The Sunken Synagogue
pa vezer o vageal e kreiz e klever a-wechoù un trouz iskis:
kleier ur sinagogenn a zo o seniñ dindan ar mor...
Jesus Christ Superstar and Israel's Existential Crisis
When I look at Israel today, it appears nothing less than vibrant: green trees; flowers; new homes going up; busy, talkative people. I may complain about the lousy architecture and poor urban planning, lack of manners, etc., but I know that's just the result of this country and its culture being put together too fast to attend to all the details. It's easy to overlook the negatives, and just appreciate the beauty, the movement, and the sheer excitement of being in a land reborn.
But it's not my purpose today to write about how great Israel is. I'm writing today about the 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar
I recognize that I may be at odds, on the one hand, with most other Jews in the world who have no interest in watching it, and on the other, with the Christians who love it and are moved by it to greater faith; but even as a religious Jew, this film is as near and dear to me as Fiddler On the Roof
Why? Let me first disclaim that I find no Christian message in the film; on the contrary, it demonstrates just how unqualified Jesus was to be the messiah, and the irrational, vacillating devotion of his followers. At its core, J. C. Superstar
is a story about Jews living and dying in Judea in the confused and troubled early decades of the first millenium CE, and about one messianic movement in particular that got out of hand. It's set and filmed in the same Jewish land where I now live, and save for a few Romans, the characters are all Jews, as are many of the actors. And the musical numbers are great.
This is not your average religious film—it's flamboyant, experimental, humorous, and shocking. Despite the time and the place, the cast is White, Black, Asian, and Hawaiian. Gun-toting Roman soldiers wear metal helmets and royal purple tank tops. The Jewish masses are groovin' hippies. Timeless shepherds guide their flocks as modern planes fly overhead.
But, in my view, the most significant cinematic departure is the settings. The characters walk, talk and dance through ruins, surrounded by the awesome Negev desert. [I've tried to upload pictures, but Blogger seems to be malfunctioning. Maybe later.] They inhabit real-world structures that 2000 years ago may have been whole and functional buildings, but we see them as they are today. The characters don't seem to notice that the columns have no heads and support no ceiling, or that the walls, with their upper halves missing, offer little protection. The scenes are deficient from a human standpoint as well. There are nowhere near as many extras as there should be. Simon the Zealot gleefully intones to Jesus, "There must be over fifty thousand!" but there are plainly no more than fifty in the crowd. We watch all this, and wonder, can't they see?
They cannot, for the simple reason that the ruination of their world has not yet occurred. It's still decades before the revolt(s) against Rome and the destruction of the Temple, and all the accompanying violence, starvation, exile, and slavery. Only we, living in the future, can know what misery lies ahead for our hapless, pathetic ancestors, who undulate and scream as if the messiah were on their very doorstep. And only we, with our precious hindsight, can see that the seeds of tragedy are already planted. The population is fragmented, squabbling, desperate and restless under a foreign yoke. How long can such a situation go on before it explodes?
too, the theme of Jewish religious and societal breakdown that shakes the characters later in the film, and reaches devastating proportions only after the film closes, in real-life Europe, America, and Israel, is portended already in Tevye's opening lines. Here's a man who can cover his head and put on a tallis and rail about "tradition," but if you ask him, "How did this tradition get started?" his answer is "I don't know." A society of Tevyes can survive only as long as it remains insulated from other societies, and from questioning. Even when the townsfolk are all smiles and song, there's a great hollowness only waiting to be exposed.
Our problems in modern-day Israel are similar to those in Superstar
. Like the Jews in Roman times, we are divided and squabbling, and like Tevye, we no longer know how to justify our enterprise. Our values have been turned upside down and inside out, and those charged with leading us are in a deeper dark than anyone else (cf. MK Yuli Tamir's recent outrageous statement
that Rabin Memorial Day is as important as Holocaust Day, and the presumptions that must have informed it). We're surrounded by enemies gearing up for an assault, and we're complacent at best; at worst we actively aid them by gifting them weapons, or bringing in international forces to give them cover from ourselves (UNIFIL in Lebanon). Caroline Glick has a good summary of the current goings-on here
In such circumstances, how long can Israel last? We didn't win our last war with Lebanon, but we didn't exactly lose completely either. Things may be different next time. For now, our buildings are intact, town squares are filled with noisy crowds, and the countrysides are still mostly full of color. Is it all an elaborate house of cards though? Muslims seem to think so. If my power of vision were more accurate, I wonder, would the buildings be crumbling? Would the crowds be decimated? Would the Galilee be bleak and barren as the Negev?
