Monday, January 30, 2006

How Have the Mighty Diappeared

Churchill & Olmert- You Judge

"We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old."
-----Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940, speech before the House of Commons

"We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want to be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies."
-- Ehud Olmert, June 9, 2005, speech to Israel Policy Forum in New York.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Predictable...Fatal Vision or Cognitive Egocentrism

In the 1932 elections, Germans voted for the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) because they were sick of Weimar decadence, and because they wanted a better economy. In 1933, Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany by Franz von Papen, on the sincere belief that responsibility would serve as a moderating influence upon him and upon his party. Noone thought that Nazi antisemitism was a cause for concern, or that the German people really disliked Jews.

In 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in Iran, because the people were sick of the oppressions and corruption of the Shah's government. The pundits all said that once they were in power, the ayatollahs would calm down and act like civilized leaders. Westerners either discounted or ignored their jihadi rhetoric. After all, what do a bunch of primitive ragheads know?

In 1992, the Taliban conquered Kabul and set up an Islamic regime in Afghanistan. Everyone said that once they were in power they would calm down and act like civilized leaders. Westerners either discounted or ignored their jihadi rhetoric. After all, what do a bunch of primitive ragheads know?

Now, ostensibly smart people are saying the same thing about Hamas. When will these people learn. First, it doesn't matter why the Palestinians voted them in. They are in. Period. Second, most Palestinians are sincere Muslims. That means that there is no room for an infidel state on waqf land i.e. Israel. Every anti-Jewish outburst since 1920 has been based on Muslim sentiment (usually based on Al-Aqsa). Please, please...get an education. respect the Muslims for what they believe. The alternative is nothing less than destruction. Ours.

At least some sane responses are around. Here. Here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Earthquake That We Didn't Need Richter to Predict

The Hamas has won a decisive victory in the parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority. The radio is full of talk of the shock of this ostensibly unexpected event. The pundits are saying it's proof of disgust at the corruption of the Fatah, of popular frustration at the terrible economic conditions under which Arabs live in Palestine, and (of course) it's really Israel's fault.

I don't understand why everybody is so surprised. Palestinian Arabs are generally very religious (in orientation, if not in practice). Anyone who studies the history of the last century knows that. Fatah itself wrapped itself in Muslim imagery (though it never admitted it to the West). Arafat was Vice-Chairman of the Islamic League.

So, what's going to happen? אין לנו על מי לסמוך אלא על אבינו שבשמים

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Get out the Vote...

In light of the intense anti-Religious Zionist agenda that is getting ever stronger in Israel and in the Jewish Community abroad, I'd like to add my support to the call of גדולים וטובים ממני to register and vote for the Religious Zionist state in the upcoming WZO elections. If there was ever a time that we need to strengthen our community, it is now. Then we can get down to the business of strengthening its Modern Orthodox component and rejudaize (and, as a result, save) Medinat Yisrael. [The members of the Religious Zionist slate are listed here.]

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hadran Alakh Meassekhet Eruvin

