Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Good News....Sort of

Last night, Naomi Shemer's immortal song 'Yerushalayim shel Zahav' was chosen as the most important song of the last sixty years.

Prima facie, that's good news. It means that the intense efforts to dissolve the 'mystic chords of memory' that tie Jews to Jerusalem, have failed.

The bad news is that the Naomi Shemer's paen of love and longing to our people's heart beat out the competition by only one vote. The competing song was 'Horef '73' (Winter of 1973). The song describes the anger of the children sired in the wake of the Yom Kippur War that they are still obligated to serve in the army. Why? Because their parents failed to live up to their promise, to turn 'an enemy into a friend or lover' (להפוך אויב לאוהב). In other words, the on going war with the Arabs is their parents' fault. It's Israel's fault. Thus, this song is the ultimate expression of the moonbats of peace, who remain convinced that it's all up to Israel, and that if we only gave the Arabs what they want ('legitimately'), there would be peace and the army could be disbanded.

If the voting was fair, then the song contest indicates the deep divide within the Israeli psyche between its Jewish roots and its tendency to fantasy. More to that, the voters came from the Israeli Pop station, Reshet Gimmel. If so, one needs to carefully consider to whether the youthful glass is half empty or half full.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Enough is Enough! (On Qitniyot and Perversion)


[I feel somewhat conflicted about writing this post דווקא today, the day after the Rav זצ"ל's
15th yahrzeit. The Rav was extremely conservative when it came to altering any type of received tradition and practice. A fortiori he tenaciously defended the integrity of rabbinic enactments
(גזירות ותקנות) , including regional ones.

On the other hand, the Rav vociferously opposed נערישקייט, especially when it masqueraded as piety. As he was wont to remark: 'Some things aren't אסור, because they're אסור. They're אסורbecause they're stupid, and it's אסור to be stupid.' (My wife's great-grandfather expressed a similar sentiment, when he said: די גרעסטע מצווה איז ניט צו זיין קיין נער. Great minds think alike.)

This following is written in attempt to navigate between the anitpodes of the Rav's legacy, while laying out my own thinking on the issue. I hope that the combination of deference and independence will prove true to the path he set out for me, and his other disciples.]

This morning, my wife and I went out for our morning power walk. We got something of a late start, and about halfway through it had become so hot that we had to cut things short. (Israel is in the midst of a serious heat wave.) We were also terribly thirsty. At the nearest grocery store, I grabbed two bottles of water (and the de rigeur bottle of Diet Coke). When I brought them back, my wife (who's more perceptive than I) noticed that the water was 'לאוכלי קטניות בלבד' (i.e. for certain Sephardim). I looked more closely at the bottle, and saw that it was slightly flavored (Lemon-Lime). So, not a little irked, I checked the ingrediants. Surprise! There was nothing in the water that was distantly related to qitniyot! So we saved our lives (there's no mitzvah to get dehydrated and collapse on Pesach), and we drank the water.

As we walked home, I kept thinking that this is beyond crazy. Whatever additive there is in the water is chemically denatured. Qitniyot is בטל ברוב, which this clearly is. The only possible thing I could think of is that if the flavor was comprised of a significant amount of qitniyot (which it isn't), its tangible presence would prevent it from becoming בטל as a מילתא דעבידא לטעמא. (Cf. ש"ך, יורה דיעה סי' צח ס"ק כ"ח). However, this is decidedly NOT the case here. In other words, there is no reason to restrict this water to consumers of qitniyot. Period.

This case, though, is indicative of a larger problem. Let's take the case of canola oil, which has been dividing religious families for a few years now (and which I have previously discussed here and here). In israel, Canola oil is listed as 'לאוכלי קטניות לפי המנהג", which is a totally meaningless (though very threatening) phrase. At least, though, it leaves the decision up to the individual.
Or, so I thought.
When I did the Pesach shopping last week, in Rami Levi (of course), I simultaneously embarked on the annual, frustrating search for non-kitniyot mayonnaise. Daring to look over at the qitniyot side of the shelf, I saw tons of light mayonnaise that had Canola written all over the jars, along with the logo 'לאוכלי קטניות בלבד.' In other words, the kashrut establishment (i.e. the various badatzim and such), have taken away our right to choose on a matter of personal practice that has absolutely nothing to do with normative halakha!
The institutionalization of such נערישקייט:
1) Makes observance of Pesach unnecessarily difficult, and drives people away from making Pesach.

