Author Archives: Kerry Baker

There is no such thing as a lone wolf terrorist and this is why

Some people almost certainly will contend that recent attacks using knives and autos are random acts. Years of occupation and oppression cause spontaneous acts of violence, unplanned by the Palestinian leadership. These acts are the expression of lone wolves, unrelated to any real organizing system and caused by personal initiative. And certainly as personal acts they are explained by individual biographies and not culture, theology or historical experience.

There are some conclusions it is very important to draw from this point of view. First, it is not exactly accurate the call such acts “terror.” For murders to be acts of “terror” they have to be linked by systematic planning and organization. There must be a common, coherent political or social goal. They must convey an understandable, threatening message which is clear to both the victims and to the community of the attackers.

Where in these most recent attacks do we find any of these qualities? There is no organization or leadership group which claims to be directing the current violence. There are no assertions of organizational responsibility. There are no ties of membership between the attackers and any recognized organizations. Violence, therefore, is lamentable but only the fruit of individual frustration and hatred, and not policy. The most one can say about the Palestinian leaders is they consistently demonstrate a tin ear when they praise the attackers and call them martyrs, and reward these martyrs with cash payments.

But what of the values inculcated in Palestinian children by an educational system and who have become attackers? Since 1967, almost a half century, Palestinian curricula have portrayed Jews and Israelis as sub-human monsters who must be eliminated. They have been enemies of Islam since the days of Mecca and Medina. They are thieves and murderers who have no historical connection to the land. The biblical record is not history and the claims of the existence of a Jewish people and culture are bogus and fraudulent. Jewish history and historical events such as the Holocaust are either exaggerated or false. So there is a sub-stratum of anti-Jewish attitudes and beliefs which easily rise to the surface under certain circumstances.

When Palestinian leaders repeatedly praise and reward martyrs, their words and actions are an incitement of the “wink and a nod” variety. The reservoir of anti-Jewish hate boils over and anti-Jewish violence erupts. So there is a structure, after all, to the current wave of knife and auto murders. And these acts are, after all, perfectly described by the word “terrorist,” relating to an identifiable structure, organizational responsibility, and systemic planning.

Sadly, none of this is new. It is exactly the method devised by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages; a method which encouraged the periodic outbreak of programs, which were not unlike the current Palestinian attacks. Dog whistle statements by medieval church leaders were similar to comments made by Palestinian leaders of today. A reservoir of hate and distortion, called anti-Semitism accounts for what happened in Europe during the Middle Ages, and a reservoir filled with the same poisoned water effects the Middle East today. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

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Rabbi Slams Donald Trump — and Israel — in Muhammad Ali Funeral Speech

It’s not that Michael Lerner is politically progressive or liberal, so am I. It’s not that Michael Lerner is a theological liberal, so am I. It’s not that Michael Lerner is passionate, at times even even zealous, so am I. No, this is my problem with Michael Lerner: he mistakes subjecting hundreds of mourners to a litany of warmed-over left wing bromides with speaking truth to power. It takes real homiletical art to interweave passion and politics with compassion and comfort. Lerner is an ideologue who couldn’t find the human heart in the midst of a community of mourners who share the same loss with both hands and a flashlight. Michael Lerner has never been much about finding light in the midst of darkness; he would much rather generate friction and heat. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

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Two-Party System Is Trash

“Whether you like Bernie or Hillary, I think we can all agree that the two-party system is trash. And anybody who loves the two-party system and who loves the Democratic party is ultimately trash,” Koenig said.

So says Ezra Koenig, presumptive Jew, leader of the rock band Vampire Weekend and super-involved supporter of Bernie Sanders. Ezra, please tell us what you really think of people who disagree with you. When the Sandernistas aren’t whining, they allow their judgmental and demeaning delusions to overwhelm their decency and respect. So sad.

Whatever happened to the old American tradition of losing gracefully and treating your opponent with respect? I know how quaint I sound when I refer to such values, which today are only found in time capsules. And yet our nation’s political life has never needed traditional civic virtues more than it does today.

