March 30, 2012

Racism vs. Anti-Semitism

There are critics of Israel and the Jews I respect and those I do not. Peter Beinart, who has just published The Crisis of Zionism, is an example of one I do not. He is jumping onto a band wagon that is careening down a dangerous slope. I doubt his motives. Not for his criticism of Israel, much of which I share, even though I do believe far more evil has been thrust onto Israel than it itself has been guilty of. But for his support of a qualified boycott of Israel, when I have not seen him quoted in support of a boycott of other far worse and dangerous regimes. There are others I respect because I believe their motives are purer. One was Peter Novick, who died recently, a significant American academic known primarily for his analysis of the objectivity of professional historians. But in the Jewish world he is known for his fierce critique of the way the Holocaust has been used and misused for political purposes in his The Holocaust in American Life and then in The Holocaust and Collective Memory.

For many years after the obliteration of the Nazi evil, neither Jew nor non-Jew wanted to speak about the horrors of what happened. Even Anne Frank’s diary was initially rejected by publishing houses. Some argue that it was the Eichmann Trial in the early sixties that caused the floodgates of memory to gush forth. Some believe it was the warming of the Cold War, which had been the excuse for integrating former Nazis into the fabric of German and American societies, ignoring their past and using them to combat the USSR. For others it was the palpable fear of Israeli extinction we who lived through it all experienced just before the Six Day Way and the sense of its miraculous victory that led to the focus on the fact that a second Holocaust almost happened. Maybe it was all of these that suddenly led to the establishment of Holocaust museums and Holocaust Days and the solemn promises that this would never happen again.

Novick saw much of this as an abuse, a misuse, and an excuse. He argued that the Holocaust was being used to prop up declining communities, as a surrogate for religious values, and an excuse for misbehavior elsewhere. He distanced himself from Norman Finkelstein’s neurotic antagonism towards Zionism and his thesis that Israel’s only reason for emphasizing the Holocaust was as a cover for its imperialist domination of the Palestinians.

I agreed with much of what Novick wrote. I did feel there was “no business like Shoah business” and that it was being milked for all it was worth. What became a generally accepted slogan--never again--was a sham, because the fact was that other genocides have taken place since then, as the world stood by. Part of me recoiled from those who made a living out of the Holocaust, all those prizewinning books and the requirement to bring the Holocaust into almost every piece of literary writing, however banal. Yet another part of me recognized that the lessons have not been learnt and that the very people who ought to be visiting the museums, seeing the films, and reading the books were not. It was the converted preaching once again to the converted.

The worst intellectual pornography, however, came from left-wing Westerners bereft of a political cause to rally round, except against anything associated with the USA, who have tried to equate Israel’s reluctant and accidental occupation of the West Bank and Gaza with Nazi extermination, which is now virtually the default position of Western academe.

It was not until my wife introduced me to Jean Amery that I heard a voice that really moved me. In her course at the New School, Amery’s work was presented alongside Frantz Fanon, the great left-wing black writer who highlighted the immorality of slavery and the oppression of blacks around the world. There is no doubt that this prejudice continues, but nowadays no one would dare champion it in public. The Trayvon Martin scandal, where it seems at this moment that a completely innocent black youngster was shot dead by a racist of a different color, shows how much prejudice against blacks still exists. The equivalence is the problem once again. In order to get the idea of a Holocaust Day accepted by Muslims in the West (much of the East still claims it was a myth) and by others who had a brief against Jews, the idea was extended, as in the UK, to cover other genocides and racisms. I recall a heated debate with a black academic in London who argued that the horrors inflicted on black slaves were the same as the Holocaust. I argued that I was not aware of any gas chambers built for any other people or race. To suggest the situations are identical would have depressed Amery enormously.

Jean Amery was born Hans Chaim Mayer in 1912 in Austria. His mother was not Jewish and he was brought up as a Catholic. Amery studied philosophy and literature in Vienna. He found himself categorized as a Jew by Hitler, married a Jewish woman and joined the resistance against the Nazi occupation of Belgium. He was captured and tortured by the Gestapo and survived internments in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He was liberated at Bergen-Belsen in 1945. His main work was At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities. His theme was that humanity itself becomes complicit in the crime by ignoring it, by feeling guiltless and by pretending it did not happen. He felt his task was not to explain the inexplicable, but simply to keep the memory alive as an abstraction. “For nothing is resolved, nothing is settled, no, remembering has become mere memory. I do not understand today, and I hope that I never will. Clarification would amount to disposal, settlement of the case, which can then be placed in the files of history.” He adopted his name Amery both because it was an anagram for his name Mayer and a play on the French for “bitter.” He identified as a Jew, but not in any religious sense. He lived a bitter life with the burden of the evil and hatred he had seen. He committed suicide 1978.

