Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jews and pigskin

Facebook question I received
So I make leather bags and such for a living and I have run into a problem maybe you could help me with. Some of my customers want to have pigskin as lining for some of my products. Is there any such law that forbids me from using pigskin or touching it?

answer-similar Question:

It says in the Torah that one should not touch the carcasses of swine. Does this mean that we should not wear Hush Puppy shoes (made of pigskin) or play football or rugby with a ball made of pig skin?


In short, there is no prohibition against using or touching such items. Here's the longer version of the answer:

I am assuming that you are taking the prohibition against "touching" a pig – or any non-kosher animal for that matter – from Leviticus 11:8, where it states: "You shall not eat of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you." Understanding this verse in its most literal sense leads one to the conclusion that it is forbidden to touch any part of a non-kosher animal's carcass.

Rashi, the classic commentator to the Scriptures, foresaw this misunderstanding. He explains that this verse is referring only to the three pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – when all Jews were required to maintain a state of ritual purity in order to be allowed entry into the Holy Temple and be present when their festive sacrifices were offered.1 During the rest of the year, there is no prohibition against coming in contact with animal carcasses.

Now, the above is true regarding the flesh of the animal. Animal hide, however, does not carry impurities, especially when it is tanned.

So, when the Temple is rebuilt, I guess we might find some people ascending on their pilgrimage to the Temple wearing their Hush Puppies—though all shoes are forbidden on the actual Temple Mount. And I should also mention that according to the Midrash, pig will be a kosher animal when Moshiach comes. But that's a discussion all for itself...

I hope this helps,

Rabbi Shmuel Kogan,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Big development in Talmud

After 1,500 Years, an Index for the Talmud

Librado Romero/The New York Times
Daniel Retter, a lawyer from the Bronx, has compiled what his publisher says is the first widely accepted index to the Talmud. Here, he leads a class on the Talmud.

The Talmud is a formidable body of work: 63 volumes of rabbinical discourse and disputation that form Judaism’s central scripture after the Torah. It has been around for 1,500 years and is studied every day by tens of thousands of Jews. But trying to navigate through its coiling labyrinth can be enormously difficult because the one thing this monumental work lacks is a widely accepted and accessible index.

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Librado Romero/The New York Times
Mr. Retter said he was frustrated that he could not find a guide to the 1500-year-old Talmud.
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But now that breach has been filled, or so claims the publisher of HaMafteach, or the Key, a guide to the Talmud, available in English and Hebrew. It was compiled not by a white-bearded sage, but by a courtly, clean-shaven, tennis-playing immigration lawyer from the Bronx.

The index’s publisher, Feldheim Publishers, predicts it will be snatched up by yeshivas and libraries, but more important, it will be a tool for inveterate Talmud students — and there are plenty of those. Feldheim’s president, Yitzchak Feldheim, said the first printing of 2,000 books — a market test — sold out in a few days here and in Israel. More printings have been ordered.

The index has 6,600 topical entries and 27,000 subtopical entries that point students to the treatises and pages of text they are seeking. In these passages, sages analyze matters like whether one can remarry a former wife after she has been betrothed to another, or how one should handle a lost object found in a garbage heap. The index guides the student to significant laws about Sabbath and daily observance, as well as maxims, parables, commentaries and Talmudic personalities.

The index, which costs $29.99 in English and $24.99 in Hebrew, represents seven years of work, but do not ask Daniel Retter why he undertook it, unless you have a spare hour. His answers are as meandering and as twisting as the Talmud itself, with pathways leading to byways leading to offshoots that sometimes end in cul-de-sacs. Along the way, his voice sometimes rises and falls in Talmudic singsong, and his eyes glitter with delight at the saga’s oddities.

“My father was a man of letters,” he begins, then describes how his father, Marcus, had been dedicated to Talmud study during an epic life in which, as a child, he escaped the Nazis on the Kindertransports that rescued Jewish children from Germany and took them to British havens. He brought his family, including Daniel, to New York from London in 1949. (With his dry wit, Mr. Retter noted that his father had literally been a man of letters, since a dozen of his had been printed in The New York Times.)

Daniel Retter, 66, attended a yeshiva, enrolled at City College at night while studying Talmud in the daytime, then studied at Brooklyn Law School during the day while digesting Talmud at night. He married another lawyer, Margie, an advocate for abused women seeking Jewish divorces; they raised four children and ended up in Riverdale, where he continued his Talmudic explorations.

“I can’t waste a minute,” he said in an interview at the Manhattan offices of his law firm, Herrick, Feinstein. “If I’m on the immigration line waiting for a client to be called, I study the Talmud.”

But a puzzle nagged at him. He and other students sometimes needed help tracking down a specific passage, law or topic, or the thoughts of sages like Hillel and Shamai. Most of the time the student consults a loftier scholar.

“For the life of me,” Mr. Retter said, “I could not understand why the Talmud did not have an index.”

One 50-year-old translation of the Talmud, by Soncino Press, has an index, but its pages do not match those of the standard Aramaic text used by most students hunched over their dog-eared volumes. More recent English translations are either not indexed or have not been completed. For three decades, Talmud students have been able to use a Nexis-like CD search engine, the Responsa Project, created by Bar Ilan University in Israel, that locates words by frequency and proximity. But like Google, it often produces irrelevant hits. Bar Ilan officials acknowledged that the CD had one major disadvantage: it cannot be accessed on the Sabbath, when much learning takes place. It also costs $790.

Mr. Retter said he believed that the Talmud, whose compilation was completed in the year 540, “was designed to be mysterious, designed to be locked — I call it the ‘book of mystery.’ ”

“The Talmud was written in exile, and it was the thread that kept Jews together,” he said. “It had no punctuation, no paragraphs. It was a book that was to be transmitted orally from father to son.”

Until 1445, the concept of an index was meaningless, since books were not being printed. But in the 16th century, the first editions of the Talmud were published in Antwerp, Belgium; the Vilna edition, printed in Lithuania in the 19th century, standardized pagination. One effort to help students navigate the Talmud, Mesoras HaShas, provided cross-references alongside the Aramaic text toward similar ideas elsewhere in the Talmud. But, Mr. Retter wrote in his introduction, “it was not an index as that word is commonly understood, because one had to know the location of the initial reference to find the others.”

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, said the rabbis believed that study should not be made too easy. “We want people to struggle with the text because by figuring it out you will have a deeper comprehension,” he said. “They wanted a living index, not a printed index.”

Nothing satisfied Mr. Retter’s needs. As he said: “I’m a lawyer, and if I want to know the law, I look it up in an index.”

Before he went — Talmudists should pardon the expression — whole hog, he took his wife’s advice and sought the approval of great sages so the work would be credible. HaMafteach includes letters of endorsement from a dozen, including Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel. Mr. Retter also recruited Rabbi Elchanan Kohn, a recognized Israeli Talmud scholar, as his editor.

The index’s potential market is sure to include the thousands of Jews who participate in Daf Yomi, the page-a-day cycle in which everyone studies the same daf — two actual pages — every day for seven and a half years, until all 5,422 pages are completed, when they begin all over again. Some 90,000 people are expected at the Daf Yomi graduation of sorts that will be held in August at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

If readers find any errors, the index provides a very contemporary way of making corrections that the ancient sages never foresaw and so could not have quibbled with: an e-mail address,

Don't believe lies that hamas will accept Israel

Hamas leader Haniyeh:
Goal is destruction of Israel in stages

Hamas agrees to '67 borders

by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik

At a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said that Hamas may work for the "interim objective of liberation of Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem," but that this "interim objective" and "reconciliation" with Fatah will not change Hamas' long-term "strategic" goal of eliminating all of Israel:

"The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers [Israel]... We won't relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine."

