Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chassidic thought about the purpose of Galut


Why do Jews still have to live in Galut (Diaspora) ?

Many chassidim including Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta had the idea that living in Galut is a Tikun. Through Devekut and Emet, the Jew is drawing closer to HaShem and, thus collecting all the Nezizot in Galut.

Jews in Galut were and are still always troubled by the Gentiles. Just look at the Pogroms, the Holocaust and todays' anti - Semitism. Even from there, we have to elevate the Nezizot (Sparks). When the Jews suffer, the Shechinah is participating in their pain.

As soon as Meschiach is coming, the Shechinah will be fully present and reveal G - d's greatness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kuntres from Toldot Aharon


Although I am not a member of the chassidic sect Toldot Aharon and do not agree to many of their ideas, the more I learn about them, the more I understand why they do certain things in such and such a way. By reading their writings, I gained lots of respect for them.

Toldot Aharon are very much into modesty. Especially women have to keep a very strict dressing code. Here a short opinion of the Toldot Aharon founder, Rabbi Aharon Roth, on women and their modesty. The text is in Yiddish and I hope that most of you do understand it. Anyway, should there be any difficulties, I am willing to translate it into English.

טייערע קינערלעך זרע אברהם יצחק ויעקב, וואס מיר האבין זיך תמיד אינזער לעבין אהין געגעבין פאר אונזעריך געטרייען פאטער דער הייליגער בעשעפר פון אלע וולטין, און יודישע קינדער וואס זענען געקריינט געווארין מיט בושה וצניעות, וואס האבין דאס מקבל געוועזין פין אינזרע הייליגע אבות הקדושים, וואס מיט דעם גרויסין כח פון די אבות ואמהות האבין זייא זיך געקענט דער האלטין אין מצרים ששים רבוא יודין מיט ווייבער און קינדער, און זיין פערצומט מיט קדושה וצניעות, וואס אין דעם זכות זענען מיר אויסגעלייזט געווארין, בזכות דיא נשים צדקניות וואס דעמאלט איזט געוועזין

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Daily Halachic Madness


There is no doubt that Halacha is important and, in most cases, does make sense. Either common sense or in a kabbalistic way. But sometimes I am really asking myself whether too many people just concentrate on all the smallest halachic details instead of fulfilling the Mitzwa with joy. Chassidut tells us to do a Mitzwa with joy and Kavanah (concentration).

I have met many people who just look on their watch and immediately start praying because it is time for Mincha. No inner thoughts or preparation, no meditation, nothing. 3pm means time for Mincha, so to speak. They mumble their prayer, Mitzwa fulfilled, continue business as usual.
I never found out if people really pray at that moment and if so, what kind of prayer is this supposed to be. Many of you probably guess that it does sound litvish. Well, it mostly is.

Where chassidut very much emphazised joy, litvishe Haredim pray and do Mitzwot because they were commanded to do so. One can argue now which of the levels is a higher level.
History tells us that the litvishe Haredim accused the Chassidim of not following the Halachot or ignoring some of them. I can tell you just the opposite. Once I had a chassidic flatmate and she did not let me open a window on Shabbat. She said that if the window had not been open at the time of candle lighting, it is considered as Mukzeh on Shabbat, and therefore, I am not allowed to touch it. I later found out that there really is such a Halacha but, nevertheless, it sounded a little too much for me.

Another exaggerated example is Kashrut. Especially in Israel, Kashrut is still very important and a great business. The better the Hechsher, the higher the price. The best Israeli Hechsher (kosher certificate) is the one from the Beit Din Zedek (Badatz) of the Edah HaCharedit. The Edah includes chassidic groups such as Satmar, Dushinsky, Toldot Aharon and others. The goods with such a Hechsher are more expensive than others.

Another very good Hechsher is the one from the Chassidut Belz (Badatz Belz). However, the Edah does not recognize the Hechsher from Belz, as they have been quarreling for more than twenty years. In the 80's, Belz, once member of the Edah, left it in order to get money from the State of Israel. The goups of the Edah are upset and until do not buy products with the Belz Hechsher.

A further important Hechsher is the one from the Rabbanut (chief rabbinate) Yerushalaim. Kasher Le'Mehadrin or Kasher Le'Mehadrin min HaMehadrin. Min HaMehadrin is even better. Most chassidic groups do not trust the Rabbanut and only buy goods with their own Hechsher. The American OU and the British Chief Rabbinate of London or Manchester are sometimes acceptable.

