Category Archives: Jewish History

The Resolution

The RCA statement on women’s ordination was both timely and tardy.

It was timely because waiting longer would have further greased the slippery slope towards a complete abandonment of Torah and Mesorah. In the absence of a formal resolution decreeing that the institution of female Jewish clergy is beyond the pale of Orthodoxy and insisting rabbis not hire nor shuls retain such clergy, in another few years  dozens of such clergywomen would have been ensconced in left-wing Orthodox synagogues. That would have created a schism in the Torah world that we can ill afford. Invariably, most Orthodox Jews would have shunned such synagogues, which would be the natural reflection of such a rift in the Torah world.

But the resolution was also five years too late, because, in many respects, the schism has already taken place. Previous resolutions were bland or toothless enough that it had little impact on proponents of the move, something I suspect contributed to the blandness of the statements in which proponents had a hand. But now the lines are very clearly delineated as to what is within the world of Torah and what is outside that holy framework. Once clarity has been obtained, then people can make their own decisions, but they cannot say they were not forewarned about the predictable costs of treading that well- worn path.

The resolution was necessary if only because the deviations have expanded over time, not receded. Parents warn their children not to play in the street and to watch for oncoming cars, and no one accuses parents of redundancy when these admonitions are issued every time the children leave home. Rabbis are not parents in this sense nor are the intended audience of this resolution to be construed as daydreaming children. But rabbis are guardians of the Mesorah, and the resolution is nothing less than a cry from the heart – a shriek of “Gevalt!” (for the Yiddishists) – that the road these women are merrily traveling on, with their supporters in tow, leads towards a cliff. They may not want to acknowledge that – may not? They certainly don’t – but that is the reality as seen from this perspective.

If rabbis cannot warn Jews that certain steps are deleterious to their spiritual futures, to the sanctity of the Jewish home, or to the proper observance of Torah – then who can? And who should? Much of the recent deviations from Torah have been fueled by the Western-inspired rejection of any objective authority. “Don’t tread on me! And I have the right to worship G-d in the way I choose!”

Indeed that is so – just don’t call it Orthodox. There needs to be a modicum of intellectual integrity in the pursuit of innovations. Integrity would demand an admission that the advocates recognize that they have strayed from the traditional path of Torah, are mimicking some of the deviations of the traditional non-Orthodox movements, and that what they are doing may be new and attractive to some, but it just is not Orthodoxy.

That the RCA and the Moetzet of Agudah should issue similar statements within days of each other should be cause for at least a second thought on the part of the proponents herein. To be sure, the advocates and feminists will dismiss it as a sign of Orthodoxy’s “turn to the right,” that hoary but meaningless cliché. Could there be another possibility, maybe, just maybe? Can you consider, just for a moment, that maybe these rabbis and spiritual leaders – representing the overwhelming majority of the Orthodox world – genuinely consider these deviations as heresy? Perhaps proponents – and certainly the fence-sitters – should entertain that possibility.

As I have said for years, one of the considerations that make such statements painful for our side is that so many of the proponents of heterodoxy are nice people, they mean well, and are sincere in their pursuit of change within the Torah world. They have much passion and enthusiasm for what they do and for what they believe, and passion and enthusiasm are precious commodities in Jewish life. Feelings are wonderful sensations, but the strongest feelings do not change the substance of the policies or programs. They remain outside the Torah framework. The founders of the non-Orthodox movements were also passionate people, sincere in their belief that their “modernization” of Jewish law would save generations of Jews from assimilation. That they failed miserably in that quest should concern the proponents of “Open Orthodoxy,” who seem to be doing the exact same thing the non-Orthodox did a century ago and hoping this time for different result (remember Einstein’s dictum…).

Much of the reaction has been typical of the ideological true believer, doubling down on their approach without the slightest bit of introspection. In some circles, it has been distinctly modern, if not a little childish – appeals to Facebook, social media, satire, scorn, obloquy, and maledictions. (Are there people who really believe that Facebook “likes” and petitions are part of the methodology of psak?) To accuse rabbis who reject female ordination of being “sexist” is, to say the least, both unsophisticated and unbecoming. Surely proponents can do better, and it might help if they looked a little beyond themselves and even beyond the secular, progressive feminist narrative that seems to animate many of them. No more proof of that assertion is needed than merely noting that non-Orthodox female rabbis have been honored guests at the Maharat ordination ceremonies.

No one on our side of the divide, as far as I know, has ever responded to these issues without careful consideration of what is permitted and forbidden, what is desirable or undesirable. It should worry advocates that the Torah world – both men and women – vehemently oppose what they are doing. It should worry advocates that Nechama Leibowitz z”l would have been disgusted and horrified by what they are doing, not to mention the Rav z”l. This whole issue is viewed by many through the prism of feminism. They sit in judgment of the Torah itself and adjudicate what comports with feminist doctrine and what must be discarded. How sad. I was a student of Nechama Leibowitz (and not a very good one, I concede) in the 1970’s, and not because she was a woman. When I open her sefarim these days, it is not because she was a woman. Both were because she was a teacher of Torah who had something magnificent to contribute to the world of Torah scholarship. But when the Torah – and Jewish law, and Jewish life – are seen only as vehicles to further a narrow agenda, such a movement is bound to fail.

Obviously there has been too much defensiveness over the last few years among too many rabbis in articulating the truth of Torah, as if we should be embarrassed by any Torah doctrine – as if we have achieved a level of piety and scholarship at which we can sit in judgment of the Torah itself, G-d forbid. That is one cause of the official reticence that has bedeviled the ModOs for years already.  Some purported leaders were intimidated into silence. But the core division today in Jewish life is between two groups, one that loves the Torah and sees it as perfect (temima, in King David’s locution) and one that doesn’t love the Torah as is, nor as perfect, and wishes to change it to conform to their contemporary moral predilections. In a free society, they are certainly entitled to do that, even if the loss of Jews to the Torah family is distressing to the rest of us. Just don’t call it Orthodox.

