Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why I Tell My Friends It’ll Be 1964 All Over Again

Listen to the two smartest Republicans alive foretelling the end of this Republican campaign. In all honesty, if McCain had a fighting chance before last Friday, he absolutely disintegrated with the Palin pick. The national vote may be close, but I see the Dems picking up 4-5 new states where no presidential democrat has walked in quite a while.

Listen to the exchange off-camera between MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan, when the show has gone to commercial. Early on, Noonan says “It's over.” Then she says, “I think they went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives… but what's the narrative?”

And Murphy says, “You know what's really the worst thing about it? The greatness of McCain is no cynicism and this is cynical.”

Couldn’t put it better myself.

McCain Swiftboated – At Last

I’ve been asking for the past 18 months why the experience of getting shot down during a mission of bombing civilians in Hanoi, and then sitting in a bamboo cage for five years, prepares you for the presidency. But maybe I wasn’t qualified to pose the question. Maybe there’s something in the experience of prison which builds up your ability to plan energy policy and economic renewal. But if that’s really the case, maybe our politicians should serve their prison terms before, not after they get elected. But I digress.

Dr. Phillip Butler knew McCain as a fellow POW. He makes all the points I thought needed to be made, except he doesn’t mention the Keating Five fiasco or the part about ditching your car-accident victim wife for a prettier, richer woman. But what Butler says is enough to stir the conversation in its proper direction.

Please don’t let John Sydney McCain anywhere near the red button!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Publisher’s Labor Day BBQ a Huge Success

The Ben Yehuda Press annual Labor Day picnic was the best so far. Larry and Eve Yudelson, who own the not-so-fledgling-any-more publishing house, presented a satisfying program, comprised of members of their stable of authors, and two of their children, who sang and read with amazing talents, reminding the authors in the crowd of the old rule of the stage, never work with animals or kids.

I’ll probably go into more detail later, when I go through the business cards I stashed in my other shirt pocket, but for now let me tell you, I had HUGE loads of fun. Especially since I got to read for the first time from the print version of The Cabalist Daughter. But I have to say, I had even more fun reading and engaging the audience in the chapter on abortion from How Would God really Vote.

I’ve also decided, once and for all, to start the work of translating Dancing and Crying, which I co-authored in 1994, detailing the last two years in the life of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Might even be a cute gift package, Dancing and Daughter, part one as the non-fiction, part two as fiction, the perfect gift for the upcoming holidays.

Like Jimmy Carter said to McCain: Milk it for all it’s worth…

Monday, September 01, 2008

Klinghoffer’s Abortion Distortion

In a few hours, I’ll be reading this segment from Larry Yudelson’s and my new book, “How Would God Really Vote.” I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Having read the chapter titled: Abortion: A Litmus Test, I must say that Klinghoffer is a decent writer, and he manages to do a lot with the scant support in scripture for his position. So I sat down and put together a reasonable response to Klinghoffer’s argument on how God votes on the abortion issue. But before I get there, I must share with you what Joseph Farah had to say about the book.

Joseph Farah is one of those Internet commentators whose diatribes your right-winger neighbor in shul is likely to send you until you threaten to filter out his emails. It was therefore a pleasure to read Farah’s disappointment in Klinhoffer’s effort: If that is a “conservative” agenda, I’m glad I am not a “conservative” but rather an independent-minded American faithful to the U.S. Constitution and guided by his own understanding of God’s Word.

[, June 4, 2008]

Farah is a pro-Israel Lebanese-American, and his attack is purely ideological and cannot be lamed on anti-Jewish sentiment. The fact that I can’t stand his writing doesn’t make it invalid. Millions of Christians and Jews adore him (see paragraph 3).

But Farah’s attack exposes the fundamental problem in Klinghoffer’s methodology, as he tries to pawn off a rabbinical approach to Torah text on a wide public that has no recognition of its roots nor its validity. Throughout the chapter, Klinghoffer mixes Biblical citations (accepted by Jews and Christians) with rabbinical citations (accepted only by Jews, and even then not all of us, really). It has to be a losing effort when it comes to fundamentalist Bible thumpers like Joseph Farah.

I actually loved Farah’s taunt of Klinghoffer the Conservative wannabe, specifically on the abortion chapter. Farah writes:

Here’s how I believe God would have us vote on [abortion]—and why: …There are many familiar passages of Scripture that have been used to show that killing unborn children, the most innocent of life, is not God’s way: Psalm 94:21, Ecclesiastes 11:5, Isaiah 59:7, Genesis 42:22, Proverbs 28:13, Deuteronomy 21:9, Psalm 139:13-16 and Luke 1:41-47 to name a few. But to make this simple, every time the Bible refers to a pregnant woman, it says she is “with child.” We don’t talk like that any more in our 21st century American culture because we don’t want to acknowledge the child until the day it is born—if it is allowed to be born. But check out how often the Bible refers to women “with child”: Genesis 16:4, Genesis 19:36, Genesis 38:24, Exodus 21:22, 1 Samuel 4:19, 2 Samuel 11:5, 2 Kings 8:12, Isaiah 26:17, Mathew 1:18, Mathew 1:23, Luke 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:3 and Revelation 12:2.

