Saturday, March 31, 2007

The German Curse

B"H

Just a week ago, the two Israeli chief rabbis were visiting Germany, and according to what they said, they seemed to be very enthusiastic about German Jewry. I couldn't believe they that such a thing. Obviously, I am not the only one thinking this way, as different websites from Boro Park or Williamsburgh (both NY) agreed with me.
The main reaction of their readers was that apparently German Jews haven't learned anything from the war. How can they still settle in Germany and enjoy life ?

However, it looks as if the two chief rabbis were just visiting the main orthodox Jewish communities in Germany. Such as Frankfurt, Berlin or Munich. In those cities it is possible to have a Jewish life according to Halacha. You can find kosher stores and restaurants, but if you want something really kosher, you should rather go to Chabad.
Although Chabad is not very popular in Germany, they seem to attract more and more people. According to my experience, they are also the only one's teaching halachic Jews about Judaism and chassidic thought.
Before Chabad came to Germany, regular orthod. rabbis just demanded high salaries from German communities but didn't bother too much giving classes to the community members. Abroad we are used to all kinds of classes in any subject. Not so in Germany.
Chabad came and immediately the other orthod. rabbis saw in them a competitor. They started spreading rumors about Chabad.
Nevertheless, a few months ago, Chabad opened a huge community center including their own synagogue in Berlin. Hopefully, more German halachic Jews will learn more about Judaism and getting interested. That's already a great improve, as Germany is well - known for its reform movement.
This is also the reason why I stress the words "halachic Jews" in this article. The German reform movement is converting a great amount of Gentiles into their movement who are, according to orthodox thought, not Jewish at all. Well, when I hear the reform views about different Torah subjects I feel like I am listening to another religion anyway. A religion I wouldn't call Judaism.

I have two religious sites: this one in English and another one in German. Responses to both sites are very very different from each other. This site is mostly being read by Jews who know something about Judaism. Which makes it much easier for me, as I don't have to explain every word.
Responses to the German site are different. Most German Jews have no real clue about Judaism let alone the Jewish vocabulary. There my footnotes keep on growing.

Pessach is coming soon and it keeps on reminding me of my life in Germany during my last year before I made Aliyah.
I had lived in Israel many years before, then I had gone back to Germany for a little more than two years, and finally I made Aliyah. I haven't been back to Germany for almost seven years now. Baruch HaShem.

When I was still living in Germany, one needed to be an enrolled community member in order to get Mazzot for Pessach and join the Seder. In my small Bavarian town I wasn't a member which meant that I had to organize my own Pessach celebrations. I was lucky having a very good friend in Brussels and for the Chag, I went to see her. The Seder I had with Rabbi Menachem Hadad in Brussels. A sephardi Chabad Seder. We had a great time although everything was in French and I didn't understand too much. I had a great time but, on the other hand, it is very sad that there are such rules in German Jewish communities. And I am sure that if the two chief rabbis were living there for some time, they wouldn't be too enthusiastic any more.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Story from the Baal Shem Tov

B"H

The following Story from the Baal Shem Tov I heard from Rabbi Machlise's wife Henny:

Once the Baal Shem Tov was invited for a Shabbat meal by a poor farmer. The Baal Shem Tov told his students who were supposed to accompany him to eat as much as possible at the farmer's house. The poor farmer had not enough food but did not say anything to the Baal Shen Tov. Instead he decided to slaughter his only cow in order to provide enough meat.
The Shabbat was very delightful but on the next day the farmer was very sad. He had lost his only cow, and in order to get food for his family he sold all his belongings including his farm. After one week he went out into the fields, wept and started praying to G-d. He asked G-d for money and a livelihood.

After a while, Ivan, the drunkard of the village, came by and told the farmer that he was the only person ever being nice to him. And therefore, Ivan wants him to have his treasure hidden under a tree. Ivan showed the tree to the farmer and a few the days later, Ivan passed away.
The farmer became rich and he went to see the Baal Shem Tov. "Why did G-d not tell me about the treasure before? And you, great master, knew the whole time about the treasure and Ivan.
"Well, said the Baal Shem Tov, the treasure has been waiting for you all these decades but you never asked for it. In order to get something from G-d you have to pray for it. As soon as you prayed, G-d answered your prayer."

This we also see in Parashat Lech Lecha. Sarah and Avraham were waiting for children for many years but only when they prayed, G-d answered their prayer.
I wish everybody that all their prayers are being answered.

