Saturday, September 30, 2006
Thursday, I received a copy of the Machzor Massoret HaRav. This morning, I finally had a chance to really sit with it. I started with the introduction, to see what the editors' conscious and stated motives were in producing the work. (Though I am very wary of falling victim to the Intentionalist Fallacy.) All of a sudden, my heart sank. My beloved teacher, Rabbi Dr. Isaiah Wohlgemuth is listed there as 'zl.' Now, I knew he'd been ill, but I could not believe that the Boston grapevine would have missed his passing.
After Shabbat, I checked the SSDI, but found nothing. I checked the Obituary Data bases, nothing. I finally wrote to some local landsleit to see if they'd heard anything. Both told me that Rabbi Wohlgemuth is in an old age home in New Jersey and still very much alive, though ailing.
I assume that this was an honest mistake. Nevertheless, I am still very shaken. What would it have required to check and see if someone is still with us before going to press?
Before pronouncing someone 'z'l' it behooves a writer to check his facts first.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Greater powers thought differently. The events of the past decade (and the past year, in particular) have thrown Religious Zionism into a tailspin. The renewed interest in Kol Dodi Dofek is, without a doubt, a result of people looking for an alternative, religious approach to Zionism. Making it available in English has expanded the dialogue around its ideas and spurred both Israelis and non-Israelis to be more creative in making sense out of our present circumstances.
It is in that context that I was very excited, and moved, to see the new issue of Tradition that is devoted to Kol Dodi Dofek, in which some of the best minds and souls in our community participated. Barukh HaShem.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
I think there's more to this than meets the eye.
The late Jacob Katz, in his book Out of the Ghetto, tried to determine when truly secular behavior began to manifest itself among the Jews of Europe. Certain historians had suggested that the level of observance (or the lack thereof) was the best barometer. Katz disagreed. He argued, cogently, that the lack of observance per se is not the issue. The determinative question is how does the miscreant understand his actions. A person who desecrates the Sabbath, but who defines himself as a 'bad Jew,' is still part of the traditional community, because he still subscribes to its value system. However, once a person justifies his lack of observance on the grounds that it represents a correct/progressive/modern Judaism, then he can be deemed to have left the traditional fold.
Recently, the Orthodox community has been all abuzz about various modes of behavior that are 'justifiable' halakhically or that require the Torah to adjust itself to more 'ethical' or 'enlightened' modes of thinking. In some cases, there really is room for adjustment, but not endless room. In other cases, there is absolutely no room for movement. That is not a pleasant reality, but that is the religious reality.
Part of Teshuvah and Heshbon ha-Nefesh is to learn the difference between the two.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
A Homemade Genocide
The Arab world is subject to genocide, it is true. It's just that it's mostly self-inflicted, and Israel has nothing to do with any of it.
An article by Ben Dror Yemini, Ma'ariv correspondent
בן דרור ימיני26/9/2006 13:33
Fact no. 1: Since the establishment of the State of Israel a merciless genocide is being perpetrated against Muslims and/or Arabs. Fact no. 2: The conflict in the Middle East, between Israel and the Arabs as a whole and against the Palestinians in particular, is regarded as the central conflict in the world today. Fact no. 3: According to polls carried out in the European Union, Israel holds first place as “Danger to world peace”. In Holland, for instance, 74% of the population holds this view. Not Iran. Not North Korea. Israel. Connecting between these findings creates one of the biggest deceptions of modern times: Israel is regarded as the country responsible for every calamity, misfortune and hardship. It is a danger to world peace, not just to the Arab or Muslim world. (Continued here.)
Monday, September 25, 2006
13:09 Sep 25, '06 / 3 Tishrei 5767by Hillel Fendel
The incident occurred around 7:30 in the morning, at the northern-most section of the accessible Western Wall - a little-known area called the Kotel HaKatan, the Small Wall. It is considered to have extra sanctity, as it stands opposite the presumed spot of the Holy of Holies of the Beit HaMikdash.Yesterday morning (Sunday), a group of some 10 men and two women gathered at the site, as they have done for several years on Rosh HaShanah, for early-morning prayers. The holiday prayers feature the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn) at several different times. Towards the end of the first shofar sounding, a Border Guard policeman came in, made an unclear motion with his hand as if to ask what was going on, and then left. He said nothing.
