Egypt: Still a Broken Reed

The current instability in Egypt certainly gives one pause to consider the value of peace treaties in this region. Who knows what will happen there in the coming weeks/ months/ years? Who knows whether the Camp David Accords will hold? Who knows if Egypt is still the broken reed that the prophet cautions against? And if we can't be certain about Egypt, who can we be certain about? Who can Israel sign a deal with that would be guaranteed to last more than a generation?

And yet, if in 1977 the deal on the table was a return of the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for:
  • no wars with Egypt over the next 34 years (remembering that Israel and Egypt fought 4 wars in the previous 30 years)
  • a guaranteed source of oil for the next 34 years (remembering that this was a pretty big deal in the 1970s after OPEC was organized)
  • a stable border with Egypt for 34 years (remembering how unstable that border was until 1970)
  • 34 years worth of a demilitarized Sinai
  • Breaking the ice for an eventual peace treaty with Jordan
  • and roughly $100 billion in American foreign aid that pretty much went straight to the defense budget
Would you take that deal?


Homosexuals and Conversion

A recent article by Dina Kraft profiles the plight of a homosexual would-be convert to Judaism. It's written in a way that arouses the reader's sympathy: this poor, obviously Jewish (I mean, come on, he's wearing a star-of-David necklace) kid running up against an intolerant and backward Orthodox establishment. You've got Uri Regev imploring the IDF not to be part of a "wall barring such soldiers from entering into the Jewish fold and declaring them to be unworthy of Jewish status." And you've got the young man's rationalization/ recontextualization of the Torah at the end, because God does not hate homosexuals.

Here are my thoughts:
  • I agree with Regev's implication that the state should get out of the conversion business (at least I hope that's his implication, not that the state should recognize Reform conversions). The notion that the state is involved in religious conversion is absurd, and should end as soon as possible. I was gratified to learn recently that Rav Amital z"l seems to have felt this way as well (pp. 199-200 of Be-emunato - which is coming out in English over the summer).
  • If you read between the lines of the article, he never told the panel of rabbis that he's gay, but they found out anyway (he didn't go out of his way to hide it, either, apparently). If I was on that panel, it would be something I'd like to know. Back at UMD, I once received a long letter from a young woman who was interested in converting, and in fact ended up converting. In her letter, she described a protracted spiritual journey that led to her conclusion that Judaism was right for her. It was really quite touching. Then I got on Facebook and discovered that she was "in a relationship" with a Jewish, in fact Orthodox-affiliated, student. To me, the fact that she did not disclose her relationship was more problematic than the relationship itself. In our first meeting, I told her that she had to dump the guy if she wanted to begin the process (she did). Rabbis involved in this process have to make it known that they're not a bunch of pushovers or rubber-stamps, that the process is serious, and that we're going to look into matters more earnestly than you might expect. 
  • I'm not sure what an "aberration of Jewish law" is, or what the original Hebrew term used by the rabbi was. Was it an indication that gay sex does, in fact, deviate from Jewish law, in which case it's a neutral statement, or is it calling the kid a deviant or aberration. Impossible to tell from context.
  • The army spokesman's statement is either excellent or problematic. When saying that "sexual orientation cannot have an impact on his or her ability to appropriately complete the conversion process," was he saying that orientation itself has no impact, which is true, or that homosexuality in general cannot hinder conversion, which is false.
  • I've often wondered under what conditions I would be willing to be megayer a homosexual, and frankly I would be strongly disinclined under all but the most limited circumstances. I've discussed the issue with other rabbis as well, and I understand the reasons some of them have for leniency. This case, however, seems to be a classic case of one accepting everything but one mitzva, which the Gemara through Shulchan Arukh disqualify. It's open and shut. This kid thinks that gay sex is not a problem, that it's muttar, and that's clear ground for rejection. The same would apply, by the way, to any other mitzva in the Torah. Obviously, this one mitzva is particularly painful to this young man, and I sympathize with him. But I strongly believe that any conversation about Orthodoxy and homosexuality has to begin with certain mutual acknowledgment, one of which is that the Torah forbids gay sex.
  • In most cases, Orthodox conversion in Israel is necessary because it's a ticket to all sorts of other parts of Israeli society (as bizzaro-Heinrich Heine once said, "Conversion to Judaism is the passport to Israeli culture"), especially marriage. In the US, Orthodox conversion is far more rigid than in Israel, but people know that if they're not interested in keeping halakha they can go elsewhere. In Israel, due to the aforesaid issues of personal status, they can't go elsewhere. But this guy CAN go elsewhere! What's he worried about, not being able to marry a Jewish girl? He's already a citizen, and he wants to marry a member of the same sex. It's not like conversion's the only thing holding that up with the Rabbanut. So he can go convert with Uri Regev's beit din, and shalom al  Yisrael.


