Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Rav and the Red Sox

Gil reminded us all that Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל was a Red Sox fan. That's hardly a surprise, given the fact that he lived, and was enmeshed in the fabric of Boston Jewish life for over sixty years.

I once noted in a comment that all of us in Boston knew the Rav was interested in the Sox. Over the years, though, I've encountered two versions of his level of enthusiasm. (I just can't recall the sources, at the moment.)

One story has it that the Rav once started a meeting in Boston with an excited cmment about some recent development with the team (Something like: וואס מיינט איר וועגען די רעד סאקס!).

The other, somewhat milder story, has it that ythe Rav explained his expertise in the team stats by the intense interest in the Red Sox on the part of the members of his family (a fact to which I can attest personally).

Truth to tell, I find this intense interest (and reaction) to the human side of great people and, a fortiori, Gedole Yisrael to be amazing. We almost invariably put them into procrustean beds, and are then amazed at their humanity. I find this regrettable. Great men are alway 3 (or 4) dimensional, not 2.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Lesson from Rav Reuven Katz זצ"ל

Today marks the forty-fourth yahrzeit of HaRav HaGaon Reb Reuven Katz זצ"ל , the chief Rabbi of Petah Tiqva and the Rosh Yeshiva of the Lomza Yeshiva, there. He was, however, much more than that. He was a phenomenal ga'on in Talmud. He was hand chosen to to join Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer in the Yeshivah of Slutzk, and later studied privately with Reb Hayyim Ozer Grodzinsky זצ"ל. He was an awesome posek, and his collection of responsa דגל ראובן and the decisions preserved in the Rabbinate archives attst to that fact. In addition, he was a highly accomplished and incredibly influential leader and repreentative of Orthodoxy. It ws he who led the efforts to convince the Rav זצ"ל to accept the Chief Rabbinate in 1960. At the same time, it was said that , in the Yeshiva World, only Rav Aharon Kotler זצ"ל was on his level.

Though he was physically diminuitive, he was a spell-binding orator and darshan. His collected sermons, דודאי ראובן , are (or ought to be) a work of first reference for any Rabbi or layperson who wants to confront the deeper issues of the Parsha. In his sermons he reveals himself to be the absolute opposite of the cardboard גדול for which people search.

He was heart and soul, root and branch, a member of the Lithuanian Yeshiva World. His passionate orations in praise of and support of the Torah are incredibly inspiring. At the same time, he was passionately devoted to the resettlement of Jews in Eretz Yisrael (as borne out by his eulogy of Rav Kook in שער ראובן), and strove heroically to imprint Judaism on the character of the state in the making.

He cared very much not only about the Haredi world, but about every Jew. He had great faith in the survival capacity of the Jewish People, despite the ravages of the Holocaust.

In one place in Devarim, he says something that I hold on to with both hands. Consider two kings of Judah, in the time of the First Temple: Menashe and Zedekiah. The former was an evil, corrupt idolator, while the latter was a צדיק, a his name attests. Yet, the Temple was not destroyed, despite the depravities worked by Menahe and it was destroyed, despite Zedekiah's piety.

This conundrum disappears, said Rav Katz, when you admit that the people determines its destiny. The Jews in the time of Menashe were moral, upstanding and pious. Their devotion was what protected the people and the Temple. By the time of Zedekiah, though, the people had corrupted itself, and so the piety of the king was of no event.

Powerful words for our time, from one of the truly great gedolim of another era.

תהי נפשו צרורה בצרור החיים ותהא מנוחתו כבוד

Worth The Wait....

In the absence of a celebratory video for 2007, this one will do quite nicely (except that it's missing John Lester).


So hard to get used to. Were the Sox really going to sweep the Colorado Rockies? It's so har to believe. So, I admittedly stayed skeptical. After all, what member of the Red Sox Nation isn't a bit defensively skeptical (especially those who lived through this):

Nah. Never mind. At 6AM, I watched the incredible become truly believable. 2004 was not a fluke. Belief and perseverence pay off. Yankees eat yoah hahts out.


(Pigs will be flying on a regular basis)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Parallax Vision, or Secretary of State Rice

This article from Makor Rishon just came across my desk (thanks to Chana Sperber). It shows clearly the dangers of 'Cognitive Egocentrism.'

Joel Fishman
Makor Rishon 26 October 2007

The Personal Becomes Political:
The Attitudinal Prism of Condoleezza Rice

Last week in Jerusalem, U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, articulated some of her personal views which ultimately found their way into the press. For Dr. Rice the struggle of the Palestinians is analogous to that of the Afro-Americans for civil rights and she identifies with the Palestinians. She recalled what it meant to travel in segregated buses as a little girl in Alabama. She also compared the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to Reverend Martin Luther King, because, in her mind, both were committed to peace. According to reporter Aluf Benn, Rice views Abbas as committed to the struggle for Palestinian independence and, like Martin Luther King, opposed to terror and violence (Haaretz, October 16, 2007). Independently, David Bedein reported Rice's statements in The Bulletin (Philadelphia, October 17, 2007).

