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

Slips of the Tongue?

Some of the most embarrassing mistakes that occur in human communication, happen when people experience an unfortunate “slip of the tongue.” The words come out differently than what we consciously intend for them to mean.

Sigmund Freud was a remarkable man whose interests spanned across the psychological spectrum—often touching upon the areas of communication and humor. Freud stressed that the “slip of the tongue” may seem inadvertent, and yet, it can reveal much about the speaker’s unconscious thought or attitude. To the attentive listener, “a slip of the tongue” may reveal more what is in the actual heart of the speaker, which the speaker might under normal circumstances, consciously try to avoid disclosing.

While Freud believed most “slips of the tongue” are usually sexual in nature because they reveal deeply repressed desires from a person’s subconscious. Jung concurred and added that slips of the

slips of the tongue, as well as slips of the pen reveal the presence of hidden psychic material just beneath the surface of everyday language.

And while our language is full of such expressions, and the awkwardness of these expressions. I recall reading a biblical commentary where the author accidentally wrote “martial strife” instead of “marital strife,” the slip up produced a measure of amusement among the readers—who thought “martial strife” was a call to arms!

The reason I mentioned this is because in the news today when Representative Rashida Tlaib made a comment about the Holocaust and its impact upon her: “There’s always kind of a calming feeling I tell folks when I think of the Holocaust . . .”

Let us read the rest of the citation in its entirety:

  • “There’s always kind of a calming feeling I tell folks when I think of the Holocaust and the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports. And just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.

How could Rashid mention “Holocaust” and, “calming feeling” in the same sentence? Had Trump made that statement, the entire Congress would crucify him in the press.

Let us briefly put the “slip of the tongue” statement aside and for argument’s sake—let us give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she did not mean for her words to come out the way they did. After all, English is not her native language. For now, let us forget about that unfortunate remark.

Anyone listening to her might be inclined to think the Palestinians acted in a perfectly loving manner toward the Jewish settlers of Palestine. Historically, virtually never the case. The Palestinian leadership was under the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the influential leader of the Arabs in Palestine. During the war, he moved to Germany and met Adolf Hitler, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Heinrich Himmler. He met with other Nazi leaders in an attempt to coordinate Nazi and Arab policies in the Middle East. The following is a record of a conversation between the Fuhrer and al-Husseini in the Presence of Reich Foreign Minister and Minister Grobba in Berlin.  The Mufti used his charisma to popular appeal to Arab countries to enlist in German effort to defeat the West. Sharing a mutual antipathy for the Jewish people, the English, and the Communists—the Mufti worked to create an Arab Legion to help the Nazis in the Balkans.

The Nazis and the Islamo-Jihadists shared a common vision of the world—a world without Jews. Nazi war criminals often found refuge in the Arab countries where they became celebrities and had the status of rock stars.

The real problem with Talib’s statement is that the Arabs in Palestine (later to be referred to after the 1967 war as “Palestinians” completely supported Hitler’s attempt to rid the world of Jews. Not only did the Arabs in Palestine support the German extermination of Jews, but they also violently resisted the creation of a Jewish state.

Even before the Holocaust, the Arabs of Palestine did not get along well with the Jewish settlers;

  • There was a massacre that occurred in Jerusalem, 1920.
  • Jews were massacred in Hebron in 1929
  • Another massacre took place in Safed in 1929.
  • In Jaffa, 1921,
  • Tiberias, 1938

Since the birth of Israel, there has been a relentless campaign of terror aimed at the most vulnerable members of the Jewish community. Many of the people Rashid admires are people who have killed the elderly, women, and children. One of those persons is the Palestinian activist Abbas Hamidah, a Palestinian who is one of Hezbollah’s staunchest defenders.  He posed  with Talaib at her swearing-in ceremony after she won the election in Detroit.

In December 2015, Hamideh called convicted terrorist Samir Kuntar a “legendary Hezbollah martyr,” days after he was killed in an explosion in Damascus. Among the victims Kuntar killed was a young four-year old girl named Elinat, whose skull he smashed on beach rocks.

Rashid’s admiration for Louis Farrakhan, as seen in an op-ed she had written in a paper, and her defense of her fellow freshman representative Ilhan Omar’s (D., Minn.) anti-Semitic remarks — after last week’s comments.

Yes, Rashida’s friends are the kind of people Hitler would be proud to have on his team. In addition, we must forget how Tlaib tweeted to her colleague. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), about Jews “buying Congress,” and promoted the notion that “supporters of Israel were guilty of dual loyalty”. These are classical anti-Semitic tropes.

And it is for this reason I do not believe Tlaib’s claim that her family helped save Jews during the Holocaust, I am inclined to doubt her authenticity. The reason is simple. When she first ran in Michigan for office, she had numerous interactions with the Jewish community. Why did she not mention this biographical information about herself when she was soliciting their support for her candidacy?

Now it is true that there were Muslims in the Balkans and in Morocco who helped saved the Jews of their communities—but this was not the case in Palestine. No amount of wishful thinking can alter the fact that the Arab population remained determined to keep the Jews out of Palestine.

For all the reasons mentioned above, Talib’s statements ought to be viewed with skepticism. This is not the first time anti-Semites like her have tried to deceive the Jewish community.

How would MLK respond to the Poway shooting?

Image result for image of martin luther king

One of my congregants posed an interesting question that we ought to consider asking: What would Rev Martin Luther King Jr. have said about the Poway synagogue shooting? It is an important question—not just for members of the Jewish community, but also for the African-American community as well.

