Saturday, April 16, 2005

Say what you will about the Mets, you've got to admit they're interesting this year. Here's why.

There are two ways to be mediocre. You can be mediocre like Ed Lynch or you can be mediocre like Armando Benitez. Ed Lynch pitched for the Mets in the early and middle 80's. He was a .500 pitcher with an ERA of about 4.00. He was never going to be any better than that and, in his prime, not much worse. Consistent mediocrity. Benitez was/is mediocre in a totally different way. At his best, he's unhittable. At his worst, he's catastrophic. But he's interesting because there's always the hope of something fantastic happening.

The Mets over the past few years were like a team of Ed Lynches. Ty Wigginton, Rey Sanchez, Jason Phillips, Jeromy Burnitz and company had no chance of ever being great. This year's team is like a bunch of Armando Benitezes. I won't go through the roster but if you know baseball, you know what I mean.

It's perfectly fitting that instead of randomly winning and losing at a .500 clip, this team would lose five in a row and win five in a row.

One worrisome thing is that the Mets have won a couple of games playing small ball and they're liable to start to believe that stolen bases actually matter. They don't. If Reyes hits .300 with an OBP of .300, no amount of stolen bases will turn him into a decent offensive player.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A lot of politics this week. Yesterday was the second meeting of vaadat chukah in the Knesset on religion and state. Predictably, the discussion bogged down on marriage and divorce. The proposal, which I mentioned in my previous post, was that a person cannot marry unless they are currently unmarried according to both civil and religious law. (It refers to "religious law" rather than halachah, to include other religions.)

The unstated background is that there would be two marriage tracks: a religious one and a civil one. There is great pressure for a civil track due to the large number of people ineligible for religious marriage as well as the many people who simply don't want anything to do with rabbanim. In halachic terms, the civil track would simply be pilagshus, a topic on which I have blogged earlier, here and here. (They're calling it brit zugiyut; the term pilagshus doesn't sound too good to the modern ear.) A crucial assumption of this idea is that pilagshus would not require a get. Whether this is the case or not is an interesting halachic question that I hope to get back to soon.

The Reform gang made a big stink about including the "right to marry" in the constitution because they are afraid that without such a right, this plan leaves them out in the cold. (Their marriages are neither civil nor religious in the intended sense.) A very natural question to ask is why we should go along with this. The answer is that the current situation is untenable and if we don't come to an agreed solution we will end up with something way worse. In particular, we need to prevent
1. a brit zugiyut that creates safek kidushin
2. heterodox marriages that create safek kidushin
3. single-sex civil unions

[The next ten paragraphs were just eaten by the computer gremlins and I'm now tearing my hair out. I'm going to give the short version this time around.]

The Mafdal (Mizrachi) MKs and their braintrust (a term I use loosely) met today to consider getting involved, at long last, in the constitution process. All four speakers, including me, tried to persuade them that they have a lot to lose if they don't. Unfortunately, most of them are old guys who don't want to learn new tricks. As for the rabbanim, one of the young ones said about the older ones, "they'll let the whole country fall apart rather than compromise; all that is important to them is the right to say yadenu lo shafchu et hadam hazeh."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Yesterday's meeting in the Knesset's law committee (vaadat hukah) was an extremely important one. It was the first meeting devoted to religion and state in the constitution. RG is in charge of all the sections dealing with "principles" and her approach was to begin the discussion at a high level of abstraction. (BTW, I'm using initials not because this information is secret -- it's a matter of public record -- but simply to prevent casual ego-surfers from quickly finding my thoughts about their work. Anybody who cares to make any effort can easily determine whom I'm refering to.) Very quickly, though, the discussion got quite concrete.

The two MKs who have been most consistent in attending the meetings and contributing are RC of Shinui and AR of Yahadut HaTorah and they both immediately began sparring. Both are very decent and fair-minded people who genuinely wish to find common ground. (This is not true of the other Shinui MK on the committee who is a Shulamit Aloni wannabe; last week, when the issue of kibbutz galuyot (ingathering of exiles) arose, she began to shout "That's so passe, passe, passe!". Even the far lefties' jaws dropped.) Anyway, when it was my turn to speak I revealed the true fact that in my separate conversations with AR and RC, they had in fact pretty much agreed on all the difficult issues. I outlined the compromises that need to be made for some reasonable consensus to be possible.

The main points are these:

1. We need to avoid speaking about principles and restrict ourselves to concrete issues. People can't compromise their principles; they can agree on practical arrangements.

2. We also can't get too detailed; the constitution ought to set the guidelines for finding solutions, not provide the solutions themselves.

3. The anti-clericalists will have to concede that religion is a legitimate basis for advocating legislation. Legislators can, of course, choose to reject such legislation but they can't appeal to freedom from religion to disqualify it. They can appeal to considerations of equality and other constitutionally protected rights to disqualify legislation -- or, rather, to appeal to the Court to disqualify it -- but there will be no blanket protection from religion. On the contrary, the preservation of Jewish tradition will be enshrined in the constitution as a national value.

4. The power of the religious establishment needs to be limited. In particular, the rabbinic monopoly on marriage and divorce is a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of Russians whose self-identity is Jewish but who are not halachically Jewish can simply not get married. In a nutshell, the proposed solution is to retain (orthodox) rabbinic control of gittin for those who are married al pi halachah. For marriages, other options -- civil unions -- can be explored (at the statutory, not constitutional, level).

Predictably, the last item provoked the most intense debate. The Mafdal is understandably opposed to the whole idea of civil unions. But in the end there will be no choice. The real battle lines will be drawn around the questions of intermarriage and homosexual marriage. Those will be bloody battles. My bet is the Mafdal will win on homosexual marriage (I certainly hope they do) but will lose on intermarriage because they have no solution for the Russians.

On the other hand, I never thought I'd live to see an MK from Shinui practically jumping over the table to defend me against a Reform Rabbi attacking me for not writing civil marriage into the constitution. But that's exactly the way it was.