August 30, 2012

Tom Carew and Bongani Masuku

Amongst the few voices of sanity and balance is an Irishman of note by the name of Tom Carew. I know him only through friends and internet exchanges, but he strikes me as a man of intelligence, wit, and courage to challenge ideas about religion and politics. Above all, he relishes his lone voice of reason. Every now and again he sends me copies of letters he has written, and one of these exchanges, which he had with a particularly fine example of South African boorishness (yes, the pun was intended), I wish to comment on for two reasons. For one, it illustrates what is wrong with South Africa today, and secondly, it illustrates what is wrong with political correctness.

Here is Tom’s opening mail:
Subject: Workers rights and solidarity

To: "Bongani Masuku International Relations Secretary COSATU" bongani@cosatu.org.za

Date: Friday, 17 August, 2012, 16:20

Dear Bongani Masuku,

I read your statement yesterday denouncing Israel [as an *apartheid* state] - issued by COSATU (the International Relations Secretary of the South African trade union federation, COSATU which is linked to the ruling ANC. JR) on the very day that your own South African Police slaughtered 36 workers at Marikana Mine.

I was a committed member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and all my life I was a very active trade unionist, and I cannot recall anything like that Marikana Massacre since the SHARPEVILLE MASSACRE IN 1960. I also cannot recall either 36 Arab [or Jewish] workers ever being slaughtered like that - by any Israeli police - which includes Sunni Muslim Bedouins from the Arab minority who VOLUNTEER to serve in it. But the whole world knows that the Assad Syrian regime has slaughtered over 20,000 of their own citizens.

Can you kindly send me any COSATU statement denouncing the ongoing Assad massacres? Has COSATU demanded the immediate suspension from duty, arrest and prosecution of the police commanders and killers involved in the Marikana Massacre? I also can find no mention in your statement yesterday of the Hamas destruction of PGFTWU in Gaza - can you please send me any COSATU statement about that?

Yours fraternally,

Tom Carew
Dublin City, Ireland
Now I would quibble with one point of Tom’s email. Sadly, in 1976 six Israeli Arabs were killed by Israeli police in a demonstration against land expropriation. But in general he makes an excellent point. It is open season to attack Israel in the crudest way. South Africa, in particular, has become one of the most anti-Israel non-Muslim states, in terms of public statements by its officials and up-and-coming leaders. During the Apartheid years, Israel consistently voted in the UN against Apartheid. But at the same time, Israeli individuals helped South Africa in various ways including security and arms.

When I visited South Africa in 1986, when Chief Rabbi Casper invited me to come out with a view to succeeding him, I visited banned officials, including those of COSATU, and they did indeed point out how damaging Israelis' involvement in South Africa was and how it would affect future attitudes. And men like Desmond Tutu have been in the vanguard of those condemning Israel as if it, alone, was the source of all evil. Whereas Nelson Mandela, himself, tried to be and was balanced, the South African political scene today is dominated by violently anti-Israel voices which are unabashedly full of hatred and immoderation. It is no surprise that the infamous Durban conferences, purportedly on Human Rights, but which turned into such an anti-Semitic hate fest, took place in South Africa.

Leaders of South African Jewry have tried repeatedly to plead for reason and balance, and sometimes they are placated by the Old Guard. If the Old ANC Guard was aware of Jewish contributions to the battle against Apartheid, the new and younger generation is made of different and highly alloyed stuff. Many of the new generation of South African leaders are themselves so tainted by corruption and so immoderate as to make any kind of dialogue impossible.

South Africa today is governed overwhelmingly (not exclusively) by men and women who suffered under Apartheid and fought a courageous battle for the freedom of blacks and coloreds from white oppression. But like many fighters for freedom, the moment they got it, like starving pigs they raided the troughs, and stuck their snouts in so far to guzzle as much as they could that they all but ignored the millions of the less privileged of their very own. It has been like that wherever you look. Freedom or revolutionary movements rely on the huddled masses for support and votes, but the moment the leadership gets its hands on power it grabs all the goodies it can for itself. So who are these leaders? Self-serving, self-loving bullies. To prove my point here’s the response Tom got:
On Mon, 20/8/12, Bongani Masuku wrote:

Subject: RE: Workers rights and solidarity

To: "Tom Carew" Date: Monday, 20 August, 2012, 7:43

Stop colonialism and apartheid and stealing of Palestinian land and stop diverting attention from that. In one month, you massacred 1 400 Gazans to colonise and enforce your apartheid. You are lying that you were in the anti-apartheid movement, with you garbage ideas, you obviously supported apartheid, you liar.
You see the elegant civilized response, of course. No attempt to answer the questions. No desire to engage in discussion. Just abuse. Crude, brute invective--the mark either of someone intellectually challenged or someone so used to bullying others that he thinks this is civilized discourse.

