Friday, September 30, 2005

Self Worship

Edith Hamilton, in her masterpiece Mythology, observed that the Greeks made the gods in their own image. In other words, Idolatry/Avoda Zara is ultimately based upon self-worship. I am not the first, nor will I be the last, person to notice that contemporary culture (what some call Secular Humanism), with its heavy emphasis on the self, veers close to being a religion, and an idolatrous one at that.

Now, Hassagot has posted a very thoughtful comment in which he points out that this characteristic is most visible in our attitudes toward sex and procreation. An unexpected confirmation of his musings was provided by Larry Derfner of the Jerusalem Post, in a recent, cynical hatchet job of the Efrat Organization that presents a respectful alternative to abortion in Israel.

Rolling Over in his Grave Department

Madonna has written a new song called 'Isaac.'

It's about the Ari zal.

'Nuff Said.

[Thanks to Dov Bear for the link. I think.]

Too True

We're never going to make it this coming year without a sense of humor. Kirschen, Thank God, has one (and a new blog).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ammunition Hill

Yesterday, I paid an unplanned visit to Ammunition Hill. My daughter, Chana, is working there as a guide and instructor as part of her Sherut Leumi. Incredibly, I had never been before. It is a place so powerful, so sacred and so hard to describe that I had to do it in Hebrew, here.

The bottom line is, everyone MUST place it at the top of one's visits to Jerusalem (after the Kotel/Har HaBayit). Before the world and the Leftists start 'explaining' why we need to give up Jerusalem, we need to remind ourselves why we owe it to the 37 who fell at Ammunition Hill, to ourselvers and our posterity, never to even think of such a possibility.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Jerusalem Revealed

On most Saturday Nights in the late sixties and seventies, from September until June, some two to three hundred people from all over New England, representing very different sectors of the Boston Jewish Community would gather in the cafeteria of the Maimonides School in Brookline in order to hear Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל’s weekly Humash shiur. Generally, people started filing in around 730 PM in order to make sure they get a good seat at one of the forward tables. By 8PM the room was packed and the heightened sense of expectation was tangible. Then, at precisely 815, the Rov would walk in briskly (no pun intended). The crowd would rise in tribute, while the Rov was seated and had his microphone affixed to his lapel. He opened a manilla envelope and extracted a sheaf of hand written papers (for some reason, I think they were written in blue pencil or ink). Then he and his audience would settle in as he held forth for two, three or sometimes four hours. No one really ever checked the time. We were riveted by the exalted, charismatic brilliance of our Master and Teacher. So exhilarating was the experience that a lot of us (we were still students) woould go out, despite the hour, to rehash and discuss the myriad points the Rov had raised in his lecture. This was no mean feat, especially in the early seventies, when the only Kosher restaurant that was open on מוצאי שבת was a pathetic Pizza place called Café Tel Aviv. [I guess I should add that the shiur served an important social service, as well.]

From the start, I was always struck by the contrast between the weekly scene at Maimonides and the Saturday Night action that took place in the rest of Boston’s student community. Saturday Night, as we all know, is party night. Yet here were hundreds of intelligent, largely academic, types who forwent the movie/party/date in order to sit at the feet of a seventy-year old rabbi. I used to wonder if anyone would ever believe it. (A lot of people I met did not.)

Jerusalem has been and continues to be blessed with many such hidden gems, of all sorts, that have never been listed in any tourist brochure or posted on some hotel bulletin board. As Rosh Hashanah approaches, though, I am referring specifically to gems of learning.

How many people who were frequent visitors to Yerushalayim in the sixties, seventies and eighties (or residents, for that matter) knew about Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach זצ"ל’s shi’ur for ‘baalebatim’? Can you imagine what it was to have a semi-private lesson with one of the greatest posqim of the century? [Actually, I can because the Rov’s Sunday morning shi’ur for ‘baalebatim’ was one of the best kept secrets in the community. It was also the best place to learn how to learn in the world. That’s why I so much regret not knowing about Reb Shlomo Zalman’s shi’ur when I lived in Jerusalem from 1983-1984 (not that I’m positive I would have had the zekhus of being allowed to attend.)]

