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September 28, 2016 / 25 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Joseph’

Analysis: Thursday the Hon. Judge Joseph Haim Shapira Decided to Outlaw Hate

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

“Racism is baseless hatred of the stranger just for being a stranger, on the basis of difference in race or national ethnicity,” opens the Special Audit Report “Education for a Shared Society and Prevention of Racism,” submitted Thursday by State Comptroller and Ombudsman, the Hon. Judge Joseph Haim Shapira.

That’s not the dictionary’s definition of the term, it is, “Racism is the belief that some races of people are better than others (Webster).” According to this calmer and probably more useful definition, it’s OK for me to believe that my race (or ethnicity or any other form of identity) is better than anyone else’s, and as long as I don’t advocate harm to those others, I am entitled to my belief.

But Israeli law, according to Judge Shapira, defines as racism “persecution, humiliation, debasement, expression of hatred, hostility or violence, or causing a quarrel with a group or parts of the population, all because of color or race or national-ethnic origin.”

It’s a flawed definition, which inevitably leads to bad laws and bad audit reports, which, in the end, will have nothing to do, in the end, with any noticeable shift in people’s behavior. The proof is in the pudding, which in our case are the Auditor’s recommendations. They read like the welcome wall at a re-education camp on the outskirts of Saigon, circa 1975.

For instance, the Ministry of Education must create one body that will be authorized to impose education for a shared society and prevention of racism, complete with a high-level steering committee to set policy and for follow-up on implementation, with established metrics for a methodical examination of racism in the education system. This superior body will prepare a long-term and mandatory system-wide action plan to promote education for a shared society between Jews and Arabs, with the necessary budget and human resource allocation.

Just reading this paragraph, you know there’s nothing real in it. You know not one teacher or one child will actually change the way they examine the reality of their identity, but a small army of teachers and the bureaucrats that watch them will take home a paycheck.

I searched the Shapira report for the word “Arabic.” It is not mentioned once. The fact is that most Arab kids know more Hebrew than do Jewish kids, who aren’t particularly interested in the Arabs’ culture or language. That’s not racism, that’s ignorance. And ignorance is exactly the kind of problem the ministry of education can manage. How about a mandatory five weekly hours of Arabic for the Jewish students? Being versatile with the other’s language is the most essential step towards acknowledging and even understanding the other. If hatred is borne by fear and fear in turn is borne by the unknown, just force those students to learn the other side’s language.

The second auditor’s recommendation brings up education for a shared society and prevention of racism through a required cluster of knowledge courses such as civics, homeland and history, to insure that all students in the education system will be exposed to the issue and its different aspects throughout their years in the system.

What happens when the information in this additional knowledge course conflicts with other courses being taught concurrently? Jews study about the 1948 War of Independence, Arabs about the 1948 Catastrophe. These lessons in history always come packed with identity and with a strong negative notion of the other. Judge Shapira insists that “the Ministry of Education must act and turn the subject [of preventing racism] into an inseparable part of educators’ training process.” Do teachers now obscure the parts of history that may fail to qualify as enhancing the love of the other? How do we teach about the 1929 Hebron massacre without value judgments? Were there hateful people in Nazi Germany? If hate is defined as a value to be discouraged, how should we hate evil?

Judge Shapira has one good idea, which doesn’t really require a whole pro-love administration to make it happen. He recommends that the Ministry of Education increase the opportunities for inter-sectorial meetings and integrate teachers from different sectors in the framework of education of the “other” sector, and especially, increase the number of meetings between Arabs and Jews and the number of Arab teachers employed in the framework of Jewish education and vice-a-versa.

It’s a splendid idea, although not for the faint of heart. Assigning Jewish school jobs to Arab teachers fresh out of college and likewise Arab school jobs to new Jewish teachers would likely make them better teachers—unless they quit because their tires were cut for the fourth time in the school parking lot. They will probably become better citizens as well.

The politics of the left rears its ugly head in several spots along the report, and it is most noticeable in Judge Shapira’s recommendation that the Ministry of Education must cooperate with the numerous NGOs “working for a shared society and prevention of racism. This process should be conducted in partnership with the organizations themselves and in accordance with a consistent, long-term policy,” instructs Judge Shapira.

Because, let’s face it, no one knows better than Israel’s leftwing NGOs how to spread peace and the love of the other — provided he or she are not settlers.

