Thursday, April 28, 2005

To Cooperate or Compete 

One of my objections to Habad over the years is their separateness. In the communities where I have witnessed their presence I have seen that they will never participate in the wider Jewish community, recognizing Habad as the only legitimate Jewish home. The JPost is publishing a JTA story on Habad in Germany with a contrast on two Habad styles: The cooperative Rabbi Diskin in Munich and the competitive Rabbi Teichtal.

"Whereas Teichtal has opened several new institutions in Berlin, Diskin and his wife, Chana, work within the existing Jewish community. Whereas Teichtal leads his own services and even used to send Habad yeshiva students to recruit congregants away from the city's other Orthodox rabbi, Diskin has only a youth minyan, not wanting to offer a competing service."

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Steady at the Helm 

The JPost with an interesting feature on Richard Joel, president of YU and the Dean of Orthodoxy.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Some Pictures from Chol Hamoed 

A purple flower (whatever its called), Ya'ar Matta, Emek Haela. Posted by Hello

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Harpist at Ir David. Posted by Hello

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OOS son Navigating Hizkiyahu's Aqueduct (Chronicles II, 32:30 - Hebrew... English), City of David (Ir David) Posted by Hello

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New ramp to Temple Mount Posted by Hello

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Again Posted by Hello

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Walking up toward's Zion Gate, Jerusalem Posted by Hello

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Zion Gate, Jerusalem, looking up Posted by Hello

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ezer Weizman, z"l 

From Ha'aretz:

"Former President Ezer Weizman, a flying ace and crack military commander who built up the nation's air force and helped bring about the country's first peace treaty with an Arab country died in his home in Caesarea on Sunday evening at the age of 80."

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Creative Cafes 

Meir Ronen on Aharon Appelfeld's (and son's) old and new Jerusalem. A review of A Table for One, by Appelfeld with paintings by his son, Meir.

"Acclaimed Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld has never been able to write at home, even when quite alone. Perhaps especially when quite alone. The aptly titled A Table For One is a translation of a Hebrew memoir in which Appelfeld describes how he wrote his novels and vignettes of life on the cusp of the Holocaust, while sitting at a table in one of Jerusalem's many coffee houses."

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The Jewish Predicament 

Yehuda Avner in the JPost:

"... Pessah, with its imperative to remember what happened long ago. That is the hallmark of timeless identity. Timeless identity means that what happened once upon a time endures within us as if it were happening today. It is a living thing. And because of that capacity for timeless identity we have outlived every single one of our tormentors in history. Every tyrant in every century who would have had us vanish has himself vanished.

It is only when one views Israel's place in the family of nations through the prism of that historic distinction does everything make sense - that to be a nation that "dwells alone" is not a source of weakness, but of colossal resilience and eternal strength."

Read on.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

On Toothpicks and Pesach 

I don't know how it works in other households but in ours we tend to split the cleaning. There are things I do and things my wife does. I cover more ground and she spends more time on the cleaning. I do the vast open spaces and she works on the details. This fits in well with our outlook on life and on our intellectual concerns.

She studied the minutiae of statistics and mathematics and sees the beauty in the details of mathematical certainty. I studied philosophy, politics and other cloudy disciplines and just want to make sure things go in a certain direction. I look at my post operative son and wonder when he can return to the ball field and she wonders why the incision above his eye is not quite straight enough.

And so it goes with Pesach cleaning. During the year my view is that dirt that is not visible is not there. Before Pesach I am 'machmir' (stringent) and agree to move the couch. The broom, the squeegee, the vacuum cleaner, a sponge or rag here and there – those are my key cleaning tools. For my wife, those are just the start. Scouring pads, thin little green sponge-like things are also key tools. But the most important Pesach cleaning tool is of course, the toothpick.

