Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My unknown Future


Yesterday, someone asked me in an e - mail if I grew up chassidic and what do I personally gain from going to all the chassidic Tishes I write about. As I forgot to ask the person if I could mention his name, so I rather do not mention it here. First I thought about sending him a personal e - mail with all the answers. However, then I came to the conclusion that other people might be interested as well and I decided to publish my answer in my blog. Why not, it is not a secret.

I grew up non - religious and I do not remember that we even had a Tanach in the house. Somehow I believed that there is a G - d but never bothered to find out more. My life was too busy; high school, university, work. Just as everybody else's life. I never checked out Far East religions or anything, as I was not interested in religion.

When I was in my late twenties, I made the following agreement with myself: I know that there is ONE G - d but at the moment, I do not have the time to learn anything about it. First, I will work and have a normal life but later when I have time I will surely find out more. I think this is exactly what many people do. Well, not now but maybe later.

My perspective changed when I moved to Jerusalem. I was here as a tourist and had been in a Kibbutz Ulpan studying Hebrew. I was sick of Kibbutzim and, as I am a person who likes city life, I moved to Jerusalem. I had lived in Tel Aviv first but hated it.
So, I came to Jerusalem and did not really know where to go. I finally ended up in an Arab hostel in the Arab Quarter of the Old City. The place was dirty and full of non - Jewish tourists. There was even a young American couple where the guy was Jewish but the girl was not. I cannot describe it, but it bothered me a lot. Especially because I had been to the Western Wall (Kotel) on the same day. Not, that I had any great religious feelings at the Kotel but I did remember some kind of a Heritage. When I came back to the hostel and saw the mixed couple sitting there, I just blew up on them. I asked the Jewish guy if he is not ashamed walking around in Jerusalem with a Shickse. The guy was so surprised and did not say much but the "Shickse" was freaking out.
According to my later experience, it is mostly rather the non - Jewish part starting to yell at other Jews and call them a something than the Jewish part in the "relationship". I wonder why.:-)

The tourists in the hostel went on my nerves and I considered staying in Jerusalem and making Aliyah at a certain point. In the mornings I left and only came back in the evenings. During the day I was just walking through the city and getting to know it. Then someone told me that there are Shabbat placements for dinner at the Kotel. Every Friday night there is a guy giving the placements to Jewish tourists. I went and I cannot even remember if I wore a skirt or pants. I just went, found the guy who is a Jew from Chicago called Jeff Seidel. He send me to a Chabad rabbi. So, there I was. I was sitting in the middle of about 30 Jews and the rabbi and we were having Kiddush and dinner. Most of the people were just like me and not religious. Someone told me about a free hostel in the Old City called the Heritage House. Already on the next morning, I checked in. And then my religious life started.

The Heritage House also offers free evening classes and I became a complete addict going there. Additionally, they sent us to the Discovery - Program of the Yeshiva Aish HaTorah. I was amazed and soon the Heritage House classes were not enough any more. I went to the National Jewish Library and just studied as much as I could.
Then I went to Yeshiva. First with the national religious and later with the litvish.

However, one thing happened I had never thought of. I really wanted to have a haredi life - style but, for a reason I still so not understand, I could not do it then. I had a nervous breakdown and went back to Germany where I came from.
I think that the reason might have been that I did everything too fast instead of giving it time. Soon I felt squeezed into the haredi world and I missed my freedom. I felt like I could not fulfill all expectations. Especially not my own expectations. It was as if the body wanted but not the soul. Something kept me back.

I became just the opposite and started to hate all the religious. Seeing haredim on a bus and studying Talmud was a torture for me. They were sitting and studying and I simply could not do it and did not even know the reason.

When I look back it is as if I did not hate the religious but just myself for being unable of having a haredi life style.

I decided to take a break and lived in Germany for more than two years until I finally made Aliyah. There I started missing the religious life but also got adjusted to the European life again. Keeping kosher, finding Jewish friends and having a real Jewish life is almost impossible. Maybe it is different if one lives in Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich but still, this is not like Israel, New York or London. Germany cannot compete with any other place, and there everything felt like dead. German Jews are strange as well.

I was glad when I made Aliyah but did not really intend to go back to the religious. This time I wanted to be more careful and not just jump into something.

I went to Shiurim and to the synagogues but nothing further. Before I left and despite all my studies with the litvish, I was always attracted to chassidim. I got to know their life much better when I had a quite nice friendship with a Satmar family in Mea Shearim. Of course, Chabad tried to get me into their group and claimed that Satmar has nothing to offer. But the thing is that I love chassidut but could never make up my mind which group to join. I am not a group person anyway and prefer to go here and there. There are things I like about Gur or about Breslov, about Satmar or Toldot Aharon, but I cannot see myself becoming a member and following only one Rebbe.

Almost a year ago, I started my two religious blogs; one in German and one in English. As I had never stopped studying Judaism, I wanted to share some knowledge and thoughts. Especially in German where Jews hardly know anything and the reform movement rules everywhere. A little later, I decided to explain chassidic groups and I do not have a particular reason for this goal. After writing about Chabad, Breslov and Gur, I chose Vishnitz. Well, I do not know any Vishnitzer which started to bother me. Would it not be better going out and talking to chassidim in order to write about them ? One should not only quote from a book but actually speak to people. This is why I started going to the different Tishes.

The unexpected thing is that I got attached again. I do think a lot about becoming chassidic and I have been keeping certain customs for quite a while. The more I go, the more I think about it. However, I am still too afraid of jumping into something and getting another nervous breakdown. I have to admit that it is a crazy feeling: On Friday night I am sitting with the chassidim and on Mozzaei Shabbat I am back to my "normal" life. Living in two worlds so to speak.

