Israelis Think War with Iran is Inevitable

Argues Yossi Klein Halevi in ‘WSJ’ op-ed


In an op-ed the Wall Street Journal titled “The Return of Israel’s Existential Dread” (whether it ever really left is debatable), journalist Yossi Klein Halevi parses the growing sense among Israelis that war with Iran is inevitable. He sees this zeitgeist shift reflected in everything from Sabbath dinner conversation to a postcard demarcating how long residents in different parts of the country would have to seek shelter if attacked. He notes that the public remained discomfited by the possibility of Iran signing on to the proposed U.N. deal for shipping its uranium abroad—“If Iranian leaders are prepared to sign an agreement, Israelis argue, that’s because they know something the rest of us don’t”—which is probably for the best, as Iran officially rejected the proposal this morning.

Halevi gives several good reasons (besides being a militarized society that has faced near constant threats to its existence over its short 60 year history) why Israel might be falling into the state of mind characterized by a phrase from early in its history: “Ein breira, there’s no choice.” One is the nature of Iran, which, particularly under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has established itself as near-impossibly unreasonable. As Halevi puts it: “A regime that assembles the world’s crackpots to deny the most documented atrocity in history—at the very moment it is trying to fend off sanctions and convince the international community of its sanity—may well be immune to rational self-interest.”

Another is a question “Israelis have been asking themselves … with increasing urgency: Should we attack Iran if all other options fail?” If all other options have failed, then, presumably, the only alternative to war would be suicide; and, while Jews have fallen back on that last resort in dire historical circumstances, it’s definitely antithetical to the Israeli psyche. But what happens when the populace starts to think of war as inevitable, even as no one wants to see it happen? Does the territory implied by the words “all other options” widen to include innovative and marginal ideas in an attempt to stave off disaster, or does everyone resign themselves to gritting their teeth and pulling the trigger as quickly as possible?

The Return of Israel’s Existential Dread [WSJ]

Taylor Swift Is Not Actually a Nazi

Despite photo with boy wearing a swastika


We’re still not really sure who Taylor Swift is, except that we know Kanye West isn’t a fan, and we have no idea at all who Katy Perry is, but apparently the former went to a birthday party for the latter, at which she had her picture taken with a dude wearing a swastika, and now no one is happy.

Taylor Swift Embraces the Swastika [TMZ]

Today on Tablet

Spooky—and geeky—stories for Halloween


It’s almost Halloween, and Tablet Magazine has some stories to get you in the mood. Marc Tracy reports on a new book that brings a Jewish twist to the vampire trend. Peter Bebergal traces the history of the occult in Judaism. Liel Leibovitz presents a slideshow of of biblical monsters illustrated by comic book artist Mike Dubisch. Leibovitz also reflects on nerdy obsessions via this week’s haftorah. And The Scroll will roll out updates all day.

U.S. Religious Freedom Report: Israel

A look, by the numbers

(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. State Department released this year’s installment of its annual International Religious Freedom Report this week. Here are some numbers from the section on Israel and the occupied territories:

Estimated percentage of country’s Jewish population born outside the country: 30
Approximate number of Messianic Jews living in the country: 10,000
Immigration applications by Messianic Jews blocked by Ministry of the Interior and now in court: 3

Start date of Yom Kippur-related rioting caused by an Arab driving in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood: 10/08/2008
Number of legal permits for foreign workers issued during 2008: Almost 100,000
Number of illegal workers residing in country: at least 80,000

Number of recognized Jewish holy sites: 137
Number of recognized Muslim holy sites: 0

Approximate number of citizens who immigrated under the Law of Return but are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate and cannot be married, divorced, or buried in Jewish cemeteries within the country: 310,000
Year that a law was passed requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries: 1996
Number of secular cemetery currently planned: 1

Yearly average number of Hajj pilgrims traveling from Israel via Jordan in order to receive papers on the way to Mecca: 4,500

Number of Jews per synagogue in Beer Sheva: 700
Number of Muslims per mosque in Beer Sheva: 5,000
Number of Bedouins per mosque in unrecognized villages: 80,000

Number of comparisons of women to clay “to shape and mold as husband pleases” in Orthodox marriage pamphlet distributed during marriage counseling necessary to marry in government-recognized ceremonies: 1
Number of suggestions to compliment wife regularly, even if untrue, in that pamphlet: 1
Number of couples that go abroad each year, mostly to Cyprus, to marry in civil ceremonies: at least 5,000

Minimum number of Israeli Muslims killed by Gaza rocket fire: 1

Reports of forced religious conversions: 0

U.S.: Israel Favors Orthodox Sects [JPost]
Israel and the Occupied Territories [State Dept.]

