moral qualms

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We live in different countries, different cultures, speak different languages, but the spirit of the time, the zeitgeist affects us all. When I think back to the 60s, I remember the strong feeling I had then, that people were reexamining their values, and that the world would never again be as it was before. A conversation comes back to me from those days. I was sitting with my parents on their balcony and my father was discussing the similarity of scientific research on both sides of the iron curtain. Perhaps this was after Sputnik, that first venture into space. I remember saying something about changing attitudes, especially on college campuses. My mother turned to me and said, “Every generation thinks that they’re going to change the world.” I remember thinking, but this generation is really different, though I didn’t say it. I respected her perspective.

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Back then there were folks coming from all over Europe to volunteer on kibbutz. Young people were rejecting the crass commercialism of the 50s, and even in America, there were new experiments in communal living. Free speech was the battle cry of youth. Forward thinking people were building homes and public facilities based on geodesic engineering. But looking back, the effect of that cultural revolution was short lived. What remains of those bright eyed and long haired revolutionaries is not much more than the obsessive use of the word fuck in Hollywood movies.

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Here in our country, a new law is being discussed in parliament which is intends to put an end to prostitution. Any person caught hiring the services of a prostitute would be made to pay a sizeable fine. If caught a second time, he would pay double the fine. And after that, might face criminal prosecution. As expected, there were protests from the ‘working girls’, and a television program pointing out the advantages of such employment for handicapped people who might suffer were it not for the release provided by such service. But most of the progressive people in our society support the legislation. Women too. Our Minister of Justice is a fine, intelligent and serious thinker, and she was for the law. And the head of our socialist leftist party, also a woman, was pushing for it.

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When Israel achieved statehood after being a colony of Great Britain, we inherited an English law prohibiting homosexual activity. Though I am a religious Jew, and we believe that male homosexuality is a perversion and contrary to the injunctions of the bible, I supported the repeal of this law. Believing in ‘live and let live’, I don’t think the state should get involved with a person’s private life. On the subject of homosexuality, it is interesting to note that the Greeks and the Jews disputed this issue more than 2000 years ago. The Greek standpoint was that homosexual relations were on a higher level than heterosexual love, because they weren’t necessitated by self-perpetuation.

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Nowadays, there are many examples of the state’s involvement in the lives of citizens. Compulsory schooling is already taken for granted in all western countries. We have recently seen the heavy handed approach to smoking, while at the same time there is a growing tolerance of Marijuana. In the past, the US made a great effort to prohibit the imbibing of alcohol, which caused havoc and the loss of lives. But these days, the common attitude is to encourage individual liberties.

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Prostitution is an immoral act, and has become an allegory for a great variety of distasteful behavior, including the self promotion of politicians, journalists, and business men. But if two consenting adults agree to have sex in exchange for money, is it our business to interfere? What if a rich man or woman suggests a date with a younger indigent person? Will that too be against the law? Will we allow discrimination against the obese? Israel already has a law against pimping. The law hasn’t been very effective, especially since the arrival of the internet. Because women looking for that sort of business can advertise without an agent. If this new law will work, it’ll deprive a minority of their freedom. And if it doesn’t work, it’ll demean still further the respect of society for law and government.

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I believe its important that laws are made to protect the society within a framework representing consistent values. It is very sad to see the constant growth of laws and ordinances to the point where an individual is easily strangled by the heavy weight of never ending paperwork, and where changing fashions dictate the lives of all, including personal preferences. Appearing before a court is an expensive enterprise and we are becoming completely dependent on lawyers for dealing with the judicial system.

The photos on this post describe a visit to my favorite market, Machaneh Yehuday, and dinner at a restaurant there with my dear friend Noga.

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48 responses to “moral qualms

  1. Though I may not like certain behaviors or ways of life I agree with you that the state ought not try to legislate morality. That’s between God and the individual, whether the individual believes in God or not. Thank you for your clarity. Only God can truly change a person’s heart.

    • It seems to me that a person can change his own heart as well… and sometimes those we love can change our hearts. Thanks for your comment, ekurie

  2. Why is it, with this amazingly thoughtful reflection in writing, I should only have my eyes on those pastries? lol I love your posts and hope you are doing well!

    • I agree with you, Kathleen. The pastry is much more appetizing than the subject I chose for this post. But lately I’ve been thinking that about the nature of social progress, and trying to differentiate between that and fads or fashion. Very good to see you.

