Saturday, March 27, 2010

America had a Good Run

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

–Mark Twain, Concerning The Jews

Yes, that may have happened to the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans and even more recently to the British Empire – but that will never happen to America! That is the conventional wisdom of most Americans.

Well here’s some food for thought. Could it be that the recently passed health care bill demonstrates the US empire is declining? David Murrin, the co-founder of the Emergent Asset Management hedge fund manager, argued exactly that on CNBC this week. He explained that this bill illustrates the fact that people expect the state to take care of them.

That’s the opposite of what happens when empires are expanding. Then, they force people to take risks and to go out and fend for themselves, Murry noted, pointing directly to the decline of the British empire after the war, when the National Health Service was introduced, which was similar enough in terms of service for all citizens as the current US Healthcare law.

“This (empire decline) is actually a dead-set course that societies get into and it will happen very quickly I’m afraid,” he told “Squawk Box Europe.”

“…and that’s really the end of a Western Christian Empire.” He elaborated, “it’s bigger than the British Empire, the American Empire. It’s the sum of all the Christian Empires for nearly 900 years. And America is the last one. And when the last one changes and declines, which it’s in and it’ll be very rapid – it’s the end of the whole system.”

He also said that while some view the new American administration as new hope, “unfortunately if you look at historical precedence of underclass and the mechanism of an underclass actually becoming to the fore demographically it is not new hope. It’s the beginning of the end. And we’re seeing that very quickly take place.”

He claims, for a variety of well reasoned arguments that China’s rise to become the first power of the soon to be “Eastern Empire” will happen faster than anyone anticipates. But that is beyond the scope of this post.

To be clear, America is not about to disappear tomorrow. Just like Britain didn’t when its Empire came crashing down. But at the same time in terms of dominance over world events it is likely to become more and more irrelevant. This will be a very frustrating position for Americans to accept even though it is becoming more and more evident to the world that the United States no longer enjoys the super-influence it once did and that countries like Israel won’t be able to be pushed around by America as easily as was done in the past. The excuse that Jews need to live in America to influence favorable foreign policy toward Israel is also losing all credibility (even though it was never a valid argument).

At the same time, while not a rising Empire, Israel certainly is an expanding country. Israelis certainly are risk takers, universal healthcare aside (which the country was essentially born with). Jews should also realize, that America is no different from past glorious empires. It is not permanent – certainly not as a home for the Jews. The Eternal Jewish Homeland is in the Land of Israel. Jerusalem, was, millennium before Brooklyn was conceived, is, even while Brooklyn is at its peak, and always will be, long after Brooklyn is forgotten, the capital of the Jewish people.

Crossposted on Kumah

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Sign


Breathtaking! Simply breathtaking! That’s the only way I can describe the newly rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. This past Friday as sunset approached I headed down to the Old City as I usually do. Ordinarily I head straight for the Kotel and I can’t imagine a better place in the world to be for Friday night.

I left extra early this week because this was the first Shabbos the Hurva synagogue would be open since its rededication after lying in ruins for over 60 years. I arrived about five minutes before the start of Mincha and as expected, despite the massive seating capacity, there was standing room only. (Those that arrived a few minutes later weren’t lucky enough to find even that much as standing room quickly disappeared.)


As I entered (I first had to search around till I found where the main entrance actually was) my jaw simply dropped and I stood there in awe. What a magnificent achievement for the Jewish People and Israel. As incredible as the Synagogue is portrayed in photographs you may have seen, they simply don’t compare to reality. You must visit this place and see it with your own eyes!

Regarding this rededication Ha’aretz reporter Nir Hasson wrote:

If the 18th-century rabbinic authority the Vilna Gaon was right, on March 16, 2010, construction will begin on the third Temple. His projection states that the auspicious day will coincide with the third completion of the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter.

Of course Mr. Hasson got it wrong. Or rather he misstated the tradition. (Whether he did it out of malevolence for religious Jews or sheer incompetence depends on your opinion of that paper.) What the Vilna Gaon actually said, according to my research, was that the Hurva “will be built and destroyed twice, and the third time it is built it will be a sign of the coming of Moshiach.” The Hurva was first built in the early 1700’s and first destroyed in 1721. It was built the second time in 1864 and stood till 1948 when it was destroyed by the Arab Legion in War of Independence. Last week its glorious doors opened for the third time.


It is an important lesson for the Jewish people. In our Homeland, when our places of worship get destroyed, we will rebuild them. It is a obvious message with profound implications. Its symbolic significance is even crystal clear to the greatest of enemies of the Jewish People.

The New York Times reported:

In Damascus, Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, said the synagogue’s dedication signified “the destruction of the Al Aksa Mosque and the building of the temple,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Yes, there is a place even more spectacular than the newly rebuilt Hurva synagogue. And so, as Mincha finished I found the exit to make some room for the latecomers.

I headed down to the Kotel.

Crossposted on Kumah.

Monday, March 08, 2010

TLATD #4: Border Towns are Special

The holy Zohar teaches that Hashem looked into the Torah and then created the world. The Torah then is the blueprint for the world, and one that wants to know how the world runs would be wise to play close attention to the Torah.

Last week Daf Yomi (Sanhedrin 16b) covered the law relating to a subverted town. In a nutshell, a subverted town, is a town where majority of the local population worships idols. Such a town, under biblical law, is razed. However there is a criteria that supersedes even our concern for this cardinal sin.

The Gemara is concerned that if we raze too many subverted towns it could lead to desolation in Eretz Yisrael. For this reason, towns guilty of this sin could be left standing simply for the purpose of protecting Eretz Yisrael. The sages debate the exact specifics of what and where we consider "too many to raze" but all agree to this principle which is clearly stated in the Mishna. The Gemara then comments on another point the Mishna makes about razing border towns.

As Artscroll translates it:

A Baraisa was taught in accordance with the view of R' Yochanan:

...And in the areas close to the border of Eretz Yisrael we may not designate even one subverted town. Why may we not designate a subverted town close to the border? Because Nuchrim might hear about the town's destruction and ravage Eretz Yisrael.

It's unfortunate that the leaders of the modern state of Israel did not pay more attention to the advice of the Torah when making foolish decisions. It is especially important for the well being of Eretz Yisrael for border towns to not be abandoned. Doing so only emboldens Israel's enemies.