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

 

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

Hardcover: 2212 pages

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

Language: Hebrew, English

ISBN-10: 1940516803

Cost: $44.00

 

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

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

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

When asked why he wrote the book, Weisz explained:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel gets it from all sides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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NOTES:

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

Thoughts on Putin and Trump’s meeting in Helsinki– A Contrarian Point of View

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Some people may view this topic too incendiary to write about—I get it. Yet, it is an important issue—especially when we consider the high stakes that are at risk. My point of view is contrarian. Consider me a contrarian life-long Democrat who values truth and integrity above politics.

Admittedly, President Trump can be a lightning rod when it comes to some of the things that he says off the cuff. Yet, he has been surprisingly effective in the international arena. By “arena,” the images of the Roman Coliseum comes to mind. I thought President Obama or Bush had his detractors, but President Donald Trump is in a league of his own.

With this thought in mind, I would like to share some thoughts on the President’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, who in his own way, is every bit as complicated as our President.

Before Trump met with Putin, I could hear the naysayers say that having a summit with Putin was a bad idea. What could Trump gain from such a meeting? If he publicly confronts Putin about the Russians interfering in the American elections, then it is quite possible the critics of Trump would construe such a remark as an admission that he did not legitimately “win the election.” Conversely, if Trump did not publicly address the problem, then his critics would view him as weak—or worse argue that Trump is a puppet of Putin.

It reminds me of an old story—one, in fact, that is relevant to the holiday of Tisha’ b’Av

  • In Roman times, a Jew once walked in front of Emperor Hadrian and greeted him. The King asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am a Jew.” Hadrian exclaimed, “How dare a Jew to pass in front of Hadrian and greet him?” and he ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” Another Jew passed and, seeing what happened to the first man, did not greet him. Hadrian asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “A Jew.”
  • He exclaimed, “How dare a Jew pass in front of Hadrian without giving a greeting?” and again ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” His senators said, “We cannot understand your actions. He who greeted you was put to death, and he who did not greet you was put to death!”
  • Hadrian replied, “How dare you advise me on how I should execute those I hate?” And the Holy Spirit kept crying out, “You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. You have seen all their malice, all their plots against me.” (Lam. 3:59-60).[1]

If you substitute “Democratic Party” (or even certain members of the Republican Party), and change “Jew” to “Trump,” you have an almost perfect parallel to the midrashic story mentioned above.

Arguably, Trump’s greatest criticisms come from two major groups: (1)  Those who hate Trump and who will criticize the President for anything he does. (2). Those few in the military and intelligence communities who are wholly bought and owned by the war industries, for it is in their financial interests to have the US and Russia armed to the teeth and at each other’s throats. Eisenhower warned us about the excesses of the American military complex.

One of the more objective Republican critics of President Trump is Rand Paul, whose fierce independence as a thinker and as a leader has challenged the President on numerous occasions in the past. He is sometimes known as the “the Republican who saved ObamaCare.” In an article he wrote for the Washington Post, his remarks on the Trump-Putin meeting impressed me as clear-headed and thought-provoking. Paul was supportive of both these men meeting. Paul further pointed out to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Trump’s legion of critics are motivated by a mutual animus they have for him. Comically, he even referred to the enemies of Trump as suffering from “a bit of Trump derangement syndrome.”

Now that was truly funny!

When Paul was asked by Blitzer “Who do you trust [on election meddling], the American intelligence community . . . or Putin?” Paul gave an interesting diplomatic answer, ““What I would say is that all power needs to have checks and balances, and I think our intelligence community has way too much power.”[2] . (This interview happened before Trump claimed Tuesday that he misspoke when he gave Putin the benefit of the doubt).” It is a pity Trump did not have Rand Paul coaching him. If I were him, I’d bring him along next time he meets with Putin.

Paul agrees with Trump that engaging pariah global powers is more productive than punishing them. This writer agrees with this objective. Shaming a world leader is a very dangerous thing to do—especially when it is guaranteed to escalate tensions and make a potential adversary. more hostile.

