Thursday, July 28, 2011

God's Approval Rating

By Susan Esther Barnes

A recent telephone survey by Public Policy Polling asked, “If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its performance?” The results were 52% approve, 9% disapprove, and 40% unsure.

Setting aside the question about what caused this company to decide to refer to God as “it,” I find these results to be interesting.

They did ask some additional questions, resulting in us learning that 50% approve of how God handles natural disasters, 56% approve of God’s handling of animals, and 71% approve God’s handling of creating the universe. Still, I wish there had been a follow up question asking what, specifically, people would like God to do better.

A clear majority think God handled creation well, but where, I wonder, has God gone wrong with the animals? When people answered this question, were they including humans in the equation? I certainly hope this isn’t just about Fido peeing on the carpet again.

Further, what do we want God to do differently about natural disasters? Since we have already conceded, in the wording of the question, that these disasters are natural (rather than supernatural, God-created occurrences), what, exactly, is God doing wrong? Is God supposed to fix everything for us afterward? Do we feel God isn’t supplying us with enough comfort after the fact? Should God issue advance warnings (“Hey, don’t build there, that cliff face will fall into the ocean sometime in the next 25 years” – isn’t that why God gave us engineers?)

Most of all, if God’s creation was so great, and now things are only so-so, who do we think messed it up? It seems to me God created the world, gave us a set of instructions to follow, and then stepped back and let us have at it. If we are now unhappy with the animals and the natural disasters, is that really God’s fault, or is it our own doing?

It also makes me wonder, if we called God and asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the job the humans are doing?” what would God say?

Maybe, “Well, I know they’re trying hard, but they really are making a hash of things is several different areas, and most of them don’t seem to get around to understanding what’s really important until they realize they’re about to die. So overall, I guess I’d have to say I don’t really approve.

“On the other hand, they are making some strides in the areas of equality in regard to race, gender, and sexual orientation, and many of them offer up some truly heartfelt prayers reasonably often, so I haven’t given up on them yet. Ask me again in another couple hundred years, if they're still around, and we'll see.”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Haveil Havalim - The Makeup Edition

Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack. Opinions expressed in the posts below are not necessarily endorsed by me.

After several weeks of the Blog Carnival submission system not working, on July 21 the internet blurped and I suddenly had over 60 messages in my inbox, including a couple of acknowlegements of submissions I had made in weeks in which others were scheduled to host.

Although I'm not officially scheduled to host this week, as far as I can tell nobody else is either, so I'm posting a makeup edition. I'm sticking to no more than three posts from a single person, and am taking them from the top of my email list, hoping those are the most recent submissions. I left out those that were written a month or more ago.

If you have been thinking about hosting, please sign up now. We need more hosts, it really isn't difficult at all, and it will be much appreciated. See how to sign up at the bottom of this post.

I ask, Do You Feel Bound by God's Commandments? posted at TC Jewfolk.

Want your fabulous new rabbi - or even your not-so-new rabbi - to stick around? Mordechai Torczyner has some excellent advice in Proper care and feeding of the Rabbi posted at The Rebbetzin's Husband.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat presents a poem and a meditation on prayer in Poem: morning prayer posted at Velveteen Rabbi.

Lizard responds to a couple of posts about whether or not a synagogue should ask on its application whether a potential member is a convert in Is Daring Within Us? « for Your honor posted at for Your honor.

Rutimizrachi writes a thoughtful piece about how our words and actions can hurt others in "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me!" posted at Ki Yachol Nuchal!.

I ponder the question, Why Become Jewish? posted at To Kiss A Mezuzah.

How do we increase our spirituality? Mordechai Torczyner plans to look deeper into the question in A need for Jewish Spirituality posted at The Rebbetzin's Husband.

Cutting oneself is not the way to convince your parents to let you wear skirts, according to Josh Waxman in Cutting oneself for tznius posted at parshablog. I can't say I argue with him on that, although I find it hard to believe that a rabbi really approved of the idea.

What's your state of mind? Read about two possible options as Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver presents Reaching a higher level of consciousness posted at A Chassidishe farbrengen.

Batya writes about the current period in the Jewish calendar in Three Weeks of Mourning, Judaism and Details posted at Shiloh Musings.

Being an agunah has to be a hard thing to take, but Harry tells of a story when it leads to violence in Agunot in the NYPost posted at ISRAELITY.

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver writes about Jews and our sins in A Jew? Sin?! Unthinkable! posted at A Chassidishe farbrengen.

