Sunday, September 21, 2008

Who Shall Live....

[A very affecting video, courtesy of an outstanding Rav, R. Daniel Korobkin.]

Friday, September 12, 2008

My Hesbon ha-Nefesh be-Nefesh

The Gemora is most emphatic that when you offer constructive criticism, you should do so in a way that people can hear. Evidently, my recent post on NbN Olim and tremping did not fit that criterion. As one of my children noted, by the time the reader might get to the praise of NbN Olim, he or he was probably no longer reading.

So, let me make this short and sweet.

1) Nefesh b'Nefesh is the most blessed initative in the past twenty years. I have nothing but admiration and respect for all those who packed up to come here, despite their more comfortable lives in חו"ל. Koh le-Hai!!!!!

2) North American Olim can change this country, for the better. That requires, though, that they make a concerted effort to integrate into Israeli society and earn their bonafides. While Landsmanschaften are important, it's vital that the new olim not isolate themselves in homogenous communities. The life of this country depends on their not doing that.

3) Part of absorption is the conscious attempts to learn local mores and sensitivities. (E.g. Americans like to barge into conversations, Israelis are very sensitive to the need to say 'Hello' and 'Good Morning.') The tremping issue is part of that.

So, welcome welcome. Klita Kalah. If anyone wants tips on how to become integrated, just ask your Israeli neighbors (or some vatikim.)

Israel's Top 100

Haaretz published a list of the 100 most influential people in Israel.

Am I naive, or is it amazing ( dismaying and pathetic ) that in the Jewish state not one person whose power lies in the realm of ideas and the spirit is on the list?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Heshbon ha-Nefesh b'Nefesh (For Parshat Ki Tetzteh)

[Somehow, the major point of this post got lost. I have, therefore, highlighted it. I also highly recommend this excellent discussion of the halakhic parameters of hitch-hiking.]

It's Elul, and I'm in the midst of my annual attempt at self-introspection (חשבון הנפש). Sometimes, that effort leads in unexpected directions.

Yesterday, and today, much of my attention has been focused upon the phenomenon known as Nefesh b'Nefesh. It started as I was desperately seeking a tremp to the next town, in order to attend the opening parent's night for my 10 year old. It was hot, and muggy (at 6PM), and I was getting increasingly anxious as each car slowed down at the gate (there are traffic bumps), the driver made every effort to ignore me, and went on.

The first thing that came to mind was the Torah's admonition (in this week's sedra) against ignoring brethren in distress (Deut. 22, 1-4):

You shalt not see your brother's ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely bring them back unto your brother. And if your brother is not close to you, and you don't know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it, and you shalt restore it to him. And so shall you do with his ass; and so shall you do with his garment; and so shall you do with every lost thing of your brother's, which he has lost, and you have found; you may not hide yourself. You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen down by the way, and hide yourself from them; you shalt surely help him to lift them up again.

True, there are exceptions (cf. בבא מציעא דף ל' ע"א), but the obvious way that the drivers tried to ignore me (and the other tempist), while they sped by in their empty cars (and drove exactly where I was headed), was both hurtful and aggravating. I then noticed something else. The cars that whizzed by were almost all brand-new mini-vans, driven by new Oleh types. By contrast, the cars that slowed down and asked where I needed to go were always beat up, older cars (what we call מצ'וקמק), driven by native Israelis or veteran Olim. I found myself feeling really uncharitable about the new Olim, who receive their תעודת עולה and תעודת זהות on the plane; are welcomed by bands and adulating crowds; who are accompanied through the Israeli bureaucracy by a phalanx of aides and who (judging from the local chat list) are striving to create a self-possessed Teaneck on the Jordan.

Didn't anyone tell them that Israel isn't America? Here we're supposed to help each other, give each other rides (especially since Egged's service is underwhelming), intervene on behalf of people you don't know and try to integrate into Israeli society. I thought of a story my wife likes to tell of a co-worker whose parents were fairly well off and bought her a car when she got married. The woman felt awkward that she had something that so few of her friends had. So, she decided that the only thing to do was to make sure that she ALWAYS gave rides to trempistim (a fortiori to soldiers and Sherut Leumi girls). Evidently, I thought, in all the discussion of refrigerators and expensive imported tiles, no one told these guys any of the poitive ethos of life here.

