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Western Wall Note Controversy:

Sen. Obama, in response to the controversy over Israeli newspapers' publication of the note he placed in the Western Wall:

Asked what he wrote, Obama declined to answer, saying it was a private conversation between him and God.

The Maariv newspaper's response, prompted by the apparently intense criticism of its decision to publish the note:

"Obama's note was published in Maariv and other international publications following his authorization to make the content of the note public. Obama submitted a copy of the note to media outlets when he left his hotel in Jerusalem. Moreover, since he is not Jewish, there is no violation of privacy as there would be for a Jewish person who places a note in the wall."

UPDATE: Zvika Kreiger at The New Republic's The Plank blog alleges that Maariv never made any such assertion:

Yesterday, I posted an item about an accusation from Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv that the Obama campaign had leaked a copy of his Western Wall note to the foreign press (rather than Ma'ariv having bought it from some yeshiva kid who stole it out of the wall). After some additional reporting last night, I noted that the story sounded a bit fishy--not only has Ma'ariv not offered any tangible evidence to supprot this claim, but they also have only made the claim via a spokesman to various Israeli papers rather than printing the accusation in their own paper.

I just got off the phone with a Ma'ariv spokesman who says that the accusation is "completely false," and that he has no idea who these papers were quoting from Ma'ariv. "No official spokesman for Ma'ariv told this to any of the papers." I've got some calls in to these papers to find out where they got the quote. (I'll update here when I hear back.) He told me definitively that "the Obama campaign did not give us a copy of the letter or approve it for printing."

Either there's a huge snafu somewhere (or maybe more than one), or someone is lying. The Maariv's spokesman's response, as reported by The Plank, is very hard to reconcile with Haaretz's statement that "Ma'ariv issued a response Sunday" (the response being the one I quoted above). Either Maariv issued such a response or it didn't, and it's the sort of thing that it seems unlikely Haaretz would make up. But it does sound like someone is making something up somewhere (again, unless there's a very big misunderstanding); fortunately, I expect that the publications' reputations are on the line to the point that some evidence will emerge.

FURTHER UPDATE: A Washington Post blog now quotes Maariv as officially stating that Obama's statement was correct, and that no authorization was received. But how did Haaretz state the contrary? Seems like a major blunder on the part of one of those newspapers (or maybe both).

Anon21:
I am extremely skeptical of Maariv's account. So far as I'm aware, not a single other "media outlet" has come forward to confirm their account. It looks like a dishonest attempt to deflect criticism to me.
7.29.2008 4:02pm
Joe Kowalski (mail):
As this is the first I've heard of someone claiming that Obama submitted his prayer to media outlets, I'm skeptical. If that were in fact the case, why would this newspaper have had to resort to using the note directly taken from the wall as its source, and the faux pas it implies? Doesn't add up at all.
7.29.2008 4:11pm
Anon Evanstonian:
From Politico:

Obama spokesman Bill Burton flatly denied the contention that Obama's prayer, in the form of a note slipped into the Wailing Wall, was "approved for publication."

"That didn't happen," he said in an email. "We have neither confirmed nor denied the prayer to anyone."
7.29.2008 4:13pm
Hoosier:
Obama declined to answer, saying it was a private conversation between him and God.

When politicians say "God," I think they mean "Larry King." So it's all on the up and up.
7.29.2008 4:14pm
Observer:
"As far as I'm aware, not a single other 'media outlet' has come forward to confirm their account."

And who do you think the other "media outlets" are supporting? I doubt Obama's team sent the note to the National Review.
7.29.2008 4:16pm
Philosopher:
This is pretty much the best possible scandal for Obama to have. A scandal about the prayer he placed in the Western Wall will is essentially free advertising that he's a Christian, etc. The prayer was pretty well-written, too. If I were on the Obama campaign, I'd be happy if this "scandal" brewed for a while.
7.29.2008 4:17pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

Moreover, since he is not Jewish, there is no violation of privacy as there would be for a Jewish person who places a note in the wall.


Is that actually codified in Israeli law, or is the newspaper just racist?
7.29.2008 4:17pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
This smells planned to me. Even if it werent, no presidential candidate could do this without full awareness that someone might immediately swoop in and reveal it to the world.
7.29.2008 4:26pm
Brett Bellmore:
Even if that weren't codified in Israeli law, I don't see how it would make the paper "racist"; We're talking religions here, not races.
7.29.2008 4:27pm
John (mail):
At least one other newspaper may have received the note.

One blog is reporting:

"Yediot Aharonot, the country's most popular daily, published an article Friday saying it had also obtained the note but decided not to publish it, to respect Obama's privacy."

I have not been able to find the cited article, so this may be an incomplete report.
7.29.2008 4:29pm
Dave N (mail):
I am extremely skeptical of Maariv's account. So far as I'm aware, not a single other "media outlet" has come forward to confirm their account. It looks like a dishonest attempt to deflect criticism to me.
According to Power Line, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot confirmed it also received a copy of the prayer. Power Line linked to a story in Israelinsider. I have no idea how credible Israel Insider is as a publication.
7.29.2008 4:29pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

A scandal about the prayer he placed in the Western Wall will is essentially free advertising that he's a Christian, etc.


How is placing a note in a Jewish monument an indication that he's Christian?
7.29.2008 4:31pm
alkali (mail):
When politicians say "God," I think they mean "Larry King."

Obviously a mistake; Larry King's a few years older.
7.29.2008 4:34pm
PersonFromPorlock:
In any case, is the note to be taken any more seriously than Bill Clinton's big white Bible?
7.29.2008 4:36pm
Philosopher:
How is placing a note in a Jewish monument an indication that he's Christian?


Have you read the note? It sounded like something an evangelical Christian would write. E.g., "Let me be an instrument of your will."

No one thinks the guy is Jewish, or will think that. But lots of publicity of this note will boost the perception that he's Christian and god-fearing.
7.29.2008 4:40pm
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
Sean, seriously?

It's the same way Christians and Muslims aren't bound by Jewish ritual laws like Shabbat observance and kashrut. Stupid racist Jews and their racist religious laws...
7.29.2008 4:41pm
PC:
In any case, is the note to be taken any more seriously than Bill Clinton's big white Bible?