Get access to a wide variety of Israel-related posts in Joel Katz's Religion and State in Israel - July 18, 2011 (Section 1) and Religion and State in Israel - July 18, 2011 (Section 2) posted at Religion and State in Israel.

Hadassah Levy offers some thoughts on a young woman with a lot of chutzpah in Getting Birthright Wrong posted at Jewish Ideas Daily.

I make my first foray into fisking in Fisking "Another Flotilla Standoff: The Audacity of Hate" posted at To Kiss A Mezuzah.

Rivkah Lambert Adler finds it difficult to speak with Americans who are reluctant to make aliyah in Rendered Speechless posted at Bat Aliyah.

As writers, we may be particularly interested in Rutimizrachi's post about judging books without reading them in Eine Kleine Book Burning posted at Ki Yachol Nuchal!.

Harry writes about biblical animals in Foto Friday – In search of the yakhmur posted at Israelity.

Harry presents The new U.S. ambassador posted at ISRAELITY.

Julie prepares to review playgounds in Israel in Back to the playground posted at Walkable Jerusalem.

Julie reviews her first playground in The Hildesheimer Park -- Jerusalem Playground Review, pt. 1 posted at Walkable Jerusalem.

Leiby Kletzky's Murder:
This one needed its own category, IMHO. It doesn't really fit into the other categories.

The story hit way to close to home for Mystery Woman, as she explains in Why? posted at Mystery Woman.

Allison Josephs writes about the murder in A (Real Life) Stranger Among Us: The Murder of Leiby Kletzky | Jew In The City posted at Jew in the City.

The United States seems like a dangerous place to Batya in Reflecting on America posted at Shiloh Musings.

Rutimizrachi presents "May the death of this boy mark the end of all anguish..." posted at Ki Yachol Nuchal!.

Independent Patriot/Elise presents UNESCO Declares the Rambam is not a Jew and Jewish History Invalid posted at Liberty's Spirit.

Mordechai Torczyner wants to know how we can stop ourselves from feeling numb in Spirituality and the Numbest Generation posted at The Rebbetzin's Husband.

Hadassah Levy presents David Mamet's Homecoming posted at Jewish Ideas Daily.

Batya tells us about her experience with airport food in Eating Kosher on The Go, JFK Airport posted at me-ander.

How you can participate:
You may submit your blog post for the next edition of Haveil Havalim by using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page. You can volunteer to host from that page as well. Go ahead, you know it will be a great experience!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

To My Readers in Norway

I just wanted to take a moment to let my readers in Norway know that I'm thinking about you. My heart goes out to all of you affected by the recent tragedies there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Do You Feel Bound by God's Commandments?" at TC Jewfolk

Read my newst post, Do You Feel Bound by God's Commandments? over at TC Jewfolk. While you're there, read some of their other stuff too. It's well worth your time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Become Jewish?

By Susan Esther Barnes

I recently read Rabbi David Wolpe’s book “Why Be Jewish?” I love his podcasts. They are both entertaining and insightful, so I was looking forward to reading this book. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was sadly disappointed. I didn’t feel like he actually answered the question.

The book is divided into the following three sections: To Grow in Soul, To Join a People, and To Seek God. But you can do all of those things without being Jewish.

There are certainly many reasons not to be Jewish. Chief among them is that historically, Jews have been a persecuted people. There have been crusades, pogroms, and the Shoah (Holocaust). Even today there are groups like Hamas, skinheads, and neo Nazis that want to kill all the Jews. These groups can be found all over the globe.

There are countries such as Saudi Arabia where no Jews live, and where Jews are not allowed to even visit if they have an Israeli passport or even an Israeli stamp in their passport.

In addition, as Jews we believe that non-Jews are only responsible for following the seven Noahide laws, which are a subset of the Ten Utterances, or what the Christians call the Ten Commandments. Non-Jews who follow those laws have earned a place in the world-to-come (heaven).

Once someone becomes Jewish, however, they are responsible for following all of the laws in the Torah, or at least those laws which can still be carried out (for instance, we can’t follow the laws of sacrifice since the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed). So if you’re not Jewish not only can you still earn a place in the world-to-come, it’s actually much easier for you to do than it is for a Jewish person.

If you’re born Jewish then there’s no need to answer the question “Why become Jewish?” You just are. You can deny it or try to convert to something else, but in the eyes of the Jews, there is no getting out of it. Once a Jew, always a Jew. (I’ll leave aside for the moment the abomination of Rabbis in Israel “reversing” conversions after the fact).

