Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Defence of Boogie Yaalon

Not unexpectedly, Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon is reaping the whirlwind for his so-called 'right-wing' pronouncements. After all, he dared to call a spade a spade. He dared to say that the overwhelming portion of the non-elected elements of the country's power structure (Judiciary, Media, Academia, Business, Literary set) extert inordinate power over Israel's government and public discourse. A case in point is former Chief Justice Aharon Barak, who moved heaven and earth to de-judaize Israel while serving on the court and now admits that he thinks the idea of a Jewish State is fundamentally wrong. The problem is that no one elected him, but by legislating by legal fiat, he was more effective than the Knesset in advancing an agenda that is the very opposite of true democracy (as Judge Posner has pointed out).

He dared to criticize the Retreat from Gaza, and call the 'Territory for Peace' mantra into question.
And he dared to call Peace Now, which works to demonize settlers and encourages the violation of Israel's sovereignty, a 'virus.' His choice of words, and venue, may be debateable. The sentiment is not. Peace Now (and the rest of Gush Shalom) is (as a wag once noted) the Palestinian Right wing.
If they worked out of Ramallah, that would be one thing. They are, however, part of that same elite to which Yaalon referred.

Now watch them confirm that position by using all of their power to destroy the only decent Chief of Staff we've had since, I don't remember when; and the most honest, decent politician in over a generation. His crime: He doesn't think like us.

Jonah Goldberg
should add a chapter to his book Liberal Fascism, based solely on this case.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Plus Ca Change: Torah UMadda and Rav Melamed

I was trained in the method of the History of Ideas. This subsection of Intellectual History traces the delicate balance between the essential meaning of ideas and the ever-changing nuances that those ideas acquire over time, in different eras and cultural contexts. For me, the approach is the ideal way of maintaining the fundamental integrity of traditions and awareness while tracing the variations and changes which that they underwent over time.

One upshot of this approach is the persistent awareness that (at least in this) the French were right: 'Plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme chose' - 'The more things change, the more they stay the same.' The same issues keep arising, responded to by many of the same counter-arguments. As a result, one feels eminently grounded. On the other hand, one wonders why we can't put (at least some issues) behind us.

A case in point is the legitimacy of secular studies within the Orthodox community. The debate has been raging for over two millenia, with no end in sight. It has spawned dozens, even hundreds, of articles, monographs and books. I suspect that it will continue to rage עד ביאת הגואל.

The problem is that the debate has not really begun to commence here in Israel. A principled Modern Orthodoxy has never developed here. Religious academics and professionals buy into the argument that they a) are not fully religious b) their involvement in the outside world is a concession and not a value c) are walking embodiments of Bittul Torah. In addition, these perceptions are all too often dumbrated by religious academics (especially in the humanities and social sciences) who all too often exhibit a lack of religious sensitivity, intellectual humility and respect for the integrity of Jewish tradition. In me extreme cases, religious academics use their religious status to advance positions and ideas that even the widest interpretation of Jewish Tradition would be hard pressed to sustain. As result, the message of a principled encounter of Western Culture and Torah is lost upon the more traditionally rooted portions of the community.

On the other hand, the representatives of Torah (with some exceptins) are typically marked by rejectionism. Even, or especially, Religious Zionist rabbis don't really get it. I was 'treated' to an example last night on Reshet Bet. R. Zalman Melamed (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet El - not the Kabbalist school), was given a huge chunk of time to expatiate on his 'moderate' position that so long as one has nothing better to do, and the material is censored, there can be a place for extremely limited study of secular studies. It's only ex post facto, as proven by the fact that R. Melamed is proud of the fact that he doesn't even have a High School education.

So, there is a zero sum game playing itself out here. And who do you think loses?

That question will have to wait until after Shabbat.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tace, R. Shlomo Aviner! Amore Dei, Tace!

I openly admit that I have serious differences of opinion with the Hardal (Merkaz HaRav based) rabbinate. I emphatically demur on their messianically driven Zionism. I summarily reject their ever increasing resort to Da'at Torah in order to inveigh on matters of political and other subjects, while wrapped in the mantle of their rabbinic authority. I strongly disagree with their advocacy of standards of modesty that are increasingly reminiscent of the more extreme segments of the Haredi world. I absolutely reject their Western cultural 'know-nothingness.' I am deeply angered by their inability to respect the ideas of others, even from within the Orthodox World.

Indeed, aside from our common commitment to Torah and Mitzvot, I often feel we have little (if anything) in common. [And sometime I have the gnawing feeling that while we learn the same seforim, we don't really see the same words therein.]

This sense of angst is excacerbated when such rabbis hold forth in public and cause tremendous Hillul HaShem with their obiter dicta.

Today's example is provided by R. Shlomo Aviner, the Rav of Bet El 2. Apparently, he has voiced the opinion that non-Jews should be barred from service in the IDF. No, we're not discussing Russian Provo-Slav Orthodox Christians who may (or may not) have had a Jewish grandfather. we're discussing Druze soldiers, whose contribution to Israel's security (along with the Bedouin and Circassian soldiers) can never truly be repaid. His reason for doing this is the forced resignation of a senior Druze officer for misconduct. [It was a charge, by the way, of which Jews are not innocent, either.] And, upon what does he base this insight of his? He found a Rambam, that non-Jews can't be as loyal as Jews.

I don't want to start picking over the Rambam. I do know that the Druze with whom I served in the Police were more loyal, readier to die to defend this country, than the Tel Aviv draft dodgers and the members of 'Breaking the Silence.' I do know that King David had non-Jewish mercenaries in the army that rid Israel of the Phillistine threat. I do know that if anything alienates the Jews of this country from Torah (at a time that there is an upsurge ib searching for Torah and Jewish Identity), it's rabbis who either talk out of place, act out of place and who lack the ability to communicate Torah in a manner that will draw the unaffiliated closer to God and Torah, and not alienate them.
[See Rambam, הקדמה לפרק חלק בנושא הדרכים להבנת דברי חז"ל and מורה נבוכים ח"ג פ"ל .]

Alors, Rabbin Aviner, je vous en prie! Pour l'amour de Dieu, pour l'honneur de la Tora, pour l'avenir secur du peuple Israel ici en Eretz Yisrael: Si vous ne pouvez pas expliquer vos opinions dans un facon que sera
intelligible a tout le monde, gardez-les a vous meme, ou a votre population local. Hazal ont nous enseigne: 'Je n'ai trouve pas un chose meilleure que la silence.'.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thoughts on the JStreet Jive

I recently had the occasion to read Noah Pollack's incisive unmasking of the phenomenon known as J Street. After reviewing J Street's site, and sitting through some of its You Tube offerings, I found most of Pollack's observations to be both cogent and on target. To be charitable, we have here a dewy eyed group of true believers who maintain that Israel is responsible for the absence of Peace in the Middle East; that if only Israel would make the ultimate concessions, then peace would be immediately at hand. As Pollack notes, the mantra is an old one. It's the chorus that has mon Peres, Yossi Beilin, Uri Savir, and the editorial board(s) of Haaretz for over 16 years, since the merry days of Oslo. What is remarkable about the depth of their belief is the fact that they let no facts confuse them.

It must be wonderful to have such pristine faith in the midst of the sorry tale of blood and suffering that we've undergone since the accords were signed in September 1993. It must feel wonderful to be so sure, and so secure, playing Big Brother with the lives of six million people from their perch 6,000 miles away. What a rarified existence! How I envy them the power of their convictions. How I shudder at the Jewish blood that they, obviously inadvertently, will likely spill. Then again, as the Rebbe once said, 'to chop down a forest, splinters must fly.' The ends justify the means of peace making, as long as it's someone else's forest, and you're not in the way of the splinters.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Eighty Years Since תרפט

גלגולו של טענה: 80 שנה למאורעות תרפ"ט

ארז תדמור

בבוקר יום שבת, ה-24 לאוגוסט 1929, פרצו עשרות ערבים חמושים בסכינים ובגרזנים לביתו של הרוקח גרשון בן ציון בבית הדסה בחברון. העובדה שמזה שנים העניק בן ציון טיפול ותרופות חינם אין כסף למאות ערבים לא עמדה לזכותו.

בן ציון נרצח לאחר שהפורעים עקרו את עיניו ועינוהו קשות. בהמשך עינו ורצחו את בתו וקטעו את ידי אשתו שנפצעה אנושות ונפטרה בבית החולים בירושלים. באותן שעות נראו מראות דומים בכל רחבי חברון. אלפי פורעים פשטו על בתי היהודים וביצעו מסע רצח, אונס וטבח שאין שני לאכזריותו. באותו יום נטבחו בחברון 59 יהודים ושמונה נוספים מתו מפצעיהם בימים הבאים. השוטרים הבריטים חזו בנעשה באין מפריע ולא נקפו אצבע. מאות יהודי חברון, קהילה יהודית בת מאות שנים, פונו מהעיר והישוב היהודי העתיק ביותר בארץ ישראל נעקר.

בשאר רחבי הארץ נרשמו בימים הבאים מראות דומים באכזריותם, גם אם לא בהיקף הנרצחים. בירושלים נרצחו 19 יהודים ובצפת נרצחו 18. בחיפה הצליחו כוחות ההגנה לעצור את הפורעים והפרעות נסתיימו עם שבעה נרצחים. גם בתל-אביב הצליחו כוחות ההגנה לעצור את הפורעים וניסיון הטבח נסתיים בשלושה נרצחים. במוצא רצחו הפורעים את ההורים למשפחת מקלף, שתי בנות ובן. 3 מילדי משפחת מקלף ניצלו מהטבח שהובל על ידי רועה שהועסק על ידי המשפחה. אחד מהם, מרדכי, הפך לימים לרמטכ"ל השלישי של צה"ל.

כשהסתיימו פרעות תרפ"ט נמנו 113 נרצחים ו-339 פצועים. בכל רחבי הארץ נרשמו מראות דומים: גופות מרוטשות, ילדים שנשרפו חיים, תינוקות שראשיהם הוטחו בקירות, נשים שנאנסו ובטנן בותרה ומאות קטועי גפיים ופצועים שעונו. את המראות הקשים ניתן למצוא באתרי האינטרנט להנצחת הנרצחים.

אם יש אירוע היסטורי יחיד שבכוחו להפריך לחלוטין ולהאיר באור המתאים את טענות העולם הערבי והשמאל האירופי, האמריקאי והישראלי לפיהן מקור הסכסוך הישראלי-ערבי הוא בכיבוש יהודה ושומרון במלחמת ששת הימים הרי זהו טבח תרפ"ט. יתרה מכך, מאורעות תרפ"ט מפריכים לחלוטין גם את חסידי הנכבה והתיאוריות הפוסט-ציוניות השונות הרואים במצב הפליטים הערבים של מלחמת השחרור את המקור לסכסוך המתמשך בינינו לבין הערבים. מיותר לציין כי טענות אלו הן מגוחכות בפני עצמן ועומדות בסתירה לכללי הלוגיקה ולחוקי הזמן המקובלים. שהרי כיצד ניתן לראות בתוצאות מלחמת השחרור את הסיבות לפריצתה?

תמיד ימצאו דרך להאשים את היהודים

67 היהודים שעונו, נרצחו ונאנסו לפני 80 שנים בדיוק בחברון לא היו מתנחלים, תואר גנאי שהומצא על מנת להבדיל את המתיישבים ביהודה ושומרון לאחר מלחמת ששת הימים מהמתיישבים של ראשית המפעל הציוני. הם אפילו לא היו מתיישבים שהגיעו לארץ כחלק ממושבות הברון. היהודים שנרצחו בחברון נמנו על הקהילה היהודית העתיקה ביותר בארץ ישראל. ישנן עדויות כי לאורך כל המאות התגוררו בעיר לפחות כעשרים משפחות יהודיות על אף המגבלות הקשות על התיישבות יהודים בעיר מצד שליטי הארץ המוסלמים. מרבית הנרצחים בחברון היו צאצאי הקהילה הספרדית שהתיישבה בעיר במאה ה-16 וצאצאי קהילת חב"ד האשכנזית שהתיישבה בחברון בראשית המאה ה-19.

על שלל הטענות ההזויות המאשימות תמיד את התנהגותם של היהודים בפרעות ובפוגרומים הניתכים על ראשם חשוב להוסיף את הטענה המקובלת כיום בחוגי האלון חילואים והאילן פפאים למיניהם לפיהן "גזל הקרקעות", "הנישול" ו"הקולוניאליזם הציוני" הם שגרמו לשנאת אוכלוסיית הילידים כלפי המהגרים היהודים.

אלא שיהודי חברון היו בדיוק ההיפך מהדימוי השקרי שצייר אלון חילו לאגרונום קלווריסקי. יהודי חברון חיו ונהגו בהתאם לחוקי ולמעמד הד'מים, בני החסות, באיסלאם. ביום שישי, יממה לפני הטבח, הגיעו כמה מאנשי ההגנה לחברון לבדוק כיצד ניתן להגן על היהודים בעיר לאור חומרת ההתרעות.