Shabbat Shalom

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The wheelings and dealings of the Chief Rabbi

B"H

Once again, the ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Jonah Metzger is under attack. For a long time he has been accused of taking bribery and now the government’s legal advisor Menny Mazuz is planning to renew investigations.

Already after his election as the chief rabbi, Rabbi Metzger was very controversial. It is well - known that he is anything but a halachic authority and the only reason why he came into office were his excellent relations to Rabbi Eliyashiv.

His predecessor Rabbi Israel Lau had the same reputation and was even forced to pay back money he had received illegally. Rabbi Lau is now the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and running for presidency.

The last Chief Rabbi who was a real halachic authority and who took his job seriously was Rabbi Shlomo Goren. Unfortunately we do not have such candidates anymore.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Whose fault is it ?

B"H

Some months ago a guy made a strange speech at my rabbi's house. The guy was at the end of his fourties and is originally from Canada. I have already known him for a few years but just by sight. I only know that he was homeless at the time when he made the speech. Now it looks like as if he has finally sorted out his life.

Anyway, in his speech he accused the rabbis and two different Yeshivot in Jerusalem of having destroyed his life. In none of the Yeshivot he got adjusted and the rabbis were not of a great help either. Eventually he left. He not only left the Yeshiva but also religion and became completely irreligious.
I wanted to get up and tell him something but I did not. The truth is that I did not want to get into a fight with him.

There are plenty of people complaining about their hard and depressing Yeshiva life. I know from my own experience that it really can be very depressing. However, as soon as I feel that I don't fit in for whatever reason, I do leave. I still have free choice. Either I am going to look for a different place or try to find friends or a rabbi to talk to. But giving up Yeshiva does not mean giving up religion.

I can understand that people might be disappointed from the system and its pressure but one can still keep Mitzvot and lead a religious life. Not everyone fits into the haredi or another religious society, however, one should try to manage his own life and not blaming everybody else when he does not succeed. Some people are simply not made for the Yeshiva life and have to learn to accept it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pessach - Seder in Jerusalem

B"H

If anyone of you is spending Pessach in Jerusalem and does not yet have a place for the Seder (either first or second night) can contact me:

miriam_woelke@nana.co.il

There are different places offering a Seder (strictly orthodox or chassidic) and everyone is invited.

Religious....to be or not to be ???

B"H

For whatever reason some people think that becoming or being religious means giving up all the pleasures in life. Only wearing black suits and hats, no more cheeseburgers and living in a religious ghetto. They only look at the negative side, see the amount of 613 Mitzwot and decide that this is just too much for them.

Becoming religious is usually a long process which can take many years. You should not decide to become religious at once, put a kipa your head and try to keep all the Mitzwot (today we are only able to keep about 70 from the 613 Mitzwot, as most of the others apply to the Cohanim and the Temple service).
If you rush you are in danger of getting depressed very soon, as I know very well from my own experience. You will not be Mrs or Mr Mea Shearim within a few days.
At a Yom Kippur class I learned from a rabbi that if you pick yourself 1 Mitzwa and keep it, you are already being considered orthodox. After keeping this particular Mitzwa you might choose doing another one after some time.

But do give it time and choose the right rabbi. Do not be upset about having bads days and not succeeding in anything. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught: "Tomorrow is a new day."
Concentrate on the positive side. After some time of learning and doing, many people start understanding the Mitzwot and their inner meanings.

Each of us has a different approach to Judaism. Some succeed very easily in becoming religious and for others it seems to take ages.
There are people who get closer to Judaism by learning Torah, others start with Talmud or Chassidut let alone Kabbalah. Everyone according to his neshama (soul).

It is important to choose your own pace and if you succeed at your level you might realize that being religious does not mean loosing all the pleasures in life

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Sikarikim

B"H

Not only at the time of the Second Temple, the Sikarikim made headlines. Even today they are having a real revival in Mea Shearim.
For all those who have never heard about them: 2000 years ago, the Sikarikim were a Jewish radical group fighting the Romans and even other Jews who supported the Roman occupation.

Nowadays there are a few of them in the ultra - orthodox neighbourhood Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. Only very few people know their identity.
Last October they were accused of throwing bleach onto chassidic modestly dressed women walking around in the Ge'ulah / Mea Shearim neighbourhood. The attacks were not against the women themselves but rather a demonstration against the so - called immodest clothing stores in the hood. The very ultra - orthodox consider clothing stores where men and women can enter together as immodest. Certain stores received warnings that they should only allow either men or women into the store. However, shops which did not take the warnings too seriously were burned down.