David Israel

Joseph Wilf, Real Estate Developer And Supporter Of Jewish Causes, Passes Away At 91

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Joseph Wilf, a Holocaust survivor who created a building construction empire in the United States and was known for his Jewish philanthropy and support of Israel, passed away on Aug. 3 at his home in Hillside, New Jersey. He was 91.

Wilf was born in 1925 in Jaroslaw, Poland. Along with his parents, Oscar and Ella, and his brother, Harry, Wilf survived the Holocaust living in a Siberian labor camp. His sister, Bella, died in the Warsaw ghetto.

After the war, Wilf met his future wife, Elizabeth (“Suzie”). The two married in 1949, immigrated to the United States shortly thereafter and had three sons, Sidney, Zygi and Mark.

In the 1950s, Joe and his brother Harry started the Garden Homes construction firm, which built housing complexes, shopping centers, and more. It has become one of the largest real estate companies in the United States and Israel. Their commercial success led them to create, in 1964, the Wilf Family Foundation (there are now several different funds), which over the years has given away some $200 million.

Despite ample finances, “Joe Wilf lived a very simple life,” according to Rabbi Moshe Herson, director of Lubavitch of New Jersey and dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J.

Herson, who knew known Wilf for 45 years, said “he did so much in terms of building – not just physical structures, but building Jewish institutions and communities.”

Among those institutions was the Rabbinical College of America, the New Jersey-based Chabad-Lubavitch center of higher learning for men studying for their rabbinical degree.

The Wilfs, both Joe and Harry, were not just philanthropic donors to the RCA, stressed Herson, but took an active role in the continued growth of the educational institution.

“They didn’t just write a check,” said Herson. Rather, they used their business acumen and life experiences “to guide us in the right direction and give us advice, whether it was on a building expansion or buying an additional piece of property for the school.”

He added that they were dedicated to Israel and invested heavily in projects there. The brothers were involved with Israel, said Herson, “not for the sake of making money, but for the sake of investing in Israel’s economy to help the country and create jobs.”

The rabbi said the Wilfs “wanted to make a difference in the lives of the Jewish people, and create something they never had the chance to do in Europe. And they succeeded to a great extent. They used their success for the benefit of others, to do good.”

Herson stated that “the passing of Joe Wilf is almost the end of an era that is unduplicated. The feeling the Wilfs had for Yiddishkeit, for Jews, and for Israel was very strong, just outstanding. Their legacy lives on because their children and grandchildren are fully following in his footsteps.”

Faygie Levy Holt

‘Pop Chassidic Melodies Are Neither Pop Nor Chassidic’: An Interview with Cantor Joseph Malovany

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Born in 1941, Cantor Joseph Malovany serves as rector of the Institute of Jewish Traditional Liturgical Music in Leipzig, Germany; dean of the Academy of Jewish Music in Moscow; professor of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University in New York; and cantor of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue.

He’s sung with such orchestras as the Israel Philharmonic, the London Classical, the New York Symphony, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the Russian State Symphony, and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra and has received numerous honors, including the Cross of Merit – Commander of the Legion of Honor, which is Poland’s equivalent of knighthood.

He recently spoke with The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: Where did you grow up? What’s your early background?

Cantor Malovany: I was born and grew up in Tel Aviv where I went to the Bilu school. It was famous all over the world because of its shul, which had a choir of 40 boys led by Shlomo Ravitz, who was a famous chazzan. When I was eight-and-a-half years old, I was already davening Kabbalas Shabbos [for the amud] accompanied by the choir.

Excluding Barchu, I presume.

No, including Barchu. At the time, Rav Isser Yehuda Unterman was the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and he permitted it as a matter of chinuch. Later there were some halachic objections, so Rav Unterman said our teacher, Shlomo Ravitz, should sing Barchu and Kaddish together with the boy.

If you were already leading the davening at Bilu as an eight-year-old boy, you must have been quite musical.

When I was six years old, my mother sold her wedding ring so she could afford to buy a piano for me. That was the same year I started studying at the Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv.

When did you know you would become a chazzan by profession?

I actually originally wanted to become a conductor and studied classical piano and conducting at the Academy of Music of Tel Aviv.

But I found out that in order to get into the world of symphonic conducting, a very important component is entering international conducting competitions. I applied and was accepted to quite a few, but all of them required [conducting] on Shabbos, and I was not prepared to give up an inch in my frumkeit. As an einekel of Reb Avraham Michael Malovany and Reb Yosef Stein – who learned b’chavrusa with the Satmar Rebbe in Europe – it was out of the question.

So it was at that crucial moment that I decided to apply my knowledge of music to chazzanus and become a chazzan.

