Monday, September 19, 2011

Stuff Like This Makes It Hard To Take Bibi Seriously

So, remember that whole thing where Bibi refused to negotiate with the Palestinians unless they were prepared to recognize Israel, as a Jewish state? Remember how this was so important, so fundamental? Yeah, not so much.

First, just goes to show the guy is all talk. Clearly, a dealbreaker is not a dealbreaker. If it's in his power to give it to you, he will, provided you pressure him enough. The mistake Obama made when he called for a settlement freeze was not that pressuring Netanyahu was per se a bad idea, but that pressuring him in this instance would have no effect, as a full settlement freeze was impossible for Bibi to deliver at the time.

Second, as much as Likudniks want to say that this whole UN resolution thing is a waste of time, the fact is that it's clearly paying dividends already for the PA, as they've managed to move Bibi farther in the last week than in the last year. Imagine how much progress Israel could have made if their PM wasn't just being obstinate for obstinacy's sake! (It's not as if there was any principle behind his recalcitrance.) What's amazing to me is that Israel would actually be in a worse position if they had a PM with balls.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Showtime > Aish Fakers

Meh. The Showtime! guys do it on a crowded moving train. Also, Lenny Solomon is typically not involved.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sex and Values

Avi Woolf, guest-posting at Hirhurim, has a veeery stimulating article up, entitled, "Does Modern Orthodoxy Not Believe in Fun?" In part, I found what he said very interesting, because, basically, yes, Modern Orthodoxy does not believe in fun, nor does any denomination of Orthodoxy. Oh sure, they all believe in the value of recreation, i.e. "letting off steam", but this is typically understood as only being allowed insofar as it prepares you for doing further mitzvos. In other words, it's the difference between having fun and being a robot who's instructed to initiate Fun Sequence Alpha.

But that's not my main point here. As the title of this post suggests, I want to talk about Sex and Values. The connection to Woolf is in the comments to his post, where all the Hirhurimites get into the question of television and movies, and the gratuitous sex they (frequently) display. Although the whole thing is being vigorously argued, everyone seems to agree that the sex and pritzus in modern media today is immoral, disgusting and not in keeping with Torah values.

It is this notion I'd like to push back against.

First, a simple question. What does sex, per se, have to do with morals? Sure, you can do sex morally, or immorally, but that goes for anything. I can assault people morally, and I can help little old ladies across the street immorally. So what do we mean when we say scantily clad women on the TV are teaching bad values?

Consider, if you will, that Modern Orthodoxy seems to be converging on the idea that homosexuality is not immoral. G-d made gays with homosexual urges, and that's not their fault. Similarly, gay sex is not really immoral, either. If a guy can't control himself and slips up, he hasn't committed an immoral act. There's nothing evil going on. No one is hurt. To the extent that he's committed any immoral act, it's that he has violated his own personal code of conduct (i.e., to observe the Torah), and this is really more of a derivative moral transgression than an actual one.

This is more groundbreaking than first appears. If we say that gay sex, neither the desire to accomplish it, nor the deed itself, is per se immoral, then why doesn't that logic extend to heterosexual relations as well? And if the act itself is not immoral, then neither is the desire to perform the act, I assume. Because, at bottom, sex is a really fun thing to do. Really really fun. In fact, if either of my readers have taken monastic vows of celibacy, I strongly urge you to reconsider. And because it's a rather fun and enjoyable activity, people want to do it a lot. I don't see anything immoral there, either.

Obviously, the Torah has imposed many limitations on the practice of sex, and that's fine and all, but where is the immorality there? The fact that the Torah prohibits something doesn't really make it immoral. The Torah forbids me to have sex before marriage, but if I did, how have I acted immorally, other than the fact that I have gone against the Torah? In other words, if I live like a character from one of those shows on the CW (sex-wise), where have I acted immorally, exactly?

And if there is no immorality, what exactly are we afraid of letting into our living rooms through our televisions? Are we afraid that Junior will see 90210* and think, hey, "maybe I should have numerous beautiful sexual partners?" There's nothing really immoral about this behavior, nor do I see anything particularly disgusting in it either. Provided Junior treats the various women in his life with the respect due another human being, what do we care? Obviously, it's true that the Torah probably proscribes such conduct, but the Torah also prohibits driving a car on Saturdays. We let Junior see that all the time.

Perceptive readers will note that I've kind of conflated morals and values. In other words, just because I believe something conflicts with my values, does not mean I must find it immoral. Fair enough, but let's drill down on this and see if we can find any useful distinction.

To the extent that values and morals are not the same thing, I think we would say that morals means having to do with basic principles of right or wrong, while values refers to those things that keep in accordance with a set of rules, or the spirit of a set of rules, by which we've decided to conduct our lives. So, while having sex with numerous supermodels who are clearly too old to believably act in overwrought dramedies may not be immoral, it still violates our rules, and we value those rules, and we don't want to be exposed to their continued violation, even if, admittedly, those rules are, from our perspective, somewhat arbitrary (by which I mean we don't know G-d's plan, or why He prohibited certain things and not others).

Which is fine, and yet, it's curious to me that none of the commenters at Hirhurim raised the objection that it was wrong to watch TV because of the gratuitious chillul shabbos. Nor did anyone bemoan the lack of ma'aser in contemporary prime time programming. Which suggests to me that, at bottom, the distinction between sex and chillul shabbos has very much to do with morality. Which leads us back to the original question. Where's the immorality with sex, even gratuitous sex?

* For the record, I do not watch 90210.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Request for Information

I'm only in my mid-20s, and don't have the institutional memory required to answer this question. My kind of understanding was that the Jewish Press turned completely super-Republican (meaning economically and culturally, as opposed to in matters pertaining to Israel) after 9/11. My thinking is that a lot of Jewish Clinton/Gore Democrats became Bush Republicans. And this explains today's near-complete overlap between Jewish Press writers and the editorial staff of National Review and WorldNetDaily. Is this true? Or was the JP always solidly Republican?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Is the Talmud Anti-Christian? Who Cares?

Steven Plaut asks if the Talmud is anti-Christian. He then proceeds to answer his own question in the negative (with an assist from Gil Student), by muddying the waters as to whether any of the Jesus-like characters encountered in the Talmud are actually Jesus, when they might in fact refer to J├ęsus, his non-union Mexican equivalent.

Alright, but leaving aside the obvious point that this doesn't really answer the question (I don't think Mein Kampf has many references to Woody Allen in it, and yet, it's probably anti-semitic), we must ask ourselves, who cares? Let's stipulate that the Talmud is anti-Jesus. Are Christians going to be pissed off? Why? Is it news to them that Jews don't like Jesus, especially the Jews they believe killed Jesus (i.e., the Jews of the Mishnaic age)? Don't they think that if we thought Jesus was all that, then we'd be Christians, too?

Besides, it's not as if the New Testament, the Christian Bible, isn't anti-Jewish. And I suspect far more Jews have come to harm from Christian anti-Semitism than Christians have been injured by Jewish anti-Christianism. So what are we so ashamed of? Maybe the Talmud doesn't like Christianity. Duh. What of it?

Friday, September 2, 2011