Elie Wiesel’s Words of Admonition: Let Netanyahu Speak to Congress

Holocaust Museum Founding Chairman Elie Wiesel speaks a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Museum in Washington April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

 This past week, I came across a very interesting video  by Ben Shapiro, who is one of the main editors of Breitbart News on the Internet. Shapiro is a Modern Orthodox Jew and his perspective on the issues of today offer  a refreshing alternative opinion—even if a reader does not  necessarily agree with his arguments.

In his latest podcast, Shapiro raised a question that I think many people have asked—Jew and non-Jew:  “Why do American Jews vote with the anti-Israel Left?” His examples are striking:

  • In 2008, American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Even though Obama had spent large segments of his prior life hobnobbing with vicious anti-Semites like Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi, even though he had staffed his campaign with anti-Semites ranging from Zbigniew Brzezinski to Robert Malley, Jews turned out in droves for him. Sarah Silverman harangued young Jews into telling their grandparents that they were racist if they didn’t vote for him; Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama’s designated court Jew – a role he has never relinquished — informed Jews that they were racist if they feared Senator Obama’s positions on Israel.[1]

American Jews voted 78 percent for Obama in 2008.

  • After he was elected, Obama proceeded to undermine Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, force Netanyahu to humiliate himself before thugs like the Turkish government, publicly condemn Israel’s defense of itself during the Gaza war against Hamas while funding the Hamas unity government, repeatedly leak vital national security information that would have allowed Israel to strike Iran, and sign a deal with Iran that essentially foreclosed any possibility of Western attempts to stop Iran from going nuclear.[2]

Shapiro has neatly summed up some of the issues that the Jewish communities in the United States ought to be debating—but in many instances they are not because these are polarizing topics that many Jews would rather avoid discussing because of the tartness and potential rancor such debates might cause.

According to Shapiro, he blames the problem on assimilation. Simply put, he claims that the majority of American Jews has not been to Israel and are generally ambivalent about their religious identities as Jews.  He adds further:

  • Again, according to the Pew poll, 73 percent of Jews said it was about remembering the Holocaust. Just 19 percent said it was about observing Jewish law, and only 28 percent said it was about being part of a Jewish community. Jews, in other words, are not religious. They are secular leftists who don’t want to be labeled white people because they like being diverse and being able to enjoy the in-jokes in Woody Allen films.[3]

While Shapiro brings up a lot of interesting statistics that seem to prove his case, this writer feels that there is an alternative way of looking and perhaps solving the problem that he poses for all of us.

Most Baby-boomers grew up in the Civil Rights era and saw in Obama’s ascension to power the combination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.. In short, they collectively fell in love with their projections of what they imagined Obama would be–not with the reality. This happens all the time in relationships where we fall in love with the idealized image of our partner, only to be dismayed when our partner falls far short of the mark. When this happens, we have only ourselves to blame. I believe that many liberal Jews see the flaws of this man and his countless misrepresentations of the truth (from Obamacare to Benghazi and beyond). They are also well aware of how the President has leaned heavily on Israel, diminishing Israel’s importance in the region. I suspect many liberal Jews are also well aware of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood friendship he has cultivated and how the President’s Middle East policies have ravaged several countries and created a dangerous power vacuum for ISIS and the Iranian caliphate to conquer their neighbors. Despite all this—liberal Jews still cannot admit that they were wrong. As is always the case, there is a heavy price we pay for our enlightenment–and in the future, I suspect many of these Jews will eventually admit that Obama is a false god to whom we have been “praying to a deity that cannot save” (Isa. 45:20). He is the antithesis of Harry Truman.

The the sociologist Robert Bellah once wrote that liberalism has become for many people (especially liberal Jews) a secular religion. Yet, do not think that a secular religion is incapable of being dogmatic, rigid, and punitive—just as dogmatic as any theistic faith that refuses to let reason be its guide, or discourages any kind of self-reflective thought.

In any kind of free society, the mutual exchange of contrarian ideas prevents society from becoming homogeneous and boring. Yet, in our politically charged society, anyone who dares to criticize Obama is routinely tarred, feathered and thrown in jail.[4]  Critics of Obama often have their jobs threatened or get hounded until they are verbally or socially beaten into submission. Whistleblowers in particular have been targeted by the Obama administration[5]

The inability of the political left to creatively engage people who have different opinions threatens to make this country into a soft fascism. If left unchecked, the days of McCarthyism will transmute our country into a Stalinesque society where people are terrified to dissent from the political status quo.

One more note:  In some ways the problem Shapiro poses also reflects the dark side of the Enlightenment–the inability to recognize the reality of radical evil. We used to think that civilized man was incapable of retrogessing to a more atavistic state. Nietzche warned us about this illusion… human beings are still as savage as ever. Jews could not accept this during WWII and they still can’t accept it…. Contrary to what President Obama has been saying, Iran has been the world’s most deadliest promoter of terrorism throughout the world. Their regime is evil–plain and simple. Based on their track-record, they cannot be trusted.

Recently, Elie Wiesel—one of our generation’s most important witnesses to the Holocaust announced that he planned to be there in Congress when Netanyahu will give his dramatic speech:

Wiesel said that he plans to attend Netanyahu’s address “on the catastrophic danger of a nuclear Iran.” Awarded the Nobel in 1986, Wiesel asks Obama and others in the ad: “Will you join me in hearing the case for keeping weapons from those who preach death to Israel and America?”[6]

I strongly recommend that President Obama and his party members take Wiesel’s message seriously and be present when the Israeli Prime Minister speaks.

[1] http://www.breitbart.com/video/2015/02/12/ben-shapiro-why-jews-vote-leftist/

[2] http://www.breitbart.com/video/2015/02/12/ben-shapiro-why-jews-vote-leftist/

[3] http://www.breitbart.com/video/2015/02/12/ben-shapiro-why-jews-vote-leftist/

[4] http://benswann.com/obama-has-sentenced-whistleblowers-to-10x-the-jail-time-of-all-prior-u-s-presidents-combined/ see also http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/jan/10/jake-tapper/cnns-tapper-obama-has-used-espionage-act-more-all-/ see also http://watchdog.org/173721/obama-administration-whistleblowers/ Yet, Obama bragged he would have the most transparent administration.

[5] Since Edward Snowden began disclosing the extent of the NSA’s secret surveillance practices, discussions about whistleblowing and privacy rights have been more important than ever before”

[6] http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Nobel-winner-Elie-Wiesel-lends-support-for-Netanyahus-Congress-speech-390911.

Bar Ilan University Review on — Torah from Alexandria: Genesis

Torah from Alexandria, Volume I: Genesis

Kodesh Press 2014

Edited by Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel 

Reviewed by Rabbi Ari D. Kahn, Echoes of Eden on the Pentateuch 

A very new, very old book has been published recently. Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel has set out to perform the herculean task of translating Philo of Alexandria’s commentary on the Book of Genesis into smooth, readable English, presented in the order of the verses and chapters of the Torah. This volume is the first in a projected series on all five books of the Pentateuch.

 At the outset, I should make it clear that my limited knowledge of Philo’s philosophical milieu limits my ability to write a comprehensive review of Torah from Alexandria. I leave it to scholars well-versed in the Hellenistic Roman and Egyptian philosophical traditions to examine Rabbi Samuel’s efforts to compare and contrast Philo’s commentary with the philosophical trends of his age. Instead, I approached the material hoping to discover the Torah insights of an ancient Jewish philosopher, and to consider these insights in their historical and masoretic context. 

