Miriam Shaviv

  • Bummer, that

    Jun 10, 2010

    The New York Times has stopped Jeffrey Goldberg using the word 'tuchus' in print (forcing him to say 'tush' instead).

    They're very conservative in New York....

  • The Ironic Orthodox generation

    Jun 10, 2010

    Across the pond, there seems to be an emerging consensus that something is changing in Orthodoxy, particularly on its left wing. The problem is that no one is exactly sure what. Over the past year, there have been several attempts to define this new breed of Orthodox Jew, loosely labelled - thanks to Hirhurim - 'post-Orthodox'. To me this definition has always seemed a libel, a malicious attempt to push those on the left of Orthodoxy out of the movement, and I reject it entirely.

    Now, courtesy of the great ADDeRabbi, comes 'Ironic Orthodoxy' (a group of which he generally approves, and to which he says he partially belongs):

    The Ironic Orthodox generation is the generation that comes after the Great Post-1967 Orthodox Awakening. The Ironic Orthodox are largely day-school and yeshiva educated. With their grandparents they share a certain comfort in their own Orthodox skin; to them, Orthodoxy is familiar, natural, and organizes their lives. With their parents they share a familiarity with the world of Jewish learning and are even able to access that learning to a large degree.

    The Ironic Orthodox generation does not buy into the apologetics: not about the status of women, not about the integrity of the transmission of the Oral Law, not about the "timelessness" of obviously time-bound religious laws, customs, and ideas, etc. This generation is hard to inspire; its demeanor is skeptical and ironic, somewhat aloof and dispassionate. Their irony is not a dramatic irony - like Statler and Waldorf observing the and criticizing the show yet remaining very much a part of it - but a jocular or sarcastic attitude or perhaps even a post-irony that simultaneously adheres to and mocks traditional religious structures. Yet it's not a bitter or angry mocking. It seems to be more of a taking-for-granted of life's absurdities and of the failure of ideology to explain or animate the full gamut of practice. It does not necessarily advocate or seek change.

    The acclaimed Israeli TV show "Srugim" is an example of Ironic Orthodoxy - from the camera lens's perspective, even if it does not necessarily describe any character in particular. The lens captures both the familiarity and the absurdity of contemporary Orthodox living. In an odd way, despite the fact that, as Shai points out, the only "normal" character in the show is hiloni, its portrait of contemporary Orthodox life is far from unsympathetic. Blogs, especially those that combine deep literacy, adherence, and irreverence - are examples as well.

    What he is describing here is not limited to the left-wing Orthodox, but those who do belong to this group have two characteristics in common: they have a good secular education, and a good Jewish education. A good secular education, because this gives them the 'ironic' attitude; and a good Jewish education, because what they are engaging in is a sophisticated critique of the system (indeed, it takes a certain level of education to understand that it is a 'system' in the first place). The majority of ADDeRabbi's commentators, who seem to assume that the 'ironic Orthodox' are ignorant, at least Jewishly, have it the wrong way round.

  • Fast-roping 101

    Jun 7, 2010


    Via Abu Muqawama, a blog on insurgencies and counter-insurgencies hosted by the Center for a New American security. Take a look also at this post, particularly the bits about Israel's loss of deterrence and its army's loss of standing amongst other military personnel.

  • Giving Hamas a chance

    Jun 7, 2010

    Nick Cohen, in the Guardian, has written an impassioned and generally excellent piece on the real reason the Arab states attack Israel, and the effect this has on Western liberals. Read it in its entirety.

    Towards the end, however,  he makes the following disturbing suggestion:

    Israelis are not being irrational [about fears of Hamas re-arming if the blockade is relaxed - MS]. The same fears persuade the Egyptian government to blockade Gaza from the south, although we rarely hear about that. But the way to handle hypocrites is not to say as Israelis do that "the world will condemn us whatever policy we follow" but to call their bluff. If Israel were to relax the import restrictions and Hamas were to rearm, reasonable opinion, including reasonable Palestinian opinion, would see it for what it would be: a declaration of war.

