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August 28, 2016 / 24 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘LOVE’

VIDEO: Ben Ehrenreich Shares his Love for the Sbarro Massacre Mastermind’s Family

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Elder of Ziyon}

This Tuesday will be the 15th anniversary of the infamous Sbarro pizza shop bombing, masterminded by Ahlam Tamimi.

The attack, on August 9, 2001, killed 15 people and injured 130. Among the dead were a pregnant woman and seven children – some counted eight, including an 18 year-old who had just finished school; the injured also included one young mother who was left in a permanent vegetative state.

For the families of the victims, this year’s 15th anniversary of the attack may well be particularly grim, because of a fawning book that has been recently released by Ben Ehrenreich, lionizing the murderous Tamimi clan.

Who would have ever imagined that an American writer would come out with a book that presents the family of Ahlam Tamimi – the Sbarro massacre mastermind – as simply wonderful people? This despite the fact that the Tamimis not only continue to justify the Sbarro attack, but are openly cheering pretty much every terror attack that has been perpetrated over the past year. And who would have ever imagined that prestigious publications like the New York Times and The Economist would praise this hagiography of the terror-supporting Jew-hating Tamimis to the high heavens? What is it about killing Jews that is so romantic that the NYT would gush about Ehrenreich’s “Love Letter to Palestine” and The Economist would fawn about all “the hope, and the love” that infuses Ehrenreich’s depiction of the Tamimis?

For a glimpse of the intense Jew-hatred and the ardent support for terror that animates Ben Ehrenreich’s protagonists, watch the video below that will introduce you to the four people Ehrenreich lists first in the Acknowledgements for his book: Bassem and Nariman Tamimi, and Bilal and Manal Tamimi.

The video was conceived, researched and written by Petra Marquardt-Bigman. Narrated and directed by Elder of Ziyon.

Elder of Ziyon

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem – Love Our Nation

Friday, August 5th, 2016

A friend of mine related that his brother was on a business trip to Istanbul and went to pray in a local shul. He was quite surprised when one of the congregants waved to him. “I don’t know this man,” he thought. “He must be a really friendly person!” But then he noticed the man was waving to everyone in shul. And he was not the only one – every single person in shul was doing the same thing! After davening, they told him that this custom was based on the words of the Arizal, cited by the Magen Avraham (O.C., beginning of siman 46). He writes: “Before the morning tefillah one should accept upon himself the mitzvah of v’ahavtah le’reiacha kamocha – you shall love your fellow as yourself.” In order to fulfill this mitzvah properly, the custom of this congregation is to wave to each and every fellow Jew in shul.

But what is the Arizal’s reason – why is it so important to fulfill this mitzvah specifically before we start praying?

 

Plural Power

One who examines Shemoneh Esrei will notice something interesting: we speak in the plural form. For example, we ask Hashem to give us rain, to heal us, to forgive us, etc. That is, I come before Hashem as a representative of our nation – not for myself. Once a person has asked for everyone, he may add personal supplications, as long as he fulfills certain conditions (see Shulchan Aruch, O.C. siman 119). One example being at the end of Shemoneh Esrei when we say “Elokai, netzor leshoni mei’ra – My G-d, guard my tongue from evil… etc.” In general, though we use the plural form. In fact, the Gra in Sh’nos Eliyahu (Brachos 5:1) says that not only must we verbally ask in the plural form, we are not even allowed to think only about ourselves when we pray! But why not?

The Gemara (Brachos 30a) states that when a person prays he should always include himself as part of the community. Rashi explains that this will cause his prayer to be accepted. On a simple level, we can explain that one who includes himself with the tzibur will be answered in their merit, because the community usually has more merit than the individual.

However, I believe there is an even deeper reason why including ourselves with the tzibur helps our tefillos be accepted by Hashem. The whole concept of approaching Hashem in prayer is absolutely mind-boggling. How do we have the audacity to approach the Master of the Universe, who is holier and greater than anything we can possibly imagine, and expect that He is interested in hearing us? Only because Hashem tells us so in the Torah. “For who is a great nation that has G-d close to them like Hashem our G-d, whenever we call out to Him?” (Devorim 4:7). Hashem gave our nation the special privilege of turning to Him in prayer, and He has promised to listen to our prayers. And why did we merit this special closeness? Simply because He loves us, as stated throughout Tanach. The prophet Yirmiyahu (31:3) says in the name of Hashem: “I have loved you with an eternal love.” And Yeshaya (54:10) says even more: “For the mountains will depart and the hills will move, but My loving-kindness shall not depart from you, nor will My covenant of peace move away.”

