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June 27, 2016 / 21 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘FREE’

Free Worship

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

The modern world was shaped by four revolutions: the English, the American, the French and the Russian. Two – the English and American – were inspired by the Hebrew Bible. The French and Russian revolutions, by contrast, were inspired by philosophy: the French by the work of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Russian by the writings of Karl Marx.

Their histories are markedly different. In England and America, revolution brought war, but led to a gradual growth of civil liberties, human rights, representative government and eventually democracy. The French and Russian revolutions began with dreams of utopia and ended in a nightmare of hell. Both gave rise to terror and bloodshed, and the repression of human rights.

What is the difference between philosophy and the political vision at the heart of Tanach? The answer lies in their different understandings of time.

The sedrah of Behar sets out a revolutionary template for a society of justice, freedom and human dignity. At its core is the idea of the Jubilee; one of its provisions is the release of slaves: As it is written: “If your brother becomes impoverished and is sold to you, do not work him like a slave. He shall be with you like an employee or a resident. He shall serve you only until the Jubilee year and then he and his children shall be free to leave you and return to their family and to the hereditary land of their ancestors. For they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. Do not subjugate them through hard labor – you shall fear your G-d … For the children of Israel are servants to Me: they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your G-d.”

The terms of the passage are clear. Slavery is wrong. It is an assault on the human condition. To be “in the image of G-d” is to be summoned to a life of freedom. The very idea of the sovereignty of G-d means that He alone has claim to the service of mankind. Those who are G-d’s servants may not be slaves to anyone else. At this distance of time it is hard to recapture the radicalism of this idea, overturning as it did the very foundations of religion in ancient times. The early civilizations – Mesopotamia, Egypt – were based on hierarchies of power that were seen to inhere in the very nature of the cosmos. Just as there were (so it was believed) ranks and gradations among the heavenly bodies, so there were on earth. The great religious rituals and monuments were designed to mirror and endorse these hierarchies. In this respect Karl Marx was right. Religion in antiquity was the robe of sanctity concealing the naked brutality of power. It canonized the status quo.

At the heart of Israel was an idea almost unthinkable to the ancient mind: G-d intervenes in history to liberate slaves; that the Supreme Power is on the side of the powerless. It is no accident that Israel was born as a nation under conditions of slavery. It has carried throughout history the memory of those years – the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of servitude – because the people of Israel serve as an eternal reminder to itself and the world of the moral necessity of liberty and the vigilance needed to protect it. The free G-d desires the free worship of free human beings.

Yet the Torah does not abolish slavery. That is the paradox at the heart of Behar; to be sure it was limited and humanized. Every seventh day, slaves were granted rest and a taste of freedom. In the seventh year Jewish slaves were set free. If they chose otherwise they were released in the Jubilee year. During their years of service they were to be treated like employees. They were not to be subjected to backbreaking or spirit-crushing labor. Everything dehumanizing about slavery was forbidden. Yet slavery itself was not banned. Why not? If it was wrong, it should have been annulled. Why did the Torah allow a fundamentally flawed institution to continue?

Rambam, in The Guide for the Perplexed, explained the need for time in social transformation. All processes in nature, he argued, are gradual. The fetus develops slowly in the womb. Stage by stage a child becomes mature. And what applies to individuals applies to nations and civilizations.

It is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other. It is therefore, according to the nature of man, impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed.

Accordingly, G-d did not ask the Israelites to suddenly abandon everything they had become used to in Egypt. “G-d refrained from prescribing what the people, by their natural disposition, would be incapable of obeying.” But surely G-d can do anything, including changing human nature. Why then did He not simply transform the Israelites, making them capable immediately of the highest virtue? Maimonides’s answer is simple:

“I do not say this because I believe that it is difficult for G-d to change the nature of every individual person. On the contrary, it is possible and it is in His power … but it has never been His will to do it, and it never will be. If it were part of His will to change the nature of any person, the mission of the prophets and the giving of the Torah would have been superfluous.”