While this juxtaposition of the Afro-American campaign for civil rights and the Palestinian (armed) struggle seems strange, by using methods of political analysis it is possible to appreciate the significance of this type of information. Condoleezza Rice has given us the "Attitudinal Prism" of her decision-making process. Political scientists Gabriel Almond and G. Bingham Powell defined the term and explained its importance: "Men choose among alternative paths in accordance with their perception of the world in which they must act. The lens through which that setting is filtered may … be called the Attitudinal Prism. The content of that which they perceive is the Image. Together these constitute the Psychological Environment, the framework of choice, decision, and action. In foreign policy, as in all politics, the prism is shaped by three interacting variables—political culture, historical legacy, and the personality traits of the decision-makers."

It is clear that Rice personally considers that the Palestinians have a strong moral case and that Israel does not. Furthermore, she bases her views on her personal experience, drawing upon an analogy from the memories of her own childhood, particularly her identification with the Afro-American struggle for civil rights. According to Almond and Powell's analytical criteria, such attitudes are critically important because they become part of the decision-making process.

The problem is that Rice has adopted an incorrect analogy. Mahmoud Abbas was never a man of peace. It certainly would be a positive step forward if Rice could deal with the facts on their own merits and try to grasp why the Palestinians have reached their present situation. She should also face the fact that the Palestinians could have done much better had they refrained from launching the Second Armed Uprising in 2000.

Returning to the civil rights struggle, Condoleezza Rice's statements reveal that in her quest for a simple analogy, she forgot the one group that proved its friendship for the Afro-Americans. American Jewry unreservedly supported the civil rights struggle through participation and financial contributions. No other group in America demonstrated its commitment to social justice, as did American Jewry and its representative institutions. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a personal friend of Martin Luther King and marched with him. The Secretary of State should not forget that Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were martyrs for her people's cause, real martyrs – not to be confused with the terrorist murderers who blow up innocent civilians in public buses. The Afro-Americans did not win their campaign for civil rights on their own. They needed allies in Americans society, and the American Jewish community stood by them.

Further, Rice has overlooked a fundamental but not obvious, historical fact: Israel gave the world the idea that that all men are equal, because God created all men in His image. Israel also gave the world the principle that all men are equal under law. "One law and one ordinance shall be both for you and for the stranger that sojourns with you" (Numbers 15:16). This rule is called "isonomia". In Against Apion, written between 96-100 C.E., Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian, states that Moses "the Lawgiver" established this rule three thousand years previously, long before the Greeks (and well before the birth of the other two monotheistic religions). Josephus adds: "…. Persons who have espoused the cause of order and law – one law for all – and been the first to introduce them, may fairly be admitted to be more civilized and virtuously disposed than those who lead lawless and disorderly lives." (Against Apion II: 15, 151).

Josephus' statement explains why today many Palestinian Arab residents of Jerusalem stubbornly insist on remaining under Israeli rule. They prefer equality under law – even if they do not particularly care for the Jewish state. Israel's laws and legal system are still superior. And one should not forget that, if it were not for Moses "the Lawgiver," there could not have been a civil rights movement or a Reverend Martin Luther King.

Condoleezza Rice's Attitudinal Prism reveals a perception of the current situation which is limited by her personal experience and hopelessly superficial. It also lacks an awareness of history. Such perceptions, based on a false and oversimplified analogy, prevent the Secretary of State from seeing the facts objectively and dealing fairly, which are the prerequisites of statesmanship.

Dr. Joel Fishman is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Rav Yosef Engel: On Shemittah and How to Pasken

In reviewing Reb Shlomo Zalman's unbowderized sefer, Ma'adane Aretz, over Shabbat, I notice that three times in the introduction he refers to the statement of R. Joshua Falk (aka Sefer Me'irat Eynayim (SMA) or Perishah/Derishah) on Hoshen Mishpat 67:1 s-p. 2 that the blessings that the Torah guarantees for the sixth, seventh and eighth years only apply to the time when Shemittah is de-Oraita. Today, when it's at most de-Rabbanan (and possibly a midat Hassidut), there are no guarantees.

This led one of the greatest Poskim of the turn of the previous century, Rav Yosef Engel (Rav of Bendin and Cracow) to make the following declaration in his monograph, שביעית בזמן הזה (which was a defense of the Heter Mekhira, against the strictures of his mehutan, R.Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk). His point is exactly what I was trying to get across all of last week, and relects the philosophy of psak that I learned from מו"ר Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל and מו"ר Gedaliah Felder זצ"ל.

Zog Gornisht, Red Yiddish: No Canary

This was my late brother-in-law Larry's admonition. Loosely translated it means: Don't say a word. Beware of the Evil Eye!

Three in a row. One to go.

