Posted by Orit Arfa
I remember learning in my yeshiva high school that the time of Jewish prophecy is dead. God’s intimate connection with his people had been severed because of their iniquity and never again can we enjoy the prophets of old — the Samuels, Jeremiahs, Isaiahs et al.
I never liked believing Jewish prophecy is dead, especially now, when we need good Jewish prophets more than ever to save history’s third Jewish commonwealth from destruction.
While I’ve since abandoned Orthodoxy, I’ve always enjoyed interpreting Jewish precepts through a secular lens. I was therefore thrilled to get a sneak peak of scholar Yoram Hazony’s brilliant and groundbreaking book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture: An Introduction, prior to its publication by Cambridge University Press this year. The book dispels stereotypes of the Hebrew Bible as a book of revelation with little philosophical value to the modern world. Hazony teaches that our most famous prophet, Jeremiah, was actually a crusader for truth and reason.
According to Jeremiah, all men not only have the ability, but the responsibility, to seek and find truth—in essence, to become prophets—to “stand on the roadways and see, and inquire of the paths of old which is the good, and walk on it, and find rest for your souls” (6:16). It’s a universal message, but one which Jews rejected. “And they said, ‘We will not walk on it.’” (6:18)
Hazony points out that the Judeans’ refusal to seek and find truth — their stubbornness in clinging to false opinions, misconceptions, corrupted visions of reality — is, for Jeremiah, a cardinal sin, as it says: “See how I bring evil upon this people, the fruit of their thoughts.” He exhorts them to inquire independently after what is good for men, what fosters life on this earth and, ultimately, the longevity of Jews on the land.
Building on that theme, I don’t see prophets as crazy people talking to God, but as sharp observers of reality, the reality dictated by natural laws of a universe the Bible portrays as being created by the single, universal Intelligence. They analyze cause and effect of world events — what people actually think, say, mean and do — not what they want people to think, say, mean, and do — to come to a conceptual understanding of the world that allows them to make accurate predictions of reality. Guiding these prophets are the Biblical moral absolutes that protect life: do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness.
But even in Jeremiah’s time, the Jewish elites, the priests and “wise men” led the people astray. Not much has changed.
In political discourse today, rabbis, Jewish intellectuals and politicians continue to lead the people astray — invoking world opinion, popularity, political trends, habituated thoughts and actions or wishful thinking as their moral guides, hence encouraging people to evade reality. Since most people are afraid of changing the way they think and live, it is no wonder that prophets are often ridiculed, shunned, smeared, or even, as in the case of Jeremiah, incarcerated and threatened with death.
I also remember learning in high school about false prophets, described in Deuteronomy as “dreamers” who use “miraculous signs” or “wonders” to predict reality or force it in a certain direction. In Biblical times, these “signs” or “wonders” may refer to supernatural divinations or astrology. I’d like to offer a modern interpretation of “signs”: evocative images that are utilized as proof of a desired, yet improbable outcome.
Let’s give examples of true and false prophecies from recent Israeli history.
The Oslo Accords:
“False prophets” hailed the iconic image of late PLO leader Yasser Arafat shaking late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn as the “sign” of the miraculous peace to come. “Prophets” were smeared as warmongers and racists when they warned that Arafat is a terrorist in disguise. To quote Jeremiah, “And they healed the wounds of my people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace.’ But there is no peace” (8:11).
The Withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon:
“False prophets” argued that the mere absence of IDF troops in disputed territory and a map with clean lines translates into more peaceful borders. “Prophets” warned that territorial withdrawals are a sign of weakness and appeasement which will only embolden Israel enemies, who will continue to besiege Israel, more armed than ever, dragging her into conventional warfare.
The Arab “Spring”:
“Prophets” cautioned that Arab citizens proclaiming “freedom” in the streets—the “sign”— won’t necessarily translate into free Arab societies. Freedom does not mean the freedom to be ruled by Islamist dictators.
The Trade for Gilad Schalit:
“False prophets” harped on the beautiful, poignant image of a father reuniting with his son as the desired reality that trumps all long-term security and ethical considerations. “Prophets” were dismissed as heartless traitors when they opposed letting over a thousand murderers free to murder again.
