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January 19, 2017 / 21 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘lost’

What Is Hidden Is Never Lost: Rapa-Dreidels, Portugal, And The Marranos

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

Communal memories do not vanish. They may become tenuous, fragile as wisps, as shards of dreams. But they remain. Though the atrocities of the Inquisition sought to banish our memories, our faith, and our identity with cruelties unthinkable even in our own modern era of unspeakable cruelty, we continued to remember. And the evidence of that remembering appears in the strangest places and sometimes in the most curious of ways, like a flower breaking through the asphalt of a dreary and oft-driven roadway.

Legend speaks of Jews arriving on the Iberian Peninsula during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign in the 6th century BCE, or perhaps even during King Solomon’s reign three hundred years earlier. What is not legend is the active social and commercial roles Jews later played on the peninsula during the Visigoth and Muslim periods.

During those many years, Jews became the intellectual and economic elite of the country, intimately involved in all aspects of Portugal’s famous navigation and exploration, financing sailing fleets as well as making discoveries in the fields of mathematics, medicine, and cartography. Jews were often given preferential treatment by kings and treated with great respect.

All that changed on Tisha B’Av 1492.

Schoolchildren know the year because it was when a famous explorer set sail to discover the New World. We Jews know the date because it is when all Jews were expelled from Spain. Soon after, King Manuel of Portugal issued the same order to the Jews of Portugal but then abruptly changed his mind and ordered the Jews to remain instead – to remain and be forcibly baptized. At the time, he promised the Jews they could continue their private religious practices for twenty years with no inquiry.

Scholars suggest that King Manuel’s second edict created a distinct group – outwardly Catholic but inwardly Jewish. These citizens came to be known as “New Christians” or Marranos. And while his edict granted a twenty-year “grace period” for these New Christians, the following three centuries saw them experience the full horror of the Inquisition.

In his essay “Finding Portugal’s Anusim” in Ami magazine, Mark A. Merlis writes, “The Jewish areas were, for the most part abandoned once the Inquisition took hold, those who did not manage to leave the country became ‘New Christians’ who outwardly professed Christianity but secretly kept up Jewish practices.”

This does not mean they remained observant and adhered to mitzvot as we understand it. What it does mean is that these New Christians maintained some connection to Judaism, however tenuous. As time went on, those connections took on a Jewish “look and feel” but became more and more removed from the real thing. After all, they could not be real Jews. Doing so would put their lives at risk.

A Rabbi Litvak who came to serve as a rabbi in the city of Porto, in responding to a question about the Bnei Anusim, went so far as to say that “it would be difficult to find many Portuguese who don’t have some Jewish blood.” Between the great Jewish community that existed prior to the Inquisition and all the subsequent generations of New Christians, Jewish blood is flowing everywhere in Portugal, to one extent or another. Throughout the years of persecution and hidden rituals, they maintained their Jewish traditions and Jewish family matrilineal line from generation to generation through limiting marriage within the crypto-Jewish community and through oral transmission preserved and handed down by their women.

But many of the rituals and observances as we know them fell by the wayside. The Anusim did not practice brit milah and shechitah; such rituals were too obvious and therefore dangerous. Syncretism with Catholic ritual was inevitable. Marriages took place in churches, but privately the officiating elder intoned, “In the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I unite you; receive your blessing.” The Hebrew language was lost except for the term Ad-nai. Pesach survived as Santa Festa and matzah pao azumo (bread of the poor) was baked secretly. Yom Kippur was celebrated on the 11th of Tishrei, presumably to throw off the Christian neighbors. Although they seemed to know of Queen Esther, Purim and other Jewish holidays were lost in the mists of time. Certainly, Chanukah was too open a festival to have been able to survive.

Hundreds of years of secrecy have made the “Jewish” residents very hesitant to talk to outsiders. It became second nature to be Jewish in secret.

There was simply no other way. These Jews, driven ever inward to deeper and deeper places of secret Jewish identity and expression, might have been lost to history if not for the meticulous record keeping of the Church – and the determination of memory.

