Sunday, December 31, 2006

Barak Revelatus

Now that Aharon Barak has retired from the Supreme Court, a lot of long overdue criticism of his judicial philosophy is finally being heard. It was so intense last week that he became uncharacteristically defensive and felt called upon to assert his Zionist credentials. Righteous indignation aside, the criticisms are all well-taken.

Mosny of these have been published in Azure. Those by Evelyn Gordon and Mordechai Haller being the most important.

Now, in a major coup, the magazine has published a trenchent, and brilliant, critique of Barak by Robert Bork.

His concluding paragraph says it all:

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 78, wrote that “the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution,” because it “has no influence over either the sword or the purse.” Hamilton badly underestimated the capacity of the Supreme Court to go well beyond its constitutional mandate, but the Israeli court, by its assertion of the power to control both sword and purse, may well be the branch most dangerous to the political rights of the nation.

Now, I know some will dismiss this because of Bork's reputation as a Conservative ideologue. I suggest, however, that everyone who hold Israel dear read this piece with an open mind.

Yitzhak Levy- An Intellectually Challenged...Former Education Minister?

Ben Chorin has provided further proof of the limitations of Rabbi Yitzhak Levi. Ben describes his experience as follows:

Another wild day in vaadat chukah today. Never before have I seen one politician do so much damage to his own constituents' interests as I did today. The discussion was about the definition of the state. The alternatives were to bury the Jewish character of the state in the useless "Jewish and democratic" formulation or to include a strong separate Jewish clause. We had lined up the Kadimah, Labor and Likud people behind the strong version. Things were going well. Which idiot torpedoed the whole thing? Yitzhak Levy of Mafdal-Ichud Leumi!Why, you might ask? A combination of warped ideology and personal vanity.First, he did not want to separate the words "Jewish" and "democratic" because his conception of the state involves intertwining Jewishness and democracy as a matter of principle. Whatever the hell that means. Second, he was duped into supporting Basic Law: Dignity and Freedom of Man back in 1992. That law has proved to be an unmitigated disaster. So Levy has begun acting like the Woody Allen character who, having fallen into the orchestra pit at the theater, repeats the performance for thirty consecutive nights so as not to let on it was an accident. He now wants to enshrine the language of that law in the opening chapter of the constitution so as not to let on that he was played for the fool in 1992.If you voted for Mafdal-Ichud Leumi thinking that you were advancing the cause of a Jewish State, you wuz robbed. When the chips are down, you are being represented by someone of extremely limited intellect.

I, myself, had earlier experienced these limitations. In the Spring of 1998, after the totally unnecessary fiasco known as פעמוני היובל, the Religious-Secular dialogue group known as שחרית had an emergency meeting to which Rabbi Levy was invited. The discussion got around to the question of the place of the representational arts in Judaism. I noted that in the 1970's there had been a big brouhaha about teaching Art at Yeshiva College and thaty the Rav had not only refused to support the campaign against Art, he actually said that it was permitted to teach it. No limitations were set.

Rabbi Levy, whose religio-cultural world begins and ends at Merkaz HaRav, looked at me blankly and said, 'That can't be true!' (לא יכול להיות). Desiring to maintain his dignity as Minister of Education I kept quiet. I was, however, stunned. Was he there? Did he know anything about it? Had he ever seen a Giotto in his life?

Yes, Ben Chorin is right. Yet the fact that a person such as this could be the Minister of Education is an example of why Religious Zionism is in such a sorry state. It also says alot about the state of Israeli education. Consider the last three ministers. There was Levy ('nuff said), Livnat (who doesn't have a BA) and Tamir (who's defended female circumcision on the grounds of multi-culturalism).


The Power of Disbelief

[In anticipation of Asarah be-Tevet, I'd like to re-post this piece. A shorter version is here and the Hebrew original is here.]

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:

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. [2]
As the Tosefta states:[3]
Rabbi expounded:[4] 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.’[5] ‘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.[6] 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.[7] 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.’[8]

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,’[9] while Tzom Gedaliah was subsumed into Aseret Yeme Teshuva[10] 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.[11] 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 Babylonian siege on Jerusalem.[12] 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?[13] 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.[14]

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,’[16] 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 gates (a speech for which he paid imprisonment):[17]

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.’[18]

Jeremiah is protesting against the widespread belief that Jerusalem and the Temple, by virtue of their very existence, were invulnerable to the Babylonian onslaught.[19] 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.[20]

Here, I would suggest, is the source of Ezekiel’s incredulous reaction to God’s message.
Obviously, 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.[21] 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.[22]

In light of the above, the Rambam’s words acquire special urgency:[23]

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.’

