Jonathan Edelstein is a 34-year-old lawyer who was born in Flushing NY and currently lives within five miles of his birthplace. In the course of his misspent life, he has been a freelance reporter, taught at a Hasidic day school, served as a United States Army reservist, pumped gas, stacked wood, driven a taxi and published 15 scholarly articles in law journals nobody reads. He is married to Naomi Rabinowitz and, although they anticipate children eventually, they've thus far stuck with cats. Jonathan blogs at The Head Heeb.
Why do you blog? > In order to generate a community of mutual interest. (I say 'generate' rather than 'create' because it's the readers and commenters who really create it.) I have certain interests that aren't widely shared among my immediate circle - democratization and rule of law in developing countries, comparative diasporas and minorities, international law and legal history - and it's exciting to be able to discuss those things with an educated audience from around the world.
What has been your best blogging experience? > The online Old Bailey Session Paper symposium that I hosted in February, which included some genuinely ground-breaking historical work. Who'd have guessed, for instance, that there was a Tahitian diaspora in London as early as 1827?
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Spinoza (with whose life I once took some liberties), Theodor Herzl and Emmanuel Levinas.
What are you reading at the moment? > Islam and the Soviet Union by Yaacov Ro'i.
Who are your cultural heroes? > Chinua Achebe, Bob Marley and Fela Kuti.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > Hmmm, how many of them? Zionism, several times. International courts. Cloning. But the prize would have to go to affirmative action. I was once adamantly opposed to it on the ground that legislation can't change attitudes, but then I worked in an AA workplace and found that being around people of different backgrounds really does make a difference. Legislation may not change attitudes right away, but it can change behaviour, and behaviour eventually becomes habit.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > The intrinsic worth of human beings.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > The ideology of victimhood, which is seductive and easy to fall into but profoundly destructive to both the putative victims and their neighbours.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Emmanuel Levinas's works on Zionism. Levinas's Talmudic foundations don't always resonate with a near-atheist like me, but his work opened my eyes to the possibility of a Zionism based on affirmation of values rather than purely ethnic nationalism or theology of possession. To a great extent, his conception of ethics rather than ethnicity as the fundamental basis of a Jewish state was what made it possible for me to be a Zionist.
Who are your political heroes? > Yitzhak Rabin, Nelson Mandela and Chief Justice Aharon Barak. The former two should need no introduction; the latter's genius lies in his insistence upon and maintenance of the rule of law under very difficult circumstances.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > 'No political theory ever survives contact with reality.'
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > I'd like to see the United States adopt a modified form of the Israeli judicial selection system, with judges chosen by a panel composed of judicial, political and civil society representatives rather than being purely political appointees.
If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister or President, who would you choose? > Well, you didn't say what country, so I'll nominate Nadia Hilou for prime minister of Israel. There could be nothing better for unifying Israeli society than to have an Arab prime minister who genuinely considers herself a citizen of the state and can guide majority and minority toward reconciliation.
What would you do with the UN? > Make it responsible to a democratically elected body and give it some genuine dispute resolution authority.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Unwillingness to adapt ideology to reality.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > If we don't destroy ourselves in the next half-century, the best is definitely yet to come. We're on the verge of overcoming many of the current constraints of scarcity, provided that we can survive long enough to implement them and then deal with the social stresses they cause.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Never leave yourself in a position where you can't change plans.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Tolerance.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Pettiness.
What is your favourite proverb? > 'Who is wise? He who learns from all.' (Ben Zoma, Pirkei Avot 4:1)
What, if anything, do you worry about? > Insularity and demonization of the other.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > I'd join the coast guard rather than the army. Over time, I've come to appreciate the idea of a service dedicated to saving lives - and, well, I've always wanted to do search and rescues.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Montreal.
What would your ideal holiday be? > I have a certain bias toward the one I made up: Arrival Day, a secular celebration of American Jews as an ethnic group rather than a religion.
What is your most treasured possession? > Intellectual curiosity.
What talent would you most like to have? > The ability to learn languages quickly.
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > I'd like some day to go back to journalism, preferably on a topic relating to international law.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > Does a return to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations count as more or less realistic? Barring that, I'd like to see Hamas and the Israeli rabbinate take a few more steps down the path that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef began in the 1990s and recognize peace and preservation of human life as higher theological imperatives than possession.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]