Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jews, Israel and Dual Loyalty

It has been suggested by some that American Jews harbor competing loyalties to Israel and the United States. Jewish spokespeople have consistently, and possibly correctly, denied this concept. In doing so they always ask the question as to why other groups such as Italians or Irish, for example, are not similarly singled-out as having potential conflicting loyalties to their ethnic homelands.

To me the answer is rather clear. Whereas Italians and Irish have a longing for a homeland where their language is spoken, their foods are eaten, where they have memories of their ancestors, this does not apply to the American Jew and Israel.

The Jewish relationship to Israel is not one of an emigrant to his homeland. We American Jews are not emigrants from the Middle East with an immediate ancestral tie to Israel. Our forbears are from Europe, not Israel. Our foods are those of Europe, not Israel, our language is that of Europe, not Israel. Our customs are those of Europe, not Israel.

The relationship of American Jews to Israel is something very different and far deeper. It is not related to culture, to cuisine or language or homeland. Israel is a part of Judaism. Judaism and Israel are not easily separated. The land of Israel is central to Jewish festivals. Biblically Israel is synonymous with the Jews. Jerusalem and Israel are a constant presence in Jewish daily prayers; are in effect, an integral part of the Judaism. Judaism without Israel or Jerusalem is inconceivable. Whether Jews are in Israel or not in Israel, whether they are for Israel or against Israel politically, they can never deny the central position of Israel and Jerusalem in Jewish tradition, and even more importantly in Judaism. Italy or Ireland is not central to Catholicism.

The Jewish-Israel relationship, then, is unique. The question of dual loyalties is therefore not so easily answered.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Is Cardinal Lustiger a Jew?

The New York Times of August 6, 2007 includes the obituary of Jean-Marie Lustiger, former Cardinal Archbishop of Paris and Primate of France. Cardinal Lustiger was born to Polish Jews residing in Paris, and converted to Roman Catholicism as a child. His mother was murdered in Auschwitz.

Aaron Lustiger was born in Paris in 1926 and, in 1940, following the German occupation of France, was sent by his parents to live with a Catholic woman in Orleans. At age 13 he converted to Catholicism, adding Jean-Marie to his name. He always insisted and asserted that he remained a Jew despite his conversion. “I believe he saw himself as a Jewish Christian, like the first disciples,” said a close friend, the conductor Gilbert Levine.

“I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many,” said Lustiger.

In 1995, while the prelate was visiting Israel, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the Ashkenazic chief rabbi said Cardinal Lustiger “betrayed his people and his faith during the most difficult and darkest of periods.” The rabbi dismissed the assertion that the cardinal had remained a Jew. In response, the cardinal said: “To say that I am no longer a Jew is like denying my father and mother, my grandfathers and grandmothers. I am as Jewish as all the other members of my family who were butchered in Auschwitz or in the other camps.”

After the death of Pope John Paul II, there was speculation about Lustiger being a possible successor. “From your mouth to God’s ear” he responded in Yiddish, with his characteristic humor.

Again, the subject of “Who is a Jew” is raised. If there is, indeed, a Jewish ethnic identity, then an individual, once a member of this ethnic group, can never separate from it, no matter how he/she may try. If it is agreed that the concept of a Jewish People exists – this is genetic, not philosophical or religious. It cannot be otherwise.

So here are some clarifying concepts, as I see them:

1. The Jewish People – Individuals with a historic, genetic link to the original Israelites.
2. The Jewish Religion – Individuals who identify with Judaism, i.e. the religion founded by the ancient Israelites.
3. The Jewish Nation (or simply “Jews”) – Includes individuals in categories 1 and/or 2.
4. Israel – the present-day nation-state comprised of members of the Jewish Nation as well as other ethnic groups.

Rabbi Lau, the respected and revered Grand Rabbi, accepts the Holocaust as being God’s justifiable punishment of the Jewish people for believing in the Enlightenment, and founding Reform. I presume that he, then, considers Hitler an agent of God. This intolerant man with an overwhelming capacity to condemn and hate, and very little, if any, capacity to love and forgive, labels Lustiger as “a betrayer of his people.”

