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December 6, 2016 / 6 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘amalek’

Amalek Revisited

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

This week’s upcoming portion of the Torah reading in Parshat Ki Tezte is replete with profound concepts that warrant careful analysis. The Torah instructs us how to conduct ourselves during “permissive wars” and presents us with issues of sublimation and containment of man’s darkest drives during battle, with the difficult concept of Isha Y’fat Toar (the beautiful captive). There are lessons on justice to ensure protection of the weak and vulnerable. And the parsha concludes with lessons pertaining to the greatest evil, as realized in Amalek.

Once upon a time, when the Jewish people had no cognizance that total corruption of a people was possible, we were rendered even more vulnerable to Amalek’s sneak-attack. It would not be our last encounter, but the first encounter defined Amalek as apex predators of Am Yisrael, and it crystalized their unrelenting hatred for the G-d of Israel and the Jewish people.

And we were bidden never to forget their enmity, because they arise in every generation.

“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—how, undeterred by fear of G-d, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in the rear. Therefore, when the L-rd your G-d grants you safety from all you enemies around you, in the land that the L-rd your G-d is giving you as a hereditary portions, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven. Do not forget!” (Deuteronomy 25: 17-19) (JPS Hebrew English Tanakh)

And so I cannot ignore the opportunity to revisit our encounter with Amalek as described at the conclusion of the parsha. Because Amalek is not a relic or a distant memory, as so many Jews would have it. Amalek is not some antiquated notion reflecting on a long gone brutal enemy. Amalek exists today, because as stated in the Torah and explained by chazal, Amalek exists in every generation. The pressing question is evident. So who is Amalek?

In the notes of his famous essay “Kol Dodi Dofek” Rav Yosef Soloveitchik (of blessed memory) explained the true lesson on Amalek’s ideological make-up as taught to him by his father: “But-where is? I once heard the following from my father and master [R. Moses Soloveitchik} of blessed memory, namely, that any nation that conspires to destroy Keneset Israel becomes, according to Halacha, Amalek.” (Fate and Destiny, notes. Pg. 94. Ktav Press.)

Elsewhere, the Rav elaborates:

“Amalek is obviously more than a Bedouin tribe. He is more than a particular group, nationality or people. He is Everyman gone berserk, who has shed his Divine image for that of Satan. Any nation which declares that its policy is to destroy the Jewish people is Amalek, for it has emblazoned on its banner the slogan of impassioned hatred: “Come let us destroy them as a nation, that the name Israel may no more be remembered.” (Reflections of the Rav, Abraham Besdin, page 180.)

The Rav’s teaching provide a proper perspective on Amalek, which eliminates the nonsensical notion that since the “genetic” Amalek people is gone, then the concept is gone as well. Basic Judaism refutes this. We are reminded time and time again about Amalek resurfacing in every generation. King Saul’s failure to heed the prophet Samuel’s explicit instruction, allowed the ideology to live on, even if the majority of “genealogical Amalek” was destroyed. Amalek isn’t a particular nation anymore, but a poisonous doctrine that any nation on earth can adopt. Only those that fully articulate their Jew hatred attain this unique level of evil, whether the proponent of this poison wears a cross, a crooked cross, or a kefiya. So the British in Pre-State Israel may have been exceedingly cruel and wicked (and they were!), but they didn’t reach the pinnacle of evil as expressed by the Nazis, yemach sh’mam. It is not a coincidence that Arabs/Muslims eagerly inherited the filth of Nazi propaganda, and they regard the former with the same regard they hold the Koran. The Koran and the hadiths are replete with vile Jew hatred which resonates with Muslims today with the same verve as it did one thousand years ago:

“The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”- Bukhari (52:177); Hadith (Website: The Religion of Peace)

“I will instill terror in the hearts of the infidels, strike off their heads then, and strike off from them every fingertip.”- (Koran, Sura 8:12)

Not that long ago, Arab “moderates” openly shared similar traditional sentiments before they grew wise and learned to mask their beliefs in their later years:

“Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your hands, with your nails, and with your teeth.” King Hussein of Jordan, 1967

“The most splendid thing the prophet Muhammed did was to drive them out of the whole Arabian Peninsula.” -(Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, 1972)

And then of course, there are the honest ones:

“There will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the crusades!” – Arab League Secretary General, Azzam Pasha, 1948

“I announce from here, on behalf of the United Arab Republic People, that this time we will exterminate Israel.” – President Gamal Nasser (Egypt), 1959

Yet too many Jews refuse to see the enemy. Leftists constantly seek out the next ideal opportunity to resurrect and expand on Oslo. A constant search for “moderates” in reality is a sprint to the graveyard. The pragmatic respectable “right-wingers” often maintain a mythos that most Israeli-Arabs are peaceful and that we can exist if we could only identify the supposed normal Arabs. There are even groups of religious “right-wingers”, those peculiar advocates of the new “alternative peace movements” who blame western colonialism for our failure to achieve peace with the Arabs. Unbelievably, they also blame us Jews for bringing this hatred upon themselves by “acting white” and neglecting our “indigenous self-expression.” Some of them believe that if we would only deal with our “indigenous Arab” partners (as they would have it) peace would be achieved.

They understand nothing at all. Humanizing evil guarantees the murder of Jews. It has nothing to do with “indigenous identity.” The Arabs loath the True Almighty, (not their blood-swilling Allah) and wish to usurp the identity of the Chosen People. As such, they maintain that our sacred Torah as passed down from Moshe Rabenu is a false corrupted text! (This explain Rambam’s position that it is forbidden to discuss or cite Tanach to Muslims, since they reject it as false.) “Itbach El Yahud,” the age-old bloodcurdling Arab cry to murder Jews (not Zionists!) has nothing to do with an unwillingness of Jews to act “Semitic.” It has to do with the most ancient hatred of all, the psychopathic hatred of Jews as expressed by Amalek. And the Arabs are nursed on this poison.