So you left the world of classical music behind?

No, I still practice every day for 30-45 minutes. I have a huge grand piano at home, and this morning, for example, I played Brahms’s sonata in F sharp minor and Bach’s chromatic fantasy.

In fact, when I have a concert with an orchestra where I am the only one performing, I insist on conducting one symphonic classical music piece for my own pleasure – “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini, for example, or Verde’s “The Force of Destiny.”

Who were your cantorial “heroes” growing up?

First was my teacher Shlomo Ravitz. Then there was Moshe Koussevitzky and his brother David Koussevitzky, whom I knew very well and loved very much. I knew Moshe too. In fact, I accompanied him on the piano when he gave an outdoor concert for 5,000 Israeli soldiers on a July day in the 1960s.

Of course I also liked Yossele Rosenblatt very much, and Mordechai Hershman too. Hershman was not a composer but he had such a beautiful voice and his interpretation was always so sublime that it got to me.

How do you view your job as a chazzan?

A chazzan first and foremost has to regard himself as a shaliach tzibbur. The prayer “Hineni” on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur says a shaliach tzibbur should have a beard, should have a nice voice, and should be “me’urav bedaas im habriyos,” involved in the life of his community. This is extremely important.

Number two, I always tell my students that before you ever try to be a chazzan, you have to be a baal tefillah. A baal tefillah is someone who is extremely well versed with the nusach, with the musical motifs of davening. Every tefillah – take Yishtabach or Ahavah Rabah for example – has a musical motif and that’s the way to sing it. If you sing a congregational melody, it should be built on this motif; if it isn’t, at least come back to it somehow. If you don’t, you are breaking a traditional chain that goes back a couple of thousand years.

Sometimes I hear a shaliach tzibbur sing a pop chassidic melody – which is not pop and not chassidic. It’s nothing. It has no quality. It comes from the nightclubs. There is nothing Jewish there. I would even venture to say it’s a chillul hakodesh. What right do people have to bring the banging of the disco into the synagogue?

In an interview several years ago, you criticized people who study Gemara during davening.

Yes, I’m very critical because, I think, they have no kavanah in their tefillah. They’re just saying the words to be yotzei and then they’re into the learning. What did Shlomo Hamelech say? There is a time for everything. So there is a time for tefillah and a time for learning. I learn the Daf Yomi every morning at 6:30 in my shul. I love learning, but tefillah is tefillah and learning is learning.

Who are some of the famous personalities you’ve met over the years?

Let’s start with Israel. I’ve been friendly with Israeli prime ministers beginning with Golda Meir, who was very musical. She liked chazzanus, and her son was a cellist.

The highlight among the prime ministers was of course Menachem Begin. I remember when he turned 65 I was invited to sing at his birthday and he told me what chazzanus pieces to sing. I was very close with him.

I was also friendly with Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Arik Sharon. Arik loved chazzanus; he was not a big maven but he loved it.

How about other world leaders?

I’ve met Gorbachev several times. His English is not so great but whenever I see him, I tell him a couple of jokes about himself – which someone translates for him – and he’s on the floor.

I met Putin only once and that was for International Holocaust Day in 2005, 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. I was invited to do all the tefillos. I remember I asked the president of Poland, “Can you please introduce me to President Putin?” So he says “Volodya, come here. This is Joseph Malovany. He’s my cantor. He sang in my royal castle, and you have to invite him to sing in the Kremlin.” After that we went aside and chatted for about 5-7 minutes on all kinds of interesting things.

Until recently you used to travel often to Eastern Europe. Why?

When the Soviet Union began to crumble I felt that there was a need to do something for Soviet Jewry. I knew they were musical and I thought chazzanus would do a lot for them. So when I received an invitation to come to Moscow, I went and helped establish the Moscow Academy of Jewish Music and the Moscow Jewish Men’s Choir. Until today this choir travels all over the world. It’s my creation – all the music they sing, all the arrangements, everything.

What was it like traveling to the Soviet Union before the Cold War ended?

I had a run-in with the KGB because in a speech I referred to “St. Petersburg” when the city’s official name was still Leningrad. I remember two guys came Friday night to our hotel room and wanted to give me a hard time. I said to them, “If you arrest me for saying that, within an hour President Reagan is going to be on the phone with Gorbachev and you’ll be in trouble for creating an international crisis.”

