Father of Mercy

January 11, 2009

The Father of Mercy, in his awesome mercy, shall remember the coveneant of the great ones, those who sanctified the NAME at the price of their lives.
Beloved and pleasant in their lives and in their death did not depart, lighter than eagles and stronger than lions did they do the bidding of their creator and the will of their rock.
May OUR GOD remember them for better with the other righteous of eternity, and may their blood be evenged quickly before our eyes.
As it is written etc.

The Israeli press is having a day at the park with the Morris Talansky affair, but the bigger issue at stake here, which is the truly problematic and truly tainted picture of Israel/Diaspora relations it reflects, is largely ignored by us here in Israel. This relationship – which has faced multiple rough points recently, including the conversion issues – is, I believe, nearing its breaking point, the one at which the rhetoric which props it up will no longer be able to stand.

Zionism is anti-diaspora. By definition, Jews should not be living in a strange land. Just like Germans living in Russia, they should “come home” and be “repatriated”. They shouldn’t waste their lives and loyalties on “foreign lords”. Their highest loyalty should be to their home country, which is Israel.

Israel, on the other hand, is pro-diaspora. What an amazing idea – to have thousands of extremely rich people thinking they should be donating money to a government they do not benefit from at all! This is why Israel, which is essentially a rich country, keeps convincing the rich Jewish donors abroad that we have absolutely no money for anything. Our supreme court and parliament were built with money from Yad haNadiv, and so will our national library.

And now, the crunch: Israel needs Zionism to exist, because without ZIonism, Israel as a project (and not as a structure to collect taxes and trash) is sort of stupid, but Israel would also like (and due to gargantuan-scale privatization projects – needs) American cash and handouts.

M. Talansky claims that E. Olmert asked for cash and said that “it was the system”. Talansky tacitly assumed not only that it was indeed the system, and that Israel is a corrupt banana republic in which cash can be handed out to politicians, but that it was his holy duty as a Jew to uphold this corrupt system. Olmert defrauded Talansky by convincing him that the backwards Israeli government has no tax laws and no campaign-finance laws (when in fact we not only have them, but they’re much better than the American ones), and Talansky bought it, because it’s just another facet of the Israeli “poor us we need your handouts” attitude. This from a country with more billionaires than public libraries.

Olmert’s cash-taking and expensive taste are so symptomatic of this: he took “loans” so he could sleep at the Ritz, or buy cigars, or fly first class – all the while explaining to his benefactor Talansky that he needed the money, that it was for “expenses” and that this was “how the system works”.

The vicious circle should be stopped: Israel is not your country, diaspora Jews. It belongs to the Israelis who live in it. Please stop giving our government your money, please stop trying to influence us, and please stop talking about Zionism. Zionists would come live here and pay taxes.

The Tale of the Stupid and the Evil

The first Jewish University in history, the Hebrew University, was established in 1925, on mt. Scopus outside of Jerusalem. In 1948, when the state of Israel was established, the university was moved to several buildings in town – most notably the Terra Sancta College, which was returned to the Latin Patriarchate several years ago. The University became a public institute and was put to work churning out doctors and lawyers and teachers for the new state. Ben Gurion also made it part of his personal agenda to establish the Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, which is the world’s largest repository of copies of Hebrew manuscripts. Slowly, the universities became part and parcel of the governmental educational system, all the while sacrificing more and more of their financial freedom in return for promises of government money.

Less and less money, obviously, has been coming in, as the Israeli treasury is adopting not only a thatcherist economic worldview, but is run by a professional level that has no college education save in economics. So the universities are cutting back on chairs and lab funds and library money. 800 senior professors have left Israeli universities in the past ten years, an amount that is equal to the current number of professors at the Technion and the Weizmann Institute together. Anyone who has gone to an American college can remember at least one Israeli professor, I’m sure, and more PhD candidates and holders are leaving all the time.

The universities are also trying to save money by employing less and less fairly. Adjunct professors are fired every eight months so the universities won’t have to give them a pension plan. Research assistants are as well. The cleaning and security staff is outsourced to external contractors so the universities won’t have to give them benefits university employees are entitled to.

