Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Article by BingoProf

I don't just tweet and blog. Sometimes I actually publish scholarly material. Five years ago I delivered a paper at a conference at Bar-Ilan University. Two days ago, I received an actual bound copy of the conference proceedings, hot off the presses. The book is entitled The Convergence of Judaism and Islam: Religious, Scientific, and Cultural Dimensions. It was edited expertly by Michael M. Laskier and Yaacov Lev, and was published by the University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2011. My article, entitled "Jewish Mysticism in the Land of the Ishmaelites: A Re-Orientation" appears on pp. 147-167,  and is one of 16 interesting studies on the general theme of the book. Reuven Firestone liked the book. Good enough for me....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Israel: "Things have never been better"

Whenever I spend time in Israel and hear Israeli after Israeli tell me that "things have never been better," I get very, very worried.

Well, to put it mildly, I am very, very worried that the cocked trigger leading to large-scale violence in the Arab-Israeli conflict is ready to discharge. I really can't go into details just now, but suffice to say that there is an air of self-satisfied exuberance in the current Israeli national swagger which might lead the dull-witted to believe it is true. Israeli PM Netanyahu is more popular than ever; the 18th Knesset's government is self-assured and unafraid; Israel has joined the OECD because its advanced globalized service economy is running on all cylinders; and life expectancy is better than in the US.

The problem is that whenever I've encountered in Israel this level of certitude and confidence, the sky falls in. Israelis become transfixed by a certain "konseptzia" (conception) which time after time lulls them into missing the signs of an impending national crisis. I think we're in one of those times.

State-to-state war is unlikely for the medium term, insofar as neighboring Arab states are engrossed in their own internal madness. But if the 21st century has taught us anything, we must know that asymmetrical warfare can be very destabilizing. Whether it is a 3rd and ferocious intifada borne of general frustration with the comatose effort to bring about Palestine, or a missile downpour from Lebanon or Gaza, I sense in my gut that something is very wrong with this picture. It's nothing I can document or prove -- but I worry when Israelis think "things have never been better."

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Jewish Ledger Bites Back

Over at the beleaguered Jewish Ledger (with a "featured video" from the Michelle Bachmann campaign on its home page) there appears a signed editorial from the owner (-nrg, or N. Richard Greenfield) concerning an incident that I wrote about 2 weeks ago. At least I think it is a response. Hard to know what it is. Go read it, then come back.

Here's the sentence from this unbelievably slimy & self-serving editorial that absolutely made my day:

Even if we had not had difficulty over the years with one of the authors, who uses four letter words in his "blog" to describe our publication and has called for Jewish communal leaders to "ostracize and repudiate" the paper, we would have made the same decision.

Let's break that down, as Jon Stewart would dissect the crap that spews forth from Fox News. Please note: this blog you are now reading was referred to as a blog in quotation marks, I guess because my blog really isn't a bona fide blog - can you spot the difference between my blog and all the other blogs on the internet cloud? Is my blog engaging in false advertising? Is this page you are now reading falsely representing itself to be - shall we say - a communal newspaper? No, that goes on over at some other URL.

I was also accused of using "four letter words" (note the plural) in reference to the Jewish Ledger. Gee, I checked and checked again, and damn me if I can only find one 4-letter word in my entire post. And let's be clear - I didn't call the paper SHIT, I merely said it went to SHIT. Big difference. When something goes to shit, it means it has fallen apart, become a shadow of its former self, and disappeared. I looked it up. The phrase, now shortened, originally was "he went to shit and the cows ate him." But let's not quibble. The paper has gone to shit. Oh My! I've used a bad word to describe a once great institution of my community that has gone to shit. Simply inexcusable.

So then I checked my other words. Were there any other 4-letter words? Is "rag" a 4-letter word? Nope, that's three. Is "drivel" a 4-letter word? Hmm...nope, 2 too many. Shit!

I do admit to calling on members of this community to put a metaphorical and economical stake through the heart of the current configuration of the Jewish Ledger by canceling subscriptions and suspending advertising. Proudly guilty of that too. But that's such old history: the lionizing of a rabbi who praised the assassination of an Israeli Prime Minister and mocking a rally to honor Rabin's shloshim. Who even remembers that shit?

"Over the years"? I wrote one letter 16 years ago and canceled my subscription and haven't said a peep since. This is my 199th blog post, and I've been doing this for 5+ years. Have I even once mentioned the Jewish Ledger? Shit, no!

So let's dispense with the silly stuff and get down to the original offense: the 3-paragraph letter written by 5 Trinity College professors (some so much closer to AIPAC than J Street I can't even begin to describe) is characterized as "uncivil and disrespectful." Dear reader, please go back and read the original letter in question (for some reason my community's Federation web site thought it not particularly uncivil or disrespectful): can you find one uncivil or disrespectful statement? I don't see the words "rag," drivel," or "shit" anywhere in it! Was anyone slurred in our letter, as Greenfield claimed? SLURRED? Hmm, let's make sure I understand the word "slur.", 3rd definition seems closest: "to cast aspersions on; calumniate; disparage; depreciate." Jeez, maybe I am not as discerning of the meaning of English words as others. Maybe Mr. Greenfield has got a dictionary that defines "slur" as "to disagree." Nice dictionary.

And since the supremely high editorial standards of the great journalistic venture known as the Jewish Ledger (35,000 "subscribers" six times a year; the rest of the time a whole lot less) will not permit its vigilant owner from publishing a letter that is uncivil, disrespectful, and full of slurs, there was only one thing that he could do with a letter from the director of one of the most highly respected academic centers for the study of religion in public life, the director of a Jewish Studies program, the foremost Jewish demographer in the world, and an internationally renowned Holocaust historian -- kill the letter.

Let's put it this way. The owner of the Ledger has one opinion. Five professors (and 2 rabbis I know of, and not a few communal leaders) have another. What makes it into the paper are some of the letters to the editors that agree with the owner's opinion, and of those which disagree - run them on the web site, pull them from the web site - but don't ever let them see newsprint. The owner claims that he received something like a 10 to 1 ratio of supportive letters for his editorial. That's something like Michael Lerner's claim that he received long-winded letters of praise from readers for his awful Tikkun. And let's not forget - for about 24 hours the letter actually appeared on the Ledger web site, and then was retroactively removed (and then the whole site went down - I bet an IT consultant might say the site went to shit - for 2 or 3 days). Let's see, was it civil on Thursday and then uncivil on Friday?

I am going to double down on my so-called "blog" posting and end it with an 8-letter word: bullshit.