Post-Yom Kippur reflection on intergenerational guilt

During the Yom Kippur service, we repeat many times the “Vidui” (confession) prayer. While reading the commentary in the Artscroll Machzor (AM below), I was struck by the gloss on the line

‘But we and our ancestors have sinned’ (אבל אנחנו ואבותינו חטאנו)
The gloss asks: why are the sins of ancestors mentioned, which we did not commit? And indeed, Leviticus 26:39-40 reads (KJV translation):
And also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away. [But] if they shall confess the iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers…
Now does that mean that the people of Israel today are on the hook in perpetuity for, say, the sin of the Golden Calf? The implications of a “yes” answer for contemporary political reparations debates in the US speak for themselves: are present-day nonblack, non-aboriginal Americans on the hook for slavery abolished in 1865, or for the tragedy of the American Indians? (Actually,  the “reparations” advocates go one step further and expand the “blood guilt” to people whose ancestors weren’t even in the US in those times!)
Closer to home: what does Lev. 26:39-40 imply for the responsibility of present-day Germans for the Shoah and other genocidal and democidal campaigns that happened before the defeat of National Socialism? That is, do people who were born or came of age after these crimes against humanity were committed bear some sort of blood guilt?
As pointed out in AM, the Talmud (TB Sanhedrin 27b) explains that we are punished for our ancestors’ sins only if we approve of their way of life, and especially if we adopt it.
The Moroccan Jewish Torah commentator Rabbi Chaim Ibn-Attar, in his commentary Or haChaim, notes ad loc. Lev. 26:40 that a proper understanding of our ancestors’ sins is often a prerequisite of repentance. Paraphrasing AM, sometimes we accept family or community traditions as a proper way of life because ‘it’s always been done this way and no-one was ever punished.’ Thus we are to ‘confess’ — i.e., acknowledge — such sins of the past.
If true teshuva is achieved (repentance, but literally: “return” [to G-d] or “backtracking” from the evil ways) then the guilt has been washed away.  The Torah describes Amalek as what amounts to the first terrorist (Deut. 25:17-18): the Amalekites avoided combat with the Israelite warriors but lay in ambush and attacked the women, the children, and the elderly. Indeed, Amalek becomes a symbol, or a synecdoche if you like, for mortal enemies of the Jewish people that arise in every generation.
The villain in the book of Esther, Haman, is identified as a descendant of Amalek. But the sages also refer to Shimon and Levi has “having the seed of Amalek in them”, making it clear this is not a matter of biological descent.
And the Talmud (TB Gittin 57b) indeed gives a long list of descendants of evildoers who have now embraced the Torah, including “the descendants of Haman [and hence of Amalek] are now students of Torah in Bnei Brak” (see also TB Sanhedrin 96b). They have made full teshuvah, have fully rejected the poisonous doctrine and practices of Amalek, and hence are cleansed of his guilt.
Summing up: Judaism rejects the concept of intergenerational guilt in the narrow sense. In a broader sense, it does extend the guilt to descendants who continue walking in their ancestors’ ways, but once the descendants make a clean break with those behaviors and attitudes, they also make a clean break with the guilt.
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Rush, “Between the Wheels” – A song for uncertain times

 

You know how that rabbit feels
Going under your speeding wheels
Bright images flashing by
Like windshields towards a fly
Frozen in that fatal climb
But the wheels of time just pass you by…

Wheels can take you around.
Wheels can cut you down

We can go from boom to bust
From dreams to a bowl of dust
We can fall from “rockets’ red glare”
Down to “brother, can you spare?”
Another war
Another wasteland
And another lost generation

Police: dozens of ISIS supporters working at Zaventem airport (no April Fools joke)

Would that this Daily Mail article were an April Fools joke. (The story was earlier reported by the Belgian press in French and in Dutch. I tweeted the coverage in Le Soir.)

Police at Brussels airport have claimed at least 50 Islamic State supporters are working there as baggage handlers, cleaners and catering staff.

In an astonishing open letter, the officers said they have warned about the terrorist sympathisers whose security badges give them access to planes, but they remain employed.

The airport police, who are threatening to go on strike because of security deficiencies, also said they have raised the issue of terrorists scouting the airport to plan possible attacks.

Police at Brussels airport have claimed at least 50 Islamic State supporters are working there as baggage handlers, cleaners and catering staff. […]

The extraordinary claims come after the Mail reported how the family of two of the bombers involved in the attacks last week said they had worked as cleaners at the airport.[…]

The officers said they had raised suspicions about certain staff members including those who apparently celebrated after the Paris attacks in November that killed 130 people.

‘When we checked these people, we were surprised more than once. It was men with a radical ideology and a long police history,’ the officers continued.