Some have argued that the resolution causes a schism in Jewish life. Indeed, the opposite is true; the goal is to avert a schism. The schism was caused by those who decided to repudiate the Mesorah and challenge the nature of rabbinic leadership that has existed since Sinai. So, who exactly is being divisive – the adherents to tradition or those who have gone their own way?  Others have maintained that the resolution did not go far enough; undoubtedly, some voted against the resolution on that basis. A peculiar argument has been adopted by some who said they are opposed to women’s ordination but voted against the resolution because it was repetitive. Of course, the RCA also passed “overwhelmingly” this year a resolution (that has already disappeared into the ether) decrying the BDS movement – an exact repetition of past resolutions on the same subject. So why vote for that redundancy? Oh, well, consistency is so limiting.

And others have stated that there is a great battle going on for the hearts and minds of today’s young people who are enamored with innovation, suspicious of authority, and averse to any type of restrictions imposed on them by an external system. Sadly, those who embrace this attitude are already lost. There are reasons why the population of the Jewish people has not grown in 2000 years, and religious persecution is only one reason. There is another – the persistent lure of heterodoxy and other heretical ideas that mislead Jews into thinking that what they are being taught is also Torah. By the time they realize it is not, if they do, they have already left the reservation, in effect rejecting something – Torah – that they never really possessed or understood. And this happened regardless of how well meaning the teachers, proponents, and even rabbis were of these novel approaches to Torah. To read some of the heresies emanating from various promoters of the new faith – rejection of the binding nature of halacha, rejection of the divine origin of Torah, a disparagement of Chazal, et al – one shudders at the realization that this cannot end well, and we as a people will be repeating the same pathetic mistakes of the past.

Many of us still harbor the hope that the deterioration can be arrested, that some needed soul-searching can be done by the men and women who see themselves in the vanguard of this new movement, and they can remain within the camp of Torah.

But, until then, they should really stop calling themselves Orthodox. I appreciate the aspiration, but I appreciate truth and clarity even more.


Grim Calculus

The land and people of Israel are again experiencing one of those spasmic eruptions of Arab violence that are always a rude awakening to the complacent. Too many Arabs feel unrestrained enough to shoot, stab, murder and maim innocent people, and too many others join in the post-attack celebrations. It’s the law of the jungle, except insofar as only one side remains inhibited from fully responding. And even as attacks proliferate, and parents in major cities are keeping their children home from unprotected schools, there is some consolation in that most people are not being stabbed or shot, and the most dangerous places in Israel are still safer than Chicago or Washington, D.C. But that is small comfort.  What can be done?

Terror cannot be absolutely stopped because it is nearly impossible to thwart a crime in progress by a perpetrator who does not care whether he lives or dies and might even prefer death. But it can be deterred, especially by imposing penalties on societies that spawn such monsters until the decent among them rise up in protest. Such penalties have been outlined here and elsewhere, with more vitriol directed at the recommenders than even at the terrorists. It has not yet been accepted that, while there may or may not be a military solution, there certainly is no diplomatic solution. Israel is engaged in a zero-sum game for its very existence and should be taking game-changing measures to protect its existence and the lives of its citizens. That it is not done is arguably attributable to two factors: such deterrence comes with a heavy diplomatic price for Israel and, most regrettably, the murder of Jews by Arab terrorists confers a diplomatic benefit of sorts to Israel.

The latter needs explanation so as not to be misconstrued as suggesting that Israel wants the terror, allows it to happen in whole or in part, or doesn’t strive to prevent it and protect its citizens. None of that is true – but, nonetheless, the horrific murder of Jews does allow the government to claim, rightly, that it can make no strategic concessions in such a precarious security environment. It eases the pressure from hostile foreign elements, here including the present American administration, at least for a few weeks. When it happens again, there’s another reprieve of several weeks. And so it goes, horror after horror, shooting after shooting, stabbing after stabbing. This sequence will also die down – invariably then promoting a call for new concessions and the release of the terrorists who committed the aforementioned crimes – and then the grisly carousel starts turning again.

The former proposition is also true. Israel sustains and tolerates a hostile population in its midst – sworn to its destruction and including also Arab citizens and even some Knesset members – because the diplomatic outcry that would come from taking the necessary deterrence is perceived as intolerable. Notwithstanding the obvious hypocrisy – the number of deaths in Syria in the last five years is probably at least five times greater than the number of Palestinian deaths in the last 100 years – Israeli politicians are intimidated by the fear of diplomatic pressure and pejorative UN resolutions. Witness PM Netanyahu’s feckless acquiescence to another settlement freeze in response to an Obama threat not to veto pending resolutions in the U.N. that call for a Palestinian state, declare all settlements illegal, condemn Israel as an occupying force, etc.

This kowtowing to Obama might seem prudent in the short term but paying this diplomatic blackmail will eventually catch up to Israel. What’s next? Will Israel cave in and cease responding to rockets from Gaza if threatened with a hostile resolution? Will Israel cave in and agree to a Palestinian state, cave in and divide Yerushalayim, cave in and accept the bogus Palestinian “right” of return? The problem with

paying extortion is that once you pay, the price just keeps escalating, so why pay even once? This is true especially because, as certain the sun rises in the east, Obama will recognize a Palestine before he leaves office. (And why not? He’s recognized and embraced every other rogue entity on the planet – Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, etc.)

