Breaking news: The Biden administration is expected to announce that most Americans should get a booster shot eight months after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine. and We only like to read the things that agree with what we already think--Darwin and the Musser movement and The Extraordinary Zionism Of Isaac Stern By Saul Jay Singer and Havdalah: Looking at the Fingernails By Rabbi Ari Enkin and Trip to Czech Pictures three of four and Top Chabad rabbi: Don't enter synagogue unvaccinated
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.
The administration could begin offering the extra shots as early as mid-September, according to two officials familiar with the discussions.
The first boosters are likely to go to nursing home residents and health care workers, followed by other older people who were near the front of the line when vaccinations began late last year.
Top Chabad rabbi: Don't enter synagogue unvaccinated
Rabbi Yitzchak Yehuda Yaroslavsky, leading Chabad rabbi, says unvaccinated forbidden to enter synagogues, public places. 'Issue of life & death.'
Rabbi Yitzchak Yehuda Yaroslavsky, rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Kiryat Malakhi and head of the Chabad rabbinical court in Israel, has ordered that no one unvaccinated be allowed into synagogues.
"It is shocking to hear that there are many in our community who have not been vaccinated against the virus," Rabbi Yaroslavksy wrote.
"With this, I hereby turn to each and every single person in our community, or anyone who reads this letter: He must immediately get vaccinated, since this is a real issue of life and death, and regardless, there is no reason, G-d forbid, to harm so many Jews."
"Please, go get vaccinated immediately - and you will have saved lives."
Concluding his letter, Rabbi Yaroslavsky banned those who oppose vaccines from entering synagogues, writing that "those who have not been vaccinated according to Health Ministry instructions - even if they recovered from coronavirus - are forbidden to enter the synagogue or any public place, since this is a matter of life and death."
Throughout the pandemic, Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis in Israel and abroad have been vocal in encouraging everybody to heed local guidelines and take care not to cause outbreaks or infect others. Last year, the "770" Chabad headquarters in New York, closed for the first time since it opened as the movement's central headquarters, following the discovery of coronavirus cases in the city's Crown Heights neighborhood.
Around the same period, Rabbi Sandy Wilshensky, a Chabad emissary in Milan, Italy, urged Israelis to follow the Health Ministry's instructions, and Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Beijing, warned that "outdoor gatherings are killing people."
As part of Havdalah we recite a blessing over fire and gaze at our fingernails in its light. This is because fire was first discovered on a Motzei Shabbat.1 When the sun set and it became dark at the conclusion of the first Shabbat, which was essentially Adam and Eve's first day on earth, Adam was scared of the dark. At that point G-d showed Adam two rocks and told him to strike them together in order to make fire and thereby have light. He did so and when fire emerged he recited the blessing "…borei me'orai ha'aish."2 There is a teaching that the fire that Adam discovered actually emerged from his fingernails.3 According to another account, G-d simply made a pillar of fire appear for Adam, at which time he recited the blessing "…borei me'orai ha'aish."4
Some gaze at their fingernails before reciting the blessing on the fire5 while others do so after reciting the blessing.6 In some families, the cup of wine is moved to the left hand while one gazes at the fingernails of the right hand.7 The cup is then returned to the right hand for the conclusion of Havdalah.8 In other families, the cup of wine is put down when reciting the blessing on the fire and spices.