In miracles, G-d changes nature but never human nature. Were He to do so, the entire project of the Torah – the free worship of free human beings – would have been rendered null and void. There is no greatness in programming a million computers to obey instructions. G-d’s greatness lay in taking the risk of creating a being, Homo sapiens, capable of choice and responsibility – of obeying G-d freely.

G-d wanted man to abolish slavery, but by his own choice. And that takes time. Ancient economies were dependent on slavery. The particular form dealt with in Behar (slavery through poverty) was the functional equivalent of what is today called “workfare,” i.e. welfare benefits in return for work. Slavery as such was not abolished in Britain and America until the 19th century, and in America not without a civil war. The challenge to which Torah legislation was an answer is this: How can one create a social structure in which, of their own accord, people will eventually come to see slavery as wrong and freely choose to abandon it?

The answer lay in a single deft stroke: to change slavery from an ontological condition (“what am I?”) to a temporary circumstance. No Israelite was allowed to be or see himself as a slave. He or she might be reduced to slavery for a period of time, but this was a passing plight, not an identity. Compare the account given by Aristotle:

“By analogy, [the difference between animals and human beings] must necessarily apply to mankind as a whole. Therefore all men who differ from one another by as much as the soul differs from the body or man from a wild beast … these people are slaves by nature, and it is better for them to be subject to this kind of control, as it is better for the other creatures I have mentioned [i.e. domesticated animals]. For a man who is able to belong to another person is by nature a slave…” (Politics 1.5).

For Aristotle, slavery is an ontological condition, a fact of birth. Some are born to rule, others to be ruled. This is precisely the worldview to which Torah is opposed. The entire complex of biblical legislation is designed to ensure that neither the slave nor his owner should ever see slavery as a permanent condition. A slave should be treated “like an employee or a resident” – in other words, with the respect due to a free human being. In this way the Torah ensured that, although slavery could not be abolished overnight, it would eventually be. And so it happened.

There are profound differences between philosophy and Judaism, and one lies in their respective understandings of time. For Plato and his heirs, philosophy is about the truth that is timeless (or for Hegel and Marx, about “historical inevitability”). Judaism is about truths (like human freedom) that are realized in and through time. That is the difference between what I call the logical and chronological imaginations. The logical imagination yields truth as system. The chronological imagination yields truth as story. (A story is a sequence of events extended through time.)

Revolutions based on philosophical systems fail – because change in human affairs takes time, and philosophy is incapable of understanding the human dimension of time. The inevitable result is that in Rousseau’s famous phrase, they “force men to be free” – a contradiction in terms, and the reality of life under Soviet Communism. Revolutions based on Tanach succeed, because they go with the grain of human nature, recognizing that it takes time for people to change. The Torah did not abolish slavery but it set in motion a process that would lead people to come of their own accord to the conclusion that it was wrong. How it did so is one of the wonders of history.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The Lie Of Academic Free Speech

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

The disturbing campaign to suppress speech that is purportedly hurtful, unpleasant, or morally distasteful is a troubling and recurrent pattern of behavior by “progressive” leftists and “social justice” advocates from Muslim-led pro-Palestinian groups.

Coalescing around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, this unholy alliance has been formed in a libelous and vituperative campaign to demonize Israel, attack pro-Israel individuals, and promote a relentless campaign against Israel in the form of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

As the ideological assault against Israel and Jews intensifies on university campuses, and pro-Israel individuals begin answering their ideological opponents, the student groups leading the pro-Palestinian charge (including such groups as the radical Students for Justice in Palestine [SJP]) have decided that their tactic of unrelenting demonization of Israel is insufficient, and the best way to optimize the propaganda effect of their anti-Israel message is also to suppress or obscure opposing views.

The pronouncements of these groups are now frequently defined by baleful whining.

Because it cannot win an honest, open ideological debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, SJP has characteristically tried to ensure that no pro-Israel voices are heard, by either disrupting and shutting down pro-Israel events and speakers or urging administrators to disinvite speakers they deem Islamophobic, too pro-Israel, or critical of their own tactics and activism.