Throughout his life, King proved to be a close friend of the Jewish community. He often noted the similarities existing between Jews and African-Americans. Both groups experienced hatred, prejudice, attacks from those wishing to harm them; both peoples worked together to overcome that hatred.

In this short article, I will briefly touch on some of my favorite quotes Martin Luther King Jr concerning what it is the Jewish and non-Jewish community is up against. Simply put, we are fighting for the soul of our nation. Many of King’s quotes highlight the warm feelings he felt for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

King proved to be a relentless foe against anti-Semitism and racism. He observed that the Hitler archetype is alive and well—even in the United States.

  • There are Hitlers loose in America today, both in high and low places… As the tensions and bewilderment of economic problems become more severe, history(‘s) scapegoats, the Jews, will be joined by new scapegoats, the Negroes. The Hitlers will seek to divert people’s minds and turn their frustration and anger to the helpless, to the outnumbered. Then whether the Negro and Jew shall live in peace will depend upon how firmly they resist, how effectively they reach the minds of the decent Americans to halt this deadly diversion….[1] 

“Some have bombed the homes and churches of Negroes; and in recent acts of inhuman barbarity, some have bombed your synagogues — indeed, right here in Florida.”[2] Three months later, on Oct. 12, 1958, The Temple in Midtown Atlanta was bombed. When I came across this news, I was surprised to see that targeting synagogues is by no means a new phenomenon; it has happened before—many times, in fact.

Because of the Jewish advocacy for civil rights, between November 1957, and October 1958, there were bombings and attempted bombings in seven Jewish communities in the South. North Carolina had two such incidents; there were two more in Florida, and one in Tennessee and Georgia (where Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple sustained almost $200,000 in damages in the last of the 11-month rash of attacks). Alabama synagogues were also targeted—particularly, Temple Beth-El of Birmingham’s was a bombing target on April 28, 1958. Fortunately, weather conditions fizzled the fuse—one minute before it would have detonated. Experts said the explosion would have killed scores of people. The bomb itself was said to be three times more powerful than the one that would kill four young black girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. It could have demolished not only the synagogue, by also several nearby structures.[3]

King respected the danger the Jewish community put itself in for championing civil rights. At the Rabbinical Assembly Convention of 1968, King observed, “Probably more than any other ethnic group, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice.”

On October 27, 1967, at a Civil Rights rally in Boston, King boldly said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

In 1958, King spoke to the American Jewish Committee, and pointed out, “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.”

King loved to write about the Israelites experience in Egypt and its moral message for the African-American individual. For me, one of King’s most memorable sermons he presented a sermon on the subject, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore.” King’s comments vividly portray the flight of Hebrew slaves from Egypt: He observed,

  • Egypt symbolized evil in the form of humiliating oppression, ungodly exploitation, and crushing domination.” But then, the wonderful event occurred, and ‘when the Israelites looked back, all they could see was here and there a poor drowned body beaten upon the seashore.’ For the Israelites, this was a great moment… It was a joyous daybreak that had come to end the long night of their captivity . . . The meaning of this story is not found in the drowning of Egyptian soldiers, for no one should rejoice at the death or defeat of a human being. Rather, this story symbolizes the death of evil and of inhuman oppression and unjust exploitation.[4]

King observed, “We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.”

This last remark is what we need to remember when combatting anti-Semitism. Today, anti-Semitic attacks seem to becoming fashionable once more in our society. We need to root out the intolerance that is affecting our society. This approach offers the best medicine for the hatred we are witnessing in the world today, as Jews in the 21st century experience a resurging anti-Semitism.

Evil people will always exist, but we must do our part to thwart them.

On a personal note, Martin Luther King’s heroism inspired me to decide becoming a rabbi when I was barely fourteen years old.


[1] Cited from Marc Schneier, Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Jewish Community (Woodstock VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999), p. 35.

[2] Martin Luther, Clayborne Carson (ed.), The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume IV: Symbol of the Movement, January 1957-December 1958 (Berkeley: University of California Press; First edition, 2000), p. 408.

[3] https://weldbham.com/blog/2012/09/19/54-sticks-of-dynamite-the-bomb-at-temple-beth-el/

[4] Martin Luther King, Jr, The Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963; Pocketbook Edition, 1964), pp. 71-8

Was Jesus a Palestinian?

Related image

Congresswoman Ilan Omar never ceases to surprise us with the countless inane claims she makes on a daily basis. In one of her more interesting canards, she claimed that “Jesus was a Palestinian.”

One might imagine that she will soon claim that the Israelites were also really Palestinians, and that the God gave Moses the Quran on Mount Sinai.

Her ignorance of the ancient history of Judea is mind-numbing.

We ought to ask the more obvious question. What inspired Omar to make this unusual claim about Jesus being a Palestinian? Just one day before Omar’s tweet appeared, a writer named Eric V. Copage wrote an article, “As a Black Child in Los Angeles, I Couldn’t Understand Why Jesus Had Blue Eyes,” he wondered: Why did Christian artists typically portray Jesus as though he had blue eyes? After all, he reasoned, “Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was most likely a Palestinian man with dark skin.”[1]

And while I might agree that the European depictions of Jesus as having blue eyes is doubtful, it is surprising that Copage assumed that Jesus was a “Palestinian.” The writer obviously is unfamiliar with ancient history.  The myth that “Jesus was a Palestinian” can be traced back to the days of Yasser Arafat, when his trusted Christian-Palestinian adviser Hanan Ashrawi made the outlandish claim.

The Christian scholar Michael Brown said something that I must agree with, “Let’s set the record straight. Jesus was a Galilean Jew, not a Palestinian Muslim. He celebrated Passover, not Ramadan, and he was called “Rabbi” not “Imam.” His followers were named Yaakov and Yochanan and Yehudah, not Muhammad and Abdullah and Khalid.”

