Thursday, December 30, 2010

A great day for Democracy?

I can't help but wonder about all the people (which is virtually everyone who spoke on the news) who are commenting how the guilty verdict against former president Katzav is a sign of the strength of Israeli democracy. What would they have said if he was found not guilty? Would that have shown that Israeli democracy is weak? Is it only a great day for democracy if he is guilty? 

The great day for democracy that they are thinking of, happened when Katzav was put on trial. Anyone claiming that his conviction is a great day, is showing a lack of belief in the legal system - and may even be hinting that the conviction was not based solely on the case at hand. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The days when Judges Judged.

Woe to the generation that judges its judges and woe to the generation that has to judge its judges." 
(Midrash Rabba, Ruth)

I am sure a sleepless night is taking place for many a lawyer in the state prosecution in Israel. Tomorrow a verdict in the trial of former president Katzav is meant to be handed down. Should the court find him not guilty all hell might break loose in Israel. It is literally the state prosecution that will have to face the court (of public opinion) for having "taken down" a president, who was ultimately found not guilty. Since there is already a sizable movement in Israel who believe that the state prosecution is politically motivated, should a verdict of not guilty be handed down, this would be a landmark case. Heads will certainly roll.

One of the interesting twists in this case, is that progressive women's rights groups might have been critical in achieving a "not guilty" verdict. When it seemed as if a plea bargain would be struck, they ran to the supreme court to block it. This move forced the prosecution to explain their reasoning for agreeing to a plea bargain by stating that they are not certain they could get a conviction. When the prosecution is on record as stating that they have doubts about their main witnesses in the case, it is hard to see how a judge can say that Katzav is a rapist beyond a reasonable doubt. This was literally a case where over eager zeal, forced the state prosecution to shoot itself in the foot. (Though to be fair no one could imagine that Katzav would back out of the plea bargain) 

What will happen if Katzav is found guilty? Sadly very little. The major papers will run with it for a day or two, but that will be it. In public opinion Katzav has been rendered a rapist for the last 4 years. The court decision will only confirm what everyone has already assumed to be true. 

For the sake of the public advancment I truly hope that Katzav is found not guilty (and not due to legal technicalities). As I stated – A verdict of guilty would lead to no soul searching – Katzav has been seen assumed guilty for years. However a verdict of not guilty might just be the catalyst for some real change, especially in the relationship between the court and the media. It might also finally allow a real discussion of the inherent problems of the defence in sexual harassment cases, without the cries of Political Correctness drowning out all voices of reason.   

Next Year's Wars

Foreign Policy has put up a list of the 16 possible conflicts for next year. We made it to conflict # 14 before Israel gets mentioned - as part of a possible war with Lebanon. 

In addition to Lebanon's internal political unraveling, the country risks sliding back into war with Israel. Nearly five years after the 2006 war, relations between the two countries are both exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous -- for the same reason: On both sides of Israel's northern border, the build-up in military forces and threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalization, have had a deterrent effect on all. Today, none of the parties can soberly contemplate the prospect of a conflict that would come at greater cost to themselves, be more difficult to contain, and be less predictable in outcome than anything they witnessed in the past.

But that is only the better half of the story. Beneath the surface, tensions are mounting with no obvious safety valve. The deterrence regime has helped keep the peace, but the process it perpetuates -- mutually reinforcing military preparations, Hezbollah's growing and more sophisticated arsenal, escalating Israeli threats -- pulls in the opposite direction and could trigger the very result it has averted so far.
All things considered this seems quite optimistic. Only one conflict? No war with Iran? No war with Gaza or Syria?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More on Halachic Authority

In the comments section Rabbi Moshe Crisco responded to my post regarding the halachic hierarchy:

In this post (heading #5), Marc Shapiro discusses "Daas Torah" and makes a very similar point to R. Slifkin:
"Anyone who is honest will admit that the current practice of Daas Torah is completely phony. My proof of this is very simple. If tomorrow R. Elyashiv would declare that everyone has to say hallel on Yom ha-Atzmaut, would the Lithuanian yeshiva world listen to his Daas Torah? Of course not. They would simply replace him with another gadol whose Daas Torah is more palatable to them. In other words, the gadol only has Daas Torah because the masses, or the askanim, let him have it, and only when they like what he says. (I am curious. Has R. Elyashiv's ruling that fashionable sheitls are forbidden had any effect on his supposed followers?)."
As for R. Slifkin's point about Halachik Hierarchy, that can get tricky. We certainly do traditionally defer to early authorities, but at the same time there is a rule "Halacha Ke'Batrai". It's hard to know how to reconcile these contradictory traditions.

I've decided my response was worth making a new post (It's a slow news day):

I think that its fairly clear that the Halachic decision is meant to lie with the Rabbanim of your age - Even - and this is common, especially the bigger the black hat they wear - they tell you that left is right etc. What has changed over the last few years is that the Rabbanim no longer have to give a proper and intelligent accounting for their ps'aks. They can just pull out the "Da'at Torah" card and get out of jail free. We have moved from a system that is built around RATIONAL argument, to a system of authority revolving around personal "greatness".
What irks us common non semicha folk is that somehow "Da'at Torah" always corresponds exactly to their personal political/community viewpoint. Is life really so straightforward?

