Sunday, December 26, 2004

Orwell Lives!!!

As a followup to my last few postings, QED has a great post (along with a link to an essay by Orwell) that is a must read and a sad commentary on academics and intellectuals.

Brill Redux

A few months ago, I commented upon an article by Dr. Alan Brill of Yeshiva University that was entitled Judaism in Culture: Beyond the Bifurcation of Torah and Madda and published in the Edah Journal. I had both praise and serious reservations about Brill's contention that Modern Orthodoxy is what people do, not what ideologues (resorting to 19th and 20th century thought) say it should be.

Recently, Rabbi Yitzhaq Blau (one of Modern Orthodoxy's rising young stars) has offered a cogent response to Brill, in the same Journal. I agree with pretty much everything Blau says. I would only add, as I did in my original discussion, that confusing sociology with religion can prove exceedingly dangerous. Personally, while using Geertz and Peter Berger in my research, I feel that invoking them as a source for theology one could find oneself more than halfway to Schechter's 'Catholic Israel' or to Kaplan's 'Judaism As a Civilization' (for 'Civilization' substitute 'Culture').

Thanks to Hirhurim for pointing out the appearance of Blau's article.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The AJS: A Review Part I

I am in New York, on my way back home from the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, which was held this week (S-T) in Chicago. Overall, it was a very impressive and successful gathering of over 800 academics from around the world who met to discuss and engage a dizzying array of topics. I'd never really attended an AJS conference and I was very impressed and exhilarated by the new vistas and ideas which I encountered.

I tried to use the three days to immerse myself in scholarly pursuits (and catching up with old friends, while making new ones). I was determined to take a break from Israeli politics. No such luck. While I decided not to attend sessions on Israel:Palestine, I kept encountering it anyway. The most disturbing example was provided early on. One of the first sessions dealt with the challenge of teaching about Israel on the college campus. During the break afterward, I met a close friend who is by no means a Likudnik. (He still likes Barak.) He was beside himself. He reported that every single speaker did nothing but spew venom about Zionism and Israel. We're not talking about people who hate Sharon/settlers/Yesha etc. We're talking about academics who want to dismantle the State of Israel and lecture (viz. preach) against it's very right to exist. My friend told me that one presenter summed things up by saying that he views his job as being the destruction of the Zionist narrative, with which Jewish students enter his class. (sic[k]!)

Ihr hert a mayseh?

The self-appointed task of these Jewish academicians is to destroy the Jewish national identity of the unsuspecting student. In the 1930's 'progressive' College Professors saw their sacred task as being disabusing their students of their belief in God and their attachment to Judaism. Now it's the turn of Zionism and of the State of Israel. Someone should contact Sander Gilman and urge him to add a chapter to his classic work on judische selbst-hass, Jewish Self-Hatred.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

It Might Lead to Social Dancing

Hirhurim has been writing a lot about the direct and indirect problems posed by mixed dancing. Meanwhile, for reasons that require serious thought, Israeli Orthodox society has developed a full scale disco culture for singles, which presumably includes mixed dancing (or jumping, in line with the latest trends).

You can read all about it in Ma'ariv NRG and check out a full web site on the topic, called Dosibot. I"m really not sure what to make of it. I welcome observations.

Friday, December 17, 2004


I try to keep my postings from dealing with political issues for all sorts of reasons that I'll spell out in the future. However, with Hanukkah over and the debate over the retreat from Gaza rendered almost academic, I thought I"d post the following quote from Simon the Hasmonean (IMacc. 15, 33-34). When Antiochus VI demanded that Simon hand over territory to the Seleucid Crown, Simon replied:

Simon gave him this reply: "We have neither taken foreign land nor seized foreign property, but only the inheritance of our fathers, which at one time had been unjustly taken by our enemies. Now that we have the opportunity, we are firmly holding the inheritance of our fathers.

Irrespective of what happens practically and what policy is adopted for the future of the Jewish State, it behooves all sides to remember that the point of departure is that noted by Simon. If he's not right, then Jews have no right to live anywhere in Eretz Yisrael.

Hanukkah Abscondita

Last week, someone mentioned to me that the number of Israeli Jews who light Hanukkah candles is in decline. At first I couldn't believe it. After all, the Guttman Study showed an increase in Jewish involvement among Israeli Jews and anecdotal evidence consistently shows an intensification of Jewish identification and religious observance since the Oslo War commenced in September 2000. Nevertheless, I decided to ask my non-Orthodox students what they thought.

To my utter disappointment, they all confirmed the report I'd heard earlier. Most had attended a candle lighting sometime during Hanukkah (and all of them had been eating sufganiot religiously- no pun intended). I pointed out to them that all but the most assimilated Jews lit Hanukkah candles. Why then, was the trend among young, coastal Israeli Jews going in the opposite direction?

The answers I received were mixed. Some gave the usual, 'We don't need Judaism to be Jews. We live in Israel. The Jews in the Diaspora need Judaism.' Others, in my opinion tragically, said that not lighting Hanukkah candles is a form of anti-Dati/Haredi protest. In other words, they do it so we flagrantly don't. To this I simply told them that they have no right to let others steal their Judaism from them and that the 'all or nothing,' 'Orthodox or nothing,' 'Haredi or nothing' attitude that rules Israeli society is flaccid, superficial and plain wrong. It is wreaking havoc in secular, traditional, dati and haredi Jewish circles.

Yet, I think something deeper and more insidious is at work here.

Hanukkah contains two themes, one spiritual and the other political. Both have coexisted since the first Hanukkah, with different emphases. During the Second Temple period, the mystique of the Hasmoneans and the existence (or memory) of Jewish political independence, led to the political side being stressed. On the other hand, during the exile, the spiritual side of things was more apt, more inspiring and more relevant. The rise of political Zionism led to a conscious resurrection of the image of the Hasmoneans and of Hanukkah as fights for national independence in Eretz Yisrael (though the historical reality was far more nuanced and complex). Judah Maccabee (along with Bar Kokhba and others) became the protypes for the Jewish struggle for self-determination and independence. That's the way Hanukkah was taught both in Israel and in Zionist oriented schools in the Diaspora.

For the past two decades, and since Oslo especially, everything connected with Eretz Yisrael, Jewish national identity, the right of Jewish self-determination- even the existence of the Jewish People- has been lambasted, ridiculed, denied, besmirched and negate by high visibility academics and their mindless parrots in the media. I strongly suspect, no I'm convinced, that the constant hammering away at anything positive about the Jewish connection to Israel, to Jewish sovereignty and identity has impacted directly upon Hanukkah. In the jargon of the today, young Jews can't 'connect' to the holiday. Absent the spiritual dimension of the festival and its infantilization (which goes with its commercialization), there's nothing left to celebrate.

I closed the class by exploring the concept of national collective memory (a la Halbwachs and Benedict Anderson). I hope I left them with the understanding that without that memory and its commemoration, the State of Israel and the Jewish People, will have no future. The class was quiet. Did anything sink in? Time will tell.

[Note: I've been mulling over how to write this post for almost a week. I finally decided on this formulation during my flight to the US for the Association for Jewish Studies Conference next week in Chicago.]

Monday, December 06, 2004

Hag Urim Sameach!

Posted by Hello
Hanukkah starts tomorrow night. Upon reflection the holiday has several inter-locking lessons:1)The Freedom to Study Torah and fulfill God's Mitzvot. 2) The strength to stand up before Cultural Imperialism 3) The absolute necessity for political independence to secure the Torah, in its fullest sense and 4) The power of belief, that even in a time of Hester Panim, God's Providence is the ultimate master of history.

I heard the Rav zt"l say on many occasions that Hanukkah was the quintessential holiday of the Torah she-be'al Peh, the Oral Tradition. Prima facie, I always took him to mean that it's the only holiday whose mandate is totally derived from the Masorah, because even Purim is rooted in the Megillah, which is part of the Torah she-be-Khetav. Years later, however, I realized that his observation was much more profound.
The persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes represented the first massive challenge faced by the Hakhme Ha-Masorah since the cessation of prophecy some three hundred years previously. It was necessary to deal, for example, with the question of warfare on Shabbat (IMAcc. 2, 38-41). Considering that wars were previously set pieces waged on one day, it is perfectly possible that even soldiers had never fought on Shabbat. (War only became a 'total' matter after the American Civil War.) Or, a Hazal often say, they may have forgotten the ruling and were forced to rediscover it.

