For those of you who think Obama flip flops, your worries are over. Hendrik Hertzberg, who writes the political op-eds at The New Yorker, explains that you’re just blind to the gossamer nuances of Obama-speak, nuances that place him squarely in the ring with all prior politicians (emphasis mine):
Winning a Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways.
By George, I think I’ve got it, and I’ve got the perfect example of this brilliant rephrasing: Obama’s Jerusalem speeches. First, Obama tells Jews in June 2008 that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” (Emphasis mine.) One month later, he tells the rest of the world that “”The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ’67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent.”
Although simple minds might think that these two statements are binary opposites (read: flip-flops) — with his first speech saying that Jerusalem will forever remain an undivided Jewish city and his second speech saying he really does want the City divided, except without that aesthetically ugly barbed wire running through it — those of us who appreciate Obama’s nuanced brilliance know that he was saying the same thing both times. Let me explain:
You see, what you don’t realize is that Obama is a scholar of the finer points of Orthodox Jewish law. What’s he’s actually talking about is the eruv and its effect on Jerusalem in the eyes of religious Jews, politicized Arabs and the secular world. (Stick with me here. This is going to make sense and it will explain to you all the gradated wonders of Obama-speak, too.)
Assuming you’re neither an Orthodox Jew nor the scholarly Senator Obama, and you don’t know what an eruv is, let me (or, rather, Wikipedia) explain (bolded, italicized emphasis mine):
A community Eruv (Hebrew: ערוב mixture, also transliterated as Eiruv or Erub, plural: Eruvin) refers to the legal aggregation or “mixture” under Jewish religious property law of separate parcels of property meeting certain requirements into a single parcel held in common by all the holders of the original parcels, which enables Jews who observe the traditional rules concerning Shabbat to carry children and belongings anywhere within the jointly held property without transgressing the prohibition against carrying a burden across a property line on the Jewish sabbath. The legal aggregation is set up to have effect on the sabbath day only; on other days of the week ordinary property ownership applies. A valid aggregation has a number of requirements including an agreement among the property-holders and an aggregation ritual.
One of the requirements of a valid aggregation is that all the parcels must lie within a chatzer, or walled courtyard. For this reason, this type of aggregation is more properly known as an eruv chatzerot (Hebrew: ערוב חצרות), an “aggregation of courtyards,” to distinguish it from other types of rabbinically-ordained mixture procedures which also have the name eruv.
In modern times, when housing is not typically organized into walled courtyards, rabbinic interpretation has permitted this requirement to be met by creating a continuous wall or fence, real or symbolic, surrounding the area to be aggregated. The fence is required to have certain properties and consist of structural elements such as walls or doorframes. When the fence is symbolic, the structural elements are often symbolic “doorframes” made of wire, with two vertical wires (often connected to utility poles) and one horizontal wire on top connecting them (often using utility wires). The use of symbolic elements permits an eruv to make use of utility poles and the like to enclose an entire neighborhood of a modern city within the legal aggregation. In contemporary Jewish discourse, “an eruv” frequently refers to this symbolic “fence” rather than to the aggregation or legal status of the properties.
If you drifted off a bit during that scholarly disquisition, let me explain it in more user-friendly terms. Orthodox Jews are technically barred from carrying burdens across property lines on the sabbath. This was to make sure that, on the Lord’s day of rest, they didn’t sneak off and do some work outside of the community. When it became apparent in the old days that simply stepping out of your home with your baby in your arms to go to synagogue violated this rule, the rabbis came up with the idea of the eruv, which said that, for Sabbath purposes, the entire walled Jewish community was a single property. Problem solved.
Nowadays, however, with Jews living in sprawling urban and suburban regions, how do you define a single community for eruv purposes? Modern rabbis came up with a creative solution, with is to recognize a “virtual” community bounded by string or wire. This means that, in the absence of the old medieval town wall, your neighborhood can encompass broader boundaries than the eye might suggest.
So, back to Barack Obama: When he made the two statements that simple minds perceive as conflicting (read: flip-flopping), he actually understood and was promoting the whole eruv principle. In June 2008, he said Jerusalem would be undivided. In July 2008, when he spoke of barbed wire (Wire! Get it?), he clarified that, in his earlier speech, he was really speaking of the eruv.
What he’s saying — I’m so impressed I can scarcely fathom his Machiavellian (or do I mean Messianic?) brilliance — is that even if Jerusalem is politically divided with a Jewish and an Arab side, he wasn’t lying or pandering to the AIPAC crowd. His later reference to barbed wire was code for his plan to create a low-key eruv around the entire City of Jerusalem, as opposed to that old-fashioned, crude barbed wire, so that the Orthodox Jews living there can wander freely on the Sabbath — as long as they don’t mind getting lynched should their wanderings take them into the Arab side of the “eruv-ly” undivided City.
Now do you get it? The Oba-masterly nuance here is that a President Obama will demand a politically divided Jerusalem to satisfy the Palestinians and their fellow travelers, but he’ll set up a subtle eruv to keep the Jews happy. Problem solved with truly Messianic (or do I mean Solomonic?) brilliance.
The only thing that confuses me is that good Herzberg, laboring mightily at the New Yorker to explain why all of Obama’s position changes aren’t really changes at all (they’re just subtle rephrasings), ignored the true genius behind Obama’s remarkably steadfast position on Jerusalem. I guess that, unlike Obama, Herzberg is not a scholar of Jewish arcana, and this was one flip-flop he, poor ignorant sap, just couldn’t explain away.
UPDATE: Although the above was written in a rather silly, snarky spirit, I do like to keep my facts straight. Soccer Dad, who has more Jewish knowledge in his little finger than I will ever have in my entire body, clarifies some slight errors in the Wikipedia article from which I quoted:
More precisely, Biblically it is prohibited to carry from a private domain to public domain or 4 cubits (6 – 8 feet) in a public domain on the Sabbath.
The problem is that most modern public spaces do not constitute public domains according to the Torah definition. Given that these areas are undefined the Rabbis defined them as (Rabbinical) public space. As such they also provided a remedy for those who wish to carry in those areas.
An Eruv would be ineffective in a biblically defined public domain and one would still be prohibited from eitehr carrying within such a domain or transferring into a such a domain from a private domain on the Sabbath.
The laws of Eruv are very complicated and I have studied them a little. I am hardly an expert. The general rule with any type of Eruv – not just the carrying kind – is that it is a Rabbinic leniency provided to get around a Rabbinic stringency.
I hope this clarifies things a bit. I don’t think that the Wikipedia article is entirely correct.
UPDATE II: Power Line has another good example of Obama’s lies . . . no, I mean flip-flops . . . no, sorry, I mean “rephrasings,” this time regarding the Surge.