Can Predestination and Free Will Be Compatible?

this is something many people argue about

If there is one topic on which people of various religions disagree and argue, it is that of predestination vs. free will.  Those who do not realize these two concepts can be compatible even argue that God does not exist, that He does not care about people, and a whole host of other misconceptions.  The fact is the two concepts not only can be, but are, compatible.

One passage stands out:  Your eyes saw my unformed body, and on Your book they were all written; days have been formed and one of them is His (Psalms 139:16). It would seem this would put an end to the debate over whether a human being's life is random, or whether it is "planned out" in advance.  


However, it can lead to further debate--  those who insist it means human beings do not have free will at all, and those who insist it means tragedy and suffering must be "God's will."


Neither of these arguments are accurate.  While not intending to be flip, one can look at it like a movie one has seen before:  you may know everything that is going to happen, and you may know how it is going to end--  but knowing it does not mean orchestrating the actions of the characters or the settings.  Similarly, while God may know the details and span of one's life, that does not mean he is orchestrating it. 


Questioning can be tricky;  and often there are not clear, easy answers.  However, it does seem much better and much more logical than the belief that everything in life is random, or that God chooses suffering for His people.  His presence is there--  even in times when it does not seem to be. 

Mrs. Doubtfire, 700 Club? Really?

Exactly where does your morality line begin, again?

I am confused. While flipping through the channels to find something for my daughter to watch for movie night (due to my own poor planning and forgetting to visit the video store), I ran across a showing of Mrs. Doubtfire, a film that I thoroughly enjoyed around her age. It features Robin Williams before the disasters like RV, back in his prime when he was the Hollywood funny man. I sure miss those days.

For those who aren’t familiar with the rib-tickling movie, Williams plays a dad who is getting divorced. It doesn’t give you the sappy ever-after, mom and dad get back together ending you would expect; instead, it uses humor and humility (and a lot of cross-dressing) to help portray divorce in a more civil and average light. Families can still be families even if parents do not love each other anymore is basically the message, and Williams dresses up as an elderly female babysitter—and, later, television host—in order to help portray it.

So imagine my surprise that this film, which features both divorce and cross-dressing, was actually on the 700 Club channel. I didn’t put it on because of this fact (we don’t watch those channels in our house; who knows what kind of mind-numbing messaging will be present in the commercials, anyway?) but could not help but think of the irony here. This channel has hosted so many messages that denounce both divorce and the “gay lifestyle,” as so many of them put it, over the years, that you have to wonder where they’re drawing the line.

Is it because it’s just entertainment? Or because the dad is so not-gay and simply using the getup as a way to see his kids more often? I am not sure what the deciding factors were that went behind airing this film, but it’s got to be confusing for regular viewers. Of course, I’ve always wondered why the show airs the “family” show Who’s Line is It Anyway? since that show has always had many sexual, and some violent, overtones when I’ve watched it on other networks in the past. While I would definitely consider this film to be family-friendly, I would not hold that particular television show to the same standards.

And while I applaud the 700 Club for airing a movie that embraces the diversity of families and gay characters (Williams’ brother in the movie), I am still left confused. Why show this movie and maintain your anti-gay stance? Perhaps you should tear a page from the book that is your later-evening entertainment and start accepting everyone as they are—you know, like Jesus did.


Israeli Citizenship Ban

Sustained To Prevent National Suicide



    The judgment to ban citizenship possibilities for Palestinians marrying Israeli's is sustained.  Precedence for this ban is found in 2003 legislation that fumes about security and the need to maintain a Jewish-majority state. Human rights groups as well as civil rights groups have long seen this law as a violation of constitutional mandate. In the ruling given by Judge Asher Grunis, "Human rights do not prescribe national suicide".


       This is an incredibly dangerous precedence to establish from a certain point of view. The argument could quickly turn into a quagmire of nationalism, racism and anti-human rights. It is quickly underlined here that indeed Israel is a state situated in a region long held by Islam, that certain members of Islam have pursued violent means towards Israel and Israeli citizens, that there have been wars, that there is still war for Israel and perhaps ultimately there will never be peace.  Thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands on all sides have died through a time period stretching across the 20th century and well into the 21st century.

        What makes this sort of an argument particularly dangerous (as issued by Judge Grunis), is the precedence found in Germany and other countries prior to World War II. A time period also filled with economic upheaval, social adjustment, growing nationalism, racism towards those not of the same nationality/religion, and increasing violations of human rights associated with those of a different race. The precedence for this sort of a ruling immediately hails back to those sorts of legislative measures used by the German government against Jews in the years leading up to the Holocaust (badges or identification indicating Judaism, Jews cannot marry "natives" or Germans, Jews can only own certain businesses, Jews have travel restrictions, Jews can only attend certain schools, etc. etc. etc.).

