web analytics
April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘power’

The Secret To Defeating Our Enemies

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Events have been unfolding so rapidly. First it was Hurricane Sandy, which attacked with merciless fury and left multitudes homeless, their cars and belongings swept away. Power failed, not for a day, or for a week, but in some cases for several weeks.

When I was told I could safely return to my house, the power was back on and the poisonous water mixed with sewage that invaded the lower level of my home had been removed. When I reached my community it was evening and before I even arrived to my destination the lights went out again. You couldn’t see anything.

I’d had experience with power failures in the past but this darkness that now enveloped us was totally different. Imagine driving on a street where the streetlights are off and you cannot even see little bright lights flickering from windows.

“Where am I?” you ask yourself. “Is there a car coming toward me? Am I backing into something? Where is my street? Where is my house?”

My regular readers know I connected Sandy, as I have several other unusual occurrences, to the ten plagues that befell Egypt. Our Sages taught us that the manner in which we departed from Egypt would be replayed in the pre-Messianic period. As I was trying to make my way home it occurred to me that this dense darkness was reminiscent of the darkness that enveloped Egypt in the ninth plague. The Torah teaches us that the darkness was so thick it was almost tangible – you could actually feel it and didn’t even know who or what was standing before you.

As I was contemplating all that was going on around me, the news from Eretz Yisrael reached us of deadly rockets and missiles raining down on our brethren. While in the United States many lost their homes, in Israel – may Hashem have mercy – not only were homes destroyed but the very lives of our people were on the line. And then we heard the so-called good news of a cease-fire.

But isn’t that really good news, you ask? I invite you to consider why a people bent on annihilating Israel would desire a “cease-fire.” And why would Prime Minister Netanyahu agree to it? Surely we Jews know that in no time at all the savage murderers will resume their attacks.

The answers are simple. Hamas needed a small break to replenish its deadly arsenal. On the other hand, Netanyahu, like so many of Israel’s past prime ministers, felt he had no choice but to succumb to the pressure exerted by other nations. Some of you are no doubt asking what else Israel could have done – one nation versus the world. Logically speaking the objection makes sense, but there is nothing logical about Jewish survival. From the very genesis of our history we have been attacked by virtually every nation, every great empire, of the world. We were and are “one little lamb” lost among seventy ferocious wolves. What chance did we have for survival?

Was it not just yesterday that Hitler proclaimed his “final solution”? He harnessed 20th century know-how to build gas chambers and crematoria. But as always, we, the Jewish people, defied the odds. Hitler is long gone but we are here and shall always be here, for that is the will of our G-d.

What is our secret weapon? I’ve written about it frequently but it bears repeating – for we simply don’t get it. It is all found in one easy word: “Torah.”

The voice of Jacob, of Israel, is the voice of Torah and the voice of prayer. Yes, the power of our people is in our voice and in our supplications. It is found in our Torah studies, in our observance of mitzvos and in our commitment to Hashem.

Sadly, we have forfeited these precious gems. We no longer know how to sing to our G-d and have allowed Yishmael to seize our weapons. Yishmael prays five times a day. How many times do we pray? The answer should be at least three – but to our shame we pray zero.

I imagine many readers are asking, “Rebbetzin, how can you say that?” Just look around and be honest. Ask yourselves, how many Jews really pray three times a day? How many Jews go to minyan? Yes, the Orthodox do, but how many are they? The Orthodox are just a very small minority. If we are to survive the seventy ferocious wolves we – all of us – must take our weapons into our hands.

With Democracy for All and Freedom for None

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

It would be tempting to attribute the disaster spreading across the Middle East to a brief flirtation with democracy snake oil, but for the better part of the last century the political class of the United States could talk of nothing else. Nearly every war was fought was to spread democracy, protect democracy or worship at the altar of democracy.

For much of the 20th Century it was the working assumption of the sort of men who got up to give speeches in crowded halls that it was democracy that made America special. But it is not so much that democracy made America special, as America made democracy special and workable. And that is because democracy only works when government is limited. When government power isn’t limited, then democracy is just tyranny with a popular vote behind it.

