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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘the Talmud’

Anti-Semitism and France: Charlemagne to De Gaulle

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Editor’s Note: Mr. Ehrenhalt submitted this article early last month and eagerly anticipated its publication. Sadly, he passed away on May 31 at age 83. An activist for Israel and Jewish concerns and a longtime reader of The Jewish Press who constantly passed along to the paper’s editors news and information gleaned from his prodigious reading, he leaves an immense void in the lives of his family, his friends, and the greater Jewish community.


* * *

The change came rather quickly in terms of history’s long sweep and, from our vantage point, may seem like something of a mystery.

In 1300 France is a key center of European Jewry, a community of 100,000, comprising about one in five European Jews. Two centuries later, France is Judenrein. Its Jews become part of the momentous shift of European Jewry from West to East.

France remains Jewless for a long time. In Paris and other core areas a Jewish presence is not reestablished until after the Revolution of 1789. The Jewish population of France does not regain its 1300 level until the latter part of the 19th century.

Those are the bare bones of our mystery. What follows is a (by no means exhaustive) thumbnail sketch of the why, where and when.

* * *

The Jewish presence in medieval France is no flash in the pan. There are well-established Jewish communities by the 6th century in Paris and Orleans. Jews are sailors, brokers, bankers. Their literacy has them in demand for government tax farming and as toll collectors. Jews keep things going after the fall of the Roman Empire. In the wake of the Arab conquests, they become the surviving link with the Orient.

Jews are key in trading goods from a distance – pearls, horses, cattle, spices, paper. They provide the incense and rich fabrics indispensable to church ritual. Jews are almost the only people making their living by commerce.

Charlemagne, crowned emperor in 800, is well disposed to Jews. He sees the Jew as an expert trader and a facilitator. Jews accumulate wealth, are well regarded in court circles, build new synagogues. They own estates and vineyards. Wholesale and foreign trade is in their hands. Henri Pirenne, the great Belgian medievalist, sees them as indispensable.

Jews are energetic, resilient, resourceful. They are creative in scholarship. This is the period of the Rishonim and Tosafists. They know how to navigate the system, how to assuage the powers that be.

Eventually, however, three forces combine in a toxic mix that first forces a narrowing of Jewry’s economic and social role and then shifts decisively against any Jewish presence in France over the centuries of the medieval age.

And it’s here that the mystery that draws us to the story of French Jewry is solved. The early good feelings and high hopes are dashed faster than one can say Church, Throne and Street.

Simply put, Jews are unable to overcome the suspicions that fall on the medieval outsider who sticks to his guns and refuses to convert. Their very existence is a challenge and a rebuke. The idea of a “Jewish question” emerges even though Jews comprise less than one percent of the population.

Jews are increasingly exploited for political and financial gain. Efforts to convert Jews largely fail, and the French monarchy begins to fashion, as William Jordan, a ranking medievalist puts it, “a new and enduring ideal of the purified Christian state, an ideal that persisted until the close of the Middle Ages and left its considerable imprint on the powerful state of the early modern period as well.”

French Jewry is driven from pillar to post, squeezed dry, discarded. Hope is renewed, then dashed. Renewed again, dashed again. The cycle is repeated until Jews are finally eliminated from French soil. By 1322, the Jewish presence in the French kingdom has just about been eradicated. In 1394 it’s official. (The Jews of Provence, a major group of communities, are incorporated into the French royal domain in 1486 and then expelled.)

There are some striking markers of the cataclysm that lies down the road. A signal indicator of the way the wind is blowing is a medieval tale that, centuries later, Shakespeare would take up for his Merchant of Venice.

The original version, in Latin, focuses on the pound-of-flesh demand of a wealthy serf. In 13th-century France he is transformed, in a vernacular version, into a Jew. Shylock thus becomes embedded in the Western mind as Jewish. The French 13th-century conversion becomes a template for later literature.

* * *

Even under Charlemagne’s relatively benign rule, Agobard, archbishop of Lyon, gives early, passionate voice to an anti-Jewish counter-narrative. Starting in 816, he wages a zealous campaign against this stubborn group of holdouts who refuse the Christian faith, denouncing Jews as “sons of darkness.” He instructs the clergy to preach in the synagogues every Saturday (an idea that will be revived a thousand years later in the run-up to the Revolution).

Easter becomes a prime occasion for Jewish degradation. In Toulouse, a Jew has to appear at the cathedral on Good Friday for a blow on the face to avenge what had been done to Jesus. One year the victim is hit so hard “his brains and eyes spilled to the earth.” It is only in the 12th century that Jews succeed in having this degradation converted to an annual cash payment.

