Posts Tagged religion

In defence of Yom Kippur

Part two of my Yom Kippur ramble. See here for part one.

So last week I had a long post lamenting the decline of Yom Kippur and the fact that I couldn't get a goddamn drink of water afterwards. That brings me to what was supposed to be the point before I got side-tracked by other things: Yom Kippur.

I first have to explain a little about my personal beliefs and practises. I am not a “believer” in the sense that I believe that the bible is the unbreakable law dictated by God itself and preserved word-for-word since. I am a believer in the sense that I have yet to be given a better explanation for the fact that I not only exist, but am able to sit here typing into my iPad and questioning the meaning of things on WordPress. I am also a Jew — I was born a Jew, I was raised a Jew, and I see a great deal of value in some Jewish traditions and beliefs.

The key word there being some. There are other Jewish traditions and beliefs (mostly traditions) that I see no value in or even disagree with. My approach, therefore, is to try and learn about everything, follow the parts that make sense, ignore the ones that don't, and fight against the ones that are harmful. In fact, that's the approach I try to take with everything, not just religion.

For example, I am not currently keeping the festival of Succot, which began today. Succot has just never made sense to me. I understand that it has to do with the harvest, but I: a) live in the Southern Hemisphere, where we are not currently harvesting; and b) am not and have never been a farmer, therefore do not know much abut harvests. I also kind of understand the point about spending time in crude, outdoor structures like the ones our ancestors had to live in when they were wondering through the desert, but I have never found much meaning in the experience.

And that's not even getting into the whole shaking the branches around thing. I mean, seriously! What's up with that?

On the other hand, I really like everything about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When I contrast these two festivals to the secular new year, there is really not much comparison. There is a tradition in the West of making “new year's resolutions” that you break within a month and, otherwise, it's just marking a milestone/an excuse to get drunk (not that I don't like an excuse to get drunk, but still).

The Jewish approach to the new year just seems much more valuable. You have to take the time to be with family and to reflect on the good and bad things that you have done over the past year, apologise to those you have harmed (and that means a real apology), and think about how you could be a better person. Yom Kippur is the pinnacle of the whole tradition. It's a day out of each year when you are supposed to devote purely to self-reflection, to the extent that you forego usual distractions like eating and drinking to give you more focus.

I know a lot of people say “but fasting just makes me think about eating more”, but I disagree. You would be thinking about eating anyway, you're human. The fact that you think about eating but can't eat forces you to dwell on why you are depriving yourself of food, which means that you spend the whole day of Yom Kippur remembering that it is Yom Kippur. It's actually quite a powerful experience if you think about it. And of course, there is the test of willpower that I think can't possibly be a bad thing – knowing that you can eat and still depriving yourself for a purpose is something that a lot of spoilt people are not capable of doing (no names mentioned).

And there are other aspects that I like. The idea of communal confessions, for instance. There is something very powerful in the idea of the whole community coming together and all confessing at once to being flawed. It's a very egalitarian concept and very humbling. Compare it, for instance, to the Catholic idea of confession — a private confession to a priest of your sins. The dynamic there is completely different: you are inferior to the priest, who is absolving you on God's behalf. Your sins are private and secretive – ie something you do not want other people to know about.

In synagogue on Yom Kippur, on the other hand, everyone is a sinner – from the rabbi to the wealthiest and most powerful members of the community to the criminals and drug addicts. And that happens publicly. Everyone confesses to each other and to God that they are not perfect, that they did things that were wrong, and they promise in front of each other to be better people.

These are things that would only ever come through a religious tradition. My atheist friends tell me that they are “always trying to improve themselves”, or say things like “well I could do that any day of the year”. My answers are: “no you are not” and “but you don't”.

You do not live your life constantly improving yourself, because that is just not how human beings function. There is no way to be self-reflexive in that way without taking a step back – as Yom Kippur compels you to do. And I do not know any non-Jews who take a day each year purely for that purpose, let alone doing it communally.

For all those reasons, I think that Yom Kippur is a very positive tradition and it is one that I will continue to keep. That is why it saddens me that so many in my community do not feel the need to keep or respect it. I feel that it is kind of a knee-jerk reaction more than anything else – they have decided that they don't want to “be Jewish” for one reason or another and therefore it is all meaningless and it is all a waste of time.

