|Posted on January 27, 2013 at 1:35 PM||comments (1)|
By Gary Konecky
Years ago, in response to a child being sexually molested, the politicians created Megan's Law. Megan’s Law was a simpleton solution to a complex problem. Rather than addressing the problem, which would be how best to treat and control those prone to prey sexually on children, they created a publicly accessible database of sexual offenders.
Many police departments in the United States still engage in bag-a fag operations. Usually, they find a good looking cop to wave his penis about and if you look at it, they arrest you. In New Jersey, the Palisades Park Police are notorious for having a male police officer flirt with men, suggest sexual relations, and suggest a location in the park. If you agree to his come on, you are arrested. You are then “tried” in municipal court (kangaroo court being a better term) and viola, you are now aconvicted sex offender.
The New York City Police (NYPD) are using a law (that was struck down by the courts years ago) to arrest gay men for alleged sexual crimes. Gay men are being arrested by the NYPD for violating a law that is not even on the books anymore.
While the aforementioned police operations are less common, they are part of a long legacy. Men convicted of frequenting gay bars in the 1950s and 1960s have magically been classified as sex offenders decades later, thanks to the simpleton solution of Megan's Law.
If you have to pee, and you duck behind a trash dumpster and relieve yourself, and no one sees you urinate, but they see you come out from behind the dumpster, that is a sex crime in some communities in the US. Needing to pee can make you a sex offender in the United States.
Now that we know how a simpleton law hurts people, let's look at the big to-do over gun control. There have been a series of shootings with significant loss of life in recent months. The simpleton solution is gun control.
It is important to note these shootings did not just happen. Long before these shootings, these people displayed signs of having mental health issues. Mental health issues oft times go untreated in the US. Of those that were treated, many times were put on the drugs pushed by the pharmaceutical industry, drugs that may actually aggravate the very conditions they are supposed to be helping.
Then there are those that the system just plain failed. The United States has a massive body count of children who were harassed and bullied and intimidated into suicide,mostly as a result of anti-gay harassment. Nobody stepped forward and protected these children.
Nor does it get better if you are an adult. I know because as an adult, I am the victim of such harassment.
I know what it is like when the police officer responding to the scene of a homophobic death threat tells you: “No crime had been committed.”
I know what it is like when the chief of the local police force sends out an email to his subordinates that ridicules you.
I know what it is like when the chief of police tells you that anti-Jewish hate speech is concern for your spiritual welfare.
I know what it is like when you actually have to fear the local police because your Jew hating,homophobic neighbor is politically connected and his friends on the police force do his dirty work for him.
I know what it is like when the local government refuses to reign in their police force, a small town police force that racked up three police brutality lawsuits in a mere seven months.
I know what it is like when you ask the county to protect you because the local police will not, only to have the county turn the matter over to the same local police department that you complained about.
This is why I understand that some people need guns. They need guns because there is no one who will help them. They need guns because there is no one to protect them.
I also understand why all those precious children are dead. They are dead because just as the adults who were and are responsible for my safety did nothing to help me, so those adults did nothing to help these children.
Just as Megan's Law was an ill-conceived idea, whose sole purpose was to make the politicians look like they were doing something when they were not, so gun control is an ill-conceived idea designed to make the politicians look like they are doing something when they are not. Just as Megan's Law has created a whole new class of victims, so will the ill-conceived gun control laws create a new class of victims.
|Posted on January 1, 2013 at 1:15 PM||comments (1)|
By Gary Konecky
One of the ways to evaluate things is to compare how people respond in somewhat similar situations. With this thought in mind, let us compare the actions of Joseph (as Viceroy of ancient Egypt) during a famine where people were hungry and in need of food with those of our politicians in Washington,DC,during an economic downturn where people are hungry and in need of food.
Let us start with Joseph. The bible, in the Book of Genesis, tells us:
Now lets contrast Joseph's actions,actions that fed millions of hungry people, with those of actions of our politicians in recent years. The politicians in Washington deliberately repealed the laws and regulations designed to protect us against financial fraud. It appears they repealed those laws and regulations in exchange for bribes (better known as campaign contributions). As a result, we are now suffering thought the worst economic downturn the since The Great Depression of nearly a century ago. The Great Recession has dragged on for five long years and is still dragging on with no end in sight.
What has Washington's response been to The Great Recession? They have used taxpayer money to bailout the very crooks that caused The Great Recession; as if creating a worldwide financial disaster and impoverishing millions of people was a noble deed, a deed so noble as to merit trillions of taxpayer dollars as a reward. Did anyone arrest any of these crooks? No! It appears that when you pay large enough bribes (pay large enough campaign contributions), then you are not arrested for financial crimes, the very crimes that created The Great Recession.