Shortly afterwards, Eliyahu K., the 20-year-old prayer leader, blew the shofar a second time, in the midst of his silent prayer (in accordance with Sephardic custom). Policemen came in once again and began trying to pull him away. However, Eliyahu was in the midst of reciting the Amidah - a long passage during which one must stand in one place without moving - and he therefore did not move. The policemen informed their supervisors by radio that he was praying and refused to move, and reinforcements were soon sent - no fewer than 20 policemen, according to several witnesses.
They then started dragging him out, and when they stopped for a moment, he got up and resumed his prayers. They then began to drag him away again, and shortly afterwards again stopped for a moment - and again he resumed his prayers. At this point, the policemen allowed him to complete his prayers. In the meanwhile, the other members of the prayer group came out and tried to prevent the policemen from taking Eliyahu away. At this point, the policemen started swinging their clubs violently; no one was hospitalized, but "it was a big brawl," in the words of one witness, with many people being dragged around and beaten while wearing their prayer-shawls and Sabbath suits.
Meanwhile, Eliyahu was taken to the small police station at the Western Wall plaza, and several of his friends followed him there. They wanted to go up the steps into the police station, and demanded that at least the shofar be returned, but the police again came down with their clubs. They finally took Eliyahu by foot, accompanied by his fiancיe, all the way around the Old City, past Mt. Zion and through Jaffa Gate, to the Kishle police station inside Jaffa Gate. At this point, there was no longer any violence, and Eliyahu was released around 11:30 - after being charged with attacking a policeman, disturbing a policeman in the line of duty, and disturbing the public order.
One witness related, "It's not only that they stopped him from blowing the shofar, but rather the fact that the police beat us up very harshly. I was on my way to the Wall for prayers when I saw 5-7 policemen going with Eliyahu and protecting him very closely. I walked after them, and then a few of his friends came, and then the violence started. We asked the policemen to return the shofar, and they started kicking us and punching us."
The worshipers said that the police had apparently been called by an Arab woman who said the sound of the ram's horn disturbed her children. A Jewish resident of the Old City told Arutz-7, "How ironic. The loud Arab weddings and nightly prayers by the muazzin [over a powerful loudspeaker] at 4:30 AM disturb our sleep every night." Similar complaints are heard from Jews living near Arab villages in Judea and Samaria.
A member of the Jerusalem Police spokesman's office, contacted by Arutz-7 for a statement on the matter and asked whether this signified a new policy towards shofar-blowing at the Wall, said, "When we have an answer for you, I will get back to you." The head of the local council of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Shmuel Yitzchaki, could not be reached for comment by the time of this report.
The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, told Arutz-7, "This is a very grave incident, and I have asked the local police commander, Yossi Priente, to check into it - both the violence and the prevention of the shofar blowing. It reminds us of the days of the British Mandate when Jews [had to make] super-human efforts to blow the shofar at the Western Wall."
He was referring to the 1ate 1920's, when the British, in an attempt to appease the Arabs, and following violence at the Wall, forbade shofar-blowing at the Wall.
The Jerusalem police department can be faxed at (972-2) 539-1190.
Many years ago, after Shabbat Parshat Yitro, the Rav זצ"ל took the time to comment on the fact that, according to Rashi, the Torah's description of Moses sitting in judgement (Ex. 18, 13) occurred on the 'day after Yom Kippur.' This, of course, raises chronological questions regarding the order of the stories in Humash, since the first Yom Kippur was months away from the initial reunion of Moses with Yitro and his family (not to mention that the Torah had yet to be given). The usual explanation is that, in fact, the Torah does not always adhere to strict chronological order when it recounts stories (אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה).
The Rav, however, suggested that there is a deeper lesson to be derived from this little detail. The Torah says that Moses sat in judgement on the day after Yom Kippur, because every person who judges (or teaches Torah), or lives one's life must act as if it's the day following Yom Kippur. The sanctity of Yom ha-Qadosh must follow a person into his or her daily existence. That is the idea behind the concept of אסרו חג. Hold tight onto holiness. Feel it after the holy day has departed.
Today, partly because of Rosh Hashanah and partly because of this, this is how today feels to me.
[Thanks to Jameel.]