זאג גארנישט! רעד יידיש! קיין עין הרע ניט

Friday, October 26, 2007

Abraham's Greatest Trial

Common sentiment has it that of all of the ten trials undergone by Avraham Avinu, the Aqedah as the most difficult. After all, what could be more difficult than to acquiesce to God's command to offer up one's child, one's only child, who one loves, whose personality is so endearing and lovable as was that of Isaac. And, of course, generations of Jews have taken our Father Abraham's readiness to make ultimate sacrifices in the name of our ideals, for the Sanctification of God's Name in the World, as a model for imitation. (I discuss some of this here. The literature on the subject is just too massive to begin to cite. A simple Google produced over 100,000 hits and collections of further references.)

A teacher of mine in High School, though, once observed that Abraham's 'finest hour' is to be found in his defense of Sodom. Here he stood on very shakey ground, defending the right to live of the most depraved, self-indulgent, narcissistic and perverted societies since the Flood. Upon what did he base that defense, upon the possible existence of ten righteous men in Sodom?

What, though, were righteous people doing in Sodom? Why ten? Well, ten people would have constituted a significant presence, a community or 'edah' in Hebrew. Abraham evidently hoped that just as he had led thousands to repent, to abandon the depravities of idolatry and idolatrous self-worship, so such a minyan might be able to heal the spiritual rot that festered in the Sodomite body politic. If there were a minyan, Sodom might yet be saved. In the name of the possibility of Teshuvah, he was willing to stand up to God and bargain with Him.

In then end, Abraham won. God agreed to accept the possibility that a few good people can transform the most depraved, the most selfish and self-indulgent of cultures. The problem was, though, was that there was no minyan of Righteous men in Sodom. Either the former had given up on the cities of the plain, the latter had sunk so low as to be unsalvageable, or the former were unwilling to try (aside from Abraham) lest they be sucked in by the Sodomites.

Avraham Avinu, who apparently thought that his nephew could do the job, was willing to hold out hope for the cities of Sodom, Amorah, Adma, Tzvoyim and Tzoar. It was only when he saw that sometimes men just fig themselves a whole too deep that he accepted God's judgment and sadly, crushed, returned home. A Pyrrhic Victory indeed.

אחרי רבים להטות

Two to One is as good as Thirteen to One.

GO SOX!!!!!!!!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Of Frummkeit and Krummkeit

When the Rov זצ"ל attended the funeral of his friend, Rav Aharon Kotler זצ"ל, he was pushed to the back of the hall and physically stopped from delivering a eulogy. A talkbackist to this posting, referred to Rav Goren זצ"ל in a most uncomplimentary manner. This, in turn, elicited the following wise words from QED:

As a practicing MO Jew, I have nothing against frumkeit per se. On the contrary, I consider the present flourishing of the Jewish religion to be a highly positive phenomenon. After being told by non-Jews and 'enlightened' Jews for the past two centuries that we are doomed to extinction, it is heart-warming to see the exact opposite happening. Even academia, that bastion of secular liberal humanism, is starting to recognize the power and importance of religion in Jewish and non-Jewish society.

Nevertheless, this revival is not without its uglier aspects. One of these is the phenomenon of self-appointed 'defenders of the faith' who disparage and disgrace talmidei chachamim, gedolim and rabbis who are not 'frum' enough in their mind. The most extreme expression of such fanaticism is of course the small group of Me'ah She'arim kana'im (obviously I refer to a group within Meah She'arim, not all of its residents) who viciously attack all but the most stringent authorities. At times, this even leads to physical violence, as when some kana'im physically assaulted Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel, when he attended and spoke at Rabbi Isser Zalaman Melzer's funeral in 1954.

Most of the expressions of this disparagement do not reach this level, although they are no less digusting and disgraceful. One such phenomenon is the use of the term 'JB' for Rav Soloveitchik or referring to Rabbis without their proper title, like a recent comment on My Obiter Dicta's post about authorities on heter mechira referred to Rav Shlomo Goren.

It goes without saying that such people would go apoplectic if one referred to the Brisker Rav or the Hazon Ish in like form. That this is utterly hypocritical and disgusting also goes without saying. It is also contrary to halacha, which did not make kavod talmidei chachamim and the issur of bizui talmidei chachamim contingent on agreement with their halachic opinions, though I'm sure many have tried to be metaher that sheretz. Worse still, by allowing the use of ad hominem and insults against Rabbis one doesn't like, the more stringent sections of the Orthodox community are burning whatever bridges of common dialogue remain between them and the 'insufficiently frum' crowd. Nay, it undercuts the very fabric of halachic dialogue and 'friendly disagreement' on which I believe normative Orthdox Judaism rests. Otherwise we are no different than the various murderous sects of tzadikim the Netziv lamented in his intro to Sefer Bereishit. It pains me immensely that it has come to this.

I don't care what your opinion is on heter mechira, kashrut, or whatever halachic issue gets your goat. You have an unequivocal halachic obligation to respect the authority and person of Rabbis who hold differently. Otherwise, you're not much different from the thugs who attacked Rav Herzog - in other words, you're just a common self-important bully.

Frummkeit, Reb Yeruham Gorelick זצ"ל used to say, is Krummkeit.

O Tempora! O Mores! O Annus Sabbatum!