Daybreak: L.A. Shooting Derails Bar Mitzvah

Plus Iran, Russia, Lebanon, and more in the news


• Yesterday’s shooting at Los Angeles synagogue Adat Yeshurun left two injured and one bar mitzvah boy and his family in the lurch—Alejandro Sisro’s ceremony was postponed until the evening, and he consoled himself thusly: “I’ll get famous.” [LAT]
• Also yesterday, Iran officially rejected the United Nations plan for the country to ship its uranium abroad for enrichment. [NYT]
• Meantime, the U.S. Senate passes a bill calling for sanctions on Iran, particularly focusing on companies that help Iran “import or produce refined petroleum.” [JTA]
• Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Nations warns that he suspects Israel is set to attack his country, citing as evidence the fact that Israel fired on Lebanon as retaliation for this week’s rocket attack. [Haaretz]
• U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Abu Dhabi on Saturday to keep up the pressure on restarting peace talks with Israel, according to an anonymous official. [Reuters]
• A federal judge has issued a “default order” against Russia, allowing some members of Chabad to seek legal action to recover historical rabbinical documents from Russia in U.S. court. [AP]

Sundown: Shul for School

Plus a break for Baltimore’s Jewish paper, Yiddish flu-prevention, and more


• Admission to religious private schools in England has become so competitive that some families are resorting to synagogue attendance to get their kids in. [Financial Times]
• Israel took a break from its busy schedule of refuting charges of committing war crimes and withholding water from Palestinians to deny involvement in the blood diamond trade. [JTA]
• The city of Baltimore is suspending required loan payments for the Baltimore Jewish Times to help keep the publication in business. A journalism ethics expert worries that “if you are in debt to a powerful organization, you may be inclined to not cover them.” [Baltimore Sun]
• The New York City Department of Health wants to protect all citizens from swine flu, going so far as to issue a colorful poster detailing hand-washing instructions in Yiddish; “It pays to have a Jewish mayor,” says a blogger. [Truth, Praise, and Help]
• At the second wedding reception for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner the meal included “a variety of kosher food, as well as hamburgers, hotdogs, steak sandwiches, sushi and salad,” People magazine reports. Wonder if they know that all those other things can be kosher too? [People]

Religion Can Be Spiritual, Says ‘Forward’ Columnist

But it’s still pretty lame


In the new Forward, Jay Michaelson confronts the increasingly ubiquitous notion that spirituality and religion are essentially separate. “I, too, have often claimed that spiritual practice is distinguished from religion by its pragmatic focus—what a practice does—rather than its significance in a system of myth or dogma,” he grants, but he’s not content to leave it at that: “the dichotomy is misleading.” In fact, he contends, “even the most diehard, hyper-rational, Lithuanian Orthodox, High Reform, or otherwise non- or anti-spiritual religionists perform religious acts because they want to feel a certain way. In other words, religion is a form of spirituality.”

OK. But what starts out seeming like an attempt to defend religion from fed-up spiritualists turns quickly back-handed (“lame synagogues do promote mind states”), and Michaelson ends up subtly advocating for a more conventionally “New Age” spirituality by using the concepts of “values” and “states of mind” almost interchangeably. Secular Judaism offers “integrity, ethics, authenticity”; “social justice” Judaism’s got “righteous indignation, sense of moral goodness”; Zionism—“patriotism, strength, belonging”; and old-school synagogue Judaism has this loaded foursome: “particularism, security, traditionalism, Jewish survival.” Given this array, followed by his sly suggestion that “[m]aybe other mind states like inspiration, joy or introspection, might work better,” it seems that while he says, “[w]hat I’ve tried to suggest is that these seemingly Californian spiritual values are not so distant from hard-core New York religious and political ones,” he’s actually trying to sell one to the other.

Religion is Actually Spirituality [Forward]

U.S. Anti-Semitism at Record Low, Says ADL

But that doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant!