2) Makes a mockery of Halakha, as ever greater logical contortions are required to justify an ever more baroque system of halakhic decisions. [One distinguished Rav told me that he thought that potatoes should be considered qitniyot, but that no one would accept such a ruling. Think of the implications for the non-Gebroks community! Thank God I'm a Litvak!]

3) Drives more and more wedges between Jews, as one is terrified to eat in someone else's home. Need I remind these commissars of qitniyot, these Torquemadas of Kashrut, how Rashi explains the principle that if a religious person says something is kosher, that one must believe him/her (Rashi, Yevamot 88a, s.v. ואמר):

והא ודאי פשיטא לן דסמכי' עליה כל זמן שלא נחשד דאי לאו הכי אין לך אדם אוכל משל חברו ואין לך אדם סומך על בני ביתו.

'Obviously, we rely upon him, so long as he is not suspect. For, if not, no one would be able to partake of his friend's food, and no one could rely on the members of his own household.'

4) Violates the rule of not going to such extremes as to make the Torah (חס וחלילה) look ridiculous (הבו להו דלא להוסיף עלה). [Cf. שבועות מ"ח ע"ב ; ט"ז, או"ח סי' שס"ג ס"ק ד; ש"ך, יו"ד סי' מ"ח ס"ק ל'; ]

Now, I want to make this perfectly clear. I am in no way advocating that Ashkenazim stop observing the hallowed custom of our forefathers, not to eat qitniyot. The fact that there were medievals who objected to the practice in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is, effectively, irrelevant as far as practice is concerned. Deference to the collective wisdom of the ages is the essence of Tradition, of מסורה. Therefore, legumes (peas, beans etc.) may not be consumed on Pesach by Ashkenazim, and no one has the authority to do away with this practice! Corn, though it could not have been known by the Sages of Ashkenaz, has universally been classified as qitniyot, and there is some logic to abstaining from them. (Peanuts and Peanut Oil are another matter. I'm personally conflicted about soybeans, though I don't eat them on Pesach.)

However, the obsessive expansion of these restrictions is not only wrong halakhically, it betokens a deeper malaise in the Orthodox community.

For one thing, it neglects the deeper values that the Torah wishes us to instill in ourselves, our families and our people. True, as Professor Haym Soloveitchik notes at the conclusion of his classic study, Rupture and Reconstruction, the search for strictures can be viewed as part of a larger search for God:

It is this rupture in the traditional religious sensibilities that underlies much of the transformation of contemporary Orthodoxy. Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him, than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.

Nevertheless, as the contemporary upsurge in the search for direct contact with God shows, this specific phenomenon not only fails to provide solace, it drives people away from the Torah, generally (especially as contemporary Israeli representatives of the Torah are largely incapable of representing anything Jewish as being intellectually respectable.)

More seriously, as we become increasingly obsessed extremism, we lose sight of the deeper values that provide the basics of the Torah, and without which we are courting disaster. The danger is not new. It has, however, become acute. A straight line runs from Rabbenu Bahya (Introduction, Hovot ha-Levavot):

One of the hakhamim was asked an esoteric question in the realm of divorce law, to which he responded: You, Sir, are asking about something that would in no way harm us if we did not know the answer; but do you know all that you should regarding the commandments that you are not entitled to ignore, and concerning which it is unbefitting for you to sin, that you turn to other questions that will bring you no improvement in your knowledge of Torah and faith, and will in no way amend that which is crooked in your soul?

to David Berger's remark (Tradition, Spring 1982):

GershomScholem once remarked that an Orthodox acquaintance told him that God had made a serious mistake when he placed lo tignov among the Ten Commandments; instead, he should have arranged a gloss to a gloss on the Ramo which would have said, "Yesh nohagin shelo lignov."

to the frightful sight of 'religious' people excusing (and sometimes justifying) the most nefarious behaviour because it was carried out by 'religious,' 'hareidi,' 'Torah observant' people. Let us not play innocent. It is far too easy to dismiss these actions as those of a few demented individuals (though they are surely that). These things arise out of a cultural context, out of a religious malaise that has affected broad swaths of the Torah community.

