Monday, January 31, 2005


Of the little information on readers that is available, I did notice than many new readers enter the site via the January archive page - to assure that you get the most updated page after January ends -bookmark here. (http://outofstepjew.blogspot.com) Thanks.

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The Anti-Slifkin 

David Klinghoffer reports in the Wall Street Journal (thanks once again to the OOS brother) on the attempted cherem put on Richard Sternberg, a "research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington and until recently the managing editor of a nominally independent journal published at the museum, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington".

The cherem is being put on Dr. Sternberg by the scientific community and the Smithsonian because he published an article entitled "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories." This boring sounding article "happened to be the first peer-reviewed article to appear in a technical biology journal laying out the evidential case for Intelligent Design". (I hope Natalie Angier doesn't let Katherine see this journal - see previous post.)

Maybe the Smithsonian ought to go to the Moetzet Gedolai Hatorah for some tactical advice.

Read on.

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On Raising an Atheist Child 

I started reading "Atheism and Children", an address by Natalie Angier, at the "Center for Inquiry" – an organization that claims to be "Secularism, Humanism and Skepticism in Action" (thanks once again to A&L Daily). It can be exciting to approach an essay that you now you will disagree with, yet you assume will be well written and argued.

While it is well written, the NY Times science writer's defense of raising a "godfree child" was a bit disappointing. The address was based upon snide comments combined with a near total ignorance and fear of religion. Her condescending suggestion to those atheists who live in religious small-town America is "move".

What was most disturbing though is her complete ignorance of any sort of religious intellectual tradition. Rather than bringing up and critiquing ideas formulated by the best of the religious thinkers past and present she is only willing to take up the more simplistic views of what our rabbis called (also condescendingly) the "am ha'aretz".

Angier doesn't present the words and arguments modern biology and physics and contrast them with the works of Niebuhr, Heschel or Solovietchik but against the preachings of populist and popularized religion. Not to degrade the am ha'aretz in all of us, but that is like having the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series in a gazillion years by beating a couple of local Little League teams instead of the Yankees and Cardinals. You still get the trophy, but somehow …

In any case through all the snide comments and self-righteous remarks she does make some interesting points – except that these are the same points raised by religious thinkers throughout the ages!

Will our "perpetual souls" be conscious of our present life?

How do we know that what we do is God's will? (Strangely enough she – or her editor – refuses to capitalize words such as God, Jesus, Jewish and … Republican – as in party.)

Is it our moral imperative to "understand the universe to the furthest extent our brains can manage"?

Should we believe before we see or understand?

And so forth.

It was a bit disappointing to see an accomplished science writer and winner of a Pulitzer Prize to be so ignorant of the issues that have obsessed, bothered, fascinated and frustrated religious thinkers for as long as there has been monotheistic religion: And to appear to believe that she was the first one to think of these troublesome issues.

Yet, even this ideological atheist could not escape trying to make her child, Katherine believes in an afterlife:

"I’d like to make one final point, an admission of the biggest challenge we faced when we decided to go the godfree route: what to talk about when you talk about death. For a while, Katherine was terrified about death. We’d be driving along in the car, and all of a sudden she’d start screaming in the back seat. What’s wrong, what’s wrong? We’d ask, thinking we had to pull over for a medical emergency. I’ve just been thinking about death! She’d cry. I don’t want to just disappear! To die forever and that’s all, that’s the end. This happened a few times, each time, out of nowhere, she’d start to wail. We’d tell her whatever we could to comfort her, that she will live a long, long time, and that they’re inventing new drugs that will, by the time she grows up, help her live even longer, a couple of hundred years, who knows; she’d live until she was pig-sick of it. And we’d tell her that nothing really disappears, it just changes form, and that she could become part of a dolphin, or an eagle, or a cheetah, a praying mantis."

Yet – eight year old Katherine was too smart for this religious backsliding:

"She’d have none of it. She knew she wouldn’t be aware of her new incarnation. She knew she probably wouldn’t remember her life as Katherine, and that loss of self she found impossibly sad."

I can understand people not beveling in God, thinking ill of religion and putting absolute faith in human reason. My advice to Natalie Angier and other would be religion debunkers of the future is either to learn religion from the giants of the various religious traditions or to just ignore religion altogether – or is it that atheism cannot stand on its own, but only when it ignorantly debases religion?

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Israel's National Satirist 

An obituary of Ephraim Kishon "He Captured Hebrew - and Hebrew Captured Him" by Saguy Green.

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Iraqi Elections and the Arab Media 

Periodically yesterday I turned on the various Arab TV stations that are picked up by our local cable company just to see what the coverage of the Iraqi elections would be like. This is not a representative sampling of the air-time and for all I know the text was different than the pictures, but sometimes it only takes a small amount of time to get a good feeling as to the station.

For example, the 30 or so seconds that I tuned into BBC showed a group of talking heads simultaneously condemning the US for leaving Viet-nam and abandoning the "people", while calling on the US to, for morality's sake, leave Iraq and abandon its people.

While Egyptian TV was showing only the violence and the bombings, Al-Jazeera had long stretches of time focusing in the polling stations themselves. As is usual, Jordanian TV had clips of the King whenever I tuned in (if you ever watch Jordanian TV English news, the first 5-10 minutes details the great things the King has done for that day). I didn't see anything on Moroccan or Tunisian TV.

I have to admit the Al-Jazeera clips surprised me a bit - so much so that I left it on for a while and awaited the inevitable bloody part – which, from what I saw didn't come.

Read the NY Times on the Arab media coverage of the Iraqi elections, here.

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Challenge of the Religious Soldier 

Thanks to Kobi (our resident dart-thrower) for directing us to an article in the Torah U'maddah Journal by Bar-Ilan professor Stuart Cohen on "Dilemmas of Military Service in Israel: The Religious Dimension". The article is recommended to anyone who was interested in what we wrote here the other day on the disbanding of Hesder-only units.

Cohen does a good job of going through the Halakhic, ideological, social and sociological problems faced by the religious conscript. He outlines the key challenges of the religious soldier – one of which is to remain religious while serving his country - and identifies a key problem with religious education: Segregation. This problem means that the first time that these boys come face to face with non-religious boys and often with girls in general is when they are facing the strains of army life.

There is a great fear within Orthodoxy, both in Israel and abroad that contact with non-religious people will negatively affect a child's future religious practice. In my own personal experience – with myself as well as with my children – I have found this fear primitive and unfounded. Here in Israel, even though we send our children to religious only schools and to Bnei Akiva, there are plenty of opportunities for our children to interact with children their own age whose religious beliefs and practices are different: There are sports activities, dance and other after school groups (called chugim) that present a wonderful opportunity for interaction on non-religious, non-ideological levels.

In Cohen's concluding paragraph he states something else interesting:

"To outline the dilemmas that continue to challenge religiously Orthodox
troops in the IDF is not, of course, to deny the enormity of their efforts
to resolve them. Together with their mentors and teachers, individual
servicemen and women are indeed endeavoring in several ways to harmonize
their theological beliefs with their patriotic duties. The products
of those efforts—both institutional and intellectual—in many respects
deserve to be considered some of the most significant developments in
the entire world of contemporary modern Orthodoxy."