* * * * *

What are we to make of these Jews, these hidden Jews who “abandoned” their faith and identity? Maimonides suggests we should be forgiving. The New Christians who continued secretly to observe the precepts of Judaism as much as possible after their conversion were not regarded as voluntary apostates. Although Judaism teaches that one should allow oneself to be put to death rather than abandon one’s faith in times of persecution, Maimonides taught that “nevertheless, if he transgressed and did not choose the death of a martyr, even though he has annulled the positive precept of sanctifying the Name and transgressed the injunction not to desecrate the Name, since he transgressed under duress and could not escape, he is exempted from punishment.”

Accordingly, other rabbis determined that those New Christians – who remained in their countries because they were unable to escape – were full Jews if they conducted themselves in accordance with the precepts of Judaism, even if only in private.


Rather than rendering judgment and condemnation, we praise their determination in clinging to any remnant of our faith and identity; recognizing their survival as a testament to their strength and determination. So many of these brave souls wanted to hold on to their Jewish heritage, even in secret. They wanted to live but not to forget.

They lived and they remembered, in ways large and small, desperate and delightful. And the most delightful of those ways happens to revolve around another miraculous time in our history – Chanukah, which happens to have always given me great personal joy and delight.

How these things came together – the historical and profound with the delightful and miraculous – is a simple tale. Last year, Clary and I journeyed to Portugal, that land with such a rich and cruel Jewish history. We made sure to tour the sites of the terrible times, saying Tehillim at the only memorial erected at a public square where Jews were burnt to death. However, even during the darkest moments I carried within me a prospector’s awareness. As anyone who knows me is aware, I am a collector of dreidels. In my home I am surrounded by them. From the most elaborate to the simplest, I believe these twirling “toys” represent the essence of who we are, individually and collectively. Nes Gadol Haya Po/Sham. A great miracle happened here/there.

Yes, our history is a story of tragedy and pain. It is also a testament to miracles and joy, delight and blessing. We have been oppressed and beaten but always, always, a nes gadol happened, always there has been redemption.

Dreidels are my talisman, my touchstone. They reassure me in the most innocent and delightful way that our miracles will continue. And so, wherever I am, I look for dreidels. My collection spans the globe and finding myself in Portugal, I naturally sought out dreidels. But where might I find one? There were no Judaica shops in Portugal.

As we continued our tour, I continued my search. During one conversation, I was told of a store that sold dreidels with English letters. English letters! On a dreidel? In Portugal? This I had to see. Unfortunately, I was not able to get to the shop. However, upon my return home to New York, I continued my search. If there was such a thing as a Portuguese dreidel, I had to have one.

As it turned out, I could not locate a dreidel. The closest I could find was a rapa-dreidel, a wooden, dreidel-like top with English letters. I contacted the store proprietor through the Internet. She informed me that children played with the rapa during the holiday season and it had something to do with pretend gambling.

Really? “Which holiday?” I inquired.


Why, I asked, would they use a dreidel at Christmas?

She did not know but she did assure me that Jews “also used to play this game.”

Intrigued, I pressed for more information. But she said that was all she knew. She could not explain to me why Portuguese children would take to this wooden top, on which letters such as R (rapa – take all), T (take one) D (leave everything in), and P adorn the sides. She could not explain why children gambled on buttons, beans, or candy or why the rules of rapa were so much like the rules of dreidel.

The more I pressed her, the more she did not know – but the more I did. I came to learn that there was a lot of Jewish things going on in Portuguese culture. Women light candles on Friday nights without knowing exactly why, just that “that is how it had always been done.” Mother lit candles. Grandmother lit candles. Her mother before her lit candles.

I came to learn that rapa-dreidel had been adopted by a number of cultures that had allowed its origins to become lost in the mists of time. A similar game in Germany was known as “totem” while in France it was called “toton.” A famous 1735 painting by Chardin, “L’enfant au Toton” (the child with the dreidel) is testament to its popularity.

So it is with memory and our tradition during the long Galus we continue to make our way through. There are many stops – some darker and more tragic than others, some demanding greater sacrifice than others, some more bloody than others – but all speak to a memory and identity that will not be – cannot be – denied.

We do not forget. We cannot forget. Perhaps we cannot name the names of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were swallowed up alive by the horrors of Portugal’s Inquisition. Likewise, we cannot know the names of the many who were spared gruesome torture and death because they “gave it up” to stay alive. And yet, they did not, could not, truly “give it up.” They clung to memories, to bits and pieces, to small rituals that were handed down generation by generation, until they have reached us today and are able to recognize in the fragments the wholeness of Jewish identity and its power.