Surprisingly, it took one week for the NYT to correct the record,

Frankly, I am surprised Copage and Omar did not also claim that “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Palestinians.’”

It seems at first blush that Omar read Copage’s article and assumed the New York Times must be correct, and without a second thought, she published her tweet on the following day. Omar must have been perplexed by the reaction she received; might be probably more astonished by how the NYT would later print a retraction one week later after the original article appeared on April 26th, 2019. It read, “Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Jesus’s background. While he lived in an area that later came to be known as Palestine, Jesus was a Jew who was born in Bethlehem.”

There are many ways of viewing this story. So, in the spirit of Socratic dialogue and Freudian analysis, let us ask the obvious question: Why should the Times care? For one thing, it is commonly asserted among Palestinian “historians” that the Jews are not really indigenous to the Middle East, but are descendants of a European people are known as the “Khazars,” who lived in the 8th century in present-day Russia.

Admitting that the Jews have a legitimate history or claim on the Land of Israel that antedates the rise of Islam is something Palestinians do their best to avoid. In East Jerusalem, Muslims have done their best to destroy any archaeological remnants indicating the presence of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem dating back to the First Temple period.  

Most readers of the NYT, and most Jewish readers, in general, are unfamiliar with the real objective that Omar shares with her brethren from the Palestinian, Taliban, and ISIS movements—promotes the systematic destruction of ancient, non-Islamic civilizations.

  • In 2001, the Taliban in Afghanistan shocked the world when their armies blew up the gigantic, statues of Buddha, nearly 50 meters tall. Their justification? They regarded the statues as a violation of the prohibition in against the worship of idols. Protests by both the West and Afghans fell on deaf ears.
  • In the interest of brevity, let us examine several examples we have seen in the last two decades.  In 2015, ISIS singlehandedly destroyed the ancient Roman city of Palmyra in Syria.
  • In August 2015, ISIS destroyed a fifth-century Christian monastery in the Syrian town of Qaryatain, claiming that the monastery was “worshipped without God.”[2]
  • In 2013, more than, Palestinians orchestrated over 200 terror attacks at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, where the Jewish matriarch Rachel is said to be buried—119 of those attacks included the use of explosives at the sacred site.
  • In September 2015, Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus was also singled out by Palestinians for destruction—despite the fact, this area is governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is bound by the 1993 Oslo accords to apprehend terrorists and prevent attacks.

The ISIS is very proud of their achievements. In their films documenting the destruction of the Mosul Museum and Nineveh, their film begins with the following statement:

  • Oh Muslims, the remains that you see behind me are the idols of peoples of previous centuries, which were worshipped instead of Allah. The Assyrians, Akkadians, and others took for themselves gods of rain, of agriculture, and of war, and worshipped them along with Allah, and tried to appease them with all kinds of sacrifices… Since Allah commanded us to shatter and destroy these statues, idols, and remains, it is easy for us to obey, and we do not care [what people think], even if they are worth billions of dollars.[3]

More recently in France, the French Catholic community has been in a state of shock over the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral. However, we must not lose sight of the fact there have over 1,063 incidents of vandalism against 875 of France’s 42,258 churches since 2018.

he fire to the iconic church, however, may have raised awareness to a rash of vandalism to French churches. A total of 875 of France’s 42,258 churches were vandalized in 2018, with a small fire set to the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris in March, according to French police. Statues of Mother Mary have been discovered decapitated, another 129 churches had thefts on their property with still another 59 cemeteries vandalized.[4]

In summary, Jihadi Islam has a goal to eradicate the religious symbols and sacred places of all the peoples it considers “pagan” or “heretical.” It is an assault on history is no less evident in how Ilan Omar and her NYT cohorts misrepresent history. As a civilized people, we cannot stand by and say nothing while this attempt to destroy civilization—ancient and modern—continues on.

NOTES:


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/reader-center/jesus-images.html

[2] See “Islamic State Destroys Assyrian Christian Monastery in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 21, 2015.

[3] http://theconversation.com/erasing-history-why-islamic-state-is-blowing-up-ancient-artefacts-78667

[4] https://www.ibtimes.com/notre-dame-cathedral-fire-not-arson-875-french-churches-vandalized-2018-2785886

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

Article from the SD Jewishworld: Rabbi Samuel Introduces Philo to the Modern World

Rabbi Samuel introduces Philo to the modern world

 

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel and his 5-volume set on Philo’s Torah commentaries

CHULA VISTA, California  – The 1stCentury Jewish philosopher and religious scholar, Philo, was very familiar with the Torah, commenting here and there on different portions of the Five Books of Moses in writings that were spread over approximately 40 publications in the native Greek language that he spoke in his home of Alexandria, Egypt.

Growing up in a Reform Jewish home, Michael Leo Samuel had been a fan of Philo’s since his early teenage years. His passion for reading Jewish texts eventually led to Samuel being ordained through the Lubavitcher (Chabad) movement, and then going on to serve as a Hebrew school teacher and a pulpit rabbi in Modern Orthodox and Conservative congregations.  Recently, Samuel, who serves today as spiritual leader of Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, has completed publication of a five-volume work, Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria,  in which he pulls together Philo’s thoughts about Jewish scripture from Philo’s many writings and puts them into sequential order, thus creating for the first time Philo’s comprehensive commentary on the Torah.  The books are available via Amazon.