Against this backdrop, the senior faculty (i.e. tenure-track professors), is demanding that the government raise their salaries by 30%. The government will not budge. The professors chose not to direct their anger at the general deficiencies of the universities, because then their strike would be broken by the courts – so they focused on the fact that the public sector has received more pay raises in the past ten years than they have, and this is an argument the labor courts cannot counter, and under Israeli law the strike can go on indefinitely. The university presidents asked for injunction orders nontheless, which created a tremendous breech of trust between them and their former colleagues.

The students – who have been working and coping with a 50% courseload at the same time – are suffering both from the strike, which now looks as if it will cancel the semester, if not the school year – but also from the general state of higher education in Israel – don’t really know whom they should be supporting. Should it be the professors, who ignored the student’s strike last year, and who seem not to be starving (like the teachers, who just finished their strike) – or should it be the treasury, who is itching to implement a plan to triple tuition and fund less and less of the universities’ budget proportionately?

It is, quite truthfully, the battle of the stupid professors – who created a strike which excludes all but the richest of the universities’ employees – and the evil treasury, who would like nothing more than to stop government funding for all but the most necessary of sciences (which would be business administration, thanks for asking).

The professors and the treasury are meeting now to try and broker an agreement. The university presidents announced that if there is no settlement by friday noon, the universities in Israel will close – for the first time in their 80-year-history – until further notice.

(after reading this over I realized that the post is too long and still doesn’t explain everything in proper detail. But it will do for now, I suppose. I’ll probably have more time from sunday until further notice).

This is ostensibly the most serious and most frivolous post of the series (which will go on for so long as I have things to say about it – which seems like a while). Serious, since it deals with big issues like God and covenant and such. Frivolous, since whenever people talk about these big issues all they seem to be doing is avoiding Halakha and practice and going back to nonsense-talk. So I’ll be treading lightly and say little.

The basic gist of my mimetic theology is that the connection of most Jews to “Sinai” (i.e. Revelation) is through our parents and families. Not through ideas (like Muslims, for example) or through conviction and miracles (like BTs or Converts). We have no way of communing with God except through our parents. Now, obviously some of us will end up disagreeing with our parents and changing their mode of communion, which is fine – but the dialog and discourse about it has to return to the fact that without our traditions we have nothing but a big set of ideas floating around in the sky for people to take up for fun, no better than any other set of ideas out there. This could be the reason why Jewish-Buddhist syncretism, for example, abounds especially with people who have no meaningful connection to their parents and their traditions, and feel alienated from them.

The reason Jews choose to remain Jews is, by and large, since they don’t want to stop – not by opting in (although some gentiles opt-in, but that, again, is a different story). The only way to continue is to base yourself on the practice of your family and move from there. You can move both ways, but don’t lose your sights or your respect from your original point of departure – since that’s your connection to Sinai. (end theological rant).

“Creating a mimetic tradition” sounds like a contradiction in terms, and on a very fundamental level it is: if your tradition is based on what your elders did, then how can you (1) create one out of thin air or (2) change it? But mimetic tradition here is not a factual statement about a set of practices: it’s an outlook (with theological underpinnings – stay tuned for part III) which regulates but does not dictate Jewish practice.

Mimetic tradition can yield le-kula and le-humra, all the while assimilating new practices on the one hand and rejecting old ones on the other – and still maintaining its status as a mimetic tradition. Everyone knows old women whose kitchens surpass any halakhic standard set by any book, but who eat pork out. They rejected some parts of their mimetic tradition and kept others. Usually, their children are not mimetic Jews, but if they were, then you would see more and more people with lifestyles like that. If they were to form Jewish communities, they might even be able to formulate theological/halakhic justifications for their customs. Other descendants of these old ladies would start eating only kosher/hechshered out. But if they are mimetic Jews, their kitchens will maintian the super-halakhic standards of their (grand)mothers. Others still may stop keeping kosher, but cite their grandmothers as a reason for their practice. They, too, are mimetic Jews.

What I’m trying to say is that mimeticism is a consciousness – not a set of practices. It allows you to exercise judgment and innovate according to personal/new theology/halakha while maintianing the security and continuity with previous generations and with (dare I say it?) “Catholic Israel”. It also allows you to better appreciate other people’s practices while not accepting them yourself.

