Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Pomegranate: from Meir to Soloveichik

On March 5, 2017 our Talmud Circle finally reached the long anticipated pomegranate on page 247 of our Steinsaltz, Berakhot 36a. And, of course, the pomegranate graces the front cover. Why is it there? “The fruit is hidden,” suggested David Berlutti in class. “You read this book and it gets revealed.”

The pomegranate is just past its season, typically September through February in the Northern Hemisphere. It has been cultivated in Persia and throughout the Mediterranean basin and India for thousands of years. It appears on coins uncovered from temple times.

God spoke of it. “And you shall make holy garments” for my priests, God instructed (Ex. 28:2). “Make the robe of the ephod all of blue,” he said. “On its skirts you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet stuff, around its skirts, with bells of gold between them, a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate round about on the skirt of the robe.” Ex. 28:31-33. God was insistent about pomegranates.

Solomon listened. He had the pillars of his temple engraved with pomegranates (1 Kings 7:18).  “Behold, you are beautiful,” he cooed. “Your eyes are doves behind your veil . . . your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate” (Song of Solomon 4:1-3). They say he designed his crown after the pomegranate’s crown.

The Uncircumcised Fruit

The pomegranate fruit is a berry with its inedible outer husk protecting hundreds of luscious ruby red juicy seeds. The number of seeds can vary from 200 to 1400, but by Talmudic tradition there are 613 seeds: one seed for each mitzvah.

The pomegranate is mysterious, holy like the womb, like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It is orla: it generally takes three years to produce edible fruit. Orla is also that which conceals something else. It is uncircumcised fruit. We must remove its husk like the foreskin from a penis.

In Kabbala, they say that, like the seeds of the pomegranate, God’s presence in the world is often concealed from our eyes and we have to find it. Jacob wakes from his dream and says “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16) It’s a huge move, says Peretz, from idol worship—which is evident, on the surface—to the idea “I was dreaming and my head was on the ground, and God was here and I did not know it” (until I perceived it). To discover that which is hidden involves a mystical journey. And you can get to it, like opening a pomegranate.

Why do we say 100 blessing a day? The commandment is not hidden on a mountain, or on the seas, or in the stars; where is it that this comes from? It’s in us. That’s the revolutionary move of Deuteronomy is what I heard Peretz say. It’s all in us, and we have to find it: in our mouths, like pomegranate seeds.  Torah runs with this idea, says Peretz. It’s what Heschel meant when he said “When I pray I talk to God, when I study, God talks back to me!” When God says "Build me a place among you” he really means “in” you; in us.  The journey produces the change. If we say Brakhot it will have an effect.

Orla is a fruit which needs three years for the interior to ripen. It is that which conceals something else. Lemons are orla, but the pomegranate is the ultimate orla. It is message laden; metaphoric. That’s why it’s on the cover of Talmud. That’s why it’s all over Jewish art. 613 seeds and full of mitzvoth. The seed of life. The tree of knowledge—the Hebrew word used in Genesis for the apple in the tree of knowledge of good and evil is ta-poo-ah, which has been rendered as apple in the Greek and Christian traditions, but which could also be rendred as pomegranate. The pomegranate, of course, is one of the seven species.
The Seven Species
Aside 1: When next you visit the West Bank to check on the occupation, and a young IDF soldier asks you “What’s in your backpack?” don’t look in your phrase-book for the translation of pomegranate (“rimon”) because “rimon” also means “grenade.”

Aside 2: Pomegranates are hard to open. You need a big knife and newspapers to contain the mess. “Yes, it’s the messiest fruit on earth,” confirmed David Berlutti. You need expertise to open it and get at those gorgeous, juicy, ruby red seeds. It’s a metaphor for hard study, says Peretz.  And it’s erotic because it looks like a womb; a well impregnated womb.

Aside 3:  An image of the womb in Kabbala: it’s the kindest place you ever were at: cared for unconditionally and you never had to say thank you. 

The pomegranate: open it and there is life. 

The Pomegranate and learning from neo-Kantian Liberalism

“How could Rabbi Meir learn Torah from the (filthy) mouth of Acher (Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya)?” So wondered the rabbis in Talmud Chagigah 15b. How indeed? Acher, born sometime before 70 CE, flourishing late in the first century and early second century, was a notorious Hellenist. This was frowned upon. “The lips of a priest ought to preserve godly knowledge,” say Resh Lakish and others. After all, a priest is the messenger of God, and how can we trust this messenger if he spends his days thinking about new fangled Greek ideas, much less speaking of them? 

But Rava came to Rabbi Meir’s defense. “I descended to a chestnut garden, to see the buds of the wadis,” says a beautiful line from the Song of Songs. “We all know that wadis are muddy, full of excrement . . . yet there grow the beautiful buds,” suggests Rava. “And there, do we not also find chestnuts, and dates, and even pomegranates? And we think of the chestnut: just because it is smeared with mud and excrement, what is inside does not become disgusting.”

“Yes, and we can eat the date, yet discard the pit,” adds Rav Dimi.

Rabbah bar Sheila went to find Elijah the prophet, that whimsical figure who sits suspended half-way between heaven and earth. “What’s God up to?” asks bar Sheila.

“God is having a discussion from the mouth of all the rabbis,” says Elijah, “but he is not including anything from the mouth of Rabbi Meir (because he fraternized with Elisha ben Abuya the Hellenizer!).”

But bar Sheila’s not buying it: not from Elijah and not from God! “Why on earth would God not repeat anything from the mouth of Rabbi Meir,” says Sheila. “Rabbi Meir is a good guy!”

“Because he learned from the (filthy) mouth of Acher,” says Elijah.

“Tell God when he is having a discussion from the mouth of all the rabbis, He should include Rabbi Meir,” says Sheila. “Rabbi Meir found a pomegranate; he ate its inside and disposed of its rind!”

You gotta love the spirit and playfulness of this passage (paraphrased) from Talmud Chagigah 15b that Peretz brought to class . . . .

