Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It Was Inevitable: Instant Maqom Qadosh

I don't know how I missed it (unless it's because our TV died and I've been living in the 12th century for weeks). Last week, Yeshiva students 'discovered' the non-existent grave of Onkeles.
The rest, as they say, is history. (Hattip:
Gil).


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Freedom of Religion: Palestinian Style

Yesterday, we read of the death of Joseph and his request to be buried in Eretz Yisrael (where he had only lived for his first 17 years.)

Longstanding tradition identifies Joseph's grave with this site near Shekhem. The tomb (Or its remains) lie on the edge of a Palestinian town.

According to every accord signed between Israel and the Palestinians (as with the Ceasefire accords of 1949 between Israel and Jordan) free access and excercise of religion is to be guaranteed to Jewish and Muslim holy places.

This is how the Palestinians fulfilled their obligations regarding Kever Yosef.



For those who advocate dividing Jerusalem, think again....
(Kol haKavod, Jameel.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Straight Shooting


This interview with Rabbi Sholom Ber Wolbe appeared in today's HaZofe magazine. It speaks for itself. The truth is that I have a lot of respect for people who assert their beliefs unadulteratedly. {I'm reposting a new, improved scan of the article. If you have trouble reading it, just increase the magnification.]

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Required Listening...

For the past six months I've been taking the totally uncharacteristic step of power walking around my 'aerobically correct' town for between 45 and 90 minutes a day (often, רחמנא ליצלן) at ungodly hours like 5:45AM. When I walk alone, I take my trusty mp3 player with me and listen to music (healthy), the radio (institutionalized depression) or lectures/shiurim (inspiring and very fruitful for footnotes). The latter provides an opportunity to reexperience learning with the Rav זצ"ל and for catching up with what friends and colleagues are saying.

Herewith, some recent choices:

The Rav:
Bergen County Bes Medrash (I especially recommend the Yiddish tapes. For me, who only studied with him after 1967 and in English, they provide an entirely new dimension of understanding and appreciation of my master and teacher.)

Rabbi Eric Levy

Hear the Rav (This is the Rav's shiur on Tefillin de-Rabbenu Tam, blessedly digitalized).

Teachers and Friends:
Rabbi Dr. David Berger on different topics (here, here and
here [the last only for RCA members])

Rabbi Meir Lichtenstein on Shemitta (a wonderful, lucid and pentrating discussion).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Asarah be-Tevet: Still Relevant (Unfortunately)

[Last year's post about Asarah be-Tevet is even more apt this year than last.]

Why the Tenth of Tevet?

As we know, while the Jews were still in exile in Babylonia, four dates were set in the Jewish calendar to commemorate the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. This is attested by the prophet Zechariah (7:1-5):


In the fourth year of King Darius, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Kislev, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah – when Bethel-sharezer and Regem-melech and his men sent to entreat the favor of the Lord, [and] to address this inquiry to the priests of the House of the Lord and to the prophets: “Shall I weep and practice abstinence in the fifth month, as I have been doing all these years?”

Thereupon the word of the Lord of Hosts came to me: Say to all the people of the land and to the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my benefit?

Four Fasts
According to the Sages,
[1] this passage refers to four days during the months mentioned by Zechariah (see below) that had been set aside for fasting and prayer due to the troubles that had befallen the people on those days, as reported in Tosefta Sukkah, Lieberman edition, ch. 6, halakhah 10 (p.189):

Rabbi expounded: [2] Lo, the prophet says: Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month ...(Zech. 8:19) The fast of the fourth month is the seventeenth of Tammuz, on which day the city walls were breached, ... the fast of the fifth month is the ninth of Ab, on which day the Temple was burned, ... the fast of the seventh month is the third of Tishri, on which day Gedaliah son of Ahikam was killed by Ishmael son of Nethanya, teaching us that the Omnipresent views the death of the righteous just as severely as the destruction of the Temple ... the fast of the tenth month is the tenth of Tevet, on which day the king of Babylonia laid hands on Jerusalem, as it is said, “In the ninth year, on the tenth day of the tenth month, the word of the Lord came to me: O mortal, record this date...” (Ezek. 24:1-2).

Three of these four fast days have a theme in common. To begin with, they commemorate tragic events whose results were immediate and calamitous: breaching the walls on the seventeenth of Tammuz marked the inevitable fall of the entire city of Jerusalem; [3] the First and Second Temple were destroyed on the ninth of Ab; on the Fast of Gedaliah, “Gedaliah son of Ahikam was killed and the last remaining ember of Israel was extinguished, sealing their fate that they be exiled.” [4] Secondly, these dates had the good fortune of being links in larger segments of the calendar – the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Ab belong to the three weeks known as Bein ha-Metzarim,” between the straits” [5] and the fast of Gedaliah was incorporated into the ten days of repentance. [6] Therefore these days became more prominent in the public consciousness.

The Odd Man Out
The situation is somewhat different for the fast of the tenth of Tevet. It is isolated on the calendar, not part pf any context that might strengthen awareness of the date and its importance. [7] At first glance, its content also appears different from the other fasts, since it marks neither the end of a process nor an event with immediate impact. The tenth of Tevet marks the date on which the siege of Jerusalem began. Hence we must ask, what in the events of that day moved the exiles themselves to proclaim a day of fasting and memorial over the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem? [8] What sort of trauma passed over the Jewish people due to the beginning of the siege?

Indeed, the Jews everywhere were deeply shaken to hear the bad tidings, [9] and this finds clear expression in the words of the prophet Ezekiel. Thus the exiled prophet on the Chebar Canal received the bitter news (Ez. 24:1-2):

In the ninth year, on the tenth day of the tenth month, the word of the Lord came to me: O mortal, record this date, this exact day; for this very day the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem.

