Monday, June 30, 2008

A Remarkable Department

This afternoon, Bar Ilan's Talmud Department held its end of year Faculty Meeting. As with most such gatherings, the tone was subdued, the discussion grim. For many different reasons, Jewish Studies (along with the Humanities and many Social Sciences), finds itself at an extreme disadvantage with the Natural Sciences (I refuse to call them exact sciences) in funding, budget lines, faculty hires and even promotions.

We're not unique in that. The same prejudice for body over soul, physical over spiritual, quantity over quality, the So-called Primary over the so-called Secondary characteristics (a la Descartes, Hume, Berekeley etc.) increasingly threatens to overwhelm all of the Israeli universities. There is something both tragic and infuriating in this, since it is specifically now that Israel needs its academic scholars of Judaica, as much as it needs its scientists and its rabbis.

Check that. Israel needs its positively commited Jewish scholars more. It needs them more because it needs values, while science is (at least ostensibly) value neutral. It needs them at least as much as its rabbis, because the latter don't know how to communicate the precious heritage of Judaism and Jewish History to the non-observant, or to the skeptically observant. I know that of which I speak. Fifteen years of teaching at Bar Ilan has driven that home to me.

For a lot of the time, I saw the kind of deep and abiding interest in Judaism that marks the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis in the unique Basic Jewish Studies Minor that is required of all students. In recent years, though, this has spilled over into my home department, the Talmud Department. This is a remarkable development, because one might have thought that non-observant, non-yeshiva trained students might find us a bit forbidding. That, however, is not the case. In the past three years I've seen a steady increase in the number of non-majors who register for courses in our department. In those classes they meet and interact with Orthodox students (Often for the first time); they challenge and are challenged in turn, by those fellow students. What emerges is a moving, intellectually stunning interaction which gives birth to the common Jewish cultural language that this country desperately needs to survive.

This phenomenon is faculty-wide. As I looked around the room today, though, I had a chance to understand why our department is a particular draw. It is an unusual department. Its faculty members are incredibly diverse; Men and Women, Haredim and National Religious, American and Israeli, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Rabbis and Laypersons, Leftists and Rightists; and every shade of gray. It is also unique, in the world, in the breadth of its interests.

Nowhere else in the world can a student register in one department and study: Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud, Rabbinic Thought, Talmudic Interpretation, the History of Prayer, Rabbinic Historiography, Jewish Popular Religion and Customs, Jewish Intellectual History, the Interaction of Jewish Law and Spirituality, the impact of the Encounter with Christianity and Islam on Rabbinic Culture and Literature, Mishpat Ivri, History of Halakhah, Contemporary Halakhic Issues, Codes, Responsa Literature, the History of the Jewish and Hebrew Book and a dizzying number of other disciplines. At Hebrew University, for example, one would need to enroll in three to five different departments (in two different faculties), to have the same opportunity.

More importantly, my colleagues are menschen, a rare enough commodity in the terrarium that is academia. They care about their students. It's no wonder that we draw students from around the university. Class acts usually do.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

It just gets Worse

From Ben Chorin:

To fully appreciate the insanity of today's cabinet decision in favor of releasing killers for two Israeli captives, note that Israel admits that it does not really know if the captives are alive or dead.

News flash for the brain dead: if they were alive this morning, they are dead now.

If they are returned dead, Kuntar should be returned the same way.

What do you think R. Meir of Rothenberg would have said?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thank You, Reb Meir

This afternoon, I took a break both from medieval Ashkenaz (the book is coming along nicely, though) and the depressing present (the papers reported a 28% rise in the use of anti-depressants among all Israelis). I spent an hour listening to a shiur delivered by R. Meir Lichtenstein, in memory of his grandfather מורי ורבי Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל on the topic of The land of Israel and the State of Israel in light of the Rav's teachings. The shiur was delivered as part of YU in Israel's annual 'Torah in the After Noon,' last Yom Yerushalayim.

His message is one that I endorse fully. His unself-conscious passion is inspiring.