After a few months of peace, the Sikarikim took more action last week. They stoned the deputy mayors' car in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood. The deputy mayor went to the Police but, so far, no one got arrested.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

Shabbat in Jerusalem

B"H

I know many people who come here as tourists for 1 - year - programmes and experience Shabbat in Jerusalem for the first time in their lifes. The same happened to me after I immigrated from Germany to Israel.

Shabbat in Jerusalem is very different from the Shabbatot abroad. Especially when you go to the Kotel, the Western Wall. Usually there are huge Shabbat celebrations with all kinds of Yeshiva students. Singing, dancing and afterwards the "most important" thing takes place: the Shabbat dinner placement.
It is almost impossible going to the Wall and not being invited by strangers for a Shabbat meal. People tell me that abroad this does not exist. I know that myself.
In case no one is coming up to you with an invitation, just place yourself at the water fountain at the men's side in front of the Wall and you will meet Jeff Seidel who is definitely getting you a placement. If not Jeff so his colleague Rabbi Schuster.

The same procedure on Shabbat morning: Meet Jeff at the fountain or just look around at noon and you will find Rabbi Mordechai Machlis doing a public Kiddush for anybody right in front of the Wall. Then he will ask you to join him and his family for lunch. Walk with him for about half an hour into the new city and you will have the most wonderful Shabbat experience. Never leave Jerusalem without going to the Machlis family at least once.

For the third meal there are two great places which I can recommend:

1. Rabbi Shalom Brod with Carlebach - Style and
2. Rabbi Me'ir Weiner.

The very special thing in Jerusalem is that you will never be alone. There are always people to celebrate with and for the places I mentioned, you do not need to be religious. Just be yourself.

Teaching from the Baal Shem Tov

B"H

A man is where his thoughts are; if they are in the upper worlds, so is he. If they are in the lower worlds, so is he.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Flooded

B"H

Jerusalem seems to be completely flooded. After the warm weather last week, winter came back yesterday. This morning we had some snow but now it just keeps on raining cats and dogs.
Forecast: It remains like this at least until Sunday.

Usually when we have such a weather, Jerusalemites love to eat hot soup, taking a hot shower and reading a good book. That's exactly what I am going to do today. Getting rid of my soaked clothes, eat and read. I just bought a good book, at least it seems like it. "Giving up America" by Pearl Abrahams. I liked her first book and hopefully the second book is good as well.

Her first book "The Romance Reader" was about a chassidic girl leaving her chassidic environment. I like reading about the subject, as I once studied in a haredi Yeshiva but also left the environment. Society pressure was too much for me. It caused me certain problems described in the book.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Old and new immigrants

B"H

Making Aliyah (immigration) to Israel is and was a hard decision for all of us. It is not easy moving to a new country and getting adjusted.

Nowadays there are organizations like Nefesh Be' Nefesh who bring new immigrants to Israel. Doing all the paper work for them, giving them a place to live and maybe a job. In any case, the most important thing is learning Hebrew.

Many English speakers think that they get around with English anywhere in the world. Everybody just knows it. In Israel it is not always the case, as you will see when you have to deal with buerocracy. Lots of government employees are of sephardi or Russian origin and simply don't know any English. Already going to the Jerusalem municipality can be a whole desaster. First they start stuttering in English or whatever you can call English, and then they might start yelling at you. Just be cool and let them yell at you. Then start telling your case again.

Everything works a little different in Israel and, unfortunately, lots of new immigrants do forget that. They come and expect exactly the same life as in their former countries. Even the same food. Well, you can still go to Mac Donald's (which in Jerusalem isn't kosher !!!).

After a while some immigrants start returning to their former countries. In Israel it is hard to find a job and people simply run out of their savings. Another important reason why people go back is that they couldn't get used to the Israeli mentality. Israelis are too rude for us, that's what especially Americans said who went back to the States.

However, just an hour ago, I had s surprising experience. I met Igor, a Russian immigrant who had gone back to Russia about two years ago. He had been here a while and worked as a guard in front of a bank but wasn't happy with his life. Then he decided to go back to Russia and claimed that there everything is better and people are nicer.

It looks like it is not true anymore. Sometimes you even miss the crazy Israeli life and rude mentality. It's probably too boring in your home countries. :-)

Story of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev

B"H

The Baal Shem Tov said that a man is there where his thoughts are.

Once Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev went to a person in his synagogue one day, rights after the prayers, and gave him a very warm "Shalom Aleichem"!

Startled, the man said "But I've been here the whole time."

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak answered, "But during the prayers your mind wandered to Warsaw where you were thinking of your business. Now that your prayers are finished, you have returned here to Berditchev."