You can be sure that I bought more than a couple of rapas from that woman and you can be equally sure they occupy a place of honor in my growing collection, attesting to the miracle that is Jewish life and experience; the miracle that proclaims that no matter how far down the Jew is driven, he remains determined to hang on.

He may hide, but he will not forget.

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

Esav’s Lost Opportunity

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Esav could have been a great spiritual leader, an important partner in the building of the Jewish People. But it was not to be.

Due to Esav’s misdiagnosis of his own spiritual potential, he gave up on bridging the physical world with the spiritual, of sanctifying the material world, the ultimate goal of Torah.

In this week’s haftarah we read from Sefer Ovadia. As we once pointed out, Chazal tell us, as Rashi notes in his first comment on this sefer, that Ovadia was a convert from the nation of Edom, of Esav. HaKadosh Baruch Hu sent him to deliver a message to the nation of Edom that because they had spiritually failed as a nation, they would be punished. This is the basic thrust of our haftarah. It is clear that Ovadia, a person who came from a wicked nation and environment but came close to Hashem and Torah by converting, was someone who could lecture his former nation about their evil failings.

There is one pasuk toward the end of the haftarah which summarizes the most significant way in which Esav failed.

“The house of Jacob shall be fire and the house of Joseph a blaze, and the house of Esav shall become stubble, and they shall ignite them and consume them, and the house of Esav shall have no survivors, for Hashem has spoken” (Ovadia 1:18).

The pasuk stresses that the spiritual power of Yosef is what causes Esav to fail. Rashi stresses this point Parshas Vayeshev (30:25) saying that when Yosef was born, Yaakov felt ready to face the challenge of Esav. Yosef is call sitno shel Esav, the adversary of Esav, and Rashi cites the above pasuk. Yosef is the flame which consumes Esav. Why is this? Esav maintained that it was impossible to be successful in both the material and spiritual worlds, and thus he gave the spiritual world to Yaakov and took the physical world for himself.

The life of Yosef displayed very clearly how wrong Esav was. Yosef was extremely successful, reaching the cusp of world power as viceroy of Egypt, while maintaining his great spiritual levels.

There are stark differences between Yaakov/Yosef and Esav.


Rav Yisrael Simcha Schorr quotes an Agra d’Kallah (from the Bnei Yissaschar) that cites a Zohar at the end of Parshas Pinchas which states that Yaakov and Esav divided the months between themselves. Yaakov symbolizes the middas harachamim, compassion, while Esav symbolizes the middas hadin, justice. Certain months are connected more to din and others are connected to rachamim. Esav wanted to take all the summer months, Tammuz, Av, and Elul. As we know, Tammuz and Av are difficult months for us, times of din. However, Yaakov would not allow Esav to take the month of Elul, as it would be too hard on Klal Yisrael to come into the din of Rosh Hashanah without the rachamim of Elul. We need Hashem’s compassion for a full month in order to face the great Day of Judgment.

The Zohar sees this dispute in the pasuk in Parshas Toldos (25:26), “veyado ochezes b’akeiv Esav.” Yaakov was holding on to the heel of Esav – the end of the calendar year, the summer months. Esav had grasped them, but Yaakov was trying to get a hold of Elul from him. Yaakov was, in fact, successful and Elul became a month of rachamim.

The Agra d’Kallah quotes the Chida on that pasuk who says that “yado,” his hand, also refers to the letter yud. As Rashi says in Parshas Beshalach, yud represents machshava, a thought. The yud is small and so too is thought in the physical realm – it is unseen. The yud was in the heel of Esav, thus, thought was not a foremost value in Esav’s identity. Esav was asuy, fully formed, with the yud coming at the end. In Esav’s world, thoughts follow action. Do first, think second.

Esav name should have been Asuy, but Yaakov took the yud from the end of Esav’s name and put it in the front of his own. Yaakov should have been called Eikev for holding on to Esav’s heel, but taking the yud demonstrated that he was all about thought first and action second. As the Chida writes, sof maaseh b’machshava techila; for Yaakov the actions are always preceded by the thoughts. Avos D’Rav Nosson says that the heel is the least sensitive part of the body. For Yaakov, even the heel, even the most distant part of himself, is always directed by the yud, by thoughts.


