Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why I Won't Be Watching the Olympics

The Olympics is supposed to be a time of international unity and brotherhood. Unfortunately, the reality falls very short of this ideal.

Here are some of the "fundamental principles" of the Olympics, from their Charter [emphasis mine]:

The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

Here is the reality we face today:

On the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in the Munich 1972 Olympic village, the International Olympic Committee refuses (again) to allow one moment of silence in memoriam. Why? Because apparently "Arab nations" have vowed to walk out. I'd like to see them release a name of the countries who are blackmailing the IOC and causing it to violate its own charter and guiding principles.

There has never been any Olympic effort to memorialize the victims. These athletes hoped to practice this IOC-recognized "human right" of playing sports, and they were murdered for it. I would hope that the writers of the Olympic Charter, first published in 1908, are rolling over in their graves.

This article has the most honest quote I've seen on the matter: "Rogge and his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch, have attempted desperately over recent decades to placate the Arab and Persian nations at these Games, fearing a boycott or worse."

The "or worse" is the actual truth. The IOC does not fear a boycott or a walkout. They fear further terrorist attacks.

What a ridiculous reason to ignore a terrorist attack at the Olympics! We give in to terrorist attacks in order to prevent more terrorist attacks at this event to promote international comraderie? Has that appeasement method worked for you in the past, London? This successful intimidation allows bullies to promote terrorism and intimidation during what should NOT be a political event. Regardless of the political motives behind this terrorist act, lives were lost violently in the middle of the Olympic village, the alleged epicenter of global harmony and goodwill. I can think of absolutely no reason to legitimize not remembering the victims of a terrorist attack at the Olympics, regardless of the citizenship of the dead or the motives of the guilty. Thankfully, at least the IOC has been honest that they don't have a good reason either.

Moments of silence have been held for terror victims at previous Olympic ceremonies, including one at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, remembering the victims of the 9/11 attack. Notably, as the 30th anniversary of the Munich slaughter, the 2002 Olympics also declined to have a moment of silence for the Israeli athletes. I suppose the irony was much stronger in 2002 since we had a moment of silence for American victims of an Islamist terror attack, but not for the victims of an Islamist terror attack at the Olympics itself. Today, it's just cowardly.

If we as an international community allow fear to make us incapable of either (a) showing respect for the dead and/or (b) condemning terrorism, what hope is there for the betterment of the world?

This is entirely unacceptable and should be condemned in the strongest terms possible. The opening ceremony is on Friday, and I hope you will not be watching.

If you would like to raise awareness about the memory of these athletes, here is a banner you can put as your Facebook "cover" photo or whatever newfangled social networks you crazy kids are using today.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Management Update: Sorry for yesterday's technical hiccups

I apologize if you received multiple copies of yesterday's post. Since I've been gone, Blogger has completely re-done their site, and I couldn't make it work right. Sorry :(

Shabbat shalom!

(And no, I currently have no idea if I'm back regularly. Maybe.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Defense of the Conversion Candidate in a Relationship

Quite frankly, I’m tired of people bad mouthing conversion candidates who are married to a Jew or dating a Jew. When I was converting, it would often come up that I was single for most of the years of my conversion process and wasn’t dating once I formally entered the orthodox conversion process. Once the "secret" was out, most orthodox Jews would visibly relax and almost sigh with relief. To them, I was “one of the good ones.”

People love to say that you “can’t convert for marriage” and use that as a justification to alienate or shame candidates in relationships with Jews. But that’s not quite the rule. Yes, the Talmud forbids conversion solely for the purpose of marriage. However, rarely is that the ONLY reason a conversion candidate is considering conversion. If people in relationships with Jews weren’t allowed to convert, the Talmud would have said that instead, and the rabbis wouldn’t allow so many people to enter the conversion process with a romantic partner.

Sidenote: “Entering the process with a romantic partner” is a key distinction in itself. Based on anecdotal evidence, it seems that most of the candidates who start with a romantic partner don’t finish the process with that partner still involved. Often, the relationship simply can’t survive the emotional hazards and the practical requirements of the conversion process. The road to conversion is strewn with break-ups and broken engagements.

A non-Jew dating someone Jewish and hoping to marry him or her is not enough to qualify as converting "solely" for marriage. Honestly, I don't know if the Talmud explicitly defines it, but here's my definition: the desire to convert simply to get your potential in-laws off your back. If you have no better reason than that, then you cannot be converted. (And if you lie to say you have other reasons but don't, then you will get your punishment sooner or later.) If I remember correctly (and anyone is free to confirm or debunk this), the Talmud states that once a non-Jew and a Jew are secularly married, "converting for marriage" can not be "the reason" for converting because, by definition, they don't need the conversion for the marriage.