A treat for Erev Shabbos, especially Erev Shabbos Parshas Korach.

Plus ca Change or Santayana, Where Are You?

Neville Chamberlain Announcing 'Peace in Our Time' (1938)

The Israel Broadcasting Authority has been reposting its greatest documentary, עמוד האש (Pillar of Fire), here. It describes the development of Zionism and the history of our return to Zion, up to the declaration of the state on 5 Iyyar 1948. Based upon original footage, and in-depth interviews with eye-witnesses who are largely gone today, it is an incredibly moving, and important reminder of the absolute justice of our cause and continued residence in Eretz Yisrael. Every person who cares about who we are should watch it. ( At present, it's only available on-line in Hebrew and Russian.)

The latest chapter posted (No. 10), describes the Munich Compromise of 1938, when Neville Chamberlain sold out Czechoslovakia in order to appease Hitler and avoid war. The narrator, the legendar Yossi Banai, notes that Jews were far from joyous at Chamberlain's declaration of 'Peace in our Time.' They were too shaken by the cavalier way that European powers condemned a smaller nation to death, in order to avoid war or discomfort.

The only voice of sanity at the time was that of Winston Churchill. He asserted in Parliament:

I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week. I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies.

These words are particularly haunting this week. America and Europe, ignoring the ongoing bombardment of Sederot, pressure Israel to buy peace by dividing Jerusalem, driving 350,000 Jews from their homes and giving the Arabs all for which they ask.

Israel's ruling elites surrender to Hamas by agreeing to a ceasefire, while it keeps firing and rearming. Sunday, in return for the bodies of two heroic soldiers, Israel's corrupt government will release a horrific murderer and hundreds of terrorists to the Hizbullah.

That, in any language, constitutes surrender.

It proves lack of will on our so-called leaders' part. It betrays the corruption and/or short-sightedness that eats away at the Israeli elites, while the population is held hostage. Yes, we are being held hostage by politicians who care more for their seats and perks than for their people. We are prevented from voting or consciences, because Olmert/Livni/Barak/Yishai know they'll be swept away by public outrage and disgust. So they feed the public pablum, speaking about a peace that can never be (certainly, not in the present constellation.)

Is it a Divine Decree that these people remain in power? Is this a punishment from on High?
There is no way of knowing, though teshuvah is always in order.
So is the conclusion of Churchill's speech:

"Thou are weighed in the balance and found wanting."

And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning.This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Burka Light

For those who thought that the phenomenon of Burka clad women had passed from the scene, consider now its newest incarnation: Burka Light. It's all the rage in Bat Ayin and its attraction is growing. Women (including unmarried girls) now cover their hair and wrap their hair-coverings around their necks. (This is similar to Muslim practice, making it more difficult to tell who's who.) It's called the 'Ben Ish Hai Look' or 'Shitat Ben Ish Hai.'

Since it's all about modesty, I can't post a picture here. I did find a picture from the 19th century that gives you an idea of what is involved, here. (BTW, it is possible to pull up the scarf to cover the bottom part of the face.)

The Phony Pause: A Victory for World Jihad Courtesy of Olmert/Barak/Livni

[Michael Oren, whom I know personally, is a first rate historian and whose personal political sympathies lie with classic Mapai. That's why his Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal today is so important and convincing.]

Israel's Truce With Hamas Is a Victory for Iran

Proponents of an Israeli-Palestinian accord are praising the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that went into effect this morning. Yet even if the agreement suspends violence temporarily -- though dozens of Hamas rockets struck Israel yesterday -- it represents a historic accomplishment for the jihadist forces most opposed to peace, and defeat for the Palestinians who might still have been Israel's partners.

The roots of this tragedy go back to the summer of 2005 and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The evacuation, intended to free Israel of Gaza's political and strategic burden, was hailed as a victory by Palestinian terrorist groups, above all Hamas.