In a poignant historical irony, American democracy went into a prolonged decline just as its political class was busy speechifying about the importance of exporting it abroad. Government authority was increasingly centralized and elections began to come down not to ideas, but to divided groups fighting it out in a zero sum struggle for total control of each other’s lives. American democracy has been exported to Iraq. And Iraqi democracy was exported to America.

With unlimited authority vested in the government, we no longer have elections to decide policy, but to determine whether an oppressive social and cultural agenda complete with a loss of civil rights will be forced on the rest of the country. And our last election was as polarized as an Iraqi election and with a similar outcome.

Democracy was never the solution for the Middle East; a region that is properly multicultural in the sense of being a collection of quarreling tribes, religious factions and ethnic groups. And all that democracy accomplished was to give the majority another tool for oppressing the minority. Instead of bloody revolts leading to dictatorships, there were bloody revolts leading to elections which then led to dictatorships. And only a fool or Thomas Friedman would consider the addition of this extra step to be any kind of improvement.

A multicultural society does not invalidate government by popular vote unless that society is also so split along tribal lines that elections are decided based on the rate at which races and religious groups make up that society. When demographics become valid predictors of political outcomes, then democracy becomes theocracy and ethnocracy. And the only alternative is to resort to reserved political offices for different groups in Beirut style.

There are two elements that make democracy livable. Limited government and national character. And the former depends on the latter. Dispense with the national character and you lose the limited government and democracy becomes a slow descent into tyranny, accompanied by the spectacle of hollow elections.

The Muslim world lacked either limited government or national character and so the democracy experiments there were doomed to become one type of horror show or another. The two dominant streams of political ideology in the region are Socialist and Islamist. The difference between the two is that the Socialists are mildly Islamist and the Islamists are mildly Socialist. Both of them however have no tradition of respect for the law and are motivated by utopian programs based on absolute power.

There was never going to be a good outcome. Understanding that democracy would no more solve the region’s problems than shooting a rabid dog full of PCP would improve its mood was as easy as looking at the dominant political movements that were going to compete in such an election. Each of those movements, aside from hating America, also has no ability or interest in working with anyone outside their narrow agenda except in temporary alliances that would end in the inevitable betrayal.

American leaders were ill-prepared to grasp this because the Republicans were still besotted with an idealistic vision of American democracy propounded by the Democratic Party in the first half of the last century and utterly incapable of understanding that democracy is a tool and it only works in the hands of a people of good character.

No major Republican leader has spoken against the democracy export business because questioning the export of democracy to another country also questions the character of the people there. Republicans talk about American Exceptionalism, but limit it to the country’s political systems. In such a narrow reading, America is superior because its political systems are superior, not because its people are any different or better than anyone else.

The Islamist Regime’s Game Plan for Egypt

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

What’s been happening in Egypt this week is as important as the revolution that overthrew the old regime almost two years ago. A new dictator has arrived and while the Muslim Brotherhood’s overturning of democracy was totally predictable, Western policymakers walked right into the trap. They even helped build it.

President Mursi has now declared his ability to rule by decree. The key concept is that he can do everything to protect the revolution. In doing so, he is defining the revolution—as the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979 which was made by a broad coalition of forces soon after became defined—as an Islamist revolution.

One could call the Islamist strategy a short march through the institutions. Once Islamists take power—in Iran, the Gaza Strip, and Turkey, perhaps, too Syria—that is only the beginning of the story. They systematically do a fundamental transformation of them.

The media, or at least a large part of it, is tamed. The draft constitution written by the Brotherhood and Salafists allows the government to shut down any newspaper or television station by decree. The courts are made impotent and judges are replaced. Mursi’s decree said he could ignore any court decision.At a November 18 press conference, a few days before Mursi issued his decree, the leading secular-oriented representatives in the constitution-writing constituent assembly resigned, charging the new document would enshrine Sharia law. The problem was not the statement in Article 2 about Sharia being the main source of Egyptian legislation but rather later provisions making it clear that Islamist-controlled institutions would interpret precisely what that meant. Amr Moussa, former foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general, said the new constitution would bring disaster for Egypt. Abdel Meguid called this combination “Taliban-like.”