I mostly do agree with the Haredim when say claim that the Rabbanut does not check enough. A few times, I went to a certain cafe in Jerusalem and saw Arabs turning on the stove for the baking process. When I complained to the manager she claimed that no one had told her that this is not considered as kosher.

The majority thinks that the whole Hechsher business in Israel is exaggerated and only politics. The Agudath Israel (with Gur, Vishnitz and Belz) against the Edah and both of them against the Rabbanut. Secretly, Belz has its wheelings and dealings with the Rabbanut Yerushalaim.

The secret behind keeping kosher is mostly kabbalistic. Which Hechsher is the best for my soul and is there such a Hechsher at all ? At least in Israel, it is a great business and food manufacturers and restaurants have to pay.

Many times I feel completely lost with the thousand of details and politics. Is this what G - d wants from us ?

Being accepted


Yesterday at the Seudat Shlishit, I heard an amazing story from a friend. But first of all, I should mention that I write about chassidic groups and that Toldot Aharon is my present subject. I read some of their books and although I do not agree with all their ideas, I started understanding their reasons and why they act in such and such a way.

However, this coming Friday, I am planning to go to their great synagogue in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood. To me it is very important not only to read books about topics but also talking to people, and I am really looking forward to Toldot Aharon.

Anyway, I spoke to a friend who always goes to different Tishes of the chassidic rebbes in Mea Shearim. He told me something I had never expected. He said that he knows someone who converted to Judaism, joined Satmar and now lives in one of the Mea Shearim backyards. Yes, he is accepted, as he picked up everything very quickly. Even his Yiddish sounds perfect.

Usually it seems impossible to join certain chassidic groups when you are not born into it. Nevertheless, there are successful cases and I really admire such people.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Additional Souls


Most of us know that every Jew does get an additional soul (the Neshama Yetera) on Shabbat. Some sources say that the Neshama Yetera enters our body on Erev Shabbat and according to other kabbalistic and chassidic sources, this neshama already enters our body on Wednesday.

However, a few weeks ago, I read a great comment from the Sefat Emet (one of the former Gerer Rebbes) on the Shemittah year. According to him do we not only get the Neshama Yetera on Shabbat but also during the whole Shemittah year.

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chag Sameach - Have a great Holiday


Tonight, the holiday of Shavuot begins. I just went to the Machane Yehudah Market for the shopping. But there it is so crowded with people that I could hardly get to any stand buying something. Eventually I gave up and just bought a few really necessary items.

I am sure that each of you will have a great Chag with lots of cheesecake and shiurim tonight. Unfortunately, there are still people who won't. I am especially talking about the inhabitants of the Negev town Sderot. For years, the Hamas is shooting Kassam rockets from Gaza onto Sderot and other places in the Negev.

I thought about putting in a video showing one of the daily bomb alarms in Sderot. As Shavuot is coming, I don't want to cause anyone distress by watching the video. However, I have published the below video on one of my German blogs and I got such a great response that I think that everybody should see those pictures.

Anyway, Chag Sameach to all of you.

Here you can see what the pro - Palestinian press all over the world avoids to show:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The inner meaning of Shavuot


This coming Tuesday we are celebrating the festival of Shavuot. In Israel we only celebrate one day (until Wednesday night) and abroad two days.

On Sivan 6th , G - d gave the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai. G – d reminds us several times in the Torah that the Torah itself is eternal and cannot be replaced by anything else. G - d and His Torah do not depend on time, as we do (Bnei Yissachar). After Adam and Eve (Adam and Chava) ate from the Tree of Knowledge, G – d changed the human DNA and made us mortal.

How do we approach Shavuot today ? How can we get exited at all without having been at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given ?
First of all, we do have the concept in Judaism that any souls (Neshamot) ever been created or will be created in the future, have been at Mount Sinai. All of us were there including the converts to Judaism.
Before G – d gave the Torah to the Jews, He went to all the nations and asked if they would like to receive the Torah. The nations refused, as according to the Torah, murder, theft, adultery, not keeping kosher etc. are forbidden. However, the other nations did not want to give up their old habits and no changes in society whatsoever. Only the Jews said NA'ASEH VE NISHMA – Let's hear and we will do. The Jews said yes without knowing the conditions (Midrash).

