Thursday, May 25, 2006

Food for Thought

1) Tomorrow is Jerusalem Day, though the celebrations are today in order to avoid Hillul Shabbat. Thirty-nine years ago, in what still looks like a miracle, the city was liberated by the Israeli army and came under Jewish rule for the first time since Hyrcanus invited the Romans in, in 63 BCE. I still get overcome when I recall the electric thrill that went through me, when we received the news. I was just a kid at the time and I wasn’t too clear as to why this was so momentous. Nevertheless, I sensed intuitively that an event of cosmic proportions had occurred.

That’s why I will דווקא teach my Hiloni students today about Jerusalem and what it means for those who can see it, as it is. Many of them haven’t a clue why we should care about Jerusalem. Happily, though, my experience has taught that the majority of the non-religious kids I’ve taught are receptive to learning about and understanding things Jewish. I often think that that’s where Bar Ilan will earn its עולם הבא.

2) On November 18, 1308 Pope Boniface VIII issued a Papal Bull, known as Unam Sanctam (‘One Sanctity’), as part of his ongoing fight with King Phillip IV (le Bel) of France. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, a central feature of the statement of faith was the definition of the subordination of secular power to spiritual power. In other words, all authority on earth, was derived from and subordinate to the Vatican. It was the most far-reaching assertion of papal power and primacy ever issued.

It was also passé.

By the time Boniface issued his statement, papal power had already started a serious decline in power and prestige that would continue right up to the Reformation (and beyond). Boniface, himself, was defeated and briefly arrested by Phillip, who placed a Frenchman on the papal throne and moved the curia to Avignon (where he could better control it). In other words, Unam Sanctam was too much, too late.

Sound familiar?

3) It's now clear that, as Lisa pointed out, the Iranian yellow sash story is a hoax. Unfortunately, that in no way affects my comment that even were it to be true, it should not come as a surprise as it is a principled enforcement of Muslim Law.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Conversion and the Rabbis' Problem

In the midst of all of the back and forth that has marked the present conversion controversy with the Rabbinate, it seems as if very little thought has gone into how this looks to others. Now, I am most decided not saying that people should not get involved in a principled debate or dispute, simply because of מה יאמרו הבריות. However, the impression one gets from the Jewish blogosphere (at least) is that there is a vast number of Jews in Israel and abroad, who have no clue as to why conversion is more than a matter of personal, private, choice. One thing, however, is for certain, this has become an occasion for a lot of venting: toward the Rabbinate, the rabbinate, the Torah, you name it. We have a serious hasbarah problem, especially in Israel.

How to resolve it? Well, I think we can take a cue from the Rov זצ"ל. When the inter-faith initiatives first came from the Papacy, in anticipation of Vatican II, a lot of prominent rabbis and theologians jumped on the inter-faith bandwagon. Typically, the Rov remained the Lonely Man of Faith, and opposed the initiative.

Here’s where things got interesting. He approached a former talmid of his, and asked him to arrange a talk to the Religion and Philosophy faculties (I believe) at Columbia, which would be by invitation only. The talmid told me that the lecture was a real tour de force. Based upon the classics of Western and Christian theology, he argued that inter-faith dialogue in matters of dogma and faith is not possible. The Greek was in Greek. The Latin was in Latin. The German was in German, and so on. In other words, he was able to argue his point on the turf, and in the koine, of his listeners. (cf. Moreh Nebuhim III, 31). He spoke in a way that commanded the informed respect of his audience, in terms to which they could relate. (Confrontation, the essay that emerged from the talk, does not reflect the totality of the original.)

If we are going to make our point, we need to develop the knowledge base and skills to take the debate onto the Post-Modern, Western Liberal playing field. Otherwise, we will not be heard. On the contrary, we will be drowned out.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Yellow Sash/Yellow Badge/Deja Vu

I really don't understand why everyone is so shocked by the 'rumor' that the Iranian government might force Jews to wear a yellow sash and Christians a red sash. That's the law, according to Amanat Umar, for all non-Muslims. That's what dhimmitude requires.