Rav Ovadia Yosef Opines on the Presidency
Israel is looking for a new president. A number of possibilities have been put forward, including the enigmatic Shimon Peres, the esteemed Elie Wiesel (who, like Albert Einstein when he was suggested for the role, doesn't actually live in Israel), former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, and former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
The latter hasn't been enthusiastic about running to begin with, and the following news isn't going to help any:
Arutz 7 reports
Rabbi Yosef Opposes Having a Hareidi President
Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is quoted in the weekly hareidi-Orthodox Mishpacha magazine expressing his opposition to a member of the hareidi community serving as president.
The statement in directed at the candidacy of Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a popular presidential candidate.
Rabbi Yosef, the Shas Party spiritual leader, stated that the presidency is no place for a hareidi Jew, explaining that while “we try to influence the Jewish character of the state,” there is no place at the secular ceremonies and the like.
The statement will make it difficult for any of the hareidi parties to support Rabbi Lau’s bid, including UTJ and Shas.
The political world is a sort of Twilight Zone, where people say the opposite of what they mean, logic is suspended, and the best of men become corrupted. As the Rav says, there are plenty of presidential functions that fall outside the scope of religion, and may even be hostile to it, that a Haredi conscience would feel better avoiding. And imagine the fallout were a Haredi to advance so far, only to become the envy of Putin
, like poor Moshe Katsav.
Haredim—and everyone, really—would be wise to be engage in politics as little as possible.
Given the Rav's reasoning, then, I wonder what he thinks of Jerusalem's Mayor Lupolianski, who attends not only secular ceremonies, but Muslim ones
as well. My guess is that the offenses here are excusable because the office in question actually offers a fair amount of power, unlike the purely ceremonial presidency. Some might call this hypocrisy, but I think it's a rational calculation of the type that people make all the time. For the mayorship, the pros outweigh the cons; for the presidency they don't. What do you think?Update:
Cosmic X has a different kasha
on this report: Rav Ovadia Yosef himself served as Chief Rabbi, and must have also had to attend secular ceremonies. I can only speculate as to why this was acceptable to him:
Maybe the secular events obligating a chief rabbi are fewer and of a different nature than those a president has to attend.
Maybe a chief rabbi has more leeway in choosing what to attend and what not to.
Maybe he felt that the benefits of the position outweighed the costs. Unlike the presidency, the chief rabbinate actually has some power to affect issues that Haredim care about. He wouldn't want non-Haredim making decisions on conversions and kashrut if he could help it.
American, British, and Israeli Cultures In a Nutshell
You don't need to know Hebrew to understand this.
There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there are high Israeli taxes.
Knowing that all that money was worth it:
|Compensation to be paid for confiscated land:|
|New roads, passageways, and tunnels to ease the life of affected Arabs:|
|400+ miles of concrete and barbed wire snaking down the Green Line:|
Palestinian worshippers climb over a section of Israel's separation barrier from the West Bank village of A-Ram to Jerusalem on their way to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Palestinians trying to enter Jerusalem to attend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and Israeli troops scuffled on Friday at several checkpoints between Jerusalem and the West Bank. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)Statistics from here and here
Double, double, toil and trouble
Water boils at 100 °C.
Olive oil boils at 300 °C.
Iron boils at a whopping 2750 °C.
Muslim wrath boils somewhere around the mention of the word "Israel."
A member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards burns an Israeli flag during a demonstration in Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has predicted Israel would collapse and warned that its allies face the "boiling wrath" of the people if they continue to support the Jewish state.(AFP/Behrouz Mehri)
If they're concerned about oppression of their fellow Muslims, why don't they let off some steam over the atrocities
going on in their own country?