Hashem’s love for our nation is so great that even though we sinned and were sent into exile, He still loves us. Hashem did not choose us because of our good deeds; rather, He has an unconditional love for us (Maharal, Netzach Yisroel, chapter 11). Therefore, even if we sin, He will not forsake us. On the contrary, He will make sure that we repent and perfect our ways, so that we will be worthy of Him dwelling amongst us.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

A Meeting with Magda Haroun, Head of Egypt’s Jewish Community

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

Hard to believe our trip to Egypt lasted only four days given all the meetings we jammed into it. Dr Omer Salem hosted Rabbi Yaakov Nagen of the Otniel Yeshiva, Fulbright Scholar Dr Joseph Ringel and myself for a tour of Cairo in March 2016, to help develop personal relationships, so needed between our peoples.

We assumed that theology was the real stumbling block between Muslim and Jew, and expected to enter into theological debate. We found, however, that the overriding concern of those we met was the quality of life for their Arab brethren in the Holy Land.

We also learned that misinformation abounds in Egypt concerning the various philosophies that led to the founding of the state of Israel. We frequently heard this phrase, ‘Israel was founded only to be a Jewish state.’ This is inaccurate both from a religious perspective and from that of the founders of modern Zionism. The Torah has an extensive framework for the inclusion of the non-Jewish “ger toshav”, based upon Talmudic tractate Avodah Zarah 64b -65a, and Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not taunt him. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.”

Regarding the oft-repeated statement, ‘Israel was founded only to be a Jewish state’ – Dr Joseph Ringel shares: “when I began learning Arabic, I was exposed to this perception in the Arab world.” And he was inspired to educate himself further. “The chief theorists for the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl and Asher Ginsberg (pen-name: Ahad ha-‘Am) held that Arabs had an important rule to play in Jewish society in the land of Israel and demanded they be treated equally. Aspects of religious Zionism had a strong universal element believing that Zion would become the harbinger of the messianic age and the conduit for divine blessing to flow to the entire world. Socialist Zionists regarded Zion as a place to create an ideal equality between all classes and ethnicities – Arabs included. The fact that less conciliatory voices exist does not mean Zionism as a whole is tainted; indeed, the existence of violent people in any national or religious movement does not mean the entire movement is tainted.”

We thus need to ensure we are educated about the rights of the non-Jewish residents of the land of Israel, as enshrined both in Torah and in modern Zionist thought.

Most importantly, we must ensure these rights are a reality. This closes the loop with the above noted concern expressed to us in Egypt – the condition of their Arab brethren in the Holy Land.

Dr Ringel adds, “the point of dialogue is to face various perceptions, shedding light upon who we are, and learning from each other.”

Here is one example:

Magda Haroun, President of the Egyptian Jewish Community

Magda Haroun deserves credit. The head of what remains of Egypt’s Jewish community, she openly maintains her Jewish identity at self-sacrifice, and reminisces about a cosmopolitan, tolerant Egyptian past, the memory of which she insists must be preserved.

She graciously hosted us at the Shaarei Shamayim synagogue, Adly Street, Cairo. Hesitating a little before this small group of kippa-clad and scarf wearing orthodox Jews, she said, “I have views you probably will not agree with.” Rabbi Yaakov Nagen wisely responded, “we want to hear your views, if we wanted to hear only what we agree with. we could have stayed at home.”

First, some stories of Magda defending her Jewish identity in the face of rejection. When she was a child in school, the teacher denigrated Jews. The entire class turned to look at her, and she walked out. As a young adult, she requested a birth certificate, and the officials demanded her full contact information. When she asked why, they responded – “for security reasons,” as they suspected every Jew of spying for Israel. She refused to furnish the information, and left without a certificate. 1

She told us that upon her divorce, she retained her Jewish identity despite the threat that her husband, as a Muslim divorcing a non-Muslim wife, could take custody of their daughters at any time. She thus did not admit that she could not afford the girls’ expenses when he witheld financial support. She refused to give up her Jewish identity, even to rid herself of the constant threat she would lose her daughters.

Magda Haroun holds onto her dream, and her dream is this: Egyptian society will reclaim its cosmopolitan and tolerant heritage. Dr Ringel shared, “I studied the history of Jews in the Islamic world, and I know Egyptian Jews, some of whom were expelled, some of whom had traumatic experiences but some of whom have very strong memories. What I love about Egypt’s history is that it was such a beautiful culture. Egypt was a refuge for Jews from Yemen and from Russia, from Syria and Iraq. Yiddish was spoken here, both Karaites and Rabbinites lived here, and they all got along.”

Magda nodded enthusiastically, we were on the same page. She added, “Egypt was the land of refuge for people suffering all over the world. Look at Musa Ibn Maimon (Maimonedes), he was on the way to Palestine but he came through here and stayed here and died here.”

