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Obama and our not-so-humble opinions

 
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Miss the good old days?

When, that is, we had a president who refused to allow the United States to participate in the U.N.’s Durban Review Conference because he believed Israel would be unfairly criticized.

A president who rejected the Goldstone report and refused to participate in joint military exercises with Turkey when Ankara insisted Israel be excluded.

A president who asked Congress to approve a $205 million package to help Israel build a new anti-missile defense system.

A president who spoke up on Israel’s behalf to help it gain acceptance into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A president who didn’t shy from authorizing the killing of an American-born radical Muslim cleric hiding in Yemen.

A president who, in a speech delivered in the heart of the Arab world, told his listeners that they need to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

A president who, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, stated clearly and unequivocally that “Israel is a sovereign state and the historic homeland of the Jewish people” and went on to say that “It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the U.S.”

A president who, on the domestic front, signed an executive order that preserved the faith-based social service funding initiative and pointedly did not forbid participating religious groups from discriminating in hiring in order to be faithful to their religious beliefs.

Well, take heart. The good old days are more recent than you think. You have that president. His name is Barack Obama.

No, I didn’t vote for him in 2008. I’m a lifelong Republican, an alumnus, in fact, of Young Americans for Freedom. (I was once young.)

But it bothers me that Mr. Obama is negatively viewed by so many Orthodox Jews, ostensibly because he treats Israel badly and is hostile to religion.

I have no statistics, only anecdotal evidence and journalistic gleanings, for my feeling that he is so viewed by many intelligent and otherwise well-informed frum folks. But if I’m right and he is, one has to wonder why.

Maybe it’s his fiscal strategy. Economics is an esoteric, inscrutable science to me, something on the order of particle physics. And so it may well be that the president deserves opprobrium by the heapful for his fiscal policies. But those policies are not the major part of the criticism one hears about Mr. Obama “in the mikvah,” so to speak. There he is indicted on charges of insensitivity (or worse) toward Israel or religious Jews.

Surely our community is not so uninformed as to consider Mr. Obama’s middle name, given him at birth, an indictment of his character; or so credulous as to doubt his citizenship; or so crass — one hopes — as to distrust him for a surplus of melanin.

There may well be reasons to feel negatively toward the current administration (certainly many people, and they are hardly limited to our community, do). History will have its say in time. But if any readers were surprised a few paragraphs above to discover that the “good old days” of American support for Israel and concern for religious rights are the here-and-now, they must admit that they were not as well-informed about our president as they thought.

The real problem here, though, isn’t Mr. Obama or our feelings about him. It’s something deeper.

One of the most basic Torah imperatives is modesty. Not only in dress and in speech but in attitude — in recognizing that there are things we don’t know, in some cases can’t know.

And yet so often we seem to feel a need to embrace absolute, take-no-prisoners political opinions; to reject any possibility of ambivalence, much less any admission of ignorance.

Certitude is proper, even vital, in some areas of life. But in the realm of politics it can be, in fact usually is, an expression of overconfidence or worse.

Part of wisdom is knowing what one doesn’t know. And part of modesty is acting accordingly.

AMI MAGAZINE

Rabbi Avi Shafran
Rabbi Avi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami.
Disclaimer
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

Yehoshua Solomon (of Adas Yeshurun) posted 27 Dec 2010 at 04:23 AM

Thank you Rabbi Avi for sharing once again the wisdom you have been granted on the worldly concerns of our times, as you would often do in our shul. It took me time in yeshiva to understand how the chachamim are level-headed and keep their calm, and that this is the true, mature path. Your words present that calmness to me. Also: your writing style, about which the Rabbi (as we in my family know him) says, “I do not know where he gets it from; it’s not from me!”

JOE THE PROFESSOR posted 28 Dec 2010 at 08:16 PM

I heartily agree with most of Rabbi Shafran’s comments. I am very curious however as to his political motives in issuing this statement which will be anatema to much of his “base”.
My guesses (in descending order of likelihood are
1) Fear that the “tea Party”  will become a major force for antisemitism. (“Orthodox Jews are not ‘Real Americans’ .”
2) Paul and company will cut off Fpreign Aid programs
3) The Republicans will dismantle parts of the Social Safety Net which aid Kollel Families

 

Goodbye, New York Times

Dear New York Times,

It’s over between us.