Why are so-called sophisticated, multi-cultural, Westerners always so taken by surprise when others live by their principles?

As for the invocation of Nazi Germany, may I remind these feckless pundits that the idea of the 'Jew-Badge' was adopted by Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, from the Muslims!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

This and That....

1. I haven't yet thanked Gil Student for his gracious plug for this blog (along with that of my neighbor, Ben Chorin) at the recent RCA Convention. Welcome to my new readers. You are invited to subscribe using the Bloglet link on the sidebar.

2. The Makor Rishon article on Lag Ba'Omer was also reported on in Maariv's website and translated here (by Jameel). On the Main Line has an important observation, as well. The use of "שמחת רשב"י" could easily be case of לשון סגי נהור (i.e. a euphemism). I would that יום שמחת is a literal translation of the Aramaic term הילולא. [I'm grateful to Mississippi Fred, but sorry I only saw his observation after I sent in a Letter to the Editor of Makor Rishon. The Friday issue is now closed.]

3. R. Hayyim Navon, a very thoughtful young RaM at Yeshivat Har Etzion, has a respectful (but firm) response to the Reform movement.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Conversion Update

Steve Weiss of Canonist has been working overtime to explore the nature and the implications of the recent crackdown of the Rabbanut on conversions. performed by RCA rabbis (among others).
Apparently, the offices of Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Amar, are not singling out the RCA, but everyone who doesn't share their pecific take on conversion standards. From my own experience, this includes the IDF Rabbinate and Rav Haim Druckman's Bet Din.

As it presently appears, the rabbinate is seeking to establish unified standards for conversion. Prima facie, this is a reasonable enough request. The question that no one wants to answer is: 'What standards?' Kashrut, Shabbat, Jewish Education etc. or Shaytlach and the like. Furthermore, if the standards are set by Israeli standards (e.g. Hebrew fluency and understanding of the Prayerbook), the conversion effort in the US might as well close up shop, because the Israeli rabbis (like their governmental and secular colleagues) are abysmally ignorant of the realities of Diaspora Life.

More seriously, since the Rabbinate is not the Sanhedrin, what does this mean for the discretion of the local Bes Din (assuming the members possess the proper credentials of scholarship and of יראת שמים)? My impression, from reading the responsa of many of the gedolim who have addressed this issue in the past (R. Azriel Hildesheimer, R. David Zvi Hoffman, R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzensky, and R. Moshe Feinstein [all of them] זצ"ל), that the discretion of the Bes Din is a given, since בדיעבד כולם גרים הם.

The situation is extremely complex, laden with emotion and fraught with dangers of many types. To a certain degree, the future of the State of Israel depends upon its resolution. Certainly, the type of חילול ד' that is the daily result of rabbinic bureacratic inertia and obtusenessin this and other matters, is a malignancy that must be excised. That means 'Talk and Think out of the box.'

I pray that those involved will do just that.

While this story now appears to be much wider than I previously thought, I still think that within the Haredi (and, to a certain degree, Hardally) community there is a growing awareness of, and opposition to, the growth of a Modern Orthodox rabbinic presence in Israel.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Barak, BaGatz, BaDaTz, Redux

Today was quite a day in Israel's Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Barak and Deputy Chief Justice Beinish were overruled by their colleagues, in a clear signal that when it comes down to it, when Jewish State collides with Post-Modern Liberal State, most justices will vote for the latter.

Then, the Supreme court rejected a ruling of both the regional and supreme rabbinical courts. The court ruled as inadmissible photos and testimony of a wife, in flagrente delecto, committing adultery. The rationale was violation of the right to privacy. The striking thing is that this is a classic case of where secular law and Halakhah, prima facie, cannot co-exist. If the testimony is acceptable על פי דין the Supreme Court would appear to be in violation of the rights of the husband who, by law, must divorce his wife.

We live in interesting times, no?

