Sunday, October 28, 2018

Vayera, pipe bombs, & a mass murder in a Pittsburgh synagogue--yes, there's a connection

See Parshat Vayera, B'reshit/Genesis, chapter 18, verses 9-15.

When Sarah laughed at the thought of having a baby after menopause, she described Abraham as being old.  Some of our sages/rabbis were impressed that HaShem didn't tell Abraham about the "old"  part--they said that HaShem was trying to spare Abraham's feelings and preserve Shalom Bayit (peace in the home).  Personally, I think the sages missed something major in this interchange--why did HaShem mention this internal conversation of Sarah's to Abraham at all?  Isn't this a classic example of "lashon ha-ra ("evil speech"), a term usually applied to the spreading of information which, while factually accurate, causes damage of one sort or another to its subject"?  How did knowing that his wife was a bit cynical about HaShem's promise not diminish Sarah's reputation in the eyes of her husband?

Now we have political candidates and/or elected or appointed officials committing motzi shem ra--slander (see the link above)--on a regular basis.  Candidates have said that Mexican immigrants are bringing drugs and crime.  Government officials have targeted all Muslims as potential terrorists and/or imposers of Islamic religious law (Sharia).  The news media have been targeted by government officials as "enemies of the people."  Candidates and government officials have encouraged violence against protesters and/or journalists.

Why are we surprised, then, that a reactionary individual targeted some opponents of those in power with pipe bombs?  Why are we surprised, then, that an anti-Semite entered a Pittsburgh synagogue in the middle of Sabbath services and opened fire, killing 11 people just because they were Jews?

Over the course of this past week, I have become increasing upset with the attitude of President Trump.  While he certainly did not order these murderous actions, his adamant refusal to acknowledge that his own words can encourage life-threatening acts strikes me as flagrantly dishonest and shockingly irresponsible.

Never in all of my 69 years have I seen a more powerful demonstration of the fact that, under the right (or wrong) circumstances, what we say--or what we choose not to say--can be quite literally a matter of life or death.

Words matter, Mr. President.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

So much for resting on my laurels

I just finished reformatting, doing lay-out on, and helping edit a document over 200 pages long only a couple of weeks ago, and had expected to coast into my retirement, planned for a couple of months or so from now.  Famous last words.  By coincidence, several other similar documents are currently facing looming deadlines within roughly the next couple of months, coincidentally just prior to my retirement.  And not coincidentally, I've been singled out as the best person in any of our New York City or Long Island locations, in terms of skills, experience, and availability, to do the reformatting and lay-out and help with the editing.  My last few months on the job may turn out to be my busiest ever.

Apparently, I've developed quite a reputation over the years--see Congratulate me:  I'm now a published, er, something-or-other

That said, I've never had to help complete this many major projects in such a short period of time.  Hang onto your hat, Shira--it's going to be a wild ride.

A few words about "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness"

Especially in the early chapters, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander, reminded me of Rabbi Jonathan Sack's description of anti-Semitism as a treatment-resistant virus--every time it seems to have been cured (finally!), it simply morphs into another form. (Jews are capitalists, Jews are communists, Jews are victims of the Nazis, Jews are Nazis--you get the picture.) Racism can also be described as a treatment-resistant virus, as The New Jim Crow makes clear. The United States abolished slavery, and Jim Crow discrimination and segregation replaced it. Now, the U.S. has outlawed discrimination and segregation, and replaced it with a new racial caste system that treats minority neighborhoods, and especially young black males, as if they are responsible for most crime, even though whites are just as likely to smoke marijuana as blacks are. Locking up a huge proportion of the male black population for drug use and/or sale that would be ignored if the guilty were white, and stripping convicts and former convicts of their right to vote and to get government-subsidized food and housing, coupled with the challenge of getting an honest job as an "ex-con," has created a permanent underclass in the Black community and deprived children of their fathers. And affirmative action has been a double-edged sword, putting blacks in the dubious position of having to enforce laws that discriminate against their own community or lose their jobs.

Current laws encourage both overt and unconscious racism, and it has always been political expedient to pit working-class whites against working-class blacks. Unless and until we end the "War on Drugs" and, instead, spend our tax dollars on providing true educational and job-training opportunities
for all, racism will continue to have a devastating effect on communities and individuals of color.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A politically-conscious friend looks at Lech L'cha

Here's an overview of Parshat Lech L'cha.

