Category Archives: Current Events

The Rishon Who Thwarted Arab Terror

      We can start with two trivia questions – trivia, but not trivial. What three word phrase in the hagada is the most frequently recited? That’s the relatively easy question. The more difficult one is this: what paragraph did Rav Soloveitchik say is the most important in the hagada? If you know the first, the second should come naturally. And it all goes to prove this amazing story, a true story entitled “how the responsum the Rashba (Rav Shlomo ibn Aderet, 1235-1310) of the eliminated the terrorists.”

     The Gemara (Pesachim 33a) states that one can only give terumah to a kohen if he is able to consume it immediately but not if it is something that he would have to burn. For example, “wheat that became chametz while it was still attached to the ground.” That means that if wheat is rained upon, the wheat becomes chamtetz even before it was harvested. But how can that be? All wheat receives rain; if not it does not grow!

     R. Shlomo ibn Aderet, native of Barcelona, asked this question (Rashba, Volume 7, Chapter 20) and he answered that this is only true if the wheat is fully ripened and doesn’t require any more nourishment. In that situation, it is as if it is already in a jug and will become chametz if rain falls on it. Indeed, this is the halacha, as codified in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 467:5) and the Mishna Berura (467:17) adds that “for this reason, the pious ensure that their matzot come from wheat that has been watched from the time of the harvest and that they are still a little moist,” just as the Rashba required.

     Practically, this rarely presents a problem because in Israel the rainy season ends long before the time for harvest. But in 2014, there were sudden and unexpected thunderstorms across the south of Israel right before Shavuot, and that endangered the whole crop. The Badatz had to invalidate most of the wheat fields because the rain had fallen on ripe wheat. They searched and researched, and the rabbinical court in Bnei Brak found that there had been no rain in Kibbutz Sufa, adjacent to the Gaza border, quickly negotiated with them, and harvested their entire wheat field in June 2014.

    Unbeknownst to anyone, Hamas terrorists had for the previous six months dug a tunnel from Gaza under the wheat field into Kibbutz Sufa. Their reconnaissance had revealed that it was perfect cover – a large field covered by high stalks of wheat. They planned a terrorist attack on Sufa for the end of June, 2014.

    I have seen the video. Almost 15 terrorists emerged from the opening to the tunnel, and scattered in two different directions. You can sense their surprise and confusion – they had anticipated a field that was covered with wheat. Instead, they found a field that was open, flat and exposed. They ran from the opening, and then they aborted the attack, and ran back to the opening, scurrying about frantically. They made it back to the opening and started climbing down – but not before they were greeted by one IDF missile. Six terrorists were killed, seven wounded and captured. The wounded related that they knew the field was not harvested until latesummer and they did not understand why the field was harvested that year in the early summer. It was perfect cover – but they had not planned on the responsum of the Rashba!

     This was not 3000 or 2000 years ago – but five years ago. This is the law of grain that is completely dry and no longer needs nourishment. Look it up – you have to harvest the grainbefore rain falls on it. And so they did, and a great salvation occurred. True story.

     The three word phrase that occurs most in the hagada iski l’olam chasdo, that G-d’s kindness is everlasting. And Rav Soloveitchik wrote that the most important paragraph in the hagada islefichach:” “therefore we are obligated to thank, praise, glorify, extol and exalt He who performed for us and for our forefathers all these miracles.” The whole hagada, the whole seder, and the entire Pesach are designed to bring us to the point that we are imbued with praise of G-d and gratitude for the kindnesses that He has done for us and our forefathers. Everything leads to praise and gratitude – and so it is in our lives as well.

     We don’t only rejoice over the miracles done to our forefathers; if we have eyes and ears, and a mind and a heart, we will see the miracles of today as well that G-d for a nation that is not always aware of it and does not always appreciate it – but should.

   We do – and so we welcome Pesach not only for the mitzvot, the wonderful spirit and the joys of family, but because we can utilize this moment to declare His name and proclaim His deeds to the nations, with the hope and prayer that we will again behold His redemptive hand.

      Chag kasher v’sameach to all!

​​​

 

Advertisements

Takeaways

Who holds an election – and almost nothing changes? Israel. Almost the same configuration of parties that dissolved the last government will form the next one, and hope that this time they can make it work a little longer. It is also extremely rare, to say the least, to have an election in which everyone claims victory when the results are in, but such is the case in Israel. Here are some takeaways from the results, subject to change at any moment.

  • No Netanyahu fatigue:

PM Netanyahu will soon become the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history, breaking founder David Ben-Gurion’s record, which, in the tumult of Israeli politics and its mercurial populace, stood like Joe DiMaggio’s 56 consecutive game hitting streak.

How was this accomplished? He is a unique political figure who has learned to follow the consensus and gradually shape it in the direction he wants. He also knows how to manipulate the electorate, in the classic and non-pejorative sense of dangling before moderate voters the dire prospects of an opponent’s victory as well as very subtly offering his more right-wing electorate the possibility of achieving some cherished goals. In the first category was painting the new “Blue and White” Party (a conglomeration of several parties, with a lot of generals at the top) as another leftist party. To the others, he offered – again – the prospect of a tougher hand against Hamas, no Palestinian state and a potential declaration of Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria.

Of course, when he announced the latter this past weekend, I wondered why he just didn’t declare it then, or the day before, or the month or year before. But that is how politicians operate, and he is a master politician.

Part of his allure to his supporters is that the people who dislike him are overrepresented in the media, which has hated him for over twenty years. The happy faces when the first projections were made that showed a “Blue and White” victory turned sour over the next few hours as the returns came in. The same dynamic occurred when PM Netanyahu first won in 1996 – coming from behind, so to speak, as the returns came in. And for those who remember the long, dark faces in the US media on election night in 2016 – well, it wasn’t that gloomy but it was competitive.