Scattered secularist forces, Coptic Christians, liberals or the remnants of the old regime, and modern-minded women do not pose a real threat to the regime. They are not violent, not organized, and not flush with cash. They can expect no material international support. There will be no civil war between the moderates and the Islamists the suppression of one by the other. The Salafists are itching for confrontation; the Muslim Brotherhood is patient. But when Salafists harass women or stab secularists or attack churches, the Brotherhood-controlled government will do nothing to protect the victims.

Of critical importance for Egypt is control over the religious infrastructure: the ministry of Waqf that supervises huge amounts of money in Islamic foundations; the office of qadi, the chief Islamist jurist; al-Azhar University, the most important institution defining Islam in the Muslim world; which clerics get to go on television or have their own shows; and down to appointments of preachers in every public mosque in the country.

Many clerics are not moderate but most are not systematic Islamists. Soon they will be or at least talk as if they were. Revolutionary Islamism will become in Egypt merely normative Islam. Thus is the endless debate in the West about the nature of Islam—religion of peace or religion of terrorism?–short-circuited and made even more irrelevant. The real power is not what the texts say but who interprets them. And the Islamists will do the interpreting.

While the judges are still holding out bravely only the army has real power to counter the Islamist revolution transforming the most important country in the Arabic-speaking world into the instrument of the leading international anti-Western, anti-American, and antisemitic organization. It doesn’t matter how nicely Mursi spoke to Obama any more than say how Lenin–who moderated Soviet policy in the 1920s to consolidate the regime and get Western help–did in his day.

What is going on inside Egypt’s army, the last remaining institution that could offer resistance? We don’t really know but there are certainly some important indications. In theory, the army is the only force that can challenge the Muslim Brotherhood’s drive to transform Egypt into an Islamist state. But why should we believe the officers want to engage in such a battle?

Under the leadership of a secret society called the Free Officers, Egypt’s army overturned the monarchy in 1952 in a virtually bloodless coup. Yet while Egypt was for decades thereafter ruled by the resulting regime, the military government soon became a military-backed government. Officers either moved over to civilian offices or if they opposed the regime were purged.

Protester Dies: When Is a Dictator Not a Dictator? Never

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

The recent Hamas-Israel confrontation ended abruptly when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last Wednesday, November 21, a ceasefire that essentially put the relatively new, largely unknown Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in the role of peacekeeper for Israel and Gaza.

“Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace,” exclaimed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Well, Egypt had been a source of stability in the area, but Egypt’s new leader was not exactly in the mold of a Mubarak.  At least not in the positive ways.

The day after the U.S. administration cast Morsi in the role of new peacekeeper, he recast himself as something more like a new pharoah.  And, despite what the New York Times and the Washington Post wrote, he is not giving back any of the real power he’s granted himself.

On Thursday, November 22, while most Americans were eating turkey, Mohamed Morsi, the post-revolutionary leader of Egypt, issued a stunning series of decrees in which he usurped virtually all governmental power.  Morsi placed himself above the judiciary, sidelined the moderates in his council and signaled to all that his lifetime in the Muslim Brotherhood is his essence, no matter what role the U.S. seeks to cast him in.  He was now – in virtually every way possible – above the law.

On Friday, Samir Morcos, a Coptic Christian presidential adviser, resigned in protest, calling Morsi’s Decree, “undemocratic and a leap backwards.”

Secularists, liberals, women, journalists, and Christians have all resigned from the council, out of protest over the dominating influence of the Muslim Brothers and Salafists.  Nearly one quarter of its members walked out.

The Egyptian people were – briefly – stunned, and then they came back to doing what they do best: they rioted, and were beaten – some to death – in Tahrir Square.

After three days of ugliness captured on film and in photographs, President Morsi seemed to acknowledge he had gone too far, and “reminded” his people that his usurpation of power is intended to be only temporary, “until a new constitution is ratified. ”

Yeah, right.  When was the last time a dictator decided it was time to relinquish his control?

In at least one draft of the constitution, the Islamists insisted on changing women’s rights and obligations to match those under the rules of Sharia law.  This would require all women to wear the hijab and to be subservient to men, as is the case in Saudi Arabia and Iran.  If Sharia is to be applied, the rulings will have to be interpreted by Muslim legal scholars who would then have the same status as constitutional judges.

