The first fight was, I’m sick of lecturing Arab women on how they dress

Israel/Palestine
on 105 Comments

I lost it at another party Friday night. I got in two political fights, and my wife was mad at me. I’m not sure how much of it I regret.

The first one was with a friend who had just got back from a tour of Israel, Palestine and Turkey. He was thrilled by the women who aren’t covered in Ramallah and Istanbul. They are fighting the good fight. He actually used that kind of language. I melted down. I said I had once lectured Arab women about covering themselves on this site and now I think, what a fool’s game. We are two secular Jews in New York, isn’t it idiotic for us to be lecturing Arab women on the other side of the world about their customs and dress? Can you think of a bigger waste of time? And yes I have real misgivings about the role of women in the Arab countries I’ve visited, but how can we possibly influence their progress except by getting out of the way? And did you ever think that the only reason we have these ideas, the only reason we care, is because of Israel, and its inability to get along with its neighbors, and its being a transmission belt of lousy ideas about Arabs to Americans?

That ended that conversation.

Then another friend, also Jewish, was talking in a group of four people about his wanderjahr many years ago in Israel. A guy very much like me, a seeker, he had landed in an Orthodox crewe and had studied Talmud for a year or two. It is very beautiful, he said, it is the most intense and meaningful discussion. I said, It’s bullshit. He said, It’s bullshit!!? The other two people there were non-Jews, and I said, Halacha is 613 rules they’re discussing about how to lead your life and apart from ones like, Feed the animals before you feed yourself, which is a beautiful rule, a lot of them are pure bullshit. It has no meaning whatsoever to the lives that we have made for ourselves. Like we have violated about 20 of the rules coming in the door tonight, and eating with non-Jews on the Sabbath…

I regret both arguments because I went off, became too passionate. I can blame the wine, and I know that issue of Jewish privilege also played a role (we are three privileged guys; and Jews’ denial of privilege angers me), but in both cases I said what I believe. My wife was quiet when we got in the car. She says the whole point of social engagement and manners is to make other people feel at ease and wanted. She used her worst term of abuse on me: you were a seven-year-old with a microphone.

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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105 Responses

  1. Taxi
    January 16, 2011, 12:31 pm

    I’d be interested at this stage of your story to know what the wives of your two antagonists said to their husbands.

  2. Gellian
    January 16, 2011, 12:33 pm

    Nah, bullshit Phil, your wife is wrong. The point of social engagement isn’t to jack the other guy off. It’s to talk about stuff that matters. People are the most interesting thing in the world, and treating other people as if their opinions matters shows you understand that. I’d rather spend 3 hours at a party arguing with someone, even lose the argument, that make chitchat about the color of the Queen of England’s dress, and I’m not Jewish. So tell your wife to stop being so polite and jump in the fray. She’ll probably have a good time.

    • Kathleen
      January 16, 2011, 4:28 pm

      With you. Although does not always a great way to make new friends.

      The other day on C-Span Tavis Smiley said something like “listen generously” I like that. Listen closely and then unleash the facts on the ground.

      Although it does not seem what Phil was getting into was necessarily about facts. A great book about the clothing issue is “Behind the Veil”

      Seems like the biggest issue in covering up is …is it a choice? An educated choice? In so many Muslim countries an absolute cover it up. Here the pressure is to take it off and let it all hang out. I raised three daughters and believe they were under far more pressure to look and be what the fashion industry spent billions of dollars on telling them what they should look like than women my age (58). Far more pressure.

      Wear a tent or let it all hang out. Somewhere in between. The key is education, understanding and research on the history of oppression of women…fashion etc

      Go watch “killing us softly” and “Still killing us softly”

      • Gellian
        January 16, 2011, 4:40 pm

        Good points. The question, already mentioned by somebody below is, If it’s so easy to get outraged about Muslim women covering/having to cover up, why is there no outrage about circumcision? After all, it’s a bizarre form of genital mutilation that we inflict on infant boys. I would call that child abuse. The weird thing about it is, in America an aversion to circumcision is considered quaint, like preferring to be a vegetarian. Or a form of anti-Semitism. Even when you point out that it’s a form of child abuse, people tut-tut at you charitably, like you’re silly to get worked up over something like this. Meanwhile Jews throw parties for their friends when the baby gets his cut (I’ve declined invites to at least three of these in the last two years).

        C’mon Phil, you want to throw a little dynamite? Forget Muslim clothes. Bring up circumcision at your next party.

      • Kathleen
        January 16, 2011, 5:07 pm

        I have read that originally there was an alleged reason for circumcision. Cleanliness, water, sand etc. But now? Seems brutal. Knew that if I had boys was not going to do that to them.

        The other thing Phil could bring up at the next party could also focus on women and face lifts, nose , hip, breast work. Oh boy is his wife going to be pissed off at all of us.

      • Gellian
        January 16, 2011, 6:04 pm

        Well Kathleen, you are one smart lady from my point of view. I told my (tribal) mother-in-law that if our baby was a boy, no way would we circumcise him. Jesus was she upset. For days. I figured that was the end of an inheritance we/the baby might expect. Luckily we had a girl and dodged the bullet, at least for now. Here’s hoping the next one is, too.

        Your points about the freakish surgery that women are undertaking to alter their bodies is at least as bad. (I make an exception for the disfigured, etc….). But I’m afraid I’m in the minority of guys who prefers, ahem, the plumper/older/au naturel type to the latest Hollywood impossibilities.

      • Citizen
        January 16, 2011, 9:49 pm

        You’re right Gellian. My experience is the same regarding the topic of circumcision. It’s like bringing up the plight of the Palestinians and US tax dollars. People look at you like you just stepped of the planet Mars. Just start telling them the US is the only Western nation that likes to cut off the natural protection for baby penises; that the hospitals make a good buck on it–until recently it was just done authomatically, no parental consent required; that the government will pay for it if you’re poor; that it was sold like Kellogg’s cereal as a way to cure masturbation and because, hey there’s germs under there–as if any part of the body doesn’t get funky if you don’t clean it when taking a shower or bath; best of all, that when you cut off that foreskin you are cutting off a ton of the most highly erotic human cells in the body–basically
        depriving the kid of lots of good feelings for the rest of his life… and imagine if you told them that starting in the later 1940s it was viewed by a significant number of American doctors as a way to end forever the nasty Nazi habit of making a guy drop his pants to see if he was a Jew–just in case America turned ugly. Perhaps you could bring up the Seinfeld show episode when Eileen says the uncircumcised penis “has no character.” The writers must have never been with a European girl. Here’s some thoughts on the subject by a Jewish American woman: link to noharmm.org

      • chet
        January 16, 2011, 5:17 pm

        Recently, either PBS or the CBC aired a two hour program on Islam that dealt with its history and present-day issues, one of which was the wearing of the hijab.

        A present-day woman professor from the university in Cairo contrasted a video of the million-strong crowd that gathered for Nasser’s funeral where very, very few women wore the hijab with a present-day video of a crowd where almost all the women wore it. She attributed the change as entirely due to the increased numbers of fundamentalists who compel its wearing.

        Sorry about the lack of links to the TV program.

      • Gellian
        January 16, 2011, 6:09 pm

        “She attributed the change as entirely due to the increased numbers of fundamentalists who compel its wearing.”

        Well, no surprise there. Islamic society has really devolved in the last couple of decades. I’m guessing no matter how sympathetic every single commentator on this thread is to the Palestinian cause, not a single one of them would voluntarily want to live in an Islamic society. The real question/problem is *how many* Muslims have been born in the last two decades. In many Islamic countries these youngsters make up half the population, or close to it. They’ve never known anything else. Surely some of them think this is the way things ought to be and will work to keep it that way, just as I think American society is the way things ought to be and will work to keep it that way.

        It’s a problem, no doubt about it.

