Monday, May 4, 2020

Kashrut and Health

Rough notes on my comments on the Portion of Shmini and Health

Prompted by " Itzik Hasini", a Chinese teacher of Hebrew who has been documenting life in China during the virus: I  wish we had wise laws such as yours. What is permitted, what is forbidden to eat. All this would not have happened! Your Torah is very wise.”

This Shabbat- Parshat Shmini, among other things, has the first extensive list of permitted and forbidden animals.( Lev 9 and following).
Since we don’t eat bats and pangolins, maybe he Is on to something.

But are we really healthier? Plus and minus-

From  JTA — On the UK Jewish community: There are about 250,000 Jews in the United Kingdom. They account for only 0.3% of its population. But the coronavirus has killed 44 known Jewish victims so far — about 2.5% of the total U.K. tally.
That means British Jews are overrepresented by a factor of eight in their country’s death toll from COVID-19.
On the other hand:

In Italy, an epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak, the death rate at the end of March stood at a sobering 11%. Meanwhile in neighboring Germany, the same virus led to fatality rates of just 1%. In China, it was 4%, while Israel had the lowest rate worldwide, at 0.35%.

Oddities on Jewish Life expectancy

Israel ranked eighth overall with 82.5 years on average, coming just behind Italy and Iceland. Japan ranked first overall with an average life expectancy of 83.7 years. The United States had an overall average of 79.3 years.


Paradox- Wealth does not = health:

"it’s generally accepted that the well-to-do live both better and longer lives than the poor. Like with other low-income people who eat what they can afford, rather than what’s good for them, the diet of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) is said to be less than wholesome. Also, as a group, they don’t seem to do much physical exercise. Many are obese.

And yet, according to the State of the Nation Report 2015 by the Taub Center, a leading research institute in Israel, life expectancy among haredi men is said to be three years higher than in the rest of the male population. And haredi women live 18 months longer than other women.

[Except when there is a coronavirus epidemic]


“ Religious people live four years longer than atheists, study finds
Abstinence, meditation and social ties may all be a factor in increased longevity

Alex Matthews-King Health Correspondent -Wednesday 13 June 2018 20:15

Religious people live on average four years longer than their agnostic and atheist peers, new research has found.The difference between practicing worshippers and those who were not part of a religious group could be down to a mix of social support, stress-relieving practices and abstaining from unhealthy habits, the authors suggest.
So- let’s go back over a century, in the US, when most Jews were poor! January 21, 1905 LONGEVITY OF JEWS. JAMA. 1905;XLIV(3):222-223. doi:10.1001/jama.1905.02500300054010

It is claimed that of all classes of New York City's population, the Jews are the longest lived. Considering the manner in which the majority of the Jewish population of our great cities live, this is a remarkable showing, if true. The poorer Jews, as a rule, are rigid followers of the Mosaic law, and this would indicate to some extent the excellence of the sanitary provisions of that ancient code. Insurance men, however, it is alleged, while recognizing the temperance of the Jews as a factor, are inclined to think that this longevity is a result of natural selection, the weaker elements of the Jewish race having been gradually eliminated during centuries of persecution. There is still another possible factor to be considered. For centuries the Jews have become acclimatized, so to speak, to city life, and therefore may represent the class most resistant to such environment.


Not just Jews

The Hispanic paradox, or Latino paradox, also known as the "epidemiologic paradox," refers to the epidemiological finding that Hispanic and Latino Americans tend to have health outcomes that "paradoxically" are comparable to, or in some cases better than, those of their U.S. non-Hispanic White counterparts, even though Hispanics have lower average income and education. (Low socioeconomic status is almost universally associated with worse population health and higher death rates everywhere in the world.)[1] The paradox usually refers in particular to low mortality among Latinos in the United States relative to non-Hispanic Whites.[2] First coined the Hispanic Epidemiological Paradox in 1986 by Kyriakos Markides, the phenomenon is also known as the Latino Epidemiological Paradox.[3]
[They have fewer fatalities now with COVID]

How about the next best thing to Jews--7th day adventists

RELIGION 07/31/2014 12:15 pm ET
What Seventh-Day Adventists Get Right That Lengthens Their Life Expectancy
By Ryan Buxton
Statistics have shown that religion makes people happier, but it turns out it can help you live longer, too.

