Friday, March 28, 2008

Fitna: Fighting Jihadist Terror and Attempts to Hide It

The movie Fitna was removed from its original home due to death threats. Arutz Sheva and YouTube, however,are still hosting it (Hat tip: Richard):

Burka's Law

By now, the word of the arrest of the leader of the Burka women for child abuse of the most unspeakable and inexcrable sorts, is common knowledge. (If you're not in the know, see Sari Makover-Balikov's interview with her before the arrest; and the sordid details here, here, and here.) The responses one hears around (in shul, in the library, and the media) are a mix of schadenfreude and dismissiveness (as in 'They're crazy' or 'They're crazy בעלי תשובה').

Personally, after I heard the news, I felt more of the former than the latter. Indeed, the tendency among both Haredim and Dat'im to dismiss the Burka phenomenon and its denouement as the perversity of some crazy returnees is self-serving, irresponsible and malignant.

It is self-serving because it exculpates many in the Orthodox world who, while objecting to the Burkas (obviously the abuse is a pathology), have become increasingly obsessed with female modesty as the sole significant issue facing the Torah in contemporary society. (Men, evidently, need not be modest.) The solution to every social woe (Drugs, promiscuity, Gossip, Theft, and Talking in Shul) is always (as one therapist noted): 'Throw another smatte on the women.' In other words, the crazies simply read the signals that inundate the community and are constantly preached by rabbis, educators and others and took them to their logical (if absurd) conclusions.

It is irresponsible, by extension, because it means that the same obsessive behavior that is advocated by our modern day Torquemadas will not come under criticism.

It is irresponsible because it turns a blind eye to real, serious problems that gnaw away at the community.

It is malignant because it continues the self-congratulating posture, elitist attitude and foul discrimination that characterizes the attitudes of many 'Frum From Birth'ers to 'Ba'alei Teshivah.' The latter brag about the former. In the Haredi world, especially, however, they will not let them into their schools, play with their children or ( a fortiori) marry them.

Now, in light of the total break down of morality (sexual and otherwise) in Western Society, I understand why there is great concern for modesty as a means of saving the family as an institution and protecting our children from a myriad of מרעין בישין. Appropriate clothing is part of that struggle. It is not, however, the solution. It is only one small element thereof. [The same should be said of the Jim Crow buses, but I'll save that for another time.]

It is time that we take a closer look at the issues and the challenges. It is time we engaged them, rather than covering them up (תרתי משמע). If we don't, the Burkas will come back to haunt us.

Kudos to Richard Landes (Finally)

It is already common knowledge that Muhammed a Dura was not killed by the IDF in September of 2000. (In fact, it's not clear at all that he's dead. Period.) Few people are aware that a pioneer in the effort to unmask this fraud, which inspired countless homicide bombings in Israel, is Professor Richard Landes of Boston University (who blogs at Augean Stables). It was Richard who highlighted and presented material that was originally developed by Nachum Shachaf; material that demonstrated how the Palestinians 'cooked' the film footage, in a process called 'Pallywood.'

Now, he is beginning to receive the attention and plaudits he so richly deserves. See the interview with Ruthie Blum in today's Jerusalem Post.

[Thanks to Yisrael Medad for bringing Shachaf's work to my attention.]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Found a Shekel: ס'וועט זיי גארניט העלפ'ן

The shriller the denials that Jerusalem is our Holy City and the once and future site of the Holy Temple, the faster that archaeology proves them wrong. The latest, and most exciting, is the discovery of a Half-Shekel coin, that was slated to be changed into Temple currency. As reported by the Post:
Israeli archaeologists have unearthed an ancient coin in Jerusalem's history-rich City of David which was used to pay a head tax in the Second Temple period, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced this week.

The rare silver coin which was discovered in an archaeological excavation in the main drainage channel of Jerusalem from the time of the biblical Second Temple is a shekel denomination that was customarily used to pay a half shekel head-tax during the Second Temple period.

In the Bible, Jews are commanded to contribute half a shekel each for maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. Israeli archaeologist Eli Shukron said that the coin was probably dropped at the 2,000-year-old drainage ditch quite by accident.