Passion plays, enormously popular, depict Jews as Christ-killers. A typical character, Stephaton, is shown as a misshapen, bloated Jew, who gives Jesus vinegar to drink just before his death, the last tormentor of the Christian savior.

Blood libels point to the precariousness of the Jewish condition. A notorious case occurs in 1171, when Jews are accused of the murder by crucifixion of a youth in Blois. In response, 32 of the 40 adult Jews in Blois are executed.

In April 1182, King Philip Augustus issues an order of expulsion and three months later the Jews are forced out of his royal domains, only to be called back by the same Philip Augustus in 1198.

In Troyes, hometown of Rashi, thirteen Jews accused of killing a Christian are burned at the stake in 1288. In the medieval Christian mind, the Jew as he exists is supplanted by a distorted creature of vile imagination.

Anti-Jewish hostility rises at times of popular excitement, such as the Crusades. The promotion of a new crusade in 1236 leads to attacks on Jews in Anjou, Poitou and Brittany, with some 3,000 Jews killed and five hundred forced to submit to baptism. In 1240, Duke John of Brittany banishes all Jews from his domain.

A dramatic sign of French Jewry’s increasingly troubled situation is a Church ban on Jewish texts initiated by the “holy offices” in the late 12th century. Among the first to come under the ban is Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed.

Pope Gregory IX orders an investigation into the Talmud. After three years he decides to suppress it. A papal letter to Christian authorities in France, England, Spain and Portugal orders all Jewish books in synagogues to be seized. The papal instruction is ignored, except by the bishops of France, and particularly of Paris, with the full backing of the reigning monarch, Louis IX, who hates Jews from way back.

The Talmud is put on trial and condemned. In June 1242, some 12,000 volumes are seized and burned. The burning is repeated in later years. Louis IX bans the Talmud by royal ordinance, a telling example of top-down anti-Semitism.

The burnings are mainly limited to France. In other lands, Jews generally manage to avert confiscation of the Talmud with payments in cash.

Philip IV (the Fair) succeeds to the throne in 1285. He views France as a holy land and himself as the scion of a holy dynasty. Philip is increasingly frustrated as the vast majority of Jews hold firm to their faith.

He engages in an inconclusive war with Gascony. The financial costs are huge. Taxes imposed on Jews are more than ten times the usual. French Jewry is close to financial ruin.

Philip considers how to get out of his bind. He’s got major money problems. He’s desperate. What about expulsion of the Jews? England did it in 1290. The number of Jews in France is larger by a factor of 20. It’s a complicated deal – but a great way to bolster the royal coffers.

An inspired triple play: Expel the Jews, seizing their real estate, money and loans to Christians, and you’re way ahead of the game. Such a move also enhances your reputation for piety and as a promoter of Christianity.

Philip goes for it. It’s a vast undertaking. It means detailed planning for mass arrests, identifying and inventorying property and goods, as well as debts owed to Jews. It takes years to get done, but eventually the Jews of the French realm are gone.

* * *

The return of a substantial Jewish presence in France is long in coming. By the time of the French Revolution the Jewish population is up to 40,000 – compared with 100,000 five centuries earlier.

Religious anti-Semitism continues to hold sway up to the time of the French Revolution. Pascal, a major French theologian of the 17th century, sees the misery of the Jews as a religious necessity: “The Jews should be miserable, because they have crucified Him.”

Voltaire, an 18th century intellectual force whose ideas are taken up by key thinkers and movers of the French Revolution, really has it in for the Jews. To fit into the new world, Voltaire argues, man has to be remade. But Jews are not of the stuff that can easily be remade. The Jew is the odd man out.

After the Revolution there is a growing perception that Jews need to be emancipated and made full citizens. In a modern economy you can’t maintain exclusions that apply only to Jews.

The law, finally passed in 1791, is debated for two years. Two years to deal with little more than one tenth of one percent of the French population – 40,000 Jews in a population of 28 million.

But even when Jews are given equality, it’s on the assumption they will change – radically. French emancipation makes room for Jews, not the Jewish people.

The Damascus Affair of 1840 is a blood libel accusation, a throwback to the 12th century, brought against the Damascus Jewish community. The French consul in Damascus, Ratti Menton, intervenes strongly to press the case against Jewish leaders and others put on trial. He publishes the libel in detail. The synagogue in nearby Jobar is pillaged, Torahs destroyed. There are large demonstrations of protest in the United States. Finally, the accused Jews still alive are fully exonerated.

