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May 24, 2016 / 16 Iyar, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Times’

Pesach’s Message for Modern Times

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

It’s the festival we have all grown to know and love. Some say Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur are the pinnacle holidays, but I believe Pesach truly defines us.

Pesach is about the Jews’ plight to freedom from the clutches of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The story is famous, but not just amongst ourselves. It was that moment in history that we unified as a people and walked towards the acceptance of the Torah and its laws.

Throughout the ages, persecution has been a recurring theme for our religion. Be it expulsion, pogroms, holocausts or mass-murder, new faces have risen to direct hatred toward us. Many have tried to rid the world of each and every one of us, but not once have they managed to succeed.

When I sat down for this year’s seder, surrounded by family, we discussed the story in detail. We spoke about our forefathers; the inhumane work they were forced to do, the murder of newborn babies and the heinous attacks they received. Yet, putting things into a modern-day perspective, we could have been reviewing the events of the past century.

Times may have changed, yet the oppression continues on.

Admittedly, there are some stories through our history that are difficult to envisage. For instance, the flood that destroyed the world besides for Noah and his children; it’s easy to understand the concept, but to imagine it actually taking place is hard. Or the idea that Lott’s wife, after turning around to watch the destruction of their city, changed into a pillar of salt. However, I don’t think anyone can deny how simple it is to comprehend the grief our ancestors had for hundreds of years. It’s relatable because it’s repeated so frequently.

The struggle faced in Egypt became the past. It may have happened millenniums ago but the message of endurance is still applicable. We are not in slavery but symbolically, we are bound together through a different type of chains.

So what should we understand that we can take into our lives in the 21st century?

When the tribes first went down to Egypt, Yosef was an important figure. His father and brothers settled comfortably and started to adapt to their changed surroundings. Food and water were in abundance in contrast to what they had just come from. Easily, their trust grew in this new country and its leader because their means and day-to-day existence became better and more relaxed.

Generation after generation continued to settle there, steadfast in the knowledge that they were welcomed like royalty decades before. Over time, Yosef and his brothers passed away, leaving behind their grandchildren and great-grandchildren in a land that was never going to be their real home.

A new king rose to power, decidedly ignorant to why the Jews deserved any right to be treated well. They became complacent and thought that this is where they belonged. Little did they know what trauma was awaiting them in the future.

This is the original story of our survival. The reason why this tale is so famous is because it shows that G-d is always there, forever in the background, no matter how cloudy it may seem.

If you changed the details to concentration camps, Nazis and Europe, surely the resemblance is more than apparent?

It doesn’t matter what they dress up as or what they’re called, the original Pharaoh and his henchmen are still here. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Nazis have all been defeated, but this story remains the essence of our identity because it serves as a harrowing reminder.

I used to think to myself; why is the constant theme of seder night Leshana Haba’ah Benai Chorin (Next year we hope to be free) or Leshana Haba’ah B’Yerushalyim (Next year we hope to be in Jerusalem). Surely, with our passports and technology, we are finally have our freedom?

I’ve grown to realize that the message of the Pesach story is in actual fact a warning against this feeling. When we start to feel accepted, that is when we should be worried. Our trials and tribulations strengthen our faith and unity. We are our strongest when we are united, and we are never more united than when we feel pain. We are not free, we never will be.

One day, eagle’s wings will approach, and with that, our redemption will at last be final.

Selena Myers

Beginning The Journey

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

A while back, a British newspaper, The Times, interviewed a prominent member of the Jewish community (let’s call him Lord X) on his 92nd birthday. The interviewer said, “Most people, when they reach their 92nd birthday, start thinking about slowing down. You seem to be speeding up. Why is that?”

Lord X replied, “When you get to 92, you start seeing the door begin to close, and I have so much to do before the door closes that the older I get, the harder I have to work.”

Something like that is the impression we get of Abraham in this week’s parshah. Sarah, his constant companion throughout their journeys, has died. He is 137 years old. We see him mourn Sarah’s death, and then he moves into action.

He engages in an elaborate negotiation to buy a plot of land in which to bury her. As the narrative makes clear, this is not a simple task. He confesses to the locals, the Hittites, that he is “an immigrant and a resident among you,” meaning that he knows he has no right to buy land. It will take a special concession on their part for him to do so. The Hittites politely but firmly try to discourage him. He has no need to buy a burial plot. “No one among us will deny you his burial site to bury your dead.” He can bury Sarah in someone else’s graveyard. Equally politely but no less insistently, Abraham makes it clear that he is determined to buy land. In the event, he pays a highly inflated price (400 silver shekels) to do so.

