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December 5, 2016 / 5 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Sephardic Jews’

Fatherless and Leaderless

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Our tears have yet to dry. I am not sure they ever will. We have all been thrown to the ground, pinned down by a loss of spiritual support.

Why is this so? It is because Maran HaRav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, was larger than our generation. Or perhaps the generation is too shrunken, too beaten by the wind, to fully appreciate Maran’s greatness. It is still unclear.

One thing is clear. For the Sephardic Jew, this century is divided into two distinct periods – one with Maran’s presence and one that is no longer graced by it. The second period trembles with its own uncertainty because the greatest and strongest of us are incapable of filling the shoes of Maran, who served as posek and leader in an era rife with instability and danger.

Throughout the week of mourning, people spoke of our being orphaned. We feel a deep, unfathomable loss. With all our modern skills and technological know-how, we have yet to develop the device that can measure Maran’s monumental contributions to us, to our generation, and to many generations to follow.

It is not in our power to describe, so soon after his passing, the greatness of such a Torah giant. People will write about his amazing Torah knowledge, the power of his prayers and his outstanding acts of chesed, those he made public and those he hid from the public’s eye. But we will never know, certainly not in the near future, the true extent of Maran’s influence on the history of the Jewish people, how much he shaped the direction of the state of Israel, and how he gave countless Sephardic Jews a different perception of themselves. We are still feeling the effects of his efforts; perhaps we are still at the very beginning.

* * * * *

Maran was the standard-bearer of the movement to restore Sephardic Jewry to its former status in the hierarchy of Torah greatness. Five or six decades ago, Porat Yosef was basically the only higher yeshiva for Sephardic young men. The roshei yeshiva perceived the enormous potential in Maran when he was still a youngster. They did everything to equip him with the tools to realize their vision and bring their hopes to fruition. They placed their hopes in him to return the lost members of our people to the flock by igniting the spark of faith and pride in their hearts.

Maran’s heart was fertile soil for planting the seeds of a revolution among Sephardic Jewry. Even as a youth, his power to pluck lost souls from the depths and carry them on his wings was apparent. Already then, children ran to find places in synagogues and batei midrash with his encouragement.

If the streets of Yerushalayim could eulogize him, they would recount how he gathered the children in all the synagogues, large and small. They would tell how he strode from Musayoff to Geulah and to Beit Yisrael, offering yet another lesson in practical halacha, another page of Gemara, another study in the weekly Torah reading. Every lesson was delivered with his special grace and humor, with a smile and with wit. His lectures were attended by nine-year-old children and ninety-year-old codgers, sharp-minded kollel students and simple laborers after a long day of work.

Yes, this is the way it was long before the politics began, before there was an issue of appointing people to positions, status and jobs. Maran was tilling the ground so that he could sow the seeds of faith – not only in Yerushalayim but in Beersheva, Ashdod, Dimona, Tel Aviv, Tirat HaCarmel, Haifa, Acre and Nahariya. He took it to little settlements and forgotten communities. He never told anyone “No, I don’t have time for you.”

Maran planted the trees of Torah so that their branches would cast the shadow of emunah and yirat Shamayim on the new generation. At the same time that atheistic Mapai activists danced over their success in pulling Sephardic Jews away from their faith, Maran was already laying the groundwork for the counter-revolution to bring them back home. He counted his successes one person at a time. He found them in urban centers and in Zionist establishments, simple people and influential people alike.

How did he do it? Primarily, through the power of his personal Torah study. The energy he put into learning Torah was something unmatched in this generation and, apparently, going back several generations as well. Further, he did it through his sincere, faith-filled prayers that undoubtedly pierced the highest Heavens. His prayers were accentuated by his tears, flowing freely and silently in the hope his wounded brethren would be healed spiritually, step by step until they achieved perfect health.

It would not be right to describe Maran’s public service as beginning with his establishment of the Shas political party. With due respect to Shas and its accomplishments, it was Maran who prepared for it with decades of hard work. He breathed life into the movement; he pushed and encouraged the young men he appointed to fight the battles, instilling courage and confidence where none had existed before. “You can do it,” he said. “It is within reach. We are not powerless.”