The Torah (Bereishis 39:11) says, “Yosef came to the house to perform his work.” Rashi tells us that Potifar’s wife did not attend an idolatrous holiday celebration event with everyone else, pretending to be sick, in order to catch Yosef alone and tempt him to sin. How did she know that Yosef would be at home? Even if it she knew he wouldn’t attend the idolatrous event, he could have been someplace else. Why did she assume he would remain at home?

The Yalkut Shimoni seems to answer this question. Says the Midrash (remez 146): What does it mean that Yosef went to the house to do his melacha, his work? Something like a gezaira shava, a parallel-word connection, is made to the pasuk (Bereishis 2:3) which says we cannot do melacha on Shabbos because Hashem refrained from doing so. Says the midrash: What kind of work was Yosef doing at the house? It was Shabbos and he was specifically not doing work. So what was his melacha? Torah study! Every Shabbos, Yosef would review all the Torah which Yaakov taught him.

Indeed, even in the bitter exile, Yosef maintained his spirituality and kept Shabbos.

Indeed, Bamidbar Rabbah (14:2) on the famous pasuk in Parshas Miketz which alludes to Chanukah, “U’tvo’ach tevach vehachein,” says that Yosef had instructed his workers to slaughter some animals and prepare a meat meal. (The hint to Chanukah is in the last letter of tevach, and the word vehachein, which are the letters of Chanukah.) The midrash again uses something like a gezaira shava, and connects the word vehachein to “Ba’yom ha’shishi v’heichinu,” a pasuk (Shemos 16:5) that relates how Klal Yisrael have to prepare all food for Shabbos on Erev Shabbos, including the cooking and baking of the mon. The midrash says that Yosef was having his workers prepare food on Erev Shabbos to be eaten Friday night at the seudah. When Yosef and the brothers ate together, it was a Shabbos meal! (Of course, the brothers did not yet know it was Yosef they were eating with.)

Once again, we see that Yosef kept Shabbos, not only in refraining from work, the shamor mitzvos of lo saaseh, but he in observing the positive mitzvos of enjoying oneself, the mitzvos of zachor.

Yosef is the flame which consumes Esav. Yosef demonstrates that Esav’s attitude toward the world was a colossal mistake and a giant opportunity lost.

Rabbi Boruch Leff

American Jewish Liberals Have Lost the Plot

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Word From Jerusalem}

Throughout the 2000 years of Jews living in the Diaspora, there has been no precedent comparable to the behavior of major liberal mainstream sectors of the American Jewish community. They are undermining themselves and provoking massive waves of resentment from Americans, many of whom were favorably disposed towards them.

The United States has been the home of the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora for nearly a century and was regarded by many Jews as the “goldene medina.” Traditional anti-Semitism is at an all-time low with the exception of the current anti-Israel agitation initiated on college campuses by Muslims and far-left radicals. Many Jews have become affluent, powerful and are highly respected by most Americans.

Until recently, all mainstream Jewish organizations sought to maintain Democrat and Republican bipartisanship with regard to Israel and major issues of Jewish concern. This, despite the fact that for complex historical reasons, the vast majority of American Jews were inclined toward liberalism and voted Democrat.

Even after eight years of President Barack Obama’s efforts to create daylight between Israel and the United States in order to appease Iran and the Arab countries and despite the extraordinary support for Israel expressed by all sections of the Republican Party, Jews still tended to vote Democrat. This contrasted sharply with Anglo-Jewry, whose members defected in droves from the British Labour Party when it became anti-Israel/anti-Semitic under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Regrettably, a number of mainstream U.S. liberal Jewish organizations broke with all tradition and displayed unprecedented and extreme partisanship in the recent US election and its aftermath. This may have disastrous long-term repercussions on the standing and influence of the American Jewish community.

The Anti-Defamation League, a previously respected body whose principal mandate is to combat anti-Semitism, began crossing red lines as soon as its new CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Obama aide, assumed leadership after the retirement of Abe Foxman. Even before the elections, Greenblatt assumed a J Street profile and introduced left-wing policy initiatives, including pontificating about and criticizing Israeli policies, which were totally beyond his jurisdiction.