Chassidut Breslov - Part 1

B"H

Whoever has already been to Israel probably knows them: Chassidei Breslov. You can see them dancing at many public places such as Rehov Sheinkin and near the beach in Tel Aviv as well as at Zion Square in Jerusalem. The dancing chassidim wear white kipot, look like leftover hippies, dance and sell books. But those only belong to one group of Breslov, as chassidut Breslov is at least divided into three groups. Probably even more.

1. The above mentioned dancing chassidim are called the Na Nach Nachman MeUman and follow the teachings of the Breslover rabbi Yisrael Odesser (died in 1994). This group consists of mostly young Baalei Teshuva (who became recently religious). Other Breslover chassidim do not take them too seriously.

2. The "real" Breslover whose ancestors came from Uman. They mostly live in Mea Shearim and do not associate with the newcomers. In theri opinion, they are the real successors of the teaching of Rabbi Nachman.

3. Breslover chassidim who became religious later on in their lifes. The most famous leading rabbis of this group are Rabbi Eliezer Berland and Rabbi Arush (a former student of Rabbi Berland). First they were not taken too seriously but today, even the "old" Breslover chassidim see in Rabbi Berland a true zaddik. Rabbi Eliezer Berland only lives a few meters far away from Rehov Mea Shearim and is the head of a yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. His parents were Holocaust survivors from Hungary.

Writing about chassidut Breslov is rather complicated and, therefore, I decided to split the article in two parts. Here I write about Rabbi Nachman and some general information. Next week I will explain some teachings of Rabbi Nachman.

In general, Rabbi Nachman is very famous for his teachings according to parables. However, chassidut Breslov stands for more than just parables, and Rabbi Nachman was not the first one using this kind of system. Already King Salomon told 3000 parables according to each subject in the Torah (Talmud Eruvin 21b).

Today I am more in touch with Breslov than with Chabad. I have Breslov friends, colleagues and I study Likutei Moharan. For Chabad, the Book of Tanya is very important and for Breslov it is the Likutei Moharan. It includes the teachings of Rabbi Nachman and the Breslov philosophy. As it is extremely kabbalistic, it should be studied together with a teacher.

For people interested: Rabbi Shalom Brod in Nachlaot / Jerusalem has classes on Likutei Moharan, as well as Rabbi Peretz Auerbach in the Old City.

Rabbi Nachman himself used to be very controversial already during his lifetime. He was the founder and the only rebbe of Breslov. He died at the very young age of 38 years. Afterwards his chassidim were unable to find a successor. His student Rabbi Nathan Sternhartz led the group and wrote books but never considered himself as rebbe.

Today other chassidic groups call Breslov a "dead chassidut", as there is no rebbe. Nevertheless, after the death of Rabbi Nachman the group survived.

Chassidei Breslov see themselves as the real followers of the Baal Shem Tov, as Rabbi Nachman was his great - grandson. Born in 1772, Rabbi Nachman already got married at the age of 13. From a very young age he started studying Torah, Talmud, Kabbalah and the teachings of his great - grandfather the Baal Shem Tov. When he was at a certain age he fasted from one Shabbat to the next.

In 1798 he traveled to Israel, in 1802 he moved to Breslov / Ukraine and in 1810 he moved to Uman where he is buried.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola was once a great admirer of Rabbi Nachman but later on he became his most influenticial opponent. Rabbi Aryeh Leib saw the Breslov movement as a kind of Shabtai Zvi movement.

Despite all criticism, more and more people are joining Breslov. Especially in Israel where Breslov gets more newcomers than Chabad.

No picture whatsoever does exist of Rabbi Nachman. However, his chair is exhibited in the Great Breslov Synagogue in Mea Shearim.

The remaining communities were destroyed by the Nazis in 1941. Many of their members had left long before, as Rabbi Nachman always emphazised the importance of living in Eretz Israel.

Chassidut Breslov - Part 2

B"H

Besides Chabad, no other chassidic group attracts so many new members as chassidut Breslov. Especially in Israel they have the reputation of attracting lots of freaks. But not everybody joining Breslov is a freak. On the contrary, many are highly intellectuell.

On of the main reasons might be that according to Rabbi Nachman every Jew has a chance to lead a religious life. If you do not succeed today, tomorrow is another day. Just do not give up and get depressed. All of us have our daily ups and downs and depend on moods and feelings. Do as much as you can and try to fulfill your potential but never exaggerate.

