Friday, April 30, 2004

Gave a long shiur on masseches kinim last night. Once you understand the structure, the whole mesechta makes perfect sense and the mathematics is accurate and in a few cases quite deep. But overall the experience does not increase one's emunas chachamim. For the simple reason that certain rishonim made an absolute mess of the masechta. (I know that sounds truly arrogant, as if I were some Hartman type, but I'd be less than honest here if I didn't say what I feel very deeply on this topic. On the other hand, as will become clear in subsequent posts, I think humility is a far greater virtue than honesty. But indulge my honest arrogance just this once. The truth is that if this weren't anonymous, I'd probably never allow myself to publish such apikorsus.)

Spent over three hours yesterday at vaadat chukah in the Knesset. Their eminences Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar came to remind the MKs how important it is that they quickly pass a constitution that cedes even more power to the Supreme Court. Barak sternly reminded them that many people haven't yet "internalized" the constitutional revolution that has taken place here. It didn't cross his mind that this failure to internalize might be somehow related to the fact that this revolution is entirely his own doing. The main Basic Laws he uses as a wedge to dictate policy to the government and Knesset are two laws passed in 1992 with fewer than 20 MKs even present at the vote. That non-event has been used by Barak to hysterically expand the powers of the court to include broad powers of judicial review. Imagine the nerve of some MKs not to have internalized all this. Anyway, in the civilized world every court that has powers of judicial review is appointed by elected representatives of the people. Only in Israel and India do judges decide who other judges will be. To be exact, there is a committee of nine that decides judicial appointments here. This includes three sitting judges (all leftists), two lawyers appointed by the Bar(at least one of whom is a leftist), two MKs (at least one leftist by law, since one must be from the government and the other from the opposition), the Justice Minister and one other minister. Obviously, the judges -- who always collude -- are never saddled with anyone they don't like. If they all thought the world was flat, we'd only have Flatearthers for ever and ever. So anyway, Shamgar -- whom I used to think had more sechel -- issues a pronunciamento that the courts must be independent so ideally we ought to have no politicians involved in the appointments process. These people really believe that imprinting their own biases on the court forever is more democratic than letting elected representatives decide such matters. They are convinced that they suffer no biases; they are simply objective professionals dispensing Justice. The rest of us are a bunch of impressionable over-politicized dolts. Scary.

Visited maaras hamachpela Wednesday to celebrate little one's siyum on Sefer Breishis. I don't know how much she got out of it (she's all of six years old) but it raised some interesting thoughts. On the one hand, I was raised thinking of the Avos as mythological characters. Not to say that they didn't exist but rather im anu kivnei adam heim kemalachim. The idea that they were real people who camped out in the very spot we now live is a healthy thing for kids to understand. But I hope it doesn't glide into the current arrogant fashion of putting the Avos on the psychologist's couch. It's a fine line. But driving through Chevron also raised some political questions. On the one hand, the Arabs want to kill us all (and the rest of the world wouldn't give a damn) and we have to be very tough and very resolute and not yield an inch. On the other hand, can having a whole battalion protecting a few Jews surrounded by gazillion Arabs be the optimal defense lines? There are some non-trivial trade-offs to consider here.
Which leads me to this hitnatkut business. I understand Sharon's reasoning. He thinks by making a small tactical retreat we can put ourselves in a more stable position for the long haul. But he's dead wrong. I speak not on ideological grounds but on strategic grounds. Think of it this way. We are precariously perched on a high cliff (think of altitude as representing some utility function, so higher is better). Some distance below us is a narrow plateau. If we jump down to the plateau, we will be in less danger of falling off the mountain (think Geneva or whatever the Europeans and their Israeli lackeys are cooking up for us). I see his point. He forgot one thing: momentum. That plateau (exiting Azza and keeping the rest of Yehudah and Shomron) is awfully narrow and establishing a precedent of withdrawal creates a whole lot of downward momentum. Especially since the Weissglas letter to Rice essentially concedes that all settlement (with no exceptions made for "settlement blocs") will be frozen and monitored by Dan Kurtzer (who as dean of YU drove up in a Volkswagon each day and publicly announced that he would not shake the hand of Menachem Begin, visiting YU as PM of Israel). Anyway, Sharon only has two days to cancel the referendum. If he doesn't he will lose by a wide margin (of course, fraud is not out of the question).

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Fressed too much at the obligatory BBQ. Wasted half a day trying to delete a Trojan Horse from the laptop. Today's best moment was a conversation with a Vizhnitser who wants me to publish his article on certain symmetries in halacha. His approach actually solves some problems in the Rambam's notoriously difficult deoraisa/derabanan distinction. But he insists on tying this in with all manner of idea he picked up in his self-guided tour of books on mathematical logic and philosophy. Yesterday I rather imperiously told him to drop the whole sorry foray into mathematical logic -- the analogy is ill-conceived. Today he wanted to know if I could live with an analogy between symmetry in halacha and Newton's Third Law, since he has a very strong yetzer hara (his words) to discuss divrei chulin. I think we have a deal.

Speaking of ill-conceived ideas, tomorrow I think I'll take up Arik's hitnatkut plan. I'm going on record here as saying that Arik will find a way to make this referendum disappear. I can't wait to see how he pulls it off.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Starting on Yom Ha-atzmaut. An opportunity to get right to some themes that are likely to recur. It's astounding how some people can so completely underestimate the significance of the Medinah. It's astounding how some people can so completely overestimate the significance of the Medinah. Or in any case, they are rather earnest about a lot of very odd rituals invented to mark the occasion. I'm too tired for philosophy tonight but let's just say that when it comes to Zionism there seems to be a very large unstaked middle ground. I'm staking it.
This hints at a larger theme I hope to get back to: too much principle, too much ideology, not enough hypocrisy (huh? I'll explain another time.). Some people need to chill out a bit.