This brings me to Thursday Nights with Rabbi Asher Zelig Weiss (universally referred to as ‘Reb Usher’). Reb Usher is a Chechanover Hassid, and a phenomenal Talmid Hakham and maggid shi’ur. His grasp of the full gamut of Rabbinic Literature (Bavli, Yerushalmi, Rishonim, Aharonim, Posqim, ShuT, and everything else) is nothing less than stunning. The way he just sachets across the ocean of Torah in an hour is nothing less than intoxicating. He is always interesting, insightful and thought-provoking. His independence of thought is incredibly refreshing. [Though, I have to admit that for someone raised and bred on the Brisker derekh, I find that his method sometimes makes me uncomfortable.] No less interesting is the level of many of the participants. This shi’ur for ‘baalebatim’ draws rabbis, well known rashe yeshiva, the leading lights of Mishpat Ivri, a former Treasury Minister, professors, teachers as well as amkha.

For me, at least, the attraction is not confined to the intellectual content of the shi’ur (though that would certainly be sufficient). Though Reb Usher speaks in a first rate Hebrew, his intonation (and often his pronunciation) is haimish. He invokes and creates a modality of Eastern European spirituality that I sorely love and all too often miss. The atmosphere in the Chachanover Bes Medrash pulsates with sanctity for a full hour or so, every Thursday night.

All of this takes place, while most of the country goes about its business unaware of the drama unfolding in an obscure side street in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On Sharon's Victory

There are times that you can only express yourself in Hebrew. This is my reaction to last night's events.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Genevat Da'at

One of the more uplifting aspects of life in the Jewish or Israeli Blogosphere is the degree of mutual respect and consideration that seems to characterize the various bloggers. Thus, though many of us are divided by serious differences of opinion, I (at least) have not encountered much flaming or ad hominem invective. Bloggers, in addition, are gracious in giving credit to their sources even when information provided by one blogger could have been discovered by others. Nevertheless, the 'hat tip' is the norm, and our blogger culture is much the better for it.

I say this because I have recently discovered that while bloggers are courteous and gracious, some lurkers are not. For example, I have found things that I have written here were lifted and used by others, without attribution. Personally, as someone for whom words and ideas are sacred, I find such behaviour contemnable. The beauty of blogging is the free exchange of ideas. Exchange is the operative word here, since in exchange for ideas one expects to bear the credit and the criticism, the responsibility and the reward for insights that are one's own. This is certainly true of blogs, where one often shares one's deepest held beliefs with the world. I know that I make every effort to cite my sources, published and unpublished, both in print and in blog. (Unless the source has asked not to be cited).

So, I abjure these irresponsible lurkers. Don't forget 'He who cites things in the name of the one who said them, brings blessing/redemption to the world.'

The opposite is also true.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Mixed Seating at Weddings

Gil Student has just raised the question of mixed seating at weddings. This has become something of a cause celebre in Israel (and I assume elsewhere). Here, at least, it has gotten to the point that receptions are held in separate (though adjoining halls), leading no a few people I know to abjure the wedding festivities and to make due with attending the Huppah (which in Israel is often a matter of 'mixed standing.') This reaction is highly problematic, since the main point of attending a wedding is to rejoice with the bride and groom. Indeed, according to Tosfos (quoting the Yerushalmi) a person who is attends the weding without dancing etc. is subject to celestial excommunication (Tosafot Pesahim 114a s.v. ואין).

In any event, I must demur from Gil's conclusion that 'separate seating has far more halachic support.' The mixed seating option is equally legitimate. The prohibition noted by Sefer Hasidim (hardly a purely halakhic source) may even be enlisted to indicate that in Tosafist Germany the weddings had mixed seating. In addition, I strongly agree with Rav YH Henkin's observation:

And with this I retract what I wrote... that at weddings it is proper to seat single men and single women separately even if the married couples sit together. This is [still] so with young men and women who are not yet ready to get married. However, regarding those who have reached that stage, to the opposite, it is a mitzvah so that they get to know each other in a place where there is no concern for yihud and each couple is not alone on a "date," as is done today...

When I got married, the mixed seating question came up. My wife's family has a lot of Haredim and mine is overwhelmingly secular. One side wanted separate seating with a mehitzah and the other wanted social dancing. Obviously, the latter was out of the question but so was the former (as far as I was concerned). Almost everyone has non-religious relatives and friends and the potential for Qiddush and Hillul HaShem is very high.

Anyway, I put the question to the Rov זצ"ל. His immediate reaction was, 'Don't make a mahloqes.' When I explained that I already had a mahloqes, he told me that there was nothing wrong with having mixed seating at the tables. (We had separate seating at the ceremony). We could include 'שהשמחה במעונו' in the Birkat HaMazon (contra Sefer Hasidim). The Rov (who at the time was supposed to be the Mesadder Qiddushin, but fell ill the day before the wedding) made it very clear that the entire setup, as I had described it, was perfectly fine. [On another occasion, he explained to me that his insistence on the separate seating a mehitza was an issue in the Sanctity of the Synagogue. Indeed, as I recall, there was no separate seating at the Saturday Night shiurim at Maimonides. Sunday mornings, there were women who came but they sat at a side table. Since I never attended a Maimonides School Dinner, I have no idea what happened there.]