The Vilna Gaon said that actually there were some people among the nations who did want to receive the Torah but G – d only asked their kings who refused. According to the Vilna Gaon, those people are the converts to Judaism today.

How do we prepare ourselves for Shavuot ? First of all, we should internalize the Torah. We need to understand that it is not an ancient book which does not apply to me today. Rabbi Meir Weiner once said at a shiur (class) that each of us should look at the Torah as if it only speaks for himself. This thought might help us to understand the meaning of Shavuot in our days.
Everybody should spiritually prepare himself for this holiday and then we are able to reach higher and higher level and do important Tikkunim of the spiritual worlds. Furthermore, Shavuot is a Chizuk, a strengthening of the souls for all generations (Kuntres Dibrot of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak).
All generations still have the eternal Mitzwa of Torah study (Bnei Yissachar). In Judaism we differentiate between different levels of Torah study. The first concept is called PESHAT where we only study on a more or less superficial level. However, our task is to internalize the inner meaning of Torah and Halachot.

During Shacharit (the morning prayer service) we add three additional readings: The Ten Commandments (Aseret HaDibrot), the famous poetic AKDAMOT prayer (written by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak in the 11th century) and the Book of Ruth (Megillat Ruth).
Akadamot tells us in a very poetic way about G – d's creation of the world until the World to Come (Olam HaBah). The verses are written according to the Hebrew alphabet and each sentence is being answered with the word TA. TA consists of the letters aleph and a tav standing for the first and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Symbolically, the word TA represents the whole Torah and that its study is endless.

The Book of Ruth was written by Shmuel HaNavi (the prophet Samuel), as it says in the Gemara in Talmud Bava Batra 14b. But why do we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot ?
Ruth was an ancestress of King David and he was born and died on Shavuot. It says that only Zaddikim (righteous people) die on their birthday. Ruth was one of the most important converts to Judaism and, therefore, Shavuot is also the day of the converts. His whole life, King David had to suffer from bad comments of other people, as his ancestress was a Moabite and not a born Jew.

Background: The Moabites and the Ammonites (today's Jordan) came from the illicit relations between Lot and his two daughters after they fled from Sodom. Both daughters had intercourse with their father and both bore a boy. One was called Ammon and the other was called Mo Av.

The Mishna in Yevamot 76b teaches that Jews are not allowed to marry male Ammonites or Moabites but marrying a female is allowed. According to this Mishna, Ruth and Boaz had a legal marriage and there should not have been any gossip or doubt about King David's Jewishness. However, all his life, King David suffered from false accusations and I think that if he entered the Rabbanut (chief rabbinate) today, the rabbis might throw him out as well.
Nevertheless, the Meschiach is coming from a Moabite. Who would have thought so, as one might assume that the Meschiach is coming from a perfect family.

But not only King David died on Shavuot. On Leil Shavuot, Erev Shavuot, the great founder of the chassidut, the Baal Shem Tov died. Therefore, many Chassidic groups celebrate his Yahrzeit with certain events.
Especially chassidut very much emphasizes the Tikun on the night of Shavuot. Reading certain prayers and Kavanah (concentration) helps us reaching higher levels and connect the spiritual worlds with our physical world.

All over the world, thousands of Jews will stay awake and learn through the whole night. Especially in Jerusalem, people like going to different shiurim (classes). Most synagogues and religious programmes offer different classes. Daily newspapers already started publishing many addresses for Torah study on Shavuot. Classes are free of charge and light refreshments will be served.

At about 4am, people will start walking to the Western Wall (Kotel) in order to pray Shacharit. Every year, it is a great experience seeing the sun rising over the Tempel Mount.

Chag Sameach – Have a great holiday

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Satmar on the Move


Everyone knows that Jerusalem is divided into two main parts. The Palestinians live in the Eastern part and Jews live in the so - called new city in the West. But people who think that these are the only divisions are very much mistaken.
For several years already, Jerusalem has become more and more haredi. Many former non - religious neighbourhoods such as Kiryat Mattersdorf, Ramat Eshkol and Maalot Dafna are now almost entirely in haredi hands. At the moment, Givat Mordechai is becoming more and more haredi, as real estate prices and rent are low.

