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Ours Is To Question Why…

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

“And Aaron and his sons did all of these things that Hashem commanded through Moshe.” – Vayikra 8:36

After a long and detailed description of the avodah (service) to be done in the Mishkan, the parshah ends with statement that “Aaron and his sons did as they were told.”

Rashi seems to be bothered by the fact that this is obvious. Of course Aaron and his sons did what Hashem told them to do. Why does the Torah see fit to mention it? He answers that it is a statement of praise: they didn’t veer off to the right or to the left.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. It doesn’t seem like he answered his question. Of course Aaron didn’t veer off to the left or the right. This was the avodah in the Mishkan he was performing! The directives came straight from Hashem. Could he possibly think that he knew better than Hashem how to perform them? And if that wasn’t reason enough, the punishment for a kohen deviating in the service is death.

Imagine a man working with high voltage electrical equipment. He has been given clear safety instructions. Make sure the power is off before you switch on the transformer. Make sure you are wearing protective gloves and you are grounded. Wouldn’t we expect him to follow every nuance because of the danger involved?

So what type of praise is it that Aaron followed orders?

The answer to this question can be best understood with an example.

The story is told about an Englishman who visited a farm in Texas in the 1880s. As he approached the ranch, he saw a cowboy herding the cows. He approached and, using an expression common in England then, asked for the man’s boss by saying, “Is your master home?” The cowboy put both hands on his hips and proclaimed, “The son of a gun ain’t been born yet.”

This anecdote is illustrative of a very human trait: we don’t like to be bossed around. In fact, we hate it. I’ll gladly help you, I’ll do anything for you – but ask nicely. Boss me around and forget it. I’m out of here.

This isn’t just a quirk of human nature – it’s a direct outgrowth of man’s inherent greatness.

In the Image of Hashem

Chazal explain that when the Torah tells us Hashem created man in His image, this isn’t merely an expression. Man is both the reason for all of existence and the maintainer of it. Everything physical has a spiritual counterpart sustaining it. Hashem put man into the role of being the one who upholds the spiritual level of the world. His actions, deeds, and thoughts build the upper worlds and sustain the lower worlds. Our eyes may not be attuned to it, but man is the maintainer of physicality. He is more significant than we can ever imagine, more important than anything we can envision. He is a little creator.

While this greatness of soul allows man to reach dizzying heights, it also comes with a liability. It is very difficult for us to follow orders. Even if we know they’re right. Even if we know they’re good for us. Even if those orders are given by the greatest of all greats, by the Creator of the heavens and the earth. We don’t like taking orders. And as strange as it sounds, it is difficult for us to accept commands and directives.

Aaron was one of the greatest men who ever lived, and he had a high and lofty sprit. As such, it should have been very difficult for him to follow orders. For him to “do as he was told” should have been very hard. Nevertheless, it wasn’t. Because he was very humble, he was able to recognize his greatness and act in a bold and innovative manner when called for – yet accept that Hashem was in charge. As great as he was, he was but a servant in front of his Master. He had overcome one of the paramount challenges to man – recognizing his greatness while remaining humble.

Understanding this balance is critical for our growth. The Torah wasn’t given to robotic people who follow blindly without understanding. The Torah was given to us, and we are expected to ask questions. We are expected to delve into the reasoning behind things. We are obligated to strain our minds to understand whatever we can. And yet we are expected to yield to the superior wisdom of our Creator and humbly submit to His directives.

Our is to question why, and yet ours is to do or die.

The new Shmuz book “Stop Surviving and Start Living,” is available in stores, at www.TheShmuz.com, or by calling 866-613-TORAH (8672).

Dr. Pepper Not Kosher – In Israel

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

According to Kipa.co.il, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate instructed kashrut supervisors to remove the popular American drink Dr. Pepper from store shelves, on the grounds that it is not being supervised in Israel nor in London.

The Chief Rabbinate claims that, based on data provided by the Badatz in London, it appears that products made in England and imported to Israel under the name “Dr Pepper” are are not kosher.

“The product has a kosher sticker on it marked Kosher KLBD (Badatz London), but it has not actually received  their approval and therefore presenting it as kosher under their supervision is a serious forgery,” says a special warning issued  by the Chief Rabbinate.