I was not disappointed. In addition to translating Philo’s writings, Rabbi Samuel explains the texts when necessary, often with the aid of references and notes, thus allowing the modern reader to access and understand Philo’s interpretation of the Torah. Even more importantly, through Torah from Alexandria we are able to reveal the underlying exegetical approach with which Philo explained the Torah to readers of his own generation. The relevance of his approach to our own generation is striking. 

In recent years, students of Tanach, especially among the religious Zionist community in Israel, have been engaged in a debate (some might characterize it as a battle) regarding authentic and legitimate interpretation of the sacred biblical text. The debate centers around two related points: First, to what extent is fidelity to classical rabbinic commentary requisite (or even desirable); and second, to what extent is it legitimate to interpret the text in a manner that implies that the heroes of the biblical narrative were less than perfect? This debate has come to be known as interpretation b’govah ha- einayim – looking biblical heroes in the eye, as opposed to gazing up at them as a mere mortal would view a titan. 

One maverick in the new school of Israeli interpretation, the late Rav Mordechai Breuer, was fond of saying that he reads the text just as the sages of old did — without the commentary of the sages. In other words, Rav Breuer’s insights were based upon an unfettered reading of the text itself, stripped of the layers of traditional rabbinic exegesis. Opponents of this approach decry the deconstruction of our spiritual forebears, denounce the abandonment of our traditional view of the forefathers and our accepted understanding of their behavior. According to the more traditional approach, looking biblical characters in the eye borders on heresy and undermines the very foundations of Jewish spirituality. According to this approach, deconstructing our spiritual heroes diminishes us all, and leaves us empty and bereft of role models. At the same time, discarding traditional rabbinic explanations of the biblical text casts a shadow on our masorah, subtly calling into question the centrality of teachings attributed all the way back to Moses and passed down to the sages of each subsequent generation.

 

With the help of Rabbi Samuel, we are now able to look back to the exegetical method used by Philo in Alexandria some two thousand years ago, and what we find may have important ramifications for our current debate.  In Torah from Alexandria, we find a biblical commentator whose work is remarkably in sync with rabbinic tradition — which is no small feat given that a good number of the interpretations he offers are found only in much later rabbinic writings. We must therefore assume that Philo, like the authors of those later rabbinic texts, recorded ideas and exegetical traditions that had previously been transmitted orally (or, alternatively, that these rabbinic interpretations originated in Alexandria). The masorah’s centrality and antiquity are clearly reinforced. 

Even more fascinating is the impact Philo’s approach should have on the govah ha’einayim debate. Philo proves to be a staunch supporter of the classical approach to biblical characters, immediately and unequivocally defending them and dispelling any possible negative interpretation of their behavior.  In situations where such “mainstream” commentaries as Nachmanides or Rabbi S.R. Hirsch find fault in the behavior of the matriarchs or patriarchs, Philo is quick to defend; in fact, there are many instances in which he inserts a virtuous spin on seemingly neutral situations .

 

For example:

 

  • ·         Abraham could have resolved the problem with Lot by force, but did not wish to humiliate him, and sought a peaceful resolution. (p. 156)
  • ·         When Abraham seems to complain to God that he has no children, Philo reads it as a virtue: “A servant must be direct and honest with his superior.” (p. 164)
  • ·         While Lot’s daughters’ behavior is “unlawful,” their intentions were “not without some merit.” (p. 199)
  • ·         Sarah suggested that Abraham have a child with Hagar; her motivations were “selfless and altruistic.” (p. 171)
  • ·         Sarah’s treatment of Hagar was “disciplinary, and not abusive, in nature.” (p. 174)
  • ·         Philo turns Abraham’s false claim that Sarah is his sister into a virtue, explaining that a person who speaks only the truth in all situations is “unphilosophical as well as an ignoramus.” (p. 154)
  • ·         Sarah’s demand that Hagar and Yishmael be banished was not motivated by spite or jealousy. It was a well-earned response to their having spread malicious rumors that Isaac was illegitimate child. (p. 206)
  • ·         Abraham acquiesces to his wife’s demand; this behavior always has “the best and happiest kind of outcome.” (p. 206)
  • ·         The expulsion of Yishmael is compared to the expulsion of Adam from the Garden of Eden: “Once the mind contracts folly, it becomes almost an incurable disease…their penchant for superficiality and mediocrity.” (p. 207)
  • ·         “The animus against Abraham stems from an envy and hatred of everything that is good.” (p. 209)
  • ·         The sacrifice of Isaac (whose name connotes joy) teaches us that “even joy must be subordinated to God.” (p. 210)
  • ·         Isaac was not misguided or mistaken in his love for Esau. Isaac’s love for Esau was compartmentalized or limited, conditional; he was attracted to Esau’s skill as a hunter, because Isaac himself sought to “hunt down his passions and keep them at bay.” (p. 233)
  • ·         Esau had always been a slave, and was destined to remain enslaved for all time – with or without the blessing Jacob took. By selling the birthright, Esau proved that he was a slave to his “belly’s pleasures.” (p. 233)
  • ·         When Jacob buys the birthright from Esau, it is an act of virtue intended to save his brother from rampant materialism that would bring about Esau’s downfall. (p. 234)
  • ·         Isaac wants to bless Esau because he sees that Esau is limited and lacking, while Jacob is perfect and does not need his blessing. (p. 240)
  • ·         Jacob should be admired for respecting both his parents and carrying out his mother’s instructions to the letter, rather than being vilified for taking Esau’s blessings through subterfuge. (p. 242)
  • ·         “Malicious people never tire of accusing Scripture of excusing Jacob’s deceit and fraud… subterfuge and maneuvering have their place in life…sometimes a general will make a threat of war, while he is actually working in the interest of peace.”  (p. 243) “A good man may do something that appears wrong, but [he] acts with noble intention.” (p. 245; also see p. 248)
  • ·         Simeon and Levy “acted as a vanguard of justice and fought to protect their family’s purity.” (p. 272)
  • ·         Joseph treats the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah as equals, hence drawing the ire of his other brothers. (p. 275)
  • ·         Jacob’s love for Joseph was not arbitrary favoritism. Rather, he loved Joseph because of his skills, his virtue, and his nobility. (p. 275)
  • ·         Regarding Tamar: “Virtue is subtle –sometimes she veils her face like Tamar.” (p. 284)
  • ·         Joseph was physically assaulted by Madame Potiphar, but never succumbed to her advances. (p. 287)
  • ·         Joseph does not seek revenge; he wants to see how the brothers will treat Benjamin, another son of Rachel. (p. 301) Joseph sees the entire episode as divine providence (p. 313).
  • ·         Even in prison, Joseph behaves virtuously toward all the other prisoners. (p. 288)
  • ·         Joseph does not gain personally from any of the wealth accrued in Egypt; rather, he is a dedicated civil servant. (p. 318f)
  • ·         Joseph completely forgave his brothers and never sought vengeance, not only out of respect for their father, but because of his love for his brothers. (p. 326)
  • ·         Jacob enters the palace and all those present are aware of his dignity. (p. 318) 

Philo proves to be a sensitive reader of the text – sensitive to the underlying philosophical issues as well as a staunch defender of Judaism. Perhaps because he lived among non-Jews, within the general society, he intuited that attacks on Abraham and Sarah are tantamount to attacks on the underpinnings of Judaism and, through a subtle process of anti-Semitism, on every Jew. Alternatively, he may simply have seen the patriarchs and matriarchs as spiritual giants – people whose thoughts and actions were far more elevated than those of common men, people who were far above the petty jealousies and foolish mistakes more cynical readers ascribe to them, people who actually were “larger than life.” Philo teaches us that in order to look at them at all, to see and understand them, to learn from them – we must look up.