What is it that gets the Persian people, who have historically have been as well-disposed to the Jews as anyone else, as agitated as water molecules in a teapot, frantic, hysterical, ready to explode? Could it be the Revolutionary Guards, Guarding the Revolution by spreading lies about Israel, turning the people's attention away from the problems at home (ethnic cleansing, repression, bad economy, high rate of traffic accidents, high air pollution), and towards imaginary injustices in far-away lands that have little to do with them? In a way, the current regime may have an interest in Israel's survival despite its daily death threats: if they ever actually destroyed it, they'd have that much less to distract their citizens with.
Much Ado In Iran
Iran, like Israel, is never a dull place (להבדיל). In our survey of the latest news to hit the Persian Republic, we begin with:The Return Of Prophecy
Though we Jews have been eagerly awaiting prophecy's return ever since Malachi uttered his last thousands of years ago, "surprise" rather than "joy" is probably the word that best characterizes my initial emotions upon hearing that the first of our age to be graced with a divine transmission is a mean
Iranian despot. But if that's what Ahmadinejad says....
YNet News reports
While the West is preparing to impose sanctions on Iran, due to the country's failure to suspend its nuclear activities, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still optimistic. "We shall win," he was quoted in the Iranian media as saying Monday, and added: "One day I will be asked whether I have been in touch with someone who told me we would win, and I will respond: 'Yes, I have been in touch with God'."
Do reflect on the extraordinary self-composure and modesty that must have been necessary to reveal such a circumstance in such an off-handed way! Perhaps all the op-eds have been wrong. What can one do now, but admire this man who, by his good deeds and saintly disposition, has clearly earned the favor of the Almighty?
In unrelated news:Iranian President Ahmadinejad Found Under Desk Sniffing Glue
Oh ... whoops. That one has not been reported just yet.
But more importantly, while Mr. A.'s relationship with the Divine may be deepening, the rest of his citizenry is on another course:Persia Reemergent
According to (again!) YNet
In Israel and the west Iran is seen as a religious extremist country controlled by Ayatollahs but it seems reality is different.
Many young Iranians lead secular lives. A young Tehran-based computer technician and DJ told Ynet of parties he organizes in the capital, where young Iranians are drawn to the tunes of western music, drugs and alcohol.
The head of Iranian Studies at the Tel Aviv University Prof. David Menashri sketched the changing trends in Iran: "There is life behind the veil. The Iranian youth is more secular than any Muslim country in the Middle East. The regime of the religious led to a rebellion in the direction of secularity and distance from religion. Young people dance at parties, leave for trips outside the capital and climb mountains at the weekend – they ski."
"Teenagers have a very critical attitude. This young generation was born after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which expected them to be the most observant, but the education imposed by the regime doesn't necessarily yield loyalty. There is a process whereby people who grew up under an oppressive regime learned to live with it and the more the regime oppresses, the will to look on the other side is stronger. I believe that the Iranian people will start asking questions and the public will be the one to do things itself," he adds.
Iranian blogger Mar Bahi, a 28-year-old computer expert from Tehran, wrote about his president: "I am going crazy over what he is doing, from his blog where he wrote only once, passing by denying the Holocaust, his offer to hold a televised debate with Bush, claims that unseen forces are protecting him, to the lies he tells people about the inflation rate, freedom of speech and the people's rights. He is an outcast who likes to show off without thinking whether it is for the better or worse, he doesn't car. How small can people be?"
A poll conducted by the state-run broadcasting authority in Iran showed that 65 percent of Iranians are dissatisfied with their president. A similar poll conducted last year showed that 60 percent of correspondents were satisfied with their president's economic and social policies.
Another blogger, an Iranian youth on exile in Canada, says Ahmadinejad's nickname among Iranian youths is 'I am mad negad'.
Prof. Menashri explains: "Among Iranian teenagers, Ahmadinejad is not very popular. He and Hizbullah are more popular among teenagers in other Middle Eastern countries."
Menashri says Ahmadinejad's rising unpopularity at home is due to his anti-western stance. "He rode a wave of anti-western and anti-Israel attitude, building his career. A populist from the land of the populists. Two years ago no one knew him. For regime leaders he delivers the goods. He turned Iran's nukes into an Iranian national issue."