Alas, he is not alone, and it is not of course confined to South Africa. Political correctness now infects much of the world’s media. It obeys whatever political correctness demands and tries to silence any opposition. Watch BBC discussions where the carefully screened audience will boo, barrack, and titter, and use other infantile ways of showing disagreement with anyone who tries to defend another position. Rarely does a speaker actually get the chance to offer an alternative narrative. No argument, just abuse: “You lie”, or as Nigel Molesworth used to say, “Tu Quoque Oaf.” Similarly, attend anti-Israel demonstrations anywhere and you will hear invective, expletives, and roared hatred, with no room for reasoned discussion. This is now the norm everywhere, even in the USA.

So how is one to respond? The Englishman in me says to walk away, to not honor such primitivism with attention. It is beneath contempt. But there’s another voice that says, “No, give as good as you get.” If they want to shout lies, you can shout slogans back. The only language a bully understands is standing up to him. And that’s what I think this guy deserves. He needs to be told what a disgrace he is to a once-noble idealistic institution. What a stupid, immature idiot he is, whose face is so far up his own backside he thinks the rest of the world smells as badly as he does. Ah, that feels so good. Might not change anything, but I certainly feel better.

August 23, 2012

Marriage

There’s been a lot of discussion this past year about marriage--what it is and what it means to different people. Since my son, Avichai, gets married to Linda Benrimon this week, I thought it would be an appropriate topic.

What defines a Jewish marriage? It is true the Bible talks about a man "acquiring" a woman. But since he Talmudic era, we have called the ceremony "Kiddushin", sanctification, which literally means making something or someone special. Two human beings dedicate each other to each other within the context of the Jewish tradition.

The nuts and bolts of the wedding ceremony we have nowadays is the same one the Talmud describes nearly two thousand years ago. It is a combination of two processes mentioned in the Bible. First, the betrothal, Eirusin, which was a far more formal and strict process than our current concept of "engagement", that could and sometimes did take place years before the couple actually got to consummate the relationship and move in together. Then came the Nissuin, where the bride and groom physically set up house and home. This part is celebrated in the Seven Festive Blessings, the "Sheva Brachot".

The first part of the ceremony is contractual; the agreement to establish an exclusive relationship through a religious and civil obligation. This includes the ring and the Ketubah. Then, over a second cup of wine, come the seven blessings which are more poetic, romantic and theological. The Chupah adds another element, that of the symbolic house that the groom takes his bride into. In some communities instead of a structured Chupah they simply spread a tallit over the heads of the bride and groom to the same effect. Like "Kiddushin", the term "Chupah" is often used generically, to describe the whole marriage process in a legal and spiritual sense.

It is the mystical tradition that initiated the custom (now quite commonly adopted, but not essential) of the bride walking around the groom seven times. Walking seven times around is how one dedicates something to a spiritual purpose, such as land for burial. Solomon walked around the Temple seven times to dedicate it, and wits will remind you that Joshua walked around the walls of Jericho seven times and then they collapsed! But it is a symbolic way of the woman dedicating her husband, to mirror the way he dedicates her by putting a ring on her finger. The two sections of the ceremony actually echo the twin aspects of marriage; the physical material commitments and obligations on the one hand, and the romantic emotions of love on the other.

To most Jews, blessings are dry formulaic routines with little spirituality. In fact, they are very carefully constructed. They all include an invocation of God, which is a declaration of caring, as when parents bless their children. Then there is a specific reference to the act we are about to perform that describes it and invites us to think about its significance. The genius of the formulators was to find a simple accessible language that everyone could understand to express this relationship, the physical with the spiritual.

I am particularly fascinated by the seven "romantic" blessings that the rabbis composed. Not only is the language beautiful in its simplicity, but it contains a series of ideas that really underscore what "Kiddushin" should mean.

