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October 23, 2016 / 21 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Ovadia Yosef’

Orthodox Rabbi Teaching Halakha Beyond the Shulkhan Arukh, Judaism Beyond the Commandments

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

“The Beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it is not always precise and consistent,” says Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. “And that is a very wise thing. You have to have flexibility, because life is not clear-cut or coherent. Moving here, moving there, you work out the different opinions somehow, and you let it be. As such, Jewish Law and beliefs stay fresh and thriving. A musical symphony. But the moment we codify or dogmatize it all, we are basically destroying it.” One of the areas where Dutch-Israeli Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, and Jewish scholar Nathan Lopes Cardozo differs from the Orthodox mainstream is the Torah’s commandments to annihilate whole peoples, such as the nations of Canaan and the mythical nation of Amalek, God’s proverbial enemy.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo: I believe that in the case where moral issues come up, there, even where the Torah says that we have to do away with these people, whether it is Amalek or the nations of Canaan, my feeling is that these were challenges given to Moses and the people to see how they would react, in the same way as Abraham reacts in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. God says, I’m going to wipe them out, and Abraham responds: Will the Judge of the world do such a thing? And God responds by saying, You have a point, let’s see what we can work out.

And then you get this incredible dialogue, this near business deal between Abraham and God on how many righteous people you need so you’ll keep them alive. I think that should be the point of departure whenever we discuss moral issues related to our fellow-man. There my feeling is that even when the Torah sometimes comes with requirements which are problematic from a moral point of view, that we have the option or even obligation, like Abraham, to say to God, Sorry, this won’t go with us. And my reading, which I understand is controversial, is that God is challenging these people: Let Me see how they’ll respond. Did you, people, understand My larger picture of righteousness? Are you understanding what I’m trying to say over here? And as I did in the case of Abraham, when I challenged him by telling him I’m going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham correctly said, No, or at least he was willing to fight it, so I hope you do as well whenever the Torah speaks about killing people. We see this reflected in the sages’ opinion that these nations no longer exist and by doing so they declared these laws inoperative.

JewishPress.com: And yet shortly thereafter, God tells Abraham to execute his son Isaac, and gives him kudos for the fact that he tried to comply.

NLC: I am of the opinion that Abraham, by being prepared to do so, to execute his son, failed the test. I think that the reading of the binding of Isaac should be different from the conventional approach as some Hasidic texts indeed seem to suggest .

JP: God no longer speaks directly to Abraham after the binding of Isaac. Does he lose his prophecy?

NLC: It seems he lost his prophecy. There are all sorts of psychological issues which take place after the incident with the binding of Isaac, which seem to mean that God was not so pleased with the outcome, even though He says, Now I know that you have fear of Me, but that may have a different meaning. It may even mean something like, now that you went for it, you showed you had the correct intentions, but you got My message wrong.

But let us be careful, I only suggest such a reading when speaking about moral problems. But when you speak about Shabbat and holidays, where there are no issues between the individual and his fellow-man, there we do not have the right to say, we’re changing the laws of Shabbat because they’re not convenient.



Nathan Lopes Cardozo was born 70 years ago in Amsterdam, and was named after his father’s youngest brother who was murdered in the Holocaust. His father was a secular Jew who was nevertheless proud of his Portuguese-Jewish origin. His mother, who was not born Jewish, was raised by the Cardozo family and was an integral part of the community. Later on, she saved her husband and his family from the Nazis by hiding them in her Amsterdam apartment. Nathan Cardozo converted to Judaism when he was sixteen, through the Amsterdam Rabbinate, and his mother did many years later as well.

Cardozo spent the next 12 years studying at various Haredi Yeshivas such as Gateshead, whose dean, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gurwitz, ordained him as a rabbi. At 21 he married Freyda Gnesin, a young Dutch woman from eastern European parents he met at the Haarlem synagogue. That’s the Dutch Haarlem synagogue.


We return to the question of whether God commanded the Jews to annihilate certain nations with the expectation that the Jews would defy Him.

JP: In the story of the prophet Shmuel and King Shaul, where Shaul has spared the life of Agag, king of Amalek, and Shmuel takes a sword and finishes the job — did Shmuel fail?

NLC: What was it that Shaul did wrong, and why did God object to it? It seems that Shaul was more concerned with the animals he had acquired and kept alive than about the people he had killed. There is where the moral failure lies.

JP: But Shmuel is not sanctioned for his action.

NLC: It seems that Shmuel was of the opinion that Agag deserved the death penalty. This is very complicated story. I don’t think that Jewish tradition is always consistent, very often it is not. And I think there’s a reason for that, because it shows different sides of a very complex situation. The Russian British philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was not religious but remained very close to his Judaism, has an essay about morality where he says that morality is much more complex than most people think it is. There’s no black and white — this is moral and this is immoral. It depends on your perspective, on how you walk into the problem. So there are cases where the complexity is so big that whatever you do, from one point of view it is morally correct and from another point of view it is morally absolutely unacceptable. So Berlin speaks about a tradeoff, which every judge and every legal system has to make, to find a compromise: how much justice, how much mercy? A way in-between, by which you remove excessive damage on both sides and you’re left with a compromise which is far from ideal, but that’s the part of the human condition.

There is no such thing as black and white responses to these sort of issues, and I think that plays a role in Jewish law as well. We have to deal with clashing Jewish moral forces.

