The Pole who purposely got sent to Auschwitz

The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather, Custom House, 2019, ISBN 00625-61413; 528 pages, $21.95.

By Rabbi Dr. Michael Leo Samuel

 Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — When San Diego Jewish World editor Don Harrison asked me to review Jack Fairweather’s book, The Volunteer,  about a Polish resistance fighter during the Holocaust, I decided I would read it. After all, not all the Poles hated the Jews, and one young Polish man took a bullet to save my father’s life.

We often think the Jews during the Holocaust were too timid and afraid to fight back. This however is a myth. The most dramatic story of resistance occurred with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Additionally, in some concentration camps, Jewish prisoners did attempt to rebel. The uprising at Sobibor inspired a 1987 film which aired on ITV and CBS. Other efforts to resist also took place at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka.

Now, biographer Jack Fairweathernarrates a remarkable story about a Polish resistance fighter’s infiltration of Auschwitz to sabotage the camp from within, and his daring escape to warn the Allies about the Nazis’ true plans for a “Final Solution.”

The book highlights the power of a single individual who tried to make a difference.

In an attempt to uncover the fate of the thousands being interred at a mysterious Nazi camp on the border of the Reich, a young Polish resistance fighter named Witold Pilecki volunteered for an audacious mission: intentionally get captured and transported to the new camp to report back on what was going on there. But gathering information was not his only task: he was to execute an attack from inside—where the Germans would least expect it.

The place of his assignment: Auschwitz.

Over the next two and half years, Pilecki assembled an underground army within Auschwitz that sabotaged facilities, assassinated Nazi informants and officers, and smuggled out evidence revealing the terrifying abuse and mass murder of the Jews. But as the annihilation of innocents accelerated, Pilecki realized he would have to attempt another perilous mission: escape Auschwitz and somehow—with more than 900 miles of Nazi-occupied territory in the way—deliver his alert to London before all was lost.  Pilecki hoped that his reports, once sneaked out of the camp, would rouse the Allies to bomb Auschwitz.

This never happened.

My father used to tell me that they could see the American planes flying over Auschwitz, but no command was ever given to blow up the tracks leading to the concentration camp—even though it most certainly would have shortened the war, because the same trains used to transport the Jews were also used to transport military equipment for the Nazi armies. There was a sardonic joke that everyone in Auschwitz knew. When transporting military equipment in the trains, there was a sign on the top of the trains that read, “This train contains Jews!”

One would have expected Pilecki would have been declared a national hero. But this was the age of Stalin, who used the opportunity to expand his own sphere of Communist influence in Eastern Europe; and so he created the Iron Curtain—whose 64th anniversary of liberation we are celebrating this week.

Tyrannies fear heroes who fight for human dignity and freedom. The Communists feared Witold Pilecki because he was a Polish nationalist who fought for the Polish resistance movement.

After the war, the Polish Communist government hid the entire record of what Pilecki tried to do. Perhaps fearing what Pilecki’s following might try to do against the ruthless leaders of the Polish Communist government, the authorities arrested over 80,000 members of Pilecki’s underground. “The regime determined “Witold’s family to be enemies of the state, and [Witold’s wife] Maria retreated into obscurity as a cleaner in a church orphanage,” Fairweather wrote. “The regime sealed Witold’s papers in the state archives, and Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz fashioned an official history of Auschwitz that presented its Communist inmates like himself as heroes in a global struggle against fascism and imperialism. The Holocaust was barely mentioned in this telling, and he characterized Witold’s group as ‘proto-fascist.'”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and their vassal states, Witold’s son Andrzej managed to get the records of his father’s report from 1943-1944. The papers included a memoir of his early life, additional notes, interrogation files, and the crucial key to his coded references. It was the first time that the family had had a chance to read about Witold’s mission in his own words.

The citizens of Poland have the world’s highest count of individuals who have been recognized by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, as the Righteous Among the Nations, for saving Jews from extermination during the Holocaust in World War II.[1]

Fairweather deserves a tremendous amount of credit for writing this book. The author spent five years reviewing over 2000 primary sources in Polish and German. Some of these sources became available only in the 1970’s and others were released with the fall of Communism in Poland and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989. The sources revealed that the Allies were well aware of the atrocities of Auschwitz, but did not consider the camp strategic for the purpose of defeating the Germans.

Menachem Begin is purported to have once said, “The Holocaust occurred so that Hitler would not conquer the world, for instead of defeating his enemies in battle, he wasted his resources and time murdering the Jews instead.”

Witold’s legacy needs to be celebrated in Poland—even now as we witness the rise of Polish anti-Semitism occurring today.

*
Rabbi Dr. Michael Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

New Review on Rabbi Samuel’s many insights into Maimonides Hidden Torah Commentary

November 3, 2019 / L

Book Review:Maimonides Hidden Torah Commentaries: Genesis: 22-50by Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel.

By Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin

Rabbi Israel Drazin

BOCA RATON, Florida — This is the wonderful second volume on Genesis by the very wise scholar Rabbi Michael Samuel. It is part of his series of easy-to-read books that he is writing on Maimonides. This is a second volume on Genesis because Rabbi Samuel has much to reveal to us about the first of the Five Books of Moses. This volume and the others is divided by parasha, the traditional division of 54 weekly portions that are read during synagogue services and which rabbis in the Talmud encouraged Jews to read and study weekly.

Rabbi Samuel notes that the teachings of Maimonides are embedded and scattered throughout his philosophical, legal, and even medical and other writings. He collected and distilled the teachings from the various sources and offers them in a clear organized fashion.

His work is comprehensive, full of information, and eye-opening. The writings on each parasha is divided by chapters; each of which is subdivided by subjects that Rabbi Samuel addresses in clear detail. For example, in Genesis chapter 1, he examines 22 subjects, such as the meaning of Elohim, the purpose of creation, the reason for marriages, God does not decree moral behavior, the nature of biblical metaphors, exempting women from some biblical commands, and more.

Similarly, chapter 22, which contains the well-known story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac, called the Akedah in Hebrew, contains 11 subdivisions. Among them are the nature of divine trials, Isaac’s age at the time of the near sacrifice, the objective of God’s commandments, Maimonides vs. Gersonides on divine knowledge of human activities before they occur, and did the Akedah actually happen or was it a vision.

In chapter 4, to site another example, among much else, he offers views on the origin of idol worship by such people as Thomas Aquinas, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, David Hartman, and others. In chapter 9, he includes a discussion on the Seven Noahide Commandments. In chapter 15, there is Maimonides’ position on divine determinism. In chapter 19, what is an angel. In chapter 23, Maimonides’ view on visiting graves. In chapter 32, the issue, among much more, is can a human wrestle with an angel?