Since Obama is a Muslim, no.
7.29.2008 4:45pm
Anon21:
If Yediot Aharonot did indeed publish any article claiming to have received the note from the Obama campaign, it is not on their website. Moreover, even the story from Israelinsider, which seems less than sympathetic to Obama, claims that Yediot Aharonot published this article (which, again, I cannot find--assistance would be welcome) on Friday, and it says merely that they had "received" a copy of the note, but "decided not to publish it, to respect Obama's privacy." If Yediot Aharonot had received the note from an Obama campaign source, privacy would not be an issue, thus it sounds like this article was merely backing up the original account of a rogue seminary student taking the note from the wall and shopping it around.

In other words, Israelinsider seems to be essentially echoing Maariv's (still unsubstantiated) press release. No confirmation so far.
7.29.2008 4:48pm
calmom:
Obama sent a message to God. So now he's talking to himself?
7.29.2008 4:51pm
Gil Milbauer (mail) (www):
This is just weird.

If it's true, you'd think they could confirm the authorization with some kind of documentation.

If it's not true, then they should expect it to be denied and they'll look really bad. And, apparently it has been denied.

So, why tell a stupid lie about it?

I'm guessing that either it was somehow authorized and Obama's spokesman didn't know about it, or it wasn't authorized but somebody at the paper(s) lied about an authorization to superiors.

But, in any case, it's weird.
7.29.2008 4:51pm
Lior:
The newspaper is "racist" (more properly, bigoted) in the following sense: it does not ascribe religious weight to Obama's prayer at the Western Wall. In other words, since Christians do not normally come to the Western Wall to pray, Maariv does not consider what Obama did to be "personal prayer". Rather, they view his visit as "a gentile acted like Jew would for the benefit of the cameras". If all Obama did was go through the motions of praying, then indeed his note is not religiously significant. It is part of a political exercise.

I suspect that Obama is genuinely religious and the visit, while staged, did have genuine personal importance to him. But having seen too many "the President participated in X community's religious festival" press releases/news stories, it's hard not to view these things the way Maariv did.
7.29.2008 4:52pm
wm13:
When Christians say things about how Jews aren't saved, or God doesn't hear their prayers, or whatever, Jewish spokesmen usually complain pretty loudly. So it seems pretty inappropriate for a Jewish organization to say that God has established different rules for Christian and Jewish prayers.

Then of course, there are West Bank rabbis who say that Biblical prohibitions on murder don't apply to the murder of Gentiles. I presume neiother GMUSL '07 Alum nor Maariv will go that far.
7.29.2008 4:52pm
Ben P (mail):

In other words, Israelinsider seems to be essentially echoing Maariv's (still unsubstantiated) press release. No confirmation so far.


I'm still confused by this.

The first article I read mentioning the text of the prayer (that afternoon as I recall) rather explicitly stated and defended the fact that an individual (possibly a Maariv reporter, possibly another interested party) had gone to the wall after Obama and removed the piece of paper he placed into the wall. They defended it because while such a prayer would be offensive to a Jew, it was not so because Obama was a christian.

It also mentioned that the prayer was written on hotel stationary.

What happened to all these facts in the subsequent "Well actually he gave us a press release."
7.29.2008 4:54pm
K. Schmidt (mail):

Even if that weren't codified in Israeli law, I don't see how it would make the paper "racist"; We're talking religions here, not races.


I think you're right that this is a matter of religion, ultimately.

I think it's a matter of who is Jewish under Israeli law, which is an unsettled question that takes into account issues of religious identity and practice, and quasi-ethnic issues relating to the religious identity and practice of one's forefathers, at least for the purposes of the Law of Return.

On a cursory search, I have not been able to find any support or opposition to the explanation that I am about to advance. I would like to know if it is or is not accurate.

My guess is that the relevant law (supposing Ma'ariv is correct) operates on the principle that only statements made in the course of observance of a religion to which the person in question actually belongs are protected from disclosure. Since Obama is a non-Jew (religiously defined) attempting to participate in a Jewish religious practice, he doesn't have an expectation of privacy for his note.
7.29.2008 4:55pm
ejo:
couldn't he have apologized for sitting on his rear for 20 years in the church of a racist/anti-semite?
7.29.2008 4:56pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
To me, the question of whether or not Obama or his campaign provided anyone else (including one or more media outlets) the prayer is an indicia of whether or not this was staged and cynical or a true act of devotion.

Yes, Christians (including Obama) are not strictly bound to secrecy as are Jews in this situation. BUT I would suggest that they are morally bound nevertheless due to this being essentially a Jewish shrine or holy place that has certain rules for its use. The purpose, as I understand it, is to use this as a mechanism for a completely private conversation with God (and, despite theological differences, I would suggest that most Christians and Jews believe their God to be the same).

So, to some extent, I would suggest that intentional disclosure of a private prayer in such a situation by the candidate's organization would somewhat disrespect the religion of those who consider this a holy site. Something akin to going bare headed into a synagogue or wearing shoes into a mosque, only probably more so, given its holiness.

Of course, if the Israeli who found the prayer did so without any connection to the campaign and it wasn't released to any media outlet (or arguably even his campaign), then this is all moot.

Besides, even if it would seem to be disrespecting the Jewish faith, might the fact that the vast majority of Jews, at least in this country, will likely vote for Obama, likely insulate him for any controversy here?

Finally, wouldn't there be some sort of religious prohibition against an Israeli Jew looking through prayers inserted in the Western Wall? After all, wouldn't there be a possibility that he might find the prayer of another Jew? And even not, I would think it amiss.
7.29.2008 4:58pm
Muskrat (mail):
Israel Insider's general objectivity and reputation are unknown to me, but they have featured prominently in the nutcase/slimeball "Obama's birth certificate is a forgery" narrative, if memory serves.
7.29.2008 4:59pm
Ted F (www):
I'm waiting for Obama to blame the whole thing on a staffer.
7.29.2008 5:00pm
Anon21:
Gil Milbauer and Ben P: I share your sense that this is an odd thing for Maariv to lie about. But until they offer some sort of evidence, or a third party comes forward to confirm their allegations, it still seems to me that the reasonable assumption is that they are indeed lying, given that there was a perfectly satisfactory but unflattering (to Maariv) account of the incident already established before this latest press release. Apart from Observer and others like him, I don't think anyone believes Obama has some sort of mystical hold on all the media outlets in Israel (not to mention the American reporters who accompanied him on the trip) that would prevent them from disclosing the prayer's authorized release if that's what occurred.
7.29.2008 5:02pm
Bretzky (mail):
An Israeli yeshiva student has already confessed to having pulled Obama's prayer from out of the Wall and handed it over to the media.

