Friday, May 30, 2008

'It's wrong to strip Jewish status'
By Rabbi Naftali Brawer - Thursday 29th 2008f May 2008

I don’t know if many of you are aware of the latest rabbinical scandal to emerge from Israel. It is huge with reverberations across Europe and the United States.

It began earlier this year when the Ashdod Rabbinical Court was involved in a divorce proceeding. During the course of the proceeding it was determined that the woman – who had been converted to Judaism 15 years earlier by Rabbi Hayim Druckman of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s State Conversion Authority – never adhered to Orthodox practice. As such the Ashdod Rabbinical Court revoked the woman’s conversion retroactively thereby stripping the couple’s four children of their Jewish status as well. This alleviated the necessity of the Jewish husband having to give her a get.

At the end of April a three man panel of Dayanim comprising the rabbinical High Court of Jerusalem not only upheld the Ashdod decision but went so far as to recommend that all conversions under Rav Druckman be annulled retroactively!

Just take a moment to allow this to sink in. We are talking about 15 years worth of conversions. Thousands of individuals and their children who think they are Jewish suddenly find out one morning that they are not!

As you can imagine this ruling sent shockwaves throughout the Jewish world.

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA,) of which I am proud to be a member, condemned the ruling in the strongest terms. They called it a Hillul Hashem (a desecration of God’s name) and said that it was “beyond the pale of acceptable halakhic practice”

What type of rabbis could even suggest striping thousands of Jews of their Jewish status? What kind of Judaism is this? It is shameful!

This I am afraid is not an isolated case but rather it is symptomatic of a most disturbing trend in the Jewish world to be more and more stringent. To find reasons to forbid, to exclude, to condemn, when what we should be concerned with is finding ways to permit, to include, to vindicate.

Such oppressive and exclusive Judaism does not uphold the Torah, it degrades it!

The rabbinical judges who suggested revoking thousands of conversions would do well to remember the Talmudic passage in tractate Shabbat page 138 where the Talmud says:

It was taught in the name of Rabbi Yose ben Elisha; if you see a generations with manifold troubles examine the behaviour of its rabbinical judges [for it is they who are responsible for this state] as it says in the third chapter of Mica:

Hear this you rulers of the house of Jacob
You chiefs of the house of Israel
Who detest justice,
And make crooked all that is straight.

Of what use is all of their rabbinical learning if they cannot apply it in such a way as to assist real people with real problems?

Every Shabbat afternoon for the past six months I have been teaching a class on rabbinic responsa. Those who attend regularly know that although the topics change each week, the one consistent thread that runs through these responsa is the extend to which great rabbis have gone to try to help people, to include people, to make Judaism easier for those who struggle to observe it!

I am not saying that Halakha is malleable so that it can be manipulated to support any position. Of course not! There are red lines in Halakha – that is one of the definitions of any legal system. What I am saying is that the space between those red lines is much broader than many rabbis today care to admit.

Can you imagine a great rabbi of the past such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein revoking thousands of conversions before straining every fibre in his being to find a way to validate them?

The Torah commands us not to oppress a convert. The great 19th century Rosh Yeshiva, the Netziv of Veloszhin, says that this prohibition also applies to those who stand by silently as others oppress the convert.

That is why I am speaking out today. What we see is nothing less than a real violation of the dignity of the convert and I want no part of it.

I believe in a Torah that values human dignity and instructs its followers to do all they can to minimize human misery and suffering.

I believe that the Torah’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are paths of peace.

May these values prevail in the end bringing glory to God, to His Torah and to His people Amen.

Bemidbar by Rabbi Angel

Leadership: From the Wilderness to the Promised Land
A Thought on Parashat Bemidbar, Shabbat May 31, 2008
by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Moses had a difficult job. He not only had to confront Pharaoh and the Egyptians, he also had to convince the Israelites themselves of the value of freedom. This latter responsibility kept him busy in Egypt--and throughout the forty years of wandering in the Wilderness.

The Israelites did not immediately recognize the importance of their freedom or the significance of their going to the Promised Land to establish themselves as a righteous nation. The spies dis-heartened the people by giving a pessimistic report on the chances of defeating the inhabitants of the Promised Land. The Israelites always seemed to find something to complain about. Korah and his followers fomented an actual rebellion against Moses. How did Moses remain so faithful and so steady in his leadership over so long a period?

President Harry S. Truman once noted: "I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt? .... It isn't [polls] that count. It is right and wrong, and leadership--men with fortitude, honesty and a belief in the right that make epochs in the history of the world."

Moses was charged by the Almighty with a mission, and Moses was wise enough to keep focused on that mission. He did not take public opinion polls. He did not make campaign speeches. He did not compete in a popularity contest. He did not engage p.r. agents to "market" him with proper make-up, catch phrases, and electioneering slogans. No. Moses did not act as though he were running for president of his high school class. Rather, he was that rare and visionary leader who understood profound truths, and who believed it was his task to get the public to understand and adopt these truths on their own.

One marketing genius once said: You can fool some of the people all the time--those are the ones we're looking for!

Moses did not believe in that kind of marketing. He is a model of leadership that is not subject to corruption or bribes; that does not pander to this interest group or that; that sees itself as teaching and elevating the public rather than sinking to the lowest common denominator.

In the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, the model of Moses' leadership is an inspiration and a challenge. It reminds us of what leadership today can be.

The public at large can play a role in fostering proper leadership. It can be more discerning and demanding. It can raise its own ideals and visions, joining the leader in the task of improving our society and our world.

It is significant that Moses is known in our tradition as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Teacher (rather than as Moses our Leader, or Moses our General etc.). He not only had an inspired vision of the mission of the Israelites, but was the Israelites' teacher--seeking to share his vision and ideals with them.

A modern makeover for the 613 commandments

By stacey palevsky | staff writer

Thousands of years ago, the Jewish people were given the Torah — and quite the “to do” list, with 613 commandments in it.

How relevant are these mitzvahs today? For example, one reads: Relieve a neighbor of his burden and help to unload his beast.

Yes, in the days when the Tribe was actually a tribe, this guideline was probably useful, just as another mitvah — about giving the Kohen the due portions of the carcass of cattle — was handy at some point.

But what do these mitzvahs mean in the modern age?

Two Bay Area Jews are trying to figure that out by asking people to go online ( and ponder: What is the core message of the commandments? What does that message mean today? How can we apply this to our modern lives?

They call the project (Re)velation. The online submissions — a mix of audio and written “remixes” — will be part of an interactive multimedia art installation June 7 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s Shavuot celebration, DAWN 2008.

“I want to encourage an appreciation for interpretation in Jewish life and to invite people into that conversation,” said Ari Kelman, a U.C. Davis professor who created (Re)velation with Ben Brown, a social media consultant.

Both are involved in Reboot, a New York-based nonprofit helping plan DAWN 2008. The organization encourages creative Jews to “reboot” Jewish traditions and make them relevant once again in modern life.

Since (Re)velation has gone live on the Web, submissions have ranged from the serious to the irreverent.

For instance, the commandment to relieve neighbors of burdens was remixed by Sharon Greenfield to say, “Be a part of your community; know and help your friends, neighbors, city and colleagues.” An anonymous person wrote, “Help your friends move when they ask — yes, even the sofa.”

Kelman and Brown said many of their friends admitted to never having read all 613 mitzvahs, yet they were fascinated by their depth and breadth.

“I make no claims to be replacing or enhancing the rabbinic tradition. But a relatively elite group of people has engaged in this discussion, and I’m excited a broader audience will be able to talk about these things,” Brown said. “I hope they feel a bit more ownership of what the mitzvot mean, and how they actually apply to their lives.”

Since DAWN is an all-night affair, (Re)velation will evolve throughout the evening as attendees can write or record their interpretation of the 613 mitzvahs, remixes that will be immediately added to the space.

“The goal is to use this modern technique of crowd-sourcing — a wisdom of masses — to tease out the core meaning of the mitzvahs,” Brown said.

The remixed version of another mitzvah (“Do not add to the commandments of the Torah, whether in the written law or in its interpretation received by tradition”) says: “Do not remix these commandments!”

But Kelman and Brown — and hundreds of other young Jews, they hope — are reimagining them anyway.

Mitzvahs... reconsidered
(Re)velation asks Jews to consider if ancient Jewish laws are still relevant today, and if so, how those guidelines might provide wisdom in 21st-century life. Add your own ideas at www. Some examples:

• Original: Honor father and mother.
Remixed: You don’t call enough. They’re worried.