There have also been discussions in the constitutional council about lowering the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 14, or even to as young as 9 years.  The constitutional council, which is now dominated by Islamists, could have been disbanded under the constitutional court, but Morsi’s decree made the council immune from such action.

The 2012 Egyptian uprising already has its first martyr – a teenager, Gaber Salah, nicknamed “Jika,” a member of the April 6 movement.  The boy died from wounds he received during confrontations between police and protesters on Mohammed Mahmud street where protesters had been marking the first anniversary of deadly clashes.

Two other protesters have since died, the latest, Monday morning, November 26.  Since Morsi issued his dictatorial decree, there have been three deaths, more than 450 injuries, more than 260 detainees, and most of Egypt’s courts have been on strike.

Muslim Brotherhood’s political party offices were torched in several cities on Friday. In Alexandria, Egypt, Brotherhood members held up prayer rugs to protect themselves as they were pelted with stones.

Throughout the day on Monday, clashes were reported between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters in eight governorates. Those clashes reportedly took place in Alexandria, Ismailia, Assiut, Port-Said, Suez, Mahalla, Damietta, Menya, and Aswan.

Not surprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood issued an official statement in support of Morsi’s declaration, one that is highly critical of the opposition.  The Brotherhood stated that Morsi’s actions were taken in order to rid the government of Mubarak holdovers and to fully complete the revolution and attain stability, “economic prosperity and social justice” for all Egyptians.

The Brotherhood described all those who oppose Morsi’s actions as seeking to keep Egypt in a state of chaos “as a prelude to toppling the elected regime and grabbing power.”

The Brotherhood claimed that certain political leaders were promoting distorted views of the president’s Decree.  The statement continued:

Thus they went out in counter-demonstrations chanting insults and obscenities for slogans. Joining them were groups of thugs who went on the rampage, destroying and burning the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Alexandria and in other cities. Others attacked police officers with Molotov bombs and stones, setting public and private institutions on fire.
Then we heard irresponsible calls for escalation, sabotage and strike actions to disable state facilities. All this is certainly neither wise nor patriotic. In fact, it ignores the higher interests of the country, the popular will and the majority that represents the principles of democracy, which all parties claim to respect.
Despite material and moral harm, we still call on everyone to show a spirit of responsibility and to work with citizens to gain their trust. We call for honest political rivalry to achieve the interests of the country in the light of democracy and justice.
The majority of Egyptians, including the Muslim Brotherhood, strongly support the President’s Decrees, seek to build constitutional institutions and achieve the demands of the people and the revolution.
Ahmed Mekki, Egypt’s Justice Minister,  has been walking a political tightrope.  Mekki has expressed support for Morsi, but he has also said that it was wrong to place the president above the judiciary in the Nov. 22 Decree.

Earlier this week, more than a dozen groups called for mass demonstrations across the country on Tuesday to protest Morsi’s decree and the Constituent Assembly. Those groups include the liberal Constitution party, the Socialist Popular Alliance party, the Egyptian Social Democratic party, the leftist Popular Alliance, the Free Egyptians party, the Karama party, the April 6 Youth Movement, the National Association for Change, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Youth for Justice and Freedom movement, the Kefaya movement and several others.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo announced that it will be closed today, November 27, in order to avoid anticipated violence between anti- and pro-Morsi factions.

The Egyptian Government and its supporters also announced plans to hold rallies today, but after moving the location from Tahrir Square to Cairo University, the pro-Morsi factions eventually cancelled their events.

U.S. REACTION

Thus far the U.S. government has been largely silent about the roiling unrest in Egypt.  The State Department’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “We call for calm and encourage all parties to work together and call for all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue.”

But Egypt is heavily dependent on the U.S. for financial aid.  Will this country use its financial leverage to dissuade Morsi from continuing in his dictatorial march?

According to the American Enterprise Institute’s vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies Danielle Pletka, “Obama has already made it clear he’s okay with Egypt as Morsi likes it – refusing to suspend aid after Morsi ignored attacks on the US Embassy in Cairo.”  Pletka then asks, “Will Congress take the same attitude?”

