Mr. Chen Believes in Justice

If a blind man who has experienced torture firsthand can believe in justice so can we all.

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Excellent book reviews by Evan Mcmurry on two recent books about Freud and his thought: (i) After Freud Left: A Century of Psychoanalysis in America, edited by John Burnham; and (ii) Hidden Minds: The History of the Unconscious by Frank Tallis.  The whole article is well worth reading, particularly the opening of the article, which dubs the end of Lionel Trilling’s introduction to Sincerity  and Authenticity, as “the world’s last uncompromised  appreciation of Sigmund Freud, ‘it  is possible to observe the moral life in process of revising itself.'”  But an even more critical passage is what follows:

[T]he lessons of Freud have been largely subsumed or forgotten, leaving the reader  to wonder if the cost of psychology’s fortune has been the moral heft  of the discipline, its ability to not just examine and treat the mind  but imbue it with existential urgency

In other words, post-Freud psychology is in danger of losing its legitimacy, if it continues down the path of pure physical and chemical investigation without application to real-world, interpersonal, existential — i.e., moral — issues:

What, after all, were the adventures of Don  Quixote or the sorrows of Young Werther or the dissembling of Lucien  Sorel but case studies? And were the aims and techniques of Eliot’s  or James’s psychological inquiries so foreign from Freud’s? Freud  applied these techniques, long thought to be the purview of art, to  the palpable world, and in doing so affirmed the intellectual and  moral investigations of literature after the traumas of the first  half of the twentieth century left the possibility of meaningful  intellectual quest very much in doubt. . . . “The Freud who faced  unblinkingly the chaos within,” [Dorothy] Ross writes, “and  constructed from it the only truth available to human beings  vindicated the modernist project and validated the moral seriousness  of Trilling’s intellectual class.”

This is not to say that modern science cannot be moral.  It is to say that we must make it moral.  We have more tools now at our disposal than Freud did; we should improve on his legacy, not trample it.

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Marriage Freedom . . . and Responsibility

The Jewish Daily Forward had an important editorial the other day about the moral implications of the marriage equality movement and what it means for gay and straight couples going forward.  The gist is this:

This is why liberal Jews must be willing to work towards a culture that values both independence and commitment, one that promotes the obligations and blessings of family life. We must be willing to tell children, straight and gay: Getting married and raising children (in that order) should be part of your future. This is not to demonize or ostracize anyone who takes another path. But it is to say that marriage isn’t merely a personal choice. It is a religious and moral responsibility, the bedrock of a sturdy society and the very best way to raise children.

The gay men and lesbians who have struggled so long for the right to marry are sending a powerful message. We should all strive for what they want.

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The Banality of Evil

It’s obvious to us today that naziism is evil, but kudos to those who knew it at the time — and said so — like Edgar Ansel Mowrer, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, William Shirer, William Russell, and Sigrid Schultz.  Read about them in the Wall Street Journal’s Review section, the online version of which is available by clicking on the picture below.

Hell on earth looked like any other street in the 1930s

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The Abuse Scandal and the Survival of the Jewish Soul

By David Charles Pollack
PHILADELPHIA, Penn.— Fascinated by the survival of “the Jew” after multiple millennia of persecution, Mark Twain famously asked, “What is the secret of his immortality?”

Mark Twain was fascinated by the survival of “the Jew.”

Undoubtedly, part of the answer to Twain’s question lies in the loyalty of the Jewish People to its own members as well as its ancestral liturgy, holy books, and language.

As is evident from the Dead Sea Scrolls – some of which are on now view here in Philadelphia, at the Franklin Institute, through Oct. 14 – many of the same prayers and biblical stories have been written and re-written, in Hebrew, for at least 2,000 years.

But loyalty to tradition cannot be the full answer to Twain’s query.

The ability to evolve and adapt to the surrounding culture – in short, acculturation – is another unmistakable key to the success of the Jews in the Diaspora.

Even in the case of ancient Jewish texts, for instance, a partnership has developed between the Israel Museum and Google – a beacon of secular culture if there ever was one – that promises to make the Dead Sea Scrolls available online to Jew and non-Jew alike, with full translation and search capability.  An interactive display at the Franklin institute exhibit allows a viewer to highlight the text of each of the Ten Commandments at the touch of a button, using similar technology.  Other scrolls are available online already, including the Great Isaiah Scroll.

The Great Isaiah Scroll, which contains the famous prediction that war mongering will ultimately cease.

Nonetheless, many Jews today seem to doubt the merits of acculturation.

A case in point is the rally to denounce “the Internet,” which was attended by more than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox men two weeks ago in New York. No women were allowed – although 15,000 watched the spectacle, ironically, via the internet – and rabbi after rabbi railed in pious disbelief at the very idea of adolescents using iPhones.

But while the rally itself was bad enough, it was made even worse by the fact that it took away much-needed attention from the sexual abuse scandal plaguing innocent children and their families in ultra-Orthodox communities.

