In reply to Alice Walker’s calumnies against Jews

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In reply to Alice Walker’s calumnies against Jews

-Second in a Series-

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — Most of us probably had a lot of respect and cheered for Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It is a story about the life of African-American women who lived in the South during the 1930s. Eventually, the book was adapted to  a film, it received eleven Academy Awards in 1985.

When the New York Times Book Review published a full-length interview with Alice Walker, the interviewer asked a very innocent question: “What books are on your nightstand?” Walker replied with four. One of the books she chose was David Icke’s And the Truth Shall Set You Free: The 21st Century Edition. Apparently, Icke is someone Walker admires.

For most Jews, David Icke is probably an unfamiliar name.

Icke is an English writer who has made a reputation for himself as a professional conspiracy theorist. Most Brits regard him as a genuine “eccentric.” Among his antics, Icke claimed to be a part of the Godhead (move over Jesus!) and in 1990, he claimed that the world would soon be destroyed by tidal waves, earthquakes. Icke’s name is also associated with Holocaust denial. He also believes shape-shifting reptilian creatures from a different dimension control the world.

Icke’s love of the later 19th century anti-Semitic book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has given rise to his belief that the Illuminati, Masons, Globalist Bankers, Rothschilds, Federal Reserve, and other “secret” societies, “control the world.” Although Icke denies being an anti-Semite, Icke considers “the Talmud to be among the world’s most racist works on the planet.” As if that were not enough, he accuses the Jews of being the primary force behind the American slave trade and contends the Jews control the KKK.  Louis Farrakhan and other black radicals have made similar allegations against the Jews.[1]

So how does Alice Walker feel about the Jews?

As recently as November 2017, Walker decided to write a poem on her blog, which she called, “It is Our Duty to Study the Talmud.” Like a true disciple of Icke, she walks goosesteps with her British mentor. Here are just a couple of choice selections from her blog:

Alice Walker writes:

It is our duty, I believe, to study the Talmud.
It is within this book that,
I believe, we will find answers
To some of the questions
That most perplex us.

Rabbi Samuel’s Response:  Yes, the Talmud is full of questions, but the Talmud never tries to close people’s minds, but seeks to expand it.  The Talmud is not an arcane book of escoteria, its focus is to help people discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Alice Walker continues:

Where to start?
You will find some information,
Slanted, unfortunately,
By Googling. For a more in depth study
I recommend starting with YouTube.
Simply follow the trail of “The Talmud”
as its poison belatedly winds its way
Into our collective consciousness . . .

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Diatribes against the Talmud are nothing new in Jewish history. The Church burned the Talmud since the 13th century and beyond. The Nazi propagandists also loved attacking the Talmud.

Alice Walker writes:

Is Jesus boiling eternally in hot excrement,
For his “crime” of throwing the bankers
Out of the Temple? For loving, standing with,
And defending
The poor? Was his mother, Mary,
A whore?

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Like LeBron James, Walker presumes the “Jews control all the money of the world.” I have already written about this in a previous article.

But what about Jesus? Does the Talmud claim that Jesus is boiling in a pot of excrement? This is an interesting question. Actually, there is an opinion that someone expressed in the Talmud that purports, Jesus is boiling in a pot of excrement.[2] The historian Peter Schaffer explains:

  • The most bizarre of all the Jesus stories is the one that tells how Jesus shares his place in the Netherworld with Titus and Balaam, the notorious archenemies of the Jewish people. Whereas Titus is punished for the destruction of the Temple by being burned to ashes, reassembled, and burned over and over again, and whereas Balaam is castigated by sitting in hot semen, Jesus’ fate consists of sitting forever in boiling excrement. This obscene story has occupied scholars for a long time, without any satisfactory solution. I will speculate that it is again the deliberate, and quite graphic, answer to a New Testament claim, this time Jesus’ promise that eating his flesh and drinking his blood guarantees eternal life to his followers. Understood this way, the story conveys an ironic message: not only did Jesus not rise from the dead, he is punished in hell forever; accordingly, his followers—the blossoming Church, which maintains to be the new Israel—are nothing but a bunch of fools, misled by a cunning deceiver.[3]

I would take a different approach from Schaffer. Oppressed people often resort to sarcasm to get back at a threatening foe. Historically, the Jews of Late Antiquity did not have a problem with Jesus per se, but they did have a problem with the Pauline recreation of Jesus that the Church authorities tried to force-feed the Jewish population. Jews were often under the penalty of death or incarceration if they converted a single Roman citizen. This lampooning of Jesus in the Talmud reflects a Jewish counterpunch at the Christian community of their time.

Nobody ever claimed the Talmud is a compendium of flawless wisdom and virtue. Unfortunately, there are some silly and inane comments found in its pages. Should it bother us? Simply put, people will sometimes say stupid things from time to time. You cannot blame the “Jews” for every odd thing a given rabbi may have said. Historically, you could say that the Talmud was the very first open-source precursor to the blog. While there is a lot of wisdom for the most part in the Talmud, there are some comments I wish the redactors never preserved.

Alice Walker continues:

Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only
That, but to enjoy it?
Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?
Are young boys fair game for rape?
Must even the best of the Goyim (us, again) be killed?
Pause a moment and think what this could mean
Or already has meant
In our own lifetime.

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: The Talmud as with the Bible condemns slavery as an institution. The rabbis liberated slaves just to make a minyan! The Talmud says further that anyone who acquires a slave acquires for himself a master, since he must treat the slave better than he does himself. The Sages insisted that a slave must have a normal family life, no different from that of his master. As the Talmud states, “One who acquires a Hebrew slave acquires a master for himself” (BT Kiddushin 20a); Treating a slave as an equal (or even better) was never an easy task, but the Talmudic rules made it possible for the Jewish community to eventually ban slavery as an institution.

With respect to pedophilia, the Talmud never endorsed the sexual exploitation of minors. I think Walker is confusing Judaism with the other Semitic faith that encourages fifty-year-old men to marry seven-year-old girls, as Mohammed did with Isha. By the way, Ms. Walker, this practice still occurs even today among some Muslims throughout the Muslim world.[4]  Historically, Jewish law never sanctioned marrying young girls to grown adults.

Alice Walker writes:

You may find that as the cattle
We have begun to feel we are
We have an ancient history of oppression
Of which most of us have not been even vaguely
Aware. You will find that we, Goyim, sub-humans, animals

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Nowhere in the Talmud does it say that “Goyim” are subhuman. The Talmud says, “Whoever destroys a single human life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world. [-Mishnah: Sanhedrin 4:5; JT 4:9, BT Sanhedrin 37a ] [1] Furthermore, the Talmud always stresses, “You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:16) – See BT Sanhedrin 73a, passim. Killing a Canaanite or any Gentile is a crime punishable by death.

Commentary: I doubt whether Alice Walker ever read a page of Talmud in her life. I think she is so woefully ignorant of the Talmud because in her heart she hates Jews. She ought to study the Ethics of the Fathers, or find a rabbi to teach her Talmud, as explained by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a man who arguably is the Rashi of our generation.

But wait, Alice Walker writes further:

 –The Palestinians of Gaza
The most obvious representatives of us
At the present time – are a cruel example of what may be done
With impunity, and without conscience . . .

One can easily gather that Ms. Walker loves the Palestinians of Gaza; one would think she considers them among the most virtuous of peoples. But in my opinion, her praise of them is surprising.