‘Even today, there are at least 50 supporters of the Islamic state who work at the airport. They have a security badge and have access to the cockpit of a plane.

And get this:

An uncle of Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui last week told how the brothers had been employed at the airport and would have gained intimate knowledge of the terminal destroyed in the carnage.

The man, who asked not to be named, told the Mail: ‘They worked cleaning at the airport and in a restaurant. They didn’t finish high school in the end. They cleaned the airport in the summer months.’

Read the whole thing and weep: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3517493/At-FIFTY-ISIS-supporters-working-baggage-handlers-cleaners-catering-staff-Brussels-airport-claim-police.html#ixzz44apMn9HM

It is high time to bring back the “pole of shame” (schandpaal), the Belgian equivalent of the pillory. On second thought, perhaps the Schwedentrunk would be more fitting…

Brussels, multiculturalism, and political AIDS

But I repeat myself.
“Belgium suffers from political AIDS in the literal sense of the word”  (La Belgique souffre du SIDA politique au sens étymologique du mot.) [Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome, Ed.]
Thus then Minister of Justice Jean Gol, longtime leader of the Reformist Liberal Party (PRL) and himself an ex-leftist, described Belgium’s political situation over two decades ago, in the wake of a wave of murderous supermarket shootings and a reverse-infiltration scandal that rocked the State Security (Belgium’s nebbishy domestic intelligence agency).
He was excoriated for his remarks at the time. Jean Gol turns out to have been a prophet.
The horrifying attacks in Brussels struck very close to home: I fly through Brussels a lot for work, and at one point we had an apartment there not far from the metro station where one bomb went off. A work colleague of mine was supposed to have been at the airport on the day of the attack but her daughter’s flight was rescheduled at the last moment.
From a large collection of anecdotal evidence (from friends, family, and first-hand) we learned that the Belgian law enforcement apparatus might be able to find its own derriere with a voice-assisted GPS on a good day. The story of the bomber about which the Turks (!) issued a warning, yet walked around freely in Belgium, speaks volumes. Here are two articles well worth reading, one by a Belgian businessman now living in the US, another by an expat American in Brussels. Both jibe very closely with my own observations from my younger (ahem) years in Europe.
I have guestblogged at Sarah Hoyt’s place about the psychological phenomenon of “displacement”.  In brief, this is the psychological defense mechanism of a human who is facing a problem or enemy (s)he is unable or unwilling to confront, to go seek out some 7th-order issue or “small fry” enemy, which they can than easily “take care of”, so they can “prove” they are still relevant. We see this also in the EU: faced with the twin powder kegs of Islamofascism and the potential backlash of their own populations against the elites who have nurtured that viper on Europa’s bosom (see my earlier blog post Scenes from Europe before the storm), the Euro elites continue to bury their heads in the sand and instead obsess over such issues of crucial world-historical importance as the labeling of SodaStream dispensers: whether they are produced in Israel or in the “occupied”/disputed territories. (Needless to say, a number of snarky comments could be heard on the Israeli street the day after the attacks ;))
Belgium’s way of “coping” with Islamofascist extremism appears to have been primarily to… let them do their thing as long as they did not run too wild inside Belgian borders. St-Jean-Molenbeek, the borough of Brussels where the “he-goat milkers” (Kurdish insult for DAESHbags/ISISholes) hang out,  has effectively been abandoned by the ‘natives’ and has become a no-go zone for the locals. Other areas in the boroughs of St-Josse and Schaerbeek are at the very least in the same direction, and the last time I walked near the Brussels South station, I wished I were ‘packing heat’.
Speaking of which: some idiotic MSNBC (but I repeat myself) article claimed that the arsenals held by the terrorists “prove the need for gun control”. In fact, Belgium, despite being a major manufacturer and exporter of small arms (FN-Browning in Herstal, near Liege) has among the most stringent gun control laws in the world. Depending on the source, legal gun possession ranges between 4 and 6%, and the number of carry permits is minuscule. (When I used to live there, as an arms dealer explained to me, carrying a handgun required four separate licenses: purchase, possession, transport, and carry — the latter was only issued very rarely.) On the other hand, whoever has underworld connections and/or a lot of money and no questions can procure just about any lethal hardware illegally in Brussels if one knows where to go. This is nothing new, BTW: Brussels has had a flourishing black market in firearms (as well as forged identity documents, etc.) for decades — for so long, in fact, that Frederick Forsyth could incorporate it as a plot device into his classic thriller The Day Of The Jackal, set in the early 1960s.If nothing else, it proves that disarming the law-abiding populace merely empowers criminals and terrorists. (See my earlier reflections here.)
When I first took a job in Israel many, many years ago, a number of Belgian (and other) friends could not understand our decision to go live “in such a violent region”. My response then: “don’t worry, your turn will come”. I wish to G-d I had been wrong then.
There are some signs of hope. The strongest political party now is the conservative, Flemish-Nationalist N-VA, led by an avowed admirer of Edmund Burke. (N-VA is emphatically not to be confused with the collectivist, “blood and soil” Vlaams Belang.) The current government is making baby steps to rolling back the worst excesses of “de multikul/le multicul” as brainless multiculturalism is called in Dutch and French, respectively. (“cul”=’b*tt’ in French, hence kul=‘nonsense, BS’ in Dutch.) In an opinion piece in De Standaard (highbrow Dutch-language newspaper), veteran editor Mia Doornaert even argued for getting rid of the “hapless” (“heilloze”) term “Islamophobia”. She also rightly called the claim that Muslims are the new Jews “an obscenity”.
But will the European elites be mugged by reality, or will they continue to say “après nous le deluge” (after us, come the Great Flood)?