So, was that not true and this is, or vice versa? The media got their hands on it somehow.

I'd hardly call this a controversy, at least from Obama's standpoint. Although, how he reacted to the publishing of his prayer may tell you something about him.
7.29.2008 5:05pm
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
wm13: When Christians say things about how Jews aren't saved, or God doesn't hear their prayers, or whatever, Jewish spokesmen usually complain pretty loudly. So it seems pretty inappropriate for a Jewish organization to say that God has established different rules for Christian and Jewish prayers.


There's a big difference between saying that all Jews are destined for eternal damnation or that God has turned his back on Jews as a people/religion, on one hand, and that a religion has different *standards* for procedural matters for co-religionists than for those outside the religion.

To provide an accurate analogy in reply, no, I wouldn't expect that I, as a Jew, would receive the privilege of privacy of Confession that Catholics enjoy.
7.29.2008 5:05pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Since 'Aleph' the seminarian who allegedly stole the prayer is anonymous and (some suspect) nonexistent, does that make him an Aleph-null?
7.29.2008 5:06pm
Suzy (mail):
From an earlier story about the leak: "Maariv's brief report said the prayer was provided by a student at an Orthodox Jewish seminary. It did not identify him or say whether he had been paid. The newspaper's chief rival, Yediot Aharonot, said it had been offered the note and had declined to publish it."

So at first, both newspapers claim that the note comes from a student who took it out of the wall. Now they want to change their story and say it was provided to them by the campaign? Well, it's guaranteed that at least one of these claims is a lie, so when dealing with liars, how shall we judge which claim to believe? Maybe, just maybe, we should look into other issues to decide whether Obama would make a good President or not.
7.29.2008 5:10pm
Anon21:
Suzy: To be clear, as best I can tell, Yediot Aharonot has not backed off from its original account that it received the note from the seminary student, who took it from the West Wall without anyone's permission, but declined to publish it out of respect for Obama's privacy. No one has linked to any actual evidence that Yediot Aharonot received the note from the Obama campaign in any form or fashion. Israelinsider and Powerline both appear to be either confused or deceptive, and Maariv remains out on its own with this fairly self-serving new story about how they got the note.
7.29.2008 5:17pm
Dave N (mail):
Anon21,

I suspect the credibility of IsraelInsider is the important thing here. I have no idea how credible it is. But if it practices legitimate journalism--it describes itself as "Israel's daily newsmagazine"--then I would hope that it would not publish something that was verifiably false. Of course, it also should have contacted Yediot Aharonot and gotten a comment from that publication's spokesman.

So if IsraelInsider is a legitimate publication, then it provides at least some confirmation for the other claims.

Since I do not speak Hebrew (I am guessing that is the language Yediot Aharonot is published in), I have no other way to confirm the accuracy.
7.29.2008 5:17pm
Justin (mail):
Only Maariv is changing their story, as far as I can tell. Neither Yediot Aharonot nor any other media outlet has claimed to obtain a copy of the prayer FROM Obama.
7.29.2008 5:18pm
Jmaie (mail):
I am extremely skeptical of Maariv's account. So far as I'm aware, not a single other "media outlet" has come forward to confirm their account. It looks like a dishonest attempt to deflect criticism to me.


Why, what have you done to deserve criticism? :<)
7.29.2008 5:19pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
The Orthodox establishment in Israel was appalled at Ma'arive's behavior. Their "privacy" explanation sounds like a clumsy attempt by a secular newspaper to appeal to what it thinks, in this case wrongly, are the prejudices of the Orthodox who aren't threatening to boycott them.
7.29.2008 5:19pm
Justin (mail):
PS - Anyone who reads IsraeliInsider can tell they only are repeating what Maariv has claimed.
7.29.2008 5:20pm
Ted S. (mail) (www):


When politicians say "God," I think they mean "Larry King."

Obviously a mistake; Larry King's a few years older.

Actually, they mean Groucho Marx on an acid trip.
7.29.2008 5:30pm
A Law Dawg:
If it's true, you'd think they could confirm the authorization with some kind of documentation.


You must be joking.
7.29.2008 5:30pm
Anon21:
Dave N: As Justin and I have pointed out, IsraelInsider is only passing on Maariv's allegations, without attempting to confirm them. It then offers some additional commentary on what the consequences would be if Obama had released the prayer himself, but does not offer any evidence that he did so. (The Yediot Aharonot article IsraelInsider mentions is a red herring; Yediot did not claim to have received the prayer from the Obama campaign, but rather from the seminary student by the means we've already heard about.) Thus, the issue remains Maariv's credibility in the face of no confirmation from any other news outlet that the prayer's publication was authorized by the Obama campaign.
7.29.2008 5:32pm
another commenter (mail):

I wouldn't expect that I, as a Jew, would receive the privilege of privacy of Confession that Catholics enjoy

As a jew I would expect a catholic priest who heard my confession to give me the exact same level of confidentiality as he would give a catholic, barring an express agreement to the contrary. The custom is confidentiality, not confidentiality depending on how religious you are. But, if a priest refused to hear my confession because I am jewish, that would be acceptable.

In the same way, the custom [I presume] at the wailing wall is confidentiality, not confidentiality depending upon religious you are. I doubt anyone would say that Reform jews don't get confidentiality or that non-practicing, ethnic jews don't get confidentiality.
7.29.2008 5:33pm
Lior:
To be clear: there is no law in Israel regarding specifically the Western Wall. As far as I can see, Obama left a personal note at a public place where anyone could retrieve it, and someone did just that. According to custom no-one actually retrieves these notes but this is the common courtesy of respecting other's privacy rather than a legal obligation. I am not a lawyer, let alone an expert on Israeli law, but I don't think the existence of this custom is enough to create a legal right to privacy in these notes.

