Three Cheers for President Trump!

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Erich Fromm wondered: How can we account for humankind’s capacity for cruelty and violence? Fromm, like the ethologist Konrad Lorenz, believed that violence is something we share with the animal world—especially when it comes to directing our anger against members of our own species. On the other hand, the behaviorist B. F. Skinner believed that there are no innate human traits toward violence; rather it is all a part of human conditioning. Fromm believed that malignant aggression, or destructiveness, in which man kills without biological or social purpose, is peculiarly human and not instinctive. He also argued that there is exist within the psyche of man two polar forces: biophilia, which teaches one to show reverence and love for life. Its opposite is necrophilia—, which does not mean having sex with corpses, but it means an unhealthy love for death.

This distinction is exactly what differentiates most Palestinians from the Israelis. While Israel is always trying to improve the world with its medical advances and technology, using its agricultural technology to improve life for peoples all over the world, the Palestinian mentality—particularly in  Gaza—is hellishly determined to destroy life—especially Jewish life.

We have seen this obsession for death and the glorification violence before with the Nazis, who took great pride in eliminating Jews wherever and whenever possible. Make no mistake about it: today’s successor of Nazism is the Jihadi philosophy of Islam—political Islam. When a Palestinian murders a Jewish family, his family receives a million dollars for each person he kills. This practice has gone on since the Oslo Peace Accords first started. Mahmud Abbas, in particular, has given millions of dollars—blood money to the destroyers of human life.

AS Israel celebrates the U.S. recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the mad Mullahs of Iran have offered $100,000 for anyone who blows up the new American Embassy.

As Fromm taught, such behavior reveals a love for death. Only a sick and disturbed religion teaches its people to behave this way. That is why peaceful Muslims need to initiate an Islamic Revolution; one that will save Islam from destroying itself and the civilized world.

At the fence separating Gaza from Israel, Palestinian terrorists would love nothing more to go on a killing rampage in Israel. For the State of Israel, such wanton violence must not be tolerated. Gold Meir once offered profound wisdom that I wish the Gazans would seriously take to heart:

  • “When peace comes we will, perhaps in time, be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”

Every country has the right to define its own capital. Israel must not be inferior to any other country in this regard. Jewish history is etched on every stone of Jerusalem—whether Muslim fanatics accept this reality or not. For over 3000 years, Jerusalem has been the spiritual capital of our people. The vision of Jerusalem rebuilt and restored has remained embedded in virtually every page of our daily Siddur.

At the end of the Passover Seder, or at the end of the Yom Kippur services, what have Jews loudly proclaimed? “Next year in Jerusalem!”

In 1948, the Jordanians captured the Jewish section of Jerusalem, banning Jews from worshiping at the Western Wall. They used Jewish tombstones as urinals as they literally defecated Jewish memory. Since 1968, Israel has proven to be a peaceful custodian of her ancestral city. It has, for the most part, remained a city of peace.

So why has it been so obvious for the world to accept the obvious? One reason—anti-Semitism. The European countries in particular long for the days when the Jew will be under their bootstrap and depend upon their benevolence to live.

While liberal Jews cannot stand Trump, some because of his boorish manners; others because he is brash and politically incorrect, most of us today as Jews ought to appreciate what President Trump has done for the Jewish people. It took political courage and conviction for him to do what he did. I can remember Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Obama promise to recognize Jerusalem as its capital—but they all lied.

Even Obama??

Yes, even Obama.

Obama went on record saying at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on June 4, 2008, in his first foreign policy speech after capturing the Democratic nomination the day before:

“Let me be clear… Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided. I have no illusions that this will be easy.”[1]

Bill Clinton also made a similar promise in 1993, where he said after he took office that he supported “the principle’ of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.” In 2000 he said once again, “I have always wanted to move our embassy to West Jerusalem. We have a designated site there. I have not done so because I didn’t want to do anything to undermine our ability to help to broker a secure and fair and lasting peace for Israel.”

Yes, Trump’s brashness makes him different from the politicians who offered us nothing but hoya hoya and lots of ungawa.

Yashar Koach, President Trump!

 

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-07/what-have-past-presidents-said-about-israel-and-jerusalem/9234736

You Shall not Covet: Is it Possible to Legislate a Feeling? Part 1.

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From Maimonides’ description, it is clear that the man who covets is someone who has an unhealthy soul and may not realize it. By being unconscious of this problem, his behavior embarks on a path of self-destruction and moral ruin. Based on this reading of Maimonides, it becomes clear the role of Nathan the Prophet played in confronting King David for his illicit affair with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). From a purely Maimonidean perspective, Nathan acted as a physician of the soul for David by prescribing him a regimen for David’s complete moral and spiritual rehabilitation. It is always intriguing to see how Maimonides’ exposition of coveting compares with other famous Judaic thinkers of history. Some of these scholars also examined the psychological component in the negative imperative “You shall not covet.” Yet, it is strange Maimonides did not illustrate his point by mentioning this famous biblical story!

Abraham Ibn Ezra: Now I shall present a parable: Know that a peasant who is of sound mind, and who sees a princess who is beautiful, will not covet her in his heart, to lie with her, for he knows that it is impossible. Do not consider this peasant to be like a lunatic, who would desire wings to fly to heaven, even though it is impossible. Likewise, a person does not desire to lie with his mother, although she may be beautiful, for he has been accustomed since his youth to know that she is forbidden to him.

