The Best Question of the Passover Seder

Children have an unusual ability when it comes to confronting our spiritual hypocrisy as parents and as adults; very often they get to the essence of the problem as they perceive things. Frequently, as parents we often fail to hear the questions our young people ask of us; often we overreact whenever we feel that our beliefs and values are being questioned or attacked.

Rather than listening with an inner ear, as parents, we often react with harshness and anger. Sometimes we wish our children were more respectful and compliant, or at least, “mind their place” at the Seder table and not misbehave or draw undue attention to themselves. As any Woody Allen fan certainly knows, passionate family discussions have always been a part of Jewish life since ancient times. Unanimity has never been the goal of any kind of discussion wherever you have two or more Jews together engaged in dialogue. Passover is no exception to this rule.

During Passover, this thought finds expression in the question of the “Rasha ” (better known to most of us as the “Wicked Child”). Without his presence and participation, the entire Seder would be a dull experience. Here is a literal translation of the controversial passage we read in the Passover Hagadah:

The wicked child, what does that he say? “What is this service to you?” Note what the Torah says, “To you,” but not to him. Because he has excluded himself from the community, he has denied a basic teaching of the faith. Therefore you shall smack his teeth and tell him, It is because of this that God wrought for me in my going out of Egypt (Exod. 13:8) “For me,” but not him. Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.

The above translation poses two obvious problems:

(1) As a parent, I have often wondered how anyone could call their child “Wicked”? The glaring meaning of “Rasha” is arguably offensive. Obviously, some modern translations prefer to sugarcoat their translation by giving the “Rasha” a less offensive epithet, e.g., “deviant,” or “troublesome.” I am unsure whether the “Deviant Son” is much of an improvement over the “Wicked Son” for both translations are clearly judgmental and pejorative. If we are to choose a less offensive title, let us describe him or her as a “Wayward Child,” or perhaps more accurately a “Rebellious Child.” At any rate, our Rasha is a person who is a young person who stands perilously close to the edge of his/her Judaism; without a proper pedagogical response, the “Rasha” may grow up to disaffiliate as a Jew.

(2) Now, to add injury to the insult of being labeled a “Rasha,” the rabbinic framers of the Hagadah recommend that the father ought to give his child a “patch in panim” a smack in the mouth for asking such impudent questions. Unfortunately, not all the rabbis of the Talmudic era were skilled educators. Continue reading “The Best Question of the Passover Seder”

Disputed Origins of Idolatry: Pre-modern Views (Part 1)

The origin of idolatry is a fascinating study in and of itself. Maimonides traced the origin of idolatry to  the pre-Diluvial era of Enosh. Maimonides writes:

During the days of Enosh, humankind made a serious mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave foolish advise. Enosh himself was one of those who erred. Here is what developed: They said for as much that God created the stars and the celestial planets with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Therefore, it is only fitting to praise and glorify them and to accord them with honor. The ancients perceived this to be the will of the Blessed Holy One, that they aggrandize  and give homage to those whom He magnified and honored. Just as a king desires to be honored by the servants  who stand before him. Indeed by doing so, they thought they were in fact honoring the King.  After considering this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offered sacrifices to them. The ancients would praise and glorify the heavenly hosts with words while prostrating themselves before them, because by doing so, they thought they would be fulfilling God’s will. This was the essence of idolatry, and the  justification given by  those who worshiped them.  Originally, the ancients did not say there is any other god except for this star. . . .[1]

Maimonides contends that  the ancients eventually forgot about the one true God. It was far easier for them to believe in what was visible rather someone or something that was invisible.  They assumed that all the celestial powers were vested in whatever representation they chose to worship.

Some theories dating back to the ancient Greeks proposed an equally intriguing theory about the origin of religion. The founder of atomism,  Democritus (ca. 460?-370? BCE), was among the first thinkers to suggest that the gods were nothing more than physical phenomena that appear to mankind, and only  “appeared” to speak. This belief arouse from early man’s terror of the solar eclipse, thunder, and so on.  The belief in these “deities” made it necessary for the ignorant, ethically stunted to refrain from wrongdoing only through the fear of punishment, and not because they regarded morality as essential for their happiness.

