Friday, June 30, 2006

While You're Praying...

Pray for us...May God deliver us from our enemies, open the eyes of those who would presume to be our leaders (before they lead us into more disaster), and bless those who risk the wrath of the cognoscenti in order to speak their minds and protest evil.

Combine Korah with Huqqat

There are fifty two weeks in a year and fifty-four Torah portions. When you toss in the inevitable holy days that fall on Shabbat and require special Torah readings, it is inevitable that on some Shabbatot you end up doubling up and reading two Parshiyyot. In addition, because we celebrate most holy days for only one day (with the exception of Rosh Hashanah) and in Galut they observe two days (change in verb intentional), the amount of twinning is greater there than here. In addition, sometimes this situation puts the Exile out of sync with Eretz Yisrael. This week, for example, we are reading Huqqat, while in Hutz La-Aretz they're back at Korach. Things will even out next week when the exiles double up and combine Huqqat with Balaq.

This brings me to my point. Why wait until next week? Why not combine Korach with Huqqat? In fact, I saw somewhere that there was an old practice to do just that? I, personally, would be in favor of such a switch.

Why, you may ask?

The answer is that both are about intellectual humility. As the Rov זצ"ל taught us, Korach's sin lay in his intellectual arrogance. He set himself up as judge and arbiter of the logic, value and justice of God and His Torah. In truly demagogic form, he inveighed against the Torah because it goes against 'Common Sense.' His sin lay in a deadly combination of Intellectual Narcissism and Cognitive Egocentrism. Both are insidious forms of self-worship, and result inevitably in Idolatry.

Huqqat is the direct response to Korach. The much maligned, enigmatic, 'Red Heifer' (Parah Adumah) is the embodiment of the need for inellectual humility. This is where polar opposites coincide, where parallels meet: Tumah and Taharah, Life and Death, Sacred and Profane. The coincidence of opposites is beyond human ken, an intellectual black hole that is no less true for its elusiveness. The Parah Adumah requires of man that he submit to the superiority of Divine logic. There are, it teaches, places where he cannot go. All he can do is surrender.

On the other hand, the encounter with the Parah Adumah is also liberating. In his commentary to the piyyut for Parshat Parah, the twelfth century German scholar R. Ephraim of Bonn connects the lesson of the Parah Adumah with the oft-cited statement in Midrash Tehillim
(מדרש תהלים (בובר) מזמור יב ד"ה [ד] אמרות) that every disputed law in the Torah has 49 valid arguments for each position. When Moses asked about this, God replies: אמר ליה אחרי רבים להטות.
Or, as R. Yom Tov Al-Isbili (ריטב"א) puts it in his comments on Eruvin 13b: ואמר שיהא זה מסור לחכמי ישראל שבכל דור ודור ויהיה הכרעה כמותם . In other words, submission to the higher logic of Heaven, actually allows for greater intellectual and spiritual freedom (within the clearly delineated boundaries laid down by the Torah).

Korach wanted freedom from Torah. Huqqat teaches what R. Meir would pithily state 1300 years later (Avot 6, 2): שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

ממעמקים קראתיך

Our sons are fighting to protect us from those who seek to destroy us. If they have time to pray before going into battle, we should stop and pray for their success and safe return.

Pray for our soldiers. Pray for the safe return of Gilad ben Aviva (Shalit). Pray for the safe return of Eliyahu Pinhas ben Miriam (Asheri). Pray for the safe return of Noach Moskowitz, who may now be held by the terrorists. (Thanks to Jameel for the Photos.)

UPDATE: This morning, the army discovered the body of Eliyahu Asheri הי"ד. The animals had shot him in the head shortly after he was captured. He was 19 years old and was completing his studies at the Pre-Army Yeshivah in Neve Tzuf. ארץ אל תכסי דמו!

תהלים פרק קל
שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ ד': ד' שִׁמְעָה בְקוֹלִי תִּהְיֶינָה אָזְנֶיךָ קַשֻּׁבוֹת לְקוֹל תַּחֲנוּנָי: אִם עֲוֹנוֹת תִּשְׁמָר יָ-הּ ד' מִי יַעֲמֹד: כִּי עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא: קִוִּיתִי ד' קִוְּתָה נַפְשִׁי וְלִדְבָרוֹ הוֹחָלְתִּי: נַפְשִׁי לַד' מִשֹּׁמְרִים לַבֹּקֶר שֹׁמְרִים לַבֹּקֶר: יַחֵל יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל ד'
כִּי עִם ד' הַחֶסֶד וְהַרְבֵּה עִמּוֹ פְדוּת: וְהוּא יִפְדֶּה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִכֹּל עֲוֹנֹתָיו:

Surrender Dorothy!

With as much sense of reality as the denizens of Oz, Akiva Eldar opposes attacking Gaza, and thinks it's great that Olmert broadcasts to the Arab World that they should attack us, because we're so tired.

Kidnapped by Emotions
Akiva Eldar

In early June last year, not long before the evacuation of Gaza, an Israeli leader got up in front of a Jewish audience in New York and said the following brave words: "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 that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors." He ended his emotional plea with the words, "this is not impossible. [I]t is within reach if we will be smart, if we will dare, if we will be prepared to take the risks, and if we will be able to convince our Palestinian partners to be able to do the same. So that together we will move forward in this direction of building up different relations, better understanding, and greater trust between us and them."

The speaker was Ehud Olmert, then deputy prime minister. A year later, this time in Jerusalem, without the deputy in front of his title, Olmert turned to a Jewish audience at the Jewish Agency convention and said, "I regard the Palestinian Authority, headed by [Mahmoud] Abbas and the PA government, as responsible for yesterday's act of terrorism." And he added: "Everyone representing the PA is among those responsible for what is done by it, and we will not give any of them immunity." And at the security cabinet session on Monday night, he said: "The world is fed up with the Palestinians. So far our responses have been restrained. No more."

