Tony Hillerman Leaves the Mystery of Justice Unsolved

Tony Hillerman has gone to reap his heavenly reward.

I begin that way only because I’m sure that the comment would bemuse Hillerman, who died this week at age 83.

You could sum up Hillerman’s career by saying he wrote murder mysteries, mostly about two Navajo policemen. But for my money, that would be like saying that Jane Austen wrote romances, as if they were bodice-rippers.

I’m not usually a reader of mysteries. Raymond Chandler’s critique of the mystery writers before him, in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” is blunt, brutal and accurate:

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Revelation and Law: Elijah and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi

Haim Watzman

When do religions based on text and revelation turn fundamentalist and extreme? When their adherents take their holy books and divine messages to be sources of infallible wisdom that needs no human mediation. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other creeds can all inspire their adherents to take individual responsibility for weighing competing moral values, but this requires that the community of believers understand that the practical application of religious values “is not in heaven.” In other words, they must realize that revelation and holy texts cannot be understood and used without placing them in dialogue with the real world that we confront in our everyday experience.

At his weekly Shabbat afternoon lecture last Saturday, Rabbi Binyamin Lau cited an aggadah—a rabbinic homily—from the Jerusalem Talmud (Chapter 8, page 5d). (The following thoughts are my own, not Rabbi Lau’s.)

A man named Ula Bar Kushav was sought by the Roman authorities for some unnamed crime. He fled to Lod, then (the early third century CE) an important city in Judea with a large Jewish population. The Romans surrounded the city and demanded that the Jewish community turn over Bar Kushav. If he were not turned over, the Romans would raze the entire city.

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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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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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