Quite prophetically, when he reissued At the Mind’s Limits in 1977, he added an introduction in which he said:
"Germany’s young leftist democrats have now reached the point where they not only regard their own state as an already halfway fascist social structure but in a wholesale way they also view and correspondingly treat all those countries they designate as 'formal' democracies--and amongst them, above all, the tiny endangered State of Israel--as Fascist, imperialist, colonial. For this reason the time has come when every contemporary of the Nazi horror must take action. The political as well as Jewish Nazi victim which I was and am, cannot be silent when under the banner of the anti-Zionism, the old wretched anti-Semitism ventures forth."
Intellectual fashions rise and fall, come and go. Over the past two thousand years only one hatred has remained constant throughout. Equivalence is the issue. No one dares fly the flag openly of racism or male chauvinism in the West. But anti-Semitism will not die.

Amery’s point is that the Holocaust was like no other hatred, an intentional attempt at the destruction of every single Jew regardless of age, sex or creed. To compare, to try to fit it into a category is a dangerous heresy. There has been nothing like it in human history. This does not excuse crimes committed by Jews or Israelis. The obligation to protest, to demonstrate, to try to change must be constant. But the one thing that is unacceptable is to diminish the horror of what humans did by comparing lesser crimes to it. That was why Amery said that he could not bear to live in the same world that the perpetrators or supporters of Nazism, or indeed anti-Semites, continued to inhabit.

When we give intellectual support to those who argue that Israel is a Fascist State, regardless of whether we believe, as I do, that individuals of that state have made gross and sometimes murderous errors of judgment and action, we are helping those who seek our destruction and elimination and we are betraying the memory of men like Amery, who could not bear to live while such intellectual deceit was still being perpetuated. Nothing surprises me about Jews, for better or for worse. It saddens me that even holocaust survivors themselves have become tools of those who really do seek Israel’s destruction. But this must make the rest of us fight all the harder, both for Israel’s survival and its moral health.

March 23, 2012

Conversion - Israel Style

Not all religious inhumanity is physical. Mental cruelty is regarded by the Talmud as just as heinous. The games being played in Israel by the State Rabbinate are an absolute scandal. If it were just a matter of religious standards I would only be saddened, frustrated and angry. But when it is simply a matter of power, turf wars and one-upmanship I can find no saving grace at all.

The problems started long ago when the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, agreed that personal religious status would be the sphere of the rabbinate. And this included conversion to Judaism; a matter of some significance in a State which was set up as a refuge for Jews by birth or conversion. From the start the rabbinate only agreed to accept conversions carried out by Orthodox authorities in Israel and the Diaspora. Under the dynamic and brilliant Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1917-1994) the Army Rabbinate converted recruits who wished to rectify their status. His lenient approach became the standard and, because of his religious Zionist values, made conversion easier for anyone already living in Israel.

He continued this policy when he became Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. All the different Rabbinate courts throughout the country were authorized to perform conversions and they were all recognized. Simultaneously, the Charedi courts did their own conversions according to their own standards. Trouble was those standards varied and in both cases there were too many scandals of conversions for money and influence.

To complicate matters, the UK Beth Din, never fans of Religious Zionism, refused on principle to accept Israeli conversions. They chose to be stricter than almost any other Diaspora Beth Din. Had they been acting only on the basis of principle they might have had a point. Sadly they too often found ways of making exceptions when big money played a part.

Originally the Israeli State Rabbinate was dominated by like-minded Religious Zionist rabbanim. But as with all else in Jewish life, over the years they have slowly lost ground, power, and influence to the Charedi rabbinate. In my younger days, no Charedi of any self-respect would deign to take a job in the State Rabbinate and the Charedi world completely ignored them. The current Charedi elder, Rav Eliashiv, once served as a judge for the State Religious Court in Jerusalem. If one mentions that nowadays it is regarded as Lashon Hara. I would say it is compliment. I saw the two camps as being a good thing. The rabbinate catered to the masses, the Charedi world to the super-pious. At least that meant choice. But the need to assert its power and find jobs for its boys has led to the Charedi infiltration of the rabbinate, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi.