The fatigue of war was gone as if it had never existed, the wisdom gave way to heroism, and the language of threats replaced the call for partnership. Is it possible that a wise statesman would change his doctrine because of a gang of rocket launchers? Is it conceivable that a leader would shelve his vision because of a military failure that cost the precious lives of two soldiers and the capture of their buddy? Have we not learned yet that in the relationship between us and our neighbors, force is the problem, not the solution?

Ariel Sharon used the Abu Nidal group's assassination attempt on Ambassador Shlomo Argov in London in June 1982 to chase after Yasser Arafat, and entangled Israel in the Lebanese quagmire. The Netanya terror attack in March 2002 provided Sharon with an excuse to conquer the territories and eliminate the PA under Arafat's leadership. The calls for vengeance shoved aside the calls for reconciliation from Saudi Arabia. The echoes of the battles of Operation Defensive Shield overcame the declaration of peace issued by the Arab League in Beirut. And now, the rage and humiliation leave no chance for the first initiative for reconciliation by key Fatah and Hamas activists in Israeli prisons.

It is no accident that the group that planned and conducted the attack in Rafah gave their operation the code name "Shattered Illusions." The "illusion" referred to the Prisoners' Document, which Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were about to sign. The document, which is based on a cessation of all violence inside the borders of the state of Israel, could save the lives of Israeli citizens. The goal of the soldier's captors was to kidnap the cease-fire and the chance for a resumption of the dialogue between Israel and a pragmatic Palestinian coalition.

If Olmert really was blessed with the courage of his words in New York, he would offer to trade Shalit for the signatories of the Prisoners' Document, Marwan Barghouti of Fatah and Abdul Khaleq Natshe of Hamas. Their release would be the decisive blow to Khaled Meshal, who is ready to fight Jewish children down to the last drop of Palestinian children's blood. There could not be any clearer signal of Israeli intent to effect a real change in relations with the large Palestinian population that is also tired of fighting. If the prime minister does not have the strength to use this opportunity that has come his way to free the two and strengthen their camp, he could at least use the document as a lever for progress in the peace process by acceding to the bilateral cease-fire that it proposes.

The fear of an Israeli invasion of Gaza strengthens the connection between Haniyeh and Abbas and improves the chance that the fire will indeed die down. But none of this can happen as long as passing emotional storms take our national leaders' judgment hostage and they behave as if they were the ones who had been kidnapped.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Parochial Lunacy

There are no other words for it: “Parochial Lunacy.”

Haaretz has two reports that express more than one would, prima facie, think.

Education Ministry Still Not Recognizing Yeshiva U. Degrees

This story has been dragging on for over a year. As the report notes:

‘The issue…touched a raw nerve in the U.S.…because Yeshiva University is the flagship institution of the American Orthodox community and sends hundreds of students to Israel every year for a year of yeshiva study. YU degrees are accepted by Harvard, Yale and any number of top-notch American universities - and so it is an Israeli ministry alone that refuses to acknowledge them for salary purposes….A large number of North American immigrants are Yeshiva University graduates.’

There is, admittedly, something especially idiotic about not recognizing degrees granted by an institution that has awarded honorary degrees to almost every major Israeli figure, and which consistently ranks very high in the US academic standings. However, one should keep in mind that this is part of a larger picture. Israel suffers from a special form of parochial arrogance.

I’ll give an example. For two years, I taught in the
Lifshitz Teacher’s College, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. In order to do so, I needed to be certified by the Ministry of Education. That required undergoing a process called ‘Degree Equivalence Certification’ (שקילת תארים). I had to shlep all of my degrees (frames and all) to the ministry to have them copied and submitted for evaluation. The ministry official with whom I had to deal (not a secretary), was able to read my semikha (from YU/RIETS, of all places). She was skeptical about the others. Specifically, the AM and PhD, which were written in a language which she’d never seen before (Latin) and came from a school of whose bonafides she was unsure (Harvard). I asked how long the process of certification would take. She replied that it would take a number of weeks, until the ministry could be sure that the degrees were as good as those granted by an Israeli institution.

So, you see, the fact that ‘YU degrees are accepted by Harvard, Yale and any number of top-notch American universities’ may not be so successful an argument.

[Postscript: The Post reports that the geniuses who formulated the accreditation criteria refuse to budge. ]

A.B. Yehoshua Sticks to View Only Israelis Can Be ‘Total’ Jews

Avraham B. Yehoshua just doesn’t get it. There is no such thing as ‘Israeli identity,’ at least nothing long-lasting (so far). There is Jewish identity, based upon the Jewish religion, Jewish knowledge, Jewish consciousness and Jewish national loyalty (all of which are wrapped up with one another). Hebrew alone is not sufficient. Hebrew, like any language, is a tool. It is the content that the language conveys that determines whether Israelis speak Lashon Qodesh, Sfat Ever or a modern version of the Western Amorite dialect. Here, I agree with Rabbi Eric Yoffie:

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who responded to Yehoshua's remarks, said attempts to create an Israeli identity disconnected from Judaism were not viable. "Secular Judaism cannot be passed on to the next generation," he said. "There is every reason to believe that Israelis can and will assimilate, even if it takes longer than in the Diaspora."

At the end of the day, however, both are right and both are wrong. Rabbi Yoffie is right that secular Judaism is a non-starter. It’s a holding pattern for assimilation. He’s wrong to think that the Diaspora is a substitute for Eretz Yisrael. Yehoshua, on the other hand, is wrong when he touts his amorphous secular Israeli alternative. He is, however, right on the mark when he asserts that Jewish Life and the Jewish future can only happen here.

Oh for a Book...And a Shady Nook (John Wilson)

Hazal assert: 'One whose head aches, let him occupy himself with Torah' (Eruvin 54a). Taking some latitude with that adage, I'd like to note a few bibliographic developments.