More to the point. the author of IMaccabees is painfully aware of the fact that there are halakhic questions which will only be decided when prophecy returns (though I realize that that's a problem for the Rambam). According to IMacc. 4, 44-46:
And when as they consulted what to do with the altar of burnt offerings, which was profaned; They thought it best to pull it down, lest it should be a reproach to them, because the heathen had defiled it: wherefore they pulled it down, And laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them. (This, of course, diverges from the Rambam's exclusion of prophets from the Halakhic Process. וצ"ע ).
A similar case relate to the appointment of Simon as 'ethnarch' or 'king' as well as High Priest (something of which HaZaL were less than happy). The same writer says (IMacc. 14, 41): Also that the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their governor and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet.

The bottom line is that Hanukkah commemorates the full functioning of the Torah she-be'al Peh in extremely adverse conditions. It is only fitting, then, that it should derive its authority from the Oral Law alone.

On a lighter note, since it's a holiday of Simha ve-Hallel, here-direct from the UK -are....the
Singing Candles with their unforgettable rendition of 'Mi Yemalel.'

The Medium is Sometimes the Message

I've been following the postings of an interesting blog called Chakira for a few months. The author's postings are predominantly concerned with the in and outs of Modern Orthodoxy, generally, and YU/RIETS, in particular. This is not the place to comment on his overall output. I would, however, like to comment upon his style tone.

Qohelet (9,17) says: 'The words of the sages are spoken quietly.' (Cf. Qohelet Rabbah, parsha 9 s.v. (1) divre.) It's excellant advice, especially if you want to address issues that are laden with emotional implications. Chakira, all too often, let's his adrenalin carry him off and harms the cogency of what he wants to say. If a point can't be made effectively. but respectfully, it wasprobably not that good a point in the first place.

Good advice for all of us.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

God Save (Us From) the Supreme Court!

Ben Chorin usually spends his time inveighing against the Supreme Court. However, since the creeping incursion of the court on the legislative powers of the Knesset and its consistent efforts to de-judaize the State of Israel require an informed public, I've decided to weigh in educationally..

The highly problematic nature of Supreme Court appointments and policy have been extensively discussed in
Azure magazine, in a series of articles that should be standard fare for any informed Zionist. Chief among these are an important study by Hillel Neuer on Chief Justice Aharon Barak, and a critical series by Evelyn Gordon (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). It's all conveniently available on the web.

Beyond Eretz Yisrael

In today's Haaretz, Nadav Shragai addresses what should be a sore spot in the National Religious world. Justifiedly or not, we are (or are perceived to be) a one issue constituency. The community, as a united whole, does not go to war over the dire poverty and social injustice that increasingly plague Israeli society:

...The religious-nationalist public, including Yesha settlers, never went to battle over any issue but one - Eretz Israel. Even Zevulun Orlev, disciple of the multifaceted National Religious Party, quit the government over the plan to evacuate Gush Katif, not over the 1.4 million people living below the poverty line or the 366,000 at-risk children. While there are numerous charitable acts by individuals and numerous initiatives for social legislation, particularly those created by religious MKs such as Zvi Hendel, Nissan Slomiansky, and Shaul Yahalom, some members of the religious-nationalist public have developed a reclusive lifestyle. Acceptance committees at many settlements have been selective in absorbing new residents over the years. Many religious-nationalist neighborhoods in cities within the Green Line also have been shaped as neighborhoods with a homogeneous population.

As Shragai notes, there have been important initiatives to set up Religious Zionist enclaves inm development towns and underprivileged areas. Nevertheless, the community has not given these the same type of support, no hold barred support, that it has the fight for the Land of Israel.

Shragai continues:

Many years ago, Yeruham was already home to one of religious Zionism's first social advocacy proto-settlements. It has since been subsumed by dozens of social religious-Zionist pilot-settlements established by the Moreshet foundation, which have "settled" in underprivileged towns across the country. Many of the families that joined these pilot projects settled down there.

This one dimensional attitude is a gross violation of the Torah. Religious people ostensibly believe that the Land of Israel is a gift to the Jewish People from God. That actualization of that gift is conditional. Anyone who reads the TaNaKh knows that while Eretz Yisrael was given to the Jewish People in perpetuity, the residence of the Jews there depends upon their conduct. That conduct includes social responsibility. As Jeremiah said, while standing at the gater to the First Temple:

If you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if you thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbour; if you oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt; then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever:

If not, then:

I will do to the house, whereupon My name is called, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim:

Being a setler is a humra, not a qula. It means doing more for the general society, not less. As Shragai concludes:

Those who now ask their brothers not to disengage from them should be careful not to disengage from their brethren, even when they are not on the eve of vital political decisions. Settling throughout the country and populating Judea and Samaria are not the only noble causes. The wholeness of the people and concern for socio-economic distress are no less exalted ideals.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

George Santayana, Chanukkah and Me

Everybody knows the famous quote by George Santayana that 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it' (from: Reason and Common Sense, 1905).

Shechita Controversy

Simcha at Hirhurim reports on the Shechita Controversy prompted by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). They claim that the animals slaughtered in an Iowa slaughter house are painfully abused after slaughter. Now, halakhically after the esophagus and wind pipe are severed the animal is considered dead, though it might have mechanical reactions afterward (halakhically known as 'pirkhus'). That's what's behind the well-known phenomenon of the 'chicken running around without a head.' On the other hand, if there is real animal abuse it obviously needs to be investigatyed.

Anyway, I"m somewhat skeptical of the source of the accusation. PETA, it will be recalled, is a radical animal rights organization that a few years ago wrote to Yasser Arafat to stop using donkeys in suicide attacks. People, they said, can murder each other. They begged him to keep the poor animals out of it! (So much for real humanity.)

In addition, PETA is touting a video that purports to show the abuse of animals by shochtim. The last time such a film was produced it was Goebbel's infamous movie Der Ewige Jude ('The Eternal Jew'). As one description of the latter notes:

Though unquestionably vicious, many would say that, by today's standards, it is also crude and transparent. The narrator explains the Jews' ratlike behavior, while showing footage of rats squirming from sewers and leaping at the camera. The film's most shocking scene is the slaughter of a cow, shown in bloody detail, by a grinning Rabbi - and it is followed by, of all things, three innocent (presumably German) lambs nuzzling each other.

The movie was intended to prepare the German public for the imminent deportation of German Jewry. Lest you think this type of effect no longer obtains, note the comments posted on the movie's website.

It now appears (according to the Post) that PETA is being backed by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
My other observations, though, still hold.

Owing to the fact that the packing plant in question is affiliated with Lubavitch, Failed Messiah is carrying all of the relevant links.

The Sign of a Real Leader: An Apology from Stephen Savitsky

This afternoon I received the following e-mail from the new president of the OU, Mr. Stephen Savitsky. I think it speaks for itself and speaks highly of a person willing to take responsibility for his words and to make amends for his mistakes. I look forward to his implementing the pro-Aliyah policy he described in his original interview in the Jerusalem Post.

Dear Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey R. Woolf:

After receiving many emails regarding my interview in The Jerusalem Post, I want you to know that I have placed an ad in Thursday’s editon of the Post which will read as follows:

I deeply regret the remarks I made concerning past motivations for aliya which were reported in the Friday, November 26 edition of The Jerusalem Post, and I apologize for them. I am sorry that these remarks, which were part of a lengthy discussion on aliya and many other topics, denigrated—albeit unintentionally—those who have made aliya over the years. As newly-elected President of the Orthodox Union, I will continue to acknowledge their courage and idealism, and to use their example to encourage others to follow in their footsteps. Indeed, promoting aliya was a key theme of our Convention in Jerusalem this past weekend.

I request mechila (forgiveness) from all whom I offended, and hope I may look forward to working closely with the entire community of olim to increase and enhance aliya in the future.

This unfortunate incident has caused me tremendous personal anguish and I hope that I have learned from this experience and that I will be able to represent the OU in a positive manner in the future. Thank you for taking the time to communicate with me.

Stephen J Savitsky
President, Orthodox Union


Gilly, at If I Forget Thee..., had the best 'last word' on the Savitsky affair.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Savitsky Redux

The furor engendered by Steven Savitsky's Aliyah malaprop was a rivetting sign of the power of the Blogosphere. Alison Kaplan Sommer turned to Calev Ben David of the Jerusalem Post to weigh in on the issue. His answer is here.

