wrote the Torah?” One might think this would be the most basic question in Jewish learning and thought since of the three primary theological paradigms of religion—creation, revelation, and redemption—revelation most profoundly captivates our human lived experience. How in an age of skepticism can we fully embrace the Jewish tradition?
First we must understand that those who claim our ancient texts are historically flawed cannot succeed at removing the grandeur and beauty of our tradition. Along with the obsolescence of the documentary hypothesis, scholars have found that the arguments that the Torah has multiple authors and a later canonization due to varying masoretic texts uncompelling. Further, we need not embrace biblical criticism, or that J, E, P, and D were the four main authors, as some biblical scholars have claimed. G-d speaks in different voices that may appear to be inconsistent or originate from different individuals. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained that the two different accounts of the creation story in Genesis do not mean there were two different authors, but that there is a duality to human experience that these two stories capture: majesty and humility. Contradictions in the text appear very frequently but this does not necessitate the belief in multiple authors.
The rabbis of the Talmud explained that the Torah was not revealed in a perfect Divine language but in an imperfect human language so that it could properly be understood (dibrah Torah k’lashon b’nei adam). This inevitably renders perfect interpretation or consistency impossible. This is not a hermeneutical problem unique to Torah. Rather we understand in modernity that our mystical insights and psychological depth can never adequately be captured in language. Human experience is more profound than human language.
Even if the Pentateuch was written down over time, a position the tradition itself embraces, this does not detract from its Divine origin. Traditional commentators have offered many explanations for how the Torah was written. Rabbi Yochanan argued that the Torah was given scroll by scroll, while Resh Lakish argued that the Torah was originally given in its entirety (Gittin 60a-b). According to Rashi’s interpretation, even for Resh Lakish the entire Torah was not given all at once on Mount Sinai. Rather, Moses wrote down each passage as it was told to him, and then they were compiled together (megillah megillah nitnah). In the 13th century, the Ramban explained: “When Moses came down from the mountain, he wrote from the beginning of the Torah until the end of the story of the Tabernacle, and the conclusion of the Torah he wrote at the end of the fortieth year… this is according to the one who says the Torah was given scroll by scroll. But according to the one who says it was given complete, the entire thing was written in the 40th year” (Ramban, introduction to his Torah commentary).
While traditionally it is understood that G-d is the author, some traditional scholars believe that there still may have been more than one scribe. Ibn Ezra, at the end of his commentary on the Torah, argued that not every word was written by Moses himself since Joshua wrote the last twelve verses of the Torah. “In my opinion, Joshua wrote from this verse on, for after Moses ascended [Mount Nebo], he no longer wrote. Joshua wrote it by way of prophecy, as we see from ‘the Lord showed him…,’ ‘The Lord said to him…,’and ‘He buried him.’” Yosef Albo, the 15th-century rabbi, explained: “Why was not the entire Torah given in written form?… The law of G-d cannot be perfect so as to be adequate for all times, because the ever new details of human relations, their customs and their acts, are too numerous to be embraced in a book. Therefore Moses was given only certain general principles… by means of which the wise men in every generation may work out the details” (Sefer HaIkkarim 3:23).
Earlier, Rambam understood Rav Albo’s point that “the law of G-d cannot be perfect so as to be adequate for all times.” Clearly, there are Biblical stories and laws which are morally troubling. Why is slave ownership permitted? Why are multiple chapters dealing with the building of the tabernacle? Are we really to stone rebellious children? But Judaism is not primarily a Biblical religion maintaining every particular law crafted for a particular context but an oral tradition that evolves while maintaining the core values. The Rabbis actually compare the Bible to lips of a seductive woman (Tanchuma Teruma 8). Our loyalty is to the rabbinic interpretive tradition and we shouldn’t be tempted to believe that the esoteric Bible is the Jewish authority. The Bible is the revealed wisdom that began our tradition, and countless others, but it also gave license and authority for continued interpretation.
Rav Kook suggests that Jewish law not only evolves but expands. He explains that “We should not immediately feel obliged to refute any idea that comes to contradict something in the Torah, but rather we should build the palace of Torah above it. In so doing we reach a more exalted level, and… the ideas are clarified. And thereafter, when we are not pressured by anything, we can confidently also fight on the Torah’s behalf” (Iggerot haReayah I, 163-164). Rabbi Kook further defended the idea of progress, suggesting, “An evolution marked by constant progress provides solid grounds for optimism” (I, 369).