Now, the reason why posqim often write that that their decisions are 'להלכה ולא למעשה' is because precedent is not binding in Halakhah. Each case is different and precedent should not be mechanically applied. Therefore, I am not relating this story in order to encourage 'The Rov said it' flag waving. I reject that kind of behavior summarily. My intention was solely to balance the discussion started by Gil.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Redefining Our Reality

Around 1400, the European world of Reason began to die. Its death was facilitated by the concerted efforts of brilliant thinkers like William of Okham (on the Christian side) and R. Hasdai Crescas (on the Jewish side). What these two men had in common (along with many others) is that they chipped (or hammered) away at the integrated, rational worldview and model that had been built up over the centuries and reached its apogee in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and (le-havdil) Maimonides. [For those who've read Dante Aligieri's Divine Comedy, it is often cited as the literary expression of the architectonically structure, Thomist worldview. In any case, no cultured person should miss it.]

After 1400, people had less faith in reason and looked for alternatives. Neo-Platonism began to take the place of Aristotelianism among Christians and (mutatis mutandis) Qabbala advanced its triumphant march among the Jews. What both have in common is that they put a clear limit on the power of reason and tend to have a very authoritarian patina. Of course, that makes sense. In a world where people feel that the structures of life are disintegrating, it is only natural to seek refuge and solace in certainty, dogmatic or otherwise. [I'm grateful to my teacher, Professor Reuven Bonfil for part of this insight.]

I mention this point because I believe the Western World is living through a similar development. Post-Modernism and Deconstruction have gleefully wreaked havoc on Reason, Language, Morality and all of the other cornerstones of Modernity (and Religion for that matter). In response, it seems to me, that many people have sought refuge in authoritarian/dogmatic forms of mysticism, politics, philosophy and religion. Others have run to anarchy and relativism. [Ironically, it is also possible that the end of the exclusive reign of Modernity may have opened up the way for the resurgence of non-authoritarian Traditional Judaism as well. At least, so it would appear from Halakhic Mind by Rabbi Soloveitchik.]

One of the dangers inherent in resort to one-dimensional outlooks is that when they are proven flawed, they often lead to hysteria, extremism and nihilism on the part of the disillusioned. I sense, I fear, that the upheavals of the last few months are leading to just such results in the Religious Zionist World, just as they have been long manifest on the Israeli Left (witness the self-destructive, self-hatred of which I've often written). There has been too much talk of self-ghettoization or rejection of Judaism to just reflect a few extremists.

They say that diagnosis is the beginning of the cure. If I'm right, we'd better get started working on it before the disease does us all in.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Response to Tali-Lipkin Shahak (Finally)

Tali Lipkin-Shahak has long been one of the more shrill, cosmopolitan voices on the Istraeli scene. She is the mbodiment of the wanna-be intellectual who loves all nations, but no people in particular (with apologies to Sartre), especially her own.

Amos Gilboa has finally given her a proper response.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Gush Qatif Memorial?

Yesterday, I heard that at some Merkaz HaRav weddings they've started breaking two glasses, one for the Temple and other for Gush Qatif. On the local e-mail list, there was a discussion of creating a national day of mourning for Gush Qatif. in response, I wrote following:

I am, personally, very uncomfortable with the idea of a Memorial Day for Gush Qatif, despite my opposition to the so-called disengagement and my acute awareness of its implications.

1) History has shown that improvising new holidays and memorial days lessens the memory of the events it records, not the opposite. The Fast of the 20th of Sivan is proof of this. (And since I sincerely doubt that most people have heard of it, that clinches my point).

2) The Rav zt'l was categorically against creating new holidays. Memorial Days are best conflated with Tisha B'Av. So, if people want to recite the qinah for Gush Qatif on Tisha B'Av, I think that would be perfectly appropriate. (Yom HaShoah has yet to prove itself.)