And she offers an inspiring humanitarian proposal. One of the Jewish cemeteries is under threat of falling into disrepair and neglect. It is located in the middle of the Bassateen slums. Magda’s dream is to get the Jewish community worldwide involved in renovating the slums, developing its schools and parks. “I cannot just build a wall around the slums. When the area will be developed, the residents of Bassateen will be the first to take care of the Jewish cemetery.” And they will feel positively about Jews as well.

I was in the company of visionaries. A great moment. Then we started getting out of step on two subjects: Magda’s view of the state of Israel, and the future of the remaining Torah scrolls in Egypt. But hang on, getting out of step during efforts at dialogue is to be expected.

Divisions in her School; Seeing her Relatives Emigrate

Regarding her view of the state of Israel, I wish to provide a bit of context first. Magda described what it was like as a child to suddenly have her schoolmates divided along religious lines. She studied in a French school, a lycee, and never knew who was Christian, Jew or Muslim, until they started imposing religion in the schools, after 1956. Then, they were divided up and sent to different classes to learn their own religion. No classes for Judaism, Magda was sent to the detention room.

Magda continues, “It was painful for me to see my relatives leave Egypt. They left for two reasons, the founding of the state of Israel and the rise of pan-Arabism. My father was a humanitarian, he loved humanity, in front of G-d, in front of each other, we are all equal. I never learned to make a difference

between black, white, poor, rich. When we were all divided up along religious lines at school, I said to my father that my Christian friends know what to do to make G-d happy, my Muslim friends know what to do to make G-d happy, what am I supposed to do? He led me to the mirror and said, ‘if when you look at yourself in the mirror, your eyes do not go down in shame, you know you have hurt no one, then you are making G-d happy.’ ”

Loyalty to Your Country – Even When that Country Betrays You

Magda made a statement that I would hear as a sentiment shared by other Egyptian Jews in days past: ”I was born in Egypt, I will live in Egypt and I will die in Egypt.”

That tenacity of identity and loyalty did not prevent the expulsion of the Jewish community from Egypt in the late 1950’s. Dr Ringel elaborates: the expulsions began under Nasser, following the 1956 war. Many Jews who lived in Egypt were not Egyptian citizens, as most of the Jews (with the exception of the indigenous Jewish population) hailed from foreign countries, which included Ottoman lands, Eastern Europe and Italy. Egypt was under de facto British control until after World War ll, despite some local autonomy, so that it made sense for these often multi-lingual families to acquire European passports. In addition, once autonomous Egypt began registering its population for citizenship, there was some discrimination against non-Muslims. In 1956, Nasser nationalized all foreign assets, and the fact that many Jews still only had European passports, despite their having lived in Egypt for a number of generations, made the expulsions easier to implement.

Magda said that a member of the Muslim brotherhood, Mr Essam El Eryan, did express regrets about the expulsions. “I thanked him for opening the Pandora’s box, but it is going to be very difficult for Jews to return, they left and put their roots in other countries already.”

And now there were six. Not six thousand or six hundred, but six Jews left in Egypt. But Magda was holding on, echoing a proud (though not very effective) Egyptian Jewish sentiment, determined to preserve the cosmopolitan ideal.

Haroun’s Demand: Egypt Must Honor its Jewish Heritage

When she became leader of Egypt’s Jewish community in 2013, Magda gave interviews in Egyptian newspapers and on television, with the conviction that Egyptian society be aware of its former thriving Jewish society and that the nation’s remaining Jews should be respected. She told us, “I walk in the streets and people know I am a Jew.” When I asked, “Do you feel safe in Egypt?” she responded adamantly “Of course I do!” She admits her sense of security is not shared by the other Jews who remain. “They are afraid of being suspected as spies for Israel.” So her stance is part reality, part ideological determination.

Magda said, “I have asked for help from Jewish communities around the world to preserve the Bassateen area because it is part of the heritage of this country. They want something in return.” She paused, her tone foreboding, grim, “they want the Torah scrolls.”

Dr Ringel explained, “they are afraid the Torah scrolls will go into disuse” and added that in order to achieve conciliation, the challenge of preserving both the Torah scrolls and the Jewish cemeteries should not be linked. Keep the issues separate. (He emphasizes that he was speaking as a private citizen in reaction to the information presented to him at the time and not representing any side.)

 

Dr Joseph Ringel with the Torah scrolls

Dr Joseph Ringel with the Torah scrolls

Keeping issues separate is probably a good rule of thumb in conciliation work. Right the wrong, improve a situation, without bartering. Deuteronomy 16:20 – “Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue so that you will live and take possession of the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.” The pasuk does not say to pursue justice as long as you get something in return. Psalm 43:15 – “Seek peace and pursue it.” According to the Midrash: “Seek peace, and pursue it means that you should seek it in your own place, and pursue it even to another place as well.” (Leviticus Rabbah 9:9)

Magda Haroun and the State of Israel

Magda does not take money from Israel nor does she use a Rabbi from Israel. Her position against Zionism is part of her conviction in a cosmopolitan, varied society, and that a state in the modern age

should not be based on religion. “Maybe it made sense in the sixth century, but not today.” And she joined in the street protests in Cairo, 2011, against an Islamic government.

