A 31-year-old civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst specializing in counterterrorism and his wife were inside the gates of the Israel embassy in Washington, D.C., seeking asylum. The embassy guards refused them entry into the building, instead ordering them to leave. No sooner did they exit the gates than agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation descended on them and arrested the analyst, Jonathan Jay Pollard. Soon thereafter, he was charged with passing on sensitive intelligence data to a foreign government — the State of Israel.
Perhaps, though, because of the frivolity associated with it (vigorous dancing, singing, some horsing around, and in some shuls, even some drinking), most people who celebrate the day will know only in a vague way what it is they are celebrating. Or how the various parts of what they are doing on that day came about.
Sadly, though, most Jews will not be celebrating and probably will not even know that it is Simchat Torah, much less realize that there is a very important reason for it not to be ignored. That is a Jewish tragedy of epic proportions that, in a sense, Simchat Torah was meant to avoid.
Of all the “antiquated” customs in Judaism, the ones related to Sukkot probably are the most embarrassing for modern Jews.
Imagine, goes the reasoning, having to participate in such “ludicrous rituals” as waving palm branches decorated with willows and myrtle, and connected, no less, to the world’s most expensive “lemon,” the citron. Leviticus 23:40 states, “And you shall take on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” Yet, say the naysayers, not only does the way this law is observed smack of some pagan tree-hugging, but the Torah probably never meant for its words to be taken in this way.
One of the things a rabbi hears all too often is that Judaism is a 3,500-year-old religion with rules and regulations that were designed for another time and another place. Traditional Judaism has little or nothing to say to the Jews of the 21st century.
That is what we hear — and, as I said, we hear it all too often.
It is not true, of course. Judaism has a lot to say that is relevant and even necessary in our day. You just have to be willing to listen — and to understand.
Part of the problem is that much of what Judaism has to say is found in the Torah, and to a lesser extent in the remainder of the Tanach, the Bible. Those texts are from another age, and too many of us tend to think of them as having been written for their time only.
As support mounts, Olympic committee still says no
International support is growing for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games to honor the memories of the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists on the final day of the games 40 years ago. The committee that runs the quadrennial event, however, continues to turn a deaf ear to the pleas. The Olympics begin in London on July 27.
Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said several times in the last few months that such a tribute has no place at the games themselves. Nonetheless, “within the Olympic family, the memory of the victims of the terrible massacre in Munich in 1972 will never fade away,” he wrote in a letter on May 1 rejecting the request.
Last week, a U.S. district court judge sitting in Roanoke, Va., made an extraordinary suggestion about the document commonly referred to as “The Ten Commandments.” He suggested it be cut to six. He appointed another judge to oversee negotiations to accomplish that goal.
The case involves Narrows High School in Narrows, Va., a part of the Giles County school district, which is the actual defendant in the case. After Narrows High put up a display of “The Ten Commandments,” the American Civil Liberties Union objected and brought the case to the U.S. District Court in Roanoke. It cited the separation clause of the First Amendment, as well as a number of federal court decisions, as its reasons.
One case relevant to U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski’s argument in The ACLU of Virginia and the Freedom From Religion Foundation v. the Giles County, Va., School Board is King v. Richmond County (Georgia), which was decided for Richmond County almost exactly nine years ago, on May 30, 2003. In that case, a panel of judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stunning ruling. The “Ten Commandments,” the majority ruled, has its secular side.
At specific issue was a seal used by the Richmond County Superior Court.
News reports notwithstanding, “There is no indication that there are any specific and/or imminent threats to Jewish communities in the U.S. at this time as a result of recent events,” according to an alert received this week by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Nevertheless, the alert said, that could change “should military action break out in the Middle East in coming months.”
An open attack on Iran is only one “trigger” that could raise the threat level, the alert said. “Increased pressure from sanctions, continued perceived threats from Israel, the United States, and others, sabotage against nuclear facilities, and continued alleged assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists” could also bring about an Iranian response aimed at Jewish or Israeli targets in the West, especially the United States.
The Republican candidates for president seem to be trying to outdo themselves in letting Jewish voters know that they are the best candidates for anyone who cares about Israel and its security. President Barack Obama and his supporters, meanwhile, seek to make the case that he is Israel’s true friend.
One candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv if elected. Not to be outdone, Rep. Michelle Bachman said she would do so almost the moment she sets foot in the Oval Office for the first time. In fact, she said, “I already have secured a donor who said they will personally pay for the ambassador’s home to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
To hear his opponents tell it, President Barack Obama is the worst president ever when it comes to things Israel.
To hear his supporters and Obama himself, the president is the best president ever when it comes to Israel.
The record supports Obama more than it does his detractors. On paper and by all practical measures, the president certainly is among the best friends Israel has had in the White House. Yet Obama and his aides have managed to say and do things that cause serious doubt even among those who want to believe him.