Friday, October 22, 2004

Who was a better second baseman, Ken Boswell or Horace Clarke? Who was a better outfielder, Cleon Jones or Roy White? I'm sure these earth-shattering questions were not argued over by anybody with greater ferocity than they were by my friend AS and me back in the Olden Days. He was a diehard Yankee fan and I was just as big a Met fan. Actually, even though he's now a Rosh Yeshiva in LA and I'm a professor in EY, we've only mellowed a teeny bit. (For example, I would no longer take the position that George "The Stork" Theodore was as good as Reggie.) I am proud to say that when I woke up this morning and checked the score, I resisted the impulse to dial his number just to make choking sounds. But, still, are you telling me you wouldn't take Kaz Matsui over Derek Jeter? Be honest, for a change! Yo!

Friday, October 15, 2004

When once Rabbi Akiva, the greatest halachic authority of his time, tried his hand at aggadah, his colleagues responded Akiva, mah lecha etzel aggadah, klach etzel nega'im ve-ohalos! which very roughly translates as "What business do you have with agaddah? Stick to the technical stuff!" (Sanhedrin 38b). Their point was that even the greatest expert in halacha is not necessarily a master of all disciplines. Rabbi Akiva's foray into politics also did not end well.

I mention this because it has been reported that former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Kahana-Shapira and about 50 other Rabbanim in the Kooknik wing of the dati-leumi camp have called on their numerous students serving in the IDF to refuse orders to evacuate Jews from Azza. Now, I have posted earlier that I am convinced that all the reasons proffered by the government for evacuating Azza are bogus. It's a bad idea. But for influential Rabbis to call for mass refusal to obey orders is a way worse idea. Mass refusal will cause an irreparable rift within the IDF and within the country. Everybody with a gripe will refuse to serve. And even if not, commanders will no longer have the luxury of assuming compliance, which itself is debilitating enough to render an army ineffective.

Here are the arguments offered in favor of, nevertheless, calling for mass refusal (along with my skeptical comments):

1. The offense being committed is severe enough to justify risking the consequences of refusal.
Indeed, were the expulsion simply an ideologically-motivated attempt by a vengeful oligarchy to sacrifice a minority they don't care for, this argument might have merit. Such things happen around here, but I don't think this is the case now. Of course, those who believe that any withdrawal is by definition an ideological offense, regardless of the circumstances, view things differently.

2. This is a bluff designed to force the government's hand; it isn't intended to be realized.
What if it fails? Worse, what if it succeeds?

3. The left started.
This is oh so true. Amos Oz and Yossi Sarid swore that they'd lie in front of the tanks if Arabs were ever expelled. Refusal to serve in Judea and Samaria receives ongoing favorable coverage in the mainstream media. They're a bunch of bastards and they asked for it. Now they're getting it. BUT, spite is a privilege of those who don't wish to wield true power but rather to play the role of kibitzers or, at most, spoilers. If the religious right aspires to more than that, it needs to act responsibly, not just score debating points.

I don't wish to play the role of ma yafis here. I'm really more of hot-under-the-collar guy. I know as well as anyone how creepy the elitist makhers who run the country really are. But somebody needs to tell our wise men: ma lachem etzel politika, klach etzel nega'im ve-ohalos.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Authenticity is hard to define but you know it when you see it. Roughly speaking, it is the opposite of imitation. The Kotzker was a great fan of authenticity, as in the following vort:
The gemara says that "many did as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai did [devoting himself solely to the life of the spirit] but did not succeed". The Kotzker asks why they should not succeed since surely that path is a meritorious one. He answers that imitation -- even of one as worthy as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai -- just doesn't cut it (nokhgemakht toigt nisht).

The quest for authenticity is generally regarded as a modern phenomenon and is not without its critics. Critics on the right equate authenticity with self-fulfillment and see the quest for authenticity as a threat to the social order. Critics on the left regard the very notion of identity as an artificial construct and so view the possibility of authenticity as a chimera. (They're just a bunch of nisht farginers. If you're sufficiently self-aware that they can't patronize you, you must be possessed of false consciousness.)

Many early chassidishe thinkers were keenly sensitive to the dual threat posed by the quest for authenticity: subversion of social order and false consciousness. The Pshischa (I don't give a damn how the Polaks spell it) line, which reached its apotheosis with the Sfas Emes, does not sweep either of these problems under the rug. But everything gets neatly tied up with the following argument: the only true identity is one that radiates out (albeit differently for different people) from an internal point (nekudah pnimis) which yearns for dveikus with its creator. So, indeed, what passes for authenticity is in fact fake unless it is rooted in a yearning for dveikus which can only be realized through Torah and mitzvos. (George Costanza: Do you ever yearn? Jerry Seinfeld: No, but I sometimes crave.) Thus the true quest for authenticity is subversive only of bourgeouis pretense but not of Torah. Convenient, eh?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Ir Hakoidesh has been conquered by the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God crowd and their wardrobes. Can it really be that if not for a fateful decision many years ago that would have been me? Or was some parting of the ways always inevitable? Is my attraction (revulsion) to the decadent hotel scene rooted in an atavistic need to confront an unrealized potential trajectory of my life or in the opportunity for smug self-validation? Maybe it's just the food.