Category Archives: rabbis

The Clergyman’s Aura

The Reverend Al Sharpton preached his first sermon at the age of four.  But he was not formally ordained a clergyman until much later, when he was nine.  The alleged rabbinic ordination of the “spiritually progressive”  Michael Lerner of California (like our new President, thrice married) cannot be verified at all.   Moreover, a few minutes spent on Google will present anyone so minded with many opportunities for achieving rapid clerical ordination, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Other,  with little effort and at little or no cost.  On the other hand, the more demanding New York based  Rabbinical Seminary International” (under the same management as the “All Faiths Seminary International”) does require three long days of in-house training and a fee of $5000 for full, presumably legal ordination as rabbi.

Such aberrations within the clerical calling are not the norm for the whole profession.  But they point to more general problems.  First, not everyone can tell the impostor from the real thing.  Second, as is true in the medical profession, the most harmful of the charlatans often carry legitimate credentials.  And third, the line between the specious and the genuine is not always easily ascertainable.

The basic, insurmountable problem with the clerical profession lies in its borderless area of alleged competence.  True, the major religions all have a body of scripture and a further body of ritual that its clergy is expected to master.  But this core of expected competence is just the beginning.  In and by themselves these core subjects may qualify a person as an expert, perhaps a scholar of religion.  Ordination as clergy, on the other hand, involves something much larger, viz. the assumption of a spiritual aura which is never explicitly delimited.

In Roman Catholicism, this aura comes closest to being precisely defined.  A Catholic priest is said to have such supernatural powers as the forgiveness of sin and the  power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In other religions the clerical aura is more implied than expressed, but my Conservative Jewish denomination holds that a local rabbi, alone, has the power of mara d’atra, the power to decide on Jewish law in his locality.

More broadly, the aura of the clergy is generally understood to involve overall wisdom and righteousness.

Wisdom:  there seems to be an expectation that a clergyman’s advice is somehow superior to that of a random acquaintance.  Clergymen are known to dispense advice on how to lead better lives in their sermons and in private conversation, even though there is nothing in the training or background of a clergyman that would lead us to assume that, qua clergyman, his wisdom is more reliable than, say, your mother’s.  Often the clerical advice is wildly inappropriate to anyone with specialized experience.  I remember an occasion some years ago when I was present at a rabbi’s exhortation to his flock to be more productive in their professional lives.  No doubt aware of the fact that there were some academics in his audience, the rabbi opined that one should work on and complete “that paper you are working on.”  I noticed a junior professor who gave a knowing smile.  How apt, how true, how helpful, she seemed to be saying to herself.  But to anyone with some experience in academia, the urge to publish, while perhaps helpful in furthering a career, is more often than not an urge to perpetuate intellectual malfunction.  A more thoughtful advice would have been to study more, to do better research, and to refrain from publishing until you have something important to say.  In short, the rabbi’s advice was conventional, careerist, and basically unethical.

Clergymen are also presumed by those who respect them to lead exemplary lives.  The ones I have encountered have as many failed marriages, narcissistic behavior, and inadequate people skills as anyone else.  And yet we are expected to show them more deference than we show the waiter in a restaurant.  Why ?

Righteousness:  here I address myself particularly to the do-gooders of Reform and Conservative Judaism, but also to the liberal Protestant groups, the Unitarians, the Universalists, the (liberal) Presbyterians, etc., although conservative groups have their own forms of such sanctimony.

The job descriptions for rabbis that I have found on the websites of the Conservative and Reform Jewish seminaries all include references to a rabbi’s obligation to advocate tikkun olam, i.e. healing of the world;  to work for social justice;  to be, in short, a political and social activist.  But the curricula of these schools do not include any in-depth study of social or economic problems, and certainly no technical tools — for instance social statistics — to analyze the social problems of the day.  In other words, these clergymen are required to be dilettantes.  Go ahead, they are told, you must ceaselessly opine on social issues, but never, ever, must you learn anything about, say, multivariate analysis.  I have sat through many an ignorant discourse by clergy, citing mangled statistics and misinterpreted bits of social data, all delivered in tones of officious self-righteousness.  Does this kind of social discourse serve the cause of social betterment ?  Or rather, as I would argue, the very opposite ?

