Saturday, August 31, 2019

Dances with Facts

My recent trip to the beautiful scenery of Wyoming made me remember the award-winning 1990 film Dances With Wolves, which was partially filmed there. At the time, it was one of my favorite movies. It had gorgeous cinematography and a hauntingly beautiful orchestral soundtrack. But what particularly moved me at the time, along with audiences worldwide, was the powerful story about how a Union Army soldier, played by Kevin Costner, joins a tribe of Sioux Indians. The rest of the Union Army are shown to be crazed, coarse and greedy, while the Sioux are a peaceful, dignified, nature-loving tribe. The goal of the film is to make one ashamed to be a White American.

Yet the real facts of history are nothing like the scenario portrayed in Dances With Wolves.

The Sioux Indians, along with the Comanche and many other Native American tribes, were just as rapacious as imperialistic white governments. They just lacked the power to do anything much more than stealing horses from other tribes whenever they could. And the Sioux in particular were appallingly brutal. The torture that they would inflict on captives that they took - men, women, and children - were horrifically brutal. (The details are too disturbing for me to relate, but you can read about them on Wikipedia.) Needless to say, there is no record of any Union soldier ever becoming a Sioux - why on earth would anyone do something like that?!

The myth of indigenous non-white natives being gentle pacifist environmentalists is one that is eagerly adopted today by many Israelopathic enemies of the Jewish State. What's staggering is the blatant falsification of facts in which they engage. And we're not talking about dancing with history of 150 years ago - this is falsifying the reality of today, in a way that is so obviously utterly false, it's amazing that they can get away with it.

Recently, CNN's Jake Tapper pointed out that if Trump is to be blamed for incendiary rhetoric that incites white supremacists, then Arab and Palestinian leadership are at least as much to be blamed for their rhetoric which incites Hamas or other Palestinians to murder Israeli teenagers at a pizzeria. Tlaib responded as follows:
"Comparing Palestinian human rights advocates to terrorist white nationalists is fundamentally a lie. Palestinians want equality, human dignity & to stop the imprisonment of children. White supremacy is calling for the *domination* of one race w/ the use of violence."
A Palestinian "human rights advocate."
Incredible! She is describing terrorists who stab civilians to death as being "human rights advocates who want equality, human dignity & to stop the imprisonment of children." I am astounded that this appalling perversion did not receive more press coverage.

Meanwhile, in Ha'Aretz, Gideon Levy responds to a variety of negative comments about Arabs and Palestinian culture, some of which were racist and also false, but others of which were largely or entirely true. Levy, in an article titled "If There's Such A Thing As A Murderous Culture, Then It Exists In Israel," makes claims and arguments that are simply ludicrous:
"We examined the past decade; those murderous, bloodletting Palestinians, have since January 2009 killed 190 Israelis. How many Palestinians were killed by Israel, the seeker of peace and goodness, which will never have anything culturally in common with the Arabs? Some 3,500. Israel was 18 times more murderous. Was it for sport? Erotic pleasure? Of course not, but the blood speaks: Israel draws far more of it.... If there’s a culture of killing, it actually exists in Israel."
This is absurd. The number of people killed on each side has absolutely no relevance to the morality of each side. The only relevant statistic is how many people were killed in defense, and how many in offense. Tellingly, if you compare the percentage of Palestinians killed who were men between 18 and 40, compared to the percentage of Israelis killed who were in that category, the results are very revealing. The Palestinian fatalities are mostly combatants; the Israeli fatalities are mostly not. And Israel most certainly does not have a "culture of killing" - from personal experience, I can point to my nephew, who was decorated by the IDF for neutralizing a terrorist and did not kill him. Israel kills where necessary, and most certainly does not celebrate it.

Levy then doubles down on his absurdity with an opposite claim about the Palestinians:
"The Palestinian people, on the other hand, are one of the most restrained people in history in its violent resistance to occupation and injustice."
"One of the most restrained people in history"?! Stabbing women and children to death, and celebrating those who do such things, is "restrained"?!

Such slanderous nonsense is eagerly lapped up by many Westerners who grew up with Dances With Wolves, Avatar, Spooks and other such fiction. All of these don't merely dance around with historical facts - they completely invert them. They have helped brainwash people into falsifying both the past and the present.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

This Actually WAS My First Rodeo

It would have been a perfect opportunity to use the aphorism "this ain't my first rodeo," but that would not have been accurate, because it was actually was my first rodeo.