At the same time, he opposed legislation to prohibit anti-Israel boycotts, suggesting that many of its supporters were misled idealists seeking to promote the peace process. He also minimized concern for the rabid anti-Semitic platform of the Black Lives Matter movement, excusing it on the grounds that it was engineered by a small minority.

More significantly, he downplayed the escalating anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism on the college campuses initiated by Muslim and far-left groups – highly ironic for the head of the organization whose raison d’être is to combat anti-Semitism. But it was in the course of America’s most bitter and brutal electoral race that a number of liberal Jewish groups, headed by the ADL, initiated a partisan campaign against Republican candidate Donald Trump and his supporters.

Like most Americans, many Jews were distressed and polarized by the shameful and vulgar behavior of candidates. As individuals, American Jews have every right to express their political feelings. But officially, as Jewish mainstream organizations – as distinct from politically left Jewish groups – they had no right to speak on behalf of the Jewish community on issues unconnected to Jewish rights or interests.

It is also understandable that many Jewish long-time supporters of the Democratic party were  bitterly disappointed with the unexpected outcome of the elections. But to hysterically proclaim the demise of democracy and the rise of fascism, or to compare the Trump ascendancy to the 9/11 attacks and imply that Trump supporters – half of the electorate – are extremists, is sheer lunacy. Indeed the despair and frenzy reached such levels after the elections that a number of Conservative and Reform synagogues conducted formal mourning ceremonies. This is truly collective madness.

Yet ADL officials, together with Reform and Conservative leaders, also publicly exploited anti-Semitism as a vehicle to slander the Trump campaign, hurling accusations of anti-Semitism and fascism. In so doing, these groups may have caused irreparable harm to the Jewish community from among Trump’s supporters, who comprise half of the American people, many of whom had previously been positively inclined toward Jews.

The false allegations and innuendoes of anti-Semitism were accompanied by counter-productive hysteria, warning of the threat emanating from marginal right-wing anti-Semitic groups, implying that these few hundred extremists were a critical component of Trump’s support and thus the entire party was compromised.

The campaign against the extremist fringes and the national media exposure to these relatively unknown marginal neo-Nazis and degenerates, such as David Duke and Richard Spencer and the email hate peddlers, achieved the undesirable result of catapulting them into the national spotlight, which they could never have dreamed of occupying.

Stoking the fires of hysteria after the elections, Greenblatt proclaimed at an ADL conference that anti-Semitism in the United States had never been as bad since the 1930s. He was not relating to the real threat of burgeoning campus anti-Semitism at the but referring to the few hundred Ku Klux Klan lunatics, white supremacists and neo-Nazis allegedly empowered by Trump. Whatever his failings may be, Trump is certainly no anti-Semite.  He has a daughter who converted to Judaism and is religiously observant and he is surrounded by Jews.

The real threat to the Jewish community on which the ADL should be focusing, is at the college campuses where anti-Israelism initiated by Muslim and far left groups has now morphed into open anti-Semitism with increasing manifestations of violence. Freedom of expression is being denied to pro-Israeli speakers who are frequently howled down by these “progressives.” Given that graduates from these institutions will become the leaders of the future, it is truly worrisome that they are being nurtured in such a hostile environment and that it requires courage to support Israel on many campuses.

Displaying double standards, incredibly the ADL provided an imprimatur to Congressman Keith Ellison to become the new head of the Democratic National Committee. Ellison is a Muslim who previously had ties with Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan and has a long record of anti-Israeli hostility. Yet Greenblatt went so far as to describe Ellison as “a man of good character… an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism.” Instead of combating anti-Semitism, the ADL was whitewashing an opponent of Israel with an anti-Semitic background in order to promote its leftist agenda. However, the public outcry was so overwhelming that  that a week later Greenblatt was forced to state that after  seeing “disturbing”  remarks expressed by Ellison, the ADL now had “serious doubts about his ability to faithfully represent the party’s traditional support for Israel”.

Alas, the extent to which the Democratic Party has veered from its traditional pro-Israel stance was exemplified by the fact that the Charles Schumer, the incoming Jewish Senate Minority Leader, shamefully reiterated that “I stand by Rep. Ellison for the DNC chair…”while I disagree with him on some of his past positions”.

