Sunday, October 30, 2005

HRH the Prince of Dhimmitude 

As a royalist Kiwi and a strong supporter of the Monarchy it pains me to do this, but I am afraid that the Heir Apparent needs a stern talking to. If only his grandparents were alive. They knew how to react to a totalitarian enemy that started a worldwide war and attacked Britain at home.

Constitutional monarchy, in my opinion, is the system which has best protected individual rights and freedoms, societal stability, and the rule of law in the modern world. But I think that that is a topic that deserves a separate post. One of the core conventions that has kept constitutional monarchy so effective is the judgment royals have exercised in remaining aloof and non-partisan when it comes to the major political issues of the day. I believe that this judgment should apply not only to the Monarch, but to her consort and probable successor.

That is why I am so appalled by this. The article discusses HRH's perceptions of "Islamophobia":
The Prince, who leaves on Tuesday for an eight-day tour of the US, has voiced private concerns over America's "confrontational" approach to Muslim countries and its failure to appreciate Islam's strengths.

The Prince raised his concerns when he met senior Muslims in London in November 2001. The gathering took place just two months after the attacks on New York and Washington. "I find the language and rhetoric coming from America too confrontational," the Prince said, according to one leader at the meeting.
To say that Americans have have been insufficiently respectful of Islam is a gross inversion of the truth. Who declared jihad on whom? The US government has bent over backwards to befriend Muslim leaders (whether genuinely friendly or not), President Bush has attended Ramadan iftar meals and visited mosques, praised Islam and distinguished between the jihad cult and mainstream Islam (whether correctly or not) more times than can be listed. There has been, despite the bleatings of the terrorist-apologists of CAIR, no verified backlash against Muslims in the US. This is absurd and insulting.

Prince Charles has a history of being an apologist for Islam and sharia law that stretches long before 9/11.

Makes one start to consider all sorts of rumours...

Maybe he should openly convert to Islam -- at least it would disqualify him from succeeding to the throne:
The Sovereign must, in addition, be in communion with the Church of England and must swear to preserve the established Church of England and the established Church of Scotland. The Sovereign must also promise to uphold the Protestant succession.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Of broiler hens and Jewish morality 

Some years ago, I worked on a kibbutz in Israel. One of my duties there was to assist in the chicken sheds, where over 100,000 broiler chickens were raised at a time. My duties involved cleaning the sheds, pulling out the dead chickens each morning, weed-killing.

The people who ran the lul were educated, intelligent, decent `olim (immigrants) from England. As this was a religious kibbutz, they were also sensitive to Judaic imperatives.

Still, it was some time after my stint working in those sheds before I could eat chicken again.

Now, I read in Haaretz a report about the standard of chicken-raising in Israel.
Fifty years ago, a broiler chicken reached its maximum weight in 80 days. Today, through genetic selection, its life cycle has been reduced to 42 days. The reason is economic: All broilers born in hatcheries in Israel belong to one of two varieties, developed through genetic selective breeding, to achieve the most profitable result - a chicken that will swell to the largest possible proportions in the shortest space of time. However, a consumer searching for chicken breasts at the supermarket has no way of knowing who bred the plastic-wrapped chicken, where, or under what conditions - unlike many other food products for which information is available.

Chickens raised for meat, called broilers, have become an industrial product, in an industry that produces some 170 million broilers per year. When they are one or two days old, the chicks are sent to the shed for fattening. Results of the genetic selection are apparent early in life: All the broilers develop exceptionally large breasts - bred this way intentionally because chicken breast receives the highest market price.

A report published in 2000 by the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Commission stated that the broilers' legs can hardly bear the excess weight of their bodies. The chickens may suffer from painful lameness, because of abnormal skeletal development or diseased bones.
I am talking from personal experience when I say that the way chickens are raised for slaughter in Israel has become an industrial parade of death. The laws of kashrut do not affect the horrendous practices involved in raising the chickens.

I am not a vegetarian, and Judaism condones eating meat. In Judaism, the needs of animals must be subjugated to the needs of humans (see Sefer haHinuch 545, Moreh Nevuchim 3:48 and Nahmanides, all on the commandment to send the mother bird away before taking the young, Deuteronoy 22:6). But the value of preventing tza`ar ba`alei hayyim (cruelty to animals) -- has always been present in Jewish thinking. R' Yehezkel Landau (Yoreh De`ah 2:10), in his responsum to a question on the possibility of hunting for sport replied that although he could not see a basis for banning sport hunting (ie killing animals for fun rather than for any human need) is something that cannot be reconciled with the Jewish ethos, that we are "rahmanim b'nei rahmanim".

I realise that meat has to be an industry: it is crucial that kosher meat can be sold to the people of Israel at a price that does not make life any harder for the many who struggle to make ends meet than it is already.

But is there not a kinder way? A way that preserves our humanity and at least minimises the animals' suffering? I cannot believe that God, whose "mercies are upon all of His creatures" wants us to sit with equanimity while those creatures are treated with such callousness and denial of the life that is within them.

I am reminded of a story from the Talmud (Baba Metzi`a 85a). A calf, running from the slaughterman, ran to Rabbi Yehuda haNassi (redactor of the Mishna and huge figure in Judaism), and burrowed itself, crying, in the folds of Rabbi Yehuda's robe. Rabbi Yehuda said to the calf: "zil, ki le'kach notzarta" -- "go, because for this (ie to be slaughtered for meat) were you created". For his lack of compassion, Rabbi Yehuda was struck with terrible suffering.