There are reasons to wipe out Amalek and there are reasons why not to do so, especially when it comes to their children. But because there’s this tension of how you look into the story, which is purely subjective, therefore in the end you will have to find a way in-between. Shmuel is right and wrong at the same time. God says to him, Shmuel, I understand your point of view, I will let you get away with it. But don’t think that this is the ideal outcome. Under human circumstances we have to wipe out these people of Amalek, they are very dangerous even for the future generations and at the same time we have to keep them alive because who will say that all of them will be evil? Jewish Law even discusses the question of what to do in case an Amalekite wants to become Jewish and several authorities believe that we have an obligation to convert him as long as he has no blood on his hands!!


JP: Are you suggesting that there is a Jewish morality outside the realm of the commandments?

NLC: Yes, I think there is, in the sense that there are certain intuitive moral feelings that human beings have, Jews and non-Jews, which are of great importance, and which do play a role in the halakhic decision making process. They are also God-given, just like the commandments. I think that’s not only in these extreme cases, but nearly in all cases, because if you look into the works of the great poskim (halakhic authorities), you see differences of opinions between them. It is because of their intuitive moral approach to certain issues. Sometimes a posek will say, I have to find a heter (permission) for this problem. He may even have made up his mind before he started. And then he looks around all the arguments to justify his position and puts it in an halakhic framework. After which he says, so I was right in what I said at the beginning. He knows quite well that they were all colored by his need to come to a lenient conclusion. This is completely legitimate.

You see it with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, you see it with some very Haredi literature as well. It all has to do with a philosophical and ideological attitude which is deeply influenced by the moral intuition of these particular people, and that’s also why there are tremendous differences between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi poskim. There’s a world of difference there. The Ashkenazi outlook to life is much more pessimistic , than the Sephardi one. This has its root in their different experiences in the countries from where they hail and consequently we find different halakhic responses.

There’s an ideology to halakha. And there are different opinions as to what that ideology is. The halakha tells us what to do and what not to do. But it has obviously a much larger Weltanschauung, an outlook on life, which lies behind these halakhic requirements. They are never clearly stated anywhere in the Torah, unless they are stated in very general terms, such as you must be holy, but that still requires a moral explanation. So ideologies play a role as well. The ideological differences between the Haredi and the national-religious rabbis concerning the State of Israel’s religious meaning is a good example.

JP: Are we practicing halakha the way we should?

NLC: Let me tell you an interesting story. Reb Haim Zimmerman was one of the greatest Talmudic geniuses in our generation. In his later years he lived here in Jerusalem. I was told that he was the study partner of the famous Reb Shimon Shkop back in Lithuania. I met him once or twice. He had all of the Talmud at his fingertips. He wasn’t so well known, because he belonged to the Zionist camp and not to the Aguda camp. He once gave a class and he quoted Maimonides and he said, Maimonides agrees with me. So his students said, You mean to say that you agree with Maimonides. So he said, No, Maimonides agrees with me. I am today the living authority, Maimonides is no longer alive. So he has no power any more to decide on halakhic matters — I do. And if Maimonides wishes to disagree, please, let’s hear his point of view, but I have the same say in this matter as Maimonides himself had in his days and therefore I could overrule him.

I think that is a most important statement, which the yeshiva world has totally forgotten. And that has a lot to do with the codification problem. I’ve written at length about this problem. The Shulkhan Arukh (“Set Table,” the most widely consulted Jewish legal code, published in 1563) was meant at the time as the abbreviated halakhic guide for the layman. It was the product of an historical development. Since we were living in the diaspora, we had to make sure that Jews would somehow live within the same framework where they were doing more or less the same things, to keep this little nation alive. It required erecting big walls around us to keep the non-Jews out. So the Shulkhan Arukh, a basic Jewish code, is a typical sociological outcome of a diaspora condition. The Shulkhan Arukh at the time correctly said, we need to make sure that we all operate within the same framework and that requires conformity. This is the only way we can create the powerhouse required to keep us alive in a largely anti-Semitic world.

Both the Shulkhan Arukh and earlier Maimonides’ famous codification of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah (“Repetition of the Torah,” a code of Jewish religious law compiled between 1170 and 1180) are tremendous scholarly achievements. But what Maimonides did was extremely dangerous. By writing down the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides finalized the halakha. He basically said, this is the halakha and nothing else. He even wrote in the forward to this masterpiece, that there is no longer any need to study the Talmud because he had put it all in front of us. Here it is for once and for all. He provides no minority opinions, he acts precisely as what he probably was, as the greatest talmudic genius of his time and possibly of all time, and we—after a period of resistance when his books were burned in some communities—have turned him into an halakhic idol: If Maimonides says so then there’s nothing left to discuss. We canonized him.

We never had, as the Catholic Church did, a particular body such as a conclave which decided these matters. With us it was always fluid. A matter of moving forward and going back and so on. You actually see it if you look in the Shulkhan Arukh, and you look into Maimonides, the commentators around the texts often take issue with them. But they can’t stand up against Maimonides, he is too overpowering. The same is true with his famous thirteen principles of faith: he dogmatizes Jewish belief and by doing so creates a crisis in Judaism for which we still pay a heavy price. Since when are there finalized Jewish beliefs? There are none.

This, I think, has created tremendous problems, because what we’re doing is taking the halakha which developed in diaspora for the last 2000 years, and we bring it to the State of Israel, and apply it as if we are still living in diaspora—when we are not. And therefore you constantly have problems in Israel about halakha, because the traditional halakha speaks as if nothing has happened in Jewish history since 1948. But the whole situation has radically changed. So the Shulkhan Arukh is in many ways outdated. And I’m sure that if Maimonides, or Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulkhan Arukh) lived today, they would say: We never wrote our codifications for a time when the State of Israel would be established, why do you still apply our rulings which were meant for the time we lived in the diaspora?

