Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Feminism and the Megilla

Nice shiur on the status of women in Megillat Esther.
Might be especially relevent for all those women readers / readings of the Megilla!

Oh! I just found a ton of material on the topic here!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tehillim and the Dialogue in the Darkness.

Last week I accompanied my students from Emuna VeOmanut on an exceptional day trip. One of our visits was to the Children's Museum in Holon.

We went to visit a participatory exhibit called "Dialogue in the Darkness." The aim of the "experience" is to make a person understand a little what it is like to experience life as a non-seeing person. In short, we entered into a series of rooms that are so, so, black that one cannot see a thing. I have never experienced such absolute darkness. Each room gives a familiar human surrounding which one must now explore anew as one cannot see; hence you have to use other senses such as touch, smell, hearing, movement etc.

It is a place in which one learns a great deal. We have to confront the unknown, our fear of touching, feeling, falling, failing when we cannot see. We learn how much we can "see" when we cannot use our visual sense. I was amazed at how I could recognise many students simply by their voice. And one of the incredible things there are the tour guides who are all visually impaired or blind, and they are our guides! They are so confident, mobile, and reassuring in an environment in which we feel so hesitant, so crippled.

It is a special revealing experience. I advise any reader to get a group together and book a visit.

But I want to add a special insight I had there. At the end of the tour, there is time to have a "dialogue in the darkness" as the guide sits with you in the pitch black and discusses, and probes the experience that we have just undergone. Do you need to see a person to "know" them? Is the visual sense distracting? Falsifying? Or revealing? (Good pre-Purim questions re. our disguises, God's hidden-ness etc.) Our guide was amazing, and she loved our group. At some point in the tour, the students had begun singing. She clearly loved it, because at the end she requested that we sing the song Esah Einai.

I have never understood that perek of Tehillim so deeply, so incredibly.

When you have just been in an environment in which you were afraid even to walk, suddenly the meaning of אל יתן למוט רגלך takes on a fresh meaning! But it is far more than that.
תהלים פרק קכא
(א) שִׁיר לַמַּעֲלוֹת אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבֹא עֶזְרִי:

What are the "hills"? Some mepharshim suggest that when a person is in distress he wonders whether maybe some unknown force will emerge from beyond the hills. It may represent one raising ones eyes upwards looking towards God. But the peshat (see Daat Mikra) is that I am going through hilly terrain, steep inclines gape beneath my steps. מאין יבא עזרי: Who will look after me, guide me, keep me safe? How will I not fall? Lose energy? How can I navigate the twisting mountain path?

The answer is God!
(ב) עֶזְרִי מֵעִם יְדֹוָד עֹשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ:
(ג) אַל יִתֵּן לַמּוֹט רַגְלֶךָ אַל יָנוּם שֹׁמְרֶךָ:
(ד) הִנֵּה לֹא יָנוּם וְלֹא יִישָׁן שׁוֹמֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל:

God never sleeps, He never stops guarding us. But how does his guardianship, his protection express itself? Listen to this:

(ה) יְדֹוָד שֹׁמְרֶךָ יְדֹוָד צִלְּךָ עַל יַד יְמִינֶךָ:
(ו) יוֹמָם הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לֹא יַכֶּכָּה וְיָרֵחַ בַּלָּיְלָה:

God's protection manifests itself through the light! The sun, the moon are always theer! I can see! And so I will not fall. God is my SHADOW! Because as the light is dim, he compensates. He always follows me like a shadow. But in fact, I believe that the sun and moon are not simply a metaphor for the constant presence of God. Maybe we are saying that the light ITSELF is essentially the gift that protects us when we need to manouver the hills, the mountains.

(ז) יְדֹוָד יִשְׁמָרְךָ מִכָּל רָע יִשְׁמֹר אֶת נַפְשֶׁךָ:
(ח) יְדֹוָד יִשְׁמָר צֵאתְךָ וּבוֹאֶךָ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם:

Suddenly after you have been through the museum, you realise that God guarding you when you "go in" and "go out" is not simple at all. Our every faculty of sight is so precious. It is such a gift from God! The very notion of light itself is simply the most unbelievable dimension of God's wonderful protection and care.