In some of Plato’s writings, the famed philosopher felt that the belief in gods were necessary, in order to curb human wickedness and corruption. The belief in gods presupposed there is an order to the universe, and if there were indeed no gods, then the order of the heavens must be an accident. [2]  Several other Greek and Roman thinkers saw a kinship between superstition and religion. In its earliest Latin literary usage by Plautus and Ennius, superstitio was already a negative term describing divination, magic, and “bad religion” in general. Cicero gives a concrete example, explaining that “those who spent whole days in prayer and offered sacrifices, that their children might outlive them, are called superstitious” [3].

For classical Roman observers like Seneca, Lucretius, and Cicero, and Livy superstition meant erroneous, false, or excessive religious behaviors stemming from ignorance of philosophical and scientific truths about the laws of nature.  Such ignorance was associated with the common people (vulgus) and with the countryside (pagus), so that superstitious behavior as practiced by simple old men and women.

In Cicero’s On Divination, the philosopher concludes that religion was useful because it helped to control human behavior and could be used as a tool for public policy; and in this context divination could be useful too (as when an unwise political decision was prevented by the announcement that the omens were unfavorable). To many of these thinkers, the ancients “invented” the belief in gods as “a noble lie,” a necessary crutch (or as an “illusion” as formulated by Freud) or simple and ignorant people to believe that these deities have the means for securing blessing and avoiding disaster. Continue reading “Disputed Origins of Idolatry: Pre-modern Views (Part 1)”

Postscript: Rav Sternbach “Excommunicates” Rabbi Batzri’s Dybbuk

Aristotle and the great Greek writers like Euripides, Sophocles, and Aristophanes regarded irony (from the ancient Greek noun  εἰρωνεία  [eirōneía] meaning hypocrisy, deception, or feigned ignorance) as a situation where an observer sees an incongruous circumstance that evokes paradox and laughter. Irony suggests that there is a profound polar difference between appearance and reality, between expectation and fulfillment. The Bible also has many stories about irony; perhaps its most famous story about irony is the birth of Isaac–a tale that evokes laughter and paradox.

Quite typically, truth invariably triumphs over the players who are involved within its web of intrigue. With theatrical performances, the  irony is always obvious to the audience, but never to the characters in the play. In terms of my own personal theology, I believe that God speaks to us through the ironic. What man proposes, God disposes–it is God, Who has the last “laugh.” God is the ultimate comic. Our following story is an excellent example as to how the ironic sometimes functions in our spiritual lives.

Who needs Hollywood, when you have Skype and Youtube?

Rav Batzri trying to  talk to Dibuk via Skype connection in Brazil

(Rav Batzri trying to converse with Mr. Dybbuk via Skype connection in Brazil)

See our previous post on Kabbalist David Batzri, Exorcist Extraordinaire

Welcome back to the world of 14th century Judaism.

Well, Rav Batzri may require the help of the Ghostbusters or a Catholic priest, or even Jack Bauer to get rid of this troublesome spirit. By all accounts, the dybbuk [1] proved to be too much of a match for the famous Israeli Kabbalist, who built a reputation on defeating the evil spirits that threaten Israel and the world. At the ceremony, Rav Batrzi urged the demented spirit to leave the body via the mouth, but evidently such an extraction was considered to be too dangerous and dangerous it was. Reports say that the dybbuk started coming up through the throat, as his voice changed and he started choking, when Rav Batzri screamed at it to go back down and not come out that way, but only through his big toe.

What a strange way to exit the human body!

Well, the dybbuk had other plans, and so he decided to take up residence elsewhere in the body–to parts unknown. Perhaps Rav Batzri should have mapquested the directions to the confused dybbuk so that he might leave his host’s body in the most expeditious manner.  Fearing the dybbuk’s revenge, Rav Batzri decided to go to the Haredi Beth Din of Jerusalem, and seek help from Rav Moshe Sternbach, who is better known as a Talmudic and Halachic scholar than he is an exorcist. Continue reading “Postscript: Rav Sternbach “Excommunicates” Rabbi Batzri’s Dybbuk”

From The Age of “Seducing By Scents” to “The Emergence of Ortho-Feminism”

I have often felt that misogyny has been one of the oldest sins since Adam and Eve.  The woman’s liberation movement has some remarkable antecedents in American history. It is remarkable how much the 20th century fight for gender rights have completely overturned thousands of years of  male hegemony.  It is no wonder why traditional religious societies across the globe fear it–change is necessary as it is inevitable.