Maariv's argument is normative: since Obama is not a Jew, his note was not actually a personal prayer to god but rather a simulacrum of such for public relations purposes. Therefore, Maariv should not bound by custom to respect Obama's privacy. I don't think many people in Israel would agree with this.

You can learn something about Maariv, and Israeli yellow-sheet journalism in general from this debacle. You can also learn about the prejudices many Jews have. The editors of Maariv were caught red-handed, needed to quickly say something in their defense, and we are seeing what they really think. Analogues of these prejudices are common in every society.
7.29.2008 5:36pm
cathyf:
The other odd piece of this is that Maariv printed an image of Obama's handwritten prayer on hotel stationary. In the 21st century, who makes multiple handwritten copies? They are essentially claiming that Obama made multiple handwritten copies and took one to the wall and gave others to the media. Or he popped down to the hotel copy machine and ran off a few copies before he left the hotel. These are all pretty outlandish claims on their face!
7.29.2008 5:37pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
There are very few respects in which Judaism makes a distinction between Jews and Gentiles other than that parts of Jewish Law are only binding on Jews. I have never heard of any thing that would suggest that a Gentile's prayer is any less confidential than a Jew's. Certainly my own reaction as a Jew is that it is totally inappropriate to disclose the contents of anyone's prayer at the Wall.
7.29.2008 5:42pm
Anon21:
cathyf: As I understand it, Maariv's claims are even more outlandish than that. They haven't actually denied the original account, that the version they published (in image form) was delivered to them by a seminary student who took it from the wall itself. They are, however, claiming that the Obama campaign authorized the publication of the note in any event, either post hoc ("Oh, some yeshiva student pulled the note out of the wall and gave it to you? Sure, go ahead, print it") or that they had separately released the contents for publication, but that Maariv then decided to run the image of the note actually taken from within the West Wall instead.

All in all, very implausible.
7.29.2008 5:50pm
Bored Lawyer:

There are very few respects in which Judaism makes a distinction between Jews and Gentiles other than that parts of Jewish Law are only binding on Jews. I have never heard of any thing that would suggest that a Gentile's prayer is any less confidential than a Jew's. Certainly my own reaction as a Jew is that it is totally inappropriate to disclose the contents of anyone's prayer at the Wall.


I had the same reaction when I first read the article. While Judaism does make legal distinctions between Jews and non-Jews, their ability to pray to the Almighty is not one of them. I have been Orthodox for 25 years and have ordination from a yeshiva, and have never heard of such a distinction.

In fact, the verse in Isaiah states that the future Temple will be "a House of Prayer for all the Nations" and the liturgy has many references to the Almighty hearing the prayers of all persons, including non-Jews.

(Of course privacy can be waived by voluntary disclosure -- which the paper claims and Obama disputes.)

Assuming Obama did not voluntary disclose the contents to the media, most Jews, including Orthodox Jews, would find the breach of privacy appalling.
7.29.2008 6:08pm
Dave N (mail):
Anon21,

I am actually not disagreeing with you. I read the IsraelInsider account and merely noted that it cited Yediot Aharonot as providing some confirmation for Maariv's version. I have said on multiple occassions that I do not know how credible IsraelInsider is as a source for news but that it would seem stupid for it to publish something that was verifiably false.

I am agnostic on how Maariv got the prayer though it appears to be tabloid journalism at its absolute worst. If Yediot Aharonot has flatly denied that the Obama campaign shopped them the story then that's good enough for me.
7.29.2008 6:15pm
cathyf:
If Yediot Aharonot has flatly denied that the Obama campaign shopped them the story then that's good enough for me.
I don't think we're at that point yet. I think that Yediot Aharonot said that the student tried to give them the prayer and they refused it, but they haven't commented since Maariv came up with the new story about the Obama campaign releasing it.
7.29.2008 6:23pm
Anderson (mail):
Zvika Krieger, who has been riding Obama pretty hard at TNR;

Yesterday, I posted an item about an accusation from Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv that the Obama campaign had leaked a copy of his Western Wall note to the foreign press (rather than Ma'ariv having bought it from some yeshiva kid who stole it out of the wall). After some additional reporting last night, I noted that the story sounded a bit fishy--not only has Ma'ariv not offered any tangible evidence to supprot this claim, but they also have only made the claim via a spokesman to various Israeli papers rather than printing the accusation in their own paper.

I just got off the phone with a Ma'ariv spokesman who says that the accusation is "completely false," and that he has no idea who these papers were quoting from Ma'ariv. "No official spokesman for Ma'ariv told this to any of the papers." I've got some calls in to these papers to find out where they got the quote. (I'll update here when I hear back.) He told me definitively that "the Obama campaign did not give us a copy of the letter or approve it for printing."
7.29.2008 6:31pm
A123456 (mail):
The kid who took the note has apologized.

I haven't trusted the right-wing IsraelInsider ever since they published the assertion that Hurricane Katrina was God's vengeance for the US encouraging israeli removal of settlements.
7.29.2008 7:03pm
Anderson (mail):
ever since they published the assertion that Hurricane Katrina was God's vengeance for the US encouraging israeli removal of settlements.

Why that's ridiculous -- God was angry about the gay pride parade.

Glad to see that EV found the Plank post -- it tangles the story nicely.
7.29.2008 7:07pm
T. Gracchus (mail):
This is, I admit, only tangentially related, but .... doesn't someone collect all the prayers? The practice of placing the written prayers in the wall has been going on for a long time. Would not all of the cracks and crevices have filled up long ago if no one removed the paper? The wall is just not that big. If the prayers are removed, what happens to them (at least when not published)? Into an archive? Do they fall out and get swept?
7.29.2008 7:27pm
Anon21:
T. Gracchus: My understanding is that they are removed en masse twice a year and buried under rabbinical supervision, in accordance with some Jewish custom.
7.29.2008 7:28pm
cathyf:
According to one of the reports I read, the prayers are collected daily and burned. ("Let my prayer rise like incense before you" Psalm 141:2")
7.29.2008 7:37pm
Michael B (mail):
File under public displays of piety, in this instance religious piety, by a political candidate. Beyond that, whether pro or con, it's nearly all speculative. Nonetheless, that is the proper place to file it.
7.29.2008 7:39pm
Lior:
@anon21:
[Maariv] haven't actually denied the original account, that the version they published (in image form) was delivered to them by a seminary student who took it from the wall itself.