To undertake this project, Samuel, who speaks Hebrew also taught himself Greek so he could read Philo in the original.  He also drew upon the thoughts of some of Judaism’s later, and perhaps better known, commentators like Rashi, Maimonides, Nachmanides, and Ibn Ezra to illustrate how Philo’s commentaries in some cases presaged the thoughts of these great commentators and in other instances contradicted them.

Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria relates in order Philo’s commentaries on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

In a wide-ranging interview, Samuel, who contributes occasional columns to San Diego Jewish World, discussed his books and the philosopher who inspired it.  He also is accepting invitations to discuss the book at synagogue, chavurah, and club gatherings.

He said that while living in First Century C.E. Alexandria, Philo faced two conflicting forces during his life.  On the positive side, Alexandria was a cosmopolitan port city which treasured learning, as was exemplified by its world-famous library.  On the other hand, many native Egyptians harbored anti-Semitic attitudes, making life in Alexandria a wary experience for Jews.  “One of the great pogroms in Alexandria that took place in the year 30 or so, resulted in the death of 50,000 people,” Samuel commented.  “It was the first modern pogrom of late antiquity.  Philo gives eye witness to how Jews were not even allowed to bury the dead, and the Roman prefect in Alexandria, Flaccus, was always trying to curry favor with the local anti-Semitic population.”

Nevertheless, Philo manage to enjoy some of what life had to offer.   “One of the things that I like about Philo was that he was an Alexandrian Jew, much like today we are American Jews,” said Samuel. “He would attend the gymnasium, watch wrestling matches. He would attend Olympic-style games.  He would go to horse races, and he had an interest in sports and would often draw some profound spiritual analogies about Jewish spirituality from sporting events that took place in his time.”

As a commentator, Philo was willing to opine on issues that continue to be controversial to the present day.  Abortion, homosexuality, and how Jews should treat other religions were among the subjects to which Philo gave deep thought.  Living in the pre-rabbinic era of Judaism, his commentaries often were in sharp contrast to those of later Jewish scholars, according to Samuel.

Whereas many later commentators took every word of the Torah literally, Philo was one of the first Jewish scholars to suggest that it must instead be understood as an allegory from which lessons may be learned, even if every word is not true.  In Philo’s view, according to Samuel, the Torah was given to the Jewish people at a time when they were not far removed from slavery.  Intellectually, they were like children, unable to understand complex rationales.  So, in the Torah, God warns the Jews of adverse consequences if they don’t follow His law, much like a parent warning a child, “Eat your dinner, or there will be no dessert.”

Philo differed with more recent commentators over the passage in Leviticus which describes as an “abomination” or an “abhorrence” the situation of a male lying with another male as with a woman.  Samuel said, “Philo explains that this is a statement that deals primarily with pedophilia and he gives many examples from Greek society how boys were often paraded around like women, under the tutelage of an older male adult.  He said this was what the Torah forbids; the reason that he said this was forbidden was a man has to be manly; to make a man womanly is degrading …. That approach might not fly in modern times, but his concern about the exploitation about children is definitely an important issue to bring up.”

Most rabbinical commentators in later periods did not address the problem of pedophilia at all, according to Samuel.  What little discussion there was seemed to wink at the problem, Samuel said.  “The rabbis (of the Talmud) did not have a concept of pedophilia, one of the shocking aspects of Talmudic history that frankly is very embarrassing,” he added.  “Philo stands head and shoulders above.”

On the issue of abortion, Philo definitely would have been on the “pro-life” side of the debate, rather than the “pro-choice” side, said Samuel.

“Philo had tremendous respect for prenatal life,” Samuel said. “He considered abortion to be immoral.  It is not clear whether he believed that life began at conception, but certainly in the last trimester of a fetus’s life, he said that the fetus is like a statue that has been prepared—only needs to be uncovered and exposed to the world.  Beautiful analogy.”

In contrast, others in the ancient world seemingly were unconcerned with the unborn babies.  “If a woman was accused of adultery, she would drink this potion that came from the earth of the sanctuary—and if she was guilty her stomach would explode,” Samuel said.  “So, if she were pregnant with another man’s child, she would die and the child would also.  That’s implied in Scripture,” Samuel said.

In some early rabbinic writings, he added, “If a woman is a murderess and is about to be condemned for that murder, but she is pregnant, the rabbis say you take a club and you smash her stomach even to the time till she is almost ready to deliver, to kill the baby.  Because the mother is so unhappy that the child is going to grow up without a parent; better for the child to die than to endorse such a sadness.  Rabbinic thinking!  If those rabbis had been familiar with Philo’s argument, he had turned that argument on its head.  He said, just as you are not allowed to slaughter a calf and its mother on the same day, this applies to animals, how much more so to human beings.  So, if you have a case where a woman is condemned, and she is about to give birth, you do not execute her with the child – that would be an act of murder.  That would be treating a human with less dignity than an animal with its young.  Therefore, you have to wait for the mother to give birth, nurse the child, and a later time execute the mother.”

Samuel added, “These discussions were really theoretical, the reason being that Rome did not allow Jews to practice the death penalty.”

Respect for all religions was a hallmark of Philo’s thinking, Samuel said.  “One of the laws in the Torah is that we are not allowed to curse God – and Philo understood this to mean not only are you not allowed to curse God; you are not allowed to curse the gods of other peoples.  Now when I was a yeshiva student many years ago, I remember how many of my friends in the Lubavitcher community would walk by a church and they would always spit on the sidewalk.  In fact, they spit whenever they mentioned idols in the Aleinu prayer, and even from the most Orthodox perspective that is considered a risqué and halachically scandalous behavior.  You don’t spit in a synagogue; it is considered inappropriate.”