Seducing By Scents

I came across an interesting article from House and Garden Magazine that illustrates just how much we have changed as a society over the last 300 years. It reads, “Legislation proposed in England in the 1700s: All women of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree, whether virgin, maid or widow, that shall impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty’s subjects, by scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high‑heeled shoes or bolstered hips shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and the like misdemeanors and that marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.” —- Act of Parliament, 1670

Incidentally, one of our readers (see comments) points out that this story was originally a joke that appeared in the magazine. That is an interesting thought, but who really knows for sure?

The Humble Beginnings of Women’s Liberation

Now move the clock ahead about 100 years later . . . Abagail Adams penned one of the most famous letters of her era, demanding that the new Declaration of Independence respect the rights of its female citizens, which she unabashedly says:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws, which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation. That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy, willingly give tip the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity?” [1]

—-Abigail (Smith) Adams (1744-1818), Letter to John Adams, [March 31, 1776]

John Adam’s Fear of “Petticoat Despotism

Her husband John Adams replied:

I cannot but laugh…We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented. This is rather too coarse a compliment, but you are so saucy, I won’t blot it out. Depend on it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory. We dare not exert our power in its full latitude. We are obliged to go fair and softly, and in practice you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight. [2]

Back to the Future: The early 2oth Century  Debate Concerning Women’s Suffrage

It is remarkable that the world has changed so much over the last 250 years. Some of you might be surprised to know that back in the 1915 many Orthodox rabbis opposed the right for women to vote. Woman’s suffrage proved to be a very divisive issue among American Orthodox Jews. Some rabbis felt that a women’s place is in the home. The rabbis feared that society will become corrupt should women invade the institutions of political power.

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ben Tzion Uziel pointed out that there was nothing in the Torah to forbid women voting.  However, other rabbis argued, it’s against tradition—a woman’s place is in her home. Let the men worry about the politics!

Rabbi Uziel replied that in the olden days, men used to live in tents, in the desert, should we all go back to living in the wilderness just like our ancestors did? Ah, but the rabbis replied. If we give women equal rights to vote, they will want more freedom tomorrow, and who knows where that will lead to?

And That was Only the Beginning . . .

In a way, those early 20th century Orthodox rabbis were right.

An interesting debate has been developing in the Orthodox Jewish community. And that is the issue of Women’s “Prayer Groups.” Some have taken offense to women having “Minyanim” because only men can have Minyans.

Outraged by the growth of Ortho-feminism, a Queens-Long Island council of Modern Orthodox rabbis, the event symbolized a larger, possibly dangerous trend – the growing acceptance of women’s prayer groups.

Its action this month to ban groups such as the one in Hillcrest that hosted the bat mitzvah has shocked hundreds of observant women worldwide and a number of Orthodox leaders, elicited at least two letters urging reconsideration, and caused one leader of the rabbinical council to resign. Continue reading “From The Age of “Seducing By Scents” to “The Emergence of Ortho-Feminism””

When Numbers Become Obscene

In the beginning of Exodus 30:12-13, God commands Moses not conduct a head count of the Israelites before they go into battle against future adversaries:

“When you take a census of the Israelites who are to be registered, each one, as he is enrolled, shall give the LORD a forfeit for his life, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered. Everyone who enters the registered group must pay a half-shekel, according to the standard of the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel. This payment of a half-shekel is a contribution to the LORD . . . ”

Interesting passage, isn’t it? Why not conduct an actual head count? The biblical writer may also  indirectly be alluding to a census that King David carried out toward the end of his reign, which produced disastrous consequences (2 Sam 24ff.).

The answer to this question has a lot to do with the ancient’s fascination with numbers and the process of counting. Here’s the background information: Numbers play a very important part in our everyday lives. Life constantly demands that we measure and count. Numbers have always played a role in all civilizations from mathematics to astrology. Numbers also play an important symbolic role in much of the Bible, e.g.,  one, two, three, four, five, seven, twelve, forty, fifty, seventy, hundred and thousand. This is not the place to examine the significance of each of these numbers, but they often have symbolic and rhetorical significance.

