Monday, December 26, 2005

Chanukah and the three layers of darkness

Channukah, the Festival of Lights, is actually enveloped in three layers of darkness.

First of all, it takes place at night, and is the only holiday whose only action is taken at night. Even Pesach, where the Seder takes a major role, there are sacrifices brought during the day.

Secondly, it takes place in the winter, the only holiday to really do so. Purim is in the end of winter, but is connected with Pesach in the spring. All the biblical holidays take place around the harvest season, from Pesach in the beginning, to Sukkot in the end. This is logical, since without a holiday framework, it would be very easy to forget God in the midst of the agricultural preparations, and forget to thank Him after the harvest. But the winter is sort of a “dead” time for farmers and there is no real need for a holiday. And not only does Channukah fall in the winter, but according to the Maharal it is actually associated with the winter solstice, the shortest day (and longest night) of the year. He comes to this conclusion based on the idea that the man was created on 1 Tishrei; therefore the world was created on 25 Elul. If the year is divided into 4 seasons, with the first day of the season being either the equinox or the solstice, then 4 months after the 25th of Elul is the 25th of Kislev – Channukah. An additional interesting source is the midrash in Avoda Zara, which talks about how Adam was afraid as the days got shorter, but when the days began to get longer (after the winter solstice), he had a celebration lasting 8 days. While Channukah is not mentioned in the midrash, the connection seems to be there nonetheless. (Also interesting is the following midrash that discusses Adam’s similar fear in the first night, until the day began to break.)

Lastly, I would say that Channukah takes place in Judaism’s “Dark Ages.” It falls during the Second Temple period, between the closing of the Tanach, and the earliest rabbinic literature. The biblical period of Ezra and Nechemia end with a whimper, not a bang, dissolving into the fog of history. There are many questions about this period brought up both in rabbinic and historical circles --- neither seem to know exactly what took place when. Historians admit they have huge gaps of knowledge here. And from the Jewish perspective, the large number of questions related to the time points to either a general fog over the era or the after-effect of not having authoritative literature. One issue is the “missing 170 years” that have fascinated rabbis and scholars. Another is the status of the Apocrypha – the Sefarim Chitzonim, external books to the biblical canon. Their “in-between” status seems to characterize the entire period. Also, many of the questions surrounding Channukah itself stem from the lack of official texts. Why is there no Masechet Channukah? Where do the Macabees fit into the chain of tradition described in the beginning of Pirkei Avot? What were Babylonian and the rest of Diaspora Jewry’s reactions to these events? Why does the story of the vial of oil only appear in such late rabbinic sources? I won’t venture an answer to these questions, but had the bible continued until the events of Channukah, or had the rabbinic literature flourished at the same level it did a few hundred years later, it is likely we would not be as confused as we are now.

To truly understand the significance of the darkness surrounding Channukah, it is important to understand the alternatives. Why does it seem so strange to us that a holiday would take place in the dead of winter, seemingly in the middle of the night?

To answer this, lets look at the Jewish calendar. The Jewish day begins generally at nightfall, although in certain circumstances (in the Temple for example) it begins at daybreak. Either of these options are very natural times to start a day – either when you wake up or when you go to sleep. Similarly, the Jewish year starts either in the fall (Rosh Chodesh Tishrei) or in the spring (Rosh Chodesh Nisan). Both of these are natural choices as well, to start the year either at the beginning of the harvest, and the blossoming of the plant life, or at the end of the same cycle. The two parallel options are also expressed in the disagreement as to whether the world was created in Nisan or Tishrei (and to some extent continued in the Rashbam’s proposition that
perhaps the first day began at daybreak as well).

But if we look at the non-Jewish, Western concept of when to start the day and the year, it appears rather strange. Their day begins at midnight, and their year begins on the first of January. Why initiate a central unit of time in the middle of the dark? The day is dislocated from the natural human rhythms of rising and resting, and the year would seem to have no agricultural significance at all.

The answer to this may be found in a different perspective on nature, on the world we live in. While a day or a year beginning in the most inactive part of the cycle might seem strange to someone living within that cycle, to someone observing that cycle it is the most opportune time. There are far fewer changes occurring, and this allows the research to be more precise. This scientific approach, looking at the world from the outside, contrasts with the natural approach that involves only living in the natural order of the world. Who most represented the scientific approach to life? The Greeks.

The Greeks represented logic, science, and philosophy. I think it is not a coincidence that when the Jews were in their “dark ages”, the light of Greek civilization was at its highest. This was the time of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. In a way, Greek civilization provided the first real competitor for Judaism’s monotheism. The philosophers rejected idolatry, but for different reasons than Judaism. They felt that logic was the source of ethics and morals, and that view led to their eventual conflict with Judaism (who they initially had great respect for).

Until that time Judaism represented the natural approach, not the scientific one. So why should the holiday representing victory over the Greeks seem to have such heavy themes of the scientific approach? Why at night? Why in the winter? In a sense, Channukah seems to even ignore Rosh Chodesh, where as all the other holidays are either connected to the new moon or the full moon. (Rav Yoel Bin-Nun discussed in a lecture how up until the time of Channukah, Rosh Chodesh had a very prominent role in Jewish life – with stores closed, the people assembled, etc. Antiochus made three decrees against the Jewish people – prohibiting the observance of Shabbat, circumcision and Rosh Chodesh. For Shabbat and circumcision the Jews were willing to sacrifice their lives, but for Rosh Chodesh they weren’t. And according to tradition, only what the Jews were willing to sacrifice for was able to endure – and the previous significance of Rosh Chodesh did not endure.)

Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin said that the Oral Law developed to its full potential after the victory of the Hasmoneans over the Greek culture, a culture characterized by deep analysis and hair-splitting argument. These virtues were converted to a holy nature with the victory of Israel over Greece. This was the fulfillment of the verse “God will give beauty to Yefet and this beauty will dwell in the tents of Shem” (as per the gemara in Megillah 9b).

After the victory, through which we proved that “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God”, we could begin the successful integration of science, logic and philosophy into our natural world, into the world of the Written Law. Only then could the Oral Law truly begin to flourish. We didn’t need to concede to the Greeks, nor did we need to ignore them. Only from our position of military and intellectual strength could we succeed where others failed – the integration of our tradition with new logic and science.

Perhaps this is another way of understanding the famous statement by the Maharal that the eight days of Channukah represent the supernatural as opposed to the natural seven-day order of the week. In a sense, science is also supernatural, by allowing us to step out of the natural order of the world and observe it from the outside.

Only with our synthesis of the two worlds – the natural and the scientific, the traditional, agricultural Written Torah with the logical, philosophical concepts of machloket can the greatness of the Talmud be reached. Or in the language of the rabbis, both the tearing down mountains of “oker harim” (logic) and the mountain of “Sinai” (tradition) are needed to truly achieve the mantle of the Oral Law.

This is the message of Channukah. It comes to say that even though it is the middle of the winter, even though it is night, we come to light a candle to say that we are not bound by the natural order of the world. Even as Jews bound by the yoke of tradition and Torah, we can, through science and logic, break through to the supernatural. Through a synthesis of Torah and logic, we can achieve true intellectual freedom.

Neo Makes Aliyah

This is something my wife noticed years ago - a strong parallel between the movie the Matrix, and the choice between living in America and making aliya.

Check out this flash movie, they did a great job: FREE YOUR MIND, NEO - inspired by The Matrix

Monday, December 12, 2005

also rans and Iran

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming election (surprise!).

First of all, it’s funny watching all the parties attack Sharon for “collecting” new Knesset members and others in Kadima. Isn’t that what all parties do? Aren’t they all trying to do that now? I don’t even understand the hava amina of what’s wrong with it. Certainly there’s a problem giving an MK a promotion to get his support on a vote. But what’s wrong with doing that before an election?

I can’t describe how disappointed and angry I’ll be if the NRP and the Ichud HaLeumi don’t get together. If for some reason it is still unclear to them or anyone else, there is no difference between Shaul Yahalom, Effie Eitam, Tzvi Hendel and Benny Elon. At least not for any relevant issue today.

I don’t see myself voting for Kadima. However, I’m not sure what I’d do if there were direct elections for the PM. I realize that Sharon isn’t great for the settlement enterprise today. But then again, neither is Bibi.

However, there’s another issue on the agenda. Iran. We might be heading to war with Iran. There’s been a lot of saber-rattling on both sides recently. It could be that we’re making veiled threats to indicate to the US that they’d better get involved - or we will. But even if the US attacks Iran, we’re likely to get hit with the rebuttal, like Saddam in 1991. And I imagine that Hizbollah, and maybe the Palestinians will get involved too.

This could be a very serious war. And I can’t think of anyone else in the country capable of leading us through it other than Sharon. He has tremendous military and diplomatic experience. He’s developed a very good relation with the US. He’s a strategic thinker (whether you agree with his strategy or not.) Netanyahu and Barak simply don’t have the nerves of steel necessary to handle such a crisis. They both remind of Reuven approaching Yaakov - trying to come up with some sort of plan at the last minute, but not seeming serious. Obviously Peretz isn’t an option. And while there might be others out there who I agree with more, and have a cleaner record, they obviously don’t have the experience that Sharon does.

There were those that said that the reason Sharon was so interested in leaving Gaza was to prepare Israel diplomatically and militarily for the inevitable showdown with Iran. I don’t know whether that is true or not, but one way or another, we’re likely to find out.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Saturday Night Live - Weekend Update Quotables

A new addition to my regular weekly reading of news satire, and naturally a classic:

Saturday Night Live - Weekend Update Quotables

separated at birth?

