Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Disengagement from blogging

I'll be away for a few days, probably without web access. That's why I've been so prolific today.

See you Monday!

With a ten-foot poll

No matter how much of a political junkie you are, it's time to stop paying attention to the presidential polls. The national polls are too close, and too inconsistent (largely due to differences in methodology) to mean much. All that matters now is how the key states fall - and the state polls are just as scattered. If you can't take the suspense, nap for a week and wake up on Election Day.

Meanwhile, let me just pick up on a couple of intriguing recent numbers:

1. Breaking for Bush: Bush supporters can take heart from a Rasmussen survey, according to which late-deciding voters are preferring Bush, with those who made up their minds in the last month preferring Bush 57%-38%. Did someone say Kerry won the debates?

2. Hawaiian punch: Two recent polls show a dead heat in Democratic safe state Hawaii, of all places. No one had even really bothered polling Hawaii before. What gives?

Michael Barone analyzes Hawaiian politics in an attempt to understand what's up. He notes that, among other poll findings, "Filipino-Americans favored Bush by a 56 to 36 percent margin." I suspect the swinging of this traditionally Democratic constituency is a direct result of the war on terror. The Philippines have their own internal war with Muslim terrorists, and Bush has sent U.S. troops to help hunt them down.

Beyond that: Maybe 9/11 just reminds some Hawaiians of Pearl Harbor?

3. I said don't touch those polls!

Handy produce price converter

A useful tip for new American olim, or any Israelis with relatives in the U.S. (or vice versa):

Having trouble working out how much you're really paying for cucumbers in Israel? Dying to brag to your American parents about how cheap watermelons were last July?

Kilograms and shekels need confound you no longer! Due to a magical coincidence, converting produce prices between Israel and the U.S. is quick and easy!

Try this:

$0.10 / lb = NIS 1.00 / kg

That is, one dollar per pound in the US is approximately equal to ten agorot per kilo in Israel.

Four shekels / kilo for cucumbers? That's 40 cents a pound.

(Approximately, since the exchange rate varies. Currently, with the exchange rate at 4.43, it's closer to 97 agorot / kg for 10 cents / lb.)

Math wizzes can read on for the simple explanation:

1 dollar = 4.5 shekels (approx.)

1 lb = 0.454 kg

Thus 1 dollar / lb = 10 shekels / kg

Disengagement from common sense

Regular readers (yes, I have a few) may wonder why I don't comment much on Israeli politics. It's not as if I don't have opinions.

I think there are two main reasons: First, living in Israel it's hard to escape from Israeli politics. On my blog I'd rather explore less pressing topics - or at least those, like American politics, which don't surround me daily. (In general, over the last year-plus I've come to regard politics substantially as a form of entertainment, a spectator sport not to be taken too seriously. One of these days I'll blog about that.)

Second, others have their fingers closer to the pulse of Israeli politics and can often express what I'm thinking better than I do. Some of the best writing about Israel's predicament today comes from Jerusalem Post columnists. I highly recommend Evelyn Gordon, Caroline Glick, Barry Rubin and Sarah Honig. Amotz Asa-el and Saul Singer are also well worth reading. Though, to be honest, I spend less and less time with the newspapers these days.

Yet today promises to be a historic day for Israel. Today, the Knesset is set to approve Sharon's "disengagement" plan from Gaza and part of northern Samaria. For the first time ever, the State of Israel will vote to evacuate areas of the historic Land of Israel of their Jewish communities, totalling some 8,500 residents. Such an event deserves commentary.

First, let me emphasize what this plan will not achieve:

  • It will not advance Israel towards peace. Not even its proponents claim it will. This is a unilateral, non-negotiated project (at least with regards to the Palestinian Arabs. Israel has apparently had discussions with the US and Egypt).

  • It will not win Israel any diplomatic concessions from its Arab neighbors, such as recognition or trade.

  • It will not put an end to Israeli military action in Gaza. Gaza will remain a military threat in several realms, including potential terrorist action by land, air or sea. Israeli forces will need to operate in Gaza to foil such activities as become known to us, whether or not our civilians or troops are permanently based there. Needless to say, this will be more difficult without a presence on the ground. (This point is all the more true for northern Samaria.)