 

UPDATE: While we first heard about this story on Kipa, it was apparently Rafi Goldmeier, the blogger ‘Life in Israel‘ that broke the story. Thanks to Rafi’s father for the shout-out letting us know.

Yakima Congregation Reveres Ancient Torah Saved from the Holocaust

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Rabbi Moshe Druin, an expert in evaluating and repairing Torahs, visited from Miami Beach to inspect a 150-year-old Torah belonging to Temple Shalom on Browne Avenue, in Yakima, Wash.

Druin, a sopher or scribe, assessed the Yakima Torah for signs of wear and tear, and, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic, alternately enlightened, delighted and awed the congregation with his findings.

Not only does that Torah have a historical provenance, it’s a rare copy that will probably never be made in the same way again, Druin explained.

The congregation of 48 families was aware that their Torah had been rescued from what was once Czechoslovakia after World War II. Druin filled in the details:

During World War II, Jews in Nazi-occupied Prague sent messages around the countryside for fellow Jews to bring their family heirlooms and Torahs to be housed safely with the blessings of the Nazis, who were planning to create a museum of a lost race after they exterminated all the Jews.

In the 1950s, a London art dealer was visiting countries in communist Eastern Europe and discovered 1,681 scrolls, or Torahs, in a Czechoslovakian basement, the largest concentration in history.

“He flipped out,” Druin said.

The art dealer returned to England, gathered money and headed to Prague to buy back all the stashed Torahs. Later, after being held by a trust in England, many of those Torahs have been loaned out to synagogues around the world.

Temple Shalom’s was one of them.

“Take it out and commemorate it,” Druin told the congregation. “Keep the memory alive of the people it belonged to.”

Rabbi Moshe Druin: “How do you fence a stolen Torah”

Kate Middleton’s Favorite Designer Built on Hasidic Kapote

Monday, February 13th, 2012

The favorite clothing designer of Duchess Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William of England, built her success on the purchase of a Hasidic boy’s coat in a second hand store in Israel.

Katherine Hooker visited Israel a decade ago, and fell in love with a long black Hasidic kapote in a second hand store, according to the designer.  Soon after, she found a tailor in India who agreed to make her a copy.  When her friends became enamored of the garment, she made several duplicates, ultimately opening her own shop in London in 2004.  Some of her items sell for almost $2,000.

Middleton has become a fashion icon since her highly-publicized engagement and wedding to Prince William. She is particularly liked in the religious Jewish community, because of her tendency toward non-revealing attire.

Reaping The Fruits Of His Labor

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Reb Pinchos, born in Romania, moved shortly after birth with his parents to Vienna. As a teenager, he learned in another city and took his Gemara with him. Pinchos remembered how his rebbe always liked to teach from his Gemara. He remembered Kristallnacht vividly, as he and his parents left Vienna fearing for their lives. Upon returning to their house, the family found all the books and furniture smashed, but miraculously, of all the sefarim that had been destroyed, the Gemara that he took with him to yeshiva was untouched. In addition, the sefer Torah they had hidden on top of a bookcase in their home had fallen behind the bookcase – but was untouched.

Shortly after, Reb Pinchos and his parents left Vienna for England. Little did he know what the future had in store for him. Hundreds of people had escaped from Europe to England and the British were afraid that Nazi spies might have been among the escapees. His parents, being in their 70s, were allowed to remain in England, but Reb Pinchos and 2,000 other Jews were told that they were going to be deported from England. With a heavy heart he bade farewell to his parents, knowing that this would be the last time he would see them.

He and his fellow Jews were taken to a large ship, the infamous Dunera, which had a transport capacity of 800 – but was now packed with 2,000 people. They had no idea where they were going, and most only had their personal belongings in a small bag. The ship’s British soldiers went through all those belongings and stole anything of value – while personal papers were thrown into the sea. Conditions on board were terrible, with little food available, and the deportees were allowed on deck for fresh air for only an hour a day.