Last week, while enjoying the wonder and beauty of Wyoming with my wife's family, one of the items on the agenda was a rodeo. I didn't have a very clear idea of what a rodeo is; they weren't so common in Manchester, where I grew up. But I knew that it was vaguely something to do with cowboys and horses and cattle, and it didn't sound very appealing. So instead, I begged off joining and instead drove out with a friend to Moose Wyoming, to look for a moose in Wyoming.

We found a moose, a big bull with enormous antlers, and it was magical. There were about twenty of us watching this magnificent animal grazing the vegetation by the river. As the sun set, I got a text that the rodeo was already well under way and my family really wanted me to join them. So I reluctantly paid farewell to the marvelous moose and set out for the rodeo.

Now, there are some people who say that rodeos are appalling places of cruelty, in which animals are tortured in order to make them act abnormally, and where they suffer terrible stress and injury. There are other people who say that rodeos do not involve any animal cruelty at all, and are simply demonstrations of great skills. After seeing this rodeo, my impression is that both these extremes are incorrect, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle - but I'm not sure exactly where.

Because I arrived very late, I missed many of the competitions, such as the calf-lassoing. As I arrived, there was an extraordinarily skilled horse-riding competition taking place, in which young girls (some looked no older than 12) would ride their horses in a complex route which involved tight turns around a barrel, in the fastest time possible. It was breathtaking so see this maneuvers, and I quickly got caught up in the cheering and excitement of the event.

Then came the bull riding.

I hadn't been following the announcements and I wasn't prepared for what was coming. Several cowboys were waiting by a gate in the arena. Suddenly one of them yanked open the gate with a rope. About a ton of snorting, rampaging fury came hurtling out, bucking up and down furiously. The cowboy on his back was clutching on valiantly, but was being tossed around like a puppet. After a few seconds, the inevitable happened, and the cowboy was hurled off, sailing gracefully through the air before crashing into the ground. I caught it all on video, and you can watch it here: (those reading this blog via email subscription will have to open it in their web browser)

This happened again and again, sometimes with young teenagers riding smaller bulls. I was a little confused as to what was actually exactly going on, in terms of animal behavior. So afterwards, I re-watched my videos carefully, and did a little research.

The first thing that struck me as odd was that the bulls appeared to be in a frenzy of rage, the kind of thing that is normally provoked by extreme pain. Highly stressed animals like that take a while to calm down. But as soon as the bulls threw off the rider, they were almost instantly calm. They posed no threat to other cowboys in the ring, and they were easily led back to their stalls, sometime calmly walking back by themselves.

Online, there were lots of claims that the bulls are incited by electric shocks, and placed in a state of maddening pain by a rope tied tightly around their testicles. The former is illegal and I really don't think that it happened. I did see a rope tied around their nether quarters - but it wasn't around their testicles. Furthermore, if that rope was causing them pain, then why were they so relaxed once the rider was off? There was no change with the rope.

It seems that the basic dynamics of what happens is as follows. Large animals such as cattle were historically preyed upon by animals such as lions. The lion's mode of attack is to leap onto the animal's back, grasping with its claws, while biting its neck. So a bull's instinctive response to feeling something on its back is to buck wildly and attempt to throw it off.

Rodeo riders are causing the bulls to express this deeply-embedded instinct. But is it a case of the bull truly feeling terrified that there is a predator on its back, or is it merely drawing out a behavioral pattern without the associated trauma? And is all stress the same? (I once took a training course in a zoo in which we learned about deliberately giving some animals a degree of occasional stress in order to give them a more naturalistic and ultimately healthier environment.) I don't know the answer. I did find the following fascinating discussion in a book called Veterinary Ethics, edited by Giles Legood, a member of the University of London Ethics and Law Subject Panel and chaplain of the Royal Veterinary College:
"Bucking horses and bulls used for riding and spurring events are used again and again. A systematic study of their behavior would reveal just how aversive this activity was (or was not) for different individuals. My own limited experience would suggest that most broncs stand quietly in the shute before release and leave the arena quietly with other horses after parting company with their rider. Bulls frequently attack their dismounted rider and have to be distracted by the rodeo clowns. What one does not see are signs of reluctance to enter the arena, or learned helplessness. I am satisfied that these animals are stressed during the events but do not suffer. Moreover, they are maintained in a state of high fitness. The rodeo bull, in my opinion, receives a fairer deal from humans than the dairy bull which spends its entire life withing the confines of a bullpen."
My friend Yadidya Greenberg also pointed me to this fascinating interview with renowned animal behavior expert Temple Grandin, in which she demonstrates that the bulls do not feel fear and are simply demonstrating a trained response.

