The Significance of the Likud-Ahi Pact

Though it did not make many headlines, and, in fact, only formalized a deal that was basically hammered out a month and a half ago, the Likud has now officially merged with Effi Eitam’s Religious Zionist Ahi Party. This represents a major step in the (in my mind, very happy) trend that began several elections ago: the decrease in the degree to which RZ voters see their “natural home” as being in the NRP (or whatever it’s called these days), though most see the merger between Meimad and the Green Party as something little more than cute. The trend has not reached its culmination yet, but it is very clearly moving toward it.

The trend signifies that the Religious-Zionist community does not see its own needs, narrowly defines, as the primary content of its platform. Rather, it recognizes its needs (religious infrastructure; “schules, schools, and pools” as I like to call it) as one element of a broader national agenda, and, to an ever increasing degree, votes accordingly.

The main parties have noted this (ironically, the first to do so, Labor, is the only remaining “major” party without a significant RZ presence on its list) and, accordingly, have filled their lists with RZ candidates and made promises accordingly.

The pact with Ahi bears this out considerably: A glance at the list of signatories – Zev Elkin, Yuli Edelstein, Benny Begin, Leah Ness, and Tzipi Hotobelli – demonstrates the degree to which religious candidates have been incorporated into the Likud rank-and-file (unsurprisingly, Feiglin was not invited to the signing ceremony). Additionally, for his part, Netanyahu made promises to the RZ community that are really not out of keeping with the Likud’s general platform: funding for RZ public schools (ok, that’s a partisan issue), taking care of Gush Katif evacuees (about time someone does), and preserving the Jewish character of the state (see the full article here).

The next big step would be the disbanding of the NRP (which may be really soon, depending on how well it does in the upcoming elections) and the regionalizing of elections (so that every regional candidate will have to campaign for the RZ public).

As to why I think this trend is important – that’s a whole other ball of wax.


Rav Ovadia Yosef vs. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu on Rachel Imenu

This whole debate between Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu about whether Rachel Imenu appeared, and in what form, to soldiers in Gaza must be seen against the backdrop pf the elections. A bit of background: RME and ROY are the leaders of two distinct approaches – halakhic, social, and ideological – within Mizrahi Judaism in Israel. ROY represents the Aleppan tradition, avoids psak based on kabbalistic sources, is generally suspicious of the Ashkenazi ruling elite, and sees no need to try to forge any type of uniformity of observance between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Politically, he’s quite obviously affiliated with the Shas movement (which is like saying that Alexander Hamilton was affiliated with the Federalists). Since founding that movement, he has become much more tolerant of the folk elements of religion, out of what seems to be a concession to the reality of the Mizrahi street that forms his constituency.

RME, on the other hand, is bears the torch of the Ben Ish Hai and the Baghdadi halakhic tradition, which incorporates kabbalistic elements to a much greater degree. Politically, he affiliated with the National Union party and in general follows a similar line as Merkaz ha-Rav. He has generally been much closer to Rav Uziel and Rav Hayim David Halevi in his cooperation with Ashkenazi communities, religious and secular.

It seems that the context of the story from the RME camp is mostly concerned with the role of RME himself – how he prayed several times at Kever Rachel, before and during the operation, for the safety of the troops. In addition to the “mystical” element, there’s a polemic element: the safety of the troops was weighing heavily on the nationalist RME’s mind, and so he went to pray at a site which, though indisputably a Jewish holy site, is smack-dab on the middle of Bethlehem. ROY’s “narrative” seems to be more of a rhetorical flourish. God is its protagonist, not a holy rabbi. In his story, it makes no difference whether the mysterious woman was actually the long-dead matriarch, some closet Zionist sympathizer in the heart of Hamastan, or something else. The point of the story is that God saved our boys (and allowed them to kill a bunch of terrorists).

Thus, Rav Ovadiah’s story affirms the positive attitude toward the army operations (which he could hardly afford not to do given the current climate), but, at the same time, steals the thunder from RME both as a political figure and as a holy man.

ADD moment: how come none of these Sephardic rabbis ever have last names?


Monty Python and the Unilateral Cease Fire

In this classic scene, King Arthur duels the Black Knight. At the end, Arthur declares a unilateral cease fire and expresses a willingness to "call it a draw", while the Black Knight insists that King Arthur is a coward, beckons him to continue fighting, and threatens to bite his legs off.

I was reminded of this sketch while reading of Hamas' vow to continue fighting even as Israel called a unilateral but conditional cease fire (that seems to have ended, anyway).


He counteth the number of stars; He giveth them all their names

The title verse of this post (from Psalms 147:4) provides an interesting opportunity to engage in imitatio Dei. I'm not talking about those lame quasi-romantic name-a-star-after-someone gimmicks, but about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually name a planet.

I first heard about this contest from BZ's post at JewSchool. Since the contest is cosponsored by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which I posted about yesterday, my memory was refreshed, and I entered the contest.