The thuggish substitution of event disruption and the shutting down of other people’s speech for what is supposed to be two-sided academic dialogue and debate occur with increased regularity. These methods mark another, more pernicious, aspect of the campus campaign against Israel, Zionism, and Jews.

At the University of California, Davis, for example, George Deek, a Jaffa-born Arab Christian, planned to give a speech titled “The Art of Middle East Diplomacy” when some 30 pro-Palestinian activists stood up and blocked Deek with banners and took over the event by screaming “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” – meaning an Arab state in place of present-day Israel – and chanting such toxic ditties as “Long live the Intifada,” “Allahu Akbar,” and “When Palestine is occupied, resistance is justified.”

In February, Bassam Eid, a Palestinian himself and the founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, witnessed how nothing positive said about Israel is allowed to be heard, even from such a credible, though unusual, source as a Palestinian.

During his speech, in which he was critical of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for their failure to seek peace, Eid was verbally attacked by a student attendee, who said in Arabic, “Dr. Bassam, do not dare talk about us [Palestinians] anymore. You have shamed our God…you’ve shamed us, disgraced us, you are a traitor, you are a traitor, in the name of God you are a traitor…. You are worse than the Jews and we will hunt you down and find you in every place. Be prepared.”

When it became obvious that his speech would not be able to continue uninterrupted, Eid cancelled the event and had to be escorted offsite by the police.

Last November, the University of Minnesota Law School sponsored a lecture by Hebrew University professor Moshe Halbertal, an expert on Israel’s military code of ethics, titled “Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare.” The lecture was delayed for 30 minutes by the unruly heckling and chants of some 100 protesters from the Minnesota Anti-War Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who indignantly rose from the audience, interrupted, and accused Halbertal of war crimes and complicity in the 2014 Gaza incursion.

Also in November, as yet another example, the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Israeli Studies hosted an event with Stanford University’s Dr. Gil-Li Vardi, who was to present a study on “The Origin of a Species: The Birth of the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Culture.” At the event, twelve members of the “Palestine Solidarity Committee,” intent on disrupting the speech, created a human wall in the back of the room with the purpose of not allowing the event to begin. The anti-Israel activists tried, without the benefit of actually knowing what the speaker would say, to prevent her from presenting her viewpoint by shrieking out such taunts as “You are a former IDF soldier; we do not listen to you.”

The university officials and student groups who now try to suppress all thought of which they disapprove have sacrificed one of the core values for which the university exists. n their zeal to be inclusive, and to recognize the needs and aspirations of victim groups, they pretend to foster inquiry but have actually stifled and retarded it.

As this otherwise noble purpose for the university has devolved, the first victim in the corruption of academic free speech, unfortunately, has been the truth.

Richard L. Cravatts

UN Mid-East Envoy Not Thrilled with Netanyahu’s Free History Lesson Offer

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, on Saturday angrily refused an invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend his lecture to the world organization on Jewish history. The PM’s offer came in response to a UNESCO resolution that ignored completely the Jewish history of key spots in the Old City of Jerusalem, most notably the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. According to UNESCO, both sites have always been Arab, and only Arab.

“I was shocked to hear that UNESCO adopted a decision denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, our holiest site,” Netanyahu said in a statement, adding, “It is hard to believe that anyone, let alone an organization tasked with preserving history, could deny this link, which spans thousands of years.”

As a measure of correcting “this historical ignorance,” the prime minister, whose late father was a prominent professor of history, offered to host a special lecture on Jewish history for all UN personnel in Israel.

Mladenov appeared deeply offended by the PM’s suggestion that his staff were uneducated. “If someone wants to issue invitations they should be sent to Paris and addressed to the ambassadors of the member-states of UNESCO there,” he said in a statement. “UN staff in Jerusalem know the history of the region, its people and religions all too well.”

It should be noted that after Israeli officials had hit the ceiling in reaction to the insulting UNESCO resolution, the organization’s chief Irina Bokova issued a statement acknowledging that “Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people.”

