Gov. Christie: Shari'a Concerns Are "Crazy"

The video below demonstrates that not every popular Republican has jumped on the anti-Islam bandwagon. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, best known for his (to put it mildly) bluntness, reacts to criticism of his appointment of a Muslim judge to the state bench:

We've had something of an anti-anti-Islam theme going on this Jewish policy blog for the past few weeks, but I think that's appropriate. It's not only that Muslims and Jews share key values, as the JTA reported this week. It's also, naturally, that American Jews have a strong communal knowledge of what it's like to be a vilified religious/ethnic minority. The fact that our two communities are so bitterly divided over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and related issues makes it all the more important to recognize these and other points of commonality.

Background:

BJPA Publications on Islam
BJPA Publications on Jewish-Muslim relations
BJPA newsletter on Jewish-Muslim relations, September 2010

Other recent Islam themed blog posts:

July 18
July 28
August 1

From the J-Vault: When Government Cuts Social Services Funding

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"What price will we pay for state aids to religiously sponsored institutions and agencies?" asked Philip Jacobson:

What effect are these aids likely to have on our voluntary institutions? Is there a danger here for the American Jewish community...?

...Will federation boards come to take for granted the continued availability of tax dollars, and devote funds to other purposes?... What will happen if and when these tax dollars are no longer forthcoming?

This week, from the J-Vault: Community Relations Implications in the Use of Public Funds by Jewish Services (1960)

Today, Congress attempts to cut federal spending drastically. In 1960, writing in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Jacobson warned that for religious institutions, accepting public funding for social services was a dangerous game. Most of his argument leans on a strict interpretation of the First Amendment; he worries that Jewish and other religious social service agencies will either be complicit in eroding the separation of church and state or in eroding their own sectarian missions in order not to do so. But Jacobson also worries that in accepting  public funds, Jewish (and other sectarian) agencies will set themselves up for a hard fall if those funds were to be cut off.

However, "I am not an advocate of abrupt withdrawal," he writes. "[T]he patient has been addicted to heavy injections for some time and the cold turkey
treatment does not seem to be warranted."

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Cain's Incomplete Apology, and Religion in Politics

After offending Muslims (and at least one Jew) last week by saying localities have the right to ban mosques because Islam includes the concept of shari'a law, Herman Cain has now met with Muslim leaders and released an apology:

...While I stand by my opposition to the interference of shariah law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends. I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it. Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully.

As I expected, we discovered we have much more in common in our values and virtues. In my own life as a black youth growing up in the segregated South, I understand their frustration with stereotypes. Those in attendance, like most Muslim Americans, are peaceful Muslims and patriotic Americans whose good will is often drowned out by the reprehensible actions of jihadists...

Cain's apology is unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, he ought to have stated specifically that he now realizes that localities do not have the right to ban mosques, if in fact he has come to that realization.  If he has not, and he still believes localities may ban mosques, then his apology for causing offense is utterly hollow. If he has changed his position, then he should say so directly; dodging the specific issue just leaves him looking weaselish. (Speaking of weaselish, see also the phrase "..any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution...")

Second, Cain again makes the problematic assertion that shari'a has no right to "interfere" in the American legal system (see the first sentence excerpted above). It is actually quite tricky to pin down what this might mean, and once again a glance at parallel concepts in other American religions is instructive. Does Cain believe that shari'a should be held to a different standard than Jewish halakhah and Catholic canon law? If so, he continues to favor bigotry. Even if this is the case, I can't imagine he'll be up front about it, so let's assume he would say he believes that religious legal systems should all be held to the same standards. How, then, would Herman Cain define interfering, and how precisely would he seek to curb it?

I have emailed the following questions to Herman Cain's campaign:

  1. Should shari'a law be held to the same standards or different standards than Jewish halakhah or Catholic canon law?
  2. If a Muslim citizen believes shari'a law reflects God's will, and that shari'a prohibits gay marriage, and so votes for a candidate who opposes gay marriage, does that count as "interference"?
  3. If a Jewish citizen believes halakhah reflects God's will, and that halakhah requires a middle ground between the standard pro-life and pro-choice abortion positions, and so votes for a candidate who is centrist on abortion, is that "interference"?
  4. If a Christian citizen believes Jesus commanded socialism, and so votes for a socialist candidate, is that "interference"?
  5. When anti-slavery Christian pastors preached that God insisted slavery be abolished, was that "interference"?
  6. When, in the 1950s and '60s, Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans threatened pro-segregation Catholic politicians with excommunication, was that "interference"?
  7. When, today, pro-life Christian clergy instruct their flocks that God wants the United States to protect unborn life by force of law, is that "interference"?
  8. Please provide a clear, specific hypothetical example of something that would be "interference": an example for shari'a, for halakhah, and for canon law.