Just then, a beat up car picked me up and offered to drive me to my destination. As I got in, Elul came back to haunt me. I remembered how fifteen years ago we made Aliyah alone. We were met by a little old lady from AACI, who said welcome home and come to our offices to meet with an Aliyah Counselor, because we didn't even know what questions to ask. She disappeared and we proceeded to face Misrad Ha-Pnim alone. (For years thereafter, instead of saying 'Go to Hell!' we used to say 'Go to Misrad ha-Pnim!'). With help from friends and family (and a lot of angst and סייעתא דשמיא), we were absorbed (as they say). We lived through the Oslo years, three wars, terror attacks, but also became (to the extent desireable) part of Israel. We earned the highest compliment an Oleh can receive (in this cae from Amnon Scapira): שהמבטא לא יטעה אותך. הם ישראלים בכל לשד עצמותיהם

Anyway, I then realized that what I was feeling was (to a significant degree), jealousy at the Nefesh b'Nefesh crew and their obvious devotion to Israel. They had it very good in the US and nevertheless made the choice to come here. They know just how tenuous things are here. Nevertheless, they came and they are coming. And they are coming just when American values and grit are just what the country needs to survive the gotterdammerung of the old elites. So, yes, they should learn humility and be taught that here we do for one another. Yes, they should be told that in order to make it here you can't look back. Nevertheless, Thank God and God Bless them.

They're coming, ve-khen yirbu.

I will have to work on my jealousy this Elul.

As I had this insight, and kept at my חשבון הנפש, I recalled that Rav Kook זצ"ל once pointed out that the Jews could only enter ארץ ישראל after they'd killed Og, king of Heshbon. Only after you kill your חשבונות is one ready to enter Israel. It's evidently true not only of the Olim, but of the ותיקים as well.

New Olim, Elul 5768 (Credit: Jacob Richman)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dirty Little Secrets

1) (In anticipation of Ben Chorin's take): We are in the midst of full-scale media attack on Justice Minister Daniel Friedman and his attempts to curb the Judicial Tyranny established by Aharon Barak, and dwarfs. Friedman's critics sound exactly alike, and prove the herd-like, and ultimately anti-Democratic character of the Israeli Anti-Jewish, Anti-Zionist Leftist establishment ('Everyone is entitled to my opinion.') They remind me of this brilliant scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian:

FOLLOWERS: Tell us. Tell us both of them.
BRIAN: Look. You've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we're all individuals!
BRIAN: You're all different!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!
DENNIS: I'm not.

If you want to know why Friedman is right (and likely the only good thing Olmert ['Club Fed Here I come'] has ever done), just re-read Judge Posner's devastating article,

2) Many of the leading pundits in Israel are extremely bitter, nihilists. They remind me of Sartre's humanist in Nausee, who loves humanity but noone in particular. Anyway, there are a number of reasons for their bitterness. Above all, though, is their awareness of their own profound mediocrity. Basically, I suspect they wish they lived in the US or Europe. However, while they can play the big fish here, abroad they wouldn't even make the bush leagues. So here they are stuck in this tiny parochial pond, with their outsized egos and dramatically underdeveloped educations and intelligence. Not a day goes by that the geniuses in Haaretz, Yediot, Maariv, Reshet Bet, Arutz 1, and elsewhere don't make elementarty mistakes in language, history, culture, art, music, and political science. (I would never suspect them of, God Forbid, knowing anything about Jewish Civilization.)
Frankly, I can't understand how truly gifted and informed journalists (e.g. Ehud Yaari, Smadar Peri, Yisrael Harel, Ari Shavit and a few other brave souls) survive in that terrarium.

The sad part is that they are the ones providing the public with information.