The temporary diplomatic respite Israel gains when its citizens are attacked and murdered by Arabs also provides a needed release valve for many American Jews, and even some rabbis, who are more comfortable mourning and grieving death than they are promoting self-defense and Israeli supremacy. That’s not to say they prefer death, G-d forbid, just that they are more comfortable with victimization. Many rabbis (I exclude myself) have stock sermons lamenting the loss of innocent Jewish life and how we have to not despair and how we have to fight evil – but become tongue tied when actually asked to defend any real world practice of fighting evil. This is a strain in Jewish life that won’t easily disappear.

It is typified by Golda Meir’s famous quote: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” I have never found this to be a very intelligent statement nor an especially admirable sentiment but it does resonate with a large segment of American Jewry. There are too many people who prefer the narrative of victimhood than the narrative of victory or power, as if enduring the violent loss of innocent lives per se conveys moral virtue and inflicting pain and suffering on evildoers is necessarily reprehensible. (In fairness to Golda, her second proposition in that famous quote is absolutely true: “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” )

I don’t envy PM Netanyahu his job, whose problems do not lend themselves to facile solutions. But he is stuck in a grim calculus of his own making. Long ago he hinted that terror that did not actually take Jewish life would not draw a muscular military response (a robust rhetorical response, of course, is always forthcoming). For example, the road I most frequent when I’m in Israel – Highway 443 – has been subject to stoning (i.e., the Jews who travel there, not the “road”) for well over a year. There has been damage and some injuries but no deaths. No death, no real response, and the road remains largely open to Arab traffic from Samaria.

So Netanyahu has to strike this ghastly balance: “accept” on some level a relatively small, defined number of Jewish deaths, few enough that they do not mandate forceful military retaliation but not too many Jewish deaths that would either compel him to respond with overwhelming, transformative actions (and risk diplomatic denunciations) or do nothing and jeopardize his political standing. The precise number that triggers the response – but never the effective steps of deterrence – is a mystery. For comparison’s sake, Ariel Sharon endured the deaths of hundreds of Jews before the Netanya Park Hotel Seder night massacre pushed him over the edge (30 Jews was murdered that one night, including seven couples, husbands and wives, r”l) and prompted him to launch Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. Again, “accept” does not mean he desires it; just that he has rendered himself impotent in responding. Today’s Jerusalem Post just reported that one more massive terrorist attack will result in Operation Defensive Shield 2. One more…)

The “Palestinian President,” Mahmoud Abbas, whose term expired 7.5 years ago, has his own grim calculus, and that accounts for the ongoing dispute in Israel as to whether he is fighting terror or fomenting terror. In truth, he is fighting terror. In truth, he is also fomenting and inciting terror. That is not a contradiction at all. He has to satisfy enough of the lust of his people for Jewish blood in order to maintain his own position and street credibility without going over the tipping point with too many Jewish deaths at which point the Israelis will either send him packing or give him the Arafat treatment – banish him to his Ramallah compound where he can stay until he dies. The Abbas magic number – above which the Israelis end his career, below which his own people will end his career – is also a mystery.

The only way to end this macabre dance is through strength, not weakness. To freeze settlements for one, to ban Jews from ascending the Temple Mount (and not for halachic reasons) for another, just invite not only international pressure, as phony as it is, but also actual disdain. No other nation in the world will stand up for Jewish rights in the land of Israel, and certainly none if the Jews don’t do it ourselves.

The civilized world in Europe and America is nervous enough about the growing jihad that it will need a convenient scapegoat on which it can blame world insecurity, their own decline and their own spinelessness. We need not look too far for that scapegoat. With the Western world’s strategic positions collapsing in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and in America, it stands to reason (as they see it) that the United Nations should be entertaining resolutions about Palestinian statehood and the like, because, you know, that will solve all the world’s problems and mollify the jihadists.

The diplomatic storm is coming anyway, so Israel might as well do the right thing – protect its citizens, restrict the rights of the terrorists and their supporters and celebrants no matter how many they are, settle the land of Israel in its entirety and prepare for a rocky road ahead.

This wave of terror will end soon but others will start. Tempering the assertion of Jewish rights and the preservation of Jewish life in Israel by trying to placate Barack Obama is a fool’s errand. He will make every effort while he is in office to weaken Israel incrementally, and this will happen no matter what Israel does. Attempting to wait him out – his term ends, mercifully, in fifteen months – is attractive but misplaced. Who knows who will succeed him? And why should the march of Jewish destiny be held hostage to his or anyone else’s whims and prejudices?

The prophecy of the return to Zion that has unfolded in our day should supersede the wishes of any politician. It should also give us needed strength and confidence in the road ahead. Jews did not return to Israel to cower in the face of the enemy nor calculate how many Jews must be murdered before the might and wrath of Israel are awakened.

“He who saves one Jewish life, it is as if he has saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a).


The Sobbing Mother of Sisera

Is there a more peculiar intruder into our Rosh Hashana service than the mother of Sisera, the Canaanite general who fought against Devorah and Barak, and who is the reference point for so many of our shofar practices? The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 33b) was in doubt as to the precise nature of the teruah sound, because the Torah does not define it. But the Targum interprets that as a yevava, and the Gemara elaborates that it is written in the reference to the mother of Sisera that she “wailed,” Vateyabeiv. One opinion held that she groaned (like the shevarim) and the other held she wailed (like our teruah). So we do both. And all because Sisera’s mother wailed we know how to blow the shofar?

There is more. Tosafot there quote the Aruch, Rav Yechiel of Rome, a contemporary of Rashi, that we blow 100 sounds of the shofar to correspond to the 100 cries of Sisera’s mother. Again, Sisera’s mother. Who exactly are we talking about?

Sisera was the general of Canaan, who tormented the Jews and conquered others, who dedicated his life to killing and marauding, who, when he attacked Israel in this instance with overwhelming force – nine hundred iron chariots – was met by a smaller army led by Devorah and Barak, and was routed. He fled the battlefield into the arms of  Yael, who in short order fed him, bed him – and then killed him.

