Miriam Shaviv

  • A plea to President Obama

    Jul 28, 2009

    Aluf Benn of Ha'aretz had a forceful op-ed in the NYT yesterday, in which he calls on President Obama to talk directly to Israelis, because he is rapidly losing their sympathy.

    It's worth reading in full - considering his terrible relationship with Netanyahu, this might be the closest President Obama gets to hearing what Israelis really think.

    In the meanwhile, a couple of particularly astute observations:

    This policy of ignoring Israel carries a price. Though Mr. Obama has succeeded in prodding Mr. Netanyahu to accept the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he has failed to induce Israel to impose a freeze on settlements. In fact, he has failed even to stir debate about the merits of one: no Israeli political figure has stood up to Mr. Netanyahu and begged him to support Mr. Obama; not even the Israeli left, desperate for a new agenda, has adopted Mr. Obama as its icon.....

    Mr. Obama seems to have confused American Jews with Israelis. We are close emotionally and politically, but we are different. We speak Hebrew and not English, we live in the Middle East and have separate historical narratives. Mr. Obama’s stop at Buchenwald and his strong rejection of Holocaust denial, immediately after his Cairo speech, appealed to American Jews but fell flat in Israel. Here we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle — not guilt over the Holocaust — brought Jews a homeland. Mr. Obama’s speech, which linked Israel’s existence to the Jewish tragedy, infuriated many Israelis who sensed its closeness to the narrative of enemies like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

    One point Aluf did not make: It's not enough to talk to Israelis - it would help if he actually listened, too.

  • Breaking news: Egypt occupies Iraq

    Jul 28, 2009

    This map apparently appeared on the July 27 edition of The Live Desk on Fox News.

    They say only a quarter of Americans can identify America on a map, so I don't know why anyone's surprised.....


  • How the Jews won WWII, and a smelly Brit defeated the Mandate

    Jul 27, 2009

    There's an interesting review of Andrew Roberts's new history of the Second World War, The Storm of War, in the Economist.

    In brief, Mr Roberts argues that the war started when it did because Hitler was a Nazi, and that Germany lost it for the same reason.

    The Nazi leader’s blunders started when he began to turn his anti- Semitic rhetoric into practice, driving many of Germany’s best brains into exile. The allies won because “our German scientists were better than their German scientists”, was the pithy summary of the war’s outcome by one of Churchill’s closest aides, Sir Ian Jacob.

    Excellent German engineering and ruthless use of forced labour was not enough to make up for the drain of so many clever people into exile or concentration camps.

    In other words, killing off the Jews lost Germany the war. Just wait for the Neo-Nazis to cotton on to this: now they have another reason to hate us!

    As a side note, the reviewer (in the Economist, always anonymous) notes that the book is full of "startling facts". My favourite concerns Orde Wingate, the Christian British officer who became an ardent Zionist and played a central role training the Haganah troops. According to Roberts,

    Orde Wingate was an ardent nudist who never bathed. (He scrubbed himself with a stiff brush, instead.)

    And in the Mediterranean sun, too....

  • Kids nowdays

    Jul 27, 2009

    614, a web-only magazine published by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, has a new issue online, dedicated to Jewish Sex ("a new look at an old act").

    In this disturbing piece, Shulamit Reinharz, director of the Institute, reports that

    a woman in her seventies began sharing her concern with me about the custom in her granddaughter's prep school; Jewish girls were giving Jewish boys blowjobs as bar mitzvah presents! Presumably because they've already got everything else.

    I couldn't believe my ears. But then she told me that this practice is so rampant that the Reform Jewish movement has taken it on as a national policy concern. I checked that piece of information out on Google and, sure enough, there is an article to that effect dated November 19, 2005. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, addressed 4,200 people in Houston for its biennial convention and explicitly talked about oral sex and hooking up. Bravo, Rabbi Yoffie. For him the issue was that girls are "defining their worth by how they please boys." The degradation of girls flies in the face of the Reform Movement's dedication to the equality of women, he said...

    at a recent bat mitzvah I asked the rabbi if he had heard about this topic. He told me his youth group leaders are complaining that this behavior exists and that his synagogue will soon be introducing a curriculum to deal with it.


