Thursday, May 31, 2007

Feeling Like Atlas

I'm currently reading both Another Mother: Co-Parenting with the Foster Care System, and We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda. Needless to say, I'm in a very strange mental place.

The first book, by a social worker (Sarah Gerstenzang) who chose to foster a child (infant to 2 years old, willing to consider any race, and any disability) has me reevaluating my commitment to adoption and fostering children. I decided long ago that I want to have four children. Realistically I'll have as many children as Hashem wills, and as I can afford, but in my ideal world I want four. Two biological, and two adopted. You see, I am worried about world overpopulation, so I do not wish to create more lives than my husband and I will require to replace, but I am also concerned about the survival of the Jewish people, and so I'd like to contribute to that growth too, so I need to have three or more children, net. However, after reading this book it seems unlikely that I will have the time/funds to adopt two children, even non-internationally. Looks like I need a new life plan. Also, the book has a fascinating look into how our social policy is formed by beliefs about who needs help and why.

As for the second, well, let's just say that it isn't a light read. Philip Gourevitch (who, from an offhand comment seems to be the child of Holocaust survivors) describes not just the process of the genocide (with which I was unfamiliar) but also the historical context. He explains who the Hutus and Tutsis are, and from where the ethnic differentiation comes. Surprise, surprise, colonialism had something to do with it... The amazing writing, clarity of narrative, and personal style all contribute to a fabulous, if difficult book. Whose thesis, for the record, only strengthens my belief that one cannot ignore the role of history in creating current conflicts, and that many modern conflicts are like a basket of knitting that has become tangled. You can either spend a great deal of time seperating out the threads to maintain the yarn's integrity, or you can just cut them, leaving yourself with another type of mess, and a less structurally sound final garment (after you use the cut yarn for knitting).

The Annie "basket theory" of modern political conflict

For the record, my analogy is not entirely my own, it has its base in an Eastern European Jewish folk story. The story goes as follows: a young man has brought home his fiancee to meet his mother, and his mother is less than impressed. The man and his mother argue for several hours while the young woman is sitting in the corner, patiently untangling the man's mother's knitting basket. By the time the man and his mother have reached a standoff, the entire basket is set to order. When his mother sees this she relents, and accepts the woman as an acceptable wife for his son, because she sees the woman's patience and industry as important values. She also says something like "may she untangle all disputes like she has with this knitting basket."

In conclusion, I'm feeling responsible for the world, and not entirely sure how to fix it. Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

ICHC is ruining my relationship

For serious. I love ICHC, but it really has to stop. CJ and I end every interaction with the phrase "k thx bai."

We talk like idiots. Basically all the time. Our grammar has suffered, and speaking like a lolcat is not necessarily going to impress prospective employers (did I mention that I am job-hunting?).

This is how I imagine the conversation:

Prospective Employer: So, what can you bring to this organization?
Me: I can has writing skillz.


Morality in Media

I know that some people might think that, that statement is an oxymoron, but bear with me for a moment... you see, in certain types of media (mostly movies) if someone has to die, it is usually a character that has done something "worthy of punishment." The best example of this is in horror movies where attractive young heroines who have had premarital sex are killed off in gruesome ways, yet the virginal heroine, the one who abstains from drinking and debauchery, is usually the one who lives through the end.

This type of thing actually doesn't bother me so much. I have a strange quirk when it comes to reading... if I find the main character morally reprehensible, I cannot like them, and am significantly less interested in the story. A good example of this was Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. Once there was prostitution, and incest, then I was far less interested. The interesting thing is that there are only a few "sins" that bother me like this: if the person bases a relationship on a lie, cheats, or is tempted to cheat (Anna Karenina makes me crazy. She seems stupid and selfish), or generally does other "bad person" things.

This is not to say that I cannot enjoy a book where the main character is not admirable. For instance, I really enjoy the Flashman Chronicles, where the main character, Sir Harry Paget Flashman, is an out-and-out rounder, yet he knows it, admits it, and you aren't supposed to really like him.

This brings me to the novel that I have read most recently, Bel Canto (WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD). I really enjoyed it, the writing was lyrical, the topic interesting, the characters were people I could identify with, all in all, a really great experience. Until the last three pages. I knew from the beginning that it would not end well. Hostage situations never do, but there were two deaths in particular that made me really think.

1) Carmen: Ok, so she was a terrorist, and had to die, but of the pairing (her and Gen) it was clear that one of them would have to bite it, as no one can live "happily ever after" in these type of stories. She was the one breaking a taboo, sleeping with the hostage, in a way betraying her cause, so she drew the short straw. Also, terrorist.

2) Mr. Hosokawa: again, clearly at least one hostage had to die, because in almost all hostage situations there is some collateral damage. And the person had to be someone we cared about (so either Gen, who is already disqualified, because that would have been too romantic, the priest, Ruben Inglesias, Roxanne Cross, or Mr. Hosokawa), and again, the no "happy endings" rule comes into effect, so it is narrowed down to Roxanne or Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne, a single, female singer is having pre-martial sex, but Mr. Hosokawa is a married man, having extra-marital sex. Extra-marital trumps pre-marital, so he has to die.

As for the marriage between Gen and Roxanne? Ew. That creeps me out a bit.

Update: My mother, who is brilliant, suggested that the book is written in the style of an opera. Now the overwrought emotion, tragic, foreseeable ending, and absurd romance make sense. It retroactively makes me like the book more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Jews Love: Shavuot

Actually, it is my least favorite holiday. I dislike staying up late, and it is traditional to stay up all night and learn Torah. Although I do love dairy products, the trend in recent years has been to reclaim meat for Shavuot*. Not so clear why. I love dairy products! They do not hurt my delicate stomach, and they mean a far better class of dessert. Also: we read the Book of Ruth, from which comes one of the most popular quotations read at weddings (your G-d is my G-d, wherever you go I will follow, etc, etc) which was actually said from one woman to another. Another strike for homosexuality in Judaism! I don't hate the Book of Ruth, I just find it kind of icky. It does, however, give us the best euphemism for sleeping with someone, "uncover[ing] his feet." Awesome.

If you want a good rundown of some of the most prevalent customs, and their bases, you should read this post by Angel of Woman Honor Thyself. If you want a more scholarly description, check out Rabbi Professor David Golinkin's piece for Yael of Olehgirl talks about her personal experience of Shavuot in Israel, and again I am reminded of how much more fun chagim* are in Israel. Judy of Jerusalem Diaries goes further to stoke my jealousy with her description of the thousands of people packing the streets of Jerusalem. Yehudit Bracha of Jewschool describes her Shavuot in Israel as "like a pub crawl, but with Torah." Amazing. She also repeats a portion of a lecture she attended about Jubilee years. The concept being that in every 7th year the land is allowed to lie fallow, and all debts are forgiven. Unfortunately what this meant in practice is that people did not lend to someone right before the Jubilee year, so people were growing hungry. No less a figure than Rabbi Hillel himself decided to abolish the practice of a Jubilee year, as it was causing a social ill, and not a social good.

This brings me back to a conversation I have had with Harley over and over again. We don't sell our children anymore to pay debts, and we don't celebrate the Jubilee year, nor do we keep a number of other practices that we consider to be "inapplicable." They've fallen away over the years for numerous reasons. Why can we not, then, discard some of our more distasteful current practices? For instance, the fact that homosexuality is "an abomination," or the laws that allow a civilly divorced man to remarry, but keep his wife chained to him? Why aren't those allowed to fall away too?

Ok, sorry, back to Shavuot. Other thoughts: Amiram Hayardeny of My China Experience talks about the holiday in terms of Jewish population and census taking. Although he does make one point that I disagree with about the Ultra-Orthodox community: "as they take on restrictions, more and more people leave." I don't actually think that, that is true. While the real number of people leaving Orthodoxy may have risen, percentage-wise they have, by far, the highest rate of youth retention. As the movement grows, the small percent who leave becomes a larger number, but I think that it would be false to say that the growing restrictions are mirrored in a growing defection rate. Another Jew abroad, Marc Watson, spent his Shavuot in Costa Rica, which apparently has a great museum of Jewish history, and, will wonders never cease, a kosher Burger King.