This original account was, in fact, given by the Maariv reporter who published the story (if you read Hebrew, see the third paragraph here). It's therefore not surprising that Maariv hasn't denied it.
7.29.2008 7:44pm
wm13:
I'm glad that the preponderant view of the Jewish commentators at this site, anyway, is that, so far as we know, God treats the prayers of Jews and Christians alike, and that it generally behooves the rest of us to do likewise.
7.29.2008 7:46pm
cathyf:
This you-tube link shows what purports to be an official Obama campaign commercial featuring footage of Obama at the Wall and includes the text of the prayer. It says at the end that it was approved by the Obama campaign -- I suppose that could be forged.
7.29.2008 7:48pm
Dave N (mail):
cathyf,

Can't look at it now (my employer has blocked You-tube for obvious reasons). But without looking at it, here's at least one clue as to genuiness. If approved by the Obama campaign, it will have the disclaimer, "I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message." Of course, the disclaimer could be tacked on to a forgery.

However, call me skeptical. I can't imagine why the Obama campaign would want to have an ad like that out there.
7.29.2008 7:57pm
dan reines (mail):
Actually, the link doesn't even purport to be an official Obama campaign commercial. It may be the product of an Obama supporter (someone with very sappy taste in production, I'd add), but it is not from the campaign.
7.29.2008 8:03pm
Joe Kowalski (mail):

I suppose that could be forged.

The production quality on this video is exceptionally low, and more, it doesn't include any actual video of Obama, it's all just a slide show of campaign pictures intermixed with some out of place looking religious imagery. It looks to me that this is the product of an Obama supporter with too much time on his hands.
7.29.2008 8:07pm
Guest12345:
He told me definitively that "the Obama campaign did not give us a copy of the letter or approve it for printing."


I would hope the campaign hasn't given approval. However, getting off the topic of propriety regarding the removal of the paper and publication of it's contents, if the expectation wasn't that the prayer would become public then Senator Obama is either not a religious person or is astonishingly shallow in his thinking.

Imagine: you're traveling the world and knowing you will be near a location of great religious significance, you plan a visit and take time to participate in the local tradition of leaving a prayer. Do you write "protect my family. guard me against pride and despair. give me wisdom. make me your tool"? Is this the prayer of someone who thinks deeply? No, it is the prayer of a ten year old.

So, either: 1) he had complete expectation that it would be published and made it totally non-personal. Or 2) he was just showing up and didn't even consider praying until some staffer said "Yo! Obamameister, us Jews write a prayer on a slip of paper and place it in the wall. It'll be a better photo-op if you do the same." Or 3) he is completely sincere and this kind of shallowness is normal for him when talking to God. Which just doesn't mesh well with the idea that he is an intelligent and thoughtful man.
7.29.2008 8:07pm
Muskrat (mail):
Actually, cathyf, the video does NOT state it was approved by the Obama campaign -- either in text or audio. It just shows what looks like a screen grab from an Obama web ad.

It's clearly a mash-up, whether done by a pro-Obama person or Anti is unclear.
7.29.2008 8:09pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
"what purports to be an official Obama campaign commercial"

No. It's extremely amateurish. It's the work of a fan. The Obama campaign posts tons of stuff. It's very easy to identify, because it's posted by barackobamadotcom. And it's very professionally-done.

There's also lots of stuff done by fans, and that's what you found.

"It says at the end that it was approved by the Obama campaign"

No, it doesn't say that. The last frame is a graphic that includes the words "paid for by obama for america." The graphic includes a "join us" button. The graphic is pretty clearly just a real ad that was copied somewhere and pasted into this video.

I also notice the link is being flogged by israelinsider:

Already by the weekend, a (relatively) slick video appeared on YouTube that blended Obama's Western Wall prayer with various church scenes, crosses aplenty, a dove of peace, and a soundtrack based on Amazing Grace. The video closes with a "vote" button and an invitation to visit the official campaign website


Duh. The "vote" button is dead. It doesn't work. It's just a graphic. As Muskrat said.

This video was done by a fan, or it was done by someone with the exact same motives as israelinsider. They are definitely a right-wing source. No surprise that Power Line links to them. Recently their home page had headlines like this:

- Obama heckled as he makes pre-dawn visit to Kotel in Jerusalem's Old City [note: the number of hecklers was precisely one]
- Document forensics expert: Obama "birth certificate" a "horrible forgery"
- Breaking the Contiguous Code: Obama's Anti-Israel Message
7.29.2008 8:24pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
I see that the person who posted that Obama video has posted lots of other videos that are legitimately pro-Obama. Like this one, which uses the exact same web-ad graphic with the non-functional "vote" button (except in this video it's at the start as well as the end). The overall style is very much the same.

The stuff is very amateurish, and it's pretty amazing that israelinsider calls it "(relatively) slick." What's amateurish is their attempt to put over the idea that this stuff really came out of the Obama campaign.
7.29.2008 8:35pm
Hoosier:
"Maybe, just maybe, we should look into other issues to decide whether Obama would make a good President or not."

Like his . . . uh . . . record in national government?

I agree with the sentiment that we have more reason to suspect Ma'ariv than Obama's campaign right now. But the desire of his supporters to get away from these issues that may cast light on the man is a bit convenient. Shall we have nothing but his speeches and interviews by which to decide?
7.29.2008 8:49pm
Hoosier:
"As a jew I would expect a catholic priest who heard my confession to give me the exact same level of confidentiality as he would give a catholic, barring an express agreement to the contrary. The custom is confidentiality, not confidentiality depending on how religious you are. But, if a priest refused to hear my confession because I am jewish, that would be acceptable. "

A priest won't hear the confession of a non-Catholic. Reconciliation is a sacrament, and you have to be a Catholic to receive most sacraments. (Marriage is a separate issue, since this is a sacrament confered by husband upon wife, and wife upon husband.) He may listen to you and advise you. He won't grant absolution. Why would a non-Catholic want him to?