  • It will not earn Israel sympathy from overseas. Europe will not start loving us and the UN will not stop condemning us. Their reaction will not be "Well done!" but "What took you so long?"

  • It will not ease the diplomatic pressure for further Israeli concessions. Israel will still be blamed for occupying the rest of the "West Bank", including Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. We will be accused of holding Gaza under seige by controlling access to it by land, sea and air and cutting it off from the outside world. We will be condemned for continuing attempts to defend ourselves, including building the security fence. We may win some American acceptance of our long-term need to retain the largest settlement blocs, but it is questionable if even that achievement is diplomatically sustainable over the long term. In short, the expectation that disengagement will bring even temporary respite is an illusion.

  • It will not stop the daily flow of Palestinian laborers from Gaza into Israel. The plan provides that Palestinians will continue to work in Israel, security permitting.

  • It will not significantly reduce Israel's exposure to terrorism. Maximum, withdrawing settlements from Gaza makes it harder for Gaza-based terrorists to target Jews. But most of the terrorism Israel has suffered in recent years has not been based in Gaza anyway. There may be advantages to be gained in troop redeployments from Gaza to other fronts; those are legitimate security considerations. But the fundamentals of the situation will remain unchanged.

  • It will not make Israel "more democratic". It is not more democratic to rule over 2.3 million stateless Palestinians than over 3.6 million (CIA estimates). It is not more democratic if Jews are 51% of the population between the Jordan and the Mediterranean than if they are 49%.

  • It will not solve the demographic problem. More than 20% of Israel's electorate is not Jewish; this will not be affected by withdrawals from Palestinian-claimed areas. Whether 8,500 Jews live on one side or the other of the Gaza security fence does not change the demographics of the State of Israel.

Next, what the disengagement plan will likely achieve:

  • By taking Gaza off the table for good, pressure for Israeli concessions will shift to the remaining outstanding disputes. The intensity of the pressure will not lessen, but it will be focused solely on issues where Israel can less afford to compromise.

  • Israel's bargaining position in any conceivable future negotiations will be compromised, having already forfeited some of our assets unilaterally.

  • The Palestinian terror groups - indeed, Muslim terrorists the world over - will be encouraged by what they will perceive as the success of their war against Israel. We will have demonstrated to them that if they remain stubbornly intransigent and continue to attack us, we will eventually give them what they demand, without even requiring them to sit down and negotiate, let alone lay down their arms or even compromise their positions. If they can win the evacuation of Jews from Gaza without negotiations, without even ending their terror assault, why should they ever negotiate with Israel in the future?

  • Our claim to any of the remaining disputed territory will be undermined. Unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, and especially from part of Samaria, will raise expectations around the world that this is the start of a process to culminate eventually with a full withdrawal from all disputed territory. By doing this unilaterally, we are implicitly withdrawing our very claim to the land; otherwise, we would at least demand something in return for it. Again; this is particularly evident regarding northern Samaria - how does that piece of land differ from the rest of Samaria, Judea, or even Jerusalem?

  • Pointing to the "demographic threat" as a motive for disengagement will further entrench Palestinian intransigence. By all demographic projections, the Arab percentage of the population of the Land of Israel will only increase over time, since they have more children than we do. If we withdraw from territory in response, we further convince the Arabs that they are destined to defeat us eventually through sheer numbers. This is why they've recently started talking about a "one-state solution" - they know it would mean an Arab state with a Jewish minority. Why should they negotiate with us today when their demographic position will be even stronger tomorrow? Someone who knows his bargaining position will only improve has no incentive to compromise.

  • In exchange for this extensive list of benefits to Israel (note sarcasm), thousands of Israeli families will be forced out of their homes at the hands of their brethren. Businesses will close, jobs will disappear, communities will be scattered. Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries will be relocated. The expense to Israel, both financially and emotionally, will be colossal.

And for what?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Polls apart

Daly Thoughts offers insights into the fascinating new Harris Poll indicating that "likely voter" models can have a massive impact on reported survey results. This may explain why we see polls all over the map, some with the candidates neck and neck and others giving Bush a solid lead.