The opening blessing over wine is how all religious ceremonies are celebrated. It is something special and different, and places it within the world of physical pleasure and joy and the need to be grateful, to thank the Divine.

Then comes the invocation of life, creation. That’s where it all starts, and in this ceremony we are contributing to it. If we have been privileged to be part of the universe, we also have an implicit responsibility to appreciate it, develop it, and protect it.

The apogee of creation is humanity. There follow two blessings that concern humanity. There is the simple fact of life, but there is also a life well and fully lived. One can live a physical life very fully if one is fortunate as well as wise. But without a spiritual dimension there is something lacking. The two blessings celebrate our physical and our spiritual potential--two blessings, with the same "human" message.

Humanity, however, does not exist in a vacuum. One has to find one's place within a community. The next crucial ingredient of Zion represents our religious and social identities. Simply to be part of the human race is too inchoate and vague. We humans need to live within smaller economic, cultural, and religious subdivisions, to be aware of others beyond our own immediate selves and to be loyal to shared causes and ideal.

These blessings establish one’s position in relation to God and the universe. Then they turn to the most profound and creative relationship of one’s life. The final two blessings specifically refer to the bride and groom. The first blesses "the groom and the bride". The second blesses "the groom together with the bride". It is a subtle and intentional distinction that first emphasizes the individuality of each partner, the need to recognize the differences and needs of the other, then in the second blessing uses all the words we have for joy to celebrate the ultimate partnership, which is greater than the sum of the parts, in which the individual is encompassed within the marriage.

I find it quite amazing that these blessings were conceived and written so long ago by rabbis whom one normally associates with the dryness of law and authority, rather than the romance of poets. Genuine commitment involves the intellectual as well as the emotional, the obligations as well as the pleasures of romance. The texts of these blessings combine scholarship, theology, and poetry.

In no other Jewish ceremony are so many blessings recited. The idea of a blessing is the expression of our good wishes and hopes for the couple, together with God’s blessings that they should succeed in life. That is, after all, what all parents hope for when they stand with their children under the Chupah.

Every religious tradition has its own rituals, ceremonies, and favored phrases. There are other Jewish customs, like breaking a glass to recall the sad moments, personal and historical, which are present at any happy occasion. These rabbinic ideas are what make "Kiddushin" much more than what we in the West call "marriage", and are, for me, a constant source of admiration and pride in our heritage.

August 16, 2012

Ezra Golombok

Life is enriched by the range and variety of the people we encounter. Increasingly nowadays we confine ourselves to mental ghettos. Even within Judaism there are so many different people, different ideas and ideologies but all contributing in their different ways to the richness of our communities. I have benefitted in so many ways by the special individuals I have been privileged to meet, and occasionally I share some of them with you. This piece is concerned Ezra Golomkok, the editor and owner of Glasgow’s Jewish Echo, once the pride of Jewish Scottish journalism.

I arrived in Glasgow, my first permanent rabbinical position, in 1968. I was fresh from yeshivah in Jerusalem; young, idealistic and wet behind the ears. I knew I wanted to transform Orthodoxy in Glasgow from a minority pursuit regarded as unattractive and antediluvian, to one of wider interest and relevance. The majority of Glasgow Jews affiliated to Orthodox institutions by default. But Judaism for most of them was a social phenomenon rather than a spiritual one. I knew would have to try to show them a version of Orthodoxy that was thoroughly in tune with modern ideas and would not stand in the way of living in an open society. I was coming into a strong "enlightened" lay community often in conflict with its rabbinic leaders and with the inevitable rivalries and politics that characterize every Jewish community I have ever encountered.

I needed guidance and, above all, someone who knew the ins and outs of Glasgow like the back of his own hand. When I asked around, I found that there was one man whom everyone I spoke to complained about. The editor owner of the Echo. I knew then with absolute certainty that anyone so universally disagreed with just had to be the best possible mentor for me. I made the short journey from Giffnock to Paisley to find Ezra Golombok setting up the printing press with his own ink-stained hands in a shed of a printing factory, where it appeared he and a sweet elderly couple who did all the local reporting were the only employees.

