That’s fine

Last week there were riots in Beit Shemesh about proposed construction over possible gravesites. Although I had not posted about this particular development, it did strike me as another failure of rabbinic leadership. What were these people doing?

In the interests of fairness – and with considerable joy at this positive development – we have the first signs of rabbinic leadership stepping up to the plate, and looking to show real leadership, as reported in Arutz Sheva:

Hareidi Rabbi will Fine Beit Shemesh Rioters

Eida Hareidit rabbis have had enough of violence over construction at Beit Shemesh site.

Rabbis from the Eida Hareidit stream have come out strongly against the violent demonstrations at the Golobentzich construction site in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and one of them has announced that the monthly stipend of “kollel” students who leave their studies in order to demonstrate in Ramat Beit Shemesh will be cut.

The demonstrators contend that there are ancient graves at the site, and that the construction work is disturbing these graves.

The announcement was made after extremists harassed Rabbi Sternbuch, Head of the Beit Din of the Eida Hareidit, and following a sharply worded letter issued by Rabbi Amram Ofman following this harassment. Rabbi Ofman and other rabbis within the Eida came out strongly against the rioting after Rabbi Sternbuch came under attack over his opinion that construction at the site could continue unimpeded.

A leader of the Eida Hareidit, Rabbi Avraham Simha Hanun, told students at his Beit Midrash in Beit Shemesh that whoever absents himself from studies in order to demonstrate at the Golobentzich site will pay for it from his stipend.

Rabbi Ofman wrote a special letter of protest in which he accused the extremists of “taking the law into their hands and making a mockery of the Torah.”

“There is a disagreement between the wise men of the generation, and kings are holding discussions with each other,” he wrote. “What do we care? This matter is up for them, and only them, to decide. It is, therefore, my duty to write a protest over the fact that our rabbi, the Minister of Torah, the Head of the Bit Din shlita is being defamed. This is an unforgivable crime, and he who defames a great scholar will rot in hell.”

The Eida Chareidit is an organization representing the more hard-line streams of hareidi Judaism in Israel. It is avowedly “anti-Zionist,” and – as opposed to the United Torah Judaism factions of Degel HaTorah and Aggudat Yisrael, and the Sephardic Shas party – rejects any form of political participation in the Israeli state, believing that its very founding prior to the messianic era is sacrilegious.

The fact that even the Eida Chareidit – which has often attacked the more moderate hareidi factions for not towing their ultra-conservative line – is now being forced to contend with extremists of its own, may indicate that the group is losing control of its more radical elements.

It’s a start.


Thunder on the Danube


First, I want to blame the game. What game? Wagram 1809 about the famous battle at the climax of Napoleon’s campaign against the Habsburg Empire.

What am I blaming the game for?

It’s not unusual for me to be inspired to do some reading on the background to a game I am playing. But this time around, I went overboard. As soon as I saw the three volumes of John H Gill‘s work on Amazon, and the reviews, I knew I had to read them. The order went in, weeks passed, the game came off and went back on my table, and eventually I was invited to collect my goodies from the post office. I picked them up and read them all, one after the other, entranced.


This is what military history should be; sweeping storyline with plentiful maps, bursting with source notes, an incredible bibliography, and detailed orders of battle. He covers the whole campaign, including the political hopes and aspirations before hostilities began, and the lesser zones of conflict like Italy, Poland, Hungary, Dalmatia, Styria, and the Tyrol.

The author puts us into the Austrian HQ and lets us witness the clash between the different interest groups. He shows us Napoleon’s commanders at their worst and best. He gives us a peek into the chaos of battle – of blunders and bold strokes, of hesitation and  disorder, and those who kept their heads. And he reminds us of the heroism and bravery of the poor, individual soldier who often gave up his life for ethereal concepts like honor and loyalty. In short, he delivers a complete picture – or as complete as I have ever seen – with an impressive grasp of detail and the big picture all at the same time.


I found myself grabbing games from my collection, to see how they fitted the history. I gave up because it was taking so long, but it does lie at the back of my mind as (yet another) retirement project.