  3. I’m amused and annoyed that those who demanded absolute freedom without consequences are now the ones demanding laws for every aspect of life. Perhaps they’ve suffered natural consequences and need to create laws to feel in control.

    Much like Painter Lady, I found myself wishing I could afford to do a taste testing tour. 🙂

    • I’m not sure whom you’re referring to, Judy, because it’s very rare in my world that people demand ‘absolute freedom’, but I do think there’s a problem with legislators in this time of the heroic individual. Making laws is a delicate undertaking, and the more laws we have, the easier it is to find loopholes. Rules can turn society into a stifling bureaucracy if not handled well. But because each legislator wants to be noticed and commended, there is an impetus to make more and more laws.
      You’re right… the pastries, fruit and vegetables in the market place are delicious, and walking through, one encounters many tempting sights and smells.

  4. I think the world might benefit from a re-visit of some of those long haired hippies of the 60s who advocated for free love. Better than the hate going on today.
    I like your photos; that looks like my kind of market.
    Saludos and Shalom. Have a good week!

    • The market used to be the hub of activity for many here in Jerusalem. But in recent years it has faced a lot of competition from supermarkets. As a result, the market has gone a bit up class, and we now have cultural events there, more eateries, and more tourists.

      I too wish we had more love, and much less hate in contemporary society. Maybe we need more sport for our young, and less action movies and video games which feature extreme behavior and situations. It worries me a lot to see the levels of violence in today’s entertainment. Thanks for your comment Angeline.

  5. While I enjoyed your thoughts in words, Shimon, the greatest smile was brought by scrolling upon that image of the lovely Noga. We hope that all of you are doing well!

    • Yes, doing well Bill. The weather has gotten very pleasant here, and everyone’s out enjoying life now. Glad you liked the picture of Noga, I wasn’t sure whether to publish that one, but she gave her approval. Thanks, and best wishes to you all.

  6. If this happened 2000 years ago, then it’s bound to remain or history will repeat itself. Moral law can be hard to impose on humanity. There is one too many laws politicians are focusing on when the world is litters starving that requires their attention.

    • I certainly agree Perpetua, that morality can’t be imposed. It has to be accepted in good will if it’ll influence. And without respect for one another, society becomes cruel. Thanks for coming by.

  7. Many interesting thoughts to ponder here. Prostitution is illegal in most of the US. Prohibition era has an interesting history here — I believe lasting 13 years. Interesting how some religious groups promote laws for the benefit of their particular point of view.

    • I suppose it can be reduced, if there are laws against it, and the law is enforced. It is an experiment here, and I can only hope that it’ll turn out beneficent to our society. What surprised me was that this law seemed to be in contradiction to the philosophy preached by the same parties, but we have yet to see where it’ll lead. Here it isn’t just the religious that try to legislate according to their beliefs. I believe that everyone has the same intent… from the religious on one side to the communists on the other extreme. Thanks, Frank.

  8. You touch universal topics, where their implementation is very variable. We have democratic countries, others under a kind of dictatorship; more or less civilized countries (although this term, in my opinion, is used in an inconsistent way) and others where the law of the court is in force. Habits change, forced by technology that allows you to live everything in real time. We have not found answers to the many questions that haunt us, we think we have everything under control but when we are sick we start to realize that health is the most important thing. 1968 was a socio-cultural phenomenon, emancipation, democracy, equality, fairy hippies, make love not war, and so on. Both of us have lived these years, we keep vivid memories, and we think of those times as “the best” in comparison with the present…
    Like you, I am of the opinion that free will is the most coherent solution. No strict laws are necessary, these can be manipulated at will by those who apply them…
    Homosexuality is not blasphemy, no matter what the Supreme Being in which one believes, he considers us all as his children without a difference in skin color or affective choices. A prostitute is not worse than promiscuity between heterosexuals, prostitution is one of the oldest “professions”.
    We no longer want wars, yet we continue to manufacture weapons and sell them freely… Tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and all other drugs should be left to free will. No one is forced to make a consumption against his will… I think.
    Important is the information, the love of those who raise you and provides the conditions to grow with sound principles and an ethic above any corruption.
    But we are human, weak in the flesh and maneuverable in the mind… we make mistakes, and it is laudable to admit our mistakes and, if necessary, to ask for forgiveness.
    I wish you a peaceful Sabbath 🙂 c