The toothpick ('kismei shinayim' in Hebrew, it took me years to learn that one) seems to be the most important part of Pesach preparations. Where I will take a yellow Scotch sponge and wipe the top of the refrigerator door, my wife carefully probes the crevices of the rubber. Where I wipe out the freezer, my wife takes it apart and uses toothpicks to get to the crumbs of frozen whatever.

I didn't want this to be one of those "Home Improvement" men-women, Venus-Mars kind of posts so I will end with these observations.

1.Our Pesach cleaning rituals relate closely to the way we treat life in general.

2. Contra some other comment I have seen we don't have it harder now than our grandparents had it, in spite of the newly treif water, strawberries etc, etc. (Hint: Ignoring rabbis and trusting grandma makes things more sane).

3. In the end, it's all about the family.

Either the seder is a time where we sit down to read, talk, sing, drink, eat, argue and smile – or it isn't. If it is, the toothpicks make it all the more worthwhile. If it isn't you might as well have not even moved the couch.

Chag Kosher v'Sameach.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Plot 

In the current issue of Azure, Samuel Freedman takes both Philip Roth and Amercian Jewry to task over their religious devotion to victimology (actually, more American Jewry than Roth) as shown by their putting The Plot Against America on the NY Times Bestseller list.

"Th[e] point has been lost, I fear, on those American Jews who wish to anoint themselves with victimhood by reading Roth at face value. Were the Christian Right or the pro-Palestinian professoriate truly to represent a major challenge to the Jewish place in American society, no Jew would be so eager to play the victim. Real victims want anything but to be victims. Real victims see not moral stature but mortal threat in their victimhood."

I don't know if he is right but I have always wondered, do Jews need to suffer to be Jewish?

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Religious-Zionist Crackup? 

Yours truly, with a rousing defense of religious-Zionism in today's JPost.


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Christian Europe? 

It has always been my contention that American Jews have more to fear from a post-Christian America than from a Christian America. Europe on the other hand may be a lost cause altogether for the Jews. But as Israel is surrounded by Islamic nations who see it as a thorn in the side of the 'umma' and want to destroy it at all costs, we have to hope that Europe will take some turn that will open their eyes to their "elder brothers". Let's hope that the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedictus XVI will move the Europeans away from their nihilistic and selfish moral "vision" and move it towards an outlook that combines political liberalism (in the old sense) and Christian love (in the new American sense).

This may be Europe's last chance to save itself from itself.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Old Stuff 

This is an interesting story:

"For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament."

A Jewish find of this sort would be interesting, but would it, could it have any Halakhic implications? Probably not. Theological implications? Quite possibly.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Shattered Zygoma 

Our vacation from blogging has been spent at the Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petach Tikwa. Our redheaded youngest son, one of our twins, suffered a basketball injury during a passing drill at school as one overeager student failed to turn to the outside and instead implanted his skull into the freckled face of our son

We learned a new word, zygoma, learned how to read a CAT scan have now completed the trifecta: After 18 years of parenthood and no hospital visits, we have now had three children in the hospital in 18 months. We had pneumonia and appendicitis, both treated at our adequate local Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba. But a multiple fracture of the zygoma bone that rings the eye demanded a bit of a better institution.

The Tuesday afternoon accident led to a doctor's visit to confirm that there was no concussion. A numb right side of the nose on Wednesday morning led us to phone calls and eventually to the emergency room at Schneider. Initial neurological exams, a visit to ENT at next door Beilinson Hospital, x-ray's at Schneider, back to Beilinson to "peh va'leset" – mouth and jaw – a medical department we never heard of before – CAT scan and the final diagnosis of three fractures in the zygoma.