אנשי ההגנה התבקשו לעזוב על ידי ראשי קהילת חברון על מנת שלא להלהיט את הרוחות ונאמר להם כי קיבלו ערובות והבטחות לשלומם מהמוכתרים ומאנשי הדת המוסלמים. כמי שראו עצמם בני חסות האמינו פרנסי ורבני הקהילה להבטחות שקיבלו והיו בטוחים כי שגרת החיים השלווה של השנים שקדמו לטבח תמשך.

התוצאות היו הרות אסון. בכל רחבי הארץ נפגעו דווקא היהודים שראו עצמם כבני חסות ועל כן לא ראו טעם ואף חששו להחזיק בנשק או להתארגן להגנה עצמית. הקהילות שנפגעו, היהודים שנרצחו, היו הד'ימים, בני החסות, אלו שידעו ערבית ונתנו אמון בהבטחות. בפתח-תקווה שהראתה את כוחה כמה שנים לפני כן לא אירע ליהודים דבר. בתל אביב ובחיפה הדפו אנשי ההגנה את הפורעים ונרשמו הרוגים בודדים. במושבות מבודדות כגון חולדה, הר-טוב ובאר טוביה הצליחו אנשי ההגנה להדוף את המתקפות עד לפינוי מרבית המתיישבים בשלום. אלו שהיו חמושים והכירו בערך ההגנה העצמית לא נפגעו. אלו שהיו חסרי הגנה ותלויים בחסדי הבריטים נטבחו.

לפני מספר שנים התבטאה שרת החינוך לשעבר שולמית אלוני ואמרה כי מאורעות תרפ"ט פרצו בשל פרובוקציה שעשו פעילי בית''ר עת תקעו בשופר ברחבת הכותל בערב תשעה באב. את גלגולה המודרני של טענה זו אנו מכירים מההאשמות שהופנו כלפי אריאל שרון לפיהן עלייתו להר הבית באוקטובר 2000 היא הסיבה לפרוץ האינתיפאדה השנייה. ישנם כאלו שתמיד ימצאו כיצד להאשים את היהודים בתוקפנות המופנית כלפיהם, יש רק להבטיח שאנשים כאלו לא יגיעו שוב למעמד של שרי חינוך בישראל.

[Hat tip: Aviad Stollman]

Of Scotch, Frummkeit and Bet Shemesh

[The Latest edition of Eretz Acheret is devoted to terror being worked upon the religious and haredi communities of Ramat Bet Shemesh by hooligans masquerading as 'Modesty Patrols.' It makes for terrifying, though absolutely required reading. However, events in Ramat Bet Shemesh are an extreme expression of a more pervasive phenomenon in the religious and haredi communities. I recently posted the following on the local e-list, and I believe that it speaks for itself.]

Recently, I've become aware of a lot of local discussion concerning the kashrut of Scotch and whiskeys. As a service to the community, and without presuming to pasken (since that's the purview of the Rav and Lishkat ha-Rabbanut), I did some research. The results are available here and here (the latter is far more detailed).

The bottom line is that certain types of food raise potential questions, and there are is a broad spectrum of legitimate halakhic response to those questions. Take, for example, the use of gelatin. In the US and parts of Europe, products containing gelatine are not used. [In the US, by the way, there were Gedolei Yisrael who allowed gelatin derivatives if these were less than 1 in 60 of the total, even if these received them as a matter of course (ie לכתחילה).] In Israel. and other parts of Europe, their use has been allowed since the 1930's. Here, in Israel, this was the view of the Rav of Yerushalayim, R. Zvi Pesach Frank zt'l and is widely held (especially in the candy industry).
The same type of situation is true for Scotch (and other whiskeys). Scotch is cured in vats that may or may not have been used for non-kosher wine. The Posek ha-Dor, Maran R. Moshe Feinstein zatzal, paskened explicitly that liquor manufactured in that fashion is absolutely kosher. It is true that he, himself, tried to be mahmir. However, when required, he himself drank Scotch that was prepared in the above noted manner. In other words, one may be mahmir without casting aspersions upon the essentially permissible nature of an action or a foodstuff.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the point. Most kashrut issues lie along a spectrum of permissibility. There are acknowledged Gedolim who differed sharply on such issues, and those who accept their authority are fully within their legitimate religious right to rely upon them. No one, absolutely no one, has the right to tell them that they are (God forbid!) eating trayf.

