Friday, August 24, 2012

Swimming in the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee)

One of my fondest memories of a family trip to Israel in 1992 was caught in a photograph taken by my wife Laura, showing me and my son Nathan treading water off a diving pier on a beach at the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) with my three daughters, Sara, Esther and Elise all caught in midair as they jumped off the pier into the water. I hasten to add that all of us were wearing swimsuits.

Unfortunately, that photo is not yet digitalized, so this photo of children enjoying a swim in the Kinneret must suffice.

Now, we will assume that these children are all wearing swimsuits.  However, 100 years ago, when swimsuits were less universal, it is likely that they would not have been wearing swimming trunks.

So why did it recently become a mini-scandal and a topic for jokes on late-night television when a Republican Congressional Representative took an alcohol-inspired midnight nude swim in the Kinneret?   I think part of the reason was the location.  Americans, especially American Christians, naturally associate the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, who the New Testament says preached on its banks and recruited his disciples from its fishermen, and where Christians believe that he reappeared to them following his crucifixtion and resurrection.  [In the spirit of full disclosure, and to avoid possible misunderstanding by the reader, the Kosher Hedgehog is not a Christian and does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.]

However, people must realize that the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, is a beautiful fresh-water inland sea that is a major source of Israel's domestic water supply and is a major recreational center.  People fish in it, windsurf in it, swim in it, and picnic and vacation near it (including the imbibing of alcoholic beverages).  Historically, throughout the millenia and probably during the lifetime of Jesus, much of that swimming was done without the benefit of clothing.  That is not a sacrilege.  It is not a scandal.  It is life.

Obama "Truth Team" Lies About GOP Abortion Position reports:
The Obama campaign is falsely accusing the Republican Party’s platform of calling for banning abortions even in cases of rape or incest. That’s not true. The 2012 platform is silent on exceptions — leaving that decision up to Congress and the states — just as it was in 2008 and in previous presidential election years.

To make matters worse, the latest falsehood comes from the president’s “Truth Team.” An Aug. 20 posting on the “Truth Team’s” site repeats a bogus claim that Mitt Romney would “ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest,” adding (our emphasis): “He also supports the Republican Party platform, which includes a Human Life Amendment that bans abortion without those exceptions.”

The fact is, as we’ve noted again and again in response to false Obama TV ads, Romney has consistently said — as far back as 2005 — that he would allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
is a non-partisan project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. They also publicize false advertising by the Romney campaign and other Republicans.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bavarian Authorities File First Criminal Charges For Jewish Ritual Circumcision

Authorities in the German State of Bavaria have filed the first criminal charges against a mohel--a practitioner of Jewish religious circumcision--since a German court ruled in May, in a case involving a Muslim family, that circumcision of a minor violates German law. Rabbi David Goldberg has been charged with criminal charges of causing bodily harm.

Ironically, the case is not known to have arisen from any injury suffered by a baby circumcised by Rabbi Goldberg. Indeed, Rabbi Goldberg says that he has not performed a brit mila--Jewish ritual circumcision--in Germany since the May court decision, although he would be willing to do so.

Even more ironically, recent medical evidence is substantiating the health benefits of male circumcision. As reported in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, a study just published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine estimates that medical costs in the United States will increase by billions of dollars due to the decline in male infant circumcision. The decline, from 80% of all male infants in the 1970s and 1980s, to below 55% currently, will result in increases in infection of HIV, human papillomavirus (HPV)and herpes simplex in men, and HPV, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis in their female partners.

Nonetheless,from a Torah perspective, the health benefits of brit mila are not the issue. Even if it were conclusively demonstrated that there was no medical benefit of brit mila whatsoever, it would remain a commandment given to the Jewish nation by God and the symbol of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Israeli Officials Blast Obama "Wretched Red Line" on Iranian Nuclear Weapons

In case you thought that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's recent visit to Israel succeeded in reassuring the Netanyahu government of American resolve to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, think again. According to YNetNews, the online English news service of Yedioth Acharonot, Israel's highest circulation daily newspaper, Israeli government officials are dismayed at how the Obama Administration has backed off its previous red line regarding Iranian nuclear development, calling the current American position on what would justify a military strike against Iran "a wretched red line."

According to Yedioth Acharonot, the US would only be prepared to carry out a strike against Iran in 18 months, when a "critical threshold" was crossed, and was resolutely against an Israeli strike. As a red line, that is simply too late, the Israeli officials argued:
"The US' stance is pushing the Iranians to become a country at the brink (of nuclear capability)," explained sources well versed in the nuclear issue. "The Americans are de facto allowing the Iranians to continue to enrich uranium and become a country at the brink. We are not prepared to allow that (to happen)."

"The Americans say that the ayatollahs' decision to construct a bomb is the red line," the officials noted, adding: "It's a wretched red line. Who knows when they'll decide and what they'll decide."

Is it any wonder that Governor Romney made such a positive impression on the Israeli public on his recent visit? Israelis know that to hold back the military option until one is sure that Iran can construct a bomb may mean that one has waited too long. By then Iran may have already smuggled a nuclear warhead into Tel Aviv--or Los Angeles.