[1] Zekh. 7, 1-5.
[2] Cf. Y. Tabory, Mo’ade Yisrael be-Tequfat ha-Mishnah ve-ha-Talmud, Jerusalem 2000, 350ff.
[3] Tosefta, Sotah 6, 1. Cf. S. Lieberman, Tosefta ke-Feshuta: Sotah-Qiddushin, 675 l. 190-191. Cf. Rosh HaShanah 18b.
[4] Some sources read: ‘Rabbi Aqiba.’ Cf. Tosefta ke-Feshuta, ibid. l. 187-189.
[5] Zekh. 8, 19.
[6] Cf. IIKings 25, 25-26 and Jer. 41, 1-18.
[7] According to Jeremiah (39, 2), the Babylonians actually broke through the walls (within the area of the present-day Jewish Quarter, near the so-called ‘Broad Wall’) on the ninth of the month. It was the Romans who breached the ‘Third Wall’ of Jerusalem on the Seventeenth (cf. Josephus, Wars, Book VI ch. 2). Regarding the ways that the disparity have been resolved, see Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 4, 5 (fol. 68c); Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 18b s.v. girsat ha-sefarim and Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim sec. 549 par. 2.
[8] Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Ta’anyiot 5, 2 [= I. Twersky, A Maimonides Reader, New York: Behrman House 1972, 116]. Notice that the Rambam provides a different reason for the fast than that in the Tosefta. Regarding this characteristic in the Mishneh Torah, generally, see I. Twersky, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), New Haven: Yale University Press 1980, 428-430.
[9] See D. Sperber, Minhage Yisrael, I, Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 138-153.
[10] See Y. D. Gilat, ‘Ta’anit be-Shabbat,’ Peraqim be-Hishtalshelut HaHalakha, Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press 1992, 217ff and S. Spiegel, ‘Le-Parshat ha-Pulmos shel Pirqoi ben Baboi,’ Sefer ha-Yovel le-Zvi Wolfson, ed. S. Lieberman, Jerusalem 1965, 243-274.
[11] Partial proof of the weaker standing enjoyed by Asarah be-Tevet may be found in the fact that the late chief rabbi of Israel, ha-Ga’on R. Yitzhaq Isaac Ha-Levi Herzog, zatzal, sought to have Asarah be-Tevet chosen as both Yom ha-Qaddish ha-klali and Yom Ha-Shoah, in part, in order to strengthen piblic awareness and observance of the fast day. Of course, his broader objective was to integrate memorial observances for the victims of the Shoah into the broader framework of normative Jewish tradition, instead of creating a new memorial day. This, as is well known, was also the position of Maran the Rov, zatzal. The difference was, of course, that the Rov thought that Tisha B’Av was the more appropriate day for such an occasion. Cf. Harere Qedem, ed. M. Shurqin, Jerusalem 2004, 310 s.v. ve-khi and A. Besdin, Reflections of the Rav: Lessons in Jewish thought/ Adapted from Lectures of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, New Jersey: KTAV 1993, 68-69. [The Rov was especially emphatic on this point. I, myself, heared him expatiate on it on many occasions.]
[12] The siege itself lasted eighteen months.
[13] God’s initial response, ‘did you fast for Me, even to Me,’ makes it sound as if the fast days started as a popular initiative that later receive Divine sanction.
[14] Cf. Tosefta, ibid. halakha 11.
[15] Ezek. 24, 1-2.
[16] In Hebrew, the formulation is even more emphatic. ‘Ha-Yom’ means ‘Today,’ as well as ‘this day.’
[17] Jer. 37.
[18] Jer. 7, 1-4 and 8.
[19] No doubt, this belief was inspired inter alia by the rescue of Jerusalem from the assyrians in the days of Hezekiah (II Kings 19).
[20] Jer. ibid. 5-15.
[21] A similar response, mutatis mutandis, marked the response of leading thinkers to the sack of Rome in 410 CE. Cf. Augustine, Civitas Dei, Book I ch. 1 and Jerome, Epistolae no. cxvii.
[22] Interestingly, as opposed to some opinions regarding Shivah Asar be-Tammuz, no effort was made to ‘adjust’ the date of the fast to the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus. One can speculate that this is due to the fact that while the walls of the city were always breached in Tammuz, the Roman siege started around Pesah time (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 5 ch. 3). In the former case, all that was required was a change in the day of the observance, in the same month of which the prophet had spoken (‘fast of the fifth month’). A shift of the fast day from Tevet to Nissan, however, would be in violation both of the taqqanat ha-nevi’im and the prohibition against fasting in Nissan. On the other hand, the lesson of Asarah be-Tevet once learned, might have been indelibly linked with that day in particular.
[23] Hil. Ta’aniyot 5, 1 [= Twersky, Maimonides Reader, ibid.]
[24] Lev. 26, 40.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph....Parshat VaYehi (in advance)

