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September 29, 2016 / 26 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘decision’

The Voice of a Child

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Children should be seen and not heard. It was a maxim that I heard many times throughout my childhood and which caused me a fair amount of frustration. When, I often wondered, would I cross that invisible line and move out of the periphery to which I was assigned, into the arena of adulthood and be given the chance to express an opinion that people would listen to? Life ran its course, I became an adult, was granted the right to express my opinion and found out that very few people listen to me. Interestingly, in contrast to the past, popular psychology today has touted the need to build a child’s self-confidence so successfully that children are both seen and heard quite clearly. Despite this, I wonder how many communities would make a decision based on the perception of a child. Judaism does.

Last Shabbos the clear, strong voice of the baal korei (reader) rang through the attentive synagogue as the weekly section of the Torah was read out loud. Suddenly it came to a standstill. There was a moment of utter silence and then the sudden swish of numerous prayer shawls, the thud of footsteps and the mutter of deep voices. Peeping through the lattice that separates the women’s section from the men’s, I watched the crowd of men thicken around the table on which the open Torah scroll lay.

Apparently, there was a problem with the Torah scroll. A kosher Torah scroll is treated with great respect. For example, it is not permitted to leave it unattended; a person is required to stand in its honor and may not turn his back to it. A non-kosher Torah scroll is not awarded the same level of respect. If even one letter of a Torah scroll is problematic, the entire scroll is invalidated until the problem is fixed. Most authorities maintain that a non-kosher scroll cannot be used to read the weekly portion. Since the reading must take place from a written text, reading from a non-kosher scroll is akin to reciting by heart making the reading invalid and the blessings recited over it said in vain and the Torah reading must be repeated.

Taking the above into account, every Torah scroll that is written is scrutinized for accuracy. Today, computers help out. A megiah (checker) scans the scroll into a computer running a program that checks the letters and their sequence. The computer then points out possible problems: sometimes a letter hasn’t been written correctly. Some Hebrew letters are very similar: yud, vav and nun sofit are all shaped similarly to a number one, but vary in length. Other letters are written by combining one or more two letters: for example, an aleph, which looks something like an X, is actually made up of three letters: a slanted vav, and two yuds, one above the vav and one below. Sometimes a letter is actually missing and the computer picks this up too. The scroll is then checked by the megiah himself. It seems very unlikely that any problem with the letters could creep in after all that, but, sometimes the computer and the megiah do miss problems and sometimes the problems develop later. The ink used to write a Torah scroll is usually a mixture of tannic acid, which is derived from gallnuts formed on the leaves of oak trees by wasps, copper sulphate to give it a strong black color, and gum arabic to make the glue slightly elastic so that the ink doesn’t crack when the scroll is rolled. Sometimes the letters can become smudged or cracked—after all, the scroll is being used regularly.

In this case, my son informed me, one of the congregants, a Torah scholar of standing, had spotted a letter vav that he claimed was too long—so long that it could be mistaken for a nun. That being the case, the reading was suspended while the men debated whether the letter really did pose a problem or not. In a synagogue in which number of Torah scholars rivals the number of stars in the sky on a moonless night, there was no lack of differing opinions. I watched fascinated as varying opinions of men who spent their days and night toiling in the sea of Torah were whispered urgently. Finally, the decision was made: since the mistake was debatable, a child would be asked to identify the questionable letter.

Rhona Lewis

Barak and Barack

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

An interview with Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak — thinly disguised as “the decision-maker” created a sensation in early August, when he suggested that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was imminent:

As the Iranians continue to fortify their nuclear sites and disperse them and accumulate uranium, the moment is approaching when Israel will not be able to do anything … For the Americans, the Iranians are not yet approaching the immunity zone − because the Americans have much larger bombers and bombs, and the ability to repeat the operation a whole number of times. But for us, Iran could soon enter the immunity zone. And when that happens, it means putting a matter that is vital to our survival in the hands of the United States. Israel cannot allow this to happen. It cannot place the responsibility for its security and future in the hands of even its best and most loyal friend.

