o .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

My Photo

"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Legislative reform, anyone?

So I was thinking. In Israel, laws are enforced haphazardly at best. Laws are passed much the way that weapons are manufactured. Following their creation, they are held ready for use against a chosen target.

Things aren't quite that bad on that front here in the US, but there's still a lot of gunk in the law books that really only exists for historical reasons, and persists because of inertia.

So I was thinking about a constitutional amendment that would be sort of a legislative non-proliferation pact as well as a means of keeping laws relevant. Here are some items I came up with:

  • Expiration dates. For any law to be passed, it must have an expiration date no later than 10 years from the date the law is passed. After all, if there isn't solid support for a law any more, why should it be a law?
  • Preambles. For any law to be passed, it must contain a preamble which gives the reason for the law and the intent behind the law. And laws will have to be enforced according to the stated intent, even if a loophole may have been found in the verbiage of the law.
  • Taxation determined legislatively. The IRS can be left in charge of collecting taxes, at least until the nation wises up and throws them out. But all federal taxes that exist in the US will require enabling legislation with regards to their amounts. This legislation, like the rest, will come with an expiration date.
  • Amendments. Once a bill is out of committee, it shouldn't be permitted to amend it. If it isn't good, it shouldn't get out of committee. Trash it and try again.
  • Single issue. The whole issue with the line-item veto is that laws can contain numerous unrelated topics. This will no longer be allowed.

Obviously, all of this would apply only to federal legislation. But it'd be a start.


The Deportation of Jews

If all goes according to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans, the Gaza Strip will be emptied of Jews by this time next month. It is tempting to say "cleansed of Jews", but the term has such negative connotations that I hesitate to use it.

The shocking thing has been the absolute silence from human rights advocates. After all, what PM Sharon plans is the mass eviction of a significant population from their homes -- homes in which they have been living peacefully and lawfully for years; homes in which they have built businesses and raised families. Homes, in short, where they have built a life.

The victims of this eviction will be transported to other places, which, they are told, will be safer for them. And arguably, they are without democratic recourse.

In the State of Israel, which is so often touted as "the only democracy in the Middle East", PM Sharon won the last elections by a landslide. It was a one-issue race, and the issue was giving Gaza to the Palestinians. This election was the only chance the Israeli electorate has had to express its will concerning this plan, and the overwhelming majority of the citizenry said: "No".

Not only does the Prime Minister have no mandate for such an unprecedented move against his own people, but he has a solid mandate against it. And when his own party, the Likud, demanded a referendum, Sharon, confident that the polls were giving him a large margin of victory, agreed. More than this; he agreed to accept the results of the referendum as binding.

When the Likud referendum went overwhelmingly against Sharon's plans, he reneged on his public agreement to accept the results. After effectively disenfranchising the Israeli public as a whole, he had also disenfranchised his own party.

When Sharon brought the plan to his handpicked cabinet for approval, he once more found himself in the minority. And so he did what any dictator with a token cabinet would do: he fired ministers who opposed his plan, and then announced with all the sincerity of Leonid Brezhnev after a Soviet election that the cabinet had voted in favor of the plan.

Why are the human rights advocates not up in arms about this?

Perhaps it is a matter of numbers. After all, we are only talking about some 8,500 men, women and children. But consider: the population of the State of Israel is roughly 6.9 million people. The US population is approximately 297 million people. The 8,500 Israelis facing deportation are the equivalent of about 366,000 Americans.

The population of Miami is 363,000. The population of St. Louis is 348,000. The population of Pittsburgh is 334,000.

Think about those numbers. Picture them in your mind, because that is what 8,500 people means in Israel. Or since all of the deportees are to be Jews, perhaps we should consider only the Jewish population of Israel, which is only about 5.26 million. That would make the victims of this eviction equivalent to 480,000 Americans. Comparable US cities include New Orleans, Las Vegas and Cleveland.

Imagine the US government announcing that the city of Cleveland, Ohio, was to be evacuated in its entirety, and the area turned over to al-Qaeda as part of a deal to encourage them not to attack us again. Now imagine that this became the sole issue of substance in a presidential election, and that the most vociferous opponent of the plan won the election by a landslide on the strength of his commitment to oppose any such thing, ever.

And then imagine the victorious presidential candidate announcing that he was going ahead with the eviction anyway.

This is the reality of PM Sharon's "disengagement" plan, due to take place next month, with the approval of the US government.

Why are the human rights advocates not screaming themselves hoarse about this?

