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August 25, 2016 / 21 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Time’

Time to Leave UNESCO – Again

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

{Originally posted to the Gatestone Institute website}

On April 11, 2016, the Executive Board of UNESCO adopted a resolution called “Occupied Palestine.” The title immediately exposes it as a biased document. That is not surprising. All the texts adopted by UNESCO concerning the Middle East are biased.

However, those who read it carefully can see that a further step was taken.

UNESCO’s resolution is not only biased: it is negationist. All traces of Jewish presence in Jerusalem and Judea in ancient times are eliminated at the stroke of a pen. The Temple Mount is never mentioned. It is only called by the name al-Aqsa Mosque / Haram al Sharif. The name “Western Wall” is placed between quotation marks, to indicate that it is an invalid name: Al Buraq Wall is used without quotation marks. The graves of Jewish cemeteries are described as “Jewish fake graves.”

It is a radical anti-Semitic resolution: denying historical fact, claiming that what exists does not, presenting the history of Judaism and the Jews as lies. Accusing Jews of “planting Jewish fake graves” is the lie. It is saying that Judaism is a sham and Jews are liars and falsifiers.

The document is absolutely anti-historical, anti-fact and “anti-Zionist”: it tries unambiguously to “prove” that Israel was founded on an imposture and has no reason to exist. The document constantly describes Israel as the “occupying power” and presents it as a predatory and arbitrary country.

Voting for such a text means would endorsing historical negationism, radical anti-Semitism, and absolute “anti-Zionism”.

Correctly deciphering the meaning of the resolution and its implications, the representatives of six Western countries — the United States, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom — voted no.

Representatives of other Western countries — France, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia — accepted the text and voted yes.

The resolution was presented with the support of several Muslim countries — some often described as “moderate”: Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

The text was written by Palestinian Authority (PA) “experts.” Since 2011, the Palestinian Authority has had a seat at UNESCO under the name “State of Palestine.”

The Israeli government immediately expressed its anger. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “anyone, let alone an organization tasked with preserving history, could deny this link which spans thousands of years.”

A petition was circulated by Stand With Us and the International Legal Forum, demanding that UNESCO change its attitude and remains “true to its founding principles.”

The anger of Israel’s government and indignation of others other is legitimate. The petition is fully justified.

However, expecting that UNESCO will change its attitude is illusory. Expecting that UNESCO will remain true to its founding principles is hoping for something that will not happen. UNESCO long ago abandoned its founding principles.

UNESCO is a branch of the United Nations, and the UN is an organization where democracies are in the minority, surrounded by a huge majority of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes imbued with hatred toward the West.[1] Israel is virtually the only country designated as guilty of violating human rights by the so-called Human Rights Council, and where, in 2009, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was welcomed as a hero.

In October, 2015, UNESCO had already started down path it follows today. It defined Rachel’s Tomb as the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque and the Cave of the Patriarchs as the Ibrahimi Mosque, and declared them “Palestinian sites.”

What is worrisome is that only six Western countries were ready to reject a totally poisonous, fraudulent resolution.

The Western countries that voted for the resolution evidently approve of its contents. These countries have lost all legitimacy to claim they want peace in the Middle East. By approving the resolution, they show they are at war: against Judaism, Jews and Israel. One of them, France, claims it will hold a meeting to revive the “peace process”: in this context, the claim is grotesque.

The fact that a group of Muslim countries, often described as “moderate,” supported the resolution can only lead to the question: How can a country that supports such a document be described as “moderate?”

That Palestinian Authority “experts” have written such a resolution should be sufficient to show that the PA is not “moderate.” It clearly has no intention at all of creating a State alongside Israel; instead, as its leaders often openly admit, its plan is that Israel has to be demonized, crushed and replaced.

The underlying problem is that this negationism, anti-Semitism and “anti-Zionism” are deeply rooted in both Europe and Islam.