Netanyahu has learned to handle the media well (he ignores hostile outlets for as long as he can) and does interviews very selectively, except during election seasons. He has been remarkably successful on the domestic and international scene. There is no other national leader who is on good terms with both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Talk about collusion! President Trump sees Netanyahu as a kindred spirit, a tough leader, and in his presence, recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights after almost forty years, and to the horror (again) of the American and world foreign policy pointy heads. Putin, whom Netanyahu has visited even more than he has Trump, last week orchestrated the return of the remains of Zachary Baumol Hy”d, killed and missing in action since 1982. It was at some risk to the Russian soldiers currently occupying Syria (whose cruel, lying leaders had denied any knowledge of Baumol’s whereabouts) and tapped into something essential in the Israeli psyche: its concern for every soldier, universally acknowledged even if the execution of that value is often flawed.

Both Trump’s and Putin’s actions were warranted and justifiable in their own right – but to have both come right before the election was…no coincidence. Israelis, used to being international pariahs, reveled in the prestige and concrete achievements that Netanyahu has brought to Israel through his diplomacy and alliances. Rather than grow tired of him, the opposite occurred: the Likud won more seats in this election that in any previous Netanyahu election.

Part of this was a campaign strategy, used to great effect in 2015, that warned right-wing voters that casting ballots for small parties would dilute Netanyahu’s strength and boost the leftist or moderate parties. It worked – to the great detriment of the New Right party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, which has been emasculated.

 

  • Blue and White falls short:

One of enigmas of Israeli politics, fostered by the leftist media, is the fascination with the “new party.” Every election features some “third” party, composed of first-time politicians, who do well, only to fade in subsequent elections. Last time it was Kulanu, the previous time it was Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid” (“There is a Future” – an incontrovertible contention) party. It has been a staple of Israeli politics since Yigael Yadin’s Shinui party (“Democratic Movement for Change” party; new politicians always want change, and sometimes even hope) in 1977. Their rise is meteoric, and their fall is equally so.

This year’s version was the Blue and White party, led by three former generals and the aforementioned Lapid, and it did remarkably well for a first-time party.  Several points were indispensable to its success. It was a union of several parties and thus garnered support from many different quarters. The generals, all former chiefs-of-staff, had great name recognition before a public which venerates the military, sometimes to a fault. And the party, because it was an amalgam of different personalities and policies, studiously avoided taking strong or clear positions about anything but their opposition to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s efforts to paint this group as lefties was successful only to the extent that it drove more right-wing and religious voters to him but it failed to convince the bulk of the electorate. Few of the individuals involved presented as hard-core leftists who would surrender land to the Arabs in exchange for smiles and promises. The party leader, Benny Gantz, is not my cup of tea but is impossible to demonize. I spoke to several Israelis who said they would never vote for him but they had served under him in the army, and they termed him an excellent commander.

That being said, it is hard to see what he achieved as Chief of Staff, and his conduct of the Gaza War in 2014 was harshly criticized. Moreover, Israel is enamored with generals but has not fared very well with the three generals who served as prime minister: Yitzchak Rabin orchestrated the catastrophic Oslo process, Ehud Barak pulled the IDF from Lebanon precipitously in 2000 (handing Hezbollah access to Israel’s northern border), and Ariel Sharon fomented the calamitous retreat from Gush Katif in 2005. So much for the wisdom of generals, who failed to learn that military and political/diplomatic strategy are two wholly different games.

If, as expected, Blue and White winds up in opposition, expect its dissolution at a certain point. Generals who are used to giving orders and having them carried out will find life in opposition quite frustrating. But, come next the election, expect another new party on the block, and with some of these same faces.

 

  • The New Right Disappears:

I made only one prediction before the election, and that was that Naftali Bennett would not do as well as he anticipated. It was the gamble that failed spectacularly – suddenly breaking away from the political home that he created , the “Jewish Home” party – in order to establish a party that was nationalistic and mildly religious-Zionist in nature but would appeal to nationalistic secular Israelis as well.

The problem with his theory always was that such a party already exists – and it is called the Likud, which contains on its list a number of prominent religious Zionists. If Bennett’s goal was to establish Likud B, it is quite understandable why, given the choice and the potential consequences, voters flocked to Likud A. Even if the New Right squeaks past the threshold, a more and more unlikely scenario, the party Bennett leads would have shrunk from 13 seats to 8 seats to 4 (or 0) seats. That is not a good trajectory in politics and a timely reminder of the Talmudic dictum “If you grasp a lot, you grasp nothing” (Rosh Hashana 4b).

Worse, the splintering of the right-wing parties into several groups that did not pass the electoral threshold cost the religious-Zionist camp more than 100,000 votes that translates into several more seats in the Knesset. They need to learn a little John Greenleaf Whittier rhyme: “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been!” Or even a little Torah, and stop fighting over “Mi Barosh”  (Masechet Sanhedrin 102A). The quixotic Zehut party of Moshe Feiglin especially disappointed, and its advocacy for marijuana legalization most unhelpful; perhaps its proponents were too stoned to realize Tuesday was Election Day – and engendered even more wasted votes.

Bennett and Shaked are very talented individuals who did exceptional work in their respective ministries, and they should take the time to regroup, accept high-profile positions (in diplomacy or organizations), keep serving the public as they have done quite well in their previous ministries, and they will yet return to politics. Remember that the world counted out Binyamin Netanyahu in 1999 after his landslide defeat to Ehud Barak, and he even retired from politics for several years.

I heard he made a comeback.

 

  • The Two State Illusion is Dead

There is one overriding message that emerged from this election: there is no constituency to again partition the land of Israel and create a second Palestinian state (the first being Jordan). Parties who support that position barely eked out a dozen seats in the Knesset.

Leftist American Jews who remain wedded to the idea that the future of mankind depends on the surrender of more land in Israel to a sworn enemy should have a reality check. They are living in the past, man. That ship has sailed, that train has left the station. Stop waiting for it – and especially because it was a disaster in the making anyway.

I sense that Trump’s Deal of the Century was always fluid, never fixed, and should be no cause for alarm for Jews. Whatever final form it takes, it will go nowhere.

It is hard to believe, and a source of great encouragement, that Israel is in such a strong position today – militarily and economically. Certainly anything can change in an instant, and clear and present dangers lurk all around. The Haredi parties slightly increased their mandates, perhaps attributable to their growing population. But religious Jews vote for all sorts of parties and many Haredim and Religious-Zionists vote for Likud as well, itself a warning of the foolishness of diffusing into so many different boutique parties, some that make it into the Knesset and some that don’t.