Pointing out that the Senate refused to suspend aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya in the wake of anti-U.S. demonstrations on 9/11 this year, Pletka wonders whether Congress will simply rubber stamp the $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars without making some demands?  And, “shouldn’t those conditions relate to rule of law, treatment of minorities, economic reform, and other priorities that could insulate the Egyptian people from yet another pharaoh?”

IMF INFUSION

Not only was Egyptian President Morsi catapulted to global stature by the Middle East peacekeeping role bestowed upon him by the U.S., at the same time Egypt was informed it was to become the recipient of a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund Loan.  Would those funds be in jeopardy because of the anti-democratic presidential decrees and crackdown on dissidents authorized by the Egyptian President?
The answer to that question is probably no.
“The latest developments could bring into question the stability of state institutions and raise doubts that could delay the loan,” stated an anonymous IMF official to Ahram Online.
“Broad-based domestic and international support will be crucial for the successful implementation of the planned policies,” Andreas Bauer, IMF Division Chief in the Middle East and Central Asia Department, stated last week.
“I do not think the IMF will rescind its agreement, but if the situation in Egypt deteriorates it could suspend the loan,” Samir Radwan, former Egyptian finance minister, told Ahram Online.
RESPONSE TO UNREST BY MORSI

On Monday, tensions rose in Egypt as protests continued in the streets.  An anxiously anticipated meeting between the judiciary and President Morsi took place late in the day.  It was an effort to negotiate a compromise between what the judiciary could accept, and what President Morsi was willing to relinquish of his newly-wrested powers.

The meeting ended with an announcement issued by Morsi’s spokesperson.  That statement was covered by a New York Times article which was headlined: “Egypt’s Leader Said to Agree to Limit Scope of Judicial Decree.”  Well, the title of the article is correct, Morsi did say that, but a more than cursory review of Morsi’s statement reveals something quite different.

Following his meeting with the Supreme Judicial Council, Morsi issued a statement that his decrees would only remain immune from judicial review in cases pertaining to “sovereign matters.”  But of course, it is entirely within Morsi’s control to decide what constitutes a “sovereign matter.”  In other words, there was no agreement whatsoever.

Members of Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council told the Egypt Independent late on Monday, there had been no resolution to the crisis between the executive and judicial branches, and that while they had tried to reach an agreement, their efforts were in vain.
In other words, President Morsi is now not only immune from judicial review, he feels entirely comfortable in speaking for the judiciary, even when what he says completely contradicts the views of the judiciary.

On December 4, a case brought by lawyers and activists challenging Morsi’s power grab will be heard by a Cairo administrative court.  More than a dozen suits against the decree have been filed, according to Abdel Meguid Al-Moqannen, the deputy chief of the State Council, Egypt’s highest administrative body.

In one indication of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi’s quirky rise to fame, Time Magazine included Morsi in its list of potential “2012 Person of the Year” candidates for online polling.

In the short time that Morsi has become almost a household name, he has gone from rock star status to one who is being referred to in the social media of Twitter as “Morsilini” and “Mubarak 2.0.”  He probably considers the latter a bigger insult.

UPDATE: During protests taking place today in Cairo, 50 year old Fathy Gharib, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), died of asphyxiation from tear gas inhalation. According to eyewitnesses, there are hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters in the streets. Tahrir Square is bursting with people chanting.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Light In The Darkness

Dear Rachel,

Over the last few weeks you published letters that were filled with vitriol and criticisms as readers took issue with parents whom they view as being not caring enough of their children’s eating habits, or with adults who spend lavishly on mishloach manos or simchas, and on and on.

I have a different story to put out there, one that demonstrates true ahavas Yisroel and caring. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy seems to have brought out the best in and among us.

The Five Towns and Far Rockaway were especially hard hit by the storm, and when I urged my children who live there to come out to us in Monsey where they’d enjoy light and warmth, they answered simply, “You won’t be able to fit us all in.”

