Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Remembering a Gedolah

The Chareidi community has become very proficient in recent decades in turning out hagiographies of their leading luminaries. These books generally push a specific agenda, giving a selective history of the subject in question while carefully omitting any details that might contradict modern dogma as to how "perfect" the person in question must have been.
To a large extent, these books have been a tremendous success. I'm willing to bet more people are aware of Artscroll's version of Rav Moshe Feinstein's life than of Rav Tendler's. And don't even get me started on The Making of a Gadol. These books have created a pantheon for the Chareidi world, great figures who exemplified the values they believe have always been mainstream Jewish ones and who therefore justify and support their ongoing culture.
To a lesser extent, the Religious Zionist world has jumped on the bandwagon as well, but they've been limited by the fact that the majority of our community lives in Israel and therefore the books are in Hebrew, essentially shutting them out of the all-important North American market.
One of the great weakness of Modern Orthodoxy has been its failure to appreciate the importance of the creation of such a pantheon. Yes, everyone knows about the Rav and how important he was. But is there anyone else out there? Anyone who spent their time defending the authenticity of the mesorah and looking deeply into the Torah for applicable lessons in hashkafah, whose work mattered and will continue to matter for generations?
I can think of one: Nechama Leibowitz.
Her Studies in the Torah exemplify everything that Modern Orthodox scholarship should be. For her, there is no need for apologetics. She does not need to reconcile science and Torah. She does not need to understand the so-called documentary hypothesis. For her, truth mattered and she sought it wherever she could, as long as it brought more meaning to the Torah. Her agenda was not to narrowly present Torah along rigid ideological straits but to investigate and delve into Torah's true meaning.
As this article referenced above notes:
In her rejection of biblical criticism, Nehama turned almost exclusively to comparing and contrasting medieval and modern commentators. Her question "What's bothering Rashi?" still reverberates throughout classrooms, her method now mainstream in the religious school system. When Yoel Bin-Nun tried to introduce historical, geographical and philosophical approaches to the study of Bible, Nehama and her students adamantly rejected them, and his proposals were ousted from the Israeli religious curriculum. Consistent with this conservatism, she refused to write her own systematic commentary, because she saw "herself not as a commentator but as a teacher of commentaries," declaring, "I do not innovate."
Years ago I was reading one of her seforim in shul and one of the kollel guys who lived in our community at the time came over to see what I was reading. When I showed him, he gave it a dismissive shrug. She was a woman, what could she know about Torah? I asked him if he'd ever read it and he shook his head. "Then how can you so easily dismiss it based on loshon horo you've obviously heaerd from others?
Nechama Leibowitz's importance comes from her putting the lie to two great assertions: that true lomdus is found only in the Chareidi community, and that Modern Orthodoxy must be about reconciliation between secular culture and Torah. She proved that it could be as strong as its competition without compromising on Jewish values.

Fighting Desegregation

There's an irony to this: for years Jews were on the forefront of the civil rights movement in the United States, fighting the good fight to end segregation between blacks and whites. Barack Obama's ascension to the Oval Office is the greatest proof so far of the success of their efforts.
But then it's interesting to observe how in Israel the exact same thing is happening, in reverse.
Residents of the haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem are going to war against Egged, an Israeli bus company. Dozens of people demonstrated Wednesday afternoon in the Ge'ula and Mea Shaarim neighborhoods, blocking through traffic to Egged buses.
The protestors are taking action against the bus company after a complaint was submitted by the Transportation Ministry against the operation of private "kosher"
lines within the public transportation framework without a license. According to police reports, haredim threw stones at an Egged bus traveling through the neighborhood. No injuries were reported, but damage was caused to the bus' windshield.
Police forces were summoned to the location to maintain the peace. However, it was reported to Ynet that bus traffic to Mea Shaarim will be terminated until order is restored.