The world has become a very dangerous place over the last thirty years or more. The Iranian presence in Syria is so serious; a war between Israel and Iran is almost inevitable. The two most powerful leaders of the world have within their ability to take control of this dangerous situation.

The proliferation of nuclear technology is another serious problem that can engulf Western Civilization with destruction. Once again, the two leaders of the most powerful nuclear nations must establish a dialogue and address these issues. Remarkably, Trump’s diplomacy with China and North Korea has the potential of yielding positive fruit. Whether you hate Trump or not, at least give him credit for being innovative and bold—whereas leaders in the past, beginning with Clinton, Bush, and Obama and their underlings only appeased the North Korean dictators.

Give Trump credit for decimating the ranks of ISIS, who proved they are a presence that must be utterly defeated for world peace.

One of the most memorable lines Trump expressed—one that really ought to command our respect, “I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than risk peace in pursuit of politics.” Once again, this statement comes from a man whose vision may help pave the way for a safer world for all of us to co-inhabit.

As my good Internet Indian friend, Imitz Mohummad, wrote to me, “These jerks want Trump to punch Putin in the nose and start a nuclear war with the other major nuclear force on Earth. I’m a patriot and a believer in a powerful America. I have also witnessed the body bags filled with the fruit of American youth when fat old saber rattlers play soldier. Trump was masterful in Helsinki. The Swamp Donkeys may scream but tonight the world is better off that these two men shook hands!”

Amen!

Postscript:

One of the most interesting remarks regarding the Russian meddling came from Putin who floated an offer for members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to “come and work” with Russian investigators and interrogate those individuals, whom Mueller recently indicted.  During the Monday press conference, Putin said Russia would allow the special counsel to “send an official request” to the Kremlin to question the 12 Russian intelligence officers who had been charged by Mueller with crimes related to election meddling just three days earlier. Moreover, there is an extradition policy that both the US and Russia have agreed to.

Trump’s reaction was cute, Putin “offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

Indeed it is.

But this is assuming that Mueller or his team take Putin up on his offer. I doubt it, much like the Roman senators could not persuade Hadrian to let go of his animus toward the Jews.

Lastly, and Putin also made an interesting counter-argument that should not be ignored. Putin accused U.S. officials of committing crimes against Russia and said his government would want to question them in return. Specifically, he mentioned an investor named Bill Browder, a  former high-level investor in Russia who has become one of Putin’s most oft-cited enemies for his role in lobbying for the U.S. sanctions bill known as the Magnitsky Act.

Putin countered that Browder’s associates sent $400 million in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election.[3]

As always, follow the money trail. Corruption in American politics is a problem no honest American can ignore. Perhaps the inescapable moral comes from the famous proverb, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Do not criticize others if you have similar weaknesses yourself. None of us can afford the sin of self-righteousness.

[1] Lamentations Rabba 3:60,

[2] I would only like to add that the subject of election meddling by the Russians is a topic I would love to address at another time. Simply stated, strong nations do this when it affects a country’s political interest to do so. The Obama administration interfered in the Ukraine elections, which led to Russia’s predictable takeover of the area which holds Russia’s major naval base and sea outlet. The Obama administration interfered in the election of Israel. Lastly, The alleged Russian interference that occurred during the Obama administration did not elicit any criticism from our Commander in Chief, President Obama. The United States, like Russia, has a long history of interfering with elections elsewhere around the globe. See Ishaan Tharoor’s informative article on this subject in the Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/13/the-long-history-of-the-u-s-interfering-with-elections-elsewhere/?utm_term=.00572c6d89da.

