Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why the IDF Won't Fight, or

How Aharon Barak, Dorit Beinish, Meni Mazuz and the Media fatally wounded the State of Israel.

Guy Bechor has it, tragically, right.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Heartbreak: Madoff Fallout

I'm going to let the myriads of journalists and bloggers discuss ad nauseum the details, dimensions and implications of Bernard Madoff's criminal venality. I feel the need, though, to put a face on his crimes; a face that hasn't emerged from behind the raw facts and the titllating numbers.
I feel that I owe it to two of the victims, one living and one deceased, whose vision and passion left a deep impression on me, and who dedicated large sums of their hard-earned money to the advancement of Jewish Education, Israel and Jewish National Survival, to put a face on this tragedy.

The first is Robert I. Lappin.

Robert Lappin is my grandmother's first cousin. His father, John, was born in Volkowisk Poland (Lita), and moved with his family to Eretz Yisrael in 1881, out of Religious Zionist conviction. His parents, Israel and Rebecca Lappin, moved first to Petach Tiqva, and then to Jerusalem. John, and his younger brother Yankel Mayshe, studied in the famed Yeshivat Etz Hayyim, which was then located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (next to the present day Menachem Zion synagogue, across from the Hurva Synagogue). Family legend has it, that upon hearing of the Kishinev Pogrom in 1903, Uncle John lost his religious faith. He could not believe that God would allow for the murder of 47 Jews, just for the crime of being Jews. He left Israel, and moved to Boston. H settled in Salem, married and raised a family and became a very wealthy man.

Robert, who I only had the pleasure of meeting once, has an consuming passion for Jewish survival through Jewish Education, the fight against assimilation and the support of Israel. It was for that reason that he set up the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation (though his involvement in related endeavors goes far beyond it. They are, I understand, pursued with characteristic modesty). A glance at the foundation's website gives an idea of the priceless contribution that Mr. Lappin has made, in the words of the foundation's masthead, 'Helping to Keep Our Children Jewish.' As a distant cousin, watching from afar, I have always been extremely proud of Mr. Lappin's activities. This is especially so, because of the heavy toll that assimilation and intermarriage have taken on our family. I feel a spiritual kinship with him, as I fight for the survival of Jews and Judaism here, and he carries on the fight in the United States. When I visit their graves on the Mount of Olives, I always feel like Israel and Rebecca Collier Lappin are shepping nahas.

The second person is the late, Maurice Saval.

Mr. Saval was a very successful, and extremely charitable, Boston businessman. Of his many causes, two were especially close to his heart. One was the Charles River Park Synagogue, in Downtown Boston. The other was the Maimonides School. Mr. Saval's involvement in Maimonides was a result of his long-standing and devoted friendship with the Rav זצ"ל. He was the Chairman of the Board and supported every initiative to expand and improve the school. He loved Maimonides with a passion. Since he and his wife were childless, he viewed Maimonides' students as his children (this, too, along the lines of the Rav's teachings in Family Redeemed). In 1992, I served as Rabbi of the Charles River Park Synagogue for the High Holy Days. As a result, I had an opportunity to spend many hours in conversation with Mr. Saval.

I will never forget, though, one comment he made, en passant. After recounting his relationship with the Maimonides School, he leaned back with pride and satisfaction and said: 'After I die, I've made arrangements that Maimonides will never know want.' Words cannot describe how Mr. Saval glowed when he said those words.

It is incredible to me, that both of these fine, wonderful, devoted men were victims of this inexecrable swindler. My heart twinges with pain at the memory of Mr. Saval's satisfied smile, when I know that most (if not all) of his bequest to Maimonides was stolen.

I cannot but imagine the sense of violation and betrayal that Robert Lappin must feel.

At the same time, I have to believe that the mitzvot done by the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation and by Mr. Saval ז"ל will continue bear fruit long after Bernard Madoff has been forgotten, having been left to rot in some richly deserved prison cell.

Monday, December 08, 2008

One Reason Likud Must Win (and NOT Admit Labor or Kadima into the Coalition)

How dumb can we be?
Government should stop telling us that impotence vis-a-vis Hamas is an advantage
Alex Fishman YNET Published: 12.08.08, 11:39 / Israel Opinion

The letter calling on residents of Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, and Kiryat Malachi to prepare for rocket attacks hides a secret. This secret is well known to the ministers who are currently debating the Israeli response to attacks from the Gaza Strip.

They are keeping this secret to themselves and in meanwhile they are building an alibi for the day it will be exposed. Because once the Israeli public discovers that Gaza groups may possess rockets with a range of dozens of kilometers, these ministers will have to explain why they didn't do a thing about it.

Dozens of kilometers means that Beersheba and Yavne are in range, not to mention the Ashdod Port. If our leaders have no intention to do something about Gaza before the elections, they would do well to send, now already, letters to residents of the abovementioned cities. It would also be wise to start fortifying strategic sites such as the Ashdod Port for the possibility of a rocket hit.

The Navy, by the way, already treats its military port in Ashdod just as it treats the Haifa Port, which is in range of Hizbullah rockets.

So take a map, mark the regions under threat nationwide, and start to prepare - mentally at least. Meanwhile, our politicians should stop explaining to us that our impotence vis-à-vis Hamas is an advantage and not a drawback. Internal debates recently held in the Defense Ministry concluded with a document that outlines no less than 15 convincing arguments for why the lull must continue and why we must not spoil the nation's mood.

It starts with the argument that we must not irritate the new US Administration, and ends with the fact that we neglected the issue fortification in Gaza-region communities.

Thankfully, someone in the defense establishment took the initiative last week and prevented a Libyan ship from reaching Gaza, while later also preventing a ship on behalf of the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch from sailing to the Strip. The moment the global Islamic movement discovered that ships can be sent from Cyprus to Gaza without being stopped, the wave got underway.

The Jews are dumb, so why shouldn't we exploit it?

Indeed, at this time already, seven ships packed with goods from various Muslim countries such as Yemen, Turkey, Qatar, and Jordan are already preparing to sail.

Hamas identifies Israeli weaknessIn the past week, Hamas fired about 100 rockets. A month ago, when the IDF operated against a Gaza Strip tunnel, Hamas fired 30 industrial Grad rockets in order to signal to Israel that it intends to dictate a different kind of lull. If Hamas can afford to fire 30 Grads just to signal, it means its weapons warehouses must be full.According to Israeli estimates, Hamas has an emergency supply of fuels and food that would enable it to withstand a month-long Israeli assault. Instead of preparing for war, perhaps it would be better if the group handed out all those goods in the warehouses to hungry Gaza residents.

At this time, Hamas maintains eight brigades in Gaza, deployed in three rings: On the border, in a security zone, and deep inside the Strip. This Hamas army comprises almost 17,000 people, including police officers. All of them receive their salaries from the Hamas government. Why does Israel need to transfer NIS 200 million (roughly $50 million) to Gaza, so that local banks can keep paying the salaries of Hamas soldiers? How dumb can we be?

Throughout the year we have been sitting and watching foreign instructors and advisors coming in and out of the Gaza Strip and building Hamas' defense plan against a future Israeli operation. The plan includes, among other things, the establishment of a 50-kilometer long underground network that would enable Hamas' leadership and its best combat units to go underground and be protected from surgical strikes or aerial assaults.

Hamas is firing rockets at this time because it identified an Israeli weakness. This weakness is an opportunity to create new rules for the lull. Hamas is also taking pleasure in the face of Egyptian anxiety and requests to hold the fire. The group just keeps on making more demands of the Egyptians.And what will happen if Hamas and the other groups decide that they are no longer interested in a lull? What will all our experts say then? Will they draft a new document that outlines 15 arguments for why we must not maintain the lull in its current format?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Jabotinsky for Knesset

In answer to a number of requests, I want to explain why I am enbthusiastically supporting the candidacy of Zev Jabotinsky for a realistic place on the Likud Knesset List.