“Open more yeshivas and institutions,” he would insist. “Don’t worry. Hashem will help. You won’t run out of money.” He implanted solid faith in his people, telling them Heaven’s help was right around the corner. From his lofty position he brought the horn of plenty to the Torah world, to all who were in need and to all who hungered for Torah. All we had to do was to come, to participate, to reach forward. The blessings of the gadol hador were available. He had envisioned it and sowed the seeds for it more than sixty years earlier. We are witness to his revolution today.

* * * * *

It is crucial for us to emphasize that Maran not only created a monumental edifice of Torah and halacha, but that he also built people. He was there for the youth, for families, for one Jew after the other. He gave people advice they needed in making important decisions in life. He gave his blessings. Maran was the key in helping them to connect with Hashem.

His home was always open, as was his sensitive heart. He was always ready to listen to barren women, widows, orphans, the ill and downtrodden. Whoever they were, he served as their loving father. He was everyone’s father. When he pinched or slapped someone’s cheek, that person knew that it came from his father. Everyone knew that he loved us all, that he prayed sincerely for us all.

It was such a wonderful feeling to know we had a father who was so wise, who possessed such yirat Shamayim, who was no doubt beloved by Hashem. This feeling gave us strength and spirit. When someone left Maran’s presence, he invariably was stronger than before and committed to building himself anew with Torah and emunah. The future appeared rosier because his father had blessed him and encouraged him.

For me personally, Maran was my guide in life, my leader, my authority. Now I feel I have lost my father. The pain is far greater than when I lost my biological father.

* * * * *

Maran, we were privileged to stand by you for decades. We saw your self-sacrifice and stupendous efforts to raise the Sephardic world of Torah. How can we describe it?

There is a type of pride that is proper and a type that is despicable. It is wonderful when a Jew feels pride for going in the ways of Hashem. With his inimitable wisdom, Maran did his best to raise the honor of Sephardic halachic rulings so that we could be proud to know them and follow them. He showed us that we had no reason to feel ashamed of our heritage, that we could be proud to follow the rulings of Maran HaRav Yosef Karo, author of the Shluchan Aruch.

Thanks to the work of Maran, we have a clear understanding of the ways of halacha, and thousands of Torah students have adopted them with pride and confidence.

During Maran’s lifetime, our bookshelves became filled with sefarim of halacha and responsa. Once, the Sephardic yeshiva world was silent. No more. It is a world that has been completely rebuilt, replete with roshei yeshiva, teachers, rabbinical judges and rabbis who are fluent in the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and the Acharonim. Before Maran, we lacked all this.

Sephardic pride. It is not just an expression; it is an anchor for values and sentiment. For decades, Sephardic Jews were downtrodden and scorned. They did not receive the recognition they deserved. People did not understand the greatness of their own halachic traditions. Maran expertly guided us out of that quagmire. He brought an entire generation of Torah scholars to hold fast to the wisdom of Sephardic Jewry, the wisdom of generations of great scholars who built themselves on the Shulchan Aruch and Rav Yosef Karo.

* * * * *

Today we are confused, bewildered about our future. Our ship has been cast astray and we don’t know where it is headed. Despite this, let us remember how Maran, our leader, always remained confident about the future. He was a born optimist. He knew he was doing the right thing and he always told us to remain on course while seeking to enhance Hashem’s honor.

We are incapable of telling the future. And even though Maran has been taken from us, we must have full faith that Hashem will continue to provide us with the proper leaders. We will continue to follow leaders who will go in the ways of Maran, the spiritual giant who built Sephardic Jewry, placed the crown of Torah on our heads and taught us to love and cherish that Torah.

We pray that we will continue on the road for the sake of our children and grandchildren until we will be privileged to see our Final Redemption.

Jack R. Avital

LA Jews Convince Firm to Remove Sexually Suggestive Billboard

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles have convinced a company to take down a billboard that showed a mostly naked woman promoting an energy drink, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal reported Monday.