  • In praise of Gideon Levy

    Jul 24, 2009

    Gideon Levy of Ha'aretz is widely admired outside Israel for his championing of Palestinian rights, but dismissed within most of Israel as too politically rigid to take seriously. He is entirely predictable on anything to do with the Palestinians - and far, far, far to the left of most Israelis, making him almost irrelevant to a domestic audience (those that don't hate him, that is).

    So here is a word in his favour.

    Today, he has published an extraordinary article calling for more understanding of, and tolerance for, the Charedim by the secular majority.

    This is the second time he has come out with this line, the first being a few weeks ago, when a group of secular residents objected to Charedim moving into the tony Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Aviv.

    And this, in some senses, is a far braver stand than the one he takes with the Palestinians. At least when he stands up for the Palestinians, he knows he has the support of many of his leftist friends, and wide support from overseas. Defending and sympathising with the Charedim is far more unusual in his circles - he really is a lone voice here, and many of those who applaud his stand on the Palestinians will probably hate what he has to say on the Charedim.

    It is good to see that he stands up for the truth, as he sees it, wherever it lands him on the political spectrum. An example for us all.

  • BBC's shameful headline

    Jul 24, 2009

    In the US yesterday, 40 people were arrested for corruption and money laundering, including three New Jersey mayors, two members of the state legislature, and - yes - several rabbis.

    Right now, the BBC headline on the story reads, "US corruption probe nets dozens".

    But according to the JTA's Ron Kampeas, earlier it read, "US rabbis arrested in crime probe".

    What? No mayors? No elected officials?

    Sometimes you have to wonder whether it's just Israel they hate.

  • Looking for a wife - on Facebook

    Jul 24, 2009

    I've heard of picking up dates through facebook. But now, eligible London bachelor Marcus Freed - of Bibliyoga fame - is using the social networking site to launch an official search for a wife.

    According to his page,

    Marcus is inviting applications for the role of WIFE! Please send serious suggestions to Future.Mrs.Freed@gmail.com . For real! Successful candidate should expect a life of joy, blessing, adventure, romance, multiple progeny and free yoga. GSOH a huge advantage – you’ll need it.

    Future Mrs Freed should be...
    1. Prepared for adventure, excitement and happy to be the subject/object of absolute devotion.
    2. Tolerant of the neurotic artist-type.
    3. Shomeret Shabbat/Kashrut (Sabbath Observant)…if not already. This one’s important.

    ….abilty to dance in rhythm an advantage. Prior salsa training not essential.

    MJF user manual:
    - requires small doses of undivided attention on a regular basis. If given too much attention, it results in boisterous and potentially obnoxious behaviour.
    - doesn't respond well to being given excessive rules and directions.
    - gets grouchy when tired. When this happens, point him in the direction of a couch and a bowl of cereal (granola with flax seed).

    Here's what you (the successful candidate) will receive
    - a lifetime of joy, blessing, happiness, fun
    - beautiful children with unpredictable talents
    - support from the extended Freed family (who got all of the normal genes)

    About your potential future mother-in-law:
    - witty, motivated, clever, and loves doting after grandchildren and babysitting them.

    About your potential future father-in-law:
    - lovely, sweet, listens to your p.m-i-l (who has final say). Talented musician and amazing handyman who fixes all the broken stuff around the house and can make anything on a sewing machine.

    About your potential future sister-in-law:
    Born a couple of years after MJF, the parents had refined the child-rearing process so she’s a little more sophisticated and emotionally calibrated. She knows the weak-points of MJF so can help with advice on how to tame him if needed.

    Still reading? Ok. Do a quick websearch on MJF. See if that puts you off.

    Still reading? really? Ok. Please answer in 50 words or less; why are you still interested? (This is an elimination process. There can only be one Future Mrs Freed). Now email it to Future.Mrs.Freed@gmail.com .

    Thank you. Our people will contact your people.

    First date will be on Twitter.

    Good luck, Marcus!

  • Have Jewish/Israeli scientists found a cure for radiation sickness?

    Jul 23, 2009

    Ynet reports:

    The first series of tests included experiments on more than 650 monkeys. Each test featured two groups of monkeys exposed to radiation, but only one group was given the medication. The radiation dosage was equal to the highest dosage sustained by humans as result of the Chernobyl mishap.