I have known Zev personally for a number of years. He's a fine, extremely intelligent, and highly principled person. He is firmly committed to Jewish settlement in in the Land of Israel, and has absolutely no illusions as to the intentions of the Palestinians (and the Arabs, generally). In fact, he has a stunning, and penetrating grasp upon the contemporary geo-political realities that shape our existence in Israel. He was adamently opposed to the expulsion from Gush Qatif and, as a mermber of the Likud Central Committee, was part of the active vocal opposition to Ariel Sharon's betrayal.

In this, he is an unmistakeable and worthy heir to his distinguished heritage, as the grandson and namesake of Vladimir Zev Jabotinsky ז"ל. As opposed to some so-called 'princes', Zev has not and will not ever go 'native.' He can always be relied upon to loyally, and tirelessly, advance Leumi positions.

He knows how to live with the Left. He has lived in a left-leaning town for many years, without compromising his principles, and passed on his beliefs to his children. He is a forceful, level-headed speaker who knows exactly how to effectively make our case in wider fora, and to debate the avatars of the Left. He is respectful of Jewish Civilization and posessses the kind of historical awareness that is critical in representing National Zionism in the wider Israeli community.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, knowing Professor B. Netanyahu and the kind of reverence that Bibi has for the memory of the Rosh Beitar, Having Zev on the Knesset List will, in my opinion, help keep our next Prime Minister (P-G), ideologically hones.

I urge every member of Likud to include him in the list of twelve candidates on the National List.

My Final Obiter Choices for the Likud List

The tomorrow. Primaries are December 8th. Ben Chorin has a detailed description of how the process works, and offered his observations on the candidates. In light of the changes in the rules made last week, These twelve look the best to me:

Moshe 'Boogie' Yaalon (National)
Ruby Rivlin (National)
Yuli Edelstein (National)
Miki Eitan (National)
Yuval Shteinitz (National)
Zev Jabotinsky (National)
Moshe Kachlon (National)
Tzippi Hotobali (National)
Gilad Erdan (National)
Leah Ness (National)
Moshe Muskal (National)
Michael Ratzon (National)
Yossi Fuchs (YoSh)

Where our lists overlap, I pretty much agree with Ben Chorin on the reasons. My list adds Zev Jabotinsky and Tzippi Hotobali, and does not include Moshe Feiglin.

I know Zev Jabotinsky personally. Independent of his distinguished lineage, he's a really fine, extremely bright, and highly principled person. He knows how to live with the other side, without compromising his principles. The country will only benefit from having him in the Knesset.

Tzippi Hotobali is a bright, eloquent and committed thinker and writer (Maariv Yahadut). She's a star student of some of the best teachers at Bar Ilan (Law and Political Science). She handles herself extremely well on TV. She knows how to present both a Right wing position and Jewish tradition intelligently. That makes her an avis rara.

I oppose Moshe Feiglin on both substantive and tactical grounds. I defer to Ben Chorin's judgment as to his grasp of the issues. However, I reject his attempt to use subterfuge and questionable tactics to highjack the Likud. While I, along with tens of thousands, share the desire to rejudaize Israel and agree that more religious and traditional people should get active in the larget parties (see Federalist no, 10), that must be done through persuasion and dialogue. I see none of that in Feiglin or in Manhigut Yehudit. Ben Chorin has, himself, outlined the tactical reasons to avoid Manhigut Yehudit.

I would also emphasize, that every effort should be made to keep Dan Meridor as low as possible on the list. He, like Tzippi Livni, has gone totally native. He is a political Leftist, and an ideological supporter of Aharon Barak/Dorit Beinish and Co. Hence, he represents everything that is undemocratic in this country.

Most importantly, every Anglo Likudnik should vote and help set the agenda for the government that Bibi Netanyahu will, אי"ה, form next Spring.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fie, Barak!

So, it has finally happened. Ehud Barak has unleashed the security forces upon the residents of a house in Hebron that was lawfully purchased. With orders to bash heads, the police SWAT teams effectively evicted women and children. Twenty people are injured. According to report I just received from the site:

Contrary to what the media report, the expulsion from Bet HaShalom was very violent and MANY were wounded.The Special Forces were specifically searching for Daniella Weiss and Nadia Matar to beat them. Nadia was beaten and was taken to hospital. Reliable sources have informed that the Chevron police are planning to raid the homes of the leaders of the struggle tonight in order to arrest them and send them away from Yesha

In response, there are mass protests blocking the entrance to Jerusalem and the Gush Eztion Junction. No doubt, Barak will cause them to drink the cup of poison, as well. Unfortunately, from my ten years in the Israel Police, I know that the SWAT teams are easily provoked and quickly turn into brutes. (In fact, a cop I partnered with for years in Jerusalem left this unit (YaSaM) because he did not want to beat Jews to a pulp.

The press is hailing this victory over children as a triumph of democracy. Of course, for Haaretz and the rest of its hassidim, democracy is defined by accepting their ideas. anything that deviates therefrom is ipso facto anti-democratic. Indeed, the only democrtic action is that which advances an anti-Jewish, pro-Palestinian agenda. In Barak's case, he has the additional incentive of the Labor Primaries today. Beating up diaboical settlers is great press for the press.

Consider, though, the facts. The Supreme Court did not order the evacuation of the building. It allowed for it. In other words, Barak and Olmert could have waited for the Jerusalem District Court to rule before taking action. They were looking for blood and they got it.

The owners have written and video recorded proof of purchase. The recording even has the seller describing the threats made to his life by the Palestinian Authority. (Don't forget, if an Arab sells property to a Jew he is summarily executed.) [Haaretz, of course, immediately decided it was a forgery. ] However, when we're busy scoring points with the media and the orthodox [Left], what difference do facts make? What difference, for that matter, do the courts make (if you suspect they won't line up ideologically)?

In addition, Barak was well aware that he was giving ammunition to the extremists among us (many of whom are still refugees in their own country after the expulsion from Gush Qatif, or still have scars from being beaten within an inch of their lives at Amona). He wanted them to over react, in order to justify the use of tear gas and stun grenades against them. He got what he wanted. He played the radicals like a violin. Now, I want to emphasize that I am not a supporter of Daniella Weiss (who is, IMHO, severely intellectually challenged and a prisoner of her Gush Emunim memories), or of the Hilltop Youth who are often troubled and verge on Juvenile Delinquency. However, Barak's cynical use of their expected reaction is absolutely contemnable. (I am troubled also that their rabbinic and Lay leaders played into his hands so stupidly.)

IY"H, he'll watch the next Knesset from the opposition, with his other 5-10 MK's.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Obiter Dicta (Three to Be Exact)

1) The Saban Center for Middle East Policy has published a report urging dialogue with Iran, while pressuring Israel to strip itself naked in order to avoid nuclear attack.

Two observations:
Saban, the Israeli expatriate who funds the center, apparently thinks that his Power Rangers are real and will clean up the nuclear waste of Iran's Jihad.

The leading thinker (sic!) behind this nightmare scenario is Martin 'Ive Gone Native' Indyk. Indyk, as we all know, is 'Turkey' in Yiddish. 'Nuff Said.

2) Among the side issues raised by the tragedy in Mumbai, is the question of Orthodox participation in Inter-faith Memorial Gatherings for the victims of Islamist Slaughter. More to the point, while Muslim and Christian clergy pose limited problems, Hindu priests are another matter. The Hindu religion is, by all criteria of which I am aware, Avoda Zara. Thus, such participation is (at best) aiding and abetting Avoda Zara on the part of a Noachide and constitutes a breach of 'Placing a Stumbling Block before the blind' (לפני עיוור לא תתן מכשול). On the other hand, one could hardly not include a Hindu priest in such gatherings, because Hindus were the key target and the majority of victims were Hindus (as they were for centuries of Moghul Muslim rule in India).

So, what to do?

I posted a longer version of this answer on a rabbinic forum:

I think we need to distinguish several different strands from this discussion. I would first like to address the specifically halalakhic issues, and then move on to the questions of public policy.

A) Personally, I am convinced of the validity of Rabbi Dr. David Berger's distinction between polytheism and Avoda zara, as far as Christianity is concerned. Indeed, I really like his formulation: Non-Pagan Avoda Zara in a monotheistic mode. Identifying Avoda Zara exclusively with ancient polytheism is far too blithe and simplistic. Christian believe themselves to be pure monotheists, though by halakhic criteria they are not such. Nevertheless, as implied directly by Tosafos to Bekhoros 2b, since they think that they are praying to the One God, if they do not mention his putative son, I see no reason why there should be any compunction in the participation of Christian clergy.