 

The elections were exciting, and I hope to vote in the next one, which might some sooner than most people would think; the fissures that caused this team to disintegrate season will surely recur this season. But Israel’s notoriously volatile electorate voted – and produced almost the same configuration of parties in the next government as served in the past one.

 

In Local News…

(This article appears in condensed form in this week’s Jewish Press.)

It is an overstatement to suggest that the Jewish community in Teaneck is embroiled in controversy, which some media outlets have been trying to promote. It is perhaps inevitable that key elements of the story involving the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County’s new by-law excluding from membership any rabbi who hires a woman in a clergy capacity have been misunderstood, distorted or fabricated. The decision taken was natural, proper, justified, halachic and important, and done in a way that reflected respect, collegiality and sensitivity. It was a decision that affirmed traditional Orthodox practice and the community norms that we wish to propagate and teach.

No one has been expelled from the RCBC nor is anyone being threatened with expulsion. My esteemed colleague from Netivot Shalom whose decision to hire a female clergy-in-training sparked this discussion and clarification, remains a member in good standing of the RCBC. Not only was there a full airing of all views and opinions before a vote was taken, the by-law officially goes into effect this September so as to not prejudice the woman who was retained temporarily in the clergy role. More significantly, to spare him any embarrassment or disrespect, it was agreed that the decision would not be broadcast to the public. Even the media hoopla with which the announcement of the hiring was originally made would not be countered in any public forum, out of professional respect. It is lamentable that this courtesy was not reciprocated and proponents of female clergy ran, as is their wont, to social media in order to protest this obvious articulation of the Mesorah.

No one is being expelled. If my colleague chooses not to comply by September, then he resigns from the RCBC but I sincerely hope we never reach that stage. The RCBC is a professional rabbinic organization that, like any professional organization, sets standards for admission and membership. We have other by-laws. In 2006, we passed by-laws that affirmed that no RCBC rabbi can officiate in a shul without a mechitza or at a funeral without tahara and tachrichin. None were pressing issues at the time or now, but we felt it important to establish this clarity. At the same time, we approved by-laws that required semicha from a recognized Orthodox yeshiva or Orthodox rabbi for membership, and also declared that “no RCBC member synagogue may permit women to receive aliyot to the Torah in any form or in any circumstance, whether as part of the regular davening or not, and no RCBC member Rabbi in good standing may permit such a practice in the synagogue in which he serves.” At the time, nobody even dreamt that we would one day have to spell out the inadmissibility of female clergy in our shuls, so it was not addressed.

The objective of these by-laws adopted in 2006 was “to preserve, promote and foster the cause of traditional Orthodox Judaism in line with the Mesorah of the Jewish people…and to protect the integrity of the RCBC Rabbi and further the interests of Torah Judaism.” The instant decision was taken with the same goals in mind and for the same purpose: the RCBC is obligated to establish its criteria for membership as well as demarcate for the community what is construed as the religious norms that we should and do profess.

Interestingly, I first addressed the issue of female clergy in these pages (“The Incredibly Shrinking Rabbinate, Jewish Press, August 7, 2013). Since that time, the mainstream Orthodox community has coalesced and made its position on this matter crystal clear. The mainstream Rabbinical Council of America pronounced female clergy incompatible with the Mesorah. The mainstream Orthodox Union pronounced female clergy incompatible with the Mesorah. These are the representative institutions of Modern Orthodoxy. The larger Haredi-Yeshivish world deems female clergy so beyond the pale of Orthodoxy that it almost never addresses the issue.

The pursuit of female clergy has been the objective of the Open Orthodox, whom years ago I more properly termed “neo-Conservatives” for their unfortunate attempt to repeat the mistakes of the Conservative Jewish movement of a century ago. It is important for the RCBC to conform to the standards of the mainstream Jewish world with which we identify and to underscore for our community that this is normative Orthodoxy. It is. Female clergy is not a Torah concept, and no amount of lobbying, social media posts and “unlikes” on Facebook will change that. Torah doesn’t work that way.

Certainly, this topic has been exhaustively deliberated. The discussions have been held, the papers have been written, the research is complete, the decisions have been taken, and this issue has been settled. Now the time for choosing has begun – on which side of the Mesorah do you wish to situate yourself? For almost all traditional Jews, the choice is obvious.

The small minority that tragically chooses otherwise are knowingly separating themselves from the Torah world, no different from all the movements in the past that had what they thought were grand ideas to reform, conserve, secularize or modernize Judaism. They are knowingly cutting themselves off from the life force of Torah Judaism, rejecting the almost unanimous views of halachic decisors of today. That is an enormous tragedy, and one that can still be averted. The patron of a restaurant declared treif by a hundred rabbis and kosher by one should be well aware of what he or she is eating.

For sure, this decision does not at all detract from the importance of women’s Torah study or the invaluable contributions women make to Jewish life. May both continue and bring blessing to us all. But it is important to acknowledge that every role or endeavor in Jewish life is subject to the guidelines and parameters of Halacha and Mesorah.

There seems to be an attitude among habitants of the political/religious left, especially some millennials, that if they do not get their way, it means that a full and honest discussion of the matter at hand was not conducted and that “conversations” must continue until everyone else comes around to their viewpoint. That is not only intellectually dishonest, it is actually intellectual bullying, apropos for the social media world but wholly inappropriate for Torah discourse. The redundant articles saying the same thing week after week in the futile hope of mainstreaming the idea of female clergy is a public relations stunt, not a serious argument.

And the younger generation of rabbis must learn that, occasionally, defense of and advocacy for Torah requires forcefulness and decisiveness. No one should seek conflict but nor should rabbis ever viscerally shy away from it because the critics will be loud and frequently abusive; that too is an essential part of leadership, especially when critical matters of the Mesorah are on the agenda. As the Gemara (Ketubot 105b) states, a rabbi who is universally liked by his community, it is not because of his superior qualities but rather because he doesn’t reproach them in spiritual matters. (Of course, a rabbi who is universally disliked has other problems!) Rabbis must stand for something or they will fall for anything and acquiesce to everything. An organization that does not enforce its regulations is really inconsequential, and a kashrut organization that promulgates rules it does not enforce should inspire confidence in no one.