The haredi committee, Va'ad Mehadrin Le'Eretz HaKodesh, inaugurated on Tuesday a line of private buses that run from haredi neighborhoods to the Western Wall following Egged's refusal to run Bus 2 on a similar route even though, according to the committee, the line transports 20,000 haredi passengers a day.
Those behind the new bus lines promised that additional "kosher" lines would be inaugurated soon, hoping that pressure put on Egged will have an effect.
Rabbis consulted and agreed that the cost of running these bus lines will be shouldered by some 1,000 newly-wed yeshiva students, each of whom would donate $100. Thus far, half the necessary funds have been collected.
Posters hung throughout the city called out to the haredi public on the issue: "The Egged Company systematically tramples the soul of the haredi public and destroys its holiness by coercing mixed licentious travel on a daily basis. Every rabbinical or entrepreneurial attempt at dialogue with them has been consistently rejected by them… The licentious travel of the Egged Company is enemy No. 1 to Judaism."

That's right, dear readers. Enemy No. 1 to Judaism is not the millions of Arabs on Israel's borders waiting for the opportunity to rain down death and destruction on the State. It's not assimilation in North America which is wiping out the Jewish population there more effectively than a concentrated anti-Semitic culture ever could. It's not the collapse of the global economy which is robbing Jewish charities and educational institutions of much need cash. And it's not the sinas chinam being drummed up by the Chareidi leadership. No, it's mixed seating/standing on Egged buses. That's what's going to destroy Judaism today.
Me, I think the Israeli public should support this new segregation. Make sure the "kosher" buses are clearly marked, given specific routes and then announce that Chareidi Jews are forbidden to enter non-kosher buses either. After all, it they don't other lines will eventually come under pressure to be annexed to the kosher system.
If a violent, self-centred segment of the population wants to have things their own way, let them but they can't venture out when it's no longer convenient for them.

Their Whole Religion Is A Denial of Ours

The Catholic Church has been a declining force in the Western world for decades. Clergy accused of pedophilia, school girls in their short kilts lining up at abortion clinics, empty churches across Europe, all these have pointed to a religion in decline.
Under the current pope, Benedict, the Vatican is trying to engage in a comeback of sorts. First Benny irked the Islamic world by pointing out that they have a strong history of savagery. Then he started cracking the whip to bring various dioceses in America in line, and then he decided to reach out to more radical elements of the Church by removing the excommunication decree placed on Biship Richard Williamson, a member of a Catholic sect that makes the Nazis, y"sh, look like girl guides.
It's nice to know that despite being so busy, the Vatican has time to monitor Israeli television and protest programming it finds offensive.
In the program, Shlein sarcastically denied Christian traditions, that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus walked on water, saying he was doing so as a "lesson" to Christians who deny the Holocaust.
It was a reference to the Vatican's recent lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who denied 6 million Jews were killed during World War II. The rehabilitation sparked outrage among Jews.
A statement from the Vatican press office on Friday said its representative in Israel complained to the government about the segment, which was broadcast recently on private Channel 10, one of Israel's three main TV stations, during Shlein's late-night comedy talk show.

The only difficulty is: what's the problem with these assertions? Are Jews now suddenly supposed to believe Mary was a virgin or that her no-good son walked on water? Come on! The core beliefs of Judaism demand we reject every single founding tenet of Chrisianity. Yoshke, if he existed at all, was no more the son of God than anyone else, had no super powers, performed no miracles and was not "the king of the Jews". Mary was a virgin like Bill Clinton was monogamous. It may be offensive for Catholics to hear such things but as a Jew I'm offended by their claims. Every time a Catholic priest somewhere stands up and talks about how Paul annuled "the Law" and that all God wants is for us to believe in some failed messiah figure, I am offended as a Jew.
But then, I don't go into churches so I never really hear that kind of thing. And the libertarian in me says that as long as they don't come into my shul and say them, they're free to say what they want.
So here's my message to the Papal diocese in Israel: don't watch television there. You'll sleep better at night.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Food is Kosher

Like a bad horror movie monster that just won't die, the Agriprocessors debacle continues to reappear in the news. By now, two conclusion have been formed as to what's going on in Postville, Iowa.

