Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Is Rabbi Ovadia the Only Jew Who Reads the Prayer Book?

September 7, 2010

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s ill wishes towards Israel’s Palestinian Arab enemies, including the Palestinian Authority and its Holocaust–denier President, elicited disdain and disavowals from much of the leadership of Israel and the Jewish world.

Rabbi Ovadia’s “words do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, nor the position of the government of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Theological Seminary and related groups said, “As leaders of the Conservative/Masorti movement, we deplore these recent comments of Former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef”.

ADL leader Abe Foxman said, “We are outraged by the offensive and incendiary comments made by Rav Ovadia Yosef.”  And the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations added, “We are disturbed by the reported comments of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.”

Why these entities have reacted this way is an interesting question.

This is even putting aside the paternalistic attitude of superiority so commonly used to justify ignoring the constant barrage of hate and incitement to genocide that emanates from many of Israel and Judaism’s enemies, both from Palestinian Arabs and others (most notoriously, Iran).   And that vitriol is not voiced just by an individual — but is promulgated by their governments and their leaders, including Israel’s purported “partners for peace.”

But I was gratified to learn that I was not the only one who found the situation peculiar.  In a letter published on the Jerusalem Post’s website, Chana Pinto accurately and articulately pointed out that in our prayers, Jews beseech G_d to defeat our enemies.  For example, the Amida includes “Frustrate the hopes of those who malign us,” and “Let all your enemies be speedily destroyed.”

So is Rabbi Ovadia the only prominent Jew who reads the prayer book?  Are the other Jewish leaders ignorant of our prayers in the prayer books they themselves publish? Are they akin to America’s legislators who now routinely pass multi-thousand page bills without reading them or knowing what is in them, much less understanding and reflecting on their implications?

Or is it that these other Jewish leaders are aware of their prayers, but Rabbi Ovadia is the only one who means it when he says them?

Perhaps if the Conservative leaders and their Reform counterparts (who,  of course, also attacked Rabbi Ovadia) are so offended by their own prayers, they should change them.  If Obama and his Democrats can ram their unwanted legislation down the throats of Americans, perhaps these Jewish leaders can change our prayers to be more consonant with their political and worldly sensibilities.

This controversy over the Rabbi’s remarks reminded me of a similar hypocrisy that occurred during George W. Bush’s presidency.  Bush was well known to have been inspired by his faith and G_d during his time in office.  And he was routinely and vitriolically mocked and criticized for doing so.  Many Jews  were among those so criticizing him.

But reference the “Prayer for Our Country,” a commonly recited Shabbat and Festival prayer in Conservative (and other) American congregations.  The prayer includes the plea to G_d, “teach them (our ‘leader and advisors and all who exercise just and rightful authority’) insights of Your Torah so they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security…may forever abide in our midst”.

So these Jews who criticized Bush for being inspired by the Bible were criticizing him for doing precisely what they were praying for him to do!  Just as today Rabbi Ovadia is pilloried for asking for just what we ask for in prayer.  In both cases, of course, the prayers may have been so rote as to be less than sincere.

But the key answer to the question as to why so many people claimed offense at the Rabbi’s remarks is two-fold.  One is that throughout the world, most people don’t want Israel to prevail in its struggle, and Israeli and Jewish leaders are sensitive to that sentiment.

Second, and more important, is the widespread and tragic refusal by Israelis, Jews, and westerners in general, to acknowledge that Israel is at war.   Israel is at war with Palestinian Arabs, not just the Gazans. (Hey, if it’s not a state of war, why do we need peace talks?  Does this enemy to whose defense the Israeli government and Jews throughout the world are rushing even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state?  Last time I checked, no.  And the enemy even says that it never will.)

Related to the refusal to acknowledge the state of war is, on the part of many, a lack of understanding of what war actually entails.  That results in horror when the enemy is killed, injured, or even inconvenienced (e.g. think “checkpoints” and “blockade”).

As has been learned over the course of  human history, Israel will never achieve the security of peace until it defeats its enemies.  And as has also been true throughout human history, Israel will never be able to defeat its enemies by being nice to them, or even by loving them.  Love bombs don’t work.  Real ordnance is needed.

And if G_d provides help, all the better.

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If Only Businesses Were Like the IRS…

March 24, 2010

This tax season got me wondering:  What if private enterprise treated its customers as the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (and its Congressional and Executive branch masters) treats us taxpayers?

For example, if your phone company treated you as the IRS treats us, this is how your billing would work:

While the company knows the details of your calls, you would be required every year to add up the costs of each call, and list and report them by categories the company arbitrarily devises.  If you leave some out, or add the numbers wrongly, the company could come after you, get you to pay the right amount, fine you, and even get you incarcerated.  (While the IRS knows most details of your income from the burdensome reporting it imposes on payers, it won’t tell you what it knows until after you tell it what you think.  Of course, it could tell you what it knows it the first place, but that would relieve you of the burden of compiling the information, and would give a semblance of being taxpayer friendly vs. bureaucrat friendly, so that is out of the question.)

You would have to report your calls separately on different forms by often meaningless categories, such as short, medium, or long distance calls, to odd or even numbers, type of phone, length of call, and whether made or received.  Ridiculous?  Then why do we have to separate dividends from interest from wages from long term capital gains from short term capital gains, from business income, and on in finitum?  And again, when the IRS already knows these answers?

The company would give you outdated forms for reporting, having never adapted them to recent decades, much less the present.  For example, it might tell you to list all your text messages on a worksheet, then put the total on the main form, rather than taking the trouble itself to adapt the form to current requirements.  That is how the IRS treats items such as “qualified dividends” and capital gains distributions today.  But again  — the IRS already knows the answer; as a taxpayer, you are simply a targeted victim for the game of “gotcha.”

Perhaps the phone company, as does the government, would want to use its billing rules to encourage certain behaviors.  They might assess a penalty for calls made while driving – for which you would have to fill out extra convoluted forms.  And then, if you go over or below certain thresholds, you have to start your reporting over because all the numbers change.  The IRS is especially fond of that technique – whether your income is above or below certain thresholds determines whether various deductions (e.g., for IRAs) are allowed, or penalties are applied (e.g. alternative minimum tax).

Like the IRS, your phone company — and every other major company you deal with — would give you a hundred page booklet with instructions as to how to comply with their fiats.  But you might need extra forms to comply, and you would be on your own to procure them.

Another analogy to the IRS treatment would be a supermarket that scanned your purchases, but made you add them up yourself  — and would possibly prosecute you as a shoplifter/criminal if your total came up short.  Presumably, the store would allow the supermarket division of TurboTax to set up in the parking lot, where for an extra fee they could help you calculate what you owe.

The store would also give you a hundred page booklet of instructions.  After all, its management might have decided that special rules must apply to anyone who purchases two cans of anchovies and seven bottles of beer.  The booklet would be full of special rules for similarly rare or trivial situations.

State governments are hardly better.  They search for their own way of gratuitously exacting pain, and not just financial pain.  The Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, orders its taxpayers to repeatedly write their names on the same page of the return – reminiscent of having to write the same thing over and over on an elementary school blackboard.

You would think that all taxpayers would have realized by now that any desire to be forced to deal more extensively or exclusively with government agencies – such as via further government regulation of health insurance or other businesses — is insanity.  But, sad to say, that apparently is not the case.