Usually religious and non - religious neighbourhoods can be recognized without any difficulties. Downtown Yaffa Road is dividing certain parts. One side of Yaffo is leading into the haredi neighbourhoods Ge'ulah and Mea Shearim and the opposite site forms the non - religious part such as Ben Yehudah, King George down to Rehavia.
However, this division is now at stake. Within the triangel Rehov HaNevi'im, Strauss and Yaffa we find Rehov Yeshayahu. Only a few meters separate Yeshayahu from Yaffo which is less than a five minutes walk. But those five minutes connect two different worlds.

Years ago, the upper part of Yeshayu belonged to the non - religious and the lower part, leading to Kikar Shabbat, belonged to the haredim. The "Edison" theatre in the upper part was a symbol of the non - religious. Almost every night and especially on Friday nights, the non - religious came to the "Edison" for cultural events. Quickly, it turned into the most popular place for the Jerusalemites.
There was only one problem: The "Edison" stood right on the border to the haredi neighbourhoods and there, people did not want to be bothered by the non - religious screaming and driving around in their cars on Shabbat. The haredim only saw one solution: The "Edison" had to disappear.
Especially the Neturei Karta with its former head Rabbi Amram Blau started wild demonstrations against the "Edison". Slowly slowly, people stopped coming to the "Edison", as they did not want to get attacked by the demonstraters.

But one cannot only blame the haredim. In the seventieth, Israelis started buying TV sets and were watching movies at home. Who needed a cinema then ? Other cultural events were taking place in the new Binyanei HaUma building near the Central Bus Station. The result was that the "Edison" closed.
For many years it was abandoned and became a ruin. I always felt pity for the building with a wonderful architecture. A few weeks ago, the "Edison" completely disappeared. The place is now a construction site and full of rubble. A new 10 - floor apartment block will be build on the site, and the Satmarer chassidim are moving in.
Satmarer chassidim so close to Yaffa Road and the non - religious border ? Is this becoming a danger to the non - religious ? I spoke to a Breslover chassid and he said that it does not really matter, as Jerusalem will be completely haredi in another ten years or so. With or without Satmar.

The chassid is right. Our local press raised the question if we really do need a religious Jerusalem. What a question, as Jerusalem was already religious 3000 years ago.
But can there be good relationships among the haredi and non - religious population ? For the non - religious it is unacceptable not to watch TV on Shabbat or driving a car. The haredim, on the other hand, do not accept any irreligious behaviour such as driving around on Shabbat or not eating kosher. Let alone any immodest clothing.

What is the solution and is there a solution at all ? This is one of the most difficult challenges Jerusalem is facing now and in the near future.
It might be wrong to have the Satmarer Chassidim so close to Yaffa Road. The Gerer or Belzer chassidim might have been a better solution, as they are more tolerant. However, nothing can be changed, as Satmar owns the site, and this August (in the month of Elul) one of the two present Satmarer Rebbes, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, is coming to Jerusalem in order to lay the foundation stone for the new building complex.

As most of you probably know, Satmar is an extremely anti – zionistic chassidic group. Their most famous Rebbe was Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum who died in 1979. As he died without having children with his second wife, his nephew Rabbi Moshe became his successor. When Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum died in 2006, his two sons took over leadership and have been fighting each other since.

Rabbi Aharon is the more powerful of the two brothers and it is him who is in charge of the new building complex. His goal is to move his followers away from Mea Shearim where, at the moment, they still live together with the followers of his brother Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum. Living so close together in Mea Shearim might be a bad influence. Each of the brothers is busy recruiting as many followers as he can in order to strengthen his position, and, so far, many fights have been taken place in the Satmar neighbourhood Williamsburg – NY.

Anyway, as soon as the Satmarer Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum is in Jerusalem, I will try to see him. At least from far away. Or more realistically speaking, from very very far away.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Yom Yerushalaim


Forty years ago, the Israeli army won the Six - Day - War. Many parts of Jerusalem including the Old City and the Western Wall (Kotel) were libarated, and finally we had free access to the Kotel. For the first time after the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews could go to the Kotel whenever they wanted. It was one of the greatest moments in Israeli history and thousands of Jews from all over the world flocked into Israel in order to pray at the Kotel.

This Wednesday we celebrate the 40th anniversary with many celebrations. Every year on Yom Yerushalaim, the national religious have a huge parade starting at Sacher Park. Then thousands are marching to the Kotel. Singing, dancing and waving Israeli flags on their way.