Differences aside, groups such as “LAVI” and “Peace Now” share a delusion from different ends of the spectrum. The delusion that we have normal neighbors. Yet neither group understands evil. We cannot coexist with Amalek. The Torah’s lesson is that collective punishment is the only answer for the Am Lak; a people whose desire to lap up Jewish blood mirrors a thirsty man’s need for water. Amalek represents those who cannot engage in repentance because their evil is total; both in the intensity of its expression and its pervasiveness in the society. Only a blind man fails to see the total corruption of the Arab/Islamic world, where toddlers are nursed from the womb on the joys of “martyrdom” and jihad! Amalek ideology creates human ghouls who crave blood. True to form, the modern day Amalek targets and slaughters women and children, even nursing babies. And the stragglers are the first to go.

And who are these ‘stragglers’? There are of course the literal stragglers–Children and babies, and women, and vulnerable people who make the foolish decision to hitchhike on a dark and lonely road. There are other types of stragglers, whose weakness manifests itself by a weakness of faith. Perhaps the advocates of LAVI represent another manifestation of victim. Those who are so cowed by Arab terror that they pursue the most ridiculous of fantasies. The belief in our ability to live with predators and still retain the land the Arabs believe we stole from them.

And what of religious Jews who forge halachically prohibited alliances with evangelicals and missionaries, because they seek a friend against a vicious foe? These are also stragglers of a sort. Frightened types who have little faith in G-d, and who foolishly open the gate to the panther, because they fear the ravenous wolves. They are all stragglers, and their weakness perpetuates weakness of one form or another. Lack of faith in G-d, on the altar of political pragmatism.

In every generation, Amalek wars with Am Yisroel. Amalek are not ‘Morlocks’ dwelling beneath the ground, or some sort of desert weasel residing beneath the Gobi Desert. We cannot coexist with genocidal psychopaths. Hence the biblical injunction to pre-empt their genocidal plans for us. Who carries the banner of Amalek today? Clearly it is the Arab and Islamic world. If it is not them, then who? The Sikhs? The Shakers? Those ever troublesome Amish?

As we recall the tragic anniversary of 9/11 when Islam showed the entire world what we are dealing with, we should recall the terrible images of those burning towers crumbling to the ground as a mass tomb. We should burn those mind-numbing memories of people leaping to their deaths from the heavens out of fear, disorientation, or to escape a slow fiery death. They are all terrible exhibits of an ugly truth, as is every act of barbarism exhibited by these savages. Every video-taped burning, every crucifixion, every honor-killing, every burning, and every maiming, is a terrifying lesson. Every stoning, every crude beheading with a scimitar, every primitive face-lift with piano wire. All meant to show us who we are dealing with.

Amalek is in our midst. Billions of Amalekites world-wide, and too damn many in our own tiny country. Heed the lesson of Amalek, or heed the folly of Saul who thought he knew better, and set the stage for Amalek’s eternal war with us. And to all intelligent gentiles in America, heed the warning as well. A President Hillary Clinton (may G-d help us!) will bring a million Amalekites into the U.S. before you can bat an eyelash. It is time for decent people to define evil without qualifiers, and demand that strong leadership slams the door shut on these barbarians wherever they may be. And when it comes to warfare, think of what they do to each other.

There are no moderate Amalekites.

Donny Fuchs

Orthodox Rabbi Teaching Halakha Beyond the Shulkhan Arukh, Judaism Beyond the Commandments

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

“The Beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it is not always precise and consistent,” says Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. “And that is a very wise thing. You have to have flexibility, because life is not clear-cut or coherent. Moving here, moving there, you work out the different opinions somehow, and you let it be. As such, Jewish Law and beliefs stay fresh and thriving. A musical symphony. But the moment we codify or dogmatize it all, we are basically destroying it.” One of the areas where Dutch-Israeli Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, and Jewish scholar Nathan Lopes Cardozo differs from the Orthodox mainstream is the Torah’s commandments to annihilate whole peoples, such as the nations of Canaan and the mythical nation of Amalek, God’s proverbial enemy.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo: I believe that in the case where moral issues come up, there, even where the Torah says that we have to do away with these people, whether it is Amalek or the nations of Canaan, my feeling is that these were challenges given to Moses and the people to see how they would react, in the same way as Abraham reacts in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. God says, I’m going to wipe them out, and Abraham responds: Will the Judge of the world do such a thing? And God responds by saying, You have a point, let’s see what we can work out.

And then you get this incredible dialogue, this near business deal between Abraham and God on how many righteous people you need so you’ll keep them alive. I think that should be the point of departure whenever we discuss moral issues related to our fellow-man. There my feeling is that even when the Torah sometimes comes with requirements which are problematic from a moral point of view, that we have the option or even obligation, like Abraham, to say to God, Sorry, this won’t go with us. And my reading, which I understand is controversial, is that God is challenging these people: Let Me see how they’ll respond. Did you, people, understand My larger picture of righteousness? Are you understanding what I’m trying to say over here? And as I did in the case of Abraham, when I challenged him by telling him I’m going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham correctly said, No, or at least he was willing to fight it, so I hope you do as well whenever the Torah speaks about killing people. We see this reflected in the sages’ opinion that these nations no longer exist and by doing so they declared these laws inoperative.