    This is extremely naive. Look what happened in southern Lebanon after the second Lebanon war in 2006. The international community fully guaranteed that Hizbollah would not be allowed to re-arm with UN Security Council resolution 1701. Did that stop Hizbollah building an even larger stockpile of illegal weapons than before? No. Did anyone see that as a declaration of war? No. The West has turned a blind eye, preferring an easy life to fulfilling its difficult commitments.

    The result: growing chatter in Israel about the increasing likelihood of another northern war.

    The idea that the international community would behave any differently if the Gaza blockade was relaxed is frankly laughable.

    In any case, who exactly is 'reasonable opinion'? And do they have any influence? So far I haven't seen much evidence....

  • The question Israel's accusers have failed to answer

    Jun 3, 2010

    A confused editorial, I think, in the Times today.

    The bulk of the leader is spent explaining why the passengers on the Mavi Marmara were a "lynch mob" who were clearly out to kill Israeli soldiers, there not to deliver aid but to gain publicity. It also asks some difficult questions of the Turkish government and its role in this episode (though in my opinion, not difficult enough).

    So far, so good - in fact, so refreshing.

    What I have a problem with is the first and last paragraphs. They read:

    The Israeli raid on a flotilla bound for Gaza, which left at least nine dead, was a disaster. It was poorly conceived, incompetently executed and entirely counter-productive.

    Israel has a right to defend its borders, but also a responsibility towards its citizens and friends to remain a beacon of civilised conduct in the Middle East. When it fails in this responsibility, the problem is not its alone. Israel’s friends believe in Israel because they believe in the ideals that it represents. On Monday morning, Israel fell short of these ideals....

    None of this is to provide an apologia for Israel’s cack-handed actions, or to diminish the tragedy of those who died. But Israel’s greatest mistake, in behaving as a villain, has been to create an environment in which its enemies can be portrayed as not villainous at all. The truth is very different.

    The problem is that the Times has singularly failed to show how, exactly, Israel behaved as a "villain", failing to show "civilised conduct". The the operation was "Poorly conceived, incompetently executed and entirely counter-productive" - yes. But how exactly does this add up to uncivilised conduct? To some kind of moral stain?

    This is nothing more than a slur, which The Times (whose Israel editorials are often extremely balanced and fair) has lazily recycled from conventional wisdom.

    The question I would like the Times (and all those accusing Israel of immoral behaviour on deck) to answer is this. After spending over 40 minutes being stabbed, thrown off decks, confronted with explosive devices, hit with metal rods, having their guns snatched and turned against them, seeing their helicopter tethered to the deck - being, as the Times itself admitted, met by a "lynch mob", and in fear of their lives, what exactly did it expect the Israeli soldiers to do?

  • If Lady Gaga was Jewish...

    Jun 3, 2010

    In case you've missed it, this video of the 'Tichel Cuties' covering Lady Gaga with a Jewish twist is currently going viral:

    The question is, will this hurt or help their shidduch chances??

  • Why Israel is unlikely to get a fair press in Europe

    Jun 3, 2010

    I could hardly bring myself to read the accounts of the raid on the Mavi Marmara ship in the British press on Monday. It was simply too painful.

    First, it was obvious that by opening fire Israel had committed a fatal strategic error, walking into a trap set by the so-called “peace activists”. How could it have been so stupid?

    But beyond that, it was the media’s demonisation of Israel — its insistence Israel was evil in intent, not merely inept — which felt unbearable.

    Israel was routinely accused of enforcing an “illegal” blockade (though it was legal), and of targeting saintly aid workers (ignoring the terror connections of many passengers). Multiple outlets blasted Israel for attacking passengers with “primitive weapons” (ignoring the metal bars, knives, explosive devices, and guns snatched from the soldiers), and mocked its claims that it was forced into violence (though the soldiers’ main weapon was paintball guns). Then Israel was accused of “kidnapping” British citizens.