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Monday, September 18, 2006
The Kotzker once emerged from his inner sanctum to find his Hassidim swaying while praying (aka shoklin'). Angry (but wasn't he always), he cried out: וינועו ויעמדו מרחוק , דער וואס שאקעלט זיך, שטייט פון וויטענס. Loosely translated, and sacrificing the sharp homiletic, the Kotzker was saying that one must tremble 'inside' (אינערווייניג) and not merely outside.
I was reminded of that comment during the last two recitations of Selihot. They were technically fine. The pronunciation was exact, the cantillation impeccable. What was missing? Soul, awe, dread, fear, apprehension and elation at the opportunity for Teshuvah. What did I see? More of the same, 'It's 1233AM (sic!). Let's get this over with quick. I'll do exactly what I'm supposed to. If the Shliah Tzibbur misses a note or uses the wrong nusah, I'll be the first to send him to Golgotha. However, don't you dare make me devote more time to this than I need to.'
This is the tragedy of much of Orthodoxy. Halakhic punctilliousness has conquered the field, but spirituality has been banished. As Professor Haym Soloveitchik concludes in his magisterial essay, 'Rupture and Reconstruction,': 'Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.'
That, however, is not sufficient. It leaves observance anemic, at best, and totally stale(at worst). The massive search for spiritual expression that presently characterizes contemporary Orthodoxy of every stripe is a loud protest not against Halakhah, but of the legitimate need to infuse mitzvot with feeling and with God's Presence. The Rov זצ"ל already foresaw this need in the late 1950's, when he complained of having failed (כביכול) at developing a sensitized spiritual awareness among many of the same disciples who had mastered the Brisker Method. (See, e.g., על אהבת התורה וגאולת נפש הדור). Is there any wonder that so many of our children and youth take off their kippot?
There is, however, even more to this. Ladies and Gentleman, we are presently in very serious trouble, both as a people and a religion. Assimilation is an aggressive cancer eating away at the body politic of our nation, both here and abroad. The forces of evil are really planning to destroy us, around the world. As the Psalmist said (Ps. 85, 5): They have said: 'Come, and let us exterminate them as a nation; that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.' Isn't that enough reason to cry out from the depths of our souls to God to save us? Is it such an imposition to move ourselves to feel? How long will we sophisticate ourselves to death?
Self-satisfaction is the pepetual malady of the Jew. It is also quite lethal, as we will read on Shabbat Shuvah (Deut. 32, 15): 'Jeshurun thus became fat and rebelled. You grew fat, thick and gross. [The nation] abandoned the God who made it and spurned the Mighty One who was its support.' This ailment comes in all shapes and sizes, visiting both ostensibly observant Jews as well as the non-observant.
There are a few days left to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. We should search our souls, unleash our souls, and not just check the size of the shofar.
Our Lives, and our souls, depend upon it.
[N.B. I appreciate the positive reasponse to this posting. A longer version thereof is now available at Torah Currents.]
Sunday, September 17, 2006
As if to confirm my worst fears, the entire Muslim world is up in arms and burning churches over recent remarks by the Pope. And what did he say, exactly? According to CNN: Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday that Islamic holy war was against God's nature and invited Muslims to join in a peaceful cultural dialogue. In that context he cited the much embattled Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, who fought against jihadist expansionism by the Ottoman Turks. Manuel's words were harsh, but not wrong. 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.' "
The trouble is that that's exactly what Muhammed preached and that's exactly what Islam teaches and Muslims believe. But what did the Iranians, in their duplicity, announce: "(The) Pope has linked Islam to violence and challenged jihad (holy war) at a time when he apparently closed his eyes to the crimes being perpetrated against defenseless Muslims by the leaders of power and hypocrisy under flag of Christianity and Jewish religion." (What was it Goebbels said about bald faced lies?)
The Pope called a spade a spade. The result was, he backed down. It won't change anything. Islam, as the late and much-lamented Oriana Fallaci has said, has declared war on us, all of us. When will we at least acknowledge that fact?
Last week, a prominent scholar, Professor Moshe Sharon, declared at the Herzliah conference on Counter-Terrorism that there is: "no possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians whatsoever, for ever," since the Arab and Islamic world viewed the establishment of Israel as a "reversal of history," and would never accept Israel .
He described peace agreements with Arab Muslim states as "pieces of paper, parts of tactics, strategies," adding that they have "no meaning."
"The root of the problem between us and the Arab world is Islam. Islam is not only a religion. It is a culture, politics… a state, Islam is everything. It has been like this, and it will be like this for the foreseeable future," Sharon said.