How true – if we as modern-Orthodox, religious-Zionist Jews have one challenge this is it – to look to meet the challenge of the religious soldier. When you look at it this way, the debate that we saw last year regarding the sending of religious kids in the US to universities and the challenges they will find there seem, well, so trite.

Pardon me for saying so – although we here in Israel don't always do a good job of dealing with the issues that confront us, especially as regards the religious community – the great challenges: Physical, intellectual, Halakhic, social – are mostly here. For those who really want to throw their lot with the Jewish people …

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Barenboim, Wagner and Self-Righteousness 

Maestro Daniel Barenboim shows again why it was so important to play Wagner in Israel.

"Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim compared Theodor Herzl to Richard Wagner and Israeli soldiers to Nazis during a lecture this week on 'Wagner, Israel and Palestine' at Columbia University.
Going beyond contrasting the taboo on playing Wagner in Israel and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, Barenboim also won new converts to the cause of Columbia students who argue that the Ivy League university is hostile to people who express Zionist viewpoints.
Speaking at the inaugural Edward Said Memorial Lecture, in honor of the late outspoken Palestinian advocate at Columbia, Barenboim turned what some thought was meant to be a forum for a discussion of music and reconciliation into a platform for anti-Israel vitriol, according to some people who attended the lecture.
'He quickly moved from his inability to play Wagner's music in Israel to Israel's sins of occupation and how Israel lost its moral legitimacy after 1967,' said Prof. Ari Goldman, a dean at Columbia's School of Journalism. 'He tried to explain that Wagner really wasn't such an anti-Semite.' "

Read on.

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Banks, the State and Lost Money 

MK Collette Avital, chair of the commission that recently published a list of holocuast victim and survivor accounts in Israeli banks brings them to task, while Bank Leumi SVP Yonah Fogel defends their behavior.

In all honesty, both the government and the banks should be eager to get this thing solved - for moral and practical reasons.

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Ephraim Kishon, A"H 

Satirist Ephraim Kishon dies in Switzerland at the age of 80.
Read here and here.

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

What's "in" for Haredi Boys 

The anti-Zionist branch of the Soloveitchik family and their Brisker Yeshiva is the "must-go" place for aspiring young haredi boys.

Micha Odenheimer writes in Ha'aretz:

"On Mea She'arim Street in Jerusalem you can buy a baseball cap with an inscription that is meant as a subversive comment on the current yeshiva reality. 'I got accepted to Brisk' the cap announces, 'but I learn in the Mir.'

The 'Brisk' that the cap is referring to - headed by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik - is the most exclusive yeshiva in the world; American Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are desperate "to get into Brisk." But unlike the ivy-covered buildings of Harvard or Yale, Brisk has few outward signs of prestige."

Read on.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Messianic Trees 

Boaz Hoss on the Sabbatian uses of Tu B'shvat (Hebrew).

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Third Temple Culture 

Shall we be permitted to pray on Har Habayit (the Temple Mount)? Nadav Shagrai writes on "Third Temple Culture".

Growing up, the general Halakhic consensus was that Jews were not allowed on Har Habayit. I always thought that this was a sensible rabbinic decision to prevent anyone from trying to replace the Mosques that stand there with the Beit Hamikdash (Temple). Clearly, I understood that until the mashiach actually arrived and instructed us on the how's and what's, we would never build the Temple.

As time went on, rabbis used archeology and other disciplines to pinpoint the Kodesh Hakodshim (Holy of Holies) and carved out a parcel of the Mount where even tameh Jews could go. There was even the not so terrible idea of building a synagogue there. But then these ideas combined with a deep messianic politics and the talk then changed to the actual building of the Beit Hamikdash – not as the final act of a messianic redemption, but as an act that would quicken the redemption.

Only people so completely out of touch with reality could imagine the sanction of sacrifices in the State of Israel. Only groups whose mystical and metaphysical actions and views are so far out of the rational (and by this I also mean, rational Halakhic analysis) could actively plan and lobby for a rebuilt Temple with sacrifices.

This is now beyond politics and goes to the heart of the movement of religion in Israel from the rational-intellectual Yeshiva and University worlds (yes they are connected although each group would shudder at being included in the same sentence with the other) to the mystical and messianic combination of a radicalized interpretation of Rav Kook, Hasidic mythology and new age thoughtlessness.

Third Temple Culture is nothing other than a dangerous trek into the "pardes" (orchard)- and there don't seem to be any Rabbi Akiva's to rely on to get us out of it sanely.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Moon over Qalqilya (from the Out of Step Porch) Posted by Hello

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Always, Darkness Visible 

Aharon Appelfeld in the NY Times (hat tip - my brother).

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OU Demands Smaller Shabbat Minyanim! 

The Forward reports that the OU sent out a letter to its member shuls demanding a crackdown on "kiddush clubs"!

Next thing you know they will ban talking about sports, the stock market and the neighbors wife! What will the boys do?

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Integration in the Army 

Should religious soldiers serve in integrated units with non-religious soldiers?

The head of the IDF's manpower division has ordered the disbanding of all religious units made up only of Hesder student soldiers. The hesder program is a five year one that combines Yeshiva study with 18 months of army service (service for boys is generally 36 months).

Being religious in the army is a challenge. Although all the rules are there for a religious soldier to perform his daily and other mitzvot the lack of time often makes that hard. The soldiers, whether as trainees or as fighters face a tremendous amount of pressure to perform their duties, they fight and train at odd hours and steal whatever sleep or free time they have to prepare for the next day.

But that is not the problem. The soldiers themselves don't usually see all that as a problem – just part of what is demanded of a religious soldier. The problem is that the religious leadership (and often the parents) have no faith in the boys and believe that only when surrounded by those that are just like them, will they have the strength to do mitzvot.

If that is true, then the hesder yeshivot are not worth all that much. If full time Torah study for about 18 months before the army is not enough to "strengthen" the boys' faith, then obviously the Torah study is not getting through. As opposed to the haredi yeshivot- the religious-Zionist yeshivot are supposed to prepare their boys to deal with and confront the world around them. And they do a better job than they think.

Its time to spread the wealth around. Let the boys face the challenge – and maybe, just maybe influence their comrades in arms.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005


YNET reports that at the Knesset's commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (in which only half of the MK's managed to show up) a Hungarian survivor who was at Mathausen was forced to remove the yellow magen david that she had to wear as an eight year old. She was told that wearing the yellow star was a "provocation".

What next?

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Tu B'Shvat: Conclusion 

Bnei Akiva of Israel gets a C- for this year's netiot.

As we wrote yesterday, the location of the anual Tu B'shvat planting was done in the town of Kedumim so as to identify with the Jewish residents of Gaza (even they realize that you can't plant much there). You can support that decision or not, but there was certainly controversy over Daniela Weiss, the head of the local council and supporter of "siruv pekuda" - a soldiers' refusing an order to participate in the hitnatkut.