What is the Torah perspective on this? The Gemara condemns attending a circus, stating as follows:
"Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai expounded: “Happy is the man who does not go in the counsel of the wicked... (Ps. 1:1)” – this refers to one who does not go to the theaters and circuses of heathens. “And in the path of sinners does not stand” – this refers to the one who does not participate in their hunts. (Avodah Zarah 18b)
Etz Yosef elaborates as follows:
"It is customary among the nations to pit animals in fighting against each other by way of fun and entertainment. And it is forbidden for a Jew to witness such things, as it is written, “Do not rejoice O Israel as the other nations rejoice” (Hoshea 9:1). It also involves [the sin of participating in] a gathering of scoffers, wasting time of Torah study, and cruelty to animals."
If the Talmud is condemning circuses, then surely that would equally apply to rodeos. But matters are actually not so simple. The "circus" mentioned in the Gemara is not a modern Barnum & Bailey. It's the Roman circus. These were appalling events in which spectators would cheer as animals were torn to pieces in front of them. Different types of animals were starved and pitted against each other. Emperor Commodus would travel around the arena, killing literally hundreds of animals.

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (Yabiya Omer 4 Orach Chaim 2) notes that the Gemara's condemnation of circuses does not apply to modern zoos. The Roman circus served to stimulate bloodlust; the modern zoo serves to inspire people with an appreciation of nature.

Into which category does a rodeo fall? The animals do not seem to be tortured or physically harmed. On the other hand, I do think that there may be some stress involved. Now there is a principle of צער בעלי חיים הותר לצורך, that pain to animals can be justified by human need. However, the "need" must be something with genuine positive value. Is a rodeo about seeing a demonstration of great human skill, and an appreciation of the power of animals? Or is it a crass form of entertainment which stresses out animals for no real benefit? And if that's true of bull-riding, is it ultimately also true for horse-racing?

I think that answering these questions will turn out to be an academic exercise. Rodeos are not going to be around for long. Circuses with animals, even relatively good ones, are already a thing of the past. The same will happen with rodeos. If I ever go to a rodeo again, I'll be able to say that "this ain't my first rodeo" - but it will almost certainly be my last.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Wonder of Wyoming

Last week I was with my wife's family on an absolutely spectacular vacation in Wyoming, with the Rustic Elegance kosher program. Here are some photo highlights:

The town square in Jackson. That's a lot of antlers! Some people react by saying how terrible it is that so many elk were hunted. But in fact not a single elk died for this - they shed their antlers annually.

Schwabacher's Landing in the Grant Teton National Park was perhaps the single most beautiful natural scene that I have ever seen. What made it even more incredible is that this lake was created by beavers, whose lodge can be seen slight to the left of center.

Hiking in Yellowstone, with bear spray.

This marmot was completely unafraid and I was able to stand within three feet of it!


Teepee at the Spring Valley Ranch

Old Faithful prepares to erupt. Note the vast crowd watching!

One of the scaldingly hot thermal springs in Yellowstone. Beautiful, but deadly. Many people have died by jumping or falling into these.

My youngest looking out at the vast beauty of Yellowstone's Grand Canyon.

Another part of the Grand Canyon. This picture does absolutely zero justice to the incredible scale of this scene. If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you can make out the tiny trees in the far bottom of the valley.

Bison blocking traffic in Yellowstone


 Bison in the foreground, Teton mountains in the background


Finding a huge herd of bison, surrounding my car, was incredible!


A herd of elk (females and juveniles, hence no antlers)


 Wyoming stop sign.

A pronghorn antelope in the appropriately named Antelope Flats

A closer view of the pronghorn, second-fastest land animal in the world, and very beautiful.

A bull moose! Not an easily animal to find. Thanks to R. Yitzi Kessock of Rustic Elegance for showing me exactly when and where to find it.

A female bison and her suckling calf.

