Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
One can only imagine the sigh of relief on the part of all those who contributed to the death of Michael Jackson. With the conviction of Conrad Murray, there is an official scapegoat and the finger-pointing can now end. We found the culprit. It was Michael’s corrupt physician who would do anything to remain in the orbit of the superstar and receive his monthly retainer of $150k per month. Murray was even prepared to become Michael’s pusher. Now he has been justly punished and we can put the matter rest. Rest in peace Michael. Your killer has been identified and sent to jail.
For years a group that surrounded Michael watched as his life deteriorated but did nothing for the very same fear that if they opened their mouths they would be out. The publicists he paid, the managers who took their percentage, the handlers who got their cut, watched as he dangled a baby from a balcony, proclaimed his pride in sharing a bed with a child on international TV, and slowly went bankrupt as he squandered his fortune as garbage purchases. And they did… nothing.
Michael’s addiction to prescription medication was well known yet few cared to get him the help he needed. Worse, Michael was lethargic, uninspired, and required serious counseling to get his life in order. The response, however, was to persuade him to agree to 50 concerts in London – a staggering feat for even the most well-balanced performers – in order to take their share. Whatever the consequences, the troubled golden goose had to continue to lay some golden eggs.
So much of it came out in the trial. There was the testimony from concert director Kenny Ortega who said, ““My friend wasn’t right. There was something going on that was deeply troubling me. He was chilled. He appeared lost. Just sort of lost and a little incoherent and although we were conversing and I did ask him a question and he did answer me, I did feel though that he was not well at all.” Ortega went so far as to email AEG Chief executive Randy Phillips that Michael was seriously unwell. “My concern is, now that we brought the doctor into the fold and had played the ‘Tough Love,’ Now or Never’ card, is that the artist may be unable to rise to the occasion due to real, emotional stuff… He appeared quite weak and fatigued this evening. He had a terrible case of the chills, was trembling, rambling and obsessing. Everything in me says he should be psychologically evaluated. If we have any chance at all to get him back in the light, it’s going to take a strong therapist to help him through this as well as immediate physical nurturing.”
But if Ortega felt this way, why was he prepared to proceed with the concerts? Why did he not resign and declare that he would not contribute to Michael’s decline?
The role of AEG has similarly escaped serious evaluation. If the director you’ve hired is warning you that the artist you’ve contracted to do 50 concerts is in psychological turmoil, why were the concerts not cancelled or postponed? Was profit a factor in the decision to proceed, regardless of Michael’s psychological state?
To be sure, Michael was an adult and bears responsibility for his actions. But if he was not prepared to heal himself than it was the responsibility of all those who benefited from being in his orbit to get him the help he needed and, if the effort failed, at the very least not contribute further to his self-destruction.
Is it only the doctor who gave Michael propofol who is the culprit? What about doctors who continued to continued to give him plastic surgery to the point that his body was falling apart? And even if that’s not illegal, should they at least not be ashamed?
It was the tragedy of Michael Jackson to have been so successful that he became an industry that supported so many that they were prepared to look the other way as his life slowly sunk into the abyss. In the final analysis, Conrad Murray was the person was most responsible for Michael’s death. But a host of others played a significant role. They ought to thank their lucky stars that the sins of the many have fallen on the shoulders of one.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of “The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals his Soul in Intimate Conversation”. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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October 24, 2011 | 11:04 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
When I led public protests in the summer of 2009 against the arrival of Moammar Gadhafi to Englewood, New Jersey, that ultimately pushed him out of our town, friends called me concerned that I would be found in a shallow ditch somewhere, a victim of Gadhafi’s global terror apparatus. None of us could possibly have known or believed that just 27 months later Gadhafi himself would be found hiding in a ditch in Libya and executed by his own people.
The people of Libya showed incredible courage in standing up to, and ultimately defeating, the terrible tyrant, and President Obama deserves to be applauded for America’s indispensable role in dispending with Gadhafi. Too bad that our local politicians here in Englewood, nearly all of whom are Democrats, did not follow the leader of the party’s example in taking related action against the Libyans living tax-free here in Englewood for nearly thirty years. Rarely in the field of peaceful protest has one municipality done so little to object to the presence of murderers in its midst.
Ever since Moammar Gadhafi made known his desire to take up residence and pitch a tent at the Libyan Embassy in our town, our local government has barely lifted a finger to make life uncomfortable for the terrorist government. It was the residents, rather than the government, that cared enough to protest Gadhafi’s arrival in the memorable summer of 2009. I remember having to go to City Hall, a few weeks into our fight against the tyrant’s impending arrival, and pressure the city manager and council to join the outraged citizens in taking some sort of action to stop the monster from defiling our town. That pressure led the city to go to court to stop the Libyans from renovating their mansion to make it fit for a king and, having found building code violations, a judge issued a stop-work order which was instrumental in purging our city of the mad dog of the Middle East.