The prophet’s trembling reverberates through his words. Thrice “this day” is repeated, as if to stress the intense significance of what befell Jerusalem that particular day. The reader feels as if the prophet is stunned and shaken, refusing to believe the news that the Holy One, blessed be He, brought him; therefore, the Lord emphasizes time and again that the siege indeed began “this very day.” The question arises: Did not Ezekiel know that Nebuchadnezzar was invading the land of Israel, heading for Jerusalem with the intention of conquering it? So why does he appear to have been taken by surprise?

A Sense of Security
The answer, I believe, is to be found in the feeling of the residents of Judea that Jerusalem and the Temple were immune to attack. This is expressed unequivocally in the famous oratory of the prophet Jeremiah (7:1-8):

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand at the gate of the House of the Lord, and there proclaim this word: Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord! Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Mend your ways and your actions, and I will let you dwell in this place. Don’t put your trust in illusions and say, “the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are these [buildings].”... See, you are relying on illusions that are of no avail.

Jeremiah was warning and speaking out against the apparently widespread belief among the people that the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were totally immune to attack by the king of Babylonia. [10] The Lord, so they maintained, would not cause His Temple to be destroyed, nor would He make His land surrender and His people be exiled, and their moral and religious behavior would not change matters. Jeremiah sought to shatter their false illusions (Jer. 7:9-15):

Will you steal and murder and commit adultery and swear falsely, and sacrifice to Baal, and follow other gods whom you have not experienced, and then come and stand before Me in this House which bears My name and say, “We are safe”? – [Safe] to do all these abhorrent things! Do you consider this House, which bears My name, to be a den of thieves? As for Me, I have been watching – declares the Lord.

Just go to My place at Shiloh, where I had established My name formerly and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now because you do all these things – declares the Lord – and though I spoke to you persistently, you would not listen; and though I called to you, you would not respond – therefore I will do to the House which bears My name, on which you rely, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers just what I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My presence as I cast out your brothers, the whole brood of Ephraim.

A Bitter Lesson
The reason for Ezekiel’s shock, it seems, is to be found herein. Clearly he knew what was going to happen, for he himself had a vision of the catastrophe for which the people were headed. But when the day actually arrived, he found it difficult to assimilate what was happening and therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, had to tell him emphatically, time and again, that this was indeed the reality.

Little wonder, therefore, that the rest of the people were even more deeply traumatized when Jerusalem was put under siege. [11] The stern lesson of the Tenth of Tevet – that Jerusalem was vulnerable on account of the nation’s corruption—was what led the people to include the day on which the siege of Jerusalem began among the days of mourning and commemoration for the destruction of the First (and later also the Second) Temple. [12]

In view of Jeremiah’s words, cited above, Maimonides’ remarks are even more poignant: [13]
There are days on which all of Israel fast and practice abstinence on account of the troubles that befell them on those days, in order to stir the heart to repentance, that this may remind us of our evil ways and the ways of our ancestors which were like our own ways now, so much so that it caused them and us the same troubles. For in remembering these things we will return to the good path as it is written (Lev. 26:40), “and they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in that they trespassed against Me, yea, were hostile to Me.”

In loving memory of my mother, Peshe bat Yosef, who passed away on the ninth of Tevet, 5751 (1990).


[1] See the discussion in J. Tabori, Moadei Yisrael be-Tekufat ha-Mishnah ve-ha-Talmud, Jerusalem 2000, p. 350 ff.
[2] According to Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-fshutah, Sotah-Kiddushin, p. 674, lines 187-189, read “Rabbi Akiva expounded.”
[3] According to Jeremiah, the city walls were actually breached by the Babylonians on the ninth of Tammuz and not on the seventeenth. On the custom to fast on the seventeenth of the month, the day on which the Romans entered the city prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 4.5 (p.68c); Ritba, Rosh ha-Shanah 18b, s.v. “girsat ha-sefarim;” Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 549.2.
[4] So Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Fastdays 5.2. Regarding the Rambam’s original explanation as to why the fast was declared, see Isidore Twersky, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), New Haven, 1980, p. 429, note 182.
[5] Based on the verse, “Judah has gone into exile because of misery and harsh oppression; when she settled among the nations she found no rest; all her pursuers overtook her in the narrow places [Heb. bein ha-metzarim]” (Lament. 1.3).
[6] Cf. Y. D. Gilat, “Ta’anit be-Shabbat,” Tarbiz, 52 (1983), 1-15 (=Perakim be-Hishtalshelut ha-Halakhah, Ramat Gan 1092, p. 217 ff.), and D. Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael I, Jerusalem 1989, pp. 138-153.
[7] Acknowledgment of the somewhat shaky standing of the tenth of Tevet can be found in the fact that Rabbi Herzog suggested that this particular day be chosen as the day commemorating the Holocuast and general national mourning because he wished in a certain way to buttress the status of the day. See Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays, New York 1988, 314-372.
[8] It is evident from the Lord’s response (“when you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my benefit?”) that initially the memorial days were set on the people’s initiative and only later received ratification.
[9] Compare Tosefta Sotah (loc. sit.), halakhah 11.
[10] Presumably they were relying on the miracle that G-d wrought when Sennacherib was repulsed from the city walls in the time of Hezekiah (I Kings 19).
[11] Note, not to imply any comparison, that there were similar reactions in the western world when Rome was pillaged by the Goths (cf. Jerome, Letter CXXVII and Augustin, Civitas Dei, Book I, ch. 1).
[12] It is interesting to note that at this stage Jerusalem had not yet fallen. However, see Tosefta cited above, note 9.
[13] Laws of Fastdays, loc. sit., halakhah 1.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
'Thus saith the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love truth and peace. ' (Zekh. 8, 19)
במהרה בימינו אמן.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Seventeen Years....Like Yesterday


It's hard to believe, but today marks the seventeenth yahrtzeit of my mother, Betty Birnbaum Woolf ע"ה.