I soon learned that my son and daughter-in-law ,who were without electricity or hot water since day one of the hurricane, had opened up their home and hearts to a family of nine from the Bayswater area who had even less — for their own home had become inhabitable.

When I questioned how they could possibly accommodate all these extra people, my daughter-in-law answered that some of my grandchildren had given up their bedrooms and joined mom and dad in the master bedroom for the interim.

My curiosity was piqued; without working refrigerators and ovens, how did they manage to feed such a brood? My daughter-in-law could not say enough about the magnificent outreach of their local Chabad that was providing hot meals daily, clothing items and blankets to make life more tolerable in the cold indoors, as well as programs at the Chabad center to keep younger children entertained.

You hit the nail on the head, Rachel, when you said in a recent column, “We are creative and enterprising, compassionate and giving, and family oriented.”

Mi k’Amcha Yisroel!

Dear Rachel,

Many of us have been grossly inconvenienced, to put it mildly, by nature’s latest whoppers, beginning with Hurricane Sandy. In my neighborhood many families opted to leave their darkened homes and move in with relatives who had not lost power or had it quickly restored.

This has left empty houses vulnerable to looting since alarm systems are disabled, and sadly many a homeowner has returned to find their premises broken into. If this is not adding insult to injury, I don’t know what is. But more horrifying yet has to be staying put and realizing in the middle of the night that a burglar has let himself in with the help of the blackout.

I am reminded of an incident a close friend of mine experienced many years ago. Those were the days when many households made do with fans in place of air-conditioners. One summer Friday night my friend was suddenly awakened from her sleep and opened her eyes to the sight of a stranger standing in the doorway of her bedroom.

She froze as her heart raced wildly, while her husband was fast asleep in his own bed. She thought of just closing her eyes and pretending to be asleep but feared that the intruder had already noticed her waking and would approach to do her harm.

Almost as naïve as the man in the White House who believed that if he’d make nice to our enemies they’d become our chums, my friend rationalized that if she’ll speak softly to the lowlife he’d certainly have no reason to want to hurt her. Pulling her covers up to her chin (this being a sweltering August night, she wasn’t very tzniusdik’ly attired), she sat up and asked, “Who are you?” with wide-eyed innocence.

Must have been the last thing he expected, because the intruder turned on his heels and ran. That’s when she first alerted her husband and they both got up to check on things and make sure he was really gone. It turned out that the burglar had entered through a small space over the kitchen counter. By early the next morning a neighbor had found my friend’s emptied pocketbook discarded in her yard; her awakening had apparently interrupted the intruder’s poking around in their bedroom.

On Motzei Shabbos the young couple made out a report at the local precinct house where the officer on duty told my friend that her daring move was unwise and that she was lucky not to get hurt. The best thing to do in such a circumstance, he advised, is to pretend to be asleep. Desperate thugs can be dangerous when confronted.

Overpriced!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

A week after Hurricane Sandy, the Blums still had no electricity. They had run extension cords to a neighbor’s house to power some basic items, like the fridge and telephone, but the protracted living without power was taking its toll on the family.

“I’ve just about had it,” Mrs. Blum said to her husband. “We need to buy a generator! I saw them in the store two weeks ago for about $750.”

Mr. Blum drove to the store but couldn’t find any generators. He inquired with the manager, who said: “I’m sorry, but we sold out last week.”

Mr. Blum tried a second and third store, but everywhere he went, the answer was the same: “We sold out last week, and won’t get restocked for at least another week.”

“We can’t keep going on like this,” Mrs. Blum said to her husband. “We’ve got to do something!”

That afternoon, Mr. Blum saw in an advertisement that someone had procured a limited stock of generators and was selling them. He immediately drove over to the address listed.

As he entered, Mr. Blum saw a sign: “The generators are being sold for $1,500 each. We apologize for the high price. No returns.”

“What?!” exclaimed Mr. Blum to the seller. “That’s twice the cost of local stores. Why so much?”

“It is much more than the stores here, but I can’t sell for the regular price,” said the seller. “I had to buy these from a store very far away and transport them here. That added a lot to my cost and labor.”

“That may account for adding 50 percent to the price,” said Mr. Blum, “but it doesn’t justify charging double!”

