Mad as Hell

Mad as Hell


Howard Adelman

“Mad as Hell” can stand for uncensored speech, telling it as it supposedly is in a professed unwavering dedication to speaking the truth. It is also often associated with despair and an unwillingness “to take it anymore.” I am mad as hell, but I hope my speech remains sensitive and self-censored (it does not always). Further, instead of leading to cynicism and uncontrolled rage, I hope my anger reignites the fire in my belly and my quest to right the wrongs of the world. Most of all, I trust that the rage will not undermine my dedication to objective analysis and detachment.

I woke up late this morning, very late. I was furious. Not for waking up late. I had slept so long because I was so angry. I am raging. And when I get very emotional, I knock myself out and fall asleep. It is the other side of my sleep condition that allows me to be very productive between 4 and 8 in the morning. It is why my writing is perceived to be objective and cool. This morning I am not cool. I am mad as hell.

First of Four Stories

In the first news item I read, a handsome, young, clean-shaven police officer’s picture of Sgt. Paul Parizek from the Des Moines police department appeared above a story that included the following: “There have been at least 49 officers shot and killed in the line of duty this year, according to preliminary statistics from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks police deaths. In a report released earlier this year, the fund said that more than half the officers killed by that point were shot in ambushes.” (my italics)

Is this true – two dozen police officers shot in ambushes in the U.S. this year? I did recall that eight officers had been murdered in attacks in Baton Rouge and Dallas, but this horrendous event was only a quarter of the number killed up to that date in 2016. But it was the fatal shooting of the two police officers this morning that made me sit up and listen, made me pay attention to the pattern. Why I have been so obtuse is another story.

In the United States, there is a war against police officers. Crime has been down. Murder rates are way down. Policing had become significantly safer in recent years. But there has been a dramatic change in 2016. In Urbandale in Iowa, one officer was shot and killed sitting alone in his patrol car next to Urbandale High School. 20 minutes later, a Des Moines police officer responding to that first shooting was also shot and killed.

Modernity is based on the rule of law. Professional police are a key component in maintaining the rule of law. Police have two prime functions. They try to prevent crime in part by capturing criminals and bringing them before courts of justice. But police have a second function. Whether they are engaged in traffic management or the protection of property by demonstrators and potential rioters, they also protect that property, the system in the West by means of which our needs are satisfied. Police are concerned with the well-being of each individual as well as the protection of society as a whole. Our basic welfare and our lives depend on the ability of these men and women to fulfill their job. An attack on the police that now appears systemic and deliberate undermines the fundamental foundations of our society.

Second Story

This story began with a simmering fire in my kishkas (look it up) by one of the emails I received in response to my blog the day before yesterday. In part it read, “Trump is a talented leader, who calls out the liberal and greedy elite.” [He calls out the greedy, he who is the icon and advertisement for greed!] “Like King David. He likes women like all healthy males including you and me. Most women play to their sexuality through makeup and choice of clothes. Healthy and tasteful. Bill Clinton rapes and abuses women. Hillary destroys women who speak up against her husband’s victims so that this power couple can play the corrupt system.”

It is NOT natural and healthy to grope women. It is not natural and healthy to force yourself upon women. It is sick. And to boast about it makes it sicker. And to claim your money and power entitles you to engage in such behaviour and allows you to get away with it is sickest of all.

Aside from the libels against Bill and Hillary Clinton that have been repeated so many times that Clinton-haters take for granted that they are true, what really kindled my ire was the description of Donald Trump as being a healthy male who admires women, a man who boasts and has possibly a record of groping women and physically assaulting them, a man who admits that he becomes furious if his dinner is not put on the table by his wife when he arrives home.

That was the kindling. The fire in my belly broke out in full flame when this morning I read a story about Jane Doe who was raped by a champion swimmer, Brock Turner. He was only sentenced to six months in prison and was out on parole after three months. The rape victim’s 21-year-old younger sister wrote, “Today I am still sick thinking about it, sick to my stomach every time I am reminded of the incident.” And I felt sick to my stomach as I read about the devastation visited on both these women, the rape victim and her sister. The court records showed that Brock Turner had behaved in the same way that Donald Trump boasted of behaving, initially repeatedly trying to kiss the eventual rape victim against her will greeted with an unquestionable and demonstrated lack of interest.

But what set off the roaring fire in my belly that has made me so nauseous this morning is Judge Aaron Persky’s sentencing statement and the response of the rapist’s father to the rape of a woman who had been left unconscious, naked from the waist down, behind a dumpster. The two sisters suffered at the public humiliation of exposing what happened to the older one in full detail on the internet. The two sisters were both raped over and over again in their minds as they both sat through the court sessions over a six month period. The younger sister addressed Brock Turner directly: “Where has your remorse been? Really, truly: Do you feel guilty because you were sexually assaulting her or because you were caught?”