The CAT scan was so clear that even one as artistically challenged as me could see the floating piece of bone. Admitted Wednesday at 9pm, surgery Thursday morning with two incisions, one through the mouth and one above the right eyebrow. Two titanium plates of 1.5mm thickness inserted into his beautiful face (no they won't set off the detal detectors). Recovery room by 11:30. Back to the room by noon, grogginess, drinking and eating through a straw. Improvement by the hour. Eye swelled shut by Friday morning, it looked like we had a (losing) boxer on our hands. Steroids for the swelling (and to help his batting?) and before Shabbat we had a very partially opened eye. Shabbat morning we were looking better. The OOS father gave the mother who had slept over the previous two nights, a break for Shabbat and we made it to minyan in the morning.

While spending a Shabbat at Shaare Tzedek nearly two years ago with my father in the hospital the minyan on Shabbat morning was filled with new fathers and every aliya was followed by a "misheberach" for the new baby and mother. At a children's hospital it is different. One long "misheberach" at the end for all the ill children.

Schneider is an interesting place where you learn to count your blessings. It is a children's hospital and is a place full of teary eyed mothers and fathers as well as doctors and nurses who seem to be able to face them day after day. Our serious operation was dwarfed by too many cases of infants, toddlers and teenagers who will be released only to have to return.

Volunteers abound. An organization that helps parents of severely disabled children sent a few people to sleep next to a 14 year old boy with CP who will undergo a spinal chord operation next week. A group of first grade girls gave out little bags of candy and cute pictures. Retirees give out sandwiches to tired and hungry parents. And on and on.
So, we give special thanks to the nurses in "Surgery A" who not only do their work well but manage to have the time for parents and patients, both: And to the recovery room nurses who smile reassuredly when your post-operative son is so sensitive to the touch that you can't do what a parent needs to do when his child is in the middle of a trauma.

We give special thanks to the doctors in the emergency room who were modest enough to send us to the right place and to defer to the judgment of the specialists. And to the ENT and "Peh va'Leset" doctors who diagnosed, operated and visited daily, who asked the right questions and listened to and answered ours.

Thanks to the entire Schneider family for building such a sad but wonderful hospital.

Thanks to God for giving all the people involved, from volunteers to nurses, to cleaning staff to doctors, the strength to learn and do what they need to do.

Most of all, we thank God for our healthy children.

Our son was released yesterday and is getting his mouth in shape for a weak of hard, crunchy matza.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Who Cares? 

The Mormons are back on the Baptising dead Jews track ... and for some reason, there are Jews who care. Do we not have enough real-life problems to deal with? Why do people spend time thinking about this let alone waste time going through Mormon Baptism databases. Even the Christians don't worry about Mormon Baptism.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005


The current issue of Azure has one of more important articles written in many years. If there is one overarching problem in Israel it is the practical and theoretical infrastructure under which the state operates. It can be said without hesitation that neither the executive, nor the legislature nor the judiciary have any respect for the rule of law. Rather, they respect (their own) ideology and (their own) interests.

Daniel Polisar, head of the Shalem Center has written on Israel's "Constitutional Moment". It is one of those articles that gets just about everything right.

"The case for a constitution is as simple as it is powerful. Israel needs such a formative document in order to strengthen its democratic regime, which has been undermined by the growing inability of the nation’s elected representatives to steer the country’s course; and to preserve its character as the state of the Jewish people, which is being eroded by universalist and post-national ideologies that have made inroads in academia, the legal establishment, and the government bureaucracy."

My only hesitation is that I don't really trust too many people in this country who are capable of "rising above the fray" in order to craft a document that will serve the people. Off the top of my head I can think of three people who I would trust: Ruth Gabizon, Amnon Rubenstein and Menachem Alon.

This article is required reading.

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If you ever wondered why there was so much nepotism in EVERY aspect of Israeli life, maybe the origins can be found in this post.

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Scouts untie Nachal 

In an interesting development the Israeli Scouts (HaTzofim) have announced that they will no longer send their kids to the army's Nachal unit, which originally was meant to combine army service with new settlement activity (mostly in kibbutzim) because of the politicization of the Kibbutz movement.