But if you weren’t born Jewish, why convert? Why make yourself a target for hate groups, and why take on the burden of the additional commandments? If you want to study Torah, celebrate the Jewish holidays, attend synagogue services, etc., you can do all of those things without converting.

If you live in an Orthodox Jewish community, I can see non-conversion as a problem. In that case, you can’t marry an Orthodox Jewish person if you’re not Jewish, Orthodox Jews won’t eat anything you cook by yourself no matter what ingredients you use or whether you cook in a kosher kitchen with kosher implements, and they won’t even drink a glass of wine if you pour it.

Although some people convert because they want to marry a Jewish person, there are many others who convert who are not dating or engaged to a Jew. And I can’t believe they do it because they want to cook or pour wine for the Orthodox.

The most common reason I have heard from converts is, “I want(ed) to convert because I feel I was born Jewish.” As self-contradictory as this statement may sound, it’s the only one that makes any sense to me.

There are people out there who weren’t born to a Jewish mother and/or weren’t raised Jewish, but they were born with a Jewish soul. And somehow, at some point in their life, they find Judaism and discover that their place is among the Jewish people.

They are not “converting” in the sense that they are not changing from one thing to another. It is simply that they have discovered who they are, and they want to declare that identity to themselves, to other people, and to God.

So I don’t know that anyone ever actually becomes Jewish after they are born. I have never heard anyone say, “Oh, I was totally not Jewish before, but then I changed myself and became Jewish.” Maybe that’s true for some people, and if so, I’d love to hear from you, and to hear why you became Jewish.

But in the meantime, the only reason I can think of for someone to become Jewish is to acknowledge, accept, and fulfill the yearning of their already Jewish soul.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Regarding Haveil Havalim

For those of you who are looking forward to reading the next Haveil Havalim - and I am among you - I'm sorry, but the submissions system is not working. I have not received any submissions for this week (other than one posted in the comments section of my last post on this blog).

Jack is looking into the issue.

I would have done the work to find a selection of blog posts from frequent contributors and others to post anyway, but unfortunately we have a big project at work, and I have been/will be working evenings and Sundays to get it done, so I'm afraid I don't have the time to go post hunting right now.

Also, if you have signed up to host in the future but have heard nothing back, it may be because that system is broken as well. So please, do sign up to host again once everything is working again. It's pretty easy to do when the system is working, and your help is much appreciated!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fisking “Another Flotilla Stand-off: The Audacity of Hate”

By Susan Esther Barnes

I don’t usually do this – actually, I’ve never done this before – but I’m feeling compelled to fisk Ray Hanania’s article "Another Flotilla Stand-off: The Audacity of Hate" from the Jerusalem Post. Apparently the author is a Palestinian activist, so I give him props for trying to write about how both sides are wrong here, but he still falls in to some common rhetorical traps.

So here goes, with the article in quotes and italics.

“The only thing the activists want is to fan the flames of regional extremism.”
That may be one of the things they want, but I don’t think it’s the only thing they want.

“The idea of bringing aide to the people of Gaza is a noble one. Although Israel withdrew its military and settler extremists from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, it has maintained an iron-clad military embargo.”
For the record, Israel also withdrew all of its Jewish non-extremists from the Gaza Strip. Every single Jewish person in the area, no matter how long they had lived there or what they had invested there, was uprooted and moved out. The area was made completely Judenrein.

Also, although I’m sure the Israeli government wishes it were, the military embargo is hardly iron-clad. Weapons, ammunition, and the materials to make them are smuggled into the area all the time, via tunnels and other means.

“Several times, activists have tried to break the Israeli siege. Last year, nine were gunned down when their flotilla approached the Gaza Strip. Israeli special forces assaulted the boats, claiming the civilians aboard attacked them.”
The Israeli forces claimed the people on the boats attacked them because the people on the boats attacked them. This has been clearly documented in video footage from the incident. Israeli soldiers were wounded by the boat passengers. This is also well documented.

“This year, Israel got smart and worked through Greece to prevent a second flotilla from embarking on its mission.”
I agree.

“Ironically, Palestinian activists claim that more and more nations are championing their extremist agenda, but Greece is proof that this is just not true.”
Just because Greece decided to do the right thing doesn’t mean other nations are going to do the right thing. Greece’s actions are a good example to other nations but that doesn’t mean other nations are going to see the light.

“The activists say they want to help the people of the Gaza. The Israelis say they want to prevent Hamas from getting arms.

"Neither side is being honest.”

Some of the activists probably do want to help the people of Gaza. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be aware that even the Gazans say they don’t need this “aid.” What the Gazans say they need is not more goods coming in, but to get more goods flowing out.