We are left with the problem of aura.  By virtue of his anointment or ordination, a clergyman is often presumed to have powers of intellect and character that he obviously does not possess. Of course we also encounter a certain ambivalence.  Perhaps for the very reason of the presumed aura, there is sometimes a tendency to be hypercritical of clergy.  The minister or priest or rabbi when perceived to fall short  may be judged more harshly than would someone not expected to have the aura.

Whatever the outcome, it seems to me that the clerical aura that comes with ordination, originating as it did in an earlier era, causes misapprehensions, false expectations, and foolishly sanctimonious social action.  At least outside of the Catholic Church, we would be better off without the institution of ordination.  Protestant and Jewish congregations could hire religious professionals on the basis of demonstrated knowledge and skills, without any presumption of extraordinary wisdom or righteousness.  Insofar as there may be a need for “spiritual” leadership beyond professional skill, this would have to be demonstrated in each case by action and behavior and examined critically and skeptically,  rather than deduced from pieces of paper issued by a seminary.

It’s My Synagogue, But Count Me Out

The synagogue in Brooklyn where our dues go — Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill — co-sponsored an event last week which I did not attend.  The event was entitled “How Do We Talk About Israel:  the Rabbis’ Dilemma,” and was co-sponsored by an entity “Institute for Living Judaism in Brooklyn” (ILJB).

First of all: how and why is Israel a “dilemma” ?  It is not a dilemma for the majority of American Jews (if you can trust the polls), and certainly not for the many thousands who attend AIPAC meetings, attend Salute to Israel parades, and have voted, in their majority, against Finding Fault With Israel (FFWI) candidates, like Bernard Sanders and Jill Stein.  Yes, I know, there are FFWI groups like JStreet and some others, but, to go by the published figures, all these FFWI formations, taken together, are in a minority.  Perhaps a significant minority by now, but a minority nonetheless.

Now back to the “How Do We Talk” event.  The speakers, all described as rabbis, are also described in a Jewish Week ad as “5 prominent Rabbis” (sic), The ILJB website further calls them “leading members of the rabbinate.”  How does one become, after ordination, a “leading” or “prominent” rabbi ?  I never heard of these people before, and neither does an internet search reveal either leadership or prominence for any of them.  At the very best these adjectives are puffery, at the worst they are an attempt to mislead.

On the other hand, an internet search of these five shows that at least four of them are associated with Finding Fault with Israel groups.  Two are listed as part of JStreet;  one is part of the New Israel Fund;  a fourth is part of T’ruah.  None of the five, insofar as I could find, are associated with no-nonsense pro-Israel work.  Would you find any at an AIPAC conference or on a Salute to Israel parade ?  I doubt it.

Now I realize that in my “progressive” part of Brooklyn there are many Jews who are inclined in a FFWI direction, and I would welcome productive and courteous discussion with them.  But when a forum is so clearly stacked, count me out !

Gay and anti-Israel; Why ?

The Homosexual Factor

Among the most vociferous and the most radical of the Jews who have declared themselves against Israel — think Noam Chomsky, think Judith Butler, think Glenn Greenwald, think Norman Finkelstein — a good proportion, say 50%, also declare themselves gay or lesbian. (In this abbreviated listing that would be Butler and Greenwald. ) So here is a kashe, as we say in Yiddish, a hard question. And not only is it a kashe, it’s considered absolutely impolite to even mention it (so much more reason to pose it) : Why are many of the publicly visible, radical anti-Israel Jews also publicly gay ? There does not appear to be any necessary or logical or indeed reasonable connection. And yet, I will argue, the connection is as observable as it is puzzling and it cries out for investigation.