Male assaults on females are not only despicable and outrageous, they symbolize everything a civilized society must oppose. These assaults have absolutely nothing to do with sex, nothing to do with the pleasurable and passionate intercourse between sexual partners and everything to do with aggression and hatred of women. So this morning a report reads that in Greensburg Indiana, when a woman turned down her boyfriend’s offer of marriage, he shot and killed her. Recall that the two Swedish heroes, Peter Jonsson and Carl-Fredrik Arndt, who had seen Brock Turner attacking the victim and ran after him and tackled him after he fled, testified that the victim was motionless on the ground at the time and could not be woken up, totally contradicting Turner’s insistence that the sex was a product of consent.

But what happens? The two sisters live with the experience for the rest of their lives. In an open and shut case – which very few are – the judge responds favourably to the letters requesting leniency when there has been no demonstrated contrition nor open admission of responsibility. Just lies. And a father who paints his son as the victim! At least Ari Shavit immediately owned up to his responsibility and expressed deep contrition when the stories of his assaults on women became public.

Third Story

As the Republicans face the real and imminent possibility of a Clinton presidency, they have already evidently begun to plot a campaign of obstreperousness, about continuing the campaign to refuse filling Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat, thereby bringing the whole system of justice into disrepute. For the system depends not only on a responsible and empathetic administration of justice, on a conscientious and informed legislative body, but on an independent judiciary at the very highest levels. When ideology dictates how issues of justice are handled, the end of democracy is near. It is not only a break with democratic tradition to refuse to approve an appointment, but an effort to blow up the fundamentals of democracy altogether. When cynicism takes the reins of justice, we are all doomed.

Fourth Story

This tale might seem the most remote from the story of a wanton ambush and killing of police officers, dealing with assaults and rapes of women and sabotaging the whole system of justice when your side is defeated. But in the end, I suggest that it goes to the heart of the matter.

The background of the story is over the use of the Wailing or Western Wall in Jerusalem, not the conflict between Arabs and UNICEF over proprietary rights to religious sites among Jews, Muslims and Christians, but the fight over whether Orthodox Judaism should retain monopoly control over what is now regarded as the holiest site in Judaism – the exposed sector of the old temple wall. In 1967, the government, as a gesture to the religious party allies and an indifference to religious symbolism, had assigned responsibility for administering conduct on the plaza outside the wall to the Orthodox establishment. That establishment maintains a strict separation of sexes and limits even the way women can worship at the wall. Hence the protests by many orthodox women against the patriarchy that controls access. Hence other counter-protests against non-Orthodox Jews who have insisted on a place for egalitarian services at the wall. A political compromise had been forged to build a new section of plaza that would permit that new area of plaza to be used for egalitarian religious services.

The Netanyahu government, under pressure from his Orthodox political allies, in spite of Supreme Court orders, has repeatedly stalled on implementing this compromise. This morning, there was an effort of hundreds of demonstrators led by leading Conservative and Reform rabbis to carry Torah scrolls to the Wall and conduct an egalitarian service. They were resisted by force by Orthodox young men as police stood by and refused to interfere. What followed was unprecedented pandemonium and violence.

Some of the most prominent clergy in the diaspora were shoved, pushed and thrown to the ground. But they persisted. Netanyahu, the same man who refuses to implement the compromise arrived at after years of negotiations, stated that, “unilateral breaches of the status quo in the Kotel harm our attempts to reach a compromise,” even though a compromise had been reached and the issue was its implementation. There was no condemnation of the violence perpetrated by the young orthodox men.

When, because ideology and not negotiation and compromise, lawlessness ensues, when courts are ignored, when police choose to remain passive in the face of overt assaults, when politicians practice the politics of inaction, when supreme courts are blatantly ignored, democracy is at stake.

And it all starts with the mistreatment of women and the resentment of many men and women to allowing a woman to become President of the United States. This resentment goes much deeper than even racist attitudes against Blacks. The story goes back to Bereshit and the myth of the birth of history and time in our world and the story of Adam and Eve.

With the help of Alex Zisman

PINCHAS NUMBERS CHAPTER 25.29,06,13. Zealotry and Murder

Pinchas Numbers Chapter 25                                                                           29.06.13

Zealotry and Murder


Howard Adelman


Parshat Pinchas has six distinct parts. The first part deals with the rewards for Pinchas’ zealotry by God for killing the Simeonite Prince, Zimri, and his Midianite princess, Kozbi, who was his lover after Zimri took his Midian lover into his tent right in front of Moses and the rest of the Israelites. Pinchas killed them both. That act supposedly stopped the plague running through the Israelite camp parked on the other side of Mount Peor when the Israelites were about to enter the promised land. God rewarded Pinchas, both by making Pinchas a priest but also by instructing Moses to wage war against the Midianites. The other five parts consist of the new census, the principles of dividing the land by lots and in proportion to the numbers, the issue of female inheritance that arose because of the petition by five daughters of Tzelafchad to inherit their father’s land when there were no sons and God’s acceptance of that claim, the arrangement for Joshua to succeed Moses and, finally, the detailed list of daily and additional offerings on Shabat and the other holy days.