Force yourself to be happy and search for all the good points in yourself. According to Rabbi Nachman: if you force yourself to be joyful, even if you are not at the moment, it might help you to overcome your sadness. Being joyful all the time and fulfilling the Mitzwot with joy is one of the most difficult Mitzwot at all.

Rabbi Nachman was not the first introducing the Tikun HaKlali. This Tikun is a rectification for the soul (neshama) and consists of the following Psalms: 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137 + 150. Already the ARI (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) recommended this Tikun which is usually said at around midnight.

Before he passed away, Rabbi Nachman told all his disciples to come to his grave to Uman / Ukraine every year on Rosh HaShana. Until today thousands of Jews travel to Uman every year. Not all of them are Breslover chassidim but sepharadim, non - religious or national religious. The flight to Uman is rather cheap and every year, at least a thousand tickets are being given out for free.

The custom isn chassidut Breslov is that the men fly to Uman and the women go to Meron in northern Israel. Meron is the gravesite of the famous Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Besides the flight to Uman, chassidei Breslov have another custom which no other chassidic group has. On Purim when everyone is getting drunk, the Breslover go into the forest in order to speak to G-d. Speaking to G-d is called HITBODEDUT and a meditative process. A Breslover chassid should do Hitbodedut on a daily basis. Take at least an hour and speak to G-d. It doesn't matter if this takes place in the forest, in a field or at home.

The whole Breslov philosophie and teachings of Rabbi Nachman we can find in the book "Likutei Moharan" :

- The world is a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.

- Faith helps us to manage this bridge which is called life. We will face all the challenges and get to the other side.

- Do not question yourself.

- One who cannot pry or study Torah should pray that he can pray.

- Speaking to G-d (Hitbodedut) is a meditative process.

- We need to pray for everything we need in life.

For Chabad, G-d is everywhere but according to Breslov philosophie, G-d is very distant, and we need to get closer to Him through prayer and Torah study.

In chassidut Chabad it is popular the writings of the Rambam (Maimonides). Especially the "Guide of the Perplexed". Not so on in chassidut Breslov. Rabbi Nachman was against studying any kind of philosophie and claimed that Torah, Talmud and Zohar are enough.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Not again...

B"H

All of us still remember the demonstrations taking place in Mea Shearim last November (see video below).

Yesterday the organization of homosexuals in Jerusalem, the so - called OPEN HOUSE in the Ben Yehuda shopping mall, asked the municipality to allow a new Gay Parade. The Open House is planning a new Gay Parade through the city center on June 21.

The haredim already announced new demonstrations. Apparently no one has learned anything from the former riots in Mea Shearim. According to Yehuda Meshi Zahav from Mea Shearim, this time the haredi demonstrations will be worse than last November.

The Open House claimed its rights for free demonstrations. Every citizen in Jerusalem has the same rights.

However, the majority of the people in Jerusalem are against a Gay Parade in their city. Religious and non - religious alike. They should do it in Tel Aviv and not in the Holy City, people say.

New Demonstrations ahead

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Neonazis in Israel

B"H

Israel has a problem which, so far, has been more or less kept as a secret. The problem exists but government officials and the army do not know how to deal with it. No one even speaks about it. However, the press starts to report about it due to complaints from the population.

Neonazis are very activ in Israel. Once the problem was only known in the army but lately, synagogues have been painted full of swastikas. Israelis have not suddenly become neonazis themselves. The local neonazis are new Russian immigrants who came here by the Law of Return. The majority of the Russian immigrants are halachically not Jewish and many of those are even antisemitic.
A few days ago, the Israeli police discovered a whole Russian neonazi group on the Internet operating from Israel. Once the police know their identities, those non - Jewish immigrants are being deported back to Russia, as it has already happened a few times in the past.

Now, Jewish immigrants from Russian introduced a website making the problem known to the public:
http://pogrom.org.il/eng_index.php

Chassidut Chabad

B"H

If anyone wants to know anything about the chassidic group Chabad, he should not face any difficulties getting the information. There is a vast amount of literature about Chabad; from outsiders, insiders and the Rebbes themselves. The chassidut Chabad includes many subjects, and in this article I am trying to explain the most important points.

I studied with Chabad in the Old City of Jerusalem for about five years. I participated in many Shiurim (classes), Shabbatot and studied the Book of Tanya. However, I am not a member of any chassidic group. Today I still do go to a Chabad synagogue and if there is any chassidut with whom I can identify most, it is definetely Chabad. No, I am not talking about the Meschiach business but about their idea that G-d is everywhere and, therefore, very close. Who does not want G-d to be close ?