And after that… nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Our city threw in the towel and capitulated to the Libyans utterly. The Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations, Muhammad Shalgham, who was Gadhafi’s right hand man and Foreign Minister for eight years, was allowed to become my next-door neighbor. The residents of Englewood were forced into the immorality of having to literally support the government of Libya financially by paying for the Libyan mission’s police protection and basic city-provided services. And amid the herculean pressure brought by me and a few other residents to compel the city to challenge the Libyan’s tax-exemption, the city refused to take the Libyans to court ever since an original suit was filed by the Libyans in 1982, granting them immunity. Of course, this was well before Gadhafi began blowing up airliners, murdering American servicemen in Europe, and funding international terror throughout the globe. Yet, the city could not be bothered in thirty years to even bring a lawsuit against these murderers to at least pay for the removal of their own garbage, even though the Libyan Ambassador already has one tax-exempt residence in Manhattan, near the UN.
But Lord help you if you are an Englewood resident who is late or delinquent on property taxes. The city will give you up to twelve months to catch up, all while you accrue exorbitant interest, and will then move rapidly against its own citizens to sell the debt to outside investors who can then charge a further 18 percent interest against the debt and put your home into foreclosure after twelve months of non-payment.
Now that Gadhafi is dead the city has lost the opportunity to inspire other municipalities throughout America where terror-sponsoring governments buy mansions to house their Ambassadors and heads of state, expecting American tax-payers to fund their presence.
There are two transgressions in life, since of commission and sins of omission; the bad things we do and the good things we fail to do. Of the two, the latter is by far the more severe. It is not the man who cheats on his wife who will destroy his marriage, even though that is of course a very grave sin. Rather, it is the man who has failed to show his wife any affection who will never be forgiven for an indiscretion by a wife who has fallen out of love with him due to his neglect.
Englewood has sins that are, unfortunately, common to many other New Jersey municipalities: sky-high taxes amid poor city services, an inadequate educational system that spends a fortune on students yet has an unacceptably high failure rate, and, worst of all, corruption, with its Construction Code Head recently pleading guilty to accepting bribes in an FBI sting operation. But its sin of omission in passively allowing a terrorist government to live in its midst is an international embarrassment that has humiliated every single one of our elected officials and bureaucrats.
Gadhafi was killed, ironically, on the most joyous day of the Hebrew Calendar, Shmini Atzeret. Because it is a Jewish holy day, I was offline and unavailable by phone, email, or any other electronic media for three days. But I knew in my bones that the media would be asking what would now become of Gadhafi’s New Jersey mansion. Sure enough, when the festival was over on Saturday night, I saw the Wall Street Journal’s major piece highlighting Gadhafi’s home in New Jersey. My voicemail and email mailboxes were full of press inquiries asking whether I will continue my campaign against the Libyan mission. You’re damned straight. The mission must be sold and the money returned to its rightful owners, the Libyan people, who need every penny to rebuild their broken country. The millions that Gadhafi poured into the home so that he and his Ambassador can live in luxury while his own people live in squalor must be put to building basic housing for the brave citizens of Libya who overthrew their tyrannical government.
But left out of any of this is the government of the City of Englewood who continue, as before, innocent bystanders to the last, embarrassed by their own inaction, even as the world celebrates the fall of a tyrant.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has just published “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself” (Wiley) and will shortly publish “Kosher Jesus” (Gefen). He is in the midst of creating the Global Institute for Values Education (GIVE). Follow him on his website www.shmuley.com and on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
October 18, 2011 | 2:27 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
No Jew, and indeed no decent person in whom there beats a human heart, could fail to be moved to tears by the reunion of Gilad Shalit and his family in Israel. Looking pale from years of being held in a cell and deprived of sunlight, and extremely shy due to years of being denied virtually all human contact, Israel welcomed home a hero for whom they had traded one thousand murderers, terrorists, and criminals committed to its destruction to keep true to its promise, that no soldier is ever forgotten or left behind.
As Hamas and the Palestinians ululated and celebrated the return to their society of killers who had taken the lives of so many innocent men, women and children guilty of no other sin than going about their daily business, Israel cheered at the restoration of one of its sons who was kidnapped while trying to protect these innocent lives. The conflicting values systems of the two opposing camps – one dedicated to the life and the other, tragically, having been overtaken for decades by a culture of death – could not have been draw in more stark terms than watching our Palestinian brothers and sisters welcoming terrorists home with parades while Israel reembraced a soldier whose first words to the world media, after having been treated like a caged animal for five years, were his hopes for lasting peace. It also goes without saying that when Israel is prepared to trade a thousand predators for one lonely soldier it is because of Israel’s commitment to the infinite value of human life.
Still, the question remains whether the deal was worth it. Much comment has been made both pro and con, so I will here limit myself to a different angle of the story entirely, one that would obviate the need to trade killers for captured soldiers in the future. It is high time that Israel finally instituted a death penalty for terrorists. In the United States Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 160 people in Oklahoma in April, 1995, was dispatched after a fair trial and an appeal with no public outcry whatsoever. No man who takes that many lives may be permitted to live. So why would Israel lock up the most rancid, heartless, and cold-blooded mass murderers in its jails just so that they can serve as a lure for Israelis to be kidnapped in order that these killers be paroled?