In other chapters, he discusses Maimonides’ teachings on subjects such as the origin of the annual Torah reading cycle, the difference between “believing in God” and “knowing God” and how can one know God, the thirteen principles that Maimonides wrote, why one can violate the sabbath to save a life, and much more.
If these many discussions were all that Rabbi Samuel offered his readers, this would have been a valuable book, but there is much more.

Rabbi Samuel begins this wide-ranging and far reaching book with a prequel which contains significant facts about the great sage’s life and his books – philosophy, legal, medical, responses, letters – and the criticism by Ra’avad, ibn Daud, and others. He tells, for example, the fact that Maimonides was almost executed by Muslims for acting as a Muslim to save his life while he and his family lived in Morocco but returned to being openly Jewish when he arrived in safety in Egypt.

The book compares Maimonides to Saadiah Gaon, to Ramban (Nachmanides), Abraham ibn Ezra, and many others. It gives Maimonides’ views on many other subjects, including aggadic language and midrash generally. It tells about the treatment of the biblical text by the Greek translation called the Septuagint. It is filled with the keen views of Maimonides’s son Abraham. It discusses subjects such as omens, visions vs. dreams, and whether Abraham ibn Ezra is correct when he maintains that some parts of the Five Books of Moses were added after his death.

The book also has many excurses. There are those on Targum Onkelos, the Shekhinah, the differences between Maimonides and famous Bible commentators such as Rashi, Rashbam, Abraham ibn Ezra, Saadiah Gaon, Nachmanides, Hasdai Crescas, and many others, Jews and non-Jews.

There is no doubt but that readers of Rabbi Samuel’s book will enjoy what they read and learn much.

*
Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and the author of more than 50 books.

Chutzpah and Balagan–an Israeli Synthesis

November 4, 2019 

Chutzpah: Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Iban Arieli, Harper Business, 2019; ISBN 00628-83038; $18.99.

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — The State of Israel is an amazing place. Ever wonder about the secrets behind how Israel, a tiny country with the highest concentration of start-ups per capita worldwide, is raising generations of entrepreneurs who are disrupting markets around the globe and bringing change to the world?

What factors have led to these remarkable achievements, and what secrets do Israeli tech entrepreneurs know that others can learn?

Chutzpah: Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Inbal Arieli is a book for anyone interested in understanding the unique personality of Israel’s creative world.

Israel is often called, the “Silicon Wadi,” and ranks third in the World Economic Forum Innovation Rating. This is an amazing ranking considering the size of Israel. Arieli noted that Israel attracts more venture capital per capita than any other country on the planet. Arieli also pointed out that Israel’s economic accomplishments are no fluke. Jewish tradition has long taught Jews how to question and think “outside the box.”

What is it about that tiny, resourceful and creative country that explains its astounding success in technology, medicine, and the military? According to Arieli it unpredictably starts in pre-school playing with junk.

For example, in the West when children are given a new shiny toy such as a spaceship, xylophone, or what-have-you, it is not long before they turn them into junk. In Israel pre-school children are given discarded household items – junk – with which they are given free rein to transform that junk into whatever things they conjure up in their imagination. A couple of instances of that are when a discarded microwave might be converted into the control panel of an imaginary spacecraft or the broken keys of a keyboard, disassembled and turned into whatever strikes a chord, in the child’s mind.

Creating from chaos. In Modern Hebrew, chaos is referred to as a balagan. Ironically, Israelis have learned that from chaos comes order, from unusableness comes use, whose application is restricted only by the limits of one’s creativity and imagination. Granted, playing with junk in a chaotic environment is a recipe for potentially hazardous outcomes. Not only do Israeli children engage in, what we in the West call, ‘playing with fire’, they celebrate it.

While chutzpah has given generations of Israelis the courage to break away from conventional thinking, the Israeli concept of balagan really tells the story of how Israelis are taught to interact with the world. Instead of following strict rules, balagan fosters ambiguity, encouraging the development of the skills necessary for dealing with the unpredictability of life and business. Living with balagan offers Israelis the opportunity to constantly practice the soft skills defined by the World Economic Forum as the Skills for the Future, as balagan promotes creativity, problem-solving, and independence—key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.

By revealing the unique ways in which Israelis parent, educate and acculturate, Chutzpah offers invaluable insights and proven strategies for success to aspiring entrepreneurs, parents, executives, innovators, and policymakers.

In one story, Arieli tells the story about a seventeen-year-old named Gilad from Ashdod. He describes his enrichment program:

We are given basic coding skills and then they throw at us into a deep end. We are challenged with complex assignments such as building a chess game, without instructions, in an autodidactic way. This year my group is working on a car-robot that drives according to certain calculations and knows how to scan and map the area to which it wants to go, manually and automatically.

Israel is so amazing, Asian countries send delegations to observe how and why Israelis are so driven to be successful.

One of the reasons why this book is so important for readers today is because of the BDS movement that is trying cripple the Israeli economy. “BDS” is an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets what the campaign describes as Israel’s obligations under international law. Surprisingly, there are a number of Jews, like Bernie Sanders, and others who are doing their best to force Israel to do their bidding. Most Americans owe a debt of gratitude for how ordinary Israelis are making our lives easier and better today.

Think about it.

Israel is always coming up with new discoveries to combat and limit the destructive effects of cancer. Israel developed the PillCam – the first pill that can be swallowed to record images of the digestive tract. The capsule contains a miniature camera that is the size and the same shape as a pill, This invention is used very widely and was an extremely significant development in the field of medicine. Israel is very close to eliminating many strands of cancer—anyone wishing to boycott Israel ought to think how this might be dangerous to one’s health.

In terms of agriculture, Israel’s drip irrigation systems – The huge worldwide industry of modern drip irrigation is used in California and other places around the world. Newer technologies are now creating water out of the air, and this technology is being made available throughout the driest regions of the planet. Israel has developed new agricultural technology that can keep fruit and vegetables fresher for an extra two weeks!

Arieli manages to explain the inexplicable: how Israel’s difficult security situation has actually become a fertile ground for technological and economic development.

In Israel, necessity is the mother of invention.

In the final analysis, the world is a better place because of Israeli creativity. I think anyone who reads this book will learn much about the characteristics that makes Israel a culture of creativity and life.