Original: To leave ol’loth (the imperfect clusters) of the vineyard for the poor.
Remixed: Instead of trying to sell your old clothes to stores like Crossroads, leave them washed and neatly folded on your curb — there is someone who needs them more than the $6 you’ll get for them at Wasteland.

• Original: Be fruitful and multiply.
Remixed: Have no more than two kids — tuition is expensive.

• Original: Food becomes defiled by contact with unclean things.
Remixed: There is no five-second rule.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Should I Pray Today?

By Michelle Nevada

Every morning I rise before dawn and, G-d willing, before my children, to steal a few moments for myself. Usually it is so close to dawn that the birds have already started to converse in a raucous din, and I plunge into the cool of the morning to retrieve my newspaper, and return to grind the coffee.

Then I stay Modeh Ani, and reach for the washing cup. It’s automatic.

Morning blessings, Shema . . . automatic.

Wash for bread. Eat. Pray.

Except, today it’s not automatic. I pause before I reach for the cup.

Should I pray today? Why should I? What would be the point? After all, maybe I’m praying in vain.

Thousands of converts to Judaism who thought they were doing the right thing by converting through the Israeli Conversion Authority are now considered to have been praying in vain.

Every mitzvah they did, in vain. Every act of chessed, in vain. Every Mikvah, especially the Mikvah for conversion, in vain.

Their marriages, their children, their lives, their deaths, their burials—all in vain.

And now I hear that Rabbi Sherman’s High Rabbinical Court has also thrown out the conversions of people who are deaf and/or mute.

The logic goes something like this: Deaf people aren’t required to keep all the Mitzvot, and since converts must intend to take on all the Mitzvot, deaf people and mute people can’t convert.

Another day, another outrageous ruling.

What’s next? A ruling that says that since women aren’t required to keep all the mitzvot, that women can’t convert? Then, perhaps, because converts can’t be Kohanim, and part of the mitzvot are for Kohanim, that no one can convert?

Should I steel myself for the next ruling, or slide away into nihilism? Does anything mean anything any more? Am I who I think I am? Does it matter?

One might say to me, “But you aren’t a Convert! Why should you care?”

Because I feel that it is only a matter of time before every Jew’s Jewishness is questioned. It is only a matter of time before every single one of us is determined to be unfit to perform a mitzvah or keep Shabbat or live in the land of Israel.

Can you say you are a perfect Jew, after all? Do you know EVERYTHING about your family’s past? Do you know who your great, great, great grandmother was? Can you prove she wasn’t a convert? Can you prove her mother wasn’t? If one of them was a convert, can you prove she didn’t convert for marriage? Can you prove she was completely Shomer Mitzvot?

Have you or anyone in your family now or in the past ever been a member of a religious Zionist organization? Have you always been completely tzniut? What about your family? Are there any pictures of you as a baby, for example, drooling and naked on a bearskin rug? Were you ever, for a moment, caught smiling out of context? Are there any witnesses who can attest that you may have been present in a movie theater?

Have you, G-d forbid, every gone off the derech? Did you, as a seventh-grader, dare question your rabbi in Chumash class? Have you ever wondered what bacon tastes like? Did you think about kissing a girl you weren’t married to? Did you imagine what her elbows must look like? Did you tie your left shoe before your right?

The truth is that if one Jew is no longer a Jew, how long will it be before every one of us is a victim of this witch hunt? Why isn’t anyone saying anything? Why is no one doing anything? Why are we just taking this craziness and going on with our lives?

Is it because it is not your problem? Let’s put it in perspective. Are your thoughts something like this:

First they came for the converts,
and I said nothing because I was not a convert.

Then they came for the deaf and the mute,
and I said nothing because I wasn’t deaf and I wasn’t mute . . .

Sounds familiar. Too familiar for me.

So what do we do? What will happen to us, to our Ger Tzaddakim, to B’nai Israel?

Today, I chose to pick up the washing cup and finish my prayers, but I fear that there are thousands of people, in addition to those converts who have been pushed out, who won't.

Updated Halakhic Pre-Nuptial Agreement Available
by Hillel Fendel

( The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is the largest Orthodox rabbinic group in the world, and the Beth Din of America have announced the publication of an updated edition of their widely used Halakhic Prenuptial Agreement.

The purpose of the agreement is to avoid, as much as possible, situations in which a spouse withholds a get - a Jewish divorce - from his or her spouse. The original agreement was issued more than a decade ago, and the RCA says it has been "responsible for a dramatic drop in the incidence of so-called 'agunot,' or 'chained women' among those who made sure to sign it prior to marriage." Some rabbis have stated that they will not officiate at a marriage whose partners have not signed the agreement.

The updated version of the prenuptial agreement, which can be downloaded at, incorporates a number of procedural improvements and enhancements to the original document. It encourages consultation with legal counsel and comes with detailed implementation instructions to the bride and groom. It also allows for a number of choices by the couple, by mutual agreement.

There are also a number of available variations, including one designed specifically for the community property marriage provisions of the State of California, as well as a so-called "reciprocal version." Another available version can be inserted into general prenuptial agreements. The agreement is valid under both United States law and Jewish law (Halakhah).

Rabbi Basil Herring, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America, expressed his organization's gratification that "the prenuptial agreement has been so effective in limiting the incidence of recalcitrance among couples whose marriages have failed."

"We urge every couple about to be married, no matter their love and regard for each other leading up to the wedding day, and irrespective of their background, to utilize this very important and valuable tool, to benefit not only themselves, but the entire Jewish community," Rabbi Herring said.

Some rabbis oppose pre-nuptials on the grounds that they make divorce too easy, or because the monetary fine that the recalcitrant party must pay monthly renders the divorce "forced" and thus not valid.

Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl, the rabbi of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, a marriage counselor, and a driving force behind the formulation of Halakhic prenuptial agreements, answered these claims. He told Arutz-7, "Regarding the first point, it is certainly true that it makes it a bit easier. But we believe that we have put in sufficient brakes in order to make it fairly difficult: There must first be a six-month waiting period after the time that one side informs the other of intent to divorce, and there must be at least three counseling sessions if the other side wants, and then there is an option to extend the six months by another three - and then, on top of all that, a professional must declare that the marriage is in fact, essentially 'dead.'"

As far as the Halakhic claim that the monetary fine - $1,500 each month, or half the payer's salary, whichever is higher - is a form of coercion, Rabbi Knohl said there are many Rabbinic opinions that a fine that one voluntarily took upon himself, as is done at the signing of the prenuptial agreement, is not considered a form of coercion. "In addition," he explained, "the renowned Rabbi Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg, who has accompanied us every step of the way, insisted on a formulation in the agreement that not only does not even mention the word 'divorce,' but frames the fine as merely an increased obligation to support the wife that he takes upon himself at the time of the marriage, while the wife, for her part, 'forgives' this obligation for as long as they are living together."

In any event, the website of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel states, "The signing of prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal has been recommended by [Israel's Chief] Rabbinate several times. It is included in the Resolutions of the Rabbinical Council of America which were adopted in June 1993, entitled “In the Matter of Prenuptial Agreements”.

A year later, in 1994, “The Endorsement of Prenuptial Agreements” was reaffirmed. Furthermore, the leading Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva University issued "A Message to Our Rabbinic Colleagues and Students" in 1999, strongly urging "rabbis to counsel and encourage marrying couples to sign such an agreement. The increased utilization of pre-nuptial agreements is a critical step in purging our community of the distressful problem of the modern-day Aguna and enabling men and women to remarry without restriction."

In May 2006, the Rabbinical Council of America once again reaffirmed its previous resolutions, declaring “that no rabbi should officiate at a wedding where a proper prenuptial agreement on get has not been executed.”

The State of the Jewish Polity: a Modern Orthodox Perspective By Alan Yuter

(Rabbi Yuter is Mara de-Atra of B’nai Israel, the Orthodox synagogue of downtown Baltimore. He is a faculty member in the department of Bible and Jewish Law at the Institute for Traditional Judaism.)

I. The Jewish Leader

The Jewish leader represents the Jewish cultural ideal. The Jewish leader must be one of the people—we may not appoint a king who is not one of our own—but whose vision, knowledge base, and moral compass are all in order. We can identify three typological Orthodox rabbinic models, which we will compare to each other and to the contours of the rabbinic sacred literary canon: the charismatic commander, the cookie cutter coward, and the covenant creator.