Not everything Thought...

This week’s Makor Rishon featured an article (not yet online) about an Israeli Rosh Yeshiva, who is also an historien de dimanche. So far, so good. The news was his ‘startling’ discovery that the celebration of Lag Ba’Omer is based upon a ‘mistake.’ More specifically, he claims that it’s the result of a sixteenth-century scribal error. What was the nature of this error? He claims that in the authentic transcriptions of the writings of R. Haim Vital, the premier disciple of R. Isaac Luria זצוק"ל (a.k.a. the Arizal), Lag Ba’Omer is listed not as the day that R. Shimon bar Yohai died (יום שמת), but as the day of his ‘joy’ or ‘celebration’ (יום שמחת). His conclusion is that the whole idea of celebrating R. Shimon’s yahrzeit on that day is a mistake. As proof, he invokes the Hatam Sofer’s objections voiced by the (Resp. Hatam Sofer, II: Yoreh De’ah no. 233) against the entire institution of the Lag Ba’Omer celebrations in Meron. In addition, he notes that in the time of the Ge’onim Lag Ba’Omer was observed as a fast day, as evidenced by the survival selihot that were then recited. Finally, he notes that the tradition that the disciples of R. Aqiba stopped dying on Lag Ba’Omer is first mentioned by R. Menahem ha-Meiri, at the turn of the fourteenth century.

Now, far be it from me to object to the integration of history into the framework of Limmude Qodesh. Furthermore, the discussion of the possible error in the writings of R. Haim Vital is very plausible. There is any number of ways in which יום שמחת could morph into יום שמת. The reading יום שמחת could also be seen as a lectio difficilior.

Still and all, I have deep reservations about both the substance of the objection, and the wisdom of its publication.

First, the fact that Meiri is the first source that has survived to limit the period of mourning during Sefirat Ha’Omer, only tells us that it was an established tradition. Medieval halakhists did not, repeat, did not play fast and loose with customs unless they were convinced otherwise. The researcher has no idea whence came this idea (though, there were attempts to explain it textually). So, Lag Ba’Omer as a unique (and potentially festive) day is not thereby impugned.

Second, the author conjectures that the fast day referred to above is connected to the failure of the Jews to rebuild the Temple in the days of Julian the Apostate (360-363 CE). He bases this conclusion on the fact that according to some Christian sources, an earthquake (363 CE) hit the city on the evening after Lag Ba’Omer in the year that undid the preliminary work on the rebuilding. Julian’s death in battle, later that year, ended the project entirely. The problem is that Christian sources could have been expected to invoke an earthquake in this context, since that could be seen as an ‘Act of God.’ Less involved sources, like Ammianus Marcellinus, claimed that a fire destroyed the construction site (which, of course, raises the possibility of arson). This shows serious lack of homework. Furthermore, and I’m sorry to say this, the leap of conjecture that he undertakes reminds me of the mode of argumentation that characterizes Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

Third, and most seriously, what difference does it make whether the celebrations in Meron are in honor of R. Shimon’s yahrzeit or his celebration (according to the Arizal via R. Haim Vital ). In both of these instances, R. Shimon’s life and persona is being celebrated at the place most closely associated with him. Is a lexical error enough of a reason to inveigh against the very event? Is an academic insight a reason to throw cold water (even indirectly) upon a popular custom (something the Hatam Sofer explicitly refused to do)?

I am not a fan (to put it mildly), of the cult of sacred graves, and certainly not of the excesses that adhere to it. However, the events at Meron (and their equivalents), are a major part of the intense relationship to Judaism, spirituality and God that is maintained by an enormous part of the Jewish population of Israel, across the boards. Before someone goes and discredits them, it would be wiser to use the opportunity to bring the visitors closer to Torah and to ongoing growth in observance and Jewish commitment. [Those who know the story of the Bais ha-Levi and the ‘stupid shayla’ know to what I am referring.] Folksreligion is a valuable element in Judaism. We should nurture it, as a form of religious, spiritual and national growth before we try to deflate it (even out of good intentions).    