I owe a debt to Laurent Martin for sparking my interest, and a bigger debt to Mr Gill for his stupendous skill on top of, no doubt, countless hours of long hard sweat.

If you have any interest in Napoleonic warfare, these books are a must read:

  • Volume I – Abensberg
  • Volume II – The Fall of Vienna and the Battle of Aspern
  • Volume III – Wagram and Znaim

America’s Civil War: The Operational Battlefield, 1861-1863


This is one of the reasons my fiction intake has gone down drastically.

The book is by Brian Holden-Reid and sets out to be an operational study of the first half of the American Civil War. At the center of his attention is the belief by some ACW historians that it was impossible to have a war winning battle, and that the defender had an unbeatable advantage. So, the author takes us on his tour of the war’s events, forking off every so often to address why he thinks that pair of positions is wrong.

This extract is a useful snapshot:

In a welcome corrective to so much somber hand wringing, Paddy Griffith raises questions about the pervasive power of the defense in the Civil War. Although he concedes the defensive power of artillery and the omnipotence of entrenchments, he shows that shock action did succeed. Moreover, Griffith questions whether rifle-musket fire was that potent beyond Napoleonic ranges; the artillery was the main killer at longer ranges. One could advance a further argument, namely that the fault was not merely tactical; operational deficiencies also played a major role in numerous campaigns.

This is from page 258. In the notes (number 45 on page 264), the author says:

I do not always agree with the details of Griffith’s interpretation and its belligerent tone does not aid persuasiveness, but it is certainly stimulating.

Interesting. As an aside, Earl J HessThe Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat, which I read immediately before this book, is more wholeheartedly supportive of Paddy Griffith’s theory, but is delivered in more measured tones.

So far as Mr Reid’s work is concerned, I would not fault the history – how dare I – though the author’s treatment of Robert Lee may be indicative of, at least, sympathy for the fabled icon of the South. I wasn’t entirely convinced by his arguments on the operational possibilities that the respective armies missed, but it was noticeable that although I have read many histories of the war, this content was neither stale nor routine.

So, it fairly zipped along for most of the time, and gave me food for thought. You cannot ask for much more than that.

Not for novices to the period, but a useful addition to the body of writing on that climactic struggle.


The state of hypocrisy?

The Elder of Ziyon has this piece – US State Dept. upset at Israel releasing murderer of an American – which completely exposes the hypocrisy of the USA’s current foreign policy so far as it relates to peace in the Middle East. To quote the wise words of the Elder:

The position of the State Department is that murderers of Americans must never be released, but murderers of Israelis must be released.

The US must never negotiate with terrorists, but Israel must.

The US must track down and attempt to arrest any terrorists who murdered Americans who do get released from prison, but Israel must promise not to do that.

Why? For peace, of course. Do read the whole thing, but try not to get too angry.

[I’d like to know if anyone is asking pointed questions about this material in any of the White House press briefings. And if not, why not?]


How (not) to talk about Israel

From Guy Fawkes’ blog comes the following:

LibDems Running Class on How to Talk about Israel

Given the serious problem the LibDems have have with talking about Israel, from Jenny Tongue to Bob Russell and, of course, David “the Jews” Ward, Guido is not surprised that they have had to resort to running a class on how not to be offensive when discussing the subject. LibDem conference delegates will be taught by an “expert panel”, including the Chief Whip on “the importance of sensitivity when commenting on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.” Guido will be there to make sure Ward is at the front and paying attention.

Across the hallway at the Glasgow conference next month, the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine have invited UCL academic Colin Green and Ireland’s Desmond Travers to address their fringe meeting. Green led a campaign to boycott academics who happened to be Israeli that collapsed because too many its own supporters thought it would be anti-Semitic to single out Israelis uniquely. Travers denied terrorists in Gaza used Mosques to hide weapons even after he was shown photographs of them doing just that. He has tried to drum up opposition to Israel by pointing to the manypreviously unknown Irish victims of Israel: “so many Irish soldiers had been killed by Israelis” and “a significant number who were taken out deliberately and shot”. What could go wrong?

One to watch. I’m almost sorry I’m not there to see for myself how things turn out.