Let's hope Bradley Burston is right.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Tehillim are certainly appropriate: עובדיה יוסף בן גורג'יה לרפואה שלימה.
For example, a well known joke goes as follows (sorry guys, it only works in Hebrew):
Monday, September 11, 2006
The following is what the Times had to say about him.
January 6, 2002
Stephen Lefkowitz: Natural Big Brother
Throughout his life, Stephen P. Lefkowitz was always doing something for somebody: participating in the Big Brother program as a young man, buying his parents a car, providing someone in need with a place to stay. "He always had time for other people even if that meant he didn't have time for something he wanted to do," said Eric Migdal, who was 10 when Mr. Lefkowitz became his "Big Brother" and who remained in touch even as an adult. But after his marriage five years ago when he was 45, Mr. Lefkowitz seemed to expand his reach as he raised his son, Daniel, and became more active in family, politics and Judaism.
A mediator with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance who worked at 2 World Trade Center, he had helped organize a solidarity march for Israel in his Belle Harbor, Queens, community during the summer and had volunteered as co-treasurer for the City Council campaign of Lew M. Simon in the fall. "In many ways," said his wife, Sara, "he was just starting his life."
It's even harder to believe that the West has not learned the lesson of that horrible day.
It's tragic that in addition to remembering our loved ones, we need to refresh our memory by hearing what they are still saying about us.
There is, however, no choice.
למען יראו וייראו
Anshell Pfeffer's regular weekly Jerusalem Post column on the media, "Behind the Lines", included almost as an afterthought, an interesting quote from George Orwell on the futility of seeking utility from "experts" (the rest of Pfeffer's column dealt with the wisdom, or lack thereof, of Israel's Channel 10's decision to broadcast the Lebanese special on Ron Arad and the kidnap murder of the three Israeli soldiers in October 2000). The Orwell quote is brought below.
And this Orwell quote reminded me of yet another insightful Orwell quote on intellectuals, which I've added to this celebration of cynicism.
... Reading George Orwell's "As I Please" columns this week, I came upon the following piece, written in December 1943, which bears reprinting here:
"One way of feeling infallible is not to keep a diary. Looking back through the diary I kept in 1940 and 1941 I find that I was usually wrong when it was possible to be wrong. Yet I was not so wrong as the Military Experts. Experts of various schools were telling us in 1939 that the Maginot Line was impregnable, and that the Russo-German Pact had put an end to Hitler's eastwards expansion; in early 1940 they were telling us that the days of tank warfare were over; in mid 1940 they were telling us that the Germans would invade Britain forthwith; in mid 1941 that the Red army would fold up in six weeks; in December 1941, that Japan would collapse after ninety days; in July 1942, that Egypt was lost and so on, more or less indefinitely. Where now are the men who told us those things? Still on the job, drawing fat salaries. Instead of the unsinkable battleship we have the unsinkable Military Expert..."
One point of observation: Orwell's weekly columns appeared in The Tribune for 15 months during the final stages of the World War II. The left-wing newspaper has been dead for decades, while Orwell remains immortal.
And as long as we are in pillory mode, George Orwell on the ostensibly omniscient left-wing intelligentsia. There are some things so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them.
From Orwell's May 1945 essay "Notes on Nationalism":
It is, I think, true to say that the intelligentsia have been more wrong about the progress of the war than the common people, and that they were more swayed by partisan feelings. The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance, that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind. I have heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.
The more things are different, the more they stay the same.
What is striking is how deeply rooted is the Michael Moore school of conspiracy thinking on the US' use of its military.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Revisionism of the Rav's Life and Legacy comes from both the Right and the Left. Both, in my opinion, are fundamentally wrong. The Rav, as יבלחטו"א Rav Lichtenstein wrote, was sui generis (in our generation, at least). While there is absolutely no question that his primary loyalty was to lehrnen, and that he defined himself primarily as a,תורה מלמד , it is also true that he told people to become למדנים 'in the widest sense of the term,' which included general studies. [ I strongly doubt whether the Rov would have agreed with the Rambam that גדולי תורה who lack a philosophical education earn a lower rank in גן עדן than those who do (cf. Guide III, 51 and Kesef Mishneh ad Hilkhot Yesode HaTorah IV, 13 (end).