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

 

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/16/putin-asked-special-counsel-to-come-and-work-with-russia-trump-says.html

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

Abbas’ Removes His Persona

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads a Palestinian cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 28, 2013. REUTERS/Issam Rimawi/Pool/File Photo

The world is full of surprises. I was stunned to read about a New York Times condemnation of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. The name of the Article was, “Let Abbas’s Vile Words Be His Last as Palestinian Leader.”[1]

Abbas went on record saying that the Nazi genocide of European Jews in the Holocaust was “the result of the victims’ financial activities, not their religious identity and anti-Semitism.” We should not be surprised that Abbas made such an outlandish claim. After all, did he not write his Ph.D.  thesis on this topic back in the 1980s? Abbas has been a Holocaust denier for several decades and it is interesting to see him at age 82, admit, that there was a Holocaust—but that the Jews brought it all upon themselves! Yet, in 2003, Abbas admitted, “The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind.”

The New York Times seemed to be genuinely surprised by Abbas’ offhand remark.

But for most of us who have studied Abbas’ modus operandi, this was not a great revelation. It has been staring at us in the face for decades–even the NY Times, but they chose to ignore it.

Abbas merely took off his persona.

In Jungian psychology, the word “persona” was originally a mask worn by actors in the ancient Greek plays that indicated the specific role they played. But Jung added that the persona can sometimes function as a protective covering when dealing with other people. As with any mask, however, once the mask comes off—only then can you see the real person.[2] In the case of Abbas, he has always known—as have many of us—that projecting a “civilized” persona is the only way to get what one wants in terms of money, power, influence, and prestige.

The duplicitous Abbas exposed himself to the world. Unmasked, we can now recognize him for the Jew hater he has always been.

I suspect that Abbas’ casual way of deceiving others has a deep psychological component that has been a part of his religious upbringing and personal history.

When I think of Abbas and Arafat reminds me of an old story I once heard from a Catholic friend of mine while I was working on my doctoral degree at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Once a famous missionary spent decades spreading God’s Word to a tribe of cannibals. After he retired, they made a large banquet in his honor. Someone asked him, “Did the cannibals under your influence really give up eating human beings?” The old missionary said, “Well before I arrived the savages used to eat with their hands; after I worked with them, they would wear suits and ties, and eat with forks and knives instead!”

The only difference between Abbas and Arafat is that Abbas has mastered the niceties of appearing “civilized,” whereas Arafat could care less what people thought about his demeanor. Both of these men deserve to be remembered as savages.

In the final analysis, Abbas has still failed to grasp that the Holocaust did not occur ex nihilo; it was the result of a poisonous pedagogy that began with the inception of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in Late Antiquity. This is why attempts to rewrite or sanitize the villains responsible for producing the Holocaust, or any kind of downplaying, or flat-out denying it are dangerous. Civilized leaders in our 21st century and beyond have a moral duty to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate conspiracy theories that wish to deny it.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/opinion/abbas-palestine-israel.html

[2] Carl G. Jung, CW, “The Persona as a Segment of the Collective Psyche,” op. cit., ibid., pars. 245f.

 

Natalie Portman & the Genesis Awards

Natalie Portman attends the “Sicario” Premiere during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Sipa via AP Images)

CHULA VISTA, California — Lately, it seems as though Natalie Portman has transformed herself into a human lightning rod. She created a storm of controversy and gave the Palestinians in Gaza far more respectability than they deserved by canceling plans to receive a prestigious Genesis Award in Jerusalem. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this award, the Genesis Prize was originally established in 2012 as a US $1 million award given annually to Jewish people who have attained recognition and excellence in their fields. Initially, she said she did not feel comfortable about participating in public events in Israel. Soon she added that it was because of her disdain of the Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu.

The Genesis Prize Foundation does a tremendous amount of good in the world; this organization promotes women’s rights and other worthy charitable causes. In December, a Jewish philanthropist named Morris Khan donated another million dollars so that Portman could distribute the money as she saw fit. If Portman hedged about whether she wanted to be a recipient or not, she should have responded much earlier when they originally contacted her—and not at the last minute just prior to the award ceremony.

As Jews, we often like to talk about “Tikkun Olam” improving the world. Do we not say every day in our daily prayers, “litakane olam b’malchut Shaddai,” loosely translated as “when the world will be fixed (or “perfected”) under Your rule.” These lofty words call for a thoughtful implementation and engagement with society.