        As Israel continues to fight for its freedom and security in perhaps the most unstable region of the world, it is important to remember the steps of history that lead down a path. A well trodden path, that with each new law's enactment it is like a paving stone laid that leads towards the next cycle of history.  It is noted also, that survival oftentimes comes at the highest of costs....the neutralizing of a threat. Israel is surrounded by threats, and this maybe one of the methods of survival.

Roadblocks To Peace

Rocket Attacks In Gaza

    Over the past several articles I have been covering some of the aspects visible in the continuing issues of the Middle East. It is quite certain that most people are familiar with many of the historical, social, and political issues that continue to arise in the diplomatic discussions and engagements that the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians have had over time and have at present.  The recent bid by the Palestinians for statehood at the United Nations is a bold marker that there is a desire to move forward, but even as that is being pushed into the media spotlight there is conflict in Gaza. (At left is a picture of a Qassam rocket displayed in a town hall, with pictures of residents killed in rocket attacks).

     In recent days militant Jihad operative and Islamic fundamentalists that profess ties with Al-Qaeda have staged several rocket attacks into Israel resulting in little damage. The Israeli response was more destructive, wounding at least ten individuals, and killing an important militant leader according to reports from the BBC and the Israeli military. The call to Jihad issued in Egypt several weeks ago has already resulted in death and suffering. Coming at a time when the Palestinians have recently scored diplomatic points, these attacks serve only to strain the relations that already stretch thinly like a veneer atop international diplomacy efforts.


    Though it would appear that the attacks stem from small operations groups or cells, the Israeli government views them as Hamas allies of sorts. These groups may not answer directly to the Palestinian Authority, however their continued operations within this territory would indicate that the authorities are turning a blind eye to the situation. These attacks will continue to be viewed in this light by the Israeli government so long as they continue to be based out of Gaza or any territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority.


Confrontations At The United Nations

Palestinians Renew Request for United Nations Full Inclusion


  The political progress in the Middle East is slow, but the support that the United States has shown for Israel through President Obama's speech at the United Nations is enormous.  The Quartet has issued an outline for peace that follows a year-long timeline and also expressed hopes that Israel and the Palestinians will return to the peace table. The application to the United Nations once again brings the plight of the Palestinian people, as well as the issues that seem to block peace into the international spotlight.

     In a series of political charged, rhetorical speeches President Obama of the United States, Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinians and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu each addressed the United Nations assembly.  The hall resounded with each of their rhetorical demonstrations, with the applause of their supporters and the quiet exits of those offended.  This was no day for the weak stomached as each leader presented the case of their nation and their desires.  The Palestinians push for United Nations acceptance, the United States said it would block if the vote ever came to United Nations Security Council, and Netanyahu maintains his stance seeking to maintain his conservative political backing in Israel.

     What is perhaps the most interesting when reading the Palestinian claim to status in the United Nations is the adept use of historical precedence.  The United Nations has already recognized various major provisions relating to the Palestinian people, having done so in 1947 and 1988.  The international community has already recognized the state in a number of respects.  The United Nations Security Council has also issued a number of historic statements and resolutions that include the need for a "two state solution for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict".

     It remains to be seen whether, after this weekend break,  the United Nations will follow through on the provisions, resolutions and statements issued over the years. Whether the Quartet will succeed in bringing the Israeli's and the Palestinians to the peace table.  Perhaps, even bring an end to the conflict that has raged in blood and lives for decades.

A Week In Review

Peace Talks to Resume?


  This past week was a week like few others in recent memory.  Newt Gingrich and additional candidates said that they would likely move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel according to the Jerusalem Post and confirmed by other media outlets.  Bold statements coming as the Quartet (photo at left shows representatives from the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations) express hopes that the Palestinians and the Israelis will make it to the peace table (JP).

   Perhaps, rash statements coming as unrest, bombings, attacks, and violence continues in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and many of the other countries in the region.  These countries, already upset with Western influences will more than likely look angrily at the United States if the embassy were moved.  In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has for many years attempted to bring about the resumption of Islamic law. In Syria, the leader of the Hezbollah made a rare appearance and expressed solidarity with other Islamic groups against the west.  Further, moves as the one Senator Gingrich proposes (though agreeable as it might sound) may cause catastrophic results for the Palestinian peace process due to the increasing pressure from surrounding states.  Still the elections are proceeding in Egypt and the author is monitoring updates from a third party source.

  It is now formally recognized that there are times when actually seeking the common good of peace is important. To throw the world quickly into further war is not the answer for global economic crises and many countries around the world recognize this fact (including the Quartet). That is why the United States envoy to Israel, Robert Shapiro, made the statements concerning the peace process and the resumption of some form of due process in Tel-Aviv.  As for the peace treaty Israel maintains with Egypt, the United States has expressed repeatedly that it sees the treaty as a cornerstone for stability in this incredibly volatile region.