So nothing [happened]. But as they were leaving the room, they noticed that my wife had lit Shabbos candles. One of the KGB officials looked and looked and then said, “I remember my grandmother lighting candles like this and she did something with the hands.” I looked at him – I had tears in my eyes – and said, “Was it your mother’s mother?” He said, “Yes.” I said to him, “I have news for you. You’re Jewish. What are you giving me a hard time for?” I gave him a hug and we drank vodka.

Have you had any interactions with famous rabbinic personalities? Chassidic rebbes, for example?

I had three chassidic rebbes. First was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with whom I had an unbelievable relationship. The second was the Satmar Rebbe, whom I told you learned b’chavrusa with my grandfather in Europe. When I used to go into the Satmar Rebbe, he would stand up and say, “I’m standing up not for you; I’m standing up in honor of your grandfather.”

And the third was the old Bobover Rebbe, Reb Shlomo. He was very musical. I once met him in England, and he asked me for my haskama on a new melody he had composed. His meshorerim sang it for me, and I thought that, musically speaking – for a person who had no knowledge of music to be able to compose such a thing with modulations to different keys – it was genius. When they finished it, the Rebbe said to me, “Nu, what do you say?” I said to him, “A niggun like this can only be composed b’ruach hakodesh.”

He became [a bit startled] and said, “Yossele Rosenblatt once spent Shabbos in Bobov and a similar story happened. My father, Rav Bentzion, asked Reb Yossele for his opinion on a niggun he composed and he said the very same words. ‘Only b’ruach hakodesh.’”

Elliot Resnick

Ban Ki-Moon Condemns ‘Reprehensible’ Arson of Joseph’s Tomb

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a rare condemnation of Arab violence against Jews but managed to moderate it with a call to “both sides” to respect holy sites.

Reacting to the arson of Joseph’s Tomb (Kever Yosef) last week by Palestinian Authority Arabs, he stated through his spokesman:

This reprehensible act is yet another example of the escalating violence in the region, threatening to further inflame sensitivities owing to the religious significance of Joseph’s Tomb.

And then came the “balance,” lest Israel escape from libel:

The secretary-general calls on all sides to respect the sanctity of all holy sites, refrain from any inflammatory actions or statements and reject the extremist elements that are pursuing a political agenda seeking to transform the current situation into a religious conflict.

After dozens of Palestinian Authority and Jerusalem Arab terror attacks that have resulted in the murders of nearly a dozen Jews, the shock of the arson of the holy site finally prompted PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to break his silence and condemn the rioters.

His criticism was in stark contrast to his campaign that charges Jews with preventing Muslims from praying at the Temple Mount, even when “praying” means shooting at police at throwing rocks and firebombs at security officers and non-Muslim visitors.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Uri Ariel commented on Facebook:

Torching one of the places holy to the Jewish people is a new low, and a result of Palestinian incitement.

While the Palestinians brazenly lie about us harming the status quo on the Temple Mount, they go out and burn and desecrate the sacred places of Israel, and that won’t be forgiven.

The Foreign Ministry stated:

Israel condemns in no uncertain terms the harm to Joseph’s Tomb committed for the sole reason that it is a place where Jews pray. The torching of Joseph’s Tomb clearly demonstrates what would happen to the holy places in Jerusalem if they were placed in the hands of the Palestinian leadership.

Only Israel can protect the holy places of all religions in Jerusalem.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Pesach’s Dusty Windows (Part Four)

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

For the past several columns I’ve been focusing on “windows” – albeit dusty windows that block our vision and prevent us from looking out and seeing the reality of our Jewish lives.

These windows are everywhere; they encompass our Yom Tovim and all events that befall us. These windows speak. They send us messages. But our ears do not hear. Our eyes do not see. Our windows are covered with layers of thick dust that have accumulated over the millennia.

We have just celebrated the wonderful days of Pesach when G-d broke the chains of our bondage and led us forth to Sinai and the Promised Land. We had beautiful Seders, and while at some point our eyelids may have become heavy with slumber, we forced ourselves to remain awake as we related the story and sang the songs of the Haggadah.

In the midst of our celebration, however, it never occurred to us to look out of our dusty windows, and after Yom Tov we returned to normal everyday life.

Yet the windows of Pesach are crucial. Through them we can see our bitter exile.  Yes, the Haggadah speaks loud and clear: In every generation there are those who stand ready to pounce upon us and devour us but Hashem saves us from their hands. But few of us look out our windows and ask, Why does Hashem have to save us? Why are they trying to devour us?

We fail to understand that all of Jewish history is a replay of sorts. “Whatever happened to our forefathers is a sign” – a message to their descendants concerning what will happen throughout their long and bitter exile.