Suddenly the simple existence of light in our lives becomes God's greatest miracle, his most benevolent grace.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Supreme Court "In Action"

On Sunday, I took my students from Michlelet Orot to the Supreme Court (and Knesset.) (-When you are in Israel for the year, the week of Parshat Mishpatim would certainly seem an appropriate occasion to visit and ponder our modern Israeli legislative house and its highest court! By now, some of you might have gathered that I am all for this type of educational integration.)

Our Tour Guide had been telling us about the workings of the court. As an example she detailed the way that the Supreme Court has dealt with the legality of the Separation Fence. And then as we went in to the courtroom to see an actual case, we found out that it was about the Fence near Modiin Illit. The case was not starting for a while, so we approached one of the lawyers to ask him to speak to our group. His English wasn't good, so he quickly explained to me the bare bones of the case, and gave me a massive map (10ft x 4ft) – part of their evidence, so that I could explain it to my students.

So there I am, brandishing this enormous carboard map, as my students sit in the back two rows of the courtroom, and I explained the case to my students in about 3 minutes flat. As I began talking a group began to crowd around; Arabs and Jews. As I finished, a young Israeli lady spoke up: "I am a Human Rights activist. Let me explain you the Arab side." She articulated her argument concisely and clearly - in perfect English. And then, along in rushed the second lawyer for Modiin. Not wanting to be left out, speaking in faltering English, he explained his arguments! We really felt the case "come alive" and I think it was quite an experience for the students. It was like the news that you hear on TV suddenly became real life.

It was quite something! We had an ad hoc "hearing" right there in the back bench of the courtroom, to 30 students, just 15 minutes before the judges were to walk in!

Somehow, I think that this informality, and this degree of access would have been unlikely in the U.S. or British Supreme Court.

I just love it here!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sacreligious and Dangerous

It is already starting! See this.

People on the right wing, religious right wingers, are watching the Chief of Police go down, the IDF Chief of Staff. They are saying that everyone who took part in the disengagement has a divine curse on his head! Don't you see? Sharon had a stroke, Haim Ramon who thought up the idea, is out; the President is falling etc. etc. And Olmert will fall next. Why? because of the Disengagement!

Now this stuff is nonsense and it is also dangerous nonsense.

First, it takes the responsibility away from the REAL problem. And that problem is corruption. This is a terrible disease that threatens the entire fabric of society here in Israel. It is a virus that must be totally uprooted and banished from the corridors of power. THAT is why the head of police is leaving! That is why Ramon fell. And if Olmert falls, it will be for his own corruption scandal. Who says that the Disengagement is THE cardinal sin of Israeli leadership? I would argue that corruption is far more insidious. It threatens to bring the entire structure of government down.

Second. It is a dangerous view. Yonatan Bassi (who headed the Disengagement office) has been hounded from his Kibbutz. Other people involved in the Disengagement have been attacked and abused. Where is the outcry from Rabbis? Where in the Jewish worldview do we find backing for such abuse that is at the very least אונאת דברים and an Issur DeOraita? These people convince themselves that God shares their political viewpoint, and then justify immoral acts in the name of God. Have we not learned from recent History? How can we presume to know God's mind? So now, they know why Sharon had a stroke, and why Karadi had to resign! We have a perfect reality. All because of the disengagement. How can we justify harmful illegal acts in the name of God? ... maybe the Disengagement was badly executed and even immoral. Maybe. But what makes you so sure that you know God's mind? Maybe God wanted us to leave Gaza? How dare you presume to understand the detailed reward and punishment of the Almighty? (And if they are correct... why did God "act" so late? Why not get rid of them beforehand???)

And I won't even get into the question of whether the Disengagement was possibly a good thing. Maybe I will get the curse!

Letters To/From the Tanach

Ynet have recently opened a new "Judaism" website. I suspect that they want to compete with the very popular Maariv site.

One of their innovations there is just a fabulous idea, and a lovely fusion of contemporary Israel and Tanach. They have various Israeli celebreties/academics etc. corresponding with Biblical personalities. It is called מכתבים מהתנ"ך.

For example:
The biblical Leah "writes" to a psychologist about her emotional crisis in the shadow of her little sister.
The politician Yossi Sarid advises the Navi Eliyahu as to how one may deal with public resentment when you criticise the country's leaders!
And this week, King Uziyahu , stricken with leprosy writes to a (TV celebrity) doctor for some medical advise.