On Wednesday, Jews all over the world, both men and women, completed the study of tractate Eruvin as part of the daily project known as Daf Yomi. The next day, true to form, they started the next tractate, Pesahim. (Personally, I finished Eruvin on Erev Shabbat and only caught up to every one else today.) This particular act of tractate completion was marked by a collective sense of accomplishment (and a sigh of relief) by almost everyone I know. In fact, one of the Israeli Daf Yomi organizations threw a huge celebration last Sunday night, in anticipation of completing Eruvin.
     With literally dozens of tractates making up the Babylonian Talmud, and over 2700 folio pages to learn over the course of seven years, one might wonder why the fuss over a single tractate. I think that there are a number of answers. First, at least for those of us who are numerically challenged, Eruvin is a very hard massekhta. It’s very technical, and requires a lot of thought and visual aides, just to get a basic grasp of the discussion. [I was constantly reminded, over the past three and a half months, of something someone told me when I was a yeshiva student. If you see that Rashi feels the need to provides diagrams, I was told, it means your sunk. Rashi, needless to say, provides more drawings in Eruvin then any where else that I know.] Indeed, Eruvin is grouped together with Yevamot and Niddah, as the hardest sections of the Talmud. They are known as AN”I (‘the poor one.”) Truth be told, however, I have learned Yevamot and Niddah and did not find either to be as frustrating as Eruvin.
     That, however, is not the real issue.
     Eruvin is challenging, it is gripping. Prima facie, Eruvin addresses the reality of the unseen. Eruvin maps out the parameters of invisibly, or minimally, determined spaces. These spaces (‘public domain,’ ‘private domain,’ ‘urban jurisdiction’) are not physically perceived, but they are no less real for their invisibility. In terms of the Laws of Shabbat, they can mean the difference between Life and Death, both physically and spiritually. The questions that the rabbis address throughout Eruvin are a mix of geometry and human nature, of the points where the sacred and the profane meet.
     On a deeper level, though, this tractate grapples with the most basic issue of Jewish existence. That is because, in a world where God hides His face (Hester Panim), Jews too grapple with the unseen. We inhabit a world that apparently runs according to materialist-historical rules, yet we firmly believe that these are a façade behind which God is the Master. We live in a world of soundbites and superficiality, and run our lives with the conviction that life is grounded on meaning, values and purpose. We encounter the profane all around us, and constantly work to cultivate and heighten our awareness of the sacred (and the not yet sacred). To the outside observer we must seem mad, out of touch. Yet the unseen, the eternal is for us far more real than the tangible, though transient, reality that transfixes those who surround us.
      It is not an easy life, determining the limits and extent of a world unseen. Feeling our way through the unseen, the rabbis differed sharply as to how to negotiate it. It is, however, the only way we know how to live. Eruvin exemplifies how God, through the Torah, demanded that we live; simultaneously in the transient and the eternal (which, millennia before Descartes, we knew to represent the ultimate reality).
The ability to study, apprehend and implement tractate Eruvin is the secret of Jewish survival as rooted in its covenant with the Giver of the Torah.
     What more appropriate reason could there be for a celebration.  
     [I don’t want to digress and discuss the merits and demerits of the Daf Yomi project. Suffice it to say that I think it’s a valuable tool in setting time for regular learning, living in a modality of Talmud Torah, gaining broad knowledge, redeeming lost tractates (cf. Sefer Hasidim (Parma) par. 1(end), and as a supplement to intensive, analytic study (iyyun).]

Israelis And Jews

My friend, Prof. Moshe Koppel has published a trenchent and provocative analysis of the dynamics of Israeli society and the challenges facing the Religious Zionist and Haredi populations in Post-Modern/Post-Disengagement /Post-Sharon Israel. It appeared in the latest issue of Nequda. Unfortunately, Nequda does not have a website. However, I have a typescript of the article and would be happy to send it on to anyone who requests it. Send me an e-mail and I’ll pass it on.  (An earlier, English, version appears here.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

On Hevron

Ben Chorin has provided a terse, accurate description of the latest events, allowing one to get past media manipulation. Required Reading.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ten Years Later: The State of American Judaism

I just came across this perceptive comparison of the 1966 and 1996 Commentary Symposia on the State of Jewish Belief. Many people will find the comment banal. I was most taken by the fact that where rabbis predominated in the 1966, in 1996 there were more academics (even among the Orthodox). Is a new leadership model developing?

The Fragmented Faith of American Jews, by Clifford E. Librach, Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 70 (February 1997): 19-21.

Cognitive Dissonance: Research Style

It might be a question of age. It might be a question of training. It might be the little kid inside who is still amazed by electronic gadgets. What ever it is, whenever I work at home I have an intense sense of the disparities that surround me, and the changes that my work routine has undergone.

Writing and research used to absolutely require extensive hours in the library (which they still do, but on a more limited basis). Where else could you find the sources, periodicals and literature you needed to work? Especially tedious, but even more necessary, was the use of the stacks to check references for footnotes (for which I have a very intense affection). Library work also opens the possibility of meeting colleagues and exchanging ideas.