Scariest Science News Story of the Year Award: Supervolcano near Mt. Vesuvius Could Kill Millions

Italian scientists say a massive eruption of the hidden Campi Flegrei caldera near Naples, Mount Vesuvius and the site of ancient Pompeii could potentially endanger millions of lives. Of course, they could be bolstering their case for funding and publicity for the International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme project to drill 2.2 miles underground into the center of the caldera, home to a giant chamber of molten rock. Once they've reached the chamber, they plan to install a monitoring system that would give advanced warning of any potentially dangerous eruptions.

Wait a minute! Here in Hollywood, it would be the drilling into the caldera that sets off the volcanic eruption.

Hamas, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Blame Sinai Attack on Israel

I suppose it was to be expected.

On Sunday, some 35 Arab Islamist terrorists--almost certainly mostly Palestinians-- attacked an Egyptian army base at the Rafah border checkpoint between Egypt and Gaza (pictured above). They killed 16 Egyptian soliders, who had just sat down to break their Ramadan fast. They stole an armored vehicle and, joined by a pickup truck, which they filled with explosives, crashed through the border fence between Egypt and Israel, apparently with the intention of a terror attack on Israeli communities in the Negev. The armored vehicile, with 7 terrorists inside, weaved its way through concrete barriers at the border crossing, but fortunately the pickup truck became stuck in a sand strip. The truck driver apparently realized he was trapped and detonated the explosives, happily killing no one but himself. In the meantime the armored vehicle confronted the Israeli Bedouin Reconaissance Force. (Yes, some Israeli Arabs do serve in the Israeli Defense forces). The lightly armed Bedouin soldiers opened fire, but were unable to stop the armored vehicle, now some 2 km inside Israel. The IDF dispatched tanks to block the vehicle from reaching an Israeli town, and an Israeli Air Force fighter disabled the vehicle with a missile. Two terrorists fled from the vehicle into adjacent open fields, where they were killed in a short firefight with IDF soldiers. An IDF tank shelled the disabled armored vehicle, killing five terrorists who had remained inside it.

All of the terrorists were wearing explosive vests. It seems clear that their objective was to enter an Israeli army base or town, and take as many lives as possible.

A minute by minute account of the attack appears here in the Jerusalem Post.

Today, as also reported in the Jerusalem Post, the inevitable happened. Faced with the painful reality that Palestinian Arab Islamist terrorists had murdered Muslim Egyptian solidiers as they sat down to break their Ramadan fast, Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood react as they usually do when confronting cognitive dissonance--they blamed the attack on Israel and thed Mossad.

This is hardly a novel phenomenon. Ever since 9/11, the popular Egyptian press has blamed the World Trade Center attack on the Mossad, including false claims that no Jews died in that attack, supposedly because they had advance warning.

Prior to that, when Egyptian Air Lines Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic on October 31, 1999, killing all 217 people on board, the Egyptian government and the Egyptian street refused to accept the conclusion of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation, which was that Relief First Officer Gameel Al-Batouti deliberately caused his plane to crash in a suicide-mass murder. Despite overwhelming evidence supporting the NTSB findings, including air traffic controller tracking and the on-board flight recorder data, and even tapes of the final conversations between the airliner's Captain and Al-Batouti, in which the Captain shouts, "What are you doing?" and Al-Batouti repeatedly says, ""Tawkalt ala Allah" (I rely on God), the official Egyptian government conclusion was that Flight 990 crashed due to mechanical failure. Popular Egyptian sentiment, advanced by the Egyptian press as well, including the Islamist Al Shaab, speculated that a Mossad/CIA conspiracy was to blame.

There are at least two lessons to be learned. One is not to fall for the allegation, which was frequently aimed at American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that an attack during Ramadan is disrespectful of Islam. The truth is that Islamists regularly launch attacks, against Muslims and non-Muslims, during Ramadan, as was the case at Rafah. The second lesson is for the Western press--when faced with conflicting accounts of an incident from Arab and Israeli sources, one gives credence to the Arab source at one's peril.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Kosher Hedgehog is a Grandpa!

Forget President Obama. Forget Governor Romney. Forget the economy, the election, Syria, Iran and the Middle East in General. Here is the hot story! On July 23, 2012, Elise [Kostant] Trencher gave birth to a strapping 9 lb 6 oz baby boy, whom she and her husband Eliott entered into the covenant of brit milah on 10 Av (July 30) and named him Jonah Avery, to be known in Israel as Yehoshua Eliyahu (after Eliott's paternal grandfather and my own father). May his parents merit to raise him to Torah, Chupah and Maasim Tovim (Torah, the wedding canopy and good deeds)! My wife and I are overwhelmed with gratitude to God for allowing us to fulfill the blessing in Psalm 128: "And may you see your children's children." And a special hat tip to Mrs. Kosher Hedgehog, without whom none of this would have been possible.