The Mathematics of Waiting In Line

Why is it the other line is always moving faster?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Follow up on "cradle of humanity" story.

In my last post I commented how weird it was that no one else was reporting about the "find" of the alleged oldest human remains that were found in Israel. I also noted that the brief of the article, seemed not to suggest the bombastic claims made by the Israeli press. Since then the story has been picked up by the AP. AP has the following quote:

Sir Paul Mellars, a prehistory expert at Cambridge University, said the study is reputable, and the find is "important" because remains from that critical time period are scarce, but it is premature to say the remains are human.
"Based on the evidence they've sited, it's a very tenuous and frankly rather remote possibility," Mellars said. He said the remains are more likely related to modern man's ancient relatives, the Neanderthals. 

Vendyl Jones Passed Away Today

Vendyl Jones famous Nohaide archeologist passed away today at the age of 80. 

The world will miss this colourful charecter - who may have been the inspiration for Indiana Jones. According to this Arutz 7 Obit:

His life goals began to take root when he learned, in 1964, that the Copper Scroll had been found in a cave at Qumran, Israel, and that it listed – in coded form – the hiding places of sacred articles such as the Ark of the Covenant. In April 1967, he moved his family to Israel, continuing his studies in the Department of Judaica at Hebrew University and becoming involved in archaeology. He aided the Israeli army during the Six Day War, when his color-blindness helped him detect camouflaged enemy tanks.
He worked on many digs at Qumran and other Judean Desert sites, though he did not receive government support or funding. His most famous find was that of the Ketoret – 900 pounds of reddish powder with a uniquely strong fragrance that he said was the Ketoret, the 11-ingredient incense used in the Holy Temple. Though critics disputed his findings, they were supported by tests conducted at Weizmann Institute and Bar-Ilan University.

Vendyl passed away without having found the arc of the covenant, his life dream. In recent years he had been active in setting up the new Sanehdrin (These types find each other), literally calling for their creation as a moral compass for the world (one wonders what he actually thought of his creation). 

The world will be that much more mundane without him.  

The true Halachic Pyramid

Recently Rabbi Silfkin posted about the supposed Halachic hierarchy, and how theory and reality are far apart. Rabbi Silfkin was commenting that in theory the hierarchy pyramid is "Talmud-Rishonim-Achronim - Contemporary Gedolim" while in reality it is the exact opposite. Rabbi Silfkin adds:

For anti-rationalists, the Gedolim are much more important than the Rishonim. But even the Gedolim are only respected and followed insofar as their views concord with what the anti-rationalist himself considers legitimate. Amazingly, the hierarchy of rabbinic authority that they loudly claim to be true, is the complete opposite of the one that they actually follow.

A great addition was added in this comment:

Rabbi Slifkin, In your list of authorities over time, you forgot the most recent, theAskanim. Askanim are, in fact, greater in authority than Gedolim as they can decide what the answer to a shailoh is before the Gadol has even been asked the question. In addition, they have access to the signature stamps of the Gedolim and the authority to use them at will when issuing bans and pashkevils. Hence all the nutty decrees that have the signatures of the Gedolim who are then, when confronted, forced to support them instead of saying “Well I didn’t sign on to this meshugas!” (Via Frum Follies)
It is perhaps time we admit a truth. We all choose our rabbanim based on our own values. Furthermore I'm willing to add that very few of us follow one Halachic authority on every matter. We mix and match a little from each rabbi. We all take some Kulot (leniencies) from Rabbi A, and some Kulot from Rabbi B. If you are slightly more intellectually honest you take some of their Chumrot also.
Is this Kosher? No. There is a clear Talmudic injunction against it –

כל הרוצה להחמיר על עצמו לנהוג כחומרי בית שמאי וכחומרי בית הלל על זה נאמר 'וְהַכְּסִיל בַּחֹשֶׁךְ הוֹלֵךְ'. כקולי אילו ואילו נקרא רשע. אלא או כדברי בית שמאי כקוליהם וכחומריהם או כדברי בית הלל כקוליהם וכחומריהם.
(ירושלמי, יבמות ט:א)

 Who doesn't have their favorite Kula taken from some obscure book, that you don't pasken like on any other issue?  I'm not claiming this is how it should be. I am just stating the fact of how it is. 


Saturday, December 25, 2010

That's a lot of wool

Israel the Cradle of Humanity? Well Only In Hebrew..

NRG and Ynet are reporting that the oldest modern human (Homo Sapien) remains ever found have been dug up in a cave near Rosh Hayin. They are even giving it the title of "Israel the cradle of humanity". Being a general archeology buff, I read with some amazement the fantastical claims that teeth found in a cave showed the earliest signs of modern humans. Additionally some artifacts found in the cave were showing some tool making! 

Ynet is quoting professor Avi Gofer:

"אין שום מקום בעולם מלבד מערת קסם שבו אפשר להצביע על עדויות להומו סאפיינס מוקדם יותר".
"There is no place in the world except the cave in Qesem where you can find evidence of Homo Sapiens earlier" (My translation - BT).