It goes without saying that some people will not want to be a part of a mimetic tradition and/or community. Some people grew up haredi and decided at some point not to be observant Jews at all. Others make the opposite trip. Both groups will have an inherent distrust of people who never made the trip, mocking either the “nonobservant” people who keep shabbat and not kashrut (or the other way around) or the “haredim” whose wives wear sheer stockings. (Obviously, the “natives” will also cast funny looks at the “newcomers”). But these people aren’t part of our discusscusion anyway. But for the rest of us, I think mimeticism is the best way in which to be able to maintain continuity while being able to accommodate every generation’s sensibilities and moral sense. Understanding the value of stability, and forcing oneself to at least acknowledge a departure from one’s parents’ observances (REAL PARENTS, not imagined eastern-european forebearers) and respect those observances for what they are – and in most cases, to accommodate changes within the mimetic framework – does all those good things I listed in the previous post.

But it also goes without saying that mimeticism is not a goal: it is a means to an end. If the mimetic tradition of one community is to always talk during the Rabbi’s sermon, its probably not worth keeping (but someone should talk to the Rabbi).

This past yom kippur I had some case-in-point thought about concrete examples for the flexibility of the mimetic tradition, and I’d like to share them with you. Having grown up in a modern Orthodox home, and essentially keeping a halakhic lifestyle, they aren’t too bombastic, but the principle is the same.

  1. I don’t wear a tallit, since I’m single. But on Yom Kippur, I do. This is my custom, but it was not my father’s custom. But for my children it will be “my father’s custom”. I understand other people (like my father) did not have this custom, but it was meaningful enough for me to become part of my mimetic tradition.

  2. My parents are not members of an egalitarian shul. But when invited to smachot and such, they will go to them. When I started davenning in egalitarian shuls, that was my precedent. I found halakhic justification, but I probably wouldn’t have looked if I hadn’t seen my parents doing it on occasion.

Next time – Part III, Theological Underpinnings

Mimetic Tradition, Part I

September 20, 2007

The Mimetic Tradition Rant

Left wing American Orthodox intellectuals have a “thing” for Mimetic tradition. It used to be the way people ran their lives, and it was moderate, and in-sync with the times, and it kept frumkeit at bay while allowing for preservation of Jewish identities and practice in the American melting pot. The loss of this mimetic tradition is blamed on more or less everything in the world: the Holocaust, yeshivot, Artscroll, the reform movement, the hechsher on Oreos – you name it.

But other groups of Jews have lost their mimetic traditions a long, long time ago, and these are the Liberal Jews. The name “liberal” doesn’t explain why this happened, but the older names – “Reform” and “Reconstructionist” do. The thinking was that the tradition was something antiquated and that it had to be changed and reformulated. After cataclysmic moves that reshape practice like that, three things can happen:

  1. The reform will be branded as antiquated itself and the entire system of practices will be abandoned (e.g. Israeli secularists)

  2. The reform will become holy and there will be frum reformed practicioners (e.g. Southern Baptists)

  3. There will be a new reform ever so often (e.g. The URJ)

All three kinds of responses are essentially fundamentalist responses. The assumption of the new generation raised in the reformed tradition is that there is a truth to be found (or not found) beyond the practices learned in the home/congregation. They all display a (quite modern and contemporary) basic mistrust of previous generations and their practices. (This distrust also exists in Orthodox communities, which are also funamentalist in this way. But that’s a different story, which way too many people have written about already).

None of the responses has the ability or the power, apparently, to create an ongoing mimetic tradition. Why is this important? Well, it has several functions.

  1. It creates a sense of security in custom and practice. “We drive to shul because we’ve always driven to shul”. “We play musical instruments because we’ve always done that”. It makes it much harder for the Orthodox – driven by the same sense of mimetic tradition – to convince the Liberal crowd that they’re inot authentic enough.

  2. It creates a sense of holiness in the community. Shuls and communities suddently become ongoing bodies with long pasts and rituals that have nothing to do with who happens to be the Rabbi at the time. There is a sense of confidence in the community as an ongoing autonomous body.