On the other hand, it is often the case that individuals are unaware of the realia of kashrut. Under those circumstances, it would be the proper thing to quietly take the person aside and explain that some people don't accept a certain hekhsher for this and this reason. It would then be up to the individual to decide. However, propriety dictates that (if applicable) both sides of the issue be responsibly presented (as well as the halakhic authorities who assert either side of the question). Anything short of that is, frankly, both misleading and abusive.

The Torquemadas of Kashrut often recall lists of forbidden ingrediants, but never read the introduction of the Netziv from Volozhin to Humash Bereshit. The Netziv (R. Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin) zatzal, asks Rashi's question: Why did the Torah commence with Bereshit and not with the first mitzvah? His answer was 'Derekh Eretz Kadma la-Torah.' First one needs to learn to be a mensch. Only then can one start to accept, understand and observe mitzvot. As proof of his contention, he notes that he Second Temple was destroyed because pseudo-tzaddikim beat each other up with their frummkeit, and (as Netziv says) "the Holy One, blessed be He does not suffer such 'tzaddikim.'"

After Tisha B'Av, and in advance of Rosh Hodesh Elul, it behooves us to improve our devotion to mitzvot. It's easy to do that by crusading for humras, to check other people's tzitzis, and to carry one's own frummkeit as if it were going to break. It's easier to feel good by humiliating someone else under the guise of saving them from sin.

It's harder, more valuable, more legitimate and more worthwhile to acknowledge the fact that there are different traditions on various things and that, in the absence of the Sanhedrin, this type of limited pluralism will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future. My master and teacher, Rav Soloveitchik zatzal, refused to tell his disciples and laypersons what his person strictures were. These were a matter between himself and his Maker. A person who violates the privacy of his personal piety, in order to impose his standards on someone else who relies on his own rav is, frankly, is nothing more than a bully.

We have enough bullies in the religious community.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Guest Posting: The Great Abandonment, or Why I Mourn on Tisha Be'Av

[This powerful essay on Tisha B'Av and its contemporary significance is posted courtesy of QED.]

It's not the state of Jerusalem today, which puts the lie to "charev veshamem". More Jews live there and more Torah is learned than at any time in its history. It's not shi'abud malchuyot - we are no more enslaved to superpowers than any other small country - all of whom are independent. It's not the temple, at least not in the way most people understand. The destruction of "etzim ve'avanim" is merely the external manifestation of something far more unsettling - the feeling of abandonment of Am Yisra'el by God.

Anyone who reads Eicha will notice that, in addition to hair-raising descriptions of the depradations the Jews suffered at the hands of the Babylonians, there is a sense of abandonment.
If you pay close attention, you can almost hear Yirmiyahu crying desperately to the Heavens for some sign, some assurance that he's there, that he hears us, that it will be OK in the end. Where once there was the confident, certain word of God is now only the desperate, doubt-ridden plea of the Man of Faith, who longs for His word.

In every generation since the great abandonment until modern times, Jews have cried out to the Heavens to understand Why; only to be met with silence. Things became even worse in Modern times, as the silence has allowed doubt and denial to turn the overwhelming majority of Jews away from Him. Those that remain have nothing to answer when asked "Where is God". Rather than being able to say "why, right here", we only hem and haw and squirm. Without God's presence, it is exponentially harder to defend against the constant intellectual and academic charge that "what you see is what there is" and that all of Judaism is man-made, no revelation required. Every generation of ORTHODOX Jews undergoes a constant, uphill struggle to get them to keep the faith. All these things can be traced back to the Great Abandonment.

I know all the explanations. Hester Panim. We're not children, we're grown-ups and we should not have to be coddled with constant appearances. It's a nisayon; there will be great rewards for those who hold up to it etc etc. Many will berate me for even suggesting the idea.

I don't want to hear it. I can't hear it. Not today. For just as one can not, should not try to console one whose meto is mutal lefanav, so I cannot be consoled on the day I am reminded of the day God shut me and the rest of us out. THAT is the main, most horrible tragedy - the destruction of the temple is a mere technicality, a logical end to this process. As the whole purpose of the Mikdash was "veshachanti betocham", once that's gone, the Temple is meaningless.

I say this out of the same despair mixed with hope one finds in Eichah. Mine is not a tefila sedura but a desperate, pained cry for God's presence, for him to reveal himself. I can only hope that he'll listen.