The problem of conversions has grown over time, because of the large number of Russians and other non-Jews living in Israel who serve in the Army, may die for Israel, but cannot be buried in military cemeteries because they are not Jewish by religious standards (only for purposes of the Knesset’s Law of Return). Secular and Religious Zionists want to ease their way into the Jewish people. Charedi opinion is that only really genuine and serious converts who intend to lead religious lives should be accepted. Politicians have tried desperately to find a compromise, but have consistently failed.

In 1997, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman thought he had succeeded in setting up a moderate government conversion agency as part of the Prime Minister’s Office, under the Chief Rabbinate. Rav Haim Druckman, an Orthodox Zionist rabbi, was in charge. At the same time, the Army Rabbinate continued to process its own converts within the armed forces. As have further attempts by Member of the Knesset Rotem to moderate the standards while leaving the rabbinate as the final arbiter. Partly because the American Reform movement working through the Jewish Agency blocked any change in Israeli law unless they would be allowed equal standing with the Orthodox, and partly because of suspiciously defective paperwork for Army converts, all these attempts have failed. Last year some Druckman conversions were nullified by more rigid rabbis within the rabbinate. Then the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar tried his hand at a solution. No luck. No solution.

I cannot think of a more cruel and religiously hypocritical position than telling people who believe they have been legitimately converted that it was all a mistake. If this is our religion, then no wonder so many Israelis want little to do with it.

So who is going to deal with Orthodox conversions? The State Rabbinate? The Chief Rabbinate whose present Ashkenazi incumbent was planted by the Charedi vote? The Charedi suspected ordinary rabbis of being too soft. So they, in turn, retaliated by refusing to accept Charedi conversions. The crazy situation developed in which some of the most respected Charedi rabbis had their converts rejected by the State rabbis.

A similar problem arose with regard to the USA. Not all Orthodox rabbis were Orthodox enough for the Charedi rabbinate (rightly, so in my opinion, because some really were converting for money). So you would be recognized as a Jew civilly in Israel if a Reform rabbi converted you, because that was deal the Americans worked out with the State authorities. But if were converted by an Orthodox rabbi the Israelis did not recognize, your luck was out! A sort of compromise was reached and the Rabbinical Council of America was asked to submit a list of approved rabbis (which came back suitably emasculated) and the stand-off remains unresolved.

So practicing Orthodox Jews converted by Orthodox rabbis in the USA are now being refused Aliyah as Jews. The Orthodox world has gone mad. There is only one solution, get rid of the rabbinic monopoly on status. Open up the market the way it is in the USA. Anyone can find someone to do what they want to do, just as anyone can give degrees. But if you want to get into a specific college you have to meet their criteria. In fact some Chasidic groups are much easier to convert through, but then would you necessarily want to join them?

There are wonderful, admirable organizations, such as ITIM under Rabbi Seth (Shaul) Farber, are trying to fight for the rights of genuine converts. There are noble and fearless rabbis like Rabbi Marc Angel, who has written an impassioned appeal to find a reasonable solution and stop this nonsense. But in the meantime the situation of conversion in Judaism is a sad joke that only brings all rabbinates into disrepute.

March 16, 2012

Circumcision Troubles

I have to my credit (or not) several blogs about circumcision in which I contrast my visceral antipathy towards harming a child with my loyalty to an ancient, resilient, and still relevant tradition. I also draw a distinction between a ritual that permanently removes an organ of pleasure and one which is simply superficial. And, at the risk of offending tattoo lovers, I find circumcised penises much more aesthetically attractive than uncircumcised ones, and indeed more than tattoos and body piercings. But I concede unreservedly that this is very subjective and no doubt culturally conditioned.

For over two thousand years it has been enshrined in Jewish law that where the health of a child is at risk one does not circumcise. All the commandments (except for blasphemy, murder, and adultery) are overruled immediately and without reservation where life is at stake. This is why we delay circumcisions until babies are declared medically healthy and why in the case of a child suffering from hemophilia the ceremony would be delayed indefinitely. There are plenty of other halachic precautions.

So how can one explain the sad death of yet another child because a Chasidic mohel passed on herpes when he put his mouth to the wound to draw blood?

