Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Changing the Tal Law?

I'm not sure what I think of this new effort by Israel's Finance Ministry. While of course, everybody sympathizes with the effort to get charedim to work, or alternatively get them to work legitimately and report their earnings to the tax authorities. The current arrangement forces the charedi community to basically starve or cheat the government, which everyone can agree is a negative thing. On the other hand, is it the government's responsibility to change their demands to prevent a community from imploding just to thwart them? I mean, if they enforce the current law, then maybe it's just the charedim's problem is they choose to starve rather than give a year to National Service. Cruel, but true. Although they're currently a burden on welfare, so I suppose it's in the government's interest to get them to work. If, of course, it is the threatened army service and not their ideology that is keeping them in yeshiva.

But it seems like the main thing being incentivized here is having two children by the time you're 23. Granted, charedi men marry early, but that means that you would have to marry by 21 and really hurry. Given that wives pretty much have to be younger than the husbands, you're encouraging the community to marry people off before they're out of their teens, which they do anyway to some degree, but hardly as much as you're encouraging them to do.

At the same time, the movement basically acknowledging that charedim don't have to/won't
serve in the army, which defeats the ideological purpose of the Tal Law and is bound to make the secular outraged for pretty legitimate reasons.

And from a legal point of view (it's fun to actually know stuff!) I am extremely dubious that the Supreme Court is going to let the arrangement stand even should it be fortunate enough to get passed. The Tal Law barely survived the Barak Court (then, specifically Barak himself). I can't see this one doing much better.

Basically, when a law is challenged as unconstitutional (or contrary to the Basic Laws) and found to actually infringe upon rights or equality or some such, it's tested according to 3 criteria: 1)That it fits Israel's values as a democratic and Jewish state: it's anybody's guess what that one means. But judges usually let laws slide past this test as law as there's some legitimate-ish purpose going on- which is the third test
2)It has a worthy purpose: Probably met here, what with the incentivizing into the workforce. But quite possibly not-the court doesn't tend to think that religious sensibilities are legitimate concerns, so they could be annoyed with any exemption at all.
3)It's proportional- which is interpreted to mean that a)it is effective at attaining the purpose, b)that the benefits outweigh the costs and c) that it is the means of achieving the goal that involves the smallest possible infringement. Basically, any time that a judge can think of a law that he likes better than the current one, he can strike down the law. And for judges, money isn't an issue- several cases have stated that when it's a choice between rights and money, rights always win.

Of course, you could employ these rules and let the law stand. But the Tal Law itself only squeaked by Barak because he liked the fact that it was aimed at integrating charedim into the army and therefore decided that the infringement on equality (and slight injury to everyone else in the country who has to serve in reserves a bit longer each year) is justified. I'm not sure that the court is going to be as fond of this law. And the above rules are certainly wide, vague, and flexible enough for them to express their disapproval by declaring the arrangement unconstitutional, either because they don't like the purpose, or don't see it as proportional.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tisha B'Av

I like to think that there is Tisha B'Av in heaven.

That all the tears and screams
and questions that are too big for their answers
of every woman who slit her baby's throat
or felt it die of hunger as it tries to nurse
or ate its flesh
or caught its blood in her skirts
and every maiden who mourned a slaughtered groom
and every groom who held his bride as she collapsed
and every woman raped
and every husband and father forced to watch
and every priest burnt alive
and every elder whose corpse was spread like dung across the streets
and every blind man stumbling in blood
come before G-d.

And they say
You know what the worst part was?
Beyond the pain and shame and loneliness and sorrow?
It was You.
Behind every sword and gun and flame and knife
and hunger and rapist and disease and massacre.
It was always Your face,
looking down like an abusive father.

And G-d says Yes.

And the tears and anger and questions
look at Him and say And?

And G-d says nothing.

And all the angels look scandalized and shout
Answer them!
You have answers! You have a plan!
You have rationales and explanations and larger pictures
and greater goods!

And G-d says Not today.

And then He sits down among the victims
and cries in pain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Reading over various classmates' notes in preparation for exams, I find that not only do they refer to the professor by his first name, but they also seem to be on a first name basis with the authors of every article mentioned. Does this say something significant about the Israeli mentality, or have they just never had composition teachers beating them over the heads and telling them that an author is referred to by both names at first mention and only last name thereafter?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Screwtape on Prayer

While reading these semi-recent posts (although I know that this wasn't Miri's focus), I kept thinking of a certain passage from The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis' semi-humorous theological work, down in the style of a senior devil writing advice on tempting to his nephew:
If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.