Call For Jihad Issued

Sunni Protests in Egypt Call for Al-Aqsa Mosque Reclamation



           Destabilization continues in the Middle East.  Egypt has multiple protests at this point and multiple locations for those protests.  Even, as elections are coming for the people there is a deep concern that the military rule of the nation will continue.  However, it is not the Egyptian concern for military rule that particular concerns this article's author.  It is the continued rise of an old form of Jihad.  Here is a prime example of the dangers present to Israel from these new revolutions in the form of an additional third protest in Egypt.  Organized over the past several weeks this protest has avowed the following goal: "save Al-Aqsa mosque from Israel". 

            The protest was held at Al-Ahzar mosque, Egypt's highest Sunni mosque. It is the call to "liberate" Al-Aqsa mosque from Israel control that a great danger is present.  Al-Aqsa mosque is considered the third holiest site in Sunni Islam.  It's location tells the whole story of this would be developing Jihad in Egypt.  The mosque of Al-Aqsa is located near the Dome of the Rock complex in Jerusalem and is currently controlled by the Israeli authorities.  Suffice it to say, as the revolution of the youth in the Arab world continues their overall goals become more apparent.

            Among their goals, the removal of military rule of the civilian government, free elections, and somewhere among the currents of political thought is the idea of Jihad against Israel.  It is at this time a small voice echoing through the western media channels, however it is this author's personal view that the larger media outlets are closely watching this as they publicize these revolutions and they are carefully choosing how much of their information to reveal to the public at large.   

The Arab Winter

Continued Destabilization, A Threat to Israel?

It is almost the Arab winter.  The Arab spring turned to summer, and then to fall, and now we approach winter and unrest throughout the Middle East continues unabated.   The destabilization of the region has increased an already volatile region into violent clashes between protesters and their would-be-governments.   The power of the personal computer as represented through blogging, up-to-date news, and a host of social functions has allowed, what appears to be a younger generation's rise to power through protest and international focus and attention.  

      None of this information is particularly new "news" to most people.  However, the increase of violence in these uprisings is showing the emotional/psychological state of many in this vast region.  Whether or not all generations are in agreement as to what their particular goals might be they still move forward with destabilizing their governments.  The sources of strength that these protestors are relying on are in all reality radical formats of the same thing they are overthrowing.   Religious movements that are espousing additional platform ideas support them, and they are bent on radical implementation of Moslem laws and possibly a poll tax for any who are not Moslem (and this writer does not doubt other measures, that Jews are already familiar with from history).

        The overthrow of many of the old dictatorships in the Middle East, signals the seasons of change in the region.  However, as Syria destabilizes (the traditional citadel of Arab nationalism in the region), Arab leaders are inviting protest organizers to join them in the Arab League.  This is bold marker for policy makers in the region and signals a recognition of weakness....Namely, they are thinking, "Hey, we don't seem to be winning, we cannot repress these people enough, the international community is crying out against such actions.  So, we can't beat them, so let's have them join us." It could be said that this is a very simple assessment of this complex region to be sure, however this is age-old policy "if you can't beat 'em, join em (or in this case include them in your power)'".

         What is definitely assured is that as old governments fall and new ones come into place, treaties between Israel and some neighbors will need to be re-evaluated and addressed once more.  The destabilization in Egypt has lead to a rise in the numbers of radical and extreme Islamic fundamentalists in the Sinai region.  This is one of the first regions Israel invaded during the Seven Day's War, when they drove all the way to Cairo before the International community's outcry brought about the end of the Israeli counterattack on Egypt.  The current and interim leadership of Egypt may remember that war and how costly it was to the nation, on the other hand they may not.  It is in wanting to amend history, to "right" the history of their nation, that the greatest danger to Israel from the south arises.

Kosher Wine

Many Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have grown up with an understanding of kosher wine. Specifically, most know of the sweet, low-alcohol varieties made from concord grapes, namely Manischewitz and Mogen David. But what exactly separates kosher wine from non-kosher wine? And just as importantly, are those things relevant to modern Jews?

There are a lot of details that go into what exactly makes wine kosher, but most of it has to do with issues much larger than wine production itself. On the surface, the only real concern for modern Jews who keep kosher is what fining agents are used in a wine's production. In wine crafting, the process of fining is the use of certain organic processes to eliminate impurities in the wine that can't be mechanically filtered out. Many organic fining agents are strictly non-kosher, while others can contribute to making a meal non-kosher. Strictly forbidden fining agents like powders made from animal blood are essentially never used in the modern day, but products derived from dairy still are. Since it is against kashrut to mix meat and dairy, this can result in an inadvertently non-kosher meal.