The Kotzker Rebbe explains that we are to live in this world and outside of it. Embracing both reason and revelation enables us to most fully actualize our values of ethical monotheism. While the Torah comes from heaven, “it is not in the heavens” (Deuteronomy 30:12, Bava Metzia 59b), meaning its continued interpretation, application, and relevance is under human control. The Torah’s applications continue to evolve, while the core truths and values are preserved.
Revelation did not bind us to a destiny of stagnancy but gave us freedom. Immanuel Kant challenged this point arguing that if revelation were a reality it would be calamitous for man’s created freedom. One loses free will and the capacity for reason when encountering Divine truth. Emmanuel Levinas explains why this needed to be so: “The teaching, which the Torah is, cannot come to the human being as a result of a choice. That which must be received in order to make freedom of choice possible cannot have been chosen, unless after the fact” (Nine Talmudic Readings, 37). When we received revelation, our freedom was suspended in order that we could be free.
Another barrier to embracing Jewish tradition has been that one should live by reason rather than faith. However, according to the dominant Jewish perspective, one need not take a leap into the irrational when embracing the truth of the Torah. Countless Jewish authorities, such as Rambam, Ralbag, Saadya Gaon, Ibn Tibbon, and the Abravanel, have suggested that reason and revelation are compatible. But why do we need revelation if we have reason? I would suggest six general categories as to the value of revelation while operating by reason that should be further elucidated:
Perhaps the question of “Who wrote the Torah” is not really an important Jewish question. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once suggested that if we were to find historical proof that the 10 commandments were indeed revealed from G-d, few to none would live any differently, for we do not make our daily life decisions based upon historical evidence. Further, we are aware that historical positions of this nature can never be proved. The existence of G-d and the origin of the Bible are the best untestable hypotheses.
While intriguing, this is not such a problem; history is ephemeral, while meaning is eternal. What matters most in the Jewish tradition, much more than historical truth, is the power of values. In assessing the value of historical context in the interpretation of text and law, some Jews are overly dismissive, but others embrace it to the exclusion of all meaning of Jewish core values. Reading ancient texts solely with a historical or scientific lens blocks one from embracing deep moral and spiritual truths. Evaluating the veracity of the literal creation story is much less relevant than the ethical dimension to this phenomenal narrative.
The Midrash Sifra, as explained by Rabbi David Hartman, explains beautifully that it is a principle of faith in the Jewish tradition that G-d liberated the Jews in an exodus from Egypt (yetziat mitzrayim). However, the rabbis go on to explain that the obligation is not primarily a requirement of belief but of action. The one who truly believes in the miraculous exodus is honest in weights and measures. The one who acts ethically in business has embraced the deepest meaning of this theological value. The truth is not a historical fact merely to be noted, but is rather a value that must transform our character.
I personally believe that G-d did indeed reveal the Torah to our people. This is an existential, not epistemological, claim. The Torah is the most powerful and persuasive work I have ever read and I feel spiritually elevated from an encounter with Torah unlike anything else. I feel the values of this tradition to be the most ethically poignant and compelling and I’m not alone. All of western religion, adherents making up about half of the world’s population, has been built upon the belief of this powerful revelatory experience.
Yet the question is not whether one believes in the Torah, but whether one lives it. Further, because one cannot find historical proof that the Torah is from G-d, this is not a reason to opt out of living by Jewish law and values. Historical ambiguity is no excuse for disengagement. A philosophical agnostic who questions whether human reason can understand anything beyond worldly experience and claims that revelation is merely a myth that cannot be taken seriously risks becoming spiritually numb if tradition is merely dismissed. It is not a leap of faith needed, embracing that which we understand may not be true; rather one must suspend, or look beyond disbelief in order to find self-actualization. Embracing revelation may actually represent what is constitutive of our humanity (what makes us uniquely human), since the ability to grasp something phenomenal beyond our own limited experience is what gives man intelligence.
