Review on the Siddur Avodat Halev (5*) — This is a Siddur you want to own!


Siddur Avodat HaLev (Hebrew and English Edition) Hardcover – August 20, 2018
by Rabbinical Council of America; Editor: Rabbi Basil Herring
1346 pages
Publisher: Koren Publishers Jerusalem; Bilingual edition 2018
Language: Hebrew, English
ISBN-10: 9653019368
ISBN-13: 978-9653019362
Price $24.73. Rating: 5*

The brand new Siddur Avodat Halev is a fabulous new commentary on the traditional siddur, but unlike most commentaries you have read, the writers of this project have incorporated many significant and thought-provoking articles on the theology and praxis of Jewish prayer.

Each page of the siddur contains short pithy remarks that remind me of the old Phillip Birnbaum Siddur and the Artscroll Siddur. The commentary features a brief digest of many of the halakhic perspectives and customs that govern Jewish prayer. It is not verbose, but actually quite succinct. While many commentaries intimidate the reader, the Siddur Avodat Halev’s does not.

Under Rabbi Basil Herring’s fine leadership, the siddur also traces many of the prayers to their scriptural origins—something many prayers after the Birnbaum Siddur neglected to do. In fact, I was curious to see how they explained the blessing, “Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates all things” (p. 90), and sure enough the same explanation Birnbaum gave in his siddur notes appears in the Siddur Avodat Halev. Giving credit to the Birnbaum Siddur would have been nice, but the explanation he gives is satisfying to a reader like myself who enjoys studying the history of what inspired  the ancient prayers.

Women’s participation in traditional prayer is always a hot-button subject. To the siddur’s credit, it tries to be more inclusive than other Orthodox siddurim of the past. For example, instead of using the traditional male-oriented language which invariably uses the male pronoun “he,” the siddur uses the more gender-inclusive pronoun, “one.” Or, in the Grace After Meals, it uses the expression, “esteemed companions” in place of “rabbotai,” “head of the house” instead of “master of the house.” It also mentions “With your permission, (my father and teacher,”/ “ my mother and my teacher” in the opening words of the Grace.

This is very appropriate, and it reminded me of the Scriptural passage, ‎ שְׁמַע בְּנִי מוּסַר אָבִיךָ וְאַל־תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ “Listen, my child, to your father’s instruction, do not reject the Torah (lit. instruction) of your mother” (Prov. 1:8), for our mothers do teach us Torah by their values and lessons we learn from the age of infancy onward. This verse would have made a terrific footnote for the siddur, and I would encourage adding this concept in a future edition.

The siddur also contains additional prayers such as those relating to the Holocaust, the State of Israel, and personal events such as thanksgiving and dedication of a home. In the original Artscroll Siddur, references to the Shoah and the State of Israel do not appear until Artscroll later partnered with the RCA in producing a more updated siddur.

In the Mi’Sheberech prayer that is said after one is called up to the Torah, the Siddur included the mentioning of the Matriarchs—this is the second Modern Orthodox Siddur I have seen in which the authors include this. The other siddur is the Nahalel Siddur. These changes represent a dramatic mind-shift in the Modern Orthodox community.

The old albatross of a prayer blessing God, “for not making me a woman” is still included; the same old tired apologetic exposition is used. I think this Siddur should have included the 15th-century Italian version of the prayer, “Blessed are You… .Who did not make me a man.” Not only would this have been a provocative change, but it would also stress that we ought to thank God for making us who we are. Better still, it would have really been terrific to say these blessings in the positive. Instead of defining ourselves by what we are NOT, we should take a positive approach and thank God for making us who we ARE. Thus, a man should say, “Blessed are You . . . for making me a man,” or “Blessed are You . . . for making me a woman,” and lastly, “Blessed are You for making me an Israelite.” This version completely sidesteps the usual awkward problems associated with these particular prayers.

While Siddur Avodat Halev has made great strides, sometimes it still operates within the confines of a medieval Procrustean bed, named after Procrustes, the bandit from Greek mythology who stretched or amputated the limbs of travelers to make them conform to the length of his bed. Rabbis need greater freedom to improve upon Jewish tradition and I pray that someday the Modern Orthodox movement will seriously change their overall thinking on this sensitive matter. No amount of apologetic explanations can justify the animus of a prayer that has offended Jewish women for many centuries.

Another piece of anachronistic history in the siddur is the section pertaining to the Kapporet prayer. Frankly, the old practice of Orthodox Jews swinging a frightened chicken over their heads on the eve of Yom Kippur seems antithetical in every way to the modern facelift the Siddur Avodat Halev wishes to make. And while the commentary points out its shortcomings, I think no explanation can sanitize the inappropriateness of this prayer—especially since the practice of the Kapporet more often than not violates the biblical prohibition of causing animals needless pain (tsar ba’alei chayim).

The authors should have included the Tefilah Zakah instead. It is a much more powerful prayer that captures the beauty of the High Holidays and its emphasis on forgiveness. This prayer actually appears in the siddur on pages 338-339. In Jewish liturgical history, the Tefilah Zakah is a part of the Yom Kippur liturgy, and in this prayer, a people enumerate and connect their various sins with various acts and ask for forgiveness. More significantly, people forgive any who have caused them pain or harmed them. R. Avraham Danzig (1748-1820) popularized this prayer in his famous Halakhic digest, Hayye Adam. It is definitely a better alternative to the Kapporet ritual.