Swinging Baynonim's vote

Baynonim professes to be a swing voter (I said they still existed!), disillusioned with Bush but not sold on Kerry: "Even though I think Bush has been an atrocious president, I can't ignore that Kerry is an atrocious candidate." He asks his readers, "Why does either candidate deserve my vote?"

Now, I might not be the best one to advise him. I became a Republican my freshman year in college and my vote hasn't swung once since. I'm conservative on most social and economic issues, with some libertarian leanings. To emphasize the point: I voted for Bush Sr. in 1992, after the bustup with Shamir and the infamous Baker remark.

While I have my criticisms of Bush, they do not overlap with Baynonim's, and I certainly don't consider him "an atrocious president". Many of my reasons for supporting the president would likely be his reasons for opposing him. So it's not clear how much persuasive power I can have here.

But at least one argument - in my mind, the overriding issue in this election - may be sufficiently compelling on its own.

In normal circumstances, Americans should choose their president solely on the basis of the candidates' abilities and policies. The relevant question would be, "Who can better lead the country for the next four years?" Unfortunately, this time even asking that question may be a luxury.

In invading Iraq, Bush took a major political risk - the biggest political risk I can remember undertaken deliberately by any president in my lifetime. He embarked on a major war motivated in part by an idealistic vision of transforming the Middle East, knowing full well that he would be judged largely on its outcome a year and a half later. It's still premature to judge that outcome fairly, but such is the US political calendar.

At the same time, the fate of US leadership and prestige around the world is now deeply tied to the success of this project, whether one supported it or not.

If Bush loses this election, the Arab and Muslim worlds (and probably, but less significantly, much of Europe) will see that as signifying their inevitable ultimate triumph over America. Regardless of what Kerry's policies would be as president, or how tough he would be in fighting terrorism - needless to say, I have my doubts - regardless of that, the very fact of Bush's defeat would be seen as a form of divine retribution for his daring to invade and occupy an Arab Muslim nation.

Just as his father's electoral defeat was seen by the Arabs - without much reason, but that's not the issue - as a victory for Saddam and Arab nationalism, all the more so would the son's defeat after deposing Saddam and the Taliban. It would be viewed, however wrongly, as a defeat for the great superpower and its war on terrorism.

For twelve years under UN sanctions, Saddam was a symbol for Arab and Muslim radicals the world over. He defied the world's greatest power and lived to tell the tale. One of the most important achievements of the Iraq war was putting and end to that situation. If it was also interpreted by many as an attempt to redeem his father's honor, all the better; such motives are respected in Arab society. If America is to have any hope of prevailing against Muslim terror, it has to steadfastly demonstrate that you can't defy the US with impunity.

If Bush loses this election, it would furthermore reinforce the message - already sent loudly by Vietnam - that the US cannot be expected to finish what it starts overseas. That any band of locals can outlast the invading imperialists, who will eventually get fed up and return with their tails between their legs, booting out their own leader (like the Spanish did). This would just confirm what Osama bin Laden has been arguing for years, and probably give al-Qaeda a massive shot in the arm the world over.

Even Vladimir Putin, hardly a steadfast US ally, recently said as much: "International terrorism has as its goal to prevent the election of President Bush to a second term. If they achieve that goal, then that will give international terrorism a new impulse and extra power."

If Kerry wins, expect dancing in the streets in Arab capitals, triumphant bravado from Islamic radicals, and floods of support for Iraqi rebels by the many locals who will expect - rightly or not - the US to cut and run. It's always safer to be on the winning side, especially when it has bombs. Kerry can't "win the peace" in Iraq, since the moment he's elected the situation will deteriorate drastically due to expectations of American perfidy.

It sounds antidemocratic to call for Bush's reelection based on the perceptions of thugs, terrorists and their sympathizers and compatriots. I confess it's not an enviable situation. But I greatly fear the global consequences of a Bush defeat.

If you detest Bush's domestic agenda, this is the time to split your vote. Vote Bush for president; cast your domestic policy votes for Congress. But Bush staked American prestige on this war, and if he falls, so will America. Like it or not.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

They're running out of lyrics

"From when is Shma recited in the evening? From the time the priests enter to eat their terumah." (Berachot 1:1)

Those words are the opening to the first chapter of the Mishna, the Talmudic code of Jewish law. But now they're also the lyrics to a chassidic song I first heard on the radio this morning.