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Excuse me for Living....

but the fact remains that I get sick at the sight of seafood enthusiasts in the Israeli media.

Friday, May 12, 2006

More Yehoshua

Two pieces caught my eye as appropriate responses to A.B. Yehoshua. One is by Natan Sharansky. The other, was written for the latest issue of Jewish Action, but is right on target. It's by Rabbi Moshe Grylack, the most intriguing Haredi journalist and intellectual I have ever met.

Yair Sheleg, however, misses the point.

The question on the table is whether both Diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews will commit themselves to being Jewish, and be willing to pay the price of that commitment.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Walt and Mearsheimer in the Dock: Kudos to QED

QED has done it again. Everything you wanted to know about the nefarious duo of Walt and Mearsheimer and the vibrant defense mounted against their onslaught.

A. B. Yehoshua: Redux

The full session on the Jewish future, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, is now on-line. It's a stimulating, maddening and enlightening experience. A. B. Yehoshua comes off even worse than he was portrayed in the media.

I was especially bemused by his categorical assertion that Israelis do not try to imitate anyone else, as opposed to the American Jew, who wishes to become an American. No, I was not bemused. I was stunned. Where does he live? Does he not go out of his house? Does he not read the paper? Does he not watch television or listen to the radio? Israelis, desperately trying to fill their identity void. In trying to do so they pall-mall sieze on everything that the West markets, or the East purveys.

How can someone touted as a leading Israeli intellectual be so obtuse and soout of touch?

Conversion, The Rabbinate and David Landau versus Modern Orthodoxy

ADDRabbi has, what I think is, the best interpretation of the current efforts by the Rabbinate to delegitimize the entire Modern Orthodox Rabbinate (including YU, RIETS, the OU and of course the RCA and its Bes Din). I urge anyone who's interested or affected by this business to read his posting and follow the highly instructive links he provides.

What has this to do with David Landau? It actually has quite a bit to do with him, though indirectly. Landau, a native of England and a graduate of the premier hareidi yeshivot, is the Editor-in-Chief of Haaretz. He is an articulate, highly intelligent person. He is also a committed Leftist, which has earned him the opprobrium of much of the Religious Zionist community.

What few people have noted is that his Leftist orientation is based upon deeply held principles. Those principles are, moreover, religious. I realized this when I read the very revealing interview that Landau gave to Yedidyah Meir and Sivan-Rahav Meir, in their book Yamim Ketumim. In that interview, Landau presents a carefully thought out religious position regarding the significance of the State of Israel. What I found jarring was that Landau's world-view lies somewhere between Reb Yoilish Teitelbaumזצ"ל, author of ויואל משה, Rav Shach זצ"ל and Yeshayahu Leibowitz ז"ל. In his world, all of the texts that inspired Religious Zionism have been spiritualized and taken totally out of their concrete context.

There is, however, more. Yesterday, I was listening toone of my favorite radio shows: 'The Last Word' (המילה האחרונה). It's a news and commentary show that's hosted by a religious and a secular personality and almost always provides important insight into our all to complex world (and is incredibly entertaining). In any event, yesterday's religious host was Jacky Levy, a first rate stand-up comic. Levy was discussing, en passant, the fact that Haaretz never publishes moderate or modern Orthodox reportage or op-ed pieces. Those identifiably Modern Orthodox writer whose article appear are restricted to political issues or to religion bashing. Levy claimed that Landau axiologically rejects the idea of Modern Orthodoxy as an oxymoron (he said כלאים), and refuses to countenance its advocacy.

When I heard this, I thought about the conversion issue. I am hardly a conspiracist. It is, however, striking that just now there appears to be growing a serious anti-Modern Orthodox agenda in certain, very influential circles.

There is a (potentially) tragic irony here. Just when the Israeli Jewish population clearly is looking to become more Jewish, the form of Orthodoxy best suited to opening Torah up to them has come under such serious attack.

