Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Dissolution of Judaism? 

Firstly, I shall apologise for our non-existance over the past half year. Hopefully the blog will flower from now on with more posts. Yay! Now, onto bigger and better things.

It has recently been reported that the Israeli Rabbinate is ceasing to recognise orthodox conversions and gets given outside Israel. The exceptions to this are conversions and gets issued by diaspora Rabbis that have passed the Israeli Rabbinate exams, and those issued by 50 Rabbis that appear on an exemption list. The rationale behind this move is apparantly "to protect Israeli citizens and prevent them from turning to unqualified rabbis."

But I fear that the ramifications of such a move are far greater, and more negative, than what the Rabbinate is aiming to do. The move to not recognise orthodox conversions and gets from the diaspora completely pulls apart the fabric that is Orthodox Judaism. It essentially ignores the centuries old tradition of Rabbinic ordination (that is traditionally passed from teacher to pupil) and assumes that the Israeli Rabbinate exams are far superior to any other Rabbinic ordination anywhere else in the world.

What the Israeli Rabbinate is failing to recognise is that not only will this cause tension between Israeli and Diaspora communities, but it has the power to completely dissolve any relationship that may exist between them and create an irrepairable rift.

This, it would seem, is another symptom of the Israeli trend to extreme conservatism (with small "c"). If something is not done about this travesty now, we may witness, within our own lifetimes, the creation of two incompatible Judaisms: Israeli Judaism and Diaspora Judaism. I think this may be too much for even the staunchest Orthodox Zionists to bear.

The original news article can be found here.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The UN is an impartial arbitrator, and has moral legitimacy 

November 29, as you might be aware, is the UN-declared "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People". No other people, not the Tibetans, not the Kurds, not the Hutu, not the Basques -- no-one else -- has an annual "day of solidarity".

Here is a photo, from UN headquarters in New York, of the UN flag and the Palestinian flanking a map of the land in question. Hmmm... which flag is missing?

Here is a close-up of the map of Palestine that appeared between the two flags, above. I could've sworn there was another state there, one that even belonged to the UN. No?

Didn't Kofi recently castigate someone for saying that a certain state should be wiped off the map? Why is the UN doing it then?

To describe the picture below, I quote Eye on the UN:

In a moment which has been crafted to include the commemoration of suicide-bombers (from left to right) Nasser Al-Kidwa, Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority, President of the UN Security Council Andrey Denisov, President of the UN General Assembly Jan Eliasson, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People Paul Badji, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, (and two others) rise at the outset of the November 29th UN meeting with these words from the Chair. "I invite everyone present to rise and observe a minute of silence in memory of all those who have gven their lives for the cause of the Palestinian people and the return of peace between Israel and Palestine."

Of course, the Palestinians are the only group that have a "committee on the exercise of [their] inalienable rights"; it is one of about 20 UN groups devoted to them (read this). Worse, it also appears that the UN is commemorating such "martyrs" as the one who murdered five people in Netanya earlier this week.

I don't really think any further evidence is necessary to decide what the UN's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is.

(Much thanks to Eye on the UN a joint project of the Hudson Institute and the Touro Law Center).

The Hostages and their interesting friends 

Evan of Black and Tan Eyes has an excellent post on the story of the four Christian Peacemaker [sic] Teams hostages in Iraq (link here).

Evan puts it better, but my perspective is that when the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is speaking in your favour, and referring to you as a fellow struggler, then your status as a pacifist or peace-supporter is doubtful, to say the least.

Nonetheless, I profoundly hope that the CPT 4 make it home safely (though chastened and with some of their preconceptions challenged).

Yeshivish Idol 

With my reference yesterday to Google Video, it is only correct to note the first clip I saw using this service, one that was making the rounds in the Jewish blogosphere about a month ago.

It is the first yeshiva bochur boy-band video, made by some English and American bochrim from a black-hat yeshiva in Israel during ben ha-z'manim (between terms). Link here.

A rather interesting sociological phenomonon. Also, surpisingly good production values.