Maybe this isn't new and I've just been out of the loop. I didn't catch the name of the group. From the sound of it, they're Israelis who sing with an Ashkenazi accent. The tune is lively and danceable - though I can't imagine why anyone would dance to such words.

I can't recall ever hearing legal texts sung chassidic-style. Psalms, yes; the Song of Songs, of course; inspirational sayings, naturally. But legal teachings? They must finally be running out of traditional texts to use for lyrics.

What's next? Maybe I can suggest some new hits:

  • "On the evening of the fourteenth we check for leaven by the light of a candle." (Pesachim 1:1)

  • "There are four categories of damages: the ox, and the pit, and the man and the fire." (Bava Kama 1:1)

  • "All meat is forbidden to be cooked with milk, except the meat of fish and locusts. And it is forbidden to take it to the table with cheese, except the meat of fish and locusts." (Chulin 8:1)

  • "Transfers on Shabbat are two which are four inside and two which are four outside." (Shabbat 1:1)

  • "Roots of garlic and onions and shallots while they are moist, and their tips whether moist or dry, and the column directed towards the flesh, the roots of radish and turnip, says Rabbi Meir." (Uktzin 1:2)

Now all I need is a composer and a band!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The vision thing

I'm going to go ahead and say it: I think Bush will win. Not based on any sophisticated analysis of battleground polls; it's just my intuition.


I watched snippets of two speeches yesterday: Bush in New Jersey and Gore in Washington. Bush was feisty, confident, energetic, resolved and optimistic - even as he ripped into Kerry's record and positions. Gore was bitter, angry, disdainful and paternalistic. Granted, Kerry on the campaign trail is not quite as negative as Gore was yesterday, but negativity remains his main theme.

A challenger needs to accomplish two things to unseat an incumbent politician: Discredit the incumbent's record, and offer instead a safe pair of hands with a positive vision for the future.

On the first count, Bush's record is clearly mixed on both foreign and domestic affairs. On many points, Kerry's critique hits the mark, and only about half the electorate rate Bush favorably. But attacking Bush's record isn't enough.

Americans look for vision in their presidents, not bitterness. Reagan in 1980 and Clinton in 1992 offered that optimism, along with their harsh critiques of the incumbents. In this respect, Kerry-Edwards resembles Dole-Kemp. Grumpiness and anger don't win the presidency.

Unless the mainstream electorate is far angrier than I think - or the Angry Left turnout far higher than usual - I don't see the country choosing Kerry over Bush.

See you in two weeks.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Foundations of a Jewish Economic Theory

More from the latest Azure. Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Lifshitz writes about the differing Jewish and Christian attitudes towards private property and the obligation to give charity.

The summary:

In the classical Christian view, man should not keep more than he needs to live modestly, and property should be made available to the needy, even in contravention of the owner’s wishes.

Jewish tradition, in contrast, takes a positive view of both the institution of ownership and the accumulation of wealth. It respects economic success, seeing it as both a blessing and the basis of normative life on earth—so long, that is, as it is obtained honestly, and proper respect is shown for the social responsibility that accompanies it.

Thus, while in Christian thought wealth is inherently suspect, Jewish law sees the obligation to give charity as simply one of many moral obligations man has towards his neighbor. No poor man has a right to demand redistribution of wealth from the rich. The rich are legitimately blessed by God, and must - like everyone else - help their fellow Jews who are in need.

R' Lifshitz concludes as follows (apologies for the long-winded quote):

Is it possible to draw conclusions from this with respect to economic policy? It is fair to suggest that any economic system that sets severe limits on the individual’s control over his property, restricts the degree of wealth one may attain through honest means, or undermines his capacity to give charity voluntarily is inconsistent with a desire to enable man to act in accordance with the Jewish understanding of the godliness within him. An economic system based on the redistribution of income with the aim of fostering economic equality is likely to violate many of these basic tenets. By supporting a great portion of its population through transfer payments, such a system encourages dependence and undermines the value of hard work and creative innovation. At the same time, the heavy taxation required to sustain such a system seems to violate the basic right to private property, and undermines the incentive to work, innovate, and take responsibility. The Jewish approach seeks to encourage individual responsibility and innovation among both society’s most successful and its poorest members, for it is in these qualities that man acts as one created in God’s image.