Maybe someone has the same experience and could give an advice.

Tu Be' Av - 15th of Av


To many Jews, Tu Be' Av is an unknown holiday. Mourning the destruction of both Temples on Tisha Be' Av a week earlier is much more common than celebrating the Jewish "Valentine's Day" on 15th Av. Actually, we did celebrate Tu Be' Av already yesterday but last night, someone asked me if I could explain the meaning of this holiday in English. Even if it is a little late.

Tu Be' Av is a minor holiday from the Temple times. Then, Jewish singles use to go out into the fields and look for someone to marry. The Talmud explains the whole procedure and compares Tu Be' Av with Yom Kippur. It says in the Mishna in Taanit 26b as well as in the Gemarot in Taanit 30b and Bava Batra 121a that Israel had no days as festive as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.

What do have the fast day Yom Kippur and the happy day of Tu Be' Av in common ?
First of all, both days are joyful days. On Yom Kippur, G - d forgives us our sins and we are thankful about it. Singles used both days to meet each other. Single meetings on Yom Kippur afternoon were quite common in those days. People would sit and talk, as there was not much to do anyway.

The above mentioned Talmud Tractates also teach that the singles dressed up in white clothes. Each of them wore the same having the advantage that no one could tell if someone was rich or poor. Everybody looked just equal and had the same chances. The Talmud also teaches that the clothes were borrowed and, therefore, had to be immersed into the Mikveh.
According to Rashi, the white clothes had to be immersed as there might be a suspicion that the real owner did not keep the family purity laws (Taharat HaMishpacha). Then female and male Jewish singles went out into the fields finding their match.

Today, we do not necessarily go out into the fields finding someone but maybe we should still see the day as something special. In Israel it is a great day because Israelis always look for something to celebrate. They do celebrate the regular Valentine's Day but also Tu Be' Av. Remembering Tu Be' Av is even more special, as it is a day our ancestors celebrated in Talmudic times. People usually buy flowers and cook a nice meal in the evening.

Tu Be' Av was yesterday but I still wish you great success in finding your match. Enjoy the search.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Chassidic Tish with Kretchnif


After our disappointment that the Rebbes of Toldot Aharon and Toldot Avraham Yitzchak had not returned yet, we went for a Tish at Chassidut Kretchnif. A friend of mine had described the way there very well and we found their synagogue quite easily. Although they have a huge building complex, the chassidut is rather small.

On our way there, we finally found the women's entrance into the synagogue of the third Toldot Aharon split - off, the Shomrei Emunim. It sounds funny but, so far, my friend and I had always been unable to spot out the women's entrance. If you stand right in front of the building in Mea Shearim Street you will see only one door which is, of course, for the men. We even asked a few people passing by but as the Shomrei Emunim group is rather unknown, no one could really help us.

As we were walking by last Friday, I overheard a conversation of a mother and her daughters. They were planning to go to the Shomrei Emunim Tish and while they were talking, they already disappeared in a certain staircase. We ran after them and they led us into the Shomrei Emunim synagogue. It is not too easy getting there and first we had to climb shaky stairs in the dark. However, it was an adventure.

Their synagogue is small but beautiful. Especially their Aron HaKodesh. Although they did not have a Tish, we very much enjoyed seeing the synagogue from the inside. We still have to find out when they do have a Tish which might be once a month or so, as their Rebbe lives in Bnei Brak and is in his eighties.

But back to Kretchnif were we went afterwards.
Also at Kretchnif, women have to climb up many stairs until they get to the women's section. First, the stairs will lead you to a balcony and then just find a certain door. My friend and I had the experience before that we chose wrong entrances and when we saw all the doors at Kretchnif, we were horrified. Carefully, we opened one door and well, it was the right one for a change.
As Kretchnif does not have too many members, the women's section was small. Too small for that night, as there were actually many people. We made our way to the Mechitza and could see very well what was going on downstairs. The Rebbe was in a great mood and kept on singing all the time. He just had a tiny interruption when he ate. However, he did not bother too much about the food but kept on singing enthusiastically.

The men's section was full and we spotted out many chassidim from different groups. Also from Toldot Aharon or Avraham Yitzchak. They both wear the same clothes which makes it almost impossible to distinguish between them without asking.
We stayed for a little more than an hour. On our way home, we found the Munkatch synagogue which we have never spotted out before. It was an extremely hot summer night and even after one o'clock at night, the streets in Mea Shearim were crowded. Local couples went for a walk and outsiders were searching for chassidic Tishes. It was a great atmosphere.

This coming Friday, we are invited for dinner at the Biale Rebbe in Givat Shaul. The younger one and not the one who always comes for the high holidays from Switzerland.

If anyone of you is looking for a great chassidic Tish, I can highly recommend Kretchnif.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Chassidic Tish on Shabbat


Also this Leil Shabbat, my friend and I are going to a chassidic Tish. So far, we have no idea if the Rebbe of Toldot Aharon is back from his summer vacation. However, if not, we are going to Chassidut Dushinsky and Kretchnif.

Here are two great videos from Chassidut Kretchnif in Mea Shearim. Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom.



Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bienvenu - Baruch Haba - Welcome


The good news is that 600 Jews from France made Aliyah yesterday. At Ben Gurion Airport, they were welcomed by the new Israeli President Shimon Peres.

As I seem to have many readers in Paris and maybe even among the new Olim, I wish you all the best in your old / new home Israel.

I know some immigrants from France and can tell you that most of them did get adjusted to Israeli life very easily. The French seem to have the same mentality as Israelis and learn Hebrew very fast.

