Monthly Archives: September 2008

As Chinese Come to Israel, Recalling One Israeli in China

We’ve come a long way since 1985, when Israeli travelers I met in China had to hide their “real” passports from local authorities and most Chinese I met had never left their home province, let alone crossed a national border. The China Daily recently reported that, on September 25, Chinese tourists will visit Israel for the first time without special business visas.

I hope Israel’s new guests find friends around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, which top their itinerary. I know I was never lonely during the year I spent roaming the People’s Republic with a manual typewriter and three changes of clothing. Besides billions of Chinese for company, I encountered a small army of other “foreign ghosts” traveling, like me, without tour guides or coach buses. In our dorm-style accommodations and in the streets, train stations and open-air markets, they were hard to miss.

Just a few of my fellow backpackers were Israelis. I was lucky enough in Lhasa, Tibet, to become fast friends with one of them, a dry-witted anthropologist from Netanya named Dina Heimann. Our decision to travel together after a planned rendez-vous with her brother, Eli, embroiled me in her life, and Israeli culture, in ways I never would have expected. Continue reading

Rabbis For McCain, Sort Of

Yesterday we wrote about Rabbis for Obama. Today, according to a Forward article, we should focus on Rabbis for McCain. Well, sort of. Says the Forward:

A group of leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel is preparing to release a statement that urges the country’s American expatriates to exercise their voting rights in November by casting absentee ballots…

[Director of government affairs at Agudath Israel of America and Haredi lobbyist Rabbi Yehiel] Kalish said that the campaign, the first of its kind, is a nonpartisan effort to maximize the voting rate among American Israelis in order to strengthen the Jewish community’s bargaining power in Washington. The hope, he said, is that a high turnout will encourage the winning candidate — and other decision makers — to pay attention to the Jewish community’s priorities when formulating policy. Continue reading

Rabbis for Obama

Over 300 American rabbis publicly announced their support for Barack Obama yesterday with the launch of a “Rabbis for Obama” website.

The movement was founded by Rabbis Sam Gordon and Steve Bob of Illinois in response to what they call the “smear campaign against Obama” that “has been waged in the Jewish community.”

“The smears and lies are specifically targeted to the fears and prejudices of Jews,” Gordon said in a phone interview this morning. “The kind of attacks and criticisms of him are totally unwarranted and caused me and others to respond in a way unprecedented in the history of Jewish rabbis.”

While Gordon and Bob both belong to the Union for Reform Judaism, they say rabbinical support for Obama—and for their movement—comes from across the spectrum. Continue reading

This Week’s Links

  • Robert DeNiro is now Jewish. Or, maybe he just doesn’t like Mel Gibson. [God Blog]
  • Do Obama, McCain, and others violate the second commandment? Rabbi Irwin Kula is concerned about the use of God’s name in politics. [On Faith]
  • I just got $50,000. All I had to do was move to Dothan, Alabama, where the graying Jewish community is seeking implants—that is, younger Jews to refresh their community. [AP]
  • Identical twins who were separated at birth were reunited by chance. What an opportunity to study nature vs. nurture. [Blog at 16th and Q]
  • The Israeli soccer team played a World Cup qualifier yesterday in Chisinau, Moldova. The city used to be called Kishinev, and was the site of horrific pogroms in 1903. Israel won 2-1. [Ha'aretz and FIFA]
  • A professor at Yeshiva University recently had a sex change. She is now on indefinite leave. [JPost]
  • Try making realistic Rosh Hashanah resolutions. [Three Jews, Four Opinions]
  • “In 2004 George Khoury, an Israeli Arab student, was shot while running in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem by a gunman from the Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who mistook him for a Jew. Khoury’s family decided to make the donation [toward translating Amos Oz’s memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness” into Arabic] in an effort to help create greater cultural understanding between Arabs and Jews.” [Jewschool]
  • Here’s a useful chart of kosher meat companies and their competent/failing labor practices. [Forward]
  • “Anyhow, we are in an era where good and evil will be intensely clear to some, and not so clear to others, a period of confusion, where simple solutions might have dangerous appeal.” One writer remembers September 11th. [Looking at the Jewish World]
Photo by AlphaTangoBravo/ Adam Baker.

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

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Israel, Palestinians, etc. Work Together On CERN Project

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) began an astounding experiment yesterday, where they hope to recreate the “Big Bang” from which scientists believe our universe was created. The experiment involves smashing tiny particles together at speeds close to the speed of light, and seeing what sort of energy and reaction occurs.