Saddam Hussein at his trial:

And comedian Richard Pryor:

Monday, December 05, 2005

dryers and dishwashers

For some reason, we're often looked at as unusual because we don't have a dishwasher. We actually wash dishes by hand. Even our kitchen contactor didn't believe us when we said we didn't need a space for one.

I never had one growing up. I thought it was an idealogical thing on my dad's part, but he told me much later that he just couldn't afford one. But still, I've never felt the need for one. And I'm not even sure I like them. They sometimes leave a weird taste on dishes, and you still need to wash the dishes in the sink before you put them in the dishwasher!

On the other hand, people here often think we're nuts that we have the luxury of luxuries - a dryer! This seems like such a basic necessity. If I want my clothes dry now (or now-ish), I simply put them in the dryer. The weather doesn't matter, don't need to worry about birds or wind or whatever.

Now I see common ground between my lack of interest in a dishwasher and my need for a dryer. Both are based on the fact that I don't want to do superfluous work, and would like to get results in the quickest amount of time. Can someone please explain to me the rationale in this country that works the opposite way?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

an interesting article about the Chief Rabbi of the IDF

From NFC

Saturday, December 03, 2005

who really cares about social justice?

As perhaps you could tell from reading my blog, both my religious and political views aren’t typical, particularly for someone in my “sector”. They tend to be a bit complex/mixed up. Well, my socio-economic views aren’t much more normal.

For a number of reasons I should be on the left of the socio-economic spectrum:

  1. I grew up in a typical liberal Jewish family in America, always supported Democrats over Republicans

  2. I lived in such cities as San Francisco and Boston

  3. I am a believer in the classic ideology of Torah V’Avoda, as espoused by R’ Shmuel Chaim Landau (Shachal) and R’ Yeshaya Shapiro (HaAdmor HeChalutz), which is very socialist in nature

  4. After making aliya, I lived on kibbutz for four years – a kibbutz which still strongly follows the original ideology of kibbutz (very little privatization)

So why are my economic views so far to the right in Israel? Why do I support nearly every economic move by Netanyahu? Why am I so disgusted with Amir Peretz? Don’t I care about the poor? What about social justice?

Well, first of all, many people in this country, particularly Western immigrants can’t stand the Histadrut. We know about the organization primarily through strikes that affect our lives in ways that we have no control over. They can paralyze public institutions, but have no accountability for their actions. (Did you know there’s no Hebrew word for accountability?)

But after working for the past few years in a government office, I’ve come to realize something more. It’s not just about being annoyed by having no banks service, airport or garbage removal. I don’t believe that the Histadrut is interested in social justice at all. The highest paid workers in Israel work for the public utilities like the Electric Company, Mekorot (water), the ports, etc. Why? Because they have the strongest ability to strangle the country. But if Amir Peretz and the Histadrut really cared about social justice, why don’t they demand that the Electric Company workers take a big pay cut to help out the poor? That teachers get free electricity instead of them?

No, Amir Peretz never made any of these kinds of important demands. Never will. In fact, I can’t think of a difficult decision, an unpopular (unpopulist) stance he’s ever taken. Which means he’s not a politician I could ever support. Whether you agree with them or not, Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres, Bibi Netanyahu, Tommy Lapid, Zevulun Orlev and Benny Elon have all taken positions that weren’t popular with their electorate, but they did it because they knew it was right. Even at the cost of political risk. That’s called leadership. Without leadership, there’s no chance of achieving real social justice. The opposite of leadership? Opportunism. And that’s exactly what Amir Peretz is all about.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I wonder how the Israeli pundits would do...

The New Yorker reviews Philip Tetlock’s new book, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?”

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Now this is just silly...

Fritolaysia Cuts Off Chiplomatic Relations With Snakistan | The Onion

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

my kind of party

I’ve always loved watching how people interconnect with each other. The most obvious example of this is my interest in genealogy. But there are many others. As a kid I always liked the midrashim that explained who the unknown people in Tanach stories are, and how they appear in multiple legends. And l’havdil, when we studied Greek mythology in English class, I was fascinated with who was related to whom. As I mentioned, I had my own version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” before that game was invented, and pre-IMDB. In general, I liked studying history when I could see the connection between individuals and generations.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that pre-elections is one of my favorite seasons. I love to watch people joining parties, switching parties, creating parties. In 1996 we were still in the States, but by 1999 I was in a classic position to watch this spectator sport. First of all, I had a job that allowed me to listen to the radio as much as I liked. Yaron Dekel was an excellent political commentator in election time. (He’s good in Washington now, but it would be nice if he’d come back every election.) Also, I got to listen to the show HaMila HaAchrona on Galei Tzahal. Back then it was one of the few opportunities to hear people with different opinions without them shouting at each other Popolitika style. (I haven’t had a job that allows me to listen to them for 5 years - and I still miss the show.) I also read HaAretz daily, and enjoyed the writing of Akiva Eldar and Yossi Verter (even if I didn’t agree with their politics.) I would follow the developments in all the parties, read every name on all the lists, and even organized a debate between Rav Yehuda Gilad (Meimad), Rav Benny Elon (Ichud Leumi), Nachum Langental (Mafdal) and Yechiel Lasri (Merkaz - anyone remember him?).

The 2001 elections were pretty boring since they were only for the Prime Minister. But in 2003 I was good to go again, and this time even better, because I was working in a government ministry, so I could watch developments close up.

And now, with the “Big Bang” of Israeli politics in full swing, I can watch it to my heart’s content. Who will leave Labor, Likud and Shinui to join Sharon? Who will be on the Mafdal-Ichud HaLeumi list? Will Avigdor Lieberman join Likud? I can’t wait.

Monday, November 28, 2005

well, i was inspired

On Shabbat, I heard a dvar torah in a haredi yeshiva. While the speaker tended to mix various midrashim and use them as proofs instead of relating to them as individual drashot (something that usually bothers me), the idea was nice.

He discussed the importance of inspiration. He asked why did Avraham’s servant (who he naturally called Eliezer) first give the gifts to Rivka and only then ask her name. His point was that the servant was inspired, realized the hashgacha in Rivka’s actions, and needed to act. He compared this to the actions of Lot’s sons-in-law, who more or less refused to be inspired, even by the miraculous actions by the angels. Another example he gave was Yitro’s inspiration by the splitting of the sea vs Amalek’s decision to ignore the opportunity.

While I’m sure the speaker intended to inspire his audience - I don’t think he expected me to get the message I got out of it. Because as I looked around the crowd in that yeshiva, I couldn’t help wondering - how many people in the room chose not to be inspired by the miracles and hashgacha present in the return of the Jewish people to their land and the founding of an independent Jewish state?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

comedy and theology

I've always believed that you can learn a lot about something by a good question, even if the answer offered along with it isn't anything special. This applies very much to Judaism. I'm willing to deal with questions asked by anybody - that doesn't mean I have to accept their answers. And one of the best places to get good questions - and be entertained in the process - is from humor.

Jokes about the Bible or religion are great ways to focus on the apparent contradictions and difficulties that religious belief entails. The Simpsons does a great job of dealing with religion in a humorous way.

I happened to get a couple of very funny items this week that help show how humor can focus our questions on religion.

The first is this Sunday's "Pearls Before Swine" strip by Stephan Pastis. As the name of the strip implies, Pastis often hints at religious themes, but not in an offensive way like B.C.

This strip deals with the very important issue of how our name can survive, and the meaning of immortality. It's an issue I've thought of often, sort of developed my own theory, and recently read a great article about it here. But Pastis does it in a way that makes you think and laugh:

The second item was a quote I got in an email today. It's by the comedian Emo Philips, who I wasn't very familiar with. Turns out he's very funny. Here's his quote:

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord, in his wisdom, didn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked him to forgive me.

Besides being very funny - isn't that incredibly thought provoking? It brings up some very important issues about the nature of both tefila and teshuva.

I've discussed my thoughts about "asking God for a bicycle" a couple of times already. But I recently went to a very intersting shiur where the Rav had a pretty bold - but hard to deny - thesis: that there is no Teshuva before punishment in the Chumash. It appears in the Nevi'im, and certainly in the Oral Torah (and makes its way back into our view of the Torah via midrashim.) But in the punishments of Kayin, the flood, the Tower of Bavel, Sdom, Mitzrayim, the Golden Calf and more - the people getting punished never were given a warning and a chance to repent. Even the section of the Torah which deals with teshuva, in Parshat Nitzavim, only comes after the curses of Ki Tavo.

Of course that approach has changed over time, but that only makes the questions raised by Emo so much more fascinating.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Dilbert Blog: Unfair Stereotypes

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert has a new blog. And today he had a rather funny insight into the recent bombings in Jordan:

The Dilbert Blog: Unfair Stereotypes

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager

Type in your first name and see its distribution over time:

The Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A logic riddle

Someone posed this logic riddle to me this morning:

If Shimon Peres were to enter a loser contest, would he win or lose?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

at least listen to milo

I have a number of friends and family members who adhere to the Atkins diet. They're convinced that it's a great way to lose weight and stay slim. I have a number of reservations about the approach, but I'm not usually comfortable discussing it with them directly. So I figure, I'll write about it here, and maybe by chance one of them will happen to come across it...

When it comes to losing weight, I always remember the advice from this classic 1987 Bloom County cartoon:

I might add "eat right" to "eat less", but the basic message is incredibly solid.

My weight now is far from ideal, but I have successfully lost weight in the past, and from what I've seen the most important factor (I suppose besides genetics) is will power. (However, as Toad points out here [ignore the footnotes], sometimes a cake is preferrable to will power.) When I have committed myself to eating less and exercise, I've lost weight. When I don't do that - I gain weight. Pretty simple.

