Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category

Obama & Spielberg Make the Same Mistake

In Holocaust, Obama, Spielberg on June 5, 2009 at 12:50 am

A liberal was once defined as someone who would sleep in the crack of a bed to save a marriage. I always wanted to unpack this little ditty from a Talmudic perspective. What would be the result of such an intervention?

Does it mean, he makes a cold peace by keeping the parties close, but not too close, providing the buffer that makes co-existence possible?

Or does it mean that the intervening party is about to get ___________ (fill in a synonym for violated in an unseemly fashion. Propriety doesn’t allow me to fill in the blank, but you get the point.)

Once again, Obama made the classic historical error. His speech implied that the Jewish right to homeland is intrinsically tied to the horrors of World War II Europe. The Arab street response is cogent. “Give the Jews East Germany then.” If Obama wishes to argue for the Jewish State’s legitimacy, he is going to have to go back further than the 1940’s. He has to be willing to argue that for over two thousand years of exile, Israel was the focal point of Jewish longing.

The founders of Israel knew this and placed two thousand years of exile front and center in the national anthem as the poet declared התקוה בת שנות אלפיים “The hope borne of two thousand years”. This was the problem of Spielberg’s film Munich. He, too, argued that the Holocaust compelled the world to give the Jews a state of their own. Maybe so, but the logical conclusion of Spielberg’s argument is not necessarily a Jewish Island amidst a sea of Arabs.

In the academy, viewing Israel as an outlaw state that has no right to exist is not considered a radical position. The every fifteen minute invokers of the Holocaust have legitimated it–even among many Jews. The sins of Europe do not justify Jewish “colonialism” in the Middle East has become an academic truism in anti-Israel circles.

The modern world of realpolitik is uncomfortable with ancient memory, and, so it seems is President Obama. But if he wants to some day get out of that bed he has just invited himself into, he better get intimate with some ancient history, or better yet–Christian that he is–let him get out his Bible.

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Obama takes an unwitting cue from the Rambam on Education

In Education, Maimonides, Obama, Rambam, Synagogues, Tzedaka on March 13, 2009 at 3:26 pm

My understanding is that even though No Child Left Behind had some positive impact, the implementation of standards was never followed up with the funding that was promised. It is clear, however, that Obama is going to put serious money where his mouth went this past week.

Years ago, I collected several sources from the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah regarding his priorities for what were considered essential communal services.

In Hilchot Matanot Aniyyim Laws of Tzedaka, He states that every Jewish community has to have a community fund to take care of the poor, and acknowledges that he never heard of a community that didn’t have one.

In Hilchot Shekhaynim, Laws regarding good citizenship, he states that citizens can force each other to contribute to the building of a synagogue and the purchase of a community Torah scroll.
Note the injection of coercive language that was absent from the community fund.

In Hilchot Talmud Torah, Laws of Torah Study, he commands that every town must hire a teacher for their children, and if they don’t we put a ban on the town, and if they still don’t, we destroy it.

Why is the most coercive language saved for educating children? The Rambam knew that if one didn’t have an educated population, soon enough one would not have synagogues or community funds. Education is the foundation of civility, success, and communal memory. It is where we are reminded of our connections to each other and the value of a collective enterprise. A school is where these messages are reinforced. Obama’s right! Education reform, in the long run, is the most critical of all his goals and it can’t wait.

Just look at the most dispossessed of peoples and their profound adaptability when only a text kept us together for nearly two thousand years, then one may understand, “Why are you Jews So Smart?” Click on the link for the Rambams in question.