But of course the Enemy will not meantime be idle. Wherever there is prayer, there is danger of His own immediate action. He is cynically indifferent to the dignity of His position, and ours, as pure spirits, and to human animals on their knees He pours out self-knowledge in a quite shameless fashion. But even if He defeats your first attempt at misdirection, we have a subtler weapon. The humans do not start from that direct perception of Him which we, unhappily, cannot avoid. They have never known that ghastly luminosity, that stabbing and searing glare which makes the background of permanent pain to our lives. If you look into your patient's mind when he is praying, you will not find that. If you examine the object to which he is attending, you will find that it is a composite object containing many quite ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from pictures of the Enemy as He appeared during the discreditable episode known as the Incarnation: there will be vaguer—perhaps quite savage and puerile—images associated with the other two Persons. There will even be some of his own reverence (and of bodily sensations accompanying it) objectified and attributed to the object revered. I have known cases where what the patient called his "God" was actually located—up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it—to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him. You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keeping it steadily before his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers "Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be", our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their merely subjective nature, and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it—why, then it is that the incalculable may occur. In avoiding this situation—this real nakedness of the soul in prayer—you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There's such a thing as getting more than they bargained for!

Which is all very brilliant and theological, but you have no idea how unhelpful when you're trying to pray. Because if we don't navel gaze, check our feelings, indulge in human understandable imaginations- what's left? Just saying the words?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Final Bow

The final act is about to start,
and everyone knows their part by heart,
and you know what you'll do though you don't know how.
And you can't react and you can't turn back,
you've gone too far for you to change tracks,
and you gotta keep going right through to the final bow.

Well, David was a youth and then grew old,

covered in blankets and he shivers with cold,

but he keeps getting encores from the madding crowd.

And Elijah exits left off the world too tame,

returning to the fire from which he came.

He leaves his mantle and makes the storm his shroud.

And Agag can see that the die is cast,

shrugs and says that death's pain has passed,

stands there watching as the prophet strikes him down.

And Saul, finally done with making amends

tries to act surprised but he always knew how it ends,

and someone comes by to take the fallen crown.

And they prop Ahab up against the flood

and all the while runs the blood,

and he stands repeating I'm sorry, but I can't go now.

And Jezebel took what she could get,

says I may be damned, but I'm not dead yet,

And puts on her face to take that final bow.

And the curtain will fall on a silhouette

and the crowds will clap and then forget,

and you've gotta go on, though you don't know how

until the curtain falls on that final bow.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

My Life at Templars

Wow. Chana tells about how my high school treated her. Although I know none of the details of her personal story, it certainly does not sound like something wildly inconsistent with the personalities involved. The fact is, there are few things more merciless and terrifying than sweet, well-meaning, condescending people determined to save your soul.

I was talking to Miri over the fast, desperately trying to remember my own high school experience. I know, for example, that Templars neither quashed me nor attempted to do so. I remember being largely happy. And yet at the same time, without remembering the content, I am reasonably sure that I constantly asked questions. So really, the question becomes, why wasn't I quashed?
]There are two basic reasons. The first is: my massive ego. Really, I think that this was the principle cause. You see, I spent high school convinced that I was a heck of a lot more clever than any of my teachers (I am not saying that this is true- ego rarely allows for objectivity). I was similarly convinced that I was right, about really just about everything. Thus, arguments posed no threat to me- if I was unable to convince them, it's because they didn't understand me. If I failed to win an argument, it had no impact on my practice. Even if they had presented me with brilliant, powerful, and irrefutable arguments that my beliefs were wrong, I was strongly shielded with the walls of ego and would shrug and skip off my merry way.

So why did I argue? Because, quite simply, my largest problem in high school was not quashing, but sheer intolerable boredom. I wrote stories and poems in the margins of my notebooks; I took notes in script, fancy colors, or mirror writing; I memorized poems and speeches from Shakespeare; I wrote stories on my calculator; but mainly I asked questions. Good questions, argumentative questions, pointed questions, whatever. As long as my mind would be on, would be fencing or grasping or doing something.

Of course, I exaggerate somewhat. I was involved in the sides that I argued, often really trying to understand what the teacher was saying. (A snippet of memory where I earnestly insist that Ramban and Rashi can't both be right if they disagree) I had the Zionism argument, and the free will one about a billion times, and a couple of bad-things-good-peoples, and I really did care about what I was saying. But, I am ashamed to say, I cared very little about what my teachers had to say about the matter. This granted me a lovely combination of not objecting to stopping when the teacher demanded it and also not acting as if I were particularly vested in the case- as if it were all an intellectual game. Thus, people tended not to realize that I needed quashing, and when they tried it to some degree, I sort of didn't notice/care. Just like I didn't care enough about the argument to try it when not only their points, but their entire philosophies, perspectives, everything, annoyed me. Sometimes it just wasn't worth the trouble, because I just didn't care. That's not a boast, mind you- a more idealistic, honest, passionate, deep person (like Chana) would have cared, would have invested herself in them or their philosophy or even our arguments. But I was too practical, too egotistical, too bored, too sardonic. They could frustrate me, confuse me, enrage me, insult me, but they couldn't get close enough to quash me.