 Rabbi Leo Samuel has done an outstanding service, both to Philo and to modern readers. In Torah from Alexandria, Philo’s ancient Torah commentary becomes readable and meaningful, exciting and contemporary. I look forward to future volumes.

 

Torah from Alexandria is now available on Amazon.com!

Dear friends,

It’s hard to believe that the birth of a concept I had when I was about 18, has finally come to fruition! The rest of the series is moving at warp speed and Exodus will be coming out sometime in November or possibly December. It looks to be a longer work, perhaps the longest of the series.

Leviticus will be out around Purim and Numbers will be out in the early spring of 2015. By summer of 2015, Deuteronomy will be out as well.

For anyone who has ever studied the weekly parsha with Rashi, Ramban, or Ibn Ezra, you will discover a new but long forgotten Jewish exegete–Philo of Alexandria.

Philo has a unique way of making the simple meaning of the Torah come alive! Volume 1 of Torah from Alexandria has lots of notes and comparisons between Maimonides and Philo, not to mention many other unique insights long forgotten by Jewish tradition. Arguably, Philo could be considered one of the very first Torah commentators of the 1st century. If nothing else, he certainly composed the first philosophical exposition of the Torah.

Enjoy!

http://www.amazon.com/Torah-Alexandria-Biblical-Commentator-Volume/dp/0692291725/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1412303037&sr=8-3&keywords=Philo+of+Alexandria+2014

 

Nero and Obama: A Remarkable Parallel in History

  • 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”—Sun  Tzu, The Art of War

The words of Sun Tzu convey new significance in light of President Obama’s disclosure. In his most recent speech, the President was asked an important and obvious question many Americans are asking themselves: How will we defeat ISIS? With blunt honesty and candor, the President said, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

As I listened to his words, I found myself asking, “Did he really say that?” Then I wondered. “How is ISIS reacting this statement?”

Even the President’s media supporters are scratching their heads on the latest Presidential gaffe, whose optics makes our leader appear as though he is totally disengaged from an evil that makes Nazism pale in comparison. How can any moral and sensible human being say that the ISIS conflict is an Iraqi problem to solve? When we look at the decapitated heads of Shiite, Christian and Yazidi children,  how can we not take arms against a religious and political movement that joyfully slaughters in the name of psychotic Islam?

According to Maimonides, the first step in a person’s moral and spiritual rehabilitation involves coming to terms with one’s past sins and mistakes. Acknowledging  that one did anything wrong is perhaps the hardest but most significant step one can take.

For the President in particular, he has yet to admit the most obvious fact that is staring at his face: Jihadist Islam is at war with the United States and the Western civilization as a whole. It is also at war with other forms of Jihadist Islam, e.g., Shiite Islam as represented by the repressive Iranian regime. In short, Islam is at war within itself and it has been probably since the inception of its religion.

This is actually good news, for when a house is divided, it can be conquered much more easily. ISIS recognizes its Achilles heel and this is the principle reason why ISIS has targeted other Islamic movements and states (with the notable exception of Turkey, which is the only western country supporting ISIS—this is a subject for another article because of its seriousness).

Obama’s stark admission is all the more surprising since ISIS did not emerge ex nihilo over night. They have been a major thorn in our side since the beginning of the Iraqi war. This new political entity makes Al Qaeda pale in comparison. It has approximately two billion dollars of money it stole from the Iraqi people and it is offering salaries of $33,000 to any young dysfunctional thug who is willing  to join its ranks. Judging by the slick marketing, they are probably offering a nice retirement plan and other terrestrial incentives.

All right, in the interest of problem solving, what kind of strategy should our government be focusing on? Is it reasonable to expect that economic pressure will work, e.g., the threat of sanctions (as we have tried with Putin)? Will diplomatic pressure work? It appears that ISIS could care less about these possibilities. Military pressure with an objective of eradicating the infrastructure of this evil organization is the only viable solution. If left unchecked, hundreds of millions in human lives will die if we adopt a supine attitude.

In addition, Western media outlets such as YOUTUBE, Twitter, and Facebook need to all ban these retrograde people from using their technology from promoting Jihadism.

In addition we need real international leaders who will not take a neutral attitude about ISIS.

Thankfully, the English PM Cameron continues to model the kind of leadership we need in our country. Cameron said last week:

  • The threat we face today comes from the poisonous narrative of Islamist extremism. The terrorist threat was not created by the Iraq war ten years ago. It existed even before the horrific attacks on 9/11. This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with the perceived grievances over Western foreign policy. We cannot appease this ideology. We have to confront it at home and abroad.

Applying his words to actions, the UK raised the terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe,” Cameron said they will introduce new laws to fights terrorists and seize passports from terror suspects. He also plans to offer more details on the UK’s plans in a few days.

Cameron’s remarks remind us that we need leadership that understands the problems posed by Jihadist Islam.

Even the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has a message about Iraq for Barack Obama: Get back to the White House and do something:

  • I know it is the holiday period in our Western countries,’ Fabius told a radio interviewer Tuesday in France,’ but when people are dying, you must come back from vacation.

Ditto.

In the Great Fire of Rome, historians—both ancient and modern—are unsure who caused this great conflagration. Some historians think that Emperor Nero instigated it and he fiddled, as Rome burned. Some blame the Christians because Nero persecuted them. In any event, some day historians may make a similar analogy about a morally confused President, who preferred to play golf and conduct Democratic fundraisers rather than defend his people when they needed him the most.

After 9/11, President Bush put together fifty countries to combat the Al Qaeda. Our President ought to be assembling a similar coalition, which may offer him an opportunity to demonstrate true statesmanship—if he is up to the moral task.

Jewish leaders in particular have also been too sheepish on this danger as it threatens not only Israel, but the United States.

  • Open borders with Mexico is viewed as a golden opportunity to create numerous attacks that could threaten the American homeland. If the President was really concerned about the border, he would close it up as soon as possible to minimize this threat from ever occurring.
  • ISIS can easily hire Mexican drug cartel terrorists to attack the country’s electrical grid. Were this to occur, there would be a paralysis that could result in tens of millions of people dying because of the collapse of our country’s infrastructure. An EMP bomb could easily lead to the death of 270 million Americans and take years to reconstruct.
  • President Obama should be building our military at this perilous time of history and use the country’s money to strengthen the electrical grid from terrorist attacks.[1]
  • Instead of cutting military aid to Israel, the President should be increasing greater aid to ensure Israel has the means to protect herself from ISIS and Iran.

The inclusion of Muslim Brotherhood leaders like Mohammed Elibary in Obama’s Department of Homeland Security is troubling. This is a man who considered the late Ayatollah Khomeini as a “great Islamic leader”[2] and even praised the emergence of a new Muslim caliphate taking place in Iraq on June 13 in his Twitter log, and in other places,[3] clearly shows that either Obama’s judgment is severely impaired, or that he is identifying with the Jihadist agenda in its effort to unite the Muslim world. Either scenario ought to make each of us cringe.

To conclude, as the philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Considering everything we  are witnessing in the world today, not only does it appear that we have learned nothing from the Holocaust, our country’s foolishness combined with the foolishness of the European community will lead to a destruction far greater than anything we have witnessed in the 20th century. However, this time it will be fueled by the religious zealotry of Jihadist Islam, the scourge of modern times.

