Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Chutzpah of a PILPUL

The noun chutzpah showed up rather frequently in yesterday's post about this week's AIPAC meeting, but never in the capacity of the Chutzpah of the Week award. As usual, I am reluctant to bestow this award too early in the week (particularly when it is the week of an AIPAC meeting); but I see that, the last time I decided to bestow the award on the Israeli government, it was on a Monday! So it seems as if I am being a bit more leisurely about the second such award, and let me assure readers that this award has absolutely nothing to do with mishegoss! Rather, it involves an "ongoing chutzpah," which has been highlighted by a specific event; and, as is so often the case, I have Al Jazeera English to thank for reporting that event:

The Israeli government has announced the construction of about 900 new homes in East Jerusalem amid international criticism against its policy on settlement expansion.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, on Sunday praised the plan to build new homes.

The plan evisages building 763 housing units in Pisgat Zeev and 121 housing units in Har Homa settlement in Jabal Abu Ghaneim.

In this case, however, the chutzpah involves not just the continuation of settlement development but the justification for this particular act:

Meir Shitreet, the Israeli interior minister, defended the new settlement expansion by citing Biblical claims.

"Har Homa is part of Jerusalem. It's not a settlement. And sometimes people regularly forget Jerusalem is our capital, not since Camp David, but since King David, so that claims that they cannot build in Jerusalem is totally nonsense. No one in the government of Israel ever stop building in Jerusalem."

I realized that Shitreet had provided me with an excellent opportunity to again haul out my copy of Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish for another lesson. In this case the noun is pilpul, and it is actually Hebrew. The strict translation is "debate." However, Rosten offers a wonderful colloquial paraphrase that excellently captures the underlying connotation:

Any hair-splitting or logic-chopping that leaves the main boulevard of a problem to bog down in the side streets.

This is a case where Rosten's metaphor could not have been more appropriate to the situation, but it also reminds all of us just how good Israel has been at using the pilpul to bog down just about every effort to establish peace in the Middle East. Thus, whatever AIPAC may pull out of their proceedings this week, my guess is that the Israeli government will still prevail with its second Chutzpah of the Week award.

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