I. A Daughter's Tribute

Last night marked the launching of the Hebrew version of Dr. Rivka Teitz Blau's biography of her father, the legendary Rav Pinhas M. Teitz זצ"ל, Chief Rabbi of Elizabeth, New Jersey (and a lot more than that). The new edition of Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah: Harav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, the Quintessential Rabbi is entitled ושמחת בחייך and should be required reading for anyone interested in a) American Jewish History b) the History of twentieth century Orthodox Judaism c) finding an inspiring role model for the twenty-first century. (I especially liked the part about how Rabbi Teitz was ejected from the Agudas haRabbonim because he was too 'modern,' only to later become part of its presidium,on his terms.) Writing a biography of one's parent is a daunting challenge, but the author carries it off with an enviable combination of scholarship, aplomb and affection.

The evening was highlighted by a talk delivered by Rav Haim Sabato, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in Ma'aleh Adumim and best-selling author. Rav Sabato, whose prose is nothing less than enchanting, and richly evocative of Jewish Life and Literature in a manner more elegant, more melifluous, less cynical though no less angst ridden than Agnon, spoke of the task of the rabbi. I hope to post his remarks another time. Suffice it to say that he kept returning to the importance of belief, of faith and pure commitment. His words fit Rav Teitz perfectly. That too was no mean achievement.

II. Ashkenazic Mentalite

I am pleased to announce that the latest volume of Brill's Jewish-Chistian Perspectives Series, edited by Professor Joshua Schwartz and Dr. Marcel Poorthuis has just been issued. Entitled, A Holy People Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Religious Communal Identity , it includes a chapter by yours truly, '‘Qehillah Qedosha’: Sacred Community in Medieval Ashkenazic
Law and Culture.'
Its a further effort on my part to use Sociological and Anthropological tools of analysis together with the History of Halakha. It also represents an early effort in a direction that I'm taking in the book I'm writing.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Pray for Gilad ben Aviva (גלעד בן אביבה)

Together with all of Am Yisrael, I urge everyone to recite Tehillim and pray for the safe release of Gilad Shalit (גלעד בן אביבה) from the murderous hands of his captors. The Rabbanut has suggested the following prayer to follow the recitation of Psalms 70, 13, 142 and 127. (Of course 130 is always appropriate):

"יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו שיעלו לרצון מזמורי תהלים אלו שקראנו לפניך היום, ויתקבלו לפניך כאילו אמרם דוד המלך עבדך משיחך ע"ה. ועשה למען שמותיך הקדושים הכתובים בהם והרמוזים והמצורפים בהם ותקבל ברחמים וברצון את תפילתנו ובקשתינו ותבוא לפניך תחינתנו ותחוס ותחמול ותרחם על עבדך בן אמתך גלעד בן אביבה שליט ותושיע אותו בישועה ורחמים יחד עם כל השבויים והאסירים מעמך ישראל. "מוציא אסירים בכושרות הוא יפדהו מידי שוביו ויוציאהו מעבדות לחירות ומשעבוד לגאולה ומאפילה לאורה וירפאהו רפואה שלימה, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף ויאמץ את רוחו וירבה את כוחו ויאזרהו בשמחה ובגילה, אז יתחזק ויתרפא והייתה לו שמחת עולם. "וזכות תפילת רבים וצעקתם ונאקתם, המעתירים בעדו בכל אתר ואתר, תעמוד לו ולהם למגן וצינה ולפדותו מבית שביו. ויקרע רוע גזר דינו ויקראו לפניו יתברך כל זכויותיו וכל אשר פעל ועשה למען עמנו ונחלתנו. ויקרע גזר דינו בזכות השם הקדוש הרמוז בראשי התיבות קבל רנת עמך שגבנו טהרנו נורא. ויקיים בו מקרא שכתוב: ויפדויי ה' ישובון ובאו ציון ברינה ושמחת עולם על ראשם ששון
ושמחה ישיגו ונסו יגון ואנחה. במהרה בימנו. אמן
The text is available on Maariv NRG and on the Rabbinical Council of America websites.
Meanwhile, I echo Treppenwitz' sentiments.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wise, Painful Words from Naomi Ragen

I was thinking about posting again about today when this came over the wire. I couldn't put it better.

Nothing Left to Say
Naomi Ragen

As a direct result of the destruction of the communities ofGush Katif, terrorists are now free to shoot rockets, plantland mines, and dig tunnels all over Gaza. No one takes responsibility for the attacks. And if you try to fightback, you find yourself blowing up civilians because terrorists hide behind the innocent.

Today, nine terrorists infiltrated Israel with machine guns,rockets, and suicide belts. They killed two soldiers: Chanan Barak and Pavel Slotzker. They also kidnapped Gilad Shalit and injured four other soldiers. Some terrorists were killed. Others escaped back through the tunnels to Gaza. Chanan, who lived in Arad, was "the wisest, strongest man I knew," a friend said. He would have been 21 in August. Pavel, who was planning to study medicine when he finished his tour of duty, was from Dimona. He was "big and beautiful," his mother said. He was twenty. Gilad Shalit,who has been in the army 11 months, is 19. His family lives in the Western Galilee. I cannot imagine what they are going through. The horror of waiting, the search for information. May God return him safely home.

I have been writing much less of late. Not because nothing is happening but because there is nothing left to say. How many times can you write that Israel's leaders are weak and deluded? And why should anyone care given their empowerment through a free and democratic election? How many times can you say the obvious, that the Arabs have a single agenda, to wipe us off the map? No one even denies it anymore, not even the Leftists. How many times can you say: We said this would be the result of the retreat from Gaza, more murder, more mayhem, not a saving of lives, but a horrible security risk that would endanger our soldiers most of all? And who doubts it now anyway? Like the collapse of the Oslo Accords, which sold a bill of goods to the gullible, no one cared, or took responsibility, or paid the price for the death of thousands of Israelis.

And so it will be this time. Those who will pay the price will be the wise and the strong, the beautiful and the intelligent, who stand under orders at our borders while Mr.Olmert and Mr.Peretz are busy with their photo ops, smiling for the foreign press, shaking hands, and kissing whatever part of the enemy is available.