Today, much of that is passe. Sitting in my home in the middle of Gush Etzion, with goat herds blocking traffic and the rain pouring outside, I am picking away at my laptop and connected by a wireless router (ADSL-Line) to Bar Ilan's main computer. If I need to check a reference, there are databases and catalogues on line to do so. If I need an article, often as not, I can find it scanned on one of the databases to which the university consortium subscribes. Need a talmudic/rabbinic source? There's the Bar-Ilan Responsa Project CD. Need textual variants? A lot are on line. Need a book? Well, here's the rub. Thirty years of addition to seforim and book buying have built up a library all over the house. Need to ask a professional question? Well, just yesterday I had a problem with a text. I e-mailed a friend and colleague, who lives in similar circumstances, and received a great reply with references and his latest publication attached.
(My friend, who will be reading this, is a tzaddiq.)

Nevertheless, I'm going out to work later at one of the Jerusalem Libraries. How come? First, you can get cabin fever under these circumstances. Second, there is nothing like meeting and exchanging ideas with living people. Third, well the Manuscript Institute is still the hub of our scholarly universe.

And yet, there is something (bitter)sweet about the isolation/connection that the information age has brought to scholarship and learning. I think we're all recluses of some sort. Certainly, I was raised academically to revere the life of Harry A. Wolfson, who never left Widener 'K.' And Kant, who revolutionized the way the world sees itself, never left Königsberg.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

O Jerusalem!

The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies now strongly recommends that the historic and religious sites in Jerusalem be placed under international supervision. This, they claim, will be the best guarantee of free access and religious expression.

Let's see....International guarantees. Are they referring to the guarantees by Britain under the mandate to allow Jews access to their holy places and people were placed in prison for blowing the shofar or sitting on benches? Are they referring to the open access to holy places promised by Transjordan as part of the Rhodes Agreements of 1949?

What happens when the imams declare that the Kotel is part of the Al-Aqsa complex, and that it would be sacrilege for kafir to pray there?

When bombs go off in London to keep the Jews away, is anyone (including Jews) going to stand up for Jewish rights?

Does anyone really think that the lives of Jews in the Jewish Quarter will be tolerable under an international regime?

Piously, the authors admit that 'extreme groups on both sides may perceive international sovereignty on the Temple Mount a desecration, and may try to fight it.' Hello, reality check time. All of the Dar-al-Islam will fight it. When will Israelis stop negotiating with themselves and listen to the other side. This always has been a zero-sum game. It remains a zero-sum game.
Though I opposed the destruction of Gush Qatif, I admit that this is also Sharon's understanding.
Only now, the wishful thinking of the intellectuals will start being drummed into policy by their choir in the media.

God save us from the results.

Good News Department

This just came over the Efrat List. It might be an urban legend.

Dealing with Anti-Semitism

On a NorthWest Airways flight from Atlanta, GA., a middle-aged,well to do woman found herself sitting next to a man wearing a kipa (aka "yarmulka" in Yiddish). She called the attendant over to complain about her seating."What seemsto be the problem Madam?" asked the attendant. "You've sat me next to a Jew!! I can't possibly sit next to this disgusting person. Find me another seat!"

"Please calm down Madam." the attendant replied. "The flight is very full today, but I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll go and check to see if we have any seats available in club or first class." The woman shoots a snooty look at the snubbed Jewish man beside her (not to mention many of the surrounding passengers).A few minutes later the attendant returns. The woman cannot help but look at the people around her with a smug and self satisfied grin. The flight attendant then says..."Madam, unfortunately, as I suspected, economy is full. I've spoken to the cabin services director, and club is also full. However, we do have one seat in first class."

Before the lady has a chance to respond, the attendant continues..."It is most extraordinary to make this kind of upgrade, however, and I have had to get special permission from the captain. But, given the circumstances, the captain felt that it was outrageous that someoneshould be forced to sit next to such a person." With which, she turned to the Jewish man sitting next to her, and said: "So if you'd like to get your things, sir, I have your seat in first class ready for you..."At this point, the surrounding passengers stood and gave a standingovation, while the Jewish man walks up to the front of the plane.

"All that it takes for evil to triumph, is for good people to do nothing."