What other reasons could exist for a non-Jewish partner to convert? Those reasons are the same reasons that could cause any person to consider converting: affiliation with the Jewish people, belief in the truth of the Torah, appreciation for the beauty of observant life, the philosophy of Judaism and Hashem resonates with the person’s innate worldview, maybe the non-Jewish partner was raised with some Jewish family members, or even grew up with a Jewish identity! (For example, a patrilineal Jew who grew up in the reform movement). Most people convert for many reasons, and I think any successful convert must have several things that drew them here. If you want to read more, check out my old post Why on Earth Would Someone Convert to Judaism?

I believe people highly underestimate the number of converts who have Jewish fathers (or even the "wrong" grandparents). Contrary to public opinion, it is possible for an orthodox (or conservative, for that matter) convert to have grown up "Jewish." I would bet five dollars that a very small percentage of people consider conversion without a significant relationship with a Jew (friendship or romantic) who introduced them to the idea. It's entirely possible that the kiruv movement that targets non-affiliated Jews will reach both the halachic and non-halachic Jews equally, and is it a surprise that "Jewish" couples could decide to become more religious, only to discover that one partner is not halachically Jewish??

Non-Jewish romantic partners have converted throughout history, including in the Talmud. There is no excuse for the “zero tolerance” policy many Jews have developed towards conversion candidates who have a Jewish romantic partner or converts who converted with their spouse (whether married before or after the conversion). There is no excuse for meeting every convert who is married and wondering (silently…or aloud, as I’ve seem some do) whether the convert converted for the spouse you just met. It is irrelevant, rude, and arguably against halacha (especially when against someone who has already converted and is thus now a Jew).

Halacha “frowns on” converting solely for marriage, not the conversion candidates who happen to have romantic relationships with Jews. Yes, I believe dating during conversion is NOT the ideal way to convert, but few things in life are ideal. You have the situation you have. (Likewise, I do NOT advocate entering a relationship while converting. I think it’s very different if you enter the process with an established relationship.)

On the other hand, many Jews look down on the Jewish partner. These people may think of the non-Jewish partner as the unwitting partner to a crime, in a way. There is an element of condemnation here: the Jew “should have known better” than to date outside the Jewish community. (Or they may even believe the Jew wanted to “sow wild oats” by sleeping with non-Jews and accidentally fell in love in the process, which is even more degrading to the non-Jewish partner.)

Non-Jewish partners is one of the largest causes of bringing Jews to a renewed appreciation of Judaism, orthodox or otherwise. Usually, the Jewish partner is not orthodox and never has been. Often, they have essentially nothing more than a cultural Jewish background. The non-Jew sees the beauty in Judaism that the Jew has not seen, either for lack of exposure or negative childhood experiences. Seeing Judaism through the eyes of a person you love can bring an entirely new perspective to Judaism, especially seeing the beauty of Jewish family life because of the person you want to build a family with. Suddenly, Judaism seems relevant and even useful.

On the other hand, Hashem works in mysterious ways, especially in the ways he brings converts to Judaism. Many converts initially consider Judaism because of dating a Jew, whether or not that Jew was still around during the actual conversion process (happened to me, and he was out of my life 7 years before I converted!). Hashem brings the right people into our lives at the right time for various reasons. Why is it so hard to believe that Hashem could use a Jewish romantic partner to give a non-Jew with a Jewish neshama the impetus to investigate Judaism?

In short, yes, I do believe a conversion candidate being in a romantic relationship with a Jew is a red flag to investigate the case well. However, that investigation is the responsibility of the converting rabbis, not the yenta at the Shabbos table or for general speculation by the community. As with any conversion candidate, maybe they’ll convert, maybe they won’t. It’s not your responsibility to question their decisions or how they got to where they are today. Treat them like a fellow Jew when it comes to interpersonal relationships, even if the halacha may not “require” it for relationships with non-Jews in many situations. You never lose points with Hashem for having common decency.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Berating Google

I'm a lawyer, and that means I try to be precise with my language. I don't always succeed, but I try. So this means I do a lot of Google searches of "define X" to make sure I'm using a word correctly for the idea I'm conveying. I don't remember why, but I wanted to make sure berating was the word I wanted, so I googled it. And this is what I got:

Does something seem off to you? Yeah...

Really now, Google? Maybe you should get a psychoanalyst. 

This is not taken from another website. It is an actual screen capture from my own browsing.