Fad diets have been around for a long time, but for some reason Atkins has come across as very attractive.

For the red-blooded American male (or immigrant to Israel) what’s more attractive than a diet that says eat as much meat as you can, and labels carbs as devil’s food (and devil’s food cake as carbs...)?

What’s my problem with it? Well I need to return once again to the 1980s - pre-Atkins. I got a copy of the book Jane Brody’s Good Food Book - Living the High Carbohydrate Way. She paints a picture of how a high carbohydrate diet is the most healthy way to live and will keep weight down as well. It fits well with everything I learned about nutrition and physiology in school.

The misconception that many people have that carbohydrates are fattening stems from the fact that we often put fattening things on top of our starches. But starches, particularly those that are full of fiber, are very healthy, and create a sense of satisfaction that reduces our appetites.

Brody brings many scientific studies that show the advantage of a diet high in fiber and carbohydrates and moderate in proteins and fats. But what convinced me most was her explanation of how man is designed. She entitled the chapter “Dietary Lessons from Human Evolution”. I won’t go into a discussion of evolution, but suffice it to say that if I can conclude that there are lessons from the way God created us, then they are much stronger!

She writes that “our teeth are structured more for grinding, like those of herbivorous cattle, than for tearing meat, like the teeth of carnivorous cats and dogs.” Also, “our long and convoluted intestinal tracts are better designed for the slow digestion of fibrous plant foods, rather than the short, straight, fast tract needed by carnivores to process meat”.

She describes how ancient man had relatively infrequent access to meat, while most of the time would eat starches, fruits and vegetables. When a meat meal would become available, he would eat as much as he could. We still have that passion today, but we end up eating much more meat than necessary. This is also the view of the rabbis, who wrote that “one should not eat meat unless he has an appetite for it (Hullin 84a).”

So instead of working with what the body is supposed to do, a high-meat, low-carb diet basically induces ketosis. That might not seem so bad, but I worked in a refet for a year and a half, and I saw what happened when the cows got bovine ketosis. Not pretty. It doesn’t seem appropriate for a person to bring it upon himself.

Additionally, it would seem that an Atkins type diet isn’t great for the kidneys. This site describes the process:

When amino acids are "burned" as a fuel, ammonia (NH3] is the waste product.
Ammonia must be carried to the liver, converted to urea and excreted by the

(This is why it’s not a good idea to eat protein before a fast. The water you drink beforehand is used to pass the urea instead of helping you out the next day. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, preserve water, making the fast easier. Since I’ve learned this tip, my fasts have been much easier.)

So a very high protein diet makes the kidneys work overtime. That seems like a risk that isn’t worthwhile, even for the chance to lose some weight.

So what do I recommend? If you won’t listen to me, at least listen to Milo…

The Pop vs. Soda Page

With my wife hailing from Chicago, and me having grown up in Rochester and San Francisco, we often have "debates" about the proper terminology for flavored carbonated beverages.

Well, here's a page that discusses in detail the geographic distinctions of that controversy:

The Pop vs. Soda Page

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

extra, extra, read all about it

My first three years of high school were spent in a school that allowed the students a great deal of choice in which classes to take and their schedules. It was more like a university than most high schools (at least at the time.)

Due to this flexibility, in the second semester of my junior year, I was able to finish school before noon! One of the things that enabled me to accomplish this feat, was the fact that if you worked on the school paper, it was considered as a class in English (which was required.) I worked as one of the editors of the political section of the paper. The hours were flexible and I could come and go as I pleased.

While now that same paper is done with fancy computer editing and graphics, back then we had to do a lot of the work by hand. We’d send the files (yes, there were computers back in 1989) to the printer, they’d send back us the material, and we’d cut it up and paste it to the boards, and from there back to the printer. Or something like that.

The paper came out once a month, and my favorite day of the months, was just after the paper came out. After everyone had been working hard on writing and editing for weeks, we could now all sit back, relax and review what we had done. And together with the insightful comments, there were a lot of laughs at the mistakes.

(I was to repeat this fulfilling experience years later, when I spent a few months working for the Jerusalem Report.)

Well, I don’t work on a newspaper now, but I have two web sites that allow me to experience it vicariously:

  • Even though I’m not a big fan of Jay Leno, I’ve always enjoyed his Headlines. Every time I remember to go back to his site, I’m always in for a few good laughs. I only wish I still had some of the mistakes from our high school paper to submit…

  • I recently found a new blog, BAGnewsNotes, “a progressive blog dedicated to the discussion and analysis of news images”. While many of the photos discussed relate to issues that I’m either not that associated with or even familiar with, the author and the commenters do a great job of understanding the meaning behind the news photos.

Now I know what it's called...

For a while, I've been thinking about writing about the significance of changes in the internet - blogs, wikis, RSS, etc. I had a feeling it represented a significant change, but I didn't know that there was already an official term for it: Web 2.0

Here's an article that explains the term and its significance:

O'Reilly: What Is Web 2.0

And as fits the era, here's the Wiki article:

Monday, October 31, 2005

out of the mouths of babes

When we lived on kibbutz, I held a number of jobs. I worked in the refet, the olive & pickle factory and I held a number of jobs in the chadar ochel. One other job that I had part time was teaching English to the children of native English speakers in the elementary school. Although I’d taught in the past, I never studied education, so my classes were always somewhat … experimental (read “improvised”.) We’d mostly play games, often discussing popular culture (one of the students, I think in 5th grade, was the child of Israelis, but had learned all his English watching The Simpsons. He actually had the highest level English in the class.)

Anyway, this Shabbat I saw one of the kids who I taught, and it reminded me of a story about him. I was trying to teach some of the younger kids (second and third grades.) This kid felt that being with the younger kids was a bit babyish, and was trying to “play it cool.” He wasn’t interested in any of the games that I suggested. I asked him what he liked to play, and he said soccer. So I invented some kind of game on the blackboard, where if a kid would name an animal in English, he could score a goal. He was into it, while still attempting to remain cool.

When it was his term, this cool kid, came up with the following animals - “horsey, doggie, piggy…” I had a hard time not laughing!

That certainly made me think about the risks of talking in “baby-talk” to our children.

But I guess I got my comeuppance for my attitude a couple of months ago.

I work in an area of Jerusalem where the mounted police patrol regularly. They also use our parking lot as a place to park their horses when they want to come in for lunch.

One day when I was leaving work with an English-speaking friend from my neighborhood, I noticed that one of the mounted policemen leaving the parking lot was also from our town. I innocently said, “Hey, look! There’s Dudu” (the cop’s name, a common Israeli nickname for David). However, my friend: a) didn’t know the cop, and b) noticed one of the natural functions that the horse was performing at the time, and therefore replied to me “Well, that’s what horses do!”

I was pretty embarrassed. Not only did it seem that I had some bizarre need to point out the horse’s defecatory behavior, but I sounded like a four year old saying it!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

ASL Browser

I grew up in Rochester, one of the two cities in America (at least then) that had a univeristy for the deaf (NTID in Rochester, Gallaudet in Washington.) There was a lot of exposure to the deaf and to sign language. Most kids - I think - at least knew how to finger-spell. I also tried picking up a number of signs, most of which I've long forgotten.

It was a pleasure to come across this site, which has Quicktime video for the signs of hundreds of words:

ASL Browser

Thursday, October 27, 2005

recent reading

I haven’t written a post about my reading habits in a while. So the larger number of listings is due to the time between the posts, not because of a quicker clip on my part.

First of all, I finished the latest Harry Potter. I saw a really funny idea about what might be the end of the next book. To see it – click here. (But only if you’ve finished #6).

I also read two great books by Malcolm GladwellThe Tipping Point and Blink. While those books were later recommended to me, I was first introduced to Gladwell by a friend, who had me read an article of his on a topic that didn’t seem terribly interesting – ketchup. It turned out to be an amazingly interesting article. He has great insights into the way the human mind and human society work. I’m trying to figure out how to use his understandings to help me better comprehend Judaism. That will probably come later.

I’ve finished reading one of the first autobiographies I’ve read in years – Natan Sharansky’s Fear No Evil. After finishing it, I’ve gone back to reading Abba Eban’s autobiography. Both books are a great way to understand important chapters in Jewish history that I knew about, but not nearly enough. But two things surprised me in particular: a) both Sharansky and Eban have a great sense of humor, and b) they both accomplished so much at a young age. Not much older than I am. I can’t help but wonder what that says about what I’ve accomplished so far.

My mishnayot learning is going along, albeit a bit slower than in the past. I’ve finished Masechet Shabbat, and am now trudging through Masechet Eruvin. It’s actually more interesting than I anticipated, but it’s still difficult. At this rate I’ll be lucky to get to Pesachim by Pesach…

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

my opinion ... for a song

Well, Simchat Torah is behind us now. I enjoyed it, but I don’t remember ever being so tired. I think the combination of the long day - we started at 7:30 and finished after 13:00 - and the fact that my kids are getting bigger but still want to go on my shoulders for the dancing, is what’s doing me in.

I see that I’m getting older not only by the weight of my kids, but also by the songs. There are more and more songs every year that I simply don’t recognize.

But even from the ones I do recognize, there are some of questionable appropriateness.

Here are some that I’ve thought of:

  • I remember reading in Rabbi Hershel Schachter follow up to Nefesh HaRav, "MiPeneni Harav", that Rav Soloveitchik was opposed to saying "Ana Avda D'Kudisha B'rich Hu" (I am a servant of God) in the prayer B'rich Shme, since it was haughty. I think the original quote was from the Chafetz Chaim, but I'm not sure. In any case, it's another popular song.

