A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Torture and Jewish Values

Alberto Gonzales does not think there will be prosecutions of Bush Administration officials for instituting torture in our pursuit of terrorists. I certainly hope he is wrong. I would love to see those involved - at whatever levels - strongly, er, embraced by the long arm of the law.

This does not come from my desire for the satisfaction of moral vengeance. It comes from my belief in the centrality of law to creating the possibility of moral order. There is a well-known statement in Pirkei Avot (in the Mishnah) that powerfully describes the importance of legal order:

Rabbi Chanina S'gan Ha-Kohanim said 'Pray for the well-being of the government - because without fear of it, a person would eat his neighbor alive.'

When the constitution is subverted, the kind of behavior we saw in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and which occurred in foreign interrogations at the bequest of the United States, prevails. Investigations and prosecutions where those are appropriate would shore up the rule of law, and thereby strengthen the government.

Yesterday I met with a Bar Mitzvah student. His Torah portion will be Mishpatim. Initially he was having trouble finding the text interesting - it was just a series of laws: what to do if your ox gores someone; what to do if your donkey falls in a pit created by someone else; the punishment for assault. We talked about what kind of society the Torah was trying to create, and what the society must have looked like without those laws. The moral and political order created by the Torah creates the kind of foundation upon which societies upholding human dignity are built.

So, hooray for prosecuctions. To quote our last president: "Bring 'em on!"

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub began as a rabbinical student to explore this issue and created some incredible resources on torture and the Jewish tradition. There are four documents which can be found here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Roman Ruin

Pope Benedict is reinstating four men into the Church. One of them is a Holocaust denier (or, as he calls it, the "quote unquote Holocaust"). See the article here. Relevant dialogue from an interview on Swedish television is below.

The Church is gravely damaging relations with the Jewish world - taking giant steps back from the courageous path carved out during Vatican II.

Q: Bishop Williamson, are these your words: “There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies.”? Are these your words?

A: There you are quoting from Canada I believe, yes, of many years ago. I believe that the historical evidence — the historical evidence — is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolph Hitler.

Q: But you say that not one Jew was killed?

A: In gas chambers. I think…

Q: So there was no gas chambers?

A: I believe there were no gas chambers. Yes. As far as I have studied the evidence. I’m not going by emotion. I’m going by as far as I’ve understood the evidence. I think, for instance, people who are against what is widely believed today about the quote-unquote the Holocaust, I think that people, those people conclude — the revisionists as they’re called — I think the most serious conclude that between two and three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Time Out for Fun - Dylan, License to Kill (Live)

Electrifying performance of Dylan's magnificent "License to Kill," from the 1983 album Infidels. "He worships at an altar of a stagnant pool - and when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled." Wow. Lyrics are below the video.

Man thinks 'cause he rules the earth he can do with it as he please
And if things don't change soon, he will.
Oh, man has invented his doom,
First step was touching the moon.

Now, there's a woman on my block,
She just sit there as the night grows still.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Now, they take him and they teach him and they groom him for life
And they set him on a path where he's bound to get ill,
Then they bury him with stars,
Sell his body like they do used cars.

Now, there's a woman on my block,
She just sit there facin' the hill.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Now, he's hell-bent for destruction, he's afraid and confused,
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill.
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies.

But there's a woman on my block,
Sitting there in a cold chill.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Ya may be a noisemaker, spirit maker,
Heartbreaker, backbreaker,
Leave no stone unturned.
May be an actor in a plot,
That might be all that you got
'Til your error you clearly learn.

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled.
Oh, man is opposed to fair play,
He wants it all and he wants it his way.

Now, there's a woman on my block,
She just sit there as the night grows still.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Thoughts on Judaism and War

I have posted a paper that I wrote on the Jewish tradition and warfare here. It is an exploration of whether there is a basis for a "just war theory" in Judaism and of what Judaism has to say about the killing of civilians in war. Obviously, I'm posting it now because of what is happening in Gaza - as my first post on this showed I think it is a horrible and very complicated situation. For those just interested in the civilian issue, sections V and VI are most relevant.

Michael Walzer, a Princeton philosopher who has written a lot about the ethics of warfare, has over the last couple of years begun to explore Jewish values and war. Some of his work on the topic is here.

Creator of Lights

Beautiful images from the Hubble Telescope. "The Heaven's Declare the Glory of God." No doubt. See the Glory here. Thanks to Yehudis for passing this along.