Teaneck is unique among Jewish communities for its homogeneity. Many people are members in several shuls. We are typified by rabbis and laymen who are comfortable in the Western world, have higher education, a strong commitment to Halacha, and are religious Zionists. None of our shuls are outliers, and it stands to reason that almost everyone would be comfortable davening in any shul. The differences in our shuls are subtle, nuanced – not striking or conspicuous.

We don’t want that to change. Many Orthodox Jews would not daven in a shul that has female clergy, just like many rabbis would not want to be part of a rabbinical organization that condoned female clergy. Some voices have suggested that the RCBC decision was an act of disunity at a time when Jews need greater shows of unity. That, too, is a polemical, not a substantive, argument, but nothing could be further from the truth.

We always need unity, even as it has been an unachievable quest since Sinai. But who has acted here in a disuniting and disruptive way? It would the ones who breached the consensus, not the ones who preserve it; it would be the ones who deviated from the norms, not the ones who uphold them. The responsibility for maintaining unity cuts both ways – but especially obliges those who carve out their own path and stray from the road on which we all travel.  In a world in which the Mesorah is under attack, and Torah values are, as always, challenged by the zeitgeist, those who hold firm and clarify the ideals of the Mesorah should be applauded, not lambasted. Indeed, that has been the reaction of most of our community, strong feelings from a vocal minority aside.

No one wants a resignation of any rabbi from the RCBC and I urge my colleague and his shul to respect the will of the majority, comply with this decision and remain part of our greater community. If a colleague decided, either under pressure from his membership or because he believed in its halachic propriety, to remove the mechitza in his synagogue, few would question the automatic resignation from the RCBC such would entail. Female clergy is the “mechitza” of our generation. Obviously it is the domain of any professional organization to determine its standards for membership, but it is equally critical that we elucidate to our community – again, and in conformity with the decisions of the RCA and OU, not to mention the rest of the Torah world – that lo zu haderech. This is not the proper way. Undermining the Mesorah has never kept Jews in the fold, all good intentions to the contrary notwithstanding. And to “grandfather in” something that is in its infancy is, frankly, bizarre; it is just playing a game that is designed to avoid a serious, mature discussion of the issue, and a lucid, unequivocal resolution as well.

Much has been made of this alleged encroachment on rabbinic autonomy, particularly in a rabbi’s own shul. I certainly subscribe to that, but there are limits to that principle as well. If shuls in one community together ostracized a recalcitrant husband for refusing to give his wife a Get – depriving him of synagogue honors and stripping him of membership – it is unlikely that today’s promoters of “rabbinic autonomy” would salute the rabbi who violates the consensus and grants privileges to that ignoble man, whatever good reasons he can adduce. No one lives on an island, and as the Midrash (Vayikra Raba 4:6) notes, no one can drill a hole under his seat in a boat and claim that only he is affected by it. There is strength in community and this decision aimed to reinforce that ideal. But if the decision is somehow weakened or vitiated, then the Mesorah community will be undermined and respect for rabbis, always a challenge in the Modern Orthodox world, will disappear. And rightly so.

We are a big tent but every tent has flaps and must be secured to the ground so that each gust of wind doesn’t blow it away. That ground is the Mesorah, and fealty towards it helps to produce God-fearing men and women who are the cornerstone of Jewish life and the foundation of the Jewish future. We want all Jews to be in that tent, and together hasten the day when all Jews will see and embrace the beauty of Torah without grievance and are faithful servants to the Divine will.

Election Fever

Here in Israel, election fever has seized the population or at least some small segment of it, with Knesset elections to be held in exactly two months. As always, old faces predominate even, as per custom, palates are salivating at the rise of the next flavor of the month, a taciturn general who can lead the nation to some place it thinks it hasn’t yet been.

The greatest mystery surrounds the fate of PM Netanyahu, who – if he survives – will shortly become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, to the dismay of those diehard Ben-Gurion aficionados who still see him as the prime minister and to the utter horror of long-time Netanyahu haters. Netanyahu’s problems are not with the voters, who would surely elect the Likud again as Israel’s largest party in the Knesset. His main problem is with the Attorney-General, who seems poised to indict him on something, anything. One doesn’t have to be a Netanyahu acolyte to note that none of the accusations are for anything even remotely substantive but the product of relentless investigations that have literally gone on for years in the hopes of pinning something, anything, on him. That should ring a bell for Americans, accustomed by now to the sad reality that you can always get anyone on something, and the clever prosecutor can make the innocuous look sinister, and simple acts of friendship look venal.

Lest one think that voters might get tired of a man who has served almost a decade, Israel’s parliamentary system can enable PM Netanyahu to “win” while receiving the endorsement of barely 25% of the voters, i.e., with 75% of the people voting for some other party. Some win. Some system (!) but at least it allows almost all voices and opinions to have a hearing.

Netanyahu has vowed to run even if indicted while his critics have vowed to end his campaign if he is indicted. The AG Mandelblit may release his findings shortly before the election, an odd practice to be sure. Israel does not use the Grand Jury system for indictments so it is basically one man’s choice. Talk of “one man, one vote.” This one man – Mandelblit – can change the face of Israeli history all by himself; despite Netanyahu’s current protestations, I cannot envision a situation in which even the Likud will allow him to run while under indictment. The pressure of the media (which despise him, for the most part) would be too intense.

The flavor of the month is Benny Gantz and his new Chosen L’Yisrael (Resilient Israel) Party. The name is as awkward in Hebrew as it is in English. Gantz is the latest in a long list of generals to retire from the military, enter politics, sweep to some elective office, and flame out after one or two elections. The names of his predecessors in this pattern might be familiar to some: Yigael Yadin, Yitzchak Mordechai, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Shaul Mofaz, and I’ve forgotten several others. Despite these repeated attempts, the only two generals to actually attain the premiership were Yitzchak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, both of whose tenures were marked by catastrophic surrenders of territory, domestic instability and weakened security. That has not stopped the Israeli public’s enchantment with ex-generals, at least for one election.