Perhaps the most critical part of the Siddur Avodat Halev pertains to the attempt of its writers to explain the theology of Jewish prayer with a particular focus on the nature of Kavanah, or “intentionality.” And while the siddur does a fine job in examining the nature of Kavanah, it sheepishly avoids dealing with most perplexing questions of our age: What is the nature of a personal relationship with God? Is God “responsive” to our prayers? Does prayer truly have or evoke healing power? Nothing challenges the theological beliefs of a Jew—regardless of our denomination—more than prayer. Prayer calls into question all of our most fundamental beliefs in a “personal” God and this area poses tough questions for Modern Orthodox intellectuals and theologians alike, as well as their Conservative and Reform colleagues.

Hero’s Journey–Stan Lee & the Bible

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Whenever we talk about the protagonists of the Bible, we must remember that every biblical actor’s character evolves in the course of a lifetime. What each person starts out differs from what each one ultimately becomes. In the latter half of Genesis, the ancient storyteller lavished considerable detail upon Jacob—who emerges as the most complex personality of Genesis. In the stories involving his interactions and experiences, we discover Jacob is the most morally challenged individual of all the biblical patriarchs.

Jacob’s journey begins with a series of tests that he will have to face and endure heroically.

Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, examines the hero archetype in ancient literature through Homer’s epic story—The Odyssey. He observed that heroes often undertake the most challenging tasks and place themselves in mortal danger to bring back, for themselves and their societies, both knowledge, and treasure.

According to Campbell, the Odyssey, ought to be seen as a metaphor for the various psychological hardships a true hero must learn to overcome.

Once Ulysses overcomes these hardships, the protagonist matures—achieving a more complete understanding of himself and his place in the world. As a result of successfully facing his ordeals, Ulysses ultimately returns home with a more definite sense of who he is. In the process, Ulysses emerges as a better king for his country of Ithaca; he is now a more attentive husband, a dedicated father, and loyal son.
As with virtually all hero myths, the hero must undergo a series of tests and tribulations that form the essence of his or her heroic journey.

Campbell’s concept of the heroic journey consists of three stages: separation or departure; the trials and victories of initiation; and the return and reintegration with society. The hero must prove his worth the caliber of his ideas and his character in a variety of dangerous ways that will test the limits of mortality.

As mentioned earlier, the hero descends into the underworld and has a close brush with the forces of death. He must also face mysterious and threatening adventures that lead to the wresting of a gift or prize from powerful and ominous powers. Each of these obstacles will serve as a rite of passage resulting in the spiritual transformation and individuation of the hero. The hero’s journey, when seen from this perspective, connotes a triumphant return from the realm of darkness and death to light and life—from unconsciousness to a state of pure consciousness.

Indeed, each of these characteristics occurs in the Jacob stories, as they do with Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and Moses. A true hero faces his mortality with uncommon courage.

In honor of Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel Comics, I would like to talk to you this evening about the heroic journeys that characterized his characters.

As a child I grew up on Marvel Comics; I had all the original issues; And although Superman and Batman remained everyone’s favorite, the Marvel heroes resembled Jacob—in that each of them had flaws in their own character that they had to conquer. For many decades, DC Comics portrayed their heroes as if they were like Greek gods—so perfect, they seemed totally unrealistic; young people could not possibly aspire to emulate.

It was only in the last fifty years, DC decided to rewrite their comics and portray their characters as having personality disorders. In one episode, Green Arrow’s partner, young Roy Harper was depicted as suffering from drug addiction. Comics started to focus on real-life issues— mostly because of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, his great assistant. Yet, in each of Stan Lee’s comic book characters, the protagonists learn to conquer their inner fears and insecurities. Even the Hulk—over time—comes to embrace his humanity.
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“Who is mighty?” asks the Sages? He who learns to master his own nature.” My father used to say, “He who overcomes his passion for anger.”

Influenced by Jewish tradition, I think Stan Lee could relate to the fact that all the heroes and heroines of the biblical stories—from Adam to Job—must undergo a series of spiritual and psychological trials that will eventually facilitate a new sense of self and personal identity.

In Jewish thought, the creation of the cosmos from non-being, known as “nothing” is not just a theological construct—it is also a psychological process where we—as individuals must touch the nothingness of our being, as God creates us anew through our preservation and heroic vindication, as we experience the uncertainty of the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Yet, the mark of a true hero is facing one’s own demons and monsters. For young people such as myself, comic books taught me to recognize that each true hero must conquer his own fears and insecurities—just as Jacob did in this week’s parsha.

Sun Tzu, in his Art of War, summed up the key to overcoming the obstacles we face—whether in the world of comics or for that matter in the real world:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The Halakhic Controversy Regarding the Status of Turkey

 

turkey bird, caruncle, courtship, domestic turkey, galliformes, hen, meleagris gallopavo, poultry, red, turkey bird

The question of turkey’s status as a permitted bird is a topic that comes up every Thanksgiving holiday season. Nevertheless, many Orthodox Jews I personally know will never eat turkey since there is no tradition permitting it.

Clearly, the Torah does not mention turkey at all since it is native to North America. Based on the criteria the Mishnah provides, the turkey does possess all the kosher signs one would expect of a kosher bird.[1] However, the absence of having a tradition going back many generations is one reason why some pious observant Jews will not eat turkey. This is in accordance with the view expressed in the Shulchan Aruch that ruled, “no bird should be eaten unless there is a mesorah (tradition) that it is a kosher species.”[2]

The fact the Torah mentions only twenty-four species of birds implies that only those species are considered impure and unfit for consumption, but the majority of birds are considered permitted.  It was only in the 16th century the custom arose not to eat any bird that did not have a tradition permitting it. Since turkeys had already been eaten by Jews prior to that time and therefore the rabbis did not consider it “unkosher.”