Hamas proceeded to fire some 1,000 rocket and mortar shells into Israel. Six months later Hamas gunmen, taking advantage of an earlier cease-fire, infiltrated into Israel, killed two soldiers, and captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Hamas's audacity spurred Hezbollah to mount a similar ambush against Israelis patrolling the Lebanese border, triggering a war in which Israel was once again humbled. Hamas now felt sufficiently emboldened to overthrow Gaza's Fatah-led government, and to declare itself regnant in the Strip. Subsequently, Hamas launched thousands more rocket and mortar salvos against Israel, rendering parts of the country nearly uninhabitable.

In response, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) air strikes and limited ground incursions killed hundreds of armed Palestinians in Gaza, and Israel earned international censure for collateral civilian deaths and "disproportionate" tactics. Israel also imposed a land and sea blockade of Gaza, strictly controlling its supply of vital commodities such as a gasoline. But the policy enabled Hamas to hoard the fuel and declare a humanitarian crisis.

Israel never mounted the rolling, multi-month operation that the IDF had planned. Traumatized by his abortive performance in the Lebanon War, hobbled by financial scandals, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert balked at a military engagement liable to result in incalculable casualties and United Nations condemnations, but unlikely to halt Hamas aggression.

Like Hezbollah in 2006, Hamas won because it did not lose. Its leaders still walked Gaza's streets freely while children in Sderot and other Israeli border towns cowered in bomb shelters. Like Hezbollah, which recently wrested unprecedented powers from the Lebanese parliament, Hamas parlayed its military success into political capital.

The European Parliament demanded the immediate lifting of the Gaza blockade, and France initiated secret contacts with Hamas officials. A minister from the Israeli Labor Party, Ami Ayalon, went a step further by calling for Hamas's inclusion in peace talks -- a recommendation soon echoed by Jimmy Carter and the New York Times.

The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire yields Hamas greater benefits than it might have obtained in direct negotiations. In exchange for giving its word to halt rocket attacks and weapons smuggling, Hamas receives the right to monitor the main border crossings into Gaza and to enforce a truce in the West Bank, where Fatah retains formal control.

If quiet is maintained, then Israel will be required to accept a cease-fire in the West Bank as well. The blockade will be incrementally lifted while Cpl. Shalit remains in captivity. Hamas can regroup and rearm.

The Olmert government will have to go vast lengths to portray this arrangement as anything other than a strategic and moral defeat. Hamas initiated a vicious war against Israel, destroyed and disrupted myriad Israeli lives, and has been rewarded with economic salvation and international prestige.

Tellingly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who once declared Hamas illegal, will soon travel to Gaza for reconciliation talks. Mr. Abbas's move signifies the degree to which Hamas, with Israel's help, now dominates Palestinian politics. It testifies, moreover, to another Iranian triumph.

As the primary sponsor of Hamas, Iran is the cease-fire's ultimate beneficiary. Having already surrounded Israel on three of its borders -- Gaza, Lebanon, Syria -- Iran is poised to penetrate the West Bank. By activating these fronts, Tehran can divert attention from its nuclear program and block any diplomatic effort.

The advocates of peace between Israelis and Palestinians should recognize that fact when applauding quiet at any price. The cost of this truce may well be war.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bringing Redemption to the World....

Mordechai and Esther (Aert de Gelder (1645-1727)

Hazal, who lived and functioned a world of oral tradition, were emphatic about the precise attribution of one's sources. In addition to the basic value of intellectual honesty, this was essential in order to authenticate and evaluate the teachings that were being passed on. The best-known expression of the value they placed upon intellectual honesty is the oft-cited phrase (Avot 6, 6 and parallels): 'One who says something in the name of he who said it brings redemption to the world, as it is written (Esther 2:22), "And Esther told the king in the name of Mordekhai."*

Following the examples of my own teachers, I am extremely careful to cite sources (including comments that were made to me orally). The result is that my articles (and the emerging book on Ashkenazic mentalite) are heavily footnoted (a friend calls me the 'בעל הפוטנאטס'), despite the unhappiness of the editors who need to cope with it. Since I do a fair amount of editing, I fully understand their angst, but that's part of the job. Indeed, I insist upon the same level of sensitivity and intellectual honesty from my students when they write both MA's and PhD's. [In light of the amount of plagiarism that marks contemporary academic discourse, this demand is both timely and incurably old-fashioned.]