She was, in every sense a remarkable woman. Widowed at the young age of 49, saddled with three not-at-all-easy-to-raise sons (to put it mildly), she persevered with courage, style and an inner spirit that still defies my attempts to comprehend it.

She was every inch a lady, with a very strong sense of genuine concern, morality, propriety, duende, affection and consideration. This wasn't only obvious to her children (children-in-law and grandchildren). Everybody saw it. Our house was the one one everyone wanted to visit. It seemed that everybody knew where the key to the house was 'hidden' (in the drier) and where the ever present big chocolate chip cookies were hidden.

She inspired and created the warm, inviting, inspiring Jewish home that we were privileged to grow up in and which so impacted upon our relatives and friends.

She was, as a friend remarked today (at the shiva for her own father) 'a remarkable woman.'

תהי נשמת אמי מורתי פעשא בת יוסף ושיינא פייגא ע"ה צרורה בצרור החיים ותהי מנוחתה כבוד עד ביאת הגואל.

Monday, December 17, 2007

More Required Reading...

Better, essential reading:

Arthur Herman, 'Who Owns the Vietnam War?' (and its implications for today).

Yoram Ettinger on the demise of the demographic threat to Israel.

Rabbi Dr. Tuvia Peri on the 'dangers' of the Internet, and the pressing need for religious educators and rabbis to acknowledge human sexuality.


A New Star in the Blogosphere

The indefatigable Menachem Butler has done it again. After announcing that he was closing his ever popular AJHistory blog (in order to a) learn b) study c) get married), he was slowly drawn back in through the Seforim blog. Now, he's back in all of his glory...with the Michtavim blog.

No one has a better feel for the pulse of Jewish Studies.

Michtavim, absolutely essential reading.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Oh, Jerusalem

My friend, Rabbi Michael Broyde, has published a carefully reasoned opinion as to why Orthodoxy should stay out of the devate surrounding the division of Jerusalem. Many of his points are well taken. Indeed, when I lived in the Golah, I studiously avoided making political statements. I must, however, take strong issue with the overall thrust of his argument. Herewith, a few points (expanded from the comment I posted):

A) The surrender of Jerusalem is part of an overallpolicy by the Secular establishment tro de-judaize Israel. That is an agenda that we must fight tooth and nail.

b)As for the Rav's famous speech in 1967, there is a stenographic record of the Rav zatzal's meeting with Amb. Yehuda Avner in which he categorically rejects handing territory to the PLO. The lecture in which he said otherwise referred to the sovereign Hashemite KIngdom of Jordan. (The Rov also never said it was a mitzva to give away the Kotel, as secular and religious Leftists argue.) To cite it in this context is not really relevant.

c) If we are to follow the Rav's positions on relations with other religions, we would take the time to study Islam and its attitude toward Jews, Israel and Jerusalem. If we did so, we would understand that there is absolutely nothing to discuss here. Nothing less than the dissolution of Israel and the acceptance of dhimmitude will satisfy ANY Arab regime. (The myth of secular or moderate Arabs really must go the way of the world.) This is the tragedy of our present situation. In addition, since we are in the midst of a world war against Jihadi Islam and Jews of every strip pay the price for Israel's existence, circumstances may well have changed fromthose that obtained three decades ago.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A New Low for the Looney (Academic) Left

[This requires no comment, except to say that I have the privilege of teaching in the only university in Israel that really supports a broad range of ideas and Freedom of Academic Expression (up to, but not including, 'False shouting Fire in a crowded theatre.']

Colleagues back lecturer who threw soldier out of classroom
By Tamara Traubmann, Haaretz Correspondent

Filmmaker Nizar Hassan, who was suspended recently from lecturing at Sapir College near Sderot, pending a disciplinary hearing, after he ordered a student to leave the classroom for wearing an Israeli army uniform and carrying a weapon, received a show of support Monday from his colleagues and censure from Knesset members.

The student was serving as an Israel Defense Forces reservist at the time.

Nearly 40 Jewish and Arab lecturers at Sapir signed a letter to the college's president and disciplinary committee stating that Hassan "is a talented and courageous artist whose only sin was his attempt to maintain universal civic values, and whose action pointed to the serious phenomenon of the great involvement of the army in campus life."

Hassan's disciplinary hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

The Knesset Education Committee discussed his case Monday, at the behest of MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) and others, and decided to condemn Hassan "harshly." "There is a national, civic and moral duty to ensure the honor of army reservists," a committee resolution stated. The committee also requested to be briefed on the results of the disciplinary hearing.

Last month, Eyal Cohen, an intelligence officer in the reserves, came to a film class taught by Hassan while wearing his army uniform. Hassan reportedly told him to leave immediately, saying, "I do not teach soldiers, policemen and officers in uniform." Cohen did not leave, and Hassan continued to make negative comments about the Israel Defense Forces during the class.

The lecturers' letter defended Hassan, stating: "For an Arab lecturer who does not identify with the Israeli army and who does not share in the naturalness with which many of us accept those who carry arms among us, it is reasonable that he will request that the necessary boundaries between the army and academia be adhered to and to remind us all of how crucial these are."

The letter notes that there were no disciplinary hearings in previous cases when Jewish lecturers removed armed soldiers from lecture halls.

Sapir College has no written disciplinary regulations, and a senior college official told Haaretz that the disciplinary committee will follow "a clear statement by the college president and the academic ethos, according to which you do not bring politics into the classroom, or insult a student."