A Paen to Jerusalem

Nadav Shragai echoes something tht’s become a leitmotif of my postings, my writing and (to a not insignificant degree) my scholarly output. A key to our survival here is memory. Inter alia, he says:
Not many years ago, there was still a widespread understanding that it would be impossible to return the nation of Israel to history and maintain a national culture in this country without leaning on the historic and religious tradition that had nourished our national consciousness for generations. This tradition is, first and foremost, the tradition of Jerusalem.Jerusalem, whose heart is the Temple Mount and the Old City, is one of the main factors still preventing the national consciousness from being reduced to the obvious - the place where one was born. In every other country, this natural and primary connection is sufficient, but not in Israel, which was born out of the past and which, without the history and culture that stems from the Jewish religion, has no right to exist precisely here, in the Land of Israel. If a man's past goes no further back than his own lifetime, if there is no significance to his historical and religious background, but only to his place of birth, why should a Jew's right to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem takes precedence over that of an Arab?The secret of the connection, from which everything must begin, is memory. And what is Jewish memory if not the memory of Jerusalem? Anyone who thinks of distancing himself from Jerusalem, from the Old City and the Temple Mount, is also distancing himself from the memory of his past, which, as is well known, is in many respects also the history of his present and future. In 1966, S.Y. Agnon expressed this internal truth when he said, in his speech upon being awarded the Nobel Prize, that because of a historic catastrophe (the destruction of Jerusalem), he was born in one of the cities of the Diaspora, but he always saw himself as a man who was born in Jerusalem.In the Israel of 2006, Jews have forgotten the justice of their claim and have ceased to speak about it. Instead, Israelis talk so much about their sins and mistakes that it sometimes seems that the Satan about whom Natan Alterman wrote has indeed blunted their brains and caused them to forget that they are in the right. Even if the reality of recent decades in Jerusalem is complex, this alone must not be allowed to determine the shape of the future. When it comes to Jerusalem, the vision and the dream must be granted a vastly more important role. It is possible to overcome the demographic problem if we view it as temporary and take action to correct it instead of incessantly retreating before it.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Word on Links

I forgot to mention when I announced the links to my on-line publications that some of them are only available to individuals or institutions that subscribe to those sites. This is especially so for academic pieces. Once I get my university site up and running I hope to rectify that.

Tehillim for Rav Kadduri

The radio just announced that Rav Yitzhak Kadduri (יצחק בן טפחא, pronounced Tafacha) is in critical condition. See the report in Maariv.

Sde Boaz: Remember the Name!

Uncommon ground
Jan. 14, 2006

Neveh Daniel is an incredible place to live. Situated 1,000 meters above sea level in the beautiful Judean Hills, it has lovely red-tile-roofed homes with panoramic views of Jordan to the east, Hebron to the south, the Mediterranean to the west and Jerusalem to the north. Its sunrises and sunsets are almost as unparalleled as the fog it is famous for, which often blocks them. It is populated by amazing people whose first concern is for "the next guy."
Thus it was with shock to learn of our neighbors' plight, and our utter inability to do anything about it. On Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the order to evacuate was received by residents of Neveh Daniel North, known as Sdeh Boaz, more than 100 soldiers and police officers, with bulldozers, converged on the community with the intent of destroying a new home, the foundation for another home and a stable to hold this gentle community's horses and donkeys.
The crime? Why, being there, of course. Though the land was bought and paid for by Jews even before 1948, ownership and legality apparently have no bearing on these decisions. Jews and Arabs have been in a land-grabbing competition in Israel for years. This is nothing new, and we are all guilty of it. But, for some reason, only Jews keep on being expelled.
I LEFT work in a rush after a distraught Lexi, my 14-year-old, called to tell me what had occurred at Sdeh Boaz, she having witnessed it all. As I approached Neveh Daniel I saw a convoy of police and army vehicles at the road leading up to the neighborhood. Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized why they were there.
I unconsciously flashed back to events we had enjoyed at Sdeh Boaz since our aliya three years ago: from our first Tu B'Shevat, when we joined our community in planting trees, to this past Rosh Hashana, when I brought several families to a natural spring at Sdeh Boaz for the tashlich ceremony.
I arrived home and did all I could to comfort my distraught children. Lexi not only saw what had happened but was knocked down and slightly injured in the violence that ensued. She reported that she had been trying to get into Sdeh Boaz, and found the way blocked by several policemen.
She was traumatized when she watched an Israeli bulldozer raze an Israeli home and stable. This gentle, eco-friendly neighborhood of secular and religious Jews living in harmony in the beautiful Judean hills is just a 10-minute walk from my house and a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem.
My 16-year-old, Shira, had been there earlier. Both girls went in the true spirit of Neveh Daniel - to do what they could to prevent a bad thing happening. But what could teenage girls do against an army? What could 250 neighbors and supporters do against their own soldiers and police?
Unfortunately, the soldiers and police had no such reservations. A violent day ensued, with youths being lifted into the air and thrown to the rocky ground; one boy was thrown against a wall so hard that he began bleeding heavily from his head. Another was so violently handled that it is likely his leg was broken.
In fact, tear gas was used on non-violent kids who were in a house trying to prevent its demolition. In all, 12 youths were injured and 11 were arrested.
I am embarrassed to report all this. It should never have happened. Around this time hail started raining down, pelting people. Girls burst into tears as one despondently remarked that it was the heavens crying. I would not be surprised.
For me, the saddest moment of the day was when my sons, 11-year-old Eitan and nine-year-old Ezra, both extremely anxious, wanted to know if the soldiers might one day destroy our home. What could I say? I hope it will never happen. I don't think it will happen. But after the terrible evictions this summer I cannot be certain of anything. The best I could do was hug them and tell them that God only gives people what they can handle.
Life is challenging enough without imposing greater difficulties upon ourselves. Why would we do this to ourselves as a nation? Do we need to have people bombing us in order to remain united? Isn't it possible for us to look out for each other instead of tearing out our souls to appease others? Perhaps the rest of our precious country could look to places like Neveh Daniel and Sdeh Boaz as examples, both of caring one for another and of Jews of diverse backgrounds living in harmony together.
Israel, please don't make an example of Sdeh Boaz; let Sdeh Boaz set an example for you.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Likud Post-Mortem