Gantz has been a cipher to date. His military career was not especially notable and his public policy statements have tended towards platitudes, clichés, half smiles, winks and good wishes. One problem generals have making the transition to politics (besides the need to get elected) was encapsulated by Harry Truman, who said of his successor, General Dwight Eisenhower: “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.” The fantasy of the politician-general is that he will know best how to defend the homeland, whereas actually being president or prime minister requires much more than that. The new flavor has always done well, and so Gantz’s party is expected to win double-digit seats. And then he too will decline in the election after this one, to be replaced by another flavor.

By the same token, third parties claiming the center also do well – once – and then recede. Think of Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon, both up, and then down, but still around. This year’s incarnation of the Labor Party is nearing defunct status. And the wild card in the Knesset is always the Arab parties, last time the third largest bloc.

The so-called religious parties present an especially intriguing narrative this election season. Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked ran away from home, i.e., abandoned the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party that they started to form the Yamin Hachadash (New Yamin, or Right, party). Although their maneuver contained not a little duplicity, it was a smart political move. Bennett has always perceived himself as a potential prime minister but felt hampered by leading a party that was perceived as sectoral even as he tried to broaden it. The widening of the traditional National Religious party apparatus led to certain gains but also muted its response to the issues that naturally affected their constituency including the plight of religious soldiers in the army and the leftist’s concoction of the specter of hadata, religious coercion, which they claim threatens their way of life. More impactful? The left’s hachlana (secular coercion), which in many ways has diminished or diluted Israel’s Jewish character.

The New Yamin is taking a gamble. In essence, Bennett has responded to critics of his Bayit Yehudi leadership who accused him of creating “Likud B” by, in effect, creating “Likud B.” If his gamble succeeds, his party might eventually succeed a post-Netanyahu Likud as Israel’s right-wing party but with a greater respect for Jewish tradition that has been found in the Likud. If it fails, well, the right-wing parties can find themselves with more votes but without power or influence in government. A similar and prior fiasco produced the disastrous Oslo Accords.

The traditional religious parties, right and left, never seem to grow despite obvious gains in their percentage of the population. The Agudah party, under whatever name, never rises beyond the six seats it had in the 1980’s. For sure, many of its voters don’t vote or vote for other parties. And since many of the so-called secular parties – especially Likud – contain many Knesset members who are Torah observant, the narrow parties like the Aguda party, the National Religious party, Shas and its various permutations get stuck at a certain threshold, and then reinforce their narrow agendas by focusing only on their constituencies.

The national religious party apparatus is divided into several small groupings that make meeting the electoral threshold a challenge. But the new leadership of these parties is especially promising. Betzalel Smotrich (new head of the National Union Party) has been an especially effective and diligent legislator and is uncompromising in his support of Torah, Jewish life and the land of Israel. We need such people with backbones and ideas. And Rav Rafi Peretz, the new leader of the old Bayit Yehudi, is not a natural politician – former combat helicopter pilot and Chief Rabbi of the IDF, and long-time Rosh Yeshiva – and perhaps that can be his great strength. His humble demeanor masks a steely will, and his unabashed commitment to Torah, mitzvot, the strengthening of Jewish identity and the holiness and inviolability of the land of Israel should stabilize the Jewish Home, both the party and the country. It would be best if these, and some other smaller right-wing parties, merged and created a larger bloc that could effect a proud national-religious agenda.

Surprises await, as always. What is most impressive is that all these parties are not just vying for the perks of power (hey, that’s life) but present substantially different visions of what a Jewish state is and should be. That is a debate that affects Jewish destiny for all Jews across the world. It is also a good reminder that God runs the world His way – and also that (Masechet Makot 10b) He guides us along the way that we want to walk as well.

The Oldest Hatred

There are persistent and credible reports that the oldest hatred – hatred of Jews – is back, with a vengeance, and is escalating throughout the world. For sure, some of the statistics are inflated by organizations that are in the business of monitoring Jew-hatred. And there are overt instances of Jew hatred that are ignored by these same organizations for partisan, political reasons, as they try to curry favor with their ideological siblings at the expense of distorting their mission and business model. (I still hate using the expression “anti-Semitism,” as I have yet to meet a Jew who defines himself as a “Semite.” The term itself is an obvious attempt to minimize this hatred.)

Is it true that Jew hatred has returned? Or is it more possible that it never left?

I tend to believe the latter. After all, the Sages were quite clear that Jew hatred has been our fate since we left Egypt (if not before), and certainly since we received the Torah at Sinai. Sinai was so named, the Talmud (Masechet Shabbat 89b) because from there, hatred (sin’ah) of the nations towards us descended to the world. We are different, have always been different, and maintain a set of divinely-ordained values that sets us apart from the world, and that the world – in whole or in part – has always struggled to adopt. It is no surprise that Jew-hatred endures.

It is likely true that the communication revolution of the past twenty years brought much Jew-hatred out of the shadows. The aftermath of the Holocaust drove many Jew-haters under cover. It became decidedly unpopular to openly stigmatize and denounce Jews. But the internet has allowed the most fringe parties on the planet to disseminate their odious ideas in many regards, and Jew hatred is no different. The ranting of otherwise obscure people is given undeserved prominence and thus, like many poisonous weeds, grows and grows.

Nevertheless, Jew hatred today is not generally typified by assaults on certain aspects of Torah and not even on the occasionally misdeeds of Jewish miscreants. It is located and (in many cases) shielded by masquerading as hatred of Israel.

So here’s the time to pull the mask off this new incarnation of the oldest hatred. How often do we hear that to be anti-Israel is not to be conflated with being anti-Jewish, that not every criticism of Israel is necessarily reflective of (all right, I’ll say it for effect) anti-Semitism? Too often, because the reality is that Jew hatred today is most often disguised as hatred of Israel.  And yes, to hate Israel is to hate Jews, and to be anti-Israel is to be a Jew-hater of the traditional, historical sort. Complaints about the nation state of the Jewish people have succeeded complaints about the Jewish people. Make no mistake about it, and the next time you read this disclaimer – “just because I am against Israel doesn’t mean I am a Jew hater” – answer promptly: “Yes, it does.”

