Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jewish Missionaries Outraged at Christian Missionaries

This article (via Jewcy via OTD) is fascinating:
The Seed, like all messianic Jewish congregations, used deception and slick marketing to appeal to uninformed Jews, attempting to convince them that it is Jewish to believe in Jesus.

As David Kelsey at Jewcy points out, that same sentence with some minor changes fits Aish Hatorah -- the organization hosting this article! -- to a tee:
Aish HaTorah, like all kiruv congregations, used deception and slick marketing to appeal to uninformed Jews, attempting to convince them that Orthodox Judaism is true.

(Kelsey also points to an example of deception and slick marketing used by Aish HaTorah.)

Aish's lack of self-awareness is only part of the attraction for this article. We also get to see how one of these organizations views the threat of another:
All of this raised the ire of Chaim Feinberg, z"l, a young, fiery Orthodox Jew living in Albany's small Orthodox community. He brought his concerns to Scott Moskowitz, an active member of the Orthodox Jewish student's group at SUNYA. Scott, in turn, raised the issue with Rich and suggested that they endeavor to find a non-Jewish student to join the Seed to investigate its inner workings and tactics.

Why a non-Jewish student? Because Aish knows first-hand how effective missionary techniques can be. Truth, reason, empiricism, all irrelevant. Because Aish knows that with missionary work, the important thing is which organization gets the most face-time with you.

Deciding that finding a non-Jew for the job would be too hard, Rich himself (a Reform Jew) volunteers. Feinberg and Moskowitz, though, were worried. After consulting with a "reknowned" (but anonymous) rabbi agreed with the plan, but established some "strict ground rules":
These rules included the instruction that Rich was not to take a single move without Feinberg's approval, and that after each meeting with The Seed, Rich would need to sit and learn with Feinberg as a sort of deprogramming.

So "learning" with a "fiery, young Orthodox Jew" is DE-programming??

The lack of self-awareness continues:
During that first phone call, Rich and Pastor Birnbaum spent two hours talking. Rich laid the bait: he was lonely, Albany was so gloomy, everybody was so materialistic, he was a twice-a-year Jew who yearned for more spirituality. Birnbaum did not just take the bait, he gobbled it up voraciously. He told Rich that he knew exactly how he felt since he, too, had attended college in Albany.

Is that not the same story given to dozens of chabad rabbis and other kiruv professionals every day?

More on the "deprogramming":
Rich was in constant contact with Feinberg, nearly matching hour for hour the time he spent with The Seed -- deprogramming, learning together, and reporting on the tactics, inner workings, and funding structure of the Seed. At one point Larry Levy, then executive director of Jews for Judaism in Baltimore, was flown in to add his expertise to the deprogramming team working with Rich.

The story goes on from there, with Rich ultimately and triumphantly calling out the Seed organization from the stage of a Purim play "because a Jew is a Jew and never a Christian!" The press gets the story, and Seed ultimately falls apart.

Typically, the story would end there. But Aish apparently wanted to highlight their spectacular lack of self-awareness in the funniest way possible:
Rich had always toyed with the idea of spending junior year abroad and now the idea seemed perfect. He enrolled in Hebrew University. After a few weeks at Hebrew U, the seed of Torah that had been planted in Albany and watered by Chaim Feinberg began sprouting. Why did I travel halfway around the world to study the same things I had been studying in Albany? Rich wondered. What am I doing in the spiritual capital of the world without tapping into anything spiritual?

By the end of September, Rich had enrolled in Aish HaTorah.

King Solomon teaches us "There is a time to plant and a time to uproot that which has been planted." Sometimes, it seems, by uprooting what has been planted, a person also plants anew. While The Seed of Abraham has been relegated to the dustbin of history, Rich Maisel and his family are living a blossoming Torah life.

UPDATE: A "Messianic Jew" responds.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Question I'd Like to Hear Orthodox Bloggers Discuss

Your son, a sweet, well-behaved boy, comes to you at age 16 and tells you he does not believe in Orthodox Judaism. He says that while of course he will not violate the laws of shabbat or kashrut in your home, he no longer wants to attend religious schools or participate in davening. He'd like to attend a secular school and start hanging out with non-religious and non-Jewish teens. He doesn't want to wear a kippah any more, either. You can tell that he is speaking from a place of integrity and genuine soul-searching, and you can also tell that his mind is made up.

Do you force him to stick it out in the Orthodox school? Coerce him into continuing to daven as long as he's living in your house? Make him promise to keep kosher and shabbos even outside the house? Forbid him from taking his kippah off at least while any of your friends, family, or neighbors might see? Or do you accept his wishes and support his choices, much as they pain you?

I've never seen an honest discussion about what to do when your kids go off the derech other than discussions about how to get them to stay or utter denial that it's even possible in your family.

It would be great if this became a meme that went through the Orthodox blogging community. I'll start by tagging Ezzie, Chana, DovBear, Orthoprax, and BrooklynWolf. Please tag some others in your replies.

Jewish Philosopher: Don't bother. We know you'd chain your kid to the radiator and try to beat the devil out of him.

Monday, August 17, 2009

CATO Institute Finds $180 Billion Benefit to Legalizing Illegal Immigrants

The Washington Independent:
A new study from the libertarian CATO Institute concludes that legalizing the more than eight million undocumented workers in the United States would have significant economic benefits for the country, while simply enhancing border enforcement and applying restrictive immigration laws would actually hurt the U.S. economically.

The new report, written by Professor Peter B. Dixon and Research Fellow Maureen T. Rimmer at the Centre of Policy Studies at Monash University in Australia, relies on an economic model used by the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, and Homeland Security, as well as International Trade Commission.

Weighing public spending and revenues, U.S. employment rates in various occupations, and price levels for imports and exports, among other things, the authors conclude that “increased enforcement and reduced low-skilled immigration have a significant negative impact on the income of U.S. households.” The minimal savings in public spending on immigrants now “would be more than offset by losses in economic output and job opportunities for more skilled American workers.” A policy that reduces low-skilled immigration to about a third less than projected levels, then, over ten years, “would reduce U.S. household welfare by about 0.5 percent, or $80 billion.”

In contrast, “legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households,” the study found. Legalization would eliminate the costs of smuggling illegal immigrants, would allow immigrants to be more productive and openly participate in the economy, and it would “create more openings for Americans in higher skilled occupations.”

The overall positive impact for U.S. households of legalizing these workers over ten years would be “1.27 percent of GDP or $180 billion.”

The findings are consistent with previous studies that show economic benefits from the legalization of illegal workers.

Why is "amnesty" such a bad word among the Republican base again? I'm sure it's got nothing to do with racism, Holy Hyrax.

(Hat tip: Patrick Appel, filling in for Andrew Sullivan.)

Previously: On Immigration: Why I Favor Amnesty.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Airborne Rabbis Fight Off Swine Flu

(Video removed because it auto-plays. See it at the link.)

A group of rabbis and Jewish mystics have taken to the skies over Israel, praying and blowing ceremonial trumpets to ward off swine flu.

About 50 religious leaders circled over the country on Monday, chanting prayers and blowing the horns called "shofars".

The flight's aim was "to stop the pandemic so people will stop dying from it," Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri was quoted as saying in Yedioth Aharanot newspaper.

The flu is often referred to as H1N1 in Israel, where pigs are seen as unclean.

While these are crazier-than-average Orthodox Jews, I can't say the scene looks much different from the average prayer service at my yeshiva in Israel... except for the plane, of course.

Sometimes 60 seconds of video speaks louder than volumes of intellectual argument.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Big Government and the Bailouts Saved the Day

So it seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government.

Just to be clear: the economic situation remains terrible, indeed worse than almost anyone thought possible not long ago...

For all that, however, the latest flurry of economic reports suggests that the economy has backed up several paces from the edge of the abyss...

So what saved us from a full replay of the Great Depression? The answer, almost surely, lies in the very different role played by government...

Probably the most important aspect of the government’s role in this crisis isn’t what it has done, but what it hasn’t done: unlike the private sector, the federal government hasn’t slashed spending as its income has fallen...

In addition to having this “automatic” stabilizing effect, the government has stepped in to rescue the financial sector. You can argue (and I would) that the bailouts of financial firms could and should have been handled better, that taxpayers have paid too much and received too little. Yet it’s possible to be dissatisfied, even angry, about the way the financial bailouts have worked while acknowledging that without these bailouts things would have been much worse.

The point is that this time, unlike in the 1930s, the government didn’t take a hands-off attitude while much of the banking system collapsed. And that’s another reason we’re not living through Great Depression II.

Last and probably least, but by no means trivial, have been the deliberate efforts of the government to pump up the economy. From the beginning, I argued that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the Obama stimulus plan, was too small. Nonetheless, reasonable estimates suggest that around a million more Americans are working now than would have been employed without that plan — a number that will grow over time — and that the stimulus has played a significant role in pulling the economy out of its free fall.

All in all, then, the government has played a crucial stabilizing role in this economic crisis. Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution.

And aren’t you glad that right now the government is being run by people who don’t hate government?

Yglesias points out that "“bailouts saved the economy” and “bailouts were structured so as to be very favorable to politically influential financiers” are not exclusive options."

I think that's right. The stimulus worked, but it could have worked better if it had been targeted solely at... stimulus, and less at, oh, say Goldman Sachs.

If there are any responsible Republicans left, please take lessons from this for the healthcare debate. You can't stop it, like you couldn't stop the stimulus. (In fact you shouldn't stop it, like you shouldn't have stopped the stimulus.) But if instead of fearmongering and holding your breath and throwing tantrums, you direct your opposition to things that actually should be opposed, you could affect positive change.

With regard to the stimulus, you could have held your fire, not smeared Obama as Stalin-incarnate, not ridiculed the very idea of stimulus, and instead insisted on making sure that the stimulus was as trim and directed as possible. Oh, you'll say you did argue against some of the waste and misdirected funds, and of course you did, but that was lost among the greater lunacy.

Now you have an opportunity to make sure that the health care plan does what it sets out to do rather than rewarding corporate interests at the expense of everybody else. But you've got to stop lying about everything, smearing Obama as a socialist, pretending that Obama's coming for grandma, insisting that government can never do good, and generally engaging in fearmongering. Instead, be a responsible opposition party. The Dems put forward a plan, respond with the same plan slightly improved. Stay on message. Say you support the plan, but you want to include tort reform. Or you want less money for X and more for Y. You can do that. If you put all your energy on making the plan better and none of it on insanity, you could not only cause a better health care plan, but take great strides in restoring a civil democracy.

Or you can scream "Socialism" and tear at your hair and have to live with whatever the Democrats manage to ram through without your help. Your choice.

Monday, August 10, 2009

War in Afghanistan Getting Bigger; Still Pointless

Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post:
As the Obama administration expands U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, military experts are warning that the United States is taking on security and political commitments that will last at least a decade and a cost that will probably eclipse that of the Iraq war.

Mark Lynch wonders why:
I find the strategic rationale for escalating the war in Afghanistan extremely thin, and the mismatch between avowed aims and available resources frighteningly wide. What are the strategic reasons for expanding the commitment in Afghanistan? Why should the US be committing to a project of armed state building now, in 2009?

I hope that the argument isn't that it's to prevent al-Qaeda from reconstituting itself in the Afghan safe havens. That's a fool's game. It makes sense to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda, but does that require "armed state building"?

Suppose the U.S. succeeded beyond all its wildest expectations, and turned Afghanistan into Nirvana on Earth... So what? Al-Qaeda (or what we call al-Qaeda) could easily migrate to Somalia, to Yemen, deeper into Pakistan, into the Caucasas, into Africa --- into a near infinite potential pool of ungoverned or semi-governed spaces with potentially supportive environments. Are we to commit the United States to bringing effective governance and free wireless to the entire world? On whose budget?


I fear that the escalation of the war in Afghanistan is following a dangerous path of least resistance. Given the assignment to win the war in Afghanistan, of course a military which has been reshaped by its experience in Iraq will turn to COIN doctrine. Once the decision is made to apply a COIN approach, of course the military is going to ask for more troops there, and a long commitment, since it's always been obvious that really doing COIN in Afghanistan would require vastly more troops than are currently deployed. And then, at each step of the way, there will be a strong tactical argument for expansion and a very difficult sell for any attempt to argue for restraint. Once that iron logic has been accepted, all else follows -- and it becomes extremely difficult to reverse course.

Links via Ezra Klein.

(Previously: Obama Is Wrong On Afghanistan)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Homosexuality and Orthodoxy

Chana writes a story about an Orthodox Jew with a secret:

“During my year in Israel, I hated myself.”

The words hung in the air, sharp as knives. She saw them before her, printed black on white, strung together on a silver shred of barbed wire. “Why?” she questioned softly, tentatively, tucking her legs up underneath her.

“Because I’m gay.”

The words shocked her. They ripped through her body, confusing her; it was almost as though she had not heard correctly. It was totally impossible. He was involved in so many committees, had so many friends; he had dated her friends, for God’s sake! And he wanted to become a Rabbi! How could he be gay? And how could she, Lisa, know someone who was gay? “Oh, Jason,” she mustered, her eyes clouding over in confusion and pain.

“And I hated myself for it. I hated myself like you wouldn’t believe, Lisa. I literally wanted to rip it out of me, kill it. See, there’s a certain eroticism you feel at any naked body, but when I look at a woman, it’s just- I don’t want that. That’s not what I want. But a man- a man gets me excited. I want men.” His voice was thick with hatred and disgust. “And I didn’t want to want them. But you have no idea the images that swam through my mind, the things I thought, and here I was, in high school- because yes, it started before Israel, but it was when I was finally away from home that I could really think it through-and there were guys that I had crushes on. I mean, I tried to wipe that off as no big deal and no big thing; I had one friend and I finally told him and he broke my heart.”

The words were said in a rush, as though he was struggling to get them off his chest. “I just told him I was gay and he was my roommate and he was completely freaked out. I had thought we were best friends; our friendship would withstand anything. I was wrong.”

“But Jason,” Lisa whispered, her voice very low, “are you absolutely…sure?”

“Sure?” He laughed. “You have no idea. I went to JONAH and those therapists who are supposed to turn you straight. I wanted to be straight, Lisa; I wanted to be! And I would do all those things, even put rubber bands on my wrists that I would flick every time I thought of a guy that way, to try to remind myself. I wanted to control my mind. And I even watched porn, of girls, to try to get myself excited. And obviously I dated girls and I just- I just don’t like them like that. I can’t get aroused for them, because of them. And can you imagine what that would be like, marrying a woman and wanting to love her and just not being able to get it up for her? Only able to do it if I think about men?” He shook his head; his expression was filled with self-loathing.

“What are you going to do?” she asked. Confusion whipped through her, feelings that she was unsure of; she didn’t know what to say or what to do, how to help. What could she do? The law existed apart from them both and the law was greater than them both. The law took precedence over them and their lives; God had stated that a man could not lie with a man as he did with a woman. And yet, and yet- this was Jason she was speaking to, her Jason, the man she loved like a brother.

Chana is sensitive and intelligent. And yet she's part of the source of Jason's suffering. All the Orthodox are.

Here was my response:

My heart goes out to people like Jason. And I feel anger for those who support the religion that does this to them. I mean, I understand. I know they mean no harm. (At least some of them don't, anyway. I mean "Jason" himself believes.)

But it's so unnecessary. There's nothing wrong with being gay. You know that intuitively, Chana. Jason knows it too, I hope.

Thousands of gay people form happy gay relationships and families and it's just not that big a deal.

I've known a few Jewish-but-not-Orthodox gay men who simply realize that they're gay sometime in their childhood or teens and then it's just not that big a deal. Their families support them unconditionally, they are completely open about their orientation, and they find nice guys to settle down with.

No drama, no tears, no anguished struggle, no hating friends, no rabbis who try to "help" with ridiculous "cures," no shunning from parents or community. Just normal. Just like you and me when we find somebody we like. People are just happy.

That's how it can be. That's how it should be. God didn't write the Torah, people did. You gasp, that's kefirah, but it's the clear and obvious truth to anybody who didn't grow up Orthodox or otherwise fundamentalist.

"18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination... For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people."

Those are not the words of the creator of the universe. Those are the words of some guy living in ancient Israel, or perhaps they are borrowed from someone living earlier than that. They weren't written by God, and everybody outside the Orthodox (and other fundamentalist) circles knows it. The non-fundamentalist scholars know it and the laypeople know it.

All you Orthodox people who think you don't have to read about the Documentary Hypothesis or even seriously think about whether what you believe is actually true because you're happy with your religion -- you share some blame for these tragedies that go on every day in America and throughout the world.

If you've honestly investigated the truth and continue to believe that Orthodox Judaism is correct, okay, you've got to stand up for what you believe in. I get that. But if you're one of the majority who just loves being Orthodox or is too scared to look, you bear responsibility.

Don't just shake your heads at the tough position people like Jason are in. You're part of the problem. Do your research, honestly, and if you find out what the rest of the intellectual world already knows, have the courage to say so.


A Gay, Closeted YU Student Speaks Out (Anonymously)
Who Wrote the Bible?
Great Example of Intellectual Honesty
How Orthodoxy Causes Good Men To Do Evil