Chabad chassidut was founded after the death of the famous Maggid of Mezritch. The Maggid was a student of the Baal Shem Tov and after his death, he became his successor. The most famous diciples of the Maggid were Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. Rabbi Shneur Zalman was the youngest student of the Maggid. After the Maggid died (1772), Shneur Zalman studied under Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk but the later soon moved to Israel.

Today Chabad still claims that Rabbi Shneur Zalman was the real successor of the Maggid and the Baal Shem Tov. Other groups, such as Breslov, claim just the opposite. The truth is that after the Maggid's death, his diciples split into many groups. Another proof that the opponents of Shneur Zalman emphazised is that he never knew the Baal Shem Toc personally. In fact, there was a serious dispute between Rabbi Baruch, the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman. Both claimed to be the real successor and leader of the chassidic movement.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745 - 1813) became the founder of Chabad which is originally called Lubavitch from the town Lubavitch (Belarus). Shneur Zalman "clothed" the kabbalistic teachings of the ARI (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) in chassidic interpretations. He saw the teachings of the Lubavitcher group as highly intellectual and gave a new name to the group: Chabad, which is an abbriviation and stand for the kabbalistic terms of Chochma - Wisdom, Bina - Understanding, Daat - Knowledge.

Shneur Zalman is also being called the Alter Rebbe or the Baal HaTanya. Tanya (first published in 1796) is the most famous book and includes all the Chabad philosophies. Furthermore, it is very kabbalistic and should not be studied without a teacher.

The whole chassidut Chabad is based on the Kabbalah of the ARI which you can see in the Tanya. Every person has two souls, an animal soul and a g-dly soul, and we have to transform bad into good. Through prayer we bring G-d down into our physical world and thus create a dwelling place for Him. It is very important to create a relationship between G-d and His worlds which we do through prayer with Kavanah (concentration) and through meditation. G-d is everywhere and never far away. He is in everything we see or touch.

Meditation is a very important aspect in Chabad philosophie. Meditation on mystical aspects of creation or on the relation between the Creator and His creation. This brings us to a higher level of consciousness or a greater degree of self - awareness. In Chabad terms this is called Hitbonenut (building).

Chabad has an intellectual connection between chassidut and Judaism. Studying mysticism intensifies dedication. Those are the most important concepts.

Throughout history, Chabad was always criticized. Famous was the dispute between the Lithuanian Rabbi from Bnei Brak, Rabbi Schach and the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Rabbi Schach seriously criticized the messianic idea of Chabad. During the time of the first Gulf War in 1991, Rabbi Schneerson said that now it is time for the Meschiach to come. He never said about himself that he is the Meschiach but his followers interpreted a few of his sayings. Anyway, Rabbi Schneerson never said YES od NO when being asked which was probably a mistake.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson died in June 1994, and he was the last Rebbe, as he and his wife did not have children who could take over. He was a great Rabbi and gave advice to thousands of people including famous politicians. He had never been to Israel because according to his opinion one being in Israel can never leave.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson sent Shlichim (messengers) to every place in the world. Thanks to him that today every Jewish tourist has a place to go to on Shabbat. If it is in Bejing, Tibet, Poland or Germany. Chabad is everywhere, as you can see on the Internet. They do Mitzwa campaigns by letting Jews put on Tefilin or invite them for Shabbatot.

Chabad has its own songs, prayer book (including the Tanya) and many other customs. I have never experienced anyone keeping the Pessach laws so strict as Chabad. They even put a rag around the water tap so that no chametz is getting through, and they eat the Mazzot out of plastic bags.

Chabad does not wear fur hats (Streimel) on Shabbat or at all. Married men wear a long black coat and unmarried men a normal jacket.

Not every Chabadnik is a Meschichist and believes in the Rebbe as Meschiach. Actually it is split into two groups: Those who do believe in the Rebbe and those who do not.

Today Chabad is the largest and most controversial group worldwide with approx. 200,000 followers. They do accept newcomes and orthodox converts to Judaism. Sometimes Chabad is not as open as it seems. Especially concerning Shidduchim.

Personally I do wish Chabad great success in Germany. There they are pretty much disliked. The so-called German orthodox rabbis do see them as competitors but, nevertheless, Chabad is doing a good job there and does teach some Yiddishkeit to the German Jews which most other rabbis do not. It is good to have some competition. Especially for the Jews themselves, as this way they benefit a lot.

If there is any criticism from Chabad or if I got anything wrong, please let me know.

When you go to Jerusalem as a tourist

B"H

....you should definitely watch your money. Especially when you go to look for a hostel in the Old City.