According to Lior Carmel, head of the Scouts, "there has been political pressure by the (other) youth movements to end (the kibbutz movement's) relationship with the Scouts because we are apolitical... For example, during Ehud Barak's political campaign there was pressure from the Kibbutz movement to stop cooperating with us since we were not involved in politics... we were therefore not considered by them to be a 'halutz' (pioneering) movement."

This seemingly small story has a tremendous amount of sociological significance. The Scouts have been sending youth to kibbutzim for over 65 years and the break between the two groups shows that the resentment over political correctness is greater than assumed. In addition, Carmel has called on the army to disband the Nachal program because of the "clear political indoctrination by the Kibbutz movement in the Nachal units".

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Ehud Manor, z"l 

Ehud Manor, Israel's most prolific songwriter has passed away at the age of 64.

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There are libels and there are libels. We try very hard to leave politics out of this blog, but, alas, this is Israel, where the only non-political event is …. Well even sporting events are political.

A new "novel" has been written called "Code Blue" by businessman turned "novelist" Zvika Amit which depicts a military coup in Israel. The reviewer calls it a "political thriller" but it is really a fantasy book where the religious are for once and for all laid out as the evil people we all know they are.

A novel is a novel. Or so we would think. Even the "author" doesn't have any literary pretensions. He was quoted as saying "Our reality is impossible and hallucinatory, and it led me to write a book in which our biggest nightmares come true, and in which we become a country of the kind we don't want to become… I hope my book will wake us up by putting a mirror up to our face that shows us where our society is headed."

But a libel is always a libel.

Labor Party MK Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad was asked if he thought if a coup in Israel was a possibility:

" A political coup is no longer a fictional plot… I'm not saying it will happen tomorrow or that it has to happen, but I'm saying that if a year ago this kind of scenario seemed completely imaginary and such a book would have been considered pure fantasy, today it makes you shiver. There are rabbis and right-wing leaders calling [on soldiers] to refuse military orders and condoning desertion, which I see as an outright call for rebellion. If religious soldiers indeed follow the orders of their rabbis rather than their commanders, we will find ourselves in a very deep crisis that could certainly end with a military coup."

And they are the first people to be called on to refuse orders? Would Yatom not be pressured to resign had he libelled a different group?

It used to be libelous to suspect the loyalty of good officers just because of their religious or politicalbeliefs, let alone because of their ethnic origin. Throughout this whole "hitmatkut" ordeal there has yet to be a case of an officer (let alone a senior officer) who has refused an order. As a matter of fact the only time a coup was ever a possibility in Israel was before the Six-day was when allegedly generals Rabin, Sharon and company considered holding the cabinet hostage.

The ongoing libels against the religious-Zionist community know no bounds. For those of you who are regular readers of this blog you know that we have no patience for fanaticism of the political or religious kind. If a novelist wants to write a thriller or a fantasy, fine. But when, as the author admits, it was the very peaceful and very legal "human chain" demonstration against the hitnatkut that prompted him to write this novel you know that it is not the fanatics that he fears: "That is a show of such unusual organizational abilities… If they are capable of this, what else are they capable of doing faced with a silent majority that is content with complaining in front of the television?"

So, there is a straight line between a peaceful, legal demonstration and a coup by religious IDF officers who didn't even participate in it?

Martin Luther King, Jr. , beware.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Beware of the "Arss" 

What they didn't teach you in ulpan.

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Secularization Revisited 

The original weblog pre-dated the Internet. For those of you who are fans of the editor of First Things, Richard John Neuhaus, you have been reading his "The Public Square" in which the good Father usually presents a major attack on one or another "settled argument" while presenting more minor jabs at the people, places and ideas that have annoyed him that month. Always well argued, always entertaining.