A few thoughts on Parashat Va'etchanan


In this week's Parasha, Moshe is asking Hashem if he is allowed to enter Eretz Israel. So far, Moshe was not allowed to enter and meant to die without crossing the Jordan river due to the sin of hitting the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it.

In Talmud Sotah 14a, the question is being asked why Moshe was so anxious to enter Eretz Israel. The answer is that only in Eretz Israel, Jews are able to fulfill all the Mitzwot. Abroad they are limited. Just look at the coming up Shemittah year which only applies to Israel.
Prayers from Jews abroad do NOT go straight up to Heaven but first go to Israel, then to Jerusalem and then go up to G - d. Whereas prayers from Jews in Israel go directly up to Heaven.

Well, I do not think that Moshe had a problem with his prayers no going up immediately but still he was extremely anxious to fulfill all the Mitzwot.

Another very important issue in this week's Parasha is Intermarriage. All over the world as well as in Israel, Intermarriage is becoming the greatest danger to Judaism. Just look at the figures in the UK or the US. Unfortunately, also in Israel we do face the problem more and more. Many secular Israelis go to the Far East after their army service and when they come back, they come with a woman from India, the Philippines or a European non - Jewish tourist they met somewhere.

In Parashat Va'etchanan, Moshe tells the Jews not to assimilate with the nations which are living in Eretz Israel. The Canaanites, the Jebusites etc.
Destroy all of their images, do not turn to their idol worship and do not marry them. In Talmud Avodah Zarah 36a the question is coming up if the Torah only prohibits marriages between the Canaanites and the Jews and if it does not concern marriages between Jews and other Gentiles.
The answer is that the students of Hillel and Shammai as well as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai say that this Torah law concerns ALL marriages between Jews and Gentiles. The Talmud Tractate Kiddushin 68a says that marriages between Jews and Gentiles are invalid according to Halacha. In case, the non - Jewish partner decides to convert to Judaism, the case is seen differently (orthod. conversion).
If you want to learn more you can look up the RASHBA on Tosafot and the Rambam (Mishna Torah - Hilchot Biah 12:1).

People who do intermarry mostly only see themselves and do not consider the problems they are causing. First of all, there will be many problems for the future generations. Children from those marriages do have an identity problem.
I have seen many of such children coming to Jerusalem. They became interested in studying in an orthodox Yeshiva and suddenly faced the problem that they had a non - Jewish mother and were not Jewish at all. Some even started hating their parents for doing such a thing as getting intermarried. The youngsters had to convert to Judaism and sometimes the non - Jewish mother made problems, as she rather wanted to see her child in church.

I heard about another famous American case where a Jewish girl wanted to marry a non - Jewish guy. However, the guy underwent an orthodox conversion course and, in the end, did not want to marry the Jewish girl any more. He became too religious and did not want to bother with a Jewish girl who is prepared to marry a non - Jew.

Even if Jews live abroad, they should always be aware of their special task in life. The Chozeh of Lublin, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, said that our soul roots are in the Sefirot and in the names of HaShem. "You are a holy people and you are holy to Me". Unfortunately, too many Jews forget about this when the live among the nations. Money, cars, job etc., anything seems to be more important than their own identity.

Some months ago, there was an American guy at Rabbi Mordechai Machlises house on Shabbat who made a desperate speech. It was Shabbat afternoon and the guy said that at the same moment while he is talking, his brother in the States is getting married to a non - Jewish girl. When he was speaking, he was almost crying, as he was studying in the Yeshiva Ohr Sameach next door. He was so desperate that he asked the rabbi if there is anything we can do to cancel the wedding. Actually, he had though of a curse.

Of course, there was nothing we could have done and a curse is not the right response. Hopefully, sooner or later the brother will come to the conclusion to separate from his non - Jewish wife and find his real soul mate. Or the wife might convert to Judaism. Who knows ?

Anybody considering an Intermarriage at this moment and reading this article should reconsider it. Think about what you cause and what you do to your future children.
Each of us should think about our Jewish task in life, our purpose in this world and who created us.

Shabbat Shalom to all of you.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter versus Shabbat


One of our greatest problems in Israel and probably in the whole Jewish world is that many of us Jews want to be just like everyone else. Maybe a little more in the secular than in the religious world.

In Israel it is quite common that people just want to be European and only when it comes to anti - Semitism, suddenly even secular Israelis realize that they cannot just dump their Jewish identity.

However, last Friday night, many Israelis made another attempt to dump their identity. Last Friday night was one of the greatest events of the year. At least it seemed so. The seventh Harry Potter book was made accessible to the public and readers just ran into the book stores.

Friday night is not a problem for Gentiles, however, for Jews it is. It was a whole paradox for us, as it was a Friday night and Shabbat Chazon.

There are times when someone could say, okay, let the secular in Tel Aviv run into the book store, what do I care. But the thing is that this time we really should care. Jews should be a light to the nations but when we look at ourselves what do we see ?
Do the same Jews who go crazy about Harry Potter go crazy about studying the Torah ? Especially during the Bein HaMizrim and a few hours before Tisha Be' Av we should think about this question.

Whatever Jews do to be just like everyone else, they fail. None of us can escape G - d's will, His Torah and His goal for us. And if we do not get it ourselves, the Gentiles will always remind us of who we are. Either in a positive or negative way.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The old Dispute


Not too long ago, I was sitting at a Shabbat dinner table in Rabbi Mordechai Machlises house in Jerusalem, and someone mentioned Chabad in his speech. A litvishe Yeshiva guy who was sitting right across, smiled sarcastically to himself.
The litvishe haredim do not like Chabad too much and vice versa, but to smile with such hatred in his eyes was terrible. I was stunned but did not say anything.