It, therefore, behooves us to let him be who he was, in all of his dazzling complexity. The same person who adamently opposed Women's Tefillah Groups (and any liturgical innovation, as made patently clear by the Letters published by Natty Helfgott), also adamently advocation women's study of Talmud. The same person who had magisterial command of כל התורה כולה, possessed an awesome command of Philosophy, Literature, Physics, Higher Mathematics, Psychology, Economics and Philology. As Professor Twersky noted, he brought these to bear ad majorem Dei gloriam, both for their intrinsic value and because he deemed them to be critical in order to teach Torah today to sophisticated Westernized Jew.
It has been said, on more than one occasion, that the Rav's fate is identical to that of the Rambam. Joseph Ibn Kaspi tried to make him a philosopher נטו and the Talmudists summarily ignored his achievements in the sciences, mathematics, medicine and metaphysics. Both were fundamentally wrong.
The same is true of the Rav's revisionists.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Canada: Orthodox Jew forced off plane
An Orthodox Jewish man was removed from an Air Canada Jazz flight in Montreal last week for praying, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported on Wednesday.
The man was a passenger on a Sept. 1 flight from Montreal to New York City when the incident happened.
The airplane was heading toward the runway at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport when eyewitnesses said the Orthodox man began to pray.
"He was clearly a Hasidic Jew," said Yves Faguy, a passenger seated nearby. "He had some sort of cover over his head. He was reading from a book.
"He wasn't exactly praying out loud but he was lurching back and forth," Faguy told the CBC.
The action didn't seem to bother anyone, Faguy said, but a flight attendant approached the man and told him his praying was making other passengers nervous.
"The attendant actually recognized out loud that he wasn't a Muslim and that she was sorry for the situation but they had to ask him to leave," Faguy said.
The man, who spoke neither English nor French, was escorted off the airplane, according to CBC.
According to CBC, Air Canada Jazz, termed the situation "delicate," and said it received more than one complaint about the man's behaviour and that the crew had to act in the interest of the majority of passengers, said Jazz spokeswoman Manon Stewart.
"The passenger did not speak English or French, so we really had no choice but to return to the gate to secure a translator," she told CBC.
Jewish leaders in Montreal criticized the move as insensitive, saying the flight attendants should have explained to the other passengers that the man was simply praying and doing no harm.
Hasidic Rabbi Ronny Fine told CBC he often prays on airplanes, but typically only gets curious stares.
"If it's something that you're praying in your own seat and not taking over the whole plane, I don't think it should be a problem," said Fine.
Every day Yael K. seems to encounter another manifestation of ארץ ישראל נקנית בייסורים. Every day, she displays aplomb, humor, and an increasingly Israeli attitude. She is an inspiration for all those new Nefesh b'Nefesh olim. I think she should publish her blog in book form and give it to every oleh.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
(I received this today from Menachem Butler. I haven't seen the book yet, but חזקה על חברים שאינם מוציאים דבר שאינו מתוקן מתחת ידם. )
For decades, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik delivered his renowned Kinnus Teshuvah shiurim between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and selections of these shiurim have previously been published by Dr. Arnold Lustiger.
As has recently been announced in Jewish Action, the official publication of the UOJCA, K'hal Publishing in cooperation with the Orthodox Union, and through the efforts of many of the Rav's talmidim, presents "The Kasirer Edition Yom Kippur Machzor," with a complete commentary adapted from the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt"l. This volume is masterfully edited by Dr. Arnold Lustiger, editor of both "Before Hashem You Shall Be Purified: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik on the Days of Awe" (1988) and "Derashot Harav: Selected Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik" (2003). The Kasirer Edition Yom Kippur Machzor includes, as well, an introduction by Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Menachem Genack.
For the cover and a few sample pages of the Kasirer Edition Yom Kippur Machzor, please see http://www.ravmachzor.com/samplepages.pdf
To order your pre-publication copy of the Kasirer Edition Yom Kippur Machzor (to be delivered in advance of Yom Kippur) at the special discounted price of $24.99 + shipping (list price: $30.99 + shipping), please contact Menachem Butler, order@RavMachzor.com , for further information.
For Yeshiva University students, FREE delivery is available to any student on the Beren (midtown), Wilf (uptown), Resnick (Einstein/Ferkauf) and Brookdale Center (Cardozo) campuses of Yeshiva University for any order.