      • pronomad
        January 16, 2011, 10:58 pm

        “Islamic society has really devolved in the last couple of decades.” Now there’s a broad (and loaded) statement. What’s your definition of an “Islamic society?” A society with a Muslim-majority population, e.g. Algeria, Senegal, Indonesia? Or a society that is “fundamentalist” in the Western, pejorative sense of the term, e.g. Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia? Or is it a society that is religiously “moderate” (again from a parochial Western view), but with the Muslim Brotherhood gaining strength in the background, e.g. Egypt, Jordan? Muslim society is not monolithic; just as “Christian” societies vary from North America to South America to Africa, so too do Muslim societies differ.

        Many of these societies have been feeling as if they are under attack from the West for decades now. Most are living through difficult times, whether in economic, political, social, or military terms. Under the circumstances, it’s not unusual for a population in distress to turn to religion for strength and to make sense of their situation. Why does a focus on outward signs of religious expression imply societal “devolution” or backwardness to you?

        “I’m guessing no matter how sympathetic every single commentator on this thread is to the Palestinian cause, not a single one of them would voluntarily want to live in an Islamic society.” And you would be wrong. There are quite a number of expats living all over the ME (ever been to Dubai?); I’m one of them. There are many more like me who came, fell in love with the culture, and stayed. Sure, I’ve run across the occasional anti-Western and/or anti-Christian bigot, but they are far outnumbered by the everyday people of all faiths who have no problem living with each other.

  3. Oscar
    January 16, 2011, 1:25 pm

    Phil, you’ve always been a man of your convictions. That’s why you lead the New Dialogue on the issue of I/P. Did Mrs. Weiss ever consider that the antagonists may intentionally seek you out at a party because they’re intimidated/jealous of your achievements with Mondoweiss?

    • Philip Weiss
      January 16, 2011, 4:32 pm

      ha, i’ll take that, oscar, but they don’t know jack about mondo, have never read it! just have this sense of what we’re doing here, as, well, left

    • Kathleen
      January 17, 2011, 2:52 pm

      He brought it onto the Web with the Nations assistance. So many other blogs shut down to this debate…not much different than the MSM

  4. Matthew Taylor
    January 16, 2011, 1:35 pm

    Hey Phil, I’ve been down that road quite a few times and I empathize. It’s hard being the guy who speaks the truth…well, his truth anyway…and then experiencing social alienation as a consequence.

    Two things I can’t stand people spouting bs about: Palestine and circumcision. Get me started on either of those and, well, often it ain’t a pretty picture for the rest of the partygoers.

    • annie
      January 16, 2011, 1:45 pm

      circumcision? what’s to argue about? some people go for chopping off the privates and some don’t. we never even considered traumatizing our son like that. let them make the decision on their own when they’re old enough if that’s what they want.

      ;)

      • Matthew Taylor
        January 16, 2011, 3:14 pm

        Annie dear,

        What’s to argue about? Well, I agree, but have you never heard the garbage and nonsense people spout in defending their right to mutilate their baby son’s body? I’ve heard this stuff even from Jewish, pro-Palestinian human rights activists! It’s really horrifying and sickening. I’m glad to hear you had the common sense (really, it’s a matter of common sense) not to do such a thing to your son.

        BTW I have a page of links on the topic:
        link to matthewtaylor.net

        Please kindly refers others to it if they are looking for info on the topic.

        Peace…

      • pineywoodslim
        January 16, 2011, 3:49 pm

        Yeah, it’s a form of genital mutilation, but don’t call it that in public, or else . . . . .

      • annie
        January 16, 2011, 6:46 pm

        wow, thanks for the link mathew.

        just a heads up on the way i was raised..nobody talked about it and i had no idea it existed..til i saw one that wasn’t at a swimming hole when i was around 18. what a shocker! then when i asked about it the explanation didn’t include an answer that pertained to religion. i think it was as a result of being part of the hippie generation young parents just started saying no and what’s the point? it was the same generation that started breast feeding again in the US. in the fifties breastfeeding wasn’t routinely practiced or promoted it was bottled milk all the way. my son never drank out of a bottle. he went tit to cup. i think in the fifties the hospitals circumcised as a matter of routine. my son’s generation is different, lots of people just do not do it.

        i’ve never thought of discussing it with my parents, not that i can recall. both my son’s grandmother’s changed his diapers at one time and i don’t recall either of them ever mentioning it to me. it’s none of their business anyway. we’re not jewish tho so there isn’t a stigma about it.

      • annie
        January 16, 2011, 6:52 pm

        it’s a form of genital mutilation

        i was at the hospital visiting my friend who had just (hrs before) given birth to a son. the doctor came in and asked if they’d decided to circumcise and the parents looked at eachother and had about a 1 minute conversation and said, ok. they took the kid off right then w/the dad and then we heard a very loud screaming just like that.

        /:-(

  5. annie
    January 16, 2011, 1:42 pm

    well, i wasn’t there. i’ve been more often the subject of ridicule for speaking out in the way you did than be in your wife’s frame of mind. but that’s probably because i am a loudmouth sometimes and forget to shy away from speaking my mind in inappropriate company.

    oh well, just chalk it up to a friday night gone haywire.

  6. lyn117
    January 16, 2011, 1:43 pm

    I agree with you on the dress and I think anyone who lectures Arab women that not wearing a particular garment means they are free should be required to take a stroll through the local mall without any garments whatsoever.

    Also, stop at the local make-up store and put on lipstick & mascara, especially if they’re a man, because, after all, that’s what freedom is all about.

    P.S.
    As far as the argument, the silence on Israel/Palestine in polite circles is stifling. I know of no way to broach the subject and make people feel at ease, except by going along with the common prejudice – i.e. Arabs are backwards, savages or at least anti-women’s rights (which as you say has some truth in countries like Saudi Arabia). Sometimes going along with the common prejudice is just accommodating racism when it should be challenged. If the headscarves or lack of them is all the man saw in Palestine, he probably has a few blinders on. Maybe you could have found a more polite way to tell the Orthodox guy most of the rules are b.s. Oh, well.

    • Psychopathic god
      January 16, 2011, 7:06 pm

      heh
      the guy in line in front of me at the office supply store had a beanie on his head and a bunch of fringie thinks hanging out from under his coat.
      should i form an ngo to liberate him?

      • annie
        January 16, 2011, 8:04 pm

        no but his wife was covered from head to toe (except for her face and hands) so let’s start one for her.

  7. Shmuel
    January 16, 2011, 1:45 pm

    It is difficult for people who really care about certain issues to find a balance between making nice (essential for social interaction – Mrs. Weiss is right) and not feeling like a sellout. If someone says something, in a social situation, that you find truly offensive – not to you personally, but to your values, the things you believe in – it’s really hard to keep mum. It’s even harder when you are sensitive to things that barely register with most people. I’m sure these guys thought they were making polite, uncontroversial chit-chat. What could anyone in your circle possibly object to? Women’s rights and the beauty of ancient Jewish texts. A shoo-in – if it weren’t for that pain in the ass Phil Weiss. What is it with him?

    As for the arguments themselves, although I agree with you on both counts, I probably would have taken the bait on the first and “finessed” or passed on the second.

    Then again, maybe the problem was one of style rather than content. Maybe you did act like a seven-year-old with a microphone. Less wine, more diplomacy perhaps?

    • Danaa
      January 16, 2011, 3:25 pm

      “I probably would have taken the bait on the first and “finessed” or passed on the second”

      easy way out, eh?

      Around me, people assiduously avoid any mention of Israel, palestine, jews, islam, christianity, religion in general, and lately Obamanomics. it’s nice to see what effort people make to stick to “safe’ subjects like american politics, neo-liberal economics, parenthood and sex. If all else fails, and a hapless newcomer ventures into where no man/woman/child dares to tread, someone is sure to coax a little diversionary discourse on matters of science (or science fiction – all the same to me). My daughter, for example, has learnt – over years of supposedly pleasant social gatherings turned into combat zones – that I can’t resist the bait on either. Worse come to worst, it keeps the teenagers in thrall….and out of trouble of their own. Which is probably part of the reason why I get invited ever again.