Prophets possess a scientific understanding of reality, so their orations often come across as factual, unimaginative and, at times, preachy. Unfortunately, prophets today lack “wonder,” which I define in modern terms as creative, awe-inspiring renderings of reality: literature, art, film, media, and poetry.
Today’s “false prophets” have used “wonder” to engage in revisionist history and to deceive the mind into thinking an unrealistic dream can come true. Hollywood movies, documentaries and the media have been masterful in imagining Palestinians as oppressed, dispossessed victims; “settlers” as squatters, colonialists; and messianic extremists and Islam as an enlightened religion of peace. Even rabbis creatively interpret the Torah to substantiate accusations of Israel as an aggressive nation born in sin.
Still, I take comfort in the knowledge that Jewish prophecy doesn’t have to be dead. And, as prophets arise, I hope they will take inspiration from the great Jewish prophets of the past, whose orations were filled with timeless “wonder”— poetry and storytelling — so that the Jewish people don’t remain dreamers, but instead realize Isaiah’s vision: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
If you liked this article, you’ll like ZOA West’s upcoming events: “’Occupation: The Big Lie” with author Eli E. Hertz on Sat, Feb. 11, 7 pm at Stephen S. Wise Temple and “The Book of Esther as the Jewish Fountainhead” with me, Orit Arfa, on Mon, Feb. 13, 7:30 pm at the Luxe Sunset Hotel. For more info or to rsvp contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.zoawest.org.
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February 2, 2012 | 1:08 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
The ZOA praises Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for publicly raising the issue and condemning Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) incitement to hatred and murder against Jews. In talks with visiting Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that PA incitement is poisoning the atmosphere and cited specifically the PA’s official television broadcast of a program this week in which the terrorists who murdered five members of the Fogel family in Itamar last March were glorified, portrayed as martyrs and heroes. He said that this is tantamount to “confidence destroying measures” (Herb Keinon, ‘“PA incitement is confidence destroying measure,”’ Jerusalem Post, January 27, 2012).
Here are the video excerpts posted by Palestinian Media Watch, a group that monitors Arab press for their genocidal remarks against Israel and the Jews.
Come hear the truth about the Jewish right to settle in Judea and Samaria with author Eli Hertz, speaking on “‘Occupation’ - The Big Lie” on Sat., February 11 at Stephen S. Wise Temple. Click here for more info.
January 31, 2012 | 6:23 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
I gave “Homeland”’s Howard Gordon crap in this blog for omitting Israel in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. The award-winning show was inspired by the Israeli drama, “Hatufim”—so why not make that clear to the world?
Apparently, he agrees. When I met him on Sunday at UCLA’s One Day Israel University where he was the luncheon’s guest speaker, he recognized me from my blog and said he loved it. Firstly, um, woah. He actually read and loved ZOAngel . Secondly, he was happy I gave him crap. It was justified. He wished he would have mentioned Israel—but he felt rushed and the lights were dimming and I think he said he could make out Morgan Freeman yawning in the audience—and he felt pressured to get off the stage.
When he did, he turned to Gidi Raff, the co-executive producer, and asked “did I mention that the project was brought to us from Israel?” Raff said “no.” He was bummed. He also regrets not thanking his wife.
But during his talk he spoke very proudly of his ties to Israel and how it has been one of his most personally fulfilling projects because of his own connection to Israel. At the same time, though, he is a producer, and the show “Hatufim” stood on its own merits as a compelling idea—and his instincts were right. It’s arguably the best show on TV today.
I asked him during the Q&A where entertainment ends and political influence begins (someone told me after that he thinks Gordon was responsible for getting a black man into the White House following his casting of a black US President in “24”). He described his hit “24” as a type of post-911 “wish fulfillment” that drew fire from pundits who said the show encouraged Islamophobia and torture. “Homeland,” on the other hand, deals with the complexity of a war weary American society. He said he doesn’t hide behind a writer’s hat anymore and deny any personal conviction influencing the plot. But whatever he and the writers believe are funneled through complex plot and character—not propaganda (I’m imagining either Left or Right.)