The moderate stance of much of Iran's population, as opposed to that of its leaders, is not really news. But it does need to be pointed out from time to time, because many people are unaware of it.
Reporter/author Robert D. Kaplan
devotes several chapters to Iran in his book The Ends Of the Earth
. As he attempts to reconcile the sterility and coldness of the Iranian holy city of Qom with the colorful, sensuous silk carpets woven there for export, he muses, "An austere Islamic exterior concealed a pleasure-loving Persian core—consistent with Islam as an Arab import from the hot deserts of southern Arabia...." These words could apply to the country as a whole. Or, as a young Iranian man explains to him, "Deep down we are a nation of flowers, nightingales, fire, butterflies, and wine—that is the pure essence of Persia."
That instead of merely returning to their native idyllic weltanschauung, the populace has shuttled past it and begun to adopt the most abhorrent of Western vices, including drugs, gold chains, sports jerseys, and even skiing, is cause for concern. In Iran we see how easily one extreme can lead to the other, and I hope the situation can stabilize before things get any worse.
When Kaplan published his book in 1996, he predicted that the Persia's ill-fitting Iranian exterior would soon come undone. Ten years later, it still hasn't, but in a recent interview
he affirms that it's only a matter of time. The problem, he says, is that fighting the Iranian power structure is "like fighting a pillow," because it is so extensive, and diffuse, with multiple power centers. The desire exists, but not the means.
The regime can feel the ants in its pants, though, and it's scratching away:Iran's Internet Slowdown
From CNet News
Iran's Internet service providers have started reducing the speed of Internet access to homes and cafes based on new government-imposed limits, a move critics said appeared to be part of a clampdown on the media.
An official said last week that ISPs were now "forbidden" by the Telecommunications Ministry from providing Internet connections faster than 128 kilobytes per second (KBps), the Islamic Republic New Agency, Iran's official news outlet, reported. No reason was given for the restriction.
Internet technicians say speeds of 256KBps, 512KBps or higher are increasingly common internationally. Iranian surfers will now find it takes much longer to download music or anything else from the Web. Businesses have not been affected by the move.
Critics said the restriction would hinder the work of students and researchers but said it appeared in line with what they see as a squeeze on the media by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who rails against the West.
"Once more, one of the most important tools for providing information is faced with new government red lines and restrictions," the reform-minded daily Etemad-e Melli declared in an article on the new speed limitation....
Hijinks like this can only anger people more, but the regime is really damned either way. Which is why the rest of the world should worry. Oppressive regimes like Iran and North Korea know that time is against them, and any big offensive plans they might harbor cannot be put on hold indefinitely.
Sderot Gets Desperate
Woe is Israel! Look at what our political process has been reduced to:
Arutz Sheva reports: "Red Color" Warning Alarm Direct to MKs' Cell Phones
Following the firing of a Kassam rocket towards Sderot this morning - no casualties, no damage - the residents sent a recording of the Red Color early warning alarm to the MKs' cell phones.
The residents of Sderot have been treated not only to a nearly-daily fare of Kassam rockets, but also to what they see as official disregard of their plight. They therefore plan to "remind" the Knesset Members every time a rocket is fired.
This morning, after a Kassam rocket was fired from northern Gaza towards Sderot - less than two kilometers away as the crow flies - the members of the local grassroots anti-Kassam campaign sent a personal message to the cell phones of most of the Knesset Members. The announcement begins with a wailing Red Color siren, followed by a personal plea to the MKs to act to restore safety and security to the citizens of Sderot.
Alon Davidi, head of the task force, said, "We want the MKs to experience first-hand the intolerable fear and panic that the residents feel day in and day out when the rockets fall, sowing destruction and fear. We will continue to send the messages after every Kassam that lands in the city."
If the Knesset were capable of taking an interest, a strategy like this might do the trick. But the problem is not just that the MKs are too detached from events in the wild border regions. They, like the electorate that installed them, just don't know what to do, and have gone numb. To really resolve Israel's problems would take efforts on a grander scale than anyone has the stomach for, and would alienate America besides.