A bison's head is truly extraordinary.

Large male bison with a mouthful of grass.

I also attended part of a rodeo. This was an experience which raised several questions, which I plan to discuss in a future post. Meanwhile, if you're able to visit Wyoming, I strongly recommend it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Damage You Didn't See

Like many of my friends, when I heard that Israel had banned Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering the country, I saw this as a colossal mistake. What an utter PR disaster! True, Bibi might not have had much of a choice, given the pressure that Trump was placing. But, whether there was a choice or not, it was certainly a terrible course of action.

Then I started thinking about WWII fighter planes.

During WWII, the Allied forces had to figure out which parts of the plane most needed armor protection. So researchers from the Center for Naval Analyses studied the bullet holes which appeared on returning planes, and found that the bullet holes occurred in the following places:

Accordingly, the researchers recommended that the areas with the red dots should receive the armor plating. It's obvious!

But Abraham Wald, a religious Jewish statistician who had escaped Austria, pointed out that exactly the opposite was true. The planes with the bullet holes in these areas were the ones that had survived the missions and returned. It was the planes which had been hit in the other areas which had not survived the mission.

This is known as survivorship bias, and it is a form of selection bias. It's concentrating on that which is visible, without realizing that the thing which is not visible might be more significant.

I think that this is exactly the case with the Tlaib/Omar debacle. Yes, it was a disaster. But we're not seeing what the alternative would have looked like. Had they come, they would doubtless have used every opportunity to make some kind of PR scene that would demonize Israel. Starting confrontations with soldiers, making scenes at Temple Mount, inciting riots, etc., etc. And it would have been scenes with gripping photos and video, unlike the story of their not coming, which had no accompanying visuals. Stories with no visuals grab much less attention than stories with visuals.

It was a no-win situation for Israel. We can't assume that just because the situation is terrible, that the alternative would have been better.

It's kind of like Israel retaining control over Judea and Samaria.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Gates Vaccination Expose

The vaccination arguments can sometimes appear confusing for some people. How can a non-specialist know who's correct? True, virtually the entire medical community is in favor of vaccinations. But on the other hand, you have Marcia Angell writing that “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.” After reading that, even I was starting to wonder.

Fortunately, you don't need any medical knowledge whatsoever to decide if the anti-vaxxers are really onto something, or if they are tragically deranged. All you have to do is ask them about Bill Gates, who has invested great effort into having millions of children in poor countries vaccinated.

An anti-vaxxer who posted many comments on the previous post mentioned that Bill Gates's own family pediatrician said that Gates did not have his own children immunized - clear proof that he himself knows them to be dangerous!

The only problem? It's completely fabricated. There is no record of this unnamed pediatrician saying any such thing. It seems to have first appeared on some conspiracy website, then spread like wildlife among those who are happy to believe stories which fit their beliefs, even if there isn't any evidence for them.

This does not speak well for the ability of anti-vaxxers to evaluate factual truth.

But it gets much crazier than that!

It's easy to accept that lots of people believe that vaccines are harmful. But Bill Gates?! He gave a hundred million dollars to get millions of children vaccinated!

So according to the anti-vaxxers, this is entirely the point. Bill Gates deliberately worked at getting millions of children injected with harmful vaccines, in order to make them autistic and hopefully kill as many of them as possible.

It's hard to find words for how insane this is. You just have to read a little bit about the tremendous effort and care that Bill and Melinda Gates have put into helping children, to realize how preposterous it is to propose that they actually secretly want to harm and kill as many as possible.

But it gets much crazier than that!

According to the anti-vaxxers, it's not even a secret at all. Bill Gates has been completely explicit about his desire to kill as many children as possible with vaccines. He has publicly stated that it's necessary to do so in order to reduce the world population. The anti-vaxxers cite a quote from Bill Gates at a 2019 TED Talk, in which he said that, "The world today has 6.8 billion people. That's heading up to about nine billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care and reproductive health services, we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent."

Of course, this isn't what Gates actually said at all. I knew that even before checking the Snopes article to see exactly how it was distorted. He wasn't saying that "if we do a really great job on killing children and health care (what a crazy juxtaposition!), we can lower the population." His point was that if parents in third-world countries can be more confident that their children will survive childhood (thanks to vaccines), then they won't have so many. As Melinda Gates said: “If a mother and father know their child is going to live to adulthood, they start to naturally reduce their population size."