In the same way, an intelligent person must know that he will not find a beautiful woman or wealth because of his wisdom or knowledge, but only if God allows it to him… and therefore an intelligent person does not desire it or covet it. When he knows that God has forbidden his neighbor’s wife to him, then she is more elevated in his eyes than the princess in the eyes of the peasant. Therefore, he is satisfied with his portion and does not allow his heart to covet and desire something that is not his, for he knows that God does not wish to give it to him; he cannot take it by force or by his thoughts or schemes. He has faith in his Creator, that He will provide for him and do what is good in His eyes.”[1]

Philo of Alexandria: While Philo‘s explanation is similar to Maimonides, but he expands much further on the proscription’s psychological aspects:

This commandment aims to curtail desire, the fountain of all iniquity, which from it flows all the most serious offenses—whether of individuals or of states; whether important or trivial; whether they relate to one’s life and soul; or whether the coveting pertains just to external objects. Like fire consuming wood, desire expands, consuming, destroying everything that is in its path. Indeed, many other subordinate sins subsumed under this proscription. These laws exist in order to correct those persons who are receptive to improvement; these other laws also serve to chastise those stubborn people who dedicate their entire lives to the indulgence of passion.[2]

The law here aims to curtail desire, the fountain of all iniquity, which from it flows all the most serious offenses—whether of individuals or of states; whether important or trivial; whether they relate to one’s life and soul; or whether the coveting pertains just to external objects. Like fire consuming wood, desire expands, consuming, destroying everything that is in its path. Indeed, many other subordinate sins subsumed under this restriction. These laws exist in order to correct those persons who are receptive to improvement; these other laws also serve to chastise those stubborn people who dedicate their entire lives to the indulgence of passion.[3]



[1] Ibn Ezra on Exodus 20:17.

[2] The Decalogue 173-174.

[3] The Decalogue 173-174.

A Rabbinic Commentary on Trump’s Tallit

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This past weekend, Detroit pastor Bishop Wayne Jackson draped a tallit around Donald Trump’s shoulders at service. What was the Jewish reaction? Well, that takes us to the rest of the story that I am about to tell you.

Most Jews I know are probably confused about seeing Donald Trump wearing a tallit. Some of my congregants said, “He looks ridiculous!” Another said, “Non-Jews are not supposed to wear a tallit!” One old friend of mine from San Francisco reacted with righteous indignation: How dare these Christians co-opt our religious symbols and heritage!

One Conservative Rabbi, named Danya Rutenberg twittered: “You guys, a Jewish prayer shawl–a tallit–is a ritual garment. Meant to be worn only by Jews. This is the worst kind of appropriation,” Conservative Rabbi Danya Rutenberg wrote on Twitter. She also called the move “disrespectful” in subsequent tweets. “Yes, my people also suffer cultural appropriation,” Twitter user Andy Rivkin added.

Let us flip this question on its proverbial head: What if Bishop Jackson had given the tallit to Hillary, or Barak Hussein Obama to wear? Would our reaction as a community be the same? In all candor, Rabbi Rutenberg would probably qvell and wish Hillary or Obama a hearty, “Yashar Koach” with  raucous applause–especially if she were in the picture!

One question that most people haven’t asked yet is, “Why do some Christian evangelicals insist upon wearing a tallit in the first place?” Some Christian evangelical ministers I know have told me that they wear the tallit because Jesus wore a tallit in the first century during his ministry.

Interestingly, one of the oldest references to the wearing of tsitsit outside the Talmud or Midrashic literature can be found in the Book of Matthew, where Jesus criticized some of the Pharisees of his day, “They perform all their actions to be seen by men. They broaden their phylacteries; they wear outsize tassels” (Mat 23:5). Yet despite Jesus’s criticism of what he felt was a gaudy display of religious piety, Jesus wore tsitsit (Mat. 9:20). Evangelicals often feel that more of their people should try to practice the Judaism that Jesus practiced in his day, so that they may become more like him. A lot of evangelical ministers actually sound the shofar at the beginning of their services.

Frankly, that’s not a bad idea.

Their motivation in my view is not a sign of disrespect, but actually a sign of respect that we should all admire. Evangelicals believe that by blessing the people of Israel, they too will be blessed:

 Those that bless you I will bless,

those that curse you, I will execrate.

All the families on earth

will pray to be blessed as you are blessed.’

(Genesis 12:3).

The phenomenon of Christian Zionism has proven to be a tremendous source of moral and financial support for our brothers and sisters living in Israel. Orthodox rabbis like Shlomo Riskin heaps praise upon the Evangelical community every Christiams. Palestinian merchants too are glad to see these Christian pilgrims as well. During the war with Hezbollah, one of my Reform colleagues from Illinois felt deeply moved when he saw the number of Born-Again Christians and evangelicals travel to Israel in the middle of the war to assist the country any way they can.

Are they not infinitely superior to the self-righteous Presbyterians, Methodists, and  the United Church of Christ who often demonize the State of Israel in their weekly Sunday services?

Beyond that, in praise of the Evangelicals, I will go one-step further.

It is this writer’s opinion, if Christians wish to observe certain Jewish customs, they have every right to do so, moreover such a view is actually well-attested in traditional rabbinic sources.

Now some of you might be surprised to know that the Talmud speaks about Gentiles following Jewish traditions.

