Friday, March 30, 2007

A small potpourri before Pesach:

1. My son just got home from his first week of basic training. He is in one of those "controversial" machlakot in which yeshiva boys are integrated with chilonim, rachmana litzlan. Two chilonim for every yeshiva bochur. Of the 21 "chilonim", 13 are dati. Two of the three direct commanders (makim) are dati, as is almost the whole junior chain of command above them. Soon the oligarchy will start treating the army like chotvei eitzim and shoavei mayim.

2. I spoke at the Torah uMadda conference yesterday. The most prevalent response was "that wasn't a lecture, it was a shiur klali". I got the message. Next year, I'll prove that evolution is wrong and chazal invented the Internet.

3. Justice Minister Daniel Friedman's proposal to change the judicial appointments committee is utterly worthless and might even make things worse. He wants to replace two of the three Supreme Court justices on the committee with retired Appeals Court judges and add the head of vaadat chukah and a professor(!). Until they add (at least) Knesset ratification, they are wasting our time with cosmetic changes to a fundamentally undemocratic system.

4. Can somebody explain to me why people in million dollar houses can't just throw out or give away twenty dollars worth of noodles and breakfast cereal before Pesach? It drives me bonkers that people spend the GNP of a small country to fly to another time zone for Pesach and then ask shailos about what time the fictitious sale of their soup nuts should take effect.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I remember well the day I took our oldest to his first day of first grade. It was an extremely loaded experience for me. I felt our little boy was beginning ever-so-slightly to slip away from us. Would he be well treated? Would he be able to take care of himself? So many doubts, so many fears. When he couldn't see, I shed a few tears. (He managed just fine.)

I had awfully similar feelings tonight when I sent that little boy off to his first day as a paratrooper in the IDF.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I just returned from a brief visit to the alter heim, the main purpose of which was to speak about Religious Zionism at a conference sponsored by YU. It was quite fun. I won’t review the whole event, just a few highlights.

My friend Kalman and I were up first and it was the most lively session. Kalman and I have been arguing about this stuff for the last twenty-five years so the presentations were rather well rehearsed. I’ve gotten used to my own anti-mamlachti arguments, so I was a bit surprised at the number of people who assumed I was just trying to be some sort of “gadfly”. The comments were generally reasonable and constructive, even if a bit predictable (Religious Zionist ideology is sometimes useful, government involvement in religion is sometimes useful, Yeshayahu Leibowitz sometimes said smart stuff about this topic, etc.). All we need to do now is agree about when “sometimes” is.

One commenter was DZ, who has been a high-ranking Defense Department official. I was quite astounded by his coldness, arrogance and humorlessness. He absolutely creeped me out with both his manner and the content of his remarks. (There is no self-perpetuating secular elite in Israel; he even met the editor of Haaretz in the Great Synagogue.)

Many of the other speakers and respondents said interesting things. It was remarkable how friendly and polite the discussions remained even when there were sharp disagreements. It is a credit to the civilizing effect of the United States that even the Israelis felt obliged to remain civil in the heat of debate.

On Friday, I davened shacharis in a big shul in Teaneck and kabbolas shabbos in a shtiebel in Flatbush.

The differences are obvious but shallow. In the shul in Teaneck, having gone to Camp Munk or Agudah or Torah Vodaas, wearing a hat, davening with just a hint of an Eastern European accent and having but a mild tendency to sarcasm, might mark you as a chnyok, while in the shtiebel in Flatbush, those are all signs of modernity.

But in either place money talks and it talks in American vernacular. (My mother described the women's section of that shtiebel as having more fur than a mink farm.)