I think Portman had an opportunity to make a substantive difference in the world envisioned by this particular prayer. But by choosing to accentuate her political thoughts, she not only diminished Israel in the eyes of the world—and especially its enemies — she failed to perform an act of goodness for many worthy people.

More seriously, she disrespected the country that raised her. She forgets a valuable Jewish value: “All Jews are guarantors for one another.” Portman disrespected the people, which only wanted an opportunity to take pride in Portman’s many fine cinematic accomplishments.

Jews, who sit in the comfort of this country, do not have to face the daily threats of terror that common Israeli citizens experience whenever they go on a bus or drive a car, or simply walk down the streets. The average American Jew does not have to worry about terrorists firing bombs or missiles at large population centers. Because of this displacement, many of us lack a genuine empathy for the courage that everyday Israelis demonstrate in their daily lives.

Israeli technology has proven that security fences around a country provides important security that literally saves lives. I remember the days when Israel didn’t have the security fences in the West Bank; suicide shadim (“martyrs”) blowing themselves up in buses or pizza shops seemed like a monthly occurrence.  Whether you agree with the political leaders of Israel or not, a fence around the rabid State of Gaza is necessary. Instead of bettering their people’s lives, the Palestinian leaders in Gaza pilfer billions, while keeping their people wallowing in poverty. Western countries are largely responsible for enabling and abetting this criminal phenomenon. With proper stewardship, Gaza has the potential of becoming a Middle Eastern Singapore—a country that is roughly the same size as Gaza. If any place in the world was ready for a modern French-styled Revolution Redux, it would be Gaza. Can you imagine the possibilities?

Had Portman donated the monies to Israeli hospitals trying to find cures for cancers and other diseases, she would have truly made a difference—and she would have certainly won our respect, despite her personal disdain of the Israeli PM.

But in a way, I cannot blame Portman per se; she has succumbed to the neurosis that is a permanent part of the Hollywood political and psychological landscape. Actors in Hollywood often think that because they are “celebrities” they have the right to “enlighten” our fellow citizens about the righteousness of their political views. For those who live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, preaching about the political issues such as the refugee crisis sounds hypocritical while they drink wine and have festive parties behind their gated homes that have ample police protection 24/7. Save the preaching to the ministers and rabbis, and just continue doing what you do best–acting.

Novel ideas needed for Simchat Torah

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Simchat Torah is a relatively new holiday. Nowhere is it mentioned in the Talmud; nor is it mentioned in Maimonides or the Tur Shulchan Aruch. But it is explicitly mentioned in the Zohar,[1] a work that dates back to about 1270—although it is a holiday that probably began many centuries earlier when the Babylonian and Palestinian communities finished reading their Torah cycles. Undoubtedly, just as the conclusion of Talmudic tractate always served as a festive occasion—it is a certainty Jews rejoiced in deed whenever their communities finished reading the Torah.[2]

And now for my story . . .

One of my Modern Orthodox colleagues, who works as a day-school teacher  in New York, surprised many of us with a candid remark about his experience of Simchat Torah. He confessed that he struggled with the holiday more so than any of the other High Holidays of the year. He felt that its celebration felt “mailed in and tired.”

Interestingly enough, several other Orthodox friends chimed in and expressed similar thoughts. Some complained about the length of the service. Some people felt they preferred making their own “personal” Simchat Torah concluding a Talmudic tractate or section of the Mishnah. Others thought the synagogues lengthen the Hakafot beyond the realm of sensibility.

As I thought about this discussion, I realized that many people may feel simply overwhelmed with the plethora of holidays we celebrate this time of the year. In other words, people’s ambivalence may in fact reflect tiredness.

Here at Chula Vista’s Temple Beth Shalom, most of our growing congregation is made up of Spanish members who have re-embraced Judaism over the last several years. I often like to tell them about how marvelous their spiritual journey has been for them. Despite several centuries of efforts to forcibly convert the Spanish Jews to Christianity, the Church failed. The fact they are here among us is proof positive that the Jewish spark of their ancestral identities could not ever be destroyed. So it remained dormant—but on one unexpected day, something awoke from within them.