In one Talmudic passage, the King Arteban of Persia one day sent a gift to Rabbi Judah.  The gift was an exquisite and quite expensive pearl.  The king’s only request was that the rabbi send a gift in return that was of equal value.  Rabbi Judah sent the Persian king a mezuzah. King Arteban was displeased with the gift and came to confront the rabbi.  “What is this?  I sent you a priceless gift and you return this trifle?” The rabbi said, “Both objects are valuable, but they are very different.  You sent me something that I have to guard, while I sent you something that will guard you.”[1]

What kind of protection was Rabbi Judah alluding to? The divine Name Shaddai is written on the back of every mezuzah. Shaddai is an acronym “Shomer Dalatot Yisrael” “Guardian of the Doors of Israel” and not people like King Arteban!

One might wonder: What good is sending a mezuzah to a Gentile King who is not a member of the “Jewish tribe”? Yet, the Talmud seems to suggest that just because a non-Jew is not obligated to observe Jewish rituals, if he did observe Jewish rituals, he certainly receives a reward for doing so! Non-Jews are not necessarily excluded from observing Jewish traditions–contrary to Rabbi Rutenburg.

Maimonides makes a remarkable point in his Mishnah Torah, for he writes: We do not prevent a non-Jew who wishes to perform one of the Torah’s mitzvot in order to receive a reward for doing so—provided that he performs it properly.[2] Unfortunately, Maimonides was not always consistent in this regard, for Torah study is meant for Jews only—not non-Jews.[3] He also felt the same about non-Jews wishing to observe the Sabbath.[4] Despite some old rabbinic attitudes that prohibit non-Jews from studying Torah, in practice most rabbis will probably acknowledge that non-Jews (often along with their Jewish spouses) are certainly permitted to study Torah in a synagogue class.

In practice, most Jews are open-minded when it comes to inviting non-Jews to a Passover Seder, a Bar Mitzvah, or a Shabbat service. Even Chabad invites gentiles to light a menorah during Hanukkah!

Perhaps most importantly, how can perspective proselytes know how to observe the mitzvot if we do not grant them access to much of our sacred traditions?

In short, during the medieval world, positive and respectful Jewish-gentile relations were rarer than they are today. When Trump received the tallit from Bishop Wayne Jackson, instead of getting irritated, we should feel proud that Trump gladly donned the tallit. We should feel the same whenever anyone in the non-Jewish community wishes to show respect to our faith and heritage.  Sometimes in our zeal to be “self-righteous” we often demonstrate a lack of broad-mindedness and generosity of spirit.  Only God knows what is in the hearts of mortals, and we would be wise to recognize that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.

 


[1] JT Peah 1:1; 15d.

[2] MT Hilchot Melachim 10:10.

[3] BT Sanhedrin 59a. Cf. Tosfot on BT Hagigah 13a s.v. Ein.

[4] MT Hilchot Melachim 10:9.

We Need an Islamic Reformation–NOW!

Credit: Catholic Charities/Jeffrey Bruno (CC BY 2.0).

Reformations are good for the soul. They keep the religious leaders and faiths in check. In the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, people began to read the Bible critically for the first time without having the local priest spoon-feed it to  them while they sat on their Church pews. Of course, the spread of literacy made a huge difference—thanks to the Gutenberg’s printing press. It impacts these technological innovations can probably be compared to the impact that computers and digitalization of literature are having on our society today. The Reformation underwent numerous schisms. Lutherans, Calvinists sprouted up everywhere, and the Baptists were not far behind. Pietist movements, Reformers created enormous conflict—even wars between the Catholics and the Protestants, as recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, written by John Foxe in 1563; he narrated the tortures Catholics and Protestants did to one another in lurid detail.

Yet, Europe managed to survive its birth pangs of a new and more tolerant Christianity. The Catholic Church no longer dominated people’s lives. People wanted not just the freedom of religion, but also yearned for the freedom from religion.
While Orthodox Jews lament the birth of the Reform Movement in Judaism, the Jewish Reformation led to many significant changes that even the Orthodox movement benefits from having. For example, the Bat Mitzvah is one example of a change (introduced by R. Mordechai Kaplan of the Reconstructionist Movement) that is widely observed even in some of the most Orthodox Jewish communities—all over the nation. Often, young women will read to a mixed audience from the Megillah on Purim, or from Megillat Ruth on Shavuoth. These are dynamic changes we have witnessed in our time. The emergence of woman scholars in Halacha threatens to expand the discussions concerning traditional Jewish texts such as the Talmud. A woman’s voice is not only heard at the traditional Orthodox Shabbat tables or at the young women’s yeshivot, women are adding their voice to the formation of modern Halacha.

So what about Islam? Is Islam ready for a Reformation within its own ranks? As outsiders, do we have the right to encourage and even demand that Muslims consider this option and take the steps to implement it?