Samuel’s first book was an outgrowth of his doctoral thesis at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.  The Lord is My Shepherd: The Theology of a Caring God was followed by five other books on diverse topics, and then this five-book series.  A workaholic, Samuel said he never lets a day go by without writing at least three pages and sometimes, if the juices are flowing, he might write 20.  He said that he has as many as 50 books in various stages of completion, with some of them likely to be published later this year or early in 2019.

Rabbi Israel Drazin, one of the most prolific writers on biblical topics with books to his credit about the Prophet Samuel, King David, King Solomon, Jonah, Amos, The Aramaic translation of the Bible known as the Targum Onkelos, and various other commentaries, has reviewed Rabbi Samuel’s work on Amazon, giving it a five-star rating.   “Until recently, it was Harry Wolfson’s 1962-1968 two-volume work Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that was considered the authoritative book on Philo of Alexandria, Egypt (ca. 20 BCE to about 50 CE),” Drazin wrote. “Today, because of the wealth of scholarly material contained in his five volumes and their presentation in a very readable manner, Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel’s books can now be considered the authoritative work on the great Greek Jewish philosopher.”

*
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via donald.harrison@sdjewishworld.com

 

Book Review on “The Israel Bible” **** (out of five)

 

The Israel Bible (Hebrew and English Edition) by Rabbi Tuly Weisz

Hardcover: 2212 pages

Publisher: Menorah Books; Bilingual edition (July 10, 2018)

Language: Hebrew, English

ISBN-10: 1940516803

Cost: $44.00

 

In today’s world, there are all sorts of different types of commentaries on the Scriptures on a variety of scriptural subjects.  Therefore, it was with great surprise I discovered this week a new Bible commentary known as, “The Israel Bible” that centers on the theme of Eretz Yisrael—the “Land of Israel” and its historical and religious relationship to the Jewish people. From the inside flap of his book, the author explains:

  • In the 70 years since the modern rebirth of the State of Israel, the Jewish State has been at the forefront of the world’s attention. Today, there are countless efforts to vilify the Jewish state. Yet, there is also an ever expanding movement of biblical Zionists who stand with the nation of Israel as an expression of their commitment to God’s eternal word. As we seek to understand the clash between these two conflicting ideologies and look to make sense of the modern world’s great interest in Israel, the need for The Israel Bible has never been as important.

This large opus is 2190 pages—the sheer size is massive! The author, Rabbi Tuly Weisz, is also the founder and CEO of Israel365. The Hebrew font is crisp looking; the author also uses the NJPS translation—a venerable work in itself.  I think the book certainly lives up to its name. This project has taken the author five years to complete.

When asked why he wrote the book, Weisz explained:

  • Today, there are countless efforts to vilify the Jewish state. Yet, there is also an ever-expanding movement of biblical Zionists who stand alongside the nation of Israel, as an expression of their commitment to God’s eternal word. As we seek to understand the clash between these two conflicting ideologies while seeking to make sense of the modern world’s great interest in Israel, the need for The Israel Bible has never been so timely or important.

This statement makes a very important point not only to Jews but also for Christians who tend to deny the Jewish people’s special relationship with her homeland. As a rabbi, I am sometimes surprised by the enthusiasm Christian Zionists feel for the Land of Israel and I wish more liberal-minded Jews felt the same, but unfortunately, the political agendas of the Left are moving further and further away from Israel. Many Jews who have supported liberal causes in the past find it difficult to associate Israel as a pariah state—on par with South Africa.

Rashi, commonly regarded as the greatest Jewish commentator, anticipated our modern problem. Rabbi Weisz mentions the famous passage Rashi articulated:

  • “In the beginning . . .”   Rabbi Isaac said, “The Torah need not begin with the precept, “This month shall be unto you …” (Exod. 12:2), which constitutes the first precept of the Torah. Why did the Torah begin with this particular verse? In order to convey the point, “You showed powerful deeds to your people by giving them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For when the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan].” They will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy Blessed One; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once explained, “The fact the tiny State of Israel fought so many wars aimed at its destruction and survived is proof positive that God’s blessing of the Land to the Jewish people is no fortuitous happening.” I suggest the author include this thought in any future update of his book.

As we mentioned earlier, today there is a constant ideological war waged—not just on the battlefields, but in the media to delegitimize the State of Israel throughout much of the Western European world. This animus is evident in virtually every college campus in the United States. Jewish students often find themselves harassed and targeted for violence by groups who promote anti-Semitism. While anti-Zionism is not a focus of ANTIFA, a fair number of its members tend to be anti-Zionist as part of their far-left activism. Anti-Racist Action groups, he said, had taken part in anti-Zionist events in the past.

Israel gets it from all sides.

This tarnishing of Israel’s image is one of the reasons why I enjoyed reading R. Weisz’s fine book, which is written much in the manner of many modern day Christian Study Bibles, except for the fact he presents a very traditional Orthodox perspective on the text.

There are likable things about this book. It has a clean appearance and the text is easy to read. Many of the comments are poignant. In the Book of Leviticus, the author goes into considerable detail about the various precepts associated with the Land. In the passage regarding the biblical curses concerning the future of the land (Lev. 26:32), I enjoyed this exposition in particular:

  • “26:32: I will make the land desolate.” Though this verse is frightening, Nachmanides explains that it is actually a blessing in disguise. “I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle it will be appalled by it” implies that throughout the ages, no matter how many foreign empires occupy Israel, the land will not cooperate to bring forth its bounty. Indeed, in his book Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote about his visit to Palestine in the 1860’s: “A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action ….” Only when the Jewish People return to the Land of Israel does it give forth its blessing and return to its former glory. Today, thanks to the return of the indigenous Jewish population, Eretz Yisrael is once again thriving and prosperous (p. 317).

