Passover 5778: A Script of Living Drama: Baruch Cohen, CIJR, Mar. 29, 2018— A passage in the Mishna says, Every person in every generation must look upon himself/herself as if he/she came out of Egypt.
Plato’s Haggadah in the ‘Dialogues’: Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Times of Israel, Mar. 22, 2018— How that Jews all over the world will once again assemble around the seder table and read the Haggadah — the story of the exodus from Egypt — it may be worthwhile to put some thought into the art of reading.
Egypt’s Election: All Votes Will Go to Al-Sisi: Ashraf Ramelah, Arutz Sheva, Mar. 27, 2018 — Egypt is holding its presidential election now through March 28. President Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi is running for re-election after four years of his first term.
Egypt’s President Sisi Is Irreplaceable: Caroline Glick, Breitbart, Mar. 27, 2018 — Noting that most significant presidential contenders were either arrested, or were intimidated out of running, many media organizations have argued that Egypt’s elections this week are a farce.
Passover Message from Prime Minister Netanyahu (Video): Youtube, Mar. 21, 2018
Passover Guide for the Perplexed, 2018 (a US angle): Yoram Ettinger, Ettinger Report, Mar. 26, 2018
Eight Questions for Passover: Deborah Fineblum, JNS, Mar. 26, 2018
Importing Israeli Natural Gas Makes Sense for Egypt: Robin Mills, Bloomberg, Mar. 19, 2018
PASSOVER 5778: A SCRIPT OF LIVING DRAMA
CIJR, Mar. 29, 2018
A passage in thMishna says, every person in every generation must look upon himself/herself as if he/she came out of Egypt. The key idea that underlies the feast of Passover is great and profoundly human: the idea of freedom, of humanness. Passover shows that the human spirit’s struggle for freedom is the basis of the democratic vision of human dignity.
For us, the Jewish people, Passover marks our birth as a free people: our Sages teach us that liberty must be fought for, and renewed, in every generation. Passover, the liberation from Egyptian slavery, affirms the great truth that liberty is an undeniable right of every human being. By celebrating Passover we are learning about our Jewish past, and thus ensuring our human future.
Hag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover!
(Baruch Cohen, now 98, has been CIJR’s Research Chairman for thirty years; his moving memoir, No One Bears Witness for the Witness, just published, is available from CIJR at firstname.lastname@example.org)
PLATO’S HAGGADAH IN THE ‘DIALOGUES’
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Times of Israel, Mar. 22, 2018
Now that Jews all over the world will once again assemble around the seder table and read the Haggadah — the story of the exodus from Egypt — it may be worthwhile to put some thought into the art of reading. In The Phaedrus (275a-278a) and in his Seventh Letter (344c), Plato questioned — and in fact attacked — the written word as being completely inadequate. This may explain why philosophers have scarcely written about the art of writing, although they extensively engaged in that very craft!
It is well known that Plato used to write in the form of dialogues, and it is clear to anyone reading these conversations that his main purpose in doing so was to hide the characteristics of the texts. He worked for years on polishing this literary form. Cicero maintains that Plato actually died at his writing table at the age of 81. “Plato uno et octogesimo anno scribens est mortuus.” (Cicero, “On Old Age,” Section 5.)
What bothered Plato was that he believed the written word would fall prey to evil or incompetent readers who would do anything they want with the text, leaving the writer unable to defend or explain himself or herself. He feared the text would take on a life of its own, independent of its author, as is indeed characteristic of the written word. Even more interesting is his observation that a written text actually becomes a “pharmakon” — a drug that can either heal or kill, depending on how it is applied. It may even be used as a prompt, but will ultimately lead to memory loss since it will make the brain idle. Years later, Immanuel Kant wrote along similar lines, saying that the “script” wreaked havoc on the “body of memory.” (Immanuel Kant, Anthropologie in Pragmatischer Hinsicht, Suhrkamp, STW 193, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 489-490.
However, according to Plato, this means far more than just losing information, or being deprived of the skill of memorizing. For him, real knowledge was a atter of “intrinsic understanding,” demanding a person’s total presence within what he reads or says. Only that with which I totally identify and which has become united with my Self can be called knowledge and is in-scribed in my whole personality. That which I have simply read or learned superficially is not really knowledge.