We'll have to see whether or not some campaign staffer sends answers.

(As I mentioned last week, the gold standard for addressing these questions, in my opinion, is Prof. Stephen L. Carter's God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics.)

From the J-Vault: Diversity in Democracy (or, Jewish Difference and the Common Good)

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"[T]here are some among us," said Isaac B. Berkson, during an address in honor of a Columbia professor, "who hold that the retention of Jewish cultural characteristics is not consistent with the processes of democracy. These believe that only such differences as maybe termed religious should be retained by the Jews. It appears to me that such a view rests on an unfortunate misunderstanding of the nature of the democratic process."

This week, from the J-Vault: Education in a Democracy: Democracy and Jewish Culture (1937)

Do Jewish particularism and a commitment to Jewish culture detract from universalism and a commitment to the common good? To the contrary, said Isaac B. Berkson:

Far from running counter to democracy, the maintenance of such cultural elements is a mark of democracy. Among other things, this may act as one of the important barriers against mental regimentation... [A]djustment to American life does not mean utter conformity.

Sub-cultures, religions, and other sources of genuine difference and diversity make the whole society stronger for being different, Berkson argues, and even where they introduce conflicts of opinion, this enhances democracy:

[D]iversity of opinion is a fundamental characteristic of democratic society—really more than that, is a necessary attribute of democracy. Tolerance of divergent opinion is in itself a great advance in the history of thought, but the democratic habit of mind goes much further than benevolent toleration of differences. It has faith in the value of diverse opinion as a positive factor in government and civilization. It uses the dissenting opinion as a means of arriving at the truth, of properly emphasizing aspects of the situation otherwise neglected, of correcting weaknesses in dominant, current view.

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Hyman Bookbinder z"l

Bookie

Hyman Bookbinder, the Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, passed away last Thursday, as the Forward and the Jewish Week report. Bookbinder was also involved in founding the National Jewish Democratic Council, although he felt that American Jews should be active in both political parties. In tribute to his memory, an excerpt from "We Jews in the Democratic Process", a Bookbinder essay for Sh'ma from 1989:

In our pluralist society, each group is permitted to advocate and even press its own agenda, but, in the final analysis, it must be able to demonstrate that its interests are compatible with, and dependent upon, the general interest. No groups in America have understood this better than the Jewish community and the labor movement. It has become a political cliche these days to refer to the "powerful Jewish lobby"—too often carelessly called the "Israel lobby." I have often said that the Jewish lobby is not as strong as some think, but not nearly as weak as some would like. Jews have interests. We intend to defend them. We do not apologize for whatever strength and influence we have. Tragically, there were times when our strength—our ability to affect government action —was not effective enough. We had not yet learned how to use the precious right of advocacy; our people suffered dire consequences as a result. We are determined not to let that happen again...

...So American Jews have developed the skills for mobilizing our community and the general community on behalf of the security of our people —in Israel, in the Soviet Union, in our own country. But we have never forgotten that we are only six million Jews—less than 3 percent of all Americans. We must be able to persuade at least another 48% that our case is just, our concerns real, and that America's own ideals and interests are in harmony with ours. Getting this support, I am convinced, is not the job alone of the professional Washington-based Jewish lobby. In a very real sense we must think of the entire Jewish community as that lobby—the totality of Jewish influence in the country exercised by a wide range of secular and religious institutions, and by individuals publicly recognized as Jewish leaders and spokespersons. And in the larger sense we must think of the allies and the friends the Jewish community has acquired across the land—the churches, women, labor, civil rights, education, urban affairs and so many other groups in our society. We have won these allies, these friends, in two ways: by educating and appealing to them on the merits of our case, and by demonstrating our interest and commitment to the broader community's agenda.