This was all astonishing since so far everyone believed an "Out of Africa" hypothesis for humanity. Just thinking about all the Midrashim that I might now start quoting was getting me excited. However I didn't stop at this article. I quickly went to Google News and searched for other news sites reporting this discovery. "Hmmm..." how weird. Not even one result. 

So how come no other news source is reporting this amazing discovery? It took a bit of searching to find the original article. Unfortunately I don't have permission to download the full article, but the extract seems to be somewhat less bombastic then the headlines in the Israeli press:

This study presents a description and comparative analysis of Middle Pleistocene permanent and deciduous teeth from the site of Qesem Cave (Israel). All of the human fossils are assigned to the Acheulo-Yabrudian Cultural Complex (AYCC) of the late Lower Paleolithic. The Middle Pleistocene age of the Qesem teeth (400–200 ka) places them chronologically earlier than the bulk of fossil hominin specimens previously known from southwest Asia. Three permanent mandibular teeth (C1-P4) were found in close proximity in the lower part of the stratigraphic sequence. The small metric dimensions of the crowns indicate a considerable degree of dental reduction although the roots are long and robust. In contrast, three isolated permanent maxillary teeth (I2, C1, and M3) and two isolated deciduous teeth that were found within the upper part of the sequence are much larger and show some plesiomorphous traits similar to those of the Skhul/Qafzeh specimens. Although none of the Qesem teeth shows a suite of Neanderthal characters, a few traits may suggest some affinities with members of the Neanderthal evolutionary lineage. However, the balance of the evidence suggests a closer similarity with the Skhul/Qafzeh dental material, although many of these resemblances likely represent plesiomorphous features. 

Earlier then "the bulk of fossil hominin specimens" is somewhat less then the so claimed earliest found remains of Homo Sapiens. Also the abstract is talking of Neanderthal or earlier remains.
 Is this a case where the people involved are telling the Israeli press one thing - and publishing in English quite a different story?  I'm going to reserve final judgment until someone sends me the full article to read.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wikileaks ruins Christmas

Dear Kids,

There is no Santa. Those presents are from your parents.

Sincerely, Wikileaks.

You Can't Be Born a Grownup Jew

Every year at this weeks parasha - Shemot I ask someone in shul about Pharos daughter's hand. And every year, an otherwise intelligent grown up will, quite seriously explain that Pharos daughter's hand grew longer and saved poor baby Moses. In a good year, that same grownup may recant his insistence that the midrash should be understood literally, after a few minutes of gentle ridicule poking. In a bad year he remains firm in his belief that the midrash should be understood literally. Normally at this point I self medicate with a glass of whisky. 

I had a similar conversation with my sister around a year ago. She was complaining of a Ba'al Teshuvah friend of hers, who was insisting on the literal meaning of the most bizarre midrashim. She couldn't understand why the Chozrim Be'teshuva tend to be the most fanatical literalists of Ch"azal. My answer then was that no one can be born a grown up Jew. We all learn in kindergarden midrashim which are fantastic. To a young mind these midrashim are both plausible and spiritually useful. Some of us grow up over the years, and start to interpret them allegorically. Other people continue to live a kindergarten Judaism.

I continuously hope that the phenomenon of kindergarten Judaism in adults, has more to do with a lack of mental effort on their part rather then a true mirroring of their religious world. I find it more frightening to imagine that people who are intelligent in all other aspects of their lives, would leave their religious beliefs - those same beliefs that they would probably claim are a core of their personality -  unexamined with rational thought. However my point is, that a person can not begin life in complexity. This is true not only for religion but for all aspects of life. When my little 2 year old daughter starts to learn torah, I will tell her that Pharos daughter's hand did in fact grow longer. I expect her to nod her head in her knowing fashion, and to have a sense of wonder at God's miracle. I will teach her the midrash in a literal fashion despite the fact that I do not believe it.  It is certainly a better spiritual basis for a little child then to try and explain the complexity of symbolism involved. I trust my child that later in life, she will reexamine the midrash, and be mature enough to reinterpret it. (And not reject it offhand which I consider another sign of an immature mind).

 I suspect that some Chozrim Betshuvah are in a similar category. They are building a new religious basis - and the foundations require a basis of strong unexamined belief.  Hopefully over time they will grow up and develop a mature Judaism. 

Moses, Silkworms and Good Advice on Education

From this weeks parasha: Ibn Caspi explains the connection between Silkworms and Moses:

(י) ותקרא שמו משה. אין הבדל בינו ובין משר, כי הכל
 תאר שהוא שם ננור ואינו פועל ולא פעול, רצוני שאינו תחת נדר
 הפעל כמו שהוא הענין בגבור ואדום וחכם ודומה להם: ותאמר.
 כטעם כי אמרה וזאת היא בת פרעה:. משיתיהו. מטעם המשכות
 ומתיחה, ו לכן שם ה משי משי, כ י ה וא נ מתח מ ה ת ו ל ע ה
 ה ידוע ב מ ת י ח ת  ק ודי ה ע כ ב י ש  ב א ר י ג ה :

Ibn-Caspi explains that Moshe comes from the root of pulling (משך), and that is why Silk in Hebrew is called Meshi (משי) because it is pulled from the worm.

