Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Jews and Guns. Again.

A Modern View: When did modern Jewish history begin?

Abq Jew believes that the first day of modern Jewish history was April 19, 1943. That is the day that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began.

Best of Blog
from January 2018

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Yiddish: אױפֿשטאַנד אין װאַרשעװער געטאָ‎; Polish: powstanie w getcie warszawskim; German: Aufstand im Warschauer Ghetto) was the 1943 act of Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany's final effort to transport the remaining Ghetto population to Treblinka. 
The uprising started on 19 April when the Ghetto refused to surrender to the police commander SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, who then ordered the burning of the Ghetto, block by block, ending on 16 May. 
A total of 13,000 Jews died, about half of them burnt alive or suffocated. German casualties are not known, but were not more than 300. 
It was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II.

We've come a long way since then.

At least when we consider the Israeli view of Jews and guns, i.e., necessary to save life. When we consider the American view of Jews and guns ... well, there's this:
A couple of [Jewish] hunters are out in the woods of the Upper [Peninsula] when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing; his eyes are rolled back in his head. 
His friend whips out his cell phone, calls 911, and gasps to the operator, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" 
The operator, in a calm soothing voice says, "Just take it easy. I can help. First, lets make sure he's dead." 
There is a silence ... then a shot is heard. 
The voice comes back on the line, "OK, now what?"

My Jewish Learning tells us:
Jews, particularly American ones, have a longstanding aversion to guns. 
According to a 2005 American Jewish Committee study, Jews have the lowest rate of gun ownership of among all religious groups, with just 13 percent of Jewish households owning firearms (compared to 41 percent for non-Jews) and only 10 percent of Jews personally owning a gun (compared to 26 percent). 
And furthermore ...
Most authorities say it is not permissible to hunt for sport.  
Two sources are generally cited in this regard. 
The first is Rabbi Isaac Lampronri, who wrote in his work Pahad Yitzhak that it is forbidden to hunt animals because it’s wasteful. The 18th-century rabbinic authority Ezekiel Landau added that recreational hunting is forbidden on the grounds of animal cruelty and because of the risks to the hunter
Neither of the two biblical figures known to be hunters — Esau and Nimrod — are held up as role models. All the biblical patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), as well as Joseph, Moses and King David were herders — nurturers of animals, not their pursuers. 
Hunting for food is, in principle, not objectionable. However land animals must be ritually slaughtered by hand to render them kosher, which would make hunting them for food with a firearm impermissible. 
Some American Jews do, nonetheless, hunt for sport.

Wait a minute ...
Risks to the hunter?

Not being a hunter, Abq Jew never thought seriously about the risk of injury or death that hunting presents. To the hunter. (The risk to the hunted is pretty clear.)

He still hasn't. But Abq Jew has recently become aware of one big reason why hunters often have a really bad day.

Hunters fall out of their tree stands.

Tree stands, Abq Jew discovered, are open or enclosed platforms used by hunters. The platforms are secured to trees in order to elevate the hunter (16 feet, as pictured) and give him (or her) a better vantage point.

Strangely, Abq Jew finds that the use of tree stands levels the playing field. But, Abq Jew hears you, his loyal readers, ask

Why do hunters fall out of their tree stands?

Well, as Benjamin Disraeli is reputed to have once said, "There are lies. There are damned lies. And there are statistics."

Statistics you can find here and here and here and here (did you know September is Tree Stand Safety Awareness Month?) and here and here and here.

But Abq Jew is gonna help you out here. Let's cut to the chase! Of hunters who fall out of tree stands, approximately

  • 40% fall while climbing up.
  • 40% fall while climbing down.
  • 10% fall while shooting their weapon.
  • 10% fall while sleeping.

Really. You could look it up.
Fifty-four patients were identified. Ninety-six percent of patients were male with a mean age of 47.9 years (range 15-69). The mean Injury Severity Score was 12.53 ± 1.17 (range 2-34). The average height of fall was 18.2 feet (range 4-40 feet). All patients fell to the ground with the exception of one who landed on rocks, and many hit the tree or branches on the way down. A reason for the fall was documented in only 13 patients, and included tree stand construction (3), loss of balance (3), falling asleep (3), structural failure (2), safety harness breakage (3) or light-headedness (1). The most common injuries were spinal fractures (54%), most commonly in the cervical spine (69%), followed by the thoracic (38%) and lumbar (21%) spine. Eight patients required operative repair. Head injuries occurred in 22%. Other systemic injuries include rib/clavicular fractures (47%), pelvic fractures (11%), solid organ injury (23%), and pneumothorax or hemothorax (19%). No patient deaths were reported. The average hospital length of stay was 6.56 ± 1.07 d. Most patients were discharged home without (72%) or with (11%) services and 17% required rehabilitation.

But back to our main topic, Jews and Guns. 