Good triggers for the classroom, and, if not taken too seriously, good Jewish fun.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Haftara of Parshat Shekalim: Politics, Integrity and Communal Finances

This week we read a Haftara that connects with Parashat Shekalim. However, beyond Parshat Shekalim, I believe that in our current (Israeli) environment filled with financial impropriety and personal scandal, our Haftara touches upon a timely point.


Yehoah was a child king, ascending the throne at age 7. The circumstances of his coronation were dramatic and tragic.

His grandmother, Athalia (the daughter of Izevel) was an evil lady who schemed to sieze the throne and rule the country. To achieve this objective she massacred all the male heirs of the Royal Judean family. She also did sever damage to the Beit Hamikdash and promoted Baal worship nationally. Despite the massacre, baby Yoash was saved and raised in secret. At yet, at the tender age of seven Yehoyada the High Priest staged a revolution within the precinct of Beit Mikdash. He presnted Yoash to the gathered throngs and publically crowned him as king of Judea and Athalia was killled. Yoash ascended the throne.

For the next period, as Yoash grew up, it would appea that the Kohanim were the strongest politacal group in the country, backing , protecting and guiding Yoash. Yoash clearly identified with their worldview and was greatly indebted to them. It is then, not a surprise when Yoash turns his attention as an adult to a serious rennovation and rebuilding of the Beit Mikdash.

What may seem suprising however, is the fact that Yoash summoned Yehoyada, the High Priest, and accused the Kohanim of negligence towards the Mikdash. By the account of Sefer Melachim, even some 23 years later the Temple is in a state of disrepair and dilapidation – the effects of Athalia's regime[2] – and apparently, the Kohanim had been remiss in allowing this embarrasing state of neglect to continue.

Part of the problem is that the Koahnim lack the funds. If we may quote a passuk from Divrei Hayamim:

"He assembled the priests and the Levites and charged them as follows; Go out to the towns of Judah and collect money from all Israel for the upkeep of the House of your God. Do it quickly! But the Levites did not act quickly."

Now the King takes the High Priest to task for the neglect:

"Why have you not demanded that the Levites collect the TAX OF MOSES the servant of God, from (the people of ) Yehudah and Yerushalayim…?" (Div Hayamim II 24:6)

In other words, the funds for the renovation of the Mikdash are to come from the ANNUAL HALF SHEKEL TAX that goes back to Moshe Rabbeinu! The King finds a solution that will bypass the Leviim and Kohanim.

The King instructed that they:

"took a box, and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one came into the house of the LORD… and when they saw that there was much money in the box, the king’s scribe and the high priest came up, and they put up in bags…And they gave the money…into the hands of the workmen (of the Temple)" (Melachim II 12:10-12)

In other words, he instituted a Temple tax. This mode of procuring funds from the people for the Temple tax reflects the annual donation of the Half Shekel in the wilderness – the Half Shekels were used for the construction of the Mishkan. And in Divrei Hayamim, this is actually a HALF SHEKEL TAX

"A proclamation was issued in Yehudah and Jerusalem to BRING THE TAX IMPOSED ON ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS BY MOSES… All the officers and all the people brought it joyously and threw the money into the box until it was full." (D. Hayamim 24:9-10)

So here is the question: What went wrong? Why did the Koahanim and Leviim fail in their responsibility? What made Yoash accuse his mentor, the High Priest, Yehoyada?


Two pesukim in our Haftara hold the key to the answer. When Yoash realises the the Levites are failing in their efforts to raise funds for the Temple, he summons Yehoyada:
[7] Then king Jehoash called for Jehoiada the priest, and the other priests , and said unto them, Why have you not repaired the breaches of the house? now therefore receive no more money of your acquaintance, but deliver it for the breaches of the house.[8] And the priests consented to receive no more money of the people, neither to repair the breaches of the house.

Money from acquantances? Why are the priests collecting money from friends and associates? What is this system? And why does Yoash ask that it cease? It would appear that there is a certain system of financing that is failing and it is that system that needs improvement. Let us attempt to explain a little.FINANCING: STAGE 1.