Recently, though, I became aware of the fact that one really needs to be careful to indicate exactly what type of assistance or information was provided. In other words, people should be thanked in terms that are commensurate with, and accurately portray, their contribution to a specific piece. Thus, instead of listing everyone who was of assistance together in one category, one should specify who read the whole (or part) of the article or book, and who simply assisted in specific connections. That way, those who invested more time and effort receive their due, while those whose involvement was more limited are acknowledged in a measure appropriate to their involvement. [Needless to say, one must always close by declaring that all of the contents remain one's own responsibility.]

We all bemoan the devaluation of language, and the destruction wrought by Deconstruction (which is happily in retreat, everywhere but in Jewish Studies). In a take off on Rav Kook, that situation requires us to strive for greater precision, greater clarity and less incorrect implications. God only knows when He will bring the final redemption. However, as the alternative reading has it, such behaviour will certainly 'bring blessing to the world.'

*For those interested in this issue in an historical context, I strongly recommend: Y. Elman and I. Gershuni, Transmitting Jewish Traditions: Orality, Textuality, and Cultural Diffusion, New Haven : Yale University Press 2000 and D. Sklare, Samuel ben Hofni Gaon and his Cultural World: Texts and Studies, Leiden: Brill 1996.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kudos: Dr Mordechai Kedar

Kol ha-Kavod to Dr. Mordechai Kedar for telling it as it is:

Israeli on Arab TV: J'lem Was Ours When Moslems Worshipped Idols2 Sivan 5768, 05 June 08 12:41by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu (

Bar Ilan University political scientist Dr. Mordechai Kedar told a Moslem show host on the Arabic-language Al Jazeera television network, "Jews were in Jerusalem while your ancestors were drinking wine and blowing to idols."

In a heated debate with the narrator, he added, "We don't need your permission to build" in the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. The encounter occurred earlier this week, when Jews around the world celebrated Jerusalem Unification Day. Dr. Kedar has frequently appeared on the widely viewed Qatar-based network but this time encountered a sharp attack from the show's host, Jimal Rian.

"Building in Jerusalem is another nail in the coffin in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority," narrator Jimal Rian asserted. Dr. Kedar answered in fluent Arabic, "This was our capital 3,000 years ago, and we were here when your forefathers were drinking wine, burying girls alive and worshipping pre-Muslim idols. This is our city and it will be our city forever." His reference to Muslims drinking wine, which is forbidden in Islam, infuriated the host. Rian wagged his finger in the air and said excitedly, "If you want to talk about history, you cannot erase Jerusalem from the Koran, and don't attack the Muslim religion if we want to continue talking." Dr. Kedar replied, "Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran. Jerusalem is a Jewish city.

"The Al Jazeera host responded by quoting a verse from the Koran in which he thought Jerusalem was mentioned by name, but stopped in the middle upon realizing that it only refers to "the farthest place." Dr. Kedar: "Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran even once. You can't rewrite the Koran on air on Al Jazeera."

Rian changed the subject to "settlements" and asked Dr. Kedar why Israel is building 1,000 new apartments and deciding to build thousands more while there are rumors that "Jerusalem will include all of the West Bank .

The Bar Ilan researcher replied. "My friend, Israel is not counting the number of apartments that Qatar is building on the Qatar Peninsula so why are you doing so in Jerusalem? Jerusalem is our city forever and is not an issue for you, for Al Jazeera or for anyone else. Period. Jerusalem belongs only to Jews. Replying to Rian's question if Dr. Behar's assessment is the basis for talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA), he declared, "My friend, I invite you to Jerusalem so you can see with your own eyes that it has become a flourishing city after it was in ruins under Arab rule until 1967. We rebuilt the city and opened it to Christians, Moslems and Jews equally, unlike under Muslim rule" that prohibited other religions.