One group has concluded that nothing bad has happened. No violations of kashrus law were ever found. The allegations against the Rubashkin family, all 9000 plus of them, are just that: allegations. Nothing has been proved in a court of law and even if it were, we don't hold by goysiher law so nothing will still have been proved. As a result, getting the Rubashkins out of trouble is a mitzvah of pidyon shevuim. Bottom line: the food is kosher.

The second group has concluded the opposite. Agriporcessors is the biggest chilul HaShem since Lenny Bernstein. Multiple Jewish laws were transgressed in the operation of the plant. There can be no sympathy for Jews who claim to be yirei Shomayim yet act like this. The food may be kosher but it stinks like faeces.

The first group is exemplified by Rav Avi Shafran, chief bag man for the American Agudah. For Rav Shafran, the principles are clear. If a black-hatted Jew does something, it's always okay. Even if everyone else looking on says it isn't, it's still okay. And if you insist that something has gone terribly wrong with a system that allows people to openly commit crimes and then defends those people, you are ignorant and don't know what you're talking about.

Rav Shafran's ongoing target in this matter is Conservativism Hechsher Tzedek. As Rav Shafran describes it:

And its trumpeting in the venerable Wall Street Journal will likely deeply disturb the main proponents of the Hekhsher Tzedek, who have in recent weeks sought to unbake the cake and recast their initiative as not really a “hekhsher” (i.e. kashrut certification) at all but rather a non-kashrut-related endorsement (oddly, though, only for food), renaming it “Magen Tzedek.”

If you haven't been following the issue closely, you'd think Rav Shafran was on to something. But you'd be wrong.

Now, I'll state my own opinion first: I don't think the Hechsher Tzedek is a good idea. It may have high aspirations but in the hands of people who are obsessed more with political correctness and secular liberalism than with Torah and mitzvos, it will quickly turn into another example of how non-observant Jews take Jewish notions and completely twist them out of recognition. Tikun olam, anyone?

Having said that, Rav Shafran proceeds from a false assumption to make his argument work. The assumption is that originally Hechsher Tzedek was about kashrus and now it's been changed. Ah ha! They're wavering and flip-flopping.

No, Hechsher tzedek has nothing to do with kashrus. It has to do with business ethics. For many without and WITHIN the Torah observant community, the Rubshakin’s scandal has created the distinct impression that all the OU cares about is if the food is kosher. Are workers being mistreated? Not our problem. The food is kosher. Killed or maimed due to unsafe working conditions? Not our problem. The food is kosher. Paid starvation wages and threatened with deportation if they get uppity? Not our problem. The food is kosher. That's why Conservatism felt this new standard had to be created. Because the business produced kosher food can be quite non-kosher.

It would only have applied to already kosher products, not created new ones. A business that failed to apply for a conventional hechsher would not have been eligible to get it. What it would have done was create a new ethical standard for businesses, certifying those which operated under what Conservatism considers Jewish business ethical law.

I can guess why the name changed too. Because people like Rav Shafran have been jumping up and down over the use of the word "hechsher" which, rightly or wrongly, is strongly associated with kosher food, they changed the title to give a better impression of what they're trying to do.

The Midrash tells us that the reason for Ahashverosh's big party at the beginning of megillas Ester was because after the Temple was destroyed, the prophets noted that it would be rebuilt after 70 years. Counting from when King Yeho-yachin was exiled, Achashverosh mistakenly concluded that the 70 years had come and gone without the Temple being rebuilt. Thus he concluded that God has abandoned us and that his empire would endure forever. Hence the party.

The interesting thing about the party was that Jews were invited and that glatt kosher food was provided so that they could participate fully. Food, wine, it was all there. The Midrash tells us that all the best Jews went, despite the pleadings of Mordechai who pointed out the contradiction of going to eat kosher food at a party celebrating the apparent nullification of Divine prophecies.