JewishPress.com: And yet shortly thereafter, God tells Abraham to execute his son Isaac, and gives him kudos for the fact that he tried to comply.

NLC: I am of the opinion that Abraham, by being prepared to do so, to execute his son, failed the test. I think that the reading of the binding of Isaac should be different from the conventional approach as some Hasidic texts indeed seem to suggest .

JP: God no longer speaks directly to Abraham after the binding of Isaac. Does he lose his prophecy?

NLC: It seems he lost his prophecy. There are all sorts of psychological issues which take place after the incident with the binding of Isaac, which seem to mean that God was not so pleased with the outcome, even though He says, Now I know that you have fear of Me, but that may have a different meaning. It may even mean something like, now that you went for it, you showed you had the correct intentions, but you got My message wrong.

But let us be careful, I only suggest such a reading when speaking about moral problems. But when you speak about Shabbat and holidays, where there are no issues between the individual and his fellow-man, there we do not have the right to say, we’re changing the laws of Shabbat because they’re not convenient.

 


 

Nathan Lopes Cardozo was born 70 years ago in Amsterdam, and was named after his father’s youngest brother who was murdered in the Holocaust. His father was a secular Jew who was nevertheless proud of his Portuguese-Jewish origin. His mother, who was not born Jewish, was raised by the Cardozo family and was an integral part of the community. Later on, she saved her husband and his family from the Nazis by hiding them in her Amsterdam apartment. Nathan Cardozo converted to Judaism when he was sixteen, through the Amsterdam Rabbinate, and his mother did many years later as well.

Cardozo spent the next 12 years studying at various Haredi Yeshivas such as Gateshead, whose dean, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gurwitz, ordained him as a rabbi. At 21 he married Freyda Gnesin, a young Dutch woman from eastern European parents he met at the Haarlem synagogue. That’s the Dutch Haarlem synagogue.

CAN JEWS PERPETRATE A HOLOCAUST?

We return to the question of whether God commanded the Jews to annihilate certain nations with the expectation that the Jews would defy Him.

JP: In the story of the prophet Shmuel and King Shaul, where Shaul has spared the life of Agag, king of Amalek, and Shmuel takes a sword and finishes the job — did Shmuel fail?

NLC: What was it that Shaul did wrong, and why did God object to it? It seems that Shaul was more concerned with the animals he had acquired and kept alive than about the people he had killed. There is where the moral failure lies.

JP: But Shmuel is not sanctioned for his action.

NLC: It seems that Shmuel was of the opinion that Agag deserved the death penalty. This is very complicated story. I don’t think that Jewish tradition is always consistent, very often it is not. And I think there’s a reason for that, because it shows different sides of a very complex situation. The Russian British philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was not religious but remained very close to his Judaism, has an essay about morality where he says that morality is much more complex than most people think it is. There’s no black and white — this is moral and this is immoral. It depends on your perspective, on how you walk into the problem. So there are cases where the complexity is so big that whatever you do, from one point of view it is morally correct and from another point of view it is morally absolutely unacceptable. So Berlin speaks about a tradeoff, which every judge and every legal system has to make, to find a compromise: how much justice, how much mercy? A way in-between, by which you remove excessive damage on both sides and you’re left with a compromise which is far from ideal, but that’s the part of the human condition.

There is no such thing as black and white responses to these sort of issues, and I think that plays a role in Jewish law as well. We have to deal with clashing Jewish moral forces.

There are reasons to wipe out Amalek and there are reasons why not to do so, especially when it comes to their children. But because there’s this tension of how you look into the story, which is purely subjective, therefore in the end you will have to find a way in-between. Shmuel is right and wrong at the same time. God says to him, Shmuel, I understand your point of view, I will let you get away with it. But don’t think that this is the ideal outcome. Under human circumstances we have to wipe out these people of Amalek, they are very dangerous even for the future generations and at the same time we have to keep them alive because who will say that all of them will be evil? Jewish Law even discusses the question of what to do in case an Amalekite wants to become Jewish and several authorities believe that we have an obligation to convert him as long as he has no blood on his hands!!

THERE’S MORE TO JUDAISM THAN THE MITZVOT

JP: Are you suggesting that there is a Jewish morality outside the realm of the commandments?

NLC: Yes, I think there is, in the sense that there are certain intuitive moral feelings that human beings have, Jews and non-Jews, which are of great importance, and which do play a role in the halakhic decision making process. They are also God-given, just like the commandments. I think that’s not only in these extreme cases, but nearly in all cases, because if you look into the works of the great poskim (halakhic authorities), you see differences of opinions between them. It is because of their intuitive moral approach to certain issues. Sometimes a posek will say, I have to find a heter (permission) for this problem. He may even have made up his mind before he started. And then he looks around all the arguments to justify his position and puts it in an halakhic framework. After which he says, so I was right in what I said at the beginning. He knows quite well that they were all colored by his need to come to a lenient conclusion. This is completely legitimate.

You see it with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, you see it with some very Haredi literature as well. It all has to do with a philosophical and ideological attitude which is deeply influenced by the moral intuition of these particular people, and that’s also why there are tremendous differences between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi poskim. There’s a world of difference there. The Ashkenazi outlook to life is much more pessimistic , than the Sephardi one. This has its root in their different experiences in the countries from where they hail and consequently we find different halakhic responses.