This past month, Neuhaus takes on the "settled" argument that assumes secularization is the raison d'etre of modernity. Quoting Christian Smith, a sociologist from U. North Carolina:

"But sociologists and historians give too little attention to explaining exactly how and why these social changes had their supposed detrimental effects on religion. Exactly why did urbanization or technological developments have to undermine religious authority? Exactly how did industrialization and immigration work to produce religious privatization? Why should we treat these as some kind of ‘great gears of history’ that inexorably grind their way toward religious privatization? Rather than all nodding our scholarly heads together in what could be premature analytical closure, we need to go back and force ourselves to answer these questions again."

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Pesach at Home 

From the NY Jewish Week:

"My friend and I have a running joke on Passover about how nice it is to sit in an empty synagogue. To a certain extent there is some truth to the sentiment. Our usually boisterous shul full of children is unusually quiet and reserved. Each year more and more families set off to destinations far and near, exotic and prosaic, to spend Passover away at a hotel.

It is true that we appreciate the quiet. At the same time, however, I feel as though I am watching a trend in the American Jewish community that is a little disturbing and may have long-term ramifications most people haven’t really considered."

Agreed. Agreed. Agreed.

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Tzav Rishon 

There come a time in every Israeli boy's life when he gets that letter from the army "inviting" him to go to a nearby base and start the process whereby his fate for at least three years will be decided. Some boys hope to fail and be sent to a nice desk job and others fear the dreaded *jobnik* title more than anything else. Mine of course, fear it.

With one (decidedly non-jobnik) son in the army we have now received the literal and figurative "tzav rishon" (first order) for OOS son number two. I will soon join my good friend, fellow Kfar-Saba-ite and "avid reader" George who has two combat officers in the family.

The saga continues.

*jobnik* - a non-combat soldier, a derogatory and embarrasing term if there ever was one: Especially (apologies to the feminists) when the jobnik's girlfriend carries a gun and the jobnik does not.

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Choo Choo! 

From the JPost:

"For the first time in seven years, a train left Jerusalem on Saturday night in the inauguration of the new Jerusalem-Beit Shemesh line.

The line begins at a new station in Malha in the valley below the shopping mall and Teddy Stadium, with another station adjacent to the Biblical Zoo.

Also on Saturday night, Ashkelon will see passenger trains for the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel."

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Friday, April 08, 2005

Parshat Tazria 

Haim Sabato on Parshat Hashavua: Hebrew, English

"The main theme of the Book of Leviticus is holiness. And holiness means human self-restraint, which prevents mortals from surrendering to their passions. Self-restraint enables mortals to achieve perfection and to become whole beings. Those who surrender to their passions are imperfect, while those who restrain themselves and sanctify themselves are perfect human beings."

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Leisure Time 

From Ha'aretz:

"...differences in the leisure pursuits of religious and secular teenagers are ... evident in a study conducted by Dikla Yogev, a master's student in education at Tel Aviv University, which was presented at the recent annual conference of the Israel Association of Sociologists at the Tel Hai Academic College. The study found 'the concept of `leisure' in religious society is totally different from what it is among the secular,' says Dr. Zev Greenberg, a sociologist from the Tel Hai Academic College. 'Leisure time among religious teenagers is built into the way of life and is intended for personal and group learning and working on behalf of society,' he adds.

Two cheers for Bnei Akiva.

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A New Hagadah 

Although there is never a lack of "new" hagadot for Pesach, every few years (or longer) something new of value is published. The Encylcopedia Talmudit has published a wonderful new "Hagadah shel Pesach" based on the research this great institution has published. It has a yellow cover, similar to the volumes of the encyclopedia and the text is clear, easy to read and most important, easy to use at the seder.

The Encyclopedia Talmudit is one of those religious-Zionist projects that goes along quietly producing Torah scholarship of the highest level. To those who think that religious-Zionism in Israel is one-dimensional, this and other pubilshing houses refute that claim. Started way back when by R. Meir Bar-Ilan and published by Yad HaRav Hertzog under the current editorship of Rabbi J. Hutner, they have published some twenty-six volumes so far (if I am not mistaken) and the end is not yet here.