Personally, I'm very disappointed by his remarks, especially the understanding way in which he reacted to Savitsky's characterization of North American Olim as 'losers':

Take myself. Having moved here soon after graduating university, I certainly wasn't successful, and was unequipped with a medical, legal or business degree. Nor did I have a successful marriage, or for that matter, a particularly successful single life.
And yep, I admit, my family did help me out on occasion – although you certainly don't have to come on aliya to be a successful schnorrer. Was I also "running away from something"? No doubt about it. If I had been perfectly happy back in my native New York, why would I have left it?
I think that was a pretty typical profile of the young American olim of my generation.

I don't know who he's talking about (except himself). The American olim I know were all motivated by Love of God, Torah, the Jewish People and (of course) the Land itself. If they were 'running away' from something it was from assimilation (which wiped out 90% of my family). Mostly, they were 'running to' something, usually a more meaningful life and a chance to build a real Jewish future in the deepest sense of the words.

If 'losers' came here it was because American Jewry (the ones who stayed to be successful)decided that it could cure its flotsam and jetsam by dumping them here (as in 'The kid's got problems? Send him/her to a Qibbutz!'). Even then, this small minority of the oleh population was saved by Eretz Yisrael through the good graces of the Yeshivot and Seminaries that arose to help them. Are these also losers? I"d mention names, but the Torah prohibits it.

You know, I've often wondered about the parlor conversation of the Babylonian Jews who watched Zerubavel and Joshua or Ezra and Nehemiah leave comfortable homes to travel to war-torn, destroyed Yehud to rebuild the Temple. They probably clucked their tongues and talked about the 'losers' who were giving up material success in order to become a burden on the Jewish People.

Those 'losers' assured the survival of Judaism and ultimatelty gave the world the Mishnah and the Midrash,. the Sofrim and the Tannaim, the Amoraim of EY and the payyetanim. Without them there would be no Talmud.

Those of us who came here did so because we understood, implicitly and explicitly, that the Torah goes forth from Zion. Throughout the long years of exile that was also true. (This one is too long to explain here.) It remains true. As one very prominent American Jewish leader told a friend of mine at the Kotel a few years ago, 'We need you alot more than you need us.'

Monday, November 29, 2004

Chanukkah Redux: Hellenism Today

One of the courses I teach is called 'Mo'ade Yisrael: Talmud, Halakhah u-Minhag.' Various other instructors approach the a subject matter in different ways. I set myself two goals. First, I try to show that the holidays are far more sophisticated, intellectually and experientialy respectable than the students think. This is a real challenge, because the holidays have been 'dumbed down' in contemporary Israeli awareness to the extent that (if people know anything about them), they amount to infantile ideas and very fattening foods. [This course is for students without religious High School background. Truth to tell, however, the sophistication of the graduates of religious High Schools, Yeshivot and Ulpanot also leaves alot to be desired.] The other goal is to show how the practical observance of the mitzvot of the holidays embodies the lofty ideas that are developed in class. In this connection, I introduce them to the halakhot of the holidays, since most only have a very hazy awareness of what to do (and they really do want to know).

Those of you who read this blog (4,000+ at this writing) know that I try to integtrate Jewish History into my classes. You also know, that I"m a big believer in the existence of patterns in history. As the French say: Plus ca change, plus ca reste le meme chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same). Hanukkah is a great case in point. This was borne out by my class last week.

I was describing the religious-intellectual struggle among the Jews of Judea before the decrees of Antiochus IV in 167 BCE. Basically, the community was divided into three, uneven, groups.

There were the radical Hellenizers, whose advocated total adoption of Hellenistic life and values. They argued that one must go with progress and enlightenment. As IMacc. 1, 11 reports: 'In those days went there out of Israel wicked men, who persuaded many, saying, Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us: for since we departed from them we have had much sorrow '

Then there were the Hasidim ('pious ones') who absolutely rejected anything that had to do with Greek culture. These two were minority groups, though the Hellenizers were rich, powerful, well-connected celebrities who exerted influence far beyond their numbers.

The overwhelming majority of Jews were, for wont of a better word, 'moderate Hellenists.' These made up a broad spectrum of variations. However, they had in common the idea that one could adopt alot of Hellenistic culture without losing one's Jewish religious and cultural integrity. They were the 'silent majority,' who revolted when Antiochus (at the instigation of the radicals) outlawed Judaism.

After I presented this, my students were uncharacteristically silent. Why? Because they realized that this represents the fundamental breakdwn of the Jewish population of contemporary Israel. There is a hard-core, often virulent, anti-Jewish cadre that inhabits the media, the universities and the literati. Politically, they are represented by Yahad and Shinui. They are devoted to the de-judaization of Israel in order to become part of the larger 'Liberal, European West,' which is the direct heir of Hellenism. The preach cultural assimilation for 'our own good.'

Then there are the haredim and haredim-le'umi'im who reject the West in total. No university, no secular studies, nothing. Together these two are matche at about 30% of the population.

Then there are the rest of us, 70% of the whole. These people (traditional Jews, sentimental Jews, most national religious Jews) believe (like the moderate hellenists and Samuel Butler) that 'extremes are alone logical, and they are always absurd.'

How will this play itself out? Well, a friend of mine who's a noted historian of the Hasmonean period told me once: 'Antiochus rules, Menelaus has taken over the Temple and Mattathias has no yet appeared on the scene.'

How Dare You? A Reply to Stephen Savitsky

This Friday, the Jerusalem Post (and IMRA) reported that the incoming OU President, Mr. Stephen Savitsky had this to say about previous generations of Olim from North America:

People are starting to go to Israel for the right reasons. Years ago aliya was for people who were running away from something. They weren't successful. They didn't have a successful marriage. They were coming because there was a reason. They weren't role models.
"But today I see really successful people. Young people. Doctors, lawyers, business people, finance people, who are giving it up not to come here to starve. Not to schnorr from their parents," he said.

This comment is so outrageous, so patently false, so devoid of Jewish values that one can hardly believe it was uttered by an ostensibly religious Jew, much less the president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. I hardly know where to begin with it.

1) Jews who come to Israel have always been unique specifically because we have not 'run away' from anything,' We have, rather, been 'running to' something. We have been running to living in the Land God gave us, in order to fulfill more mitzvot than Mr. Savitsky ever dreamed of. We have run toward building a spiritual and political homeland and refuge for our people. We have moved out of the conviction that the Torah goes forth from Zion, not from Jersey. We have run to Israel because the future of world Jewry (like the calendar, according to the Rambam) depends upon the Jews of Eretz Yisrael, not vice versa.

2) North American Jews who made Aliyah from the 1880's onward gave up careers, material success, and the closeness of family in order to actualize a dream. How does Mr. Savitsky know that they were not (or would not have been) successful? Furthermore, since when does a believing Jew only validate the existence of professionals and business people? How very assimilated of him!

3) Nevertheless, let's see who Mr. Savitsky considers an unsuccessful refugee from America (a partial list, only counting Orthodox Jews): Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Dr. Tovah LIchtenstein, Professor Pinhas Churgin (Founder, Bar Ilan University), Rabbi Dr. David Applebaum (HY"D), Rabbi Nachman Bulman, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman (RY, Qiryat Arba), Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, all the American members of Qibbutz HaDati, Dr. Efraim Zuroff (Simon Wisenthal Center), Rabbi Shabbetai Rappaport, Rabbi Dr. Willy Lev Z'l (Founder, Machon Lev), Mrs. Rachel Levmore (highest ranking woman in Hanhalat Bate HaDin), Rabbanit Chana Henkin, Rabbanit Malka Bina, the hundreds of faculty members of Israeli Universities, Professor Dov Frimer (Frimer & Gelman PC), Professor Shmuel Adler (Head of Gastroenterology, Biqqur Holim Hospital). The list goes on and on..Oh, I forgot the hundreds of religious North American Olim who were wounded or killed in the defense of their country or in terrorist attacks. (Evidently, Mr. Savitsky thinks that Alyssa Flatow belongs in this category, as well).

4) The Gemora already makes it clear that parnassa in Eretz Yisrael has always been harder than in 'Bavel.' Nevertheless, contrary to Mr. Savitsky's assertions, North American Olim work very hard to make a living in a country with a 60% tax rate. Indeed, I wonder if he would be so successful with that kind of burden. We all work two or more jobs. Some of us commute to Europe or the US. Others make do with a lot less than we might have had in the US, in order to fulfill our ideals. Schnorrers, indeed!

