Friday, April 27, 2007

Mah Zeh Harvard?

Israelis, especially (but not only) secular leftists, like to pride themselves on their sophistication. Many of these self-styled intellectuals (especially those in the media, culture and politics) regard the poor, beknighted conservatives and/or religious with pity. They mouth pre-masticated slogans and recycle well-oiled ideas, without any clue as to what they mean. They are set in their self-evident superiority.

One way in which this manifests itself is in the common attitude of the above uber-menschen to American culture, government and education. The ignorance, pretense and sheer arrogance that characterizes these regnant circles lies somewhere between the maddening and the farcical. [As Amnon Dankner, the editor of Maariv once said, 'Most of my friends never read books and certainly not in English.]

A few examples are in order.

1) My faculty happens to have a relatively high percentage of Ivy League graduates (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, UPenn and Princeton). That fact is of very little worth in most serious academic discussions. If, however, a local faculty member spends time as a visitor at any of the above institutions, he is immediately hailed for his connection with an august university.

2) In order to be accepted into the Ministry of Education's rolls, a foreigner needs to bring his diplomas for certification of equivalence. It's called שקילת תארים. When I underwent the process, I shlepped all of the framed pieces of paper to the ministry, and xeroxed them in front of the director. The senior person in charge asked: What language are these written in? I told her Latin. 'Oh,' she responded. 'And just what university are these from?' 'Boston University and Harvard University,' I replied. 'Can you really say that they are on the same level as an Israeli school?' I was a bit taken aback, but managed to say, 'Yes.' She was skeptical and took the matter under advisement. The certification took over a month.

3) I was at a conference in Europe with some Israeli colleagues. As usual, we all discussed our children, school etc. I mentioned that my son goes to Noam High School and my daughter to Zviya Arts School. (Both are on the left side of the Merkaz HaRav world.) We then segued into a discussion of Aharon Barak and his transformation of the Supreme Court into the Supreme Leader. I contrasted the American system with Israel's (something that Evelyn Gordon, Ben Chorin and Caroline Glick do more eloquently than I). My interlocutor just looked at me with pity and said, 'I understand why you send your children to Noam.' In other words, you poor primitive. Your choice of a more conservative school for your children is evidence of your inability to grasp the nature of enlightened society and government. [Ah!!! A true believer.]

The best example, bar none I just heard today.

A friend of mine had a job interview with a very senior person at one of the Israeli universities. The interviewer looked over his resume and saw that he had done his AB at Harvard College. She looked at him and asked: 'I see you attended Harvard College. What was wrong? Were your grades too low to be admitted to a university?'

Laugh or cry?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Role Model (?)

Today's YNet has a feature on super-model Hava Mond, who's Shomer Shabbat, davens daily, and keeps strictly kosher. Frankly, I'm conflicted. On the one hand, she's a Kiddush HaShem. On the other hand, the world she inhabits is very seductive and corrupting (and no, I would not want my daughter to do it). On the one hand, she has strict red lines as to what she will or will not model. On the other hand, what she will model is highly problematic.

One thing, though, I do know. In a country trying desperately to re-judaize, in order to prevent the mass suicide advocated by the cultural left, people like Chava Mond can achieve more than the Amnon Yitzhaks of the world. Certainly, the Torah and the religious community is her lifeline at the precipice of the slippery slope.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chidon TaNaKh 5767

For over ten years, we've had a pretty set schedule on Independence Day. First, Tefillah. At 11AM, we watch the Bible Quiz. Then, it's mangal time. We're back at 1930 to watch the Israel Prize. This year, though, is different.

First, we mangalled last night, after returning from the settlement's ceremony and fireworks. Second, at my daughter's suggestion, we actually went to the Chidon TaNaKh, at the Jerusalem Theatre. It was really cool. The place was packed. The representatives were from all over thye globe. The finalists included non-Orthodox kids (a very promising sign). The Education Minister (my opinion of whomis well known), actually spoke nicely. The music was upscale and the filmclips that convey the questions were really moving.

The best part was at the end. The two leading contenders, a boy and a girl (both Israeli), had to go head to head.They were asked incredible difficult questions from all over TaNaKh. Neither flinched. In the end, the boy took it by one point. As they were tabulating the results, he walked over to the judges and demanded that a point be taken away from him, because one of his answers had not been perfect!!!! The result would have been a tie.

Do you hear that? A kid asked that he lose, because he felt he'd been unjustly rewarded!!! Is that a KIddush HaShem, or what? (The kid goes to ישיבה לצעירים).