[I was inclined to further complain about the stupidity of our Foreign Minister (who has no experience, no liberal arts education, speaks no languages other than Hebrew and has gone over to the Left side of the political spectrum. However, why waste the words? (I think of Tehilla often.) In fact, after spending three incredibly exhilarating days at the Shalem Political Hebraism Conference, I decided it was better to exert myself on things of greater worth.]

In his shiurim to the RCA in August of 1980 (available here), the Rav devoted time to explaining why after reciting the first verse of Shema, we recite the words ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד, or Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. Of course, the point of departure was the story that the Talmud recounts in Pesahim 56b that when the time came for Jacob to die he tried to bless them but the Holy spirit departed from him. He was afraid that there was, among his childen, one who rejected the way of God (as had been the fate of Abraham and Isaac). He asked them and they answered, all of them together, and said to him: HEAR, ISRAEL OUR FATHER: THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD! Jacob, relieved, responsed, 'Blessed be His Glorious Name for ever and ever.'

Since Maimonides (Keri'at Shema 1, 4) quotes this passage as the reason for reciting this phrase, the Rav suggested that the word 'Israel' in the Shema is not only directed towards the Jewish People, but to our father, Jacob, as well. The rason is that the act of קבלת עול מלכות שמים , accepting the yoke of the KIngdom of Heaven, entails a commitment to the living tradition of Judaism, as represented by Jacob. The question is why?

The Rav suggested a number of different answers (which I urge those interested to follow on the above link). Following one of those answers, I'd like to suggest my own answer.

Maimonides, as the Rav noted, in the first chapter of the Laws Concerning Idolatry (1-2), highlights the uniqueness of Abraham's activity as the אב למסורה , the original fount of Jewish Tradition. He possessed the unique capacity not only to discern truth but to pass it on. Isaac, it appears was unable to do more than receive. He could not instill that Tradition in others. Witness the fact that, according to the Midrash, Jacob received his education from Abraham and in the 'Yeshiva of Shem and Ever.' Isaac, who devoted his life to repeating his father's life actions and to digging wells, could receive but not pass on.

If so, why affirm our allegiance to Massorah to Abraham? The answer, as alluded to by Jacob, is that Abraham's career as a parent was not totally successful. Of all of his children, only one worked out. Isaac.

What, then, did Jacob have that his father and grandfather lacked? Abraham, as the Rav used to frequently note in his Humash lectures in Boston, was the embodiment of חסד, an untranslatable word that denotes the free out-flowing of grace. It is unlimited giving. This is a marvelous quality. Uncontrolled, without limits, it becomes a negative trait. Ishmael, for example, had no limits.

Isaac, by contrast, was the embodiment of גבורה, of heroism. Heroism requires discipline, self-restriction, and limits. Isaac, however, was unmitigated גבורה. He was able to fortify and institutionalize Abraham's legacy but could not go beyond it. He was incapable of seeing, or of discerning, the need to adapt and to give the מסורה to others. His son, Esau, was also heroic. His heroism was, however, גבורה gone haywire.

Jacob combined within himself a balance of both חסד and of גבורה. Thus, with all of his problems, he was able to find a place for each of his very different children, within the parameters of Tradition. He knew how to give, and where to draw the line. He was, therefore, the best of the Patriarchs
(בחיר שבאבות), and it is to him we declare our allegiance to Tradition, as we declare our devotion and submission to God.

I seems to me that the great divide in Contemporary Orthodoxy (and among Jews, generally) is between total Abrahamism and total Isaacism. We need to restore the normative tradition of Jacob (Jacobism, not Jacobinism).