Mr. Savitsky owes the Olim from North America an apology. He owes God Heshbon ha-Nefesh for besmirching the Torah, the Land and the People of Israel

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Arafat: Requiescat in Tartaro

I suppose I can't let the new week start without some mention of the death of Arafat. Jeff Jacoby had a good obituary on him:

Arafat the monster
By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist November 11, 2004

YASSER ARAFAT died at age 75, lying in bed surrounded by familiar faces. He left this world peacefully, unlike the thousands of victims he sent to early graves.

In a better world, the PLO chief would have met his end on a gallows, hanged for mass murder much as the Nazi chiefs were hanged at Nuremberg. In a better world, the French president would not have paid a visit to the bedside of such a monster. In a better world, George Bush would not have said, on hearing the first reports that Arafat had died, "God bless his soul."

God bless his soul? What a grotesque idea! Bless the soul of the man who brought modern terrorism to the world? Who sent his agents to slaughter athletes at the Olympics, blow airliners out of the sky, bomb schools and pizzerias, machine-gun passengers in airline terminals? Who lied, cheated, and stole without compunction? Who inculcated the vilest culture of Jew-hatred since the Third Reich? Human beings might stoop to bless a creature so evil -- as indeed Arafat was blessed, with money, deference, even a Nobel Prize -- but God, I am quite sure, will damn him for eternity.

Arafat always inspired flights of nonsense from Western journalists, and his last two weeks were no exception. Derek Brown wrote in The Guardian that Arafat's "undisputed courage as a guerrilla leader" was exceeded only "by his extraordinary courage" as a peace negotiator. But it is an odd kind of courage that expresses itself in shooting unarmed victims -- or in signing peace accords and then flagrantly violating their terms.

Another commentator, columnist Gwynne Dyer, asked, "So what did Arafat do right?" The answer: He drew worldwide attention to the Palestinian cause, "for the most part by successful acts of terror." In other words, butchering innocent human beings was "right," since it served an ulterior political motive. No doubt that thought brings daily comfort to all those who were forced to bury a child, parent, or spouse because of Arafat's "successful" terrorism.

Some journalists couldn't wait for Arafat's actual death to begin weeping for him. Take the BBC's Barbara Plett, who burst into tears on the day he was airlifted out of the West Bank. "When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound," Plett reported from Ramallah, "I started to cry." Normal people don't weep for brutal murderers, but Plett made it clear that her empathy for Arafat -- whom she praised as "a symbol of Palestinian unity, steadfastness, and resistance" -- was heartfelt:

"I remember well when the Israelis re-conquered the West Bank more than two years ago, how they drove their tanks and bulldozers into Mr. Arafat's headquarters, trapping him in a few rooms, and throwing a military curtain around Ramallah. I remember how Palestinians admired his refusal to flee under fire. They told me: `Our leader is sharing our pain, we are all under the same siege.' And so was I." Such is the state of journalism at the BBC, whose reporters do not seem to have any trouble reporting, dry-eyed, on the plight of Arafat's victims. (That is, when they mention them -- which Plett's teary bon voyage to Arafat did not.)

And what about those victims? Why were they scarcely remembered in this Arafat death watch?
How is it possible to reflect on Arafat's most enduring legacy -- the rise of modern terrorism -- without recalling the legions of men, women, and children whose lives he and his followers destroyed? If Osama bin Laden were on his deathbed, would we neglect to mention all those he murdered on 9/11?

It would take an encyclopedia to catalog all of the evil Arafat committed. But that is no excuse for not trying to recall at least some of it.

Perhaps his signal contribution to the practice of political terror was the introduction of warfare against children. On one black date in May 1974, three PLO terrorists slipped from Lebanon into the northern Israeli town of Ma'alot. They murdered two parents and a child whom they found at home, then seized a local school, taking more than 100 boys and girls hostage and threatening to kill them unless a number of imprisoned terrorists were released. When Israeli troops attempted a rescue, the terrorists exploded hand grenades and opened fire on the students. By the time the horror ended, 25 people were dead; 21 of them were children.

Thirty years later, no one speaks of Ma'alot anymore. The dead children have been forgotten. Everyone knows Arafat's name, but who ever recalls the names of his victims?

So let us recall them: Ilana Turgeman. Rachel Aputa. Yocheved Mazoz. Sarah Ben-Shim'on. Yona Sabag. Yafa Cohen. Shoshana Cohen. Michal Sitrok. Malka Amrosy. Aviva Saada. Yocheved Diyi. Yaakov Levi. Yaakov Kabla. Rina Cohen. Ilana Ne'eman. Sarah Madar. Tamar Dahan. Sarah Soper. Lili Morad. David Madar. Yehudit Madar. The 21 dead children of Ma'alot -- 21 of the thousands of who died at Arafat's command.

A good collection of apt observations can be found at The Town Crier.

Maran: The Life of R. Ovadiah Yosef

I'm almost finished reading a new biography of Rav Ovadiah Yosef by Nitzan Hen and Anshel Feffer. The authors are journalists, but despite that fact, the book is remarkably good. The presentation is coherent and respectful (though not obsequious). It places Rav Ovadiah's life in its proper social and historical context. The authors are very weak in matters halakhic and alot of what they say about his legal writings (and even his public pronouncements) is somewhat skewered because they don't know how to interpret rabbinic parlance. Still, it's a fun read and I strongly recommend it (as did the reviewer in HaZofe this Friday).

There is one point that I really disagreed with, howeverץ The authors credit Shas' jum from six to ten Knesset seats in the 1996 elections solely to the famous amulet campaign centered on Rav Kaduri. This, in my opinion, is way off the mark. The massive rise in Shas' representation was paralleled by similar rises in strength in Mafdal and Aguda/Degel HaTorah. I am convinced, as were others like Daniel Ben Simon, that the run to the religious parties was a result of the virulently anti-religious, anti-semitic campign that was waged by th Left (especially Meretz). It was the first hint of the process of re-judaization that has continued over the last eight years.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Religious Right and the Fears of American Jews

Jonathan Rosenblum is a newspaper columnist, who usually functions as an apologist for the Haredi world (In general) and Agudat Yisrael (in particular). As a result, it isn't very often that I find myself agreeing with him. Last week however, he wrote a column in Maariv that was (IMHO) right on target.

Rosenblum was addressing the fears that most American Jews have of George Bush's religiousity, and of the rightward (and increasingly Christian) turn of American society. They fear a breach of the separation of Church and State, which has protected Jews from anti-Jewish persecution. Jewish opposition to any government involvement in religion is dogmatic. As Rosenblum says:

Out of fear of aiding and abetting religion, major American Jewish groups, including the Reform movement, consistently adopt the most extreme positions on separation of state and religion. Noted constitutional scholar Nathan Lewin has quipped that the only Wall at which American Jewry worships is the wall of separation between state and religion. As an example, the Reform movement recently advised its congregations against accepting any Homeland Security funds for guarding their temples and schools from terrorist attack, despite the obvious appeal of Jewish institutions for Islamic terrorists.

The truth of the matter is that separation of Church and State is more a religion for the established Jewish Community, than is Judaism itself. Of course, there are real reasons to be concerned about Christian missionizing, and certainly not a little evangelical support for Israel may turn out to be a double edged sword. Nevertheless, Rosenblum points out that this argument is specious.