How do we know and how can ascertain when this new Jew-hatred presents itself? Clearly, there are people who criticize Israel out of love – they want it to be more Jewish, more assertive, more protective of Jewish life, and less accommodating to its enemies. That is not hatred of Jews but love of Jews. But here are a few helpful hints that expose modern Jew hatred in its guise of just being anti-Zionist.

People who maintain that the State of Israel has no right to exist are Jew haters, period. Besides rejecting the Bible, they are promoting the notion that only Jews – of all peoples on the face of the earth – have no right to a national homeland.

People who support the BDS movement to encourage (and in some cases, to actively legislate) the boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning of Israel – and only Israel, of all the nations on the globe – they are Jew-haters, period. They are positing, without any evidence supporting their proposition and with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the State of Israel is the greatest threat to world peace today, undermines world stability, and is a source of great harm to other nations. This is not just preposterous and anti-Zionist; it is rank Jew-hatred that has accompanied us throughout our history. Any person or group that is uninterested in the cruelty and viciousness of any of the world’s dictatorships, and sees absolutely no need to BDS any other country in the world except for Israel is a Jew-hater, pure and simple.

People who complain about Israeli checkpoints that inconvenience Arabs entering Israel and apprehend terrorists are Jew haters, not just anti-Israel partisans. That is because they are maintaining that Israel, alone among the nations on the earth, has no right to physical borders, to control its borders, to exercise sovereignty over its land or to deter Arab terrorists from murdering innocent civilians. The mere assertion that Israel is not allowed to act as other sovereign nations act is Jew-hatred; the elementary rights that all other nations exercise simply do not pertain to the Jewish state. That is Jew hatred.

People who demand that Israel, alone among the nations on earth, has no right to retain the territory in its homeland that it captured in a defensive war but must surrender it in order to create another  hostile Arab state in the region are Jew-haters. They are applying to Israel standards that they do not apply to any other nation on earth, all of which captured its territory at one time in defensive (and sometimes offensive) wars. The proffering of rules that apply only to Israel is an explicit indicator of Jew hatred, and must be exposed as such.

Finally, people who claim that they cannot be Jew-haters because they are Jewish themselves, and think they can thus condemn Israel with immunity from the charge of Jew-hatred, are Jew-haters in one of the worst but too common manifestations of the oldest hatred: the self-hating Jew. The self-hating Jew hates himself or herself but also hates other Jews as well. This, sadly, is a well known phenomenon in Jewish history. Being Jewish doesn’t inoculate a person from possessing the scourge of Jew-hatred. Some of the worst Jew haters in history were Jews, descended from Jews, or had Jewish blood in them – and fought madly and violently to erase their Jewish identity.

Perhaps in one of the most whimsical expressions of this dynamic, there are Jew haters today – several American politicians stand out – who are quick to claim Jewish ancestry from Conversos or others in a lame attempt to distract from their Jew-hating policies and pronouncements. If only they realized that some Jew-haters are Jews, and some are even Jews who wear the garb of pious people and observe some of the mitzvot, they would spare us their resort to this tripe, a defense that convicts rather than exonerates its advocates.

I suppose it’s a good thing that Jew-haters try to conceal their Jew-hatred under the façade of just being anti-Israel; that means that it is still considered disreputable in most circles to be construed a Jew-hater. And yet too many Jews have adopted this hackneyed cliché of “being anti-Israel is not at all being anti-Jewish” in order to shelter their home team politicians. It is undeniable that the Democrat Party has become home to some of America’s most prominent Jew haters, and most Jews – confirmed Democrat partisans to their core (for some it is their primary identity) deny it, defend it, trot out the cliché, or reproach Israel for eliciting this Jew-hatred.

Note that the Republican Party has ostracized Rep. Steve King for remarks he made that were probably more out stupidity than venality.  When he asked rhetorically, in an interview, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” he was roundly and unanimously condemned by all Republicans, stripped of his committee assignments, and urged to find another line of work. (For the record, if his question had only mentioned “Western civilization,” it would have been fair and unremarkable. But “white nationalist and white supremacist” have been offensive terms, I think, since…forever.)

Yet, Democrats have been cozying up to the rabid, blatant Jew hater Louis Farrakhan for several decades. He is feted at their gatherings, featured in pictures with a host of Dem politicians (including Barack Obama), sought after for advice and (tacit) endorsements. And seldom is heard a discouraging word – from any Democrat politician, and certainly no Democrat legislator is sanctioned, Steve King style, by the Dem leaders.

It is the Democrat Party that is today the home of Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and others –all openly, shamelessly and fearlessly anti-Israel and hence anti-Jewish. They are supporters of BDS, in some form deniers of Israel’s right to exist, and essentially reject the lawful sovereignty of the State of Israel over its homeland. And rather than repudiate such representatives as Omar, Steve King style, she was rewarded with a seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, notwithstanding her anti-Israel and thus anti-Jewish animus, and even her advocacy for leniency for members of ISIS who hailed from Minnesota.

This is not your grandfather’s Democrat Party, but too many Jews are stuck in the past, and too many Democrat supporters of Israel, some Jews themselves, have been cowed into silence. They give a pass and turn a blind eye to obvious anti-Israel expressions and policies if they originate with someone who has a (D) after his or her last name. That does not bode well for the future.

Some organizations – the ADL stands out – are fixated on the Jew-hatred of the white supremacists while whitewashing the Jew-hatred found on the radical left, in part of the black and Muslim communities and their favorite political party. Honesty in their approach would be a welcome change. Others struggled mightily to camouflage the overt Jew-hatred found in the radical feminist movement and their marches. Some, to their credit, prioritized their Jewish identity and walked away – but others did not, the “cause” being greater than their pride and dignity as Jews.

One way to overcome their inhibitions, and speak truth to the new power base in the party, is to decry this new manifestation of Jew hatred, to say unabashedly that, yes, hatred of Israel is hatred of Jews, without vacillation, hesitation, and weaselly obfuscations.

Indeed, that might help maintain support for Israel as a bi-partisan value – and help confront and eradicate this newest incarnation of the oldest hatred. Jew-hatred must be called out – whether it emanates from the left or the right, Democrats or Republicans, Jews or non-Jews.  It will be challenging, but as Rav Avraham Kook famously stated: “The purely righteous do not just complain about evil but increase justice.” The diminution of Jew-hatred (elimination is a fantasy) will go a long way in creating a society and a world with justice for all. It begins with eradicating the contrived distinction between anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.

