Friday, December 31, 2010

Audio Shiur: Parshat Va'era - Kvetching

Audio Shiur:
Audio Shiur: Parshat Va'era - Kvetching
To understand the beginning of Parshat Vaera, we must first examine the end of Shemot. Why does Moshe complain? How can he complain to God? Didn't he know that this would happen? His complaints (and the explanation of them by the commentators) tell us a great deal about Moshe, and also about ourselves.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Oldie But...

One Shabbat morning, the venerable old Rav climbed up the bimah to deliver his weekly drashah. Yet, instead of starting the speech, the rabbi just stood there.
Five minutes passed. Then ten.
Finally, the gabbai went up the rabbi to find out what was happening.
"Rebbe," he said. "Why aren't you speaking? Is everything all right?"
"I can't speak," the poor rabbi whispered to his trusted gabbai. "I forgot my teeth at home, and I can't speak without them. Can you please run home and fetch them for me?"
"Of course," the gabbai told him. He ran to the rabbi's house, found the dentures, rushed back to the shul, and the rabbi began to speak.
And speak. And speak and speak. In fact, he wouldn't stop. Twenty minutes, then thirty, then forty five. Finally, the gabbai again approached the rabbi.
"Rebbe, what's going on? Before you couldn't speak, and now you won't stop!"
"I can't. You brought me the wrong teeth. Instead of bringing me my dentures, you brought my wife's."

Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 5 - Rav Teichtal's New World (to come) Order

Audio Shiur:
Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 5 - Rav Teichtal's New World (to come) Order
(This shiur studies the classic work of Rav Yissachar Teichtal on the importance of settling the Land of Israel, following the Hebrew text with English translation.)

All our lives, we've been waiting for Moshiach. Waiting seems to be part of our religious and national persona. Yet, it's so impassive. If we're waiting, then there's really nothing that we can do. Rav Teichtal is clearly tired of waiting. In explaining the importance of building the Land of Israel, he subtly but fundamentally shifts the way we view the messianic process. From Dr. Seuss to Rambam to EHS, we examine Rav Teichtal's New World (to come) order.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Judaism or Democracy: What Would You Choose?

In the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, signed on the eve of Israel's War of Independence, the founders of the State tiptoed around a fundamental paradox. Their attempt to evade this glaring issue, probably because they could see no ready solution to the problem, has been the root of many, if not most of the major debates in Israel and across the Jewish world.
It's worthwhile to spend time studying the document in its entirety, but I'll focus on two small sections for now.
השואה שנתחוללה על עם ישראל בזמן האחרון, בה הוכרעו לטבח מיליונים יהודים באירופה, הוכיחה מחדש בעליל את ההכרח בפתרון בעיית העם היהודי מחוסר המולדת והעצמאות על-ידי חידוש המדינה היהודית בארץ-ישראל, אשר תפתח לרווחה את שערי המולדת לכל יהודי ותעניק לעם היהודי מעמד של אומה שוות-זכויות בתוך משפחת העמים.
The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people - the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe - was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.
Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.
I need to make a small but critical point here: there's a problem with the translation in the text. I didn't translate here. The Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did. Notice the section that I've highlighted in bold and red: "the problem of its homelessness", which is a paraphrasing of the words, בעיית העם היהודי. While technically correct, it's missing the critical nuance of the language that the framers clearly intended. When we translate the words בעיית העם היהודי literally, we find that this phrase means "the problem of the Jewish nation." This is clearly a reference to the "Jewish Problem" articulated by Nazi Germany. See also here. As we all well know, the Nazis came up with a rather ingenious solution to the problem. I see this minor translation (or the lack of nuance) as critical, because it highlights how strong a role the Holocaust played in the creation of the State of Israel, not only in the minds of the members of the international community, but also in the minds of the founders of the Jewish State.
With this is mind, we can begin to get a sense of the urgency of creating a Jewish State. Jews were slaughtered by the millions, with nowhere to run for refuge. The founders of the State declared openly that this would never happen again. Israel would stand ready to accept any Jew running from persecution. It would be a haven for Jews fleeing from the rampages of antisemitism. It would do so, by definition, by creating itself as a Jewish State: by the Jews, and for the Jews.
But then, later on in the document, the framers make another important statement:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
In other words, Israel would be a democracy, granting full rights to all of its citizens. Sounds great. But there's only problem. How do you ensure that the State remains Jewish if it truly adheres to the principles of democracy fully? If you grant "complete equality" to all citizens, what do you do if a minority grows to the point that it threatens to overtake the Jewish minority?
Let's leave the territories of out the equation. What do you do when you see secular Israelis fleeing the country, while the Israeli Arab population explodes? Would the State of Israel still be a Jewish State if its Arab majority voted for an Arab Prime Minister? How then do you guarantee that the State remains both Jewish, and a democracy?
In a word, you can't.
Until now, we've been avoiding this internal contradiction. We haven't had to confront the truth: a Jewish State and true democratic values might not be completely compatible. Something has to give.
So you've got to choose. Which are you willing to sacrifice? Are you willing to risk Israel's status as a Jewish State for the sake of the principles of democracy, equality and fairness, hallowed and sacred and important values? Or, will you sacrifice that equality for all to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish country?
That's the choice. Which would you choose?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Audio Shiur: Parshat Shemot - Reluctant Leadership