The political scientist told Al Jazeera viewers, "The West bank does not belong to any nation because it was not under a nation's jurisdiction, unlike the Sinai Peninsula." No one can say it is occupied," he argued. "From what country did we take it? Until 1967, Jordan occupied it. Therefore, we can do what we want." He explained that Al Jazeera takes a jihadic and anti-Israel stance in order to detract viewers' attention from the wealth of the oil-rich Arab kingdoms, including Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based. "The amount of poison that they disseminate about us from our home is too dangerous, and something had to be done," he recently told the Jewish Forward, referring to the Israeli government's unannounced partial boycott of the network.

He labeled Al Jazeera "the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood," the radical terrorist party that is gaining popularity in Egypt. Al Jazeera television claims 100 million viewers and has Israel-based studios in Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramallah.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ain't it the Truth

Hat tip: Seforim Blog

A Shemittah Miracle

For nine years it sat in the backyard and did nothing more than produce a few leaves. Then, two years ago, we were amazed to discover that this mongrel tree was really an apricot tree. Sadly, I soon discovered that the fruit was full of worms. The local gardener, Roni, explained that it I act against the egg-bearing flies by the following Pesach, the fruit would be OK.

So, the following Pesach, I spent NIS100 for yellow sticky pads and hung them all around the tree. The results were cosi-cosi. We harvested about 20 apricots, got to take Terumot and Maaserot with a blessing; but about half still had worms.

This year is Shemittah. So I did nothing (figuring that even if putting up the fly traps was allowed, why waste the NIS100, which is now worth 33% more).

Then God took a hand, and the above is the result. The tree is overloaded with beautiful apricots, and nary a worm anywhere! In fact, the entire town is brimming with apricots, pomegranites and (soon) grapes. The cherry trees are sagging (except for my neighbor who scrupulously removed all of his cherries- despite Shemittah rules). It's absolutely incredible (and visually beautiful).

During Shemittah, the fruit is ownerless and anyone can partake. It belongs to all. It comes from God. The local chat list is full of e-mails declaring fruit hefker (ownerless).

It's not exactly what the Torah promised. It is, I truly believe, a sign of Divine Providence. It's a very good sign for when Shemittah becomes a Torah commandment in a few years (for the tragic reason that assimilation and religious suicide in the Diaspora will make the Jews of Eretz Yisrael the majority of World Jewry).

Lev. 25 20-22:
And if ye shall say: 'What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we may not sow, nor gather in our increase'; then I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat of the produce, the old store; until the ninth year, until her produce come in, ye shall eat the old store.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Another Conversion Horror Story

Things go from Bad to Worse to so low as to defy imagination.... Posted by Rabbi Harry Maryles on his blog Emes ve-Emunah [Hat tip: Rabbi Dr. Aviad Stollman]

Shavuous Message from a Convert
Guest Post

I was forwarded the following letter from a friend. It was written by a righteous convert. It speaks for itself and requires no further commentary from me. It has been edited for brevity and somewhat for style. But I believe it captures he essence of this woman’s message. And though it is still a bit longer than my usual posts it’s message is too impritant to ignore. -

Twenty-one years ago last week I was converted through a halachic Beis Din by 3 Orthodox rabbis. Their credentials and authority to do so would not be questioned. In fact, they are considered to have some of the strictest requirements for conversion.My desire to be a Jew was preceded and nurtured by years of study. My desire to be a Jew was not based on love for any man or for money, prestige or power. It was – and is – purely out of love for G-d and the truth and wisdom of Torah. Never, ever have I felt that it was hard to be a Jew. Quite the contrary, I cannot fathom how I would live the full, productive enriched life that I lead had I not accepted upon myself to live a life of Torah and mitzvoth which I strive to do every single day.

In the last 21 years, I have been blessed with many and varied good teachers. I have sought them out, begging and bugging them for their time and knowledge to teach me halacha, Tanach, and the many other rich sources of Jewish wisdom. I have invested heavily to do so: A large library consisting of thousands of seforim that are opened and studied; a vast tape and CD library of shiurim by various rabbis and rebbetzins; and several trips to Israel for the sole purpose of immersing myself in learning.