"Put not your faith in princes," the Psalmist writes. Likethe Hebrews facing the sea with the Egyptians massing at their backs, we await the future hoping for miracles, even as we mourn the unbearable reality of all our present.


I'd only add that the delusion is not confined to the leadership. Witness the call for the dismissal of the Air Force commander because of civilian casualties in Gaza, and the celebration of the idea that Jews don't need territory at a popular blog.

If Only My People...

By now, everyone’s heard about the Palestinian attack on the IDF base at Kerem Shalom. Two killed, more wounded, one soldier kidnapped. This was a land attack on sovereign Israeli territory by forces of the Hamas, which rules the Palestine Authority. Truth to tell, it matters little that Hamas was behind it. Fatah is no less interested in the dissolution of Israel, incrementally. All of the bigwigs are talking tough. I fear, though, that it’s more of the same expected braggadocio. So, we’ll keep shelling open fields. We’ll keep playing into the hands of Pallywood producers who blame Israel for every Hamas land mine that explodes (and then apologize). We’ll keep suggesting to the people in Sderot that they pack up and leave. The important thing is not to admit that the retreat from Gaza was a lethal mistake. A fortiori, Heaven forefend that this small wrinkle should get in the way of the ‘Redeployment’ in Judea and Samaria.

The tragic part is that the harm undergone by these kids (dead or wounded or missing), was absolutely foreseeable (and close to home. My son’s close friend serves in the same armored corps unit). Only fantasiasts think that if you tell the world you’re tired of fighting, that you only want to have fun, that the only thing you need is to have coffee in Tel Aviv and watch the Mondiale, that you need to discard your Jewish identity (that justifies your very existence) in favor of an amorphous Israeli one, that the enemy will sit back and say: ‘That’s Nice. Enjoy the coffee and the game.’

No one is more aware of, or pained by, the sacrificial aspects of Jewish existence than I. I live with them every minute of every day. I write about them. I ponder them. I research them. I teach them. This, however, is the existential reality of Jewish Life, since Abraham. The challenge is to live a meaningful Jewish Life, or to commit religious or national suicide. This is not some religious rant. None other than Ber Borochov, a founder of Socialist Zionism, held that ‘the struggle against assimilation (is) something much more than a struggle for a strategic base. It was to him the fight of all the Jewish masses against the attempt of national suicide on a part of the Jewish intelligentsia and upper bourgeoisie. The masses, he declared, "will not yield to the notion that the Jew disappear among foreign nations and alien cultures." (Of course, Sartre would tell us that such self-immolation is not possible. The gentiles won’t let us do it.)

The Torah commands us, as individuals and as a people, to Choose Life. That’s very difficult in a world that idolizes death. The West believes in suffering and death for the expiation of man’s sins. Islam (in its present form, at least) seeks a martyr’s death for the expansion of the Dar al-Islam.

Nevertheless, we have to choose life. It may not be politically correct. It may require us to inflict harm that we would otherwise not desire. At the end of the day, in this zero sum game, it’s us or them.