One day while at sea everyone was told, without explanation, to go below deck. Suddenly, the whole ship shook as if something had hit it. Little did they know that a torpedo had hit the ship, but miraculously didn’t explode. Not long after the war, the captain of the U-boat that had fired the torpedo wrote that he had noticed papers in the water and sent divers in to retrieve them. It turned out that about 200 German prisoners of war were on the Dunera, and when the German submarine’s commander found papers belonging to these prisoners, he commanded all the U-boats in the area not to fire at the ship. He accompanied the boat into safe waters.

After about 7-8 weeks, the ship arrived in Australia. The headline in the paper there read, “Enemy Aliens Arrive In Australia.” Reb Pinchos and the other Jews were taken to Tatura in New South Wales, where they were interned and kept behind barbed wires.

With World War II in progress, all able-bodied men had gone off to war and people were needed to pick fruit. Reb Pinchos and others were taken to the orchards to pick the fruit. As the first Shabbos was approaching, Reb Pinchos was concerned about having to work on Shabbos, but as he was officially a prisoner of war he questioned as to what to do. He decided to speak to the farmer, explaining to him the prohibition of working on Shabbos and offering to work on Sunday instead. To his surprise the farmer said that he would honor the request to not work on Shabbos, and he added that he did not want Reb Pinchos to work on Sunday either, since that was his “Shabbos.”

While working there, Reb Pinchos discovered that there was a shul in the area belonging to the Feiglin family. After his first visit to the shul, one of the Feiglin sons picked him up every Friday in order to spend Shabbos with the Feiglins. Reb Pinchos was returned to the farm on Sunday. When Reb Pinchos completed his job of picking the fruit at this farm, the farmer told him that he found a job for him picking fruit at a neighboring farm. And the farmer mentioned to Reb Pinchos’s new boss that Reb Pinchos did not work on Shabbos, a condition she accepted.

Eventually Reb Pinchos joined the Australian army. He married and raised a heimishe Jewish family – instilled with the values of Torah and Yiddishkeit.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Balanced View

I am happy you sounded a note of caution in your analysis of the Beit Shemesh controversy and urged great care that Torah values are not demeaned because the actions of a lunatic fringe gets the most media attention (“The Violence in Beit Shemesh,” editorial, Dec. 30).

There continues to be no lack of exuberant and furious critics of those who spit at little girls, but the defenders of Torah values are far and few between.

Michael Guttman (Via E-Mail)

 

Silence On Paul

Last week’s editorial “Ron Paul, Israel, And The Other GOP Candidates” makes an extremely important observation. If Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Bachmann feel so strongly in favor of Israel, how is it that they have not called Ron Paul out on his virulent attacks on the Jewish state? I think the reason lies not in their lack of commitment but in the dynamics of their constituencies.

There are many Americans who generally want to see massive cutbacks in foreign aid and the projection of U.S. power overseas and while most people who hold that view are not particularly focused on Israel, the fact is that Israel would definitely be impacted. Fear of alienating that segment of voters may have a lot to do with the silence of the GOP candidates on the issue.

Isaac Rich (Via E-Mail)

 

Friedman’s Ugly Slur

The unmitigated gall New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman must have toward our government is nothing short of alarming.

As Jason Maoz (Media Monitor) and Jonathan Tobin (op-ed column) noted in the Dec. 23 issue of The Jewish Press, Friedman recently suggested that U.S. Congress “was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” when it gave Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu several standing ovations.

To be sure, this statement is consistent with Friedman’s usual anti-Israel sentiment. Why would an educated journalist make such a rash statement? Even a blind man can see the reason Congress repeatedly stood up for Netanyahu is because the lawmakers were showing support for a country that espouses the same values and ideals we do.

Netanyahu was greeted with applause and shouts of approval because Israel and the United States have been longstanding allies sharing mutual admiration for one another.

Judge Norman Ciment (Via E-Mail)

Editor’s Note: Mr. Ciment is a former mayor of Miami Beach.

 

Danger To Democracy?

We have heard from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and many others that various episodes of “inequality” in Israel represent a danger to Israeli democracy.

In America, the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was first proposed in 1923. It was endorsed by President Eisenhower in 1953. The pressure built up in the 1970s when thirty-five of America’s fifty states ratified the ERA, but then five of those states later rescinded their ratification. It never did become the law of the land. Does this mean America is like Saudi Arabia or Iran?

A generation back America’s Ivy League universities were exclusively male, with the “Seven Sister” colleges as female counterparts. Oxford and Cambridge had separate colleges for males and females. Top independent schools and many state grammar schools were single sex in the UK and the U.S. Did that make us like Saudi Arabia or Iran?

Joseph Feld London, England

 

Orthodox Students In A Secular Academic Environment

Rather than a lesson in education, Karen Greenberg’s article “A Lesson in Education” (Jewish Press Teen Section, Dec. 16) highlighted the lack of education being provided in yeshivas these days.

There is no reason that someone graduating yeshiva high school plus one year of yeshiva in Israel should feel threatened by poetry extolling agnosticism. Furthermore, as stated in the article, this concept is being put forth as a “theory.” It would be a poor professor who would teach it as a definite fact and demand that one must question the belief in a divinity. Just because a professor explains the rationale of a theory does not pose a demand that anyone accept the theory. It simply raises a question for people to ponder – should they wish to ponder it.

All a professor can demand is that the student be able to explain the theory and the support for it, but he cannot demand its acceptance. As such, an approximately 20-year-old well educated yeshiva student should not be experiencing the shock and dismay expressed by Ms. Greenberg.

I clearly recall the course in Classics I took in college where we discussed in depth the Greek and Roman gods. I never felt threatened, intellectually or religiously, by these discussions. The same was true for the other courses in which issues touching on religion arose. I knew my position and was able to hear a differing point of view and even explain it in detail – and still walk away with my own belief intact.

Bilhah Abigail Franks: Early American Jewish Matriarch

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011
(Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from “Early American Jewry, The Jews of New York, New England and Canada, 1649-1794″ by Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1951.)
In general, little is known about Jewish women who resided in America during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Two exceptions are Rebecca Machado Phillips[i] and Rebecca Gratz[ii]. Another is Bilhah Abigail (Levy) Franks.
Abigail was born on November 26, 1696 to Moses (Raphael) and Richea (Rycha) Levy. Levy was born in Germany in 1665 and moved to London when he was a young man. There he had some success as a merchant, but felt there were more opportunities in the New World, so he decided to come to America, arriving in New York City in about 1705. Moses Levy became a substantial merchant in New York and owned a number of ships that transported goods between America and Europe. He was an active member of Congregation Shearith Israel and served for several years as parnas (president) of the synagogue. 
“When he [Moses Levy] emigrated to this country there came with him a man younger than he, but who was destined to play an important part in the affairs of the congregation as well as the city of his adoption. This was Jacob, the son of Naphtali Franks, who was born in Germany in the year 1688, and went from there to London to seek his fortune. He also thought that the New World would offer to him an enlarged field, and while his tastes were literary rather than mercantile, like many others before and since, he realized perhaps that the road to wealth was more rapid through the avenues of commerce than through the efforts of the pen.”[iii]
Jacob Franks had an intellectual bent, was learned in Jewish law, spoke a number of languages, and was called “rabbi” by members of Congregation Shearith Israel. In 1712, at the age of 25, he married Abigail Levy, who was then 16 years old. Jacob became a prosperous New York businessman.
“The Frankses had nine children, born between 1715 and 1742. [Two died before the age of seven.] The family was active in New York’s Jewish life – they belonged to congregation Shearith Israel, where Jacob Franks was one of four men to lay the cornerstone of the new Mill Street synagogue in 1729 and where he served as syndic [president] in 1730 – and they were active in broader Christian society, among whose women Franks counted her best friends. Franks reveled in the openness of New York society, rejoicing in the ‘Faire Charecter’ the family enjoyed among both Christians and Jews.”[iv]
“Jacob and Abigail’s oldest child was Naphtali, which Jewish tradition, based on Gen. 49: 2 I, takes to mean ‘stag’ or ‘hart,’ and hart in German is Hirsch. Like other German-Jewish families, the Frankses called their son Hirsch or Hart; Abigail called him ‘Heartsey.’ Sometime before 1737 Naphtali ‘Heartsey’ Franks was sent to London, where he was thoroughly prepared for the business world by the numerous brothers of his father. Young Franks left home probably in his teens; as far as we know, he never returned to the colonies. Ultimately he became a rich and powerful figure in the London Jewish community. Abigail kept in constant touch with her firstborn through letters.”
“Thirty-seven letters of the Franks family are known to survive, dating from May 7, 1733, to October 30, 1748. All are addressed to Naphtali Franks in England. Thirty-four are from Abigail, one is from Jacob, and two are written by his brother David. They discuss local politics, family and community activities, and aspects of the Franks family’s trans-Atlantic business. But Abigail Franks’s letters are most significant as an early American Jewish woman’s extended thoughts on the fit and fate of Judaism in colonial New York.”[v] 
It is from these letters that we know the following about Abigail:
“Abigail Levy Franks was never called upon to play a heroic role. She was the daughter of a substantial merchant, married to a prosperous businessman who daily grew in prestige and who, apparently, never experienced any serious financial reverses. She was born in an England, which now gave its Jews every opportunity to rise, at least in the economic world. A child of the British world with its budding tolerance and of the English colonial lands with their ever-expanding liberties, she faced the future. Her tongue was English, her script the roman, and she knew and quoted Dryden, Montesquieu, and Pope. She devoured the newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets of the day, read books, and enjoined upon her sons the duty of reading and studying every day while they were still young and the leisure was theirs. She saw that they were taught the painting and the music and the good manners that were expected of the children of the wealthy who moved in the magic circle of the titled and the politically powerful.
“Her children were her life, and if, unlike many women in the ghettos of continental Europe, she did not have to labor for them, she loved them no particle less. She lived and worried for her children with all the intensity of the traditional Jewish mother. Though apparently untutored in Hebraic and Yiddish sources, she was no less intensely Jewish.”
“Unflinchingly loyal to her faith, she [Abigail] was ready to sacrifice herself by sending her beloved children across the sea, to distant England, to a large Jewish community, rather than expose them to intermarriage with Gentiles yet her closest friends were Christians and she was a welcome guest in their homes. She wrote of herself as a ‘patriot’; this land was ‘our country,’ but she could never reconcile herself to intermarriage; she was determined to live and die a Jewess.”
However, it was not possible to send all of their children to England, and in 1742 their oldest daughter Phila eloped with Oliver DeLancey, who was from a prominent Christian family.  
The flight of their daughter and the disclosure that she had been secretly married for six months shocked Jacob Franks and his wife Abigail; they were observant, Orthodox Jews, and objected strenuously to intermarriage.”
In a letter to “Heartsey” dated June 27, 1743 Abigail wrote (the spelling is hers):
My spirits was for some time soe depresst that it was a pain to me to speak or see any one.I have over come it soe far as not to make my concern soe conspicuous but I shall never have that serenity nor peace within I have soe happyly had hittherto.My house has bin my prison ever since.I had not heart enough to goe near the street door. It’s a pain to me to think off goeing again to town and if your father’s buissness would permit him to live out of it I never would goe near it again.I wish it was in my power to leave this part of the world;I would come away in the first man of war that went to London.”
“This was not the last hurt she would feel. [In 1743] son David married Margaret Evans, a Christian daughter of one of Abigail’s close friends. Her younger children seem never to have married at all. Of Jacob and Abigail Franks’s more than two dozen grandchildren, not one of them appears to have passed on Judaism to his or her descendants.”[vi]

             We know that what happened to the descendents of the Frankses was, sadly, not an isolated event in American Jewish history.



[i]See “Rebecca (Machado) Phillips: Colonial Jewish Matriarch,” The Jewish Press, April 7, 2006 (http://www.jewishpress.com/pageroute.do/17894).

 

[ii]See “Rebecca Gratz: Champion Of The Unfortunate,” The Jewish Press, December 1, 2006 (http://www.jewishpress.com/pageroute.do/20057).

 

[iii] The Levy and Seixas  Families of Newport and New Yorkby N Taylor Phillips,  Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1896; 4, AJHS Journal.

 

[v]Ibid.

 

[vi]Ibid.

 

 Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/bilhah-abigail-franks-early-american-jewish-matriarch-2/2011/10/05/

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