A message on a local email stated, “The largest Orthodox Jewish community on the West Coast was horrified to see a completely inappropriate pretzus [sexually improper] photograph posted across a billboard in the center of the Jewish community.”

The ad posted by Wagner Communications promoted the XO energy drink. Yehuda Neurollah, the assistant rabbi of the mostly Sephardic Orthodox Beit Aaron outreach organization told the Journal, “It’s not a model for what we want our kids to see.”

He said that Wagner removed the billboard the day after a complaint was filed. “They were very, very good about it,” Neurollah said. “The Jewish community is very grateful to them.”

He now is considering trying to remove other billboards, such as on advertising the movie “We’re the Millers” and showing which shows four people, with the labels of “Stripper, Virgin, Runaway, and Drug Dealer,” terms that Nourallah said prompted his child and a friend to asked what they mean.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Rav Ovadia: I Love Knitted-Yarmulke Jews – But Not their MKs

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Shas party’s spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said Saturday night he really loves knitted-kippa Jews,” but it’s just their political leaders who are “Amalek” – the eternal enemy of Jews.

The national religious community in Israel now can breathe easier and know that Rav Ovadia really loves them.

Sure, the distinguished  rabbi said last month that national religious Chief Rabbinate candidate Rabbi David Stav is “evil” and an “enemy to Judaism,” but, heck, that was just meant to cheer up Shas’ favorite clientele, the dwindling Sephardi community that still feels oppressed by the elite Ashkenazi community. Indeed they are, but they are equally oppressed by their own leaders. So what better way to keep the common people in line by telling them that the Rabbi really loves Jews, even those who wear a knitted kippa.

But what about Shas Rabbi Shalom Cohen, who said in a sermon a week ago that “as long as there are knit kippot, the [divine] throne is not whole?  That’s Amalek. When will the throne be whole? When there is no knit kippa.”

If a listener thought Rabbi Cohen, who is a member of Shas’ Council of Torah Sages, meant that knitted-kippa Jews are Amalek, he did not understand correctly God forbid he should say such a thing.

Rav Ovadia, who sat silently on the podium as Rabbi Cohen spoke, knows exactly what he really meant.

Sure, Rabbi Cohen said some things against” those rebellious national religious Jews with knitted kippot, but he was only referring to their political leaders, opined Rav Ovadia.

Love, love, love, he said. Love for everyone – with one small exception. It is the political leaders of the knitted-kippa crowd who are problematic.

They not only are problematic. They are the true Amalek, Israel’s eternal enemy dating back to the days of  the Exodus from Egypt.

And who is the real knitted-kippa modern Amalek  of the Jews? None other than Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home party, which, unlike Shas, took the daring move in the last elections to  welcome secular Jews as Knesset Members and put the emphasis on nationalist instead of religious.

Rav Ovadia has his grounds for considering Bennett Amalek.

The Jewish Home party is against exempting Haredi youth from IDF service forever. That means that Shas yeshivas would have less youth learning , or at least registered as learning, in their institutions,

If there are less students, there is less money from donors, especially from the Israeli taxpayer whose hard-earned money has been going into black-hat yeshivas for years with the payback that the future Torah scholars and eternal voters for Shas are defending the nation by learning Torah, even if they are just listed as learning and actually working or stashing home.

Now that Rav Ovadia has explained  Rabbi Cohen and has mended ties with the national religious community, except for those enemies of Jews like Bennett, Israel is ready for Tu B’Av, which begins Sunday night.

The Talmud lists it along with Yom Kippur as the most joyous days of the year when, according to the Talmud, that the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards and said, “Young man, consider who you choose (to be your wife).” Tu B’Av is the same day of the 40th yearin the desert when the ban was lifted on female orphans marrying into another tribe.

It is the perfect day for a daughter of a Shas rabbi to become engaged to the son of a national religious politician.