Choose Life.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Moshe Green ז"ל

Moshe Green זכרונו לברכה

Today marks the seventh yahrzeit of my dear friend and mentor,
Dr. Moshe (Morris) Green ז"ל. Moshe was one of the most remarkable, warm and wonderful people I have ever met. An accomplished businessman, philanthropist, visionary communal leader...the adjectives flow easily off the pen. After his family and friends, he was (it's still hard to write about him in the past tense) deeply dedicated to Modern Orthodoxy, Religious Zionism and their advancement here and in the United States. His efforts, such as the Zionist Kollelim, have revolutionized the spread of Torah and cemented relations between Israel and the Diaspora.
The following is a eulogy that I delivered at the first Kenes Lavie (another of his projects), in October 1999, at a session dedicated to his memory:
מושב זה של כנס לביא תש"ס מוקדש לזכרו ולעילוי נשמתו של האי גברא רבא מורי וידיד נפשי, מר משה גרין ז"ל, שנפטר בטרם עת בשנה שעברה. מתאים ביותר שמושב זה, שכולו מוקדש לתלמוד תורה ולגישה המיוחדת של האורתודוקסיה המודרנית בהגדרתה ובקיומה של מצוה זו, אכן יישא את שמו. הרבה הכירו אותו והוא הכיר עוד יותר אנשים. אולם, מעט מדי הכירו את האיש בעצמותו, את האש, שלהבת יה שבערה בו ושהשאירה רושם אדיר על עולמנו הרוחני. לשם ציון אופיו של איש מיוחד זה, ולהסביר למה החלטנו להקדיש את המושב הזה לזכרו, נתבקשתי לומר כמה מלים.
בפרשת השבוע אומרת התורה (בראשית א, א- ב):
בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ: והארץ היתה
תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום ורוח אלהים מרחפת על פני המים:
בזיהוי 'רוח אלהים' ובהגדרת המים עליהם ריחפה, נחלקו חז"ל במדרשים, פרשני המקרא וגם בעל הזוהר. בקשר לראשונה, יש הרואים בה האצלה של הקב"ה. יש המזהים אותה כרוחו של אדם הראשון ויש שראו בה את המשיח. אולם, מה שמשכה אותי יותר מזיהויה, היתה הפעולה שבה היא עסוקה בפסוק. רוח אלקים, אומרת לנו התורה, מרחפת על פני המים. דימוי זה של ריחוף מזכירה לנו את האמור בפרשת האזינו, שוב מתוך התייחסות לקב"ה (דברים לב, יא): 'כנשר יעיר קנו על גוזליו ירחף יפרש כנפיו יקחהו ישאהו על אברתו.' הדימוי הוא של הורה מודאג המגן בגופו על ילדיו.
משה ז"ל היה אדם כזה בקשר לאשתו, ילדיו וחבריו שאותם אימץ כבנים ממש. אולם, מעל הכל הוא ריחף והגן על המים, שכידוע מסמלים את התורה. בתורה מיוחדת האמין משה ועליה הגן בחירוף נפש. זאת התורה שאת קוויה התווה מרן רבן של ישראל, כ' מו"ר ורבי האהוב הגאון הרב יוסף דוב הלוי סולובייצ'יק זצ"ל, ואת דרכיה סללו תלמידיו הנאמנים לדרכו ובמיוחד ידיד נפשו של משה, הרב פרופ' נחום לאם שליט"א ראש ישיבת ישיבה אוניברסיטה. זוהי תורה המתמודדת עם המודרנה בלי פחד ומתוך אמונה עמוקה לא רק שהיא תצא מהעימות הזה מחוזקת, אלא גם מועשרת. זוהי תורה שעל שמירת המצוות שבה לא מוותרים כהוא זה, ושרואה לעצמה חובה קדושה לאזור מתניים לפתרון בעיות הזמן לפי ההלכה שירשנו מאבותינו ורבותינו. זוהי תורה שכוללת בתוכה את כל שבע החכמות ובכך ממילא יש בה שפה משותפת עם כל חלקיו של עם ישראל. זוהי תורה שמקום מכובד ומרכזי בה לאשה שחשקה נפשה בתורה. זוהי תורת חסד ואנושיות ואכפתיות. ואולי מעל הכל, זוהי תורת ארץ ישראל שזכה הוא להיות מבוניה.
אמונתו של משה בתורה זו, שהיא בעצם התורה על פי תפיסת האורתודוקסיה המודרנית, הביאה אותו לייסד ו/או לקדם אין ספור פרויקטים לקידום התורה הזאת. הוא קידם את הפרויקטים לתורה ומדע גם בישיבה אוניברסיטה וגם באוניברסיטת בר-אילן. הוא בנה את מערכת הכוללים 'תורה מציון' שמפיצים תורת ארץ ישראל בכל רחבי העולם. הוא תמך בתלמידי המכון והמדרשה בבר-אילן כדי לייצור מנהיגים ומנהיגות שישאו את דגל תורתנו בגאון ובעוצמה. הוא אשר הגה ויצר את התכנית להכשרת יועצות הלכה בהלכות נדה בנשמ"ת שעכשיו סיים מחזור ראשון. הוא, מתוך שיתוף פעולה עם ד"ר לאם, ייסד את הפורום האורתודוקסי לליבון סוגיות אקטואליות מתוך נקודת ראותה של השקפתנו וזכה לראות את הקמתם של שלוחותיה באנגליה ואי"ה השנה בירושלים.
והיה זה משה ז"ל שלחץ ודחף שכל הגורמים המייצגים את התורה הזאת, יתאחדו ויפעלו ביחד ( הוא שנא בזבוז וכפילות) למימוש תורתנו, להפצתה ולקידומה. על כן, הוא בדרכו הכול כך צנועה היה אחראי להקמת כנס לביא ולצעידתו קדימה. אנחנו הנאספים כאן היום מממשים בכך את חזונו. אלה ממנו שהכירו ואהבו אותו כלכך מבכים מרה בזה את הליכתו וחוגגים בו בזמן את חזונו המבורך. תהי נשמתו ברוכה.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I"m Blushing...

I just came upon this posting by Bava Dilbert who, I'm happy to say, has very nice things to say about the talks I gave during a Shabbat last February. Positive feedback is always welcome (though his comment about the 'Right Wing' is a bit strong for my taste).

BTW, I don't insist or prefer any specific title.


This weekend's Anglofile in Haaretz featured an article entitled: Anglos leave book fair frustrated. The major point was that

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Tragic Price of Romantic Autonomy

I'm still trying to organize my thoughts about the recent, hopefully settled, RCA-Rabbanut spat over conversion. One aspect of the issue to which not enough attention has been paid, is the often excruciating experiences of children born to intermarried couples, who now wish to rejoin the Jewish people. I've recently had occasion to encounter a number of these, and it's heartbreaking to see the kind of angst they undergo. I'm speaking of the pain and suffering imposed, needlessly, upon children as a result of the deeds of the parents. Time has shown that people need to belong. One can't, as Sartre put it, love humanity but no one in particular. One pays a very heavy price to belong to everyone. True, everyone is entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What, however,when that happiness causes suffering to others? Or, put differently, at what juncture does the cult of romantic love become nothing more than egotistical self-indulgence?

Reading Sana Krasikov's review of Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales From Interfaith Homes in the latest Forward brought home this very sad aspect of the problem (not to mention the ongoing self-immolation of American Jewry, but that's another issue). For example, at one point, Krasikov (a very talented writer, by the way) observes:

The more common feelings are those of confusion and embitterment, especially at efforts to explore one's Jewish identity, and at finding that one's claims to it are treated with skepticism by practicing Jews. For others, even the early knowledge of their parents' union not being recognized by a family rabbi is a sore memory of rejection. But the deeper frustration is not simply one of being rejected by "real" Jews, but of being forced to choose at all.

Which brings us back to the rabbis....Should (and I ask this without any clear answer on my part) the rectification of an historical wrong be a factor in the conversion policy of the Orthodox rabbinate? There are many such cases: Communist Oppression (Russian Jews), the Spanish Inquisition (Bene ha-Anussim), the Assyrian Destruction of the Biblical Kingdom of Israel (Bene Menashe and others), and the massive intermarriage that eats away at Western Jewry.

Food for thought.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Kaf Sivan

Today is כ' סיון, the twentieth day of the month of Sivan. For most Jews, for most Orthodox Jews, it’s a typical Erev Shabbat on the cusp of the Summer. Aside from a very few cognoscenti (mostly historians, reciters of piyyut, and readers of the TaZ and the Magen Avraham to Orah Hayyim sec. 566 and 568, respectively), no one knows that this day is in any way out of the ordinary.