Yehoash sees the Temple in a run down state, especially after the priod of Athalia in which the Temple was dedicated to the Ba'al. Now is the time for renovations.

But where do the funds come from?

"All the money… brought to the House of the Lord as sacred donations … let the Kohanim receive it, each from his associate. They shall make the repairs to the House…" (12:6)

The Radak explains that initially, the Kohanim would collect contributions from their friends, or "acquaintances." This method reminds me of a shul commitee in which each commitee member has to fill a table with their friends and relatives for the shul fundraising dinner. This method may work well for small communal organisations, but it is a disaster for public institutions. Why?

First, there is apathy. What incentive do Kohanim have to ask and beg for funds for the Temple? As it is , priests have to request food of Teruma and Maaser in order to live, to eat. I imagine that priests were reluctant to ask for even more money. Possibly they feared that if a person gave too positively to the Temple, there would be no extra funds for themselves. Maybe they simply resented being THE fundraisers.

But secondly, this method is an opening for corruption. This system allows certain Kohanim to become "activists" lobbying for extra funds, and then having greater power to decide on the designation of those funds. (This similar to that which we saw in the past in Israel's central party committees where certain "machers" gained inordinate politacl clout.) Financing through personal favours and protektzia opens the door to paybacks, bribery and other abuses of the system.

One can imagine that in a situation where Kohanim had to personally solicit fund, certain monies "went missing" other people used it for political gain. In other words, this sytem of collection is an opening for problems. And when an oeganisation becomes corrupt, who wants to put money into it? One wants to give as little as possible!Were they corrupt or just inept? We don't know. On the one hand King Yehoash says: "Do not receive any more money from your acquaintances, but deliver it for the breaches of the house." (12:8) indicating that possibly, some money is not being delivered! But on the other hand, Divrei Hayamim (II 24:5) simply puts it down to laziness. So, whether it was their fraudulent handling of the money or their amateur approach, the money failed to reach the desired destination.

In short, the system did not work. In the final analysis, even if the system was not corrupt, it certainly was ineffective! The question of success in any fundraising operation comes doen to the famous "bottom line" Are the funds there? And the result? -The Beit Mikdash was dilapidated! The system was not working well.


So instead, Yehoash orders a change:

"now therefore receive no more money of your acquaintance"
He improves things in a number of ways:
1. The the money management is taken away from the control of the Kohanim.
2. Anonymous giving: People cannot build large factions on the basis of their fundraising potential.
3. Accountability: A representative of the governmment AND the Kohein Gadol each have to be presnt as the money is counted.

If we take Divrei Hayamim as our guide, a further detail is added. That they also reinstituted the annual half-shekel tax in order to facilitate the renovations. And yet, there it states that they gave "joyously." Who gives taxes with glee? Unless, they are happy that they now have a transparent accountable mechanism of giving to their beloved spiritual institution and they don't need to be concerned about financial missaproriation or simple amateur financing.

It would appear to be the case that these improvements did the trick. Now the Beit Mikdash is finaced and things can continue more steadily.


We have spoken about the problems with relying too heavily upon an informal fundraising mechanism, based upon "who knows who" and simple goodwill. On the other hand:
[15] Moreover they reckoned not with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money to be bestowed on workmen: for they dealt faithfully.
Despite the earlier misappropriation of Temple funds, the treasurers who paid all the builders and craftsmen in the Temple, were given a free hand to write the cheques and make the orders for the Mikdash renovations seemingly, without accountability.Indeed. The Gemara in Bava Batra (9a) bases a Halakha on our chapter:

"Our Rabbis taught: The collectors of charity are not required to give an account of the moneys entrusted to them for charity, nor the treasurers of the Temple of the moneys given for holy purposes. There is no actual proof of this (in Tanakh), but there is a hint of it in the words: 'They reckoned not with the men into whose hand they delivered the money to give to them that did the work, for they dealt faithfully.'"

Now, this after the Talmud has already established that there need to be no less than 2 and preferably 3 treasurers! This is given that one may not distribute or collect charity except in the presence of other treasures so there are some safeguards. And the Talmud mandates that the Tzedaka treasurer be a person of impeccable reputation. However, on the other hand, if every charity official is summoned for a cheque misplaced, then few people will be willing to take the task upon themselves. At some level, along with the checks, and the accountability, there must also be a certain element of trust and ingegrity.When is it appropriate to express trust, and when is it advisable to investigate and express criticism? When can one rely on the intehrity of public officials and when mus one be suspicious and wary?