The politicians in Washington also responded to The Great Recession by creating the so called Fiscal Cliff. In short, the politicians manufactured a crisis so that they could have an excuse to impoverish additional people by cutting the very benefits (Social Security being just one example) that those people paid for in taxes (year, after year, after year, their entire working lives), taxes that the government made a solemn vow to use to provide them with benefits when they needed them. And now, those politicians are trying to break that solemn vow by claiming that a politician created situation is somehow a dire national emergency and that they have no choice but to cut the very benefits they vowed to provide.
In this United States, people go to bed hungry. This is not the result of a famine as in the bible story of Joseph. This is the direct result of government policy, government policy bought and paid for with bribes (campaign contributions), government policy that has brought untold human suffering to millions of people.
Now lets take this point just one step further. Jews throughout the word read the first five books of the Hebrew bible in an annual cycle. Every week, they read a different torah portion as part of this cycle. While they were reading the torah portions that dealt with Joseph and his handling of the famine, the US House of Representatives held a vote on cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from Food Stamps (a program design to provide food to the hungry among us). Think about this, while Jews across the world were reading how Joseph was feeding people during a famine, the US House of Representatives was voting to take food from poor people so that they could preserve tax breaks for the richest among us; people so rich that they, their children, and their children's children, will never want for anything, let alone food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. People that are so rich they need these taxbreaks for the reason best stated by billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."
In conclusion: Are the policies of Washington what G-d wants for us (as illustrated by the story of Joseph), or are they an unpardonable sin of epic proportions?
|Posted on November 7, 2012 at 10:10 PM||comments (0)|
By Gary Konecky
The most destructive force in the world is religion. The most powerful force for good in the world is religion. Religion is a two edged sword and depending on who is wielding it, it is either a force for good, or a force for evil. With this thought in mind, I come to what passes for biblical literacy and religious practice in the United States, as well as in certain other countries.
Earlier this year, noted gay rights activist Dan Savage spoke to some college students about the bible. He held the bible, and religion, up to public ridicule and the students cheered him on. How did we get to this situation? Who is responsible for this sad state of affairs?
The answers lies in a medieval Jewish proverb: “In prayer we speak to G-d, but in study G-d speaks to us.” (note 1)
In the United States, there are many hard working clergy who study and try to listen to G-d. One never seems to hear from these people. Instead, the TV airwaves are filled with clergy whose sole purpose seems to be asking for donations so that they can live the lifestylesof the rich and famous. We have clergy who publicly and loudly demonstrate their biblical illiteracy by quoting the bible out of context and using misquotes to justify their hate and bigotry. The corporate controlled media in the United States is filled with the comments of these hate mongers, while those who diligently go about G-d's work go unheard. Then we have the people who unthinkingly take the bible literally. These people are the religious equivalent of people who think they read a book because they saw a movie with the same name as the book.
Further fueling this problem are the politicians who think that they were not elected to serve in public office, but were elected to impose their ignorant, hateful, bigoted religious beliefs on the general public. At least one political party in the United States, the Republicans,seem to specialize in this form of demagoguery. Nor do the Republicans have a monopoly on demagoguery as evidenced by Democrat President Clinton's signing of the blatantly homophobic laws of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act; laws the US courts have ruled are unconstitutional.
Because the popular media is filled with clergy of the aforementioned caliber, not to mention the demagogue bible thumping politicians, religion is held in disdain. Further showing religion in a bad light, we have a religion known for preaching hate and actively encouraging mass murder; Islam. We have another well known religion,a religion known for preaching hate, engaging in and covering up child abuse (physical and sexual), as well as at least two Vatican Bank scandals; the Roman Catholic Church. We also have a religion that has violated campaign finance laws in its effort to deprive gays and lesbians of civil rights; The Church of Latter Day Saints (better known as the Mormons). These are just a mere three examples, as there are unfortunately plenty of others. In a striking coincidence, all three of these religions are known for their preaching of hatred of gays and lesbians. It should also be noted that these three religions also have been involved in anti-Jewish activity. I gues sonce you start to hate those that are different from you, it is all but impossible not to hate everyone but your co-coreligionists.
That Dan Savage said what he did should therefore be no surprise. Having received the same hate he has, I understand why he chose to hold his enemies up to public ridicule. Having seen the public performance of many of our clergy, his observations (while being incorrect) are justified.
One other point needs to be mentioned here, some students found Dan savage's remarks objectionable and walked out. This brings up another issue. Mr. Savage's remarks were made to a group of high school students, or the very people we often call young adults. These are the leaders of the future. What caliber of leadership will we have when the best these young adults could do is walk out? How wrong am I to assume that these young adults are so indoctrinated into hateful religious teachings that these people will be the haters of future generations? What kind of leadership will they provide when the best they can do when confronted with a difference of opinion is to walkout, least someone challenge their beliefs?