It is, however, very much out of the ordinary. It marks the judicial murder of forty members of the Jewish community of Blois in the year 1171, as the result of a Blood Libel. No less a personage than R. Jacob Tam, just a month before his death, decreed a fast day in memory of the victims. This unilateral act by Rabbenu Tam was unparalleled and signified the depth of the trauma that the massacre caused the Jews of Northern France. (The fullest discussion is by Professor Robert Chazan here and here.)

The fast, however, didn’t take. After a few generations it fell into desuetude. One is tempted to think that it fell victim to fading memories and the expulsions (and subsequent disappearance) of French Jewry.

Then came Bogdan Chmielnicki ימשו"ז. In 1648-9, leading his hordes of Ukrainian Cossacks, Chmielnicki revolted against his Polish overlords and, in tandem, led an assault on the Jews of Poland that ended in between 150,000-200,000 Jews dead, representing over 15%-20% of the World’s Jewish population. They were massacred with a cruel ferocity that was only equaled by the Nazis, who had the benefit of modern technology. By all accounts, Polish Jewry was decimated. The Council of the Four Lands (Vaad Arba Aratzot) went bankrupt. A thriving community headed into a tailspin from which it would never recover. One could make the case that the next three hundred years of Eastern European History, especially the impact of Sabbatianism and Frankism, were a direct result of the ravages of the Cossacks.

Seeking a way to memorialize this first Holocaust (and I use the term advisedly), the remnants of the Vaad (not wishing to add a new day to the Jewish calendar, seized upon כ' סיון, as an already existing day that had been forgotten, and made it a day of fasting and mourning for the victims of the Ukrainians. It appears to have held its own for a number of generations, at which point it fell, once again, into oblivion. (Cf. Mishnah Berurah sec. 480 s-p. 16). Later troubles eclipsed earlier ones. However, I agree with Larry Domnitch:

Although the twentieth of Sivan is not currently observed communally in most communities, it is still a most appropriate time to remember those victims of persecution from France to Eastern Europe. The memory of their martyrdom may have diminished, overshadowed by the enormity of the Holocaust and the passage of time, but they perished because they were Jews. The twentieth of Sivan still gives an opportunity to pay homage to their memory.

Oh, and what about Chmielnicki? He’s the national hero of the Ukraine. His statue (above) sits in the center of Kiev…

Not far from Babi Yar.

(I’d like to acknowledge
Larry Domnitch and A Simple Jew for making this post easier to write).

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Honor Harry Bingham: An act of Hakarat HaTov

I received this by e-mail today and wanted to share it:

Just an interesting piece of evidence of the curious behavior of the Roosevelt administration toward the Jews during WWII -----

A few months ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham, IV. For over fifty years, the State Department resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. For them he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted. Now, after his death, he has been officially recognized as a hero.

Bingham came from an illustrious family. His father (on whom the fictional character Indiana Jones was based) was the archeologist who unearthed the Inca City of Machu Picchu, Peru, in 1911. Harry entered the US diplomatic service and, in 1939, was posted to Marseilles, France, as American Vice-Consul. The USA was then neutral and, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain's puppet Vichy regime, President Roosevelt's government ordered its representatives in Marseilles not to grant visas to any Jews. Bingham found this policy immoral and, risking his career, did all in his power to undermine it.

In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted over 2,500 USA visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He also sheltered Jews in his Marseilles home, and obtained forged identity papers to help Jews in their dangerous journeys across Europe. He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco's Spain or across the Mediterranean and even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket.

In 1941, Washington lost patience with him. He was sent to Argentina, where later he continued to annoy his superiors by reporting on the movements of Nazi war criminals. Eventually, he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely. Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found some letters in his belongings after his death. He has now been honored by many groups and organizations including the United Nations and the State of Israel.

Please honor his memory by making others aware of this extraordinary man.

Curmudgeon? Moi?

One of the reasons I started blogging was to clear my head to write other things, like my book on Medieval Ashkenazic Culture (to be published by Brill), the monographs and lectures to which I'm committed, a commentary on Avot, and other sundry things. The idea was (indirectly) inspired by the 'Morning Pages' that are recommended by Betty Edwards in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Overall, I've found it works (and saves me from spending lots of time writing letters to the editor and Op-ed pieces.)

Nevertheless, I've noticed that the overall tone and topics dealt with here have (especially of late) gotten too heated and heavy. I've decided to try to balance things a bit more (though I can't not get passionate about the things that lie close to me raison d'etre).

Wish me luck.

UPDATE (in response to the comments):
I guess I wasn't so clear. I never said I'd stop being passionate. I simply feel that I'd like to do more positive posting to balance the righteous indignation. Things more like this.

Karen Armstrong: Unmasked

Karen Armstrong is a best selling author and intriguing personality. Her book, 'A History of God,' is a prominent feature at this year's Shavua HaSefer. People swear by her scholarship. (In fact, the editor of Maariv once boasted that, as opposed to the rest of the Israeli elite, he is au courant because he reads Ms. Armstrong.)

The problem is that she is more a publicist/apologist for Jihadi Islam (See her book on the Crusades, which a colleague of mine on Mediev-l admitted was highly problematic and not worth much. It was, however, a best-seller. ). On the other hand, she is no historian, as this review of her book on Jerusalem by Professor Norman Golb shows.

Caveat Lector!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Et tu, Hebrew U?

QED pointed this out, and it deserves closer attention.

Et tu, Hebrew U?
Israel can't even get a fair hearing at the country's flagship university

Matt Lebovic

“What is a Jewish state, anyway?” my professor asked the class last week. “Is it like a Jewish chair? I mean, I know what a Jewish person is, but how can a state be Jewish?”

A few minutes later, the same professor compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, calling it a “fake democracy.” Not for the first time at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School, I squirmed in my chair. Was this a course on Israeli politics, or a Hamas press conference?

David and Goliath

The following day, another professor of mine informed students that Israel has no reason to make its case in the international arena. “You look at the occupied territories and Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are David,” the professor said. “Why bother trying to explain anything Israel does if this is all people see?” The rhetorical question was followed by silence from the class.