Historically, Jihadist Islam threatened the world once before in the annals of human memory. The murderous Jihadist Timur Khan (1370–1405) wiped out close to twenty million non-Muslims as he carved out his empire in India, the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan, and parts of China, all of which constituted 5% of the world population.

Jihadist Islam has always been greatest mass-murdering force in the history of humankind. As a champion of freedom, the United States cannot take an apathetic stance regarding the expansion of ISIS and its legion of Jihadist supporters.

Michael Brown: Judaic Perspectives on the License to Kill

 

I have been on vacation for the greater part of this past week. While I was away, I listened carefully to the news about a variety of social and international problems I will be addressing within the next several days.

As details of the Michael Brown murder become  known in the news, the race riots  continues in Ferguson.  One witness who was walking with Brown at the time said that the victim raised his hands in the air and did not struggle with or provoke the officer. He said that the officer then fired multiple bullets into Brown’s head and chest. Of course, we do not know all the facts of the incident and everyone deserves a presumption of innocence until the court determines what really happened. In the meantime, the subject is relevant from a rabbinical perspective. We will briefly discuss some of the issues that might be relevant to this case.

Do people have a license to kill a potential slayer?

Let us consider the following case:

  • If a thief is found breaking in, and is beaten to death, no bloodguilt is incurred; but if it happens after sunrise, bloodguilt is incurred. (Exodus 22:2-3)

The laws of breaking and entering go back to ancient times. In days where there was minimal artificial lighting in peoples’ homes, the sound of someone breaking into a house in the middle of the night was bound to create anxiety in the hearts of a family. Since the homeowner could not discern the intent of a thief, he was forced to assume the worst. When a homeowner hears a person breaking into his home, he does not have the luxury of time or light at his hands. He must act to protect his family, his property and himself. The fact the intruder used such an unconventional means of entering his house is proof that his intentions are ominous. Fearful of whatever harm may befall his home, the owner is allowed to take whatever means to prevent the intruder – even murder.

  • Philo’s Perspective

One of the first Jewish thinkers to weigh in on this matter is Philo of Alexandria, who lived in the first century. His insights are exegetically and philosophically sound:

  • If anyone is so crazed with passion for other people’s wealth, sets out to take it by theft and, because he cannot easily manage it by stealth, breaks into a house during the night, using the darkness to cloak his criminal doings. The owner is justified, if he caught him in the act before sunrise, in killing the trespasser in the very place where he has broken in. Though actually engaged on the primary but minor crime of theft, he is prepared if need be to commit the major though secondary crime of murder. If anyone tries to prevent him, he will defend himself with the iron burglar’s tools that he carries along with other weapons. But if, after the sun has risen and is shining upon the earth, any one slays a robber with his own hand before bringing him to trial, he shall be held guilty, as having been guided by passion rather than by reason, and as having made the laws second to his own impulses. I should say to such a man, “My, friend, do not, because you have been injured by night by a thief, on this account in the daylight yourself commit a worse theft, not indeed affecting money, but affecting the principles of justice, in accordance with which the constitution of the state is established.”[1]

In other words, according to Philo, two wrongs do not make a right. Even though the homeowner has been robbed, he is not allowed to take the law into his own hand. Justice must prevail.

  • The Targum’s Interpretation of Exodus 22:2-3

According to the Targum Neofiti (which predates Onkelos by nearly 400 years):

  • “If a thief is found breaking in and is struck and dies, there shall be no sin of shedding innocent blood for him. If the sun has risen upon him, there is for him the sin of shedding innocent blood.

The Torah did not sanction killing the thief during broad daylight was because the thief purposely chose a time when he knew the homeowner would be away at work; nor he did not expect to be apprehended nor did the thief ever have the intention to kill the homeowner for that same reason.[6]

Following in the footsteps of the Mekhilta and Onkelos, Rashi rendered the verse as “If the sun shone on him, there is liability for his blood,” he explains that this passage also has a metaphorical meaning as well.  One scenario includes the case where witnesses surprise the burglar prior to the owner’s arrival. Alternatively, it may refer to a scenario where witnesses warn the owner not to kill the thief, but does so anyway. Since there are witnesses that the burglar has no intent of taking human life, it is obvious he will not kill the property’s owner. If the homeowner knows “as sure as daylight” that his intruder has peaceful intentions, e.g., his father happens to be the burglar or vice versa, then killing the intruder is considered an immoral act. In the event this occurs, the homeowner is culpable of murder.

  • Maimonides’ Guidelines

Maimonides writes in his famous legal code that the owner that since the thief is prepared to kill the owner if he should resist him, the Torah considers the thief to be a “pursuer” (“rodef”) and the owner is legally justified in killing regardless of the thief’s age or gender.[2]

Elsewhere Maimonides writes:

  • The thief’s intention is obvious from the outset. The thief knows that if the house-owner should tries to prevent him from stealing his property, he is prepared to kill him. Therefore, it is lawful for the house-owner to kill him.  The law would be the same whether the thief enters by the way of the court, or roof, rather, the Torah mentioned only one kind of scenario because of its frequency.[3]

However, in v. 3, the license to kill is not carte blanche for if the breaking and entry occurred during the daytime, it is much easier to make a clear determination as to whether the intruder’s intentions are benign or dangerous. In addition, by calling out to his neighbors who are awake to assist him in preventing the crime from occurring.[4] The Targum of Onkelos also seems to have supported this reading. If a thief broke into a house during the daytime hours, there were witnesses “whose eye fell upon him,” i.e., the witnesses warned the owner not to kill the thief, and he still went on to kill the intruder, the witnesses could testify in a court against the homeowner who would be tried for unlawful homicide.[5]

However, Maimonides limits this metaphorical perspective and argues that the law permits the homeowner to kill  the burglar applies even if the homeowner did so in the daytime. [7] This case assumes that the owner was acting only in self-defense. As one might expect, issues pertaining to self-defense and the use of force are not always so obvious. Maimonides adds that if the homeowner used excessive force and killed the intruder, the owner may even be guilty of murder![8]

Given the numerous complex scenarios that could unfold, Maimonides also noted that if the homeowner killed the thief as he was leaving the scene with his property, or if he fled without taking anything, the homeowner is guilty of murder. Similarly,  if a person broke into a garden, or a field, or a pen or corral, the intruder may not be killed   – even if the intruder was still located within the vicinity which he broke into – in all of these cases, if the homeowner killed the intruder – there is bloodguilt and he will be tried for homicide.[9]

Maimonides further adds:

  • Different rules apply with regard to a thief who stole and departed, or one who did not steal, but was caught leaving the tunnel through which he entered the home. Since he turned his back on the house and is no longer intent on killing its owner, he may not be slain. Similarly, if he is surrounded by other people, or by witnesses, he may not be killed, even if he is still located within the domain that he broke into. It is obvious that if he is brought to the court, he may not be killed.[10]

The rational for Maimonides’ decision is clear. If a thief  broke into the house, he knows that the owner has a reasonable chance of capturing him. Therefore, to prevent his capture, the intruder is prepared to kill him. This is not the case when the thief breaks into an open enclosure such as a corral to steal cattle or sheep. The thief knows that the owner will have little chance of apprehending him. In such cases, it is clear the thief did not come with the intention to kill.[11]

Lastly, Maimonides specifies the particulars regarding how someone ought to handle someone who is deliberately endangering the life of another person, one is required to give the victim a verbal warning.