"Just like today when coins sometimes fall from our pockets and roll into drainage openings at the side of the street, that's how it was some two thousand years ago: a man was on his way to the Temple and the shekel which he intended to use for paying the half shekel head-tax found its way into the drainage channel," Shukron said.

At the time of the temple's construction, in the sixth century BCE, every Jew was commanded to make an obligatory donation of a half shekel to the site. This modest sum allowed all Jews, irrespective of their socio-economic position, to participate in the building the Temple. After the construction was completed, they continued to collect the tax from every Jew for the purpose of purchasing the public sacrifices and renewing the furnishings of the Temple.

The shekel that was found in the excavation outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem weighs 13 grams, and bears the head of the chief deity of the city of Tyre on one side, and an eagle upon a ship's prow on the reverse.

Despite the importance of the half-shekel head-tax for the economy of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, only seven other shekel and half shekel coins were heretofore found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem to date.

In a symbolic turn of events, the coin was uncovered just days before the Jewish holiday of Purim, which began on Thursday night, when religious Jews make a donation to the poor, a tradition that took root in the wake of the ancient virtuous deed of paying a tax of one half shekel to the Temple.

ורבים מעמי הארץ מתיהדים

Among the many topics addressed by the Book of Esther is the question of that which constitutes an accceptable conversion. The Talmud (Yeb. 24b) already questioned the propriety (and the sincerity) of those non-Jews who converted 'because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them' (Esther 8, 17). Nevertheless, it concludes that post factum their conversion was valid.

This conclusion, which is echoed by the Rambam (הל' איסורי ביאה יג, יד) and the Shulhan Arukh (יורה דעה סי' רסח סעיף ב), is (ultimately) the basis for the minimalist position that views the acceptance of the commandments (קבלת המצוות) by converts as negotiable (based upon the comment of the Maggid Mishneh on הל' איסורי ביאה יג, יז). Some of the opposition to the RCA concordat with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is based upon the fact that this position, which is most closely identified with the late Rishon le-Tziyyon R. Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel זצ"ל in שו"ת משפטי עוזיאל חיו"ד סי' נ"ה-נ"ח, will no longer be validated by the RCA.

My research into the laws of conversion long ago led me to the conclusion that independently of halakhic considerations (such as the view of the חמדת שלמה, R. Haim Ozer Grodzenski and the Rav) R. Uziel's opinion cannot be justified historically.

Since I plan to publish my findings as a longer monograph I hesitated to post on the subject. However, at the urging of colleagues, I've decided to summarize my conclusions here.

1) There is a rule in law that that which goes without saying, usually does. Hazal did not address the requirement on the convert to accept an observant lifestyle, because that was self-evident. Moreover, the only Judaism that existed until the early 19th century was halakhic Judaism, so there was nothing to discuss.

2) What did concern Hazal were the factors that motivated the convert. That is why the Bet Din serves as a screening committee. If the convert doesn't pass muster, he's not accepted ab initio.
If he passed muster, then בדיעבד he's deemed a Jew. This is because he or she joined the Jewish community and observed the commandments.
Unacceptable motivations, though, are more than of initial concern. According to Maimonides (above), a person whose motivations are suspect is placed on long term probation until his sincerity is established. Evidently, the convert's motivations also were a considered issue post factum (Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל was of the opinion that such a person was obligated to observe the commandments, but as yet not allowed to marry a Jew. This, though, leads away from the realm of pure history.)

3) The idea that conversion was possible without dedication to religious observance was a result of the emancipation, when Jews no longer had to live in Jewish communities. At that juncture, the absence of any specific written statement that observance is categorically necessary for conversion was interpreted as allowing for just that. As with most argumenta ex silentio, this one too was historically weak.

I am absolutely not arguing that historical considerations should play an active role in Psak Halakha. On the contrary, as the Rav pointed out so many times. Halakhah has its own dynamic and orbit. To peg the Law to external elements would be tantamount to undermining its integrity.

I wanted to provide an historical explanation for the absence of documentary evidence for the requirement that a convert's motives be appropriate and include commitment to submitting to the yoke of the mitzvot. Use of history in such an ancillary mode, judiciously undertaken, seems to me to be perfectly legitimate.