Aside 4: Rabbi Meir is very prominent in the Talmud. He was the teacher of Judah HaNasi, the redactor of the Mishna in Zippori. He was married to Bruriah, one of the few women scholars mentioned in Talmud. Meir was a student of two polar figures: Akiva and Elisha Ben Abuya.  Abuya pursued rationalism; Akiva Talmud. Milton Steinberg’s novel, “As a Driven Leaf” (2000) is built on the stories of Akiva and Elisha Ben Abuya.

Aside 5:  This Rabbi Meir story is a typical Talmudic homily: the rabbis of the Talmud know all these characters. It begins with a rhetorical question:  How could Meir learn Torah from Acher (Elisha ben Abuya)? Malachi 2:7 refers to the priestly benediction: in synagogue, when a Cohanim is brought forward, he covers his face, takes off his shoes—he is the messenger of God.  He has only restricted speech.  He can’t say “other things.”  He should only be quoting Torah, not spouting Plato. 

Aside 6.  Talmudic writing: Talmud plays with what’s before and what’s after. This story presents a good example of this. The rabbis and God and Elijah are having a conversation out of time. And Talmud uses Greek forms: parables (stories), parabolic plots (twist endings, surprise), hyperbolic statements (overstatement), rhetorical questions, homilies (lessons inserted). At some level they are all Hellenists. Every once in a while you have archival elements that bring back hidden memories. Sometimes a collection of stuff broken down. 

And, of course, the rabbis of the Talmud are a product of their time. Although they might (grudgingly) have indulged Rabbi Meir consorting with the rationalist, philosophizing Elisha ben Abuya, they did not see much value in his Greek philosophy. They were willing to overlook it: they did not see value in the pit of the date, the hull of a chestnut, or the shell of the pomegranate. Two millennia later, many are ready to appreciate and learn from the entire pomegranate, not just the seeds.

Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) is one of the most prominent 20th century Jewish thinkers. He was a leading Talmud scholar, but he was also steeped in Western science, philosophy, and politics. He was a paragon and teacher in the Modern Orthodox movement and an expert on neo-Kantian philosophy.

The essence of Modern Orthodoxy is faithful (highly knowledgeable, and a bit snobbish?) adherence to Halakha combined with a study and appreciation of secular thought.

Born in modern day Belarus, Soloveitchik descended from a 200 year succession of prominent Eastern European rabbis. His primary education was in a traditional Talmud Torah school, in preparation for Yeshiva studies, supplemented by a private tutor. He graduated from a liberal arts Gymnasium in Dubno—located 200 miles west of Kiev in Ukraine. In 1924 he entered the Free Polish University in Warsaw, and in 1926 he moved on to the Friederich Wilhelm University in Berlin. There he studied neo-Kantian thought and political science, but also kept up a rigorous course of Talmud study.

Like Rabbi Meir, Soloveitchik chose a strong woman and a peer for a mate. In 1931 they had a royal wedding: his wife, Tonya Lewit (1904-1967), had a PhD from Jena University and a pedigree going straight to Rashi!

Through his studies, Soloveitchik sought to bridge the gap between traditional Eastern European Orthodox Jewish scholarship and the forces of modernity in the Western world. In 1932, he and Tonya emigrated to the United States where Soloveitchik made his life in Jewish studies.  For 45 years he headed the Rabbi Israel Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in New York.

During his career at Yeshiva University, Soloveitchik sought to combine the best of Talmudic scholarship with the best of secular scholarship in Western civilization. He published prolifically and was influential on an entire generation of Jewish leaders of the 20th century. His work stresses the normative and intellectual importance of keeping Jewish law (halakhah), and the entire halakhic tradition, central to Judaism.

What would Elijah say? When God is having a discussion from the mouth of all the rabbis, does He include Joseph Soloveitchik?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Outside Interference in our Democracy is not the Problem: it's Undermining of Democracy by All of Us that Does the Damage

In the United States we are currently investigating whether Russia conducted a campaign to interfere with our elections last November.  FBI Director, James Comey, confirmed this week that an investigation has been under way since last July.  The goals of the Russian activities, we are told, were to undermine the credibility of the U.S. election, to undermine faith in the democratic process, to denigrate Senator Hillary Clinton and her candidacy, and to harm her chances of being elected. 

It is widely reported that the Russians hacked the email servers of the Democratic National Committee and leaked information to Wikileaks in order to harm the Clinton campaign.  The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified to Congress that the Russian efforts included the dissemination and promotion of fake news, rumors, and fantasies through the use of botnets. 

[A botnet is a network of private computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the owners' knowledge, e.g., to send spam messages, or in this case fake news and rumors to cause political harm]

It's not Foreign Interference that's the concern; it's the Fake News, False Information, and Malicious Intent that Does the Damage

The problem here is not primarily outside interference in our election: the problem is the nature of the interference. If Putin, or any other world leader, wants to take out an editorial in U.S. newspapers and make his case for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, have at it. That does not undermine our politics. If Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to meet with Congress about Israeli issues and Congress sees fit to give him 26 standing ovations, as annoying as this may have been for Obama, this does not undermine our democracy.  But spreading fake news about Hillary running a children's sex-ring from a pizza parlor is a problem (because people are ever so gullible). 

So is hacking legitimately private communications and selectively releasing this information to influence the outcome of an election, or to harm individuals. 

Elections are not a rational process. Tens of millions of voters cast their ballots based on insufficient and erroneous information. Even in an ideally clean election, voter ignorance is a problem. But when voter ignorance is manipulated for partisan purposes by undisclosed actors working in the shadows, this undermines our democracy.  Fake news and malicious intent is a problem whether it's Russia, domestic fat-cats with an agenda, or individual Facebook users. 

When one of our national parties is disproportionately beholden to fake news, it's a problem.  When the most watched cable news network is beholden to fake news, disseminated for partisan purposes and profits, it's a problem for our democracy. 

Putin has pointed to American support of NGOs that support democracy in Russia and in places like Egypt.  But ex-President Jimmy Carter working with NGOs that are involved in monitoring the integrity of elections in other countries is not a problem; supporting NGO's that support democracy in Russia is not a problem. By contrast, engineering coups in Iran (1953) and Chile (1973) are dark chapters that undermined democracy. Outside interference in our elections that supports the democratic process is welcome; interference that undermines the democratic process is not welcome. 