Funny Line in the Palestinian Papers

On p. 5 of  this document, in the context of a conversation about how to deal with the headache of Hamas in Gaza, Livni  quips:
We have a saying, too. When you want to curse someone you tell him "Go to hell" but we shorten it and say "Go to Gaza"
Livni is referring to the Hebrew equivalent of "Go to hell" - "lekh la-Azazel" which can indeed be shortened to "lekh le-Aza."


Palestinian Papers: Impressions

The one thing I learned – and really it’s not so intuitive when you think about it – is that there was a real process of negotiation taking place. I’ll admit, I had been sucked into the belief that the Palestinian side hadn’t budged since the summer of 2000. But there you go. Of course, those who see this as proof of Israeli intransigence are being disingenuous. We know that Olmert offered 1967 with a 6.5% land swap. Even before Aaron David Miller published his maps, we had seen various proposed land-swap maps. What the leaked documents tell us, more than anything else, was that the negotiations were actually working, that the sides were getting closer to agreement, and that each side made serious concessions. In fact, what has already been given up by each side is more significant than the remaining issues.

The document that’s been getting the most play, in which Erekat and Qurei concede large swaths of post-1967 Jerusalem while Livni seems to roll her eyes, looks bad for Israel at first glance. But let’s contextualize this. They were negotiating. Bargaining. All those stereotypes about “A thousand? I wouldn’t spend a cent over fifty!” apply. Imagine the talks took place in a souk. One would expect that while one side makes an offer, the other side rolls its eyes. That’s part of the process. We’re now privy to Israel’s eye-rolling as the PA made its pitch. We haven’t seen the eye-rolling when Israel made a pitch because that hasn’t been released, at least not that I’ve seen. But we’ve seen the maps before, so again proof of Israeli intransigence is absent. I’d like to see the minutes from every proposal and counter-proposal of the last 10 years, and see if every single one looks the same: one side begging, the other side rolling its eyes.

The whole 1967 lines vs. facts on the ground debate is part of the same bargaining process. It’s a question of who’s “conceding” by proposing land swaps. From the PA perspective, offering 1.9% of the WB is very generous because it’s 1.9% more than Israel deserves under law. From the Israeli perspective, the offer of a land swap that gives the PA 100% of the square mileage of the WB is very generous, because we’re not starting from the 1967 lines. In the end, everybody agrees how much land will constitute the Palestinian state. It’s about posturing to make yourself look like the generous one, itself a part of the bargaining process.

What does the current Palestinian reaction mean? Too early to tell. It may mean that the negotiations are dead. It may mean that reaching a deal with the PA would not immediately result in peace. That does not necessarily mean that it’s not in Israel’s best interest to reach a deal.I also wonder if this is the Palestinians' "Oslo moment" - in 1993, it dawned on the Israeli public that this whole deal with the Palestinians is for real. It made for a difficult few years in this country, culminating with the assassination of the Prime Minister. Over the course of the next decade, the two-state solution became the Israeli consensus. I wonder if this has just happened on the other side. Many Palestinians were shocked and outraged to hear that their leaders were willing to concede parts of Jerusalem and the rights of refugees to return to their original homesteads. Perhaps it will take another 15 years to pass through all the phases, but eventual acceptance is not out of the question.

Meanwhile, the Middle East is going to hell in a hand basket, but nobody notices because of a few documents that didn’t add all that much to a discussion.


A Tu B'Shvat 'Hagadah'

I compiled this a few years ago. It follows the trend of dividing hte 'Seder' into different parts and themes, but as far as I know it's the only one that makes the divisions chronologically.
I had a good time putting it together.



Two points about the Tucson Massacre and the subsequent furor over Sarah Palin's use of the term "blood libel". Please note that neither of these points have anything whatsoever to do with my personal politics:
  1. What's being written about Jared Lee Loughner reminds me an awful lot about what was written about Yaakov-Jack Tytell. Neither have a well-formed political ideology as much as a penchant for extremism and violence (see my Jewish Week article on Tytell here). Yet, in the case of both Tytell and Loughner, various attempts were made to see them as the product of right-wing incitement and extremism, i.e. to tar entire groups with the brush of a couple of whack-jobs. It's disingenuous, to say the very least.
  2. Palin clearly misused the term "blood libel." Not, though, that emotionally loaded terms are misused all the time. I'm not just talking about "Nazi," which Seinfeld defanged, or "witch hunt," which no doubt offends the Wiccan community. Take "Apartheid": Regardless of what one thinks of the current arrangements in the West Bank, it does not come anywhere near what black South Africans suffered. So why aren't Mandela and Tutu protesting the misuse of this term? Is it really all that difficult for a smug and snarky Palin-basher (I'm looking at you, Colbert) to look up "Apartheid" on Wikipedia?


Segulah for Parnassah

A friendly reminder that in addition to saying Parshat Ha-man today, Tuesday of Parshat Beshalach, there is a much more venerable Segulah for Parnassah