The famous anthropologist Sr. James Frazer notes that certain African tribes were afraid to count children for fear that the evil spirits might hear. They also believed that cattle should not be counted because it might impede the increase of the herd. [1]  In Denmark, there was a tradition not to count hatched chickens lest some be lost. In German cultures it is believed that the more you count your money, the more likely you will decrease it. [2] Continue reading “When Numbers Become Obscene”

“Purim Torah” or Purim Synchronicity?

Purim Torah is a remarkable genre of Jewish literature. It is rabbinic satire at its best that centers around the festivities of Purim. Those individuals writing Purim Torah display remarkable wit in weaving Talmudic logic in fabricating conclusions that border the absurd and sublime.

Earlier this week, I received a delightful section of a fabricated Talmud–replete with all the Aramaic expressions one would expect to find in a Talmudic debate. The selection contains a discussion involving President Obama, Al Gore, and the debate about global warming.  Even the commentaries of Rashi and Tosfot that explained the make-believe text looked pretty authentic. The name of the tractate is Mesechect Obama Metzia (a pun on Bava Metzia).

Here is another example of “Purim Torah” that almost sounds like a Rod Serling story from the Twilight Zone.

The story is well-known. Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews of the Persian Empire ended in disaster for Haman and his family. Queen Esther and Ahashverus have a conversation (Esther 9:12-14).

And the king said to Esther the queen: The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the capital, and the ten sons of Haman…Now whatever your petition, it shall be granted; whatever your request further, it shall be done.

Then said Esther: If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews that are in Shushan to do tomorrow also as this day, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows.

One might ask: Esther’s request seems somewhat strange. The ten sons of Haman had already been killed, why bother to hang them? The simple approach suggests she made this request so that everyone would know the consequences that would befall them, should anyone attempt to harm the Jews.

Rabbinic commentaries have a different spin. Commenting on the word “tomorrow,” in Esther’s request, the Sages comment:

“There is a tomorrow that is now, and a tomorrow which is later.” (Tanchuma Bo 13 and Rashi on Exodus 13:14).

From this interpretation, 20th century rabbis extrapolate that Esther was asking that the hanging of Haman’s ten sons not remain an isolated episode in history… But wait! What other “tomorrow” could Esther have been alluding to? Inquiring minds want to know!

And now you are going to hear–the rest of the story …

Rabbi Moshe Katz writes about one of the most remarkable “Torah Codes” of all time. In general, I have never subscribed to the belief in a hidden computerized message that is embedded within a biblical text. This particular interpretation is too striking  to ignore. If nothing else, it is an incredible synchronicity. He writes: Continue reading ““Purim Torah” or Purim Synchronicity?”

Purim Memories and Reflections

Purim is here once more. For me it is a bitter-sweet holiday.

The year was 1996. Earlier that day, I went to the hospital to wish my father a “Freilach Purim” (Happy Purim).  I was reading the Megillah for my synagogue, when suddenly, somebody informed me,”Rabbi, your father just died.” Feeling stunned, I could not finish reading the Megillah.

Death is as mysterious as life; I believe we have to find meaning in the events that occur around us.  Psychologist Victor Frankl discovered in Auschwitz that a human being needs something more to live for, other than fulfilling one’s biological needs. The search for meaning  and personal fulfillment propels us toward living a more spiritual kind of life.

So I wondered . . . Why did my father pass away on this particular day? What is the meaning of this event? How is my father’s death related to Purim, a day when Haman attempted to commit genocide on the Jewish people?

The answer was only too obvious.

My father, Leo Israel Samuel, was a survivor of the death camps of Madianek and Auschwitz. Like so many other Holocaust survivors, he faced “Haman” and survived. Because of his own miraculous survival, Purim was always a special holiday for him. I suspect his soul saw something almost poetic in passing away on a day that epitomized his own life journey.

The Jewish people have a long list of adversarial foes who have tried to destroy her. Some have taken aim at destroying her spirit, through attempts to inculturate the Jews to whatever the dominant faith happened to be, e.g., Hellenism, Christianity, Islam. Other enemies tried to physically destroy the Jew, because the Jew represents hope for a more enlightened and tolerant world. Continue reading “Purim Memories and Reflections”

From Skinhead to Haredi Jew: A Tale of Personal Transformation

In the previous posts, we touched upon the dynamics of the shadow archetype that hides the inner person that exists inside us. The key to a optimum psychological state of health requires that we get understand the hidden depths of our souls and psyches. Here is a remarkable story about coming to terms with one’s shadow, compliments of  NY Times and the Failedmessiah–two excellent websites.