I don’t know from Revelation, Mathew, or Luke, but I did look up Farah’s citations from the Jewish Bible, which are way more extensive than Klinghoffer’s, but are about as credible about abortion as the evangelical proof that Jesus is mentioned in Jewish scripture. Total rubbish.

Psalm 94:21— . “They gang up against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the blood of the innocent.” The psalm is about how God will punish the wicked some day soon. How the verse is more about the killing of fetuses than about any other innocent person I fail to understand.

Ecclesiastics 11:5— . “Just as you do not know the way of the spirit or the bones in the pregnant belly, likewise you do not comprehend the works of God who makes everything.” And how is this a prohibition against abortion? Sheer nonsense.

Isaiah 59:7— . “Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood, their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.” A pattern emerges: Every time Farah spots innocent blood, it’s gotta’ be a fetus. Interesting idea, especially when juxtaposed with the Christian idea of Original Sin, which suggests them fetuses is full of sin like the worst among us, un-saved folks…

Anyway, so Farah employs the evangelical tradition of raping the Biblical text until it gives up the ghost. I mean, he even brings Genesis 42:22, where Reuven cautions his brothers not to kill the child, as if the sons of Jacob were in the middle of an anti-abortion rally (the child in question is, of course, Joseph, who was 17 at the time, a story Farah should know, as he shares a first name with the lad).

The reason I’ve digressed so much with the Farah citations is to show what happens when you just roam in the scriptural text, picking verses that seem to fit your opinion. If, on top of it, you’re working from a translation of the Hebrew, you’re very likely to stray in both comical and tragic fashion. Unlike Farah, Klinghoffer is, ostensibly, bound by rabbinical tradition, which scorns that kind of unsubstantiated cherry picking, because the latter often yields grossly inedible cherries. So Klinghoffer’s search of legitimate Biblical comments on abortion ends up with this begrudging admission:

A liberal Bible interpreter, meanwhile, could confront us with the most troubling passage for the pro-life cause, Exodus 21:22-25, which has the merit of being a legal text.

You know something? Whether you’re a liberal interpreter or a troubled pro-lifer, why not read the verse as is? By the way, the strictly abortion-related verses are only Exodus 21:22-23: If men fight, and hurt a pregnant woman, so that her children exit her, and yet no tragedy follows, they shall be surely punished, according to what the woman’s husband will lay upon them, as determined by a judge. And if tragedy follows, then you shall exact a life for a life.

Klinghoffer stops short of taking the text to its logical conclusion, but, supposedly because he’s no liberal interpreter, would not declare the obvious kal vachomer1 (That’s a fortiori, for those of you who prefer your major-to-minor arguments described in Latin rather than Hebrew) here: If when you hit a woman accidentally and she loses her fetus you’re not a murderer, then of course if you extract her fetus with her consent you’re certainly not a murderer. There’s no other conclusion from this passage vis-à-vis the legality of a doctor performing an abortion. If he does it without consent he pays damages, if he does it with consent he probably should get paid for his trouble.

Now, the fact that the Torah does not call for the execution of abortion doctors does not mean that it promotes the use of abortion, most certainly not as a means of birth control. I do agree, then, with Klinghoffer’s assertion:

Though liberal Jewish groups, I’m sorry to say, like to cover this up, the rabbis of the Talmud, contemplating America in the opening decade of the twenty-first century, would say the hundreds of thousands of such murders are being committed by Americans against unborn babies every year.

I’m not so sure the rabbis of the Talmud would be describing abortions as murder even if they were suddenly resurrected in our time, but without a doubt they would have frowned on such a widespread practice. But the rabbis probably would also have differentiated the relative value of gentile and Jewish fetuses.

I’m not sure how they would have dealt with the notion of “pro choice,” which presupposes a woman’s ownership of her body. Intuitively, I would have assumed that the value of life and the duty of preserving life are so paramount, they supersede the claim of self-ownership. Yet the Talmud is not explicit on the prohibition of suicide, which is another example of executing self-ownership. Our rabbinical strict anti-suicide decisions are post-Talmudic. In fact, the Talmud

entertains cases in which suicide is not only permitted but encouraged (yehareg u’bal ya’avor).

Of course, sanctioned suicide is not the same as suicide by choice. Rather, these are cases of suicide for the sake of avoiding the transgression of one of the three superior laws (blasphemy, murder, and illicit sex), which could be interpreted to mean that we do not own our bodies, since on some rare occasions we are obligated to relinquish them. But an examination of later authors on this question of necessary suicide (or permitting oneself to be killed)—most explicitly in Maimonides’ Igeret HaShmad—reveals a reluctance to demand of Jews to be martyred rather than be forcibly converted (blasphemy). Maimonides states that one who does not rise to the challenge of martyrdom, and abandons Judaism under duress, is not considered an apostate and does not deserve any degradation or punishment.