A very partial of terrorists now released by Israel, and who were previously fed three warm meals a day in an Israeli prison for years, includes Ibrahim Jundiya, who was serving multiple life sentences for carrying out an attack that killed 12 people and wounded 50. There is Amina Mona, an accomplice to the murder of 16-year-old Ofir Rachum. She lured him over the internet to a meeting where terrorists were waiting to kill him. Jihad Yaghmur and Yehia Sanwar were involved in the abduction and murder of Nachshon Wachsman which also led to the murder of Matkal Unit member, Nir Poraz, head of the rescue mission sent to save him. I am an acquaintance of Nachson’s mother and can only imagine her pain at seeing her son’s killers celebrated as returning conquerors.
Also released are Ahlam Tamimi, the 20-year-old student accomplice to the Sbarros restaurant bombing in 2001 that left fifteen dead and 130 wounded, Aziz Salha who was famously photographed displaying his bloodied hands for the mob crowd below after beating an Israeli soldier to death, and Nasser Yataima who planned the 2002 Passover massacre that killed 30 and wounded 140.
The question this despicable list of the murderers being released begs is this: why were they still alive in the first place? Why were they not given fair and impartial trials and the right to appeal, and if found guilty of murder and especially mass murder, executed by the State?
Some will argue that this will only invite the Arab terror organizations to execute the Israeli prisoners they hold. It is therefore worth recalling that this is what the Palestinian terror organizations do overwhelmingly anyway and that Gilad Shalit is the first living soldier to be returned to Israel in more than a quarter century. In July, 2008, Israel arranged another prisoner exchange in order to obtain the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured two years earlier, sparking Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, only to tragically discover they had been dead all along.
Others, especially Europeans, will argue that the death penalty is cruel and Israel is more humane for banning it. I disagree. While there is a robust debate here in the United States related to the death penalty over individual acts of murder, there should be no such debate whatsoever when it comes to premeditated mass murder and terrorism. The Europeans powers like Britain and France participated in the execution of Nazi leaders in the Nuremberg trials of 1945-1946, with no compunction whatsoever in mandating state-sponsored executions of mass murderers. Indeed, I argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment against the families of Israel’s terror victims to leave these terrorists alive in Israeli prisons with the families not knowing day to day if they will even serve out their sentences should another Israeli soldier fall into captive hands. The families deserve closure.
For those who argue that if Israel puts its terrorists to death there will be nothing left to bargain with should an Israeli soldier or citizen become captive, I respond that other deals can always be made, be it with money, international pressure, or the exchange of Arab prisoners who are not guilty of terrorism.
And it’s not as if Israel has no precedent in taking the life of a mass murderer, having put to death one abominable soul, the architect of the holocaust itself, Adolph Eichmann, at midnight in a Ramla prison on May 31, 1962. Eichmann’s body was then cremated and his ashes polluting the Mediterranean a day later beyond Israel’s territorial waters. And the last words of one of the most wicked monsters of all time? “I die believing in God.” Let’s make sure that others like him whose crimes make a mockery of G-d meet the same end.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has just published “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself” (Wiley) and in December will publish “Kosher Jesus” (Gefen). He is in the midst of creating the Global Institute for Values Education (GIVE). Follow him on his website www.shmuley.com and on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
October 10, 2011 | 11:23 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
This past Sunday night I conducted a conversation between Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader and highest -ranking Jewish elected official in American history Birthright Israel co-founder and Jewish mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt on how universal Jewish values can be used to renew America. It was a spirited and comprehensive discussion that elicited from two of the most powerful and influential Jews in the world their views on the state of America, Israel, and the Jewish people and their belief that a heightened Jewish voice in global affairs could bring healing to a fractured world.
Michael was founding chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council that instrumental in the elevation of Bill Clinton to national prominence and indeed it was once a given that nearly all Jews would vote Democrat. But times are changing as American Jewry witnesses the unshakable commitment of leaders like Eric on Israel versus President Obama’s much more tenuous record.
To be sure, the President deserves high marks for enhancing America’s military cooperation with Israel and especially his rejection of unilateral Palestinian statehood at the UN. Those who say that Obama is anti-Israel malign him against the facts and those who say he is anti-Semitic are guilty of character assassination. But what is undoubtedly true is that Obama cannot be trusted on Israel. Not because of any inner prejudice against the Jewish state but because of his belief that pressuring Israel is the royal road to Middle East peace. Whether calling in May, 2009 for a freeze on all settlement activity while making no reciprocal demands of the Palestinians, or disrespecting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in March 2010, or provocatively invoking Israel’s 1967 lines in his May 2011 speech that was supposed to be about the Arabs and their spring, the President has shown a resolute conviction that putting the screws on Israel will produce broader results for Middle East stability.