Now, as Tisha Be' Av is coming up, I could say that Jews need more Achdut and have to love each other. We have to accept all halachic Jews and show respect. Ahavat Israel.

However, as hard as we try, it does not always work. Of course, there is the old dispute between the midnagdim and the chassidim. The midnagdim with their spiritual leader, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman - the Gaon of Vilna, hated the chassidim. The Vilna Gaon himself never met any chassidic rabbi and just new about chassidut from testimonies and other establishments. Other rabbis came to him and told him about the new chassidic movement which they obviously saw as a great competitor.

However, it was the time when the false Meschiach Shabbtai Zvi died and all his followers were disappointed. No Meschiach but just a complete fake.
The Vilna Gaon suspected the new chassidic movement to continue the ridiculous ideas of Shabbtai Zvi but he was wrong. Had he ever taken the time and spoken to any chassidic rabbis, history might have been very different. Although he was a great Talmid Chacham (his commentary on the Book of Jonah is the best I have ever read), he banned the chassidim, burnt their books and banned them from the communities.
No wonder that the chassidim were glad when he died.

It sounds absurd but the two movements became friendly as soon as the Haskalah and reform movement started. Neither midnagdim nor chassidim want Jews to join the reform or conservative movement who do not recognize the Torah as G - d given and unchangeable.

Another famous dispute between a chassidic group and the midnagdim took place more than twenty years ago. The spiritual leader of the Litvaks in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Schach, had the famous argument with the last Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shneerson.
Chabad has a long negative history with the midnagdim which already started back in Lithuania. The midnagdim went to the Russian authorities and reported Chabad rabbis, including the Rebbe, as enemies of the Czar. Quite a few times, the Chabad Rebbes were put under house arrest and the chassidim were greatly offended by the midnagdim.

I do not want to mention the difference between the orthodox, conservative or reform, as I do consider reform and conservative almost as a new kind of religion. They changed the Torah according to their own needs, they changed the Sidur which was mostly put together by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah and the worst is, that they support intermarriage and even consider the children from intermarried couples as Jewish. You have a Jewish father hence you are Jewish. A disaster for Judaism.

So, how are we going to approach the upcoming Tisha Be' Av ? Does it mean we have to have Achdut also with Jews who go against Torah ? Maybe it is a special challenge. But so far, I am anything but friendly with the reform. I think that the foundation of this movement is a real Jewish tragedy.

And what about midnagdim and chassidim ? Can they love each other ?
Many many times I thought about this question, as I myself keep chassidic customs but learned in litvishe Yeshivot, except when I was studying with Chabad.

According to my own experience, many litvishe rabbis do not have a clue about chassidut. They say "the chassidim" but do not realize that there are so many differences among chassidic groups. Even when say speak about Chabad, each Chabadnik is seen as someone who believes in the Rebbe to be the Meschiach.

Concerning the midnagdim / chassidim subject, I think it is most important that people learn about each other. I am sure that the guy at the dinner table did not have a clue about Chabad or any chassidut when he was smiling with hatred, and this should be changed. At least, it would be a start.

Civil Marriages in Israel


The sephardi chief rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, made an agreement with the Israeli Minister of Justice, Daniel Friedman. According to the new agreement, it is possible to have civil marriages in Israel.

Today there are thousands of new immigrants (Olim) living in Israel who are not – Jewish according to Halacha. Those non – Jewish immigrants (mostly Russians) cannot get married, as there are only weddings which are permitted by the Rabbanut. This is now going to change.

Israelis who are not halachically Jewish, are allowed to have civil marriages. In other words, the non – Jews can only marry each other, and the law does not apply to marriages between Jews and Gentiles.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chassidic Tish on Shabbat Chazon


It will not be easy for those of you looking for a chassidic Tish in Jerusalem this Shabbat. There is not too much going on, as Shabbat Chazon (the Shabbat before Tisha Be' Av) is coming up.

The Toldot Aharon and the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Tishes are not available until a week or two after Tisha Be' Av.

The Belzer Rebbe is around but not giving a Tish this coming Shabbat. But he will lead the synagogue service.

The Slonim might be open but I am not sure. The same with Dushinsky and Kretchniv.

My advice is, just go to Mea Shearim and ask the locals about the Slonim. It is the easiest to find.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

From a Missionary to a Haredi


Some time ago, the national religious weekly paper "Sheva" published a very interesting article about the famous Yad Le' Achim activist, Benjamin Kluger.

Yad Le' Achim is an Israeli anti - missionary organization with many branches all over the country. Their task is to spot out Christian missionaries, get in touch with the Israeli authorities, and in many cases it leads to the deportation of the missionary.
Israelis from many background call Yad Le' Achim every day in order to report new missionaries and their actions. Then Yad Le' Achim is taking action.

One of their most famous activists is the French born Benjamin Kluger. Famous because he has a rather unusual life story to tell.
Benjamin Kluger was born in France as a Roman Catholic. He was very much into religion and already at the age of 13, he was trying to convince people in the streets to become a good Christian. He handed out pamphlets and invited them to Bible classes.

However, after some years he began to doubt certain Catholic believes and started to ask questions. He asked his priest why there are so many statues in the church and how a priest can counsel married couples if he himself is not married. Hence, he does not have a clue about relationships.
He did not find any answers and decided to become a Protestant. As he was so successful, the church planned sending him to Israel. There he should start his mission against the Jews.

But then everything did not work out as the church was planning. Another missionary had been so successful by inviting a Jew to a Bible class. All the Christians there were so excited. Wow, we can convince a Jew and "safe" him. Benjamin Kluger did not understand the excitement and asked a priest. The priest told him how important it is to make the Jews believe in J.C. If they do, the time of the coming of the Meschiach (J.C. ???) is coming closer. Benjamin Kluger claimed that it is more important to first turn the non - believing Christians into religious people. Why concentrate on other religions ?
In the end, the priest started to teach the Torah to Benjamin Kluger. How one can convince the Jews to believe in J.C.