But it's not just that the antivaxxers distort what Gates said. The point is that anyone who thinks for a moment that Bill Gates wants millions of children to suffer and die, and moreover, that he would openly state this in a public speech (despite at all other times arguing that vaccines are healthy), is clearly utterly out of their mind.

And you don't listen to medical advice from people who are out of their mind.

Further Reading: How Bill and Melinda Gates Are Transforming Life for Billions in the 21st Century

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

An Avoidable Tragedy

This is Rotem Amitai.

She was a 43-year old mother of three children who worked as a flight attendant with El Al.

Four months ago, after working on an El Al flight from JFK to Tel-Aviv, she contracted measles from someone on the flight.

Although Rotem had been inoculated as a child, she had only received one dose (which in those days was thought sufficient), which does not give the highest degree of immunity. As a result, she contracted measles from someone on the flight who had measles as a result of not being vaccinated. This led to her developing meningoencephalitis and she slipped into a coma.

This morning, she passed away.

What a senseless, utterly preventable tragedy.

The anti-vaxxers have a lot to answer for.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Fox News

"Foxes at Temple Mount: Prophetic Proof Jerusalem Returning to Glory"
"Dozens Of Foxes Seen Early Morning Near Kosel – Prophecy of Zechariah Alive and Well!"
"Sighting of Foxes on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Triggers Prophecy Theories about Third Jewish Temple"
"Foxes Seen Walking near the Western Wall, Fulfilling Biblical Promise"
A video emerged this week of several foxes cavorting around the Old City of Jerusalem, and caused sensational headlines in the world press. Is the presence of foxes on the Temple Mount really a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah? Is that really the message? And if not, what does the fox say?

First of all, a technical correction. There were not "dozens of foxes." The video shows four, and they must have been cubs of a single family. The reason why I know that there could not have been dozens, and that the four foxes were a family, is that foxes are solitary creatures. In fact this is one of the ways in which we know that the Biblical term shu'al does not necessarily refer to a fox, but rather often refers to a jackal; for more details, see my Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom. Still, for now, let us assume that the shu'al is a fox.

Now, let us look carefully at the famous story regarding Rabbi Akiva and the fox on the Temple Mount:
Once, Rabban Gamliel, R. Elazar b. Azaryha, R. Yehoshua and R. Akiva were ascending to Jerusalem. When they arrived at Mount Scopus, they rent their garments. When they arrived at the Temple Mount, they saw a fox that emerged from the site of the Holy of Holies. They began weeping, and Rabbi Akiva was laughing. They said to him: Why are you laughing? Rabbi Akiva said to them: Why are you weeping? They said to him: This is the place concerning which it is written: “And the non-priest who approaches shall die” (Numbers 1:51), and now "foxes walk in it" (Eicha 5:18) - shall we not weep?
Rabbi Akiva said to them: That is why I am laughing, as it is written: “And I will take to Me faithful witnesses to attest: Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah” (Isaiah 8:2). Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah prophesied during the First Temple period, and Zechariah prophesied during the Second Temple period! Rather, the verse established that fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah is dependent on fulfillment of the prophecy of Uriah. In the prophecy of Uriah it is written: “Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field...” (Micah 3:12). (There is a rabbinic tradition that this was also prophesied by Uriah.) In the prophecy of Zechariah it is written: “There shall yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4). Until the prophecy of Uriah (with regard to the destruction) was fulfilled I was afraid that the prophecy of Zechariah would not be fulfilled. Now that the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is evident that the prophecy of Zechariah will be fulfilled.
The Sages said to him, employing this formulation: Akiva, you have comforted us; Akiva, you have comforted us.
Note that foxes are not part of either Zechariah's or Uriah's prophecy. Rather, there is a reference in Eicha to the desolation of Jerusalem, which mentions foxes walking through it. The Sages cite this when they too see a fox walking through the ruins of Jerusalem, since it is an example, an illustration, of the destruction. R Akiva says just as the destruction was prophesied by Uriah and came to be, so too Zechariah's prophecy, of the redemption, will come to be.

Seeing foxes today in Jerusalem is therefore just a case of observing the destruction, just as Rabbi Akiva did. The only prophecy that it demonstrates is that of the destruction, with which we do not have any doubts, because it already happened.