Ben Chorin, our local member of the Likud Central Committee, has a good update on last night's results.

Overall, I agree with his evaluation that it was a good night for the Likud (of which I am a member). Most of those elected are honest, bright, devoted and not radicals (though, that won't prevent the Press from tarring them as undistinguished fanatics). I was especially pleased to see that Miki Eitan (a superb parlementarian), Yuval Steinitz, Natan Scharansky and Yuli Edelstein were placed high on the list. Now Bibi has to do his job. Despite what the pundits say, he has a very good shot at forming the next government. See the ( a bit eery ) prophecy by Yoav Yitzhak (a first rate investigative reporter), published before the Prime Minister's massive stroke.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New Features

In response to a number of requests, I have added links to whatever articles of mine are on-line. In addition, I've linked to my university Bibliography. Hopefully, I will soon upload copies of all of my academic publications at my Bar Ilan website. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pray for Ariel ben Vera

Someone asked why I haven't posted about the Prime Minister's stroke.

First, I've been out with the flu for a few days.

Second, I thought that Ben Chorin had offered the best comment. No matter what Sharon did (and anyone who reads this blog knows exactly what I think of his present policies), he still deserves our prayers as a person, as a Jew and as one who has, on more than one occasion, saved this country when every one else counted us down and out.

So: Tehillim 6 and 130 for a רפואה שלימה לאריאל בן ורה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.

A Study in Constrasts

The Atlantic Monthly continues to provide thoughtful examinations of contemporary, cultural issues. Contrast the following:

Kicking the Secularist Habit by David Brooks [The Atlantic Monthly, February 2003 ]


Is God an accident? by Paul Bloom [The Atlantic Monthly December 2005]

The Power of Disbelief: Reflections on Asarah be-Tevet

The Power of Disbelief: On Asarah be-Tevet
לעי"נ אמי מורתי פעשא בת יוסף ע"ה
נלב"ע ט' טבת תשנ"א לפ"ק

As is well known, unique occasions were set aside to memorialize the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Bet HaMiqdash, by the Babylonians. Thus, after the return to Zion and the rebuilding of the Temple, the question was posed whether these remained in force. As the prophet Zekhariah recounts (Zekh. 7, 1-5):

And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the Lord came to Zekhariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, that is Kislev; When Bet-el-sarezer, and Regem-melech and his men, had sent a message to beg the God’s favour, and to speak to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying: ‘Should I weep in the fifth month, abstaining, as I have done these so many years?’ Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: ‘Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying: When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh month, for all these seventy years, did you fast for Me, even to Me?

