Hey, it’s time again for the “Value Voters” summit. It’s the time, in Washington DC, where politicians quote Corinthians, and Libertarians show pictures of fetuses. It’s the time when the fundamentalists among us stand up for the right to be closed-minded and to make it clear that Christian values are the ONLY values.

In this close minded land of isolation we Jews, our Muslim friends, our Buddhist friends, our Hindu friends, and, God forbid, our Atheist and agnostic friends are insulted, degraded, and generally treated like crap. Oh, and by the way, let’s not forget about how much we hate the LGBT community.

Welcome value voters!

I have to tell you, candidly, that I hold some relatively conservative opinions. But, I also have to say that, when it comes to conservatism, It is mostly about economics where I sit on that side of the line. I, personally, have never seen a great society founded on socialist principles. While there are some really terrible capitalists around, I have to say that a capitalist society is the type of society in which I choose to live. I am not as hard line as most of my Libertarian friends. I think that government, and even government regulation, have a place in our society. But, to me, that is not what the value voters summit is about.

The reason that I could never be a Republican is because of your social views. This is where I adamantly side with my Libertarian friends. Using government to force people to live according to fundamentalist Christian values is exactly the opposite of that upon which my country was founded.

You folks have every right to be fundamentalist Christians. I respect that. I even admire you for your dedication to your beliefs. But, I have a value system that is formed on Jewish ethics which has at least as much validity in its foundation in biblical history as yours.

One major difference between me and you fundamentalist Christians is that I am not caught up in dogma. Furthermore, I use my study of the Bible as but one of many data points in my construction of my own value system and ethics. Along with that I consider reason and rationality to be a tremendous virtue.

I also try to live my life on the premise of liberty. You stay out of my bedroom and I will happily stay out of yours. You leave my gay and lesbian friends alone to enjoy their love and I will happily leave your straight friends the same way. In fact, I will happily leave MY straight friends the same way as well. You try not to make value judgments about my atheist friends and I will try my best not to make value judgments about your Baptist ones. And, for what it’s worth, I admit this is difficult for me.

You see, I disagree with your religious and your political views but I would die defending your right to hold them. On the other hand, not only would you not die in defense of my right to hold my views, but a few of you would shoot an abortion doctor, let Latin American children die in the desert, defend someone who shoots a black teenager just for being black, choose non-interventionism over human rights, prohibit a loving the lesbian couple from having the same relationship that you could have with your partner, and will gather for the express purpose of the degrading everyone who does not believe what you believe.

Welcome Value Voters!

Now, I want to be perfectly clear. You all have every right to have a Value Voters summit. What you do not have is the right to do is to contend that everyone who has values which differ from your own is VALUELESS.

That is what bothers me about you calling this event a Value Voters summit. I disagree with you on many, many things. Simply by naming your event as you do, you are making the direct statement that people like me not only disagree with your values but have no values. I take issue with that. In fact, I would say that my values are equally valid as yours. I admit that I have quite a bit of difficulty accepting you, but at least I will try. Conversely, you will never accept my belief system as being valid. That, my friends, is why I called you closed-minded.

Now here’s an especially funny one…

Many of you consider yourselves to be in the intellectual line of Ayn Rand. Have you ever actually read Ayn Rand? Have you ever heard her speak? Have you ever gone to YouTube and listened to her interviews? She is the intellectual opposite of you. I have to admit, she is equally dogmatic. But Ms. Rand would have absolutely nothing to do with any of your religiosity; in fact, when she was alive, she often very vocally spoke out against religion: your religion, my religion, any religion; because religion is not rational. So, for God’s sake (sic), don’t think that Ayn Rand would support The Tea Party, or any of your “value voters” agenda. You think she’s one of your role models, yet the word that she would use to describe you, and me, and every other person who participates in any religious practice, is “EVIL”. So, please don’t pretend that your belief system is even consistent, let alone accepting of anyone besides yourselves.

If you are thinking about telling me that I am no better than you, then I will not even dispute that. But, I do have to say that this blog is specifically about my contradictions and my struggle with them. So, at least, instead of having a political summit with everyone with whom I agree, I am trying to deal openly, and publicly, with my own intellectual struggles. In my humble opinion, this to be a better use of my time.

My bottom line is this: enjoy your summit but please don’t think that your values are the only values that can be held as the foundation of an ethical, vital life. My value system diverges from yours but it is a solid foundation for a life. Ms. Rand’s value system is diametrically (except when it comes to the sign of the dollar) opposed to yours: yet it too can be the foundation of a valid, vibrant, and highly fulfilling life. So, meet, speak, and speechify to your heart’s content. But, if you think that fundamentalist Christian values are the only valid values, then I, Jews around the world, atheists, and every religionist who is not Christian will be there to fight the battle for our own liberty, our own right to believe what we believe, our own sexual ethics, and our own paths to a world of love, benevolence, and respect for all human souls.

The campaign sign below wins the award for most appalling thing I’ve seen in recent American politics. Robert Ransdell is a long time antisemite. He’ll tell you so himself. Even if it didn’t, the simple fact that he is a former regional coordinator for the National Alliance in Cincinnati, and is, right now, a coordinator for the National Alliance Reform and Restoration Group (NARRG) says it well enough. Anyone who would post this sign is simply the embodiment of evil.

