Jun 30, 2010

Announcing Ramah's First Bike Tour of Israel

NRC Website Banner


MAY 15 - 24, 2011
  • WaterfallJoin us for Ramah's first Israel Bike Tour: five unforgettable days of cycling from the spectacular Western Galilee to the Golan Heights.
  • Raise money for Ramah programs for children with special needs.
  • Learn about the history and geography of the Galilee as we cycle in the footsteps of the Halutzim (pioneers).
  • Spend a memorable Ramah-Shabbat and experience the warmth of Lag BaOmer in the North.
  • All transfers, lodging in comfortable hotels, and most meals included....talk about hassle-free!
  • Biking in IsraelThe entire ride is fully supported for your comfort and safety and will be carefully planned by an experienced Israeli biking company to assure a fabulous experience.
  • The trip is intended for ALL RIDERS, and will motivate you to train prior to the trip (who couldn't use some of that?). On average we will cycle between 20 to 50 miles a day (depending on terrain). There will be more challenging options for those who are interested.
  • Option of extending trip for two days of Ramah-guided touring in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (without bikes).


Experience Israel Like You Never Have Before

and Create Even More Ramah Memories


Save the dates and watch for details coming soon!


To receive further information: ramahisrael@jtsa.edu

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Jewishweek.com: "‘Rabba’ Appearance Stirs Up Controversy"

Jewishweek.com: "'Rabba' Appearance Stirs Up Controversy"


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rabba Sara Hurwitz of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, who was invited to speak at the Young Israel of Hewlett on a Shabbat several weeks ago, has come and gone. But a flare-up over her title continues to reverberate in the Five Towns community, prompting rabbis and others there to lash out at each other.

Writing in the Five Towns Jewish Times the week after her appearance, Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Cedarhurst repeatedly described the invitation to Rabba Hurwitz as a "great bizayon haTorah [disgrace to the Torah], the degradation of the gedolei Torah [rabbinic sages] that took place in our community." 

Noting that some may be angry at him for "stirring the pot," the rabbi said he was speaking out because leading Torah scholars have condemned the appointment of a woman to a rabbinic position as "a breach of tzniyus [modesty] and mesorah [tradition]."

Rabba Hurwitz was given her title, seen as an upgrade from maharat, earlier this year by Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Riverdale congregation. In a subsequent agreement with the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Weiss consented not to give anyone else the title of "rabba."

Rabbi Ginzberg wrote that his criticism was not personally directed at Rabba Hurwitz, who he referred to as "Ms." But he noted that while she may be an expert in Talmudic studies, "I am highly doubtful."

Rabbi Ginzberg concluded his essay by asserting that as a result of this breach of Jewish law, "we will have something else to cry about" on Tisha b'Av, the upcoming fast day which marks the destruction of the Holy Temple.

That final comment was too much for Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere, who says he was "particularly taken aback by the last line. At a time of civil strife between brothers in Israel and blood libels against Israel, this is what we should be mourning about?"

In a sermon to his congregation, Rabbi Billet described the Ginzberg essay as "trash." 

Even Rabbi Heshy Blumstein, whose Hewlett congregation hosted Rabba Hurwitz, would not call her by her title in introducing her, according to attendees at the Shabbat lectures, though he praised her scholarship and potential.

While she may not be playing well in the Five Towns, Rabba Hurwitz this week was named by Newsweek magazine as one of its 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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jewishweek.com: "Young Israel Movement In Turmoil Over Upstate Shul"

jewishweek.com: "Young Israel Movement In Turmoil Over Upstate Shul"

In the wake of an unprecedented move by the National Council of Young Israel to expel a member congregation in upstate Syracuse, a rebellion is brewing among some of the Orthodox congregations affiliated with the movement.

The challenge to the National Council surfaced during a conference call last Thursday with representatives of the organization's nearly 150 member congregations.

At the end of what was described as a contentious call — during which National Council leaders repeatedly refused to discuss plans to expel a member congregation in Syracuse — one synagogue representative made a motion of no-confidence in the National Council's leadership. With that, the national leaders hung up, leaving synagogue representatives puzzled and upset, according to those on the call.

One of those on the call, Hillel Levine, a board member of the Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, said he was "disappointed by the National Council's handling of the Syracuse matter and its handling of the meeting of the delegates. Of the delegates who spoke at the meeting, I can think of only one who spoke vaguely in favor of National Council's handling of the whole thing."

Levine said that everyone else on the call was upset, ranging from "clearly disturbed to outraged."