 

When I was a young graduate student in New York in the 1950’s, I became interested in why so many Communists were Jewish, a question on which I wrote my PhD in 1956. The answer at which I arrived was basically historical, having to do with the traditional European political Left/Right alignments in which the Left supported, and the Right opposed, the emancipation of Jews. My dissertation work elicited a certain amount of pushback from people who feared that the airing of the question would enflame anti-Semitic prejudices. The editors of one influential journal of opinion (which exists to this day) accepted an article I wrote based on my dissertation, only to have its board members spike it. But overall, my work soon became accepted (and would today be considered just a piece of conventional wisdom).

 

Among the similarities to what I propose here, I never suggested that most Jews were Communists, only that a very disproportionate number of American Communists were Jews. That was simply a fact in that period. My work differed from the conventional views at the time in that I looked for explanations beyond the professed ideology of the people involved, the Jewish Communists. They of course insisted that the motives for their political commitment be found in the humanitarian professions of their movement. My explanation, in contrast, looked to non-professed factors, in this case the social position of Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. Similarly, I will argue here that the RJAI(Radical Jews Against Israel)-LGBT entanglement must be explained by factors beyond the professed views of the participants.

 

Now, back to the issue at hand, the RJAI movement of our day and its entanglement with the LGBT phenomenon. To begin, some disclaimers.

 

1) I do not say that all, or most, or even a disproportionate number of gay Jews are anti-Israel. The high proportion that I will describe is not an attribute of group JG (Jewish gays) but rather of group RAIJ (radical anti-Israel Jews). Of these, the RAIJ’s, a high proportion is (probably) gay.

 

2) While my main concern is with the radical group of anti-Israel folks, the line between radical and moderate is sometimes fluid. Moreover, radicalism sometimes (mis)represents itself as moderation.

 

3) The evidence that I will adduce is, on the whole, suggestive rather than conclusive. To put this another way, I would describe my case as one of a balance of probabilities rather than of a proof beyond reasonable doubt.

 

The most basic fact to keep in mind is the actually very low number of gay people in the population. The actual proportion seems to hover around two or three percent, depending on how the data are gathered and interpreted. But though low in numbers, and possibly because of this, homosexuality is widely noticed, and the impression is created that it is more common than it actually is. There is a German saying, bekannt sein wie ein bunter Hund, well-known like a rainbow-colored dog. Rainbow-colored dogs are not common, but (if and) when they occur, they arouse attention. An expression from Latin, rara avis, rare bird, carries the same meaning.

 

This actually very low incidence of homosexuality in the general population implies, of course, that the statistically expected number of homosexuals in any sub-group is also very low. But the empirical investigation of the question is made difficult by the fact that, generally, it is not publicly ascertainable who is and who is not gay. But in certain exceptional cases we do have figures that are reasonably reliable.

 

The great public interest in the personal lives of politicians has resulted in an apparently reliable counting of gays in the US Congress. It appears that of the 100 current members of the Senate, one is gay; of the 435 current members of the House, six are gay. So out of 535 members of Congress, seven, or 1.3%, are gay. This is somewhat lower than the expected proportion, but, given all the imprecisions of available data, well within expected margins.

 

The point to remember here is this: it is unusual to find more than, say, five percent in any group that is homosexual. As we saw, the percentage is exactly 1.3% among the leading American politicians who constitute the Congress, . A homosexual, statistically, is a rara avis in most social environments. And if we find a group or profession or movement in which the proportion of homosexuals is at all substantial, that circumstance requires attention and analysis.

 

In some ways similar to elected officials, pulpit rabbis commonly disclose their sexual orientation. And more to the point for our present purposes, their views on Israel are also generally known. In the city of New York, there are at least two pulpit rabbis who are harsh opponents of Israel. Both are lesbian.

 

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann is the spiritual leader of Kolot Chayenu, an anti-Israel synagogue in Brooklyn. Her wife, Kathryn Conroy, is not Jewish but is called the “rebbetzin” of the congregation. She explains that she will not convert (to Judaism) because “I cannot convert to anything because I am already who I am and what I am going to continue to be.” As for the Rabbi herself, it would be tedious to enumerate all the anti-Israel declarations she has signed; here is one.