The Russians have interfered in a way that undermines our democracy. But what the Russians have been doing to us is not unique. It comes with the Internet. Other countries systematically exploit social media to support public policy, not always in healthy ways. Using social media for propaganda purposes, we note, is not a truth-seeking activity. Once a state embarks on propaganda efforts, there is risk that truth and analysis can fall by the wayside. 
Ultimately it's not the Russians interfering in our elections that's the problem. The problem is the irresponsible use of tools at our disposal, whether these tools are wielded by nation-states or  by individual users of social-media. 

Not all state propaganda is bad. A state should be able to responsibly embark on a propaganda campaign to reduce smoking. In light of the weight of scientific evidence, governments should be able to engage in propaganda to convince us we must do something about global warming, using all the tools at their disposal. A state should be able to advocate for solid democratic practices. Support of public television is a good thing. The danger lies in engaging in propaganda in a disingenuous way.

Democracy can live with a lack of information and with our irrational natures; but democracy can not survive in the long term if integrity and good-will must take a back seat to propaganda and fake news, year after year.

In the United States the Republican party has worked hard to undermine integrity and good-will in our public discourse. For thirty years they have engaged in propaganda that global warming is a hoax, that lower taxes and increased spending will lower deficits, that 4 percent growth is possible if only we remove environmental regulations and cut taxes, that manufacturing jobs will return to the rust-belt if only we build a wall and reject free trade, and cut taxes; that health care for all is possible, if only we stop subsidizing health-care. Such a lack of integrity and good-will is a bigger problem for our democracy than Russian interference in our election. 

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Monday, March 20, 2017

Your Cell Phone and Computer at the Border Redux

If you decided to send some of your hard earned dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union in the wake of Donald Trump's election, they are putting your money to good use.

A month ago, I looked at the Custom and Border Patrol's assertion of a right to search our phones and computers at the border, even without individualized suspicion. I suggested that in light of U.S. v. Riley (2014), wherein a unanimous Supreme Court held that the police must have probable cause and a warrant in order to search a cell phone incident to an arrest, it seems likely that earlier cases, e.g. U.S. v. Cotterman (9th Circuit, 2013) would be overruled when the issue reaches the Supreme Court.

Today the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend of the court brief in U.S .v. Kolsuz, pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (located in Richmond, VA). The brief asks the court to decide the issue whether Riley applies to border searches. The full brief can be found HERE.

Summary of ACLU Argument in Kolsuz v. U.S.

This case presents an important question about the extent of Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the digital age, where the use of mobile devices is widespread. The government’s assertion of authority to search such devices without any individualized suspicion when an individual is crossing the border—whether entering or leaving the United States—creates an end-run around Fourth Amendment protections that would otherwise apply to the voluminous and intimate information contained in those devices, and is not justified by the rationale permitting routine border searches.

Hundreds of millions of people cross the United States’ borders every year for school, business, pleasure, and family obligations. Large numbers of those travelers carry laptops, smartphones, and other portable electronic devices that, despite their small size, have “immense storage capacity.” Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 2489 (2014) The information on these devices can be deeply sensitive and private, including personal correspondence, notes and journal entries, family photos, medical records, lists of associates and contacts, proprietary or privileged business information, financial records, and more. This information can be stored on the device itself, or contained in cloud-based accounts that are accessible from the device. The Department of Homeland Security itself recognizes that border searches of electronic devices raise “unique privacy concerns,” unlike those inherent in searches of other luggage. Nevertheless, the government claims the right to seize these devices at the border, detain them, and invasively search them with no warrant or individualized suspicion whatsoever.

Given the significant privacy interests at stake and the inconsistent results reached by district courts on this issue, this Court should take the opportunity to clarify the Fourth Amendment standards governing such searches. This Court should hold that searches of portable electronic devices may not be conducted without a warrant or, at an absolute minimum, a determination of probable cause.

This Court should so hold even if it determines that the government had the requisite level of suspicion in this particular case. In light of evidence that the number of device searches at the border is increasing, the failure to articulate the appropriate standard may result in a “significant diminution of privacy” for travelers. See Riley, 134 S. 2493.
Stay tuned.

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: the Great Oz has spoken. . . "

When a presidential candidate promises to ban Muslims from the country as his first act in office, should the courts be allowed to investigate the motivations of an Executive Order barring entry to nationals of six Muslim countries, ostensibly to keep out terrorists? Should courts be allowed to look behind the curtain of an Executive Order?

During his first week in office--need we be reminded--President Trump issued his Travel Ban 1.0,  a wide ranging order barring everyone from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States for three months pending further review, suspending the admittance of  refugees for four months, barring the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and directing a preference for "religious minorities" in those areas. Travel ban 1.0 left hundreds stranded in the immediate aftermath of its poorly implemented rollout.

After a few days of chaos, a federal court in Washington State issued an order stopping further implementation of Travel Ban 1.0 until a hearing could be completed to evaluate its constitutionality.  On February 9, 2017 the 9th Cir. Court of Appeals affirmed the nationwide stay of Travel Ban 1.0 until a hearing could be held on the merits.  That order is now moot.

Travel Ban 2.0

On March 6, 2017 President Trump signed a replacement executive order, Travel Ban 2.0. This new order retains key elements of Travel Ban 1.0, but also includes significant modifications designed to make it "court-proof."  Travel Ban 2.0 exempts U.S. Green Card holders, persons who have been granted a visa, or otherwise granted permission to enter the U.S.

Travel Ban 2.0 dropped Iraq from its list of targeted countries altogether. It no longer bars refugees from Syria indefinitely, but it continues to suspend the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and it continues to ban travelers from Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Lybia for 90 days.

On March 10, Ilya Somin  noted that Travel Ban 2.0 continues to be driven by hostility to Muslims and that its security rationale continues to be extremely weak. Travel Ban 2.0 continues to assert "nearly unfettered authority by the federal government," he said. This week two federal trial courts, in Hawaii and Maryland, have agreed with Somin.

International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump

In the Maryland case, the court blocked implementation of Travel Ban 2.0 until a hearing can be held on its constitutionality, relying in part on 8 USC 1152(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and relying in part on the Establishment Clause of the constitution. In doing so, the court explicitly found that under the circumstances of this case, the courts may look behind the curtain for improper motivation. 