Well, for Jewish tourists there is the free hostel called the Heritage House. The Heritage House is an orthodox hostel with a certain goal. They have an age limit accepting people which is around 30 years. Their main goal is to make you interested in Jewish orthodoxy and get you into programs of different yeshivot.

If you do not want to stay at the Heritage House or you are simply not Jewish, there are plent of hostels at the Yaffa Gate, the main entrance into the Old City. Just watch out as soon as you enter. Palestinian tour guides, some legal and some illegal, will immediately come up to you and try to get you into one of the nearby hostels. Be careful accepting their help, as you are being charged more by the hostel owners. The owner has to pay a commission to the guide and in the end you pay double. Just go by yourself and look for a hostel which isn't too difficult at all.

The other thing is that these tour guides also offer you tours through the Arab market (the shuk). If you choose to go with them, you will pay double as well. Every item you buy in shops the guide is getting commission for.

The best way is when you come and go everywhere on your own. Get "Lonely Planet" or some other book and discover Jerusalem on your own. It will be much cheaper and more interesting for you.

If you go to the Arab market just go into different stores and check prices. Never buy in the first store you see.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Pessach at the Kotel (Western Wall)

B"H

Knesset member Shmuel Halpert (Yahadut HaTorah) asked the Jerusalem police to open up more entrances to the Kotel during Pessach.
At the moment, there are only two open entrances due to the construction site of the new bridge leading onto the Temple Mount.

Last Sukkot, one additional entrance was opened, as many haredim complained about immodest women standing in line with them.

Chassidut Gur

B"H

It is almost impossible to explain chassidut Gur (Ger in Yiddish) without mentioning the Kotzker Rebbe Menachem Mendel Morgensztern. Gur is based on Kotzk and maybe I should have explained Kotzk first. Nevertheless, I am going to describe chassidut Gur and additionally some Kotzker ideas.

Gur is originally a Polish chassidic group. The town of Gora Kalwaria is located 25 km southeast of Warsaw. In Yiddish the town is known as Ger.In the early nineteen - hundreds, the actual center of Polish chassidut was located in Kotzk, near Warsaw. There lived the brilliant Torah scholar, the Kotzker Rebbe.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (1798 - 1866) was next to Rabbi Mordechai Leiner (the later Ishbitzer Rebbe) the most famous student of the Rebbe of Kotzk. Also was Rabbi Alter the brother - in - law of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.

After his death in 1859, the students of the Kotzker Rebbe asked Rabbi Alter to become their new spiritual leader. This way, chassidut Gur came into existence. The first Rebbe Yitzchak Meir Alter had changed his former family name from Rotenberg into Alter.

The secret of success of the House of Kotzk was connecting Torah knowledge with chassidut. For Kotzk as well as for Gur, Torah and Talmud study are one of the most important things and not particularly mystisim. The Torah is our life and our soul. It is the source of all human existence and through its study we are perfecting ourselves. Praying on time is also a must.

And what exactly makes Gur a chassidut ? The rebbe, of course. Each chassidic group has its rebbe, hence their spiritual leader. The Alter family are the heads of Gur. In 1996, the present Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter took over from his father and he is the seventh rebbe. The first rebbes led a poor lifestyle but today, Gur is an empire. Probably worth 200 - 250 Mio Dollar. The rebbe invests lots of money in social institutions such as schools, hospitals, kindergardens etc.

For the chassidim the rebbe is more than a spiritual leader. He is the perfect Zaddik (righteous) and through him prayers rise directly to G-d. For this reason, all followers try to stick to the rebbe as close as possible (Devekut). Only seeing the rebbe is already a great sechut.

As a Polish chassidic group, Gur wears different clothes than, for instance, Vishnitz or Toldot Aharon etc. They always wear black. Even on Shabbat. A round looking heat, black longs coats and black pants squeezed into the socks. This custom goes back to the time of the shtetl where they treid to avoid making their pants dirty due to bad weather. Other groups call them therefore cossacks.

One easily recognizes Gur. On Shabbat they waer their special fur hat called Spodik. The women are not so easy to recognize, as they dress like any haredi woman but with sligthly more elegancy.

The rebbe is the center of the chassidut. Gur is the biggest group in Israel. According to Ynet, 10,000 families live in Israel. Besides their economic influence, Gur also has great political power. The head of the Knesset party Yahadut HaTorah is Yaakov Litzmann, a Gerer chassid.

Chassidut Gur does accept converts to Judaism. But only up to a certain level, as you can surely imagine. I know a German convert and a German - American couple who joined the group.