As George reported in comments yesterday - this is the first time a local mayor addressed the netiot. Weiss spoke - but didn't mention siruv pekuda although all the talk was about the hitnatkut.

So why did they get a C- ?

In every other year they go with the JNF and each child is given a tree to plant - in this one, there were about 5 trees per city - leaving most of the kids without the "dirty hands", Jewish labor experience that is the essence of Tu B'shvat.

Politics trumps the children, once again.

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If you ever wanted to know how the left-wing haredi editor of Ha'aretz would put his stamp on his newspaper, take a look at this absurd and rediculous article on the finishing of Art Scroll Talmd. The writer calls it the "the greatest enterprise of commentary on the Jewish bookshelf in the last few centuries".

Even if you use it and like it, this is "praise inflation" of the worst kind.

Let's face it - Art Scroll publishers have created an Art Scroll Judaism that can be compared to the Jordan River from the Kinneret to the Dead Sea- it is narrow, shallow, snake like and it leads to a stale lifeless pond of an intellectual life.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Tu B'shvat Dilemma 

Moral dilemmas large and small are in front of us every day, Sometimes they cause us angst and grief an sometimes they allow us to clarify our thoughts as we are forced to balance and package the goods we feel strongly about with the "ought nots" about which we feel no less strongly. Without entertaining moral risk we run the danger of not fully appreciating the good we have done – and of missing out on important moral and intellectual lessons.

Tu B'shvat is a Zionist holiday. Its association with the planting of trees, with Jewish labor building the land, stems from those Second Aliya Russian-Jewish Tolstoyans who wanted to replicate the Arbor Day of their youth in the Land of Israel. (The Zefat-kabbalist Tu B'shvat seder is not related to actual tree planting.) Luckily, someone knew of the first mishna of masechet Rosh Hashanah and a modern Jewish-Zionist holiday was born.

Every year Bnei Akiva (and other Zionist youth movements) plans a day of "netiot" (tree planting). They take the kids to a "forest" and plant trees. Over the years it has become Hollywood-ized and musical entertainment is usually provided at an end of day jamboree.

If Ariel Sharon has done one thing he has made us all think – what is the right thing to do? The good thing to do? For us? For the Jewish people? For Jewish security?

This year Bnei Akiva, in a thinly veiled political statement scheduled the netiot in the town of Kedumim, in the Shomron (Samaria). They also scheduled to speak, Daniela Weiss, head of the local council of Kedumim. And hence the dilemma: Weiss has called on soldiers to disobey orders regarding the hitnatkut - the withdrawal from Gaza.

I am willing to accept any well argued view of the hitnatkut. We have spoken of this in detail and won't go through it a gain. I am also willing to accept the legitimacy of civil disobedience in a democratic society. I can even accept a soldier's individual moral choice to disobey an order.

What I cannot accept is for people in general and political and religious leaders in particular to put pressure on soldiers to act illegally in support of their own political goals. To have people standing in train and bus stations and berating tired, dedicated soldiers on their way home for Shabbat (as my son has been) is morally and politically wrong. There is a world of difference between a soldier taking a personal decision of conscience and a leader fomenting rebellion amongst the ranks of the armed forces.

Yet, this is what Daniela Weiss advocates.

Hence the dilemma.

Do we send our children to netiot, to participate in a true Zionist activity, to get their hands dirty, to feel the land between their fingers, to get a small taste of Torah Va'avodah?

Or do we, out of protest against the participation of Daniela Weiss keep them home?

We decided to put our children in a situation of moral risk and to hope they will respond appropriately. We will take the risk that Weiss will chose not to celebrate a Zionist holiday but use the forum to cynically pursue her political goals. We didn't want her presence to take away the opportunity for our children to celebrate Tu B'shvat as it ought to be celebrated.

Real, practical moral dilemmas can be wonderful educational tools. I am glad that our children will have an opportunity to live one. Thanks to Bnei Akiva for choosing Kedumim, for Daniela Weiss for being such a clear foil and to Ariel Sharon for making it all possible.

This Tu B'shavat has an extra educational dimension.

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On the first really sunny day after a week of rain and what passes for cold in Kfar Saba, the carriages were out in force today. On my walk from the open air Kanyon Arim down Weizmann Street to my apartment (about a ten minute walk) I spoted 39 mothers, grandmothers and babysitters pushing babies, four fathers and their babies and 4 mothers with twins for a grand total of 51 babies soaking up the rays.

Kain Yirbu.

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Afghan Jews, now Jew 

70 year old Yitzchak Levy died, leaving 40 year old Zuvulun Simantov as the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan.

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YU now Good Enough! 

Ha'aretz Reports:
"The Education Ministry policy that refuses to recognize undergraduate diplomas issued by U.S. universities that accept a year of yeshiva study in Israel as degree credits, is wrong and will be overturned by the end of the month, Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior said Monday."

In the "why doesn't this surprise me" category, they write:
"[Deputy Minister] Melchior, who was unaware of the policy before the report, said he has launched an investigation into the matter. He expects the policy to be overturned in a January 30 meeting with a number of top ministry officials. 'Everyone who has attained a degree in an honest way from a recognized university, especially a premier university like Yeshiva University, will be recognized,' he said. According to Melchior, the ministry's decision originally stemmed from an attempt to cut costs and to limit possible degree fraud."

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Its Okay ... 

... because its the day after the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In London they are debating if "Zionism today is the real enemy of the Jews" - thanks for the tip, George - (scroll to the bottom to see who is in support of the resolution) ...

... while in Russia the Jerusalem Post reports that "A group of nationalist lawmakers is calling for an investigation aimed at outlawing all Jewish organizations in Russia, accusing Jews of fomenting ethnic hatred and provoking anti-Semitism."

Ha'aretz writes: "The lengthy document was signed by 500 people, including newspaper editors, academics and intellectuals. These signatories were joined by 19 nationalist members of the lower parliament, the State Duma, from the nationalist Rodina (homeland) party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and the Russian Communist Party."

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Monday, January 24, 2005

Why is it ... 

... that the UN's commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz makes me snicker?

Could it possibly be because of this?

Or this?

Or maybe this?

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"The Year" 

The Jerusalem Post has a follow-up article on the death in Jerusalem, from a heroin overdose of the young American boy:

" 'When a tragedy like this happens, parents think twice before sending their children to Israel,' said a rabbi from one of the yeshivot that deals with Orthodox youth who have a history of substance abuse and delinquency. The rabbi, who preferred to remain anonymous, met with the Post in a coffee shop in Jerusalem.
'Like a terrorist attack, it will probably have an impact on all yeshivot with American programs. But for places like ours the fallout endangers our very existence.' "

What about it? And what is the solution to the problem if there is one?

Well, this particular incident seems to be representative of the type of yeshiva the boy attended – one focusing on "Troubled" kids from the US.