In that connection, I though it apt to post a passage from a fascinating (and deeply affecting) article by Rabbi Dr. David Berger that touches on this last point:

In the realm of concrete decision-making in specific instances, it is once again the case that the impact of academic scholarship does not always point in a liberal direction. In other words, the instincts and values usually held by academics are not necessarily upheld by the results of their scholarly inquiry, and if they are religiously committed they must sometimes struggle with conclusions that they wish they had not reached....Some academics do not hesitate to criticize
and even mock such rabbis for their insularity and their affirmation of propositions inconsistent with scholarly findings, but on occasions like this the very same people are capable of deriding other rabbis for their intolerant refusal to ignore modern scholarship. (D. Berger, 'Identity, Ideology and Faith: Some Personal Reflections on the Social, Cultural and Spiritual Value of the Academic Study of Judaism,' Study and Knowledge in Jewish Thought, ed. H. Kreisel, Beer Sheva: Ben-Gurion University Press 2006, 25-26).

the Kolech Incident: Some Reflections

I received a very insightful letter from a friend, whose opinion I greatly respect, which highlighted (in light of the Kolech story and its denouement) the fact that on the net one can be overly quick on the send button. Moreover, as Baudrillard points out, the internet is eminently manipulable, and the information is often unreliable. The damage that one can do by reacting too quickly, though, is very serious.

This is an expanded version of my response:

I really appreciate your comments, and I agree about the dangers of being quick on the finger.

The problem with this specific case involving Kolech is several fold.

First, Ben Chorin waited a full week an a half for Kolech to respond to the Mossawa connection. He contacted them out of concern for Kolech, not because of any agenda. I only joined in after he had received no response and the material from Mossawa achieved wider play.

Unfortunately, there was reason to believe Mossawa's flier, because Kolech has cooperated with it on other issues (as reported in the press). In addition, we both know that Kolech's membership takes in a very wide spectrum. This includes a not insignificant number of people who actually do sympathize with the Post/Anti-Zionist Left. I was concerned that a highjacking had occurred. At the best, as I learned in an earlier life, moderates often see their efforts undermined when they get 'adopted' or 'praised' by radicals.

Notice that I was very careful to keep my remarks restricted to the need for Kolech to maintain its image and integrity. All of my posts were calls for Kolech to do something for its own sake.

Hopefully, we will all learn to stay on top of the way that which we do and say is used in the media and on the web.

At the end of the day, all we have is our integrity, our good name and our relationship with God.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Update: Kolech

I have just been informed that Kolech has communicated its desire to disassociate itself from Mossawa and its activities. A spokesman for the organization expressed amazement as to how Mossawa got information on Kolech (though this might explain it).

As with the start of this episode, I agree with Ben Chorin:

I regard this matter as closed as far as Kolech is concerned. The behavior of those who signed the mendacious letter (Jafar Farah of Mossawa, Francis Radai of Hemdat and Gilad Kariv of the Reform movement) bears further investigation.

My comments in the last posting, though, remain vaild.

Secular Humanism in Extremis: The Case of Noah Feldman

Let me start out by saying that I was wrong about Noah Feldman. He has a deep and abiding religious faith, by which he dogmatically interprets and organizes his reality. That faith is not, Heaven Forfend, the Judaism of his youth. It's a radical strain of post-modern, western, culturally imperialist Secular Humanism. He is existentially committed to his faith, in a manner that would only inspire wonder and admiration, if it weren't so dangerous.

The best proof of our Noah's faith is his recent, benighted article in the New York Times Sunday Section. Feldman would have us believe that 'for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world.' For Muslims, perhaps, this was true (if you weren't a Sunni living among Shiites and vice versa). For non-Muslims, life under Islamic Law was hell. Why else would Maimonides assert that there has never been a more terrible exile than that of Ishmael? Why else would Abu Yusuf Hasdai Ibn Shaprut tell the Khazar King that he'd like to leave his job as de facto vizier of Abd-ar-Rahman III, Caliph of Spain, to become his subject? How does Feldman explain the hundreds of pages of testimonies collected by Bat Ye'or, and others? (See David Yerushalmi's response to Feldman, here.)

The truth is that Feldman's misguided piece of punditry is simply an expression of his deep religious faith. He reinterprets, recasts and represents Islam not as it is and not as it desires, but as it ought to be in his dogmatic scheme of things. That, for him and many others, is the deeper reality. (A reality, by the way, of which the sheikhs of Al-Azhar are unaware.)