If you want to focus on food, By the Bay of Gluten-Free By the Bay has a recipe that, although I was doubtful, looks delicious in photos for "Reduced Fat Cheesy Baked Ziti." Elisheva Hannah Levin of Ragamuffin Studies created a Shavuot lesson that included a traditional festival meal (with source material from Joan Nathan) which had some delicious-looking homemade blintzes.

And a last Shavuot-related thought: Smooth Stone reminds us that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, not just to Moses, but to the entire Jewish people, which is, as always, a beautiful thought.

*Shavuot is the Jewish Pentecost
* Chagim are Holydays

Intermarriage Doesn't Matter

First of all, hi, I'm back from my (first ever!) vacation. Mmm I can still feel the sunburn.

At any rate, I have, for work and for personal reasons, being trawling through a great deal of Jewish-produced research about Jews. A lot. If I were to base a judgement on the Jewish people by reading their research alone, this is what I would think that we care about:

-Jewish Camping
-Disaffiliation/unaffiliation of our Youth
-Youth Movements
-"Outreach" (aka, how to get intermarried people to be involved)

All I have to say is: aaaaaaaaaaarg.

Important things happen in the Jewish community. We deal with big issues, like Agunot, Qassam rockets falling on Sderot, and what that means for travel to Israel, how Israel and its politics affect our love for/connection to the Holy Land, poverty, both Jewish, and non, the rightward shift of Orthodoxy, I could go on and on.

There are a lot of things that bother me, on a day to day basis. A number of things that I worry about. For instance: is there anything practical that I could do to help pressure the UN or other governments into sending troops to Darfur? What would that mean for Sudan? How can I reconcile my love for Israel, and my incredible feelings of sadness for those Palestinians who feel the same love and connection, yet do not have the political ability or capital to create and enforce a workable compromise?

The "agenda" of the "Organized Jewish Community" is driven by those with money. Such is the way of the world. Big donors, Federations, and philanthropies are able to use their money to commission surveys and to run programs. But here's where I think there is room for change: someone has to do the surveys, and run the programs. At some point an individual must say "yes, I'll do that." Now I understand that when it is your job to do what your boss says to do, you must do it, but there are a number of freelancers out there, big names who run/study big things, and I think that it is time for them to shift the agenda. ROI 120 is a good start, but we need to do more. Several studies have said that many young Jews connect to Judaism through social justice work. Ok, so let's start focusing on doing social justice work, not just to draw people in, but because we're a small community with a large amount of money, and a duty to be a "light unto the nations." We're not doing enough. And I think that we need to start focusing on the things that are objectively important.

Jews are marrying out because they don't see Judaism as inherently valuable, as something worth passing on to their children. Lets make it valuable, use our Jewish ethics to do real Tikkun Olam, not just on an individual basis, but as a community, and I think that we'll see that our other community issues either become less important, or seem so.

Update: Esther Kustanowitz whose awesomeness is all-encompassing, makes a similar point, except about procreation instead of intermarriage.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mea Culpa

"What is wrong with women? I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected. How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it."

With those words, in response to the video of Dua Khalil's violent death by stoning, Joss Whedon addresses not only the worldwide violence towards women, but the attitude of which that violence is a symptom. As I read his post, I found myself nodding not only because I recognized that pervasive misogynistic sentiment, but also because I realized that, to some extent, I had internalized it.

An outspoken feminist, I am ashamed to admit that at some level I buy into it all: I hate women, too.

How else can I interpret my exceptionalist attitude towards the women I discuss with my guy friends? Or the pleasure I feel when they discern that I'm "an exception," "one of the cool ones," "not like the others." How else to explain the intensity of my dislike for Paris Hilton and her ilk, and the schadenfreude I feel when she "gets what's coming to her." Is it still choice feminism if I deride the choices of other women to dress as they want, act as they want, say and do what they want? Or am I only pro-choice when it's a choice of which I approve, looking down at them from my height way up here on my pedestal.

Several months ago, Carolyn Hax, the venerable advice columnist for The Washington Post, gave a piece of advice to a young woman who had written in about her boorish male friends and her feeling of invisibility. Hax's answer spoke directly to me, to the asshole I can be: "Yes, being a cool chick among people who make that distinction is mistreatment, because the implication is that your coolness makes you an exception among women. That is misogyny."
Her answer, to be honest, was a condemnation of my silence, my complicity, and, yes, my cruel and depraved indifference to other women.
Part of that attitude, I think, stems for a mild gender dysphoria with which I've always struggled. No, I don't want to be a man; nor do I think I was born in the wrong body; but I have always felt more comfortable around guys, more at ease with my male friends than my female friends, less awkward and more natural with their mode of existence. I've finally reached a point in life where I'm comfortable with myself as a person. Perhaps it's time for me to become comfortable with myself as a woman. Maybe now, after this terrible admission, I can drop the judgmental bullshit, which serves to mask my own insecurity at my own inability to be feminine or girly enough, and finally become a real feminist; that is, someone who really believes that women are equal and whose actions and words support that belief.

Fun with Bible, Part II

You had to know after reading Fun with Bible, Part I, that a Part II was inevitable. In honor of the second day of Shavuot and because I'm a bit of a sadist, here follows my extensive thoughts on biblical theology (or lack thereof) and its reflection in Maimonides's Thirteen Principles. Please try to contain your excitement.

A close examination of Maimonides’s Thirteen Principles reveals a tension in the text between the Bible and philosophy. Yet, this mental exercise fails to address two major issues affecting Maimonidean thought that create a gulf between the Bible and medieval Jewish philosophy. First, to label an influence “biblical” implies that the view derives from the text of the Bible, itself, and presumes an extant or coherent biblical theology upon which to draw. Ideas may be biblically influenced without implying that they represent the Bible in its entirety; but in that case, epistemological honesty entails more specificity. For example, both Philo and Hume may legitimately be labeled “biblically influenced,” a statement that says less about the nature of their works than it does about the breadth of biblical content.

Second, this exercise fails to address the chasm between theology and practice as expressed in the Bible and theology and practice as molded by rabbinic literature in the intervening millennium between biblical canonization and Maimonides’s writings. The Thirteen Principles reveal that Maimonides’s initial contact with the Bible is through a rabbinic lens, a fact which does not invalidate his conclusions (nor do I suggest that he never approaches the Bible without the rabbinic perspective), but which affects his focus and colors his perspective. Therefore, “Biblical” is a misleading label for strains of Maimonidean thought that reflect Jewish sources or privilege Jewish over philosophy. A close examination of his Thirteen Principles, as they are an apt summary of his belief system, highlights the tension within Jewish thought about certain “fundamental” beliefs.

Firmly fixed in Jewish philosophical tradition, Maimonides roots his arguments in the biblical text, but in doing so, glosses over its multiplicity of views and imposes a single biblical theology. By definition, theology is a systematic approach to the study and understanding of God, involving the intellect. Already, the word, “theology,” is paradoxical because if humans cannot fathom or understand God intellectually, then how are they able to approach God in a systematic way using their intellect? Aside from the logical difficulties with its mechanics, the concept of a biblical theology from a medieval standpoint assumes that rabbinic Judaism logically follows the religion of the Hebrew Bible. Thus, medieval philosophical reflection on biblical theology serves to authenticate rabbinic Judaism as the legitimate heir of the biblical religion.

ScarJo's thinking deeply about Maimonades
According to Stephen Geller, as the Bible has no identifiable theological center around which all biblical theology is organized, biblical theology is a phantom. He argues that the Hebrews had neither a clear theological perspective, nor any language for it; therefore, they expressed religious ideas through poetry and stories, not expositions and epistles detailing their theology explicitly. Any attempt to address biblical theology must wrangle with this barrier. Maimonides, in this vein, is guilty of imposing his framework on the biblical authors. Moreover, although he argues that his Thirteen Principles are fundamental to the religion, rabbinic literature does not promulgate a clear, dogmatic view of correct theology. (As Louis Finkelstein famously remarked, “Jewish theology is Jewish answers to non-Jewish questions.”) Traditionally, the central question that Jewish texts address is not why, but how. Rabbinic literature addresses the way in which Jews enact Judaism, with an emphasis on law, not on dogma. In this way, theology is impractical to rabbinic Judaism. This absence creates a vacuum into which Jewish philosophers flood.