Abarbanel has great advice for parents of young children. Abarbanel is explaining why Moshe was sealed inside the little arc :

וראיתי כתוב שבהרבה מקומות מהדרומיים והחמים נוהגים לגדל התינוקות כן, ר"ל שישימום עד צואריהם בגומת עבר כדי שלא יזיקם חום האויר וכשיטנפו תחתיהם העפר יוציאם משם ויחלפו העבר בעפר אחר וניהום שמה וטחים אותם כדי לחזק עורם.
"I've seen it written that in the southern hot areas, they raise their children as such - they put them up to their necks in a hole in the ground so that the heat of the air shall not harm them, and when they soil the earth underneth them, they change the dirt, and they cover (?) them to strengthen their skin. "

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Things That Are Never Going To Happen

Ynet is reporting on a conference that is going to take place tonight of Machon Puah(פוע"ה). One of the speakers - Harav Israel Ariel head of Machon Hamikdash is meant to present a paper on jobs women can fulfill in the temple. Some of the jobs he mentions:

  • Lighting the menorah!
  • Performing the sacrifices.
I am willing to place a bet right now. When the temple is rebuilt, the likelihood of women being allowed to light the menorah, and perform a sacrifice is roughly equivalent to the likelihood that in the end of days we will all "Just get along", and lambs will become BFF of all the lions. On second thoughts, the likelihood is probably slightly lower.  It would take Eliyahu and/or the Messiah themselves to stand up and declare women should be allowed to perform these duties for it to have any chance of happening. Otherwise we might as well make sure we have riot police on standby for the Haredi riots that are sure to break out, and the inevitable Cherem put on the third temple. If I loose that bet, that would be a far greater miracle then the building of the third Beit Hamikdash.

Furthermore, contrary to what the Ynet article (correctly) stating that there was no Mechitaza (separation) in the first and second temple, I am fairly sure that in the third temple the Haredim will win that battle too. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

DovBear walks a very fine line

In his post "Jewish Family Values say Partilla and Riddel were right to leave their families DovBear seems to argue that Judaism would encourage one to leave his family wife were he infatuated with another woman.

"Instead, we might quite correctly rely on Hillel and Akiva, and wish the happy couple sincere congratulations. Unlike Christians, and, um.... Shammai, we don't require couples to stay together forever, barring extenuating circumstances. We permit divorce for any reason, including "infatuation." Two people, per Hillel and Akiva, are never chained together for eternity, the husband is always free to move on [Sorry ladies, but that's (unfortunately) the authentic, undiluted, Torah True Tradition].
Though its certainly correct to sympathize with the ex-spouses and children, it seems wrong to criticize the new couple for choosing happiness."

Lets start off where Dovbear is correct, since his mistake is shocking, especially considering DovBear is smarter then the average bear. Dovbear is basing his  "wrong to criticize the new couple for choosing happiness" on  Rabbi Akiva. In a Talmudic discourse, Rabbi Akiva is quoted as saying that one can leave his wife for any reason, including "even if he found someone more appealing".  However DovBear is mixing up the hallachic bottom line, with moral guidance. Rabbi Akiva was certainly not stating one Should leave his wife after finding someone more appealing, he was merely giving his opinion that Halachically a man may leave his wife, for whatever reason he wants. What is halachically kosher is not necessarily morally correct. There is a big big difference between stating the technical Halachic priniciples and stating your opinions on what is morally acceptable. I am sure that Rabbi Akiva would be the first to tell you that leaving your family is not a step that should be taken lightly. The moral outrage and "Jewish" moral outrage over a couple who broke up their marriage for an infatuation is more then backed up (see the full and original Dovbear story in the link above). 

I'll add one more thought. The last line of DovBear's post is what irked me. Judaism is the religion of tough laws that permeate our lives. It is certainly not a whishy-washy religion that places happiness as its highest value. It is a religion that admits the complexity of human life, and the need for tough choices and sacrifices. I don't know anything about the specific case involved (and hence I'm not giving an opinion whether the couple acted correctly or not) however as a generalization I would say that your own personal happiness is not the deciding factor one should consider before choosing a step that is going to leave children and other adults devastated. 