For orders of more than twenty-five copies, an additional discount and special bulk rates and free shipping are available within the continental United States.Thank you very much and I look forward to hearing from you soon,--Menachem Butler
How do they write in the הסכמות (though this certainly doesn't require my הסכמה):
ANALYSIS: Israel's response to kidnappings had little effect
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff,
According to government spokesmen, Israel's harsh military response to the kidnappings in Lebanon and Gaza has taught our enemies that from now on, there will be a heavy price to pay for kidnappings.
However, this response has not persuaded the Lebanese and Gazans to release the soldiers without getting something in return. In exchange for Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, in Lebanon, and Gilad Shalit, in the Gaza Strip, Israel will have to release hundreds of prisoners to Lebanon and the territories. Names that mean nothing to the Israeli public may delay progress on the Lebanese channel. Yihyeh Sakaf, a Lebanese citizen, is one of 11 terrorists who took part in the attack on an Egged bus on the coastal road in March 1978, which murdered 35 Israelis. Nine terrorists were killed in the rescue, but only eight bodies were identified. The whereabouts of Sakaf's body are unknown; the security establishment believes that carelessness resulted in it being buried in an unknown location. However, Hezbollah and the terrorist's family have created an imaginary scenario in which Sakaf is still alive and being held secretly in an Israeli jail. The missing body is now one of the obstacles to a deal.
Israel long ago gave up gave up on its public demands for information on the three soldiers missing from the 1982 battle at Sultan Yakoub, Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumel and Tzvi Feldman. But the current deal, which is expected to include the release of all Lebanese prisoners in Israel in return for Regev and Goldwasser, will greatly diminish the chance of finding out what happened to these three soldiers, or to missing airman Ron Arad. The documentary that will air on Lebanese television on Tuesday about the Ron Arad affair is also not unconnected to the present talks: It signals that the fate of Regev and Goldwasser might become a mystery as well unless Israel gives in.
[NOTE: Arabs, good businessmen that they are, NEVER give something for nothing. Only Jews do that.]
Monday, September 04, 2006
The YUCommentator has undertaken a new series entitled: Perspectives on Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (obviously trying to continue the sterling tradition of Menachem Butler's YUdaica). The first three articles are by Rabbis Yosef Blau, Menachem Genack and Charles Weinberg, and all are highly recommended.
At the end of the Book of Job, God dramatically appears to Job out of the whirlwind and says: 'Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto Me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast the understanding' (Job 37, 2-4).
The Midrash, though, says that God simply showed Job a Sukkah.
Why, asked Reb Ahron, a Sukkah? As we all know, a kosher Sukkah requires two full walls and a bit of a third wall. This, on the face of it, is odd because anyone can tell you that a real building requires four walls. So why should a sukkah require only 2.1? The truth is, though, that the Sukkah really has four walls. The remaining walls exist, in our imagination. The Halakhah is that one must use one's imagination and 'see' the remaining walls.
The same is true of our relationship with our departed loved ones. They are not physically here. However, Halakhah requires us to use our imaginations and to continue our relationship with them based upon what we know they might say or think or feel. That ongoing relationship is very real and very tangible, just like the ostensibly 'missing' walls of the sukkah, which really exist.
As we approached the steps leading down to the Kotel, I remember my eyes welled up with tears. 'You know, David,' I told him, 'this is the first time I've been reaaly consoled since my father died. עקיבא ניחמתנו, עקיבא ניחמתנו!'
And so, ידיד נפשי , that is exactly the way that I keep up our friendship: in my imagination, in the best tradition of בית בריסק.
[Note: I believe that Rav Ahron was referring to Yalqut Shimoni, Iyyov, 927 s.v. יכרו.]
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Which brings me to MJ Rosenberg, who consistently embodies all of the above. Normally, I ignore his cant and pretentiously oh-so civilized rant (even when it comes in the Jerusalem Post). Today, though, at the request of a friend I looked over his column (available here). I then recalled why I've pretty much stopped reading the newspaper on Shabbat. Yes, he was ostensibly attacking the Left's love affair with Islam(ists). However, the piece is studded with observations that vitiated the article.
The following points were especially galling:
Israel is a secular democracy. Yes, it is a Jewish state. But no one is forced to practice the Jewish faith. In fact, Israeli Jews, for the most part, are less religious than their American counterparts (and certainly less so than American Christians).