  • My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav David Bigman was opposed to the popular (Chabad?) song Mashiach, Mashiach, since it put too much emphasis on (a) man, and not enough on God.

  • Here's one that I've come up with myself: The famous song "V'Samachta B'Chagecha... V'Hayita Ach Sameach" isn't correct. The origin is from Devarim 16:14-15, and there are a lot of conditions between the first part and the last. They include adding others (the poor, widow, leviim, etc) to your joy and having it in Yerushalayim. Rav Hirsh in his commentary there says that without fulfilling those conditions, you can't achieve "v'hayita ach sameach."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Technorati's State of the Blogosphere

Technorati has an interesting post on the State of the Blogosphere.

Monday, October 24, 2005

What is this blogging thing?

I’ve managed to past my 100th post without noticing. I’m sure all of my myriads of readers were out having huge centipost parties, but by me it was quietly ignored…

Anyway, it’s time for some reflection.

I’m still not entirely sure of the purpose of this blog.

What is it like?

Singing in the shower?
Giving a speech in a public square?
Talking to myself out loud on a bus?
Leaving a diary unlocked in the living room?
Graffiti on a wall?
A letter to the editor?

Anyway, I’m not sure. And that makes it hard for me to determine what I’m writing, particularly since I don’t know who I’m writing to. Do I care who hears what I’m saying and why?

I think that one of the main reasons for the lack of clarity as to my intended audience is that I haven’t made it clear who I am.  

From what I’ve seen, there are three kinds of bloggers.

There are those that clearly state their name. Two of them that I read regularly are David Bogner’s Treppenwitz and Dr. Jeffrey Woolf’s My Obiter Dicta.  

On the other side of the spectrum there are those who give no clues as to their identity. I’m not a regular reader of these, but there are plenty. Usually they’re written by individuals who want to write about something rather private, and can’t afford to reveal their names and still write openly.

And in the middle, are those who don’t mention their names directly, but if you read between the lines it may be possible to figure it out. In this group I would include Chayyei Sarah and Ben Chorin.

Some bloggers from the first category have claimed that it is more ethical to put your name on what you write. No hiding behind a mask. Additionally, it’s much easier to promote your blog if you don’t have to hide your name.

I’m not sure I agree with the first point. I think a decent metaphor for a blog could be Spiderman’s costume. (Superman’s costume really doesn’t count for something like this. Without a mask, it’s basically pajamas.)

On the one hand, you’ve got Tobey Maguire. He wears the costume, but wants everyone to know that it’s him. He demands (I assume) that his name appears in the credits and on the posters. He’s not interested in any sense of anonymity.

On the other side you’ve got Peter Parker. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s Spiderman. He wears the costume in order to protect his secret. If everyone knew who he was, he wouldn’t be able to function.

And what’s the middle ground? If I (or more likely my son) was to wear a Spiderman costume to a masquerade party, I wouldn’t be devastated if someone were to guess my secret identity. In fact, at some point I’d probably like it. But I’d like people to first try to guess if it was me – would I be the kind of person to wear that costume? Do I fit the role? And if I made the costume myself – how does it look?

And I think that’s what a semi-anonymous blog is about. I don’t have any deep dark secrets (at least that I’m writing about here.) And I’m sure with a minimal amount of detective work, a reader could figure out who I am. That wouldn’t bother me. I’d actually be honored that somebody cared enough to try.

So I think for now I’ll stick with it as it is. For those of you who come by here at times, I hope that my words speak for me. However, to know whether this is really singing in the shower or a public address, it would be nice to know who you are…

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Basic Chemistry

I made a comment to someone today about how I am opposed to break-away minyanim. I added that not only break away minyanim, but breaking away in general – in family, in shuls or in national politics.

On the other hand, my approach that says compromise and avoidance of machloket has the status of l’chatchila is often viewed as wishy-washy. If I really believe in something, why should I compromise? Maybe the other side should be the one to avoid machloket?

At my son’s brit, I said the following:

If “mila” (circumcision) is important, why isn’t a child born circumcised?

Mila is part of a brit, a covenant. There are many kinds of britot, such as treaties between nations, and even marriage (a brit nisuin). A brit can only exist when both sides are not whole, and are lacking something. We learn this from nature: Inert elements, like helium, cannot combine to form molecules. Only elements that are missing electrons or protons can combine to from a new molecule, as hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water.

There are those who object to circumcision because they claim that a child is born perfect. Judaism rejects this, for a child is born cute, but not perfect – either physically or ethically. We have a religion of mitzvot, of taking action. What mitzvot can a baby keep? What chesed can he do? Other than smiles, he can only receive, not give.

I notice from my work in the refet that calves can walk and do almost everything adult cows can do right after birth. Humans, however, need to develop first. For a long time this question bothered me: Why should it take humans so many years to mature? The answer we see is that humans have a higher ethical level to achieve than other animals. Therefore, their physical development runs parallel to the ethical development.

Mila is a physical sign of our acknowledgement of his lack of perfection, of his need to develop. Once we admit to this deficiency, we can make a brit with our Creator.

This is critical to understanding why I am opposed to “break-away”. A hydrogen atom does not want to break-away – when it is alone, it is incomplete. It is important we feel the same way when we are not connected with other members of our family, our community or our nation. I never want to feel so “inert” that I can be completely independent of the “other”.

There is another aspect of this that I’ve developed over the years. Of all the punishments available to the descendants of Moav, why did God insist that we don’t marry them? I think the reason is that they did not show willingness to allow Bnei Yisrael to cross through their land. They followed the principle of “sheli sheli v’shelcha shelcha”, i.e. midat sdom. And davka the descendants of Lot should have realized that the approach of Sdom was wrong, and that of Avraham was correct. But again, why the prohibition on marriage? Because in a marriage, you can’t have “sheli sheli”. The basic concept of a marital union – a brit – means that both sides concede to each other. It would be impossible to marry into a nation that has “sheli sheli” as an ideology, not as a punishment, but simply because marriage isn’t a logical option. (Perhaps that is why Rut was able to successfully marry into the Jewish people, because she so obviously rejected the concept of “sheli sheli”.)

And I feel that in almost any argument basic humility requires that I don’t claim to be 100% right. Certainly I’m convinced that my cause is just, but I have to leave a little bit of room for the other side to continue to exist. That’s the concept of “machloket l’shem shamayim”. Even though we follow Hillel, we still learn Shamai’s teachings. We don’t want them to cease to exist. Elu V’Elu Divrei Elokim Chaim!

Perhaps I’m naïve to believe that these rules from the beit midrash should apply in politics (family or shul, local or national), but these are my values.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

yes, my sukkot post

Sukkot isn’t the easiest holiday for me.

I’ve known this for a long time, but this year, after my discussions about tradition, I’ve begun to understand my reasons a bit better.

First of all, I don’t enjoy it so much. I’ve found a quote from the Rambam to back me up on this:

“Both these festivals, I mean Sukkot and Pesach, inculcate both an opinion and a moral quality. In the case of Pesach, the opinion consists in the commemoration of the miracles of Egypt and in the perpetuation of their memory throughout the periods of time. In the case of Sukkot, the opinion consists in the perpetuation of the memory of the miracles of the desert throughout the periods of time. As for the moral quality, it consists in man's always remembering the days of stress in the days of prosperity, so that his gratitude to God should become great and so that he should achieve humility and submission. Accordingly unleavened bread and bitter herbs must be eaten on Pesach in commemoration of what happened to us. Similarly one must leave the house [during Sukkot] and dwell in tabernacles, as is done by the wretched inhabitants of deserts and wastelands, in order that the fact be commemorated that such was our state in ancient times: That I made the Children of Israel dwell in tabernacles, and so on". (Moreh Nevuchim III:43, Pines translation).

In other words, the Rambam basically says that sitting in the sukka is comparable to eating maror on Pesach – by remembering the bad times, we appreciate what we have now.

But I think there’s more to it than that. Many people enjoy sitting in the sukka. Why don’t I enjoy the holiday?

I think it goes back to my lack of tradition. Growing up in a non-Orthodox home, Pesach and Chanuka had great significance, even if we didn’t follow the halacha. We went to “Temple” on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. But despite going to Hebrew school, I have very little memory about Sukkot. We certainly didn’t celebrate it at home.

As I became religious in high school, I somehow managed to celebrate the holiday. I didn’t build a sukka, but for at least one year I purchased a lulav and etrog. But the time where I should have really learned what to do on Sukkot – during my 3 years in yeshiva in Israel – Sukkot fell during “bein hazmanim”. So I never got to watch my rabbis practice the customs and laws.

I guess on Sukkot, more than any other time during the year, I feel like an outsider, like a new baal teshuva. And while on other occasions I would simply study the laws to feel more competent, here I feel like there’s simply way too much to learn, and my natural difficulties in learning certain subject matters will prevent me from succeeding. In some ways I feel the same about tying tzitzit or the exact way to wear tefillin, but I’ve managed to at least feel comfortable in my routine, even if I’m not doing things perfectly.

So what do I do? I don’t want to take on every possible chumra, a) because that would be very difficult, and b) it doesn’t fit in with my general approach to halacha. So I get nervous. I try as much to rely on others to put up the sukka, to pick out the arba minim. And I feel jealous of those people who know how to bind and hold and shake their lulav because they simply do what their father did!