These are difficult dilemmas facing any public sector. Because, obviously, if we are dealing with the renovation of the Temple, as reflected in passuk 16, there is always a certain degree of discretion in running a project. Do you take the cheaper or more expensive craftsman? Which fabric or material do you choose? Do you take standard goods or have them especially crafted by a designer? When it comes to these questions , it would appear that license was given to the trustworthy work-managers to appropriate the funds as needed be. And it would appear that part of their professional pride was precisely that trait of integrity and honesty – כי באמונה הם עושים.


We may ask ourselves, why does the King not pay for the repairs and renovations? Why demand that the nation pay? Why is the king reorganizing the Kohanim and Leviim? He should take the money from his own tax collectors!

But here is another connection point with Parashat Shekalim.
We read Parshat Shekalim this Shabbat; the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh Adar in order to remember the annual donation of a Half Shekel?

What was this donation used for? The Mishna (4:1) tells us that it was used for the Korbanot Tzibbur – the "public sacrifices" – for the Temple service. What are these "Public Korbanot"? It's very simple. There are sacrifices offered by individuals: for sins, for celebrations, for all manner of ritual purification purposes. However there are certain korbanot – the Tamid, daily sacrifice; the Mussaf etc. – that are not on behalf of any particular individual, but rather, on behalf of Klal Yisrael, the nation as a single entity.

Why was this method of taxation used? Very simply, the Korbanot Tzibbur have to be PUBLIC donations; given by the corpus of the entire nation of Israel! Only by EVERYONE contributing equally can we say that each Jew has an equal share in the sacrifices. Each year, the half shekel becomes the fund that pays for these public sacrifices. The collection is renewed each Nissan. Adar becomes the month of collection in advance of Nissan.

But the crucial point here is that the Temple belongs to the nation. It is not dominated by me or you; it is unaffiliated with any sector or group. It isn't even the property of the king. The king should not finance it, because as in our parshat shekalim, the Mikdash should be the project of the nation as a whole.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] The figure of Yoash burst in to the public limelight a year or two back when a tablet surfaced that was said to have been excavated on Har HABayit itself. It quoted almost verbatim, certain lines from Divrei Hayamim that relate to Yoash. Unfortunately, the widespread assessment was that it was a fraud.
[2] Div Hayamim II 24:7

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Advanced Theology (from a 5-year-old)

Today, I visited the Beit Midrash of Yeshivat Har Etzion with my five-year-old son. The parochet (curtain) of the Aron Kodesh (the ark) has a large colourful crown embroidered upon it. I pointed it out to my son, Hillel. And then, I asked him a question:

"Whose crown is it? Does it belong to God or the Torah?"

(… after all, we talk about כתר תורה and also, in Nusach Sephard, we say כתר יתנו לך ה' אלוקינו... so it could be either)

He replied with an almost disbelieving tone:

"Well, of course it is the Torah's! How could it be Hashem's crown? He doesn't even have a body!"

And then he continued:

"If Hashem had a crown, he would need to be in one place, but God is everywhere!"

I thought that was rather sophisticated theological deduction for a five year old!

It reminded me of the Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 1:7

רמב"ם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק א

ואילו היה היוצר גוף וגוייה היה לו קץ ותכלית שאי אפשר להיות גוף שאין לו קץ, וכל שיש לגופו קץ ותכלית יש לכחו קץ וסוף, ואלהינו ברוך שמו הואיל וכחו אין לו קץ ואינו פוסק שהרי הגלגל סובב תמיד, אין כחו כח גוף, והואיל ואינו גוף לא יארעו לו מאורעות הגופות כדי שיהא נחלק ונפרד מאחר,

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Lubavitcher Rebbe as a god

Scary article in Haaretz

The journalist visits a Chabad Yeshiva in Tzefat. Here is the conversation:

Why do they think that Schneerson is alive? "The Rebbe was no normal human being," is the response. He was a polymath who "studied under Einstein in Berlin" before "inventing the atom bomb."

