Friday, June 24, 2011

“The world rests on three things: justice, truth, and peace" (Avot 1:18)

What a peaceful world it might be, if even in the face of opposing view points, without politicing…people rested their arguments on the topic at hand in a direct and respectful manner. More often than not, reasonable people could find reasonable solutions. One need only regard the nightly news to find sensationalizing of current events, false analogies and character assasinations that all but completely veil the original and true concerns.

Consider recent political news: A new flotilla of Pro Palestienian activists is ready to set sail and try to break through Israel’s navel blockade. Brg. Gen. Yoav Mordechai has said on Israel Radio, “There is an unequivocal directive from the government to enforce the navel blockade that is recognized by international law, and we will not allow it to be broken.” News of the proposed fotilla comes nearly a year after the flotilla, where nine were killed, and Israel has already warned of a potential use of force, yet activist set to participate still insist on refering to themselves as “peace activists”. Is there really any doubt as to their true agenda?

Further, consider the proposed ban on circumsision in San Fransisco. Is it really about children’s rights, as ‘intactavists’ claim or is it a ban intent on hindering the practice of Judasim? The writer of the proposed ban in SF, Mathew Hess, is also the author of the notoriuosly anti-semetic comic “Foreskin Man”, which has been sited by the Anti Defefamation League for “gross Anti- Semetic imagery and themes.” ADL Associates representative Nancy Appel has been quoted as saying, “This is an advocacy campain taken to a new low. It is one thing to to debate it, it is another thing to degrade it. This reaches a new low and is disrespectful and deeply offensive.”

When did it become good debate or quality discussion to disparage and degrade one’s opponent? I cannot help but think that these types of tactics betray not only an argument without substance, but often an agenda and are acts of hatred. “Tale-bearing and unkind insinuations are proscribed, as is hatred of one's brother in one's heart (Lev. 19:17).”

At worst, humans fall prey to particpating in this, inadvertantly or not. At best, we can guard against it and demand facts, direct sources, and laws in support of a position, rather than emotion and hearsay. We have to trust each other with the truth and the ability to make democratic decisions. The facts should not be eclipsed or silenced by retoric. It’s okay to ‘fight’, but fighting fairly and ethically is paramount. “The reputation of a fellow man is sacred.” (Ex. 21:1).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Foreskin Man: Fanning the fires of Anti-Semitism

Okay, just as I am nearly about to concede that most people are acting primarily out of concern and information available, even if that information is sometimes misinformation, when some reprehensible creation has to prove me wrong. Enter Foreskin Man. So how like the propaganda of nineteen thirties Germany, to depict the caricature of the bad, evil, scary Jew who will do something unspeakable, with, usually, enough left unsaid that the imagination runs wild. But Foreskin Man leaves no spurious image or wearisome stereotype left to our imagining. And frankly nothing here seems to be all that mysterious.

Even the people who will decry that the Jewish people always claim anti-Semitism in the face of opposition will have a difficult time ignoring the very blond super hero “Foreskin Man” or his darker skinned and exaggerated featured nemesis, the Model Monster. Even if one could block out the less than subtle stereotypes, then enter the ridiculous gore-ifying of the religious rite beyond any recognition. The cover of the particular issue I saw shows the mother shielding the child protectively. Umm. The mother who likely called the Mohel and requested his services, you mean? Seriously. Not to mention his blood spattered shirt.

from Foreskin Man

The writer of the comic is Matthew Hess, who says that the comic is not intended to be Anti- Semitic. According to Hess, "It takes an unflinching look at the practice of circumcising children, as well as those who perform it. The characters are drawn accordingly to convey that message." If I take him at his word, then I can’t help worrying more than a little bit about what true colors and unspoken bias Mr. Hess might be unintentionally channeling through his art.

So far the Anti Defamation League has sited the comic for “grotesque antisemitic imagery and themes”. And Nancy Appel of ADL associates said, “This is an advocacy campaign taken to a new low. It is one thing to debate it, is another thing to degrade it. This reaches a new low and is disrespectful and deeply offensive." But these remarks have not kept the comic from supportive pages on Facebook or items being marketed at CafĂ© Press. (Please feel free to call them or write emails to express your displeasure.)

One can’t help but wonder about how Hess’ group, Male Genital Mutilation Bill, feels the argument is going if they are willing to resort to this type of propaganda. Not well, I’d surmise, if the comic book is any evidence. (If only there were a white, very blond, super hero with Nordic features to tell people what to think!) I’d like to believe that popular culture definitions of an issue wont make a difference, except to those most limited or on the fringe of society. But history has proved this belief wrong.

In the interest of fighting popular culture with popular culture, I recall the character of George Castanza of Seinfeld fame, who gave this advice in a sketch, “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.” If George where a real person, I would be compelled to remind him- that yes, yes it still is a lie, even if you choose to believe it.

A Cut Above?

Banning Circumcision in SF
(Warning: contains adult content)

So let me get this right…you can pierce it…you can tattoo it…and in some cases you can show it off while dancing and in others cut it off entirely! These are your rights. But what you simply cannot do is keep a covenant with G-d and have a circumcision on the eighth day of life. Hmmm. This November voters in San Francisco will have the opportunity to vote on a ban that should it pass will make it illegal to circumcise under the age of eighteen.

Normally, I shy away from making statements about the ‘war on religion’ as I have heard it stated, as it has always rung a little paranoid if not outright ‘fringe element’ in my ears, but this argument under the circumstances makes itself. Who else, after all is bound, and I do mean bound, to have one? The importance of the event is underscored in the Torah when Moses’ wife performs her son’s bris herself in Exodus. “So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his leg with it, saying, ‘you are truly a bride groom of blood to me’ “ And by doing so she saves Moses’ life as G-d was prepared to kill him for having not carried out this command.

I am also reminded of the story of Jonah and the big fish. Many people seem to gloss over the fact that Jonah ended up in the fish because he was trying to avoid what G-d asked of him. He was to go to Nineveh and foretell of its destruction. (The message stands out, that one can return to G-d, if one is sincere. This is bore out with the timing of this reading, as it takes place on the Day of Atonement.) But another message is clear as well-when G-d asks us to do something; it is not really a conversation. It seems best, with us as with Jonah, not to try to avoid his “requests”.

While arguments have been made regarding the relative health benefits of circumcision, and they are many, reduced instances of urinary infections, reduced risk of other infections such as herpes and syphilis, and the Human Papilloma Virus which causes cervical cancer in women (British Medical Journal), the fact of the matter is it that for Jewish people it is first and foremost a religious ritual.

Many laws are designed to save us from ourselves and to this I say, if you dislike the practice of circumcision, you find it wrong or inappropriate then don’t practice it. But don’t interfere with a religious obligation that you do not understand. And I know there will be arguments that people do understand…so let me say that if YOU are not obligated to have your child circumcised then don’t. But don’t force your options on the people who practice this for religious reasons and view this practice in an entirely different light. And I encourage lawmakers and others who wish to understand the practice better, to make an appointment with a Rabbi (A Jewish one-which I know sounds redundant, but I have found people who use this title and are not.) because this is a person who, having studied for years and years, understands the laws.

The arguments comparing circumcision to female genital mutilation while numerous and varied are moot, because the two are incomparable. It is an effort to sensationalize the argument and thus gain support for a law that would undermine the religious freedoms of many. The argument wants my heart to go out to women who are abused in the most indelicate and unsanitary of circumstances and it does. But I am also moved as much, in my heart and in my soul, by the thought of the tragic possibility of a Jewish man deprived of a bris.