Although the Torah did not state the specific tokens regarding fowl, the Sages ruled: “Any fowl which seizes is unclean.  Any fowl which has an extra talon [the hallux] and a craw and the skin of the stomach of which [can] be stripped off are clean.” R. Eleazar b. Sadoq says, “Any bird which parts its toes evenly two in front and two in the back is unclean” (Mishnah Hullin 3:6). It is significant the 4th century Amora named Amemar said, “The law is that every bird that has one characteristic [of cleanness] is clean, that is, if it does not seize prey.” Rashi notes the meaning of Amemar’s opinion is, so long as it does not seize prey and it has, in addition, one characteristic of cleanness it is clean. However, Tosafot (s.v. tuvu) takes the scholar literally; the fact that it does not seize prey is the only characteristic of cleanness that it need possess (BT Hullin 62a).

So how did turkey suddenly gain a kosher status?

Enquiring minds really want to know!

Some of the rabbis of the previous centuries identified the turkey as the הוֹדוּ תַּרְנְגוֹל “Indian chicken,” and thought the bird originated in India. Jews were not the only ones who thought this way. The French referred to turkey as poulet d’Inde (“Chicken from India”), as did the Polish, Ukrainian and Russian countries. It was assumed that the rabbis in India permitted it. However, this was an assumption that could never be proven since it was based on a false assumption: Turkeys did not exist in India!

But as erroneous as this view was, subsequent rabbis realized that people had already accepted it as a kosher bird—especially since it had all the kosher characteristics mentioned in the Mishnah.[3] But here is the real reason why turkeys ought to be permitted—from a scientific perspective, is because turkeys belong to the family of Phasianidae.

From the perspective of taxonomy, the Phasianidae includes a wide variety of birds that include pheasants, partridges, quail, chickens, pea-fowl, the wild turkey, and jungle-fowl. The red jungle-fowl (Gallus gallus), is actually primary progenitor of the domestic chicken. Even if Moses’ time did not specifically know about turkey, they were certainly familiar with quail and chicken, turkey, pheasants, peacocks—are only a few examples of birds that are part of the Phasianidae genus.

And for those Jews who worry about turkey, it is strange that nobody—not even in rabbinical times ever wondered as to why chicken was permitted. Chickens did not exist in Mosaic times! But once again, even if the rabbis did not know about the Phasianidae genus, they were most certainly familiar with quail and pheasant. Chickens are kissing cousins of these two birds.

Although pheasant does not appear in the Tanakh, rabbinic tradition[4] identified it with the שְׂלָו (selav) the Israelites had eaten mentioned in Exodus 16:13. The appearance of pheasant and quail are very similar.

The Romans enjoyed eating pheasant. According to one midrashic text, Emperor Hadrian was surprised to discover that pheasants existed in Judea in great supply.[5] The Tosefta mentions pheasants were bread together with peacocks, which is another member of the Phasianidae genus.[6] The Midrash mentions the pheasant as among those rare delicacies, the taste of which the manna could acquire should a person yearn for it.[7]

Historically, the chicken actually makes its first appearance in Israelite art in seals dating back from the late 8th century B.C.E.  Poultry and eggs probably did not become common before the 5th-6th-century B.C.E. Some scholars think King Solomon might have served chicken to his royal guests, for the word (barb-rîm = fattened fowl) may be related to the Arabic birbir, meaning, young chickens.  As a man of means, King Solomon certainly would have been able to import this delicacy.

The earliest drawing of a chicken is that of a rooster on a seal found at Tell en-Nasbeh, some 8 miles north of Jerusalem, which dates back to about 600 B.C.E.    The ancient Israelite diet might have consisted of beef, lamb, roebuck, gazelle, wild goat, and deer, quails, turtledoves, pigeons, partridges, geese, (possibly swans) and ducks—but no chickens! In Mosaic times, the chicken was completely unknown. Let us further add, that there is no Hebrew word for chicken, even the name, which later came to describe it, (tarnegol) is really a Sumerian loanword that Biblical Hebrew later adopted during the Persian period. It was at that time, the Jews began to eat chickens and eggs (2 Esd. 1:30).

Here is another piece of kashrut trivia most of you might be surprised to know. In rabbinical times, the Sages ate peacock as a delicacy. The Talmud records an interesting discussion pertaining to R. Yose the Galilean, who ate chicken with milk. On one occasion:  Levi visited the house of Joseph the fowler. They served him the head of a peacock cooked in milk.  Levi would not eat it. When he came before Rabbi, he said to him, “How come you didn’t excommunicate them?” He said to him, “It was the locale of R. Judah b. Beterah, and I thought, maybe he expounded for them the rule in accord with the position of R. Yose the Galilean.”[8]

Like the pheasant, chicken, and turkey, the peacock is also a member of the  Phasianidae mishpacha!

——–

NOTES:

[1] “Although the Torah did not state the specific tokens regarding fowl, the Sages ruled: “Any fowl which seizes is unclean.  Any fowl which has an extra talon [the hallux] and a craw, and the skin of the stomach of which [can] be stripped off is clean.” R. Eleazar b. Sadoq says, “Any bird which parts its toes evenly two in front and two in back is unclean” (Mishnah Hullin 3:6). It is significant the 4th century Amora named Amemar said, “The law is that every bird that has one characteristic [of cleanness] is clean, that is, if it does not seize prey.” Rashi notes the meaning of Amemar’s opinion is, so long as it does not seize prey and it has in addition one characteristic of cleanness it is clean. However, Tosafot (s.v. tuvu) takes the scholar literally; the fact that it does not seize prey is the only characteristic of cleanness that it need possess (BT Hullin 62a).