So perhaps it can be said that Maimonides does offer tacit recognition of a personal choice regarding the preservation of one’s life when faced with defilement through a super-transgression.

All of which spells bad news for Klinghoffer, whose agenda, to remind you, is turning God into a card-carrying conservative.

So Klinghoffer picks Genesis 9:6 to try and promote his cause. On its face, the verse is as abortion-related as those Jospeh Farah quotes: He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man.

Klinghoffer brings a Talmudic citation from Rabbi Yishmael, which offers a different punctuation: He who sheds a person’s blood inside a person—his blood be shed. So we should extend the death penalty even to those who kill a fetus, which is the only “person inside a person.”

The problem with citing a single argument out of a huge, multi-page Talmudic discussion of the death penalty, is that it deprives the reader of an awareness of the numerous other arguments which do not make this point, and also of an appreciation of how minute this opinion is within the flow of the discussion. It also obscures the fact that the discussion is of the death penalty for gentiles, and that Rabbi Yishmael’s opinion concerns only a gentile who performs an abortion.

One thing is for certain – there is no suggestion, not even a hint, that the sages considered abortion a capital offense. As Menachem Elon—who authored the Encyclopedia Judaica article which Klinghoffer relies on extensively in this chapter—put it: “Thus abortion, although prohibited, does not constitute murder (Tos., Sanh. 59a; Hul. 33a).”

A bit later it’s a pleasure watching Klinghoffer trying to sell the rabbinical concept of the fetus being considered viable only after 40 days in the womb. But one loses one’s benign tendencies after reading the entire chapter and realizing the author has dealt with a whole bunch of esoteric stuff, even mixed in a citation from Paul John II, but neglected to discuss the central rabbinical argument in favor of abortion.

The basic Talmudic priorities regarding a conflict between the life of the mother and that of the fetus are delineated by Rashi on Sanhedrin 72b:

Regarding a woman having a difficult birth which threatens her life, the midwife may insert her hand and cut up the fetus and extract it in pieces, because as long as it hasn’t come out into the world it is not considered a living being and one may kill it to save its mother.

This is the core of our belief in the rabbinical permission to perform abortions. Not because the fetus isn’t a viable person until the 40th day of gestation, but because it is not viable until the very end of gestation. When it has taken its first breath it has become equal to its mother, two living human beings each with the right to life. Until it has completed its exit from the womb, even if it is stuck halfway, as long as it hasn’t taken a breath it’s still part of Mommy, and, sadly, we would terminate its life to save Mommy’s.

In other words, not only do the Rabbis permit late-term abortion, they actually base their entire understanding of the legal relationship between mother and fetus on the late-term conflict between those two lives, one which is fully realized and one which is still only potential. And in rabbinical law we always go with the life we have, not the life that might appear in the future.

Klinghoffer’s most serious offense against the reader is not the cherry picking and the quoting out of context, which are the tools of his trade.

It is his intentional deletion of the most important rabbinical ruling concerning the rights of a pregnant woman: She is superior to her fetus and may choose to terminate its life in extreme cases. How would God vote, then, pro-choice or pro-life? Pro-choice, with the obvious proviso that abortions must only be used as a last resort.

God would very likely avoid the pro-life candidate, because their position deprives women of their essential rights.

McCain Move Seals Obama Speech Zing

The adage about being too smart by a half worked very nicely in Obama’s favor last Friday. Remember how the McCain campaign was “stealing his thunder” by diverting the media’s attention from his Thursday night’s acceptance speech to the hype of anticipation for the Republican VP announcement? They played the media, sending false text messages, lying regarding the whereabouts of various potential candidates for the job (and making many new enemies in the process) – and, indeed, they managed to divert public attention big time from the speech to the pick.

Now, there were two typical responses to Obama’s speech: The campaign savvy response, such as that of Pat Buchanan and Mike Murphy, both old Republican war horses, who couldn’t conceal their admiration, seeing the speech as the powerful weapon it was in advancing the Dem campaign. And then there was the reaction of speech writers, also Republican, like Peggy Noonan and Bill Safire, who gave the speech a fairly low grade, saying it was short on both facts and poetry.

And you know what? Noonan and Safire were right. And while the usual Foxnazi claptrap may no have gotten much track outside the Ditto realm, a more serious critique of Obama’s speech could hurt the Dem candidate because, let’s face it, his speech really was short on facts, packed with conjecture and almost brutally unfair – like a good campaign speech should be.

Had the McCain campaign waited until the first day of their convention to announce the VP, the media would have bitten and chewed the speech, and would have at least dulled down its glow in the memory of many viewers. But they chose to overwhelm the media with their Alaskan beauty queen move and with that virtually sealed the overall acceptance of the Buchanan-Murphy view, that the speech was the most amazing of its kind in presidential history (as Buchanan put it, more or less). That is now the common impression among some 38 million viewers. Not a bad thing at all.

Once again, the McCain campaign has shown it is long on tactics and painfully short on strategy.