The charismatic commander supersedes the rabbinic sacred canonical library. In Ashkenazi medieval rabbinic Hebrew, this person was called a godol, or great one, by Tosafot and Raabad, whose stature and office command authority. Maimonides disagreed, claiming that the gadol is the honorific head of the court, and it is the object of the court, the reasoned rulings that are issued and not the charisma of the person, that is Jewishly normative. Since it has been decided that “we do not follow Maimonides’ opinions,” for these “charismatic commander” rabbis, rabbinic authority indeed resides in the rabbinic person, who is alone allowed to read the rabbinical sacred library and to divine for today God’s will. We do not rule according to the Bible, Talmud, or Codes. We must rule in accord with the intuitively endowed and divinely guided master of charisma, who by dint of divine inspiration is not going to err against the will of God. It is no accident that the Hareidi ArtScroll book on Rishonim [Early rabbis] views the mystical charismatic, Nahmanides, as “more” traditional, and therefore more theologically compelling, than the rational philosophical legalist who wished to empower all Israel, notably, Maimonides.

This charismatic commander ideology is manifest in the legal decisions of Rabbi Moses Feinstein and in thought of Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman. Even though one may not do an act to endanger one’s life, it is improper, according to Rabbi Feinstein, to argue that smoking cigarettes is forbidden because “great rabbis smoke.” Even though classical Jewish law explicitly outlaws eating in a sanctuary not designated as a Study Hall, or Bet Midrash, one may not claim that eating in a sanctuary violates Jewish law because Hassidim, the “most” Orthodox of the Orthodox, do it. Conversely, even though the bat mitsva celebration violates no explicit Talmudic statute, it must be avoided because the wrong rabbis invented the rite, i.e., the “Reform.” [For the record, it was invented by the Reconstructionist founder, R. Mordecai Kaplan]. Rabbi Wasserman believes that Jewish moderns are blinded by secularity and suffer from cultural vertigo. We are too guilty of assimilation to make innocent readings and applications of Israel’s sacred library. Israel may have been given the Torah, but only those uncorrupted by modernity and secularity are sufficiently innocent, religiously honest, learned, and therefore capable of intuiting God’s will correctly.

Since charismatic commanders claim to possess an intuition greater than other rabbis, not to mention lay people, their criticisms are deemed constructive and appropriate. They possess the requisite gravitas to criticize and, if needed, to condemn the error of others, especially those who wish to accommodate modernity, secularity and Judaism, dismissing the good old ways from the good old days. Criticism of these rabbis is categorized as slander, in Hebrew, motsi shem ra, inappropriate and indeed forbidden to lesser light rabbis and their “illiterate” laity. If one has the misplaced, misinformed, and unfortunate audacity to challenge the charismatic commanders, he/she is to be accused of godol bashing, because in the hierarchical scheme of charismatic commanders, the great rabbis are not subject to peer review because they do not accept the contentious claim that they have peers. And if these accusers assert that Maimonides, in the Laws of Torah study, allows the respectful dissent of calling polite attention to the apparent dissonance between what the great rabbis rule [e.g. smoking and eating in the synagogue are allowed, bat mitsva is disallowed] and what the canon explicitly commands, forbids, and when silent, legitimates, validates, and permits, the accuser is reminded that “we do not rule according to Maimonides.” We rule in accord with the conscience of the right rabbis, the charismatic commanders, the gedolim.

II. The Cookie Cutter Charismatic Rabbi

In order to help benighted laypeople recognize who is in fact the right rabbi, there is a “traditional” form of dress that that must be worn so that the theologically correct address may be rightly identified. The dark suit or the long caftan have, by dint of usage, been grafted on to “Tradition.” The Maimonidean rules of dress, that one dress neatly, cleanly, and without calling undue attention to oneself, are ignored because “we do not rule according to Maimonides.” The occasion when the Jewish male is advised but not formally obliged to dress in black according to Talmudic law goes delicately and appropriately uncited.

The ideology of the charismatic commander is expressed throughout Agudath Israel publications but, ironically, it was put most clearly by a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University in his tape, “The P’sak Process,” and his postings at Citing the great sage, Rabbi Joseph B. Solovetichik of blessed and sainted memory, he argues that there are “marriage” rabbis who are “married” to the Torah and able to understand the Torah intimately, as married spouses understand and intuit the wishes of their partners. These rabbis are authorized to rule “from the gut” because they are informed by the mass of Torah information that they have accumulated and their familiarity with the Torah’s secret concepts, axiological ideals, and unrecorded inner spirit guides them with an almost infallible sense of right. While these rabbis are authorized to rule without reason from intuition, their students, being religiously committed but not blessed with the right intuition of Torah intimacy, are “mere policemen, not posekim” and are authorized to enforce but not to decide rabbinic laws. Because lower grade rabbis are “engagement” rabbis, whose relationship with Torah is not yet intimate, they are not stockholders in Torah and have no right to express a reasoned opinion because the Torah’s inner spirit is unknown to them.

The godol, or great rabbi’s learning is creative and is called lomdus, a word unattested either in the sacred rabbinic canon or in the record of medieval Hebrew literature. The lomdus of the charismatic commander is the search for and creation of new definitions which carry culture valence, which enshrine as Torah the inherited culture of the past. [Raabad but not Maimonides or R. Caro to Tur Hoshen Mishpat 25]. Judaism is in fact no more and no less than the consensus of the charismatic commander clique of rabbis.

These rabbis have ruled that women should not become synagogue presidents, and that women’s hakafot or holding the Torah while encircling the synagogue on Simhat Torah defy tradition, and we may not make changes in the good old ways that we have inherited from the good old days. The fact that dissenting opinions may be found in the sacred library is irrelevant to them. The expected is accepted, right and wrong are determined by “divinely inspired” intuition, not in the reasons of a debased, biased laity who are corrupted by modernity, or a corrupted modern Orthodox rabbinate that mistakenly claims that it is sufficient to live Judaism “by the book.”

III. The Covenant Creator Modern Orthodox leader

Modern Orthodox dissent is, to the adherents of the charismatic commander view, disrespectful to great rabbis, or gedolim, because the dissent of lesser lights is disrespectful to the greater lights. And modern Orthodox rabbis, by dint of their being “corrupted” by modernity, are too biased to have a faith-based opinion. After all, they do not have a “marriage” relationship with Torah and therefore have no right to have an opinion.

The modern Orthodox leader is simultaneously Orthodox and modern. Orthodoxy provides the diachronic dimension, the covenantal and creedal commitments, the defining transcendental ideals and unmovable resolute respect for God. Applied to the synchronic realities we inhabit, Torah is imposed upon modernity as the mathematical formula is imposed upon and makes meaning out of raw data. This leader can read Hebrew and the Jewish canonical library. So this leader knows the difference between what the Torah prescribes and what people say Torah prescribes. A heretic violates explicit, canonical beliefs. Calling a rabbi a heretic, without identifying the explicit, unchallenged rule in the canon, renders the accuser heretical for the sins of slander, lying, and misrepresenting Torah. Judaism has no belief in an absolute Scriptural literalism. It should be surprising then that Rabbi Sholom Eliashiv held that believing in evolution is heresy, as though the first chapter of Genesis must be understood in a simplistic literal sense.

According to Maimonides’ theory, God, having no body, would not have a nose to become hot when angry, in spite of the plain sense of Scripture. If we are hyper-literal, we may become heretical. Yet these literalisti rabbis forbid women’s singing and do not take literally Judges 5:1, which informs the reader that Deborah sang with Barak. The issue at hand is not what the Torah teaches, but who has the right to do the teaching. For those who present themselves as Torah faithful fundamentalists who are culture police, a blind submission to their authority creates cookie cutter Judaism, which when challenged, crumbles.

The modern Orthodox leader is comfortable in the timeless Torah and is not threatened by ever changing secular realities, using the former to inform and then sanctify the latter. Realizing that the so-called literalist or fundamentalist is only selectively literal, the modern Orthodox leader’s learning and respect for God will provide the courage to be Orthodox and modern, and resist those who stifle religion in an authoritarian box. By resisting wrong, be that wrong from the Left or Right, modern Orthodox leaders make the Covenant real. For this Covenant Maker rabbi, creed trumps culture, principle controls and is not controlled by persons, and respect for God and God’s image that is invested in every human being overwhelms the forces of confusion, intimidation, and injustice.

IV. Orthodoxy and the Jewish Left

Professor Gerald Bubis once distinguished between the Jewish lay elite, who are power brokers, and rabbis, who are berakha brokers. Both liberal and Orthodox clergy are paid to say what the Jews in their pews demand for their dues. In liberal Judaism, membership payments purchase Jewish identities. And in compensation for compensation paid, lay people expect to be validated. Egalitarianism is determined to be ethical, and since the Orthodox are not egalitarian, they are therefore “unethical” and represent phony religion. By defining Orthodoxy as immoral and liberal Judaism as moral, and by defining religion as morality, a verbal mind game is played that legitimates the Jewish Left, to its own satisfaction. Never mind that most liberal Jews do not see themselves as religious, even according to their own definition. Reform rabbis who will not accept intermarriage or patrilinearity will not be hired and will be excluded from power within the movement. Traditional Conservative rabbis were not permitted to function; Jewish law unambiguously defines the minyan as ten adult males and forbids eating cooked food in non-kosher establishments. The pressure of the market moves professional women and men to conform in order to hold office, wield power, and draw a salary.