That having been said, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to try and correct what Dan Savage said. The first place we need to start with is bible translation. An English translation of the bible is not the world of G-d. Having seen numerous translations, I can tell you most (if not all) translations are flawed in some way. Regarding the Hebrew bible specifically, it is written in Hebrew. Hebrew is a spiritual language. English is the language of commerce. One cannot translate from one to the other, as there are no equivalent words for some concepts. On this website are numerous articles explaining how and why a literal interpretation of the bible is wrong. Please read those articles.
I now move on to one last point that needs to be addressed, that being Dan Savage's key point about slavery. Dan Savage's key point was that as the bible was so backward as to condone slavery, we can safely discard all of its teachings as irrelevant, worse than irrelevant, but as backward and immoral.
Yes, the bible condones slavery, which was widely practiced at that time. But let us look at some of the laws of slavery that were given as part of the Oral Torah, for we will quickly discover that whipping slaves and having sex with them (as was practiced by one of the nation's founding fathers, President Jefferson) was not the slavery condoned by G-d. In fairness to President Jefferson, he did arrange to have his slaves freed upon his death.
A serious study of the Hebrew bible will reveal that G-d is very concerned with the weakest members of society; as shown by the repeated emphasis on proper treatment of widows, orphans, and the poor.
Marriage as we now know it did not exist in the time of the Hebrew bible. Government run welfare programs did not exist at the time of the bible.
Marriage was not about love, but was an economic arrangement, as women were largely dependent upon men for the necessities of food, clothing and shelter. Furthermore, Jewish laws concerning marriage were concerned that the women receive enough property so as not to be impoverished in the event of divorce. All of this is about money, not love, for even in our generation poverty can be fatal.
Slavery under Jewish law was not about the ownership of another human being, but was a welfare program. Basically, it was a form of indentured servitude where someone who has fallen on hard times and is longer able to care for himself (and his family) could sell himself into slavery and thereby insure his well being. The Oral Torah tells us that if a slave is mistreated and physically harmed, he must be set free. If a slave ran away, it was presumed to be evidence of mistreatment and the slave was freed. If there was one blanket in the house, the slave had first dibs. If there was only enough food in the house for one meal for one person, the slave was to be fed. Upon completing the period of servitude, the slave was to be freed with gifts sufficient for the slave to set up housekeeping. Slaves were required to be freed every seven years, in correspondence with the biblical mandated agricultural cycle. If the slave felt he was well treated, he had the option of staying a slave to that family. The rabbis taught that someone who acquires a slave, acquires a master for themselves.
This is all in stark contrast to theUntied States. Today, the religious bigots scream about traditional marriage and cite the bible as proof, despite the fact they are making grossly inaccurate and blatantly false statements. They are using the bible to justify their hate and their economic interests (I refer to the clergy on TV soliciting donations). Nor is this anything new. For the same bible was used to justify slavery in the United States. Slavery in the United States was not about social welfare, but was about the economics of slave labor. It was about mistreating people. Slaves had no rights. Rarely if ever was a slave set free. Slaves were bred so that a continual supply of slave labor was available. Furthermore, unlike biblical slavery, where slaves weref reed on a regular basis, we have the United States Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case, a decision contrary to the laws of slavery as given in the Oral Torah.
Do I blame Dan Savage for getting it wrong? No, I do not. For the slavery he was taught in school was the slavery of the United States. Furthermore, look at his religious teachers, for his teachers are the same bigots and greedy clerics who have historically misused the bible in their quest for money and power, as well as to justify their hate. These are the same kind of people who misused the bible to justify the evil institution of slavery in the United States. These are the same people who now insist that gays and lesbians do not deserve the very civil rights that they themselves take for granted.
The problem is when immoral clerics misuse our holy teachings, then our society becomes immoral. Religion, instead of being a force for good, then becomes a force for evil. Tragically, that is the state of affairs we have in much of the world right now.
Note 1: As quoted on page 168 of TheBook of Jewish Values, A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, published by Bell Tower, copyright 2000.
Recommended additional reading:
|Posted on November 7, 2012 at 9:25 PM||comments (0)|
By Gary Konecky
Recently, I attended a Jewish religious class on the Laws of Family Purity. Greatly simplifying, these laws primarily center around a woman's menstrual cycle and when sexual relations between a husband and wife are prohibited as a result of the woman’s cycle.
Please note that the subject of these laws is something that only women experience. The class was made up of men and women including a man easily in his late 70s. It is true the man was knowledgeable about Jewish religious law. That said, the man dominated the class and cut off the rabbi teaching the class several times. Furthermore, when a man very respectfully asked the women a question about what women experience as part of the menstrual cycle, this man cut off the women who were answering the question, and gave his answer.
All of this raises several issues. It does not matter to me how knowledgeable this man is, nor his age. What does matter is this man's public display of a his lack of maturity. To me, one of the signs of maturity is showing respect to others. In this case, that would mean respecting the teacher, or in this case not challenging the rabbi and attempting to run the class, which is what this man did.