 

The other anti-Israel congregation in New York is Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, whose spiritual leader is the lesbian Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. Unlike Rabbi Lippmann’s, Rabbi Kleinbaum’s partner, Randi Weingarten, is Jewish.   There is some question, as there is indeed also in the case of Lippmann, whether Kleinbaum’s anti-Israel positions are extreme or more moderate. My own take is that these positions are indeed extreme but are often veiled in moderate-sounding formulas. The issue is discussed in an article by Debra Kamin.

 

There are not many openly anti-Israel pulpit rabbis in North America, and some of these, for example Brant Rosen of Chicago and David Mivasair on Vancouver, are not homosexual. It may well be that homosexuals among the anti-Israel rabbis are a minority. But they are not the very small minority, as the homosexual proportions in the general population would lead us to expect. At the very least, they are a substantial minority.

 

Both Rabbi Lippmann and Rabbi Kleinbaum sit on the Rabbinic Council of the radically anti-Israel Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), together with at least two other lesbian rabbis (Nancy Wiener and Carrie Carter). That makes at least four lesbians on a board of sixteen.

 

As for JFREJ, I have written about the group in 2013 and again in 2015. Briefly, it is as radical an anti-Israel formation as is imaginable. At the same time, to quote from its own website:

 

(Question) I came to the Meyer Awards on the last night of Hanukkah and I noticed that there were a lot of queer Jews. JFREJ isn’t explicitly [gay] but it seems pretty queer. It seems to me that being a LGBTQ individual and JFREJ sort of go hand in hand.(Answer) JFREJ is not exclusively queer but we work within an explicit anti-oppression framework. Because of that JFREJ is safe place for LGBTQ people as well a place  to celebrate the LGTBQ community. We’re not explicitly queer but, yeah it can be pretty gay.

 

JFREJ is a New York organization. As I have shown on my blogs, its leadership overlaps to a large extent with the national Jewish Voices for Peace.   JVP, in turn, is recognized as the most vocal, the most aggressive, and the most visible of the (ostensibly) Jewish anti-Israel formations. Camera has given us a useful summary of the available information on this group.

 

To what extent is JVP gay or lesbian ? For obvious reasons there are no hard data, but the impression created by the overlap with known gay-related groups, such as JFREJ and Kolot Chayenu, is that there is a disproportionately high gay, especially lesbian component in JVP. When I looked at the group’s IRS disclosure form in 2010, I found that two of the five female board members were also active in lesbian causes.

 

Phyllis Chesler, in a revealing article some four years ago, has contributed some valuable first-hand observations of the obverse of our problem, what she calls the “Palestinization” of the radical lesbian movement; i. e. the fact that among the radical lesbians it is taken for granted that participants are also militant foes of the Jewish state.

 

In short, there is the inescapable conclusion of a sizable overlap between Jewish anti-Israel activism and the politicized section of the homosexual movement. Again, whether we speak of the absolutely rabid Max Blumenthal or the more moderate Tony Kushner, or the Trotskyist Sherry Wolf, we see a disproportionately high number of homosexuals among the Jewish foes of Israel. Of course there are counter-examples. Noam Chomsky is not gay, nor is Naomi Klein, nor are any number of others. But keeping in mind the demographics of homosexuality that I have stressed, anything higher than, say, five percent homosexuals among the RAIJ would be disproportionate. The actual percentage — impossible to state with precision — is likely to be ten times that or more. Another way of putting this is to observe that If the number of gays and lesbians in the RAIJ movement were proportionate to their representation in the general population, we would have to find between twenty and thirty straight RAIJ folks for every gay one. You will not find anything like that.

 

So here is the nexus: homosexuality/RJAI. That is not a hard thing to recognize. What is hard and possibly impossible to answer, the real kashe, is the why. Why is there this nexus ? What explains it ? What are the motives ? Why, in other words, controlling for the demographics, is it so much more likely for a homosexual to become RJAI than for a straight person ?

 

To begin, it is helpful to consider two questions separately: a. professed motivations, and b. the possibly non-professed motives behind the nexus.