The worst part of it is that the person boasting to me about the bacon roll that they ate on Yom Kippur morning is still letting their life be defined by Judaism. Doing that is not actually “ignoring” Judaism, so much as being unnecessarily spiteful. No matter how they may rationalise it to themselves, the reality is that they know that it is Yom Kippur and are cognicent of the fact that they are deliberately doing something slightly disrespectful to the day in order to prove a point to themselves and – judging by the fact that I was being boasted to – to others.

It seems like teenage rebellion more than anything else, like the kids who wear the wrong socks to school, even though their teacher keeps telling them not to, just because they can and “YOU CAN'T TELL ME HOW TO LIVE!!!”

It's puerile and its pointless.

The vast majority of people who are not keeping Yom Kippur have never thought about why they are not doing it, they are just allowing what they do not do to define what they do – ie “I am not religious” therefore” I do not keep festivals”. But why define your life in black and white terms like that? Just because some Jewish things are annoying or pointless does not mean that there is no value in others.

To me, it's not a smart way to live and will definitely not make you a better person.

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Don’t put the girls and the drinks at the back of the room: why Yom Kippur needs saving

Note: this post was originally entitled ‘In defence of Yom Kippur’, but I started explaining why YK needs saving in the first place and that became an entire post. So please read this first and I promise that the defence is coming.

As I walked into my relatives’ home yesterday to break my fast, it was quite obvious to me that the whole function had been planned and organised by people who had not themselves been fasting.

How could I tell? Simple: after 25 hours of not eating or drinking, the one thing that you need more than anything else is some liquid. The human body can actually survive relatively well for weeks without food, but a couple of days with no water and *goodbye*. Knowing this, anyone who had been fasting would have drinks — and a lot of them — made very available for everyone leaving synagogue and coming to the social part of the evening.

As I walked through the door, however, I was greeted not with drinks, but with a whole range of food. This is not to say that I have a problem with the honey cake, chopped liver and other Ashkenazi fast-breaking treats — it’s just that it’s extremely difficult to swallow a mouthful of honey cake without choking when your throat feels like it has been covered in a layer of fly-paper.

I said the obligatory hello to the several relatives who caught my eye as soon as I walked in, but during this time my eyes were constantly searching for the elusive drinks table. I asked one of my interlocutors where I could find myself a drink around there, and he promptly pointed down the hallway, through a crowd of 50 assorted relatives and family friends, to the garden at the back of the house.

My face dropped in dismay. There was no conceivable way that I would be able to get to the drinks table without being stopped by at least one parent, two grandparents, one auntie and two or three cousins — each of whom would take up approximately 5 minutes of conversation before I could make a polite exit. Nevertheless, I have been fortunate enough to have had some rather intense commando-style training in moving through crowds with my head down, and this was definitely the occasion to use it.

A few minutes later, having managed to avoid eye contact with the vast majority of my kin, I arrived panting at the drinks table, only to discover that my cousins had hired a bartender for the evening to cater to the 70-odd guests and that — being a professional — he had a few bottles of mostly alcoholic drinks on the table and all of the glasses behind him. To my even further dismay, he was using those tiny glasses that people seem to think makes a function more classy, but I’m pretty sure are only used by restaurants to force customers to keep ordering more overpriced drinks as there is no way 200ml of anything can remotely quench anyone’s thirst.

At that point I probably would have started shooting my own family if it meant there was a drink at the end of it, yet I still had to wait for another 3 minutes while the bartender casually served other people as though he had all the goddamn time in the world and there wasn’t some guy standing there about to collapse from dehydration. When I finally managed to grab him by the arms his attention, I ordered three glasses of sparkling water (there was no still) which, after what seemed like an eternity of pouring, I was finally able to gulp down.

Now I am not telling this story not just to vent — I’m getting to the point, I promise you.

Putting the drinks at the back and guarded by the bartender would seem like a perfectly natural thing to do when putting on a function of that size which was not a breaking-of-the-fast. For those of us who did fast, however, it was torture. This is relevant because it suggests — as was the case — that most of my family did not fast. In fact, most of my family were not even at any shul services.

