Israeli Wine Industry Leaving France and Italy in the Dust

Mt. Tabor with Vineyard in the foreground, CC BY 2.5 PikiwikiIsrael via Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem Wine Club CEO Eli Poch says Israel has advantages that are allowing for unparalleled growth.

(This article was originally published in Arutz 7.)

In 1987, the Golan Heights Winery won Israeli wines their first major international award in competition with the 1986 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 at the International Wines & Spirits Competition in London. Eli Poch, the Founder and CEO of the Jerusalem Wine Club and proprietor of the Club’s full-service wine shop in Efrat, says the industry has never looked back.

In the nearly 30 years since the industry was revitalized by that one award, the number of wineries has gone from a handful to between 250 and 400. Mr. Poch said he could not give an exact number because new wineries on preparing to open their doors all the time.

Mr. Poch got involved in wines at a young age in Toronto, pairing up with a local wine shop as part of a pre-Passover fundraiser when he was in 9th grade. He later got a warehouse job with that business and then took his enthusiasm further when he started exploring the emerging industry in Israel.

“There is even an International Ambassador for Israeli Wines. There is also the consortium in Israel with Machon HaYayin whose entire focus is to specifically to aid in export capabilities and monitor levels of pH and alcohol levels in product.”

“Israel’s reputation has become much more world-renown. There is a focus on rebranding Israeli wines and pulling them out of the ‘kosher section’ and making sure they are mentioned with the likes of the Spanish, the French and Italians.”

As far as concerns about international boycotts, Poch says he has not heard anything about the idea in the wine circles he frequents, even in France or Spain.

Israeli Wine and Geography

But why has the industry expanded so rapidly? Poch notes that unlike other rapid expansions that might sacrifice production quality, it is the quality itself of Israel’s wines that have made expansion possible in the first place. As a result, traditional centers of the global wine industry like France, Spain and Italy are actually seeing Israel begin to corner elements of the market.

Blended wines are just one segment of that international market that Israel tackles better than other industrial centers. Given the example Bordeaux blends, which require a mix of five different types of grapes, Israel consistently uses high quality versions of each grape that challenge countries that might excel in one breed of vine but not the others.

The main reason is scientific. No country on the Mediterranean coast or in the northern regions of Europe has the diverse climate that Israel does contained in a single area.

“We’re very, very much different in the capabilities of what’s in our soil and how that produces more varieties, duplicates them or does both those things together.”

Within a small space, the Golan Heights contrast with the beaches of Eilat, the sea-level regions along the coast are complemented by the Judean Hills and Jerusalem’s valleys, and so forth. Even the composition of soil is extremely different place to place, including volcanic soil in the Golan, limestone, Terra Rosa (clay), basalt and sandy regions in the Negev.

“I can literally go to Kadesh Barnea and the sand will fall through fingers as if I were standing on the beach. We grow grapes in this! Each soil has different combinations of minerals that give different flavors to Israeli grapes.”

The soil variations themselves are enough to make the same breed of grape taste different depending on the ground in which it grows.

That variation is behind the idea of the Jerusalem Wine Club. Paid membership gets members between two and four bottles of wine per month – including from boutique wineries – that they might not otherwise have had the chance to taste with the popularity of the bigger wineries’ products.

Israel’s other advantages rest in its particular cultural and religious background. Israel’s gathering of Jewish exiles from France, Italy, Spain, the United States, South Africa, Australia and other locations means that winemakers trained and experienced in very different wine-growing climates can consult with each other. Asked why this was a challenge for say, French and Italians, he said that each industry can isolate themselves.

“It’s a matter of ego sometimes. In Israel, because the high-quality version of the industry is so young, people realize they will either sink or sail together in the same boat.”

Israel’s climate is also consistent. While rain might vary during the winter, the rain in the actual growth season from March through Rosh Hashanah is actually consistently nothing. As a result, Israel’s drip irrigation is the only water source for the vineyards, giving Israeli winemakers the counterintuitive advantage of being able to control exactly how much water will be used for their vineyards.

“With too much rain you might end up with grapes that are over-diluted, which waters down the taste. If it is too sunny, there might be extra sugar and high alcohol content. Zero rainfall during the growth season and drip irrigation allow growers to monitor the exact amount of water going into the vines.”

He says that the reliance on technology has been a blessing in disguise. It is at the point that the Golan Heights Winery has machinery that will monitor the amount of evaporation off of any leaf on any vine in any of its vineyards. It is a scientific precision that other wine-growing centers are nowhere near matching.