Although the ideas elucidated in the Thirteen Principles are represented in the Bible, they are by no means all authoritative or central. Despite his declaration that they are fundamental, several of these principles are marginally represented. For example, he states that Jews believe that God is incorporeal and that God’s unity is physical neither potentially nor actually. To counteract the argument that the Bible often speaks of God in physical terms, Maimonides asserts that these verses should be understood metaphorically. Verses attesting to God’s incorporeality permeate the Bible, particularly in the later stratum of texts. As physical manifestations of God went out of vogue, the Hebrew God became less physical and more transcendent (as aptly expressed in I Kings 19:11-14). Yet, God’s physical manifestations abound, God is physically tangible. Beyond the fact that God was meant to physically reside both in the Ark of the Covenant and in the Temple, before I Kings 19, God was in the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. In the Bible, theophany represents God’s presence on earth: the fabric of reality rends when God enters the earth, create chaos and imagery of uncreation. Maimonides pre-emptively undermines the validity of this evidence by dismissing it as metaphorical; however, physical offerings, such as sacrifice, attest to a biblical religion that believed in a God that hungered, angered, and rested, particularly on the seventh day.

Maimonides’s definition of prophet and prophecy, illustrated in both the Thirteen Principles and the Guide, further demonstrate the gulf between Maimonides’s representation of the Bible in philosophy and its actual content. A myriad of biblical accounts concerning the prophets argue against Maimonides’s “gifted and perfected” prophet. Far from intellectual and physical perfection, biblical prophets (with the exception of court prophets and Isaiah) were politically and socially marginalized (and not known for their bathing, although that is unconfirmed defamation). The examples are endless, but Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel constitute an alliterative array of evidence against Maimonides’s perfect prophet. In I Kings 18, Elijah, known for his witty repartee, mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their god was otherwise occupied: on the toilet. The prophets of Baal paid for their idolatry with their lives, but at least they were guilty adults. Elisha, Elijah’s disciple, caused two she-bears to maul 42 children because they called him “baldy.” (II Kings 12:23-25) Though not a murder, Ezekiel, at God’s behest, ate a barley cake cooked in human excrement. This act, completed for the purpose of prophecy, can hardly be considered an intellectual communion with God. Maimonides may enunciate an ideal of prophecy, but, at least according to the biblical sources, not a reality.

The tenth principle, which elucidates God’s vigilance to the cause of man, such that God never turns God’s eyes away, is directly contradicted by the biblical conceit known as Buber’s Eclipse. The best example of this phenomenon can be found in Isaiah 8:17: So I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding His face from the House of Jacob, and I will trust in Him. (Cf. Psalm 102:3) This idea is simultaneously theologically rich and religiously dangerous. The only reason for Maimonides to gloss over such an important, albeit difficult, theological concept is to promote a particular belief system. A God that does not watch every moment is not omniscient. Furthermore, a God who turns away from Israel cannot fulfill God’s promise, according to the eleventh principle, to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. The specious nature of this claim has an entire book devoted to it: Job. By attempting to make a comprehensive and monolithic list of the fundamental attributes of Jewish belief, Maimonides simplifies and ignores theological strains that contradict his medieval rabbinic perspective and, in doing so, deprives his audience of the pleasure of watching one of histories greatest minds grapple with the theological difficulties of the biblical text.

Although he traces their roots to the Bible, Maimonides’s Thirteen Principles reveal his rabbinic bias. His thirteenth principle, the fundamental truth of the resurrection of the dead, uncovers his promotion of rabbinic thought over biblical evidence. With the exception of Daniel, the latest text to be canonized (likely the 2nd Century, B.C.E), resurrection is explicitly absent from the Bible. This principle reflects the Mishnah on which it was based. The language in this tractate surrounding resurrection, furthermore, implies that the concept is largely absent from the Bible. Were it unquestionably a biblical concept, then strong language insisting that anyone who questions resurrection in the Torah is a heretic would be unnecessary. The Rabbis doth protest too much, methinks.

Given that rabbinic literature touches on theology and philosophy, albeit tangentially and obliquely, and affects medieval Jewish thinkers because of their intellectual and academic contexts, why is its content not considered in the realm of Jewish philosophical texts? In grappling with the difficulty of our Jewish philosophical heritage, particularly in the ambiguity of the Biblical place on the philosophical spectrum, rabbinic literature and its seeming ambivalence towards philosophy and theology (if that is true) should be addressed. We often focus on the biblical influences of philosophical texts, but the conclusions we draw about biblical influence are meaningless without the rabbinic context that mediated their interaction. Maimonides, more so than any other thinker, reveals in his Thirteen Principles the tensions between the different strata of Jewish thought and philosophy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


In penance for my last, overly long post, I give you fluff:

The smile on your face is all the thanks I need. Now, I'm hungry.

Fun with Bible, part I

... and all I got was this lousy degree. Because I forgot last week: Congratulations JTS grads of 2007! Good luck with your incredibly useful degrees!

Because I am super-duper lame, I've decided that I will subject you all to my thoughts on Bible and philosophy. Mwah ha ha ha. But, seriously. In honor of Shavuot, here follow my thoughts on Wisdom Literature and Greek Philosophy:

The premise of the biblical wisdom tradition is that the universe is created and, as such, the ordering principles that God used to create the universe can be discerned; wisdom is a transcendental universal. The implication of a created universe, presupposing a just God, places an obligation on humanity to manifest God’s order in human life. These ordering principles, codified in Israelite tradition in Torah (ref: Psalm 19), comprise moral imperatives as well as national law. According to prophetic theodicy, everything in the universe is interconnected (ref: Amos 1 and Proverbs 31:21-23). The natural order shudders when humanity misbehaves, when chaos seeps in through the cracks of human interaction. Therefore, wisdom literature places the burden on sapient humanity to ensure that order is enshrined in society through wisdom. To subvert this order is to undermine not only social and national stability, but to fundamentally shake the ramparts of the universe.

The biblical wisdom tradition reveals an inherent tension between anthropocentric (man’s pragmatic relation to wisdom, the ways in which wisdom profits man as a means) and theocentric (the human task is to discover God’s wisdom as an end) purposes. (cf. Psalm 1 and Psalm 149). Proverbs 1-9, for example, demonstrates experiential wisdom as a faculty of mankind. In this context, wisdom can be discerned through reason, autonomously and rationally; potent without theology. After this preamble, however, the Book of Proverbs takes a decidedly theological turn. Ultimately, the instruction of the wise collapses to reveal that fear of God, not rational deduction, generates all wisdom. Comparing Proverb 13:14 with 14:27, תורת חכם (roughly, Wisdom of the Torah) is used interchangeably with (Fear of God) יראת ה', both are called (the source of Life) מקור חיים. Why fear of God? The illusion that everyday observations reflect reality under-girds the systematic belief in the cosmic order of reality. Proverb 31:30, summarizing the teachings of wisdom literature, provides that fear of God is the antidote to the illusions of human reason. Wisdom literature codifies ordering principles deduced by man; ultimately fallible and imperfect because it is a human creation. At its base, all of wisdom is יראת ה' (also the conclusion of Qohelet). This book comprises the theologization of secular wisdom.

As with Wisdom Literature’s ordering principles, Plato argues ‘forms’ as a template for creation. The overarching purpose of his philosophy is to uncover these forms, to perceive a pattern from the conglomeration of facts, and, as with Israelite wisdom literature, to use this knowledge to more perfectly order society. Just as the wisdom tradition cautions against slavish devotion to the illusion of one’s eyes, Plato suggests a dichotomy between that which always is and that which is always becoming. Using the wisdom tradition framework, הבל היפי, (Proverbs 31:30, cf. Qohelet 1:2-8) opinion and sensation are illusory and momentary; therefore, they are always in the process of “becoming.” Whereas wisdom literature locates the counterpart to all that is הבל... תחת השמים in יראת ה', Plato perceives truth as apprehended by reason to be the true constant, that which always is.