Side note: Rabbi Akiva's comment is interesting since different sources have Rabbi Akiva married to at least 3 separate women. After his famous marriage to Rachel, Rabbi Akiva is credited in a midrash with marrying the wife of the Roman commander of Judea (after her conversion – See ר"ן נדרים נ: . I don't think anyone has ever connected Rabbi Akiva's comment on marriage quoted above, to his own history. I'll point out that in that story, the Roman Commander's wife first meets Akiva while she is married.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Kidnapping Rebbes Goes Viral

For the last two weeks a weird story has been playing out in the Breslov community of Shuvu Banim - a not too small newish Hasidish community that is made up of Chozrim Be'teshuvah. As reported in the Jerusalem post (and only about a week after every Hebrew paper reported it):

A scandal that is rocking the Breslov community of Shuvu Banim has taken another twist, with its spiritual leader Rabbi Eliezer Berland’s return to his Jerusalem home from his hiding place in the North on Saturday night, after breaking away from 10 years of captivity, during which he says he was little more than a marionette controlled by his son and grandson.
Some two weeks ago, prominent members of the small Jerusalem-based community found a DVD outside their homes, containing videos and documents proving that the 73- year-old Berland was in fact being controlled by his son, Rabbi Nachman Berland, and grandson Nathan Berland, who for years prevented direct access to the older man and dictated his every move and action.

Shortly afterward, Eliezer staged his kidnapping to flee to the North, where he took refuge in Moshav Amirim, initially not disclosing his whereabouts. In a phone call with some 20 of his closest hassidim, Eliezer recalled the torment he underwent.
“I was locked at home for 10 years,” he said. “They wanted to admit me to an insane asylum. Over the course of the last year, I’ve been admitted to hospitals every two weeks, because of the duress I was subject to,” he said. 
This story eerily mirrors the recent story of Ben-Artzi a so called miracle worker, who reported that he was kidnapped and controlled by his Hasidim for years. Where does all of this lead us? I have come to the conclusion that today no new "Ba'al Shem Tov" could possibly start a new religious renaissance - at least without getting kidnapped along the way. The reason is that today any charismatic rebbe who is going to start having Hassidim, will immediately start having someone lavish great donations on him and his cause. Where there are great donations, human greed will soon catch up. Soon after achieving any success, the new rebbe will have a faithful Gabbay who will start taking care of the financial side of things. Greed and easy temptation - with little supervision (hey I'm sure the rebbe is too holy to deal with the money) lead to corruption. The Rebbe becomes a source of income, a money tree of life and soon a holy cow to be milked. It won't take long before the Gabbay has his Rebbe locked up, controls all of his time (Time = $ after all) and decides who the Rebbe can meet.

I am not sure what has changed. Perhaps, this is just a natural scenario for Hasidic courts that has played out time and again, with a graveyard of Hassidiut  paving the path of history. However I suspect that there is some additional factor at play.  I would guess that today's technological means are allowing new religious leaders to gather a following (and with them the donations) at an unmatched pace. This doesn't allow the "Rebbes" to have enough time to put the right men in charge of their affairs. Additionally I suspect the sums of money involved are far greater then they would have been even a few decades ago, with the added simplicity of hiding money in today's electronic banking world making corruption the rule and not the exception. Regardless these two stories, show that being a Rebbe is nowhere near as fun as it used to be. 

Messiah Countdown: 2 weeks..

Ynet is reporting that Harav Eliyahu's widow is calling on all Jews to keep the next two Shabbatot and ergo, bring the messiah. Why the sudden rush? it turns out that both Christmas and New Years Eve fall on Shabbat this year. Hence, so many Jews will have vacations that Shabbat - and can now keep shabbos free of the yoke of  work.

This is of course based on the Talmudic saying "Had Israel kept only 2 Shabbats they would have immediately been saved" (אלמלא שמרו ישראל שתי שבתות כהלכתן - מיד נגאלין).

Not that I'm belittling Shabbat observance, nor do I have anything but a rock solid faith in the Jewish nation, but something tells me a few of those Jews are going to be too drunk (and wearing Santa hats) to be able to keep all of the 39 Ma'lachot.  

'Intifada of Graves' - Not a new Zombie movie!

According to Ha'aretz:

For the past week, representatives of the Popular Palestinian Committees (PPC) have been urging West Bank residents to bury their dead in Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank, identified as Area C.
The plan has been endorsed by several ministers in the Palestinian Authority, who back the initiative as a way to influence conditions on the ground pre-final status negotiations, which at this point seem elusive.
You can understand my dissapointment having clicked on the hopeful title "Intifada of Graves", and not finding zombies rampaging through Judea.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Heartbreak in Egypt

I saw the Zohar has a beautiful midrashic reading in parashat Vayechi.  The Zohar states that Ya'acov could not bless his children in the land of Israel but only in Egypt. "וירא יעקב כי יש שבר במצרים" the word שבר is normally translated as grain or food. However the Zohar reads "sheber" in its slightly more common usage today in Hebrew - "broken". And what is broken? The heart.
Ya'acov saw that in the land of Egypt one's heart might be broken. The Zohar continues that Prophecy can only be given to those who's hearts are broken (תא חזי, דלא איתייהיבת נבואתא, אלא לתבירי לבא). I found this idea beautiful. I think most of us learned (And the Rambam elaborates on this point quite a bit) that one can only reach prophecy when he is happy. However surely a broken heart is a state more fitting for prophecy? when can one turn more fully to God, then when one's heart is broken?