————–

From Skinhead to Orthodox Jew

Adam Lach for The New York Times

Pawel in the Warsaw synagogue. A former truck driver and neo-Nazi skinhead, Pawel, 33, has since become an Orthodox Jew, covering his shaved head with a yarmulke and shedding his fascist ideology for the Torah.

By DAN BILEFSKY
Published: February 24, 2010

WARSAW — When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he once was before he covered his shaved head with a yarmulke, shed his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of God.

Adam Lach for The New York Times

Pawel in the Warsaw synagogue. A former truck driver and neo-Nazi skinhead, Pawel, 33, has since become an Orthodox Jew, covering his shaved head with a yarmulke and shedding his fascist ideology for the Torah.

“I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,” said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one.

“When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. “Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for.”

Pawel, who also uses his Hebrew name Pinchas, asked not to use his last name for fear that his old neo-Nazi friends could target him or his family.

Pawel is perhaps the most unlikely example of a Jewish revival under way in Poland in which hundreds of Poles, a majority of them raised as Catholics, are either converting to Judaism or discovering Jewish roots submerged for decades in the aftermath of World War II.

Before 1939, Poland was home to more than three million Jews; over 90 percent of them were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. A majority of those who survived emigrated. Of the fewer than 50,000 who remained in Poland, many either abandoned or hid their Judaism during decades of Communist oppression in which political pogroms against Jews persisted.

But Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, noted that 20 years after the fall of Communism, a historical reckoning was finally taking place. He said Pawel’s metamorphosis illustrated just how far the country had come.

“Before 1989 there was a feeling that it was not safe to say ‘I am a Jew,”’ he said. “But today, there is a growing feeling that Jews are a missing limb in Poland.”

Five years ago, the rabbi noted, there were about 250 families in the Jewish community in Warsaw; today there are 600. During that period, the number of rabbis serving the country has grown from one to eight. The cafes and bars of the old Jewish quarter in Krakow brim with young Jewish converts listening to Israeli hip hop music. Even several priests have decided to become Jewish.

Pawel’s transformation from baptized Catholic skinhead to Jew began in a bleak neighborhood of concrete tower blocks in Warsaw in the 1980s. Pawel said he and his friends reacted to the gnawing uniformity of socialism by embracing anti-Semitism and an extreme right-wing ideology. They shaved their heads, carried knives, and greeted each other with the raised right arm gesture of the Nazi salute.

“Oi Vey, I hate to admit it, but we would beat up local Jewish and Arab kids and homeless people,” Pawel said on a recent day in the Nozyk Synagogue here. “We sang about stupid stuff like Satan and killing people. We believed that Poland should only be for Poles.”

One day, he recalled, he and his friends skipped school and took a train to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp, near Krakow. “We made jokes that we wished the exhibition had been bigger and that the Nazis had killed even more Jews,” he said.

He says his staunch Catholic parents, a teacher and a businessman, suspected he was a skinhead, but hoped it was just a phase.

“I never got caught for what I did or got arrested, so my parents didn’t realize things were so bad,” he said. “But they would get stressed out when I would come home in the morning wounded and covered in blood.”

Even as Pawel embraced the life of a neo-Nazi, he said, he had pangs that his identity was built on a lie. His churchgoing father seemed overly fond of quoting the Old Testament. His grandfather hinted about past family secrets.

“One time when I told my grandfather that Jews were bad, he exploded and screamed at me, ‘If I ever hear you say such a thing again under my roof, you will never come back!”’

Pawel joined the army and married a fellow skinhead at age 18. But his sense of self changed irrevocably at the age of 22, when his wife, Paulina, suspecting she had Jewish roots, went to a genealogical institute and discovered Pawel’s maternal grandparents on a register of Warsaw Jews, along with her own grandparents.

When Pawel confronted his parents, he said, they broke down and told him the truth: that his maternal grandmother was Jewish and had survived the war by being hidden in a monastery by a group of nuns. His paternal grandfather, also a Jew, had seven brother and sisters, most of whom had perished in the Holocaust.