President Sisi of Egypt is a remarkable man in the Arab world.  He says it best last December when he urged reform of Islamic discourse and called on Islamic scholars to send Christmas greetings to Christians. In the televised speech to Islamic scholars, President Sisi stated, “We talk a lot about the importance of religious discourse… In our schools, institutes and universities, do we teach and practice respect for the others?” He continued, “We neither teach or practice it.”
Egyptian Streets quoted President Sisi during the speech, stating, “God did not create the world for the ‘ummah’ [Arabic for ‘nation’ or ‘community’] to be alone. [He didn’t create it] for one community, but for communities. [He didn’t create it] for one religion, but for religions.” President Sisi continued, “Can I impose upon someone pressure, physically or morally, to change their religion? Would God accept this?… What are we afraid of? Are we custodians of people’s minds or choices? No, we are not. In religion specifically, no. Each of us will be judged independently… and [people] will have to answer [for their choices and what they choose to believe].” [2]
To admit that Islam needs a Reformation might sound like heresy, but without it, not only will Islam as a religion completely implode, it may implode the rest of the civilized world along with it.
While there have been relatively peaceful relations between Islam and the West, there have been atavistic forces within Islam that wish to relive the good old days of the 7th century.
In Europe, we are witnessing retrogressive religion at its worse attempting to bring back the burqa, rape squads, sexual slavery advertised on the Internet and Twitter of thirteen year-old girls. The violence of atavistic Muslim young men who enslave and gang rape young girls continues to be ignored by the press. If you turn on your television, chances are you will not see progressive women march down the streets of Berlin or Paris, Stockholm or London protesting in mass against the seventh-century male mentality that defines considerable part of today’s Muslim world, who wish to make Sharia the law of the West.
Many Muslim countries are very concerned about the radical Islamicists that promote Sharia and ISIS, and a host of other arcane early 7th century Muslim practices—such as child weddings, female circumcision, stoning married women who cannot produce four witnesses that she was raped.
The apathy  or moral indifference of these crimes against humanity stem from their craven fear of being labeled “Islamophobic.”
There is nothing “racist” in criticizing the origins of religious intolerance in Islam, for Islam—like Judaism and Christianity—are predicated upon a belief system and is not based upon color.

The bully pulpit of the Presidency is remarkably silent whenever it comes to criticizing Islamic abuse of women and religious minorities faced with genocide. Yet, the progressive voices who could make a difference are deliberately silenced.

Sister Diana Morneka is probably a name you have never heard of before. She is a Catholic nun from Iraq who wanted to come to the United States to speak about the persecution of women and religious minorities of her country. One would think that the United States of all countries would allow this courageous champion of human rights to come and speak to our Congress, yet, inexplicably, our State Department will not give her a visa.
“Sister Diana represents tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, forced to convert or die or flee their homes. She’ll tell us the truth about what’s happening,” U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) May 7.  “Like thousands of other Christians in the region, Sister Diana is a victim of ISIS,” Collins said in a May 5 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “She has devoted her life to helping other victims and advocating for them.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has won numerous human rights awards for speaking up for women’s rights in Muslim countries. In 2004, she collaborated with the artist  Theo van Gogh (before some radical Muslims killed him) who produced a film called, Islam, which documents the oppression of women living under Islam. She is one of many moderates calling for a Reformation in Islam. Ali has also won numerous awards in various European countries. Yet, she has yet to be invited by the Congress or by the President.
If we want Islam to embrace a 21st religious sensibility, then it behooves us to add our voices demanding that such a change take place. Denying the voices of progressives who have lived or grown up in Muslim countries only serves to keep Islam locked up in the shackles of the 7th century.
Isn’t it about time that our President start inviting progressive voices like Zahudi Yasser, President Sisi, Ayann Hirsi Ali, or Sister Diana to the White House to help present an image of Islam that is introspective and self-critical? These are the kind of voices our country needs to hear, instead of gangster rappers, or people like GloZell, who eats cereal out of a bathtub.
As moral people concerned about the human condition, we need even at the risk of being called “politically incorrect,” to address the issue of modern day Islamo-fascists threatening Christians, Yazidi, and Jewish lives in the Middle East today. Just the other day, an Iranian general boasted how Iran has over 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel.
Why in the world would we ignore their threats to complete the job started by Hitler?
Yes, we need an Islamic Reformation—and we need it now!

*

Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com. Comments intended for publication in the space below MUST be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the United States.)

Shaking the Foundations of Orthodoxy with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

My history with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin goes all the way back to 1977. He visited a Hillel Academy in Binghamton, New York, where I  taught Talmud many decades ago. At the time, I knew he was already a well-respected rabbi who had brought many Jews back to Judaism when he served as the founder of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.

Rabbi Riskin has often  taken considerable heat from the Orthodox establishment, which always criticizes the maverick Modern Orthodox rabbi’s controversial positions. Even as we speak, the Israeli Rabbinate is mulling over the question whether to expel Rabbi Riskin from the Israeli Orthodox Rabbinate. Rabbi Riskin approves the ordination of women and allows them to participate in public prayer. He also advocates the use of prenuptial agreements and other halachic leniencies to deal with recalcitrant husbands. He has also gone on record supporting the legalization of civil marriage in Israel. He has a positive view of Jesus and even favors dialogue with Christian groups.

Sound like heresy to you? You betcha!

In a recent column, he is encouraging the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel to welcome the Reform and Conservative movements of Israel in the spirit of goodwill and reconciliation.

Riskin argues that today’s Orthodoxy ought to respect the Reform and Conservative movement because they are trying their best to promote Judaism and Jewish practices, “They’re not tearing Jews away but bringing them closer… That may have been true at the beginning of the Reform Movement, but it’s very different now – they’re trying to bring Jews closer. Not to the wholeness, the fullness of Orthodox Judaism that I love and that I know, but nevertheless, they’re trying to bring Jews closer.”