    The experiment's results were dramatic: 70% of the monkeys that did not receive the cure died, while the ones that survived suffered from the various maladies associated with lethal nuclear radiation. However, the group that did receive the anti-radiation shot saw almost all monkeys survive, most of them without any side-effects. The tests showed that injecting the medication between 24 hours before the exposure to 72 hours following the exposure achieves similar results.

    Another test on humans, who were given the drug without being exposed to radiation, showed that the medication does not have side-effects and is safe. Prof. Gudkov's company now needs to expand the safety tests, a process expected to be completed by mid-2010 via a shortened test track approved for bio-defense drugs. Should experiments continue at the current rate, the medication is estimated to be approved for use by the FDA within a year or two.

    Of course people caught in the centre of the blast would still be killed, but this would save thousands of lives of people in a wider radius and prevent the kinds of severe health problems that arose after the Chernobyl disaster, for example. There are also exciting implications for cancer treatment.

    Take that, Ahmadinejad.

  • Stop calling them 'honour killings'

    Jul 23, 2009

    According to The Times,

    A young Muslim woman has been warned by police that her life is in danger after a male friend was allegedly forced to drink acid and was stabbed twice in the back in an apparent “honour attack”.

    The Danish Asian man is in a serious but stable condition in hospital after an incident in Leytonstone, East London, three weeks ago. Sulphuric acid is said to have been forced down his throat.

    The 24-year-old, being treated in a specialist unit in Essex, is now blind, his tongue has been destroyed and he suffered 90 per cent burns.

    The woman, who claims the relationship is an innocent friendship, and the man live in the Asian community of East London, where their relationship is said to have upset her family for bringing dishonour on them.

    It is time to stop calling these attacks "honour killings". They have nothing to do with honour and everything to do with control - families physically threatening and bullying women into behaving the way they would like them to behave.

    Calling them "honour killings" merely enforces the lie that honour is the real motive here - and that honour is a good enough reason to kill or maim someone.

    From now on, let's call them what they are - "murders".

  • How to make Orthodox shuls more welcoming for women

    Jul 23, 2009

    Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a really prominent national religious rabbi in Israel, has put together a halachic document meant to spark off a rabbinic discussion about how to make synagogues more welcoming for women. (Link is to Hebrew story.)

    Among his suggestions:

    ● Women should be partners in the running of the shul. He doesn't impose limits of this - please note United Synagogue, where women still cannot chair synagogues.

    ● The Torah Scroll should be passed to the women's section and on Simchat Torah, women should be encouraged (note - not "allowed" - "encouraged") to dance with it.

    ● Under certain conditions, women can read the Torah for other women

    ● Women can say kaddish in shul provided a man is also saying kaddish in the men's section

    And much more.

    Predictably, the comment section on YNet is already full of accusations that Rabbi Cherlow is a "Reformist". Of course he is no such thing - he is a highly respected and very frum head of a hesder yeshivah in Petach Tikvah.

    In addition, almost every one of his suggestions simply reflect the day-to-day goings on in many Orthodox synagogues (not Charedi) both in Israel and in North America. His document, therefore, is not even that revolutionary - except in the sense that it is an admirable attempt by the rabbis to deal with issues in an organised, sensible and sensitive way, instead of the usual ad hoc, defensive manner.

    Together with the recent Kolech conference, in which thousands of Orthodox women voted on the title to be given to women rabbis, it also clearly shows that the question of women's public role in Orthodoxy still has a way to run, and that - contrary to what they would have us believe - the momentum is not all with the conservative forces.

    And what about in the UK? Here, a report detailing "inconsistent and anachronistic” attitudes over women’s participation in Orthodox synagogues, and the women's frustration, released last month, was greeted with a big collective yawn. It is hard to imagine that any of Rabbi Cherlow's ideas - non-revolutionary as they are in Israel and the US - will be implemented here for a very, very long time.

    One of the differences is that our synagogues are run in a top-down manner, centrally controlled by the United Synagogue, while in Israel and the US, rabbis (even if they belong to an organisation such as the Orthodox Union) do not answer to anyone in the same way.

    Our rabbis, therefore, are constrained in the decisions they can make and the practises they can introduce to their synagogues, and even the ideas they can float - while their counterparts overseas can be far more imaginative and daring.