A Victory in World War III

A significant number of Western ostriches (many of whom write here and here) are blissfully unaware that we are in the sixth year (at least) of a World War between Militant Islam and the rest of us. The war is being fought on fronts from East Asia to the Americas, and the West has not been faring particularly well therein. (Of course, when people read idiotic books about Islam like the drivel offered up by people such as this, one understands why.)

In any event, as Israel's ostriches keep discussing moderation in the Arab world, today one can celebrate a significant victory in the war against jihad. The Times reports that Mogadishu has fallen to the anti-Islamists. כן יאבדו כל שונאיך. במהרה בימינו אמן.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Difference Between Can and Can’t

[This is fast becoming a family effort. Herewith, a word of wisdom from my better half.]

The Difference Between Can and Can’t

The difference between can and can’t is one simple three letter word – not. Or is it really just another word – won’t? What do we really mean when we say that we can’t; that we don’t really want to, that we think that nothing is really worth the effort, that unless it can automatically have us featured in a sappy Hollywood ending, that it just isn’t worth it?

Whatever happened to working hard for the sake and the virtue of hard labor, as its own reward? The joy of the sweat and the effort, the tired aching muscles spent in tireless activity. The body sinking into the bedcovers out of sheer exhaustion; eyes going out like a light with nary a flicker. Rising to yet another day of toil refreshed and recharged, muscles just a little toner, just a little bit readier for the challenge ahead.

Yet we persist in finding excuses for why we can’t. Scapegoats like our parents, our spouses, our children, our everyday aches and pains, provide good reasons why we can’t have. Prayer doesn’t enter the equation. Asking for assistance puts us in a shameful position, of needing someone else. Vulnerable. Human. Defective. Yet every Hollywood movie, as well as every life, has a list of credits miles long. No one gets through life without others, at least not alive.

Needing others makes us what we are – human. Helping one another makes us divine.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nidui Now!

Ma'ariv reports that in Manchester, England the low-life who went to hug Ahmedinejad (ימח שמו וזכרו) has been a) thrown out of his shul b) had his חברא קדישא dues returned and been informed that he'll be buried with the apostates on the other side of the fence and c) been informed that no kosher institution will sell him food and that if some do they will have their own הכשר removed. Good Work. Now let's see the same meted out to these ממזרים in Rockland County.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Perush Elisheva on Ner Hanukkah

Daughter Number 2 has written and allowed me to share this (kvell kvell).

Happy Hanukkah Everyone!

Every year we celebrate the holiday of light. We all know the story of the Maccabees, and we all know the miracle of the Little oil cruse that lasted for 8 days. But what I would like to talk about is the light (the fire) on all most anything on ruchniyus in the gemora; Hachomim always compare it to fire. Why fire? After all, fire is a thing that is dangerous and it can kill. Anyway, so why are we compared to fire? Have you looked at fire ( a light candle that is) lately? well if you didn't its OK. If you look at the fire, it points up; unlike the rest of us that gravity holds us down, with fire its the only thing that goes up. And all so with giving we're compared, with water if we give some we have less; but with fire we give some and it stays the same.

Fire = Ruchniyus (spirituality, faith), which mean we always need fire, or more like we always use it. It's light to show us the way when its dark, its warmth when coldness is all over. And yet too much of it can burn down a whole city. So what I¢m trying to say here is, it doesn't hurt to give or believe but if you over do it everything around you will burn. So in a way fire (faith) is good, but by every step of the way there might be a cause to keep the amount just the way it is.

Love ya all,

Why We're Here...A Bit of Hanukkah Light

I especially liked the sountrack. You can download it here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Semester's End...Grading Exams....Ugh!

QED just pointed me to the best description of the most fabled, foolproof method of grading exams. Fellow academics, read and learn...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Munich 2006

All of the usual cliches have been used up. I find that I can do nothing more than look on in dumbfounded silence at the (Mushroom) Cloud hanging over us. The responses were best
put by Caroline Glick, Ben Dror Yemini and Joseph Farrah.

Most Jews have abandoned us. (They've either assimilated or been fed too much media/rad-lib drivel.)

Our own government has abandoned us.

America has abandoned us. (Richard Gates ruled out military action on our behalf, s.v. the Baker Report.)

The World certainly won't do anything on behalf of 6 million Jews.