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

On Human Weakness 

Page 106, The Story of a Life : A Memoir, by Aharon Appelfeld

"… During the war, I saw life naked – plain and unadorned. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly- all these were revealed to me as strands of the same rope. Thank God it didn't turn me into a moralist. On the contrary, I learned how to respect human weakness and how to love it, for weakness is our essence and our humanity. A man who is aware of his weaknesses is far more likely to be able to overcome them. A moralist cannot face his own weaknesses; instead of criticizing himself, he criticizes his neighbor."


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Bruno Schulz 

Bruno Schulz was an unknown Jewish writer and artist from the city of Drohobycz (now in Ukraine) who was killed in the Shoah and later dubbed "the Polish Kafka". If you have not read his stories they are reccomended. So is a fictional account of his life by Cynthia Ozick.

A few years ago, Yad Vashem surreptitiously acquired some of his artwork. Controversy ensued. It has returned as Ha'aretz is reporting that
for "technical and curatorial reasons" they are not being displayed.

Read the whole story here.

Stories by Bruno Schulz:
The Street of Crocodiles
Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass

By Cynthia Ozick:
The Messiah of Stockholm


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The American Neo-Satmarist Revival 

We have written often in the past of the terrible strain that the hitnatkut (disengagement from Gaza) is having on the religious –Zionist community in Israel. There has been talk of a "disengagement" from Zionism and the Sate of Israel for betraying the messianic vision and some rabbis and small groups of people have changed views and habits as a result. Some of the more extreme reactions though were a long time coming as a certain group of religious-Zionists have been drifting to the anti-Zionist haredi camp for a long while. This is just the excuse to make the break that would have come otherwise.

But no matter the group or the views (the very few and very young fanatics aside) in the back of everyone's mind is the knowledge that come what may, we still have to live here. The country must be defended, the land must be settled, Torah must be learned and a living must be made.

Lately, I have been hearing of and from groups of American religious-Zionists, or American haredi-Zionists and those from Chabad who have always supported Israel but whose eagerness to destroy the State of Israel as it is now constituted can only be described as neo-Satmarist. The neo-Satmarist ideologues seem to have adopted a scorched earth policy where any and every fact, article or myth that weakens Zionism and the infrastructure of the Jewish state must be circulated and believed. The American neo-Satmarists have decided that without a Jewish presence in Gaza the Jewish State has no justification.

Of course, the neo-Satmarists don't have to live here. They don't have to live with the consequences of soldiers who disobey orders or of young boys and girls who attack soldiers and policemen. They don't have to continue building their lives and raising their children on the rubble that they hope will come but can walk through thst rubble back to their homes in Teaneck, Beverly Hills, Skokie, Jamaica Estates and other hitnachluyot on the West Bank of the Atlantic.

You can criticize Israel and its government all you want. But that is no reason to de-legitimize the lives of nearly six million Jews who decided, for good and for bad, to live and build a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.

There was never room for the destructive Satmarist ideology in this Jewish world, this is not the time for a neo-Satmarist revival.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Fulfilling the Mitzvah of 'Leket' 

From the JPost:

"An Israeli organization devoted to feeding the needy is updating a biblical concept as it goes about its mission.

'With Pessah just ahead, we're gearing up our gleaning operation,' says Joseph Gitler, founder of Table to Table, Israel's leading food rescue organization. 'We're signing up new farms every day. Yesterday a farmer offered one tomato field now and said he'd have another in about a month, which is perfect timing, because during the holidays – and Pessah in particular – there's always a huge demand for donated food.'

The precept is spelled out clearly in Deuteronomy 24:19-22, where the Israelites are ordered to leave behind unharvested food and grain in the field for 'the stranger, the orphan and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.' "

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Anita Shapiro reviews the 4th volume of Shabbtai Tevet's biography of David Ben-Gurion, the flawed hero who has become the punching bag of the left and the right.

