Women who fly, men who anchor

torah-bright

Watching the women athletes at Sochi, I was amazed at the physical and mental courage of the competitors, male and female. And then it occurred to me: what must the Taliban be thinking in Afghanistan, what must they think in Saudi Arabia, seeing women do death defying ski jumps? When I see the aerial skiing jumps, the bobsleigh rides, the ice hockey, the figure skating, I understand women can do almost anything physically that a man can do, and sometimes better. The thought that women should be locked away because of some ancient tribal law, or interpretation of a religious edict, is offensive. And yet, in Saudi women are not allowed to drive cars — for their own protection, of course! They are faced with all kinds of restrictions, such as not being allowed out of the house without a male relative to supervise them. Traveling on public transport is banned, but not enforced. In Afghanistan, the Taliban say girls must not go to school. Reading is okay for boys, but evil for girls. I don’t understand where these beliefs came from, but they sound suspiciously familiar: the same laws that were applied to slaves in America, Jews under the… Continue reading

Sin for beginners

Ned Flanders: I’ve done everything the Bible says — even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff! TRIBAL TABOOS Sin goes back to the earliest days of humanity; it was not called sin then, but breaking a taboo. These taboos were put in place for practical reasons, rather than spiritual reasons — incest, fouling waterholes, and killing clan members were not good for the tribe. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have elevated taboos into sin: a crime against God. In Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, the closest they get to the concept of sin is that wrong deeds have to be purged, usually by some unpleasant process. ORIGINAL SIN When God created humans, She gave them an instruction: do not eat from the apple tree (the tree of knowledge). But Adam and Eve disobeyed, thus they became the first sinners and — rather unjustly — all who were born after them were declared to be sinners from the moment of birth. That doesn’t leave us with much free-will! At least with Islam they do not believe everyone is cursed with original sin. We each create our own sin by ‘disobedience to God’, rather than inherit it. The concept of original sin did not appear… Continue reading

Best American Books, part 1

PART 2     PART 3 I have concentrated on books that have been popular over the years, books that have had an impact on society, books that have resounded in our thoughts, words, and actions. Books can influence a whole nation even if only a small number of people have read these books. Ideas spread like Twitter at a football match. These are the books that have shaped the American national identity. The books listed are a variety of  fiction, non-fiction, and auto/biography, but mostly fiction. They are in alphabetical order, not according to how valuable they are.   A FAREWELL TO ARMS Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms is a novel written by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant (“Tenente”) in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. A Farewell to Arms focuses on a romance between the expatriate American Henry and an English V.A.D. cadre, Catherine Barkley, against the backdrop of the First World War, cynical soldiers, fighting and the displacement of populations. The publication of this, Hemingway’s bleakest novel, cemented his stature as a modern… Continue reading

Best American books, part 2

PART 1     PART 3 LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN James Agee and photographer Walker Evans The book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men grew out of an assignment the two men accepted in 1936 to produce a magazine article on the conditions among white sharecropper families in the U.S. South during the “Dust Bowl”. It was the time of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs designed to help the poorest segments of the society. Agee and Evans spent eight weeks that summer researching their assignment, mainly among three white share-cropping families mired in desperate poverty. They returned with Evans’ portfolio of stark images—of families with gaunt faces, adults and children huddled in bare shacks before dusty yards in the Depression-era nowhere of the deep south—and Agee’s detailed notes. As he remarks in the book’s preface, the original assignment was to produce a “photographic and verbal record of the daily living and environment of an average white family of tenant farmers”. However, as the Literary Encyclopedia points out, “Agee ultimately conceived of the project as a work of several volumes to be entitled Three Tenant Families, though only the first volume, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, was… Continue reading