I introduced myself. He looked up at me with disdain, told me he had no time for rabbis and I should get the hell out. I replied that I shared his disdain and he gave me a second look, offered me a cup of tea, and our friendship was born. He took me under his wing. He instructed me in the political quagmire of Glasgow Jewry, whom to avoid, whom to court. He gave me a weekly column in the Echo and a platform for my campaign. In no small measure, he helped me win over my congregation and the community. He didn’t agree with me much of the time, but I think he thought my sheer audacity was worth encouraging.

Every now and again he and I would play hooky. We would debate philosophical issues while we drove to the Trossachs or towards the Highlands and Islands. He took me on my first-ever skiing trip to Glen Coe. We schlepped some ancient wooden skis and hiking boots, but when we got there the snow had melted except for a mound of ice about six feet deep. Nevertheless, on principle, we slithered up and down it before heading home. Thank goodness, a few years later I went to Switzerland for the real thing.

His father, Zeev Golombok, had been an idealist and a dreamer who instilled a sense of communal responsibility, or perhaps obligation, into his son. In 1948, Ezra had been research chemist at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, Switzerland. But his father asked him to give up his academic career to come back to Glasgow to help him run the Jewish Echo. Two years later, with his doctorate under his belt, Ezra took over the editorship and ran it more or less singlehandedly for 42 years. Like his father, he was a good example of a transported Lithuanian Maskil. He was fiercely Jewish, but equally fiercely anti-clerical. He should have been devoting himself to academic research rather being confined to his printing shop in Paisley dealing with petty details of who was getting married to whom and when, or who was filling up the local burial plots. Ezra would upset his clientele by refusing personal announcements or advertisements from time to time when he did not approve of their wording or disagreed with their politics (or corruption). He was an idealist, a maverick, and a loner.

He was fortunate that he had an equally brilliant and nonconformist wife. She brought love, warmth, and sanity into his life, and two really cute and very bright kids. As a bachelor, I was always grateful for a good evening meal and a bit of family warmth, which Ezra and Susan offered me generously.

After a few years I left Glasgow and we both simply got caught up in our own lives. Apart from a couple of visits he made to Carmel and I to Glasgow, we lost touch. I had heard that the Echo had struggled to survive in a declining community. When I was in Glasgow, the Jewish community was near to 15,0000 strong; nowadays it's around 3,000. The Echo had been supported by the Glasgow Community Trust for a while. It finally closed in 1992. Attempts were made over the years to buy the newspaper, but neither father nor son considered making money a priority. They just did not think anyone else could preserve the character and quality of the paper or its commitment to the community. Ezra simply hung in there until there was nothing left.

Nowadays he is the director of the Glasgow-based Israel Information Office, a facility opened by the Israeli government to keep Scots better informed about Middle Eastern politics, the peace process, and other aspects of Israeli life. Ezra, ever the idealist, soldiers on. I thank him publicly for all he has done for a small but significant pocket of Jewish life in Scotland, and all he and his family have done for me. Happy 90th birthday, Ezra. Thirty years to go.

August 09, 2012

Ahavat Yisrael

I know I am supposed to love all of God’s creatures and more specifically, every Jew. Ahavat Yisrael, it is called. Every day of my life I am troubled by this paradox that I do not! Yet I manage to live with it. Some people seem to have it in abundance. Why can’t I? Was it my education, being brought up outside the community by an independent minded father? I was taught to read the rational, empirical philosophers who questioned and challenged the norms of society and demanded ethical standards of behavior of all.

I was encouraged to read and learn to recite the works of the great Israelite prophets with their constant calls to pursue justice, to decry corruption, to criticize failure, to plea for the weak and the disadvantaged, and to demand change. When I am asked why the heck I criticize other people for their failings, I always think of the Biblical prophets. They were rarely loved and usually hounded out of society. I am not privileged to share their but I do share their sense of alienation and dislocation.

I live according to Jewish Law. I love the intensity and contradictions of Torah. I pray and meditate with the Almighty daily. Yet I find myself alienated from so many of my Orthodox coreligionists. It has got so bad that I even to try to avoid gatherings because I know I am not going to enjoy the opinions I will hear expressed, whether political or theological. And if I feel disconnected amongst the religious it is even worse with those who have no sympathy for a religious way of life which is so central to mine. What is more, I am uncomfortable ideologically with secular Zionism; its attempt to replace Judaism has never got off the ground, and dehumanizing one's enemies, let alone those one disagrees with politically, is not a human feature I respect. And the excessive materialism that has now has infiltrated every sector of Jewish life is so unattractive I shrink from it too. It is so hard to find people I agree with.