There are some in our community who argue against involvement in these broader public issues, believing that our immediate Jewish problems require all of our attention and energies and resources. My response has always been that I am proud that over the years we have defined our Jewishness, our Judaism, as a commitment to justice for all people, to peace for all people, to freedom for all people. Such a commitment to universal justice does not short-change our Jewish interest; it is, in fact, the only way to protect such interests. But as a pragmatic lobbyist, if you please, I see this broader activity also as a necessary strategy to establish credibility, to make friends, to win trust. "How can Zionism equal racism," we want Congressmen and black leaders and journalists to ask themselves, "when Jewish representatives we work with or observe day after day are promoting fair housing and fair employment and fair immigration policies?"

There is no conflict between our great love and great hopes for this blessed land and our deep feelings for Israel and for our Jewishness; not only are such feelings compatible, they are mutally reinforcing.

The Anti-Boycott Bill and the Double Standard

Censorship

Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich argues in the Jerusalem Post that the outcry against Israel's recent law banning the organization of boycotts is mistaken, and guilty of a double-standard:

There is no universal code of free speech. Determining what gets protection involves trade-offs between the very real harm that speech can cause and the benefit of free expression. Among liberal Western democracies, how that balance is struck varies significantly, depending on legal traditions and circumstances. The United States has far more robust constitutional speech protections than almost any Western country. Most European nations – and Israel – have numerous laws criminalizing speech that would not conceivably pass muster under the First Amendment. This does not mean these countries deny freedom of speech; merely that there are competing ideas...

...Great Britain has strong libel laws that prevent people from truthfully condemning public officials. While the law is widely criticized, no one has suggested Britain has thereby lost its democratic status. Critics of Israel’s anti-boycott law denounce it as fascist. In Europe, calling others fascist has gotten prominent politicians prosecuted – prosecutions that have not provoked lectures on free speech from the EU or America’s State Department...

...The anti-boycott law prohibits speech intended to cause economic harm to businesses solely because of their national identity. Nondiscrimination laws commonly ban plans to deny business to specified groups of certain national or ethnic origins. Israel’s new law bans discrimination against businesses because they are Israeli. Most European states – and Israel – have laws prohibiting speech that is perceived as “hateful” or which simply offends the feelings of particular groups. Often such speech expresses important viewpoints. A boycott of Israel promotes hatred of Israel, and certainly offends the vast majority of Israelis...

...[T]he law has a characteristic crucial for free-speech scrutiny – it is “viewpoint neutral.” That is, it applies to boycotts of Israel whether organized by the left wing or the right wing.

Like most European democracies, Israel’s constitutional protection of speech has long been narrower than America’s. One example is that speech restraints have long been used against right-wing groups. Just recently, a prominent right-wing activist has been prosecuted for “insulting a public official,” after denouncing those responsible for expelling Jewish families from Gaza in 2005. In recent weeks, police have arrested several rabbis for authoring or endorsing obscure treatises of religious law that discuss (allegedly too leniently) the permissibility of killing enemy civilians in wartime...

...Israel’s current practice is clearly well within the limits of an open democracy. Singling out Israel for laws that are identical to, or just as restrictive as, laws on the books in America and Europe manifests the very problem that exists with the boycotts themselves – the application of an entirely different set of standards to Israel than to the rest of the free world.

Kontorovich makes an extremely compelling case that Israel's new law is completely in line with the range of speech laws exemplified by many democratic countries. I, for one, am convinced that it is completely unfair to claim that Israel is undemocratic for passing this law.

That being said, the law remains a terrible idea. Kontorovich is right that Israel is being held to a risible double standard, but the answer isn't to lower the standard of freedom for Israel, it is to raise the standard of freedom for everyone else. Other democracies with restrictive speech laws, including Europe, Canada and others, should pass new laws permitting the expression of any opinion, even offensive and harmful opinions, because that's the right thing to do. The goal shouldn't be matching precedent, it should be doing what is right.

The dodge of right and wrong by fleeing to precedent is a common pattern when Israel is unfairly singled out (i.e., depressingly frequently): critics point out something Israel has done wrong, and Israel's defenders immediately shout to the high heavens that every other country does it and nobody ever complains, and that's unfair in a very sinister way.