None of this is to say that the government cannot create a safety net for society’s poor through taxes. If citizens are given the economic breathing room to support the needy through philanthropy, it is legitimate to demand that all citizens contribute a minimum amount to that end—perhaps even using the biblical model of a ten-percent minimum of charitable contribution. Regardless of the way it is implemented, what makes a welfare system accord with the principles of a Jewish economics is not that the solution to economic distress be laid solely on the shoulders of individuals, but that it be found through policies which encourage a sense of responsibility among all citizens, wealthy and poor. True charity stems, first and foremost, from the goodness of one’s heart, and not from the mechanism of coercion. In the words of Rabbi Elazar: “The reward of charity depends entirely upon the kindness in it.”

In a radio interview after the original publication of this essay, R' Lifshitz explained - rightly, in my opinion - that he wasn't suggesting that Judaism calls for unrestricted free markets. He suggested that, while he preferred to avoid labels, the model is more like the European social democratic system, with private property and free markets combined with a social support system for the needy.

This answer disappointed me. While this describes the Jewish economic model reasonably well, it is far from an accurate depiction of European social democracy.

For example, his theory of Jewish property rights would seem to imply, though he avoids saying so, that income should be taxed by a flat tax (like the Biblical tithes). Indeed, Jewish sources forbid giving more than one-fifth of one's income to charity. It would seem to make a progressive tax schedule illegitimate; after all, the rich has as much a right to their honestly-earned property as do the non-rich.

What European social democratic society even comes close to a 20% maximum tax rate, let alone a flat tax? Most charge that much just for value-added tax (VAT) alone, with income taxes even higher!

Furthermore, the European welfare state does not stop with a safety net for the poor. It includes comprehensive cradle-to-grave nannying of all citizens, nationalizing their health care, pension funds and more. Respect for private property indeed exists, but only within the boundaries of an excessive regulatory and tax system. How does this square with the second-to-last paragraph quoted above? That paragraph is a perfect critique of the European economic system!

I suspect one of the following explanations:

1. Maybe R' Lifshitz didn't write those concluding paragraphs himself - note that it's the only place in the essay where he discusses economic policy. Perhaps the editors added them as a summary, feeling it necessary to address policy ramifications, and they don't accurately reflect his views?

2. Maybe R' Lifshitz reconsidered his policy conclusions and backtracked?

3. Maybe the above paragraphs do reflect R' Lifshitz's policy conclusions, but he realized it was counterproductive for him to be associated with "right-wing economics" and so he preferred to portray himself as being within the Israeli mainstream by using a phrase like "European social democracy"?

I'm mystified.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Washington goes bats

Forget the debates. The real buzz around Washington these days is what to call the new baseball team.

As this year's return of Redskins coach Joe Gibbs demonstrates, nostalgia alone is no formula for sports success. But since Washington hasn't had a baseball team since I was in diapers, some optimism is forgivable.

Meanwhile, Mark Gauvreau Judge, grandson of Washington Senator Joe Judge, proposes how to improve the game itself: enlarge the field, bringing back "the game of stand-up doubles, triples and inside-the-park homers."

Without further ado, here are my - hopefully original - name proposals:

1. Flying creatures

Who says only Baltimore can be the Birds?

Bald Eagles

The national bird; some of them nest in the Washington area, including along the Potomac River near Great Falls.

Blue Herons

A majestic bird common to the region.


It's about time baseball had a team called the Bats, no? And what location is more appropriate?

2. Government creatures

Washington has had too many government-themed team names already: The Senators, the Nationals, the Capitals, the Diplomats, the Federals. Some have proposed the Presidents - boring!

Washington Insiders

Everyone wants to be one.

Washington Spooks

I could tell you why, but then I'd have to kill you.

Washington Buzz

What Washington's really about.

Washington Intrigue

Abstract nouns are in, they say.

Washington Subcommittees

Where the real power lies.

3. A capital city

Capital Crimes

Capital Offenses

Grim but accurate.

Capital Letters

They could play on Sesame Street.