Orthodox Judaism chooses different issues than liberal Judaisms, but is no less rigid and coercive when demanding compliance from its cookie cutters. It has created a market-generated rabbinic model of “cookie-cutter cowards” who want to be accepted and say only expected statements, who willingly accept as true the commands of the charismatic commanders, even though they may realize that parochial policy is presented as law. If one marches to one’s conscience, one becomes “controversial,” is seen as irresponsibly idiosyncratic, and implicitly illegitimate and unorthodox. We recall that “official” or de jure covenant is a religion of law, but the actual religion of cookie cutter Orthodoxy is one of consensus. This Orthodoxy talks the religion of covenant but lives the religion of consensus. Universal practice has become “minhag Yisrael,” which is seen by some as having the status of Torah. Torah is in Judaism no less than the command of God and not the will of the people. Yet this doctrine, reflective more of a parochial reconstructionism than authentic rabbinic culture, is enforced by the need to fit in. Note how the idiom’s original meaning in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, has been reconstructed. For Maimonides, minhag Yisrael is a custom, accepted as a custom by all and not some of Israel, which becomes binding, like the Talmud. For Maimonides but not the cookie cutter Orthodox, a custom that violates the plain sense of the Talmud is illegitimate, invalid, inauthentic, and must be opposed. For cookie cutter Orthodoxy, the idiom minhag Yisrael means “what Orthodox Jews happen to do” and no more, and this mimetic culture must go unchallenged as the inerrant word of God and godol alike.

A rabbi affiliated with Baltimore’s Ner Israel Yeshiva, argues that women ought not to do the mayim aharonim rite. According to the Talmudic canon, women are obliged to observe this rite, as it is not a time bound obligation. This rabbi contends that the pious ladies of his family did not observe the ritual. Thus, if his family members didn’t do something, that must be correct, even though the family members did not act in accord with Talmudic law. A similar “logic” is employed by ArtScroll, which disallows women from reciting the birkhat ha-zimmun, even though the rite is, according to Talmudic syntax, an obligation. The Tosafists concede this point even though the rite has wrongly been downgraded to a custom. Now, once the rabbinic rule is downgraded to a custom, hareidi religion invents an alternative custom to outlaw women acting liturgically. Ironically, like the feminists who regard the right to observe rite as empowerment, hareidi religion fears women’s empowerment, not only disallowing the permitted, but the required. And failure to conform to this culture standard undermines one’s bona fides, or hezkat kashrut. The real commanders for cookie cutter cowards are human beings whose approval may be given or withheld. These cookie cutter rabbis’ acts and pronouncements invariably tout the party line, without intellectual, hermeneutical, or methodological consistency. A rabbi who would restore the daily recitation of the priestly blessing, challenge the validity and legitimacy of community eruvim, or outlaw women’s wigs on the Sabbath, would lose his bona fides. Such rabbis are extensions of the great rabbis, acting as enforcers, not decisors. They are ordained to be good soldiers but not probing, confident, or competent rabbis. They have come to know their place in the rabbinic hierarchy, looking important but being impotent.

Covenant Maker rabbis realize, following Hoshen Mishpat 34, that well intentioned errors are not sinful. Dissent is legitimate, intimidation is not.

Since the Torah’s ways are pleasant, because God, through the medium of Scripture, says so, only that Orthodoxy that is pleasant, respectful, ethical, and absolutely committed to being decent is worthy of Orthodoxy’s banner.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My 1000th Post


This is the 1000th post for this blog, that I began less than a year ago.

Less than a year, but so much has changed in the world. It is shocking, to say the least, what has changed in this world since then.

Last year I had no idea that the conversions of thousands of Jews would be in jeopardy, that Agriprocessors would be the site of the largest ICE raid in history, that Olmert would continue to negotiate with terrorists as he waits for indictment--and these are just a few of the stories we have covered in this blog since its inception.

The thing I am missing the most in this blog is commentary. I don't know why I get so few comments, but I am writing now to let those who are readers of this blog to please consider lending your voice to this blog. I really want to hear what you have to say. Yes, I moderate--but that is just to keep the personal attacks off the list--not to change what you have to say. I don't want anyone to get hurt, that's all.

Thank you very much for reading my blog, and I look forward to sharing a lot more in the future.


Michelle Nevada

ANOTHER Young Woman Held for Months in Solitary Without Trial

Dear Friends,

Women in Green call upon all to read this latest Pidion Shvuim Alert about Rivka Meirchik, the latest prisoner of Zion in Zion. Each and one of us can help protest and rectify this travesty of justice.

With Love of Israel,

Ruth and Nadia Matar
Women in Green
May 23, 2008
Pidion Shvuim Alert: No. 12
Rivka Meirchik Sent To Jail For Another Month

Rivka Meirchik is the second young Jewish woman this year to languish in the Neve Tirza prison without trial after refusing to recognize the authority of the court and to cooperate with the prosecution.

Earlier this year, 18 year-old Tzvia Sariel spent over four months in Neve Tirza until she was released in March and all charges against her were dropped. [In January, seven teenage Jewish girls were released after being held for three weeks in Neve Tirza without trial. The 13 to 14 year-olds were also arrested for Jewish settlement activities and also refused to cooperate with authorities.]

On May 22, an Israeli judge sent Meirchik back to jail for another month after deeming her refusal to cooperate with authorities an ideological crime.

Rivka Meirchik, 29, an anti-government demonstrator who participated in Jewish settlement and was arrested almost two months ago, is being held until the end of judicial proceedings. She has refused to cooperate with authorities, including paying a release bond and agreeing to restrictive conditions.

"[For Meirchik] it's ideological," Kfar Saba Magistrate Clara Rejiniano said. "The law allows me to keep a person nine months. These are legal decisions which we must respect." Rejiniano, who ordered Meirchik remanded in custody until the end of judicial proceedings on April 21, scheduled the next hearing for June 19.

Ms. Meirchik was arrested on April 2 in the Jewish community of Shvut Ami after police ordered all Jews evacuated from the area. [Shvut Ami was one of the Jewish communities established after the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from Gush Katif and the northern Shomron in August 2005.]

Merichik was charged with trespassing, assaulting a police office and disobeying military orders after the area was proclaimed a closed military zone. For her part, she said that she was beaten by police.

She has since been held in the Neve Tirza prison after she refused to recognize the authority of the court, refused to cooperate with police prosecutor Shir Laufer and refused to accept court-imposed conditions for her release.

Meirchik, who appeared pail and frail, has also refused to be handcuffed or shackled with leg-irons with the result that prison authorities have refused to allow her out of her solitary confinement cell and have deprived her of phone and visitation rights.

However, she is brought to court appearances manacled and on April 14, Kfar Saba Magistrate Nava Bechor ordered her held in leg-irons and handcuffs throughout the hearing. [Bechor is the same judge who ordered Tzvia Tsariel held for a fourth month in jail prior to her trial.]

During the May 22 hearing Rejiniano said she had no authority to release Meirchik, despite the prosecution's insistence on calling an expert witness to testify on the land claims by Arabs to Shvut Ami, located near the Jewish community of Kedumim, to prove the trespass offense.

Defense attorney Aviad Visoly asked that Meirchik be released from hearings as the cross-examination of the witness would be lengthy and Meirchik had already spent close to two months in prison.

"I reiterate my request to free the defendant from the hearing and all other hearings," Visoly said, "in view of the fact that the prosecution witness has brought 10 pages on testimony and will be questioned on every paragraph."

Attorney Rinat Levine from the military prosecutor's office presented the court with Jordanian maps and tax possession registration documents from 1933 and 1936 as evidence that the land is owned by Arabs.

The judge, visibly annoyed by prosecutor Nili Dayan for bringing the witness, nevertheless castigated Visoli for a political cross-examination.

"Who has sovereignty in Judea and Samaria according to international law?" Visoli asked Levine. "I will prove that according to international law that Israeli law is the law in Judea and Samaria."

The judge refused to allow Levine to answer the question.

"This is political," Rejiniano said as she addressed the prosecutor. "Do you understand what you have brought to this trial for an offense of trespassing?"

A second witness, border policeman Nasid Sayad, testified that Meirchik had assaulted him and resisted arrest while she was sitting on the ground.