[2] Ari Z. Zivotofsky, “Is Turkey Kosher?” The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society , 35(Spring, 1998):79-110.

[3] See the Responsa Meishiv Davar YD:22 by R. Naftali Tzvi Berlin, a.k.a., Netziv.

[4] BT Yoma 75b mentions a tradition associated with R. Hanan b. Abba said: “There are four kinds of slaw [quails]: thrush, partridge, pheasant and quail proper.” Comp. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 16:13. Cf. BT Kiddushin 31a.

[5] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 2:8.

[6] Tosefta Kilayim 1:7. The Tosefta considered the crossbreeding of these birds as violating the laws of Kilayim (forbidden mixtures), despite the fact that these birds belong to the same scientific genus. However, The Talmud mentions a rule known as the “hybridization principle.” This principle states that kosher species cannot mate with non-kosher species; hence, the fact that a suspect species can interbreed with a known kosher species confirms the kosher status of the unknown species (BT Bechorot 7a). This is a question I will address at another time.

[7] Num. Rabbah 7:4. מי שהיה מתאוה תרנגול או פסיון וכ׳ “whoever desired to eat chicken or pheasant, found the taste of it in the manna.”

[8] BT Shabbat 130a.

TBS Memorial Service in Memory of the Tree of Life Synagogue Victims

Clergy, officials turn out for vigil at Beth Shalom

Posted on 03 November 2018.

Rabbi Samuel (center) with pastors and public officials at a memorial service for the 11 Jews slain in Pittsburgh at Shabbat services


By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — On Thursday night, Nov. 1, almost 140 gathered at Temple Beth Shalom to participate in a special ecumenical memorial service for those murdered in last week’s Shabbat service at the Tree of Life Synagogue, located in the Squirrel Hill Jewish area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a child. I recall going with my siblings to visit family and enjoy Kosher deli there.It is hard to believe this little Jewish community should become the target of anti-Semitic attacks.

 

Several ministers of the local churches participated at the Beth Shalom services, including: Pastor Paul Davis of the Chula Vista Presbyterian Church, Father Thomas Wilson of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Chula Vista, Pastor Victoria Freiheit of United Church of Christ of Chula Vista, Pastor Bryan Parceo, United Methodist Church of Chula Vista, Rev. Soliven Placido Fee, of Amazing Grace Church, and Pastor Iglesia Embajadores, Pentecostal Church of Chula Vista. In addition, almost the Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and her council representatives all came in a show of solidarity.

Famous ethical and inspirational remarks from Albert Schweitzer, Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Talmud, and Martin Buber peppered the services. Each of the clergy members shared  reflections on the tragedy.  Pastor Victoria Freiheit said, “I remember an America where we could talk to our neighbor over the back fence without getting angry if he disagreed with us. An America of mostly law-abiding citizens, where we can be civil with each other. No–more than civil–we can disagree and still be friends.”

Father Thomas Wilson said, “Pray for those who died in Pittsburgh, for those who were injured, for their family and friends. Pray for the Tree of Life congregation, and all congregations who have experienced gun violence and acts of bigotry. Pray for the first responders and the health care workers and all who are ministering to those affected by this shameful act.”

Pastor Iglesia Embajadores and Bryan Parceo each stressed the importance of Jews and Christians working together to create a better society where mutual acceptance is universal. Pastor Paul Davis pointed out the Pittsburgh shooting incident marks the most serious attack on the Jewish community since the inception of our country, but that such tragic events have occurred with terrible irregularity in the Christian churches and Muslim mosques. Rev. Fee said, “Declaring, ‘All Jews must die!” he revealed a heart that stands opposed to God’s heart. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Woe to those who call evil good” (Isa. 5:20). The gunman said he was “going in,” believing his action was good; but it was a cowardly and graphic display of wickedness. We Americans uphold the victims, their families, and everyone affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers. We know that their lives have been changed forever.”

The ministers all spoke eloquently. They also spoke the truth. The history of Jews living in Europe was always different, but not anymore.

As the organizer of the event, I decided to speak about the question God posed Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?”

After Cain kills his brother, he attempts to cover up his crime by burying him. But later that day, God confronted Cain with one of the most important questions found in the Scriptures: Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” The purpose of the question is not for informational purposes, but to stir Cain’s guilty conscience, “to prove his soul,” so that he might freely confess his crime and begin his long journey toward repentance. At first, Cain denies responsibility. He asks: Am I my brother’s keeper? Perhaps the most profound Christian interpretation of this question comes from the early 19th-century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), where he writes about Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“I put it to the consciences of many silent Christians, who have never yet made known to others what God has made known to them—How can you be clear from guilt in this matter? Do not say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for I shall have to give you a horrible answer if you do. I shall have to say, “No, Cain, you are not your brother’s keeper, but you are your brother’s killer.” If, by your effort you have not sought his good, by your neglect you have destroyed him.”

Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to cite the verse, “Where is Abel your brother?” whenever he engaged leaders of the Lutheran community to assist in rescuing the Jewish people from the Nazis. To his chagrin, he felt bitter over the bishops’ lack of nerve. Bonhoeffer often quoted the verse, “Who will speak up for those who are voiceless?” (Proverbs 31:8). Consequently, Bonhoeffer felt compelled by God to be the voice defending the Jews in Nazi Germany—a price he ultimately paid for with his life.