Is the author implying the Israelis are lying when they say they want to prevent Hamas from getting arms? Because I’m pretty sure they do want that, since Hamas wants to use the arms against the Israelis.

“The Israelis hate Palestinians.”
Some, but not all, nor even the majority, of Israelis hate the Palestinians. About 20% of the Israelis are Arabs, and many of them don’t hate the Palestinians. Many Jewish Israelis also do not hate the Palestinians.

“The government’s policies reject Palestinian statehood rights.”
The Prime Minister of Israel has stated that he believes in a two state solution, which means he does not reject out of hand Palestinian statehood rights. As a condition of the formation of a Palestinian State, the Israeli government wants the proposed new Palestinian state to affirm Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish country. It would be suicidal for Israel to support a Palestinian state that is intent on destroying the Israeli state. The problem here is that the Palestinians reject Israeli/Jewish statehood rights.

“Israelis claim they left Gaza,”
The Israelis claim they left Gaza because they left Gaza. There are no Jews living in Gaza, Israeli or not.

“but the truth is they have put a choke-hold on the area, turning it into an outdoor prison.”
Gaza is not a prison. Unlike in prison, people in Gaza vote for their own government, choose to go outside or stay inside, chose what to have for meals and when they eat them, go to bed when they like, marry, have children, go to work and school, etc., without any interference from the Israeli government. They can also cross the border into Egypt if they so choose. I'm not saying it's paradise there, but neither is it a prison.

"At anytime, Israel can reenter and wreak havoc.”
Pretty much any country in the world can enter a neighbor at any time and wreak havoc. That doesn't mean they're going to, or that they want to. In the meantime, rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into Israel. What other country is expected to be repeatedly bombed by a neighbor and not respond?

“Israel’s refusal to suspend expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank is a testament to its governmet’s campaign to destroy the peace process.”
West Bank settlements are almost entirely in areas that both sides agree will most likely remain as a part of Israel when final borders are determined. So expansion of settlements is in no way an impediment to the peace process.

And even if the settlements expand into areas that may become part of a Palestinian state, so what? There are plenty of Christian and Muslim Arabs living peacefully in Israel. Why can’t there be any Jews living peacefully in a Palestinian state?

“Refusing to recognize Palestinian rights is the equivalent of the Palestinian activists who reject Israel’s right to exist.”
Refusing rights to a group of people is not the same as trying to wipe an existing country off the map. Refusing Palestinian rights is not the same as trying to kill all the Palestinians, and Hamas wants to kill all the Jews.

“The Palestinain activists are no different. They claim they are just bringing food, medicine and other supplies to the besieged people of the Gaza Strip, but the truth is they are merely exploiting Palestinian suffering as a political tool.

“Greece is blocking 10 ships from sailing, but has offered to deliver the food, medicine and other supplies through normal channels. Some of the ships are named The Audacity of Hope, and Tahrir (Liberation).

“But relieving the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza is not really the goal of the activist leaders. In covering the stand-off, Reuters reports: ‘In an effort to calm the activists, Greece offered to ferry the aid to Gaza in cooperation with the United Nations. The activists turned the offer down, saying this was ‘insufficient,’ as their mission was also about the rights of the Palestinian people and not just about aid.’

“Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinides responded, ‘It is an offer that is always on the table, and is still on the table.’”

This shows the flotilla leaders aren’t interested in delivering aid to Gaza. The “aid” is just sitting there, gathering dust, when it could already be across the border.

“Many Palestinians genuinely believe the lies of the flotilla leaders, that they seek to break the Israeli siege.”
It is a blockade, not a siege. In a siege, nothing is allowed to go in or out. This is a blockade, which allows goods to flow in and out of the area, but stops weapons, arms, and the materials that can be used for military purposes.

“The only thing they have broken is peace. Only achieving peace will end the suffering.”

“The purpose of the flotillas is to express their own selfish hatred of Israel.”
I don’t know how the hatred is selfish. It seems more self-destructive to me. The majority of people on both sides would be better off if there were peace.

“Even if Israel didn’t pressure the Greek government and the ships got through, that would not be enough for the leaders who have misled the Palestinian people for years. They want confrontation with Israel.”
This is true.

“They thrive on the ‘oppression.’ If Palestinians are not suffering, they can’t make their phony arguments to make Israel look bad.”
They are still going to make their phony arguments, regardless of what happens. That’s one of the things extremists do, no matter what the truth is or who’s side they’re on.