Eli Valley, the author of a recent Jerusalem Post piece, who works for Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, warns that President Bush’s evangelical supporters are bent on “converting the Jews and ending the Jewish religion.” Given the phenomenal success of American Jews themselves in ending the Jewish religion through intermarriage and assimilation it is unclear why the evangelicals should cause shudders.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Avirama Golan-Redux

Well, my longe response to Avirama Golan was published in HaZofe. Sorry to thoser you who can't read Hebrew. No time to translate.
על יהודים וישראלים: תשובה לאבירמה גולן

ערב ההצבעה הגורלית על תכנית ההתנתקות של רה"מ, לאבירמה גולן מפריע שלט חוצות התלוי על הגשר שבין בני ברק לאוניברסיטת בר-אילן ('רגע לפני הקטסטרופה,' הארץ, ‏26.10.2004). על השלט כתוב: '"המפקד. אנחנו יהודים, את זה אני לא יכול" (כשהכוונה לפינוי יישובים). ומה מפריע לגב' גולן? עצם הסירוב למלא פקודה לא מפריע לה. הוא בעצם "מעניין פחות מן ההנמקה: החייל מהסיסמה לא יכול למלא את הפקודה לא מפני שלבו נשבר למראה משפחה נעקרת מביתה, אפילו לא מפני שכבעל השקפת עולם ימנית הוא משוכנע שפינוי עזה הוא אסון. כל הנמקותיו לסירוב מתנקזות אל הביטוי הטעון "אנחנו יהודים"."
ומה רע בהנמקה זו? היא מסבירה: "הביטוי הזה הוא הקוד המבדיל, כמו בגולה טרם הציונות, בין יהודי ל"גוי", והוא מתיר ליהודים, בזכות קורבנותם (כך!) הכל. זה גם הקוד שהוציא קהילות שלמות של יהודים, בתוקף אמונתן המשיחית, ממשפחת העמים, סגר אותן בגטאות, גרם להן להפנות גב אל המודרנה ואל ההומניזם והכפיף אותן לגורל בלעדי, הנקבע על ידי אלוהים והנוטל מן האדם את חירות הבחירה ואת האחריות לגורלו." במלים אחרות, עבור הכותבת להיות יהודי משמע להיות פרימיטיבי, אנטי-מודרני, לא-רציונלי ושונא-אדם. כהתגלמות כוחות החושך במדינה, הזוממת להטיל עליה אסון, ה'יהודי' הזה מנסה לגייס את שאר האוכלוסיה היהודית למימוש זממיו. או, כלשונה, 'זהו, אפוא, גם קו פרשת המים של הישראלים. אם יגבר גם הפעם הנימוק "אנחנו יהודים" על השאיפה לחיים נורמליים, יהיה זה הרגע שבו תתברר סופית כניעתה הטרגית של הציונות לפני הטירוף המשיחי היהודי.'
גב' גולן פספסה לגמרי את משמעות הסיסמה הזאת וגם את מהות חיינו המשותפים כאן בארץ. ללא כל קשר
לשאלה נכונותה של ההתנתקות מעזה, עובדה שגירוש יהודים מבתיהם על כידוני חיילי צה"ל ו/או ע"י כוחות המשטרה מהווה טראומה לאומית מהמדרגה הראשונה. הגירוש הוא חלק אפל וקבוע בתודעה הקולקטיבית של העם היהודי מאז הפך לעם. הוא מסמל את זרותו של היהודי בכל מקום עלי אדמות. יהודים גורשו מא"י, מהחיג'אז, מאנגליה, צרפת, מדינות רבות בגרמניה, מספרד, מפורטוגל, מערים רבות באיטליה, מערי תימן, מפלכים באימפריית הצאר, ומנסיכויות ומדינות ערב (שלא לדבר על זוועות ת"ש-תש"ה). זיכרון הגירושים עומד משותף לכל יהודי באשר הוא. זיכרון הגירושים עומד בבסיס התפשטותה והצדקתה של ציונות עצמה. לשלט הנ"ל אין דבר ולא חצי דבר עם משיחיות. הוא מדבר כולו בשם התודעה הקולקטיבית היהודית שאמורה להיות משותפת לכל העם היושב בציון.
אלא שהגב' גולן, במודע, איננה מעונינת ולא שותפה בזיכרון הקולקטיבי היהודי הזה. היא מעדיפה לפתח קריקטורה של היהודי. לדידה, היהודי הוא אנטי-מודרני, לא-רציונלי, ושונא אדם. על מזבח הזיותיו המשיחיות, מוכן הוא להקריב את המדינה כולה. וכאן, חושפת הכותבת את קלפיה. כדי לקדם את דעתה הפוליטית (מטרה נאותה כשלעצמה) היא מוכנה להחיות את הגרועים שבתעמולה האנטי-יהודית לדורותיה. היא מוכנה לנצל את הגרועים שבדימויי אויבינו כדי להכפיש מאות אלפי אנשים, נשים וטף. מצד שני, מיותר, וגם מביש, להשיב להבלי הכותבת, אחד לאחד. לדעות קדומות, בלתי רציונליות, כאלו אין מענה הגיוני.
קריאת רשימתה של אבירמה גולן השאירה אותי עם דמעות בעיניים. אחרי ארבע שנות מלחמה, מלאות דם וזעזוע ושכול; אחרי שאויבינו סביב העולם שלפו את דגל שנאת ישראל והניפו אותו בגאון בכל מקום; אחרי שהגורל והיעוד השותפים לנו ליכדו אותנו מחדש, נאה גב' גולן ועמיתיה וניסו לא רק לעקור יישובים אלא גם לשרש את 'היהודי' מארצו.

Thursday, October 28, 2004


AT LAST! Pigs can fly, hell is frozen, the slipper finally fits,and Impossible Dreams really can come true.The Red Sox have won the World Series!

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The Curse is Broken! The Boston Globe put it best:

ST. LOUIS -- They did it for the old folks in Presque Isle, Maine, and White River Junction, Vt. They did it for the baby boomers in North Conway, N.H., and Groton, Mass. They did it for the kids in Central Falls, R.I., and Putnam, Conn. While church bells rang in small New England towns and horns honked on the crowded streets of the Hub, the 2004 Red Sox last night won the World Series, completing a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals with a 3-0 victory on the strength of seven innings of three-hit pitching by Derek Lowe. Playing 1,042 miles from Fenway Park, the Sox won it all for the first time in 86 long and frustrating seasons.
New England and a sprawling Nation of fans can finally exhale. The Red Sox are world champs. No more Curse of the Bambino. No more taunts of ``1918.'' The suffering souls of Bill Buckner, Grady Little, Mike Torrez, Johnny Pesky, Denny Galehouse, and the rest are released from Boston Baseball's Hall of Pain. .

They did something that had not been done in 86 years.
So now it's time to toast to Ted Williams, Tom Yawkey, Sherm Feller, Dick O'Connell, Haywood Sullivan, Joe Cronin, Eddie Collins, Tony Conigliaro, Ned Martin, Helen Robinson, Jack Rogers, and thousands of others who toiled for the team, but died before seeing their Sox win a World Series.

It's time for smiles on the faces of Carl Yastrzemski, Bobby Doerr, Dominic DiMaggio, Charlie Wagner, Gene Conley, Bill Monbouquette, Chuck Schilling, John McNamara, Joe Morgan, Earl Wilson, Mike Andrews, Reggie Smith, and hundreds of other men who wore the Red Sox uniform, but never won in October. And don't forget Curt Gowdy, Lou Gorman, Dick Bresciani, Joe Mooney, and all the ushers and Sox employees who are as much a part of Fenway Park as the Green Monster and Pesky's Pole. Time for the Nation to rejoice. Time to dance. Time to go to your window, open it wide, stick your head out and scream, ``The Red Sox won the World Series.'' No one's been able to do that in Boston since Woodrow Wilson was president.
The largest celebration in Boston's 374-year history is expected tomorrow when the team is honored with a parade and championship ceremony. If form holds, the Red Sox' gaudy, well-earned rings will be handed out in a ceremony April 11 when the 2004 World Series championship flag is raised above Fenway Park for the home opener. The team in the third base dugout for that historic event? The New York Yankees.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Reply to Avirama Golan

I was so infuriated by Avirama Golan's article that I dashed off a reply to Haaretz on Line. The reply was actually published (both on the web and in the English insert to the International Herald Tribune):

Non-messianic objections Regarding "The Jews versus the Israelis" by Avirama Golan, Oct. 25

Avirama Golan's article is an ingenious Midrashic interpretation of a political slogan. Ms. Golan, like many of her leftist colleagues and ideologues, uses the Haskalah vision of Judaism and Jews as primitives in order to explain the objection to the uprooting of communities. It has nothing, she claims, to do with humanity. It has everything to do with messianism. Ms. Golan has it wrong on both counts. First, the resort to the "Jewish" argument is a resort to the collective memory that is the remaining link that binds Israeli Jewish society together. It is the memory of expulsions and evictions that is in play here. It is the invocation of the past that Zionism was supposed to cure that is in play here. That has absolutely nothing to do with the great secular bugaboo, messianism.