4. The land of the free

The Freebasers

Overtones of baseball - and Marion Barry.

The Freeloaders

Speaks for itself.

4. Alliteration

Washington Wombats

Appropriately nonsensical.

Submit your own name suggestions to WTOP radio.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Temple activists gone mad

I'm not sure which is more twisted, this event or the article reporting it.

I have no problem in principle with those who reenact Temple rituals in the anticipation of its eventual rebuilding. It's a legitimate educational tool and a way to bring our heritage to life.

I do think that those who believe the rebuilding of the Temple to be imminent are mistaken. But I appreciate their desire to reconnect to our ancient practices, even if they are unlikely to be restored soon (though we continue to pray that they will).

Regardless: connecting such a reenactment with contemporary politics is absurd, and in fact undermines any potential constructive impact it might otherwise have.

A group of right-wing Jewish activists reenacted a religious ritual from the First Temple period at the Shiloah Spring in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan Tuesday night, with the goal of removing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from power and instituting a Jewish monarchy.

The connection between the water drawing ceremony and their wish to depose the prime minister is what, exactly? And the monarchy they call for - is it to be a figurehead, or a replacement for democracy? I suspect the latter.

With shofars blasting in the background, the group - led by Prof. Hillel Weiss, a well-known Temple Mount activist and a lecturer on literature at Bar-Ilan University, and Rabbi Yosef Dayan, who recently threatened to instigate a death curse against Sharon - conducted the nisuah hamayim ritual, which they said "will begin the process of removing the secular Israeli government."

Note to reporter: That's "nisukh hamayim", not "nisuah hamayim". The water was poured, not formulated.

"This ceremony will lay the foundations for instituting a Jewish king, a Jewish court, and the Third Temple," Weiss told the 40 participants sitting near the Shiloah Spring. "We will draw inspiration and strength from the ceremony as the holy priests did in Temple times, and we will ensure that the Jewish people will not be removed from their land."

The water libation ceremony was part of the general Sukkot theme of prayers for rain. It's not about "inspiration" or "strength", let alone politics (unless you mean Pharisees vs. Sadducees!).

Standing next to the running water, said to also be used in Temple times to spiritually cleanse the high priest during the Yom Kippur services, Dayan blew the shofar while Weiss collected holy water.

"Holy water"? Is this the reporter's gaffe or the participants'? Well water is ritually pure (tahor), but not holy (kadosh).

"The purpose of the ceremony is to remove the current government, and in order to do so we need to draw strength from the pools of salvation," Weiss said. "If we want to make a revolution, then we need to change the course of the winds blowing among the people."

Right. And drawing well water is clearly going to convince the public to replace the government with a monarchy and rebuild the Temple. On the say-so of a literature professor and a rabbi.

Weiss, who recently published a book calling for the institution of a Jewish monarchy in the State of Israel, refrained from spelling out how he intends to "remove Sharon," but did say that the "religious powers will grant us the strength to do so."

Oh, "religious powers". Has he been talking to Madonna lately? She's into holy water too.

Dayan, rabbi of the settlement of Psagot, was not so reluctant.

"Sharon's plan is insane and I wish for his death," he said. "We want a Jewish monarchy in Israel and not a secular government with secular political parties. The decisions made by the majority are not decisions since the majority is stupid."

Clearly an expert in the art of persuasion. This rabbi must be in advertising.

(Update: Dayan is also not the rabbi of Psagot!)

The nisuah hamayim ritual finds its source in the Mishna. During Succot in the time of the Temple, the priests would gather water from the holy Shiloah Spring and would pour it onto the tabernacle in the Temple, accompanied by songs and trumpets. The religious meaning behind the ritual, Weiss said, was to draw strength and spiritual powers from the water, which would then sustain the priests throughout the year.

Huh? "Pour it onto the tabernacle in the Temple?" That's the altar in the Temple. (The Tabernacle was the predecessor to the Temple.) I'm sure Weiss and Dayan didn't pour any water onto the altar, since it doesn't exist. And this mumbo-jumbo about strength and powers is just that, mumbo-jumbo. The ritual was a religious obligation, and that's why it was performed.

For that matter, wine was poured onto the altar every day of the year, with the daily animal sacrifice. Why don't they reenact that, while they're at it?