All the priest's explanation did not satisfy him, as there were too many contradictions. He kept on asking the priest for explanations but he did not find any answers. I wonder why ?
Finally, Benjamin Kluger called up a Chabad - Rabbi in Lille (France) and within a few minutes, all his questions were being answered. He came to Israel and converted to Judaism. He is married and has three children. Besides his Yeshiva studies, he runs the Jerusalem Yad Le' Achim branch. Unfortunately, he says, there are too many missionaries in Israel. Even in the army.

Yad Le' Achim, however, is quite successful. Together with the municipality they close down Christian soup kitchens and other institutions.
More and more Christian missionaries come to Jerusalem and open up soup kitchens. Their goal is not to do any Chesed but rather use poverty for their own purposes. They are not ashamed of trying to persuade Jews who are in financial need. Believe in J.C. and we surely help you.

The Torah has nothing to do with the New Testament. Judaism and Christianity are two different religions even if the church claims something else. The missionaries are too afraid of talking to Jews who know about their religion. Instead, they jump on Jews who do not know much and have a weaker personality.

For each of us Jews it is very important to know at least the basics of Judaism. In any case, you should get some information about the real facts.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Chodesh Tov


Although we are decreasing our joy in the month of Menachem Av, I wish you a great and successful new month.

Chodesh Tov

New / old demonstrations and a new Tish


As usual, my friend a me went to a chassidic Tish in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood last Leil Shabbat. First we wanted to go to Rabbi Mordechai Machlis for dinner. As we passed Shivtei Israel Street in Mea Shearim, we found the street blocked for the traffic. Well, the whole neighbourhood is usually shut down for traffic on Shabbat but this time, also the road nearby was closed by the police.

The reason was that another demonstration was taking place. At 7.30pm, the Toldot Aharon group planned a gathering right in front of the police station on the Russian Compound. They were demonstrating for those haredim who got arrested at the anti - Gay Parade demonstrations in the town of Beit Shemesh and who are still sitting in jail. Some chassidic kids tried to provoke the police but nothing further happened.

After finishing dinner we went back to Mea Shearim. It is anything but easy finding a chassidic Tish these days, as most of the Rebbes went away for their summer vacation. Already during the week, a friend of mine told me about a chassidic group having a Tish. So, we ended up going to the Slonim, a group I hardly knew about. However, I try to gather more information about them and then write an article.

When my friend and I go for a Tish, we always face two problems. The first one is finding out if also women are permitted to the Tish, and the second problem is finding the women' s entrance into the synagogue. Sometimes this is not as easy as you might think.
Exactly those two problems we were facing in front of the Beit Knesset of the Slonim in Mea Shearim. The building seems to be almost brandnew and it has coloured very nice looking windows.

No one else was in the street so we walked up and down in order to find someone to ask. Suddenly we saw some women coming and followed them. However, we were too slow and lost them. Then we ended up choosing the wrong entrance and three men walked in as well. They almost fainted when they saw us. Nevertheless, we did not get stoned but were rather told in a nice way where we could find the women's entrance.

The women sit on the second floor and when we arrived, we hardly found any women. Later, I was told that the Slonim in Jerusalem have the custom that their women do not participate in the Tish. However, some of them were there, including some guests.

If one looks at the Slonim he might get the impression that they look very similar to the Gerer chassidim. But there are differences. Especially the shape of the head, the Streimel and the way they wear their pants.
The Slonim seem to be very disciplined and all of them were waiting what the Rebbe did. Did he start to sing or give out wine. No one dared to speak but just concentrated on the Rebbe.
Many guests entered the men's section. One of the reasons was that there was hardly another Tish available.

What we realized was that the Slonim have a doorman near the entrance to the men's section. Someone told me that the reason for this is that they were facing problems in the past. Litvaks and other outsiders came in and started trouble.
We could see that. As soon as a young Litvak group walked in, the doorman jumped on them and obviously told them to behave.

As far as we saw, the Rebbe did not have a meal and neither made Kiddush. They passed around some wine and had a LeChaim. Kugel and cake was also available. Not for the women, I have to add. We were lucky that we had eaten already. One thing we did miss - the air-condition. The men had one downstairs, upstairs we did not.
We only stayed for a little more than an hour and that is why I cannot say too much. The songs sounded rather sad but there was one thing we really liked. At a certain time, many chassidim lined up in front of the Rebbe and bowed down to give him Kavod. This is a very nice Minhag, I have to say.
We are planning to go back to their Tish and stay longer.

After we left the Slonim, we walked down to the Dushinsky group. Unfortunately, we were told that they did not have a Tish that night. What a surprise ? Everything is shut down before Tisha Be' Av.

We walked up Strauss Street again and passed the Satmar construction site. In Elul, the Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, is coming to Jerusalem to lay the foundation stone for a new 10 - floor - apartment complex. As we passed the exact site we could hear loud disco music. About 150 Meters far away, Satmar is going to face a Russian disco with noisy music. Once the apartment building will be finished, Satmar has to react in order to have a quiete Shabbat.

Friday, July 13, 2007

New Digs on Har HaBait


Who does not remember the wild riots a few months ago ? Israel was accused of digging underneath the Har HaBait (Temple Mount) and thus destroying "holy" Muslim sights.

