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Posts For: July 21, 2011

Talmud Study in Korea

When I was in Australia last month, I came across a fascinating article about Talmud study in Korea. While this may be old news to some, it is nonetheless worth sharing for those who haven’t seen it:

Reports of the Talmud being a national classic in South Korea have been floating around for several years, but it’s now official: The country’s ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-Sam, told the “Culture Today” TV show that Talmud study is now a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum. In addition, it is said, almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the “Light of Knowledge.” Why? “We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews,” Young-Sam explained, according to a Ynet report. “Jews have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields – literature, science and economics. This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand: What is the secret of the Jewish people? How are they, more than other people, able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent? The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud… We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud study to our school curriculum.”

The Israel National News article continues here, the original Ynet story is here, and there’s more here. Some bloggers have pointed out that what the stories call the Talmud is actually a watered-down collection of Talmud stories. Nevertheless, it remains a fascinating report and one more indication that Israel could cultivate much goodwill in Asia, a region in which its diplomats seem strangely reticent.

When I was in Australia last month, I came across a fascinating article about Talmud study in Korea. While this may be old news to some, it is nonetheless worth sharing for those who haven’t seen it:

Reports of the Talmud being a national classic in South Korea have been floating around for several years, but it’s now official: The country’s ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-Sam, told the “Culture Today” TV show that Talmud study is now a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum. In addition, it is said, almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the “Light of Knowledge.” Why? “We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews,” Young-Sam explained, according to a Ynet report. “Jews have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields – literature, science and economics. This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand: What is the secret of the Jewish people? How are they, more than other people, able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent? The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud… We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud study to our school curriculum.”

The Israel National News article continues here, the original Ynet story is here, and there’s more here. Some bloggers have pointed out that what the stories call the Talmud is actually a watered-down collection of Talmud stories. Nevertheless, it remains a fascinating report and one more indication that Israel could cultivate much goodwill in Asia, a region in which its diplomats seem strangely reticent.

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It’s Time for Israel to Get Real About Realism

While I am not a fan of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he was correct when, earlier this month, he warned Israeli political figures against apologizing to Turkey. Those who want to find a formula by which to apologize to Turkey say the importance of the Israel-Turkey relationship must trump any distaste about an apology, the issuance of which would be unjust.

The realist arguments of the pro-apology crowd misunderstand realism. No doubt, a strong Turkey-Israel relationship would be good for Israel. It was good while it lasted. A decade ago, Turkey acted on principle. Both Turkey and Israel were democratic. Turks had special affinity for the Jewish state. While Turkey today might be as much a driver of anti-Semitism as Saudi Arabia and Iran, prior to the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turks appreciated the Jews both for their contributions at Gallipoli and because they were the one component of the Ottoman Empire who never rebelled.

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While I am not a fan of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he was correct when, earlier this month, he warned Israeli political figures against apologizing to Turkey. Those who want to find a formula by which to apologize to Turkey say the importance of the Israel-Turkey relationship must trump any distaste about an apology, the issuance of which would be unjust.

The realist arguments of the pro-apology crowd misunderstand realism. No doubt, a strong Turkey-Israel relationship would be good for Israel. It was good while it lasted. A decade ago, Turkey acted on principle. Both Turkey and Israel were democratic. Turks had special affinity for the Jewish state. While Turkey today might be as much a driver of anti-Semitism as Saudi Arabia and Iran, prior to the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turks appreciated the Jews both for their contributions at Gallipoli and because they were the one component of the Ottoman Empire who never rebelled.

Turkey has changed, however. Even if we put aside the Turkish prime minister’s anti-Semitism, Turkey seeks to have zero problems among its neighbors. With neighbors such as Syria and Iran, however, zero problems means accepting antagonism toward the Jewish state. Nor would anything Israel could do or say ever match the $30 billion trade with Iran which Turkey now seeks. Turkey wishes to court Iran and the Arab world, and it is willing to do this at the expense of Israel, no matter what Israel does. Any Israeli apology would not alter the balance and would simply put Israel deeper down into a hole.