Last month, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decided not to launch a criminal investigation against Dayan, who had said that he would be prepared to instigate a death curse against Sharon. Mazuz arrived at his decision after an examination of the comments made by Dayan and the conclusion that they did not contain a basis for criminal charges of incitement to violence.

"I definitely want something bad to happen to Sharon so that he will cease doing whatever it is he does," Dayan said on the eve of Rosh Hashana. "Nobody has called on me. A person can pray to the heavens on any subject he wishes."

Clearly, being a nut shouldn't be a crime. Giving the nuts front-page coverage in the Jerusalem Post is another matter.

It's not about vanity

Recommended reading: In the current issue of Azure, Ethan Dor-Shav offers an insightful reading of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), traditionally read on Sukkot.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More on sukkah nightlife

Fortunately, my cold passed almost as quickly as it came; by Sunday morning I was rested and ready to enjoy the countryside. Only one more night left for sleeping in the sukkah. I'm gonna miss it.

Meanwhile, I notice Soccer Dad has reacted to my comments on the rarity of sukkah-sleeping these days. He rightly notes that "unless I'm very wrong 30 to 40 years ago, people generally didn't have Sukkahs. It's only since the 1970's that they have become commonplace in America." Then: "if one was introducing a new practice, what would meet with less resistance? Eating or sleeping?"

This explanation only goes so far. Certainly, urban apartment buildings and Jewish social awkwardness made private sukkahs a rarity until not long ago. If the failure to sleep in the sukkah were a modern phenomenon, this might help explain why.

In fact, however, sleeping in the sukkah had nearly disappeared among Ashkenazi Jews by the 16th century, when Rabbi Moshe Isserlis published his notes on the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. R' Isserlis, "the Rema," wrote regarding Ashkenazi practices:

Regarding our lenient practice today about sleeping, that we do not sleep in the sukkah except for those who are most careful about mitzvot: Some say it is because of the cold, that it is distressful to sleep in cold places.

(Orach Chaim 639:2)

Rema is apparently not satisfied with this explanation - possibly because if it's cold you should bundle up - and offers another:

To me it seems that it is because the mitzvah of sukkah is "a man and his home" - a man with his wife as he lives all year. And in a place where one cannot sleep with his wife, as one has no special sukkah, one is exempt. And it is good to be strict, and to be there with one's wife as he lives all year if he can possibly have a special sukkah.

By "a special sukkah" he is apparently referring to one in which one can sleep with one's wife in privacy.

This explanation, too, is problematic, as it seems to contradict an explicit Talmudic passage which says that the mitzvah of sukkah does not require living there with one's wife (Sukkah 28b).

The Mishna Berura notes that the Vilna Gaon rejects Rema's explanation, suggesting instead that one's inability to sleep with one's wife is itself sufficient distress to exempt one from sleeping in the sukkah.

Other explanations have been proposed, but none of them is particularly convincing. When did it disappear? Why? Should it be reinstated? Must it? I think it's a terrific experience, and should at least be encouraged where practical.

Incidentally, in case the mention of "special sukkahs" wasn't clear enough, rabbinical authorities clearly rule that, assuming adequate privacy, one may certainly sleep with one's wife in the sukkah - in every sense.

Unlike Aishel, though, having neither a laptop nor WiFi, I can't blog in my sukkah. To each his own.

Friday, October 01, 2004

A good day, a bad day

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God hath made even the one as well as the other.

- Ecclesiastes 7:14

As Koheleth put it (above), there are good days and bad days. Sometimes they're one and the same.

Last night we enjoyed a gorgeous sukkah night, with friends and family at dinner, followed by comfortable breezes and a quiet night's sleep (as a lazy college friend once put it: When else can you do a mitzvah by sleeping?). A morning at shul, another lovely festival meal with guests. So far so good.

Then, as lunch was ending, I realized I was sneezing a bit too often. Before I knew it, I had a full-blown cold, headache and all. Into bed for me, this time safely indoors. I conked out for a few hours.

Vitamin C, tea, sleep - what am I forgetting? I hope this passes quickly so I can enjoy the rest of the holiday. Preferably in the sukkah, where I belong.