      That said, I can see why Phil is so popular despite that deficit in good manners. His friends are probably still discussing the issues days later…..and he gets to write all about it here, for us to chomp at the bits.

    • Psychopathic god
      January 16, 2011, 7:13 pm

      there’s another perspective — I tend to stay away from much social interaction because most of the people I know are tragically uninformed or misinformed about the issues about which I hold ‘contrarian’ views. That means I tend to stew in my own very-well informed but not at all challenged juices. Sometimes it’s good –even necessary–to take the risk of speaking out in as well-modulated a way as possible. I do have a close friend whose views differ my mine generally but with whom I speak out — it’s helpful — forces me to detoxify my own thinking and speaking, and pushes my friend to incorporate some information he would prefer to avoid/ignore, and come to grips with it.

      speaking out is better than keeping silent. even if you do make a fool of yourself now and then.

  8. seanmcbride
    January 16, 2011, 1:47 pm

    Phil,

    I am always awed by the intellectual honesty with which you report these occasional tiffs with your wife. :) In most of these instances, both of you are right.

    This kind of (often self-critical) honest reporting I see as a highly positive Jewish cultural trait. (Larry David, of whom I am a big fan, takes it to an entertaining and brilliant extreme.)

    • LeaNder
      January 16, 2011, 6:20 pm

      tiffs, can’t remember to have ever noticed this nice little word before.
      But yes, often tiffs it seems. My sympathy lies with the seven-year-old with a microphone and not so much with the–as Danaa suggest above–carefully maintained feel-good surfaces.

      I’d suggest a special training instead of complete surrender to etiquette, to soften the tiffs afterward. Why not pick up the suggestion that lies in the seven-year-old? Children can ask amazingly innocent questions.

  9. Richard Witty
    January 16, 2011, 3:01 pm

    Have you personally studied Talmud?

    • Philip Weiss
      January 16, 2011, 4:36 pm

      i havent, richard; but how much of it is how many angels can dance, etc
      i read leon wieseltier’s book about his father’s dying and his dipping into the ancient texts; and in the end it meant nothing to him, it was just an exercise. that’s what i dont like, this glorification of yes, i can admire the manner of the discussion, but a discussion that has ze-ro bearing on my life

      • wondering jew
        January 16, 2011, 5:14 pm

        There are two Judaisms (more, but for now, just the two): The tribal Judaism that accepts the Talmud as holy writ and the reform Judaism that is groping its way in the dark to a future that it is unsure of, for whom the Talmud is “meaningless” or “meaningfully irrelevant”. Actually very little of the Talmud deals with angels dancing on pins and it contains a fair amount of living wisdom and folk wisdom and Biblical “interpretation”. (not the meaning of texts per se, as much as word play inspired by rabbis, who used Biblical texts as a means to remind students of rabbinical law).

        There are six sections to the Mishna, the text which serves as the springboard for the Talmudic discussions: Zerai’m (literally seeds)- the laws regarding agriculture. Mo’ed (holidays). Nezikin (damages) dealing with all civil law. Nashim (women) dealing with marriages and divorces. Kodshim (holies) dealing with sacrifices and Taharot (Purities) dealing with laws of purity. Most of the Talmud deals with holidays, damages and women’s law, for these were relevant even after the exile, whereas, agricultural laws, sacrifices and laws of purity were mostly relevant in the time of the Temple.

        The commenters on this web site seem to be familiar with the three curses (from a Talmudic passage) which contains the commitments of the exiled Jews not to overthrow the rule of the nations and return to the land against the will of the nations.

        There are 2711 two sided folios in the Talmud or 5422 pages. Phil will be happy to note that many of the Christian authorities of the middle ages wished to burn the Talmud and he might wonder to what end it was not flushed down the toilet. Of course if the Nazis had won there would have been a copy or two in their Jew museum and it would have put a solid end to the bullshit.

        In fact the Jewish tendency to become lawyers and interpreters of literature can be directly linked to study of the Talmud. (The “lawyer” part of that equation might be another reason to regret the failure of the Christian monks to burn the Talmud.)

      • Richard Witty
        January 16, 2011, 5:51 pm

        Be at least a little curious before you condemn, please.

        It has more than zero bearing on your life, as you’ve spent most of the last 5 years on some discussion of what Jewish identity entails.

      • Kathleen
        January 17, 2011, 2:29 pm

        I continue to be confused by this. Have lots of Jewish friends..most not religious. How do you explain cultural, ethnic and religious Jews? I have asked Jewish friends to explain and they are unable. Can you explain the difference?

        If a person is not a practicing Jew why identify so heavily with being Jewish? I grew up Catholic. Am not Catholic Am of Irish, French, Polish, Russian dissent. Do not identify with any of it. Acknowledge but no heavy identification. What is this need to so heavily identify?

      • Shmuel
        January 16, 2011, 6:17 pm

        I’ve studied heaps of it – as a matter of fact, I’m studying it at this very moment (my cyber study partner doesn’t know that I’m multitasking).

        I get a kick out of the logic, the back and forth, the historical and anthropological info, the legends (interesting to compare recurrent themes in other ancient traditions – particularly the Greek), the language, the oldness of it combined with the fact that the thoughts, emotions and behaviours represented are not so different from our own after all, the occasional profound wisdom, the biblical hermeneutics (don’t get me started on why I like Bible), the puzzles and twists of meaning in the text itself or in its mediaeval and later commentators, the internal references, the process leading from the Talmud to the various codes of Jewish law – including the process of codification itself, and a bunch of other stuff.

        The actual content of the discussions is however, for the most part (by no means all), bullshit. Bullshit that I find fascinating and even moving at times, but still bullshit.

      • jon s
        January 16, 2011, 6:53 pm

        Shmuel, I was going to compliment you for this comment on the Talmud, a comment I could relate to…until I got to the last line.
        If it’s bs, why go to the trouble of studying it, why express such fascination? I imagine that you mean that it’s irrelevant to your daily life, that you don’t live according to the Talmud’s teachings, but “bs”?
        Strong language.

      • Shmuel
        January 16, 2011, 7:15 pm

        Thanks jon, for the almost compliment. I think I explained why I study it (while standing on one foot, so to speak), although I find the actual subject matter of most of the discussions to be bs. Yes, it is about irrelevance to modern life and values – which is the sense in which Phil meant it.

        Is “bs” really that strong? I’m not one for cussin’ (vestiges of my religious upbringing), but bs barely registers on the profanometer. And if you mean strong as in emphatic, blame Phil’s wine.

      • Richard Witty
        January 16, 2011, 11:39 pm

        I don’t study it. My son does full-time.

        The few times that I’ve studied it, it was not particularly relevant to my current life. My son tells me he’s been studying for the last month on the laws of Passover. Huh, a month? Even if it is only an hour/day on the tractate.

        The laws on property, DO relate to the political content that you two are writing about. And, that it informs those that rationalize the taking of land, it would be useful to speak the language, and by one’s investment in the desire to fulfill what you come to understand as the will of the ONE (transcendant, all-time, and intimate), maybe your voice would be credible enough to shift a rabbinic conclusion away from the trivial.

        There is an ecological component to minutae. That is that EVERY ecological scale is precise and elegant: tree, forest, biome, planet; and going the other way: leaf, cell, molecule…

        That Talmud attempts to discern the minutae of how to live in conformity with Torah is just a range of focus, the selection of which of “All my relations” you choose to focus on.

        The political is a range of focus. The tribal, the familial, the minutaie is as well.

      • eee
        January 16, 2011, 11:54 pm

        As an atheist Jew I take time every once in a while to study the Talmud. It makes me very proud to be part of the tradition that created this great work. Yes, there are parts that are not PC to modern ears. Calling the Talmud BS is like calling what Aristotle wrote BS. I would disagree on both. Human thought at different stages of history and knowledge is just that, it is not BS.

        And clearly a Jew that cannot study the Talmud or has not studied the Talmud, is not much of a Jew. You cannot link yourself to Jewish traditions if you have no idea how you ancestors thought. Another test for Jewishness is to answer the following question correctly:
        Who was the greatest Frenchman ever?

