Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Anti-Corbyn Enigma

An article today in Politico points out a bizarre aspect of many people's rejection of Corbyn:
“For me, Corbyn’s patronizing, racialized put-down of British ‘Zionists’ and our sense of history and English irony was no surprise,” said David Krikler, a Jewish communications consultant in London. “His political career has been spent in the company of Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites and terrorist groups, so I don’t need to hear him sounding like an old-fashioned anti-Semite to know exactly what he stands for.”
“It’s been interesting to see some commentators say they can no longer defend him after seeing that,” he added. “I think it’s telling that they were prepared to defend his support for organizations that literally murder Jews, whether on Israeli buses, in Olympic villages or in Argentinian community centers, but they’re more concerned by a linguistic micro-aggression. Support for anti-Semitic terror groups is fine, as long as you don’t sound like an elderly racist who’s had one drink too many in the process.”

But what I've been saying for a while is that this it not only true for those who defended Corbyn's support for terrorist organizations; it's even true for the mainstream Jewish and non-Jewish community, who are against it. Because while they are against it, and even mention it, they don't discuss it with anywhere near the intensity that they discuss his antisemitic expressions of speech. There's been more focus on condemning his linguistic micro-aggression than on his actual support for terrorist organizations and brutal regimes! What is the explanation for that? I'm mystified by it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Inverting Genocide

The latest uproar about Jeremy Corbyn surrounds his description of "Zionists" as being not properly British. While the antisemitism is obvious, I still don't get why all the fuss is being made about such statements and not about the vastly worse things about Corbyn.

A few days ago, footage emerged of Corbyn speaking at a 2014 protest outside the Israel embassy in London. There's fuss being made about a Hamas flag being waved behind him. But what about his actual words?! He said that "This is an occupation, this is a genocidal attack on Palestinian people."

Corbyn accused Israel of committing genocide! This is an extremely grave accusation. It is also utterly false, if words are to have any real meanings. Genocide has a meaning; it refers to the destruction of a race or nation. The killing of hundreds, even thousands of people as part of a war (and especially a defensive war, aimed at stopping the firing of rockets into towns) is not genocide. Britain killed thousands of Germans in World War II; that was not genocide. The same is true for all the people that Britain killed in Afghanistan.

Israel has a very powerful army; the Palestinians do not. Yet since the creation of the State of Israel, and since 1967, the number of Palestinians living in areas under Israeli control has increased enormously. The average lifespan has also increased tremendously, as has the level of literacy. For Corbyn to accuse Israel of "genocide" is the most absurd slander.

But do you know who does desire to commit genocide? Well, first of all, there's Hamas, whose charter calls for the genocide of all the Jews in Israel. And if they had Israel's weaponry, you can be damn sure that they would try to achieve it. Then there's Iran, which has been working at the genocide of Sunni Arabs, and has openly declared its desire to wipe out Israel. Yet Corbyn never speaks out against Hamas or Iran; instead, while claiming to be "pursuing peace," he participates in their activities and lends support to them.

Forget about Corbyn being an antisemite, it's much less significant than the fact that he slanders Israel as a genocidal regime, while he supports those brutal regimes that are truly genocidal!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Corbyn is no Peace Broker

Once again, people are missing the main problem with Jeremy Corbyn.

This past week saw a furor erupt over the photo of Corbyn apparently laying a wreath near the graves of the Munich terrorists in Tunis. It played out as an argument regarding whether or not he was aware that those were in fact the graves of the Munich terrorists. There's been lots of arguing about where exactly he was standing, and what he was told about those he was honoring.

But all this should not distract us from the bigger and much more black-and-white problem with his Tunis visit and how he portrays it. Corbyn, a winner of the Se├ín MacBride Peace Prize, claims to be all about bringing peace to the world. With regard to the Tunis event, he says that he was there in order to "search for peace in the Middle East." He stated “I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it. You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence; the only way you can pursue peace [is] by a cycle of dialogue.”

But this is a blatant falsehood. A lie. Jeremy Corbyn is a liar.

Jeremy Corbyn does not "want to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere." He has no interest in seeing memorials to Jews who die in terrorist incidents; heck, he won't even visit Yad Vashem. He has never laid wreaths at the graves of Israelis killed in stabbings or bombings. He has never spoken out in sympathy for Israelis living under the terror of rocket attacks.

