February 2011

On The Revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa

For over a month now, several nations in Africa and the Middle East have been experiencing an unprecedented period of unrest in the form of popular demonstrations against those nations' governments, some of them escalating to full-scale revolution. This wave began as peaceful protests in Tunisia and echoed to nearby Egypt where the people, with the support of their military, ousted long-time president Hosni Mubarak and are now in the process of re-ordering their country under the promise of improved human rights, public representation and personal freedom. Other nations have seen more turmoil and violence in their own call for change. For the past several days, the country of Libya has been on the brink of civil war, elements of its own military defecting in protest against orders of assault against civilians.

Because the countries experiencing this transformative period are predominantly Muslim and several of them have been openly hostile to Jews and to Israel for some time now, the question of if and how Jews should support the revolutions is complex.

Love Stories in the Torah

There has long been a debate in academic circles about when the concept of romantic love was popularized. While there's no doubt that the emotions associated with infatuation and attraction precede the social constructs meant to formalize romantic behavior, it certainly becomes harder to find depictions of romantic love the farther back in the history of storytelling we look. There are plenty of pairings described in the Torah, though few of them directly describe the emotions those figures feel for one another. Prototypical couples like Adam and Eve or Abraham and Sarah are described in rather matter-of-fact language that can make their relationships seem cold and merely functional, a means to procreate and achieve material security. This isn't to say that passion and affection are absent from the Torah. As with everything else in those texts, every description and omission has meaning. Plainly, if the Torah describes the feelings two of its figures have for one another, there's a lesson to be learned from them.

Judaism and Tattoos

It's reasonably well known that Judaism forbids tattoos, though few people know why this law was originally instituted and why tattoos still don't make much philosophical sense today. Like many things in Judaism, the reason as stated in the Torah doesn't necessarily connect with a relevant, modern mindset, at least not directly. This doesn't mean the rule is outdated, exactly. Let's take a closer look at the prohibition of tattoos in Judaism.