And Devorah sang about his mother (Shoftim 5:28-30) – even a killer has a mother: “The mother of Sisera sat by the window, gazing through the lattices, sobbing, ‘why does his chariot tarry in coming? Why are the wheels of his chariot late?’” And the princesses tried to comfort her:  “They must be dividing the spoils, seizing the maidens for themselves.” But Sisera’s mother knew better, and so “she wailed.”

It’s a poignant story until we stop and realizing that she is crying over his lack of success – this time – in murdering Jews and in conquering the land of Israel. Her son was exceedingly wicked, and we should curse the day on which she gave birth to him. So why is she the source of our shofar practices? What is it that happened to her that we want to recall?

Over the last few months, a number of people have asked me: is the world falling apart? Is this the worst it’s ever been – wars, plagues, terror, insecurity, uncertainty? The answer is – not by a long shot. But there is one thing to ponder, especially as on Rosh Hashana, when all nations are judged: “who will be afflicted by the sword, who will live in peace, who will suffer from famine, and who will have plenty.”

The Midrash (Midrash Tannaim Devarim 32) states: “Contemplate the years of every generation. There is no generation in which there are not some people like the generation of the flood, some like the generation of the dispersion, some like the people of Sodom, some like Korach and his cohorts.” Every generation contains these people. They are not unique.

If you think that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it – you are wrong. Those who remember the past are also doomed to repeat it! “Contemplate the years of every generation.” Look around: every generation has vestiges of the generation of the flood, morally depraved and outspoken about it, not at all reticent and sometimes even boastful; every generation contains remnants of the generation of the dispersion, who deny G-d and set themselves over mankind as rulers and dictators; every generation has echoes of Sodom, its greed, selfishness and violence; every generation has its Korach, who denies the Mesorah and think they know better than G-d what the Torah should say. They challenge the Torah leadership with their populism and sophistry.

If so, what is new? To what is there to look forward? Is the whole script laid out for us? No. The Midrash continues: “each person is judged according to his deeds.” No one is compelled to be a Korach, or like Sodom, or like the generations of the dispersion or flood. It’s not all bleak – both Adam and Moshe were shown “the book of the genealogies of man” – “every generation has its seekers, its wise people, its scholars, and its leaders (Breisheet Raba 24:2). Every person has the ability to write his own page in that book, the Sefer Toldot Adam, the book that was originally published on Rosh Hashana, “this day was the beginning of Your work.”

Too often we think that we are set, we are who we are, and it is what it is. And nothing can change. Just another day, another month, another year, another Rosh Hashana. Sometimes it’s because we have given up, and other times because we are secure in who we are, certain about our course in life and our future. Everything is laid out for us, all going according to plan. We become very comfortable with our course in life, sometimes even with our sins – not even knowing or admitting they are sins.

We sit by the window, looking out at the world, and everything is familiar and recurring – until it is not. Rav Soloveitchik explained that Sisera’s mother had a routine. She knew he would win, even knew when to expect him back from the battlefield. She knew that he would return triumphant, with the spoils of war, with the laurels of his admirers, with the dread of the vanquished. She was certain – that was her life.

“The mother of Sisera sat by the window, gazing through the lattices…” As she sat there, she started to sob, then to wail, then to mourn. Her certainty – about herself, about her son, about his and her destiny – was an illusion. It wasn’t real. As she uttered the words – “Why does his chariot tarry in coming? Why is he late today?” – she already knew the bitter truth: her world had suddenly changed. There is nothing in life set in stone. Not my life, not my choices, not my fate.

If our generation contains Nimrod, Pharaoh, and Korach in some form, if it has its share of hedonists, sadists and terrorists of all kinds, that is an unfortunate reality. But realize that our generation also has its true seekers of G-d, Torah scholars, righteous people and purveyors of kindness. So be in the latter group – nothing is fixed – even in the most troubled era, “each person is judged according to his deeds.”

The shofar draws its inspiration not from the anguish of Sisera’s mother, and not because we feel sorry for her, but because we want the shofar to awaken us, to shake us, like it did Sisera’s mother, to grab hold of us and say “life is precious, life is short, there is much to do.” Take nothing for granted, not the least of which one’s religious level in life and one’s aspirations. Everyone can grow and everyone can improve.

The wails of Sisera’s mother are the quality of the sounds of the shofar that penetrate our souls, and her one hundred sobs are the quantity that we require to soften our hearts. We can’t change the world, only our small place in it, beginning with ourselves. Thus we pray that the sounds of the shofar will break through and signal our acceptance of G-d’s sovereignty so we may merit G-d’s mercies on us and our families, on our people, our land and our holy city of Yerushalayim, for a year of life of good health, prosperity and peace.



The Denial

President Obama’s insistence that he is not an “anti-Semite” may not be remembered as vividly as President Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” if only because Nixon said his just once while Obama has had to invoke this defense repeatedly in recent weeks, and to an increasingly skeptical audience. Sometimes, indeed, the Prez doth protest too much, methinks. He did state that there is “not even a smidgen of evidence for it,” but then again he once said there is “not even a smidgen of corruption” at the IRS (February 1, 2014). There must be a smidgen of something somewhere.  In any event, Jew hatred is a matter of the heart, and unknowable save through words and actions. Some of the words and most of the actions of this President do not bolster his reputation as a friend of the Jews.