 

If we were to ask a homosexual RJAI about his or her dual commitment, we might get a reply something like this: homosexuals belong to an oppressed group and they therefore have a natural affinity for other oppressed groups, in this case Palestinians. We Jewish LGBT people are the natural allies of all the disadvantaged and oppressed, and in particular favor the struggle against Zionism, against Islamophobia, against homophobia, against racism. I think that this is a fair restatement of the language found on RJAI pronouncements; the professed motivations are invariably couched in universalist humanitarian terms.

 

I will not belabor the illogic of this professed humanitarianism. The flaws have been pointed out many times, for instance by Cary Nelson with regard to Judith Butler, and are as familiar as they are disheartening. In a word: the self-professed humanitarian concern by RJAI for Palestinians is not matched by any comparable concern on their part for the gross human rights abuses in the Islamic world. The most striking hypocrisy of the LGBT-RJAI’s, of course, is their quietism — read implied approbation — of the persecution of gay and lesbian people by the militant Islamic regimes, most particularly in Gaza and Iran.

 

The very extreme nature of the RJAI agitation against Israel is an important aspect of this movement. Greenwald and Blumenthal in particular (together with Chomsky) are rarely far from demanding the physical annihilation of Israeli Jews. In view of the sometimes extreme malice in this agitation it is often difficult to maintain detachment in discussing this topic.

 

Now, if the professed motives for the (militant) LGBT-RJAI nexus must be dismissed, there remains the set of non-professed, and perhaps non-conscious, and in any case illogical motivations. Here we enter a murky field of interpretation and speculation. The easy psychoanalytic social interpretations that served previous generations, having generally been found wanting in their explanatory value, are no longer available to us, tempting as they may seem.

 

I have read a fair amount of the self-explanations by LGBT-RJAI individuals, and I have encountered a fair number of such people, mostly young, in person. I will give my impressions with the proviso that I do not insist on them as the final word.

 

The LGBT-RJAI folks I have met and read are often angry in a very diffuse way.   Not only are they furious at Israel, they also tend to identify with the other political radicalisms of the day;  they like to think of themselves as in revolt against everything that the Left-du-jour  is against.  They often feel that their straight parents and the straight people of their parents’ generation do not understand them or their special needs and gifts. Most of all they are angry at what they conceive as (straight) conventional society and (straight) conventional values. The “establishment” is seen as a threat and an enemy. This “establishment,” also known as the One Percent, is supportive of Israel. And Israel, like any part of an establishment, can easily be shown to fall short of the absolute purity that is traditionally demanded by absolutist radicals of all persuasions. As Nelson writes of Judith Butler, there is “the deployment of an abstract, universalizing concept of ‘justice,'” but only, of course, when it comes to the domains controlled by the enemy.

 

In other words, LGBT-RJAI is angry, angry, angry. I do not think that anything that Israel could possibly do or say would reduce this anger, no more, indeed, than anything that the (straight) “establishment” could do or say. My suggestion here is that the professed ideology of the LGBT-RJAI movement — humanitarian idealism — is largely irrelevant to the actual motivations and energies and furies of these largely young people.

 

So, my answer to the kashe that I posed at the beginning is this: the relatively small cadre of gays and lesbians within the RJAI movement is driven by personal furies to energize and stimulate and mobilize a movement that is larger than they. Given the anti-Semitic implications of their work, these Jewish “militants” may very well live to regret the consequences of their activities.

 

Hat tip:  Rita Cohn, Richard Klagsbrun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The "Rabbis" of the "Jewish" Voice for "Peace"

4/1/1933. Nazis inaugurate the Holocaust by putting on a Day of Boycott: “Don’t Buy from the Jews”

OK, you hate Israel. You want to punish Israel, to boycott Israel, even as the Nazis began their war against the Jews by a “boycott” of Jewish enterprise back in 1932. Boycott, divestment, sanction. Punish the Jews !

But how can you contribute to this cause in a novel way ? As a beginning, call your campaign one of “peace.” The word “hate” has a bad reputation, so look, call it “peace.”

Second, hey, here is a new concept. Call your group “Jewish.” Why not ? Is there a law against calling yourself Jewish ? Besides, so many of your friends are Jewish. And come to think of it, there was this old aunt ….