More fundamentally, Corbyn is not some kind of international peace broker, a British version of John Kerry, trying to get all sides to engage in dialogue rather than warfare. Rather, he straight-out supports one side: the Palestinian side, including its most militant components. He hates Israel even more than he hates America; he never has anything good to say about Israel and only mentions it to condemn it. He doesn't make any attempt to speak with Israelis and understand their perspective. And when he speaks with Palestinians, it is to offer support rather than to encourage them to forgo violence. He doesn't speak out against Hamas' tactics of targeting civilians while hiding their own combatants behind civilians. Instead, he actually encourages them to continue this practice, by condemning Israel rather than Hamas when the inevitable civilian casualties occur.

It's bad enough that Corbyn prefers regimes built upon fear and terror to free countries. But at the very least, he should not get away with pretending otherwise, and portraying himself as a man seeking to bring peace to the world.

Friday, August 10, 2018

I Can't Believe It's Not Treife!

Here is an article that I published this week in the Jewish Link of New Jersey

Notwithstanding the vast range of kosher foods available today, keeping kosher sometimes seems limiting in terms of the actual species that we can eat. I remember staying at a lodge in Zimbabwe, where the other guests were eating ostrich burgers, crocodile steaks and grilled warthog, whereas the participants in my group had to settle for chicken and beef. And while the species that are available to the kosher consumer are strictly of the mammalian, avian or piscine variety, if you go to the market in Bangkok, you’ll see people munching on all kinds of grub—literally.

Still, the truth is that there are many more kosher species than is commonly assumed. A few years ago, at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, we decided to prepare banquets that were not only delicious, but also educational, and very special from a kashrut standpoint. Inspired by the trailblazing work of our colleague Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky and Dr. Ari Greenspan, we decided to see how far we could take this idea. These events are enormously complicated, stressful and expensive to produce, but they are unique educational and cultural experiences!

Our first banquet at the museum, two years ago, was a Feast of Biblical Flora & Fauna. This featured species that we see in the Torah were consumed, but that are not normally eaten nowadays. Thus, there was no chicken—chickens are not mentioned anywhere in Tanach, since they were domesticated from Indian jungle fowl, which had not yet reached the land of Israel in the Biblical period. Instead, we served species such as doves, quails, geese, goa and deer—which was served daily at King Solomon’s table, but which is almost impossible to obtain (under kosher certification) today.

Dessert was, of course, chocolate-covered locusts. The Torah states that certain locusts are kosher, and various North African and Yemenite Jewish communities retained the tradition as to which species is kosher—namely, the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria. Eating locusts is not a relic of a primitive era; locusts are considered by food nutritionists to be the super-food of the future. They are high in protein and very nutritious, although that benefit is lost somewhat when they are coated in chocolate. The Feast of Biblical Flora & Fauna will be repeated in Teaneck in October, though there is not yet any guarantee as to exactly which species will be served, since the shechitah of unusual species can be even more complicated in the US than in Israel.

The next year, we wanted to do something different at the museum, and so we held a Feast of Exotic Curiosities (which we plan to run again in Los Angeles next February). That menu featured non-Biblical foods of halachic intrigue, including kingklip, sparrow, pheasant, guinea-fowl, udders, turkey animelles, Asian water buffalo and more. Yet perhaps most controversial were the breeds of chicken; after all, last year was the summer in which controversies raged in Israel as to whether conventional supermarket Cornish Cross chickens are a treife breed and only a rare breed called the Braekel is kosher, or whether Braekel is treife and only Cornish Cross are kosher. We made a soup out of both of them together! (Contrary to widespread misconception, all these breeds are simply varieties of chickens—they are not new halachic categories that require a separate mesorah.)

This year at the museum, we have decided to do something different yet again: A Feast of Legends From the Sea. This includes several different types of dishes. First of all, despite the name and theme of the event, the feast is not pareve—there are two unusual fleishig items on the menu. But everything served is on the theme of “Legends From the Sea.” And all fishes are pareve. So how can we be serving two “Legends From the Sea” that are fleishig? That’s a riddle that can be answered with knowledge of some commentaries on a certain verse in the Torah. It would be a pity to spoil the riddle, so we will publicly reveal the answer after the event.

A second type of dish relates to species that are popularly believed to be unequivocally non-kosher, but that are actually kosher—at least according to certain significant halachic opinions. There are a number of species that fall into this category, some (but not all) of which we shall be serving, including sturgeon, swordfish and piranha!