The good news is that most people I know don't treat them seriously.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Evil Can Be Stopped

Please God, the evil can be stopped. At least, this is the upshot of the letter by a soldier who threw people from their homes in Gush Katif. The text appeared in YNET, and the translation is taken from here:

Letter from an Israeli soldier
Translation from the Hebrew by Toby Klein Greenwald •
Posted: August 8, 2008

To the people of Gush Katif:

I’m sorry that I evacuated you. I took families out of their homes forever, I put them on busses that took them to nowhere. I sinned against them. I remember every picture I took down from the walls of their homes in Gush Katif. I remember every girl, every young woman and mother I instructed to leave home forever. Now, three years later, I, a soldier of the evacuation forces, was discharged a long time ago from the IDF, but I still haven’t freed myself from the disengagement. Therefore I write my feelings today.

On the third anniversary of the evacuation of Gush Katif, I want to ask forgiveness. I am sorry that as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, I took an active and actual part in removing Israeli citizens from their homes. I want to ask forgiveness from you, the families who were removed; forgiveness from the precious women who I, with my own hands, removed “with determination and sensitivity” from their homes; forgiveness from the earth, the blossoming fields, the green lawns and the homes filled with life, from whom her sons and daughters were torn in one fell swoop.

I want to ask forgiveness for my stupidity and ignorance, for the fact that you spoke and explained and cried and screamed and I didn’t listen, didn’t even try to listen — locked in my opinions and my viewpoint. Where is the mutual caring? I was educated in a school and a youth movement where they taught us about mutual caring toward all parts of the population. Where was this education in the disengagement? In the blind obeying of an immoral command? I am not hiding the responsibility for my actions, even though I did these things not as a private individual but as a representative of the government of Israel.

When I put the evacuated residents on busses, I believe that they had somewhere to go. To my sorrow, today they can be defined as “refugees.” The government of Israel, the same government that sent me to take them away, forgot them and its values. I am ashamed that I did not check out these things before the disengagement, that I didn’t know that my friends and I were putting them on busses to nowhere.

Today the facts are clear. A very large percentage of the people removed from Gush Katif were not settled in permanent communities, a very large number of them needed, then and now, psychological treatment and rehabilitation. Many families fell apart. Children dropped out of schools. Many of the members of the community are broken and depressed without income. I know this may be extreme, but I feel that every broken home that was not rebuilt, that every child that needs psychological help, that every family that was not financially rehabilitated — they are on my conscience.

How did I dare — I, a little person who never built anything in my life — to come and destroy with my own hands entire lives that people built with such great labor? I remember one Ethiopian family I evacuated. The father of the family gave candies to his little daughter the entire time to give to us, only so she would not be afraid of soldiers. He asked to speak with us and to explain to us that since he came from Ethiopia on Operation Solomon, he wandered in Israel from one caravan camp to another and only here, in Kfar Darom, did he finally succeed in establishing his family. He asked that we not remove him by force, that he wanted to walk out on his own. He took the hand of his little daughter and his suitcase and when he reached the threshold of the door he collapsed in tears and cries, grabbed the doorpost and simply could not let go. Where is he today? Has he overcome what we did to him? Has he found himself again wandering between caravans? I don’t know…

I ask myself many times, “How could we do such a thing? How is it possible to tear from their homes women and children, men and youth, with such cold-heartedness? How did my physical hands obey the mind?”

Perhaps the answer is: Disengagement. Disengagement between the brain and the heart. It appears this plan was really named for the alienation it will cause between those who carried it out, and between the State of Israel and its values. I’m only 24, and already I have this scar. I understand that I was a young and confused soldier, eager to carry out orders, and when it was over, months later, I was shattered. We were all shattered. All of my friends, even my commanding officers, we were devastated there in the Gush. Only when I returned home and I began to absorb what I had done, did I allow myself to cry.

So please forgive me. Today, as a citizen, I see it as my duty to help you in any way I can to extract yourselves from the distress into which I, as a representative of the state, have plunged you. I want to strengthen you during the long and painful rehabilitation that was forced upon you. I am writing so that no soldier will ever again agree to carry out such a command in the future, a command that is totally immoral. They always talk among us about humanism toward our neighbors, the Arabs, but what about our neighbors the Jews? Are we not one society, that should take care of all of its people? I do not forgive myself. I hope that you — dear evacuees — will forgive me.