A change in philosophy or ideas is hardly a “betrayal.” “Betrayal” implies treason and dishonesty, with a determination to misrepresent or injure the “betrayed” party. If one leaves the Republican Party and becomes a Democrat – he has not betrayed the Republicans. If one decides to become a Reform Jew, rather than remain a Conservative Jew, he has not betrayed Conservative Judaism – merely changed his religious philosophy – as did Cardinal Lustiger.

All Jews, however they are defined, should exercise inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. Lets put an end to the concept of “two Jews, three synagogues!”

Monday, July 16, 2007

What do Polls Really Tell Us

When using polls as a guideline for action, it is imperative to be aware of some important issues in poll taking.

First – how is the question phrased? As example, consider the two questions below, both of which are attempting to evaluate the popularity of chocolate ice cream.

1. Do you like chocolate ice cream?
2. Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla ice cream?

Lets look at the results of the polls and let us assume they were carried out in an accurate and reproducible statistical manner.

Result of Question 1: 95% yes, 5% no.
Result of Question 2: Chocolate 50%, Vanilla 50%

Now lets change Question 2:

Do you prefer chocolate, vanilla, or some other flavor?

Result: Chocolate 50%, vanilla 20%, other flavor 30%

In this simple example it is easy to see how one may interpret the data differently depending on how a question is posed.

Now two more questions on a topic of national interest in our leadership:

1. Do you think President Bush is doing a good job? Yes or no?
2. Had Al Gore of John Kerry been elected instead of President Bush, do you believe that Gore or Kerry would have performed better than President Bush? Yes or No?

Results to Question 1. Yes 30%, No 70%
Results to Question 2. Yes 50%, No 50%

Interpretation of results to Question 1 appear quite clear-cut, but when the question is asked in another way, the results are open to a different interpretation. Take care before reaching conclusions. Consider in your own mind what may or may not have been actually polled!

Second issue – who is aware of all the facts needed for decision-making?

If a poll were taken among high school students regarding whether it is worthwhile to remain in school until graduation, it may show that there is a significant number of students who would rather leave school than stay. Have the students have answered with an awareness of all the facts regarding the pluses and minuses of such a decision?

A poll asking whether we should raise taxes, or leave Iraq, or invade Darfur, etc, asks for decisions to be made by people who most likely have very limited information. The vast majority of the polled public probably has not fully researched all the relative facts required to make an intelligent decision. Many of the answers are given based on “gut” feelings or because of media presentations. For example:

Presentation by Media 1: “2000 individuals lost their lives today.”
Presentation by Media 2: “2000 individuals were slaughtered today.”

In both instances 2,000 individuals are reported to have died, but how one regards the method of dying is quite different.

Individuals who are empowered to make decisions - parents, teachers, lawmakers, jurors, presidents, should make judgments not just on polls, but on the facts and all the facts, needed to make the proper decision – facts of which frequently only the decision-makers are fully aware.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Analysis of Supreme Court Ruling on Late-Term Abortions

What are the essential facts discussed in the late-term abortion case recently decided by the Suypreme Court.

Before the Court was a Nebraska Act limiting late-term abortion procedures. The Act prohibits the employment of certain methods used in late-term abortions and individuals performing such methods are liable for criminal action. These prohibited procedures are specifically described below. The women on whom these methods are employed are under no criminal liability whatsoever.

The Nebraska case involves only those abortions in which a “living fetus is delivered vaginally.” (Called Dilatation and Extraction, or D-E) It does not restrict an abortion of an expired fetus. It also does not apply to abortions via hysterotomy or hysterectomy, nor those involving pharmacological agents, or intrauterine or intravaginal destruction and extraction. The act applies to both pre-viable and post-viable fetuses.