The Sandernistas are not any worse than the Trumpeters, I suppose, but they’re not any better, either. I’m so glad that Bernie has been deeply influenced by Saul Alinsky, the master of community organizing. Now if he would only read and learn from Rabbi Israel Salanter and other masters of the Musar (ethics) movement in Judaism, too. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

Bill O’Reilly vs. Bill Maher

I’m putting this up on my Facebook page only because I want you to understand the extreme disadvantages under which rabbis and other members of the clergy labor in trying to explain religion to Americans. Mahar and O’Reilly are two relatively intelligent people, and yet it is difficult to imagine how they could have uttered any more imbecilic comments about religion and scripture in the span of only 20 minutes. It seems that there isn’t any theological, critical or literary term used in this debate which isn’t misused. They misquote. They ignore or misconstrue basic categories. They misunderstand or twist the context of biblical passages. They are ignorant of the basic meaning of key terms. AARGH! Harry Orlinsky, my professor of Bible and chair of the committee which produced the Jewish Publication Society translation of The Tanach, would be gnashing his teeth. I wish people who know so little but speak so much would just shut up! —Rabbi Kerry Baker

What Donald Trump has and hasn’t said about anti-Semitism

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves after a press conference at the Trump Tower on May 31, 2016 in New York. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves after a press conference at the Trump Tower on May 31, 2016 in New York. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

How nice that some members of Trump’s family are Jewish and that he has many Jewish friends. What’s next? Will Trump be quoted as saying, “Some if my best friends are Jewish?” In any case, what’s new about an anti-Semite having particular Jews as friends because they aren’t like other Jews? Because unlike most Jews they don’t act this way or that way, or there is some obnoxious Jewish trait or characteristic they don’t display. The same thing happens when some racist points to a certain African-American as an exception, someone who is different from other AA’s, someone who a “credit to his race.” Donald Trump may talk and act like an anti-Semite, but we’re supposed to overlook this because there are individual Jews he happens to like. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

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Beyond We Shall Overcome: Jews and Social Change

Kerry Baker Class: Jews have disproportionately been among the founders and leaders of social change movements, including labor unions, socialism, feminism, civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam. Jews have also been disproportionately affected by social change movements, both positively and negatively, throughout our history.

What are the roots of Jewish activism? What exactly is Jewish about “tikkun olam” (repairing the world)? What is the link, if any, between Utopianism and “ikvot haMashiach” (the messianic era)? And why have Jews so often been the targets of politically destructive social change movements, such as facism, nativism and political extremism of both the right and the left? This will not be your parents’ Tikkun Leil Shavu’ot class; I’m predicting fireworks! —Rabbi Kerry Baker

Saturday, June 11th, 9:30-10:30pm, Congregation Agudas Achim Santuary, Dell Jewish Community Campus, 7300 Hart Lane, Austin 78731
Schedule for Tikkun Leil Shavu’ot

Everything That Has Made the Jewish People Irreplaceable Throughout Human History

Often words of praise for one’s own group leave me cold. Actually, the self-praise by one special group or another often sounds childish to my ear. I imagine a large blue and white foam hand with index finger raised and the words “We’re Number One” emblazoned on the palm.
But Rabbi Sacks is a master communicator. He knows, I think, that at certain historic moments any group may need a little positive self-talk. His words come at a moment when the public domain is riddled with anti-Jewish sentiment and ugly, hate filled anti-Semitic calumnies. Rabbi Sacks’ comments remind us of what we Jews truly are.

When African-Americans began to chant “Black is beautiful,” they hadn’t just noticed that black is beautiful. At a certain juncture of history it became especially, essentially important to assert this truth. Black lives have always mattered; today it has become critical to declare it. When civil rights protesters chanted “We are…somebody” they were declaring at a dangerous, climactic, explosive moment that they, and all humans in the globe, have essential worth, no matter what others say or do.

Rabbi Sacks is saying, in the face of a global tide of anti-Semitism, that to be, live and think as a Jew is beautiful, and that as Jews our historic mission has always been to work to make the earth a more beautiful place for all God’s creatures.

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Do Sanders Supporters Favor His Policies?


What a wonderful article! These commentators actually look at data and their conclusions are based on the data, not some fanciful wish. Democrats had better wake up, abandon the unicorn-like wishes of the Sandernistas, base their campaign on facts and data, before they walk into a political mousetrap and suffer a massive loss in November which may turn out to be permanent.

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, describes the qualities of good leaders that Moses should choose for the Israelites. The Torah teaches that leaders must share the common vision of the People, the moral principles upon which the vision stands and, just as important, are skilled, effective and dedicated to the practical implementation of both. The point made in this article is that Americans vote for reasons that are not congruent with the qualities of leadership. Those who aspire to lead and do not understand this will fail. Sadly, Republicans seem to understand this better than Democrats, and this helps to explain their success in recent elections. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

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