Did you know that there is an organization called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership? Says Wikipedia:
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of gun rights in the United States and "to encourage Americans to understand and defend all of the Bill of Rights for everyone". 
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership takes the position that an armed citizenry is the population's last line of defense against tyranny by their own government. The organization is noted for producing materials (bumper stickers, posters, billboards, booklets, videos, etc.) with messages that equate gun control with totalitarianism. 
Which, Abq Jew assures you, only goes to show:

Two Jews > Three Opinions

Monday, April 5, 2021

Death With Class

Miller Introduction to Judaism Class #15: This week (אי״ה), Abq Jew is scheduled to teach Class #15 in the Miller Introduction to Judaism program being offered this year (and next year!) by Congregation B'nai Israel of Albuquerque.

Miller Intro

What follows are Abq Jew's notes, sources, resources, and itinerary for teaching this class. Yes, it's sort of a hodgepodge. A medley, as they say in the music business. A mishmash, if you will. Or, if you won't, a grand and glorious potpourri. 

Stones On a Grave


Understanding Jewish practices toward illness and healing, particularly the mitzvah of bikkur holim. Exploration of Jewish ethics regarding end-of-life, including questions about life support, autopsy, organ donation, etc.
Overview of funeral and burial practices, as well as mourning practices including shiva, shloshim, and yahrtzeit. Jewish views on the afterlife. 

Judaism teaches us to approach life’s hardest moments with compassion
and community. In this class, we’ll explore the sacred practices that help us
navigate grief and heartache, and move from sadness to renewed life.

Abq Jew

Here are a few connections to songs, lectures, and writings that bear on this often difficult subject. Mostly taken from - where else? - the Abq Jew Blog.

Crossing the Bar

Crossing the Bar is a song based on an Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem of the same name. This particular version was recorded by the bluegrass band Salamander Crossing from their album "Bottleneck Dreams."  

The poem itself is an allegory for death.  It was written near the end of Tennyson's life.  "Crossing the bar" could be interpreted to mean "crossing the sandbar" out into sea, transitioning from life into death.  

The Pilot is a symbol for God.  Tennyson wrote that "The Pilot has been on board all the while, but in the dark I have not seen him...[He is] that Divine and Unseen Who is always guiding us."

The song itself is strangely beautiful in that even though it is a metaphor for death it isn't especially sorrowful.  There's a touch of reflectiveness here.

Bikkur Holim

Debbie Friedman’s Healing Prayer
Mi Shebeirach:  Rabbi Drorah Setel wrote a beautiful article about the creation of this prayersong in the Jewish Daily Forward.  The article begins:
As word spread that Debbie Friedman was gravely ill, people around the world prayed for her recovery. Many turned to “Mi Shebeirach,” her version of the traditional Jewish prayer for healing and probably her best-known song. Our prayers and our loving song did not prevent Debbie’s death, but neither were they offered in vain. Indeed, for Debbie, the purpose of “Mi Shebeirach” was about much more than physical healing.
The story of “Mi Shebeirach” begins in 1987 . . . .
Rabbi Drorah Setel is rabbi of Temple Beth El in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and president of the Buffalo Board of Rabbis.  Rabbi Setel co-wrote the Mi Shebeirach with Debbie Friedman and is interviewed in the film  A Journey of Spirit.  Continue reading her article here.

Abq Jew Note:  This video will fill your heart and break it at the same time.

Kicking the Bucket

When Is It Over

Here is an ELI Talk by Dr Michael Slater (President of the Board of Kavod v'Nichum (Honor and Comfort), a non-profit educational and advocacy organization on end of life issues.
Living Jewishly Means Dying Jewishly, Too. 
In much of society today, death is to be avoided at all costs - in polite company and modern medicine alike. Jewish tradition, explains Dr. Michael Slater, has a very different approach. 
In a talk that is part memoir, part history, part communal call-to-action, we see the wisdom of Judaism as not only life-affirming, but death-affirming, as well.
Gail Rubin

Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death ® (based right here in Albuquerque!) says -

Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant,
talking about funerals won’t make you dead.
And your family will benefit from the conversation.

Jewish Mourning Rituals

Kavod Ha-Met
Honoring the Dead

And A Call for Chevre Kaddisha Volunteers: Abq Jew has often written about the important and holy work that the Chevre Kaddisha does in our Jewish community of Albuquerque.

It's the ultimate mitzvah, Rabbi Min Kantrowitz tells us - participating in a tahara, the ritual purification of the body of a Jewish person before that person is buried.

Nichum Avelim:
Comforting the Living

12 videos about Jewish death and mourning


And Then What?