Because of the 40th anniversary this year, a festive act is taking place in the Knesset today. 100 ambassadors from different countries were invited to celebrate Yom Yerushalaim. So far, only twenty of them have agreed to come. The American ambassador as well as all the European ones refused to come and claimed that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.

In June 1967, the Arab surrounding countries attacked Israel and we won. But not only due to the war we have a right to call Jerusalem our capital. Jerusalem was our capital long before the other nations came into existence. Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and the place of the Beit HaMikdash and the Shechinah.
Who do the other nations think they are ?

For those who would like to learn more about the Six - Day - War:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Chassidut Belz and their Synagogue


Just click on the link below and you will see a video about Israel's largest synagogue: The Beit Midrash of Chassidut Belz in Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, the video is only in Hebrew. Basically they explain that it has 5000 seats, 2000 for men and 3000 for women and children. Women have their own floor as well as the children.

The Aron HaKodesh is 12 meters high. The guy smashing the hammer on the leather lets people know that one prayer ends and a new one starts. The synagogue does not have a Chazan and everyone is praying by himself. Every Shabbat, the Belzer Rebbe is leading the service.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Converts to Judaism in Israel


It seems to me that within the past few years converts to Judaism are becoming less and less serious. Well, the majority never really kept Mitzwot after receiving the conversion papers and people just returned to their former habits.

Conversion in Israel is a delicate subject, as many other things depend on it. Such as citizenship and Aliyah rights, for example. Today most converts in Israel convert because they want to stay in the country.
Others are Gentiles married to Israelis and just convert to find acceptance from their new relatives.
Also Christian missionaries or Christian fanatics sometimes do convert or at least try to convert. Most missionaries are being caught, Baruch HaShem. The fanatics can be spotted out as well but they are not ashamed to lie as much as they can at the rabbis, and many times succeed.

Very few converts are really serious and keep the Mitzwot. However, haredi conversion courses are more successful than those of the national religious movement and the chief rabbinate.
Do the haredim know to choose honest candidates ? Is the chief rabbinate to irresponsible ? What about converts not keeping the Mitzwot afterwards ? Some even get married to Gentiles which is a real disaster. What about them ?
What do the rabbis say ? Haredim, national religious or the chief rabbinat ?

Next week I am going to different institutions in Jerusalem in order to find answers to all these questions. I already wrote about the subject in my German Hamantaschen - Blog and got plenty of responses.
I am very excited speaking to some people in charge. I will let you know the results.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Franz Kafka and Chassidut Gur


In 1924, several months before he died, the famous author Franz Kafka fell in love with Dora Diamant (Dymant). She was the daughter of a Gerer chassid (Gur) and at that time, she started a rebellion against her father. A little later, she started an affair with Franz Kafka. Their relationship became serious and Kafka asked Dora to marry him. He even wrote a letter to her father asking for permission.

However, Dora's father went with the letter to the Gerer Rebbe and asked for advice. The Rebbe said "NO" to the wedding, and a little later, Kafka died of Tuberculosis. Dora went to Palestine and her further whereabouts are unknown.

There is a rumour that the Gerer Rebbe cursed Kafka but I do think that this opinion is an exaggeration. Franz Kafka had been suffering from Tuberculosis long before he died.

The Children of the Machane Yehudah Market


Jerusalemites and tourists know the Machane Yehudah Market as a place, where one can buy cheap fresh fruit, vegetables etc. However, if you look very carefully, you do not only see food products but, above all, many children who work there. Palestinian teenagers, who actually should be still learning in school, slave away on the Machane Yehudah more than ten hours daily. I f they are being paid on time or whether they are paid fair wages, no one knows. The children are silent in order not to lose their jobs.

Who is guilty, a Jerusalemite weekly asked recently. The children, their parents sending them to work or the market dealers using the cheap labour ?
Social workers were sent into the market in order to bring the children back to school. Anyway, the market dealers were not too happy, as they saw their cheap labour in danger. The children were not too excited either, as they saw their jobs at stake. At home, we have nothing to eat and we really need to support our families, so the response of the children.
The result was that the social workers weren't too successful. Everybody kept quite and business is at usual at the Machane Yehudah market.

But not only in the Machane Yehudah we see 13 – 17 year old youngsters working. We can meet them at the groceries in the neighbourhood or see them selling small items in the streets such as cleaning rags or matches.
Who is guilty ? Poverty, the parents, the bosses or the children ?