The author’s full name and details are known only to the editors of She can be reached at . The full version of the letter was read Aug. 6 on Israeli radio.

The Evil Spreads (Part I)

Our (almost) indicted Prime Minister, at the insistence of our convicted sex offender, Deputy Prime Minister, has started discussions of how to expel 300,000 Jews from their homes (including this writer). The obscenity of it all leaves actually made my jaw drop.

Never mind that there is no deal with the PLO in the offing. Never mind that as time goes on it becomes ever clearer that Never mind that this government has no legitimate mandate to negotiate anything. Never mind that Kadima is full of criminals and half-wits. Never mind that the government is supported by the terminally ill Labor Party and an ostensibly religious party that never met a shekel it didn't worship (since it charges by the half hour).

How can they think about expelling 300,000 Jews, when thousands of refugees from Gush Katif are still in tents/caravans and temporary housing! The tale of the abuse of the Gush Katif refugees is unparalleled in Jewish History. Ruined Lives, destroyed families, drug use, juvenile delinquency, destruction of education have all been the lot of the hard-hearted, brutal treatment of the Jews of Gush Katif by the Sharton-Olmert-Livni-Yishai-Peretz/Barak government. Indeed, let's be frank, if Israel had committed the kind of crimes that it perpetrated against Jews to Palestinians, the ground would burn.

It didn't. After all, it's only Jews. No one in the elites gives a damn about them, especially religious Jews. Religious Jews sind unser umgluck. (Sound Familiar).

Convivenzia: Muslim Style

For those who still believe the in the fantasy of Muslim tolerance for other faiths (a myth concocted by German Jewish historians), consider this and this:

(September 6, 2008) Due to the Moslem month of Ramadan, Ma'arat HaMachpela is to be closed to Jews and open only to Arabs every Friday for the next month. Yesterday, the first Friday of Ramadan this year, thousands of Arabs gathered at this holy site, and desecrated it.
This morning, when Jewish worshipers arrived for morning prayers, they were shocked at what they discovered. Arabs had urinated next to the Holy Ark, containing Torah scrolls in the "Yeshenei Avot" hall and also tossed Hamas flags into the memorials for the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

This is a continuation of past desecrations at this holy site, despite the fact that it is supposed to be fully guarded with use of high-tech security cameras. Of course, no Arabs were arrested.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The God Who Made Me (For Parshat Shoftim)

The Talmud in tractate Ta'anit (fol. 20a-b) relates the following story:

תנו רבנן: לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז. מעשה שבא רבי אלעזר ברבי שמעון ממגדל גדור מבית רבו, והיה רכוב על חמור ומטייל על שפת נהר, ושמח שמחה גדולה, והיתה דעתו גסה עליו מפני שלמד תורה הרבה נזדמן לו אדם אחד שהיה מכוער ביותר. אמר לו: שלום עליך רבי! ולא החזיר לו. אמר לו: ריקה, כמה מכוער אותו האיש! שמא כל בני עירך מכוערין כמותך? אמר לו: איני יודע, אלא לך ואמור לאומן שעשאני כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית. כיון שידע בעצמו שחטא ירד מן החמור ונשתטח לפניו, ואמר לו: נעניתי לך, מחול לי! - אמר לו: איני מוחל לך עד שתלך לאומן שעשאני ואמור לו כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית. היה מטייל אחריו עד שהגיע לעירו. יצאו בני עירו לקראתו, והיו אומרים לו: שלום עליך רבי רבי, מורי מורי! אמר להם: למי אתם קורין רבי רבי? - אמרו לו: לזה שמטייל אחריך. אמר להם: אם זה רבי - אל ירבו כמותו בישראל. - אמרו לו: מפני מה? - אמר להם: כך וכך עשה לי. - אמרו לו: אף על פי כן, מחול לו, שאדם גדול בתורה הוא. אמר להם: בשבילכם הריני מוחל לו. ובלבד שלא יהא רגיל לעשות כן. מיד נכנס רבי אלעזר בן רבי שמעון ודרש: לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז, ולפיכך זכה קנה ליטול הימנה קולמוס לכתוב בו ספר תורה תפילין ומזוזות

