Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Mossad Strikes Again

The New Zealand media (followed by other media outlets and Honest Reporting) is all abuzz about an alleged spy scandal that the Israeli who died in the Christchurch earthquake was a Mossad agent.

Having lived in New Zealand for the first 20 years of my life I can assure you that not much happens there, so a spy scandal makes for great entertainment.

According to the Southland Times (link has since been updates with confirmation that the story is false) that originally broke the story, the story is basically that (from the original article):

Three Israelis were among the 181 people who died when the earthquake destroyed most of Christchurch's central business district on February 22. One was found to be carrying at least five passports.

An unaccredited Israeli search and rescue squad was later confronted by armed New Zealand officers and removed from the sealed-off "red zone" of the central city.

The response of the Israeli government to the three deaths appears extraordinary. In the hours after the 6.3 quake struck:

  • Prime Minister John Key fielded the first of four calls that day from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Israel's Ambassador in the South Pacific, Shemi Tzur, who is based in Australia, booked flights to Christchurch, where he visited the morgue.
  • Israel's civil defence chief left Israel for Christchurch.
  • A complete Israeli urban search and rescue squad was assembled and flown to Christchurch, arriving about the same time as ...
  • Three people who had smashed their way out of a van crushed by a concrete pillar in the central city, leaving a fourth person dead in the vehicle, arrived back in Israel.

Soon after the article was printed, it was debunked by the DimPost, but in case you need it spelling out, there is nothing unusual or suspicions about this story. Nothing, zero, just people acting as you would expect (it must have been another slow news month in New Zealand, for about the 200th month in a row).

The Southland Times that originally broke the story got so many verifiable facts wrong it's surprising that the editors let it print, let alone on the front page. But in case the editors missed the non-news of this item, here are the facts:

  • Turns out that the Israeli was not carrying 5 passports, just one – it is however possible that the 4 people in the car had multiple passports between them – not particularly newsworthy.
  • The Israeli PM called the New Zealand PM because Israelis were hurt and Israel is often the first to offer assistance after a major disaster, just ask the PM of Haiti, Japan, Turkey, or any other country which as suffered a major natural disaster.
  • Shemi Tzur is not “Israel's Ambassador in the South Pacific … based in Australia”, he is Israel's Ambassador to New Zealand based in Wellington. I realize that Wellington is in the North Island, but I would have thought that the fine people of the Southland Times would have heard of it, after all it is their capital city. This is the most glaring error, because it is so obviously wrong and would have been easy to check.
  • The three people who smashed their way out of the vehicle left the country the next day were following directives of both the Israeli and New Zealand Governments who recommended that all travellers who are able to leave as quickly as possible.
    I guess Israelis following government directives are by definition suspicious and were probably Mossad.
  • This Israeli Search and Rescue team were trying to help even though they didn’t have authorization from the NZ Government.
    I guess Israelis going against government directives are by definition suspicious and were probably Mossad.
So basically the entire story was that an Israeli died in the earthquake, his travelling companions followed government directives and returned home to Israel, Bibi Netanyahu called the NZ Prime Minister to offer assistance, and an Israeli search and rescue team arrived without being asked.

Except for the fact that there was no illegal, suspicious, or even unusual activity there is every reason to believe that this was a good spy story.

Like I said, it’s been a slow news decade in New Zealand, almost like last decade.

No true Scotsman (or Yid) …

I just saw one of the most disgusting responses to last week’s tragic murder in Boro Park.

This letter printed on The Yeshiva World, and other places, puts the blame for the murder on Klal Yisrael, in particular our “Goyisha type materialism”. Of course Pizza, Sushi, Large houses, and Tznius are the reasons that this little boy was murdered – not only that, but the “Bedika of Shechita is very lax”. No indication as to how much Pizza or sushi this little chassidic boy ate, how big his house was, or how often he did spot inspections of Shechita knives before purchasing meat.

To make the letter even worse, it claims to have been written by “a handicapped child” without even attempting to mimic the style of a child, let alone a handicapped child.