In the Chamber of Deputies, the French premier justifies the actions of the consul. There are anti-Jewish riots throughout the Middle East and North Africa and a backlash against Jews in Europe.

The Enlightenment and Jewish assimilation do not inhibit the rise of Edouard Drumont, founder of the Antisemitic League of France in 1889, who finds a receptive audience for his book La France Juive, which argues for the exclusion of Jews from society. He goes on to be elected to the Chamber of Deputies His newspaper La Libre Parole proclaims: “Down with the Jews.”

The Dreyfus case roils France for more than a decade. Again, the Enlightenment and Jewish assimilation are no help. The Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus is finally exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French army in 1906.

(A telling postscript: In 1985, French President Mitterrand commissions a statue of Dreyfus to be installed at the Ecole Militaire. The minister of defense refuses to display it, upholding the military’s anti-Dreyfus tradition.)

Louis-Ferdinand Celine is a much admired figure on the French literary scene in the 1930s. He is a passionate anti-Semite. To him France was a glorious civilization that had been undermined by a plot of the Jews, who now rule France.

In 1937 Celine publishes Bagatelles Pour un Massacre, his first anti-Semitic work. (Saul Friedlander, the great historian of the Shoah and the years preceding it, has judged it to be “possibly the most vicious anti-Jewish tirade in modern Western literature” outside Nazidom.)

How is it received in France? Andre Gide, a leading intellectual light and subsequent Nobel Prize winner, reviews Celine’s work favorably in Nouvelle Revue Francaise.

When Leon Blum becomes French premier in 1936, Xavier Vallat, later to head the Vichy government’s office for Jewish affairs, addresses the Chamber of Deputies with his feeling that “it would be preferable to put at the head of this country a man whose roots belong to its soil rather than a subtle Talmudist.”

The slogan of France’s far right becomes “Better Hitler than Blum.”

In 1938, outrage against Kristallnacht is expressed by countries as varied as Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, Hungary, Brazil, Lithuania, the USSR, Guatemala, Latvia, Finland, Poland and the United States. Not a peep of protest from France, however.

The French novelist, essayist and playwright Hippolyte Jean Giraudoux publishes a highly anti-Semitic political essay in 1939, “Pleins Pouvoirs.” He sees Jews as a threat to national stability, a corrupting influence, with Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe forcing real Frenchmen out of their jobs. He is France’s minister of information in the last year of the Third Republic.

After the French defeat in 1940, Petain’s Vichy government disowns the Jews. Xavier Vallat, commissioner of Jewish affairs, declares Jews “a foreign people.” By the end of 1944, almost 75,000 Jews – a quarter of French Jewry – have been deported to killing centers in Poland. Only 2,600 of them survive.

After the war, Helmut Knochen, head of the German security police in France, testifies: “In conclusion, we found no difficulty with the Vichy government in implementing Jewish policy.”

Medieval ways of thinking maintain a tenacious hold in France. Charles de Gaulle, president of the French Republic, describes Jews as “this elite people, sure of themselves, domineering.” It’s 1967, not 1267, but never mind: the statement makes anti-Semitism, just 22 years after the Holocaust, respectable again in France.

It seems that in the matter of France and the Jews, the 15th century has never really ended.

Samuel M. Ehrenhalt was a longtime official at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and served as the bureau’s New York regional commissioner from 1980-1995. In an obituary published June 3, The New York Times noted that he “was routinely consulted by the news media on an array of subjects…. Mr. Ehrenhalt by all accounts brought to his work an articulate wit and, when needed, a keen dramatic flair. To him, statistics did not exist in lifeless isolation; instead, they reflected the web of contingencies that forms the narrative of everyday life.”

‘Dead’ Mitzvah Acquires New Life

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

 Techeles, the blue strings the Torah requires Jews to wear on their ritual tzitzis garments, has long been thought of as a “dead” mitzvah. Sometime in the 7th century apparently (possibly due to the Arab conquest of Israel) Jews stopped producing techeles strings and the identity of the chilazon, from which the blue dye originates, was subsequently lost.

 However, 1,200 years later, interest in the mitzvah reawakened. In the 19th century, anticipating the building of the Third Temple, the Radzyner Rebbe traveled to an aquarium in Naples, Italy and identified the chilazon as the Sepia officinalis, a certain kind of squid.

 In 1913 Rav Isaac Herzog, who later became Israel’s first Ashkenazic chief rabbi – and whose 50th yahrzeit will be commemorated this year – wrote his PhD dissertation on the chilazon’s identity. He calls the Murex trunculus snail the “most likely candidate” but, because of unsolved questions, did not come to a definitive conclusion.