The planned vote on the expulsion of Shaarei Torah Orthodox Congregation of Syracuse — and possible legal action to seize the synagogue's assets — was said by the National Council to be over the synagogue's failure to pay $20,000 in back dues. The National Council withdrew the matter at the last minute to permit time for a negotiated settlement, and cited those talks as the reason for its refusal to discuss the matter with The Jewish Week. 

It did issue a statement late Tuesday, however, in which it said it does not "debate our internal issues publicly," that it has "no intention of closing a synagogue" and is "guided by the constitution of our organization with the direction of our board of directors and Young Israel Council of Rabbis Halacha committee."

The Syracuse congregation, however, contends that the real reason for the planned expulsion was its election of a woman president several years ago. Its president, Dr. Beverly Marmor, the second consecutive female lay leader of the congregation, said that although there were rabbis who had wanted to work out a financial settlement in recent days, that ended "because of the chaos of the moment."

The proposed settlement was said to have had the Syracuse congregation pay at least part of its back dues to the national body, which in turn would drop its alleged complaint about having a woman at the helm.

At least two other Young Israel congregations have had women presidents, but this is believed to be the first time the National Council has sought membership approval to take legal action to stop it.

The action comes at a time when the National Council appears to be moving more and more to the right religiously, a move some of its member congregations are apparently not prepared to make.

Founded in 1912 and considered a modern-to-centrist "Torah-true" movement within American Orthodoxy for most of its history, the National Council in recent years is viewed as increasingly in the haredi camp, having moved to the right both politically and religiously.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the group's chief executive, has made the campaign to free Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel and is serving a life sentence, a major cause for the National Council. And rules put into effect three years ago by the organization's Council of Rabbis Vaad Halacha [committee on Jewish law], have upset the leaders of a number of Young Israel congregations who say they did not sign on for the restrictions when they joined the national group.

Several of those leaders interviewed cited in particular an August 2007 letter that included the following in which the organization said there were a series of new regulations:

*  Synagogue presidents must be male and Jewish from birth;  

*  Family memberships may not be granted if a spouse is not Jewish; 

*  Women's prayer services are prohibited;

*  Women may no longer read the Megillah during a prayer service;

*  The Young Israel Council of Rabbis must approve anyone employed by a Young Israel congregation as a rabbi.

The last one was widely believed to be a mechanism to prevent a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah yeshiva, founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss, from gaining a pulpit at a Young Israel synagogue, though Rabbi Lerner has denied that.

"Nobody knows who is making these decisions and who are the halachic authorities," said one Young Israel synagogue president. "If you are in Syracuse, maybe a woman president is your only option. Maybe a different standard should apply in New York City; you cannot make uniform standards. We have common values, but you can't impose arcane values."

The ban on women synagogue presidents, he continued, "is just wrong and offensive and not politically correct or acceptable."

The synagogue president pointed out that the National Council has not held a membership convention for at least 10 years, preferring instead to convene meetings of member synagogues through telephone conference calls.

"This issue has now exposed the underbelly of the way" the National Council is run, he added. "We're a civilized, knowledgeable group of people who have finally said enough is enough. We can't exist under duress and fear of retribution" if we go off the reservation. 

"We must live under an organization that follows rules, is transparent and meets the needs of its constituents," the synagogue president continued. "We're here to stand up for one of our own, a poor shul in Syracuse — the only bastion of Orthodox Judaism in upstate New York — that is trying its hardest to preserve itself. And here is a national organization trying to tell them how to operate. Where were [the national leaders] when [the synagogue members] needed them?"

This appears to be the first open rift in the nearly 100-year-old organization. 

There is no known precedent of an extant Jewish congregation in this country becoming the object of, in effect, a hostile takeover by a national group like the National Council, Marc Stern, counsel and acting executive director of the American Jewish Congress told The Jewish Week. "Because most shuls are freestanding bodies and their membership in national bodies is loose, it doesn't happen often."

"We're in the process of putting together a formal response to the National Council," said the president of a member congregation who asked for anonymity because the response had not been finalized.

"We believe in the right of a synagogue to self-determination and to promote its values as opposed to trying to defend ourselves against a national organization that is imposing standards on local branches," he said. "If a synagogue doesn't want to be a member, it should have the right to resign without retribution."

Marmor said her members voted to resign from the National Council two years ago during an emergency meeting called by the then-synagogue president, Joan Poltenson, after a July 2, 2008, threat from the National Council.

"We were told that if our [woman president] did not resign immediately, they would sue us for having used their name for years and would also claim our assets," Marmor said, noting that the synagogue owns its building, a parsonage and at least three Torah scrolls.