Rav Avi Shafran would claim to be on Mordechai's side, no doubt. But his writings make it clear: he'd have been at the party and then written a column on how Mordechai was full of nonsense. After all, the food was kosher.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Unachievable Paradigm

You know the one I'm talking about, the one baalei teshuvah all come to believe. The frum world is full of warm, honest people who want nothing more than to be nice to everyone, especially their fellow Jews. Leaerning Torah brings inner contentment and living a life al pi halacha leads to unending personal happiness in work, family and everywhere else. Frum people never swear, cheat or hit anyone and the worst kind of argument their children will ever get into is whether or not Tosafos should have disagreed with Rashi on some particular sugya in Yevamos.
The myth of the paradigm is only exacerbated by the dream-peddlers of this non-existent society, the ones who insist that being frum equals being good, that the Torah leads to moral behaviour, the ones who spin stories about the "old country", the alte heim where everyone was frum and only thought about how to make sure their t'fillin were in perfect shape.
The only problem with this paradigm is that it isn't real. Torah study isn't the ticket to personal contentment. Living a life al pi halacha doesn't provide you with a secuar income earned with satisfaction or a happy marriage. Frum kids are just as likely as any other to get into fights over who gets that last piece of chocolate and they spend more time in shul staring at the pages of the siddur than actually davening from it.
As for the alte heim, please. Talk with anyone who actually lived there and after the nostalgia for a lost childhood is dealth with, the truth will come out. Poverty was everywhere. You couldn't walk down the street without a worry of a pogrom. Disease and misery were constant companions. Many Jews were secular or socialist, more concerned with gentile politics than Jewish cultural life. Life in the alte heim was lousy, tempered only by the lack of any other options.
So how does one deal with this contradiction?
For some, denial is the first resort. The paradigm is true and achievable and if they're not getting what it promises then they must be doing something wrong. If another frum Jew cheats them, well they must have gotten something wrong along the way because frum Jews just don't do that. If their kids show less than perfect interest in learning and praying they see it as a failing. Whether or not these people realize it, they're quite mierable and unfulfilled. They will spend their lives chasing an impossible dream and dying full of regret when they haven't achieved it.
For others, rejection of the paradigm and disparaging it is the order of the day. Having grown up in the frum community and suffered from the hypocrisy of the dream-peddlers who insist that being frum is the answer to all one's problems while cheating on their taxes and beating their wives, they reject everything and set out into the amoral vacuum of secular society accompanied by nothing but the bitterness that the smashing of their childhood dreams has given them. Life pretty much sucks for them too although they'll never admit it.
Yet the words of Chazal give an answer to the dilemma. Rachamana liba ba'ei. God wants the heart.
In truth, the paradigm of Judaism is not achievable and perhaps the first step should be acknowledging this. Keeping kosher doesn't mean you're eating healthier food. It means you're eating food prepared according to halacha. Keeping Shabbos doesn't mean you're going to enjoy work more during the week after taking a break from it. You're doing it because it's the command of God. Keeping the laws of taharas mishpacha isn't going to make your spouse seem that much hotter after mikveh night or cut down on the chance of future marital breakdown. Hell, in some families the break might be welcome and not a source of stress.
So then why do it? If the payoff of spiritual bliss and personal happiness isn't achievable, except for a select few, why make the effort?
"According to the struggle is the reward." (Avos, end of chapter 5) As Jews we know there are two worlds, this one and Olam Haba. Our existence is not simply confined to the brief time we spend in the physical world with our neshamos trapped in our materialistic bodies. We are citizens of both this and the next world and while we must struggle through our time here, we are destined for reward for our efforts in the next. God wants the heart! He wants our effort and it is the effort that determines our reward, not our achievement.
Did you coast through life, doing everything as a routine? When it came time to daven did you see it as an obligation to be gotten through, like wiping after going to the bathroom? Did you put ourself first at home, with your family, at work, because no one looks out for you like you do? Did you cynically decide that the whole thing is a joke but that persona inertia would keep you "in the game?"
Did you spend your life being as honest as possible? Did you try to be a good parent and spouse? Did you honour your parents to the best of your ability? Did you give to charity as much as you should have? Did you strive to learn the words of your Creator through His Torah? Did you stand before God to daven and see it as a chance to have a private appointment with Him to pour out your soul's desire and pain?
In short: did you try?
Yes, there are those frum Jews who make it abundantly clear that the paradigm is a joke to them. They cheat, steal, selectively choose their chumros while violating obvious issurim and acting like the black hat on their head means it's all okay. They focus on the externals, judge people by selective criteria and disqualify decent and honest people on the stupidest of grounds. But so what?
They are the imperfect messengers of a perfect message. Look past them. See the beauty of Torah for what it is despite the dreck that has attached itself to its purity. No, you will never have the perfect paradigm but it isn't about the achievement, it's about the effort.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