Her stance may also be influenced by the fact that, according to physician and author Dr Wakif Moustafa, “There are still laws on the Egyptian statute that criminalize Zionism and, should any Egyptian citizen declare themselves a Zionist, they risk losing their citizenship.”

Her boycott of Israel may well soften. Sure makes me feel bad. Indeed, Egyptian leaders such as Dr. Aly ElSamman call for the softening of the tatbia – boycott – of Israel. “Tatbia is not logical or ethical, we have a peace agreement.” 2

As the tide changes and there are increased calls in Egypt towards warmer relations with Israel, perhaps the relations between Israel’s Jews and the remaining Egyptian Jews can warm up as well.

Magda’s view of the state of Israel was a challenge to me, though it must be understood that it is a nuanced view, and as Rabbi Nagen said, “if we wanted to hear only what we agree with, we could have stayed home.”

And a further challenge waited in the wings – see next article: Hitting a Wall, Building a New Bridge. You Need to Take that Risk.

{This two part article emphasizes the process of conciliation and its challenges, it is not an exhaustive piece on Ms Haroun’s views and personal history.}

For more information on Magda Haroun, see:

http://www.cairoscene.com/BusinessAndPolitics/Partial-Collapse-in-Jewish-Synagogue-in-Alexandria

http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/interview-magda-haroun-head-egypt-s-jewish-community

See also:

Egypt: The Elusive Arab Spring, Dr. Wakif Mustafa, Gilgamesh Publishing 2014

Rights of the Ger Toshav in the Land of Israel: http://www.wikinoah.org/index.php?title=Ger_Toshav

Rebecca Abrahamson

Peace And Love And their Murderous Consequences

Friday, July 1st, 2016

Among the pile of books on my night table, there are always a few volumes about war.

It should be obvious to any clear-thinking person that war is the final arbiter of all great conflicts. Those who speak of negotiated peace speak of fiction.

The great world wars have made this world what it is, and there are numerous lessons to be learned militarily in terms of the present war with radical Islam. Thus I draw your attention to two very fine books: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman and A World at Arms by Gerhard L. Weinberg.

Tuchman’s volume is about World War I and Weinberg’s is about World War II. Tuchman is a riveting historian who can tell a great story and make history come alive. Weinberg is more academic; his book has thousands of footnotes. But he does detail. Oh boy, does he do detail.

An interesting – and timely and intensely important – theme crops up in both books: Pacifists, peace movements, and their murderous aftermath.

Tuchman points out that the peace movements in France and England that preceded World War I immobilized both countries’ heavy industries to such an extent that when war finally did break out, France and England were at least sixteen months behind the Germans in heavy production.

You see, the peace movements advocated a policy of appeasement: Give the Germans what they want and they won’t go to war.

As if.

Tuchman also points out that France and England were tragically behind Germany even in small manufacturing, so that when their soldiers marched to the Western front, they did not have proper winter uniforms, and thousands of troops froze to death.

It is true that millions of soldiers died on the Western front from the new technology of machine guns and from generals impaled on outmoded military doctrine. But on a deeper level, millions were slaughtered because of the peace movements that self-righteously refused to recognize reality and confront evil.

You would think that lessons had been learned from World War I. You would think that the pacifists, appeasers, and so-called peace activists would have lost all credibility, but truth has a funny way of getting buried in the avalanche of Big Lies.

And, I suppose, the word “peace” has an almost narcotic effect on people. They hear the word often enough and they get, well, kind of stupid.

The messages of the peace movements before World War II were almost a carbon copy of the nonsense spewed before World War I – except that communications had improved greatly. Newspapers like The New York Times wielded immense power. And of course the Times, astonishingly dim then as now, saw no reason to get involved in foreign conflicts.

The peace movements in America, France, and England were utterly infiltrated by the ruthless agents of Hitler and Stalin. And in a replay of the Kaiser’s attitude, Hitler absolutely adored the peace movements. He kept a close eye on them, smiling the whole time. He understood they were his best allies. As long as those fools kept up their blather, he would be able to swallow countries whole.

Once again, the pacifists and peaceniks advocated appeasement. Just give Herr Hitler what he wants and surely he won’t go to war.

Rule #1 of Peace Movements: They cannot imagine or confront evil.

Rule #2 of Peace Movements: They do not care about history.

Rule #3 of Peace Movements: They are always secretly financed and penetrated by the enemy.