JP: But the Mishneh Torah talks about the laws of the temple and other areas of Jewish life on the land.

NLC: Yes. But Maimonides never wrote about a secular Jewish state. That whole concept didn’t exist. [The late chief rabbi of Israel] Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog writes in one of his letters that the halakha is not ready to take on the State of Israel. Because we never developed the halakha in the diaspora to deal with the State of Israel where we’re running our own (secular) country. We were always under the administration of the non-Jewish world.

The Shulkhan Arukh starts by saying, In the morning we have to get up, and we must imagine God before us always. But let’s ask an important question: what are the prerequisite conditions to enable you to get up in the morning and to say these words and go to synagogue to pray? It requires that the Turkish government, under which the Shulkhan Arukh was written, will have created a legal system that enables you as a Jew to get out of bed in the morning and walk to synagogue without getting attacked. So you have already taken on all sorts of guarantees from a secular administration, to make your adhering to your religious obligations possible. But that was the Turkish government, that’s not the situation in Israel today. So what you really need to do is rewrite all this, and then you’ll have a big problem because the law has to be able to develop and to constantly re-think itself. But how many poskim have made sure we do that? Instead, they will go back to the Shulkhan Arukh and say, no, Rav Yosef Karo says like this and that’s the end of the discussion.


JP: Should a modern posek (halakhic scholar) relate to halakha as precedence law that must be consulted before ruling, or can they approach the halakhic inquiry directly from their knowledge of the Talmud? How much of the millennia of Sh”ut (halakhik Q&A) should a modern posek take into consideration?

NLC: There’s no straight answer to this. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would sometimes make rulings directly from the Talmud. The Rogatchover (Rabbi Joseph Rosen) would rule from the Talmud. Rav Ovadia Yosef, although he tried very hard to get the Shulkhan Arukh to become the absolute voice within the Sephardi world, constantly contradicted himself in the sense that on one side he wanted to go by the Shulkhan Arukh and at the same time he constantly put it aside and went directly to the source.

My feeling is that some poskim today are overwhelmed by their knowledge and they get drowned in it. And therefore they cannot think creatively any more. If you have too much knowledge then you can’t think on your own anymore because your mind is taken up by this encyclopedic amount of knowledge and you can’t step out of the box. This is not only true with halakha, this is true in many other departments of human knowledge as well. We know so much and therefore we get completely overwhelmed by it and we don’t have space left any more in our brain to come up with something new. This has been happening with poskim for quite a while now.

Therefore the biggest religious Jewish scholars are not the right poskim any more since they can’t think outside the box. But if you go one step below, and in Israel you have quite a few of them, you will find people who know halakha very well but they are not stagnated by this staggering knowledge, so they are probably much better equipped for responding to the needs of the day. Rav Yuval Cherlow, Rav Yoel Bin Nun, Rav Ariel Holland, Rabbi David Bigman. And there are many more around, especially in Israel — I don’t think you have so many abroad. But in Israel, at the moment, you have people who think on their own, have a lot of knowledge, and they can examine issues with a critical eye and make amazing rulings.

Rav Cherlow came up with some unbelievable rulings which got him in trouble with his colleagues. He has responsa about women wanting to get a child without being married. Israeli poskim have also dealt with sex change operations. These are daring undertakings, Sure, one can also go overboard. It all needs careful consideration.

Rabbi Cardozo related a personal example of thinking outside the halakhic box.

I had a case two years ago: M, the son of a friend of mine, a Cohen, from a Portuguese-Spanish family of Amsterdam, practicing Jews, wanted to get married to a convert who was also a divorcée. And since he is a cohen, he went to the Rabbinate of the Spanish synagogue in Amsterdam and asked if there was any possibility he could marry this woman since he knew that a cohen can’t get married with a convert or a divorced woman. Both are very problematic laws in today’s society. Both he and his bride to be were not so young any more, they were in their forties and had little chance to find other partners and have children. But the Rabbinate said no. After all: a divorcée who is also a convert — and a cohen: impossible. So they came to me. I don’t consider myself to be a posek at all, but I know a little about it. They asked, can’t you help us, so I sat down with them and I said to the woman, why are you a divorcée? Did you get a get (bill of divorce)? Yes, she answered, I received a get via the rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv. I was married to an Israeli man, and after a few weeks the marriage fell apart. I asked if she would mind telling me why, and the answer was that the husband had a physical problem and couldn’t have relations with his wife. He was severely impotent. So I said to her, did the rabbinic court ask you why you wanted to get divorced? No, she said, they just told me I should get a get and that’s what I did. So I told to her that it was my opinion that she was not a divorcée, and that she didn’t need a get because there was no consummation of the marriage and therefore she was never married according to Jewish Law. The Rabbinate in Amsterdam had failed to ask these questions. Not a small matter.

Then I said to the cohen, how do you know that you’re a really a cohen? You come from the same background that I come from, Portuguese-Spanish, from under the shadow of the Inquisition. Can you tell me that your family were really cohanim? The man was actually called Cohen, which would indicate that he really was one. But I knew that the name Cohen was in the Portuguese-Spanish culture the same as “Lord” in England, and nothing to do with having been a descendant of Jewish priests. They used to use this kind of name as an honorary name which did not mean that they were cohanim halakhically. So after a lot of discussion with Israeli poskim, including Rav Bigman, and Rav Hollander, I said to the couple, this is my opinion: the young man is either not at all a cohen, or he might be a Hallal, a desecrated cohen. This is because during the time of the Inquisition, cohanim were incapable of holding on to their cohen lineage by marrying only women that were permitted to them such as virgins and widows. And if they married Jewish women who were not permitted to them, then their offspring are no longer bound by the laws of the cohen and are allowed to marry every Jewish woman including a convert or divorcée. And so I officiated at this couple’s Chupah.