I was hoping he would mention this interpretation and he certainly did! In one interview, Weisz offered an interesting perspective on his target audience, “The Israel Bible is the only Bible that’s exclusively dedicated to the Land of Israel, the people of Israel and the God of Israel,” Weisz told CBN News.”[1]

  • “The Bible has had such a great impact on civilization; yet it’s also been the greatest source of friction and division between Jews and Christians, who both claim to love the Bible,” Weisz, director of Israel365, explained. “So now the vision of the Israel Bible is that we’re going to have the opportunity to use the Bible as a source of unity between Jews and Christians and everybody who loves the Bible.”

This would explain why the author did not expound the biblical passages in a more comprehensive manner; I suspect he wanted to present a distilled message drawn from the texts of Jewish tradition for a predominantly Christian community.

I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to gain an introduction to the Land of Israel according to classical Jewish sources.

Review by Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, Author of Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria series

 

=====

NOTES:

[1] http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/israel/2018/july/this-is-the-bible-that-jesus-read-new-israel-bible-draws-christians-and-jews-alike

Nature Reflects God’s Justice in the Animal Kingdom

Image result for lion pride

The story is a familiar one. Once a man went out for a walk through the forest. To his sudden surprise, he sees a grizzly bear chasing him. After the bear traps him, he prepares himself for his last rites, he says the Shema Prayer, and to his surprise he sees the bear praying with his eyes closed! But to his surprise, the bear is not reciting the Shema—he is instead saying the blessing, “HaMotzi lechem min ha’aretz!”

By now, most of you heard about how a pride of lions killed suspected poachers at a game reserve in Africa. A field guide found human remains the next day. “Clearly, the poachers had walked into a pride of six lions and some, if not all had been killed,” according to a Facebook post by Fox.

“They were armed with, amongst other things, a high powered rifle with a silencer, an ax, wire cutters and had food supplies for a number of days – all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing a rhino and removing their horns,” said Fox.

I am reminded of an old medieval aphorism, “Man proposes, but God disposes”

Pious Jews recite Psalm 145:14-17 every day

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You, LORD, are just in all your ways,
faithful in all your works.

After the reading the news story from Africa, this passage took on new meaning for me. Yes, the ways of God are truly just. God not only provides His creatures with an appetizer, but also with main-course and dessert!

Jewish tradition has much to say about hunting.

  • Abbahu said: A man should always strive to identify with the persecuted than of the persecutors as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and pigeons, and yet Scripture made them [alone] eligible for the altar (Lev. 1:14).[1]

As Jews, we, in particular, have much to comiserate about whenever we see God’s endangered species being threatened. Anti-Semites, too, have often hunted Jews, throughout history. The Nazis paid a premium for capturing Jews—whether dead or alive.

In the Tanakh, God beckoned Noah to preserve the animal species. The Book of Leviticus tells us “You shall not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young” (Lev. 22:28). Both Philo of Alexandria and Ramban believe the purpose of this prohibition aims to prevent the destruction of a species. In one famous midrashic text we read:

  • 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, “Look at my handiwork, see how beautiful and excellent they are! Everything I have created, I created for you! Be careful that you do not corrupt and destroy My world, for if you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.[2]

One of the principle reasons why the Torah limited animals for human consumption that had two kosher characteristics (animals that have split hooves and chew their cud) is to preserve the animal species as a whole. Thus, the Torah imposed limitations upon the human appetite.

Rabbinic law reflects this disdain toward hunting.

  • “How can a man from Israel actively kill an animal for no need other than to fulfill his desire to spend his time hunting? We do not find that people in the Torah are hunters except with Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…”[3]

One 17th century noted,  “…It is certain that those who shoot arrows after birds and beasts for no purpose at all other than to learn archery, and kill animals for no reason, are destined to stand in judgment for it; for it is not the way of Israel, the holy congregation, to commit evil to any creature for no reason. . .  Killing an animal in order for the joy of pure sport is sheer cruelty “[4]

Anyone who goes to the San Diego Zoo might be surprised at a large number of endangered species that the zoo and other similar habitats are trying to preserve. Unfortunately, there are some people who will do anything to kill these species, for rhino horns are often used in Chinese medicine and their price is considered more valuable than gold.

In my conversation with some Orthodox rabbis, I was surprised to see a number of them argue that there is a place for “big game” centers provided the monies go to promote animal growth in African communities. While this may be true in theory, the corruption and lust for profit may prove to be counterproductive; aside from this, poachers will always try to find a way to circumvent existing laws.

Furthermore, popularizing these big-game trophies only serves to motivate other would be hunters who live for the thrill of the moment.

As Jews who love animals, we cannot stand idly by as malignant people attempt to depopulate the world of these magnificent creatures. Instead of justifying the barbarism of these hunters with contrived Halakhic arguments, we need to remember that God expects human beings and animals to live in a world peaceably with these rare creatures.

One of the great 20th century Jewish mystics, R. Abraham Isaac Kook expressed an ethical thought that people need to hear and consider today:

  • It goes against the clear emotions of the heart that a talmid hakham (Torah scholar), a spiritual man, should be permanently engaged in the taking of animals’ lives. Though shechitah (ritual slaughter)—and in general the consumption of animals—remains a necessity in this world, nevertheless, it would be fitting that this work performed by men who have not yet evolved to the level of refinement of feeling. However, those endowed with ethical sensitivity ought to serve as supervisors (pekidim) in order that the killing of the animals must not become a  barbaric act. Let there be a light that will enter into the heart of meat-eaters–a light that will someday illuminate the world. For those who truly understand the significance of kosher slaughtering, this light is truly contained in the laws of shehitah and tereifot (unfit animals), as is well known to us.[5]

[1] BT Bava Kama 93a

 

[2] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20.