For those hitherto unaware of thi reality of Jewish history: We have no one upon whom to rely except our Father in Heaven, Who will show us how to deal.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Requiescat in Pace (Non)

Last Shabbat, after Mincha, I asked a friend what he thought the few remaining Orthodox faculty members at JTS would do, once the Conservative movement endorses and ordains avowed homosexuals. He looked at me quizzically and asked: 'What's the difference? Once they declared חילול שבת to be allowed, what more was there to say?'

Of course, he's right. Once sentiment for Tradition and observance wore off, with the departure of the children of immigrants from the American scene, there was no longer any reason for Conservative Jews to pretend that they are bound by anything other than by their own convenience. In any event, as Marshall Sklare wrote forty years ago, the 'halakhic' character of the movement was always, pretty much a farce. The whole movement was the embodiment of, what one former Conservative rabbi turned professor, 'Tell me where the crowd's going, I'm its leader!'

It was always a layman's movement in which rabbis were, at best, figureheads. As American Jews became more and more American/Western/Liberal, so they demanded that their Judaism, and their rabbis, show how Judaism can 'keep up with the times.' (God forbid that they should feel guilty or the least bit put upon.)

Actually, part of me is glad that they did this, because the rest of the bets are off. By allowing גילוי ,עריות any thinking Jew will realize just how little integrity this movement has. There will now be a zero-sum game for the soul of the Jewish People, as the learned and quality remnants of RW Conservatism start getting used to the Orthodox community and Reform reaps the rest (non-Jewish spouses of Patrilineal (non-)Jews and all).

The Torah community's challenge is, what we call in Israel, hasbara. We need to stop screaming and acting inappropriately. We need to move where we can and respectfully, but firmly, save what can yet be saved.

אז כל זמן אז דער פייר ברענט, ס'איז פארהאן וואס צו מתקן זיין

Laban, Pharaoh and the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee

There is a famous comment on last week's sedra, which I first saw in Rav Ovadiah Yosef's commentary on the Haggadah (Hazon Ovadiah), that goes like this:

The Haggadah asserts:
"Go forth and learn what Laban the Aramean wanted to do to our father Jacob. Pharaoh had issued a decree against the male children only, but Laban wanted to uproot everyone - as it is said: "The Aramean wished to destroy my father; and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation - great and mighty and numerous."

How did the author of the Haggadah know of Laban's intentions? The answer, says Rav Ovadiah, lies in Laban's speech to Jacob when the former caught up with him (Gen 31, 17-29):

Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon the camels; … to go to Isaac his father unto the land of Canaan. …And Jacob outwitted Laban the Aramean, as he did not tell him that he fled. …and he rose up, and passed over the River, and set his face toward the mountain of Gilead. And it was told to Laban, on the third day, that Jacob had fled. And he …pursued and he overtook him in the mountain of Gilead.

And G-d came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night, and said unto him: 'Take heed to thyself that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.'

And Laban came up to Jacob. And Laban said to Jacob: 'What have you done, that you have outwitted me, and carried away my daughters as though captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly, and outwit me; and did not tell me, that I might have sent you away with mirth and with songs, with timbourine and with harp; and did not let me kiss my sons and my daughters? Now, you have acted foolishly. I have the power to hurt you; but the G-d of your father spoke to me last night, saying: Take heed of yourself that you speak not to Jacob either for good or evil.

Notice the shift in Laban's words. First, he plays lovey-dovey. He wanted to give Jacob and Co. a big send-off. Then, he turns on a dime and tells Jacob that he'd destroy him if God hadn't told him to keep his arms (so to speak) to himself.

It is this disarming two-facedness that the Haggadah found so dangerous. With Pharaoh, what you saw is what you got. He was an enemy who was out to destroy and enslave Israel. There were no illusions. He was the kind of enemy one would wish to have.

I was reminded of this today, when I read the demands of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee to de-Zionize Israel. They are demanding a Palestinian State and a Bi-National State. In other words, they want it all. Personally, I'm not outraged but glad. At least they're being straight. Just like Pharaoh.

The problem is that the Labans among us, (guess which tribal paper they write for?) have gotten to work to have us throw the Israeli Arabs a de-Judaize Isra'il/Isma'il party...

Laban wanted to uproot everyone...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Rav זצ"ל on Halakhic Change

In light of the recent exchange on the so-called חומרה דרבי זירא and the Conservative movement's imminent "תקנה" to tear more verses out of the Torah and regularize גילוי עריות, I thought I'd post part of Dr. Eitan Fiorino's transcription of the Rav's famous 1975 polemic to the YU Rabbinic alumnii. (I've done some light editing.)