Reclaiming the “lost children” of Latin American countries can help revitalize any Jewish community that is willing to welcome them back. One of my favorite newly minted Spanish Jews went with his friend to a Chabad store on Fairfax Ave. The rabbi had no problem asking the Jewish woman to say a blessing over the lulav, but when her Spanish friend asked to say the blessing, the rabbi looked at this dark-skinned Spanish looking Jew in total disbelief. “Are YOU Jewish?” he asked. “Yes I am,” and he took the lulav and etrog and said the appropriate blessing—while the Rabbi looked astonished.

It is high time we welcome back our Spanish Jews. We are the “Jewish people” and not “The Jewish Club.” It is time to welcome back all the lost Jewish tribes. That is debt we owe to our ancestors. We can do no less.

At our shul on Simchat Torah night, you could see all the Spanish Jewish men and women lost in a state of ecstasy, as they danced with the Torah. Since we have trouble getting a Minyan on the second day of Yom Tov, I instituted that we finish the Torah on Simchat Torah night; everyone celebrated with clapping and dancing, as we danced throughout the synagogues with our Torah scrolls, and on the sidewalk facing the shul for the whole world to see.

This modern custom actually dates back to the time when Russian Jews lived under the yoke of Soviet tyranny. The Russian government allowed Jews to affirm their Jewish identity by letting them dance in the streets. Elie Wiesel once commented that he was deeply amazed by the joy these Jews exhibited whenever he visited Moscow when he joined them in their celebration of Simchat Torah.[3]

For obvious reasons, this was something all the Spanish Jews of TBS could easily relate to; and so too, they all danced.

Even on Shabbat, at the end of the Torah reading, we took out all the Torah scrolls so that everyone who could not make it to the Shul on Simchat Torah could dance on Shabbat Bereishit—the first new parsha of the year. I explained that Shabbat absorbs the holiness of all the other days of the week, and that the lesson of Simchat Torah reminds us that everyone needs to celebrate the study of the Torah not only once a year—but throughout the year as well.

As rabbis, we need to think more imaginatively of how we can make the holidays more meaningful; sometimes, thinking outside the box can go a long way in improving the spirit of this most remarkable holiday.

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[1]Zohar 1:33; Raya Mehemna  Vol. 3; Parshat Pinchas 256b; Tikunei Zohar 56a.

[2] Other rabbinic sources record the observance  of Simchat Torah in a number of communities.   The Machzor Vitri 185 (an important 11th Halakhic work) describes the observance in clear detail and it corresponds exactly to how we nowadays observe Simchat Torah. In one passage he describes how the Second Day of Shimini Atsereth was observed in the French communities. The name “Simchat Torah” came only later.

[3]Elie Wiesel, The Jews of Silence, ch. 5.

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

Giving the President a Chance

 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

There is a good reason why politics and religion may be compared to the mixture of meat and milk. Milk by itself is a very nutritious food. Meat by itself is also a source of protein and vitamins, yet when we mix the two together, they both become a forbidden mixture. Politics is a field of endeavor that has the potential to be beneficial for society. The same may be said about religion, yet the mixture of religion and politics has often produced many of the world’s most disastrous genocidal evils in human history. 

Rabbis must resist the temptation to speak ex-cathedra about policy opinions based upon current political trends. In the spirit of fearless inquiry, there is no reason why a rabbi and his congregants can’t have an honest difference of opinion regarding the political realities de jure. In any free society, people can have some dialectical tension. The appearance of unanimity has never been something desirable in Jewish history or law. 

The pursuit and process of questioning for the sake of veracity and relevance is not only desirable but necessary. Disputations, raucous debates, and the polyvalence of interpretation have animated Jewish intellectual discourse since the days of Late Antiquity. Jewish tradition also teaches us that it is not what people argue about that matters—it is how they argue and why they argue that matters. Arguing a point in any area should not be personalized to the point where friends become adversaries or enemies. Yet, quite often that is what occurs when people cannot respect to differ. 