Ms. Walker has probably never been to a Palestinian summer camp in Gaza. If she did, I wonder what she would think of how they teach young children how to fire machine guns, crawl through tunnels, learn how to use rocket launchers, plant mines, participate in “Knife Camp,” where these youngsters learn how to stab anyone who is a Jew.[5]

What I am about to say may shock many of you. I write this as a child of a Holocaust survivor. My father and family survived the worse of the concentration camps. But even my father felt that the Palestinians of Gaza as well as some of the radicals living in the West Bank, had reached a level of human depravity that made the Nazis almost look civilized by comparison. Nazis never sacrificed their children to kill Jews; nor did they turn their children into human bombs just to kill Jews, or put rat-poison in suicide vests to maim as many Jews just for the love of God. Where else but in the Arab world would runaway Nazis be treated like rock-stars? Nazi Alois Brunner’s confirmed death in Damascus reveals an uncomfortable truth: Egypt and Syria have long ties to Nazi Germany and long provided sanctuary to fugitive war criminals.[6]

By the way, Ms. Walker, the Nazis hated blacks and would have preferred using them as slaves, to be discarded after finishing with them. The Muslim-Arab axis during WWII is something you should never forget. History has shown that the enemy of the Jew is no friend of the Negro.

Next time Ms. Walker wishes to mention the Talmud, I suggest she find a good mentor. She might be surprised at the wisdom it contains.

*
NOTES

[1] And Icke’s list goes on, and includes numerous reptilian shape-shifting alien conspiracies—which the Jews are a part of.

[2] BT Gittin 57a.

[3] Peter Schaffer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, NJ: by Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 13.

[4] https://www.politico.eu/article/immigrants-migration-culture-integration-sweden-struggles-over-child-marriage/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9500484/Alarm-as-hundreds-of-children-under-age-of-10-married-in-Iran.html

[5] https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/08/31/palestinian-summer-camps-where-kids-learn-to-kill-jews-constitute-child-abuse/ See also http://saudigazette.com.sa/article/49575/Gaza-children-play-war-in-Palestinian-summer-camp and https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3742455,00.html. Comp. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mariotti/what-we-got-wrong-about-n_b_10864118.html and

[6] https://www.thedailybeast.com/hitlers-henchmen-in-arabia

Lebron James and the Jews

The secret is out.

The Jews control the world!

We own the media!

Politicians do our bidding!

The Jews “control” Wall Street!

Have you heard about the old joke concerning two Jews who were dining at a Vienna café in the 1930s. One of them is reading the Yiddish newspaper, while the other one peruses the Der Stürmer, the Nazi propaganda newspaper. Watching a Jew read a Nazi newspaper definitely seemed odd.  His Jewish friends asked him the obvious question, “Why are you reading that Nazi rag?” The other Jew responds: “I used to read the Yiddish newspaper, and all it talked about was how Jews are suffering, being fired from their jobs, being subject to pogroms and starving. Now I read in the Nazi newspaper that we control the world. I prefer hearing about the good news!”

As you can see, the canard is an old one: “Jews control the banks. Jews control the world.” If Jews really controlled the bank or the world, I can almost guarantee you that no child would ever go to bed hungry. But the reality of this often heard cliché is not true.

This past Saturday, James decided to post a picture on his Instagram story where he quotes one of his favorite rappers, 21 Savage, whose lyrics of one of his songs says, “We been getting that Jewish money, Everything is Kosher.” 

When the media and the Jewish community heard about this remark, LeBron James felt embarrassed by the foolishness of his remarks.

No LeBron, not everything is “kosher.”

In any event, James felt so embarrassed that he apologized to his Jewish fans. Even the rapper 21 Savage apologized. Shortly afterward, Savage tweeted, “The Jewish people I know are very wise with there money so that’s why I said we been gettin’ Jewish money,’ 21″Savage tweets It is a pity James is so ignorant of how the Jews created the basketball industry. James’ millions would never have been possible were it not for “them Jews!”

Ok, I can accept their apology. 

Many years ago in Rock Island, my old congregation sponsored a historical documentary about the Jews and basketball—it is a fascinating topic. James might have a different attitude about Jews if he watched this presentation. James should take the time to learn how historically Jews contributed toward the integration of blacks in basketball at a time when nobody cared about their participation.

Someone should tell James about a man named Abraham Michael Saperstein who became the founder, owner and earliest coach of the Harlem Globetrotters. Saperstein proved to be a revolutionary figure in black basketball and baseball in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, at a time before basketball had become racially integrated. Under Saperstein’s coaching career, the early Harlem Trotters achieved an amazing 397 victories-32 losses record in their first three seasons. Saperstein paved the way for talented black players to enter the NBA. In addition, Saperstein became instrumental in help creating the American Negro Baseball League and was a key figure in opening the way for Blacks into other professional sports, helping them achieve racial integration.

It seems that LeBron never studied how the Jews welcomed black athletes in all the professional sports.

James probably does not know much about Boston Celtic legendary coach Arnold Jacob “Red” Auerbach, who was a Russian-Jewish immigrant who led the greatest basketball dynasty ever to play in the NBA. Auerbach led the Celtics to nine championships in ten years!  He redefined the game by introducing the fast break as an offensive weapon—a skill that James has mastered quite brilliantly at times. LeBron, this Jew introduced the first African American player named Chuck Cooper in 1950, as well as the first all-black starting team in 1964.

You know, I can forgive James for making an unwise remark about the Jews. I know many people who have sometimes made similar rash remarks. However, this is not the only odd comment he made that is insensitive.

  • In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality,” James said, according to The Washington Post. “And it’s like, ‘This is my team. You do what the f— I tell y’all to do. Or we get rid of y’all.’”

LeBron admitted this was not the problem with the NBA.

Still, I wonder about the words he chose to express.

Really now, LeBron, I would hardly categorize a large group of football players who have made millions chasing a little ball down the field, “slaves.” You should show some gratitude and humility for the opportunities God has given you.

If I can offer any rabbinical advice to LeBron James, it would be this. The words we use to express ourselves say a lot about our moral character. Listen to Martin Luther King’s memorable sermon, “I Have a Dream,” where King famously said that a person’s character matters more than just the color of one’s skin:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”–Fredrick Douglas. 

Douglas taught our soul that defines who we are; our actions say more about our character and spirit than just the color of our skin. In the realm of spirit, which is the true source of our personal identity, it does not matter what color we happen to be.

Postscript: This is the first article of a three-part series I will be writing about Jews, Judaism and race relations. In the next article, I will be writing about Alice Walker’s recent interview with the New York Times. In the third piece, I will be speaking about Louis Farrakhan and his “Jewish Problem.” 

“Twas the night before Christmas . . .” The Origin & Significance of “Nittel Nacht”

Chabad Florida Tefillin Santa closeup 12-2013

This past week, a newspaper featured a picture of a Lubavitcher rabbi putting tefillon on Santa Claus. It reminded me of a story from Eli Plaut’s book, Kosher Christmas. Once mentions how an old Ukrainian Jewish immigrant dressed up as Santa Claus and spoke Yiddish. When speaking to Alan King, he quipped, “Men Mahk a leben,” which means, “A man has to make a living!” (p. 135).

Chabad and Christmas seem like an odd combination. Yet, Jewish history is full of unusual anecdotes and customs. Pious Jews have their own way of distinguishing Christmas from other days of the year, but not quite in the manner that you might think.

“December 25th is universally celebrated by non-Jews, as the birthday of that person upon whom a dominant non-Jewish religion was founded and who had the Halachic status as a Jew who lures other Jews to idol-worship. A spirit of impurity, therefore, prevails on that day. (Additionally, there was a period when members of that religion used to celebrate this eve by attacking Jews, which led to an enactment against keeping the Yeshivas open during the eve of Dec 25th).”

Note that Chabad never refers to Jesus by his proper name. Simply put, Chabad considers Jesus to be a non-person.