Then there is the issue of speaking of things about which you know, and keeping quiet about things that you know nothing about. Women, not men, live with and experience the menstrual cycle. When the women were asked about it, this man answered. How dare this man, a man with no first hand knowledge or experience, presume to answer a question put to the women about something only they can experience. It takes a shocking level ofchutzpah to have the presumption to speak on behalf of others. It takes extraordinary poor judgment to talk about something of which one has no experience, especially when others with that experience and who are far more qualified are present and able to answer.
Sadly, this man is not alone in this immature behavior. For months now, their have been news reports about male politicians discussing women being raped and becoming pregnant as a result. These men, all Republicans and all trying to appeal to the same group of christian fundamentalist voters that routinely engage in gay bashing (be it verbal or violent), have all tried to justify not allowing legal access to abortion for rape victims as such access will conflict with their religious dogma. First off, who are these people to impose their religious beliefs (with the force of law) on those who have different religious beliefs? The last time I checked, such behavior violated the US constitution and was therefore a violation of their oath of office. What kind of religious people are these that break the word they swore to G-d , for that oath was sworn to G-d with a hand on their bible when they took office? Outside of being a political expedient, does that bible, which they claim to be the word of G-d mean anything to them? Who are these men (to the best of my knowledge, none of whom are doctors) to decide what medical care is appropriate for a rape victim? Who are these men to presume to speak about rape and pregnancy when they will never experience the trauma of becoming pregnant as a result of rape? On the other hand, I might be in error here, as perhaps immature is the wrong word. Perhaps, arrogant, power hungry, bigoted, and misogynistic are better adjectives.
While the man in that class was immature, and one would have hoped he would have behaved better, whatever he said affected no one but the handful of people in that room at that time. That cannot be said for the male politicians who are hell bent on imposing their ignorant religious dogma on others with the force of law.
Source for the above rape chart: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/10/24/1149395/-GOP-Rape-Advisory-Chart-h-t-to-connecticutie. This chart is posted here with the permission of it's creator.
|Posted on October 3, 2012 at 3:40 PM||comments (0)|
By Gary Konecky
As we are in the home stretch of another election year, now seems to be a good time to reflect on the qualities that one should expect in their elected officials. Now also seems a good time to discuss what the role of government should be. The Torah, the Talmud, and the rabbinic commentaries address these very issues.
An important quality in elected officials would be an understanding of how the people they govern live. The Talmud (Berachoth 27b-28a) tells us of this in an incident involving the President of the Sanhedrin, RabbanGamaliel. Rabban Gamaliel owed his position in large part to family connections (as he had ancestors who also held this position) and family wealth. He was known to be authoritarian and to go out of his way to embarrass those who disagreed with him. Ultimately, he did this to R. Joshua one time too many, and he was removed from his position a head of the Sanhedrin. The Talmud then tells us:
Rabban Gamaliel thereupon said: This being the case, I will go and apologize to R.Joshua. When he reached his house he saw that the walls were black. He said to him: From the walls of your house it is apparent that you are a charcoal-burner. He replied: Alas for the generation of which you are the leader, seeing that you know nothing of the troubles of the scholars, their struggles to support and sustain themselves!
How many of our elected officials have spent their entire lives in politics and know nothing of the struggle to pay for food, clothing and shelter? How many of our elected officials, having spent their lives in office, have no understanding of the impact of the fees and taxes they impose on their constituents?
Having mentioned our politicians, now seems a good time to mention their political appointees and those they give government contracts to. The Talmud discusses the building of the Tabernacle (which is described in Exodus). What is interesting is G-d seeks the approval of his subordinate (Moses) about who to appoint to oversee this very important project. Moses then seeks the approval of the Israelites. Even afterall this, Moses tests the appointee to make sure he is the right man for the job.
The Talmud (Berachoth 55a) tells us:
R. Johanan said: There are three things which the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself proclaims, namely, famine, plenty, and a good leader…‘A good leader’, as it iswritten: And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, See I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri.(19)
R. Isaac said: We must not appoint a leader over a Community without first consulting it, as it says: See, the Lord hath called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri.(20) The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Do you consider Bezalel suitable? He replied: Sovereign of the Universe, if Thou thinkest him suitable, surely I must also! Said [God] to him: All the same, go and consult them. He went and asked Israel: Do you consider Bezalel suitable? They replied: If the Holy One, blessed be He, and you consider him suitable, surely we must!