I wanted to come up with names that reflect the same mythic dimension that the English planetary names reflect, and also wanted to preserve some echo of those names. Fortunately, I've read some of Cassuto's work on the Israelite Epic, so I'm familiar with the names of some of those demigods of Israelite myth who were demythologized in the Torah and reincorporated as angels or sarim. I also wanted to stay away from the gods of neighboring tribes (after all, Ma'adim, not Nergal, is the Jewish name for Mars). I considered, in the spirit of Ma'adim and Noga, of looking for names that reflect some type of physical attribute, much as Steg did here (I even thought of Techelet or Tcheltan for Neptune), but in the end decided to go with the mythic names of deities and demigods.

Given these constraints, Neptune was easy. TaNakh contains numerous references to mythic sea creatures and monsters (such as Leviathan, Naham Akalaton, Nahash Bariach, and others), one of which is named Rahav (רהב). In Iyov 26:12, Rahav represents the sea personified: "By his power He stilled the sea; by His skill He struck down Rahav". The Gemara (Bava Batra 74b) identifies Rahav as "Saro shel Yam" - the Ministering Angel of the Sea. This is a slam dunk as a biblical equivalent of the Roman sea-god, Neptune. Rahav also has a good cadence and rhythm, and is not a well-known mythic figure in other contexts. I felt that the other sea-creatures either were too unwieldy (I cannot imagine a planet Nachash Akalaton) or too familiar from other contexts (Leviathan, Tanin). Leviathan is also too close and too phonetically related to lavyan, the modern Hebrew word for "satellite".

Uranus was a bit tougher. At first I considered that the biblical equibvalent of Uranus would be Pe'or (guess where I thought of that), but quickly dismissed that idea for pretty much the same reasons that I thought of it in the first place. I looked for a deity mentioned in the Torah as some type of master of the heavens, as Uranus was the Greek god of the sky. I considered Shachar, who seems to have been some type of god of the dawn and later associated with a particular star, probably Venus, and ultimately with Lucifer. Thus, the name was already associated with another planet and is already familiar as the mundane term for dawn. Out.

Then I hit upon the name that I submitted - Elyon. Before being merged with God, Elyon seems to have been some type of independent or semi-independent deity who is creator of heaven and earth (see Bereishit 14:18-19). Elsewhere (such as Yeshayahu 14:13-14 and II Sam 22:14) Elyon is depicted as dominating the heavens. Perhaps the most interesting connection between Uranus and Elyon comes from the translation of the Sanchuniathon by Philo of Byblos. There, he identifies Elyon as the father of Uranus.

The drawbacks of this name are that it is a common Hebrew word, and that as the name of a deity, it has long since (I believe that the Torah tells us about how Avraham effected this merger in the story linked above) merged and is closely associated with God.

Ultimately, I like BZ's proposal of "Shahak" (שחק) better than my own. It preserves the archaic and mythic feel, is associated with the sky, and has an excellent cadence and rhythm. I especially like it as the counterpart to Rahav. So there you have it. Uranus and Neptune and Shahak and Rahav. Now we just have to wait for the contest judges to make it official.


Some Questions that have been Bugging Me?

1)If the Academy of the Hebrew Language (Akademia le-Lashon ha-Ivrit) is so good at coming up with new Hebrew words for nearly any development (amongst the new ones are 'zamrir' for 'jingle', 'samlil' for logo', and 'le-masrer' for 'to send a text message'), why could they not come up with something better than "Akademia" for "Academy"?

2) Why is the NFC championship game, which will be played on the West Coast, starting at 3pm, while the AFC championship game, which will be played on the East Coast, starting at 6:30pm?

Whatever. It's all a mystery. Go Ravens.


V: The National-Religious Chanukah

As commenter Chardal (ke-shmo kein hu) pointed out, the National-Religious Chanukah is a synthesis of the Chareidi and Zionist Chanukahs. In addition to the writings of R’ Kahane, with which I am not familiar but assume that Chardal is correct, this was written by R. Shlomo Aviner (and translated into English by my colleague and fellow Baltimorean [Go Ravens!] Rafi Blumberg). It sums this approach up pretty well.

I know I’m late, but I still have three to go!

Rosh Hashana for Translators

According to the Geonic addendum to Megillat Taanit, the 8th of Tevet (which is today) was a fast day that commemorated the translation of the Torah into Greek for the Egyptian King Ptolemy. Contra the Letter of Aristeas, the Rabbinic work views the translation of the Torah negatively.

This challenge, translation form Hebrew into Greek, is indeed both tragic and a cause for celebration. If Levinas is correct that “The translation of the Septuagint is not yet complete”, then the task of the translator remains in this fundamental tension. On this day, I reflect on the service that we translators provide to humanity – allowing disparate cultures to engage each other and facilitating communication between people who have no common language. At the same time, since it is impossible to translate anything perfectly, I also contemplate the limitations of our trade and the loss that translation inevitably entails.

I have written about the tensions inherent in translation here and here. Perhaps this also explains why, no matter how good Google Translate gets, there will always be a need for those who practice the art of translation.