3) There is something very unsettling about the idea. True, Gush Qatif was destroyed and Jews were turned into refugees. Memorial Days in the Jewish calendar, however, recall either events in which Jews were murdered or the Destruction of the Temple. Thank God, no one was murdered here (at least, directly). As for the Hurban, while this step was a serious defeat for us and further undermined our existence militarily, politically and diplomatically- the State has not been destroyed (God Forbid!). There is still what to save and what to build and what to improve and what to reform and what to Judaize. Even Asarah be-Tevet, which commemorates the start of the siege of Jerusalem in the Winter of 586 BCE and the beginning of the end for the First Temple, was only instituted AFTER the fact. God Forbid that we should create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

4) We would be better off to follow the Rav's advice and see what we can do to channel our anger and pain. That's what Elul is for. I might, however, add that if one thing is to be learned from this whole ugly business it is that the Humash is correct and the false prophets are wrong. Our residence here is always conditional. It is conditional on how we act and how our brethren act. True, as Rav Aviner points out, the flowering of the land is a harbinger of redemption (cf. Ketubot 110a). However, again to cite the Rav, while Eretz Yisrael only responds to Jewish efforts, it is also sensitive to immorality and desecration. I think we shoul devote ourselves to those points and not to another ritual day of mourning or breaking extra glasses at weddings and whatever else.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Pallywood: A Must See!!!!!

ATTENTION! A new site has just been launched called The Second Draft. It examines how news reports are subject to manipulation and distortion by interested elements. It is run by first rate academics and media experts and provides the full resources necessary for in informed opinion.

The first
investigation (along with extensive supporting material) is called Pallywood and shows, based on original footage, Palestinian cameramen working for world news agencies create news where there is none, for purposes of propaganda.

This film (and the rest of the website) is an absolute must see for anyone who holds the truth dear. It also proves that
Baudrillard was right. Globalization and the ‘Information Highway’ can be one way tickets to manipulation and distortion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Enough is Enough!

QED has a new post to which one can only say, Amen.

It's All Our Fault

Today’s Ma’ariv reports that out-going US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer chose to take advantage of his farewell reception at the President’s Residence in order to severely criticize Israel for not destroying the synagogues in the Gaza Strip. Obviously, there are all sorts responses that these remarks invite (especially in light of the identity of their author). However, that task can best be left to others.

His comments did, however, remind me of a true story that a dear friend and colleague once told me. At the time, this person was teaching at an institution of higher learning in New York City. One day, a fellow faculty member was carried in beaten within an inch of his life and bleeding, after having been mugged on his way from the subway to the campus. Yet all he could say was, ‘It’s all our fault.’

Monday, September 12, 2005


I was driving back this evening from a Pidyon HaBen, listening to the joyous shouts of the Palestinians as they burned and desecrated the synagogue buildings of Gush Qatif. Suddenly, I had this intense urge to be in a shul (not the Kotel, for some reason). So, I turned the car around and drove down 'Brisker Rov' Street (רחוב הגרי"ז) and parked in Zikhron Moyshe, home of Israel's biggest Shtibelach (though Itzkovitz in Bene Beraq probably gets more business, though it is smaller.) ZM is a real experience. There are something like six or seven shuls, some large some small. You can get a mnyan for whatever Tefillah you like, at almost any time of the day or night. The place is populated by all kinds of people and is very, very haimish (which is why I like it). OK, the other reason I like it is because the Girsa Seforim Store (aka Zundel Berman in Jerusalem) is across the street and open until 9PM.

I needed Zikhron Moyshe to wash over me and wash away the cries of the Arabs as they celebrated the defeat of the Jews, the humiliation of their Torah and another step toward the reconquest of all of Falestin, al the liberation of Al-Quds a-Sharif. I know that most of the people with whom I prayed were far from Zionists. Yet, I also know that it is the God to whom we all prayed (and the One that too many Israeli Jews ignore) who will decide, in just a matter of days, whither this entire experiment kbnown as the State of Israel, is headed.

והוא רחום יכפר עון ולא ישחית והרבה להשיב אפו ולא יעיר כל חמתו. ד' הושיע המלך יעננו ביום קראנו.

The Fires of Gaza

As expected, the Palestinians are busy burning the synaggogue and yeshiva buildings of Gush Katif, Netzarim and Kfar Darom. No doubt, there will be those Jews who justify it and will buy the explanation that this is not a religious act. Rather, it simply expresses the desire of the Palestinians to rid themselves of any vestige of Israeli rule.

I beg to differ. As the Jerusalem Post editorialized yesterday, and the chief rabbi of Moscow writes today:

Why cannot Palestinians show the entire watching world that they are capable of rising above base instincts and conducting themselves according the civilized standards they so aggressively demand from others? Why does the world not expect and rigorously require these same standards of them?