They're absolutely right: it's monumentally unfair, and often sinister, and the use of the double standard as a stealth weapon in the PR war against Israel must be exposed and combated. That important conversation, however, (the one about fairness and double standards) ought to be separate from conversations about specific criticisms of specific actions. Responding to a specific criticism by pointing to the double standard is a dodge, and a mistake.

When it comes to a specific criticism, the crux of the matter is always this: either the action Israel did was wrong, or it's right. If the action was right, then the double standard is a red herring; respond to criticism by demonstrating that the action was right. If the action was wrong, then the double standard remains a red herring; respond to the criticism by acknowledging that the action was wrong, and figure out how to fix it.

In the case of this anti-boycott law, the idea that the state can stop people from advocating that their fellow citizens use their purchasing power to make a political statement is just wrong, even if that political statement is despicable. If freedom of speech means anything, it means freedom of advocacy.

From the J-Vault: The Modern Bet Din

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Yesterday we noted Presidential candidate Herman Cain's objection to the practice of Islam in America because Shari'a is a system of laws -- just like Halakhah. Today, a closer look at a publication that was linked in that blog post, demonstrating that American religious communities have been engaging with religious law alongside secular law for generations.

This week, from the J-Vault: The Modern Bet Din (1938)

Writing in Jewish Social Service Quarterly (predecessor to the Journal of Jewish Communal Service), William I. Boxerman describes the establishment of a Jewish court of arbitration in Baltimore:

Perhaps never was the need greater for eliminating from the regular courts such controversies as tend to bring discredit upon the Jewish people as a whole. For, with the rising tide of anti-Semitism, our defamers seize readily upon incidents which support their stereotypes of the Jew as an undesirable citizen...

...Furthermore, a Jewish court meets other definite needs in the community. Often the problems presented should not come into the regular courts because they concern Jewish tradition, religious observances, etc., which cannot be understood easily by a non-Jewish judge or jury... Sometimes, too, the courts offer no relief for the aggrieved individual because the offense against him is not punishable under the law; whereas in the Jewish court, which is not limited in its scope by the statutes, he may find a ready remedy...

...The value of the Jewish Court in providing an emotional outlet for individuals who feel themselves wronged should not be overlooked. The award actually entered in a case is sometimes not nearly so important to the client as the opportunity for expressing his feelings, for having himself declared to be in the right and thus vindicated before an impartial body...

...Because of the expense involved, many individuals with rightful claims cannot file suit in the established courts... The cost of the litigation in such a case would be prohibitive. Many clients cannot even advance the necessary attorney's fees. These claims, however, may be heard in the Jewish Court without charge...

...The procedure is informal; the arbitrators in each case may make and adopt their own rules. This individualized treatment has worked very satisfactorily. Litigants and their witnesses testify under oath; it has been found that the psychological effect of taking, an oath is even more important when the rest of the proceedings take place in an informal atmosphere. During the progress of the hearing, the arbitrators may interrupt as often as they wish in order to ask questions, to clarify points, or to elicit pertinent facts from the witnesses... The participants may speak either in English or in Yiddish... Since the hearing is not open to the general public, an individual need have no hesitation about discussing details which he would be reluctant to relate before outsiders.

The court does not adhere to the rules of evidence. This adds to the informality. Hearsay evidence, unsupported statements, and beliefs, all of which are taboo in the law courts, may be introduced. Lawyers may represent their clients before the court, but the absence of legal "red tape" has sometimes proved annoying to them. In one hearing, an attorney coud hardly control his wrath because the arbitrator repeatedly reminded him that he could not "object" to hearsay evidence.

Boxerman goes on to provide examples of cases brought before the court. Download the publication if you want to hear the description beginning:

"Galician swine, trying to cheat us on the dead!"
"Roumanian schnorrers! We don't owe you a cent!"

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From the J-Vault: Censorship & Sensitivity

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Last month, the US Supreme Court struck down a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children. Defenders of the law used various (unsuccessful) lines of reasoning, such as arguing that harm to children takes priority over other concerns, and arguing that minors do not have the same free speech rights as adults. None of the law's defenders, however, could be seen explicitly endorsing censorship, or even using the word "censorship".

But that's only because times have changed.