Hassan's temporary employment contract warns him against mixing ideology and politics in his lessons. This is the only contract at Sapir (or any other institute of higher learning, as far as is known) in which such a clause has been included.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sinhue- He who is Alone

One of my favorite novels is The Egyptian by Mika Waltari. It describes the life and times of a fictional physician, Sinuhe, who lives in the days of the 'heretical' Pharaoh Akhenaten. [The movie version was also very well done, IMHO.] At a critical moment in the plot, Sinuhe (whose name means 'He who is Alone') falls in love with a voracious woman, who teases him into giving her everything he has in order to win her love. When he finally has nothing left, having given her even the deed to his parents' tomb, she throw him out on his ear. He is left truly alone.

I thought about Sinuhe in the context of the Annapolis Conference and now Barak's move to seduce residents of Judea and Samaria to leave their homes. It occurred to me that the elites who 'govern' Israel are like Sinuhe. They are intoxicated with an illusory, impossible vision of Love and Peace with an Arab World that simply, and principledly, does not want us. Period. They, however, will do absolutely anything to win the love and affection of the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Muslims, and the Europeans.

Throw 10,000 people out of their homes with nowhere to go and leave them in tents for two years as their families disintegrate? No Problem.

Allow whole cities to be bombarded and their lives made into a living hell, because if we defend them some Palestinians might get hurt? Bitte (after all, it's only a bunch of Sefardim).

Offer up Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish People, on a silver platter to people who tell you straight that Jews have no right to pray anywhere near the Kotel, Kever Rachel and Me'arat ha-Machpela (never mind the Temple Mount)? Be-vakasha (We lived for 2000 years without them. We can live ithout them now. Besides, Judaism is a primitive, unenlightened faith. Best to be rid of that too.)

Give the hill tops of Shomron to the Palestinians by putting it behind the separation fence? Why not? Do you really think they would shoot into Kfar Sava or down passenger jets?

The tragedy is that once we have nothing left to give, we will be thrown away by the Palestinians and the World. Like Sinhue, we will be all alone and left abandoned to fend for ourselves.

The truth is, though, that we don't need Mika Waltari to tell us that.

Hazal already made that point: "Why was Abraham called 'Ha-Ivri"? Because the whole world is on one side (ever) and he is on the other side."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bernard Lewis on Annapolis

(Thanks to Richard Landes at The Augean Stables. Similar sentiments were expressed today by Daniel Pipes.)


On the Jewish Question
By BERNARD LEWIS
November 26, 2007
Wall Street Journal

Here with some thoughts about tomorrow’s Annapolis peace conference, and the larger problem of how to approach the Israel- Palestine conflict. The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, “What is the conflict about?” There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.

If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.

If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.PLO and other Palestinian spokesmen have, from time to time, given formal indications of recognition of Israel in their diplomatic discourse in foreign languages. But that’s not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success.

Without genuine acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated.
A good example of how this problem affects negotiation is the much- discussed refugee question. During the fighting in 1947-1948, about three-fourths of a million Arabs fled or were driven (both are true in different places) from Israel and found refuge in the neighboring Arab countries. In the same period and after, a slightly greater number of Jews fled or were driven from Arab countries, first from the Arab-controlled part of mandatory Palestine (where not a single Jew was permitted to remain), then from the Arab countries where they and their ancestors had lived for centuries, or in some places for millennia. Most Jewish refugees found their way to Israel.

What happened was thus, in effect, an exchange of populations not unlike that which took place in the Indian subcontinent in the previous year, when British India was split into India and Pakistan. Millions of refugees fled or were driven both ways — Hindus and others from Pakistan to India, Muslims from India to Pakistan. Another example was Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, when the Soviets annexed a large piece of eastern Poland and compensated the Poles with a slice of eastern Germany. This too led to a massive refugee movement — Poles fled or were driven from the Soviet Union into Poland, Germans fled or were driven from Poland into Germany.
The Poles and the Germans, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, all were resettled in their new homes and accorded the normal rights of citizenship. More remarkably, this was done without international aid. The one exception was the Palestinian Arabs in neighboring Arab countries.

The government of Jordan granted Palestinian Arabs a form of citizenship, but kept them in refugee camps. In the other Arab countries, they were and remained stateless aliens without rights or opportunities, maintained by U.N. funding. Paradoxically, if a Palestinian fled to Britain or America, he was eligible for naturalization after five years, and his locally-born children were citizens by birth. If he went to Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, he and his descendants remained stateless, now entering the fourth or fifth generation.

The reason for this has been stated by various Arab spokesmen. It is the need to preserve the Palestinians as a separate entity until the time when they will return and reclaim the whole of Palestine; that is to say, all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. The demand for the “return” of the refugees, in other words, means the destruction of Israel. This is highly unlikely to be approved by any Israeli government.

There are signs of change in some Arab circles, of a willingness to accept Israel and even to see the possibility of a positive Israeli contribution to the public life of the region. But such opinions are only furtively expressed. Sometimes, those who dare to express them are jailed or worse. These opinions have as yet little or no impact on the leadership.

