Galut Mentality

“In every generation one is obligated to see himself as if he has exited Egypt.” (Passover Haggadah)

When the Jews left Egypt and were trapped between the Egyptian army and the sea, there were many who advocated going back to Egypt and slavery. Understandable, but nevertheless the epitome of galut mentality. Had they prevailed, we would still be slaves in Egypt today.

Galut mentality has dominated Israeli politics for almost four decades, leading Israel to make concession after concession. These actions were repeatedly rewarded with even more bloodshed.

Here in America, the galut mentality is prevalent in the culture wars. There are many who say that we must capitulate to a militant secularism that advocates the killing of babies as they are being born and the indoctrinating of children to reject creationism and moral absolutism. Many Jewish “leaders” oppose the right of parents to opt out of the public educational system, which imposes its misguided culture on the rest of us. And parents are left to lament the results of this influence, helpless to escape the culture of “Egypt.”

Our Torah requires us to leave the galut behind and march forward toward the fearsome waters, armed with the assurance that we can face a sea of opposition and prevail.

Israel Teitelbaum
Morristown, NJ

Thank The Pope?!

Re your Jan. 14 news story “Jewish Delegation to Thank Pope”: Isn’t this the same pope who met with Arafat and publicly expressed his concerns about the plight of the Arabs under the Israelis?

I don’t think this delegation of rabbis and Jewish officials had any idea how repulsive they looked. Imagine any other people receiving the loans of their own manuscripts and falling all over themselves in appreciation! Gary Krupp thinks the Jewish people should thank the pope for all he has done? That’ll be the day. Thank God there are still a few Jews left with some self-respect.

Janice Wijnen
Rego Park, NY

Jews And Guns

I read Robert Avrech’s op-ed article (“Jews and Guns,” Dec. 24) with interest and satisfaction that this controversial issue was aired in an Orthodox newspaper. As a musmach, practicing health professional, holder of a State of Florida Concealed Weapons Permit, and member and supporter of the National Rifle Association, I am in total agreement with Mr. Avrech’s views and arguments.

In addition to the Torah sources quoted by Mr. Avrech, allow me to add the following. We read in Exodus 13:18, “Vachamushim olu bnei Yisrael miMitzraim.” Rashi provides two perushim, one of which is “m’zuyonim,” well armed. Torah Temima comments that their weapons were of five different types (Yerushalmi, Shabbos, chapter 6 halacha 4). That “vachamishim” indeed refers to physical arms can be seen from Joshua’s (1:14) command, as the Jews were preparing to cross the Jordan: “…V’atem taavru chamushim lifnei acheichem…” (“You shall pass over your brethren armed…”)

It would appear that a Jew, on his life’s journey, should be armed with Torah (spiritually) and, when needed, with arms (physically).

Sam Eisenstein
Hollywood, FL

Balfour: Whole Or Part?

Reader Zeev Raphael disputes a point in my op-ed article “Facing Up to Painful Reality” (Jewish Press, Dec 24). He takes issue (Letters, Jan. 14) with my stating, in reference to the Balfour Declaration, that it recognized the “whole “of Palestine as a designated “National Homeland” for the Jewish people.

While the Balfour Declaration does not use the word “whole,” it is quite implicit in its intent to designate Palestine for the Jewish Home, making no mention of another national homeland but instead states: “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”

Furthermore, the description of Palestine – i.e., the area of what was designated as the Jewish Homeland – is in the records of the League of Nations, as follows: “The League of Nations and the British had designated the land called ‘Palestine’ for the ‘Jewish National Home’ – east and west of the Jordan River from the Mediterranean to Arabia and Iraq, and north and south from Egypt to Lebanon and Syria.”( Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial, page 235.)

Certainly that constitutes the “whole” of Palestine, future changes and betrayals notwithstanding.

George Topas
(Via E-Mail)

Rote Observance Not Enough

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, in his Jan. 14 column, employed any number of persuasive arguments to convince readers of the gravity of casual speech in shul. Likely they will fall largely on deaf ears. But why should that be so? The frum community has strengthened its religious commitment in so many areas. Learning is now a staple and is not restricted to a privileged few. Kashrus has advanced to the point where cholov Yisroel and pas Yisroel are for the most part givens, with kemach yashon following right behind.

I will offer a possible answer. We can speak of two categories of mitzvos. The first includes those we perform on almost a rote basis – making brachos, putting on tefillin, keeping Shabbos, etc. The yetzer hora is less concerned with these mitzvos because they require the expenditure of little thought or energy.

In the second category are precepts which involve the mind. This second type is not necessarily distinct from the first, but actually it adds a dimension that enervates the commandments. It’s thinking about the fruit we eat before making a bracha, recognizing the bond forged with Hashem when we put on tefillin, using our Shabbos “down time” appropriately. It is here that the battle with Satan is fought in earnest.

We are blessed to live in a country that allows us to fulfill our spiritual needs without forfeiting the material. B’li ayin hora, people have large homes and families supported by thriving businesses or governmental and communal largesse. And therein lies the rub.