For better or worse, Hinduism (and not a few forms of Buddhism, Jain and Shinto) are in a much worse position. After years of teaching a course on Judaism and other religions, it is clear to me that Hinduism IS pagan (whether pantheist or pluralist in the identity of its deities). Certainly the reverance that Hindus pay their plethora of gods is closer to Greco-roman, Egyptian or Canaanite religion than is Christianity. In addition, there was not a small degree of sophistication inherent in all of these. Indeed, I believe that it is specifically the positive elements in Avoda zara that led the Torah and Hazal to be so adament about not being seduced thereby. Since when are we tempted by the ugly, the stupid and the festishistic?

B) One might aver that one can rely, in this connection, on the more liberal opinion of R.
Menachem Ha-Meiri. Now, it may well be true that Moshe Halbertal is correct, and that Christianity (and by reasonable extension, Hinduism) does not qualify (in his opinion) to be classified as Avoda Zara of any kind. However, relying upon that ruling is highly questionable from an halakhic stand point.

First, a reasonable case can be made that Halbertal is wrong and that Ha-Meiri did not maintain so far-reaching a position. Moreover, and I speak as an Historian of Halakhah, since when do the tentative results of academic scholarship play a role in normative halakhic discourse? More important, the legal consebsus (sugya de-alma) is overwhelmingly against accepting the Meiri as normative. Rabbenu Tam was also a brilliant scholar and I don't know of anyone who accepts his very convincing ruling that חמץ בטל בששים, מין במינו.

C) On the other hand, it is totally unrealistic, churlish and ( at baste)in very bad taste to exclude a Hindu priest from this type of event. Boycotting it is worse. I can only imagine the Hillul HaShem to which it will lead. I recommend, that it be suggested to all the clergy that are slated to speak at such memorials that in the interest of amity, religion specific prayers (not to mention ritual actions) be totally eschewed. Reference should be made to God, Allah, the Supreme Power or some such formulation, along with the type of humanitarian emphasis that unites us all. Let each person interpret them in his or her own heart. This, it seems to me, fits the criteria laid out by Tosafos in Bekhoros.

3) I delivered the first of two, 'After Srugim' lectures at Bar Ilan today (despite walking pneumonia). I did record the lecture, but have yet to decide if I want to release it unedited. The central text was רמב"ם, הלכות מעילה פרק ח הלכה ח and the presentation included important ideas advanced by Rabbis David Berger, Lawrence Kaplan and Shalom Carmy, here and here.

[UPDATE: This posting has generated a surprising degree of response. I've responded in the comments.]

Saturday, November 29, 2008


1) This coming Wednesday, December 2, I will be delivering the first of two lectures on religious issues raised by the series Serugim. The lecture will take place at 12 Noon in the auditorium of the Nagel Building for Basic Jewish Studies at Bar Ilan (Building 507). The subject is: Hodaya and Shvut's Delimma: Doubt as a Religious Category. The Public is invited.

2) After a fifteen year wait (sic!), Yeshiva University Museum is finally publishing the catalogue of its exhibit on Piedmontese Jewry (which I had the pleasure of co-editing, together with Museum Curator Gabe Goldstein). This is the most significant contribution to Piedmontese Jewish studies since Renata Segre published her three volume collection of archival documents over two decades ago. The book includes gorgeous plates and illustrations and contains signal studies by leading scholars such as Yom Tov Assis and others. Since I spent a good ten years researching aspects of the history of that community for my doctorate, I take particular pride in the appearance of this volume.


I have to confess that I don't know what to do with the horrific tragedy that ended Erev Shabbat with the announcement that all of the Jews in Mumbai's Bet Chabad had been slaughtered, and its sacra desecrated with their blood. I've lived through three wars and hundreds of terror attacks.

Yet, I can't assimilate a reality wherein sixty-three years after the end of the Shoah Jewish blood still flows freely through streets throughout the world.

I can't understand the obtuse evil of the world media, which won't say the magic words. We hear about Pakistani militants, unknown militants, God only knows what kind of militants. What we don't hear is the truth: Muslims did this. Muslims did this because that is what their religion teaches them to do. It doesn't matter that there might be other Muslim voices. This school of Islamic thought rules the mosques and the madrasas, the schools and the street. Muslims throughout the world today are able to justify and applaud, the slaughter of 200 people, ad majorem Allahi gloriam.

This has nothing to do, moreover, with realpolitik. It's not business, it's personal. Otherwise, why did these murderers deviate from the center of their activity to seek out the Chabad house and murder its occupants. Why did they shoot a man sitting quietly over a Gemora? Why did they slay another person who was immersed in his prayers, leaving both Talmud and Siddur drenched in blood? Why did they take a young couple and mow them down in cold blood? They did it because they were doing Allah's Will. They did it because the Jew is the Devil. They did it in line with the notorious hadith:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

Hazal, it would appear, only got it half right.

It's not just that הלכה בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב . It's also הלכה בידוע שישמעאל שונא ליעקב. (Or all the descendants of Isaac, for that matter).

God Save Us.
ד' יקום דמם.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Apologia Pro Vita Politica Mea: De Mafdal ad Likud

'The Mafdal died this week, or perhaps last week. I don't remember.' (Apologies to Albert Camus)
For me, Mafdal (aka National Religious Party) died long before its actual demise, this past week. Personally, I stopped voting for Mafdal after the 1999 elections (when we still voted for Knesset and Prime Minister separately). I had several reasons for this step, despite my years of activity in the RZA (where I sat on the ועד המנהל for almost a decade):

1) Mafdal had become a one issue party that reduced all of Judaism to the struggle for Eretz Yisrael, according to one specific line (Merkaz, Merkaz, Merkaz et Eliyahi Inc). This, in my opinion, constituted a distortion of Judaism, Zionism and Common Sense.

2) Mafdal didn't advocate a Modern Orthodoxy with which I could personally identify. In its more bourgeois eras, it was religiously flaccid (as evidenced by the the tragic failure of its key educational institutions to develop any concept as to the deeper meaning of 'Torah ve-Hokhma').
The idea that deep involvement in the world demanded a total, active commitment to Torah, as well, just never appears to have occurred to anyone.

In its post 1967 form, it increasingly sold out to the phenomenon known as 'Hardal' (i.e. Haredi-Leumi) Judaism. I learned this up close at an emergency gathering of the now-defunct Shacharit group, in May, 1998 (in the wake of the 'Pa'amonei ha-Yovel' scandal.) There, then Education minister, Yitzhak Levy, tried to explain why culture was dangerous and had to be reined in. Prima facie, it's not an objectionable statement. The problem was that it was clrear that neither he, nor anyone else in his cadre, had a clue as to what Western Culture (or any other culture) contained. In a word, in stage one there was a lack of Torah. In stage two, there is no Hokhma.

3) As a direct result of #2, Mafdal decided to become Poalei Agudat Yisrael, with a Soviet of Gedolei Ha-Torah, essentially composed of Reb Avrum Shapira זצ"ל and R. Mordechai Eliyahu שליט"א. Since I'm not an afficianado of Da'as Torah, certainly not on political matters, this was not something to which I could subscribe.

So, about 8 years ago, I joined the Likud. I did so not out of שנאת המן but out of אהבת מרדכי.

1) Ideologically, I had come to deeply respect the ideas and example of Zev Jabotinsky (partly from reading, and partly from having had the luck of becoming friendly with members of his family). It is true that n the early stages of his career, Jabotinsky was anti-religious. In the last decade of his life, though, he became aware of and committed to the positive contribution that Judaism must make to the Jewish People and the (as yet unborn) Jewish State. It was this openness to Judaism that accounts for the large percentage of religious and traditional people in the Etzel and Lehi.