Sayad, who said he bent down to touch Meirchik's bag, first said Meirchik bit him when she was sitting down and later testified that Meirchik also slapped him.

Visoli asked Sayad to demonstrate how a police office, over one meter tall, with a second police officer at his side, was slapped and bitten by a very slight young woman in a sitting position. Sayad refused to cooperate with the defense's request.

Visoli said he will appeal to the Supreme Court to have Meirchik released immediately. He said that it isn't a crime under Israeli law not to recognize the authority of the court.

"It's shocking," Visoli said. "Her incarceration is illegal and so is keeping her in custody until the end of proceedings."

The major Israeli media, particularly the state-operated radio and television, did not mention a word of this travesty of justice. So, we must turn to you, lovers of Israel , who were so effective in the case of Tzvia Sariel and who, thanks to your efforts was released from jail, and ask that you act to help defend Jewish rights in Israel .

As a first step, we request that you telephone -- rather than e-mail -- the Israeli Embassy or the Israeli consulate nearest you and demand to know why Rivka is still in prison. The embassy's phone number is 202-364-5500. Stress, that as an American citizen, you can ask the State Department to investigate what you feel is clearly a human rights violation.

Now, we are asking you to call your member of Congress and raise the issue of Rivka Meirchik. We also ask you to call the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and inform them of Rivka and demand an investigation. Tell the department officer you have also raised Rivka's case with your member of Congress. The State Department's main numbers are 202-647-4000 or 1-800-877-8339.

The Olmert government, with an approval rating of near zero, has refused any accountability to the Israeli people and fears only the Bush administration. Unless we act now, there will be many more Rivkas in jail.

If you agree with this, please act quickly. What could be more important than winning the release of a Jewish woman imprisoned for loving her country and people?
With Love of Israel,

Datya Itzhaki

Women For Israel's Tomorrow (Women in Green)
POB 7352, Jerusalem 91072, Israel
Tel: 972-2-624-9887 Fax: 972-2-624-5380
To make a contribution through Paypal, go to:
and click on the Paypal button

Military Appeals Court Says Hebron Market WAS Stolen . . . FROM Jews


I am shocked! An Israeli court actually supported the rights of Jewish ownership in Hebron. The murderous arab riots of 1929 were actually remembered for what they were, and the arabs weren't rewarded for their evil behavior. Amazing!

I won't try to hope too much that the custodian for Jewish property might actually think about the mistakes made in this case and re-evaluate how other cases have been decided.

I won't try to hold out hope, either, that Israel might actually think about protecting our religious sites, as they are supposed to do, and recognize our historical rights to them.

For now, I will be happy that they Military Appeals Court has, for this single moment in time, actually acted in a just manner. Tomorrow it may change, but for this moment we might actually feel thankful.



The decision by the military appeals panel regarding Beit Ezra in Hebron

The Jewish Community of Hebron

May 27, 2008

The decision by the military appeals panel regarding Beit Ezra – The Ezra House – in Hebron includes:

1. Heavy criticism targeted at the custodian for abandoned property concerning stolen Jewish property.

2. A legal outline which will obligate the property to be leased to the Hebron Jewish community.

3. A ruling that past Arab vendors have no legal rights to the building; at the most, they may be entitled to possible financial compensation.

A military appeals panel today publicized its decision concerning "Beit Ezra" – the Ezra house, in Hebron.

"Beit Ezra" is property owed by Mr. Yosef Ezra, whose family lived in Hebron for hundreds of years, prior to the 1929 riots, massacre and expulsion. Presently two Jewish families live on property owned by the Ezra family. During the years of Jordanian occupation this property was stolen by Hebron Arabs and used as Arab shops.

Hebron's Jewish community redeemed this property and today utilizes it in coordination with Mr. Ezra. Arab vendors, instigated by Peace Now, brought a legal suit against the community and the families, arguing that the land had been stolen from them.

A military appeals panel heard the suit and today ruled.

In the decision, which ranges over 30 pages, the three panel judges heavily criticize the custodian for abandoned property in Judea and Samaria. They ruled that he did not utilize proper judgment as dictated by his job, as a guardian of the property, which he is obligated to protect.

He left the property abandoned, deteriorating and vacant, and was wrong to demand eviction orders for the Jews living there. The custodian did not take into account the good of the property or take into consideration the will and desire of the original owner, Mr. Yosef Ezra, as he is obligated to do.

The panel also ruled that the Arab vendors haven't any legal rights to the property, and certainly not as 'protected residents.' At most, if they can prove that the property was legally rented, they may be eligible for monetary compensation due to cessation of their lease.

The panel ruled that in his previous ruling, the custodian took into consideration only the rights of the former Arab vendors, when in reality, they have no legal rights whatsoever.

Concerning the Jewish residents, the panel ruled that they inhabited the property without receiving permission from the custodian and as a result must evacuate the property.

However, in light of the fact that their residency in the property is compatible with both the good of the property and the desires of the owner, and in reality is the only way to fulfill both these obligations, the panel outlined a method which will allow the Jewish residents to remain living in the property:

1. The residents must evacuate the property within 60 days.
2. Within 60 days Mr. Yosef Ezra and/or the residents and/or the Hebron Jewish community may forward a proper request to lease the property. An appeal will immediately postpone the evacuation from the property until a final decision is rendered.
3. The custodian is obligated to consider the request in accordance with 2 criteria in obligation of his role: a) the good of the property; 2) the will and desire of the owner.

The custodian may not take into consideration the rights of the Arab vendors as 'protected residents,' because these rights do not exist. The custodian's decision to the request must be given within thirty days. This decision may be again appealed to the military appeals panel.

The significance of this decision is that the Jewish residents will be able to continue living in Beit Ezra.

(More material is available in Hebrew, including the full panel decision, here.)

The Jewish Community of Hebron
POB 105 , Kiryat Arba-Hebron 90100
Tour Hebron: Tel 972-52-431-7055 or write:
The Hebron Fund
1760 Ocean Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11230

Web: Ma'arat HaMachpela:

You too can Help Hebron -

The Jewish Community of Hebron
P.O. Box 105, Kiryat Arba 90100 Israel
Tel: 972-2-9965333; Fax: 972-2-9965304

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Turning their backs on the people of Israel

By Shahar Ilan

If anyone thought that religious Zionism should continue having anything to do with the Chief Rabbinate or the rabbinic courts, along came the ousting of Rabbi Haim Druckman from his position as head of the Conversion Authority to show religious Zionists their new place: beyond the pale. The religious establishment's new masters, the ultra-Orthodox, do not care about the Zionist farmers who need rabbinic permission to sell their produce during the shmita (sabbatical) year, about the religious women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, or about those few Russian immigrants who think it is so important to be Jewish that they are willing to meet the difficult conditions imposed by Rabbi Druckman. Their policy has become one of turning their backs on the people of Israel.

Religious Zionists will soon need to do some difficult soul-searching and answer some tough questions: Will they accept a situation in which the Chief Rabbinate views their rabbis as second-class? Will the religious Zionist community establish an alternative chief rabbinate, which would involve violating several laws passed to bolster the current rabbinate when it was under religious Zionist control? Will religious Zionism renew its historic alliance with secular Zionism? Will it set up an independent conversion system that will ignore the demands of the ultra-Orthodox and finally carry out a mass conversion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union?

Secular Israelis also have to do some soul-searching, but of a completely different sort. The ousting of Rabbi Druckman, along with the Rabbinical Court of Appeals ruling invalidating the conversions he conducted, clearly show that it is impossible to leave the keys to the Jewish people in the hands of the aloof ultra-Orthodox any longer. For 18 years, the national challenge of conversion has been placed in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinic courts, and they have failed utterly. Instead of finding every way to make it easier, to bring people closer, to encourage, they scattered obstacles and fences, they dug ditches. When Rabbi Druckman tried to make it a little bit easier, they waged a campaign of delegitimization that ended in his removal.

The conclusion is clear: Judaism is too serious a matter to be left in the Chief Rabbinate's hands. We must divest the rabbinate of the task of integrating immigrants with no religion into the Jewish people.

Ultimately, secularism is the largest stream of Judaism, both in Israel and worldwide. While 51 percent of Israeli Jews are secular, only 19 percent consider themselves religious or ultra-Orthodox, according to the Guttman Center, which surveys Israeli public opinion. It it is inconceivable for a large population to leave the question of how to be Jewish in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox. It is inconceivable that a secular non-Jew who wants with all his might to be a secular Jew should have to disguise himself as religious.

Organizations that promote secular Judaism are hesitant to pick up the hot potato of secular conversion. But the case of Rabbi Druckman must put an end to this hesitation.