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rabbinate must allow for the allocation of Hechsherim based upon the Heter Mekhira. Personally, I am very sad that it came to this, because the Israel Supreme court is the absolutely last government agency that I want to see having any say in the future of the Torah. This certainly the case as the government works to foist more non-Orthodox conversion options on the population.

Indeed, it need not have come to this.

1) After all, as I pointed out below, what were Tzohar and Emunah asking for? They wanted a credible halakhic option to be made available. That's all.They wanted to prevent people from erring and transgressing. How? If you use Otzar Bes Din, you need to treat the produce בקדושת שביעית. Most people don't have a clue how to do so. So they buy produce and desectrate it unknowingly. If the Heter is implemented, at least that burden is removed, as the people will rely upon those Poskim who support it. Those who don't wish to do so, תבוא עליהם ברכות רבות מידו הרחבה ית'. [ It's not unlike an Eruv. No one forces anyone to carry if they don't hold by the Eruv. Those who do, though, יש להם על מי לסמוך.]

2) It might, however, be objected that יבול נוכרי is available. True. Is that, however, conscionable? The Arab suppliers have been known to cheat the Jews on this by supplying over priced 8th rate produce. The produce from Aza and the PA pays for terror (as the PA and the Hamas extort huge sums from their own people). This last point was laid out very cogently by Rav Shlomo Aviner, here.

This, in turn, reminded me of a story involving my beloved friend, and erst-while חברותא, Rabbi Dr. David Ha-Levi Applebaum זצוק"ל הי"ד (which I confirmed last night with his wife). David, as a loyal talmid and בן-בית, of Rav Ahron Soloveitchik זצ"ל, did not rely upon the Heter Mekhira. We once had a very, errrr, lively discussion on the matter. At the end he said: 'You're right. But I want to do it (i.e. not rely on the heter). So, what did he do? He travelled. He drove all over Israel: Bet Shean, Gush Qatif ע"ה, the Aravah, Eilat. You name it. However, he would never, ever bring יבול נוכרי into his house. The most he would do was, in case he needed to go out to eat, he would only go to a Mehadrin restaurant (יבול נוכרי) and would say he was going to go eat treif! (Oh, how I miss him!)

3) A Haredi apologist recently offered the following defense of coercing all Jews in Israel to reject the Heter Mekhira:

Later Shmittah years saw increasing number of farmers follow suit. Seven years ago, the number of acres left untilled had risen more than 200-fold from the 60s, to 55,000. This year, 3000-3500 farmers will be observing Shmittah, and 100,000 acres are expected to be left fallow in accordance with the Torah’s direction. Every major Orthodox kashrut-certification agency in North America approves only Israeli produce hewing to the highest Shmittah standard.

The reasons for the growth of Shmittah-observance are several, among them a general trend toward greater observance, recognition of the ad-hoc nature of the heter mechira, and the experience of farmers who not only did not suffer for their Shmittah observance but experienced unusual blessings.

To this half story, my neighbor, friend and colleague Professor Moshe Koppel replied:

1. Every individual and community has the right to set stringent standards for itself. But often these standards are such that they can be observed by a particular community only if the majority of people do not observe them. In plain English, much of the frumkeit of charedi communities in Israel is predicated on the fact that most Israelis are secular. I won’t go through the whole tired list of examples. This raises many basic questions about whether the Torah is intended as a way of life for the whole nation or is inherently limited to a frum minority supported by a minority of Jewish shabbos goyim. It may be that in the end many will decide, legitimately, that their stringencies trump global considerations, but the cost of that position might merit a few moments of reflection, none of which is evident in this article.

2. It is true that a small number of farmers can afford to take a year off and be supported by charity. But this is not a general solution. When you suddenly diminish the supply of produce with no parallel diminution in demand, there is more than a local bump in prices. Outside suppliers quickly take advantage of the situation, prices spiral upward along the whole supply chain, foreign customers abandon Israeli suppliers for more stable markets, and the whole agriculture-related economy can collapse. You might not personally know anybody who will lose their livelihood as a result but they are out there. In light of this, perhaps some of the rabbanim who are willing to sell twenty bucks worth of lokshen so their congregants can head off to Florida for Pesach without too much of a headache might have another look at the issue.

4) Finally, I just don't understand those rabbis who refuse to offer the Heter Mekhira option. In the local chat-list, I've been debating this issue for three days now. The borttom line, as I see it is what I responded to one letter:

My comments were directed solely at two issues: 1) The propriety of blocking legitimate recourse to a speific heter, when that places intolerable burdens on the community (something I learned from the Rov, in the name of Reb Hayyim) 2) My surprise at the news that Reb Shlomo Zalman זצ"ל , endorsed the legitimacy of the HM (as late as 1984), though he did not personally rely upon it.

When I had shimush in psak from the Rov זצ"ל and מו"ר Rav Gedaliah Felder זצ"ל, the author of the monumental series יסודי ישורון, the operative principle I learned was always to be מחמיר for oneself and try to be מיקל for others. This was summed up by a story the Rov told us on a number of occasions.