What Real Abuse Is

I've grown tired of reading in various corners of the blogsphere about how horrible formerly religious Jews have had it in their lives before they "left the derech". It's hard not to trip over one of them or another whinging about how terrible their yeshiva rebbes were, or how awful it was to be taught so many "lies" and have the best years of their lives taken away from them. One particular ingrate claims to have been raped because of his religious upbringing.
The danger with throwing words like "abuse" and "rape" around too much is that, like the overuse of the word "holocaust", the more they are used the less impact they have. And these are words that should have impact. We should have no patience for people who misuse them to fulfill their narrow agendas.
What is abuse? Being beaten by a parent, familiy member or spouse. Being raised to suffer psychological and physical damage. What is rape? Being sexually assaulted against one's will. Being degraded and turned into an object rather than a human being because another had power of you.
Learning in a yeshiva and turning out not to agree with what was taught? Being raised to believe the world is only 5769 years old and then discovering its not quite true? Missing Shakespeare throughout one's high school years? That's not abuse and it says a lot of the people who whinge and claim it is.

Does This Set a New Trend?

Hot on the heels of El Al introducing new separate-seating flights, ynet has the story of a store in Israel that will implement separate entrances for men and women:
Last week, a popular nuts and seeds store at the Bucharim neighborhood in Jerusalem declared it plans to institute separation between men and women shoppers ahead of the Tu B'Shvat holiday during which dried fruit sales are on the rise.
The owners of Pitzuchei Mizrahi said they would arrange separate entrances for men and women, after they were recommended to do so by a kashrut supervisor.
He advised them to prevent a situation whereby men and women customers unintentionally touch each other during the busy shopping hours when the store is crowded.

Now one again, I am going to say that people should not be opposed to this. This store is a private enterprise. If this adjustment to their business model increases their revenue, kol hakavod to them.
But then something in the article caught my eye. It wasn't their rabbi who recommended it, nor was it a series of requests from their clientele. Rather, "they were recommended to do so by a kashrut supervisor". And that made me suddenly wonder if I was on the right side on this one.
Much ado has been made of the lousy job the various kashrus organizations supervising the Rubashkin's did given the obvious abuse of the workers in that plant. The reply has always been simple: they were there to make sure the meat was kosher, not to inspect working conditions. And although it's annoying to admit it, they are right. The job of a mashgiach is to make sure Jewish dietary laws are being observed.
But if that's truly the case, then why did the mashgiach for this store feel a need to make a recommendation that has nothing to do with kashrus. What do separate entrances have to do with whether or not I can eat the food from this boutique? And doesn't this contradict the protests from the chareidi establishment to date that they had no responsibility for the human and animal abuse that was going on at Agriprocessors because it had no relevance to whether or not the meat was kosher?
I still believe a business, whether it's Israel's national airline or a humble shop in Yerushalayim, has a right to run its business however it likes just as I, the customer, have a right to choose whether I will patronize that business. But will it stop there or will separate entrances soon become a requirement for those businesses that wish to be certified as kosher? Is this just a clever change in a private business model or a portent of new chumros to come?

Friday, 6 February 2009

Secular Jews Lie!