This book gave me a new appreciation for the methodology and history of Israeli innovation. Aside from the flash drive or the cherry tomatoes that were developed in Israel, just go the Wikipedia section on Israeli innovation—you will be amazed.

*
Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

Zombies as an Existential Metaphor

Every year around Halloween time, many Americans watch a variety of monster movies pertaining to creatures who are often “undead.” Let’s be honest, there is nothing appealing about zombies. They lack the sexiness of vampires; they lack the glamor and good manners. At least vampires know how to blend in society.

But the monsters I wish to comment upon are not the vampires or Frankenstein—but the disgusting creatures better known to us as “zombies.” These creatures project an image of ourselves that make us feel uncomfortable—a rotting corpse, reminding us about the power of death. Zombies have no redeeming qualities. Unlike vampires, you cannot have conversation with them at the dinner table.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ZOMBIES

The history of zombies goes back to antiquity.

Archaeologists have unearthed many Greek graves, where skeletons were pinned down by rocks and other heavy debris intended to keep the dead in the grave. And while moderns generally view the idea of zombies with total disbelief, one might wonder what led to people believing in the idea that the dead are really, but mysteriously still “alive”?

Most myths about the human condition have a basis in fact.

When I was a child, I remember watching a film back in 1962 that scarred me like no other film I have ever seen, the film entitled, “The Premature Burial” was based on a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1844 in The Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper. Its main character expresses concern about being buried alive. But were people buried alive?

Most certainly.

Physicians for the greater part of history oftentimes could not discern when somebody had actually, “died.” Someone in a deep coma was often believed to be “dead.” Perhaps this experience gave rise to the zombie and vampire movies and literature. Short of waiting for the body to decompose, the medical community had few means of certifying death, and the burgeoning press was quick to sensationalize any hasty pronouncements.

In my old community of Glens Falls, New York, you could see bells attached to graves dating back to the 18th century during the Revolutionary War period.

My interest in zombies has changed considerably over the decades. As a student of anthropology and religion, I wondered: If zombies are a metaphor, what do they represent in the human psyche? In one sense, these beings stand only at the periphery of human consciousness. In some ways, they are akin to people who are sleepwalking through life. The sleepwalker is hardly aware who he is and how s/he fits in the grand picture of life; nor does s/he know what his/her purpose is. Sleepwalkers and zombies merely react to life, instead of creating a life that is driven by purpose, creativity, and curiosity for higher truth and moral fulfillment.

From a Marxist perspective, zombies could be an apt metaphor for those who feel the emptiness of consumerism. Perhaps more than other monster, zombies characterize our most unthinking and relentlessly hungry selves. And the tragedy is no matter how much they consume, their desire for food can never be filled (they sort of remind me of being a hungry teenager).

In the literary mindscape of George Romero’s later film Dawn of the Dead, he purposely set the film in a shopping mall! He depicts his zombies pushing shopping carts around the mall, acting as though they are still alive.  They live for only shopping. Is this not a disturbing image of our dystopian world that portrays modern society as a world that is driven by consumerism? It is astounding how the promises of consumerism even makes use of spiritual themes, such as the Golden Arches of McDonalds, creating an axis-mundi where human beings can enjoy the transcendental bliss of “becoming one” with what they eat.

In Romero’s films, his zombie walkers just want to have fun. And in a society where healthy spiritual values are no longer promoted in our schools and workplaces, we are a witnessing a generation that is spiritually “lost in space”  and the monotony of daily routines has often driven young people to edge of despair and insanity—as we see in the plethora of school-shootings around the nation. For young people whose lives feels constrained by unemployment and debt, or those whose jobs are both unchallenging and routine, the zombie metaphor has genuine power.

George Romero’s later film Dawn of the Dead is set primarily in a shopping mall. Many of the zombies continue to push shopping carts around the mall and act as if they are still alive. Their prime remaining instinct is to shop. Though made in 1978, its vision portrays modern society as a world that is driven by consumerism; and its basic human instinct of “shop till you drop” – even if you’re undead – was prescient, and troublingly accurate about rapacious consumerism.

ZOMBIES AS A SOCIAL METAPHOR

I sense that part of the reason for the current fad for zombie walks, lies in an unconscious recognition of the way in which post-industrial, consumerist culture wishes to reduce us to narrow modes of identity. Yes, Romero’s zombie walkers want to have fun, but they also want to expose the ways in which society damages our sense of self. In an age where many lives, especially those of the young, are constrained by long-term unemployment, and many who have a job find it unchallenging and routine, the zombie metaphor has genuine power.

So, when you see the zombie walking in a shopping-mall near you, ask yourself: Should zombies be considered “persons”? Perhaps more importantly, what is the meaning of personhood in a modern society today? It is a question that pro-lifers have certainly raised with the status of the unborn, and it is a legitimate question considering how technology has revealed personality traits present in the fetus of twins, who carefully can be seen touching each other sensitively in ultra-sound pictures. Can the concept of personhood be applied to our pets too? Perhaps it is the denial of personhood in ourselves and others that the zombie metaphor reveals a phantasm of what it means to be fulfilling and self-actualizing.

ZOMBIES REVEAL OUR EXISTENTIAL FEAR OF DEATH

One could argue that the plethora of zombie depictions developed at a time when young people have witnessed some of the greatest horrors of modern life—such as the attack of 9/11. In addition, the baby-boomer generation is getting (unfortunately) increasingly older. Simply put, we are afraid of dying. Yet the Stoics have long taught us that people who tend to be afraid of dying are almost invariably afraid of authentic living.

To overcome our uneasiness about our mortality, we need to accept the fact that our mortality is a fact that we are already experiencing. In this sense, life is a series of continuous rebirths. The infant and child I once was has died long ago. Yet, each day that passes, I remind myself by saying the Modeh Ani prayer that today I am a new person. When I look at the mirror, I try to remind myself that I am more than just the sum of my physical body-parts. There is a profoundly spiritual dimension that must transcend our need and desire to live for consumerism.

A MAIMONIDEAN APPROACH TO OUR EXISTENTIAL ANSGST

Although Maimonides had no inkling of the idea of zombies, he did manage to develop an alternative approach that we ought to consider in our contemporary era.  The central problem Maimonides grappled with is: How do we tell when we are asleep or if we are awake? Are we condemned to live our lives as if we were asleep?

For him, the best way to awaken us from the absence of purpose and spirituality in our lives is to pay attention to the sound of the shofar—as an instrument of raising consciousness. For him, the shofar works as an alarm. You could say that the sound of the Shofar is like an ancient form of shock therapy. Maimonides points out that the shofar was meant to stir people up from their sleep.