Unwittingly, Plato touched on a most fundamental aspect of the Jewish tradition. We Jews are called “the people of the book.” But we are not; we are the people of the ear. The Torah is not to be read, but is rather to be heard. It was not written in the conventional sense. It was the Divine word spoken at Sinai, which had to be heard and which afterwards, out of pure necessity, became frozen in a text, but with the sole intention of being immediately “defrosted” through the art of hearing. This, then, became the great foundation of the Jewish oral tradition.
Reading entails using one’s eyes and, as such, the act remains external. The words are not carved into the very soul of the reader. Rabbi Yaakov Leiner, son of the famous Ishbitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, and one of the keenest minds in the Hasidic tradition, speaks about seeing. He makes the valuable observation that sight discloses the external aspect of things while hearing reveals the internal. (Rabbi Yaacov Leiner, Beis Yaakov, “Rosh Chodesh Av.”) One must hear a text, not read it. This is the reason why the body of Torah consists of minimum words and maximum oral interpretation.
Still, does not the open-endedness of the Torah present the opportunity for anyone to read his or her own thoughts into the text and violate its very spirit? The Jewish tradition responded to this challenge with great profundity. It created an ongoing oral tradition in which unwritten rules of interpretation were handed down, thereby securing the inner meaning of the text, while at the same time allowing the student to use all of his or her creative imagination. Even after the Oral Torah was written down in the form of the Talmud, it remained unwritten, as any Talmud student can testify. No other text is so succinct and “understaffed” in written words, while simultaneously given to such vast interpretation. The fact that the art of reading the Talmud can only be learned through a teacher–student relationship, and not merely through the written word, proves our point. Only when the student hears his or her master’s oral interpretation of the text is the student able to read it, because the teacher will not only give explanations, but will also convey the inner vibrations that were once heard at the revelation on Mount Sinai. This is the deeper knowledge that teachers themselves received from their masters, taking them all the way back to the supreme moment at Sinai. In that way, the students can free themselves from a mechanical approach to the text. Each person will hear new voices in the old text, without deviating from its inner meaning. This will provide the courage to think on one’s own and rid any personal prejudices. The text, then, is not read but heard.
Jewish law states that even if one is alone on the Seder night, one must pronounce the text of the Haggadah and not just read it. One must hear oneself, explain the text in a verbal way, and be in continuous dialogue with oneself, so as to understand and feel what happened thousands of years ago. Plato alluded to this matter without fully realizing why his own teachings never came close to receiving the treatment they perhaps deserved. They are read too much and heard too little.
This may be the difference between the Divine word and the human word. The Divine is a dimension where words have no spiritual space. Human words are too grounded in the text. The Divine word goes beyond these textual limitations and can find its way only through the act of listening, because it is through this particular one of our senses that we are able to hear the “perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976) p. 8.) When we read the text on the seder night, we should be aware that it only provides the opening words. The real Haggadah has no text. It is not to be read, but is rather to be heard. And, just as with the Torah, we have not even begun to understand its full meaning. We are simply perpetual beginners. Moadim le-simcha.
EGYPT’S ELECTION: ALL VOTES WILL GO TO AL-SISI
Arutz Sheva, Mar. 27, 2018
Egypt is holding its presidential election now through March 28. President Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi is running for re-election after four years of his first term. There is one opposing candidate from the Tomorrow Party who has vowed to cast his vote for the president and encourages all Egyptians to do the same. The ballots will be counted by the Election Commission as usual with the political parties in observance. The president is an independent candidate of the military without a political party. However, the military will be absent from the process because constitutionally it cannot be a part of civilian elections.
With the outcome already determined, Egyptians view the election as a comedy performance mainly because it is too painful to take seriously. Any real opposition candidates to the president have been orchestrated out of the process by the Al-Sisi government in the past months…State-sponsored media rave about the popularity of Al-Sisi and show pictures of Egyptians endorsing him with his campaign slogan of “build it.” But certain facts belie such reports. For instance, the media is pressuring the electorate to go out and vote by stressing it as the sacred duty of every citizen. Guilt infliction would not be necessary if a highly popular, reformist incumbent were running.
Christian clergy and Muslim Imams are threatening the populace with the fate of hell for those who do not go to the voting polls while the courts threaten non-voters with monetary fines. State employees are told by their managers that they will receive punishments for misconduct if they are absent from the performance of their electoral duty.