The Quran says Jews and Christians (“Crusaders”) have falsified their sacred books, and the history of Judaism and the Jewish people is false. Muslim tradition says that Muhammad ascended to heaven from al Aqsa, and that the Al Buraq Wall is the wall where he attached the winged creature on which he flew to heaven. No room is left for the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, even though they were there, with countless archeological artifacts, for more than a thousand years before Muhammad was even born.

Muslim tradition also says that Jews, as disbelievers, are condemned to the humiliating status of dhimmi,[2] and that all territories conquered by Islam have to remain Muslim forever.[3] Muslim tradition cannot accept a country ruled by Jews or Christians on land that was once conquered by Islam — whether Israel, formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, or large swaths of Portugal and Spain.

The resolution adopted by the Executive Board of UNESCO on April 11 is “Islamically correct.” “Moderate” Muslim countries cannot contradict the Quran and Muslim tradition without risking being accused of irtidad (apostasy).[4] Palestinian Authority “experts” are being true to the Quran and to Muslim tradition.

Western countries that approved the resolution showed their submission and dhimmitude to “Islamic correctness.” Dhimmis, in Islamic history, are second class, “tolerated” citizens, who are subjected to special laws which remind them of their inferiority as well as a tax, the jizya, to purchase “protection” for their homes, possessions and lives.[5]

Countries that rejected the resolution would be considered insubordinate.

Refusing such a resolution is not enough. It is about time to ask the Muslim world to leave behind its heavy load of noxious traditions, blackmail threats and violence.

It is also time to do more.

Under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the United States left UNESCO in 1984, because UNESCO was obviously subservient to the Soviet Union, and was serving interests contrary to those of freedom, liberty and Western values.

The United States returned to UNESCO in 2003. In 2011, when the Palestinian Authority was admitted to UNESCO, the U.S. froze its financial contribution.

The United States badly needs to leave UNESCO again. UNESCO is obviously subservient to “Islamic correctness,” and serving interests contrary to those of freedom, liberty and Western values. Eighty years ago, negationism and anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust. It is urgent to say, “Enough.”

[1] Dore Gold, Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos, Crown Forum, 2005.

[2] Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001.

[3] Robert Spencer, Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions about the World’s Fastest-Growing Faith, Encounter Books, 2003.

[4] Yohanan Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition, Cambridge University Press, 2006.

[5] Bat Ye’or, op. cit.


Guy Millière

Redeeming Relevance: Parshat Emor II: No Time to Think

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

The episode of the Israelite woman’s cursing son (Vayikra 24:10-23) seems to come out of nowhere. Linguistically, we are reminded of Amalek’s sudden approach – in both cases, the Torah tells us that the antagonist went out, without telling us from where he went out. Though several commentators suggest that this phrase just means that they set out upon the field of action, its usage in rather similar situations suggests more than that.

In a tie-in with a third story that comes out of nowhere, we are not told the name of the man that curses; only that his mother was an Israelite and that his father was an Egyptian. We eventually find out his mother’s name, Shlomit bat Divri – a strange name at that – but only after the event. Hence, we are reminded of the story of Zimri and Kozbi, the infamous pair summarily executed by Pinchas for trying to lead the Jewish people astray. There too, we only find out the name of the Jewish antagonist and his tribal affiliation after the fact. Until that time, both antagonists are described in general terms, only revealing their nationalities. In fact, the term, eesh Yisrael, is used to describe Zimri three times (twice in in 25:8 and once in 25:14), parallel to the mother of the curser who is described as eesha Yisraelit (Vayikra 24:10).

Finally there is a story so similar to ours that they are often confused. That story is found much later in Bemidbar (15:32-36). There we read about an anonymous violator of the Shabbat. Like our curser, he is brought to Moshe to get a decision on what should be done, which Moshe apparently doesn’t immediately know (the latter reminding us of what occurred with Zimri as well). In both cases, they are placed in some sort of jail called a mishmar. Once safely out of the way, the law is Divinely revealed and the violators executed.

If we look at these stories as a group, they all move in a similar direction: We read about a sudden destabilizing threat that the Jews were not prepared to handle. The action in each story moves quickly, something which gives us an actual feel of these situations. And this is the reason why names are not given until the end of the story – there is a need to rush through it, and names will only get in the way. Once the emergency is over, we can go back to such details.