A. The President lacks Statutory Authority for his Order: 

Section 1152(a) states that "no person shall be . . . discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of his . . . nationality, place of birth, or place of residence." Although the president has broad powers to suspend the entry of "any class of aliens as immigrants" that he or she deems detrimental to the interests of the United States (8 USC 1182(f)) this power is circumscribed by the more specific requirement of 1152(a) that the government may not discriminate in denying a visa based on nationality or place of residence.  Because Travel Ban 2.0 denies visas based on nationality and place of residence, it is unlawful. 

Section 1152(a), said the court, was adopted expressly to abolish the 'national origins system' of immigration that was designed to "maintain, to some degree, the ethnic composition of the American people." President Johnson sought this reform because the national origins system was at odds with "our basic American tradition" that we "ask not where a person comes from but what are his personal qualities."

B. Travel Ban 2.0 Violates the Establishment Clause:

The Maryland court also relied on the Establishment Clause of the first amendment to the constitution. A government action is subject to challenge under the Establishment Clause if (1) it is animated by religious animus, (2) if its principle or primary effect is to enhance or inhibit religion, or (3) if it fosters an excessive government entanglement with religion. Citing Lemon v. Kurtzman 403 U.S. 602 (1971).

How do courts determine whether a governmental action (like Travel Ban 2.0) is animated by religious animus? The court looked at the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCreary County v. ACLU of KY: "In determining purpose, a court acts as an 'objective observer' who considers 'the traditional external signs that show up in the text, legislative history, and implementation of the statute, or comparable official act.'" In other words, the mere identification (or claim) of a valid secular purpose does not satisfy the test. Courts will look at objective signs. It's something that courts do "all the time."  

In this case, of course, there is ample evidence of religious animus from candidate Trump's oft repeated promise that, as one of his first acts as President, he would bar Muslims from the country. There is evidence in the statements of Trump representatives that Travel Ban 1.0 was drafted to implement that promise (Giuliani), and that Travel Ban 2.0 was meant to serve the same underlying purpose, with only minor technical adjustments made in order to humor the courts (Miller). The Maryland court's opinion reviews a long litany of public statements made by various Trump administration figures, both before and after the election, that suggest that both Travel Ban 1.0 and Travel Ban 2.0 are motivated by religious animus and therefore unconstitutional. 

Unlike 31-year old White House aid Steven Miller, the courts so far have been firm in holding that a fundamental assault on the constitution can not be cured with "minor technical" adjustments.  

Kleindienst v. Mandel

In defending Travel Ban 2.0, the administration's lawyers point to Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972). There the court was confronted with a statute that generally denied a visa to anyone known to advocate for world wide communism, subject to the Secretary of State's discretion to grant waivers in individual cases. Mandel was a Belgian journalist who advocated for the imposition of world wide communism.  He had previously applied for and been granted entry visas pursuant to special waivers. The Nixon State Department refused to grant an exemption.  Professors at various universities where Mandel was set to speak sued, alleging that their First Amendment rights to hear and engage with Mandel were infringed. Justice Blackmun writing for the court, having recognized a First Amendment interest, concluded: "when the Executive exercises this power (to grant an exemption) negatively on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason, the courts will neither look behind the exercise of that discretion nor test it by balancing its justification against the First Amendment interests of those who seek personal communication with the applicant." 

"See," say Travel Ban 2.0 advocates, pointing at Mandel, "when the Executive Order professes it is motivated by legitimate concerns of terrorist infiltration, the court's can't look behind the curtain of this assertion for religious animus; no matter what the president may have said on the campaign trail, and no matter what Steven Miller and Rudy Giuliani may have said since, the courts must take the secular purpose of the Executive Order at face value." 

Most judges aren't buying this argument. 

The Maryland court in halting Travel Ban 2.0, like the 9th Circuit in Washington v. Trump (halting implementation of Travel Ban 1.0), distinguished Blackmun's statement in Mandel. This not-looking-behind-the-curtain standard "is most typically applied when a court is asked to review an executive officer's decision to deny a visa," said the court.  "The Mandel test. . . does not apply to the promulgation of sweeping immigration policy at the highest levels of the political branches. International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump (internal quotes omitted).

The Devil's Advocate

One judge who thinks that courts should not be looking behind the curtain in reviewing Travel Ban 2.0 is Judge Jay Bybee of the 9th Circuit.  Judge Bybee was so incensed by the action of the three judge panel in Washington v. Trump (upholding the restraining order on Travel Ban 1.0) that he penned a 26 page dissent from a denial of the request of "one judge" to reconsider and vacate the published order, despite the fact that the order is moot and that no party had asked that the published order be vacated. 

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," says judge Bybee, "the Great Trump has spoken (and Travel Ban 2.0 is not facially invalid)." Bybee was joined in his protest by four circuit judges: Kozinsky, Callahan, Bea, and Ikuda. 

Judge Bybee, of course is infamous for being one of the authors of the Bush torture memos. In August 2002, Bybee, then with the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Justice Department, issued a memorandum justifying the use of torture to extract information from Qaeda operatives. If the President (or vice President?) want to torture in order to fight terrorism, lawyers should facilitate this?  Bybee  "provided complex definitions of torture that seemed devised to allow interrogators to evade being charged with that offense," reported the New York Times.   

Consistent with his approach in the torture memos, Bybee concludes that Mandel sets the standard of review for the courts in this case, and the standard requires that the courts not look behind the curtain of Travel Ban 2.0. 

Bybee's position, however, amounts to a complete abdication of judicial oversight. If judges are going to abdicate their role of examining motives of religious animus in a case as egregious as this, then we are truly on the road to presidential unaccountability.

The courts have been looking behind the curtain of Travel Ban 2.0 and they must continue to do so.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Modern Medicine: not Based on Individual MD's, but on Organizations Focused on Disease Prevention and Management

David Anderson, MD
David Anderson received his B.S. from Stanford and his medical degree from Johns Hopkins and his cardiology training at U.C. San Francisco. He is one of the pioneers in the field of coronary intervention. He helped to develop the program at Summit Medical Center that trained many of the cardiologists in the San Francisco Bay Area in the techniques of angioplasty, atherectomy and stenting. He practices at Stanford Health Care. 