Today’s eleven victims also cry out for our country’s suffering. Their souls cry out for healing and justice. We must do a better job of limiting people’s accesses to dangerous military-style assault weapons—especially those who have a long history with mental illnesses

All the ministers pointed out each faith needs to do its part to promote a better understanding and acceptance of their neighbors. Indeed, the radicalism from the right and from the extreme left are both very dangerous. We must all work together if our great country is to grow and thrive.

One participant, Rachel Donsky, a member of Temple Beth Shalom, also spoke among after the clergy. She said, “We have reached a critical point in our human and spiritual evolution—the stakes are being raised. We are now being asked to look within ourselves for a deeper truth and a deeper understanding of that which has divided us and created a hurting and crying world. We are not faced with evil so we can endlessly suffer and be told we are victims; we are faced with evil so we can dig under the surface of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, to uncover and heal our common human pain, fear, and insecurity. The biggest mistake we make is to conclude that the threat to our existence is external and outside of our control- it is not. The darkness within us that allows us to commit violent atrocities must be brought to the light and healed . . .”

All the ministers and community participants pointed out all faiths need to do its part to promote a better understanding and acceptance of their neighbors. Acknowledging our ability to confront the inner demons we have as a nation requires courage, honesty, and faith—if there is to be community healing at the micro and macro level. Indeed, the radicalism from the right and from the extreme left are both very dangerous. We must all work together if our great country is to grow and thrive.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

Anti-Semitism and its Discontents

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

Anti-Semitism is one of the world’s most enduring social diseases that we as Jews have known throughout our history.

With the murder of eleven Jews at the Pittsburgh Etz Hayyim Synagogue, the Jewish community awoke from its slumber only to realize that anti-Semitism is still alive and well—here in in the United States. This attack was the largest anti-Semitic crime in recent American history.

I know Squirrel Hill very well, my father used to make us to the kosher delis back in the early sixties.

But no sooner did the attack occur, people in the media immediately began blaming the attack upon President Trump. While Trump’s mannerisms at times can be admittedly offensive, he cannot be blamed for the murders that occurred at the synagogue. As it turned out, the shooter actually hates Trump for having so many Jewish associates surrounding him.  He also accused him of being a “globalist.”

Robert Bowers is obviously demented.

Yet, the political divisions of our time have made it clear that we are reliving the Civil War. The bifurcation of our society is eating its heart. It is the gravest threat we have seen since the Civil War.

Take ANTIFA for an example; this group feels entitled to attack people with baseball bats, destroys livelihoods and property, just because a politician they do not like happens to be eating out with his or her family. Just ask Paul Welch, a Bernie Sanders supporter who paraded an American flag in protest to ANTIFA’s antics in Portland on Aug. 4, 2016.[1]

When leaders like Maxine Waters encourages people to “get in people’s faces” because they happen to be Republican is the mark of neo-fascism. All this contributes to the heightening of tensions that leads to the kind of anti-Semitic attacks against our people.

Encouraging people to commit acts of violence only serves to heighten violence—on both sides of the political spectrum. This kind of fanaticism only breeds the type of malevolence that exploded at the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbat.

Like a virus, anti-Semitism travels across the continents,[2] and finds sympathetic voices here in the United States. As Jews, we have been asleep at the wheel for a long time and have not paid any attention to the rise of anti-Semitism among the “progressive” movements. We tend to think that most anti-Semitic rhetoric emanates from the political right, such as the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other similar groups. However, the banal acceptance of anti-Semitism from the political left ought to be much more troubling for Jews who have long identified with the left.

Political extremism from the right and left are equally threatening.

As is often the case with anti-Semitism, we tend to react to the symptoms but fail to recognize the problem. Hate speech against Israel and Zionism has become an acceptable way of expressing hatred against the Jew. Jewish history has taught us that hate speech that is directed against the Jew almost inevitably leads to violence against the Jew. Not everyone is as honest and straightforward as Farrakhan when speaking about “the Jews,” but when today’s political left prefers being “anti-Zionist,” castigating Israel as the source for all the problems of the world and the Middle East.

On Facebook, pictures of Palestinians lynching Orthodox cladded Jews with pe’ot is considered “acceptable” free expression—despite on their crackdown on conservatives. Social media outlets are going to have to do a better job in curbing anti-Semitic websites—regardless of their point of origin.

THE WOMAN’S MARCH OF JANUARY 2018

This past January, one of the Women’s March co-directors, Tamika Mallory, attended the Nation of Islam Savior’s Day celebration, where Louis Farrakhan told the audience that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and “the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”

Mallory felt so elated by her photo-op with Farrakhan, she immediately Instagrammed it for all to see. When a news commentator asked her how she could stand proudly by Farrakhan, Mallory denounced anyone who dared to criticize her participation with him. Once again Linda Sarsour and Maxine Waters stood in solidarity with her. Farrakhan speaks of Jews as a “termite problem,” and we all know what any homeowner needs to do to get rid of termites. When the Woman’s March used a platform calling for the boycott of Israel, Linda Sarsour said, “Israelis need to be dehumanized.” Facebook continues to foster the atmosphere and ambiance that is contributing toward anti-Semitism.

Let me remind you that most Israelis happen to be Jews.