This past weekend, Avrum Burg (son of post-Independence minister and former Head of the Jewish Agency), whom I knew many years ago, liked, and thought was a sort of soul mate, once again went into print to decry the state of Israel’s current moral and political malaise. Although there was nothing he said that I didn’t agree with, I felt sad that he felt the need to publish it in the New York Times, which gnaws away at Israel’s failings like a rat on a bone while juicer fare nearer by seems less attractive. And I always recoil when I see any one sided position that seems to ignore the shared responsibility that the other side has for the present impasse.

Suddenly I realize what my Ahavat Yisrael consists of. It is the love that defies logic. If I can criticize my co-religionists, why I don’t go further in condemning Israeli mistreatment of its own and others. Am I a coward? The answer is that I love Judaism and I love Israel with such a passion; I admit my bias. I am bound by an inexplicable mystical umbilical cord. But here’s my point. The prophets said what they said to the Israelites, to their own community, and they hammered away at them. That’s what Moses taught them to do, and so did their holy books. But they did not go bleating to the New York Times or The Guardian or Le Soir or anyone else who simply has no emotional involvement in the fate of the Jews. That’s where Burg and I part company.

I can read blogs that are highly critical of Israel, such as the Magnes Zionist; unlike Burg, he does address the internal audience, not the external one. And I can recognize I am too deeply ambivalent to express the full measure of my reservations. In part it is because I see the huge array of those who at best do not care and at worst seek our elimination. Just as I love my family, right or wrong, so being Jewish means having a family that, regardless of sibling rivalries, even hatreds, is still family; like any mother who sees her child attacked or found guilty but still loves and cares, so do I. Just as I suffer company I do not find congenial in silence, so too I suffer political failings of our people in partial silence.

We need families, but we also need nations. We are all still citizens of one universe and we must protect that too. No one I know has said it better in Judaism than the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook, in his poem Harmony in Four Parts, Orot Hakodesh II, p. 444:
There is a person who sings the song of his soul. He finds everything, his complete spiritual satisfaction, within his soul.

There is a person who sings the song of the nation. He steps forward from his private soul, which he finds narrow and uncivilized. He yearns for the heights. He clings with a sensitive love to the entirety of the Jewish nation and sings its song. He shares in its pains, is joyful in its hopes, speaks with exalted and pure thoughts regarding its past and its future, investigates its inner spiritual nature with love and a wise heart.

There is a person whose soul is so broad that it expands beyond the border of Israel. It sings the song of humanity. This soul constantly grows broader with the exalted totality of humanity and its glorious image. He yearns for humanity’s general enlightenment. He looks forward to its supernal perfection. From this source of life, he draws all of his thoughts and insights, his ideals and visions.

And there is a person who rises even higher until he unites with all existence, with all creatures, and with all worlds. And with all of them, he sings. This is the person who, engaged in the Chapter of Song every day, is assured that he is a child of the World-to-Come.

And there is a person who rises with all these songs together in one ensemble so that they all give forth their voices, they all sing their songs sweetly, each supplies its fellow with fullness and life: the voice of happiness and joy, the voice of rejoicing and tunefulness, the voice of merriment and the voice of holiness.

The song of the soul, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, the song of the world—they all mix together with this person at every moment and at all times.

August 03, 2012

Heresy

This week, after the sad fast of the Ninth of Av, two things cheered me up.

The American women gymnasts won the team gold and the team captain Aly Raisman ended their performance with a flawless dance routine to the sound of Hava Nagilah. Yes, I know the tune has become a cliché, but where else in the world (outside Israel, of course) would a Jewish gymnast stand proud and insist on a manifestly Jewish piece of music?

And this past week hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews gathered in New York and in Yad Eliyahu in Israel to celebrate the end of the seven-year cycle of daily Talmud study known as Daf Yomi. There’s no way you can really call it serious study--more speed reading than literary analysis. But whatever one's reservations, here is a religion that, for all its faults, glorifies and celebrates study, for its own sake and as a religious obligation, every day of the year, year in year out. The sad part of it is that most Jews have absolutely no idea of what wealth there is in their own religion.

So it is with mixed feelings that I raise an aspect of religious life I am not so proud about.