When Reb Moshe Soloveichik זצ"ל left for his first Rabbonus in Rassein, Reb Hayyim told him that a Rov has to do three things: א רב דארף גומל זיין חסד, א רב דארף לערנען תורה, און ניט פאסקענען פחות פחות מכשיעור פאר א חולה שיש בו סכנה יום כיפור.

עד כאן.

For Love of Fenway

Here and there, you see them. They are wearing this sublime, deeply felt, yet cautious and lonely smile. They are Boston Red Sox fans, who live in Israel. Many of us remember the Impossible Season of 1967, which ended with Yaz flying out and we muttered: 'Hullio Havier is a Herk.' Others remember Pudge Fisk's tie-breaking homerun in the 11th inning against Cinncinnati, screaming 'We're Number One' all night in Kenmore Square, only to lose the seventh game.

And so it went until 2004. When pigs finally flew (Ad astra per alia porci), and the Babe's curse was consigned to the trash heap of history, and the Sox finally did it, we Red Sox fans exulted in this world (and, I suppose, the next).

It was, however, very lonely for us abroad. Here, few people seemed to care. The Israelis didn't have a clue. Most American Israelis came from that 'other place.' I wore my Sox cap to school, and felt a bit foolish. That is, until a Law Student who was not alive in the magical year of 1967 (0r 1975 or 1987, for that matter), came up to me with tears in her eyes and said: 'Thank you. I was up all night watching the game and talking to my sister in Newton. When I got off the phone, I felt so alone, it was unbearable.' I commiserated with her and we both felt better and a lot less lonely.

So, here we are again. The Sox crushed the Rockies in the first game, and we have three more to go, Inshallah. We, the loyal fans of the knghts of Fenway Park, need to reassure and support one another. So, I'm going to start sporting the colors today and hope others will do so as well.

It might not help, but it certainly won't hurt.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

והיו עיניך רואות את מוריך

Rav Shmuel Mohilever זצ"ל

Rav Yitzhok Elchonon Spector זצ"ל
In an absolutely brilliant piece, on the inimitable Seforim blog, Rabbi Chaim Rappoport of London exposes the efforts to bowdlerize R. Shlomo Zalman's Auerbach זצ"ל's book on Shmittah, because he validates the Heter Mekhira (without, himself, endorsing it). As it turns out, the group of Gedole Torah who either endorsed or acnowledged the validity of the Heter Mekhira included a galaxy that make you shake when you invoke their names.

I hope that this won't be taken as grandstanding, but here they are:

Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik זצ"ל

Rav Avraham Yitzhak ha-Kohen Kook זצ"ל

Rav Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל

R. Isser Y. Unterman זצ"ל

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank זצ"ל Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer זצ"ל

Rav Shaul Yisrael זצ"ל

Rav Shlomo Goren זצ"ל
(Thanks to Eretz Tzvi)

12 Marheshvan

Today is the twelfth anniversary of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin ז"ל.

The airwaves are full of people concerned that that horror does not happen again.
Required reading for the day:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

קרדום לחפור בו את ראש חברך

Let's get this out in the open. This Shemittah has, for various reasons, been a disaster (and it's only 9 Marheshvan). The Rabbanut and its Haredi handlers have colluded to cause most Jews to violate Shemittah, and sin, by effectively outlawing the Heter Mekhirah. This has also incurred millions and millions of dollars of loss to the economy. It has created a Hillul HaShem of new proprtions. In addition, the efforts to create an effective alternative through Otzar Bet Din has failed miderably. There's no food, no vegetables and no fruit (though the latter isn't even relevant until Tu BiShnat). On Shabbat, we were informed that Heter Mekhira produce and Otzar Bet Din Produce was mixed up and therefore everyone has to accept all the humros of everybody else.

Worse still, the local chat-list has been burning up over the very propriety of the Heter Mekhira. This was my most recent exasperated response.

Let me put things this way. The argument over the Heter Mekhira is almost 130 years old. In its various forms, it has been endorsed by Gedole Torah who dwarf ANYONE alive today. It was also opposed by Gedole Torah who dwarf ANYONE alive today.

What, then, are mere mortals to do?

First, given that both options are legitimate, it is absolutely illegitimate to delegitimize either the supporters or the opponents of the Heter Mekhira. It is certainly patently forbidden to coerce vast sectors of the Jewish population to accept one option or the other, if their behavior reflects the considered opinions of Gedole Torah. Consider this. In the name of what is, at most, a de-rabbanan (Shemittah) these people are forcing others to commit a slew of de-Oraytas (Sinat ha-Torah, Sinat Hakhamim, Hillul ha-Shem, Hakhshalat ha-Tzibbur etc.)