        If you didn’t answer Rashi, you still have to work on being Jewish.

      • tree
        January 17, 2011, 12:13 am

        Ah, so now there’s a test! Is it multiple choice? Open Talmud? Do you get a license to be a Jew after passing the test? I love how some people try to put restrictions on who is a “real Jew”, and exclude those self-identified Jews who don’t fit their fantasy criteria. And then they usually complain that there are so few Jews.

        I’m reminded of ” The food is terrible… And the portions are so small.”

      • Shmuel
        January 17, 2011, 2:32 am

        Oh goody. More Jew tests from 3e. You’ve just excluded the vast majority of Jews throughout history, but never mind. Two can play at this game. A Jew who does not uphold the principle that what is hateful to you do not unto your fellow man; who oppresses “the stranger, the orphan and the widow”; who believes that acquiring the power to oppress others is the primary lesson of Jewish history; who sees the culmination of Jewish aspirations for meaning and redemption in the existence of a militaristic nation state; who places all of his faith in the “power and the might of his hand” – is not much of a Jew.

        The Frenchman thing was a provocation, right? Part of your “research”, I guess.

      • Walid
        January 17, 2011, 3:25 am

        How many pretending Russian Jews were required to pass any test?

      • jon s
        January 17, 2011, 7:11 am

        I like the Leibowitzian concept of study (and prayer) for it’s own sake : “lishma”.

      • jon s
        January 17, 2011, 7:16 am

        The guy who invented the baguette gets my vote.
        I doubt that Rashi or his contemporaries thought of himself as a Frenchman.

      • Kathleen
        January 17, 2011, 2:54 pm

        It is interesting to study research belief systems…or as you point out “bullshit”

      • eljay
        January 17, 2011, 2:59 pm

        >> And clearly a Jew that cannot study the Talmud or has not studied the Talmud, is not much of a Jew.

        Unless he self-(self-)determines that he is very much of a Jew.

      • Danaa
        January 17, 2011, 3:44 pm

        Witty, in Israel, we as secular people were forced to go through the Talmud for about two years. Twice a week, in high school. Most students found it excruciating at the time, and it was, by and large, considered the least favorite subject of all. Those who were able to weave through the archaic points of law based on seemingly infinite layers of precedent, i were often the ones who also had interest in, say, the finer points of Grammar, or obscure points of mathematical theorems. As you said, it was indeed treated as a branch of study dedicated to the turning over of minutiae over and over again under the looking glass, the satisfaction coming from – having anything new to say – a true miracle.

        I am not per se opposed to the study of minutiae, be it a point of law, which, after all is thoroughly historic, or mathematics, which delves, at its cores into the minutiae of numbers, or the study of logic, which is the inspection of our own patterns of thought (in a vainglorious quest for some deeper, universal “truth”). There is value in all such studies as they train the mind to focus on detail and maintain the focus for extended periods of time.The subject itself matters less than the process of critical, focused organization of detail.

        What I did want to highlight for you is that the one thing the Talmud did not do for any of us, secular pupils of Israel, is to encourage or highlight issues of ethics. It was largely presented and studied in an ethics-free zone, very much like mathematics or grammar. There was really no other choice, since the Talmud is based, at its core, on shared articles of faith, and we had none. As a result, though we knew the Talmud may have dealt with issues of ethics, the taste it left behind was mostly, of dry, and at times ridiculous churning over of minutiae utterly irrelevant to the context of life as it was lived. Indeed, as I remember it (and it ain’t much that I do) the subject matter was nonsensical to those without faith.

        That is one reason there was absolutely no commonality or points of contact whatsoever between the secular and observant components in israel. That they would be even considered members of the same tribe was ludicrous, on the face of it. We the secular thought of the religious as ‘other’ – slightly exotic, intellectually and morally incomprehensible, and needless to say, utterly misguided and reactionary to boot. No doubt that’s how they thought of us in return.

        I don’t know whether things have changed much in this regard, especially in the education system, but have little reason to believe they have. What I can attest to is that the level of ignorance secular jewish people have about the Talmud is complete – near 100% – though many, if not all, hold it in respect at least as much as we do Sanscrit scholarship.

        It’s just not considered an authoritative text for ethics. For that we have Plato, Aristoteles and the many who came after. Plenty of minutiae right there, and in a far more universal and less obscure context.

        That being said, FYI I did excel in that Talmud class, despite myself, and have good memories of the class because I was such a star (we all have a soft spot for subjects we were good at…). Five hundred years ago, I could have been a Talmudic scholar myself, probably, if no other options were available (secretly of course, being a girl and all). Nowadays, anything Shmuel wants to quote for me from the Talmud gets my rapt attention. There was also once a great commenter on Haaretz old talkback boards (now largely defunct as they changed the rules and censored the life out it) named Tosefta, who figured out he could always soften me with a few well-selected Talmudic passages. I am working on figuring this fascination out as we speak….

      • Potsherd2
        January 17, 2011, 4:28 pm

        Aristotle was quite full of BS.

      • Danaa
        January 17, 2011, 6:41 pm

        But fun BS it was in places, don’t you think?

        Some philosophers one enjoys not for what they said exactly but for the inspiration they give you to refute such as they said and wrote, and then some. Hegel comes to mind. One can spend a lifetime refuting his philosophy, and some apparently did just that.

        IMO, the Talmud has all the obscurity (and bs) of Aristotle, Hegel and Heidegger combined, but with little of the fun that comes from butting heads with their logic. And to me, a measure of fun is key to life’s productivity, including intellectual life.

        Just my two cents…

      • Richard Witty
        January 18, 2011, 11:05 am

        Phil wrote earlier of the theme of the shift in Jewish culture from oppressed and isolated (pre-holocaust and pre-state) to its current awkward role as less than fully skilled power.

        I would love to hear of the ethical principles that you apply personally, in thinking about your inter-personal relations, your participation in local community (I don’t know where you live, whether you are an urban or rural resident), and the principles that you apply to measure the success/failure of your own government’s and others’ government’s policies.

        Some would call that definition of principles to be abstract minutae, irrelevant.

        I don’t.

        One thing that is common about all ideologies, is that they reference some uncontestable concept. (Uncontestable to them, usually contestable to others.)

        Your point about the absence of a common reference is important.

        The religious reference point is a combination of Torah/Talmud and personal prayerful experience. The “objectivists” emphasize Torah/Talmud. The subjectivists (mystics) emphasize personal experience.

        The same dichotomy exists in Islam, and even in anarchism. Anarchists include those that speak only of objective conditions, “facts” of injustice; and it includes those that advocate for building networks of mutual aid toward a more collective self-constructed participatory experienced society. (Emphasis on the quality of subjective personal experience.)

      • Philip Weiss
        January 18, 2011, 11:38 am

        there are many different communities richard, some are local some are virtual

      • Richard Witty
        January 18, 2011, 11:56 am

        Absolutely.

        But, I’m not sure what your point is.

      • LeaNder
        January 18, 2011, 1:35 pm

        Jewish culture from oppressed and isolated (pre-holocaust and pre-state) to its current awkward role as less than fully skilled power.

        could you give us your honest vision of fully skilled Jewish power?

  10. Potsherd2
    January 16, 2011, 3:15 pm

    Sometimes you’re right but don’t need to say so. Maybe that was one of those times. I don’t know, though, cause I wasn’t there.

    But you know, it’s one thing to approve of Arab women modernizing their dress and quite another to lecture them about it.

  11. HRK
    January 16, 2011, 3:30 pm

    I’ve been a seven-year-old with a microphone more times than I care to remember!

  12. Justice Please
    January 16, 2011, 4:02 pm

    Phil, it’s great that you voice your opinions in such circumstances. Every honorable person should do that. If there are no arguments between intelligent people, what purpose does it all serve? Please don’t ever lose that seven year old with the microphone inside you.