While I’m fine with his keeping his personal opinions a mystery, my guess is that he wouldn’t find what we say at the ZOA anathema, as would many Hollywood bigwigs. Who knows—maybe he reads our president Mort Klein’s press releases. And if he doesn’t—he should start. They’ll provide with him good inspiration. The ZOA is, after all, the most anti-terrorist of all pro-Israel organizations and one of the few that exposes Abu Mazen, Israel’s “peace partner,” as a terrorist, as well as how some Jewish groups even aid and abet the Palestinian Authority liars.
I must need meds if I were to think Gordon would publicly endorse us “crazy” people at the ZOA in such a liberal town, but I think the least he could do is cast a ZOA rep as an extra on the show….I can make for an excellent Islamist Arab terrorist.
January 24, 2012 | 11:47 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
I admit my heart skipped a positive beat when I read this story by blogger Mitchell Plitnick reporting that the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution this month supporting the “one-state solution,” which would naturally include the annexing of Judea and Samaria by Israel. It starts with the words:
Be it further resolved, that the members of this body support Israel in their natural and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon their own lands, recognizing that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others; and that peace can be afforded the region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people.
This was too good to be true! What a death knell to the dangerous lie of the two-state “solution,” a subject we at the ZOA have discussed at length as we explore and consider alternatives to the two-state disaster, with annexation a very plausible one.
But as I researched further, I learned from a post on BuzzFeed that the resolution doesn’t reflect the Republican Party platform which still remains in support of “the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security.”
But I assume before the GOP supports annexation, the grand ol’ Israeli government would have to renounce the two-state disaster first. I’m waiting….
January 19, 2012 | 1:23 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
After my last two posts on Howard Gordon—one praising him for the seeming moral clarity of his shows about terrorism and the other criticizing him for omitting Israel in his Golden Globe acceptance speech—someone said to me: “Orit, you might like David Mamet better.”
David Mamet is probably the most unabashed, unapologetic Israel lover and defender in Hollywood, as famous for his political about-face towards conservatism as he is for his beloved plays and movies. I doubt he’d ever hesitate to mention the “I” word at a Hollywood awards ceremony when warranted.
Here’s the start of Aluf Benn’s recent, fascinating interview with him in Ha’aretz. Interesting how Aluf Benn can’t seem to get over how a highly creative, prolific playwright and writer can fawn over Israel—Aluf: it’s called logic, and not all artists live in fantasyland.
(PS. I still like Howard Gordon and the fantasylands he created. I hope the two Hollywood heavyweights could have coffee some time.)
David Mamet likes to rile people. The playwright who brought street talk from the alleys of Chicago to Broadway, and upset theater-goers with plays about sexual harassment and white-black relations in America, has assumed a new public persona: that of a neoconservative fighter who is out to shatter the “dogma” of the liberal left and defends Israel aggressively.
In his new book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” published last June, Mamet describes his late political conversion to conservatism and launches a scathing attack on the value system and way of life of those on the left.
“The Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all,” he writes. As he sees it, “The Liberal West would like the citizens of Israel to take the only course which would bring about the end of the disturbing ‘cycle of violence’ ... That course is abandoning their homes and their country ... Is this desire anti-Semitism? You bet your life it is.”
January 16, 2012 | 4:37 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
As the Jewish Journal’s Danielle Berrin so aptly pointed out in her Hollywood Jew blog on the Golden Globe’s top Jewish moments, Howard Gordon, co-creator of Homeland, did not mention Israel in his acceptance speech.
Mr. Gordon, I’m so disappointed, especially after my glowing review of your show in my last blog.
You mentioned many of your collaborators—but what about the most important one?—Gideon Raff—who created “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”), the Israeli television drama that inspired “Homeland.” This omission is disturbing on several levels. First of all, it is disrespectful of the creative process not to credit the innovator of the seed show and, might I add, an executive producer. Second, this would have been a perfect opportunity to showcase Israel’s contributions to Hollywood. It’s not your job to be an Israel spokesperson—your job is to make good TV—but come on? It wouldn’t have hurt.