Second, it is true that a portion (not the overwhelming majority, by any account) of the religious Zionist community are followers of the messianic Zionism of the Rabbis Kook. However, opposition to the prime minister's disengagement plan needs not be based upon messianic concerns. Is Rav Ovadia Yosef a messianist? Rav Elyashiv? Uzi Landau? Many religious, university-trained residents of Yesha object to the Sharon plan per se because it gives Israel nothing in return. It demonizes other Jews. It starts a run amok back to the 1948 Armistice lines. These considerations have nothing to do with messianism or primitive thinking. Ms. Golan would serve her country better if she learned the lesson of nine years ago, and stopped demonizing, and distorting, other Jews.

Dr. Jeffrey R. Woolf Bar-Ilan University

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The War Against the "Jew"

One of the less noted aspects of the controversy over the Oslo Program, was that it played itself out on two levels. The better known was the political dimension. Was it possible to make peace with the Arabs based upon territorial compromise. However, there was a second, more insidious struggle that was carried on simultaneously. This was a war against Judaism, Jewish identity and the Jewish character of the State of Israel by the leading elements of the Israeli Left (and not only the radical Left). In other words, the Left had a cultural agenda. It was waging a Kulturkampf, against the very idea of a Jewish State. It was fighting for a 'State of al its citizens,' which was the de facto goal of the PLO from 1964, onwards, 'a bi-national, secular state.' The fact that the settlement movement, and the Israeli Right generally, are more religious (or traditional), assisted them. The 1996 elections were marked by crude, anti-semitic attacks on anything resembling Judaism or religious Jews-by elements within the Left (especially Meretz). Ben Dror Yemini, a columnist for Ma'ariv, noted that thisd attack on Judaism was a crucial factor in Netanyahu's victory.
Once the Oslo War started in 2000, things began to change. The country, albeit in adversity, became more Jewish (as the Guttman studies pointed out-and as I have already had occasion to note). I, personally, was really hopeful that no matter what the political resolution of this ongoing struggle over borders and peace will be, at least the wars of the Jews would play themselves out among Jews, as Jews.

It breaks my heart to say it. I was wrong. I was dead wrong.

Today's Haaretz features an article by Avirama Golan, the same one I praised a few weeks ago. The piece is entitled The Jews versus the Israelis. It's a return to the same anti-semitic, self-hating screed that characterized the worst of the 1996 elections. Golan writes:

On the bridge connecting Bnei Brak with the campus of Bar-Ilan University a new slogan was brandished last month: "Commander, we are Jews. I cannot do that."

It is clear what the author of the slogan cannot do: he cannot evacuate settlements. But the refusal itself is less interesting than the reasoning. The soldier referred to in the slogan cannot carry out the order, not because his heart is broken at the site of families uprooted from their homes and not even because he is convinced in his right-wing worldview that the evacuation of Gaza is a calamity. All his reasons for refusal boil down to the loaded expression: "We are Jews." This expression is a code that differentiates, as in the pre-Zionist Diaspora, between a Jew and a "goy" and permits Jews everything by virtue of their status as victims. This is also the code that led complete communities of Jews away from the families of nations due to their messianic faith, shut them off in ghettos, led them to turn their backs on modernity and humanism, and subjected them to an exclusive fate determined by the hands of God, stripping man of the freedom to choose and responsibility for his fate.

In other words, the 'Jew' is the anti-modern, irrational, primitive enemy of mankind who wishes to drag 'enlightened' Israelis to their doom. It is the 'Jew' who wants to prevent Peace due to his objection to the retreat from Gaza. It is the 'Jew' who cares not for the expellees. He only cares for his messianic blood-lust. The 'Jew,' Golan concludes, must be defeated: If the "We are Jews" argument gains the upper hand again over the aspiration for normal life, it will be the moment signifying the final tragic surrender of Zionism to Jewish messianic madness.

It is incredible, that just when Antisemitism has recaptured large sections of the world, it is being inspired and advanced by the Israeli left.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Under Jewish Bayonets

The past few days I've been walking around on the brink of tears. Israel is undergoing contortions and convulsions around the Prime Minister's Disengagement Plan. The arguments are fast and furious, mostly furious.

Meanwhile, I'm on the brink of tears. I'm on the brink of tears because noone is giving any thought to the fact that, no matter whether it's right or wrong, Jewish families are going to be ripped out of their homes and their synagogues destroyed. They won't have a home to go to. They will be refugees. The only thing is that this time in thirty five hundred years of lachrymose history, this will be carried out not by Assyrians, not by Babylonians, not by Syrian Greeks, not by Romans, not by BYzantines, not by Arabs, not by Visigoths, not by Swabian Germans, not by Franks, not by Poles, not by Ukranians, not by Italians, not by Spaniards, not by Czarist Russians, not by Nazis, not by Communists, not by Muslim...but by force of Jewish arms.

And noone cares or is horrified by that prospect. The media pundits and the politicians don't evince one iota of feeling for the people whose lives are about to be destroyed. After all, they're only settlers. As Shakespeare might have said:

Hath not a Settler eyes? Hath not a settler hands, organs,dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed withthe same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as another Israeli Jew is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?

The answer would appear to be in the negative. Otherwise, they too would be on the verge of tears, and not gloating.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Words are superfluous at this sublime moment where hope, loyalty, devotion to a goal and stubborn persistence have paid off! Go Sox! Do it for Ted, for Pesky, for Yaz, for Pudge Fisk and for all the generations of loyal Boston Red Sox fans who've hoped through September and grieved through October. (BTW, in reference to the previous post, Rabbi Soloveitchik was a Red Sox Fan.)
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Monday, October 18, 2004

Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל : A Reminiscence

All of the discussion of rabbis, leadership, Halakhah and spirituality highlights just how much I miss the Rov zt"l. I"m not just referring to a disciple who misses his rebbe. That feeling is always there.

No, it's more than that. When I consider the multifold challenges facing the religious community in Israel, I realize just how much the kind of creative traditionalism, intellectual independence and modesty, and the rare mix of devotion to Halakha and striving for spirituality thatr characterized the Rov are needed today. The problem is that far too mant of his disciples here have bifurcated him. Some are Rashe Yeshiva who are only interested in his lomdus. Others think he was only a philosopher, and ignore the fact that he spent 95% of his time lovingly learning Talmud and Rambam. But he was all of that and it is as a totality that his teachings would make a difference.

Those who are stifled by an exclusively 'Do' and 'Don't' Orthodoxy, would have their Judaism invigorated with Man's spiritual quest for God. Those who are ensconced in philosophy would learn the humility and discipline of Talmud Torah and Halakhah as acts of revelation and surrender.

Those of us who try to see the total picture of who the Rov was and what he stood for have been too shy. We have a moral obligation to tell the truth about who he was and who he wasn't. Noone will get it totally. He was too complex for that. We can, however, balance the extremes. Aggressive advocacy of a teacher's heritage has marked the disciples of the Rambam, Ramban, Ari, GRA, Besht, Salanter and others. Within the frame of the Rov's belief in personal responsibility, we can do no less.

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Does Israel Need (More) Rabbis?

Recently, my town's chat group has been all abuzz about the question of whether we need to have neighborhood rabbis, or even rabbis in our many synagogues. The responses have been fascinating and highlight a basic cleavage about the perception of the rabbi in Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox circles in Israel.

Most Israeli residents, along with a not insignificant number of Anglos, think that there is no need for neighborhood or synagogue rabbis. After all, there are plenty of congregants who can give short Divre Torah. There are not a few rabbis of whom shaylos can be asked. Who needs a rabbi? If you need someone at your simcha, the town rabbi tries to attend. Moreover, why should a community appoint someone to tell them how to think. The hallmark of Modern Orthdoxy is personal autonomy. Rabbis are for Haredim.

Others approach from a different perspective. They offer that rabbis are not just DT or Psaq machines. They are there to provide guidance, solace, and to give mussar when required. Even asking shaylos requires a degree of intimacy with a specific person. Even when it comes to shul itself, a rav is desireable. Israelis all too often treat shul like 'Jiffylube' (not my analogy), 'in and out in an hour.' A rav can (if he's talented) help to make tefillah an act of worship and not just another thing on one' list of 'Things to Do.'

Personally, I respond to both sides of the argument. However, when I consider some of the challenges facing Orthodoxy in contemporary Israel, I find myself coming down on the pro-rabbi side (despite, not because of, my own training). Whether we like it or not, Modern Orthodoxy is beset by serious crises (perhaps malaises) in Israel (if it ever really existed here). These crises are overlapping.