Personally, I would not level such a crude accusation against the President.  I can’t see into a person’s heart, but I am inclined to quote a currently- beleaguered presidential hopeful on a matter of even greater importance: “What difference does it make?” The fact is that there were two recent presidents, Truman and Nixon, who privately expressed much ill will towards Jews, but at critical moments, each made historic decisions (Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948 and Nixon’s airlift of weapons to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973) in the face of intense pressure to do neither. So who really cares?  By the way, who exactly called him an “anti-Semite”? I haven’t seen that anywhere, from any Jew in any official or influential capacity. It makes his feigned, pained reaction seem more like an attempt to change the subject than genuine disappointment. Whether Obama is an enemy of the Jews or a friend of the Jews matters less than what he does to the Jews – and to the United States.

We can take him at his word, and still note that Obama has historically been intimate with a number of overt Jew haters – friends, supporters and pastors – and those Jews that he has known tend to be, if not always anti-Israel, then at least unsympathetic to Israel and halfhearted in their Jewish commitment. For sure, there have been many outright Jew haters who kept faithful Jews in their employ, from Nebuchadnezzar who had Daniel on his payroll to Ferdinand and Isabella whose finances were managed by Don Yitzchak Abravanel. And there must have been Jews then who looked at the Jewish ministers who served all those monarchs and determined that they can’t be all bad, because, after all, Jews work for them.

Of course, the President’s offense at being called by some unknown person an “anti-Semite” (“it hurts”) is just a tad treacly, especially given his interest in allowing Iran, a nation that has consistently called for the annihilation of the Jewish state, to develop nuclear weapons and the capacity to use them against Israel. (Of course, “not on his watch.”) That is certainly not the act of a Semite-phile, unless the Semites in question are Arabs, but even they are opposed to the Bad Deal. That searing emotional trauma – of having his love for the Jewish people questioned – might also be doubted by those who perceive Obama’s desire to subsidize Iran’s support of terror to the tune of $150B to be indicative of an uncaring attitude to the fate of Jews in Israel and around the world who have been the targets and victims of Iranian terror for decades, among others. Somehow, having a White House seder before Pesach and a White House Chanukah party before Chanukah are not as meaningful criteria by which to assess a person’s friendship for the Jewish people.

His protestations are also less than credible, if only because Obama habitually iterates clichés that are either demonstrably false or convincingly incredible. For example, just several days ago, he told a group of mostly gullible Jews that if Iran breaches the agreement, sanctions will “snap back” into place. That, of course, is not possible, as existing contracts would be honored, those existing contracts could sustain the Iranian economy for a decade or two, and the “international community,” which Obama purports to “lead from behind” would not go along in any case. Sanctions removed will not return, even after – especially after – Iran gets its nuclear weapon.

He also told those credulous communal leaders that “the military option is still on the table.” That is true. Unfortunately, that “table” is located in a sealed room in a locked house on a remote part of an inaccessible island, but it is on the table. The future president will not have the same military options that Obama has because Iran will be even closer to completing its nuclear program, with perhaps even more unknown sites, and with an even greater chance of the reactors all being “hot” – radioactive – with even deadlier fallout from an attack. Contrary to what Obama says, a future president will have fewer military options. But it is good to know that they will still be on the table.

Clearly, Obama never intended a military strike against Iran and did what he could to thwart Israel’s planned attack. Once Iran became aware of that hesitancy, it gained the upper hand in the negotiations and parlayed that into a stunning diplomatic success, and a humbling diplomatic defeat for the United States. Besides, Obama’s love of diplomacy and distaste for raw power (except against US allies) engenders the absurdity that negotiations are always preferable to military action up to and until the time Iran develops its weapon. Of course, once it develops its weapon it is too late to use military force because the potential Iranian retaliation serves as a deterrent. But it is comforting to know that the military option is on some table, somewhere.

It is worth recalling that during the Senate confirmation hearings of the hapless Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense (true to predictions, he had a brief and undistinguished record after he was confirmed), Hagel blurted out that US policy towards Iran was one of “containment,” i.e., to allow them a weapon and then ensure that Iran be deterred from using it much like the Soviet Union was “contained.” This was said to the horror of the sitting Senators and the consternation of his handlers, who quickly handed him a note of correction that he dutifully read into the record that America’s policy was not containment but the preclusion of the Iranian bomb.

Well, it is clear that Hagel gaffed by telling the truth. By all indications – except for the empty words that emanate from the White House – US policy is containment of the Iranian bomb as nothing will be done to prevent its development if the Bad Deal passes. Then – by which time Obama will be in retirement – the US will learn that the Soviet Union, Evil Empire though it was, was a rational actor with whom nuclear stalemate was possible, while Iran is an irrational, apocalyptic actor bent on fulfilling its demented religious vision of the future.

There is not a credible military option on any table in North America, sanctions are not snapping back, the inspections regime is a farce, the Iranian windfall will lead to an increase in global terror, and the embargo on conventional weapons will soon be lifted as well. Iran is the only country in the world that has an intermediate range ballistic missile capability (2000 miles) without having a nuclear weapon, and they are developing an intercontinental range ballistic missile (more than 3000 miles). What are both for, if not the obvious?

All threaten the peace and security of Israel – and America. Assuming that Obama is not an “anti-Semite,” one would be hard-pressed to perceive what policies a real “anti-Semite” would pursue that are different than the ones Obama is pursuing. And that matters more than his anguish about being called an “anti-Semite” or whether or not he really is one.

As bad as the Bad Deal is, Obama’s search-and-destroy mission against all opponents of the Bad Deal, especially Israel and the Jews, is just a sign of bad faith and maybe worse. Indeed, Obama has stated that only Israel opposes the deal and he has singled out Jewish groups – and their money – for opposing him. Note that well: notwithstanding that polls show most Americans opposed to the Bad Deal (and Jews are far less than 2% of the population) and notwithstanding that hundreds of military people and the bulk of the Republican Party are vehemently opposed, Obama chose to underscore Jewish opposition – and their money. Even liberal Jewish groups, some, of course, quite tentatively, exposed these code words for what they are: an attempt to make this a Jewish issue and stoke the flames of Jew hatred, of choosing between the President and the Prime Minister, between loyalty and dual loyalty, between patriotism and treachery, between peace and warmongering.