Let’s dust off the windows and study that first bondage of Egypt – the bedrock of all our future suffering.

Joseph is in Egypt and becomes the country’s viceroy. He sends a message to his father, Jacob, to come join him with the entire family. Jacob comes and Joseph, along with his entire entourage – what in our day would constitute members of Congress, the president’s cabinet, and the elite media – goes to greet him.

Paradoxically, Joseph tells his father to present himself and the family to Pharaoh as shepherds. It’s an odd message, since the Egyptians, as Rashi notes, considered sheep to be sacred and held shepherds in disdain.

Why would Joseph wish to portray his family in such a negative light? Why would he wish to alienate them from Pharaoh and the Egyptian people?

Joseph, who had survived in Egypt for twenty-two years as a lone Jew, had become an expert in preserving Jewish life in exile. He knew that in order to protect his people from disappearing, he would have to settle them in their own community where they could adhere to their own traditions without being threatened by assimilation. But for that to happen, the Egyptians would have to keep Jews apart from the mainstream of Egyptian society and isolate them in their own neighborhood, hence Joseph’s instructions to Jacob. And indeed, a “Jewish city” arose – Goshen.

Thus, Joseph laid down one of the first principles of Jewish survival – a strong, self-contained Jewish community. The Jews prospered, but while they became a vital part of Egypt, they remained a nation apart. All this came to a dramatic halt with the death of the Jacob. This change is related in the Torah in so subtle a manner that the casual student would probably not even pick it up.

Every Torah portion in a sefer Torah either starts on a new line or is separated from the next portion by at least a nine-letter space. But the last portion of Genesis, Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26), in which Jacob’s demise is announced, is not separated from the previous portion (Vayigash), and is therefore known as a “stuma” – closed.  Rashi explains that “with the death of the patriarch, the eyes and hearts of the Jewish people closed – shut down due to the anguish of the bondage.”

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

The Dangers of Favoring One Child Over Another

Monday, December 31st, 2012

I’ve always seen Jacob as characterized by two central yet seemingly contradictory facets. On the one hand he is the patriarch who is always around his kids. He is a father and a husband first and foremost. A really family man. On the other hand, his family appears to be deeply dysfunctional, with strife, bitterness, and jealousy rending the family asunder.

Beginning with the time he was as boy Jacob witnessed his father Isaac’s favoritism toward Esau. When he gets older Jacob repeats this error by favoring Joseph. It’s unbelievable that the Torah actually says, “And Jacob (Israel) loved his son Joseph more than all his other sons.” Which father does that, or is so blatant about it?

This leads, of course, to enormous, almost deadly resentment toward Joseph from his elder siblings. But in this past Shabbat’s Torah reading, just when you think that the family is finally united and things are healed, Jacob does it again. In Egypt, in his dying moment, after Joseph has forgiven his brothers their attempt and fratricide and brought everyone together, saving them from famine, Jacob first seeks to bless Joseph’s children, but not necessarily the children of his other sons. And second, he gives the first-born blessing to Efraim, and not Menashe, who is the older son.

What is it about Jacob that he seemingly can’t stop the favoritism? When Joseph objects and essentially says, “Please father, bless Menashe first, for he is the firstborn,” Jacob responds, within earshot of the older boy, “I know, my son. I know. And while he will grow to be a great man, he will be outdone by his brother.” Surely Menashe didn’t feel good hearing this.

Is this simply a case of family dysfunction becoming a family heirloom, passed from generation to generation? I have seen this hundreds of times with families I have counseled. The same toxic patterns are repeated from parent to child to parent to child. Studies show, for example, the high prevalence of repetitive adultery in families. If your parents cheated, there is a likelihood that you will cheat as well. The same is true of divorce. Children of divorce have a far higher rate than the national average.

Is that what this is about? Abraham favored one son, Isaac, and cast off Ishmael, albeit with Sarah’s prodding and even God’s acquiescence. Isaac repeats the favoritism with Esau, thereby scarring Jacob deeply. And Jacob repeats it first with Joseph, then with Joseph’s children, and then with just one of Joseph’s son. Seemingly unable to break free of the pattern, Jacob’s family remains divided by bitter jealousies.

This might explain why Jacob, in last week’s Torah reading, makes one of the more startling statements of the Torah. When introduced to Pharaoh and asked how old he is, presumably because he looks older than his years, Jacob responds, “I am 147 years old. My life has been short and bitter, and has not reached the length of my ancestors.” Whoa. Talk about a downer.