Way back in time, religious and civil authorities tried to cow their critics into silence by calling them heretics or traitors. Merely suggesting that a ruler or priest was wrong about anything would be enough to have a person tortured to death.

It has always struck me as amazingly enlightened that the Torah has no such notion. Cursing is about as far as the Torah goes towards condemning the use of words in a destructive way. Curses in those days were nothing like the commonplace swearing that everyone is familiar with now. Cursing someone was like a death sentence. Even today in parts of Africa, if the medicine man curses someone he or she apparently goes into a special hut and just dies. To curse God or a leader was an act of total rebellion and disassociation, undermining the foundation of the community. But there’s nothing in the Torah against disagreeing civilly with an idea or theological position. Indeed, arguing with or challenging the Almighty seems to have been almost a requirement of the early leaders of our people.

It was the Greek, philosophical emphasis on “correct thought” rather than “correct action” that condemned poor Socrates to death and then spawned a whole culture of theological correctness that had Christian killing Christian over whether Jesus was of God or like God or simply an agent. Our battles, on the other hand, were over relatively mundane issues, such as when the New Year fell or whether rabbis invented rules that Moses knew nothing about.

As the world became more theological, life got more complicated. The Talmud in Sanhedrin gives a list of ideas that define someone as heterodox. To be precise, holding certain views was, according to them, going to get you into trouble with God and you would forfeit your front row seat in Heaven. But no one was condemned to death for such opinions. What barred one from participating in religious society was public desecration of behavioral rules, not abstract ones or intangible ones like Life After Death, of which the rabbis themselves say, "No human has ever seen it (been there)."

The rabbis two thousand years ago fought hard to preserve a specific kind of Jewish identity against Samaritans, Sadducees, and then Christians. They defined the Jewish position as absolute loyalty to Torah and the rabbinic tradition that coexisted with it. They were fierce proponents of the idea of Life after Death even if they disagreed over definitions. They introduced such terms as Apikorus, derived from the Greek Epicurean, mainly to describe those materialists who opposed the spiritual concept of a higher spiritual world.

It was breaking Jewish Law that really got you into trouble, the Mumar, he who rebelled against living a Torah way of life, that was the worst term of exclusion. Indeed to this day, it is the Mumar who creates more halachic problems than the Kofer (the same word is used in Islam), one who ideologically rejects. It is one thing to doubt. It is another to completely discount. In the Passover Haggadah, for all the odium we heap on the Rasha, the bad son, for cutting himself off, I have yet to read an opinion that says we take him out and burn him at the stake. (He deserves some credit for at least being there.)

The Talmud also discusses the Zaken Mamre, the Rebellious Elder. If a halachic authority disagreed with the majority vote, that was his business, and indeed his minority opinion would be recorded for posterity. Only if he continued to preach and teach his minority opinion as the accepted law was he asked to leave the community and peddle his wares elsewhere. But expressing a view was not in itself a punishable offense. At least in this world, if not the next!

But sadly, over time we Jews adopted a witch hunting mentality. The philosophical books of Maimonides were burnt. In the aftermath of the Shabbtai Zvi and Frank rebellions against accepted practice, a whole wave of anti-Kabbalist heresy hunters scoured Europe for offenders. Great rabbis like Emden and Eybeschutz hurled insults at each other. Chasidim were officially banned, twice. Moshe Luzzato was slapped with a gag, and all of a sudden searching for heretics became a popular pastime amongst us too.

How sad. The very name calling, the unnecessary hatred, Sinat Chinam it is called, that caused the destruction of two Temples, two States, now became the common currency of Orthodoxy, battling to protect itself from the Enlightenment and Reform. Once the disease catches, it spreads. Anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews hurl insults at Zionist Orthodox Jews. The latest disgusting defacement of Yad VaShem, indeed the assassination of Rabin, came from Orthodox Jews. Different sects of Chasidim insult each other, and nowadays the inevitable splits within dynasties generate violence and hatred. Once you start dehumanizing your enemies, you end up dehumanizing your friends.

It is amusing that when I write something that is simply not the party line amongst the Orthodox, I get epithets such as Apikorus thrown at me. My shoulders are broad and insults, like curses, run off me like water off a duck's back. "Sticks and stones" and all that. But it is symptomatic of a mental pettiness that actually is itself a contradiction of Torah values. To scream "heretic" is not an argument. It is a sign of that person’s own limitations.