What troubles me, though, is that the man has a doctorate in Islamic Thought! How can he ignore all of the contradictory evidence? At least he should confront it! No, Dr. Feldman chooses to selectively cite his points, and pontificate as the good pontifex maximus he aspires to be.

Allah yerahmu!

Kolech and the נקיי הדעת שבירושלים

I am gratified that Kolech has officially posted the following demurrer to the information posted below, and rejects any connection with Mosswa:

To all, Kolech-Religious Women's Forum has no connection with Mossawa, no cooperation with anything concerning the constitution or any other activity. Kolech is currently checking it's standpoint concerning the constitution in the context of women in general and observant women in particular. This is clearly a defamation approach and certainly gossip. This is Kolech's formal response.

However, Ben Chorin writes in his comment:
Last week I forwarded to Kolech the letter being circulated by Mossawa clearly stating that Kolech is a partner to this initiative. I asked them if they wished to clarify their relationship with Mossawa and this initiative. The "rakezet" said Kolech would respond "at the beginning of next (= this) week". I waited until Tuesday and again inquired if they had a response. I published only after they ignored this inquiry.
So, yes, they knew about the purported connection and they didn't deny it, despite having ample opportunity to do so.

In light of the hard evidence produced by Ben Chorin, I have the following reactions:

a) People who support an organization and its ideals have every right to know what it signs on to. If said organization allies itself, even for specific causes, with forces that contradict the deepest beliefs of those supporters, the latter are fully entitled to exert pressure to obtain clarfications or a change of policy. In the absence of these, support can (and should) be withheld in the interest of the integrity of the supporter. (Personally, that's why I cut all ties with Meimad in 1996).

b) Informing people of a public organizations affiliations is not לשון הרע by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, following the Hafetz Hayyim, preventing harm by exposing information is a mitzvah. [N.B. This is the same rule allowing for pressure to be placed upon recalcitrant husbands. I assume the Kolech people know the citation.]

c) Affiliation for specific projects is still an implicit endorsement with the affiliate (at least to the outside world). Affiliation for a subsection of an overall project, assumes endorsement of the broader project. Hence, for Kolech to have allowed its name to appear as part of Mossawa's initiative is at best misleading. It also damages Kolech's good name and standing in terms of the important work it does, especially in terms of the rights of contemporary agunot. [ And let me remind my readers that I played a central role in the development and publication of the first, widely accepted pre-nuptial agreement formulated by the Orthodox Caucus.]

If Kolech has absolutely nothing to do with Mossawa and its project, let them publically announce it and denounce Mossawa for illegitimately using (and besmirching) its good name. According to the Talmud, maintaining one's good name is a personal obligation based upon the verse (Num. 32, 22): והייתם נקיים מה' ומישראל. A fortiori, this is true of an organization representing a large, varied population and an important series of causes.

If we are already discussing לשון הרע, let it be recorded that one is not allowed to say or cause לשון הרע about oneself. As The Talmud records (Sanhedrin 23a):

The fair minded of the people in Jerusalem used to act thus: They would not sign a deed without knowing who would sign with them; they would not sit in judgment unless they knew who was to sit with them; and they would not sit at table without knowing their fellow diners.

המבין יבין ויקח לקח.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Amalek Redux

Pagan society was eminently pluralist. Its hallmark was the absence of religious persecution, despite the fact that wars between nations were understood to be paralleled by conflicts between their particular deities. Indeed, historians are at pains to explain the two major exceptions to this rule: the anti-Jewish persecutions of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and those of the Roman Emperor Aelius Trajanus Hadrian. Ironically, in both of these cases, the persecutions were instigated and guided by individuals who sought to embody the highest ideal of Hellenistic paganism.

In this light, the genocidal plot to destroy the Jews that is described in the Book of Esther is absolutely incomprehensible from a purely historical point of view. Irrespective of the claims of Bible critics, it defies the logic of its own sitz im leben. Cultural and ethnic (or racist) homogeneity were the innovation and the perpetual goal of Christianity and Islam, and the former's secular heirs. In fact, Haman's ideology always seemed more appropriate to Tomas de Torquemada and Heinrich Himmler than to an ancient Persian nobleman.

