Sunday, May 31, 2009

Michael Oren, Thomas Friedman and Other Random Flashes of Sanity this Shavuot

On the subject of good news and sanity within the Orthodox community, I spent the holiday of Shavuot at the home of Rabbi Naphtali Weisz, the rabbi of Congregation Beth Jacob here in Columbus, and his lovely family. Also staying at the house was Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz, who was here as a scholar in residence for the holiday. Rabbi Kaplowitz heads a branch of the Jewish Learning Initiative at Brandeis. Over the holiday Rabbi Kaplowitz spoke about the question of the centrality of halacha (Jewish law) in Jewish life. He is firmly on the side that Judaism needs to be a lot more than just halacha. He also spoke about Serach bas Ashur, a female figure who is just a name in the bible but is given great prominence in rabbinic literature.

In one of our conversations, Rabbi Weis referred to an article by Michael Oren, which he then used in one of sermons over the holiday. Oren argues that Yitzchak Rabin was influenced to support negations with the PLO starting in 1992 upon being informed of the potential threat from the Iranian nuclear program. The lesson that Rabbi Weisz seems to have taken from this article is that there was a certain logic to the Oslo accords, one that the public was not aware of at the time, and that even allowing Israel to be put under siege by suicide bombers was a calculated short term risk in the face of the long term existential threat posed by an Iranian bomb. It is not often that one hears an Orthodox rabbi acknowledge that the Oslo accords were anything other than a suicidal disaster. Rabbi Weisz also showed me his heavily highlighted copy of Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded. He has become interested in environmental issues and wants to speak out more on the topic.

I greatly admire Friedman despite the fact that he regularly veers too far into mainstream liberalism for my taste. If there is one book that can convince a conservative to go green it is Hot, Flat and Crowded. Its basic premise is that our lack of willingness to cut down on fossil fuels is enriching our enemies in the Islamic world and causing us to lose the War on Terror. Friedman also appeals to two basic bedrocks of, (or at least should be) conservative principles. One, that our challenge to solve the energy needs of the world is an opportunity for individual innovation; the sort of roll up your sleeves pragmatism that is distinctly American. This book is nothing if not patriotic. For Friedman, it is America that can solve this problem and if America fails to lead the way than no one is going to be able to succeed. The second bedrock conservative principle is that sacrifices are going to be needed. We need to hold back on some of our sort term pleasures for the long term good. From my perspective (and I suspect that this is also Rabbi Weisz’s view) this is a call to action for every religious person. If we cannot get on board with the green thrift ethic than who will?

On the side the of not so sane, I ate a meal at member of the community kollel. He had a picture of Rabbi Avigdor Miller on his wall so that creeped me out from the get go. I spent a large part of the meal flipping through a copy of Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon’s With Hearts Full of Love. The title brought to my mind the song from the musical Les Miserables, “a Heart Full of Love.” I assume this is just a coincidence. Then again there might be one very sneaky and subversive Haredi editor out there. The book was essentially a guide to how to brainwash your children and protect them from all the dangerous things in the world, like the internet, competitive sports, computer games, secular books and secular libraries. (To be fair, he does have some nice things to say about playing chess.) I confess to engaging in inordinate amounts of laughter as I imagined myself as Richard Dawkins checking off passages. I am told, that my host got annoyed at the fact that I getting so much entertainment out of the book. Apparently the book is not meant as a joke. This is Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon, the mashgiach of Lakewood, after all. The same Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon who stood up, in middle of the Yeshiva sex-abuse scandal and blamed bloggers for much of the evil in the world. So please hold your smirking and giggling to a minimum.

2 comments:

Miss S. said...

The book was essentially a guide to how to brainwash your children and protect them from all the dangerous things in the world, like the internet, competitive sports, computer games, secular books and secular libraries. (To be fair, he does have some nice things to say about playing chess.)Oh no gripes about secular music? Does this mean I can take the "assur" label off of my Fleetwood Mac CD?

Izgad said...

There is a chapter on music. Sorry, I guess you are going to have to keep those assur lables.