I believe Riskin is correct. The warfare thesis that has characterized the Orthodox movement since the 19th century needs to end. As Riskin observed, “they are not our enemies, they’re our partners!” I believe Riskin is making a valuable point. More specifically, Riskin sees nothing wrong with Reform or Conservative Jews use the mikveh (a ritual pool) as a way of enhancing their observance of Jewish values in their lives.

Unfortunately, others see this matter differently.

R. Avraham Gordimer, who serves as the OU Rabbinic Coordinator/Dairy Specialist at the OU, Chairman of the OU Dairy Committee, wrote a stinging critique concerning Riskin’s inclusive view of welcoming non-Orthodox as our partners in faith. Gordimer is a well-known writer and exponent of Modern Orthodoxy who leans to the right of Riskin.

Gordimer thinks that Modern Orthodox Judaism is threatened by many of the innovations Riskin proposes to do—especially in the area of women rabbis, all of which, “flies in the face of normative Torah understanding.” Furthermore, Gordimer contends, “Theologically, the Reform and Conservative (as well as the Reconstructionist) movements reject the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith, and they have disavowed the binding nature of halakha.”

Orthodox rabbis like Gordimer love characterizing Jewish theology as though it were a monolithic structure—uniform, seamless, and without wrinkles. Nothing can be further from the truth. Many of the greatest medieval rabbis grappled whether God possessed a humanoid form (Moshe Taku) , or whether the Torah speaks in the language of metaphor (Philo, Maimonides, HaLevy). Some of the medieval scholars grappled whether we must believe in a physical resurrection or merely a spiritual resurrection where the soul is reborn into the world of Eternity, or is reincarnated into another human body—as the Kabbalists believed.

And yes, many of the Sages believed that Moses did not write the entire Torah—especially the last several verses that narrate his death (Menachot 30a). Do these discrepancies in Judaic belief make us “heretics” (“kofrim”)? Judaism has always stressed that our faith is predicated upon deeds rather than creeds. Christian theology, in contrast, considers itself a religion of creeds rather than deeds. Belief is essential for Christian salvation, as Pascal articulated in his famous wager.

Perhaps what is most disturbing here is the attitude that the “conservative” wing of Modern Orthodoxy is threatening to bifurcate its own ranks because of its zero-sum theology. The Talmud often said, “These and these are the words of the living God, but the halakhah follows the school of Hillel” (BT Eruvim 13b).

Today’s Orthodox movement has trouble even mentioning a famous early 20th century thinker like Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, because he believed that the theory of evolution is compatible with Judaic thought. His name no longer appears on the OU website. Orthodoxy is becoming increasingly narrower in how it views the world. If Orthodoxy cannot find peace within its own ranks, it will never find peace outside its ranks. Progressive thinkers such as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin are an anathema to men like R. Avraham Gordimer.

This morning on Facebook, I discussed this topic with a number of scholars. I reminded them what the Talmud teaches us in tractate Shabbat about a famous story regarding Hillel.

  • At another time,  it happened a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’

Similar stories occur with other potential proselytes—neither of whom would ever be accepted in today’s world of Orthodoxy. Yet, Hillel’s optimism triumphs, Sometime later, the three proselytes met in one place; said they, Shammai’s impatience sought to drive us from the world, but Hillel’s gentleness brought us under the wings of the Shekhinah.

The Talmud concludes elsewhere with another remarkable anecdote about why Jewish law follows Hillel and not Shammai:

  • R. Abba stated in the name of Samuel: For three years, the Academies of Hillel and Shammai engaged in debate over the Halacha [matters pertaining to Jewish Law]. Each academy claimed the law should be determined in accordance their school’s interpretation. Finally, a Heavenly Voice ruled, “Both views are the words of the living God, but the halacha is in agreement with the rulings of the Academy of Hillel.” Why were Hillel’s Academy more preferable over Shammai’s? Hillel’s Academy acted with kindness and compassion. They would first take into consideration Shammai’s halachic deliberations before arriving at their own conclusions . . . From this we may deduce the following lesson in ethics: He who humbles himself, the Holy Blessed One raises up the humbled. However, the one who seeks greatness will soon discover how elusive greatness is, for greatness flees from those who seek it . . . (BT Eruvin 13b)

As we approach the period of the Three Weeks commemorating the destruction of the Temple, it behooves us to remember that it is not what we argue about that matters—it is how and why we argue that is of great importance. Orthodoxy needs to make peace first within itself, before it can make peace with the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is a hero and he deserves our respect for his moral courage.

Why Liberal Jews Should NOT Ignore the Genocide of Christians and Yazidis….

A distraught father in Syria holds the lifeless body of his decapitated daughter, executed by milita

Recent discussions on the Internet deal with the moral question concerning asylum for Syrian refugees. This issue is especially a matter of concern for the European countries as well.

More specifically for Jews, is the comparison between Syrian of today and the German Jewish refugees analogous? In 1938, Jews of Europe had a horrific time trying to gain entry into the United States, which feared the new Jewish refugees might take jobs away from Americans who were just starting to recover from the Great Depression. With today’s struggling economy and dwindling wealth, we hear similar arguments as well.

Some politicians and segments of the population even feared that the Jews might be secretly working covertly for Hitler—of all people! Many Americans did not realize there was a genocide in Europe that the Nazis had initiated. Bear in mind, the world did not have the benefit of Facebook or Twitter, or other media outlets as we do today.