(thanks, Nicky, for reminding me).

Another day, another crazed theocrat denying the holocaust and threatening to kill the Jews 

More sweet nothings whispered by Iran's President (link here):

European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews
in furnaces, and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves
something contrary to that, they condemn that person and throw them in jail.
Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question
for the Europeans is: Is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the
reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?

Let's summarise. We have the head of state of a UN member:
- Threatening the existence of another state (UN Charter ch 1 Art 2)
- Flouting a UN General Assembly Resolution (GA Res 60/7)
- And as anyone with brain-function should be aware, is leading an effort to develop nuclear weapons.
- Oh, and the head of state in question believes he is on a Divine mission, and surrounded by a mystical light when he gives a speech that relieves him from the need to blink (link here). So there goes mutual deterrance.

Isn't it funny that advocates for the Palestinian cause endlessly parrot ridiculous and offensive resolutions passed using the Muslim/"Non-Aligned Movement" automatic majority in the General Assembly, but ignore UN rules when they are not convenient (especially the more basic ones like not threatening to destroy other countries)?

Anyway, UN resolutions or not, it seems that when you have the leadership of one country denying the right of another to exist, wanting its eradication, funding terrorism against it, and simultaneously developing nuclear weapons -- you have a potentially explosive situation.

So I wonder if the UN's members and the august body itself will do anything, other than complain about their hurt feelings?

I'm guessing no.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Google video is yet another devilishly clever piece of engineering.

A number of Jewish blogs have linked to this movie (link here), shot at the time of the wedding of the daughter of the Munkaczer Rebbe in Hungary in 1933. It is an amazing depiction of a lost world: vibrant and diverse; from the rebbe, exhortating Jews in America to keep the the shabbat to the pictures of Zionist youth dancing in a mixed circle.

It is sobering to note that barely 10 years after that film, that entire community would be destroyed, and most of the people the film murdered by the Nazis (may their names and memory be erased).

On a lighter note, here is a brilliant Family Guy clip featuring Cookie Monster (my favourite Sesame Street). Cookie seems to have an addictive personality, and I feel that his inability to control his cookie intake would lead to problems.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dilbert's Blog 

Scott Adams, brilliant creator of cartoon cubicle-slave Dilbert, has a blog (link here). Look at this gem he wrote after the third-ranking al Qaeda operative was blown up by a remote-controled drone:

I know that war is Hell and all that, but I have to think that the guy who fired the rocket by remote control loves his job. I have an image of him sitting in an air conditioned headquarters someplace, feet up on the desk, a bag of Cheetohs on one side, a Budweiser on the other, staring at his computer screen. It’s about 1 am and everyone else is asleep. The order comes through on e-mail saying something like “Blow up mud hut #4,7855.” So he takes a break from playing Doom and plugs that number into the GPS system and soon his drone is hovering over said mud hut, missiles ready to go.

Maybe it’s just a “guy thing” but the idea of blowing up a mud hut by remote controlled drone sounds like the most fun thing I can think of. And if the number 3 al-Qaida leader happens to be inside, that’s a bonus. It certainly makes your story sound less nerdy afterwards.

Genius. To the blogroll you go, Dilbert.

Monday, December 05, 2005


I saw Ushpizin last night (official website; see the trailer). A lot has been said about this film: the first film made by Israeli Haredim to gain critical acclaim, both internationally (and more surprisingly) in Israel.

There have been many films depicting Haredi life over recent years (from the engaging to the ridiculous); Israeli depictions have at times been less honest depictions than defamatory screeds (I think it is interesting that Modern Orthodox people, typically, are defensive of Haredim when secular Jews or non Jews deride them, yet we so often criticise and mock them. It's as if we feel we have exclusive rights to do so. Interesting).

This movie does not intend to be objective: the lead actors are themselves Haredim (and husband and wife in real life); and not just any Haredim, but formerly secular members of the cultural elite who became Breslov Hasidim.