In my opinion there are very few real cohanim in the world today. The Ashkenazi community has also had to go through the most terrible conditions and few there are real cohanim. The only ones who are probably cohanim are the Syrians and Tunisians, who have kept reliable records of their Cohanim.


JP: When Edison invented the electric bulb, discussion began among US Jews whether or not electricity is fire. It determined the appearance and behavior of Shabbat for the next century. Today, when we have moved away from the light-bulbs with heated coils, and with solid state devices, even issues of the labor of construction on Shabbat are no longer present, and with major poskim already saying that devices like the telephone are not a problem — is it time to do away with our fear of the Shabbat slippery slope?

NLC: If you would ask me, am I in favor of allowing turning on lights on Shabbat? I would say No, but not for solely halakhic reasons. My reason is this: the fact that I’m not allowed to use electricity creates a certain spirit, a certain atmosphere, which I need and I think my fellow Jews need to observe Shabbat in the right spirit. Not because it is halakhically forbidden — there are enough reasons to rule that using electricity does not contradict the prohibitions of Shabbat. But not all halakhic matters are pure halakha. They have to do with ideology. How are we creating the spirit of Shabbat? What is required there? Therefore, we may say, listen, let’s not use electricity on Shabbat. This is what Shabbat has stood for, for thousands of years. In the olden days there were candles which were prohibited to be lit, over the years this was applied to electricity as well, so that unless there are very specific circumstances where there is really no solution but to use electricity, I would say, don’t light electric lights. Nobody is paying a big price for this. There’s no moral issue here, let’s keep the system as it is.

But take for example the case of the “Shabbat goy,” a non-Jew doing work for us on Shabbat. I think that the use of a Shabbat goy in Israel is highly unnatural and unhealthy. After all, it still means that we are depending on the non Jews, even when we are living in an independent Jewish state. In other words: we still need to have Arabs sitting in the electric company to make sure that we have light on Shabbat. I put a very big question mark behind this. I don’t see it as a healthy situation. Perhaps we should find the technological means for Jews to do this work without transgressing Shabbat. There must be ways by which we can do it ourselves and we don’t need non-Jews to do that for us.

I have altogether a moral problem with using non-Jews on Shabbat, because what we’re doing here is making an impression that the non-Jew is seen as a second class citizen; what we can’t do — he has to do. In other words, we are the so called chosen people, and we need to be served by the non-Jews. This discrimination against non-Jews is wide-spread in the orthodox community and very problematic and highly un-Jewish.

JP: You also have thousands of religious kids who are texting on Shabbat. Judging by the articles I’ve read on this issue I get the impression that it’s the norm rather than the exception in certain religious youth circles.

NLC: It’s a great tragedy, because it’s a sign that these young people are bored on Shabbat, that they don’t have something which replaces their smartphone, and we are remiss in offering educational ways by which to keep young people engaged so they wouldn’t even touch those devices on Shabbat. When you take something away from somebody you have to replace it with something even better. And if you don’t do that then you get these situations, which, in the Modern Orthodox world, has become a problem. There’s a lot of spirituality and inspiration missing, especially in the Lithuanian Jewish world. The excitement about being a Jew, about wanting to observe the commandments, over which Hasidism has a much better handle, is of the outmost importance. In the non-Hasidic world we’ve become extremely mechanical, we have to keep all the laws and we’re no longer asking what is the music behind it, what kind of music are we playing out here? The original Hasidic thinkers of two hundred years ago, like Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen or the Mey Hashiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica) — were able to give the Jewish Tradition a new spirit and knew exactly what they were writing about, even being prepared to take risks and being highly controversial. They stated what they believed, and because of that the Hasidic world has been given a spirituality which the Lithuanian world is not offering us till this very day.


JP: Should the suffering of meat animals influence their kashrut standard?

NLC: I have doubts about the kosher slaughtering of animals in America and here in Israel. The meat industry today has overwhelmed us. The number of cows and chickens which have to be slaughtered every day is so enormous that I can’t see how this will ever work halakhically. The method of shechita at the time was meant for a small town where once in a while they would eat a piece of meat. You can’t compare it with the reality of the meat industry today, where tens of thousands of cows are killed every day.

I believe that the prohibition on needless suffering by animals makes our whole system non-kosher. Because, if indeed there’s a lot of needless suffering of animals taking place, and I’ve seen this personally, the way they deal with those animals is beyond all description, then the Rabbinate should say: No way we are permitting this. Now this is a very complicated story, because since we are a meat eating society, we have to produce an amount of meat that the shechita laws can’t live up to. It has to go too fast. I don’t know how many shochtim there are in Israel, there must be lots of them, but how is it possible that the shechita will always go well? You can use statistical rules of thumb, you can cite a permission here and an allowance there but how far does that go especially when we are bound by laws on how to treat animals mercifully? I don’t believe that any piece of meat today is Kasher l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher).

We should start educating people to no longer eat meat. This is a process, an educational process. The trouble is that if we slowly start to diminish the amount of meat which we require, we’ll have an economic problem on our hands. What’s going to be with all the people who are making their living from this industry? And there are lots of them: shochtim, butchers, supervisors, whatever else there is. You’ll have to find a financial solution for these people, you can’t just say, We stop eating meat. We have to find a slow way by which we will get people off eating meat, finding solutions to the financial problems of the people who are left without their livelihood — this is going to take fifty, sixty years. The trouble is that I’ve never seen the rabbinate or the rabbinic courts really dealing with these issues.