There’s an ideology to halakha. And there are different opinions as to what that ideology is. The halakha tells us what to do and what not to do. But it has obviously a much larger Weltanschauung, an outlook on life, which lies behind these halakhic requirements. They are never clearly stated anywhere in the Torah, unless they are stated in very general terms, such as you must be holy, but that still requires a moral explanation. So ideologies play a role as well. The ideological differences between the Haredi and the national-religious rabbis concerning the State of Israel’s religious meaning is a good example.

JP: Are we practicing halakha the way we should?

NLC: Let me tell you an interesting story. Reb Haim Zimmerman was one of the greatest Talmudic geniuses in our generation. In his later years he lived here in Jerusalem. I was told that he was the study partner of the famous Reb Shimon Shkop back in Lithuania. I met him once or twice. He had all of the Talmud at his fingertips. He wasn’t so well known, because he belonged to the Zionist camp and not to the Aguda camp. He once gave a class and he quoted Maimonides and he said, Maimonides agrees with me. So his students said, You mean to say that you agree with Maimonides. So he said, No, Maimonides agrees with me. I am today the living authority, Maimonides is no longer alive. So he has no power any more to decide on halakhic matters — I do. And if Maimonides wishes to disagree, please, let’s hear his point of view, but I have the same say in this matter as Maimonides himself had in his days and therefore I could overrule him.

I think that is a most important statement, which the yeshiva world has totally forgotten. And that has a lot to do with the codification problem. I’ve written at length about this problem. The Shulkhan Arukh (“Set Table,” the most widely consulted Jewish legal code, published in 1563) was meant at the time as the abbreviated halakhic guide for the layman. It was the product of an historical development. Since we were living in the diaspora, we had to make sure that Jews would somehow live within the same framework where they were doing more or less the same things, to keep this little nation alive. It required erecting big walls around us to keep the non-Jews out. So the Shulkhan Arukh, a basic Jewish code, is a typical sociological outcome of a diaspora condition. The Shulkhan Arukh at the time correctly said, we need to make sure that we all operate within the same framework and that requires conformity. This is the only way we can create the powerhouse required to keep us alive in a largely anti-Semitic world.

Both the Shulkhan Arukh and earlier Maimonides’ famous codification of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah (“Repetition of the Torah,” a code of Jewish religious law compiled between 1170 and 1180) are tremendous scholarly achievements. But what Maimonides did was extremely dangerous. By writing down the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides finalized the halakha. He basically said, this is the halakha and nothing else. He even wrote in the forward to this masterpiece, that there is no longer any need to study the Talmud because he had put it all in front of us. Here it is for once and for all. He provides no minority opinions, he acts precisely as what he probably was, as the greatest talmudic genius of his time and possibly of all time, and we—after a period of resistance when his books were burned in some communities—have turned him into an halakhic idol: If Maimonides says so then there’s nothing left to discuss. We canonized him.

We never had, as the Catholic Church did, a particular body such as a conclave which decided these matters. With us it was always fluid. A matter of moving forward and going back and so on. You actually see it if you look in the Shulkhan Arukh, and you look into Maimonides, the commentators around the texts often take issue with them. But they can’t stand up against Maimonides, he is too overpowering. The same is true with his famous thirteen principles of faith: he dogmatizes Jewish belief and by doing so creates a crisis in Judaism for which we still pay a heavy price. Since when are there finalized Jewish beliefs? There are none.

This, I think, has created tremendous problems, because what we’re doing is taking the halakha which developed in diaspora for the last 2000 years, and we bring it to the State of Israel, and apply it as if we are still living in diaspora—when we are not. And therefore you constantly have problems in Israel about halakha, because the traditional halakha speaks as if nothing has happened in Jewish history since 1948. But the whole situation has radically changed. So the Shulkhan Arukh is in many ways outdated. And I’m sure that if Maimonides, or Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulkhan Arukh) lived today, they would say: We never wrote our codifications for a time when the State of Israel would be established, why do you still apply our rulings which were meant for the time we lived in the diaspora?

JP: But the Mishneh Torah talks about the laws of the temple and other areas of Jewish life on the land.

NLC: Yes. But Maimonides never wrote about a secular Jewish state. That whole concept didn’t exist. [The late chief rabbi of Israel] Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog writes in one of his letters that the halakha is not ready to take on the State of Israel. Because we never developed the halakha in the diaspora to deal with the State of Israel where we’re running our own (secular) country. We were always under the administration of the non-Jewish world.

The Shulkhan Arukh starts by saying, In the morning we have to get up, and we must imagine God before us always. But let’s ask an important question: what are the prerequisite conditions to enable you to get up in the morning and to say these words and go to synagogue to pray? It requires that the Turkish government, under which the Shulkhan Arukh was written, will have created a legal system that enables you as a Jew to get out of bed in the morning and walk to synagogue without getting attacked. So you have already taken on all sorts of guarantees from a secular administration, to make your adhering to your religious obligations possible. But that was the Turkish government, that’s not the situation in Israel today. So what you really need to do is rewrite all this, and then you’ll have a big problem because the law has to be able to develop and to constantly re-think itself. But how many poskim have made sure we do that? Instead, they will go back to the Shulkhan Arukh and say, no, Rav Yosef Karo says like this and that’s the end of the discussion.

THE ROLE OF THE POSEK

JP: Should a modern posek (halakhic scholar) relate to halakha as precedence law that must be consulted before ruling, or can they approach the halakhic inquiry directly from their knowledge of the Talmud? How much of the millennia of Sh”ut (halakhik Q&A) should a modern posek take into consideration?

NLC: There’s no straight answer to this. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would sometimes make rulings directly from the Talmud. The Rogatchover (Rabbi Joseph Rosen) would rule from the Talmud. Rav Ovadia Yosef, although he tried very hard to get the Shulkhan Arukh to become the absolute voice within the Sephardi world, constantly contradicted himself in the sense that on one side he wanted to go by the Shulkhan Arukh and at the same time he constantly put it aside and went directly to the source.