Well okay, only one in particular.
It seems Rav Noach Weinberg of Aish HaTorah recently passed away. Never one to miss the opportunity, our old friend/nemesis SJ took the opportunity to be vile and rudely gloated over this loss to the Jewish people.
Now, I'm not sure how it is that SJ lies, but since he figures that Chabad, Aish and pretty much everyone else frum lies, or at least he's taken the opportunity to state that on his blog, I thought I would just add him to the list. According to his standards, after all, you don't actually need to prove the guy's lying, you just have to make the accusation.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Religion of Anti-Religion

There are, for my observations, five basic principles to Judaism as outsiders see it:
1) Religious Jews have a set of core beliefs
2) These beliefs are based on the writings of "important" rabbis.
3) These beliefs cannot be contradicted or disproved. Any evidence that does must be ignored, discounted or fought.
4) Those who reject these core beliefs are fools who are missing out on "the truth".
5) Those who are happy living outside to these core beliefs are deluded fools.
The argument against being religious from the anti-religious bloggers out there seems to be pretty simple:
a) The only real Judaism is Chareidi Judaism
b) Judaism's basic principles like Torah miSinai and the story of the Creation of the world have all been proven to be wrong.
c) Therefore Judaism is wrong so anyone who still believes in it is stupid.
Although it is so easy to refute this argument, trying to do so is of little use. Like any good intellectual (some of the stupidest's people I know are intellectual) approaches things, these anti-religious types have already decided on the answers they will and will not accept.
If you point us that Chareidi Judaism, while definitely the dominant form of Torah observance nowadays, is not the only kind and that Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism have their own authorities and views on many of these subjects, views that must be more palatable to them, they simply reject the notion. Non-Chareidi Torah observance is illegitimate. Modern Orthodoxy is simply people who want to keep kosher but also see movies. If they were really religious, they'd sell their plasma TV's and start wearing shtreimls like they're supposed to.
If you point out that Judaism's basic principles have not been proven to be wrong but that there is rather vigorous argument in which both sides make important points, they are again dismissive. Any philsopher or scientist who disagrees with them is wrong and his points are meaningless.
In summary: any evidence that there is a wide range of genuine Torah observance and that Torah observance can be rigorously defended on scientific, intellectual and philosophical grounds does not exist. Therefore their argument is right.
I don't want to waste further time contending the point. There's an old saying I like to recall when tempted to: Don't try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.
Rather, I want to point out the ultimate hypocrisy of these anti-religionists:
1) They have a set of core beliefs
2) These beliefs are based on the writings of "important" intellectuals and philosophers.
3) These beliefs cannot be contradicted or disproved. Any evidence that does must be ignored, discounted or fought.
4) Those who reject these core beliefs are fools who are missing out on "the truth".
5) Those who are happy living outside these core beliefs are deluded fools.
6) While aggressively attacking opponents of the core beliefs, they must also stress that they are the real victims. As they attempt to scream their opponents into submission, they must also shout about how they're being silenced.
Hey, do points 1-5 seem awful familiar to you? Although they'll never admit it, the anti-religious types are still quit religious. In fact, they're Chareidi in their passionate devotion to their empty philosophy. And that makes point 5 the saddest of all. At least while one is within the comforting wings of Torah Judaism, one can find find spiritual bliss. But from what I've read on the blogsphere, outside its warm environment, there's just vitriol to be spat at those who haven't seen "the light".