I don't know how the civil or canon law would treat this matter when it comes to priest-penitent privilege. My tendency is to say that the Church would impose the seal of the confessional, even though it is not a sacramental confession. But I defer to any canon lawyers out there.
7.29.2008 8:57pm
Oren:

Therefore, Maariv should not bound by custom to respect Obama's privacy. I don't think many people in Israel would agree with this.

Fixed it for you.
7.29.2008 9:05pm
Yankev (mail):

So it seems pretty inappropriate for a Jewish organization to say that God has established different rules for Christian and Jewish prayers.
Please. Caling Maariv a Jewish organization is like calling the Washington Post a Christian organizaion. Maariv has little use for the Jewish religion.

If you want to know what a Jewish organization has to say on the topic, keep in mind that the Orthodox Rabbi who supervises the site for the Orthodox Rabbinate condemned the removal of the prayer and its publication as a blatant and unforgivable invasion or privacy, and has called for an investigation as to whether Maariv's publication violated Israeli law. governing


Then of course, there are West Bank rabbis who say that Biblical prohibitions on murder don't apply to the murder of Gentiles.

Somehow I doubt that. Source? They may on the other hand accurately quote the Biblical law that killing in defense of your own life is not murder.
7.29.2008 9:28pm
cathyf:
I'm relieved that y'all think that the "commercial" is the work of a creepy Obama groupie rather than the campaign. I kept thinking that's what it had to be as I was watching it, but then it said at the end that it was paid for by the campaign and that creeped me out.
7.29.2008 10:04pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
I am disappointed in how easily Eugene was taken for a ride on this one. It is clear the note was stolen and published without consent. There really isn't a question about it except in the eyes of those with a very far right agenda (powerline grasping at straws).

I hope this isn't a precursor of what is to come and I hope Eugene posts another clear post that the note was stolen and published without permission.
7.29.2008 10:30pm
Michael B (mail):
Israelinsider consistently contains some valuable, thought provoking reads. Some examples, all of which can be agreed with or otherwise, but absolute bare minimum they reflect the fact that "change" is a slogan in Obama's campaign first and foremost, a slogan that trades off BDS and similar motifs:

David Singer, With platitudes aplenty in Israel, Obama plunges "Palestine" down the tubes

Barry Rubin, Hope? Change? Yes! Hope Obama Changes!

Paula Stern, Obama: Remember What You Saw Here, Learn What You Didn't, a very solid, informative and thought provoking read

And a humorous but also telling take, in youTube format: Ode to Obama the Messiah

All of those are substantial and, agree or disagree, genuinely engaging and well written briefs.

Elsewhere, more fun and seriousness, nicely packaged, MeetBarackObama.com
7.29.2008 10:31pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
"I'm relieved that y'all think that the 'commercial' is the work of a creepy Obama groupie rather than the campaign"

Just to be clear about my own opinion: I think it's the work of a fan/groupie. But I don't think I would say he's creepy (based on just glancing at a couple of pieces of work). I would just say he's not a very talented video artist. To me, what's creepy is the way israelinsider tried to insinuate that it was the work of the campaign, despite pretty obvious signs that it wasn't.
7.29.2008 11:06pm
apetrelli (mail):
The earlier story of a release "has been rendered inoperative".
7.29.2008 11:15pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Llamasex: If it becomes clear that the note was stolen and published without permission, I'll be happy to excoriate Maariv for what would seem like a bald-faced lie on the subject.

But as best I can tell, right now we seem to have conflicting claims by serious news organizations, just as at the outset we had conflict claims by a serious news organization and by a serious presidential campaign (which is the controversy that I flagged). I don't know whom to trust on this, which is why at this point I merely note what statements have been reported.
7.29.2008 11:20pm
cathyf:
What I found creepy is the notion that Obama and/or anyone is his campaign would think that we would be interested/edified by the contents of Obama's prayers.

It's like if Obama had been photographed with his fly down and something showing, and then a YouTube "commercial" featuring multiple close-ups of it appeared. If such a "commercial" was a vicious production by Obama's enemies it would be outrageous and offensive; when produced by someone who obviously thinks him/her self a supporter it's, well, creepy.
7.29.2008 11:27pm
Hoosier:
"It's like if Obama had been photographed with his fly down and something showing, and then a YouTube "commercial" featuring multiple close-ups of it appeared. "

I don't know that it's really "like" that at all.
7.29.2008 11:30pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
"What I found creepy"

I agree with hoosier that your analogy is off, but I see your point and agree. I was suggesting that this guy was guilty only of poor video skills, but with your prompting and further thought I now realize that what he did was also tasteless and misguided (in my opinion, at least). Maybe "creepy" isn't the word I would pick, but that's quibbling on my part.

As far as your analogy, I think you're just trying to say that prayer is private. Just as private as private parts. So I see where you're coming from, athough I think the analogy is awkward and maybe easy to misinterpret.
7.29.2008 11:48pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
"Israelinsider consistently contains some valuable, thought provoking reads"

For folks who don't bother to read the pieces you cited, here's my attempt at a few snapshots of what they say.

Singer says Obama's Mideast stategy is naive and going to fail because he's not going to put more pressure on the Palestinians than Bush did.

Rubin expects Obama to demand "unilateral Israeli concessions … Obama's approach seems likely to turn into a peace-at-any-price scenario." And "U.S. policy has a chance to help create a stable regime in Iraq but not in Afghanistan."

Stern complains that Obama spent less than an hour at YV. When she went, she stayed longer. And Stern doesn't like the places he visited. There are a bunch of other places he should have visited instead.

MeetBarackObama.com is run by the RNC and is basically a portal to gop.com and johnmccain.com. Lots of surprises there.

Speaking of "valuable" and "though provoking," folks might want to take a look at "I'm Voting Republican." It's less than two months old, and has already been viewed almost 3.5 million times. That makes it one of the top 50 youtube videos of all time (in the News and Politics category).
7.30.2008 12:06am
Hoosier:
"I think you're just trying to say that prayer is private. Just as private as private parts."

OK. Now that's creepy.
7.30.2008 12:20am
rrr (mail):
"I haven't trusted the right-wing IsraelInsider ever since they published the assertion that Hurricane Katrina was God's vengeance for the US encouraging israeli removal of settlements."

Proof? Thought not.