My feeling is that some poskim today are overwhelmed by their knowledge and they get drowned in it. And therefore they cannot think creatively any more. If you have too much knowledge then you can’t think on your own anymore because your mind is taken up by this encyclopedic amount of knowledge and you can’t step out of the box. This is not only true with halakha, this is true in many other departments of human knowledge as well. We know so much and therefore we get completely overwhelmed by it and we don’t have space left any more in our brain to come up with something new. This has been happening with poskim for quite a while now.

Therefore the biggest religious Jewish scholars are not the right poskim any more since they can’t think outside the box. But if you go one step below, and in Israel you have quite a few of them, you will find people who know halakha very well but they are not stagnated by this staggering knowledge, so they are probably much better equipped for responding to the needs of the day. Rav Yuval Cherlow, Rav Yoel Bin Nun, Rav Ariel Holland, Rabbi David Bigman. And there are many more around, especially in Israel — I don’t think you have so many abroad. But in Israel, at the moment, you have people who think on their own, have a lot of knowledge, and they can examine issues with a critical eye and make amazing rulings.

Rav Cherlow came up with some unbelievable rulings which got him in trouble with his colleagues. He has responsa about women wanting to get a child without being married. Israeli poskim have also dealt with sex change operations. These are daring undertakings, Sure, one can also go overboard. It all needs careful consideration.

Rabbi Cardozo related a personal example of thinking outside the halakhic box.

I had a case two years ago: M, the son of a friend of mine, a Cohen, from a Portuguese-Spanish family of Amsterdam, practicing Jews, wanted to get married to a convert who was also a divorcée. And since he is a cohen, he went to the Rabbinate of the Spanish synagogue in Amsterdam and asked if there was any possibility he could marry this woman since he knew that a cohen can’t get married with a convert or a divorced woman. Both are very problematic laws in today’s society. Both he and his bride to be were not so young any more, they were in their forties and had little chance to find other partners and have children. But the Rabbinate said no. After all: a divorcée who is also a convert — and a cohen: impossible. So they came to me. I don’t consider myself to be a posek at all, but I know a little about it. They asked, can’t you help us, so I sat down with them and I said to the woman, why are you a divorcée? Did you get a get (bill of divorce)? Yes, she answered, I received a get via the rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv. I was married to an Israeli man, and after a few weeks the marriage fell apart. I asked if she would mind telling me why, and the answer was that the husband had a physical problem and couldn’t have relations with his wife. He was severely impotent. So I said to her, did the rabbinic court ask you why you wanted to get divorced? No, she said, they just told me I should get a get and that’s what I did. So I told to her that it was my opinion that she was not a divorcée, and that she didn’t need a get because there was no consummation of the marriage and therefore she was never married according to Jewish Law. The Rabbinate in Amsterdam had failed to ask these questions. Not a small matter.

Then I said to the cohen, how do you know that you’re a really a cohen? You come from the same background that I come from, Portuguese-Spanish, from under the shadow of the Inquisition. Can you tell me that your family were really cohanim? The man was actually called Cohen, which would indicate that he really was one. But I knew that the name Cohen was in the Portuguese-Spanish culture the same as “Lord” in England, and nothing to do with having been a descendant of Jewish priests. They used to use this kind of name as an honorary name which did not mean that they were cohanim halakhically. So after a lot of discussion with Israeli poskim, including Rav Bigman, and Rav Hollander, I said to the couple, this is my opinion: the young man is either not at all a cohen, or he might be a Hallal, a desecrated cohen. This is because during the time of the Inquisition, cohanim were incapable of holding on to their cohen lineage by marrying only women that were permitted to them such as virgins and widows. And if they married Jewish women who were not permitted to them, then their offspring are no longer bound by the laws of the cohen and are allowed to marry every Jewish woman including a convert or divorcée. And so I officiated at this couple’s Chupah.

In my opinion there are very few real cohanim in the world today. The Ashkenazi community has also had to go through the most terrible conditions and few there are real cohanim. The only ones who are probably cohanim are the Syrians and Tunisians, who have kept reliable records of their Cohanim.

ELECTRICITY AND SHABBAT

JP: When Edison invented the electric bulb, discussion began among US Jews whether or not electricity is fire. It determined the appearance and behavior of Shabbat for the next century. Today, when we have moved away from the light-bulbs with heated coils, and with solid state devices, even issues of the labor of construction on Shabbat are no longer present, and with major poskim already saying that devices like the telephone are not a problem — is it time to do away with our fear of the Shabbat slippery slope?

NLC: If you would ask me, am I in favor of allowing turning on lights on Shabbat? I would say No, but not for solely halakhic reasons. My reason is this: the fact that I’m not allowed to use electricity creates a certain spirit, a certain atmosphere, which I need and I think my fellow Jews need to observe Shabbat in the right spirit. Not because it is halakhically forbidden — there are enough reasons to rule that using electricity does not contradict the prohibitions of Shabbat. But not all halakhic matters are pure halakha. They have to do with ideology. How are we creating the spirit of Shabbat? What is required there? Therefore, we may say, listen, let’s not use electricity on Shabbat. This is what Shabbat has stood for, for thousands of years. In the olden days there were candles which were prohibited to be lit, over the years this was applied to electricity as well, so that unless there are very specific circumstances where there is really no solution but to use electricity, I would say, don’t light electric lights. Nobody is paying a big price for this. There’s no moral issue here, let’s keep the system as it is.