Cantor, the leader of the House Republicans, and I, see it differently. The only thing that will lead to peace is the Arabs foregoing their decades-long hatred of Israel and their belief that the Jewish State is a transient entity that can be overrun, either militarily, via a slow, grinding war of terror attrition that forces Israel to cede strategic lands that ultimately render its security untenable, or through the influx of millions of ‘refugees’ who flood the state, diluting it of its Jewishness. The war between the Palestinians and Jews is not one primarily of land but of values, with our brothers the Palestinians tragically embracing a culture of death that glorifies martyrdom and violence and with the State of Israel embracing a culture of life and being committed to democracy and the value of every citizen, be they women, Arab, gay, or anything else.
Yes, President Obama stood firmly with Israel at the UN. But is this change of heart sincere or the product of a devastating Democratic loss of the safest of seats in Queens, New York’s ninth congressional district, thereby betraying the fact that no place – solid-blue Jew Jersey where I reside included – is safe for the Democrats.
At Cairo in June, 2009 the President analogized the holocaust to Arab “dislocation” that resulted from Israel’s creation: “The Jewish people were persecuted. …anti-Semitism …culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust…. Six million Jews were killed…. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.” These are ignorant conclusions that not only equate two utterly incomparable tragedies but overlook the fact that Israel has absorbed millions of Jewish refugees while the Arab nations have used the Palestinians as pawns in their never-ending war of annihilation against Israel. And who is to say that once Obama wins reelection and is no longer dependent on Jewish money or votes, he will revert to policies based on these erroneous comparisons?
Last week I wrote about Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey’s blood libel against the Jewish state, claiming it has killed “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians,” and his never-ending campaign of defamation against what he labels Israeli barbarity and cruelty.
Turkey is a member of NATO and America is the very anchor of the NATO alliance. Yet President Obama has been silent while an ostensible ally daily demonizes Israel and accuses it of murder in genocidal proportions.
President Obama knows what if feels like to be defamed. Last week country music superstar Hank Williams, Jr. compared President Obama to Hitler, a disgusting and loathsome comment that was rightly condemned. Surely the President, in experiencing such vile attacks, knows what it’s like to see one’s name dragged through the mud and could stand up to protect America’s most trusted ally, whether there is an election coming or not.
In our public discussion I was given a written question by a participant asking Majority Leader Cantor if he foresaw more Jews becoming Republican, breaking a decades-old Democratic lock on the Jewish vote. Before Eric even had the opportunity to respond there was a sudden burst of thunderous applause from hundreds in the audience.
Time will tell if a red wave is about to wash over American Jewry, and for now Eric still remains the only Jewish member in the entire United States Congress. But unless President Obama stands up clearly and unequivocally to declare that the problems in the Middle East stem not from Binyamin Netanyahu – who was recently gratuitously and shamefully attacked by another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, as an obstacle to peace – but from parties like the Saudis, whose laws declare that women cannot drive and must be chaperoned in public, Bashar Assad, who continues to slaughter his people before the eyes of the world, and Hamas and Ahmadinejad, who remain committed to Israel’s annihilation, the Jewish vote might prove decisive for an Obama opponent in 2012.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of GIVE, the Global Institute for Values Education, has just published “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself” (Wiley) and in December will publish “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
October 4, 2011 | 11:32 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The Jewish debt to the Turks goes back centuries when the Ottomans took in thousands of Jewish refugees after the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions of 1492 and 1497. Moreover, when Israel was shunned for decades by nearly every Muslim country, it was Turkey that was Israel’s military ally, friend, and commercial trading partner. And even in the midst of growing Turkish hostility, it behooves the Jewish state not to forget this debt of gratitude.
I have personally visited Istanbul as a Yarmulke-wearing, tzitzis-flying, Jewish Rabbi, and was warmly welcomed by Muslims everywhere. On her way back from Israel last year, my wife went through Istanbul with five of our children, including our baby, and was amazed at how many Muslim merchants gave the baby presents. My family came away smitten with Turkey.
But my call for Jewish memory and gratitude is becoming increasingly strained by the mouth of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has made himself into a living fountain spewing anti-Israel invective. His latest attack on the Jewish state on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria beggared belief. Israel, he said, “shows no mercy” and is “cruel” in its treatment of Palestinians. Not content to feed the worst anti-Semitic Shakespearean stereotypes of Jews being vindictive and heartless, he trivialized Jewish suffering at the hands of thousadns of rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas before offering an unbelievable blood libel claiming “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were killed” as a result of military action by Israel. Earlier he had accused Israel of acting like “a spoiled boy” and described the flotilla raid as “savagery.”