The structure of Platonic philosophy is markedly different from biblical wisdom literature. In both Proverbs and Psalms, wisdom is encoded in biblical poetry. Job, who is chronologically closest to Plato (most scholars date Job to the late 5th Century, approximately concurrent with Plato), does use the form of a dialogue in the form of poetic discourse, with the exception of the prose frame tale. Alternatively, Plato’s discourses systematically approach the problem at hand. The purpose of Plato’s work is philosophy: the methodical and logical uncovering of knowledge as an end in and of itself. The greatest difference between Plato and biblical wisdom literature is that the former suggests an alternative to the existing social, cultural, and political tradition; the latter enshrines it, providing a raison d'être for Israelite social, religious, and legal law code.

The central concern of wisdom literature, particularly Job, is the issue of theodicy. The wisdom tradition postulates a righteous/wicked heuristic for reward and punishment. This organization serves to reinforce the message of the literature, itself. If a person is righteous, i.e. lives life according to Torah/Israelite religion, then that person will be rewarded. Conversely, the wicked will be punished. Existential reality contradicts this heuristic, providing ample evidence that the righteous suffer and the wicked are rewarded. An entire ANE genre of literature is focused on the “righteous sufferer,” and the problem of perceived injustice in God’s universe. The Bible asserts that God controls the order of ethics, the world testifies to God’s justice (Job 5:8); however, in Job, God testifies from the whirlwind that the world is not rationally, that is uncanny (Job 38). God does not argue that God is good. (Kaufman, p. 241) The Joban poet suggests that God’s power is separate from God’s justice: God’s actions are in no way constrained by God’s justice. To assume that God acts within the confines of justice is to place a limit on the power of God. Either God is constrained by justice or God’s justice is a matter of self-limitation, a testament to God’s restraint. (cf. Tzevat, p. 16) If God created wisdom and continues to have control over nature and ethics, then justice is as God determines it to be. Therefore, when justice contradicts our experiential wisdom or dissonates with our conception of fairness, the cause is not that God is unjust, but that humanity can never fully apprehend God’s justice (i.e., God’s order).

The Bible emphasizes both God and humanity’s role in determining good; if good has a rational basis, then human perception of and God’s enforcement of good should be co-equal. The dissonance revealed by works such as Job should not exist. The problem with this formulation is that it attempts to view justice as separate from God in a theocentric worldview. In general, the Bible depicts justice as a realm of God, but never as an objective entity. If God defines justice, then how can justice be considered separate from God? Even in the moments in which prophets stand in the breach on behalf of justice and argue with God (the best example of which is Abraham speaking on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah), they use God’s language of justice and righteousness. What makes a man righteous and a society just? The principles espoused in God’s Torah.

Plato argues that justice is an objective form, separate from divine origin or control. His central question is whether the gods determine that which is good or are the gods bound by that which is essentially, universally, eternally good. In Euthyphro, he argues that good is itself is an independent essence from that which the gods value as good. This idea of good is the last thing to be seen in the realm of light outside the cave, man’s highest goal is to understand the essence of good (from Plato’s parable of the cave). As the Bible uses wisdom literature to validate its own modes, Plato’s framework in The Republic reinforces the Socratic polemic for philosopher kings. He argues that rational discovery of universals, including justice, presumably conducted by philosophers who are trained in the art of uncovering knowledge, should provide the basis for a just society. Moreover, the men who thus reveal and understand these universals will be best suited to governing the Republic. In Timaeus, Plato gives lip service to a creator; but his true gods are the philosophers, who, through their ability to unravel and reveal the patterns of the universe, create an ideal world, manifesting the principles of creation on earth.

In placing Plato in the realm of Ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, the two forms act to elucidate one-another. For example, wisdom literature’s ordering principles are co-equal with Platonic forms. From the vantage point of Plato, where universals precede everything, the question of God’s constrains and limitations in power and expression are an extension of its objective existence outside of God. Alternatively, if God contains and controls all universals, all ordering principles, all wisdom, then the act of creation is not God acting within constrains, but God choosing to constrain Gods self. The world is therefore imbued with rational patterns built into its fabric. The basis of both wisdom literature and Platonic discourse is that human beings can discover and know these rational patterns.

The dude on the left is Plato.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fashion Hates Ethnicity, Immigrants, and Your Mom

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, and fashion has decided that it hates my ass.
As I think we've established through the course of our blog-relationship, I am a short, white, Jewish chick of Russian-Polish extraction. I have a not unusual body type for my ethnicity, one that has kindly been described as a "pocket Venus" (which translates into: short and curvy). The practical implications of my measurements are that, invariably, very few fashion-forward pieces fit me, but usually I can find something with which to clothe my body. That is, until this season, when fashion decided to attempt to sell me what I can only describe as a series of ill-fitting shift and boob-smooshing babydoll dresses. I am neither a baby nor a doll and my ample bosom (about which poetry has been written-- albeit, by me) cannot fit under the band of a bandeau top.

Given that I've been this size and shape for the last decade, I've come to accept that my body is hard to fit; but to find nothing to wear from an entire season's collection? That's going too far.

Then it occurred to me (as it often does): does fashion's sudden emphasis on clothing that really, truly looks good only on tall skinny women only imply its inadvertent inability to see the profit of marketing to curvier women OR is something more insidiously evil occurring right under my nose?Shock of all shocks, I smell conspiracy and it smells faintly of nativism.

Without making too many controversial, crass over-generalizations, I think it's safe to say that fashion privileges tall, thin women. It is also safe to generalize that certain groups tend to produce tall thin women and certain groups do not. The effect of fashion favoring tall, thin women is not only to cause short, curvy women to develop body image issues, a problem not nearly benign, but also to promote one beauty standard as "perfect," a beauty standard generally found among white, Anglo women. What are the implications of that statement? Fashion isn't just misogynist, it's racist, too.

Before the floodgates open, I know I'm over-stating my point. I'm not arguing, necessarily, that all people who promote these fashions are consciously making a statement about race. I am arguing that when the beauty standard is unflaggingly found in one group and not others, that sends a very clear message about what's acceptable and what's unacceptable.

Fashion doesn't occur in a vacuum; it's not dictated by magical fairies on a far away moon who send their designs to us meager earthlings. Fashion is created in a decidedly American social context and, as such, is privy and pray to American sensibilities, particularly those shaped by the current social, cultural, and political climates. The types of clothing that are being marketed in the past two seasons-- the shapeless shifts, the leggings, the skinny jeans-- are all types of clothing that have appeared before: in the 1920s, late 1970s, and early 1980s, during which times anti-immigration, pro-nativist sentiments were at their peak, historically. Is it possible that as conservative American opinion turns against people from foreign cultures, fashion produces clothing that only flatters a stereotypically WASPy, American, body type?
Look at these clothes! Where would my ass and thighs even fit? Not one thing in the line-up, above, would not make me look preggers. I am not suggesting that tall, thin women do not need to be clothed. Far be it from me to suggest that something is wrong with their shapes. But I don't think I'm far off in suggesting that a society that routinely refuses to dress women of different sizes and shapes, not only through a dearth of sizing, but also by the very nature of what it promotes as attractive and trendy from season to season, is a society that needs to take a serious look at its own implicit racism.

ScarJo is a pocket Venus, just like I.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Annie vs. Sexism; Again

Ok, so last time I made a statement about feminism, a number of people disagreed with me. So now I'm going to take a stand that will probably seem surprising.

In today's Salon, Debra Dickerson wrote an article about how Michelle Obama will be cutting back her hours at her high-powered day job to " sacrifice herself on the altar of her husband's ambition" and become"a professional wife and hostess."

Before I address this particular article, I'd like to elaborate a theory that I have on marriage, or any other permanent partnership between two people. You see, in any partnership, one person's career gets to "drive," for whatever reason. It could be because it is more demanding, location specific, or makes more money. For instance, I have a friend who is seriously dating a young man who is in school to become a member of the clergy. Where they live will be dependant upon where he can get a job. At this point, she doesn't have a set career, so it makes sense that hers take a back seat. On the other side of the gender spectrum, I have a family friend who is a bond trader. She specializes in international bonds, and so is sent (on short-term appointments) to different places in the world. Her husband is a journalist, and makes less money, so they prioritized, and put her career first. See? Only one driver at a time. This doesn't mean that one persons' career gets to drive forever, just at a time. I think that in fair, and equitable relationships there should be an ongoing discussion about priorities.