So we hold talks and make threats and generally try to maintain the status quo, and as the status quote slides, so do our expectations. Sderot will just have to suffer.
The Sukkot Aftermath
Another Sukkot has come and gone. Now's not the time, I think, to finish the Sukkos Fairy Tale I was writing (Parts I
). It's twelve months away, but I'd rather save the ending for next Sukkot, and instead reflect a little more seriously now on my experiences in the previous days and where we're left now.
I'm happy to have experienced Sukkot in Israel this year.
We saw this past week the first sprinklings of the rainy season, but overall the skies and the air here are much more hospitable to outdoor dwelling than in New York this time of year. Here the weather was a little inconvenient; when I built a sukkah in New York, the storms drenched the schach, melted the decorations, and then squashed it like an insect. There the weather defeated my efforts; here it was just enough to remind me that I was, after all, outside.
The concentration of Jews here doesn't hurt either. In leaving the solid, impersonal walls of our houses and apartments for seven days, we became physically, socially, and spiritually closer to the people that make up our community. My neighbor and I bridged the gap between our porches with a halachic discussion of my sukkah's walls as I was putting them up. Sitting inside, we exchanged greetings with passers-by through cut-out windows. Zemiros-singing and instrument playing that would have been hidden any other week were now exposed for all to hear and appreciate.
Simchat Torah here was special as well. All I needed to do to daven at the Kotel was to take a half hour walk and step through a metal detector. I prayed and danced with a microcosm of our entire people, meters away from the site of the temple—that place where our connection with G-d, and perhaps each other, is strongest.
When the chag came to a close, we davened maariv, and then took a couple of hours to unwind. The relief was necessary but temporary: before long hakafot shniyot had erupted everywhere, as groups large and small took Torahs in their arms and went for another whirl, this time with live music, and the intensity that that brings. It was the loud and colorful culmination of a season of holy days, and the last burst before the post-Tishrei calm would set in.
I had the privilege of attending hakafot shniyot led by one of the few religious singers whose music I find pleasant. I'd heard him over the internet from the States, and now that I was in Israel, it just so happened that he was performing not five minutes from my apartment. This is a small country, I was reminded, and that's how things work here.
The celebration here was of a different order than what I'd seen at the Kotel during the actual holiday. More than at the Kotel, or any other synagogue I've been to, this was a gathering of different kinds of Jews, in roughly equal proportions. The participants were younger and more energetic, and the musicians interacted with them. It seemed to me that this was less a religious event than a popular one: the constituency was not according to sect, but neighborhood, and the energy and purpose seemed to come from the bottom up rather than from the top down. (Would that all popular events would revolve around such elevated themes.) It wasn't hard to get into it. I danced and span till I felt like a Sufi, and went home exhausted halfway through. Two days later, I can still feel some of the ecstasy, and my legs are still sore.
And so the frenzies and physicalities of Tishrei fade and we're left with memories, and hopefully, some growth. My sukkah is coming down, slowly, and the porch underneath looks disturbingly bare, like a winter tree bereft of its leaves. There's some temptation to simply leave the sukkah up for the rest of the year, but then it would lose much of its significance and pull, wouldn't it? Meaning and beauty need limitations to exist; otherwise it's just chaos. And it's quite fitting that the holiday which seeks to impart the message of our own fragility and impermanence in this world should itself be brief. Just as the days of a sukkah are circumscribed, so are our own. For that matter, just as a storm can fell a sukkah before its time, so can we fall, even in the prime of life. Both sukkah and man will rise again though, when the time is right. And even as Sukkot and the Days of Awe come to an end, the cycle of Torah reading begins again, with renewed strength and dedication. Until next Tishrei comes around, we have plenty to keep our sprits occupied.
One of these things is not like the other....
Whereas some news sources, as well as some blogs, try to make their headlines catchy and enticing, Arutz 7 often uses its headlines to make a point.