Perhaps Netanyahu could ask Bokova to give that free lecture.

JNi.Media

A Soldier’s Mother: From the River to the Sea; from the Ghetto to the Free

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Almost every year, I post or share this video.  It is, as the pilot would say later, the perfect example of the transition the Jewish people have made from the ghetto and the concentration camps, to the free people of Israel.

I can’t watch it without starting to cry. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched and listened…and each time, as I hear the pilot begin to speak, and I see Israeli fighter jets fly over Auschwitz as a tribute to the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, my eyes fill with tears, my heart hurts.

There are many videos of the Holocaust – this one is not so much about the Holocaust as a memorial to it. It’s been more than a decade since I was in Poland, since I entered a gas chamber and the lingering feeling of death. Every step was agony – to walk on blood and bones, to feel that every inch was covered in death and a thousand showers would never wash away the horror.

Tonight, as I sit here, a memorial candle burning nearby, I check the news. Five mortars were fired at Israel today…no, that’s wrong… “were fired” is passive and there was nothing passive about this action.

Earlier today, the Arabs fired five mortars at Israel today. Perhaps they know our minds are remembering but what they don’t know is that even when we cry… We watch, we see, we guard.

In the heavens above us, six million souls form a ring if protection as mighty and as precise as the greatest weapons we have developed.

Today our defense, our entire defense is the sum total of several amazing things – first and foremost is the protection of the God of Israel. Second are the prayers and faith of an entire nation. Third are the angels – souls of generations of Jews who never lived to see the miracle we live every day. Fourth are the amazing sons and daughters who have committed years of their lives to watching over our people, our land.

Watch our sons fly over Auschwitz – a message to the souls of six million. If we had been around, we would have moved heaven and earth to save you and so today, we do the only thing we can do – we remember you, we honor you. We bless your memory and keep it alive.

Paula Stern

Bondage In The ‘Land Of The Free’

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Never before this year had the American political arena given us the abhorrent circus that passes for the current presidential campaign.

There are those who maintain that today’s political scene is a fluke; that a mere confluence of coincidences produced a situation of unbridled, horrible middos and worse. Unfortunately, that may be a rose-colored view. In addition, anyone who thinks the trends so prevalent in the non-Jewish world and the political arena have no effect on us as Torah-observant Jews should think again. We are affected and will continue to be affected by the ongoing corrosion and erosion of the most basic elements of decency in American public discourse.

The 2016 presidential campaign, a no-holds barred free-for-all that has crossed all lines of propriety, is in essence a reflection of where we are as a society. In the generation of Facebook and Twitter, where the “me” has become paramount, where spilling one’s guts and feelings about others in public has become the norm, the threshold for awful behavior has been repeatedly breached. Nothing is sacred. No one blushes anymore.

We are witness to a spectacle of politicians bashing each other with viciousness and impunity, ridiculing each other’s spouses, and engaging in the basest of conduct with impunity while the media gleefully broadcasts the freak show far and wide. This has served to lower the bar when it comes to accepted standards of morality while corroding some once-healthy American ideals.

The havoc this has wrought on our society – including Torah-observant Jewry – has been colossal. Just as the hyper cyberculture has transformed the news cycle and the way people consume, absorb, and comment on the events of the day, so too it has indelibly impacted the frum community.

Indeed, had a Torah-observant Jew gone to sleep twenty years ago and woken up today, he would be flabbergasted. The cyberculture, especially the blogs and comments sections of various pseudo-news outlets – even those purporting to cater to the Torah community – are often sewers of bad middos, selfishness, foolishness, childishness, and even, periodically, downright evil.

Just as a number of hard red lines have been crossed in this year’s political season, red lines in our community are being crossed as well. Motzi shem rah as well as ridicule of talmidei chachamim and the Torah itself are rife in many venues. Those with minimal Torah knowledge and very large corresponding egos take to spewing all kinds of hateful, denigrating rhetoric against that which is holy.