Ok, so in this case, Barak Obama is running for President. While his wife does some terrific work, both professionally and charitably, I don't think that anyone would say that her work is more important than that of the President. When he was merely a senator, I think that one could make the case that their work be equal, or differently weighted, but President? A quick look at the other side; Hillary might be the only female candidate in this election, but she stands as a pretty good example. When Bill was President, she took a back seat, but now that she is the one in politics, Bill has either moved out of the limelight (focusing on charity work, or fundraising), or has worked to support her. Case in point, the recent support video that he made (which I thought was fabulous).

Also, most political spouses aren't run of the mill people. Often they have major careers of their own, before and during their husband's political careers: Hillary, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Cindy Hensley McCain, Elizabeth Edwards, are good examples, and the list goes on. These women are impressive in their own right, but decided to let their husbands' careers drive, at least for a while. The fact that this list is predominantly female speaks less (I think) to the willingness of women to put aside their careers, and more to the fact that until recently, a female president was unthinkable.

As to Ms. Dickerson's claim that the First Lady is only a "professional wife and hostess" I say, have you SEEN the West Wing? The First Lady (or possibly Gentleman) has a whole host of duties, similar to those of the Vice President. She has her own staff, which is more than just a group of people to organize her social schedule. Even Laura Bush, who doesn't impress me much, has spearheaded education initiatives. If the power of the President is primarily the "power to persuade," then the First Lady/Gentleman is in a great position to persuade the persuader.

Sign that the Moshiach* is Coming

Slate has an article, complete with slideshow about I Can Has Cheezburger. Amazing.

This might be my favorite though: LOLPresident, the best is this one.

*Moshiach is the messiah

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jews Love: Dead Religious Extremists

Right before I fell asleep last night, I wrote a brilliant post on Falwell's death. It was witty and erudite without being flippant; it was condemnatory without being mean or dismissive; it called him out for his racist, anti-Semitic, evil, small-minded bullshit, without pandering or ad hominem attacks. Unfortunately, my last thought before sleep was, "I should really write this all down." In case you were wondering, I am, in fact, an idiot.

So, instead, let's let my favorite atheist (no, not the Rooster, although he's up there on the list) say it for me:

A hat tip to the Autodidact for the video and to Smeliana for the blog title. Also, for this little gem, "Jerry Falwell's in a better place now, for all of us."

P.S. Anderson Cooper is so very attractive.

On Feminism in the Workplace

At the International Women's Conference, held in Beijing in 1995, Hilary Clinton said "It is time for us to say here in Bejing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights ." And I agree wholeheartedly. This type of thinking comes up a lot. For instance, the proposed/actual "Jewish History Month." (courtesy of SaraK)Really? Jewish History Month? Or excuse me, "Jewish American Heritage Month." Pardon me while I hurl.

You see, while I love Jewish history, Women's history, African American history, Military history, etc, etc, but I hate the fact that we separate it out. I don't really think that you can talk about "Women's history" as women make up half (or 51%) of the world population. Where were they during history? If Women's history exists, does that mean that "standard" history is only (and should continue to be) White, American Men's history? You can't have history without context, and all of these stories should be intertwined. Yes, I think that you can, and should be able to talk about specific groups' contributions, but by having a separate discipline and month you make it seem like that is enough. Kudos, you have a month! Now you are recognized! Please stop trying to change our textbooks. It cheapens the discipline of history, and the contributions of the minority group, and continues to marginalize them into a particular story. After all, if there is African American history, shouldn't it only be for African Americans (with a few exceptions).

This has me riled up because I hate "separate but equal." I know that sounds weird coming from a woman who considers herself Orthodox, but let's ignore my religious beliefs for the moment. I believe firmly, strongly, and determinedly that I should be treated the same in the workplace as a man in my position would be. My gender should never come into play in the office unless I so choose. I shouldn't have to choose between a fulfilling family life, and a fulfilling career. I should be paid the same, have the same advancement opportunities, and respect as a man with my same qualifications.

While the last two are an ongoing battle for the feminist movement(s), the first statement is the one that has been a problem lately. You see, the Jewish world suffers from a lack of gender parity far worse than the secular world. We are ages behind in terms of women being given positions of respect, running organizations, and chairing/sitting on boards. Many mainstream organizations don't have official maternity leave policies, and individual women have to arrange their own careers in a "catch as catch can" fashion. After years of fighting this, I can understand why a woman my mother's age would be tired. And more willing to make concessions. But I'm still full of the fire and passion and idealism of youth, so I will not.

Why do I care about this now? Recently, a co-worker gave me (and a female co-worker who is approximately my age) a bouquet of flowers, each, for completing a difficult and tedious project. Sweet, right? Well, let's add in that he is my father's age. And then consider that he would never have given them to men. Gee, thanks, that was sweet, but must I be reminded of my gender in the office? Thanks for rubbing it in with your well-meant, but paternalistic gesture. An older woman in my office suggested to just let it go, because the co-worker will never change. Fine, I didn't say anything to him, but just because someones behavior "won't change" doesn't mean that they should just get away with it.

If I worked in a large office/the corporate world I could go to HR and file a complaint. One of my friends suggested that the reason that the corporate world has made such advances in terms of sexual (and other) harassment is because it is CYA, or "cover your ass." That's fair, I don't care how it came about, the end result is preferable. However, in the Jewish world (NB: I don't technically work in the Jewish world) everyone is a "family" all the organizations are interconnected, so one comment about sexual harassment to the wrong person could deep-six your career.

End result? I have a beautiful bouquet on my desk, and I am stewing in my own juices while applying to corporate jobs. Is it any surprise that talented young people are leaving non-profit?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I Intensely Dislike Cold Stone Creamery

And Salon agrees with me. Thank G-d. The ice cream is too sweet, not flavorful, and the smallest serving is roughly the size of my head. Justin Peters says that "Whereas a visit to Ben and Jerry's or Häagen-Dazs leaves me wanting more, a visit to Cold Stone leaves me wanting a salad and a shower." And I couldn't agree more.

That says "size of my head."

Now, I like ice cream as much as the next person (maybe more), but Cold Stone is just gross. Maggie Moo's has a franchise none too far from my house, and I find it significantly less offensive, the ice cream better, and the singing less racially charged. Yeah, I said it. You see, in the 42nd street franchise, the staff is almost entirely African American, and young, while the clientele is almost entirely white. When you tip them, they must sing a song about the joy of ice cream, generally in the same cadence that is used for other types of songs, for instance spirituals. Can anyone say "Carry me back to ole Virginny?" Nothing I like with my ice cream like a mix-in of minstrelsy.

Know Your Jewish Community: The JIBs

The JIBs stand for Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards. You might remember them from our single post on the subject, or from the fact that everyone and his/her cousin has been talking about them.

My favorite post on the subject? Either of Michael's on whom G-d would vote for. Posted at Jewlicious, and Kosher Eucharist, I laughed twice. The best part of his post goes like this:

Lord: And you want my picks?
Michael: If it’s not too much trouble.
The Lord released a long, hissing breath.
Lord: Alright. JSpot.
Michael: Really, Lord? But I think they’re quee–
Lord: The Lord is down with downtown,
said the Lord, sweeping away 4000 years of religious certitude with one slightly inelegant play on words.
Michael: Okay then, Lord. But one more question. Since You’re a Buddhist now, what would You, the unfathomable entity who brought the universe into being, want to be reincarnated as?
Lord: Art Blakey. God out.
Michael: And His Presence left me.

On a slightly more serious note, Soccer Dad posts a criticism of the Awards, mostly centered around his own blog and efforts, but astute nonetheless. His main point is one with which I agree: "A certain blogger who's been impugning them [the JIBs} and saying that the vote should be about quality. The chutzpah here is that he complains that the JIB's are a popularity contest, but he benefits from that very fact. Since his is a high traffic site he wins JIB's each time out. I don't think much of his blog with its sloppy reasoning and poor spelling and general mean spiritedness. But he has the visitors, so he has the JIB's and will garner two or three more this year." That is the basic issue. When we're talking about blogs those with the highest circulation will win a vote-based contest. It is more a demonstration of who can best "get out the vote" rather than whose content is the best. Subjective as that may be. Yehuda of Jergames adds his criticism of the process (and his logic for why he didn't proceed to the next round), as well as some endorsements of other bloggers. He also acknowledges that because the awards are a volunteer effort that we should maybe give the organizers a bit of slack.