In short, recognizing the reality of our mortality need not paralyze ourselves with a morbid fear of the future. On the contrary, being aware that our time in this world is limited can offer ourselves the opportunity to really make a difference in the world without succumbing to the contemporary dystopian view of man as a mere consumer, or someone whose bio-footprint epitomizes the essence of our earthly journey in this world.

I believe the near-death experience has shown many countless people an alternative view of our ultimate destiny, but that is a topic for a future discussion and article.

Have a Happy Halloween with your children and friends!

The Ethical Problem of the Kapparot Ritual

What is Kapparot?

Yom Kippur has its own unique customs and traditions, and one of the most historically controversial customs involves taking a chicken and swinging it around one’s head. When I was a Hasidic youth, I recall getting up early in the morning before dawn to reenact the tradition better known as “Shlugging Kaparos,” or “Kapparot.”

According to the Artscroll Machzor for Yom Kippur, scriptural verses from   Isaiah 11:9, Psalms 107:10, 14, and 17-21, and Job 33:23-24 are recited. Then a rooster (for a man) or a hen (for a woman) is held above the person’s head and the participant swings the bird  in a circle three times, while the following is spoken: “This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement; this rooster (or hen) shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.” The chicken is then slaughtered and may or may not be given to the poor for food.

If the woman is pregnant, then she takes two hens and a rooster instead (one for her and the other for her unborn child, depending upon the gender—thus equaling three altogether).[1] I always found this aspect of the ritual puzzling, especially since who could be more innocent than a fetus? After all, Jews aren’t supposed to believe in Original Sin! In terms of the color, it became customary to use a white chicken, to recall the verse ‎ אִם־יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ אִם־יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ“Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool” (Isa. 1:18). Curiously, one should not use a black chicken, as black is the color that represents divine severity and discipline. Nor should one use a blemished chicken.

The Talmud did not mention such a ritual; it was discussed only in the 9th century. One reason why the early sages did not mention it is because the rabbis were very cautious to avoid enacting ritual sacrifices for atonement—especially since the Temple had long been destroyed.

A scriptural allusion to Kapparot derived from the word גֶּבֶר “gever,” which may mean either “man” or “cock,”[2] and the medievalists supposed that a rooster or hen could serve as an instrument of atonement.

History of Kapparot

Ever since biblical times, the Torah used animal sacrifices as a surrogate for the sinful individual wishing to seek atonement.

Most of our readers might be surprised to know that some of the most significant medieval rabbinical scholars regarded the Kapparot as a heathen superstition.[3] Rashbam objected to the ritual in Barcelona, which included killing one chicken for each child in the house and then hanging the chicken heads on the doorpost along with garlic (it keeps away vampires I am told.)

Many years ago, a former witch in my community returned to her Jewish roots and commented how the Kapparot rituals resembled customs practiced by witches. She was correct!  The Santeria, an Afro-American religion of Yoruba origin that developed in Cuba among West African descendants. Often chickens are sacrificed to ward off illnesses believed to be caused by evil spirits, or for divination.[4]

The waving of the chickens in a circle three times also constituted a “magic circle” (a.k.a. a mandala in the Eastern religious traditions) where spiritual forces are evoked to protect a person from evil. This idea is commonplace in almost all religious communities around the world. Spiritual forces can thus be evoked without danger.

Modern Objections to Kapparot

One of my favorite criticisms against Kapparot derives from R. Shlomo Goren, who was arguably one of the greatest Chief Rabbis of Israel in recent memory. Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren notes that “Kapparot is not consistent with Jewish teachings and law. Repentance and charity can be better accomplished by using money instead of a slaughtered chicken”

Humanitarian considerations is another important reason to discontinue Kapparot. “Anyone who walks through the markets can see that the manner in which the chickens are held before the Kapparot is insufferable. There is no veterinary supervision and no concern for the feelings of these poor creatures.” -Rabbi Gilad Kariv.[5]

Rabbinical tradition basing itself on the ethos of the Torah stressed we must do everything in our power to prevent tsar’ ba’ale hayyim—cruelty toward animals. Between 2005 and 2006, the SPCA in New York City confiscated hundreds of starving chickens who were abandoned in crates after the ritual was finished; these creatures were crammed in cages while sitting in their own excrement. It is hard to imagine how any pious Jew could act so indifferently toward these forlorn creatures of God.

But in 2006 in Los Angelos, the birds had their vocal cords removed so none of the participants would feel repulsed by their screams of pain.  

Although it is frequently claimed these slaughtered chickens are given to charity, the reality is that there is never refrigeration equipment at a Kapparot event. This meat is probably not edible, or shouldn’t be eaten and would never meet the rigorous requirements of the federal Poultry Products Inspection Acts for human consumption. But this much we know for sure. Helpers for the ritual slaughterers could be seen tossing the birds, covered in blood and often dusted with feces from their time in stacked crates, into trash bags and cans after their throats were slit.

It is important to note that the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Pasadena heard an argument on behalf of United Poultry Concerns in a case against Chabad of Irvine for unfair business practices in charging a fee to illegally kill and dispose of chickens for Kapparot. Unfortunately, “the district court ruled it was not a business practice.  However, the decision is being appealed.  The district court expressed no opinion on the underlying legality/illegality of the manner in which the chickens are killed and disposed.”[6]

The winds of change do occur—howbeit slowly—among the Orthodox.

As R. Shlomo Brody suggested that there is a new sensibility is becoming the new standard for our ethical behavior concerning animals:

  • “On the eve of this holy day,” said the late Rabbi Hayim David HaLevi, “why should we display unnecessary cruelty to these animals and mercilessly kill them before requesting from God mercy upon us?” The mass killing of animals, he added, contradicts a different medieval custom, almost entirely forgotten today, of refraining from all slaughter before the New Year as an act of increased mercy on God’s creatures. In this spirit, and given increased accusations of mishandling of the chickens, prominent figures like Rabbis Shlomo Aviner and David Stav have urged Jews to err on the side of treating animals kindly and use money instead. Traditionalism should, of course, have its place, but on the eve of Yom Kippur, we shouldn’t turn a request for mercy into an act of cruelty.[7]

I will conclude with a brief anecdote from the Hassidic community—an appropriate reference for todays’ Hasidic Jews to remember and ever be mindful of observing.  I came across an article written by a colleague, Rabbi Everett Gendler, who wrote:

  • Rabbi Zusya used to travel around the countryside collecting money to ransom prisoners. One night he came to an inn in which there was a large cage with all kinds of birds in it. Zusya saw that the creatures wanted to fly free through the spaces of the world. He burned with pity for them and said to himself, “Here you are, Zusya, walking your feet off to ransom prisoners, but what greater ransoming of prisoners can there be than to free these birds from their prison?” Then he opened the cage and the birds flew out to freedom.[8]

Although the Chabad website claims the practice of Kapparot also serves a humanitarian purpose, “In fact, the Code of Jewish Law suggests that we take the innards and liver of the Kapparot chickens and place them in an area where birds can feed off them. “It is proper to show mercy to the creatures on this day, so that in Heaven they should have mercy upon us [too].”[9] In actuality, as mentioned earlier, in Brooklyn as well as in Los Angelos, and other places, the slaughtered birds are discarded as garbage. There is nothing even remotely kind about this kind of cynical behavior.[10]

If you’re going to slaughter a chicken, biblical law requires that one at least eat the chicken. To do otherwise is violation of the negative commandment of bal tashchit—do not destroy or waste—has long been considered central to a Jewish environmental ethic (Deut. 20:19–20)

The Chabad movement and other Hasidic communities ought to atone for its callous disregard for these birds.


[1] OH 605:4.

[2] Cf. BT Shabbat 67b. This usage is much rarer and does not occur in Biblical Hebrew.

[3] Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488 – 1575) in his Shulchan Aruch, OH 605:1. Other notable detractors include Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman 1194–1270; Rabbi Shlomo Ben Aderet (Rashba, 1235–1310) in Teshuvot HaRashba 1:395. ). Comp. in OH, Hilkhot Erev Yom Kippur 1.

[4]Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe, Mysteries and Secrets of Voodoo, Santeria, and Obeah (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2008), p. 203.

[5] Quoted in ynetnews.com 09/28/2006

[6] https://edboks.com/2018/11/kapparot-9th-circuit-argument-tuesday/

[7] https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/185741/a-brief-history-of-a-fowl-custom

[8] Rabbi Everett Gendler, The Life of His Beast.

[9] Tur Shulchan Aruch & Shulchan Aruch OH Rama 605. Tashbatz. Bayit Chadash. Turei Zahav 104. OH 605:6.

[10] https://gothamist.com/news/are-thousands-of-ritually-slaughtered-chickens-being-turned-into-biodiesel

NY Times Defiles the Memory of 9-11

CHULA VISTA, California –George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This statement has proven true time and time again. Such common-sense wisdom ought to be obvious to any student of history. How many revolutions have we seen in the past two hundred years where popular revolts end up with individuals seizing absolute power as we witnessed with Napoleon, Stalin, and Mao? Yes, despite our superior intellects, human beings have yet to show the wisdom to evolve to the next level of human consciousness.

The inner primitive which I call the “atavist” is always lurking in the shadows of our soul; but to evolve, we must, as the Psalmist would put it, “obtain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12)

Therefore, it is with great surprise—as we recall the attacks upon our nation on September 11, 2001— that The New York Times wrote:

18 Years have passed since airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center. Today, families will once again gather and grieve at the site where more than 2000 people died.

Notice the politically correct nomenclature the writer chose, “airplanes took aim,” and not Jihadi terrorists.

Imagine if the NY Times had covered Pearl Harbor attack much in the same way, “On December 7, 1941, airplanes took aim and seriously damaged the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor.”

The Times deliberately left conspicuous facts out of their story; the writer also deliberately reduced the number of people that were murdered. Seldom have I seen such outrage from the vox populi, as I did with this tweet.

Finally, they relented; the Times deleted the tweet and rewrote the article. The new text read, “Eighteen years have passed since terrorists commandeered airplanes to take aim at the World Trade Center and bring them down.”

The manipulative motive behind this correction that omitted the words, “Islamists” or even “al Qaeda.”  And on the Op Ed page, all the editor could focus upon is the effects of Islamophobia on American Muslims post-9/11.

Jewish readers need to ask themselves the obvious question: Why is the Times being so coy and deceptive?

In his famous book, 1984, George Orwell coined the phrase “memory hole.” Defined: the memory hole was a small incinerator chute used for censoring, through destroying, any information that Big Brother considered necessary to censor. In 1984, Orwell depicted legions of bureaucrats, who was led by the “Minister of Truth,” whose task was to erase actual historical records; alter its documents, newspapers, books, and so on. The “Memory Hole” also helped to eradicate any trace of a person or event’s actual existence.

Orwell reminded us of an ancient device used by historians since antiquity. By the changing the narrative, one can control history.

Radical Islamic apologists are skilled at this artifice. Changing the narrative is what the Islamic fanatics of ISIS have done in destroying ancient artifacts and remnants. Among casualties of history that ISIS destroyed, the ancient city-state of Palmyra was destroyed; it had remained an important tourist site in Syria for over millennia. ISIS destroyed the 1,900-year-old Temple of Baalshamin with explosives. ISIS sacked artifacts from another famous city, selling priceless Roman mosaics for tens of millions of dollars to fund their operations. In 2001, the Taliban dynamited the Buddhas of Bamyan which were two large monumental statues.

A rich Roman-era trading city, Apamea has been badly looted since the beginning of Syria’s civil war, before ISIS appeared. Satellite imagery shows dozens of pits dug across the site; previously unknown Roman mosaics have reportedly been excavated and removed for sale. ISIS is said to take a cut from sales of ancient artifacts, making tens of millions of dollars to fund their operations.

Concerning the NY Times, the “memory hole” is no less evident in the infamous discourse when Ilhan Omar nonchalantly said, “‘some people did something.” And in one gathering, she expressed sympathy for radical Islamists and made a special request to a Minnesota judge that he  rule “compassionately” towards nine men who were planning to join ISIS.

It is astounding how we have soon forgotten the real truth that happened on that terrible day. As Americans, we should feel a collective sense of outrage for the deliberate attempt of those who wish to destroy one of the darkest chapters of American history in the name of “political correctness.”

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

Return of the Morlocks

One of the most brilliant science fiction writers of all time was H. G. Wells (1866-1947). His insights into human nature might possibly qualify him as a modern-day prophet. In one of the most exciting stories he wrote, “The Time Machine,” a story that has been adapted for several movies.

The protagonist travels into the distant future to a post-apocalyptical era where the remnants of humanity have evolved into two distinctive groups: the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are docile people who comprise small, elegant, childlike adults. They live in small communities within deteriorating buildings; they subsist on a fruit-based diet. This people seem peaceful and have no ambition or desire to learn. Yet, there is something wrong about the Eloi. Members of the Eloi disappear at night. What he discovers is that the Morlocks have been hunting them at night, using them as a food source.