Erdogan is claiming that Israeli actions border on genocide and that Israel indiscriminately kills Palestinians when the truth is that the Israeli military is, given the level of threat it faces, one of the most humane and restrained in the world. Even if it were true that Israel has killed anything near that number it would still have to be seen in the context of the Palestinian people declaring a non-stop war of annihilation against the Jewish state and Israel being forced to defend itself. Hamas’s 1988 charter, which calls for the complete obliteration and dissolution of Israel, captures the level of hatred the Palestinians have harbored against Israel. Some choice nuggets include:
“The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him… The Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children, it scares everyone… Jews control the world media (and use their) wealth to stir revolutions … There was no war that broke out anywhere without their (Jews’) fingerprints on it.” Hamas Imam Sheik Yunus-al-Astal talked about a verse from Koran suggesting “suffering by fire is the Jews’ destiny in this world and the next.” And, “Therefore we are sure that the Holocaust is still to come upon the Jews.” (NYTimes.com, April 1, 2008)
That Erdogan would speak as if Israel callously attacks a group which has for years launched rocket attacks against Israeli hospitals, kindergartens, and family homes is an indication of a deep-seated hostility to the Jewish state which he spares no opportunity in maligning.
But Erdogan’s numbers are grotesque exaggerations designed to portray Israel as a genocidal power.
The exact number of Palestinians killed in the last two Intifadas, beginning in 1987, is difficult to glean, but the most accurate numbers as assembled in Wikipedia from the United Nations, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and assorted Human Rights groups put Palestinian casualties from the beginning of the First Intifada in 1987 until 1993 at 1,376 by Israeli security forces and 1,000 murdered by the Palestinians themselves..
The Second Intifada, from 2000 till the present, is said to have seen the death of 4,850 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli security forces and 594 Palestinians killed by Palestinians. It bears mentioning that during the Second Intifada 1,062 Israelis died at Palestinian terrorist hands.
It goes without saying that this is a far cry from Erdogan’s libel of hundreds of thousands of deaths and the attempt to decontextualize the deaths of even these thousands.
Starting in the 1960’s, the PLO made a global name for itself through international terror. In 1969 alone, the PLO hijacked 82 planes. In the 1972 Olympics it murdered 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. Since the Oslo Accords signed, Palestinians have killed 53 Americans and Injured 83 Americans. (Jewish Virtual Library)
But if Erdogan is truly concerned about Palestinian life, as indeed he and all of us ought to be, he would condemn the unbelievable Arab-on-Arab violence that has left far greater numbers dead. In the first Intifada, more than 1000 Palestinians were killed by the PLO for supposedly “informing” for Israel. (Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 2002)
As early as the 1930s revolts in Palestine, Arabs fought each other. During the Lebanese Civil War, two Palestinian movements battled one another, leaving thousands of Palestinians dead. (Federal Research Division, Middle East Contemporary Survey, Volume 11, Google Books)
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in Gaza, Hamas has killed and tortured thousands of other Palestinians who oppose their rule. By 2007, More than 600 Palestinians died during the Struggle between Hamas and Fatah. (Ynetnews.com, June 6, 2007)
Between 1986 and 1989, the Al-Anfal Genocidal campaign in Iraq against the Kurdish People and others have Saddam Hussein’s army killing 200,000 of his own civilians in that period. (The Middle East: A History, 2004) And The NY Times has reported that Saddam Hussein has “murdered as many as a million of his people.” (Oct. 7, 2007) The vast majority of these people were, of course, Arabs.
I am religious Jews who believes that Arabs are my brothers and are, of course, equal children of G-d in every way. The death of even a single Palestinian is a tragedy. But what choice does Israel have when the Palestinians launch wave after wave of horrific terror against innocent Israeli men, women and children. Will Erdogan next condemn the United States for the thousands of Taliban fighters it has killed in Afghanistan? Will he deplore American Predator strikes against Al Qaida in Pakistan? Since when is there a moral equivalence between the taking of a life in self defense and the taking of a life in an act of cold-blooded murder?
Just as it is proper for Jews to try and overlook Turkey’s current leader and remember the age-old friendship between the two people’s, it behooves the Turks themselves to rein in their Prime Minister from his character assassination of the Jewish state.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of the Global Institute for Values Education, has just published “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself (Wiley) and in December will publish “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
September 26, 2011 | 3:49 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
A Universal Rosh Hashana Message
As a child growing up in America the only time I heard about vampires was once every ten years or so with the inevitable Dracula movie remake. Today, however, vampires and flesh-eating zombies dominate movies and books, especially those aimed at teenagers. And with good reason. For we, with our predictable, monotonous, suburban lives have become the walking undead. We may not dig our teeth into each other’s necks to draw blood or suck out an eyeball out from a friend’s socket. But we are consciously aware that as a nation we have reached a point of inertia and stagnation, a point felt most acutely by the young who look upon the passionless, consumer-oriented world of their parents and fear that they too will be transformed into lifeless androids.
Our politicians seem intent on blaming all that’s wrong with America on the other party when in truth the nation as a whole is stuck. We have a broken economy that bedevils the experts. We’ve tried Keynesian intervention and massive bailouts and now we’ll try austerity measures, all in an effort to fix what feels unfixable. No matter what we throw at the Taliban in Afghanistan, like indestructible cartoon characters they bounce right back. We pour money into ‘allies’ like Pakistan, only to discover they harbor our worst enemies and collude with terrorists to kill our soldiers.