There is one thing, though, that I do know. The Book of Esther sets forth the pattern of subsequent Jewish History in unmistakable terms (see here for one aspect). It describes the virulent, irrational hatred of the Jew that can hold an entire empire in its grip, on a moment's notice. It is that unending, pathological hatred of the Jew that is represented by Amalek, whose scion Haman was.

Amalek is a very loaded image, especially in light of the Bible's injunction to utter destroy it. It's an image that has been both used, and abused. What has not been understood is its role as a time-transcendent symbol.

Modern man forgets that traditional man lives sub specie aeternitatis, under the aspect of eternity. Traditional man, and here the Jew is assuredly a traditional man, understands his present in light of the past and in anticipation of the future, as Ramban said: The deeds of the fathers are a sign for their children (מעשה אבות סימן לבנים). Upon encountering Jew-hatred, of which modern anti-semitism is but the most virulent strain, the Jew knew that he was encountering Amalek. Knowing of Amalek's existence grounded him. It gave him a context with which to fight to survive and endure. He knew, and knows, that God will not give him totally over to this implacable enemy. 'For I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven' (Ex. 17, 14). [ In a sense, the Polish Jew, the despised ostjude, was better prepared psychically for the Shoah, than was the highly assimilated (and sometimes converted) German Jew, the fabled Deutsche Burgher Mosaischen Glaubens. So many of the latter took their own lives in despair in the 1930's, wearing the iron crosses they had earned fighting for the Fatherland in World War I. Polish Jews had no such illusions.]

Amalek is a potent symbol. It is, a religious and historical reality. As an historian, who has grappled with Jew hatred for his entire life, I must admit that its persistent existence only makes sense to me on a metaphysical plane.

Does recognizing a manifestation of Amalek require the implementation of the Torah's dictate to wipe it out entirely? Absolutely not. To say otherwise is to utterly distort Halakha (and Reb Chaim Brisker's famous observation on the Rambam does not contradict this. ואכמ"ל). The Rambam makes clear (Hil. Melakhim 1, 1) that the eradication of Amalek is a royal (and probably messianic) undertaking.

Have some been guilty of distorting the Law? Tragically, yes. Has this ever been official Israeli policy ? Absolutely not! On the contrary, Israel sacrifices its soldiers (and its civilians) in order to avoid harming non-combatants. Have responsible rabbinic authorities (yes, even among settlers) ever advocated wholesale invocation of the Amalek clause in our ongoing war with the Arabs? Again, no.

Amalek, for us, is a metaphysical reality around which we can organize (if not understand the insane world in which we live), and that constantly raises serious questions of theodicy. It does not dictate policy.

We would do well, though, to recall that our enemies are also traditional people. They also have a principled, integrated world view that is nourished by their own traditions and collective memories. Muslims also understand, interpret and experience their reality in light of the Qur'an and the many traditions of their prophet and his successors. Islam teaches that history, which is for them a sacred science, must also be understood sub specie aeternitatis.

Dhimmis, such as Jews, who do not abide by the terms of dhimmitude are despised because they defy the word of Allah. Attacks on kafir have absolutely nothing to do with specific military encounters, and the casualties they engender. They have everything to do with the refusal of Jews to abide by the Pact of Umar and the fact that this is a blasphemous affront to Allah. Inspiration for the massacre of the martyrs of Merkaz HaRav more likely derives from Hadith passages like this, than from anything else:

The Prophet (sall'Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “You will indeed fight against the Jews and you will kill them to the point where the rock and the tree will say: ‘O Muslim! O ‘Abd'ullah (slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.’

Monday, March 17, 2008

Jews Never Lived in Palestine (BTW, they're not Human either)

That, at least, is the upshot of one of the most vocal group of useful idiots, Rabbis for Human Rights. I heard about their latest escapade on the radio and in the Post (and found it further described by Jameel).

Basically, the Israeli Post-Jewish Left and the Palestinians are trying to stop archaeological excavations near Silwan in order to prevent the unearthing of finds that will further establish the
fact of Jewish residence in both First and Second Temple Jerusalem. This, of course, would wreak havoc with their 'narrative' that there were no Jews and, a fortiori, none in Jerusalem.