But take for example the case of the “Shabbat goy,” a non-Jew doing work for us on Shabbat. I think that the use of a Shabbat goy in Israel is highly unnatural and unhealthy. After all, it still means that we are depending on the non Jews, even when we are living in an independent Jewish state. In other words: we still need to have Arabs sitting in the electric company to make sure that we have light on Shabbat. I put a very big question mark behind this. I don’t see it as a healthy situation. Perhaps we should find the technological means for Jews to do this work without transgressing Shabbat. There must be ways by which we can do it ourselves and we don’t need non-Jews to do that for us.

I have altogether a moral problem with using non-Jews on Shabbat, because what we’re doing here is making an impression that the non-Jew is seen as a second class citizen; what we can’t do — he has to do. In other words, we are the so called chosen people, and we need to be served by the non-Jews. This discrimination against non-Jews is wide-spread in the orthodox community and very problematic and highly un-Jewish.

JP: You also have thousands of religious kids who are texting on Shabbat. Judging by the articles I’ve read on this issue I get the impression that it’s the norm rather than the exception in certain religious youth circles.

NLC: It’s a great tragedy, because it’s a sign that these young people are bored on Shabbat, that they don’t have something which replaces their smartphone, and we are remiss in offering educational ways by which to keep young people engaged so they wouldn’t even touch those devices on Shabbat. When you take something away from somebody you have to replace it with something even better. And if you don’t do that then you get these situations, which, in the Modern Orthodox world, has become a problem. There’s a lot of spirituality and inspiration missing, especially in the Lithuanian Jewish world. The excitement about being a Jew, about wanting to observe the commandments, over which Hasidism has a much better handle, is of the outmost importance. In the non-Hasidic world we’ve become extremely mechanical, we have to keep all the laws and we’re no longer asking what is the music behind it, what kind of music are we playing out here? The original Hasidic thinkers of two hundred years ago, like Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen or the Mey Hashiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica) — were able to give the Jewish Tradition a new spirit and knew exactly what they were writing about, even being prepared to take risks and being highly controversial. They stated what they believed, and because of that the Hasidic world has been given a spirituality which the Lithuanian world is not offering us till this very day.

KASHRUT AND ANIMAL SUFFERING

JP: Should the suffering of meat animals influence their kashrut standard?

NLC: I have doubts about the kosher slaughtering of animals in America and here in Israel. The meat industry today has overwhelmed us. The number of cows and chickens which have to be slaughtered every day is so enormous that I can’t see how this will ever work halakhically. The method of shechita at the time was meant for a small town where once in a while they would eat a piece of meat. You can’t compare it with the reality of the meat industry today, where tens of thousands of cows are killed every day.

I believe that the prohibition on needless suffering by animals makes our whole system non-kosher. Because, if indeed there’s a lot of needless suffering of animals taking place, and I’ve seen this personally, the way they deal with those animals is beyond all description, then the Rabbinate should say: No way we are permitting this. Now this is a very complicated story, because since we are a meat eating society, we have to produce an amount of meat that the shechita laws can’t live up to. It has to go too fast. I don’t know how many shochtim there are in Israel, there must be lots of them, but how is it possible that the shechita will always go well? You can use statistical rules of thumb, you can cite a permission here and an allowance there but how far does that go especially when we are bound by laws on how to treat animals mercifully? I don’t believe that any piece of meat today is Kasher l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher).

We should start educating people to no longer eat meat. This is a process, an educational process. The trouble is that if we slowly start to diminish the amount of meat which we require, we’ll have an economic problem on our hands. What’s going to be with all the people who are making their living from this industry? And there are lots of them: shochtim, butchers, supervisors, whatever else there is. You’ll have to find a financial solution for these people, you can’t just say, We stop eating meat. We have to find a slow way by which we will get people off eating meat, finding solutions to the financial problems of the people who are left without their livelihood — this is going to take fifty, sixty years. The trouble is that I’ve never seen the rabbinate or the rabbinic courts really dealing with these issues.

DISMANTLE THE CHIEF RABBINATE

JP: Do we really need the Chief Rabbinate in Israel?

NLC: We need to end the Institution of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. I have the greatest respect for Chief Rabbis Yosef and Lau, they mean well but they are the victims of a system that isn’t working. The truth of the matter is that the Rabbinate in Israel is the Knesset and not the Chief Rabbis . It is a political institution. Some people in the Knesset are telling the Rabbinate what they should say and do. There is corruption taking place. The institution is no longer functioning. It was meant for the general, often secular Israeli population. But it has been taken over by the Haredim, the ultra orthodox. This was not the intent for the Chief Rabbinate, because the Haredim have their own Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate lacks the halakhic poskim of great stature to deal with some very urgent issues: conversions, agunot, feminism, kosher slaughtering, running a modern state, which require these people to be great authorities in halakha and be creative thinkers, and the chief rabbis of today are not up to this. They are not on that level. They don’t seem to possess the prerequisite knowledge. Neither do I, but I am not the Chief Rabbi.

Today’s Chief Rabbis are not like the famous Rav Avraham Yitschak Kook, Rav Ben Zion Uziel or Rav Isaac Yitschak Herzog. I think that in the Ashkenazi Rabbinate the last person of greatness was Rav Shlomo Goren. He had the knowledge and he had the creativity. Afterwards this whole institution disintegrated.

JP: So you would replace it?