Speaking of children, my 13 year old daughter is and has always been enrolled in Orthodox Jewish schools. So has my 10 year old son who is currently in what would be considered a “Chareidi” track of more intense Torah learning. Both children are good students, B”H. Both children present us with report cards that speak of their middos tovos and strong derech eretz.

During our 15 years of marriage, my husband and I have supported, to the best of our ability, various Torah institutions both in N. America and in Israel, with our time as well as with our money.

In a few weeks, my family and I are moving to the West Bank where we intend to raise our children, enroll them in Chardal-oriented schools, and live out our lives as Torah observant committed Jews.

And now, for absolutely no reason, no crime committed, a group of rabbis who have never met me or my children wish to throw a dark cloud of suspicion and doubt over the legitimacy of our Jewish souls.

Why? How?

The Beis Din who converted me 21 years ago is considered Chareidi. Its Vaad HaKashruth is recognized by all major Kashruth bodies. Its conversions have never been questioned and their converts have married into mainstream Orthodox Jewish society. This Vaad initially appeared on “The List” – the list issued by Israel’s Rabbinate of Who is Recognized to Do Conversions, or some paraphrased equivalent title.

However, for various ugly reasons which have to do with one person’s desire for revenge, the Vaad who converted me 21 years ago was now removed from The List.

A discussion and meeting with Rabbi Shlomo Amar by my rabbi resulted in assurances that “they were looking into it and, in any event, all conversions prior would be retroactively recognized”.

So, according to Rabbi Amar, I’m still a Jew and so are my kids. That is – until the next rabbi comes along and decides something else. At what point do my children and I no longer have to even think that somebody would unilaterally and arbitrarily remove the cloak of Torah and Jewish identity out of our definition? How many years – 30, 50, 100 – never?

Does this mean that if I ever speak a drop of lashon hara, or some of my hair peeks out from under my tichel, or my elbows become uncovered, or I wear my sandalim without socks, – that I must reckon with someone’s claims that this is sufficient evidence to disclaim my Jewish soul? These are not dramatic questions.

Much is written in our literature about the convert. Yevamos 47b tells us that a convert is as injurious as “sapachas” -a scab - to the Jewish people. The reason is two-fold but for diametrically opposed reasons. On one hand, “shekal Yisrael aravim zeh b’zeh” - all of Israel is responsible one for the other (Shavuous 39a). So, my sin will hurt you (but my mitzvah will help you, too).

On the other hand, Tosafos cites several sources that teach something else: Because a convert can be more exacting and meticulous in their mitzvah observance, the bar is raised in judgment for the born Jews which could result in less favorable judgment due to the increased relative standard of expectation.So one may argue, why not nip these potential problems in the bud and refuse to accept any converts – no matter how sincere and righteous?

Well, this was tried at least once but with disastrous consequences which accompany the Jewish people to this day, even “in every generation”(Shemot 17:16).

The prospective convert was Timna. This woman understandably admired the lot of Yaakov’s house – wealth, their ability to prevail over their enemies, the shem tov of this illustrious family. And she desperately wanted to marry into Yaakov’s family. Yaakov had a good reason for rejecting Timna, princess daughter of the Chief of Edom, for Timna mistakenly attributed all of these blessings to the roll of the dice. She wanted to be part of it.

But Timna did not acknowledge or understand the Divine Hand and benevolence in all of Yaakov’s blessings. This was a serious spiritual flaw that Yaakov could not tolerate in the spiritual gene pool – and he rejected her. The relentless Timna found another way – she married Yaakov’s nephew, Eliphaz – son of Esav, Yaakov’s brother. The marriage was consummated. The child born to Timna and Eliphaz was Amalek. .Yaakov had good reason to reject Timna – after all, believing that our blessings are just life’s random gamble is outright kefira! But Chazal do not commend Yaakov – they chastise him!Yaakov should have at least tried. It is possible that his efforts would have been in vain. This woman may have never changed. Or Amalek would have arisen anyway. But Yaakov would not have been blamed for it. If only he had not rejected her!