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950) explains concerning this Hassidic tradition of Christmas Eve, “It is our custom to refrain from studying Torah on Nittel Nacht until midnight. The reason, as the Previous Rebbe heard from his father, the Rebbe RaShaB (Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, a.k.a., the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe), is so that one will not add spiritual vitality to that person [Jesus], and those who presently follow his views [i.e., Christians everywhere]. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (quotes his father in the popular Hayom Yom (Teves 17), ‘I am not fond of those students who begrudge these eight hours and cannot tear themselves away from Torah study!’” [1]

Incidentally, most ultra-Orthodox Jews, like the Lithuanian and Sephardic communities, disregard this custom; for them—the study of Torah is of primary importance. They continue their studies on Christmas Eve as well.

HOW ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THE ORIGIN OF THIS CUSTOM?

To understand a Jewish custom, sometimes it pays to have the curiosity and determination of a Sherlock Holmes. Most of you reading this Hassidic instruction might be wondering: “What in the world are they talking about? Why should we finish Torah study before Christmas Eve?”

The answer is more complex than most of us realize.

The origin of Nittel Nacht in modern rabbinic literature is one of the more fascinating chapters of Jewish history and folklore. “Nittel ” actually comes from the Latin, “Natalis,” or, “Nativity Night.” It is truly ironic that 99% of all the Hassidic Jews who follow this observance, haven’t the foggiest idea that Nittel Nacht means, “Nativity Night.” It is also possible that Nittel Nacht may be a corruption of the Latin dies natalis, “birthday,” i.e., the “birthday” of Jesus.[2]

While Christmas is a joyful holiday for billions of people, historically, during the medieval era and the centuries that followed, Jews were forbidden to appear on streets and public places on the high Christian holidays under penalty of severe punishment; hence the schools and synagogues were closed on those days. [3] Young and old, who were compelled to remain at home, enjoyed themselves with a variety of games; consequently, the meaning of the word Nittel received the folk etymological explanation as being an abbreviation for “Nit Iden-Tore-Lernen” (“Jews must not study Torah”).

Of course, the time of Nittel Nacht will vary depending on whether one is a Greek Orthodox Christian or not, for they celebrate the holiday on January 6th. Some Hassidic Jews, Ilan mentions, will not study Torah on New Year’s Eve either for the same reason.

In the final analysis, is there a place for Nittel Nacht today? Emphatically, “NO!!!” Not unless you purposely set out to insult our Christian neighbors. While there are a number of customs that originated during the most depraved times of medieval history, when our people suffered from Christian persecution, it behooves us to let go of our medieval attitudes.

We need to change our attitude about our Christian neighbors. 

As modern Jews, it behooves us to cultivate a relationship with our Christian neighbors and friends based on the principle of mutual respect. Jewish leaders often insist that Christianity purge itself of its anti-Semitic attitudes and this is indeed necessary. In some ways, we need to start a process promoting reconciliation by doing the same. After all, we are no longer living in the 19th century. 

Reason dictates that the custom of not studying Torah on Christmas Eve ought to be discontinued by any person in promoting a healthier Jewish and Christian relationship.  But this cannot be done so long as we hold on to the old ideas that should have been discarded long ago in the dustbin of history. Simply put, we need to stop clinging on to the ghosts of Christmas past.

Today, even Orthodox Jews across the world and especially in the Land of Israel are beginning to explore interfaith dialogue for the first time in recent memory. We are no longer living in an age of religious polemics and religious intolerance. American society, for the most part, is definitely far more tolerant than the world our ancestors left long ago.

No religion is immune to the dangers of promoting religious prejudice; or as they say, “A pig with lipstick is still a pig.” Prejudice and intolerance should not be quietly accepted as if it is normal–because it is not! Unfortunately, the ghetto is more than just a historical space–-it is an unhealthy state of mind that we must leave behind.

When I think about this subject, the thought occurs to me that as rabbis, we need to preserve the embers of our ancestral faith—and not its ashes. Life is a series of rebirths. What you were yesterday is different from who you will be today or tomorrow. Abrahamic religions who identify with the patriarch Abraham need to find a better path that will promote peaceful relations. The only way to cure the problems we see today is for all of us to let go of the symbols and metaphors of religious hatred and intolerance that still unconsciously clings to members of our own faith communities.

I want to wish all of my Christian brothers and sisters a very Merry Christmas to you all!

 

=====

Notes:

[1] Anonymous, HaMaaseh Hu HaIkar (Brooklyn, NY: 2006), 10-11. I would also add that the Rabbis of Lubavitch have never referred to Jesus by name, but always through the pejorative designation of, “that man.” In biblical and rabbinic literature, to be without a name is to be condemned to virtual non-existence.

[2] Curiously, but erroneously, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson attempts to provide a Hebraic basis for the word’s etymology, “The word  nittel implies ‘lack,’ or possibly ‘suspended.’ In Latin, natal means  “born,” i.e.,  ‘the time of birth’” (Letter dated 9th Kislev 5735, printed in Likutei Sichos Vol.15,  554)

[3] The earliest Halachic reference of this custom dates back to R. Yair Chaim Bachrach (1638-1702) in his Mekor Chaim of the Chavat Yair OH:155

Review on the Siddur Avodat Halev (5*) — This is a Siddur you want to own!


Siddur Avodat HaLev (Hebrew and English Edition) Hardcover – August 20, 2018
by Rabbinical Council of America; Editor: Rabbi Basil Herring
1346 pages
Publisher: Koren Publishers Jerusalem; Bilingual edition 2018
Language: Hebrew, English
ISBN-10: 9653019368
ISBN-13: 978-9653019362
Price $24.73. Rating: 5*

The brand new Siddur Avodat Halev is a fabulous new commentary on the traditional siddur, but unlike most commentaries you have read, the writers of this project have incorporated many significant and thought-provoking articles on the theology and praxis of Jewish prayer.

Each page of the siddur contains short pithy remarks that remind me of the old Phillip Birnbaum Siddur and the Artscroll Siddur. The commentary features a brief digest of many of the halakhic perspectives and customs that govern Jewish prayer. It is not verbose, but actually quite succinct. While many commentaries intimidate the reader, the Siddur Avodat Halev’s does not.

Under Rabbi Basil Herring’s fine leadership, the siddur also traces many of the prayers to their scriptural origins—something many prayers after the Birnbaum Siddur neglected to do. In fact, I was curious to see how they explained the blessing, “Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates all things” (p. 90), and sure enough the same explanation Birnbaum gave in his siddur notes appears in the Siddur Avodat Halev. Giving credit to the Birnbaum Siddur would have been nice, but the explanation he gives is satisfying to a reader like myself who enjoys studying the history of what inspired  the ancient prayers.

Women’s participation in traditional prayer is always a hot-button subject. To the siddur’s credit, it tries to be more inclusive than other Orthodox siddurim of the past. For example, instead of using the traditional male-oriented language which invariably uses the male pronoun “he,” the siddur uses the more gender-inclusive pronoun, “one.” Or, in the Grace After Meals, it uses the expression, “esteemed companions” in place of “rabbotai,” “head of the house” instead of “master of the house.” It also mentions “With your permission, (my father and teacher,”/ “ my mother and my teacher” in the opening words of the Grace.

This is very appropriate, and it reminded me of the Scriptural passage, ‎ שְׁמַע בְּנִי מוּסַר אָבִיךָ וְאַל־תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ “Listen, my child, to your father’s instruction, do not reject the Torah (lit. instruction) of your mother” (Prov. 1:8), for our mothers do teach us Torah by their values and lessons we learn from the age of infancy onward. This verse would have made a terrific footnote for the siddur, and I would encourage adding this concept in a future edition.

The siddur also contains additional prayers such as those relating to the Holocaust, the State of Israel, and personal events such as thanksgiving and dedication of a home. In the original Artscroll Siddur, references to the Shoah and the State of Israel do not appear until Artscroll later partnered with the RCA in producing a more updated siddur.