NLC: Sure. The last Knesset has already decided that every local rabbinate would have its own conversion system in their own cities, and no longer be subject to the control of the chief rabbinate. Orthodox rabbis who have the authority should decide in their own cities who are the people eligible to become converts. This should not be left up to the chief rabbinate, because the chief rabbinate doesn’t know these people. So how can they decide, without actually knowing the people, who is eligible for conversion?

I am of the opinion, as is the well-known Israeli Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, that we should try to convert the nearly four hundred thousand Russians of Jewish descent in Israel in a mass conversion, even though a priori it’s not the best manner of conversion according to halakha. The reason why I am in favor of this is this: if we do not convert these people they’ll marry our children and in no time we’ll have a million non-Jews here, to the point where it could undermine the security of the state of Israel. It can create enormous social problems. So here you have to consider not just the conversion issue but the security of the state, too.

This is no longer a diaspora reality where you decide on halakha for individuals who are Torah observant. We are dealing here with the state of Israel which requires that we make sure that we remain a unified political entity, that we can marry each other and secure the State of Israel.

But the rabbinate hasn’t for one moment even considered this point of view. That is a serious dereliction of duty.

David Israel

Spiritual Cafe: Fighting The Sin of Forgetfulness

Friday, August 28th, 2015

(((CLICK BELOW TO HEAR AUDIO)))

The Yishai Fleisher Show is back! This week, the beloved Spiritual Cafe series with Rabbi Mike Feuer on the Torah portion of “Ki Tetze” – going out to war.Yishai and Rav Mike deal with the complex dichotomy of the commandment to retain the consciousness of both hate for Amalek and compassion for the other & Biblical divorce between man and women but not between man and God. A must-hear for your Shabbat preparation!

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
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Moshe Herman

Is An Ideological War Winnable?

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Anyone who understands the conflict in Gaza knows the war Israel is waging is ideological, not political.

Of course, this is not the first ideological war our nation has faced. For centuries our people have suffered at the hands of others who sought spiritual salvation or other ideological benefits through terror and death. Somehow they would save their souls by snuffing out ours, through the use of rhetoric, abuse, torture, and death. In more recent times we confronted a new, more fiendish Nazi foe, who simply wanted us gone, with no spiritual intent.

For Hamas, it’s annihilation or bust, which is why Hitler is so popular in the Arab world. The problem for Hamas, though, is that it has no capacity to actualize its true agenda, so it long ago embraced a horrifying Plan B.

Consider Hamas’s tactics. Forget for the moment the endless barrage of missiles or even the terror tunnels. By using their own people and communal institutions as shields for their fiendish activities, Hamas leaders clearly don’t want their situation to improve, at least not in the way most people measure improvement.

The only victory or gain Hamas can potentially claim is in the court of public opinion, by persuading the international community into thinking Palestinians are being indiscriminately maimed and slaughtered by their Zionist enemy. This is something they have been able to do through a strong network of anti-Semitic collaborators and a complete misrepresentation of facts through mainstream and social media.

Such a struggle begs basic questions, like, “If offering land, economic improvements, and even autonomy will not help, what will?” Certainly Israel cannot bow its head to the jihadist agenda. Are Israelis forced, then, to resign themselves to a future in which they will have no rest so long as their neighbors place Islamic militants in positions of authority?

I would like to focus on a different question. What would happen if, God forbid, Hamas and its satanic allies were truly successful in their aim? How would they feel? After the initial street celebrations play themselves out and reality sets in, would they be happy with total control of “Palestine”? Would they achieve some euphoric bliss that made the entire struggle worthwhile? Or would their lives continue to reflect the inhuman squalor and societal injustice that have been the hallmarks of fundamentalist Muslim governments?

Jewish tradition teaches that if we are to understand the essence of a matter, we should study the details of the first related incident in the Torah. Before leaving for Rome, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi would review the story of Yaakov and Eisav for clues on how to deal with an implacable adversary.

Based on the above, I submit we do the same.

The struggle between history’s most famous (non-Roman) twins occurred on many levels. At its core was a fundamental difference in how they viewed happiness and satisfaction.

There are two principles of life which we meet in Yaakov and Eisav, and the fight between them is what the history of the world consists of: Family life which is happy and dispenses happiness in Yaakov, and the glitter of political power and greatness in Eisav. For thousands of years the battle has raged; whether it suffices to just be human beings, and all social, political power and organization have only importance as means of ensuring this goal of all human endeavors to be reached, or whether all that is humane in mankind, all family and home life, has only importance as trophies of politics to serve as a background.” (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary to Bereishis 32:8)

Yaakov, the “simple man, dweller of tents” (Bereishis 25:27) was content with his lot. To him, the inside was of most value, and who could be more internally fulfilled than a Torah scholar who had raised multiple children to God’s service? He “had all” (Ibid 33:11) in literal and emotional terms. Eisav, by contrast, was motivated by external qualities such as fame, power, and influence. Despite possessing much more than his twin in material and political respects, he could only muster that he “had much” (Ibid 9).

Rabbi Dr. Naphtali Hoff

Parsha Lesson: Battling Kidnappers and Amalek, Then and Now

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

You learn interesting new things when you visit different towns and Minyanim. Today I learned of a Ramban on Parsha Chukat (the weekly Torah portion that is read in on Shabbat) that I hadn’t seen before, courtesy of Ari Fuld, who gave the Rabbi’s drasha in his neighborhood’s shul.

In Bamidbar 21:1-3 it says,

1:. The Canaanite, King of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel had come by way of Attarim, and he waged war against Israel and took from them a captive.

2:. Israel made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If You deliver this people into my hand, I shall consecrate their cities.”

3: The Lord heard Israel’s voice and delivered the Canaanite. He destroyed them and [consecrated] their cities, and he called the place Hormah.

