Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Against Ban Harassment & Threats

This is a joint statement by many bloggers about the recent ban on VIN and the actions taken against VIN and the companies that advertise on the site.  Kudos to R. Gil Student for drafting this statement and to the other bloggers who were primarily responsible for pushing the effort forward.

A little over a month ago, a number of rabbis signed onto a ban that forbade advertising on or otherwise working with the website VosIzNeias. This ban singled out one website without addressing other websites or public forums like newspapers or magazines. The singling out of a solitary website raises many questions, particularly when newspapers in the same community regularly publish arguably libelous stories and online discussion forums for the community are essentially unbounded by civility. Additionally, VosIzNeias has publicly stated that it has already raised its standards and is willing to do even more with rabbinic guidance, provided the same guidelines are applied to its competitors.

Bans of this nature are generally brought into fruition by activists and this one is attributed to a specific activist who seems to have business and political interests in this ban. He ignored VosIzNeias’ request to meet with the rabbis in order to explore ways to satisfy their concerns. With this ban, the activist is threatening the commercial viability of the VosIzNeias business.

We have now received reports of continued harassment by this activist, who is threatening to publicly denounce people, companies and charitable organizations who continue to cooperate with the website. He has also reportedly threatened to remove the kosher certification of companies that fail to adhere to the ban. However, on being contacted, the activist behind the ban denied all knowledge of this harassment and attributed it to someone acting without authorization. We are, therefore, making no formal accusation as to who is conducting this campaign of harassment.

To the best of our understanding, this activity is illegal. One individual told us he reported that harassment to the police. 

Harassing good people with threats is illegal and inexcusable. We call on rabbis and people of good faith to denounce this behavior, and we encourage victims to respond to this activist as follows:

If he calls or e-mails you or your organization, thank him for bringing the ban to your attention and say that you will decide how to proceed after consulting with your rabbi or other advisor. And because of rumors that there is harassment involved in this matter, you regret having to tell him that if he contacts you or anyone else in your organization again, you will have to report him to the police.

We have a copy of an e-mail forwarded to us by people involved, which includes a pseudonym and phone number, and we have been told of intimidating phone calls. Note that at this time we are withholding this activist's identity. If he continues harassing people, we will have to be less discrete.


His Mightiness, Garnel Ironheart (along with many other Jewish bloggers)

If you agree, please feel free to sign in the comment section and post this on your blog as well.

Monday, 14 February 2011

She Missed That Lesson

A couple of years ago a patient of mine and her son became interested in Judaism.  Despite my lack of encouragement they decided to convert.  Somehow they found their way to the local Reform Temple, did whatever study program is offered there, had the holy mayim sprinkled on them and became Reform Jews.
If I ever had my doubts about the comprehensiveness of the Reform education they received, they were completely confirmed a few months later during a routine appointment. 
The patient had been noticing some worsening of her chronic back pain but insisted that she had done nothing to aggravate it.  I agreed that a spine X-ray would be in order to ensure that nothing sinister was affecting the bones.  I told her that the results would most likely be okay and she smiled and said "Well, I'll cross my fingers just in case."
There was a brief pause and then I said "You know you're not supposed to do that anymore, right?"