But here we get to the crucial point. Let's go back in time and think about how Rabbi Akiva's confident rejoicing would have appeared over most of history. What naive foolishness! The Jewish People have been decimated and spread over the four corners of the earth. They are an utterly downtrodden people. Jerusalem is desolate.

And yet look at the situation now! There is Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel! Millions of Jews have returned to the Land, from all over the world. Jerusalem is a city of beauty, and the country is thriving and prosperous. We take all this for granted, but for the last two thousand years, this was a virtually unimaginable fantasy.

Earlier this year I found myself sitting on a plane next to a British messianic Christian. Unlike American Christians, who are extremely friendly and positive to Jews, this person was as unpleasant as the youths who used to harass me on the streets of Manchester. He said to me, "How can you possibly not accept Jesus? How can you see the Jews as being loved by God? You've got no Temple, there's hardly any of you left - you've got nothing!" It was ironic that he was telling me this while sitting on an El-Al Dreamliner heading for the State of Israel. 

To be sure, things are far from perfect. There are great dangers from the neighboring countries. There is great hostility from the world. And the spiritual state of the country is sadly lacking. But what we do have is so incredibly, marvelously better than what was!
The truth is that foxes are not actually necessarily a sign of desolation (which is another reason why I'm inclined to think that the shu'alim of Eicha are jackals). London, one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world, is full of foxes. I regularly see foxes in my densely-populated suburb of Ramat Beit Shemesh.

When we see foxes running around the Temple Mount, this deservedly does bring to mind the famous story with Rabbi Akiva. But instead of responding with theologically groundless proclamations of imminent miracles, the sentiment that we should feel is wondrous gratitude at how different things are now from Rabbi Akiva's time. Yes, we hope and pray that they will improve even more. But, like Rabbi Akiva, let us focus on the good!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Distorting Statistics about Charedim

As Mark Twain noted, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. You can quote a factually true statistic and use it to completely pervert the truth.

Some tragic examples of this can be seen in the article at by JoeSettler, defending the Israeli charedi community. The falsehoods are so tightly interwoven into the article that I'm going to have to fisk it.
We’ve all heard claims how Chareidim don’t work, that Chareidim don’t go to the army, that Chareidim don’t carry their share of the national burden. Liberman’s supporters are saying Liberman is raising this anti-Chareidi / anti-religious flag for their own good and ours. The tone, the rhetoric, the Sinat Chinam is horrifying – and far too many people accept these statements/assumptions as fact. Here at the Muqata, we had a theory we wanted to test. What if these assumptions are not really true or not completely true, how would we prove it? And if these claims don’t reflect reality what do we need to look at instead? We decided to examine the data for ourselves, and discovered that everyone is comparing apples to oranges.
Actually, as we shall see, it is JoeSettler who compares apples to oranges. 

I. Army Service

True, if you compare the overall percentages of Chareidim that haven’t done the army to non-Chareidim, the difference is huge, and will remain huge.
But we asked ourselves, is that really the right way to look at the numbers and the situation?
Yes. That is exactly the right way to look at the numbers and the situation. 
A 30-something Chareidi man with six children will never be going into the army, so those statistics don’t actually tell you anything useful, other than he is never going to go into the army.
No, it tells you that this Chareidi man has made a lifestyle choice that prevented him from going to the army. That is relevant.
34% of Chareidi males obligated to enlist in the IDF or Sheirut Leumi in 2017 were enlisted, according to a 2018 IDI study... That percent that enlisted is up 5% from 2016, and that percent has been going up every year... Among the non-Chareidi (male) population, it appears that IDF enlistment is estimated at 85%.
First of all, writing as someone who lives in a largely charedi city, this figure of 34% of those obligated to enlist - around 4000 young men - is highly suspect. Where are all these charedim in the IDF? The so-called Nachal Charedi is mostly comprised of Dati-Leumi who want a higher standard of kashrut/tzniyut, along with some charedi dropouts. Who has seen 4000 new charedi soldiers?!