    The smart thing to do is to know when to stop. But never stop before you even started.

    • Jim Haygood
      January 16, 2011, 7:33 pm

      ‘Please don’t ever lose that seven year old with the microphone inside you.’

      Hell, no. Next time bring along a portable amplifier to plug it into.

      And an electric guitar. And a spliff to pass among the audience …

  13. Kathleen
    January 16, 2011, 4:35 pm

    I have talked with Muslim women about their dress and have found the conversations very interesting. Granted these are all women studying at a university.

    Choice is the key..education both about pressure to cover up and pressure to let it all hang out. Women under far far more pressure than men.

    Killing us softly
    link to video.google.com

    Still Killing us softly
    link to cambridgedocumentaryfilms.org

  14. Kathleen
    January 16, 2011, 4:52 pm

    “I said I had once lectured Arab women about covering themselves on this site and now I think, what a fool’s game. We are two secular Jews in New York, isn’t it idiotic for us to be lecturing Arab women on the other side of the world about their customs and dress?”

    Education, education education…choice choice choice. Billions being spent convincing women to wear shoes that they practically kill themselves wearing, fuck up their backs, hips etc. Billions spent on advertising thongs, tits hanging out etc. Do you lecture these women? Do your friends?

    Women in the U.S. pressure to have breast, nose, hip cellulite surgery. A billion dollar industry.

    Look at this issue from many sides

  15. Kathleen
    January 16, 2011, 5:16 pm

    History of male circumcision
    link to en.wikipedia.org

    I have never been one to stay a long time at a party that is all polite conversation…boring…really boring.

    As I’ve gotten older it has gotten worse or better according to some. Too much polite, too much let’s not step on each others toes. Now granted I generally do not open up the door first especially in sensitive situations, but if someone opens up the door I generally will go through. If I determine the person can not handle a good healthy debate will often turn away. Done respectfully and with open ears and mind these discussions can be great.

    But if Phil has really told Muslim women how to dress then this is a bunch of hooey. I have talked with both Muslim women and men about how our culture deals with sexuality in a destructive way and ask questions about what women and men feel about the requirement to cover up? More questions than telling and also being inclusive and honest about the “get naked, let it all hang out, its all about freedom, billion dollar fashion industry bullshit in this country. All needs to be talked about.

  16. jon s
    January 16, 2011, 5:35 pm

    (I’m back after a busy time dealing with personal stuff. Also – I attended the Saturday night march and rally in TelAviv in defense of democracy, in the face of the ugly rising tide of racism and fascism. The Israeli Left is , hopefully, out of hibernation and back in the streets.)
    On topic: Does anyone else notice a slight contradiction between the attitude towards the traditional Moslem female dress code -which is to be respected- and towards the traditional Jewish custom of circumcision -which is ridiculed, as expressed by some of the posters here?
    And Phil, referring to the Talmud as bs: I wonder if you would use similar terms in regard to sacred texts of other faiths, such as the Koran.

    • Gellian
      January 16, 2011, 6:57 pm

      “Does anyone else notice a slight contradiction between the attitude towards the traditional Moslem female dress code -which is to be respected- and towards the traditional Jewish custom of circumcision -which is ridiculed, as expressed by some of the posters here?”

      No. Both are evil and wrong. I don’t ridicule circumcision. I pity the poor kids whose parents do it to them, and I pity the parents who think they are doing right by their kids. But it’s definitely not a laughing matter, and certainly not ridiculous.

      The Muslim dress thing is bad, too. Evil. There, I’ll say it. At least the burqas are; myself I dislike those head veils pretty bad, too. But those can come off, so I don’t see much of an equivalence there to circumcision. A better comparison with the head scarves are those Jewish ‘Rachel wigs’ that you see women wearing in certain circles. I asked my wife to get one because I thought it was showed she respected me, and she nearly slapped me. As she should have. They’re oppressive, like the head scarves.

      But not on par with circumcision, no way. And sorry Jon, that your parents thought it was right for you. But don’t you wish they’d left that decision up to you?

      • annie
        January 16, 2011, 7:25 pm

        evil? don’t you think that is a tad extreme gellian? what is your definition of evil and what is worse than evil? anything?

      • Gellian
        January 16, 2011, 7:35 pm

        Nope, I don’t think the oppression of women is a good thing, no I don’t. Ditto circumcision performed on infants. I think it’s evil. Don’t tell me I’m more of a feminist than you, annie. But maybe I am. The problem with leftists is that they don’t believe in evil. Even those skyscrapers coming down, that’s just because poor Osama had a tough upbringing, eh?

      • annie
        January 16, 2011, 8:08 pm

        I don’t think the oppression of women is a good thing

        iow, you think all muslim women wearing the hijab do it because they are oppressed? do you hold the same standards for jewish orthodox women?

      • Donald
        January 16, 2011, 11:27 pm

        “The problem with leftists is that they don’t believe in evil. ”

        A worthless and inaccurate generalization. Some lefties object to the term, some don’t. Some who object to the term clearly believe that some things are right and some are wrong.

      • tree
        January 17, 2011, 12:00 am

        Don’t tell me I’m more of a feminist than you, annie. But maybe I am.

        I’d say you aren’t. You don’t seem to recognize its all about choice. There is nothing inherently evil about a hijab. Nor anything inherently oppressive about it. Its a matter of choice. Does the woman have a choice, and is it her own, in whether to wear the hijab? If she’s forced to wear it against her will, that’s one thing, but some women choose it freely. And look at Kathleen’s statement above. If you don’t understand that American women are pressured to wear certain items of clothing and look a certain way, then you aren’t really a feminist. You’re just another guy(gal?) who thinks that he(she?) can tell Muslim women what to do. And that is very un-feminist.

        I would guess that most Muslim women are concerned about more important measures of equality and liberation than the hijab- like education and income. And if a Muslim woman chooses to wear the hijab, its really more oppressive and presumptuous of you to tell them that they shouldn’t be wearing it because YOU think its “evil” . Because, of course, its all about you and not about them.

      • annie
        January 17, 2011, 12:51 am

        Don’t tell me I’m more of a feminist than you, annie. But maybe I am.

        gag me w/an f’ing spoon. the assumption you know what’s best for women, you judge their clothing as oppressive by your own standards, you choose to not address the same standards for jewish orthodox women, needless to say christian nuns. whatever. you’re a hypocrite. tell me christian nuns are evil why don’t you. i at least have the sense to assume most women choose what to put on in the morning. sure there are many who do not but there’s no indication muslim women dress everyday under duress than do western women. there are standards everywhere and women are expected to conform in many cultures all over the globe. you want to talk about evil? the women of iraq dressed much more secular prior to our invasion. islamic influence in gaza was financially supported by israel. coincidence? not one bit. study coin theory. support extremism and push it to the fringes. isolate and divide, there’s your evil.

        tree,

        I would guess that most Muslim women are concerned about more important measures of equality and liberation than the hijab- like education and income.

        hell yes, and the survival of their people. gazans are marked for genocide and surviving the best they know how. who am i to judge any one of them? i can’t believe we are even having this discussion. gellian is like a dinosaur lecturing us about the freedom of women while supporting a racist fascist state who bombs these women’s families. i reserve the concept of evil for the worst of the worst. file gellian w/those who accuse others of hate. for hatred and evil fall into exactly the same category.

        for more on informed understanding of the western degradation of muslin women i recommend a post by sameeha from gaza.

        Internationals and My Mother

      • annie
        January 17, 2011, 1:33 am

        i don’t object to the term, i object to it being used in a undiscriminating fashion generalizing it to the point of rendering it trivial. obviously genocide is evil. but adhering to religious tradition if you are a person of faith is not inherently evil. ascribing evil to wearing certain garments irregardless of whether that is a choice, especially for only one religion..that’s more than irresponsible or naive, it is racist.

      • Gellian
        January 17, 2011, 7:23 am

        “You don’t seem to recognize its all about choice. There is nothing inherently evil about a hijab. Nor anything inherently oppressive about it. Its a matter of choice. Does the woman have a choice, and is it her own, in whether to wear the hijab?”