The degree of enmity, viciousness, and vindictiveness, enabled by an online culture that urges every person to publicize his opinion – regardless of whether it is correct or not, corroborated or not, or in consonance with the laws of lashon hara and rechilus as elucidated in the sefer Chofetz Chaim – has reached epidemic proportions.

* * * * *

We must ask ourselves two questions. First, how did we get here? Second, what can we do to try to protect ourselves from this unprecedented and pervasive influence that has infiltrated our community? It is an influence that has served to increase sinas chinam, the very catalyst for the churban of the second Beis HaMikdash and our present bitter galus; an influence that has led to mass proliferation of ridicule both of Torah and great talmidei chachamim.

Chazal have taught us that in order to achieve geulah we must rectify the sins that brought about the galus. It therefore behooves us to look at our first exile and redemption – the galus of Mitzrayim and the subsequent geulah to see what lessons we can derive from it, for if we don’t learn these lessons we may, God forbid, be destined to repeat them.

Rav Dovid Hofstedter

Sexual Choices

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Sexual depravity, like violence, was the natural state of the pagan world, with temple prostitution and human sacrifice going hand-in-hand. Even in the Bible, some of the greatest of men allowed their sexual urges to make fools and sinners of them. The Israelites, fresh out of Sinai, were seduced by Moabite purveyors of sex. The Mishna states unequivocally that lust is one of three things that can destroy a person.

In spite of all that, in Judaism sex is regarded as something wonderful, positive, and a gift of God. Provided of course one accepts the limitations and disciplines that the Torah teaches are necessary to fully appreciate its sanctity. Indeed according to the majority opinion in Jewish law nothing is forbidden sexually between consenting and permitted partners.

But we live in a world where sex has become a pervasive, trivial release of human urges, no more significant than a sneeze. Sex has always been misused. But in our world we have reached new lows. Women and children are abused sexually in the most barbaric and inconceivable ways. And I am not talking about those parts of the world still suffering from oppressive male religious hypocrisy. Even in the strictest of religions, the tendency to exploit and sexually abuse women has time and again proved to be more powerful than the strongest of taboos. The availability of pornography at the click of a Google search is a blight on civilization. It is the strongest argument for parental control of the internet.

If someone enjoys sadomasochism that is a private affair, and if consenting adults do whatever they feel like that is also a matter of privacy. Similarly, Christians and Muslims are free to try to convert me, and I am free to tell them to get lost. I know I am constantly being bombarded by adverts, overt and subliminal, all trying to manipulate me to buy something. But if I am mature enough I can withstand such pressures religious or profane.

When society seems to be losing its sense of sexual values, it is natural that some, religious or not, want to hold the line somewhere and preserve a comfort zone. All societies go through cycles of permissiveness, followed by repression, followed by relaxation. Often the way they do this is by falling back on standards that they believe once worked (even if they did not, or the circumstances were entirely different).

Many moderns look at Jewish laws that forbid sex during a woman’s period and give her time to recover as both primitive and unrealistic. But tradition can argue that, on the contrary, a voluntary form of abstinence enhances a relationship. Of course sexuality and how one treats it very subjective and personal, and no system works for everyone. But in my opinion, and as I have experienced it, it respects the right of the woman to decide how her body measures its rhythms. It respects her space. Again I stress that my experience tells me that periodic abstinence helps maintain the excitement of intimacy, which in too many relationships becomes mundane, loses its passion, and withers. There is lot to be said in favor of self-discipline.

I should stress that I have no idea if this is why we have these laws, but I do know I can see the benefits, whether intended or not. We live in an era of self-indulgence. The more spoilt you are the less you appreciate physical pleasure. You take it for granted, and the more addicted you are to instant gratification, the more you run the risk of needing constant stimulation. It’s like any addiction.

Traditional communities struggle to maintain values that they believe enhance life while in the world around them they are accused of being old fashioned. In a liberal society we believe in choices and freedoms. But the same rights must be extended to those who make other choices provided of course they do not interfere with others.

