Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
What is going on? The cause is simple. The letter explains that many local Rabbinates refuse to recognise the Heiter Mechira.
Let me explain. The Heiter Mechira is a mechanism used during Shmitta year - this year - by which the farmer sells his land to a non-jew for the year. The HEiter Mechira has always been controversial and indeed it relies upon a combination of leniencies. Nonetheless, it is the only way to allow Israel to continue its agriculture and exports during the Shemitta year. And it is also the only way to ensure that Israel is not absolutely at the mercy of imported food throughout this year! Traditionally the Rabbanut backed the Heiter Mechira. Officially they back it this year too.
But according to the Tzohar letter (and this article) some local Rabbinates are refusing to grant a Hechsher unless the establishment purchases food that are Mehadrin i.e. from outside Israel OR bought from Arabs.
What is wrong with this?
1. It means that the entire agricultural infrastructure of Israel will collapse endangering the parnassah of 20,000 families.
2. Do we want to strengthen the Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank with this enormous revenue?
3. What about export quotas and market share in the EU etc. These things have been worked for after years of negotiation etc. In this year it could all be lost.
4. Shmitta is Derabbanan in our times. Many poskim feel that the Heiter works especially when the entire issue is DeRabbanan - Rabinical law rather than Torah law. So why are we endangering Israeli agriculture for a deRabbanan?
5. The prices of Mehadrin Shemitta foods are VERY EXPENSIVE. Regular stores and restaurants will find it uneconomical to comply with the strict imposition of these Kashrut Authorities. Hence they will simply function without a Kashruth license!
Less Kashruth (except in Ultra-Orthodox areas) and maybe NO Kashruth in many cities.
A major (maybe fatal) hit to Israeli farming.
And on very little Halakhic ground.
Here is a quote from Jpost. Look at that list of cities!:
... in several cities - including Ashdod, Bat Yam, Petah Tikva, Rehovot, Hadera, Afula, Kfar Saba, Jerusalem and Herzliya - the local rabbis refuse to recognize heter mechira. Instead, they demand that their produce be Arab-grown or imported.
As a result, Jewish farmers would be blocked from selling their produce to kosher food concerns.
Only venues that are not under kosher supervision would be able to sell the produce. In contrast, restaurants and other food venues that choose to retain kosher supervision would be forced to buy their produce from haredi supervision operations at a significantly higher price.
Many retail food chains prefer forfeiting kosher supervision rather than paying more for fruits and vegetables.
Well done to Rabbinate! Yashar Koach! or rather... WHAT ARE YOU THINKING???!!!
So what is happening? Religious Zionist Rabbis are going to set up their own Kashrut Rabbinate!
And about time too!
They WILL rely on Heiter Mechira and WILL provide a Kashrut which will allow the average Israeli to keep Halakha in the most reasonable and Halakhic way possible.
The Israeli Rabbinate has a mandate to provide Kashruth for all Israel. Not to represent positions which provide hardship, chumra, and eventually limit Kashruth to none other than the committed minority! It has abrogated its mandate!
I believe that this is the tip of the iceberg.
Add that to the Batei Din for conversion already controlled by the Religious Zionist Rabbinate AND the attempts to set up divorce courts more aware of the needs of Women, under REl-Zionist auspices. Add in the fact that civil marriage could be instituted soon here. We are witnessing the crumbling of the Rabbinate as we know it. Tragically , it is the Rabbinate itself that has brought its own demise.
Unfortunately, the increasingly narrow scope of the Rabbanut has made it despised by wide groups in the Israeli public. Anything from Marriages to Funerals are unpleasant affairs. And this Kashruth fiasco is typical.
Hopefully the body that will offer an alternative will create a Kiddush Hashem and restore real Judaism to the people.
Monday, September 24, 2007
When I see archaeologist uncovering our history, it intrigues and attracts me, it excites me. Last Thursday on the way to the Southern Wall, I passed Ir David. And there were a team of about 40 people, probably students if I can judge them by their age, digging. But where were they digging? At the top of the hill... the site which archaeologist Eilat Mazar claims is King David's palace! (and it is certainly a palace which was inhabited by Judean Royalty.) I was so tempted just to role up my sleeves and join them. Amazing! To be uncovering King David's Palace!
So yesterday, the next exciting Mikdash related find was uncovered. They think they have found the quarry in which Herod excavated the enormous stones (some weighing 300 tons!) for the Temple. See this article and here with pictures.
Here is a quote:
The source of the huge stones used nearly 2,000 years ago to reconstruct the compound in Jerusalem's Old City was discovered on the site of a proposed school in a Jerusalem suburb.