In all of these situations, the most important thing is to act right away. That means improvisation and alacrity, so as to contain something that would otherwise inflict serious – perhaps even disfiguring – damage onto the psyche of the Jewish people. True, Moshe was able to go to God to ultimately find out what to do in some of these stories. But that is only because his deputies immediately took control of the situation, by quarantining the problematic individual.

The Torah is telling us something here: Though we may sometimes act too rashly, there are times when rash action is the only way to prevent a complete catastrophe.

Given the Torah’s focus on living an ideal, thought-out life of ethics and spirituality, it needs to make sure we don’t get carried away with thinking. It is clear from the Torah’s interest in real life that there is a time for action as well as a time for thought. But that is not enough. What these stories drive home is that sometimes there is no time whatsoever for “better” solutions.

Rabbi Francis Nataf

Settling The Land, One Century At A Time

Monday, May 16th, 2016

When we think of aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, most of us think of a movement that began in the late 1800s and continues until today. Yet over 800 years ago a group of 300 rabbanim from England and France left their homes to settle the land of Eretz Yisrael, and during the centuries that followed other groups would try to do the same. What motivated these early “pioneers”? And what became of them and their efforts? It’s a fascinating story that deserves to be more widely known.


A World Overturned

Astiare-051316-SafedThe news must have spread like wildfire. In the year 1187, a Muslim army led by Saladin conquered Jerusalem, thereby ending Crusader rule over the holy city. The large and golden Christian cross that the Crusaders had put on top of the Dome of the Rock was pulled down, and the Christians were escorted out of the city, after paying a ransom.

The Christians looked upon their defeat with despair, but the Jews had reason to rejoice. They had been barred from settling in Jerusalem while the Crusaders were in power. The new Muslim rulers, on the other hand, encouraged the Jews to return. Is it any wonder, then, there were those who looked upon this shift of power as a precursor to the messianic era?

This belief that there were even greater things still to come was strengthened by a “prophecy” in circulation at the time that the year 4986 (1226) would bring with it the arrival of Elijah the Prophet and the start of the ingathering of the exiles. In 4993 (1233), or at least by the year 5000 (1240), Mashiach ben David would arrive.

Although the majority of Jews living in Europe merely talked about the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael, small groups began to take action. In 1211, a group of Torah scholars from England and France made the long trek to Eretz Yisrael in what is today known as “the aliyah of the 300 rabbis.” Included in the group were Rav Shimson of Shantz, one of France’s leading scholars, and Provence’s Rav Yonatan HaKohen of Lunel.

Other groups arrived from Europe, North Africa and Egypt. We don’t know much about this early attempt at an organized aliyah, but it’s presumed that many of the newcomers settled in Jerusalem. However, they weren’t allowed to live there for long. During the Sixth Crusade, which began in 1228, the Muslims and Christians worked out an agreement whereby they shared Jerusalem between them. Under the terms of the agreement Jews were forbidden to live in the city.

Many Jews settled in Christian-held Acre, but here as well war and hardship took its toll. When the Muslims captured Acre in 1291, the Jewish community was destroyed.


Let Us Go Up To The Land

During the 1400s, world events, both real and imagined, once again made it seem as though the messianic era was just around the corner. Spain’s thousand-year-old Jewish community had been nearly destroyed by a series of violent attacks that took place in 1391, and the survivors never fully recovered their previous positions of wealth and prestige. The late 1300s and early 1400s were also a time of pogroms and expulsion for several other European communities, including kehillos in France and Austria. When the Ottomans captured Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Eastern Roman Empire, in 1453, it roused hopes among many Jews that the era of Christian dominance would come to an end—and that the triumph of Judaism as the true religion wouldn’t be far behind.

A rumor that the Ten Lost Tribes had finally been found added fuel to these messianic hopes. During this age of exploration, there were many rumors about the distant and exotic lands of China and India. When so much else was strange, it didn’t seem at all impossible that the Ten Lost Tribes would have been living in one of those faraway lands, as oblivious of the existence of their brethren in Europe as European Jews were of them.