To date, few Democrats in Congress have had the courage to defy Obama. All have been subject to pressure and some to threats. It is simply implausible that Democrats would support this deal when so many have said for two years that they would not support a deal that acquiesced in an Iranian weapon, that did not include rigorous inspections of all facilities, in which the Iranians did not have to account for their past nuclear development or halt their support of global terror, or have the sanctions regime end not immediately but gradually. This Bad Deal does none of that, and will go down in American history as one of the sorriest examples of politicians placing party over country. There is no other way to say it but that Democrats are arming with weapons of mass destruction a nation that chants “Death to America” and has been at war with the United States since 1979. Those are the leaders of a nation with a death wish.

The Deal is Bad, the optics are bad and the words are worse. No wonder Obama has to deny constantly that he is an “anti-Semite.” Real anti-Semites have always accused the Jews of being a fifth column, of dual loyalties, of egging the world into wars, of using their money and power to manipulate politicians to do their bidding.

It is quite irrelevant whether Obama is or isn’t an “anti-Semite” but he is forced to deny that slur because he fears the severance of the umbilical cord that connects most Jews to the Democratic Party. Jews are a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, and more importantly, Jewish money, sad to say, plays an enormous role in funding the Democrat agenda. Frankly, I believe Obama’s fear is misplaced and most Jews’ ties to the Democrat Party are far stronger than their ties to Judaism or to Israel. He need not fear Jewish abandonment of the Democrats – but what those Jews need is rhetorical cover, an explicit denial of “anti-Semitism” and equally public statements of love and friendship for Israel.

For those Jews for whom liberalism is their true religion, these affirmations allow them to sleep easily at night and write checks to the Democrats by day. They too will bear part of the blame if the Bad Deal passes and they will share much of the blame when Iran gets its bomb. They will have regrets, but they will assuage their grief at community rallies and prayer vigils, and then support the next Democrat who tells them what they want to hear.

As long as the Democrat insists – swears! – that he is not an “anti-Semite” and is hurt to the core by the very accusation. And if the Democrat can shed tears while saying it, that is a bonus.

Obama’s denials of this unsourced accusation is just damage control, an attempt to mend fences with one of his parties’ main sources of support especially now that he knows that his Bad Deal is likely to pass. Will the Jews ignore this hostile act? My guess is that Iran will not necessarily get their bomb even with the deal – other events can intervene – but Obama will get his Jews back.

The Community

“Hillel said: do not separate from the community” (Avot 2:4).

So where is the American Jewish community on the matter of the Iran nuclear deal? In truth, better than expected, notwithstanding the noisy pockets of resistance to the eminently moral and logical opposition to US acquiescence in the creation of an Iranian nuclear threshold state. The matter can be boiled down to its simplest elements: why would the US concede – even a decade hence – the creation of an Iranian nuclear bomb, provide $150B in unfrozen assets to allow Iran to increase its support of terror around the world, agree to allow unlimited acquisition of conventional weapons, essentially rely on Iran to guarantee its compliance with the present limitations and commit to defending Iran’s nuclear program from acts of sabotage – all for a nation whose leaders routinely join public parades in which they and the masses shout “Death to America?”

Furnishing your enemies with deadly weapons in the hope that such will moderate their behavior has been tried – here in Israel – and without success. Pursuant to the Oslo Accords, Israel gave guns and rifles to the PLO – which they promptly used to murder Israelis. That was a crazy idea then; to assist your enemy in building nuclear bombs is infinitely crazier.

So where are the Jews?

The other day, I gave a talk to a group of Israelis, one of whom asked about a pending “civil war” between Jews in America over the Iran deal, about which he had read. I said, with some sadness, that there cannot be a civil war among American Jewry because war requires a battlefield, and there is not sufficient interaction between the right and the left (loosely defined) or between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox to provoke even a skirmish, much less a war.

The dark secret is that there really isn’t an American Jewish “community” as such. It is too fragmented to be a community, and if one expected that a crisis would bring everyone together, well, either a pending Iranian bomb is not a “crisis” or the proposition is untrue.

It’s untrue, and the fragmentation has worsened over the last few decades, as the rate of assimilation and disconnect from a substantive Jewish identity have escalated. For too many Jews, Jewishness is an aspect of their identity, and often one that is entirely ethnic and not at all national or religious. Add to that the skyrocketing intermarriage rate and the offspring of those marriages who have but a tenuous connection to Jewish life and we have a full-fledged crisis that will not be ameliorated even by padding the statistics of the Jewish population of the United States by counting halachic non-Jews or even anyone who claims a Jewish identity.

In principle I have never objected to those who voice disagreement with the policies of the Israeli government when warranted. I have done it myself, of course, but at least my views were always reflecting the views of a sizable segment of Israeli society and usually that of a political party. But today Israelis from right to left, the government and most of the Jewish opposition, decisively oppose the Iran deal as bad for Israel, for the United States and the free world. For American Jews to stand against that type of support is not only anti-Israel but an act of alienation from the fate of the Jewish people. In it, they cast their lot with Israel’s enemies and publicly proclaim that their primary allegiance is to Barack Obama and the far-left wing of the Democratic Party.