Although Marmor said her synagogue sent a letter to the National Council informing it of the resignation and a name change from Young Israel-Shaarei Torah of Syracuse, the National Council hired an attorney who wrote back to say that the organization's constitution bars a member congregation from resigning its membership and affiliation.

The letter also instructed the congregation to confirm its continued membership and "cease and desist from any further effort to operate as an independent Orthodox synagogue..."

Marmor said her synagogue has ignored the letter.

"This is the United States of America," she said. "Whoever heard that you can't resign from a voluntary organization?" 

But the National Council does have the authority to expel a member and seize its assets, according to the organization's constitution. Marcia Eisenberg, general counsel of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said that synagogues that join the organization agree to abide by it.

"When you are part of the movement, there are certain obligations on both sides," she said. "If they have signed a contract [to join], they have to be bound to it."

Eisenberg noted that the other national congregational movements — including the Orthodox Union, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Union of Reform Judaism — are "much looser" with respect to their synagogue affiliations. 

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Order Your Own Kittel!

Buy Your Own Kittel!
Netivot Shalom is placing our annual Kittel order on July 30th!

A Kittel is traditionally worn on several important occasions: Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, at one's own wedding, and for burial. We are encouraging CNS members to purchase their own this year.  Kittels communicate a number of messages:
1) White is a symbol of the purity we hope to achieve through Teshuva/Repentance and Tefilah/Prayer.
2) The Kittel is a symbol of equality which reminds us that no person is superior to another.
3) The Kittel reminds us of our mortality and the value of life.

As Rabbi Jack Moline writes, "Imagine looking across the congregation and seeing a sea of white ...Imagine the true equality of each collection of prayers and meditations ...And imagine the ability to focus more directly on prayer and repentance without the distraction of concern about personal appearance. (from The Whole Kittel and Caboodle)."

The price for a new Kittel is $50.  We are placing a Kittel-order through Afikomen on July 30th.  Please send a check to Rachel in the shul office by July 29th to order your own Kittel as we begin the journey to Yamim Nora'im 5771!

Jun 28, 2010

"The Scent of Hagar and The Redemption of Sarah": A Reflection on Genesis 25:1

"The Scent of Hagar and The Redemption of Sarah": A Reflection on Genesis 25:1
(C) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

It is suggested that Abraham's prophecy paled in comparison to Sarah's
(Gen. 21:12). Sarah's harshness to Hagar (Gen 21:10) makes this hard
to accept. How powerful, then, to read the Kli Yakar's commentary on
Genesis 25:1, in which Hagar's and Ishmael's expulsions are righteous
and Hagar's return to Abraham as 'Keturah' cherished and holy.

Sarah sees Hagar's idolatry as a destructive and contaminating force.
The Kli Yakar, leveraging older midrash, sees Hagar's subsequent
exilic journey as purifying, and suggests that her fragrance deepened
with self-examination, that ultimately her scent, which Abraham
remembered well, took on sacred properties through her difficult path.
All this began with Sarah's instruction.

Abraham's journey, too, is compared to the uncorking of his particular
perfume (Breisheet Rabbah on Gen. 12:1), finally unleashed by God's
Call. That encounter renames, sends and releases Abraham to himself.
Who (if we subscribe to the midrashic vision of Abraham and Hagar's
reunification) is the source of Hagar's new name? As Keturah, or
"Sacred Fragrant Offering", she is the embodiment of transformation.
As is Abraham.

Might they, together, be the fulfillment of Sarah's prophetic vision
(Gen. 16:2) that Abraham and Hagar's unification could be a source of
great building? Might their combined scent be pleasing to the God 1ho
called them both, to Sarah who directed their paths (Gen. 16:2 and
21:10), and to we modern seekers who yearn for a more pleasing scent
from the encounters of Sarah's and Hagar's children?

Might that reunification remain an undiscovered fragrance living in
the recesses of memory, planted there by God, waiting for release?

Sent from my mobile device

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jun 25, 2010

Rabbi Arthur Green on forward.com: "How Hasidism Went Astray"

forward.com: "How Hasidism Went Astray"


By Arthur Green

Published June 23, 2010, issue of July 02, 2010.

For the past half-century, I have been reading and studying the sources of Hasidism with both affection and respect. I have worked as a historian of Hasidic thought and, more recently, as a theologian trying to construct a contemporary Judaism on the basis of Hasidic insights. Like the Hasidic master Pinhas of Korzec, who once thanked God that his soul came into the world after the Zohar was revealed "because the Zohar kept me a Jew," I know that I owe my own Judaism primarily to the Baal Shem Tov and his followers.