Send in the psychiatrists

This brilliant essay from John Derbyshire, even 11 years on, is relevant. While the added emphasis is mine, be aware that I seriously thought about putting it all in bold. This guy is right on the money:

Kill a Jew for Allah

The Mideast problem.

I recently got a long, carefully composed e-mail from a reader, who begged me to circulate it among “other opinion-formers.” It laid out a plan for peace in the Middle East. The writer, obviously an intelligent and well-informed person, had composed the e-mail with great care. With some passion, too — he really wants to find a solution to the Israel-Arab problem. Here was a public-spirited person doing his citizenly best to promote an idea that, he fervently believed, would put an end to the horrors.

And what was that idea? In a nutshell: The U.S. should lean hard on Israel to abandon the Jewish settlements in Arab land — i.e. beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders. These settlements (my reader argued) were the root cause of all the strife. Closing them down would remove the main casus belli; and the good faith shown by this act would open the eyes of the Arabs to the fact that peace with Israel is possible. The logjam would be broken.

I don’t know what to say to people like this. Obviously they are decent, good citizens. Obviously they are trying their best — trying to be constructive, to give some hope to the world. How do I tell them what I feel? Which is, that they are floating in orbit between Uranus and Neptune — inhabiting some place that does not touch the real world at any point.

Continue reading



Be warned; this is not pretty.

First, some context:

This nomadic nation was, in ancient times, Israel’s eternal foe. Shortly after the Israelites left Egypt and were wondering the desert, the Amalekites attacked the weary nation, slaughtering the weak and elderly. The Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, later avenged the attack and defeated the Amalekites, but failed to completely eradicate the nation. Israel was then plagued with raids Amalekite raids. Today, the name Amalek is a symbol for evil and hatred against Jews, and Haman, the Persian leader who vowed to destroy all Jews, is considered a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites.

Source: the Jewish Virtual Library.

And in modern Jewish orthodoxy:

We are meant to remember Amalek’s cowardly assault both mentally and verbally. This is one of the “six remembrances” that we should recall daily. We fulfill this mitzvah through the reading of parshas Zachor in the Torah. (The custom is to read it close to Purim, as Haman was an Amalekite.)

Source: Orthodox Union.

And now, the lunacy (from Ynet):

Rabbi Shteinman: Yair Lapid – ‘Amalek’

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, leader of haredi public, instructs pupils to think about Lapid, Piron when saying prayer against enemies of Israel

Finance Minister Yair Lapid has long been known as an enemy of the haredi public, but now, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, a prominent leader in the haredi world, says that Lapid is Amalek, the archetypical enemy of Israel from biblical times. This Saturday, when the parasha of Amalek is read, Shteinman instructed his disciples to have Lapid on their minds as they utter the words telling of the great enemy of the Israelites.

Twice a year, synagogues read the three verses that command to remember Amalek and destroy his descendants; once as part of the Ki Teitzei parasha, which will be read this Saturday, and once as a separate reading that in itself fulfilled the mitvah of memorial.

The next Hebrew year, 5774, is a leap year and longer than usual, which means there will be 13 months between this reading and the next; certain interpretations in the halacha claim that the second reading must also be done as a mitzvah, to continue the tradition of reading the important Amalek verse every 12 months.

Like any ‘enemy of Israel’

Towards the upcoming Shabbat, in which synagogues will read the Ki Teitzei parasha will be read, Rabbi Shteinman has instructed his pupils to keep the finance minister in mind while reading the parasha, in order to illustrate the historic Amalek.

Sources close to Shteinman also said that he tells pupils to think of Lapid and of Education Minister Shai Piron when saying Birkat haMinim, which is said three times every day other than Shabat, and that is read with the purpose of destroying the enemies of Israel: “And let the arrogant government be speedily uprooted in our days. Let the noẓerim and the minim be destroyed in a moment. And let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be inscribed together with the righteous.”

On the basis of this report, the good rabbi – and at least one of these three words is said in jest – seems to have lost the plot. What he is spouting is not Judaism; it’s the political posturing of a cult, determined to hold onto power, influence, and all that material stuff that truly spiritual people have less interest in.