Israel makes the same mistake in its approach to China. While Israel bends over backwards to court China as a hedge against Chinese outreach to Iran, Syria, and Israel’s other mortal enemies, when it comes to appeasing China, the Israeli government is simply fulfilling a Sisyphean role. The Chinese government is cold, calculating, and guided by its pocket book, not by principle. No amount of fulfillment of Chinese demands, especially on the technology front, will ever change Chinese behavior. When push comes to shove, China will always side with Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Syria. It will drop Israel like a hot potato if it means the promise of a better oil deal with even a tiny Arab regime.

Rather than apologizing or trying to ingratiate itself to dictatorships, Israel must recognize reality: Its diplomatic efforts would be better guided to solidifying its relationships with democracies and other states who share its values. Israel could do much more to court Taiwan, India, and could finally exploit the mystique it holds in countries like Korea and even Indonesia. Kissing up to hostile countries is never going to be a sound basis for Israeli security, nor is a headlong quest to live in the past ever wise.

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Home Depot Founder: Obama’s Regulations Are Killing Businesses

While President Obama insists only a “balanced” approach to the debt crisis that includes higher taxes is acceptable, the founder of one of America’s most successful retail businesses claims the president doesn’t have a clue about the economy. Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus told Investors Business Daily in an interview yesterday the president hasn’t the faintest idea of how jobs are created, but businessmen are intimidated into silence about the administration’s faulty policies. According to Marcus:

They are frightened to death — frightened that they will have the IRS or SEC on them. In my 50 years in business, I have never seen executives of major companies who were more intimidated by an administration.

While Marcus agrees resolving the current impasse on the debt is crucial, he dismisses Obama’s arguments that any solution must include higher taxes. According to Marcus, “Even brain-dead economists understand that when you raise taxes, you cost jobs.”

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While President Obama insists only a “balanced” approach to the debt crisis that includes higher taxes is acceptable, the founder of one of America’s most successful retail businesses claims the president doesn’t have a clue about the economy. Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus told Investors Business Daily in an interview yesterday the president hasn’t the faintest idea of how jobs are created, but businessmen are intimidated into silence about the administration’s faulty policies. According to Marcus:

They are frightened to death — frightened that they will have the IRS or SEC on them. In my 50 years in business, I have never seen executives of major companies who were more intimidated by an administration.

While Marcus agrees resolving the current impasse on the debt is crucial, he dismisses Obama’s arguments that any solution must include higher taxes. According to Marcus, “Even brain-dead economists understand that when you raise taxes, you cost jobs.”

As for the administration’s record on job creation, Marcus sees this president as merely worsening an already terrible problem: onerous government regulations. He claims were he starting out today, Home Depot would not have succeeded primarily because of “stifling” regulations that are an impediment to small businesses. Though he acknowledges Obama has talked of reducing regulation, Marcus points out Obamacare gives the lie to this claim.

His speeches are wonderful. His output is absolutely, incredibly bad. As he speaks about cutting out regulations, they are now producing thousands of pages of new ones. With just Obamacare by itself, you have a 2,000 page bill that’s probably going end up being 150,000 pages of regulations.

Marcus is attempting to fight back with a group called Job Creators Alliance that is dedicated to standing up for business and promoting the spirit of free enterprise. He is frustrated by the silence of many in the business community who don’t have the courage to challenge Obama but says, “The free enterprise system made this country what it is today, and we’ve got to keep it alive. We are on the edge of the abyss.”

While Obama thinks he can ram through his agenda with demagoguery about the rich, Marcus is right. The massive expansion of entitlements and regulation promoted by this administration are destroying businesses, a situation that will be made worse by the higher taxes that will be the inevitable result of a debt compromise crafted to the president’s taste.

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Misunderstanding What a “Jewish State” Actually Means

With efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations having failed, both sides are now waging a global diplomatic campaign: the Palestinians to recruit support for UN recognition of a Palestinian state, and Israel to mobilize opposition to this unilateral move. But since both sides view Europe as the key battleground, it’s critical for Israel to address one of Europe’s principal discomforts with its position: its demand for recognition as a Jewish state.

This discomfort contributed significantly to the failure of last week’s Quartet meeting: Senior European diplomats told  Haaretz that the EU and Russia rejected Washington’s blueprint for negotiations in part because it called for a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one.