Certainly it can't be because the Israeli government is behind the plan. That has never stopped these advocates from attacking Israel in the past over offenses real and imagined. When the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin deported 415 terrorists to Lebanon, the world went into a tizzy. You would think that the fates of over 8,500 men, women and children might merit a protest or two from the self-appointed defenders of the downtrodden.

Could it be because they find silence to be politically expedient in this instance? Could it be that they are willing to countenence any abuse of human rights, by any non-democratic means, provided that it leads toward a goal of which they approve? Such an accusation is a strong one, and it would be nice if there were some more charitable interpretation of the silence from these activists for (some) human rights.

Maybe people haven't grasped the magnitude of the crime about to be committed against an innocent and law abiding population. Maybe.

Friday, July 22, 2005

My sister totally rocks

Okay, so I posted that item about my getting a story published. And I am way excited about that. But it's absolutely nothing in comparison to my sister's novel.

You have to check out her website. She's a real writer; not an unfocused dilettante like me.

My little sister (I'm the oldest, followed by my brother and then my two sisters) wasn't my favorite person when I was growing up. And I certainly wasn't hers. We tended to get along like nitro and glycerin.

Of all of the wonderful things that have happened in my life -- and there've been more than a few, despite my constant bitching and moaning about the horrible things that so grossly outnumber them -- becoming friends with my sister now that we're adults is pretty near the top.

She is far and away the best of us all. I don't mean to slight my brother and my other sister, but Brenda is special. I don't know if it's because of her indefatigable optimism or her insistence on always seeing the best in people, but she's a good person in ways that you just hardly ever see. In ways that I will never be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Grading on a curve

Can someone explain to me how grading on a curve is ever justified?

Correct me if I'm mistaken, but if you grade on a curve, the grade becomes an indicator of how well you did relative to your fellow students. It turns the class or the test or whatever the case may be into a contest between students.

If you don't grade on a curve, the grade is an indicator of how well you learned the material. It's entirely independent of how well or how poorly others may have done.

So what's the goal of education? To do better than the kid you sit next to, or to learn?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Gratuitous fanaticism

Everyone who has ever been to Little Israel in Chicago (that'd be Devon Avenue in West Rogers Park) has seen the sign for Moshe's Kosher Foods (or whatever it's currently called).

It's a big trapezoidal sign that says "Queen Esther" and "Sinai" and "Kosher" and I don't remember what else. When I was in high school, I remember people referring to it as "999", for whatever reason.

Anyway, I was in the store last year, and I overheard a discussion going on between one frum guy from the neighborhood and Moshe (also frum), the owner of the store. Apparently, there was some pressure on Moshe to get rid of the sign. Why? Because Best Kosher, which also puts out meats under the label "Sinai 48", is not considered to be kosher enough in these parts.

I've heard various reasons given for this. It's not glatt. It's now owned by Sara Lee, so it's not under Jewish ownership any more (although I'm pretty sure the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) had come out against Best Kosher even before Sara Lee bought it).

Whatever the deal is, some frum Jews consider Best/Sinai 48 to be acceptably kosher, and others consider it to be "not up to community norms".

Now, if you recall, I mentioned that the sign outside of Moshe's says "Sinai" on it. Not "Sinai 48", mind you, but "Sinai". But there was some concern that people might confuse the two when it comes to kosher food, and think either that Moshe's carried the evil Best products or thatBest products were okay.

I chimed in at the time and told Moshe that he couldn't take the sign down. It's a landmark, I mean. And he laughed and said that he had no plans to ever take the sign down.

Well. The sign isn't down. But I was driving past it the other day, and the bottom half of the sign (where the troubling label "Sinai" was located) is now covered with red tackboard of some kind. And the Chumra of the Week Club wins another point.

Wouldn't it be cool if they were as machmir on rechilut and ona'at devarim and other mitzvot ben adam l'chaveiro as they are on kashrut?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Two new blogs

I decided to create two sister blogs to this one.

The first one is called Tipot BaYam. It means "A drop in the sea", and the sea in question is the Sea of the Torah. It's a big sea, and my drops are more like droplets, but I thought it would be nice to have a place specifically for divrei Torah. So that's the place.

The second one is called Word Soup. It's for anything literary that oozes its way out of my brain, pretty much. I primed the pump with a thing I wrote a couple of years ago, just before Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones came out. A friend of mine had sent out an e-mail asking for help in writing some filk. He was going to do it to the tune of "Send in the Clowns", and he needed a rhyme for midichlorian.