[3] Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Shailos U’Teshuvot Noda B’Yehudah, Mehadurah Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 10.

[4]  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover, Kav HaYashar 83.

[5] Igrot Rayah, vol. I, p. 230.

Bad Girls of the Bible and Beyond

Image result for rahab bible imagesImage result for Tamar Judah imagesblackandwhite, lilith, and snake imageImage result for Gomer Hosea images

Anyone who really knows the Bible, probably knows that it is a book that is full of sexual themes—from one end of Tanakh to the other. Lot sleeps with his daughters; Reuben’s affair with his stepmother Bilhah, and the biblical version of Romeo and Juliet are evident in the Shechem and Dinah story. Rabbi Burt Visotzky candidly called the Bible “one ugly soap-opera” and while I do not agree with his sweeping characterization, I will admit that human sexuality plays a dramatic role in many of the biblical stories.  We certainly know about the exploits of Madame Potiphar and Joseph—a story that tantalized the imagination of many young teenage yeshiva students. Then there are the sexual exploits of King David, who like Bill Clinton, found it hard to resist the temptations of feminine beauty and strength. He never met a beautiful woman he didn’t desire or want. Rabbinic literature feasts upon stories involving Adam’s first wife, Lilith, a marriage that ended horribly, resulting in the world’s first divorce.

Temptation, seduction, and yielding to the flame of sexuality is basic to the biblical psyche.

You might be surprised to know that prostitutes in the Bible are actually sympathetic personalities; some of them have been known to be quiet brave and heroic at times. This revelation might come across as peculiar and strange to many people in the Jewish and Christian communities.

  1. TAMAR

In the Book of Genesis, we read about Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar, who waited for her father-in-law to provide her with a brother to perform the levirate marriage. After losing two of his other sons, Judah felt reluctant to give Tamar his third son, Shelah. After Shelah grew older, it became clear to Tamar that she would have to take matters into her own hands, and she laid a trap for her single father-in-law Judah, one which he fell hook, line, and sinker. She dresses up as a prostitute and makes an offer that Judah could not refuse; for the price of a goat (goats are very popular in the Genesis stories), she would be his for the night. After consummating the deal, she mysteriously disappears. Soon she discovers she is pregnant, and so do the people of Judah’s family. Tamar anticipated her father-in-law’s moral duplicity, and she announces she has evidence that will completely exonerate her innocence. Confronted by the truth, Judah had no choice but to admit he was at fault.

Tamar emerged as the ancestress of the House of David.

  1. RAHAB

One of the most famous cases involved espionage. Two Israelite spies are looking to find out how to conquer the Canaanite people. A prostitute named Rahab, aids and abets both these strangers, whose mere presence set the local Canaanite peoples ill-at-ease. Although she risked her life saving them, it was not without strings attached—“red strings,” you might say. She exacts a promise that the invading Israelite armies will not harm her or her family in any manner. Although the people of Jericho would meet a violent death, her family would be spared.

Before the spies left, they instructed her to leave a red cord hanging down from the window through which they had escaped. The “dangling red cord” would be a visible cord for the Israelite soldiers to keep their distance.

According to the Talmud, Joshua married Rahab (BT Ta’anit 20a) thus becoming an ideal proselyte and was also considered one of the four most beautiful women (with Sarah, Abigail, and Esther) and one of the four most seductive (with Ruth, Jael, and Michal). In one of the more bizarre passages in the Talmud,

Rabbi Isaac said, “Whosoever repeats the name “Rahab, Rahab” experiences an orgasm.  Then  R. Nahman replied, “I have repeated it and was not in any way affected.” R. Isaac replied: I speak only of one who knew her intimately and recalls a woman in her likeness.” I suspect Sigmund Freud would have had a field day psychoanalyzing both of these rabbis.  Freud spent much of his career analyzing men who struggle with sexuality and often view women either as debased whores or as saintly individuals.

The famous Madonna-Whore archetype captures the contradictory waves of male uncertainty, who desires a woman who is as virtuous as a Madonna, but as sinful as a whore in the bedroom. Whereas the man loves women in the former category, he distrust despises and devalues the latter group. The Talmudic rabbis like men in general probably felt uneasy about both these tensions, and therefore transformed sexually free women like Rehab, Tamar into virtuous women.

  1. Gomer

The third story involving prostitute involved a prophet and God. God tells the prophet Hosea to take a prostitute for a wife. The woman he marries is Gomer. There is scarcely a rabbinic commentary that accepts this reading at face value. Rashi, for example, sounds more like Maimonides and says that the story occurred only in a prophetic vision. The scandalous implications of a pious prophet marrying a “fallen” woman probably not only entertained the listeners and readers of this story, Gomer became a metaphor for the Jewish people—who went astray by worshiping other gods. Thus, idolatry and adultery—two similar sounding words, though different seemed to have a common thematic ethical message. Gomer became a symbol of penitence.

  1. Mary Magdalene

In Christian tradition, one of Jesus’ most favorite disciples was the mysterious Mary Magdalene, whom many scholars believe might have been the wife of Jesus. Curiously, three gospel narratives mention her as the only witness of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Four gospel narratives say she was present at Jesus’ alleged resurrection. Whether she or some other woman might have been a prostitute who might have had a similar first name remains unclear. But in the popular imagination—especially as fueled by the Jesus Christ Super Star production, many Christians like depicting Mary Magdalene has a fallen woman who repented.