2) Religiously (and politically), and with no connection to Moshe Feiglin, it is critically important that Orthodox and Traditional elements create a significant presence within the larger party framework. Only such a presence will advance the re-judaization of the educational system, the reform of the judiciary and the intensification of the country's qualitative jewishness (as opposed to the essentially racist definition offered by the 'enlightened' Left). My convictions, in this direction, have only become stronger as a result of many conversations with my good friend, Ben Chorin.
3) Personally, I owe a debt of gratitude to Betar. My father in law was an active Betari in Poland (to the chagrin of his father, who was a Trisker Hassid). In 1940, before the German invasion of Russian occupied Poland, Menachem Begin (who was head of Betar in Poland) sent him a postcard in which he told him to take his family and flee to Russia. He listened. He compelled his parents and siblings to go to Soviet Russia. Until the Germans invaded they were kept in a Siberian Labor Camp. After the invasion, they were freed and moved to Tashkent, where he met my mother in law. Meanwhile, the rest of his family was murdered by the Germans. In other words, I owe my family to God's Providence, to my shver's extraordinary courage and strength, and to Menachem Begin and Betar.

The reason I raised this here is two-fold. First, I wanted to briefly comment on the connection between Mafdal's demise and the contemporary crisis of Religious Zionism. Second, I decided that despite my not being a member of the Likud Central Committee ( I leave that to Ben Chorin), I'm going to single out candidates for the Knesset list who I think are promising and deserve support.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Catching Up

The unexpectedly timely start of the semester, a quick trip to the US and a week in bed with the flu has kept me from the keyboard. So much to write, so little time and energy (still).

Anyways, a few starting points:

1) Want proof that Tzippi Livni is 'Englishly challenged' (and, IMHO, a boor)? See here.

2) I am very proud of being a born and bred Litvak (Minsker and Grodner Gubernyas) and misnaged. Our family is part of the Gra's 'Cousinhood' (through his grandfather R. Moshe Kremer). My forebears learned in Mir and yours truly learned, of course, for almost ten years by the Rav זצ"ל. Nevertheless, partly owing to my late father in law's inspiration and to the Rav's example, I am a great admirer of Kotzk and its subsidiary branches, Ger and Sochatchov (whose rebbeim were always respected in the Beis Medrash).

In the latter context, I wanted to tell a story about the Kotzker (IIRC, from שיח שרפי קודש). It seems that the Kotzker was adamently opposed to 'Rebbeish' trappings (tischen, pidyonos etc.) Once a famous Rebbe came to spend Shabbos with the Kotzker and the latter pulled out all of the sops and held a tisch etc. After the guest left, his hassidim asked the Kotzker: You don't believe in any of this! Why did you prave a tisch and act treat him like royalty?'

The Kotzker answered: 'I was simply obeying an explicit rule in the Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De'ah 250:1). The din is that if a rich man is impoverished, one must provide him with everything he had lost (די מחסורו אשר יחסר לו). This person considers himself a Rebbe. I, therefore, had to be charitable and provide him with everything he lacked.'

It is with the Kotzker's comment on the spiritual poverty of contemporary Rebbeim (and with my Sfas Emes on Bereshis ready for tonight's Dvar Torah), that I refer to this (Hattip: Gil).

3) For equal time, check out the great agreement between Rav Elyashiv and Rav Ovadiah on the burning issue of.....drumroll, please...sheitlach!

4) There is no doubt in my mind that the present attempt to throw the residents out of Beit HaShalom in Hevron is politically inspired, and directly related (in any number of ways) to the upcoming elections. It also testifies to the total lock that the ideological Left has on significant sectors of the Judiciary.

Nevertheless, epecially after Amona and especially in light of the intensifying Jewish sentiment in the country, it would be absolutely disasterous for opponents of the evacuation to resort to violence. That is exactly what the commissars of Haaretz (and allies such as Moshe Negbi, Yariv Oppenheimer and Ophir Pines-Paz) are praying for (if they actually believed in God). Opposition is in order. Violence is not. In light of that, I find it incredible that the organizers of this week's protest against the decision to enforce the evacuation order allowed a lunatic like Shalom Ber Wolpe to speak. He is an off the wall extremist (who also thinks that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe זצ"ל is part of the Godhead). Haaretz made predictable hay about it.

Until I have time to fully formulate my views, consider the advice of Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, here, and the observations of Oleh Girl.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Bitter Lemons: The Fruit of Post-Modernism

In a well-written, but somewhat flawed article a YU student named Daniel Goldmintz makes the cogent observation that Barack Obama will become the first Post-Modern President. There is much that is post-modern in what little we know of Obama. He is a creation of the media. He is short on substance and brilliantly long in the use and the manipulation of words. Despite his best efforts to hide his tracks, he was raised and bred in bosom of the American New Left. He blithely denies that the West has enemies (other than its 'corrupt self', as he really appears to believe that America's economic woes will be solved by a resort to socialism. (My political response to Goldmintz was posted on site.)

I was much taken by this insight, because over the challenge of post-modernism has been much on my mind the past few days.

1) Caroline Glick, in a real tour de force, highlighted the Orwellian abuse of language that the Israeli elites use to direct public discourse and deflect serious public discussion of vital issues, in order to advance the ideology of the Left. (Along the way, he confirms my assertion that our seriously deluded Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, is such an orthodox multi-culturalist, that she defends the practice of Female Circumcision in deference to those who practice it.)

2) In the introductory lecture to my course on Judaism and Other Religions, I had occasion to note that proper historico-anthropological method requires one to respect the stated beliefs of historical actors (unless otherwise proven). To reduce a person's beliefs to underlying interests is both patronizing and deceptive. In that context, I mentioned that such an approach was eminently NOT Post-Modern. The students did not know the difference. So, I spent most of the time explaining what differentiates Modern from Post-Modern discourse, the impact of Deconstruction upon the contemporary use (and abuse) of language, the impact of PM on historiography (admitting, en passant, that I am a neo-positivist), and so on. The students, with one exception, were totally unaware of any of this, nor had they any clue as to the unseen forces and assumptions that direct and control their actions and thoughts. PM really is insidious. I would say that Baudrillard knew that, but he was preceded by Socrates (who I should have cited) that 'that the life which is unexamined is not worth living .'

3) In a similar vein, I am preparing a long Hebrew (and a shorter English) version of my talk on Srugim. Increasingly, I've come to the conclusion that here too, the issue is Post-Modernism.

4) Finally, I am taking comfort in the always insightful, exquisitely written and stunningly argued critique of Post Modern Secularism by Elie Schweid.

We will, I fear, pay a terrible price for our self-serving, self-worshipping delusions.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Jewish Case Against Barack Obama -- Part III

The Jewish Case Against Barack Obama -- Part II

The Jewish Case Against Barack Obama -- Part I

On Srugim and Modern Orthodoxy

Tonite, at 230 AM, I will be giving a shiur on some of the pressing religious issues raised in the series Srugim. The point of departure will be the exchanges between Hodaya and her niece, Shvut, and between Hodaya and Dov Elbaum (episode 15 20:15-23:12), which will be screened at the shiur. Among these will be the superficiality of religious belief, doubt as a religious category, and Pan-Halakhism. I will leave time for questions.

Asuming that people can see straight at that hour, we will also look at this text from the Rambam,
(הלכות מעילה ח, ח), available here.

The shiur will take place as part of Maale's annual Tikkun Leyl Hoshana Rabba at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem. Those who are sleepy, I plan to awake.

See you there.

אין לנו על מי לסמוך אלא על אבינו אלא על אבינו שבשמים

On the cusp on Hoshana Rabba, the situation of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael looks increasingly grim.

Israeli-Arabs, after the pogrom they carried out on Yom Kippur, are demanding compensation and ratching their sedition against Israel's existence up one more notch. Our non-leadership, non-Zionist, non-government know nothing else but to appease them.

Tzippi Livni, who has failed at everything he has ever undertaken, who is totally enthralled to the self-destructive ideology of pathological Jewih self-hatred that is the bon ton west of the Yarkon, will apparently become Prime Minister.

She will become Prime Minister because of the votes of 430 party hacks (and the mysterious destruction of a number of ballot boxes).

She will become Prime Minister because of fear (and knowledge) of the members of Knesset that most of them will see the next plenum from the gallery.