    • What you say about being ill is very true, Claudine, and I think it can be applied to society too. I don’t think of 1968 as the best time, but it certainly was better than 1938. There are still many different visions of what would be best for society. And while I still believe in individual freedom, I think it’ll only work if we continue to have respect for the many different beliefs and attitudes within society. Some people are so sure of their righteousness that they try to impose their beliefs on others. This is dangerous, and it can lead to backlash. Even the example you used, of the sale of arms is a very complicated issue when we study it. On the surface, it seems that such behavior is outrageous (I am reminded of Dylan’s song, ‘Masters of War’). But in reality, when one side is armed, and the other side is not, that too is a disaster. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, but the Christian nations of the world never behaved that way. And if they had, they wouldn’t have survived. We can only hope that the generations that’ll come after us will find the path to universal tolerance and a love for one’s fellow man. Thank you very much for your comment.

  9. Is that you wearing the yellow headpiece?

    • I don’t know Bob, there are two pictures you might be refering to. There is one where two men are sitting and talking. Neither of them are me, because I was taking the picture I’m an old man with a white beard, so I might resemble the fellow on the right in that photo. In the other, we see a sweet lady with yellow headpiece writing on her portable computer. She’s a young religious woman who probably has a blog too… which would resemble me. But maybe she was updating her status on facebook. In that case, we’re less similar. Good to see you here.

  10. I agree with you and love your photos. There was an economic boom in the West in the 60’s which lead to false optimism. As for sex, it seems very odd that sex with a woman was seen as selfish by the Greeks because it was to beget children.That is painful for women. Buying sex is an abuse of women. They do it out of desperation and poverty. They don’t want to do it. There is a power imbalance. Power and love are not compatible. I imagine men who are not confident will feel better buying sex.

    • Thanks Cherry. There are some who think all optimism is false, but I remain an optimist even in these days. Here in Israel we have social care for poverty stricken, as well as numerous programs to help those who wish to learn a profession regardless of financial means. Many of the prostitutes claim that they are earning more than the average and that they find the work rewarding. As for power imbalance, the man who comes in to wash the floors is also suffering from power imbalance. But that’s the reality of life. There are a lot of power imbalances in society. There were such even in communist societies.

  11. I gazed at your photos and was transported back to Jerusalem. We really liked the Machaneh Jehuday market and spent quite a bit of time there.

    Your post could be a discussion of the political and social issues being posited here in the present time, generated ‘from on high’. There is a circularity in all things, but within some circles of time the arguments presented subtly change to include or exclude elements that may gain more traction for one side or the other. I assure you Shimon, we have had all the same points about prostitution discussed and examined. Some things have been tried, imports from other countries. The problem is, implants often cannot be made to fit a different society. There is plenty of proof that shows one size does not fit all. Schemes that have demonstrated some measure of hope and ‘success’ have fallen through due to lack of continued funding. As you point out, when the sex industry is displaced and driven underground, it will become problematic for many parts of society and especially for sex workers, those who choose to make it their living. There are the added issues of trafficked people, male and female, who would be hidden more so than they currently are, and so, have less chance of escape or rescue.

    Being cynical about possible alternative political dilemmas, what other major political issues might there be at this time that politicians want to distract the populace from with the concerns raised about prostitution?

    You mother’s words were wise. As we grow in life’s experiences we too discover what she had learned, and passed on to you.

    Shalom.

    • I agree with you menhir, on both the circular nature of cultural conventions, and the difficulty of adapting behaviors from other societies. Fortunately, there are strict laws in our society against the trafficking of human beings, so that is not our problem right now. I doubt that the present move to outlaw prostitution was organized to distract the electorate, because it seems to have grass roots backing. But I think the situation might become worse as a result of the new law. We’ll have to see.

      I don’t know when you were last in Machaneh Jehudah, but it’s changed in the last few years. It’s been gentrified. You may still enjoy it, because there are new restaurants and cafes, and more tourists seem to come and enjoy it. Thanks for your comment.

  12. A most interesting post Shimon. NZ has decriminalised both homosexuality and prostitution. NZ has also legalised gay marriage. While medical marijuana is supported and legalised , NZ won’t go as far as Canada yet and totally legalise the use of marijuana. Ah yes, the 1960’s. I get nostalgic about those days. Then came Vietnam. Had a brother-in-law and brother involved there. Both died early of medical problems. Agent Orange? We actually made it here too, though our product was for Fijian sugarfields.