One should bend the fingernails onto the palm of one's hand, thereby allowing the fingernails and palm to be seen at once.9 The thumb should be "hidden" beneath the bent fingers.10 Some have the custom to then turn their hand over, stretch out their fingers, and gaze upon the fingernails once more. One should not look at the bottom of one's fingers during Havdalah.11 Some have the custom to repeat the procedure with the left hand,12 though, according to Kabbalah, one should not do so.13 There is a custom to meditate upon the verse "You shall see My back but My face shall not be seen" when gazing upon one's fingernails.14
The primary reason that we gaze at our fingernails as part of the blessing over the fire is to ensure that we benefit somehow from the light of the fire.15 The benefit, in this context, is the ability to distinguish between the fingernails and the skin by the light of the fire.16 We are not permitted to recite the blessing on the candle if we are too far away to derive any substantial benefit from its light.17 Gazing upon our fingernails also recalls that Adam's body was covered with a protective fingernail-like substance until he ate from the forbidden fruit. It was from that time onwards that clothing became the manner in which we protect ourselves from the elements.18 There is also a mystical teaching that on Motzei Shabbat harmful spirits roam the world and try to seize people. Gazing upon one's fingernails by the light of the Havdalah candle is said to protect oneself from these forces.19
While looking at our hands and fingernails, we should ponder the fact that over the course of Shabbat our hands rested from forbidden work, which now becomes permitted once again.20 It is taught that looking at one's fingernails, a part of the body that is continually growing, is a segula for growth and prosperity in the coming week.21 There is a widespread practice to shut off the lights in the room when reciting Havdalah in order for the light of the candle to dominate.22
Shoftim: Darwin and the Mussar Movement
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Ethics is a subject about which we all have many questions. What makes an ethical personality? How do we make ethical decisions in complicated circumstances?
Personally, there are two specific questions that have always been of concern to me. One is, "How does one get started upon the process of becoming a more ethical person?" This question is especially relevant at this time of year when many of us begin to think about the upcoming High Holidays and the requirement that we embark upon a process of introspection, of repentance, of teshuvah.
There is a second type of question that I pose to myself: "Where do we look to for guidance in ethical matters?" Are we restricted only to sacred sources? Or do secular sources also hold wisdom with regard to ethical behavior and to self-improvement in the ethical sphere?
In my personal reflections on the subject of universal ethics, I have long been guided by a passage in the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, the first chief Rabbi of the land of Israel. He speaks of two sources for ethical guidance. The first is yir'atshamayim, fear of heaven, which is a religious source. The second is hamussarhativ'i, natural ethics, by which he means the knowledge of right and wrong, which is available to all mankind, no matter what their religion is, if any. Rav Kook asserts that these two sources go hand-in-hand and must be consistent with one another.
More recently, I have been reading a book by the psychiatrist Maurice Levine, entitled Psychiatry and Ethics. Levine begins the first chapter his work with a quotation from Charles Darwin's autobiography:
"I had... followed a golden rule, namely that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favorable areas. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views, which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer."
Levine uses this interesting habit of the father of the theory of evolution to illustrate what he considers to be a fundamental process in the development a truly ethical person. He calls this the process of "self-scrutiny". He writes, "A good part of a man's ethics consists of the ways in which he copes with his temptations." Darwin was aware of his own temptation to only recognize evidence that supported his theories and to conveniently ignore or forget facts that would undermine them. And he acted to control that temptation.
Darwin was certainly not unique in this weakness, although the manner in which he dealt with it was exemplary. We all have ideas about our projects, or about ourselves, and we all tend to pay careful attention to everything that would confirm our opinions. And we all excel at ignoring, suppressing, forgetting, or discounting all information that might force us to reevaluate our theories or, heaven forbid, re-examine our opinions about ourselves.
As Levine puts it, one of the fundamentals of sound ethical character is "the need to know oneself, the need to be as honest with oneself as possible, the need to avoid self-kidding."
This week's Torah portion, Parshat Shoftim, we encounter a mitzvah which seems to be given only to judges: "You shall not judge unfairly... you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just." (Deuteronomy 16:19)
In the mid-19th century, a rabbi named Israel Salanter began a movement designed to educate people about the importance of ethics in the Jewish tradition. That movement was known as the "Mussar Movement," "mussar" being the Hebrew word for ethics. This movement had many leaders over the generations and continues to have a significant contemporary influence.
One of the greatest representatives of the Mussar Movement was a man named Rabbi Abraham Grodzinski, who was murdered by the Nazis in the ghetto of Kovno during the Holocaust.