She will become Prime Minister because of the absolute venality of the Haredi Parties, who don't give a damn about anything but their money (and their God given right to raise families and learn at the expense of everyone else).

She will become Prime Minister because the ruling, incestuous elites (made up of 18 wealthy families and their lackies in academia, government and the media), have decided that she should be Prime Minister, because it fits their Leftist Nihilism. (They, of course, will all board their private jets and flee to the Cayman Islands if Iran gets the bomb.)

She will become Prime Minister, because the same Leftist, anti-Zionist establishment would rather obssess about how to try to appease the Arabs by de-judaizing the country and throwing 350,000 Jews out of their homes, than addressing the real threat posed by Iran. Their error in the same in both cases. In their grossly materialist nihilism, they refuse to recognize that Muslims are loyal to their beliefs and will act upon them, even at the price of their lives and fortunes.

She will become Prime Minister, because all of the above has eviscerated the outrage of the Israeli People. When you feel helpless, there's little to do but go numb. (For all of this, see Amnon Lord's Column in this week's Yoman. I'll post it as soon as it's on line ).

השתדלות is an important quality. At the end of the day, at the end of the Hagim, on Hoshana Rabba, there is nothing to do but cry out:

אבינו מלכינו אין לנו מלך אלא אתה

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jesse Knows, Obama Dissembles (Removed)

In the upcoming US Presidential elections, I support John McCain and Sara Palin. I think that Barack Obama is too untried, inexperienced and short on subtance to guide the United States and the Free World as it enters a period of financial paroxysms and war on Global Jihad.

However, in light of the comments that my posting of Jesse Jackson's remarks about Obama, I have decided to remove it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Going Native...Shlomo Ben Ami and the Elites

I guess by definition, politicians have to fudge their beliefs in order to get elected. Once out of office, though, they have no such contraints. Shlomo ben Ami, Israel's former Foreign Minister, is a good example. In a recent article in the latest issue of Foreign affairs, he shows just how deeply the pathology of Post-Zionism has penetrated the Israeli Academy and ruling elites.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Akko and Livni: You can Run but You Can't Hide

I really tried. I gave it my best shot. I made a real attempt to enjoy the Hagim, without getting depressed by the world around me (about which there is precious little I can do anyway). I can't fix the economy. If I vote in the US Presidential election, my vote will be of symbolic value only (since Obama has New York sewn up).

The Israeli March of Folly is even more frustrating.

1) The forces of criminal hubris, ideological self-destruction and self-hatred keep gaining in strength. A new sinister government (Lat. 'Left') led by 'Ba'alat Teshuva' Livni is on its way to power, a government that will be based on Jewish concessions to the Moloch of 'Peace' (aka Islam and Jihad). The press will cheer it on, as will the Europeans and the (no longer so) monied elites.

2) A few weeks ago, a nine year old kid in Yitzhar alerted the town that a terrorist had penetrated the fence and was about to go on a rampage. He, himself, was stabbed nine times but survived. For his courage he was cited for bravery by the Army. The award was bitterly condemned by Peace Now and the media. After all, he's a settler, a Jew, an obstaccle to peace.

3) The facts behind the Akko riots, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, are:

As not all readers are familiar with the time line or sequence of events, the Jerusalem Post has an editorial which details the events of the past few days.Some points that were clarified are as follows (thanks to Jameel):

1. Up to 2000 Arabs streamed into the Jewish section of the town during Yom Kippur (not 500 as originally thought). That's nearly 15% of the local Arab population that was rioting.

2. Another Arab (apparently not in the car) is the one who called up the local sheikh, who then broadcasted over the mosque's loudspeaker that the Jews were attacking, calling out the Arabs to attack the Jews. (And screaming Itbah al-Yahud!)

3. The police claim that the Arab driver was drunk.

4. The Arab riots only ended on Thursday morning.

5. The Jews only began to riot back on Thursday evening after the fast.

Only George Orwell could do justice to the way this is being presented.

The Hebrew press is banging away at the idea that there was a misunderstanding and that hot headed Jews ganged up on a poor law-abiding Arab. That evil idiot, Gideon Levy, even suggested that Jewish Racism requires Arabs to observe Yom Kippur (since the riots were started by an Arab driver. Of course, you know what happens if a Jew even drives through Ramallah...never mind during Ramadan.)

The Arabs are trying to kill Jews, and are receiving open support (in money, man power and materiale) from Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Who do the Police and the government blame?
The Jews.

The Arabs destroyed Jewish property. The Arabs destroyed Jewish stores. What's the response? An organized trip to Akko to show support for the Arabs and patronize their businesses.

OK. That's enough. I'm putting down the paper....I need to detox before the Hag.

אבינו מלכנו אין לנו מלך אלא אתה.

אין הברכה מצויה אלא בדבר הסמוי מן העין.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Srugim 15: Erev Yom Kippur

The season finale of Srugim heightened my feelings about the deep-rooted spiritual malaise that feeds like a cancer on the body politic of Orthodoxy. It has many different sides to it.

One is the tragic inability of Israelis, Religious Israelis especially, to live with any type of complexity. Everything is a matter of all or nothing at all. Moreover, that 'everything' is extremely rigid. We have set the minimum standard of religious observance so high, so strict and so sub-group specific, as to exclude myriads of Jews from the Torah, and to drive many others out. There is no room for struggle. There is no room for variation, even if the Torah does allow for it. There is only judgement, לחומרא.

Another is our obsession with externals. We are obsessed with how things look. We give absolutely no time or thought to the content of our observance. The obsession with externals means that we have failed to develop the tools to deal with the outside world. We possess neither courage to explore, nor the humility to put on the brakes. I am not saying that everyone can do it. I am not saying that everyone can succeed. I am saying that if we teach courage and humility, many more can come closer (or stay) under the wings of the Shekhina.

Speaking of the Shekhina, where is the Ribbono shel Olam in Srugim? Where is the Ribbono shel Olam in our prayers (whether quick or slow)? Where is the Ribbono shel Olam in our inter-personal relations? Where is the Ribbono shel Olam in the idolization of Torah Learners and Rabbis? The answer is, apparently, nowhere. We read about Hester Panim ( Deus Absconditus ) in last week's Parsha. We complain about Hester Panim in our lives, in politics, in the economy. Who, though, is hiding from whom?

It's almost Yom Kippur. The sanctity of the day is already tangible. It's in the very air we breathe. The words of the Kotzker are perhaps a cliche, but cliche's are there because they are true.

וואו געפינט זיך דער בורא עולם? וואו מאן לאזט עם אריין
Where is God? Where you let Him in.
It is of all this that I hope to speak on Hoshana Rabba.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Heshbon Nefesh, Hakhel and Srugim: A Request

I have just been informed that 'Yes' has been gracious enough to allow me to screen a few key scenes from Srugim as part of my shiur at this year's Hakhel, sponsored by Maaleh. I'm really thrilled, because there is such a large audience that is familiar with the series and it raises a lot of important issues. (In addition, since I'm scheduled to speak at 230AM, film clips will be a better way to focus attention that just texts- though I'll have those too.)

Now for my request.

I have some ideas as to which scenes to request. For example, Betzalel's refusal to use Stacey's Tefillin; the שיחת נפש between Shvut and Hodaya about God; Hodaya's trip to the miqveh and Avry's reaction; Reut's attitude toward Yohai, both before and after he goes to work for his uncle; the Rav's psak to Naama and Amir (which, btw, I think was incorrect).

However, before I give Yes my answer, I'd welcome any suggestions as to scenes that you think most evocative and suggestive. You can leave your comments here or write to me at

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sefer David Avdi: In Memory of Rav Dr. David HaLevi Applebaum זצ"ל הי"ד

It's been five years since David Applebaum הי"ד and his daughter, Naava הי"ד, were murdered in a פיגוע at Cafe Hillel on Emek Refa'im Street. For me, as for those many whom he touched, it seems like just yesterday. In the intervening years, though, David has been generally remembered as a doctor and humanitarian (which he was), and the person who revolutionized Israeli medicine through the founding of Terem. All of this was, of course, true. It was also insufficient. David was first and foremost a a devoted עבד השם; a Talmid Hakham of the first order; and a Brisker Lamdan, whose soul was in Volozhin. He lived and breathed Torah and thirsted constantly for דבר השם.