The answer has nothing to do with the occupation. It has everything to do with the lethal turn that the Islamic world has taken, as far as its attitude toward Jews is concerned. Islamic tradition puts a premium on demonstrating the superiority of Islam. Kafir, or unbelievers, are kept in degradation in order to demonstrate what happens to those who refuse to accept the message of the prophet, and as an inducement to abandon their error and join the 'Nation of the Believers' (umma). In line with that attitude, the tendency was always to turn infidel houses of worship into mosques (e.g. the great Hagia Sofia Cathedral in Constantinople became the great mosque of Istanbul).

The question might then be asked, if so, why destroy the synagogues of Gaza?

The answer is that hatred for Jews and Judaism have become a dominant religious value in the Arab and Muslim worlds, putting the theological desire to demonstrate the religious superiority of Islam in second place. Such a development, moreover, is hardly unprecedented. hen the Crusaders attacked the Jewish communities of the Rhineland in the Spring of 1096, they stated that they would either murder the Jews a retribution for their deicide, or they would force them to convert. As Robert Chazan has noted, the latter was the more constructive option because it would serve as a victory for the truth of Christianity. Nevertheless, the order in which the desires are formulated (in both the Latin and Hebrew chronicles) leave the distinct impression that physical violence against the Jew was the first order of businessm, as the events themselves proved to be true. [And note, that the Crusaders wasted a lot of time desecrating Jewish sancta as an expression thereof.]

Something very similar has happened here. The demonization of the Jew in the Arab World, which has been extensively documented by Bernard Lewis and on which I myself lecture quite frequently, has become the dominant motif of Arab and Muslim discourse regarding Israel and, indeed, all Jews everywhere. It has, albeit, very deep theological roots in the belief that Jews who do not obey the Pact of Omar, who rule over Muslims on Muslim lands, are diabolic blasphemers. It has absolutely nothing to do with the so-called occupation that obssesses the Israeli and World Left (especially the media parrots whose general knowledge of any topic is thoroughly underwhelming). It has to do with Muslim rage at the existence of Israel, at the achievements of the Jew and the (to this point) underachievement of the Islamic world.

That is why the ' cannot Palestinians show the entire watching world that they are capable of rising above base instincts and conducting themselves according the civilized standards they so aggressively demand from others.' So long as there is no internal shift of their dogmatics, the synagogues will burn and the Kassams will fly.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Welcome to Kaspit

Thank you to the anonymous author of Kaspit for linking to this blog. His postings are really timely and interesting. I'm happy and honored to return the compliment.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Alia Jacta Est...

Well, I decided to go ahead and start a blog in Hebrew. I know that Israelis are not really into blogging yet (except for Gilda). However, with that, there are just some things that are better expressed in Hebrew.

The blog's name is Hagigim. It will not be a repeat of things I write here (though some overlap is inevitable). Comments, as always, are welcome.

Derech Eretz Qadma la-Torah

A while back, I noted the intemperate language often used by the author of the Chakira blog. In a recent post, wherein he tries to list the top ten most influential rabbis in the United States, he crosses the line from 'intemperate' to outright 'vile and abusive.'

At the time, last December, when I noted this trait of his, I wrote:

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 was probably not that good a point in the first place.

In the present case, he has conducted himself in a way that not only does dishonor to himself, but to the Torah that he is ostendibly learning. In addition, if he thinks that by ranting and raving and belittling accomplished scholars with whom he disagrees, that he is protecting Modern Orthodoxy, he is sadly mistaken. He is discrediting Modern Orthodoxy, and casting aspersions on every person who believes therein.

Elul provides everyone with an opportunity to rectify his/her faults. By loking straight on at the impact of such violent language, we can all learn a lot about words, human dignity, and the need to restrain one's anger.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Third of Elul

Tonight is the third day of the month of Elul, marking the seventieth yahrzeit of one of the most remarkable,enigmatic, and elusive personalities ever produced by the Jewish people. I am, of course, referring to R. Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook. Here in Israel, in Religious Zionist circles, he is known simply as the 'Rav,' the rabbi. Indeed, his thought (interestingly, less his Halakha) has been the almost exclusive source of interpretation and orientation for the Religious Zionist public, at least since the Six Day War. That same philosophy of imminent redemption is the one that has been at the center of the crisis of Religious Zionism that started with Oslo and reached a watershed with the retreat from Gush Qatif. His seventieth yahrzeit presents an opportunity to reexamine his teachings, to see if his interpreters really conveyed his message and (as a healthy move) to break the stranglehold that Kookian Orthodoxy (which, I believe, is an oxymoron) has on that community.

That, however, is not why the third of Elul resonates for me.