The problem is that the Silwan/City of David excavations have provided a treasure trove of hard proof of Jerusalem's service as the Jewish capital. The most recent finds are two buldings: one may well be David's palace (controverting Israel Finkelstein's minimalist theories). The other looks to be the palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene, who donated a golden comb to the Temple the Arabs say never existed.

Enter the Rabbis for Human Rights, whose chief Arik Ascherman (who's a Jewish illiterate but knows how to attack anything that smell of Jewish national self-determination).

Israeli police last Thursday arrested the leader of the radical left-wing organization Rabbis for Human Rights after he encouraged Arab demonstrators in a Jerusalem neighborhood to violently oppose the authorities.

The incident took place during a routine protest by Arabs and left-wing Israeli Jews against archeological excavations in the mixed Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which is situated directly over King David's ancient capital.

Finds at the site have already shed an enormous amount of light on the biblical Israeli kingdom that once dominated the region, and those opposed Israel's full restoration fear further such discoveries will only solidify Jewish historical claims to the city. Thursday's scuffle including a large number of local Arabs opposed by local Jews and right-leaning Israelis supportive of the excavations. When police tried to intervene, Ha'aretz reported that Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, incited the gathered Arabs to resist. Ascherman also reportedly tried to prevent the evacuation of a right-wing Israeli wounded during the confrontation. When asked by police to stay away from Silwan for 15 days to allow a proper investigation of the events, Ascherman refused and was taken into custody.

There is, however, more. Not only do Ascherman and company fight to prevent solodifying Jewish claims to Jerusalem, they implicitly deny our humanity. How, you may well ask?

It's really quite simple. They claim to fight for human rights. On their website they invite people to join them to 'promote justice and freedom, campaign against discrimination and inhumane conduct and defend human rights and personal property.' However, the amount of concern they exhibit toward Jews and their rights is practically non-existent. When I searched for Merkaz HaRav. I got nothing. When I searched for Sederot, I got no results. When I searched for 'Kassam' I got three hits. On three occasions in the past four years, as rockets have rained down on the Negev, the 'Rabbis' for Human Rights have only weighed in on the subject three times. On each of these occasasions, they have carefully 'balanced' the wanton targeting of Jewish civilians with Israeli retaliation agains terrorists who hide behind women and children. On the other hand, they have protested Israeli treatment of Arabs on thousands of occasions.

The only conclusion I can reach is that Jews are not human. At least not for the RHR. They really ought to come clean and call themselves the Rabbis for Palestinian Rights (to all of Palestine).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Doron: Story of a True Tzaddik (A Must Read!!!)

[I received the following from Rabbi Chaim Ilson, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Derekh ha-Talmud, and one of the Rav זצ"ל's תלמידים מובהקים. It speaks for itself.]

This is what Rav Lazer Brody posted today about one of the students killed in Merkaz HaRav. This is an unbelievable story:

Doron: Story of a True Tzaddik

Doron Mahareta of blessed and saintly memory HY"D was one of the eight Yeshiva students that were massacred last week in Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem.

Last night, I paid a shiva (condolence) call to Doron's family. Every single type of Jew was sitting together, from Ethiopians to Polish Chassidim, from knit kippot to Yerushalmi white kippot, from jeans and sandals to long black frocks. Too bad that it takes a martyr of Doron's magnitude to unite everyone.One of the rabbis from Mercaz HaRav told me the most amazing story you'll ever hear about Doron's dedication to learning Torah, a story that competes with the Gemara's account of Hillel's near freezing on the roof of Shmaya and Avtalion's Yeshiva (see tractate Yoma, 35b).

Doron wanted to learn Torah in Mercaz HaRav, one of the best of Israel's yeshivas. But, since his early schooling was in Ethiopia, he lacked a strong background in Gemara. The Yeshiva rejected him. He wasn't discouraged. He asked, "If you won't let me learn Torah, will you let me wash the dishes in the mess hall?" For a year and a half, Doron washed dishes. But, he spent every spare minute in the study hall. He inquired what the yeshiva boys were learning, and spent most of the nights and all of his Shabbatot with his head in the Gemara learning what they learned.