The Zohar links another midrash to this one.  " ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים" literally "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt". For the Zohar "living" can only be one thing - an encounter (prophetic) with God. In the land of Egypt Ya'acov started living again. According to the Zohar only in Egypt did  Jacob reach his highest level of prophecy - equal to the level of Moshe. This is learnt since it is written in the torah that "כי לא יראני האדם וחי"   - "A man will not see me and live" and in this weeks parasha it is stated "ויחי יעקב" . I'm not quite sure why Ya'acov has a broken heart in Egypt. I would have thought that meeting Yosef would have healed him, rather then break his heart. Perhaps it was hearing how Yosef reached Egypt that broke his heart. Or it might be that Ya'acov is still mourning the 17 year old son that is forever lost to him. Regardless of the cause,  in the Zohar's eyes it is Ya'acov's broken heart that allows him to say the prophetic blessings in this weeks parasha. 

Ba'al Hasulam explains that it was the brothers who needed a broken heart to be able to hear these prophecies, and not Ya'acov who needed the broken heart. This idea is just as intriguing - Some prophecies need a broken heart to be able to hear them.  

Side note: These midrahshim break quite a few well known Prophetic rules:

1. That you can only prophesize in Israel.
2. That no one reached the level of Nevuah that Moshe reached.
3. That you can only Prophesize while happy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Don't curse and scream at people walking through the neighborhood - They might be Goyim!

Well finally some common sense in Me'ah Shearim. It seems it is no longer acceptable to scream and swear at tourists walking through the neighborhood - They might be goyim. Any of you who are concerned that their next walk down Me'ah Shearim might be missing the full authentic experiance, can relax. Screaming at Jews is still allowed, nay it is recommended!

The following Pashkvil (poster) was put up during Hanuukah in Meah Shearim (translated by yours truly):

"Regarding the protests against the Tourists who come to visit Me'ah Shearim during the festivals and all through the year- It is known that a large portion of these tourists are groups of Goyim from Chul from various countries and states, and screaming and cursing them in a manner shaming them is a great Chillul Hashem, may god have mercy, and opposite from the manner of behavior in the Galut and a revolt against the nations, and there is no Heter for that of any kind. The Halachic status of all nations are like the Arabs, for we are in a Galut amongst all the nations until the coming of the merciful redeemer. 
The protest against those Goyim who come to walk thorough Me'ah Shearim should be only in accordance to the ways of servitude and the galut that have been passed down to us thorough the ages. You should ask them kindly and pleasantly to leave the area, since their clothing disturbs the residents. However do not do this in any other crazed manner, god forbid. 
At the same opportunity try and publicize our stance against Zionism. And due to our keeping the Galut, may heaven bless us with Geulah Shelema in our days, Amen.  

בעניין המחאות נגד הטוריסטאן (התיירים; א"ג) הבאים לבקר במאה שערים בימי המועדות ובכל ימות השנה כולהלהווי ידוע שחלק גדול מאלה הטוריסטאן השונים הם קבוצות של גויים מחו"ל מכל מיני ארצות ומדינות שונות, וצעקות וקללות נגדם בדרך ביזיון מהווה הרי חילול השם גדול ונורא רחמנא לצלן והפך גמור מהנהגת הגלות ומרידה באומות, ואין היתר לכך בשום אופן. דין כל האומות כדין הערביים, כי הלא אנו בגלות תחת כל העמים כולם עד ביאת גואל צדק
המחאה נגד אלו הגויים הבאים לטייל במאה שערים היא אך ורק בדרכי ההכנעה והגלות המסורים לנו מדור לדור. יש לבקשם בנועם ובשלווה ובכבוד גדול לעזוב את המקום, שכן לבושם מפריע מאוד לתושבים, אך לא בדרך אחר ומטורף חס וחלילה"
אם אפשר לפרסם להם באותה הזדמנות את התנגדותנו לציונות. ובזכות שמירת הגלות, נזכה לגאולה שלמה מן השמים במהרה בימינו אמן.

The Pashkvil (I'm afraid I couldn't find a picture) was signed by "Keepers of the watch of Galut". I assume that Derech Eretz was not a good enough halachic reason not to scream and curse at everyone. 

The original article can be found on Mynet

We all live in 770, 770..

Apparently A Chabad fundraiser had a surprise guest of Sir Paul McCartney..

The 32nd annual Rutgers Chabad National Founders dinner drew its usual crowd of philanthropists, Jewish communal and business leaders, and political figures, including Gov. Chris Christie. But it was an unexpected guest who generated the most buzz.
As the 500 attendees were taking their seats at the Dec. 7 event in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, an excited murmur went through the room. Guests reached for their cell phones to snap a photo as ex-Beatle Paul McCartney walked in with longtime girlfriend Nancy Shevell.
Shevell’s father, Myron “Mike” Shevell was one of the nights honorees — along with Christie — for his $500,000 gift to create a Torah studies program for Rutgers students, who will receive a certificate and stipend after completing 60 semester hours of study...
Although Sir Paul, dressed in a suit and high top sneakers, wouldn’t take questions from the press, he graciously autographed dinner programs and shook hands with fans. He politely demurred and smiled when invited onstage with the rest of the Shevell family, but stood and cheered.
McCartney quietly sat at one of the front tables and politely applauded during Christie’s remarks. 
The governor was followed by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the keynote speaker. McCartney also listened and offered polite applause as Hoenlein delivered an impassioned speech focusing on the “delegitimization” of Israel and need to remain vigilant against anti-Semitism.
As he got up to speak, Hoenlein confessed to the crowd, “I’m nervous. You know, I’ve spoken with presidents and prime ministers, but Paul McCartney.”
Christie, well known as a rock fan, stopped in mid-speech as he glanced at McCartney’s table and remarked, “I can’t believe it; Paul McCartney.”
“I think we witnessed a Hanukka miracle,” Carlebach said of the dinner, which fell on the sixth night of the holiday. “Everyone who came thought they were coming to a small dinner, but when they left they didn’t feel that way.”
Asked if he knew in advance that McCartney was coming or if the rock star made any of the handful of significant anonymous gifts that were announced, Carlebach toldNJJN, “I cannot confirm or deny anything about Paul.” 