Fortunately, the new administration is unlikely to be anti-Semitic. Aside from other factors, Trump is surrounded by Orthodox Jewish officials who are also passionately pro-Israel. But nevertheless, these partisan mainstream Jewish interventions and refusal to accept the outcome of a democratic election create major tensions and have the potential to severely undermine the standing of the Jewish community.

The only major organization explicitly condemning this behavior is the Zionist Organization of America headed by Mort Klein.

To their credit, following the elections, Malcolm Hoenlein on behalf of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee called on Americans to reunite as a nation, encouraged Trump to calm the passions, and asked that the incoming administration be judged on its actions.

This enlightened approach is highly commendable. But it is unlikely to suppress the hysteria among those sections of the community that define their Judaism as comprising liberalism and universalism while placing the welfare of Israel low among their priorities. Moreover the links with Israel, which until now were the primary source of Jewish identity for non-Orthodox Jews, will tragically continue to erode.

In addition to the polarized division between Orthodox Jews and the rest of the community, the assimilatory tendencies will further increase, which will lead to the ongoing contraction and quality of the Jewish community.

Far left-Liberals are as free as anyone else to engage in political campaigns, but those heading mainstream Jewish organizations must be compelled to cease exploiting their positions and using anti-Semitism as a vehicle to promote their partisan agenda.

They should also ask themselves one question. Who represents a greater threat to democracy and American Jews? A handful of marginal neo-Nazis and White Supremacists who nobody had ever heard of or a Muslim with a long record of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel who heads the Democratic National Council?

American Jewry is the most successful, powerful and respected Diaspora in Jewish history. If organizations like the ADL refuse to hearken to the wise counsel expressed by leaders like Malcolm Hoenlein, Mort Klein or David Harris but maintain their current politically partisan policies, American Jews will be marginalized and be perceived as the extension of a Democratic Party that is drifting increasingly further away from its traditional pro-Israel policy.


Isi Leibler

Lost Sneakers

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

Uri was shopping on Erev Shabbos when he met his friend Netanel. “Are you heading back to yeshiva after Shabbos?” Uri asked. “My brother, Eli, asked to send him some clothing.”

“I’m going back Sunday morning,” replied Netanel. “I’m happy to take the clothing for your brother.”

After Shabbos, Uri brought over two bags. “This one has a pair of sneakers in it,” he said. “This one has some clothing.”

Netanel took the bag of clothing and packed it together with his. He tied the bag with the sneakers to his knapsack.

In the morning, Netanel headed to yeshiva. He got off the bus a few blocks away from the yeshiva to buy something and walked the rest of the way. When he got to the yeshiva, he realized the bag with the sneakers had fallen off his knapsack. He retraced his steps, but could not find it.

Netanel gave the clothing to Eli. “There was also a bag with sneakers,” he said. “They were tied to the knapsack, but fell off.”

“That’s really a shame,” said Eli. “They were good sneakers. How did they fall off?”

“I’m puzzled,” said Netanel. “I’m sure I tied them on securely.”

“I think you owe me for the sneakers,” said Eli. “You lost them.”

“I’m sorry about it,” replied Netanel, “but I was doing you a favor.”

“I appreciate the effort,” said Eli, “but if you lost the sneakers, you’re liable.”

“I don’t agree,” replied Netanel. “Since I’m a shomer chinam, an unpaid guardian, I’m not liable for loss.”

“I don’t think that applies to loss like this,” argued Eli. “I’m going to discuss this with Uri.”

The three decided to consult Rabbi Dayan.

“I gave Netanel a bag with sneakers for my brother,” said Uri. “He claims he tied it securely to his knapsack, but it fell off and got lost. Is he liable?”

“The term, ‘lost’ takes on different meanings, depending on the degree of responsibility,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “As you know, a shomer chinam is liable only for negligence, but not for loss and theft. A shomer sachar, a paid guardian, is liable also for loss and theft, but not for oness – circumstances beyond control.”

“How is ‘loss’ defined regarding a shomer chinam?” asked Netanel.