His wife Debra ת"מ has now edited and a published a wonderful sefer that will set the record straight for all time. Entitled 'David Avdi' it contains (alongside a biography and some appreciations), a treasure trove of Divrei Torah, Letters and halakhic studies that are stunning for their brilliance, thoroughness, sensitivity and passion. Of special note are the Kol Nidre Drashot he delivered at Ohel Rivka in Kiryat Shmuel. [The halakhic pieces are extraordinary, when you consider the fact they were written בזמן שלא מן היום ולא מן הלילה in places like Gainesville, GA.]

The sefer is a gem. I can't imagine how wrenching it was for Debra to put it together, but this labor of love is something that I will always cherish and should be in the hands (not just the library) of everyone who knew or knew of David.

[I"d like to add a personal note. I want to thank Debra, from the bottom of my heart, for including my remarks in memory of David in the book (along with portions of a reminiscence, in English, that I wrote during the shiva). I have never had a ידיד נפש like him, a חבר hose friendship was a קשר של תורה, and therefore a קשר של קיימא. Though we saw each other infrequently in the years before his murder, when we did see one another, we just picked up where we left off, in Volozhin and Brisk, in Boston and Chicago, in Jerusalem and Efrat.

I have written over thirty academic monographs, dozens of non-scholarly pieces and seven hundred entries on this blog. The book I'm trying to finish already stands at over three hundred pages (typescript). I am proud of (almost) everything I've ever written.

However, these remarks will always mean more to me than almost anything else I have ever (or will ever) write.]

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Srugim- Lessons for Torah in Our Time

No, I haven't been hiding. No, I haven't abandoned my blog. I've just been busy. I'm in a real writing swing. Chapter One is done. Chapters Two and Four are nearing completion (and the book is becoming a reality). Then there are the Hagim, 'nuff said.

Well, perhaps not. I've also spent my leisure time catching up on Srugim (yes, I'm an addict. I sign off on everything the Mukata has to say about it, and more.) It's well acted, sensitive, amazingly accurate and very engaging. It's respectful of religious people and their struggles. In its honesty it does Judaism a favor (as opposed to the croakings of certain circles.) In fact, if things work out, I hope to use clips from the show as texts for my shiur at Maaleh's Hakhel on Leyl Hoshana Rabbah. I hope to indicate how the show lies at the interface between Torah and the world. and frankly exposes the superficially procrustean image we have of ourselves and of others.

Much of this is already implied in the theme song, written by Erez Lev Ari.

The words are as follows and (again, kudos to Lurker) are food for thought in these days of Heshbon ha-Nefesh:
אני רודף אחר חוקיך, מחדמאידך תשוקתי אותי רודפתבוש ונכלם אבוא בשעריךוהלילות הארוכים והבדידות ושניםוהלב הזה שלא ידע מרגועעד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
לאן אלך, אנה אפנה, כשעיניך מביטות ביאיכה אברח, איך לא אפנהבין אמת לאמתבין הלכה למעשהבין הימים ההם לזמן הזהבין הנסתר לנגלהבין העולם הבא לעולם הזה

רודף אחר חוקיך, מאידך תשוקתי אותי שורפתעזה כמוות, איומה כנדגלותהלילות הארוכים והבדידות והשניםוהלב הזה שלא ידע מרגועעד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצלליםהשיבני
לאן אלך, אנה אפנה

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Who Shall Live....

[A very affecting video, courtesy of an outstanding Rav, R. Daniel Korobkin.]

Friday, September 12, 2008

My Hesbon ha-Nefesh be-Nefesh

The Gemora is most emphatic that when you offer constructive criticism, you should do so in a way that people can hear. Evidently, my recent post on NbN Olim and tremping did not fit that criterion. As one of my children noted, by the time the reader might get to the praise of NbN Olim, he or he was probably no longer reading.

So, let me make this short and sweet.

1) Nefesh b'Nefesh is the most blessed initative in the past twenty years. I have nothing but admiration and respect for all those who packed up to come here, despite their more comfortable lives in חו"ל. Koh le-Hai!!!!!

2) North American Olim can change this country, for the better. That requires, though, that they make a concerted effort to integrate into Israeli society and earn their bonafides. While Landsmanschaften are important, it's vital that the new olim not isolate themselves in homogenous communities. The life of this country depends on their not doing that.

3) Part of absorption is the conscious attempts to learn local mores and sensitivities. (E.g. Americans like to barge into conversations, Israelis are very sensitive to the need to say 'Hello' and 'Good Morning.') The tremping issue is part of that.

So, welcome welcome. Klita Kalah. If anyone wants tips on how to become integrated, just ask your Israeli neighbors (or some vatikim.)

Israel's Top 100

Haaretz published a list of the 100 most influential people in Israel.

Am I naive, or is it amazing ( dismaying and pathetic ) that in the Jewish state not one person whose power lies in the realm of ideas and the spirit is on the list?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Heshbon ha-Nefesh b'Nefesh (For Parshat Ki Tetzteh)

[Somehow, the major point of this post got lost. I have, therefore, highlighted it. I also highly recommend this excellent discussion of the halakhic parameters of hitch-hiking.]

It's Elul, and I'm in the midst of my annual attempt at self-introspection (חשבון הנפש). Sometimes, that effort leads in unexpected directions.

Yesterday, and today, much of my attention has been focused upon the phenomenon known as Nefesh b'Nefesh. It started as I was desperately seeking a tremp to the next town, in order to attend the opening parent's night for my 10 year old. It was hot, and muggy (at 6PM), and I was getting increasingly anxious as each car slowed down at the gate (there are traffic bumps), the driver made every effort to ignore me, and went on.

The first thing that came to mind was the Torah's admonition (in this week's sedra) against ignoring brethren in distress (Deut. 22, 1-4):

You shalt not see your brother's ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely bring them back unto your brother. And if your brother is not close to you, and you don't know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it, and you shalt restore it to him. And so shall you do with his ass; and so shall you do with his garment; and so shall you do with every lost thing of your brother's, which he has lost, and you have found; you may not hide yourself. You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen down by the way, and hide yourself from them; you shalt surely help him to lift them up again.

True, there are exceptions (cf. בבא מציעא דף ל' ע"א), but the obvious way that the drivers tried to ignore me (and the other tempist), while they sped by in their empty cars (and drove exactly where I was headed), was both hurtful and aggravating. I then noticed something else. The cars that whizzed by were almost all brand-new mini-vans, driven by new Oleh types. By contrast, the cars that slowed down and asked where I needed to go were always beat up, older cars (what we call מצ'וקמק), driven by native Israelis or veteran Olim. I found myself feeling really uncharitable about the new Olim, who receive their תעודת עולה and תעודת זהות on the plane; are welcomed by bands and adulating crowds; who are accompanied through the Israeli bureaucracy by a phalanx of aides and who (judging from the local chat list) are striving to create a self-possessed Teaneck on the Jordan.

Didn't anyone tell them that Israel isn't America? Here we're supposed to help each other, give each other rides (especially since Egged's service is underwhelming), intervene on behalf of people you don't know and try to integrate into Israeli society. I thought of a story my wife likes to tell of a co-worker whose parents were fairly well off and bought her a car when she got married. The woman felt awkward that she had something that so few of her friends had. So, she decided that the only thing to do was to make sure that she ALWAYS gave rides to trempistim (a fortiori to soldiers and Sherut Leumi girls). Evidently, I thought, in all the discussion of refrigerators and expensive imported tiles, no one told these guys any of the poitive ethos of life here.