The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah is evidently a highly significant event because it is recorded in great detail and highly legal terminology – not just here but three times subsequently in Genesis, each time with the same formality. For instance, here is Jacob on his deathbed, speaking to his sons:

“Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites” (Genesis 49:29-32).

Something significant is being hinted at here; otherwise why mention, each time, exactly where the field is and from whom Abraham bought it?

Immediately after the story of land purchase, we read, “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham with everything.” Again this sounds like the end of a life, not a preface to a new course of action, and again our expectation is confounded. Abraham launches into a new initiative, this time to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac, who by now is at least 37 years old. Abraham leaves nothing to chance. He does not speak to Isaac himself but to his most trusted servant, who he instructs to go “to my native land, to my birthplace” to find the appropriate woman. He wants Isaac to have a wife who will share his faith and way of life. Abraham does not specify that she should come from his own family, but this seems to be an assumption hovering in the background.

As with the purchase of the field, so here the course of events is described in more detail than almost anywhere else in the Torah. Every conversational exchange is recorded. The contrast with the story of the binding of Isaac could not be greater. There, almost everything – Abraham’s thoughts, Isaac’s feelings – is left unsaid. Here, everything is said. Again, the literary style calls our attention to the significance of what is happening, without telling us precisely what it is.

The explanation is simple and unexpected. Throughout the story of Abraham and Sarah, God had promised them two things: children and a land. The promise of the land (“Rise, walk in the land throughout its length and breadth, for I will give it to you”) is repeated no less than seven times. The promise of children occurs four times. Abraham’s descendants will be “a great nation,” as many as “the dust of the earth” and “the stars in the sky.” He will be the father not of one nation but of many.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

NYT Upset at Bibi – but They Won’t Say the Real Reason Why

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

The New York Times is not happy with Bibi:

Mr. Netanyahu has legitimate reasons to be wary of any Iranian overtures, as do the United States and the four other major powers involved in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. But it could be disastrous if Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress were so blinded by distrust of Iran that they exaggerate the threat, block President Obama from taking advantage of new diplomatic openings and sabotage the best chance to establish a new relationship since the 1979 Iranian revolution sent American-Iranian relations into the deep freeze.

Even though the Times admits that pretty much every fact Netanyahu brought up is accurate!

Mr. Rouhani and the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have insisted repeatedly that Iran wants only to develop nuclear energy and that obtaining a nuclear weapon would harm the country’s security.

Even so, Iran hid its nuclear program from United Nations inspectors for nearly 20 years, and the country is enriching uranium to a level that would make it possible to produce bomb-grade nuclear material more quickly. It has also pursued other activities, like developing high-voltage detonators and building missiles that experts believe could only have nuclear weapons-related uses.

These facts make it hard not to view the upcoming American-brokered negotiations skeptically. But Mr. Netanyahu has hinted so often of taking military action to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon that he seems eager for a fight.

Actually, the main thrust of Bibi’s speech was to not to start a war, but a warning against loosening sanctions in exchange for smiles and empty promises:

I have argued for many years, including on this podium, that the only way to peacefully prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is to combine tough sanctions with a credible military threat. And that policy is today bearing fruit. Thanks to the effort of many countries, many represented here, and under the leadership of the United States, tough sanctions have taken a big bite out of Iran’s economy. Oil revenues have fallen. The currency has plummeted. Banks are hard pressed to transfer money. So as a result, the regime is under intense pressure from the Iranian people to get the sanctions removed. That’s why Rouhani got elected in the first place. That’s why he launched his charm offensive. He definitely wants to get the sanctions lifted, I guarantee you that, but he doesn’t want to give up Iran’s nuclear weapons program in return.

Now, here’s the strategy to achieve this:

First, smile a lot. Smiling never hurts. Second, pay lip service to peace, democracy and tolerance. Third, offer meaningless concessions in exchange for lifting sanctions. And fourth, and the most important, ensure that Iran retains sufficient nuclear material and sufficient nuclear infrastructure to race to the bomb at a time that it chooses to do so. You know why Rouhani thinks he can get away with this?…Because he’s gotten away with it before. 

The NYT cannot find any holes in Netanyahu’s logic. It cannot find any concrete concession that Rouhani is offering. Yet, against all known facts, it still insists that Rouhani is the moderate who must be given concessions to, and Bibi is the warmonger.

There is nothing wrong with speaking to and negotiating with Iran, but there is a great deal wrong with loosening sanctions in response to a smile.

So if the Times cannot find anything actually wrong with Bibi’s words, why are they so upset at him? The reason seems to be because he called them out for doing the exact same thing with North Korea:

Like Iran, North Korea also said its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes. Like Iran, North Korea also offered meaningless concessions and empty promises in return for sanctions relief. In 2005, North Korea agreed to a deal that was celebrated the world over by many well-meaning people. Here is what the New York Times editorial had to say about it: “For years now, foreign policy insiders have pointed to North Korea as the ultimate nightmare… a closed, hostile and paranoid dictatorship with an aggressive nuclear weapons program.

Very few could envision a successful outcome.

And yet North Korea agreed in principle this week to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, return to the NPT, abide by the treaty’s safeguards and admit international inspectors….Diplomacy, it seems, does work after all.”

A year later, North Korea exploded its first nuclear weapons device.

That’s the real reason the “Paper of Record” is so miffed – because Bibi mentioned its record of believing dictators on the threshold of nuclear weapons capability.

The truth hurts, so the NYT – instead of admitting its very real role in pressuring Washington to believe North Korea’s empty promises – is lashing out at the person who pointed it out.

This is behavior one would expect from a teenager who was caught in a lie, not from a newspaper whose entire reputation is dependent on accuracy.

The NYT’s choosing to ignore that part of Bibi’s speech explains a great deal about its nonsensical editorial that is at odds with facts.

Visit Elder of Ziyon.

Elder of Ziyon

Abusing Clout

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

There is an article in the  New York Times that discusses the clout Chasidim in America have achieved. And it does not paint a flattering picture. Some might say that this is just typical New York Times bashing of religious Jews. But I’m not so sure it is. Let us examine the issue.

Chasidim do have clout. There is no question about it. How did they get so much clout? Prior to the Holocaust, Chasidim in America barely existed as an identifiable entity.  But they grew exponentially into huge numbers since the Holocaust. Chasidim tend to get married early (in some cases both bride and groom are in their teens) and have many children. A family of ten or more children is not uncommon. As a result, now over sixty years later they are a force to be reckoned with.

Although I have argued that – despite their rate of growth –  their current numbers do not necessarily predict their future dominance as a culture in Judaism… their numbers are very definitely huge as is their current influence in government. This is mostly seen in the power of their vote. If their rabbinic leadership tells them to vote for a certain candidate, they tend to do so in large numbers without question and without needing to know what that candidate stands for. This gives Chasidim as a group out-sized political power!

This power does not go to waste. This community uses it to their full advantage. When they make a request to a government official, he pays attention. And often sees to it that the request is granted.

I have no problem with using one’s clout to get things done for your community. There is nothing wrong with petitioning your government for your cause. It is no different than any group lobbying for their particular agenda. In that sense Chasidim are no different than – say – the gun lobby. It is the right of every American citizen – no less Chasidic citizens – to petition their government.

The question arises when petitioning for rights becomes pressuring for rights.  Requests then turn into demands with unspoken threats of political defeat in the next election if those demands aren’t met. Although it may be legal to do that – it can easily be interpreted as a form of political extortion to get what they want  – sometimes at the expense of others.That can only result in resentment at best… and at worst create (or expose latent) anti-Semitism.

First let me say that I view it unethical to vote for a candidate without knowing what he stands for just because you were told to do so by a rabbinic leader. I understand why they do this. It is obvious. It gives them an extraordinary amount of power over elected officials.  But one ought to vote for a candidate because of believing what he stands for – not because it will give your group collective power over him.

This is not good citizenship. And it makes religious looking Jews look bad. How does this affect the image of religious Jews in the world? Does this result in a positive image of Chasidim – or a negative one? What about the rest of Orthodox Jewry? Will we all be judged the way?

And how necessary are those demands? Are they Halachic or cultural? Let us look at some examples (described in the Times article) of achievements their clout has brought them.

How important is it for Chasidic women  to demand a female lifeguard at their beaches that are apparently sex segregated? Although I understand their request – it is a not a Halachic requirement to have a female lifeguard.  Is it worth exercising the community’s clout to get one?

I also do not understand why they insist on well water for their Pesach Matzos. They apparently object to chlorination. What does chlorine have to do with Chametz? It is not a leavening agent. It is a poison which if used in small quantities kills bacteria and has no harmful effects on human beings.

Separate – sex segregated public buses are now the norm in their neighborhood. Men in the front and women in the back. That is no doubt illegal. But since they do it voluntarily, no one bothers them. Is that so necessary? I know Chasidim consider separate seating on a bus to be more modest. But is violating the law the right thing to do if it isn’t a Halachic necessity – even if no one bothers them about it?

Harry Maryles

Rabbi Sacks Attacking PM, Multiculturalism

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, is blaming British Prime Minister David Cameron for failing to do enough to boost marriages in the UK, and saying multiculturalism in Britain has “had its day,” The Times reported.