Were you afraid of mentioning the “bad word” “Israel” to a crowd likely consisting mostly of Hollywood liberals who erroneously view Israel as an oppressive “Occupier”? Were you afraid of making it glaringly public that this show wasn’t your original idea? Or did you just forget, the way Claire Danes forgot to mention her mother when she won the Golden Globe in 1995 for her work on “My So Called Life.”
I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt. It would be nice if you could explain yourself at your talk at UCLA’s One Day University on Israel.
I hope that next year, when the show will likely win again, you’ll be as courageous as your characters and also your “Best Actress,” Claire Danes, who this year corrected her 1995 mistake by bringing her mother as her date, and who also acknowledged Raff in her acceptance speech. I’d like to see Mr. Raff at your table next year.
PS. I still lay in wait for next season. And I look forward to Danielle Berrin’s upcoming series on the deepening ties between Israel and Hollywood in which Gordon will figure in prominently.
January 12, 2012 | 4:49 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
(Warning: this post contains spoilers of “Homeland.” Go watch it and then come back. It’s on On Demand.)
I can’t wait for the next season of Showtime’s “Homeland.”
As a “ZOAngel,” I sometimes empathize with Carrie Mathison, played brilliantly by Golden Globe-worthy Claire Danes—the CIA agent who suffers from bi-polar disorder, who’s so idealistic, so crazy—and so passionately lonely—that she dares to have an affair and fall in love with her arch-nemesis—Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis)—the US marine whom she suspects converted to Al Qaeda’s cause while imprisoned in Iraq.
While I wouldn’t necessary have a crush on a possible terrorist that I’ve been relentlessly spying on, sometimes I feel a little crazy and manic fighting so hard for Israel and promoting unwavering, and oft-times, unpopular positions (i.e. the Palestinian Authority is made up of crooks and terrorists in disguise that we should denounce right now). In a world that thrives on moral relativism, on conforming, on compromise–it’s hard to maintain sanity promoting an absolute vision of good and evil.
According to Naomi Pfefferman’s Jewish Journal feature, producer and writer Howard Gordon adapted the Israeli drama “Hatufim” (Prisoners of War) for American audiences. Gordon was also the one who brought us “24,” which presented another tortured counter-terrorist agent, Jack Bauer, Mathison’s tele-literary big brother.
Mathison, like Bauer, will sacrifice romantic relationships, break all protocol and defy authority to discover and fight for the truth—and she literally drives herself to the loony bin trying to warn the Department of Homeland Security of the dangers of her ex-lover, and it’s not just because she’s a woman scorned.
If we can judge from the shows’ plots and themes, Gordon, unlike many Hollywood writers, seems to possess a strong sense of good and evil, right and wrong, all the while painting complex heroes and villains whom we can love and hate. He’s not afraid of being politically incorrect by demonstrating the inextricability of Islam and terrorism through Brody’s character (although he also forces us to examine our prejudices when, in one episode, he casts doubt on Brody’s guilt.)
The most effective way to change hearts and minds towards truth and heroism is through art and storytelling. Gordon has done that and more by popularizing the struggles involved with living in a world threatened by dangerous enemies (i.e. Islamists)—and the struggles of the “crazy” people who are not afraid to say we have them.
I hope Gordon will live up to my heroic image of him when I hear him speak on January 29 at UCLA’s” One Day University” on Israeli society.
Speaking of Israeli society, here’s Claire Danes praising Tel Aviv’s nightlife scene on Conan O’Brian:
January 10, 2012 | 3:13 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
There’s something very serene and right with talking about uncompromising self-defense of Israel near a peaceful waterfall. Here’s a poem I wrote to go along with the video:
Emerson says a real man must be a nonconformist
Self-reliance these days is the home of the Zionist
Israel is her own star, that rebel, ingenious mind
Sought after, choked, attacked by those unlike her kind
Let us be the Jewish star, alone but down from the altar
Scoff at self-sacrifice, the nonconformists should not falter
Place trust in the Truth, not in other men and brutes
Speak your mind, shine your light, for victory in all disputes
This video appeared in the ZOA West’s zLetter, our new e-publication for the ZOA, Western Region.