Today, not only Palestinian teenagers face the problem but also Israeli youngsters. More and more underage school-age Israeli children want to earn money early. They need money for the cinema, for going out with friends, for clothes, etc., and if the parents sit unemployed at home, the children cannot keep up with society.
However, both teenager groups have different reasons to work. The Palestinians need money for their families and the Israelis rather need it to keep a certain status.

In about a month, summer vacation starts in Israel. The vacation is rather long; from the end of June until September 1. Then thousands of Israeli school kids are going to work and earn a few Shekels. They do not care too much about work conditions or whether the employers pay according to the tariff. For them it is more important to earn some cash.

Only in a few years time, we will see the whole tragedy. The children will be adults without graduation and without any chance on the tense labour market. Above all, in Palestinian society nothing will change if poverty cannot be removed. But education is not available in the Machane Yehudah Market.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Arrogance of Christian Missionaries


Already a few times I got e - mails from different Christian missionaries, either in English or in German. If I do not believe in Mr. J. then I will go to hell. Furthermore, I got the advice to look into certain messianic ideas and if not, then my fate will be hell. To be honest, I really prefer going to hell than meeting any of those missionaries. Hell might be more interesting.
But what really surprised me was their arrogance and, at the same time, their ignorance concerning the Torah. Usually missionaries do not have a great Torah knowledge. They rather repeat what they were taught during their seminars. Surprisingly, they never come up with something new but keep on repeating the same confused ideas they already had hundreds of years ago.

After hundreds maybe even a thousand years, the Catholic church finally admitted that J.did not fulfill any requirements when he first showed up. The Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin lists all the conditions a Meschiach has to fulfill, and J. did nothing whatsoever and completely failed.
Finally after admitting this, the church made up another idea. J. has to come a second time and then he will fulfill anything we want. Well, if I was G-d, the last thing I would do was breaking my own laws. Why should I do that ? Do I have to come a second, a third, a fourth time in order to get my plan through ?
The second coming is a completely ridiculous idea.

Another popular quote from missionaries is that one of G - d's name is Elokim. Elokim is written in plural and therefore there must be many G - ds (according to Christian philosophy J., the holy spirit and the father).
According to Jewish understanding, Elokim is not a plural form, but the name includes different powers of G - d. For example, the powers with which He created the world.
If those missionaries just knew the Torah in its original version and not with false translations. Just look into Sefer Bereshit (Genesis) where it says:

"Bereshit bara Elokim et HaShamaim ve et Haaretz." - "In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth."

Where ever you see the word Elokim in the Torah, it is considered to be in the singular form. Just look at the verb before or behind Elokim and you will realize that the verb is in singular. Of course, you should know some Hebrew in order to see it.
Christians as well as many many Jews do not know the Torah in its original version and simply believe what they are told by other people or mistranslations. The best possibility for English speakers might be getting the ARTSCROLL - Torah with its translation and explanations.
A very famous quote from the missionaries is still the virgin birth thing representing another mistranslation from the prophets. There the Hebrew word does not mean virgin but young woman.

Torah, Talmud and prophets are written in metaphors and the deeper meanings have to be studied very carefully. However, Christians and missionaries do not bother with deeper study but read what they would like to see. If their opinions do not fit into the context, they make up stories and squeeze it in.

I do not know why Christians always try to convert the Jews. Once someone said to me that they are just jealous of not being Jewish. However, in Judaism (see Talmud Sanhedrin) we have the idea that Jews and Gentiles receive a place in Olam HaBah (the World to Come). The only thing Gentiles have to do is keeping the seven Noachide laws (see Talmud Sanhedrin).
Instead many Christians spread the opinion that G - d abandoned the Jews and now they are the chosen people. Again, if they really knew the Torah they wouldn't say such things. Especially in Sefer Devarim (Deutoronomy) it says several times that the laws given to the Jewish people in the Torah are eternal. One cannot just change G - d's rules and claim themselves as chosen.

One of my rabbis, Rabbi Meir Weiner, said that at least Christians have got the idea of a Creator. When they are being asked by G - d what they have done they will say that they got the concept but their forefathers gave them the wrong information.
I am just asking myself how they are going to justify the mass killings of Jews during the Middle Ages and today's second Holocaust called conversion of Jews into Christianity. More then a year ago the "Jerusalem Post" used this phrase Holocaust, as missionaries are destroying souls.
Hopefully a new law will pass in the Knesset. Then Israel can deport missionaries very easily.