According to Hazal, days of fasting and prayer had been established in the months of Tevet, Tammuz, Av and Tishre in memory of disasters that had befallen the Jewish People. As the Tosefta states (Sotah 6, 1):

Rabbi expounded: It states, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be joy and gladness for the house of Judah, and cheerful seasons; therefore love truth and peace’ (Zekh. 8, 19). ‘The fast of the fourth month,’ refers to to the Seventeenth of Tammuz, when the city was breached… The ‘fast of the fifth’ is Tisha B’Av, the day upon which the Bet ha-Miqdash was burned… The ‘fast of the seventh’ is the day upon which Gedalyah b. Ahiqam was murdered by Yishmael b. Netanya (IIKings 25, 25-26 and Jer. 41, 1-18). This is to teach you that, before God, the death of the righteous is equal to the destruction of the Temple…The ‘fast of the tenth’ is the Tenth of Tevet, when the king of Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem.

In the context of the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from Eretz Yisrael, the are obvious common denominators to the first three of these fast days. To begin with, all of them commemorate tragic event that had immediate, and disasterous, consequences. The breaching of the Jerusalem city wall on the 17th of Tammuz marked the imminent, and inevitable, fall of the rest of the city. On Tisha B’Av, both Temples were destroyed. On Tzom Gedaliah, ‘Gedaliah, the son of Ahiqam was slain, thus extinguishing the last remaining ember of Israel’s independence and making her exile complete’(Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Ta’anyiot 5, 2).

On the other hand, these three days of remembrance were fortunate enough to be integrated into larger frameworks. Shiva Asar be-Tammuz and Tisha be-Av belong (indeed, created) the rubric of the ‘Three Weeks,’ while Tzom Gedaliah was subsumed into Aseret Yeme Teshuva. This heightened general awareness of their existence and significance.

The fate of Asarah be-Tevet was somewhat different. From a calendrical perspective, it was not attached to any other context, which might have strengthened public consciousness of its importance and meaning. More importantly, prima facie the content of Asarah be-Tevet is markedly different from the other three days. After all, it marks neither the end of a process, nor an event that had immediate results. Asarah be-Tevet simply marks the beginning of the eighteen month Babylonian siege on Jerusalem. There is, therefore, room to ask: ‘What was it about that even that made the exiles decide, evidently on their own, to establish a day of fasting a introspection in memory of the start of the siege? What kind of trauma did the Jewish People undergo, when they heard that the siege of Jerusalem had started?

Yet, it is clear from the way in which Ezekiel describes the way in which he heard of the siege that the Jews they were truly stunned at the news (Ezek. 24, 1-2).

And the word of God came to me in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, saying: ‘Son of man, write for yourself the name of the day, even of this very same day; on this very day the king of Babylon hath laid siege to Jerusalem.

The shock that took hold of the prophet is evident in the message that he received. Three times God repeats the words ‘this day,’ as if to emphasize that the magnitude of the development that befell Jerusalem on ‘this very day.’ The reader can sense how stunned and agitated he was, unable to absorb what God was, in fact, telling him. Indeed, it was for that reason that God repeated the words ‘this day,’ over and over. He needed to drive home to Ezekiel that this much feared event had, in fact, taken place.

Upon further reflection, however, this conclusion is difficult to maintain. How could Ezekiel not have known that Nebuchadnezzar was on his way to invade the Land of Israel, with the intention of laying waste to Jerusalem? He had so prophesied and it is likely that he, himself, witnessed the king’s departure. Why was he so surprised?

It seems to me that the answer may be found in the regnant belief that Jerusalem and the Bet ha-Miqdash were invulnerable. This conviction is clearly expressed in Jeremiah’s famous oration before the Temple:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: Stand in the gate of God’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say: Hear God’s word, all you of Judah, that enter into these gates to worship God. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust not in lying words, saying: These are ‘God’s Temple,’ ‘God’s Temple,’ ‘God’s Temple’… Behold, you put your trust in lies, that cannot profit’(Jer. 7, 1-4 and 8).

Jeremiah is protesting against the widespread belief that Jerusalem and the Temple, by virtue of their very existence, were invulnerable to the Babylonian onslaught. God, they maintained, would never let them subdue His country, destroy His house and exile His people- irrespective of their religious or moral conduct. It was just this illusion from which Jeremish sought to disabuse them.