This week, from the J-Vault: Objectionable Films (1915)

This little report from the November 1915 Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Charities was obviously not particularly noteworthy at the time, but viewed from 2011, it provides a fascinating glimpse into a time when there was a "National Board of Censorship of Motion Pictures".

The National Board of Censorship of Motion Pictures has just issued a special bulletin to all producers and directors of motion pictures in the United States. This is the first definite step taken by the Board to check the vilification of the Jewish race in the "movies." Acting in co-operation with the Jewish Community (Kehillah) of New York City, Maurice Simmons, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of the Good Name of Immigrant Peoples, has been in constant touch with the National Board of Censorship. The libeling of the Jew in the "films" had assumed alarming proportions and was the subject of complaint all over the country.

Don't you wish we still had a "Committee for the Protection of the Good Name of Immigrant Peoples"? Americans used to be much better at naming things. Also, isn't it quaint to reflect that there used to be a time when Jews were portrayed in "movies" and "films" as falling into a set of stereotypical roles? Oh, wait a minute...

On a more serious note, it may come as a surprise to modern American Jews, who are accustomed to seeing Jewish communal institutions stand generally on the side of civil liberties, that in 1915 Jewish community institutions apparently felt no tension about, or even any need to explain, appealing to the National Board of Censorship.

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American Jewish Liberalism, Affiliation, and Denomination

Obama '12

The JTA reports that President Obama's approval rating among American Jews has remained about 14 points higher than the general public's according to the latest Gallup numbers, despite some public disagreement and distrust between the Administration and Israel's government.

This may come as something of a surprise to many Jews who feel, based on anecdotal evidence or personal experience, that the Jewish community is becoming more conservative, or at least more trusting of conservatives when it comes to Israel. Dr. Steven Windmueller conducted a survey earlier this year of some 2,300 Jewish respondents, finding "a distinctive Jewish conservative voice emerging on Israel-related matters and an array of domestic social issues." He also noted "that among highly engaged Jews, those who are active within Jewish religious and communal life, there is a sharp divide on political attitudes and policies."

The emphasis is mine, and it brings up an important factor to keep in mind when bandying about anecdotal evidence among committed and connected Jews: the "feel" of where the community is among strongly affiliated Jews is not accurately going to reflect American Jewry as a whole, because a large portion of American Jewry is not in the rooms we're getting the "feel" for. (Of course, anecdotal evidence is always the weakest kind of evidence, if it can even be called evidence at all.)

Marc Tracy, reacting to the Gallup news, points to a different distinction as one of the more interesting angles to this story:

 About half of one group of Jewish voters has approved of Obama over the past three months, while more than one third of the same group disapproved of him; more than two-third of another group of Jewish voters has approved of Obama over the past three months, while only one quarter of this group disapproved of him. The two groups? The former, who are not as bullish on Obama, attend synagogue weekly or nearly weekly; the latter, who do still like the president by and large, attend synagogue rarely or never. The observance gap, to my mind, is the more fascinating dynamic.

Tracy is right to highlight the interplay of the religious and political spectra as deserving more attention, but I might caution him against assuming that observance per se is the critical factor. A reminder is in order regarding the findings of my esteemed boss Steven M. Cohen, along with Sam Abrams and Judith Veinstein, in their 2008 study of American Jewish political opinion. "[T]he truly significant gap," they found, "is the one that separates Orthodox Jews from all other Jews." Orthodoxy is closely correlated with observance, but as a not-insignificant number of ritually observant Conservative, Conservadox, Reconstructionist, trans-denominational, and even Reform Jews will tell you, the two are not synonymous.

Importantly, the Cohen/Abrams/Veinstein study broke down political preference not only by denomination, but by sub-groupings within denomination based on the proportion of respondents' friends who were Jewish. The result, at least to me, is partially counterintuitive:

Among Orthodox Jews, those whose close friends are all Jewish, almost universally support McCain over Obama (90% vs. 10%), far more than those with mostly, or even fewer, Jewish close friends (60% McCain vs. 40% Obama). However, the impact of having many Jewish friends is the reverse for the non-Orthodox. Among the vast majority of Jews who are not Orthodox, having more Jewish friends is associated with greater support for Obama (and less support for McCain). Support for Obama grows from 68% among those with mostly non-Jewish friends to 77% for those with mostly Jewish friends. In similar fashion, it grows from 68% among those with non-denominational identity (“just Jewish,” “secular,” etc.) to 77% among those who identify as Reform.