One day, the "dish washer" asked the Rosh Yeshiva to test him. The Rosh Yeshiva politely smiled and tried to gently dismiss Doron, but Doron wouldn't budge. He forced the Rosh Yeshiva into a Torah discussion; the next day, he was no longer a dish washer but a full-fledged "yeshiva bachur".On weekends, when Doron would come home to visit his family in Ashdod, he'd spend the entire Shabbat either in the Melitzer Shul or the neighboring Gerrer shtiebel learning Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries.

Three weeks ago, he finished the entire Shulchan Aruch and principle commentaries. Doron achieved in his tender 26 years what others don't attain in 88 years. He truly was an unblemished sacrifice, who gave his life for all of us.

The next time you want to close the Gemara to watch TV, think of Doron.

The next time your son doesn't want to do his Torah homework, tell him about the price that tzaddikim like Hillel the Elder and Doron Mahareta paid to learn Torah. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Doron wasn't a reincarnation of Hillel.

May his holy soul beg mercy for the grieving nation he left behind, Amen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Barukh Dayyan ha-Emet: Mrs. Erica Jesselson ע"ה

It is with much sadness and a deep and abiding sense of personal loss, that I heard of the passing this morning of Mrs. Erica (Rivka) Jesselson nee Papenheim, wife and life's partner of Mr. Ludwig Jesselson ז"ל.

I have had the זכות of knowing, and being close to, many outstanding and legendary leaders and teachers of our people. The Jesselson's, though, were in a class all by themselves when it came to vision, moral values, commitment to the Torah, the Jewish People and to the State of Israel, and absolute and unwavering love and devotion to their families and friends. Their legendary philanthropy, in its massive scope and unparalleled צניעות, was the natural expression of who they were and all in which they believed.

The news is too fresh to express all the feelings that are welling up in my heart at this moment.
For now, all I want to say is 'Thank you, Mrs. J' for your friendship, your affection and for making me and my family, a part of your life.

תהי נשמתה צרורה בצרור החיים ותהי מנוחתה כבוד.
עד ביאת הגואל, אמן.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Conversion Imbroglio

The debate about the RCA/Rabbanut concordat on conversion continues to intensify. The new edition of the New York Jewish Week has no less than two articles and a joint letter on the subject (not to mention the New York Times Magazine's piece from last week). Closer to home, my posting from last week also attracted a significant amount of attention (as borne out by the number of hits it received, and the comments I received off-line). As a followup to the latter, and after having read the full text of the concordat, I think it's important to clarify a few of the points that I raised.

1) My concern was, and remains, the ongoing independence of the Orthodox rabbinate in the Diaspora. Millennia of halakhic practice demands that the acts of recognized and responsible Bate Din abroad be honored and acknowledged by their counterparts in Israel's Chief Rabbinate (some of whose members can't shine the shoes of Talmide Hakhamim in the Golah).

After reading the RCA's Gerut policy in full, and especially the elaboration published by the chairman of the commission, Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, I am satisfied that my colleagues abroad have created a framework that preserves the integrity of the Modern Orthodox Rabbinate in North America. The system is set up by, and for, the members of the RCA. The fact that this was acknowledged by the Rabbanut and that no questions would be raised as to the actions of RCA Bate Din is a signal achievement. In addition, the RCA has pledged to appoint qualified judges who reflect the full spectrum of its membership.

2) That having been said, it is absolutely critical that the RCA stand on constant guard to prevent encroachments upon its prerogatives. The Rabbanut has become a hostage of forces that categorically reject everything in which the RIETS/RCA community believes. I have no doubt that this is but the first round in an ongoing struggle, and here the critics have a real point. ראו חבריי, הוזהרתם.

3) There are two other issues hovering in the background here. These do not relate to the question of rabbinic authority, but to a) the nature of conversion and the requirements for conversion and b) the future of Modern Orthodoxy.

The former topic requires longer treatment. I have already stated my personal belief that the bare minimalist definition of קבלת המצוות is neither justified legally and nor historically accurate, I will אי"ה expand upon the topic in another context.

The latter is rooted in a broader sense of crisis that has marked the Modern Orthodox Community for almost three decades. I sense that the fear of these critics is not so much of the Rabbanut, but of rightward trends within their own communities, and among their own colleagues. The question here, for which I have no clear answer, requires rethinking the lines between the possible and the desireable, the justified and the wise in responding to the changing face of Orthodoxy in the twenty-first century.