I am referring to this story for a specific reason. It seems as though H.G. Wells’ vision of the Morlocks may not be a thing of fiction—it could become a reality for today, and possibly the future.

A behavioral scientist from Sweden thinks cannibalism of corpses will become necessary because of the effects of climate change. The name of this person is Magnus Söderlund, and he is associated with the prestigious Stockholm School of Economics. In his dystopian vision of the future, he proposed that in order to truly take on the effects of climate change, we must “awake the idea” that eating human flesh should be discussed as an option in the future.

But wait, his justification gets increasingly gross. Söderlund realizes that present-day society would find the idea of consuming flesh “repugnant.” Historically, existing “conservative” taboos against eating human flesh date back to some of the most primal periods of human history. But Söderlund thinks that to combat climate change, people could eventually learn to get over their hang-up about eating human flesh–provided they do so incrementally. Moreover, he thinks human beings can be “tricked” into “making the right decisions.” [1]

This begs the question: Who gets to determine whose life is carnally expendable? The poor and under-trodden? Will it be the lower class? What about the members of the upper echelons of society? What about the rich and powerful?  Söderlund has no answer to these questions.

In a society that places zero moral value on life in the womb, perhaps proposals from men like  Söderlund is something that was bound to happen sooner or later.

It reminds me of the story about the missionary who brought Christ to a community of cannibals. When honored at a dinner, they asked him, “How did you succeed in such an amazing feat?” The missionary sheepishly replied, “You see, before I arrived, the cannibals used to eat with their hands. But after I told them about the power of Christ, the cannibals learned to eat their prey with forks and knives.”

Once Mahatma Gandhi was asked, “What do you think of Western civilization?” “I think it would be a good idea,” he replied. …”

Today’s Western Civilization and its fanatical scientists have a lot to learn about the true meaning of “civilization.”

As I wondered about this insane idea deliberated by this Swedish scientist, I found myself recalling the words of Haim Ginott, an Israeli educational psychologist Haim Ginott writes about a letter that teachers would receive from their principal each year:

  • I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is this:  Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

What bothers me the most is that the climate-change alarmists have developed a self-righteous morphed into a religious-like cult. Anyone who questions the veracity of its claims is considered heretical. It is not surprising that some people think we ought to promote zero population growth. The most populous areas of people are in Asia and Africa. I often wonder what some deluded people will propose next to depopulate the human race to a size that poses little threat to the environment.

Was H. G. Wells, correct?

Time will tell.

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NOTES: [1] https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/swedish-scientist-eating-humans-climate-change?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

How humane is stunning an animal before slaughter?

September 9, 2019 / Leave a Comment

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — The subject of kosher slaughter is one of those topics that have been widely debated in Europe since the 1930s. Animal rights groups have often spoken out against Jewish and Islamic slaughter (Halal), which they believe is cruel and barbaric.

Among the newest regions to come out against kosher slaughtering, two states in Belgium now insist that any kind of ritual slaughtering must first stun the animal before it is killed. The European Union held that the animal ought to be unconscious by the time it is slaughtered, to minimize its pain.

From an ethical view, both Jews and Muslims stress the importance of minimizing animal suffering. Most Orthodox rabbinical certification organizations have long maintained the view that no form of stunning may take place before slaughtering the animal. Most Halal authorities agree, but some scholars allow nonpenetrative stunning before slaughter.

Both religious communities argue that stunning does not destroy the brain tissue, but it does stop its functioning. Jewish law does not specifically prohibit this, but the consensus of most Jewish scholars is that stunning kills the animals most times, which would render the animal “nevelah,” which is an animal that had died from natural causes, which cannot be consumed by Kosher observant people.

While there is no direct prohibition against this in Judaism, most Jewish authorities do not accept this method.  This is most likely because the stunning is done in such a way that it actually kills the animals in many instances.  There are various modes of stunning.  Electric shock is commonly used in slaughtering pigs and poultry.  Jewish authorities have disapproved of this method for several reasons.

*        It is debatable how “painless” this method actually is.

*       Logistically, this method would dramatically slow down the process of kosher slaughter, resulting in a much higher cost for kosher meat

*        Electric -shock is a potential danger for workers at the plant

*         The use of chemical agents or gas could toxify the meat, rendering it too expensive for consumption.

Perhaps one of the most important reasons why stunning is frowned upon is because the Nazis spearheaded this attempt during the 1930s under the guise of “protecting animals,” but in reality their motivation was to cripple the Jewish community.

Given the return of anti-Semitism in Europe today, it is difficult  not to say this too is a veiled attack against both Jews and Muslims under the guise of humanitarian concerns for animals.

Despite these objections, it is important to note that one of the premier Orthodox scholars of his time, R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, (Author Of Seridei Esh. 1884-1966); whose name still evokes only the highest admiration among Haredi and non-Haredi Jews, made the case that stunning is “theoretically” permitted. He was the Rosh Yeshiva (Dean) of the Hildesheimer Seminary of Berlin during the days of the Nazis.

The German and other European rabbis debated this topic. In one letter, Weinberg sought to form a consensus and thought the rabbis would permit it. However, Rabbi Chaim Ozer beat him to the punch and prohibited it. In short, R. Yechiel Weinberg did not wish to sow contention within the Jewish community and so he opted to remain silent on this matter.

Truthfully , if done properly, kosher slaughter is no worse than any other method of slaughter. But there was a time when the animals had to be shackled by chains, and this practice often resulted in making the animals trefeh (unkosher) because of broken bones. Dangling on these chains ten feet in the air can frighten animals into harming themselves.

Fortunately, because of the outcry of Jews wishing a more humane method, a special pen was made where the animal remained on the ground level. I have seen these pens, when I once studied to be a shochet after my ordination in New York, 1976. Fortunately, in July 2018, the largest U.S. kosher certifier announced that it would no longer accept meat slaughtered with the “shackle and hoist” method. The Orthodox Union (O.U.) told the Jewish Telegraph Agency that it expects that all slaughterhouses to be certified by the O.U.

The issues regarding stunning remains too complex to answer. We still don’t have a definition of death that everyone can agree to. Anti-Semitism is making a comeback in Europe and elsewhere across the world.

A personal note:

I recall taking part in an international animal rights conference and I was asked about ethics regarding kosher slaughter.