R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Johanan: Bezalel was so called on account of his wisdom. At the time when the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses; Go and tell Bezalel to make me a tabernacle, an ark and vessels,(21) Moses went and reversed the order, saying, Make an ark and vessels and a tabernacle. Bezalel said to him: Moses, our Teacher, as a rule a man first builds a house and then brings vessels into it; but you say, Make mean ark and vessels and a tabernacle. Where shall I put the vessels that I am to make? Can it be that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to you, Make a tabernacle, an ark and vessels? Moses replied: Perhaps you were in the shadow of God(22) and knew!
(19) Ex. XXXI, 1.
(20) Ibid. XXXV, 30.
(21) This is the order in Ex. XXXI, 7.
(22) Heb. bezel el.
Can any of us envision such a thing happening today? Can any of usrecall a politician consulting with the people about a government contract orcontractor? Can any of imagine a political appointee who is beholden to the people? What of our political appointees who think nothing of charging exorbitant tolls to cross a bridge, a bridge that has been bought and paid for in tolls over and over and over again? What of our elected officials who feel that their political appointees should not have to explain where all that toll money goes? How many of us have heard about government officials abusing their authority? What of the government contractors who “pay to play,” meaning bribing government officials (excuse me, making campaign contributions) to get government contracts? What of the no bid contracts that are given out to contractors who “pay to play?”
The next qualities that I would like to discuss are the qualities of mercy and justice. Furthermore, not only does this apply to elected officials, but it applies to us as well, for all of us are commanded (Deuteronomy 22:6-7):
If a bird's nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings orupon the eggs, you shall not take the mother upon the young. You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you,and you should lengthen your days.
While this commandment seems simple enough, the reason for it is unclear and the reason is the subject ofrabbinic commentary.
The great Jewish sage, The Ramban explains:
…when the Gemara says that the reason behind the Mitzvah of sending away the mother bird is not in order to have mercy, it means that it is not Hash-m's intent to have mercy on the bird. Rather, it is a "Gezeirah" (a decree upon us ,for our benefit) in order to inculcate the trait of mercy in us. One who accustoms himself to acting with cruelty to beasts becomes cruel intrinsically, and even to people. (Note 1)
The CHASAMSOFER (Chulin 139b) explains that according to the Rambam (Hilchos Shechitah 3:7) the reason for this Mitzvah is to ensure that a level of moral justice is maintained in the world. When a mother bird stays behind to protecther young from a hunter, it is not morally condonable that she suffers harm as a result. Therefore, the hunter is not allowed to take advantage of the mother's love for her young and capture the mother, but rather he must send her away. (Note 1)
Taking this last point about a level of moral justice a step further, the Torah (Deuteronomy 16:18-20) tells us:
You shall setup judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes ofthe wise and perverts just words. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.
Having mentioned justice, we now turn to the judges and the courts. Isaiah (chapter five) in one of his prophecies tells us:
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I beg you, between me and my vineyard…
For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel, and the people of Judah are the plant of His joy; and He hoped for justice, and, behold, there was injustice; for righteousness, and behold, an outcry.
This brings us to the subject of injustice, as well as corrupt courts and judges. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109b) discusses the corrupt judges in Sodom (also transliterated as Sedom), who according to the Talmud are named Shakra'i, Shakrura'i, Zayafei, and Matzlei Dina. Why does the Talmud give the names of the judges and do the names have meaning? The great rabbis have answered this question for us:
The MAHARSHA explains that these four judges represent the four examples of "Sedom justice" that the Gemara describes immediately afterwards. The name of the first judge,Shakra'i (which comes from the word "Sheker," or "lie") refers to a perversion of justice and represents the judgment in the case ofthe person who hit his neighbor's pregnant wife, causing her to miscarry. When the judges accept the perpetrator's claim that he should not have to pay for the loss of the fetus since he can replace what he damaged by impregnating the woman that is an injustice.
The Maharsha asserts that the name of the second judge, Shakrura'i, should actually read "Sheker Vadai" -- meaning absolute injustice. This represents the judgment in the case of a person who hit his neighbor's donkey, causing it to lose an ear. The judges tell the victim to keep the ear until it grows back. This is absolutely unjust, because the ear of an animal cannot grow back.
The name of the third judge,Zayafei, represents the way the judges of Sedom would rule in a case in which a person hit another person, wounding him and causing him to bleed. The judges would rule that the victim must pay the perpetrator for causing him to bleed, because the perpetrator performed the service of bloodletting for him! This is falsified logic ("Ziyuf," or "forgery"); because the victim did not need bloodletting at the time he was wounded.
