Monday, March 13, 2017

Purim and the Holocaust and Purim IN Jerusalem

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Rabbi Yehuda Lave

Steer Clear Of Past Problems

Avoid asking irrelevant questions about the past that will be annoying to others. If someone keeps complaining to you about the past, ask him, "What can presently be done about it? If nothing, isn't it better to focus on other things?" If the other person persists on talking about the past, weigh the situation. At times you might be doing someone an act of kindness by listening to him. In other circumstances you are better off ignoring statements about the past and thus teaching the other person it is not worthwhile to discuss with you something which is over and done with.



The past is only memories.

The future is but illusory hopes.

Focus on the present. For that is where your life really is. And it consists only of tests.

Love Yehuda Lave

Purim and the Holocaust

Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, in his famous commentary Torah Temimah on Megillat Esther (9:28), explains this contradiction – in the name of his father, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Halevi Epstein – in the following most original manner:

The miracle of Purim is very different from the miracles mentioned in the Torah. While the latter were overt miracles, such as the ten plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the revelation at Sinai and the falling of the man (manna) in the desert, the miracle of Purim was covert. Unlike with the miracles narrated in the Torah, no law of nature was ever violated in the Purim story, and the Jews were saved from the hands of Haman harasha (the evil Haman) by seemingly normal historical occurrences. Had we lived in those days we would have noticed nothing unusual, and many secularists would have explained the redemption of the Jews in Persia as the logical outcome of a series of natural and coincidental events. Only retroactively, when looking back at the story, would we have been astonished by all the incidents, their unusual sequence, and the seemingly unrelated and insignificant human acts that led to the complete redemption of the Jews during the time of Achashveirosh's reign. The discovery that all these events actually concealed a miracle could only be made after the fact.

Covert miracles will never cease to exist, explains the Torah Temimah. In fact, they take place every day. But overt miracles such as the splitting of the Red Sea have come to an end. In light of this, the midrash on Mishlei is not suggesting that the actual festivals mentioned in the Torah will be nullified in future days, since this would contradict Jewish belief. Rather, it is stating that the original reasons for celebrating the festivals, namely overt miracles, have ceased.

So, one should read the midrash as follows: Overt miracles, which we celebrate on festivals mentioned in the Torah, no longer occur. But covert miracles such as those celebrated on Purim will never end; they continue to occur every day of the year. In other words, all the other festivals will still be celebrated to commemorate great historical events in Jewish history, events to be remembered and relived in the imagination of man so as to make them relevant and teach us many lessons for our own lives. Purim, on the other hand, although rooted in a historical event of many years ago, functions as a constant reminder that the Purim story never ended. We are still living it. The Megillah is open-ended; it was not and will never be completed! Covert miracles still happen.

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner z"l, in his celebrated work Pachad Yitzchak (volume on Purim, chapter 33), uses this idea to explain a highly unusual halachic stipulation related to Purim. During all Torah festivals, the congregation sings Hallel, the well-known, classic compilation of specific Psalms. These Psalms praise God for all the great miracles He performed for Israel in biblical times, on occasions for which these festivals were later established. Why, then, asks the Talmud, do we not sing Hallel on Purim? Is there not even more reason to sing these Psalms on the day when God performed the great miracle of rescuing Israel from the hands of Haman? The Talmud (Masechet Megillah 14a) answers "kriyata zu hallila" – the reading of Megillat Esther is in itself praise. When one reads the story of Esther, one actually fulfills the obligation of singing Hallel, because telling this story is the greatest praise to God for having saved the Jews. Reading the story awakens in us a feeling of deep gratitude and appreciation for the miracle of Jewish survival against all odds.

Interestingly, one of the most celebrated commentators on the Talmud, Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-1315), ponders the need to say Hallel on Purim when one is unable to read or hear the Megillah. In this case, according to his opinion, one should indeed sing Hallel, since one must thank God for what happened. Rabbi Hutner, however, points out that no other authority agrees with this opinion. They all rule that even if a person is unable to read the Megillah, they should still not sing Hallel.