Libi Astaire

A Great Time To Be Jewish

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Paris, Jerusalem, Copenhagen – attacks on Jews seem ubiquitous these days. Shootings, stabbings, beatings, mob attacks. The UN is consistently, flagrantly, and unfairly anti-Israel. The BDS movement promulgates malicious lies about Israel and tries to upend Jewish students and professors on college campuses everywhere. If you wear a yarmulke in certain cities around the world it’s like painting a neon target on your body.

Extreme right-wing anti-Jewish political parties have risen in Hungary, France, Greece, and other countries. Even in America there are deadly attacks on Jewish institutions. Some say anti-Semitism is more robust and virulent today than at any time since the Holocaust.

And yet this is still be one of the best times ever to be Jewish. Here are ten reasons why:

  1. The Jewish homeland is stronger than ever. Not only is there a Jewish nation that welcomes all Jews, it is a powerhouse on the world scene. Israel has one of the best-trained armed forces, is a technological innovator and leader, and finds itself constantly strengthened and made more vibrant by Jews from all over the world who make aliyah or who take refuge there. And despite threats of attack from its neighbors and nuclear annihilation from Iran, Israel knows how to defend itself.
  2. There is a universal feeling among Jews that we are one people. Camaraderie may have always existed between Jews, but today, with international travel affordable and Jews traveling all over, being embraced as a landsman by other Jews is as important as ever. If you visit a foreign country and meet a fellow Jew, an immediate bond likely will develop and you may even be invited to a nice Shabbat dinner or holiday meal. Just don’t discuss politics or religious beliefs.
  3. It’s never been easier to be Jewish. From the array of kosher foods available to synagogues in almost every country (thanks in large part to Chabad), practicing Judaism and living like a Jew can be done virtually anywhere. Of course it may be harder to practice Judaism in Odessa than in Brooklyn, but thanks to technology, the availability of Jewish products, services, and synagogues can (depending on where one lives) be just a click or two away.
  4. Jewish organizations that provide social services are everywhere. Jewish agencies that offer succor are nothing new – they’ve been around in the U.S. since the 1800s to provide relief for needy Jewish immigrants – but today there are Jewish organizations of all sorts everywhere that serve to help people not just financially but in all manner of ways.
  5. There is more Jewish information available today than ever before. Would you like to know if a particular food is kosher? What time Shabbos or Yom Tov begins and ends? What restaurants are kosher in a city you are visiting? Do you have a question about Jewish history? Jewish ritual? There are websites that provide answers to any imaginable Jewish question. With the Internet, anyone can have instant access to Jewish information.
  6. Jewish culture is flourishing. You can find Jewish themes everywhere – in art, theater, movies, television, music, literature, and more. There is a renaissance of Yiddish language and klezmer music. Indeed, Jewish culture is so pervasive that one doesn’t have to play the soundtrack to “Fiddler On the Roof” (even though it’s back on Broadway) yet again.
  7. Orthodox Judaism is in the ascendance. According to the Pew Research Center, of all Jewish groupings in America, only the Orthodox are growing – quickly and by a lot. And what could be better news than that? Orthodoxy is the historical pillar of Judaism, and more Orthodox Jews will help ensure the spread and strengthening of Torah observance.
  8. Jews are more accepted today than ever before in the U.S. Sure, there are pockets and incidents of anti-Semitism, but what else is new? Once upon a time many colleges had quotas limiting the enrollment of Jewish students and entire fields of endeavor – banking, law, etc. – were severely restricted to Jews. Today a Jew can sit on the Supreme Court or be a senator or governor or even run for president of the United States.
  9. Jewish life is being revitalized in a number of countries. Poland, Russia, and Germany are just a few that are witnessing the rebuilding of Jewish communities. In these countries, where Jews were once persecuted or worse, Jewish populations are stabilizing or growing, synagogues and Jewish schools are increasing, and kosher restaurants and supermarkets are opening.
  10. You can hold your head up high as a Jew. Jews have made spectacular contributions to the world in every endeavor known to man, and well out of proportion to their miniscule numbers. A Jew should always feel proud to be a Jew.