        I don’t get it, tree. I say burqa, you read head scarf. (Annie’s an even more careless reader of what i write, so no reply for her.)

        Do you think, seriously, there are a lot of women want to wear that burqa? Probably a few do. But c’mon. Give me a break. You want to see your wife, or your daughter, or your sister (or hell you, if you’re a woman) wearing one of those sinister things? I cry bullshit. No way.

        I equated the headscarf/hijab with the rachel wigs that Jewish women wear. You think they all want to wear that? Think again, buster. Ask a few when hubbie ain’t around.

        And comparisons between wearing burqas and women in the West starving themselves or piling on the makeup are stupid. The latter are doing it because they feel like they have to. The former can get killed or arrested for not doing it.

        Last point, since I bet your blood pressure is rising by now. You say, “if a Muslim woman chooses to wear the hijab, its really more oppressive and presumptuous of you to tell them that they shouldn’t be wearing it because YOU think its “evil” . Because, of course, its all about you and not about them.”

        Nope, wrong. It’s not about me at all. It’s about humanity. The headscarf thing is a personal dislike of mine, and if a woman wants to wear it — wants, that is, and isn’t pressured to do so by her husband or father — fine. She ought to do it. I still dislike it. It’s not about my tastes in that case. I just seriously question that even a significant minority of women really want to wear that thing. Just look at Turkey, a nice secular Islamic-majority society. Count the number of hijabs you see. Then look at Iran, a very different Islamic-majority society, and count up the hijabs.

        The number speak for themselves.

      • Kathleen
        January 17, 2011, 2:21 pm

        “i at least have the sense to assume most women choose what to put on in the morning”

        Growing up wearing uniforms for 12 years of my life (Catholic schools) I had no idea until I was raising three daughters what a blessing it was. That training freed me from being obsessed with clothes, the way I looked and how people interpreted or did not interpret what I wear or wore. Also helped me develop more of a discerning attitude towards our media and the manipulation of women and spending through the fashion industry. Raising three young women during the late 70’s into this century was another story.

        Far more pressure on young women to expose their budding sexuality by showing as much skin as possible the last 30 years than when I was growing up.

        I stand by the education education education of young women and men about women wearing hijabs etc. Women being sold that getting naked on the front of magazines is the way to go. Or women spending billions of dollars trying to look the way some multi billion dollar fashion industry corp has told them they need to look.

        Education education education…study the history of hijabs covering up, the reasons why, study the fashion industry. Then choice especially when women or men are of age

      • Kathleen
        January 17, 2011, 2:23 pm

        “Do you think, seriously, there are a lot of women want to wear that burqa? Probably a few do. But c’mon. Give me a break. You want to see your wife, or your daughter, or your sister (or hell you, if you’re a woman) wearing one of those sinister things? I cry bullshit. No way.”

        I have talked to Muslim women who do choose to wear the burqa/hijab/head scarf.

    • yonira
      January 16, 2011, 7:55 pm

      I think it boils down to an attitude of respect for Islam and a general attitude of disrespect for Judaism by the posters here, Phil included.

      • tree
        January 17, 2011, 12:04 am

        I think it boils down to an attitude of respect for Islam and a general attitude of disrespect for Judaism by the posters here, Phil included.

        That’s because you are ignorant of the fact that male circumcision is an Islamic tradition as well.

      • yonira
        January 17, 2011, 3:40 pm

        what are you talking about tree? my comment was a response to

        On topic: Does anyone else notice a slight contradiction between the attitude towards the traditional Moslem female dress code -which is to be respected- and towards the traditional Jewish custom of circumcision -which is ridiculed, as expressed by some of the posters here?

        Follow the thread.

      • tree
        January 17, 2011, 4:41 pm

        Logic. Yonira, logic. The disagreement about circumcision is not just focused at Jewish custom, since it is an Islamic custom as well.

        Therefore, YOUR statement ,

        “I think it boils down to an attitude of respect for Islam and a general attitude of disrespect for Judaism by the posters here. “

        is either spoken out of ignorance on your part that what is being “disrespected” in your view is not particular to Jews, but occurs among Muslims as well. (And among those non-Jewish non-Muslim people who practice it for totally secular reasons, as well.)

        If you weren’t ignorant of that fact, then your statement makes even less sense, since you would be aware that criticizing circumcision is NOT “respecting” Islam anymore than it is “disrespecting” Judaism. So, which is it? Ignorance, or you just making another false and stupid charge? Your choice. Really, take some logic courses.

      • yonira
        January 17, 2011, 4:55 pm

        Tree,

        If you can say with a straight face that you think Judaism is shown the same respect as Islam by the commenters on MW, you are blind.

      • Gellian
        January 17, 2011, 7:28 am

        “I think it boils down to an attitude of respect for Islam and a general attitude of disrespect for Judaism by the posters here, Phil included.”

        Well, that’s certainly true, yonira. No point speculating why. What I can’t figure out is why freedom for palestinians has to necessarily be attended with paeans to their lovely culture. Can’t we argue that as human beings, they ought to be released from Israel’s boot while at the same thinking their culture is not something we necessarily like? Likewise, as a religion Judaism is false and nutty, but no more so than any other, and certainly less nuts than Christianity or Islam. And Israeli culture is definitely more to my taste. That still doesn’t mean Israelis should steal Palestine, tho.

      • Woody Tanaka
        January 17, 2011, 2:14 pm

        “Likewise, as a religion Judaism is false and nutty, but no more so than any other, and certainly less nuts than Christianity or Islam…”

        I don’t know about the “less nuts” part. Each is extra nutty in some ways, less nutty in others, and Judaism has some really nutty practices, in my opinion.

      • Psychopathic god
        January 17, 2011, 2:51 pm

        Thomas Jefferson had some pretty thoroughly developed thoughts on the relative merits of Jews and Jesus:

        Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus, Compared with Those of Others.
        . . .
        II. Jews.
        1. Their system was Deism; that is, the belief in one only God. But their ideas of him and of his attributes were degrading and injurious.
        2. Their Ethics were not only imperfect, but often irreconcilable with the sound dictates of reason and morality, as they respect intercourse with those around us; and repulsive and anti-social, as respecting other nations. They needed reformation, therefore, in an eminent degree.

        III. Jesus.

        In this state of things among the Jews, Jesus appeared. His parentage was obscure; his condition poor; his education null; his natural endowments great; his life correct and innocent: he was meek, benevolent, patient, firm, disinterested, and of the sublimest eloquence.

        The disadvantages under which his doctrines appear are remarkable.
        . . .
        1. Like Socrates and Epictetus, he wrote nothing himself.

        2. But he had not, like them, a Xenophon or an Arrian to write for him. . . . On the contrary, all the learned of his country, entrenched in its power and riches, were opposed to him, lest his labors should undermine their advantages; and the committing to writing his life and doctrines fell on unlettered and ignorant men, who wrote, too, from memory, and not till long after the transactions had passed.

        3. According to the ordinary fate of those who attempt to enlighten and reform mankind, he fell an early victim to the jealousy and combination of the altar and the throne, at about thirty-three years of age, his reason having not yet attained the maximum of its energy, nor the course of his preaching, which was but of three years at most, presented occasions for developing a complete system of morals.

        4. Hence the doctrines he really delivered were defective as a whole, and fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us mutilated, misstated, and often unintelligible.

        5. They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian sophist, frittering them into subtleties, and obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor.

        Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us which, if filled up in the style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man.

      • Shmuel
        January 17, 2011, 4:03 pm

        Jefferson’s argument seems illogical – judging some monolithic (past?) image of Judaism as in need of “reformation … in an eminent degree”, while cutting through all of the chaff of historical Christianity to rescue the imagined fragments of an idealised, historical Christ. The arguments could easily have been reversed.