Today P’til Tekhelet, an Israeli organization founded in 1993, provides techeles to tens of thousands of Jews around the world based on Rav Herzog’s research.

Dr. Ari Greenspan, a co-founder of P’til Tekhelet, recently spoke to The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: On one foot, please relate the genesis of P’til Tekhelet?

Dr. Greenspan: In 1985 Rabbi Eliyahu Tavger of Jerusalem began looking into techelet as a matter of halacha lema’aseh. A series of circumstances brought me, Joel Guberman and Baruch Sterman [the other P'til Tekhelet co-founders] together and we went scuba diving to get the snails [Murex trunculus] with Rabbi Tavger.

The renewal of the ancient dying technique was unchartered waters, and it took us a year to figure out how to make those first 10 sets of techelet – the first in close to 1,300 years. People then began asking us for techelet and before we knew it we had hundreds of people on a waiting list.

How do you know the Murex trunculus is in fact the chilazon?

Rav Herzog was convinced, on an intellectual level, that the murex was the source of techelet. But he was left with three major problems that he mentions in his doctoral thesis: 1) He was told by the preeminent French chemist on dyes that the color from the murex was not permanent, which is the defining characteristic of techelet; 2) The color they were able to get was only purple, while the definition of techelet is sky blue; and 3) The only murex snail he saw was a dead polished murex. It was cream colored, while the Talmud talks about it being “similar to the sea” [blue-green].

However, all three of these objections are based upon mistaken evidence or advice. 1) The color blue we derive from the murex is the most permanent natural color in existence. We have done chemistry tests to prove this. The facts were simply told to Rav Herzog incorrectly. 2) Thirty years ago Professor Otto Elsner discovered by accident that if the liquid extracted from the murex is exposed to sunlight, the molecule of color changes from dibromoindigo (puple) to indigo (blue). 3) Had Rav Herzog seen a live snail and not a polished dead one he would have seen its shell covered with a bright blue/green color, just like the “color of the sea.”




Tzitzis with techeles tied according to (L-R) the Radzyner Rebbe/Chabad; the Rambam (one interpretation); the Vilna Gaon; the Sefer HaChinuch; the Raavad; Rav Amram Gaon; and the Rambam (Yemenite tradition).

How can you be sure that the dye extracted from the Murex trunculus is the real techeles?

During Talmudic times there was a fake techelet that was cheap to make. The Talmud says it was so similar to the real thing that “only God could differentiate between them.” This fake techelet, called kala ilan, is identified by the Rambam and others as the indigo plant. Now, it turns out, that murex-derived indigo and kala ilan-derived indigo are molecularly identical. No wonder the Talmud says only God could distinguish between them!

Having said that, we cannot be sure the Murex trunculus is the real chilazon. However, when one looks at the entire picture, we can say that the identification of murex as the source of techelet fits the Talmudic, halachic, archaeological, historical, biological and chemical description.

Why haven’t those rabbis regarded as gedolim given their approval to your project?

Why do you say this? Many have. There are some significant figures in the halachic world wearing it publicly and many others who wear it in a private manner so as not to make a public statement as long as it is not worn by all of Am Yisrael. I find that intellectually honest people who take the time to really learn this sugya have a very  difficult time walking away not being convinced this is the real techelet.

Which rabbis, then, support you?

I am not sure how to handle this. First, no matter what names I give you there will always be others who don’t or don’t yet wear techelet. Second, many people, in the U.S. in particular, have not even looked into this issue and, as a result, their practice of not wearing techelet is no proof of disagreement – “lo ra’inu eini raya.”

That being said, the following are just some of the rabbis who wear techelet: The well-known posek Rav Zalman Nechemia Golderg; the son and brother of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, z”l; Rav Simcha Kook from Rechovot; Rav Shlomo Dichovsky of the Bet Din Hagadol; Rav Amram Opman of the Eida Chareidis in Yerushalayim; Rav Hershel Schachter [from Yeshiva University]; and Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski.

Some people claim that someone who doesn’t wear techeles is violating the commandment of “ba’al tigrah,” detracting from the Torah’s commandments? Do you agree?

Some poskim might say so. One should address this issue with his own posek. It is a complicated halachic issue.

Some people argue that thousands of people are potentially not fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis if your organization is wrong and they are wearing false techeles.  What is your reply?

The Radzyner Rebbe already addressed this question 120 years ago. He writes that one loses nothing by wearing techelet, for even if it is not really techelet, the Talmud tells us it is “no worse than wearing white [strings].”

