Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Standing Up For The Gains

It's very clear that the recent Israeli elections produced a major winner: Bibi Netanyahu.  The prime minister proved once again that he is a professional in a field of amateurs.  Despite polls predicting a near loss or worse, despite pundits criticizing his every tactic including his trip to Washington, he pulled out a victory for his Likud party and brought it the largest number of seats it's earned in years.
So who were the losers in the election?
Well first there's Labour, or whatever it's calling itself these days.  Despite having the advantage of running against a long-time incumbent who had called an unnecessary election and was providing scandal after scandal, Herzog and Lipni couldn't pull the trigger and convince the electorate to restore the party's history dominance.
Then there's Yesh Atid.  Despite positioning itself as the only true centrist alternative and having a telegenic leader it dropped its seat total significantly, not unlike Yair Lapid's father's party Shinui which followed its freshman performance with a quick drop into irrelevance.
But the biggest losers in this election will actually be part of the incoming government.  Irony of ironies, Bayit Yehudi and Naftali Bennett lost the most in the recent election and not just because their seat total also dropped.
No, Bennett is a loser because the Chareidi parties are now likely to be back in the coalition and everyone who follows Israeli politics knows that, given half the chance, Bibi loves to suck at their toes even at the expense of the rest of the country.
One can hardly blame him.  Centrist and alternative parties come and go.  After the next election in a few years there just might be no more Yesh Atid or Bayit Yehudi but there will still be Shas and United Torah Judaism, still polling the same overall number of seats.  Their MK's will still be political whores willing to sell out the country in exchange for the right amount of funding for their non-productive sectors.  If you need a government they will be there, for sale as always.
And what's the price they will demand in return?  Well other than an end to the now illegal draft exemptions for their community and a restoration of funding for their yeshivos one can confidently predict that they will demand an end to any inroads the Dati Leumi community has made in the last two years in the centres of religious power in Israel.  The Chareidi leadership has long advertised itself as the only genuine Torah community in the world and made sure everyone knows it sees Religious Zionism as a bastard step-child worth throwing under the train.  Having been excluded from the government for two years does anyone doubt that the Chareid parties will exact a measure of revenge?  Never mind what it says in the Torah about grudges and revenge, what do you think they'll really do?
The only alternative is for Bennett to temporarily move Bayit Yehudi into a more parochial position and defend the Religious Zionist community.  Instead of trying to create a more religious alternative to the Likud he had to first ensure that the religious establishment doesn't slide back into the dark ages it was slowly starting to emerge from.  And he will only be able to do that by standing up to the bullies who are preparing to return to their former offices.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Rational Response to the Tragedy