How do they view the connection between Schneerson and God? "The Rebbe is not something different from God - the Rebbe is a part of God," says a British teenaged student.

Does this not 'idolize' Schneerson, in the literal sense? "We cannot connect to God directly - we need the Rebbe to take our prayers from here to there and to help us in this world. We are told by our rabbis that a great man is like God and the Rebbe was the greatest man ever. That is how we know he is the messiah, because how could life continue without him? No existence is possible without the Rebbe."

Would they go so far as to describe the Rebbe and God as one and the same, as some extreme Messianists have done? "No, some people have gone too far and described the Rebbe as the creator.

"They say that God was born in 1902 and is now 105 years old. You can pray to the Rebbe and he will answer, and he was around since the beginning of time. But you must be careful to pray only to the Rebbe as a spiritual entity and not the body that was born in 1902."

Does the Rebbe have a will of his own? What if the Rebbe and God disagree? "That is a ridiculous question! They are not separate in any way."

So the Rebbe is a part of God. "Yes, but it is more complex than that. There is no clear place where the Rebbe ends and God begins."

Does that mean the Rebbe is infinite omnipotent and omniscient? "Yes of course," an Argentine student says in Hebrew. "God chose to imbue this world with life through a body. So that's how we know the Rebbe can't have died, and that his actual physical body must be alive. The Rebbe is the conjunction of God and human. The Rebbe is God, but he is also physical."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

"Only in Israel!"

I teach a class in Zionism at Emuna VeOmanut, an exciting new "Art and Judaism" One Year Program in Jerusalem. The class I teach is a thick mix of of Israeli History, Current Events, Thorny Issues in Contemporary Israel, Religious Zionism, Jewish Sources on Eretz Yisrael. This year I have begun to experiment with some Israeli poetry and popular music as well!

Well, from the beginning of the teaching year, every few weeks we have an "Only in Israel" session when students can share the stories that would only ever happen here. I began these sessions because from past experience, students away from home comforts living in dorm conditions can sometimes spend quite some time complaining about Israelis and Israel, and this was a great way to bring out the positive sides of Israel.

I just read on Treppenwitz a priceless, moving story that really can join this genre. Here is the link. Enjoy!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Three Shiurim for Parashat Yitro

Here are 3 of my shiurim for Parashat Yitro:

1. Yitro's Visit - a "parshanut" shiur examining Shemot ch.18 and the textual peculiarites of the chapter, alongside some important spiritual messages.

2. The Ten Commandments.
- Why are the Ten Commandments divided into two tablets? What is the significance of the structure of the Asseret Hadibrot

3. The Closing Mitzvot. Following the Ten Commandments, Parashat Yitro closes with 3 Mitzvot which form their own mini-paragraph. Why are these mitzvot tagged along to the end of the parsha. What is their significance?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Truth About the "Al Aqsa" Excavations

All over the internet and the news sites, arab leaders have been condemning excavations that are "undermining" the Temple Mount.

I figure that some readers might be in confusion as to what is happening, so here is a brief explanation.

The place in question is the ramp to the right of the kotel plaza, a ramp that leads to the Mugrabbi Gate that leads into the Temple Mount/Har HaBayit.

A few years ago, there was a small earthquake and the little hill suporting the ramp to that entrance collapsed, making it dangerous.

Instead, the authorities built an (ugly) wooden ramp while planning what to do.

Now they have come up with this plan (see the picture) for a permanent ramp and in the meantime they need to build it, and that involves excavation, and while you are digging, why not excavate to find historic remains?

Nothing is being destroyed, (although there have been disputes about this particular design) and the arab protests are absolute provocations without any substance. Israel is not undermining the wall, whose foundations go ten metres below the excavation site and can stand pretty well by themselves. (Herod did a fine job!) In fact the ONLY threat to collapse of Har Habayit happened because of irresponsible excavations by the Muslims ON the Temple Mount, and they had to patch up a piece of wall - and they did a horrible job!

The Arabs LOVE to use Al Aqsa as a provocation. It was the excuse for the violence in 2000 when Ariel Sharon visited Har Habayit... as if that visit justified the violence (?!). And in Netanyahu's time, when a new entrance was opened to the Kotel Tunnels - in the Muslem Quarter, far from Har Habayit, they had violent protests. It is a great call to arms (ever since the Mufti's time) but it is absolute nonsense and the world should know the facts.

