Disavow, Renounce, Didn’t Hear

Gershom Gorenberg

Just in case I’m ever struck by the mad thought of running for political office in Israel, I’d like to set the record straight: I don’t agree with the prophet Isaiah’s political views. He doesn’t speak for me. No way.

It’s true that I’ve enjoyed some of his sermons, and I took some comfort from the spiritual stuff, like that vision of heaven, with the six-winged creatures praising God. But I attended to Isaiah strictly for the religion, not for the politics. I mean, I’m a patriotic Israeli (even if my lapel pin got lost in the wash, honestly).

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even there the day he said,

Ah, sinful nation!
People laden with iniquity!
Brood of evildoers!
Depraved children!
They have forsaken the Lord,
spurned the Holy One of Israel,
Turned their backs on Him!

but if I was there, I slept through the sermon. Otherwise, I would have told him that I might just run for office, and therefore I cannot tolerate him cursing my country.

Actually, now that I look for the first time at the transcripts (thank God there’s no YouTube clip) I can see it gets even worse.

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South Jerusalem’s Swimsuit Issue

Mondays are women’s nights at the Jerusalem Pool, where I swim every day. From the hours of six to nine p.m., this South Jerusalem pool is closed to me simply because I’m a male. On Wednesday nights, women get the same treatment.

Daniel Pipes spends some of his no doubt precious time chronicling swimming pools in North America and Europe that have separate men’s and women’s hours. These pools have instituted separate sex hours to accommodate Muslims, where as in the case of the Jerusalem Pool, it’s to accommodate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews.

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More on “Southern Exposure”

Readers of Gershom’s last post may be interested in an article I published in Nature last year on Elad’s role in running the site of the City of David excavations.

As I reported in the same journal earlier this month, a group of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists recently unveiled a draft agreement about how archaeological sites and artifacts would be treated under a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

As Gershom notes, every historical or archaeological site can provide the basis for a variety of different stories. True, archaeological artifacts and sites provide hard facts that limit the kinds of stories you can tell. A Palestinian scholar who proclaimed that City of David structures dating from the eighth or ninth century BCE were actually from the early Islamic period would have a hard time getting anyone to take his case seriously because we know from other sites that buildings built in those periods have distinct styles and methods of construction. An Israeli who tried to argue that Arabs never ruled Jerusalem would run up against all those layers of Muslim and Arab remains that excavators have found all around the city.

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Southern Exposure: Telling Jerusalem Differently

“Ancient Jerusalem Safari” said the sign on the side of the open-sided bus. It was parked this morning in the lot at the end of the promenade that stretches from UN Hill almost to Hebron Road. The promenade is an arc of stone walkways and stairs, of lawns and landscaping with a view northward of the Old City walls and the Dome of the Rock, which appear just close enough to be reachable, just far enough off to still be the double-page color illustration of the city at the end of the quest that I read about in a childhood book whose name I’ve forgotten but whose story I think I’ve remembered for a moment when I wake from a dream.

The promenade may be my favorite spot in South Jerusalem, partly because of the view and the quiet, partly because both Palestinians and Israelis spend time there. Riding my bike there on a weekday, I’ll pass Israeli joggers and women from Jebal Mukkaber in ankle-length dresses and sneakers out for their health walk. On one park bench I’ll see a young Orthodox couple, on another a young Palestinian couple – both having found a place public enough that it’s not immodest to be meeting there, private enough that they can really talk. In the morning, I usually pass several Jews praying by themselves, facing northward. In the afternoon, I’ll see a Muslim or three, kneeling toward the south. On Saturday afternoons, families from both sides of towns are picnicking and playing soccer. Whole congregations – especially ones that give women a role – come here to pray on the night of Tisha Be’av or at dawn on Shavuot instead of walking to the Western Wall, where the crowds of ultra-Orthodox brook no innovations in worship.

But on the middle days of Pesah and Sukkot, the promenade sprouts moveable police barriers and private security guards.

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Marching up J Street, Passing Marty Peretz in a Shtreimel

Much as I’ve come to disagree with Marty Peretz, I admit that I hesitate viscerally before criticizing him. Marty opened the pages of the New Republic to me in the 1990s. So attacking him feels like an act of ingratitude, if not a minor violation of oedipal inhibitions toward a one-time mentor. In his own blog, though, Marty appears to have thrown off all inhibitions. He’s turned obscene in print, figuratively and literally, as in his new screed against J Street. Even stranger, he’s exhibiting a definite ultra-Orthodox tendency in defense of his bellicose version of Zionism.

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Rav and Shmuel at the Gym: How Should We Begin the Passover Seder?

Between sets of arm curls, Nahum walks over to me and says, “You’re familiar with the disagreement between Rav and Shmuel about the way the Seder should begin?”

Nahum doesn’t look like the kind who works on his biceps—he’s a slender guy in his mid-thirties who wears a black kipah and glasses. He resembles a teacher at a religious high school here in Jerusalem, which in fact he is.

But Nahum, like me, is a regular at the small weight room at the Jerusalem Pool on Emek Refa’im Street. We get a diverse crowd—men and women, jocks and schoolteachers, retired people and teenagers, Jews and Arabs, religious and non-religious; there’s even a macho ultra-Orthodox guy who lets out whoops when he lifts—but I’ll save him for another story.

The conversation, like the crowd, can come from all directions. Nahum is referring to the two leading Babylonian rabbis of the third century CE, whose disputes form part of the first layer of the Gemara, the Talmudic discussions of the laws laid down in the earlier Mishna. The Torah commands the Jews to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt at a discussion-meal conducted by families on the first night of Pesach (Passover). Rav and Shmuel disagreed on how to begin telling the story, and their disagreement is recorded in the Haggadah, the book forms the framework of the Seder night.

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More on Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge

Thanks to Jeff Greer for responding to my post Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge and mentioning an important book for those interested in the subject, Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s “Wrestling with God and Man”. Greenberg is a gay Orthodox Jew who is doing important work to find a place for gay men and women in traditional … Read more

Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge

Sick of hearing about settlements, human rights violations, and Jeremiah Wright? Want to read something happy for a change? Take a look at Caryn Aviv’s story about “My Big Fat Gay Jewish Family in yesterday’s Ha’aretz-English edition.

Loving, happy families with gay parents present a challenge—but a potentially productive one—for Orthodox Jewish halacha. As long as homosexuality was practiced in hiding, it could be dismissed as deviant, unhealthy, and incompatible with society’s vested interest in promoting strong families as the best environment for raising and educating children. Looking at families like Aviv’s, it’s hard to raise any rational objection to such non-traditional family structures. Objectively, many traditional, nuclear families fail to provide children with the emotional security they need; how can we condemn a non-traditional structure that does so provide?

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