There are several options for secular conversion. One would involve a public announcement by secular Judaism groups saying that they see all immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are classified as not having any religion as full-blown Jews. Of course, this would apply only to those who want to be considered Jews. But in order for such a statement to have value, it would need to have as much support as possible: from secular Judaism organizations, intellectuals, political leaders, opinion makers and former army officers - who have commanded so many people with no religion, but so few ultra-Orthodox.

It might be necessary to bolster this with a "Jews just like us" campaign. Secular Judaism groups might need to give the immigrants certificates of Judaism so that the Interior Ministry would have to register them. Such a move would also need to be accompanied by the passage of a civil unions law, to allow Israelis to dispense with rabbinate-controlled marriages by creating a form of partnership that the rabbinate would have nothing to do with.

Another possibility would be to hold private secular conversion ceremonies, but only for those who have taken Judaism courses. This would more closely resemble the accepted conversion process, and would therefore generate less opposition. The disadvantage is that a huge budget would be needed to cope with the challenge of mass conversion, and the chances of the funds coming from the state are very slim.

And here is another option: focusing the secular conversion process on teens. At the age of 13, immigrants who so desire would be able to have a secular bar-mitzvah ceremony. At 18, they would be able to confirm their Jewishness. This would imbue a large segment of the next generation of immigrants currently considered to have no religion with a sense of belonging - a sense that they are welcome in Israel.

Hevron Will Be the New Sedrot


OK, so Israel is supposed to be giving up all the land between Hevron and Gaza.

I am not surprised that Israel is committing national suicide via Livni and Olmert, I am surprised that the arabs are telling us about it as it occurs.

So what is their intent? Why are they leaking this information?

The truth probably is that they don't want it to happen just as much as Israel doesn't want it to happen. They aren't stupid. They don't want to govern their own country and pick up the garbage and build schools and make roads. It is much more profitable to just sit back and hate Israel and make trouble and live on the drama of it all. After all, they are overwhelmed with international support, money, and political power. Once they have their own country, all of that will dry up.

May 25, 2008 19:48 | Updated May 26, 2008 1:07
'J'lem offers 91% of W. Bank in new map'

Palestinian officials close to peace talks said Sunday that Israel has offered a West Bank withdrawal map that leaves about 8.5 percent of the territory in Israeli hands, less than a previous plan but still more than the Palestinians are ready to accept.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and other PA officials, however, told The Jerusalem Post that the report is unsubstantiated.

Also Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as telling backers that the negotiations have achieved no progress since they were restarted last November with a pledge to US President George W. Bush to try for a full peace treaty by the end of the year.

The Palestinian officials said that Israel presented its new map three days ago in a negotiating session. The last map Israel offered had 12 percent of the West Bank remaining in Israel. Israel wants to keep West Bank land with its main settlement blocs, offering land inside Israel in exchange. The land would be between Hebron in the southern West Bank and Gaza - at least part of a route through Israel to link the two territories.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors, said Palestinians were ready to trade only 1.8% of the West Bank for Israeli land.

Israeli officials refused to comment.
One of the Palestinian officials said the 8.5% figure of West Bank land Israel would retain with its new map does not include east Jerusalem, where Israel has built a string of Jewish neighborhoods it intends to keep. Israel wants to put off dealing with Jerusalem until the end of the process.

Abbas indicated skepticism about the prospects of the renewed talks.

"Nothing has been achieved in the negotiations with Israel yet," Abbas told a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, according to a report Sunday in the Fatah-associated al-Ayyam daily and confirmed by meeting participants.

Domestic issues in both Israel and the US are diverting attention from peacemaking, Abbas told Fatah leaders.

"I fear the (corruption) probe against Olmert and the American preoccupation with the (presidential) elections will negatively affect the negotiations," Abbas said, according to a member of the council, Salah Taameri.

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report

'We'll keep firing until every Jew climbs back into the sh---- hole he came from'


I am hoping that Israel is evacuating those troops because there will be no need for them when Israel starts dropping daisy-cutter bombs on Gaza, but I doubt that is what is really happening.

The truth of the matter is that Olmert has his BZ in a sling, he wants to keep his job no matter what, and he is cutting a lot of back room deals to seize as much power and make as much money as he can right now. He is running scared, and that is very bad for Israel.

We need to secure an indictment very quickly against this madman before he completely dismantles our troops and our defense infrastructure before escaping to Paris to live in luxury with his family on our money. It seems Arafat may have taught Olmert all he knows.

Israel 'paper tiger' for latest retreat
Posted: May 25, 2008
4:52 pm Eastern
By Aaron Klein
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

JERUSALEM – Terrorists in the Gaza Strip are rejoicing at an Israeli decision today to evacuate troops stationed at a major Gaza-Israel border crossing following repeated Palestinian attack against Israel's side of the border station.

"This retreat proves the Israeli army is a paper tiger. What we proved to the world in 2005 (when Israel evacuated its Jewish communities from the Gaza Strip) we are proving once again. We are reaching a new step and proving our resistance and our rockets are working," Muhammad Abdel-Al, spokesman and a leader of the Hamas-allied Popular Resistance Committees terror group, told WND.

"Just as the Zionists are running from the border, they will also run from Ashkelon, Ashdod, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and Tel Aviv ... . We will keep firing until every Jew climbs back into the sh--ty hole he came from," said Abdel-Al, whose group took responsibility for scores of recent attacks against the Israeli border.

Abu Ahmed, a leader of the Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza, called Israel's troop evacuation a "victory."

"We feel proud and determined," he said. "Israelis start to withdraw from bases that are well-fortified because the Palestinian resistance proved that we are able to reach them at any point even if it is very fortified. We are proving once again that the myth of the unbeatable Israeli army is irrelevant," Abu Ahmed told WND.

Under instructions from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, the IDF announced soldiers stationed at the Gaza District Coordination Office, the army's liaison office to Gaza, were set to be transferred from their facility just outside the Erez border crossing to a base further inside Israel due to the security threat in the Gaza border area.

Erez is the main commercial and humanitarian aid crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. It has been the target of several recent Palestinian terror attacks and attempted attacks.

Last Thursday, the Islamic Jihad terror group along with the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the so-called military wing of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah organization, attempted to carry out a massive bombing at the Erez Crossing that, if successful, would have been the largest terrorist attack here since the Jewish state retreated from the Gaza Strip three years ago.

In last week's attempted attack, a truck reportedly carrying four tons of explosives detonated prematurely as it was approaching Erez. Even though the truck exploded hundreds of feet from the crossing, the explosion was large enough to rip a hole in a pedestrian passageway leading out of the Erez terminal and into Gaza.

Residents in the Gaza Strip who live more than 20 miles from the crossing told the Palestinian media they heard the blast.

"In terms of the amount of explosives used, Thursday's attack was the biggest since Israel pulled its settlers and troops out of Gaza nearly three years ago," Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said.

IDF sources told WND that if last week's attack would have been successful, they estimate tens of soldiers and civilians would have been killed.

In response to Palestinian attacks, defense officials here have been petitioning the government to carry out a large-scale Gaza incursion to massively dent the territory's terrorist infrastructure.

An average of one dozen rockets and mortars per week are fired from the Gaza Strip into nearby Jewish communities. Earlier this month, during a visit by President Bush to Jerusalem, one terrorist rocket smashed into a large shopping mall in the coastal city of Ashkelon, seriously injuring 11 people.

The new decision to evacuate Israeli troops from the border station comes as Olmert is reportedly seeking to finalize an Egyptian-brokered cease fire with Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups.

Amos Gilad, who heads the Israeli defense ministry's political-security branch, flew to Egypt today for talks with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman regarding the cease fire deal.

Defense officials here have been warning a cease fire in Gaza will likely be used by Hamas to transport weapons into Gaza, rebuild armies and infrastructure in the territory and train in combat against future IDF operations.

Alongside the evacuation of troops and brokering of a cease with Hamas, Olmert last week announced he commenced negotiations with Syria over an Israeli retreat from the Golan Heights – strategic, mountainous territory looking down on Israeli population centers.

The Golan negotiations are taking place as Olmert faces what is being described as a very serious criminal investigation in which the prime minister is suspected of bribery and corruption. Olmert has vowed to resign if he is indicted in the rapidly expanding case.

A survey conducted last week by Israel's Channel 2 found 70 percent of Israelis oppose relinquishing the Golan Heights for peace with Syria, compared to 22 percent in favor of such a move.

The poll found 57 percent of Israelis believe the timing of the negotiations with Syria is linked to the corruption case against Olmert.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled reportedly said Olmert did not have the legitimacy to negotiate with Syria.