With this thought in mind, I must take serious issue with Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, who is an Open Orthodox rabbi of Phoenix, Arizona. To show his disdain toward President Trump, he decided to change the ‘mat’bea shel Tefilah” (a rather unorthodox move that breaks with Orthodox tradition) regarding the traditional prayer that we say for the leaders of our country. 

Instead of using a generic prayer, the rabbi decided to reword the prayer: 

• We pray that the decrees from the Executive office do not harm the innocent. We pray that any policies that are meant to harm the vulnerable in prioritization of the powerful and privileged will be quashed. Should there be plans that will merely benefit the most privileged Americans, but not all of humankind and the planet we call home, may they fail. May our nation not consort or conspire with totalitarian despots but reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy. Grant us the strength to demonstrate spiritual resistance, to imbue our sinews with the highest integrity. Give us the wisdom and courage to do what’s right to protect the most powerless and defenseless in society.

I wonder whether all of his synagogue agrees with R. Yanklowitz, but if his congregation is anything like most other rabbis and synagogues, I suspect they probably differ on a variety of religious and political issues. 

He presumes that Jewish supporters of Trump represent an “embarrassment” to the Jewish people.” Not only is he insulting people of conscience who have a right to their own political views, his statement comes across as smug, self-righteous, and I dare say “fascist.” 

President Trump deserves a chance like any other president we have had before. During President Obama’s tenure, I found many of his views morally questionable—yet as my President, I did not speak disrespectfully of him. His position on Iran, for example, I felt represented a reckless endangerment of Israel and could lead to nuclear proliferation in the most dangerous part of the world—the Middle East. During the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran, President Obama failed to give a scintilla of support for the courageous Iranians who died defying the theocratic leadership of their country. Nor did he do anything to help recognize or prevent the genocide of Christians in territories held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

Granted, those statements are only one rabbi’s opinion—mine. Honestly, I do not expect my congregants to agree with me on all these matters—nor should they, if they feel certain positions violate their conscience. Frankly, having spirited discussions about the issues of our day ought to be celebrated and not condemned. Demonizing people who differ violates the tenor of Jewish history. As mentioned earlier, debates are nothing new in Jewish tradition. Perhaps R. Yanklowitz should spend more time reading the disagreements of other Rabbis in the Talmud. Their arguments were very animated—even raucous at times.  

On the other hand, some of President Trump’s ideas aren’t so bad. His recommendation about evicting hardened criminals and murderers who come from foreign countries is really a good idea. Turning away people from Muslim countries who idealize ISIS or the Muslim Brotherhood is also prudent given their movement’s involvement with Hamas and their vicious attacks against the Coptic Christians in Egypt. For Jews to welcome people who are hell bent upon their wholesale destruction of their enemies seems very shortsighted and foolish. 

President Trump’s ambition to destroy ISIS is off to a good start so far with today’s capture of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Trump’s desire to eradicate this terrorist organization is something every Jew—and “Open Orthodox” rabbi ought to applaud and support. A President who wants to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is another thing every Jew ought to celebrate. Wanting to defang Iran is yet another policy Jews ought to welcome.

The President has a demanding job and instead for praying for his failure, he should be praying for his success. If Bernie Sanders and even Chuck Schumer can agree with Trump at times, maybe R. Yanklowitz can reconsider his position too.  

Book Review: Ghost Warriors: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism by Samuel Katz

 

Ghost Riders: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism by Samuel Katz  —  Publisher: Berkley  (2016) ISBN: 1592409016–Price (Amazon) $18.00–Rated: 5*

Reviewed by Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

There is hardly a day when we don’t read another story about a terrorist attack. For the most part, Radical Islam has demonstrated an almost uncanny ability to raise itself from the ashes of death. Whenever I read about the latest terrorist attack, I cannot help but think about Hercules’ battle with the Hydra. According to Greek myth, the Hydra was a nine-headed serpent. The middle head was immortal. As the creature ravaged the country of Argos, Hercules went out to destroy the creature. But no sooner did he cut off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more grew in its place. With the help of his nephew Iolaus, they managed to burn off the stumps of the other heads—all except for the middle head, which Hercules buried under a huge rock.