The Woman’s March displayed it contempt toward the Jew. Although they showed their solidarity with Louis Farrakhan, they did not extend that courtesy for the Anti-Defamation League. As one observer wrote:

  • The Women’s March has left Jewish women to bear the brunt of white supremacy and patriarchy without their partnership. When Jewish women lifted their voices and demanded to be included in the Women’s March Unity Principles, we were ignored. When we were standing outside the JCC frantically searching for our toddlers, they had nothing to say. When Blaze Bernstein was murdered by neo-Nazis, they were silent. Anti-Semitic incidents were up 57 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest jump on record, but Mallory had nothing to say on that subject, either.[3]

Yes, the Left has mainstreamed anti-Semitism, and American Jews had better wake up—especially those who are in love with the Left.

We have also heard how Jews are “white” and have “skin privilege.” Anti-Semitism’s animus will always find a way to tar and feather the Jew in an unfavorable light. When Jews become demonized for being “white” and “privileged” this too contributes toward the culture of anti-Semitism.  Obviously, this canard emanates from people who know nothing about Jewish history, or for that matter, about the history of anti-Semitism in the United States.[4]

Blame it on the Identity Politics of our time—another unhealthy sign that threatens to produce more anti-Semitic attitudes.

In the United States, we have seen thousands of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish students or speakers, many of whom are supported by the professors and leaders of these universities. Wearing a Star of David is often an invitation for an anti-Semitic attack. Jewish students are hounded by the advocates of the BDS movement—by their professors and by their classmates.

The culture of anti-Semitism among the American left has been smoldering for quite some time. This is not to say there are not anti-Semitic elements of the political right. Unfortunately, political extremes present a mirrored image of the Other.

The situation has gotten to be so bad, rabbinic scholars are now permitting certain members of their communities to obtain a permit for concealed weapons.

I have met Jews in many communities who “pack heat” because of anti-Semitic attacks in the past. I suspect more synagogues will consider that option if these attacks do not abate.

NOTES:

[1] https://reason.com/blog/2018/08/21/antifa-portland-evan-welch-violence

[2] But bear in mind anti-Semitism is not bound by time or spatial considerations. Jews living in Europe have experienced countless attacks in France and Britain by radical Muslims who vent their hatred of Israel by attacking ordinary Jews or vandalizing their businesses. Some rabbis have urged Jews living in France not to publically wear a yarmulke for fear it might solicit an anti-Semitic reaction. In Britain, a country that has enabled and promoted anti-Semitism since the medieval era continues to spew their animus against the Jew. Jeremy Corbyn may not be a familiar name to most Jews, but this man is the head of the British Labor Party—one of the most important political parties of Britain. Corbyn donated money to Paul Eisen, a well-known Holocaust denier. In addition, he is a member of the anti-Semitic Facebook group, “Palestine Live,” which is also well known for its hatred toward Jews and Israel.

[3] https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/260428/tamika-mallory-stop-bringing-hate-into-the-womens-march

[4] https://forward.com/scribe/355864/anti-semitism-in-america-is-nothing-new-dont-deny-jewish-history-and-cultur/

More Thoughts on Kavanaugh

As a person who enjoys going out to the theatre, I must admit, I have never seen the kind of theatre that we have witnessed over the last month or so regarding the Kavanaugh vs. Blassey-Ford case. There were a number of individuals whose moral courage deeply touched me as I watched and listened to the proceedings.

As I watched the drama unfold, I began wondering: What does Jewish tradition have to say about this particular quandary?

In terms of the biblical texts, we find:  “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin.” (Deut.19: 15).

Today we now refer to this idea as “due process” and historically, this important legal principle dates back to the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1810-1750 B.C.E.). Claiming somebody did something wrong does not necessarily make the charge believable—at least not without concrete evidence or witnesses; collaborative evidence is essential for any allegation to carry weight. This principle applies in all cases involving capital punishment; it applies no less to financial disputes as well.

The concept of “mob justice” is hideous. Public opinion is not a court of justice. Judges must consider only the evidence—and not hearsay. This legal principle not only exists in the Constitution, the Magna Carta as well as the ancient Justinian Codes state the Latin maxim: ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

The Senate Judiciary Republicans hired Rachel Mitchell to question both Kavanaugh and Ford. At the end of her investigation Mitchell pointed out, “A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove,” But this case is even weaker than that.” Mitchell further argued that there were numerous inconsistencies in Ford’s recounting of the incident,  combined with Ford’s inability to remember “key details” from the night and the fact that none of the other attendees at the party in question corroborated Ford’s account.

In other words, the facts did not add up.

Although Mitchell offered no analysis of Kavanaugh’s testimony, she was more concerned with the strength of the charges, not the defense. And the reason for this is important—in our country, the accused does not have to prove whether he or she is innocent. The onus is upon the State to prove whether a person is guilty or innocent. The presumption of innocence is what differentiates our country from fascist regimes that insist that the accused has to prove his or her innocence.

Would anybody reading this article want this kind of justice for themselves, family, or friends?

As I watched men and women taking the streets in protest, demanding Kavanaugh be punished on the testimony of one person, I wondered: What has happened to our country?  Since when does anyone have to prove innocence?  Our legal principle is predicated upon the belief that the presumption of innocence is one of the most important foundations of a free society.

 

What would our Founding Fathers say about such a case?

Any child who takes a civics class knows the answer.

The presumption of innocence ought to be obvious to anyone who believes in the principles of American law. Yet, I felt dumbfounded by the legions of people willing to condemn without evidence. I wondered, how would any of us want to be in Kavanaugh’s shoes? I thought he would surely give up—especially with all the threats made to him and his family.

But the mob demanded blood.

Have you ever wondered what the McCarthy era was like? Look no further! Have you ever wondered what it was living in the Salem Witch Trials? Look no further. Think about the blood libels charges that Jews experienced during the medieval and modern era.

