יום רביעי, מרץ 28, 2007


Chag HaAviv

Well, Chag HaAviv is almost here, and in the likely event that I don't get back here before it does (likely because of all the work I have backed up), I wish my legions of readers a happy one!

I like this line from Naf Hanau at The Jew and the Carrot, writing about the arrivals of spring and Leviticus:
More than any other work I’ve ever done, growing plants roots me in my Earth, my religion, and my seasons with a deep sense of purpose.

יום שני, מרץ 19, 2007


Does Pakistan have a right to exist?

Continuing with an occasional theme here about the notion of a state's "right to exist," via The Moderate Voice I came across a summary of a new book called Divide Pakistan, by Syed Jamaluddin. In the first paragraph of the summary, the author says:

India's democratic strength for the last 59 years has proved that its existence was fully justified. On the contrary, Pakistan emerged as a failed state for one single reason that a country which was founded by assembling almost eight different nations in the name of Islam, was unable to justify its existence.

The post-partition fates of India and Pakistan are relevant for comparative analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as both sets of states (or proposed states) came about through UN-mandated partition in the early post-WWII decolonization period. Of course, there are numerous differences between the two cases, and the differences may well be more significant than the parallels. Nonetheless, it is worth thinking about the India-Pakistan partition, for, as in the Israel-Palestine case, one of the post-partition states has been a successful multiethnic and multireligious democracy, while the other is a failed state (or a non-state, which is an even more dramatic degree of failure, I suppose).

However, Jamaluddin's premise is unsatisfactory, and for precisely the reason I just alluded to. India, like Pakistan (and more so than either Israel or, especially, Palestine) is itself an assemblage of numerous "nations" (including various Muslim groups). Yet it has worked. Why not Pakistan? It is almost self-evident that East and West were not going to be viable in one state (lesson for Gaza and the West Bank?), and indeed the former East Pakistan has existed as the separate state of Bangladesh now for more than 35 years (not with great success, though more so than for the remainder of Pakistan). As for the current state of Pakistan, only in hindsight is it "obvious" that Balochis and Sindhis (etc.) can't coexist in one state. Jamaluddin proposes that Pakistan be further partitioned into its eight component nations (as he identifies them). I have no idea whether that would be a good idea (independent of whether it is achievable), but I am not convinced that, at the time of partition, it was so obvious that Pakistan would fail and India would succeed as viable multiethnic states.

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יום חמישי, מרץ 15, 2007


Reform support for Israeli movement

From the JPost:

Leaders of Reform Judaism from around the world opened a conference in Jerusalem on Thursday whose agenda included a multimillion-dollar expansion of activities in Israel and a demand that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert take steps to officially recognize the movement and its conversions and rabbis.

The plan will include more than $100 million to support various activities of Israel's Reform movement, including

education and synagogue expansion, as well as elements that are not usually part of a religious movement's activities, such as investment in new Jewish art, providing religious services outside the synagogue, and social activism.

At a meeting with Olmert on Thursday morning at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, the leaders demanded an end to "institutionalized discrimination" against Reform institutions and beliefs, particularly in the allocation of government funds and the recognition of conversions and rabbis, both in Israel and abroad.

As a strict separationist, I would prefer that no religious organizations receive state subsidies or "recognition." But if subsidies and official recognition are going to continue to go to Orthodox institutions (and they will), I suppose it is about time Reform got to feed at the government's pork trough, too.*

The state aside, this initiative strikes me as a very good thing. Just last Shabbat we had a young visitor from Israel to our shul. I spoke to him afterwards and one of the things he said really struck me. He was impressed by hearing music, seeing women at the bimah, and the participation in our service. He had never seen anything like it in Israel.

* Pardon the very non-kosher reference. What do they call the "pork barrel" in Israel, anyway?

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Another time-wasting quiz

Well, this is not nearly as interesting as the Belief-O-Matic (see left sidebar link, under the "Welcome"), even it if is also at Beliefnet. But it's hot today, I'm tired (blaming the time change for that), and I needed a time-waster, apparently.

What kind of Jew are you?

Well, I took it, notwithstanding that the really accurate answer would be none at all--yet. Formalities and institutional imprimaturs aside (and having to finesse a question or two that was not relevant to me), here is what the "quiz" said:

You are a Tzimmes Jew.
Like this Sabbath-evening fruit and sweet-potato side dish, your Jewish identity is highly traditional, even as it adapts with changing times. A basic recipe is supplemented with various individualistic flourishes. Judaism plays an integral role in your life, though your identity is not defined solely by it.
Yep, that's me: Traditional, adaptable, individualist!

Other possibilities, for comparison:

Lukshin Kugel Jew.
Like the traditional noodle kugel, your Jewish identity has withstood the test of time to remain relevant and meaningful to you. The kugel's recipe has been passed unchanged from generation to generation, like the Judaism you practice.