While we need to continue being vigilant and circumspect, we should also look on the bright side and appreciate why these are great times for Jews. Of course, there is much work to be done, and Jews will be right there to do that. Indeed, Jews will always be trying to make the world a better place – for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Harvey Rachlin

It’s Time To End The Pollard Inquisition

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Last November, after serving 30 years of a life sentence in federal prison, Jonathan Pollard was paroled. Not because the government cut him any slack, but because life termers typically serve 30 years and it was doubtless too much, even for Mr. Pollard’s federal tormentors, to contemplate the notion that the only way he would leave prison would be in a coffin.

However, not content with having long treated Mr. Pollard so differently from others similarly situated – he is the only American ever given a life sentence for spying on behalf of an ally – there were broad, severe, and unprecedented restrictions placed upon him while he serves his parole period; restrictions that prevent him from traveling to Israel and, effectively, from becoming gainfully employed.

When Mr. Pollard was released and the restrictions announced, we commented (editorial, Nov. 27, 2015) on the venality of his incarceration and parole terms. We believe that editorial bears reprinting in light of Mr. Pollard’s continuing predicament.


Cutting Jonathan Pollard Some Slack

The release on parole of Jonathan Pollard from federal prison after he served 30 years of a life sentence for espionage has not eased the concerns many of us have had about this case. Indeed, the Obama administration’s refusal to allow Mr. Pollard to resettle in Israel only deepens those concerns.

While Mr. Pollard pleaded guilty to spying against the United States, the discriminatory treatment he has received at the hands of the government argues for his freedom to move to Israel. And therein lies the story. Spies are generally allowed to return to the land of their spymasters after serving their sentences, actually sometimes even before their sentences are up if a swap can be arranged.

We cannot help but believe the treatment of Mr. Pollard was and is rooted in the fact that he spied for Israel. Unfortunately, there is a surfeit of misinformation about what he did that provides cover for his highly unusual treatment.

For example, in an editorial arguing against allowing Mr. Pollard to move to Israel, The New York Times said this:

Under the rules of his parole, he cannot leave the United States for five years without permission, and the Obama administration has shown no intention of letting him go. It should not: Mr. Pollard grievously violated the laws and the trust of his country…. Many facts remain unknown because Mr. Pollard pleaded guilty, and his case did not come to trial. But the known facts do not warrant special consideration.

So despite “Many facts remain[ing] unknown” and the “known facts” having never been proved at trial, the Times and others are prepared to simply assume the worst about Mr. Pollard.

The story of his indictment and plea bargain raises other serious questions about his treatment. Thus, he was charged under a federal espionage statute that makes it a crime to deliver classified information to a foreign government “with intent or reason to believe” either that the information would result in “injury” to the U.S. or that the information would work “to the advantage of a foreign nation.”

Mr. Pollard was indicted under the “advantage” rather than the “injury” provision and subsequently pleaded guilty to providing secret information to Israel with knowledge that it would benefit that country. He was never charged under the “injury” provision. Yet not only had no one ever drawn a life sentence for violating the “advantage” provision, no one had ever drawn a life sentence for providing secret information to an ally under any circumstances. Moreover, government prosecutors agreed not to seek a life sentence in his case.

However, after the plea bargain was entered into and before the sentencing, federal prosecutors started providing information to the sentencing judge that they claimed pointed to all manner of injury Mr. Pollard had inflicted on the United States. Mr. Pollard’s lawyers were never given the opportunity to dispute those claims at a trial because Mr. Pollard, with his plea deal, waived his right to a trial. Yet this information apparently swayed the judge and he imposed a life sentence.

The strong likelihood that prosecutors violated the plea agreement didn’t matter. To be sure, there are some who contend that it was Mr. Pollard who breached the agreement because he had agreed not to go public about his case without permission and then sat for media interviews. Of course this argument ignores the fact that Mr. Pollard by then was already in federal detention and would not in any way have been accessible to the press without approval by the bureau of prisons.