Our Rabbis taught: Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar once came from the house of his teacher in Migdal-G’dor. He was riding leisurely on a donkey along the lakeshore and feeling pleased with himself that he was so learned. While in this mood, he chanced upon a man who was extremely ugly. Rabbi Simeon exclaimed, “Are all the people of your town as ugly as you are?” “Go to the Artisan who made me,” the man replied, “and say to Him: ‘How ugly is this vessel that You have made.’” As soon as Rabbi Simeon realized his error, he got down from his donkey and said to the man as he bowed low before him, “I submit myself to you. Forgive me!” “No!” the man replied. “I will not forgive you until you go to the Artisan who made me and say to Him, ‘How ugly is this vessel that You have made.’”

Rabbi Simeon followed the man until they reached the rabbi’s town. When they arrived there, the people of the town came forward to meet Rabbi Simeon and greeted him with the words “Peace be with you, Master!” The man then asked them, “Whom do you address as Master?” “The one who follows you,” they replied. He said to them, “If this man is a master, may there not be many like him in Israel!” “Why?” they exclaimed. “What did he do to you?” “He did such and such to me,” he answered. “Nevertheless, forgive him,” the people pleaded, “for he is a great scholar.” “I will forgive him,” the man said, “but on the condition that he never acts in this manner again.”

This story contains many important and profound lesson about arrogance, humility, compassion, repentance and forgiveness. On those grounds alone, it is most appropriate to consider during Elul. Unfortunately, in certain quarters, the same passage is frequently invoked in manner that distorts its meaning and undermines a fundamental principle of Judaism.

Allow me to explain.
In the story, R. Shimon humiliates a person because of an inherited physical trait that causes him discomfort and about which he can do nothing. All he can do is accept God's decree and cope the best way that he can. The man's response was a justification of God's decree (צידוק הדין) and (by implication) poses the question that the Rav זצ"ל asked in Kol Dodi Dofek, 'What shall a person do and live with his suffering?' His retort to R. Shimon was a sharp criticism against self-satisfied arrogance and insensitivity to the plight of others.

More recently, though,in order to justify activity that the Torah categorically prohibits, but for which they have a predisposition. Such a situations are tragic, and deserve every profound compassion and emotional support. They raise poignant questions of Theodicy: Why did was this specific person presented with this specific trial?

Indeed, we have no idea why people suffer. Nevertheless, as difficult as life circumstances are,
they do not validate a wholesale violation of the Torah. Individuals may feel impelled to act upon their desires, and transgress. In most cases, they can be seen as acting under coercion (ones). That is a matter between themselves and their Creator, and should remain there. Their actions, albeit, are sinful. They do not, God forbid, turn them into SINNERS, and their mitzvot remain mitzvot.
Actions are not the sum total of one's personna.
Those who invoke R. Eleazar b. Shimon, though, are basically adopting a 'post hoc, propter hoc' attitude. In other words, if God presented a person with forbidden temptations or desires, then that is a sign that He wanted them to be actively satisfied, irrespective of the Torah's interdiction. [What else could the retort: “Go to the Artisan who made me,” the man replied, “and say to Him: ‘How ugly is this vessel that You have made.’” mean in this connection?] In other words, by citing R. Eleazar here, one is arguing for the validation of behaviour that the Torah rejects.