Take this one: Synagogue Planned For Temple Mount, Hashemites to Add Minaret
This casual juxtaposition is a valiant attempt at equating two spectacularly different ideas. Everyone knows that one of these two plans will come to fruition, while the other will not. One will hardly cause a stir, while the other would spark riots. One is put forward by a unified front, while the other is a subject of serious internal dispute. But they shouldn't
be so different, A7 is telling us, and we have to strive to make the former as acceptable as the latter.
MK Ariel, the man behind the synagogue proposal, probably knows he's pissing in the wind, but he's trying to make a statement too, and sometimes one has to be willing to engage futility for a while in order to raise awareness. I can't say I support him here though, because even so much as walking onto the temple mount is far from universally sanctioned halachically, let alone building a synagogue there. He can talk about consult leading torah scholars on every step of the process, but this line is also a rhetorical trick, because by pursuing the idea at all, he's already ignoring the large segment of rabbis who oppose it.
The Three Little Yids: An Instructive Sukkos Fairy Tale
Continued from Part I
The next eldest brother'd erected his booth
Out of old metal car parts he'd slowly amassed.
The walls, too, were made in a manner uncouth,
Out of used plastic sheeting from Shabboses past.
He was smoking and drinking reduced apple juice
When his brother arrived, looking fretful and woe'd.
They brooded, and paced, and did hisbodedus,
Till they thought of a way to maintain their abode.
The two clever Yidden picked up their small hut
And shlepped the thing into an alley post-haste.
In order that every approach should be shut,
In the fore, and behind, flaming dumpsters were placed.
But their sukkah was not to remain undisturbed:
Before long came a klop on their tenuous walls,
And through these authoritous soundwaves reverbed:
"Little Yids, hearken unto my voice as it calls."
"But how did you cross through the fiery waste?"
Gravely questioned the Yids to the posek they faced.
"There's no need now to quaver like dainty young dames;
I simply but carefully walked twixt the flames!
The posek went on, with the grace of the pious,
"So, now, with reshus of the kind baal habayis
I'd much like to enter, and avoid any sins."
Said they, "Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins!"
Said the posek, "Don't think that by that you are safe;
For I hereby declare that your sukkah is treif!
There's no barrier can protect insecure walls,*
And your tumadik schach-support truly apalls!**
"Never was worse a heap pitched by a churl,
Horrific enough to make peyos unfurl!
So I'll huff and I'll puff till your sukkah comes down."
And thusly he did, and the brothers fled town.To be continued....
*Even if the windflow is blocked due to the sukkah's location, its walls still must be able to withstand the normal pressures they would face in the barriers' absence.
**Because metal can become tamei, it should not be used to support the schach.
The Three Little Yids: An Instructive Sukkos Fairy Tale
There once was an upright but poor mother Yid,
With fourteen or nineteen dependent young Yidden.
When Sukkos-time came to their town, quite unbid,
She scavenged the gemachim and, too, the town midden.
She threw up a sukkah, but realized, too late,
That her fam'ly would not even fit past the gate.
With a tear in her eye she sent three of her clan,
Saying, "Raise your own sukkos, as fast as you can!'
The three brothers Yidden worked daytime and night
Till they each had a sukkah mehudar and right.
When they'd stood up the walls, and they'd laid down the schach,
They danced in the dark and they sang out "Na Nach..."
The antepenultimate in learning and age
Bought some discounted cloth from a King George boutique.
On red strings he hung up his polka-dot cage,
For a sukkah that was tasteless as well as unique.
His unhappy dwelling caught the eye of a posek
Who knocked and said, "Yid, would you let a guest in?
The poor hapless Yid, now un-anosognosic
Said, "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!"
Said the posek, "Your sukkah is ugly and mimsy
But far worst of all's that your walls are too flimsy!*
I'm afraid I must act; and though it make me frown,
I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your sukkah down!"
So he opened his mouth and he huffed a great puff,
And the sukkah fell down like a leaf in the winter.**
The panicking Yid grabbed his hat and his snuff,
And ran off to join his next kin in the hinter.Continued in Part II....
* A sukkah's walls must be sturdy enough that a common wind will not move them.
** Though the sukkah was toppled by a man and not a wind, if a man's breath could knock the walls down, all the more so would a wind be able to move them, and the sukkah was thus posul from the beginning.