David is a friend, and a great human being. The current assault on the Affordable Care Act has motivated him to formulate and write down his own thoughts about it.  He shared what follows in an email with friends. With his permission, I reproduce it here.  

David Anderson, MD: On Healthcare 2017

I am a doctor, a cardiologist to be specific. I have been in private practice for 35 years. As the “debate” on the ACA rages, can I share a few things about healthcare and health insurance, things that nobody seems to be talking about?

1)   Depriving people of access to affordable health care is very expensive: 

      It is more expensive for all of us to leave a large segment of the population without accessible affordable healthcare. Leaving aside issues of justice and empowerment there is the fact that if you cannot care for your health in an ongoing proactive way your healthcare becomes much more expensive. Take for example hypertension, a common easily identifiable problem that costs less than a dollar a day to treat. Left unidentified it will cause kidney failure, stroke, heart attack. The TYPICAL uninsured patient will show up in an ER in extremis, in need of say dialysis (which will be provided, by law). The patient will go on disability and be unemployed. He will live with family for a few years and then have a stroke or other catastrophe, and he will end up in a nursing home for more years. There are other scenarios, other diseases, all with the same message.  Here is the point, all this care is now, and will be, paid for by community institutions and healthcare providers and all existing and proposed government plans being put forth, one way or another. So I ask, if arguments of humanity are not convincing-what about plain old fashioned (conservative) principles, such as efficiency,  or everyone paying to their ability,  or cost effectiveness,  or preventative maintenance?

2)    Modern medicine is not structured on individual MD's:

      Healthcare has evolved from an enterprise based on episodic encounters between you and your doctor over isolated events of trauma or illness, into an enterprise based on  organizations that are structured to provide broad-based and long-term disease prevention and management. This has proved to be highly effective. This type of organization based approach involves “best practices” credentialing panels, an electronic medical record and approved pharmacies, etc. It is a structure driven by medical leaders and doctors and has been embraced by payors. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE GOVERNMENT, NO MATTER WHAT FORM OF PAYMENT IS DEVISED. The days of the individual MD practicing in isolation doing his best for you as he sees it, are over. THANK GOD.

3)   There is a broad consensus that organizations structured to provide disease prevention management that includes everyone--like the ACA attempts to do--is the correct approach:

      "Medical” voices in the Republican administration (think Tom Price) are eccentric to mainstream medical thought. They are stuck on a vision of the individual MD practicing in isolation trying to do his best for you. I would direct your attention to any number of the leading medical publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine who think this is a bad idea. I cannot help but make the analogy to the voices attempting to forestall climate change. Climate change denial and this outmoded view of medicine are part of the same anti-intellectualism; they are not the result of a well thought out critique--these are  specious critiques.  Our country has a tradition of embracing science, new thought, new direction, and running with it. To discount expert opinion because it is not expedient or does not fit into one’s worldview is dangerous, counter productive and leads to errant policy.

4)   The ACA is working:

      I practice in a variety of settings, urban, suburban, rich and poor and I see the positive effects of the ACA every day. My personal view is shared by the majority of medical practitioners and by the main industry associations (Am college of Physicians, Am Academy of Peds, Kaiser, Am Hospital Ass, Catholic Healthcare; just google “organizations in support of the ACA”) The system can and should be improved. The problem lays in the fact that so much time and money has been spent on just keeping it alive politically that there has been little energy left for the project of improving it. Likewise, the uncertainty has left many institutions watching and waiting rather than investing and developing. Given the political resistance it is amazing that the ACA has done as well as it has! Is the answer starting over??

Again, I know of what I speak. I have been in the trenches. We need to stand up for truth.

David J Anderson MD FACC

The Shame of our Immigration Policy

Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez of Highland Park, California is 48 years of age. He entered the United States illegally as a young man, more than 20 years ago. He has married here. He has four children who were born here.  He worked at a Mexican Restaurant. Ten years ago he had a drunk driving conviction, but he has had no other brushes with the law.

Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez has paid taxes in this country for 20 years. He is an upstanding family man.  He has paid into social security and unemployment insurance, but because he lacks proper documentation he will never see a dime of it. Although most undocumented workers cannot collect Social Security payments, they paid about $12 Billion into the system in 2010. It's a vulnerable population and we are effectively stealing from them. 

On February 28, 2017 Avelica-Gonzalez was driving his 13-year old daughter to school. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers pulled him over a block from the school and arrested him. His daughter and wife recorded the arrest on the daughter's phone.  

Is anyone proud of what our country is doing here? Join the Marines, they are "Looking for a few good men." "The proud. The few. The Marines." So goes the slogan. What's our slogan for ICE?  "Join ICE: We are bullies who make little girls cry!" I hear they're hiring. Tell me, are you proud?

Read further examples at VOX. 

As I read and hear these stories, and there are more every day, I wonder: what's the charge, what's the reason for such bullying and arbitrary, cruel deportations. What gives ICE, what gives us, the right to uproot and destroy these families?

Weak Rationales for Sealing the Border

As a nation state, we think, we have the right and authority to control who enters our sovereign space. We have the right to keep anyone we want out. We do, but this has its limits. As president Trump is finding out, the constitution prohibits the government from excluding people solely based on religion or national origin. We have violated these principles in the past, of course. Consider the Chinese Exclusion Act, for example. Nevertheless, we don't have open borders. We feel we have the right to control which non-citizens may enter the country and for how long.

Some say they want to keep out individuals who mean to do us harm. And so we should. It's noteworthy, however, that this rationale does not apply to migrant workers. Available evidence points to the fact that migrant workers, the undocumented and unauthorized as well as the documented and authorized, commit fewer crimes than the native population. Immigrant communities are safer. More of them work.