The second reason is my group of friends. I hung out with the good girls- the ones who went on to Michlala or BJJ. And to their everlasting credit, they had no problem hanging out with me, for all of my crazy arguingness. They even argued a bit themselves. And, more impressively, they hung out with the girls who wore pants and talked to boys, just so long as they were geeky enough to want to play word games or discuss books at the lunch table with the rest of us. So first of all, I had a lovely smoke screen- everyone assumed that I was with the good girls and would eventually shape up, settle down, and marry a kollel boy. And secondly, there were enough thinkers in the group- including those who went to BJJ and also people like Miri- that whenever I got a little quashed, they were there to tell me how darn right I was, and also give the old ego another pat by assuring me that I was clever and justified. We would argue amongst ourselves, quite a lot, but they tended to respect me, or at least tolerate that quirky Tobie. I was blessed to have them.

I don't know if I would have had the courage to actually fight them. I'm not a fighter by nature. I tend to smirk quietly on the sidelines and then go off and do my own thing. You can call it discretion, or cowardice, but there it is. But because I never really suffered, I do feel obligated, just briefly, to mention this point:

They were good people. Probably not every single one of them, but in general, they tended to be sweet and well-meaning. I feel as if I know them, because some of my friends or classmates are probably going to be them in a generation. Most would cook all night for you if you needed a meal. Most were living difficult, stressful lives for their ideals. Most really wanted you to straighten out because they just didn't know what would be with you, and it would be a tragedy, rachmana litzlan, if you turned out wrong, because you were such a smart girl, such potential, such a good heart. Most were willing to go above and beyond to help you, devoting their lunches and breaks to talking to you. They may not all be smart, or tactful, or sensitive. Few of them are open-minded or understanding. Fewer still treat you as an equal. But they are sweet and they mean so very, very well.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Ran on Secular Government

Want to hear an utterly brilliant Ran? Of course you do. And because I am such a good bloggress, you are even going to get a translation and not a paraphrase:
But in my eyes, the simple explanation of the verse is thus: It is obvious that the human species needs a judge to judge its members, because without it, each man would swallow his fellow alive, and the entirety will be destroyed. And every nation needs for this purpose a civilized state (bad translation- ישוב מדיני), until the wise man said "Even a band of thieves agreed on justice between them." And Israel needs it like all the other nations. Separate from that, they need this for another purpose, and that is to firmly establish the laws of the Torah and to punish those liable for lashes or death by the court who transgress the words of the laws of the Torah, although these transgressions may not harm the state's civilization at all.
There is no doubt that for both of these sides there will be two issues. One will obligate to punishment every man according to the true law. The other, when he is not liable to punishment according to the true just law, but will obligate him to be punished according to improve the national order and according to the needs of the time.
And G-d assigned each of these issues to a special body. And commanded that judges be appointed to judge the true, just law, as it says "And they shall judge the people a just law."...And since the national order will not be complete with this alone, G-d added its repair, in the commandment of the king....
It says in the Mishna in the chapter Hayu Bodkin [that they asked the witnesses] "Did you recognize him?....Did you warn him and did he accept that warning, freeing himself for death? Did he kill within seconds afterwards?" There is no doubt that all this is right from the perspective of justice. For how can a man be killed if he did not know that he was entering into something for which there is a capital penalty and still transgressed?...But if , the transgressors are punished only in this way, the national order will be completely lost, for murderers will be numerous and will not fear punishment. And therefore G-d commanded for the sake of settling the world that a king be appointed...
And the king may judge without a warning as he sees necessary for the national welfare. Thus, the appointment of a king is the same for Israel and for the other nations that need national order, and the appointment of judges is unique and more necessary for Israel...
Awesomeness, no? I'll tell you what I thought was so cool and fun for a modern reader.
1) He frankly acknowledges what everybody tries to apologetics away: The Torah's legal code is not all that effective in the real world.
2) He breaks things down perfectly into how legal theorists divide the purposes of law: the deontological and the utilitarian. All legislation is trying to strike a balance between the two, and he makes the Torah system be just the same way.
3) Under his system, the religious norms- the victimless crimes of the religion- are designed to be basically unenforceable (okay, he has a paragraph that raises the option that the court can be extra-legal for those things, but I choose to go with his other opinion), while those things needed for society are left flexible and in human hands, to sort out with the changing state of society.
4) I like the idea of there being a body who just represents justice. Even though everybody knows that the final result isn't going to be the same, it's good to have them around reminding what strict justice would say. Kind of like the role of a largely powerless religious force in a secular country.
5) According to my Mishpat Ivri teacher, there was a great debate on this Ran between R' Chaim Ozer Grodzensky and R' Herzog. R' Herzog, I think the first chief Rabbi of Israel, wanted the Israeli legal system to incorporate aspects of Jewish law. R' Chaim Ozer, charedi and anti-Zionist, suggested using this Ran to establish a completely independent, completely secular system of criminal and civil law in the state of Israel. R' Kook seems to have taken the Ran much the same way.
6) According to the Ran's perspective, the king is a very practical, earthly sort of role. There is nothing all that divine about his purpose and therefore no reason that it should actually be an anointed, hereditary king. In fact, both R' Grodzensky and R' Kook extend the Ran to any sort of head of state, including a democratically elected one. After all, it's just like what all the other countries are doing to cater to their civilization needs. Which means that Mashiach could, in theory, be a democratically elected leader operating a thoroughly secular legal system. Which is actually just a little freaky.