Which brings me back to מורי ורבי, the Rav זצ"ל. On many occasions, he inveighed against turning mitzvot into 'ceremonials.' Ceremonials, he once remarked to me, are ritual actions that are not based upon moral and intellectual foundations. Ceremonialism, he was wont to say, is paganism.

I fear that we are highing far to close to the outer limits of the Rav's words. There is more than physical hametz to be destroyed on Pesach.

No words...How Low Can Western 'Culture' Sink

Noah's Ark

Take a shot of Pesach Brandy and read this. (And they wonder why religious people over react to Liberalism).
UPDATE: It emerges that the horror at Yale was 'creative fiction.' It's no less horrific for that. And who's idea is it? A Jewish girl. What else? Why is it that not only can Jews reach the heavens, they can plummet to the pit of Hell as easily?

כי השחית כל בשר את דרכו על הארץ.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

והיא שמדה

Aviad sent around this clip.

וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ! שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ, וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם.
כֵּן יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ יַגִּיעֵנוּ לְמוֹעֲדִים וְלִרְגָלִים אֲחֵרִים הַבָּאִים לִקְרָאתֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם, שְׂמֵחִים בְּבִנְיַן עִירֶךָ וְשָׂשִׂים בַּעֲבוֹדָתֶךָ. וְנֹאכַל שָׁם מִן הַזְּבָחִים וּמִן הַפְּסָחִים אֲשֶׁר יַגִּיעַ דָּמָם עַל קִיר מִזְבַּחֲךָ לְרָצוֹן, וְנוֹדֶה לְךָ שִׁיר חָדָש עַל גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ ועַל פְּדוּת נַפְשֵׁנוּ.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Merkaz HaRav Urban Legend

Three weeks, ago, in the wake of the massacre at Merkaz HaRav, I posted an inspiring story about one of the victims, Doron Mahareta.

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a young member of the Merkaz HaRav faculty (the son of one of my oldest friends), who told me that aside from Doron being a big Lamdan, the story was untrue. He actually was a graduate of Kfar HaRo'eh and was, ab initio, a regular student at Merkaz.

Aside from providing another example of why one should be wary of the internet (irrespective of who provides the information), I am troubled by the story for other reasons. First, it is not so slightly tinged with racism (either on the part of Merkaz or the narrator). Second, it raises the larger question of hagiography and history (wie es eigentlich gewesen ist). Are sacred forgeries of any value? This, of course, is exactly the type of question that has been discussed by JJ Schacter, Marc Shapiro and contributers to the Seforim blog. The expansion of the internet, though, opens up new dimensions that should give us all serious pause.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Disarmed, Abused and Abandoned

Hazal recount the story of a person on a boat, who is busy drilling a hole under his seat. When the other passengers protest that he's endangering their lives as well, he retorts that he (after all) is only drilling under his seat.

Today, I encountered two particularly perverse versions of this story.

First, convicted sex offender and incumbent Vice Premier, Haim Ramon, announced that the town of Ofra was built upon private Palestinian land. In other words, the government should now enter and run the people out of their homes. Ramon, who makes no secret of the fact that he's Olmert's mouthpiece, is on record as a virulent enemy of Zionism, Judaism and a fortiori settlers, of any shape and form. He's also short sighted and stupid. By making this kind of declaration (which is totally unsubstantiated), he's undermining his own right to his own home.