Which brings us back to the Annapolis summit. If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed. And in light of the past record, it is clear that is and will remain the issue, until the Arab leadership either achieves or renounces its purpose — to destroy Israel. Both seem equally unlikely for the time being

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Chanukkah Thought (I)

In anticipation of Chanukkah, herewith is a revised version of the article I wrote for the local paper:

חנוכה: חג לתורה שבעל פה ומסר לדורות
הרב ד"ר יוסף (ג'פרי) וולף
רבות דובר ונכתב אודות חג החנוכה ומשמעותו. אולם, מו"ר הגאון הרב יוסף דוב הלוי סולובייצ'יק זצ"ל חרג מההתמקדות בהתבוללות וחירות פוליטית, והדגיש שמעל הכל חנוכה היא החג של התורה שבעל פה. לכאורה, קביעתו זאת מובנת מאליה. כל כולה של חנוכה מיוסדת על אדני המסורת בעל פה. בניגוד לפורים, היא איננה מוזכרת בתנ"ך. עצם קיומה מבוססת על תקנת חז"ל, עמודי התווך של התושבע"פ. כפי שקובעת הגמרא, שבת דף כ"ג ע"א): והיכן צונו [להדליק נר חנוכה]? רב אויא אמר (דב' י"ז, י"א): 'לא תסור.' רב נחמיה אמר (דברים ל"ב, ז):' שאל אביך ויגדך זקניך ויאמרו לך.'
אם נתעמק בנקודה זו שהעלה הרב זצ"ל, נוכח שגזירות אנטיוכוס ומרד הכהנים בני חשמונאי, גם הווי אבן דרך בהתפתחות התושבע"פ ומספקים לקח חיוני ימינו.
'
בימים ההם בזמן הזה,' 'כשעמדה מלכות יוון הרשעה על עמך ישראל, לשכחם תורתך ולהעבירם מחוקי רצונך,' נתקלו יהודי ארץ-ישראל באתגרים חסרי תקדים בתולדותיהם ובתולדות היהדות ובתולדות האנושות בכלל. גזירות אנטיוכוס היו הרדיפה הדתית הראשונה בתולדותינו (ושמא בתולדות האנושות בכלל). בדרך כלל, תרבויות פגניות לא דרשו שהנמצאים בתחומיהן ינטשו את מורשת אבותיהם לטובת שלהן. הם 'רק' בקשו שאלה יקבלו גם את דתם, לצד דת עצמם. כך, בבית ראשון, פסחו הרבה יהודים על שתי הסעיפים ועבדו גם את הקב"ה וגם את אלהי הארץ. אותו דבר קרה בתחילת השלטון ההלניסטי, תחת המלכים לבית תלמי המצרי, כשהכהנים ובני השכבות העליונות בקשו ליהנות משני העולמות; עבדו עבודת ה' בבהמ"ק בבוקר, והשתתפו בטקסים אליליים אחר הצהרים. אומנם, גישה סינקרטיסטית זו הייתה מסוכנת כשלעצמה. זאת משום שהיא ערערה את יסודות היהדות וזהותה המיוחדת בצורה
שקטה.
'
חידושו' של אנטיוכוס, יחד עם יועציו ועושי דברו היהודים, היה חמור פי כמה. הוא שאף לעקור את היהדות ה-'פרימיטיבית' מהשורש. כנראה שהוא חלם (כמו אדריינוס קיסר מאוחר יותר) לאחד את כל תושבי האימפריה הסלווקית תחת מטריית הקידמה הנאורה מבית מדרשם של חכמי יוון. הוא לא השאיר להם כל מרחב תמרון סינקרטיסטי לטשטש ולהתחמק ולהתפשר. הוא ישר דרש מהיהודים שיבחרו בין ההלניזם לבין המוות. אלא דדא
עקא, לא היה בכלל ברור ליהודים איך היו אמורים להתנהג במצב חסר תקדים כזה.
המשבר היה עוד יותר חריף, כי דווקא בשעה הקשה ההיא שבה היו זקוקים להדרכה דתית ולדעת דעת עליון, הבינו היהודים שהאמצעי החשוב ביותר לחשיפת דבר ד', הנבואה, כבר לא הייתה קיימת ביניהם. לנו, שאת מוסד הנבואה מכירים רק מסיפורי התנ"ך, אינם מבינים את גודל השבר הזה. אולם, מצב זה השאיר את אבותינו מגששים באפילה, ומנע מהם מלקבל כל מיני החלטות. כך, למשל, כשהקימו מחדש את מזבח ה' המחולל, לא ידעו מה לעשות עם אבני המזבח עליהן הקריבו המתייוונים הבוגדים את דבריהם הטמאים ל-'שקוץ משומם' (דניאל י"א, ל"א). לא העיזו להכריע, ושמו אותן בצד 'עד שיבוא נביא צדק ויורה עליהן' (מכבים א ד, מ"ו). דבר דומה אירע כמה שנים מאוחר יותר, כשהמליכו את שמעון החשמונאי למלך עליהם. הצעד היה בעייתי מכל מיני בחינות, אולם ראו בו, בכל זאת כורח השעה. את המעשה ביצעו בידים רועדות ובלב אחוז חרדות, והתנו את תוקפו בביאת 'נביא צדק' (שם, י"ד, מ"א. השווה קידושין דף ס"ו ע"א ורמב"ן עה"ת, בראשית מ"ט, י ודלא כשיטת הרמב"ם).