I don't know anything about the Israeli Insider but that statement sounds more incredulous that the one that sparked this post and thread.
7.30.2008 12:21am
Bartemis (mail):
Was it just me, or was the prayer profoundly creepy? Can you imagine the hulabaloo if GW Bush had asked in a publicized prayer to "make me an instrument of your will?" Isn't that what Torquemada used to pray while drawing hot irons out of the fireplace?
7.30.2008 12:26am
Anon21:
rrr: here is the opinion piece I would assume he's referring to. Make of it what you will. He doesn't quite come out and say Katrina is a direct consequence of the U.S. not supporting his extremist version of Israel's best interest, but he comes close, and he concludes with
Has America's time expired as the leading nation of the world? All the nations where Jews resided prospered when the Jews were treated well there. Egypt rose and then turned against the Jews and it fell. Babylon rose and then turned against its Jews and it fell. Greece rose and then turned against the Jews and it fell. Rome rose and then turned against the Jews and it fell. Spain rose and then turned against the Jews and it fell. The British Empire rose and then turned against the Jews and it fell.

All these once great powers lost their glory after declaring war against G-d by persecuting His Chosen People, the Jews. The present United States Government is now attempting to divide Jerusalem, destroy Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and turn it into a Palestinian Terror State. Will this be the undoing of itself? Are we today, witnessing the beginning of the end of the Great American Empire?

I suppose views may differ, but I'd rate that as fairly extreme stuff, and the fact that the website chooses to publish some columnists does shed some light on its willingness to attack Obama so enthusiastically on the basis of such thin evidence.
7.30.2008 1:48am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
hoosier:

OK. Now that's creepy.


I think I'm forced to agree. Now I can never run for office. Just imagine the attack ads.
7.30.2008 2:16am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
rrr:

Proof? Thought not. I don't know anything about the Israeli Insider but that statement sounds more incredulous that the one that sparked this post and thread.


Think again. See here, here, here, here and here.

Here are a few tidbits, from the last three of those cites:

Many people, Jews and non-Jews, including many Americans, believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has spoken.

… President Bush needs to go back to reading the Bible and remind himself that those who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse her will be cursed.

… Everyone knows that George W. is a 'born-again. And it's said that Condi is real religious herself. But it seems they've forgotten that the G-d of Israel watches over his people, and thoughts and pressures concerning Jerusalem, Hebron, and Eretz Yisrael can have serious repercussions.


anon:

here is the opinion piece I would assume he's referring to.


I didn't even notice that one. It's fairly tame compared with the others.

Make of it what you will. He doesn't quite come out and say Katrina is a direct consequence of the U.S. not supporting his extremist version of Israel's best interest, but he comes close


They did indeed publish multiple columns saying "Katrina is a direct consequence of the U.S. not supporting" Israel enough.

It should be noted that they represent a radical fringe which is vehemently rejected by most Israelis and most American Jews. It's also worth noticing that our own radical fringe embraces their radical fringe. It should also be noted how both of those groups bear a striking similarity to the radical fringe of Islam. Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, and the different flavors aren't that different.
7.30.2008 2:16am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
bart:

Isn't that what Torquemada used to pray while drawing hot irons out of the fireplace?


The Prayer of St Francis is apparently pretty famous. It says this:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace


A google on "make me an instrument of your peace" turns up about 50,000 results.

I don't see any indication that those folks are thinking about Torquemada, and I don't see how switching "peace" for "will" is anything other than a reasonable personal choice. Although I bet it somehow proves that he's a Marxist.
7.30.2008 2:16am
cathyf:
Was it just me, or was the prayer profoundly creepy?
I'm taking the opinion that I sure as hell wouldn't want anyone critiquing my private prayer, and I'm scolding anyone who dares to critique Obama's

So consider yourself scolded.
7.30.2008 3:04am
AF:
Either there's a huge snafu somewhere (or maybe more than one), or someone is lying.

There is a question as to whether Maariv actually issued that response. There is very little question as to whether Maariv's alleged response was true; obviously, it wasn't.
7.30.2008 8:52am
p. rich (mail) (www):
That Obama placed a note in the first place is a political stunt aimed at the Jewish Democratic voters in the US. What the note said, who provided it to the media, or the temperature tomorrow in Boise are all irrelevant. This is crass PR the left is all atizzy over, folks, and the question of how the prayer got into print is just chaff. Move along now.
7.30.2008 9:01am
AF:
If it becomes clear that the note was stolen and published without permission, I'll be happy to excoriate Maariv for what would seem like a bald-faced lie on the subject.

How does the uncorroborated assertion of Maariv, which it apparently claims not to have made, and which is contradicted by a mountain of evidence which shows the note was stolen, makes this unclear?
7.30.2008 9:18am
Hoosier:
"It should also be noted how both of those groups bear a striking similarity to the radical fringe of Islam. Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, and the different flavors aren't that different."

Except for that matter of blowing innocent people up, of course.
7.30.2008 11:06am
Michael B (mail):
"Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, and the different flavors aren't that different." jukeboxclown

Ideological fundamentalists - ideological fundies - are by far the most infamous, the most notorious, the most unconscionable of the lot. They rationalized and apologized on behalf of Stalin and Mao, they rationalized and apologized on behalf of Pol Pot, they rationalized and apologized on behald of Uncle Ho's "land reforms" and other purges, c. 1950-55 and beyond (and continue to do so, especially in the latter case). But more than rationalizing and apologizing for these regimes - they variously worked in support of such regimes and ideologies - which produced the manifold and manifest hecatombs of the 20th century. Even fascism, via Mussolini's decade-long embrace of Marxism and Marxist praxis, was spawned out of the Left, not the reactionary right.

Presently, they are serving to obfuscate, to blur the nature of the Iranian regime and the much wider war of ideas and regimes and Islamofascist, totalitarian interests in general. Politics as egoism; egoism as politics - and the delusions that result.
7.30.2008 12:03pm
Pitman (mail) (www):
Drudge links to the scene of the crime. See it here.
7.30.2008 3:44pm
Oren:
Yankev, not to fan the flames but at the funeral of Baruch Goldstein this little gem came out:
"One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail." Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, Feb. 27, 1994


We have as much duty to confront the extremists in our midst than to oppose them when they try to do us harm.
7.30.2008 4:32pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
hoosier:

Except for that matter of blowing innocent people up, of course


All three groups have a problem with "blowing innocent people up." Although if you pick just a specific moment of history it's likely that one group will be temporarily ahead of the others, creating the kind of forgetfulness that you're demonstrating.
7.30.2008 5:22pm
Michael B (mail):
Demonstrating forgetfulness, as in memory hole, total-eclipse forgetfulness. Now there's a theme an ideological fundamentalist could discourse upon with - ahem - "authority".