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With efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations having failed, both sides are now waging a global diplomatic campaign: the Palestinians to recruit support for UN recognition of a Palestinian state, and Israel to mobilize opposition to this unilateral move. But since both sides view Europe as the key battleground, it’s critical for Israel to address one of Europe’s principal discomforts with its position: its demand for recognition as a Jewish state.

This discomfort contributed significantly to the failure of last week’s Quartet meeting: Senior European diplomats told  Haaretz that the EU and Russia rejected Washington’s blueprint for negotiations in part because it called for a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one.

Granted, Europe traditionally refuses to confront Palestinians with the concessions they must make for an agreement: While repeatedly declaring Israel must withdraw to the 1967 lines and divide Jerusalem, it has never been willing to say that, for instance, Palestinian refugees can’t relocate to Israel.

But there’s also something deeper at work here. As a European diplomat once told me, Europeans are profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of a Jewish state, because to them it sounds like a “Christian state” –i.e., a religious state. And while most European countries were founded as Christian states (that’s why many still have a cross on their flags), modern-day Europeans generally have little use for religion: Just 21 percent say religion is “very important” to them, compared to 59 percent of Americans, and only 15 percent regularly attend religious services (44 percent for Americans).

True, Europe is fine with Arab and Muslim countries defining themselves as Islamic states, but this isn’t just hypocrisy. While Europeans won’t admit it, they do have a double standard: Non-Westerners can adhere to “primitive” beliefs and practices like religion, but Westerners are supposed to be secular like them. That’s precisely why Europeans are often uncomfortable with America’s overt religiosity. And if Israel wants to be considered a Western country (which it does), then in Europe’s view, it can’t be a “religious” state.

The problem is this view reflects a profound misunderstanding of what a “Jewish state” actually means. Judaism has never seen itself exclusively or even primarily as a religion; indeed, you won’t find the modern Hebrew word for “religion” anywhere in the first five books of the Bible. The Biblical terms for what we today call Jews are Am Yisrael – “the nation of Israel” – and Bnei Yisrael, “the children of Israel.” And that’s precisely the point: From a Jewish perspective, the Jews are first and foremost a nation.

Thus, the term “Jewish state” is in no way analogous to “Christian state.” Rather, it’s analogous to “French” or “Danish” or “German” state. Just as these are the respective homelands of the French, Danish and German peoples, a Jewish state is the homeland of the Jewish people.

Clearing up Europe’s misunderstanding of what a “Jewish state” actually means won’t suddenly make the EU pro-Israel. But it might ease European objections to this particular Israeli demand. Admittedly, this isn’t an easy concept to get across. But since recognition as a Jewish state is important to Israel, it can’t afford not to try.

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The First – and Hopefully Last – GOP Twitter Debate

If there was any takeaway from the Republican presidential Twitter debate yesterday, it’s that there’s no reason for that sort of event to ever, ever take place again. The concept itself isn’t bad – candidates could promote themselves, get their ideas out to a young audience, show they have a grasp on basic technology, etc.

But answering serious questions with statements like “the federal govt kills jobs!” (@RickSantorum) or “Controlling the border and defending America are job 1 under the Constitution” (@newtgingrich), doesn’t sound presidential, it just sounds inane. “I ask 4 ur vote as I try 2 return ur voice to DC.  If elected POTUS, I will represent u w/a titanium spine no matter the cost” (@TeamBachmann) is not a compelling closing argument. Not only were the candidates unable to give meaningful responses, there was also very little interaction between them. People watching got practically nothing out of the experience.

It’s too bad, because S.E. Cupp did a good job moderating, and it would have been nice to actually hear the candidates give full answers to the questions. And it’s not that they weren’t trying, the medium just made it difficult. It was a missed opportunity for the six campaigns involved and to those watching who hoped to get something out of it.

Engaging on Twitter is important, but Americans don’t want a president who debates the same way a 14-year-old text messages. Candidates who Tweet should stick to the usual campaign announcements, brief statements, or chatter with supporters. And when they want to debate, they’ll do much better with old-fashioned TV.