The Act defines this particular form of partial-birth abortion (D-E) as one in which the abortion is performed only after, either the entire fetal head is outside the mother’s body, or in case of breech or other such presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body. If the abortion does not involve the delivery of a live fetus to these anatomical landmarks, these prohibitions do not apply.

This Act states that a physician may not perform an “overt act” that would end the life of the partially delivered “living” fetus. In other words, this “overt act” must be separate from any act involved in the actual delivery and must occur only after the aforementioned anatomical landmarks have been reached. It also applies only if the fetus has been delivered to the landmarks intentionally; if delivered to these landmarks inadvertently, the act does not apply.

The Supreme Court agreed that there are differences of opinion regarding the relative safety of D-E vs. other forms of late-term abortions, and found that there is no firm statistical medical data confirming that one form may be more dangerous to the mother than another. The State, therefore, has the right to take moral issues into account in deciding among these procedures. The State of Nebraska has very explicitly defined a fetus delivered to very explicit anatomical landmarks as a fetus which has “started life” (my words) and therefore, any overt act to end its life approaches infanticide. The Court concludes that the State has a vested moral interest in the preservation of all life, in fact defining the partially delivered fetus as having essentially been “born.”

The Court holds very clearly that it’s ruling applies to this particular case and does not presume to evaluate the maternal indications for other cases. It accepts that the provision regarding “health of the mother” holds here in that there are other available procedures (see above), and that a significant number of physicians agree that prohibiting this one form of abortion would never impose significant health risks to the mother as the other procedures are available to her. Other physicians have disagreed, saying that D-E has “safety advantages” over the other forms of abortion. As previously mentioned, however, the Court found that there have been no proper statistical studies to document the validity of this argument.

The Court decided, based on previous lower court rulings, and previous stare decisis Court rulings that the Court has “given state and federal legislatures wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.

Justice Ginsburg, writing for the minority dissenting, argued that there are clearly circumstances when D-E is the only safe technique. She also contests whether a government’s interest in the preservation of a viable fetal life applies here. She maintains that the act does not further that interest in that no fetus is saved from destruction, no matter what the method used. She then goes on to argue that since the act does not, in fact, preserve any fetal life, and limits a woman’s procedural choice, thereby potentially endangering her life and health, it is unconstitutional.

The majority, in its opening statements clearly re-affirmed it’s holding in Roe v. Wade and in Casey. Roe v. Wade has three main provisions 1) a woman has the right to choose to have an abortion before fetal viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the Sate. 2) The Sate has the power to restrict abortions after viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies endangering the women’s life or health. 3) The State has legitimate interests from the pregnancy’s outset in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child. In this case, though all three are implicated, it is the third that requires the most extended discussion.


It is difficult for me to conclude that one side is right and one side is wrong, I am not informed as to the medical data vis-à-vis the risks of the various late-term abortion procedures. This would be critical. If the Court was correct in stating that there are no statistics to show that D-E is considerably less risky than the permitted techniques, then there could be no medical reason to perform one versus the other. This, however, does not answer the question as to a woman’s right to request what her doctor considers the safest procedure, whatever it may be.

The essential question really boils down to how one feels about the status of a “living fetus” that has already been partially-born, i.e. the head has been delivered, or the body has been delivered up to the navel (in breech presentations.) The Court is basically stating that such “fetuses” are, in fact, either live births, or at least close enough to be considered a live birth.

Talmudic law has, in fact, prohibited termination of “fetal” life in cases where the 50% of the “fetus” has been delivered. Apparently Talmudic law, and now, American law has decided that a partial live birth is no longer a non-viable fetus and is, in fact, to be treated like a born infant, and that destroying such a fetus (or child) approaches infanticide.

The question really becomes a moral one more than anything else.

It is most important to realize, however, that the Court did not rule against late-term abortions, only against D-E - one of several techniques available to carry this procedure out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Patient Rights vs. Doctor Rights

A patient's right to refuse treatment and a patient's right to demand treatment are two very separate concepts. It is akin to comparing a passenger's right to refuse to risk flying in a 'safe' plane with a pilot's right to refuse to risk flying an improperly prepared aircraft even if the passenger demands it.