Weinberg points out that by the time Great Britain declared war on Germany, both it and America were two full years behind Germany in armament production. Once again, the peace camps had made sure the great democracies were at their weakest when they were fighting for their lives.

Thus another world war dragged on for more years than should have been necessary, and millions of lives were lost that could have been saved had evil been confronted at an earlier stage.

It’s not a great leap to the Vietnam War. Because of the peace movement at home, we betrayed our allies, and the North Vietnamese slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their political enemies.

After that, the Khmer Rouge were emboldened to commit genocide in Cambodia, murdering a million men, women, and children, mostly by suffocation with plastic bags. These barbarians knew that America would not interfere, not after Vietnam. Not after the peace movement colonized the Democrat party.

The postmodern peace movement is on the march again, denying the murderous nature of radical Islam and pretending that guns are the problem. For Obama-style peaceniks, radical Islam does not exist – not even linguistically. Radicalized Muslims are merely unemployed youth. Give them jobs and their yearning for jihad will disappear.

This deeply paternalistic and racist view denies the immutability of Koranic teachings and the power of a belief system that has held sway over millions of pious Muslims since the seventh century.

So the next time you see the crowd at a peace demonstration, cloaked in all their moral vanity, keep in mind that they are precisely the sort of people who enable mass murder and genocide.

Robert J. Avrech

I Love Reform Jews

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

The battle lines are drawn. Some Orthodox Rabbis say that we should try to bring reform Jews closer to Torah. Other Orthodox Rabbis relate to them like lepers out to destroy Judaism. If you want to know where I stand, I love reform Jews. First of all, many of them aren’t Jewish at all, and the Torah teaches us to love all people, even gentiles. Rabbi Kook writes:

“The heart must be filled with love for all: for all of Creation, for all mankind.

“Love must embrace every single individual, regardless of differences in views on religion, or differences of race, or country.

“Hatred may be directed only toward the evil and filth in the world. We must realize that the kernel of life, in its inherent light and holiness, never leaves the Divine Image in which mankind was created, and with which each person and nation is endowed” (Midot Ha’Riyah, Ahavah).

Certainly, if we should have a love for gentiles, we should love gentiles who think they are Jews.

For instance, I have a relative who divorced his Jewish wife and married a non-Jew, who had some kind of reform “conversion” which, of course, didn’t make her a Jew. They had a child, who, of course, wasn’t a Jew, but even though the child never had a Jewish education, his parents told him that he was a Jew. When he grew up, he married a Jewish girl, and they joined a reform congregation. Their children are Jews since the mother is Jewish. He became the president of his congregation, even though he is a gentile. America is loaded with mixed up situations like this.

Beyond the walls of the Orthodox world in America, it is becoming impossible to know who is Jewish and who is pretending, even though he or she believes it for real. Nonetheless, according to Rabbi Kook, even though this relative of mine isn’t Jewish, I should love him all the same. And even though his Jewish wife is a reform Jew, I should love her too. And that love should extend to their Jewish children as well, even though they are reform Jews.

The truth is, I love all Jews.

I love good Jews and I love bad Jews. I love fat Jews and I love skinny Jews. I love reform Jews and deformed Jews, progressive Jews and regressive Jews. I love assimilated Jews and Jews who have married gentiles. I love homosexual Jews and lesbian Jews. I love leftist Jews and Peace Now Jews. I love Jews who call me nasty names and Jews who say I’m a lousy writer. I even love Diaspora Jews. Some people say I’m too hard on them, but that’s because I love them so much.

If you see a blind man about to fall off a cliff, you yell out to warn him, right? What is this similar to? If a person who never heard about heart transplants wandered into the operating room of a hospital and saw a team of doctors removing the heart of a patient, he’d think they were monsters trying to kill him – but the very opposite is the case. The surgeons are trying to save him. It’s the same thing with me. Precisely out of the passionate love I feel for my brothers and sisters in exile, I try to open their eyes.

Since the Three Weeks are approaching when we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash, this is a good time to stir up the embers of the love we feel for our fellow Jews, even the reform Jews amongst us. Rabbi Kook taught that since the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of senseless hatred, it will be rebuilt by gratuitous love.

In truth, most reform Jews are people who don’t mean any harm. They never learned anything about real Judaism, so they don’t know better. They don’t observe the commandments, not out of spite, but because they don’t believe that the Torah was really given by G-d, or they don’t believe that religion should have laws, or for whatever other reason, how errant it may be.