[…] The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying…

PS: lest you think that Islamofascism is only a threat to the West, and not to non-Islamists elsewhere, think again.

PPS: French intellectual celebrity Bernard-Henri Levy, himself threatened by extremists from Belgium: Europe might be dying.

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

UPDATE 3: Belgian soldiers standing on guard had no bullets. As “Dianne” quipped on Facebook, “it’s like a bad Monty Python skit”.

UPDATE 4: A penpal in Belgium sent me this article in Het Nieuwsblad (in Dutch), in which former Belgian minister of justice Marc Verwilghen reveals that his prior attempts to institute even limp-wristed anti-terrorist measures were blocked by former PM Elio di Rupo (Socialist Party chairman at the time, as well as alleged “Wicked Uncle Ernie“) and his party comrade, deputy PM Laurette Onkelinx, as “racist” and “creating stateless persons”.

Theater of the absurd: silent intifada edition

There is currently a bloody wave of stabbings and other impromptu terror attacks going on in Israel. The perpetrators appear to be principally East Jerusalem Arabs with Israeli (“blue”) ID cards, who therefore have freedom of movement in Israel. As usual, the Islamofascists’ useful idiots in the West and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) ignore the suffering or blame the victim.

The Border Police (technically a branch of the IDF) is doing the L-rd’s work protecting us, and courageous bystanders to attacks have responded with whatever improvised means at hand (in one case in Ra`anana, an office worker attacked the stabber with his umbrella!).

Which makes some Americans, used to the 2nd Amendment, wonder: why no more Israelis with firearms on the street? Believe it or not, gun ownership in Israel is actually severely restricted. A detailed summary in English of Israel’s firearms legislation can be found here at the Law Library of Congress. In short, Israel is a ‘discretionary issue’ country, where one must demonstrate a need for the possession of a firearm by one’s place of residence (e.g., in the disputed territories or otherwise in the proximity of ‘Palestinians’), by one’s profession (e.g., a driver who routinely transports parties of five or more people can get a handgun license fairly easily). Other eligibility requirements include passing periodic psychological evaluations and firearm proficiency tests. Licenses are easier to obtain if one has served honorably in an IDF combat unit or in the police, especially at officer rank. As of 2012, only about 175,000 valid firearm licenses (which typically cover one firearm and a supply of 50 bullets) are in circulation in Israel (with a population of about 8 million). Twice as many licenses used to be in circulation when the population was much smaller.

IDF soldiers on active duty in combat units are allowed to bring home their service weapon (typically an assault rifle or submachine gun), since they should be available for action at a moment’s notice. IDF noncombat personnel in ‘day service’ positions (i.e., many female recruits) often travel to and from the base in uniform with no other protection than pepper spray and whatever unarmed combat skills they may have acquired on their own. This effectively makes them sitting ducks to such stabbers.

Behold the theater of the absurd: an army called the Israel Defense Forces that is effectively depriving a substantial portion of its manpower of the means to defend themselves. Had the recent stabbing attacks been attempted in my other home in the Dallas suburbs, chances are the terrorist svolochy would have been turned into sieves in short order at the hands of whatever civilians who were carrying.

The ‘logic’ behind hamstringing the IDF noncombat manpower is probably a combination of risk-averseness (in a country with mandatory service), political correctness, inventory issues, and fear firearms may fall into the wrong hands (terrorists or underworld). I dearly hope somebody has the wisdom to rethink this. A defense force that is disallowed to defend itself sounds like an… 0bamination.