    • Very impressive to read about the permissive attitudes in NZ, Peter. It sounds like your society is more consistent in their attitudes to the fringes of society. Some folks worry that an overly permissive society might lead to chaos. I hope that isn’t true. We do hear from time to time of different societies that are far more liberal than our own… Oregon, Canada, Holland and Sweden. And now your report from New Zealand. I support individual freedom, and hope we’ll find the way to make our society a pleasant home for all. I’m sorry for your losses. I know how hard that can be.

  13. Those pastries look tasty, Shimon. Xx I don’t know enough on the subject of prostitution to comment, but the intended laws smack of control of free will to me. Acceptance of an individual’s choices ought to be supported in a democracy surely? The permissiveness that burst forth after the constraints of the Second World War, now feels as if it’s narrowing back, like a pendulum swinging too wide in the opposite direction. Hugs for you, my lovely. Xx

    • Hi Jane. I probably don’t know much more on the subject than you do, but listening to the discussions on the radio I got the impressions that the ladies in the sex profession don’t appreciate the interference. I agree with you. Progress comes like a pendulum. As for the pastries, they’re delicious. And when freshly baked, they fill the air with their aroma. Hugs right back. xxx

  14. I agree with you, consent and free will should be tolerated. Prostitution has been around forever, making it illegal will make it more dangerous for women and result in them being far more vulnerable. It’s probably an impossible law to police. Just loved these photos, they told a lovely story.xxx

    • Looking around me, I see many with good intentions, wanting to make the world a better place… good people but lacking the patience to learn about this place in which they landed, or to really get to know the people around them. There is no end to the theories people come up with, when they’re just thinking on their own. But life is more complex and has more viewpoints than there are stars in the sky that we can see. I admit, I had some ideas of my own… but as I learned about my environment, the solutions sort of slipped away. Thanks, Dina. xxx

  15. I’m going to just stick with the photos this time, and say that I so enjoy coming along on your walks. You have such a great eye for composition and the human story, and oh, those pastries, they look so good.

    • Glad you enjoy the photos Lynn… I remember noot so long ago… maybe 20 years… walking through the shuk (market), and it was dark and quiet… no one there at night. And now it’s turned into a site for entertainment, day and night.

  16. Good morning Shimon. First let me say my mouth is salivating looking at the baker’s goods in your last image:)
    We have the same issues here….’The Granny State’ as it is referred to sticks it’s nose into everything, ultimately causing oh so much paper work and in many cases heart ache. I have always been a ‘ live and let live’ person and continue to be so. As long as someone doesn’t try to push their way of being onto me and is peaceful, I am fine with whatever consenting adults wish to do.
    As for what happened to so many of those long haired idealistic hippies from the fifties and sixties….I believe they got swallowed up by the system.
    Lovely to see pictures of the market and Noga. Enjoy your day and give Nechama a great big hug from me 🙂 xx

    • Ah, a good name for the institution; a ‘Granny State’. I’ll try to remember that. You’re probably right about the long haired idealists, Janet. I remember that at the time one of their leaders said, ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’, and being a little older than them, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it’d last if they thought that 30 was the limit. Glad you liked the pictures. Nechama gets a big hug from you. I might even give her a chicken liver in your name. And now for one of those pastries for me, So good to know you’re safely at home again. xxx

  17. Shimon, I am delighted to have found your site. I live in Melbourne Australia in the suburb of Caulfield. Most of the people in this area are Jewish and although I am not it is a great place to live. You wrote, “Though I am a religious Jew, and we believe that male homosexuality is a perversion and contrary to the injunctions of the bible, I supported the repeal of this law. Believing in ‘live and let live’, I don’t think the state should get involved with a person’s private life.”
    If I change one word,”Jew” to “Christian” this could be me writing.

    • Hi there Paol. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve never been in Australia, and know very little about that continent or it’s inhabitants. I did have friends from there long ago, who later returned… and one of my daughters visited there long ago… Traveling has become much easier in our lifetime, and with virtual reality… almost everything is possible. There are a lot of similarities and differences between our two religions, and were it not for Christian inclusivity, I would probably discuss them more on my blog. But feel free to discuss any issue that might interest you. I am sure we will find we have much in common. Thanks for your comment.