"Among the biographies of persons who shaped the face of the 20th century, Tevet's study of Ben-Gurion stands out as one of the most sweeping and ambitious. Tevet describes family and private life, politics and philosophy, international disputes and party squabbles. He weaves an intricate and colorful tapestry that brings together the man and his times, the general and the personal, the ordinary and the idiosyncratic. The story spans 60 years, and we still haven't reached the most important stages of Ben-Gurion's life.

Ben-Gurion claimed that his immigration to Palestine in 1906, his launching of a defense industry development fund, and the founding of the state were the three major benchmarks in his life."

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Saul Bellow, z"l 

From the NY Times:

"Saul Bellow, the Nobel laureate and self-proclaimed historian of society whose fictional heroes - and whose scathing, unrelenting and darkly comic examination of their struggle for meaning - gave new immediacy to the American novel in the second half of the 20th century, died yesterday at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 89."

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Daf Yomi Revisited 

R. Gidon Rothstein has a different angle on this phenomenon:

"Daf Yomi ... appeals, with notable but few exceptions, to those who get so caught up in the romance of completing a great task in bite-sized pieces that they do not notice that the bites are too large for them to digest, who do not figure out that they end up with the appurtenances of accomplishment without the actuality."

Back to an old argument in these pages - it may be true that the daf yomi happening may not have happened without the Artscroll Talmud - but after reading this, that may be the point.

Read the whole thing.

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Conversion: A New Take 

Although we disagreed (Conversion Confusion) with the recent Supreme Court's decision on conversion, Yosef Gourny has an interesting take on it:

"Statements such as that made by Deputy Supreme Court President Mishael Cheshin in his concurring opinion recognizing Reform and Conservative conversions for the purposes of the Law of Return - that such recognition 'annexes a person to a nation, to `the eternal people,' to history, to a culture thousands of years old' - have not been heard here for a long time. For it contains a clear, unambiguous statement of the principle on which the Zionist worldview is based - in complete contrast to the extreme anti-Zionists, who brand Zionism with the mark of Cain of colonialism, or the more moderate 'post-Zionists,' who believe that despite its historic justice, Zionism's role is finished."

Read on.

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Monday, April 04, 2005


Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak:

" 'We accept that the Hours of Work and Rest Law as it relates to weekly rest hours, causes injury to the freedom of occupation of employers and employees,' wrote Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. '[However,] this injury does not render the law unconstitutional, because it is in keeping with the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, it was legislated for a worthy reason, that is for achieving social welfare goals that are realized simultaneously with fulfilling national-religious considerations. [Furthermore,] the harm to freedom of occupation caused by the law is not excessive.' "

Surpeme Court votes for religion when it matches social welfare.

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On Pope John Paul II 

My first contact with a Catholic intellectual was in Baltimore in the early 80's when Father John Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Union of the University of Chicago was part of a Yom Hashoah program at the Hebrew College along with Raul Hilberg (Destruction of the European Jews).

I was a graduate student at the time and in addition to my studies I found myself reading all that I could on the Shoah. I read much of Emil Fackenheim, Hilberg, even George Steiner's "Language and Silence". Pawlikowski impressed my then by his clear understanding that both the Shoah and the State of Israel were issues that had to be dealt with before meaningful discussion between Jews and Catholics could go forward. I don't remember the exact topic of the discussion but I do remember thinking afterwards that if the Catholic Church really wanted to make amends and come to terms with the post Shoah reality of Judaism, the first thing they could do would be recognize that the new reality included Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel: They should recognize the State of Israel.

My feelings then, as now, are that in light of the Shoah, the refusal to recognize the rights of Jews to sovereignty was tantamount to the continuation of the policy of silence that plagued the western world during the Holocaust. This was, in the words of Fackenhiem, "to give Hitler a posthumous victory". All the talk and research on the Shoah by so many good Catholics could not make up for the refusal of the Vatican to recognize Israel.