I have done calculations before that put shul attendance on Yom Kippur in Sydney at about 50% of Sydney’s Jews, excluding those who cannot make it because they are too young, too elderly or too unhealthy. There are many reasons why the other half of our community do not attend and if you had the next week or two to keep reading this I could perhaps list most of them, but as it is I may have to settle for one or two.

One thing that I can say for sure is this: the men in my family may put in an appearance at shul, but the women don’t go. Similarly, the women do not fast. That is true across the board — my sister, my mother, my grandmother, my aunties, my female cousins — they all arrived at dinner much earlier than those of us who were rushing home from the ne’ila service for the reason of having been not at the service and not fasting. (Some will tell you that they fasted until the afternoon, but to me that is called ‘skipping breakfast’ and happens once a week, not once a year. Also, in fairness, my mother did go to shul — but I will explain that below.)

This, while perhaps unfortunate, is unsurprising. As you may have gathered, my family is not particularly observant of our religion. Despite this, almost without fail, they have seats at Central Synagogue. That is the major Orthodox synagogue in Sydney, which charges an obscene amount of money for seats that people renew each year but never sit on.

In a religion and a culture that is theoretically so focused on questions and discussion, you would think that at some point people would ask questions like “why do I pay $3,000 every year to attach a little chrome plate with my name inscribed onto a chair in a synagogue that I never intend to ever sit on?” But ours is a community that is never taught to ask these things — all we really “know” is that it would be “wrong” not to fork-out the cash.

I think I may have touched on this before, but I follow Mazorti and not Orthodox Judaism primarily because we do not believe in forcing the women to the back of the room and hiding them away, lest we be distracted from the important things — like peering over the shoulder of the guy in front to see where we are up to in the service, counting the amount of pages left, then crying a little when we realise that we have only gone through five pages in the last half hour because the chazzan loves his annual moment in the spotlight and feels the need to drag each syllable out as far as it can possibly be stretched and then repeat the whole line.

You know, because you can’t do that if you’re standing next to your mother. She might distract you, by being female and therefore quite possibly having cooties. Or something.

I, for one, can attest to the falsity of these entrenched tenets of Orthodoxy. I spent part of Tuesday night standing next to my mother in shul and still managed to not follow the service like a pro — I must have lost my place at least a dozen times.

Point is, if I were a woman and a member of an Orthodox shul (neither of which I am) I wouldn’t go either. I have been to Central on Yom Kippur and peered into that upstairs balcony from whence the womenfolk look down upon the service happening below and I know that what goes on there is not so much prayer as it is… let’s go with “discussion of secular topics”, to be polite. I have no idea why anyone would even need to go to shul to sit and chat when the same thing could be done anywhere else, so why bother?

Another consequence of the gender segregation in shul is that it breaks up families. One relative observed to me that he has a wife and three children and cannot be with them the whole day if they go to shul, so they don’t — and his wife has a very prominent educational role in our community.

Meanwhile, I have also been in the men’s section at the back of Central and found a lesser version of the experience of the women’s section. At least you are not totally excluded from the service and do get the occasional opportunity to reach out and touch the Torah scroll with your tallit as some dude walks by carrying it, but there is still a lot of gossiping and not much davening at all.

One thing it is most certainly not is any kind of spiritual experience — and yet the rabbis wonder why nobody shows up on any other day of the year.

Well, I think it’s a shame. I will stop here because this post is too long already, but bear with me and I will soon explain why I think YK is important and the kinds of things we could be doing instead.

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Apologies: thought for the season

For those readers who aren’t aware (I’m pretty sure at least one of you isn’t Jewish), we are currently in the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which Jews are obligated to remember all our sins and apologise so that god will give us a nice mention in the Book of Life, or something like that.

What has got me writing is an experience that I had recently where a few people let me down  and then asked me to forgive them — which seemed like a rather appropriate thing to do given the festive season (I will not go into the specifics because some of them may be reading this).

At this point, it is worth noting the difference between the Jewish concept of ‘atonement’ and the Christian concept of repentance. In Christian theology, Jesus died for the sins of all humanity, which means that we need to just turn to him and repent and our sins are absolved. It is a very black-and-white idea — sin and you go to hell, repent and you go to heaven.