Tribal insularity, it seems, has opposite effects within Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy! For the Orthodox, the further isolated one is from non-Jewish attachment, the more conservatively one votes, while for the non-Orthodox, insularity tends to perpetuate the liberal politics which have dominated American Jewry since Franklin Roosevelt.

Another helpful reminder from this 2008 study is that Israel is not the one and only issue that concerns American Jewry. "Jews do care about the Israel-Palestine conflict more than other Americans," write Cohen, Abrams and Veinstein:

Yet, with that said, the Israel issue ranked 8th out of 15 issues in importance as a presidential election consideration for Jewish respondents. Aside from the economy (a prime issue of concern for the vast majority of respondents), ahead of Israel on Jewish voters’ minds were such matters as health care, gas prices and energy, taxes, and education. Ranking just below Israel in importance for Jewish respondents were appointments to the Supreme Court and the environment. In fact, when asked to name their top three issues, just 15% of Jewish respondents chose Israel as one of the three, and these were heavily Orthodox Jews.

"The World-Wide Scandal of American Marriage and Divorce Law"

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Yesterday, this blog discussed the attitude of one segment of the Jewish population toward the marriage issue du jour, same-sex marriage. 98 years ago, however, a different issue related to civil marriage captured Jewish communal attention.

This week, from the J-Vault: Remedy for the Divorce Evil: A Proposed Federal Marriage and Divorce Law (1913)

The laxity of our divorce laws has done much toward the undermining and disrupting of our homes. Agencies interested in adjusting martial differences have found themselves helpless in adjusting the case of a deserted wife and children, wherein the husband and father produced a decree of separation or divorce obtained by him in another State...

...Under the liberal divorce laws of the United States, divorce is almost optional with either of the parties and fraud has become legalized. But now that the power of amending the United States Constitution is being more actively exercised, it is a source of satisfaction that the following proposed joint resolution to amending the United States Constitution has been introduced into the House of Representatives: "Congress shall have the power to establish uniform laws on the subject of marriage and divorce for the United States, and to provide penalties for the violation thereof."...

...The difference of sentiment between South Carolina, where divorces are not granted, and South Dakota, where they are procured for trivial cause, or between New York and Massachusetts, can scarcely be compromised to enable the adoption of similar laws by the States. For a cooperative statute to be of real service, it would have to be of uniform application and force... The proposed amendment should be zealously advocated, because it offers the only practical method of doing away with the world-wide scandal of American marriage and divorce law.

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Orthodoxy and Same-Sex Marriage

As the JTA reports, the Orthodox Union opposed New York's recent measure legalizing same-sex marriage. But might one Orthodox rabbi have exerted a degree of influence in favor of the law's passage?

Possibly. Influence is difficult to measure, and the decision ultimately rested in the mind and heart of each state senator... but possibly. Zeek reprints an open letter from Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, to Sen. Steven Saland of Poughkeepsie, one of the two crucial Republican swing votes. In the letter, Rabbi Greenberg appeals to the memory of Saland's rabbinic ancestor, Rabbi Shmuel Salant -- a tactic shared by Agudath Israel in their own appeal to the senator, from the opposing side.

Whether Rabbi Greenberg and the Agudah had any impact or not, Saland voted for the measure in the end, putting the legislative question to rest in the state of New York. But within Orthodox Judaism, the question of how to relate to the modern world's ever-solidifying acceptance of homosexuality will continue for many years to come. Rabbi Greenberg, of course, is a significant voice in this internal debate, as are other gay Orthodox Jews, whose personal experiences make this issue impossible to ignore.

Yet, for all the consternation that this issue understandably causes in Orthodoxy when it comes to questions of halakhah, ritual, and other internal matters, it is somewhat baffling that Orthodox Jews should feel the need to maintain a correspondence between secular and religious definitions of marriage. As Rabbi Michael Broyde and Rabbi Shlomo Brody point out in the context of an article articulating a clear and strict opposition to homosexual sex,

Politics makes strange bedfellows, especially in multicultural democratic societies like America. The pragmatic decision to support equal rights for gays in the political realm is not inconsistent with our view that the underlining activity violates Jewish (and Noachide) law. We support religious freedom for all, even as we are aware that some might use this freedom to violate Jewish or Noachide law. Similarly, it is wise to support workplace policies of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, just as we support such non-discrimination based on religion, even though these laws equally protect, for example, pagans. Discrimination based on lifestyle choices may threaten our own liberties, including freedom of religious expression... 