  • If the pursuer was warned and continues to pursue his intended victim, even though he did not acknowledge the warning, since he continues his pursuit he should be killed. If it is possible to save the pursued by damaging one of the limbs of the pursuer, one should. Thus, if one can strike him with an arrow, a stone or a sword, and cut off his hand, break his leg, blind him or in another way prevent him from achieving his objective, one should do so. If it is impossible to ensure precise accuracy, then the defender is entitled to slay the pursuer, even though he has yet killed his intended victim. The reason for this is because the verse plainly states, “When two men are in a fight and the wife of the one man, trying to rescue her husband, grabs the genitals of the man hitting him, you are to cut off her hand. Show no pity” (Deut. 25:11-12).  There is no difference whether she grabs “his private parts” or any other organ that imperils his life. Similarly, the pursuer may be a man or a woman. The scriptural passage makes it clear that whenever a person intends to strike a colleague with a blow that could kill him, the pursued should be saved by “cutting off the hand” of the pursuer. If this is unavoidable, the victim should be saved by taking the pursuer’s life, as the verse continues: “you must show no pity.”[12]

  How any of these details will pertain to the Michael Brown murder remains to be seen, but Jewish tradition has grappled with problems like the one we are observing in Ferguson, Missouri.

 

 


Notes:

[1] Philo, Spec. Laws 4:7-9.

[2] Rashi went even further in his commentary than Maimonides “This is not considered murder. It is as if he (the thief) had already been dead. Here the Torah teaches: if someone comes to kill you, kill him first. This thief came with the intention of killing you for he knows full well that man cannot control himself while seeing his property being taken from him, and remain silent. Therefore, it is foregone conclusion that most people will do anything within their power to resist—even slay the burglar, if need be ( BT Sanhedrin 72a). Rashi seems to imply that when the Torah says the intruder who breaks in at night, the Torah considers it as though  “he has no blood,” i.e., he is already considered dead. Maimonides does not seem to have accepted that opinion for even in such a case, it is not a foregone conclusion that the owner should kill the intruder, but rather he may kill him.

[3] Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin 8:6.

[4] As noted by Ra’avad (Abraham Ibn Daud). This view has been championed by Rashbam; Ibn Ezra; and Saadia Gaon. See Nachmanides’ interpretation of Onkelos.

[5] R. Tzvi Meclenburg argues that Ibn Daud is not necessarily contradicting the view expressed by the Mekhilta, rather, he maintains that the simple meaning of the text does have practical Halachic significance.

[6] Ibn Daud’s gloss to Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:10.

[7] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:12.

[8] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:10.

[9] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:12.

[10] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:11.

[11] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Genevah 9:7.

[12] Maimonides, MT, Hilchot Rotseah u’Shmirat Nefesh  1:7-8.

Rabbi Yosef’s Surprising View on Plagiarizing

The Jerusalem Post featured an unusual article about the Chief Rabbi of Holon Rabbi Avraham Yosef, the son of the late Sefardic-Haredi leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. His son sits on the Israel Chief Rabbinate’s council and commands considerable influence in Orthodox politics in Israel and abroad.

In one of his Moreshet Orthodox website, somebody asked him the following question:

  • My friend needs to submit university work; she took the work from someone else and asked me to change the wording so that the work will not look like the same. Is it permissible for me to help my friend to re-word the work?” a woman asked.

Rabbi Yosef said that it is permissible to plagiarize and cheat. “[It is] permitted. And it is [fulfilling the] commandment of bestowing kindness, especially if she has a good command of the material,” Yosef ruled.[1]

There are several halachic problems with R. Yosef’s advice. The primary problem I wish to point out is the issue of ge’nei’vat da’at, which in Hebrew means, “stealing one’s mind,” which can easily apply to all forms of misrepresentation, taking credit for someone’s work. Anytime a person deliberately tries to create a mistaken assumption in the minds of others, this is considered a major breach of Jewish ethics and law. Arguably,ge’nei’vat da’at goes far beyond just lying. It is also a clear violation against bearing false witness—a law that is considered one of the most important of the Ten Commandments.

It is surprising that some medieval scholars thought this is only a rabbinical prohibition, but the verses pertaining to all forms of theft are well-known. In fact, the Tanakh even mentions the crime of plagiarism “See, therefore, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who steal my words from one another” (Jer.  23:30). More seriously, Rabbi Yosef is misleading others to sin, which is arguably Judaism’s most cardinal sins and violates just about every biblical law pertaining to fraud and deception. [2]

Then again, there is a famous rabbinical dictum: R. Eleazar further said in the name of R. Hanina: Whoever reports a saying in the name of its originator brings redemption to the world, as it says, And Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai (Esther 2:22). [3]

The literal meaning of ge’nei’vat da’at in Hebrew is theft of one’s mind, thoughts, wisdom, or knowledge, i.e., fooling someone and thereby causing him or her to have a mistaken assumption, belief, and/or impression. Thus, the term is used in Jewish law to indicate deception, cheating, creating a false impression, and acquiring undeserved goodwill. Ge’nei’vat da’at goes beyond lying. Deliberately creating false impressions about one’s behavior is also subsumed in this prohibition—whether in words or in deeds.  The Tosefta reads:

There are seven kinds of thieves.

(1)   The first among them is the one who steals the minds of people.

(2)  He who urges his friend to come as his guest, but in his heart does not really wish to invite him.

(3)  One who excessively offers gifts to his friend, knowing that the latter will not accept them;

(4)  One who opens up barrels for another, that were sold to a shopkeeper;

(5)  Anyone who falsifies measures.

(6)  One who secretly pads scales . . .

(7)  Anyone who deceives people is called a thief, as it is written: “And Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Samuel, 15:6).[4]

As a case in point, the sages believed that there are seven types of thieves and, of these, the most serious offenders is someone who “steals the minds” of people.

The Talmud  discusses the principle of ge’nei’vat da’at  and cites the 3rd century scholar named  Shmuel, who taught: It is forbidden to steal the mind of anyone, even idolaters.” [5] The Talmud observes that Shmuel never expressly stated such a law, but it was deduced from an incident in which his attendant duped a heathen ferryman. Scholars were not sure what exactly happened, but here is how the discussion went: One view asserts that Shmuel once told his attendant to give the ferryman a chicken and the latter thought he was getting a kosher chicken but was actually given one that was unkosher. Another opinion is that the ferryman thought he was receiving undiluted wine but was instead given diluted wine.[6]

The “Lemon Laws” of our country certainly have strong antecedents in biblical and rabbinical laws that demand personal integrity and moral excellence.

After the death of his father, the Israeli rabbinate considered him as a possible successor for his the Sephardic position of Chief Rabbi. However, when the police began Examining alleged issues involving a breach of trust, and other sundry ethical violations, they forced him to withdraw his candidacy. “Yosef was a candidate for Sefardi chief rabbi but his candidacy ended when police began investigating him for alleged breach of public trust and an illegal conflict of interest. Yosef allegedly coerced store and restaurant owners to get kosher supervision from a private kosher supervision company started by his late father and run by one of Yosef’s brothers” (JPost). [7]

So what can we deduce from all of this?

Shakespeare perhaps said it best:

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

An evil soul producing holy witness

Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,

A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”

  • William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, I, iii, 93);

When one examines the religious politics and chicanery in Israel today, we could also add, “The devil can cite Talmud, Halacha, Midrash, Hassidut and Kabbalah as well.”