Rabbi Hutner explains this ruling in a most remarkable way, based on our earlier explanation. The psalms in Hallel speak about overt miracles and praise God for His revealed wonders such as those related in the Torah. Hallel intentionally does not include praise to God for covert miracles, since those must be praised in a hidden way so as to remind the worshipper that such miracles occur on a daily basis. This is the reason why on Purim one reads Megillat Esther and does not recite Hallel. Megillat Esther is the story of a hidden miracle, and through the reading of this story in front of a congregation, God receives praise in the appropriate way – in a subtle and hidden manner. After all, it is not God who needs praise, but people who need to praise; they must therefore do it in a way that corresponds to the actual miracle. They have to realize what kind of miracle took or takes place. Singing Hallel, instead, would be missing the point.

Moreover, one often wonders why the story of Purim is still relevant at all after the Holocaust. Not even a hidden miracle was performed to save the Jews from the hands of Hitler, a greater enemy than Haman. Why continue to praise God for a hidden miracle when it seems that even hidden miracles came to an end with the Holocaust? This question should be on the mind of every Jew who celebrates Purim. And it is not only the Holocaust that should raise this issue. The Spanish Inquisition; the many pogroms; and the various forms of exterminating complete Jewish communities throughout all of Jewish history, in which God's saving hand was absent; all of these beg that very question. Shouldn't these events convince Jews to abolish Purim altogether? History has proven Purim to be irrelevant and even offensive. How can we continue celebrating Purim when six million Jews, collectively, did not see the hidden hand of God and were left with no divine intervention? Is celebrating Purim not an affront to all those millions who were tortured and died under the most hideous circumstances?

Hundreds of personal stories describe how Jews risked their lives to rejoice in their Jewishness while facing the Nazis' atrocities. In the extermination camps they celebrated Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach and even Purim, and they literally had to decide whether to sing Hallel after failed attempts to find a Megillah. What was it that kept them going? Was it just wishful thinking? What they realized then, as never before, was the eternity and indestructibility of the Jews. Perpetuity is the very essence of the Jews. When Rabbi Moshe Friedman of Boyan, a towering personality and great Talmid Chacham in pre-war Poland, was brought to Auschwitz with a transport of deeply religious Jews, during Pesach 1943, he was asked to undress prior to the "shower." He turned to the Oberscharführer, grasped the lapel of his Nazi jacket and said to him: "You, the most despicable murderers in the world! Don't imagine for one moment that you will succeed in destroying the Jewish people. The Jewish nation will live forever. It will not vanish from the stage of history; instead, you will be erased and disappear." (See Eliezer Berkovits, With God in Hell: Judaism in the Ghettos and Deathcamps, [New York & London: Sanhedrin Press, 1979] pp.110-111)

It was indeed the famous, slightly anti-Semitic historian Arnold Toynbee who, with great annoyance, alluded to what history has taught us: any nation that will stand up against the Jews will ultimately disappear. Such was the fate of the ancient Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greeks, and such may yet be the fate of the Germans. (Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, 10 volumes, 1934-61)

Jews have been an ever-dying people that never died. They have experienced a continuous resurrection, like the dry bones that Yechezkel saw in the valley. (Yechezkel 37:1-14) This has become the sine qua non of every Jew. It is the mystery of the hidden miracle of survival in the face of overwhelming destruction. True, Führer was Amalek, and Haman prevailed, but ultimately they were defeated. We live in spite of peril. Our refusal to surrender has turned our story into one long, unending Purim tale. To this day, a large part of the world does not know what to do with us. We make them feel uneasy because we represent something they can't put their finger on. Jews are sui generis. More than anything else, it is the existence and survival of the State of Israel that irritates many. The rules of history predicted that the Jews would die a definite and final death; instead we have become the greatest success story in all of modern history. Perplexity morphed into aversion. Where does this small nation, which does not comprise even one percent of the world population, have the chutzpah to play such a crucial role in science, technology, and many other areas of human knowledge?

What would the world do without Jews, who are responsible for so many inventions that are vital to the survival of the modern world? Great progress and major breakthroughs in the world of medicine, such as the treatment of paralysis, depression, Alzheimer's disease and DNA breakdown, are Israeli accomplishments. What about Windows, voice mail, and the most advanced anti-terror systems? Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation, and in proportion to its population has the largest number of start-up companies in the world. It is ranked second in the world for venture capital funds. And the list goes on.

Even if, God forbid, the State of Israel would not survive Iran – the Haman of our day – every Jew instinctively knows that the Jewish people will endure, even without their homeland, and will climb the ladder and surprise the world once again. Purim will never cease.

As the camp commander…took a number of young Gerer Chassidim to be put to death, one of them, Israel Eisenberg, asked for permission to say a few words of farewell to his friends. I stood opposite them and heard every word. He did not speak many words….He got hold of the hands of another young man and started singing. They were calling to each other: "Kiddush Hashem, the most important thing, let us rejoice!" They all began to sing and to dance as if a fire had been lit within them. Their sidelocks, which were then hidden under their hats, they now pulled out and let them hang over their faces. They paid no attention to what was going on around them. They were dancing and singing. And I thought I would lose my senses; that young people should go to their death as one goes to a dance! Thus dancing, they jumped into the pit as a rain of bullets was pouring down on them. (Eliezer Berkovits, ibid, pp. 111-112, as told by a Kapo in the Plaszow concentration camp)

Which Jew, even secular, or atheist, dares to betray these young people by not celebrating Purim? Which Jew dares to ignore Judaism, thereby being guilty of spiritual bankruptcy in the face of these fearless Chassidim? This is the ultimate question that all Jews must ask themselves. Not to do so would be a tragic dereliction of duty.

My Father's Best Marriage Advice & the Power of Purim

The OU and Women Rabbis: Look Again! By Rabbi Alan Haber - 24 Shevat 5777 – February 20, 2017

Around Four weeks ago in the US, the Orthodox Union issued its now-famous proclamation formally prohibiting affiliated synagogues from hiring women to serve as rabbis or "members of the clergy".


Predictably, many vocal supporters of the idea of female rabbis immediately denounced the ruling as yet another example of what they see as the intransigence of an overly traditionalist, cowardly, misogynist and increasingly irrelevant Orthodox mainstream. Meanwhile, some of their equally vocal opponents from the other side of the aisle gleefully announced that with this statement added to previous ones from other organizations, there is now a wall-to-wall consensus in American Orthodoxy against any change in policy regarding a role for women as religious leaders.

Unfortunately, though, it seems that most commenters on both sides did not bother to actually read the 15-page OU statement or the 17-page rabbinic position paper that accompanied it (both available here).  Those relatively few people who did read it noticed that while a headline like "OU Confirms Ban on Women Rabbis" is accurate, it is only part of the story.  The truth is that the two OU statements were much more nuanced than the earlier pronouncements, in two very important ways.

First, while its conclusion that women cannot serve as rabbis did echo previous rabbinic statements from both the US and Israel, the OU's Rabbinic Panel presented a detailed and documented halakhic rationale explaining that ruling.  Like any piece of proper halakhic argumentation, in a number of places (e.g., footnotes 17 and 22) it acknowledged the existence of opposing sources that could potentially lead to different conclusions, and explained why the authors do not view those positions as viable or normative.  And the main halakhic section of the paper concludes by emphatically stating its position that women may not serve as rabbis, while simultaneously inviting further discussion on the topic, correctly noting that "the burden of halakhic proof [now] rests on the side of changing the established practice" (page 10).

This is very different than most of the other recent public discussions of this topic, which have consisted mainly of ideological pronouncements and slogans.  If and when a detailed response is published by scholars who disagree with the ruling (some discussion has already begun on various internet forums), this will turn the conversation into a proper and genuine halakhic debate, which will enable the move towards an eventual consensus of one sort or another.

Even more importantly, though, while the OU statements emphatically ruled out women serving as rabbis or "members of the clergy", both of them also affirmed – equally emphatically – that women's participation in the leadership of our communities is essential, and must be greatly expanded.  For the benefit of those who won't read the entire statements, here are a few sentences that should be noteworthy even to those who were disappointed by the ruling:

  • "Women should most enthusiastically be encouraged to share their knowledge, talents, and skills – as well as their passion and devotion – to synagogues, schools and community organizations…. We believe that it is appropriate for women to assume…professional roles within the synagogue setting…[including] teaching ongoing classes and shiurim, delivering lectures, serving as a visiting scholar-in-residence…senior managerial and administrative positions…community educator or institutional scholar…professional counselor to address the spiritual, psychological, or social needs of the community…teacher and mentor to guide females through the conversion process" (rabbinic statement, pp. 13-14)
  • "The spiritual growth of our community is dependent upon a steady stream of talented women both serving as role models and teachers, and filling positions of influence. As a community, we need the best and brightest women – and men – to be motivated and well-trained to pursue careers in avodat hakodesh…steps should be taken to properly recognize women who dedicate their lives and their abilities to serving and educating our community, including the attribution of fitting titles that convey the significance of these roles" (rabbinic statement, p. 16, emphasis added).
  • "We, therefore, underscore that the responses of the Rabbinic Panel that we transmit today are but the beginning of a process and not its end. We envision a continuing process of dialogue and exploration to begin to address these – and other – critical issues in a deliberate manner…. The failure to fully embrace the talents of women and encourage women to assume greater lay and professional roles is a tragic forfeiture of communal talent. We should focus on creating and institutionalizing roles for women that address the needs of Orthodox Jews today, by removing barriers that impede women from further contributing to our community, in halakhically appropriate ways…. Consideration should be given, within acceptable halakhic parameters, to developing appropriate titles for women of significant accomplishment, holding professional positions within the synagogue and communal structure, thereby acknowledging their achievement and status…." (OU statement, pp. 10-11, emphasis added).

I will suffice with these quotes, although there are additional significant points in each of the two documents – again, I encourage everyone interested or concerned about this to read them.  Even these short excerpts, though, should be enough to demonstrate that while the OU said "no" to female rabbis, it also said "yes" to much larger roles for women than currently exist in almost any Orthodox community, including official titles for those women reflecting their leadership status.

About fifteen months ago, I published a blog post criticizing the RCA's most recent statement against women serving as rabbis.  I complained about the statement's lack of halakhic explanation, and about the fact that it was very emphatic about what women can't do, but said almost nothing about what they can, should and must do.  On both of those issues, the OU's statements represent a considerable improvement.

I propose, therefore, that we move the discussion away from the angry shouting that has continued unabated on blogs and facebook pages, and into these two other, much more productive areas: How to begin to create the greatly expanded leadership roles and titles that the OU and its Rabbinical Panel called for, while developing and continuing a genuine, sophisticated and scholarly halakhic conversation about the exact parameters and limits of those roles and titles.


"Oh Canada"...Your playing with fire! Canada's New Blasphemy Laws...although not a 'law', per 'se, ONLY Muslims are protected by this censorship/garbage with NO mention/protection for Jews or Christians!

Those who present these motions claim that "Islamophobia" is rampant across the country, but seem blind to Islamic sharia law's endorsement of killing homosexuals, violence against women and minors, atrocities such as those enumerated above, and notions of Muslim supremacy across the planet.

Canada's New Blasphemy Laws

by Khadija Khan
March 8, 2017 at 5:00 am

A resolution, M-103, seeking to condemn so-called "Islamophobia," was introduced a few weeks ago in the peaceful country of Canada by Liberal Party MP Iqra Khalid in the House of Commons, sparking a controversy.

A similar motion, labelled M-37, was later tabled in the Ontario provincial legislature by MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers on February 23, 2017, and was passed by the provincial parliament.

M-37, like its predecessor, demanded that lawmakers condemn "all forms of Islamophobia" and reaffirm "support for government efforts, through the Anti-Racism Directorate, to address and prevent systemic racism across government policy, programs and services".

Although these motions are not legally binding, extremists have already started demanding them as laws.

There are, of course, no comparable motions against "Judeophobia" or "Christianophobia".

Neither motion M-103 nor motion 37 exactly define "Islamophobia," leaving that to the imagination of the supposed victim(s).

Hardliners who support this form of censorship, and presumably other restrictions required by Islamic sharia law, aim to blur the line between genuine bigotry and criticism of core problems across the Muslim world, such as the murder of apostates and homosexuals, communal hatred, anti-Semitism, violence against women and minors, female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, unequal legal and inheritance rights for women, stoning, flogging and amputation, and social taboos such as honour killings or right to choose a husband for girls or restrict girls' education.

Those who present these motions claim that "Islamophobia" is rampant across the country, but seem blind to Islamic sharia law's endorsement of killing homosexuals, violence against women and minors, atrocities such as those enumerated above, and notions of Muslim supremacy across the planet.

These issues are genuine concerns for millions of Muslims as well as human rights defenders, but are never addressed by those apologists, who always try to present these atrocities as perfectly acceptable "cultural norms".

The Red Army Choir MVD in Tel Aviv - אדון עולם

See you tomorrow-Enjoy Purim and drink responsibly

Love Yehuda Lave

Rabbi Yehuda Lave

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