Rabbis Broyde and Brody go on to specify that both political opposition to and political support for same-sex legal marriage are within the realm of reasonable Orthodox choice:

If one believes a civil prohibition of same-sex marriage does not threaten our rights in the long term, then joining a political alliance opposing such, based on shared values or interests, seems reasonable. If, however, one views such a campaign as an infringement of civil liberties, or a potentially bad precedent that might endanger our interests in other areas of civil life, then one should not feel compelled to combat gay marriage.

If this is not a ringing endorsement of civil marriage equality, neither is it the stance of clear opposition taken by the Orthodox Union.

The Orthodox argument in favor of maximum liberty is not a recent invention; as the blog Failed Messiah notes, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was essentially anti-abortion (except to save the life of the mother), and yet also essentially pro-choice. "In Rabbi Feinstein's view, the decision to abort was a decision that should be made by the woman and her rabbi, not by Congress."

Ultimately, as homosexuality becomes increasingly normalized in the broader world, Orthodoxy's internal and external stances on this issue will be increasingly tested and challenged.

From the J-Vault: Girls Gone Wild

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This week from the J-Vault: The Delinquent Girl (1914)

Writing in the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service, Mrs. Julius Andrews (her own first name is not listed) discusses wayward girls in Boston's juvenile justice system.

Statistics show that only about 10 per cent, of the Boston juvenile cases from 1906 to 1911 were girl offenders... But the wayward and stubborn girls are more difficult problems— only too often indicating immorality...

...Girls congregate on the streets, in low dance halls and other commercialized amusement places—free from public interference. It is in such surroundings that many of our young people, seeking diversion from miserable home conditions, begin their downward careers. In an investigation of recreational opportunities in Greater Boston, a pretty young girl naively informed us that she went to the public dances twice a week and wished she could go every night. When asked by the manager of the store whether she was escorted, she said, "No, we dance with any fellow who asks us."

Of course, the dalliances Mrs. Andrews discusses go far beyond dancing, and she notes that although it takes two to tango, society does not dole out its disapproval equally:

When the inevitable harm has been done we ostracize the girl, making reformation almost impossible, while the boy or man, if charged with his share of responsibility, easily escapes by paying a small penalty... Until the law holds man and woman equally guilty and all sex offenses are consistently punished, we shall not be able to control immorality.

Obviously the term "sex offenses" in this usage is not referring to rape and molestation, as we would use the term today -- or at least, it is not exclusively referring to sexual violence. Consensual premarital sex, it seems, is also included under the umbrella of "sex offense."

Interestingly, years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which secured the right of women to vote in the United States, delinquency is already being blamed (in this case, by a woman) on women's rights:

In speaking to the superintendent of a well-known maternity home for unmarried mothers in regard to the causes which were responsible for girl immorality, she said: "The freedom and privileges allowed girls during the past fifty years were now bearing fruit. They had influenced for good and for evil. The mentally strong girl had benefited and is today our best standard of American womanhood, but the weaker girl and many of foreign parentage, not understanding the ethics of such freedom, fall easy preys to what is presented to them as American privilege and liberty."

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San Fran Circumcision Ban: Cutting Down on Cutting

Circumcision

Despite all the demonstrable health benefits of circumcision, San Francisco will vote in November to decide whether or not to ban circumcision in the city, without any sort of religious exemption for Jews and Muslims.

The JTA Archive's blog takes a fascinating look back today at JTA articles from the 20th century on the topic of circumcision. With a hat-tip to our friends at the JTA, and a reminder regarding the old adage about imitation and flattery, here is our own round-up of a few circumcision-related BJPA holdings, all of them from the past three decades:

Perhaps the real motivation for the San Francisco circumcision ban is precisely to unite the Jewish and Muslim communities in opposition... Or not.