And God willing, Rabbi Cohen and Rav Ovadia will perform the marriage ceremony.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Anti-Zionism, Sephardic Style

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

There is a widespread perception in Israel that Sephardic Jews are more sensible than the rest of us. Sephardim, or “Oriental Jews” as they are commonly if mistakenly called (strictly speaking, the two terms are not interchangeable), tend to shy away from the various manifestations of non-moderation that afflict Ashkenazi or “Western” Jews.

Sephardic Jews seldom are either complete pork-munching secularists or black-coated haredim, though there is a movement toward the latter within some Sephardic communities. Sephardim also tend to shy away from political extremism in all its forms. On average they seem closer to the traditional Jewish ideal of avoiding all forms of immoderation.

By and large, the common sense approach has served Sephardic Jews in Israel and elsewhere quite well. Within Israel, Sephardim have held the most senior political leadership positions (other than prime minister) and are judges, professors, army commanders, leading entertainers, high-tech entrepreneurs, etc. The rate of Ashkenazi-Sephardi “intermarriage” is high and has done much to eliminate the residual Jewish sub-ethnic distinctions in Israel. (I say that as someone who carefully answers to a Sephardic wife.)

Having noted all this, the point also needs to be made that there is a small but growing group of malcontents and political extremists who have emerged from the Sephardic communities. While Sephardic integration and participation in Israeli society is an unambiguous success story, these radicals are people who argue that not only are Sephardic Jews victims of rabid Ashkenazi “racism” and “discrimination,” but that they are in fact the natural allies of Palestinians and Islamists.

The existence of this band of Sephardic extremist anti-Zionists was brought to public attention by Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute, in an article titled “Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question” that appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Middle East Quarterly.

Wurmser documented the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist pronouncements of Sephardic communists and extremists, many of them on the faculties of Israeli universities. Such extremists are also the focus of Israel Academia Monitor (IAM), a watchdog group that exposes the extremist politics of Israeli academics (though its focus is not on Sephardic extremists as such).

Among the Sephardic academic extremists named and exposed by Wurmser and IAM are Sami Shalom Chetrit (whose personal website features claims that Israel behaves like Nazi Germany), Oren Yiftachel, Yehouda Shenhav, and Smadar Lavie (active in promoting boycotts of Israel).

Political extremism characterized small groups of Sephardic Jews even in their original countries, before they emigrated to Israel, France and the U.S. Iraq in particular had a communist party that contained relatively large numbers of Iraqi Jews (and Christians), perhaps because they believed – foolishly – that a communist regime would create conditions under which they wold no longer be inferior in status to Muslims.

The Jewish experiences in the Iraqi Communist Party have been romanticized and are one of the dominant repeating themes in the writing of popular Israeli author Sami Michael (see, for example, his novel Refuge), who grew up in Iraq and joined the party at the age of 15. Michael is still a member of Israel’s radical Literary Left, more extreme even than people like David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshua (who is also Sephardic) and Amos Oz.

Michael was cited in Haaretz (Oct 21, 2004) as justifying Palestinian terror attacks against Jewish Israelis. Here are his words as quoted by Haaretz:

Michael understands the Hamas members who are fighting these Jews, who stuck a wedge down their throats. In an interview published in the latest issue of New Horizons, a monthly on society and the state published by the Berl Katznelson Foundation, Michael rejects the definition of Hamas fighters as “terrorists.”

“Imagine the feeling if I woke up tomorrow and saw this neighborhood, which we inhabit, forcibly conquered by the Syrians, and they established settlements here, and in order to go to the bus station, I needed permission from the Syrian army. How would I feel?” the author from Haifa asked. “If I fight them, I will be considered a terrorist. Why am I a terrorist? Why do we call Hezbollah or Hamasniks terrorists? Why? Because he fights on his own territory? Suddenly, aliens, occupiers, land on him and tell him: “Your house is ours. It’s his land, he and his forefathers were born here, and the settlers say: We will never leave … How would you respond to this?” “

Political extremism among Sephardic communists has not been limited to words. Most notoriously, the fringes of Israel’s Sephardic communities produced Mordechai Vanunu, the spy who tried to reveal Israel’s nuclear secrets to its enemies, and Tali Fahima, arrested for collaborating in planning terrorist atrocities against Jews with her Palestinian boyfriend. Back in the 1960’s, a number of Sephardim were affiliated with the Maoist group Matzpen, which produced its own espionage ring of traitors and spies working for Syria.