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Of Spanish Hatred

In 1986, Dry Bones published a cartoon acknowledging Spain's belated recognition of Israel (decades after the rest of Europe had). He congratulated them for their simultaneous Don Qixote ("I shall right a wrong and recognized their little state") and Sancho Panza ("but I'll still support the PLO") stance. For many Jews, it was a big event. After all, Spain is still well-remembered as the country that expelled its entire Jewish community in 1492 and which, alone amongst the so-called enlightened European powers, refused to allow it to return for centuries. The recent government of Jose Zapatero (a man that bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Bean) has done its best to antagonize Israel and show its anti-Semitic love for our State's enemies as much as possible. You want hostile Jew hatred covered under a thin veneer of Eurointellectualism? Go to Spain!
This recent tidbit should therefore come as no suprise:
The Spanish judge's decision to launch legal proceedings against, more or less, the entire top brass of Israel's security establishment at the time of Salah Shehade's assassination in July 2002 has left the official Israel wide-mouthed and helpless. As it turns out, the Dreyfus Affair is in fact ongoing history that repeats itself at various locations, times, and contexts, yet the ant-Semitic undertones are always present...
According to a legal source in Madrid, Justice Fernando Andeo decided to grant the petition filed by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights "in the name of universal justice," which Spain recognizes in all matters pertaining to crimes against humanity and genocide. ..
Salah Shehade was a Palestinian arch-terrorist, the head of Hamas' military wing in Gaza, and the founder of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. He was a man who ceaselessly engaged in terror and in the murder of Jews – for 20 consecutive years, even when he was jailed in Israel.
Shehade planned and approved a very long series of terror attacks, including the murder of five yeshiva students in Atzmona and the killing of four IDF soldiers in an attack on an army post near Gaza.
Israel attempted to assassinate him for a long time. Eventually, Shehade was killed when his home was bombed, in a strike that also killed his aide and 14 others, including his wife and three of his children, as well as women and children who were his neighbors. Yet it is needless to say that it is the State of Israel's existential right and duty to assassinate people like Shehade.
Is it anti-Semitic? Of course it is. But is offical Israel really wide-mouthed and helpless? Of course it isn't. But the proper steps to respond to this provocation require guts, something the Israeli government is currently short of.
The Israeli government could easily deal with this situation in a few simple steps. The first would be to call in the Spanish ambassador, tell him his country has been a third world basket case ever since the British wiped out the Spanish Armada, and then send him packing. The second is to recall the Israeli ambassador from Spain after he finishing plugging all the toilets in the embassy. The final step would be to make an international announcement to all Jews, Israeli and not, that travelling to Spain is a risk that should not be taken and that if any Israeli or non-Israeli Jewish national (because I doubt this "anti-Israeli" judgement will apply to Israeli Arabs) goes there on vacation and gets in trouble, they're on their own.
Ones of the Achilles' heels of Israeli foreign policy since the Oslo Discord has been an illogical desire to be accepted by the world community as just another nation, the ultimate realization of Teddy Herzel's dream. This slap in the face by the Spaniards should serve as a wake up call to Jewish pride. We are not the helpless people they evicted in 1492 and we will not be treated as such.

Why Rav Lookstein Was Wrong

All right, it's a less provocative title than its now-deleted counterpart but I'm going to reiterate what I said before. I strongly disagree with Rav Haskel Lookstein's decision to attend a prayer service in a church to celebrate Barack Obama's ascension to the U.S Presidency.
For those with short attention spans, Rav Lookstein was invited to represent Orthodox Jewry as part of the presidential inaugral festivities. This service took place in a church and was attended by representatives of almost all major faiths in America as well as Conservative and Reform rabbis. Early articles on the subject emphasized the importance of not saying "no" to such an important invitation. After a reprimand by Rabbinical Council of America, Rav Lookstein fired back by noting that he had followed due halachic process in coming to his decision. He cited decision in our holy literature as well as historical precedents involving other rabbonim participating in multi-faith ceremonies and entering churches.
Despite that, I disagree with him. Here, on a point-by-point basis, is why:
"I did it because I recognize this as my civic duty to support the new President," Lookstein told the Daily News on Wednesday night.
"Under general circumstances, I wouldn't participate in an interfaith service. This was a special situation, and out of a spirit of patriotism and support, I felt like this was the right thing to do."