The name of the fourth judge, Matzlei Dina, corresponds to the judgment in the fourth case the Gemara mentions. The judges of Sedom instituted a higher fee for one who crosses the river by foot than for one who crosses the river by bridge. This was a corruption of justice done for personal benefit ("Matzlei Dina," or a"bending of the law" for one's own benefit) done simply to raise revenue fraudulently for the city. (Note2)
How many of us heard of a case being fixed in a court, or a judge making a blatantly political ruling, or a cour truling in favor of the politically connected or the powerful? How many of us felt railroaded, or plead guilty (to something we did not do) and paid a fine in traffic court (as the prosecutor offered us a deal that would avoid insurance surcharges and points on our license)? How many of us decided it was not worth the time and effort and just paid a ticket, even if we were innocent? How many of us have heard rumors of police corruption, or heard that a local government official takes bribes? Lastly, what of our government officials, both elected and appointed, who knowingly turn a blind eye to fraud and other criminal acts?
Moving on from injustice, let us look at tzeddakah or righteous giving. As part of the political process, the presidential candidates have disclosed some of their income tax returns. On those tax returns is information about their charitable giving. This brings up the question; how much was given and whom was it given to?
I now come to the laws of charitable giving, as explained by the great Jewish sage Maimonides in his monumental work the Mishneh Torah. Maimonides explains the different levels of charitable giving as follows:
1. The highest level is helping someone by finding him employment, or entering into a business partnership with him, or giving him a loan so that he can set up a business. The goal being to strengthen the person so that they will no longer be dependent on charity.
2. The next highest level is giving charity to someone without knowing to whom he gave charity and the recipient not knowing who gave the charity.
3. Next we come to knowing whom one is giving charity to, but the recipient does not know who gave him charity.
4. Next is not knowing to whom one is giving charity, but the poor person knows who is giving the charity.
5. Next is giving to the poor person directly, meaning both the recipient and the donator know who is giving and who is receiving, but the charity is given before the poor person asks for it.
6. Next we come to the donor and recipient knowing each other, and the recipient asks for charity
7. Next is when one gives charity gladly with a smile, but the amount is not adequate for the poor person’s needs.
8. The lowest level of charity is when one gives unwillingly.
If one looks carefully at the different levels of charity, one is struck about how the levels are ranked in terms of the dignity of the poor. This is no surprise, for the Talmud (Berachoth 19b, Menachoth 37b, and Shabbath 81b) tells us: “Great is human dignity, since it overrides a negative precept of the Torah.”
The Talmud (Berachoth 58b) gives us an example of how to give charity, by telling us how R. Hana b. Hanilai ran his house:
…the house in which there used to be sixty (6) cooks by day and sixty cooks by night, who cooked for every one who was in need. Nor did he [R. Hana] ever take his hand away from his purse, thinking that perhaps a respectable poor man might come,and while he was getting his purse he would be put to shame. Moreover it had four doors, opening on different sides, and whoever went in hungry went out full. They used also to throw wheat and barley outside in years of scarcity, so that anyone who was ashamed to take by day used to come and take by night…
(6) I.e.,a great many.
It is striking how concerned R. Hana b. Hanilai was, not only with the poor; not merely with the poor, but also with their dignity, that they should not have to wait and be ashamed, or that they should not have to been seen receiving wheat and barley. Have any of us heard of a government official that concerned with the poor? How many candidates run for public office, not by appealing to our better natures, but by appealing for our votes by demonizing people?
Continuing our discussion about tzeddakah, the Torah (Deuteronomy 15:11) tells us:
For there will never cease to be needy within the land. Therefore, I command you, saying,you shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor one, and to your needy one in your land.
At first glance, this verse would seem to be a commandment to give charity to the poor, and so it is. But is that all it is? We are blessed to have people who give generously of their time and money. They fulfill this commandment by funding hospitals, and food pantries, visiting the sick and shut ins, helping the unemployed look for jobs, etc. But no matter how generous they are, we still have people who cannot pay their medical bills (because they do not have medical insurance or because their medical insurance refuses to pay all the costs of their medical treatment). We have unemployed people who are loosing their homes. We have children who go to bed hungry. Therefore, it is important to ask: What is the role of government, the government that we fund with our tax dollars? How many of our tax dollars should be used for unemployment benefits? How many of our tax dollars should be used for helping someone get another job? How many of our tax dollars should be used to pay for medical care for those who need it? One of the roles of our elected officials is to answer these questions, “For there will never cease to be needy within the land” and no matter how generous we are, we cannot help all the needy throughour charity alone.
In conclusion, as we evaluate ourcandidates for elective office, let us remember the ways to evaluate ourpoliticians; kindness, charity, righteousness, justice, and respect for human dignity.
Let us also remember the words of King David (psalms 118:8-9) who told us: “It is better to take shelter in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take shelter in the Lordthan to trust in princes.”
Let us also remember that when the Jewish people demanded a king, it was the prophet Samuel who warned the Jewish people against the dangers of such a government. His prophecy was proved to be true by the fact that the Jewish people were fortunate to have some great kings lead them; but the kingdom was split and ultimately destroyed because all too many kings were evil. Perhaps this is something to remember as you walk into the voting booth this November.