Advocates for the Syrian refugees claim that this xenophobia exists today. President Obama  argues this past week in Manila, “When candidates say we should not admit 3-year-old orphans, that’s political posturing,” he said. “When individuals say we should have religious tests, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be allowed, that’s offensive and contrary to American values.” I think the American people know more about “political posturing” than the President realizes…

From this writer’s point of view, I concur there is a real need for us bring Syrian refugees over to the United States. In fact, the analogy to the 1938 racial laws that existed in the United States may be a fair analogy—at least superficially. Understandably, Jews have a long memory for the discrimination our parents and grandparents experienced. That is fine and good.

The problem with this observation is that for the few years, the Jewish community has been remarkably blind, deaf, and dumb to the genocide of Yazidis and the Christians who are being massacred for rejecting Islam. The Yazidis are one of the oldest religious communities of the Middle East, whose faith includes elements of Zoroastrianism and some forms of the ancient Mesopotamian religions that probably preexists Islam by at least a thousand years.

In one CNN interview reported later by Catholic Online, a Chaldean-American businessman named Mark Arabo, reports “ISIS have beheaded small children and placed their heads on a stick and have them in the park.” He has begged the White House and American politicians to rescue the Chaldean-Christian and Yazidi communities, numbering at least 300,000 people who have tried to flee the ISIS invasion of their country.

We have seen ISIS instruct their children how to play kickball with Christian and Yazidi severed heads. Sometimes ISIS will starve a mother for several days, and give her a lavish meal made from the bodies of her children.

Radical Islam “almost” makes Nazism look civilized; whereas the Nazis believed they were the “master race,” Radical Islam believes they possess the “Master Religion.”

Now this is a comparison that resembles the Holocaust of 1930s and 1940s. Yet, I have not heard the demand from American Jews to do something to bring these people to safety.

So, I ask you the reader—why do you think this is so? Such a probing question is bound to elicit a number of uncomfortable responses. Perhaps many Jews don’t know what is going on in the areas controlled by ISIS. Is it possible that many of our most liberal-minded Jews don’t care to address this problem since our President has refused to come to the aid of these Christians? In other words, liberal Jewish fealty to the current Administration is more important that saving the Chaldean  and Yazidi lives. Perhaps some of our brethren do not wish to confront the dark side of Radical Islam. Denying it a name means denying it a reality. Hence, we will look the other way rather than choose to act ethically.

Historically, we made the same kind of moral mistake when we failed to confront Roosevelt for not letting Jews come in to the United States. In WW 2, we had great heroes who stood their ground and openly challenged the President to act morally.  Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968) proved to be one the greatest rescuers of European Jewry during the Holocaust. He is credited with saving many thousands of Jewish lives. Early on in 1939, Silver was one of the founding fathers of the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee), where Silver was appointed as its president. He was instrumental in rescuing the cream of European rabbinic leaders, who along with Rabbis Aaron Kotler, Abraham Kalmanowitz marched up Pennsylvanian Avenue on October 6, 1943.

While standing in front of the White House, the large Jewish entourage of over two hundred rabbis recited the Psalms and announced, “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.”

Shortly afterward, the Jewish delegation met with Vice President Henry Wallace and a congressional delegation to make their case for European Jewry. Later, at the Lincoln Memorial, a special memorial prayer was said on behalf of the martyred Jews.  Finally, the five rabbis went to the White House to meet with the President, where the President made his famous backdoor exit rather than meeting with them. Although they did not meet with the President, the publicity of the march led to the eventual formulation of the War Refugees Board, which opened the doorway to over 100,000 Jews. When one considers how many of these survivors went on to have children–not to mention grandchildren–Rabbi Silver really saved millions of lives!

Today’s liberal Jews would never think of challenging Obama for similar reasons. And for this reason, we need responsible Jewish leaders to demand that the Chaldean Christian and Yazidi communities be granted rescue given the imminent threat of danger they face.

I feel ashamed to say that some of my rabbinic colleagues havet taken the cowardly way out. Meanwhile, the ISIS film all of their latest atrocities, adding to their heinous legacy of murder; now, they even harvest the organs while their victims are yet alive, to raise income for their murderous cause. Radical Islam is the new and improved Nazism of our time and I believe we as a Jews have a moral obligation to help the Chaldeans and the Yazidis.

Otherwise, history will remember us for the moral cowards we really are. Not only did we fail to learn any wisdom from the Holocaust, we have repeated the same mistakes made by Europe and the United States in the turbulent years of WWII.

With respect to the Syrian refugees, our first priorities ought to be directed toward, and then the women and small children. The young Muslim men need to wait their turn. They are not endangered because of religious persecution and genocide. We should follow Canada’s course of action and allow only the most vulnerable members of the Muslim Syrian population for the time being.

More importantly, we cannot allow one of the oldest Middle Eastern religious communities to be savagely slaughtered.

Holocaust Book Review for Children: A Walk With Esther

 

 

Deb Bowen and Cassie Brown, A Walk With Esther – Contact the  Jewish Federation of Quad Cities to order:

Publisher: Never Forget Publishing 2015

Many years ago, while I was serving a congregation in Rock Island, IL, I was privileged to work with a number of Jewish and Christian professionals in designing one of the country’s best attended Yom HaShoah programs in the nation. Every year, we would bring a Holocaust survivor to share his or her story. We used to attract anywhere between 500 to 800 people depending upon the year.