Seemingly the Canaanites attacked Israel, and to Israel’s surprise managed to take a hostage.

Israel then realized something was off, because they shouldn’t have suffered any losses.

So they then pray to God that they should be victorious over this unspecified, enemy nation.

They then destroy the “Canaanites”.

 

The Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel explicitly translates Canaanite in this first sentence as Amalek, in the third sentence he reverts back and calls them Canaanites.

Why is that?

Rashi points out that just a few chapters earlier in Bamidbar 13:29 it say:

29: The Amalekites dwell in the Negev land, while the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountainous region. The Canaanites dwell on the coast and alongside the Jordan.”

This king of Arad should have been Amalek, not a Canaanite.

So what’s going on here?

The explanation given is that Amalek believed that Israel could defeat them in battle.

They hoped to confuse Israel and God by changing their clothing and language, pretending to be local Canaanites. Their plan was that Israel would pray to defeat the Canaanites and not Amalek, and thus, by praying for the wrong thing, Israel would lose, and they, Amalek, would end up victorious.

But Israel, after a hostage was taken, quickly realizes that something is off, and that they obviously weren’t fighting the Canaanites like they thought.

So they modified their prayer to be generic towards whichever nation it is they were fighting. And of course, as we know, they won.

As an aside,  the hostage that was taken is believed to have been a foreign maidservant – not even an Israelite. But Israel decided to fight full-force to save one of their own, even a foreign maidservant (an important and relevant lesson for today).

Anyway, after modifying their prayers appropriately, Israel is victorious, as if Amalek were the Canaanites they thought they were originally fighting.

Now here’s the most interesting part:

The Ramban (Nachmanidies) say here about the Canaanite/Amalek:

“They [Amalek] came from a far away land, (specifically) to fight with Israel.”

Doesn’t that sound exactly like another group of people pretending to be indigenous, whose sole goal often appears to be nothing more than to kill or kidnap Jews, and destroy the Jewish state? (The answer is yes).

By the way, the Ramban mentions the maidservant was saved – may we also be zocheh that Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel be safely saved and returned home.

 

JoeSettler

Dust Off Your Windows

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Purim has passed and Pesach is just about here. Which leads me to the subject of windows.

Windows allow us to see beyond the confines of our homes – but often our windows get dusty, and sometimes the dust is so thick it prevents us from seeing. Even as the dust continues to accumulate we fail to notice it. Perhaps worst of all, some of us become so accustomed to not seeing that we no longer feel a need to dust off the window and look out. We assure ourselves there is nothing much to see and everything is just fine.

At this point at least a few of you may be wondering what on earth I’m talking about. What windows? What dust?

The answer is simple. Jewish windows. Jewish dust.

Let’s make a concerted effort to wipe the dense dust off the windows of Purim and Pesach so that we can behold what Hashem wants us to see beyond the celebrations of these joyous holidays.

On Purim we became merry and even tipsy. We had amazing feasts. We masqueraded and had fabulous fun. But what is behind it all? What are we to learn from the Purim story? The lesson is so critical that every year we are alerted to its urgency.

The Shabbos that precedes Purim is Shabbos Zachor – the Shabbos of Remembrance, on which we must hear the passage of the Torah that commands us to “Remember what Amalek did to you.”

Most of our people have never heard of Shabbos Zachor. But do even those of us who were in shul listening to that Torah reading really understand? Do we remember what Amalek means and what he did to us? Many of us alive today personally met Amalek. We saw him in action. But still I ask, do we remember?

Amalek was the founding father of all the Hitlers who have pounced on us throughout the centuries with only one goal – that of removing us from the face of the earth.

Hitler was one of Amalek’s most loyal sons. He knew the exact number of the Jewish population in every city, village and hamlet. I spoke in Hungary not too long ago. I wanted to visit the gravesite of my forbear the saintly sage HaRav HaGaon Shmuel HaLevi Jungreis, may his memory be a blessing. He was the rabbi of a little village most Hungarians never heard of, yet Hitler found it and in his madness sent troops to capture all the Jews who lived there. And should even one Jewish child have escaped into the forest, Hitler was prepared to send an entire platoon to get that little boy or girl.

Think about it: it was the height of the war, Germany’s very survival hung in the balance, and the only thing Hitler had on his mind was the need to gun down little Jewish children in the forest.

Toward the end of the war, when it was obvious Germany was losing, Hitler’s officers sent an urgent request begging for reinforcements. Hitler refused their plea. His priority remained the same: kill the Jews. His trains were needed to transport Jews to the death factories. They were operating day and night until virtually the moment of Hitler’s defeat. The son of Amalek was prepared to sacrifice his country just so that he might snuff out the lives of as many Jews as possible.

This is not ancient history and yet we choose not to remember. As a survivor of the Holocaust I can testify that not once but a thousand and one times I have been told, “Rebbetzin, please do not speak about the Holocaust. People are tired of hearing about it. They’re looking for happier messages.”

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Parsha Zachor Reminder

Friday, March 14th, 2014

This Shabbat we read Parshat Zachor. It is generally considered to be an obligatory commandment to hear this section of the Torah read each year.

From Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25:17-19:

Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt.

That he encountered you on the way and cut off those lagging to your rear, when you were tired and exhausted; and did not fear God.

And it shall come to pass, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shall obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget.

Parshat Zachor is always read on the Shabbat before Purim. Haman, one of the primary antagonists of the Megillah story, was a descendant of Amalek.

Shalom Bear

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/parsha-zachor-reminder/2014/03/14/

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