Click to view

In his speech, Haniyeh also promised that Hamas will "lead Intifada after Intifada until we liberate Palestine - all of Palestine, Allah willing. Allah Akbar and praise Allah."

Two days later, contradicting Haniyeh's statements, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that Hamas leader abroad Khaled Mashaal had agreed that:

- "There will be no military resistance."
- "The permanent solution is on the '67 borders."

According to Abbas, Hamas agrees to a permanent solution on the '67 borders. However, Haniyeh said that Hamas agrees to a temporary solution on the '67 borders as a first stage only.

For many years, the PLO promoted a "stages plan" that would first create a Palestinian state on the 1949 - 1967 armistice lines, and then work from that position to destroy Israel.

Senior Fatah official Abbas Zaki recently stated that this remains the goal for Fatah as well, but that "you can't say it to the world. You can say it to yourself."

Click to view

The following are longer excerpts of the statements mentioned above:

Speech by Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas at ceremony marking 24th anniversary of the founding of Hamas:
"We welcome you today, on this anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Resistance Movement - Hamas, as you renew the promise and oath of loyalty with Allah, with His Messenger and with His believers; you are renewing the loyalty to the blood of the Martyrs and the path of resistance and Jihad upon the blessed land of Palestine...
We say today, explicitly, so it cannot be explained otherwise, that the armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers [Israel] from the blessed land of Palestine. The Hamas movement will lead Intifada after Intifada until we liberate Palestine - all of Palestine, Allah willing. Allah Akbar and praise Allah. We say with transparency and in a clear manner, that Palestinian reconciliation - and all sides must know this - cannot come at the expense of [our] principles, at the expense of the resistance. These principles are absolute and cannot be disputed: Palestine - all of Palestine - is from the sea to the river. We won't relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine. The involvement of Hamas at any stage with the interim objective of liberation of [only] Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem, does not replace its strategic view concerning Palestine and the land of Palestine."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A New Light on hannukah

Shedding New Light On Chanukah

Judith Hauptman
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Judith Hauptman Special To The Jewish Week
The cruse of oil story that explains the origins of Chanukah has fallen into disrepute. Many people feel that it appeals to children only, because Chanukah for adults is about a military victory against overwhelming odds. The Babylonian Talmud, they say, composed the story to downplay the Maccabean triumph. But they are wrong. If we read the cruse of oil story in context, we will see how “authentic” it is, and what purpose its authors intended it to serve.
After the Babylonian Talmud notes which oils and wicks are appropriate for Shabbat lamps, it segues into a discussion of Chanukah lamps and how they are used (Shabbat 21b). For example: each home needs to light at least one lamp on each night of Chanukah; the lamp must be placed outside the door or, if the dwelling is upstairs, in a window facing the public way; one may not benefit from the light of a Chanukah lamp; it must be lit during the evening “rush hour.” The Talmud then asks, “What is Chanukah?” and launches into the famous cruse of oil story: when the Hasmoneans overpowered the Greeks and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem, they found only one cruse of ritually pure oil, sufficient to burn in the Temple menorah for one day only, but — miraculously — lasted for eight. And so we celebrate Chanukah for eight days.
If we continue reading the Talmud’s discussion of Chanukah, we are surprised to find, just one page later (22b), another menorah story. It first appears in Sifrei Bemidbar (sec. 59), a midrashic text that predates the Talmud. Unlike the cruse of oil story, this one is little known. The Talmud asks, “Why does God need a menorah burning continuously in the Temple?” and answers that it informs all inhabitants of the world that the Shechinah, God’s presence, rests upon the people Israel. How is this so? Because every night the designated kohen would pour the same amount of oil into all seven branches of the Temple menorah. By the next morning, six of the flames would have gone out. But the seventh, called the Western lamp, would remain lit until the following evening when the kohen would come back to light the menorah. He would use the one remaining flame to kindle the six others. That is, the oil of the Western lamp lasted twice as long as it should have.
It cannot be a coincidence that two such similar stories about the Temple menorah appear so close to each other in the Talmud. It seems much more likely that, with just a little tweaking, the “miraculous menorah” story morphed into the Chanukah story, which speaks of the same menorah and the same phenomenon of “burning on empty.” If the cruse of oil story is an altered version of an older one, then we now have to ask: why did the rabbis do this? Why did they adapt the older story and add it to the report of the military victory?

A very likely reason for the rabbinic rewrite was to fight assimilation. The Babylonian Jews lived among Zoroastrians and hence saw everywhere, in this darkest month of the year, Zoroastrian holy fire, a key feature of that religion. By consciously adapting the old Jewish legend of a continuously burning Western lamp, by requiring Jews to place their Chanukah lamps on public display, and by forbidding them the use of the lamps for a practical purpose, the rabbis gave Babylonian Jews a way to light their own holy fires, at a time when the Zoroastrians were kindling theirs. For these Jews, Chanukah assumed added importance.
This new understanding of the cruse of oil story should resonate with Jews living in a Christian culture today. There is no denying that Christmas, with its twinkling lights and exchange of gifts, exerts a strong pull on many American Jews. Ramping up Chanukah with presents, songs, a chanukkiah for each person in the family, and even an electric menorah in the window, are contemporary responses to living in an open society. Some look askance at these new practices. But taking our cue from the rabbis of the Talmud, we should celebrate, not denigrate, the transformation of Chanukah from a minor to a major holiday. The cruse of oil story, therefore, is as “true” today as it was back then. No need to be embarrassed to tell it to our children and grandchildren, of whatever age.
Judith Hauptman is professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Culture at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Orthodox Rabbis

Misguided Rabbinical Priorities

Rabbi Mordechai Rackover is associate university chaplain for the Jewish community of Brown University. Twitter: @mrackover
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Rabbi Mordechai Rackover Special To The Jewish Week
Nowadays Orthodoxy is all about sex. Immodesty, promiscuity, homosexuality: the public discourse of the Orthodox Jewish world seems disproportionately to take place in the bedroom, the dressing room, and the closet.
Gender is also a related hot topic. What are women? What can and can't they do? What can they, but shouldn’t they? And what about men? Can men marry each other? Live together? Adopt children? Out of the closet? In the closet? On the bima? In the shul?
This discourse isn’t much of a conversation. Discourse comes from an Old French word and implies ‘back and forth’ – or, in the language of Talmud study with which all Orthodox rabbis are familiar, 'shakla ve-tarya,' give and take. But the public discourse of the Orthodox has become — proudly, defiantly, and almost by definition — all give and no take: an unending series of pronouncements and responses, murmurings, blog-posts, unending comment threads and online flame-wars. These "conversations" are merely the strident repetition of entrenched positions. More and more I understand the expression, “it’s like talking to a wall.”
While these non-conversations about sex and gender proliferate, the incidence of child rape, verbal and physical abuse of women, poverty, weakening schools and riven families, to name only a few crises, increases. Fewer children keep Shabbat and more adults work like dogs to send their children to day schools, sacrificing time they might otherwise actually spend with them.