This program inspired a woman named Deb Bowen of Aledo, IL., who one day had the  most remarkable idea: having children write short children’s stories about the Holocaust. This vision originated in 2002 from a meeting she had with three local Jewish survivors from her area, each one bore the name Esther.  To keep their stories alive, she collaborated with the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities and area teachers. Survivors shared their story in local schools and students were asked to write and illustrate their stories in a simple children’s storybook form.

Along with Jewish stories, books have been written about Christians who risked their lives (Righteous Gentiles) and prison camp liberators. Over 60 books have been written to make the series called “A BOOK by ME”; six of those books were printed and distributed to local schools. The larger version of all these stories are recorded in her recent self-published 2015 book, A Walk with Esther, which contained several stories about Holocaust stories of survivors of the Rock Island Jewish community, whose names happened to be Esther.  While I was there, I knew  each of the three women and their stories about survival demonstrated the power of the human spirit to triumph over all obstacles.

While I was in the Quad-Cities, in one interview,  I sat with Debra and told her all about my father’s story, which she ultimately produced called, Leo Samuel: The Tailor’s Life.” What makes Bowen’s project so powerful is that she has young teens write the stories and illustrate them as well. I wish we had more educators as talented as Deb Bowen. What is so remarkable about Deb Bowen is the fact that she is not Jewish.  Yet, her passion is evident in every little booklet she has produced.

Throughout the years, I maintained contact with the authoress. When   Deb Bowen came to San Diego, I immediately introduced her to Ruth Sax, one of the finest Jewish women you will ever meet, who came from a village in  Czechoslovakia that was very close to where my father grew up.

Ruth is a Holocaust survivor.

I introduced her one of our members Luke Chabner and his two daughters, Shlomit and Aliana, who is doing her Mitzva Project for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. Together, Ruth told Deb her story and with the Shlomit and Aiyana’s help, they will be writing the story book about Ruth Sax—one of the truly great narratives of this series.   In all my years as a pulpit rabbi, this best mitzvah projects is one of the best I have ever seen.

There is no better way to teach children about the Holocaust than sharing stories of survivors who live or lived in their midst.

Deb Bowen is married, a mother of six, a grandmother of five and a ‘host mom’ to twelve exchange students. She represents high school age exchange programs helping young leaders from many countries spend an academic year in the USA. Bowen is an ordained minister, a motivational speaker, freelance writer and serves as a member of The Holocaust Education Committee of the Greater Quad City Area.

In short, let me conclude by saying that one of the hardest subjects to teach young people is the subject of the Holocaust. As someone who has visited numerous Jewish and public schools over the last thirty five years, the challenge of making the Holocaust is daunting and oftentimes frustrating because there is so much information to teach. Purchasing this book for your children may be one of the best gifts you ever give them.

Shirley MacLaine: Aging Without Saging

 Shirley MacLaine is a better actress than she is a philosopher or theologian. Jewish groups are justifiably upset with some comments she penned in her new memoir, “What If… A Lifetime of Questions, Speculations, Reasonable Guesses, and a Few Things I Know For Sure.”

The quote that is generating a lot of criticism suggest, the six million Jews and others who died in the Holocaust were “balancing their karma” by paying for sins in a previous life.  But MacLaine did not stop with just the six-million Jews, or for that matter the other eighteen million people killed by one man’s hatred, she also compared  Stephen Hawking to Jesus, writing that just as Jesus chose martyrdom, Hawking “chose to live” with a debilitating disease.

Gee, that must make the Holocaust survivors along with their children really great knowing that somehow, they “karmically” managed to survive. As  a child of an Auschwitz survivor and as a parent of an ALS child, I take great offense to her words.

Let us briefly examine MacLaine’s comments:

  • What if most Holocaust victims were balancing their karma from ages before, when they were Roman soldiers putting Christians to death, the Crusaders who murdered millions in the name of Christianity, soldiers with Hannibal, or those who stormed across the Near East with Alexander? The energy of killing is endless and will be experienced by the killer and the killee.” (pp. 240-241)

Over twenty-years ago, I encountered this kind of muddled thinking once before.  On one occasion I debated a Religious Science minister who said  something almost identical to MacLaine. The minister claimed that if a young child is raped or mutilated, it is I order to clear the child’s soul of his/her “karmic debt.” The Church of Religious Science is an example of a New Age religion sometime ago in the 1980s—based on the metaphysical theosophical thought of Ernst Holmes. Although Holmes never advocated anything that was even remotely similar to what this minister asserted, many of his disciples seemed to developed this idea on their own.

The popular New Age self-help writer, Louise Hay, author of  the NY Times best-seller “You Can Heal Your Life” maintains that every human being is responsible for creating every circumstance that occurs in one’s life. According to her, all disease comes from a lack of self-love and unwillingness to forgive others. This is true regardless whether you have headaches or hemorrhoids—all disease comes from a failure to “love yourself.”

A Pulitzer prize journalist named Michael D’Antonio wrote about a conversation he had with Hay. Her views on Third World nations and AIDS victims prove to be revealing:

  • People starve amid the “abundance of the universe” because of low self-esteem,” said Hay. “A poor self-image is more damaging than one might expect and attracts the kind of experience that seems appropriate. That’s why, she said, women who are raped are responsible for what happens to them. They attract the rapist because they expect and fear an attack. Similarly, the poor of the world are responsible for their plight, as are those afflicted with AIDS…[1]

In another conversation, D’Antonio commented about Hay’s remarks regarding the Holocaust. She mused that the AIDS victims were the reincarnated souls of the Nazis, who were being paid back for “their crimes against the Jews!”