In the Mi’Sheberech prayer that is said after one is called up to the Torah, the Siddur included the mentioning of the Matriarchs—this is the second Modern Orthodox Siddur I have seen in which the authors include this. The other siddur is the Nahalel Siddur. These changes represent a dramatic mind-shift in the Modern Orthodox community.

The old albatross of a prayer blessing God, “for not making me a woman” is still included; the same old tired apologetic exposition is used. I think this Siddur should have included the 15th-century Italian version of the prayer, “Blessed are You… .Who did not make me a man.” Not only would this have been a provocative change, but it would also stress that we ought to thank God for making us who we are. Better still, it would have really been terrific to say these blessings in the positive. Instead of defining ourselves by what we are NOT, we should take a positive approach and thank God for making us who we ARE. Thus, a man should say, “Blessed are You . . . for making me a man,” or “Blessed are You . . . for making me a woman,” and lastly, “Blessed are You for making me an Israelite.” This version completely sidesteps the usual awkward problems associated with these particular prayers.

While Siddur Avodat Halev has made great strides, sometimes it still operates within the confines of a medieval Procrustean bed, named after Procrustes, the bandit from Greek mythology who stretched or amputated the limbs of travelers to make them conform to the length of his bed. Rabbis need greater freedom to improve upon Jewish tradition and I pray that someday the Modern Orthodox movement will seriously change their overall thinking on this sensitive matter. No amount of apologetic explanations can justify the animus of a prayer that has offended Jewish women for many centuries.

Another piece of anachronistic history in the siddur is the section pertaining to the Kapporet prayer. Frankly, the old practice of Orthodox Jews swinging a frightened chicken over their heads on the eve of Yom Kippur seems antithetical in every way to the modern facelift the Siddur Avodat Halev wishes to make. And while the commentary points out its shortcomings, I think no explanation can sanitize the inappropriateness of this prayer—especially since the practice of the Kapporet more often than not violates the biblical prohibition of causing animals needless pain (tsar ba’alei chayim).

The authors should have included the Tefilah Zakah instead. It is a much more powerful prayer that captures the beauty of the High Holidays and its emphasis on forgiveness. This prayer actually appears in the siddur on pages 338-339. In Jewish liturgical history, the Tefilah Zakah is a part of the Yom Kippur liturgy, and in this prayer, a people enumerate and connect their various sins with various acts and ask for forgiveness. More significantly, people forgive any who have caused them pain or harmed them. R. Avraham Danzig (1748-1820) popularized this prayer in his famous Halakhic digest, Hayye Adam. It is definitely a better alternative to the Kapporet ritual.

Perhaps the most critical part of the Siddur Avodat Halev pertains to the attempt of its writers to explain the theology of Jewish prayer with a particular focus on the nature of Kavanah, or “intentionality.” And while the siddur does a fine job in examining the nature of Kavanah, it sheepishly avoids dealing with most perplexing questions of our age: What is the nature of a personal relationship with God? Is God “responsive” to our prayers? Does prayer truly have or evoke healing power? Nothing challenges the theological beliefs of a Jew—regardless of our denomination—more than prayer. Prayer calls into question all of our most fundamental beliefs in a “personal” God and this area poses tough questions for Modern Orthodox intellectuals and theologians alike, as well as their Conservative and Reform colleagues.

Hero’s Journey–Stan Lee & the Bible

Stan Lee Authentic Signed Spider-Man 16X20 Photo Marvel Comics PSA/DNA 9Stan Lee Marvel Comics Signed Photo Fridge Magnet 2.5 x 3.5Image result for Stan Lee images Sr. Doom

Whenever we talk about the protagonists of the Bible, we must remember that every biblical actor’s character evolves in the course of a lifetime. What each person starts out differs from what each one ultimately becomes. In the latter half of Genesis, the ancient storyteller lavished considerable detail upon Jacob—who emerges as the most complex personality of Genesis. In the stories involving his interactions and experiences, we discover Jacob is the most morally challenged individual of all the biblical patriarchs.

Jacob’s journey begins with a series of tests that he will have to face and endure heroically.

Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, examines the hero archetype in ancient literature through Homer’s epic story—The Odyssey. He observed that heroes often undertake the most challenging tasks and place themselves in mortal danger to bring back, for themselves and their societies, both knowledge, and treasure.

According to Campbell, the Odyssey, ought to be seen as a metaphor for the various psychological hardships a true hero must learn to overcome.

Once Ulysses overcomes these hardships, the protagonist matures—achieving a more complete understanding of himself and his place in the world. As a result of successfully facing his ordeals, Ulysses ultimately returns home with a more definite sense of who he is. In the process, Ulysses emerges as a better king for his country of Ithaca; he is now a more attentive husband, a dedicated father, and loyal son.
As with virtually all hero myths, the hero must undergo a series of tests and tribulations that form the essence of his or her heroic journey.

Campbell’s concept of the heroic journey consists of three stages: separation or departure; the trials and victories of initiation; and the return and reintegration with society. The hero must prove his worth the caliber of his ideas and his character in a variety of dangerous ways that will test the limits of mortality.

As mentioned earlier, the hero descends into the underworld and has a close brush with the forces of death. He must also face mysterious and threatening adventures that lead to the wresting of a gift or prize from powerful and ominous powers. Each of these obstacles will serve as a rite of passage resulting in the spiritual transformation and individuation of the hero. The hero’s journey, when seen from this perspective, connotes a triumphant return from the realm of darkness and death to light and life—from unconsciousness to a state of pure consciousness.

Indeed, each of these characteristics occurs in the Jacob stories, as they do with Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and Moses. A true hero faces his mortality with uncommon courage.

In honor of Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel Comics, I would like to talk to you this evening about the heroic journeys that characterized his characters.

As a child I grew up on Marvel Comics; I had all the original issues; And although Superman and Batman remained everyone’s favorite, the Marvel heroes resembled Jacob—in that each of them had flaws in their own character that they had to conquer. For many decades, DC Comics portrayed their heroes as if they were like Greek gods—so perfect, they seemed totally unrealistic; young people could not possibly aspire to emulate.

It was only in the last fifty years, DC decided to rewrite their comics and portray their characters as having personality disorders. In one episode, Green Arrow’s partner, young Roy Harper was depicted as suffering from drug addiction. Comics started to focus on real-life issues— mostly because of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, his great assistant. Yet, in each of Stan Lee’s comic book characters, the protagonists learn to conquer their inner fears and insecurities. Even the Hulk—over time—comes to embrace his humanity.
.

“Who is mighty?” asks the Sages? He who learns to master his own nature.” My father used to say, “He who overcomes his passion for anger.”

Influenced by Jewish tradition, I think Stan Lee could relate to the fact that all the heroes and heroines of the biblical stories—from Adam to Job—must undergo a series of spiritual and psychological trials that will eventually facilitate a new sense of self and personal identity.

In Jewish thought, the creation of the cosmos from non-being, known as “nothing” is not just a theological construct—it is also a psychological process where we—as individuals must touch the nothingness of our being, as God creates us anew through our preservation and heroic vindication, as we experience the uncertainty of the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Yet, the mark of a true hero is facing one’s own demons and monsters. For young people such as myself, comic books taught me to recognize that each true hero must conquer his own fears and insecurities—just as Jacob did in this week’s parsha.

Sun Tzu, in his Art of War, summed up the key to overcoming the obstacles we face—whether in the world of comics or for that matter in the real world:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The Halakhic Controversy Regarding the Status of Turkey

 

turkey bird, caruncle, courtship, domestic turkey, galliformes, hen, meleagris gallopavo, poultry, red, turkey bird

The question of turkey’s status as a permitted bird is a topic that comes up every Thanksgiving holiday season. Nevertheless, many Orthodox Jews I personally know will never eat turkey since there is no tradition permitting it.