Second, the army is collecting all of the military equipment held by reservists in the Shomron. The weapons and equipment were issued for self-defense, against the threat of terrorist infiltration. Without guns, and without Rapid deployment units that are fully equipped, the residents of the Shomron are left helpless. At the same time, thanks to Condi, Tzippi and Ehud the checkpoints on the roads are being removed, giving the terrorists a free ride.

Why are they doing this? As a former commander of a RDU, I have to agree with the observation that 'the government realizes it cannot put 250,000 Jews on buses and destroy Judea and Samaria like they did with Gush Qatif. They plan on announcing, around May-June this year, that they are creating a PLO State and "allowing the Jews" to stay (without guns and surrounded by barbed wires) They hope that most of the settlers will leave of their own free will after a few massacres. They will, thus, not need to pay them compensation ("We told you you can stay").'

Sound off? Well, consider these juicy statements that I culled from the local chat-group:

Peres said (1994), "A few good messacres and they will leave." Rabin (Spring of 1995): "I promise we will do our best to take care of the wounded."And Haim Ramon said in Haaretz in 2001, "I advised Barak at Camp David not to raise the issue of Jerusalem now but to wait 5 or 10 years, until Jerusalem is like Gaza today and then Israel will be ready for concessions on Jerusalem."

The Midrash was discussing short-sighted, selfishness.
This is murder and suicide, plain and simple.

Who said Jews are smart?

UPDATE: In response to comments to this post: 1) I will try to track down the exact references to Peres and Rabin. Ramon's comments are on record in Haaretz' archive. 2) Olmert, Livni and company have consistently said that they are striving to establish a Palestinian State before Bush completes his presidency. 3) The observation I cited is informed speculation. It is also consistent with the stated policy of Olmert and Ramon, regarding the settler community. 4) Ramon has always demonstrated his antipathy to Zionism, Judaism and basic ethics. He de-zionized the Histradrut, refusing to use the words 'Eretz Yisrael' in its title. ('We know where we are,' he quipped.) He is also adamently in favor of the most de-judaized constitutional initiatives. As for morals...his give an alley cat a bad name.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tradition On Line: An Amazing Resource

[Anyone in academia is aware of incredible resources like JSTOR, where back volume of important journals can be accessed at a click of the mouse. Unfortunately, Jewish studies journals lag far behind in that department (and in the case of my home university, even what lttle there is is often not made available for lack of a budget).

Thus, the recent arrival on line of the entire archive of the RCA's flagship journal Tradition is a real יומא טבא לרבנן. Though I usually don't advertise on this blog, out of professional and personal loyalty, I am happy to post the official announcement of an invaluable new resource.]

Tradition Archive Goes Online Making 50 years of Tradition Articles Available to the Public

The Rabbinical Council of America has today announced that the entire archive of all the articles ever published in its flagship quarterly journal Tradition, has now been placed online. The archive appears as the highly respected journal completes its fiftieth year of publication.

Tradition, and the archives, can be seen online at
www.traditiononline.org. The journal is currently edited by Rabbi Shalom Carmy, while the online editor is Rabbi Shlomo Brody.

Almost 1500 past and current noteworthy articles and reviews that have appeared in Tradition over the years can now be seen, downloaded and printed out. Current Tradition subscribers can avail themselves of the full archives at no cost, while non-subscribers can download individual articles for a nominal $2.00 each. An annual subscription is $35.00, while on-line only subscriptions are $25. Both allow full access to the online edition and the archives. Special non-U.S. and student rates are available. Other than via the website, it is possible to subscribe by calling or emailing the RCA at 212 807 9000, or

The archives can be searched via a Google search engine at
www.traditiononline.org, (or for that matter from anywhere on the Internet, but the onsite search engine can focus the search to Tradition itself,) and they can also be viewed and organized by title, author, date or issue, to facilitate the desired search result.

"Thanks to the marvels of cutting edge technology, this treasure trove of Jewish wisdom, insight, and research can now be instantly shared with an ever-more knowledgeable and sophisticated reading public," said Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, president of the 1000 member RCA.