Anyone wondering..according to wiki answers Paul Mccartney is actually Jewish.

Hat tip: JustASC via The book of Doctrines and Opinions, who managed to add a John-Lennon Rav Soloveitchik story.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More on the Jewish Burqa

Mynet is reporting on an Israeli wedding where the female guests are asked to come wearing a "Shal". A Shal is basically a big just covers the woman that much better. The invitation reads as follows:

guests should come dressed tzanua [modestly], and wear the shal [cloak]. It also added that doing so will please the holy shechina, and in the merit of the righteous women we will be redeemed. 
So why are so many Charedi women headed for burqa like clothing? I'm going to go out on a limb here. This has nothing to do with religion or Tzniut. My own guess is that this is a logical consequence of a culture that does not give women any tools to live in modern life. The women wearing these cloaks grew up in a culture that has been telling them that woman are second class citizens. They have been in a controlled environment their entire lives, and have been taught on a communal level to segregate from the people around them.  They have not been allowed to socialize with men past a very young age. Men literally scare them. We are not even talking about non Haredi men who must seem like ogres - Haredi men scare them. All of a sudden at 17-18 they are expected to leave their homes, and go live with a man! I'd even guess their own husbands are somewhat scary. And so a veil, or a burqa is a psychological reaction. The burqa allows them to hide in public. It gives them a sense of detachment. Many of these women are wearing the coverings at home as well. It allows them to keep a distance from everyone - including their strange husbands. Obviously this is true only in extreme cases – but some of those extremes have already happened and are spreading in Haredi culture.  
On a side note: In a post a week ago, I speculated that in the days of the Avot woman wore veils as well, quite possibly in the house as well. I have since continued to research the topic, and have seen that many scholars (as well as Here seem to think that women in the bible wore veils during the weddings - but not after.  

Tweet Tweet (Not the Electronic kind)

It seems Rav Silfkin is having a hard time explaining why he signed an organ donor card. A record 7 people have voted for his post as "kefirah" (Side note: - Amazing that he has a Kefirah vote on every single post). One of his arguments reminded me of a Rav Amital story. Rav Silfkin is reflecting that organ donation is literally a life and death halachic decision:

"So we have ALL effectively made potential life-and-death decisions in this area. The question is, what was the grounds for our decision? Shev v'al ta'aseh is sometimes a halachic verdict even in life-and-death situations - but where it is so, it is a halachic verdict of what to do (i.e. nothing) based upon an analysis."
Two weeks ago I was at a evening dedicated to the memory of Rav Amital. One of the speakers- an ex student of his told the following story almost Hasidic story:

"One Shabbat morning in the yeshivah it was snowing outside. In the middle of Shacharit,  a member of the nearby kibbutz came in, and asked to speak to Rav Amital. He told Rav Amital that the electricity in the kibbutz had been off since yesterday evening, and if they do not fill up the generator immediately all of the baby chicks were going to freeze to death. Harav Amital immediately stopped the davening and told everyone that due to the emergency he had to immediately go to the Kibbutz. When he returned a few hours later, they asked him what he paskened. He looked at them surprised and said that it was a simple thing that you could not save the chicks on shabbat - since it wasn't a pikuach Ne'fesh. They then asked him, if it was so simple, why did he have to go to the Kibbutz? Rav Amital answered " I felt that I couldn't pasken them to death without first going to hear them Tweet".

Rav Amital famously had signed an organ donor card.

The MK with the best sense of Humor..

About 3 weeks ago MK Arieh Eldad was a guest on the show "Matzav Haeumah" -The state of the country. He surprised everyone by showing how quick witted he is.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Silwan, and just great photos

the Palestine Exploration Fund, has uploaded some of their photos
 onto flickr. Some of these are really fascinating, and show the land of Israel as it was since 1865. Due to copyright reasons, I can't post the pictures, but here are some of the interesting links:

Storm Reveals A Statue of a Roman Woman.