What Poch felt was of note was along the lines of the oft-cited idea that Israel’s greening reflects the Biblical prophecies that foresee a country that experiences its own rebirth when the Jews of the world return. He says that one section of the Torah implicates the wine industry is an even better indicator of this:

“If you look at Yaakov Avinu’s brachah to Yehudah in Genesis 49:11-12, he blesses him with so much wine that ‘he will wash his clothes in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes; red-eyed from wine and white-toothed by milk.’ Yehudah’s descendants will prosper by the vine. We are seeing that in the richness of Israel’s wine industry. It is a literal blessing.”

The Jerusalem Wine Club store is located in Efrat, Gush Etzion. You can contact them at their website or at 02.625.2896.

The Temple Mount vs. Jerusalem vs. Settlement Blocs vs. Isolated Settlements vs. Unbuilt Settlements

The Temple Mount needs to be on centrists' agenda. (CC BY SA 3.0 Godot13)

I support Bayit Yehudi and protecting the religious interests of the State of Israel.

That being said, the last year and a half even more than the previous four has been particularly damaging to the notion of Religious Zionism. There’s been no strategy or foresight in settlement projects. There’s been no prioritization or differentiation between the importance of Jerusalem and towns in the West Bank; even less has there been any effort to distinguish the centrality of the Temple Mount over any other area of Jerusalem.

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Israel Won. Hamas Lost. Period.

Israel won this war. Don’t be ridiculous. If you thought Israel ever considered toppling Hamas, much less dismantling it as an organization, you had no idea what Israel was doing there in Gaza or how near impossible it would be for a military operation to destroy an organization. Operation Protective Edge was a military success, even with the diplomatic problems.

Gaza Hamas Rockets Fired

Two Gazan rockets launched at Sderot – date unknown (CC BY SA 2.0 tipinfo via Flickr)

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Judaism & Islam as Anchors to Peace in the Middle East & Beyond

The following is an extremely long and general, but fairly thorough mission statement requested of me by the organizers of the Muslim-Jewish Conference in Vienna, Austria. I might be the only resident of a Jewish town in Judea & Samaria, the only resident of a West Bank settlement, who will be attending (I could be wrong). The fact I am a Religious Zionist makes me the ideal demographic to represent the community. I’m not sure if my spot on the left-right political continuum is as reflective, but this writing is a major exposé for me. I am never this open about certain views I have. I gain nothing from hiding some of my views on these issues, and the Jewish people gain much less by bottling up these views to the world at period in history where Jews’ very rights to free expression, association, religious practice and political independence face scrutiny that no other ethnic or religious group in the world experiences.

I was asked to characterize the conflict between Jews and Muslims, identify causes and then offer some idea for how to resolve that fight. I don’t expect a majority or minority to agree or disagree with me. My views are my own, though I admit I hope they weigh on how people view their own spirituality, politics, diplomatics (coined) and vision of the world . . .

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Aggression & Genocide: Cynical Uses of Major Words by Hamas & Fatah

Palestinian definitions of aggression and genocide are wrong and ridiculous.

I am writing this post out of concern for the fact that Israelis increasingly think the only way to wage war with Arab terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hezbollah, ISIS and whomever else is to ‘think like’ or ‘act like Arabs.’ The idea is an exaggeration of the need to maintain a deterrent against kidnappings, murders, rocket attacks and incursion (i.e., terrorism). But some people take it too far, thinking the only way to match a force like Hamas is to act like them and to even talk like them. Prime Minister Netanyahu has gotten into this game of talking down to the enemy, something Hamas engages in all the time. It’s annoying, mostly because no matter what we say, it makes it look as though the smarter kid on the playground is getting caught up in a senseless fight. Two particular ways these groups are goading at Israel is the deliberate misuse of the terms “aggression and genocide.”

Netanyahu needs to stop talking. Seriously, shut up. Stop threatening and warning Hamas. Don’t say anything. Just do. Just shoot. Just respond. Don’t get into a shouting match. If Hamas wants to cynically call Israeli responses to rocket fire “aggression” and Abbas wants to call civilian deaths who were in a combat zone “genocide,” it’s not worth engaging in discourse. Mahmoud Abbas is a weak leader, precisely because of his mouth. Khaled Mashaal is a self-interested and vicarious politician with no connection the Gaza. Seriously, don’t engage them by word. They can’t respond. They never do. Their words are empty, so don’t try to match their meaningless threats with your own. Just get things done. Stop talking. Just stop.

Those two terms in particular are a mind-numbing annoyance for anyone who has ever taken AP History. “Aggression” and “genocide” are internationally defined terms. They have very, very specific definitions which have never, ever matched the way that Hamas or Fatah have used them to describe Israeli policies or actions.

The definition of aggression is absurdly long, yet abundantly clear.

Aggression: An Unprovoked and Unjustified Military Attack

The Definition of Aggression

Yes. That’s right. This was debated. This was legislated. The entire world came to a consensus on it. The definition can come down to this: any war that is launched without any justification of self-defense and intended to injure or destroy the other country is an act of aggression. Here are just some snippets from the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 that defines aggression from December 14, 1974:

Article I Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this Definition. Article 2 The First use of armed force by a State in contravention of the Charter shall constitute prima facie evidence of an act of aggression although the Security Council may, in conformity with the Charter, conclude that a determination that an act of aggression has been committed would not be justified in the light of other relevant circumstances, including the fact that the acts concerned or their consequences are not of sufficient gravity.

The initiation of force, inconsistent with the UN Charter that outlines how states must relate to each other, is the definition of aggression here. If a state is attacked, however, then a response to that attack is not defined as aggression.

Case in point, Israel’s wars against Gaza (not Palestine, not the West Bank, not the Palestinian Authority, but the Gaza Strip alone) have all been wars of defense, provoked by rocket attacks from the Hamas-governed territory.  Hamas does not have the right to attack civilian population centers in Israel, a war crime in and of itself. These attacks are often used to strengthen Hamas’ popularity when it wanes in the Gaza Strip. These rocket salvos are not launched in response to any Israeli military action that would have constituted a threat to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah have all used the term “aggression” to define every Israeli military action against the Gaza Strip since 2006. Operation Protective Edge is the fourth Gazan-Israeli war since Hamas overthrew Fatah in early 2006.

Here is a list of the four Israeli campaigns against Hamas in Gaza and Hamas’ preceding acts of aggression:

2006, Operation Summer Rains:

In June 2006, Hamas raided a small Israeli battalion along the Israeli-Gazan border and captured Gilad Shalit, provoking Operation Summer Rains from Israel. Two weeks later, Hezbollah mirrored the Hamas attack and drew Israel into a war in Lebanon, both acts of aggression against the State of Israel.

2008, Operation Cast Lead:

Hamas had launched 50 rocket attacks leading up to the operation; 18 rocket attacks came on December 16th, hours before Hamas declared a ceasefire with Israel to be void. On December 21 alone, Hamas launched 50 Qassem rockets at Israel. Hamas launched another 60 rockets on December 24. By the end of the month, Israel launched Cast Lead. Afterwards, Human Rights Watch accused Hamas of not only deliberately firing at Israeli civilian-populated areas, but launching rockets from Gazan civilian-populated areas, putting Gazan civilians at risk of legitimate Israeli counterattacks.

2012, Operation Pillar of Defense:

In October, Hamas launched 116 rockets and 55 mortar shells at Israel. Following another two weeks of rocket attacks, Israel attacked and killed Hamas commander Ahmad Jabari, launching Operation Pillar of Defense, which resulted in a total of 1,734 rocket attacks by Hamas in the month of November.

2014, Operation Protective Edge:

Following the triple murder of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar & Naftali Frenkel near Hebron, 40 rockets were launched at Israel, including 16 on June 30th alone, out of apparent celebration that the three boys had been found murdered – a crime which Hamas had openly endorsed. Rockets the first week of July increased , leading up to Israel’s response: Operation Protective Edge.

The Difference between Causes of War and Conduct in War

Without sounding cliche, both sides of the war (or at least either side’s supporters) have conflated aggression and war crimes.

In one pointless exchange I had on Twitter, someone stated that civilian targets become legitimate when they are citizens of an occupying power:


This couldn’t be further from the truth. Aggression relates to the cause for war, or in international law the ‘right to war,’ jus ad bellum. How either side conducts itself during war is a matter of jus in bello, justice during war. In a paper analyzing the 2008-09 war between Israel and Hamas, Dr. Avril McDonald made it clear the two can’t be conflated:

“Equally, a breach of jus ad bellum (or indeed jus in bello) by an opposing party does not justify or excuse breaches of jus in bello.”

- Dr. Avril McDonald (associate professor of international law at the University of Groningen) , Operation Cast Lead: Drawing the Battle Lines of the Legal Dispute

Hamas uses the term “aggression” consistently to describe every. single. action. by the Israeli Defense Forces. At best, Hamas misunderstands what the term means. At worst and more probably, they are deliberately misusing the term to justify continuous aggressive attacks of their own against Israel. Hamas’ deliberately indiscriminate rocket launches are a definite war crime – not to mention when they admit trying to aim their rockets at certain cities and locations, like the nuclear reactor in Dimona. On that note, let’s shift to the second word of dispute:

The Definition of Genocide

CC BY-SA 2.0 World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland — AbuMazem via Wikimedia Commons

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “genocide” over Operation Protective Edge. He made the comments after less than 50 people had been killed by Israel’s operation:

“It’s genocide — the killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people.

“What’s happening now is a war against the Palestinian people as a whole and not against the factions.

“We know that Israel is not defending itself, it is defending settlements, its main project.”

“We are moving in several ways to stop the Israeli aggression and spilling of Palestinian blood, including talking to Egyptian President (Abdel Fattah) al-Sisi and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.”

It’s not genocide. Genocide has a very specific definition which does not include casualties from collateral damage or people who were warned to leave their houses or areas beforehand and even refused to. Hamas’ Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip has told people to ignore those warnings and stay in their homes. The only thing that seems to be identifying targets for Israel is whether or not someone in Hamas or Islamic Jihad’s command structure lives in the house. There is absolutely no evidence of systematic genocide of people simply because they are Muslim, or Palestinian or particularly Gazan.

And here is the cherry on top:

“Shall we recall Auschwitz?”

No, we shall not.

The comparison itself is an insult. He even invoked Auschwitz to compare the air war and siege of Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust. Gaza is not full of labor camps. There are no gas chambers. There is no effort whatsoever to wipe Gazans from the face of the earth.

Mahmoud Abbas has never made such comparisons with past Palestinian acts of terrorism that killed a similar amount of people. In 2012, his own Fatah party commemorated the anniversary of a major terrorist attack that murdered 37 Israelis in 1978, saying of one of the operation’s leaders:

“On this day in 1959 Martyr (Shahida) Dalal Mughrabi was born, hero of the ‘Martyr Kamal Adwan’ mission, bride of Jaffa and the gentle energizing force of Fatah.”

Another example comes from 2013, when Abbas’ office sent someone to greet the mother of a convicted murderer, Issa Abd Rabbo, whose son has been in prison since 1984 for the double murder of two Israeli hikers that year.

David Pollock has highlighted the consistent pattern of hate speech and murder justification by officials of the Palestinian Authority and other major Palestinian organizations. In his concluding remarks in a recent position paper:

“It is futile to debate whether Israeli settlements or Palestinian hate speech are more or less to blame for the conflict’s persistence. The major lesson of past successes, failures, and false starts are that incitement is a serious problem, but also a fixable one. It is at least as much an obstacle to peace as any other more tangible issue, so steps to end it should be integrated into any attempt to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All interested parties — Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, and others — should now pay at least as much attention to hate speech as to housing starts.”

Speaking from the gut, I have to say Mahmoud Abbas is a terrible person for his inconsistent application of what mass murder really is. He’s evil for comparing victims of collateral damage to systematic attempts to destroy entire peoples, and a cynic for HIS DOCTORAL THESIS THAT DENIES THE HOLOCAUST. So when he said, after 43 Gazan deaths, that Israel was committing genocide, it was important to consider that he had demanded freedom for actual murderers who chose their victims solely on their nationality; that the deaths in Gaza are from collateral damage after aiming for rocket launching sites in residential areas OR attacking the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders who had received advanced warning to leave their homes.

The definition of genocide itself is defined in Articles II & III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide:

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:
(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

In Article III, section (d), it refers also to the attempt to commit genocide as a crime. I’m going to stay in the present, in 2014 (without getting into the numerous times that Arab armies bragged that this was their goal in going to war with Israel).

Israel has made no statement that it intends to annihilate Palestinians. There has been no effort to launch a massive barrage of weapons that do not discriminate in their targets. In short, there is no justification to accuse Israel of genocide. Mahmoud Abbas is using rhetoric without regard for the meaning of his words.

There is no conspiracy to wipe out Palestinians. Israelis have never tried to justify the murder of Palestinian civilians simply for their nationality or religion. On the contrary, this is a crime that Mahmoud Abbas, his Fatah party and several other Palestinian organizations in control of either the West Bank or Gaza Strip have done on several occasions. In fact, there hasn’t been a single word by Mahmoud Abbas on this specific gem from Hamas:

Hamas’ Attack on Dimona is Nuclear Terrorism

In the first few days of the war, Hamas admitted it had deliberately fired rockets at Dimona, aiming to hit Israel’s sole nuclear reactor. Attempts were made on Wednesday, July 9th and Thursday, July 10th to strike Dimona. There can be no dispute that a rocket explosion at the nuclear reactor would be a serious environmental catastrophe and that anyone who were to fire at the reactor would know there was always a high risk in doing so. It is not safe to assume that any rockets fired at Dimona would be intercepted or fall short of the reactor. The fact that they need to be intercepted is prove positive that these rockets present a legitimate threat to the safety of the residents and infrastructure of Dimona. Any rocket fired at Dimona and Dimona especially is itself a war crime and should be taken seriously by international bodies as an attempt to commit genocide against the State of Israel.

Iron Dome fires a volley to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 (CC BY-SA 3.0 Emanuel Yellin, עמנואל ילין – Own work via Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to international conventions against genocide itself, there is a recent treaty on nuclear terrorism, which covers the specific crime of targeting a nuclear facility with the intent of its destruction.

Article 2 of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism states:

1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person unlawfully and intentionally:
(a) Possesses radioactive material or makes or possesses a device:
(i) With the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or
(ii) With the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment;
(b) Uses in any way radioactive material or a device, or uses or damages a nuclear facility in a manner which releases or risks the release of radioactive material:
(i) With the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or
(ii) With the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment; or
(iii) With the intent to compel a natural or legal person, an international organization or a State to do or refrain from doing an act.
2. Any person also commits an offence if that person:
(a) Threatens, under circumstances which indicate the credibility of the threat, to commit an offence as set forth in paragraph 1(b) of the present article;

This is a small snippet of a reaction; a very minute effort on my part to highlight the irrationality of Palestinian accusations against Israeli policy and military responses to Hamas’ rocket attrition and attempts to infiltrate the Israeli border to commit acts of sabotage and terrorism. With a justified military operation to combat aggressive rocket attacks, Israel is accused of aggression and genocide for the pure purpose of incitement and to mislead the world.

Avenge, Don’t Revenge, the Deaths of Our Boys

The entire world was given a chance to express their solidarity with Israel in the face of the disparity it faces on a daily basis, where its citizens face physical threats on a daily basis from a constantly evolving list of enemies. This one case of three boys was a chance for anyone that wanted to do to stand up and say something fairly simple: Bring Back Their Boys. Even in the darkness that is the news these boys may have died soon after they disappeared, the reaction of certain diplomats at the United Nations, the split reaction of the Palestinian government and awkwardly celebratory reactions of thousands of Palestinians themselves demonstrated to the Jewish people they face a very formidable stupidity in this list of enemies which celebrates the exchange of death over the continuity of life.

Yes, it’s one case. It’s three boys in the scheme of hundreds of cases of disappearances and murder over the years, but it was a case that Israelis near unanimously decided was a special sort of outrage. No statement was made here today by the butchers on the Bank. There is no sympathy that can be extracted for any sort of nationalistic cause that celebrates a 16-year-old’s kidnapping by smiling and giving out candy.

A reminder to everyone who reads this: if you want vengeance, leave it to the IDF. Trust them. Embrace them like the citizens of Gush Etzion did during the search. Be in lock-step with them. Follow their lead. If you are called up, follow its command. Do not stoop to the level of hicks who murder hitchhikers. Do not give them the satisfaction of an emotional response. Allow the IDF to extract justice or wage war. If you want the death penalty, fight for it through the civil means the State of Israel has established. Push for legislation. Do not let your rage cut down a single olive tree, nor anything more intense. I suspect no one would try to match the evil that was perpetuated outside Hebron, but let’s not consider ourselves to be so arrogant that our own rage might justify retaliation.

The three kidnapped teens, from left to right: Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach (photo credit: Courtesy)

Retaliation should be measured and intelligent. Don’t fight hard, fight smart. Do not stoop to the level of Hamas that justifies kidnapping and murder. Don’t give them the satisfaction of weakening our resolve for a strategic, calculated and efficient counterattack. Let our army do the job. Support the IDF and be vigilant.

The Jewish people are better. They are not weak. They are not frightened. THEY ARE NOT TERRIFIED.

We, Together, Are An Army

I support the Israeli Defense Forces as our army against a force for murdering innocent people like the self-righteous Hamas. The Israeli Police now know they need to be better and more serious when they receive calls about kidnappings – not to be small-headed in their approach to crime. The State will now have to weigh an intelligent response.

Support making this country better. Do not let their deaths be in vain and let your desire for revenge overcome what this country needs right now. The Jewish people, the Israeli people have just been wronged. Do not give its enemies the satisfaction of a global outcry against revenge attacks. Do not stoop to their levels.

Many children will be named in the memory of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, so it is now your jobs to ensure those future Sons of Israel are welcomed into a nation made richer and stronger by tragedy. Learn Torah in their memories. Say hello to someone you politically argue with every day and be friendly. Do not judge your fellow Israeli by size or material of yarmulke and certainly by whether or not he wears one. Do not judge your neighbor by whether or not she covers her hair while married. Make our society better, do not let it descend into the obvious darkness the murderers’ corner of the world has.

Know the Enemy; Don’t Be Like Them

Refuse the culture of revenge. Embrace a culture of justice. Reject an emotional, uncultivated response. Embrace wisdom and strategy. Reject a culture of death. Embrace a culture of life.

Study your enemy if you must but do not rush to engage him. Help our army that defends for us, which fights for us.

Some of you out there might be aware that only about 65 years ago were the Jewish people confronted with the reality they needed an army.  There was very little in terms of clear Jewish Law on how a Jewish army may conduct itself.  Among the few laws recorded before the founding of the State of Israel was the rule that a soldier whose fear of battle is too debilitating is not only permitted to not go out to war, but obligated to. While this is a reality in every army, it does not have to be the reality of the Israeli one.  Undisciplined emotion is what enables fear to take root in the human mind and undermine its spirit.  Fear can also be a great motivator, but only if channeled correctly.  There is a difference though between being afraid and being terrified.  In a moment such as this one, where the Israeli collective is so unified in its grief and rage, remember the service you will do your nation to channel your rage and your fear instead of allowing them to run rampant.  Do not let this crime corrupt you, as its intent was.  Don’t let this massacre deviate you from the Path of the Righteous.  Take satisfaction in knowing that any man or woman who celebrates this tragedy is now less of a human being and less in control of their own sense of logic: they have just shown the world they are lacking in humanity.  It is vital now to demonstrate to the world we march in the spirit of justice; that we don’t give in to our anger nor our hate nor our suffering.  We are better than the logic of a terrorist.  We are able to outmaneuver terrorism.  Our army will not be deterred nor our nation sucked into the gravitas of revenge.

We shall avenge the deaths of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali – but we won’t take revenge.  We don’t abduct 16-year-olds outside of their high schools or mosques, from their houses of God, then murder them in fields.  We don’t do that.  We have been through too much to stoop so low and to let our wisdom escape from us.  We have the real capability to destroy Hamas and others like them by fighting their fire with a very different fire.  We have a righteous anger, so allow it to burn like a torch, not like a wildfire.  Take your grief and channel it to make our country a better place. Say “NO” to terrorism by refusing to engage it on its terms. Fight back right.

J Street’s Redundancy

arrow-900x900I still find the J Street vote to be only slightly more significant than Netanyahu’s plan to legislate Israel’s Jewish Statedness – pretty insignificant. In the scheme of things, J Street is redundant – extremely redundant. They don’t represent the numbers or experience that groups like the Union for Reform Judaism and Americans for Peace Now have. It’s sort of like getting points on Foursquare. If you want more, you just have to create a new place and BOOM, 4SQ gives you 11 points when you check in and you didn’t do anything.

J Street might do some lobbying and exclusively deal with American policy toward Israel, but there are other groups that have been doing it for years who maintain the same line on Iran and yes, even publicly support the Two-State Solution. It’s like gerrymandering to allow every Jewish organization in the United States that has made headlines to get a representative seat at the table on American Jewish foreign policymaking. Holy crap, look at the current table: Union for Reform Judaism AND Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform); the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, MERCAZ USA, Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement, AND the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. The point here is that Jewish bureaucracy is far flung enough without adding another organization whose stated purpose is essentially to press one issue. That would mean a sudden open invitation to every organization that has a J in their names. It shouldn’t be that every group is on equal footing with the others.

We have plenty of groups actually lobbying for the Two-State Solution within the Jewish community already. AIPAC even supports it, explicitly, whether all of its supporters do or not.

“AIPAC strongly supports a two-state solution and works tirelessly to bring peace to the region. A two-state solution – a Jewish state of Israel living in peace with a demilitarized Palestinian state – with an end to all claims is the clear path to resolving this generations-old conflict.”

My problem with J Street has never been about their political stances. It’s their arrogance. The arrogance is inherent in their public assumption that mainstream Jewish organizations haven’t been major supporters of the Oslo Process over the last 21 years. They bring nothing new to the table. They don’t push forward Israel’s position in the world, only bog the community down in squabbling – and I mean squabbling. J Street hasn’t added anything to the table. They’ve only served to present the Jewish community as divided on issues while claiming it is unified. They ignore the immense support of AIPAC in the American Jewniverse and claim that support is imagined, that a silent majority opposes an emphasis on Israeli security. In their own words:

“For too long, a deep polarization has characterized the conversation on Israel, or lack thereof, across America. Within this divisive framework, the voices of the majority of American Jews – the true mainstream of the community that favors a two-state solution and American leadership to achieve it – have been absent from the political playing field. J Street provides a political home for this majority’s views and makes clear to politicians and policymakers alike that no one group can claim a monopoly on what it means to be pro-Israel in America.”

Where do they get this crap? This is ridiculous. The majority of the Jewish community in the United States supports the Two State Solution via AIPAC and a number of other groups with influence on Capital Hill (formal political lobbies through the Reform and Conservative movements; regional AIPAC branches; ecumenical meetings among Rabbis, Imams and prominent politicians; etc.) This paragraph, this statement of purpose from J Street’s own raison d’être, is a big fat lie. This position has not at all been stymied. It’s been decades – DECADES – since the majority of Jews expressed opposition to a two-state plan. It’s been a long time since Alan Dershowitz battled Rabbi Meir Kahane in a major debate on the Jewish future, pushing forward a more liberal view of things that justified creating a Palestine. J Street is misrepresenting the Jewish community and presenting opposition to the Two State Solution as overbearing and autocratic within the confines of the American Jewish establishment. Debate has existed for years and in fact supporters of such a plan have dominated the debate thanks to the mainstream discourse of American politics since the Oslo Accords were signed.

J Street shouldn’t be allowed in because they are simply redundant. Never mind the disingenuous nature of their declaration of policy, though that presumptuous attitude should be enough to deny their application on the face of things.

Jews Should Have an Open Way to Buy Land in the West Bank

I just posted on my new column at The Times of Israel about this topic in relation to the legal crisis of Ulpana. Ulpana, a single neighborhood in the Israeli settlement of Beit El, is one of six spots in the West Bank scheduled to be demolished because they have no legal standing to exist. It’s not that they are settlements in general. It isn’t that they were built without permits. It’s that they were built on private Palestinian land, something that is actually relatively rare despite the propaganda that Israeli settlements are grabbing territory owned by Palestinians.

An essential to stability in any country is property rights. The American Declaration of Independence cites “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as reasons to pursue a free United States. But that line is a modification of an earlier John Locke quote: “life, liberty and property.” Israelis have been evicted from houses they’ve bought in cities like Hebron which they’ve actually bought. East Jerusalem Arabs often struggle to get building permits for land no one argues they don’t own. The Palestinian Authority maintains not only that it’s illegal to sell land to Israelis, but that it is punishable by execution. The result is a thriving underground market in Jerusalem, Hebron and elsewhere. The entire process is “extra-legal,” daring settlers and Palestinians to go more extreme in their strategy to acquire land outside of conventional legal means. Hence, the entire atmosphere invites more daring action by builders, contractors and people who want land. There is only a minority of cases reaching the courts in Israel, but the docket could be dealing with other issues if only there were an open approach to acquiring and securing property for both Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

Religious Zionists, mostly Orthodox, have a religious obligatlion to live in the Land of Israel. By extension, there’s a strong imperative to own land in the country, enabling stability in the country, being able to build a family and openly pursue other religious precepts and principles like the harvest of first fruits, tithing and of course being able to earn off the value of property via farming or otherwise in order to give charity. Diplomats search in vain for a way to cool tension between lay Jews and Arabs, but they stoke the flames by pushing a dynamic property market underground outside the watchful eye of governments who want to minimize the movement of property that would complicate a sleek, convenient two state solution. That’s to say that powerful parties don’t want land freely changing hands because it could influence drawing an international border between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

Courts exist to channel disputes and rivalries through a civilized structure. Property disputes are a common case load for any legal system. Minimizing them goes far to ensure stability by making sure few cases ever have to be brought to court – much less a constitutional, non-claims court like the Israeli Supreme Court.

Are Orthodox Jews Diluting the Debate on Homosexuality and Judaism?

Orthodox Jews are well aware of the issues homosexuals face, thank God. At least in Modern Orthodox circles, sympathy has become the main theme of the discourse on gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered Jews. Sympathy has picked up momentum in my short time living in the community. Without being able to relate, and only really being able to speak for myself though I think it applies across the community, there is an appreciation for the conflict so many people go through trying to balance religiosity with the way they are. Few think people are choosing to create personal conflict within themselves. The community has finally gotten the point.

Living as a gay man while trying to adhere to the constitution that is the body of Jewish Law is a dramatic and possibly a traumatic task. The experience is emotionally grueling and testing. The Jewish community, now indisputably among much of Orthodoxy, understands that, even if they have not reconciled this reality entirely with the religion they practice.

Dovetailing into another issue, speaking only on the intellectual side of things I’ve wondered how my generation is handling it theologically. The mere idea that thousands of people are gay, lesbian or otherwise through no choice of their own runs counter to the spirit of law. If a law can be legislated regulating its practice, that implies there is choice in the matter. But conventional wisdom right now states there is no choice in the matter of sexual orientation. Gay men have no option, so either they are exceptions to the rule or the rule is void. Personally, I don’t think my generation appreciates the dichotomy. My age demographic, maybe one among others, is ignoring this issue.

There has been a lot of talk about gay marriage in just the last month in the Jewish community, both because of Barack Obama’s public support for the idea and the sudden coming out of the closet by Jewish rapper Y-Love. The outpouring of support for Jordan has been immense. He dared to declare very publicly in a community which is going through a quiet crisis over the issue, and people down all the community’s corridors have remained there to support him for who he is. And here the road diverges. Does the support for gay Jews necessarily mean Orthodox Jews will have to recognize gay marriage and gay sexual relations as legitimate, simply because of the existence of gay Jews in the community’s midst? There are few ways to ask this question without provoking some sort of emotional reaction, and I’m not sure I’ve asked it in the best way. But this is indeed where things have become murky for me.

Orthodox Jews my age are frequently coming out in support of gay marriage. Certainly there must be a reasoning to support it given that the Torah is quite explicit regarding gay sex, the necessary corollary to gay nuptials. I don’t see much of the reasoning being based on some in-depth consideration of Jewish law. Instead, I see Jews dancing around the issue entirely.

In the US, it seems like there is a tremendously hefty amount of opinions that since the US is a ‘separation of religion and state’ country. It certainly isn’t a Jewish country and it is not located in the Promised Land, the Land of Israel. There is no concern to get involved in the political affairs of the ‘goyishe medineh’ if there is no need to.

But in Israel, the argument is similar. Last week I read a posting in the Times of Israel arguing that since Israel isn’t a Halachic state, there should be no concern about the issue. Though coming from a Dati Leumi Jew, that seemed to be going way beyond to dance around the issue.

I think both views are sort of cop-outs to the larger theological implications of the entire inyan. On rare occasions have I read a genuine grappling of the reality with the Halacha, which is seldom the approach being taken in the Jewish blogosphere.

I feel like every time I try to write this it always stings at least one person that I’m even putting it out there, as if I’m taking away from the emotional gravity of the issue. I’m fully aware of it and I don’t diminish the weight these issues have. But the discourse from the intellectual side seems to be substantially lacking in my personal opinion. Perhaps there is more literature than I am aware of, but I’m not seeing it as a factor in the Jewish world.

Orthodox Jews, thankfully, recognize the emotional weight of what’s happening. But importantly, there is an intellectual discourse accompanying what is nothing short of a crisis for Orthodox Judaism. As I mentioned earlier, there are massive implications for the religion itself based on the existence of homosexuals. For some reason, this period of history is choosing to mark a dichotomy more than previous ones. Homosexuality has been acknowledged throughout human history. For whatever reason, this debate on how to grapple with homosexuals’ existence is challenging Judaism now.

The most compelling opinion I’ve read has been that of Rabbi Zev Farber. He offers both an important point and an important answer to my question. First, he clarifies homosexual relationships aren’t immoral. They are indeed a problem for Jewish law but not because they create some sort of moral dilemma. Gays don’t perform an immoral act when and if they get together. But more relevant to what I mention above, he states homosexuality is something that might be “beyond the person’s control.” More specifically, he refers to a concept called in Aramaic, “oness rahmana patrei.” Loosely translated, it’s “compulsion God mercifully exempts.” That brings up precedent in Jewish Law that Rabbi Farber says serves to justify the principle’s application here, including emotionally distressing situations involving sex. I urge you the reader to visit this paragraph’s link to get more insight into the idea.

Whether or not Rabbi Farber’s approach is actually correct, it certainly adds to a discourse I feel is lacking. Orthodox Jews are emotionally in the right place, but should invest more consideration into how discourse on the religious side of things and the religious law’s side of things is developing. It is hardly a closed discussion in the world of Jewish Law – the world of Halachah. Certainly, if today’s social developments are to occur in tandem with Orthodox Judaism’s prosperity, appreciating both the situation of devout gay Jews and the foundational laws of Judaism simultaneously is going to have to take place.