If there was any takeaway from the Republican presidential Twitter debate yesterday, it’s that there’s no reason for that sort of event to ever, ever take place again. The concept itself isn’t bad – candidates could promote themselves, get their ideas out to a young audience, show they have a grasp on basic technology, etc.

But answering serious questions with statements like “the federal govt kills jobs!” (@RickSantorum) or “Controlling the border and defending America are job 1 under the Constitution” (@newtgingrich), doesn’t sound presidential, it just sounds inane. “I ask 4 ur vote as I try 2 return ur voice to DC.  If elected POTUS, I will represent u w/a titanium spine no matter the cost” (@TeamBachmann) is not a compelling closing argument. Not only were the candidates unable to give meaningful responses, there was also very little interaction between them. People watching got practically nothing out of the experience.

It’s too bad, because S.E. Cupp did a good job moderating, and it would have been nice to actually hear the candidates give full answers to the questions. And it’s not that they weren’t trying, the medium just made it difficult. It was a missed opportunity for the six campaigns involved and to those watching who hoped to get something out of it.

Engaging on Twitter is important, but Americans don’t want a president who debates the same way a 14-year-old text messages. Candidates who Tweet should stick to the usual campaign announcements, brief statements, or chatter with supporters. And when they want to debate, they’ll do much better with old-fashioned TV.

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The Obama Referendum

Being president of the United States is heady stuff. The immense responsibilities and the trappings of the office might turn even the most grounded of individuals into a bit of a narcissist. While not all of those who worked in the Oval Office have succumbed to this temptation, listening to President Obama lately it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that being the commander-in-chief has gone to his head a bit. The tone of his statements about the debt ceiling debate as well as his behavior in the negotiations has been consistently high-handed and condescending toward his opponents. In Obama’s worldview, he is the voice of reason while others are squabbling, small-minded midgets who just don’t get the picture he alone sees.

So it is little surprise that in an interview with a Kansas City television station quoted by the Associated Press, the president dismissed his prospective Republican opponents as more or less irrelevant. For Obama, the outcome in 2012 will be all about Obama. This is in keeping with the somewhat imperial style he has adopted lately, but it must be admitted that when it comes to what will happen next year, he’s not wrong.

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Being president of the United States is heady stuff. The immense responsibilities and the trappings of the office might turn even the most grounded of individuals into a bit of a narcissist. While not all of those who worked in the Oval Office have succumbed to this temptation, listening to President Obama lately it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that being the commander-in-chief has gone to his head a bit. The tone of his statements about the debt ceiling debate as well as his behavior in the negotiations has been consistently high-handed and condescending toward his opponents. In Obama’s worldview, he is the voice of reason while others are squabbling, small-minded midgets who just don’t get the picture he alone sees.

So it is little surprise that in an interview with a Kansas City television station quoted by the Associated Press, the president dismissed his prospective Republican opponents as more or less irrelevant. For Obama, the outcome in 2012 will be all about Obama. This is in keeping with the somewhat imperial style he has adopted lately, but it must be admitted that when it comes to what will happen next year, he’s not wrong.

When the president says, “I’m probably going to win or lose depending on their assessment of my stewardship,” he’s entirely correct. Despite all of the attention we are giving the Republican candidates these days, 2012 will ultimately be a referendum on Obama. And given his consistently poor poll numbers lately, that’s hardly good news for his party.

Ironically, the president’s evaluation of his prospects next year is exactly the opposite of the way his campaign is likely to frame the election. Unless a major economic turnaround occurs, the president won’t be able to run on his economic record. Nor are there any foreign policy triumphs for him to trumpet other than the killing of Osama bin Laden. While he will continue, as he has since the moment he took the oath of office, blaming the nation’s troubles on his predecessor, the Democratic campaign will almost certainly focus on trying to demonize the Republican who winds up being nominated.

But no matter whom the president’s opponent turns out to be, his statement about the judgment of the voters will still hold true. The 2012 election will be a referendum on Obama and all he has done, from the billion dollar stimulus to the massive expansion of entitlements that Obamacare mandated to a debt ceiling crisis orchestrated by the White House in order to force his ideological agenda on the Congress. Unless he can make the election turn on the unsuitability of his opponent, it is the public’s view of the president’s record that will decide the outcome. As things stand now, that is a sobering thought for any Democrat.

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