In addition, the federal prosecutors who charged Pollard and subsequently entered the plea agreement with him did so on behalf of their client, the U.S. government. So the charge and agreement had to have had the approval of officials who had made an assessment of the nature and seriousness of Mr. Pollard’s crime. Yet all of that just went by the boards.

It is high time that Mr. Pollard be cut just a little slack. At the very least he should be allowed to get on with his life where he wants to lead it.

Shortly after that editorial appeared, a federal judge in Manhattan, upon prompt application of Mr. Pollard’s lawyers challenging the restrictions, ordered the government to provide an explanation for the unusual parole conditions.

The judge, Katherine B. Forrest, sitting on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered the U.S. Parole Commission to provide the “factual basis” for the restrictions and to identify whether Mr. Pollard carries “in his head” information that could be damaging to the public. She added that “the current record is insufficient to support the breadth of such conditions [restrictions].”

Both the Justice Department’s submission and the Pollard response have been submitted to Judge Forrest and a ruling is expected shortly. Prosecutors have until now prevailed in their case against Jonathan Pollard based on the strength of supposition and secret, undisclosed information. At long last, the basic facts of the Pollard story may soon see the light of day.

Editorial Board

Time for a Spiritual Tune-Up

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

A Jew is here on this planet, not only to perform the Torah’s commandments, but also to polish his character traits. Someone who diligently studies Torah and observes the mitzvot with precise exactness, yet who angers easily, is envious of others, stingy with the charity he gives, and depressed most of the day, is going to have a hard time convincing the guard at the gateway to Heaven to let him inside, even if he has learned all of the Talmud twice over. Most likely, he will be sent back down to Earth for another reincarnation, maybe in the form of an alligator, or a tree in a park where people walk their dogs.

Like everything else in Judaism, our Sages have given us explicit directions how to attain the proper character traits and undergo a spiritual tune-up during our visit on Earth. For example, if you look in your prayer book, you will notice that in addition to the list of days and weeks of Sefirat HaOmer, which we are now in the midst of counting, you will see written in tiny letters the character traits that we are to work on each day. For instance, the first day is Chesed of Chesed; the second day is Givorah of Chesed; the third day is Tiferet of Chesed. The fourth day is Nezach of Chesed. Day five is Hod of Chesed. Day six is Yesod of Chesed. And day number seven is Malchut of Chesed. What does this mean?

Our Sages teach that Chesed is related to kindness. Givorah is related to strength. Tiferet is related to the splendor. Netzach is related to victory. Hod is related to praise. Yesod is related to sexual purity. Malchut is related to kingdom, representing the combination of all of these traits. Thus, the first week of the seven-week spiritual rehab until Shavuot is devoted to kindness, when we are called upon to rectify any blemishes we have in the character trait of kindness. Let me give an example: if you give a baby a bottle, and make a big hole in the nipple because you want to be as kind as you can and give the baby a lot of milk at once, your overflowing kindness (Chesed) may cause the baby to choke. On the other hand, if you make a tiny pin hole in the nipple (Givorah), the

baby won’t be able to suck out anything to drink. Thus a balance is needed (Tiferet) by making a hole in the nipple that is neither too big nor too small.

The second week is of Counting the Omer is devoted to rectifying the seven different aspects of Givorah. We continue in this manner, seven weeks times seven traits, for a total of 49 days, which serve as steps up the ladder of holiness, cleansing us of our impurities, so that we are prepared to receive the Torah.