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Shemot - Reluctant Leadership
Moshe's initial reluctance to take a lead role in the salvation of the Jews makes us wonder: Why don't we want to get involved? Should we seek out leadership roles when relevant, or avoid them as Moshe seems to do?

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Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 4 - The Cause

Audio Shiur:
Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 4: The Cause
(This shiur studies the classic work of Rav Yissachar Teichtal on the importance of settling the Land of Israel, following the Hebrew text with English translation.)

Finding himself alone with no students and unable to study, Rav Teichtal turns to the most difficult of all questions: Why did God allow the Holocaust to happen? Contrary to our modern reluctance to give reasons for calamity, Rav Teichtal exhibits no such reluctance, and declares that the underlying reason for the Holocaust is... (well, for that you're going to have to listen to the shiur). We begin the second introduction which starts on page 33 of the Hebrew printing of EHS

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Another Shemot Thought: The World's First Speech Therapist

Standing at the burning bush, commanded by God to return to Egypt and redeem the Jewish people, Moshe flatly refuses. "I'm not the guy. Find someone else."
Actually, my theoretical quote is inaccurate. According to many commentators, Moshe probably said something like, "I'm n-n-n-n-n-not the guy. S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-send s-s-s-s-s-s-s-omebody else." No, I'm not mocking Moshe. Chazal explain that Moshe was a stutterer.
When told to go lead the nation Moshe tells God, (Shemot 4:10)
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְקֹוָק בִּי אֲדֹנָי לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי גַּם מִתְּמוֹל גַּם מִשִּׁלְשֹׁם גַּם מֵאָז דַּבֶּרְךָ אֶל עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי כְבַד פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן אָנֹכִי:
And Moses said unto the LORD: 'Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.'
What does this unusual phrase, כבד פה - "of heavy mouth" mean? Rashi writes,
בכבידות אני מדבר, ובלשון לעז בלב"א [גמגמן]
"I speak with heaviness. In old French the word is "balba" - a stutterer
(Just as an aside, Rashbam completely rejects this Midrashic interpretation, insisting that Moshe did not in fact suffer from a physical disability, but rather lacked the power of verbal eloquence, especially in the Egyptian dialect. Rashbam wonders: "Is it possible that a prophet who spoke to God face-to-face and received the Torah from [God's] hands stuttered in his speech?")
In fact, the issue of Moshe's speech limitations comes up again and again in Moshe's communications with God. In addition to his complaint here, he raises the issue of being an ערל שפתיים - "of uncircumcised lips" twice after he had already returned to Egypt! (see 6:12 and 6:30). It's clearly an issue that continued to concern him.
Yet, back at the bush, God rejects Moshe's concern, telling him:
מִי שָׂם פֶּה לָאָדָם, אוֹ מִי-יָשׂוּם אִלֵּם, אוֹ חֵרֵשׁ אוֹ פִקֵּחַ אוֹ עִוֵּר--הֲלֹא אָנֹכִי, ה'. וְעַתָּה, לֵךְ; וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִם-פִּיךָ, וְהוֹרֵיתִיךָ אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר
'Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh a man dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? is it not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt speak.'
How did God's answer address Moshe's issue? How would teaching Moshe what to say alleviate his concern over a physical speech impediment? Ibn Ezra explains:
וזהו טעם "אנכי אהיה עם פיך והוריתיך" - אמר שיורנו אשר ידבר מלות, שאין שם מאותיות הכבדות על פיו
And this is the meaning of "And I will be with your mouth and I will instruct you" (verse 12) - that [God] would instruct him which words to speak, which did not have the letters that weighed upon his mouth
In other words, God promised to instruct him in the most effective way to speak in order to avoid the crippling effects of his speech impairment. While God might not have given Moshe therapy to improve his speech (and I hear it's doubtful whether there even is any effective therapy for stuttering), in giving Moshe strategies to improve his verbal communication, God was clearly acting as the world's first recorded speech therapist.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Shemot Parshah Riddle