Where can someone go to learn more about this topic?

Our website, www.tekhelet.com.

Did She Cry Because Of You?

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

         One of my favorite teachings from the Talmud is a marriage-related lesson. Aside from its psychological insight into how men and women operate differently, I love this teaching because it sheds a world of light on how to behave toward people in general -not only husbands to wives or wives to husbands, but towards everyone we encounter.


         Rav said, “A man must always be careful to never pain his wife. Because her tears come readily, her pain comes quickly.” (Talmud, Bava Metzia 59a)


         Notice the wording.


         It doesn’t say be considerate to your wife. Nor does it say be nice and sensitive to her, because your definition of consideration or sensitivity might be very different than hers. And your way of being nice might not be what she needs or craves.


         Nor does the Talmud tell us, “She might be oversensitive, so just do your best, but in truth it’s really her problem.”


         Instead, Rav teaches us, “She cries easily, so it’s your responsibility to be extra careful.” It is your obligation to make sure you don’t do things or say things that distress her.


         You might feel, “Hey, this is something silly. She’s being petty; she’s overreacting. A little constructive criticism never hurt anyone. Eventually, I’m sure she’ll come around.”


         But if she feels offended, the Talmud is saying, make sure you don’t do it. Her tears and her feelings are imperative.


         What an amazing lesson on how to regard another individual, especially the most central other in your life.


         So often we judge others by our own standards – I wouldn’t mind having unexpected guests drop by, so you shouldn’t either. Or, I enjoy sharing, so you must also. I appreciate a good joke even if the joke’s on me, so there’s no reason for you to take offense. We tend to think that as long as we treat the other in the same way that we like to be treated, we’re doing okay.


         The Talmud, however, teaches us to take ourselves out of the equation and view the situation from the other’s perspective.


         A friend who has experienced many challenges, including raising a child with special needs, commented that some people give too much significance to trivial issues. After overcoming real hurdles, she had a low tolerance level for someone who “sweated over life’s small issues.”


         “But, Susan,” I disagreed, “For that individual, at this point in his life, it is a big issue. For him, this is something tragic.”


         In fact, perhaps if we act with empathy towards others, assessing our words and behavior towards them, not by our own standards but by how they are affected, perhaps we can then beseech G‑d, our “Cosmic Spouse,” to act that way towards us as well.


         “Dear G‑d,” we could then argue, “we know that from Your perspective many of our wants and needs are trivial and petty. We also understand, that from Your seat on High, our pain, anxieties, conflicts and tensions may serve some higher cosmic purpose. But from our limited perspective, from the here and now, the pain is real and the suffering, unnecessary. Please G‑d, in Your infinite power, spare our tears. Make things not just good in truth, but good to us.”


         May we merit the fulfillment of the prophecy in this upcoming year, “And G‑d will wipe away tears from every face” (Isaiah 25:8).


         Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org   and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To have her speak to your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at chanaw@gmail.com.

Title: The Spirits Behind The Law: The Talmudic Scholars

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Title: The Spirits Behind The Law: The Talmudic Scholars

Author: Rabbi Jonathan Duker
Publisher: Urim Publications, 2007



        As we study the Talmud, we come across the names of our great Sages, usually attached to a particular law or halachic position. Often, however, the names are attached to a story about the individual. That is because the Talmud wants us to see these rabbis as real people with dynamic lives.


         In this fine work, Rabbi Jonathan Duke portrays 15 of these scholars based on the stories of their lives that appear in Talmudic and Midrashic sources. By weaving the original accounts together with insightful analysis, he provides a human portrait of these treat teachers while remaining faithful to the poetry of the original narrative. With his work, we are able to understand the personalities behind the sugyot.

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday, September 1st, 2004

Liberal Logic

Doesn’t the liberal view of the world seem so alien? A genocidal madman like Saddam Hussein is beaten and captured, yet liberals are calling for George Bush’s head. Huh? Islamic terrorists blow up busloads of Jewish children and liberals vilify the Israelis and sympathize with the Arabs. This obsession with moral equivalence is so perverse it cannot succeed; it’s just a fabricated reality based on illusion and denial.

Ken Ostroff
Boca Raton, FL

Spiritual Kinship

Once again, this time thanks to Sen. Sam Brownback (“Standing Steadfast With Israel,” op-ed, July 30) we see that Torah Jews have more in common with the Christian Right here in America than we do with our assimilated liberal brethren, who, according to every poll and study, are overwhelmingly in favor of gay ‘rights,’ abortion on demand, situational morality, etc.