Then are the dishes that are based on the Gemara’s fascinating statements that there is nothing inherently unappetizing about non-kosher food, and that for every non-kosher food, there is a kosher equivalent. Kosher “crab” has been available in supermarkets for a while already. But we are taking things to the next level, with foods that not only visually look like the more exotic seafoods—complete with shells and tentacles—but that are even made with them!

Now, how is that possible? Well, let us first consider our planned dish of Cephalopod Salad. Cephalopods are the class of molluscs that includes octopus and squid. They are surely all non-kosher, as treife as treife can be. And yet, there are actually theoretically not one but two ways of serving a kosher tentacled dish that is actually made with real cephalopod!

One involves a unique species of cephalopod called the Grimaldi squid. Contrary to popular belief, the Torah does not say that a sea creature has to be a fish in order to be kosher. It only speaks of “anything that has fins and scales.” And, uniquely among cephalopods, the Grimaldi squid actually has fins and scales.

However, this is not the way that we are serving cephalopod. First of all, while some authorities are of the view that any scaled and finned aquatic creature is kosher, Rambam and others maintain that it must be a fish. Second, in any case, Grimaldi squid are impossible to obtain—only a few individuals have ever been discovered.

And so we have devised a different way of serving cephalopod. Without giving away too much in advance, the halachos of kashrut include some fascinating concepts, including that not every part of every non-kosher creature is itself non-kosher. Certain parts of some unusual non-kosher creatures are simply not considered to be the “meat” of the creature, and thus may be eaten. And so, with the aid of an obscure halachic ruling in this vein, the knowledge of a particular unusual species, together with a specialized item from Japan, we plan to serve something that not only looks like cephalopod—tentacles and all—but is even made with cephalopod!

The world houses an astonishingly diverse range of marvelous creatures, and halacha encompasses a remarkably wide variety of kashrut scenarios. The combination of the two is enlightening—and delicious.

By Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin is the founder and director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh. For extensive discussion about kosher locusts, see For more details about the Feast of Biblical Flora & Fauna in Teaneck, and the Feast of Legends From the Sea in Israel, see

Monday, August 6, 2018

Missing The Point About Corbyn

There have been some excellent critiques of Jeremy Corbyn's latest essay about how he is opposed to antisemitism. People have pointed out how the antisemitic acts for which he accepts and criticizes others of being guilty are actually things of which he himself is guilty. But there's one very important point that seems to be missed, which to my mind is the most egregious problem with his position, and the one that bodes greatest danger, in the unthinkable possibility that he would become leader of Great Britain.

Corbyn's article includes a single statement about Israel, which says, in its entirety, as follows:
This has been a difficult year in the Middle East, with the killing of many unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, and Israel’s new nation-state law relegating Palestinian citizens of Israel to second-class status.

Those are the only two reasons why it has been a difficult year in the Middle East?!

How about the intentional stabbings of various civilians in Israel?

How about the oppressive nature of the Hamas regime in Gaza, in which people who dare to criticize the leadership run the risk of being hauled out to the town square and having their knees shot off?

How about the hundreds of rockets launched into Israel, aimed at civilian populations?!

How about the attempt to storm the border with mobs of people armed with butcher knives and firebombs, explicitly stating that their goal is to massacre as many civilians as possible?

And if we're talking about the Middle East, how about the hundreds of thousands of people massacred in Syria?

Even in an article specifically aimed at reassuring people about him not being antisemitic, Jeremy Corbyn cannot find anything to criticize about the Arab terrorist dictatorships, and cannot show any support or sympathy for Israel, the only free country in the Middle East, constantly facing terrible threats. Whether or not you label this antisemitism, it is this attitude which makes him so loathsome and so dangerous to the free world.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Wonders of the California Coastline

"Here is the great and wide sea, where there are innumerable creeping things, creatures small with great" (Tehillim 104). I was fortunate to take some incredible walks along the California coastline this week. Check out these pictures of a heron fishing amidst a spectacular sunrise, mating crabs, the carapace of a king spider crab that I found, and a goose-neck barnacle, which was once thought to actually be a baby goose, growing on the shoreline! (It's worth enlarging the pictures of the crabs, to make out the fabulous detail of their coloration and design.)

I was with a large family group, and many of them said to me, "How on earth does it happen that you always find these amazing things?" The answer is that I keep my eyes open!

The Relevance of an Assassination

The assassination of Gedalyah is difficult for many people to relate to as a historic tragedy. As the old joke goes, he would have been dead...