MISHNAH 3.BE YE CIRCUMSPECT [IN YOUR DEALINGS] WITH THE RULING AUTHORITIES FOR THEY SUFFER NOT A MAN TO BE NEAR THEM EXCEPT IT BE FOR THEIR OWN REQUIREMENT; THEYSHOW THEMSELVES AS FRIENDS WHEN IT IS TO THEIR OWN INTEREST, BUT THEY DO NOT STAND BY A MAN IN THE HOUR OF HIS DISTRESS. Mishna - Mas. Avoth Chapter 2
INSIGHTSINTO THE DAILY DAF:
INSIGHTS INTO THE DAILY DAF:
Sources (not listed above):
The Complete Tanach with Rashi, copyright 1999 by Davka Corporation and Judaica Press
The Soncino Talmud, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8,Copyright 1991-2004, Davka Corporation
Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charity:
|Posted on August 21, 2012 at 11:50 AM||comments (0)|
By Gary Konecky
Today we have two sets of contestants for the Kingdom of Heaven. Only one fortunate set will inherit their place in the Kingdom of Heaven. The other contestant will be sentenced to something not nearly as nice, nor as rewarding.
Our first contestant for entry to the Kingdom of Heaven is a nasty old man. This old man hates dogs. This old man is obsessed that dogs are some how damaging his plants when they walk past his house on a leash using the sidewalk. Instead of putting up a fence to protect what he perceives to be his precious plants, he makes it a point to watch people as they walk their dogs near his property. He makes it a point to curse people and to physically threaten them over the way their dog walks on a leash near his property. One at least one occasion he stalked a dog walker and his dog for blocks and blocks and blocks.
Our second set of contestants lives approximately a block away from our first contestant. They are a charming older couple that exchange pleasantries and greetings with passers by. They set up and maintain a dog water fountain on their property, near the sidewalk so that passing dogs can get a drink of water during their walks on the very hot days of summer.
And now that you have met our contestants, who do you think will be inheriting a place in the Kingdom of Heaven?
|Posted on June 21, 2012 at 6:25 PM||comments (0)|
By Gary Konecky
There are days that I am truly amazed by what goes on. Today is one of them.
In the last month or so, three instances came to my attention that I think speak volumes about our society. The first instance is recounted in What type of community are we? The second isntance was recounted in What is a Gay Life Worth?
Following up on the later, I occasionally make comments or post articles in a gay news forum. One of them concerned the second item mentioned above. In that instance, an unrepentant, gay basher did things that caused the death of his gay victim. Not only is the gay basher unrepentant, but he lies about it, obstructs justice, and destroys evidence. He is convicted of numerous criminal counts for his actions. His sentence, with the dead body on the deck in a clear case of gay bashing and anti-gay harassment, is 30 days in jail. He is then set loose on society after serving only 20 days.
Furthermore, despite the fact that hhis gay basher could be, as he well should, this hateful criminal, this convicted criminal, is allowed to remain in this country. While this convicted criminal hate monger is allowed to rewmain in this coutry, same sex loving couples, married same sex loving couples, are subject to deporation because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that does not recognize their marriages.
Then we have the response of the gay community. While some members of the gay community were outraged; some members of the gay community, defended the not even a slap on the wrist sentence, One member of the community went so far as to publicly and repeatedly blame the victim's mother for her son's death. We are taught that there is no greater tragedy, then a parent burying a child. Yet, rather than offer comfort, this member of the gay community not only added to the grief of this family; but by condoning and vigorously defending the actions of the gay basher, he put all our lives at risk.
When I dared to publicly point out that this is the behavior of someone who is at best sick, I was publicly attacked by the news group moderator for saying that. The moderator then blocked me from sending him any messages. Apparently, both these individuals need lessons in our common humanity, or professional mental health services.
Having now surarized these disgusting events, I am forced to ask: "What kind of society are we?"
|Posted on May 21, 2012 at 3:40 PM||comments (0)|
By Gary Konecky
Year ago, in The Village in New York City, then a gay ghetto, there was a rash of violent attacks on gay men. The response of the City of New York, including its police force was to do nothing. The situation reached the point that the gay community was forced tot ake action and to organize street patrols. The community also organized marches and demonstrations against the violence and police inaction. I participated in one of those marches. I personally saw fellow marchers violently attacked. Not only were they attacked, and some of my fellow marchers seriously wounded, but the New York City Police Department did nothing to protect us. In fact, the only arrests they made that night were of innocent gay people and their supporters including the legal observers accompanying the march. Worse than that, the New York City Police Department actually protected those who violently attacked the marchers and ensured the attackers' safety and freedom.