In addition, no group in America is as irreligious as our Jewish people, who consistently rank behind every other ethnic and religious demographic in terms of attendance at religious services, belief in God, and knowledge of the Bible.

Personally, I would feel more at home with a Bible-believing Christian like Sam Brownback as my neighbor than a liberal Jew who thinks that religion is outdated and that one must follow the editorial line of The New York Times in order to be a cultured and intelligent human being.

Tova Michaels
New York, NY

Questionable Claim?

In the My Machberes column of July 30, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum wrote that the great Yonason ben Uziel promised that whoever prayed at his tomb (at a place called Amuka in Eretz Yisroel, according to the article) for a match, would have their wish granted within a year.

It should be noted that the renowned librarian and scholar Rabbi Meir Wunder (author of Meorei Galicia encyclopedia, among other works), did a study some years ago and discovered that belief in the powers of prayer at that site was non-existent until it was concocted by a tour company circa 1953-5713 (cited by Rav Nosson Kaminetsky in Making of a Godol, volume I, book one, p. 688-9). Therefore I think people should not be overly taken with that claim.

If individuals do choose to pray there, presumably they are not committing a very overwhelming transgression. However, we should at least be careful not to get their hopes up too high by promising results within a year, when they may later be dashed, with the people possibly suffering great disappointment and letdown if their match takes somewhat longer to appear.

Also, it is known that many people have prayed there and remained single for a long time afterward. How does that make Yonason ben Uziel look? Hopefully not, chas v’sholom, like someone who is not reliable. Therefore I think that people should be careful with regard to repeating such tales. Our Torah is a Toras Emes and we should stay away from claims that have no basis in our tradition, no matter how tempting they may seem.

Boruch M. Selevan
Brooklyn, NY

More On Menachem Av

In a letter to the editor in the July 30 issue, Rabbi Marshall Gisser criticized my Expounding the Torah column of July 16 in which I wrote that Menachem Av means we console Hashem; he writes that we cannot console Hashem, nor can we ascribe any human emotions to Him. He is the Creator and we are the created, and He needs nothing from us.

Certainly, we cannot attribute any physical features and human emotions to Hashem. Yet, we find a deep, intricate and innate relationship between Jews and Hashem. As such, the service of Am Yisrael in tefilla, Torah and mitzvos is connected with Hashem. When I wrote about the meaning of Menachem Av, I said that it means we console the Av, our Father in Heaven.

Our Sages tell us (Berachos 3a) that Hashem is saddened by our exile, as He declares, “Woe unto the Father – Hashem – who exiled His children among the non-Jews.” Therefore we may – and should – console Hashem, kavyachol.

The galus haShechina – the exile of the Shechina – is a prevalent term in the Talmud and midrash. Thus the Talmud teaches (Megillah 29a), Come and see how precious Jews are before Hashem. For, wherever the Jews went into exile, the Shechina went [along], to Egypt, to Babylon, etc. As such, the exile has an effect on Hashem; Rashi notes (Devarim 30:3) that Hashem, in the Torah, wrote a redemption for Himself. Also, it is written (Vayikra 16:16), ”Who dwells with them in their impurity.”

With reference to the connection between a son and his father, the Talmud states (Shavuos 48a), ”The power of the son is better than the power of the father.” It’s better, yet the son’s power stems from the father’s power.

Every feature here evolves from its spiritual roots Above. In all Jewish souls here there is vested the Essence of Hashem, as Tanya states (Ch. 2) ”Every Jewish soul is part of Hashem from Above.” As such, Jews have the power of a son (Devarim 14:1) and we are thus able to console Hashem.

This is similar to the Talmudic story (Bava Metzia 59b) which describes Hashem as saying, “My children, you have been victorious over Me!”

The Shaloh (Ten Maamaros 29a) clarifies the Mishnah (Avos 6:11): ‘All that Hashem created in His world, He created solely for His glory.” For Hashem created the world in a way that our service is for the need of Hashem, and He gains pleasure when His will is fulfilled. Thus the Talmud cites Hashem’s words to Am Yisrael (Berachos 6a): “You have made Me a significant entity in the world.” As is written in Nach (Job 14:15), ”For the work of Your hands (i.e., the human beings) You desire.”

May we continue to serve Hashem and may He redeem us – and Himself – from galus, with the speedy advent of Moshiach.

Rabbi Abraham Stone
Brooklyn, NY

The Left’s Hate-America Obsession

Avi Davis’s July 16 op-ed article (“Liberal Smarts – Or Lack Thereof?”) perfectly captures the breathtaking combination of arrogance and ignorance that is the Politically Correct Liberalism of today, particularly on our college campuses.