Second, as opposed to the denizens of the rabbanut, real Gedole Torah respect the views of their colleagues. Let me provide a case in point. A disciple of מורי ורבי Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל approached him on the eve of his Aliyah and asked him what to do about שמיטה. Now the Rav personally opposed the idea of the Heter Mekhira, for reasons of both family tradition (i.e. the opposition of the Bet HaLevi and Reb Chaim Brisker) and reasons of principle. In fact, I remember vividly that when were learning Qiddushin in the Summer of 1973 we encountered a Rashi (41b s.v. Terumatan) that prompted the Rav to comment, regarding Shemittah, that 'No one is a Ba'alim i.e.owner on Eretz Yisroel to sell it to a Goy.' [BTW, this is the other side of his much mis-quoted statement about territorial compromise.]

In any event, to the talmid who asked, the Rov replied: 'Do you sell your Hametz?' the talmid answered: 'Yes.' 'So,' offered the Rov, 'if you can rely on a mekhira for a din de-oraysa (i.e, owning Hametz on Pesah), you can certainly rely on a mekhira for a din-derabbanan (i.e. Shemittah). Now, this does not mean, God forbid, that the Rov retracted his own position. He did, however, deeply respect the views of other Gedolim and saw no problem in having his own talmidim rely upon their rulings. On the contrary, as opposed to the denizens of the Rabbanut and their Haredi handlers, he absolutely refused to impose his opinion on others, especially le-humra. What is more, he openly advocated the use of Etrogim that grew during Shemittah on the following Sukkot, on principled halakhic grounds. [ I might add that one of the Rov's leading talmidim has told the above story, while under the mistaken impression that the questioner was some layperson and not a fellow talmid. Unfortunately, that vitiates the point and the lesson should be adjusted accordingly.]

Let me make this clear. I deeply respect anyone who uses Otzar Bet Din or is stringent about treating all produce as Qadosh be-Qedushat Shevi'it (funding the murderers of Jews, as the Badatzim do, is quite another matter). However, no one has the right to coerce the Jewish People to abandon a decision of Gedole Yisrael in order to impose their own opinion. No one has the right to do mitzvos oyf yenems playtzes (as Reb Yisroel Salanter once said.) No one has the right to להכשיל את הרבים. As the Netziv says in the Introduction to Bereshit, God does not tolerate such pseudo-Tzaddiqim.

Neither should we.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our Noah Feldman

It's now official. The Religious-Zionist community in Israel has its own Noah Feldman. His name is Hanoch Daum, one of the more gifted young journalists. (As he lives in nearby Alon Shvut, he's also something of a neighbor.) He recently published a gut-wrenching, personal expose ('אלקים לא מרשה' or 'God Does Not Allow') in which he laid bare the dirty laundry of the world in which he was raised, and the process that led to to living as a 'reverse Marrano;' i.e. Religious on the Outside, secular in private.

As opposed to Feldman, Daum's excruciatingly frank apologia pro vita sua is not an arrogant, self-serving manifesto, though he does present the reader with a demand for validation, on his terms. As one reviewer summed it up:

What Daum seeks is to observe religious commandments out of love, not fear. He wants to put on tefillin when he feels like it, to have Shabbat dinner but sit down at the computer afterward. Many secular readers may not understand what the fuss is about. All this pathos for a swig of Coke on Yom Kippur? Many of them would prefer a clear-cut message at the end of the book. They would like to see the author tossing away his skullcap and leaving Gush Etzion. But Daum wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He has learned to write trendy Hebrew with no trace of a "religious accent." His imagery stems from secular culture. "I am a loaded gun of doubt and longing," he writes on two different occasions.

Like Feldman, Daum does present his community with some serious questions. In Feldman's case, he forced the Modern Orthodox Community to question its priorities, especially regarding the relationship between Torah and General Culture and Society.

Daum, on the other hand, highlights the unbending and absolute identification of Judaism with 'the question of Eretz Yisrael' (עניין ארץ ישראל). He points out the unforgivingly high standards of religiousity that are set by the religious leadership of the Religious Zionist Community, and its educational institutions. His own experience, as one afflicted by OCD, sheds light upon the obtuseness of religious educators to the personal needs of their students.

As he himself writes:

"Maybe everything is fine in our sector. The social and political Jewish and religious codes - all perfect. But we will never know for sure unless we start out from the very opposite assumption: that we are settlers by inertia, religious by inertia, and above all, suffer from a huge, almost existential, superiority complex. We live with a sense of self-righteousness, harboring the insufferable belief that we know something others don't, and should the day ever come when everyone will think the way we do, we will all be better off. We think that everyone should keep the laws we keep, observe the commandments we observe, and have a political agenda with the same priorities we have."

Obviously, while I am truly sorry to see Daum's pain, I do not accept his solutions. However, I sincerely hope that the members of the 'sector' (as it styles itself) will not dismiss his story, and undertake the appropriate חשבון הנפש.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oh Jerusalem: Stating the Obvious

Nadav Shragai, a columnist for Haaretz who has not 'gone native,' lays out the obvious implications of the Haim Ramon/Avigdor Lieberman plans to divide Jerusalem. The operative paragraph is:

Those who give the Palestinians control over the Temple Mount, the "outlying neighborhood" next to the Western Wall, will no longer be able to pray in peace at the Wall, or hold Memorial Day ceremonies or induction ceremonies for paratroopers there; nor will they be able to ensure the safety of the president or prime minister should either wish to participate in such ceremonies. Imagine the street battles in the alleys of Sajiyeh and Beit Hanun, in the Gaza Strip, transferred to the ancient streets of Jerusalem, which today teem with Jews. Think about how bar-mitzvah ceremonies or wedding pictures could be held at the Western Wall, or even plain old visits to place a note in the cracks, if Palestinians "controlled" the area a few hundred meters away.