For Jews, it is not quite so easy. We are required not just to repent, but to actually make amends for things that we have done wrong. Our bad deeds are weighed-up against our good deeds and we are judged on that basis. We are supposed to spend these 10 days atoning, which means delivering sincere apologies to all those whom we have wronged over the past year.

I came across a useful example in an article about teaching kids to apologise, which directed me to this poem:

This Is Just To Say

by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I have a feeling that I’m plagiarising some great Jewish thinker whose name escapes me, but I see three components in a sincere apology:

1) I was wrong. This means expressing regret for actions and not just consequences. It is the difference between saying “I’m sorry that I ate the plums” and not “I’m sorry that I upset you by eating the plums”. Notice that the second does not actually admit that eating the plums was wrong, it actually makes the quite hurtful implication that it is the person who was saving the plums that is at fault because they are overreacting to something that was not itself wrong.

2) I won’t do it again. This is just as important as admitting fault. There is no real point in expressing regret for something if you would just do it again next time. If you cannot commit to not repeating whatever you are apologising for, it is telling the person to whom you are apologising that they are less important to you than whatever you gained from the conduct for which you are apologising.

3) I promise to make it up to you. This one is not always possible, so only applies to some situations. While it is very possible to replace the plums that you ate, if you were cheating on your spouse, there’s not much that you could do except to promise never to do it again.

The last stanza of the poem contains what some might call an apology, however it is more a plea for forgiveness. The protagonist is not actually sorry for eating the plums and does not fulfil the steps outlined above. The only regret is that whoever they are talking to now cannot have the plums that were being saved for breakfast, and so is probably upset. It’s a classic disingenuous apology — “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings”, instead of “I was wrong,  I won’t do it again and I will do what I can to make it up to you.”

From my perspective, it is not worth apologising unless you are actually willing to change your behaviour in accordance with the apology. Doing so is worse than not apologising at all, because it is dishonest. Your goal is to placate a person’s response to actions that you do not in fact regret. You would be better-off just accepting the consequences of your actions.

It is very easy to apologise for something that was genuinely an error, because you will not intend to repeat an error. What is far more difficult is apologising in situations, such as eating the plums, where you did something for your own benefit that hurt another person. For that reason, doing so is all the more meaningful — it says to the person “I was selfish, but I value you and in future I will be more considerate of your feelings.”

If your apology was not sincere, you are in effect admitting that the person to whom you are apologising is less important to you than whatever the benefit was from what you did. I find this quite insulting, I would much sooner know where I stand with someone than have them pretend that they care about how I feel.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed that little drosha. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll write something smartass and political soon enough.

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Yom Kippur bike rental and the Israeli anti-freedom lobby

Chaim Eckstein thinks that the Tel Aviv municipality has gone too far in not suspending their bike rental service on Yom Kippur:

Yom Kippur bike rental – secular fanaticism – Israel Opinion, Ynetnews.

Suspending the bike rental service on Yom Kippur does not constitute capitulation to the religious community, and it has nothing to do with religious coercion. Why? Because Yom Kippur is not a religious day; it is an Israeli day. It is one of the state’s symbols.

You do not have to observe the Torah and the mitzvahs to deem Yom Kippur a holy day. Even avid seculars fast on Yom Kippur. Even those who regularly eat bacon with cheese feel uncomfortable upon hearing that an Israeli who plays for a European basketball team took part in a game that was held on Yom Kippur. Eat falafel, go to a barbecue but also fast one day a year – this is what it means to be Israeli in modern times.

That may be true, but these avid seculars may also want to ride a bike while they are fasting. Or maybe the 30% of Israelis who are not Jewish may want to ride a bike around Tel Aviv on a day when you can’t really drive. Or perhaps the tens of thousands of tourists that keep the Israeli economy running may want to ride a bike around Tel Aviv on that day.

Either way, who the hell is Chaim Eckstein to tell them they can’t?

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Oh the humanity!

English: Abortion protest sign on North Table ...

This was too good not to share. Although I do take mild offence to the term ‘abortion holocaust’.