Many more information about the tactics of the missionaries can be found here:

Thursday, May 3, 2007

A Chassidic Teaching from Rabbi Zisha


Rabbi Meshullam Zisha of Hanopol (a student of the Maggid of Mezritch) said before he departed from this world:

"In Olam Habah they will not ask me, "Zisha, why were you not Moshe ?" But they will ask me, Zisha, why were you not Zisha ?"
In other words, "Zisha, why did you not live up to your potential."

Once I came to my Rabbi's house on Erev Shabbat, and I was upset about myself, as I hadn't had the time to study the whole Torah Parasha for Shabbat, but others probably did. I told this to a friend of mine and his reply was: "Why are you concentrating on others ? Rather look at yourself. You did your best to study the Parasha and you succeeded in studying half of it. Therefore be proud of yourself."

Thoughts on Jewish Prayer


Already a few times I had been asked, if it is possible to say prayers in our own words, and not only the text as it is written in the Sidur. About ten years ago, I was asking the same question myself. And what about Tehillim (Psalms) ? Do I have to say them even I might feel that they talk about King David's problems without having anything to do with me ? The answer to the last question I found out very quickly. If you look at the Tehillim carefully you will realize that they also include our own problems.

First of all, a Jew has to pray three times a day by using to the Sidur. In the Amidah (silent prayer) one can add certain requests such as a job, a Shidduch or even a lottery win. If you ask for a Shidduch, one thing you cannot do: mentioning the name of a beloved person. Rather pray without mentioning a name, as it is up to G-d to find the right Shidduch or match for you.
The three daily main prayers should be said with a Minyan in the synagogue. Community prayer plays a very important role even if we sometimes feel that there we cannot really express our own personal needs. It has a great spiritual impact if each person in the synagogue is really concentrating on his prayer. Then the whole community is becoming a whole (Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his book "A Guide to Jewish Prayer).
Who ever prays at home alone should to so in a room with a window (Talmud Berachot). In case we do not pray in a room with a window, we might only see ourselves. However, we should realize that there are other people in this world and a window makes this very clear. According to others another reason is that through a window we can see the sky.

Especially chassidim very much emphasize the Hitbodedut. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said that each person should speak to G-d at least for one hour every day. If you don't have an hour so speak to G-d for twenty minutes or whatever time you have available. Speak to Him in your own personal words. According to Rabbi Nachman one can do this in a forest, in a field or alone at home.

If you have a request such as a better income, health etc., you should ask G-d for help. It says that no prayer remains unanswered. But if and when your requests are being fulfilled is up to G-d. Sometimes people expect an immediate answer and if nothing is happening they just give up.
Some time ago, I was at the Western Wall (Kotel) on a Shabbat morning. I saw an Israeli family and a woman asked her mother if she wants to put a piece of paper into the wall. No, said the mother, I did so last year and nothing has ever happened since.
This is a good example for how not to think. We simply cannot expect that five minutes after finishing the prayer, the mailman is standing in the door way and informing us about our lottery win.

In community and personal prayers we should show Kavanah (concentration). It is very human that our minds start wandering around. The Baal Shem Tov said that if this is happening to us, at the same moment we should continue concentrating and then negative thoughts are becoming positive ones.
Many chassidic rabbis such as Rabbi Nachman of Breslov say that we should say prayers coming from our heart rather then involving our minds. When you look into the Sidur and start searching for an intellectual meaning of the prayer you are getting lost. You think and don't pray any more. A real serious prayer only comes from the heart. According to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the best prayers are the ones you say when you are in trouble. Then it comes out spontaneously and only from you heart.
Every day, you should say your prayers with a new intension. As my Rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, likes to say: Who ever prayed exactly the same today as he did yesterday, hasn't really prayed today. Hence, prayers should never become a routine.
Another important thing is praying for other people as well. It says that if you pray for others your requests are being fulfilled first.
Sometimes we face situations where we can simply not pray. We are just not being in the right mood. In those times, we should still pray the three main prayers and we could add a short prayer for being able to pray.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz also mentions another prayer method. Many people like to pray with music. In Jerusalem you can see many people going to the Kotel and singing Psalms on their way. (I am talking here about religious Jews and not some Christian nutcases.)
Already at Temple times, music played an important role in the Temple service. It makes it much easier for people to get a better access and expressing their emotions. Last Shabbat I was at Rabbi Meir Weiner's house for the third meal. Among the others guests was a mother with her handicapped son. He was sitting in a wheel –chair and could hardly talk. As soon as we started singing Zemirot, he started singing enthusiastically by just being caught by the melodies.
One of the most famous rabbis for praying with songs was, of course, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Today, you can find many many Shlomo – Minyanim all over Jerusalem. But already King David (Shlomo HaMelech) composed melodies for his Tehillim.
When you go to a chassidic Tish, you will hear prayers together with songs. Music in prayer has a special power to cause emotions we would never express otherwise. In case, you haven't had this experience yet, maybe it is time for you to try.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Religious Children