The Anti-Defamation League released the results of its annual poll on anti-Semitism in the United States this morning, and the news is, as one might say, good for the Jews. The organization’s pollsters report that only 12 percent of Americans are prejudiced against Jews, a figure that matches the ADL’s previous record low, set in 1998. (When the group first started conducting its polls, which determine levels of anti-Semitism based on people’s propensity to agree with ideas like “Jews have too much power in the U.S. today,” it determined 29 percent of Americans didn’t like Jews.)

But what’s good for the Jews isn’t necessarily good for the ADL, which exists primarily to combat anti-Semitism. Accordingly, the group’s website is currently advertising the results of the poll under the banner “Anti-Semitism Still a Factor in U.S.” In a statement on the site, executive director Abraham Foxman reminds everyone that positive news is no excuse for relaxing vigilance: “We can’t dismiss that 12 percent of the American people means that there are still over 30 million Americans that hold anti-Semitic views.”

Poll Finds U.S. Anti-Semitic Views at Historic Low [Reuters]
Poll on Anti-Semitic Attitudes [ADL]

Gore Vidal: Polanski Is a Persecuted Jew

Novelist-provocateur thinks religion, not rape, to blame for director’s woes

Polanski at a funeral in Paris in January.(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

So why is Roman Polanski in a Swiss prison cell? To hear author, intellectual, and seasoned provocateur Gore Vidal tell it, the famed director’s troubles have little to do with having drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl all those years ago. Polanski, Vidal tells The Atlantic in an interview published online yesterday, is being hounded because he’s Jewish. He cites “[t]he idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, Polacko—that’s what people were calling him,” Vidal said, adding decisively that “anti-Semitism got poor Polanski.” In his defense, Vidal, who knew Polanski in the 1970s, seemed reluctant to address the whole matter. “I really don’t give a fuck,” he replied when first asked about his former friend’s woes. “Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?” You, sir, are what we Jews call a real mensch.

A Conversation With Gore Vidal [Atlantic]

On Tablet Today

Religious education, jazzy folk, spiritual writing, and an illuminating film


Ellen Umansky explores the implications for parents who send their children to a Chabad-run preschool, many of which are popping up nationwide. Liel Leibovitz looks at “riveting” new documentary Killing Kasztner, about a Hungarian who negotiated with Nazis to save Jews from the Holocaust, leading to controversy and his eventual murder. Tablet Magazine music columnist Alexander Gelfand reports on a new trend of Israelis bringing folk songs into the realm of jazz. Joshua Cohen examines the influence of kabbalah on French writer Georges Perec. And more throughout the day on our blog, The Scroll.

Two Shot at L.A. Synagogue

UPDATED: Victims in good condition, assailant still at large


Two people were shot in the legs this morning at the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic synagogue in North Hollywood, California, the Associated Press is reporting. “Police say a man with a handgun entered the building at about 6:20 a.m. and shot two people,” says the wire service, which notes that the police are treating the shootings as a hate crime. A man has been detained near the synagogue, but a police officer tells the AP he’s not if that is connected to the crime.

We’ll update as more information is available.

UPDATE, 1:55 p.m.: The Los Angeles Times has more detail, including word that the man arrested near the synagogue is not believed to be the gunman.

The two victims, both in their 40s, were arriving for morning minyan when they were shot in Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic’s underground parking lot. The gunman fled; other worshippers inside the synagogue called 911. The LAPD tells the Times that both victims are in good condition at local hospitals.

The police are investigating the shooting as a hate crime, but Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called it “a senseless act of violence.”

Police Search for Gunman in North Hollywood Synagogue Shooting [LAT]
2 Shot in Legs as Gunman Attacks L.A. Synagogue [AP/NYT]

Jewish-‘Joking’ Irish Tenor to Sing for ADL

Dropped by Yankees and AARP, but Foxman & Co. accept apology

Tynan sings prior to a papal Mass at Yankee Stadium last year.(Mike Segar/AFP/Getty Images)

From the all’s well that ends well department: the Anti-Defamation League announced yesterday afternoon that Ronan Tynan, the Irish tenor, will be singing “God Bless America” at the opening meeting of its annual conference tonight at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. In its press release, the ADL mentioned that the leaders of the anti-anti-Semitism organization had met with Tynan and granted him their indulgence for “a comment he made about Jews.” So what was the glossed-over comment? The singer, who is also a Paralympian, apparently told a real-estate agent showing apartments in his building that he would welcome new neighbors as long as they weren’t Jews. The Yankees promptly dropped him from his planned gig at the opening game of the American League playoffs, and, Tablet Magazine has learned, the AARP also revoked Tynan’s invitation to appear as a “spotlighted” performer at its annual conference last weekend in Las Vegas. Tynan told New York’s Irish Echo that he “has many Jewish friends,” and three Jewish musicians in his band. He also explained that he had cried and prayed over the episode, and even considered leaving New York in shame, but decided to stay and clear his name. “The truth eventually wins,” he said.