In an attempt to build a power base by fanning resentment among Israeli Oriental Jews over supposed discrimination, Sephardic radicals have formed a small lobby that calls itself the Mizrachi Democratic Rainbow Coalition or Keshet Mizrachit.

Keshet is left-wing and anti-Zionist; a number of its leading members have been involved in promoting international boycotts of and divestment from Israel. Its most important “cause” has been fighting what it considers to be unfair land uses in Israel. It has specialized in bashing kibbutzim, which it considers to be Ashkenazi enclaves controlling land that should be used to benefit low-income towns.

In the late 1960’s, a protest movement calling itself the Black Panthers attracted considerable media attention. It failed to attract massive Sephardic support and quickly fell apart, after which some of its erstwhile leaders joined the Israeli Communist Party.

As for charges of discrimination against Oriental Jews in Israel, I happen to be the co-author (with my Sephardic wife) of the most thorough statistical investigation of wage and income disparities in Israel to date (“Income Inequality in Israel,” Israel Affairs 8 (3), 2002, pp. 49-68).

In the Israeli labor market there are virtually no signs of any discrimination against Oriental Jews in wages and incomes (nor against Arabs, for that matter). There are differences in incomes across groups due to differences in their age structures, savings rates, schooling, family size, and other factors unrelated to ethnic discrimination. If any ethnic sub-group in Israel under-earns relaive to its level of schooling, it is the recent immigrants from the post-communist countries.

Sephardic communism has benefited from the sponsorship of a number of Israeli Post-Zionist academics, most notably Tel Aviv University Professor Yehouda Shenhav (currently under consideration for a position at Columbia University). Born Yehouda Shaharabani to Iraqi parents who immigrated to Israel, he later changed his name to a less obviously Sephardic one. He teaches Marxism and anti-Zionism to Tel Aviv University students and edits the Marxist Israeli journal Theory and Criticism.

Shenhav was a visiting faculty member at Columbia University when the radicals at the campus of the late Edward Said were turning it into a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment. Unsurprisingly, Shenhav did not speak out against the rising campus anti-Semitism there nor did he denounce the academic ultras. During his appearances at antiwar rallies there, Shenhav compared the war in Iraq to “Israeli acts of aggression in the West Bank,” which he saw as “acts of colonialism” led by “crude military men.”

Shenhav’s main academic thesis, picked up and promoted by nearly all the other Sephardic anti-Zionist radicals, has been the claim that Asian/Sephardic Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries are in fact Arabs of the Jewish faith. He insists that their national identity is determined by language and not by religious identity.

He has promoted this view that Sephardic Jews are Arabs in numerous articles and his recent book, The Arab Jews: Nationality, Religion and Ethnicity, won rave reviews from anti-Israel activists. Shenhav considers Zionism to be a form of colonialism. Indeed, he has long argued that Sephardic Jews and Palestinians need to unite to fight Zionism and liberate the Middle East from Ashkenazi Zionism.

His ideas are reincarnations of those of the old dead “common cause” once promoted by the Communist Party in Palestine from the 1920’s onward. The greatest of historic ironies occurred when that party split into two separate communist parties in the 1950’s, one for Arabs and one for Jews, because the two groups of communists could not get along.

Shenhav has staunchly opposed the idea of compensation for the lost property of Sephardic Jews by the Arab and Muslim countries they left, though he wants the Palestinians to be granted a “right of return.”

Sephardic extremism has not only emerged at the fringes of communities in Israel. Perhaps the leading American Sephardic anti-Zionist is one David Shasha, a follower of Shenhav. Born in the U.S. of Syrian Jewish descent, he attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush and he is today the director of something called the Center for Sephardic Heritage.