Let’s direct our attention for a moment to Shemot 23:9 – “Do not oppress a ger; you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim.”Then, look at the very next pasukim, 23:10 - 11: “Six years shall you sow your land and gather in its produce. And in the seventh, you shall leave it untended and unharvested, and the destitute of your people shall eat, and the wildlife of the field shall eat what is left; so shall you do to your vineyard and your olive grove.”

The conversion machloket is occurring in a shmittah year – the very mitzvah discussed next to the mitzvah of not oppressing the ger! Is it too bold to respectfully suggest that the great rabbinical leaders of today give us some guidance as to whether there is a connection here?Shemot 22:20 warns against oppressing the convert. The next pasuk, 22:21 gives the same warning regarding widows and orphans. And right next to that, 22:22, gives a very, very scary admonition without mincing any words: “If you dare to cause him pain – for if he will cry out to Me, I shall surely hear his outcry. My wrath will blaze and I will kill you by the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children orphans.” There are some opinions that this Divine wrath also extends to those who oppress gerim.

If Gerim today are needlessly oppressed causing them untold agmas nefesh, just what kind of Divine wrath can Klal Yisrael expect? The Ibn Ezra comments that the Divine wrath will not be directed just toward the individuals who commit these wrongs but against the entire community!

Recently, a very kind-hearted, learned, and well-intentioned friend casually remarked, “What’s the big deal? The worst that can happen is that you will have to convert again and your children will also have to convert.” It most certainly is a big deal. As it stands now, my son is a Levi - my daughter can marry a Cohein. A new conversion would deny my son his spiritual status as a Levi and my daughter would be prohibited from marrying a Cohein. Why should they be deprived and stripped of these characteristics?

As we enter into Shavuos this week, when we read Megillas Rus, let us remember that this extraordinary woman was the great-grandmother of Dovid Ha Melech. There was a major machloket concerning Dovid HaMelech’s Jewish ancestry and legitimacy as a kosher Jew called into question by those who did not properly understand the halacha concerning a Moabite vs. a Moabitess – Ruth’s ancestry. Had they not been challenged, the Davidic dynasty would have been lost. The sparks of Moshiach would have been extinguished.This horrible machloket had the power to derail forever the mission of the Jewish people. Today’s machloket on Jewish legitimacy is no less grave.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Of Fantasiasts and Grains of Sand: A Post Yom Yerushalayim Reflection

The mantra of the Israeli Left has always been that Religious Zionists are, essentially, idolators who worship the sticks and stones of the Land Of Israel. Moreover, they prize them more than human life, itself. So the canard goes. The most recent expression of that sentiment came from that paragon of morality, PM Ehud Olmert.

In support of that position, mutatis mutandis, religious and secular leftists often cite the words of מורי ורבי Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל, concerning the supreme value of life over land. I've been thinking a lot about that speech recently, and I think that it's message has been distorted.

It is true, that the Rav was emphatic that if real peace were achievable, that territorial compromises were legitimate. However, that does not mean that it is illegitimate to love a place, especially if that place is endowed with sanctity. On the contrary, he spent many hours emphasizing the kerygma of Eretz Yisrael, of the rarified sanctity that it exudes and its inexpressible hold upon the Jewish soul, which is irresistably drawn to it. As anthropologists have maintained for decades, people must live in a 'Place.' Anyone who lives everywhere, lives nowhere.

Our place, is 'the place that the Lord, your God will choose,' blessed by the in-dwelling of the source of 'Place,' המקום ב"ה. That is why Hazal observed (Ketubot 112b):

R. Abba used to kiss the cliffs of Akko. R. Hanina used to repair its roads. R. Ammi and R. Assi used to rise [from their seats to move] from the sun to the shade and from the shade to the sun. R. Hiyya b. Gamda rolled himself in its dust, for it is said in Scripture, For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and love her dust.