In an attempt to “reverse engineer longevity,” Dan Buettner has spent years researching the parts of the world where people live much longer than average.. . .  but there is one long-living group stateside. It’s the Seventh-day Adventists, who live an average of 10 years longer than the American life expectancy of about 79 years.
. . . what Seventh-day Adventists do right. That includes eating a plant-based diet and having “a social network that reinforces the right behavior.” Their religious beliefs are also a big help, he said. “They take this idea of Sabbath very seriously, so they’re decompressing the stress,” Buettner said. “About 84 percent of health care dollars are spent because of bad food choices, inactivity and unmanaged stress, and they have these cultural ways of managing stress through their Sabbath.”

Acharei Mot and Kedoshim : A psychoanalysis of the purpose of their surface contradiction between ritual and the ethical/spiritual

Acharei Mot and Kedoshim : A psychoanalysis of the purpose of their surface contradictions
between ritual and ethical/spiritual.

These are the rough notes to my discussion on this topic on this weeks Torah reading of the combined portions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, Leviticus 16-20.

You can follow my oral comments directly by following this link and start at 1:40:00 on the timeline.
A link to my discussion on May 2

Where is purification found? In ritual or in ethics? Do we need one to get to the other? Does one stop the other?

All of Leviticus up to this portion-ritual pollution and purification
 First portions- the order of sacrifices. Then- a mysterious death of two sons of Aaron for unknown sin. Then, ritual pollution through childbirth, skin diseases, bodily fluids, pollution through impure animals.

This leads us now to this portion: the key theme- purification of Aaron, the priests, and the people on Yom Kippur. Note the progression.

“The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the LORD.
The LORD said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover.”

Two goats are taken:
“He shall then slaughter the people’s goat of sin offering, bring its blood behind the curtain, and do with its blood as he has done with the blood of the bull: he shall sprinkle it over the cover and in front of the cover.”
“Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man.
Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.”

Then we wrap it up:

It is clear that purification needs the strange ritual that we come to know as “scapegoat”, seir la-azazel. The goat sent to “AzAzel.” Anyone’s; guess what it originally meant. Ez-azal-the goat has gone, or Azaz-el, The force or divine entity of Azaz, the goat demon.

It is clear that what is recorded here is a ceremony that far predates the Torah, that has its parallels in many societies. Impurities happen and we do not know why, and purification takes place by this ceremony. So it would seem.

The human being is complex- not a rational entity-an entity with feeling, imagination, creativity. In the literature of psychology- also, an entity driven by inner guilt, anxiety, fear. Freud used the ancient Greek myths because they provided the sounding board for human behavior over the centuries. The story of Oedipus- the hero has no clue of his sin. He is innocent. He has fallen into a state of sin-murdered his father and married his mother, because he is a hero, not because he is a villain. He must fall into this act of sin because it is fated for him at birth. Freud found this the appropriate metaphor for repressed desire for the mother and anger at the father, something that he felt was at the root of all civilization. That is the grounds for all ancient civilizations, and, Freud felt, was at the root of modern civilization as well.

Now, back to Yom Kippur- our sins are sins that we have fallen into by just being people. They overwhelm and cripple us- that is the core theme of Freud’s psychotherapy.It is through ritual actions that we are able to shake off our demons-Seirim- the goat-demons- send them off to the wilderness, sacrifice to them no more.

But now,we now have two new elements: 
#1- The cleansing is from God, not from the ceremony of the goats
“For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the LORD. “
#2 – Two actions are needed by the people- a complete Shabbat and “ self-denial” – ve-initem et nafshotyechem.
 It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time.”

This is what Freudians would call “Catharsis”. From the Greek word for Purification!

Now, we move to the formation of the adult, from the pagan child to the responsible adult.
The text then goes on to intentionally forbid sacrifice to the “ seirim”, the goat-demons, that same “Azazel.” It then prohibits categorically, the ingestion of blood as the source of life. ( Ch 17)

Finally, it calls for a sexual discipline, a restraint on with whom or what we have relations with, very clearly because these are acts, like the sacrifice to the demons, that are associated with pagan ritual—the Kedeshah ( from the word"Kadosh", sacred)– both female and male prostitutes of the pagan temples.( Ch 18)

Clearly, Leviticus  has shifted Yom Kippur from a magical purgation of demons to a spiritual connection to God and is working to disconnect the people from all that has been associated with pagan cults.

Now, the next portion makes full sense. From the ritual purification , we can get to the moral purification: Ch 19 Kedoshim, which has the most famous line that Jews and Christians share, "Love your neighbor.".

Referred to as the Holiness Code:Till now, attaining holiness has depended upon the Cohen. Now, it is shifted to the people: 

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Lev 19:  Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.