In the end, the judges insisted that he keep the point. He won, the girl was his deputy. However, when Olmert gave him the trophy, he was visibly unhappy (and I don't think it was only because he had to deal with Olmert). Frankly, I agree with him. The girl was so good, they should have made them share the prize.

The moral lesson, and the inspiration derived from seeing the mastery of the Bible were incredibly uplifting.

I think we have a new family traditionin the making.

JIB Awards

It appears I've been nominated in a few categories of the Jewish Israeli Blog Awards.


Thank you to those who nominated me.

Hag Atzma'ut Sameach!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut: Some Musings

Gil has provided a most succinct and organized presentation on the question of Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut, and who says to say (or not say) what.

The truth of the matter is that I'm less and less concerned, or impressed, with the issue as a litmus test of one's Zionism. Of course, in my opinion, those who say Tahanun (or Kinnot or Selihot) are tremendous ingrates who kick the altar like Miriam bat Bilga (cf. Sukkah 56b). They are perfectly willing to live off of us. They'll visit the Koysel and Maaras HaMakhpayyla, secured by us and our children. The entire time, though, they'll kvetch and make totally obnoxious comments.

For example, when I was still living in Jerusalem, I did shmira on Rosh Hashanah outside of shul. Now, the particular minyan that davened near where I was patrolling with my trust M-1 had a lot of bereaved parents among its members. Some American lady came up to me and asked, 'Where's the frum shul?' Stunned, I asked her to explain what she meant. 'Well, this is the Zionist sort of shul. I want a frum shul.' I was absolutely enraged. I thought immediately of one of the people inside davening. He survived the Shoah, married and had one son. That son was killed in Milhemet Yom ha-Kippurim. Nevertheless, he was the gentlest, sweetest man I knew. The minyan's candy man, you know the type. He never missed a minyan. He was a God-fearing, shomer mitzvos. And here was this person, daring to make such invidious and insidious comments. I turned to her and said: 'You know. There are mitpallelim inside who lost their children in battle so that you can come here. They are the truly religious people. So,I suggest you get the hell out of here and go over to Shaare Hesed and find yourself a frum minyan.'

That's not the type I'm talking about.

I'm referring to those who fancy themselves Zionists. In the States, Hallel with a berakha on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut is the litmus test of loyalty to the cause. I've seen a lot of humiliation meted out to people who question the need for it. While I appreciate their devotion to Israel, it all rings hollow since they're not here. So, I would prefer they packed up and moved here. That's worth alot more than all these Hallels and Israel Nights and so on.

Now, don't get me wrong. I absolutely think you should say Hallel. The blessing is secondary. The important thing is to thank HaQadosh Barukh Hu for giving us a State, and for maintaining us in violation of every historical law I know. That Hallel, moreover, acquires its real meaning as we go about our daily routine, acquire this country with our yissurim, work to serve God and make this country more Jewish, and defend it against our physical and spiritual enemies.

תהלים פרק קיח
טוֹב לַחֲסוֹת בַּד' מִבְּטֹחַ בִּנְדִיבִים:(י) כָּל גּוֹיִם סְבָבוּנִי בְּשֵׁם ד' כִּי אֲמִילַם:(יא) סַבּוּנִי גַם סְבָבוּנִי בְּשֵׁם ד' כִּי אֲמִילַם:(יב) סַבּוּנִי כִדְבוֹרִים דֹּעֲכוּ כְּאֵשׁ קוֹצִים בְּשֵׁם ד' כִּי אֲמִילַם:(יג) דַּחֹה דְחִיתַנִי לִנְפֹּל וַד' עֲזָרָנִי:(יד) עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת י-ָהּ וַיְהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה:(טו) קוֹל רִנָּה וִישׁוּעָה בְּאָהֳלֵי צַדִּיקִים יְמִין ד' עֹשָׂה חָיִל:(טז) יְמִין יְקֹוָק רוֹמֵמָה יְמִין ד' עֹשָׂה חָיִל:(יז) לֹא אָמוּת כִּי אֶחְיֶה וַאֲסַפֵּר מַעֲשֵׂי יָ-הּ:(יח) יַסֹּר יִסְּרַנִּי י-ָּהּ וְלַמָּוֶת לֹא נְתָנָנִי:(יט) פִּתְחוּ לִי שַׁעֲרֵי צֶדֶק אָבֹא בָם אוֹדֶה י-ָהּ:(כ) זֶה הַשַּׁעַר לַד' צַדִּיקִים יָבֹאוּ בוֹ:(כא) אוֹדְךָ כִּי עֲנִיתָנִי וַתְּהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה:(כב) אֶבֶן מָאֲסוּ הַבּוֹנִים הָיְתָה לְרֹאשׁ פִּנָּה:(כג) מֵאֵת ד' הָיְתָה זֹּאת הִיא
נִפְלָאת בְּעֵינֵינוּ:(כד) זֶה הַיּוֹם עָשָׂה ד' נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בוֹ:
חג עצמאות שמח!