After an earthquake about three years ago, the bridge leading from the Western Wall (Kotel) up to the Temple Mount fell apart.
Then a few months ago, Israel started building a new bridge and Muslim riots started right away. The Muslims were claiming that Israel is trying to conquer the Temple Mount and throw the Muslims out. As ususal, the worldwide press and many people were against us.
One Friday afternoon, the Muslims started riots while they were praying. They threw stones and anything they could get hold of at Israeli soldiers. Later they claimed that the Israeli army had provoked them and had locked them up in the Al - Aksa - Mosque.
Well, I was on top of the steps leading down to the Kotel and I could see Palestinians throwing stones and running around freely. No one was locked up.

Some days ago, the Palestinians started a dig leading from the northern site of the Temple Mount to the Dome of the Rock. They got the permission from the Israeli police. However, no one ever asked archeologists or other authorities, as there might be a danger that now the Palestinians try to destroy remains of the Beit HaMikdash. It would not be the first time, by the way.

Now, no one outside Israel is protesting, no BBC and CNN are showing up. In other words, no one gives a .... when the Palestinians do something against the Temple Mount. I am sure that no one of you even knows about the new digs.

In the meantime, Israel finished building the bridge.

Miriam' s well found ?


A weekly haredi paper claims that Miriam's well might be found very soon. At least that there is a great possibility.

According to the Arizal (Shaar HaGilgulim), Miriam's well is hidden in the middle of the Kinneret at Tiberias. However, he does not give any exact location in the book.
His famous student, Rabbi Chaim Vital, did publish writings while he was living in Damascus.
He claimed that once he traveled together with the Arizal to Tiberias and they went down to the Kinneret. They were in the middle of the lake, right across an old synagogue. The Arizal took water out of the lake and gave it Rabbi Vital to drink.
Then the Arizal said to Rabbi Vital that at the moment you drink this water, your chochma will be on its highest point. This is the water which our ancestors drank in the desert.
Rabbi Vital said that afterwards his level of chochma was at its peak.

Now, the ruins of an ancient synagogue have been discovered, and it might be that same one, Rabbi Vital was talking about. We will see...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Jonah Metzger against Career


The Israeli ashkenazi chief Rabbi Jonah Metzger said that religious women should not consider a career and, therefore, just dump their kids at home. A woman is allowed to work but she has to know certain boundaries. She can support her husband but nothing beyond that. A women's role is raising the children and taking care of the household.

I am not a person going according to the chief rabbinate (Rabbanut) but rather go with Belz. I do not consider the rabbis from the Rabbanut as my rabbis and especially not the chief rabbis.

Of course, in Chassidut you probably do not find such different opinions regarding women. Many chassidic women do work and have a career (e.g. Chabad) and others work and do not consider a career. A woman from Satmar would not go for a career but every chassidic group and each woman has to decide it individually.

However, I do not agree with Rabbi Metzger's opinion that the family has to suffer from a career mother. In many cases women are able to do both; career and family. It depends on the woman and on the rest of the family. Furthermore, there are many women who are more capable of making a career rather than a man. Sometimes I feel that men talk like that out of jealousy. There are men who just cannot handle a woman being a little more intelligent and successful. This is especially the case in many Jewish orthodox societies.

Well, now all the male readers can claim the opposite. But if you look into psychology or sociology you will find out that many orthodox do agree with me.

Each family should manage their own lives. Career yes or no, people have a right to make their own decisions, and

Rabbi Metzger does not pay for their bills, food and rent. The income has to come from somewhere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Bnei Noach


Today, many people decide to leave church for whatever reason and search for a different religion. But not everybody who decides to believe in the oneness of G – d has automatically to convert to Judaism. People who start realizing that there is only ONE G – d and not any trinity, are facing another option than converting to Judaism.

Not everybody is made for keeping 613 Mitzwot (laws) and leading a Jewish religious lifestyle after conversion and especially those people should consider becoming a Noahide. In Europe the Noahides are not too famous yet, but there is a huge movement in the US.
Every Gentile has the possibility of becoming a Noahide and keep the seven Noahide Laws. He does not have to give up his whole lifestyle and change his identity.

For most converts to Judaism it would have been much better to become a Noahide instead, as many many converts are not interested in keeping the Mitzwot after their Giur. This is the reason why I decided to explain more about the Noahide Laws and their Talmudic and Halachic sources.

In this article I only mention the most important Halachot and whoever wants to know more about the subject can go to:



The Noahide Laws are called by this name, as all mankind comes from Noach and his sons. When Noach left the ark, G – d made a new covenant with the people. G – d also allowed the people to eat meat. Before the flood, everybody was a vegetarian. It says in Talmud Sanhedrin 56a – b that Noach only received the seventh and last Noahide Law (not to eat a limb from a living animal), as Chava and Adam HaRishon had already received the first six laws in Gan Eden.

You can find a list of the Noahide Laws in Talmud Sanhedrin 56a:

1. Introducing a court system

2. No blaspheming the names of G – d and not using them in vain.

3. No idolatry, means that people only believe in ONE G – d and not in any representatives or sons and fathers.

4. No sexual perversion.

5. No murder.

6. No theft.

7. No eating a limb from a living animal.

The Gemara also adds sterilization and sorcery.

Whoever keeps those seven Mitzwot is seen a righteous Gentile and has a place in the World to Come (Olam HaBah). See also Talmud Sanhedrin 105a.
In Judaism we do have the concept that also righteous Gentiles do have a place in the World to Come. No one is excluded, as in other religions.