Perhaps, they know something we should know.

Perhaps, we should get our act together and strike while the iron is hot.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

More Jews Live in Eretz Yisrael

This is a subject I've long thought about, but first a word from Charles Krauthammer:

The Washington Post
May 5, 2006
Never Again?
By Charles Krauthammer


WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS for the first time in 1,871 years, it is worth noting. In A.D. 70, and again in 135, the Roman Empire brutally put down Jewish revolts in Judea, destroying Jerusalem, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and sending hundreds of thousands more into slavery and exile. For nearly two millennia, the Jews wandered the world. And now, in 2006, for the first time since then, there are once again more Jews living in Israel -- the successor state to Judea -- than in any other place on Earth.

Israel's Jewish population has just passed 5.6 million. America's Jewish population was about 5.5 million in 1990, dropped to about 5.2 million 10 years later and is in a precipitous decline that, because of low fertility rates and high levels of assimilation, will cut that number in half by mid-century.When 6 million European Jews were killed in the Holocaust, only two main centers of Jewish life remained: America and Israel.

That binary star system remains today, but a tipping point has just been reached. With every year, as the Jewish population continues to rise in Israel and decline in America (and in the rest of the Diaspora), Israel increasingly becomes, as it was at the time of Jesus, the center of the Jewish world.

An epic restoration, and one of the most improbable. To take just one of the remarkable achievements of the return: Hebrew is the only "dead" language in recorded history to have been brought back to daily use as the living language of a nation. But there is a price and a danger to this transformation. It radically alters the prospects for Jewish survival.

For 2,000 years, Jews found protection in dispersion -- protection not for individual communities, which were routinely persecuted and massacred, but protection for the Jewish people as a whole. Decimated here, they could survive there. They could be persecuted in Spain and find refuge in Constantinople. They could be massacred in the Rhineland during the Crusades or in the Ukraine during the Khmelnytsky Insurrection of 1648-49 and yet survive in the rest of Europe.Hitler put an end to that illusion. He demonstrated that modern anti-Semitism married to modern technology -- railroads, disciplined bureaucracies, gas chambers that kill with industrial efficiency -- could take a scattered people and "concentrate" them for annihilation.

The establishment of Israel was a Jewish declaration to a world that had allowed the Holocaust to happen -- after Hitler had made his intentions perfectly clear -- that the Jews would henceforth resort to self-protection and self-reliance. And so they have, building a Jewish army, the first in 2,000 years, that prevailed in three great wars of survival (1948-49, 1967 and 1973).

But in a cruel historical irony, doing so required concentration -- putting all the eggs back in one basket, a tiny territory hard by the Mediterranean, eight miles wide at its waist. A tempting target for those who would finish Hitler's work.

His successors now reside in Tehran. The world has paid ample attention to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declaration that Israel must be destroyed. Less attention has been paid to Iranian leaders' pronouncements on exactly how Israel would be "eliminated by one storm," as Ahmadinejad has promised.

Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the presumed moderate of this gang, has explained that "the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam." The logic is impeccable, the intention clear: A nuclear attack would effectively destroy tiny Israel, while any retaliation launched by a dying Israel would have no major effect on an Islamic civilization of a billion people stretching from Mauritania to Indonesia.

As it races to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran makes clear that if there is any trouble, the Jews will be the first to suffer. "We have announced that wherever [in Iran] America does make any mischief, the first place we target will be Israel," said Gen. Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghani, a top Revolutionary Guards commander. Hitler was only slightly more direct when he announced seven months before invading Poland that, if there was another war, "the result will be . . . the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."

Last week Bernard Lewis, America's dean of Islamic studies, who just turned 90 and remembers the 20th century well, confessed that for the first time he feels it is 1938 again. He did not need to add that in 1938, in the face of the gathering storm -- a fanatical, aggressive, openly declared enemy of the West, and most determinedly of the Jews -- the world did nothing.