“The Gemara [B.M. 35a, 42a] teaches that if the guardian misplaced the entrusted item and does not know where it is, this is not considered ‘loss’ but rather negligence and he is liable,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Loss in the context of guardians means he placed it in a known place, but it is nonetheless missing. The liability depends on whether the place and manner of placement was sufficiently secure. For a shomer chinam a simple degree of security suffices, whereas a shomer sachar requires a greater degree of security.” [C.M. 291:7; 396:8]

“What does this mean in our case?” asked Uri.

“Since Netanel was a shomer chinam, if he tied the bag on with a reasonably secure knot, in a manner that is considered acceptable, he is exempt,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “This is included in aveidah, loss, for which a shomer chinam is exempt. If Uri does not trust that he tied it securely, Netanel would require an oath. However, if he tied the bag loosely, it is considered negligence and he is liable. A shomer sachar would require a very secure fixing.”

“Does it make any difference what was in the bag?” asked Eli.

“The required degree of security also depends on the item,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “For example, the Mishnah [B.M. 42a] teaches that a bag with money must be kept tied in front of the person so that he can see it, not slung behind him. Similarly, if the item was one that should not be tied outside a bag, but rather kept only inside, it would be considered negligence.” (C.M. 291:13,20)

Rabbi Meir Orlian

Shabak ‘Lost’ Documents Permitting Use of Torture in Duma Arson Interrogations

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

One of the most disturbing aspect of the way in which the state handled the investigation of the Arson-Murder case in the Arab village of Duma, was not so much the fact that the accused are two Jews, one of them a minor, but the fact that the country’s military, police, government and even the judiciary have colluded in an effort to get a confession out of those Jewish suspects, even at the cost of using torture.

Media reports from the time of the investigation clearly indicated that then Attorney General Yehuda Weinsten, and the Supreme Court, gave the GSS (Shabak) permission to employ “aggressive” means of interrogation. Defense attorneys called for press conferences in which they decried the fascistic nature of such orders, warning that no matter what confessions the authorities manage to squeeze out of their clients using these brutal means, in the end no court could possibly accept them considering the manner in which they were extracted.

Not really. To paraphrase the old pseudo-philosophical adage: if a fascistic permission by the court to use torture disappears, does it still count against a conviction?

In a revelation that brings to mind some of the worst regimes in history, the Honenu legal aid society on Wednesday issued a press release accusing the state of losing documents pertinent to the case of one former Duma case suspect, said documents being the authorization to use torture in interrogating him.

The accused, who was initially part of the Duma investigation, was interrogated for a full month by GSS employees using violence and forceful shaking, until it became clear that he had no connection to the case. At that point, the prosecution indicted him on the charge of attacking an Arab during a brawl that had taken place two years earlier.

His attorney, Sinaia Harizi Moses, of Honenu, has been requesting for month to be shown several documents from the investigation, and her requests have been ignored. Among those documents, she asked to see the specific documents that supported the prohibition against letting her meet with her client, as well as the full protocol of his GSS interrogations.

According to the Hunenu release, during a court hearing last week, the prosecution declared that some of the investigation documents had “disappeared” and that despite many efforts, they could not be found. As to a few other documents, the prosecution objects to sharing them with the defense. The court will have to decide on those.

According to Moses, the “disappeared” documents were the alleged permission issued by the Attorney General to GSS employees to brutalize her client for a month in their dungeon. Other documents, she alleges, are the false statements issued by GSS interrogators to persuade the AG and, in turn, the courts, to permit her client to stay behind bars without seeing his lawyer or his family, and to be interrogated “aggressively.”

Which brings us back to the Duma case which rattled the country when it literally burst in flames on July 31, 2015, and has since been relegated to the far regions of media and public memory. The case, should it ever come to court again, could become an indictment of former AG Weinsten as well as the players and coaches of the much hallowed Israeli Supreme Court team.

Unless someone conveniently loses the documents.

Stay tuned.

David Israel

‘Holy Trash’ Exhibition Turns Lost Synagogue Books into Stone [video]

Friday, October 28th, 2016

“Holy Trash: My Genizah” is a new project by fine arts and performance artist Rachel Libeskind created especially for the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) exhibition space in the great hall of the Center for Jewish History.