Back at YIOP, I used to ask a parshah riddle before the Torah reading each Shabbat. This week's parshah motivated one of my favorites (or at least one that I remember). ]
The riddle is: Where is there an allusion to the Incredibles in this week's Parshah?

Answer: In Bat Par'oh. (Batya, Par'oh's daughter)
I'll explain. The Torah teaches us that as baby Moshe floated down the Nile, his little ark passed the party of Par'oh's daughter as she bathed in the river. Seeing the tiny floating lifeboat, she felt a pang of compassion and,
וַתִּשְׁלַח אֶת-אֲמָתָהּ וַתִּקָּחֶהָ
and sent her handmaid to fetch it
Yet, the word אמתה, which we translated as "her servant" is also the same word in Hebrew that means "forearm.". For this reason, the Midrash explains that an "incredible" event took place here.
ותשלח את אמתה - שנמשכה ידה ונתמתחה
"And she sent forth her arm" - that her arm stretched out and extended itself
Seeing the baby floating far away, she extended her arm towards him, and miraculously it kept extending and extending until it reached the girl.
I heard a nice thought about this miraculous Midrash today from Rav Gutel, the president of Orot. I Batya (the daughter of Par'oh) really was standing far away, why did she bother extending her arm? Did she really think that was indeed Elastigirl, capable of catching a ark floating far away?
Yet, the rabbis wished to convey to us the critical message that even when a task seems impossible, we still must make an effort. We must at least extend our arms, expressing a desire to make a difference. In truth, we might not be realistically able to expect a miracle, and most often it won't happen. But we must still make the effort, because we can never know when the Divine assistance may come to extend our reach and help us catch the next savior of the Jewish people.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Selling Land to Arabs: A Pre-Post

About two weeks ago, a group of rabbis from across Israel, prompted by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, publicized a ban on anyone selling or renting land to Arabs.
The reaction was swift and severe. Commentators from the Prime Minister of Israel on down to a group of rabbis in the United States rushed to condemn the statement.
Loyal readers of this blog must surely have been wondering: "Where's your post?" After all, isn't this a topic that speaks directly to the essence of this blog: Torah, Israel, Zionism, etc? In truth, yes, it is.
And yet I hesitated, not because I don't have what to write. I do. Problem is, I have too much to write. It's not a blog post - it's a mini-essay.
The issue raises a number of critical questions including:
1. Is there halachic basis for Rav Eliyahu's call?
1b. If his claim is halachically valid, does that mean that halachah is in some sense racist?
2. Even if Rav Eliyahu was right, should he have publicized his opinion as he did?
3. What is the nature of a Jewish State that claims to give full rights to its Arab citizens?
4. If the Jewish State does give such rights to its minority citizens, how does it ensure that it in fact remains a Jewish State?
5. What do we do about the little-discussed fact that many Jewish towns and neighborhoods are slowly becoming Arab enclaves? (While we fight over the settlements, we may very well be losing our cities.)

