Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The War in Gaza

Since the war began in Gaza on Saturday morning here in Israel there have been constant news updates about the action taking place over there.  As one guy I know put it, it's not that the war's started, but that Israel finally has decided to join it.  That's about the way I feel about the situation.

It was reported yesterday that Beer Sheva has been hit by a rocket, and today another one.  That places the major towns/cities of Beer Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, besides of course the cities that have been under constant threat for the past three years.  The kibbutz I lived on seven years ago, Sa'ad was first hit by a Kassam while I lived there - twice. Two Kassams (they're the shorter range missles) was a big deal then, now not so much.

This map will help:

Let me take this opportunity to put this into perspective.  Beer Sheva has a population of 186,000; Ashdod 207,000; Ashkelon 109,000; plus another 25,000 in small communities surrounding the Strip; plus 25,000 in Netivot; plus 19,000 in Sderot itself. Lehavim, where my cousins Burt and Batya - who celebrated their son's Bar Mitzvah on Monday - live, is also within range has a population of 6,000 among other towns nearby.

If we do all the addition, we get at least 577,000 people who are now living under the constant threat of missle attack.  If they're lucky they'll have 45 seconds notice of an incoming missle, if not as lucky (depending on the distance from Gaza) they'll only have 15 seconds to find shelter.  

The population of Israel is about 7.28 million people.  That 577,000 is 8% of the population.  Let's put that in terms that mean something - the current popluation of the US is 306 million - 8% of which is 24,480,000.  If 24.5 million people in the US were living under those conditions, what do we expect the US would do?  I hope it wouldn't have taken them three years to get their act together like it took our government to.

One of my students yesterday was complaining about Israel's failure to effectively combat the media response to the Arab attack. He said, "When someone attacks Israel for disproportionate response, the answer the Israeli government should be giving is: of course, it's disproportionate! A proportionate response would be to send 10,000 missles into a crowded city without regard to where they hit." 

Update: I added the map, and forgot to add, Kiyrat Gat 47,8000, Yavne 32,000 and Gedera 16,700.  That brings it up to 673,000 at least living within range of rockets; making it 9.2% of the Israeli population and 28,152,000 Americans living under rocket fire.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chanukah Sameach!

I'll post some of what we've been up to in a day or two, some great pictures too. But before I do that, I wanted to answer a question I've received a few times. What is it that I do? Sure, I study, but what? Well that's a very complicated answer, but basically I study (for the most part) nearly 2,000 year-old Rabbinic texts attempting to understand how Jewish law is decided and why we come to said conclusions. These texts will be in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Well, I decided to give you an example, through a timely Dvar Torah:

There's a question in the Talmud: What is Chaunkah? What is the significance of Chanukah, and what does it celebrate? Typically there are tons of answers to this question and nearly every Rabbi in history has his own take on the answers, but I'd like to deal with it a bit.

When we're children we're taught about the miracle of the oil. When the Maccabees came into the Temple after the war they found a flask of still sealed, pure oil hidden in the Temple with enough oil to last one night. Through a miracle it lasted for eight, until new pure oil could be made. Fantastic, beautiful.

Except, um... that's not exactly what happened. Let's say that Chanukah does celebrate this event, well the miracle only lasted seven days - the days that oil shouldn't have lasted for, the first day wasn't a miracle at all! So then, where do we get eight from?

One of those popular answers is that the first night celebrates the victory over the Greeks and the last seven celebrate the oil - the
nes pach hashemen. The Netziv (mid-19th century Lithuania) gives us a different answer, combining the two ideas - the finding of the oil itself was a miracle and we celebrate two miracles on the first night - the military victory over the Greeks and the finding of the oil.

Ah, now we've got it. We've got the historical element and the religious one. Fantastic. However, should we really be celebrating the defeat and destruction of human beings? That doesn't seem to square with a Jewish view of
b'tzelem elokim (that all of mankind, regardless of religion, is made in the image of God). This is why, according to some, we celebrate the oil instead of the military victory though that is really the essential part.

Well if that's the case, that we celebrate the finding of the oil, then the Maharal's got a great question (Prague, 1500's): the paragraph of
Al HaNisim (that we insert in the prayers during this week) has no mention of the miracle surrounding the oil at all! How is it that our prayers don't mention such an important part of the Holiday? Why should we be celebrating the finding of oil anyway? It's just for the Menorah anyway.

He answers all these questions beautifully. In fact these two ideas are intrinsically connected. What were we fighting the war for anyway? Against the Greek oppression of our religion and the defilement of the Temple. The Greeks defiled the Temple and the only way to reconsecrate the Temple was through the relighting of the Menorah. Hence, according to the Maharal, the two miracles are actually only one. The finding of the oil flask and the relighting of the Temple is the culmination of the military victory, the final act that showed the victory and the miracle that happened. This should invoke a vision akin to the flag raising on Iwo Jima or at the Kotel in June of '67.

Hence, every year when we relight our Chanukiot, we are not just celebrating the finding of the oil in the Temple not just the military victory. But rather that we are celebrating and renewing the victory over those who seek to crush us through physical destruction and those who seek to destroy us through assimilation. No, we are still here, still here proclaiming year after year that we will not be defeated that we will continue to bring light to this world.
Chag Urim Sameach.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Get Sarah Palin's New Book for Free

You've got to read this, I haven't read anything as hysterical in quite a while.