Yom haZikkaron 5767

מגש הכסף
מילים: נתן אלתרמן

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

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

לובשי חול וחגור כבדי נעליים
בנתיב יצעדו הם הלוך והחרש
לא החליפו בגדם לא מחו עוד במים
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 וקסם
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

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ve-Af Al pi Khen

[The local chat list is ablaze with a debate over celebrating Yom Ha-Atzma'ut this year. Herewith is my adrenalin filled response.]

I identify with the sadness, spiritual and emotional turmoil that Yom Ha-Atzma'ut is raising for many people. However, despite the moral and Jewish corruption that is presently in power, that is not a reason not to thank HaQadosh Barukh Hu for the establishment of the State of Israel. On the contrary, the fact that we are still here, despite the best efforts of the Left and the Arabs, is nothing short of miraculous. Furthermore, despite the best efforts of the Religious establishment and the Left (a diabolic duo, if there ever was one), the population is growing incresingly Jewish and increasingly resiliant. Considering that we're facing a global jihad to force us to convert or return to the terms of the dhimma, that too is something to celebrate.

And here I need to correct a misconception. My teacher, Rav Soloveitchik zatzal, NEVER EVER said that the establishment of the State was the start of our redemption. Indeed, in a far too rarely studied essay, he said that the religious significance of the state is based upon its being a gift from God. That's enough. The disillusionment that so many feel is based upon the, in my opinion, irresponsible theology that asserts that the State is (and must be) the start of the redemption. That turns the State, and God's actions, into an 'ahavah ha-teluyah be-davar.' You know what occurs in that event. 'Batlah Davar, Batlah ahavah.' (If anyone would like a Pdf of the article, please write to me directly and I'll be happy to send it.)

On the contrary, the Rav used to emphasize that the dynamic inherent in the various imprecations in the Torah is still operative. Eretz Yisrael, he used to say, will only flower for the Jewish People. At the same time, Eretz Yisrael will not tolerate immorality and perversion, of any kind. Sometimes, I fear that our love of the land makes us forget that little fact.

On a personal note, as the Rav also says in that article, one must differentiate between the State of Israel and the Government of Israel. They are not the same, as much as Olmert, Barak (A. and E.), HaLivni and their cronies would like to believe. We have had worse leaders. Menashe, Ahab, Zedekiah, Menelaus, Alexander Jannai, Herod etc. We survived them when we stood fast to the Torah.Hanukkah, for example, was not abolished when the Hasmoneans went over to the dark side. Why? Because the Jewish polity's future was not up to them. It's up to God. Period. Until such time as, God Forbid, He takes it away; WE must thank Him for it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Jews of Israel are now the largest Jewish community in the world. In ten years, a majority of what remains of World Jewry will live here. The reverses of the past years ought not to signal despair.They must teach. As the Rav states in Kol Dodi Dofek: What shall the sufferer do and live with his suffering?

First, however, one MUST bless al ha-Tovah me'eyn ha-Ra'ah. When Hanukkah was ordained, the Hellenizers were still the major political and cultural power. Hazal took the initiative and set up the holiday and then spread Torah she-b'al Peh throughout the nation.

It's a charge worth celebrating.

Black is Black: An Historic Turnabout

In their still classic, though historically flawed, book O Jerusalem, the authors open with a description of the celebrations in tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the results of the Partition Vote, on November 29, 1947 (in Israel, it was already November 30). Spontaneous dancing took place in both cities, and nowhere with such gusto as in downtown Tel Aviv (around the Sheinkin area). The only exception was in a small corner of Me'ah She'arim, where the virulently anti-Zionist Neturei Karta were busy mourning the establishment of the new Jewish State. Dressed in black and sack-cloth, they beseeched God to undo the evil of the wicked Zionists.

