Happy July 4th and Was Moses in forbidden marriage? and Danger and demons: Yemen's mysterious 'Well of Hell' and don't save me - please! 2015 an excerpt from my book and What's My Line? - Red Skelton; Chuck Connors [panel] (Sep 25, 1960)
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
In May, when Israelis were attacked by Hamas missiles from Gaza, the criticism from some voices within the American Jewish community seemed not only more intense but categorical, escalating very quickly from what Israel did to what Israel is. In many blue state cathedrals, it was no longer good enough for critics to call themselves "pro-Israel" and "pro-peace" or affirm their Zionist credentials while blasting Israel for real or supposed misdeeds. Echoing social justice talk, dozens of Jewish and Israel studies scholars defined Zionism as "a diverse set of linked ethnonationalist ideologies … shaped by settler colonial paradigms … that assumed a hierarchy of civilizations" and "contributed to unjust, enduring, and unsustainable systems of Jewish supremacy," while the CUNY Jewish Law Students' Association more concisely demanded "a Palestinian right to return, a free and just Palestine from the river to the sea, and an end to the ongoing Nakba." This language effectively denied the need for a Jewish state, thereby declaring war not just on Israel's existence but on modern Judaism as we know it.
Within American Jewry, this surge in anti-Zionism openly targets the broad Zionist consensus the Jewish world developed after the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel—as well as the post-1990s Birthright consensus embracing Israel and Israel experiences as central Jewish-identity building tools. Admittedly, anti-Zionist Jews are a small fraction of American Jewry, wildly outnumbered by polls showing 70% to 80% of the American Jewish community supports Israel's existence as a Jewish state. But at a time when 85% of American Jews also say that it's "important" or "very important" for them to "stand up for the marginalized or oppressed," it is no wonder that for many American Jews, especially those in public spaces, Israel has become the ball and chain that endangers their standing as good progressives. It is also no surprise that this threat to their cherished identities as "progressives" is met by a corresponding fury that leaves no room for reasoned argument about specific Israeli policies or actions.
The anti-Zionists know exactly what they are doing, and what they are undoing. They are trying to disentangle Judaism from Jewish nationalism, the sense of Jewish peoplehood, while undoing decades of identity-building. In repudiating Israel and Zionism, hundreds of Jewish Google employees rejected what they call "the conflation of Israel with the Jewish people." The voices of inflamed Jewish opponents of Israel and Zionism are in turn amplified by a militant progressive superstructure that now has an ideological lock on the discourse in American academia, publishing, media, and the professions that formerly respected American Jewry's Zionism-accented, peoplehood-centered constructions of Jewish identity.
We call these critics "un-Jews" because they believe the only way to fulfill the Jewish mission of saving the world with Jewish values is to undo the ways most actual Jews do Jewishness. They are not ex-Jews or non-Jews, because many of them are and remain deeply involved Jewishly, despite their harsh dissent. Many un-Jews are active in forms of Jewish leadership, running Jewish studies departments, speaking from rabbinic pulpits, hosting Shabbat dinners. For many of these un-Jews, the public and communal staging of their anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist beliefs appears to be the badge of a superior form of Judaism, stripped of its unsavory and unethical "ethnocentric" and "colonialist" baggage.
In launching this attempt, these anti-Zionists join a long history of such un-Jews, who wormed their way deep into the tradition and tried to weaken Jewish identity ideologically from within by canceling a central pillar of contemporary Jewish identity, as part of what they imagine to be a wider commitment to world liberation. This phenomenon of the un-Jews has emerged most dramatically whenever Jews sought to join with non-Jews in advancing quintessentially Jewish ideas of brotherly love, equality, and social justice, unmoored from their Jewish context and their Jewish delivery systems (historically, the most successful of these un-Jewish movements being Christianity).
A century ago, when Zionism was still a marginal movement, and there was no Israel, Jews nevertheless had a strong sense of Jewish solidarity, of peoplehood. The base of what we remember as the shtetl was the kehilla, the rich, multidimensional, Jewish communal infrastructure.