As you can see, prostitutes have fared remarkably well in the biblical canon—both for Jews and for Jews.

Why am I mentioning all of this?

Partly because the archetypes of “Bad Girls” of the Bible are psychologically alive in modern society—especially in the way men perceive feminine sexuality.

Against this backdrop, when the country watched the Stormy Daniels interview on the Sixty Minutes program, the once well-known lady of porn probably made some Christian people think of other women like her from the Bible. Her alleged relationship with Candidate Donald Trump over ten years ago shows that our society’s fascination with prostitutes still remains a permanent part of the Americana political landscape.

We all know that Donald Trump is a challenged person in many ways, but what he did ten years ago really doesn’t concern me. I am only interested in how he is doing his job now as President. 

Time will tell whether Stormy’s allegations will have any meaningful impact on President Trump, but based on the sexual exploits of President Clinton and Kennedy, it is doubtful. Unfortunately, powerful men often succumb to desire.

Just ask King David.

The Talmud itself says, the greater a person, the greater their temptation for the forbidden is. This theme runs like a current of electricity in the pages of the Bible itself. Human behavior being what it does not change—unless one is willing to learn wisdom from temptation and desire.

The biblical stories teach us a valuable lesson, namely, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

An Ancient Ethical Controversy: Preserving Human Life and Its Moral Implications

Image result for shipwreck holding on to a plank pictures images

 Another one of the most interesting questions found in the Talmud dealing with the matter of human survival in a hostile environment where the possibilities of survival remain limited. [1]

Two are walking on the road. In the hand of one of them is a canteen of water. If they both drink-both will die. If only one drinks—he will reach his destination alive. Ben Petura contends that it is better for both to drink and die, rather than for one to see the death of his fellow. This was the accepted teaching until Rabbi Akiba came and interpreted the verse from “That thy brother may live with thee,” (Leviticus 25:36), i.e., “your life precedes the life of your fellow.” [2]

There is an interesting parallel to the Ben Petura and Rabbi Akiba debate that may be found in the Stoic writings of Cicero, who cites the Stoic philosopher Hecataeus, regarding two equally wise men who survived a shipwreck and were holding to the same wooden spar that was capable of supporting one of them. The question posed was this: Should one relinquish his hold and save the other, and if so, which one? The Stoic thinkers reasoned that the decision had to be made based on the individual’s utility to society. The person whose objective value is less to the republic has the duty to sacrifice himself for the more “valuable” citizen. [3]

Lest we think this discussion has no relevance for our modern age, think again. When the famous Titanic sunk in 1912, 1,514 people drowned out of a total 2,224 people on board – impacted mostly the lower class passengers it’s now revealed by experts who point to the very rich as being saved first over women and children–according to Don Lynch, the historian of the Titanic Historical Society.

Yes, first class has its benefits.

This Stoic position disagrees with both Ben Petura and Rabbi Akiba, for at no point in their deliberations does the utilitarian value of the individual ever come into play in the Talmudic discussion regarding the canteen of water.

Beyond that, it is important to note that Ben Petura does not say that say that the owner of the canteen is obligated to relinquish his portion of the water to save the life of his fellow—only that they must share it.  One could surmise that according to Ben Petura the fact that we have two human beings in need of water for their survival, respecting the image of God demands that one must do his best to preserve the life of his fellow while not endangering his own life in the process for perhaps both individuals will forage their way to civilization in the nick of time.  Rabbi Akiba, on the other hand, seems to think that the individual has the responsibility to preserve one’s own life, for who is to say that the life of his neighbor is more important than his own?

Inevitably, the Ben Petura/Rabbi Akiba controversy invites comparison to yet another perspective championed by Jesus in the first century, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man gives up his life for his friends”  (John 15:13). Every act of heroism and self-sacrifice epitomizes the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching. Ben Petura beckons us to rise above self-interest. I for one do not believe Jesus recommended that someone must morally sacrifice himself to save another’s life; rather, in real life, we see people like soldiers falling on hand-grenades to save their platoon; firemen running into blazing buildings to rescue human–and sometimes even animal life! Heroism can never be commanded, but those who unilaterally give themselves to save others–they are truly deserving of our praise because they remind us why the heroes of our society are very special.

Ultimately, nobody in an ethical dilemma is going to say, “Time out! I need to look this up in the Code of Jewish Law!” Rather the problems we examined call for a response from our conscience.

Like philosopher Emmanuel Levinas observes, “the human face commands us to respond ethically toward our neighbor.”  In short, it is my opinion that Ben Petura’s view offers a more enlightened ethical view and in practice, the halacha has almost invariably followed Ben Petura rather than Rabbi Akiba.


Notes:

[1]   BT  Baba Metzia 62a, Sifra, ed. Weiss, Behar VI, p. 109 c.

[2] Ben Petura’s view does definitely not represent the typical  Jewish outlook on life and love that is later expressed in rabbinic literature; in fact, Ben Petura’s opinion reminds us of the Christian interpretation of love which claims to be universal. It, therefore, does not come as a complete surprise that some scholars have expressed the opinion that Ben Petura is, in fact, a corruption of the name Ben Pandora or Ben Pantera. Pandora or Pantera is the name of Joseph, the father of Jesus. (See Targum 11 on the scroll of Esther ) If so, it is quite possible that Ben Petura is none other than Jesus himself (See also Tosefta Chullin 2:22,24)! In that case, the Talmud states both opinions so as to counteract early Christian interpretations of the Torah.

[3] Cited from Ephraim E. Urbach,  The Halakhah: The Sources and Development  (Jerusalem: Masada Lmtd. Yad LaTamid 1986), p. 204.