The Israeli battle against the forces of Radical Islam  are no less daunting than the battles of Hercules, for unlike Hercules–who lived in the realm of myth–Israel fights the Hydra in real time.

Samuel Katz’s books on Radical Islam always make an exciting read. His latest book, The Ghost Warriors: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism, from the first page onward reads like a modern day spy thriller.  Katz reminds us that the seventh of the eight Israeli wars was fought between October 1, 2000, and April 30, 2008. It was the longest protracted conflict in Israel’s brief and bloodstained history, and it was waged inside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as inside most of Israel’s town and cities. The battlefields weren’t barren stretches of no-man’s-lands where two armies clashed. They were cafes and city buses, shopping malls, even children’s bed rooms . . .”

Katz reminds us that there was no master plan at work here. The sole purpose of the Intifada was to make Israel bleed  . . .and it worked. However, what distinguishes Israel from all other Western countries of the “civilized” world (I use  the term “civilized” much like Gandhi did when he defied Britain), is her ability to reinvent her strategies in dealing with this religious culture of death that threatens the world today.

This asymmetrical war demanded a new response. What did Israel do? Katz reveals that Israel assembled a Special Forces unit that functioned underground incognito called, Ya’mas– special undercover operations unit of the Israeli Border Police.  This group is the Israeli equivalent to CTU—this organization would make Jack Bauer proud. Ya’mas draws from a variety of ethnicities. Most applicants that apply for this unit typically end up getting rejected. They function so effectively in getting rid of terrorists, bomb makers, suicide bombers—their effectiveness is legendary. They are affectionately called “Duvdevan” (Hebrew: דובדבן ; lit. cherry) because of their elite  status.

During their operations, Duvdevan soldiers typically drive modified civilian vehicles and wear Arab civilian clothes as a disguise. Katz points out that some of the Israeli units would dress up like a beautiful woman—with clothes worthy of a Broadway play. Together, these soldiers go into the belly of the beast, giving the Palestinian leadership anxiety-attacks because they never knew who was going to attack them next! (Cf. pp. 16-19.) The unit can perform high-risk arrests, raids, targeted assassination, kidnappings and a range of other urban warfare operations.

The Ya’mas is a unit that never takes a day off; they operate in many places simultaneously, and they function autonomously independent of the normal Israeli army units.

I loved reading this book and if you want to see how a real counter terrorist unit functions, Samuel Katz’s Ghost Warriors is a must read! I rate it 5 stars.

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Living in an a Dystopian America

Image source: BuzzFeed

Whenever I hear Obama and his minions claim that “Islam is the religion of peace,” I cannot help but think the President is utilizing several concepts drawn from writer George Orwell’s famous book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. In this political parable, he writes about how the people of Oceania are trained from childhood to be vigilant in detecting and persecuting anything that the State considers as “evil.” Simply put, the State defines what is good and what is evil. Succumbing to the Party is considered the greatest good; obedience and complicity constitute the “love” of Big Brother.  The State aims to pursue a merging of consciousness, where the State’s will—as defined by Big Brother—becomes the will of the individual.

Slogans play an important part of  the collective indoctrination of the people. Orwell describes an usually fictional language he calls, “Newspeak,” which is a controlled language that is designed to constrict the freedom of thought. Newspeak aims to eliminate concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, and peace. Contrarian perspectives are typically regarded as “thoughtcrimes”

Big Brother uses another interesting too to enslave the minds of the people called  “Doublespeak.” Simply defined, it is a language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Wherever one goes in this dystopian society, the citizen always encounters the three slogans of the Party that stand out in bold capital letters: 

  • WAR IS PEACE
  • FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
  • IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Orwell intended to warn us about the dangers of people whose visions for a totalitarian utopias, whether political, economic, social, or theocratic. You can see this kind of “political correctness,” our now-passing rage of liberal conformity today. Often as Jews, we can see how the Left is castigating Israel and demonizing anyone who dares to challenge the status quo.