אולם, היו שאלות שדרשו התייחסות מיידית. הכלי היחיד שנשאר לחכמי ומנהיגי הזמן לגילוי רצון הא-ל הייתה התורה ופירושה לפי המידות שהתורה נדרשת בהן. אולם, השאלות שבהן נאלצו להתמודד היו כבדות מנשוא. תקחו לדוגמא את הדרך הראויה להתנהג בשעת השמד, קרי הלכות קידוש השם. היום, כל בר בי רב דחד יומא יודע ש-'נמנו וגמרו בעלית בית נתזה בלוד: כל עבירות שבתורה אם אומרין לאדם עבור ואל תהרג - יעבור ואל יהרג, חוץ מעבודה זרה וגילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים...לא שנו אלא שלא בשעת השמד, אבל בשעת השמד - אפילו מצוה קלה יהרג ואל יעבור....אפילו שלא בשעת השמד, לא אמרו אלא בצינעא, אבל בפרהסיא - אפילו מצוה קלה יהרג ואל יעבור. (סנהדרין דף ע"ד ע"א). אולם, פסק דין זה הוצא רק כעבור שלוש מאות שנה, בתקופת גזירות אדריינוס קיסר (130- 136 לספה"נ). לכן, על חכמי התקופה נפלה האחריות הכבידה לדון ולהורות הלכה למעשה, לפי הכלים ההלכתיים והפרשניים שבידיהם ומתוך רגש של יראת שמים ואחריות לאומית, מתי יהודי יקריב את חייו ויתעלם מקביעת המסורת, 'וחי בהם, ולא שימות בהם' (ספרא אחרי מות פרשה ט, סעיף י"ג, י"ג). ללא היה נביא שיאשר את החלטתם וללא אורים ותומים שבהם אפשר היה להתייעץ (השווה סוטה מח ע"ב), אזרו חכמי התקופה עוז בגדר 'לא דבר רק הוא מכם,' – 'אם רק הוא מכם לפי שלא התבוננתם בו ופלפלתם בטעמו כהוגן' (מדרש תנאים, דברים פרק ל"ב, מ"ז). הם ישבו על המדוכה ופסקו הלכה למעשה שמצוה למות ולא לעבוד עבודה זרה או לבטל ברית מילה. היה בזה סיכון עצום, שמא טעות תעלה בידם. למרות זה, על אף כל ולמרות כל, התמידו והורו לפי מיטב הבנתם.
אפילו קביעת חנוכה בתור חג חובה, הכולל מצוה מדרבנן, הייתה צעד נועז. הרי, לפי חז"ל, גם את בקשת אסתר המלכה לא רצו אנשי כנסת הגדולה לקבל (מגילה דף ז ע"א). 'שלחה להם אסתר לחכמים: קבעוני לדורות! שלחו לה: קנאה את מעוררת עלינו לבין האומות. שלחה להם: כבר כתובה אני על דברי הימים למלכי מדי ופרס.' כאן, המשימה הייתה קשה עוד יותר. את נס חנוכה הצבאי, היה אפשר לפרשן כעוד נצחון של צבא גרילה על צבא סדיר מסורבל, שבו זמנית נאלץ להתמודד עם איומים במזרח (הפרסים) ובמערב (צבא הרפובליקה הרומאית). את נס פך השמן אף אחד לא ראה, חוץ מכמה כהנים. זו"ע, נאלצו החכמים שבאותו דור להכריע ולקבל אחריות בתוקף תפקידם, אליו מינתה אותם התורה, לקבוע שיש מקום להוסיף מועד ללוח העברי לציון אירוע היסטורי שחסר כל המרכיבים הנסיים הגלויים הקיימים במועדים הנזכרים בתורה. את זה הם עשו, מתוך אמונה עמוקה ביד ה' הפועלת המסווה טבעי. בזה הם קבעו את פרמטרים של התורה שבעל פה לדורות: שילוב של יראת שמים, יראת הוראה, דחף להורות, גבורה ואמונה ש(כדברי הרב זצ"ל) 'זאת התורה אפשר ליישמה בכל מקום, בכל עת ובכל הנסיבות.'
הרב סולובייצ'יק זצ"ל תמיד הדגיש שהתורה איננה יכולה להתקיים בלי מעשי גבורה מצד לומדיה. גבורה מחייבת הקרבה אישית, מוכנות להסתכן וקבלת אחריות אישית לשאת בתוצאות. זהו הלקח של חנוכה ויש בו, בתקופה הנוכחית, מיסר מאד אקטואלי. עומדים בפני הציבור היהודי בארץ אתגרים חסרי תקדים והקף. אותם אתגרים (הלכתיים, תרבותיים, חברתיים ופוליטיים) אינם רק מנת חלקם של מגזר דתי כלשהו, אלא של כלל הציבור המזדהה כיהודי בעל זיקה חיובית למורשת אבותינו (שהם כ-80% מהיהודים בארץ לפי המחקר האחרון). הם מחייבים התייחסות נועזת וגבורה עילאית. הם מחייבים שיתוף פעולה בין הגורמים והפלגים בעם (בדיוק כמו שהחסידים שיתפו פעולה עם החשמונאים ואחרים בהתנגדותם לאנטיוכוס ולמתייוונים בקרב היהודים). מעל הכל, הם מחייבים את כלל הציבור היהודי להתכחש לחושך המאיים עליו, ולהחליפו באור הגנוז בתורתנו ובתוך עצמנו. יה"ר שהיא תעמוד לנו בימים הבאים.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Biggest Mitzva