But even taking the 34% number, that is still only a third of chareidi young men who are supposed to be enlisted for the first time. And this in turn is an even tinier fraction of charedi men of army age - of which there are over 30,000 exemptions given annually.
When you look at the relevant statistics, you see a completely different picture than what is portrayed by Liberman and the media.
You see a society that is integrating. You see a society that is catching up to their non-Chareidi counterparts in terms of service. You see a society that is undergoing both evolutionary and revolutionary changes at a healthy pace that is non-destructive to their society.
You then realize that the argument that Charedim don’t go to the army is not only blown out of proportion, but is false and must be rejected.
No, the argument that Charedim, for the most part, do not go to the army, is still absolutely true, not withstanding the very small recent rise in charedi recruits. There are 30,000 exemptions and only a few thousand serving. You can argue about the best way to change that. You can argue that it's best to let the number gradually rise, rather than to force conscription. But it is false to make a general statement that Charedim go to the army.

II. Working

All the statistics we’ve seen until now separately compared the number of Chareidi men working, the number of Chareidi women working, and then compared that to their non-Chareidi male and female counterparts. It’s very Tzanuah (modest) of them to present it that way, but it doesn’t represent certain social and fiscal realities in Israel. Is that really a fair comparison? Is it even a relevant comparison? Why are we comparing individuals when we should be comparing households? In a household it doesn’t matter if the husband or wife is working (certainly not in a progressive household), only if they are making enough money to support their household unit and chosen lifestyle.
Actually, I think that it's definitely relevant to compare individuals rather than households, but let's accept his point for now. And let's see where this leads.
...The answer (based on raw 2017 survey data we received from Kohelet) to the question of how many households have at least one breadwinner is as follows :
Non-Chareidim: 80.1% | Chareidim: 84.6% | Arabs: 79.5%.
...In simple English what do these statistics mean?
It means that most Israelis households have at least one breadwinner who is working and supporting the family.
...What does this mean for the question as to whether or not Chareidim are participating in the workforce?
The answer is that when comparing household to household, there is no effective difference between Chareidi and non-Chareidi Jews. Both family household units work and support themselves.
The sleight-of-hand performed here is so subtle that I'm not sure if the writer even realized it himself. JoeSettler has gone from citing a statistic that most chareidi homes have at least one breadwinner, to arguing that this proves that there is no difference between charedim and non-charedim, and that charedim equally support themselves.

How on earth does this follow?!

The fact that someone is working does not mean that they are managing to support their family. And it most certainly does not mean that they are equally contributing to the economy!

A household in which there are one or two people working in high-income jobs, paying full taxes, contributes to the economy. A household in which the husband is in kollel, and in which there are one or two low wages, often in non-professional careers, and in which there is a resultant tax exemption, does not contribute to the economy (or contributes far less).
What becomes clear is that Chareidi households are not a drag on Israeli society and tax payers as Liberman and friends may claim. Israeli households and society are holding their own and doing their part.
Chareidim make less money and spend less money. Their purchasing patterns are also very different. And those are all valid lifestyle choices.
What becomes clear is that Chareidim are not economic burdens on society.
When comparing household to household – which is the only comparison that matters – Chareidim households are on par with the rest of Israeli society.
This is so obviously false that it boggles the mind to see anyone make such a claim. Even charedi apologist Jonathan Rosenblum wrote in Mishpacha that "We All Need Charedim To Get Academic Education And Professional Employment." Endorsing a speech by President Rivlin, Rosenblum noted that "20% of the school children in Israel between first and sixth grade are now in chareidi educational frameworks" (if you just consider first grade, it's over 30%). Leaving aside the question of who will serve in the IDF, the pressing question that he asks is: “who will fund the maintenance of this army if Israeli society is poor?” He also notes that “the modern economy puts a high premium on education, and ever more jobs require academic or vocational training of some kind.” How will the national economy survive, with such a huge proportion of society being uneducated and unemployed?

And then you have the staggering study that came out from the Finance Ministry a few weeks ago, saying that if the employment rate of ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jewish men remains stagnant, it will cost the Israeli economy more than $100 billion a year over the next several decades.

Anyone who denies the reality of this problem is supporting its continuation. 

III. Sharing the Burden

The same unfair question can of course be turned around. Are secular Jews doing their share for Israeli society?
The data shows that when it comes volunteering and charity, Hilonim are not giving close to what their Chareidi counterparts are giving back to their fellow Israelis.

First of all, I don't know why he's comparing Charedim to Hilonim. Is that the standard that Charedim should set for themselves? Why not compare Charedim to non-Charedi religious Jews?