Clearly, the Torah does not mention turkey at all since it is native to North America. Based on the criteria the Mishnah provides, the turkey does possess all the kosher signs one would expect of a kosher bird.[1] However, the absence of having a tradition going back many generations is one reason why some pious observant Jews will not eat turkey. This is in accordance with the view expressed in the Shulchan Aruch that ruled, “no bird should be eaten unless there is a mesorah (tradition) that it is a kosher species.”[2]

The fact the Torah mentions only twenty-four species of birds implies that only those species are considered impure and unfit for consumption, but the majority of birds are considered permitted.  It was only in the 16th century the custom arose not to eat any bird that did not have a tradition permitting it. Since turkeys had already been eaten by Jews prior to that time and therefore the rabbis did not consider it “unkosher.”

Although the Torah did not state the specific tokens regarding fowl, the Sages ruled: “Any fowl which seizes is unclean.  Any fowl which has an extra talon [the hallux] and a craw and the skin of the stomach of which [can] be stripped off are clean.” R. Eleazar b. Sadoq says, “Any bird which parts its toes evenly two in front and two in the back is unclean” (Mishnah Hullin 3:6). It is significant the 4th century Amora named Amemar said, “The law is that every bird that has one characteristic [of cleanness] is clean, that is, if it does not seize prey.” Rashi notes the meaning of Amemar’s opinion is, so long as it does not seize prey and it has, in addition, one characteristic of cleanness it is clean. However, Tosafot (s.v. tuvu) takes the scholar literally; the fact that it does not seize prey is the only characteristic of cleanness that it need possess (BT Hullin 62a).

So how did turkey suddenly gain a kosher status?

Enquiring minds really want to know!

Some of the rabbis of the previous centuries identified the turkey as the הוֹדוּ תַּרְנְגוֹל “Indian chicken,” and thought the bird originated in India. Jews were not the only ones who thought this way. The French referred to turkey as poulet d’Inde (“Chicken from India”), as did the Polish, Ukrainian and Russian countries. It was assumed that the rabbis in India permitted it. However, this was an assumption that could never be proven since it was based on a false assumption: Turkeys did not exist in India!

But as erroneous as this view was, subsequent rabbis realized that people had already accepted it as a kosher bird—especially since it had all the kosher characteristics mentioned in the Mishnah.[3] But here is the real reason why turkeys ought to be permitted—from a scientific perspective, is because turkeys belong to the family of Phasianidae.

From the perspective of taxonomy, the Phasianidae includes a wide variety of birds that include pheasants, partridges, quail, chickens, pea-fowl, the wild turkey, and jungle-fowl. The red jungle-fowl (Gallus gallus), is actually primary progenitor of the domestic chicken. Even if Moses’ time did not specifically know about turkey, they were certainly familiar with quail and chicken, turkey, pheasants, peacocks—are only a few examples of birds that are part of the Phasianidae genus.

And for those Jews who worry about turkey, it is strange that nobody—not even in rabbinical times ever wondered as to why chicken was permitted. Chickens did not exist in Mosaic times! But once again, even if the rabbis did not know about the Phasianidae genus, they were most certainly familiar with quail and pheasant. Chickens are kissing cousins of these two birds.

Although pheasant does not appear in the Tanakh, rabbinic tradition[4] identified it with the שְׂלָו (selav) the Israelites had eaten mentioned in Exodus 16:13. The appearance of pheasant and quail are very similar.

The Romans enjoyed eating pheasant. According to one midrashic text, Emperor Hadrian was surprised to discover that pheasants existed in Judea in great supply.[5] The Tosefta mentions pheasants were bread together with peacocks, which is another member of the Phasianidae genus.[6] The Midrash mentions the pheasant as among those rare delicacies, the taste of which the manna could acquire should a person yearn for it.[7]

Historically, the chicken actually makes its first appearance in Israelite art in seals dating back from the late 8th century B.C.E.  Poultry and eggs probably did not become common before the 5th-6th-century B.C.E. Some scholars think King Solomon might have served chicken to his royal guests, for the word (barb-rîm = fattened fowl) may be related to the Arabic birbir, meaning, young chickens.  As a man of means, King Solomon certainly would have been able to import this delicacy.

The earliest drawing of a chicken is that of a rooster on a seal found at Tell en-Nasbeh, some 8 miles north of Jerusalem, which dates back to about 600 B.C.E.    The ancient Israelite diet might have consisted of beef, lamb, roebuck, gazelle, wild goat, and deer, quails, turtledoves, pigeons, partridges, geese, (possibly swans) and ducks—but no chickens! In Mosaic times, the chicken was completely unknown. Let us further add, that there is no Hebrew word for chicken, even the name, which later came to describe it, (tarnegol) is really a Sumerian loanword that Biblical Hebrew later adopted during the Persian period. It was at that time, the Jews began to eat chickens and eggs (2 Esd. 1:30).

Here is another piece of kashrut trivia most of you might be surprised to know. In rabbinical times, the Sages ate peacock as a delicacy. The Talmud records an interesting discussion pertaining to R. Yose the Galilean, who ate chicken with milk. On one occasion:  Levi visited the house of Joseph the fowler. They served him the head of a peacock cooked in milk.  Levi would not eat it. When he came before Rabbi, he said to him, “How come you didn’t excommunicate them?” He said to him, “It was the locale of R. Judah b. Beterah, and I thought, maybe he expounded for them the rule in accord with the position of R. Yose the Galilean.”[8]

Like the pheasant, chicken, and turkey, the peacock is also a member of the  Phasianidae mishpacha!

——–

NOTES:

[1] “Although the Torah did not state the specific tokens regarding fowl, the Sages ruled: “Any fowl which seizes is unclean.  Any fowl which has an extra talon [the hallux] and a craw, and the skin of the stomach of which [can] be stripped off is clean.” R. Eleazar b. Sadoq says, “Any bird which parts its toes evenly two in front and two in back is unclean” (Mishnah Hullin 3:6). It is significant the 4th century Amora named Amemar said, “The law is that every bird that has one characteristic [of cleanness] is clean, that is, if it does not seize prey.” Rashi notes the meaning of Amemar’s opinion is, so long as it does not seize prey and it has in addition one characteristic of cleanness it is clean. However, Tosafot (s.v. tuvu) takes the scholar literally; the fact that it does not seize prey is the only characteristic of cleanness that it need possess (BT Hullin 62a).

[2] Ari Z. Zivotofsky, “Is Turkey Kosher?” The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society , 35(Spring, 1998):79-110.

[3] See the Responsa Meishiv Davar YD:22 by R. Naftali Tzvi Berlin, a.k.a., Netziv.

[4] BT Yoma 75b mentions a tradition associated with R. Hanan b. Abba said: “There are four kinds of slaw [quails]: thrush, partridge, pheasant and quail proper.” Comp. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 16:13. Cf. BT Kiddushin 31a.

[5] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 2:8.

[6] Tosefta Kilayim 1:7. The Tosefta considered the crossbreeding of these birds as violating the laws of Kilayim (forbidden mixtures), despite the fact that these birds belong to the same scientific genus. However, The Talmud mentions a rule known as the “hybridization principle.” This principle states that kosher species cannot mate with non-kosher species; hence, the fact that a suspect species can interbreed with a known kosher species confirms the kosher status of the unknown species (BT Bechorot 7a). This is a question I will address at another time.

[7] Num. Rabbah 7:4. מי שהיה מתאוה תרנגול או פסיון וכ׳ “whoever desired to eat chicken or pheasant, found the taste of it in the manna.”

[8] BT Shabbat 130a.