        Jefferson’s slightly older contemporary, Moses Mendelssohn, was far more generous in his assessment of Christ, in Jerusalem (while defending Judaism from claims such as those made by Jefferson). Then again Mendelssohn wasn’t as free to criticise Christianity as Jefferson was to criticise Judaism.

    • annie
      January 16, 2011, 8:21 pm

      Does anyone else notice a slight contradiction between the attitude towards the traditional Moslem female dress code -which is to be respected- and towards the traditional Jewish custom of circumcision -which is ridiculed, as expressed by some of the posters here?

      oh, at first i thought you were going to say something along the lines of “Does anyone else notice a slight contradiction between the attitude towards the traditional Moslem female dress code -which is to be respected- and towards the traditional Jewish female dress code which isn’t even mentioned?”

      just thought i would point out that to you circumcision is about ‘traditional Jewish custom’. certainly the VAST majority of the people on this planet who are circumcised are not doing it for a “traditional Jewish custom” nor are the VAST majority of people who have issues with it doing so because of, as gellian speculated, anti semitism.

      i can assure you when we made the decision to not cut our son ‘jewish’ was the last thing on our minds and i can guarantee you when my brother was circumcised in 1955 jewish tradition didn’t enter into it. being uncircumcised used to be relatively unusual in this country, now it is normal. that has nothing to do w/jews. it has to do w/information just like the trend in breastfeeding has to do w/information. get a grip people.

    • Matthew Taylor
      January 16, 2011, 8:35 pm

      Jon-
      I am a Jew, and I have a right to criticize this custom, just as I have a right to criticize Zionist militarism. Furthermore in my generation circumcision was performed on 80% of baby boys, regardless of the religion of the parents, Jews are a small percentage (3%?) of the total U.S. population. I was circ’ed in a non-religious, secular, hospital setting. It is sexual mutilation, torture, and a human rights violation. Why should anyone “respect” that tradition? It should be ended. It is as loathsome as slavery, ritualistic rape of women, or any other form of violent oppression of the defenseless.
      Go read here for the truth:
      link to matthewtaylor.net
      For Jewish perspectives:
      link to jewsagainstcircumcision.org
      From their website: “We are a group of educated and enlightened Jews who realize that the barbaric, primitive, torturous, and mutilating practice of circumcision has no place in modern Judaism.”

      • annie
        January 16, 2011, 8:41 pm

        i’m on pins and needles wondering if jon will insinuate it’s racist to criticize the ancient tradition of circumcising women/not.

    • Danaa
      January 16, 2011, 9:20 pm

      jon s – a “slight” correction is due – muslims males are also circumcized as a matter of religious custom, just at a different age. So not all criticism of circumcision is about singling out of the Jews, but is about a health-related practice that people are questioning the necessity for, whether religious or not.

      The context brought up by annie is that circumcision as something performed matter of factly on every newborn boys is neither necessary nor advisable. As for those who want to do that to their children as part of a religious ritual, it should remain as their choice, though I see no harm in trying to educate them to the drawbacks.

      Generally, I think it is best to compare apples to apples – the orthodox jews’ dress and head coverings versus say. the muslims’. Hijab vs the wig, beards vs beards, frequesnt daily prayer against frequent daily prayer. The observant jews who wears a kippa and keeps kosher can be compared to the observant muslim whose wife wears a scarf and who keeps halal. Both observant jews (certainly orthodox) and muslims place a high value on modesty in dress for women.

      The point people have been making here, and Phil alluded to, is that it is hardly fair that a secular person – of one background – will choose to denigrate one specific custom of those belong to another religious traditional of , using that as a put down of that entire way of life. it’s especially offensive when the criticism or ridicule of scarf/hijab wearing women are voiced by perfectly secular jews, when their own religious variety wear every manner of head gear.

    • Kathleen
      January 17, 2011, 2:56 pm

      Thanks.

      did Phil call other sacred texts as well as the Talmud “bullshit?”

      I will but did Phil? Granted interesting “bullshit”

  17. eljay
    January 16, 2011, 7:50 pm

    >> PW: It is very beautiful, he said, it is the most intense and meaningful discussion. I said, It’s bullshit. He said, It’s bullshit!!? … I said, Halacha is 613 rules they’re discussing about how to lead your life and apart from ones like, Feed the animals before you feed yourself, which is a beautiful rule, a lot of them are pure bullshit. It has no meaning whatsoever to the lives that we have made for ourselves. Like we have violated about 20 of the rules coming in the door tonight, and eating with non-Jews on the Sabbath…
    >> I regret both arguments because I went off, became too passionate. … My wife was quiet when we got in the car. She says the whole point of social engagement and manners is to make other people feel at ease and wanted. She used her worst term of abuse on me: you were a seven-year-old with a microphone.

    I get your wife’s point – that social engagements are about “getting along” – but kudos to you for speaking up in a situation where most people would simply smile and nod and agree politely (and hypocritically).

    >> annie: evil? don’t you think that is a tad extreme gellian?

    Yes, evil does seem a tad harsh a word. Stupid is more appropriate. People who will snip their – or their children’s – penises, or cover themselves so as to be invisible to others, simply because a “gawd” told them to, is neither noble nor important nor profound nor respectful. It’s stupid, pure and simple.

    Ooops, was I supposed to just smile and nod? :-)

  18. Elliot
    January 16, 2011, 8:00 pm

    WJ
    There are two Judaisms (more, but for now, just the two): The tribal Judaism that accepts the Talmud as holy writ and the reform Judaism that is groping its way in the dark to a future that it is unsure of, for whom the Talmud is “meaningless” or “meaningfully irrelevant”.
    So, the world of Judaism is, tribal fundamentalism or a bunch of irrelevant gropers in the dark. Great.
    Why is it that Israeli Jews have such contempt for American Jews?
    These Reform that you despise – actually, your definition covers pretty much all American Jews besides a very small hardcore tribalists (to use your term) – turn to the Talmud for inspiration and are polite enough to ignore the rest. It’s actually an ancient Jewish tradition to dip into older texts in a discerning manner. 2,000 years ago the founders of rabbinic Judaism were already sanitizing Biblical texts, lifting up what was uplifting and ditching the rest. The traditional Jewish prayerbook is full of partial and/or airbrushed Biblical passages.
    Of course, the mysogyny, chavisnism and massively irrelevant discussions about pin-headed dancing angels and the like should be ignored, but there are also incredible insights in Talmud. As ridiculous as it may be, it is also important towards understanding the mindset of the tribalists.
    As Shmuel wrote, the humanity of people who lived many centuries ago shines through the Talmud and contemporary Jewish works. I find that stuff interesting.

    Also, no one’s suggesting we censor Greek myths because their premise is often ridiculous and they indulge in all manner of outrageous behavior.

  19. radkelt
    January 16, 2011, 10:29 pm

    I recently attended an annual PeaceAction fund raising dinner (select
    audience, no?). After a wine or two I asked some of the casually encountered, (within an appropriate context) if it might not be time to question our financial support of Israel, especially given the difficulties
    facing our less fortunate. People were polite, professed unfamiliarity with
    the issue and drifted away. My fly was zipped, I did not have salad clinging
    to my lips, nor had I trespassed on a cultural face space or halitosis free zone.

    It is a monumental challenge to raise awareness of vital issues within a
    context demanding conformity, but such an enticing circumstance.

    I suspect your familial relationship will ultimately be reinforced by this
    event, some discord is enhances intimacy.

  20. pronomad
    January 16, 2011, 11:14 pm

    I’m with you on this one Phil. There’s a lot of misinformation out there (boy, if only I had a nickel for every time I had to confirm that no, all Arabs are not Muslim), and when the opportunity presents itself, well, it’s hard to resist. Some people talk sports, some people talk books…you talk Mondoweiss, and we are the better for it.

    Of course you’re passionate; can’t have a revolution without emotion.