“I’m not interested in bargaining,” said the seller. “This is the price that I’m charging. You want to buy for $1,500, fine; you don’t want to, don’t.”

“But overcharging like that is a violation of the prohibition against ona’ah (price cheating),” argued Mr. Blum. “It even jeopardizes the validity of the sale!”

“How am I cheating you?” asked the seller. “I’m not deceiving you about the cost; I acknowledge the price is high.”

Feeling he had no choice, Mr. Blum bought the generator. On Shabbos, he met Rabbi Dayan and related what happened. “Was the seller permitted to charge way more than the generators were worth?” asked Mr. Blum.

“In general, there is a prohibition of ona’ah to overcharge an unknowing customer,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Depending on the amount overcharged, the customer may be entitled to a refund or to cancel the purchase.” (See C.M. 247:2-4)

“What if the seller stipulates ‘No return’?” asked Mr. Blum.

“Even if the seller stipulates that the customer should have no ona’ah claim, the customer does not relinquish his legal redress if the seller did not state he is overcharging,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, if the seller states he is overcharging and says: ‘This item that I’m selling for 200 is worth only 100; I am selling on condition that you have no ona’ah claim’ – then the customer has no redress.” (227:21)

“Does the seller have to specify the true cost?” asked Mr. Blum. “What if he just states that he is charging more than the item is worth, on condition that there is no ona’ah claim?”

“This seems dependent on whether a person can forgo an undefined sum,” said Rabbi Dayan. “According to the Rambam one cannot, so it is necessary to specify the amounts; according to the Tur one can, so it is not necessary to specify.” (See SM”A 227:39, 232:16; P.C., Ona’ah 10:35)

“But still, is stating that the price is high sufficient to permit the seller to overcharge?” asked Mr. Blum. “What about the prohibition of ‘lo tonu‘ – do not aggrieve?”

“If the seller specifies the amount he is overcharging there is no prohibition,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “It also seems that there is no need to formally stipulate, ‘on condition…’ since the customer is clearly agreeing to forgo the amount overcharged. Since the seller is transparent about overcharging, but only willing to sell for this price, and the customer decides that it’s worthwhile for him to buy nonetheless – the seller has not cheated him.” (See Nesivos 264:8; Pischei Choshen, Ona’ah 10:34)

I Am a Loser Today

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

First we must admit we lost the war with Hamas.

It will allow us to begin healing from our wounds. For until we make the admission that we are on the losing side in the war and remain in a state of denial about it, no recovery is possible. We are thankful to be alive, of course, there is that to be grateful for – we can write letters like these and feel some satisfaction in the small pleasures of daily life, but we lost the war, yes, we did.

If we all make the admission simultaneously it will be an even stronger spur to our recovery, for we will be able to move on and examine our options. But until we as a nation, say it out loud, we’re trapped in fear, despair and disappointment.

We lost the war with Hamas. Please, don’t be afraid to say it out loudly and clearly. Say it to yourself. Say it to your family and friends. Say it at work and in the streets. Let’s own our defeat and see how it feels before condemning it as defeatist or negative. I think it will do us a world of good, actually. Today, this Thursday morning, this week of Parshat Vayetze, we were defeated by Hamas.

We’re alive, unapologetic and eager to find the positive in the situation, but we are defeated. We lost the war with Hamas this week, you know. It hurts a lot. We were sure it was going to be a resounding win, a victory and a new beginning for Israeli citizens everywhere but especially in the south. Unfortunately, we lost the war with Hamas.

They won, you see, because they have two advantages over us, superior tactics and a superior strategy. I’m not writing an analysis; that’s for the historians and the war-college professors to do. I’m merely stating what needs to be said out loud for our health’s sake, today. We lost the war with Hamas.

I cry for us, for those who survive unscathed and for those who mourn their losses, all our collective losses. Their children are our children, their parents, our parents. We are all living in Sderot, we are all about five seconds from a devastating trauma – we all have the scars this morning from the war with Hamas which we lost.