What a surprise 

President Ahmadinejad has done us all a favour by dropping the mask and the pretense and stating that the Iranian government wishes to see Israel wiped off the map.

The true significance is that the double game that the mullah-crats have played until this point is no longer tenable -- they can no longer talk peace and non-agression through a cuddly figurehead like Khatami while behind the scenes funding Hizbullah and genocidal TV programmes.

Haaretz reports. Canada's Foreign Minister: "The comments are all the more troubling given Iran's nuclear ambitions and its refusal to cooperate fully with International Atomic Energy inspectors. This refusal underlines the need for all countries to stand together to ensure that Iran is prevented from developing nuclear weaponry." But of course, this is the same Canada and the same France that are so opposed to any real action to prevent this happening. Better to aim a few words at the mullahs to look like you oppose genocidal antisemitism than do anything about it. It reminds me of a quote from Team America:
Kim Jong Il: Hans Brix? Oh no! Oh, herro. Great to see you again, Hans!
Hans Blix: Mr. Il, I was supposed to be allowed to inspect your palace today, but your guards won't let me enter certain areas.
Kim Jong Il: Hans, Hans, Hans! We've been frew this a dozen times. I don't have any weapons of mass destwuction, OK Hans?
Hans Blix: Then let me look around, so I can ease the UN's collective mind. I'm sorry, but the UN must be firm with you. Let me in, or else.
Kim Jong Il: Or else what?
Hans Blix: Or else we will be very angry with you... and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Nobel Prize in Economics goes to... 

No, not a rabbi. Not the Nobel Prize in gemara. The Nobel Prize in economics goes to Robert (Yisrael) Aumann.

That's a big qidush Hashem. As someone with an academic background in economics and who likes game theory(but without even a Nobel Prize nomination to my name), I think that it's doubly cool.

Here is a fascinating interview of Professor Aumann by his colleague Sergiu Hart. It covers the origin of his love of maths (cultivated in the R' Jacob Joseph day school on the Lower East Side), to the application of game theory to international relations. There is a great discussion of his view on issues of science and religion from pages 20 to 30.

According to the BBC, Aumann's work in game theory centred on the effect of repeated interactions on the choices a player would make.

He is also one of the founders of the Hebrew University's interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Rationality (maybe he's a Rambamist...).

Unless I'm wrong (please correct me, dear readers), Aumann becomes the second kipa-wearing Nobel laureate (after Shai Agnon, of course).

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Shana Tova 

A happy New Year to all readers!

Shana tova tekatevu ve'tehatemu.

Following the precedent of the Jewish appropriation of Chinese food, I feel it is justified to pilfer another element of their culture: their cool Zodiac calendar.

I hereby declare 5766 to be: YEAR OF THE GEFILTE FISH

People born in the Year of the Gefilte Fish have a sweet and agreeable nature. But beware: they can have a bit of pepper.

Elul, Correct Pronunciation and Inappropriate Giggling 

I have the custom of joining a minyan for Sefardi selihot whenever possible.

Sefardim tend to place much more emphasis than Ashkenazim on Hebrew grammar, and correct pronunciation and orthography. The greatest scholars and grammarians of the Hebrew and Aramaic languages were Sefaradim, and for them, correct pronunciation is extremely important.

The other night, in selihot, I was using the book prepared by R' Ovadiah Yosef. In the responsive section "anenu" (which means answer us), the book helpfully tells the reciter not to stress the first "nun", which would, Heaven forbid, make it sound like an-nenu (with a dagesh in the nun), which would mean punish us. As important as it is to pronounce the words of the prayers correctly and treat the Holy tongue seriously, I wonder why R' Ovadia chooses to warn us of this? Does he fear that God will mistakenly think we are seeking punishment, and plague us?

Another example. Today I prayed together with a minyan using the Orot Syrian siddur. After the prayers, I was looking through the siddur. In the reading of the shema , the authors kindly warn us to emphasise the "ayin" of the word "nishba" (which means swore, as in
"that God swore to give..."), so that it does not sound like it has the letter "heh" at the end, which would mean that we are saying that God "was captured". This actually made me chuckle, and I had to undertake mighty efforts to suppress my mirth from audibility. For a start, it is wholly inappropriate to laugh at a siddur, and it can be seen as a dishonour to laugh at the comments of our teachers on the prayers. I was also scared that my Mediterranean co-religionists would take me out back and give me a good beating if they thought I was laughing at their nusah.

But really -- it is inconceivable in our theology (inter alia, principles 1 and 3 of Maimonides' 13 Principles) that God could be captured. I agree that it is of the utmost importance to enunciate the shema (which it is a separate commandment to recite) correctly, but why should we worry in particular about confusing the meaning of this word, when we must guard against manglings that could change the meaning of any word?

My theory: the Sefardi rabbis want to ensure that their communities retain their identity in all ways, including pronunciation of Hebrew. They want to prevent Sefardim from following the Ashkenazi and dominant Israeli practice of not pronouncing the guttural "ayin" differently from "alef", which is a mere glottal stop, and not pronounced. Emphasising where there is a halachic nafka mina (consequence) is a good way of doing this.

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