Just then, a beat up car picked me up and offered to drive me to my destination. As I got in, Elul came back to haunt me. I remembered how fifteen years ago we made Aliyah alone. We were met by a little old lady from AACI, who said welcome home and come to our offices to meet with an Aliyah Counselor, because we didn't even know what questions to ask. She disappeared and we proceeded to face Misrad Ha-Pnim alone. (For years thereafter, instead of saying 'Go to Hell!' we used to say 'Go to Misrad ha-Pnim!'). With help from friends and family (and a lot of angst and סייעתא דשמיא), we were absorbed (as they say). We lived through the Oslo years, three wars, terror attacks, but also became (to the extent desireable) part of Israel. We earned the highest compliment an Oleh can receive (in this cae from Amnon Scapira): שהמבטא לא יטעה אותך. הם ישראלים בכל לשד עצמותיהם

Anyway, I then realized that what I was feeling was (to a significant degree), jealousy at the Nefesh b'Nefesh crew and their obvious devotion to Israel. They had it very good in the US and nevertheless made the choice to come here. They know just how tenuous things are here. Nevertheless, they came and they are coming. And they are coming just when American values and grit are just what the country needs to survive the gotterdammerung of the old elites. So, yes, they should learn humility and be taught that here we do for one another. Yes, they should be told that in order to make it here you can't look back. Nevertheless, Thank God and God Bless them.

They're coming, ve-khen yirbu.

I will have to work on my jealousy this Elul.

As I had this insight, and kept at my חשבון הנפש, I recalled that Rav Kook זצ"ל once pointed out that the Jews could only enter ארץ ישראל after they'd killed Og, king of Heshbon. Only after you kill your חשבונות is one ready to enter Israel. It's evidently true not only of the Olim, but of the ותיקים as well.

New Olim, Elul 5768 (Credit: Jacob Richman)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dirty Little Secrets

1) (In anticipation of Ben Chorin's take): We are in the midst of full-scale media attack on Justice Minister Daniel Friedman and his attempts to curb the Judicial Tyranny established by Aharon Barak, and dwarfs. Friedman's critics sound exactly alike, and prove the herd-like, and ultimately anti-Democratic character of the Israeli Anti-Jewish, Anti-Zionist Leftist establishment ('Everyone is entitled to my opinion.') They remind me of this brilliant scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian:

FOLLOWERS: Tell us. Tell us both of them.
BRIAN: Look. You've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we're all individuals!
BRIAN: You're all different!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!
DENNIS: I'm not.

If you want to know why Friedman is right (and likely the only good thing Olmert ['Club Fed Here I come'] has ever done), just re-read Judge Posner's devastating article,

2) Many of the leading pundits in Israel are extremely bitter, nihilists. They remind me of Sartre's humanist in Nausee, who loves humanity but noone in particular. Anyway, there are a number of reasons for their bitterness. Above all, though, is their awareness of their own profound mediocrity. Basically, I suspect they wish they lived in the US or Europe. However, while they can play the big fish here, abroad they wouldn't even make the bush leagues. So here they are stuck in this tiny parochial pond, with their outsized egos and dramatically underdeveloped educations and intelligence. Not a day goes by that the geniuses in Haaretz, Yediot, Maariv, Reshet Bet, Arutz 1, and elsewhere don't make elementarty mistakes in language, history, culture, art, music, and political science. (I would never suspect them of, God Forbid, knowing anything about Jewish Civilization.)
Frankly, I can't understand how truly gifted and informed journalists (e.g. Ehud Yaari, Smadar Peri, Yisrael Harel, Ari Shavit and a few other brave souls) survive in that terrarium.

The sad part is that they are the ones providing the public with information.

The good news is that most people I know don't treat them seriously.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Evil Can Be Stopped

Please God, the evil can be stopped. At least, this is the upshot of the letter by a soldier who threw people from their homes in Gush Katif. The text appeared in YNET, and the translation is taken from here:

Letter from an Israeli soldier
Translation from the Hebrew by Toby Klein Greenwald •
Posted: August 8, 2008

To the people of Gush Katif:

I’m sorry that I evacuated you. I took families out of their homes forever, I put them on busses that took them to nowhere. I sinned against them. I remember every picture I took down from the walls of their homes in Gush Katif. I remember every girl, every young woman and mother I instructed to leave home forever. Now, three years later, I, a soldier of the evacuation forces, was discharged a long time ago from the IDF, but I still haven’t freed myself from the disengagement. Therefore I write my feelings today.

On the third anniversary of the evacuation of Gush Katif, I want to ask forgiveness. I am sorry that as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, I took an active and actual part in removing Israeli citizens from their homes. I want to ask forgiveness from you, the families who were removed; forgiveness from the precious women who I, with my own hands, removed “with determination and sensitivity” from their homes; forgiveness from the earth, the blossoming fields, the green lawns and the homes filled with life, from whom her sons and daughters were torn in one fell swoop.

I want to ask forgiveness for my stupidity and ignorance, for the fact that you spoke and explained and cried and screamed and I didn’t listen, didn’t even try to listen — locked in my opinions and my viewpoint. Where is the mutual caring? I was educated in a school and a youth movement where they taught us about mutual caring toward all parts of the population. Where was this education in the disengagement? In the blind obeying of an immoral command? I am not hiding the responsibility for my actions, even though I did these things not as a private individual but as a representative of the government of Israel.

When I put the evacuated residents on busses, I believe that they had somewhere to go. To my sorrow, today they can be defined as “refugees.” The government of Israel, the same government that sent me to take them away, forgot them and its values. I am ashamed that I did not check out these things before the disengagement, that I didn’t know that my friends and I were putting them on busses to nowhere.

Today the facts are clear. A very large percentage of the people removed from Gush Katif were not settled in permanent communities, a very large number of them needed, then and now, psychological treatment and rehabilitation. Many families fell apart. Children dropped out of schools. Many of the members of the community are broken and depressed without income. I know this may be extreme, but I feel that every broken home that was not rebuilt, that every child that needs psychological help, that every family that was not financially rehabilitated — they are on my conscience.

How did I dare — I, a little person who never built anything in my life — to come and destroy with my own hands entire lives that people built with such great labor? I remember one Ethiopian family I evacuated. The father of the family gave candies to his little daughter the entire time to give to us, only so she would not be afraid of soldiers. He asked to speak with us and to explain to us that since he came from Ethiopia on Operation Solomon, he wandered in Israel from one caravan camp to another and only here, in Kfar Darom, did he finally succeed in establishing his family. He asked that we not remove him by force, that he wanted to walk out on his own. He took the hand of his little daughter and his suitcase and when he reached the threshold of the door he collapsed in tears and cries, grabbed the doorpost and simply could not let go. Where is he today? Has he overcome what we did to him? Has he found himself again wandering between caravans? I don’t know…

I ask myself many times, “How could we do such a thing? How is it possible to tear from their homes women and children, men and youth, with such cold-heartedness? How did my physical hands obey the mind?”

Perhaps the answer is: Disengagement. Disengagement between the brain and the heart. It appears this plan was really named for the alienation it will cause between those who carried it out, and between the State of Israel and its values. I’m only 24, and already I have this scar. I understand that I was a young and confused soldier, eager to carry out orders, and when it was over, months later, I was shattered. We were all shattered. All of my friends, even my commanding officers, we were devastated there in the Gush. Only when I returned home and I began to absorb what I had done, did I allow myself to cry.

So please forgive me. Today, as a citizen, I see it as my duty to help you in any way I can to extract yourselves from the distress into which I, as a representative of the state, have plunged you. I want to strengthen you during the long and painful rehabilitation that was forced upon you. I am writing so that no soldier will ever again agree to carry out such a command in the future, a command that is totally immoral. They always talk among us about humanism toward our neighbors, the Arabs, but what about our neighbors the Jews? Are we not one society, that should take care of all of its people? I do not forgive myself. I hope that you — dear evacuees — will forgive me.

The author’s full name and details are known only to the editors of She can be reached at . The full version of the letter was read Aug. 6 on Israeli radio.

The Evil Spreads (Part I)

Our (almost) indicted Prime Minister, at the insistence of our convicted sex offender, Deputy Prime Minister, has started discussions of how to expel 300,000 Jews from their homes (including this writer). The obscenity of it all leaves actually made my jaw drop.

Never mind that there is no deal with the PLO in the offing. Never mind that as time goes on it becomes ever clearer that Never mind that this government has no legitimate mandate to negotiate anything. Never mind that Kadima is full of criminals and half-wits. Never mind that the government is supported by the terminally ill Labor Party and an ostensibly religious party that never met a shekel it didn't worship (since it charges by the half hour).