There are two kinds of medically"unsafe procedures." - 1)the procedure which inherently is associated with a high mortality rate, and 2)the procedure associated with a low mortality rate, but becoming high risk without the available preoperative data required for a successful outcome.

The patient is free to seek other opinions, but has limited right to the performance of unsafe interventions. There is a difference between the two forms of so-called unsafe interventions. The patient may be justified in demanding a procedure that is highly risky, if this is the only available procedure, and can not be safely carried out under any circumstances. But no patient can demand that a physician transform a low-risk procedure into a high-risk procedure by prohibiting him from obtaining the necessary pre-operative information.

In the days prior to modern non-interventional forms of cardiac diagnosis, angiograms, using catheters inserted into the heart, were required for accurate diagnosis of a major cardiac abnormality. No surgeon could be persuaded to operate on a patient (except perhaps in a dire emergency) unless he were satisfied that all the required prereqeuisite knowledge was available in order to safely proceed

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Comments on "Three Atmospheric Studies"

If You Thought War Was a Disaster........

Another anti-war extravaganza. (I've yet to see a pro-war extravaganza.) War itself is bad enough, but Three Atmospheric Studies, Forsythe's bloated banal boring bilge at BAM, just adds to the unpleasantness of armed conflicts.

One's ardent hope to eliminate war is exponentially multiplied just to avoid future claptrap such as this Forsythe fiasco.

Comment on Review in New York Sun (March 2007)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Obligation of Nations in the Enforcement of Human Rights

Interesting points have been raised regarding the obligation of nations in the performance of human rights policing. The argument has been made that it is the duty of nations to interfere when other nations ‘abuse human rights’. The question, of course, is who determines when an abuse exists and when to interfere. Not so easy, especially when it involves the destruction of the lives of soldiers of the invading ‘rights-oriented’ nation.

Let’s analyze a worst-case scenario:

There is a slaughter of a certain minority by a government. Should another nation involve itself in the active termination of this activity using military force? If so, we must explain to the military and its families that our only mission is to end the annihilation of the innocents. OK, but what if our policies fail and the annihilation continues? How long do we pursue our purely humanitarian ends? How many deaths of our soldiers will we tolerate? How long do we remain, and at what expense, in order to insure that the slaughter is controlled. Will we be satisfied to say “All right, we tried, but we can’t do anything more,” and just leave?

Easy to say – “Lets get the bad guys” but not so easy to actually bring about!

Now how about other abuses, abuses that may equal or even surpass killing. Abuses such as:

1) The inappropriate confinement of citizens for political purposes.
2) The inhumane and secret torture of prisoners or other citizens.
3) The application of ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment, such as the severing of hands or feet, the enucleation of eyes, or even, perhaps, the taking of a human life.
4) Enforced limitation of women’s rights including the subjugation of a wife to her husband.
5) Enforced genital mutilation and the abasement of girls and women.
6) Limited rights and freedoms for people to determine their own destinies, including such laws as compulsory birth control, limited travel, enforced abortion, infanticide, opportunities for only a particular class with enforced relegation to poverty, disease, and despair for others.
7) Denial of basic human needs – shelter, clean air, food, basic medical care.
8) Enforced apartheid.
9) Slavery and the sexual slavery of women and children.
10) Trial without a jury of peers.
11) How about enforced circumcision of males?
Many more ‘abuses’ I’m sure. But before we act – act only in the interest of compassion and to ‘do what is right’ and absent any concern of national interest, we have to carefully weigh, VERY carefully weigh, the criteria to apply for our involvement in the affairs of others

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Reform Judaism Requires the Acceptance of Female Ritual Circumcision

Reform Judaism prides itself in its gender-neutral approach to Jewish tradtion. The separation of male and female roles and the denial to females of traditional male roles in synagogue and Jewish life is unacceptable – and rightly so. Jewish women may become rabbis, cantors, contribute to a “minyan” – read Torah – you name it, they can do it. We now have Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs! God is no longer a male, but has no sexual identity.