Furthermore, the Noahides do not have to keep Shabbat. According to the Mishna Berurah (Hilchot Shabbat) they are permitted to work for their own needs on Shabbat. However, a Jew is not allowed to tell a Noahide to do any kind of work for him.
It is stated in Talmud Shabbat that a Gentile is not allowed to keep Shabbat according to Jewish Halacha. Literally it says that a Gentile keeping Shabbat is worse than a Jew not keeping Shabbat. The result would be that the Gentile receives a much harsher punishment than the Jew.
The Noahide does not have to keep Kashrut. For instance, he is permitted to eat meat from an animal which was not ritually (according to Jewish law) slaughtered (Talmud Yevamot 48b). The only thing he has to keep is not to eat a limb from a living animal (Ever Min HaChai).

According to Talmud Yevamot 48b, a Noahide is getting the status "Ger Toshav" when he lives in Israel. At this point I have to add that this is not the case today, as our Ministry of Interior has different laws and a Noahide cannot just live in Israel. However, in Talmudic days it used to be the case.

No other Jewish group is promoting the Noahides as much as Chabad (see link above). A famous Noahide is the American archeologist Vendyl Jones. Jones used to be a religious Christian until he looked deeper into religious matters and decided to become a Noahide. All of his children converted to Judaism and live a Jewish religious life in Israel. Vendyl Jones himself decided not to convert, as he sees his mission in finding Temple relics and if he converted, he would Halachically not be allowed to touch certain relics. Among others he is very famous for finding the Ketoret from the Second Beit HaMikdash. He also claims to have found the real location of the biblical city of Sodom.

A Noahide can convert to Judaism but, in case, he decides later to go back to his Noahide roots he cannot do so (see Mishna Torah – Sefer Shoftim – Chapter 10). Halachically, a Jew always remains a Jew, even if he changes his religion.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Prejudices against Chassidic Women


Each of us knows that there are more than enough prejudices against chassidic women. Maybe not too many against women from Chabad or Breslov, as many of them even work in different academic fields. I am more talking about Satmar, Toldot Aharon or further groups which do not really associate with our, what we call, daily lives.

Last week I had another experience of this kind. A certain Israeli university shows interest in my writings about the chassidic group Toldot Aharon. Abroad many people are not too familiar with those chassidim and, therefore, cannot imagine what it means to publish some information about this group. In Israel people usually do know the name but, as Toldot Aharon are a very closed society, no one knows details. Anyone writing about them might go to their Tish and read the hardly existing literature. However, no one bothers too much talking to the group members.
I am planning to continue writing about Toldot Aharon but not for academic purposes. I am interested in the group and started to admire their members.

Anyway, I told a university professor about my writings and she got very excited. Immediately she printed out all my reports so far but at the end she asked me from where I am getting my information. I told her that I speak to the women of Toldot Aharon.
What only the women ? The professor almost fainted but I told her that not everyone needs to have a PhD. or another academic title. People including chassidic women can be intelligent without going to universities. And by the way, most women I spoke to so far, did have an IQ and were intelligent.

It is really sad and a bad prejudice that people do think this way. Being chassidic does not automatically mean being stupid.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Christian Missionaries in Rehavia


This week, I read in a haredi paper that the anti - missionary organization Yad Le'Achim was finally successful.

A certain messianic community in the Rehavia neighbourhood planned to extend their building. They wanted to add another building including a soup kitchen and dormitories.
By the way, it has become very popular among missionaries to use the poor population for their purposes. As everyone can imagine, they do not only serve food but also hand out missionary booklets.
Jews have a Mitzwa of doing Chesed and if you go to a Jewish religious soup kitchen in Jerusalem, everyone is welcomed and no one is being missionized. Not so at the Christian soup kitchens. Either you show a certain interest or you will not get your food for such a long time. By the way, who is going their anyway, as the food is not kosher at all ?

Anyway, thanks to Yad Le' Achim and the inhabitants of Rehavia that the municipality did not allow an extension of the missionary building. Especially neighbours complained that their children were playing in the street and the messianics came along to missionize them.

Shavua Tov


Unfortunately, this Shabbat we were not able to participate in the Toldot Aharon Tish, as their whole group was traveling. I have to say that my friend and I really really missed them. So, Be'Ezrat HaShem, everything will be working out fine next Shabbat.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The garbage is burning again


Last night, I went to the Yahrzeit of my Rabbi's mother, Rebbitzen Machlis (from New York). Rabbi Mordechai Machlis invited everybody to his home in Jerusalem for a Seudah. I arrived a little later and the whole living - room was already packed. The teachings and the food were great, and when my friend and I left at about 10.30 pm, we took a shortcut through Mea Shearim.

From far away, we saw smoke rising and the police had already closed the Shivtei Israel Street leading into the Mea Shearim neighbourhood. I asked a policeman what is going on and he said that in this particular neighbourhood people do not need a reason for demonstrations. They just do it. Another policewoman said that the situation is under control and everything is taken care of.

We continued walking and were surrounded by burning garbage cans. Actually the smell was not too bad and we looked around for people to ask why this kind of demonstration took place. But the haredim were just rushing around and no one seemed to be responsible or even interested. Others were standing on their balconies and watching the garbage melting.

A group of Breslovers was standing at the side and suddenly a camera team from the private HOT - channel arrived. They just jumped onto the Breslovers and wanted to know what is going on. The Breslovers, however, were just laughing and said that they neither burnt the garbage cans nor knew what is going on.
The reporter tried his best to get some information out of them but eventually gave up.

My friend and I decided to leave the scene, as a few meters further, we met the Breslov guy who refused to speak to the reporter. He grinned and I asked him for the reason of the demonstration.
It is all because of Beit Shemesh, he said. There, haredim have been arrested for demonstrating and, therefore, the garbage was burnt in Mea Shearim. But he also claimed that he does not know who is standing behind it, as Breslov has nothing to do with this.

Then he took his wife and his son and drove away in his car. Maybe to Beit Shemesh…

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Back to the anti - Semitic Rite ?


