Hard questions, no easy answers

Despite what too many Jews think, there are some questions that don’t have easy answers.

One of them that has been gnawing at me is how could Bill O’Reilly have done it. It’s the same question I asked when we first learned about Bill Cosby and the same question I asked when we first learned about Tiger Woods, and the same question I asked when we first learned about Eliot Spitzer, thought by many to have a good chance to be the first Jewish president of the United States, until we learned he was a socks wearing aficionado of high-priced prostitutes, and the same question I asked when we first learned about Anthony Weiner, so proud of his bris that he had to share pictures of it with strange women on the Internet.

I am neither wealthy, nor powerful so I know I really can’t understand what it’s like to be either. I do know it clearly does something to you, and if you are both wealthy and powerful, it really does something to you. Exhibit A: Donald Trump.

But I am really trying to come up with an answer as to why O’Reilly and Cosby and Tiger and all those others, with so much, with everything we all think we want, namely, fame and money and power, why would they jeopardize all of that, why would they destroy their own reputations, why would they be so careless, so reckless, why were they willing to gamble everything, to lose everything, in the service of doing the sick things they did.

Look, men have sex drives, I get it. But still. And rich and powerful men are so used to having anything they want, having everyone bow before them, that they think they are above the rules, can do as they wish, I get it. But still.

Imagine you are Tiger Woods, with enormous athletic talent, considered to be the greatest who ever played your sport, you are married to a gorgeous model, you have a pristine reputation, why tell me would you grab any woman you can get your hands on, anywhere you found them, even in the garage of your own house, home to your wife and children, and behave like an animal.

Imagine you are Bill Cosby, a role model, the beloved father figure of the country, a major superstar, incredibly wealthy, someone who has tried to emphasize education and good behavior, how can you take innocent woman after innocent woman and drug her, render her unconscious, so you could have your way with her.

Imagine you are Bill O’Reilly, the giant of cable news, a best-selling author, looked to by millions for your thoughts on issues, why tell me would you abuse women, try to force them to have sex with you.

I don’t understand, I really don’t. I can’t begin to imagine what they were thinking, how they processed what they were doing, how they could so suspend any sense of morality, of right and wrong, or to be even more callous, how could they not see they were throwing away their reputations, that forever more they would be thought of as perverts and creeps. Did they not see how wrong what they were doing was, did they not see what price they would be paying.

I’m sure a lot of you have easy answers to all this, are quick to label them, the label depending on what your politics are, what your religious perspective is. You know exactly why they did what they did because in your self-righteous sense of certainty you understand everything, can label and dismiss everyone.

I myself am a big fan of the gray, not such a fan of black and white. I don’t think there are any easy answers for why those men acted as they did. I wish I understood, but I do not.

Which leads me to another question that I’m sure a lot of Jews think they have the easy and right answer to, but again I don’t think is so simple.

Heating up right now in Israel is the question of whether supermarkets, movie theatres should be open on, whether buses should operate on Shabbat.

By law, retail businesses in Israel are not permitted to open on Shabbat, which begins at sundown Friday and ends after sunset Saturday. But recently Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that some businesses and supermarkets may remain open on Shabbat.

This, of course, set off a political firestorm. The religious parties said they would leave the government if something wasn’t done about it. When the non-religious Cabinet minister in charge of such things said he didn’t plan to fight the ruling of the high court, a religious Cabinet minister ran to The Bibi and asked that authority over such things be transferred over to him. Then the non-religious defense minister said he would oppose handing over that authority.

While those three stooges of Israeli politics play their silly games, the fact is this whole thing does raise an issue it’s not easy to answer, as much as every Jew thinks he knows exactly what the right answer is.

Those who are religious say of course stores should not be allowed to open on Shabbat. And those who are not religious say it’s a free country so of course if stores want to be open on Shabbat and if people want to shop in them that’s their right.

Of course, both sides are right. And both sides are wrong.

For me, I don’t have an answer. Part of me thinks that if Israel is to be a Jewish state that has to mean certain things. Fact is whether you are religious or not, the national holidays of the country are also the religious holidays of the Jewish people. I don’t see any Israeli insisting he be allowed to work on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Those are official holidays in Israel, whether you are religious or not, observe them or not.