My classmates, both Jewish and non-Jewish, come to Jerusalem from Argentina, Taiwan, and a score of countries in between. Prior to studies in Israel, many of them received information about Israel from biased CNN coverage and anti-Israel divestment and boycott movements back home. Some classmates’ questions early in the year shed light on their impressions of Israel.

“Did the Jews murder Arabs at Deir Yassin because they were hungry for blood, or was there an actual reason?” a young German woman asked the professor in my friend’s Palestine 1948 class. “Since a Jew murdered Rabin, we can say Jews don’t really want peace, right?” asked a young man from Azerbaijan during an introductory class on Israeli history.

Balance needed

It’s clear that some of my classmates would benefit from a balanced, multi-sided examination of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Many will leave Jerusalem to become journalists, diplomats and teachers around the world. Unfortunately, some will depart with the words of professors ringing in their ears: “Israel is a fake democracy. Israel is an apartheid state. Israel has no excuse for its actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians.”

Not all professors at my school ignore historical and political context for Palestinian suffering and Israeli actions like the security fence. Some have impressed me and other “pro-Israel” classmates with their ability to distill the conflict’s complexities and foster reasonable discussion of the issues.

Others, however, let their political beliefs determine classroom discourse, such as one professor’s labeling the Israeli government a “colonialist regime” and another referring to an outspoken, kippah-clad student as “Lieberman.”

Obviously, professors are entitled to their opinions, and to elucidate them in class; however, there is a line between political commentary and “Israel-bashing,” as one classmate described some professors’ behavior.

Special responsibility

Labeling Israel an aggressive “Goliath” victimizing the helpless Palestinian “David” distorts the conflict’s true scope – that of a tiny island of Jewish sovereignty surrounded by more than a few genocidal extremists. Like every democracy on Earth, Israel is flawed. Does this mean the Jewish state has no more intrinsic value than a “Jewish chair,” as my professor implied?

I respect the academic freedom and vigorous discourse abundant at my school; however, the international division of Israel’s flagship university bears a special responsibility to students and supporters. If Israel cannot receive a fair hearing in the hallowed halls of Mt. Scopus, where can it?


It's been over a decade since a Bir Zeit Study was published, showing that there was no planned massacre at Deir Yassin (and no more civilian casualties than usual in this kind of warfare). (Just as there was no IDF shell that landed on Gaza beach last Saturday.) I thought my colleagues were supposed to tell the truth. Silly me.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Fruits of Despair

Yesterday, my son showed me the following poem by Natan Alterman (whose semi-prophetic capacity never ceases to terrify), that is cited by the immediate past IDF Chief of Staff, Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon in an article in Azure that should be required reading for ANYONE and EVERYONE who cares about Israel's future.:

Then Satan said:
This besieged one–
How shall I defeat him?
He has courage and skill to act
He has weapons and wisdom on his side.
And he said: I will not take away his strength
Neither bridle nor bit will I put on him
Nor will I make him fainthearted
Nor will I weaken his hand as in days of old.
Only this shall I do:
I shall dull his mind,
And he will forget that his cause is just.
Thus said Satan,
And the heavens paled with fear
As they watched him rise
To carry out his plan.

Alterman foresaw the Dana Olmerts, the Steven Roses, the Zahava Gal'ons, the Gidon Levy's, the Nehemiah Strasslers and all the rest of the oh-so sophisticated 'We only wanna have fun and be so veddy veddy cosmopolitan and superior,' ilk.

Everyone has rights. Everyone has a place under the sun, or the right to hope and work for it. Everyone has the right to preserve his or her ancestral heritage. Except...Jews.

It's a most insidious disease, this aggressive cancer known as 'Jewish self-hatred.' One can be infected with it through the air(waves) and through touch(ing some newspapers and books). It eats away at one's will to live. It blinds one to the unfortunate reality that Jewish survival is often a zero sum game. In other words, we either fight for our survival or we don't survive. We can bemoan that reality, as we all do. We can scream at the top of our lungs that it's not fair, which we all do. At the end of the day, however, we must either recognize the unique, heroic character of Jewish existence, or cease to be.

The cancer is spreading. While the self-haters are declaring that the army should be dismantled, along with the State, residents of Sederot are giving in to their despair. The army has let it be known that nothing will be done further to stop the bombardment of Israel, until someone is killed.

Hence, the citizens of Sederot are asking for compensation, so they can be free of the bombs from which the government refuses to protect them. As the Jews flee, is there any doubt as to how the Palestinians will vote on their upcoming referendum?

[Afterthought: The most striking thing about the terrible tragedy in Gaza is that it was very likely caused by Palestinian, not Israeli, shelling. Shades of Muhammad a-Dura, may he live and be well. Pallywood Lives!]

Saturday, June 10, 2006

We Are Not Christians...

Across the various newspaper sites that greeted me was, essentially, the same headline: Dana Olmert, the Prime Minister's daughter, was part of a looney-left protest against the Army Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz. The immediate reason for the protest was the tragic death of seven civilians, including children, in the army's shelling of areas from which rockets are fired at Israel.
The death of civilians under such circumstances is a terrible thing. The army does everything it can to avoid it. Israeli lives are put on the line in the interest of reducing civilian casualties. (My nephew was wounded in Jenin for that reason during 'Homat Magen.')

Nevertheless, the only reason that these innocents died was because: a) The Hamas/Jihad and Fatah keep firing missiles at civilians in Israel. b) They do so with active civilian support, and do so from heavily populated areas.

What are we supposed to do? Turn the other cheek? Sorry, we're not Christians. We don't intend to die for the salvaion of mankind.

Which brings us back to Dana Olmert. She and her cohorts were out there screaming: 'Dismantle the army!" And '"Halutz is a killer, the intifada shall prevail." Where do they think they're living? If the intifada prevails, God forbid, what will she do then? Join her brother in the US? The drive for Jewish self-immolation is a truly inexplicable phenomenon.