So I thought about it for a bit, and used midichlorian in a limerick. And then, because if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing (you heard it here first), I did the whole Star Wars hexology, all in limericks. Hey, it's better than haiku.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wicca (really)

So why Wicca? Well, part of the reason that I stopped being observant during 1997 was that I met someone in 1996. She wasn't Jewish, but I figured it wasn't as big a deal as it would be for someone straight. It's an interesting phenomenon. I know a lot of people who would never get involved with a non-Jew of the opposite sex, but don't have any qualms about it with a member of the same sex. I suspect that if they ever legalize gay marriage, that may change.

Anyway, she was beautiful and smart and we shared interests and it was one of the most painful learning experiences I've ever gone through in my life. But that came later.

She'd been raised Catholic, but was now Wiccan. So when we moved out to California (a few months after I moved out of frumkeit), I started asking questions. Actually, I got more useful answers from a mutual friend of ours. Hmm... let's call my girlfriend R and this friend S. S was also a Wiccan. She's about 20 years older than R and I (R is only a few weeks older than me), and I started asking her about magic. I asked her if she'd ever experienced magic, and she said she had. I asked her why she thought it was real. How could she know if it was just in her mind or not. She answered: "Why would it matter?"

It was an interesting answer. She honestly wasn't concerned about whether magic was objectively real. It was the internal reality that mattered. I think the reason this made such an impact on me was that it made Wicca seem less like a religion to me. Not something competing with Judaism, if you see what I mean. Oh, it had religious trappings, and there were things in it that would have been outright avodah zarah had I ever done them (I didn't), but it's really only a story. And stories aren't dangerous.

I don't remember if it was R or S who recommended the book The Spiral Dance to me. But it was a great intro. The one quote I remember best from it was:
Wicca is a religion of poetry, rather than a religion of theology.
How about that? And the book went into how in Wicca, you get different parts of yourself to communicate with one another. And all I could think was, "If this ever took over, therapists would be out of business." I can't help but think that it's a very healthy thing to learn how to get the various parts of your psyche to recognize and deal with the other parts. Hell, just recognizing the various parts that we all have in us is a big step.

Also, even when Wiccans do get into the issue of deity, a commonly held view is "All the gods are one god, all the goddesses one goddess, and the god and goddess are one." I don't know how much clearer it can be that this view is not truly polytheistic. Someone who really holds this way is only dealing with aspects of One Creator, rather than multiple deities. Sure, interacting with them on an individual level is a no-no for Jews (though I'm not sure that it's all that different from meditating on a single sefirah), but it seems perfectly acceptable for non-Jews.

And I figured that the frum community was never going to accept me, so why not go with this? I never -- and I need to emphasize this, as strange as it may seem -- never changed my convictions about Judaism. I was no longer an Orthoprax Jew, but I was still Orthodox in the sense that my Torah convictions were still alive and kicking. Kicking me, mostly. There was no way on earth that I was going to join one of the heterodox Jewish movements. I see them and Christianity and Islam all as religions which are just mistaken breakaways from real Judaism. Wicca wasn't. It was completely separate.

And while the reality of magic may not have been important to S, I can say from personal experience that it is real. Or rather, that it can be. I'm still convinced that 99% of all so-called magic is a hoax.

So why'd I leave Wicca? Oh, that's the easy part. My 4.5 months in California in 1997 were trippy. I drove off a 300' cliff and turned the first car I ever owned into tinfoil. I was in such pain that I can hardly think about it. Among other things, S, who R and I used to call Aunt S, and who was the one person I could talk to about issues between me and R... well, suffice it to say that it's coming up on their eighth anniversary.

And I'd been planning on moving back to Israel anyway, before I met R. And I'd been corresponding with a friend online during the whole mess who was living in Israel at the time, and she picked up the pieces of my broken heart (damn, if that isn't poetic), and I moved back to Israel and moved in with her, and we've been together now for 7.5 years, and our daughter is 5 years old.

See... I could never be frei in Israel. Maybe it's the thing the Ramban said about the Torah having been given for Eretz Yisrael, and that keeping the mitzvot outside of Israel was almost a kind of zecher of the real thing. A way to keep in practice until we got back to the real world. Maybe it's because I know how precarious things are in Israel, and didn't want to tip the scales. Whatever it was, I just could not even conceive of continuing my rebellion if I was back in Israel.

So I didn't.

Wicca (not really)

Elsewhere in cyberspace, someone asked me the following question:

I read your personal profile with some interest.

What made you switch to Yiddishkeit from being a Wiccan, just curious ?
Is the food better ?
Well, it's more kosher, at any rate. Kosherer?