In addition, all the articles published originally in Tradition by the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik are available in the archives to the public, whether subscribers or non-subscribers, at no cost whatsoever.

For further information contact:
Rabbi Basil Herring
Executive Vice President
The Rabbinical Council of America
212 807 9000 (o)
646 808 4614 (c)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In the Footsteps of the Messiah

In my postings, I have often alluded to a remarkable Mishna at the end of Tractate Sotah (9, 15). The text describes the trials and depravities that will mark the era prior to the coming of the Messiah.

Now, I have long been (and remain) of the opinion that the arrival of the Messiah is wholly in God's hands. I hold fast to the principle, proclaimed by Hazal and codified by the Rambam, that we should have no truck with those who attempt to predict his imminent arrival (Sanhedrin 97b and Rambam, Hil. Melakhim 12, 2). To act otherwise would be impertinent (in extremis).

At the same time, this passage from Sotah is eerily accurate in its description of the current state of the Jewish People, at home and abroad. I present it here, in full, with the intent to gradually comment upon each strophe separately. It is not my purpose to argue that the relevance of the passage indicate an imminent messianic advent (though, that would be nice).

Rather, I cite it in order to highlight just how frighteningly decrepit we have become. I have no idea, and do not wish one, whether things will get worse before we are redeemed. However, I find myself frequently thinking of the reaction of the Talmudic sages, Ulla and Rabbah, to this (and similar) predictions (Sanhedrin 98b): ''Let him come, but let me not see him' (ייתי
ולא איחמיניה ).

Herewith, the passage in question:

בעקבות משיחא חוצפא יסגא ויוקר יאמיר הגפן תתן פריה והיין ביוקר והמלכות תהפך למינות ואין תוכחה בית ועד יהיה לזנות והגליל יחרב והגבלן ישום ואנשי הגבול יסובבו מעיר לעיר ולא יחוננו וחכמת סופרים תסרח ויראי חטא ימאסו והאמת תהא נעדרת נערים פני זקנים ילבינו זקנים יעמדו מפני קטנים (מיכה ז') בן מנוול אב בת קמה באמה כלה בחמותה אויבי איש אנשי ביתו פני הדור כפני הכלב הבן אינו מתבייש מאביו ועל מי יש לנו להשען על אבינו שבשמים

In the era of the footsteps of the Messiah, insolence will increase and personal dignity will dwindle. The vine will yield its fruit, but wine will be expensive.The government will turn to heresy and there will be none to reprove them. The Sanhedrin's home will become a brothel. The Galilee will be destroyed, Gablan Desolated, and the fronteir dwellers will go around begging, from place to place, and noone will have compassion upon them. The wisdom of the Rabbis will degenerate. Those who fear sin will be despised. The Truth will be absent.
Youths will shame their elders. Elders will rise in the presence of the young. A son will revile his father. A daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man's enemies will come from the members of his own household. The demeanor of the generation will be like that of a dog. A son will feel no shame before his father.

So, upon whom may we rely? Only upon our Heavenly Father.

If Only It Weren't April 1st: Olmert Sells Out Israel

Today's paper reports that Olmert is running a fire sale on the 20% of the British Mandate that we call home. The major elements add up to total capitulation on the Red Lines that even Ehud Barak wouldn't cross: Return to the '67 borders; Division of Jerusalem (with the Old City up for grabs); Minor Land Exchanges for the so-called 'Settlement Blocks' and some sort of arrangement for the Right of Return.

Why is he doing this, when he has no mandate?

Simple. As Gilad Katz points out, he wants to stay out of jail and (mirabile dictu) to stay in power. The only thing that will save him is a 'Peace Agreement.' It's the only used car (no motor and no GPS) that he can still sell to the Israeli public. Surrounded by syncophants and imbeciles, he is merrily plowing away at his project. We, on the other hand, are helpless before the deadly combination of Governmental Power, The Eighteen Leftist Families that own the country and the media that toady up to the former two and control information.

Today is April First.

If only this were some kind of awful joke.