In June of 1994, Pope John Paul II and the Vatican finally recognized the State of Israel. This was not something "momentous" and was not something "extraordinary" - rather it was just something that was long overdue. And it was in this attitude that I feel we see the greatness of the Pope. My own feeling was that for this Pope, recognizing the State of Israel was not something to be pondered and was not a concession to whomever, it was just that which ought to be done. (True enough, it took him nearly 15 years into his Papacy to recognize Israel, but we all know that even the Pope has his own Foreign Office.)

But Pope John Paul II contributed to Judaism in general and religious Judaism in particular in ways that are often overlooked. He was the most influential and the last in a group of superior religious thinkers and leaders that came to prominence after WWII. These thinkers and leaders faced the challenges that freedom and modernity brought to faith with courage, honesty and integrity. Jewish thinkers such as R. Yosef Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel, Protestants like Reinhold Niebuhr and Catholics like Pope John Paul II were able to identify not only the evils of totalitarianism but the nihilistic tendencies of materialistic ethics that developed from unfettered freedom.

These leaders and the Pope as the leader with the largest following paved the way for a life of faith in a free materialistic society. How much of the growth of Orthodox Judaism in the United States can be attributed to the moral and intellectual climate created by religious Christians, whose greatest and most eloquent spokesman was the Pope? Could acculturated Orthodox Judaism have really thrived in an atmosphere where the choices were an anti-modern fundamentalism or a radical secularism?

I felt that the Pope had had a similar effect on his visit to Israel. Here for the first time Israelis saw a public religious man acting religiously and who was not associated with the cynical politics of the country. (I don't mean to say that all religious leaders in Israel are cynical politicians just that that is how their every move is interpreted.) Israelis were amazed when the Pope returned to the Church of the Holy Seplechre a second time - after visiting the kotel - when he "didin't have to". In a letter to the editor of the journal "First Things" after the visit, I wrote:"In the ultimate irony, Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel may be the signal event that ultimately rejuvenates Judaism and Jewish practice in this Jewish country."

Had the Pope given in to the liberation theology that was the intellectual "in thing" in the Catholic Church at the time or had he reverted to an unthinking conservatism and not dared to challenge communist totalitarianism on the one hand and ideological secularism on the other, it is difficult to imagine that a modern, rationalist Orthodox Judaism would have left the confines of Yeshiva University (if it was there at all) and a handful of neighborhoods in Jerusalem. His work in spreading Catholic teachings based on reason and faith (see Fides et Ratio) helped create a framework for Judaism to do the same.

For this alone we ought to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II.

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Splits and Opportunities 

Yair Sheleg on religious-Zionist opportunities:

"During the past decades, two different streams have been claimants to religious Zionism. One of them, which we'll call 'the spirit of Bnei Akiva,' regards Zionism as part of a general process of returning to historic reality, of integration with and consideration toward the family of nations. Therefore, it has also adopted the values of modern culture.

The other stream, referred to as hardali (nationalist and ultra-Orthodox), is itself divided into two. Its 'messianic' component regards Zionism as part of the process of mythic redemption, which is supposed to lead to the renewal of the Kingdom of Israel and realization of the ideal of a solitary people who 'ignore the goyim.' The 'earthly' component of the hardali stream did not nurture plans of redemption, but it also failed to understand the significance of responsibility and the new conditions of sovereign life."

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Friday, April 01, 2005

Visiting with Agnon on Shabbat Zachor 

A wonderful story (in Hebrew only) of one man's visit with S.Y. Agnon one shabbat afternoon in 1955, their walk to shul and around Jerusalem.

Pangs of jealousy.

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Parshat Hashavua 

Every few months Ha'aretz changes the author of its Parshat Hashavua column. R. Haim Sabato has been writing (Hebrew version) it for the last few weeks. He is a rav at the hesder yeshiva at Ma'ael Adumim and a published novelist.

Highly reccomended.

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