Misleading Thinking

I work with a nurse in my office every day.  I can confidently state that she's not my equal, and not just because I'm the one that signs her pay cheque.
Well it would be absurd to think that we are equal.  After all, I've got a lot of schooling, medical knowledge and skills that she doesn't have.  I can also lift more weight than her.  What's more, I don't have to spend time shopping in a certain aisle in the supermarket for... ahem... monthly needs.  I can impregnate a woman if I so choose (only with my wife, of course) but there's no way I'll ever carry a baby.  I'm also much hairier than her, something she has no problem agreeing with.
So there's all these inequalities and more between us but tell me, does that make me superior to her?  Well actually in some ways I am superior to her.  She can suture but not nearly as well as me.  I also make a way better pot of coffee (she uses decaffeinated, I mean, what's the point?).  On the other hand, she can take blood samples a lot quicker than me, she's much better at doing dressings for wounds and she's a whiz with renovations.  Me, I'm lucky I know which end of the hammer is which. 
Okay, so in many ways we're unequal.  In some ways I'm superior whilst in other ways she is.  Which of us is a better person?  Which of us is more important to my practice?
The trick answer is that both of us are important, of course.  We work as a team with the goal of providing good health care to the patients in the clinic, something we manage to get done a lot of the time (B"H).  I contribute to that care by using my skills and knowledge and she does the same with hers.  We are unequal and in some ways superior and inferior to one another but we complement each other's abilities and the overriding goal is reached.
Somewhere along the line, many folks have forgotten that Judaism is also about teamwork.  In an attempt to imitate the unattainable egalitarian values that are espoused by secular Western liberalism, many outside the Torah community, as well as some on the left fringe of the observant world, have made it their goal to declare that "equality for all" is a virtue that Judaism should strive to adopt.
Right.  And the Toronto Maple Leaf's goalie and 2nd line centre should also switch jobs once in a while in the name of equality. (Wait, never mind.  They might do better if they did)
It's not suprising therefore to read this article and see that many of the people surveyed viewed egalitarianism as an essential part of Judaism.
Asked whether Judaism is egalitarian in its attitude towards men and women, 47% answered it was not; 29% replied there was a moderate level of equality; and 24% said Judaism was egalitarian.
Analysis shows that the haredim (79%) and the religious public (58%) believe there is equality while the seculars replied there was none (58%). A gender analysis revealed that 29% of men believe that Judaism is egalitarian as opposed to only 19% of women.
How does Judaism measure in comparison with other faiths? 42% said it was very egalitarian; 31% stated it was the same as other religions; and 27% said men were favored more in Judaism than in other religions. Haredim (87%), the religious (77%) and traditionalists (52%) believe that Judaism is more egalitarian than other faiths while most seculars either believe it is as egalitarian or less than other faiths.
Let us be clear.  There is no concept of equality between men and women in Judaism.  However, whilst secular Western liberalism seems to conclude that inequality demands a superior-inferior model and then criticized Torah Judaism for assigning all the important roles to men, this is completely at odds with how the Torah would seem to want men and women to inter-relate.
There is no questiont that within Judaism men and woman are different.  Each gender has its strength, its skills, its ability to contribute to the development and survival of the faith and the nation as a whole.  The differences are not just physical but also spiritual.  This does not mean that men are superior to women any more than that apples are superior to oranges.  Both men and women are needed in order for the Jewish nation to thrive.  Each has something to offer that the other does not.  Yes there is inequality but through working together the overriding goal is reached.
It is often sad to see what happens when this concept is missed.  For example, Conservatism changed the age of the bas mitzvah a couple of decades ago to 13 in the name of equality.  Never mind that this was one case where Jewish law saw women as superior to men in terms of intellectual, religious and physical maturity.  Equality uber alles was the goal to be achieved even if it meant telling every 12 year old girl in the movement from then on that she still had one more Yom Kippur she could eat on!
Now there are those who will bring up certain elements of the Chareidi community as a counter-example of how misogynistic Torah Judaism can be but they make a strong error when they do this.  To be sure, it is deplorable to see how certain Chareidi elements treat the women in their communities.  However, this behaviour is, despite all the claims of tahara and religious zeal to the contrary, a perversion of Torah and how to develop a positive relationship between men and women in Judaism.  Women are not chattle or sources of evil to be isolated and avoided at all costs as these Taliban wannabe's would have people believe.  Despite their claims we must remember that while Judaism does in fact preach inequality, this need to differentiate is no more controversial than ensuring that the chef cooks the meal while the waiter serves it, each playing his role in optimal fashion.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Keep it Pure