His contemporaries should have a word in his ear; they won’t. His fellow leaders should put him right; they won’t. His followers should stop and ask themselves some serious questions; they won’t. His hate is a dead end that should be put to an end.

Which truly holy, spiritual man, will stand up and stand out and sort him out?

Calling the Chief Rabbi. Calling the Chief Rabbi. Calling the Chief Rabbi. Where are you? (Repeat, ad nauseam.)


Standards Standards

Or, to put it another way: double standards. You want them? Well, look here:

Egypt vs. Israel casualty coverage

A few things are notable about the current fighting in Egypt between the government and the supporters of Morsi in comparison to how the media covers Israel.

Firstly, as of this writing, the death toll in less than 24 hours is 281, mostly civilians (no matter what you think of the Muslim Brotherhood, while some of them are armed, most of the protesters were peaceful.)

Last November, Israel and Gaza terror groups fought Pillar of Defense. Israel dropped hundreds of bombs on Gaza and the news coverage was non-stop, as was the vitriol against Israel for supposed wanton killings and disregard for civilian lives.

The one day with the most Arab casualties in Pillar of Defense was November 18. Guess how many were killed by Israel’s fearsome war machine on that day?


Either the Egyptian security forces’ bullets are far more deadly than Israel’s bombs and missiles – or Israel was extraordinarily careful in who they targeted and how.

In fact, in one day, Egypt has killed more Arabs than Israel did since January 2012 – including Pillar of Defense!

Also, the number of civilians killed in the current fighting is much, much higher than the number killed by Israel since the end of 2011.

There is another double standard to the reporting that is important to note as well.

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed at various times during the day a death toll of over 2000. While these huge numbers were quoted, practically no reporter took those claims seriously, knowing that the group would tend to exaggerate to a great degree and because the numbers just didn’t seem realistic. The media acted responsibly and reported only the statistics that could be confirmed by more reputable sources.

Yet, the same media swallows the death statistics from Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas and reports them in detail, as fact, without the slightest amount of skepticism.

The only way to explain this is to recognize that the media, by and large, has a false impression of Israel as a brutal regime and is willing to believe the worst about it – no matter how many times the lies are exposed (unfortunately, often days or months later.)

Yet even after seeing the Egyptian security forces machine-gun civilians at point blank range, the media is not willing to believe inflated claims about casualties without further checking.

This encapsulates the problem with media coverage of Israel nicely. Pre-existing biases are assumed true, and fact checking is lacking when the reports fit what the reporter believes.

Watch the coverage from Egypt. The double standards are clear.

As usual, the Elder of Ziyon hits the nail squarely on the head. There is bias in the media against Israel; it’s there in black and white. But the herd instinct is so strong, nobody among the major players is prepared to step back and indulge in some introspection about what they routinely do. (It’s a variation of the emperor’s new clothes syndrome.)

Are they scared? Are they bought and paid for? Do they all subscribe to theory of the end justifies the means, and so as opposed to a Jewish state, don’t care? Do they truly prefer a simple David v Goliath story, instead of the more complex truth?

In short, why does the west have this type of media? And what can we in Israel do about it?


The War of the Pacific


Newly arrived is Strategy & Tactics #282 with the game of the War of the Pacific – the unknown (to me) war of 1879-1883 between Chile and the allies of Bolivia and Peru. I have only scanned the covering article and the game rules, so far.

I did notice a cracking typo on the main countersheet – “Chilians” – which alone is worrying. (I know; I’m a detailed kind of guy and this stuff bothers me.) I often wonder if there is any quality control system in place is some of these game companies.

If you have this issue, take a look at the advert for Pentagoet Histories on page 5:

“Pentagoet Histories use electronic media to produce comprehensive, detailed but comprihinsible descriptions of key battles and campaigns.


All information is inter-linked allowing for unprecedented flexibility to the reader, as well as the ability to drill down into deepter and deeper levels of detail.”

Oh dear.


Peace partners

This piece at Anne’s Opinions – How the Palestinians cut off their nose to spite our face – is worth reading. I especially liked this:

“And these are our “partners for peace”. I’d love to know what an enemy of peace looks like.”

I suppose we could ask Obama what the answer to that question is.