Shasha is a vociferous critic of Israel and Zionism and his Israel-bashing articles are regularly published by the fundamentalist American Muslim magazine and website. His notion of Sephardic separateness is to advocate Sephardic alliance with Islamic radicalism.

Mainstream Sephardic institutions maintain no ties with Shasha and his center. In contrast, the Swedish anti-Zionist extremist calling himself “Israel Shamir” regularly runs Shasha’s anti-Israel screeds on his own web page, as does the extreme left-wing academic Norman Finkelstein.

Shasha’s notion of Sephardic nationalism translates into ferocious denunciations of Israel and Zionism. He is so determined to anchor Sephardism in Arab culture that he adopts an Arab view of history and political reality. He writes: “The Zionist version of things had it that the Arabs were the aggressors and that those same Arabs harbored an implacable hatred for Jews from time immemorial; a hatred which was merely another chapter in a very long history of anti-Semitism.”

In other words, Shasha rejects such a factual “narrative” as fundamentally false. He enthusiastically endorses all the anti-Zionist “New Historians” and is a fan of Norman Finkelstein. He writes: “Zionism has played fast and loose with those facts and then created a series of pseudo-liberal fictions that make Zionism appear benign. Rather than accepting the basic facts of history, Zionism has sought to refigure those facts and create multiple illusions; illusions that have blocked any sense of possible resolution.”

Shasha goes on to endorse theories about Jewish cabals invented by anti-Semites: “The Israeli propaganda machine has become a ubiquitous presence in the American Jewish community and any attempt to generate and promote alternative sources of information carries the crushing burden of threatening that merciless beast, a beast which can do great damage to its critics.”

A devotee of the Shenhav thesis that Sephardic Jews are in fact Jewish Arabs and that Zionism is little more than Ashkenazi racism, Shasha has denounced me as an “Ashkenazi racist-mongerer” for criticizing Shenhav’s ideas. He has written numerous articles bewailing the alleged abandonment by Sephardic Jews of their historical devotion to Arab “Levantine” culture and their Westernization in Israel and elsewhere.

To promote his agenda, he distorts and prettifies Jewish experience under Islamic regimes. He writes, in an article titled “A Jewish Voice Left Silent: Trying to Articulate ‘The Levantine Option’ “:

Until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 Arab Jews created a place for themselves in their countries of origin by serving in government, civic affairs, business, and the professions…. The model of Levantine Jewish historical memory would serve to collapse the alienating cult of persecution harbored in classical Zionist thought and omnipresent in the rituals of the state of Israel, replacing it with a more positive view of the past that would lead us into a more optimistic present. The nihilistic “realism” of the current Israeli approach, centered on the institutionalized perpetuation of the twin legacies of the Holocaust and European anti-Semitism, would then be countered by memories of a Jewish past that was able to develop a constructive relationship to its surrounding environment.

He opposes all vestiges of “Ashkenazifying” the Sephardic Jews, which in his mind means forcing on them modernization of life style and identification with Israel.

When Middle East Quarterly ran Meyrav Wurmser’s above-mentioned study of Sephardic radicalism, Shasha responded in a rage. Writing in The American Muslim, he denounced the Quarterly’s editor, Daniel Pipes, as “reactionary.” Elsewhere he wrote: “Israel is purportedly a democracy, but it does seem rather strange that those who espouse the most virulent and racist forms of Zionism are constantly berating and de-legitimizing the rights of others – in this case the Sephardim – from freely criticizing those who have wronged them.”

How ironic that the emergence of a movement of Sephardic communists and anti-Zionist extremists represents, first and foremost, the infection of such people by the disease of left-wing lunacy and assimilationist self-hatred that has long afflicted Ashkenazim and Western Jewish communities.

Our Sephardic brethren may need to coin a Ladino, Arabic, and Hebrew equivalent for “shande” (Yiddish for “disgrace”).

Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Steven Plaut

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/anti-zionism-sephardic-style/2007/01/10/

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