I've often said that Hagar was one of the first surrogate mothers on record.

But a more politically-conscious friend of mine pointed out something frankly offensive:  Hagar was sex-trafficked by Sarai.


Read for yourself--at no point in the text is Hagar ever asked for her consent.

As if it wasn't bad enough that Sarai was sex-trafficked by Avram.  Yes, she was asked, but whether she was actually free to say no is an interesting question, and it's clear from the text that Avram benefited financially from Sarai's time in the house of Pharoah.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Kayin and Kavanaugh

I've been reading the weekly Torah reading nearly every week for over 40 years, but every now and then, I still spot something that I've never noticed before.

B'reshit/Genesis, Parshat B'reshit, chapter 4, verses 8-15

ח  וַיֹּאמֶר קַיִן, אֶל-הֶבֶל אָחִיו; וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתָם בַּשָּׂדֶה, וַיָּקָם קַיִן אֶל-הֶבֶל אָחִיו וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ.8 And Cain spoke unto Abel his brother. And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
ט  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-קַיִן, אֵי הֶבֶל אָחִיךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יָדַעְתִּי, הֲשֹׁמֵר אָחִי אָנֹכִי.9 And the LORD said unto Cain: 'Where is Abel thy brother?' And he said: 'I know not; am I my brother's keeper?'
י  וַיֹּאמֶר, מֶה עָשִׂיתָ; קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ, צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה.10 And He said: 'What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground.
יא  וְעַתָּה, אָרוּר אָתָּה, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר פָּצְתָה אֶת-פִּיהָ, לָקַחַת אֶת-דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ מִיָּדֶךָ.11 And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand.
יב  כִּי תַעֲבֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה, לֹא-תֹסֵף תֵּת-כֹּחָהּ לָךְ; נָע וָנָד, תִּהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ.12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be in the earth.'
יג  וַיֹּאמֶר קַיִן, אֶל-יְהוָה:  גָּדוֹל עֲוֺנִי, מִנְּשֹׂא.13 And Cain said unto the LORD: 'My punishment is greater than I can bear.
יד  הֵן גֵּרַשְׁתָּ אֹתִי הַיּוֹם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, וּמִפָּנֶיךָ, אֶסָּתֵר; וְהָיִיתִי נָע וָנָד, בָּאָרֶץ, וְהָיָה כָל-מֹצְאִי, יַהַרְגֵנִי.14 Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the land; and from Thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth; and it will come to pass, that whosoever findeth me will slay me.'
טו  וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ יְהוָה, לָכֵן כָּל-הֹרֵג קַיִן, שִׁבְעָתַיִם, יֻקָּם; וַיָּשֶׂם יְהוָה לְקַיִן אוֹת, לְבִלְתִּי הַכּוֹת-אֹתוֹ כָּל-מֹצְאוֹ.15 And the LORD said unto him: 'Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.' And the LORD set a sign for Cain, lest any finding him should smite him.

What do you mean, "My punishment is greater than I can bear"?  You just killed your brother, and this is the only thing you have to say?

Kayin (Cain) expressed no remorse, no sense of guilt.  The only thing that upset him was that he'd been caught.  And then had the unmitigated chutzpah (gall) to complain that he was being punished.  Did he expect not to be punished?

And why was he punished with exile?  Later in the Torah, it is written (quote approximate), "A person who sheds another person's blood, by another person will that murderer's blood be shed."*  Evidently, G-d believes in capital punishment, but G-d doesn't necessarily inflict it G-dself.  Why, then, did G-d mark Kayin's forehead to prevent any human from avenging Hevel's (Abel's) blood?

Apparently, nothing's changed in over 5,000 years--perpetrators of violence are still getting away with a slap on the wrist from the powerful.

*Monday, October 15, 2018 update:

Genesis Chapter 9 בְּרֵאשִׁית

[Parshat Noach/Noah--sorry about extra space that I can't seem to delete]

ו  שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם, בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ:  כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים, עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם. 6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Back to normal

When I got to the office today and took off my usual baseball cap, I realized that it was the first time in days that I'd gone bareheaded in public--I've had a kippah under my baseball cap since Saturday.  :)
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