Those Jews who wanted to join the global communist revolution to change the world felt that they had to prove themselves by denouncing their people still living in their shtetls, their small, cloistered Jewish communities. One archetypal such Jewish radical was the German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg. Swept up by what we could call the critical class theory of her day, seeing the entire world through the Marxian lens of class struggle in the hope of bringing equality to all, Luxemburg, like many Jews of her day, was happy to jettison her Jewish particularism to fulfill her universal vision.
In 1917, her friend Mathilde Wurm mourned the pogroms menacing their fellow Jews. "I have no room in my heart for Jewish suffering," Luxemburg seethed. "Why do you pester me with Jewish troubles? I feel closer to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations of Putumayo or the Negroes in Africa ... I have no separate corner in my heart for the ghetto." Some radicals even deemed the pogroms and other Jew-bashing outbursts necessary chapters in the "class struggle"—the violent birth of a new and better world.
These Jews were following the cues from Karl Marx himself. In his infamous 1843 essay "On the Jewish Question," Marx, the grandson of a rabbi, wrote: "What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money … In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism."
Executed by German anti-communists in 1919, Luxemburg didn't live to see what happened when her noble ideas about equality were spread brutally, with no balancing ideals, by dictators and police states. As Soviet communism turned more repressive after the Bolshevik Revolution, it naturally recruited un-Jews to torment their former co-religionists. The Evreyskaya Sekcia—Jewish Section of the Communist Party—took special glee in freeing the Jews from the shackles of religion, of peoplehood, of community, of tradition. Believing their traditional communities to be as burdensome to them in much the same way that woke Jews feel Israel is burdensome to them today, these Jewish communists destroyed the synagogues and cheders they had been raised in to advance the Jewish idea of social justice which they first encountered in those spaces.
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Ultimately, the fire of revolution consumed these un-Jews too: Josef Stalin killed many of them, after they did his dirty work. Some of the survivors lived long enough to see their ideals collapse into the rubble of dictatorial repression, including Jew-hatred, which propelled many of their children and grandchildren back to the sense of Jewish peoplehood the founders sought to destroy in order to build their better world.
The Soviet revolutionaries weren't the first un-Jews to indulge in messianic self-harming—cutting out an essential part of contemporary Jewish identity in order to join the movement of the moment rebuilding humanity on more equitable and just foundations. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews who were anxious to save the world by spreading Jesus' teaching about peace and brotherly love often bullied their fellow Jews to leave their selfish superstitions behind and join them in this love crusade. True, Jewish-born persecutors of their fellow Jews like Pablo Christiani from the 1263 Disputation at Barcelona and Geronimo de Santa Fe from the 1413-14 Disputation of Tortosa converted. But their intimate knowledge of Jewish theology and Talmud, and the zeal with which they turned the knowledge against other Jews, suggested both that they were working hard to prove themselves to their new faith communities and also that they had not entirely succeeded in cutting their ancestral ties.
As with the communists, these medieval zealots had indeed absorbed essential Jewish teachings, while rejecting the seeming contradictions that in fact gave their old beliefs their strength. Fanatics for love, for equality, for social justice, need ideological counters to temper their extremism. Judaism's dualities, its seeming paradoxes balancing universalism and particularism, freedom and identity, or, in today's terms, liberalism and nationalism, have often functioned as ideological brakes, preventing purists from going too far with any one idea, no matter how noble sounding. The totalitarian mind cannot stand the tension—and can kill people who seem to stand in the way of the dictator's march toward love or equality or justice; the democratic mind—and the traditional Jewish mind—delights in working out the dilemmas, without fully embracing or rejecting either pole.
The clash between zealots for progress—or what some decided was progress—and Jewish traditionalism reaches back to the time of the ancients, too.
There were many Jews during Greek and Roman times who wanted to advance these appealing civilizations, which seemed to be giving birth to a brighter future. The Roman pantheon of gods seemed so much more majestic, more worldly, than the Jews' one jealous God. These rebels would be happy to keep Jerusalem and other Jewish sites as relics as they marched along the road to a better tomorrow—backed by the imperial power of the Roman legions.
One of the Roman generals who helped raze Jerusalem and destroy the Second Temple may have been the first un-Jew. Tiberius Julius Alexander, the nephew of the leading Jewish philosopher Philo, "did not remain in his ancestral customs," in the words of the ancient historian Josephus, a Jewish general who himself joined the Roman cause. Then, as now, those annoying Jews insisted on keeping their ghetto, their ethnonationalist state, if you will, and rejected the symbols of Rome's more worldly multicultural empire.
Historians ultimately don't know that much about Tiberius. What we do know is that despite his Jewish roots, he was anxious to help the world become civilized like Rome—and he unleashed the Roman legions against Alexandria's Jews when he was prefect of Egypt from 66 to 69 CE. All this was warming up for his greatest crime against his people, serving as Titus' second in command in 70 CE when the siege of Jerusalem plunged his own people into exile for nearly 2,000 years.
Today's un-Jews remain as engaged with parts of their Jewish heritage, as appalled by other parts, and as anxious for acceptance, as their predecessors. Their undoing project doesn't involve conquering the Temple in the name of civilization or converting the Jews to Christianity. Instead, they are divorcing the democratic State of Israel in the name of democracy and social justice. Today's social justice warriors make war on Israel the same way that the Soviet communists made war on Jewish peoplehood and its institutions.
This assault goes far beyond "hugging and wrestling" or "daring to ask hard questions" or giving Israel "tough love." Our objections to these new attacks are not attempts to dodge the difficult dilemmas we do need to debate regarding peace and war, proportionality and morality, Jewish and democratic values—or occupation, clashing rights, and defensible borders. We intimately know the many efforts that Israel's political establishment and military take to maintain their moral compass. We wish there were more forums—such as a Global Jewish Parliament—where Israelis could discuss these and other dilemmas with world Jewry.
But we can only have those debates if we have empathy for one another and are willing to look out for one another. Ultimately, a broad, welcoming dialogue is important. But those who are set on denying the essence of Jewish peoplehood are rarely interested in the kind of respectful, mutual exchange that builds us all up. Rather, they are bent on destroying the most powerful force that has kept us together as a people through the ages—and without which they, too, will paradoxically wither away.
Don't save me - please! 2015 an excerpt from my book by Shalom Pollock
Did you see the recent passionate demonstrations of remorse and conciliation on the part of Blacks in solidarity with their Jewish neighbors, victims of anti semitic murders by Blacks recently?You did not?Neither did I.And you will not see it. What have we seen?We have seen Jews in the heart of Jewish Brooklyn marching behind a BLM leader in solidarity with Blacks killed by non Jews. This, even as Jewish property is vandalized by rioting Blacks and Jews are accosted for being Jews. It's a uniquely Jewish thing. Forgive your tormentors and try to be accepted by them.Remember when Jews led the civil rights movement in the sixties and the idealistic Jews were killed for "the cause"? Directly following this period saw an explosion of Black anti semitism. The siege of the Jewish inner city neighborhoods began. Those Jews who could, fled the menace. In the seventies I lived in a "changing"" inner city neighborhood in Brooklyn. There, my grandfather was almost killed by some "youths" when he could not deliver some change on his way to shul on Friday night.It was becoming a phenomenon one had to be aware of. Never has a Jewish youth attacked a Black, young or old. But Jews knew how to march for them better than any other group in America. In that period I worked for a travel company. My job was to encourage churches to visit Israel.I would speak to clergy - often in person in their communities. I was invited to a Black church in Harlem. It did not take long before I realised that my long trek from Brooklyn was in vain.He lectured me saying that he would never lead his church to Israel because it was a racist country. He complained that Israel did not accept the "Black Hebrews' ' (a cult from Chicago) as Jews. He proceeded to get other things about Jews off his chest . I asked him from where does anti semitism come in the Black community? After all, Jews led the civil rights struggle and paid a heavy price for it.He snorted," Jews simply use the Black community for political and economic gain.Jews are selfish and conniving. (He didn't complain to me that Jews killed his god ) The long trip from Brooklyn was not in vain. I was taught important things that I might never have learned. Why are Poles, Italians, Irish and other ethnic communities not the subject of Black hate and violence as are the Jews? It finally hit me. It is because they never tried to save the Blacks from others or from themselves. It might also have something to do with the fact that the Jews are least likely to own a firearm; but more fundamentally it is because other communities simply mind their own business. They don't try help or to ingratiate themselves, even with those that are anti semetic. A rabbi once wondered aloud, "why does that person dislike me. I never even did anything for him." Jews have great wisdom but can be very foolish.
To question the legitimacy of someone's marriage is to cut right to the bone. That is what happened when a leader of the Tribe of Simeon – a man we later discover1 went by the name of Zimri ben Salu – faced off against Moses over his assertion that he had a right to marry a Midianite woman. This is what happened:
"An Israelite man came [we find out his identity later] and brought the Midianite woman to his brethren, before the eyes of Moses and before the eyes of the entire congregation of the children of Israel..."2
What was this all about? Rashi explains:
"[Zimri and his friends] said to Moses, "Moses, is this [woman] forbidden or is she permitted [for marriage]? If you say it is forbidden, who permitted for you the daughter of Jethro [who was likewise a Midianite]?"
There is, however, one huge difference. Moses married his wife Zipporah – indeed a Midianite whom he met at the well, having fled Egypt as a young man – decades before Sinai. At that time, there was no Jewish People or Jewish Law in the real sense that Jewish identity and Torah law came into being after the Revelation at Sinai. Moses' wife would have "converted" to Judaism at the Sinai Revelation.3 Thus, Zipporah was not a Midianite but a Jew. By contrast, the woman brought before Moses had not joined the Jewish faith, and was thus indeed a Midianite.
There is no comparison at all.
Could It Be So Simple?
It is perplexing that someone of Zimri's caliber, leader of a tribe, would be capable of making such a ridiculous comparison. Equally surprising is the fact that no one seems to have pointed this out to Zimri and his friends.
Moreover, neither the Torah nor the vast canonical texts (such as the Talmud and Midrash) offer this obvious defense against such an absurd and offensive attack. The argument that Moses had married outside of the faith was subject to the easiest of rebuttals, so why did no one offer that justification and contradict the clearly unfair comparison between Moses and Zimri?
It must be, the Rebbe suggests, that the story is not as we have always thought it to be. The line of criticism that Moses married out of the faith is so absurd that it must mean this is not actually the fault they found in Moses' marriage. What, then, was the confrontation about?
The Priest and the Convertess
The Rebbe offers a novel answer. Moses had the status of a Kohen, and a Kohen is not allowed to marry a convertess.4 This is because the sacred role of the Kohen meant that he could only marry someone whose purity could be ascertained. A convert had a previous life outside of the Jewish faith, and the culture from which she hailed could not be assumed to have had the appropriate moral values.5 That is the law, and it applies equally to any convertess.6
They could not find fault in Moses' marriage on the basis of Zipporah being a gentile, because she had converted. But that is exactly what they were criticizing: that Moses had married a convert. Moses had served as the High Priest during the inauguration of the Tabernacle, as the Torah describes in detail. Moreover, there is a debate in the Talmud7 about whether Moses had the status of a Kohen, and according to the great Talmudic sage Rav, "Moses was a high priest" from the moment he was appointed to inaugurate the Tabernacle "for the rest of his life."8
Zimri's point was that Moses was in an invalid relationship, as a Kohen to a convert, and therefore had no business objecting to his choice of partner. If Moses' marriage was in violation of the priestly rules, it would indeed seem hypocritical for him to object to someone else violating the rule against intermarriage. Given that in both cases the women were Midianite just added spice to his barb, even if the exact issue was different in each case.
In Moses' Defense
In reality, the objection to Moses' marriage was incorrect. Kohen or not, Moses was already married to his wife when he assumed the priestly role – which changes the situation entirely. Moses had not chosen his wife after he was given the priestly status; he had been married to her for decades by that time. Indeed, the Mishnah – the earliest Jewish code of law – rules that, "If a Kohen betroths a widow (which he is ordinarily permitted to do), but is then appointed as Kohen Gadol (High Priest, who may not marry a widow9), he may proceed to marry her."
Thus, since Moses was already married to Zipporah there was no issue with him staying married to her, even after he attained the status of a kohen. Zimri had his facts wrong and was using an incorrect understanding of the law to justify his own transgressions. Moses was not in a problematic marriage, while what Zimri was seeking to do was most certainly problematic.
Why Did Moses Remain Silent?
We are left with a serious question: If, indeed, Moses was entirely justified in his marriage, why didn't he defend himself? By not arguing in his own defense, it almost seems as if he concedes his guilt.
The answer has an important lesson for us all: Sometimes the best policy is to say nothing at all. Moses could have easily defended himself, but since he was directly implicated, the correct thing to do was to keep silent. The integrity of the Torah requires that its teachers have no personal bias. If Moses had given the ruling that he was allowed to be married to his wife because he was already married when he became a kohen, this would have had the appearance of a self-serving ruling.
Had Moses been accused of making halachic decisions that affected him directly, the integrity of all of Judaism would have been called into question. Thus, Moses took the insult and remained silent. Better his honor be attacked but the trustworthiness of Torah be protected.
Proverbs instructs, "Do not answer a fool according to his foolishness."10 Zimri's whole purpose was to justify his own wrongdoing; he had no interest in an honest discussion. Under those circumstances, it was best to forego the argument, for it was not based on a desire for truth. Not every attack deserves a response, not every insult needs a rebuttal.
In the end, Zimri created a public provocation, which led to Pinchas meting out swift vengeance. For this act, Pinchas was awarded by the Almighty "My covenant of peace."11 And Moses was ultimately vindicated, his silence notwithstanding.
Adapted from Likkutei Sichot, vol. 18, Parshat Shemot III.
Closer to the border with Oman than to the capital Sanaa 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) away, the giant hole in the desert of Al-Mahra province is 30 metres wide and thought to be anywhere between 100 and 250 metres deep.
Local folklore says it was created as a prison for the demons -- a reputation bolstered by the foul odours rising from its depths.
Yemeni officials say they don't know what lies below.
"It's very deep -- we've never reached the bottom of this well, as there's little oxygen and no ventilation," said Salah Babhair, director-general of Mahra's geological survey and mineral resources authority.
"We have gone to visit the area and entered the well, reaching more than 50-60 metres down into it. We noticed strange things inside. We also smelled something strange... It's a mysterious situation."
Sunlight doesn't extend far into the structure, and little can be seen from the edge except the birds that fly in and out of its depths.
Videographers seeking close-ups of the inside of the well have said they are almost impossible to capture -- local superstition has it that objects near the hole can be sucked towards it.
Babhair said that the well was "millions and millions" of years old.
"These places require more study, research and investigation," he said.
Over the centuries, stories have circulated of malign, supernatural figures known as jinns or genies living in the well.
Many local residents remain uneasy about visiting the vast hole, or even talking about it, for fear of ill fortune from a chasm which, legend has it, threatens life on Earth itself.
Yemenis have had enough bad luck as it is.
The country has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014 between the government and the Huthi rebels.
The United Nations says Yemen is suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed, millions displaced and two-thirds of its 30-million population dependent on some form of aid.
What's My Line? - Red Skelton; Chuck Connors [panel] (Sep 25, 1960)