The recent tragedy of the Sassoon family in a terrible fire over Shabbos has brought tears to many corners of the Jewish world.  There are no words to describe the sorrow that the surviving father must be feeling along with the angst over the ongoing life and death struggles his wife and sole surviving daughter are fighting.
Despite that it seems that lots of folks do have words and not all of them make sense.  Having listened to a few lectures on the subject of how to respond to this tragedy it seems a common theme is present.  Despite it being seemingly obvious that the lessons we should learn from this are to own reliable hot plates, not keep them near flammable objects and have copious smoke detectors in one's home we seem to be getting repeated reassurances that, in fact, this is exactly not the lesson we need to be learning.
Instead we are told that we should link this disaster to women dressing immodestly or our not keeping Shabbos well enough .
Perhaps it's the ongoing trend within the Chareidi community towards irrationalism (as in the opposite of the rational approach) but it seems to me that as deep and erudite as these lectures are they completely miss the point, despite each of them assuring me that by not thinking their way it's me that's missing the point.
The Torah, in one of its less glitzy mitzvos, tells us that if we have a roof on our homes that people can use we should built a parapet or railing to ensure no one accidentally falls off.  This rule is easily extended into the principle that one should ensure one's dwelling contains no safety hazards.  It's common sense and a decent thing, exactly what the Torah would be expected to demand of us.
Oddly this mitzvah, which to my simple mind seems incredibly relevant in this matter, never seems to matter.  Rather we are subjected to endless discussions about increasing our emunah, how the righteous suffer to atone for the sins of the generation and whatever the pet aveirah of the speaker is being the real cause for the Sassoon family's destruction.  But this shouldn't be the case.
Now I know that a lot of this irrational trend can be traced back to the Michtav MiEliyahu who took the Ramban's mystical approach and created a worldview in which nothing in this physical world actually matters.  According to Rav Dessler, zt"l, all we see is an illusion and God is the only true reality.  Therefore all our activities and hishtadlus are meaningless.  All we have is tefilah and emunah on our side in our interaction with the Creator.  Despite this we are expected to go through the charade of trying to interact with this "fictional" world because that's what God wants, a variation on Rachamana liba ba'ei, I guess.
This seems to end up in sermons on emunah when the topic should be about where the best price on smoke detectors and home fire extinguishers can be bought.  After all, if God is pulling all the strings and we are not doing anything then it's not about the practical menas for preventing another occurence like the one the Sassoons went through.  Only people on a low level who don't see God's presence in this world would do that.  People on a high level like these lecturers know that it's really all about prayer and faith.
And perhaps I'm just someone on that low level but it seems to me that if the Torah really didn't put any value in practical self-protective behaviour it wouldn't have made the building of safety devices on one's roof into one of the "big 613".  Indeed, would it not have rather told us that if we have a roof on our home we should pray that no ill should befall those standing on it?  Why bother with the exhortation to look after ourselves exceedinly well when all we should be doing is praying that everything works out?
But then, these are the folks that tell us that God put dinosaur bones into the Earth to trick us into thinking the planet is older than 5775 years.  Such a tricky deity!
In this end the lesson from the Sassoon family is: Go buy smoke detectors and don't skimp on kitchen appliances.  Make sure your home is safe.  You have a Torah obligation to do that and by buying those items and installing them you are performing a mitzvah!  Isn't that what we're supposed to do?

Monday, 16 March 2015

The Upcoming Elections

There's something interesting about watching a car or train accident about to happen.  We know it's a terrible things and that quite possibly there will be horrible outcomes to the occupants of the vehicles.  We know it's not a spectator sport and that we should look away but we can't help it.  Our eyes are drawn to it.
Perhaps that's why all the attention in the upcoming elections in Israel are on Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud party.  If advance polls are right (caveat: in Israel they're often spectacularly wrong) Bibi is in for a drubbing and the Likud is going to lose its governing position unless it makes a serious set of coalition agreements work.  That's not impossible but it does foreshadow the possibility of an Israeli government controlled by single interest parties, none of them with an overarching national vision.
And the alternatives?  A bland nobody who got the leadership of his party that no one else really wanted and Israel's version of Hillary Clinton, a shrill harpy who thinks she's entitled to be prime minister because she's obviously the best person in the country for the job.
Now, one of the advantages of parliamentary democracy is the ability of the prime minister to dissolve his government and call elections at a time most advantageous to him.  This is what makes Bibi's decision to call an election at this time so bizarre.  Yes he was leading in polls but a seasoned politician like him knows that polls in between election campaigns mean nothing.  He had his two main opponents, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, under his thumb with Lapid spinning his wheels in Finance and Livni always off at some dead-end peace conference or another.  Calling an election over nothing was sure to annoy the public.  What's more, there was no real issue demanding it.  If it was over the threat from Iran, Bibi already had a mandate to deal with it.  If it was over the economy, well nothing much was happening to demand a radical change of course.  Other than annoyance with his junior ministers and their aspirations there was no reason to bring down the government.
Except for one.  Bibi has always been comfortable with having Chareidim in his government.  This is the first time since Arik Sharon's first government that no Chareidi parties sat at the cabinet table.  Forget their propaganda - they are not entitled to be in every government.  In fact, with its current makeup Bibi was the most free any prime minister has been in decades to bring in lasting and effective social change to Israeli society.  He could have addressed the crises in housing prices and the income disparity issues plaguing the middle class.  He could have implemented a near universal draft, he could have changed how funding for the intentionally non-productive segments of Israeli society are funded.  Instead he held back any meaningful initiatives and jumped ship the first chance he could.
Despite his excellent speaking skills and obvious passion for the security and well-being of the State, the prime minister seems to have overstayed his welcome in that office.  Yes, Iran is important but so is the day to day life of the average Israeli and that's something he seems to have no interest in which is why the average Israeli will find themselves with an equally dysfunctional two-headed hydra in a few days.