The problem arises with the “professional” reform Jews who wage a campaign against real Judaism. They go out of their way to wage a war against the Orthodox world and its time-honored traditions. These are the reform Jews that are rightly seen as destroyers. But Rabbi Kook teaches that we should even love them – not for the evil in them, but for the good which exists in all people. He writes:

“Though our love for people must be all-inclusive, embracing the wicked as well, this in no way blunts our hatred for evil itself – on the contrary, it strengthens it. For it is not because of the dimension of evil clinging to a person that we include him in our love, but because of the good in him, which our love tells us is to be found in everyone. Since we separate the dimension of the good in him, in order to love him for it, our hatred for the evil becomes unwavering and absolute.

“It is proper to hate a corrupt person only for his defects, but insofar as he is endowed with a Divine Image, it is proper to love him.”

In other words, we can disagree with a reform Jew and even despise his opinions, but we should love him for his connection to the Jewish Nation. In the same light, the evil actions of a Jewish homosexual or child molester should be loathed as abominations, but the person himself should still be loved for the Divine Image he shares with the rest of mankind, and for his connection to Clal Yisrael (the Community of Israel). If, for instance, a Rabbi or an Israeli politician succumbs to an evil inclination and inner sickness of the soul that drives him to engage in sexual transgression, his evil actions should be despised, but this should not negate our love for the good that surely exists in him as well.

Rabbi Kook explains:

“The pious of the generation, lofty holy men, must disregard any deficiency or flaw in every Jewish soul that is in any way attached to the Rock from which it was hewn. Instead, they must strive to raise up the point of connection to Clal Yisrael that exists in every individual soul to its heights and exalted holiness. Nothing can diminish our unlimited love for the Nation, the source of our life, as it says: ‘He has not seen beheld iniquity in Yaacov, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel’” (Orot, Orot HaTechiyah, 24).

So, as the period of the Three Weeks approaches, let’s try to love one another as much as we can, reform and Diaspora Jews included.

Tzvi Fishman

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem – The Day Of Love

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Before you begin to wonder what “the day of love” is, I will let the cat out of the bag: I am referring to Shavuos. “Really!” you are probably thinking. “I know it is the day we receive the Torah, a day when many stay up all night learning, a day of celebrating with cheesecake . . . but a day of love?”

But that is the truth. We begin every Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Tov with the joyous declaration: “Atah vichartanu mi’kol ha’amim – You have chosen us from all the nations. Ahavta osanu – You loved us, v’ratzisa banu – You desired us.” The Siach Yitzchok (in Siddur Hagra) explains that these words refer to the three festivals. You chose us on Pesach, You showed us Your love on Shavuos by giving us the Torah, and You desired us on Sukkos, by returning the clouds of glory after the sin of the golden calf.

How does receiving the Torah show us Hashem’s love to us?

 

Ahava Rabbah!

The bracha that we recite right before krias shema of Shachris is also known as “the bracha of Torah,” as in this blessing we ask Hashem to teach us His Torah. The introduction to this prayer is “Ahava rabbah ahavtanu, chemla gedolah v’yiseirah chamaltah aleinu – With an abundant love You have loved us, with exceedingly great pity have You pitied us.” Such a declaration is unparalleled in our daily prayers. And in the evening prayer we say that it is an eternal love – Ahavas olam. The fact that Hashem gave us His Torah shows us that He does not merely love us – it is an eternal and overwhelming love!

Then we continue with the most heartfelt plea in the entire seder hatefillah: “Our Father, the merciful Father Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teaching with love!” And finally, it concludes “…who chooses Klal Yisroel with love.”

Were it not for the great and infinite love that Hashem has for us, we would not have received the Torah, nor would we dare ask for the gift of Torah on a regular basis. Let us explain.

 

Tree of Life

Rav Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh Hachaim, Sha’ar 4, chapter 33) explains the pasukEitz chaim he la’machazikim bah – The Torah is a tree of life for those who grasp onto it” with a parable of a man drowning in a raging river. As he is about to go under, he notices a large tree floating by and grabs on for dear life. He knows if he will let go for just one second, he will die. So too, we have been thrown into the vast waters of “Olam Hazeh – this world.” The only way to stay alive is to grab hold of the tree of life – the Torah. If we let go and run after the empty pleasures of the world, even just for a short time, we will have immediately separated ourselves from the source of life. We will be in danger of drowning in the materialism of this mundane world and dying a spiritual death. Only when we learn Torah are we considered to be alive. And the Nefesh Hachaim explains (see chapter 10) that this is because when we learn Torah we attach ourselves – figuratively – to Hashem Yisborach, the true source of life.

How does learning Torah attach us?

The midrash (Shemos Rabah Parsha 33) states: “When a person buys an object, he doesn’t buy the seller with it. However, when Hashem gave us the Torah, He told us that kaviyachol we are taking Him along with it.” In many places the Zohar notes that Torah and Hashem are one.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Egypt is Colorful and Full of Love; Meetings of Conciliation between Muslim and Jew, in Egypt: Part II

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Dr Omer Salem of Yale and AlAzhar Universities envisions a borderless world open to movement and communication between all peoples. A traditionalist Sunni Muslim, he studied Hebrew Bible at Yale and had his PhD dissertation supervised by Al-Azhar University Professors in Cairo. His thesis – acceptance of the People of the Book in Islam, a theme that is pulling in the opposite direction of the less embracing schools of thought in Islam today, schools which have been propped up of late more by politics than religious doctrine.