Currently a Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles, with a large Persian membership, is the center of a storm over the issue of gay and lesbian marriage. Most of the community embraces the decision of its rabbi to perform religious marriages for same-sex couples. A traditional minority has balked. It wants to adhere to traditional Jewish attitudes which insist that Kiddushin, the religious sanctification of a union, should conform to traditional requirements. You cannot say “According to Law of Moses and Israel” if it is not.

Jeremy Rosen

‘Move De Line’: Shalom Bayit; Shalom Aleinu

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

In parshah Ki Tetzei, Moses teaches us, almost as an afterthought, “Do not hate an Edomite because he is your brother.” This teaching is understandable. After all, even an estranged brother who has wronged me is still my brother. But then, in a leap hard to grasp for many of us, the Torah goes on to teach, “Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land” (23:8).

What? How can we help but hate those who enslaved us? Whose king demanded that “every male Israelite born be thrown into the Nile”? There must be a deeper meaning to these words. How can we be expected to develop good relations with such a mortal enemy? Which do we do? Do we recall our suffering in Egypt (l’maan tizkor et yom tzetcha m’eretz Mitzrayim) or do we “not hate an Egyptian”?

When I studied at Yeshiva University, hundreds of us would rush to the cafeteria after morning seder to quickly get our lunches so we could make it to our afternoon shiur on time. As you can imagine, the line could grow very long. There, standing behind the counter, dishing out daily helpings of whatever was on the menu was a gentle Holocaust survivor, Mr. Weber. To this day, so many years later, I can still hear his voice prompting us along: “Move de line, move de line.”

Over the many years of my life, his constant refrain has become integral to my personal philosophy. To me, he was not simply asking us not to slow down the line; he was telling us not to get stuck in a tough spot and, by extension, not to remain mired in the bitterness of the inevitable challenges and disappointments we all face – not to bear grudges for the rest of our lives.

We all have to “move de line.”

That means letting go of the negatives that hold us back – the things that enslave us, that humiliate us, that degrade us. Ironically, until we can let go of those things, we will remain enslaved, even long after our captors have set us free. We need to “move de line” if we are to forge new paths and realize new goals.

Hurt begets hurt. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate. If you want to move de line, you have to let go of hurt and anger. If your “captor” allows you to go free, the least you can do is grant yourself the same grace. As long as you continue to be enslaved by negativity, you can know no freedom; you cannot embark on a new beginning. You are stuck.

As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks eloquently teaches, “To be free, you have to let go of hate. That is what Moses is saying. If they continued to hate their erstwhile enemies, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. Mentally, they would still be there, slaves to the past. They would still be in chains, not of metal but of the mind – and chains of the mind are the most constricting of all.”

But what of all the mitzvot centered on Yetziat Mitzrayim – including those recalled on Shabbat, when laying tefillin, putting on our tzitzit or reciting the ancient truths at our Seders? In fact, there is no hate, no rage, no call for revenge or retaliation – not even a shred of negativity – in any of these mitzvot. Instead, they focus on the positive: Remember. Learn. Grow.

Move de line.

Rav Soloveitchik views the Egyptian exile and suffering as the “…experience which molded the moral quality of the Jewish people for all time.” Rather than embitter us, our experience in Egypt and subsequent emancipation teaches us not to hate and retaliate but rather “…ethical sensitivity, what it truly means to be a Jew. It sought to transform the Jew into a rachaman, one possessing a heightened form of ethical sensitivity and responsiveness.”

The most practical method of teaching compassion, sensitivity and concern for others, the most direct way of imparting a sense of mitgefiel, is to recall one’s own experience of tzarah. It should come as no surprise that it is often he who has suffered sickness who best understands the discomfort of the ill; he who has sustained loss who can best comfort the bereaved, and he who knew wealth and success but who suffered reversals who can best identify with a colleague or neighbor who confronts similar obstacles.

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/move-de-line-shalom-bayit-shalom-aleinu/2013/08/22/

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