The movie was a sweet, but nonetheless if one probes beyond the surface, carried a serious message. The message is not one that people like myself, the modernist Orthodox with their rational worldview and belief in living in the outside world and taking responsibility for our own futures. It is a message that simple faith, and a little help from mystical figures, works miracles. Moshe could be derided as passive and lazy, not taking action to support his wife, and letting others walk all over him. A Maimonidean would feel distinctly uneasy with investing a mitzvah object, such as the etrog, with magical powers. But the incredible diversity of philosophy -- while still adhering to the same Halacha -- is part of the strength of Orthodox Judaism.

The central couple, Moshe and Mali (Shuli and Michal Rand) evinced absolute authenticity, as one might expect, in playing secular Israelis turned Breslov Hasidim. In particular, Moshe, in his portrayal of a violent criminal turned pentitent, was outstanding. Moshe's old partner-in-crime, Eliyahu Scorpio (Shaul Mizrahi, who played Zohar Argov in an incredible biopic of Israel's greatest singer) and his goofy offsider Yosef (Ilan Gannani) cleverly combined farce and menace.

All in all, a beautiful story, which I can thoroughly recommend.

Friday, December 02, 2005

What a charming slogan 

Of course they are only seeking peaceful development of nuclear power. And Ahmadinejad's comments should be interpreted... allegorically. Yes, that's it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The most pressing question of our time 

Which country has the best national anthem? Here are my candidates:

  1. La Marseillaise. This will take a lot of beating. Uplifting and bloodcurdling. It makes you want to torch a car. How do you keep losing wars with such a cool anthem (listen to the Mireille Mathieu version here).
  2. The Soviet Union anthem. Admittedly, this was not enough to win them the Cold War, but it is mightily stirring. I could imagine this warming the hearts of many a good comrade waiting in a bread line (Red Army chorus version here).
  3. Advance Australia Fair. A confident and optimistic anthem for a confident and optimistic country, who beat us at sport just too damn often (except for this year!). No mention of penal colony origins or treating Aborigines badly (MP3 version here).
  4. Il Canto degli Italiani (Italy). Trust them to have an athem that sounds like it was written by Verdi; repetition of how ready Italians are to die and that they don't like Austria very much (link here).
  5. Britain. Although I am a royalist, God Save the Queen is about as stirring as a tepid cup of tea. Therefore, I deem Britain's entry to be Land of Hope and Glory (this is the best MP3 version I could find on the web).
  6. The Star Spangled Banner. Where would baseball be with out it? (Link here).
  7. God Defend New Zealand. I'm only really putting this in because I'm such a patriot. Anyway, the Maori version is better than the insipid English one. Actually, the best one was the one they used to play in the morning when TV awoke from its slumber (remember when tv started broadcasting at 9am, and there were only two channels?). (Link here. Note to Jewish readers: the second word in the Maori version is the tetragrammaton; so you should say Ikowa...)

So, those are my nominations. Votes and suggestions for other candidates are welcome in comments.

Christian Peacemaker Teams' Stockholm syndrome 

It turns out that one of the peace activists who is being held hostage by a Sunni group in Iraq, Harmeet Singh Sooden, while a Canadian citizen, has been resident in New Zealand for over two years and a student at Auckland University (link here).

I hope that the hostages are healthy, and will be returned unharmed, soon.

The group to which the hostages belong, "Christian Peacemaker Teams" has released a statement expressing there anger at... the US and UK governments (did you think I would say the terrorists?) (link here):

We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the
actions of the US and UK governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.

This is astonishingly bone-headed, even by the standards of peace activists. Even if the coalition is responsible for the anarchic situation in Iraq (which is highly debatable), treating the terrorists as automatons who have no choice in their decision to abduct and murder their compatriots and foreigners who have come to help (or at least with the intention of helping), is racism of the most crude form.

I am also sick of the "occupation and oppression" trope. This is ridiculous. Coalition forces removed a dictator who was responsible for over a million deaths. They are trying to bring order in the face of murderous ideologues who couldn't care less (nay, are happy) over murdering innocents.

What is it with lefties sympathising with the same people who point guns to their heads and beat them up?

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