In this spirit, Salem invited Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Nagen, Fullbright Scholar Dr. Jospeh Ringel, and myself to meet his colleagues in Egypt. Impossible! My smart aleck retort was, “sure I will catch the next train.” But within two weeks we were on Egyptian soil and in earnest dialogue with some of the best minds of Cairo today. Here is a small glimpse of what we dream will be many more encounters.

Al Azhar University was founded by the Fatimids in the tenth century CE and is the oldest university in the world still functioning. Today it is considered the center of Islamic and Arabic scholarship. The university administers about 4000 teaching institutes and a system of schools with about two million students nation-wide.

Enter the campus, humanity’s stunning variety greets you in the beauty of all its rainbow colors – Indonesians, Africans, black, white, some in western dress, some in traditional garb. This richness accompanied us to professor Awad’s office – an enormous room which over the next two and a half hours would host our marathon discussion, with students and faculty entering and exiting, some participating, some just listening. The atmosphere was respectful and congenial throughout, albeit the discussion veering into some very sensitive subjects.

Before our arrival, we debated an essential question – how can the Muslim ummah – nation – accept Jews? Assuming that the hurdles were largely theological, we discussed the approach that Jews can take to Muhammad; a Navi, prophet, has vastly different connotations in Jewish thought than in Islamic thought. Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s essay, “Confrontation” presents an illustration of how essential terms cannot be imported and exported across cultures, indeed, meaning is lost in translation. In Judaism, a Navi can be false and even wicked, as in the case of Bilaam (Book of Numbers). So when Muslims ask Jews, “Do you think Muhammad was a prophet?” the connotations differ vastly. What we can say is that prophecy for the nation of Israel ended with the prophet Malachi, but that does not mean that prophecy stopped for all nations. In the spirit of the Rambam, who dwelled in Egypt as physician and Rabbi, we can appreciate that Muhammad spread monotheism globally, and that he could indeed be a prophet for the other nations of the world.

We would see however that the theological hurdle is in fact not the greatest stumbling block to reconciliation.

“Welcome, welcome!” Dr Awad beckoned, along with staff and students flanking him. The men were removing their shoes, should I? Do women remove their shoes as well? They do, but I can remain shod if I choose. Both equality of women and free choice are basic premises in Islam, the professor would make quite clear. But that is not my emphasis just yet, I have something more important for you to hear.

Professor Awad’s thesis was on the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. He emphasized that dialogue is a primary tenet of Islam. “The Qur’an commands us as Muslims to engage in dialogue to reach truth.” He stated.

“The differences between people are G-d given.” And he quoted, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. .” Qur’an 49:13. (Arabic: لتعارفوا) Lita’arafu – to know each other. You can respect Islam and the prophet and the Qur’an, without necessarily following the sharia of Islam, and that is your right.”

He added, “There is no coercion in religion,” Qur’an 2:256

“Muslims are commanded to study the teachings of the prophet Moses. For you, learning about Muhammad is merely optional. That is an expression of tolerance inherent in Islam. The Qur’an has provided solutions for so many problems in the world, and it commanded Jews to judge according to their own Torah. This is evidence that the Qur’an is a very neutral, objective book. Jews have a right to study the Qur’an without anyone judging whether they believe in it or not. You are indeed welcome to read it with your good intention.”

Jewish Press contributor, Rebecca Abrahamson in front of Al Azhar University

Jewish Press contributor, Rebecca Abrahamson in front of Al Azhar University

I introduced myself as a Haredi woman, and added that I had traveled with the agreement of my husband and the blessing of my Rabbi. There I had braved it all the way to Egypt, overcoming personal and societal hurdles. I made that statement in order to express a living traditional value and to pave the way for more fundamentalist Muslim and Jewish women to join in social activism. When fundamentalist women act, they move large areas, they bring whole families and societies with them. And we know that we are not docile followers. I love the story from an African-American fundamentalist church in the southern United States, a woman stood up and challenged her preacher, “that’s not written in my Bible!” Fundamentalist women are in dynamic dialogue with their family and leaders. When we act, we actually move large areas of ground.

But I liked the professor’s response:

He looked at me a little sharply, “Women and men are equal. The only difference is she has a right to be provided for.” Then he ticked off her rights on his fingers, “she has freedom of work, dignity, employment, she may divorce, and she does not need her husband’s permission to travel.” I smiled inside.