What does kabalas ol malchus shamayim require of the lomeid hatorah, the person who studies Torah?

First, we must pursue the truth, nothing elsebut the truth; however, the truth in talmud torah can only be achieved through singular halachic, Torah thinking, and Torah understanding. The truth is attained from within, in accordance with the methodology given to Moses and passed on from generation to generation. The truth can bediscovered only by joining the ranks of the chachmei hamesorah. It is ridiculous to say "I have discovered something of which the Rashbadidn't know, the Ktzos didn't know, the Vilna Gaon had no knowledge, I have discovered an approach to the interpretation of Torah which is completely new"...

One must not try to rationalize, from without, the chukei hatorah and one must not judge the chukim and mishpatim in terms of the secular system of things. Such an attempt, be it historicism, be it psychologism, be it utilitarianism, undermines the very foundations of Torah u-Mesorah, and it leads eventually to the most tragic consequences of assimilationism and nihilism, no matter how good the original intentions.

Second, we must not yield -- I mean emotionally, itis very important -- we must not feel inferior, experience or develop aninferiority complex, and because of that complex yield to the charm --usually it is a transient and passing charm -- of modern political and ideological sevoros (logic). I say not only not to compromise --certainly not to compromise -- but even not to yield emotionally, not to feel inferior, not to develop an inferiority complex.

The thought should never occur to us that it is important to cooperate just a little bit with the modern trend or with the secular, modern philosophy. In my opinion, yehadus (Judaism) does not have to apologize either to the modern woman or to the modern representatives of religious subjectivism. Thereis no need for apology -- we should have pride in our mesorah, in our heritage. And of course, certainly, it goes without saying one must not try to compromise with these cultural trends, and one must not try to gear the halachic norm to the transient ways of a neurotic society, which is what our society is.

Olmert Fiddles, While the World Gathers Kindling

Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns

I have a lot of compassion and admiration for Caroline Glick. She tells it straight as it is.

Please God, the people will listen.

Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Can't..

teach.' (George Bernard Shaw). Those who can't teach, become Ministers of Education (My Obiter Dicta).

Professor (sic!) Yuli Tamir, erstwhile Minister of Education and full-time Peace Now activist has instructed that the so-called Green Line be reimposed in all Israeli textbooks and thus inform our enemies that we've already decided to give in to their interim demands.

On the other hand, what can you expect from a woman who's so absurdly PC that she defends female genital mutilation (i.e. circumcision) on the grounds of multi-culturalism.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Oliver Cromwell Redevivus

I keep thinking about Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England (1599-1658).

According to Wikipedia (a remarkable tool when used critically):

In 1653, after learning that the Rump Parliament was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve, and having failed to come up with a working constitution, Cromwell’s patience ran out. On April 20, he attended a sitting of Parliament and listened to one or two speeches. Then he stood up and harangued the members of the Parliament in a speech which has often been quoted as "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

Cromwell was a controversial figure. However, his exasperated words ring true. Israel's Ashkenazi elites are tired. They're tired of fighting. They're tired of being Jewish. They just want to have fun. They mask their moral relativism and intellectual fatigue with a dogmatic, superficial liberalism that Charles Krauthammer can disembowel in his sleep. They are, as a result, irresponsibly endangering the Jews of the State of Israel.

So Messers Schocken, Yehoshua, Oz, Grossman, Olmert, Livni, Negbi, Samet, Benn (and the list goes on)....if you so hate it here, if you only care for your perks and your positions, your influence and your supercilious paternalistic stance toward the rest of us, then consider the world of the Lord Protector:

"You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

[Don't worry about us. We'll be fine.]

No Need to Apologize, Sarah

Yesterday, I noted Chayye Sarah's critique of Bnei Akiva. Evidently, she caught it on the head for it and has now issued an apology. While I understand that some readers were a bit miffed by her generalizing, in effect, I believe that she hit the nail squarely on the head. Bnei Akiva is, and always has been, the spearhead of Religious Zionism. It, therefore, largely reflects the latter's achievements and ills. So, let's not get carried away defensively supporting Bnei Akiva. Instead, it would behoove Sarah's critics to take a long look at ourselves and admit our ills.