One might ask pragmatic questions: Does living in this community that embraces Jewish revelation enhance my moral responsibility? Does living by Jewish law and values make me a better person? Do I feel closer to the Divine when I learn Torah, pray, and fulfill traditional Jewish requirements? Theology that works, in a sense, is true whether or not it proves to be historically accurate. If one finds that through years of learning and performing mitzvot, their moral, spiritual, and intellectual commitments and capabilities grow, this cannot be dismissed as tangential to the goal of religion. True religion must be more concerned with the “good” than the unknowable “true.” Judaism is a performative theology. We understand it by doing it. This is why the Israelites say, “Naaseh V’Nishma when receiving the Torah, first we will do and then we will understand” (Exodus 24:7). Ritual is spiritual exercise that can facilitate the expansion of one’s moral imagination. Torah is like love. You can’t understand it unless you’ve fully felt it and lived it.
The Pentateuch, written sometime during the second millennium B.C.E., is a remarkable story of moral and legal teachings, poetry and song, love and tragedy, and dreams of a better world. Today its message is blurred in this age of skepticism, where no commitment is held too tightly, and everything is contingent on what the latest historical evidence seems to indicate. However, if we imagine that G-d loves us, that a heaven awaits us, that a time of universal peace and justice will come, we can embrace the wisdom of our heritage much more deeply. If we can allow our encounter with G-d and tradition to be existential rather than historical, we can connect in deep and meaningful ways without having all of our concerns resolved.
When some of the tales told about the Chofetz Chaim were challenged, one leader responded that “I don’t know if the story is true or not. But they don’t tell stories like that about you or me.” In other words, we cannot prove the historical accounts told in the Bible, but there is nothing that compares in the modern world. As Mark Twain said, “If the Ten Commandments were not written by Moses, then they were written by another fellow of the same name.”
The wisdom and language of the Bible is unparalleled in its power to inspire idealism and social change. No one claims that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was naïve or unintelligent to root his social activism in the language of the Bible. This revealed tradition has the power to inspire us again and again to transform the world, making a sanctuary where G-d can dwell. Rather than over-philosophizing as to “Who wrote the Torah,” we can spend our time building our character through the deep wisdom it offers enabling us to heal the world.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Director of Jewish Life & Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, and a 6th year doctoral candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology. Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
February 23, 2012 | 2:12 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
When David (not his real name) traveled to Israel with the NFTY Reform youth group a few years ago, he hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, but he had the symptoms.
“While it was a great experience, I missed several events due to stomach and intestinal problems. Some days were bearable, on other days I stayed behind. ... I tried not to let it get me down, but ultimately it did affect my experience,” David wrote in an e-mail.
David is one of dozens of young adults who hopes to travel to Israel on a Taglit Birthright trip this summer on a tour for people with Crohn’s, colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.
David, who went to Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Camp Hess Kramer, hopes he can get a waiver to attend, as people who have participated in organized tours to Israel aren’t eligible for the free trip. Now that he has proper medication to manage flare-ups, he is eager for the companionship of others who can understand his condition.
“A lot of people have fears of being in public places and try to avoid travel because of the unpleasant complaints of IBD [inflammatory bowel disease],” said Dr. Hillel Naon, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), who will accompany the trip. “On a trip like this, they will be able to connect with each other and feel good about themselves, without having the shame of trying to their hide symptoms, which isn’t so easy to handle on a daily basis on a long trip like this.”
CHLA is organizing the trip, and hoping for 40 participants from across the country. Along with Naon, a gastrointestinal (GI) nurse, and Beverly Daley, a social worker at CHLA, will accompany the trip. They are hoping to find counselors who also have GI disorders, and participants will meet with young Israelis who have Crohn’s and IBD, and will hear from an Israeli soldier with the disease.
“We want them to see that IBD does not have to limit serving your country, and doing whatever you want to achieve,” said Naon, who was born in Haifa and served in the Israel Defense Forces before he moved here 30 years ago.
Daley applied to Taglit Birthright for a grant to run the trip after she met with young patients who expressed their fear of traveling. Taglit Birthright agreed to provide the spots and the extra funding needed for the medical staff.
The trip will likely be in July, although the date has not been set yet. Registration is still open.
For more information, contact Beverly Daley at (323) 361-2490.