More bothersome still is the fact that the PM keeps saying how he has adopted the thinking of his wife and children.

Allah Yerahmoo,.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

While You Were Sleeping...

The Canadian government has been funding this project, with the assistance of Akiva Eldar, a member of the Haaretz editorial Board (what else?).

The Foundation for Middle East Peace is busy planning how many Jews can be thrown out of their homes in order for these to be given to Palestinians, whose EU/US aid money goes to Suha Arafat, Abu Mazen, Muhammad Dahlan and who knows who else.

(Hat tip: Israel Resource News Agency)

Secular Panic....

There is evidently a serious possibility that Rabbi Lau may well become the president of Israel. At least that's the impression one gets from the absolute hysteria gripping the Haaretz editorial board (if Yoel Marcus is any indication). In a column published today, Marcus comes close to apoplexy when he contemplates the idea of a Lau presidency.

First, he recycles old innuendo and libels. (Libels, one might point out, which have never been proven.) Then he comes down to it:

In his column in Yedioth Ahronoth last week, Amos Carmel called the possibility of Lau being appointed president "an insult to half the country." And he's right. In a state where women outnumber men, a secular majority exists and an extremist rabbinic establishment incites its flock to oppose withdrawal forcibly, a rabbi for president of Israel is a dangerous proposition - politically, because as president he is liable to support opponents of withdrawal from the Land of Israel; and socially, because he is liable to turn his nose up at a million Russian immigrants and other pork and shrimp-eating Israelis, and leave the hands of Israel's women, waiting to congratulate their president, dangling in the air.

Let's take these one by one:

1) Lau being appointed president "an insult to half the country." To begin with, the president is elected, not appointed. Second, how does he know that half the country opposes him. Are all women automatically against a male president? In fact, Rabbi Lau has been more 'out there' in the fight against domestic violence than guess who? Yoel Marcus.

The same point holds true regarding the 'secular majority.' There ain't no such thing. There is, I admit, a non-Orthodox majority. However, if we put religious Jews with traditional Jews, we get a 55-85% majority.

As for the Russians...Well, those 300,000+ who aren't Jewish can eat anything they wish. Same is true of anyone else. The State of Israel, though, since the beginning has had kashrut in all public sectors. So what's the big deal?

3) He is liable to...leave the hands of Israel's women, waiting to congratulate their president, dangling in the air. First, there is plenty of halakhic precedent for shaking a woman's hand. Second, would that this were the only problem we faced, as kassam rockets rain down on Sederot (as a direct result of a policy for which Mr. Marcus was the chief cheerleader.)

All this is not really what's bothering Marcus. This is what's bothering Marcus:

As president he is liable to support opponents of withdrawal from the Land of Israel.

In other words, only a president that agrees with Marcus has a right to be elected. It reminds me of the recently departed Yitzhak ben-Aharon's famous remark after the Likud came to power in 1977, that he (and the other proletarians) would not recognize the result of the election.
(For more, see Ben Chorin's choice quotation.)

Now, I'm not sure about who should be the next president. I am sure, though, why Marcus is close to anaphylactic shock. More and more of the country is becoming more and more Jewish (though not necessarily Orthodox), and on Schocken Street they're desperate to stop the trend.
S'vet zey gornisht helfen.

How do I know? A few days ago, a beautiful shul was dedicated on....Degania Alef, by demand of the kibbutz members. Remember Degania Alef, the first Kibbutz, the mother of the Kibbutzim... Next stop, people, Ein Harod.

[On the other hand, just when you wanted a monkey wrench thrown into things...the Rabbanut raises the heat, and disqualifies most of the best, most responsible Dayyanim in North America. On the other hand, May HaQadosh, Barukh hu bless Seth Farber and those like him.]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Matan Torah, Talmud Torah and Professor Schorsch

This year I’ve been invited (with the family) to spend Shavuot/Shabbat as the visiting scholar/maggid shiur at Yeshivat ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati at Ma’aleh Gilboa. (Rashe Yeshiva Rabbis David Bigman, Shmuel Reiner, Yehuda Gilad and Yosef Slotnick). Tonight’s shiur will focus on the necessary, dialectical tension that obtains between Law and Spirituality, as expressed in the contrast between the overwhelming experience of Matan Torah and Talmud Torah. As Professor Twersky ז"ל used to note (following the Rov זצ"ל’s cue), without experiencing (and submitting to) God’s presence, the study of Torah becomes a mechanical, fossilized effort. Without the study of Torah and the forms provided by mitzvot, spirituality becomes anarchic, self-serving and eventually evaporates.

I thought of this this morning, upon reading the
commencement speech of outgoing JTS Chancellor, Prof. Ismar Schorsch. He bemoans the collapse of adherence to Halakha (as he defines it), the spiritually vacuous character of the movement, and the wholesale adoption of contemporary mores and values by the leadership and the laity. The audience, by and large, was incensed by his remarks and, more generally, didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

I noted my feelings about the Conservative movement in an earlier posting. I can’t, therefore, say that I’m surprised either by Schorsch’s remarks or the response thereto. The success of Conservative Judaism in the mid-twentieth century was based upon a profound loyalty to Judaism and the Jewish People that the members and clergy had inherited from their traditional or traditionally oriented parents. That did not last beyond the 1960’s. In its place came the full force of contemporary culture, to which Jewish practice was adapted (or compelled to adapt). The result is the dialogue des sourdes that started with Prof. Weiss-Halivni’s walkout in the 1980’s and reached its crescendo with Prof. Schorsch’s speech.

Study is not enough. It must be accompanied by the experience of Matan Torah, the acknowledgement that with all of the power given us in Talmud Torah (“לא בשמים היא”), we must use that authority with a heightened awareness of our own limitation, with
intellectual modesty. That is not a recipe for halakhic sloth, but for measured responsibility, as the distant vistas of Talmud Torah are explored and experienced. [See my remarks, here.]