Thirty five years ago, another Abraham, Abraham Irving Woolf (Avraham Yisrael b. Yosef Reuven) passed away suddenly from an embolism at the age of forty nine. He left a stunned widow and three sons, aged 15, 13 and 10.

He was my father.

Thirty five years is a considerable amount of time, and yet despite that, I find that it's still difficult to speak of him. Nevertheless, as time has passed I’ve come to realize that part of the responsibility of teaching one’s children (and by extension, one’s students) requires not only the imparting of information but vivifying people whose lives should be remembered. That responsibility is especially true of children, now parents, who want to teach their own children. We are obligated to make our parents’ lives come alive for them, especially if our parents did not live to see them.

My father was a hard working and totally devoted husband and father. He passionately loved my mother and us. His business kept him working all kinds of odd hours. However, there were very clear red lines. Wednesday was always his day off, to be with us. Though we weren’t Orthodox, he was always home on Friday Night, and we always went to shul together on Shabbos morning. Business be damned, we were more important.

He wasn’t very expressive verbally. He expressed his love through action. He didn’t tell us very often (if, at all) that he loved us. He showed it. When we were cub scouts, he was the packmaster. When we became boy scouts, he joined the troop committee (and he really was not the camping type. He hated the army in WWII). When we joined little league, he became the team manager. He was there. I never appreciated what that demanded, until I had to pull acrobatics to be places that my children needed me to be (and I, with all the flexibility of a rabbinic/academic schedule, have succeded as much as he did.) It requires a special type of eloquence to speak through silence, through a warm hand on a head, through one’s shy, but strong, presence. He had that.

Thirty five years later, I still feel it. And its absence.

תהי נשמתו צרורה בצרור החיים

Thank you, Rabbi Praver!

Thanks to Dhimmi Watch for publishing the following:

A cogent and much-needed op-ed by Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver of Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown, CT:

The Talmud says, "When good will exists amongst brethren, both can dwell together even on the razor thin edge of a sword, but when good will does not exist amongst them, even the full expanse of the earth lacks sufficient space to contain them." Israel", "Jew" and "Zionism" are beautiful words. Yet repetitive racial slurs concerning these words make them sound ugly and pejorative. Zionism means scorched desert wastelands transformed into magnificent gardens and green farm lands. Zionism means oppressed downtrodden Jews becoming uplifted and able to affirm their continuity from Biblical times. Zionism means Jews living proudly once again in their ancient homeland. Zionism means the collective creativity of Jews of every ethnicity coming together to build a free civilization. Zionism means the opportunity to enact an ancient dream that will not die. Zionism means establishing a modern civilization that shares a messianic vision of making earth a little more like Heaven. Zionism means sharing Israeli's blessings with the world. Zionism is not Racism. Jews come in every race and ethnicity. Zionism is not an apartheid State: While Jews are the Majority in Israel, Arabs vote and are represented in the Israeli government. Zionism is not Colonialism: Jews won the war of Independence against the British colonists and lay claim to only Israel. Furthermore, Israel is no more a racist state for creating a haven for Jews then Saudi Arabia is a racist state for creating a haven for Arabs. Whosoever points an accusing finger toward Israel in this regard will find four fingers pointing back at them, because Israel is a democratic state where freedom of religion is enjoyed by a multitude of ethnic groups. Charges of racism are empty and inflammatory. Jews are willing to share their land with the Palestinians. But peace also depends upon the willingness of Palestinians to share their land with the Jews. Please ask yourself a basic question: If Israel laid down her weapons and retired her army, navy and air force, how long do you think it would take for Israel to be conquered by Muslims? Days? Weeks? Or Months? Now, ask yourself the question in reverse. If all of Israel's neighbors laid down their weapons in the same manner, is it likely Israel would attempt to conquer Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia? I believe honest answers to these questions clarify the essence of the conflict. Namely that only one party seeks the destruction of the other.