One of those ills is an obsessive, exclusive emphasis upon the importance of settlement in Eretz Yisrael.

Now, let me make this perfectly clear. I believe that only the Jewish People has any legitimate title whatsoever to Eretz Yisrael (including the East Bank of the Jordan). I, and my family, don't only talk the talk. We walk the walk, by living over the so-called Green Line. The Arab claim to any part of the country is specious and comes down to a Talmudic ממה נפשך. If our right is based upon Divine Right, a right attested to by Muslim tradition, there's nothing to discuss. If it's by dint of conquest, as they themselves argue, then we conquered them. Why does a victory in 635 CE trump Joshua, David and Solomon, the Maccabees and (more importantly) the IDF? [Please don't invoke Israel Finkelstein here. Eilat Mazar and others have effectively checkmated his minimalist interpretation of the Biblical record.]

That having been said, the following needs to be said.

In a famous lecture, the Rav observed that:

'Kedusha is generated only by closeness to God. Who is holy? Whoever is touched by the Holy One, by God's hand. But, the question arises, how can man exist in the proximity of God? The gemara (Ketubot 111b) asks, "Is it possible for man to cleave to the Holy Presence? Is it not a 'fire devouring fire?'" The gemara answers that we should associate with talmidei chakhamim, with Torah scholars. How can one feel the hand of God resting on one's shoulder, feel the breath of eternity on his face? - through the Torah! Halakha does not favor mystical union, in which one's identity is negated. How can one get close to God and yet preserve the full sense of personality, of encounter? The answer is through knowledge, the study of Torah.

The inherent sanctity of anything in the phenomenal realm is predicated upon its involvement in the Torah, in the commandments, in the Word of God. Without God, without His Torah, Hebrew is merely Western Amorite, Eretz Yisrael is Canaan, Jewish Chosenness borders on racism, and commandments become mere ceremonials. Happily, all of these have intrinsic, ineffable sanctity because God has commanded that they be central foci in His Service and in the fulfillment of His plans for Man.

They can, however, be abused and that abuse is aform of sacrilege. Ben-Yehudah was right. Hebrew was never intended to be a sacred tongue with no daily use. However, it is possible to defile it. Agnon wrote in Hebrew. David Grossman's recent screed was in Western Amorite (and this has nothing to do with Gilad Zuckerman's rather frivolous attempt to claim that Modern Hebrew is no longer related to its Biblical, Mishnaic and Rabbinic predecessors. I challenge him to read Chaucer (or even the Bard) with a commentary and then try to convince Oxford Dons that he didn't write in English).

Tangible sanctity inheres to Eretz Yisrael. That sanctity, however, as with every form of kedusha, bears obligations. It obliges the creation of a moral, just society thereupon, based upon the Torah. Indeed, in his lecture on Parshat Lekh Lekha, in the mid-70's, the Rav passionately declared the 'Eretz Yisrael does not tolerate immorality.' is not enough. It is our task to build that society. We sin against that vision, we undermine our settlement by allowing 'all of the evil maladies of Egypt' to flourish here.

We damage our hold on Eretz Yisrael when we sit, self-satisfied in our little ghettos and berate our secular brethren. We sin against God and His Torah, when we coerce others to abide by standards of conduct that no Tanna, no Amora, no Rishon and no Acharon required. summarily dismiss Most of all, we sin against Eretz Yisrael by not demanding of our leaders (and ourselves) that they acquire the cultural, intellectual tools to engage the wave of vicious, demagogic attacks that come our way incessantly. In no other way will we staunch the hemmorhage of the abandonment of Torah in our ranks.

Furthermore, has it no occurred to anyone that without belief, without conviction to Torah that we will lack the inner fortitude to face our enemies.

Has it occurred to no one, aside from Yisrael Harel, that it is precisely the absence of a deep and abiding awareness of the Jew's mission, and the heroic and sacrificial character of his existence, that is directly responsible for the orgy of self-doubt and self-destruction that grips the so-called elites (political, juridical, economic, academic, 'cultural', and journalistic)?

So, in fine, Sarah has a serious point. It is time to clean out the Augean Stables of Religious Zionism. It is time to redirect the tremendous energy of Bnei Akiva toward solidifying our existential and religious hold on Israel. It is time to fight for Qedushat Eretz Yisrael, by being a Qiddush HaShem, in order to redeem both banks of the Jordan.