Over this same time period, however, I have looked with growing dismay at contemporary Hasidism and the various positions it has taken on matters of concern to all Jews. The latest, and most ridiculously degrading, incident is the flap about Ashkenazic-Sephardic integration that is convulsing Israel. At the center of the current furor is the ultra-Orthodox Beit Yaakov school in the West Bank town of Immanuel, where mostly Sephardic girls were literally walled and fenced off from the mostly Ashkenazic girls in the school's Hasidic track, with religious differences offered as the justification.

I laughed and cried when reading that, in order to attend the school's Hasidic track, Sephardic girls were required to daven, even at home, using the Ashkenazic pronunciation of Hebrew. How many recall that the Hasidim (themselves Ashkenazim) were once fiercely denounced for adopting Sephardic versions of Jewish prayers, then thought to reflect a higher level of sanctity?

What happened to Hasidism? How did a daring and innovative movement for the spiritual regeneration of Judaism turn into a hard core of embittered defenders of a lost past, squabbling constantly among themselves, producing headline-grabbing violators of Jewish ethical norms, and viewing the outside world as entirely defiled and hostile?

To understand how Hasidism went astray, we need to know its history, including some flaws that were present from the outset.

The goal of the Baal Shem Tov's followers was a Jewish life refocused on such essentials as the love of God, the joy of living out God's commandments and the faith that divinity was to be found everywhere. The Jew's task was to seek sparks of holiness throughout creation and to return them to their root, meanwhile celebrating the privilege of this life of holiness. Divinity was to be found in fields and forests, in the letters of the Torah, and in the Jewish heart.

Left out of the equation was the non-Jewish human community in whose midst the Hasidim lived. It is easy to say that Polish and Ukrainian Christianity, filled with anti-Semitic stereotypes, dehumanized the Jew, and we merely returned the favor. But the history is more complex. The view that gentiles are less fully human than Jews, even said to be lacking the divine soul, had ancient roots in kabbalistic tradition. Sadly, that bit of racist Jewish folklore is alive among the Hasidim (and a few others!) even today. Although it should have nothing to do with internal Jewish divisions, since the unity of Jews is also a cardinal principle, we know that the stain of racism is one that tends to spread.

Two other developments that led to the decline and even degeneration of Hasidism can be attributed to decisions made in the course of its history.

The first is dynastic leadership. The idea that a holy man's charisma could be passed down to sons and grandsons — instead of the obvious, and more inherently Jewish, choice of master-to-disciple — began in a few key families of Hasidic lineage at the turn of the 19th century. The grandsons and great-grandsons of Hasidic tzaddikim quarreled with one another over loyalties, over doctrines, but especially over money. As the numbers of dynastic claimants swelled, the movement came to be seen as characterized by pettiness and increasingly weak and uninspired leadership. While a few great latter-day figures proved exceptions, the rule was that the quality and originality of those at Hasidism's helm was already in sharp decline over a hundred years ago.

The second development stems from the Hasidic movement's response to modernity.

When the brash new Hasidic movement first appeared on the stage of history, the rabbinic leadership of Eastern Europe, famously including the Vilna Gaon, was outraged. For 30 years, beginning in 1772, thesemitnagdim — Hasidism's "opponents" — would excommunicate anyone who had anything to do with the Hasidim. But by 1810, the rabbinic leadership began to feel the pressure of a much more dangerous enemy, that of Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment. The rabbinic leaders then made common cause with the Hasidim to fight modernity.

The Hasidim, anxious to please their one-time persecutors, enthusiastically led the charge. The Baal Shem Tov's world-embracing legacy was turned into a weapon with which to bludgeon anyone who dared deviate, whether in religious practice, educational views or even in style of dress, from the norms of the 18th century.

This is the Hasidism that got carried forward into succeeding generations. As the struggle became fiercer, especially once it involved governmental pressures, Hasidic anti-modernism turned spiteful, justifying techniques of resistance that are no source of pride.

By the 20th century, the battle was mostly lost, and children of Hasidim by the drove were turning toward various secular Jewish movements, including Zionism. The surviving Hasidic movement then turned toward politics, creating the Agudat Yisrael movement and other bodies that sought to defend the ever-receding turf of Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox domination.

World War I, the terrible pogroms that followed it and Sovietization ravaged Hasidism in Eastern Europe. Hitler did the rest. By 1945 there seemed to be almost nothing left.

Then the most remarkable period of Hasidic history began to unfold. Out of the Holocaust's ashes, the community began to rebuild itself.