"This is the first time stones which were used to build the Temple Mount walls were found," said Yuval Baruch, an archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority involved in the dig. Quarries mined for the massive stones, each weighing more than 20 tons, eluded researchers until now, he said.
Baruch said coins and pottery found in the quarry confirm the stone was used during the period of Herod's expansion of the Temple Mount in 19 B.C.
But researchers said the strongest piece of evidence was found wedged into one of the massive cuts in the white limestone — an iron stake used to split the stone. The tool was apparently improperly used, accidentally lodged in the stone and forgotten.
"It stayed here for 2,000 years for us to find because a worker didn't know what to do with it," said archaeologist Ehud Nesher, also of the Antiquities Authority.
Nesher said the large outlines of the stone cuts indicated the site was a massive public project worked by hundreds of slaves. "Nothing private could have done this," Nesher said. "This is Herod's, this is a sign of him."
After finding Herod's grave site at Herodian a few months ago, this is proving to be quite a year for the archeologists!
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Below are a few links to notable articles. You should know that Rabbi Sacks is one of the most eloquent presenters of Judaism around today. He is a deeply spiritual kind, sensitive, brilliant man. In the few 1 on 1 conversations I have been privileged to have with him, I have emerged inspired spiritually, with many many chidushei Torah, and touched by Rabbi Sacks' enormous breadth and depth. If you are a student or anyone who is thinking about Judaism and modernity, read his stuff. Sometimes people hear that he is a professor and all and see his breadth of reading and imagine that he is an intellectual without a soul. I have one answer for these people. Have you ever seen him daven? He is one of the most deeply spiritual leaders we have.
See especially his polemic against the new school of anti-religionists who propose religion as the biggest problem to world peace and humanity. Brilliant! I am intending on using this article in my Rav Soloveichik class to illustrate the manner in which the "dialectic" is so central not just to Rav Soloveitchik's thought but to Judaism in general.
How about Ten Ways - Ten Days for Asseret Yemai Teshiva that also contain a powerful piece by Rabbi Sacks: "Why I am Proud to be a Jew".I know of no other contemporary thinker who so regularly attempts to boost the Jew in the street and campus in his faith, and no Rabbi who is so widely respected around the World Community. I am simply astounded that Rabbi Sacks who is exceptionally busy, manages to produce these volumes of easy to read literature alongside his scholarly books and all his other communal responsibilities.
And see this set of essays too. On Five Topics, especially for students it is just great.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The Two Goats on Yom Kippur:
Read Rabbi Sacks on the שעיר לעזאזל - The Scapegoat.
" It was a protest against human sacrifice, widespread in the ancient world and still, in quite different forms, alive today in the form of conspiracy theories, terror, suicide bombings and ethnic conflict. Two features of the high priest's ritual were crucial:  that the sacrifice was an animal, not a person, and  that it was not an occasion for denying responsibility by blaming the victim, but to the contrary an acceptance of responsibility in the context of repentance and atonement. "
BTW excellent pictures of the Avodat Yom Hakippurim can be found here.
Monday, September 17, 2007
My kids have very different feelings when it comes to wearing a kippa. One of my boys just loves covering his head. The other takes off his Kippa whenever he can! So I was very happy to hear the answer of the Rav Chayim Kanievsy (from Bnei Brak, son of the steipler). When asked "When should a child wear a kippa?" He answered: "When he stops throwing it off his head!"
Sometimes sensible straight thinking rules!
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Here is Rav Soloveichik’s approach (Al Hateshuva pg. 143-5):
On the eve of Yom Kippur , at sunset, as individuals and as a community come to the synagogue to stand before God and renew, by means of absolute repentance, the covenant of “You who are standing this day before the Lord your God” – that covenant which was defiled and violated through our sins. The shliach tzibbur stands at the Bima, with two distinguished members of the community, constituting a Beit Din, and they make two proclamations before the congregation:
The first proclamation declares that everyone present, without exception, is qualified to stand before God, and petition Him for acquittal … “We hereby declare it permissible to pray with the sinners.” Everyone is capable of repenting and entering the renewed covenant.
The second proclamation which the Shaliach Tzibbur says … is to declare null and void all oaths vows, binding statements and obligations which are liable to prevent the assembled congregation from entering into the covenant. As long as man is enslaved by his impulses, passions and desires; so long as man is not free of his drive for wealth and honor, luxuries and comforts, lust for power and desire for revenge – he cannot enter into the great oath which we all strive for on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
Man by his nature is drawn to idolatry. He allows himself to become enslaved to impulses and drives which control him, and in the end bring about his own ruin. In the end these things demand a price so high that he cannot pay, they stifle the spark of life within man and darken the light of his soul. These masters appear in various shapes and forms – in the image of false culture, in the image of the absolute state, public opinion, the culture of beauty, the passion for pleasure, the push towards permissiveness. These forms of idolatry impose oaths and vows upon man and keep him in their snare.
Yet as the Day of Atonement begins, we must liberate ourselves from their hold, and that is why we recite the “Kol Nidrei” prayer, to declare all these commitments, oaths and vows as “null and void, ineffective and non-existing.”
We enter into the sanctity of Yom Kippur by declaring our total freedom.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
- The approach of his father - a rational "misnagdish" approach
- A Mystical "Hassidic" approach.
Once my father was standing on the synagogue platform
on Rosh Ha-Shanah, ready and prepared to guide the order of the sounding of the shofar. The shofar-sounder, a god-fearing Habad Hasid who was very knowledgeable in the mystical doctrine of the "Alter Rebbe," R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, began to weep. My father turned to him and said: "Do you weep when you take the lulav? Why then do you weep when
you sound the shofar? Are not both commandments of God?"
The mystic understands the symbolic significance of the sound
ing of the shofar-the concept of a plain note-whereby man
attempts to pierce through lawful existence and reach the
throne of glory of the Atik Yomin, the Ancient One, the Deus
Absconditus. The sounding of the shofar, according to the out-
look of R. Shneur Zalman, expresses the powerful aspiration
of homo religiosus to extricate himself from the straits of con
traction-the divine realm of strength-and enter into the
wide spaces of expansion-the divine realm of grace-and
from thence to rise above the seven lower divine realms, "the
cornerstones ofthe [cosmic structure]" into the hidden world
in which the light ofthe Ein-Sof. the completely hidden infinite
God, gleams and shines, as it were. Man's weeping on Rosh
Ha-Shanah, according to this doctrine, is the weeping of the soul
that longs for its origin, for the rock from whence it was hewn,
that yearns to cleave to its beloved not in hiding, but openly.
The sounding of the shofar protests against reality and denies
the universe itself. The entire ontological pessimism of mystical doctrine can be heard from the midst of the shofar in its
long, drawn-out sighs and short, piercing cries [cf. Rosh Ha
Shanah 33b-34a]. When a person takes the shofar and issues
forth a blast, he thereby protests against the reality that sepa
rates him from the Ein-So! He groans bitterly and moans over
his inability to leap over the mountains of being that divide his
soul from its Creator.
Now, the truth is that Rav Soloveichik certainly ventured beyond his father in this regard. He constantly writes about the Shofar as an implement , and expression of prayer. so it is far from clear where he personally stood.
One year, I tried to think deeply during the Shofar of my needs and those of my family. I was so deep in thought that I was doubtful whether I had even really heard each and every note. Since then, I just listen, and I hope that God will hear the prayers of my heart!
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Yehuda - my exceptionally alert 2 yr old ... he's 3 in a month - piped up:
"Are you going to say 'Selicha' to Hashem in shul tonight?"
And suddenly I realised that I had never really thought about the word selichot. Are we saying "selicha" - sorry to God during selichot?
Now when one thinks about the content of Selichot, there is very little saying "Sorry!" What is in selichot?
1. The service begins with praise.
2. It then moves on to a series of prayers punctuated by "El Melekh." These prayers talk about how hard the Galut is OR how it is excruciatingly difficult for man - merely flesh and blood - to keep full adherence and focus to the high standards that God sets.
El Melekh records God's promise to treat us with mercy and forgiveness.
3. We then move to God's Biblical promises of forgiveness,
4. viduy - confession, either 3 times or (according to the Gr"a) once.
5. Some ancient Tachanunim - prayers beseeching God's mercy... followed by Tachanun.
So where do we say "Sorry?" In viduy?
I spoke to a friend - an expert in liturgy - who thankfully clarified things for me. In Modern Hebrew, "selicha" means sorry. But in Classical Hebrew it is more like "Tislach Li", or in other words, "forgive me." Like the phrase in our Amida: "s'lach lanu." The best English example is the phrase "pardon me." It is used just like the phrase "sorry" but in fact we are beseeching a person who we have evidently wronged AND who has the power and option of pardoning us, to forgo the insulting act, the wrongdoing, and hence to grant us a reprieve, a pardon.
Selichot is actually not about OUR regret. It is about our begging GOD to pardon us, to forgive us. We use an impressive range of methodologies in order to induce God's mercy, and to remind Him just how much we need His pardon.
A friend commented to me just this morning how he finds Selichot "totally unhelpful" in his Teshuva process, and his attempts to improve and repair during Elul. With this new understanding of Selichot, I think I understand why some people do find these prayers difficult. In our modern mindset, we certainly do not feel particularly vulnerable, even in these days approaching "Yom HaDin - Judgement day!" We may understand the need for our personal improvement in some manner, be it Bein Adam Lechaveiro (social standards) or Bein Adam Lamakon (purely religious instructions.) And yet, we know we are good people fundamentally, even if we have certain character and behavioural flaws. We are not frightened for our future nor the future of the Jewish nation. And hence the intense need to imlore God for his mercy, for His continued extension of good fortune to a beleagured Jewish nation, to pathetic human beings... alll this is alien to our mindset. Is it our moderity? Our prosperity? Our Zionism? We just aren't taht scared in general. We feel less threatened. And hence Selichot and the need to beg God for mercy and forgiveness seems less acute.
Whichever way, there is a vast difference between our "apology" to God and the alternative notion that God should be cajoled into annulling our awful (individual and collective) verdict, by appealing to his forgiving side: "Selach Lanu!"
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Now, after Kasaam rockets have fallen too close to a kindergarten, the parents' council of the Sderot schools have put all their kids on strike until the government finds a better solution.
Yesterday on the radio I heard a wonderfully eloquent mother from Sderot explain why all this topic of protection and bomb-proofing is just a decoy, a fake issue for politicians to hang their hat, but not addressing the real problem.
She said something to the spirit of the following.
"Can everyone please stop talking about how many classes are protected, and the whole issue of protection. It is nonsense; a hoax, a distraction, a ruse. After all, the streets are not protected. How should my child get to school. The school yard is not protected. Can kids be stuck indoors from 7:30 a.m. until 2:00 a.m.? And the supermarket isn't protected. How are we to do our shopping?
The most elementary responsibility of a government is to grant security to its citizens and residents. We have been seven years, seven years, under fire. Protection is a sham. They have to stop the rockets! We have Tzahal with all its power and might. What can Tzahal do successfully? Take settlers out of their homes? The government have to offer a solution beyond bomb-proofing classrooms. They have to take the war over to the other side.
Why should we live in fear? Why should we be terrified at any second that a bomb may fall? They should be living in fear rather than ourselves. Let our government make the people of Beit Hanun (in Gaza) fear every moment that a bomb may fall on them!"
She has a good point! This lady spoke gently but passionately, in a controlled manner. I know that we lived "under fire" on our roads for a year of the intifada. It took an enormous emotional toll on many. I cannot fathom how the residents of Sderot are managing. And were the government listening? Maybe! Just yesterday Defense Minister Barak started suggesting that for every Kassam rocket , we turn off the water and electricity to Gaza for a few hours. Maybe that would help? One of my friends suggested that for every Kassam that they fire. We should fire a Kassam, or 5 kassams. They are less deadly than modern weapons, but precisely the noise they make and the fact that they are so randomly aimed, makes them a civilian threat rather than a military weapon. Maybe rather than using computer guided missiles, we need low-tech kasaams. Give them some of their own treatment.
Every day as we say the psalm LeDavid Hashem Ori Veyishi, these lines, tak emy mind to Sderot:
(ה) כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכֹּה בְּיוֹם רָעָה
יַסְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ בְּצוּר יְרוֹמְמֵנִי:
(ו) וְעַתָּה יָרוּם רֹאשִׁי עַל אֹיְבַי סְבִיבוֹתַי
May God protect the people of Sderot in his shelter. And all I can say to them is that this Psalm should come true as God will raise you over and above the threatening acts of our enemies. In the meantime, be strong and have courage:
On with the show...
Yes - last Friday, we picked our grapes. We have a single vine that produces delicious crisp red seedless grapes. I have no clue what genus or type. I do wonder whether they are Cabernet or Merlot or something else. Maybe I can open a "boutique" winery or something. But they always ripen in the last week of August and we have to pick them otherwise the place smells like a brewery and there are a million fruit flies. Yeuch!
So we picked the grapes. The sheer amount was astounding. We had at least 10 enormous mixing bowls of the stuff. I would imagine it came to 40 kilo of grapes. So we sorted the ones which looked nicer - the "grade A" grapes - and my kids took them to the entire neighbourhood - after all, what are we going to do with so many grapes!
Beforehand, however, we had to take Teruma (Tithes) from the produce. It was more complicated than last year as this year - being year 6 - of the Shemitta cycle, is a Maaser Ani year. So, one has to give a tenth to the poor! How do I find a poor person who wants 4 kilos of grapes? So, this is what we do. I need to give it to someone who can accept it on behalf of the "poor". Then I buy the grapes back from him and that money can be given to the poor. It was a relatively complex halakhic process.
And then we could eat.
With all this - which took about 3 hours last Friday - I had a number of religious thoughts:
1. As I was cutting the grapes, I also cut down half the vine in preparation of Shemitta. I was taking off these long strands of vine just weighed down with luscious grapes. And you get this unbelievable feeling of "plenty", of nature's bounty. This plant just produces an incredible volume of unbelievably lush juicy sweet fruit. It is amazing. My son, Avinoam, was helping me, and we were carrying the branches together. It felt like the verse with the Spies as two of the meraglim carry a branch of a vine to testify as to the fertile nature of the Land of Israel. And here we were carrying the evidence! We were the delegates of the Jewish People showing off the Land's produce, demonstrating just how wonderful this land is!
2. The parshat Hashavua kept flashing through my mind repeatedly. The parsha opens with the Bikkurim in which a farmer brings his fruit to God, making a proclamation in the Temple "before God." What does the farmer say? He thanks God! But in his prayer to God the fruits are seen not simply as a source of wealth or sustenance and blessing of God, and the land not merely as a source of prosperity, but the farmer sees these meagre fruits as a connection point with the gigantic idea of the notion of land as a national home. Yes, a simple bunch of grapes, a first fruit reminds us about the significance of a homeland. That our People should not be wanderers and homeless, humiliated victims, but should have their own land. And I felt this deep connection as I took off my Bikkurim, and thinking just how fortunate we are to be picking our own sweet grapes in our own sweet land. Call me a sentimental Zionist. I plead guilty!
3. But the Parsha continues to a second declaration of the farmer: The Tithe Confession. Here the farmer states:
“I have removed all the holy food (truma, ma’aser etc.) from my property and I have given it to the Levi, the stranger, the orphan and widow just as you have commanded me; I have not transgressed nor neglected any one of Your commandments, I have forgotten nothing ... I have obeyed the Lord my God, I have done everything He required of me.” (26:13-14)
Once again, the connection seemed too close to home. I had just taken Teruma and Maaser and the tithe for the poor. And these are acts that I am not practiced at, as I perform them only on occasion, and so they are not routine. They are an "event" for me. Suddenly the parshat Hashavua was alive in my hands!
Of course the parshia ends with the beautiful prayer to God:
"Look down from your holy abode, from the heavens and bless your people, Israel, and the land that you gave to us, as you promised our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey." (26:15)
4. One last point.
The parsha talks about Eretz Zavat Chalav Udvash - the Land that flows with milk and honey. Obviously the question is, what is the honey and milk of Israel? Most commentators, traditional and mdern, agree that the honey is the sweetness of the fruit of Israel. That figs and dates with their natural sweetness are the honey of the land. But grapes too! The arabs here make a honey out of grapes. My son made it at kindergarted last year! They take the grape juice and heat it up until much of the liquid evaporates and it becomes a sweet honey called "dibb'ess" i.e. "devash)! So here as we picked our grapes, my hands covered in the sweet nectar of the grapes, I really felt the sticky "honey" of Eretz Yisrael.
5. Rabbi Riskin once told a fabulous story. It was related by Yaakov Hazan, one of the founders of the "secular" Kibbutz HaShomer HaZair Movement. Hazan had recounted, in a radio interview shortly before his death, the earliest source of his Zionism. As a ten year old child in the Lithuanian city of Brisk, a doctor suggested the best cure for his anemia would be exercise in the open summer air. Hazan's father apprenticed him to a Gentile farmer, with whom he worked from dawn to dusk.
Despite the hard work, Hazan noticed that the farmer always had smile on his lips, which young Yaakov asked the farmer to explain.
"Don't you hear the land singing?" asked the farmer. Yaakov cupped his ear to the ground, but heard nothing.
"I know why you don't hear the land singing", responded the Gentile farmer. " I hear the song because it is my land. But this is not your land!".
Hazan related that at that moment, he realised that he had to move to Eretz Yisrael!
The Bible calls the special fruits and nuts of Israel "the song of the land" (zimrat ha'aretz). [Bereshit/Genesis 43:18] When it is OUR land, our holy land, we can hear the land singing its song. Last Friday, it was singing the Parashat Hashavua to me!
May we all have a sweet and bountiful year!