I’ve often said that I prefer Pesach to Sukkot because you need to prepare extensively for Pesach, but once it comes, you’re done. You don’t need to decide if this is or isn’t chametz. But sukkot you’re constantly (or at least I am constantly) wondering if the sukka is kosher or not, where in the world I’m going to find fresh aravot, etc. I think in my approach to dealing with lack of tradition, I’m more comfortable with “shev v’al taaseh” than I am with “kum aseh”.
I’m not sure what will improve the situation. I guess learning more about the halachot, but that is about as inviting to me as going back to the Cub Scouts and trying to learn how to tie knots. I mostly feel badly for my kids, since they’re much more likely to inherit their father’s neurosis about the holiday than any comforting traditions.

And if I’m already on a Sukkot rant, two other things:

  1. Since I usually work on Chol HaMoed, and my work has no sukka, I end up feeling like Sukkot is like Pesach. I have to constantly look for non-mezonot food!

  2. I don’t like wasps.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

My traditions

After reading my recent posts, you might think I don’t care about tradition.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I grew up in the home of divorced parents, not in the same town as my grandparents. I always wanted a more complete family life. Even as a young kid, I made a “Relatives Book” where every family member needed to fill out a page writing down all of their details.

Additionally, my father’s father died when my father was 4. And my paternal great-grandfather died when my grandfather was 7. There are major gaps in my family traditions (another post will probably describe how I found out we are actually Levi’im, not Kohanim).

My sometimes hobby/ sometimes obsession of genealogy - over 4000 names on the family tree and counting - I believe stems from an effort to connect to the generations past. And my calling up constant distant cousins and saying “You don’t know me, but we’re related” is a way to connect the past back to the present again. Tradition!

Now I have a lot of names, but no “traditions”. I can imagine that if I had my great-grandfather’s kiddush cup or melody for “Shalom Aleichem” - I would use them without exception. And if there was a food back in Skaudvile that my great-great-grandfather never ate on Pesach, I would gladly resist from eating it as well.

So am I a hypocrite? Maybe, but not because of this. First of all, tradition is important, but it doesn’t trump halacha, certainly for humra. I actually do have a memory of a kid having found my grandfather’s tefillin, but my rabbis said they weren’t kosher. I wish I knew what happened to them since, but I wouldn’t wear them despite the rabbis’ ruling. (I would however have no problem trying to find halachic justification for a potentially problematic tradition.)

But just like tradition doesn’t trump halacha, it also doesn’t trump all values. For, in the end, it is a value in itself. But other values also are important - humility, respect for others, etc. Why should my tradition take precedence over another’s tradition? Or another’s need for religious fulfillment?

Even now, I have certain family traditions that I cherish. They aren’t generations old, but in my nuclear family we have songs that we sing, foods that we eat, etc. But when I go to someone else’s home, I wouldn’t dare insist that they enable me to practice those customs. It’s not my house! It would be chutzpa to even bring it up.

The same applies on a community level. Everyone has the right to their own traditions, but has no right to trample the halacha, traditions or values of others.

what's in a name?

Over Shabbat, a guest got an aliya in shul, and I'm nearly certain he was called up as:

Ploni ben Chayim Ploni

If I heard correctly, that sounds like a very sad story...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

the best politicians are the ones not elected

Here's an email I wrote before the 2003 elections. Elections aren't that far away, and this message is very important to keep in mind.


I think people have a tendency to idolize prepoliticians. In this sense there is no real difference between Ehud Barak, Amnon Lipkin Shahak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Feiglin.

For example, look at the two leaders of Zo Artzeinu from the mid-90s: Moshe Feiglin and Rav Benny Elon. Both were strong ideologues - and I'm sure if you asked anyone then which one was likely to change the country, Elon would have been the more likely candidate.

Elon was elected to the Knesset, and while in opposition was still able to seem like a strong ideologue. Then his party joined the government, but he was still an MK, allowed to say what he wanted. After he became a minister, people accused him of selling out, of sitting with Labor, especially when it seemed like he was using political tricks to keep his seat.

Similar things can be said about other politicians - Rechavam Zeevi z"l, Effie Eitam, Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu, etc. All were popular in the "right wing camp" before they were elected, but berated by the pure ideologues after they entered the government and sat at the cabinet table.

While some of this can be attributed to the idea that power corrupts, or only corrupt people are attracted to politics, I don't think this is always such a negative concept. As the Prime Minister says, "What you see from here you don't see from there." Or as R.A. Butler said, "Politics is the art of the possible." Matzui over Ratzui, and so on. Ideals are important as goals, but they can't be the litmus test of a politician, because people want conflicting things, and it is up to the politician to sort them out. For example, if they had national referendums on whether public funding should be increased on education, on whether taxes should be reduced, and whether the deficit should be cut, all would likely pass. It is up to the politicians to decide how to balance conflicting desires. This is true in a quiet country - all the more so in a country like Israel, where every side feels that the fate of the country hangs in the balance. Israeli politicians have to make difficult decisions that we, the public, don't really need to make.

If Benny Elon sat with Shimon Peres, it is not because he sold out. It is because he had to weigh the importance of national unity against the importance of allowing some of the Left's ideas to be heard and even implemented.

Here's my prediction. If Moshe Feiglin makes it into the Knesset (I'm not sure that will happen), he'll already compromise a bit. He'll want to be on committees, etc, so he'll bend a bit. If he ever makes it to a ministerial position, he won't be the pure idealist that many of you view him as now. And that won't be a bad thing. He'll be a politician - the exact thing every person running for election is. Don't be surprised or disappointed.

The 20 Funniest People (I can think of right now)

The 20 Funniest People (I can think of right now):

Andrew Marlatt
Brian Regan
Conan O'Brien
David Letterman
Gary Larson
George Carlin
Stephan Pastis
Groucho Marx
Jerry Seinfeld
Jim Henson
Jon Stewart
Lore Sjoberg
Matt Groening
Mitch Hedberg
Norm MacDonald
Robin Williams
Scott Adams
Steve Martin
Steven Wright
William Goldman

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Einstein's socks

This might be getting repetitive, but I think I’m going to put up a few more thoughts about the halacha/mesoret issue.

  • While both halacha and mesoret play an important role in our religious life, there is another important actor – values. Judaism is full of values like emet, shalom, hesed, kedusha, din, tzedek and more. Often both halacha and mesoret lead us to fulfillment of those values. But what happens when religious society ignores a value? Who can fix the situation? Mesoret is unlikely to help. While very powerful, it mostly uses the vehicle of inertia. Halacha on the other hand can be used to revolutionize. Sometimes to redeem an ignored value the halacha will make additional stringencies. Sometimes it will pull back, “uprooting” a particular practice for a more important value. The examples of this are endless. The prophets rallied against exclusive focus on sacrifices and ignoring social ills. The rabbis changed laws relating to shmitta, marriage, and others. Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz documents this well in “Not in Heaven”. Of course the halacha is not to be toyed with lightly, but when circumstance warrants it – it does not roll over and play dead.

  • There are two types of halachic approaches, which in many ways are opposed to one another. One is the approach described in Rav Solveitchik’s Halakhic Man. He describes a halacha that is like a satellite in orbit, independent of the realities on the ground. The other approach is one that looks at reality, and what people can handle before taking a stand. They are different, but both approaches can lead to revolutionary change in the face of a tradition they think is deficient. Some rabbis will encourage people to change their behavior so it follows the pure halachic root. Others will suggest abandoning a humra that isn’t fitting with the realities on the ground.

  • I came across an interesting quote from Chovot HaLevavot. He writes: “One of the components of caution is not being overly cautious” and if one was to be afraid, because of caution, not to say anything new, then no one could have ever said anything from the time of the Prophets. This is a critical aspect for understanding the strength of halacha, and as a wise man once said “with great strength comes great responsibility”.

  • One of the wonderful things about halacha as a guide to religious life is its capability to empower a person. And the engine that gives halacha that power is the study of Torah. Everyone can study Torah and everyone can touch the halacha. When I was in yeshiva and asked my Rosh Yeshiva a halachic question, it was his custom to present the various sides to the issue and let the student decide for himself. (From what I’ve read, that was also the custom of his rav, Rav Gustman.) Why is this so important? In principle we shouldn’t need Torah study in order to determine what to do halachically – it’s enough to see what everyone else is doing, or at the most get a simple answer to a question – from a rabbi or a book. However there is something much deeper here. The gemara in Sota 22a states:
    The Tannaim (scholars from the mishnah) destroy the world" Could one truly think they destroy the world? Ravina explains that the above source refers to those who make halakhic decisions based on mishnayot. We also learned this in a Beraita: R. Yehoshua said "Are they destroyers of the world? Do they not build the world....? Rather, we are talking about those that decide halakha straight out of mishnayot."
    Rashi explains that the reason that by only looking at the mishna, the person will end up making mistakes. But the Maharal in Netivot HaTorah (15) says that the gemara is not referring to a case where the person will err. Rather the gemara is talking about a case where the halacha might technically be correct, but the person avoided studying the Torah sources in order to determine what to do. Since the entire world exists for Torah study, by taking a quick fix – the “tannaim are destroying the world.” The Maharal even goes so far as to say that it is better to err in judgment than to come to a decision by not studying deeply! That is the empowerment that the halacha gives. Mesoret – with all its significance – can’t come close.

  • One last anecdote: In Abba Eban’s autobiography (which I’m reading now, but that’s for another post), he describes meeting Albert Einstein at a banquet, and noticing that despite wearing “immaculate evening dress” he wasn’t wearing socks. I’ve found a number of quotes on the internet from Einstein about wearing socks, but what he told Eban fits my line of thought perfectly:
    “In conversation he explained to me that ... [he] knew perfectly well what he was doing. He was quite simply devoted to rationality. He did not like doing things which had no empirical or logical explanation. There was no scientific way of proving that it was necessary or useful to wear both socks and shoes. One of these acts could be justified by the need to cover the feet; two of them seemed redundant. If I could refute what he had said, he would consider changing his habitual conduct.”
    This leads me to thinking about the Nobel Prize given to Prof Aumann of the "Center for Rationality" at Hebrew University, but I think that also will be for another post.