On the political front we jump from personality to personality in the hope that one will prove a modern Prometheus and reignite a flickering American fire. A few months ago Sarah Palin had wall-to-wall media coverage until it was Michelle Bachman’s turn. Now both are shrinking in favor of Rick Perry with whom we were enamored until he performed poorly in a single debate and we started clamoring again for Governor Chris Christie. And as we stagnate the only American sector benefits is the entertainment industry that provides us with mind-numbing escapes, all the better to forget our troubles even as a couch-potato existence causes us to vegetate still further.
Here is where America as a whole can find enrichment from this week’s Rosh Hashana holiday, whose central theme is a wakeup from lethargy and stagnation. Unlike the secular new year which involves public celebrations filled with alcohol and fireworks, Rosh Hashana is a serious day whose shofar call pulls us out of our stupor and forces us to confront the stationary nature of our lives. The Biblical reading on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashana finds Moses declaring to the Israelites on the very last day of his life, “I have set before you today life and death, a blessing and a curse… Choose life.”
As we pray for life on the Jewish new year we make a mental inventory of every component of our existence filing it into one of two categories: life and death. That which animates us and must therefore be nurtured, and that which stifles us and must therefore be purged.
The loving part of you that offers compliments rather than criticism to your spouse needs to be retained for it forms the lifeblood of the relationship. But the part of you that comes home tired from work and retreats into four hours of TV and internet surfing must be eliminated as it spells the death of love. The part of your married sex life which is goal-oriented and rushes to the climactic finish line will ultimately deaden the erotic connection with your spouse and must be replaced by an intimate, soul-connection expressed through the flesh.
A similar accounting is made of our intellectual life. There is the mind-death of idle Hollywood chatter and celebrity conversation versus a life of learning and thought-provoking ideas, journals, and books. There is the death of husbands and wives discussing only practical matters pertaining to children’s after-school activities and picking up the dry-cleaning versus a life of soulful conversation where spouses find healing in the revelation of fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams.
On a national level there is the death of endless and silly political bickering where the body politic becomes dismissive of politicians as hopeless narcissists out to score points, versus the constructive work of elected officials who, like the right and left wing of a bird, cause the nation to soar specifically through antithetical propulsion.
Our economy will only be rehabilitated once we separate life from death. Let’s get rid of expensive social programs that have created a deadening dependency of men and women who yearn to cease being wards of the state and clamor for lives of dignity, self-sufficiency, and purpose. Let’s urge our teachers unions to stop protecting the small number of dead-beat teachers who gain lifelong tenure after just two years and bring enlivened educators to the classroom who invigorate young minds.
America must drop allies who are dead weight, extending one hand in friendship while knifing us in the back with the other. We have no extra tax money to buy off governments that will never be our friends. Mahmoud Abbas thinks he can create a living Palestinian state with a stack of stapled papers, not realizing that a nation first requires a living infrastructure, something that the Israeli halutzim, pioneers, understood when they first worked for fifty years before the UN vote of 1947 that merely confirmed what was already a fact. A living Jewish state had been born from the ashes of the holocaust because decades of life had first been breathed into it.
Finally, our leaders must choose policies that embolden life and deny death. President Obama’s early vows to breathe new life, say, into relationships with leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not take into account that one cannot have a living relationship with a culture that glorifies death. Three years ago Obama’s speeches were electrifying and uplifting. But just two weeks ago he had to move his speech to a joint session of Congress out of prime time to 7pm because he knew he could not remotely compete with a football game that same evening. His rhetoric is dead and he has lost his audience because rather than unleash the power of American individualism he has become a detached, cold professor spreading the wealth around while reading from a teleprompter urging us to reembrace tried-and-failed policies. It is the Republicans who today demand that we cut away the dead fat from the bloated Federal budget.
In this coming year let us be a nation of innovation, creativity, and imagination, as Henry David Thoreau said, one that ‘suck[s] out all the marrow of life,’ rather than a nation of the undead that sucks the last few drops of blood out of an exhausted and burned out economy.
This essay is dedicated to the memory of Machla Dabakarov, the mother of Rabbi Shmuley’s close friend, Michael.
Rabbi Shmuely Boteach this week publishes “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself.” (Wiley). In December he will publish “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
September 21, 2011 | 5:05 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Dear Gov. Perry,
You are a man who speaks his mind, which is rare in a politician and is a quality that I admire. I’m also grateful to you for your staunch support for Israel, which is no doubt influenced by your strong Christian faith.
I would like, however, to respectfully address your comments pertaining to America’s need for a values renaissance. Recently, in speaking to a crowd of 13,000 students and faculty members at a sports arena, you said that America needs to be guided by some set of values and rightly asked, “Whose values?” to which you responded, “Those Christian values that this country was based upon.”
No doubt, Christian values and Christian faith have played an absolutely pivotal role in America’s founding and subsequent prosperity. One need look no further than the Pilgrims, who landed at Plymouth Rock in search of the freedom to practice their Christian faith without British Anglican hindrance, to prove the point.