Some say they want to keep out individuals who would take the jobs that would otherwise go to native workers. Immigrant labor can steal jobs from native workers, and they can depress wages, but the evidence is not so clear. A lot of undocumented immigrant labor in the U.S. today fills jobs that native workers don't want to do--primarily farm labor, but also some jobs in construction. All those white, non-college educated, and underemployed whites who voted for Trump last November--in part because of his promise to "Build a Wall" to block migrant workers--are not flocking to fill seasonal farming jobs; they are not flocking to fill restaurant jobs busing and washing dishes; they are not flocking to apply for jobs cleaning hotel and motel rooms; they are not flocking to line up for cleaning jobs in houses and office towers. The chorus of "concern" about undocumented migrant workers, therefore, is not a political issue because they actually deprive citizens of work in significant numbers, it's a political issue because populist politicians have cynically exploited xenophobic and nationalist undercurrents for the past 30 years.

Politicians all promise economic growth. Jeb! Bush promised us 4% growth. Trump promises that and more. But the truth is economic growth is driven by two factors: 1) population growth, and 2) productivity growth. Our productivity growth has slowed to  around one percent per annum, and our population growth has similarly decreased to less than one percent per annum. Together these factors impose a speed limit on our potential economic growth.  If we want to maintain economic growth we need those migrant workers. This migrant population is younger; they are of working age. In order to support our elderly non-working population, we need them to continue to pay that $12 billion into social security every year.

In order to regulate who comes into the country we establish border controls. Those controls can vary in strictness over time.  But in general terms, hermetically sealing our southern border makes about as much sense as trying to live in Biosphere 2.

What About the Legal Basis?

When I was 21 I made an illegal border crossing at Blaine Washington. I was about to go travel for a year and was looking to stash my Honda 350c motorcycle at my parents' house in Vancouver, B.C. I had been attending the University of Washington on a student Visa and my motorcycle had Washington plates. All my papers were Canadian. I vaguely suspected that the story "I am dropping off my Washington State registered motorcycle at my parents's house for a year while I go traveling" would draw scrutiny. I wanted to avoid the hassle.

"What citizenship are you?" asked the Canadian border officer. "American," I lied.

The officer was suspicious. He didn't trust my response. I had long hair at the time; it fell down to my shoulders, below the rim of my helmet. "Go in and report to immigration, on the left," he directed me.  With concern I pulled up on the left, and slowly, deliberately, folded my rain gear, lifted the bike seat and clipped my helmet. I took a few tentative steps towards the door marked "Immigration Office," when I noticed a bathroom directly in front of me.  I entered the bathroom; I waited a few minutes.  I determinedly exited the bathroom, put on my gear and drove down the highway. I did not relax until I reached the George Massey Tunnel and safely crossed under the Fraser River.

Doing this maneuver in reverse, Canada to the U.S., is a misdemeanor punishable by a $250 fine and up to six months in jail. Like for all misdemeanors, there is a statute of limitations. In the U.S. the statute of limitations for border jumping is generally five years. I don't know what the statute of limitations is in Canada, but I venture I'm safely out of the woods on this illegal border crossing.

In the U.S. if a forged Visa, passport, or other immigration document is used in crossing the border, the statute of limitations is extended to 10 years.  For certain possessory crimes, being in possession of a forged Visa or passport, or other document necessary for admission to the country, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until you are no longer in possession of the document.  It's possible this includes a forged Social Security card used for employment.  See U.S. v. Kristic, 558 F.3d 1010, 1017-18 (9th Cir. 2009).

Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez committed no crime remaining in the country after having crossed illegally. To call undocumented workers "illegal" aliens is a misnomer. It's a term of political populism. Undocumented immigrants commit no crime by virtue of their presence in the country.  Nevertheless, they are unauthorized to be here and this subjects them to civil deportation proceedings at any time. ICE has the law on its side. Undocumented workers are at their mercy. But the law is cruel; the law's an ass.

The 11 million undocumented workers living in the U.S. live under the constant threat of being deported in summary civil proceedings, and (with exceptions) there's nothing they can do about it despite the fact that sixty percent of these people have been law abiding workers for more than a decade.

What Should we Do?

We should reform the law. 

To round up parents driving their kids to work is inhumane. To collect income taxes and social security taxes from migrant workers for years and then summarily deport them at the barrel of a gun, and confiscate their Social Security payments, is inhumane. To round up long standing workers who contribute to society, separate them from their families, and deport them, is inhumane. We shouldn't do these things. 

We should have reasonable border controls and security. We should focus on keeping out people who are truly a threat. Trump's targeting of religious groups and nationalities has no relation to enhancing our safety. We should not do that. 

We should bring our laws in line with reality. We have a sizable migrant work force in this country. This work force must be regularized. At a minimum, we must stop stealing their Social Security and  unemployment insurance premiums. 

We should recognize a statute of limitations for unauthorized entry. If someone has been in this country a decade, married, borne children, worked and paid taxes, then we should provide them a path to normalization, to some type of "authorized" status. It does not have to be citizenship. But we should stop deporting such people. 

We should continue to have border controls. We should continue to deport "not authorized" persons who are caught committing crimes. We should exclude petty crimes.

But above all, we should stop behaving like shameful bullies.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

From the Heart of Kansas: Delivering Babies to Aborting the ACA

The four Kansas Congressional Districts
Somehow auntie Em and Miss Elmira Gulch never quite did it for me. The last time I had romantic thoughts about Kansas was when Dave Wottle won the 800m race at the Munich Olympics in 1972. My head was in the triple jump. I was young and a dreamer. And what better dream than Dave Wottle winning the 800m from way in back of the pack.  I had no politics.

But my association between Dave Wottle and Kansas just now, turns out to be a false memory. It was Jim Ryun, the great American miler (3:51.1, Silver medalist in the '68 Mexico City Olympics, and world record setter) who hailed from Kansas. Same fond feeling.

Ryun (born in 1947) was from Wichita, Kansas. He first broke the 4 minute mile as a 17 year-old at a meet in Los Angeles, eighth place in a field of American runners who all broke 4 minutes. Before he was done with high school Ryun ran 3:55.3, setting a record that stood for 36 years. Ryun attended the University of Kansas, set a world record at Edwards Field in Berkeley, California and wound up living in California for a decade. But liberal politics did not rub off on him.