      • Thank you Shimon, I hope in the future to discuss more of the similarities and differences.
        PS. Can I tell you how much I love the novel “Dust” by Yael Dayan. It is a favourite of mine.

        • Very interesting, Paol. I read her books when they first came out, but I have to admit that I don’t remember ‘Dust’ anymore. I’ll have to go back and check that out again. I wish I could recommend an Israeli book to you. But I once read a favorite author of mine, translated into English, and there was so much missing in the translated version, that I have never recommended reading him to a non Hebrew speaker.

  18. In the United States,it seems to be that things are outlawed and people penalized monetarily and, sometimes, by incarceration. But then, as soon as the government can tax the behavior or substance, then it’s legalized. We’ve seen it with alcohol consumption, for one. And now, several states have begun to legalize marijuana, but it is highy taxed. It’s also interesting to note that a week ago, the United States Federal Drug And Alcohol Administration approved a drug made from marijuana, for the first time. It is an anti-seizure drug for pediatric epileptics. So it shows that even the Federal government, which still penalizes marijuana use, is slowly coming to see that it can be beneficial in many cases other than for recreation.

    I think that each generation leaves its mark on the world. Sometimes it is for better and sometimes not, but the marks from previous generations stay with us.

    • I agree with you Corina, that every generation leaves a bit of its personality on the personality of a people, and also what you said about the relationship between government and the common people. As I remember from history, at the time of prohibition in your country, there was an exemption for Jews to drink wine, because it is part of our religious practice, and this is a great example because the Muslims, for instance, are forbidden to drink alcohol. I believe we should be more tolerant of different cultural values. It could be that there are some crass motivations for law making, but it seems to me that the very existence of a parliament, congress or senate, is enough to inspire certain people to try and make the world a ‘better place’. And this in turn leads to imposing one set of values on others. Very glad to hear that the US is becoming more tolerant towards marijuana, because I’ve always had a great fondness and respect for that aromatic plant. Thanks for your comment.

  19. I wonder if the “powers that be” purposely keep us stirred up with prohibitions and regulations touching on deeply personal matters (sex, drug use, abortion) that we focus all our attention in those areas, and miss what’s going on just out of sight. The amount of governmental regulation is increasing exponentially, and the thirst of private groups and individuals to regulate something — anything! — also seems to be increasing daily.

    Just in the past week, I learned a friend who sells produce at her farm couldn’t use her bumper crop of tomatoes to make and sell sauce because it’s “against state regulations” — but she can make and sell blackberry jam or fig preserves. A young woman who started a business braiding hair had to stop, because the state demands that she go to school and get a cosmetology license in order to do it: a matter of a lot of time and even more money. A brother and sister selling lemonade at a homemade stand one town over were informed they couldn’t do it without going through the proper city channels and getting a permit. They are five and eight years old!

    And so it goes. When the taxi industry in Houston took on the Uber drivers, they swore they were concerned only for passenger safety. Phooey. They had their turf, and they didn’t want someone moving in and getting a cut of the pie. Any time I hear someone say, “This is for your own good,” my ears perk up, and I pay extra attention.

    • I too have given much thought to the many superfluous and irritating laws that we have to deal with. I agree that governmental regulation is increasing exponentially. And it seems to me that there are two basic reasons. On the positive side, there is this desire that we recognize in many young people to make the world better. But history has shown us that often these revolutionary thinkers were short sighted and couldn’t imagine where the new order would take them. Aside from that, there’s the problem of ego. We can easily imagine the effect on a group of over 100 people given the title ‘lawmaker’. Each one wants to show he’s awake; wants to contribute something so as to be recognized. We have to be grateful that we have any freedom left at all. Your examples are delightful. I chuckled as I read them. Of course, the examples from my own country have a more negative affect. And ‘This is for your own good’ strikes me just as it does you. Thanks, Linda.

  20. From thousands of miles away, I enjoyed your “moral qualms” blog very much.

    • Thanks very much for coming all that distance, Doggy-style. I enjoyed coming across your blog and meeting you. Though we come from very different backgrounds we have shared a few common experiences.

  21. Thank you, this was an interesting and thoughtful piece. I’d agree with the thrust of your argument. The state should stay out of things as far as possible. We can only be moral if we have the freedom to make the decisions to follow a moral course of action. If we just live within the limits set by law we are not moral just obedient

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