  3. It creates trust and continuity between parents and children.

  4. It creates a sense of being educated and informed – the custom belongs to the congregation and not the Rabbi.

It also has some drawbacks. It hinders change (somewhat). It creates a sometimes false sense of trust in things that should really be changed. It is essentially foreign to our concept of personal autonomy.

But the greatest advantage of mimetic tradition is CONFIDENCE. It creates a framework where people are comfortable about who they are and what their tradition is, and they can relate in a pluralistic way to others and their traditions. “I put soup on the blech on shabbos. That’s what my mother did”. “I don’t comb my hair on shabbos. That’s what my father did”. “Oh, your minhag is to use electricity on yontif? That’s nice.” It makes sure nobody comes around and tries to be a halakhic dictator, like the CJLS tries to from time to time, like with the eating dairy out thing. And it also makes sure you don’t need to be a Rabbi or go to Rabbinical school to know how to behave Jewishly.

A mimetic tradition also helps those who have none because they can adopt one instead of going back to (usually silly and usually haredi) books and guides when they’re looking for help and/or frumkeit. You ask other people what they do – and thus save yourself the embarrasment and/or sheer silliness of not knowing what to do. It will also minimize the role of the Rabbi in congregations, who has to invent directives for people off the cuff every other week – and usually leaves the shul by the time a new generation comes around asking for advice.

But how do you form a mimetic tradition? That’s for the next post.

On the Shtibl

June 29, 2007

People who have little or no income often have to cut back on cultural activities. It’s a sad fact of life that those things which enrich the mind are commodities that can usually only be acquired with money: books, plays, concerts, CDs and digital music, as well as trips abroad cost money. A book in Israel costs 70 NIS, which is roughly four hours of minimum wage work. A movie costs 35 NIS excluding popcorn.

That’s why the shtibl is an amazing institution. All you need is a tiny room, and the people who frequent it each give as much as they can, with or without government and city aid, and it fills with benches and bookshelves. If you have a spare 15 minutes you can drop in there and sit down to enrich yourself. Once in a while there will be a speaker – sometimes every day. There is someone who makes it his business to keep tea in a backroom for whoever wants to come. And its all free.

I’m not going to gloss over the problems of the shtibl – the gender inequality, the haredi bent of the literature and speakers – but just think what an egalitarian-progressive shtibl could be like!

Come and Get Me

June 24, 2007

There is talk of making this illegal, and the shabak has already said they’ll be tracking thoughts like this, so here:

אני מעוניין לשנות את אופייה היהודי של המדינה

אני הייתי רוצה שמדינת ישראל תהיה מדינת כל אזרחיה

It doesn’t really matter what my opinion is – I want to make sure it is impossible to track the thinkers and censor their thoughts. So I encourage you to write the above sentences on your blog, post them on websites, and email them to your friends. Tell big brother to shut up for once.

(what the news would look like,if this were a Jew anywhere else in the world)

Tel Aviv, Israel – In a new outburst of hate crimes after a cessation of several years, Israel Police reported that  Tiasir Karkowitz,  a Jewish cab driver of 35 was murdured by a french-muslim immigrant who confessed. “I wanted to kill a Jew”. The immigrant, Mohammed Mohammed was taken into custody by the shin bet and will be brought before a military tribunal tomorrow. Mohammed’s military attorney, Maj. Hannan Humaniskowitz said he would try to convince the court that Mohammed was insane, but Police said he obviously wasn’t. “He clearly said he wanted to kill Jews,” said Tel Aviv’s Police spokesperson, who added, off the record that he thought all Arabs should be shot at dawn.

All members of the Knesset united in strong opposition to Krakowitz’s murder. “Hate crimes against Jews should be a thing of the past,” said the Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, who earlier signed a demolition order for Mohammed’s family’s home. Border Police were instructed to clamp down on the borders and IDF military units were put on alert.