This is not right-wing paranoia. It is actually a respectful evaluation of the sincerely held beliefs of the Muslim world, generally, and the Palestinians, particularly. Want proof, consider this.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Oh Jerusalem! Oh al-Quds!

All of Israel (except the Israelitische burghers um-Mosaische glaubens at Haaretz) are in shock over the declaration by PA presidential advisor Sheikh Adnan al-Husseini (from the people who brought you Mufti Haj Amin 'Itbah al Yahud' al-Husseini, Abdel Khader al-Husseini, Faisel 'Trojan Horse' al-Husseini and Yassir 'There was Never a Jewish Temple on Haram a Sharif' Arafat al-Husseini) that the Palestinians will never cede sovereignty over the Al-Buraq Wall, which is an integral part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Never heard of the Al-Buraq Wall? Well, Jews know it as the Kotel Ha-Ma'aravi. In other words, after Haim Ramon and Co. have abdicated the Temple Mount, the Palestinians want the Kotel.
This is not surprising. The overwhelmingly dominant Muslim belief (irrespective of history, which is irrelevant in this context) is that there was never a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and that the Jews have absolutely no rights to pray there or nearby (just as they have no rights to the Cave of Machpelah or Kever Rachel). For infidels to pray at Muslim holy places is a blasphemy against God and Muhammad. Thus, it is a non-negotiable item.

What do the Israelis respond? Well, the so veddy veddy sophisticated are saying good riddance to a piece of architecture that stands in the way of progress. Others, like the genius on the mid-day news, in their typically myopic and blatantly paternalistically racist fashion, refuse to take this claim seriously. It must be a negotiating stance, they say. Why? Well, in my opinion, since they don't believe in anything, they can't imagine that anyone else does.

Anyone who knows anything about Islam (just watch Hoda TV), however, is well aware that Muslims are profoundly and militantly loyal to their fundamental beliefs. They will, mirabile dictu, sacrifice their lives in order to defend and advance those beliefs. No amount of money will get them to abandon those beliefs.

The nullification of Judaism, the Islamic character of Jerusalem, and the irrevocable right of Muslims to rule every square inch of what ever was the Dar al Islam are esential components of Muslim belief and policy. Sheikh Adnan al-Husseini just stated the obvious.

Are we listening? In a recent review of Shmuel Berkowitz' book on the Temple Mount, in Azure, Emmanuel Navon writes:

In the end, Israeli Jews must make a choice between claiming their Jewish past and relinquishing it altogether. Throughout recent history, some have believed that by choosing the latter option, they would finally be left in peace. But as history has shown, the opposite is true: Denying our past, as well as our historical mission as a people, is as hopeless an act in our own land as it was in exile. Instead, the time has come to reclaim our past--indeed, to fight for it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Our Twenty Percent (Part I)

An acquaintance of mine, who happens to be a Psychiatrist, once observed that many people suffer from unnecessary stress and anxiety that are brought on by frustration at things over which they have no control (e.g. traffic jams). People, he offered, would be much better off if they concentrated on their twenty percent, the portion of their lives over which they have some degree of control and influence. (Or, if you wish, one should adopt the philosophy advised by the Serenity Prayer.)

When you live in Israel, especially, this is more easily said than done. The culture, garrulous and raucous in character, conditions you to rail for or against things over which you really have very little impact. On the other hand, it is very difficult to know wherein lies one's own twenty percent.

I was thinking about this quandry today, as I watched the introduction leading up to the opening of the winter session of the Knesset. Olmert's government has already as much as announced that it is prepared to: a) Divide Jerusalem and thereby expose the Jewish sections to ongoing terror or worse b) Hand the Temple Mount and other sacred places to the Jordanians (whose record between 1949 and 1967 was horrific) c) Withdraw from over 92% of Judea and Samaria (leaving over175,000 more Jews homeless) and d) Allow for the return of some so-called refugees to Israel. In order to save his 'Diplomatic Initiative,' the government refuses to protect the Jews of the south from daily, incessant missile attack. In addition, the Prime Minister is under criminal investigation on four counts.

Despite all of this, the political commentators are all united in their opinion that the government will not fall and that there will not be elections in the foreseeable future. The reason is simple. Even though every poll shows widespread disgust with Olmert and opposition to his policies, the members of the Knesset, who know that most of them will not be returned to office, are more concerned with their status and perks than with the will of the people. At best, as with Shas and UTJ, they are more interested in their narrow interests than those of the people, at large. So, Olmert can buy them off. The PM himself, incorrigibly corrupt and cynical, is protected by the media as long as advances their Post-Zionist agenda.