When one considers the amount of fraud that is publicized on the Web involving kickbacks, racketeering, and other numerous criminal offenses, the Rabbi Yosef embarrasses his community as well as every non-Orthodox Jewish community. If we wish to become a light unto the nations of the world, then we had better start becoming a light to ourselves first.

====

Notes

[1] http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Rabbi-rules-copying-work-in-university-is-permitted-in-Jewish-law-346738

[2]  Regarding theft:

Exod. 21:16. 22:1-5, 7-13. Le 6:1-7. 19:11, 13, 35-37. 25:17. Deut 5:19. 19:14. 23:24, 25. 24:7. 25:13-16. 27:17. Josh 7:24, 25. Job 20:19-22. 24:2. Ps 37:21. 50:18. 62:10. Pro. 1:13-15. 3:27. 6:30, 31. 11:1. 16:11. 20:10, 23. 22:22, 28. 23:10. 28:24. 29:24. 30:8, 9. Isa 1:23. 61:8. Jer 5:26-29. 7:8-11. 22:13. Ezek 33:15. 45:10. Hos. 4:2. 12:7. Amos 3:10. 5:11, 12. 8:4-6. Mic. 6:10, 11. 7:3. Zach. 5:3, 4. Mal. 3:5,

Regarding Fraud and Dishonesty, see Lev. 19:11; Lev. 19:35–36; Lev. 25:14; Deut. 19:14; Deut. 25:13–16; Deut. 27:17; Job 24:2; Ps. 37:21; Prov. 11:1; Prov. 11:26; Prov. 16:11; Prov. 20:14, 17, 23; Prov. 22:28; Prov. 23:10–11; Hos. 12:7–8, 14; Amos 8:5–6; Mic. 6:10–13; Hab. 2:6.

Regarding the sins involving hypocrisy: Job 17:1, 3–9; Ps. 5:9; Ps. 26:4; Ps. 50:16–23; Isa. 29:13; Isa. 32:5–8; Isa. 48:1; Isa. 58:1–2; Ezek. 33:31–32.

Lying and Falsity:  Exod. 20:16; Job 15:35; Job 21:34; Job 24:25; Job 31:33; Ps. 5:6; Ps. 31:18; Ps. 50:19; Ps. 52:2–4; Ps. 55:20–21; Ps. 62:4; Ps. 63:11; Ps. 116:11; Ps. 119:69; Ps. 120:3–4; Prov. 2:12–15; Prov. 6:16–17, 19; Prov. 10:18; Prov. 12:22; Prov. 17:4; Prov. 19:22; Prov. 21:6; Prov. 26:23–26; Isa. 59:2–3; Jer. 5:2; Jer. 7:8; Jer. 9:3–6; Hos. 4:1–2; Hos. 11:12; Zech. 8:16–17.

Causing others  to sin: Num. 25:1–2; Neh. 6:13; Prov. 1:10–16; Prov. 4:14–15, 25–27; Prov. 16:29; Prov. 28:10; Isa. 33:15–16.

[3] BT Megilah 15a, Mishnah Avot 6:6 

[4] Tosefta Bava Kama 7:8; it is shocking that some medieval scholars think that the prohibition against ge’nei’vat da’at is not Biblical but rabbinical (Semak, 262). Such rationalizations only create scandal in the Jewish community and it also reenforces the impression that all Jews are dishonest in business.

[5.] BT Chullin 94a-b.

[6] Tosefta Bava Kama 7:3.

[7]  http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Rabbi-rules-copying-work-in-university-is-permitted-in-Jewish-law-346738

Using the Internet Social Media at Work

This question is based on a question posed to the “Ethicist” column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. My colleague at work spends most of his time posting to the website, Reddit. He could be posting information about his boss or work environment that could jeopardize his employment. In any case, I believe he is too immature and ill- suited for our profession. Do I have an obligation to tell him that this behavior could hurt his career?

A. Prior to your question, I have never heard of Reddit before. However, after looking at the website, it looks like one of the old-fashioned bulletin boards where people post something about themselves or others. The question you raise could probably apply to someone who writes about work on Twitter or even Facebook. Social media websites have made this problem ubiquitous in most business environments—far more than employers are willing to admit. Electronic devices have become a prosthesis for most of us living in the 21st century. Twenty years ago, the futurologist Ray Kurzweil has predicted that within the next couple of decades, man will merge with the machine. Largely, we are already witnessing this phenomenon.

Based on what I have read on this subject, your co-worker is hardly alone. As one professional from Forbes Magazine notes:

  • There are many activities  employees do that waste time at work. Excessive meetings, co-worker interactions, office politics, and fixing mistakes are a few. According to a recent Salary.com survey, one of the biggest culprits is surfing the Internet. Specifically, the survey revealed 64 percent of employees visit non-work related websites every day at work. Of that group, 39 percent spend one hour or less per week, 29 percent spend 2 hours per week, 21 percent waste five hours per week, and only 3 percent said they waste 10 hours or more doing unrelated activities. (My experience as a CEO tells me these figures are probably underestimated.)[1]

Ask yourself the following question: Is it my responsibility to supervise how my fellow co-workers are using their non-work related activities? In my opinion, this is what a supervisor is there to oversee. Otherwise, you risk creating a hostile workspace where nobody trusts their co-workers. On the other hand, you may want to casually mention to the corporation manager that it might not be a bad idea to send out a memo regarding the proper use of office time and Internet usage. If nothing else, it would broadcast in a subtle but effective manner that there will be consequences for people who misuse their time at the office for personal pursuits. Sometimes the fear of losing one’s livelihood is powerful enough of an incentive.

Many corporations install software on suspected computers that monitor websites and even keystrokes that are imputed into the computer. Now, assuming you are on good terms with your co-worker, you may want to try telling your co-worker in a friendly manner that today, spying on our neighbor is no longer the domain of “Big Brother” (e.g., the CIA or the NSA). Today even “Little Brother” has that capability. Beyond that, anyone—regardless of their income—can spy on a spouse or anyone else if they so desire. The loss of privacy in our society has made us more vulnerable to intrusions into our personal space. If you are not on good terms with your neighbor, then you would be wise to not say anything for your behavior may be tainted by an animus that borders on hatred—a clear violation of biblical law that requires us to act with love—not with hatred.

  • You shall not hate any of  your kindred in your heart. Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord (Le 19:17–19).

It seems to me that company managers must bear the ultimate burden of monitoring their workplaces. Doing so not only ensures greater productivity, it also protects their business from people accidentally or willfully revealing information that could prove damaging to their workplaces, not to mention minimizing potential workplace problems such as sexual harassment or employee job performance problems.

In terms of Jewish texts, there are ample texts that speak about taking personal accountability whenever one is working for the public, which I believe also applies whenever we work for anyone. In Exodus 38:21-40:38 (a.k.a., Parshat Pekudei), the Torah begins with a complete inventory of what all the items Moses collected for the Tabernacle. This principle is confirmed when we read how Moses gives an accounting of the raw material brought to the Sanctuary: gold (29 talents, 730 shekels), silver (100 talents, 1,757 shekels), copper (70 talents, 2,400 shekels) etc.  The first thing that strikes us is that this seems to be an accountant’s report on Moses’ business affairs. This ought to strike the reader as odd. If Moses, the man who gave the Ten Commandments, isn’t above suspicion, then who is?  Was all of this accounting really necessary?”  The answer is simple of course! Leaders must be beyond suspicion. This principle pertains to lesser mortals as well.