But, when you think about it, isn't the number of readers of a blog, in some ways, demonstrative of the quality (or perceived quality) of the blog? If you have 10,000 readers a month, then a certain number of people have chosen to read your blog, from all other blogs and media available. That means something. Is US Weekly a better publication than NY Times if it has higher subscription rates? No, but those people who buy US instead of NY Times find that it fits their needs. And that has a value too.

Ari, of Ari's Blog, takes the whole thing a little less seriously. His comment is that it is "a contest where there is no prize other than bragging rights... It’s actually funny, because many of the bloggers who have entered the fray are anonymous (like Jacob). So who can they really brag to anyway?" Meanwhile, he suggests two new categories: neighborhood awards, and humility awards. While I think that his idea is great, one of my critiques of the JIBs is that they have too many categories. Seriously. Especially in the first round. I have a short attention span and cannot be bothered to vote more than 15 times. For anything.

As I mentioned earlier, the contest seems to be mostly about getting out the vote, so I thought I'd give a short listing of some of the participant bloggers who have engaged in this practice most recently:
Rabbi Gil Student of Hirhurim
Beth of My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
Jewish Athiest
Menachem Wecker of Iconia
Steve of It's Almost Supernatural
Tzemach Atlas of
Ted W. Gross of Help! I have a fire in my kitchen.
Jewish Blogmeister
Brooklyn Wolf of Wolfish Musings
Mottel of Letters of Thought
Darnell Clayton of Isragood

And that's only May 9th forward. I am sure that if I went back to the date of the beginning of first round voting, that I'd find another flurry of request posts. This is, by the way, not to critique these individuals for their efforts, but rather to report on the state of the J-blogosphere.

On the Decline of Modern Culture

Ok, so maybe that's a bit alarmist, but I am currently reading The Making of Victorian Values, a book by Ben Wilson about how the Victorians got so puritanical. It's fascinating, but rather dense, so I'm only reading about a chapter a night. Also, it's heavy, so I can't bring it on the subway. Also because I don't want to creep people out with my reading choices, which Becca, of Trybecca points out, is a definite possibility.

At any rate, after having read about five chapters, I feel qualified to remark upon the overarching themes of the book. It seems that basically, the pre-Victorians and early Victorians were worried about the decline and fall of modern culture, due predominantly to immorality. This immorality manifested itself through a) heavy drinking, b) the (over)eating of "rich" foods, and c) sexual impropriety and promiscuity. Does this sound familiar? It seems as if at every moment of modernization, we (this is the global we) face the fear that our society is becoming immoral and going straight down hill. In every age we pine for a simpler, purer time. Which, it would appear, never existed.

Now, I can understand the contribution that drinking and sex make to an immoral society. I might not agree, but I can see how those actions and the people who engage in them might seem threatening. However, the idea that eating "rich foods" is detrimental to ones' moral fiber gave me pause. For one thing, it is eerily reminiscent of the arguments that go on today, that obese people have only themselves to blame, or that the government should regulate foods so that people do not become obese. You see, the Victorian era was all about forcing people to change their habits, either because they were lazy, or didn't know better. The current movement to get rid of trans fat, and other unhealthy additives seems like it comes from the same place.

Michelle of Humble Jewish Opinion blames parents for their children's obesity, which I think is only part of the story. According to her, some people want Rabbis to deny hekshers* to candy, to keep kids from eating it. Her suggestion is that parents should instead regulate their children's candy intake. While I agree in part, I also think that conflating morality (being allowed to eat something due to its kashrut or lack thereof) with health concerns is a little too social-control-y for me. I agree that schools should only serve healthy options for lunch, and phase out sodas and juices from their vending machines, but I don't think that the Federal government (0r the Va'ad*) has any place governing what is available for "me" to feed my own children in my own home. Angry Jew agrees that it isn't the government's place to regulate our lifestyle, but just a sentence earlier he calls on the government to "Outlaw 'super size' fast food, institute mandatory after school sports... have parents take a pass on the luxury cars and vacations, and instead spend some time outdoors with their kids." He seems to think that obesity is a problem of the wealthy. Au contraire, the wealthy can afford organic, healthy foods, and gyms, and people to take their children to exercise, it is those who are barely scraping by that suffer the most.

Cheaper than buying and preparing a meal at home.

Also, for the record, John of The Toad Report states that only 1% of Jews are obese, while 27% of Southern Baptists, and 22% of some Protestant sects meet that description. I think that this trend can be traced back to a number of different factors. For instance, Jews, on average, are wealthier and better educated than the average American. A week or two ago (reported in the NY Times Magazine) an obesity researcher went into a grocery store to see where his dollar could buy the most calories, and found that the cheapest way to become full was to buy sodas, and prepackaged foods. This isn't because they are inherently cheaper, but because of our complex system of farm subsidies. What this means practically is that the average American will buy less healthy food because it is cheaper and more filling. Not because they are idiots, or unable to control their appetites. So instead of the government banning trans fat, maybe it should take a look at who gets subsidies to grow what.

Add to this the fact that the average person in the modern, industrialized nation has more claims on their time than ever before. More adults are in the workforce (men and women) doing more sedentary jobs, and more than ever, time means money. So if a parent could save money, and time, by buying a meal at McDonald's, it is a very attractive option, even if they know the health risks. How do we solve it? Well, as I appear to be more, and more of a liberal, I think that we should provide people with the option of healthy food (read: fix the farm subsidy bill), access to exercise, and better national health care and education so that people can make informed choices. No one wants to be obese. It isn't low moral fiber, or lack of control/intelligence, it is the Catch-22 of modern life: if you are rich enough to be thin, it is because you can afford healthy food and exercise, but those who need it most don't have the time or money, and therefore resort to cheap, fattening foods.

*Heksher is a symbol that signifies a product has been produced under rabbinic supervision, and is acceptable for consumption by traditionally observant Jews

*Va'ad: a governing body, usually local, that oversees the kashrut and other religious issues of a particular area.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jews Love: Street Food

Every day, when I walk to work I pass many hot dog stands. About 1/3 of them (this is not a scientific estimate) claim that the hot dogs are "kosher." They probably use Hebrew National Franks, which as some of you might know, was the subject of a scandal a few years back, had their hashgacha* revoked, and then got it back. So, as far as I can tell, the hot dogs are kosher now. Yet, as far as I can tell, people don't buy them off of the street (or from Yankee stadium, where there is a seperate hot dog stand).

I really want to eat from these. Always.

This is one of the reasons why I love Israel. There are many, but one of the silliest/most enjoyable is that I can eat their street food. Not only do I love shwarma, and falafel, but I can eat it almost everywhere in Israel. Off of the street. Now, this type of behavior amuses my family, but would horrify my maternal grandmother. When my mother and her sisters would eat street food she would say, with disgust "what are you, dogs, that you eat standing up in the middle of the street?"

It turns out that this is actually a religious statement. According to some commentator whose name I cannot recall, Jews are forbidden from eating while in the middle of the marketplace. Or something like that. Someone with more talmudic background than I have should probably look into that. At any rate, I'd really appreciate if someone could give me a heter* to eat from the stands that are specifically labeled as "kosher." I think that the OU should get on that. ASAP.

*Hashgacha: kosher certification, provided by one of several governing bodies, like the OU, the local Va'ad, or another similar organization.

*Heter: permission to do something that might otherwise be forbidden by rabbinic law. This permission is given by a rabbi, or group of rabbis.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Counterpoint: Gloria Steinem is Awesome

I cannot blame Gloria for our long, languid wait Friday morning. Instead, I choose to believe that some insurmountable obstacle arose, like maybe she had to fly off to use her lasso of truth to stop the Supreme Court from undermining a woman's right to choose. Or something. My point is that it was clearly not her fault. Because she's Gloria Steinem. And, therefore, perfect. Also, she's related to this hot piece of English tail:

Wow. Yeah. So what were we discussing? Something to do with someone. Feminism... something? Damn it, Christian Bale! Why must you be so distracting. Ironic that Gloria Steinem would be step-mother to someone who's so unconscionably attractive that he renders me incapable of concentrating on gender parity.