After Saying Sorry for ‘Jewish’ Joke, Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan to Sing at Anti-Defamation League [NYDN]
Earlier: Yankees Drop Singer Over Jewish Slur

Catholic Bishops Give Up on Converting Jews

U.S. bishops’ group to remove controversial passage from June statement

(Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in June intending to clarify its position on relations with Jews. While it had been understood, at least since the publication of a 2002 document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” that Catholics respected Jews’ unique covenant with God, which “must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people,” the new statement specified that “the Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited.”

This language raised a red flag to Jewish leaders, who saw a backtracking away from the revolution in Jewish-Catholic relations brought on by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, and a coalition quickly responded with an official letter detailing their disappointment. In August, Eric J. Greenberg, the Anti-Defamation League’s associate director of interfaith affairs and one of the primary authors of the letter, explained his concern to Tablet Magazine: “Based on the last 45 years, the Catholics and Jews have a special relationship.” The new statement, he said then, “invites us to apostasy. We need to be vigilant because the stakes are so high based on our history.” Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues, told Tablet he was dismayed by the “implication that every time we meet there is a subliminal desire to bring us into the church.”

Their protest paid off. The JTA reports:

In a letter to the Jewish groups, the bishops said it would change the document to eliminate the disputed passage and affirmed that Catholic-Jewish dialogue “has never been and will never be used by the Catholic Church as a means of proselytism … nor is it a disguised invitation to baptism.” They also said the Mosaic covenant—a conditional covenant made between God and the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-24)—“endures till the present day.”

The Jewish coalition has responded with gratitude: “We welcome the fact that the bishops not only heard our concerns, but are making efforts to be responsive to them.”

Catholic Bishops to Edit Interfaith Document [JTA]
Jewish Leaders Welcome Removal of Conversionary Language from American Catholic Document [ADL]

Daybreak: Obama ‘Woos’ Israelis

Plus Iran responds, the high cost of kosher, and more in the news


• President Barack Obama sent a video to Israel to commemorate the 14th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination; Haaretz calls the move a “bid to woo Israelis.” [Haaretz]
• Iran has officially responded to the International Atomic Energy Organization on the U.N. nuclear plan for the country, to which it seeks “major revisions.” [Haaretz]
• Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said he does “not rule out the possibility” that Israel was responsible for the rocket fired from Lebanon on Tuesday, which he sees as “an excuse for Israel to keep violating Lebanon’s sovereignty.” [Ynet]
• At a meeting in Brussels, European rabbis discussed the problem of high kosher food costs on their continent, which “often place them at a disadvantage when they attempt to present Torah Judaism in a positive light.” [JPost]

Sundown: Kosher Food Porn

A cuddly Jewish monster, another con man, and multi-denominational togetherness


• The folks at Vos iz Neias are pretty excited about what they turned up at Kosherfest, a trade show that took place this week in New Jersey; the site’s photo gallery gushes over the first kosher sangria, an “oil bottle with an extra-long spout,” and a package of raw mystery meat inexplicably labeled “beautiful.” [VIN]
• In the latest scam on philanthropically minded Jews, a California man has been convicted of tricking people into buying religious travel packages to Cuba to help the Jewish community there and then running off with their money. [Courthouse News Service]
• Seth Rogen spills the beans about the character he voices in the upcoming Monsters Vs. Aliens animated Halloween special: “B.O.B. is Jewish; most people don’t know that. He’s actually Orthodox.” Could be—according to Wikipedia, the creature’s “main goal is to digest things.” [Star Pulse]
• A multi-denominational delegation of Los Angeles rabbis took a trip to Israel, where, between laying wreaths and shaking hands, they discovered that, “While we may have difficulty praying together, and we do, we can learn together, and now we even teach together.” [JPost]

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