For 30 years, I’ve been in love with you, NYT.

I met you soon after I moved here from Chicago. Never before had I read such thoughtful, compellingly written journalism, with dispatches from all over the globe that mirrored my politics and my interests. You opened my eyes, New York Times. Back in Chicago, the papers covered only local news, but you showed me there was a larger world out there, filled with enchanting possibilities.

It was love at first sight. From that very first time, I turned to your editorials and op-ed pages to shape my opinions. I wouldn’t see a movie or a play until I read your reviews. I chose books based on your recommendations. I tore out your recipes and saved them in a special notebook. It was a thrill when my illustrations appeared in your hallowed Sunday Magazine. The papers that described 9/11 and the election of our first black President are preserved lovingly in my basement.

 

 

Greetings, nods, and the art of saying “pajamas”

Walking through the streets of Teaneck this past Shabbos, I started thinking about a “good Shabbos” game my brothers and I used to play each week as we made our way across town.”

“P’jms.”

My 11-year-old brother snickers once the man — who had barely looked up from the sidewalk as he passed but still managed to mutter something resembling “gdshbs” under his breath — is well behind us.

A second opportunity arises. Two women, power-walking, speed past us on the left. They’re absorbed in conversation, but one nods and the other throws a quick “Good Shabbos” over her shoulder. “P’jms,” my brother mumbles. Quickly. It has to be said quickly for both full effect and so as not to be discovered. The women continue on, oblivious to this wordplay.

A minute passes. An approaching teenager with hands in his pockets eyes us from afar and abruptly crosses to the other side of the street. My brother scowls, a pajama-moment taken away from him.

 

 

Superhero spring

The second quarter of 2014 has been rather remarkable for superhero movies, with three different films, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” in the theaters all at the same time at one point.

All three movies are adaptations of Marvel Comics, the publishing group launched by Stan Lee (aka Stanley Lieber) in 1961, and purchased by Disney in 2009. Stan Lee was the son of Jewish immigrants from Romania, and as a teenager took a job in 1939 with Timely Publications, the company that he eventually would evolve into Marvel Comics.

 

 

RECENTLYADDED

‘The heart that feels not now is dead’

“It is the good fortune of many to live distant from the scene of sorrow; the evil is not sufficiently brought to their doors to make them feel the precariousness” of those living under conditions of war.

This observation aptly describes the experience of Jews who have been watching increasingly tragic events unfold in Israel from the privileged safety of our American diaspora. These words were penned, however, by Thomas Paine — American author, political theorist, and philosopher — in his celebrated 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense.” The precarious conditions he described were, specifically, the privations and predations endured by colonists in my native Massachusetts, besieged and subjugated with particular brutality by the British army. Paine wrote in order to arouse sympathy and solidarity among colonists at a distance from the conflict — those, say, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. His admonition in “The American Crisis” resounds with wisdom for Jews ostensibly far from “the scene of sorrow” during Operation Protective Edge: “It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead.”

 

 

Love thy neighbor

Isn’t it hopeless?

Here we go again, with Hamas attacking Israel from Gaza for the third time, just weeks after the kidnapping and tragic death of three Israeli youngsters and the horrendous act of burning a Palestinian boy alive by our own.

Who can bear it? And how will it ever end? Isn’t it hopeless?

There is a popular chasidic-style song with some significant words for times like these: “We are believers the children of believers….” Well, though it strains belief, in the midst of all this terror and bad blood between Israelis and Palestinians, there was a peace initiative that actually went viral.

 

 

From the narrow places

As a teenager I was a competitive faster — and summer was my season.

As a camper and then as a staffer at Camp Yavneh in Northwood, New Hampshire, I shone in my ability to fast for two long, hot summer days, separated by only three weeks — and the second of those fasts even started at sundown the night before.

Don’t jump to any conclusions. There was no eating disorder involved. If anorexia and bulimia were known at the time, they must have been banned in Boston. It is simply a Jewish ritual that, maximally observed, got you out of swimming for three weeks, without having to plead menstruation, and garnered praise from the more Orthodox among the faculty.

 

 
 
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