Monday, October 10, 2005

could I convince Tevye to make aliya?

So the halacha vs mesoret issue is still chasing me. I have a few more things I think I'd like to say (although this probably won't be the last word on the topic.)

First of all, after quoting Hayim Soloveitchik's article, I realized I forgot to quote the classic rebuttal: Tevye!

[TEVYE] Tradition, tradition! Tradition! Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
[TEVYE & PAPAS] Who, day and night, must scramble for a living, Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers? And who has the right, as master of the house, To have the final word at home? The Papa, the Papa! Tradition. The Papa, the Papa Tradition.
[GOLDE & MAMAS] Who must know the way to make a proper home, A quiet home, a kosher home? Who must raise the family and run the home, So Papa's free to read the holy books? The Mama, the Mama! Tradition! The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!
Of course the question remains what happened to Tevye...

The next issue is perhaps there isn't a simple distinction between anshei mesoret and anshei halacha. Maybe it's a matrix (that's how most of the sugyot in the gemara were presented in my yeshiva):

So maybe I'm B, and my rivals on the community issues are C. But maybe we both need to be striving to reach A or at least reach a balance. Or maybe all the approaches are legitmate.

I'm still not sure.

The last point is an issue I've been meaning to blog about for a while. One of the issues that bothers me the most as a Religious Zionist Baal Teshuva is the fact that there are so many Orthodox Jews who simply ignore what seems to be the clear halachic opinion - that they must make aliya. For a long time I've thought of making a comprehensive web site arguing against every possible excuse to remain in chutz l'aretz. I still hope to do that someday (soon).

But maybe I'm fighting an impossible battle? Or at least ignoring the main point, that those who are committed to mesoret over the halacha won't care that the halacha clearly states they need to make aliya, for they have a tradition from their parents and teachers that it's fine to stay in the States!

I found a letter I wrote to the leadership of Bnei Akiva back in 1997. Looking back at it now, I'm not sure if I was naive or maybe smarter then than I am now. What do you think?

I would like to relate to an issue brought up at the recent meeting of the Moetza Olamit of Bnei Akiva. Much was made there of the recent trend towards "chareidiazation" in the Orthodox communities in the gola, particularly in America. This trend was the basis of a proposal on the one hand to make the tnua entirely separate, and on the other hand to even question whether we should be pushing aliya at all. These suggestions seem to me to be putting the tnua on the defensive, when in fact, we can be using these trends to our advantage.
I believe, in fact, that it is a mistake to refer to the current trends in the gola as "chareidiazation". The truth is that the Modern Orthodox community is not heading in the direction of Charedim as we are familiar with the concept. In the average Modern Orthodox family, both the husband and wife are active members of the community in which they live, and there is a strong emphasis on success in limudei chol. There is also still strong support for Tzionut, in as much as Medinat Yisrael is viewed as a positive entity (even if they disagree with its policies).
What we are seeing in the gola, is rather a trend towards chumrot in halacha, and hakpada in mitzvot. As HaRav Druckman pointed out in the meeting, this is in itself is a positive development. There is much more limud torah, and concern for mitzvot than there was in the past. This trend exists among the Orthodox communities in general, and is encouraged by "Ba'alei Tshuva" movements such as NCSY, Aish HaTorah and Chabad. Part of this trend might also be attributed to the success of the shana b'aretz programs in yeshivot, which Bnei Akiva can even take some credit for.
What Bnei Akiva needs to do in these circumstances, is to "ride on the back" of these trends. We need to strongly point out, both to our chanichim, but perhaps more importantly to their parents, rabbis and community leaders, that a life of hakpada on mitzvot can not ignore the overwhelming significance of the mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael.
We need to point out that the vast majority of Rishonim and large numbers of Achronim felt that living in Eretz Yisrael was a mitzva. We need to show that if one is trying to live a life of chumrot, one can not ignore a mitzva d'oraita with such a strong basis in chazal.
We are now davka in a particularly ripe time for emphasizing this mitzva. While rates of religious aliya from the West are not what we would like, the spiritual and halachic leadership of Orthodoxy is moving to Israel. With the passing in the past few years of the gedolim of Orthodoxy in America - R' Moshe Feinstein, R' Y.D. Soloveitchik, the Lubavitcher Rebbe z"l - the center of Torah in the world is firmly being placed in Israel.
Again, a lot of this trend can also be attributed to the fact that so many of the members of the Orthodox community have learned in Yeshivot in Israel, and particularly the young rabanim, and view Israeli Roshei Yeshivot as their halachic authority.
How do we go about promoting this mitzva? First of all, we have to be aggressive. We must place the mitzva of aliya on the same level as shmirat shabbat or kashrut. As far as practical plans, I suggest we act on two levels: activity in the gola, and activity within the yeshivot in Aretz. In Chutz L'Aretz, we need to get our idea out in the widest possible fashion. This does not need to be a very expensive project. First of all, I would suggest translating and publicizing currently existing books such as MeAfar Kumi by Tzvi Glatt HY"D and Em HaBanim Smecha by R' Teichtel HY"D. Other books can be translated, or collections of articles and teshuvot can be assembled and published. New articles and books can also be written to explain the significance of the mitzva. These publications can be authorized by the WZO, and be made accessible to the Orthodox public, rabbis and schools. I also believe that to publicize an idea like this, the internet can be a very helpful tool. It is inexpensive, and has a huge audience.
We should also take advantage of the currently existing network of Jewish newspapers and journals. We can write columns, letters to the editor and serve as subjects for news stories reflecting our emphasis on the mitzva of living in Israel. We can also use Bnei Akiva's parshat hashavua sheets to promote these views, as I did when I edited them for Bnei Akiva during my shlichut.
We also must confront Orthodox rabbis, schools, and movements as regards their views on this mitzva. If they believe that an obligation exists to live in Eretz Yisrael, how do they promote it? If they do not believe such an obligation exists, what are their sources?
Questionnaires can be sent to community rabbis, school principals and Roshei Yeshiva and movement heads asking them to clarify their views, with the option of publicizing the results. We should also use existing educational frameworks of our own, such as camps and kollelim, and insist that they encourage aliya from the point of view as a mitzva as well.
As far as the shana b'aretz is concerned, we must take maximum advantage of this very influential period in a young person's life. Many students who come here find themselves more religiously committed at the end of the year, and we must emphasize that this religious commitment must include a commitment to aliya. In principle, this should be easy - the yeshivot are in Israel, so the yeshivot should naturally support aliya. But we see that despite the thousands who learn in yeshivot in Israel, only a small percentage make aliya. Individual yeshivot might be afraid to push aliya as an obligation too strongly, from the fear that parents might be discouraged to send their children to such a yeshiva. But if a concerted effort was made to organize a joint front of all or almost all yeshivot, no individual yeshiva would have to be concerned. And I am not recommending that we encourage aliya immediately after the shana b'aretz, both for the fact that it would discourage parents from sending their children to Israel, and also how it would leave a significant leadership gap in the gola.
With the implementation of these proposals, I believe we can increase the "relevancy" of Bnei Akiva, while remaining true to our principals. We can also increase our influence beyond our own camp to all of Orthodoxy, perhaps influencing the kiruv movements as well.
I hope these suggestions are thought provoking and provide for fruitful discussion. In my opinion, these issues are appropriate for discussion at the upcoming veida, but can be put into place even before it.

Can a Jewish version be far behind? - Phone reminds Muslims of prayer time

Sunday, October 09, 2005

halacha vs mesoret

I've been involved recently in a number of disputes in our shul. I prefer not to get into the details here, but I'll say this: in one issue I wanted to enable an activity that I felt was in the boundaries of halacha, whereas in the other people insisted in doing something I felt was against the normative halacha and the opinion of our local rabbi. In both cases, I more or less lost in my campaign. (And in case anyone reading this is aware of the circumstances, of course I was not the only, or even main, proponent/opponent in either case.)

Someone pointed out the irony that the same people who weren't willing to allow the change that the halacha enables, had no problem going against the rabbi and the halacha about the other issue. I mentioned this to a neighbor I respect, and he pointed out something I hadn't really considered before.

He said there are two types of approaches to Orthodoxy (my words, not his). There are those that look at the halacha and those that look at the mesoret. He claimed that the approach of American rabbis was to look at the books, at the halacha, while the Israeli approach was to look at the mesoret, the tradition.

According to this approach, there wasn't a contradiction in the behavior I mentioned above. In both cases, the parties were interested in what the mesoret was, regardless of the halacha.

When I mentioned that I couldn't help identifying more with the halacha than with (only) the mesoret, he said that made sense. I thought he would say because of my baal teshuva background (I didn't grow up with any signficant traditions to have difficulty breaking with), but he thought it was davka that I went to Yeshivat HaKibbutz HaDati. He claimed that YKD is known for focusing on halacha over mesoret (although I assume he meant more for kula than for chumra.)

That seemed strange to me, since I've always considered YKD to be the farthest thing from a Baal Teshuva yeshiva. When I first went there, and had difficulty keeping up, I considered switching to Machon Meir, which was (maybe still is) the only real Religious Zionist baal teshuva yeshiva. I ended up sticking it out, and I'm certainly glad I did.