Of the missed wheat or the fallen fruit” you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the LORD am your God. “

You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.

Do not deal basely with your countrymen. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow: I am the LORD.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.

Together with these are religious regulations, which all are carefully designed to keep the people away from paganism, and loyal to God.

So, you can see the careful progression from what is ritual to what is moral/spiritual.

 Now, here is the question: Can we cut out the middle man, can we cutout the ritual aspects of religion and retain only the moral and spiritual aspects?

Judaism has always adopted a  position of “miztvoth ben adam lemakom” and “ben adam leadam”. Commands toward God, and commands toward our fellow.

God can do without us- why not just focus on our moral obligations? Is that the final step to becoming the mature adult?

Couldn't we skip what we know as halakhah, the burden of religious observances.

 It was on this very issue that early Christianity split with Judaism: For example, Paul, in Galatians: 

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”[e] 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”[f] 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”[g] 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”[h]

So, for the early Christian, the observance of the Torah, which Jesus never denied, became a stumbling block.

For the Jew, it was the system that leads to binding one to God and to elevation.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

2nd Night Virtual Seder
 Thursday Evening,  April 9 at 6:30  PM
Hollywood Temple Beth El is taking practical measures for this year’s 2nd Night Seder so the 10 plagues will stay in Pharaoh’s court.

Our “Some Enchanted Pesach Seder” for the   Second Night of Passover, with a mélange of traditional and contemporary texts and music , will be live-cast on Thursday,  April 9 at 6:30  PM via

We can’t serve you our delicious matzah ball soup this year, but we can serve you with an uplifting experience to share with all your fellows on-line. Then, when we have finished our Enchanted Seder, you can enjoy your dinner and listen to the lovely medley of Pesach music we have prepared for you on You Tube.

Since we can’t offer you our usual delicious Passover fare, we are not charging for seats this year. However, we will appreciate donations, which can be made by reserving a spot through Eventbrite and giving a donation to help us further our activities:

Space is limited to 100 participants, so reserve early. The actual instructions to join in will be sent by Eventbrite after registration within two days of the Seder date.

The Seder will be recorded for future viewing on You Tube on Passover Seder Medleys:

Hollywood Temple Beth El is located at 1317 N Crescent Heights and Fountain in West Hollywood. Shabbat services are being live-cast on Zoom and the recording of the service is available on You Tube :


Friday, March 20, 2020

When the Rabbi Had Kiddush on Yom Kippur

When the Rabbi Had Kiddush on Yom Kippur

This Shabbat theme: Keeping us all healthy and well

Join in with me as I chant highlights of the Shabbat morning Service;
Shabbat Morning

If you don't have a prayerbook on hand, you can download one from  Kakatuv, with Hebrew, English and transliteration.

My comments on Pirke Avot and the Torah Portion

For a video of my discussion on this topic, go to You Tube:

My Jewish Health Advisory
Source Texts

Last Week- Torah portion- Ki Tisa- Aaron and his sons are to have a copper basin to wash their hands and feet before they enter the Mishkan to offer incense - so that they do not die!(Ex 30:17-21) 

 An example of washing for purity in the Torah  . Did they know something about copper that we don’t? Viruses last the shortest time on copper. Of course, they didn’t have stainless steel or porcelain sinks, but the Torah also did not call for ceramic or stone vessels , which were in use. ( Always, fresh, flowing water, not from a standing pool)

*Which brings us to the idea of Netilat Yadayim: Hand washing. Why the hands?
Talmud Shabbat 14a וְהַיָּדַיִם — מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהַיָּדַיִם עַסְקָנִיּוֹת הֵן
The Gemara explains the next case in the mishna: And the hands; the reason that the Sages decreed impurity upon them is because hands are busy. A person’s hands tend to touch dirty or impure objects. Since one does not always pay attention to what his hands touch, and it is inappropriate for holy food to be touched by dirty hands, the Sages decreed impurity. ( Translation and explanation from
What did your mother teach you?- Wash your hands!