The sole remaining, uniquely male ‘requirement’ or ‘tradition’, completely closed to women, is circumcision. Circumcision is arguably THE most important of all the Jewish traditions. This convenant that God is said to have concluded with Abraham resulted in Abraham’s self-circumcision and that of his male children. It heralded the tradtion that the Jewish father circumcise his male children. Only this covenant binds and endorses the Jewish boy’s connection to God. B’rith Milah on the eighth day of life is to go forward without fail (precluding illness). Nothing takes precedence over this rite – it is so important a tradition. If day eight falls on Yom Kippur, the B’rith is to take place. If it falls on the day of the father’s scheduled funeral – the B’rith takes precedence. All Jewish denominations require circumcision for uncircumcised male converts

But women are denied this covenant with God. They are to have naming ceremonies – some sort of substitute B’rith. What is that all about? Why not circumcision? Or if girls needn’t have one, why must boys? Why can’t the male choose to forego this procedure, or parents choose to not to circumcise their sons?

Circumcision should be available to all – males and females. Female circumcision has been given a bad rap. When we think of this act, we are conditioned to think in terms of “genital mutilation.” Well, in a sense, all circumcisions are a form of “genital mutilation” if they are performed for non-medical indications.

The African tribal practice of female circumcision generally includes clitoridectomy as well as vaginal infibulation (closing the vaginal orifice almost completely). It may also include labiectomy. The procedure is performed in unsterile conditions by poorly trained practitioners under very primitive conditions. We may criticize the lack of proper technique, but should not criticize the procedure itself. If that is what a particular tribal tradition demands – so be it. Who are we to be critics of the idea itself, after all we practice male circumcision, which is analogous, at least in its traditional purpose, in our “tribe.”

Female circumcision need not involve the above-mentioned procedures. The process could be analogous to the male circumcision – i.e. partial removal of the female prepuce (foreskin). The clitoris is the female analog of the penis and has a prepuce as well. Partial removal would be easily and quickly performed by the trained practitioner – especially in newborns when the clitoris is relatively large.

Now, I believe, entitlement does not mean requirement. Parents should not be obliged to have their children circumcised – whether they be daughters or sons! Circumcision, unless carried out under anesthesia (which is never the case when practiced ceremonially) is very painful, and has no medical purpose in infancy. There can be complications as well. There is some indication that it may be advantageous to mature men in limited circumstances, but under no circumstances would this be an indication for circumcision in a newborn. A family history of breast cancer does not require the removal of the breasts in a young girl. A decision for his circumcision can be made by a mature man later in life, as can the decision for mastectomy by the mature woman.

Isn’t it hypocritical for us, as Reform Jews, to deny a right (rite) to a girl that is a right (rite) for a boy? Of course it is! It has to be! Girls, too, have an entitlement to a covenant with God!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

What to do in Darfur??

Many are demanding action to stop the ‘genocide’ (I use the term very generically here) in Darfur. Of course the government of Sudan, controlled by a dictator, is opposed to any intervention, and the slaughter continues. The Western World seems to agree that actions in Darfur are a violation of human rights. What should be done if the violence continues without response from the government or the rebels.

Should the U.S. invade Sudan to bring a stop to the slaughter? How many soldiers should be committed to this action. Should this include an attack on Khartoum, the seat of government, if necessary. What if we get bogged down in strange territory with strange battles in a land we do not understand. What if our soldiers are being killed, or captured and beheaded? How many deaths are acceptable to accomplish this task. How long should we stay?

If things really get bad, should be leave before the ‘mission is accomplished?’ Should we commit only a certain number of troops for only a certain period of time, spending only a certain amount of dollars?

Sound familiar?