Were they alive, old-style liberal patriots such as FDR, JFK, Hubert Humphrey or Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson would doubtless be appalled by the blatant anti-American venom spewed by the likes of Nicholas de Genova, the Columbia University professor who at a spring 2003 “anti-war” rally there called for “a million Mogadishus” to defeat “the U.S. war machine.”

But I think Mr. Davis errs on the side of charity when he attributes this phenomenon to merely “an inability to appreciate that the rules of war have changed” and to not yet being “capable of comprehending” the threat that Islamofascism poses to our way of life.

Yes, they are, as he said, grounded in “the dialectics of the Cold War” – and therein lies the problem. Many of these people came of age, politically, during the tumultuous Vietnam War era. They were indoctrinated by Marxist-oriented professors who taught them that America was a fundamentally evil country founded by slaveholders and made great by greedy land-grabbers, robber barons, environmental polluters and military imperialists. Brutal Soviet despots and Third World dictators and killers who defied Evil America were romanticized and presented as wise, benevolent champions of “equality” and “peace.”

Every flaw in the American system was mercilessly picked apart and every abuse in the systems of our enemies whitewashed and rationalized away. Many of that generation’s young brainwashees stayed on campus, first as grad students, then as adjunct instructors and, years later, as full faculty members; they in turn taught this “tradition” to their pupils, some of whom also became today’s teachers of Mr. Davis and his probably much less-discerning fellow students.

Having imbibed this toxic brew for decades, is it any wonder that although we now fight a very different enemy, many U.S. “academics” – and through their influence, our media and popular culture – still reflexively cast America’s leaders (particularly Republican ones) not merely as perhaps mistaken on a particular policy, but as wicked, devious conspirators and manipulators who always pursue wrong-minded, evil policies.

Just as they cheered the Communist victory in Vietnam in 1975 following our withdrawal, they nodded approvingly when Evil America was humiliated by Ayatollah Khomeini’s followers during the 444-day U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis as payback for our support for the deposed Shah. They thought it equally just when Osama bin Laden’s air pirates murdered 3,000 Americans on 9/11 as payback for our troop presence in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East, our support of Israel, and our role as the world’s un-Islamic “Great Satan.”

To these people, we have always been the bad guys – and, apparently, always will be.

Paul Deckelman
Far Rockaway, NY

The Democrats And Their Convention

Ominous Date

Anyone who grows up in the Jewish community comes to know people whose perspective on life can be distilled into the question they ask about any event or occurrence: Is it good for the Jews or is it not good for Jews?

Last week the Democratic Party opened its national convention on the night of Tisha b’Av. How can anything that starts on Tisha b’Av be good for the Jews? History is full of troubles that started for Jews on that date – the return of the spies who told Moshe that Israel was no good, the destruction of the Temples, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the start of World War I. Might there not be a message from Hashem here?

(One also has ask the following: If there were an official day of mourning in the African American community that commemorated the historical suffering of black people, would the Democratic Party dare convene a convention on the evening of its observance?)

Still don’t get the message? What about the lack of any mention of the importance of Israel as an ally and friend of the United States by the presidential nominee, Mr. Kerry? Or the presence of Al Sharpton up front and center stage? While there are many good people within the Democratic Party who are very helpful and very good to the Jewish community, these questions and others warrant serious consideration.

Heshey Jacob
New York, NY

Not Your Father’s Democratic Party

I am an American Jew, and I am voting for George Bush, but more precisely against the Democratic Party. My reasons:

1. Bush has had the courage to repeatedly defy the United Nations and to give Ariel Sharon the leeway he needs, both tacitly and explicitly, to take whatever action Sharon deems necessary to defend Israel. As recently as last week Sharon was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that while the U.S. will press Iran to get rid of its nuclear weapons, it will not do the same to Israel, because America (read: George Bush) understands Israel’s special situation.

2. The Democratic Party is no longer my home, as it was for my parents and grandparents. The Zionist views and Jewish concerns of my family have not changed over the past 40 years; it is the Democratic Party that has undergone a stupefying transformation.