I am sure that the drug problem in the mainstream religious-Zionist and haredi yeshivot that service American boys and girls is probably less severe than in American universities – or even American yeshivot. But if we take this problem not one of drug abuse but of wealth and time abuse (otherwise known as spoiled-brat-ism and boredom) it seems like a big problem.
I don't mean to be rude or anything here, but this has been on my mind for a while …

I am not really sure of the reasons parents have for sending their high school graduates to Israel for a year. Aside from the admirable goal of learning Torah in Israel, there ought to be something that cannot be had in Washington Heights or Lakewood.

From what I see and hear though, the worst thing a parent can do is send their kids to a place in Jerusalem – or very close to it. What seems to happen is that the kids attain an expertise in the Jerusalem culinary scene and their only curiosities seem to be what hotel has the best breakfast. Their goals seem to be to be attain the next great Jerusalem based luxury.

Maybe its just me, but sending a child to Israel ought to mean just that – sending him or her to a place where they learn to speak Hebrew, mingle and learn with Israelis their own age – eat cheap falafel, schwarma and burekes instead of gourmet hamburgers, steaks and lasagne. Spend their free time searching out the trails, plants and rocks of the Land of Israel and not its luxuries. And most of all – to spend time without access to mommy and daddy on a 24 hour basis.

Sending your child to Israel ought to be a greater adventure for him or her than sending them around the corner.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sarid to the Rescue 

YNET is reporting (Hebrew only) that MK Yossi Sarid has agreed to teach Hebrew, Tanach and Citizenship at a high school in Kassam ravaged Sderot. As much as Sarid rubs me the wrong way with nearly all of his views and inflamatory statements you have to hand it to him. As he did when the north was under attack from Hizbollah and he moved to a moshav in the north, he is agreeing to take up residence (and not just attend a symbolic meeting) in another town that is a target of terrorists.

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Out of Step son give's a siyum of Masechet Brachot Posted by Hello

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Victims, Survivors and Banks, part 3 

Regarding the recent Knesset report on the dormant accounts of Holocaust survivors and victims, Ha'aretz reports that "Bank Leumi, which holds most of the accounts of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, does not intend to pay the money it owes the survivors and victims' heirs at this stage."

Yair Sheleg continues his report:

"This is one of those things once considered 'unthinkable,' until Israeli chutzpah probably changed the boundaries of this term. The banks had better realize the course they are facing: If they do not pay at once and without trying to be smart alecks, they will pay after becoming the target - together with the entire Jewish nation - of endless contempt and derision. The world media will condemn the hypocrisy of the Jews, who are demanding compensation from the whole world but refusing the pay themselves. The banks might also be threatened with constraints on their activity abroad, as the Swiss banks were in the United States."

Hillul Hashem? Indeed.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

The Photographer of Lodz 

Thomas Weber, in The Wall Street Journal reports on an exhibition in London's National Gallery of photographs from the Lodz Ghetto:

"Henryk Ross (1910-91), an official Jewish photographer in the ghetto, also secretly recorded its suffering. After the war, he made some of his photos available. They have been used in the Eichmann trial and in the Holocaust museums of the world to shape our visual image of what went on within the barbed-wire-enclosed ghetto, with their scenes of hunger, despair, executions, deportations and death. However, we never saw the great majority of Mr. Ross's pictures during his lifetime: He captured not only depictions of family life and seemingly normal scenes of life in the streets, but also images of the private life of the ghetto "elite"--the Jewish Council, the German-appointed Jewish administration in charge of the day-to-day running of the ghetto, and the people around them, as well as the Jewish ghetto police--and of children who were temporarily saved through their parents' willingness to cooperate with the Germans."
Not surprisingly, the exhibit has brought out resentment and strong emotions from the survivors who viewed it:

"Yet soon other survivors challenge her. Indeed, the survivors soon are engaged in a discussion among themselves about what it meant to resist and to collaborate. And if ghetto society was a class society and how it functioned. One survivor says: "The privileged were chosen by the Gestapo." Another replies: "Untrue." Still, all survivors seem to agree that Henryk Ross belonged to the privileged of the ghetto. Roman Halter, the only member of his family to survive Lodz and the Holocaust, says: "[Mr. Ross] belonged to the protected class." Mr. Ross was well connected, privileged by the right to take photos, Mr. Halter continues, concluding: "We were outsiders; one can see that Ross was at the top. . . . I feel bitter about how the ghetto was run."
At this point, Helen Aronson, who so far has quietly followed the discussion, stands up. "You have talked a lot about the so-called privileged," she says, addressing the other survivors. "I suppose I was one." In her mild-mannered voice, she tells her story: Her "very special father" had in 1940 led the children of her hometown to the Lodz ghetto in the hope that would save them. He knew Rumkowski and knew that he would look after them. Ms. Aronson's brother soon worked in the ghetto as a liaison with the Germans, her mother in a shop that distributed food. She herself, being almost still a child herself, looked after the children in the ghetto's orphanage. "That was the privilege: We got food. That is why I survived."

Painful, but worth reading on.

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What's Good Enough ... 

... for Harvard and Yale, doesn't quite cut it with Israel's mighty Ministry of Education.

In spite of a continuous drop in the standards for what passes for education in this country as run by the Ministry of Education (MOE), the MOE won't recognize a BA or BS from Yeshiva University. As a matter of fact, if your BA is from YU, MA from Princeton and PhD from Yale - according to the MOE, you are just a lowly high school graduate.

Message of Israel's MOE to YU graduates: DON'T COME ON ALIYA!

Read on.

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Not Saved 

The Israeli Beit Midrash is not the place for bored, restless and troubled young boys.

Another sad story.

"Erik Siegal was a young American Jew with a drug problem. He chose to embrace a religious life, and came to Israel to learn Torah and start afresh.
It didn't work out that way. Siegal, a yeshiva student at Neveh Zion in Telz Stone, west of Jerusalem, died this week of a heroin overdose. "

Read on.

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Ignoring Reality 

A friend and a reader asked me why I had not commented on the attempt by haredi rabbis to censor the works of a Rabbi Nosson Slifkin who is also apparently a haredi rabbi. Honestly, although I saw some other bloggers comment on it I didn't really read up on it until she sent me this link from Yated Ne'eman.

The Forward this week has an article about it explaining the recent censorship attempts by haredim of haredim. This is neither odd nor unusual. Here in Israel even the most revered Halakhic decisor in the Ashkenazi haredi world, its posek hador, R. Shalom Yosef Elyashiv has had to retract his Halakhic teshuvot because of pressure from even more radical haredim. I recall one case where he ruled in favor of building a road over what certain haredi elements determined was an ancient cemetery – only to overturn it under immense (even physical) threats.

The current controversy has to do with the age of the world. We don't have to go over the argument only to say that to the best of my knowledge it has only been in the past 150 years or so that the leading rabbis have found it necessary to part with e accepted scientific views (there was no Jewish Galileo in spite of the expertise in astronomy by Chazal and the Rishonim).