I want you to meet my friend and fellow abortion abolitionist, 11-year-old Zoe Griffin. In a world when grown adults ignore, deny or just don’t care about the abortion holocaust that has claimed over 55 million of Zoe’s generation, she is willing to take a stand no matter what people think. Zoe joined her mother and friends to lay thousands of roses outside the site of the Democratic convention and pray for the babies, the politicians and this generation.

There is then a short monologue from said 11-year-old Christian warrior herself:

“The pro-abortionists turned to us and started pointing at different people, saying, “You’re a person! You’re a person! Fetuses are not!” Then the woman saw me crying and said,” You are making this girl cry with your bull____”. I couldn’t stand any more of those lies. They pushed it too far. In the highest-pitched voice I have ever spoken in, I screamed, “THEY ARE NOT THE ONES MAKING ME CRY! YOU ARE! WITH YOUR DARK HEARTS, YOUR DARK MINDS TURNED AGAINST GOD!”

Traumatic hey? But I guess there is hope.

I will never, ever forget what happened last night. I had a dream that night that they all converted to pro-life activists. I hope that dream becomes a reality.

Gotta love self-parody.

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Gay marriage musing

In response to the debate that I have been having with commenter “Greg”, beginning here and then moving here, I thought that I would do a quick thought exercise to explain why I do not necessarily support the reforms to the Marriage Act that are being advocated by Greg, Labor left, the Greens and various other such groups.

1. The “equality” paradigm

The way that the gay marriage lobby is trying to frame the debate is “marriage equality”. The use of “equality” to push their agenda is an obvious choice given where they are coming from — fighting for “equality” for groups including homosexuals is something that people on the left are used to doing, so framing the discussion this way allows gay marriage to easily form a part of their broader agenda.

I am not entirely convinced by the “equality” idea, however. “Equality” implies that there is some form of inequality currently being perpetuated through the marriage legislation. In terms of actual rights afforded, the current marriage laws to not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference as the gay marriage lobby claims. Anyone can currently get married — homosexual or not.

The real issue is not that homosexuals are being prevented from marrying, it is that the definition of “marriage” refers only to couples comprised of one man and one woman, and so does not encompass homosexual couples. Introducing same-sex marriage into the Marriage Act would not be ending discrimination, it would be redefining the idea of marriage and introducing a meaning that “marriage” has never before had.

This is where the conservative argument comes from — they place a huge amount of value in marriage as it is and they do not want to redefine it.

2. Placing a value on marriage

Bearing this in mind, the point that the gay marriage lobby will raise (as Greg did) is that it is discriminatory for society to place more value on heterosexual couples than on homosexual couples and that, in being denied the right to be a “married couple”, homosexual couples are being told that their relationship is not worth as much.

This argument relies on the premise that a relationship is inherently of higher value if it is registered as a “marriage” with the state than if this is not the case. This is where I take issue.

3. The alleged primacy of state marriage

I do not see how being married by the state makes a relationship more valuable. There are many couples who are not formally married but have lived together happily for decades and are “married” for all intents and purposes, as there are many couples in “sham” state marriages for some kind of benefit. I see the former as far more valuable than the latter.

I gave Greg the example of a Jewish couple that I know who decided not to be married by the state because they believe that God and not the government is the appropriate authority under which Jewish couples should marry, and I tend to agree with them on that.*

Greg was repeatedly mentioning the importance of marriage in society and seemed to believe that I was dismissing this by not placing value in state marriage. This is where we fundamentally differ on the issue — he is unable to distinguish “society” from the state, whereas I do not recognise the state as an entity with any legitimate place in marriage. When he saw that I did not want the Commonwealth to grant licenses to conduct marriages, he assumed that I meant that the States would grant these licenses instead and did not seem to grasp that I was arguing for these licenses to never be granted.

4. Gay marriage, marriage equality and marriage freedom

To summarise: the debate is about redefining marriage under the law, the argument for doing so rests on the idea that state approval gives a relationship higher value, however it is not legitimate for the state to be accepting or not accepting peoples’ relationships as valid. If you accept these premises, you should be able to understand why I am not particularly supportive of the idea of codifying same-sex marriage — doing so would only further entrench the idea that the state should be the entity that decides whether or not my relationships are valid and I fundamentally oppose that idea (clearly, it should be Facebook).