TBS Memorial Service in Memory of the Tree of Life Synagogue Victims

Clergy, officials turn out for vigil at Beth Shalom

Posted on 03 November 2018.

Rabbi Samuel (center) with pastors and public officials at a memorial service for the 11 Jews slain in Pittsburgh at Shabbat services


By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — On Thursday night, Nov. 1, almost 140 gathered at Temple Beth Shalom to participate in a special ecumenical memorial service for those murdered in last week’s Shabbat service at the Tree of Life Synagogue, located in the Squirrel Hill Jewish area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a child. I recall going with my siblings to visit family and enjoy Kosher deli there.It is hard to believe this little Jewish community should become the target of anti-Semitic attacks.

 

Several ministers of the local churches participated at the Beth Shalom services, including: Pastor Paul Davis of the Chula Vista Presbyterian Church, Father Thomas Wilson of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Chula Vista, Pastor Victoria Freiheit of United Church of Christ of Chula Vista, Pastor Bryan Parceo, United Methodist Church of Chula Vista, Rev. Soliven Placido Fee, of Amazing Grace Church, and Pastor Iglesia Embajadores, Pentecostal Church of Chula Vista. In addition, almost the Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and her council representatives all came in a show of solidarity.

Famous ethical and inspirational remarks from Albert Schweitzer, Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Talmud, and Martin Buber peppered the services. Each of the clergy members shared  reflections on the tragedy.  Pastor Victoria Freiheit said, “I remember an America where we could talk to our neighbor over the back fence without getting angry if he disagreed with us. An America of mostly law-abiding citizens, where we can be civil with each other. No–more than civil–we can disagree and still be friends.”

Father Thomas Wilson said, “Pray for those who died in Pittsburgh, for those who were injured, for their family and friends. Pray for the Tree of Life congregation, and all congregations who have experienced gun violence and acts of bigotry. Pray for the first responders and the health care workers and all who are ministering to those affected by this shameful act.”

Pastor Iglesia Embajadores and Bryan Parceo each stressed the importance of Jews and Christians working together to create a better society where mutual acceptance is universal. Pastor Paul Davis pointed out the Pittsburgh shooting incident marks the most serious attack on the Jewish community since the inception of our country, but that such tragic events have occurred with terrible irregularity in the Christian churches and Muslim mosques. Rev. Fee said, “Declaring, ‘All Jews must die!” he revealed a heart that stands opposed to God’s heart. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Woe to those who call evil good” (Isa. 5:20). The gunman said he was “going in,” believing his action was good; but it was a cowardly and graphic display of wickedness. We Americans uphold the victims, their families, and everyone affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers. We know that their lives have been changed forever.”

The ministers all spoke eloquently. They also spoke the truth. The history of Jews living in Europe was always different, but not anymore.

As the organizer of the event, I decided to speak about the question God posed Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?”

After Cain kills his brother, he attempts to cover up his crime by burying him. But later that day, God confronted Cain with one of the most important questions found in the Scriptures: Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” The purpose of the question is not for informational purposes, but to stir Cain’s guilty conscience, “to prove his soul,” so that he might freely confess his crime and begin his long journey toward repentance. At first, Cain denies responsibility. He asks: Am I my brother’s keeper? Perhaps the most profound Christian interpretation of this question comes from the early 19th-century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), where he writes about Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“I put it to the consciences of many silent Christians, who have never yet made known to others what God has made known to them—How can you be clear from guilt in this matter? Do not say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for I shall have to give you a horrible answer if you do. I shall have to say, “No, Cain, you are not your brother’s keeper, but you are your brother’s killer.” If, by your effort you have not sought his good, by your neglect you have destroyed him.”

Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to cite the verse, “Where is Abel your brother?” whenever he engaged leaders of the Lutheran community to assist in rescuing the Jewish people from the Nazis. To his chagrin, he felt bitter over the bishops’ lack of nerve. Bonhoeffer often quoted the verse, “Who will speak up for those who are voiceless?” (Proverbs 31:8). Consequently, Bonhoeffer felt compelled by God to be the voice defending the Jews in Nazi Germany—a price he ultimately paid for with his life.

Today’s eleven victims also cry out for our country’s suffering. Their souls cry out for healing and justice. We must do a better job of limiting people’s accesses to dangerous military-style assault weapons—especially those who have a long history with mental illnesses

All the ministers pointed out each faith needs to do its part to promote a better understanding and acceptance of their neighbors. Indeed, the radicalism from the right and from the extreme left are both very dangerous. We must all work together if our great country is to grow and thrive.

One participant, Rachel Donsky, a member of Temple Beth Shalom, also spoke among after the clergy. She said, “We have reached a critical point in our human and spiritual evolution—the stakes are being raised. We are now being asked to look within ourselves for a deeper truth and a deeper understanding of that which has divided us and created a hurting and crying world. We are not faced with evil so we can endlessly suffer and be told we are victims; we are faced with evil so we can dig under the surface of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, to uncover and heal our common human pain, fear, and insecurity. The biggest mistake we make is to conclude that the threat to our existence is external and outside of our control- it is not. The darkness within us that allows us to commit violent atrocities must be brought to the light and healed . . .”

All the ministers and community participants pointed out all faiths need to do its part to promote a better understanding and acceptance of their neighbors. Acknowledging our ability to confront the inner demons we have as a nation requires courage, honesty, and faith—if there is to be community healing at the micro and macro level. Indeed, the radicalism from the right and from the extreme left are both very dangerous. We must all work together if our great country is to grow and thrive.

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

Anti-Semitism and its Discontents

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

Anti-Semitism is one of the world’s most enduring social diseases that we as Jews have known throughout our history.

With the murder of eleven Jews at the Pittsburgh Etz Hayyim Synagogue, the Jewish community awoke from its slumber only to realize that anti-Semitism is still alive and well—here in in the United States. This attack was the largest anti-Semitic crime in recent American history.

I know Squirrel Hill very well, my father used to make us to the kosher delis back in the early sixties.

But no sooner did the attack occur, people in the media immediately began blaming the attack upon President Trump. While Trump’s mannerisms at times can be admittedly offensive, he cannot be blamed for the murders that occurred at the synagogue. As it turned out, the shooter actually hates Trump for having so many Jewish associates surrounding him.  He also accused him of being a “globalist.”

Robert Bowers is obviously demented.

Yet, the political divisions of our time have made it clear that we are reliving the Civil War. The bifurcation of our society is eating its heart. It is the gravest threat we have seen since the Civil War.

Take ANTIFA for an example; this group feels entitled to attack people with baseball bats, destroys livelihoods and property, just because a politician they do not like happens to be eating out with his or her family. Just ask Paul Welch, a Bernie Sanders supporter who paraded an American flag in protest to ANTIFA’s antics in Portland on Aug. 4, 2016.[1]

When leaders like Maxine Waters encourages people to “get in people’s faces” because they happen to be Republican is the mark of neo-fascism. All this contributes to the heightening of tensions that leads to the kind of anti-Semitic attacks against our people.

Encouraging people to commit acts of violence only serves to heighten violence—on both sides of the political spectrum. This kind of fanaticism only breeds the type of malevolence that exploded at the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbat.

Like a virus, anti-Semitism travels across the continents,[2] and finds sympathetic voices here in the United States. As Jews, we have been asleep at the wheel for a long time and have not paid any attention to the rise of anti-Semitism among the “progressive” movements. We tend to think that most anti-Semitic rhetoric emanates from the political right, such as the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other similar groups. However, the banal acceptance of anti-Semitism from the political left ought to be much more troubling for Jews who have long identified with the left.

Political extremism from the right and left are equally threatening.