Further, according to the article in Yated Ne'eman, the haredi world has a big problem coming to terms with the fact that certain rabbis may have erred in their scientific observations and reasoning. It is difficult to say when and where papal, er, rabbinic infallibility came into our discourse, but my guess is that the Rambam would be the first to admit that his medical writings are no longer relevant.

It amazes the mind that those who spend day and night in the learning of that great work of machloket (argument), the gemara, should hold to one view on all matters of science and belief.

We don't have to go far in the Torah to see machloket about the most basic things. The famous argument between the Batei Midrash of R. Akiva and that of R. Yishmael about the creation of the moon should leave much food for thought. In Bereshit Rabah Ben Azai states that both the moon and the sun were both created in order to give light and only later was that privilege taken away from the moon; while R. Yochanan and R. Chanina state that the moon was never created in order to give light, just so as to order and sanctify (lekadesh) the months and years.

We can learn many interesting things in this machloket (which we won't go into here) regarding how the world was created, for what reasons – and more importantly, about the perfection of God.

Our lesson from this is clear: The haredi rabbinic leadership is so out of touch with reality and so insecure with their place in the contemporary world that they have even lost touch with much of our midrashic tradition.

For many years, R. Soloveithcik opposed changes in Halakhah for the reason of "al tifrosh min hatzibbu" – we shall not separate ourselves from the community. However, in these times, it is not the modern-Orthodox or the religious-Zionists that have separated themselves from the community, but the haredi rabbinic leadership.

The time has come to ignore their rantings and ravings on science and "true" beliefs (and much of Halakhah) and to shake off this inferiority complex that we have developed. The time has come to stop looking over our shoulders and apologizing for learning, studying, critiquing and confronting the contemporary world as religious, believing Jews. The time has come to look at the absurdity that is the story of Rabbi Slifkin, to chuckle, to sigh and to move on.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Its raining in Kfar Saba, sunny in Jerusalem - this is somewhere in between Posted by Hello

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Victims, Survivors and Banks, again 

The NY Times has a story (registration required) that we spoke about yesterday – the dromant bank accounts in Israeli banks belonging to victims and suvivors of the Holocaust.

"Israeli banks holding assets from European Jews killed in the Holocaust failed to make a determined effort to return the holdings to their heirs, and when they were returned, they were not returned at their proper value, according to a report of the Israeli Parliament, or Knesset, released Tuesday.
The Israeli government, as custodian for a large part of the assets, also failed to make a serious effort to maintain their value or to return them to survivors or heirs, the report said.
'What we have discovered, in particular the attitude of the banks, has filled us with disgust,' said the chairwoman of a parliamentary committee, Colette Avital, a Labor Party legislator.
'Neither the state nor the banks paid enough attention to this problem,"'Ms. Avital said. 'We don't think the state of Israel should act differently from what we've demanded from other countries.' "
The Jewish world's treatment of survivors after the Shoah will go down as the biggest scandal (and chilul hashem) of post WWII Jewry. DP's were kept in camps in Germany (!) for up to three years after the war, immigrants to the US were treated with contempt and the olim to Israel were looked upon as cowards.
Now we know that even in Israel, their money was hidden from them when they most needed the money as well as a tie, any tie to the past.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the arrest by Soviet authorities of that rare hero, Raoul Wallenberg. Miriam has another facinating story of this messenger of God.

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Today is my grandfather's Yahrzeit and I had the honor of accompanying my father to the grave on Jerusalem's Har HaZetim (Mount of Olives). Har HaZetim is an ancient cemetery with many of the older gravestones unreadable.

However, while wandering and looking at the old and sometimes neglected gravestones I came across the one above for an Elchanan Federman. The stone was redone by his grandson and placed in memory of his son (the great-grandson) Yisrael Carmi as well as Yosef Netzer and all his comrades in arms who died in the sinking of the Israeli submarine, the Dakar, in 1968. Posted by Hello

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Victims, Survivors and Banks 

Today, the government of Israel will publish a list (link corrected: here) of about 10,000 names of holocaust victims and survivors who have money that was deposited in Israeli banks during WWII (JPost article here). It would be nice to think this an innocent mistake that took 60 odd years to rectify but after hearing stories of orphaned child survivors cheated out of inheritances by their luckier relatives, pardon my cynicism.

We discussed the treatment of survivors (DP's) in the past (part 1 , part 2) and will focus on it again sometime in the future. That second criminal activity (albeit a lessor one) is a story begging to be told.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Free Bialik 

The Ben-Yehuda Project has started to upload the poetry and other works of Chaim Nachman Bialik now that the copyright on his poetry has expired.

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Believers, Non-Believers and the Question of "Why?" 

For those who believe that life has meaning – what is the difference between those who believe in God and those who don't?

For the nihilists and others who believe that life just is, and nothing more, it is clear that if there are ethical rules at all, then only utilitarian ethics suffice for a way of life. And nothing can ever answer what for them is an absurdity, "why?".

But for others, believers in God or not there can be two categories of answers to the meaning of life: The rational and the non-rational. In an article published in the current issue of Physics Today Online the recently deceased theoretical physicist Bryce DeWitt raises and then dismisses a possible rational outline for answering the "why?" question:

DeWitt makes the argument here ….

"So where does that leave the amateur theologian, the young and eager theoretical physicist? (Steven) Weinberg says, 'The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.' "

… although he dismissed it in this, the previous paragraph, here:

"There is a photograph taken from one of the early interplanetary probes, looking back toward Earth. Earth appears as a tiny blue sphere surrounded by an immensity of blackness. It is a photograph that makes tears flow. There is no sharper visual statement of the loneliness of our planet. Earth is an insignificant speck in a vast and overwhelmingly hostile universe. There is nothing to suggest that human beings have a special role to play in this universe. Steven Weinberg is absolutely right when he says, 'The more the universe is comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.' "

For the theoretical physicist, who spent much time at the home of his religious Protestant grandparents, he sees "love" as the only possible "why?" answer. After discussing the rising popularity of early Christianity DeWitt states:

"What was the new element in this new religion that had such an overwhelming impact? In a word, love. That is the key word, for believers and nonbelievers alike, that raises our existence above the level of farce. And it needs no religious framework whatever to exert its power."

For the non-believer, only the non-rational can give meaning to life. To the believer who accepts the reality of the rational and non-rational alike (even for those of us who reject the irrational) we can look to both "love" and "understanding" to give us meaning.

We may never be able to fully answer the "why?" question, but we can build a realistic foundation that allows us to use our minds as well as our emotions to gain satisfaction beyond utility.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Self Destruct 

JPost editor David Horovitz:

"And the more I read, the more I thought about an assertion that I reported in this column a week ago, the claim by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin that we Jews have developed 'an alarm system' since the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel, an automatic, built-in warning device that activates when we are about to go into self-destruct mode.It seems to me that, as with our previous fleeting efforts at Jewish sovereignty, we are again heading full-tilt toward self-destruction. And since I'm far from convinced of the veracity of Gissin's reassuring theory, perhaps we need to manually sound the alarm. "

Read on.