How can they think about expelling 300,000 Jews, when thousands of refugees from Gush Katif are still in tents/caravans and temporary housing! The tale of the abuse of the Gush Katif refugees is unparalleled in Jewish History. Ruined Lives, destroyed families, drug use, juvenile delinquency, destruction of education have all been the lot of the hard-hearted, brutal treatment of the Jews of Gush Katif by the Sharton-Olmert-Livni-Yishai-Peretz/Barak government. Indeed, let's be frank, if Israel had committed the kind of crimes that it perpetrated against Jews to Palestinians, the ground would burn.

It didn't. After all, it's only Jews. No one in the elites gives a damn about them, especially religious Jews. Religious Jews sind unser umgluck. (Sound Familiar).

Convivenzia: Muslim Style

For those who still believe the in the fantasy of Muslim tolerance for other faiths (a myth concocted by German Jewish historians), consider this and this:

(September 6, 2008) Due to the Moslem month of Ramadan, Ma'arat HaMachpela is to be closed to Jews and open only to Arabs every Friday for the next month. Yesterday, the first Friday of Ramadan this year, thousands of Arabs gathered at this holy site, and desecrated it.
This morning, when Jewish worshipers arrived for morning prayers, they were shocked at what they discovered. Arabs had urinated next to the Holy Ark, containing Torah scrolls in the "Yeshenei Avot" hall and also tossed Hamas flags into the memorials for the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

This is a continuation of past desecrations at this holy site, despite the fact that it is supposed to be fully guarded with use of high-tech security cameras. Of course, no Arabs were arrested.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The God Who Made Me (For Parshat Shoftim)

The Talmud in tractate Ta'anit (fol. 20a-b) relates the following story:

תנו רבנן: לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז. מעשה שבא רבי אלעזר ברבי שמעון ממגדל גדור מבית רבו, והיה רכוב על חמור ומטייל על שפת נהר, ושמח שמחה גדולה, והיתה דעתו גסה עליו מפני שלמד תורה הרבה נזדמן לו אדם אחד שהיה מכוער ביותר. אמר לו: שלום עליך רבי! ולא החזיר לו. אמר לו: ריקה, כמה מכוער אותו האיש! שמא כל בני עירך מכוערין כמותך? אמר לו: איני יודע, אלא לך ואמור לאומן שעשאני כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית. כיון שידע בעצמו שחטא ירד מן החמור ונשתטח לפניו, ואמר לו: נעניתי לך, מחול לי! - אמר לו: איני מוחל לך עד שתלך לאומן שעשאני ואמור לו כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית. היה מטייל אחריו עד שהגיע לעירו. יצאו בני עירו לקראתו, והיו אומרים לו: שלום עליך רבי רבי, מורי מורי! אמר להם: למי אתם קורין רבי רבי? - אמרו לו: לזה שמטייל אחריך. אמר להם: אם זה רבי - אל ירבו כמותו בישראל. - אמרו לו: מפני מה? - אמר להם: כך וכך עשה לי. - אמרו לו: אף על פי כן, מחול לו, שאדם גדול בתורה הוא. אמר להם: בשבילכם הריני מוחל לו. ובלבד שלא יהא רגיל לעשות כן. מיד נכנס רבי אלעזר בן רבי שמעון ודרש: לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז, ולפיכך זכה קנה ליטול הימנה קולמוס לכתוב בו ספר תורה תפילין ומזוזות

Our Rabbis taught: Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar once came from the house of his teacher in Migdal-G’dor. He was riding leisurely on a donkey along the lakeshore and feeling pleased with himself that he was so learned. While in this mood, he chanced upon a man who was extremely ugly. Rabbi Simeon exclaimed, “Are all the people of your town as ugly as you are?” “Go to the Artisan who made me,” the man replied, “and say to Him: ‘How ugly is this vessel that You have made.’” As soon as Rabbi Simeon realized his error, he got down from his donkey and said to the man as he bowed low before him, “I submit myself to you. Forgive me!” “No!” the man replied. “I will not forgive you until you go to the Artisan who made me and say to Him, ‘How ugly is this vessel that You have made.’”

Rabbi Simeon followed the man until they reached the rabbi’s town. When they arrived there, the people of the town came forward to meet Rabbi Simeon and greeted him with the words “Peace be with you, Master!” The man then asked them, “Whom do you address as Master?” “The one who follows you,” they replied. He said to them, “If this man is a master, may there not be many like him in Israel!” “Why?” they exclaimed. “What did he do to you?” “He did such and such to me,” he answered. “Nevertheless, forgive him,” the people pleaded, “for he is a great scholar.” “I will forgive him,” the man said, “but on the condition that he never acts in this manner again.”

This story contains many important and profound lesson about arrogance, humility, compassion, repentance and forgiveness. On those grounds alone, it is most appropriate to consider during Elul. Unfortunately, in certain quarters, the same passage is frequently invoked in manner that distorts its meaning and undermines a fundamental principle of Judaism.

Allow me to explain.
In the story, R. Shimon humiliates a person because of an inherited physical trait that causes him discomfort and about which he can do nothing. All he can do is accept God's decree and cope the best way that he can. The man's response was a justification of God's decree (צידוק הדין) and (by implication) poses the question that the Rav זצ"ל asked in Kol Dodi Dofek, 'What shall a person do and live with his suffering?' His retort to R. Shimon was a sharp criticism against self-satisfied arrogance and insensitivity to the plight of others.

More recently, though,in order to justify activity that the Torah categorically prohibits, but for which they have a predisposition. Such a situations are tragic, and deserve every profound compassion and emotional support. They raise poignant questions of Theodicy: Why did was this specific person presented with this specific trial?

Indeed, we have no idea why people suffer. Nevertheless, as difficult as life circumstances are,
they do not validate a wholesale violation of the Torah. Individuals may feel impelled to act upon their desires, and transgress. In most cases, they can be seen as acting under coercion (ones). That is a matter between themselves and their Creator, and should remain there. Their actions, albeit, are sinful. They do not, God forbid, turn them into SINNERS, and their mitzvot remain mitzvot.
Actions are not the sum total of one's personna.
Those who invoke R. Eleazar b. Shimon, though, are basically adopting a 'post hoc, propter hoc' attitude. In other words, if God presented a person with forbidden temptations or desires, then that is a sign that He wanted them to be actively satisfied, irrespective of the Torah's interdiction. [What else could the retort: “Go to the Artisan who made me,” the man replied, “and say to Him: ‘How ugly is this vessel that You have made.’” mean in this connection?] In other words, by citing R. Eleazar here, one is arguing for the validation of behaviour that the Torah rejects.

Such a conclusion, such an argument is absolutely unacceptable for any form of Orthodoxy. The categorical rejection, in principle, of any commandment; the creation of social and religious forms that are based upon such a rejection place its advocates outside of Orthodoxy, no matter how modern.
As I said before, one's relationship with God is private, and how one lives up to the challenges that He places before us is even more private. Indeed, according to the Rambam, one may publically announce neither one's piety or one's transgressions (cf. Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuvah II, 5). One may not globally reject or condemn a person, within that context.
However, any attempt to regularize or normalize values that are absolutely and axiologically contrary to the Torah should not be entertained, under any circumstance. In such cases, as Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל famously declared, we are commanded to surrender to His inscrutible Will. As painful, as difficult, as unfathomable as His decision is, we are His servants must bend to His Will (and not, God forbid, vice versa).
That is the upshot of the most famous verses in this week's parsha (Deut. 17, 8-13):
If there arise a matter too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, even matters of controversy within thy gates; then shall you arise, and betake yourself up to the place which HaShem thy G-d shall choose.
And you shall come to the priests the Levites, and to the judge that shall be in those days; and you shalt inquire; and they shall declare to you the sentence of judgment.
And you shall act according to the ruling, which they shall declare to you from that place which HaShem shall choose; and you shall act in accordance with all that they shall teach you. According to the law which they shall teach you, and according to the judgment which they shall tell you, yuu shalt do; you shall not deviate from the sentence which they shall declare unto you, to the right hand, nor to the left.