But this got me thinking - why is this the case? Why don't most baalei teshuva become anshei halacha instead of anshei mesoret (to invent a dialectic I'm not sure Rav Soloveitchik would agree with)? I think the answer can be found in Haym Soloveitchik's famous article, RUPTURE AND RECONSTRUCTION ( ). Here he discusses how "mimetic tradition" ends up taking precedence over "the written law." Now he's not only talking about baalei teshuva, but the charedi move to the right in general. He claims that this somewhat recent change came from the break in the chain of tradition with the world of Eastern Europe, by both the encounter with modernity and of course the Shoah. Without a grandfather to follow, the best choice is to take the strictest route. (I highly recommend reading the whole article; my short summary doesn't do it justice.)

When we lived on Kibbutz Yavne, there was an ulpan giyur where potential converts retrieved their pre-conversion training. So I got to know a lot of converts there. I think there's a great similarity between converts and baalei teshuva, especially in their motivation. Many of them are looking for a new family. So they grab on to the traditions, maybe even more than the halacha.

As I've written earlier, I got lucky. I didn't need to do that, I think primarily by attaching myself to rabbis, real talmidei chachamim, instead of other baalei teshuva. So perhaps I'm the exception - a baal teshuva "Ish Halacha".

But still, two things about the approach of the "mesoret" camp bother me. One, I love to argue. I find logic intoxicating, and find few greater pleasures than proving my point. Within the 4 amot of halacha - everything is up for grabs. You bring a source from here - I'll bring a source from there. In the end one side will likely win (unless we're using the Breuer approach to Tanach), but the weapon is logic. Everyone has a fair chance. But how can you argue with mesoret? It doesn't seem fair in general, and as a ba'al teshuva, it puts me at a distinct disadvantage. (Although on a personal level I can get out of many minhagim by saying "I do what my father does..."

And secondly, the anshei mesoret aren't really anshei mesoret. They're rebels as well, although maybe they won't admit to joining Shachal's "HaMered HaKadosh." They don't wear the same clothes or kippas as their great-grandfathers. And probably some of their ancestors objected to Zionism, which was of course a great rebellion. They studied in universities, their daughters and wives study Torah in ways the previous generations never would have, most watch TV and the list goes on and on. So who are they to say that my rebellion against mesoret, especially when it's in the boundaries of halacha, and even motivated by halacha, isn't legitimate?

So how do you have a successful halachic rebellion? That's the $64,000 question. What I've been hearing from friends who know - by education and baby steps. It's hard for a not-so-patient person like me, but I guess there isn't much other choice.

P.S. In the course of a Google search for this post, I came across this article by Rabbi Saul Berman. . Food for thought.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Seven Species - Seven Holidays

The following is something I thought of a few years ago. I asked around, but no one ever really had anything to add. At least it can be food for thought before this holiday season...

I've noticed a certain connection between each of the seven species of Eretz Yisrael and seven of the major holidays. Some are more obvious, others less so.

  • Rosh Hashanah - Pomegranate, as the custom to eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah
  • Yom Kippur - Fig, since Adam and Chava used fig leaves to cover the nakedness exposed by their first sin
  • Sukkot -- Date, the lulav is from the date tree
  • Chanukah -- Olive, the olive oil used to light the menorah
  • Purim -- Grape, wine plays a major role in both the Megillah and the customs of Purim
  • Pesach - Barley, the omer sacrifice brought first on Pesach is barley, "aviv" in Hebrew, and Pesach is in the month of Aviv
  • Shavuot - Wheat, the two loaves offering brought on Shavuot is from wheat

Has anyone heard something similar to this?

Friday, September 30, 2005

six degrees of wikipedia

This is a classic example of something I've thought for a while would be a great game, but someone beat me to it.

six degrees of wikipedia

The truth is that I was playing my own version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" at least as far back in 1988. I (or a friend and I) would take any two actors and try to connect them. I even made a primitive database using Leonard Maltin's movie guide (I still have the 1988 book, it occasionally helps when I have to remember who was in a movie on Shabbat) and Apple's AppleWorks on my Apple IIe. (By the way - talk about great programming - they had a word processor, a database program and a spreadsheet - and it all fit on a 5.25 floppy, no hard drive and 256K of RAM!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

roller coasters or just coasting

I haven’t written much lately.

I’m not sure exactly why. I had a lot to say about the period leading up to the disengagement and the withdrawal itself. Soon after, we went on vacation for a few days. And ever since, I’ve been very busy with all sorts of preparations for the holidays in our beit knesset. Plus work related issues as well.

So I’m busy. But I was busy before also. So I’m not sure that it was only that. Maybe I have less to say, but more likely I’m not sure how important it is for me to say everything on my mind.

Probably if I think of something significant, I’ll write about it, and then get back on the track of writing regularly.

We took the kids on a company sponsored event to Superland, an amusement park in Rishon LeTzion. Usually, my wife likes going on the higher rides (like Ferris wheels) and the roller coasters, and I pass due to a fear of heights. But I remember around 9 years ago, a few days before we made aliya, we went to my brother-in-laws Bar Mitzva party at an amusement park outside of Chicago. My wife was 7 months pregnant, so we both skipped the roller coasters.

But there was one “exciting” ride that I wasn’t nervous about. It was one of those movies where the chairs move and you feel like you’re in some very fast moving vehicle. When the chairs move down and the scene in the movie drops, you feel like you’re really falling, and everyone screams.

But my wife, being pregnant, couldn’t sit in the moving chairs. She needed to sit in the stationary ones, although she could watch the movie. She said afterwards that we all looked so strange - why were we screaming and getting so excited about a movie?

Maybe this is what’s going on with my blog. Perhaps I realize that I look to the outside observer like I’m flailing about in my chair, when there’s really nothing exciting going on.

(This of course would be the opposite of when I “
see the fish”. Or is it?)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A funny new page from Snopes

Snopes takes on companies whose domain names have unintendedly risqué double meanings.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Business (Domain Thing)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Pesach, Chanuka and Purim and the Disengagement Crisis

As I’ve mentioned before, the fact that the withdrawal from Gaza took place right after Tisha B’Av was timed perfectly - at least for drashot.

I’m sure that there will be ways for even not-so-creative rabbis to work it into their speeches on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur as well.

But what about the other holidays? Don’t they deserve the right to be associated with this issue?

So let me present: Pesach, Chanuka and Purim and the Disengagement Crisis

The families that left or were forced to leave Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron are facing an existential crisis. They are dealing with finding new homes, new communities, new jobs, family challenges. This is understandable.

But what about the people who didn’t live in the destroyed communities? Many of them are also facing a crisis now, but this is a crisis of faith. They didn’t believe that something like this could happen, and they don’t know how to relate to the State, Zionism or even religion and God in its wake.

I think the antidote to this crisis can be found in one word: gratitude. It is an essential Jewish belief, and its importance can be seen in these three holidays.

Pesach: One of the highlights of the seder for me has always been the song Dayenu. As a child I enjoyed the repetition and melody, but as an adult I find great meaning in it. The message is amazing if we think about it: Even if we don’t get everything we want, everything we deserve, everything we’ve been promised by God - it’s enough! If we received the Torah, but didn’t enter the land, it would be enough. If we entered the land, but didn’t get the Beit HaMikdash, it would be enough. I believe that song is the difference between the Zionist movement and the haredim. We can sing a modern dayenu (entering the land, having a state, Jerusalem, etc), and at any point we should be able to say “Dayenu!”. On the other side, the haredim can’t seem to say that “if we entered the land, but didn’t get the Beit HaMikdash, dayenu”. And while we can always pray for more, for the most, our relationship with God must be based on dayenu. We have received so much, to deny what we have is not only not proper gratitude, but nearly blasphemous.

Chanuka: The fact that we celebrate Chanuka at all is a sign of our belief in dayenu. Although there were great miracles at the time, only a few hundred years later, the Temple was destroyed. We don’t directly benefit from any of the victories of the Macabim. But we still say Hallel over 2000 years later! Why? Because we’re thankful for what we get from God even if it doesn’t work out the way we’d like. We have plenty to say Hallel about today. (In fact, I’d personally be willing to ignore Yom HaAtzmaut as a special day, if we’d say Hallel every day of the year.)

Purim: In Pirkei Avot it is written:
"Whoever repeats a statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world. As it is said: ‘And Esther said to the king in the name of Mordechai’"

The Maharal explains the connection as follows: If Esther was able to attribute the source of the plot against the king to Mordechai, even though there was no obvious reason to do so, it shows that she had a strong ethical character. She was the kind of person who had gratitude and could recognize the good that a person had done, even when it wasn’t necessary. According to the Maharal, only that kind of person can bring redemption. Because when God brings miracles, He wants us to accredit them to Him. If we don’t do so - the miracles won’t come. So God knew that in a story like Purim, where the miracles can be hard to see, it would be important to have them come via a person like Ester, who would later make a holiday, instead of denying the divine significance.

The situation today is rather similar. First of all, we need to recognize the good that those around us do. Even when we don’t see a benefit in recognizing their goodness. The army, the police, the judicial system - all have much to their credit. So do many politicians, even the ones that we strongly disagree with. So we must be careful to credit them for the good they have done.

But additionally, we need to thank God for the miracles we do get. Not only focus on what we don’t. Otherwise, we really won’t be worthy of such miracles in the future…

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Clusty the Clustering Engine

I've found a great new search engine, called Clusty.

Two neat things:

One, besides searching the web and images as other search engines do, it also searches wikipedia, blogs and more.

Secondly, as its name indicates, it "clusters" the search results. So if you're looking for "Jaguar", it will seperate the results into the animal and the car.

It seems to have quite a few more interesting functions -- I've only begun to check it out.


Clusty the Clustering Engine

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

searching "here"?