Rabbi Grodzinski had a problem with the text of the above verse in this week's Torah portion. He wondered what those of us who are not judges can learn from the injunction against taking bribes. What lesson is there for every man in the observation that "bribery blinds the eyes of the discerning?"
The martyred Rabbi had an answer that is strikingly similar to the observation about ethics that Dr. Levine was able to learn from Darwin's autobiographical note. "We all have personal interests," writes Rabbi Grodzinski, "personal inclinations that result in misperceptions, misjudgments, and tragic moral errors. These personal prejudices are the equivalent of bribery. Our own self-interest often blinds us and distorts our judgment as to what is right and what is wrong."
The great ethical teachers in our tradition consistently point out that in a sense, we are all "judges," and we are constantly acting as judges in all of the decisions that we make throughout even the most mundane day. And we are always subject to "bribes;" that is, to the temptations to ignore information that is uncomfortable to us, that threatens our pre-existing assumptions, or that forces us to re-examine the question of whom we really are.
Charles Darwin and Rabbi Israel Salanter, who were almost exact contemporaries of each other, had very different worldviews. Had they had the opportunity, they would have debated fiercely about the origins of the universe and of the nature of humanity. But on this one point, they would have thoroughly agreed: we are all subject to the temptation of distorting reality to fit our own selfish interests. And we all need to be vigilant against such temptation.
This brief excursion into the posthumously published writings of a saintly Holocaust victim, Torat Avraham Grodzinski, and the collection of a Jewish American psychiatrist's lectures, Psychiatry and Ethics, helped me answer both of my questions.
Firstly, are we restricted only to sacred writings in our search for ethical guidance? No, we can even find such guidance in the autobiography of a man whose writings were considered to be the greatest threat to traditional religion.
And secondly, what is the first step for those of us who wish to initiate a process of teshuvah, of ethical self-improvement. It may very well be what our ancient scholars referred to as "cheshbon hanefesh," and what a contemporary thinker has aptly termed "self-scrutiny."
Isaac Stern (1920-2001), one of the 20th century's greatest instrumentalists, is best known as a violinist who struck the perfect balance between virtuosity and musicianship and built his reputation with a rich tone and emotional interpretive style. Passionate about a broad range of works extending to the full classical and Romantic repertory, he played as the guest soloist with every major orchestra in the world and his unique warm sound was captured in a vast discography that documented his prolific work.
Stern was world-renowned not only as a world-class musician but also as an influential teacher, speaker, humanitarian, American goodwill ambassador and worldwide cultural institution. He toured for the U.S.O. in World War II and in 1979 became the first American musician to tour China; From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, a film about his China tour, won the 1981 Academy Award for best full-length documentary.
At the height of the Cold War, he became the first American musician to tour the Soviet Union (1956). As he memorably quipped, cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Soviet Russia were simple affairs: "They send us their Jews from Odessa, and [referring to himself] we send them our Jews from Odessa." Stern also used his considerable influence to secure the release of Jews from the Soviet Union, and he played many benefit concerts to fund their resettlement in Israel and the United States.
Stern played perhaps the leading role in convincing JFK, and later LBJ, to establish the National Arts Council. When arts support faced major cuts in 1970, he made an impassioned plea to Congress to maintain, and even increase, the funding because the United States was in danger of becoming "an industrial complex without a soul." He also served as board chairman of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and he founded and served as chair and as music director of the Jerusalem Music Center.
Though Stern maintained that he never personally experienced anti-Semitism – except one "small encounter, nothing serious" when his family was turned away from a hotel – anti-Semitism in general, and the Holocaust in particular, were deeply ingrained in his psyche; he would perform worldwide, but he was steadfast all his life in refusing to perform in Germany, the land of the Final Solution. Yet he generated great controversy when he agreed to perform in a Harlem Church that had refused to denounce Louis Farrakhan and his notorious anti-Semitism, notwithstanding that one-third of the Israel Philharmonic refused to play there.
1957 Inauguration of Mann Auditorium featuring, clockwise from upper left: Pianist Arthur Rubinstein, conductor Leonard Bernstein, violinist Isaac Stern, and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. The largest concert hall in Tel Aviv, it is the home of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the early 1960s, when relatively few soloists paid attention to chamber music, Stern teamed up with pianist Eugene Istomin and cellist Leonard Rose to perform and record as a trio, and he later undertook partnerships with flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax and several other musicians. Above and beyond his memorable concerts, some of which are discussed below, he taught master classes and nurtured an entire generation of violinists, including Yitzchak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, and Shlomo Mintz.
Stern also became renowned in the classical music world for leading a successful campaign to save his beloved Carnegie Hall, where he had given more than 200 performances, from destruction. In 1960, after a Seder with New York Mayor Robert Wagner, he explained to the mayor that Carnegie Hall was not only important for New York City but, indeed, for the entire world, and he convinced him and the city to purchase the property – which it did, for five million dollars in city funds. In recognition of his Herculean effort to "save the Hall," the main auditorium at Carnegie Hall is named for him.
Stern was not only a world-class virtuoso but also a warm and generous personality. He was a man who loved people and who was equally comfortable at Carnegie Hall and at the Carnegie Deli. His awards include the first Albert Schweitzer Award (1974); the Kennedy Center Honors Award (1984); six Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award (1987); and Israel's Wolf Prize for service to humanity.
Stern's education and attention were never focused on anything specifically Jewish – except, perhaps, when he performed as the violin soloist on the soundtrack for the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof – and he never lived a traditional Jewish life. As he explains in My First 79 Years (1999), an autobiography he wrote with Chaim Potok:
There was no hint, in anything my parents said, of their having lived anything remotely resembling a traditional Jewish life in Kreminetz [from which the Stern family fled to America after Isaac's birth]. I doubt my father even had a bar mitzvah, and he felt no inclination to insist that I should, so I didn't. The traditional Jewish home – challah every Friday night, candles, prayer – did not exist for us. Religion played no part in my family's life.
Interestingly, Stern held a bar mitzvah for his son and he refused to perform publicly on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur "out of respect for the feelings of my co-religionists." However, he did not give his father a Jewish funeral, believing that it would be contrary to how his father lived; as he explained in a later interview, "the narrow and single-minded authority of the very Conservative or Orthodox Judaism and its observance rules did not appeal to him and he would have nothing to do with it, and so I grew up not having any push in that direction."
Given the virtually non-existent role of Judaism in Stern's life and in the life of his family, one cannot help but question the source of his deep Jewish feeling. The answer can be expressed in one word – Israel. As he writes in My First 79 Years:
In 1948, when the State of Israel was declared, the excitement and the wonderment of seeing that State established, and the gallantry and dedication and perseverance and how willing they were to give their lives to create a state, was such an enormous area of pull. I must go see it, what's going on, I have to take part, this modern gallantry at its highest. And I went. And that's when I learned that the word "Jew" was descriptive, not a pejorative, so I could wear the word quietly and happily, and those wondrous first days meeting with the settlers and the people was an infection that lasted not only for me, but for the tens of thousands who went there for the first time . . . It created a profound effect on me and my view of myself and it also made me a friend of everything they were trying to do and to build for the rest of my life.
"Friend" does not begin to describe Stern's relationship with the Jewish state. He maintained a long-standing and special relationship with the state of Israel, giving generously of his time, talent and money for Israel causes. Tirelessly devoted to Israel, he regularly played with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from the birth of the State in 1948 – when Ben-Gurion cornered him and urged him to make aliyah – and he made hundreds of visits to Israel, where he was treated as a national hero.
During his address at an Israel Philharmonic performance in 1996 when he was honored for all his contributions to Israel, Stern recalled that during the long siege of Jerusalem in 1948, people in the Holy City were starving but, after the first convoys broke through, the citizens said "Okay, now we've got food and we will get more. Now, we also need music." He was on one of the first convoys to Jerusalem, where he performed with the newly named Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. [The Palestine Orchestra had been founded in 1936, but it changed its name in 1949]. Wearing his emotions on his sleeve, he explained that "very few musical institutions can take part in the history of the establishment of a state and to be central to its institutions and its values."
Shortly after the Six-Day War, Leonard Bernstein, conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Stern, and others were invited to Israel to conduct three concerts, one at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv (see exhibit) and two in Jerusalem. The first Jerusalem concert was held at the Congress Auditorium and the second, and far more memorable and historic one, was held on July 9, 1967, at the Roman amphitheater atop Har Hatzofim.
The idea for a concert on Mount Scopus was conceived by Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta, who had found a way to return to Israel at the beginning of the war on a cargo plane transporting weapons to Israel. After a dreamlike tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, Mehta and Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek agreed to organize a concert on Scopus, and Kollek announced the concert as "the cultural opening of the united city of Jerusalem," with all proceeds to go to the Jerusalem Foundation for the Development of Jewish-Arab Youth Activities.
No Israelis had been atop Har Hatzofim since 1948, so an Israeli official was dispatched to determine the condition of the amphitheater and – because nobody remembered – to count the seats there. When the Jerusalem military authority was advised about the plans for a concert on Scopus, he replied, "Have you gone completely crazy? The entire mountain is mined and until it is cleared, it is impossible to have a concert there. You are lucky to be alive." Nevertheless, a permit was obtained, probably as the result of "pressure from high places."
The original program called for Mehta to conduct Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (the "Victory") but, ultimately, that role fell to Bernstein. Moreover, with the program changing from a concert of victory to a concert of hope, Stern was invited to play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, and he immediately cancelled all his outstanding commitments to participate. Attendees included then-retired Ben Gurion, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, President Zalman Shazar, Israel Supreme Court justices and Knesset and cabinet members, and fighters and wounded soldiers who had fought in the battle to liberate Jerusalem.
At the conclusion of the concert, with the late afternoon sun casting its fading glow over the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and the Mountains of Moab, the orchestra played an extraordinary and spirited rendition of "Hatikvah." The audience rose to its feet, and there was not a dry eye in the amphitheater. The power of that "Hatikvah" was so great that the LP produced by Columbia Records to record the concert for posterity was named Hatikvah on Mt. Scopus. In fact, it was only the recording of the unforgettable "Hatikvah" that came from the performance on Mt. Scopus; Stern's Mendelssohn and the remainder of the concerts were recorded in relative safety at the other sites. A documentary of the concert, called A Journey to Jerusalem, was later released.
When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, Stern canceled all commitments and rushed to Israel to perform in hospitals, often at the bedside of injured soldiers. During a concert for soldiers in the Negev, he awed his audience by ingeniously weaving the melody of "Hatikvah" into his rendition of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.
One of the most indelible images of Stern's love of Israel will always be when, while giving a concert in Jerusalem during the Persian Gulf War (1991), the alarm sounded for an Iraqi Scud missile attack. While audience members donned gas masks, an unmasked and undeterred Stern announced, "missiles or no missiles, I cannot stop playing," and he continued to play a Mozart solo.
Finally, the politically active violinist had a warm and special relationship with Hubert Humphrey, whom he actively backed in his losing presidential campaign against Richard Nixon in 1968. He apparently used his relationship with Yitzchak Rabin, then Israel's ambassador to the United States, to try to promote the vice president's campaign, as evidenced by this July 24, 1968, correspondence to Rabin:
Just before leaving New York for a long stay in Europe – until late October – I read an article about Humphrey which I thought would interest you as background information. I am not sure that this article, in its original length, would appear in publications which would normally come to your attention. So, I have taken the liberty of having it forwarded to you. I am sure it will be of interest . . .
We send you and Mrs. Rabin our fondest greetings and best wishes for every health. And we both look forward to seeing you after our return to the United States.
Stern was honored by the Humphrey family when it asked him to perform at Hubert's funeral in 1978. He died in 2001, and a street in Tel Aviv was named for him.