Torah and Talmud and Zombies

But how does the World to Come actually work?  Well, you've got two ideas that compete with each other (in the sense that you only need one of them to answer the question):

  • Resurrection of the Body.  This is the high octane form of the afterlife.  Yes, God has the power to lift us up from the dead, and to enable us to . . . well, exactly what is hard to say.
  • Immortality of the Soul.  This is the unleaded afterlife.  Since we have no need for our physical components, they are jettisoned . . . well, exactly when is hard to say.

Where did these ideas come from?  Rabbi Gillman suggests that the idea of the soul and its immortality came from Plato & the Greeks.  (It did not, he says, come from within Judaism - our words nefeshneshama, and ruach originally meant something completely different.)

As for the idea of the dead rising from their graves - well, we're not really sure.  Probably not from within Judaism; probably not from the Egyptians (whose idea of the afterlife is very, very different from the Jews').  But maybe from the Persians, whose Zoroastrianism solved our theodical problem by positing duotheism - a Good God and an Evil God - which is, theologically, easier to deal with than monotheism.

And what did Jewish religion do with these competing ideas? Rabbi Gilman points out that Traditional Judaism refused to choose, and adopted both of them. (Not only adopted - required their belief, and claimed them to be Biblical.) Liberal Judaism, on the other hand, found the immortal soul easier to stomach than the idea of the Age of the Living Dead.

The Final Tisch; No Zombies

One Big Table:  As Abq Jew stated in Torah and Talmud and Zombies:

What Traditional Judaism has in mind [when we speak of resurrection] is the righteous sitting at tisch with The Holy One, Blessed Be He, scarfing down Leviathan chunks.
How does this work?  Here's an interesting view, reported by Rabbi Rami Shapiro in his Ethics of the Sages: Pirke Avot: Annotated & Explained (available from the publisher, Jewish Lights, or from Abq Jew's Amazon Store):
Heaven and hell are a single feast, with everyone seated at a grand table overflowing with the finest food and drink.  The only rule is this: you must use the utensils provided, each being six feet in length.  Those who attempt to feed themselves with these tools starve, for they cannot maneuver the tools to reach their own mouths.  Those who learn to feed others are themselves fed in turn.  The first are in hell, the second in heaven, but the feast is common to them both.
Abq Jew finished reading Rabbi Neil Gillman's The Death of Death. In the final chapters, Rabbi Gillman dismisses the doctrine of the immortality of the soul - it's just not enough - and makes a very strong case for the traditional Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead. 

Only resurrection of the body, says Rabbi Gillman, will prove God's supreme power, solve the problem of the misfortune of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked (tzaddik vi'ra lo, rasha vi'tov lo), and make each of our individual lives eternally meaningful.

Seat at Night
Sea at Night        Anton Melbye

Crossing the Bar

Yizkor Candle

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Challenge of Bravery

Braving the Red SeaAs Abq Jew mentioned just last year (see Swimming With Nachshon), we Jews remember the bravery of Nachshon ben Aminadav as we observe the Seventh Day of Passover.

On the Seventh Day of Passover - the anniversary of the day when this glorious event happened - we again read the story of the Crossing of the Red Sea and the ensuing celebrations.

Nachshon ben Aminadav
Nachshon ben Aminadav          David Brook

While everyone who has seen The Ten Commandments knows that Moses and his staff (including The Holy One, Blessed Be He) parted the waters of the Red Sea - we Jews also remember Nachshon, who was the first to step in when the Egyptians were chasing us.

And Nachshon didn't just stick a toe in. He continued walking until the water was up to his neck. Then and only then did the Red Sea part, allowing us Children of Israel to cross on dry land.

Crossing the Red Sea

Nachshon’s name has become synonymous with courage and the will to do the right thing, even when it’s not popular. Even when it's dangerous. Even when ...

Allan J McDonald
Mr. McDonald recounts the 1986 Challenger launch in 2016.
(Francisco Kjolseth / Salt Lake Tribune)

Allan J McDonald died earlier this month, and Abq Jew could not let his passing go (at least, on TV news) almost entirely unnoticed.

If you don't remember his name: McDonald was the senior on-site representative of his company, contractor Morton Thiokol, who refused to sign off on the January 28, 1986 launch of the Challenger space shuttle over safety concerns.

Superb obituary writer Emily Langer wrote in The Washington Post:

Allan McDonald, engineer and whistleblower in the Challenger disaster, dies at 83

Allan J. McDonald, a rocket scientist and whistleblower who refused to sign off on the launch of the Challenger space shuttle over safety concerns and, after its explosion, argued that the tragedy could have been averted had officials heeded warnings from engineers like himself, died March 6 at a hospital in Ogden, Utah. He was 83.

Mr. McDonald was in Cape Canaveral, Fla., at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where the Challenger was set to take off. He oversaw the engineering of the rocket boosters used to propel the shuttle into space. Among colleagues, the New York Times reported, Mr. McDonald had a reputation as one of the most skilled rocket engineers in the country.