Orthodoxy and the Nonobservant Jew in Historical Perspective

From Exclusion to Hierarchy
Dr. Adam S. Ferziger

(Lecturer and Associate Director in the Graduate Program in Contemporary Jewry at Bar Ilan University)

Over the last three centuries non-observance of ritual law evolved into the predominant Jewish lifestyle. For those Orthodox Jews in the minority who remained committed to the practice of the halakha, this “modern” situation elicited acute tensions that revolved around the nature of their relationship to those who did not share their religious values. How did Orthodox Jews deal with the reality of an ever-increasing non-observant Jewish population? What types of boundaries did they create in order to differentiate themselves? To what degree was a sense of “connectedness” or solidarity among the various components of modern Jewish society still promoted?

My book, Exclusion and Hierarchy: Orthodoxy, Nonobservance, and the Emergence of Modern Jewish Identity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), addresses these issues from historical and sociological perspectives. The study suggests that during the nineteenth century German Orthodoxy in particular developed a new approach to Jewish identity and the structure of modern Jewish society. While nonobservant Jews were perceived as having moved beyond the boundaries of authentic Judaism, simultaneously the concept of Jewish solidarity and collective identity was not completely rejected. This was a sharp departure from pre-modern exclusionary attitudes and indicates the specific needs of the Orthodox as a minority group within the predominantly nonobservant German-Jewish population.

The existence of Jews who deviated from normative halakhic practice is not, in and of itself, an exclusive reality of modern society. Rabbinic literature is replete with examples that show that like any society, there were always individual Jews who succeeded in living on the periphery. But be it individuals or groups, in traditional Jewish society there was no question regarding the fact that normative Judaism was defined by allegiance to the halakha. Certainly those who succeeded in diverging from this norm knew they had greatly weakened their connection to the Jewish community, if not having severed it completely. The autonomous Jewish community had the power to excommunicate such deviants, although this measure was rarely used against individuals as the alternative was losing them to the open arms of the church. But the threat itself of herem (excommunication) was often enough to prevent most potential deserters from taking drastic action. Regarding those groups who staked claims to clearer understandings of God’s word, such as the Karaites, and the Sabbateans, the Jewish community was generally less obliging. The weight of the entire population was thrown against them with the intention of destroying them as a collective body. When that was no longer possible, harsh measures were passed to reinforce boundaries between the followers of the deviant approach and those loyal to the pre-dominant halakhic tradition.

The initial sign that changes had begun to take place in the makeup of European Jewish society in the eighteenth century was the increase in the number of individuals who chose not to observe basic Jewish laws, such as Sabbath and dietary restrictions. This was, at first, a small group that deviated from accepted Jewish norms primarily due to the economic and political opportunities that came along with an increasingly accepting social environment. Only later were fresh ideologies and religious movements put forward that lent theological or philosophical legitimacy to the new types of behaviors. As the doors of society swung open wider for the Jews, nonobservance increased to the point where there seemed to be little possibility of reversing this phenomenon. Indeed, by the mid-nineteenth century, nonobservant Jews made up the majority of many major German locales as well as other large communities in Western Europe, while the numbers continued to increase steadily in rural areas and throughout Hungary and Southern Europe. Similarly, in Eastern Europe, despite the many strongholds of Hasidism and traditional life, the last decades of the nineteenth century certainly saw non-observance become a regular fixture—if by no means the norm—in most Jewish communities. North African and Asian Jews of Sephardic origin were also influenced by modernization, although for the most part the process and character differed from that experienced by their European brethren.

The gradual way by which nonobservance became a legitimate form of Jewish identity for many Jews, can be described as the “normativization of deviance.” That is, acts that were previously considered to be the antithesis of Jewish lifestyle became accepted and even preferred options for vast numbers of fully identifying Jews. This new reality was bound to have its effects on those who maintained allegiance to traditional practice. For families, the rejection by its members of the values of the home could be devastating, and at the very least, certainly raised questions as to how to adjust to such a situation. In addition, Jewish communal solidarity as well as public religious life had always been predicated on the uniformity of practice by its members.

Following the functional approach to deviance, a sociological paradigm first developed in the works of Emile Durkheim, I suggest that Orthodoxy’s efforts over the last few centuries to define the halakhic and social status of its non-observant brethren, to a great degree, was a means by which it sought to come to grips with its own identity

The traditional rabbinical and communal leadership responded to modern deviants as the phenomenon developed. At the start, the only tools at their disposal were those that had been accepted as the time-honored ways to punish sinners. As deviance spread, however, and the realization that this was not just a passing fad was acknowledged, the responses too evolved. Were the halakhic and social categories as well as the disciplinary tools that had served previous generations still applicable in these novel times? Could new approaches be formulated that would take into account the current environment while ensuring allegiance to traditional Jewish values? Hovering above the various responses to these questions, an overarching issue was being confronted by the representatives of Orthodoxy: what was the meaning of Jewish identity in a modern, heterogeneous Jewish world?

The new Orthodox attitude toward nonobservance that emerged, particularly from the second half of the 19th century, was predicated upon what I have termed a “hierarchical relationship”. This analysis draws on the dichotomy established by British anthropologist Mary Douglas that distinguishes between enclavist and hierarchical societies. Enclaves are closely related to sects in that they work primarily on the boundary between in and out. They try to limit the differences between those who are loyal to the group, while focusing on that which unites them in opposition to the outsiders. There were certainly groups within Orthodoxy who could be fully considered “sects”. I contend, however, that these are extreme examples that demonstrate the potential length to which Jewish groups could go in the quest for survival in what most saw as a virulently hostile environment. Most Orthodox sectors cultivated attitudes more closely situated within a hierarchical approach. That is, simultaneously their relationship to the non-observant expressed two seemingly opposite intentions. They were at once constantly creating boundaries in order to preserve their own unique identity and sense of group solidarity, while at the same time finding ways to allow for the “deviants” to remain within the fold. A perception evolved within Orthodoxy that accepted the idea that all Jews were part of a greater whole. By contrast to the “egalitarian” nature of the enclave, however, an internal distinction was forged between those who behaved properly and professed traditional beliefs, who were of preferred status, and those who deviated from these tenets.

Within the realities of the modern world there were clear advantages for the Orthodox in adopting such a multi-tier construction of Jewish society. On a practical level it served two needs. It enabled the Orthodox to protest and deride the views and lifestyles that were becoming prevalent among the majority of the Jews, and to which they were absolutely opposed. This, in turn, engendered a process of strengthened group identity among the Orthodox adherents. But the hierarchical relationship also derived from a realistic appraisal of how modern Jewish society differed from its traditional predecessors. It represented a realization that in a world in which deviance had become normative and even dominant, an absolutely exclusionary approach was untenable. Room had to be made within their Orthodox outlook for those who identified as Jews despite having abandoned traditional Jewish practice, without legitimizing their actions.

The hierarchical stance was also advantageous from an ideological perspective. If Orthodoxy was to abandon all the halakhic and communally accepted precedents from previous generations regarding sanctions against deviants, its claim to be the direct link to traditional Judaism of the past could have been called into question. On the other hand, traditional Judaism had also nurtured the concept of Jewish solidarity as one of its foundations. While the public Sabbath desecrator could be classified in the same category as an idolater, the theme of “An Israelite, even if he has sinned, remains an Israelite” was also an accepted principle. Indeed, the realities of modern society made differentiation between “good” and “bad” Jews more necessary for Orthodox group cohesion, but they also proved that it was a less accurate barometer of Jewish identity. Thus, the tensions between the exclusivist and inclusivist trends within Judaism became a focal point of Orthodox discussion. By expressing a view that saw the Jewish people both as a whole and as individual parts with a clear perception of who stood at the top of the pyramid, the hierarchical approach enabled Orthodoxy to remain loyal to Judaism’s exclusionary tradition without ignoring its inclusionary one.

A consideration of the development of Orthodox approaches to non-observant Jews in major modern Jewish centers of the twentieth century supports the contention that the hierarchical approach to Jewish identity eventually became the dominant Orthodox vehicle for interfacing with nonobservant Jews throughout the Jewish world. Of course a multitude of opinions were put forth by assorted Orthodox factions in response to the local contexts in which they lived and numerous other external factors. Some placed greater emphasis on maintaining the gradations, while others invested their efforts in trying to be as inclusive as possible. The former, then, can be identified as veering close to an enclavist attitude, even as few plunged full-force into such an existence. By the same token, despite the concerted efforts of certain authorities and ideological groups to judge the non-observant generously, there are no examples, at least until the late twentieth century, in which Orthodoxy expressed anything that can be interpreted as pluralism.