Israel has suffered many horrible terrorist attacks in restaurants, hotels, city buses, trains, beaches, streets, universities, school buses, highways, banks, grocery stores, private homes, kibbutzim, parks, caves and fields. And if, God forbid, these same attacks occurred in the United States, our military would respond with decisive force and alacrity. Losing such a war on terrorism would be tantamount to losing one's country and losing one's very civilization; it is not an option. For half a century, Palestinians have professed an interest in acquiring a state of their own. Several attempts to grant Palestinians their wish were made, starting with the 1948 U.N. Partition Plan and concluding with the offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Barak in 2001 at Taba, 98% of the requested land - including east Jerusalem, as per Yassir Arafat's request - was offered. But even that offer was answered with war. For many, it would seem that Barak called Arafat's bluff; revealing the peace process to be a process of war. Due to these harsh realities, the Sharon administration has pursued the building of a security fence and has just completed the disengagement of all the Jewish communities from Gaza. Yet a million Arabs live in Israel and enjoy democratic rights and freedoms. Is this fair? Why can't Jews live under the Palestinian flag just as Arabs live under the Israeli flag? The Sharon administration say it's a practical matter; Israel no longer wishes to deploy its Army to defend a small number of Gaza Jews. But wait! Stop! Think! Is there a need for a Palestinian Army to protect Israeli Arabs? No! Israeli Arabs need no protection; they are safe as citizens of Israel. Israelis simply want peace and would much prefer spending their time, tending their gardens, doing art, finding a cure for cancer, composing and performing world class music, and inventing more incredible bio-pharmaceuticals and computer technology. Real time internet applications, cellular telephones, color printing are just a few examples of the technology developed in Israel. There is so much brainpower and creative energy emanating from Israel's diverse ethnic population that benefits every person on the planet. Yet even at a time that Israel pursues territorial concessions for the sake of peace, many people lack the ability to say even a few kind words. I will say to them then, "Zionism is Beautiful!"

Hold and Pin!

Out of sheer curiousity, every reader is invited to add a pin to my guestmap. No need to use your real names.

Great References

As usual, QED came up with some important references to the recent issue of Azure.

Israpundit has a post that took the words right out of my mouth concerning the need to rejudaize Israel through education.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Stunned Disbelief

I must be the last person on the blogosphere to wake up o the mind-numbing disaster that Hurricane Katrina wreaked on the Gulf Coast. I just finished watching an hour of coverage on CNN. There just aren't words. The only thing I can think of, perhaps because it's the first day of Elul, is that if people needed to learn humility and our interdependence, then this was a very bitter (but efective) way to learn it. Humanity, at the end of the day, is very fragile and weak. That's why we're supposed to learn and act with a combination of חסד and גבורה. Thank God people are rolling up their sleeves to help.

(Then, of course, there are the intellectually challenged who "know" why terrible things happen. God save us from such geniuses. And Thanks to OrthoMom for reporting and commenting on this.)

Poison Waters

Gil Student has been complaining for a long time about a site called Frumteens, where kids get to discuss problems in the Orthodox Community. I happened to check it out today and found this and this and all kinds of other such prattle. New idea: Maybe the Orthodox Caucus or the Center for the Jewish Future or Bar Ilan's Lookstein Center should set up a rival site to give our kids some balanced advice.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Of Luhot and Tau'yot: Memories of Rabbi Moshe Besdin

Many years ago, when I was in my first year in my first congregation in Long Island City (Queens), I had a very special adviser for my sermons. He was the late, sainted, R. Moshe Besdin זצ"ל. Now I never went to JSS (which he founded as the first school for Ba'ale Teshuva), and so had never been previously exposed to him. In fact, I'm not even sure if we were ever formally introduced and for a long time I'm pretty sure he didn't know my name. I was in my second year of Semikha at YU (I"d received my first Semikha the previous Tishre from Rav Gedaliah Felder זצ"ל. I would never have had the temerity to take a shul otherwise.)

He had heard that I weas a young Rav starting out, and he just sort of appeared at my table one Friday Morning before SR (i.e. Supplementary Rabbinics. Does that still exist?) and asked what I was going to say on Shabbos. Sometimes I"d thought of something, oftentimes not. He would then offer of his unsurpassed, encyclopedic knowledge of meforshim and his own very incisive sense of parshanut and drush. Rabbi Besdin was a master pedagogue and a master darshan. He did not confine himself to giving pshetlach and wortlach and then call it a day. Oh no. When I would arrive at Kollel Seder the next Sunday afternoon (and Monday morning at the latest), hwe would find me and ask with his impish smile: 'So, what did you say?" At that point, I would have to repeat the sermon from Shabbos and he would tell me his reaction. In Hebrew one would say, איזה בן אדם!

Anyway, I found myself thinking about Rabbi Besdin today for a different reason. He used to love to regale me (and lots of others) with stories from his various rabbinical positions. He once recounted how, when he became the rabbi of Bes Miedrash Gavoha of Washingon Heights (where his major congregant was his rebbe, R. Moshe Soloveitchik זצ"ל), he came to an understanding with the Shammas. 'If you ever pasken a ta'us in a Sefer Torah,' he told the Shammas, 'I"ll throw you out of the shul. And, if you ever ask me what's in the Luach, I'll also throw you out of the shul!' Of course, the basic idea was to preserve the areas of jurisdiction in the shul. However, there was also an implicit assumption that the published Luach is reliable. Today I learned that (as Sportin' Life says), 'It ain't necessarily so.