It was unseasonably cold in Florida, with weather forecasts predicting that temperatures might drop as low as 18 degrees Fahrenheit in the hours before the Challenger was scheduled to lift off. That cold snap became the crux of vociferous debate among Mr. McDonald and other engineers, Morton Thiokol executives and NASA officials about whether the mission should go forward.

Citing the cold, Mr. McDonald insisted that takeoff be postponed, according to accounts of the deliberations that later emerged in news reports. A critical component of the rocket booster was the O-ring, a rubber gasket that served to contain burning fuel. Because of their composition, O-rings were highly vulnerable to temperature drops, and engineers warned that their effectiveness could not be guaranteed below 53 degrees Fahrenheit. 

“If anything happened to this launch, I told them I sure wouldn’t want to be the person that had to stand in front of a board of inquiry to explain why I launched this outside of the qualification of the solid rocket motor,” he would later testify.

Protocol required the senior engineer to sign off on the launch. When Mr. McDonald refused, his supervisor signed for him. The Challenger lifted off at 11:38 a.m. on Jan. 28 and disintegrated approximately 72 seconds later, its remains streaking across the sky.

“My heart just about stopped,” Mr. McDonald later said in a public lecture, according to the Commercial Dispatch of Columbus, Miss. 


President Ronald Reagan convened a high-level commission to investigate the catastrophe. Ms Langer continues:
Mr. McDonald was present at a closed session of the commission — watching from what he called the “cheap seats” — when he heard what he considered misleading testimony by a NASA official about the debate leading up to takeoff.

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘That’s about as deceiving as anything I ever heard,’ ” Mr. McDonald said in an interview aired on NPR. 
“So I raised my hand. I said, ‘I think this presidential commission should know that Morton Thiokol was so concerned, we recommended not launching below 53 degrees Fahrenheit. And we put that in writing and sent that to NASA.’ 
I’ll never forget Chairman Rogers said, ‘Would you please come down here on the floor and repeat what I think I heard?’ ”
Allan J McDonald Testifies
Engineer Allan J. McDonald testifies before
the presidential committee investigating the
Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986.
(Charles Tasnadi/AP)

And what, Abq Jew hears you ask, was Mr McDonald's reward for his honesty, bravery, and dedication? Alas, Ms Langer tells us:
Mr. McDonald was demoted at Morton Thiokol after his testimony, then reinstated after Congress moved to end the company’s federal contracts if he was not returned to his job.

“I really expected to be going out the door,” he later recalled. 
“And I would have, if it had not been that the presidential commission and certain members of Congress found out about it and really read the riot act to the management of my company. That saved my job, frankly.”
And then?
After his reinstatement at Morton Thiokol, Mr. McDonald played a principal role in a redesign of the booster rockets. He retired in 2001 as a vice president at the company. 
With James R. Hansen, he wrote the book Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster (2009) and spoke frequently to scientific, corporate and government audiences about the role of ethics in professional life.

He often cited an aphorism with particular resonance for him. 

Regret for things we did is tempered by time.
Regret for things we did not do is inconsolable.
Challenger Crew

There is more. There is also the story of Bob Ebeling, reported shortly before his death in 2016 by The Washington Post's Colby Itkowitz:
For more than 30 years, Bob Ebeling carried the guilt of the Challenger explosion. He was an engineer and he knew the shuttle couldn’t sustain the freezing temperatures. He warned his supervisors. He told his wife it was going to blow up.

The next morning it did, just as he said it would, and seven astronauts died.

Since that tragic day, Ebeling has blamed himself. He always wondered whether he could have done more. 
His daughter, Kathy Ebeling, said he had even entertained bringing his hunting rifle to work  Jan. 28, 1986 to threaten NASA not to launch — that’s how certain he was that the shuttle was going to explode.
Ebeling spoke to NPR for the 30th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. He sadly recalled the day and described his three decades of guilt.
“I think that was one of the mistakes that God made,” Ebeling told NPR. “He shouldn’t have picked me for the job. But next time I talk to him, I’m gonna ask him, ‘Why me? You picked a loser.’ ”

But listeners didn’t hear a loser. And they sent hundreds of e-mails and letters to NPR and directly to Ebeling telling him so ....

His daughter, reached at their Utah home, said she’s been reading him the letters. Engineering teachers said they use him as an example of good ethical practice. Professionals wrote that because of his example they are more vigilant in their jobs.

But there was one person that made him finally start to believe he wasn’t to blame.

Allan McDonald, who was Ebeling’s boss, reached out after the NPR interview aired to tell him that he had done everything he could have done to warn them, including calling Kennedy Space Center to try and stop the launch.
Nachshon by Mordecai Colodner
Faith at the Sea of Reeds
Mordecai Colodner

As we observe the Seventh Day of Passover,
et us remember Nachshon's bravery.
And may we live up to the example he set.