But of late, Christian values seem to have been narrowly reduced in the political arena to the twin goals of stopping abortion and gay marriage. Indeed, amid my deep-seated love and respect for my Evangelical brothers and sisters — a love that will be formally crystallized in the form of a full-length book on the Jewishness of Jesus that will be published just before Christmas — I greatly lament how some Christian values have come to so deeply divide our country, and I respectfully propose that Christians begin turning to universal Jewish values in order to reinvigorate America.
Take the breakdown of marriage and family. Raising a well-balanced, inspired, independent and motivated child — an immense challenge — is far likelier to succeed with two parents than one. Yet, while rabbis talk constantly about the 50 percent heterosexual divorce rate, pastors seem to gravitate far more to opposing gay marriage, even though we straight people have done a fine job of eroding marriage ourselves. (Indeed, one of the ironies of marriage in America is that the only men who seem to want to get married are gay!)
One of the supreme Jewish values is keeping a troubled husband and wife together in peace, something I have sought to do in more than 20 books. Rather than obsess over gays marrying, why not join me in creating legislation that would make marital counseling tax-deductible so at-risk couples can get the help they need?
The same is true, Governor, of embracing another supreme Jewish value, Friday night Sabbath dinners. Unfortunately, in America only about a third of all families sit down for regular family meals. But imagine if we could create, at the very least, a weekly national Friday night Sabbath meal observed by Americans of every persuasion. The Christian Sabbath, Sunday, has unfortunately been commercialized by shopping malls, cineplexes and football. Let’s ask all American families to embrace what on fridayisfamily.com you’ll see called “the triple two”: Call on American families, every Friday night, to set aside two uninterrupted hours without television; invite two guests; and discuss two substantive subjects, because learning and a life of intellectual depth is perhaps the most supreme of all Jewish values.
Which brings us to the economy, the most important of all campaign issues and the most serious crisis facing America today. Politicians on both sides of the aisle — from President Barack Obama to candidate Michelle Bachman — are all saying that if only their policies were followed, America would be in the black again. Many politicians promise to cure every ill, as if they were miracle workers. These promises would seem to stem from the Christian value of perfection as opposed to the Jewish value of struggle. People running for President feel forced to overpromise: Vote for me and it’s all going to be all right. That’s why Barack Obama has lost so much credibility. He ran as Jesus Christ, a man who could walk on water and make the tides rise. Turns out his perfection only alienated him from the people. We now dismiss him as cold, detached and aloof, a far cry, say, from Bill Clinton’s all-too-human frailties that seem, counterintuitively, to have endeared him to the American public.
By contrast, we Jews have not one perfect man or woman in the Bible. In Jewish values, righteousness is defined not by perfection but by struggle. Leadership is defined not by promising a utopia but by inspiring others to be strong through the struggle. America is in for some tough years. We have a $14 trillion debt that isn’t going to be paid off any time soon. Why not level with us? Tell us you’re not perfect but you’re prepared to wrestle with America’s great issues to make things better, and inspire us to do the same. Tell us that struggle is a sign of greatness, as the Talmud says, “Only when an olive is squeezed do you get its oil.” This is not Jimmy Carter’s defeatist malaise, but rather Lincoln’s promise of many long, hard years of battle that would inevitably result in triumph, or Winston Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” that never surrenders.
Americans today are struggling to find and hold on to jobs, struggling to pay mortgages, struggling to raise good kids and struggling against a worldwide Islamist terror enemy. And rather than take pride in the struggle, we escape into manufactured materialistic fantasies of shopping, celebrity obsession and the latest Hollywood fare. We have become soft, expecting the government to do too much for us rather than showing our mettle through the power of struggle.
Finally, Governor, one of the biggest problems we face in America today is that many good men and women refuse to run for public office, fearing that they will be outed as hypocrites. The microscopic media review to which they will be subject will be too revealing, and none, in truth is perfect. Yet the Jewish-values view of hypocrisy is different from the Christian view, which defines hypocrisy as saying one thing and practicing another. But, Judaism argues that human beings have two competing impulses within them, one godly and pure, the other selfish and animalistic. Therefore, when a man says one thing and does another, he is not a hypocrite but rather inconsistent. In most cases, he believed the good he preached but simply could not summon the willpower to live by it, whereas the hypocrite is someone who says something for public consumption and never believes it in the first place.
Gov. Perry, Christians have brought immeasurable good to America, and today, Evangelical Christians like you account for 60 percent of the American military and are Israel’s most staunch supporters. But the time has come for Christians in America to embrace the Jewish values that Jesus, as a staunchly devoted Jew, himself practiced. It is time, after thousands of years of Jewish values being heard in a somewhat altered way through the megaphone of Christianity, to be heard in its own right and with its own voice.
Rabbi Shmuely Boteach this week publishes “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself.” (Wiley). In December he will publish “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
September 19, 2011 | 5:23 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
It is not just the Arabs who are having their spring. Here in the United States Americans are calling their government to account like never before.