Unfortunately so many Israelis are absolutely ignorant of all this that the reporting on the Haaratz website is totally inaccurate as well! (And never mind those Israeli critics who have zero ideological connection at all with the place!)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Judge and the Compromise

See this ingenious shiur by Rabbi sacks on Parashat Yitro. He is analysing the parsha in which Moses appoints judges of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. What exactly did this achieve? Rabbi Sacks suggests that these judges, untrained in Jewish law - helped people come to peaceful resolutions on the nasis of compromise. They were mediators. Here is an excerpt:

Moses preferred strict justice to peace. He was not a man to compromise or mediate. In addition, as the greatest of the prophets, he knew almost instantly which of the parties before him was innocent and which guilty; who had right on his side and who did not. It was therefore impossible for him to mediate, since this is only permitted before the judge has reached a verdict, which in Moses' case was almost immediately.

Hence Netziv's astonishing conclusion. By delegating the judicial function downward, Moses would bring ordinary people - with no special prophetic or legal gifts - into the seats of judgment. Precisely because they lacked Moses' intuitive knowledge of law and justice, they were able to propose equitable solutions, and an equitable solution is one in which both sides feel they have been heard; both gain; both believe the result is fair. That, as the Talmud says above, is the only kind of justice that at the same time creates peace.

The entire shiur may be found here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Prisoner or Politician?

Periodically I read and hear about how Marwan Barghouti is calling the shots in Palestinian politics. Read this for instance:

"the most famous Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti, who from his prison cell last week sent his associate, the former minister Qadura Fares, and his lawyer, Khader Shkirat, to Damascus for talks with Khaled Meshal and the Hamas leadership. "

Now can someone please explain why a convicted terrorist who is serving five life sentences in jail has access to legal advisors and can run Palestinian politics from his jail cell? Is Israel allowing him a cellphone (excuse the pun!)? And how does he manage to have such powerful control of Palestinian affairs?

If Israel wants to treat him as a politician, then I don't understand why he is still in jail and how Israel can ignore its own court's rulings. And if he is an arch terrorist, then deny him any visitation rights by dignitaries and lawyers other than family members!

And yet, time and time again, we read that important diplomatic documents are being drafted by Barghouti. Something fishy is goin' on here! ...And how is it that I have never heard any journalist raise this question?

Unexpected Judaism

One of the beautiful features of life here in Israel when one encounters Jewish identity, observance and pride in the most unexpected circumstances.

Today, I went to order a new pair of glasses (spectacles!) I was discussing with the salesman the merits of different lenses as regards their strength and thickness. And he mentioned that one type of lens goes yellow with time as it "absorbs." I looked puzzled. And then my non-kippa wearing salesman began his explanation: " You know how Sephardim use glassware for milk and meat, but not plastic. That is because glass doesn't absorb whereas plastic does!" And then applied it the lenses! He completed his halakhic lecture with the line:
תראה! עכשיו קיימנו את המצוה ללמוד תורה היום! .
In other words; Look! We just fulfilled our obligation to learn Torah today!
And he flashed me a proud smile.

I just love it!

I love buying food in a café, listening on when the young bare-midriffed waitress asks the trendy waiter whether he wants a coffee. And then to hear his reply: "No I just ate meat!" Or the time I went to purchase a shaver. I picked out a particular model from the shelf and then the sales assistant cautioned me that that particular model did not have halakhic approval.

We must never forget not to judge people by their outward appearance. And it would be good to remember just how deep Jewish observance runs in all sectors of our beautiful country.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Parashat Beshalach. Fire and Cloud.

The opening lines of our parasha describe a pillar of fire and cloud hovering above the nation and acting as a signal to the Israelites to lead them on their desert trek. We wonder as to exactly how they worked. Did these pillars of cloud/fire lead the Israelite nation throughout the 40 years in the desert? Did they simply serve a role of signalling the direction of travel or did the clouds serve a different function? Chazal talk about sven "clouds of glory" protecting Israel and flattening the path ahead! What is the source for that? And why were "cloud" and "fire" the substances that were appropriate for the task?

Read the shiur here.