Sometime in the late '70's, there was a riot in Williamsburg (NYC). Satmar Hassidim, ran riot in the local Police Station on Shabbat (I don't remember why). I do recall that when one of the rampaging Satmarer was asked why he and his cohorts were rioting (and on Shabbos, yet), he replied: 'If the Blacks can do it, so can we!' (Of course, he used the Yiddish word...). Anyway, the next day, after Kollel Seder at YU, I happened to discuss this episode with one of the Roshe Yeshiva. I will never forget his comment (as he's one of the smartest, most perceptive people I know). He noted that here are Satmar Hassidim, who pride themselves on their absolute detachment from anything Western or American, self-consciously modelling themselves on Black militants. They are, he concluded, more assimilated than they wish to admit.


I thought about this episode, when I received this article from Thursday's Haaretz (courtesy of Aviad Stollman). It describes the new fashion in Haredi circles, wearing a chador-like covering for reasons of modesty. It appears that even Haredi rabbis are most disturbed by it. Personally, I don't know why they're surprised. Tzni'us for women (not, G-d forbid for men) has long been a, no the, central concern of rabbis, educators and parents. Every social evil in the Orthodox community (and beyond) has been attributed to the failure of religious women to cover up 'properly'. For example, about ten years ago, there was a serious drug problem in a Haredi neighborhood. What was the rabbinic response? They started a campaign to get married women to cover more hair. Their moral lassitude, it was declared, was responsible for the drug problem.

Now, I firmly believe in modest attire ('according to Orthodox tradition' as the wedding invitations say) for both men and women. I am also very much aware of the fact that the more secular society tramples sexual and social boundaries, there is a natural (and totally understandable) reaction to compensate and dig in.

There is, however, a limit. My wife's great-grandfather, a Lubavitcher Hassid, was wont to say: דער גרעסטער מצווה איז ניט צו זיין קיין נער. Roughly translated: 'The biggest mitzva is not to be an idiot,' and this is insane. It also, as the Haredi Bes Din in the article noted, comes perilously close to active imitation of non-Jewish RELIGIOUS behavior (חוקות הגוי), about which I happen to know something. In fact, when I was reading my friend Judy Miller's book, God Has Ninety Nine Names, I was struck by the fact that the the first thing the Taliban (and all other jihadis) do when they take power is to throw a shmatte on the women. Evidently, as with the Satmar Hassidim, Haredi society is becoming more assimilated than it realizes (or is willing to admit).

Friday, November 23, 2007

And Now for Something Completely....Errrrr

Conversion Woes

For the past two weeks, I've been following intensely the latest imbroglio over conversion, as reported by Gil over at Hirhurim. I have to say that my emotions during this time have ranged from anger (at the offensiveness of the Haredi offensive) to indignation (at the unjustified, illegitimate attempt to delegitimize the entire non-Haredi rabbinate in one fell swoop) to pain (at the absolute total lack of empathy or concern for the rest of the Jewish People) to despair (at the sight of Torah Judaism making war on itself, when the forces of radical post-modernism and assimilation are destroying over 80% of our people. The existential threat to the State of Israel, from within, is of no concern to this Rabbi Eisenstein and his supporters and minions. They'll get their money from elsewhere, I guess.).

I actually had intended to pen a long, reasoned reaction to this story. When I thought about it further, I realized that much of what I wanted to say has already been said (and kudos to AddRabbi on scooping me in that regard).

The bottom line is, and I say this as someone who is personally inclined to the strict interpretation of Kabbalat ha-Mitzvot (and convinced that it's historically more correct, as well), that the Modern Orthodox Rabbinate has to adopt the strategy of Homa u-Migdal and just act according to its convictions. Those convictions are just as valid, perhaps more valid, than those that Rabbi Eisenstein and Rabbi Tropper are trying to foist upon the body politic of the God-fearing, Orthodox community.

If this means sacrificing the Israeli Rabbinate or, better, takinging it over (or back), so be it.

Will such a development open the door wider to Reform and Conservative conversions? Probably. In any event, they are already a fact of life here (as they are in the Gola, thanks to BaGaTz). At the same time, it remains a fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis (including Russians) prefer a valid Orthodox conversion over anything else. If we properly, respectfully, and professionally present the Torah we will have nothing to fear from the others.


Doing what is right requires heroic, sacrificial behavior. It demands facing 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' (Hamlet, III,i). The Torah, and the Jewish People, deserve no less.

ממעמקים קראתיך

The headlines in today's Makor Rishon said it all. Annapolis is worse than we ever dreamed. According to sources in the army, cited by Caroline Glick, Olmert in his desperation to stay out of jail (backed by his incompetent Foreign Minister, sleazy Finance Minister and Arrogant Defense Minister) is going to commit Israel to the division of Jerusalem, the abandonment of the Old City, a return to the 1949 armistice lines and the expulsion of 300,000 Jews from their homes (yours truly included).

If this is not a גזירה looming over us, I don't know what it is.

Please add the following to your prayers:
תהלים פרק קל
שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ יְקֹוָק:(ב) אֲדֹנָי שִׁמְעָה בְקוֹלִי תִּהְיֶינָה אָזְנֶיךָ קַשֻּׁבוֹת לְקוֹל תַּחֲנוּנָי:(ג) אִם עֲוֹנוֹת תִּשְׁמָר יָהּ אֲדֹנָי מִי יַעֲמֹד:(ד) כִּי עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא:(ה) קִוִּיתִי יְקֹוָק קִוְּתָה נַפְשִׁי וְלִדְבָרוֹ הוֹחָלְתִּי:(ו) נַפְשִׁי לַאדֹנָי מִשֹּׁמְרִים לַבֹּקֶר שֹׁמְרִים לַבֹּקֶר:(ז) יַחֵל יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל יְקֹוָק כִּי עִם יְקֹוָק הַחֶסֶד וְהַרְבֵּה עִמּוֹ פְדוּת:(ח) וְהוּא יִפְדֶּה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִכֹּל עֲוֹנֹתָיו:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Moloch Reigns