I have yahrzeit for my father ז"ל on Wednesday, so this morning I received Maftir. After my Aliyah, the gabbai opened the big Koren TaNaKh to I Samuel. He pointed to it and said, 'Mahar Hodesh.' The problem, of course, is that we're in the middle of the seven weeks between Tisha B'Av and Rosh HaShanah when special haftarot of consolation are recited. My problem is, that in situations such as these my memory is not up to snuff. All I recalled was that the din is that the special haftarah trumps 'Mahar Hodesh.' The gabbai dramatically pulled out the Luach of the Chief Rabbinate which stated that the Haftarah is 'Mahar Hodesh,' though some say that one should recite the special one. I was adament and since the heilige luach said that it was a legitimate possibility, he relented (albeit, very unhappily).

After shul, I went home to do my homework. I had remembered the din correctly. What I"d forgotten is that every single major Poseq and Aharon (starting with the Mehabber and the Rema, never mind the GRA whose opinion anyone could have guessed) agrees that the special Haftarah trumps 'Mahar Hodesh.' It's a non-starter. Yet here was the official Luach (which oh so ostentatiously trumpets its status as the guide for 'Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Temanim' ) unilaterally paskening fahrkehrt! I immediately thought of Rabbi Besdin and how if he'd been the Rav of my shul, he'd have had to keep tabs on the Luach too. Some 'hazakos' just don't hold anymore. (Though the overwhelming majority do.)

One thing, though, is certain. If he'd been the Rav, he would have resolved the matter with kindness, ehrlichkeit and menschlichkeit as befits the Talmid Hakham that he was.

AJHistory: An Overdue Kudos

One of the absolutely most informative and delightful blogs in the Jewish blogosphere id Menachem Butler's AJHistory. Menachem is a promising young Talmid Hakham cum American Jewish Historian, whose breadth of knowledge, insight and sense of humor never cease to amaze me. Required reading for anyone interested in life in the "Old Country."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

בלשון קודש

A few weeks ago, I threw down the gauntlet to my fellow Anglo-Israeli bloggers to think about breaking out of our ghetto and setting up a blog in Hebrew. I'm very serious about the need for this and would welcome some suggestions and ideas.

Receiving Updates

For quite some time now, people have asked me if they can receive notices as to when I add a new posting. Well, thanks to Gil Student, I discovered Bloglines. If you're interested in subscribing and receiving a notice about update, please write your e-mail in the box on the right and click 'send.'

De Profundis clamat...

The totally unconstructive game, 'What would the Rov have said?" is going into overtime and overdrive. The latest developments are described by Gil Student, in the wake of R. Aharon Lichtenstein's letter to Rav Avraham Schapira, and Rav Shalom Gold's reply thereto. Judging from his posting, and the comments it engendered, this issue is far from resolved. I have already offered my opinion on this issue, but I think there is room for a few more words.

R. Lichtenstein is not only the Rov's son-in-law, he's a Gadol ba-Torah in his own right. Therefore, his words must be read with great care and precision in their formulation must be assumed. I don't see that he anywhere declared that it was a mitzvah to give away parts of Eretz Yisrael. He only stated that it was a legitimate legal possibility (which is what the Rav said, in the first place). Citing the Rav in that context is perfectly appropriate, because R. Avraham Schapira's position on the question of refusal to fulfill orders is grounded on the axiological position that it is forbidden to do so under any circumstances (based on Lo Tehanem). R. Lichtenstein, based upon the question of Piqquah Nefesh, is raising the point that saving lives is not just measured by the nature of the enemy, but by the capacity of the army to fight and to serve as a deterrent. Many people who virulently opposed leaving Gaza, opposed insubordination on the same grounds.

I do not see that R. Lichtenstein was presuming to present a 'What would the Rav have said if he were alive?' I think it is unfair to accuse him of doing so. He engaged in an halakhic debate on the question of refusing orders. In that context he cited the Rov, as a enunciating a shitta ba-Halakhah. Such opinons are time transcending. Application, of course, is another thing. That's the hardest part of Halakhic decising (See Iggerot Hazon Ish, I, no. 37). It is, however, a matter for the living.

Pro Artes Liberales

My friend and colleague, Professor Joshua Schwartz, the Dean of Jewish Studies at Bar Ilan, has just publish an important piece on the need for Liberal Arts Professors to take responsibility for saving the Humanities. It's a must read.