Who is he kidding? Israeli Jews overwhelmingly believe in God and want a qualitatively Jewish State. Jewish tradition, even today, is far more programmed into the public space than in the US.
You will not, for instance, find many Jews on the beach in New York or Los Angeles during holy days. In Israel, the beaches are packed.
Who is he kidding? Yes, Rosh HaShanah is not as heavily observed in Israel as it once was in the Diaspora. However, Yom Kippur is still the holiest day of the year. 73-77% of Israelis fast. Non-Orthodox Jews build sukkot. 95% attend a Seder and over 75% don't eat Hametz.Orthodox Jews make up a sizable segment of the population but they do not run the country and never have. Only a radical fringe would choose to.
Would someone tell me what this means? Is he ignorant of the fact that 30-40% of the members of Knesset are Orthodox? There are three Orthodox Major Generals on the General Staff. What kind of racist paternalism is this? Let me give you a pat on the head, little Ortho, stay in your place and you can live here. Yok! [If he means having an Halakhic State, he should say so.]
Israel does have its share of violent fundamentalist crazies: right-wing settlers who terrorize Palestinian children in Hebron and lynch Arabs, rabbis who pray for the murder of leaders with whom they disagree (successfully in the case of Rabin) and religious fanatics who would, if they could, roll back the last several centuries of social progress and growing equality.
So we are all 'violent fundamentalist crazies'? My late father-in-law would say, 'Wrap it up in plastic so that it shouldn't smell' and throw it away.
But not very many Israelis are of that ilk. The heart of Israel is Tel Aviv, one of the freest and most tolerant cities in the world. The heart of Hezbollah is in Teheran where freethinking modern men and women (the majority of the population by far) live essentially in a giant fundamentalist prison, an American secularist's worst nightmare.
Reality Check....Jerusalem is the largest city in Israel and is still the political and spiritual capital of the Jewish people. I suspect that he's equating it with Teheran.
Congressman Barney Frank points to Israel's acceptance of gays and lesbians as emblematic of the difference between Israel and its Islamic fundamentalist enemies...Again, the issue of gay rights is far from the center of the issues dividing Israel and Hezbollah (and the Iranian government). But in today's world the treatment of gays is often a litmus test.
So it all comes down to gay rights. If you're in favor, you're ok. If you're against, you're a primitive mullah. I don't want to get into a discussion of Gay Rights. However, there are good, principled reasons to oppose the legal enfranchising of homosexuality, without resorting to perscution (or worse). It is mendacious, and demagogic, to make the legitimacy of Israeli society contingent upon that criterion. God save us from such "Directors of Public Policy."
Friday, September 01, 2006
As I underwent my own transition into Orthodoxy (in which the Conservative movement played a positive role), I became increasingly aware of the fact that the putative loyalty of the Conservative movement to Tradition was a facade. As a professor of mine in college (himself an ordained JTS rabbi) noted, the essence of the movement may be summed up as 'Tell me where the crowd is going. I'm it's leader.' Or, put differently, Schechter's 'Catholic Israel' had morphed, with Mordekhai Kaplan's help, into a system that deified the Jew and subjected God and Torah to the whims of man. Whatever the people want, wherever the ideological winds might blow, Jewish tradition could be coerced to reflect the latest fad (or Orthodoxy). After all, Judaism has no integrity of its own. It was created by Jews to serve them.
It, therefore, comes as no surprise that JTS and the United Synagogue will now rip more verses out of the Torah by ordaining practicing gays as rabbis and countenancing same-sex marriages. It was inevitable. They are simply playing out a scenario that was scripted decades ago. They are playing themselves out of Jewish history, and out of Jewry, much as the Hellenized Jews of the late Roman Empire.
It's amazing to me that this socio-religious phenomenon, which numbered 44% of affiliated Jewry in the United States in my youth, has come to this. I'm also sad, though I'm not sure why. This lack of authenticity; this flippant attitude to God, Torah and Mitzvot; their arrogant, consigning of Orthodoxy to the dustbin of Jewish history were critical factors in my leaving Conservatism, already in my middle teens.
Perhaps I'm sad because Conservatism will no longer serve as a path back to Torah, as it was for me and countless others.
On the other hand, the choice will now be clear for anyone who seeks to be part of the Jewish future. Only a life of Faith in God, Study of Torah and acceptance of the Yoke of Mitzvot, evn when inconvenient and at odds with conventional mores, will stand the test of time.