At the time, I pointed out that: “From an animal’s perspective, there is no such thing as a painless way to slaughter animals. Many non-kosher slaughter houses still club animals to death in this country. If you wish to be compassionate toward animals, do the animals a favor—refrain from eating meat.”

Now when laboratory-made meat is  a reality, perhaps we will live to see the words of the prophet Isaiah become true, “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea” (Isa. 11:9).

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

The Ramban vs. Maimonides in theological debate

August 23, 2019 / Leave a Comment

Nachmanides: An Unusual Thinker by Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin, Geffen Publishing House (c) 2018, ISBN 9789652-298874.

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — One of the most interesting books I have read in years is Rabbi Israel Drazin’s excellent primer on the Ramban, entitled, Nachmanides An Unusual Thinker about a brilliant rabbinic scholar of the 13th century. He was born in Gerona in Northern Spain in 1194 and he was a man who had many remarkable experiences. And while he is best known for his biblical commentaries on the Pentateuch and other biblical books, Ramban is no less famous for his debate with the apostate Jew Pablo Christiani, which took place in 1263 in Barcelona before King James 1.

As Rabbi Drazin pointed out, Christiani attempted to prove to the community that the Sages “foreshadowed the birth and mission of Jesus.” And surprisingly, Nachmanides downplayed the significance of the midrashic texts, pointing out that these writings were only legends and should not be taken seriously. In rabbinical school, we studied this debate.

 Rabbi Drazin noted:

Maimonides was a rationalist and his philosophy was expressed systematically and explicitly, open to thinkers in every generation, whereas the majority of Ramban’s basic ideas are rooted in the metalogical realm of the Kabbalah. Their manner of expression is the allusion, which only a select few were able to fathom throughout the generations.

What I liked about his book is how the author delineated many of the key conceptual differences that best characterize Ramban’s approach and how it contrasted with Maimonides. Think of it as the mystic vs. the rationalist. Being that Ramban was a mystic, his viewpoint tends toward a greater belief in supernatural events that are recorded in the Tanakh.

The author noted:

As a mystic, Nachmanides was the first person to introduce the idea that the Torah contains mystical notions, and the first to offer a mystical interpretation of the Bible. He was also the first to state that the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch, Targum Onkelos, contains imaginative aggadic material and mysticism. It was as if he were arguing that if the Torah is true, and mysticism is true, and Targum Onkelos is true, then it follows that the Torah and Targum Onkelos must contain mysticism.

It is ironic that both Nachmanides and Maimonides share a common attribute in their exegetical styles: each one reads their personal Judaic philosophy into the biblical text. Unlike Maimonides, whose ideas fused elements of Greek and Muslim philosophy into his theological worldview, Ramban drew much of his inspiration from the area of Jewish tradition known as the Kabbalah—and this sphere of Jewish learning was one that Maimonides examined with the utmost of his intellectual criticism. According to Ramban, the midrashic hermeneutic constitutes the simple and literal sense of Scriptures, the entire Tanakh makes up the Name of God. Supernaturalism is the peshat of the Torah according to him. Nachmanides promotes the Torah as a mystical text— and this view has left a lasting impression on all subsequent Judaic mystics down to the present era.

As one of Maimonides’ foremost critics, Nachmanides challenged many of Maimonides’ philosophical expositions of how he interpreted familiar biblical narratives and laws. Being that Ramban was a mystic, he interpreted supernatural events as they were recorded in the Tanakh. He had no interest in Maimonidean rationalism.

Let us consider the following examples:

Unlike Maimonides’s parabolic approach to the Book of Genesis, Ramban takes the opposite position in keeping with his understanding of the peshat. For him, when the Torah speaks about an actual Garden of Eden and that Adam’s disobedience was a historical event that occurs in real time; Eden occupies an actual place in the ancient Near East. According to Maimonides—the story possesses a distinctively allegorical meaning. But for Ramban, the Edenic serpent was more than just a mythical character or a psychological symbol—it walks, and it talks too!

As R. Drazin observed:

“Nachmanides used the commentaries of Rashi and Abraham ibn Ezra, and less frequently Maimonides as a springboard with which to contrast his own original mystical biblical interpretation. He disagrees with these sages, often with strong disparaging words. He also cites the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch, Targum Onkelos, but always with admiration, deference, and respect. Yet, although he mentions Onkelos 230 times in his commentary to the Pentateuch, generally to support” his point of view.

 There are many interesting selections the author mentions. For example, he raises the questions:

·         Do Animals Sin? Similarly, Genesis 6:12 states, “all flesh corrupted their ways.” Rashi argues that “all flesh” means that animals and birds also sinned. Nachmanides recognizes that animals do not sin and states that “all flesh” denotes “all people.”

·         Why State Both “Created” and “Made”? Genesis 2:3 seems to have a duplication, “which God created, had made.” Ibn Ezra states that “had made” means that God gave the items the power to reproduce. Rashi opines that it suggests that God did double work on the sixth day. Nachmanides understands “had made” as suggesting, “that which He had made out of nothing.”

Similarly, later on in the Pentateuch, when Balaam’s donkey speaks, the story means exactly what it says. Once again, for Maimonides, he argued that in psychological terms, Balaam’s donkey can only be understood as a prophetic event; the Torah narrated a biblical character’s visionary experience. The theme of prophecy continues to be a bone of contention with Ramban, who differed with Maimonides’ view that the story about the three strangers who visit Abraham also occurred in a vision. Ramban, argues to the contrary, citing the detail given in the narrative occurs in real time. Abraham entertains real guests, not figments of his imagination. Beyond that, Ramban regarded all the midrashic stories mentioned in rabbinic tradition as having occurred.

Ramban also did not believe in the existence of “natural law” and that God is literally micromanaging all of His Creation, tweaking it from time to time. “God is constantly and directly involved in every human act and thought and frequently interferes and even controls them. He calls these divine manipulations ‘hidden miracles.’” This concept is fascinating, but Maimonides differed, arguing that God’s Providence over nature does not extend to a leaf falling from a tree, or whether every minor event operates with a special imperative from God.