One of my pet peeves is how English aggressively asserts itself into other languages.  For some reason I don't so much mind when foreign woirds find their way into English but it bugs me when I hear foreigners speaking their language and inserting English into it.  It doesn't seem to matter which language it is either.  It could be my father speaking Yiddish and using an English word or two or an Israeli doing the same but I just get a feeling of annoyance and want to say "You have a word for that!  Use it!"
It seems like I'm not the only one.  Years ago I went to Israel to do an elective in cardiology and the secretary of the department told me she was happy I spoke Hebrew because her English wasn't so good for explaining how the routine would work.  Most importantly, she assured me "Anachnu rotzim she'yehiyeh lecha goodtime".  "Goodtime"?  Really?  They can't just say "z'man tov" or something like that?
Then there's the way there's words in Hebrew for "maximum" and "minimum" but what do Israelis say?  "Maximum" and "minimum".   I also hate hearing people say that something in "eleganti" or "normali".  Or the kid who's whinging "Zeh lo fair!"  Then there was this cinema outside the old central bus station in Tel Aviv with all English words on its sign, just transliterated into English.  Come on, you have words for that, dammit!
This article describes the problems that hebrew is facing after presenting an excellent history on the development of modern Hebrew.  B'kitzur, Hebrew as a modern language has been playing a catch-up job since its inception but like every other language it has the ability to bring in and assimilate words appropriately.  Eliezer Ben Yehuda's dictionary is an example of how terms in Latin or Greek can be modified or adapted to an existing Hebrew root.  How many people know that there are specific Hebrew words for "radio" and "television" based on the roots for listening and watching?  But everyone says "radio" and "televiziah".
As the article notes, the more Hebrew drifts away from its roots by directly incorporating foreign words the weaker its historical connection to ancient Hebrew and our ancestors.  Jewish history in Israel is not unattached to what happened 2000 or 3000 years ago.  The language of David HaMelech, a"h, and Ezra HaSofer, a"h, is our language.  I wish more people cared about making the effort to ensure that we are loyal to their heritage and not killing the connection for the sake of convenience.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Futility of Predicting

Sometimes history makes a left turn just when you were expecting it to keep going straight.  Such an unexpected alteration in course seems to be unfolding right now across the MiddleEast and North Africa.  In recent weeks the government of Tunisia has been overthrown although there is still no clear picture on what's replaced it.  Now rioting and protests are spreading across the region but although Yemen, Jordan and others have been affected, all eyes are now turned to Egypt, the most powerful of the regimes to have been affected by this outbreak. 
This should be of special interest to Israel.  Normally in Hollywood type fantasies popular revolutions lead to new and better governments coming to power usually with the help of the heroes.  In real life, however, the opposite seems to happen.  As the saying goes, "the king is dead, long live the dictator!"  Consider the Russian revolution which replaced the oppressive but incompetent czar with the oppressive and brutally competent Communists.  How about the Iranian revolution? 
And what will happen in Egypt?  As Caroline Glick notes in her latest piece, the most likely scenario assuming a regime change happens is not a cause for optimism.
Thursday afternoon, Egyptian presidential hopeful Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency returned to Egypt from Vienna to participate in anti-regime demonstrations. As IAEA head, Elbaradei shielded Iran's nuclear weapons program from the Security Council. He repeatedly ignored evidence indicating that Iran's nuclear program was a military program rather than a civilian energy program. When the evidence became too glaring to ignore, Elbaradei continued to lobby against significant UN Security Council sanctions or other actions against Iran and obscenely equated Israel's purported nuclear program to Iran's.
His actions won him the support of the Iranian regime which he continues to defend. Just last week he dismissed the threat of a nuclear armed Iran telling the Austrian News Agency, "There's a lot of hype in this debate," and asserting that the discredited 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 remains accurate.
Elbaradei's support for the Iranian ayatollahs is matched by his support for the Muslim Brotherhood. This group, which forms the largest and best organized opposition movement to the Mubarak regime is the progenitor of Hamas and al Qaida. It seeks Egypt's transformation into an Islamic regime that will stand at the forefront of the global jihad. In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood has been increasingly drawn into the Iranian nexus along with Hamas. Muslim Brotherhood attorneys represented Hizbullah terrorists arrested in Egypt in 2009 for plotting to conduct spectacular attacks aimed at destroying the regime.
Elbaradei has been a strong champion of the Muslim Brotherhood. Just this week he gave an interview to Der Spiegel defending the jihadist movement. As he put it, "We should stop demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood. …[T]hey have not committed any acts of violence in five decades. They too want change. If we want democracy and freedom, we have to include them instead of marginalizing them." The Muslim Brotherhood for its part has backed Elbaradei's political aspirations. On Thursday it announced it would demonstrate at ElBaradei's side the next day.
While it's always exciting to watch history happening, we would have every right to be concerned that instead of a liberation, the Arab world is about to get darker and more dangerous, especially for us.  However, I would like to make a prediction.  With all the randomness that seems to surround events these days this prediction is worth about as much as anyone else's but here it is anyway: nothing will change.  Hosni Mubarak and friends have too much invested in their regimes to allow them to slip away.  Unlike Tunisia, the army and police are strongly behind the government and will be willing to shed blood to protect it.  They will be aided by a western media that is more worried about Arabs being delayed at roadblocks by Jews than Arabs killing each other.  And Mubarak will survive... for now.