It is one and the same.

 

(You can buy Rabbi Pruzansky’s new book, Volume Two of “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility,” now in fine stores, at Amazon.com or at Gefen Publishing,)

The Wages of Sin

The Second Lady of these not entirely United States, Karen Pence, is being lambasted by the “enlightened” media for her decision to teach again in a Christian school that unabashedly professes biblical values. The school’s main crime seems to be its endorsement of marriage as the uniting of “one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union.” This has aroused the ire not of advocates for polygamy but those for same sex marriage, apparently still unaware that the Bible repudiates those relationships. The reaction should send a chill down the spine of every faithful Jew. Karen Pence has committed the modern sin (one of the only sins still on the books) of embracing traditional concepts of sin; alas, the abolition of all forms of biblical sin is now deemed by the purveyors of today’s culture as sophisticated, liberating, avant-garde, and trendy.

She might be today’s target – but religious Jews are in their gun sights as well.

Most American Jews today are, sadly, unaware of the Torah’s morality, conflate it with secular progressivism at its worst, or reject it in whole or in part. Advocates for the new morality clamored for several years to have their seat at the table; having gained it, they now seek to drive traditionalists out of the house entirely. Increasingly, people of religious faith find their views mocked and scorned in the public domain, and accused of being haters by real haters of G-d, tradition, morality and common sense. All this was predictable. The quest for legitimacy was not simply about rights for some but about eradicating from society all traditional norms and public expressions thereof. Will it be long before religious schools are threatened by the government with revocation of their charters and denial of any government funds (even for religiously neutral activities) if they continue to teach certain biblical passages that reflect the moral mandates by which mankind lived and civilization prospered for thousands of years? It will happen, sooner rather than later.

This poses a particular dilemma for Jews. This will not be the first exile in our history in which the primary assault was on Jewish values. The so-called “Greek” exile, in which Jews in Israel were threatened by Hellenistic dominance, culminated in the rebellion whose victory is celebrated on Chanuka. That threat was almost entirely spiritual. Jews were allowed to live in the land of Israel with a functioning polity and Temple – as long as Hellenism was embraced. Greek culture was pluralistic in that sense. G-d could take His place among the pantheon of other gods, G-d forbid. To pious, faithful Jews, that was unbearable, and worth a war.

Its successor Roman culture similarly challenged Jewish values, even as Rome conquered the land of Israel, destroyed the Temple, exiled most Jews, and sought to suppress the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot. These cultural assaults on Jews were almost non-existent during the Christian and Muslim exiles, as both embraced biblical morality in some form but were antagonized by the Jews’ persistence in clinging to the Torah and not converting to their updated versions of the Torah. The hostility was physical, personal and religious, even as we shared similar values, more or less.

The 20th century saw again the rise of cultural challenges to Judaism, where the ethos of the Torah itself came under assault. While America was mostly accommodating, Europe collapsed under the weight of Nazism and Communism. The Nazi hatred for Judaism and Torah paralleled its barbarous hatred for Jews. But before and after the Holocaust, it was the Soviet Union that concentrated the brutal organs of its dictatorship on waging war against the Torah and those Jews who studied it and followed its precepts. The attempt to eliminate all traces of religion – and of the Torah as the source of all morality – was pervasive and relentless. The banning of the Jewish calendar, the teaching of Torah and even the Hebrew language, the prohibition on the performance of mitzvot and even the acknowledgment of fidelity to G-d greatly offended the state authorities who, as good atheists usually do, worshiped themselves and the works of their hands.

The Nazi system was destroyed seventy- five years ago and the Soviet Union imploded thirty years ago, but hatred of G-d and His morality has surfaced again, as it always must somewhere, in the form of new morality that has made personal freedom and individual autonomy the highest of all values. That notion is barely tolerable – but what has made it intolerable is the demand by these advocates of freedom that their freedom takes precedence over the freedom of others. Their insistence on living as they choose to live –marrying whomever they want, flaunting their lifestyles however they want – pales before their demand that everyone else accept it, embrace it, love it, promote it and utter nary a dissenting word.

And those who still dissent, nonetheless, will be shamed and victimized, pilloried and persecuted – from the bakers, florists and photographers who have had their personal autonomy trampled to the religious Jews and Christians whose expressions of faith and commitment to traditional morality mark them, in the thinking of the new Torquemadas, as haters and bigots.

All they lack is the official machinery of state power to enforce their doctrines at the point of a bayonet or under threat of riots and mobs that will harass every school, student, storekeeper or servant of G-d who resists and doesn’t comply. That is what they lack. So far.

George Washington said that “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” The United States was founded, and became a haven for Jews and others, because of its firm commitment to the freedoms of speech, worship, religion, press, assembly and association. Those freedoms are being endangered by the progressive mob – and by the silence of those who have been intimidated by that mob. Undoubtedly, this clash of cultures is at the core of the polarization and discontent that is roiling America. The positive outcome of this clash is that leaders of various faith communities, whatever our other differences, have bonded together to confront this threat to universal morality and these attacks on religious faith. Again, to quote George Washington, “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

It is not unforeseeable that the culture and values of modern America may become so antithetical to Jewish life as to negate any benefits this exile provided in the past. It might make living a complete Torah life so difficult that many more Jews will be swept away by this torrent and divine service driven underground – as has happened to us before. Ironic, indeed, if this exile ends not because of a wave of physical persecution and limits to our freedom but by the excesses that freedom without responsibility, unmoored from its biblical origins, engendered, proliferated, inundated and  overwhelmed this land, from sea to shining sea.

 

(You can buy Rabbi Pruzansky’s new book, Volume Two of “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility,” now in fine stores, at Amazon.com or at Gefen Publishing,)

Power Politics

It is no great mystery why the dysfunctional American political system has ground to a stalemate. When two sides to any negotiation lack a common objective, there is no incentive to settle any dispute. President Trump has always prided himself on being the great dealmaker; of course, in business, deals are made because both sides share the goal of making as much money as possible. In the good deal, each side will benefit. Seller, buyer, supplier of raw materials, manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer will all work together, take their cuts, and rejoice on the way to the bank.