The great and very conservative leader of European Orthodoxy, the Chatam Sofer (1762–1839) was asked to rule on the procedure of Metzitzah, mentioned in the Mishna. The mohel sucks the incision site to force a bloodflow through the cut. The Chatam Sofer writes that the original reason for Metzitzah was functional, to protect the health of the child. The flow of blood would disinfect, help healing, and dislodge any blockages caused by the circumcision itself. He argued that, given the health fears raised in his day, Metzitzah with a sponge was acceptable. Opponents of his ruling argued this was an exceptional ruling rather than a general one, and only in response to the threat of the authorities to ban circumcision altogether.

However, the default position of many ultra-Orthodox Jews, particularly Chasidim, is to perpetuate the custom, and thankfully the number of fatalities is minute. On the other hand, the more Modern Orthodox and more Lithuanian Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) recommend using the glass tube or pipette. In its paper on the subject, the RCA brings plenty of authorities, even from the strictest of Eastern European authorities, who either banned or discouraged the direct mouth method.

In Britain for many years, the late Dr. Bernard Homa, head of the Machzikei Hadass community of London, campaigned against Chasidic persistence in using Metzitzah by mouth.  He wrote several articles producing all the halachic evidence, culminating in a pamphlet entitled Metzitzah, published in the UK in 1960.

A few years ago a Chasidic mohel who used the oral method in New York was found to have infected three children with herpes, one of whom died. In response, New York authorities tried to prohibit him from performing Metzitzah b’peh. However, the mohel's attorney argued that the New York Department of Health had not supplied conclusive medical evidence linking his client with the disease. In September 2005, the city withdrew the restraining order and turned the matter over to a rabbinical court. In May 2006, the Department of Health for New York State, issued a protocol for the performance of Metzitzah b'peh which purported to allow it to continue while still meeting the Department of Health's responsibility to protect the public health.

Despite the furor at the time until after May 2007, when Fischer was linked to another case of neonatal herpes. At that time he was prohibited by the New York Department of Health from performing Metzitzah b’peh anywhere in the state. But it seems that both he and his community ignored the ruling. The Chasidic communities, being inherently conservative and opposed to outside interference, have refused concessions to modernity (except when their own lives and health are at stake).

Even so, they have been forced to acknowledge the risk and have encouraged the use of disinfectant and mouthwash. But most medical opinion doubts that this is enough. All this quite apart from the risk the mohel runs, himself, of contracting some blood-borne disease the child might have picked up from its parents. But, hey, if he wants to take the risk, no doubt he believes his Rebbe will protect him.

Once again, it is politics that is preventing anything being done. It seems to me axiomatic that if someone causes the avoidable death of anyone, whether through Herpes or AIDS or whatever, he or she should be prosecuted for manslaughter. Still, neither in Israel nor the USA will this happen. Why? Because in certain areas, the dominant Chasidic population can be commandeered by their Rebbes to vote en masse and en bloc. This is a serious factor in many closely fought political constituencies. No one wants to offend blocs of voters, if at all possible. In Europe, the inner-city Muslim vote similarly exercises a powerful influence to stall interference.

We Jews are the first to cry foul. Why aren’t we all crying foul now? I am not suggesting a total ban. After all, we don’t ban sexual intercourse because one can pass on HIV. But I would like to prosecute any mohel who causes the death of a child through a practice that could have been avoided without infringing Jewish law. If one wants to be so holy, then one needs to take very serious precautions to avoid turning sanctity into tragedy.

The case against legislation is interference in religious affairs. But this is not a case of preventing a religious practice. It is not a ban on circumcision. It is merely closing one seemingly optional avenue of religious behavior when others are still open, even in the most diehard of communities.

Political correctness is a serious disease, all the more so when it really causes death. It can lead to the failure to stop terrorism by refusing to narrow down the field of suspects, and it can also put lives at stake by fearing or refusing to interfere with religious practice. If we cannot take the steps to stop it, we must at least enable the courts to.

March 09, 2012


Candidates for the Republican nomination for president have brought the Mormon Church right into the public eye. No doubt the successful, clean living, pious Mitt Romney is a welcome change from Broadway shows and television series about the Mormons and legal cases of patriarchs marrying multiple much-younger wives, not to mention stories about their special underwear.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) was founded by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have found, in New York State, golden plates inscribed with the Book of Mormon. Even though they soon disappeared, they became the foundation of his new Christian church that was regarded initially by mainstream Christians as schismatic and heretical.  He died in 1844. His successor, Brigham Young, led his flock off west to Utah, where they established themselves as a closely knit, successful missionary sect with a strong financial base. Its eager, cleanshaven, white-shirted, and flannelled young missionaries have spread out around the world, knocking on doors and offering to bring good news to anyone who still hasn’t had any or, if they have, have not realized exactly what the good news is. As with all religions, over time it has fragmented into different factions and degrees of religiosity.