As usual in such debates, the two sides are talking past each other — one is fighting a rights issue and the other is fighting to defend an institution that is extremely important and meaningful to them. The unusual fact about this one is that there is a solution that would allow both sides to have what they want. Why would anyone want to fight for one that would only continue to be divisive?

And more importantly, WHY DOES IT MATTER WHAT THE GOVERNMENT THINKS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP???

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*UPDATE: just a thought, but maybe the current value placed on state marriage is a remnant of the time when the state was thought to be the embodiment of a Sovereign that was appointed by God. Our current system does come from when the Henry VIII made himself the head of the Church of England so that he could have the power to marry and divorce instead of the Pope.

In a way, it’s a subtle means of not allowing Church to truly separate from State.

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Malcolm Turnbull on gay marriage: so near and yet so far

There has been a lot of attention on Turnbull’s recent Michael Kirby Lecture but I only just got around to reading it. Overall, it’s very hard to fault him – he systematically goes through the different arguments against legalising gay marriage and quite convincingly debunks them. Whatever your views on gay marriage, it is worth reading as food for thought.

HOWEVER, he did not quite follow his reasoning to the logical conclusion – a conclusion that I reached a while ago. And no, I am not saying “so near and yet so far” because he said that he wanted civil unions rather than pushing a bill on gay marriage at this time. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Reflections on gay marriage – Michael Kirby Lecture 2012 | Malcolm Turnbull MP.

So there is a clear distinction already between what constitutes a valid marriage in the eyes of the state and in the eyes of the Church.

Of course this distinction is more clear cut in countries where a marriage is recorded by a civil official at a registry office or town hall and then, subsequently, by a religious ceremony where one is conducted. I don’t doubt that explains why the legalisation of gay marriage has been less controversial there.

In Australia however ministers of religion are authorised to perform both the civil function, on behalf of the Commonwealth, and the religious one on behalf of their denomination.

My point here is that the question as to whether same sex couples’ unions should be termed a marriage by the state is not one which calls for a religious answer. No denomination can be compelled to recognise any particular form of marriage – it is entirely up to them.

So here’s the question: if that is true (which it is), WHY IS THE STATE STILL TRYING TO DO JUST THAT? And why is Turnbull supporting it? So long as the state figures it should be defining the word “marriage”, there will be problems that will be unnecessarily divisive and create a lot of avoidable public outrage. Why not let people who get married define what “marriage” should mean for them?

He only briefly supports state-regulated marriage substantially once, like this:

Study after study has demonstrated that people are better off financially, healthier, happier if they are married and indeed, I repeat, if they are formally married as opposed to simply living together. [13]

And his footnote said this (my bold):

[13] There is widespread evidence that marriage leads to better mental health, greater wealth accumulation, more stable households and better well being of children raised in a household. A 1998 study by the RAND Corporation, for instance, found that the median household worth of married households was almost four times higher those who were never married, with a median wealth of U.S.$132,000 compared to $35,000. Lupton, J., & Smith J., (1999), “Marriage, Assets and Savings”, available online here. The study measured 7600 households containing a member born between 1934 and 1941 (so between 51-60 years old). A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found varying levels of serious psychological distress according to different the different categories of marital status. Among adults aged 18–44 years, 6 per cent of those who were divorced or separated experienced serious psychological distress compared with, 3.6% of those living with a partner, 2.5% of never married adults, and 1.9% of married adults. Schoenborn, C., (2004), “Marital Status and Health: United States, 1999–2002”, available online here. The study also found married couples enjoyed much greater physical wellbeing…

Did you see what was wrong? Turnbull is a highly-educated and very intelligent person, so I am a little disappointed that he would be making such a basic mistake.

Those results are not causative – they do not necessarily show that getting married has any benefits at all. What they could just as easily indicate is that people who are generally more wealthy, and who have better mental and physical health are more likely to get married and, if married, are less likely to be divorced.

I would put my money on the latter being the case, rather than the former – I see no logical reason why the piece of paper proclaiming you to be “lawfully wedded” would make one iota of difference to your income or wellbeing, however I can definitely understand why a couple in good health and with steady incomes would be more likely to spend their lives together happily than a couple living paycheck to paycheck while battling psychological illness.