The fiercely anti-Zionist Satmar rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, re-created a large chunk of pre-war Hungary in Williamsburg and Jerusalem. The surviving Bobover scion, Solomon Halberstam, who had lost nearly all of his following, reached out to surviving Hasidim who had lost their own rebbes to re-build Galicia, first in Crown Heights, then in Boro Park. The Lubavitchers had an active underground network that was keeping some sparks of Torah alive in the Soviet Union. The Lubavitchers — eventually followed by the Bratslavers — reached out, often with some success, to the children of modern Jews. The Gerer and Belzer rebbes, both rescued in the midst of the Holocaust, rebuilt their empires around grand fortresses in Jerusalem, then conquered ever-larger swaths of Israel.

All of this happened with the support of other Jews, very prominently including the government of Israel. We were all deeply moved and impressed by the faith-energy displayed by this old-new Jewish community, committed to reconstituting itself in new and uncomfortable surroundings. Impressive natural increase, in contrast to the rest of us remarkably infertile Jews, helped the postwar Hasidim regain significant numerical representation within world Jewry. Israeli military draft exemption laws worked to create a huge society of largely idle Hasidic males, supposedly full-time Torah students, a phenomenon completely unlike anything in earlier Hasidic history.

With Hasidim accustomed to viewing all outsiders through the lens of Eastern European hostilities, the Hasidism that has emerged is a strange combination of inner-directed love and joy, an inheritance from the movement's first period; uncompromising and often hysterical degrees of ultra-Orthodox extremism, combined with shrill denunciations of all other Jews, coming from the second era of Hasidic history; and disdain for the non-Jewish world, the legacy of persecutions old and new.

Of course, there are still sparks of holiness to be found among the Hasidim. There are young people at the edges of Hasidism still concerned with the real struggle for avodat Hashem, true worship. But most of the movement is pure imitation and entrenchment in the past. As the Kotzker rebbe taught long ago, a Hasid by dint of imitation is an imitation Hasid.

How shall we who love Hasidism, who still pore over such writings as the "Kedushat Levi" or the "Sefat Emet" to find inspiration, relate to the narrowly exclusivist, self-righteous and intolerant version of Judaism that is one face of contemporary Hasidism? The answer is that we need to rescue the Baal Shem Tov from his latter-day followers. The religion of today's Hasidim, themselves victims of a tragic and complex history, cannot be allowed to stand as Hasidism's only legacy.

Rabbi Arthur Green is rector of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. He is the author of "Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition" (Yale University Press).

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Rabbi Gary Creditor: "Gilad Shalit: Four Years Later Four Years Too Late"

Gilad Shalit – Four Years Later – Four Years Too Late

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor

June 25, 2010

Richmond, Virginia


When Ruby and I led our synagogue tour to Israel in the summer of 2006, Gilad Shalit had just been captured, kidnapped in a terrorist attack at the Keren Shalom crossing point into Gaza. The terrible of irony of these past days in the demand for 'humanitarian aid' to be allowed to enter Gaza, this was one of those crossing points. How does the world expect material to enter if the Hamas terrorists attack the Israelis on their side of the border? Why does the word "humanitarian" apply to "them" and "not to us?" [I don't like the answer I have, but from millennium of hatred of the Jews is the answer that they don't consider us human.]  It is inconceivable that four long, hard years later he is still in captivity. His parents have been tortured during these years with longing to know if he was even alive. It is not that the State of Israel has not tried to free him. They have. But it is at the price of extortion, of allowing those with Jewish blood on their hands to go scot-free and terrorize and murder again and again. To this Israel will not agree.

Perhaps it is because of the brouhaha created over the flotilla off the Gaza seacoast, and this phony cry for more "humanitarian aid" which was only a vaguely veiled attempt to break open the gates for missiles of all varieties and the materials to make them so to rain down on Israel [which they have continued to do but in only very limited amounts because of the blockade] which is none too humanitarian [depending on how you look at this!] that we, the Jews of the world and of the State of Israel, raise the name of Gilad Schalit as the true humanitarian issue of the Gaza Strip. We pray every morning that God should 'matir asurim' – 'release the imprisoned.' We have to add our voices, our names, to His so to stir all possible places from Heaven to Earth for his release and return home.

To that end I have added here two sources that I have received. Even though I am in Richmond seventeen years, professionally I have kept my relationships with the New York Board of Rabbis and through them to the New York Jewish Community Relations Council. I urge you, I beg of you, to follow the links below and add each and every name of your family and friends to the petitions and messages. There must be a welling up from the Jewish people. It is about Gilad and not about Gilad. Certainly it is for his freedom. Yet the denial of the term "humanitarian" to an Israeli, to a Jew, transcends the individual to our people. It is the denial that we are humans and deserve the same respect, same dignity, the same protection of law, to which everyone else is entitled. The last ones to say that were the Nazis, and no one challenged them. We rise up and challenge the world!! We rise up in fullest self dignity, with a true democratic homeland, with pride, and will not be silent!! Or will we?

Shabbat Shalom


As many of you are aware, Friday, June 25th marks the 4th year of Gilad Shalit's captivity. Let him know you care.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) will bring your message, along with thousands of others, to the International Committee of the Red Cross and demand that Hamas allow the ICRC to visit and deliver the notes to Gilad in accordance with international humanitarian law. Since he was abducted in 2006 all such requests have been denied. We cannot remain silent in the face of Hamas' cruel violation of Gilad's human rights!

Send your message here: 

http://jcrcny.org/gilad/messagetogilad.html  (If this doesn't automatically take you to the website, please copy and paste the link into your internet browser window.)

We will also be sending a copy of your messages to Noam and Aviva Shalit.

For additional resources on Gilad Shalit, please visit http://www.jcrcny.org/gilad. (If this doesn't automatically take you to the website, please copy and paste the link your internet browser window.)

As issues arise, the JCRC-NY will continue to provide you with meaningful opportunities to digitally engage with issues affecting Israel and the Jewish community at large.

To forward this message to a friend click here.


Rabbi Joseph Potasnik
Executive Vice President, New York Board of Rabbis

Often as we take leave of our loved ones, we say, "We love you, see you soon."  Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped soldier and son Gilad has reminded us during the past four years not to take those words for granted.  He has also taught us the importance of these poignant and painful words, "Please do not forget my son."

An ancient legend tells us that when God created the world, He assigned different names to every flower in the universe.  The next day, God reappeared and asked each flower to repeat the name given to it.  Each responded immediately except for one.  That flower said, "God, I do not remember the name that you gave me.  Please tell it to me again."  God turned to the flower and said, "Since you do not remember the name I conferred upon You, I will give you a different one. Your new name will be Al Tishka-chay'nee which means Forget-Me-Not."  According to the folk tale, that is the origin of the flower's name.

Four years ago, a blossoming young man with a bright future named Gilad Shalit was abducted illegally from his family.  Since that fateful day, no international body has been permitted to see him and ascertain his well being.

This week, the fourth anniversary of his kidnapping, we faithfully fulfill our promise to Gilad's father as we demand his son's immediate release and return to his loving family.  Some will save a special chair for him in synagogue this Shabbat, some churches will dim their lights for a few minutes, some will travel on a special humanitarian flotilla with signs bearing Gilad's name and some will send letters again to leaders of our country asking that they raise their voices on his behalf.  We must renew our effort to remember Gilad Shalit.

Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak remarked, "The only man in the Gaza Strip who needs humanitarian assistance is Gilad Shalit…A million and a half people are living in Gaza, and only one of them truly needs humanitarian assistance,

only one of them imprisoned, does not merit to see daylight, his health situation is unknown, and his name is Gilad Shalit."  The United Nations Human Rights Council which readily voices its vitriol against Israel is remarkably silent when Gilad is deprived of his human rights.

Rabbi Israel Leventhal z"l was very troubled by a rabbinic description of Balaam, mentioned in this week's portion of Balak.  According to our sages, "Balaam suma b'achat m'eynov haya - Balaam was blind in one eye."  Rabbi Leventhal writes, "I could understand if our sages told us that Balaam was blind in both eyes.  That is telling us something that makes a difference, that's important to know.  Why however do the sages emphasize that he was sightless in one eye?"  Rabbi Leventhal explains, "When Balaam looked at the behavior of other nations and prophesized about their fate, he looked clearly with his good eye.  It was only when he studied the life of the Jews, did he use his blind eye.  He had a blind spot for the Jews."

Does that description not summarize the story for us today in the world?  So many are willing to overlook the serious shortcomings of other peoples but will look unfairly at Israel to find the flaws.

This week's portion contains the famous words "Ma Tovu Oha-lecha Yaakov, Mish-keno'techa Yisrael – How goodly are thy tents O Jacob, Thy dwelling places O Israel." A strange sentence because firstly it was supposed to be a curse from Balaam and secondly, it seems superfluous – it mentions both Jacob and Israel, tents and dwelling places.  Someone once explained the verse to me in this fashion.  What each Jew (Jacob) will do in his/her own tent will be a reflection on the entire community of Israel.  Simply said, when we Jews stand in solidarity as one people and speak with one voice, we can confront the crises of life with moral strength and collective courage.  As the portion reminds us, we must seek to transform a curse into a blessing.  May we fulfill our promise to the Shalit family and soon see Gilad return safely to his home, reunited with those who have waited so long for that moment.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I wish to thank Rabbis Yaakov Kermaier and Mitchell Wohlberg for their invaluable insights.

Jun 24, 2010

DANIEL GORDIS on jpost.com: "The five-state solution"

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Guest Column: The five-state solution

Those who argue that the two-state solution will not work are right. It's more likely that we'll need five: Hamastan, Fatahland, Palestine, Haredia and Israel.
At long last, even if years too late, Israelis woke up this week to the realization that we face yet another existential threat. Yes, it took 100,000 "Men in Black" in downtown Jerusalem to make the point, but finally, we get it. As dangerous as are the delegitimization of Israel and the specter of a nuclear Iran, Israel is no less threatened by a growing population of religious fundamentalists who insist on the right to racial discrimination in their schools and who utterly reject the legitimacy and authority of the Supreme Court. They reject, in other words, the idea of a "Jewish and democratic" state.

There's more, of course, including their treatment of Sephardim (even haredi Sephardim), the often despicable attitude to women in their communities, their tendency toward violence (when irked, they attack city workers, police officers and even the haredi rabbi who urged the Sephardi parents to go to the Supreme Court) and, most obvious, their unwillingness to share the burden of defending this country.

This cancer threatens to destroy everything we have built. Yes, that's a harsh metaphor, but it's apt. As Dan Ben-David of the Taub Center has shown, despite its current economic stability, the State of Israel is simply economically unsustainable if matters continue this way. Barring a dramatic shift in policy, the country will collapse under the weight of these haredi "cells" that drain the energy from the best of the body. There's nothing inherently evil about a cancer cell; we dread it only because it kills the organism we desperately wish to preserve. Haredim have every right to live as they wish, but that does not mean that we must allow them to destroy the country that we have built at such great cost over the past century.

THE HAND-WRINGING of the past week suggests that most Israelis believe that there's little we can do. I disagree. With apologies to Jonathan Swift, I offer the following modest proposal for our collective consideration.

Those who argue that the two-state solution will not work are right. We need not a two-state solution, but a five-state solution.

1. Hamastan will be created on the territory now known as the Gaza Strip, and will be ruled by the same people who already run it. Like Iran and North Korea, Hamastan will survive through sheer force and the use of terror, until its citizens rebel. Its borders are already internationally recognized. It already has a flag, and international sympathy in abundance.

Yes, it's short on many other commodities, so one presumes that even as Israel continues to blockade it (for it will remain sworn on Israel's destruction), it will have to continue to let in massive humanitarian aid, either by sea or by land. But perhaps Egypt will open its borders and let goods flow in from the south. After all, it's not as if Hamastan will be sworn on Egypt's destruction. In Hamastan, in short, nothing but the name changes.

2. Fatahland, on the other hand, will rise from what is today the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria. It, too, thankfully already has a flag. It could become a democracy, though probably a limping one at best, considering the Palestinians' record of creating transparent, democratic institutions. True, we might be pleasantly surprised, and its democracy might flourish. Equally possible, though, is that absent Israel's efforts at propping up the scaffolding of its democratically inclined leaders, Fatahland could slip into dictatorship. The jury is out, but whether Fatahland is democratic or just another version of the brutal regime of Hamastan would really not be Israel's problem.

Fortunately, even if Fatahland begins as a despotic regime, however, that could eventually change. For as Americans like John Adams and his compatriots knew, as millions of former Soviet citizens learned and Zionists before May 1948 understood well, you can earn freedom when you want it badly enough and are willing to risk – and sometimes to die – for it. Perhaps Fatahlandians will really crave freedom enough to be willing to die for it. They've proven that there are those of them willing to die to kill us; now we'd see if they're willing to die to make themselves free.

3. Palestine will be the country of today's Israeli Arabs. Increasingly, Israeli Arabs are wholly unambiguous about the fact that they reject the notion of Israel as a Jewish state. Adalah is only one of the Israel-Arab advocacy groups that have openly called for ending the Jewish character of the State of Israel. And the citizens of Umm el-Fahm, Israeli Arab citizens who rioted after the recent flotilla incident, continuously make it clear that they want a different type of government. It's time to give them one. Though its borders would have to be negotiated, Palestine would be based in the "Triangle" section of the Galilee where such sentiment is strongest. And we'd have to figure out how to handle the other pockets of such sentiment, which are not geographically contiguous with the Triangle.

Palestine would probably be democratic. It would simply be liberated from the oppressive Jewish regime that it can't bear, and would be free to chart its own course. And amazingly, Israel might have a neighboring Arab state with which it's never been at war.

Alas, Palestine does not have a flag. The PA's flag will be taken by Fatahland. And Israel's flag, based as it is on the image of a tallit, would be thoroughly unacceptable. Designing a flag will thus be one of the first challenges to which the leaders of the new state will have to turn their attention.

4. Haredia will be the ultra-Orthodox state. Based primarily in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Mea She'arim, Geula and Sanhedria, along with Bnei Brak and perhaps a few other localities, Haredia would be the country that last week's 100,000 plus protesters clearly desire. It would have a Supreme Council of Rabbinic Elders, not the vile secular Supreme Court that so offends them. They would be free to do whatever they wished with their schools, and with their Sephardim. They could impose a halachicly based system of law as other countries have done with Shari'a. They could virtually guarantee the exclusion of all the nefarious influences they so deeply object to in contemporary Israel. They could impose whatever standards for conversion they wished, without causing a rift with the rest of the Jewish world, which would actually have more in common with Turkey than it will with Haredia.

Today's haredim already have a political party called Degel Hatorah, the flag of Torah. Surely, they'll have some ideas for a flag.

How Haredia will defend itself against attacks from elements emanating from Hamastan and Fatahland is, admittedly, not entirely clear. Defense, after all, takes some serious commitment, a willingness to risk and lots of training. There is a real possibility, unfortunately, that Haredia will be utterly unable to defend itself, and Haredians (some will just call them Haredim, probably) will find themselves the most abandoned and vulnerable group in the Middle East. What will the world say about that? Will there be the same outpouring of concern that there is now for the Palestinians of Gaza? We'll learn a lot about the world from watching how many other countries come to the verbal and physical defense of Haredia facing its Arab neighbors all alone.

5. Israel will be the region's Jewish and democratic state. It doesn't have recognized borders, but at least it does have a flag. It will be mostly Jewish, though some Israeli Arabs will decide to remain Israelis instead of becoming Palestinians, and they should be welcomed. The same with Haredim – a few might be willing to recognize the legitimacy of the Supreme Court and might decide to live in a Zionist entity. If they want to go to the army and are willing to live off their own salaries and not off government subsidies, then they, too, should be welcomed.

ISRAEL WILL be a broad tent. It will include religious and secular, right wing and left wing, free marketers and those more inclined to socialism. It will be home to Im Tirtzu, a right-of-center student organization seeking to restore Zionism to Israeli campuses that countenances no criticism of Israel whatsoever, and Breaking the Silence, former IDF soldiers – and other peaceniks who've now glommed on to them – who travel across the world telling anyone who'll listen about the excesses of Israeli power. It will be home to Avigdor Lieberman and Naomi Chazan.

Eventually, of course, it's likely that both Palestine and Haredia will discover that running a country is a pretty complicated business. You need hospitals, and police. You need a functioning court system. You need people who can run the power company and the phones, people who can fly airplanes and people who can represent you in the international community. And, they'll discover, all that money that Reform and Conservative Jews helped steer toward Israel actually did make life much better.

So the time may come that they'll crawl back to us, on their hands and knees, begging us to annex them back. Imagine that. Israel annexes territory, but because the territory actually asked to be annexed. What a breath of fresh air.

Wait, though – not so quick. Maybe we'll take them, maybe we won't. Because by then, hopefully, we'll have had a serious national conversation about what our country is committed to. We won't be embarrassed by the idea of a Jewish democratic state, and we'll have discussed what preserving it will entail. So we'll tell them who we are. They can join the enterprise called Zionism, or at least live with it and respect it, or they can stay independent.

But we ought not to be cavalier about this scenario – it is profoundly sad for Israel, too. Most Israelis take great pride in the country's commitment to diversity, even if it is far from perfectly implemented. Its commitment to heterogeneity, and to freedom, is both one of its great strengths and one of its great weaknesses. Breaking up the region into these disparate countries addresses the weakness, but also robs Israel of potential strength. It's an eventuality Israel should want to avoid.

What makes Israel different from these other imagined countries is that it does not wish to purge from its ranks those who are different. But it is slowly being given no choice. The challenge to its leaders now – were they only able to extricate themselves from their inability to make any decisions about anything at all – is to take sufficient steps to show these populations that in an ideal world, we want to live with them. But even more than that, we want to survive. Therefore, if surviving means living without them, so be it.

The real onus is on those groups who refuse to accept the notion of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state to show Israelis how we survive with them, and to demonstrate that their continued participation in our nation will not lead to its ultimate demise.

The writer is senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End, which recently received a 2009 National Jewish Book Award. He blogs at http://danielgordis.org.


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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