I usually do not argue too much with my haredi friends but in case we do, it is about religious children. What really bothers me is that many haredi kids grow up outside Israeli society. They just live in their own religious neighbourhoods and hardly see any other people. Up to a certain age, they don't know anything about Israeli society. But who is getting the impression that it only concerns haredi kids might be mistaken. Also national religious children face the same problem.

Every week, I teach a small group of national religious children who go to the NOAM school. NOAM is a well – known national religious school with many branches all over the country. In order to get accepted at NOAM, the child has to be from a religious home. If the parents were born religious or became religious later in their lives, is irrelevant.
It goes without saying that the children have to dress modestly. Girls wear long skirts and shirts with long sleeves. Boys wear a kipa and long trousers, no shorts.
Girls and boys study in separate buildings due to modesty reasons. However, the main reason is that they study different subjects. Besides math, English, physics etc., boys study Talmud whereas the girls don't. The girls concentrate on Halachot (Jewish Law) and Torah.
In general, NOAM has a very good reputation but is rather expensive. After finishing NOAM, students are able to go to any university. Unfortunately, not many students do this, as they get married at a young age, and men are joining Yeshivot.

In haredi society, either chassidic or litvish, education is very different. There are exceptions but usually boys study at Talmud Torah and girls at Beit Yaakov. A Talmud Torah student should wear long black trousers and a white shirt. Beit Yaakov has its own school uniform: dark blue skirts and light blue blouses. Additionally, girls are not allowed wearing their long hair openly or wearing sneakers. I know a Chassidic girl whose teacher sent her home because she wore sneakers.
The classes are being taught in Hebrew whereas Yiddish is used in many chassidic community schools such as Satmar or Toldot Aharon. Already at a very young age, boys know whole passages from the Talmud by heart. I must admit that I really envy them.
Girls, of course, learn different things such as Halachot, how to run a household and Torah. They finish school at noon, much earlier than the boys. Haredi families have many children and it is customary that the elder children watch the younger ones. When the girl is coming home from Beit Yaakov she has to help her mother taking care of the household.

The issue I mostly criticize is that neither national religious not haredi kids have too much contact with other children at their age. It is very unlikely that national religious kids have haredi friends or vice versa. Or that religious kids have non – religious friends. Everybody just sticks to his own society.
Many chassidic such as Satmar only start learning the Hebrew language at the age of 14 or 15. Until then, they only know Yiddish in order to protect them from negative influences. I do understand their point, as non – religious could influence them let alone Christian missionaries who are not ashamed of trying to influence little children. However, it is sad that certain children or teenager cannot communicate due to the lack of the language, as the average Israeli does not know Yiddish at all.

I can also understand that religious parents do not want their kids having friendships with the non – religious. This would be rather hard, as one might talk about Shabbat and the other about eating cheeseburgers. What could be done is that religious schools can teach their students about the non – religious. Now this is mostly being done in a negative way like most non – religious are drug addicts etc.
Once I met someone who left the Chassidut Gur and he thought that the only way he can be accepted by Israeli society is by taking drugs. He told me that his teachers had told him so.

Some chassidim I talked to do agree with me but do not want to change the school system. Everybody wants to see his religious kids playing with other religious ones. And in haredi society no one would take the risk of rebelling against society, as each of them wants a good Shidduch for his child. Who ever wants to be accepted by the religious society does not make changes.

The Rebbes are coming


The Admor (Rebbe) of Gur and the litvishe Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinmann from Bnei Brak are visiting Marseille / France at the moment. Afterwards they are planning to visit further places in Europe.

The Admor (Rebbe) of Belz is traveling together with thousand Chassidim to the Ukranian town of Belz today. Rebbe Yissachar Dov Rokeach is only staying abroad for one day.