Now we’re on to something. Just one more thing: can we get a Rabbinical Council of some sort to make it all legit ? Great. The Jewish Voice for Peace is born, Rabbinical Council and all, to demand the dismantlement of Israel, pronto.

I know, all this sounds like a joke, but in fact it’s dead serious. So serious that the Anti-Defamation League has just named this “Jewish Voice for Peace” as one of the top ten anti-Israel groups in America. Click here for the ADL report on the group. And click here for Adam Holland’s earlier report.

This JVP, how many members does it have ? Holland thinks there may be about a thousand, but there is no way of telling for sure. And of these, how many are Jewish by some reasonable definition ? I do not know, but the group itself, on its website, says that it includes “many non-Jewish Americans.” Ah, “many,’ that great flexible adjective so beloved by the evasive. “Many” can mean anything from ‘quite a few,’ to ‘the majority,’ to ‘almost all.’ Which is it, JVP ?
I will not guess. But there is no need to guess about the “rabbis” who are listed by JVP as members of its “New Rabbinical Council.” As we shall see, sixteen out of these twenty-seven Rabbinical Council members, or sixty percent, cannot, by any reasonable definition, be called Jewish rabbis.

Here are some excerpts from the website of one of these, whom I shall call X., which, broadly speaking, illustrates the problem:

Rabbi X. received סמיכה (Smichah, Ordination) in 1977. In keeping with the ancient Talmudic and early Hassidic traditions, he did not attend Yeshivah (Seminary); rather, in 1970, he attached himself as a student to Rabbi Y. of New York and studied under the direction of Rabbi Z. and Rabbis A. ז”ל and B. for some seven years. Finally, in 1977, when his teachers determined that he was ready, they ordained him a rabbi.

In the early 1980s, Rabbi X. served for two years as the spiritual leader of Temple C., a Reform congregation in D.. He has also led less formal fellowship groups (havurot) in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Georgia, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He served for eight years as a hospital and hospice chaplain, with a specialty in Mental Health Chaplaincy.

Rabbi X. has taught classes and led workshops and seminars at churches, synagogues, and other spiritual centers throughout the United States and Canada. His subjects have included Kabbalah (the Jewish metaphysical tradition and the foundation of all Western mysticism), Self-Esteem, Prosperity, Forgiveness, the Metaphysical Interpretation of Scripture, Spiritual Tales of Many Traditions, the Divine Commandment of Non-Violence, the Unity of Religious Traditions, and many related areas. His audiences have included synagogue groups, Silva Mind Control Centers, Vedanta Centers, and Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Unity, Religious Science, Science of Mind, and Divine Science churches in twenty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and three Canadian provinces.

When asked about his approach to Kabbalah, Rabbi X. asserts that, while Kabbalah is clearly and unmistakably the Jewish mystical tradition, it is also much more than that. Unlike many other religious traditions, whose mystical elements are hidden or consigned to the status of an additional or peripheral aspect, Judaism’s mystical aspect is its heart and soul, its essence, its very life-force. Furthermore, Kabbalah, in addition to being the heart of Judaism, is also, as Rabbi X. puts it, “a body of ancient and universal mystical wisdom which, while preserved in a Jewish form, is applicable to every religious tradition.”

In describing his own theological orientation, Rabbi X. declares, “I am a Jewish practitioner of generic religion. As a G*d-worshipper, I believe, I ought to be at home any place G*d is worshipped. At home, not just a visitor.” Religion — all religion — is intended to be a force to bring people together — together with each other and together with G*d — and not to drive them apart. All our many Names for G*d do not divide G*d and should not be permitted to divide us. Separations and divisions are inherently irreligious acts.

So much for “Rabbi” X. Of the twenty-seven of JVP’s Rabbinical Council, eight are identified as rabbinical students, and another Council member is said to be a cantor. That leaves eighteen who are said to be rabbis. Of these eighteen there are three who appear to have had a standard Reform Jewish ordination, but one of these three, now aged 89, is long retired. In addition to these three with apparently traditional rabbinical training, there are eight who seem to have received training and ordination at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. These eleven — three Reform and eight Reconstructionist — would all seem to have some claim to be considered Jewish rabbis.