These traits are also called sefirot. The sefirot are the spiritual worlds, or channels, that Hashem uses to bring His light and blessing into the world. To illustrate, imagine a paper cup with its bottom cut out. Let’s say this is a sefirah, or spiritual channel. If you put six of these plastic cups, one inside the other, you have a representation of the six lower sefirot. (The upper sefirot of Chochmah, Binah, and Daat are above our grasp and not included in this counting). The channel of Chesed flows into the channel of Givorah; Givorah into Tiferet; Tiferet into Netzach; Netzach into Hod; and Hod flows into Yesod. Now, put all of these into that last plastic cup without cutting out its bottom. This cup represents the sefirah of Malchut which receives the light and blessing from all of the other sefirot. Our Sages teach that this last cup, in its human embodiment, represents the Kingdom of Israel. Blessings flow into the world via Am Yisrael and then get distributed to the rest of mankind. In its geographical embodiment, this last cup represents the Land of Israel. Hashem’s blessings to the world come down to Eretz Yisrael, and from there they flow to the rest of the globe. Thus, we can understand the importance of all the Jewish People living in the Land of Israel in order for G-d’s blessing to the world to be complete. When the Jewish People are scattered all over the Diaspora, the Kingdom of Israel is shattered, and Hashem’s blessing to the world is shattered with it, not having a vessel to contain His blessings. The Kingdom of Israel only exists when the Jewish People have their own sovereign kingdom in their own Jewish Land. That is why the oft-repeated goal of the Torah, and of the Prophets of Israel, is the call for the Jews to dwell in the Land of Israel,

so that Hashem’s blessing will spill over from the Kingdom of Israel to all of the world.

Now for the few readers who are still with me, the Kabbalah teaches that because man is a microcosm of the universe, these Sefirot have a parallel in each and every one of us. The right arm parallels the sefirah of Chesed; the left arm the sefirah of Givorah; the body the sefirah of Tiferet; the right leg the sefirah of Netzach; the left leg the sefirah of Hod; the organ of the Brit the sefirah of Yesod. Thus, for example, if a person steals something with his right hand, the laser beam he creates strikes the sefirah of Chesed in the world’s spiritual blueprint, damaging the channel of Chesed, and restricting the flow of kindness into the world. With every wrongdoing that we commit, we damage one or more of the channels of Divine blessing. Therefore, in correcting our character traits during the Omer period, we are concurrently rectifying all of the damage we caused in all of the spiritual worlds through our sins.

Now we can understand why the Kabbalists emphasize the importance of the guarding sexual purity. Because the sefirah of Yesod is associated with the organ of the Brit, any sexual wrongdoing damages the channel of Yesod. If you will remember our example of the cups, the blessings from all of the cups flow into the Yesod before reaching our world of Malchut. The Yesod is like the spout of the funnel. Therefore, when we damage the channel of Yesod through sexual wrongdoing, we hinder the flow of blessing. This stunting of blessing leads to disastrous individual and national consequences. On an individual level, sexual transgression can lead to depression, divorce, problems with children, health problems, and other unpleasant things. If sexual misbehavior reaches national proportions, not only is the flow of Divine blessing to the individual severed, Divine blessing is also cut off from the nation, resulting in economic hardship, or a plague of traffic accidents, Intifadas and wars, G-d forbid. This understanding is stressed again and again in the Zohar.

We can see from this brief introduction that the seven weeks of Sefirat HaOmer have cosmic significance. Our Sages tell us that these days are the root of the year. Our behavior during this time determines what will be in the months to come. Someone who cleans up his act now will breeze through Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Since we are here in this world to correct our character traits, this is a propitious time to do some serious t’shuva. This is why we say at the end of our counting this evening:

“Therefore, may it be Your will, L-rd our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, that in the merit of the counting of the Omer that I counted today, the damage I caused to the channel of Nezach of Chesed will be rectified, and I will be purified and sanctified with a transcendental holiness. And that this in turn will cause a great influx of blessing in all of the worlds to rectify our beings, spirits, and souls from every impurity and blemish, to bring an exalted purity and holiness upon us, amen, selah.”

Tzvi Fishman

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

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I liked the professor’s response:

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

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

Discovering a Stumbling Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Show me the fatwa.”

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

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

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

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

(Left) Rabbi Yaakov Nagen with Dr Joseph Ringel,

(Left) Rabbi Yaakov Nagen with Dr Joseph

Rebecca Abrahamson

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