*Our Torah is life oriented:
The purpose of the Torah is ( Yoma 85b)רבי יוסי בר' יהודה אומר
 (שמות לא, יג) את שבתותי תשמורו יכול לכל ת"ל אך חלק רבי יונתן בן יוסף אומר (שמות לא, יד) כי קודש היא לכם היא מסורה בידכם ולא אתם מסורים בידה
Other tanna’im debated this same issue. Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says that it is stated: “But keep my Shabbatot” (Exodus 31:13). One might have thought that this applies to everyone in all circumstances; therefore, the verse states “but,” a term that restricts and qualifies. It implies that there are circumstances where one must keep Shabbat and circumstances where one must desecrate it, i.e., to save a life. Rabbi Yonatan ben Yosef says that it is stated: “For it is sacred to you” (Exodus 31:14). This implies that Shabbat is given into your hands, and you are not given to it to die on account of Shabbat.
ר' שמעון בן מנסיא אומר (שמות לא, טז) ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת אמרה תורה חלל עליו שבת אחת כדי שישמור שבתות הרבה א"ר יהודה אמר שמואל אי הואי התם הוה אמינא דידי עדיפא מדידהו (ויקרא יח, ה) וחי בהם ולא שימות בהם  וחי
Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya said: It is stated: “And the children of Israel shall keep Shabbat, to observe Shabbat” (Exodus 31:16).The Torah said: Desecrate one Shabbat on his behalf so he will observe many Shabbatot. Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: If I would have been there among those Sages who debated this question, I would have said that my proof is preferable to theirs, as it states: “You shall keep My statutes and My ordinances, which a person shall do and live by them” (Leviticus 18:5), and not that he should die by them. In all circumstances, one must take care not to die as a result of fulfilling the mitzvot. 

·               *  Preventative Measures in Time of Plague
From  The Rabbi Who Ate on Yom Kippur:Israel Salanter and the Cholera Epidemic of 1848-Ira Taub

Despite the prohibition against doing work on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), Rabbi Salanter set an example for the Lithuanian Jewish community during the cholera epidemic of 1848. He ensured that any necessary relief work on Shabbat for Jews was done by Jews. Although some wanted such work to be done on Shabbat by non-Jews, Rabbi Salanter held that both Jewish ethics and law mandated that the obligation to save lives took priority over other laws. During Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Rabbi Salanter ordered that Jews that year must not abide by the traditional fast, but instead must eat in order to maintain their health, again for emergency health reasons.[9] Some claim that, to allay any doubts, he himself went up to the synagogue pulpit on that holy day, recited the Kiddush prayer, drank and ate - as a public example for others to do the same.
1836 responsum R. Moses Sofer ( Chatam Sofer) (Schreiber) Father of the Orthodx resistance to modernity. He argued that, when faced with the danger posed by cholera, the prohibition against eating on Yom Kippur could be suspended even for a healthy person, and even where the mere possibility exists that such an action could be life-saving. However, he prefers that less extreme measures be taken where possible, even to the point of avoiding any public prayer on Yom Kippur, rather than suspending the fast.

·              *What about active intervention?

From my colleague: Rabbi Noah Golinkin (3 Shevat 5766)
Question: It says in the Torah “for I the Lord am your healer” (Exodus 15:26). If so, why do Jews practice medicine and consult doctors? Why don’t we simply pray to God to heal us like Christian Scientists? 

I) We Should Pray to God and Not Use Doctors
A snake says: “If I was not told by Heaven to bite, I would not bite” (Yerushalmi Peah, Chapter 1, 16a bottom). Hanina ben Dosa, a talmudic wonder-worker said: “The snake does not kill; sin kills” (Berakhot 33a and parallels). A few statements opposed to medicine can also be found in rabbinic literature. The Mishnah (Kiddushin 4:14) says “tov shebarofim l’gehinom” – “the best of physicians to hell” while Avot D’rabi Natan (Version A, Chapter 36, ed. Schechter p. 108) says that “Seven do not have a place in the world to come: a clerk, a scribe, tov shebarofim – the best of physicians, a judge in his city, a magician, a hazzan, and a butcher”.  ( But see item VI below!)

II) People Do Not Have the Right to Heal, But it is Their Custom to Do So
Berakhot (fol. 60a at bottom):A person who goes in to bloodlet says: “May it be your will Oh Lord my God that this procedure cure me, for you are a loyal healer and
 your healing is true, for people do not have the right to heal but it is their custom to do so” 

III) A Combination of Prayer, Sacrifices and Doctors
The third approach is found in the book of Ben Sira ,Chapter 38 (verses 1-15, ed. M. Z. Segal, p. 243) that people should honor doctors because God gave them wisdom and they should not refuse medicines which come from the earth and exhibit God’s power. When a person gets sick he should “pray to God for he will heal”, offer sacrifices “and also give a place to the physician for there is need of him too” and one should not oppose him.

IV) ” From Here We Derive That a Physician Has Permission to Heal”
In two places in the Talmud ( Berakhot 60a and Bava Kamma 85a), we find the following passage: It was taught in a baraita in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael: ” Verapo yerapeh – and he shall verily cure him”. [Why the double verb?] From here we derive that a physician has permission to heal. Tosafot comment- this includes injury inflicted by humans and injury inflicted by disease.

V) “Permission to Do a Mitzvah”
In the Shulhan Arukh ( Yoreh Deah 336:1) written in Safed ca. 1550, Rabbi Yosef Karo rules as follows:The Torah gave the doctor permission to heal, and it is a mitzvah , and it is part of pikuah nefesh , and if he avoids healing, he is spilling blood [=a murderer].

VI) A Sage May Not Live in a City Without a Doctor
  A Baraita in Sanhedrin (17b) states: Any city lacking these ten things, a Sage may not live there: a Bet Din. a basket for tzedakah .a synagogue, a bath house, a latrine, a doctor, a bloodletter, a clerk, a butcher, an elementary school teacher.

VII) A Doctor Helps God Heal the Sick -Midrash Shmuel :It happened that Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Akiba were strolling in the streets of Jerusalem with another man. They encountered a sick person who said to them, “My Masters, tell me with what should I be healed?” They told him: “Take such-and such until you are cured”. The person who was with them said to them:
“Who afflicted this man with sickness”? They said: “The Holy-One-blessed-be-He.” He said to them: “And you interfered in an area which is not yours! He afflicted and you heal?” They said to him: “What is your occupation?” He said to them: “I am a farmer, as you can see by the sickle in my hands.” They said to him : “Who created the field and the vineyard?” He said: “The Holy-One-blessed-be-He.” They said to him: “And you interfered in an area not yours? He created these and you eat their fruit?”He said: “Don’t you see the sickle in my hand? If I did not go out and plow the field, cover it, fertilize it, and weed it, nothing would grow!” They said to him: “Fool! Could you not infer from your occupation that which is written, ‘as for man, his days are as grass’ (Psalms 103:15). Just as with a tree, if it is not fertilized, plowed, and weeded, it does not grow, and if it already grew but then is not watered, it dies; so the body is the tree, the fertilizer is the medicine, and the farmer is the doctor.” ( Midrash Shmuel 4:1).

VIII) A Sick Person Must Call a Doctor, But He Should Continue to Trust in God
Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulay (the Hida, 1724-1806) ruled that today, a sick person may not rely [on] miracles and must follow the way of the world and call a doctor to heal him. And it is not in his power. to say that he is greater than the pious ones throughout the generations who were healed by doctors, and it is almost forbidden [not to call a doctor] either because of yohara [haughtiness] or because of relying on a miracle. Rather he should follow the common custom of being healed by a doctor, but he should not rely on the doctor but pray to God with all his heart and trust in Him.

IX) It is a Mitzvah for a Doctor to Heal People
This is the approach of Maimonides which he states in at least four places in his writings. He first addressed the issue in his commentary to the Mishnah ( Nedarim 4:4) which he completed in 1168 at the age of 30. The Mishnah says there that if Reuven took a vow that he will not derive any benefit from Shimon, Shimon may still heal him. Maimonides explains that this is “because it is a mitzvah , that the doctor is required by law to heal Jewish patients [as the Sages said] ‘and you shall return it to him’ (Deut. 22:2) – this comes to include his body” (Also see Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Nedarim 6:8; Commentary to Mishnah Pesahim 4:10; Shemonah Perakim, Chapter 5).

Monday, March 9, 2020

On the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Dr William Weinberg- Lessons on Democracy and Its Discontents- Written Almost a Cenutry Ago

The Future Cardinal and the Future Rabbi
( Excerpted from my book, Courage of the Spirit)

Prologue: It is getting close to 100 years since my father worked on his doctoral thesis on the pending collapse of democracy in Europe. His warnings about the distance between the citizen, the parties and delegates represent him or her, and the Kafkaesque bureaucracy behind the state still speak to us today.

Doctorate Diploma of Wilhelm Weinberg

In 1928, a future Cardinal put his signature on the doctorate of a future Chief Rabbi, and within a decade, the world would be in flames.

When the idea of that was inconceivable, however, and the world was still full of promise in the optimism of the 1920s, my father, known as Willi,  and his brother Munio finished gymnasia and went on to higher learning at the University of Vienna.

My father, William Weinberg, as a young student

My father recognized that he needed to build an intellectual and professional platform for himself, and because of his active involvement in Zionist politics, he enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Vienna, where he did his studies in Staatswissenschaft—Political Science. His thesis supervisor was Professor Ernest Schwind, who had served as rector of the university a few years prior and had published the Lex Baiwariorum (The Law Codes of the Medieval Bavarians) and Ausgewählte Urkunden zur Verfassungs-Geschichte der Deutsch-Österreichischen Erblande im Mittelalter (Selected Documents of the Constitutional History of German-Austrian Hereditary Lands in the Middle Ages).

While his supervisor’s field may have seemed arcane, it provided my father a good grounding in the evolution of the political systems in Europe from antiquity to his time, and this study became the core of his dissertation.

He also had to check his personal politics at the door of the university. There was a Jewish adage of the previous generation, which posited, in the words of Y. L. Gordon, “Be a Jew at home and a man on the street.” This certainly was true of academic research. Among the faculty were two opposing schools of thought: fascist/nationalist and Marxist/socialist. To the fascist/nationalist professor, one skewed one’s answers to that way of thinking. To the Marxist/socialist professor, one tilted the answer thusly. There was no room in between for discussions of Zionist Labor, Cultural Zionism, Revisionism, or any of the myriad other Zionist political theories popular at that time. Thus, my father turned his focus to the larger scheme of things—the question of how the European states had governed themselves from the middle ages to the present.

Keep in mind that when my father first typed his thesis, Hitler had just recently come out of Landsberg prison and had not had a single electoral victory. His Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei had barely scored a few seats in the Reichstag. Nazism was at this point so insignificant that my father did not mention it in his thesis. It was the Goldene Zwanziger (Golden Twenties) in the Weimar Republic and the Roaring Twenties in the United States, and the world economy was solid. For the most part, Woodrow Wilson had succeeded in his goal: “The world must be made safe for democracy.”

Only in Italy, a fascist state under Mussolini, and in Russia, a Bolshevik state under Lenin, were the nascent democracies of post-World War I Europe overthrown. Democracy was safe—or so it seemed to everyone—but not to the highly observant student of political science, William Weinberg, who was just twenty-five and very astute when he typed his thesis in 1926, which he titled “Parliamentarism: System and Crisis.”

In his thesis, he traces the origins of parliamentary democracy from the ancient Germans, Greeks, and Romans to the post-War period. He is full of belief in the value of democracy, yet he describes the theoretical and actual flaws in the system that existed in his day. He discerns the threats to democracy and proposes solutions to the crisis, without which civilization as the modern world knew it would collapse.

He finished his studies and successfully defended his thesis, and on November 14, 1928, he received his signed doctorate. The date was significant: it was ten years, almost to the date, of the armistice on November 11, 1918, that ended the Great War to “make the world safe for democracy.” Ten years later, almost to the date, the opening act of the genocide of the Jews, Kristallnacht, Night of the Broken Glass, would occur on November 9, 1938.

Ten years after defending his thesis as an optimistic graduate student, my father, William Weinberg, as a newly ordained rabbi, would be fleeing for his life from Austria, and would end up halfway across Asia before he found safe haven.

The doctorate was signed by the rector of the university; that year it was the turn of a Catholic scholar of the Bible, Theodore Innitzer. He would become Archbishop of Vienna, and then Cardinal.

Cardinal Theodore Innitzer

Unlike other Catholic leaders of his day, he actually served as a cabinet minister. Ten years later, as Cardinal Theodore Innitzer, he would sign a declaration to welcome the Anschluss, the swallowing up of Austria by the Third Reich, and would add to his signature the words Heil Hitler. The cardinal lived to regret it.

Democracy had fallen, just as the young Weinberg had warned.

Parliamentarism: System and Crisis

Wilhelm Weinberg

The full text of this thesis is viewable on the website of the Center for Jewish History, posted by the Leo Baeck Institute.


He introduces his paper with the pronouncement of how the parliamentary democratic system is deeply embedded in Europe.

Citing Wilhelm Von Blume, he states that the various forms of expression of the will of the people in this “parliamentary idea” evolved out of a principal concept: the people of a nation choose to have a marked influence on the manner and the norms by which they will be ruled. This is carried out in the leadership of the state through the representatives. “This concept is as old as European Civilization and will express itself as long as the civilization exists,” was Von Blume’s contention.

Ancient representative councils were described in antiquity, not only in Greece, but in Rome and Germany as well. He continues in his thesis to describe the history of the parliamentary system in medieval England, France, and other European states, down to the forms it took in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unitary and dualist systems, multi-party and two-party systems—the workings of parliamentary democracy are all laid out. Ultimately, even the monarchies, once controlled by parliaments, are but a sham, and the parliamentary state is de facto a republic (res publica—the public domain).

Now, the thesis comes to its crux: if parliamentary democracy is the chosen form of government, what has happened to it? This is covered in the second half of the thesis in the section titled “Crisis and Downfall of Parliamentarism”:

Among the many difficult and serious problems that have come to the fore in recent years in the public life of Europe, none is as pressing and serious as that of the crisis of parliamentarism. In the past 200 years, the parliamentary system has become the standard form of political life in the civilized world. All the great political struggles of modern times have as their goals the shaping of parliament. The Parliamentary system attacked and broke monarchy; it is identical with the victory of Democracy—Freedom, the rule of the people in all lands.

We are so proud of the result of the creation of our modern culture, and we have become so accustomed to see in the parliamentary system the last word in political culture that we have hardly recognized that it has begun to degenerate, that it is losing its original purpose, till we have come to this time when the parliamentary system has become the topic of debate, in which its flaws are widely known, and the whole world is speaking of a crisis of the parliamentary system.

The signs of this crisis can be found in all European states, not only Italy and Russia, where new political systems instead of parliamentarism are being created. We have in mind those countries with strong parliamentary constitutions—France, England, Germany, and the smaller states. Overall, we find an inability of the parliamentary system to guarantee a proper and stable leadership and create a good and lasting government and provide a beneficial and orderly administration.

The impotent manner of all parliaments, at the outbreak of the War, during the War, and at its conclusions, as well as its powerlessness in the follow-up to the so-called peace agreements, have created a serious breach in sight of all the world. As a result, there has been an all-around failure of belief in the system. The masses see how the parties tear and throw at each other, as the members of parliament speak and speak without end and achieve nothing concrete. They have become disillusioned and mistrusting, and seek other forms of political leadership, so that the idea of a dictator is today popular in many European states. Parliamentary rule is evermore unpopular; its existence is in danger. Many political thinkers, historians, and philosophers of history see its imminent demise.

What are the causes of the crisis?

The origins of this decline go to the origins of the parliamentary system.

The parliamentary system has two key foundations. The first foundation is the principle of democracy: the people alone determine their own fate. The second foundation is the principle of representation. Since it is impossible for each citizen to be directly and constantly involved with all political questions, he chooses a representative who is appointed and makes decisions in his name.

Parliamentarism is therefore a representative democracy. It is in this very principle of representation from its beginning that there is a danger. The classic philosophers of history and political science of modern Europe, Montesquieu and Rousseau, in their time already foresaw this danger and recognized the contradiction between the democratic and representative principles.

The will of the people cannot truly be expressed only through their elected representatives, they pointed out. The representative must, willingly or not, twist and falsify the will of the people. The true democracy, declared Rousseau, is possible therefore only in the small states, more likely city-states, as it was in the Greek republics, and in parts of Switzerland, where the number of citizens is so small that they can all control and affect their political affairs.

These prophecies of the theoreticians of modern democracy have shown: the more that the parliamentary system has developed, and the greater the State has become, so more rich and complicated has the political life become; more and more, the parliament becomes independent, absolute, and unaccountable to the people, a world to itself.

Politics has become a science with its unique discipline, methods, and secrets. Today, it is so complicated and twisted that the common man with average reasoning ability cannot find his way in it. All questions and problems in the political world become part of a completely new system, and its solution no longer depends on the real necessities, but rather on the laws and tendencies of the immediate moment.

The politician has become a new entity. He is no longer the representative of his thousands of fellow citizens; no longer the fighter and the spokesperson for the others.

He is rather a man for whom politics is his calling, who has become an expert in the wisdom and secrets of the hidden science of politics.

It must also be added that the legal framework today is no longer managed by the parliament; instead, it has become completely a matter of the state bureaucracy. This happens, naturally, when one thinks of what degree of knowledge and expertise that today is necessary to shape a law.

Increasingly, the politician loses the common interest of his constituents, and less and less does politics arise from the realistic needs and wants of the people. Its key issues of contention have nothing to do with real life, and it becomes purely tactical politics for its own sake.

The parliament has ceased to be a suitable apparatus for dealing with the public good, resting on the most possible broad foundation; it stands upon artful electioneering mathematics. These delegates no longer represent the people against the state authority and its bureaucracy to adopt policies necessary for civil life; they fail to act as a vent for individual initiative and freedom of the soul. The delegates’ legislative effectiveness is identified with the will of the state and its political activity and his attachment to the influence of the party organization; he restricts himself to the influence of the party leader.

It is no wonder that the people are disappointed and indifferent to parliament, to the parliamentary politics, which then loses their loyalty.

Therefore, in different countries people are looking for a new political form to inherit the role of the parliamentary system. In Europe, there are now two such systems: Fascism in Italy and Sovietism in Russia.

Fascism is not new. The name is new, but the system is old: dictatorship. What the advocates of “just dictatorship” intend is the application of extraparliamentary means to achieve political demands. It is understandable that those who have a far and wide view and can move above the needs of separate groups can, seeing the hardship of the totality, see this machine that makes much racket and much of little good, and therefore they are dissatisfied. They think of the dictator [as someone] who can lead the people by stark will over all difficulties.

Parliamentarism and dictatorship are contradictions. That which is negotiated in the parliament is commanded in the dictatorship.

Fascism arose from disappointment in the democratic principle. Mussolini screams that democracy is dead and has outlived itself. He creates what all degenerate democracies have led to—a return to dictatorship. This is not new; the idea of the dictator is as old as history.

There is another authoritarian system, the Catholic Church, which served as a paradigm for political rule. The pope is the highest authority, and he delegates power down to the cardinals, bishops, and priests, to the people, rather than in reverse. The key and crucial difference is that the pope is himself a representative of God, and as a result, is bound to a higher principle, which is beyond the pope. The secular dictator, without a God-concept, a key fundamental principle other than his own self, is but an episode, which must collapse at the demise of the dictator. Italian fascism therefore cannot outlast Mussolini.

The other challenge to democracy is the Soviet system. This system provides the great concept that is missing in fascism. The Soviet state is established upon a new foundation: the economic basis of means of production derived from the Marxist concept that economy is the central force of history. The Soviet system organizes life so that the individual can find his purpose fulfilled to the highest in the productivity of the factory under the control of the workers. Production becomes the source of new breath for the organization of the State.

This concept itself, which has nothing to do with the dictatorship of the proletariat and terror, is without a doubt a fruitful concept. It is not limited to the Bolsheviks, but is also found in modern Syndicalism and in other political theories in Germany and other States.

Its failure lies in the overestimation of the significance of economics. A people cannot establish their political organization on the basis of economics alone. It is also too fully subject to industrialization.

The thesis contains additional chapters (not included here) that describe in detail how Italian fascism and Russian Bolshevism succeeded in taking over the reins of power step by gradual step.

The multi-party system inevitably leads to splintering, so that, at the time of this thesis, in the last election in Germany, thirty-one parties had representation in parliament; there could be no common agreement among the splintered parties.

Furthermore, there are key contradictions in the present form of representation. The representative is supposed to represent the people; in fact, he becomes a representative of a party, and subject to the party organization. The representative is presumed to be an independent figure, following his own judgment; in fact, he is subject to his party and to the rules of parliament, in which, very often he cannot even open his mouth. He is supposed to be efficient, knowledgeable, and honest, but the parliamentary world has fallen in esteem, and is a matter of mediocrity.

The thesis continues with a discussion of various attempts at reforming the system and adopting methods of direct democracy by the initiative process, which had become part of American polity by then, and by stating the value of more direct voter choice of the representatives, as in the British system. The ideas of plebiscites and referendum return rule to the people, not the party machinery.

He concludes his thesis:

No sooner has the parliamentary system become the key form of political organization than it has given rise to a powerful reaction against it. On the one side, the labor organizations bend parliament to their will; on the other, the corporations back nationalist movements, such as Awakened Hungary, fascism, Orjuna in Yugoslavia, and the Ku Klux Klan in America, which press on parliament. In cases, as in Italy and Russia, it has been taken over completely.

He envisages vital reforms being enacted, and the formation of a three-level parliament: an economic parliament, a cultural parliament, and a political parliament to bring together the interests of the various districts of the state and to interact with other nations. This would be a three-fold basis for an all-encompassing parliament that could fully address all needs of society.

Nevertheless, he concludes, it is to be presumed that the parliamentary system of necessity has to survive, as it is still the one essential and necessary form of a structured society. This makes the need for reform even more vital to prevent the demise of parliamentary democracy.