Sex has nothing to do with most of the problems I’ve listed, and the energies that are put into hand-wringing and petition-signing over sexual ethics could be far better placed.
The case in point: recently Rabbi Steve Greenberg, who was ordained by Yeshiva University, subsequently came out as gay, and has argued that there is no contradiction between being gay and Orthodox, performed a wedding in which he sanctified the union of two men. The media reported that an Orthodox rabbi performed a gay marriage and all kinds of rabbis began talking to their favorite walls. Then a group of over one hundred rabbis got together to declare that this was not an orthodox wedding and that no such wedding was possible. Big News! The Torah and Orthodox understanding of Halakha prohibit gay marriage. Who knew?
An Orthodox rabbi myself, I happen to agree that this was not an Orthodox wedding. But I think these rabbis' response is a much bigger problem than two Orthodox gay men seeking a way to dignify their relationship through marriage.
Who do these rabbis think is listening? What compelled them to lash out? Do they anticipate an impending rash of orthodox gay marriages? Did their synagogue Executive Directors ask for guidance with all the calls to book gay weddings? Do they think that Jews to the left of Orthodoxy need to be reminded that the orthodox establishment considers them wrong?
These rabbis bang on their lecterns and chests and fight for attention to keep themselves in the center of attention: to declare that they are in charge and that they alone define Judaism. And in so doing, in drawing lines where no one is looking for them, they routinely miss the places that everyone is looking for wisdom and moral guidance in the problems they face in their actual lives.
We are bereft of relevant leadership and opinions that matter. In recent years we’ve watched as an increasing number of aspects of orthodox Jewish life have become narrower. Kashrut is beset with polarizing stringencies. Increasing swathes of public life (synagogues, buses, sidewalks, funerals) are becoming less hospitable to women. Conversion is a minefield and women remain bound in unwanted marriages by rabbis who refuse to respond.
And one hundred rabbis saw fit to speak out…on a marriage that no one that they are speaking to was likely even to have known about.
I believe Orthodoxy no longer exists as a coherent ideology. There are gangs of rabbis in different clubs. Sometimes they work together, sometimes against each other, depending on their interest of the moment. In the meantime they have so eroded their moral and legal footing that even the once faithful are falling away. So many people have gone down this path that even the fundamental practices of our faith have become twisted and unrecognizable. And here we are at another moment of niggling erosion where rabbis who could spend valuable time and energy have misplaced their power and in so doing lost a little more of what little relevance they may have left.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

another benefit of brit milah

German scientists growing skin from baby foreskins

By Eric Pfeiffer
By Eric Pfeiffer | The Sideshow – Tue, Dec 20, 2011

The "Skin Factory" may soon replace all animal testing on cosmetics
No, this is not an ill-conceived sequel to an Ira Levin novel. Scientists at a laboratory in Germany have begun growing human skin from the cells of infant foreskins.
According to the German Herald, the "medical breakthrough" is being used to test cosmetics and other consumer products and could someday replace all animal testing. The so-called Skin Factory, at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, takes foreskin cells donated to the project and uses them to grow the skin, according to spokesman Andreas Traube. More from the Herald:
Scientists extract a single layer of cells from each foreskin and then grow on layers of collagen and connective tissue in the Skin Factory, a sealed growing environment just seven meters, by thee meters, and three meters high and kept at a constant temperature of 37 degrees centigrade.
The scientists use the Skin Factory machine--some 22 feet long, 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide--to grow the new skin. Parents provide the scientists with permission before they are allowed to use the donated foreskins.
Once the cells are multiplied inside the machine, researchers then inject them into a gel that causes them to grow into a sheet that simulates the epidermis. The layers are then fused together, creating a replica of natural human skin.
Traube said the foreskin is taken from children aged 1-4, because the younger tissue has better research applications. "The older the skin is, the worse it performs," he said. According to the report, the cells taken from a single foreskin can produce test skin samples in six weeks. The success of the research has led the Skin Factory to consider expanding its efforts to commercial projects.
"It's logical that we'd want to take the operation to a bigger scale," Traube said. "In the future, there are all sort of possible applications for the Skin Factory like cancer research, pigmentation diseases, and allergic reactions."

Intolerant Jews on the left

Intolerant bigoted anti simetic Jewish left

Richard Baehr

Clueless Jews
It has been a startling week for the American Jewish community, and a revealing one. Most American Jews are politically liberal and secular. There is, of course, no crime or problem in being either. But blatant bigotry, close-mindedness, intellectual laziness and anti-Semitism, are attitudes or traits most liberal American Jews would say are associated with others, and certainly not with some of the leaders in their organizational world, or some of their “thought leaders” in their most respected media organs. Some events of this week suggest otherwise.

First we have the case of the Connecticut rabbi and Tim Tebow. If you are not in America, you may not be familiar with Tim Tebow. The second-year quarterback for the NFL’s Denver Broncos had a very successful career at the University of Florida, helping to win two national titles and winning the Heisman Trophy Award, given to the nation’s top player. There are plenty of athletes who are physically talented and are also viewed as leaders or winners for helping motivate other players on their teams to play harder and better. Tebow stands out from many other professional or collegiate stars because he is not only talented, a leader, a winner, and a motivator, but because he is also a visibly believing Christian. It is this last part that has led to the new phenomenon of “tebowing,” an imitation of Tebow kneeling to pray.

In the last few weeks, Tebow has become a much bigger story as his team has rallied to win six consecutive games, many of them in highly improbable fashion, none more painful to this author than Denver’s miracle victory over the Chicago Bears. It is not hard to understand that this linkage of a serious religious person and a football star would have lots of appeal in a country where football is the most popular sport and where religion matters more than it does in many other Western democracies.

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So along comes Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet and a columnist for The Jewish Week. Hammerman’s appalling, bigoted article denigrating Tebow and his supporters has now been removed from The Jewish Week’s website, and apologies have been offered by the journal and Hammerman. But the article has been preserved by other sites.

This is one particularly offensive part of the article:

”If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants. While America has become more inclusive since Jerry Falwell’s first political forays, a Tebow triumph could set those efforts back considerably."

Did you get all that? If the Broncos win the Super Bowl, all hell will break loose in America, as Tebow’s Christian warriors go on a rampage.

This week the Union for Reform Judaism held its biennial General Assembly. On the first day of the meeting, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, gave an address in which he criticized the Palestinian Authority for its culture of worshipping terrorism and challenged its readiness for a state. But some attendees decided to boycott Cantor’s address. What was Cantor’s crime in their eyes? Simply put, he has conservative views.

“A number of participants could be heard outside the ballroom where Cantor was speaking discussing their choice not to attend his speech so as to not lend their support to his conservative views,” The Hill, a Congressional newspaper, reported.

Imagine having to at least give a hearing to an alternative viewpoint. Of course, tuning out conservatives is obligatory for some in the Reform movement, since the movement is far more about liberal politics at this point than about religion. When U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to the URJ event on Friday, he defended his record for enhancing Israel’s security, but the biggest applause lines concerned his pitch on social issues -- abortion, gay rights and the appointment of liberal judges.

This same week, the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College was in the news after the school turned down a donor who offered to fund a conservative scholar. While there might be reason to question a donor defining a viewpoint for a program, there already is a dominant, and largely unchallenged viewpoint at Hebrew Union, and that is that Judaism is all about fighting for social justice. Hostility to Israel is quite prevalent as well.

Many at the school, from administrators to professors to students (the future rabbis) simply have no interest in intellectual diversity. One area where such diversity of thought is frowned upon is Israel:

“While I loved my time there and deeply respected my professors, I found that HUC was not comfortable exploring or discussing anything politically that wasn’t Left,” said Rabbi Samantha Kahn, who received her ordination from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles in 2011 and is now the assistant rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in Houston, Texas. “I definitely struggled with it, and I was hurt by the lack of openness and the anger toward positions of center and right when it came to Israel and foreign affairs.”

And then there is Thomas Friedman, America’s most overrated columnist and a fixture at the New York Times, where he has been pontificating for decades. The man who prefers the Chinese authoritarian economic model to that of Western democracies also loves to scold America for its wasteful energy consumption. But Friedman lives in a 10,000-square-foot home, leaving a carbon footprint almost as large as his self-regard.

This week, Friedman, a relentless critic of Israeli policy, at least under right-of-center governments, wrote what should be a career-ending column. In it, he argued that the Israel Lobby controlled the U.S. Congress (he stated that the members were bought and paid for), and that is why the House and Senate members cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he spoke earlier in the year. This is the kind of comment that warms the hearts of Professors Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer, but also brings good cheer to Patrick Buchanan, David Duke and other Israel-haters and/or anti-Semites whether on the Left or the Right.

Friedman is clearly frustrated that Netanyahu does not accept the fact that Thomas Friedman, more than anyone, knows what is good for Israel. Bibi is a repeat offender for Friedman, since he ignored the columnist’s advice in his first term in office as well .

The man who tried to sell the “Saudi peace plan” -- is the real story that Friedman was bought and paid for by the Saudis? -- does not seem to understand that members of Congress are pro-Israel because Americans are pro-Israel, as much now as ever before.

In addition, members of Congress see a lot more to like about Israel and its pluralistic, Western democracy, than they do in a movement which values the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews as more important goals than the creation of a new Palestinian state.

Finally, there is the case of New Yorker editor David Remnick. He is the author of a lengthy paean to Barack Obama, now filling remainder shelves at bookstores across America. Remnick earlier this year expressed his weariness about having to discuss Israel any more, and this week became apoplectic over Newt Gingrich challenging the narrative of a distinct Palestinian nationality.

Remnick went after Gingrich, but spent most of his time assaulting Joan Peters and her 1984 book “From Time Immemorial,” which argued that many Arabs moved to Palestine in the last century only after the Zionists began to move there in large numbers. Remnick attempts to diminish Peters’ work by scornfully pointing out that she was not a trained historian -- something he is not either, of course. Remnick’s hit job on Peters consists of a link to one critical article by Yehoshua Porath (who admits that there was Arab migration to Palestine during this period), and one quote from Daniel Pipes that is taken out of context (in fact, Porath credits Pipes with a favorable review of Peters’ book). Not surprisingly, Remnick neglects to link to attacks on the book by Edward Said, or Professor Norman Finkelstein, whose attacks on Peters have been never-ending and obsessive. It must be that Finkelstein’s reputation at this point is too damaged for Remnick to rely on him, and it is difficult, outside of New York Times editorial board meetings, to sell Said as a fair critic of anything related to Israel. There is no evidence that Remnick has ever read Peters’ book, and his critique is derivative, relying mainly on name-calling.

Remnick is not only not a historian, he is also not much of an editor. As New Yorker editor-in-chief, he has authorized and then approved of the “investigative” pieces of such notables as Seymour Hersh, who like Ron Paul, argues that there is no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons. Tina Brown tried to turn the New Yorker into Vanity Fair without the color photography. Remnick has pushed the New Yorker toward the print model of MSNBC.

In his book on Obama, Remnick avoided any serious investigation of any part of the Obama biography that might challenge the currently held views about the president and his background, still taken as gospel by so many of his worshippers in the media, and viewed by them as necessary to sustain his re-election bid. Is it any surprise that Remnick labels Gingrich and Peters as bigots, just as he renounces critics who challenge parts of Obama’s history as racists? If you disagree with David Remnick's view of the world, you must be intolerant and racist.

Taken as a whole, these items suggest a growing intolerance among those on the Left, who are quick to see this trait in their political enemies.

Richard Baehr is the co-founder and chief political correspondent for the American Thinker, and is a visiting fellow at the Jewish Policy Center.

Chunukah Christams dilemma

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Parasha miketz

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Insanity of Israel's conversion policies

Israel says people converted by Chassidic Rabbis are not real Jews.

Published On Sunday, December 18, 2011 01:01:29 AM

Within the next few weeks Martina Ragachova could be deported from Israel — for being too frum.
Prague-born Ragachova, 37, moved to Israel a decade ago, and in 2004 converted to Judaism in the Bnei Brak rabbinic court of Nissim Karelitz, one of the world’s best-respected and most stringent Haredi rabbis. Karelitz was so moved by the genuineness of her commitment to Judaism that he knelt before her by way of congratulation.

Prior to this ultra-Orthodox conversion, Ragachova had applied to become Jewish in the modern-Orthodox state-run conversion courts. But they did not accept her application. So she took the private Haredi track.

She now has a conversion certificate that is accepted by virtually every rabbi in the world, in contrast to the state conversion she originally applied for, which is viewed with skepticism by large sections of the Orthodox community. But because she took her conversion into her own hands, Israel’s state rabbinate and Interior Ministry insist that she is not Jewish.
This means she cannot marry in Israel. When it comes to weddings performed in-country, the government recognizes only religious marriages. And for Jews, this means weddings officiated by Orthodox rabbis between individuals the government recognizes as Jews.

More immediately, it means that she could be deported because the Interior Ministry doesn’t consider her Jewish and will not grant her citizenship.

Until now, Ragachova has avoided deportation thanks to an injunction she obtained by going to court. Early next year, the Supreme Court will hear her case along with those of others in her situation.

If the court forces the state to recognize her conversion, as she is asking, the state’s monopoly on conversion will be over. If she is deported, there will be outrage in the Haredi community, which will see the ruling as an insult to one of its leading scholars.

“The conversion I passed is acceptable in every country in the world apart from Israel. It’s an absurd situation,” Ragachova told the Forward. She complained that she has been in limbo since her conversion due to her lack of citizenship. Until the court first considered her case in November, her lack of citizenship prevented her from working under the law. The temporary injunction she obtained now allows her to work during her case’s legal proceedings.

Ragachova’s case highlights a strange situation that has come about in Israel: Haredi conversion has become a relatively easy option for some who are prepared to follow an extra-stringent observant lifestyle.

Eleven years ago, the government faced resistance from within the rabbinate over its efforts to facilitate conversion for thousands of Russian immigrants and others who enjoy citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return on the basis of their Jewish family background — but who are considered non-Jews under Orthodox Judaic law. In response, the government set up a separate conversion operation under the Office of the Prime Minister to streamline their conversion.

These immigrants, for the most part, sought to become Jewish in order to become full-fledged members of Israel’s Jewish society, able to marry other Jews, be buried in Jewish cemeteries and enjoy full social acceptance. Under the plan, this new conversion body, which employed more lenient standards, was granted a monopoly over conversions for individuals living in Israel.

But this left out many individuals living legally in Israel on a long-term basis who, for one reason or another, are not citizens. These residents are barred from conversion unless they obtain special permission from an “exceptions committee” that meets rarely and gives no public account of its activities. Some people have not received a reply from the committee after a year after applying.

Having a Jewish partner makes applying via the Conversion Authority harder, not easier. The non-Jewish partner of a Jew, whether that Jew is Israeli born or an immigrant, cannot apply to the exceptions committee until he or she has been married to the Jewish partner for a year-and-a-half or in a relationship for four years. Of course, the couple cannot get married in Israel unless they are both Jewish to begin with.

“I have 10 cases of people who want to convert and start a Jewish family, but they have to wait, and some are in their 30s and say their biological clocks are ticking,” said Seth Farber, a Modern Orthodox rabbi who is director of the nonprofit organization ITIM that advocates on behalf of conversion candidates.

By contrast, the conversion process under Karelitz is straightforward, and open to anyone he deems serious about becoming Jewish. Prospective converts study, according to an aide to Karelitz, until they know more Jewish law “than even the average yeshiva or seminary student.” When Karelitz finds them ready, he converts them.

The Beth Din Tzedek religious court in Bnei Brak, which Karelitz chairs, was converting only a handful of people when Ragachova turned to it. Last year, it converted more than 250.

The trend disheartens Farber. “It is unfortunate and ironic that more and more people are coming to us to help them go through ultra-Orthodox conversions because the bureaucracy is preventing them from converting through the State of Israel,” he commented.

If the prospect of deportation is daunting for Ragachova, it is terrifying for Raisa-Haya Sonin, 74, Israel’s most Haredi gentile. Sonin dresses and practices religion the way Haredi women do, and is very much part of the Orthodox community in the Orthodox stronghold of Bnei Brak. But the state and its official rabbinate consider her non-Jewish because she converted with Karelitz after moving to Israel from the Former Soviet Union. Because of this, the state also does not recognize her marriage. “It’s hard from a spiritual point of view,” said her husband Ilya Sonin, 76, who was born Jewish. “We are old, not strong, and I worry about what will happen if I die first, about her status here.”

Sonin knows that under Israeli law, she can stay in the country living with the
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man whom the state regards as her Jewish civil partner only as long as he is alive. But she cannot apply for citizenship herself. And if he were to die, she could be deported.

Asked about its position on private conversions and the forthcoming court case, the Interior Ministry gave a brief answer: “The principal position of the State of Israel in all these cases is not to recognize any private conversion that takes place in Israel.”
The Conversion Authority did not respond to requests for information on its position.

The religious-Zionist camp is watching the Ragachova case closely. Observing the popularity of Karelitz’s court, some prominent Zionist rabbis have started converting. Yisrael Rosen, a Conversion Authority judge until his retirement in June and a founder of the state conversion courts, opened a conversion court of his own in August. The court converts an average of one person a week — unrecognized by the state.

Farber said: “It is unjust that someone can convert overseas and be recognized by the Law of Return, but if they convert in Israel, the center of Jewish world, they cannot.”

see for our online progrAM

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gingrich points out FALSE narrative of Palestinians

The Gingrich Syndrome

By: Yedidya Atlas

In 1949, Princeton University Press, published the Fifth Revised Printing, of the original 1943 history book “The Arabs: A Short History” by Professor Philip Khuri Hitti, Professor of Semitic Languages and Chairman of the Department of Oriental Languages at Princeton University. Credited with almost single handedly created the discipline of Arabic Studies in the United States, Hitti, born in Ottoman Syria (now modern day Lebanon), was the preeminent scholar of Islam and the Arab world of his day.
It seems that some people (including some in the media) have short memories...

A proponent of the Arab cause against the Jews and Zionism, Hitti was the first Arab to testify against the Partition Plan at the 1946 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, where he took Ben-Gurion to task for his testimony about “Palestine” (referring to the Jews). Hitti declared: “There is no such thing as ‘Palestine’ in history, absolutely not.” And in fact, in the aforementioned “The Arabs: A Short History” there is no mention of whatsoever of an Arab “Palestinian People” even though the particular volume in this writer’s possession was printed in 1966. Despite its numerous revisions, including after the founding the 1948 founding of the State of Israel, Professor Philip K. Hitti, a world renowned spokesman for the Arab cause for many years, made no revision to include the now oft-mentioned Arab “Palestinian People” in later editions of his book on Arab history.

In fact, the name “Palestine”, or “Palaestina” in Latin, originated in the second century C.E., after the Roman occupiers crushed the Jewish revolt of Bar Kochba. In an effort to subsequently wipe out Jewish connection to the Land, the Romans renamed the occupied Jewish Land of Israel as“Syria Palaestina” (after “Philistina” – the land where the Philistines, ancient enemies of the Jewish People, had dwelled in what is today Israel’s coastal plain and Gaza) and considered southern Syria, ruled by a Roman Governor in Damascus. Jerusalem was renamed “Aelia Capitolina”, Shechem, which had, like Jerusalem, been burnt to the ground and rebuilt by the Romans was renamed “Neapolis” (or “the New City” in Latin). Owing to the lack of the letter “P” in Arabic, “Palestine”, is today referred to by Arabs as “Filastin”, and the Arab name for Jewish Shechem, “Nablus” was another Arab mispronunciation of the Roman name Neapolis.

In brief, the name of the nationality of the so-called Arab “Palestinian People” is not even derived from their own language, Arabic. They have no distinctive national history, culture or even cuisine that distinguishes them from other Arabs in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt. No one can name the first, last, or any Arab Palestinian king, during the long centuries they falsely claim to have existed prior to the return en masse of the Jews to the Biblical Land of Israel in the past 200 years. Hence, Arab Palestinian national existence is demonstratively a recent development at best.

So the responses to the recent remarks of former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and current Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, regarding the historical bona fides, or lack thereof, of the “Palestinian People” is more telling than the actual remarks.
After all, what did he say?
“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire until the early 20th century. I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israelnow since the 1940s, and it's tragic.”
Mr. Gingrich, who has a PhD. in history and taught it at the college level for a number of years prior to his decades long political career, has sufficient academic credentials for one to assume he has read at least a few serious books in his life on the subject, and can easily document the accuracy of his declaration. Moreover, as proven above, he didn’t say anything all that earth shattering per se.
The Palestinian Arab leadership, of course, challenged the veracity of the Gingrich remarks with the usual oft-repeated falsehoods:
"Our people have been here since the very beginning and are determined to stay on their land until the very end." And that Gingrich was “denying historical facts.” (Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad)
Also, of course, they labeled Mr. Gingrich, as “ignorant and racist” for challenging the politically correct albeit false Palestinian narrative.
Unsurprisingly, some media outlets attempted to undercut the historical accuracy of the Gingrich remarks. The Reuters report included the following paragraph:
“Most historians mark the start of Palestinian Arab nationalist sentiment in 1834, when Arab residents of the Palestinian region revolted against Ottoman rule.”
The key words being, of course, “most historians” in an effort to convince the reader that Gingrich’s statement was really just politically motivated and not a well documented historical fact. In reality said “most historians”is really the politically correct wishful thinking of two of Israel’s leftist “new historians” Baruch Kimerling and Joel Migdal in their book “The Palestinian People: A History” (Harvard University Press, 2003). There they write:
“The tough rule and new reforms led to the 1834 revolt’s outbreak in the heart of the country, uniting dispersed Bedouins, rural sheiks, urban notables, mountain fellaheen, and Jerusalem religious figures against a common enemy. It was these groups who would later constitute the Palestinian people.” (pp.3-20, p.7)
The “common enemy” was the Egyptian forces led by Ibrahim Pasha that had conquered much of the country in 1830 from Ottoman rule. The baseless assertion that “these groups who would later constitute the Palestinian people” is vacuous at best, if not deliberate false propaganda to lend credence to the “Palestinian People” myth propagated by Israel’s enemies in an effort to challenge the well documented Jewish connection to the Land. And although even Kimmerling and Migdal don’t buy into the official false history of today’s Palestinian Arab propaganda machine, their book nonetheless, achieved its purpose since it gives Reuters and other media outlets the “academic” basis to muddy the waters of historical accuracy and give the false impression that these issues are in dispute and Mr. Gingrich and anyone who agrees with his statement is in the minority and assumedly with a politically motivated bias against the “poor Palestinians.”
Much has been written in the past week or so in defense of Mr. Gingrich’s historically accurate assertions by top columnists in both Israel and theUnited States, but what no one discusses is the “true sin” of Mr. Gingrich. It is not merely that he has publicly noted that the “Palestinian Arab emperor” has no clothes, but that he, who may well be the next president of the United States, has, in essence, argued that documented truth, and not a politically correct false version of a so-called narrative, should be the basis of the reality upon which negotiations take place. In brief, that the so-called “Israel-Palestinian Conflict” is not a level playing field with equal moral and historical claims to a “disputed” Land.
He didn’t challenge the rights of the parties to negotiate a solution acceptable to both parties. He simply asserted that truth counts in policy making. What a remarkable idea!
The criticism leveled at Mr. Gingrich by even his fellow Republican contenders is that by speaking the truth about an important subject, it is making today’s realpolitik approach to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, for example, more difficult – even for Israel! As if the Israeli position would not be strengthened by an American administration that would reject the false narrative of its enemies. Thus far, administrations that accept the Palestinian “Big Lie” invariably pressure Israel to make tangible and irrevocable concessions that threaten her very existence.

The logical extension of Mr. Gingrich’s “sin” is that not only should truth and morality be factors in making national policy, next he might suggest that political leaders should face reality and deal with it accordingly instead of making policy on delusional wishful thinking. Who does he think he is?
The author is a veteran journalist specializing in geo-political and geo-strategic affairs in the Middle East. His articles have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Insight Magazine, Nativ, The Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon. His articles have been reprinted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the US Congressional Record.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nonsense from Deborah Lipstatdt

Here is the jist of what was reported she said

"Renowned Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt says that American and Israeli politicians who invoke the Holocaust for contemporary political purposes are engaging in “Holocaust abuse”, which is similar to “soft-core denial” of the Holocaust.In a hard-hitting interview with Haaretz, Lipstadt also lashed out at the "over-the-top pandering" of Republican presidential candidates, describing their fawning support for Israel as "embarrassing" and "unhealthy." Of last week’s appearance of the top Republican candidates at a Washington forum organized by the Republican Jewish Committee, she said: “It was unbelievable. It made me cringe. I couldn’t watch it.”...
“You listen to Newt Gingrich talking about the Palestinians as an ‘invented people’ – it’s out-Aipacking AIPAC, it’s out-Israeling Israel,” she said. .”There’s something about it that’s so discomforting. It’s not healthy. It’s a distortion,” she said.
The New York-born Lipstadt said that President Barack Obama’s “flatfooted” handling of Israel at the beginning of his term “gave an opening to Republicans in America and to ‘Republicans’ in Israel.” She said that “more and more Jews are scared and here’s someone [the Republicans, CS] who is going to protect them. It’s so over-the-top irrational.”

I say Thank God for these Republican candidates and their concern about Israel.

Why is this nonsense?
1. Obama is one of, if not, the worst president's ever in regardf to uisrael, endangering her security in many ways, including"
a. Pressuring only Israel about failure of the Palestinians to return to the table
b. saying zero about their continuing anti_Israel and anti Jewish efforts
c. Undermining Mubarak so now Egypt will turn anti Israel and jihadist
d. humilated Netanyahu then tried to sandbag him about indefensible borders
e. sends surrogates out to attack Israel etc
f. Wasted 2 years trying to talk to Iran aboutt heir nuclear weapon dresire, then has stalled on aggresive sanctions, and allowed Iran to capture our most sophisticated drone

Many very rationale Jews understand the stakes, and how dangerous another Obama term would be, and it is NOT irrational to use Holocaust imagery when talking about Iran nuclear bombs aimed at 6 + million Jews.

As for Gingrich and Invented Palestinians, everyone else has to be PC but someone has to tel the truth. Everyone tiptoies about, afraid to speak the truth and the result? Absolutly zero evidence the Palestinians want any form of peace with a Jewish state,'
Lisptadt, for all her Holocaust knowledge, seems to have failed to learn the key lessons about paying attention when nazis say they want to kill you

Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Vayeshev coat of many colors

How Israel's Defense Industry Can Help Save America

How Israel's Defense Industry Can Help Save America - Arthur Herman (Commentary)
Kibbutz Sasa is the home of Plasan, which makes body armor for the Israel Defense Forces and for IDF vehicles. Today 90% of the company's orders come from Europe and the U.S. Plasan specializes in a very dense plastic composite product that affords ballistic protection without significantly adding to the weight of the vehicle.
Plasan-armored mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) have been serving in Afghanistan since August 2009, and contractor Oshkosh Company has another 8,800 on order. In 2009 Plasan opened a factory in Bennington, Vt., that employs 350 American workers.
An Israeli company called Camero came up with a way to use ultra-wideband wireless transmissions to see through walls - literally - and detect armed men and explosives on the other side. In December 2010, one of Camero's top clients became the U.S. Department of Defense.
Ten years ago Israel ranked 15th in foreign defense industry sales. In 2007 it surpassed the UK to rank fourth, behind the U.S., Russia, and France. The day when it takes France's place is not far off. This is a remarkable achievement for a country of some six million people.
At the Plasan plant in Kibbutz Sasa, the hallways are covered with poster-size copies of thank-you notes from American GIs. One of them is signed by Brian, an Army sergeant serving in Afghanistan who wrote that the Plasan armor saved him from a bullet that would have blown off his head if it had gone through the door.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Parahat vayeshev life advice

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Backing up Newt on the Invented palestinian people

Sunday, September 11, 2011What Palestine?
Is the world just plain stupid?
An interesting questionnaire for Palestinian Advocates

By Yashiko Sagamori

If you are so sure that "Palestine, the country, goes back through most of recorded history," I expect you to be able to answer a few basic questions about that country of Palestine:

1. When was it founded and by whom?

2. What were its borders?

3. What was its capital?

4. What were its major cities?

5. What constituted the basis of its economy?

6. What was its form of government?

7. Can you name at least one Palestinian leader before Arafat?

8.. Was Palestine ever recognized by a country whose existence, at that time or now, leaves no room for interpretation?

9. What was the language of the country of Palestine?

10. What was the prevalent religion of the country of Palestine?

11. What was the name of its currency? Choose any date in history and tell what was the approximate exchange rate of the Palestinian monetary unit against the US dollar, German mark, GB pound, Japanese yen, or Chinese Yuan on that date.

12. And, finally, since there is no such country today, what caused its demise and when did it occur?

You are lamenting the "low sinking" of a "once proud" nation.. Please tell me, when exactly was that "nation" proud and what was it so proud of?

And here is the least sarcastic question of all: If the people you mistakenly call "Palestinians" are anything but generic Arabs collected from all over -- or thrown out of -- the Arab world, if they really have a genuine ethnic id! entity that gives them right for self-determination, why did they never try to become independent until Arabs suffered their devastating defeat in the Six Day War?