Moshe rabbeinu prophesied that when the nation grows wealthy it would essentially ignore the source of its bounty. The yetzer hora would have us believe that we must simply follow the rituals and thereby merit Divine Protection. In fact, our mussar seforim tell us that we must at all times bear in mind that our service might be slipping. But deep introspection becomes an albatross if our goals are exotic Pesach vacations, luxury automobiles and the like.

In a nutshell, then, we’ve been deluded into thinking that Hashem is, chos v’shalom, no longer relevant to our well being. We talk in shul because we want to tell our friends about the killing we made in the market or the new techno gadget we’re about to purchase. Davening is an afterthought because we already have what we need and the wherewithal to get more. What we all really need is yiras shomayim. It shouldn’t take a tsunami to produce a tidal wave of teshuva, but…

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

On Restoring Jewish Burial And Mourning Practices

After the recent death of my mother, I sent the following letter to the Conservative rabbi who performed her levaya. It is my hope that my sharing it with a wider audience will stimulate other rabbis to consider how far we have drifted from our roots, and how some simple steps might reverse this trend.

Eliot Kusnetz
Highland Park, NJ

L’ilui nishmas Frieda bas Avraham

My Friend and Holy Brother,

You stand in a frighteningly important place. Teacher of Israel, the fate of the next generation of Jews is yours to help shape. At once I both admire your position and wouldn’t step near it. Great is your responsibility.

I wish to thank you for your assistance to my family after my mother’s passing, and challenge you to teach your congregants authentic Jewish practices concerning death. As a member of our local chevra kadisha, I must convey to you the distress I had on seeing how non-Jewish practices have taken over Jewish rites of passing. Kavod ha’meis, kriya, and solemnity have been replaced with a public viewing and pre-levaya visitation that has more of a social party atmosphere than nichum aveilim. Kriya has been replaced with a 20-cent ribbon. Tahara has been supplemented with make-up. Shiva is no longer shiva; it is shlosha, and in some cases yom echad.

It is sad, but it can change. My holy brother and teacher of Israel, you share this responsibility to restore 3,000 years of tradition; for the comfort of the neshama, the aveilim, and kavod ha’meis, I suggest the following:

1. A recurring series of adult education courses on “restoring Jewish practices concerning death and burial.” Now I admit this may not be a popular idea, but it should be included as part of a larger series of Jewish concepts of the soul, the afterlife, and reincarnation.

2. Mourners should not be given the option of an open casket or viewing, but should be respectfully taught that everything prior to burial is for kavod ha’meis, and after burial for the nichum aveilim, and to assist the neshama to its final resting place. It is extremely embarrassing for the meis to be on view without the clothing of its neshama.

3. Kriya is a tangible expression of the depths of grief. Ribbons should not be offered. Kriya should not be performed by the funeral home staff, but by a member of the chevra kaddisha, and if that is not possible, then by the congregational rabbi.

4. If one does not exist, form a committee of congregants who go to the beis avel prior to the levaya to set up, covering mirrors, bringing chairs and siddurim. Although the funeral chapel may provide these items, having fellow congregants perform this function returns the process to the congregational community and expresses a shared experience instead of a formalized business arrangement. Minimal training is necessary.

5. Talk about God and the soul! God is an absent word in the vocabulary of many non-Orthodox Jews. Judaism has a rich tradition of spirituality. We have holy souls, and must be comfortable having a dialogue that includes God in our daily vocabulary. For many Jews, talking about God and the afterlife is a Christian concept. How sad and far from the truth. Every day I tell my children that they have holy neshamos, and we frequently say, “I love you Hashem!” – a practice recommended by Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l. The Tanya (or Lessons in Tanya) is an excellent source of authentic Jewish teachings on the nature of the soul and our relationship with Hashem. Alternatively, Adin Steinsalz’s The Thirteen Petalled Rose covers similar turf in a much more compact manner.

6. Enlist the aid of your fellow rabbis in the area to insist that “Jewish” funeral chapels live up to that title. Open caskets and post-tahara manipulation of the meis should be forbidden. If the chapels risk losing business, they will change their tune. I was told by Rabbi Yaakov Hilsenrath, may he live and be well, the rabbi emeritus of the Highland Park Conservative Temple, that funerals such as the one my mother had were the norm when he became a pulpit rabbi in New Jersey. He refused to officiate at open casket funerals and made a deal with a local non-Jewish funeral home to get exclusive rights to his funerals on the condition that they be done according to halacha. To this day, the chevra still goes to that funeral home and performs tahara with tisha kabim. After losing so much business, the local Jewish funeral chapel changed its policy and put in a mikva! You have the power to make the change. Don’t sell yourself short.

7. The following resources are recommended:

a. The Tahara Manual of Practices, Rabbi Moshe Epstein

b. The Mourner’s Companion, Rabbi Reuven Drucker

c. Mourning in Halacha, Rabbi Chaim Binyomin Goldberg

d. The Jewish Way in Death and Dying, Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Thank you again for the comfort you provided my family. My father and sisters were very appreciative of your pastoral skills and comforting demeanor. May you go me’chayil l’chayil and in the zechus of your efforts may we greet Moshiach tzidkeinu together.

With blessing for hatzlocha in your endeavors.