Non Sequitur — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

God knows how Eliezer’s mind works. It goes off into other dimensions every time I try to have a serious conversation with him. That’s what happened on Purim this year. I waited through the entire reading of the megillah, the Book of Esther, to point out to him Chapter 4, verse 14, which I’d never really thought about before.

     illustration by Pepe Fainberg

     illustration by Pepe Fainberg

Ki ‘im taharishi ba-‘et ha-zot’ revah ve-hatzalah ya‘amod le-yehudim mi-makom aher,” Eliezer reads as my finger traces the word. He translates: “‘But if you remain silent at this time, reprieve and deliverance will come to the Jews from elsewhere.’ So?”

“So this is what Mordecai says to Esther when he tells her about Haman’s plot to kill the Jews,” I point out. “That she really doesn’t have to do anything, because the Jews are going to be saved anyway.”

“Well, if that’s God’s plan,” says Eliezer, “then I guess he’s right. What’s the big deal?”

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Appraising God: Reading Psalm 146

Haim Watzman

A preview of a conversation I’ll be leading at an all-night Shavu’ot study session this evening—happy holiday to all.

Ostensibly simple, theologically maddening, Psalm 146 is one of my favorite biblical poems—precisely, perhaps, because its ostensible simplicity is so maddening. And since it gets recited each day in the morning service, where it appears just after “Ashrei” and as the beginning of the hymns of praise that precede the prayer service proper, it’s hard to avoid.

The problem at the heart of this poem, and its daily recitation, is that it isn’t true. But before I get to that, let’s look at the structure.

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Red Briefs and Rain Ink–“Necessary Stories” Column in The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

The dust rose so high to the sky that heaven and earth seemed to have reverted to a dull yellow primordial chaos. The engines of dirt-caked, drab army transports rumbled, the horns of master sergeants’ white vans honked. I stood, trying to be seen and heard, at the Fatma Gate in Metula, seeking a ride up to my base at Ana, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

As of early summer 1983, the IDF had been bogged down in Lebanon for a year. Rational procedures and clear rules had been drafted for transporting soldiers to and from and through the Cedar Republic, but like so many army regulations, few knew them, and no one obeyed.

The way to get from Metula to Ana was to stand as close to the gate as the military police would allow and hold out an arm. An occasional driver would notice the lonely soldier through the smokescreen thrown up by the Holy Land’s parched soil, take pity, and stop long enough to ask where I needed to go. More often then not, they were going somewhere else. I needed to be back at base by 3 p.m.; driving straight up from Metula, the trip took at least three hours. It was already nearly an hour before noon, and I was getting desperate.

Read moreRed Briefs and Rain Ink–“Necessary Stories” Column in The Jerusalem Report

More On The Torah–Who Needs It?

Haim Watzman

In response to my post The Torah-Who Needs It, “Haskalah” asks:

Can a Jew “think hard about every action, about what it means and what its consequences will be, without the Torah?” Did no one do so before the first Sha’vuot? In short, is it possible for a Jew to be moral and ethical and responsible without being observant?

It’s possible for anyone, not just a Jew, to be moral, ethical, and responsible without being religious or observant. And, as I noted in that post, observing the Torah’s commandments does not automatically make the observer a moral person.

Read moreMore On The Torah–Who Needs It?

Is God a Republican?

Poor God. You created the world, you are the power and glory, but everyone thinks you’re a Republican.

But the association of the Most High with the most right-wing doesn’t stand up to philosophical scrutiny. Conservatives, after all, love order. They want today to be like yesterday, and tomorrow to be like the day before yesterday.

But then they’ve also got this all-powerful God who, they believe, intervenes in their lives, in politics, and in everything else on a daily, ongoing basis. But wait a minute–if God is constantly intervening in the world, that means the world operates according to God’s will, not according to any established laws. A world ruled by an omnipotent, interventionist God would, on the face of it, be totally unpredictable. Tomorrow would most certainly not be like today.

That’s not a very conservative proposition.

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