All of these are, to my mind, good and important questions. And yet, I haven't written because (a) I haven't had the time to write an article of that length and (b) I'm not sure blog readers really want to slog through a long, serious article.
In any case, even thinking about these questions is to my mind, important - even without my personal spin on the issue.
I recently gave a shiur at Orot (where I teach a weekly class on Hilchot Shabbat) on this very topic, and prepared a source book that deals with many of the questions I raise here.
For interested parties, you can access the source book here. (Note to all - the sources are entirely in Hebrew. If I had time to translate them, I'd be halfway towards writing the real post.)
In the meantime, if these types of sources are your cup of tea, have at them!

Watch This Video. (And Then Ask, How Can I help?)

Sharon, who works with me here in Orot sent me this video, which I hadn't seen before. It's a very moving and powerful testament to the need for volunteerism, to defend Israel, and the fact that one person really can make a difference. After watching the video, I called offering to help by giving shiurim to the volunteers on the subject of Zionism and Judaism. (I think I know something about the topic.) No, I don't have time, but if things work out, you've got to make time.
After watching the video, ask yourself: what can you do for them?
Their website is here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Amazon Kindle in Israel: Nice, but Not Ready for Prime Time

As I wrote here, a while back we ordered the Amazon Kindle in order to easily access English reading material for our children. The Kindle itself is a wonderful device: I'm happy that it's only a book reader, without a color touchscreen or a web browser. (Actually, it does have a browser that almost immediately crashed the device. I wonder why they even included it.) The kids immediately took to the Kindle, reading books at their level. My daughter likes to enlarge the font until there's about three words on a page, but it works for her. She's reading Henry Huggins wonderfully. Sounds great, right? Not really.
1. The device started crashing. A lot. While Amazon promised a month of use, we were regularly getting far less than a week. On more than one occasion, we brought the device for reading in the car on a long drive, and it simply wouldn't start. Plugging it into the computer solved the problem, but it was annoying nonetheless. Rena finally realized that Amazon only promised a month of battery life with the wifi off (and in our bedroom, where we normally keep the Kindle, the wifi signal is quite weak). So we shut off the wifi, upgraded the software, and are now hoping for the best. So far so good.
2. Another minor pet peeve. The device is registered to my email account. Yet, over Chanukah Rena received a gift book to her email address. I got one to a different email address - my hotmail address that I almost never check. Simply put, different people have multiple email addresses, but there was no way for us to (a) know that we'd gotten the gift to another email address and then (b) for Rena to link the eBook to my account, as she herself had a separate Amazon account. Sounds confusing? You're right. She had to return the book, then send my account the book as a gift, and only then buy the book again on the "right" account. That's a lot of work, and needlessly confusing.
More concerning though, is the fact that many of the more popular books are not yet available in Israel. On the face of things, that's just annoying. But from my perspective, it's also dishonest. I'll explain.
Simcha and Bezalel have been pining for a very popular book called "The Lost Hero" by Rick Riordan, so we put it on their wish list. Their aunt, a very generous and loving woman, bought them the eBook, to their great excitement. But when I clicked on the button:

 I found myself looking at this message:

Here's my problem: Amazon knows that we live in Israel. Our Kindle was shipped here, and is registered here. Yet, when our relative bought the book for my kids, instead of getting a message from Amazon that the book is not available where we live, they happily sold it to her. Now we have to exchange the book for a gift card. Another problem: most of the books my kids want are also not available in Israel. What are we supposed to do with gift cards if my kids can't get any of the books that they want. It seems to me that if I can't get a book on my Kindle, Amazon should not allow me to add it to my wish list, or at the very least tell us before someone buys it that they won't sell it to me.
To me, it would be like my buying a physical gift on Amazon for someone to be shipped to, say, Mineappolis, not knowing that due to the severe weather there, Amazon no longer shipped packages there. But instead of telling me this, they went ahead and sent my recipient a gift card. Is it stealing? No. But it's also, to my mind, really, really slimy.

Bottom line: We really like the Kindle. If Amazon worked out the kinks and made every book available here in Israel, it would be amazing. If Amazon was at least more honest and up-front to gift-givers about which books they should or should not buy, I'd at least be a little less upset.

Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 3 - The Tangible Power of the Land

Audio Shiur:
Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 3: The Tangible Power of the Land
(This shiur studies the classic work of Rav Yissachar Teichtal on the importance of settling the Land of Israel, following the Hebrew text with English translation.)

As Rav Teichtal concludes his first introduction to the book, we get a sense of the tangible, very real power that he attributed to the Land to save him in his darkest hour. While we know the Land speaks to each of us, we can only yearn for the palpable, very real connection he himself felt. At the end of the shiur we discuss a "Kol Korei" issued by rabbis in Israel prohibiting the sale or rental of land in Israel to Arabs.

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Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayechi - Buy Jewish Real Estate

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Vayechi - Buy Jewish Real Estate
Before his death, Ya’akov insists that his sons bury him not in Egypt, but in the Holy Land. In addition to examining the difference reasons for this insistence, we analyze the difference in language between how he speaks to Yosef and all the sons together. We also study an incredible comment of the Ramban, describing a war that history seems to have forgotten.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

I Was Right. And Wrong.

In this post about the American Jewish World Service, I wondered what was in fact Jewish about the AJWS if anything, and whether the organization's good works give people an ability to express their Judaism without any danger of meeting any Jewish content. It seems that I was on to something. A recent NY Times article about the AJWS video on YouTube (which has garnered enough hits to generate a news story), quoted several of the celebrities who participated in the video.
“I am a secular type,” Ms. Silverman said in an e-mail this week. The “J” in American Jewish World Service may stand for Jewish, she wrote, but “it’s just because it’s run by Jews (like the media and the banks).
“But it’s for everyone and anyone in need, and they do truly just work.”
Mr. Apatow, one of the all-powerful media figures Ms. Silverman had in mind, e-mailed a similar comment about his Judaism.
“I am the kind of Jewish person who feels very Jewish but does not practice at all,” he said. “I did not take part in this project because Jewish people run this charity. I got involved because they do very important work that is changing many people’s lives in a positive way."
In essence, that's what passes as Judaism for probably most of America's Jewry - and these are the Jews who both "feel" Jewish and actually consider themselves Jewish as well. Either you like the "chesed" or you just like that Jews are doing good work. Nothing wrong with either, but not very Jewish itself.
At the same time, I was wrong about the AJWS itself.
Ms. Messinger says that Mr. Apatow’s humor has proven a valuable way to reach many who, like Mr. Apatow, have no interest in religious Judaism. But she says that the American Jewish World Service is committed to religious learning, and that the students it takes around the world on service trips are taught the Jewish roots of their work. For example, the trip leader might ask students to consider the biblical context of a jubilee year, when slaves were to be freed and debts forgiven.
“The Torah commentary is, if you don’t forgive debts every 50 years, you will end up with permanent classes of people, those who have, and those who don’t,” Ms. Messinger says. “Guess what? That’s what we have.”
I guess the AJWS has found a great combination: woo the donors and contributors with "easy" Judaism. Give to our good works, feel Jewish, enjoy some self-deprecating humor, and we'll see you in shul next Kol Nidrei. But at least it understands the need to convey some authentic Jewish learning in some of its programming, which gives me hope that the next generation of donors might want more than a Judd Apatow video at the gala fund raising dinner.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Nation of Schnorrers