 Along the same line of thought, Ramban believed demons are the product of sorcery, and possess bodies composed of air and fire,[1] which enable them to take flight.[2] are familiar with future events because they communicate with the angels in charge of the stars.[3] More seriously, Ramban takes indirect aim at Maimonides by asserting anyone who does not believe in demonic beings suffers from a heretical attitude toward the world. According to Ramban, if you believe in miracles, then you ought to believe demonic beings exist as well. Elsewhere, Ramban writes:

It is from this standpoint that you can come to realize the ruthlessness and stubbornness of the principal Greek Philosopher Aristotle—may his name be erased from memory—who denies the truth of many things which we have seen and has been publicized throughout the world. In Mosaic times, these truths were known to all for the wisdom of that generation pertained to spiritual matters, e.g., entities involving the demonic and sorcery. However, when the Greeks arose, Aristotle believed only in what the physical sciences could confirm. In his effort to establish the scientific disciplines, he denied the realm of the spiritual. Aristotle denied the existence of demons and all magical acts. For him, the world operated solely by natural law. But it is well-known and shown that this is not the case at all. [4]

Maimonides considered such a perspective to be superstitious nonsense, and never does he endorse such a belief in demonology throughout all his writings, which are considerable.

The reader will find the material presented in this book fascinating. Nachmanides may not be necessarily correct in all of his claims, but as an expounder of the peshat (plain meaning of the text), readers will feel challenged to debate his position with other great ideas expressed by Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and other famous Judaic luminaries.

I really enjoyed reading Nachmanides: An Unusual Thinker, and I know you will too.

 This book merits a 5 star rating from this reviewer.


NOTES:

[1] Ramban’s Commentary to Leviticus 17:7. Ramban’s description of demons is almost identical with the Muslim belief in Jinn (الجن‎, al-jinn) who are shape-shifting spirits composed of fire and air.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ramban’s Commentary to Leviticus 17:7.

[4] Charles B. Chavel, Kitvei Ramban, “Derashat Torat Hashem Temimah,” vol. I, pp. 147, 149)

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.comPosted in: Books & PoetryJewish ReligionRabbi Israel DrazinRabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Massive tree planting program may save planet

August 25, 2019 / Leave a Comment

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — It might surprise most people to know that ecological themes form an important part of the Torah and Tanakh.

For example:

Genesis begins with an important ecological truth: “The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2:15).

When the Holy Blessed One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, ‘Behold My works, how beautiful and commendable they are! All that I have created, for your sake I created it. Pay heed that you do not corrupt and destroy My world. For if you spoil her, there will be nobody to repair her after you. -Eccles. Rabbah 7:20

This Midrashic interpretation highlights the importance of stewardship, not only for the Garden of Eden, but for our taking care of the earth, God’s garden. By taking care of the primordial garden, Adam learns to recognize that all of life is God’s unique design, endowed with spirit, consciousness, and intelligence. Adam’s respect for Creation makes him realize that the human species is a part of the great web of life, which he must nurture for the world to be self-sustaining and productive. Indeed, the degradation of the environment damages the original balance that Adam and his progeny must maintain. Through toil, Adam would realize how all of Creation depends on the Divine as the source of life for its sustenance and continued existence.

Understanding the implications of Adam’s stewardship is vital for our contemporary society.  The science of ecology has shown how ecosystems of the world are delicately balanced; should human beings ruin them through abusive acts (ecocide), future generations will have to endure the consequences. Through work and stewardship, humankind comes to emulate God’s own work and creativity as Imitatio Dei (imitation of God). It was the divine intent from the beginning for humankind to elevate and ennoble itself by work, and elevate Creation to the realm of the spirit, leading all Creation in song and joyous exaltation of the Divine. Note that God intended to make Adam not a “master” over the Garden of Eden, but its caretaker and steward. Once Adam forgets that he is only a steward of the garden, the boundaries established by the Creator became unclear and ultimately violated.

The midrashic writers expressed a profound intuition—one that still resonates with wisdom—even today. Chief Seattle, in a meeting that took place in 1854 with the “The Great White Chief” in Washington, is purported to have replied:

  • “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap, which courses through the trees, carries the memory and experience of my people.
  • The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful Earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle—these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.
  • The rivers are our brothers for they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes and feed our children. … The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath ‑ the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. Teach your children what we have taught our children that the Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know—the Earth does not belong to man—man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are interconnected like the blood, which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth—befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life—he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Back to the present:

We have all seen or heard about the news in Brazil, as the Amazon Rain Forest has gone up in flames. The Amazon Rain Forest is purported to provide 20% of the world’s oxygen—a necessary ingredient for our planetary survival.

The Brazilian government has tried to exploit the Amazon forest for decades, but recently industrialists have promoted a policy of deforesting their country. On Friday, the governments of the international community exerted pressure on the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who decided to mobilize his military to contain the blazes.

As a chorus of condemnation intensified, Brazil braced for the prospect of punitive measures that could severely damage an economy that is already sputtering after a brutal recession. The country’s populist besieged president faces a withering reckoning–especially at the polls, come next election.

Regardless what position people have concerning global warming, I for one believe that we ought to err on the side of caution. But I do not believe that we ought to spend trillions of dollars to prevent it by a degree or two.

Consider the Land of Israel.

What can we do about global warming? Mark Twain once wrote after touring the Holy Land in the 19th century that he was amazed at how desolate the land of Israel was. In a moment of inspiration, Twain said that the people who care for the land will someday make it bloom once more.

Israel to this day has planted over 200 million trees in forests and woodlands covering some 300,000 acres.  Tese trees provide Israelis with a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation and appreciation of nature.

The Israeli people have made the desert bloom.  In addition, Israel has developed the most effective water-management systems and a sustained prosperous economy even under relatively harsh climatic conditions.  It has prevented the overexploitation of natural resources, which otherwise would have driven the land toward desolation, producing severe land degradation, erosion, and salination.

Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has embraced issues of sustainable land management and has adopted public policies designed to restore, develop, and manage its natural resources. Outside of Israel, about 240 million trees have been planted, particularly in the Mediterranean and semi-arid regions. Regulations have been introduced to control grazing and ensure effective water management. Due to these activities, Israel is one of the few countries in the world that has more trees now than it had a century ago.

Now why is Israel’s example so important? Replanting the planet with billions of trees all over the globe will not only beautify our world, it will contribute dramatically toward the absorption of carbon emissions. According to some studies, we need not knock down cities or takie over farms or natural grasslands. Reforested pieces could add up to new tree cover totaling just about the area of the United States, researchers report in the July 5 Science.

Can we do better? Of course. Israel’s example has demonstrated just how effective such an approach can be.  This approach can contain greenhouse gases. It is a method that will not destroy our society. Combined with other common-sense measures, we can ensure the world will be a beautiful place for future generations.

  • One day Honi was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” Honi asked him: “Old man! Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I found already grown carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me so I too plant these for my children” (BT Ta’anit 23b).

We owe the future a beautiful earth.

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com