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Friday, July 10, 2020

If You’re Hungry During a Fast, Don’t Tweet: 12 Summer Lessons for Mid-August

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Mid-August is a bad time for politics. Mid-August is a bad time for work. And yet, here we are, working and thinking about politics. To lighten the mood, this column will feature only short, simple and friendly comments. And a few important lessons.

No. 1: If you get hungry during a fast, don’t tweet. Israel’s minister of transportation is our proof. On Tisha b’Av, as he was fasting, Bezalel Smotrich insulted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then used foul language as he criticized a court decision. His friends distanced themselves from him, and the prime minister pondered the possibility of firing him. 

No. 2: Smotrich erred in tweeting while hungry; his colleague, former Minister Ayelet Shaked erred while trying to be smart. She went on the air to condemn Smotrich, but while condemning him she also condemned President Donald Trump. Smotrich, Shaked said, is “a little bit like Trump. We have no control over his tweets.” So, lesson No. 2. would be: If you’re an Israeli leader aspiring to be prime minister, don’t compare Trump to something condemnable (not even if the comparison has merit). 

No. 3: Regarding Trump, I check how Wikipedia defines white supremacy. Here it is: “white supremacism is the racist belief that white people are superior to people of other races and therefore should be dominant over them.” 

Then I thought about Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang, each of whom called Trump a “white supremacist.” Yang said, “If someone acts and speaks in a certain way, then you have no choice but to say that’s what he is.” 

Is that really true? Is there really “no choice”? I think there a choice, for two reasons. 

First, because although some of his words and actions warrant strong disapproval, Trump hasn’t yet reached the threshold beyond which he should be called a white supremacist (I also assume he is not a white supremacist). 

Second, because calling the president of the United States a white supremacist is unhelpful in any way, shape or form (that is, except in a Democratic primary battle). 

No. 4: Why not call a spade a spade? In this case, because Trump isn’t necessarily a spade, and because calling him a spade pushes him onto a camp that is legitimized by having a U.S. president in its midst. 

So, what’s the lesson here? Should we assume that Yang was also fasting? 

No. 5: As speculation and conspiracy theories swirl over the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, let me offer my theory: Oftentimes, the likely explanation for such events — more frequent even than the “the Clintons” — is negligence, laziness and foolishness.  

No. 6: Lesson No. 6 was mentioned at the beginning of this column: August is a bad month for politics. This means that you’ll be forgiven for ignoring the whirlwind of Israel-election news until Sept. 1. 

To be honest, most of what happens until then is garbage time, anyway. And if you need proof of that, just look at what the master of politics — Netanyahu — is doing. He saved most of his campaign funds for the past three weeks of the campaign, and barely spends anything on the campaign even though his rivals do.

No. 7: The state of the race, if you’re still interested, is stable. That is, we are likely to end up exactly where we started. Netanyahu cannot form a coalition; Gantz cannot form a coalition. The difference will be the level of fatigue. (The lesson: One race should be enough.) 

No. 8: The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University published a new study titled “Beyond Welcoming: Engaging Intermarried Couples in Jewish Life.” There’s good and bad news in this study (for those wanting a robust Jewish future in America). Good: The community is very welcoming. There are no real barriers blocking interfaith couples from becoming active members in the community. Bad: They don’t really seem as if they want to belong. 

Christian Practices of Interfaith Couples: 

Source: “Beyond Welcoming: Engaging Intermarried Couples in Jewish Life,” Michelle Shain, Leonard Saxe, Fern Chertok, Graham Wright, Shahar Hecht, Theodore Sasson, August 2019.

No. 9: The juiciest nugget I found in this study is this: Jews are less likely to be satisfied with Jewish in-laws, and more likely to be satisfied with non-Jewish in-laws.

I’m sure this reminds you of some bad joke.

No. 10: A serious take from this study (it is a serious study): The authors recommend creating “non-religious entry points” for interfaith couples because “the results of this study make clear that most intermarried couples feel distant from religion and religious ritual.” What would be the substitute for religion? “Programmatic options that are secular in focus, including those related to Jewish cultural heritage and social justice” is what the authors prescribe. In many ways, this recommendation encapsulates the great question modernity poses to Judaism: Can it survive in a secular world?  

No. 11: It can — in Israel. At least, that’s the conclusion I reached (with colleague professor  Camil Fuchs) when I was studying Israeli Judaism in depth. A few months ago, I wrote a cover story about our findings for this newspaper, and in a few weeks the book we published in Hebrew will be also available in English. We can then have a debate about our conclusions.  

No. 12: The catch phrase of the week belongs to comedian-actress Sarah Silverman. It is short, and very useful. It is: “Righteousness porn.”

Here’s how Silverman explained it: “It’s like, if you’re not on board, if you say the wrong thing, if you had a tweet once, everyone is, like, throwing the first stone. It’s so odd. It’s a perversion. It’s really, ‘Look how righteous I am and now I’m going to press refresh all day long to see how many likes I get in my righteousness.’ ”

Admittedly, August is a bad month for righteousness.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

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