I hope you avoid the temptation to trace the modern day "Palestinians" to the Biblical Philistines: Substituting etymology for history won't work here.

The truth should be obvious to everyone who wants to know it. Arab countries have never abandoned the dream of destroying Israel; they still cherish it today. Having time and again failed to achieve their evil goal with military means, they decided to fight Israel by proxy. For that purpose, they created a terrorist organization, cynically called it "the Palestinian people" and installed it in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria. How else can you explain the refusal by Jordan and Egypt to unconditionally accept back the "West Bank" and Gaza, respectively?

The fact is, Arabs populating Gaza, Judea, and Samaria have much less claim to nationhood than that Indian tribe that successfully emerged in Connecticut with the purpose of starting a tax-exempt casino: At least that tribe had a constructive goal that motivated them. The so-called "Palestinians" have only one motivation: the destruction of Israel, and in my book that is not sufficient to consider them a nation" -- or anything else except what they really are: A terrorist organization that will one day be dismantled.

In fact, there is only one way to achieve peace in the Middle East. Arab countries must acknowledge and accept their defeat in their war against Israel and, as the losing side should, pay Israel reparations for the more than 50 years of devastation they have visited on it. The most appropriate form of such reparations would be the removal of their terrorist organization from the land of Israel and accepting Israel's ancient sovereignty over Gaza, Judea, and Samaria.

That will mark the end of the Palestinian people. What are you saying again was its beginning?

Can this story be presented any more clearly or simply?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Vayishlach vdeo dvar 1

on the parasha

Israeli population from Richard Baehr

Some very good news: The Jewish birth rate in Israel is now so high, that Jewish births as a percentage of all births in the country has risen by 7 % , from 69% to 76% in just a few years. The Arab birth rate continues to drop within Israel and the actual number of babies born to Israeli Arabs is also declining. The spurt in the Jewish birth rate is among all sectors of the population . Non-Orthodox Jews now have an average birth rate of 2.6 per woman of child bearing age, about a third higher than in any other developed nation. The overall birth rate is now just shy of 3. So much for the "demographic nightmare that Israel supposedly faces, that would force it to give up the West Bank.
The PA also grossly overstates their population in the West Bank and Gaza for political purposes. Yoram Ettinger , who knows a great deal about all of this demographic detail, will be in Chicago soon to speak on this.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Obama the anti-Israel president

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

how to light the menorah

Obama piling on Israel through surrogates

Has Obama Destroyed the Alliance?

Jonathan S. Tobin | @tobincommentary 12.06.2011 - 12:34 PM

It’s been a difficult week for Israel. A trifecta of attacks on the foundation of the ties between the United States and the Jewish state in the past few days have exposed the ambivalent feelings of top Obama administration officials. If you add together recent statements by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, it’s hard to blame Caroline Glick for claiming that “under Obama, the U.S. is no longer Israel’s ally.”
But it’s worthwhile pointing out that despite these ominous signals and the failure of the administration’s promises to stop Iran’s nuclear program, Obama is still operating under constraints that will make it difficult for him to further weaken the bonds that unite Israel and the United States. The offensive words uttered by Panetta, Clinton and Gutman, as well as previous actions by Obama, point more to their frustration with a situation in which they know they cannot teach Israel’s government the rough lesson they believe it deserves than anything else.
As Obama learned to his dismay this past spring when his intended ambush of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to Washington backfired on him, the alliance with Israel isn’t a function of the whims of an individual president. From the first day he took office, Obama has been open about his goal of creating more distance between the U.S. and Israel than existed under his predecessors. That’s been a dangerous mistake that has destroyed what was left of the peace process and encouraged Israel’s foes to think its alliance with the United States is crumbling. That’s made the Middle East an even more dangerous place than it already was. But at the same time, due to the demands of Congress and key constituencies within the Democratic Party, the president has always been forced to maintain the security alliance that exists between the two nations. And in spite of Obama’s desire to help the Palestinians and his evident distaste for Israel, the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” that a Palestinian independence push at the United Nations was supposed to cause has fizzled.
To note these facts is not to dismiss the damage the fights picked by Obama (as well as Panetta’s attempt to blame Israel for its isolation by Islamists and Clinton for her slurs on Israeli democracy) have caused. But it must be understood their bristling resentment of Israel and Netanyahu is heightened by the fact that they know if they go further, there will be a terrible political reckoning. That’s why even as he chips away at the alliance, Obama must pay it homage and even be forced to claim, as he did last week, he is a good friend to the Jewish state. Such claims may be disingenuous, but like all forms of hypocrisy, they are, as the saying goes, the tribute that vice pays to virtue.
The reason why the pro-Israel consensus in the United States is so strong is that its roots are deep in our political culture and broader than just the Jewish vote or AIPAC. That’s what drives critics of the relationship like the Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer​ crazy. And it’s also why Obama administration officials who are for their own ideological reasons unhappy about having to help Israel despite their strong desire to smack it around, sometimes give vent to statements that would lead you to think the alliance is doomed.
It is true a second Obama administration would have considerably more freedom to apply pressure on Israel than it has had the last three years. That is something that should give Israeli leaders who are pondering their options on Iran as well as American supporters of the Jewish state something to think about. But as bad as things seem right now, it should be remembered that no matter what Obama, Panetta, Clinton and their underlings may think about Israel, they are keenly aware a full break with Israel is not something they can get away with.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

long term good news about freeing ourselves from foreign energy

Big Oil Heads Back Home

Energy companies are shifting their focus away from the Middle East and toward the West—with profound implications for the companies, global politics and consumers

For decades, its main stomping grounds were in the developing world—exotic locales like the Persian Gulf and the desert sands of North Africa, the Niger Delta and the Caspian Sea. But in recent years, that geographical focus has undergone a radical change. Western energy giants are increasingly hunting for supplies in rich, developed countries—a shift that could have profound implications for the industry, global politics and consumers.
· .