JP: Do we really need the Chief Rabbinate in Israel?

NLC: We need to end the Institution of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. I have the greatest respect for Chief Rabbis Yosef and Lau, they mean well but they are the victims of a system that isn’t working. The truth of the matter is that the Rabbinate in Israel is the Knesset and not the Chief Rabbis . It is a political institution. Some people in the Knesset are telling the Rabbinate what they should say and do. There is corruption taking place. The institution is no longer functioning. It was meant for the general, often secular Israeli population. But it has been taken over by the Haredim, the ultra orthodox. This was not the intent for the Chief Rabbinate, because the Haredim have their own Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate lacks the halakhic poskim of great stature to deal with some very urgent issues: conversions, agunot, feminism, kosher slaughtering, running a modern state, which require these people to be great authorities in halakha and be creative thinkers, and the chief rabbis of today are not up to this. They are not on that level. They don’t seem to possess the prerequisite knowledge. Neither do I, but I am not the Chief Rabbi.

Today’s Chief Rabbis are not like the famous Rav Avraham Yitschak Kook, Rav Ben Zion Uziel or Rav Isaac Yitschak Herzog. I think that in the Ashkenazi Rabbinate the last person of greatness was Rav Shlomo Goren. He had the knowledge and he had the creativity. Afterwards this whole institution disintegrated.

JP: So you would replace it?

NLC: Sure. The last Knesset has already decided that every local rabbinate would have its own conversion system in their own cities, and no longer be subject to the control of the chief rabbinate. Orthodox rabbis who have the authority should decide in their own cities who are the people eligible to become converts. This should not be left up to the chief rabbinate, because the chief rabbinate doesn’t know these people. So how can they decide, without actually knowing the people, who is eligible for conversion?

I am of the opinion, as is the well-known Israeli Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun, that we should try to convert the nearly four hundred thousand Russians of Jewish descent in Israel in a mass conversion, even though a priori it’s not the best manner of conversion according to halakha. The reason why I am in favor of this is this: if we do not convert these people they’ll marry our children and in no time we’ll have a million non-Jews here, to the point where it could undermine the security of the state of Israel. It can create enormous social problems. So here you have to consider not just the conversion issue but the security of the state, too.

This is no longer a diaspora reality where you decide on halakha for individuals who are Torah observant. We are dealing here with the state of Israel which requires that we make sure that we remain a unified political entity, that we can marry each other and secure the State of Israel.

But the rabbinate hasn’t for one moment even considered this point of view. That is a serious dereliction of duty.

David Israel

Israel Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef Visits Joseph’s Tomb (and Arabs Burn It Down Again)

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the Rishon LeZion – rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hazon Ovadia and Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel — made a visit to the Tomb of the Biblical Patriarch Joseph late Sunday night with security provided by the Israel Defense Forces.

The goal was to assess the damage to the site perpetrated by Palestinian Arabs – including Palestinian Authority police acting as terrorists – and to protest that damage.

Following the visit by the chief rabbi, the tomb was once again burned down by enraged Palestinian Arabs.

The convoy in which the esteemed rabbi was traveling was attacked by Palestinian Arabs who threw stones at the vehicles as they drove towards the site, which is located in the ancient city of Shechem. The city today is inhabited by Palestinian Arabs and is called “Nablus,” however, and is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, although under the Oslo Accords the PA is required to allow Jews to access the holy tomb in order to pray.

Hana Levi Julian

Radio Host: Rav Ovadia’s Daughter Resembles Stabber Schlissel

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

How long will it take Israel’s society to recover from the shock of the recent murderous attack on the homosexual parade in Jerusalem last Thursday?

If left to Israel’s media, there isn’t much of a chance for a quick healing. A case in point is a nastily provocative question posed by radio host and investigative reporter Ilana Dayan to Adina Bar Shalom, daughter of the late Rav Ovadia Yosef.

Bar Shalom, who serves as member of the Women’s Council of the Shas party, made a Shiva call on Wednesday to the family of the late Shira Banki, who was stabbed to death by Yishai Schlissel, a serial attacker from the Hareidi community. Her visit was one of numerous, similar gestures on the part of Hareidi public figures who have been acting swiftly and forcefully to disassociate themselves from the murder.

In fact, it has been almost amusing, save for the tragic circumstances, to watch Haredi dignitaries go before the cameras to speak gingerly and even respectfully about the LGBT community. It was a first for them, and for the public in general.

Adina Bar Shalom is far from being a right-wing Jew, despite her close association with the Sephardi, Ultra-Orthodox party. She is member of the public council supporting the Geneva Initiative, which was rejected by most Israelis.

In early April 2011, she signed a petition calling on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, and to establish a Palestinian states according to the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

She also came out publicly against the exclusion of women in the Hareidi community and attacked the “segregated bus lines” in public transportation serving Hareidi neighborhoods.

Adina Bar Shalom has far fewer friends on the right than she does on the left. And yet, on Thursday morning, Ilana Dayan decided to use her as a Hareidi straw-man in an interview on Army Radio.

Relating to Bar Shalom’s shiva call to the Banki family, Dayan noted:

Tell me, how can you live with the fact that … I’ll ask you a question that we are very careful with here, everything here being politically correct, how can you live with the fact that Yishai Schlissel looks more like you than he does me?

The evils of political correctness aside, this kind of question is anti-Semitic at its core. It is worse than guilt by association, it comes near to guilt by genetics.