The Mormons gained notoriety for (in addition to their former practice of polygamy) their concept of proxy baptism. You can covert someone who is dead, retroactively. Since they believe that only a person baptized can enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the idea is that they are doing someone a great favor, without needing to ask their consent. And of course the missionary gets extra Divine brownie points for every soul he saves, dead or alive.

To this end, the Mormons have built up possibly the most extensive database in the world of all sorts of archives that have been used to baptize almost anyone they could identify. In 1994, an Israeli genealogist, Esther Ramon, researching her family in the Mormons' computerized International Genealogical Index, discovered that her grandfather, a religiously observant Jew murdered in the Holocaust, had been posthumously baptized as a Mormon. She alerted other Jewish genealogists who soon learned that some 380,000 Holocaust victims, including Anne Frank, had been baptized, as well as Theodor Herzl, the founder of secular Zionism, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, and scientist Albert Einstein. Negotiations between Mormon and Jewish leaders led to an agreement in 1995 to stop the posthumous baptism of all Jews, not just Holocaust victims, except in the case of direct ancestors of Mormons. But this has not stopped some more zealous members from still doing it.

When I heard this story many years ago, l was, in the language of texting, Rolling On the Floor Laughing. “You can’t be serious,” I thought, “You want to convert me without my even knowing?” All the funnier given what hoops we Jews make people jump through who want to convert to Judaism! Well, be my guest. Make me an Elder of the Church, too, if it makes your day.

In general, Mormons, like Lubavitchers, are friendly openhearted, nice men and women who genuinely want to do good. They built a huge college in Jerusalem, on condition they agreed not to proselytize in Israel; my brother, David, was an acclaimed lecturer there for several years. However the only thing their religion shares with Orthodox Judaism is their propensity for large families.

The truth is that their notion of doing someone a favor is not unique to them. Why, even in the Talmud we say, “You can benefit someone in his absence”. But that is materially. How you do it spiritually is another matter. Some of our “latter day” rebbes seem to know how to do that, too (for a price).

The fact is that mainstream Christianity was into this lark long before the prophet Mormon. Romney’s main rival is Rick Santorum. He is a strict Catholic. I have no doubt he thinks I’m a lost cause too, as far as the Next World is concerned. Why do you think the Catholic Inquisition used to be so fond of burning people? Heard of the auto-da-fe? Perhaps you didn’t see Mel Brooks’s film, History of the World, Part I!

An auto-da-fé, literally an “act of faith”, was the ritual of public penance for condemned heretics in which the Inquisition burnt them to death for their alleged crimes against religion. After all, if they were going to burn in Hell for eternity, what’s a quick barbecue in this world that wouldn’t last too long and actually save them from burning forever. The church was doing then a favor!And since everyone seemed to find the burn up much more entertaining than the penance which preceded it, in popular use the term came to mean just the burning.

All this primitive stuff is based on the incredible arrogance of religions that think that they are in the sole possession of the truth and that everyone else is damned. I thought it a hoot when an ardent Christian told me, in Cambridge, that regardless of how good or spiritual a person I was, no matter what my relationship with God, I would burn in Hell because I would not accept Jesus as my saviour. In vain did I try to get out of him any logical answer as to why, or what product he had to offer that could possibly improve on what I already had.

I guess it is not so different than Chabad missionaries believing that only their way of dress and custom is the right way for a Jew to behave. And that the mere act of putting on tefillin or waving a lulav will save their souls. OK, not fair. They might share a Mormons’ enthusiasm for converting people, but they do stick to Jews and they don’t really believe everyone else is doomed to eternal damnation. Or what about those crazy Kabbalists who will tell you looking at a page of the Zohar, even if you understand bubkis, will change your life?

Frankly why should anyone give a damn about retroactive conversion? If that’s some religions’ belief, surely that’s their problem, not mine. And if it makes them happy, as they say in Hindustani, “Gey gezunter heit!” Sticks and stones may break my bones, but I honestly don’t think God will hold it against me if someone signs me up for subscription I didn’t ask for.