I trust Schochat

May 13, 2007


אני סומך על שוחט

עמית גבריהו

בימים האחרונים עושה
רושם שאגודות הסטודנטים של האוניברסיטאות מתקפלות אחת אחת בפני חבורות
בריונים מטעם עצמם שהחליטו לקחת את ניהול מאבק הסטודנטים לידיהם
הם מציגים את הפעילות שלהם כבאה


אבל לי עושה רושם שבפוטש מזהיר את
לקחו את השלטון מידי האגודות שנבחרו בצורה דמוקרטית לידיהם הפרטיות
ותחת מסווה של מחאה נגד שכר הלימוד
נערכים לפוצץ את הסמסטר

יש טענות מטענות
שונות נגד וועדת שוחט וההמלצות שהיא תציג או לא תציג לממשלה
יש כמה וכמה דרכים לומר שוועדת שוחט
לא היתה צריכה לקום
ועכשיו שקמה נוח לה שלא קמה.
אבל המאבק הזה הוא לא נגד וועדת שוחט,
ולא על שכר הלימוד בכלל.
המאבק הזה התחילה כי היו כמה אנשים
שהריחו דם והחליטו שהממשלה חלשה


אז זה זמן טוב להופיע הרבה בטלוויזה.
אגודות הסטודנטים,
שניסו לנהל מאבק אחראי,
וחתמו על מסמך הבנות מול שרת החינוך,
נסחפו בזרם הכללי של מלחמת הכלבכל
שנוצר פה אחרי דו
וינוגרד השני

קל להתחיל שביתה,
אבל לא קל לסיים אותה.


במקרה הזה,
אי אפשר לסיים אותה משום שהאגודות
איבדו את השליטה על ציבור הסטודנטים
ועכשיו כל דאלים גבר.

אני לא סומך על
מפוצצי שיעורים מטעם עצמם
אני לא סומך על איתי שונשיין מן
המכללה למנהל שמנסה להוצי ממשלמי המיסים כסף למכללות הפרטיות
אני לא סומך על סטודנטים בני עשרים
ושלוש שיכירו בערך של לימוד לשם לימוד ומחקר לשם מחקר שמייצגת
האוניברסיטאות והם מבזים
בצדק ולעיתים שלא בצדק
בכל רגע של שביתה.


האלימות והשנאה שמעוררת המחאה חסרת התוחלת הזאת הן כאלה שהגעתי למצב
שאני לא סומך יותר על מנהיגים סטודנטיאליים כאלה ואחרים
משום שהם סבורים
שאין להם מה להפסיד והם נלחמים עד טיפת הדם האחרונה
גישה כזו היא
בעייתית מאוד בכל מצב
ובמיוחד בסכסוכי
אפשר לקרוא למצב הזה סכסוך עבודה

מה נשאר לי
האגודה חסרת שליטה
על הסטודנטים
אלימות פיזית
הופכת לנחלתם של הסטודנטים שמתנגדים לבריונים מטעם עצמם


האוניברסיטאות נגדי
אין לי על מי
אבל אולי אני יכול
לסמוך על שוחט

על שוחט
כי הוא בוגר.
כי בכל זאת איכפת
לו מכל מיני דברים כמו נגישות להשכלה גבוהה
וכי הוא היחיד שלא
מאויים או מאיים
הוא יציג את עמדתו
בפני הממשלה


היא תקבל או תדחה
המסקנות יובאו
לשולחן הדיונים – ואז נבחן אותם
בשיקול דעת.
לא בפזיזות.

אני אשנא את המסקנות
אבל אני יודע שאף
אחד ממשרד האוצר לא ירביץ לי אם אני אפגין נגדן או אנסה לשכנע חברי כנסה
להצביע נגדן


אולי הן ירעו מעט
את מצב הסטודנטים בתמורה לשיפור במצב האוניברסיטאות
יותר תקנים לעוזרי הוראה ומחקר – שהם סטודנטים
יהיו מה שיהיו,
המסקנות לא ינסו
להרוויח הון פוליטי על הגב שלי או לבטל אותי מתורה

בשביתה הזאת
אבל היא מנוהלת על
ידי ילדים בני שמונה
אז אולי כדאי
שהסטודנטים יחזרו להיות ילדים ויתנו למבוגרים אחראים להחליט מה טוב