Barak explained that Israel could not depend on an American commitment to destroy the program in the future, even if it were made today:

Ostensibly the Americans could easily bridge this gap,” he believes. “They could say clearly that if by next spring the Iranians still have a nuclear program, they will destroy it. But the Americans are not making this simple statement because countries don’t make these kinds of statements to each other. In statesmanship there are no future contracts. The American president cannot commit now to a decision that he will or will not make six months from now.

So the expectation of such a binding American assurance now is not serious. There is no such thing. Not to mention that President Obama doesn’t even know if he’ll still be sitting in the Oval Office come spring. And if Mitt Romney is elected, history shows that presidents do not undertake dramatic operations in their first year in office unless forced to. [my emphasis]

Suddenly last week, Barak began to sing a different tune. In an interview with the UK Daily Telegraph’s David Blair, he backed off:

His gnawing concern is that Tehran will fortify its nuclear plants, particularly the enrichment facility dug into a mountainside at Fordow, to the point where they become invulnerable to the striking power of Israel’s air force. If Iran reaches this “zone of immunity”, Israel would lose its ability to deal independently with a crucial threat, forcing the country to trust the rest of the world and break the principle of self-reliance that underlies its very foundation.

Earlier this year, however, Iran delayed the arrival of that moment. Tehran has amassed 189kg of uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity, a vital step towards weapons-grade material. In August, the country’s experts took 38 per cent of this stockpile and converted it into fuel rods for a civilian research reactor, thus putting off the moment when they would be able to make uranium of sufficient purity for a nuclear bomb.

Mr Barak said this decision “allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by eight to 10 months”.

We can relax for a while, right?

I don’t think so. The problem is that the conversion of some relatively highly-enriched uranium into fuel rods does not stop Iran’s progress toward the “immunity zone,” even if it may delay the arrival of the day that a bomb can be assembled. The regime can still “fortify and disperse” its facilities so as to reduce the effectiveness of an Israeli attack. And they are doing so, continuing work on the deeply-buried Fordow plant.

Barak’s logic in August was that what was driving Israel’s decision wasn’t Iran’s progress towards a bomb per se, but rather its progress towards the “immunity zone.” And this progress hasn’t stopped. The argument is no less sound today than it was then.

We also need to keep in mind that fuel rods can be reprocessed, and that there are certainly things that we don’t know about the Iranian program (what Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns”).

Vic Rosenthal

Likud Approves ‘Biberman’ Deal, Polls Show Zero Gain

Monday, October 29th, 2012

At the Likud meeting on Monday evening, Likud Central Committee members overwhelmingly voted to allow Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu to run together with the Likud as a joint list.

The attempts led by Likud MK Michael Eitan to have the vote done by secret ballot failed to collect enough signatures.

Netanyahu said that the decision to run together won’t change the Likud, but it would allow the Likud to change the State of Israel.

Liberman said the decision was a historic and important one that will strengthen Israel.

Liberman will take the number 2 position on the list, and Netanyahu reportedly offered him the choice of receiving the Finance, Defense or Foreign ministry. Liberman chose to remain as Foreign Minister.

The new joint list will receive 42 seats in the next Knesset elections next January, a Channel 2 News poll found on Sunday. It means that the parties will retain their current power.

The poll found that Shelly Yachimovich’s Labor party will get with 23 seats (up from 8). Shas 13 seats (up from 11) and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party 9 seats. Left-wing Meretz will grow from 3 to 6 seats. The new National Union-New National Religious Party will drop to 5 seats, United Torah Judaism will stay at 5. Ehud Barak’s Independence party will get 3 seats. Kadima will drop from its current 28 seats to 3 seats. The Arab lists will get 10 seats altogether.

Jewish Press News Briefs

The Safety Net You Need

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

The last time you were at the circus did you gasp as the trapeze artist swung through the air?

Even though his antics might be scary, there’s a strong safety net catch him in the event of a fall. Hopefully, the trapeze artist won’t ever need to use it. But it is always there – just in case.

Even the world’s best acrobats have safety nets to catch them if the unfortunate occurs. So what does that say for the rest of us, who aren’t the world’s best?

Even if you’re not a trapeze artist, you need a safety net. As long as you have dependents, you need a safety net to save you from fiscal free fall.

Sometimes, the “fall” can be the result of poor financial planning and decision-making, but often it’s due to circumstances that are beyond your control.

For this reason, it’s important to make sure you have a safety net in place. In terms of personal finance, this is a two-pronged approach: making sure that you have adequate insurance and having an emergency savings account.

If you have young dependents, insurance is absolutely vital. What would happen if your family’s breadwinner(s) died or was seriously injured? While insurance won’t solve every problem, it definitely helps alleviate some fiscal concerns.

And in a situation that is far less drastic, but still costly, emergency savings can make all the difference between being unable to put food on the table or repairing the car.

Review your insurance portfolio to make sure that your family is covered in the event of a possible disaster, and evaluate your bank accounts to ensure that you have an emergency savings plan in order to catch you in case you fall. And like the trapeze artist, let’s hope that you never actually need to use it.

Doug Goldstein, CFP®

Arab Teachers’ Rejection of Holocaust Education Highlights Arab Anti-Semitism

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard once commented that, sometimes, the only proper reaction to a particular event is despair. The following represents such an example.

According to a recent report, rumors of a U.N. decision to introduce Holocaust studies in schools in Palestinian refugee camps run by UNRWA  have outraged Jordanian teachers, who say they will refuse to teach history that “harms the Palestinian cause.”

Roughly two million Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA’s Jordan offices, and they operate 172 schools in 10 refugee camps across the kingdom.

The Executive Committee of UNRWA teachers in Jordan responded to news that Holocaust studies would be added to the curriculum on ‘conflict resolution’ by issuing a statement stating that, “We condemn this decision, which equates the butcher and the victim,” (emphasis added).

The teachers’ statement demanded instead classes on the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel.

The statement continued, objecting to the fact that “Teaching UNRWA students about the so-called “Holocaust” as part of human rights harms the Palestinian cause … and changes the students’  views regarding their main enemy, namely the Israeli occupation.

“We shall monitor the curriculum being taught under the title ‘concepts of human rights’ [which is] aimed at reducing [Palestinian] students’ awareness of the right of return…”

The reaction by Jordanian teachers follows a decision last year, by the association of UNRWA employees, to ban the introduction of Holocaust studies in UNRWA schools.

Remember that these are not Islamist extremists we’re talking about, but middle-class Jordanian educators, ordinary men and women who evidently are outraged by “rumors” of a U.N. decision to teach children about the Nazi slaughter of one out of every three Jews on earth.

Identifying with six-million victims of Nazi genocide is evidently seen as harming the Palestinian cause.

Moreover, it’s important to understand that though the Holocaust did not come close to putting an end to anti-Semitism across the world, news of the unspeakable horrors in extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka and Majdanek did attach to expressions of Judeophobia, in most of the enlightened world, a significant moral stigma.

Holocaust memory in our times creates a bulwark of sorts against the most virulent expressions of antisemitism, as it demonstrates the potential deadly consequences of unchallenged racism against Jews – and, indeed, against other minorities.

It is indeed telling that the central address of anti-Semitism in modern times is the Arab and Muslim Middle East, where the cultural antibodies against Jew hatred have failed to materialize.

If the citizens of the Middle East were to internalize the lessons of the Holocaust they would be forced to confront their own society’s often homicidal  anti-Semitism – a self-reflective habit of mind which the honor-shame culture of the Arab world does not promote.

The reaction by Jordanian teachers to the suggestion that they educate Palestinian children about the unspeakable crimes committed against Jews is, therefore, not surprising, as such a curriculum would necessarily turn a mirror on their own extensive moral and cultural shortcomings.

Finally, how can anyone seriously contemplate Palestinian peace with living Jews if they are often unable to reconcile themselves with even the humanity of murdered Jews?

The only healthy response to such stories is simply despair.

Originally published at the CifWatch blog.

Adam Levick

Making Amends

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Where I now work, there is a small kitchen where workers can have lunch. We take our lunch breaks at different times, and I usually take mine at the same time as an unassuming young man named Benny Green, a 25-year-old who works in the company’s stockroom.

In conversation, he asked me if I am a ba’alat teshuvah. I answered in the affirmative. He then said that he was a ba’al teshuvah.

“At what age did you do teshuvah?” I asked.

“Thirteen,” he said. “At the end of seventh grade.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Thirteen is kind of young to do teshuvah,” I commented. “I mean, it’s hard by yourself.” He agreed but said that his parents were okay with his decision, and even sent him to a religious school upon request.

“It started with your bar mitzvah?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, recalling that his mother always knew he would become religious because he told her so when he was just four years old.

Certain children, from a young age, display sensitivity to religion whether or not they are raised in religious homes. Benny’s mother attributes it to zechut avot. Her father, the grandfather he never merited to know, had been an illui at the Chochmei Lublin Yeshiva in Lithuania before the war. After the Holocaust, he came to Israel and left some of his faith behind.

Benny started attending shul Friday nights while learning for his bar mitzvah.

“It felt good,” he said. He was happy to be there. “There was this old man, Naftali; I think he must have been 90 years old. There wasn’t a place on his face that wasn’t wrinkled, but it’s his fingers that I remember. He used to show me the place in the siddur. I remember always watching his hands.”

Naftali, who has long since been collecting his reward for turning Benny on to prayer, not only influenced a young bar mitzvah boy but all of Benny’s family eventually followed in his footsteps and are now at least partially observant.

That’s the first part of the story. Benny took me aside a few weeks after our conversation and told me the rest of it.

His grandfather had left a diary. Benny’s cousin recently found it and was perusing it when he came across an interesting entry. It seems that his grandfather had transferred Benny’s mother from a religious school to a secular one that was closer to home. That was a decision, he wrote, that he regretted his entire life. He described it as his worst mistake and hoped that he would one day be able to make a tikkun. The cousin, intrigued, asked Benny when he had switched schools. Benny told him that it was around the time of his bar mitzvah, at the end of seventh grade. His cousin told him that it was at that age when his grandfather transferred his mother to her new school.

“But there’s more,” Benny told me. The reason his mother had wanted to change schools was because of social problems related to being overweight. Benny had wanted to change schools for the same reason.

Apparently Benny’s grandfather wasn’t as much at peace with his decision as his family had thought.

Today, Benny’s mother is quite thin (and has been for years) and Benny has managed to shed the unwanted pounds that caused him discomfort as an adolescent in a secular school.

And Benny’s mother and brothers have followed in his footsteps – and are now religious.

Benny’s grandfather never did personally get to see his tikkun; instead he got it with the help of another grandfatherly figure – literally pointing the way.

The symmetry of Divine Providence never ceases to amaze me.

Rosally Saltsman

New Brit Mila Legislation May Be Weeks Away in Germany

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Ritual circumcisions have resumed in the Cologne region of Germany, ending a controversy started in a Cologne court in June, when judges decided ritual circumcision constituted “bodily harm” to boys and religious coercion.

Though the court decision only prevented Jewish and Muslim circumcisions in one portion of Germany, religious rights groups decried the decision and feared the legal precedent would lead to the ban of circumcisions throughout the country.

The groups invoked Germany’s history of religious intolerance and vowed to fight for ritual circumcisions in the courts and through public campaigns.

The Justice Ministry has issued new legislation to reinstate ritual circumcisions, but only provided that families endure a thorough medical elucidation of the risks and processes of circumcision by a professional, and utilize “the most effective pain relief possible” when performing the ceremony.  The legislation is still pending.

Approximately 4 million Muslims and 120,000 Jews live in Germany.

Malkah Fleisher

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/new-brit-mila-legislation-may-be-weeks-away-in-germany/2012/10/02/

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