    Is it any wonder that, according to a YouGov poll this week, only 18 per cent of Britons believe the Israeli forces acted out of self-defence?

    Israeli analysts have tried to figure out whether the media strategy could have been better handled. But it seems unlikely that the tone of the coverage would have been substantially different if only the IDF had released its footage a couple of hours earlier.

    Facts did not seem to matter — because the battle for the hearts and minds of the West is no longer about facts. It is about values. And the values which Israel must live by are increasingly incompatible with some of the key values shaping the West.

    European citizens, in particular, are anti-warfare and anti-military; many are practically pacifists. Israel, continually fighting for its citizens’ physical safety and indeed its own existence, can never meet this standard.

    During conflict, the underdog is always favoured. Rich Israel will never be perceived this way as long as it fights poor Palestinians, no matter how many enemies surround it, how many of its citizens are killed or how often it offers to settle the conflict.

    Nationalism is passé in Europe, busily trying to subsume its individual countries into the EU project. But it is the very basis of Israel’s existence.

    Most of all, Europeans appear to want to appease Islamists. Israel does not, and cannot, if it wishes to survive.

    Now, I am convinced that it is Israel which holds the moral high ground here; that the European attitudes are redolent of a declining continent, too lazy — intellectually and physically — to fight for true liberal values.

    But ultimately, this is cold comfort. It doesn’t matter how right Israel is. As long as it remains out of step with the zeitgeist, it will remain on the path towards pariah state.

  • Why dictionaries should be allowed through the blockade...

    Jun 1, 2010

    Pro-Palestinian demonstrators, again, show a limited understanding of the word 'peaceful':

    Protesters demonstrating against the Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid ship have attempted to storm the BBC in Manchester.

    More than 800 people marched through the city centre
    and down Oxford Road, where the crowd surged at the BBC's entrance,
    smashing its front doors.

    One man climbed to the top of the building to plant a Palestinian flag and there were at least three arrests...

    Talat Ali, 40, organizer from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said:
    "This is a peaceful demonstration against the attack that has taken
    place on the Gaza flotilla."

    Wonder where they got their definition from?

  • Chag sameach

    May 18, 2010

    I'm going to be away for the next week or so - so blogging is going to be light-to-non-existent. See you back here on the 27th.

    Meanwhile, chag sameach!


  • The Lubavitcher Rebbe, frustrated engineer

    May 14, 2010

    A new biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by two experts on the strictly Orthodox community is coming out at the end of the month.

    Shmuley Boteach, getting in with an early review, gives a sneak preview:

    Heilman and Friedman’s central thesis is that Menachem Schneerson, son of a renowned rabbinic scholar and scion of a distinguished chasidic family, was never completely engaged by his chasidic upbringing, preferring instead the modernizing and secularizing influences that made such significant inroads among young Jewish intellectuals in early 20th-century Russia and Europe. The rebbe’s dream was to live the life of a bourgeois European intellectual and become an engineer, they contend. He yearned not for the chasidic study halls of Warsaw or Lubavitch but for the intellectual cafes of Berlin and Paris. As such, he chose, according to the authors, to trim his beard, wear modern suits, and distance himself from the chasidic community in Paris, where he and his wife, the daughter of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (whose place Menachem Schneerson would eventually fill), lived after their marriage.

    The rebbe’s ultimate career goal, the authors maintain, was to be a successful engineer. However, after fleeing Hitler to the United States and the court in Brooklyn of his father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson, he gradually accepted the undeniable facts that he was a forty-something immigrant with little English and less chance of making significant inroads as a successful secular professional. Hence, after his father-in-law passed away in July 1950, he reluctantly accepted that a career as a chasidic rebbe would have to do.

    Of course, speculation over the Rebbe's life in Europe is nothing new (and Menachem Friedman, one of the authors, discussed many of his most controversial findings about the Lubavitcher Rebbe's early life in a series in Haaretz a couple of years back), but this new book will inevitably provoke heated discussion - and strong denials from those who are inconvenienced / threatened by such 'subversive' material.

    Looking forward to reading it.