One of the interesting things about having a blog is the ability to see what search terms brought strangers in to my territory. Sometimes it makes sense – like when they look for terms like “religious Zionism” or “computer cent sign”. I’ve written about those issues, so I understand why they came.

Others are more unusual. For example, I apparently misspelled the word tchotchke as
chochkey. (It is also spelled tsatske). I’ve received a number of searches for chochkey. Well, as a service to those who might end up here for similar reasons in the future, here are a couple of links about the real meaning and origin of the word:

But the most common searches are for names of songs. I assume people are looking for the lyrics, but maybe they just want to find people discussing songs. A little while ago, I wrote about the song “Never Been To Me”. Now that’s probably the most common search term for the site.

But today I was reminded of the significance of a particular search that I see now and then on the site.

Back in June,
I posted about an end of the year party for my daughter’s second grade class. They were singing classic Israeli songs, most of whom had been written by people who had died in the past year (Naomi Shemer, Uzi Chitman, Ehud Manor, etc.) At the time, I was thinking about the significance in light of a terrorist attack the day before, and the dread of the unknown about the disengagement plan, which would only come to pass nearly two months later.

Today was the last day of the disengagement. Emotions are still high in the country, particularly where I live. There are signs of despair, of anger, and of doubt. But I did see signs of hope. Every summer, the Jerusalem municipality hosts a huge arts and crafts fair called Chutzot HaYotzer. It’s actually more than just arts and crafts – there are activities for kids, lots of different foods, musical performances and more. This year it was held in the Sultan’s Pool, just outside the Old City walls. The place was packed, and conspicuous in the crowd were the anti-disengagement folks. You could identify them by the orange ribbons still on the backpacks, or the slightly anachronistic t-shirts. But despite the crisis they have faced, they still came to celebrate with the rest of the city. It’s sort of the way that Tu B’Av follows Tisha B’Av. The pragmatism of the Jewish people continues to shine, even in dark hours.

As we were walking out, my wife pointed out who was singing on one of the stages. It was Moshe and Orna Datz, a married couple and fairly popular pop duo. The last song they sang was Kan (“Here”). In my previous post I mistakenly entitled it, Kan Noladti, which is the term that keeps popping up in searches. That was the song that Israel submitted to the Eurovision song contest in 1991, written by Uzi Chitman, and performed by the Datz duo.

I remember that song, because 1990-1991 was my first year in Israel, just out of high school. It was a wonderful year, and changed my life in so many ways I can’t count. It was the year of the first Gulf War, and I think all the participants on my program were infused with a special kind of patriotism that stays with us until this day. And that song, Kan, which was probably the last Zionistic entry to the contest (and one of the last that was only in Hebrew) really struck a chord with us (pardon the pun.)

You can see the lyrics and their translation here.

Back in 1991, we could identify with the lyrics “Here is my home, here is where I was born” despite the fact that we were a bunch of 18 year olds coming from the US and Canada. Why? Because we believed the line “I have no other place in the world.”

Perhaps this song can also be a consolation for those who now have trouble saying “here is my home, here is where I was born.” Because in the end, in this land, we all should be able to say “after two thousand years, an end to my wandering.”

Sunday, August 21, 2005

it's been a week

Ok, it’s been a week, and I guess I should put some of my thoughts down. I don’t know if any of them are original (and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing) and there’s no particular order.

  1. First of all, I think the way the Gush Katif residents acted was a real kiddush hashem. We often think about kiddush hashem as being the way we live our lives, by showing people – the whole world at times – that following God’s will is the right thing to do. We do it by succeeding. But there is also a kiddush hashem in knowing how to lose. That’s what martyrdom is all about. But kiddush hashem in loss doesn’t only refer to giving up one’s life. In this case it meant the exact opposite – realizing that the battle was over, putting up a real struggle, but with dignity.
  2. There are a lot of ways to look at what the residents of Gush Katif went through. Some I identify with, and some I don’t. Some feel more “real” to me than others. I think about these issues often when I think what would happen if the government tells us we need to leave Efrat. But to me, the most authentic source of pain about leaving is thinking about all those people who were killed simply because they were living there. And then how those who chose to stay despite, or because, of those attacks. That sorrow is very real, and after losing neighbors in Efrat, I can identify with it.

  3. The soldiers also acted impeccably well. It’s important to remember these are very young men and women, and there was tremendous psychological pressure for them not to fulfill their task. I hope that great strength will show itself in other missions the army has, as well as areas of civilian life.

  4. Even the media deserves credit here. Despite their general left wing approach, there was no gloating, and the evacuees got rather sympathetic coverage.

  5. I don’t believe Sharon came up with the plan to get out of trouble from his criminal investigations. And if he did - he would have been foolish, since it wouldn’t have made a difference. I believe he did it to save Judea and Samaria. Both by raising the price of another withdrawal, and shelving the various plans that were far worse (Beilin, Ayalon, etc.) Time will tell - probably sooner than later - whether this will work.

  6. This of course is why the evacuation of the settlements of the Northern Shomron is so problematic. It’s too bad they received such little attention in the anti-disengagement campaign. Maybe they could have been saved…

  7. I find it interesting that some of the most pro-Israel, conservative (neo-con?) columnists are actually in favor of the disengagement plan. Charles Krauthammer, William Safire, the National Review.

  8. I disagree with Krauthammer, however, that the threat from the Palestinians is missiles. I agree that rockets and missiles can become a real threat, but I think that the Palestinians will learn from the Hezbollah in Lebanon. They’ll start with small attacks, maybe gunfire, perhaps not evening hitting anyone. Maybe they’ll use “anti-aircraft” fire that happens to fall in Israel. But they’ll keep raising the stakes just high enough to terrorize, but without validating a large scale response.

  9. Elections might be coming. I’m not sure. But don’t rule out Sharon. Unlike every other prime minister who’s faced elections in the last 15 years, he’s not seen as a “loser”. Whether you agree with him or not, he’s succeeded in what he set out to do (even though he ran the last election against it.) And with his potential opponents not looking very appealing themselves, he might just pull off another surprise.

  10. I think a lot of the right would have supported the pullout had it come together with an annexation of some areas of the West Bank, like Maaleh Adumim or Gush Etzion. That would have really been viewed as Israel deciding its own borders. (I wonder how that would have played some settlers against each other, so maybe it would have caused internal problems.) Now that it wasn’t done, I certainly hope that Sharon takes the opportunity to do some real building in those same areas.

  11. I do not believe that the soldiers or the government were carrying out illegal, immoral or anti-halachic actions. There are very clear precedents for Jewish civilian populations being forced to leave settled areas – the Old City in 1948, for example. Now you can say that in 1948 it was war, but there will be those who will claim that today we are also in a state of war. Certainly the Palestinians see it that way. And that’s why, overall, I think the disengagement plan is bad. Precisely because it confirms the fact that we feel we are leaving because of that war. Illegal, immoral: no; stupid: yes.

  12. As much empathy I have for the settlers (and I am one!) I did not, and do not want to see the IDF lose. I never want to see the IDF lose.

  13. There are two common slogans heard now in “our camp.” There are those that say that we need to concentrate less on the land, and be more involved in the general country. There are others that say that we need to isolate ourselves more from the country, and focus only on the Torah. While general social involvement and increased Torah study and practice are both positive things, I think both approaches are misguided. What we need to do is build more. Much more. Had Gush Katif been home to 20,000 settlers, it’s unlikely it would have been uprooted. Had it been home to 50,000 – almost no chance. And the only way you can build, and settle, is to be involved in the political, and military realm. To give up now will only mean more “disengagements” in the future.

  14. And for those people who are reluctant now to say the prayer for the State- I can’t think of anything more foolish. It’s like not saying the prayer for rain during a drought. And to a certain extent, it’s almost like saying that the people praying are the ones who determine the outcome of the prayer – instead of God.

  15. And enough with the hate, and the disunity. We just had Tisha B’Av, and the demons of “sinat chinam (baseless hatred)” aren’t just some kind of superstitious slogan. We’re strongest as a people when we are unified, and as soon as we take each other apart, that’s when the wolves of the world begin to attack.

  16. That means recognizing the good in people, not only criticizing the bad. It’s a simple part of humility, as well as a critical trait even to recognize God. Even Sharon, who’s being most vilified of all, has far more credits than any of us. And I’m not only talking about his role in building up the settlements. And playing crucial parts in Israel’s wars. I’m talking about ending this intifada! Who did it? Sharon!
  17. Whatever you think of the validity of the disengagement, we must not allow the residents of Gush Katif to become refugees in our own country. Having our own State means no more refugees! This is addressed both to the government who needs to spare no effort to find appropriate housing, jobs, etc for the families, and to the settler groups to not prevent the absorption of the families for political gain. We've always complained that the Arabs were immoral by leaving the Palestinians in refugee camps. We must do better!

  18. The last issue is perhaps the most difficult one. And maybe it’s too early to fully discuss it, but it needs to be addressed. Should the right, the settlers, the rabbis, everyone opposed – should they have seen this coming? Isn’t that the sign of wisdom – to anticipate (not predict) the future? If the left has been talking about partition for 70 years – why shouldn’t we believe them? Why should it be assumed that the IDF would fail? Why would the still secular majority succumb to overwhelmingly religious arguments against withdrawal? And if all this is true, and the plan was likely to succeed from the beginning, then was it really fair to make human suffering the main focus of the protest? Who really will suffer in the end from that tactic - that unsuccessful tactic? I think mostly the children. They became active participants, since who is more deserving of compassion than children? I can’t say I know how to have effectively held a protest while conceding the “human suffering” issue and leaving the children out of the game. Maybe it would have been basically admitting defeat. But in the end, isn’t that what happened anyway?