It seems that you can't even turn a stone in Israel without finding some Archeological discovery. This rather impressive statue was found on the beach near Ashkalon. It seems that statue was revealed after a part of the cliff above the beach collapesed in the recent weather storm.
The statue - which lacks a head and arms - dates back about 1,800-2,000 years, officials at the Israel Antiquities Authorities (IAA) believe.The statue weighs about 200kg (440lb) and stands 1.2m (4ft) tall.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Where is their wisdom?" Harav Lichtenstein responds to the "No-Lease" Rabbanim letter

Haaretz is quoting a letter that Rav Lichtenstein published yesterday, in response to the now infamous "No-Lease" Rabbanim Letter. I have yet been able to find the original copy of the letter, which I understand deals mostly with the Halachic side of the argument. 

In an article published in his yeshiva's internal newsletter, Lichtenstein tries to undermine the halakhic argument of the original letter, and wonders why the authors could not anticipate the outrage it provoked. He notes the criticism of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the wake of the letter and "attacks from left and right on the religious-nationalist rabbis."

In the Hebrew version of this article in Ha'aretz this paragraph reads slightly differntly:

על רקע הסערה שחולל המכתב בעולם הפוליטי והרבני, הוא מוסיף תהייה ביחס לעשרות הרבנים החותמים: "לאן נעלמה חכמת האמורים להיות בין הרואים את הנולד?". 

"כמעט כל שלשלת המאורעות שהתרחשו בעקבות הפצת גילוי הדעת היתה צפויה ופחות או יותר נגלית לעין", 
Meaning that the outrage this letter would invoke was clear before it was published, and hence Rav Lichtenstein wonders "Where is their wisdom?

"Particular grief was caused to the community of those loyal to the Torah and fearful about the stature and character of the state, and to the peacefulness of the spiritual leaders laboring to make the Torah loved, to stay loyal to the halakha, and aspiring to build the state on the foundation of tradition," he says.
"There is no doubt the arguments in the letter are based on sources from the sages of blessed memory, and generations of halakhic tradition, but the document in general leaves one with the impression that it builds its conclusions on assumptions that reflect a particular, but not the only possible, halakhic approach."

I will upload the original letter, as soon as I can get a full copy of it.

Update: Thank you to Dave who has provided me with a link to the full text of the original.
Update 2: A translation is now available.

Overdue for a new God?

The Economist has a fascinating online feature, where they ask specialists to predict the future. According to Paul Saffro, we are long overdue the creation of a new God.

Jaspers’s axial age shares close parallels with today. It was a time shaped by innovations in government, transport and communications. Population growth created new challenges demanding political innovations. New sailing technology transformed the seas from barriers to highways for ideas that travelled with trade goods to new lands. The consequent intellectual ferment yielded new world views, new uncertainties—and new religions.
Three technologies have brought us to the edge of another axial shift today. Air travel has given entire populations unprecedented mobility. The intermodal container has delivered a cornucopia of products to every corner of the globe. And cyberspace has become a promiscuous, meme-spreading hotbed of ideas.
Throw in the usual round of human misery served up by war, revolution and natural disasters, and the result is a potent cultural Petri dish from which a new god could spring. Populations around the world are struggling to find security and identity in this strange new future-shock world. The rise of fundamentalism is a sure indicator of dissatisfaction with the current religious order. Unhappy believers first look back to their roots for comfort, but origins rarely comfort and thus they will inevitably search for a new god.

I think some Ba'ahi, Mormons and Scientologists might beg to differ. However the point of the article is well taken. There have been major technological changes to the very elements of human life. How have we yet to see some major world encompassing new religion take shape?

The Dati-Leumi Leadership Vacuum.

Harav Yoel Ben Nun (yeah I'm a fan) wrote an article last week bemoaning the lack of a religious leadership for the Dati-Leumi public. In the article Harav Yoel,  claims that the rabbanim are sending the public a message of "Don't look to me" for leadership. 

His examples seem to show that rather then not taking leadership - The rabbanim have opinions that are different then Rav Yoel would like. His examples are somewhat surprising, since they seem to focus more on Shas then the Dati Leumi Rabbanim. His main examples are; The segregation of Sepharadim in Emmanuel, The racist halachic book "Torat Hamelch" which certain rabbanim rallied around, Rav Ovadia's   public shaming and removal from Shas of Harav Amsalem and the ongoing "IDF conversions" saga. 

From these examples he concludes that  the days when Rav Ovadia was seen as a Beit Hillel, and progressive have long since passed. In his opinion the religious leadership has taken views that have made them irrelevant to the Dati-Leumi and Hiloni majority.

The fact that the Dati-Leumi community hasn't got an accepted leader is fairly obvious. Until recently there was some pretence that Harav Mordechai Eliyahu was accepted as the current leader. However the Hitnatkut conclusively showed that the Dati-Leumi community would not listen to their Rabbanim. The months leading to the Hitnatkut were filled with Rabbanim including Harav Eliyahu Z"l calling for soldiers to refuse orders to remove settlers. However there very few religious (or otherwise) soldiers  actually refused the orders when they came. It became clear that the Dati-Leumi community is not actually lead by those who seem to think that they are leading

We are left with the sad conclusion. We are a public that has no religious or political leadership. The answer to the question of why that is, has remained elusive.
(more on this topic later)