Walk Like an Egyptian: My Latest Post at Open Zion

In which I tackle a common defense of the Israeli right’s proposed anti-NGO laws, and show that it doesn’t fly elsewhere:

Ofir Akunis has some new friends. Akunis, a Likud minister and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, is best known for sponsoring legislation to ban select Israeli NGOs from receiving foreign-government donations of more than 20,000 shekels (roughly $5,000). Defending the bill in a Israel Hayom op-ed against criticism that it is illiberal, he called it necessary to preserve Israel’s sovereignty, and wrote, “I do not know of any country in the world that tolerates external interference in its domestic affairs.”

I’m sure he’ll be pleased to hear that Cairo agrees. The Egyptian Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs recently released a draft of new legislation on Egyptian NGO’s, and it looks like they don’t brook any foreign interference either.  Like Akunis’s bill, the Egyptian law would restrict foreign contributions; the law comes on the heels of Egypt’s denying licenses to eight U.S. based NGOs, for reasons of “national sovereignty.” (The eight include the Carter Center, named after former president Jimmy Carter, so it looks like Akunis and Egypt’s custodial government even share an enemy.)

Read the rest.

Trans Memoirs in Tablet

My review of Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger and Joy Ladin’s Through the Door of Life was published this morning at Tablet. Here’s a sample:

You might expect transgender Jews to see Jewish law and tradition as constricting or limiting, full of static categories and lines that must not be crossed. But two new memoirs by male-to-female transsexuals suggest otherwise: Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger and Joy Ladin’s Through the Door of Life use Jewish tropes and themes to explore the authors’ identities, with surprising results.

For Bornstein and Ladin alike, Jewish boundaries around sex and weird gender hang-ups—whether the pressures of passing Jewish manhood between generations, or God’s sexless aphysicality—provide productive language for expressing transgender experience. Bornstein is an award-winning writer, performer, and queer activist, whose sprawling memoir chronicles a journey across continents, religious traditions, and (many, many) partners. The pained Jewish masculinity of Bornstein’s youth formed the backdrop for an eventual embrace of Scientology; though she may not intend this, it also helps explain and frame her subsequent rejection of Scientology.

Ladin, a professor of English literature at Yeshiva University’s Stern College, has written a more claustrophobic book, which tracks journeys that are less physical than psychological. She writes about attempting to save a strained (and then broken) marriage, and she explores the process of transition in close detail. But religion—and Judaism in particular—also plays a key role in her book. She found, in her idiosyncratic reading of the Bible, a God as alien to the physical world as she was to her male body. Both books illustrate a deeper point. For people negotiating complex and unfamiliar relationships to gender, religion affords some of the only language intense and strange enough to understand experiences that defy social and sexual norms.

For the rest, head over to Tablet.

On the Founder of Jews for Jesus

My review of Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus is up at the Forward. Here’s the first bit:

Before he founded Jews for Jesus, Moishe (at the time, Martin) Rosen took business classes and sold fishing rods. Taking employment at a sporting goods store rather than at his father’s junkyard was Rosen’s first rejection of his ancestral legacy, his first apostasy. But his sales career — later he also sold cameras and cemetery plots — foreshadowed something beyond a simple conversion to Christianity. According to a new biography by his daughter, Ruth Rosen, the famous evangelist never really left sales.

The business classes Rosen took at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, a technical school in Denver, seem to have influenced his career as a “fisher of men” far more than his theological education at Northeastern Bible Institute did. Certainly, he was never much of a religious thinker. Rosen converted at age 21 after his young wife found Jesus, because he couldn’t convincingly refute the missionary pamphlets she brought home. His was a simple faith: Rosen saw every lucky turn as a gift from God. God gave him used winter coats, a $5 refund check, a tip-off about tire trouble and complimentary obstetric care for his wife. But Rosen didn’t talk much about the reverse problem: undeserved suffering. And he shrugged off biblical criticism as easily as he did theodicy. Liberal ideas, he explained, just “didn’t speak to me.” Richard Harvey, a Jews for Jesus missionary who became an academic theologian, is quoted as ruing the lack of a coherent “Moishe Rosen messianic Jewish theology.”

Read the rest here.