On “proportionality” in war

Most people that throw around the accusation of “disproportionate response” refer to some vague conception of approximate parity in casualties and means. In fact, as I noted yesterday, international law has its own definition of “disproportionality”, which is both quite specific and rather different from the use in common parlance. (Just like “insanity” for legal purposes is not some vague term for crazy behavior but a term of art with a precise definition.)

Humanitarian law expert Prof. Laurie Blank, on the Volokh Conspiracy group-blog, gives a long expose on the meaning of “disproportionality”, following her earlier op-ed elsewhere. (H/t: commenter “VultureTX” at an Elder of Ziyon piece on proportionality in the Gaza War.)

[…] proportionality is more than just a principle; it is a methodology for assessing lawfulness in advance through careful consideration of both the value of the military advantage and the likelihood of civilian casualties. The principle tells us what we are trying to achieve — a balance between military needs and humanitarian concerns that minimizes civilian harm as much as possible. […] As I note in my earlier piece, “Asymmetries and Proportionalities,” assessing the legality of an attack that results in civilian casualties must be done prospectively, based on the information the commander knew or should have known at the time of the attack. The standard is “reasonableness” — whether a reasonable commander in the same position would determine, based on the information available at the time, that the expected civilian casualties would be excessive in light of the anticipated military advantage.

Key to this assessment is not whether the court, the media, or anyone else thinks the decision was right or would have actually made the very same decision. Nor is it whether any resulting casualties seemed or even were excessive afterwards. The controlling factor in assessing proportionality after an attack is whether the commander’s determination—that the likely civilian casualties in that operation would not be excessive—was reasonable. This reasonableness assessment can only be made with a full understanding of the situation and all relevant information at the time of the attack — and, just as important — an awareness of what is considered to be reasonable in light of general practice.

International tribunals have rarely undertaken this analysis. This may well be simply because they have no lack of much easier and obvious cases. Their dockets can easily be filled to overflowing with the staggering number of deliberate crimes against civilians […] The difficulty in translating the proportionality rule from the operational dynamic of the battlefield and the fog of war to the evidence-bound confines of the courtroom is certainly another factor. The few instances of adjudication, however, consistently reinforce both the prospective approach and reasonableness as the touchstones of the analysis. Responsible militaries, for their part, investigate and review every incident involving civilian casualties to determine whether further investigation or prosecution is warranted—and simply to improve training and implementation to mitigate civilian harm in future missions. Both internal and international inquiries have often explored, or attempted to explore, proportionality with respect to specific incidents.

Elder of Ziyon quotes a specific example in jurisprudence: a NATO attack on a Serbian TV station in which 16 people died. (The station was off the air for about a day.)

NATO Headquarters justified the bombing with two arguments; firstly, that it was necessary “to disrupt and degrade the command, control and communications network” of the Yugoslav Armed Forces, and secondly, that the RTS headquarters was a dual-use object which “was making an important contribution to the propaganda war which orchestrated the campaign against the population of Kosovo”. The BBC reported that the station was targeted because of its role in Belgrade’s propaganda campaign; RTS had been broadcasting Serb nationalist propaganda, which demonised ethnic minorities and legitimised Serb atrocities against them.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled on the question:

It first questioned whether the station was a legitimate military target, and it decided that if it was used for command and control then it was, if it was only used for propaganda it wasn’t. It then goes on:

77. Assuming the station was a legitimate objective, the civilian casualties were unfortunately high but do not appear to be clearly disproportionate.[…]

79. On the basis of the above analysis and on the information currently available to it, the committee recommends that the OTP not commence an investigation related to the bombing of the Serbian TV and Radio Station.

In short: an attack on a propaganda TV station that may have had a dual use and that takes it off the air for one lousy day in exchange for 16 people getting killed is not considered “disproportionate” under international law. You can figure out for yourself what this ruling implies (a fortiori/קל וחומר) for IDF attacks on rocket launchers, arms caches, and infiltration tunnels, or targeted assassination of senior terrorists.

Back to Prof. Blank:

[A] note about another rule of proportionality. The international law governing when states may use force in self-defense (the jus ad bellum) also has a requirement of proportionality, but it is quite distinct (and serves a different purpose) from the law of war rule of proportionality discussed above. This jus ad bellum rule of proportionality mandates that a state acting in self-defense in response to an armed attack can only use force that is proportionate to the needs and goals of repelling or deterring the attack. This is not a “tit-for-tat” requirement, however, limiting the state acting in self-defense to only what its attackers did. There is no obligation of symmetry between the original attack and the force used in self-defense; indeed, the force needed to repel an attack may well be disproportionate relative to the the original attack, in order to stop it and deter continuing attacks. What it must be, instead, is proportionate to the ends of stopping and deterring the original attack and further attacks.

Go and read the whole thing.