If you get a chance, look up Stephen Colbert’s sketch on Youtube. He decided that if Mormons could convert dead Jews he was going to convert all Mormons to Judaism with a ceremony that involved taking a cigar cutter to a wiener sausage. And why not? It is no more ridiculous than retroactive conversion except that we don’t believe in converting people to curry favor with the Almighty.

March 01, 2012


Purim is all about appearances and how misleading they can be (disguise).

Normally we like to think that “what you see is what you get”. But the fact is that things are very rarely what they seem. A politician on the rise will say whatever needs to be said to gain support and cash. Money and taxes always play an important role in any campaigns. The Purim story includes all of these, political rivalries, manipulation, plots, seduction, alcohol and bribery. The late and great Rav Moshe Shapiro of Brisk, Be’er Yaakov, and Etz Chaim liked to see Israeli politics in the story; secularists versus the religious and political corruption. He laced his Purim Torah with barbs.

The Jewish Agency, the Sochnut, has always been an object of derision ever since the state was founded in 1948; what was effectively the representative body of Jews in Palestine should have simply closed up shop and handed the keys to the elected government of Israel. But it remained a weak duplication of other institutions purporting to represent Israel’s link to World Jewry. It was given the task of encouraging and integrating Aliyah, immigration and the integration of new arrivals. Why you need a bloated bureaucracy for that, Lord only knows. All the more so since money was so short in the early years of the State that many would be immigrants were actually discouraged until funds were available. Nowadays it is clear that private enterprise usually does a much more efficient job for less.

The Jewish Agency used to send poorly qualified shelichim, representatives, around the world on expense-paid junkets, or to spend a few years outside Israel ostensibly working for the State but in reality amassing material goods that were still difficult to get back home. Yes, of course there were remarkable exceptions, but they only proved the rule.

I experienced all this at firsthand in education and communal affairs in the UK. We would tell jokes at their expense. Like the prize cow from Kibbutz Deganiah that was sent to Africa to show them how advanced Israeli agriculture was. Once there she just sat down in the field all day long, chewing the cud. The complaints started coming in, so the Head of the Cowshed went out to see what the Africans were complaining about, and he saw they were right. “Why is it that back home you were the most productive cow in Israel, but here you’re a lazy bum?” he asked. The cow replied, “In Israel I was a pioneer, here I am a Shaliach.” Or the Time and Motion study to make the Jewish Agency more efficient. The first bureaucrat interviewed explained that he came in to work at 8:00 AM, read the Haaretz newspaper till 11:00 AM, had coffee from 11:00 to 12:00, read the afternoon paper, Maariv, until 3:00, and then went home. The second fellow said exactly the same thing. So they fired one of them because there were two people doing the same job.

Working for the Jewish Agency was a sinecure, a reward for hacks, placemen, and political also-rans. Over the years they tinkered here, it merged with the World Zionist Organization, but it still remained an incompetent and virtually irrelevant institution overlapping and interfering with legitimate government bodies. And still the money poured in, sometimes less, sometimes more, from government and abroad.

A recent survey of the Jewish Agency has revealed that its top pen pushers get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, while its chief gets nearly three-quarters of a million. And for what exactly? No one really knows. They’ll bravely try to justify themselves with puffery of course. Who can’t? It’s just a dinosaur, a remnant of the old command and control approach of failed systems.

Here’s an example of Rav Shapiro’s Purim Torah. In the Book of Esther they set up a whole government department to gather in virgins to find a new wife for the king. They actually do find one, Esther, and they crown her. But then look at Esther 2:19. Why does it say, “And when they went out to gather virgins a second time”? If the department set up to do a job has done it, there’s no need for it, so surely you close it down. But not in Persia and not in Israel, and that’s the only reason the Jewish Agency still exists. Unless of course it takes on the obligation on Purim to give presents to friends and thinks this ought to go on all year round to anyone employed by it!

That of course was fifty years ago. Things have improved. Israel’s economy has escaped the deadening hand of pioneer left-wing doctrine (although in enriching a few well connected families, mafia bosses, and corrupt oligarchs it seems eager to imitate everything that’s wrong with Russian society). And actually nowadays anyone who has experienced American bureaucracy will confirm that it’s far worse than Israel’s which has improved dramatically. Sadly the Jewish Agency has not.

And this, my friends explains why it is so important to drink on Purim. Because otherwise you might get depressed and start crying, which is why we get dressed up--because as we all know, beneath the clown’s makeup, there’s a tear.