Years ago, I made the mistake of moving to Bergen County in New Jersey. As this matter is currently in litigation, I am going to reframe from naming the perpetrator and the community. However, the facts are relevant. On returning home from work, I came home to find a homophobic death threat written in the freshly fallen snow where I park my car. I called the police. The responding officer refused to take a report and told me: “No crime had been committed.” Ultimately, I met with the local chief of police who informed me there was “insufficient evidence” to charge anyone despite the fact that there were footprints in the snow that went from the crime scene to the suspect’s property. As a result of the police’s failure to protect me, the suspect (who is politically connected) has harassed and bullied me for years with impunity; worse than with impunity, with the full cooperation of the local government.
Now you may be asking what is the point of reviewing this history? The point is that it is not history, for today, today, in New Jersey, a convicted gay basher, a convicted gay basher whose actions lead to a gay victim’s death, was sentenced to all of 30 days in jail. There are communities in New Jersey where violating local ordinances about maintaining your property carry more than 30 days in jail. There are communities in the US where not paying parking tickets carries more than 30 days in jail. There are communities in the US where blowing your car horn carries more than 30 days in jail.
Dharun Ravi was convicted of 24 counts of bias crimes that lead to the death of apromising, beloved, respected, young gay man. Judge Berman correctly noted: “I heard this jury say guilty 288 times, 24 questions, 12 jurors, that's the multiplication, and I haven’t heard you apologize once.”
And what sentence did the judge pass on this unrepentant gay basher, a gay basher whose actions harassed and bullied someone into the grave? 30 days in jail. 30 days in jail. And what did the judge accomplish with this sentence? What did Judge Berman accomplish given the nationwide series of gay bashings and anti-gay harassment all across the US? What did the judge accomplish, given the years long series of gay suicides, gay suicides resulting from gay bashing and anti-gay harassment in cases after cases that are similar to this one? Judge Berman with his slap on the wrist sentence accomplished a lot; for he has given every gay basher in the country a license to gay bash, for he has told them that the penalty for gay bashing someone to death is less than the jail time for a parking ticket.
|Posted on May 18, 2012 at 3:35 PM||comments (0)|
By Gary Konecky
I travel in unusually broad circles, both religiously and sexually. Among my travels, I encounter members of various sexual minority communities. People in these communities are usually the victim of discrimination and bigotry by our society. As a result, members of some of these communities profess mutual respect for the other members of their community. They tell how all are honored and respected.
Yet that is often not the case. I know of a prominent leader in one community who has made it a point to say that gay men in that same community are not welcome. She made that hateful remark the same week of the vote to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina, and the same week that a 17 year old was bullied to death in Minnesota.
There is a teaching that we get the leaders we deserve. And therefore, I have to ask, what kind of community are we? Do we have the leaders that inspire the best in us, or do we have the leaders we deserve because we do not behave as we should?
|Posted on February 10, 2012 at 1:45 PM||comments (2)|
By Gary Konecky
For several years now, we have seen an unfortunate series of news reports about children committing suicide as a result of bullying an dharassment.
‘Aboth D'Rabbi Nathan (chapter 31 verse 2) discusses a teaching from the mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5). That teaching is that one who saves a life is credited as if that person saved an entire world. Conversely, we are also taught that if one destroys a life, it is as if that person destroyed an entire world. The proof text cited for this is the murder of Able by his brother Cain. After the murder, G-d confronts Cain, and in Genesis 4:10, G-d says: “The voice of thy brother’s bloods crieth unto Me.”
Note the use of the plural “bloods.” As ‘Aboth D’Rabbi Nathan explains: “He shed the blood of one person, yet scripture speaks of many bloods! But it teaches you the blood of his sons, of his sons’ sons, and of his descendants to the end of all generations that were destined to issue from him, all stood and cried to the Holy One, blessed be He. Hence you learn that one man is equal in worth to the entire creation.”
And what of the children who were bullied and harassed into committing suicide? What of the their lives? What of the things that will never be because they were hounded to death before they could fulfill their promise and potential? What of the lives that they could have touched, the people whose lives they could have made a difference in? All that is lost forever, and somewhere in heaven their bloods may well be crying out.
Nor are children the only victims of bullying and harassment? What of the adults so tortured that they cannot sleep or hold down a job? What of the adults so tortured that they are driven from their homes? What of the adults who need therapy or medication as a result of all the harassment? What of adults whose intimate relationships are destroyed because of the stress from unrelenting harassment and bullying?
Then we have the governments that aid and abet this harassment. We have law enforcement agencies that blame the victims. We have the schools that turn a blind eye to the bullying and harassment. We have the politicians and clergy that actually encourage bullying. We have the courts that issue rulings designed to enable the harassers to continue their bullying and torture unimpeded.
And in the end, we have: “The voice of thy brother’s bloods crieth unto Me,” for he who destroys a single life, it is as if he destroyed creation.
Source: Page 29a(2), Minor Tractates, edited by Rev. Dr. Abraham Cohen, MA, Ph. D., DHL, Soncino Press, copyright 1965.