Senator Lindsey Graham surprised me and I must admit he almost sounded like an old-fashioned biblical prophet: “To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics,” he boomed during the questioning of Kavanaugh about allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford more than 30 years ago. (He has denied the accusation.) . . .“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy!” Graham said, his face contorted in anger.

Graham is correct.

From the Judaic perspective, one size does not fit all. Each case has to be based on the strength of the evidence and the merits of a charge. Without collaborative evidence, the presumption of guilt threatens to undermine the foundation of law that has governed our country since its inception.

Give Kavanaugh credit for remaining steadfast. Whether you agree with his philosophy of law or not, he stood his ground and refused to be intimidated.

At the conclusion of the Senate hearing, Senator Flake gave Kavanaugh some sage advice. Let the FBI do their work. Trump endorsed this course of action—and it was the only way to remove any lingering doubt concerning Kavanaugh’s ethics and character. Ultimately, the suggestion that the FBI look more deeply into this case proved to be the best course of action Kavanaugh could have wanted.

And what did the FBI discover? They met some interesting new people, including Ford’s former partner for six years,

The FBI investigated several other people; they explored other allegations that Kavanaugh acted inappropriately toward women by making unwanted sexual advances. One of the most damning pieces of evidence actually came from Ford’s ex-boyfriend who had a relationship with her from 1992-1998. In his letter, he contradicted Ford’s allegation that she had never helped anyone prepare for a polygraph examination. He pointed out how Ford helped a friend prepare for a polygraph test who had been preparing for a job interview with the FBI.[1]

He also claimed that Ford had no fear of flying (an observation that Mitchell also made). He also added that Christine had no problem living in a small apartment with one door and that she felt “unsafe” living anywhere without a second front door. He further said her voice sounded different from the one she used before the Senate.  Her boyfriend further pointed out that Ford lied about and then admitted to charging a credit card they used to share for about $600 of merchandise. Ford did not help her case by denying access to her therapist’s notes and other key materials. In fact, she greatly weakened her credibility. I suspect the credit card companies had physical evidence of his claim located in the microfiche.

The FBI could easily investigate this. They probably doubled-checked the case.

Did the Democrats orchestrate the entire ordeal to influence the November election?

What do you think? But consider the circumstantial evidence we have. Dianne Feinstein should have forwarded this information to the Senate committee to discuss the matter quietly. However, she chose a different path. Ford’s letter should never have been leaked to the press.

A good man’s reputation was smeared—and all for political capital.

New revelations continue to come out in the news. Ford’s best friend, Leland Ingham Keyser, a former classmate Keyser told the investigators that Monica McLean, a former FBI agent, and friend of Ford’s, urged her to substantiate Blassey-Ford’s accusation, but she refused. According to the WSJ, McLean’s lawyer denied his client tried to influence Keyser to change her account, calling it “absolutely false.” (Wall Street Journal (Oct. 5, 2018),[2]

But what if the WSJ charge against Ford’s best friend is true? Who is telling the truth? The FBI knows. Senator Grassley is correct in wanting the Senate to re-examine the claims of those accusing Kavanaugh. In fact, this is essential,

Consider the following passage:

“The two parties in the dispute shall appear before the LORD in the presence of the priests or judges in office at that time; and if after a thorough investigation the judges find that the witness is a false witness and has accused his kinsman falsely, you shall do to him as he planned to do to his kinsman. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.” (Deut. 19:17–19).

Put in modern terms, if the FBI proves there was wrongdoing on the part of Kavanaugh’s accusers, then those making the accusations need to face charges of perjury and malicious wrongdoing. There must be justice.

MORE AFTERTHOUGHTS

Today I was surprised and moved by Senator Susan Collins’ speech that lasted for forty minutes. She said it best today, and if you have not heard her impassioned speech, then listen to it. It is well worth your time. In fact, every school civics class should have their students listen to this wonderful talk.

  • “Mr. President, I understand both viewpoints. And this debate is complicated further by the fact that the Senate confirmation process is not a trial. But certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence, and fairness do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them. In evaluating any given claim of misconduct we will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness tempting though it may be. We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy. The presumption of innocence is relevant to the advice and consent function when an accusation departs from a nominee’s otherwise exemplary record. I worry that departing from this presumption could lead to a lack of public faith in the judiciary and would be hugely damaging to the confirmation process moving forward.”

If President Trump has another judge to appoint in the future, I believe it should be Judge Merrick Garland.  As a good friend of Judge Kavanaugh, they shared 85 cases together and he dissented from Judge Kavanaugh only once. Number two, it would heal the rift between Republicans and Democrats–albeit partially. I doubt there would be a smear job done on  Merrick Garland. Lastly, he is a humble man, and humility befits a judge of his caliber. What happened to him during the Obama Administration was unjust. He would also add a little more of a centrist character to the Supreme Court.

*


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

[1] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/christine-blasey-ford-ex-boyfriend-says-she-helped-friend-prep-for-potential-polygraph-grassley-sounds-alarm

[2] [1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/friend-of-dr-ford-felt-pressure-to-revisit-statement-1538715152

 

Showdown in Washington DC

Image result for pictures of blasey and kavanagh

 

Most of us want to know what really happened between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford that took place at a party somewhere in Maryland during the early 1980s.

Neither you nor I have any information about what happened if anything.

And while I realize for many sexual assault victims, the story awakens past traumas of abuse, nevertheless, we are not the ones on trial. Keeping an open mind in matters of just is essential. Justice is not determined by public opinion but on the basis of evidence—and not hearsay.