1) Spiritual- Our town has a very large number of young adults and youth who've 'doffed their kippah.' The establishment denies it, but all one has to do is walk around on Friday Night to see the evidence. Part of the problem is the lack of spirituality instilled in the schools and the shuls. Judaism without Halakhah is inauthentic. Without spirituality, however, it's a dead letter.

2) Cultural- Let's face it, the rabbis we do have don't have secular educations. They are absolutely incapable of addressing the kinds of challenges that any of us face in the world. So, yes, we need rabbis of a particular type (YU?) to respectfully help negotiate and intelligently guide communities through the eddies and whirlpools that threaten to engulf us (feminism?),.

3) Moral- In one of my last conversations with Rabbi Soloveitchik, zt"l (February, 1985), he mentioned to me that one of Orthodoxy's greatest failngs is triumphalist self-congratulation. I took him to mean that we're too happy with ourselves, individually and collectively. The function of a rav is to address that flaw (including the ways it expresses itself in himself). This will not make him popular. It will benefit the community and make him a rav.

The accuracy of these observations is reinforced by the rapid spread of a part-time rabbinate throughout Israel. There is clearly a need. The challenge is to find and train the people to fill that need. So far, on that score, Israeli Orthodoxy is not doing very well.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Medievalists! Now you too Can Have...

Your own Pope Innocent III Action Figure!!! Imagine, on your desk, as you write about Church Policy Toward the Jews in Europe, you can gaze upon the miniature figure of the man who made it happen, Innocent III; convener of the Fourth Lateran Council, initiator of the Jew Badge.

Pope Innocent III Action Figure Posted by Hello

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

On Academic Conferences

Q.E.D. just published an hysterical, though all too true, survival guide on academic conferences. Highly Recommended.

Common Cultural Language- Nachas from an Unexpected Quarter

For years I have been involved in any number of efforts at recreating a common, Jewish cultural language between religious and non-religious Jews in Israel. Sharing language, symbols, cultural resonances and historical memories is critical for this country tio survive. I even hoped that political discussions could be carried out by Right and Left, religious and non-religious Israelis through reference to the rich Jewish tradition that belongs to all Jews.

Yesterday's Haaretz featured an article by Avirama Golan that was a perfect example of that hope coming to fruition. An avowed Leftist, she engaged the political positions of the Right with thoughtful observations based upon Jewish sources, that were not distorted.

The late Mapam leader, Ya'aqov Hazan, once said that he wanted to create epiqorsim (educated heretics), but ended up with am ha-aratzim (ignoramuses). Looks like the tide might just be turning. No matter the political position espoused, this is a positive development from any angle. Imagine! Nachas from Haaretz!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Meiri Redux

Edah recently teamed up with Ne'emane Torah va'Avodah for a series of mini-conferences on issues of concern to the Modern Orthodox community. I wasn't able to attend any of these, but according to Chakira, one session centered on the attitude of Jewish Law to Non-Jews. Predictably, the hero of the evening was the fourteenth century Provencal Halakhist, R. Menahem HaMeiri, who did take long strides toward viewing trinitarian Christianity as a non-idolatrous religion. From Chakira's report, however, it appears that Meiri's ideas were often harnassed to fit pre-existing ideological positions.

This is not the place to discuss Meiri in full. However, his ideas are important enough (and distorted enough) that before invoking them, people should at least read the discussions by Jacob Katz, Ya'aqov Blidstein and Moshe Halbertal (among others).

Welcome Q.E.D.

I just came across a new Blog named QED. It ha some very perceptive observations on both Israeli life and Academia. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Jewish Unity- A Reply to Edgar Bronfman

Friday's Jerusalem Post (it's not on the website) reported that Edgar Bronfman has adopted Yossi Beilin's idea that anyone who wants to be considered a Jew should be automatically so considered. He, however, goes one step forward. He declares that the traditional Jewish insistence that non-Jews undergo conversion in order to become Jews is similar to the "racist policies of the Nazis!

I never know whether to laugh bitterly or cry when I read this type of thing. The laughter comes from the realization that if Bronfman and company have their way, it will be easier to become Jewish than it will to join the Harvard Club of New York or the Yale Skull and Bones Society. They, at least have standards. Bronfman (and Beilin) have so little regard for the Jewish people that they think that there need be no standards or commitments required of potentia entrants to the Jewish people. My grandmother would call that a 'sheyner gelechter.' In other words, if t weren't so tragically stupid, it would be comical. More to the point, how can anyone who has seen the ingathering of the exiles that has occurred here, comprehending Jews of every conceivable color and racial type, utter such an insensitive, mendacious comment?

Several possibilities do come to mind. First, Bronfman's comment illustrates the bankruptcy of part of the efforts toward 'Jewish Continuity.' Now, I don't want to be misunderstood here. There are wonderful educational and communal efforts being made toward fighting assimilation and Jewish illiteracy throughout the Jewish World. All too often, however, 'Jewish Continuity' means: How can my children/grandchildren remain Jewish without doing anything about it (except, perhaps, by writing a check)?

That's, essentially, what Bronfman is saying. Let's declare everybody Jewish (especially non-Jewish spouses) and the hell with the Jewish religion. Intermarriage is a source of strength, he asserts. Statistics show that only 3 out of every 10 children of intermaried couples see themselves as Jews (never mind that Conservative and Orthodox Jews still require traditional conversions) In that light, Bronfman is essentially calling for de facto assimilation. That, in turn, reminds me of something that Ber Borokhov once said that assimilation is to the Jew what suicide is for the individual. Declaring everyone Jewish, with absolutely no regard for the integrity of Jewish tradition, peoplehood, culture and history is nothing less than a call for suicide.

There's even more to it than that, but it will have to wait for a future posting.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

In Memoriam: Professor Yisrael Moshe Ta Shma z"l

Yesterday, while in Hevron, I was informed of the passing of a great man and a dear friend, Professor Yisrael Moshe Ta Shma, recipient of the 2003 Israel Prize in Talmud, after a long illness. He was a great scholar whose command of every aspect of rabbinic literature, in print and in manuscript was incredible. There will no doubt, be alot of discussion of his contributions to scholarship. I am writing a review of his last book for the journal Sidra, where I will write an appreciaton of his work.

In addition to being a world class scholar, Professor Ta Shma was a mensch and a true friend. In contrast to alot of academics, he was generous with his knowledge and with new ideas. Despite his incredible level of activity and scholarly output, he always had time to sit and talk and share his massive knowledge. I used to love sitting in his study and just drinking it all in.

He was a man of dignity and courage. The last four years were very difficult for him healthwise. Yet he faced these difficulties with fortitude and a wry sense of humor. Haval al de-avdin ve-lo mishtakhin. Yehi Zikhro Barukh ke-fi she-po'alo hu berakha.

Two Types of Sublime: A Hol HaMoed Day

I don't remember having a day that was filled with both sharp contrasts and profound typicality as was yesterday. In the morning, I went to Hevron with my brother and nephew. They had advertised a Klezmer/Carlebach minyan in the main sukkah, and the entire Me'arah was open for visitors. (The Isaac room is usually off limits to Jews). My nephew had never been to Hevron and we planned to show him the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, Tel Rumeida etc.

The service actually started out pleasantly. The singing was engaging and the atmosphere, uplifting. Too soon, however, it was marke with the typical Carlebachian affliction; lack of limits. I don't know why, but Carlebach people don't know when to stop. There are limits to everything, it seems, except singing and jumping. So, an hour long service was soon two hours. The heat rose. The Sukkah was stifling and these guys wouldn't stop! So we left after Torah reading and a quick Mussaf. What a missed opportunity. In stead of leaving on a high, I left annoyed. Typically, I recalled something that Professor Twersky once wrote, that Judaism is made up of a delicate balance of discipline and spirituality. Exclusive emphasis on the law leads to the fossilization of religion. Too much spirituality leads to chaos.

The cave itself was in spiring as usual, though I particularly like the Avraham Avinu shul. It was built by exiles from Spain in a typically Andalusian style. It has the type of intimate atmosphere that I love and frankly, I think I could have sat there all day and drunk in the atmosphere. Hevron was teeming with people who came on pilgrimage and to express their solidarity with the residents of the Jewish community and of nearby Qiryat Arba. It was a day of joy and silent determination.