Second, the immense amount of volunteering and charity that occurs in charedi society is mostly to help other charedim - who are in dire economic straits!

Third, volunteer work done by charedim does not remotely compare to years of IDF service and milu'im and Sherut Leumi.

Fourth, charity to poor charedim does not remotely come close to outweighing the tremendous economic burden on the country by a rapidly growing population in which half the men don't work, those who do work are generally in non-professional careers, and there is virtually no secular education.
Hiloni households are also not doing their share in the demographics battle with the Arabs. It’s the Chareidim that are out-birthing the Arabs and maintaining Israel’s demographic balance, and it is the Chareidim that are bearing the financial burden of the demographics battle.

Increasing the number of Jews does not help the country if those increased numbers are dragging down the economy (which in turn encourages others to leave). And even if charedi families have two kids which become more "modern" and take a real job, that still leaves four more who don't.


JoeSettler concludes as follows:
The next time you hear Avigdor Liberman complain about Chareidim not carrying their share of the national burden and that drastic action is needed to fix the situation, you’ll now know that not only is Liberman completely wrong, you can ask him, why aren’t his Hiloni voters doing their share for their fellow Israelis?
In reality, neither question is fair to ask. Israel is a mosaic and every community is contributing in their own way to make Israel a dynamic, vibrant society. Everyone is shouldering the burden in their own way, but there are far too many false claims made against Chareidi society that simply aren’t backed up by the data – especially when you start to compare data points that more accurately represent real life in Israel.
In reality, while Avigdor Liberman may well distort some things, the fact is that charedi society does not remotely share the burden of military service, and is a dangerous ever-increasing drain on the economy. There can be reasonable disagreement about how to solve this problem, such as regarding whether it can be changed by imposing financial pressure. But denying that the problem exists is wrong and dangerous. It harms the nation of Israel, and it doesn't even help charedim.

For further reading: Rosenblum: We All Need Charedim To Get Academic Education And Professional Employment

(I'm off to the airport now, so there will be a delay in moderating and replying to comments.)

Monday, August 5, 2019

Of What Is God Inordinately Fond?

We added a new small exhibit to the Biblical Museum of Natural History. The four inhabitants are called George, Paul, John, and Ringo. They are the beetles.

These are sun beetles - richly colored in burgundy and yellow, with wing-cases that have the consistency of velvet. I am enormously fond of them, and much to my delight, they have started breeding.

At the moment, I am intensively planning the new museum building, into which we will be moving in a few months. This involves some reorganization of exhibits, as well as adding many new exhibits. Currently, all our insects and invertebrates, dead and alive, are housed in the Insect section of the Kashrut Exhibit. But in the new building, it will be different. The Hall of Kashrut will only feature kosher insects - i.e. our locust colony - while the Hall of Small Animals will include an Insect Zoo, featuring the insects of the Torah (which will be a combination of live exhibits plus super-size models).

Now, the insects mentioned in the Torah include ants, bees, hornets, fleas, scorpions, lice, spiders (debatably), silkworms (indirectly), millipedes, Kermes echinatus (the tolaat shani), and worms. But no beetles!

But the beetles are too special not to exhibit. And so I was trying to think of a way that it makes sense to display them. Then I remembered something!

There is a famous story, possibly apocryphal, about the distinguished British biologist J.B. Haldane. Once, he found himself in the company of a group of theologians, and they asked him what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of His creations. Haldane is said to have answered that the Creator apparently has “an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

There's only about four thousand species of mammals, and 9000 birds. There's about 300,000 species of plants. But there are over 350,000 species of beetles that have already been identified - and it is estimated that the total number of beetle species may be one and a half million.

Whether one believes that God created every species separately, or employed creative wisdom to enable them to evolve from a common ancestor, the end result is that He seems to have delighted in there being a very, very lot of different types of beetles.

Thus, the perfect place in the museum to exhibit beetles is in the Hall of Wonders. That hall will exhibit awesome species such as the elephant, and extraordinary creatures such as the duck-billed platypus, but it will also include an exhibit on the sheer richness of the natural world. There is Mah gadlu maasecha Hashem, "How great are Your works," and there is Mah rabu maasecha Hashem - "How manifold are Your works." The wonder of God's universe is not just in its extraordinary creatures, but also in the sheer rich diversity of them.

And what better creatures to illustrate that richness than beetles?

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