Monthly Archives: March 2007

Question – Women in Combat

There are some things that are hard to question because they are rooted at the core of our belief system–and, having read a very disturbing article in the New York Times today about the abuse and violence inflicted on many female US soldiers, and having seen the new Frank Miller film, 300, I am questioning one of those things: the intelligence of putting woman in combat positions. Or, to be more general, the equality of gender role in society.
That men and women are equal in all respects is a basic tenant of contemporary philosophy, argued by most if not all of our credible public figures. Inequality, even that which might have basis in biology, is considered a socially program vestige of past and “unenlightened” society, a primitive culture that must morally be left behind if a new age of enlightened understanding is to come upon us.
I myself believe in this tenant–I believe that men and women are fundamentally equal, and that thought which separates between the genders in the granting of rights should be discarded.
And yet, while I uphold the equality of rights, I’m not so sure that I can square the data from the field–and the thousands of years of experimentation–with the preposition that equality of role should rule; that is to say, I’m not so sure that incorporating women into the field units of the armed forces is the best idea. As 300 shows well, there is something to the macho-sensibility that promotes more resilient warriors; and as the data amassed in the New York Times article suggests, it could be that those same instincts that pushes a warrior into dangerous situations (the quest for power and dominance) also raises the probability of sexual assault.
Woman are invaluable to public security–in covert operations as well as overt ones. And yet, maybe there does exist some inherent wisdom that has kept society from placing women in the corps until the present day. Maybe, in fact, gender is more than just a social construct–maybe there is some reason that out of the tens of thousands of societies that have represented collective human will throughout the ages, women and men have taken different roles–the men served as bodies set on killing, the women serving as bodies set on bringing life.
To some who may read this, my point is trite–that is, some on the more conservative end of the spectrum have may have thought so all along. But these do not concern me–I am more concerned with those who, like me, were raised in the New World of equality–those who believe that a better world is possible where morality defends equality for all. And so my question stands: what will it take for us to falsify our presumption that women and men are equal in ability? In an age in which war is necessitated by the imperialist presumptions of those who have perfect faith, how deeply do we hold this faith–and, therefore, how much are we willing to gamble on the premise of absolute equality?

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The Most Important Job

Jonathan Mark, associate editor of the NY Jewish Week and co-founder and former associate editor of the famed New Jewish Times, said something at Publishing Prophecy that I can’t shake out of my thoughts: If an individual Jew is of infinite worth, writing about Jewish stories is of infinite worth.
Mark’s comment basically rocked my world; too often you hear people talk of Jewish journalism as if it is a side pursuit–a hobby that one undertakes when one cannot write for a “mainstream” or “worldly” source, a hobby to be undertaken but not a career and a mission. As Mark pointed out, if people can be sports writers or fashion writers and our culture accords such positions higher regard than the beat-journalists who provide us with the majority of our news, all the more so should Jewish journalists be respected and lauded.
To take this further in my own direction, the failure of the American Jewish establishment to sufficiently honor those people who provide the very information that would enable well-informed communal decision making has dire effects on the ways decisions are made.
(Alternatively, it could be that the powers-that-be have an inherent interest in keeping the news from the people, so that decisions would be made by those mega-donors and their friends in the know).
If the Jewish community cares about those decisions being made on its behalf, the greatest thing it could do would be to upgrade the level of appreciation for Jewish journalists. And once these newly appreciated Jewish journalists are compensated accordingly with honors and pay (which would necessitate the restructuring of the predominantly Federation-supported press to put the onus of funding on the individual subscriber), I am willing to bet that the state of affairs in the American Jewish community will improve by leaps and bounds.
Cause sunlight is the best disinfectant and there is a lot of sunlight needed in some corners of the organized Jewish world.

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Purim and the Present State of the Diaspora

I’ve found that the story of Purim is often recounted till Esther’s victorious triumph over Haman–and the rest is rushed through due to its, eh, violence. Specifically, most people tend to skip over this part:

Mordechai instructed the Jews, the satraps, the governors, and the nobles of the provinces from Hodu to Cush…[saying] that the king had allowed the Jews of every city to gather and stand up for their lives; to annihilate, kill and destroy every army of any nation or province that might attack them, [including their] children and women, and to plunder their possessions…For the Jews there was light and happiness, joy and glory [because] in every province and city to which the king’s edict and law reached, there was happiness and joy for the Jews, a celebration and a holiday. Many of the gentiles converted to Judaism, for fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

Yeah, that’s basically the part–see, the Jews, who were threatened with genocide, rallied and formed their own paramilitary units, and beat the gentiles so bad that the gentiles became Jews (note: it was a desire to join the Jewish people and not a belief in the God of the Jews that made them Jews).

Re-reading this I can’t help but think about the state of the Jews in the Diaspora today. Specifically, I can’t help but think that we as a people are at an interesting juncture that occurred quite a few times throughout our history–that is, the junction that occurs when Jews are on the one hand accepted by their resident lands, but, on the other hand, people recognize that Jews have loyalties that are not necessarily bounded by the borders of one specific non-Jewish sovereignty or another. That is, pre-Haman, the Jews were just another minority in Persia. Mordechai–himself named after the Babylonian god Marduk (kinda like a Jew now being called Chris)–was basically a lobbyist (he sat at the gate…the “gate” being the “lobby” of yesteryear), and it seems that there a pre-cursor to the united Jewish communities in affect, one that could be tapped into when the warning message was sent out.

And into this environment where the Jews are “normal,” or one can assume better than normal due to the magnitude of the rage against them, steps a guy like Haman, who thinks that Persia has no strategic, political or moral reason to ally with the Jews. Haman makes his argument to the highest of possible decision-makers, wins the concession, and moves to cut the Jews out of the political sphere.

This pattern was repeated in Spain, in Germany, in Russia and elsewhere–everywhere where Jews get too prominent in government or the economy, it seems, a sort of mystical hatred emerges. What is interesting to me, therefore, in the Purim narrative is that the Jews strike back–that is, they don’t just lobby and, once they win, sit back and suck on candy in their blue-and-white robes; instead, the Jews in the Purim story press their advantage, go on the offensive, and show such overwhelming force that the non-Jews realized that these are some bad ass folks and are not to be messed with.

In that regards, I think we have quite a bit to learn from this narrative. No, I’m not advocating violence and looting–but I do think that community whines that break out when communal leaders speak out against anti-Zionists are contrary to this paradigm–and the “wisdom” that they represent, one that calls for us to sit back and be happy that its “never been better,” is not wisdom at all–but rather a folly that the Purim story should rid us of.

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