Gloria Steinem is Lame

She was supposed to come to my office (not to see me) on Friday, but she stood me up. I was even wearing heels! Lame.

Clearly she doesn't understand how important I am.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Stating the Rights

Everything I learned in college, I learned from Samuel Moyn's Historical Origins of Human Rights (and so he should get credit for most of the ideas in the following post):

As you may or may not know, I was in a Human Rights Program in college, compelling me to take several fascinating classes focusing on issues in human rights from historical, legal, sociological, and philosophical perspectives. Periodically, I would get frustrated with the conceptual discussions of human rights: what's the point of endlessly talking about human rights theory when that time might be better spent actually fighting injustices. For one semester, I worked on creating a curriculum for a graduate class that dissected the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which allowed me to understand that the issues were far more complicated than I had originally understood. Human rights were a relatively new concept in 1948, albeit with ancient roots, ideologically. More insidiously, rights are inextricably intertwined with religion and the nation-state, basically forcing human beings to rely on the apparati of institutions and organizations that are, themselves, often the originators of the injustice.

Soon after the UN adopted the UDHR, Hannah Arendt, the noted writer and philosopher, wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), where she argued that rights don't exist outside of citizenship and, therefore, stateless people were, de facto, without rights. The problem is not that human beings should not have rights separate from a state to enforce them, but that the concept of a human being is itself a social construct, one that is meaningless without relation to other people, without relation to a society. A man alone needs no rights; only a man in the company of others needs the right to be free from abuse, free from injustice, free from tyranny. The first document to identify the liberated man, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), simultaneously invented a "liberated individual" and subsumed him in the polity.

Arendt contends that one cannot separate “the right to have rights” from the mechanics by which one obtains and ensures those rights: through being a member of a recognized polity (for example, a nation state). After WWII, while this debate over rights raged behind closed doors in upstate New York, Arendt's point played out repeatedly, as the stateless became rightless. She writes, “The conception of human rights, based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such, broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships—except that they were still human. The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.” (The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 295) Moyn adroitly summarized this paradox of human rights: once a person is recognized as a human being only (and not a member of a nation-state, for example), they lose their human rights. Arendt expands:
“The paradox involved in the loss of human rights is that such loss coincides
with the instant when a person becomes a human being in general—without a
profession, without a citizenship, without an opinion, without a deed by which
to identity and specify himself—and different in general, representing nothing
but his own absolutely unique individuality which, deprived of expression within
and action upon a common world, loses all significance.” (Ibid., 297-8)

Ultimately, the question raised by her points is about the mechanics of human rights and has some serious implications for both the rightless within our borders (undocumented citizens) and the rightless abroad (I can think of a group that starts with a P and rhymes with Alestinians):

Does the conception of human need to be changed or do the nation-state system and international law need to adapt to stateless people who are nonetheless still human?

The Game: The Final Post

For any of those who were concerned, I did have my ice cream in a helmet (complete with rainbow sprinkles) pre-game, and then a beer, and in the 6th inning two kosher hot dogs. I also managed to go during the 7th inning stretch, which is apparently when mincha* is held at the kosher hot dog stand. Awesome.

As I walked up to the stand (the first time) the young man behind the counter was a bit chatty and flirty. He said that I looked like Olivia Wilde (image below) from Black Donnelly's. This is hilarious for a couple of reasons, but mostly because CJ keeps saying that I'm a good genetic bet because of my green eyes and "tiny Irish nose."

I look vaguely like this. But with more clothing. Also, her last name appears to be Wilde-Cohen. Is she married to a Jew?

The second time that I approached the hot dog stand (during mincha), the young man hailed me as "hey, it's my friend Olivia, give her anything she wants." Which of course made me blush. He then asked what brought me to the game. I said "my love for Jorge Posada, although sadly he isn't playing tonight." After I received and paid for my hot dogs he told me to come back often. Amazing.

As we left (after the Yankees won!) CJ asked if I wanted to go say hi to my friend, and tried to get me to wave. My theory? He just wanted to walk by holding hands to stake his claim. That or he wanted to try to get free hot dogs. Either or.

*Mincha is one of three prayer services that traditionally observant Jews do a day, which were meant to replace the three sacrifices that used to be made a day during temple times. It is the afternoon/early evening service, and the shortest of the three.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Say a Little Prayer

The Rooster, our fine feathered fowl friend, is convalescing after knee surgery (the need for which, I am assured, was not caused by kicking kittens). In his honor, I'm posting this video:

Feel better, TR. The Jewbiquitesses are rooting for you. Are you nauseated yet?

Most Exciting Thing In My Life Right Now?

The thought of eating kosher hot dogs at Yankee Stadium tonight. Wearing my "WANG" t-shirt, and seated next to CJ, who will be wearing his Cano t-shirt.

Also, ice cream in a teeny helmet. Either before, or three hours after hot dog. And because we're not in the bleachers... beer.

Bring it on!

Great Success

Second course in restaurant fights--City Council to consider new eatery bill
by Amy Zimmer / metro new york
MAY 9, 2007
MANHATTAN. Republic, B.B. King’s and the Saigon Grill are a few of the city eateries being sued amid a flurry of legal action taken by restaurant workers against their employers.
Today, a piece of legislation is expected to be introduced in City Council that would give the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene more power to crack down on restaurants with labor violations. The bill was drafted with help from the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York — a workers’ rights group — and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
The bill would require restaurants to self-report any violations, which the health department would then list on its Web site. The bill would also give the department power to revoke restaurant licenses based on labor violations.

To read the rest of the article, go here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An Open Letter: Yankees Clubhouse

Dear Yankees Clubhouse,

why don't you carry a Jorge Posada t-shirt in women's sizes? Do you only carry women's shirts with the names of specific, big name players, or those with silly slogans, or covered in pink and sparkles? Why do you artificially manipulate our fanship to conform to those big name players? Must we be forced to buy youth large t-shirts forever? And, for the record, youth extra large t-shirts are huge, comparable in size to the adult small, don't think that I didn't check.

You see, this is a problem because I really want a Jorge Posada t-shirt. Jorge is my boy. Not only is he an amazing player, but I have loved him ever since the all-star game where, when his name was called, a teeny child came out onto the field, wearing a teeny Posada uniform, complete with black greasepaint stripes under the eyes.

the genesis of my love

I am going to a Yankee's game tomorrow night, and am seriously disappointed that not only could I not find a Posada t-shirt in a women's size, but that you were also out of youth larges. I was forced to buy a Chien Ming Wang t-shirt, because, if I can't wear Posada, I at least want a t-shirt that says "WANG" in big letters across the back.

Please consider offering t-shirts with the names of other players (or customizeable) in women's sizes, sans sparkles.

Sincerely Yours,

Monday, May 07, 2007

Eating Lunch Religiously

This afternoon, I had a brief discussion with the Rooster about non-belief-based involvement in religious ritual. The question he raised was whether an individual could eat Shabbat lunch every week and not be considered religious.

I don't know that eating lunch is a religious act. You can take place in a ritualistic custom that's based in religion without it being a religious custom. Is the ritual itself religious, simply because it originates in religion? Is it religious because you are engaging in it with people who endow it with religious significance? Why can't you take part in a ritual godlessly and it be secular? So much of what we do in everyday life has religiously ritualistic roots, down to our calender; just because something has religious importance to some people doesn't mean that engaging in it is a priori religious

In the interest of lengthening this post (because the burden's been unfairly on Annie for months now), I asked Balaam's Donkey, owner of two of the cutest dimples this side of the Great Divide, "If you do Shabbat lunch every Saturday, with the concomitant prayers, but without the belief in a deity or the religion, is that a religious act?"

His measured response: In that it is a practice with religious origins, but it is ostensibly social-cultural in its actual manifestation. See: Kaplan, Folkways; see Menachem Brinker (but that's a much larger conversation). It is a Jewish thing, but Judaism is not solely a religion today: making practices that are religious by design, not necessarily religious in practice, but essentially "Jewish things that Jews do." To what end? To paraphrase a professor of mine: "because we like it."