Meanwhile, Orthodox churches in the Egyptian diaspora around the world are arranging buses to haul church-goers to offices of the Egyptian Consulate to cast their vote for Al-Sisi. This follows the directive of Pope Tawadros II, an advocate of the president, when last week he announced plainly that, “It is the obligation and duty of every person to vote.” Low turn-out at the polls would bring embarrassment to the president and must be avoided at all cost.
Complacency is being combated by the state, church and mosque, but the anger boiling underneath the surface of the ersatz conformity is an even bigger threat to Al-Sisi and can’t be dealt with as easily by the regime whose appearance must remain “democratic.” Calling the election a farce, the Civil Democratic Movement has risen up to boycott it. Analysts are citing it as the object of the president’s anger and the reason for the regime’s pressure upon voters across the country.
Anger in general toward Al-Sisi’s failed record is what led the regime in the first place to eliminate risk by clearing the ballot of opposition. The other candidates presumably represented forces so insidious to the country and the welfare of the citizenry that Al-Sisi waited until they threatened his position as president to deal with their lurking presence. Moreover, his failure to float ideas to fix the country’s infrastructure problems, inflation and poverty has been accompanied by a rise in police state tactics such as “aurora” visits to contrarians and jail for speaking freely and critically. Considering this in the light of the president’s promises of democratic reforms and talk of human rights, Egyptians are left with cognitive dissonance.
Orthodox Copts have solved this problem by accepting Al-Sisi as a ruler who “means well” in light of terror atrocities, brute police force, rigged courts and rubble in place of churches. Political relativism helps this along. Are the Copts correct in agreeing with Al-Sisi that any other option rising in the political arena would be much too risky and threatening to Egypt’s long history of military rule? Military rule is all Egyptians know. Another military man as president would be pointless and, if less endearing, might prove disruptive to the stability of a people who need to manage daily life under massive corruption and civil decay.
EGYPT’S PRESIDENT SISI IS IRREPLACEABLE
Breitbart, Mar. 27, 2018
Noting that most significant presidential contenders were either arrested, or were intimidated out of running, many media organizations have argued that Egypt’s elections this week are a farce. Although there accounts disputing those claims, it is true that government bodies placed obstacles to running before several candidates. So it is hard to argue that this week’s election is an open one.
But there is a deeper issue at stake in Egypt than popular elections. That issue is whether Egypt – a country with 90 million citizens – will become a threat to itself and to the world, or whether Egypt will somehow beat the odds, and survive by liberalizing. Sisi is betting on survival through liberalization. If he fails, no amount of open and free and unfettered elections will save Egypt from destruction.
Seven years ago, the same bipartisan elite in Washington that is attacking this week’s elections united in support for overthrowing a longtime U.S. ally, then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, because he wasn’t democratic enough to satisfy that elite’s members on both sides of the partisan divide. Mubarak was an unapologetic authoritarian who ruled Egypt for 29 years. But he was also the anchor of America’s alliance structure in the Sunni Arab world.
When photogenic protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square staged what the credulous Western media reported as the Facebook Revolution, the elites gushed with excitement. Mubarak’s long service as a U.S. ally made no difference in Washington. Neoliberals in the Obama administration joined together with neoconservatives from the George W. Bush administration to support his overthrow. The fact that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood engineered the protests and was the only faction in Egypt with the power to replace Mubarak didn’t bother the wise men and women of Washington.
Blinded by their complementary neoconservative and neoliberal world views, they believed, as then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress, that the Muslim Brotherhood was a “largely secular” organization. They believed this, despite the fact that nearly every Sunni Islamic terror group in the world is Muslim Brotherhood spin-off. They believed this despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood’s motto, since its founding in the 1920s, was “Allah is our goal; the Prophet is our leader; the Koran is our law; Jihad is our way; Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Abandoned by the U.S., Mubarak was forced to resign after 18 days of protest. He and his sons were then carted off to prison.
Within a year of Mubarak’s overthrow, Egypt held its first open parliamentary elections between late 2011 until early 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood bloc won 45 percent of the vote. The Salafist party won 25 percent. So when Egyptians were given the freedom to choose their representatives, 70 percent of them voted for Islamic totalitarians who support global jihad and the institution of an Islamic caliphate to rule the world.
In the presidential elections that followed, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi from the Freedom and Justice Party, won nearly 52 percent of the vote. Much to the amazement of Washington’s wise men and women, after assuming power, Morsi and his parliamentary supporters did not govern as liberals or moderates. The representatives of Islamic totalitarian parties and movement governed as Islamic totalitarians.