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The Halakhah on Driving 

While over the parents' for Shabbat, we had the opportunity to look through one of those newspapers that are only read by the "true believers" – Hatzofeh – published by the National Religious Party. In all honesty they do have a decent literary section on Fridays which is the main reason it the OOS father reads it.

In this past Friday's issue there is a review by Rav Neriah Gutel of an Halakhic compendium that focuses on driving, of all issues. Although it seems a strange topic for Halakhic discourse, the 524 deaths from traffic accidents in 2004 seem to be reason enough for a discussion of driving in general and the criminally negligent driver in particular (for example is the serial traffic-law offender a "rodef"?). Other issues discussed is what to do when one comes across an oil slick on shabbat (according to Rav Y. Zliberstain, you can even dig up dirt to cover the slick if no sand pile is available).

I have to admit that driving in Israel has become a moral and hence an Halakhic issue and it would be a wonderful thing if the rabbis gave their full weight to the government's (substandard) efforts to make the roads safer. Amongst the issues discussed in the book are the preference for public transportation over private, for reasons of "pikuach nefesh" (saving a life) – interestingly, to Israelis it is clear that it is safer on a bus than a taxi or private car, which contradicts the "accepted knowledge" of tourists and foreign students who refuse to take buses for safety reasons – and for the same reason the question of the Halakhic appropriateness of buying a car in the first place.

But, even when Israel's rabbis mean well, they always manage to put their Halakhic foot in their Talmudic mouths. One issue discussed, according to the reviewer is the permissibility of women driving private cars and public vehicles. According to rabbis Wiezner, Klein, Mazoz, Gras and others – women, for reasons of tzniut (modesty) are not to be permitted to drive. For other rabbis such as Leor, Zilber and Greenblat – they are only not permitted to drive public vehicles.

I used to think that people who bother themselves with such absurd issues as that had to live in a peaceful, wealthy and boring society. How wrong I was.

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Friday, January 14, 2005

Two Links 

A post-modern British Moslem, with lightness of being and a sense of humor ....

... And a Muslim Refusenik.

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Don't Skip the Footnotes 

Although I reserve the right to comment further on this facinating article by Reuven Kimelman in Edah Journal on Rabbis Soloveitchik and Heschel on Jewish-Christian relations, I want to quote two of Kimelman's footnotes on the meetings between the two as well as R. M. M. Schneerson that, to me are facinating:

9Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber Wolpo reports in his book Shemen Sasson me-Haveirekha (Holon: Ideal Press, 4763), p. 186, that Rabbi Ephraim Wolf wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that the former president of Israel, Zalmen Shazar, told him that R. Soloveitchik, whom he met in his hotel in New York City, mentioned that he had met both Rabbi Schneersohn, the future Lubavitcher Rebbe, and R. Heschel in Berlin. Professor Haym Soloveitchik, told me (telephone conversation, March 16, 2004, as well as all other references to him) that his father told him that he only saw the future Rebbe pass by. R. Soloveitchik’s oldest daughter, Dr.Atarah Twersky, recalls her father saying that the future Rebbe visited him unexpectedly in his apartment in Berlin. When he introduced himself as the son-in-law of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Soloveitchik asked him why he was studying at a university when his father-in-law opposed it. My wife’s uncle, Zvi Kaplan of Jerusalem, told me that Rabbi Yitshak Hutner told him that he was with the future Rav and Rebbe together at a lecture on Maimonides at the University (apparently in 1929). After the lecture, when the professor approached Schneersohn for his opinion, he deferred to R. Soloveitchik. In any case, in Berlin both Rabbis Heschel and Soloveitchik maintained relations with Rabbi Hayyim Heller, Rabbi Jehiel Weinberg, and Professor Eugen Mittwoch.

10Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld (telephone conversation of March 21, 2004) recalls seeing R. Heschel in the 1960s at two of R. Soloveitchik’s yahrzeit lectures for his father in Lamport Auditorium of Yeshiva University. Prof. Haym Soloveitchik recalls that in 1962-63 he saw the two together twice in his father’s Yeshiva University apartment and heard of a third meeting from his mother, who was present at all three. He also recalls (telephone conversation, June 23, 2004) that in 1967 R. Heschel paid a visit to R.Soloveitchik, who was then sitting shiv`ah for his mother in her or his brother’s apartment in New York. R. Heschel’s daughter, Professor Susannah Heschel, e-mailed me that she recalls R. Soloveitchik visiting her father in their home in the mid- or late sixties and that he paid a shiv`ah call when R. Heschel died. He died on Friday night, Dec. 23, 1972.

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I Learned a few things ... 

... today, while walking the streets of Tel-Aviv, the first Zionist city.

The main offices of Bank Leumi on Rechov Yehuda Halevi is built on land that housed the home at which the poetess Rachel (Blewstein) (her poetry) was born and raised… The southern part of the Qirya (Israel's version of the Pentagon) housed buildings originally built by the Templars … On that site, they are restoring buildings that have stood since 1906… Although we all know that Tel-Aviv's first neighborhood is Ahuzat Bayit, its oldest is Neve Zedek (photos).

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005


"Imagine that Israel never existed. Would the economic malaise and political repression that drive angry young men to become suicide bombers vanish? Would the Palestinians have an independent state? Would the United States, freed of its burdensome ally, suddenly find itself beloved throughout the Muslim world? Wishful thinking. Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains more antagonisms than it causes.
Since World War II, no state has suffered so cruel a reversal of fortunes as Israel. Admired all the way into the 1970s as the state of “those plucky Jews” who survived against all odds and made democracy and the desert bloom in a climate hostile to both liberty and greenery, Israel has become the target of creeping delegitimization. The denigration comes in two guises. The first, the soft version, blames Israel first and most for whatever ails the Middle East, and for having corrupted U.S. foreign policy. It is the standard fare of editorials around the world, not to mention the sheer venom oozing from the pages of the Arab-Islamic press. The more recent hard version zeroes in on Israel’s very existence. According to this dispensation, it is Israel as such, and not its behavior, that lies at the root of troubles in the Middle East. Hence the “statocidal” conclusion that Israel’s birth, midwifed by both the United States and the Soviet Union in 1948, was a grievous mistake, grandiose and worthy as it may have been at the time. "

Read on - Josef Joffe writes about "A World Without Israel" in Foreign Policy.

Suddenly our New EU Peace Plan from last summer doesen't seem so far fetched.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Work in Progress (not mine): Kfar Saba paints electricity boxes. Posted by Hello

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As a true-blue capitalist, it is not my habit to tell people how to spend their money.

However, I have to admit that I am disappointed in the "invitation only" $4,500 "First Annual Scholar At Sea European Cruise Charter" along the Adriatic with R. Jacob J. Schachter, that is being sponsored by the Soloveitchik Institute.