On the Eve of Annapolis, the priests of Moloch are preparing to offer up our children on the altar of their insatiable god, whom they (in typical Orwellian fashion) call Peace. The first sacrifice in the present festival, Ido Zoldan, was offered two days ago. Past experience has proven that he will not be the last.
Once again, though, the Israeli establishment (government, press, academia, cultural icons etc.) is not planning to sacrifice our bodies to Moloch. It is planning to sacrifice our souls, as well. Jerusalem, the heart of our people and of our faith, is again on the auction block. the radio and print media are filled with calls to continue the de-Judaization of the country, in order to placate the Arabs, and respond 'positively' to the principled refusal of the Muslim world to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish State. (At least they, i.e. the Muslims, have principles!) Yuli Tamir is working overtime to remove the last scintilla of Jewish content from the school curricula.
Moloch worshippers sincerely and passionately believed that by feeding the beast, the god would bless them.
Still, the Torah tells us (Lev. 18, 21):
And thou shalt not give any of thy seed to set them apart to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy G-d: I am the Lord.
It is we historians who can remind our fellow-countrymen of Santayana's of-quoted and rarely heeded warning.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (A Life of Reason)
Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 25 beckon

Required Reading and Listening II

As they say, something's gotta give. So, since my blogging time has been devoted to the wars of the Lord (about which I'll write before Shabbat) and most of my time spent writing my book Categories of Medieval Ashkenazic Culture (and on an article I owe and on the draft of a piece for the local paper), there's been precious time for blogging.

However, there are a few things that have recently appeared that IMHO are absolutely required reading (especially as a few confirm things that I've been saying for a long time):

Assaf Wohl notes the transformation of the Left's political agenda into a full-fledged religion, complete with martyred messiah. (Festinger Lives!)

Uri Ohrbach bemoans the celebration of intermarriage in the Israeli media and gets ripped to shred by the sophisticates of Amor Vincit Omnia.

Yoram Ettinger tries (as many of us have tried) to point out the fatal mistake of ignoring the values of Islam which cannot accomadate a dhimmi state on Arab Land, and projecting (oh so paternalistically) our desires on the Arabs.

Walter Russel Mead demolishes Walt and Mearscheimer.

Gil Student has done an admirable job respectfully highlighting and warning of the Haredi attempt to summarily deligitimize the non-Haredi Orthodox rabbinate.

Finally, an adorable animation was just published about life with Taharat ha-mishpacha. I thought it was great (though there were a few au courant things that I could have lives without.) Anyway, it ranks right up there with the promo for Tova the Shadchan.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

You can Take the Boy outa Boston...

But the accent is foh-evah...


What American accent do you have? (Best version so far)

Northeast New England

The kind of accent they have in Boston. There is more to it than just r's. Like, you say "don" and "dawn" the same while the people down in NYC don't.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Rabin, Beitar and the Kulturkampf

Last week, the fans at a Beitar Yerushalayim game, booed when they were asked to stand for a moment of silence in memory of slain Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin ז"ל. Instead, many booed. The press was horrfied and has done precious little but condemn the Beitar fans (i.e. Sefardim, Religious, traditional, Right wing primitives) for furthering the 'incitement that led to the murder of the Prime Minister.' The team was fined (why?) and required to play two games to empty stands, thereby losing income. This, however, was not enough in the eyes of the press. So, all day yesterday the radio, TV and papers were hacking away on the need to come down hard on the club for the treasonable, anti-democratic behavior of...the fans.

Now, aside from a few lunatics who are much beloved of the media, NOONE in this country supported and/or does not deeply regret Rabin's murder. However, unless you also support his policies, you are deemed an 'enemy of peace' and a potential assassin. During the weeklong annual Rabin memorials, the media trots out dozens of identifiable religious and right wing people and pointedly asks if they've repented of their evil (sic!) ways. It's all very Suslovian.

Against this background, Ben Chorin has a very apt remark:

Beitar Jerusalem fans have been roundly condemned in the press and banned by the league from attending two home games for booing during the moment of silence for Rabin. It is not especially politically correct to defend them but they deserve to be defended. In theory, the moment of silence is a mere display of respect for a slain prime minister and as such should be uncontroversial. In fact, however, such ceremonies have been turned into ritualized forms of identification with specific political messages.The Beitar fans understood perfectly well that they were being asked to affirm the virtuousness of the secular Ashkenazi left and the barbarism of everyone else, first and foremost, people like themselves. Their reaction was a sign of healthy self-esteem combined with a certain, um, lack of inhibition. Many others share the sentiment but tend to subtler forms of self-expression.So next time you're working up a head of steam about the manipulative annual Rabin rituals, remember this: the people having the babies in this country aren't buying

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Not A Shred of Decency: Entdecktes Haaretz

I have often criticized Haaretz anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian Extremist editorials and staff. Such observations have usually been dismissed as a function of who I am and where I live.

Now, however, David Landau, the anti-Zionist Haredi editor of the paper has done a lot of us the favor of coming clean, (as reported by Isi Liebler):

According to The Jerusalem Post, at the recent Russian Limmud Conference in Moscow, Landau, one of the few non-Russian-speaking participants, dropped a bombshell. He stunned those present by boasting that his newspaper had "wittingly soft-pedalled" alleged corruption by Israeli political leaders including prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, when, in the opinion of Haaretz, the policies of those leaders were advancing the peace process.

When participants challenged him concerning the morality of such an approach, Landau responded with the extraordinary assertion that "more immorality happens every day at a single roadblock [in Judea and Samaria] than in all the scandals put together."

He then unashamedly assured those present that Haaretz was ready to repeat the process in order "to ensure that Olmert goes to Annapolis."

Even former Bolsheviks in the audience must have gasped at such views, openly stated, which incorporated all the hallmarks of the Stalinist era.

It is surely scandalous for the top editor of what purports to be a reputable and prestigious daily newspaper to publicly proclaim - and take pride in - having deliberately "soft-pedalled" and possibly even covered up acts of corruption by senior political leaders in order to promote his own political agenda, and, moreover, boast that his paper would continue to do so in the future.

'Nuff Said.

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).



Ahhhhhh....

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.


WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!!

(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.
joel.fishman@gmail.com

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.