It's a lonely sport, middle distance running. So is politics in much of Kansas.  Jim Ryun returned to Kansas to run for and represent the 2nd Congressional District. His district covered most of the eastern part of the state, except for the Kansas City Metropolitan area. [It's the blue swath in the map at the top of this post] The Second District includes the capital, Topeka (metropolitan population of 234,000), and Lawrence (pop. 87,000) home of the University of Kansas. Population density is 350 people per square mile.

The Second District is a deeply red district. Jim Ryun represented the district for a decade from Nov. 1996 to Jan. 2007 and he was rated as the "most conservative" member of Congress in 2006 by the National Journal. He was given a zero percent rating by the environmental group Republicans for Environmental Protection. He was no friend of Medicare, voting against the Bush prescription drug benefit and voting to allow hospitals to deny non-emergency treatment to Medicaid patients unable to afford their co-pay obligations.

The most lonely district in Kansas, however, is the First Congressional District; it stretches nearly 400 miles along the northern border with Nebraska, 213 miles along the western border with Colorado, and another 200 miles along the southern border with Oklahoma. It's an area the size of the state of Illinois. Population density is fewer than 12 persons per square mile. Voters in the First District voted for Trump over Clinton with a 70 percent margin. Bob Dole represented the district from 1963-1969. In the most recent election, the district elected a 56 year-old obstetrician, Roger Marshall. Like Jim Ryun, Marshall is no friend of Medicaid.

Dr. Roger Marshall, health care entrepeneur to Congress
Marshall has jumped from delivering babies (more than 5,000) to aborting the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “Letting the government run anything, including health care, what happens is prices go up and competition goes down,” said Marshall in a recent interview with STAT, the medical news publication. He is a health care entrepreneur. He helped build a small, four-bed surgical clinic into the full service physician owned Great Bend Regional Hospital in central Kansas. "He measures success in how many people can afford to leave the Medicaid program and enter the private insurance market," says Lev Facher in his STAT portrait.

Marshall has joined the GOP Doctor's Caucus in Congress, which has been focused on overturning the ACA for the past several years.  Repealing the ACA, of course, has been a fixation of Republican Georgia doctor, Representative Tom Price, who now heads the Department of Health and Human Services. The key goals of the GOP Doctor's Caucus is to repeal the ACA, to repeal the individual mandate, to end the obligations for "10 essential benefits" under the ACA (including maternity and mental health), and fighting rule changes applicable to Medicare doctor reimbursement that were designed to inch Medicare away from a fee-for-service model to a quality of care model.

Marshall doesn't support the Medicaid expansion that the ACA accomplished: providing medical insurance to everyone earning up to 125% of the federal poverty level. “Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” he said to STAT. “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

Marshall continued:
“Just, like, homeless people. … I think just morally, spiritually, socially, [some people] just don’t want health care,” he said. “The Medicaid population, which is [on] a free credit card, as a group, do probably the least preventive medicine and taking care of themselves and eating healthy and exercising. And I’m not judging, I’m just saying socially that’s where they are. So there’s a group of people that even with unlimited access to health care are only going to use the emergency room when their arm is chopped off or when their pneumonia is so bad they get brought [into] the ER.”
It's a remarkably callous statement for a doctor.

"I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment . . . . Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick," says the Hippocratic oath. So what does a doctor do when he goes to the House of Representatives in order to deny medical care to people who can't afford to pay or to purchase private health insurance? Does he not violate his Hippocratic oath?

"Show me the money and I will provide for you beautiful health care, in a serene setting!" "Oh, you don't have money? Don't look to me as a doctor, as a Congressman, as a citizen or taxpayer to get a free credit card. Go rot in your hovel."  THAT'S the philosophy behind "Repeal and Replace;" that's the philosophy behind GOP care.

From the heart of Kansas comes this entrepreneurial doctor to violate his Hippocratic oath. Sadly, I fear that Jim Ryun, were he still in Congress, would be joining him.

Post Script.  In case you have not been paying attention, the current American mile superstar and gold medalist from the Rio Olympics last summer is Matthew Centrovicz (3:50.53). The American record is held by Alan Webb (3:46.91), set at a lonely field in Belgium in 2007. The current world record (3:43.13), held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco (1999), has stood for nearly 18 years.

As long as Ohio and Kansas can produce such beautiful runners as Ryun and Wottle, surely there must be hope for this world, no matter what their politics.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Don't it Always Seem to go, that You don't Know What You've Got 'til it's Gone?"

A month after the election, Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale, gave a talk to a group of undergraduates about what European history can teach us in the age of Trump. It's worth a listen.

History never repeats, said Snyder, it doesn't even rhyme, but there are certain things that go together, and some of those things should make us uncomfortable.  It's time to think of counter-measures, he warns, and he has written down a handy cheat sheet. We should take note. We are way past the point where we should question the relevance of lessons offered by 1930's Germany, he says.

In the first 25 minutes of the lecture, above, Snyder outlines what he sees as two danger poles in our "incredibly boring politics." Although, suddenly, our politics are boring no more.  These danger poles are the politics of inevitability and the politics of eternity.

The Politics of Inevitability

In the U.S., we've lived the politics of inevitability since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  We've had a sense of inevitability about liberal democracy as we've known it. We have lost the capacity to envision and take seriously alternatives to liberal capitalist democracy. It's all that's left.  Even the Chinese have come around to capitalism with Chinese characteristics, and surely democratic liberalization and civil rights must follow.

Don't tell that to Xi Jinping.

We've fallen into a trap of assuming, since communism has proven untrue, our liberal democratic alternative must be true. But nothing is inevitable, says Snyder.

Our politics have become boring because we could no longer imagine an alternative. We've taken our Enlightenment heritage for granted. One party has become the party of the status quo that must be: Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and the Democratic party have been the technocratic custodians and defenders of the status quo. That's boring. "Don't it always seem to go," sang Joni Mitchell, "that you don't know what you've got 'til its gone."

"They paved paradise, and they put up a parking lot." That was written in 1967-68; but today we're talking about much more than DDT and a parking lot. We're talking about the whole liberal order.

The feeling that our liberal democratic politics are inevitable, says Snyder, has given rise to a paranoid impulse. If there is no alternative, perhaps it's fixed. Perhaps there's something dark and sinister about it. Perhaps there's a secret reality underneath. So opposition in this politics of inevitability, says Snyder, has consisted of fancy, crazy, rebellious, system destroying ideas--from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump.

These reactionary ideas are not particularly articulate. "Shrink government 'til we can drown it in a bathtub." There were pledges to never ever, under any circumstances, sign on to a tax increase. There is denial of climate change. "The Democrats don't listen, so we'll just have to cram it down their throats," said one Trump supporter in my Facebook feed recently. He did not explain what the "it" was he was referring to.

Such opposition can be effective despite the lack of an intelligent program beyond opposition and destruction. Attackers of the liberal order derisively speak of "neoliberalism" (like others speak of neo-conservatism to paint the devil black), says Snyder. But neoliberalism is not a program; it's no criticism to call the Democratic Party neoliberal. Such a label buys into the lack of alternatives. It's a gesture of helplessness, says Snyder.

Opposition in an environment where there is no intelligible alternative becomes the politics of disruption. Trump's senior advisor in the White House, Steve Bannon, talks frequently of disruption. But be careful with disruption, says Snyder: the premise of "disruption" is that the system will automatically rebound no matter how obnoxiously or seriously we disrupt it. But what if the system does not bounce back? What if the disruption is entirely empty, but successful? What happens after our disruptor-in-chief is done with his disruption? The liberal order is not inevitable in fact, warns Snyder. It is not invincible and it won't necessarily bounce back.

Disruption is vulnerable to shocks. If something significant happens (a 9/11; a Reichtagsfire) suddenly there is no story. Everything is new, and suddenly everything is permitted. As Germans and Eastern Europeans tragically discovered in the last century, systems that seem "inevitable" can suddenly collapse.

The Politics of Eternity

The danger is that we can shift from a politics of "inevitability" straight to a politics of eternity. The politics of eternity refers to an ideal past; but it's a past that never existed. It is a politics that pays allegiance to a fictional past, and that is nostalgic for things that never were. 

The politics of eternity asks us to jump arm-in-arm into a black hole to escape non-existent, or much exaggerated threats. The politics of eternity invokes the threat of terrorism, immigrant hordes, and unseen criminals. The politics of eternity puts forth a political savior who rides the wave of this (imagined) threat. This savior will save us by dismantling the administrative state, by arresting schoolchildren brought here as infants and expelling them from our midst, by dismantling environmental protections and consumer protections, by expanding and streamlining the police state to answer to the White House. This savior means to save us by dismantling our civil liberties and our free press, by disrupting our boring liberal democratic values. 

And don't it always seem to go, that we don't know what we've got 'til it's gone. It's a lesson we should take to heart.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Talmud is a 500 year record of God talking to the rabbis in the Heschel sense

Rubik Cube
For a thousand years the Israelites tended their flocks and minded their fields. They offered up their sacrifices to the priests, first in the movable tabernacle, and later at the temple in Jerusalem. They kept the kohanim in business and the kohanim kept them in good stead with their God, with varying degrees of success. They partied at Passover, Shavuot, and Sukhot, and if we deduce correctly from Torah, they observed Shabbat, said the Shema, and observed halakha in some manner. If we pay attention to the railings of the prophets, they did not always do so diligently or faithfully.

We’ve been studying Berakhot 30 – 35 and how, after destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the rabbis transformed Judaism from a God-facing practice involving sacrifice and observance of halakha, to a God-facing practice based on individual prayer, blessings, and observance of halakha.

We learned how the rabbis looked to Hannah as a model for ecstatic individual prayer, and how the rabbis, using svara (reason, logic, wit, and caring about the tradition), established blessings as the Architecture of Everything. Blessings redeem the world for our use. And what better place to start than with blessings over food? 

How Many and What Kind of Blessings over Food?

At least one hundred blessings a day total, decided the rabbis. See, e.g. Menachot 43b. It’s a practice of mindfulness; it puts us in a state of awe. 

But we are obsessive creatures. Jogging is good for health, we decide; and pretty soon we are running a few miles a day, running marathons, running faster and faster. It’s all we can think of. We pass the point of diminishing returns for health benefits. Our life balance falls off kilter. But we cannot help it, because we are obsessive creatures. The rabbis are not so different in their approach to prayers and blessings. 

The Mishna established a template for different blessings over food: for fruits of the tree, fruits of the earth, herbs and vegetables, and blessings over the sacred foods of wine and bread [because they were present on the table in the Mishkan (tabernacle) and later in the Temple]. See Berakhot 35a, Steinsaltz p. 237. The rabbis of the Gemara expanded on this, and later generations of students added more and more (hair splitting) details. It’s to be thorough, said Peretz. It reflects joy of communal engagement over food; it’s not so different from how we take joy in gathering scores of cookbooks and hundreds of recipes we may never use. Food discussions never end. 

There are many ingredients that make up the recipes for the correct blessings over food: there is the kind of food on the plate, the source of the food, and its point of origin. There is processed and non-processed food. There is food intended to be eaten and enjoyed, and food to be used as medicine. In Persia, where Talmud was developed, there was a great deal of medicinal food, and the rabbis made distinctions. There is the time when food is consumed: is it Shabbat, or a festival, or a regular weekday? Are we inside or outside the land of Israel? And there is bread and wine. The rabbis thought about and obsessed over all these distinctions. 

For five centuries after destruction of the Temple, the rabbis of the Talmud engaged in extensive pilpul to expand the rules for blessings. Pilpul is that subtle and peculiar form of legal and conceptual reasoning that we find in Talmud. It evinces enthusiasm, inventiveness in a not always logically rigorous manner, a great love for the subject matter, and not a small amount of obsessiveness. 

What we have in Talmud is a 500 year record of the Tanaim and Amoraim communing with God. The rabbis worked these ingredients like a Rubik’s cube puzzle, says Peretz. It’s how they talked to God. As Heschel (1907-1972) would later say “when I pray, I talk to God; when I study, God talks to me.” Talmud is a 500 year record of God talking to the rabbis in the Heschel sense.

Read the rest at Talmud Circle Notes

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles