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EB’s Tisha Be’av How-to-Mourn Primer

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Halachot Pertaining to the weeks before Tisha Be'av, and the week of Tisha Be'av

Whereas Ashkenazic custom is not to get a haircut or shave for the entire three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the ninth of Av, Sephardic custom is to permit this during the first part of the three weeks, until the week of Tisha Be’av. What does this translate to? The week of Tisha Be’av this year – from Saturday night, July 13th until Tuesday night, July 16th, one is not allowed to shave or cut hair. Rav Ovadia Yosef notes that the prohibition to shave ends immediately on July 16th when the fast is over (9:32 pm). Some Sephardim, along with all Ashkenazim, wait until midday on the 10th of Av (July 17th this year) to shave or cut hair.


Another major halacha for the week of Tisha Be’av relates to laundry and wearing freshly laundered clothing. Mirroring the laws of private mourning, we are not allowed to wash clothes, even if we want to wear them after Tisha Be’av. The prohibition of wearing freshly laundered clothing can be “lightened” somewhat by deciding what you are going to wear from Saturday night till Tuesday night, and by Friday July 12th, wearing each of these garments for a half hour or so. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef notes that this can even be done on Shabbat, and is not an issue of “preparing from Shabbat to the week day.” What does this accomplish? It reclassifies the clothes you wear during the week of Tisha Be’av as “already having been worn”. They are no longer considered “freshly laundered”. Clothing of children under the age of three, that quickly becomes dirty (I know this from experience!) can be laundered even during the week of Tisha Be’av.

Parallel to the laws of private mourning, we are restricted from washing or bathing in hot water during the week of Tisha Be’av. This contrasts with Ashkenazic custom, where this restriction is in force from Sunday night July 7th, ie Rosh Hodesh Av.

A long standing custom – rooted in the Rambam’s version of the Jerusalem Talmud – is to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during this period of time. Regarding this, there are three customs: a) from the 17th of Tamuz; b) from Rosh Hodesh Av; c) the week of Tisha Be’av. Even Ashkenazic custom is strict only from Rosh Hodesh Av. Although the custom in Jerusalem, according to Rav Ovadia Yosef, is to be strict on this from Rosh Hodesh, it is acceptable to refrain only during the week of Tisha Be’av, and this seems to be the common Sephardic custom outside of Jerusalem. Even those adhering to a more stringent view – eat meat and drink wine on Shabbat.

Poultry and chicken soup and the like are considered “meat” as far as this custom goes. The custom is based on the fact that it was during this period that the “korbanot”/ sacrifices and wine libations in the Bet Hamikdash ceased.  It's Ashkenazic custom and the custom of some Sephardim to continue refraining from meat and wine until mid-day on the tenth of Av (Wednesday July 17th @ around 1:15 pm). For Sephardim, washing and doing laundry is permitted as soon at the fast is over.

Shabbat Hazon: The Shabbat of July 12 & 13th
The Shabbat prior to Tisha Be’av is called “Shabbat Hazon” - the Shabbat of foretelling – as we read the Haftara portion from the prophecy of Isaiah (1:1-27), as the final of the “three of affliction,” readings. Isaiah does not lament because the Bet HaMikdash (The Temple) was destroyed; rather he laments over the underlying causes of that destruction. It’s not enough to bemoan the great loss suffered by our people with the destruction of our Land, Jerusalem and the Mikdash. We must use our mourning as a way of initiating an examination of our present-day feelings, thoughts and deeds. What have we done to eliminate the attitudes and practices that thousands of years ago sent our ancestors into exile – not once, but twice? (courtesy of ou.org)

Erev Tisha Be'av - Monday, July 15th
An important custom on Erev Tisha Be’eav – Monday afternoon – is the “Seuda Hamafseket” – the final meal before the fast. It is a simple meal whose focus is the somber, mournful mood prior to the fast. It consists of one cooked dish. Eggs or lentils are commonly eaten at this meal. Many people wash Netilat Yadayim, say Hamotzi and eat a bread roll as part of the meal. One should sit in a low place, such as a pillow on the floor, during the Seuda.

Once the fast starts at sunset on Monday evening July 15th (9:02 pm) one should not eat, drink, wash, anoint oneself, wear leather shoes, or have marital relations.

Washing in both cold and hot water is forbidden on Tisha Be’av. It is of course permitted to “spot clean” dirt that has adhered to your hands or another part of your body in the course of Tisha Be’av. Ritual washing of the hands, such as the morning Netilat Yadayim, cannot extend beyond one’s knuckles.

It is also forbidden to learn Torah “as usual” on Tisha Be’av, since Torah study is joyful. Sources that deal with the destruction of the Temple, such as the accounts of the Destruction in the Talmud, commentaries on “Eicha” – the book of Lamentations, and the like, can be learned on Tisha Be’av. For a more thorough discussion of the prohibition of learning Torah on Tisha Be’av and its philosophical basis, see my article called “Mourning Through Bitul Torah” @ http://ezrabessaroth.net/leadership/rabbi-s-blog/entry/tisha-be-av-mourning-through-bitul-torah Even pregnant and nursing women, who generally do not fast on the rabbinic fast days, do fast on Tisha Be’av. There are of course exceptions and anyone curious about their own halachic obligation should contact me by email or on my cell @ 206-948-8244

Elderly people who feel too weak to fast, and whose doctor advises that they eat, are permitted to eat on Tisha Be’av. Children are not required to fast until they are Bnai or Bnot Mitzvah (13 for boys and 12 for girls). However, to educate them about the nature of the day, we do not give children treats like ice cream, chocolate, etc.

One is not allowed to sit in a regular chair on Tisha Be’av until midday Tuesday July 16th (1:15 pm). We do not greet each other on Tisha Be’av, in the same manner that one does not greet a mourner. How do we respond to someone who may not know this custom and who greets you anyway? Answer back softly….

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06
Jun
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Statement from the Orthodox Union and RCA on Reporting Child Abuse

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Jun 6, 2013 -- The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America reaffirm that any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse or endangerment, or the sale of illegal drugs, has a religious obligation to promptly share that information with secular law enforcement. Further, those deemed “mandated reporters” under secular law must obey their state’s reporting requirements.

Lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse or endangerment, or drug sales, as we are too often tragically reminded. The Torah’s statement in Leviticus 19:16, “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed," obligates every member of the community to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others.


Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, President of the RCA, and Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, received the following letter from Rabbi Israel Belsky, confirming his position reporting to civil authorities in matters of child abuse.

 belsky letter

 

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06
Jun
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More Sources on Drafting Yeshiva Students

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Here is another article representing Rav Zevin's view on the topic: http://www.traditiononline.org/news/originals/Volume%2021/No.%204/R.%20Shelomo%20Yosef.pdf and for Hebrew readers, see R. Waldenburg's view in http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20825&st=&pgnum=81

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05
Jun
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Cohen Article on Torah Perspective on Army Service

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Rabbi Alfred S. Cohen

 

Rabbi, Young Israel of Canarsie; Rebbe, Yeshiva University High School for Boy
Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society - No. XXIII, Spring 1992, Pesach 5752

 

 

Since the founding of the State of Israel, the need for defense has been the highest priority of the community. Due to the overwhelming needs for security, virtually all able bodied men and many women - serve in the army for a period of a few years and then for additional service for decades thereafter.

 

However, when the state was created, the then Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, came to an agreement with leaders of the religious parties, whereby 400 yeshiva students were to be exempted from military service so that they might continue the Torah studies without interruption. After the government lifted restrictions on the establishment of new yeshivot, the number began to mount steadily. According to current figures1 18,400 yeshiva students were exempted from military service in 1988. Between 1976 and 1986, the proportion of yeshiva students out of the total population of 18 year olds more than doubled from 2.5 to 5.3 percent, as the government steadily lifted the ceiling on how many students could acquire the exemption.

 

The exemption of boys and men involved in learning Torah from serving in the army has at times aroused much resentment. It is a practice which has been, and continues to be, challenged, not only by secular Jews but even by many observant and dedicated Jews, even by some who benefit from the exemption.

 

We are dealing here with a very emotional issue. The families of soldiers who daily risk their lives are far from tolerant when they see yeshiva students strolling casually through the streets. There is anger, too, at the rabbis who instruct their students in the yeshiva to stand at attention on Yom Hazikaron2 to honor the fallen war heroes - but at the same time teach their students not even to consider serving in the army. And there is frustration and bitterness in the yeshiva homes as well, where people live in privation all their lives in order to dedicate themselves to the ideal of learning Torah, and yet have to bear the contempt of their fellow citizens.

 

The present study will explore this issue, hopefully from a dispassionate and objective position. It is our intention to identify the sources from Jewish tradition which support the practice, as well as those which seem to question the validity of exempting one group from military service. Our aim is an halachic exposition, without recourse to emotional arguments; our intention is to clarify the halachic sources, as the basis for formulating an intelligent position.

 

Before we consider what role, if any, yeshiva students ought to take in the army, it would be appropriate to consider what Judaism has to say about war - whether it is ever right for any Jew, not only a yeshiva student, to serve in the army.

 

Jewish thought views war with great trepidation, not as a glorious adventure.3 War is a scourge: lives are lost, families disrupted. When the Jewish Commonwealth existed, the decision to go to war was never undertaken lightly, no matter how pressing the situation might appear to be. Even when war was necessary or defensive, it retained a negative connotation. Thus, when King David expressed his desire to build a House of G-d, Hashemrejected the plan: "Much blood have you spilled, and great wars have you waged, [therefore] you shall not build a House for My Name."4

 

The rejection of King David is most surprising, in view of the fact that he had dedicated his life to freeing his people form the perpetual onslaughts of their inimical neighbors. His wars had been wars of defense, of retaliation, of prevention, wars of Mitzvah if you will. Nevertheless, a certain opprobrium clung to them.

 

But Judaism does not condemn war entirely, for there are times when it is inescapable or necessary.5 And although taking someone's life is murder, Judaism does not consider war as murder; there are times when people are justified in going to war, such as when they are attacked or to take revenge for a previous injury.6 While it is true that the Torah commands "when you draw near to a city to battle with her, [first] you must call to her to make peace,"7 the Maharal is of the opinion that the rule applies only when they have not done anything to the people of Israel, but if they have done something, such as "they pressured them to do some abomination, then it is permissible to take revenge upon them."8

 

Hundreds of years later, the N'tziv echoes the view of Maharal, that at times war is permissible and warranted:9

 

When is the person punished? At a time when it is proper for him to act with brotherly love, but this is not true during wartime, and it is a time to change... and there is no punishment for this at all, because thus was the world established, as we see in Tractate Shevuot - and even a king of Israel is permitted to wage an optional war.

In Orach Chaim10the Ramo even extends this permission to wage war to such time as the enemy has not yet attacked but only wants to attack the Jews. V'afilu lo bau adayin ela rotzim lavo. Such a preemptive strike is permitted even on the Sabbath.

Cognizant of the reality that sometimes war is the necessary option, despite its negative connotation, the halacha recognizes different types of war.11

 

  1. milchemet mitzvah - a war to conquer the land of Israel, such as those waged by Joshua when the Jews entered the Land. Another such war is the battle to eradicated Amalek. These wars may be initiated without the mandate of the Beth Din, simply at the instigation of the king, who has the license to draft the people into his army at his discretion.
  2. milchemet reshut - a war fought to expand the boundaries of Israel; this could be done only with the approval of the Beth Din of Seventy. An example is wars fought by King David.
  3. Wars to reduce the heathen influence12 so that they will not attack the Jews. Some scholars consider such wars as mandated (mitzvah) but others consider them optional. The Rambam13 rules that these wars are obligatory, "And which is a mandated war? .. to help Israel from an enemy who might come upon them."
  4. An additional category has been suggested - a war to instill fear and respect into the nations, so that they will not even consider attacking the Jews.14

 

Behavior in Wartime: The Moral Imperative

The Jewish attitude towards war is singular. Unlike other cultures, we do not glorify the strength, vigor, and triumphs of war so much as we realize the tremendous moral dangers which lurk in the war zone. It is not our tradition, however, to be tolerant of the immorality and depravity which typically are rampant in an army camp, but rather to seize the opportunity to grow spiritually even from such a situation.

Despite the exigencies of war, the Torah teaches us to maintain our high moral code: when a soldier falls in battle, he must be buried individually, not in a mass grave.15 Even though the soldier has the responsibility of fighting, we urge him to study Torah whenever he has free time.16 And if battle is necessary on the Sabbath, all booty of that day is dedicated to G-d.17 Even when serving in a non-Jewish army, the Jewish soldier is expected to observe whatever mitzvot are possible.18 Even while out on the front, the Jewish soldier must light at least one light each night of Chanukah, if he can;19 although he is permitted if necessary to eat before his morning prayer, nevertheless he is expected to pray daily.20

 

The overriding concern of Judaism is not to sanction the immorality which is prevalent in an army situation, which has not abated appreciably with the passage of millennia. Even today, after thousands of years of civilization, rape, mayhem, looting are daily concomitants of war, and stealing and eating non-kosher foods might be considered only minor infractions.21 It is precisely in such a situation that the Torah admonishes the Jewish soldier. "When you go to war against your enemy, beware of all evil things..."22 That is the time when a person must be most careful in performing mitzvot. Rather than suspend the laws and observances, it is then that a person must be most careful in following the minutiae of the Torah. Thus, it is our philosophy that learning Torah and praying with true concentration are outstanding weapons for the Jewish people to employ in their quest for victory. More mitzvot, more dedication to Torah, will bring us more protection from above.23

 

This belief, that purity of thought and deed and dedication to the ideals of Torah are the true strength of the Jewish people and the source of any victory they might enjoy, is the core of the argument that the yeshiva scholar is doing his share for the protection of the nation through his dedicated learning in the Beit Midrash. As the N'tziv points out (Devarim 31:1), the troops used to give a share of the spoils to the Torah scholars, in recognition of the fact that their learning Torah had kept the soldiers and the people safe.

 

If observance of mitzvot is so crucial that a minimum standard is not abrogated even for the soldier, doesn't it stand to reason, argue many, that those who are intensely involved in observing all the mitzvot of Torah, who spend all their hours involved in Torah, are surely adding to the protection of the nation just as are the armaments and tanks?

 

What role are the citizens supposed to play during a war? Are all equally obligated to serve on the battlefield? Are there distinctions to be made, exemptions to excuse certain people? Some answer emphatically "no", but others contend that the answer might be "maybe" or "yes." Kelal Yisrael is made up of diverse people, with many contributions to be made. An orchestra achieves its fulfillment when each of the musicians contributes his unique talent; so, too, the Jewish people are not monolithic. Different people can and should contribute to the welfare and security of the nation in different ways.

 

One of the Sages of the Yavneh is quoted as reflecting, "I am a man, and my friend is a man; my work is in the city, and my friend's work is in the field. This goes to show that one complements the other, and no one person can or ought to do all the jobs."24

 

Is such a differentiation defensible in the case of military service? Can a class of people legitimately claim that, as a group, they are serving a different, equally vital, need for the salvation of the community? On these grounds should they be exempted from military duty in order to fulfill their unique role in national security?25

 

Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, felt strongly that students in the yeshiva should not be called to the front, for in their batei midrash, through learning Torah, they were assuring the spiritual welfare of the nation, and ultimately, we rely on our spiritual superiority to save us, not on our military might. Others have also strongly maintained that the z'chut of learning Torah is a more effective and more important shield for the Jewish community than military service.26

 

Others, however, scoff at such an argument. "Will you send your brother to war, and yourselves sit at home?" rails Rav Zevin, in his call to yeshiva students to take up arms equally with their secular brothers. "Is your blood redder than theirs?" he wants to know. Yeshiva lives and families are being threatened the same as everyone else's, and he feels no person can excuse himself from the fray. He cites rabbinic dicta that in times of war, "all go out to fight, even the bridegroom from his chamber and the bride from her chuppah."27

 

Exemption

Already in the Torah, there is indication that not all the Jews participated actively in the actual fighting:

 

 

Ach et shevet Levi lo tifkod v'et rosham lo tisa

 

But the tribe of Levi you shall not count [in the military census], nor number their heads.28

 

 

The entire tribe of Levi was excluded from active warfare, and therefore there was no need to include them in the military census.29 Rambam rules that the tribe of Levi did not inherit a portion of the land, "because they were separated for one task - to serve [in the Temple] and to teach His righteous ways... therefore they were separated from the ways of the world, and they do not wage war as do the other Israelites."30

 

But then Rambam adds,

 

 

 

V'lo shevet Levi bilvad, ela kol ish v'ish mikol baei haolam asher nadva rucho oto v'hevino midaato.

 

Not only the tribe of Levi, but any individual whose spirit moves him to... separate himself to stand before G-d and to serve him, to know Him.. and he removes from his neck the yoke of considerations which most people see, behold this person becomes most holy.

 

Jewish thinking recognizes and respect those individuals who reject the pursuit of material goods as their goal and dedicate themselves instead to a higher ideal. Such a person should not be called up even for defense of the country.31 The source for this practice long predates the Rambam: the Gemara (Nedarim 32a) criticizes Avraham Avinu for having roused the scholars in his entourage and pressed them into joining his troop which gave chase against the four kings who had raided the land. Similarly, the Gemara in Sotah 10a concludes that King Asa was punished by heaven for conscripting Torah scholars into his army.32

Most nations do not have universal conscription. People understand that not everyone is suited for the battlefield, or that some people should be doing something else. When America had the draft, clergy were excluded, students in the universities were deferred, and others in sensitive positions excused. Can no justification be found for excusing yeshiva students from serving in the Israeli army?33

 

However, all exemptions advocated by the rabbis seem to be predicated on the assumption that the Jewish army would be victorious without the missing troops; but, if there exists the possibility of their being overcome in battle, all agree that no one can be excused, all must rush out to battle. "And it is a mitzvah for all Israelites who can, to come and go out to aid their brothers who are under siege."34 35 This proviso, obviously, is not a minor issue in the current debate, and we will discuss it more fully further on.36

 

Alternative Service

No one should imagine that those who were traditionally excused from active duty during war went on vacation instead. On the contrary, everyone was expected to do his or her share in saving the community, but it was recognized that there were a variety of necessary tasks to be performed. Those exempted from active duty were duly expected to serve in some other capacity.

Historically, there is evidence that Torah scholars who were excused from fighting used to accompany the troops to the front and learn and teach Torah there.37 It is hard to imagine a more uplifting practice than thousands of soldiers encamped and equipped for war, each with a man next to him learning the Torah or reciting the Shema. Yet the difficulties inherent in such a relationship are quite evident, and ultimately the practice had to be stopped.

 

Who Should Be Exempt

When the State of Israel was first established, the number of men learning full time in yeshivot was small; the agreement that yeshiva students would be exempt from military service caused little concern. Today, thank G-d, the situation is quite different in the yeshivot, which are packed with students. As their numbers grow, so do the deferments - and the protests. An added factor is that in Israel many men remain yeshiva students for life, such that military deferment becomes de facto permanent exemption. Under these circumstances, should all yeshiva students be exempt from army duty?

In his monograph against exempting yeshiva men from the draft,38 Rav Zevin rejects the contention that it is more important for them to be learning than fighting. He asks, if everyone were learning in yeshivot, "would we allow our enemies to ravage our land and kill our people without taking up arms to defend ourselves?" And he points to the halacha which teaches that all must go out in case of attack - even a bridegroom from his chamber and bride from under her chuppah. Certainly it should apply to rabbinic students as well! How can one imagine it is right, he asks, to let others die for him rather than protect his own life and family?

 

Aside from the question of whether it is right to let others bear all the burden of physical defense, there are those who maintain that an exemption from military service based on the individual's involvement with Torah learning can apply only to the relatively few who truly disassociate themselves from all worldly concerns and do nothing but learn Torah. This definition, according to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein would disqualify very many yeshiva people from their present exempt status.39

 

Finally, even if we grant that the Rambam's statement does imply a categorical dispensation in purely halachic terms, it remains of little practical significance. We have yet to examine just to whom it applies. A levi [sic] is defined genealogically. Those who are equated with him, however, literally or symbolically, are defined by spiritual qualities; and for these the Rambam sets a very high standard indeed. He present an idealized portrait of a selfless, atemporal, almost ethereal person - one whose spirit and intelligence have led him to divest himself of all worldly concerns and who has devoted himself "to stand before God, to serve Him, to worship Him, to know God; and he walks aright as the Lord has made him and he has cast off from his neck the yoke of the many considerations which men have sought." To how large a segment of the Torah community - or, a fortiori, of any community - does this lofty typology apply? To two percent? Five Percent? Can anyone... confront a mirror and tell himself that he ought not to go to the army because he is kodesh kodashim, sanctum sanctorum, in the Rambam's terms? Can anyone with even a touch of vanity or a concern for kavod contend this? Lest I be misunderstood, let me state clearly that I have no quarrel with economic aspiration or with normal human foibles per se. again, least of all do I wish to single out b'nei yeshivot for undeserved moral censure. I do feel, however, that those who would single themselves out for saintliness should examine their credentials by the proper standard

Despite this harsh appraisal of the unworthiness of present day yeshiva scholars to claim exemption from community obligations, it appears that actually it was a widespread practice to excuse Torah scholars from many of the levies put upon all others. Nor were they generally expected to withdraw totally from the ordinary pursuits of most people. The common custom in Jewish communities was indeed to consider the Torah scholar as a person who, because of his holy dedication to Torah, should not be expected to shoulder the same burdens as ordinary citizens.

In truth, the question of military exemptions is adumbrated in similar debates over the centuries. There, however, the issue was generally a different kind of community service, involving payment of taxes levied by the government on the entire Jewish settlement. Back in the 15th century, R. Isserlein, author of Terumat Hadeshen, had to address the problem of taxes which the government demanded from the Jewish community as a unit. There is a long halachic tradition exempting rabbis and Torah scholars from having to pay community taxes, and of course, every individual excused from paying a share meant that the share of the others was that much bigger. The author of Terumat Hadeshen appears reluctant to grant widespread exemption from community taxes.40

 

 

 

Omnam hehamon am einam sovrim klal liftor shum talmid chacham ela im ken yoshev b'rosh yeshiva v'af ze davka b'ostreich... v'haya kim'at minhag pashut sh'lo lechayev bemas harav hayoshev b'yeshiva b'rosh... aval b'gvul d'bnei Rinus kimdume li shelo hayu nohagin liftor talmid chacham... mishum detzarich dikduk yafe sheyachzor tamid letalmudo k'sheyifne me'asakav v'ein nizharin ha'idna.

 

However, ordinary people do not have any wish at all to exempt any Torah scholar unless he serves as the head of a yeshiva, and this is true only in Austria...and it is virtually a common practice not to require the Rabbi who serves as the head of the yeshiva to pay the tax. But it appears to me that in the provinces near the Rhine, it was not the practice to exempt Torah scholars... since it requires that he be very careful about returning always to his studies as soon as he is finished with his business...

 

But more than a century later, the Shach does not equivocate when he rules that anyone who makes the study of Torah his major concern, taking time out only to earn the requisites for supporting his family, is exempt from community tax.40

Similarly the Rambam rules:

 

 

 

V'ein cholkin bein shehu tofes yeshiva oh lo rak shehu muchzak ketalmid chacham b'doro...beinyan liftor mimas ein medakdekim baze rak sheyihyeh muchzak letalmid chacham

 

And it makes no difference whether he runs a yeshiva or not, only that he be known as a Torah scholar in his generation, ...as for exempting him from the tax, we are not overly particular about this, only that he should be accepted as a Torah scholar.42

 

Perusal of these halachic sources provides a basis for exempting certain individuals from obligations which all other members of the community have to shoulder. Some rabbinic authorities interpret this rule quite broadly, while others give it a narrow scope.

In pleading for a change in the present system of exempting all yeshiva students from the draft, Rav Zevin seeks to find a middle ground. He notes that "a practical fear has been expressed, that if the students go to war, all the yeshivot will become depleted" and who knows what will happen then to the study of Torah in Israel? Therefore, he urges that "a mutually agreeable accommodation" be arranged, whereby the principle of the importance of Torah study would be established without, however, applying it universally.43 The Hesder yeshivot seem to be a direct response to this plea, and we will discuss them shortly.

 

Saving Lives - or Learning Torah

A talmudic statement seems to give tremendous support to the position that yeshiva students should not join the army. "Rabbi Yosef said, 'learning Torah is greater than saving lives.'" (Megillah 16b). This talmudic text is often cited as evidence that maintaining the spiritual welfare of the nation is more important than maintaining its physical security. However, assuming that the Gemara considers learning Torah to be preferable to saving lives might be a simplistic conclusion. A great wealth of Torah literature leads one to conclude that many major Torah authorities did not take this statement literally.

In the Shulchan Aruch44 we find the following rule:

 

"It is permissible to take money from the Torah fund in order to pay... the ruler, since it is for saving lives."

The ruling is based on a responsum of the Rosh to the effect that it is proper to divert even a large group from learning Torah in order to save lives. How could the Rosh render a ruling contrary to the Talmud? Numerous scholars have grappled with this difficulty,45 and we shall look at some of their answers.

There are those who contend that the text in Megillah is aggadic in nature; wherever the aggada disagrees with the rules of halacha, it is halacha which takes precedence. Thus, the overarching rule of pikuach nefesh, doing virtually anything in order to save a life, applies in this case as well. Furthermore, it is not possible to take a statement concerning the life of one individual and use it to justify a situation in which the entire Jewish community is threatened. On the contrary, we are confident that G-d will never allow the entire Jewish community to be annihilated, and succor will come to them somehow. In such a situation, it is more important to learn Torah. There is no such assurance of divine intervention, however, for an individual; thus, when one person is in danger, it is surely mandatory to save his life. But for the group, we can rely on G-d's providence.

 

In resolving the question of apparent contradiction, the Perisha rules that if there are others who can undertake to save lives, it is preferable for those who can, to study Torah.46 However, if there are no others, then the rule of pikuach nefesh takes precedence. Another solution suggested by the Perisha is that in a situation where it is not possible to do both - save lives and learn Torah as well - then learning Torah takes precedence. However, in the case discussed in the halachic text, even though some of the money would go to pay off the governor, some would still be left over to provide for leaning Torah, albeit not in great comfort.47

 

The persistent lack of clarity in resolving the issue makes it apparent that, the importance of learning Torah notwithstanding, it cannot be the only consideration in determining normative Jewish practice. Our rabbis have introduced many other factors which at times may mitigate the primacy of the mitzvah of learning Torah.

 

Rabbis Don't Need Protection

In Bava Bathra 7b, the Talmud discusses the need for building walls around a settlement. Since walls are for communal protection, all residents have to share in the cost of erecting them. However, the Gemara rules that Torah scholars are exempt from this expense, since they are protected by virtue of the Torah they learn. Can this talmudic exemption be compared to an exemption from the military draft?

Although the above statement, unlike the one in Megillah, is not aggadic - it is actually codified in the Shulchan Aruch48 - nevertheless, it is not cited by the proponents of exemption as proof for their position. On the contrary, the rabbis opposed to exempting yeshiva students seize on this statement to argue that yeshiva students themselves don't believe that the Torah shields them enough!49

 

When actual lives are at stake, may we rely on miracles? In 1929 at Hebron... didn't young students of the yeshiva, whose holiness shone like stars in the sky, fall before the malicious enemy? Please, did these martyrs need protection or not?... If you understand that the scholars need protection in relatively peaceful times and are exempt from building the protective walls, what consequence has this when compared to a life-and-death struggle, a war which is a mitzvah and in which all are obligated? The defense authorities ordered everyone to cover all windows as protection against shattering glass in case of an air raid. Would anyone think that some rabbis will not do so, claiming, "Rabbis do not need protection?" ...Why did rabbis leave areas under enemy fire along with the rest of the general population? Why did they not rely on this maxim?

Rav Lichtenstein, too, does not accept the dictum:

It may be stated... that such a claim (that since rabbis "don't need protection" they should be exempt form military service) raises a very serious moral issue. Can anyone whose life is not otherwise patterned after this degree of trust and bitahon argues for exemption on this ground? Is it possible to worry about one's economic future - in evident disregard of Rabbi Eliezer's statement that "whoever has bread in his basket and says 'What shall I eat tomorrow?' is but of little faith" - and yet not enter the army because one is presumably safe without it?50

 

Effect on Others

No one lives in a vacuum. A person not only has to do that which is right for himself, he has to factor into his decision how his actions may affect the group. This is brought out by the N'tziv in his study of Scripture: The tribes of Gad and Reuven addressed Joshua as he prepared to commence the conquest of Canaan, urging him to be strong, and they would fight along with him. Although they had already taken as their inheritance the provinces conquered by Moshe in his lifetime, they had promised that they would fight along with the other Jews until all the land had been conquered, only then returning to settle in their own fields. Now that he was preparing for his campaign of conquest, they renewed their pledge: "Whoever rebels against your word and does not heed what you say, whatever you command, will be put to death. Only, be strong and persevere."

Isn't that somewhat excessive? Should a person really be put to death for failure to obey Joshua? But the N'tziv explains that the tribes of Reuven and Gad realized that if they failed to join the impending battles, it would have a devastating effect on the rest of the Jews. Perhaps these others would be overcome by fear or panic when they saw part of the army dropping out. Thus, had the two tribes failed to live up to their commitment, they might have fatally weakened the people's resolve. Therefore "be strong and persevere," kill anyone who stands in your way, if that is necessary to strengthen the nation.

 

Also concerned with the effect exemption of a large group may have on others. Rav Waldenberg cites the Abarbanel51 that Deborah joined in the battle against Sisera, even though she didn't want to, only to placate Barak, the general of the troops. She did it only "because the Jews then were scared and frightened of the army of Sisera and his chariots and his hordes... [and she went along] in order to strengthen the hearts of the Jewish people when they would see the Prophetess with them." (Note that Deborah may even have been transgressing a biblical command - it is forbidden for women to wear armor - in order to raise the spirits of the soldiers.)

 

Perhaps this factor, too, has to be taken into account - the effect it has on the soldiers and on their families when certain people, for whatever reason, do not share in the common burden and are exempt from the danger and the sacrifice it entails.

 

Chilul Hashem

Possibly the greatest sin in Judaism is Chilul Hashem - desecration of the Name, which includes anything which lessens the respect and devotion of people for G-d and His Torah. Every sin can be forgiven, other than this one.52 On the other hand, the very greatest act a person can ever hope to achieve is Kiddush Hashem, the exact opposite of Chilul Hashem. Most mitzvot of the Torah can be violated in order to effect a Kiddush Hashem, the Book of Samuel (II 21:3-10) records a dreadful vengeance that the Gibeonites exacted from the Jewish people: God had sent a plague upon the Jews to punish them for King Saul's having put some Gibeonites to death. The only strategem which would placate the Gibeonites and halt the plague was to kill a number of King Saul's descendants, which King David reluctantly agreed to do, at the instruction of the Prophet. But then, instead of burying them immediately as Jewish law requires, the bodies were left hanging on trees for months. How could he allow this to happen? The Gamara answers:

It is better that a letter should be eradicated from the Torah so that the name of Heaven will be sanctified in public. For passersby would ask, "What is the nature of those men [hanging]? [and they would be told] "they are sons of the king," "and what did they do [to warrant such a horrible punishment]?" "They violated the rights of aliens" [and then the passersby would exclaim] "Certainly there can be no nation more worthy for us to become attached to than this one, for if this is how they treat princes [who did wrong to foreigners - i.e., the Gibeonites] how much more so will they be strict with ordinary people!"53

This is the greatest Kiddush Hashem - when people seeing our deeds are overcome with awe and respect for the justice and goodness of our behavior, which is predicated on the Torah's teachings. Kiddush Hashemremains the highest priority of the Jew. Even today, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen warns, before engaging in a war or military foray, we should stop to consider whether the nations of the world might judge our deeds negatively, thus causing a Chilul Hashem.

So, too, Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman relies heavily on the prohibition of Chilul Hashem when considering whether a Jew living in a gentile country may evade the draft. His ruling is that even if the Jew knows that service in the army will inevitably entail desecration of Shabbat and other laws, he is still not permitted to avoid his civic duty.

 

Is it valid to apply this line of reasoning to the question of yeshiva students serving in the Israeli army? Some say yes, while others disagree. After all, one can only cause a Chilul Hashem if he is doing something wrong. But if a person acts in accordance with what is right and yet others react negatively, it can be argued that that is not his responsibility.54 However, this disagrees with what the Gemara expressly says - that a person has to be careful about the impression he is making, even when he is doing the right thing.55 others maintain that such a delicate evaluation can be made only by a person of great stature and importance in the community, not by ordinary people, who need be concerned primarily that their behavior is in itself unimpeachable.

 

It is difficult to pin down an answer to the question whether the Orthodox Yeshiva community has to be concerned that the policy which exempts their sons form army duty is well-received by the secular Israeli public. For those who see the policy as arousing much animosity, resentment, and contempt for those who study Torah, it is indeed a terrible Chilul Hashem. For those with a different vantage point, the fact that their policy is subject to misinterpretation should not deter people dedicated to learning Torah from following this pursuit. Just because people do not appreciate their dedication, should that stop the inspired individuals from dedicating their lives to a high ideal?

 

It is easy to see that both intellectual and emotional arguments can be raised for either point of view, as well as halachic ones. But one truth is indisputable - when the nations of the world see Jews fighting among themselves, that is surely a Chilul Hashem.56

 

The Hesder Yeshiva

The controversy about drafting yeshiva men for the army has roiled Israeli society for decades. Partly in response to the strong emotions engendered by the situation, there arose the institution of the Hesder yeshiva, where young men alternate months of learning Torah with months of active duty in the army. Many sincerely dedicated Torah students feel very strongly that, living in Israel, they want to participate in the defense of their country and their lives. At the same time, they realize that if they leave their yeshiva for two years while they serve in the army, the chances are slim that many of them will return. The Hesder yeshiva seeks to bridge the gap and indeed fills a very important role. The proponents of the Hesder yeshiva, however, do not see themselves as a compromise but rather as the right way to go.

We advocate it because we are convinced that, given our circumstances - would that they were better - military service is a mitzvah, and a most important one at that. Without impugning the patriotism or ethical posture of those who think otherwise, we feel that for the overwhelming majority of b'nei Torah, defense is a moral imperative.57

There are any number of good reasons for the creation of the Hesder system. First of all, it is considered important that during the formative post-high school years, the ben torah should be firmly rooted in a Torah climate. Furthermore, many sincerely religious people consider it their ethical and halachic imperative to defend the State of Israel, even if only for the reason that they themselves live there. Lastly, in view of the military needs of this small nation, every able-bodied person should be trained for defense, even if only as part of the reserves.58

The Hesder yeshiva is grounded in necessity, not in choice. It does not glorify militarism, but views army training as the necessary response to the critical political and military situation of the Jewish state.

 

Although this might seem like the perfect solution to the dilemma many in the yeshiva world do not agree. They argue, and many scholars in other fields would agree, that there is nothing equivalent to a person's being able to devote himself entirely only to study, without interruption or distraction. Our rabbis observed in their pithy style: "The Torah cannot be acquired except by someone who is ready to sacrifice his entire existence for it".59

 

Volunteering

Since the Torah specifically did not want certain people to go to war, does that mean that a person in the exempt category is not permitted to volunteer? Could an individual kohen or levi choose to serve in the army? Is exemption a privilege or a disqualification?

Rav Waldenberg cites numerous sources which, in his view, adequately prove that any individual Levite who was so moved was able to serve in the armed forces. His opinion is in agreement with that of the author of Birkei Yosef60 who contends that although exempt, one may indeed volunteer. He cites a text in Kiddushin which questions whether a kohen who encountered a captive woman in battle would be permitted to marry her (under the conditions laid out in the Torah, in perashat ki teitzeh). How could a kohen even be in a position to take an enemy woman captive, if he could not have volunteered to fight? Obviously, counters Birkei Yosef, he could enlist.61

 

The question of volunteering is quite a serious one - may a person put himself in a life-threatening situation if he doesn't have to?62 Rav Waldenberg cites a novel proof63 that if a person feels his death may bring salvation to the entire group, it is permitted: The Gemara in Ta'anit 10b praises Lulianus and Pappus, who gave their lives rather than permit a wholesale slaughter of the Jewish community. We know, says Rav Waldenberg, that a person who dies unnecessarily is considered equivalent to a suicide, culpable for his own murder.64 Yet the Gemara praises the two who sacrificed themselves. We must conclude that dying to save many others is a heroic and highly commendable act.

 

A Non-Jewish Army

What we have said so far applies almost entirely to the situation of a Jew serving in a Jewish army. In a final note, let us turn to the question of a Jew's serving in a non-Jewish army. This is a relatively modern question, for until they were given civil equality, usually some time in the 19th century, Jews were generally not allowed to serve in the army. The Chafetz Chaim wrote a small monograph, Machane Yisrael, addressed to those who were called upon to serve, in which he seeks above all else to strengthen the Jewish commitment of those who are about to undertake this difficult assignment.

Forced to follow the directives of his non-Jewish superiors, the Jew, who will be unable to observe many mitzvot, is nevertheless encouraged to do as much as he can and always to continue to struggle to observe the Torah. The Chafetz Chaim encourages and prods the soldier, no matter how difficult his situation, to trust in G-d. In a homily, he shows that when a person gives another person a gift, to hold for him, if the recipient misuses the gift, the donor will want to take it back. Not so with the Ribono shel Olam; even if a person misuses the precious gift of life, G-d does not want to take it back.65 At all times, concludes the Chafetz Chaim, remember that you are still the child of G-d.66 The Chafetz Chaim advises the soldier not to look for chumrot (stringent interpretations of the Jewish law);67 on the other hand, he urges the soldier not to worry if gentiles make fun of his Jewish practices,68 and to continue to study Torah whenever possible. He further reminds the soldiers that every mitzvah is important,70 and that his yetzer hora will continually try to impede his performance of mitzvot.71. He urges the soldier to be willing to expend considerable sums in order to return home as often as possible.72 And if he finds that his uniform contains shatnes, he must make every effort to correct it as soon as possible.73

 

If all these precautions are necessary in a gentile army, how much more so do they apply in a Jewish one!

 

COMMENTS:

1. Jerusalem Post, 9/12/88 
2. Techumin 4 p. 125. 
3. For a complete discussion of the question whether there is any obligation for a person to place himself in danger in order to save another person from certain death, see Choshen Mishpat 426 and Aruch Hashulchan Pitchei Teshuva, ibid. 
For a discussion if there is an obligation to put oneself in danger to save the Jewish community, see Mishnah Makkot 11a, Or Sameach Hilchot Rotzeach 7-8, Meshech Chochma Perashat Shemot, Mishpat Kohen of Rav Kook, 142-144. See also Rav Shlomo Zevin in Talmud Torah Vesherut Latzava
4. Divrei Hayammim I, 22. See also Rav Shlomo Zevin in Talmud Torah Vesherut Latzava. 
5. For the Jewish position on non-Jews engaging in war, see Teshuvot Chatam Sofer 14-19, Devar Avraham 1-11, and Zera Avraham 24. 
6. Gur Aryeh, Bereishit 34:13. See Hilchot Medina II, Shaar I (written by Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, author of Tzitz Eliezer) 1; see Hilchot Medinah III, Shaar 4, for an analysis of the role of the minority and majority. 
7. Devarim 20:10-11. 
8. Bereishit 32:9. See Torah Umedinah 8-7, Mishpat Kohen 143, and Tzitz Eliezer 12-57 for other differences that apply during a war. 
9. Ha'amek Davar Bereishit 9-5, Devarim 20-8; for a discussion to whom property captured in war belongs, see Or Hahalacha p. 18. 
10. Or Hachayim 329:6. See Or Sameach, Deut. 5-5, who uses the same argument in favor of giving Shimshon to the Philistines even though he was not liable to be put to death. 
11. Rambam, Melachim 5-1. See also Rambam and Ramban end of Hosafot to Taaseh, that the Urim Vetumim are also necessary for all wars. 
12. Mishnah Sotah 44b. 
13. Melachim 5-1. 
14. We do not mean that the attack has started and the war is on, for then all agree this is a milchemet mitzvah; see Meiri, Sotah 43b; also Aruch Hashulchan, He'atid, Hilchot Melachim 74-4. See however, Chazon Ish Or Hachaim 114-2, who does in fact say "who has already come against them." 
15. Jerusalem Talmud Eruvim 1-10. 
16. Megillah 3a. See Machane Yisrael, Chapters 12 and 14. 
17. Tzitz Eliezer 3-9, p. 42. 
18. Machane Yisrael, chapters 2 and 3. 
19. Ibid. p. 165. 
20. Ibid. p. 30. 
21. Ramban, Perashat Ki Teizei. However, see Sefer Hachinuch 566 and also Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 2-6. 
22. Devarim 23:10; also Shabbat 64. 
23. Hachayil Vehachosen p. 99, who interprets the verse (Devarim 6-17) "shamor tishmerun" (you shall surely observe the mitzvot of Hashem) as a directive that in times of war extra care must be taken in the performance of mitzvot. The same is found on p. 160 (Devarim 23-15) "Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to save you, and your camp must be holy, no unholy thing should be seen amongst you." On p. 115, the author maintains that even what one thinks is the purpose of the war is important. One should think that he is fighting for the sake of the group or because G-d so commanded, but not because he is desirous of booty. And surely it is wrong for him to think that "my strength and the might of my hand" win the victory. See p. 89. 
24. Techumin 7, p. 332. 
25. Sanhedrin 42a. If not for his ancestor David's having studied Torah, Asa would not have been successful in the wars he waged. 
26. Rav Waldenberg and Rav Kook. 
27. Tradition, Fall 1985, p. 52. It is interesting that in the book he wrote about war, Rav Zevin does not raise this topic at all. One can only wonder why it was omitted, and then published as a separate article. 
28. Bamidbar 1:49. 
29. Rashbam, Bamidbar 1-39. However, see Hilchot Medinah, II, Perek 3, #2, and Sifre to Matot 31:4. We have not included as a source for this position the statement found in Sifre to perashat Matot: "le-hotzi shevet levi," since the correctness of the text is questionable. Some would read "le-havi shevet levi" which, of course, renders the exact opposite meaning. Moreover, even if the first version, excluding the tribe of Levi, is correct, it can be argued that this directive applies only to the war against Midian referred to in the biblical text and cannot be expanded to apply to all war situations. 
30. Rambam, Hilchot Shemittah 6:2 and 13:12 
31. See Hilchot Medinah II, Shaar 3, Perek 4, for a source for the Rambam and whether this applies to milchemet mitzvah or only to a milchemet reshut. 
32. See Hilchot Medinah II, page 60, #7. See the exchange between Rav Waldenberg and Rav Schlesinger in Hilchot Medinah III, perek 6. 
33. Tzitz Eliezer II, 24, rules that a person who is exempt from taxes because of his status, nevertheless retains all the rights of a paying member of society. 
34. Rambam Shabbat 2-23. Tzitz Eliezer 8, 3, par. 9, #3 and 4. 
35. This ruling is not universally accepted; see Kol Mevaser 1-47, and Chazon Ish Or Hachaim, Eruvim Lekutin 6,3, who disagrees on this point. 
36. Chazon Ish, Avoda Zara 23:3. 
37. Hachayil Vehachosen p. 74-5. 
38. Tradition, Fall 1981, p. 53. 
39. Aharon Lichtenstein, Tradition, Fall 1985, p. 212. See his footnote 30. 
40. She'elot Uteshuvot #342. 
41. Yoreh Deah 243 #7, Hagahot Maimuni; Tefilla 12 #7 
42. Ibid. 243-2. See Keter Ephraim, Tel Aviv 5727, pp. 172-4. Tzitz Eliezer II 25. 
43. Tradition, Fall 1981. 
44. Shulchan Aruch YD 251-14. 
45. Miluim Y.D. Ibid. 
46. Ibid. 
47. Techumin 7, p. 339. Also Techumin I, p. 371. 
48. Yoreh Deah 243-2. The Chatam Sofer Bava Bathra would apply the exemption only to situations where the protection is from theft, however, when lives are in danger, this principle would not be relevant. 
49. Tradition Fall 1985, p. 54. See footnote 25, Techumin I, p. 371. 
50. Tradition, Fall 1981, p. 209. 
51. Hilchot Medinah II, p. 70. 
52. Yoma 87a. 
53. Yevamot 79a. 
54. Techumin 7, p. 333. 
55. Yoma 87a. 
56. Machane Yisrael p. 197. 
57. Tradition, 1981 p. 202. See letter of Rav Shach, Part IV, #320, where he writes that the Hesder yeshivas have diminished the stature and scope of the yeshiva. 
58. Ibid. 
59. Berachot 43. 
60. Even Haezer #6, quoted by Rav Zevin, Or Hahalacha p. 28. 
61. A disagreement exists between the view of Pirkei Avot, chapter 5, (Machzor Vitry) and Siftei Chachamim to Bamidbar 4. 
62. Sotah 44b. In Kol Mevaser, Rabbi Roth writes "I was very much surprised about this, for where do we find that we force someone to endanger his life for the sake of a mitzvah? 
63. Sheiltot, Perashat Ve'etchanan 142. The N'tziv quotes other instances where this approach is applicable. 
64. Hilchot Medinah, II, perek 5. Rav Waldenberg offers many proofs that the concept is already found in the writings of the Rishonim. The same conclusion is found in Mishpat Kohen Responsum 142-4, Note 31; inTechumin p. 162; Shevut Yaakov II 117; Nodah Biyehudah Tanina Yoreh Deah 161
65. Even if volunteering is permitted for the Jewish army, there is some debate whether one may opt to join a non-Jewish militia. In this century, R. David Hoffman (Or Hachaim 42-43) considered it the obligation of every citizen, including Jews, to participate in the army. Even if one can get deferment for 2 or 3 years, R. Hoffman opposes it and says one should enlist right away. 
In a handbook for army chaplains Responsa to Chaplains, published by the Jewish Welfare Board, p. 19, the Chafetz Chaim is quoted as writing in Machane Yisrael that "it is a great sin to evade army service." However, this writer was not able to find that statement anywhere in the book of the Chafetz Chaim. Not only that, but at the end of the "Introduction," the Chafetz Chaim writes that only if one's life is in danger may he transgress the Sabbath. 
On the other hand, Imrei Eish (Responsum 52) was quite comfortable with the prevalent custom in Eastern Europe (and in America) during the nineteenth century, of hiring someone to serve in the army in one's stead. Mostposkim (See Nodah Biyehudah Tanina, YD, 74) hold that once a person has been drafted, no substitute should be sent, and surely no Jewish committee should ever be set up to decide which Jewish boys are t be conscripted. The only method they approve is a lottery. 
Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 157-13. This, too, is contrary to the JWB, who maintain that since military service is a mitzvah, recruitment to the chaplaincy is perfectly acceptable. 
66. Machane Yisrael, "Introduction." 
67. Ibid p. 10. 
68. Ibid, and also in "introduction." 
69. Ibid, p. 57. 
70. Ibid, Chapter 12. 
71. Ibid, chapter 18. 
72. Ibid. 
73. Ibid, p. 167.

 


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Fundamentals Class to Explore Drafting of Yeshiva Students

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IDFYeshivaThis Shabbat, we will be having an extended "Fundamentals" class on the topic of drafting Yeshiva students into the IDF - perhaps the "hot topic" in Israeli society today.  Below are links to various articles that I will be referring to in the class.  Please read them before the class and come prepared to discuss.  Looking forward to seeing you there!


Rabbi Haim Amsalem on drafting Yeshiva students
 
Rabbi Marc Angel's JewishIdeas.org - Article by Pinchas Landau on the future of Israeli Haredism
 
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PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO THE EB MESHULACHIM FUND

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Rabbi Meyers has set up special track within the Discretionary Fund  to assist the various individuals who come to Seattle from Israel collecting tzedaka for themselves or for charitable institutions. EB members are asked to estimate the amount of Tzedaka they give each year to these causes and submit an equivalent sum to Rabbi Meyers, who is now solely responsible for disbursing these funds. In turn, Meshulachim have been kindly asked not to directly solicit EB members either at Kahal or by coming to their homes. Please give generously to ensure that this new system is a success! Be sure to designate on the check that the donation is for the "Meshulachim Fund"

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David Brooks, "What our Words Tell Us"

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This article by David Brooks is a must read...

About two years ago, the folks at Google released a database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. You can type a search word into the database and find out how frequently different words were used at different epochs.

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David Brooks

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"From 1800 to 2013, the word 'family' had a fairly stable use until it began a subtle and slow decline from the Civil War until it reached a low near the end of World War I. It suddenly grew in popularity in the mid-1960s and peaked in the mid-1990s."
flaminia, Los Angeles, CA

The database doesn’t tell you how the words were used; it just tells you how frequently they were used. Still, results can reveal interesting cultural shifts. For example, somebody typed the word “cocaine” into the search engine and found that the word was surprisingly common in the Victorian era. Then it gradually declined during the 20th century until around 1970, when usage skyrocketed.

I’d like to tell a story about the last half-century, based on studies done with this search engine. The first element in this story is rising individualism. A study by Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell and Brittany Gentile found that between 1960 and 2008 individualistic words and phrases increasingly overshadowed communal words and phrases.

That is to say, over those 48 years, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “standout,” “unique,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently. Communal words and phrases like “community,” “collective,” “tribe,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good” receded.

The second element of the story is demoralization. A study by Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir found that general moral terms like “virtue,” “decency” and “conscience” were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century. Words associated with moral excellence, like “honesty,” “patience” and “compassion” were used much less frequently.

The Kesebirs identified 50 words associated with moral virtue and found that 74 percent were used less frequently as the century progressed. Certain types of virtues were especially hard hit. Usage of courage words like “bravery” and “fortitude” fell by 66 percent. Usage of gratitude words like “thankfulness” and “appreciation” dropped by 49 percent.

Usage of humility words like “modesty” and “humbleness” dropped by 52 percent. Usage of compassion words like “kindness” and “helpfulness” dropped by 56 percent. Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like “discipline” and “dependability” rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness. The Kesebirs point out that these sorts of virtues are most relevant to economic production and exchange.

Daniel Klein of George Mason University has conducted one of the broadest studies with the Google search engine. He found further evidence of the two elements I’ve mentioned. On the subject of individualization, he found that the word “preferences” was barely used until about 1930, but usage has surged since. On the general subject of demoralization, he finds a long decline of usage in terms like “faith,” “wisdom,” “ought,” “evil” and “prudence,” and a sharp rise in what you might call social science terms like “subjectivity,” “normative,” “psychology” and “information.”

Klein adds the third element to our story, which he calls “governmentalization.” Words having to do with experts have shown a steady rise. So have phrases like “run the country,” “economic justice,” “nationalism,” “priorities,” “right-wing” and “left-wing.” The implication is that politics and government have become more prevalent.

So the story I’d like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.

This story, if true, should cause discomfort on right and left. Conservatives sometimes argue that if we could just reduce government to the size it was back in, say, the 1950s, then America would be vibrant and free again. But the underlying sociology and moral culture is just not there anymore. Government could be smaller when the social fabric was more tightly knit, but small government will have different and more cataclysmic effects today when it is not.

Liberals sometimes argue that our main problems come from the top: a self-dealing elite, the oligarchic bankers. But the evidence suggests that individualism and demoralization are pervasive up and down society, and may be even more pervasive at the bottom. Liberals also sometimes talk as if our problems are fundamentally economic, and can be addressed politically, through redistribution. But maybe the root of the problem is also cultural. The social and moral trends swamp the proposed redistributive remedies.

Evidence from crude data sets like these are prone to confirmation bias. People see patterns they already believe in. Maybe I’ve done that here. But these gradual shifts in language reflect tectonic shifts in culture. We write less about community bonds and obligations because they’re less central to our lives.

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21
May
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EB Contributes to Oklahoma Tornado Relief

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oklahomaIn keeping with our focus on Torah, Avoda and Gemilut Hasadim, Congregation Ezra Bessaroth's Discretionary Fund, on Tuesday, made a generous contribution to help people impacted by the disastrous tornado in Oklahoma.

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17
May
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Israelis Developing "Google Glass" for the Blind

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The magazine "Israel21C" has some great articles on modern technological developments in Israel. Here's a recent post on their website:

In the not-so-distant future, people blinded by retinitis pigmentosa may be using Israeli technology to see beyond shadows once again. By Karin Kloosterman (Israel 21c)

About one in 4,000 people in the United States suffers from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disease of the retina that causes light-sensing cells to degenerate and eventually leads to vision impairment. Symptoms might start as night blindness.

Recent advances in optogenetics have opened the possibility of restoring light sensitivity to vision cells using a simple injection and gene-based therapy. But how can these newly programmed cells reconnect with the brain to process images? This is the million-dollar question.

Israeli researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have found a futuristic and bionic way to bypass neural circuitry and directly stimulate restored vision cells with a computer-driven technique called holography.

The researchers have developed a tool to photo-stimulate retinal cells with precision and high resolution, suggesting that one day in the not-so-distant future, people blinded by RP may see beyond shadows once again.

“It’s something like Google Glass for the blind,” Prof. Shy Shoham from the Technion tells ISRAEL21c, referring to Google’s wearable computer with a head-mounted display, set to be released later this year.

“We did not develop optogenetics and it’s a young technology, but it is firmly established and the potential is recognized. What is missing, and what we are offering, is a powerful solution driving the neural networks of these optogenetically restored cells.”

Shoham explains, “What our system will do is activate these cells with patterns. It’s a system that drives the projection of ‘movies’ powerful enough to stimulate retinal cells artificially.”

Like any responsible scientist, Shoham, an engineer and lead scientist of this new research presented in Nature Communications, is not offering false hope to people who are already blind. Unfortunately, he cannot help them. But if a significant financial investment were to be made in the project, “clear” results could be seen in the future.

Restoring sight in mice; humans next?

“The basic idea of optogenetics is to take a light-sensitive protein from another organism, typically from algae or bacteria, and insert it into a target cell, and that photosensitizes the cell,” Shoham explains.

However, the genetically repaired cells are less sensitive to light than normal healthy retinal cells, so they need a bright light source — a laser, or in the new research project, a holograph — to be activated.

The researchers plan to develop a prosthetic headset that looks like the new Google Glass, or create an eyepiece that would translate visual scenes into light, which would stimulate the genetically altered cells.

The Israeli scientists used computer-generated holography to stimulate repaired retinas in mice. The light stimulus was intense, precise and capable of stimulating many cells at one time, which are all necessary for proper vision.

They previously tried lasers and digital displays used in projectors, but both approaches had their drawbacks.

“Lasers give intensity, but they can’t give the parallel projection” that would simultaneously stimulate all the cells needed to see a complete picture, says Shoham. “Holography is a way of getting the best of both worlds.”

This new approach could power new retina prostheses being tested in the United States. One called Argus II was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) early this year, but offers only rudimentary vision to the wearer.

“You need to be careful with these things so the technology doesn’t run ahead of us,” Shoham cautions. “The system we are working on can potentially restore vision that is very high quality. But it will take at least five to 10 years.”

The technology also has many potential applications in the field of virtual reality.


 

 

 

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07
May
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RCA Responds to Impending Maharat Ordination of Women

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A few words  about the following post: You may or may not be aware of the ongoing "innovations" that Rabbi Avi Weiss has introduced into the North American Orthodox community over the past several years.  One of his projects is Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, created as a foil to Yeshiva University's RIETS. Chovevei is known for its left-leaning hashkafa and "social action" agenda.  In 2010, Weiss pushed the envelope by giving Sarah Hurwitz the quasi-rabbinic title, "Rabba", with the goal of moving towards Orthodox ordination for women. The Rabbinical Council of America, of which I am a proud member, formulated a clear resolution at the time to respond to the Hurwitz story. Now Weiss' dream has become a reality with an upcoming ordination ceremony for three women at "Yeshivat Maharat".

What makes this issue tough to navigate for most people is the distinction between advanced learning opportunities for women within the Orthodox fold and women rabbis.  This is a nuanced issue that relates to the difference between Torah knowledge and establishing innovations and precedents in Halacha.  It takes poskim with "big shoulders" - those who internalize the dictum איזהו חכם - הרואה את הנולד --- "Who is wise? One who sees what is born of his actions" - to facilitate major changes that will impact on the Torah community for generations to come.  At any rate, here is the RCA statement:

In light of the recent announcement that Yeshivat Maharat will celebrate the "ordination as clergy" of its first three graduates, and in response to the institution's claim that it "is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of Orthodox women as rabbinic leaders," the Rabbinical Council of America reasserts its position as articulated in its resolution of April 27, 2010, that:

"In light of the opportunity created by advanced women's learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halachically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title."

The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.

About the RCA:
The Rabbinical Council of America, with national headquarters in New York City, is a professional organization serving more than 1000 Orthodox Rabbis in the United States of America, Canada, Israel, and around the world. Membership is comprised of duly ordained Orthodox Rabbis who serve in positions of the congregational rabbinate, Jewish education, chaplaincies, and other allied fields of Jewish communal work
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03
May
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Babani Family Siete

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The Babani family Siete (shiva) schedule will take place both at SBH for services, and at the Babani home for visiting with the family.
  
SERVICES: At Sephardic Bikur Holim 6500 52nd Ave. South begining tonight Thursday, May 2nd.
VISITING: Babani home 6516 51st Ave South begining with Friday.
  
Services at Sephardic Bikur Holim
Thursday - 7:00pm
Sunday - 8:15pm
Monday - 7:00pm
Tuesday - 7:00pm
Wednesday - Corte de Siete 6:45pm
  
Home Visiting hours
Friday: 10am - 12noon & 1:00pm - 3:00pm. 
Shabbat: 5:00pm - 7:00pm.  
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday:   9:00am - 11:00am & 2:00pm - 5:00pm.
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24
Apr
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Announcement of EB Donations to Stern, Bauman families

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The EB Discretionary fund has just issued two significant donations - one to the Stern family of Boca Raton, who lost their daughter Shoshie in an accident last week.  For anyone interested in donating, click on http://www.shoshiestern.com/donate.html

We also donated to Jeff Bauman, injured so seriously in the Boston Marathon bombing. Here is the page, and the donation we sent with a message from our congregation.  Those interested in donating, click on http://www.gofundme.com/BucksforBauman

bucks for bauman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

donation to bauman

 

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19
Apr
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How to Respond to a Tough Week

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Baumanphoto

This has been a very trying week for Americans and for members of a Jewish community in Florida. 

By now, nothing more really needs to be said about the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon.  As I write, Boston police are in the midst of a manhunt for the second bomber, after having killed the first one in a shootout Thursday night. 

In Boca Raton, Florida, 12 year-old Shoshie Stern, daughter of Denise and Rabbi Mike Stern, was tragically killed at an intersection nearly the family home.  The Sterns, whose contributions to Jewish outreach in Philadelphia, Milwaukee and now Boca Raton over the past 20 years is legendary, are still trying to digest the enormity of their loss. shoshiestern

As a congregation that is tuned into what is going on around us, and which waves the banner of Torah, Avoda and Gemilut Hasadim, we should offer a meaningful Jewish response to these two tragedies.

Though we cannot help all of the victims, we can do our part.  There are a number of legitimate campaigns that have been set up to help the Stern family in Boca Raton and Jeff Bauman, the man in the photograph (now viral!) who became a double amputee as a result of the bombing; Jeff was also instrumental in identifying the bombers.

Over the next week, I will be accepting checks for the Discretionary Fund earmarked for the Stern and Bauman families. Please get cash or check to the EB office, or donate online at http://ezrabessaroth.net/support-eb and choose “Stern and Bauman Family Collection”

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18
Apr
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Israel Week at EB

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Israel week at Ezzy Bezzy has been great so far. We kicked off the week with a community-wide Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration. Festivities began at 5:15 pm on Tuesday afternoon with the screening of "Israel Inside: How a Small Country Makes a Big Difference". I had seen this film last year at a StandWithUS event, and felt strongly that we should find the opportunity to show it.  Over 70 members and friends of EB attended, and thoroughly enjoyed the film.  Here's the trailer:

   

The film is available through the Israel Inside website at http://www.israelinsidethemovie.com/ An inspiring film, it can serve as a tremendous "counter-propaganda" piece.  Particularly noteworthy was the unit on "Save a Child's Heart", an international Israeli humanitarian program that performs open heart surgery on kids from all over the world...Here is its mission statement:

Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) is an Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease and to create centers of competence in these countries. SACH is totally dedicated to the idea that every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child's nationality, religion, color, gender or financial situation. 

SACH is motivated by the age-old Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. By mending the hearts of children, regardless of their origin, SACH is contributing to a better and more peaceful future for all of our children.

The SACH mission is achieved through:

 Providing life-saving cardiac surgery and other life saving procedures for children from developing countries at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel;

 Providing a full outreach training program for the medical personnel from these countries in Israel;

 Leading surgical and teaching missions to partner countries in the developing world;

 Holding pre-operative and follow-up cardiology clinics in Israel and abroad.

Over half the children treated in recent years have been Palestinian. Need we say more? 
You can get more information about this amazing program by visiting their website at http://www.saveachildsheart.org

While adults (and some teenagers!) enjoyed the film, kids were occupied with a bouncy house, cotton candy and popcorn (thanks to Ari Hoffman and NCSY!), caricaturist Graham White's wonderful talents, and Rochelle Romano's Israeli cookie decorating extravaganza. At about 6:30 pm, Dalia and staff opened the Social Hall doors and treated us to a delectable Israeli meat dinner.  Hen Mazzig, StandWithUs shaliach to the Pacific Northwest spoke to the crowd about his ambitious work on behalf of Israel, while Fran Israel offered us a warmhearted peek into her recent adventures in Israel; for the full story see the blog entry posted here on the Ezzy Bezzy Blog back in January: http://www.ezrabessaroth.net/leadership/rabbi-s-blog/entry/how-i-traveled-to-israel-and-had-my-bathroom-remodeled

Pictures of the event can be found on our home page.

Special thanks to Susan Jensen for all her work on this program!

This Shabbat, Harley and Lela Franco are sponsoring: "Israel: A Sephardic Perpsective" featuring Rabbi Daniel Bouskila from the Sephardic Educational Center.  All the classes and the Kiddush Luncheon are open to the whole community.  Those considering joining Ezzy Bezzy are encouraged to attend!

 

 

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14
Apr
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Israel's Population Grew Tenfold Since 1948

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Govt: Israel's Population Grew Tenfold Since 1948
Just in time for Yom Ha'atzma'ut, the Central Bureau of Statistics released data on Israel's population.

By David Lev (Israelnationalnews.com)

A total of 8,018,000 people live in the State of Israel on Independence Day 2013, the CBS said. When the state was established on the fifth of the Hebrew month of Iyar in 1948, that number was a mere 806,000. Today, there are 6,042,000 Jews (75% of the country's population) living in Israel today, along with 1,658,000 Muslim and ChristianArabs (20.7% of the population). The country also has an additional 318,000 (4%) residents classified as “other,” including non-Arab Christians and members of other religions.

Israel's population grew by 138,000 since last Yom Ha'atzma'ut, a growth rate of 1.8%. In 2011, it was announced that over 70% of the Jewish population were born in Israel, with more than half second-generation Israelis. In 1948, only 35% were “native Sabras.”

The rise of the metropolitan area has been another important development in Israel over the past decades, the CBS said. In 1948, only one city – Tel Aviv-Jaffa – hand more than 100,000 residents. Today, there are six cities with more than 200,000 residents, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, and Petah Tikvah.

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11
Apr
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The History Channel's Six Day War Documentary

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08
Apr
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The Silence of Aharon and the Voice of Modern Jewish History

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quietFriday night, between Minha and Kabbalat Shabbat, we began to recite Shir HaShirim - Song of Songs.  Set as a romantic encounter between a suitor and his beloved, Song of Songs is a highly symbolic text depciting the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. In Chapter five, the pesukim read:

ב אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה, וְלִבִּי עֵר; קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק, פִּתְחִי-לִי אֲחֹתִי רַעְיָתִי יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי--שֶׁרֹּאשִׁי נִמְלָא-טָל, קְוֻצּוֹתַי רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה. 
ג פָּשַׁטְתִּי, אֶת-כֻּתָּנְתִּי--אֵיכָכָה, אֶלְבָּשֶׁנָּה; רָחַצְתִּי אֶת-רַגְלַי, אֵיכָכָה אֲטַנְּפֵם

2 I sleep, but my heart waketh; Hark! my beloved knocketh: 'Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.' 3 I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?

Just as the suitor, for whom the young woman has been waiting, arrives, the woman refuses to get up to open the door, excusing herself: she has already donned her sleeping attire, and does not want to soil her feet...

What are we supposed to derive from this passage?

In this week's Perasha, Shemini, we experience the tragedy of the demise of Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu after they bring an אש זרה, foreign fire, to Hashem. 

As Jews, we look to our Torah as a guide on how to respond to such tragic events.

This coming week, we observe Yom HaShoah, and the following week, Yom HaZikaron – Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen – followed by Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israel Independence day. 

The traditional response to the Shoah has always been grief over the tragedy coupled with  

וַאֲחֵיכֶם, כָּל-בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל--יִבְכּוּ אֶת-הַשְּׂרֵפָה, אֲשֶׁר שָׂרַף יְהוָה

Your brothers the entire family of Israel should mourn for the ones whom God burned.

But there is another response - that of the father,  Aharon.  The Torah reports:

וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן

Aharon was silent

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who was a guest at Ezra Bessaroth quite a few years ago, relates the following story:

I was present, as a very young boy, at the first Sabbath circumcision of the Klauzemberger Hassidim in the temporary home they made for themselves in New York – their way-station between the European destruction and the rebirth of their community in Kiryat Sanz, Netanya. The Rebbe intoned the time-honored verse, "Then I passed and I saw that you were rooted in your blood, and I said to you, 'by your blood shall you live'" (Ezekiel 16:6), as he blessed and named the newly-circumcised child entering the covenant of Abraham.

At the conclusion of his blessing, the Rebbe commented, "I always understood these words from the prophet Ezekiel, ‘be'damayikh hayii,’ to mean ‘by your blood shall you live,’ because of the sacrifices the Jews have forced to make for our God and our faith, we merit the covenantal gift of eternal life. However, now that we have suffered the unspeakable tragedies of the European conflagration, it seems to me that Ezekiel's ‘damayikh’ comes not from the Hebrew dam, blood, but rather from the Hebrew dom, silence, as in 'Vayidom Aharon’ – and Aaron was silent. It is because we held back from battering the gates of heaven with our cries, because we swallowed our sobs and continued to pray and to learn and to build and to plant, because we utilized our energies not to weep over our past losses but rather to recreate our communities, our synagogues, our study-houses, here in America and, please G-d, soon in Israel, that we continue to live and even to flourish…"

The silence of Aharon is the silence of our people, who understand how to face tragedy, personal, communal and national.  As human beings, we will never be able to grasp the reason: כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם נאם ה' – My thoughts are not your thoughts, says Hashem.  Aharon’s silence is a period of quiet that allows him to meditate and reorient himself, in order to decide what course of action is appropriate in response.

The Klausenberger Rebbe’s approach recalls that of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik in his monumental essay “Kol Dodi Dofek”.  The Rav presents two models of how an individual can potentially perceive his existence: A person either sees himself as an object of history – tossed about aimlessly in a reality beyond his control. The fatalist tends towards esoteric, speculative exercises at analyzing his fate. 

Another approach is that of one who sees himself as not the object, but as the subject of history. Born into a particular time and place, this type of person grapples with the question of personal mission, how to harness his resources in order to achieve his destiny. Instead of engaging in philosophical speculation, plagued by “why"?, he asks the question “what”? What am I meant to do in response? Like Aharon Hakohen according to the Klausenberger, this response is one of silence, of holding back from battering the gates of heaven with our cries, swallowing our sobs and continued to pray, learn , build, plant and flourish…

The Rav’s essay, “Kol Dodi Dofek”, analyzes the tumultuous twentieth century Jewish experience from the perspective of this model.  “Kol Dodi Dofek” refers to the scene in Shir HaShirim of the male suitor knocking on the door of his beloved.  In modern Jewish history, we, the Jewish people, can discern six distinctive “knocks” at our door, by our beloved.

The first knock is political: the astounding vote by the United Nations to grant our people a Jewish state in Palestine.  Rav Soloveitchik declares that the U.N. justified its entire existence with this single historical vote.

The second knock is military.  For those of us who recite “Al Hanisim” on Chanukah, we are familiar with the theme of רבים ביד מעטים – the many were given over into the hands of the few. The astounding victory of a handful of refugees from the Shoah over well-trained Arab armies was truly a modern expression of רבים ביד מעטים.

The third knock is theological.  The return of the Jews to their homeland and to Jerusalem, was a severe blow to certain elements of the Christian world committed to the belief that the Jews had surely been rejected by G-d and that all of the Biblical references to the return of Israel to Zion and Jerusalem was merely an allegorical reference to Christianity and the Christian church….

In his fourth knock, Rav Soloveitchik reflects on the process of assimilation that had overtaken the diaspora Jewish community by the mid Twentieth century. The rise of the State of Israel slowed down this process by providing a broad umbrella under which Jewish youth, who would otherwise have abandoned their Jewishness – could find themselves. It brought to the fore the inescapable reality of their Jewish identity in a way that no other process could have succeeded to do.

The fifth knock is the message that דם יהודי לא הפקר.  Jewish blood is not worthless.  The individuals and nations who have committed grievous crimes against our people will be held accountable.  The capture, trial and subsequent execution of Eichmann is but one concrete expression of this new reality.

I recall growing up in Canada, the book, “None is Too Many”; it documents the discriminatory post WW II policies of the Canadian government towards Jewish immigration. As one reviewer put it, “even when the war ended and the full evidence of the death camps became clear to all Canadians, there was no immediate lifting of the immigration barriers for the survivors”. The sixth knock is that of a homeland committed to opening its gates to all Jews. This final knock should not be treated lightly. “Kol Dodi Dofek”!

Returning now to the verses in Shir HaShirim with which we began: On a number of levels, our beloved, the G-d of Israel, of Jewish history is knocking.  How are we going to respond to our suitor? Are we going to answer, “I have taken off my robe, how can I put it back on once again? I have washed my feet – how can I soil them?” Are we going to see G-d’s hand in history and respond in kind, or are we going to doze off, ignore that knock at the door?

What is our personal, communal and national mission?  

How do we go about living out our destiny?

This past Shabbat, a member of our congregation, Uri Chotzen, was called to the Teva in honor of his upcoming Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.  What an auspicious week, the week of Yom HaShoah, to be making such a profound statement of identification with the Jewish people, with our destiny! 

As we individually and collectively all work to figure out what our response is to the various Divine cues that we’ve discussed, we congratulate Uri and wish him and his family a hearty Mazal Tov on his response! 

 

 

 

 

 

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03
Apr
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Hametz has been repurchased

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All Hametz sold through Rabbi Benzaquen/Rabbi Meyers was repurchased at 8:45 pm Tuesday night.  

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28
Mar
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The Wicked Son - Revisited

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naughtysonOn Shabbat Hagadol, we delved into the topic of the “Four Sons” of the Pesach Seder.  It seems each time that one discusses this topic, conversation tends to focus on the בן הרשע, “the wicked son”.  What seems to make us most uncomfortable is the approach we take to answering him, not politically correct nor prudent during an age where Jewish life demands a pleasant, welcoming, “outreach” approach to those Jews who are distant from Jewish learning and tradition.

One approach is that of Rabbi Amnon Bazak; he notes that the question of the wicked son מה העבודה הזאת לכם - What is this worship/service to you? - appears in the Torah in the context of the Pesach sacrifice.  The cynicism with which this “son” asks his question is understood as an attack on the religious value of the Korban.  There are only two positive mitzvot in which failure to act makes one liable for the punishment of כרת – excision from the Jewish people: one is the Korban Pesach, the other: Brit Milah – circumcision. 

What links these two mitzvot is that they both are highly symbolic “signs” of identification with our people.  One who refrains from performing Brit Milah on his son or from offering the Korban Pesach when the Temple is standing effectively opts out of the Jewish community.  Karet/excision is therefore an appropriate consequence of this conscious disconnect. It’s by no coincidence that the Hagadah rebukes the Rasha by saying that had he been in Mizraim, he would not have been redeemed.   

On Shabbat Hagadol, we observed that the Hagadah’s “Four Sons” represents a midrashic, homiletic understanding of the Torah, that on a “peshat (plain meaning)” level, the wise, wicked, and simple sons do not appear clearly in the text. On the second day of Yom Tov, I presented what I think is a more authentic source for the רשע of the Torah:

  יג וַיֵּצֵא בַּיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי, וְהִנֵּה שְׁנֵי-אֲנָשִׁים עִבְרִים נִצִּים; וַיֹּאמֶר, לָרָשָׁע, לָמָּה תַכֶּה, רֵעֶךָ.

 




Moses went out the next day, and he saw two Hebrew men fighting. 'Why are you beating your brother?' he demanded of the wicked one.

Rashi  observes that the future form תַכֶּה, implies that the one Hebrew was about to hit his fellow Hebrew, though he had not done so yet.  “We derive from here that merely raising one’s hand to smite another person gives a person the status of a רשע, a wicked person.”  The aggressive Hebrew was indeed a רשע, and the Torah is conveying an essential lesson about its view of aggressive behavior.I would like to offer an additional understanding of the passage.  Perhaps the status of רשע – “wicked” was a label that Moshe had bestowed on the Hebrew; in other words, Moshe had assessed his behavior, judged him, effectively “taking him out of the community”.   

Moshe’s appeal: why are you about to hit your fellow (Hebrew) – hoping that their shared nationality would strike a chord in the aggressor – fell on deaf ears:  

 יד וַיֹּאמֶר מִי שָׂמְךָ לְאִישׁ שַׂר וְשֹׁפֵט, עָלֵינוּ--הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אֹמֵר, כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי; וַיִּירָא מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר, אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר. 

'Who made you our prince and judge?...Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?'
Moses was frightened. 'The matter is known,' he said.

It could be that we are being taught here that Moshe’s advance judgment of the aggressor itself triggered the unreceptive response:

יט  כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים-- כֵּן לֵב-הָאָדָם, לָאָדָם.

(19 As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man. (Mishlei/Proverbs 

In other words, Moshe’s assessment itself could have contributed to the negative response; after having himself been “written off,” the Jew rejects Moshe’s appeal to “nationhood” as the basis upon which he should refrain from striking his fellow.

This in turn, prompts Moshe’s response. “The matter is known!”

On a "peshat" level, Moshe means that the word was out that he had killed the Egyptian.  On a homiletic level, Rashi offers the following explanation:

….the matter I was wondering about, [i.e.,] why the Israelites are considered more sinful than all the seventy nations [of the world], to be subjugated with back-breaking labor, has become known to me. Indeed, I see that they deserve it.

Moshe proceeds to paint all of the Israelites with the same brush: the level of wickedness exhibited by this Israelite is symptomatic of the entire nation.  Moshe subsequently flees not only from Paroh’s death threat (plain meaning of the text) but from his own people. Paradoxically, his critique of the Israelites failure to appreciate that which binds them together..... brings about his own voluntary disconnect from his people!

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited in “Nefesh HaRav”) suggests that the encounter between G-d and Moshe at the burning bush be understood as a continuation of the passage that we are now identifying as the new passage of the Wicked Son.

When G-d commissions Moshe to lead the Jews out of Egypt, Moshe asks:

 מִי אָנֹכִי, כִּי אֵלֵךְ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה; וְכִי אוֹצִיא אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם.

 : For Rashi, this question can be divided into two parts

  • Who am I to speak with kings?
  • By what justification do the Israelites merit leaving Egypt?

For Moshe, the nation which deserved to be enslaved when he fled Mizraim, remains a nation of רשעים, of wicked people. 

G-d’s answer to Moshe is already built into the image of the burning bush:  G-d speaks to Moshe out of the fiery heart of the bush, but the fire does not spread outwards.  Moshe is perplexed: Why does the bush remain intact and not get consumed by the fire?  

Rav Soloveitchik: The bush represents the Jewish people, a nation with a warm fire burning inside. True, its external behavior has long hidden this inner flame.  The outside of the bush is not consumed: the inner flame has not yet manifested itself.  The Midrash hints at this when it cites G-d’s words:

רָאֹה רָאִיתִי אֶת-עֳנִי עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר בְּמִצְרָיִם

I have surely seen the affliction of my nation in Egypt…

Midrash Rabba: Moshe, you see one dimension, I (G-d) see another…

Rav Soloveitchik: Moshe, you simply perceive the externalities, the apparent wickedness of this people,  but I see the internal flame.  I am sending you to redeem this people; their merit may not be obvious now, but it will become apparent once they accept the Torah on this very mountain.

Over the centuries, Jews have often been at the forefront of major political and social movements.  Jewish participation in these activities may not always strike a responsive chord in each of us, but engrained in the Jewish psyche over the ages is a sincere desire to “repair the world.”  In contemporary Jewish life, authentic Jewish strivings also do not always express themselves in the most traditionally Jewish contexts.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, we often write off our fellow Jews if we think they are too far gone, too secularized, too removed from Jewish life to claim a place in our community.

So Moshe’s conviction that the Israelites do not deserve to be redeemed – a view first expressed in his encounter with the two Israelites in Egypt – continued at the burning bush.  His approach echoes the Hagadah’s declaration about the בן הרשע – the wicked son,

אילו היה שם לא היה נגאל

Were he to have been there, he would not have been redeemed.

It took G-d Himself to convince Moshe to tap into the פנימיות, the fire, burning in the heart of the bush.

Food for thought .... and a profound meditation for anyone questioning the value of Jewish outreach in the 21st century. 

 

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24
Mar
0

Last Chance to Sell Hametz

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Dear Friend,
 
As you know, it is forbidden for a Jewish person to own Hametz on Pesach.  Each year, the city's rabbis take on the responsibility of acting as agents to sell the Hametz of the members of our community.  To date, I have received many Hametz contracts, and I want to be certain that everyone who has planned to use me as their agent has had a chance to do so.  Halacha (Jewish law) permits the appointment of the rabbi to be done, if necessary, through the internet.  
 
There are two sales taking place in the next day:
  • One, tonight at 9:30 pm for those of you who will be east of Seattle, and for whom the prohibition to own Hametz will set in earlier than here in Seattle.
  • One tomorrow, late morning, for those of you will be welcoming in Pesach here in Seattle.
 
If you have not yet done so, I urge you to fill out the form below, copy and paste into an email - and return the email to me immediately - to my personal email address  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  specifying if you would like to be included in tonight's sale or Monday's sale.
 
If you have not already done so, it is traditional to contribute to the Ma'ot Hitim fund which is distributed to families requiring assistance in purchasing Pesach supplies.  At your convenience, any contribution to the "EB Rabbi's Discretionary Fund" would be welcome.  Checks can be mailed to EB, 5217 S. Brandon St. Seattle WA 98118, or donations can be made via our website http://ezrabessaroth.net/support-eb (choose "Rabbi's Discretionary Fund")
 
Thank you!
 
Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers
Congregation Ezra Bessaroth
 
 
CONTRACT FOR SALE OF CHAMETZ  
 
DELEGATION OF POWER FOR SALE OF CHAMETZ 
 
 
KNOW YE that I, the undersigned, fully empower and permit Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers
(“the Rabbi”) to act in my place and stead, and on my behalf, as my agent, to sell all Chametz
possessed by me (knowingly or unknowingly) as defined by the Torah and Rabbinic law (e.g.
Chametz, possible Chametz, and all kinds of Chametz mixtures). The also includes Chametz
that tends to harden and to adhere to inside surfaces of pans, pots, or cooking and usable
utensils, and all kinds of live animals that have been eating Chametz or mixtures thereof. I also
fully empower and permit the Rabbi to act in my place and stead, and on my behalf, as my
agent to lease all places wherein my Chametz be found, especially in the premises located at
_____________________________________________ and elsewhere. The Rabbi has the full
right to sell and to lease by transactions, as he deems fit and proper, and for such time which
he believes necessary in accordance with all detailed terms and detailed forms as explained in
the general authorization contract which have been given this year to the Rabbi to sell
Chametz. This general authorization is made a part of this agreement. Also do I hereby give
the Rabbi full power and authority to appoint a substitute in his stead with full power to sell 
and to lease as provided herein. 
 
The above given power is in conformity with all Torah, Rabbinical regulations and laws, and
also in accordance with laws of the State of Washington and of the United States.
 
 ________Nissan (Hebrew Date) in the year 5773. 
 
Name: ____________________________________________________________
Address: ___________________________________________________________ 
Date: ______________________________________________________________ 
 
The legal intricacies concerning this transfer of property are many, and only a competent
Rabbi should be entrusted with its execution. 
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