Even Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has recognized that ultra-Orthodox community members have been sheltering abusers for decades in New York City and elsewhere. He has also reportedly shown a soft-spot for those accused of this most unholy of acts, including one 1994 case in which police claimed he was unsupportive of their investigation.

William Plackenmeyer, a former Brooklyn police officer, recounted how in 1994 he ordered a rabbi’s arrest against the wishes of the district attorney.

While the details of bribery, shaming, and threats, which have prevented the arrest of pedophiles who perpetrate their crimes everywhere from mikvot (ritual bathhouses) to religious day schools has been unearthed only recently, they are sufficiently abhorrent to merit revisiting.

  • Haredi rabbinical authorities reportedly responding to allegations of repeated sexual abuse by a teacher by briefly removing the teacher, denying the accusation, and then returning the man to teaching once the alleged victim was too old to file charges under the state’s statute of limitations.
  • An ultra-orthodox rabbi reportedly asking the mother of an alleged abuse victim to cease her cooperation with an ongoing criminal case, offering her $20,000 for “therapy” if the charges were dropped and asking her, “What will you gain [if the accused pedophile] goes to jail?”

Additional examples can be cited, but we would be missing a larger point: Where is the rest of the Jewish community in all of this? The Jewish groups who are always at the forefront – rightly – of the effort to defend Israel against its critics have essentially ignored the abuse scandal.

And it is not as if there is nothing that can be done by the Jewish community at large.

While the executive vice president of the Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi David Zwiebel, has publicly defended the ultra-Orthodox community leaders, his defense is based on a flawed interpretation of halacha, or Jewish law. Thus, Zwiebel claims that mesirah – the archaic religious prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to secular authorities – requires most abuse victims that have not actually witnessed the illicit sex act to “consult” a rabbi before reporting allegations to the police.

Rabbi David Zweibel hides behind a minority interpretation of Jewish law to protect accused child molesters.

But this is not the law. As most rabbis have recognized, mesirah is largely inapplicable in the United States – particularly when violent crime is involved – given its origins in patently antisemitic countries like early modern Poland and Russia.

Yet, Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox leaders have remained conspicuously silent while Rabbi Zweibel proclaims – incorrectly – that this is merely a “minority view.”

As a result, ultra-Orthodox parents whose children tell them they have been sexually abused are cowed into believing that they may not take their child’s claim to the police without first getting religious sanction from a specially trained rabbi. This is so even though no registry of any such trained rabbis exists, as Zweibel himself has acknowledged.

Given this atrocious state of affairs, the Jewish community needs to take a more active role in protecting ultra-Orthodox Jewish children alleging abuse, as well as their families and their would-be advocates.

Nothing less than the “immortal” soul of the Jewish People is at stake.

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A Setback

With Congress set to come back into session this coming Tuesday, we were hoping the conservative members of Congress, joined by some of the liberal members would support the initiative to re-arrest terrorists released for Gilad Shalit.

That’s not going to happen now. Instead, most of the conservative members of Congress are going to call for the impeachment or resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Most conservative members of Congress will begin calling for the impeachment or resignation of Eric Holder come Tuesday.

Because it might look weird for them to call for Holder’s impeachment or resignation and send him a letter simultaneously, none of them want to take the lead on a letter to Holder to tell him to go enforce a law they enacted.

So, bad timing, politics as usual, whatever you want to call it. Doesn’t matter.

But when you’re right, you’re right. We’re right about this — and we’re not giving up. We believe in justice.

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Good, Bad, or Indifferent?

This week, the Israeli legislature, the Knesset, passed a new law that will cancel the pardons of ex-cons released in the Gilad Shalit “deal.”

According to the Jerusalem Post:

Israeli MK Danon (Likud) helped pass the new law revoking pardons for ex-cons that fall back into recidivism.

Before the law passed, the president could add conditions to a pardon, but historically they have not done so. . . . However, as Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) explained when presenting the bill to the plenum, the bill makes conditional pardons the default option for presidents. . . . “Now it is clear that a prisoner whose punishment was eased by the president is still responsible during the conditional period, and must be very careful about behavior that is against the law,” Rotem said. After the bill passed, with 16 in favor and none opposed, [Israeli MK Danny] Danon [(Likud)] said he hopes the new law will make pardoned terrorists afraid to return to terrorism.

The law comes at a time when other, more controversial, laws are being considered, including one that would make it illegal to ransom multiple terrorists for one Israeli kidnappee. (Gilad Shalit’s father has understandably labeled the proposal “draconian.”)

But it also comes at a time when Arab and Muslim leaders are increasingly treating terrorists as heros, either by promoting them (as PA head Mahmoud Abbas has done with Mahmoud Damra) or by making international voyages to meet with them (as both Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas have done with the eleven ex-cons deported to Turkey).

Viewed in this light, the new law sends an important message: Terrorists are violent criminals like any others. They get no special rights, and any “pardons” they received for political reasons will be revoked — chik-chok, as the Israelis say — so that justice may be served.

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