According to Solomon Schechter, Genizah is “the storeroom or depository in a synagogue a cemetery in which worn-out and heretical or disgraced Hebrew books or papers are placed. In medieval times…their sanctity and consequent claim to preservation were held to depend on their containing the “names” of God.” What’s between the Genizah and today’s Jewish archive?

My Genizah presents a contemporary interpretation of the traditional Genizah. Crafted with texts and objects formerly belonging to the AJHS collections, My Genizah is a hard-edge, personal commentary on the making of the Jewish archive from the documents of the Genizah, and on today’s archival procedures of sorting, cataloguing, and organizing history.

“I think it’s interesting to look at the inventory of things that make up our lives,” Libeskind News1 NY. “Some of them are holy, and some of them are definitely not holy, and we just think of them as trash, and some we’re just not comfortable throwing away. It’s kind of an endless idea.” said.

On view through December 1, 2016.

Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011, Tel: 212-294-6160

Visitor information.


Lost Tzedakah

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

For many years Mr. Jacobs served as gabbai tzedakah. In addition to a general tzedakah fund that he managed, he also collected for the local yeshiva and Hatzalah. Every day he would place three separate pushkas in shul. At the end of each month, he would count the money and deposit it in the designated accounts.

One day, after counting the donations, Mr. Jacobs put the money in his coat pocket and headed to the bank. But when he reached the bank, he put his hand in his pocket and realized the money was gone.

“It must have fallen out along the way,” he thought. Mr. Jacobs retraced his steps but could not find the money. He panicked. There was over $1,000 of general tzedakah; old Mr. Katz alone had contributed two hundred in honor of his father’s yahrzeit. There was almost $400 for the local yeshiva, and $300 for Hatzalah.

Mr. Jacobs came home with a glum look. “What happened?” His wife asked. “You look terrible!”

Mr. Jacobs related what had happened. “I always put the money in my attaché case,” he added, “but I didn’t have it today so I stuffed it in my coat pocket. It’s $1,700 down the drain.”

Mrs. Jacobs thought for a moment. “Are you held accountable for the money?” she asked. “It’s going to be very hard for us to cover such a sum.”

“I was wondering the same,” answered Mr. Jacobs. “I was careless. On the other hand, I do this as a volunteer; I don’t get anything for being gabbai. Furthermore, nobody’s keeping track of the money except for Mr. Katz; he asks me every day if I distributed it already.”

“But you know that you lost the money,” retorted his wife, “and God knows!”

“I was just wondering what the halacha is,” apologized Mr. Jacobs. “I’d like to discuss the issue with Rabbi Dayan.”

When Rabbi Dayan heard the story, he said: “You must pay the money that was collected for specific causes, namely the yeshiva and Hatzalah. On the other hand, nobody can claim the unspecified tzedakah from you, not even Mr. Katz, but according to some you have a chiyuv b’dinei shamayim, a halachic obligation toward G­od, to make good to the poor.”

Rabbi Dayan then explained: “A gabbai tzedakah is responsible for negligence the same as any other person who is entrusted with money. If he is paid for his services, he would be accountable even for theft. Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch [C.M. 301:6] holds that one who was negligent with unspecified tzedakah is ‘exempt,’ since nobody can claim the money from him. The donors cannot claim the money, since they never expected the gabbai to return it to them, but rather to distribute it to the poor. Each individual poor person also has no claim, since the gabbai can choose not to give the charity to him, but to some other needy person. However, if the money was earmarked for specific people or organizations, they have a definite claim to the money, and the gabbai is fully accountable to them if he was negligent.”

“And what did you mean by a chiyuv b’dinei shamayim about the unspecified tzedakah?” asked Mr. Jacobs.

Rabbi Dayan continued: “The Chavos Yair explains that even when the money is not earmarked for anyone specific, the gabbai is only ‘exempt’ in the sense that neither the donor nor an individual poor person can demand the money from him. However, the gabbai has a halachic obligation, albeit not enforceable by beis din, to give the money to the poor. His commitment to handle their money is no less a commitment than one made by a person who pledges to them [Pischei Teshuvah 301:6].” Maharam Shick, though, exempts even latzeis y’dei shamayaim if the gabbai did not actively damage” [C.M. 14].

Rabbi Meir Orlian

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/halacha-hashkafa/lost-tzedakah/2016/09/15/

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