Each year on Chanukah, Orot (where I work) takes the entire administrative staff on a tiyyul. (It's a rather nice perk - a great day, and a fascinating tiyyul. We always hire a rather popular tour guide named Elyada bar Shaul, who sadly, speaks almost no English, and speaks Hebrew so fast that an American wouldn't follow. But he's truly a terrific tour guide. But I digress. You can see a tour of his following the footsteps of Rav Aryeh Levine here.) The tour, which followed some of the military activities of the Eshel and Lechi during the British Mandate immediately preceding the creation of the Jewish State, began at Kikar Safra and wound its way through some of the neighboring areas.
Towards the end of the tour, we wound our way through the back edge of Me'ah She'arim. I was lagging behind at that point, and was speaking with someone when I caught up to the group. As we passed through the street, I noticed an elderly Chareidi man, with a long, dirty black coat, white beard and his hand out, collecting money.
When the group passed him without making a donation, he turned to us and yelled angrily (in Hebrew), "Not one of you! Not one of you gave anything!" What was he collecting for? He didn't really say. Yet, it seemed clear that because we took the liberty of walking in his streets (ours too), he felt that we owed him a donation. His indignation at our unwillingness to give him money indicated his clear expectation - not so much that we would give - but that we should.
This, I imagine, is not an unusual story. Anyone who has tried to pray at the Kotel has had, I'm sure, a very similar experience. I daresay that this same event takes place in many shuls around the world. I walked away from the man without any sense of guilt. He might feel that I owe him money, but I certainly do not. But this tiny episode illustrated to me a much larger issue that our country needs to face following the recent fires in the North.
Following the devastating fires in the Carmel region last week, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a rather controversial blog post (also here) that garnered a great deal of attention. Goldberg essentially argued that while giving money to victims of the fire is an important act (and he did), giving money to the JNF to pay for fire engines only enables Israel to continue to make bad choices.
Let us be clear: there's never enough money to have everything that you want. Budgeting, whether in our homes, our communities, or an entire country, is about making a series of difficult choices about what we want vs. what we need. (Truth be told, the United States is notoriously bad about these kinds of choices. Why else would it be borrowing money from China to give tax cuts to rich people?) The State of Israel can afford fire engines. The reason it never bought more fire engines, or newer ones, or cooler one, is because we've never had a terrible fire like this one before. It has always rained much earlier in the year. The ground was wet (or at least damp) for much of the summer. And most of the buildings in this country are made of stone or concrete. Sure, houses burn, but not entire buildings. You almost never hear of major fires like the ones that occur in the United States.
Moreover, after the fire the Israeli government allocated 2,500 shekel to every person in the North displaced by the fire, at a total cost of 60 million shekel. Imagine that the government had spend that 60 million shekel on firefighting equipment this year. It's impossible to know whether we would have had the fire under control earlier and saved all that money later on. But the money is somehow there (some other need won't be met this year). We just didn't want to spend it on fire trucks.
So, whether correctly or incorrectly, no one making budget choices felt that the possibility of a major fire should take precedence over another choice. So we bought parks, and schools, and roads and numerous other things that a country wants and needs, instead of buying fire trucks. As an aside, we also bought gas masks for the entire population of Israel. I picked up ours last week. One can only imagine how much the Israeli government spends buying and distributing them. In essence the government made a choice: what is the likelihood of a gas or chemical attack on the civilian population, versus the likelihood of a major forest fire? I'm not sure that we chose wrong.
After the fire, it's clear that we need fire trucks. The only question is, who should pay for them? And is there a problem with asking Jews from the Diaspora to fund infrastructure that the government should itself provide?
On some level, the answer is clearly "no." We have no problem with the fact that private individuals fund the construction of hospitals, parks, schools, and numerous other buildings that dot the country. People should give. They should donate to build the State of Israel. But, at the same time, we need to understand that Israel didn't neglect to buy fire trucks because it couldn't. Rather, the lack of necessary equipment resulted from a choice that we made - a bad choice, but a choice nonetheless. And asking Jews of the world to pay for our bad choices only encourages us to make the same choices down the road.
I think that was Goldberg's point. We're no longer the Israel of the 1950's, where we really can't afford to supply even basic needs. This is a thriving, growing, vibrant society, with wireless 3g internet service (albeit spotty), great kosher restaurants and a solid economy, which in truth is probably in better shape than that of the United States. (There is a shortage of butter now, but no one's sure why.)
Of course we need the help of Diaspora Jewry. And of course Jews from around the world should feel the desire and need to help the State of Israel grow and prosper. But I keep coming back to that Jew in Me'ah She'arim. He chose a certain lifestyle - where exclusive Torah study precludes the possibility of gainful employment. And yet now, he expects me to pay for it.
Sorry. I didn't make that choice for myself, nor for him, and his expectations notwithstanding, I will give tzedakah, but not to support what I consider to be inappropriate choices with which I do not agree.
We need not be a Nation of Schnorrers, with our hands out at every turn, looking for money to solve every problem. When Jews around the world stop seeing Israel as the poor, downtrodden Jew, but instead as the bustling Jewish wonder which is the greatest incubator for Judaism since Biblical times, they will give. But not because they feel guilty, and not because someone yelled at them. They'll give because they understand that giving to Israel is the best investment that they can make in the future of the Jewish people.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 2 - The Oath