Haroseth Jew.
Like this Passover fruit and nut mixture, your Jewish identity can take any number of forms, each blending tradition and innovation. Your cultural and ethnic ties to Judaism are stronger than your religious ones. Your religiosity and Jewish identity often revolve around holidays, lifecycle events, and other special religious times are important to you.

Blueberry Bagel Jew.
Like this blend of Old World Jewish (the bagel) and New World secular (the blueberry flavor), your identity retains ties to its past, even as you have chosen to forge a new path.Your connection to Judaism is cultural, rather than religious, and your identity does not tend to center around Judaism.


יום שני, מרץ 12, 2007


Right to exist and recognition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that it is important to emphasize that Germany supports Israel and that protecting Israel's right to exist will continue to stand at the center of Germany's foreign policy. "I regret that I am forced to reiterate this repeatedly," the chancellor added.

Indeed, it is regrettable that she feels "forced" to reiterate this. But note the neat way in which she (or the Haaretz reporter who summarized her words at the annual European-Israel Dialogue held in Berlin this weekend) elides the question of "support for Israel" with "Israel's right to exist." These are regularly treated as one in the same. They are not.

The very phrase "right to exist" has long troubled me. Of course, every state should recognize every other state that has been admitted to the United Nations. But the idea of "right to exist" is beside the point. Is there any other nation--aside from the non-state of Palestine, that is--where the question of its "right to exist" ever comes up?

States, per se, do not have rights to exist. They simply exist. Like Israel and 190 other states, including several recently recognized states that were previously occupied by a neighboring state (Eritrea, Timor-Leste, Estonia, etc.). Or they do not. Like Palestine. (And Kurdistan and Somaliland, which function in many ways like states, but are not recognized as such.)

States are nothing more than organizations with hierarchical authority over some population living within a bounded territory. Some have more effective authority than others--Pakistan, for example, hardly has any authority over parts of its territory, and the same can be said for numerous other states in the developing world. And some states have never established an ultimate definition of the territory over which they seek to have hierarchical authority. Like Israel, for example.

Then there is, of course, the question of recognition. This is what it boils down to: Does one state recognize that the other exists, and exchange ambassadors with it? Mixing this up with questions of "rights" of a state to exist is a dead end. The Israeli state does not recognize a Palestinian state, and thus it is utterly pointless to expect the government of the non-state of Palestine to recognize the Israeli state, much less to recognize that it is "right" to exist.

Recognition will come--if ever--as the mutual recognition of two states, Israel and Palestine, with defined borders and with ambassadors in one another's capitals (Jerusalem for both?). In the mean time, always making it a question of "right" and requiring the Palestinian non-state to recognize the Israeli state as a precondition for even talking about everything else is nothing but a way to ensure the conflict will never be resolved.

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Actually, given that it's an Italian word, the plural would be ghetti, but I digress...

German Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke is taking a lot of flak for saying, after a visit to Yad Vashem:

In the morning, we see the photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto, and this evening we travel to the ghetto in Ramallah; that makes you angry.

He has since apologized for the remark.

OK, so Ranallah is not the Warsaw Ghetto. Its residents were not rounded up from their homes and forced to live there, and they are not awaiting deportation to death camps. On the other hand, the Bishop did not say Ramallah is the Warsaw Ghetto. He did not even say that Ramallah is like the Warsaw Ghetto. He said it is a ghetto. Is he wrong?

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Flowers of Gaza

One does not normally think of flowers when thinking of Gaza. But as Brian Blum shows at This Normal Life, red anemone season is a spectacular time for a visit to the shadows of that troubled territory.

I am not sure I have mentioned This Normal Life before, but it is a most enjoyable blog about the experiences of an Jewish family from California that moved to Israel. Especially recommended are Brian's posts about traveling Jewcognito on a visit to Egypt and searching for a mikveh on a weekend getaway to the Dead Sea, and his sets of posts on living with terror and the war with Hezbollah.

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יום ראשון, מרץ 11, 2007


Garry Kasparov

Thanks to PoliBlog, I came across a fascinating account (in the NYT) of former chess champion Garry Kasparov's chairmanship of the United Civil Front, which promotes activism against the creeping authoritarianism of Putin's Russia.

The story is quite interesting in its own right, but what really caught my eye is a fact I did not know about Kasparov (not that I knew much at all about him): He is half Jewish, half Armenian.

Now that is an impressive bloodline--Jewish and Armenian, descendant of two persecuted and dispersed groups. And from Baku, Azerbaijan, which indeed once had large Jewish and Armenian populations. Actually, Baku still has a pretty substantial Jewish population--around seven thousand, fourth highest in the XSSR--but I am unsure how many Armenians remain since the conflict between the post-Soviet states of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Assuming Wikipedia can be trusted with this sort of information, Kasparov was born Garry Vajnshtejn (the surname being Jewish, and a variant of Weinstein or Feinstein). His father died when he was young and he took his mother's name, the Armenian Kasparian (later Russified).