So here's that story. Most of it, anyway. I started up the road to frumkeit when I was 19. I'll tell that story if anyone cares to ask, but that's not what this entry is about. I realized that I was gay... I guess I was 33. My apartment had burned down one Friday night, and I'd just moved into a new apartment. One of my roommates was a girl who'd gone to Stern, but had since gone off the derekh (that's frumspeak for abandoning observance -- derekh = path). Maybe I should just put a glossary at the end of my entries. Or wait for someone to ask.

So the first Shabbat I was in the new apartment, she'd gone out clubbing, and she got back late. I don't know if I was still up or if she woke me up.

Oh... it just occurred to me that some of you are going to have the wrong idea about where this is going. There was never anything between the two of us. Not then and not later. So don't worry.

Anyway, we got to talking. I mean, we were going to be roommates, right? And I honestly have no idea how the subject came up, but at one point, she asked me if I'd ever been attracted to a woman. And... I looked at the wall. Then I looked at the other wall. Then I looked at the ceiling. The floor. Here. There. For about two minutes. Then I looked her in the eye and said, "No."

She cracked up. I mean, it was kind of funny, I guess. Any "no" that takes two minutes to get out like that is a little suspicious. And over the next couple of weeks, I let the thought percolate through. My biggest crushes when I was little had been on Jody Foster and Kristy McNichol. And there were other things that I'm not going to be talking about on this blog that should have given me a clue.

Anyway, that was in June. It wasn't until the following January that I went off the derekh myself. And it was during those 11 months that I was gone that I got into Wicca. Which I'll leave for another post, since this one is too long already, and hasn't gotten anywhere close to that topic.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Online comic strip recommendation

Gawd. No one is going to read this blog. I mean, people are going to come in, see the total lack of any decent content, and just leave. But I can't help it. This is addictive.

I just happened across what is now my favorite comic strip. I'm not sure what my favorite was before, but whatever it was, it's been replaced by PartiallyClips.

It's a weird strip. Three panels, each with the same piece of clipart. And dialog balloons added to each panel. Just uproarious.

I'm a published author!

So, the book that my story "The Last Minute" is going to appear in is due out on September 30. I'm kind of psyched to see it. If you click on the picture of the cover, it'll take you to the page on Amazon.com. The page at the publisher has more information on the book, though.

My biggest concern is that a lot of people I'd love to recommend the book to, I can't. There are 14 stories in the anthology (I'm the only first time published author), and other stories may contain erotica. So I'm going to have to just limit who I recommend the book to.

Maybe when I get some more stories written someday, I'll be able to put out a collection that includes this story. But you have to start somewhere. It's really exciting to have a story in the same anthology as Katherine V. Forrest, whose book An Emergence of Green is one of my very favorites.

I'm thinking of sending a copy to Orson Scott Card. I know he's pretty negative when it comes to the subject of homosexuality, but "The Last Minute" isn't really about that, as such. And it'd be cool to see if he likes it. He once published an essay of mine on one of his websites, which deals with the Arab war against Israel. The essay, sad to say, is as relevant today (if not more) than it was when I wrote it. Check it out. And if you haven't read just about everything the man has ever written, stop wasting your time here and get to it.

Why "Lamrot HaKol"?

Okay, so the obvious question is, why did I call this blog Lamrot HaKol?

I guess there are a few things. One is that I'm frum. You'd think that I'd have more than enough reasons to run screaming from frumkeit, and you'd be right. But I don't. It's not that I'm a masochist; I'm really not. It's simply that I remain convinced that the Torah is true. And the fact that frum society may treat me like their bitch doesn't change that fact.

I honestly wish, sometimes, that I'd run into something that would totally convince me that the Torah is a crock. But I've felt that way long enough that I'm not really expecting it to happen.

I'd also love to find out that I'm not really Jewish. That my great-great-grandmother wasn't really Jewish, and that I'm free of what we call the yoke of heaven. That would be amazing.

But it's not going to happen.

So I'm stuck. My sense of identity and the source of my self-esteem is based on my holding to my convictions. It's a matter of honor, I suppose.

History shows, of course, that people who have that kind of stubbornness rarely meet a happy end. Anatole France said, wisely, that "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it remains a foolish thing." What he didn't mention is that fifty million fools can hurt you. A lot.

Sorry I'm late

Well, how about that. Resistance really was useless. The blogosphere has assimilated me.

Who'da thunk it?

Actually, I already have a website. It's just that it takes me forever to get around to updating anything there. I figure this way, I can get thoughts down before they escape, and do it with a lot less effort. Laziness is the mother of invention. You heard it here first.

I think I'll start this out with a bunch of small posts, just to sort of prime the pump.