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Fortunately Mitch McConnell has nothing to fear from a write-in whack job. Still, every clerk in Kentucky is legally required to count the votes for declared write-ins no matter how nutty or evil they may be. Worse, you know as well as I that there are Kentucky residents who will vote for the guy. Plenty of people out there hate we Jews and our minority friends. Stormfront will have a field day with an opportunity to make this seem politically acceptable.

All I can say is this: Please Kentuckians, don’t let this continue to be acceptable to you. Every vote for Robert Ransdell is a vote for hate, a vote for white supremacy, a vote for evil. End this now!

Recently I’ve been reading a book called “Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus” by Professor Suzannah Heschel, the daughter of the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of blessed memory. The book is about Geiger’s intellectual quest to bring proper understanding of ancient Jewish texts to the study of the historical Jesus.

Geiger’s work is particularly important in light of the very biased and blatantly antisemitic Christian scholarship that was going on in the 19th century. Therein, Jews were always depicted in a negative light, as is often done, thanks to PAUL, Not Jesus, in the New Testament. Geiger’s work proposed that, contrary to what is shown in the Gospels, Jesus was the product of the Pharisees traditions of religious innovation. To Geiger, Jesus was, not only NOT at odds with the Pharisees, he was, himself, a member of that very tradition. 19th-century New Testament historiography was fundamentally based on the work of the people who had no knowledge, or very limited correct knowledge, of the Talmud or the real teachings and writings of either the Pharisees or the Sadducees.

Many Christian scholars hated Geiger’s work. In fact, some of the most important Jewish scholars of that time also were at odds with Geiger. Personally I like Geiger’s work and it has forced an interesting thought to pop into my head.

In my tradition we have a book which we commonly refer to either as the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh. Typically, that book is also referred to by Christians as the Old Testament. I have come to believe that, while the words on the page may be the same words, the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament are not the same book.

It has occurred to me that the Bible is more like a temporal hologram than it is like a fixed narrative. Looking at it from one direction it seems to be the mythological narrative of my Jewish people. But, looked at from another angle it is an entirely different book. To me, the Hebrew Bible is a closed ended narrative. To my Christian friends it is simply an anticipatory narrative trying prophesying that which is explained in the New Testament.

I happen to enjoy studying the Bible with a combination of people from different religious traditions. But I have come to realize that my Christian friends perspective on the words, and the interpretation thereof, is so vastly divergent from our Jewish reading of the text that we really are not even studying the same book.

This can explain why Jewish and Christian political views are often so vastly different. It also explains why evangelical Christianity is so often explicitly against everything that I and my tradition hold to be dear and sacred.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does mean that neither of our religious traditions should try to understand the other from within its own context, Rather, we should try to understand each other’s tradition from the context in which the OTHER resides. In other words, Christians must learn to respect Jews, and Jews must learn to respect Christians, knowing that they do not really have the same book as a foundation. Indeed, we have the same words. But looking at the book from the standpoint of a hologram, where the same object can look completely different from different angles, we have to realize that we really don’t have a common book. We have a common history, and we have common foundations. But intellectually we don’t really have a common Bible.

Here is my opinion on how we should approach this issue.

Every once in a while, Christians should walk around to the other side of the Bible and try to view it from our angle. We then, should walk to their side of the Bible and see what the book looks like from that side of the hologram. Most importantly we need to remember that, although the words on the page are the same, our interpretations are so vastly different that we shouldn’t be trying to fit each other into the mold of our religion.

The words might be the same, the stories might be the same, but the fact is that our foundational narrative is not the same. As long as we continue to pretend that it is, neither of our religions will properly value the other; neither will give the other the level of respect we each deserve.

So, my recommendation is that we view the Hebrew Bible as a hologram; as you move from one side to the other the image completely changes. Let’s just respect that.

Hypocrisy?

Posted: August 16, 2014 in My moral code, On Compassion, Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot about Israel today. I’ve been very sad about all the death in Gaza. But, considering how Israel could destroy most of the region with their military might, they have shown an incredible amount of restraint.

It saddens me very deeply when I think about the fact that no one seems to protest the vicious murder of Yazidi and other Christians in Iraq but so many people are perfectly happy to protest against Israel. Every single human life is precious. So maybe it’s time that people stopped protesting against Israel and started to protest against those evil killers who don’t show any restraint.

It seems to me that most of the world is overloaded with an amazing amount of anti-Semitic double standards. It’s time to lay off Israel and to protest against the indiscriminate rape, kidnapping, shooting, and beheading of people just because they won’t convert to Islam.

My levain is now nearly 9 months old. Because of my business travel schedule it has sat in the refrigerator for 5 weeks. Ken Forkish says it can stay there for “about a month” so I was starting to worry. I still don’t have time to bake bread now; but I decided that I’d better spend a couple of days feeding and refreshing Monsieur Blob anyway. After all, 5 weeks is definitely more than “about a month”.