Oftentimes we define a Tsadik in Judaism as someone who is “righteous” and pious in matters of Jewish law and practice. Yet, the real meaning of tsadik is someone who acts with complete and personal integrity. Saintliness may be for exceptional people, but most people are at least capable of acting honorably and with integrity.

 


[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2012/07/17/employees-really-do-waste-time-at-work/

Purim Synchronicities

StreicherDarkerSharpHLSL.jpg

 

During the Holocaust years, Purim celebrations were forbidden to the Jews. Christians and Jews could not even own the book of Esther. Such decrees did not stop the Nazis from poking fun at the Jews on this Jewish holiday. With diabolical glee, the Nazis frequently orchestrated special killings with the Jewish festivals. On Purim in 1942, the Nazis hanged ten Jews in Zdunka Wola to avenge the hanging of Haman’s sons. Similar incidents occurred in the Piotrkow ghetto and in Czestochowa and Radom.

One of Hitler’s leading Nazis was a man named Julius Streicher. The following day after the Kristallnacht attack on November 10th, 1938, Streicher gave a speech and proclaimed, “Just as the Jews butchered 75,000 Persians in one night, the same fate would have befallen the German people had the Jews succeeded in inciting a war against Germany . . . the Jews would have instituted a new Purim festival in Germany.”

Although Streicher’s execution did not occur on the Purim holiday itself, he perceived an irony here that nobody else noticed at the time. Ten Nazi leaders had been condemned and executed for their crimes against the Jewish people and humanity; their mode of execution was hanging, much like the ten sons of Haman were executed by hanging in the Purim story.

Nearly eight years later, Streicher never forgot the words he uttered about Purim. For him and his associates, Purim came early that year.  Streicher and his fellow Nazis’ hangings took place on October 16, 1946. On the Jewish calendar, October 16, 1946, corresponded to 21 Tishri, 5707. This date was the seventh day of the Jewish feast of Sukkot, the day called Hoshana Rabba. The Jews believe that this day represents the coming time when God’s verdicts of judgment upon mortals is sealed.

That is why his last dying words were, ‘Purim Fest 1946.” The words seemed like  the mad ranting of a condemned man, but Streicher could not deny the poetic justice he was witnessing. However, in Streicher’s twisted imagination, he assumed that the Jews would celebrate his death and the death of his Nazi colleagues as a new Purim holiday. That didn’t happen. The old Purim celebration will suffice.

One last note: The book of Esther recorded that the ten had been hanged on a tree (Esther 9:14). The Hebrew word for a tree is eitz, which is also “wood” in English. The hangman at Nuremberg was named John C. Woods, an American army officer. After the executions, Woods burned the hoods and ropes. He refused to profit from the $2,500 offered from people who wanted these items as souvenirs. John Wood’s revulsion for pecuniary gain also corresponds to another passage found in the book of Esther, “The Jews of Shushan mustered again on the fourteenth day of Adar and slew three hundred men in Shushan. But they did not lay hands on the spoil” (Esther 9:15).

How does one make sense of these uncanny coincidences? According to the psychologist C.G. Jung, a synchronicity refers to simultaneous events or coincidences that are not seemingly causally related. Jung regarded synchronicity as predicated upon an acausal connection between two or more -physic phenomena that seem mysteriously interrelated, e.g., such as thinking of an old friend and having that person arrive unexpectedly, or anticipating a telephone call from a long lost friend or relative. Jung’s synchronicity implies there is a web that connects many events together in ways that are not necessarily obvious to the eye–but are clear only to the eye of spirit and intuition.

Although Striecher was not completely correct, for the Jews did not celebrate a new Purim holiday like Striecher imagined, but the Jewish people would within two years recreate the arguably the greatest miracle of modern times—the Jewish State of Israel, which would survive many genocidal attempts to destroy her.

While we may breathe a sigh of relief that men like Streicher finally received justice, it is a pity that so many Nazis didn’t. It is even more disconcerting that Persian descendants of Haman wish to succeed where their ancestor Haman failed.

May we be privileged to outsurvive men like Ahmadinejad and others like him in the future. May each of them meet the fate of Haman and Julius Streicher.

When Court Jews Abandon Their People

 

CHULA VISTA, California –The Mishnah teaches that, “Anyone reading the Megillah backwards (or out of sequence) has not fulfilled his obligation” (BT. Megillah 17a).[1] Hassidic Scholars noted that one should never think that the miracles and the story of Purim are a relic of the ancient past. Rather its message continues to resonate throughout the course of Jewish history.

With this simple thought in mind, we will examine a perplexing passage that appears in the Book of Esther.

  • Hathach returned to Esther and told her what Mordecai had said. Then Esther replied to Hathach and gave him this message for Mordecai: “All the servants of the king and the people of his provinces know that any man or woman who goes to the king in the inner court without being summoned is subject to the same law—death. Only if the king extends the golden scepter will such a person live. Now as for me, I have not been summoned to the king for thirty days.” When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he had this reply brought to her: “Do not imagine that you are safe in the king’s palace, you alone of all the Jews. Even if you now remain silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another source;* but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows—perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?” [2]

Mordecai warns Esther: Now is not the time to do nothing, for to do nothing would only enable Haman and embolden his spirit to destroy the Jewish people. Not even the seclusion of her palace would protect her—she too, will share the same destiny of her people—one way or another. Fortunately, like Joseph before her, Esther uses her influence to save the lives of her people. The story of Purim reminds us of the old Jewish perennial wisdom that most of the Jewish holidays teach us: “The bad guys tried to destroy us; they didn’t succeed, so let’s eat!”

However,  Jews in high political positions have not always served their people well. There was one Jewish leader in particular, whose villainy demands condemnation. Not only did he fail to do anything to save his dying people in Europe, but he went out of his way to thwart all efforts to rescue the Jews.

His name was Samuel Rosenman,  FDR’s closest Jewish adviser and speech writer; he was also a leading member of the American Jewish Committee. Rosenman believed that a large number of Jewish refugees would “create a Jewish problem in the US.”

On October 6, 1943, the day of the march, he was the one person who advised  Roosevelt to snub the “medieval horde” of 400 rabbis, led by Rabbi Eliezer Silver, who had marched to the White House to plead for rescue. With the spirit of a modern-day Moses, Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968) [3] marched up Pennsylvanian Avenue on and demanded an audience with the President. They said, “We pray and appeal to the Lord, blessed be He, that our most gracious President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recognizing this momentous hour of history and responsibility that the Divine Presence has laid upon him, that he may save the remnant of the People of the Book, the People of Israel.”

Surprised by the large group of rabbis appearing in front of the White House,  FDR managed to quietly escape through the White House’s back door for another event. FDR surrogated the job to Vice President Henry Wallace to meet with the rabbis. Fortunately, the publicity led to the formation of the War Refugee Board, which rescued over 200,000 Jews.

Despite the formation of the War Refugee Board,  Rosenman continued to undermine the campaign to rescue and resettle Jews in the United States. In all the public condemnations of how the Nazis were treating the Poles, Czechs, Norwegians, Dutch, Danes, French, Greeks, Russians, Chinese Filipinos – and many others ethic groups, the word “Jews” did not appear at all in the public announcements. The Jews hardly deserved being mentioned.

Amazingly, the FDR administration had a lot to say to the New York Times about the rescuing of precious European art collections, but they had nothing to say about the rescue of the Jews.

What can we learn from this tragedy?