Nay, but if you thoroughly improve your ways and your deeds; if you thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbour; if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, and don’t shed innocent blood in this place, nor follow other gods to your own harm; then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Will ye steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, sacrifice to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you have not known, and come and stand before Me in this house, that bears My Name, and say: ‘We are delivered,’ so that you may do all of these abominations? Has this house, that bears My Name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it, says the Lord. Go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I caused My name to dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because ye have done all these things, says the Lord, and I consistently spoke to you, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer; therefore I will do to the house, that bears My Name, wherein you trust, and to the place that 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, the entire seed of Ephraim (ibid. 5-15).

Here, I would suggest, is the source of Ezekiel’s incredulous reaction to God’s message. Clearly, he knew what was about to occur. He had himself forseen it and prophesied about it. When that prophecy of retribution began to be realized, however, he found it nigh on impossible to absorb the news. Hence, HaQadosh Barukh, hu was forced to emphatically stress that the worst case scenario was unfolding. No wonder, then, that the rest of the people were totally caught off guard and traumatized by the very idea of Jerusalem coming under siege. The central lesson of Asarah be-Tevet, the vulnerability of Jerusalem as a direct result of the corrupt behaviour of the people, led them to include the day upon which the siege commenced among the days of fasting, mourning and remembrance that were established in the wake of the destruction of the Bet ha-Miqdash.

In light of the above, the Rambam’s words acquire special urgency (Hil. Ta’aniyot 5, 1):

There are days which are observed by all Israel as fasts because tragic events happened on them, the object being to stir hearts and open the way to repentence, and to remind us of our own evil deeds, and of our fathers’ deeds which were like ours, as a consequence of which these
tragic afflictions came upon them and upon us. For as we remember these things we ought to repent and do good, in accordance with the Scriptural verse, ‘And they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers’(Lev. 26, 40).

(The above is an English version of this posting and of my article in Bar-Ilan's Daf ha-Shavua. An expanded version, with footnotes, is slated to appear soon in Torah Currents, sponsored by the Orthodox Caucus.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Required Reading

In case you've missed these:

Benny Morris on The Palestinians and Transfer:

...A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians.Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse theborder areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse thevillages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

..I feel sympathy for the Palestinian people, which truly underwent a hard tragedy. I feel sympathy for the refugees themselves. But if the desire toestablish a Jewish state here is legitimate, there was no other choice. It was impossible to leave a large fifth column in the country. From the moment the Yishuv [pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine] was attacked by thePalestinians and afterward by the Arab states, there was no choice but to expel the Palestinian population. To uproot it in the course of war."

Remember another thing: the Arab people gained a large slice of the planet. Not thanks to its skills or its great virtues, but because it conquered and murdered and forced those it conquered to convert during many generations. But in the end the Arabs have 22 states. The Jewish people did not have even one state. There was no reason in the world why it should not have one state. Therefore, from my point of view, the need to establish this state inthis place overcame the injustice that was done to the Palestinians by uprooting them."

Caroline Glick on the Israeli Media:

The fact of the matter is that at least in America, there is a reasoned, impassioned debate over whether or not the media suffers from an institutional bias. And both sides are taking the steps they deem necessary to ensure that their side wins both the debate and the support of the American public.

In Israel's media culture, no such debate exists. It isn't that Israelis do not see the far-left bias of the major media outlets in the country. Everyone here knows that the press is leftist. The problem is that now that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has himself adopted the political platform of the radical Left, there is no debate about anything at all. Sharon's political opponents receive little more than a sneering brush-off from the major papers while Sharon himself is venerated from every angle in the best tradition of North Korea.

Last weekend's mass-circulation Hebrew papers are case in point. In Ma'ariv's news supplement, diplomatic "analyst" Ben Caspit wrote yet another of his nauseating hagiographies of Sharon....Then there is Yediot Ahronot's diplomatic "analyst" Nahum Barnea. He devoted the first half of his two-page spread in Yediot's news supplement this weekend to a mind numbing, pandering interview with former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter - Sharon's latest recruit to his Kadima one-man party. Barnea, who is generally a pacifist, ignored his anti-war tendencies in this case to buck up Sharon's newest pretty boy...