And so maybe Shabbat should fall in that category. Shabbat is essential to Judaism, goes to the very heart and soul of Judaism. If you have a Jewish country, then Shabbat should be a holy day, just as Sunday is at the Vatican. You personally don’t have to observe Shabbat to recognize there are certain things that should be sacrosanct in a Jewish nation for the people and country as a whole.

On the other hand, I can understand those who feel Israel is yes a Jewish country but that doesn’t mean it’s a theological country. So those who want to observe Shabbat are free to do so but those who don’t should also be free to do so. If someone wants to open his store or his movie theatre on Shabbat, that should be his right. No Jew, or Jewish country, should have the right to tell another Jew how to live, prevent another Jew from living as a Jew as he defines it and wishes. People should have the right to shop, go to the movies on Shabbat if they want to.

I frankly think both sides have a very good point. I’m really not sure what the right answer is. Hear that? That’s the sound of all my religious readers being disgusted that I didn’t just Shabbat is holy and that’s that, and the sound of all my pluralistic readers being disgusted that I didn’t just say every Jew should be able to live as he or she chooses and that’s that.

But the fact is I really don’t know what is the way to go. My heart says for Israel to be a Jewish state, Shabbat should be a special day, a day when stores are closed, life doesn’t just go on as it does every other day. Keeping Shabbat helps to give Israel its Jewish character. But my head says we have our own country so that we each can be Jews in our own way, that every Jew should be free to do as he thinks right, observe or not observe Shabbat as he wishes. Some shouldn’t be able to tell all what they can and cannot do.

In the end, I guess I’d say as a country, Shabbat should be a special day. But I’d also say no one should be forced to do anything, no one should be stopped from doing anything. I would hope stores would not be open, I would hope the prime minister would not publicly desecrate Shabbat but I would not make it a law that stores can’t be open, movies can’t be shown. I would hope that wise rabbis would gently explain why the Shabbat is so special, what it would add to a Jews’ life, but would not condemn anyone for how they choose to spend their Shabbat.

Speaking of Israel as a Jewish country, another matter I’m not sure about is the current effort in the Israeli Knesset to approve a bill that would officially define Israel as a Jewish state. The so-called Nationality Law would declare Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Now on the one hand, you think, ‘duh.’ And what took so long. Of course, Israel is a Jewish state. No need to stop the presses on that one. But it’s not so simple. The fact is that those behind this law are up to no good.

For example, the bill would demote Arabic from an official language to one with special status. But the real purpose is to make sure to torpedo any glimmer of a peace process that might pop up. Israel’s right wing wackos know that the Palestinians would never agree to officially call Israel a Jewish state, so pass this law and no peace process.

Of course, the whole thing is nuts. The Palestinians are nuts to oppose the obvious and the right wing Jews are nuts to, almost 70 years after the founding of the state, want to pass a law stating the obvious.

Yes, Israel is a Jewish state. But part of that means it must be a state that has sechel, good Jewish sense. And so saying something everyone knows, but knowing that saying it will make trouble does not show any sense at all. So yes I would like Israel to be officially the nation state of the Jewish people but I think that’s something Ben-Gurion should have done in 1948. And the fact that he didn’t, tells you it’s probably not in Israel’s best interest to do so.

Let’s finish with something I am not at all ambivalent about. I have gotten a lot of hell for stating the truth that the vast majority of Israelis are rude, have no manners, act in really unpleasant ways. Instead of true Zionists trying to address that very real problem, they satisfy themselves by calling people like me either ‘non-Zionist,’ or ‘anti-Zionist.’

Well, lookie here. Café Café, one of Israel’s largest coffeehouse chains, recently announced that it is offering a 25 percent discount to customers at its 157 branches who say “please” and “thank you” when ordering a regular size cup of coffee.  Café Café CEO Noam Zimerman said that he hopes the initiative will “encourage more respectful conversation in Israel society.”

So all you right wingers can pretend a real problem doesn’t exist, but when a chain of stores has to offer a 25 percent discount to get people to say please and thank you it tells you something, tells you a lot.

I’d focus more on getting Israelis to be a mensch, than forcing them to be Jews the way some Jews insist they be.

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