  21. jon s
    January 17, 2011, 7:00 am

    Circumcision has, for thousands of years, been a core element of Jewish identity. In times of persecution Jews were willing to give their lives, to die, rather than forego circumcising their sons. Anyone who has attended a “brit” knows that it’s a celebration of love, of Jewish continuity and survival, not of mutilation, and no-one has ever proved that performing the procedure on 8 day old infants leaves any lasting trauma (unlike female genital mutilation).
    I’m against coercion: as far as I’m concerned people can wear whatever they want, period, and perform whatever rituals they feel like. However, with regard to small children, we constantly make decisions for them. We decide what to feed them, dress them, etc. The decision to circumcise or not is the parents’ and there’s no neutrality here (“I’ll leave it up to the kid to decide when he grows up”) :for Jewish parents to decide not to circumcise is in itself a significant statement.

    • Woody Tanaka
      January 17, 2011, 1:58 pm

      “…no-one has ever proved that performing the procedure on 8 day old infants leaves any lasting trauma…”

      Except, of course, the fact that a functional portion of the penis has been perminantly removed is, itself, a “lasting trauma.”

      “However, with regard to small children, we constantly make decisions for them. We decide what to feed them, dress them, etc. The decision to circumcise or not is the parents’…”

      Parents are permitted to make decisions for their small children, but the law rightly recognizes that that right is not unlimited. No parent, for example, has the right to pay someone to chop off the tip of a baby’s pinkie finger for aesthetic or religious reasons. Some simply don’t see any reason why the ideals which form the reason why such a thing is impermissible should not also apply when “pinkie finger” is changed to “penis.”

    • Psychopathic god
      January 17, 2011, 2:58 pm

      In times of persecution Jews were willing to give their lives, to die, rather than forego circumcising their sons.

      and yet —

      Theodore Herzl did not have his only son circumcised.

    • pjdude
      January 17, 2011, 8:27 pm

      what ever you want to call it kids still getting the tip of is wang cut off

  22. eljay
    January 17, 2011, 7:50 am

    >> The decision to circumcise or not is the parents’ and there’s no neutrality here (“I’ll leave it up to the kid to decide when he grows up”) :for Jewish parents to decide not to circumcise is in itself a significant statement.

    The statement is: “In order to ensure that this child grows up with beliefs similar to those of the ‘collective’ of which I am a part, his indoctrination will begin shortly after his birth, starting with a ritual that is significant to me and to my ‘collective’. Hevven forbid he should grow up with his foreskin intact – or that he should remain otherwise unindoctrinated – and decide that he doesn’t want to be part of my ‘collective’…or *shudder* that he does want to be part of some other ‘collective’!! It’s simply not enough for him to be a good person and a productive member of society!”

    :-)

    • Elliot
      January 17, 2011, 8:42 am

      eljay –
      You didn’t answer Jon S’s main point, that parents choose in many ways to inculcate their children with their values, group identity, p0litical inclinations, class sensibilities and whatever else they can.
      It’s one of the universally accepted prerogatives of parenthood.

      • Potsherd2
        January 17, 2011, 2:27 pm

        There is some dissent to that “universal accepted prerogative.”

  23. eljay
    January 17, 2011, 9:02 am

    >> … parents choose in many ways to inculcate their children with their values, group identity, p0litical inclinations, class sensibilities and whatever else they can.

    Yes, they do, and it’s a shame. Rather than indoctrinating kids with religious, racial, sexual, political, class or other ideologies, parents – to the best of their abilities – should be concerned with:
    – feeding and clothing their children;
    – protecting them from (physical, psychological) harm;
    – ensuring as broad an education / as much access to information as possible; and
    – instilling in them universal humanistic morals and values.

    • Elliot
      January 17, 2011, 1:20 pm

      eljay,
      Your approach to parenting is one particular ideology, but it doesn’t account for real life.
      How do you organize your affinities? Nuclear family, extended family, like-minded people, the disadvantaged, the leaders in the fields you admire etc., or do you mix that order up. Which charities do you support and how much do you give to each one?
      We all have smaller and larger circles of affinities. These are our tribes.
      Giving a child a strong cultural/religious identity is certainly a parent’s prerogative. How do you know you are not denying your child something valuable – which cannot be fully compensated for later – by denying that.
      I know any number of people who regret that their parents did not give them string religious experiences as children. Of course, there are many who regret having got too much of that as kids.
      That’s why your particular set of parental concerns (including what’s not on your list) amounts to a particular ideology.
      Other people have other ideologies.

      • eljay
        January 17, 2011, 1:45 pm

        >> Giving a child a strong cultural/religious identity is certainly a parent’s prerogative. How do you know you are not denying your child something valuable – which cannot be fully compensated for later – by denying that.

        You assume that indoctrinating a child with a specific cultural/religious identity is a valuable thing. I believe it’s better to teach the child about the various cultural and religious identities that exist in the world and let him decide which one(s) – if any – he wishes to adopt when he’s ready to do so.

        >> That’s why your particular set of parental concerns … amounts to a particular ideology.

        – Feed and clothe your children.
        – Protect them from harm.
        – Provide a broad education and offer them as much information (or access to information) as possible.
        – Instill in them universal humanistic morals and values.

        As far as “ideologies” go, I’d have to say it’s a pretty good one. :-)

        >> Other people have other ideologies.

        No kidding. Of course they do.

      • Elliot
        January 17, 2011, 2:47 pm

        Eljay,
        Good for you that you know your ideology is better than others. There’s another universal prerogative for you.
        But, again, you don’t address the questions. Do you actually live out your ideology? Of course, you have tribal affinities. They are just different. For instance, how do the children in your ideological school experience your judgement of other ideologies? your relative ranking of circles of affinities?

      • eljay
        January 17, 2011, 3:39 pm

        >> Good for you that you know your ideology is better than others. There’s another universal prerogative for you.

        I didn’t say it’s better, I said “it’s a pretty good one”. But it does strike me as more inclusive and open-minded than some (most?) others. YMMV.

        >> But, again, you don’t address the questions. Do you actually live out your ideology? Of course, you have tribal affinities.

        You appear to have a fixation with “tribes” and “tribalism”. I don’t know what you want to hear – or what you’re trying to get me to say – about how I “live out my ideology”, but what I do is try to be a good person, to respect others, to lend assistance when I can, to read and learn, et cetera.

        Not sure what “tribe” that puts me in, but the view is nice and the people are friendly. :-)

  24. virtual lab
    January 17, 2011, 10:54 am

    Prerogative? Used to be in the foreskin, though most children have a safety valve , they will create their own reality, and if not accepted, rebel

  25. Mooser
    January 17, 2011, 11:52 am

    I, too am always lecturing women about the political implications of their sartorial choices. It is a well-substantiated fact that Western women wear way to many clothes, which prevents their skin from breathing. And brassieres and panties are proven vectors for disease-bearing cooties! ” Take ‘em off, take ‘em off!”, cries a voice from the rear, but Queenie’s a lady, and she stops just in time…. Oh sorry!

    He, Phil, get some new friends. Or you are gonna end up getting in fights, as you disparage the ideas in your friends that you once held so dear, just a few short minutes ago.

    Face it Phil, you simply do not have the ability to think for yourself. That’s why you get so mad, because you see yourself in these people and don’t like it.

    Ah, but when you come to your senses, and realise thaty tribal East-coast upper-middle-class Zionism and sensibility is indeed the highest form of life-stylish, what a great day that will be! All will be forgiven, and you will be welcomed back into the fold, and it’ll put your wife back in her place!

  26. Kathleen
    January 18, 2011, 11:18 am

    “Ah, but when you come to your senses, and realise thaty tribal East-coast upper-middle-class Zionism and sensibility is indeed the highest form of life-stylish, what a great day that will be! All will be forgiven, and you will be welcomed back into the fold, and it’ll put your wife back in her place!”

    Are you serious?

    If I may quote Annie above (@63) “gag me w/an f’ing spoon”.

  27. virtual lab
    January 19, 2011, 1:00 pm

    and she let me rant and rave, embraced me to calm me down, and said come in to me have no fear, it is only microphone, and all was forgiven.

    Gosh you are lucky Philip !

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