Thursday, December 01, 2005

Kadima or Backwards?

Upset with Likud being grumpy at him and not letting him run the country as he fits, Ariel Sharon has formed his own party.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new Kadima party yesterday released the main points of its national agenda - preserving a Jewish majority in exchange for territorial concessions, keeping Jerusalem and large settlement blocs, and establishing a demilitarized Palestinian state devoid of terror.

This has been the formula of Oslo all along, although, one can’t call it Oslo, because Oslo is now a dirty word in Isreal. New Labour leader Amir Peretz, still uses it, and now he has been termed an extremist leftist socialist by the Israeli Press. Even Shimon Peres had to leave labour.

There has been much musical chairs, with politicians abandoning their respective loyalties to their parties, and switching to the party that they think will get the most votes. Shas Chairman MK Eli Yishai said in response to the all the moves,
"Another day of political showtunes has passed. I wonder when some parties will turn to the Yellow Pages to attract new members. It appears as if some of the parties will have to attach a photograph of their candidates to their ballots so that the Israeli people will remember who found political refuge where. I'm sure that if Begin and Ben Gurion were with us even they would be confused as to who their parties were."

I agree. Likud, Shinui, Labour and Kadima are now all arguing the same thing. A two state solution, United Jerusalem, and no right of return for the Palestinians. They vary as to which groups they target as the scapegoats for all the ills of modern Israel(Varying from Haredim, the Unemployed, The Rich to the Arabs), so I guess it’s only their prejudices that separate them. How simple it would be if Israel had a two party system like Australia. All these new political parties in Israel’s hyper-democratic system seem like they will only lead to yet another PM who will not finish his term because maintaining a coalition In Isreal will be harder than scratching an Israeli diamond (which are apparently harder than bullets)

Monday, November 21, 2005

No more sex for Reform youth

Shmuel Rosner, Chief U.S. Correspondent for Haaretz has again provided another fascinating story. In the midst of election fever gripping Israel with the announcement that Sharon is starting a new political party(as if Israel didn’t have enough), we have this story from left field. The headline really caught my attention. “No more sex for Reform youth says the rabbi!” Read on before I share my thoughts:
Thursday afternoon, I was still in Houston, so I got to sit with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and discuss the speech he was preparing to give today at the biennial of his movement. "It's about sex," he smiles: "High school students should not be having sexual relations." This is the message he starts with this year. It is very urgent, he thinks.

But first things first - the most revealing sentence I find in the speech is a more general statement one can read as a key to the Yoffie state of mind these days: "The problem for our synagogues may be," says Yoffie, "that we are not very good at saying 'no' in Reform Judaism... In the realm of personal behavior, we are reluctant to ever use the word 'forbidden'." This, he believes, should be changed somewhat. A more restrictive movement, more demanding, more - should I dare say - conservative movement, is the one Rabbi Yoffie envisions. If you were a politician, I tell him, one would apply to you the overly employed phrase "mugged by reality." The do-whatever-you-want approach just doesn't work for a movement that needs members to be committed. So you basically ask the congregation to do more: study more, go to Israel more, practice more. Yoffie smiles again. He has a nice, gentle, smile. But listen to what he has to say to the youngsters of the movement, and listen seriously:

"A growing number of middle school students are sexually active, and oral sex is both prevalent and widely accepted. Most striking of all is a social ethic known as 'hooking up' that severs sex from any pretense of a relationship. 'Hooking up' can refer to different kinds of physical contact, but it always means a casual, no-strings-attached sexual encounter. It means getting physical without getting emotional... the Union has created a six-session course for bar and bat mitzvah-age students in our religious schools... we do not tell our kids that sex before marriage is forbidden. Since many of them will not marry for fifteen years after the onset of puberty, it is unreasonable to suggest that this traditional standard should be maintained for young people who are adults? On the other hand, we say in the clearest possible way that high school students should not be having sexual relations. Our teens are not adults. They are beset by tension with parents, pressure from friends, a desire for approval, and an uncertain sense of self. This means that students in high school are not yet ready for the loving, mutual relationships that make sex an experience of holiness."

Unrestricted-hippie-liberal-permissiveness? Maybe it's the wrong movement for you. Being reform doesn't mean one needs no rules, so Yoffie says.

I’m really happy Rabbi Yoffie has finally addressed the issue of teen sexuality. It is an issue that is not often discussed in public forums. It is interesting to note that the Rabbi does not prohibit, sex before marriage, just sex at school age. It is also interesting to notice his awareness that it is time for the Reform movement to say “no” more often.

From an orthodox perspective, I think this issue is just as relevant in frum communities. Teenage kids who wear kippot and long skirts are not necessarily
shomer negia. There has been a suggestion of allowing orthodox people before marriage to visit the mikva after sexual relationships. The question is, would you prefer someone violate the non-biblical prohibition of sex before marriage, or the biblical prohibition of not visiting the mikva. Tough question.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


After many years of praying and wondering whether miracles really do happen, I was privileged to witness one last night. That being Australia qualifying for the World Cup after 32 years in the soccer wilderness (I guess that’s better than 40 years in the midbar). If Australia wins the world Cup, then Mashiach is surely on our doorstep.
The Age reports:
Australia, which has found so many heartbreaking ways to lose World Cup qualifiers, last night found a new way to triumph when it won its way to the World Cup in a penalty shootout thanks to the steely nerves of John Aloisi and the heroics of Mark Schwarzer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What is the most important Jewish Word?

Shmuel Rosner, Chief U.S. Correspondent for Haaretz writes from the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities about a discussion of "Top 10 Jewish vocabulary words every Jewish leader should know." The rabbi’s at the conference made one list, while the rest of the group made another. Here’s what they came up with:

Rabbis: Mitzva V'Halachah (commandment and law), Hesed V'Rachamim (kindness and compassion), Tzedaka, Tikkun Olam, Bracha, Kashrut (dietary laws), Hachnasat Orchim (hospitality), Bikkur Holim, Shivah, Aliyah (immigrating to Israel).

Group: Tzedaka, Tikun Olam, Chesed, Chevra, Simcha (joy), Ahava (love), Shalom (peace), Tikva (hope), Achdut (unity), Klal Israel (all of Israel).

What are your top 10 Jewish words/concepts? Mine are: V’ahavta Lereicha Kamocha, Shalom, Achva(Friendship), Shira(song), Tfilla, Hashem, Sababa(cool), Keif(Fun, yes I know its an arabic word), Mastik (Gum – I like how the word sounds) and Yisrael.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Is Rabin a Rodef?

Since Yitzchak Rabin initiated the Oslo process with the Palestinians in 1993, there had much resistance to his formula of LAND FOR PEACE where Israel would give the Palestinians a State in Gaza and the West Bank in exchange for an end to incitement and terrorism against Israel.

Jewish extremists were against this policy because they claimed that the land of Israel is holy and can never be traded. Their method of dealing with Palestinian attacks against Israel was to use more force.

Palestinian extremists (Hamas) were against the Oslo process because it’s ultimate aim was a two state solution. These Islamic extremists believe that the entire land belongs to Muslims only, and all Jews should leave or be killed. Therefore, Hamas would send suicide bombers onto buses whenever Rabin and Arafat were to have a meeting, in the hope that this would derail the peace process.

Before you continue reading, please say:
Hareini lomed/lomedet Mishnah le'ilu'i nishmato shel Yitzĥak ben Rosa u-Neĥemya RabinI am studying Mishnah in the memory of Yitzĥak Rabin, son of Rosa and Neĥemya

וְאֵלּוּ הֵן שֶׁמַּצִּילִין אוֹתָן בְּנַפְשָׁן: הָרוֹדֵף אַחַר חֲבֵרוֹ לְהָרְגוֹ, אַחַר הַזְּכוּר וְאַחַר הַנַּעֲרָה הַמְאֹרָסָה. אֲבָל הָרוֹדֵף אַחַר הַבְּהֵמָה, וְהַמְחַלֵּל אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת, וְהָעוֹבֵד עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, אֵין מַצִּילִין אוֹתָן בְּנַפְשָׁן:

In the following cases a human life is saved at the cost of a human life: when one person threatens the life of another, when a male is sexually threatening another male, or married woman. But when someone is intending a sexual union with an animal, or to desecrate Shabbat or to practice idolatry - no human life is forfeit in order to prevent this.

“Lies, Bad Law, and Human Life"
by Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein – November 1995

Jewish law has an enviable past, particularly in promoting the sanctity of human life. It was Jewish law, after all, that first crowned each human life with absolute value. While their neighbors drenched their altars with the blood of small children to propitiate their gods, the prophets of ancient Israel thundered their formula for pleasing the Almighty. "Let the oppressed go free...Divide your bread with the hungry...When you see the naked, cover him." For Isaiah and his colleagues, G-d was best served by enhancing the quality of the lives of others.

The earliest rabbinic writings continued the tradition. "Whoever saves the life of a single person is considered as saving the entire world," claimed the Mishna. Jewish law regarded life as so sacred, that all precepts of the Torah could be suspended to save it, excepting three cardinal transgressions. And one of those three was murder.
Jewish law was so loath to take a human life, that criminal procedure was hopelessly stacked in favor of the defendant. If the twenty-three judges managed to reach a guilty verdict in a capital case, they were required to fast the entire day. And if they found for guilt unanimously, charges were dismissed. A court which could not produce someone to back the defendant obviously was not doing its job well.

The Talmud sums up its internal audit of procedure in capital cases appropriately enough. "A court that takes a life once in seventy years is a killer court." This is the lenient view. Others suggest an even longer interval.

The Devil, however, can cite Scripture; his disciples turn to case law and statute. Somehow, Yigal Amir thought that he found justification from the law itself. Amir decided that Mr. Rabin's negotiations with the Palestinians posed an immediate threat to the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis. Jewish law (as well as many other codes!) allows (actually demands) anyone to take the life of a murderous pursuer - or rodef - of his innocent victim. Amir thus claimed that Mr. Rabin was a rodef, and that it was a mitzvah to kill him.

The argument is inaccurate, and was denounced as such by virtually every major and minor Jewish legal thinker. To be a rodef, the pursuer must perform some act that is objectively life-threatening. The models in the literature make it clear that one cannot be a rodef to some, and a savior to others. Arguably, there are as many Israelis who believe that the peace process will save lives, as those who believe that the consequences will be insufferable. Besides, one argument alone justifies taking the life of the rodef: the certainty that the pursued will be saved. No sane person could have guaranteed that killing Rabin would stop the peace process in its tracks. If anything, killing Rabin has had the opposite effect, dramatically increasing popular support for the Labor position.

Despite his posturing, Amir's actions had nothing to do with Halacha. And before people criticize Jewish law, they should stop and remember that much of their distaste for his cowardly and despicable act owes historically to that very same tradition.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Remembering Rabin

As the ten year Yartzeit of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin approaches, there is much debate about how to commemorate this shaping event in Israel’s history. The left seeks to commemorate the assassination with a homage to the Oslo peace process, arguing for further territorial concessions in exchange for peace. The centre/religious Zionist camp want to commemorate the event by emphasizing “ahavat Yisrael” and Jewish unity, beyond politics. Some on the right would prefer not to commemorate the assassination at all.(Numbered people are 1-Yitzchak Rabin, 2- Yigal Amir, 3-Student Mordi Israel, 4-Driver Menachem Damti, 5-Agent S.N. (Possibly S.G.), 6-Bodyguard Yoram Rubin)

These were the of Rabin’s final speech delivered on November 4th, 1995:

"Permit me to say that I am deeply moved. I wish to thank each and every one of you, who have come here today to take a stand against violence and for peace. This government, which I am privileged to head, together with my friend Shimon Peres, decided to give peace a chance -- a peace that will solve most of Israel's problems.

There are enemies of peace who are trying to hurt us, in order to torpedo the peace process. I want to say bluntly, that we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians as well: the PLO, which was an enemy, and has ceased to engage in terrorism. Without partners for peace, there can be no peace. We will demand that they do their part for peace, just as we will do our part for peace, in order to solve the most complicated, prolonged, and emotionally charged aspect of the Israeli-Arab conflict: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

This is a course which is fraught with difficulties and pain. For Israel, there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war. I say this to you as one who was a military man, someone who is today Minister of Defense and sees the pain of the families of the IDF soldiers. For them, for our children, in my case for our grandchildren, I want this Government to exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive peace. Even with Syria, is will be possible to make peace.
This rally must send a message to the Israeli people, to the Jewish people around the world, to the many people in the Arab world, and indeed to the entire world, that the Israeli people want peace, support peace. For this, I thank you."

10 years on, many Israelis argue that Rabin was wrong in saying “we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians.” The leadership of both Arafat and Abbas has shown this to be false. Neither have maintained a cessation of violence against Isreali civilians. Many Israelis also argue that Rabin was right in saying “there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war.” That is why the majority (along with this blogger) supported the disengage , albeit with a heavy heart and much sadness.

What do you make of Rabin's political legacy, and how do you think we should remember his life?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Yom Kippur in Israel

Having just returned from a three-week visit to Israel, I have many thoughts about our amazing state, her people and their ideologies. On my journey I interviewed people from the left and right, religious and secular. On the spiritual journey, I went to Sephardi and Ashkenzi shuls in Ramat Gan, Shira Hadasha and Kedem in Jerusalem, and finally Moshav Meor Modiin that was by far the most enthusiastic and genuine davening I have ever experienced.

What struck me most on the visit was the way secular Israelis celebrate Yom Kippur. Not a Fish writes:
Imagine, if you will, the busiest, noisiest, most congested street you know; always jammed with cars, buses, trucks whizzing past, horns peeping, hundreds of people filling the sidewalks, rushing this way and that.

And now try to mentally visualize that same street, completely empty, eerily silent. No vehicles moving on it, not even one, sidewalks empty of passersby, besides maybe the occasional family, walking slowly and reverently towards their synagogue.

And then you hear it, a low clicking, whirling sound. Soon there is a sight to go with the sound, a solitary guy on a bike, riding boldly, right in the middle of the wrong side of the road. He’s soon followed by a group of kids in their early teens, about six of them, racing their bikes, shouting out to each other. Next to go passed - a couple on roller blades, holding hands; and then more bikers, mainly children of various ages, many in packs, but quite a few serious adult bikers too, with all the fancy gear.

This is Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, the best place to be in the world if you are a secular kid and you possess a bicycle. There is nowhere you can’t go, complete and utter freedom, unheard of, unthinkable. The next day the gangs of kids tell stories of how they reached as far as Herzliya and Rishpon in the north. An all time favourite is the Ayalon Freeway, which cuts through the east of Tel Aviv all along. For secular Tel Aviv kids, used to the restrictions of living in the middle of a busy city with all its dangers, Yom Kippur is a day of breaking free, a day of personal independence.

Spending the Chag in Ramat Gan, I was amazed by the 100’s of kids on bikes I saw that day. Another thing that amazed me was that 1000’s of people also went to shule. However, shule in Ramat Gan is very different from Melbourne. The shuls I visited were filled with mostly once a year Jews(nothing unexpected here), but the interesting part of the story, is what went on outside the shule.

For every person in the shule, there was a person and a half in the street. They all bring chairs, gather round, talk, catch up on gossip, and enjoy the balmy autumn weather.

Is this a sign for hope or despair?

Despair: There is a baal shem tov story that retells how the Rabbi used to have a special place, where he lit a special fire, and say a special prayer when the Jewish people were in trouble. Later generations would forget the place, forget how to light the fire, and forget the prayer, and so, the story would suffice.

So too, the secular Israelis of Ramat Gan, have forgotten the prayers(no one had siddurim), forgotten the meaning of the chag(few could tell me any more about Yom kippur other than it being a day “when God forgiveness us”) and forgotten the rituals. What did they remember was that their grandparents went to shule on Yom Kippur, so they to must also go to shule, but only to sit outside, for the interior is a foreign land.

Hope: Perhaps the Israelis are reinventing the chag. No one does anything on the chag. Have you ever wondered what the world would like if everyone kept shabbes? This is what YK feels like in Israel. There are no cars, No TV shows(although the DVD shops do a roaring trade the day before the chag) no radio programs, no busses and trains, and even the intl airport shuts for the day. People talk to one another, the cell phones are off, and in the streets one feels a party atmosphere, similar to Chanuka in the Park or In One Voice.

I’m not sure what to make of the secular Yom Kippur. Experiencing the chag out of the beit knesset is an experience in itself. I wonder how the next generation will remember the chag?

Read also: Spending YK on a bicycle seems like a terrible waste

Is the secular Yom kippur a viable alternative? What does it say about the way we experience our religion in a Jewish homeland?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Shana Tova Chevre

Shalom Chaverim. I’m currently writing this entry from Moshav Me’or Modiin in Israel. I have just had a beautiful Shabbat full of song and many wonderful yidden from around the world. I wish all of you a sweet year with much health and happiness. Keep smiling.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An outsiders view of Melbourne

How does an outsider view our haimish community down under? Read on if you’d like to find out. The article appeared in last Fridays London Jewish News. It is written by Clive Lawton, executive director of Limmud, chair of development charity Tzedek and a former head teacher of King David high school in Liverpool. The 53-year-old is also a regular contributor to the Jewish News.

The Limits Of Charity
Thursday 15th of September 2005

If Sydney and its Jewish community is a bit Los Angeles, then Melbourne Jewry is the closest thing we have to pre-war Warsaw.
Some 40,000 Melbourne Jews manifest every passionate Jewish position between them. The Adass has a strong presence, but then so does Habonim. The Bundist school, Bialik, teaches Yiddish, and the Lubavitch have an iron grip on orthodox life. (Several shuls have been forced to adopt Lubavitch liturgy when they’ve appointed Lubavitch rabbis, for example, and a unit in the Jewish Studies A Level equivalent is “a study of Chabad”.)

Some renegade orthodox have established a Shira Hadasha shul imitating the radical feminist/egalitarian orthodox prototype Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem.
A huge proportion of young Jews attend Jewish day schools. The 2,000-strong Mount Scopus is a bit JFS-like, while Yeshiva High is more Hasmo. London doesn’t yet have an equivalent to King David, Melbourne’s Progressive Jewish school (about 850 pupils), nor anything quite like the 1,000 strong Bialik. Beis Rivka is the Lubavitch girls’ school which, together with its counterpart boys’ school, accommodates nearly 1,000 children from across the orthodox range. And so on.

They have only one kashrut authority, but every shul is independent and does its own thing. Melbourne’s LimmudOz last year attracted 850 people to its first ever two-day fest of learning Limmud-style and they figure it can only grow. One of the commercial cinemas is to run regular films of Jewish and Israeli interest all through the year because they reckon there’s a viable market. There’s even an eruv which everyone seems to use.

On my visit there last weekend, I was invited, amongst other speaking engagements, to deliver a d’var Torah to the Shabbat afternoon gathering of the Mizrachi shul, a right-of-centre-but-Zionist community whose members take their Judaism sufficiently seriously that the Shabbat afternoon congregation numbered at least 100. I addressed the Jewish principles underpinning Tzedek, the Third World development charity I chair.

When I’d finished, several people thanked me for this “breath of fresh air” or “challenge to our parochialism”. Some said it was helpful to be forced to think about our place in the wider world. And then an astonishing thing happened. When we went back into shul for ma’ariv, the rabbi went into the pulpit and proceeded to try to dismantle all I’d said – very politely but very firmly. He must have spoken for 15 minutes, stressing, for example, that the need to follow justice referred only to justice between Jews. He concluded by accepting that Jews should be an example, but that that was best done by looking after “our own” in an exemplary manner. Others then would be impressed and would look after “‘their own” too. If this were to happen, then there’d be no need for Jews to give to such charities as I had described.

Several people told me afterwards how strongly they disagreed with him, but clearly what he’d said was music to the ears of others.

But I have three questions. How can a learned Jew, especially just before Yom Kippur, when we read about Jonah being forced to prophesy to Nineveh, talk such claptrap about Jews only looking after their own? And, in the wake of, for example, the London bombings, how do we know who is “our own” and who is excluded? And, finally, when all of his congregation buy cheap clothes from the Far East, coffee from Latin America and chocolate from Africa, how does he decide that he’s not inextricably linked with the global community?

But don’t get me wrong. This could have been London as easily as Melbourne. You don’t have to live in a small community to have a small mind, nor live miles away to be far distant from thoughtful understanding.

The photo is not from his talk in Melbourne. I think what Clive has said about Melbourne is spot on. Living in such a tolerant and Jewish-friendly society as we do, I has always bothered me that support for non Jewish causes, particularly the terrible genocide occurring in Darfur, is not given enough attention.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sharon makes his farewell speech to the Likud

The left was correct. We cannot rule the Palestinians forever. The right was correct, there is no partner on the Palestinians side. Sharon has realized this. In his “farewell to the Likud speech” he said at the yesterday,
"The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel does not mean disregarding the rights of others in the land. The Palestinians will always be our neighbors. We respect them, and have no aspirations to rule over them. They are also entitled to freedom and to a national, sovereign existence in a state of their own."

Haaretz described the PM like so. "Sharon was excited, here and there he breathed heavily, and it was clear that he had prepared for the address carefully. For a moment it seemed that it was Yitzhak Rabin, his former commander, standing on the stage, reading one of the peace speeches that Eitan Habber had written for him. The same references to Jerusalem, the Jewish nation's eternal capital. The same apology for choosing the army and war as a way of life, which was forced on him instead of the farmwork he loved. The same call to the Palestinians to work together for peace "for our children and grandchildren."

We read in Isaiah 11:6 that when mashiach comes "The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together; and a little child will lead them." If Sharon is being described as Rabin, Mashiach must be just around the corner.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Final disengagement post

How do you know when a people are truly one? Try to tear them apart. For a beautiful photos essay on this theme go here.

This is my final blog on the disengagement. Thank you for all of your comments, and thank you for being so respectful to one another here in cyberspace. From here on, I will be looking at new items of global interest from a Jewish perspective. Any suggestions of topics that interest you can be left in the comments section.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Israel 2010

In Israel 2010, which scenario is most likely?

1) Israel gives Gaza and 95% of the West Bank to the Palestinians in exchange for their dropping the “right of return” for Palestinians who left in 1948 and their families. The Palestinians live prosperously in their secular democratic state with equal rights for all minorities.

2) Gaza becomes “Hamastan.” The terrorist group launches daily rockets attacks into Israel and the PA does nothing to prevent this. There is a thriving arms/drug trade between Egypt and Gaza. The Netanyahu government decides to reoccupy Gaza and rebuild Gush Katif.

3) Gaza is part of a Palestinian sate. The West Bank is annexed to Israel in its entirety where Israel continues to rule over 2.4 million Palestinians. America does not pressure Israel to make further territorial concessions until Palestinian terror attacks on Israel cease.

Monday, August 29, 2005

How Sharon can stay as PM

This is how the Israelis voted at the last election. There are currently more than the required 61 Knesset members who support Sharon. Yet he is likely to be out of a job in a couple of months. How is that when Israel finally has a very popular PM, his party will most likley get rid of him in favour of Bibi? Gideon Levy has a great idea of how he could stay PM.
A party without a leader seeks a leader without a party. This is the current political reality, and there is only one correct answer: Labor, a party without a leader, will merge with Sharon, a leader without a party. This is the best proposal in the depressing political reality.

According to a survey published in Maariv on Thursday, this is also the most advantageous. No less that 54 percent of those surveyed preferred a new party that would unite Labor, Sharon and Shinui. This party would not ensure a truly new future, but it is the best of the current possibilities.

Labor today is nothing less than a skeletal structure: a system of rotten branches, remnants of renown from the distant past, and a feeble and defeated leadership. Sharon is today a leader with one proven success. Shinui would bring additional voters. It's so simple. In the business world, this would happen rapidly: the takeover of a skeletal corporation by a talented man, transforming it into a profitable company.

So, if it can happen in the business world, why not the political realm. I applaud this creative idea.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The remaining 99.5 percent

Amira Hass has written a scathing article entitled "The remaining 99.5 percent" about the treatment of the majority of Gaza residents. It is highly critical of the Israeli policy of the past 35 years, which has placed Jewish settlers in the heart of large Palestinian populations. I thought this paragraph was especially harsh on Israel.
What talent it takes to live for 35 years in a flourishing park and splendid villas just 20 meters from overcrowded, suffocated refugee camps. What talent it takes to turn on the sprinklers on the lawns, while just across the way, 20,000 other people are dependent on the distribution of drinking water in tankers; to know that you deserve it, that your government will pave magnificent roads for you and neglect (prior to Oslo, before 1994) to the point of destruction the Palestinian infrastructure. What skill it takes to step out of your well-cared-for greenhouse and walk unmoved past 60-year-old fruit-bearing date trees that are uprooted for you, roads that are blocked for you, homes that are demolished for you, the children who are shelled from helicopters and tanks and buried alongside you, for the sake of the safety of your children and the preservation of your super-rights.

Here is a response to the article from Zev:
Amira Hass will not be let the facts change her love of the Palestinians and her hate for the Israelis.
Yes the Palestinians have lived in tragedy. But this tragedy has been forced on them by their own leaders. That does not make it any less of a tragedy but to put the entire blame on Israel is what I expect from the propaganda of Amira Hass and Haaretz.
Who kept them in the conditions they live in? Where have the billions of dollars gone that were supposed to relieve their situation? Were they in better conditions before the settlements were established on empty sand dunes or did they get better? Why did they remain in those conditions? When did they get electricity and running water? Did their condition get better or worse after Arafat came and the Oslo war started. Will their condition get better now? (I hope so) Did anyone ask them what they really want and were they able to answer without being afraid of being shot? According to the statistics brought in the article, how many Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians.
These are just a few of the questions that I would never expect an honest answer from the likes of Amira Hass.

My view is that Amira has a point, in that many Jews do not feel the pain of the Palestinians in Gaza as they have felt the pain of the 8000 Israelis forced to leave their homes last week. I think that for the peace process to proceed, the Palestinians leadership must take more responsibility for ensuring the best distribution of funds, especially in the coming months as the PA takes control of the entire strip. The Israeli occupation of Gaza is over. The monies received by the PA from the international community must be used to increase the living standard for all Palestinians. Lets all hope they are up to the task. Thank you Amira, for providing food for thought that is difficult to swallow.
Palestinian workers who were not allowed to enter Israel, crowd the barred barrier in the Palestinian area at the Erez Crossing, northern Gaza Strip, Jan. 18, 2004(

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Disengagement Dilemmas

There is a Gemara in Pesachim which says "Bechol dor vador, chayav adam..., "In every generation, a person is required to view himself as if he went out of Egypt."

The past week has raised many dilemmas for the average Israeli. Below is a list of some of the many extraordinary situations our fellow Jews have been in. How would you have dealt with these scenarios?

If I were a settler asked to leave my home last week, I would have…

If I were and IDF soldier or policeman, faced with the task of removing settlers from their homes, I would have approached the task by….

If I were a Rabbi over a hesder Yeshiva and had to give instructions to soldiers who disagreed with disengament, I would tell them that….

Being passionatly against the disengament, I would have protested by………

If I were Ariel Sharon, I would have ensured the disengament proceeded smoothly by saying that…..

If I were a holocaust survivor, I would have viewed the use of Nazi parallels by some settlers as….

If I were a Christian Zionist in Australia/USA, watching the disenagment would have made me feel…..

If I were Shimon Peres(Labour) during the disengagement I would have held a rally calling for…….

If I were a Christian Zionist in Australia/USA, watching the disenagment would have made me feel…..

If I was an enviromentalist, hearing that some of the settlers would make the sandunes of Nitzan their new homes would make me feel…

Both Bibi Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky(Likud) were against disengagement. Natan resigned his post six months ago, Bibi resigned two weeks ago. If I were a member of the Likud party, I would have….

Monday, August 22, 2005

Bumper Stickers

Something that struck me whilst watching the removal of hundreds of settlers from the synagogue at Shirat Hayam last week, was their chant. “Yehudi lo megaresh yehudi” Very moving, yet sad.

Here is a slogan made in response.

And, from the land of bumper stickers, two that echo my sentiments.

"Not all Kippot are orange. We are withdrawing from Gaza and thus securing our home."

"...And thy children shall return to their own border. (Jeremiah, 31, xvii).
We are withdrawing from Gaza and thus securing our home."

To view all stickers, go here. Which do you agree with?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Dispossessed

Disengement from Gaza is almost over. Sa Nur and Homesh are up for evacuation next week.

After a long standoff with young settlers in the synagogue of Gush Katif on August 18, Israeli soldiers kissed the ark where the torah is kept.

Elie Wiesel, a professor of humanities at Boston University who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 asks us to imagine:
Let's imagine it, if you will. Let's imagine that, faced with the tears and suffering of the evacuees, the Palestinians had chosen to silence their joy and their pride, rather than to organize military parades with masked fighters, machine guns in hand, shooting in the air as though celebrating a great battlefield victory. Yes, imagine that President Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues, in advising their followers, extolled moderation, restraint, respect and a little understanding for the Jews who felt themselves struck by an unhappy fate. They would have won general admiration.

I will perhaps be told that when the Palestinians cried at the loss of their homes, few Israelis were moved. That's possible. But how many Israelis rejoiced?

And now, where are we? A lull is imperative. The tears must be allowed to dry and the wounds to heal. Haste, in this delicate moment, is dangerous.

There it is. There it is. Weisel is saying that it is how we emotionally respond to the disengagement that will determine whether it is successful in leading to peace. How did you respond watching the news this week? Do we need a national week of shiva? Ari Shavit:
Gush Katif was a world of its own - a world of work and faith, of patriotic innocence and communal warmth; a world that touches the heart, that was established in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, as this world is being buried in the sand, Israel must sit shiva for it. For if the entire public does not know how to mourn the death of Gush Katif, its death will poison our lives.

Finally, well done to all the Policeman and Soldiers , particularly IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi, who carried out the disengagement with such restraint and derech eretz.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Reasons for Disengagement according to Ariel

At this most difficult juncture in the disengament, I think it is important to be reminded of why Isreal is doing this. Below are the reasons for Disengament according to Isreali PM Ariel Sharon. The bold is my words, the quotes are from a Television address to the nation on Monday night 15/8/05.

1) It will reduce daily friction between Palestinainas and Israelis
"We are reducing the daily friction between the victims of both sides"

2)It Will allow Israel to fight terrorism with full force
"The IDF will redeploy in defense lines behind the security fence. Those who continue to fight us will be met by the IDF and the security forces in their full force."

3) It may lead to peace
"The world is waiting for the Palestinian response -- a hand stretched out to peace or the fire of terror." "To an outstretched hand we will respond with an olive branch."

4) It was a mistake to place Jewish settlers in Gaza after the 6-Day-war.
“It is no secret that I, like many others, believed and hoped that we could forever hold on to Netzarim and Kfar Darom. However, the changing reality in this country, in this region, and in the world, required another reassessment and changing of positions.”

5)A Jewish presence in Gaza in unjust to the Palestinains
Gaza cannot be held onto forever. Over one million Palestinians live there, and they double their numbers with every generation. They live in incredibly cramped refugee camps, in poverty and squalor, in hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope whatsoever on the horizon.

6)Leaving Gaza unilaterally strengthens Israel
It is out of strength and not weakness that we are taking this step. We tried to reach agreements with the Palestinians which would move the two peoples towards the path of peace. These were crushed against a wall of hatred and fanaticism. The unilateral Disengagement Plan, which I announced approximately two years ago, is the Israeli answer to this reality. This Plan is good for Israel in any future scenario. We are reducing the day-to-day friction and its victims on both sides.

7)It allows Israel to divert its resources and money to more pressing needs
The Disengagement will allow us to look inward. Our national agenda will change. In our economic policy we will be free to turn to closing the social gaps and engaging in a genuine struggle against poverty. We will advance education and increase the personal security of every citizen in the country.

“This act is essential for Israel.
Believe me, the pain I feel with this act
is the full realisation that we must do it"

If I were a soldier...

If I were an IDF soldier, I would be like this one who played guitar with a protester at the Kissufim crossing this week.
When faced with having to remove a settler from their house, I would sing a sad song with them, reminisce about the times they have spent in the house, and gently escort them to their new homes in Israel.

Evacuation from the Heart

These IDF soldiers carrying out the disengagement deserve medals. They have shown such compassion, under immense emotional pressure from the settlers to disobey orders. This account from the ABC was indicitave of their high level of morality and love towards the settlers.

MARK WILLACY: Yes, we did actually see a couple of soldiers yesterday who were in tears, they did find it very stressful and very difficult to even talk to the settlers about removing them from their homes.

So there definitely are soldiers within the Israeli army who are very uncomfortable with what they're being told to do.

And I suppose we also saw that the soldiers have taken a very softly-softly approach to the settlers in this settlement of Morag in particular.

When the soldiers were finally allowed to walk through the barricades at the front of the settlement, they walked up to the first house, they knocked on the door, they moved in, they were invited in for tea and coffee and some food, and it took over two hours for these soldiers to issue their first eviction order, because they had to talk to the first resident here; there was a lot of discussion.

So that's how long it took inside the first house, and they're still going here today, and it's not a very big settlement. So it is a process that will take time, and the soldiers are treading very softly indeed.

Amazing. I wish there were more stories describing Tzahal this way. Here is another from the IDF site.
For many years, 'Or' evacuating battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Roni Sari, met with Yaakov Lev every morning. As the commander of the building centre at the Tel Nof IAF base, he never dreamed that one day he would be in charge of evacuating Lev, a citizen who still works for the IDF as a commander in the central economic branch, from his house in Eley Sinai. This week Sari insisted on delivering the evacuation notice personally.

"I will remain here until your good people come to take me out of here" said Lev from his living room in Eley Sinai, to Sari and Major Chai, the Commander of Company 'Gimmel' of the Battalion. "We are here to help you," explained the Company Commander. "I love you," responded Lev with tears. "We came to Eley Sinai with nothing, and it looks like we will be leaving here with nothing." Sari recounted to Lev that: "When they told me I was going to have to evacuate Eley Sinai, I saw your family in my eyes."

Am Yisreal Chai

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Colonel Erez Tzukerman

In the last post you may have noticed an orange and blue ribbon, tied together, reading “we must maintain the connection” in Hebrew.Here is an example of this from the Jerusalem Post:

In an emotional standoff, Colonel Erez Tzukerman, head of the Golani Brigade, hugged and cried together with the settlers of Morag Monday morning in an effort to persuade them to evacuate voluntarily before Wednesday, when the forced evacuation was slated to begin.

“We didn’t come here to clash with you, but to offer assistance and to help you, the people we once protected and worked hand in hand with,” a teary-eyed Tzukerman called out to a crowd of several hundred anti-disengagement activists gathered at the entrance to the southern settlement.

A young man suddenly emerged from the crowd with tears streaming down his face and called out to the senior officer, “I was an officer under your command, you taught me what it was to be an officer and protect the Israeli people. We are not your enemy but you have turned us into your enemy. Just six months ago, I was wearing an army uniform and serving side by side with you.”

Tzukerman then wrapped his arms, in a tight bear hug, around the former subordinate, evoking cries of anguish and sadness from the crowd.

Tzukerman told the crowd that he loved them and that he felt that the settlers of Morag were a part of this nation and always would be. “All of the officers are here and we are together on this day in a display of our love and affection to offer you help and assist you during this difficult time.”

The crowd then broke out singing Hatikva and together with the soldiers sang the national anthem.

I hope the disengagement happens in a way that the whole world can see the strengths of Israel, rather than its weaknesses. To quote Jewlicious
"Let tears be the ultimate protest here."

Lets not disengage

Lets’s not disengage from one another. Whether you are for or against disengagement, invite someone from the other side for shabbos this week, and share your pain.

If they can unite in Israel, why not in Melbourne. Watch this video. It may just be more effective that tying colored ribbons to your car.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Not All Kippot Are Orange

Rabbi Michael Melchior of the Meimad party offers an interesting analysis of the change in Israel’s political landscape over the past years.

While the intifada has led many Israelis to turn toward the right, the right has by far and large (Roni Milo, Dan Meridor, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert and now ever Ariel Sharon) accepted the view of the center-left in understanding that only a political settlement and division of territoriy can give Israel the hope and perspective of peace and becoming a thriving Jewish state, which will have a serious Arab minority. Which of course has to be given equal rights and equal opportunities inside the realm of the Jewish state.

On the matter of whether returning land is halachically permissible, he answers:
I seriously believe that the State of Israel needs borders, The Jewish state has not had borders for more than 2000 years. Borders are an essence of Zionism and even though we might be connected to part of Gaza or southern Lebanon and for sure connected to Judea and Samaria, when we weigh the pros and cons my pro comes up as a wish to disengage, create a border which will give Israel a possibility to be both a Jewish and a democratic state.

For those who have asked how this fits into the halakhic terminology, first I would like to quote Rabbi Solovecic (of Blessed Memory) who already in the months after the Six-Day War very clearly stated that anybody who goes to rabbis to ask on the question of giving up land, is doing what he called "a ridiculous thing." This question has to be decided according to the overall concerns - saving life, the economy, society, the well-being and security of the Jewish state, and I have no doubt that 7,000 settlers in Gaza amongst a population of nearly 1.5 million Palestinians that has no future, no perspective, no hope in it. And therefore painfully - painfully because of our care for the people who live there - we have to return them home into the State of Israel.

I believe that the pain is going to be great because to uproot people from their homes, their schools, synagogues, is in many ways a cruel inhuman act but it is necessary for Israel's future and if we just continue now developing the settlements, we would have to do so the same in the future, just with many more people.

A little pain now, for a lot less pain in the future.

Bloggeres for Disengagement

Orthodox Anarchist writes:
How many Jewish children must fight and die to protect illegal settlements? Regardless of whether or not the Israeli government sanctioned the creation of these settlements, they no longer serve to secure Eretz or Am Yisrael. Rather they are a liability which cost more lives and dollars than they can possibly be worth. They also force us into the position of oppressor which goes against all which we should have learned from both Torah and our own history. Yeshayahu Leibowitz warned in 1967 that the occpuation would corrupt us, our morals, and our existence. He was, regretably, spot on. This is why I'm in favor of the withdrawl from Gaza. Not because I think the people there are kooks who have no valid claim or right to live there, but rather because I believe the conditions for them to live there currently require amoral behavior and its justification which is too often based on misleading interpretations of Torah. This abuse of Torah is a chilul hashem which drives people away from yiddishkeit. "If being in favor of another people's oppression is what Torah's all about, then count me out!" No conscientious Jew should allow Torah to be coopted in such a way.

Whilst Rabbi Simchah Roth makes some excellent suggestions for what the Rabbis who placed their Ad in last weeks AJN can do with their power:
The ideology of "Eretz Israel hashlemah" , i.e. the total entity of the land of Israel, based on religious motives, "Torat Israel, 'Am Israel and Eretz Israel" or like the saying "Ein devar tov lamut be'ad artzeinu", which was said by Josef Trumpeldor(1880-1920), seem to me very close to simple idolatry! Nothing seem to be more important than "only Eretz Israel" Where is the zeal of those rabbis in dealing with poverty, injustice, people getting underpaid or not paid at all, sexual abuse or violence in families, Agunot i.e. women who cannot remarry as their husbands have disappeared, the rights of minorities, Palestinians, foreign workers and other "sojourners in our midst", etc.?

The Halachic Position on Disengagement

More than 30 Orthodox rabbis in Melbourne have signed a petition declaring Israel’s disengagement from Gaza is “suicidal surrender” which is forbidden under any circumstances.” The list is comprised almost entirely of Chabad Rabbis.

They claim “experience has taught that even mere negotiation of handing over settlement increases Israel’s enemies brazen desire to intensify their attacks against us.” Not much room for optimism there.

Two things bothered me about the article. The first being that almost all the signatories were Chabad Rabbi’s. Whilst not a chabadnik myself, I have much respect for the movement and their efforts in Jewish outreach. I feel that their involvement in political matters is to the detriment of the vital Kiruv work they do in the Jewish community and turns many people off their message.

The second, was the heading of the advertisement, “A DEFINITIVE” Halachic ruling forbidding the surrender of any part of the Holy Land.”
How can the ruling be definitive if Rabbis such as Rabbi Genende and and Rabbi Steven link did not agree? Is something definitive just when Chabad Rabbi’s agree? And what about the Rabbis from Israel, such as Rav Moshe Lichtenstein of Yeshivat HaGush who writes that it is halakhically permissible, if not favourable, to withdraw in order to improve your position and your ability to secure the safe-being of the people of Israel. From Jewschool you can read:

Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein is the son of the Gush yeshiva's esteemed rosh yeshiva, R' Aharon Lichtenstein, and grandson of the arguable father of modern orthodoxy, Rav Yosef Soloveitchik. Rabbi Lichtenstein presented a shiur on the subject of disengagement from Gaza, and offered a halakhically sound argument in favor of the withdrawal. He also made it known to us that, if his West Bank residency stood in the way of peace with Palestine, it would be with a heavy heart, but he would in fact move.

The halachic logic being used by Chabad Rabbi’s is one of yimei HaMashiach. They forget, Israel is a modern democratic state, where none of the biblical laws are in application as the temple is not standing.

Given that thee are Rabbi’s on both sides of the debate, and I am no rabbi myself, perhaps the solution must be to follow the advice of the EXPERTS. You see, when a person is sick, and they want to find out whether or not they should eat on Yom Kippur, they ask a doctor before a Rabbi, as to what the effects of fasting will be on their health. Because the doctor is the EXPERT on health.

In matters of national security, the experts are members of the IDF and members of the Government that is democratically elected to reflect the will of the people. The experts on national security are also divided, but there are a majority of people in the Knesset and in Sharon’s own cabinet, who have voted on numerous occasions in favour of the disengagement. When Israel is run according to Jewish law, we must follow the rulings of the Rabbi’s. Until then, we should follow the next best thing. It’s called democracy.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Reducing Mutual Dependence

Good idea about Gaza Strip.
EREZ CROSSING - As of 2008, Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip will no longer be allowed to enter Israel and will have to find work in the Palestinian Authority, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday during a visit to the Erez border crossing in the Gaza Strip.From ynet

But until then...

A modern crossing

IDF officers and defense establishment officials have presented Mofaz with plans to construct a modern border crossing at Erez, which would include six crossing points to allow some 500 men to enter Israel an hour. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2006.

Why is this good news? Hopefully this will stop the long cues at checkpoints that frustrate Palestinians. Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres who founded The Peres Center for Peace in 1996 with the express aim of “realizing his vision of a "New Middle East", in which people of the region work together to build peace through socio-economic cooperation and people-to-people relations,” has long maintained that jobs and economic opportunities are the glue that can hold the peace together.
However, the there are still many concerns on both sides

Israel is giving up these hothouses in Gaza that produce millions of shekels a year. What do you think should happen to them?


As a proud Jew and Zionist, the Current IDF presence in Gaza, Yehuda and Shmoron is raising some difficult questions for me. I have been thinking about this issue for many years. The way I see it, the Palestinians(Ishmael) and the Israelis(Yitzchak) are brothers who are in a feud so bitter, that the only solution is divorce, separation and disengagement. They need to separate from each other.

There needs to be a wall between the two, and one should not live in the face of the other. Maybe by the time I have grandchildren, the wall could be taken down and the brothers could learn to be civil again, but until then, we must disengage.

Especially if it will prevent our young soldiers doing things like this….

Fiddler at the Checkpoint
Israeli troops forced a Palestinian man to play his violin in order to pass through a roadblock near the West Bank city of Nablus, human rights activists said Thursday.

An officer made the Palestinian man take out his violin and play for about two minutes as hundreds of other Palestinians waited behind him for their turn to pass, said Horit Herman-Peled, a volunteer for the Israeli rights group Machsom Watch, which monitors soldiers' conduct at the roadblocks.

The army said the soldiers made him open the case and play the instrument to show there were no explosives hidden inside, but noted the incident was "insensitively dealt with by the soldiers at the roadblock who are faced with a difficult and dangerous reality."

It said a high-level investigation was conducted, and that the soldiers had been reprimanded.

For more on this matter see Checking the Checkpoints and Machsom watch

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Orange is not all bad

To all those with an abundance of orange still in the wardrobe. According to Anti-Disengagement Chicks are HOT!

Although wearing in Orange star is definitely out!

Put quite simply...

With all due respect to pullout opponents...
Chemi Shalev

Number 1. Israel is not Nazi Germany. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not Adolf Hitler. Israeli officials dealing with the disengagement are not the Judenraat. Gush Katif victims are not persecuted Jews.

The use of Holocaust imagery by the supposedly super-patriotic opponents of the Gaza pullout is not only a gross denigration of the State of Israel, it is Holocaust denial of a most odious nature, a virtual feast for the David Irvings and Fredrick Tobens of this world.

And the use of kids. Perhaps Ok, unless picking the shnoze?

Are you making a political statement right now?

Attention friends with coloured hair. You may be making a political statement. Be careful!
Haaretz reports
A parliamentary aide has petitioned the Jerusalem Labor Court against the Knesset's decision to deny him entry to the building because he dyed his hair orange.

David Harmelin, an aide to MK Naomi Blumenthal (Likud), dyed his hair to protest the disengagement. But when he attempted to go to work with his new hairdo, the Knesset guard refused to allow him entry


Ittay's fashion tips

Word on the street has it that Orange is so last season, nobody is buying it, even from the 99 agurot bin.

So when you choose your wardrobe for this season, think twice before choosing orange.

Leaving Gaza

There is currently a great dilemma going on in Israel as whether the country is better maintaining or disengaging from the Gaza strip. Recently in Melbourne(outside Werdiger hall) there was a rally where two groups, the oranges(against leaving) and the blues(for leaving) had a stoush across balaclava road. I went along and spent some time with both sides. Whilst rather entertaining as a spectacle, I felt it achieved little.

Here is a picture of the blue team. I wonder who won?

Pictures of the event from Aussie Echo.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

My first entry

Welcome to Ittay's blog. In what may be an interesting experiment to dialouge of a different nature, I'd like to share this quote which guides me:

Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? He who learns from every person as it is stated: (1) "From all those who have taught me, I have gained wisdom, for Your testimonies are my conversation." Who is mighty? He who subdues his inclination, as it is stated: (2) "A patient person is better than the strong man, and he who masters his spirit is better than one who conquers a city." Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion, as it is stated: (3) "When you eat of the labor of your hands, you will be happy, and it will be good for you." "You will be happy" - in this world; "it will be good for you" - in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is stated: (4) "I will honor those who honor Me, and those who despise Me will be degraded."
Pikei Avot 4:1
Shalom and Peace
Love Ittay