When Iran's mullahs acquire their coveted nukes in the next few years, the number of Jews in Israel will just be reaching 6 million. Never again?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Unfinished Business or חושש בראשו

Without going into details, this past week I learned the truth of the maxim, attributed to the Kotzker Rebbe זצוק"ל to wit:

“Not everything that you think should be said. And not everything that you say should be written. And not everything that is written should be printed.” (Hat tip: Morty Schiller)

The humbling experience of writing something that I later regretted at least provided me with a few (renewed) insights.

1) The creation of fairly homogenous Haredi, Dati and Hiloni enclaves within Israel has created a situation in which we really don't interact with each other. Most of the people with whom we're intimate, pretty much agree with us. As a result, when contemplating the world we all too often stew in our own juices and lose touch with reality. The result is that one starts living in a world of self-serving, superficial platitudes. This is, to say the least, not a healthy situation.
Obviously, what I just said applies mainly to Haredim in Jerusalem and Bnai Braq, Dati'im in Judea and Samaria and Hilonuim in Tel Aviv and large parts of the Sharon. However, ghettos are not only geographically determined. I really wonder whether things are different, really different in Raanana, Bet Shemesh, Savyon, Ahuza, Petah Tikva, and Rishon.

2) A few posts ago, I mentioned the burning of the three volume bio/hagiography of the GRA. One of my commentors noted that (irrespective of the question of book burning), this work is highly problematic. This was confirmed to me yesterday by a very knowledgeable colleague in my department, whose encyclopedic knowledge of, well, everything never leaves me less than stunned. The book, it appears, has a really meanspirited agenda (which it tries very hard to hide).
Mea Culpa.

3) Hazal taught that החושש בראשו יעסוק בתורה (Erubin 54a). With that in mind, I made my way to Reb Usher Weiss' shiur last night. As always, Reb Usher dazzled us with his wonderful combination of breadth, insight and passion. En passant, he mentioned a resonant responsum of R. Shalom Schwadron (1835-1911, aka MaHaRSHaM),

The question, itself, came from an outstanding rabbinic personality, R. Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim (1845-1905; aka ADeReT). The Aderet was the Rov of Mir and came to Jerusalem to serve as Vice Chief Rabbi to the venerable R. Shmuel Salant (1816-1909). When he arrived in Jerusalem, he wrote the Maharsham to ask if he was obliged to always drop everything to respond to the questions of his community, even if this came at the expense of regular meals and sleep.

In his reply (Resp. Maharsham II, no. 210), R. Schwadron ruled forthrightly that (barring emergencies) there is no such obligation. However, he himself had adopted the supererogatory position (i.e. לפנים משורת הדין) that one must always drop everything to respond. He cited a number of different proof-texts. Reb Usher, though, highlighted one (which really affected me personally).
The text is from the extra-canonical tractate Semahot (8, 8):

וכשנאחזו רבן שמעון ורבי ישמעאל וגזרו עליהן שיהרגו, היה רבי ישמעאל בוכה, ואמר לו רבן שמעון ברבי, בשתי פסיעות אתה נתון בחיקן של צדיקים ואתה בוכה, אמר לו וכי בוכה אני על שאנו נהרגין, בוכה אני על שאנו נהרגין כשופכי דמים וכמחללי שבתות, אמר לו שמא בסעודה היית יושב, או ישן היית, ובאתה אשה לשאול על נדתה ועל טומאתה ועל טהרתה, ואמר לה השמש שהיית ישן, והתורה אמרה אם ענה תענה אותו, ומה כתיב אחריו, וחרה אפי והרגתי אתכם בחרב; ויש אומרים רבן שמעון היה בוכה, ורבי ישמעאל אמר לו כדברים הללו. וכשנהרגו רבן שמעון ורבי ישמעאל, באה שמועה אצל רבי עקיבא ואצל רבי יהודה בן בבא, עמדו וחגרו מתניהם שקים, וקרעו את בגדיהם, ואמרו אחינו ישראל שמעונו, אילו טובה היתה באה לעולם תחילה, לא היו מקבלין אלא רבי שמעון ורבי ישמעאל, ועכשיו גלוי היה לפני מי שאמר והיה העולם שלסוף פורעניות גדולות עתידות לבוא לעולם, ולפיכך נסתלקו אלו מן העולם, הצדיק אבד ואין איש שם על לב, יבוא שלום ינוחו על משכבותם הולך נכוחו
This passage is pregnant with meaning, and requires very close study and internalization. Reb Usher's point was, though, that God expects Talmide Hakhamim to go that extra mile in order to do the right thing. It was for the failure to do so, that these גדולים וקדושים felt they paid the ultimate price during the Hadrianic persecutions.
The events since last Yom HaAtzma'ut teach us, I think, that not only are those who can obliged to go the extra mile. Sometimes, the person with the question doesn't even knock on the door. One must seek him or her out. Their souls, and ours, hang in the balance.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