Rabbi Sacks said Cameron should recognize marriage in the tax system and do more to support stay at home mothers.

“I think the government has not done enough,” he said. “Although I don’t take a political stance … I don’t think the government has done enough at all.”

Rabbi Sacks, who retires next month after 22 years, said the estimated £9 billion-a-year cost of family breakdown and “non-marriage” meant the state has a direct interest in promoting marriage.

Rabbi Sacks also said multiculturalism in Britain had led to “segregation and inward-looking communities.”

Comparing it to a hotel where “nobody is at home,” he said: “It doesn’t belong to anyone, we’ve each got our own room and so long as we don’t disturb the neighbors we can do whatever we like.”

Jewish Press News Briefs

NY Times Blaming Israel for Egyptian Havoc

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The first outright finger pointing at Israel was published in the Sunday NY Times (Pressure by U.S. Failed to Sway Egyptian Military Leaders from Crackdown):

The Israelis, whose military had close ties to General Sisi from his former post as head of military intelligence, were supporting the takeover as well. Western diplomats say that General Sisi and his circle appeared to be in heavy communication with Israeli colleagues, and the diplomats believed the Israelis were also undercutting the Western message by reassuring the Egyptians not to worry about American threats to cut off aid.

Israeli officials deny having reassured Egypt about the aid, but acknowledge having lobbied Washington to protect it.

When Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, proposed an amendment halting military aid to Egypt, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent a letter to senators on July 31 opposing it, saying it “could increase instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally.” Statements from influential lawmakers echoed the letter, and the Senate defeated the measure, 86 to 13, later that day.

The fact is, Israel—and the Saudis—are trying desperately to save America from its own delusions about a democratic Arab world springing forth with equality and freedom for all. Egypt’s neighbors are anxious about the possibility of a civil war in Egypt and understand that a firm government is the essential first step towards recovery from the events of the past three months and the past two years in Egypt.

But now, according to the way the NY Times sees the world on Monday morning, Israel is “Escalating Efforts to Shape Allies’ Strategy.”

The original headline, according to NewsSniffer, was “Israel Puts More Urgency on Shaping Allies’ Actions” and was modified twice since the earlier posting.

An unnamed Israeli government official told the Times that Israel is going to spend this week twisting European and American arms in an attempt to prevent them from pulling their support from the Sisi regime, even though his soldiers have been brutal in their treatment of the Muslim Brother demonstrators.

The official explained the Middle east realities in blunt terms: “We’re trying to talk to key actors, key countries, and share our view that you may not like what you see, but what’s the alternative? If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential — the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on.”

And he added, even more bluntly:

“At this point,” the official added, “it’s army or anarchy.”

Speaking of anarchy, no one is certain that even with full Western support the Sisi regime would be able to withstand the onslaught of highly motivated, unafraid Muslim Brothers. While the army is bound by some modicum of restraint, the Muslim Brothers recognize no such boundaries. While about a thousand of their number have been killed, they have been joyfully burning down Coptic churches and murdering Egyptian Christians in the streets. Over the long haul, if the Brothers are not stopped effectively, they could wear down the regime and demoralize the army. That could throw Egypt into a full blown, Syrian style civil war.

In addition to it being a public relations disaster for the Obama Administration, as caring individuals like senators Paul and McCain rip the president mercilessly on his policy and call for cutting off $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, there’s President Barack Obama’s injured ego. A project he began right after his election has collapsed right before his eyes, and despite all of his efforts to communicate his strong views on the matter (Sec. Hagel called Sisi 17 times), the Muslim Brothers revolution is no more.

“The violent crackdown has left Mr. Obama in a no-win position: risk a partnership that has been the bedrock of Middle East peace for 35 years, or stand by while longtime allies try to hold on to power by mowing down opponents,” the Times wrote on Sunday.

So now, it appears, the largely quiet efforts on the part of Netanyahu to communicate to Obama (the two are yet to speak directly since the start of the crisis) how crucial it is that American support—and the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal—remain intact, will be used to portray Israel as some kind of puppet master, goading the generals to shoot into the crowd.

Yori Yanover

Yankees Offer Youkilis $12 Million

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

The New York Yankees reportedly offered Jewish free agent Kevin Youkilis a one-year, $12 million contract.

Youkilis, a three-time All Star for the Boston Red Sox before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in June, was leaning toward accepting the offer, a source told The New York Times.

The offer would have Youkilis play third base, replacing Alex Rodriguez, who is expected to be sidelined until next June because of hip surgery. The Cleveland Indians are also said to be interested in signing Youkilis, according to the Times.

JTA

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