Choosing Your Comforters

I can't stand our Minister for (Re)Education, Yuli Tamir. The woman is a dogmatic, politically correct, radical Post-Modernist, neo-Stalinist demagogue. Judging from her essay in a book about secular Israelis, she never met a Jew (and a fortiori a settler) she ever liked or respected. She has spent her entire tenure devoted to two purposes: 1) Recasting the school curricula to advance her political agenda. (This led to her departure as head of the Rabin Center. She was even too much for them.) 2) Eviscerating the national-religious educational system. (Ostensibly, she is redirecting funds for the legitimate purpose of advancing the education of Israeli Arabs. The problem is that she is taking money solely from the religious stream.)

Yuli Tamir will go to the ends of the earth to delegitimize anything or anyone who is Jewish or Zionist. I have no doubt that it is for that reason that she made a highly publicized,
unannounced visit to Merkaz haRav, in the wake of Thursday Night's massacre. She got what she was looking for. A few students shouted epithets at her, and she responded:

"I left the place with great pain but not with a decision to do anything at this painful moment. It is enough for us this pain that has to be dealt with and it is not necessary to add to it. But behind it is something that should concern us greatly. Again, we are talking about a state school, funded by the State, part of the body of the State. It cannot be that the messages that it passes on to its students - also in an hour of dispute - and this wasn't the only dispute that there was nor the only dispute that there will be in the public life of the State of Israel. And we ask and require that our schools will know to bridge disputes and not deepen them. We are tested during times of crises and the questions is if the education that is given at the yeshiva and places similar to it is truly an education that accepts the State and it democratic institutions with honor. I cannot say to you that as the minister of education I am confident there is true democratic activity there," Tamir warned.

Tamir, who as I said puts
Mikhail Suslov to shame, never heard of free speech. She never heard of the right of people to express their pain. Free Speech, in her book, like democracy is limited to those who think as she does. (Recall Yitzhak ben Aharon's famous declaration that Begin's election was not binding. Why? Because a non-socialist was elected.) She also never heard of the rule that mourners have a right not to receive certain people as comforters.

Nevertheless, I think it's a mistake to act out with such people.

All we do is hand them more ammunition with which to attack us. The incident with Tamir gave the media an opportunity to rid itself of the intolerable need to relate positively to the 'Source of all Evil' (i.e. Merkaz HaRav and all it represents), and to return to the ongoing campaign of villification and demonization of Religious Zionism upon which it thrives.

It would have been much better to allow the visit, carefully limit it and come out looking better.

As my mother, who had an innate sense of what to do inimpossible situations with people you absolutely can't stand, would say:

'Do the Correct Thing.'

No Money for Migun

We recently purchased a new (used) car. Seeing how things are rapidly deteriorating, I started the process of installing rock-resistant plastic windows therein. These windows, which my own personal experience in the Oslo War (aka Intifadat Al-Aqsa) proved to be life-savers, are paid for by the government. (With a 49% tax rate, one should hope so).

Anyway, yesterday I called to schedule an appointment to install the windows and was told that there was no more budget for the windows and that I'd have to scramble to get an authorisation.
The guy I called for the latter told me not to worry and to just get the papers ready. Meanwhile, it emerges that quite a few people are worried about this. One local citizen elicited the following information that she posted on the town listserve.

I called misrad habitachon and this morning they called back and I spoke to a very pleasant man who explained that misrad habitachon just covers half of the budget - the rest of it comes from misrad haotzar. The amount that misrad habitachon put in is the same as every year but misrad haotzar hasn't come through yet and they're fighting with them about it. At this point the budget of 2007 has been used up and that is why there are no ishurim for those wanting to do migun now.

So, there's money for everything under the sun except for protecting people's lives.
Oh, I forgot.
Settlers aren't people.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Face of the Enemy

This morning, in Hallel, we said:

It is better to take refuge in the the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
All nations compass me about; verily, in the name of the Lord I will cut them off.

They compass me about, yea, they compass me about; verily, in the name of the Lord I will cut them off.
They compass me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns; verily, in the name of the Lord I will cut them off.

Nothing further need be said.

ה' יקום דמם.