Last night I removed Mr. Blob from the fridge, tossed all but 100 grams, added 100g of wheat flour, 400g of white flour, and 400g of 95 degree water. By this morning, I had a very active culture. Even after 5 weeks in the fridge, Mr. Blob has been resurrected with no problem!

When I opened my levain tub to feed my reactivated culture just now, I stuck my nose in and took a deep whiff. Holy shit!!! Mr. Blob has been hitting the bottle big time! My hyperactive levain nearly bowled me over with the smell of alcohol. Not only has Mr. Blob again reincarnated but he is totally KICKING ASS!

Bread makers, Forkish fans, levain lovers of the world unite! I can tell you conclusively that, at least in my refrigerator, a Ken Forkish levain will happily refrigerate for at least 5 weeks. Whohoo!

 

On this day in Jewish history, this day in 586 BCE,  the Holy Temple (Beit Hamikdash) of the ancient Jews was destroyed. Our Orthodox and many Conservative coreligionists believe that, on this day, the Jewish world was draped in darkness. On this day, they believe, it became impossible to comprehend our daily opportunity to rise above the physical realm and to make all life a spiritual experience. The Orthodox tell me that after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, it became far more difficult to experience God in our everyday lives. We Reform Jews don’t believe that. We believe that we carry on the tradition of the Pharisees in adapting our spiritual practice to the the times. We don’t mourn the Temple. But that does not mean we have a shortage of things over which to weep!

In the 21st century we do not long for the daily sacrifices of the temple cult. Much as Spinoza adapted to the Enlightenment, we have replaced our longing with a Religious experience that borrows from the Zeitgeist of Post-modernity. This is not necessarily good in my view, because the Postmodern embodies much I dislike. In fact, I refuse to be called “a postmodern” because it associates one with the irrationality of the likes of Derrida and the post-structuralists. Yet, if you think about it, our method of Torah study now has much in common with Gademer’s notions as described in “Truth and Method”; so, it’s fair to say we are Postmodernly influenced. But, my point is simply that we don’t blindly hold on to the past. We grow. We believe that revelation is a daily occurrence if you just look deeply for it.

Still, the result of Jerusalem’s destruction can be seen throughout history and into modern times. Not only do we often feel distant from the divine but we are still regularly attacked by fanatics who have an obscene conception of a God who they think likes death. Violence against us, not just by fanatic Muslims and neo-Nazis, but even among crazed irrational crowds who would storm a French Synagogue or hold banners depicting us drinking blood in a place like Seattle, is still viewed as a viable tactic.

Amid this, now increasing, antisemitism we Jews can not abandon our people and our culture. The first and second Temples are long gone; but what we call pintele yid (the Jewish spark within our people) must live on. My Orthodox friends may tell me that our Covenant insures that it will never die. I think differently. Anything can die – and will die – if not maintained and cultivated. I believe that only through our action can that Jewish spark remain. We must look at the Crusades, the centuries of ghettoization and marginalization,  the ashes of the Shoah, the persecution of the Russian Jews, and even the past month’s dead Israeli soldiers and, within them,  find the fragments of our culture upon which to build. We must never give up. Yet, I must add my view that the life of the spark is not just maintained because of some Brit with God; it is we humans and our commitment to responsible action, that is the only way to keep the”pintele” afire.

As we mourn the destruction of Tisha B’Av, my wish is that every Jew will stand with pride against those who hate us. My bigger wish is that each one of us will commit ourselves to taking personal responsibility for building a brighter spark from the ashes of the ever existing, ever unwarranted, hatred we see perpetrated against us.

On August 2nd, 1944 – 70 years ago tomorrow – the Nazis murdered every remaining Roma and Sinti “Gypsy” at Auschwitz in the Birkenau gas chambers. Approximately 3000 men, women, and children were lulled into brief complacency with a tiny portion of bread and sausage and loaded into trucks. The vehicles headed away from the gas chambers but soon turned back. No longer complacent, these 3000 human souls quickly came to know their fate. Kicking, screaming, crying and in intense fear, every one of the remaining  3000 inmates of the “Gypsy Section” of Auschwitz would soon be murdered by asphyxiation and burnt in the fires of the Birkenau crematoria.

We Jews take pride in the horribly sad but critically necessary task of remembering our 6,000,000 murdered martyrs. But, this Shabbat, it is equally important to remember that these 3000 human lives were just as important as the lives of any of our murdered family members. They each had families and friends, dreams, passions, brains, hearts, spirits, individual value, and unrealized potentials – as much as any Jew or any other human being. This Shabbat I urge us all to remember them: In out thoughts, our prayers, our Kaddish, and our discussions and study.

At the hour during which we will celebrate Havdalah and bid a fond farewell to this week’s holy Sabbath , 3000 humans (with as much value and humanity as our own) were – at that same moment 70 years earlier – being murdered by a tortuous Zyklon B asphyxiation and burnt like trash in the fires of arrogant, nationalistic, unspeakable hatred.

This Shabbat may we all remember the Roma and Sinti of the final Gypsy liquidation; may their lives and spirits serve to guide our unending commitment to the words “Never Again”.

Shabbat Shalom.