According to "The Jerusalem Post" and the British "Independent", Pope Benedict XVI. is planning to reintroduce the Latin rite. The Latin rite includes certain prayers which are definitely anti - Semitic. If this reintroduction is really going to take place, Roman Catholics are going to say a prayer on Good Friday where it says that the Jews are blind and they should take away their veil from their eyes. As the Jews are blind, they simply do not see who the real Meschiach is. Well, as you might guess, according to the Christians this is J.

I have heard this opinion many times before from Christian missionaries but I did not know that it actually stems from a Catholic doctrine from the 16th century. With or without the Pope's plans, the idea that the Jews are blind is still very much alive today. Not only among Catholics.

The Jews are blind and do not see the real truth. I can hardly imagine that anything could be more absurd. People who do not have any clue about Judaism and have something to hide always seek for excuses and justifications. It makes it very convenient for them.

Now, we are automatically confronted with the question if there can be a Jewish - Christian dialog at all. I do not know how it is in other parts of the world but in Europe, Christianity always wants a dialog with the Jews. But how can there be a kind of a dialog when the Christians claim that the Jews are blind ?

Personally I am not in favour of such a dialog at all, as Judaism and Christianity are two completely different religions. Although church claims that Christianity comes from Judaism, both religions have nothing to do with each other.

As I finished writing this article, I can put on my veil again. If anyone has a comment on this should take into consideration that I might be too blind seeing it.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Different ideas and different personalities


Last Shabbat I made a brief speech at the Shabbat lunch at Rabbi Machlise' s house in Jerusalem. Among other things I spoke about the tragedies of split - offs within chassidic groups. In my opinion, it is always a tragedy when two sons of a rebbe fight about leadership. Just look at the present cases at Vishnitz in Bnei Brak or Satmar in New York.

When brothers fight about leadership, the group is falling apart. Suddenly family members, relatives or friends become enemies, as they might follow another brother who wants to be the new rebbe. People do not speak to each other any more and even burn certain books which they claim are not suitable any more (see Vishnitz in Bnei Brak).

Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, however, suggested a different aspect. He said that sometimes a split of a group might be much better than suffering inside on group.

I thought about his idea and came to the conclusion that in some cases he could be right. So far, I have just mostly been inquiring about Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak and do not necessarily have the greatest experience. But from what I see at those two groups is that their rebbes and members have different personalities.
Generally, this could be the reason why different chassidim follow different rebbes. One likes a more simple rebbe, another one wants a charismatic rebbe. One prefers a rebbe ruling like a king and another wants to be more free and lead his own life inside the chassidut. If someone wants to be more free, then why suffering in a group where the rebbe wants to be worshipped or creates a kind of kingdom ?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Yahrzeit of Rabbi Amram Blau (Bloi)


I am definitely not a Neturei Karta fan but for all of you who are interested (you do not have to be necessarily Neturei Karta:-), today was Rabbi Amram Blau's 33rd Yahrzeit.

In Israel, people still remember him. Religious or non - religious, it does not matter. Until his death in 1974, he used to be a very famous character in Mea Shearim / Jerusalem.

He was the famous head of the Mea Shearim Neturei Karta and demonstrated against anything. He was arrested, released, arrested, released...He had wild beatings with the police and eventually got married to the French convert Ruth.
His Neturei Karta group did not allow the wedding with a convert to Judaism but, nevertheless, nothing stopped him from marrying her. The result was that he had to live in the Bnei Brak exile for more than a year.

Last night he was remembered in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood. A Mishnayiot study took place in his honour.

A whole night with Toldot Aharon


So, what seems to be so special about another night at the rebbe's Tish of the chassidic group Toldot Aharon ?

Well, very special is that this time, my friend and I stayed right until the end of the Tish. In the past weeks, we always left after an hour or so and moved on to their split - off Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. Last Friday, however, we stayed at Toldot Aharon and did not regret it at all.

First of all, the Tish is not the same. The Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Kahn, starts earlier and lets it go on very slowly. His brother and Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn, on the other hand, starts later but keeps his schedule. He makes Kiddush, Netillat Yadaim and eats. It goes fast. Whereas Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn takes his time.

What we really liked at Toldot Aharon was the close relationship between the Rebbe and his chassidim. He shakes hands, gives blessings and shares his food. He likes to have it very simple and does eat his meal from regular dishes. His wife sits in the women's section upstairs. We did not even recognize her, as she sits on the hard benches just as every other woman. It is the simplicity I do admire.

Also here the women see the Tish as a social event and talk. Except when the Rebbe is talking or singing, of course. Last Friday we were not the only visitors. Suddenly a group from the States walked in and Toldot Aharon women tried out their poor English. Not too successfully but a very nice try. Later on, two American Satmar ladies came and spoke perfect English and Yiddish.

Right before the end, Rebbe David Kahn got up as well as his chassidim. They started singing very nice Niggunim and danced. Each of them took the hand of the person standing next to him and waved from left to right. This was a great thing to see.

When you go to Avraham Yitzchak you should take your time. At least until 4am. Rebbe David Kahn from Toldot Aharon finished at 2.30am and we were surprised that it was over so soon. One has to concentrate on the positive and a great positive thing is that the chassidim have more time to sleep until they get up for the morning service.

It is impossible to say which of the two Tishes is better. Each of the brothers as well as each group has its own unique character and style. It is not the same at all and the atmospheres are very different.

What we also noticed was a slight change in the generations. Whereas the elderly women are more serious and well - behaved, the younger generation (people in their twenties and thirties) has built it's own style. They are also well - behaved and serious but, nevertheless, they have developed their character and interests. It does not matter in what part of society one is, younger people are always different than the older generation. Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak are no exception.