I have always felt that the true test of religion in a capitalist society is not to oppose the free market but to have the religion's adherents understand that the true test of a wealthy society is to be able to raise your children and be an example to them without material excess – in spite of the fact that they are affordable. In seeing the material excesses of so many Modern-Orthodox communities, its main institutions ought to be at the forefront teaching this message.

What kind of message does a cruise on a ship that "has been lovingly crafted and furnished with all the fine services and amenities you would expect of a luxury vessel" send?

No sin, no big deal, just a bit disappointing.

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Monday, January 10, 2005

Religious-Zionist Disengagement 

Article by R. Yuval Sherlo:

"The disengagement of the religious-Zionist movement from the State of Israel is taking place without sufficient attention being paid.

It is taking the form of public calls for soldiers to disobey orders, which encounter a hesitant response, and to thwart government decisions; a general policy of moving the debate from democratic institutions and transferring it to the street; abandonment of the state-religious education track in favor of independent education, in the wake of the Dovrat Commission report; an unwillingness to be part of the ruling coalition - neither with the Likud nor with the Left; encouraging enlistment to the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) unit of the Nahal infantry brigade and not to other units of the IDF, due to the halakhic prohibition on coed service; protracted refusal to debate religion-state relations; and the adoption of militant language used by fringe movements, which includes demonization of the other side and forsaking mutual discourse.


Religious Zionism is already paying a high price for its positions. It is pushing itself to the fringe, splitting itself into an infinitude of fragments and undermining a value that lies at the heart of its existence - partnership with the whole community of Israel in the State of Israel. Its ability to influence the state's Jewish identity is melting away. This disintegration will also inflict a heavy price in the religious sphere - part of the religious-Zionist movement will turn to the Haredi world, while the majority will undergo an intensifying process of secularization.

What can be done? Religious Zionism must return to the basic principle of its way of life - acting within the framework of the state and its institutions. That means accepting mutual discourse everywhere, ensuring that it remains within the official institutions and opposing its movement to the streets with the violence this entails. At the same time, constantly striving to develop the state's Jewish identity without disengaging and adopting the way of fringe movements.

On the other hand, Israel society must undertake serious soul-searching about its modes of behavior and its surrender to the intoxication of the power of government which is driving away one of its senior movements, thereby contributing to the atomization of the State of Israel and Israeli society into a loose federation of minorities."

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

This Past Shabbat Night ... 

This past Shabbat night in our synagogue in Kfar Saba, children of Christian missionaries came into our shul and distributed fliers for a revival weekend celebrating the coming of the Lord ….

No, that's not what happened.

This past Shabbat night in our synagogue in Kfar Saba, children of Mormons came in and distributed fliers for a weekend where you and your long lost loved ones could be baptized into the Mormon faith.

No, that's not what happened either.

This past Shabbat night in our synagogue in Kfar Saba, children of Habad Hasidim came into our shul and distributed a flier inviting us to a weekend in order to "welcome the face of the Messiah, the righteous, actually and concretely …". It is sponsored by "Mateh Moshiach under the presidency of ADMO"R Shlit"a, king moshiach."

Yes, that is what happened.
Posted by Hello

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Amos on the Wave 

And the Lord God of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn:
and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.
It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth;
he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth:
The Lord is his name" (Amos 9:5-6)

An interesting essay by Yonatan Ben-Dov on what might have been a prophet's view of earthquake and tidal wave that ravaged the Indian Ocean.
Ben-Dov writes:

"The poetics of these hymn-like verses is based on pairs of opposites: day and night, light and darkness, sea and land, sky and earth - and the natural world is the delicate balance that God has created between these opposites. Amos is transmitting here a message that is similar to the one conveyed by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: The forces of nature are contained in pairs of opposites, and the world shifts incessantly between them, to the point where their relationship constantly changes.

The balance is an extremely thin line - or, as Heraclitus describes it, a tight bow string: 'They do not understand: how that which separates unites with itself. It is a harmony of oppositions, as in the case of the bow and of the lyre' (Heraclitus fragment No. 45; G.W.T. Patrick translation). If the balance is disrupted and one of the opposing forces bursts into the realm of its opposite, the world will be plunged into utter chaos.

The divine creation of the universe is not expressed solely in a single, unique creation of material ex nihilo, but rather in the attainment of equilibrium between existing forces - this is the power of God the Creator. The world's continued existence is not the static situation of a stable, infinite entity, but rather an incessantly shifting relationship between opposing forces in constant collision with one another. God alone can impose order on these mighty, eternally inimical forces. According to Amos, the major drama of the world is not its single, unique creation, but rather its ongoing maintenance. The protracted act of courage cannot continue forever without some disruptions. These disruptions are expressed in the outburst of natural catastrophes from time to time."

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Two Worth Reading 

Two very important articles from Ha'aretz that are worth reading.

Israel Harel on "dousing the flames" of violence between citizens and its army and Nehamia Strasler on the cowardly "civilian service" alternative to serving in the IDF.

Two old-timers (apologies) who have had enough of the anti-Zionists.

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Very Brief Thoughts on the AR"I 

I am in the midst of a great book (courtesy of my brother) "Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and his Kabbalistic Fellowship" by Lawrence Fine. I will write on it more in depth after I finish it, but there is one comment I wanted to make now.

I have thought of this before reading the book, but its description of Lurianic Kabbalah – specifically on the creation (ma'aseh bereshit) - has led me to wonder what the big deal is, religiously, with the scientific explanations of the creation, age and further development of the universe and the Earth.

Surely, the Lurianic interpretation of Genesis is further away from the peshat (literal) reading of that great Book than anything any physicist or Darwinian biologist might come up with. If it is safe to say that if there are inner contradictions and logical missteps to Darwin's theories or to the Big Bang theory, then they abound in Lurianic theory or myth.

Either the world was created exactly as stated in the first chapters of Bereshit, or it wasn't. If the words are meant to be general and we are meant to fill in the blanks then surely scientific research is at least as valid an interpretive tool as the AR"I's revelations from Elijah the Prophet and others less reliable.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Ravitsky and the Halakhic State 

Aviezer Ravitsky, in a Hebrew article in the latest issue of De'ot (from Ne'emanei Torah va'Avodah) critiques the idea of a Jewish state based on Halakhah. In the first section of the article (which is a shortened version of a similar article published by the Israel Democracy Institute) Ravitsky shows how many of the main Rabbinic thinkers in the history of Jewish thought do not support the idea and in the second part he presents practical stumbling blocks to its implementation.

To the religious-Zionist community, some sort of "medinat-Halakhah" (Halakhic State) has been, if not an active goal, at least a "desired ideal outcome". What this means is that most religious-Zionists pay the idea of a medinat-Halakhah lip service with the understanding that in reality they would not ever agree to live in one. But it has certainly been a theological given for those coming out of the Mercaz Harav-Kook Yeshiva and forms a central part of their Zionism.

Even the more pragmatic religious-Zionists like those at the Religious Kibbutz Movement have stated on many occasions that they desire to run their kibbutzim "according to the Shulchan Aruch". And since kibbutz ideology has always seen itself as an example of what the state ought to look like, they too let the medinat-Halakhah form a part of their ideology if not its practical application.