The job of the historian is to identify and describe historical events, personalities, trends and phenomena. Once the reader is convinced of the rigorousness and value of the author’s analysis, however, he/she is invited to consider the significance of the discussion for understanding contemporary realities. For those—like myself—who are troubled by the negativity that often characterizes the relationship between Orthodox and non-observant Jews, the explication of the hierarchical model may serve as a helpful tool in understanding the current dynamic. Is the hierarchical relationship simply one that enables the Orthodox Jew to find a balance between exclusivism and solidarity that he/she can live with? Or, under today’s realities, does its primarily lead to the perpetuation of a sense of superiority on the part of the Orthodox that actually exacerbates internal Jewish animosity? If the latter is the case, it may be time for creative individuals within the Orthodox community to devote their energies toward promoting new approaches to Jewish collective identity that are devoid of these characteristics.

The Rapidly Expanding Arsenal of Hamas


I am sickened at how Israel is allowing the US, EU, and the "Quartet" to keep them from attacking and taking Gaza. This should have been done a long time ago, but we have allowed them a Hudna to equip and train their terrorist squadrons and arm themselves with lethal weaponry.

Hopefully the government will wake up before it is too late, but I don't hold out any hope. I think it might already be too late.

Olmert will do anything to hold onto power right now--anything but protect Israel and her people. He is a traitorous fool.

Exclusive: Hamas may receive lethal Iran-made EFP roadside bombs
May 25, 2008, 5:39 PM (GMT+02:00)

Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin reported to Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, May 25, on Hamas’ rapidly expanding arsenal. He said it is only a question of time before Palestinian rockets from Gaza fly past Ashkelon to Israel’s main port of Ashdod, 25 km south of Tel Aviv and the town of Kiryat Gat, 30 km further south. Hamas, in Diskin’s view, is steadily building up its war stocks and unlikely to accept a ceasefire.

Ashdod, which handles most of Israel’s marine cargoes, has a population of 200,000, Kiryat Gat 50,000.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Hamas’ Damascus leader, Khaled Meshaal secretly met the Revolutionary Guards commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani during his visit to Tehran Saturday, May 24.

First, he was taken around the IRGC factories manufacturing the roadside bombs known as explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs), which are dreaded for their extra armor-piercing capabilities and can be remotely operated by radio.

US armored vehicles in Iraq were this year fitted with extra side armor plates for protection after these roadside bombs had begun to account for 5 percent of American combat casualties.

According to intelligence sources, Hamas will soon receive EFPs from Iran with which to blow up Israel armored vehicles by remote control from inside the Gaza Strip.

Internal security minister Avi Dichter divulged to the ministers the mechanism whereby the Israeli taxpayer indirectly bankrolls Hamas.

The Israeli government last year transferred more than $1 billion to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. The funds covered the PA’s public sector payroll, which expanded this year from 160,000 to 200,000 earners. They include members of the various terrorist groups, such as the ruling Fatah and its branches, but also a massive transfer to the Gaza Strip to pay 70,000 administrative workers, most of them members of Hamas. In this way, Dichter reported, the Israeli government is putting up the cash for terrorists.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mad Magazine Artist Will Elder Draws No More


I love Mad Magazine, and my boys love it too.

Love it or hate it, you have to admit it had a great impact on the culture of America--especially pre-80s, when Elder worked.

OK, so go ahead and judge me. Say that the magazine is not appropriate, it is cruel, it is disgusting.

Then compare it to the daily news. Look at the Rabbinical Court and their ruling on Converts, see how many sicko Rabbis are running around in Baltimore, and look at how Olmert treats religious Jews over the green line.

Now, tell me--is Mad Magazine really that bad?


Will Elder, 86; original cartoonist for Mad magazine
A flawless draftsman, Elder also had a satiric edge.
By Dennis McLellan Los Angeles Times Staff Writer,0,932513.story

Will Elder, one of the original Mad magazine cartoonist-illustrators who helped set the irreverent visual style of the legendary satirical publication in the 1950s and later co-created the long-running "Little Annie Fanny" color cartoon strip in Playboy magazine, has died. He was 86.

Elder died of Parkinson's disease Thursday in a nursing home in Rockleigh, N.J., said his son-in-law, Gary VandenBergh.

"His artistic ability was unparalleled, but it was the sense of humor that he brought to it that really set him apart," Hugh Hefner, Playboy publisher and a fan of Elder's work since "the early days of Mad," told The Times on Friday.

"He was a zany and a lovable one."
A Bronx-born World War II veteran, Elder was among a handful of cartoonists assembled in 1952 to launch Mad, which was founded by editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William M. Gaines.

Originally a comic book that spoofed other comic books, Mad in 1955 became a magazine satirizing pop culture and American life.
"Will Elder was absolutely brilliant," Al Jaffee, a writer-cartoonist for Mad since 1958, told The Times on Friday. "He was the star from the beginning; he had a feel for the kind of satire that eventually spread everywhere."

Mad editor John Ficarra considers Elder to be "one of the funniest artists to ever work for Mad."
"He really brought a fresh approach to satiric comic illustration," said Ficarra, who worked with Elder in the '80s when the team of Elder and Kurtzman returned to Mad after they both left in 1956. At Mad, Elder was known for his flawless draftsmanship and his flair for mimicking the visual styles of other comic book artists and drawing ad parodies with photographic precision.

But his trademark was the throwaway sight gags that he inserted into the cartoon panels: visual minutiae that he jokingly called "chicken fat."
During Elder's and Kurtzman's years at Mad in the '50s, Ficarra said, Kurtzman would write the stories and do rough pencil-sketches, which Elder would illustrate. Ficarra said Kurtzman "was known for doing these elaborate layouts, where he'd pencil in what he wanted drawn in every frame and give that to Willie.

"If you think of these panels as sort of a bare Christmas tree, Willie would put on some ornaments, some balls, some tinsel. Then he'd start putting on some things you might not expect to see on a Christmas tree -- a bowling ball, an old sneaker, a frozen TV dinner -- so at the end, these panels would be jam-packed with visuals that were sort of incongruous to what was going on, but it really rewarded readers who paid attention.

"Frequently, I've heard from people who say, 'You really couldn't read one of Willie's stories in one sitting.' You had to go back and reread it several times because you always seemed to miss things." While at Mad in the '50s, Ficarra said, Elder "did the illustrations for a take-off on Mickey Mouse called Mickey Rodent. He did Starchie instead of Archie. He did Superduperman, which is a real classic. For the people who grew up with Mad at this time period and even afterward, there is real affection for Willie and his artwork." Which was, he said, "very subversive."

"He would do things like in the Superduperman parody, instead of the S shield he had a Good Housekeeping seal. And in the next panel he changed it to something else and then something else. There was constant playing with the reader." Ficarra described Elder as being "extremely personable," with "a very sharp wit."

He also had a reputation as a prankster.
In school, he once whitened his face with chalk dust and shocked his teacher and fellow students by hanging from a cloakroom hook. While out to lunch with his comic book colleagues, he attempted to pay the cashier with leaves of lettuce that he had stuck in his wallet. And he once sent his wife a valentine to which he attached the heart of a chicken with an arrow through it.

Jaffee, who met Elder in junior high school in the Bronx, said his friend had something of a "split personality."

"On the one hand, he was a very serious family-oriented kind of guy," he said. "But then he could switch over to this other personality, which was antic, frantic and funny."
The "serious and funny side" of Elder also influenced his painting, said Jaffee, recalling a portrait Elder once painted of his son.

"It was a beautiful painting," he said. "It was all in very somber blues and black tones, very dark and brooding. After he finished it, he couldn't resist putting two little red dots on the kid's neck as if a vampire had been there. He was always driven by the notion that something should be funny."

Elder was born Wolf William Eisenberg on Sept. 22, 1921. He attended New York's High School of Music & Art, where he met Kurtzman. He launched his career after serving in the Army during World War II.
While working for Mad in the '50s, he also drew for the satirical comic Panic. After he and Kurtzman left Mad in 1956, he worked for a series of humor magazines, Humbug, Help! and Hefner's short-lived Trump.

Kurtzman and Elder's "Little Annie Fanny," a cartoon parody of American life featuring a big-busted blond that Elder painted in a three-dimensional style, ran in Playboy from 1962 to 1988.
"There were occasions when we were working on deadline and the two of them would come and hole up in the Chicago mansion for long weekends to finish the work on 'Little Annie Fanny,' " Hefner recalled.

"It was a close collaborative relationship, and I loved the guys."
Elder is survived by his daughter, Nancy VandenBergh; his son, Martin; his brother, Irving Eisenberg; and two grandchildren.