Hillel said it best, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, then when?” Today’s Jewish leaders—regardless whether they are liberal or conservative—must hold the Obama Administration accountable for giving continuous support to the Iranians. We must insist that the sanctions continue.

I will conclude with a Talmudic tale:

  • Rava and Rabbi Zera made a Purim feast together and became drunk. Rava got up from the table and slit Rabbi Zera’s throat. The next day when he understood what he had done, he prayed for mercy and Rabbi Zera recovered.  The next year, Rava said to Rabbi Zera, “Come let us make a Purim feast together!” Rabbi Zera replied, “No! A miracle doesn’t happen at every single hour.[4]

Israel is a modern miracle and we must do whatever it takes to keep Israel healthy and thriving. The lesson of Purim teaches us that good people of conscience and moral conviction can make a difference.

Let us pray we choose wisely.

[I wrote this article in memory of my beloved father, Leo Israel Samuel, a Holocaust survivor who died on Purim as I was reading the Megillah in Glens Falls, NY for my congregation. Thank you Father for being my inspiration.]


[1] The Soncino Talmud adds in its footnotes, “[Perhaps as a magical incantation for driving away demons.”

[2]   Esther 4:9–14

[3] The only ones who refused to attend was Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schnersohn and his son-in-law; they preferred to wait for the Messiah. Schneerson actually thwarted the Orthodox rabbinate’s efforts to persuade the United States State Department to absorb Jewish refugees, see Bryan Mark Rigg, Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) pp. 64-65, 172.

[4] BT Megillah 7b.

Creating an Inner Space for God to Dwell

 

 As Creator, and the Source of our being, God continuously brings our existence out of the abyss of nothingness, and is renewed with the possibility of new life.  God’s love and compassion is bio-centric and embraces the universe in its totality.  God’s power is not all-powerful (in the simplistic sense); nor is it coercive in achieving this end, but is all-relational in His capacity to relate to the world—even suffer with it as well. God’s love initiates new beginnings and endless possibilities ex nihilo to a suffering people. In the Exodus narrative, God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה   (´e|hyè ´ášer ´e|hyè) “I will always be present as I will always be present.”

The early rabbis referred to God’s indwelling among mortals by the designation of שְׁכִינָה (“Shekhinah”), which signifies, “that which dwells.” The root word שָׁכֵן, (shakhen), or שָׁכַן, (shakhan) “to dwell,” “reside,” cf. Isaiah 60:2). Rabbinical wisdom traces this epithet of God to the well-known biblical verse,  וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם   “They shall make a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell in their midst” (Exod. 25:8). Most biblical translations overlook a more literal meaning that conveys a mystical meaning, “They shall make a sanctuary for me, that  I shall dwell in them.” God dwells not outside the human heart, but within the human heart. Hence, the idea of the Shekhinah best means “Divine Indwelling.”

Throughout much of the Jewish midrashic and mystical literature, the rabbis depict the Shekhinah in feminine terms; this aspect of the Divine personifies God’s maternal love. Although the Shekhinah freely embraces suffering, She is not overwhelmed or defeated by human evil and stubbornness. Whenever the Shekhinah sees suffering, She identifies with the pain of her errant children, “My head is heavy; My arm is heavy.  And If God grieves  over the blood of the wicked whose blood is justifiably shed,  how much more so is the Shekhinah grieved over the blood of the just!”[1] The Shekhinah represents the part of God that each human being possesses. In William Blake’s famous depictions of Job, the observant reader will note that the face of God and the face of Job are the same. This aspect of God corresponds in biblical terms to the “image of God” that each of us bears inside us.

One Midrashic text connects the Shekhinah with the opening passage of Song of Songs 1:1, which speaks about the Lover (God) entering into the Garden (symbolizing Eden), to be alone with His beloved (symbolized by Israel):

I come to my garden, my sister, my bride; I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love.

According to the Midrash, all of Song of Songs is an extended metaphor about God’s love for Israel. The word “my garden” has Edenic overtones and significance. The term “gani” (“My garden,”) implies not just any “garden,” but specifically to “My garden,” i.e., the bridal chamber where a bride and groom consummate their love for one another. By saying “My bridal chamber,” the text mystically suggests a return to a time when God’s Being was originally present and revealed.

The Midrash teaches that when Moses built the Tabernacle, the Shekhinah returned to co-inhabit the earth just as She did in the days of Eden before the primal couple’s great fall. In Eden, God “walked” alongside mortals (Gen 3:8). However, after the primal couple sinned, the Shekhinah began retreating Her Presence from the earthly realm. Bereft of Her divine intimacy, Adam and his wife hid themselves because they felt alienated from the deepest dimension of their souls.  Adam’s spiritual stature underwent a radical reduction.

However, the Shekhinah’s mystical ascent was far from finished, for when Cain murdered his brother Abel, the Feminine Presence felt disgusted with human violence and retreated unto the second level of Heaven in a panic. Alas, Her ascent away from the earth still continued;  Enosh forgot his Creator when he worshiped idols, so the Shekhinah retreated to the third level; after watching more of man’s inhumanity to man, a flood occurs, and the saddened Shekhinah retreats because She could not watch Her children perish. With the passage of time, the Shekhinah develops revulsion for violence. Once again, human cruelty chased Her, one more degree away from the earth.

After the Tower Builders announced their designs to conquer the heavens, the Shekhinah retreated yet another degree because she found human arrogance repugnant. The violence of the Sodomites upset Her even more, as she wanted nothing to do with men because of their barbarism and sadism. The Shekhinah’s withdrawal from the world reached Her zenith after the Egyptians mistreated their fellow earthly brothers and sisters, by enslaving the Israelites to a life of suffering and pain. She could not bear to watch. She wondered, “Could the rift with humanity get any worse than this?”

However, the Shekhinah could not remain in a permanent state of estrangement from humanity—despite its errant ways. Abraham was the first to recognize the Shekhinah’s reality and he sought to make her more intimate with mortals once more. Isaac’s willingness to die for Her, as a show of his love and devotion, made the Shekhinah yearn yet more for intimacy with mortals. Through his many struggles within himself, Jacob comes to discover the Shekhinah’s luminosity and beauty and finally understands the true meaning of blessing.

In an effort to purge himself from the violence that defiled his life after he and his brother Simeon massacred the inhabitants of Shechem (Gen. 34-31), Levi sought to renew his relationship with Her. The Shekhinah pitied this pathetic excuse for a human being and granted him a peacefulness of mind. She was determined to make Levi’s descendants do penance for their forefather’s crimes against humanity  by making them serve as priests to their Maker. She mused, “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future–this applies even to Levi!”

The Shekhinah brought Yochebed and Amram together, and they became the parents of Moses—the liberator of Israel.  Mysteriously, She finds herself drawn back to the earth. With Moses, the Shekhinah found a lover who decided to build a new home for the Divine—The Tabernacle–a place that would permanently restore Her Presence to our world, where She would walk once more with humankind. [2] From the various rabbinical texts written about the Shekhinah, She appears in a world that suffers from the ruptures of history. She is vaguely Present when the fullness of God’s reality seems absence of God in human history because of radical evil and senseless suffering. Yet, the Shekhinah is the often associated with the Spirit of God that gives shape to the chaos of Creation, forming it into a cosmos. In the Midrashic imagination, the purpose of the Creation is to serve as a dwelling place for the Divine Presence. Creation. However, only human beings can create the space for the Shekhinah to dwell.

[1] Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5.

[2] Numbers Rabbah 12:13.