I will comment only on Pinchas’ zealotry. The key verses are:

25 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women,who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods.So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”

So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”

Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Phinchas, son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped;but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

10 The Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinchas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

14 The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family.15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Kozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family.

16 The Lord said to Moses,17 “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them.18 They treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the Peor incident involving their sister Kozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of that incident.”

Two activities are conjoined – inter-ethnic intercourse between Israelite men and Midianite women – Jews are running around with shiksas – and, in the process of eating together and presumably engaging in a bacchanalian revelry at a festival involving Baal, the Israelite men were accused of bowing down to Baal. Later in the section we learn of a third event perceived as a consequence of these activities – a plague broke our among the Israelites killing 24,000, an enormous death toll, probably over 1% of the population.  The matter comes to a head, not when the men were off elsewhere cavorting with the Midianite women, but when a Simeon price brought a Midianite princess into his own tent within the Israelite camp. There is no trial. There is just a vigilante action of murder for inter-ethnic and/or inter-religious sexual act considered as an honour killing, for which Pinchas is highly rewarded by God by guaranteeing his priestly lineage forever.

Look at the causal connections. The Israelites have intercourse with Midianite women at a festival for Baal. This causes a plague. It does not say that God was the agent bringing about the plague on the Israelites, but a plague kills indiscriminately. Further, to allow one’s tribe’s daughters to cavort with the Israelite men is blamed on the evil machinations of the Midianites. Consequently, the Midianites are enemies. Consequently, those enemies ought to be murdered. Pinchas is given a rationale for his zealotry. The causal illogic, the misconstrual of moral agency conjoined with a false causal logic, and the enormous and wholly disproportion between the response, initially on the individual level and then, as we will see in subsequent readings, on the collective level, between the alleged action and the response by the other is so out of whack as to be totally disconcerting.

Instead of a tragic Romeo and Juliet story of Zimri and Kozbi, Pinchas (and God) saw only betrayal and licentiousness, sacreligious behaviour and depravity. Further, there is no due process, only vigilante action and taking the law into one’s own hand when there was no explicit law forbidding Israelite men from consorting with Midianite women. The conflict is between a warrior invading group, the Iraelites, and, by all accounts even of the Israelites, a peaceful tribe of shepherds. There is no reflection and consideration in the act, only righteous anger. What is more, though we are getting ahead of ourselves, the enslavement and genocide of the Midianites will follow. (Numbers 31)

What is this all about? Moses had a Midianite wife – Zipporah. Moses’ sister, as I argued previously, remonstrated Moses for ignoring and mistreating Zipporah in his political zealotry (and not because he married a Cush, an Ethiopian). Further, the Midianites were descended from Abraham by his concubine, Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2). But when zealotry becomes murder by a vigilante hothead, and then the hothead is pushed ahead into the priesthood and guaranteed that position for his descendents, then there is a glorification of self-righteousness over reflection, extreme passion over moderation, a political agenda trumping human intercourse. Creon, the symbol of political power, trumps family loyalty in the killing of Antigone. In this case, the situation is perceived as licentiousness when it was probably simply the ardour of love for what else could account for such imprudent behaviour by Zimri and Kozbi.

On the other hand, Moses was the hothead who killed a slave taskmaster in a fit of self-righteousness and had to flee for forty years where he was befriended by a Midianite king and given his daughter, Zipporah, to wed. And that wife ensured his child was circumcised. That wife stood up in defence of Moses. And now the Zealots would take Moses’ in-laws down. Was this indirect revenge against Moses after all the other rebellions failed, this time on the side of righteousness, this time when Moses was in his final year?   

Of course, zealotry can be rationalized, especially if it is executed on behalf of and in partnership with God. But in my reading of the biblical text, God’s wrath, sense of self-righteous worth and indifference to human suffering in such moments must always be constrained by human reason and sense of proportion. God learns through humans. But here we are left without God or men learning anything – just a celebration of totally irrational zealotry. Is God giving Pinchas a position where he can do no more harm – putting him in charge of rites and rituals rather than into politics? No, for he was Aaron’s grandson, destined for that role anyway. 

11 “Phinchas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.” Here, Pinchas’ act becomes an act of diversion, a way to shift God’s wrath away from the Israelites. By becoming such a ferocious agent for God, Pinchas ended up as serving as a relief valve for God’s enormous wrath which made the rage of Pinchas look miniscule.  That is why he also made Pinchas and his descendents priests forever, as a sign of peace.

But at what cost? At the sacrifice of a pair of lovers? Are there not limits to appeasing such an irrational power? As we shall see, this is just the prologomena to extremism.