Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do blue laws dovetail with Jewish observance? האם האיסור על קניות בשבת תואם לשמירת המצוות

Those who know me can attest to the extent of my caring about our planet and my loathing of the consumer culture. And those who know me can attest to my loathing of the mixing of state and religion. That's why I have a problem with the conclusions that Rachel Talshir draws עברית from the fact that our entire country goes into Consumer Paralysis Mode on Yom Kippur.

The explanation that the Orthodox give for their demand that retail establishments close on Sabbath and Yom Tovim is that if the latter were to remain open, other Jews (not themselves, heaven forfend) would then shop and violate the Sabbath. In other words, the problem isn't that they themselves would be thus tempted, but rather that violation of the Sabbath, by any Jews, would occur.

I find this reasoning offensive in its blatant paternalism: Though not Orthodox, I choose not to engage in retail transactions on the Sabbath because I see value therein; it's irrelevant whether others so indulge. Moreover, the demand that there be no retail engaged in on our Sabbath necessarily diminishes the human value of those non-Jews who wish to so engage. In other words, the Orthodox are saying, "Our need to prevent our Sabbath from being violated (as if that were possible in any case) trumps the needs or desires of anyone who isn't of our faith." It's unfortunate that few Orthodox will allow themselves to be exposed to a courageous Christian cleric like the one who said, " Any religion that must depend upon the state to do what it cannot do [i.e., force the citizenry to observe the commandments] is not worthy of existence...even Christianity." The very belief that any legislation reduces Sabbath-violating can fairly be described as madness.

I therefore admit to being positively gleeful when I read of the sweeping profits earned by those stores that did remain open on Rosh haShana [could not find link]. Of course it appears the Orthodox have no trouble looking the other way when such stores are where the goyim shop (referring to Tiv Taam, a chain patronized heavily by non-Jewish consumers); it's only us fellow Jews' abominations they're worried about.

While I'm all for consuming less, including of course less fossil fuel, I absolutely oppose the government piggybacking on religion to make it so. There are plenty of government interventions that I support solidly, such as investing in public transportation, levying tolls on cars entering cities, and mandating recycling (by the way, do the Orthodox lobby for these measures?), but let's not delude ourselves into thinking that blue laws are somehow a good thing for the entire Israeli public.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The College of Your Choice אוניברסיטאות אמריקאיות

Inspired by this New Yorker article, coupled with years of listening to 11th and 12th graders and their parents agonize over “getting into a good school”, here’s my advice to the agonizers:

Forget all about which schools have “a great X department”; the only time that will be relevant is if and when you apply to grad school. For earning a bachelor’s degree, your enjoyment without breaking the bank should be your priority. Pick a part of the country that’s always intrigued you, choose a state school(s) therein, and apply. Why?

First of all, until I got to college, I had no idea how common transferring is. This decision that looks So Fateful when you’re opening those acceptance envelopes should be de-mystified. Try this factlet on for size: Half of all graduating seniors did not start out at their schools as freshman.

Secondly, this may be the last time in your life when you get to choose where you’ll live. Soon enough your choices will be constricted by employment, aging parents, special-needs siblings or children, or those of a partner. Why blow this jewel of an opportunity so you can later say you attended Fancy Name College?

Finally, I wouldn’t do this post justice if I didn’t air-raid against the Great Brainwash of the Private College. It’s a shame how many families pursue the myth called “a good college”, the main claim of which is that public higher education is inferior. Why would any sane person dig herself deep in debt in exchange for a piece of paper that is only marginally more valuable — if at all — than an equivalent piece of paper purchased at a fraction of the cost?

A four-year degree is just the beginning of a life journey that in most cases consists of three or more career moves; it is therefore in actuality merely a ticket to either a job that doesn’t require a hairnet, or grad school. What one does in either of these post-B.A. worlds determines much more strongly one’s path and one’s success therein than does what university you attended. Two anecdotes illustrate:

An acquaintance who attended community college and then continued at an Ivy League school tells of her community college instructors and how skilled they were at enthusing their students about the material. She was therefore shocked on her first day at Penn, when the professor stood on the podium staring at his shoes, then looked up and greeted the full auditorium with, “I don’t like teaching. It interferes with my research.” In complete seriousness.

VoteForTheLeastWorst, a reviewer on Amazon: “My brilliant community college communications professor told us a wonderful story on our first day. She was at Harvard for a conference, and decided to check out the bookstore and their communications textbook selection. What did she find? That my good ol' publicly funded community college uses the exact same book Harvard uses, for the exact same communication class. I paid $39 a credit hour for my education; Harvard students pay $800 a credit hour for theirs. Who's dumber?”

Steph16, a Hax commenter, on Big Name College: "Competitive Parents, I work on Wall Street. Honestly, after your first job, NO ONE cares where you went to school, What they care about is how you've distinguished yourself in your career. There are people here from U. of Florida to Harvard. What matters more are your grades in undergrad for your first job, and then working your way up.

I'm sure you've heard about the millions of CEOs who were C students. Quality of grad school matters to a degree more but then it's back to performance. So really, just let your kids enjoy themselves, pursue their interests, and it will all work out. Happy, satisfied people have it so much better.

More on this subject here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ariel: It's the occupation, stupid אריאל: זהו הכיבוש, טיפשון

May I add my two zuzim to the Ariel theater “boycott” fray?
First of all, let’s get our terms straight. Or rather, let Limor Livnat et al. get their terms straight:
1. What a boycott is: an economic tool used to pressure a seller into ceasing a certain practice perceived by consumers to be unlawful, unfair, or inhumane
2. What a boycott is not: a social taboo, i.e., sleeping with one’s mother

When Livnat decries a “boycott from within”, I say: You can decry all you want, but from within or without, it’s legitimate to boycott an institution. For instance, I choose to boycott products made by Nestle, which now owns chunks of both Telma and Osem. So yes, in a miniscule way, I’m harming my own (Israel’s) economy. Does this mean it’s not my right to boycott it? After all, it’s “a boycott from within”.

3. What the theater personnel are actually doing: striking. That’s right: They’ve declared that they will not work under certain conditions. Prime Minister Netanyahu claims that their threatened actions are illegitimate because their employers — the theaters — are state-subsidized. Interesting. Last time I checked, teachers, firefighters, nurses, EMTs, and airport personnel are also state employees, and we’ve all certainly suffered the effects of their strikes. Therefore logic dictates that if there is a work dispute, it should be referred to the Labor Ministry, not the Patriotism Police, much as Livnat no doubt wishes there were such a thing.

Now let’s turn our attention to one of the popular arguments against the actors’ strike, that claiming that “Successive (read: Labor) governments supported the settlement enterprise, so it is unacceptable to turn our backs on it now”.

First of all, this is a transparent smear at the left, i.e., “Your once-powerful party started this thing, and now you have the chutzpa to oppose it.” This argument is disingenuous at the least, as we all know that many of us, despite having perhaps voted for Labor, opposed the settlements even as Labor established them, as we hoped to influence those whom we saw as our representatives to stop doing so.

Moreover, is the fact that one’s government made mistakes a reason to throw good money after bad? Many governments have backed or actively engaged in spilling effluent into and over-fishing our oceans, over-timbering the Pacific Northwest, and decimating our rainforests. Does that mean we should just continue engaging in these unsustainable practices? Because that’s what the settlement enterprise is: One can argue whether it’s right or wrong, good or evil. But whichever it is, it’s indisputably unsustainable, which in itself is a reason to do a U-turn and not continue down the Greater Land of Israel Collision Course.

Now let’s look at a term that’s being excavated from the media antiquities and bandied about: Ariel was enticingly advertised as being “five minutes’ drive from Kfar Saba”, the subtext of which is: “You get the scenery of Samaria with the convenience of a nearby city, which includes shopping, services, and entertainment, a five-minute drive for which is a low price”. So, the settlers paid their money and made their choice: They chose Samarian scenery over living inside the Green Line; therefore let them drive five minutes to see theater. The majority of Israelis live further than a five-minute drive from a theater, so what makes living in Ariel such a particular hardship?

The actors’ strike was inevitable; it’s a natural response to a policy that they oppose, and it won’t be the last. For their part, the Palis are perfectly situated to ensure that the building freeze never thaws: All they have to do is not show up for work on September 27th, i.e., a strike. What could be simpler? If all who oppose the settlements were to donate to a strike fund for those Palis who earn their livelihoods doing construction work in the settlements, we'd have enough to at least stop work for a while, during which we should demonstrate, but not in Rabin Square. Instead, we should form a human chain stretching from the Defense Ministry Compound to the remotest hilltop settlements, carrying banners proclaiming, "העם אינו עם השומרון"; "Settlers, you're outside the consensus"; and "Israelis Against the Settlements"; and make sure CNN is there with cameras rolling (to quote my talkback to Bradley Burston's heart-stopping piece on the settlements).