This legal principle not only exists in the Constitution, the Magna Carta as well as the ancient Justinian Codes state the Latin maxim: ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

Antecedents to this principle exist in the Torah itself:

  • “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin.” (Deut.19: 15).

This principle can even be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1810-1750 B.C.E.).

Whether you agree with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s “originalism” view of interpreting the Constitution, or not, we would all be wise to suspend judgment until we have the facts.

Why? Because the presumption of innocence is fundamental to our very system of law. Public lynch mobs ought to be a thing of the past, but judging by what I have heard from many of Blasey-Ford’s advocates is disturbing.

If she has evidence, the onus is upon her to prove. Asking for Kavanaugh not to be present in the room is outrageous. Our Constitution says the accused has the right to face his accuser. Actually, as most of you ought to know, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

The onus is upon Blasey-Ford, it is not upon the accused. Asking for him not to have his attorney defend him is also inappropriate. Everyone is entitled to an attorney and everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Let’s be clear about that.

Now, I must admit, a part of me believes this entire ordeal has a political animus. Its goal: —to thwart President Trump’s attempt to appoint Judge Kavanaugh.

Usually, when a person commits a sexual assault against someone, there is usually a pattern. Just take a look at President Bill Clinton for an example, had a legion of women who said he assaulted them. Many of these cases eventually settled out of court. None of the 65 women who knew him in high school ever complained about him being inappropriate. Quite the opposite.  They attest, “We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect,” the letter read. “We strongly believe it is important to convey this information to the Committee at this time.”[1]

None of the women who have worked with Kavanaugh ever complained about his behavior either. His record has been squeaky clean.

Some more afterthoughts: Once you open the Genie’s bottle, getting it back inside may prove impossible; these political leaders will discover: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. We already know about assault charges associated with Keith Ellison, who gave his wife a black eye, as well as other women in his past.

Ultimately, I also believe that Senator Feinstein’s Hail Mary pass may not bode well for many Democrats or certain Republicans. There is a slush-fund in Congress intended to pay off women who have been sexually exploited by our esteemed members of Congress, Once President Trump makes this information publically available, our national attention shall be directed at the real enemies of women’s rights—the charlatans who masquerade as supporters of women’s rights. Chucky Schumer has been accused as well. Joe Biden has plenty of skeletons to worry about too. I suspect some Republicans have something to fear.

My prediction: I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be vindicated.

As a Jew, I only wish Jewish representatives in Congress would not turn themselves into lightning rods that will only increase anti-Semitism in our great country. Next time someone wants to make an accusation against any prominent political figure, I hope that person’s name is Smith.

 

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

Rabbi Samuel introduces Philo to the modern world

 

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Hardcover: 2212 pages

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

Language: Hebrew, English

ISBN-10: 1940516803

Cost: $44.00

 

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

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

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

When asked why he wrote the book, Weisz explained:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel gets it from all sides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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

Rabbi Israel Drazin’s Book Review of Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria Vol III: Leviticus

 

***** Israel DrazinTop Contributor: Children’s Books
TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE
5.0 out of 5 starsVery significant and informative book
August 26, 2018

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel has made an enormous contribution to the understanding of the first significant Jewish philosopher and expositor of the Bible  in his book “Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria.” As I pointed out in my review of his volume on Exodus, Rabbi Samuel has produced an authoritative book.

Until recently, it was Harry Wolfson’s 1962-1968 two-volume work Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that was considered the authoritative book on Philo of Alexandria, Egypt (ca. 20 BCE to about 50 CE). Today, because of the wealth of scholarly material contained in his five volumes and their presentation in a very readable manner, Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel’s books can now be considered the authoritative work on the great Greek Jewish philosopher. This is the second [now third] book in his series.

Philo was the first Jewish philosopher who contributed something novel to Jewish-Greek philosophy. His philosophy incorporated the somewhat mystical views of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (about 428 to about 348 BCE). About forty books that he wrote still exist. They do not offer a systematic philosophy; they are, in essence, a collection of sermons.

“Philo was convinced that the Bible should be understood on two levels. The first level contains its literal or plain meaning; words mean what they say. The second, his contribution, is an underlying or allegorical layer, which requires that the alert more intelligent reader venture beyond the obvious and delve deeper into the text. Philo used allegory to interpret virtually everything in Scripture, including names, dates, numbers, and events.”

In this third volume of Rabbi Samuel’s five volumes on Philo, he has aided all people, Jews, and non-Jews, in their understanding of the Bible, by collecting the commentaries of Philo from Philo’s many sources and arranging them by subject matter in this volume according to the twenty-seven chapters in Leviticus. Rabbi Samuel tells us what Philo states and compares Philo’s views with what others say: other ancient and modern philosophers, ancient Greeks, the Talmuds, Midrashim, Zohar, and many others.

Among a wealth of fascinating material, we read about Philo’s condemnation of pedophilia, the spiritual significance of circumcision, the role of ritual and its effect on ethics, the meaning of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac (the Akedah), why salt was offered as a sacrifice, did Aaron have personal excellence, can a sinful priest function in the temple, the symbolism of kosher foods, the symbolism of circumcision, Philo’s defense of the Holy of Holies that he made when he met the Roman Caesar Caligula, the role of the high priest, why fast on Yom Kippur, why not marry sisters, what does it mean to love a neighbor, the prohibition against castrating animals, the meaning of the various holidays and the Sabbath, never reject wisdom, the concept of the equality of all men, how does forgiveness work, what is ethics, Philo’s thoughts on prenatal life.