Bar Shalom was dumbfounded, but, probably because she is not an aggressive person, replied: “No, I can’t live with that in peace. I don’t think so.”

“Doesn’t he look more like you than he does me?” Dayan pushed on, apparently unaware of the Aryan overtones of her assault.

“Absolutely not,” Bar Shalom insisted.

So Dayan added the guilt by attire attack:

Despite the fact that he wears a yarmulke and fringes?

Bar Shalom replied:

He broke one of the biggest prohibitions in the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not murder – {so] how can I view him as a person from my own community?

It was a good answer, although a much better response would have been for Bar Shalom to file a complaint of anti-Semitic harassment with the nearest police station.

Ilana Dayan responded to an inquiry from Kikar HaShabbat that her “intention was obviously just regarding her belonging to the same sector, the Hareidi sector. If things were understood otherwise, of course, I’m sorry. There was no intention to generalize, just to ask and understand.”

She wants to sound as if it were a harmless inquiry, born by pure intellectual curiosity.


Bennett Likely to Get Foreign Ministry

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) is asking for to be the Foreign Minister in the new coalition, and Netanyahu may give it to him.

Bennett is asking for an expanded ministry, with added control over Diaspora Affairs, Hasbara (PR) and Jerusalem.

Bayit Yehudi MKs want to also receive the Ministry of Religion in the upcoming government, so they can continue to try to reform the ministry and make changes in the nature and quality of religious services in Israel. They want Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan to receive that appointment.

Shas also wants the Ministry of Religion.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Understand Israeli Elections – Here’s a Primer, Part 1

Friday, March 13th, 2015

The Israeli political system is radically different from the one in the United States. The most obvious differences are that Israel is a parliamentary system with more than 20 potential parties in the mix, unlike just the two standard American parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.

This year 26 parties are vying for positions in the upcoming vote, 11 of which are likely to pass the threshold requirement for becoming part of the next Knesset.

The first step of this year’s Israeli election to determine who makes it into the Knesset at all, then which parties will form the governing coalition, and finally, who will be the prime minister of the state of Israel, takes place next Tuesday, March 17.

The date was set by a formal meeting in early December, of all the then-current Knesset party leaders. Those leaders chose the date for the election to take place in just four months. While four months is a dramatically short campaign period by American standards, Israeli law permits only five months to elapse between the dissolution of one Knesset and the election for the next.

Election day is a big deal in Israel. Virtually everything, except the polling places, is closed. Free transportation is provided for any voter who needs it to reach their regular polling place.

On March 17,  all eligible voters – every Israeli citizen over 18 years of age – can vote. That includes Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews, men and women, able-bodied and those with disabilities. There is no voter registration system; every citizen is automatically registered once they turn 18. Nearly six million Israelis are eligible to vote in this year’s election.


Eligible Israeli voters go to polling places in their neighborhoods. There are more than 10,000 polling places throughout this tiny country. Most open at 7:00 a.m. and remain open until 10:00 p.m.

Turnout for Israeli elections has been declining for years, but it’s still well over 60 percent. In the U.S., turnout has been in the low-to mid 50 percent zone since the early 1970’s.

Before entering the voting booth, each voter is handed an envelope. Inside the booth is a tray, with different strips of paper. Each strip of paper includes the name and symbol of a party. The voter chooses the slip of paper which has the name and symbol of the party for whom they wish to vote, and puts that piece of paper in the envelope they were handed. After leaving the booth the voter places the envelope with their chosen party slip into the ballot box.

Israeli voters choose parties, not individual candidates, which, among other things, means their national representation is ideological, not geographic, and the vote is proportional, meaning the 120 Knesset seats are divvied up in proportion to each party’s percentage of the total vote. There is a minimum threshold for a party to meet before it can sit in the Knesset. That minimum is currently set at 3.25 percent of the total votes cast, which translates into four seats.


Once the polling places close and the ballots are counted, the second phase of the Israeli election begins, the one frequently described as “horse trading.” In order to have the right to form a government and choose the prime minister, a group of parties needs to be able to control a majority of the Israeli Knesset, the single chamber Israeli legislature. The Knesset has 120 seats.

With so many parties competing, no single one has ever attained that magic number of 61 seats, and it is even likely that three or more parties need to agree to work together to form the ruling coalition. Therefore, parties which have been thrashing each other in public now start eying each other as potential dance partners, trying to figure out with whom they can create a functioning coalition to run the government.

This coalition building phase is a little bit like when, after a brutal primary in the U.S., the second place vote getter and the winner frequently kiss, make up, and agree to live with each other as their party’s candidate for president and vice president during the general election. But several different parties and lots of individual members of those parties are all added into the Israeli decision making mix. It isn’t easy.

But first let’s back up. How were the individuals on each party’s list chosen?


As soon as the Knesset is dissolved, either because it reached its four year expiration date, or because it is dispersed for some other reason (such as happened in the current case, when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the Knesset to disperse and the Knesset unanimously agreed, on Dec. 8), the parties begin internal negotiations to determine who will be on their official “list,” and in what order. The higher up on the list one is, the greater the likelihood of actually making it into the Knesset.

There are various systems for determining who are included, and where they are placed, on each party’s list, including voting by the party leadership. Additional factors are taken into consideration, such as whether enough women are included, whether there are security experts represented, whether certain ethnic minorities will be included.


How does one of the party members then become the prime minister? Israel’s president, currently former Knesset member Ruby Rivlin, selects the member of Knesset believed to have the best chance of forming a viable coalition government, given the election results. This can take some time until the parties are able to align so that they can govern together.