Audio Shiur:
Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 2: The Oath
(This shiur studies the classic work of Rav Yissachar Teichtal on the importance of settling the Land of Israel, following the Hebrew text with English translation.)

Rav Teichtal, using Ya'akov Avinu's oath on Har Habayit as a model, makes a promise himself in the hopes of emerging from the Holocaust alive.

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Not So Funny. More Like Sad.

Goldberg titled his post, Why I Love America, part 86. I'm pretty sure that he really means it. But to someone who actually cares about the meaning of Chanukah, the picture isn't funny. It's sad.

What Not to Do

If you're going to terrorize customers as a method of garnering negative reviews in order to build your business, it might not be a good idea not to brag about it to the New York Times. That might pique the interest of Federal Authorities, who might arrest you and send you to jail.
Threatening people might very well build a business. But bragging about it to an international newspaper? That's just stupid.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 1 - The Living Land

Audio Shiur:
Eim Habanim Semeichah Shiur 1: The Living Land
This shiur studies the classic work of Rav Yissachar Teichtal on the importance of settling the Land of Israel, following the Hebrew text with English translation.
The first shiur begins with the first introduction, pp 27-28, introducing the unique notion that the Land of Israel itself brings special and unique merit to the Jewish people.

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Audio Shiur: Parshat Miketz - Make All Your Dreams Come True

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Miketz - Make All Your Dreams Come True
What types of dreams did Yosef have? Were they the sleeping kind, which came to him voluntarily? Or were they more conscious, emanating at least partly from him? This question carries huge ramifications for how we view the story of Yosef and his brothers, and how we relate to our own dreams as well.

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Jaywalking on Shabbat and Related Issues

If you can see the attached story, (and if not, the link's here) the Jewish blogosphere is in a tizzy about the scandal of an Orthodox Jew, caught by a police officer jaywalking on Friday night whom the officer proceeded to give a ticket. When the Jew tried to explain that he couldn't sign the ticket because it was his Sabbath, the officer gave him a choice: sign the ticket or face arrest.
The rabbi signed the ticket.
I'm less outraged at the NYC Police Department's insensitivity. While the officers probably should have let him off (or gone with him to his apartment), it's pretty clear that jaywalking of Jews on Shabbat is a neighborhood issue that frustrates local residents. Hence this comment:
I live the area and can tell you that jaywalking on the Sabbath is a real problem on Kings Highway and Coney Island Ave and am surprised that people aren’t killed every weekend for being so careless.
Let's leave the chillul Hashem issue aside. The Yeshiva World News reported that the officers,
forced the individual to write his name and address on a paper. They told him, if he refuses, they will arrest him. Fearing spending Shabbos in jail, with his family not knowing where he was, the individual followed their orders.
I'm left wondering whether he should have.
Writing is one of the 39 Melachot Shabbat - a biblically prohibited behavior. Halachah prescribes that if one writes with a shinuy - in an altered manner - with the wrong hand, for example, that action is nonetheless prohibited, but only constitutes a rabbinic transgression. So even if the "rabbi" signed with the wrong hand, he was still not permitted to sign. Jewish law does allow one to violate Shabbat in cases where human life is in danger, but was that really a concern? While the prospect of spending 24 hours in city lockup surely wouldn't seem enticing, is it really life-threatening?
Finally, let's say that he lost his head for a moment, and in the confusion he decided to sign the paper. Would you then go and publicize the fact that you did just that, compromising the very religious principles you told the policemen you couldn't violate?
And, of course, I cannot resist mentioning that the best solution to the problem is living in a country where they (a) know what Shabbat is and (b) don't give you a ticket for jaywalking.