From the J-Vault: American Jewish Politics 100 Years Ago

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On a day when the Israeli Prime Minister will address the U.S. Congress, it is worth zooming out to look at Jewish involvement with American government from a more distant perspective -- to ask, for example: with what were American Jewish political advocates concerned a century ago?

Let's find out.

This week, from the J-Vault: The Government of the United States and Affairs of Interest to the Jews (1911)

This excerpt from the American Jewish Yearbook contains the following interesting items, among others:

Sen. Lee S. Overman (N. C.) introduces bill (S. 4514), providing for a $10 head tax, an educational test, the production of certificate of good character, the possession of $25, and other restrictive features [for immigration policy]...

Sen. Joseph F. Johnston (Ala.) submits a report (No. 81), on the bill (S. 404) introduced by him on March 22, 1909, for the proper observance of Sunday as a day of rest in the District of Columbia...

Rep. Adolph J. Sabath (111.), in a speech in the House, denounces the Immigration Commission for its "libel" on the Jewish people in its report on the White Slave Traffic...

After debate, in the course of which Senators Bailey (Tex.) and Money (Miss.) pay tribute to Jewish people, Senate passes bill (S. 404), introduced by Senator J. F. Johnston (Ala.), on March 22, 1909, for the proper observance of Sunday as a day of rest in the District of Columbia, amended so as to exempt from its penalties persons who observe as a day of rest any other day of the week than Sunday...

Rep. Everis A. Hayes (Cal.) introduces bill (H. R. 21,342), providing that the naturalization laws shall apply only to " white persons of the Caucasian race."...

Rep. Everis A. Hayes (Cal.) introduces bill (H. R. 24,993), providing that Section 2169 of the Revised Statutes, which accords the right of naturalization to "free white persons " and Africans, shall not be construed so as to prevent "Asiatics who are Armenians, Syrians, or Jews from becoming naturalized citizens."

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1967 Borders, and How to Lie With Maps

Israel, sans Green Line

As Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere continue to mull over President Obama's Middle East speech last Thursday, and his subsequent explanation at the AIPAC conference, "1967 borders" have become the topic du jour.

In 2008, Hannah Weitzer of Windows-Channels for Communication observed in Sh'ma that Diaspora Jews are accustomed to looking at maps of Israel which do not mark the Palestinian territories, or the "Green Line" that represents the 1967 border. "Drawing in the internationally recognized border between Israel proper and the occupied territories is not a quick fix for all of the issues surrounding Israel education," she writes. "But teaching with maps that lack the green line is indicative of a larger gap between fact and myth that runs rampant in teaching Israel to Diaspora Jews."

But if a map without the Green Line is deceptive, might not a map featuring a hard, solid, 1967-style Green Line be equally deceptive? In the same issue of Sh'ma, history professor Derek J. Penslar cautions against oversimplification in cartography:

"I have a colleague at the University of Toronto who teaches a course called 'How to Lie With Maps.' Supporters of Israel might well suggest as required reading for this course Palestinian maps that show a unitary Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan with no sign of Israel’s existence. Yet Israeli maps, and those produced by and for Diaspora Jews, rarely mark the Green Line that constitutes the country’s internationally recognized borders."

Yet is the answer simply to replace one simplistic map with another simplistic map?

"The best way... would be through maps that faithfully depict the constant presence of Jews and Arabs in the same landscape... Superimposing maps would display the geographic structure and distribution of each community along with the points of intersection between them."

Penslar's chief concern is diachronic -- he wants to help people to understand the development of Arab and Jewish populations in Israel/Palestine over time. But I think his point is even more interesting if taken synchronically -- as a model for looking at the present moment. The reality of Jewish settlement blocs, along with Arab-majority population centers in Israel proper, makes the prospect of a neat and tidy border along the Green Line completely untenable. Besides which, the Green Line was not set in stone or decided upon by any kind of treaty or decree -- it's basically a cease-fire line marking troop positions during a pause (lasting from 1949 until 1967) in a war that started in 1948 and has never actually ended. President Obama, of course, recognizes this, which is why he included the phrase "mutually-agreed swaps" in his speech.

In any case, Penslar's point at its core is that a simple map is a deceptive map, and I think perhaps observers of all but the most extreme positions can agree with that.

Complexity

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