“I went to my parents and said, ‘What the hell?’ Imagine, I was a neo-Nazi and heard this news. I couldn’t look in the mirror for weeks. It was a shock and it still is a shock to me,” he said. “My parents were the typical offspring of Jewish survivors of the war, who decided to conceal their Jewish identity to try and protect their family.” Continue reading “From Skinhead to Haredi Jew: A Tale of Personal Transformation”

Life is a Series of Rebirths

As I have written on other occasions, life is a series of rebirths. What we start out in life is often different from what we ultimately become. Let me tell you a well-known story that illustrates this point about the life of Moses. The origin of this story is unknown, but I have seen it mentioned in many books containing medieval rabbinic tales about the famous personalities of the Bible.

Here is how it begins . . .

The whole world was shaken and enthralled by the miracle of the Exodus. The name of Moses was on everyone’s lips. Tidings of the great miracle reached also the wise king of Arabistan. The king summoned to him his best painter and bade him go to Moses, to paint his portrait and bring it back to him. When the painter returned, the king gathered together all his sages, wise in physiognomy (the art of judging human character from facial features), and asked them to define by the portrait the character of Moses, his qualities, inclinations, habits, and the source of his miraculous power.

“King,” answered the sages, “this is the portrait of a man cruel, haughty, greedy of gain, possessed by desire for power, and by all the vices which exist in the world.” These words roused the king’s indignation. “How can it be possible,” he exclaimed, “that a man whose marvelous deeds ring through the whole world should be of such a kind?”

A dispute began between the painter and the sages. The painter affirmed that the portrait of Moses had been painted by him quite accurately, while the sages maintained that Moses’ character had been unerringly determined by them according to the portrait.

The wise king of Arabistan decided to verify which of the disputing parties was right, and he himself set off for the camp of Israel. At the first glance the king became convinced that the face of Moses had been faultlessly portrayed by the painter. On entering the tent of the man of God he knelt down, bowed to the ground, and told Moses of the dispute between the artist and the sages.

“At first, until I saw thy face,” said the king, “I thought it must be that the artist had painted thy image badly, for my sages are men very much experienced in the science of physiognomy. Now I am convinced that they are quite worthless men and that their wisdom is vain and worthless.”

“No,” answered Moses, “it is not so; both the painter and the physiognomists are men highly skilled, and both parties are right. Be it known to thee that all the vices of which the sages spoke have indeed been assigned to me by nature and perhaps to an even higher degree than was found by them from my portrait. But I struggled with my vices by long and intense efforts of the will and gradually overcame and transcended them within myself until all opposed to them became my second nature. And in this lies my greatest pride.” Continue reading “Life is a Series of Rebirths”

Rabbi Yitzchak Batzri–The Telegenic Exorcist Extraordinaire

Most people usually associate exorcism with the rites seen in the Catholic Church, but how many people are aware that exorcism rites exist also in Jewish tradition? Well, recently in the news once again [1], a Rabbi Yitzchak  Batzri, a telegenic exorcist extraordinaire, recently attempted to exorcize a “dybbuk” – an evil or morally demented spirit that has seized possession of a person. It is also known as “spirit possession.”

According to the news, a Brazilian man claimed that a dybbuk entered him, so he went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky who thought this man was truly possessed.

Reports about the possessed Brazilian man claim that witnesses heard voices emerging from the Brazilian man, even though his lips did not move. The spirit allegedly said, among other things, “The end is close,” and, “I sense many sins,” in a foreign language other than the man’s native tongue, which is the only language he purportedly knows. Curiously, although the man’s lips did not move, noises seemed to emanate out of the man’s stomach—of all places! His wife later said that he had been talking in his sleep as well, in a language other than his native tongue.

The young Brazilian man claimed to have lived during the days of the Second Temple, and called himself Petachyahu the son of Chava. Heaven denied him entry because of several heinous sins that included breaking into a house, murdering the man of the house, raping and murdering his wife, and sacrificing the son to an idol/foreign god.

How strange, last Sunday afternoon  I was reading a famous Jewish medieval story to my class at St. Ambrose University that is very reminiscent of this spirit’s evil deeds. The tale reads almost verbatim from a medieval classic text known as the Orhot HaTsadikim (“Pathways of the Righteous”) Chapter 14 on the attribute of “Envy.”  The parallels are so striking, if one did not know better, it sounds as if the entire story was scripted—word for word—from this perennial Jewish classic of the 15th century. Continue reading “Rabbi Yitzchak Batzri–The Telegenic Exorcist Extraordinaire”