“Israel’s extremist government is clearly willing to play along.”
There are Israeli extremists, and some of them may even be in the Knesset, but the Israeli government as a whole is not extremist. If the Israeli government wanted to “play along” they could have just waited for the flotilla to sail, and then sunk the boats in international waters. If they wanted to “play along” they would not have loosened the restrictions on goods going into Gaza.

“Like the Israeli government, these activists oppose the peace process and the creation of two states.”
Again, the Israeli government has clearly stated that it is willing and able to participate in the peace process, and has clearly stated it agrees with the creation of a Palestinian state, provided the Palestinian state will acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

“They reject the secular government in Palestine, and have fought against it politically. They support Hamas, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state.”
And that is certainly a problem.

“This stand-off isn’t about peace. It’s not about security. It’s not about easing suffering. This is about selfish, extremist politics, Israeli and Palestinian.”
It’s about trying to break the blockade so military materials can get into Gaza more easily.

“The activists are hoping to create more martyrs to stoke the flames of hate against Israel and incite the Palestinians who are increasingly fatigued by the failed peace.”
This is most likely true.

“Greece should confiscate the supplies and deliver them to Gaza;”
That would be cool.

“deny the activists their hunger for new Palestinian martyrs and deny Israel its ongoing thirst for vengeance against Palestinians for refusing to give up their cause.”
Delivering the goods to Gaza will not deny the activists their hunger for new Palestinian martyrs. Israel is not asking Palestinians to give up their cause of statehood. Israel is asking the Palestinians to give up their cause to destroy Israel and kill all the Jews.

“The activists would be angry with Greece, but they have no option except to simmer in their hatred.”
I am quite certain they are more than capable with coming up with other options.

“Most Palestinians and Israelis want a genuine peace.”

“But we’re tired of the repeated failures of leaders who continue to sail on a political flotilla that can be more appropriately called “the audacity of hate.”
Less hate would be a good thing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I Was Trying to Do the Right Thing

By Susan Esther Barnes

As I have written before, I am not the best at caring for plants. Far from it.

At one point last year, I had a plant infested with white flies, and despite my best efforts, I couldn't get rid of them. As a last resort, I put the plant outside on the back deck, thinking maybe the spiders would eat the flies. Although one enterprising spider moved in right away, it was no match for the flies, which eventually finished killing the plant.

I left the pot outside, and imagine my surpirse when, a number of weeks ago, I found the plant above had suddenly taken up residence in the pot. It seemed to spring up out of nowhere, and suddenly was a couple of feet high.

It wasn't the same kind of plant that had been in the pot previously, and I didn't know what it was. Because it had sprung up so vigorously, and had such a thick stem, I was concerned it would soon outgrow the pot.

When I saw my sister on Father's Day, I showed her a picture of the plant. Even though she is a Master Gardener, she didn't know what it was. So on Friday I took a photo of the plant to the local nursery, and asked their advice.

They didn't know what it was either, but they agreed that the pot it was in wasn't big enough for it. I asked whether I should by a large pot to replant it, but they agreed that the plant may well be a tree, and would outgrow any pot I was likely to purchase. When I said it was currently on my deck, they said, "If you try to keep it on your deck, you're just asking for trouble."

Which left me with a moral dilemma. If I just left it in the pot, it would become too large, possibly break the pot, and die. It is a living thing after all, and I didn't want to torture it.

Similarly, I didn't want to just throw it in the trash, where it would dry out and die another kind of slow death. I suppose I could have killed it more quickly by cutting it up into pieces before I threw it away, but then I would have felt a bit like an axe murderer.

Then I thought about where the plant came from. There is a small open space common area behind my home. Clearly, some seed or pod or something had fallen into the pot and taken root. Had my deck and the pot not been in the way, the plant would have taken root in the ground below.

So on Friday afternoon I took the plant out of the pot and put it on the ground in a nice shady area below and somewhat to the side of my deck. Then I threw a bunch of water on it to help it get started.

On Saturday evening I threw some more water on it. It has been hot here, and I felt somewhat responsible for helping the plant get settled in what I had been starting to think of as its rightful home.

Then, on Sunday, I leaned over my deck to look at the plant, and saw this:

Apparently, there had either been a swarm of locusts that came by in the night, or, more likely, a neighborhood deer had come down out of the hills and snacked on the plant's nice, tender leaves.

The plant isn't dead yet, but I figure it's just a matter of time. I was trying to do the right thing, but really, just about any plant is doomed from the moment it comes under the influence of my tender care.

I wonder if there's a Hebrew prayer to ask for forgiveness for inadvertently killing (yet another one of) God's plants.