Morsi pushed a constitution through the parliament that would have transformed Egypt into an Islamic theocracy. He turned a blind eye to the massive escalation in violence against Coptic Christians and church properties. He assumed dictatorial powers that, among other things, placed his presidency and all of his actions as president above judicial review.
So, far from delivering Egypt into a new era of political freedom, Egypt’s popularly elected president and popularly elected parliament used their power to trample all vestiges of liberalism and democratic order, including the separation of powers and freedom of religion in Egypt. So much for democracy.
The people of Egypt rose up against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood by the millions. Sisi, then defense minister, rose to power as the leader of a military coup that overthrew Morsi and his Islamist regime in July 2013. The Egypt that greeted Sisi was a country on the brink of mass starvation. Foreign currency reserves were almost wiped out.
Today, as the Saudis bankroll his government, Sisi has introduced market reforms into Egypt’s economy. He has committed to transforming the education system into one that provides students with marketable skills, rather than one that focuses on rote learning. He has taken on Egypt’s Islamic religious authorities and called for a reformation of Islam while waging war against the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic terror groups, from Hamas to ISIS.
None of Sisi’s battles are easily won. The Islamic clerics are testing his will and power relative to theirs, while slowing down the reform process he instigated in 2015. There is no silver bullet to solve the Egyptian economy’s fundamental failings. And the Islamists, who won 70 percent of the popular vote in 2012, will not simply disappear because they are being repressed. In the Sinai, they continue to fight a brutal and bloody war against Sisi’s regime.
Then there are the Coptic Christians. The Copts comprise around ten percent of Egypt’s population. They suffered government-sponsored persecution under the Morsi regime. And as a consequence, they were among the most outspoken supporters of the military coup tht brought Sisi to power. Unfortunately, despite the Copts high hopes that the Sisi presidency would protect their rights as Christians and as Egyptian citizens, Sisi has been unable to end the popular persecution of Copts by their Muslim neighbors. Over the past year, despite Sisi’s willingness to stand with the Copts, persecution of the community at local levels has increased. And many Copts are questioning Sisi’s willingness and ability to take the necessary steps to protect them.On the other hand, if Sisi stays the course, and continues to enjoy the support of the Saudis, the US, Israel, Europe, and others, he may survive long enough to make significant changes in Egyptian society.
Unlike President Barack Obama, who supported Morsi even as millions of Egyptians took to the streets throughout Egypt to overthrow him, President Donald Trump has been outspoken in his support for Sisi. If it is to happen, Sisi’s success in rescuing and transforming Egypt won’t be pretty. Coaxing and pushing Egypt into the 21st century culturally, educationally, and economically cannot be done without pushing the scales in favor of certain forces and against others. But the world has a stake in Sisi’s success. If Sisi succeeds, the Islamic world will never be the same. And the world will be safer.
If Sisi fails, then barring an unforeseen miracle, Egypt, with its 90 million people, will fall apart. Tens of millions will starve to death. The Arab world’s most powerful military force will fall into uncertain hands. The Islamists will have no shortage of scapegoats to blame. The implications of such a catastrophe for the region and the world are unimaginable. Sisi’s many critics snort that his one opponent, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, is actually a Sisi supporter. But maybe the critics should stop sticking their noses up at democratically-challenged Sisi and ask Moussa why he supports Sisi. Maybe he supports him because he believes that Sisi is Egypt’s last chance for survival.
CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters:
Hag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover!
Passover Message from Prime Minister Netanyahu (Video): Youtube, Mar. 21, 2018
Passover Guide for the Perplexed, 2018 (a US angle): Yoram Ettinger, Ettinger Report, Mar. 26, 2018—1. According to the late Prof. Yehudah Elitzur, one of Israel’s pioneers of Biblical research, the Exodus took place in the second half of the 15th century BCE, during the reign of Egypt’s Amenhotep II.
Eight Questions for Passover: Deborah Fineblum, JNS, Mar. 26, 2018 —Why is this year going to be different from all other years? Because this year, you can stump your guests with the meaning behind many of the mysterious rites that comprise the Passover Seder.
Importing Israeli Natural Gas Makes Sense for Egypt: Robin Mills, Bloomberg, Mar. 19, 2018—The discovery of Egypt’s giant Zohr gas field in August 2015 was heralded as the solution to the country’s energy problems. So why did Egypt cut a deal this year to import natural gas from Israel, its former enemy?