As is often the case with anti-Semitism, we tend to react to the symptoms but fail to recognize the problem. Hate speech against Israel and Zionism has become an acceptable way of expressing hatred against the Jew. Jewish history has taught us that hate speech that is directed against the Jew almost inevitably leads to violence against the Jew. Not everyone is as honest and straightforward as Farrakhan when speaking about “the Jews,” but when today’s political left prefers being “anti-Zionist,” castigating Israel as the source for all the problems of the world and the Middle East.

On Facebook, pictures of Palestinians lynching Orthodox cladded Jews with pe’ot is considered “acceptable” free expression—despite on their crackdown on conservatives. Social media outlets are going to have to do a better job in curbing anti-Semitic websites—regardless of their point of origin.

THE WOMAN’S MARCH OF JANUARY 2018

This past January, one of the Women’s March co-directors, Tamika Mallory, attended the Nation of Islam Savior’s Day celebration, where Louis Farrakhan told the audience that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and “the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”

Mallory felt so elated by her photo-op with Farrakhan, she immediately Instagrammed it for all to see. When a news commentator asked her how she could stand proudly by Farrakhan, Mallory denounced anyone who dared to criticize her participation with him. Once again Linda Sarsour and Maxine Waters stood in solidarity with her. Farrakhan speaks of Jews as a “termite problem,” and we all know what any homeowner needs to do to get rid of termites. When the Woman’s March used a platform calling for the boycott of Israel, Linda Sarsour said, “Israelis need to be dehumanized.” Facebook continues to foster the atmosphere and ambiance that is contributing toward anti-Semitism.

Let me remind you that most Israelis happen to be Jews.

The Woman’s March displayed it contempt toward the Jew. Although they showed their solidarity with Louis Farrakhan, they did not extend that courtesy for the Anti-Defamation League. As one observer wrote:

  • The Women’s March has left Jewish women to bear the brunt of white supremacy and patriarchy without their partnership. When Jewish women lifted their voices and demanded to be included in the Women’s March Unity Principles, we were ignored. When we were standing outside the JCC frantically searching for our toddlers, they had nothing to say. When Blaze Bernstein was murdered by neo-Nazis, they were silent. Anti-Semitic incidents were up 57 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest jump on record, but Mallory had nothing to say on that subject, either.[3]

Yes, the Left has mainstreamed anti-Semitism, and American Jews had better wake up—especially those who are in love with the Left.

We have also heard how Jews are “white” and have “skin privilege.” Anti-Semitism’s animus will always find a way to tar and feather the Jew in an unfavorable light. When Jews become demonized for being “white” and “privileged” this too contributes toward the culture of anti-Semitism.  Obviously, this canard emanates from people who know nothing about Jewish history, or for that matter, about the history of anti-Semitism in the United States.[4]

Blame it on the Identity Politics of our time—another unhealthy sign that threatens to produce more anti-Semitic attitudes.

In the United States, we have seen thousands of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish students or speakers, many of whom are supported by the professors and leaders of these universities. Wearing a Star of David is often an invitation for an anti-Semitic attack. Jewish students are hounded by the advocates of the BDS movement—by their professors and by their classmates.

The culture of anti-Semitism among the American left has been smoldering for quite some time. This is not to say there are not anti-Semitic elements of the political right. Unfortunately, political extremes present a mirrored image of the Other.

The situation has gotten to be so bad, rabbinic scholars are now permitting certain members of their communities to obtain a permit for concealed weapons.

I have met Jews in many communities who “pack heat” because of anti-Semitic attacks in the past. I suspect more synagogues will consider that option if these attacks do not abate.

NOTES:

[1] https://reason.com/blog/2018/08/21/antifa-portland-evan-welch-violence

[2] But bear in mind anti-Semitism is not bound by time or spatial considerations. Jews living in Europe have experienced countless attacks in France and Britain by radical Muslims who vent their hatred of Israel by attacking ordinary Jews or vandalizing their businesses. Some rabbis have urged Jews living in France not to publically wear a yarmulke for fear it might solicit an anti-Semitic reaction. In Britain, a country that has enabled and promoted anti-Semitism since the medieval era continues to spew their animus against the Jew. Jeremy Corbyn may not be a familiar name to most Jews, but this man is the head of the British Labor Party—one of the most important political parties of Britain. Corbyn donated money to Paul Eisen, a well-known Holocaust denier. In addition, he is a member of the anti-Semitic Facebook group, “Palestine Live,” which is also well known for its hatred toward Jews and Israel.

[3] https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/260428/tamika-mallory-stop-bringing-hate-into-the-womens-march

[4] https://forward.com/scribe/355864/anti-semitism-in-america-is-nothing-new-dont-deny-jewish-history-and-cultur/

More Thoughts on Kavanaugh

As a person who enjoys going out to the theatre, I must admit, I have never seen the kind of theatre that we have witnessed over the last month or so regarding the Kavanaugh vs. Blassey-Ford case. There were a number of individuals whose moral courage deeply touched me as I watched and listened to the proceedings.

As I watched the drama unfold, I began wondering: What does Jewish tradition have to say about this particular quandary?

In terms of the biblical texts, we find:  “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin.” (Deut.19: 15).

Today we now refer to this idea as “due process” and historically, this important legal principle dates back to the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1810-1750 B.C.E.). Claiming somebody did something wrong does not necessarily make the charge believable—at least not without concrete evidence or witnesses; collaborative evidence is essential for any allegation to carry weight. This principle applies in all cases involving capital punishment; it applies no less to financial disputes as well.

The concept of “mob justice” is hideous. Public opinion is not a court of justice. Judges must consider only the evidence—and not hearsay. This legal principle not only exists in the Constitution, the Magna Carta as well as the ancient Justinian Codes state the Latin maxim: ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

The Senate Judiciary Republicans hired Rachel Mitchell to question both Kavanaugh and Ford. At the end of her investigation Mitchell pointed out, “A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove,” But this case is even weaker than that.” Mitchell further argued that there were numerous inconsistencies in Ford’s recounting of the incident,  combined with Ford’s inability to remember “key details” from the night and the fact that none of the other attendees at the party in question corroborated Ford’s account.

In other words, the facts did not add up.

Although Mitchell offered no analysis of Kavanaugh’s testimony, she was more concerned with the strength of the charges, not the defense. And the reason for this is important—in our country, the accused does not have to prove whether he or she is innocent. The onus is upon the State to prove whether a person is guilty or innocent. The presumption of innocence is what differentiates our country from fascist regimes that insist that the accused has to prove his or her innocence.

Would anybody reading this article want this kind of justice for themselves, family, or friends?

As I watched men and women taking the streets in protest, demanding Kavanaugh be punished on the testimony of one person, I wondered: What has happened to our country?  Since when does anyone have to prove innocence?  Our legal principle is predicated upon the belief that the presumption of innocence is one of the most important foundations of a free society.

 

What would our Founding Fathers say about such a case?

Any child who takes a civics class knows the answer.

The presumption of innocence ought to be obvious to anyone who believes in the principles of American law. Yet, I felt dumbfounded by the legions of people willing to condemn without evidence. I wondered, how would any of us want to be in Kavanaugh’s shoes? I thought he would surely give up—especially with all the threats made to him and his family.

But the mob demanded blood.

Have you ever wondered what the McCarthy era was like? Look no further! Have you ever wondered what it was living in the Salem Witch Trials? Look no further. Think about the blood libels charges that Jews experienced during the medieval and modern era.

Senator Lindsey Graham surprised me and I must admit he almost sounded like an old-fashioned biblical prophet: “To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics,” he boomed during the questioning of Kavanaugh about allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford more than 30 years ago. (He has denied the accusation.) . . .“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy!” Graham said, his face contorted in anger.

Graham is correct.