Fascinating. I wonder if his considerable celebrity in Russia trumps resentment over his ethnic background.

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יום חמישי, מרץ 08, 2007


Lunar eclipses and Jewish holidays

This Jewish year--my first of living a Jewish life--has been full of convergences of astronomical events with the holidays. The cosmic convergences began at the very head of the year, when the autumnal equinox and Rosh Hashanah coincided (which also happened to be the beginning of Ramadan). Then Chanukah coincided with the winter solstice. Of course, we also have had a year in which many of the holidays (starting with Rosh Hashanah and continuing with Sukkot, Chanukah, and Tu Bishvat) coincided with Shabbat. And now we have just had a lunar eclipse on Purim!

This sent me researching the frequency with which holidays and lunar eclipses might converge. As BZ noted at Mah Rabu (and at Jewschool), Purim may be the perfect holiday for a lunar eclipse:

The moon gets covered up (bad for the Jews [according to the Talmud, Sukkah 29a]), and then becomes visible again (good for the Jews!). This exactly parallels the structure of the book of Esther: during the first half, it appears as though the Jews are going to be annihilated. In the end, this ominous darkness is chased away, and everything works out ok: LaYehudim hayetah orah vesimchah! The Jews had light and joy!

So, how rare was this convergence? It was not easy to piece together the answer, but two terrific websites made it possible. The first was Hebcal, which allows you to generate a calendar of the overlay of Jewish holidays with any year on the Gregorian calendar. This allowed me to compare with dates of lunar eclipses throughout many centuries.

(It would have been so much easier if someone had a list of lunar eclipses according to the Hebrew calendar, but several pages deep into a Google search, nothing of the sort had turned up on-line.)

In any event, if I compared the two pages accurately, it looks to me like we last had a lunar eclipse on Purim in 1978. It looked like the list of lunar eclipses showed one in March, 1978, to be the night after Purim, but that presumably is not possible. So, I think this convergence happened in 1978. I am more confident that it happened in 1960 (which happens to be the year I was born, though not till fall). The next time appears to be in 2025. Mark your calendar!

So, it is a pretty rare occurrence. What about other holidays? Granted, for the reasons BZ gives, Purim may be the perfect holiday on which to have a lunar eclipse, but obviously we can't enjoy such coincidences very often.

Again, with the caveat that I am not claiming my results are definitive, relatively recent and upcoming convergences of lunar eclipses with holidays other than Purim appear to be as follows:

1967 Sukkot and Pesach
1968 Sukkot and Pesach
1986 Sukkot and Pesach
1990 Tu Bi-Shvat
1996 Sukkot and Pesach
2014 Sukkot and Pesach
2018 Tu Bi-Shvat

Well, I never would have guessed that Pesach or Sukkot would have this occur so often (if you call five times over about a sixty-year period "often"). And in consecutive years. Can that be right?

I also do not have sufficient understanding of the cosmic cycles to understand why every time there is a lunar eclipse on Sukkot, there is also one on Pesach of the same Jewish year. Obviously, these holidays occur at the full moons six months apart; from the table of eclipses, I could see that there are many years (by which I mean any 12-month period) when two eclipses occur six (lunar) months apart (including 2007). However, there are others with none (such as 2005 and 2006). My astronomy is not good enough to understand these patterns, or even to see a clear pattern. (I'm just a social scientist; in fact, despite a nearly lifelong fascination with the topic, an astronomy course was the source of my only C in college!)

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יום שלישי, מרץ 06, 2007


The curse of Ararat Scrolls

So, what is it about getting a link here at the Scrolls that leads to conversion, and I do not mean conversion to Judaism? I mean the conversion of a blog link to something entirely unrelated. Or, if not 'conversion', then prolonged silence, or various forms of blogging debacle?

In my list of blogs about Jews-by-choice, the link for Heading for Sinai now gets you to a blog that is all in Kanji (as best I can tell). The one for Masa ha-Ruach, which had some very fine discussion of a convert's experience, now redirects to something called Penguin Dust that does not exactly contain things I want to read. (I have now deleted these two links.)

Then there is Tikkun Ger, who had a server meltdown recently. Fortunately, he is back up and running strong, though some of his earlier posts (along with numerous stunningly thoughtful comments by yours truly) are now gone. A couple of the others in that section of my links have hardly updated since I linked to them (not that I update frequently myself) or have largely moved to other topics.

Then there is Baraita, a wonderful blog, but which has not updated since October 22, or just about the point at which I added the link.

Given the low readership here, a link has little upside (compared to, say, a link at Mah Rabu--thanks, BZ!). However, if you are linked here, beware!

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