In its latest myopic act, the Chief Rabbinate has now disenfranchised much of the Modern Orthodox Rabbinate. According to the Jewish Week, it no longer recognizes conversions performed under the aegis (and with the approval) of the RCA's Beth Din.

Enough, rabbotai. It is time to pull out the stops, collect whatever means are required and rectify an already intolerable situation.

On second thought: If you combine that with the ongoing saga of the Ministry of Education and its refusal to recognize degrees granted by Yeshiva, one wonders if this is part of a trend. After all, the overwhelming majority of rabbis involved are musmakhim of RIETS.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Friday, May 14 1948

Yehudah Avner, Israel's former ambassador to Great Britain, has a wonderfully moving description of how he heard the news of Israel's establishment- while manning makeshift trenches on the slopes of (the later to be) Mount Herzl, awiting the attack of Iraqi troops stationed in Ein Kerem.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

On the Eve Of Yom Ha-Atzmaut

[Thoughts on Returning from the local school’s Yom HaZikkaron Ceremony.]

Last year, while teaching a course on the Jewish Holiday Cycle, it struck me that most other countries do not observe Memorial Day right before Independence Day. The American Memorial Day is the last Monday in May, and Independence Day is July 4th. In France, they are May 27th and July 14th. Britain has November 11th and March 3rd (Coronation Day). Israel, ever the emotional roller-coaster, bids its citizens to mourn for twenty four hours and then, on a dime, to start celebrating our independence. It’s a very wrenching, very exhausting challenge.

It is also very Jewish.

Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל used to note that every major event in the Jewish calendar is preceded by a period of preparation. Elul leads up to Rosh Hashanah. The Ten Days of Penitence leads up to Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a preparation for Sukkot. Purim is prefaced by the Fast of Esther. Erev Pesah is also the Fast of the Firstborn. Shavuot is preceded by Sefirat ha-Omer, and Tisha B’Av comes at the end of the Three Weeks.

What all of these have in common, is that Judaism demands that celebration must be preceded by reflection and introspection, by חשבון הנפש. In this sense, it was most appropriate for Ben Gurion to have insisted that both Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikkaron come before Yom ha-Atzma’ut (even if I doubt he was thinking along these lines.)

This Independence Day, especially, demands very careful, very painful, reflection on what exactly we want from this country and what price we are willing to pay for it. As opposed to many of the founders (even those ostensibly secular among them), many Israelis seem to just wanna have fun.’ They want to be normal. They heartily agree with their ancestors that ‘Let us go and make a (cultural) alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.’ They seek a de-judaized, ‘state of all of its citizens.’ Just today, it was reported that the incoming Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, wishes to stop the practice of swearing allegiance to the state on the תנ"ך, as that constitutes ‘religious coercion.’ Given her established, post-Zionist credentials, Tamir’s suggestion is not at all surprising. However, what causes me concern is the realization that it expresses not a desire to be considerate of secular sensibilities. It is indicative of the post-Zionist program to become a non-Jewish state. It also dismisses the fundamental right of the Jewish People to an independent state in this, their ancestral homeland.

As borne out in one of the odd cases where Rashi agrees with Jean-Paul Sartre, this goal of assimilated normalcy is doomed to failure. The Torah remarks (Gen. 37, 1), ‘Jacob settled in the land of his father's residence, in the land of Canaan.’ In a prescient comment, Rashi observes that ‘Jacob sought to live in tranquility, but he was beset immediately by the stress of Joseph.’ It is an existential fact of Jewish existence that the only inertia, the only calm we have is that of death (either physical or spiritual).

The events of the past twelve years have taught that by assuming that the founding of the state, amidst hidden and revealed miracles, marked the start of an irreversible redemption was an act of spiritual hubris on our part. We have no more right to assume that the final redemption is mechanistically owed us, than we do to renegotiate our eternal covenant with God. It is excruciatingly painful for many of us to confront this possibility. It does not mean the end. It marks a new beginning.

It marks a beginning because we are standing on the threshold of a new era. It is an era in which the critical mass, and the absolute majority, of the Jewish People live in the Land of Israel, for the first time in twenty-six hundred years.

That comes with grave responsibility. We have a State. We have most of the Jews living here. The Land still responds to our presence and gives forth its fruit. God’s Providence still protects us, because without it there is objectively no way that we would have come to our 58th Yom ha-Atzma’ut.

We have much in which to rejoice.
We have paid, and continue to pay, a terrible price for what we have.
We have much to consider.
We are faced with awesome responsibilities.

Our primary task is to preserve the soul of the nation, which will allow us to preserve its body politic.

Our lesson from today’s Yom Ha-Zikkaron is to ‘highly resolve that these honored dead shall not have died in vain.’

Our job tonight is to celebrate, to give thanks to הקדוש ברוך, הוא for the unparalleled miracle of the State of Israel, and the זכות of living in His Land, under His Providence.

Our mission tomorrow is to renew our commitment to the task before us. We must become worthy of this gift that God has chosen to bestow upon us.

חג עצמאות שמח!

Yom HaZikkaron 5766

In an hour the siren will pierce the air throughout Israel, and the nation will pause to recall the ‘22,123 men and women who have been killed defending the land of Israel since 1860, the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem to build new Jewish neighborhoods.’ This was twenty years before the first Hoveve Zion arrived, fifty seven years before the Balfour Declaration, and eighty seven years before the Partition Vote in 1947. This does not include the thousands of Jews who have been murdered since then for having had the temerity of thinking that Jews have a right to live in the Land of Israel (before 1918, as dhimmis). The silence that the siren brings is far more expressive, and evocative, than anything our words can achieve. For the living, our prayers must suffice.

יהי זכרם ברוך!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Nizkor et Kulam.

The Fallen Remembered. The Murdered Recalled.

מגש הכסף
מילים: נתן אלתרמן

...והארץ תשקוט עין שמיים
תעמעם לאיטה על גבולות עשנים
ואומה תעמוד קרועת לב אך
לקבל את הנס האחד אין שני

היא לטקס תיכון היא תקום למול
ועמדה למולם עוטה חג ואימה
אז מנגד ייצאו נער ונערה
ואט אט ייצעדו הם אל מול

לובשי חול וחגור כבדי נעליים
בנתיב יצעדו הם הלוך והחרש
לא החליפו בגדם לא מחו עוד
את עקבות יום הפרך וליל
קו האש

עייפים עד בלי קץ נזירים ממרגוע
ונוטפים טללי נעורים עבריים
דום השניים ייגשו ועמדו לבלי נוע
ואין אות אם חיים הם או ירויים

אז תשאל האומה שטופת דמע
ואמרה: מי אתם מי אתם
והשניים שוקטים יענו לה: אנחנו
מגש הכסף
שעליו לך ניתנה מדינת היהודים

כך אמרו ונפלו לרגלה עוטי צל
והשאר יסופר בתולדות ישראל .