Such a conclusion, such an argument is absolutely unacceptable for any form of Orthodoxy. The categorical rejection, in principle, of any commandment; the creation of social and religious forms that are based upon such a rejection place its advocates outside of Orthodoxy, no matter how modern.
As I said before, one's relationship with God is private, and how one lives up to the challenges that He places before us is even more private. Indeed, according to the Rambam, one may publically announce neither one's piety or one's transgressions (cf. Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuvah II, 5). One may not globally reject or condemn a person, within that context.
However, any attempt to regularize or normalize values that are absolutely and axiologically contrary to the Torah should not be entertained, under any circumstance. In such cases, as Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל famously declared, we are commanded to surrender to His inscrutible Will. As painful, as difficult, as unfathomable as His decision is, we are His servants must bend to His Will (and not, God forbid, vice versa).
That is the upshot of the most famous verses in this week's parsha (Deut. 17, 8-13):
If there arise a matter too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, even matters of controversy within thy gates; then shall you arise, and betake yourself up to the place which HaShem thy G-d shall choose.
And you shall come to the priests the Levites, and to the judge that shall be in those days; and you shalt inquire; and they shall declare to you the sentence of judgment.
And you shall act according to the ruling, which they shall declare to you from that place which HaShem shall choose; and you shall act in accordance with all that they shall teach you. According to the law which they shall teach you, and according to the judgment which they shall tell you, yuu shalt do; you shall not deviate from the sentence which they shall declare unto you, to the right hand, nor to the left.


The following dispatch from Yeshiva World News Speaks for itself:

SHOCKING: Rabbi Tendler Says Poskei Hador Not Talking Halacha, But Issuing Political Statement (מה אתה אומר?)

On July 9th, YWN was the first to report that Rabbi Moshe Tendler publicly ascended the Har Habyis - and published a set of photos. Haaretz and other media outlets followed. This week, Rabbi Tendler defended his visit in the Jewish Press, and claimed that Maran Hagon Rav Elyashiv's letter following his vist was a "political statement"and not talking Halacha.The following is the article which appears in this weeks Jewish Press: "The rabbanim are not talking halacha," Rabbi Moshe Tendler told The Jewish Press. "They're issuing a political statement."

Last week two leading haredi rabbis, Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, and former Sephardic chief rabbi Rav Ovadia Yosef, sent a letter to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich - who is in charge of the Western Wall area - asking him to reaffirm a 40-year-old ban on Jewish entry to the Temple Mount. The move came a month after Israel's Haaretz newspaper published photographs of Rabbi Tendler atop the Temple Mount, which set off a storm in the haredi community. Rabbi Tendler, a Yeshiva University rosh yeshiva and biology professor, is the son-in-law of the late Rav Moshe Feinstein, the leading American halachic decisor of his time."As time passed," the three rabbis wrote, "we have lost knowledge of the precise location of the Temple, and anyone entering the Temple Mount is liable to unwittingly enter the area of the Temple and the Holy of Holies."Rabbi Kanievsky added that "entrance to the Temple Mount, and the defilement of the Holy of Holies, is more severe than any of the violations in the Torah."

However, Rabbi Tendler argues that "everybody, certainly every rosh yeshiva and every talmid chacham, knows exactly" where a Jew may walk on the Temple Mount thanks to the research of such rabbis as the late Rabbis Shlomo Goren (former Israeli chief rabbi) and Yechiel Michel Tikochinsky.The letter's expression, "We have lost knowledge," Rabbi Tendler said, refers to the "99 percent of tourists" who walk in forbidden areas. "I wouldn't accuse the rabbanim of talking halacha," he said, "because then I'd have to accuse them of being am haratzim [ignoramuses]. The rabbanim, baruch Hashem, are talmidei chachamim and know exactly what I know I believe they're just backing up a government position."

In recent years an increasing number of rabbis have ascended the Temple Mount, including Kiryat Shmona Chief Rabbi Tzephania Drori, Ma'aleh Adumim rosh yeshiva Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, and Rabbi Dov Kook, who is married to Rav Elyashiv's granddaughter.The Yesha Rabbinical Council, headed by Rav Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba, published a ruling several years ago calling for Jewish ascension to the Temple Mount. "By refraining from ascending," the ruling read, "we are thereby declaring to the world as if we, God forbid, have no part in the Mountain of God - and we thus strengthen the Arabs' feeling that the Temple Mount is theirs."Rabbi Tendler said he has been ascending the Temple Mount for close to a decade. As per Jewish law, he immerses in a mikveh the day before his visit and does not carry a wallet or wear leather shoes while on the Mount.

Kol haKavod Rabbi Tendler, שליט"א!