Last week Israel absorbed terrorist attacks on all fronts. Kassam rockets rained down on Ashkelon, Sderot and the communities of the Western Negev. Katyusha rockets were launched against cities in the North. Palestinians attacked Israelis throughout Judea and Samaria and an IDF officer was killed when he stopped a suicide bomber at a roadblock outside of Tulkarm. The Palestinian Authority has ceased to operate in any effective way. Foreigners are kidnapped on a daily basis in Gaza. All Palestinian terror groups have called off their imaginary cease-fire. Hamas's chieftain Khaled Mashaal just rounded off a two week visit to Iran, replete with a prolonged visit to a Revolutionary Guards training base. And the IDF has acknowledged that al-Qaida has successfully seeded itself not only in Gaza but in northern Samaria. But all of this is relegated to the back pages of the newspapers, because the only thing that Israelis need to know is that Sharon is a great man and a great leader. He's as fit as a fiddle and the fact that the physicians at Hadassah hospital lied two weeks ago to the Israeli public when they said that Sharon had suffered from a minor stroke, when in fact, as came out a week later he had a major stroke, should be of no concern to anyone.

It is a terrible thing when in a democracy as small and as vulnerable as Israel the media takes it upon itself to collude with a failed, sick leader in systematically lying to the public about the state of the country in order to advance a dangerous political agenda that has already been borne out by events as a failure.

Indeed, when the history of our times is written, the treachery of the Western media will fill future generations with disgust. And the perfidy of the Israeli media will be the source of the most extreme revulsion.

UPDATE: I've corrected the link to the Benny Morris interview.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Comfort and Immortality

I have never posted on צדקה related issues. However, two projects recently came across my desk that I feared might get lost in the shuffle. Both are efforts to memorialize wonderful young men who fell in the defense of Israel, in our ongoing war against Palestinian terror.

The first is a park that will be built in Alon Shvut in memory of Daniel Mandel (his bio is here). The project is described here.

The second is an effort to acquire a building at Kvutzat Reut, in memory of Matanya Robinson (Email me for the details:

Both are incredibly important and meaningful ways to let these two remarkable young men live on, after their lives were cut short so tragically.

Monday, January 02, 2006

On Humility

When I was writing the piece on Asarah be-Tevet, I was also thinking about how humility is a virtue that we really don't understand, don't appreciate, much less cultivate. Even those whose lives are based upon humility, reject it.

Take my colleagues in academia. The scientific method is, by definition, predicated upon the idea that all knowledge is conditional. Absolute certainty is impossible, because all you know is what you've managed to prove to this point with the data at hand. Ten minutes from now, you (or someone else) may totally upend your conclusion in the light of new evidence or a new insight. Of course, you must follow your present conclusion because that's what you've got. What you don't have is the right to be dogmatic. On the contrary, the awareness of the conditional nature of knowledge should instill scholars with humility. Yet, far too many of them are not only dogmatic, they get abusively so.

I fear that rabbis also fall into this trap. This is not the place to get into a long dissertation about the dynamics of Halakhic decision-making. However, as evidenced during the so-called 'Disengagement,' when it comes to non-Halakhic issues- Humility flies out the window. Too many people 'know' what God wants (never mind predicting what will or won't happen). How can they know? You can hope. You can pray. You can approximate. At some stage, however, they need to have the humility to say, 'I will accept whatever God decides.' The message then must be passed on to those who heed them.

In this regard, I think religious society has fallen into the worst aspect of Late Modernity, namely 'Self-Worship.' The Western World worships Man, i.e. itself. A narcissistic culture, an idolatrous culture, has no room for humility, even as a theoretical construct. As the Rov points out in Sacred and Profane, the Greek view of the hero is categorically opposed to that of Judaism. The Greek hero conquers others. The Jewish hero, first and foremost, conquers himself. Obviously, the Torah does not seek passivility in man. However, man reaches his greatest heights when he acknowledges his limitations.

That, too, is part of what lies behind Asarah be-Tevet.

Illusions and Vulnerability: On Asarah be-Tevet

I often find that the most profound lessons are found in the most unlikely places. Herewith, my thoughts on the origin and significance of Asarah be-Tevet. [NOTE: The piece was published as part of the Daf HaShavua Project at Bar Ilan.]