Sadly, politics are currently practiced is not conducive to deal-making. The objectives are not money per se or even the general welfare but the solitary goal of power – its the pursuit and attainment. Power is a zero sum game. (Today, of course, one byproduct of power is access to money and the ability to distribute it to cronies, friends and voters, but it is not the money itself that is the goal, unlike the businessman for whom that is the only goal.) If the objective is power, then raw power politics infuses every decision, policy and negotiation, and the only desirable outcome is the weakening, even destruction, of your opponent.

It is odd, indeed, how the game of politics in this democracy and so many dictatorships is played by the same rules. The “people” don’t really matter. I laugh when I hear politicians (on both sides) intone about what “the American people want” or “the American people will not accept.” Such sentiments are risible, as politicians are unconcerned with the American people as such but only with their constituents, and their constituents who vote, and especially their constituents who vote for them. The game is how to achieve power, keep it and expand it.

It doesn’t break any new ground to suggest that politicians as a class are dishonest people but the levels of dishonesty and hypocrisy have reached new nadirs. Politicians (think Schumer and Pelosi, for two) in past years routinely voted for and spoke favorably about physical barriers as indispensable for border security. Now? Well, we know what is happening now, but the only thing that has changed is the name and party of the president. Compounding the problem is that very few of these politicians will allow themselves to be interviewed by journalists who will question them about these inconsistencies.  They prefer the softball questions of the “journalists” who are their ideological patriots. Wouldn’t you love to hear Nancy Pelosi answer this question: “How can a border wall be immoral when you voted for it in the past, and budgeted even more money for it than the President is asking now? When did it become immoral?”

Of course walls work, always have, always will. Many politicians – Pelosi and Obama among them – live behind protective walls. The Kotzker Rebbe could afford to keep his doors unlocked, with a sign out front “lo tignov,” do not steal, as deterrent; he had nothing worth stealing anyway. It is amusing how people who oppose a border wall always seem to live in gated communities. The issue then, obviously, is not security or even a wall – but public relations, votes, and the road to power. It is a sham, played out for the entertainment of the masses. The only people affected by this farce are the workers are temporarily furloughed and unpaid, and the victims of illegal immigrant crime who are permanently murdered or become addicted to the waves of narcotics and opioids that enter this country through the southern border, by air and by sea. (Incidentally, there is something both saddening and maddening about a country with a severe drug problem that is now gung ho on legalizing marijuana.)

Here is a clear example of dishonesty at work: one leftist activist group mocked the President’s reference to Israel’s successful border wall, claiming that the wall that cuts through Judea and Samaria was necessary to prevent terrorist incursions, and that such has not been a problem on the United States’ southern border. True – but that is not the wall to which Trump is referring. Israel built a sophisticated barrier along its southern border with Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula to halt the influx of illegal migrants from the Sudan, Eritrea and surrounding areas. Tens of thousands arrived in the last decade or so, some working in menial jobs but others turning to violence and theft – until the barrier was built. It has been almost 100% effective in preventing illegal migration from the south.

But why let facts get in the way of a good advertisement?

“Hatred distorts traditional norms of conduct” (Midrash Breisheet Rabba 55:8, and cited in this week’s sedra of Beshalach by the medieval commentator Chizkuni to explain Pharaoh’s irrationality). Haters lose their perspective and their reason and renounce whatever value system they previously professed. If Trump is for a wall, Dems must oppose it. If Trump wants American troops out of Syria, Dems become jingoistic proponents of the projection of American power across the Middle East and the world (after decades of opposition to same). If Trump wants to resolve the problem of the CHIIPS (CHildren of Illegal Immigrant Parents raised in America), Dems must oppose any solution. When Obama was pro-Putin, that  was statesmanship; if Trump is pro-Putin, that is treachery. If Trump is protectionist (even to a fault), then the Dems – the party of protectionism! – must present as free traders.

If Trump is pro-Israel, then the Dems have to become anti-Israel. Whoever Trump nominates for any position must be opposed; the simple fact that he nominates them disqualifies them from public service. If Trump negotiates with North Korea, the Dems must oppose it.

The executive and legislative branches are distrusted by large elements of the population. And the federal judiciary has also corrupted itself, issuing injunctions to thwart the President’s will on specious legal grounds and totally ignoring obvious statutory authority; too many partisan judges see themselves as part of the resistance and that undermines faith in the third branch of government. Thus there is across-the-board distrust in every center of authority, with each branch at war with the others. And it is indisputable that the FBI has disgraced itself with shady partisan tricks under color of authority, criminal behavior that, if the sides were reversed, would be the subject of endless investigations and condemnations by the liberal media.

Well, this is not normal and the application of “Hatred distorts traditional norms of behavior and thinking.” It is self-destructive, and corrosive to any nation that lives through it. Politics has always been about power but it usually included an interest on some level in promoting the general welfare of the people. That has disappeared and it is hard to see how the upcoming presidential campaign – whoever runs or whoever wins – will succeed in restoring the norms of public discourse.

There are few real policy disputes. There are questions of degree more than kind. These issues were always handled in the past through finding a number that meets both sides’ needs. The $5B sought for a border wall is a rounding error in the federal budget of more than four trillion dollars. The budget allocates more billions to frivolous vanity projects of various Congressmen than to the border wall. The Postal Service loses more every year than is sought in this request. Politicians remain obsessed with getting favorable coverage from their media sycophants and claiming to speak on behalf of the “American people.”

How can we find a way out of this morass? Declaring a national emergency won’t work as the Dems will run to the courts where the matter will be buried for months or years. So here is a suggestion: Open up the government for one week, beginning this Monday. This way, federal workers can get two paychecks at the end of the week and will be up to date (and not have people realize that citizens can get along quite well without these “non-essential workers”). One week – during which time each side presents proposals and counterproposals. The side that refuses to compromise will be exposed as the side that refuses to compromise.

Does that matter anymore? We will see.

 

(You can buy Rabbi Pruzansky’s new book, Volume Two of “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility,” now in fine stores, at Amazon.com or at Gefen Publishing,)