But the concept goes deeper than that and has a lot more history to it. Classically, the most significant point of concern in kosher wine production is the assurance that every step in the process, from grape growing to fermentation, sale and handling of bottles, is in the hands of observant Jews. This more or less guarantees that the agriculture of the grapes is kosher (a much more involved concept) and that the final product has not been tampered with.

In the case of the latter, safe food was a major concern for Jews in the pre-modern world. Even into the 1700's and beyond, Jews were regularly accused of poisoning non-Jewish food and water sources. Tight control of something like ritual wine wasn't just a matter of religion, but a matter of community security against reprisal for a perceived poisoning attack.

When it comes to the agriculture surrounding wine production, there are a whole host of laws and Talmudic rulings concerning agriculture and business. There is most definitely a difference, especially in antiquity, between a kosher and non-kosher farm. This relates to everything from how the farmer treats the soil, to how the farmer treats animals and workers on the farm. The laws of kashrut mean to avoid indirectly supporting unethical farming and business practices, thus the insistence of using only products from respected, observant Jews according to the rulings of Jewish judges. In times of polytheistic dominance, there was also some concern about Jews interacting with idol-worshipping cultures who also employed wine as a holy libation.

As is the case with a lot of long-standing matters of traditional law, there is a divide in modern society between different sects of Judaism. Orthodox communities still hold to the letter of the law concerning wine, while Conservative groups are a bit more lenient depending on certain discussions that took place among respected rabbis in the 1960's and 1970's in regard to the automation of wine production in the United States. For Reform and other progressive Jewish communities, all wine produced using modern standards of cultivation and craft are acceptable for ritual purposes, as most progressive Jewish communities either keep no kosher laws or are fairly lenient about them.

As for those classic concord varieties, those are merely the most common kinds of kosher wine in America. They are by no means the only kinds available. Many companies have filled the market with higher quality kosher wine, especially vineyards based out of Israel. Kosher wine does not need to be synonymous with sickly-sweet wine made from, let's face it, the wrong kind of grape.

Areleh Harel and Gay Marriage in Judaism


Recently, an orthodox rabbi named Areleh Harel has received some media attention for his unconventional solution to the question of same-sex attraction in Judaism. Rabbi Harel has been performing weddings of homosexual men to homosexual women in an attempt to give them a place in the orthodox community, including the creation of families. This service has been extended to an online matchmaking service intended to pair homosexual Jews for just such unions. This, naturally, begs the question: Is this correct according to Jewish philosophy?

In one sense, Rabbi Harel is well within his rights and in another he is not. Strictly speaking, orthodox Judaism doesn't even recognize the validity of homosexuality, so Harel's method is really no more philosophically problematic than marrying a self-identified homosexual to a self-identified heterosexual. Jewish marriage being a contract between two consenting individuals, it doesn't necessarily require sexual attraction to be valid.

Of course, there are laws of halacha, the standards and practices of orthodox Judaism, concerning the duties a husband and wife have to one another. This is somewhat more problematic. The law is clear about the necessity of consent in sex between spouses and the matter of consent is murky at best in the case where an individual agrees to engage in sex but doesn't strictly want to. The best case scenario for Rabbi Harel's couples is that they simply won't ever desire sex with one another and so the matter of consent will never arise, or at least not unless the couple ishes to have a child, in which case the act of creation will be no less a mitzvah for the lack of sexual pleasure involved.

From a progressive perspective, Rabbi Harel's approach is needlessly complicated. Seeing as an individual cannot live both a homosexual and orthodox Jewish lifestyle, it's up to the individual to decide between his or her faith and his or her identity. If one accepts the modern psychological premise that homosexuality is not a choice, then it is a lie to live a heterosexual lifestyle just to maintain an orthodox philosophy.

Personally, I would argue that the potential harm of Rabbi Harel's weddings is too likely and too great to be in keeping with the core of Jewish philosophy. Should these couples have children, they put those children at risk of experiencing a broken home that is highly likely considering that the marriage requires both parties to maintain relationships neither their hearts nor bodies desire. It is simply irresponsible to raise a child in a home that is so likely to disintegrate or, possibly worse, persevere through lies, self-denial and extremely limited affection.

The truth is, living a homosexual lifestyle doesn't even preclude an individual from maintaining a devout Jewish lifestyle, minus the prohibition of homosexuality itself. An individual can perform all necessary rituals, live a life of mitzvah and even be a parent while living openly as a homosexual. In this modern world where so many children have no parents at all, isn't adoption a deep and ongoing mitzvah itself? Rabbi Harel's heart may be in the right place, but his attempt to build a fence around this particular segment of the Torah is simply backward. There are far better, more compassionate and more reasonable ways to address the fact of homosexuality through the lens of Jewish philosophy than to ask homosexual Jews to ignore or actively attack who they truly are.