Driving to JFK airport early this morning for a flight to Los Angeles I discovered that the cost to cross the George Washington Bridge had jumped from $8 to $12. The decision was made by the Port Authority without any input from the citizenry. The Triboro Bridge was then another $6.50 to cross, and these in two states – New Jersey and New York – which both have nearly ten percent income tax (on top of the approximate 35% Federal income tax), large sales tax, and the highest property taxes in the nation. Apparently none of these taxes cover the maintenance of an old bridge for which you have to pay exorbitant fees that keep on skyrocketing up.
You begin to understand why Americans are so fed up with their inept government and out-of-control bureaucrats and politicians who, no matter how much money they raise in taxes, still have not enough.
I have never seen a time like this in the United States where the populace is so angry with their government. Congress has an approval rating in the low teens and President Obama, who just three years ago was christened the American messiah, has become so irrelevant that his address to a joint session of Congress on his jobs bill had to be delivered outside of prime time at 7pm because American preferred to watch football. And why listen when nearly every speech he delivers on saving the economy involves his predictable remedy of spending tens of billions more with no palpable benefit.
The shockwaves generated by Bob Turner’s win in New York’s Ninth district, which hasn’t had a Republican Congressman since the 1920’s, are waking both parties up to the fiscal accountability Americans are demanding of their governments. Families are struggling. Jobs are scarce. Parents are wrestling to put food on the table. Still our politicians can’t get over their addiction to spending and wasting Americans’ hard-earned cash.
What is at stake is the rugged individualism upon which America was founded and through which it has prospered. America is a compassionate society that has built strong safety nets to care for those in need. But this was never meant to be a first option but a last resort. At the core of American values is the dignity of the human person and the knowledge that people do not want to be supported by anyone but themselves. Humans desire innately to produce more than they consume, to live lives that are a blessing rather than a burden to others. It’s the first lesson that responsible parents teach their children. Make your own bed. Clean your own room. Do your homework and ask for assistance only when necessary. Get a part-time job even as a student so as to assist the family with paying tuition. And it is this basic premise that voters are committed to firmly reestablishing on a national level before the country goes bankrupt with entitlement programs run amuck.
It seems incredible that President Obama still doesn’t get the message, speaking instead about renewing school buildings for billions of dollars, as if shiny new paint is an adequate substitute for teaching young Americans the value of self-reliance.
And this political tone-deafness is leading Americans to challenge their government with a gusto that leaves politicians ensconced in previously safe seats running for their lives. When I moved back to the United States after living in England for more than a decade I settled into the town of Englewood, New Jersey, and simply got used to paying tens of thousands of dollars a year in property taxes, even as I had to earn a Ph.D. in what the sanitation workers would remove in my trash and what I had to schlep to the dump myself. I grew accustomed to the potholes in the streets outside my house and driving down the road as if in a lunar module traversing pock-mocked craters. I submitted, as did so many citizens, to the bullying of bureaucrats who issued citations and even threatened arrest warrants if the wrong type of vehicle was parked in my driveway.
But the times they are a changin’. There is a backlash in our city – still inadequate but a backlash nonetheless – against the sky-high taxes that keep on rising every year. More citizens than ever are challenging their assessed property values as they struggle to keep up with their impossibly high taxes.
Since about 1982 the City of Englewood has not even challenged the Libyan-Gadhafi compound’s right to be exempt from property tax. Overtaxed citizens were required to pay for the Libyans police protection and trash removal, even as Gadhafi embarked on a program of bombing airliners and killing American servicemen in discotheque in Berlin. But the silence of the citizens is dissipating in favor of outrage and pressure is finally being put on our elected council to force the Libyans to pay their fair share, especially since they already enjoy an exemption on their Ambassadorial residence in Manhattan. No New Jersey citizen should be expected to finance in whatever measure a terror-sponsoring government in its midst and it is an absolute disgrace that successive Englewood elected leaders have required their citizens to pay taxes that supported Gadhafi.
Gadhafi may now be out of power, but where is the outrage against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveling to the United States yet again this week to peddle his Jew-hatred, threats of Israel’s extinction, and insipid theories of American collusion in the attacks of 9/11. Who gave this man a visa?
In August, President Obama signed a presidential order barring entry to the United States for individuals “who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights.” The initiative was championed by the President’s Chief Advisor on human rights, Samantha Power, the world’s foremost voice against genocide and a woman for whom I have enormous respect. It was she who was largely credited for American action against Gadhafi. But then why is Ahmadinejad, who calls for Israel’s obliteration and mowed down his own people in June 2009 when they rose against him in the streets of Tehran, permitted to come to our shores?
And how sad that NBC News sanitized this killer with their ‘day-in-the-life’ puff piece that portrayed a man threatening a second holocaust as a caring leader dedicated to Iran’s poor, when in reality he has unleashed his thugs to murder and brutalize those in Iran whose only crime is seeking the right to stand up to their fraudulently elected leaders.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s new book, “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself” (Wiley) will be published later this month, followed by Kosher Jesus (Gefen). He is the founder of This World: The Values Network. Follow him Twitter @RabbiShmuley.