Then the professor touched upon difficult subjects, and though his tone remained respectful, his passion and concern was evident. Something was irking him, it was clear.

Discovering a Stumbling Block

He wondered at the verse in the Torah that declares Canaan as cursed – where is the justice in that? All have free will, how can anyone be cursed from birth? “Certainly you are accountable for what you do.” (Qur’an 16:93) He wondered why Jews do not proselytize to other nations, is that an uncaring approach? And, with equal passion, Dr Awad questioned how the revelation at Sinai could have been in Hebrew – the Jews had just exited Egypt? This final question was expressed with as much concern as the previous two, though I felt that whatever language was spoken at the time of the Revelation at Sinai was surely less important that wondering if Judaism is discriminatory.

Rabbi Nagen responded – “you have raised the most important questions. My whole life I am searching for answers to these questions. We know that holy books sometimes have verses that seem troubling. For me, the verse that is most important is that all of humanity has one father and is in the image of God. Anything that seems to contradict this puzzles me and we struggle with it. We know that with both Torah, Gospel and Qur’an, people can quote verses to do great good or not good. Our task is to find a way to teach good from the Torah and Qur’an. The question is – what is the rule and what is the exception? What is the context? I read the Qur’an and I know that every sura begins with All-h is Rachman. If I find a verse that seems violent, I know this must be talking about a particular context and it’s not the rule. I have hundreds of students; I interpret the Torah and Talmud. I organized a prayer rally to protest the alleged arson attack in Kfar Dumas. I am part of a group of a thousand Rabbis, we put out a thirty page pamphlet that was read in synagogues that week.”

The professor could not be placated, there was something nagging at him. And then it came out:

“We as Muslims are not asked to judge others; however we cannot accept oppression by one people over another people or making mockery of one over the other.”

So that was it. Agree or disagree, this was the professor’s central concern, and it was echoed in our meetings with Dr Aly El-Samman, former advisor to Anwar Sadat, and with Professor Wagee AlShamy of Dar Oloom College in AlFayoum, a city south of Cairo.

Indeed, Dr Wagee Al-Shamy asked us to proclaim this message – “tell your people: the state of the Palestinian Arabs is of great concern to us. That is the real stumbling block to normalization. Please ease their plight; that will pave the road to better relations between our peoples.”

Agree or disagree, that was the message we heard throughout our trip. So it is not scripture or theology that divides. Negative light is shed upon Judaism when Israel is seen as oppressing its Arab residents. Looking for the cause of the injustice, our scriptures are held up as possibly blameworthy.

But is this not how we feel when presented with injustices wrought by other cultures? Do we not point to the source of an ‘Other’s’ impropriety as based in their basic tenets? As much as what I am saying may sting, and we can certainly feel the call to defend Israel’s need for self defense, or the real meaning of holy writ, we need to consider – if this is what prominent Egyptian Muslims are saying, and even asking us to proclaim this, it does mean that the situation is a lot more hopeful than if stumbling blocks to normalization were scripture and theology.

So what are we to do? Embark on a grand-scale hasbara (explanation) campaign? There are better places we can put our energy; injustices are best addressed, in my husband Ben Abrahamson’s words – by establishing joint Jewish-Islamic religious courts. They existed in Yemen, and they can exist now. This gives both Muslim and Jew a feeling of a common language. Once injustices are addressed in a framework that both sides revere, the view changes. The diamond tossed up to the light reflects various hues, constantly changing as it turns before the sun, yet the diamond remains the same. We do not have to change our very being; we just need to address concerns where all parties are heard in the language they revere the most.

“Show me the fatwa.”

Ben was once speaking to a sheikh who was criticizing Israel. Ben said simply, “show me the fatwa.” Instead of relying on media reporting, Ben challenged the sheikh to find an Islamic court which has investigated an allegation of injustice and issued a fatwa – ruling. Knowing of none, they both relaxed and fruitful discussion followed.

The best hasbara campaign to defend Israel and Judaism will never really be enough; there is not the trust and common language needed for such efforts. The gap can be bridged not via hasbara, which is likely to fall upon deaf ears, but via joint courts. Joint Jewish-Islamic courts will succeed in striving for justice, trust building, and an expanded narrative that finally will include all residents of the Holy Land. It will be a huge relief to us all.

We had been welcomed by the professors at AlAzhar in warmth and parted with love and hopes of future dialogue. Yes, things can get rocky in discussion, but if you believe that the Other is coming from an honest place, then only the late hour and weariness born from a marathon conversation brings it to a close.

And we will work for more such encounters. We must.

(Left) Rabbi Yaakov Nagen with Dr Joseph Ringel,

(Left) Rabbi Yaakov Nagen with Dr Joseph
Ringel,

Rebecca Abrahamson

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