Flash forward almost sixty years. Today, as we face the fifty-ninth anniversary of Israel's independence, the Haredi world has pretty much washed its hands of the Neturei Karta. Part of that disavowal is because of their nefarious, ignominious visit to Teheran, earlier this year. More generally, though, the Haredi community has undergone a serious process of Israelization and is far less militantly anti-Zionist than it ever was. (The prominent exception is the Lithuanian Yeshiva leadership. There is, however, serious doubt as to just how effective and representative they are on political issues.)

On the other hand, another group, also fashionably dressed in black, is busy mourning the establishment of the State. They refuse to fly the flag. They refuse to serve in the army. They are convinced that Israel is the root of all evil, whose birth was sinful. As opposed to the Neturei Karta, they have access to all of the mass media and the lecturns of the Israeli academy. They use these to spew their message in every direction. Where do they sit? In the area of the same Sheinkin Street that once leaped and danced for joy that the Jewish people would, once again, have a country to call its own in its ancestral home.

Please God, their fate will be the same as that of the Neturei Karta. Absolute, total, irrelevance.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Aharon Barak: Judicial Autocrat Exposed

Ben Chorin has a long quote from Richard Posner's deconstruction of the judicial autocracy set up by Aharon Barak (and which took a bad hit today from the Winograd commission). Added to Robert Bork's critique from the other side of the aisle, which appeared in Azure, all I can say is get these two into Hebrew ASAP.

Required reading.

Hakarat HaTov

Thank you America. (See Kol Dodi Dofek.)

Where God Was

Yom Ha-Atzma'ut is Monday Night (delayed one day so that Shabbat won't be desecrated by the observances for Yom ha-Zikkaron.) Every Independence Day is special. This one is especially so. Forty years ago, on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut, Gammal Abd'el Nasser sent his army into Sinai and declared his intention to wipe the Jewish State of the face of the map. This set in motion the events that led to Israel's astounding victory in the Six Day War.

In anticipation of this anniversary, the Left and the media are already gearing up for the mournful observance of that lugubrious event. The papers can't even call the war by its official name. They refer to 'that war' (המלחמה ההיא). We are already being inundated by nostaligia for a divided Jerusalem, a small intimate nation wherein Ashkenazi Sabras predominated, and we were loved. That war led to the 'occupation.' It led to fanatic religious messianism. It led to anti-Zionism and Antisemitism. In a word, it is the source of all evil. It must, therefore, be undone. Indeed, at the end of the day, that is the basic plank in the platform of the so-called 'Zionist Left' (Peace Now, Avodah/Meretz, IPF, Tzippi Livni and friends).

A reality check is in order here. 1) The Arabs intended to destroy Israel, and might have succeeded had we not struck first. (This book, controversial at the time, still has the ring of what might hsave been.) 2) The army captured detailed plans for the massacre of the Jewish civilian population. I recall, as a kid, reading the captured plans of the Jordanian Arab Legion to slaughter the Jews of Motza (report here), a fashionable town outside of Jerusalem. (Yes. the king was our friend Hussein I.) 3) The government expected the worst and ordered 10,000 graves to be prepared.

The rest of world Jewry also expected the worst. It expected another Holocaust, at a time that it was still taboo to mention the first one. Yet, we had evidently learned our lesson. Jews demonstrated in public. That was unheard of at the time. The first demonstration I ever attended inmy life was on Sunday, June 4 on the Boston Commons. There were, perhaps, a couple hundred people there with signs. We were all scared, for a place that practically none of us had ever seen. As for myself, I had been raised on stories of my Bilu ancestors, but Israel was just a hazy image.
The highlight of the rally was a speech by Leonard Fein. Today, there is very little that I find acceptable in Fein's politics. However, on that day he was my hero.

At the end of an impassioned address, he said: If John F.Kennedy can say 'Ich bin ein Berliner,' than why can't I say 'Ani Yehudi' 'I am a Jew!' An electric shock went through me. You have to understand. In 1967, no one spoke like that. No one wore a kippah on the street. It was just not something you did. What sounds trite and kitschy today, was revolutionary, then. It was liberating.
It was revelational. The period of waiting (תקופתההמתנה) before the war, and the miraculous victory afterwards, that prevented the Second Holocaust, accelerated that process.

The Six Day War, especially the liberation of Jerusalem, was directly responsible for: 1) The Jewish revival of the late sixties, seventies and eighties 2) The Ba'al Teshuvah Movement 3) The Awakening of Soviet Jewry and its ultimate Liberation and 4) The Sephardic Awakening in Israel.