The distribution of these JVP rabbis along denominational lines, then, is as follows: Reform: 36%; Reconstruction: 73%; Conservative: 0%; Orthodox: 0%. We can compare this distribution to that of synagogue-affiliated American Jews, who, according to the 2002 American Jewish Population Study, are 33% Reform, 3% Reconstruction, 21% Orthodox, 33% Conservative, and 4% other.

Seven of the members of the JVP Rabbinical Council, or 39% of those for whom there is a claim of rabbininal ordination, were privately ordained — essentially self-ordained, like Mr. X above.

Self-ordination is of course a general feature of the less savory aspects of American public life. Politicians and others sometimes refer to themselves as the Rev. This or the Rev. That, often with little more justification than that of Mr. X., pardon me, Rabbi X. There seems to be no law to prevent this silly self-aggrandizement, and often little harm is done; few are seriously misled. But here, in the case of the “Jewish Voice for Peace,” something much more sinister is involved: an audacious, very energetic, very well financed initiative by enemies of the Jews to create an appearance of substantial Jewish support to them. I do not believe that there is such a substantial support. If there were, the JVP would have had no need to fabricate one.

Finally, there are other indications that the JVP leadership is highly unrepresentative of Jewish life. The group’s IRS Form 990, showing its board members and other interesting information, lists five women among its trustees. Of these, two are also identified on the Internet as involved with Lesbian causes. But none, as far I can see, are concerned with such humanitarian issues as hunger, oppression, or disease in Africa or other parts of the Third World. I cannot tell all the possible areas of private compassion of these JVP leaders, but as far as the public record is concerned, none of their compassion is expended for Jewish targets of Islamic terror, for example, or indeed for anyone at all except Palestinians.

Read CAMERA’s report on JVP

Read Frontpagemag’s report on JVP

When the Authority Figures Improvise

If a person doesn’t know, should he improvise an answer, or should he admit that he doesn’t know ?

Here is an example from the field of Jewish studies, one in which I am not expert at all. It concerns a problem I have encountered in the Hebrew prayer book, and I have made an effort to consult a number of experts with whose help, and that of books they recommended, I found what I believe to be the correct answer.

The problem arises from the daily Amidah prayer, part of which I reproduce here:

(Text, transliteration, and translation courtesy of a Christian group).

Now here is the problem. In the first line shown above, the prayer addresses G’d twice, each time asking, rhetorically, “who is like you ?,” each time using a personal, second person pronoun-suffix. The first time the pronoun-suffix is used,  in “khamokha,” G’d appears to be addressed as a male, but the second time, in “lakh,” G’d appears to be a woman.

How is this apparent inconsistency to be explained ?

Ask people charged with being knowledgeable about such things, and you will get one of three answers:

1) I do not know.

2) Since G’d is neither male nor female, the writers of this prayer here indicate the gender neutrality of the deity by alternating the grammatical gender indicators. Some variation of this is the most commonly elicited answer. It happens to be ignorant, wrong, and unacceptable from one whose professional responsibility is to either know better or, at least, to understand the limitations of his own knowledge.

3) The correct answer, which I will not fully give away here, can be found by consulting a work on pausal forms in the history of the Hebrew language, for example pp. 96-98 of Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, Second English Edition, 1910.

The problem with improvising knowledge about materials that come to us from the past is that this improvisation tends to be in the direction of what is now, currently, fashionable. In the case at hand, the improvised interpretation looks at the ancient text in the light of current, fashionable “gender fairness.” Historians call this error one of anachronism.

Why is this kind of error so bad ? To put it most briefly, it robs us of understanding the text at hand. It suggests meanings to the prayers we utter that these prayers do not contain. In short, in this case, it reduces the actual Hebrew text to a mumbojumbo of phrases that are recited by rote without understanding.

For a stimulating discussion of gender in Jewish prayer, see the article by Lois C. Dubin

Hat tip:  Professor Alan F. Segal