As we look in the present era, 2015, we can see how people who criticize Obama are routinely called “racist” and marginalized through shaming and other not-so-subtle techniques of intimidation. In Hollywood, actors who criticize the President’s agenda often do not receive acting jobs. There is an atmosphere of terror and the ghost of McCarthy  is reminding us that liberalism can be just as fascist as any political philosophy of the ultra-right.

This Orwellian phenomenon can be seen in our country’s universities, wretched parodies of what they are supposed to be, are veritable monuments of newspeak and doublethink.  Yet, as we witness the global rise of ISIS and observe how the Iranian mullahcracy continues to threaten both Israel AND the United States, as they stand at the threshold of developing nuclear arms—our President has the temerity to tell us:

  • ISLAM IS THE  RELIGION OF PEACE!
  • THERE IS NO GLOBAL JIHAD
  • BEWARE OF EXTREMISM

Consistently, Obama has never recognized a “global jihad” is shaping up before the entire Western word to see. Now that ISIS is taking over Libya (as Khadafi warned Hillary and Obama), ISIS is threatening Italy and announced, “: “You have seen us in Syria, now we’re right here, just south of Rome…”[1] Continue reading “Living in an a Dystopian America”

A Contrast in Leadership: King Abdullah and President Obama

 

 

Some of us have short memories and some of us have long memories. This writer in particular will not ignore two noteworthy events that occurred in the last six months. Both of these events involved ISIS executing its hapless captives. Both of these events present two very different kinds of responses–as different as day and night.

President Obama took to the podium and said some appropriate remarks for the tragic death of the American journalist Tom Foley.

  • They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people. So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.[1]

What happened next proved to be more important than anything the President said at the podium.  In short, if a picture could tell a thousand words, the images that ensued within four minutes after the President’s speech could fill ten thousand volumes. Within four minutes after leaving the podium, Obama teed-off and could be seen laughing with friends and fist-bumping them during a five-hour round at Farm Neck Golf Course on Martha’s Vineyard  – his seventh 18-holes in ten days.

I cannot recall a president in recent memory who was so oblivious to the pain and shock that the entire nation felt, yet the game of golf had to go on! I can only imagine the European heads of states shaking their heads in disbelief. Putin and ISIS were probably laughing derisively at our President, who forgot about the “optics” of how he looked on camera.

Yes, Mr. Obama, we know why you detest the press.

After discovering how his popularity plummeted in the next several days, President Obama reluctantly admitted, “after the statement that I made, that you know, I should’ve anticipated the optics,” he said.

The second reaction was that of King Abdullah II of Jordan to  news that the Jordanian pilot Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh, 27, had been burned alive while confined in a cage.

  • Jordan’s King Abdullah, himself a former general, angrily vowed to pursue ISIS until his military runs “out of fuel and bullets,” in a closed door meeting with U.S. lawmakers that followed the release Wednesday of a grisly video showing a captured Jordanian airman being burned alive in a cage by the terrorist army.[2]

Such resolve, such courage! Who would expect little tiny Jordan to act like the mouse who roared while the most powerful leader of the free world got upset that the world did not see him at his best.

Interestingly, King Abdullah II of Jordan was in the United States when ISIS released the video on the Internet. What did he do? The King immediately cut his trip short in order to return to Jordan to comfort the family of the lost pilot.

Can you—the reader—appreciate the difference between Obama’s and Abdullah’s reaction? I do not think for a minute that King Abdullah worried about the optics—his place was with the victims and with his people.

Winston Churchill has never been one of Obama’s heroes. When Obama first took the White House, one of the first things he did while he was in office was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and send it back to the British Embassy. The British probably felt surprised at this sign of presidential disrespect, for one never unilaterally returns a gift from a foreign leader!

In retrospect, it is not hard to see why.  Churchill once said: Continue reading “A Contrast in Leadership: King Abdullah and President Obama”