But there are few things in life that can cause greater pain than family dysfunction and continual fighting. No parent likes watching their children assail each other.  Jacob was worn down by the constant strife. But he also seems challenged to rise above its basic causes.

Amid the Bible’s descriptions of his paternal shortcomings, I have always identified with Jacob more than any other Biblical personality, with the exception possibly of King David (whose humanity is so vividly detailed in the Bible). The reason: Jacob is so lifelike, complex, and real. He is a man whose righteousness is defined not by perfection but by a constant striving to live by the will of God amid the scarring he has endured and the human limitations that tie the hands of us all. He is the father of his nation, named for that constant wrestling and striving, “Israel, he who wrestles with God.”

To use a modern example, Abraham would be like George Washington, seemingly perfect and inscrutable. The marble man. One, the father of monotheism. The other, the father of his nation. But Jacob would be Jefferson. Jefferson, the quintessential American. The man of great complexity and even greater contradictions. But the true author of our independence. The man who, is his multifaceted, intricate nature captures the true spirit of America in all its glory, its virtue, its inconsistencies, and its shortcomings.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

The Refusal To Be Comforted

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The deception has taken place. Joseph has been sold into slavery. His brothers have dipped his coat in blood. They bring it back to their father, saying: “Look what we have found. Do you recognize it? Is this your son’s robe or not?” Jacob recognized it and replied, “It is my son’s robe. A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces.”

We then read: “Jacob rent his clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned his son for a long time. His sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, ‘I will go down to the grave mourning for my son’ ” (37:34-35).

Why did Jacob refuse to be comforted? A midrash gives a remarkable answer. “One can be comforted for one who is dead, but not for one who is still living.”

Jacob refused to be comforted because he had not yet given up hope that Joseph was alive. That, tragically, is the fate of those who have lost members of their family (the parents of soldiers missing in action, for example), but have no proof that they are dead. They cannot go through the normal stages of mourning because they cannot abandon the possibility that the missing person is still capable of being rescued. Their continuing anguish is a form of loyalty; to give up, to mourn, to be reconciled to loss is a kind of betrayal. In such cases, grief lacks closure. To refuse to be comforted is to refuse to give up hope.

On what basis did Jacob continue to hope? The late David Daube made a suggestion that I find convincing. The words the sons say to Jacob – “Haker na – Do you recognize this?” – have a quasi-legal connotation. Daube relates this passage to another, with which it has close linguistic parallels:

“If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping … If it [the animal] was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal” (Shemot 22:10-13).

The issue at stake is the extent of responsibility borne by a guardian (shomer). If the animal is lost through negligence, the guardian is at fault and must make good the loss. If there is no negligence, merely force majeure, an unavoidable, unforeseeable accident, the guardian is exempt from blame. One such case is where the loss has been caused by a wild animal. The wording in the law – “tarof yitaref – torn to pieces” – exactly parallels Jacob’s judgment in the case of Joseph: “tarof toraf Yosef – Joseph has been torn to pieces.”

We know that some such law existed prior to the giving of the Torah. Jacob himself says to Laban, whose flocks and herds have been placed in his charge, “I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself” (Bereishit 31:39). This implies that guardians even then were exempt from responsibility for the damage caused by wild animals. We also know that an elder brother carried a similar responsibility for the fate of a younger brother placed in his charge (i.e. when the two were alone together). That is the significance of Cain’s denial when confronted by G-d as to the fate of Abel: “Am I my brother’s guardian (shomer)?”

We now understand a series of nuances in the encounter between Jacob and his sons when they return without Joseph. Normally they would be held responsible for their younger brother’s disappearance. To avoid this, as in the case of later biblical law, they “bring the remains as evidence.” If those remains show signs of an attack by a wild animal, they must – by virtue of the law then operative – be held innocent. Their request to Jacob, “haker na,” must be construed as a legal request, meaning, “Examine the evidence.” Jacob has no alternative but to do so, and in virtue of what he has seen, acquit them.

A judge, however, may be forced to acquit someone accused of the crime because the evidence is insufficient to justify a conviction, yet he may hold lingering private doubts. So Jacob was forced to find his sons innocent, without necessarily believing what they said. Jacob did not believe it, and his refusal to be comforted shows that he was unconvinced. He continued to hope that Joseph was still alive. That hope was eventually justified. Joseph was still alive, and eventually father and son were reunited.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-refusal-to-be-comforted/2012/12/05/

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