Some of the horse trading here involves party leaders with high numbers demanding significant ministry positions in exchange for pledging their party’s support. Compare this to the ability of the U.S. president, once elected, then deciding who will become the various cabinet members.

This phase is incredibly complicated. For example, right now at least five different parties will be needed to join together to create a ruling coalition. And it is not as if just the top five vote-getting parties will join together, because of differences in ideology.

For example, the tiny far left Meretz party, which currently is polling at five seats, thought it would be able to create a power bloc by pairing up with the Joint Arab List. The Arab group dashed those hopes, claiming they would not join with “Zionists.”

Another complicating factor is that certain parties have claimed they will not join in a coalition with Netanyahu, and the Likud has ruled out creating a coalition with other parties, including the current frontrunner, the so-called “Zionist Union.” That party is a joining together of the center-left Labor party and Tzipi Livni and her entourage. Livni has changed parties so many times in the past few years most people just refer to this new party as Labor-Livni.

Once finally selected, the prime minister announces the formation of a new Knesset and the offices each minister will hold.

January 29 was the deadline for all parties to submit their lists of candidates. As of that date, the following parties had the following members in the following order (the parties are listed in terms of their most recent polling status):

ZIONIST UNION (1) Isaac Herzog (2) Tzipi Livni (3) Shelly Yachimovich (4) Stav Shaffir (5) Itzik Shmuly (6) Omer Bar-Lev (7) Hilik Bar (8) Amir Peretz (9) Merav Michaeli (10) Eitan Cabel (11) Manuel Trajtenberg (12) Erel Margalit (13) Mickey Rosenthal (14) Revital Swid (15) Danny Atar (16) Yoel Hassan (17) Zuhair Bahloul (18) Eitan Broshi (19) Michal Biran (20) Nachman Shai (21) Ksenia Svetlova (22) Ayelet Nahmias Verbin (23) Yossi Yona (24)Eyal Ben-Reuven (25) Yael Cohen-Paran. The left-center Zionist Union was forged by combining Labor and Tzipi Livni and her followers, has very recently been polling at between 20 and 24 seats.

LIKUD: (1) Benjamin Netanyahu (2) Gilad Erdan (3) Yuli Edelstein (4) Yisrael Katz (5) Miri Regev (6)Silvan Shalom (7) Moshe Ya’alon (8) Ze-ev Elkin (9) Danny Danon (10) Yariv Levin (11) Benny Begin (12) Tzachi Hanegbi (13) Yuval Steinitz (14) Gila Gamliel (15) Ophir Akunis (16) David Bitan (17) Haim Katz (18) Jackie Levy (19) Yoav Kish (20) Tzipi Hotovely (21) Dudu Amsalem (22) Miki Zohar (23) Dr. Anat Berko (24) Ayoob Kara (25) Nava Boker. Likud has been polling at between 26 and 20 seats, most recently declining.

YESH ATID (1) Yair Lapid (2) Shai Piron (3) Yael German (4) Meir Cohen (5) Yaakov Peri (6) Ofer Shelah (7) Haim Yalin (8) Karine Elharrar (9) Yoel Razvozov (10) Alize Lavie (11) Mickey Levy (12) Elazar Stern (13) Pnina Tamano-Shata (14) Boaz Toporovsky (15) Ruth Calderon. Yesh Atid focuses on social and economic issues and was brand new for the last elections. Yesh Atid has been polling at around 10 – 13 seats.

JOINT ARAB LIST (1) Aiman Uda (Hadash) (2) Masud Ganaim (Islamic Movement (3) Ahmad Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) (4) Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash (6) Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (Islamic Movement) (7) Haneen Zoabi (Balad) (8) Dov Khenin (Hadash) (9) Taleb Abu Arar (Islamic Movement). The Joint Arab party has been polling between 11 and 13 seats.

BAYIT YEHUDI (1) Naftali Bennett (2) Uri Ariel (3) Ayelet Shaked (4) Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan(5) Nissan Slomiansky (6) Yinan Magal (7) Moti Yogev (8) Bezalel Smotrich (9) Shuli Mualem (10) Avi Wortzman (11) Nir Orbach (12) rabbi Avi Rontzki (13) Orit Struck (14) Anat Roth (15) Ronen Shoval. Bayit Yehudi, the religious Zionist party, has recently been polling between 10 and 14 seats.

KULANU (1) Moshe Kahlon (2) Yoav Galant (3) Eli Alalouf (4) Michael Oren (5) Rachel Azaria (6)Tali Ploskov (7) Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton (8) Eli Cohen (9) Roy Folkman (10)Merav Ben-Ari. Kulanu is a brand new party created by its number one on the list. Kahlon is understood to have destroyed the cell phone monopoly in Israel. Kahlon has not ruled out joining with Likud or Zionist Union. His determination to be the next finance minister is well-known. Kulanu has been polling around 8 – 10 seats.

SHAS (1) Aryeh Deri (2) Yitzhak Cohen (3) Meshulam Nahari (4) Yakov Margi (5) David Azoulay (6) Yoav Ben-Tzur (7) Yitzhak Vaknin (8) Avraham Michaeli. Shas (the Sephardi Haredi party which has experienced severe upheaval since its leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s death in Oct. 2013) has been polling pretty consistently at 7 seats.

UNITED TORAH JUDAISM (1) Yaakov Litzman (2) Moshe Gafni (3) Meir Porush (4) Uri Maklev (5)Menachem Eliezer Moses (6) Israel Eichler (7) Yaakov Asher (8) Eliezer Sorotzkin. UTJ, the Ashkenazi charedi party, has recently been polling between 6 and 7 seats.