As a citizen of the country he lives in, a Jew certainly has to be a loyal member of that society. He has an obligation to observe the laws of the country, pay his taxes and be a decent member of his community. However, this is not because it is "the right thing to do" but because it is the decision of halacha that this is so. If halacha said we cannot pay taxes to non-Jewish governments, then civic duty be damned, we could not pay taxes. (Fortunately halacha is enlightened enough to recognize the duty a Jew has to his host country) Further, there is no civic duty to attend a church service to honour a new president. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime privilege and opportunity, but it is not a duty.
This event was not an interfaith dialogue or meeting.
Yes it was. It was a specifically interfaith dialogue to show that all major faiths and denominations in the United States support the new government.
Many clergy were invited, and I felt that the interests of our Orthodox community would be hurt if no one from our community participated.
Exactly how educated about Judaism is the new president? Is he aware of the differences between Reform, Conservativism and true Torah observance or does he assume, like too many North America Jews, that Orthodoxy is just another denomination within a greater Judaism? If he does, then there is no point to an observant Jew showing up. Two other Jews were already in attendance.
Further, how does Rav Lookstein define "our Orthodox community"? He does not represent the Chareidi/Agudah portion of American Orthodoxy. He does not represent Mizrachi. So he could only be present on behalf of a portion of the Orthodox community of North America.
The Shulchan Aruch notes in YD 178:2 that a person who needs to be close to the government may wear even the Torah- prohibited garments of a gentile in order to represent the Jewish community well.
Yes, but it is also clear from the context that this refers to a time and situation in which Jewish interests are either in danger or potentially so. Furthermore, this particular halacha has no relevance here. It's one thing to wear a nice suit to meet the president but this particular psak doesn't add that one can enter their places of worship.
The prohibition to enter a church is grounded in the appearance of impropriety, rather than an actual impropriety
This is where I further disagree with Rav Lookstein. There is something about entering a church that goes beyond the actual halacha and into the most ephmeral aspects of Judaism. For nigh on 1800 years, churches across the world have been the centre of anti-Jewish sentiment. Their "saviour" who is displayed copiously in their churches is a potential repudiation of the basics of our faith. Over and above what the books say, this is something Jews simply don't do. There is too much hurt, too much blood spilt, to ignore.
It is well known that many Chief Rabbis of England have gone into Westminster Abby when summoned there by the King or Queen, and many other great rabbis have done the same to represent our community. The Chief Rabbis of Israel have engaged in similar activities, and, most recently, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen was involved in similar activities. In fact, he attended the funeral of the late Pope, John Paul II
In all these cases, the rabbi in question was either summonded by the ruling power or attended the event as a representative of the entire Jewish community. This prayer service was something else entirely. In this case, Rav Lookstein attended of his own free will as a representative of a portion of American Orthodoxy. Thus one cannot use the precedents cites as justification.
and the opportunity to say a few words directly to the President of the United States and begin to develop a relationship with the most powerful man in the world is a chance that our community can ill afford to miss.
Yet the Jewish community has not missed the opportunity, or was Rahm Emmanuel fired and I missed the announcement?
Every one of Rav Lookstein's justifications does not pass scrutiny. But worse, the damage done by his appearance in such a limited capacity is tremendous.
Although it is politically incorrect to remind people of this, as Jews we believe we have been chosen by God to represent His divine intentions here on Earth. For this, we were given His Torah and all the laws both the Written and Oral Laws contain. A Jew who accepts Torah miSinai and the authority of the halacha upon him is acting correctly. A Jew who doesn't isn't. That doesn't mean we must be hostile to our non-observant brethren. Far from it, we must be models of decency and integrity to show them and the world the benefits of a Torah-true lifestyle. But it also means that we alone have the knowledge of the true pathway to understanding God. "You alone have I known of all the families in the world" said God to us (Amos 3:2).
By appearing next to a Conservative and a Reform, Rav Lookstein has undone all of this. He has given the world the impression that Judaism is a denominational religion, just like Chrisianity, with multiple versions of "the truth", each equally legitimate. He has implied that Torah observance, far from being the right way to approach God, is nothing special, just one way amongst multiple denominations and religions.
I am certain he doesn't personally feel that way and I don't question his integrity or knowledge. But I think his decision was wrong and that he should not have attended the interfaith prayer service.