For our purposes, what is worth noting—and, perhaps, is just as important as discovering the origins of our existence—is the cooperation and friendship of Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian, and Lebanese scientists. Indeed, according to Ynet, it seems that the whole group got along quite well, once even traveling to Paris to squelch a hummus craving.

Professor Giora Mikenberg, who heads the Israeli team at CERN and comes from the Department of Particle Physics at the Weizmann Institute, said, “Science knows no borders and no enemies. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Israelis have long been a recognizable force at CERN. Says Ynet:

Israel, in many ways, is one of the key players in helping make the super collider come to life, as 40 Israeli scientists from the Technion and the Tel Aviv and Haifa universities have spent the better part of the past 10 years developing several of its main electronic systems, particularly the core’s detector system—which is charged with deciphering and analyzing the results of the unprecedented experiment.

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

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Can Israel Kidnap Ahmadinejad??

Interesting news out of Israel yesterday, where Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan said Israel could kidnap Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and bring him to court. Eitan, a former Mossad agent who helped track Adolf Eichmann, said:

The era of hunting down old Nazis is over, but that’s not to say that such operations are completely a thing of the past, and it could very well be that a leader such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suddenly finds himself before the International Criminal Court in The Hague…

Those who spread poison and want to eradicate another people has to expect such consequences.

Iran reacted immediately, writing a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

These dangerous threats of resorting to criminal acts against the officials of a sovereign country, or threatening to use force against a member of the United Nations not only constitute manifest violations of international law and contravene the most fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations, but are against the basic values of the civilised world. Continue reading

Moment’s 2008 Election Issue Now Online

Our September/October issue is now available online. In it you’ll find:

  • In Religion & the Supreme Court we offer up a comprehensive assessment of whether and how a justice’s faith affects his or her legal decisions. Some of the nation’s most prominent legal thinkers, Jeffrey Toobin, Jeffrey Rosen, Eugene Volokh, Laurence Tribe, Abner Mikvah, Jamie Raskin, Wendy Webster Williams, Marci Hamilton and Douglas Kmiec, discuss.
  • Kirk Douglas and his views on Judaism
  • Readers’ arguments for Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain from our presidential poll
  • Where the word l’chaim comes from
  • Columnists including Naomi Ragen and Eric Alterman
  • And more

You can always subscribe to Moment in just a few clicks here.

And remember, we love your input! Write to or leave your comments here.

Gaza Summer Camp Takes on Extremism

The UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) has received a serious amount of criticism from onlookers in recent years, but according to a Christian Science Monitor article published recently, it looks like they got at least one thing right.

The article is about recently concluded summer camps in the Gaza Strip, where children had an outlet from their otherwise stressful and dangerous surroundings. In a safe environment, these children played sports, worked on arts and crafts, and, you know, acted like kids. Continue reading

Questions for Ariel Sabar

Do you have questions for Ariel Sabar after reading his essay about journeying with his father to Jewish Kurdistan? Ask them here in response to this post: Leave a comment, and your question might be answered by him in a later post.

Physical Modesty in Judaism: A Response by Rabbi Gershon Winkler

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

In our current issue, we printed a letter from a reader who was curious about Rabbi Gershon Winkler’s response to our Ask the Rabbis question (Who Cares What Women Wear [Or Don't Wear]?) in the July/August issue. Here is his response in its entirety:

Reader’s question: “I would like to know, in a precise citation, where in his writings ‘Rav Moshe Feinstein boldly pointed out that there is no Torah injunction against nudity,’ and precisely in what context this statement was allegedly made.”

Rabbi’s response: I translate below the pertinent excerpts from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s response regarding nudity. The question was brought to him in the context of a man whose skin rash made it uncomfortable for him to wear clothing, and to pray clothed, etc. In permitting the man to not be clothed, Rav Feinstein raises the question whether nudity is prohibited by the Torah altogether. And I quote:

“[The concept of being dressed out of respect to God ]—for His glory fills the whole earth—applies only during prayer, when one ought to be properly attired as one would in the presence of dignitaries. But if it is not during the time of prayer, then, although one is still in the presence of God, one does not need to be dressed in clothing at all, and it would be then sufficient to use any kind of wrapping to cover those parts of the body which are customarily covered, and this is because the whole issue of meticulousness around dress is based solely on social standards alone, which vary from place to place and from time to time. And so, barring the social factor, there are no particular requirements regarding the wearing of clothing.

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