YISRAEL BEITEINU (1) Avigdor Lieberman (2) Orly Levy-Abekasis (3) Sofa Landver (4) Ilan Shohat (5) Sharon Gal (6) Hamad Amar (7) Robert Ilatov. Yisrael Beiteinu is identified with the Russian immigrants and is considered right wing, although it does not believe in annexing Judea and Samaria. It has been polling at 5 seats for quite some time.

MERETZ (1) Zehava Gal-on (2) Ilan Gilon (3) Issawi Frej (4) Michal Rozin (5) Tamar Zandberg (6) Mossi Raz (7) Gaby Lasky. Meretz, which is left on social and Arab-Israeli issues, has been polling pretty consistently at around 5 seats.

YACHAD (1) Eli Yishai (2) Yoni Chetboun (3) Michael Ayash (4) Baruch Marzel (5) Sasson Trebelsi. Yachad, only recently created as a split off from Shas, has been polling between 4 – 6 seats.

Other parties which are not expected to reach the threshold number of votes include the Green Party, the Green Leaf (legalize marijuana) Party, Rent with Honor Party, the Economics Party, a Charedi Women’s Party (called Ubezchutan) and even something called the Pirate Party. Gotta love Israelis.

JewishPress.com will post another primer once the elections reach the second phase: assembling the ruling coalition.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

Shas Party Appoints New Spiritual Leader

Friday, April 18th, 2014

The Shas political party, founded and run by the late Rav Ovadia Yosef, has a appointed a new spiritual leader, according to a Galei Tzahal report.

The rabbi chosen to replace Harav Ovadia and be the new president of the party’s Council of Torah Sages is Rabbi Shalom Cohen.

Aryeh Deri is the political leader of the party. Deri displaced Eli Yishai, who was interim leader for the years that Deri was in jail, and until he was allowed to return to politics.

Jewish Press News Briefs

‘Amalek’ Comment More an Expression of Shas Despair than Hate

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Saturday night has been for years an opportunity for the Sephardi Haredi party Shas’ spiritual leader, Rav Ovadia Yosef, to make headlines with some outrageous statements. In fact, as the Israeli media began to carry those statements, making them the focal point of many a Sunday morning conversations (Sunday is Israel’s Monday).

Initially, those statements were mostly against the Arabs, most notably the Palestinians, most emphatically the late Chairman Yassir Arafat. But as of Israel’s most recent elections, during the campaign and especially as it was becoming clear that the Jewish Home national religious party was going to be inside the coalition government while the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, were out—the great spiritual leader started frothing at the mouth cursing out his rivals.

He called them “Goyish Home,” he accused them of fighting and desecrating the Torah, he ridiculed their notion of being religious—how could they possibly be religious when they conspire, along with Yair Lapid’s burgeoning middle-class party Yesh Atid, to force thousands of yeshiva students into military conscription.

This past Saturday night, in Rav Ovadia’s synagogue in the Bucharim neighborhood in Jerusalem, a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, Rav Shalom Cohen, dean of the Porat Yosef yeshiva, compared the national religious in Israel, whose noted symbol are the knitted yarmulkes—kippot srugot—to Amalek.

Just before Purim, many divrei Torah are said about the true identity of Amalek. Some say it is a real nation, whose goal in history is to negate whatever it is Jews are doing, because Amalek are the enemies of God, while we are the children of God. They see Amalek in every great enemy of the Jews, culminating in the Nazis and Ahmadinejad. Others talk about the Amalek within us, that fascistic component of our personalities that has no problem stepping on others, brutally if need be, just to get its way.

In that context, Rav Cohen’s note was blood curdling. Whether he had had too much of the glass of havdala, or truly believes it, he made the following clever spiel: “It says God does war against Amalek. So long as Amalek exists, the throne—kess is not complete. KS is an acronym for Kippa Sruga—knitted yarmulke. When will the throne-kess be whole? When there’s no longer a kippa sruga… Are these really Jews?”

Haredi journalist Israel Gelis says Rav Cohen’s poor choice of words should not be taken seriously. It’s part of a particular culture where heated expressions are thrown out with little consideration of their impact. Gelis says that on Shabbat he ran into Rav Cohen at the Kotel, and the latter said to him with a huge smile: “Did you see the name of the chief of the tribe of Naftali (as in Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett)? It’s Achira (Num. 1:15),” literally “brother of evil.” And he was very pleased with himself, adds Gelis.

Those things shouldn’t be taken seriously. But the total failure of Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri to deliver on any of his promises, says Gelis, bears far more serious ramifications for the Haredi Sephardi party that relies on thousands of knitted yarmulke voters.

Having lost out in the coalition building wars to Bennett and Lapid, Deri has forged an alliance with leftist Meretz and the Arab parties, to the point where he is more likely to vote with them against the Zionist coalition government than not. His rival in the Shas leadership, deposed chairman Eli Yishai, is a regular secret visitor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chambers—so secret the entire Haredi world knows about it. Yishai has been a reliable, steady partner to Netanyahu and other secular, right-wing leaders. At this point he is waiting for his nemesis to sink deeper in the political mud.

Life in the opposition is murder on a party like Shas, which used to utilize its government ministries to favor its Sephardi sector. Now, unable to bring home the paella, Shas is standing to lose much of its support to the new powers that be in the ministries they used to control: Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home.

Add to that the fact that Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef is not getting any younger, and you’ll understand the Shas angst.

Yori Yanover

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/amalek-comment-more-an-expression-of-shas-despair-than-hate/2013/07/15/

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