Look at the speakers who received thunderous applause at last week’s Democratic convention: Al Sharpton, Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson. Beyond the convention, look at some other very recent events that disclose much about the soul of the modern Democratic Party, if we Jews have the courage and objectivity to regard them squarely:

a. Several weeks ago, Democratic voters in a primary in Virginia renominated one of the most unabashed Israel bashers in the House of Representatives, James Moran.

b. Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the International Court’s decision declaring Israel’s security fence illegal. Forty-five Congressmen opposed the House resolution and supported the Court’s outrageous decision. Forty of them were Democrats.

c. David Brooks, in his July 26 column in The New York Times, quotes Michael Moore - who was honored with a seat in the presidential box at the Democratic convention – as saying, in discussing the epicenters of evil in the world, “It’s all part of the same ball of wax, right? The oil companies, Israel, Halliburton.”

The Democratic Party’s drift away from Jewish interests didn’t begin just yesterday; harbingers of it were visible here and there years ago. Today, however, the evidence has mounted to such a high level that it’s obvious to all except those who refuse to see it.

To those American Jews who are capable of looking at the facts without blinking, it is obvious that the future of Israel and, yes, possibly American Jewry itself is safer in the trust of George Bush and Tom DeLay than in the hands of Kerry, Sharpton, Carter, and Jesse Jackson.

Bernard Braginsky
Staten Island, NY

Soncino Classics Collection

Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

As the holiday of Shavuos rapidly approaches and the days of Sefirah draw to an end, what better way to prepare oneself for the holiday of receiving the Torah than to actually increase one’s familiarity with it? The Soncino Classics Collection on CD-ROM is a great accompaniment to your studies whether you a beginner or a scholar.

The Soncino Classics edition comes packed with many seforim. The Chumash (five books of Moses) comes with the complete Hebrew text of the Chumash as well as the Prophets and Writings. In addition, the full Hebrew text comes with the option of being displayed with Nekudos (vowelization) and/or the trop (cantillation). It also comes with a complete English translation. Rashi’s commentary is also included. However, it is only in Hebrew.

To complement your studies of the Chumash, the Midrash Rabbah makes an excellent accompaniment. The Soncino Midrash Rabbah comes with a complete Hebrew / Aramaic text and a complete English translation along with footnotes to help you better understand what you’re reading. The English translation includes a handy Glossary, Index, and Abbreviation section which will assist you in looking up difficult terms, finding specific concepts or people and helping you out with abbreviations that you are unfamiliar with.

For those who have a good command of the Talmud and its commentaries and who want to learn one of the most complex subjects of Jewish studies, the classics edition comes with the Zohar. The Soncino Zohar, like the Midrash Rabbah, comes with the complete Hebrew/Aramaic text. Included in the text is the Zohar, Ra’aya Mehemna Sitrei Torah, Midrash Ha-Ne’elam Idra Rabbah, Idra Zutrah, Raza D’raza, and Tikkunei Zohar. However, the English translation that appears in the software is only for the Zohar and parts of the Ra’aya Mehemna.

You will be quite surprised too at the way this program runs. The program allows you to link texts. The links allow the user to scroll trough various windows simultaneously. For example, if you were looking at the Talmud in one window and at Rashi in another, and you have yet another window open with the English translation of the Talmud, the link will allow you to scroll through all of them at the same time without having to navigate each window individually.

With all of these great works, there might come a time where you would like to find something specific. The program comes with a Hebrew-English search function that allows the user to search the texts with great ease, and for those who prefer Hebrew, there is an option that allowing you to switch the menus into Hebrew.

While studying, you may come across something you would like to print. What if you would like the English translation along with the Hebrew/Aramaic text of the Talmud? The program gives you the option of actually printing it all on the same page. And, not only does Soncino Classics Collection allow you to print directly through the program, but if you want to copy the text into another program, Soncino allows the user to copy and paste into other applications such as an English or Hebrew word processor, etc.

The program was designed to be considerate to those who might need bigger print or the like. The user can actually adjust the font size to his preferences. In addition to this, the color and styles can also be adjusted.

The installation of the program is relatively easy. What I happened to really like is that you have the option to install the entire program onto your hard drive. Besides the advantage of the program running much faster when it is installed on the hard drive rather than off the disk, I like the idea of not having to shlep the CD around when I am on the go.

The requirements for the program are minimal. In fact, for those of you whose computers are not up to date, you have no excuse as far as this program is concerned. The program runs on a PC or MAC (I am sure our MAC readers will be thrilled with this), and the requirements are as follows. All PC users need to run the Soncino Classics Collection are: windows 3.1 or higher, a VGA or SVGA display, at least 4MB of RAM, CD-ROM drive. For Mac users, all you need is 4MB of Ram and a CD-ROM.

That’s it!

This product can be purchased online at www.davka.com or at your better local Jewish bookstore.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/scitech/electronics-today/soncino-classics-collection/2004/06/30/

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