But instead, we're lectured as if those myriads of hecatombs during the 20th century don't mean a thing. Now that's what I call willfully and blithely demonstrating forgetfulness.
7.30.2008 6:54pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
You're implying that I think "those myriads of hecatombs during the 20th century don't mean a thing." When you have a chance, please show some evidence.
7.30.2008 7:25pm
Michael B (mail):
Why? Is there even a remote chance a rational exchange would take place? Is there even a remote chance that something other than guile and snide would be returned for the extended effort?

I clearly addressed the subject of ideological fundamentalists during the 20th century, and the results that ensued - those myriads and myriads of hecatombs - so when you have a chance, please show some evidence that you care to speak to that subject, that's already been forwarded. Or don't.
7.30.2008 7:40pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
In other words, you have no evidence. Thanks for clearing that up.
7.31.2008 12:11am
Yankev (mail):

We have as much duty to confront the extremists in our midst than to oppose them when they try to do us harm.
Oren, thank you for reminding me, and I agree with your statement. I also note that the Agudath Israel of America and (if I recall correctly) the OU were among the many Jewish organizations who condemned Goldstein's actions.

And the Orthodox rabbinate who exercise jurisdiction over the Wall have certainly condemned this action as a blatant violation of the dignity and privacy due any worshipper, Jewish or not Jewish.

Bringing me back to my original point-- Maarive is an Israeli newspaper, not (as one post called it) a Jewish organization. Given Maariv's history of eagerly reporting evey distorted rumor that might paint observant Jews and Judaism in a bad light, no one should give any credence to Maariv's opinions on what Jewish law does or does not require.

A legitimate rabbi has publicly ruled that non-Jews are entitled to respect, dignity and privacy for their prayers (which is certainly consistent with everything I have ever been taught), no legitimate rabbis have been heard to disagree, and only Maariv -- a secular Israeli newspaper that has never shown itself sympathetic or knowledgable where Judaism is concerned -- says that Judaism's position is otherwise. Based on those facts, it seems mistaken to say that a "Jewish organization" has dismissed the prayers of non-Jews.
7.31.2008 10:25am
Yankev (mail):

And the Orthodox rabbinate who exercise jurisdiction over the Wall have certainly condemned this action as a blatant violation of the dignity and privacy due any worshipper, Jewish or not Jewish.
It may not be clear that I switched directions here. "condemned this action" refers of course to the removal and publication of Obama's prayer.
7.31.2008 10:30am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
One more thing.

I clearly addressed the subject …


Your idea that you've ever addressed anything "clearly" is one of the many gaps between you and reality. All you've done "clearly" is demonstrate your utter lack of self-awareness. That's nicely summarized here.
7.31.2008 10:50am
Milhouse (www):

Speaking of "valuable" and "though provoking," folks might want to take a look at "I'm Voting Republican."
Nicely done. So nicely that even though it's intended as irony, I found myself actually agreeing with about 90% of it. Yes, shorn of the negative spin, those are nearly all good reasons to vote Republican. (I'll probably be voting for Barr, but only because if New York's in play then the election's already over anyway. If I were in a swing state I'd hold my nose and vote for McCain. And I may change my mind between now and November.)

"One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail." Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, Feb. 27, 1994

A bit hyperbolic, but basically I agree this. I value my own people's lives more than I do anyone else's. I am not prepared to sacrifice one of my own people to save any number of others. I would save the life of one of my own ahead of any number of others. I grieve for my own people far more than I do for others. When President Bartlett asked why a Kundunese life was worth less to him than an American life, I shouted at the TV "because you're the president of America, not of Kundu".

None of that is remotely like what was alleged earlier, that "Biblical prohibitions on murder don't apply to the murder of Gentiles".


Was it just me, or was the prayer profoundly creepy?

No, I don't find it creepy at all. Nor do I find it childish. It does strike me as distinctly Christian; I can't see a Jew phrasing it quite that way. But then, he is a Christian, so it stands to reason.

Going back a bit, it seems like some commenters were under the impression that there's some specific religious law preserving the confidentiality of these prayers. There isn't. Sticking paper into the Wall isn't prescribed by any religious law, and I'm not aware of any prohibition against taking them out and reading them, just for the lolz. It's just a really slimy thing to do, and that's what the Wall Rabbi basically said. People write personal stuff, and — reasonably or not — they expect privacy, and a decent person will respect that. But I wouldn't write anything that could really hurt me if it were to be read by someone.
7.31.2008 6:09pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
I value my own people's lives more than I do anyone else's.


Even though there's a natural tendency to favor your own group, a core Jewish belief is that all humans are made b'tzelem Elohim, i.e., in the image of God (see Genesis 1:27). Therefore all human life is precious and must be respected. As one Jewish philosopher has put it:

God did not begin the world with Jews … the God of the Jews is first the God of all humanity… the Bible takes the ultimate worth of all people for granted.


(From here, p. 98.) This is why most Jews reject what Perrin said, although there's a fundamentalist fringe that doesn't.
7.31.2008 8:33pm
Yankev (mail):
jukeboxgrad, Eugene Borowitz is your idea of a Jewish philospoher? He is Jewish (I assume) and a philopsoher, but his philosophy is of Reform Judaism only and should not be assumed to have application outside of that sphere.
8.1.2008 3:34pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Eugene Borowitz is your idea of a Jewish philospoher?


I imagine you know the old joke about the two Jews on the desert island, who have three synagogues?

I'm not that interested in figuring out how many Jewish philosophers can dance on Borowitz's head. But I'm sincerely interested in comments from anyone about the substance of the topic he addressed. Including and especially you, since I generally find you to be clear and knowledgeable. So if you have a contrasting statement from a Real Jewish philosopher, I'm interested in hearing it.
8.1.2008 8:17pm