Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin Whitewashes Islamophobia

I have a new blogpost up at Open Zion. Here’s a taste:

Only three weeks since Passover, and some people already need refreshers.

Over at Commentary, Jonathan Tobin argues that Islamophobia in the United States must be a myth because… look! the Muslims are breeding like rabbits. Citing newly released census data showing that the population of American Muslims more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, Tobin asks: “Is it possible or even likely that Islam would be thriving in the United States if it were not a society that is welcoming Muslims with open arms and providing a safe environment for people to openly practice this faith?”

Yes, it’€™s very possible. Let’s start with the Passover story: in particular, Exodus 1:12, in which the Egyptians discover that, “€œthe more they afflicted [the Israelites], the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.” It looks like Tobin skipped that section of the haggadah.

Read the rest here.

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.

A Nice Jewish Boycott

Another of my blogposts is up at Zion Square, in which I take on Jeffrey Goldberg’s visceral distaste for boycotts of Jews. Here’s the opener:

Jeffrey Goldberg disapproves of my dietary choices. In a string of tweets criticizing Peter Beinart’s call for a selective boycott of the occupation, Goldberg says that although he’s been “arguing against settlements forever”, he still thinks “boycotting other Jews is a painful, unnatural act.” In a blog post, Goldberg explained that he finds “economic warfare targeting Jews so distasteful, for obvious historical reasons,” presumably alluding to the terrible history of anti-Semitic boycotts.

Trouble is, I’m practicing my own economic warfare against Jews—or rather, certain Jews. As an observant Jew with a bleeding heart, I try to eat out at only those restaurants with a Tav HaYosher, a seal of approval granted by the Orthodox social justice group Uri L’Tzedek to New York based kosher restaurants that observe labor laws.

In other words, when they don’t meet those standards, I boycott.

Go to Zion Square for more.

An Interview with Rahel Berkovits in the Forward

Last month, I interviewed Rahel Berkovits for The Jewish Daily Forward: Berkovits is an Orthodox feminist in Jerusalem, a founder of flagship partnership minyan Shira Hadasha, and an all around cool person.

Though the piece ran in the print paper (on 2/17/12), it hasn’t appeared online. Here’s a pdf of the interview (or the print excerpt thereof).

Zion Square Launches

The blog at which I work, Zion Square, launched this morning. The launch is pretty exhilarating, especially after months of preparatory work. You can read a post by my boss, Peter Beinart, explaining what Zion Square hopes to be and why it needs to exist. You can also look directly at the writing we’re featuring, including Gershom Gorenberg’s very sharp op-ed comparing current rhetoric around Iran to rhetoric before the 1967 war. I look forward to posting more Zion Square stuff here—potentially even pieces by me.

My New Professional Blog

Welcome to my new professional blog. You can use this site to see examples of my work, read a little bit about me, or follow my work as it is published.