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:

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."