Driving the change is the boom in unconventionals—the tough kinds of hydrocarbons like shale gas and oil sands that were once considered too difficult and expensive to extract and are now being exploited on an unprecedented scale from Australia to Canada.
The U.S. is at the forefront of the unconventionals revolution. By 2020, shale sources will make up about a third of total U.S. oil and gas production, according to PFC Energy, a Washington-based consultancy. By that time, the U.S. will be the top global oil and gas producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, PFC predicts.
That could have far-reaching ramifications for the politics of oil, potentially shifting power away from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries toward the Western hemisphere. With more crude being produced in North America, there's less likelihood of Middle Eastern politics causing supply shocks that drive up gasoline prices. Consumers could also benefit from lower electricity prices, as power plants switch from coal to cheap and plentiful natural gas.
And the change is reshaping the oil companies themselves, as they reallocate their vast resources to new areas and new kinds of fuel. Working in the rich world—with its more predictable taxes and investor-friendly policies—removes some of the risks about the big oil companies that worry investors, making them less vulnerable to the resource nationalism of petrostates like Russia and Venezuela.
"A company like Exxon Mobil can eliminate the technological risk" of developing unconventionals, says Amy Myers Jaffe, senior energy adviser at Rice University's Baker Institute. "But it can't eliminate the risk of a Vladimir Putin or a Hugo Chavez."
This new way of looking at risk is at the heart of the transformation. International oil companies traditionally face a choice: They can either invest in oil that is easy to produce but located in politically volatile countries. Or they can seek opportunities in stable countries where the oil is hard to extract, requiring complex and expensive production techniques.
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Bloomberg News (2); AFP/Getty Images (2)
Now, in a sense, the choice has been made for them. Big onshore fields in the world's most prolific hydrocarbon provinces are increasingly the preserve of national oil companies, state-owned behemoths like Saudi Aramco and Russia's OAO Rosneft and OAO Gazprom. For foreign majors like Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC, their former heartlands in the Gulf sands are now largely off-limits.
Shut out of the Middle East, they have responded with a huge push into new areas, both geographic and technological. Over the past few decades, they have built vast plants to produce liquefied natural gas, or LNG. They have drilled for oil in ever-deeper waters, ever farther offshore. They have worked out how to squeeze oil from the tar sands of Alberta. And they have deployed technologies like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling to produce gas from shale rock.
Wood Mackenzie, an oil consultancy in Edinburgh, says that more than half of the international oil companies' long-term capital investments are now going into these four "resource themes"—a huge shift, considering how marginal the companies once considered them.
There are also drawbacks to the new focus on nontraditional kinds of hydrocarbons. Environmentalists strongly oppose shale-gas extraction due to fears that fracking may contaminate water supplies, the oil-sands industry because it is energy-intensive and dirty, and deep-water drilling because of the risk of oil spills like last year's Gulf of Mexico disaster.
There are financial considerations, too. While conventional assets are relatively easy to develop and historically have offered good returns, projects in some more technically difficult sectors—like deep-water and LNG—typically take longer to bring on-stream, and are higher cost, meaning returns are lower.
But there is an upside for the majors. "The silver lining is the shape of the profile of these projects, which is different than conventional ones," says Simon Flowers, head of corporate analysis at Wood Mackenzie. LNG ventures, for example, can deliver contract levels of gas at a steady rate over 20 years. "So the returns may be lower, but overall you have a more dependable cash-flow stream," he says.
By pursuing these nontraditional fuels, the oil companies are committing themselves ever more deeply to the wealthy nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Wood Mackenzie says $1.7 trillion of future value for all the world's oil companies—52% of the total—is in North America, Europe and Australia. The consultancy has identified a "significant westward shift" in oil-industry investment, away from traditional areas like North Africa and the Middle East "towards the Brazilian offshore, deepwater oil in the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa and unconventional oil and gas in North America." And then there's Australia, far out east, "which is in the early stages of a spectacular growth phase."
Enlarge Image


Consider Shell. Seven years ago, the oil giant, synonymous with turbulent hot spots like Nigeria, decided to shift resources to more-developed nations that offered a friendly environment for investors and predictable tax regimes. Shell used to split spending on the upstream—the basic business of exploring for and producing oil and gas—roughly 50/50 between nations in the OECD and those outside of it. It's now 70/30 in favor of the OECD, with the bulk going to Canada, Australia and the U.S.
"The risks in OECD are technical, but they're easier to manage than political risk," says Simon Henry, Shell's chief financial officer. "In the OECD, you have more control of your operations."
With the new turf comes a new focus: Shell will soon be producing more natural gas than oil. That might have scared investors a decade or two ago. But with gas demand set to grow strongly, especially in Asia, the future for gas-focused companies is looking increasingly rosy—especially after the Fukushima disaster, which prompted a rethinking of nuclear power in Japan and elsewhere.
Entrenching Its Position

Like Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp. is entrenching its position in the Americas, home to just over half its resource base. Its unconventional resources have grown by almost 90% over the past five years to 35 billion oil-equivalent barrels—partly thanks to its 2010 acquisition of XTO Energy, a big shale-gas player. Exxon's U.S. unconventional production alone is expected to double over the next decade.
Some giants are looking further afield. Chevron Corp.'s three focus areas—the parts of the world that account for the bulk of its exploration budget—are the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, offshore West Africa and the waters off western Australia.
In particular, the company has staked out a huge position in Australian natural gas; its Gorgon LNG project in Australia is one of the world's largest. The push is based on expectations of surging demand for the fuel in Asia, largely in China, which wants to improve air quality in its heavily polluted cities by switching from coal to gas in power generation and running more commercial vehicles and buses on natural gas.
It "wasn't a conscious decision" to move into the OECD, says Jay Pryor, head of business development at Chevron. The company doesn't decide what projects to pursue based on where they are in the world, but on the quality of the resource, the commercial terms and the geopolitical risk. "The best rocks with the best terms are going to get the quickest investment," he says. Money has flowed into the U.S. and Australia because they offer the best incentives to oil companies, he says.
In recent years, Chevron has also expanded into another promising part of the OECD—Europe, which some estimates suggest has shale-gas reserves comparable to those in the U.S. Chevron has picked up millions of acres of land in Poland and Romania, where it will soon be drilling for shale gas. That's part of a wider trend: Dozens of companies are now exporting to Europe technologies used to open up shale deposits in the U.S.
Holding Back

Not all oil companies have piled into unconventionals the way Shell and Chevron have. BP, for one, has far fewer investments in tar sands and shale gas than its peers, though it has an unrivaled position in deep-water oil. That means it has less of a presence in the OECD than Shell: Its biggest projects are in poorer countries like Angola, Azerbaijan and Russia, and in recent years it has won a string of licenses and contracts in India, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.
Yet even BP has been bolstering its position in the OECD. It said recently it was pressing ahead with a £4.5 billion ($7 billion) investment in the North Sea's Clair oil field, part of a five-year, £10 billion program.
Still, being in the OECD doesn't guarantee oil companies an easy ride. Operators in the North Sea were shocked earlier this year when the U.K. government suddenly increased taxes on oil producers. In France, authorities recently banned hydraulic fracturing. And in the U.S., the drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico, imposed after the Deepwater Horizon blowout, threw many of the majors' plans into disarray.
But still, for the most part, the risks are much greater in the non-OECD. "The majors went to Venezuela and lost their property," says Ms. Myers Jaffe of the Baker Institute. "They went to Russia and had to whisk their CEO off to a safe house. They went to the Caspian and realized they couldn't get the oil out. I for one would much rather invest in a company that had 70% of its spending in the OECD

Questions about conversion

Dear Rabbi

I have three questions to the synagoge service:

1) I asked myself already a lot of times, are converts allowed to wear a tallit during the service (reform / conservatives, masorti / orthodox) ?
When other Jews wear it, you should once Jewish. You are as Jewish as anyone. Not all reform wear them
2) Are converts allowed to touch the Torah when she is passing around, if the answer to my first question is yes, with the tallit, if no, with the prayer book (reform / conservatives, masorti / orthodox) ? yes as others do
3) Are converts allowed to do alliyot in the service (reform / conservatives, masorti / orthodox) ? for sure

once you convert you are as Jewish as anyone

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Egypt turns Jihadist

Thanks you Obama for knocking off our ally Mubarak and giving Israel a new Jihadist neighbor in Egypt
From today's Daily Alert
Early Results in Egypt Show a Mandate for Islamists - David D. Kirkpatrick
Islamists claimed a decisive victory on Wednesday as early election results put them on track to win a dominant majority in Egypt's parliament. The party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to have taken about 40% of the vote. But analysts said the ultraconservative Islamist Salafis could take as much as a quarter of the vote, giving the two groups combined control of nearly 65% of the parliamentary seats.
The new majority is likely to increase the difficulty of sustaining the U.S.' close military and political partnership with post-Mubarak Egypt. (New York Times)
See also U.S. Congratulates Egypt on Election (DPA)
Obama -either incompentent or playing for the other side