That night we went to the wine festival in Rishon le-Zion. It was a huge, happy street fair with food, crafts and music. Three stages with popular, foregn and folk music. There was reall joy in the air. Most important, it was mobbed with: Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Haredim and Hilonim, Ethiopians and Russians, Settlers and Leftists. I looked around with not a small amount of wonder. Think about it. After four years of war, terror, blood, grief, and apprehension-they haven't broken us. On the contrary, the Israelis will not let the Palestinian terrorists steal our lives and our holidays.
It's an honor to be part of such a sublimely aggravating people.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Academic Boycott- Revisited

A few weeks ago, I wrote that all indications were that I was being boycotted by a colleague. While the academic boycott against Israelis is very much a reality, my particular case appears to be on its way to a positive resolution. Stay Tuned.

October 16 (Update):

Forget the above. No positive resolution. No collegiality. Only left-wing prejudice against a colleague.

Monday, September 27, 2004

"Murder in the Cathedral' (Almost)

The news today reported a melee that occurred in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. According to Haaretz:

Greek Orthodox and Franciscan priests got into a fist fight Monday at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Christianity's holiest shrine, after arguing over whether a door in the basilica should be closed during a procession. Dozens of people, including several police officers, were lightly hurt in the brawl at the shrine, built over the spot where tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried.Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby said four priests were detained.Custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by several denominations that jealously guard territory and responsibilities under a fragile deal hammered out over the last centuries. Any perceived encroachment on one group's turf can lead to vicious feuds, sometimes lasting centuries.Monday's fight broke out during a procession of hundreds of Greek Orthodox worshippers commemorating the 4th century pilgrimage by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, to Jerusalem. Tradition says that during the trip, Helena found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified.Church officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that at one point, the procession passed a Roman Catholic chapel, and priests from both sides started arguing over whether the door to the chapel should be open or closed. Riot police broke up the fight, witnesses said.

There is a very important lesson to be learned (or rather re-learned) here. People fight for that which they believe. Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenians and Protestants consider each other to be heretics. That's a very serious business, since one's salvation depends on one not being a heretic. So, when one denomination infringes on another's prerogative, its symbolic legitimacy (as in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), conflict is inevitable. Symbols are important for those whose entire essence is expressed therein. Like it or not, that's how things work in the world.

This is not something that so-called sophisticated, i.e. skeptical, moderns can fathom. It is something that only medievalists can teach. Only students of an age wherein people actually believed and were willing to follow their beliefs can understand (and interpret) events that reflect that dynamic. I say that not only in light of my own longstanding conviction to that effect, but because my friend Professor Richard Landes recently demonstrated it. He was interviewed in a Canadian Newspaper about millenial and apocalyptic elements lying behind jihadist thinking. (The article was posted on the History News Network). The reporter's conclusion was: It's interesting that a historian of the Middle Ages is able to articulate, better than any professional security strategist, exactly what is at stake in this global conflict.

It's merely 'interesting.' It makes total sense. Thank you Richard.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Memories: Yom Kippur 5765

Jews have long memories. Indeed, as Rav Soloveitchik often pointed out, our sense of time is two-fold. First, there is chronomatic time, physical time. This is the time we watch slip by as the sweep second hand goes around our watches, never to return. There is, however, another dimension of time awareness that characterizes us. We live in an eternal present, where the past is immediate and ever so accessible. We summon up memories and experience them now. Today, for example, we not only recited the Avodah, the description of the service on Yom Kippur in the Bet HaMiqdash, we performed it verbally. The Hazzan was the Kohen Gadol. The people were standing in the courtyard. We heard the Kohen Gadol invoke the Ineffable Name of God, and fell on our faces. Past met present met future, as the threnodies and elegies after the recitation of the Avodah empasized the implications of the destruction of the Temple in mesmerizing rythm.

Recent memories were conjured up as well. When it was time for Yizkor, for the memorial prayers, the custom in Israel is to add a special paragraph for those who fell in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. When it came time, there was silence. Noone knew what was happening. It turned out, that the Hazzan couldn't get the words out. Each word choked him, and seared into the hearts of everyone there. 1973 was today, it was yesterday, it will be tomorrow. At the same time, as the present war enters its fourth year, other voices were choked over loved ones, friends and neighbors who've been murdered for riding buses, drinking coffee, datring to live here. All of the almost 1500 people murdered in the last eleven years were invoked in this Yizkor. Everyone prayed that these would be the last. Noone said it out loud. The feeling, however, was tangible.

Right after Yizkor, though, the mood changed on a dime. There was a Brit (a rare enough occasion on Yom Kippur). Everyone segued into happiness at the little boy now initiated into the covenant of Abraham, who grazed these very hills. The contrast was quite tangible, with what had gone before. I was reminded of something told me by a very dear man, Rabbi Moshe Besdin z"l, who is the unsung hero of the Teshuva movement. Now I didn't attend his school. I'd gone straight to RIETS in the midst of my PhD at Harvard, and ws in the Rav's shiur. However, I also had a shul and Rabbi Besdin (who I don't think knew my name), like to feed me with ideas for sermons and on Sunday would come looking for me to see how I'd done.

Anyway, once he came up to me at dinner and pointed out to me that Tosafos says that anyone who doesn't attend a Brit or a weddng is excommunicated by God. That, in fact, is why the common custom is to inform people of a Brit and not to invite outright, i.e, so that people don't get caught up with refusing. The truth is, however, that Tosafos, quoting the Jerusalem Talmud, doesn't talk about the Brit or the wedding ceremony. It refers to the party engendered by the ceremony. So what's the big deal about going to a party? Rabbi Besdin, with his usual twinkle in his eye, said that Tosafos is referring to a person who bemoans the continuity of the Jewish People. Why celebrate when the fate of Israel is to be hated and persecuted? Such a person is cut off from God, because he lacks the faith, the conviction and the insight to rejoice in a better future for Israel and for the future redemption. That rejoicing (without the meal) was what swept the congregation today. It's the response to our tangible Yizkor.

I think that's what you walk out of Yom Kippur with in the Land of Israel. Hope: for Divine forgiveness, for peace, and for the strength, the super-human strength with which we've been endowed to still try to be normal (and succeeded). That's alot to celebrate, as the hammers have made a racket all night as the sukkot go up.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Erev Yom Kippur in Jerusalem

Two weeks ago, I alluded to the last two pages of Professor Haym Soloveitchik's article on Sefer Hassidim, from 1976. In that article he points out that most contemporary observant Jews observe Judaism as a regula, a mode of life run by strict rules that they do their best to observe. Traditional communities, i.e. before Emancipation, lived lives that were fully textured by the seasonal rhythmns of the religious year. They were, in the words of his father, 'Erev Shabbos Jews.' I spent three months last Spring and Summer in New York. It was a good, constructive time (though hard to be away from home). Shabbat was Shabbat. There was, however, no 'Erev Shabbat.' Even on Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills, no 'Erev Shabbat.' Was there pre-Shabbat hustle and bustle? Of course. Were people working down to the wire? Yes.

So what was missing?

An intangible was missing. I felt it today driving through Jerusalem. As I reached Rehov Aggripas, near Shuk Mahane Yehudah, the announcer on the radio was interviewing the novelist Naomi Ragen. He was asking her to explain why someone should stay in Israel, much less leave America to live here. She offered alot of good, Jewish, Zionist reasons. The one that hit me, though, was that only here are you enveloped by the holidays. The timing was impeccable, because there, before me, exactly that was playing itself out. People were preparing for Yom Kippur (and for Sukkot). There was a tangible atmosphere of anticipation in the air. People wished each other 'Gmar Hatima Tova' with that knowing, empathizing look in your eye that I"ve only encountered here. And that atmosphere is slowly intensifying. As I write these words, things are already slowing down, as they will until tomorrow evening. The buses will stop. The radio will stop. Time will stop. The 'power of the day' (as Maimonides says) will overpower an entire country. It's a process. It's tangible.

For me, among many other reasons, that's why I'm here. I'm here for the dimensions of the spirit and of daily life that simply don't exist anywhere else. Nowhere else can you say when you walk to the store that you've done something of historical, national importance. It's not just Yom Kippur. It's every day here, with all the troubles and the pain and the fear and the aggravation. After Yom Kippur, Jerusalem will rejoice. The atmosphere in the streets will be one of relief and a feeling of 'Let's Live.' Happens every year. Maybe that's why they call Sukkot Zman Simhatenu.

Gmar Hatima Tova.