And the Jews? Well, they too deserved their “karmic fate.” [2]

For Jews, this is nothing new. We have been accused of karmic crimes for a long time. Unfortunately, many of the Christian world’s greatest theological minds—ancient and modern—expressed  ideas that also resonated with MacLaine’s view of karma. After the night of  Dietrich Bonhoeffer became famous for saying on the night of Kristallnacht, ““If the synagogues are set on fire today, it will be the churches that will be burned tomorrow.” But who would imagine him, saying only minutes later to one of his colleagues, “that the Nazis were merely giving what was owed to the Jews. After all, “they nailed the Redeemer of the world to the cross,” they had been forced to bear an eternal curse through a long history of suffering, one that would end only “in the conversion of Israel to Christ”?[3]

Here is one more example of Bonhoeffer’s animus against the Jews:

  • The Church of Christ has never lost sight of the thought that the “chosen people” who nailed the redeemer of the world to the cross must bear the curse for its action through a long history of suffering…. But the history of the suffering of this people, loved and punished by God, stands under the sign of the final homecoming of Israel [the Jews] to its God. And this homecoming happens in the conversion of Israel to Christ…. The conversion of Israel, that is to be the end of the people’s period of suffering. From here the Christian Church sees the history of the people of Israel with trembling, as God’s own, free, fearful way with his people, because God is not yet finished with it. Each new attempt to solve “the Jewish question” comes to naught…[4]

Deicide is not a new accusation, it goes back to the earlier period of Christian history.[5] All of these attempts to explain the suffering of the Jews ignores what I believe to be the only truth worth discussing: Karmic reasons play no role whatsoever in why one people  suffers and not another. When looking at the real causes of human suffering, one thing is clear. Human beings are responsible for the moral evil they perpetuate against other people. Continue reading “Shirley MacLaine: Aging Without Saging”

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

 

The Fly in the Coffee Cup

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What happens when a fly falls into a coffee cup? Here’s a list of responses:

The Italian  throws the cup and walks away in a fit of rage

The Frenchman takes out the fly, and drinks the coffee

The Chinese  eats the fly and throws away the coffee

The Israeli sells the coffee to the Frenchman, the fly to the Chinese, then buys himself a new cup of coffee and uses the extra money to invent a Device that prevents flies from falling into coffee.

The Palestinian blames the Israeli for the fly falling into his coffee, protests the act of aggression to the UN, takes a loan from the European Union for a new cup of coffee, uses the money to purchase explosives and then blows up the coffee house where the Italian, the Frenchman, and the Chinese, are trying to explain to the Israeli why he should give away his cup of coffee to the Palestinian

Isn’t it amazing how the United Nations is sponsoring “war crimes” against Israel because of their incursion into Gaza?

Yet, while all this is going on, the UNRWA schools continue to be used as military bases to attack Israel. The latest death of a four-year old Daniel Tregerman, who was killed by a Gazan rocket as he was playing in his living room is one of the newest deaths produced courtesy of Hamas and the United Nations.

The  IDF is reporting that the Hamas mortar that killed 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman today was fired from near an UNRWA school being used as a shelter in Gaza.

How strange it is indeed. One of the reasons why the United Nations was created was to ensure that no more genocides would ever occur in the world again. Yet, as the latest Gaza-Israeli war has shown repeatedly how the United Nations Relief & Works Agency for the Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has become an active combatant in the war to destroy all Jews living in Israel.

Rocket stockpiles have been found in many schools that is supposedly under their control. When the UN inspectors become aware of it, they hand the weaponry over to the local police. One would think they would confiscate the weapons and send them out of the country to be destroyed.

Their inept policies reveal a profound disregard for human life.

Then again, the war against Hamas has also demonstrated how the UNRWA supplies and building materials found in Hamas’s tunnel infrastructure, have been used to smuggle weapons and carry out terrorist attacks against Israel. When Hamas missiles backfire and blow up hospitals and schools, yet, Israel is to blame.

Way to go, United Nations. You’re batting a thousand!

To date, the UNRWA has yet hold any individuals or organizations responsible for placing the weapons stockpile within a children’s school.

And guess who is paying for the UNRWA? You guessed it, the American taxpayer.

President Obama’s animus toward Israel shows how lopsided his foreign policy has been when it comes to the battle against terrorism, a word that the President prefers not to have in his political lexicon.

It is time to acknowledge the simple and obvious truth. Whenever Hamas uses the United Nations schools in Gaza as rocket arsenals, the President says nothing. Whenever Hamas beast Gazans who try to escape after being warned by the IDF, the President says nothing, The IDF discovered that Hamas was planning a large-scale attack of Israeli kibbutzim on Rosh Hashanah, and yet,  the President says nothing.

Mayhem, mass kidnappings don’t seem to register on the Obama Richcter scale, Although he said many times that Israel has the right to defend itself, he really didn’t mean it. In the grand scheme of things, the UNRWA and the President are both enablers of Hamas.

No truce is going to solve this problem unless the UN and the Western Nations demand and supervise the demilitarization of Gaza once and for all. As it stands, the UN’s complicity makes it a primary accessory and is responsible for much of the mayhem that has occurred in this conflict.