There you have it, folks, straight from the donkey's mouth.

Jews Love: Cinco De Mayo

I love Cinco de Mayo. Not only because I support Mexican Independence (they deserved it even more than the Americans, although I do have some issues with some of the top-down independence movements), but also because it is one of the few holidays that I, as an observant Jew, can take part in without feeling guilty. I mean, I guess that I could celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, or Bastille Day, but neither of those have the potential for guacamole or tequila. For the record, I do actually know the history of Cinco de Mayo, and am not just looking for an occasion to drink. I just happen to like theme parties.

As a result, I had a Cinco de Mayo Melave Malke*. I served tequila, coronas, nachos, bean dip, 4-layer dip, guacamole, and plain (blue) chips. Also, according to TJ Shroat of In the Pink Texas, most traditional Cinco de Mayo cakes come with a figurine of a (specific) Argentinian Jew on top due to a TV segment.

Kosher "Mexican" food. Cheese, but no meat here!

Leah of Accidentally Jewish celebrated Cinco de Mayo with "18 lbs of guacamole," but felt uncomfortable watching the fight, as it is a bloodsport. She said " don't care how big a match it is, it is a violent sport and aren't Jews supposed to abhore the sight of blood?" I'd never heard of that, but I'll make an effort to look it up now. Speaking of looking things up, according to Lindsay William-Ross of LAist (like Gothamist, but for LA). mangoes are the most popular fruit in the world, including with her Jewish grandmother. In the same vein Itai had a vaguely Mexican-themed Shabbat meal, but ran into what I consider the eternal dilemma: ethnic food that is not traditional Jewish (Ashkenaz OR Sephard) food doesn't tend to hold well over Shabbat, because really, who prepares something, and then needs it to sit/heat/reheat for 5-6 or 18 hours?

Of course, I am sure that many Jewish organizations used Cinco de Mayo as an opportunity to hold a singles' mixer (Lauren of Lost in Texas declined to go to one of them), and I guess that is cool, but let's just say that no one talked about the importance of endogamy at my party.

*Melave Malke means "accompanying the queen" and it is traditionally a party/celebration to escort out the "Shabbat Queen" (Shabbat is often personified as a queen). This type of party is popular in Chassidic circles, and is often comprised of drinking, snack foods, and stories about the rebbe. According to some sources Melave Malkes were started by King David, whose death was foretold to occur on a Shabbat, so at the end of every Shabbat he celebrated his continued existence.

Know Your Jewish Community: The Salute to Israel Day Parade

Yesterday I attended the Salute to Israel Day Parade. Hell yeah I did. I visited my "Grandmother" with whom I was going to go, but turned out that she wanted to wait until after noon to leave, and I wanted to enjoy every minute of the parade. 11-4. Oh yeah baby. In the end I met up with the roommate, and from our perch on 71st and 5th we got a fairly good view, and I got a sunburn on 1/2 of my face.

I also discovered that I am super-lame. As I stood there, at approximately 11:22am, I found myself getting a bit choked up. Not just with my love and pride for Israel, but for these individuals. You see, the early morning slots are reserved for those people for whom it might be too hot to march later. I watched the Jewish War Veterans walk by, most in uniform, some with walkers, or in cars, and then I saw the AVI. The American Veterans of Israel's war for independence. If that wasn't enough, they were shortly followed by lines of firefighters from the tri-state area, and then the boy and girl scouts. I was a girl scout, so to watch little girls in a (somewhat) familiar uniform (there is a redesign every three years or so) march, holding Israeli flags, was really touching for me. After them came the Tzofim, the Israel Scouts.

As much as I make fun of Israel's paramilitary youth organization, the scouts are great. They marched down 5th avenue, in uniform, singing and holding large signs with the names of missing soldiers (Ehud "Udi" Goldwasser, Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, and Guy Hever). At this point I was actually crying. Fortunately the schools started to pass by shortly thereafter, and nothing about Frisch makes me want to cry. I do have one question, though. What's with the marching bands? They looked like random high schools. Now, I love marching bands, and I thought that they were terrific. The only reason that the roommate and I could come up with for their participation was that the schools were historically Jewish and have a relationship with the parade. But anyone who has a better idea, please let me know. Also, please explain the bagpipes.

Other people I saw: Dr. Ruth Westheimer, on the back of a little golf cart, Senator Chuck Schumer (announcing Am Yisroel Chai, and that his name means "shomer" or guard), Anthony Weiner, who might be the cutest representative that I've ever seen, and Jerry Nadler.

I wasn't the only one who went to the parade (obviously), I heard estimates of up to 1 million participants/observers, which of course made CJ say things all day like "all you need is 30 people with tnt strapped to their chests, and you could decimate New York's Jewish population." Nice, my boyfriend is paranoid. However, other people seemed to be having a good time, like Urban Infidel who has some great pictures, including some of Neturei Karta. Angel of Women Honor Thyself also has a fairly good photo gallery. You can see even more pictures, these by Jacob Richman of Good News From Israel on his website, although sadly none are of me, the roommate, or CJ.

I wasn't really sure about the history of the parade, Barbara of Barbara's Tchatzkahs gives a good run-down. And of course, just in case you thought that the parade was only sunshine and butterflies, there were some protesters. Neturei Karta, obviously, and Maytha of Kabobfest, who claims in his post that the police presence at the parade was because "f you are for Israel, you deserve protection; however, if you are against Israel, you are considered a danger or threat to society." I disagree there, I think that there are police escorts and presence at all of the parades (I remember some from the Greek Independence Day Parade a few weeks ago), and as paranoid as I think CJ is, any gathering of Jews, for Israel or any other reason, does become a target for terrorist activity.

Long story short: It was a great parade, and next year I want to be in a marching band, but I only play trombone. Anyone else play a useful instrument?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Jews Love: Spiderman 3

For a number of reasons. I'll start with the most obvious:

According to JR Taylor of Right Wing Trash, director Sam Raimi is Jewish, and there are few things that Jews love more than to support other Jews in their financial endeavors. That was not meant to be quite as snarky as it sounded.

Because now that there are three movies out, we can have a chazakah* about spiderman. For instance, The Libertarian King has been to see every spiderman movie on the opening night. Now, for every spiderman movie ever (unless he specifically commented that he is not going to make a habit of it) he is obligated to go on the opening night.

And of course, Peter Parker, while supposedly not Jewish, is the ultimate nebby* guy. Debbie Schlussel makes the same comment that I did, that Parker cries way too much in the movie. But hey, that's how you know he's sensitive. He's also a math/science genius (focuses on his academics), takes good care of his only living relative, and is so damn broody. Despite his super-powers, Peter Parker is not a manly man.

Oooh, look at his scary spider kippah.

I could spout a few more traditional stereotypes about ashkenazi* men, but I think that I'll stop here, as you get the idea. And any more will have me sounding like I a) hate Jewish men, and b) am perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes. I hate doing that, so I'm going to move on to the last, but not least reason why Jews love Spiderman:

According to The original comicbook writers were Jewish. The industry was saturated with Jews in the 40's, 50's and 60's. For instance? Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Leiber, and Jack Kirby was Jacob Kurtzburg. Several major comic book characters are heavily influenced by Jewish tradition, the most obvious of these being the X-man Magneto, who was a concentration camp survivor. NYC's Jewish Museum even had an exhibition on Masters of American Comics.

For all these reasons I'd have you go see Spiderman 3, but there is one reason that you really shouldn't. It isn't that good. 2 hours and 20 minutes of silly, bad dialogue (good fight scenes though), little character development, and random plot. However, if you want to see Topher Grace try to eat Tobey McGuire's head, then this is the movie for you.

*Chazakah: there is a belief that if you do the same thing three times in a row, then you are obligated to do it forever, because it has become your general practice. I don't think that this actually applies to Spiderman movies.

*Nebby is short for nebbish, a Yiddish word which has come to mean the equivalent of a "scrub."

*Ashkenazi Jews are Jews from Europe, generally Caucasian, and their practice of Judaism is the most widely recognized by non-Jews. There are a lot of problems with the hegemony of Ashenazi Jews, but that is a different issue for a different day.