In a word, the Six Day War was not only a totally unexpected military victory. It was a catalyst that changed the face of the Jewish people, and helped ensure its continued survival. It delayed the metastasis of Western assimilationism for nearly thirty years. It gave Judaism a shot in the arm that it desperately required. It established Israel's military reputation, which still inhibits our enemies.
It put us back in touch with the pulsating source of sanctity and the fount of Jewish identity, Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Kotel.

In January,1967 sociologists were confidently predicting the demise of American Jewry (led by Orthodoxy). In January, 1967 Israel was such an economic basket case that Israelis were leaving in droves. The black humor that reigned suggested that the last person to leave, please turn off the lights. Six months later, Israel, Jewry, the Torah and the world were transformed. If any of us are here today, it's to a great degree, because of that victory.

In June of 1967, I know where God was. He was here. His intervention on Israel's behalf ensured
our survival here, as Jews.

No wonder that the post-Zionists want to undo it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Where Was God?

Sivan Rahav Meir, in an emotional and thought-provoking column, concludes:

ערב חג הפסח 1944 הבינו היהודים במחנה ברגן בלזן שהרעב והמחסור לא מותירים להם ברירה אחרת, ועליהם לאכול חמץ. רבנים במחנה כתבו עבורם אז את התפילה הבאה, והורו לציבור לומר אותה – בכוונה – לפני אכילת חמץ בפסח:
'אבינו שבשמיים, הנה גלוי וידוע לפניך שרצוננו לעשות רצונך ולחוג את חג הפסח באכילת מצה ובשמירת איסור חמץ, אך השעבוד מעכב אותנו. על כן תפילתנו לך שתחיינו ותקיימנו ותגאלנו במהרה לשמור חוקייך ולעשות רצונך ולעובדך בלבב שלם, אמן'...לכן, לדעתי, צריך לנקד את המשפט המפורסם אחרת. לא צריך לשאול איפה אלוקים היה בשואה, אלא – איפה אלוקים היה? בשואה".

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yom HaShoah 5867

On Yom ha-Shoah, my personal practice is to light a candle, watch the central memorial at Yad VaShem and spend most of the day reading something about the Shoah. This year, I was planning to read בכינו בלי דמעות, which contains the testimonies of Jewish Sonderkommandos in Auschwitz. Then, I decided that with the feeling of impending (self-)destruction that hovers over this, the largest Jewish community in the world, I just don't have the inner fortitude to do that. So, I settled on Itamar Levin's book, אותיות של אש about the courage and fortitude of rabbis and believing Jews in Hell, who still wanted to live according to Halakha. Depressing reading, day appropriate, but at least a little bit more inspiring.

Then, while watching Dalia Itzik, the pro tempore President, I changed my mind again. The theme of this year's observances is documenting and testifying about the Holocaust. She chose to quote the diary of Warsaw educator, Chaim Aron Kaplan הי"ד, who saw his diary as the most important legacy he could leave. The diary was buried in milk cans and was published many years after the war. Kaplan and his wife were murdered in Treblinka in December 1942 or January 1943.

Chaim Kaplan was my great grand-uncle. His sister was my grandfather's mother.

So, here I am sitting in my house in Eretz Yisrael, surrounded by my family (save one who's temporarily away), and hearing my uncle's words about his hopes, gave me new resolve that if we outlived the Nazis/Ukranians/Poles/Slovaks/Croatians/Bosnians/Frenchmen/Dutchmen/
Lithuanians/Estonians/Hungarians/Romanians/Bulgarians/Austrians who tried to destroy us, we will survive the Muslims/Palestinians/Gidon Levis/Ilan Pappes/Jimmy Carters/Frenchmen/Yisrael Shamirs and others who are trying to destroy us now.

Consider these words of Ivrit be-Ivrit, Havara Sefaradit educator Chaim Kaplan, written about our people, in the Warsaw Ghetto:

"They love life, and they do not wish to disappear from the earth before their time…Say what you wish, this will of ours to live in the midst of terrible calamity is the outward manifestation of a certain hidden power whose quality has not yet been examined. It is a wondrous, superlative power…We are left naked, but as long as this secret power is still within us, we do not give up hope. And the strength of this power…is rooted in our eternal tradition that commands us to live."

Chaim A. Kaplan
Warsaw Ghetto
March 10, 1940

Fargess Nisht!