We are a noble people, for the most part. God knows we seek no one any great harm, and rarely dream, as a nation, of committing genocide, rapine or plunder. But we must, for our health’s sake, admit that we are locked in a deathly embrace with Hamas who have beaten us this week, who have reduced us to the role of the vanquished, to the point where we were forced to sue for peace on their terms, on any terms. We need to internalize the simple fact that Islamists have forced us to settle, not for peace on any terms, but with a lull, a not-even-truce. They have graciously, as the victors, agreed to allow us a short respite, for as long as it takes them to rearm, regroup and reposition for the next battle in the war we have lost.

I am not ashamed to say I am an Israeli Jew, I am a loser today in the war with Hamas.

I’m ashamed of the men and women we voted into political power, whose duty it is to protect us, let us not sully our lips with their names, they know who they are. I will look for more savage politicians to vote into power next time, lesser practitioners of the reasonable arts – with frothier spittle and madder eyes.

I am ashamed for us, I’m crying for us. We seem to have lost our vision and our insight. We are lost in broad daylight, blinded by the truth and crippled by common sense.

Because it’s true, I admit it. We lost the war with Hamas.

Join with me, friends and family. Let us make the admission with contrition in our our hearts and all the earnestness at our command; We lost the war with Hamas.

Parshat Toldot: The Power Of A Text

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

The theme of my column is leadership. As a general rule I avoid extrapolating leadership lessons from current events. The following is my reasoning. First, the information available from current events is often incomplete and inaccurate. Even when the information is relatively complete and accurate it is unanalyzed. Therefore the basis for lessons learned may prove to be faulty. Second, current events are often too current. To attempt to draw practical lessons in a dispassionate way would be insensitive. At least a minimal amount of time is needed to create the space necessary to allow for such an article. I have relied on the publication of books and scholarly articles on a particular recent event as an indicator that an appropriate amount of time has passed, thus allowing me to write a leadership article about it.

Like any good rule, however, there need to be exceptions. The all too recent hurricane that shattered an untold number of lives is such an exception. I thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu that my family was spared during this storm, but many of my colleagues, students, and friends suffered from its power and continue to suffer in its aftermath. From them I heard stories of hope and chesed that are unbelievable. I also learned from them a more nuanced definition of leadership.

We read in this week’s Parsha how important a bracha is. Even Esav, the rough and tough warrior and hunter, cries uncontrollably because he missed getting blessed by his father Yitzchak. It makes us stop and wonder what it was that made Esav so upset. It certainly was not his losing out on the spiritual aspect of the blessing. One also wonders if he was upset at losing out at the material aspect – after all, he received a material blessing from Yitzchak and it is clear that his descendants have done materialistically well for themselves.

So what was Esav upset about? That he lost out on the encouraging good words from his father. He missed out on the emotional laden blessing that could have served as Esav’s lodestar throughout his life. It could have served as a source of strength and hope when things were not so good, and a moral compass for when things were going well. Fortunately for us, the children of Yisrael, our forefather Yaakov received this blessing and we benefit from what the descendants of Esav missed out on.

Members of Lev Leytzan’s ElderHearts visited with residents of the Atria Riverdale Senior Community during Hurricane Sandy.

We see from here how important a simple string of words can be.

Leaders often focus on the big vision and the mega-decisions, but the primary role of leadership is to give hope and guidance to one’s followers and organizations. In this regard everyone who helps another person get through a day is a leader.

One of my friends who has suffered tremendously from the storm told me the following story.

On the Sunday following the storm, she was surveying the extensive damage to her house. She had just thrown out all her ruined sefarim, books, and furniture. Looking at her damaged home, wondering how long she and her family would remain nomads, how she was going to rebuild, and where she would find the moral energy to move forward, she became totally overwhelmed. Although she had been strong during and after the storm, she had finally reached her breaking point. Then suddenly out of the blue, at 1:20 p.m., she received a random text from a friend saying how inspired she was by her, because despite everything she was experiencing, her thoughts and prayers were about other people! This text, my friend told me, gave her and her husband the boost they needed. Her message to me was simple: while victims of the hurricane need lots of help in so many ways, people should not underestimate the power of a thoughtful word and a sympathetic ear, in addition to an outstretched helping hand.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-toldot-the-power-of-a-text/2012/11/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: