Thursday, October 19, 2006

Jonathan Sacks – To heal a fractured world

Hashem OZ le’amo yiten. Tonight, OZ (well specifically us Melbourne yids) was hosting the Chief Rabbi. He began by sharing a teaching from the Rambam who suggested that the world is finely balanced between good and evil, so much so, that just one act either way has the potential to change the world in its entirety. Below are four holy people who put this principle into action. (Warning: If you don’t like shmultzy feel good “I can change the world” stories then stop reading here)

There was once a woman who travelled the world collecting all the starfish that were washed up on beaches. After she would pick up each starfish, she would throw it back into the sea, in order that it may have another chance at life. An adversary asked her, surely you don’t believe you can save all the starfish in the world. There must be hundreds of thousands of beaches in this world full of starfish, and then, millions of washed up starfish. As this woman threw another starfish into the sea she said, perhaps I cannot help all the starfish in the world, but I surely just made a difference to this one.

Professor David Baum
who was Britain’s leading Paediatrician and President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health from 1997-99 played a huge role in lowering infant mortality around the world through his advances in medical research. He travelled the world over, from Thailand to Moscow, establishing best practice child health care. He was also a proud religious Zionist. David Baum’s final endeavour was assisting in the establishment of a world-class paediatric facility for Palestinian children in Gaza City. The Chief Rabbi explained how David was a shinning example of how to heal a fractured world, which involves reaching out to our adversaries as much as our friends.

Sue Burns suffered from a debilitating disease named osteosclerosis which hospitalised her for her entire life. She was not even able to sit up straight in a chair. From her hospital bed, she acquired two computers and a telephone and established what is now known as the Tikva Helpline. This phone counselling service offers assistance to thousands of people with disabilities. She is the only ever recipient of an MBE from the Queen lying down. When the Chief rabbi came to see her in her final days, she ended up comforting him more than he did her. She said, perhaps Hashem needs me somewhere else now.

In the Genesis narrative of the great conspiracy by the sons of Yaacov to dispose of their brother Joseph, the Torah states what must be a false hood. Vayishma Reuven Veyatizleyhu miyadam – And Reuven heard (his brother's rage against Joseph) and he saved him from their hands; he said, 'let us not destroy a life.' (Genesis 37:21)

This must be false, because we know that the brothers did eventually sell Joseph as a slave. Rabbi Sacks explained that this is one instance where the Torah credits a person, for a good thought, even though the deed was never carried through. The midrash goes onto to add that had Reuven known that this pasuk would be written about him in the Torah, he would have saved Joseph.

Now if Reuven had saved Joseph, there would have been no exile in mitzrayim, and no redemption. But Reuven didn’t know what would be written in the Torah about him after his passing. Like Reuven (which is also my father’s name, alav hashalom) We don’t know what will be written about us in years to come. We don’t know how one act can make a difference.

Dear readers, I invite you to leave any thoughts in the comments section about an act of chessed you have performed. Who knows it may encourage others. If not, then just do it simply because you deserve to be congratulated. As the Chief Rabbi said continually, healing a fractured world is like a butterfly effect. It only takes one small act to transform our existence for the better.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Kol Yisrael Arevim

In today’s Haaretz I was pleased to read a poll that reported one out of every two households in central and southern Israel gave money or goods to residents of the North during the war.
The poll, conducted by Dr. Haggai Katz of the Israel Center for Third Sector Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, also found that one out of four households had hosted residents from the North, primarily relatives or friends. Five percent of the households hosted strangers.

The survey also found that contributions and volunteering by the Orthodox were only slightly higher than among the secular; during peace time, the gap between the two groups is much greater.

I know on this blog I tend to sometimes focus on the flaws of Israel, but reading news like this makes me feel so proud of our little country, her citizens, and the way they behave to each other. A real or lagoyim.

May this Ellul be one filled with teshuva and accounting of our actions.

(Picture - A family in the North removed strategic roof tiles so that the light from their attic spells out "BiHatzalacha" (Good Luck) -- its clearly visible to all IAF planes and helicopters flying into Lebanon from Israel –from the muqata)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

There is no military solution

Last week Former MK Naomi Chazan and Arnold Roth, whose daughter was murdered in the Sbarro bombing were interviewed on Late Night Live hosted by Philip Adams. They had divergent opinions about the current war against Lebanon, but both treated each other with respect. They repeated the views of the other before they spoke, they addressed each other with their proper titles and they didn’t raise their voices.

A dialogue of this manner and maturity is what I was thirsting for, but thoroughly lacked during a number of experiences I had this weekend.

Professor Naomi Chazan repeated several times during the interview, as if it were a mantra handed down by a yogi master, “there is no military solution to this conflict.” It sounded so simple.

Discussing the conflict with my colleagues in Zionist education last Sunday, I felt that opining anything other than a military solution to Israel’s woes was heresy. One said: “It is wrong when Lebanese civilians die, but I don’t feel sad for them.” Another said: “There are no ‘two sides’ to this conflict. There is only one side. Ours! This is a war for our survival, for our right to exist” It could have been Anilewicz speaking in the Warsaw Ghetto. It wasn’t. I was in Melbourne.

Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz today that our favorite phrase "an existential war" is nothing more than a ridiculous slogan, as it was actually a “war of choice” from the beginning.

Another of my acquaintances said that those who feel guilty for what Israel is doing in Lebanon are not real Jews. They have no pride in their tradition.

Moving on to Monday night, I went to hear Labour-Meimad MK Rabbi Michael Melchior speak at the house of Mark Baker, the President of my Kehilla, Shira Hadasha. He said about Qana “if you see crushed children and it doesn’t move you, something is blocked in your heart.” Hearing Rabbi Melchior, I was reminded of the midrash in Talmud Sanhedrin 39 about the angels who wanted to sing to Hashem as the Egyptians were drowning in the sea. God says to them, "My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?'"

Rabbi Melchior is often invited to speak on panels in Israel where he is thoroughly outnumbered by those who disagree with him. They say that the Geula (redemption) depends on how much land can be accumulated. He asks them to show where this is written in the shulchan aruch. They can’t. I think that the ideology of those religiously opposed to ceding land is much more potent than Torah.

On one page of the Talmud, there is a debate about when the world was created. The debate is not regarding the year in which the world was created, although this sparks great debate in the secular world. Instead, the debate focuses on which DAY the world was created. Two dates are offered. The 1st of Nissan, the month of our Exodus from Egypt, and the 1st of Tishrei, the creation of Adam and Chava.

Tishrei is a universal date for all mankind, Nissan is a particular date to the Jews. The rabbis say both dates are correct. Why? Because the tension between the two aspects is what keeps Judaism in balance. To only focus on our problems is as wrong as focussing only on the problems of everyone else.

Jews are perfectly placed to be the leaders of this new dialogue. We have one foot in the western liberal camp, and another steeped in dialogue with the Holy writings. Our home is not somewhere between Canada and Mexico, but in the Middle East surrounded by Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. Is there a better place in the world to start talking peace?

We must realise that as long as there is no peace for the Palestinians, there will be no peace for the Jews. The silly labels of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian are infantile. One can only be pro-peace or pro-war.

Many criticize the anti-war camp by asking what other option did Israel have on the 12th of July when Hezbolla kidnapped our soldiers? How else could have Israel have responded? Melchior did not say whether we did the right thing or not in launching operation “Change of Direction” but what he did say is that now is the time to prevent the next war. What I understood him to mean is that once an incident has happened between us and our enemies, it is too late to start negotiating and building bridges at that point. Rabbi Melchior is not a pacifist and acknowledged the need for a military option. But it is not the only option. What we must do now is start creating the situation where it is preferable to choose the path of peace and compromise rather than war. I don’t want to be writing this again in 6 years after the next Lebanon war, God forbid. I don’t want our grandchildren to say to us, why didn’t you guys speak to each other earlier?

And what about the threat posed from Iran? Again Melchior said the best thing we could do to isolate Ahmadnijad is make peace with the Palestinians. He explained how when Rabin signed an agreement with the Palestinians in 1993, it was not because he was a great humanitarian. It was because he wanted to isolate the Shiite extremists. He could see the threat from back then. How much more can we see it now? How much more should this impel us to act in a way that leads us to a two state solution immediately? Repeated polls show that approximately 75% of both Palestinians and Israelis support a two state solution based on the 1967 borders if this would guarantee an end to all hostilities. The will is there. It is up to the people to make it happen.

The reason we should leave Judea and Samaria is not because of the demographic argument. The reason we should leave is because it is wrong to occupy the Palestinians in the way that we do. It is wrong for us to use the sort of force we use against them.

I agree with Rabbi Melchior in saying that if one believes in the sanity of us Jews and in the future of humankind, then the path of dialogue and tolerance must be tried. After Rabbi Melchior signed the Alexandria interfaith agreement, a Yediot Achronot reporter ridiculed him because the next day there was a terrorist attack in Rechov Yafo, Jerusalem. The reporter said, “See, your dialogue can not bring peace.” What this reporter, and many of my dear friends who have a deep love for Israel don’t realise is that making peace is a process that takes many generations, and must involve the citizen on the street more than the politician. It will take many years, but there is will on both sides to make it happen. Let the healing begin, and may we all learn how to be Menchen from this great leader of our time, Rabbi Michael Melchior.

To all those who have lost loved ones in this past month, may these lives not be lost in vain and may we merit to see this path of healing begin whilst this narrow door of opportunity is still open.

In King Solomon’s famous writing Shir HaShirim, we have a love story between a man and woman set in the hills of Jerusalem. The man is lusting after the dark skinned woman for many chapters until he finally finds her. He knocks on her door, and she decides to keep him waiting for a while, She washes her feet and makes herself look pretty. The man gives up waiting and leaves. The moment for the union is lost. Rabbi Melchior quotes this to our struggle for peace. Now is the time to knock on the door, and hope there is an answer. What alternative do we have?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me'uman

I recently saw this picture on of one of our soldiers in Lebanon putting this famous nachman picture and slogan in his pocket in order to protect him.

When I was In Israel, I was astounded to see how popular this slogan has become. There is scarcely a billboard, fruit shop, or motorbike where this sticker or graffiti does not appear. I asked a secular man who has one of these pictures in his real estate agency why he chose to put it up? He said some Breslovers came and told him it would be good for business, and with business going the way it is at the moment in Israel, every little bit helps.

Acoording to this source The Na Nach Nachma phrase was revealed and taught by Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser, a controversial Breslov figure born in 1905 in Tveria. He was among the first Breslover Hasidim in Israel. When he was only 17 years old, Odesser was overcome with weakness and hunger on the Fast of Tammuz. He decided to eat. But immediately after eating, he felt great sorrow at having succumbed to his own physical temptations. Then a powerful thought came to him: "Go into your room!" He obeyed the inner voice, went to the bookcase, and randomly opened a book. In the book was a piece of paper that would later be known as "The Letter from Heaven." This paper contained a greeting, some text that referred to the Fast of Tammuz, and the Na Nach Nachma mantra.

It read as follows:
It was very hard for me to descend to you, my precious student, to tell you that I benefited greatly from your service. And to you I say, my fire will burn until the coming of the Messiah -- be strong and courageous in your service -- Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me'Uman. And with this I shall tell you a secret: Full and heaped up from line to line, and with strong devotional service you will understand it. And the sign is: They will say you are not fasting on the 17th of Tammuz.Odesser believed the letter to be a message of consolation, directly from Rebbe Nachman's spirit to himself here on earth.

The popularity of this phenomenon is not without controversy. Rabbi Zev Reichmann (head of the Yeshiva University Mechina Program, student of Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, and son of Rav Herschel Reichmann) notes that many within common Orthodox society hold the view that people who wear "Na Nach Nachma" yarmulkes (see below) are not considered to be real Breslovers.

So what’s your view? Have you ever used this phrase or photo to bring you good luck?

Friday, July 21, 2006

"To Nasrallah with love from Israel and Daniele"

This photo appeared in all the Australian newspapers on Wednesday. I was perplexed. Was it a set up? Who are these girls? What are they writing? Why?

Thanks you to Lisa from “on the face” , I now know what was going on.
The photo was taken by Sebastian Scheiner an Israeli photojournalist who took the photo for Associated Press (AP).
The little girls shown drawing with felt markers on the tank missiles are residents of Kiryat Shmona, which is right on the border with Lebanon. On the day that photo was taken, the girls had emerged from the underground bomb shelters for the first time in five days. A new army unit had just arrived in the town and was preparing to shell the area across the border. The unit attracted the attention of twelve photojournalists - Israeli and foreign. The girls and their families gathered around to check out the big attraction in the small town - foreigners. They were relieved and probably a little giddy at being outside in the fresh air for the first time in days. They were probably happy to talk to people. And they enjoyed the attention of the photographers.

Apparently one or some of the parents wrote messages in Hebrew and English on the tank shells to Nasrallah. "To Nasrallah with love," they wrote to the man whose name was for them a devilish image on television - the man who mockingly told Israelis, via speeches that were broadcast on Al Manar and Israeli television, that Hezbollah was preparing to launch even more missiles at them.

The photograpers gathered around. Twelve of them. Do you know how many that is? It's a lot. And they were all simultaneously leaning in with their long camera lenses, clicking the shutter over and over. The parents handed the markers to the kids and they drew little Israeli flags on the shells. Photographers look for striking images, and what is more striking than pretty, innocent little girls contrasted with the ugliness of war? The camera shutters clicked away, and I guess those kids must have felt like stars, especially since the diversion came after they'd been alternately bored and terrified as they waited out the shelling in their bomb shelters.

Personally, I understand that pacifism never really took off in the middle east and probably never will, but this is ridiculous. Is this one of those "only in Israel" moments that I am proud of? not really. It's bizarre and sad. I said tehillim today with 300 people. Maybe that will help…. Shabbat shalom

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Teaching Israel

Shalom webfreinds,
I’ve recently returned from an invigorating educational sojourn in the Holy land, where I attended a conference with the a keen group of smiling academics and school teachers.

Below are three models we discussed for teaching Israel.

Option Aleph) The Classical Zionist Approach
The ‘evil goyim’ tried to kill us throughout our history, from Shushan to Chmielnitski and Kishinev (they were cities before they were pogroms). They killed us in the present generation, Shoah, because the diaspora is doomed (France, Argentina), therefore Aliyah for all is the only answer. Our role models should be those who die for the homeland like Trumpeldor, Eli Cohen, Yoni Netanyahu.
Proponents: Theodore Herzl, Tuvia Book, The Palmach Museum

Option Beit) The Religious Zionist Approach
The first Olim were not the Hovevi Tziyon in 1882, but Avraham Avinu who was on the first nefesh be nefesh trip from Ur Kasdim to Cannan in 1700BCE. Since then, all Jews have wanted to return, but didn’t ’cause they were waiting for mashiach. These folks decided its time to stop waiting. Israel is “reshit tzmichat geualteinu,” If only we can occupy the entire biblical moledet.

The religious Zionists (orange camp) were very upset with Gaza disengagement last year. We watched a video that made us cry. It showed the pain of the 0.5% of Jews who had to leave their villas and featured not a single one of the 99.5% of the Palestinians who suffered under this occupation for 39 years.
Proponents: No hard-core representatives of this group addressed us.

Option Gimmel) The Peoplehood (yes, it is a real word despite my spellchecker thinking otherwise) Approach
Jews live all over the world and we each have amazing stories to tell that we can learn from. Students should feel they are Jewish citizens of earth, rather than exiled spectators to the main event, which is Israel. The centre of the Jewish world has moved from Cannan, to Babylon, Cordoba, Mainz, Kairwan(Tunis) and now to Israel. It will keep moving as Jews keep moving. Our role as educators is to have students “connecting with community.”
Proponents: Steve Israel, Dena Thaller
Some say that the Centre for Teaching of Jewish Peoplehood at TA University, may be the Yad Vashem of the next generation.

My thoughts

Each model has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. But as was said many times, “the medium is the message,” which means HOW you teach Israel is just as important as WHAT you teach.

Finally, there are so many sweet tidbits of goodness going on in Israel that few people are aware of, like the Sapir Academic College in Sderot that provides an education and a better future to the olim from places like Chechniya. Like Rabbi Motti-Bar Or, whose amazing organization Kolot changes the perception of Limmud Torah being only for the datiyim, and returns, as God did at Mt Sinai, the ownership of our scared texts to the entire Jewish people (females and secular included). Like the thousands who watched the World Cup final on a warm Tel-Aviv Beach and cheered for Italy because they are LESS anti-Semitic.
Like the Ma'ale School of Television, Film and the Arts, which is providing an avenue for the young religious to raise questions that have been condemned by an earlier generation.
Like Dr Tova Hartman, who is challenging the models of negative identity by which we have so long perceived ourselves, like Rav Binyamin Lau, who has moved from Hitnatkut (Disengagement) to Hitchabrut (Connection) in reaching out to the Jews of greater Judea and Samaria. And finally, like Robbie Gringlas, who "shlectures” about us having a mature relationship with 58 year old Israel, warts and all, that can be filled with anger, tears, laughter and song. Shkoyach to you all!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Olmert needs some PR advice

Shmuel Rosners’s blog on Haaretz discusses Olmert’s use of language on his recent US trip.
Olmert chose the term "realignment" as the official translation to the name of his plan. "I think it means 'hitkansut' (the Hebrew word for the plan)," he told us during the visit when asked about the choice of words. "Sometimes," Olmert said, "the same word in Hebrew has several meanings in English, and I heard of a few, and of them the term that seemed to me most representative is 'realignment,' to the best of my knowledge of English."

After discussing the matter with many knowledgeable Americans, we concluded in our article it was a foolish choice. "Realignment," said a senior American reporter, "is something that you do to your car tires" rather than a catchy name of a daring political plan.

There was consensus among Olmert's American listeners with which we met: "Consolidation" is a much more appropriate word for those who are afraid to use the clear term: "withdrawal". But some other suggestions were made, and we figured time for action is now (as Olmert told Bush about Iran).

So, I ask you dear readers of “I wonder If,” put your marketing degrees to use, think like the spin makers and PR consultants, and share how you think Ehud Olmert should be labeling his plan to remove what may be up to 70 000 Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria in order to create a Palestinian state more or less along the lines of what Barak offered at Camp David(See map, whereby no Jews would be living in grey shaded areas by 2008).

I have included a few suggestions from Rosner below:
* Realignment
* Withdrawal
* Consolidation
* Convergence
* Disengagement 2
* Reversion("act of turning something the opposite way; act of returning to a previous condition; return of property to its owner after the occurrence of a particular event")
* Olmert`s Folly
* Second Stage of Israel`s Suicide
* Honey I Shrunk Israel Plan
* We will not give in to Terror Plan
* Intifada,Outerfada?
* Hexodus
* Redeployment and fortification
* Project return
- Surrender-to-Arab-Terrorism Plan
- National Retreat Plan
- National Defeat Plan
* Detachment
* Contraction (although it makes me think of being in labour -not the Amir Peretz kind)
* Resettlement
* Strategic unilateral retreat
* Operation justice prevails
* Victory of Hamas
* Yasser’s Revenge
* Green light to the green line

Monday, May 22, 2006

A light unto the nations?

The Jewish State was built on the back of Yishayahu’s prophetic notion that we should be a "a light unto the nations"(Isaiah 42:6; 49:6).

So then what does our state do when people arrive in need? The government of Israel, the worlds only Jewish government, puts them in prison because they don’t have valid visas. Of all the wonderful examples Israel could learn from Australia, our successful migration intake, our welfare and education systems, why did Israel choose to copy our system of mandatory detention? This story from Haaretz today: Yad Vashem chairman urges PM to let Darfur refugees stay in Israel
The chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Avner Shalev, called Sunday on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to allow refugees from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan to remain Israel.
In a letter to Olmert, Shalev wrote that, "as members of the Jewish people, for whom the memory of the Holocaust burns, we cannot stand by as the refugees from the genocide in Darfur hammer on our doors. The memories of the past and Jewish values compel us to show solidarity with the persecuted."

Shalev pointed out that during the Holocaust, countries such as Australia, Canada and Britain cited security reasons when they sent Jews escaping the Nazis to detention camps.

In early May, Holocaust researcher Professor Yehuda Bauer, an academic advisor to Yad Vashem, added his name to a High Court petition brought by the Hotline for Migrant Workers against the Israel Defense Forces Head of Operations Directorate, Brigadier General Gadi Eisencott, who signed an order to expel 31 Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region without giving them the right to make their case. See here also.

This is an embarrassment. We can surely do better than this!

Monday, May 08, 2006

How humane is shechita of cows?

The Torah requires that meat and poultry be slaughtered in a prescribed manner known as shechita. The trachea and esophagus of the animal are severed with a special razor-sharp, perfectly smooth blade, causing instantaneous death with no pain to the animal.” (

But is this always the case? In the course of the probe of AgriProcessors Inc. of Postville, Iowa, by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late 2004 it was found that employees of one of the nation's major kosher slaughterhouses "had engaged in acts of inhumane slaughter," [and] that federal inspectors did nothing to stop it and instead accepted gifts of meat from plant employees. The plant is the America's largest producer of meat certified as glatt kosher.

To see a video of this slaughter click here

For those that don’t have the stomach to watch this video, it shows "electric prods used to shock the faces of cows in order to guide them into the slaughter pen. The pictures also showed an uncommon practice of speeding post-shehita blood flow by using large hooks to rip out the animals' trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (food pipe) while the animals are still conscious. Immediately after the procedure cows are seen standing and attempting to bellow and leave the killing-floor area.

It is important to note that the ideal kosher cut would sever the trachea, esophagus and carotid artery, thus immediately eliminating blood flow to the brain and rendering an animal unconscious in as quickly as 10 seconds. Contrary to widespread perceptions, however, a valid kosher slaughter requires only the cut of the trachea and esophagus. The post-cut scenes on the videos of staggering, mutilated animals seem to be cases in which the carotid arteries were not severed, thus leaving the animal conscious and able to suffer pain. Source:jpost
Reacting to these published findings, the head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's international ritual slaughter division, Rabbi Ezra Raful, said that he would permit the import of meat to Israel from the slaughterhouse in question, saying that "in the case of AgriProcessors, there is no halachic problem."

Thankfully, many poskim, including Maimonides, believe that the prohibition against cruelty to animals informs our interactions with animals far beyond sadism.

Rabbi Ezra Raful also said Jewish law permitted a non-Jew to use a hook to sever an animal's carotid arteries, as long as most of the trachea and esophagus were severed by the shochet [ritual slaughterer].

He said that if a Jew used the hook, the slaughter was not kosher because of the halachic principle of marit ayin - the mistaken impression that the ripping of the arteries with a hook was part of the Jewish slaughtering process. This issue would not arise if a non-Jew ripped out the artery, since a non-Jew is disqualified from performing shehita (ritual slaughter).

Raful said he had been informed by sources in AgriProcessors that only non-Jews performed the ripping. Raful said it was unfair to apply subjective criteria of cruelty to shehita.

"For me it is terribly cruel to boil a lobster live or to fry a live shrimp or freeze a fish live. It depends on what you are used to. It's all very subjective. "But the Torah is not subjective and the same Torah that prohibits cruelty to animals allows shehita," he said.… (Click here for full article)

So, what are our options now? As a meat eater, I believe one should do the following.

1. Watch the video of the shechita, If you are OK with what happens there, keeping eating meat with no worries.
2. If the video bothers you. Stop eating beef and write letters to the kashrut authorities demanding that the laws of the shechita be followed not just to the letter of the law, but also in the spirit of the law as Rambam prescribes.
3. Stop eating meat altogether

From a reliable source I have found out that in Australia animals are not slaughtered in the same manner as the Iowa plant and thus actually may suffer less than non-kosher animal slaughter. In Australia, the shackle and hoist method(used in Israel) where the cow is strung up by its legs before shechita is not used. Also, the animal is shot with a blot immediately post shechita.

Does any of this effect what you will be eating for dinner tonight?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Israeli youth show respect for elders

For those of you cruising blogland as we speak, you will find pages of analysis regarding the lower voter turnout, Labour and Israel Beitenu’s surprisingly good result, and Likud and Kadima’s lower than expected vote. In my humble opinion, the winning party of this election is Gil, the pensioners party, winning 8 seats according to exit polls. To the right is a photo of Gil pensioners' party leaders Yitzhak Ziv, Yaacov Ben-Izri, Rafi Eitan and Moshe Sharon, sitting on bench in Tel Aviv on Monday.

Jpost reports:
Tel Aviv buzzed with rumors on Tuesday that the Gil pensioners' party passed the vote threshold needed to enter the 17th Knesset. In the stage built by Channel 10 in the center of Rabin Square in the city's center, hundreds gathered to look at the parties' stalls. The general consensus seemed to be that "Tel Aviv was voting for the pensioners."
In front of one Tel Aviv polling booth, four well-dressed trendy-looking 20-somethings tried to convince passers-by to vote for the pensioners' party. Though the activists seemed uncertain of where the party stood on issues such as defense and the economy, they said that as young, well-off Tel Aviv residents, they wanted to do something to help the "poor old people." They also acknowledge that it was a trend among youth in Tel Aviv to vote for the Gil party.
One Gil supporter, Sonya Blikin, saying she was "voting for the pensioners because they're the only party with a platform I can support. Actually, I'm not sure what the platform is," she admitted, "but I know that old people and poor people are sitting in the streets, and I feel bad and I want to do something to help them."
And how about these kids at Rabin Square who instead of voting for the green leaf party, voted to help sabba and savta:
Back at Rabin Square, a crowd of teenage girls chanted "Save our grandfathers" on Tuesday afternoon. They said they had no official affiliation with any party, but had decided to come to the square at the last moment because "the old people need all the help they can get."

The election of Gil shows once again that Israeli youth are an or lagoyim. See also Haaretz for more on Gil’s very vauge security platform.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Too much of a good thing?

Is it possible that us diaspora fans of Zion are loving Israel too much. Daniel Levy writes in Haaretz about the new John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt study of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." He says:

It should serve as a wake-up call, on both sides of the ocean. The bottom line might read as follows: that defending the occupation has done to the American pro-Israel community what living as an occupier has done to Israel - muddied both its moral compass and its rational self-interest compass.

Interesting food for thought. Has our love of Israel blinded us to Isiah’s vision expressed in the Jerusalem program of building a nation based on the prophetic vision of righteousness and peace(justice).

Friday, February 24, 2006

Aviezer Ravitsky in Melbourne

Over the past week, I have had the pleasure of hearing Professor Aviezer Ravitsky speak in Melbourne on a number of occasions. He was the winner of the 2001 Israel Prize, and I found many of his statements on matters religious and political to be similar to my thinking. I believe Ravitsky is unique in that he is able to transverse the worlds of academia and halacha so seamlessly, in a matter that belittles neither. He is also a religious Zionist that doesn’t wear orange.

One the issues he spoke about was his recent paper “Is a Halakhic State Possible? The paradox of Jewish Theocracy” (Published by the Israel Democracy Institute).

To many Religious Zionists (henceforth RZ’s) namely of those from the Mercaz Harav-Kook Yeshiva, their justification for supporting the Zionist enterprise rests solely on the idea that Israel is the birth pang of mashiach – reshit tzemichat geulatenu. RZ ideal Israel is one run by halacha, were Jewish law governs the social, religious and political spheres.

Avi sees things differently. I quote from Haaretz Temple and Knesset
Ravitsky believes (to a great extent following in the footsteps of Rabbi Yitzhak Abarbanel, 1437-1508) that Judaism contains no absolute religious commandment that determines the nature of the regime required by the Jewish state. The state's authority is needed to protect citizens' lives and to maintain the social order, and precisely in order to serve those goals, there must be broad social agreement - the essential idea being that the preservation of human life takes precedence over nearly all the Torah's commandments.

Ravitzky quotes the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren: "Human society, including the Jewish people, requires a political regime representing and applying relative justice, namely, temporary political justice, which enables the regime to maintain public order and security among mortals. One cannot rely only on the Torah's law of punishment, which represent the absolute justice, not influenced by the constraints of time, place and the level of human society.

Some examples Ravitsky gave regarding the quirks of halacha were fascinating. What would you do if you saw a man chase a woman into a cave with a sword, and then heard screaming, only to find the woman killed. Well, in a halachic state, the man could not be charged, for unless two shabbat and kashrut keeping witnesses saw the murder take place, and forewarned the culprit, he escapes punishment.

Also, the laws regarding theft are not nearly serious enough to deter the crime in today's world whilst the halachic tax system of the Government returning double of it receives would lead to a tax free world for 1 in 3 people. (I can see Kerry Packer, our most renowned tax dodger, lamenting his lack of support for a halachic state now.)

In regards to the possibility of harmony between Religious and Secular Israelis, Ravitsky spoke at length about the contention between these groups at a public lecture sponsored by the Australian Centre for the Study of Jewish Civilisation at Monash University.

He spoke about the infamous “Status quo” which was written in a letter from David Ben Gurion, in his capacity as Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, to Rabbi J. L. Maimon, leader of the Agudat Israel in 1947. The letter stated
· Shabbat: It is clear that the official day of rest of the Jewish State will be on Shabbat; naturally the Christians and other religions will be granted the Shabbat on their days.
· Kashrut: All necessary steps will be taken to guarantee that any State kitchen for Jews will be kosher.
· Personal Status Law: The members of the Executive understand the importance of the question and the problems involved. All the bodies which are represented on the Executive will do all to satisfy the religious needs of the Orthodox, to prevent the division of the people.
· Education: The autonomy to the different educational systems (as now exists) will be guaranteed. No coercion from the authorities in matters of religion, and religious conscience will be applied. Naturally, the State will determine minimum studies in Hebrew, mathematics, history, etc., and will supervise them, but they will have the freedom to run the educational system according to their belief.

Ravistky discussed why both the Haredim and Socialist Zionists agreered to this document. In 1947, the Secular Zionists didn’t think there would be Haredim in 50 years, let alone ones who would want to study in yeshiva. Therefore, it was of little concern to Ben Gurion that a few hundred Haredim didn’t serve in the Army. The Haredim on the other hand, didn’t mind a few cars driving on Shabbat, as long as no public transport was running(still the case now in Israel except Haifa). What the Haredim didn’t anticipate, was that one-day cars would become very popular.

Both assumed the other would disappear, and both made their assumptions on false premises. So what hope is there for future harmony between these groups. Well, having already, argued that a halachic state is not feasible, one could say, what about a secular state? Ravitsky also rejects this idea arguing

Not only it is impossible, from the standpoint of Judaism, to contemplate a modern Jewish life unconnected with tradition, from the standpoint of the State of Israel itself, the desire to return to the Jewish-national past - at all strata and levels - can have no validity if this return is characterized by severing ties with the religious infrastructure, which is the basis of all the national and historical aspects of Jewish existence.

So perhaps our future is to continue on the path we are on. Namely, where the Godfearing and Godless stay at each others throats. This “tension” afterall is what keeps Ravitsky in his job. He loves it. The “tension” is also what keeps this blog going. Forever searching for answers to seemingly unsolvable questions.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Amona violence: The result of occupation on Israel

In the past week, hundreds of protesters were injured by police during a protest at the Amona setllement were 9 homes were evacuated. The resulting violence is now the subject of a Knesset inquiry. Rabbi Micahel Melchior of the Meimad Party had this
to say of the incident in Haaretz.

The stones that were thrown by skullcap-wearing youths from the rooftops of Amona, and the rolling of eyes heavenward ?(and also at the Israeli public?) that followed, injured not only the head of the policeman who was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, but also, to the same extent, the heart of Judaism, the Torah itself.

The police's special patrol unit is the same special patrol unit; the minions, the hilltop youth, are the same minions. Only religious Zionism is not what it once was. From a glorious movement, a symbol and model of Jewish renewal in our times, it has become an extremist movement, irrelevant to the Judaism of the majority of Israeli society. The knitted skullcap has given way to ski masks, and the hoe and the tablets of the Ten Commandments − the symbol of the Bnei Akiva youth movement − to cinder blocks and stones.

It used to be different. From the days of rabbis Isaac Jacob Reines and Judah Leib Maimon to the government ministers Haim-Moshe Shapira and Zerach Wahrhaftig, religious Zionism presented an entirely different face. Its teachers and leaders preached compromise, peace, finding a common denominator. Out of a deeply rooted and burning Torah belief, they clung to the value of sensitivity to the suffering of the "other."

Like tens of thousands of other people, I grew up in the lap of religious Zionism. Because of it, I immigrated to Israel and I educated my children in accordance with its philosophy. In the Bnei Akiva movement they educated us to love of the land, to commitment to and solidarity with the Jewish people, and to adherence to the values of the Torah. This was an equilateral triangle, the power of which was in the combination of all of its elements, and especially the maintenance of the balance among them.

In the mid-1970s the process of sliding down the slippery slope began. Fanaticism, extremism and insensitivity to the "other" replaced the old values. The delicate fabric of religious Zionism unraveled. The Jewish people and the Torah were sidelined and their place was taken by the land of Israel. Not the land "of milk and honey" of the prophets? vision, full of justice and equality, but rather a fundamentalist, xenophobic land of Israel. A land of bullying and violence, of injured policemen and uprooted olive trees.

The violent event at Amona hammered another nail into the coffin of religious Zionism and made the Torah a synonym for bullying, extremism and hatred of the "other." In the minds of the settlers there are the rights of humans, and then there are the rights of "our people." The events at Amona have taught us that uncompromising violence and the flying batons of the police know no bounds and do not discriminate between Jew and Arab. All are the same, and smashing the head of an Arab leads easily to smashing the head of a Jew.

These words remind me of the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a philospher and professor of biochemistry at Hebrew University who famously predicted in early 1968 that Israel's occupation of Arab lands seized in the Six-Day War would be a curse on the country. The effect of occuption on the isreali psyche is one that allows and even perpetuates the use of violence to achive an ends. So why the surprise when that violence is direteed against our own? Melchior continues
Similarly, there is no such thing as halfway democracy. An entire generation of religious Zionism has been raised on the idea that if between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean there are 4.7 million Palestinians, it isn't terrible if they remain without rights, and if their 6- and 7-year-old children have to be accompanied by Israel Defense Forces soldiers on their way to school for fear of the wrath of masked Jews. Then so be it. They should say thank you and shut up. It is no wonder, then, that when democracy was exalted by the settlers during the period of the disengagement, nobody believed them.

Vox populi vox dei. Between the special patrol battalions and the battalions of the minions this week, the Torah and the philosophy of religious Zionism stood off in a corner, grieving and in disgrace, scorned, mortified and ashamed. In a single day, they had become identified with people in masks hurling rotten eggs at IDF soldiers and large stones, lobbed at the police of the state "of the beginning of our redemption."

No less appalling is the terrible silence of the leaders and teachers. As the years go by, in the name of Torah, fundamentalist voices that our fathers never imagined are being disseminated. Indeed, the wrath of the minions has fallen upon the leaders of the flock, who disappeared, their voices stilled. The redemptive genie has been released from its bottle and has started to destroy everything good in religious Zionism.

As a result of these distortions, most of the people living in Israel are no longer aware of the wonderful, gracious deeds of religious Zionist society here and now, the pioneering spirit that continues to throb within it, its rallying to absorb immigration or the splendid educational institutions it has established.

The difficult scenes at Amona have caused unimaginable damage both to religious Zionism and to the State of Israel. Their effects are influencing the solidarity of Israeli society, the country's image in the eyes of the world and the eyes of world Judaism, and its ability to stand strong in the face of the challenges that still await it.

It is a debate about which direction we are heading, but we must not compromise for a single moment about the methods we use to get there.

For a generation now we have been fighting for the justice of our existence. Facing us are belligerent neighbors who wish to destroy us and fundamentalist states that possess weapons of mass destruction. In this state of affairs Israel must choose another way. One way. Not the way of apartheid, but rather the way of the Jewish and democratic state.
Indeed, this way necessitates painful compromise. Compromise that does not concede the idea of the land of Israel or the idea of redemption. Not disgust, heaven forbid, with respect to the beloved land, but rather the opposite − adherence to it, inside borders dividing us and the Palestinian state, without which we will not be a Jewish state, from a desire to have in it a society that will be a light unto the nations. A society of justice and peace, for every human because he is human.

We need more rabbis that speak like this. We need more people to use Torah for peaceful purposes… Letakken Olam BaMalchut Shaddai.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

An oustretched hand at the Herzliya confrence

The Herzliya conference of 2004 was famously the first time Ariel Sharon announced the Disengagement from Gaza which was a major backflip on his stated election policy to hold on to the settlements. If what a leader says at Herzliya, is the opposite of what he will actually do, than the people of YESHA need not worry, and taxes are going up.

At the cofrnece, Ehud Olmert, the leader of Kadima said
The choice between allowing Jews to live in all parts of the land of Israel and living in a state with a Jewish majority mandates giving up parts of the Land of Israel," he said. "We cannot continue to control parts of the territories where most of the Palestinians live.

Israel will keep security zones, main settlement blocs, and places important to the Jewish people, first of all, Jerusalem, united under Israeli control. There can be no Jewish state without Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty

Israel supports the establishment of a democratic and "modern Palestinian state" but Olmert also emphasized the Palestinians would receive independence only if they bring a complete halt to attacks on Israel.

The brand new moustache wearing Mark Latham of isreali politics said this
Every citizen who wants to leave his home in Judea and Samaria will be fairly compensated in a way that will allow him and his family to open a new chapter in their lives. Those who want to build a new home will find an outstretched and supportive hand

Peretz also vowed to increase the minimum wage without imposing any new taxes.

If you believe that it's possible to exist on NIS 3,300 a month, vote for [Acting Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert," Peretz said. "Whoever thinks otherwise, vote for Labor."

I’m still waiting for anyone to explain to me the difference between these two parties, apart from spin. They have the same message and will surely end up forming a coalition.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sharon carries an Organ Donor card

An interesting point about the Sharon illness that has been overlooked by much of the blogging community is Sharon’s recent registration as an organ donor.
Haaretz reports:
“Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carries an organ donor card supplied by the Israel Transplant Center and the Adi Association, and volunteered to have his organs donated after his death.

Sharon signed the organ donor card last May, during a project in the Knesset intended to encourage MKs to donate their organs. The plan was to have politicians serve as role models in the hope that their lead would sway the Israeli public, only a small percentage of whom carry donor cards. Out of the 120 MKs, 90 agreed to donate their organs.”

Whether or not you agree with his politics, I think Sharon and these other 90 members of the Israeli parliament, should serve as an example to us in reminding us of the value of pikuach nefesh.

Rabbi Shraga Simmons of writes that “Organ donation is permitted in the case when an organ is needed for a specific, immediate transplant. In such a case, it is a great mitzvah for a Jew to donate organs to save another person's life.”

The article continues to discuss Sharon’s motives for being registered
"Sharon did the whole thing with a smile, not with a lot of ideology," recalled one MK. "He said, `I don't know if they'll still want my organs at my age.'"

Indeed, Sharon had a point: There is a slim chance that any of the 78-year-old's organs will be in a good enough state to transplant. Sharon's heart and corneas will certainly not be taken. The only possibility is that doctors will consider harvesting Sharon's kidneys.

Does this inspire you to become an organ donor?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What makes a first world country?

I have often wondered what the difference is between first world countries and third world countries. Should the countries be measured against each other by their health care systems, social welfare programs, education budgets or infrastructure spending? In a more comical news story, Israel has provided us the answer. If you can afford to have time for competitions such as this you truly are a first world country.

Winner Gets Dog Food For Year
TEL AVIV, Israel -- While other competitions may judge the beauty of humans or animals, one contest held in Israel this week judged which owners most closely resembled their dogs.
Judges at the dog owner look-alike competition held at a Tel Aviv mall examined the style and appearance of 10 entries, from wrinkled bulldogs with wrinkled owners to long-faced dogs and long-faced owners.
Most of the pairs walked along the catwalk with similar outfits and hair.
They posed for the judges and crowd, and demonstrated how well they get along with their canine pals.
The winning pair received dog food for a year.
Several studies have suggested that humans tend to want a creature that resembles them as a pet, NBC News reported.