Saturday, November 29, 2008


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Save Us.
ד' יקום דמם.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Apologia Pro Vita Politica Mea: De Mafdal ad Likud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 21, 2008

Catching Up

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

Anyways, a few starting points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Bitter Lemons: The Fruit of Post-Modernism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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