So many times I have thought of Oliver Cromwell's words to the Rump Parliament: '
"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!" However, whereas Cromwell was a political leader and could act on his words, for the average Israeli, they are just more bluster. Bringing down the government, at present, does not appear to be within anyone's twenty percent (not even that of Bibi Netanyahu).

I fear that we will pay a terrible price for this. It would be healthier for us all, though, if we acknowledge our own impotence and seek out that which we can do.

More on that, later.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yofi Lekha Mizbe'ah

Last Night, I participated in a Tiqqun Layl Hoshana Rabbah that was sponsored, inter alia, by Ma'ale and Bar Ilan's Makhon Ha-Gavoha le-Torah and held at Hekhal Shlomo. My topic was: A Vision for Our Times: Rav Soloveitchik on Zionism, Torah and the Redemption of Man's Soul (in Hebrew). I was gratified that over 250 people attended the session, which went from Midnight to 1AM. I am sure that most of the people there had never been exposed to the Rav's thinking on the relationship between Law and Spirituality and the place of a broad education in that context. Given the audience, using על אהבת התורה וגאולת נפש הדור as my text, I made a point of highlighting the problems that inhere both in religious subjectivism and in pan-Halakhism. (Unfortunately, I never got to Zionism. Maybe, next time.)

The leitmotif of the talk was the Rav's assertion that Judaism does not accept the Law of the Excluded Middle. We live our lives as Jews on a spectrum that vacillates between obedience and surrender, and individual striving and spirituo-intellectual self-realization and self-expression. There is no necessary resolution to the dynamic tension between these two poles. On the contrary, it allows us to best develop ourselves as servants of God and as those created in Imago Dei. There are no instant resolutions, and it's time we gave up waiting for them.

In a shiur he gave on Erev Hoshanah Rabbah in 1969, the Rav noted that it is highly significant that the aravot with which the Temple altar was circled were then set up around the altar, and the people would exclaim(Sukkah 45a): Yofi lekha Mizbe'ah! You are beautiful, O Altar! The Rav observed that the emphasis on the altar is indicative of the sacrificial nature of Jewish existence, of the struggle to offer our lives and desires to Him, and to thereby realize ourselves most fully.

I expanded upon this by saying that the aravot are placed upright around the altar. Each stands on its own. However, it also bends over toward the altar. Thus, each individual must strive to develop his own individual relationship with God, striving to climb ever higher. At the same time, however, he must be ready to surrender to God, to admit the limits of his ability and comprehension. The dialectical movement of individual striving and acceptance of God's ultimate Truth, even if we do not understand that Truth, is at the heart of Judaism's inner beauty.

יופי לך מזבח!
Gut Kvitl! פתקא טבא.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Qohelet for Our Times

Ben Chorin, in his inimitable style, has issued a clarion warning as to the possible outcome of the present situation in Eretz Yisrael. Briefly stated, the fading Ashkenazic, Leftist elite is bent on Jewish and National self-destruction; ready and willing to sacrifice us all on the Moloch of their Peace fantasies. [How ironic that so many of us who want to be here have what these people want most? An American Passport.]

I share his angst. No matter what we seem to do; no matter how much we protest or vote, we can't seem to rid ourselves of this group of people who have a lock on academia, the media and the courts. They corrupt the democratic process. They have created an Orwellian world of disinformation, where Jews and Judaism, or Israel's very right to exist have a place. The public discourse is awash with self-incrimination and, yes, out and out antisemitism, masquerading as sophistication.

As we read last Shabbat, הבל הבלים אמר קוהלת הבל הבלים הכל הבל.

הבל, which is usually translated as vanity, really means something lacking in substance. The trouble is that הבל can appear quite real. It sucks you in and corrupts you. As the prophet Jeremiah observed (2, 5): 'Thus says the Lord: What wrong have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone so far from Me, and have followed הבל, and became הבל themselves?'

So it is with the arrogant intellectual and cultural narcissism of Israel's so-called leaders and elite. They follow הבל. They have become totally insubstantial. When the first wind comes, they buckle under and run. How very pathetic. How very tragic. How very deadly.

I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. Like most people I know, who acknowledge the existence and power of God, I believe that He will show us the way to survive and to thrive in His Land. History, God's record of running the world, bears out this belief. No one, after all, ever thought that the great and powerful Soviet Union, the 'Evil Empire', would fall and that millions of Russian Jews would come to live here (or seek out their Yiddishkeit there). Who is A. B. Yehoshua and Gidon Levy, compared to Mikhail Suslov? Who is Ehud Olmert, or Tzippi Spitzer, compared to
Leonid Brezhnev? If the latter have been reduced to a footnote, so will the former.


סוֹף דָּבָר הַכֹּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים יְרָא וְאֶת מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי זֶה כָּל הָאָדָם:
The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear G-d, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man. (Eccles. 12, 13)

A Gut Kvittel!