Placed in that context, a letter of support for the Iran deal signed by more than 300 “rabbis” is more easily digestible. Their estrangement from the Jewish people and the Torah happened long ago. Almost all the “rabbis” are not Torah observant; apparently only one Orthodox Rabbi – a known leftist and maverick – signed on. Of all the “rabbis” on the list, I would shocked if even one had a weekday Mincha/Maariv in the temple. How many wear tefillin (men, of course)? How many keep Shabbat? How many study the Talmud – not extract stories and parables for sermons, but actually study the Talmud and Codes? These are professional Jewish leftists whose primary religion is leftism, not Judaism.

A letter opposing the Iran deal has already attracted almost 400 rabbis’ signatures, and will be released shortly. But what matters more than the numbers is the message: having abandoned Torah and Mitzvot, the leftist “rabbis” have also abandoned any semblance of Jewish solidarity.

That is why it is cause for hope that several major Jewish organizations of liberal affiliation have publicly expressed their opposition to Obama’s Bad Deal. The Reform movement, caught betwixt and between, officially, publicly and thoughtfully took…no position, seeing the good (?) and the bad. Sadly, they are just immobilized by their liberal ideology. The conflict of identity must be painful. Their reticence is no great surprise, as is their irrelevance to Jewish destiny. On the matter of whether or not to allow nuclear weaponry to a genocidal enemy of the Jewish people, the Reform movement, like their hero in the White House during his legislative days, voted “present.”

But the organizational opponents, as well as senators like Chuck Schumer, deserve credit even though their rejection of the Bad Deal should be obvious. It is obvious, but that doesn’t make their breaking ranks with Obama and company any easier for them. It’s easy for me. But their world views and Obama’s are so synchronized that their rebuff to Obama, who, typically, is handling it with his usual gracelessness, pettiness, and vindictiveness, speaks well of the spark of Jewishness that remains and still animates them. Even combining their rejection of the deal with fulsome praise of Obama doesn’t make it less courageous – and even if, as some have suggested, Schumer wouldn’t have opposed it if he really thought it would not pass does not detract from his willingness to defy the White House. If Schumer would now actively whip votes against it like he regularly did for other of Obama’s harmful legislation, Schumer might even achieve “statesman” status. Hope springs eternal.

Obviously, the Obama-compliant media loves to trumpet the Jews who are supportive of the Bad Deal, being insensate to the realities of American Jewish communal life and the fragile Jewish identity of most American Jews. But they are the exceptions, unsurprising exceptions at that, with very little influence in Jewish life.

As Rabbenu Yonah comments (ibid): “When the community joins to do a mitzvah, it is a crown to the Life-giver of the universe and brings glory to His entire kingdom.” This is the mitzvah of the moment. Now is the time to take sides, and to stand up for the Jewish people, America, and lovers of freedom and combat the forces of evil, tyranny and appeasement. For many Jews, their response will be their defining act of Jewish identity, perhaps in their lives. History will judge harshly those who side with murderous tyrants against the purveyors of good, and no cover will be provided by noting the “reservations” to the Bad Deal that some supporters have.

Win or lose, nothing will be over, and the struggle will continue. May it continue with a strong, united and proud Jewish community.

The Torah Imperative

On the festival of Shavuot, we saturate ourselves with Torah study, all very worthwhile and understandable. The Torah is “our life and the length of our days” (Devarim  30:20). But how is it our life, and how is “life” different from “length of days”?

We are living in remarkable times, and so we too often take for granted what we have today and what we have accomplished. In many ways, we are dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants, benefiting from the greatness of prior generations.

At the turn of the last century, the situation was dire for Torah Jewry. Upwards of 90% of immigrants to the United States gave up the observance of mitzvot, and of their children an even greater percentage. Shabbat was lost, as people were forced to work on Saturdays. Kashrut was in many places a joke, a scandal and a source of corruption, with many people relying on anything that had Hebrew letters on it, if they cared at all. Jewish education was almost non-existent.

Harry Fischel, one of the great builders of Torah in America, wrote that when he came to America he was told to forget about G-d and religion, and especially about Shabbat and kashrut. “You must work every day including the Sabbath and eat what you can eat, for G-d has been left on the other side of the ocean.” He begged to differ.

So how did we get from that dire situation to today’s world, in which, for all our grievances and all our trepidation about the Jewish future,  we are living in infinitely better circumstances with a flourishing Torah world ? What changed? What always changes Jews: Torah. From Yeshiva Etz Chaim to RIETS to Yeshiva College to Torah Vadaas and Torah U’Mesorah, and then high schools and elementary schools and Batei Midrash, the seeds of Torah were planted. The few Jews to whom it mattered were pioneers and revolutionaries – literally, “it was a tree of life to those who grasped it.” Because of their courage and self-sacrifice, we exist and thrive, overseeing Torah enterprises and enjoying a Torah renaissance that was unimaginable 100 years ago.

We are not accustomed to such self-sacrifice, indeed reluctant to rein in any impulse or desire just because we have accepted the Torah. Note the hoopla over the so-called “kosher switch,” because, you know, it is really too demanding to expect people to keep lights on or set a clock in advance.   Ask people to dress modestly? That, today, is “kill but don’t transgress!” Embrace the traditional morality of the Torah? No, we do not encroach on people’s freedoms, desires and self-expression. That is too big a sacrifice, too much to ask. That is a major weakness of our generation.

But at the heart of any Jewish community, at the foundation of Jewish life generally, is Torah, and especially the study of Torah. It is the secret to our existence and to our survival. And the most evil and heinous of our enemies knew it.

Right after the Holocaust, Rav Yitzchak Herzog was presented by a senior British officer with a most remarkable discovery. The British recovered from Hitler’s bunker two Jewish books and  Rav Herzog received a copy of a Talmudic tractate (Masechet Pesachim) and Chaim Weizmann was given one volume from the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. Two sefarim! Hitler had two Jewish books on the shelf in the library in his bunker, where he killed himself seventy years ago. It is a true story that just sounds fabricated but his grandson (and namesake – Buji Herzog, leader of Israel’s’ Labor Party)  has a picture of his grandfather with that sefer. But why did Hitler retain these two volumes?