He opens his argument by showing that the Rabbis, from the time of the mishna through medieval times and up to Volozhin saw "government" as an important tool for the keeping of public order. In what could be called an Hobbesian moment (except that Hobbes came over 1500 years later) Ravitsky quotes R. Haninah, assistant of the Kohanim as stating in Avot: (2:3 HebrewEnglish) "Pray for the peace of the kingdom, since but for fear thereof we had swallowed up each his neighbor alive."

Even the Netziv, Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Volozhin Yeshiva for nearly 50 years, fervent Zionist and teacher of Rav Kook took a very practical view of the role of government. The Netziv states according to Ravitzky that government operates under three basic principles: First to defend the citizens and keep public order; second to gain power and efficiency through the consent of its citizens; third, that danger to life (sakanat nefashot) overrules (nearly) all the mitzvot of the Torah. It would appear that for the Netziv a medinat-Halakhah that does not have the consent of the governed and/or could not defend its citizens from harm ought not to exist.

Finally, Ravitzky tackles his most difficult case – the worldly medieval commentator and politician, Don Isaac Abarbanel, who is known in Torah circles as the father of Jewish theocracy. Ravitsky shows convincingly that Abarbanel the visionary was a utopian who looked upon the end of days as a "post-political" world, Abarbanel the man of the world was more cautious. He believed says Ravitzky, in the maxim that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (this is not an exact translation of Ravitsky's words, but is the best English phrase to relay the same message).

One other interesting point he makes regarding Halakhah and the state regards the Torah's ideas of punishment, specifically regarding theft. For Ravitzky and it is hard not to agree with him, the Halakhah's punishments for theft are not nearly serious enough to deter the crime in today's world.

In the last part of the article he brings five practical stumbling blocks to the establishment of a medinat Halakhah but this is the weaker part of his essay.
Also, although Ravitzky ends his essay with the statement that the solution is not total separation of Church and State on the American model, he doesn't really give any Jewish alternatives. He doesn't explain how a Jewish state can be established, as a Jewish state without dependence on public Halakhah.

This is something we discussed about a year ago. Using Alan Mittleman's book "And the Scepter Shall not Part from Judah" as a basis, we discussed the idea of "covenant" as forming the basis of a (the) Jewish State. The idea being, that a modern Republic could be based on Jewish ideas and values without the coercive force of Halakhah.

In a strange twist, it might actually be haredi rabbis who would be more amenable to this type of setup. For the religious-Zionists of the Rav Kook school (whether you think it legitimately follows Rav Kook or not) and for other messianists like the Habad Hasidim only the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin and the Beit Kamikdash can fulfill the requirements of a Jewish state.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Kippah-gate, part 1 

That kippot have become a political symbol in Israel has been clear ever since Ephraim Kishon's famous article on the "kippah seruga" (crocheted kippah) identifying the proud, young religious-Zionists of his day. It has always been contrasted with the "kippah sh'chora" (black cloth or felt kippah) of the haredi establishment. Lately we have seen the large croceted "Nachman" (Breslov) style kippot and of course the schizophrenic black crocheted kippah, as well as many other variations on the two main themes.

In what is now becoming a family tradition, our third son has got into trouble at his Yeshiva over the size of his kippah. He is a small kid, redhead and proudly wears his blue and white kippah right on the top of his head. (Yes – placement of the kippah also has its 'meanings' – but more on that another day.) However, apparently its diameter is about a centimeter too small for the rabbis who oversea his dress.

Sure enough, after a 48 hour standoff, he agreed to wear a larger kippah (we found a slightly bigger, fraying one that was mine before his birth). But he and his chevra (buddies) will now follow the tradition of good Catholic School girls who roll up their skirts when out of site of the nuns (not having known that they did this I was always amazed – jealous? - that Catholic girls could wear such short skirts!) and switch kippot once outside the gates of the Yeshiva.

But this is just a temporary, tactical setback. Following his brother's ways, he is sure to be back for round two somewhere at the end of 8th or beginning of 9th grade. As I explained to him – first prove that you can learn Torah – then you can argue all you want. If its one thing that these Rabbis can't handle its smart, serious kids who don't dress the part.

Don't judge a book by its cover? Say what?

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Monday, January 03, 2005

Reform This! 

As a further example of the apocalyptic nature of the Israeli political system, Ran Erez, the head of the Teacher's Union (Histadrut Ha'morim) has compared the latest educational reform proposals of the Dovrat Commission to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia !!! (Reported in YNET-Hebrew)

Why? Because these reforms will "hurt others".

In a related story, a majority of the children in the OOS household support the reforms since they are confident it will lead to an abundance of "strike days" (our version of snow days).

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

Soldiers as Pawns 

Hitnatkut (unilateral withdrawal) chutzpa is in high gear as both the pro and anti "hitnatkuters" have honed in on the soldiers to fight their political battles for them. The first shots were fired by some rabbis who told the young boys and girls defending us from terrorism that they must disobey orders from their officers to remove residents from their homes - as that is the will of God.

A responding shot was fired by the government with threats of imprisonment for "incitement" those who voiced their views. The government threatened residents with financial and incarceration penalties for failure to follow instructions. They also threw at least one soldier out of the officer training course to stating that if an order was given to him to remove residents of Gaza settlements from their homes, he would disobey.

Next, this past weekend, the antis were out in force at train stations and bus stations trying to pressure soldiers to sign a declaration that they would disobey orders for the removal of residents. This was accompanied by fliers distributed to the synagogues with a place to fill out name, serial number, etc and declare disloyalty to commanding officers. Interestingly, the flier claimed that "hundreds or rabbis, lawyers and public personalities" have declared that the order is illegal - yet, none of these cowardly people were willing to put their names to the paper that the soldiers were to sign.

The time has come to leave the politics to the civilians and to stop the pressure and the threats. If the government feels the need to threaten its soldiers then it has some real explaining to do to them. If the antis need to make our sons and daughters in the army the main pawns in their fight, well, they haven't convinced the country of the rightness of their views.

These kids are under enough physical, psychological, moral and religious pressure on a daily basis that they don't have to carry the weight of the political fight, too.

Elections are obviously called for – but even without them there are other means to fight the fight besides hoping that our young soldiers, who have already sacrificed a good part of their youth, will fall in line (whichever line that might be).

As we have discussed the religious, moral, security and political implications of the government's policy are hardly clear-cut. Bullying, like messianism will never lead to the democratic legitimacy necessary to carry out or fight against this or any other government policy.

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Religious Statistics ... 

... from Friday's Ha'aretz (not on the Internet).


32% celebrated New Year's Eve.

25% regularly attend synagogue.

50% of secular Israelis have a festive meal on Shabbat night, 17% light Shabbat candles and 8% make kiddush.

71% used a Hanukiyah this past Hanukah.

5,500 out of 40,000 of Israeli weddings (nearly 14%) were performed outside of Israel so as to avoid using the Chief Rabbinate.

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