STATE MARRIAGE is a harmful institution. Legal interests should be attached to demonstrated co-dependency and not on a ceremony conducted by an official with a license. Marriage should be conducted by the clergy, or by some kind of communal leader, or whoever the hell else wants to do it – that is not something that the Federal Government needs to have anything to say about.

Turnbull is definitely on the right track, he just needs to take that extra leap.

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African Migrants in Israel – Betar Australia open letter to Danny Danon

Regular readers will have seen the rather concerning rhetoric coming out of, inter alia, Likkud MK Danny Danon regarding the African migrants in Israel. Regular readers will also know my feelings towards Mr Danon — particularly that he misrepresents his ideological forebears and is in many ways betraying the Revisionist Zionist tradition.

I have just seen this open letter to Danon from the Australian branch of Betar — the youth movement of Likkud’s father, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, of which Danon is world chair. As it is an open letter, I will reproduce it in full and hope it gets as much exposure as it deserves.

While the letter, I think, speaks for itself, I do want to extend a huge kol ha’kavod to Betar Australia for standing up for the values on which their movement is based.

An open letter to MK Danny Danon,

We are writing to you in respect of your position as the chairman of the Knesset committee for Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, the chairman of World Likud and as a past chairman of World Betar. Recently we have seen a number of attacks on African migrants living in Israel. Regardless of their status in the country, these attacks have come as a shock and an embarrassment to us as Jews. However, your words in regard to the “national plague” (that is commonly referred to as African migrants) have greatly upset us as Betarim.

We would like to reiterate that Betar Australia firmly subscribes to Betar’s key stance of ‘Had-Ness’ – our most important value is Zionism, we subscribe to the importance of the Jewish majority and our highest flag is the Israeli flag. We do acknowledge the complexities related to the influx of African migrants, and we are not trying to mandate a policy to you from the other side of the world; however we believe that you need to urgently reassess your policy in regards of some of the important ideological principles held by Betar and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

When Jabotinsky wrote “in the beginning, God created men” (The Story of My Days, 38); he was referring to mankind as a whole, to our shared origins and our shared humanity. This aspect of humanity is unequivocally expressed in our ideological principle of Hadar. Hadar, as you know does not specifically refer to the Jews – it refers to how all people should treat themselves and others in a ‘princely’ manner.

These people fleeing conflict from Africa, who have chosen Israel because they know it is a moral and free country, are just as human as us. In fact, in their present state, they are unmistakably similar to us as Jews. We have always been refugees; our ancestors have been refugees since the destruction of the first Temple up to our grandparents, who fled a climax of persecution around the world. Menachem Begin saw this when he allowed Vietnamese refugees who had been rejected by the rest of the world to settle in Israel, even granting them citizenship, as the minister, David Levy, the former Minister of Absorption said, “May they lend a hand to save women and children who are in the heart of the sea without a homeland, and lead them to safe shores.” Israel desperately needs to develop policy to deal with this crisis and to deal with it humanely. We reiterate that we are not seeking to dictate policy from outside of Israel. However, as Jews and Betarim we do expect for the political establishment in Israel to act decently and to approach this issue humanely, without prejudice and to acknowledge the responsibilities that Israel has towards refugees as a signatory to both the UN Refugee Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967).

Human rights have, apparently, been trademarked by the Left of politics, but as our ideology shows they have origins in the Right and as Begin’s story and the history of past Likud government’s show; it has almost always been the Right which has implemented the humanistic policies that have rendered Israel as ‘a light unto other nations.’ As Betarim, we urge you to reconsider your stance regarding these people and we request that you ensure that Israel fairly determines who needs protection and offers them this. To deport people to persecution and danger is not the act of a Jewish State. Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years and their state should not be one that has a hand in leading others to suffer the same fate. As Jabotinsky wrote, “there is no power that would be able to tear from one’s heart the hope for a better future.”

Ki Sheket Hu Refesh – Because Silence is Mud.

Tel Hai,
Betar Australia Inc.

