Kol HaRav - Rabbinic Voices: R. Yaakov Ariel's Response to 'Torat Ha-Melekh'

"The following is the translation of an excerpt from R. Yaakov Ariel 's letter of approbation to Derekh Ha-Melekh (The Path of the King)..."

Read on at Kol HaRav - Rabbinic Voices: R. Yaakov Ariel's Response to 'Torat Ha-Melekh'


The Motives of California "Intactivism"

The "intactivist" (anti-circumcision) movement in California is making the news all over the US (strangely, not in Israel yet) by trying to get MGM (male genital mutilation) laws passed in San Francisco and Santa Monica. Their latest propaganda includes a magazine called "Foreskin Man" (which I've been tweeting about for a week already).
Although many (like Shmuely Boteach) have tried to take the "circumcision is healthier" tack, I believe - along with WSJ's Brad Greenberg - that this is misguided. The point is that Jews will not stop circumcising even if you make a law, just as they did not stop in the past when it was forbidden by law. Making such a law is a dangerous endeavor.
Several years ago at UMD, I was interviewed by the student newspaper for an article about an anti-circumcision group on campus. At the time, I took a dual strategy: a. Acknowledge the good that they do (educating non-Jews about the risks of circumcision; educating Jews about the risks of performing circumcision under unsanitary conditions). b. Don't even bother trying to explain why Jews insist on circumcision (if you read the article, you'll see how I executed this strategy). There's nothing to argue about. It is the quintessential marker of Jewish identity (in the Bible, non-Israelites are called "uncircumcised ones" or more properly "foreskins" - a jarring synecdoche if ever there was one). And it continues to be practiced almost uniformly among Jews, even secular, anti-religious, or atheist Jews; even among Jews who truly believe it to be a barbaric ritual. Can I explain that? Not really. On the other hand, it is a reality, which needs no explanation.
With regard to the motives for the current campaign, I view it as a product of a hypersexual culture. Part of what the authors of Foreskin Man portray - ignoring the blatantly anti-Semitic (and anti-Amish, come to think of it; the Monster Mohel has a beard and no mustache) images for the moment - is the sexuality that simply oozes from the "good guys" (whatever the authors think about circumcision, they sure don't seem to have an issue with breast implants). Their names (Kummings, Hastwick, etc.; personally, I'd have named the hero's alter ego Arlo Pullman, especially given the epispasmic practices of the comic's creator) simply ooze sexuality. When they're not fighting to save foreskins, they're hanging out on the beach, wearing next to nothing on their Olympian bodies. In short, the message is that circumcision hinders sexual fulfillment.
Similarly, this blog post by a young Jewish man angry at his mohel because he's too conflicted about hating his parents offers a similar lament: he doesn't enjoy sex and masturbation as much as he otherwise would. He also experiences mild discomfort, chafing, and sometimes gets lint under the folds of his skin, but the structure of his argument suggest that's the main issue is the great sex he's missed out on.
Thus, when coming to evaluate the importance of a flap of skin with some nerve endings, one's table of values comes strongly into play. If sex, and the degree of pleasure experienced during sex (and it is a question of degree; circumcised men do enjoy sex), are at the top of one's priority scale, then something that mitigates that pleasure is simply terrible. If sex is simply not that high up on the scale, then the removal of that skin is, quite frankly, not such a big sacrifice, and when it conflicts with other, more important values, then the skin loses. [After I started writing this, I saw that Chaim Steinmetz makes a similar point].
A similar direction for contextualization is in Ben Chorin's recent series, especially the entries of December 19 and 27.



I'm flabbergasted that Ha'aretz can, with a straight face, argue based on "tradition" that we should keep it the way it was, and not the emendations of R. Goren in a "thrall of messianic fervor." If only the secular establishment had so much respect for tradition while they were pissing on it (pardon my French, but I see this as jarringly ironic).
This really goes back to the issue that Ha'aretz, as well as some other media and the High Court, are really the last bastions of secular Ashkenazi culture. As I noted on Lag B'Omer, secular Israeli civic religion is slowly eroding, and Judaism is making space for more civic observance. I find this to be a heartwarming trend. On the specific issue of Yizkor, see Menachem Mendel's excellent piece.
One of the great writers of early secular Zionism, Haim Hazaz, concluded his "The Sermon" with the line: "When a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist" (in this context, "Jew" meant the religious and passive Jew of the exile, and "Zionist" meant secular kibbutznik). Apparently the opposite also holds true, at least on the broader scale: When a man can no longer be a Zionist, he becomes a Jew.

Some Notes in Brief

  • MK R. Haim Amsalem's visit to Modiin has been rescheduled for this Monday. Here's a link to the event flier for more information.
  • Looks like I'll be attending at least part of the Israeli Presidential Conference. I'm going on a blogger pass. I'll probably cover some detail via Twitter (@adderabbi), but mainly want to meditate on what it means for Israel. We'll see if I can come up with anything interesting.
  • I'll be in the US (MD-DC area) for about a month this summer. I may have a few Scholar-in-Residence opportunities lined up, but am on the lookout for more.
  • I've hope to post in the next few days on the circumcision controversy in California and on the Yizkor controversy in Israel.


Israel's New Daylight Savings Law

Interior Minister Eli Yishai has extended Daylight Savings Time into October. This means that Yom Kippur will not fall during DST about 50% of the time. Extending DST into October makes economic sense according to virtually all studies, but many religious people are upset because now Yom Kippur will be "longer".

Of course, Yom Kippur will not be "longer." It's 25 hours any way you slice it. If the issue is that it "feels" longer or contains more waking hours, synagogues now have leeway to start services a bit later (daylight starts later, after all) so people can sleep longer and keep the same number of wakeful fasting hours. And if not? Tough it out. An hour being hungry isn't worth tens of millions of shekels. Furthermore, synagogues that start earlier at the beginning of the winter calendar (because sof z'man kri'at Shema is earlier) will be able to keep their 8:30am start times for a few extra weeks. So there's a net benefit for hours of sleep accrued. Since I try to go to a very early minyan on Yom Kippur so that I can come home and my wife can go to a later minyan, the new schedule actually works out better for me.


A Gilded Landsmanschaft

An article of mine was posted today on Ynet and eJewishPhilanthropy, and was excerpted in Haaretz. The occasion for the article is the dedication of Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem this weekend, with much pomp and circumstance (guest speakers will include Natan Sharansky and R. Shlomo Riskin, as well as local politicians).

In the article, I made reference to an idea that I developed before: that Israel should be a "cholent pot" - not a melting pot or salad bowl. In a cholent pot, each ingredient remains distinct like in a salad bowl, but adds and receives flavor, scent, and texture to and from all of the other ingredients. So too, the different elements that constitute Jewish (and dare I say non-Jewish) diversity in Israel all (should) contribute to and also takes something from all the other elements.


The Rhetoric of Chumra in Igrot Moshe

This past Saturday night I gave a chabura on "The Rhetoric of Chumra in Igrot Moshe". I looked at several responsa in which R. Moshe Feinstein uses the language of "reluctant leniency" and develop a theory as to what his goals were in using this type of language. In some ways, what R. Moshe is trying to do is the exact opposite of what the Chafetz Chaim is trying to do in the Mishna Berurah.

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