But what made me laugh was the following paragraph:

A true Yid would never kill a child as this man did, only if he is totally deranged. And even so, a real Yiddishah Neshomah could never be guilty of such cruelty; therefore he died Al Kiddush Hashem. The Goyishkeit in us is what killed him.

Without even trying, the author of the letter paraphrased the “No True Scotsman” Argument:

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing."

—Antony Flew, Thinking About Thinking

Wikipedia describes this type of argument as an intentional logical fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion.

Hat Tip: Wolfish Musings

Monday, July 18, 2011

Herman Cain Said What About Islam?

As Americans are getting ready for the 4-yearly power pageant (AKA Presidential Elections), the entire world gets an entertaining several months as Americans put on the ultimate reality show – primaries.

Even though I am not an American and don’t get a vote, I love following US politics and always have candidates that I’m rooting for, much like many Israelis root for various English soccer teams.

One of the GOP candidates who initially impressed me but may have just lost my support is Herman Cain. In the early debates he struck me as about the only rational speaker, however his approach to religious freedom seems to be seriously misguided with reports that he said that communities 'Have the Right' to Ban Mosques.

Cain was quotes as saying:

"Let's go back to the fundamental issue that the people are basically saying that they are objecting to, … They are objecting to the fact that Islam is both religion and (a) set of laws, Shariah law. That's the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it's just about religious purposes.

I’m not sure what Cain defines as “traditional religions”, but I can think of at least one other established religion widely practiced in the US which defines itself as “both a religion and a set of laws”.

Hint – the religion is widely practiced in Israel, and the set of laws is not called Shariah, rather it’s Halacha.

The US is correctly concerned about Islamic extremism, but if a GOP candidate defines the all aspects of Islam unacceptable to the point that he feels that mosques could be banned anywhere, than as a religious Jew, I am very concerned about the direction the world’s uni-power is headed.

I hope that Cain issues a clarification. In the mean time, I’m headed back to the list of GOP candidates to see if there is anyone else worth rooting for.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Can we use computer analysis to prove that G-d Wrote the Torah?

For many years various outreach organizations, most notably Aish Hatorah have used the “Torah Codes” to “prove” that the Torah must have been written by G-d.

Basically the argument was that using “highspeed computer analysis of the letters of the Torah” they found hidden messages that could not have been put there humanly which proves that the Torah was written by G-d who decided to hide secret messages in the Torah in this manner.

There are many flaws in this argument

  • Similar codes can be found in other text
  • The Torah we have is not letter-for-letter identical to older manuscripts. The Rama on Shulcah Aruch (Orach Chayim 143:4) says explicitly that an extra letter or missing letter does not invalidate a Torah Scroll, as our Torah Scrolls are not so accurate.
  • In spite of what Aish claims at Discovery seminars, the codes have been reviewed by statisticians, and rejected as a statistical anomaly which would prove that there is unique about the patterns of letters in the Torah.

However, the biggest problem with basing belief in the Divine Authorship of the Torah on computer generated statistical analysis is what would happen if there was computer-generated Statistical Analysis that indicates that the Torah was written by multiple authors?

Well, now we’ll find out. NPR has an article on recent statistical and linguistic analysis which indicates that “multiple hands wrote the Bible”.

Unlike the Torah Codes, this analysis has gone through a robust scientific process and was not written by people who had an agenda to prove or disprove anything about the Torah, in fact 3 of the 4 scientists that worked on the project are religious Jews that belive in the Divine Origin of the Torah. The analysis was developed to analyze historical and modern texts, not specifically to analyze the Torah.

I accept as a tenent of our Faith that HaShem revealed Himself on Sinai and gave to Moshe the Torah, however I don’t believe that we need to find secret codes to prove or disprove that article of faith.

I would be interested to see a response from Aish HaTorah or other outreach organizations that taught that you can base or strengthen faith based on computer-generated textual analysis.

Hat Tip: Modern Orthoprax and DovBear