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The battle for marriage equality in Israel

For those of you not yet aware, I identify with the Mazorti (Conservative) stream of Judaism. Minor jurisprudential differences aside, the most obvious distinction between Mazorti and Modern Orthodox Judaism — and the one most apparent to anyone who actually attends a service of either — is that Modern Orthodoxy maintains the millenia-old archaic Jewish practise of gender segregation, while Mazorti does not. In Orthodox synagogues, I pray in male-only areas and am preached to by rabbis who can only be men, who stand on bimot (pulpits) on which only men can stand and read from torah scrolls from which only men can read. Meanwhile, the women are in a gallery above us where they can be neither seen nor heard. There is something dreadfully medieval about the whole experience, which I have found myself consciously avoiding recently. The Mazorti service has the same feel as the Orthodox one, follows the same procedure and sings the same prayers to the same tunes, the only noticeable difference being that I can sit with all of my family and friends, rather than have half of them forced to be somewhere out of sight on the basis of gender.

Why am I saying this now? Well another Mazorti man — Mati Gill — has written in the Times of Israel against Israel’s current marriage laws, which recognise only religious marriages and places all “Jewish” marriages under the purview of the Haredi-controlled State Rabbinate.

The rabbinate: Making a practice of discrimination | Mati Gill | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel.

The official Israeli establishment recognizes me as a Jew, just not the way I choose to practice. The government of Israel continues to allow the ultra-Orthodox to fully control all Jewish-religious life in Israel.

They don’t accept that I prefer to pray in places of worship that allow women to take an active and equal part.

I am not allowed to choose the rabbi I wish will marry me one day.

When I pass away, the ceremony with which I will be buried will be dictated to my loved ones. I cannot choose the rabbi and cannot ask that I be eulogized by a female …

My sister Hadara and her fiancé Noam grew up, like me, as Conservative Jews. They went to a traditional high school and were active in the local Conservative youth movements, which were affiliated with the affluent Rama program. They will be wed this summer by a rabbi of their personal choosing in their own community of Kfar Adumim on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Their wedding will not count. Our family and friends will watch them stand below the huppah, reciting all the traditional blessings and text, sign a ketubah, exchange rings and break the glass. But their marriage will still not be recognized as Jewish. They will, absurdly, need to wed somewhere overseas in front of a civil judge in order to obtain marital status in Israel. Yet, still, their marriage will not be recognized as a “kosher” Jewish marriage.

This situation is absurd, discriminatory and isolatory. Ironically, the Israeli political party most dedicated to ending it is Yisrael Beitenu, with whom I disagree on most of their Putin-esque policies. When the majority of Jews in the world do not identify as Orthodox, howe does it make any sense to exclude them from Jewish ceremonies in Israel? Surely that will only isolate the Jewish people from the Jewish homeland.

The Orthodox community in Israel is clearly moving in a direction that no one else agrees with. Their domination of the State’s Jewish institutions needs to end.

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Ibish attacks Stephens attacks Beinart

Only because I know you’re not sick of all this Peter Beinart business yet (I’m sorry), I just felt the need to point out that Hussein Ibish — defending Beinart against Wall Street Journal editor Brett Stephens — seems to have completely missed the point of what Stephens was saying.

Ibish:

Bret Stephens’ Crisis of Empathy – The Daily Beast.

Sometimes crude binaries can be instructive, and it’s possible to distinguish two different types of people: those who seek out generous and universalist empathy with others, and those who prefer the warm cocoon of tribal solidarity.

In his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart very much places himself in the first category, while in his review of it for Tablet, Bret Stephens, unfortunately, demonstrates that he squarely belongs in the second. Stephens’ angry, mean-spirited tirade against Beinart begins with a frank display of this mentality. He opens his lengthy denunciation of Beinart by angrily condemning him for daring to imagine that a young Palestinian boy called Khaled Jaber “could have been my son.”

Beinart writes that the evolution of his views on Israel and its occupation was kick-started by watching a video of the child crying out in horror as his father was being hauled away by Israeli occupation forces for “stealing water.” Beinart’s innate decency and humanity were, for whatever reason, deeply touched by this highly affecting scene…

But Stephens is having none of it. How, he asks indignantly, could “someone named Khaled Jaber…have been Beinart’s son?” The answers are so simple and fundamental that they are embarrassing to posit. He could be his son because all people are brothers and sisters, and we all can and should identify with each other across ethnic, racial, religious and cultural divides. Beinart can do this. Stevens, apparently, can’t, and indeed is offended when others do. Read the rest of this entry »

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