From the Judaic perspective, one size does not fit all. Each case has to be based on the strength of the evidence and the merits of a charge. Without collaborative evidence, the presumption of guilt threatens to undermine the foundation of law that has governed our country since its inception.

Give Kavanaugh credit for remaining steadfast. Whether you agree with his philosophy of law or not, he stood his ground and refused to be intimidated.

At the conclusion of the Senate hearing, Senator Flake gave Kavanaugh some sage advice. Let the FBI do their work. Trump endorsed this course of action—and it was the only way to remove any lingering doubt concerning Kavanaugh’s ethics and character. Ultimately, the suggestion that the FBI look more deeply into this case proved to be the best course of action Kavanaugh could have wanted.

And what did the FBI discover? They met some interesting new people, including Ford’s former partner for six years,

The FBI investigated several other people; they explored other allegations that Kavanaugh acted inappropriately toward women by making unwanted sexual advances. One of the most damning pieces of evidence actually came from Ford’s ex-boyfriend who had a relationship with her from 1992-1998. In his letter, he contradicted Ford’s allegation that she had never helped anyone prepare for a polygraph examination. He pointed out how Ford helped a friend prepare for a polygraph test who had been preparing for a job interview with the FBI.[1]

He also claimed that Ford had no fear of flying (an observation that Mitchell also made). He also added that Christine had no problem living in a small apartment with one door and that she felt “unsafe” living anywhere without a second front door. He further said her voice sounded different from the one she used before the Senate.  Her boyfriend further pointed out that Ford lied about and then admitted to charging a credit card they used to share for about $600 of merchandise. Ford did not help her case by denying access to her therapist’s notes and other key materials. In fact, she greatly weakened her credibility. I suspect the credit card companies had physical evidence of his claim located in the microfiche.

The FBI could easily investigate this. They probably doubled-checked the case.

Did the Democrats orchestrate the entire ordeal to influence the November election?

What do you think? But consider the circumstantial evidence we have. Dianne Feinstein should have forwarded this information to the Senate committee to discuss the matter quietly. However, she chose a different path. Ford’s letter should never have been leaked to the press.

A good man’s reputation was smeared—and all for political capital.

New revelations continue to come out in the news. Ford’s best friend, Leland Ingham Keyser, a former classmate Keyser told the investigators that Monica McLean, a former FBI agent, and friend of Ford’s, urged her to substantiate Blassey-Ford’s accusation, but she refused. According to the WSJ, McLean’s lawyer denied his client tried to influence Keyser to change her account, calling it “absolutely false.” (Wall Street Journal (Oct. 5, 2018),[2]

But what if the WSJ charge against Ford’s best friend is true? Who is telling the truth? The FBI knows. Senator Grassley is correct in wanting the Senate to re-examine the claims of those accusing Kavanaugh. In fact, this is essential,

Consider the following passage:

“The two parties in the dispute shall appear before the LORD in the presence of the priests or judges in office at that time; and if after a thorough investigation the judges find that the witness is a false witness and has accused his kinsman falsely, you shall do to him as he planned to do to his kinsman. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.” (Deut. 19:17–19).

Put in modern terms, if the FBI proves there was wrongdoing on the part of Kavanaugh’s accusers, then those making the accusations need to face charges of perjury and malicious wrongdoing. There must be justice.

MORE AFTERTHOUGHTS

Today I was surprised and moved by Senator Susan Collins’ speech that lasted for forty minutes. She said it best today, and if you have not heard her impassioned speech, then listen to it. It is well worth your time. In fact, every school civics class should have their students listen to this wonderful talk.

  • “Mr. President, I understand both viewpoints. And this debate is complicated further by the fact that the Senate confirmation process is not a trial. But certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence, and fairness do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them. In evaluating any given claim of misconduct we will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness tempting though it may be. We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy. The presumption of innocence is relevant to the advice and consent function when an accusation departs from a nominee’s otherwise exemplary record. I worry that departing from this presumption could lead to a lack of public faith in the judiciary and would be hugely damaging to the confirmation process moving forward.”

If President Trump has another judge to appoint in the future, I believe it should be Judge Merrick Garland.  As a good friend of Judge Kavanaugh, they shared 85 cases together and he dissented from Judge Kavanaugh only once. Number two, it would heal the rift between Republicans and Democrats–albeit partially. I doubt there would be a smear job done on  Merrick Garland. Lastly, he is a humble man, and humility befits a judge of his caliber. What happened to him during the Obama Administration was unjust. He would also add a little more of a centrist character to the Supreme Court.

*


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

[1] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/christine-blasey-ford-ex-boyfriend-says-she-helped-friend-prep-for-potential-polygraph-grassley-sounds-alarm

[2] [1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/friend-of-dr-ford-felt-pressure-to-revisit-statement-1538715152

 

Showdown in Washington DC

Image result for pictures of blasey and kavanagh

 

Most of us want to know what really happened between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford that took place at a party somewhere in Maryland during the early 1980s.

Neither you nor I have any information about what happened if anything.

And while I realize for many sexual assault victims, the story awakens past traumas of abuse, nevertheless, we are not the ones on trial. Keeping an open mind in matters of just is essential. Justice is not determined by public opinion but on the basis of evidence—and not hearsay.

This legal principle not only exists in the Constitution, the Magna Carta as well as the ancient Justinian Codes state the Latin maxim: ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

Antecedents to this principle exist in the Torah itself:

  • “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin.” (Deut.19: 15).

This principle can even be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1810-1750 B.C.E.).

Whether you agree with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s “originalism” view of interpreting the Constitution, or not, we would all be wise to suspend judgment until we have the facts.

Why? Because the presumption of innocence is fundamental to our very system of law. Public lynch mobs ought to be a thing of the past, but judging by what I have heard from many of Blasey-Ford’s advocates is disturbing.

If she has evidence, the onus is upon her to prove. Asking for Kavanaugh not to be present in the room is outrageous. Our Constitution says the accused has the right to face his accuser. Actually, as most of you ought to know, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

The onus is upon Blasey-Ford, it is not upon the accused. Asking for him not to have his attorney defend him is also inappropriate. Everyone is entitled to an attorney and everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Let’s be clear about that.

Now, I must admit, a part of me believes this entire ordeal has a political animus. Its goal: —to thwart President Trump’s attempt to appoint Judge Kavanaugh.

Usually, when a person commits a sexual assault against someone, there is usually a pattern. Just take a look at President Bill Clinton for an example, had a legion of women who said he assaulted them. Many of these cases eventually settled out of court. None of the 65 women who knew him in high school ever complained about him being inappropriate. Quite the opposite.  They attest, “We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect,” the letter read. “We strongly believe it is important to convey this information to the Committee at this time.”[1]

None of the women who have worked with Kavanaugh ever complained about his behavior either. His record has been squeaky clean.

Some more afterthoughts: Once you open the Genie’s bottle, getting it back inside may prove impossible; these political leaders will discover: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. We already know about assault charges associated with Keith Ellison, who gave his wife a black eye, as well as other women in his past.

Ultimately, I also believe that Senator Feinstein’s Hail Mary pass may not bode well for many Democrats or certain Republicans. There is a slush-fund in Congress intended to pay off women who have been sexually exploited by our esteemed members of Congress, Once President Trump makes this information publically available, our national attention shall be directed at the real enemies of women’s rights—the charlatans who masquerade as supporters of women’s rights. Chucky Schumer has been accused as well. Joe Biden has plenty of skeletons to worry about too. I suspect some Republicans have something to fear.

My prediction: I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be vindicated.

As a Jew, I only wish Jewish representatives in Congress would not turn themselves into lightning rods that will only increase anti-Semitism in our great country. Next time someone wants to make an accusation against any prominent political figure, I hope that person’s name is Smith.