Of course no one knows. Perhaps to remind himself every day of his life’s mission – to murder Jews? But then he would have kept sefarim elsewhere also, in his other lairs and retreats and residences. They were only found in the Fuhrerbunker. Perhaps it was something else: Hitler only lived in his bunker during the last three months of the war. Maybe he knew that the Torah was the secret to Jewish survival. Or maybe he saw that the end was near, that the Reich that was suppose to last for 1000 years was collapsing – and he knew he had lost out to the Jews of the Talmud, to those who were faithful to the Rambam – because those Jews are indestructible.

Just as remarkably, barely a block from the site of Hitler’s bunker – now destroyed and remembered only with a sign, a diagram and apartments above it – stands Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, 2711 concrete slabs, looking like tombstones of different sizes, the number, said the artist, chosen at random. What is 2711? The number of pages in the Babylonian Talmud, in the Daf Yomi cycle. It is hard to believe, but it is true. Look it up.

The Torah is our life and the length of our days. It is our lives as individuals, but it is our eternity as a people. For an individual Jew, the study of Torah is the primary vehicle through which we eat the fruits thereof in this world but the principal is still stored for us in the world-to-come.

For the Jewish people as a whole, where there is Torah study, there is life, existence, vitality and vigor. Our enemies know it – but we know it as well. When Shavuot comes, we reinforce to ourselves this basic truth, with love and dedication, with renewed commitment and enthusiasm, not so much to defy our enemies as to reinvigorate ourselves, rejoice with the Giver of the Torah and all who love the Torah, and hasten the era of salvation.

Pesach and Gratitude

In one of the climactic parts of the hagada, we cite the Mishna ( Pesachim 117B): “Therefore  we are obligated to thank and praise G-d for what He did to our fathers and us” – all the wonders and  miracles  that accompanied the Exodus , and we begin  the recitation of Hallel . But then in the blessing that follows, we reverse the order, thanking G-d  who ” redeemed us and our fathers from Egypt. ” Why the change – first,  “our fathers and us” and then “to us and our fathers.”   Why the change?

There is a beautiful story in  the fascinating   hagada of Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon  about Rav Yona Emanuel, late editor of Hamaayan and long-time teacher of Torah in Israel. At his grandson’s brit milah  in 1985, he related a story that he said he had never told anyone before, not even his wife or children.

Forty years earlier , he said, it was Pesach Eve 1945, and  a young Yona Emanuel was imprisoned  in Bergen-Belsen. He had been forced  for a long period of time  to rise early and spend his day at hard labor. He came back exhausted, just like every day, broken already by two years of maltreatment. He was 19 years old. His father was already dead, his older and younger brothers were dead, and his little sister was dead. His mother was barely clinging to life, lying ill in her barracks. In that time, days before liberation, Jews were dying by the hundreds every day of starvation and disease.

That night – Pesach night – he sat at her bedside and recited the hagada. Of course he had no wine  and  no matzot. All  he and everyone around him had  – in abundance – wa s maror. Life itself was bitter.  He whispered the  hagada  to his mother – he didn’t know whether or not she heard it – until he came to th e blessing cited above.  And he said,  “Who redeemed us and redeemed our fathers,” and when he came to these words, the prayer in the blessing,   “just like He redeemed us and our forefathers from Egypt, so too He will bring us to other holidays and festivals that will come upon us in peace, rejoicing in the rebuilding of Your city and joyous in Your service,” he suddenly stopped.

He could not say the words. For the first time, he didn’t believe what he was saying. And he thought to himself: Will any of us live to see “other holidays and festivals?” Will anyone here see the holy city of Yerushalayim? Can anyone even expect to be happy again? He burst out crying, and stopped saying the hagada. Soon after, his mother died.

But now, forty years later, he continued: that night, if only I could have even imagined that I would live to see the land of Israel, together with one sister and two brothers; if only I could have imagined that I would eventually live in a Jewish state, marry and have my own children; if only I could have imagined that forty years later, I would be the sandak at my grandson’s brit in Yerushalayim; if I could have imagined any of that, I would have been able to finish the hagada that night.

Why in the text do we first say “our fathers and then ourselves”   – and then switch the order in the blessing to “Who redeemed us and our fathers ?” When it comes to offering praise to G-d, everything starts wit h the Exodus from Egypt.  Because our fathers were liberated, so in essence  were we. But when it comes to offering thanks to G-d, that has to come from us first – “Who redeemed us and our fathers . ” In every generation, we have to find the opportunities to thank G-d – for our lives and our families, for our bounty and our freedom, for Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, and  for being given the opportunities to live full, productive, peaceful and prosperous lives.

To all but the most pessimistic and dour, we are living in one of the golden ages of Jewish history. We are not without problems – and the world is becoming increasingly more dangerous –  but our problems pale before our advantages, our gifts and our blessings – from  the ingathering of the exiles occurring before our eyes, to  Jewish statehood , to peace and prosperity almost everywhere in the exile , even considering the recent tribulations .

It is that gratitude that should overwhelm us this Pesach, and fill us with a yearning to better ourselves, to enhance our observance of Mitzvot, our service of G-d, and study of Torah.  It should encourage us to say again and again, with feeling and sincerity,   “therefore we are obligated  to thank and praise G-d for all the miracles down to our ancestors and to us; He who took us from slavery to freedom, from agony to joy, from darkness to a great light.” May  He once again – as He did then – take us from servitude to redemption so we may merit in our day the complete fulfillment of the vision of our prophets, speedily and in our days.

A kosher and happy Pesach to all!