What I like about Gur is their radical fight against Christian missionaries. They have a perfect network and as soon as a missionary appears, I do not look for the police but rather for a Gerer chassid.

By the way, Gur is very friendly with Chabad and both groups are very zionistic. Many Gerer chassidim work.

I only had positive experiences with Gur; straight forward, very modest and friendly with a great sense of humor. One of their customs is to have a Tisch with the rebbe on Mozzaei Shabbat. But men only! However, I once saw the rebbe in the Ge'ulah neighbourhood.

Chassidut Gur lost 200,000 followers in the Holocaust.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

New English Site

B"H

Finally I left myspace in order to create a more professional blog. As you can see, I am still in the process of organizing everything anew. Hopefully it will be done in a short while.

For the time being, I am putting older articles from my former myspace site into this blog. However, soon I will start writing new things.

Miriam

Baruch Dayan HaEmet

B"H

The Kurdish community of Jerusalem lost one of their most famous and greatest rabbis: Rabbi Chaviv Alon (Alwan) died last Mozzaei Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh Adar. He was a 100 years old.

I didn't know the Rabbi personally but I do know his children. The youngest son is my boss at the bakery.

In memory of Rabbi Chaviv Alon I am planning to publish an article here next week.

Chassidut Vishnitz (Vizhnitz)

B"H

The Vishnitzer Chassidim are always good for a headline and so also again in these days. In Monsey, outside New York, a new branch of the U.S. discounters Wal - Mart is to be opened. However, Monsey has the highes concentration of Vishnitzer chassidim and exactly those are against the opening of the new discounter - market. Thousand of non - or secular Jews could storm to Monsey and so destroy the religious atmosphere. We will see soon how the issue develops.

But not only in Monsey, there is this type of headlines. Also in the Israeli town of Bnei Brak, Vishnitz caused a stir; there the Vishnitzer chassidim wanted to introduce separate sidewalks. Separated after sexes. Whether that is reality, I don't know, because I rarely get to Bnei Brak.

Much is said and written about Vishnitz, however, hardly any chassidic group appears so closed and unknown to the public and even to other chassidim, as the Vishnitzer. I don't know any single Vishnitzer chassid and therefore asked other chassidim about the life as well as the customs of the Vishnitzer. None of them knew anything. So, I was forced using two books written by the Vishnitzer themselves. I wish I would have found more, however, this is all I found out so far. One simply recommended me to call the Hager family (family of the Rebbe) and ask them. Calling them up seemed to me a little unpleasant, because if groups like Vishnitz or Toldot Aharon only also hear the word internet or writing on the internet, already all seems suspiciously to them.

The chassidut Vishnitz was founded approx. 200 years ago. The town Vishnitz is located in the Bukowina which was the center of the chassidut at that time. At that time, the region belonged to Romania and today it is part of the Ukraine.

Of course, also chassidut Vishnitz is based on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Yaakov Koppel (Kopul) was a student of the Baal Shem Tov. A later descendant of Rabbi Koppel became the first Vishnitzer Rebbe. Therefore, the Vishnitzer see themselves directly connected to the Baal Shem Tov.

The first Vishnitzer Rebbe was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager, the author of the book Zemach Zadik. Rabbi Hager came into the city Vishnitz and was chosen by the local Jewish population as their rabbi. Immediately after his election, Vishnitz turned into an important center of the chassidut.

The Hager family and chassidut Vishnitz suffered a great loss in the Holocaust. Many chassidim and family members were murdered by the Nazis. Finally, in the year 1947, the Vishnitzer Rebbe Chaim Meir Hager came to Israel. Immediately, he opened a Yeshiva in Tel Aviv and later in Bnei Brak, close to Tel Aviv.

Until today, Bnei Brak is the most important community of the Vishnitzer with its present head Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager. His brother Rabbi Mordechai Hager is the Vishnitzer Rebbe in Monsey and their cousin Rabbi Eliezer Hager is the Rebbe of the Seret - Vishnitz in Haifa.

A chassidut with three Rebbes is somewhat puzzling for me and I have not yet found out how exactly these three work together. The worst thing is, which can happen at all to a chassidic group, that if a Rebbe dies and his sons argue about succession. Often, divisions within the group then occur as we will see later with Satmar and Toldot Aharon as well as Avraham Yitzchak.

The two most important contents of the Chassidut Vishnitz are Ahavat Israel, the love of the people Israel, and the study of the Torah. Already boys at the age of three years go to the Cheder and begin to learn Torah. Religious education is seen as one of the most important issues. The boys study in Talmud Torah and the girls in a special division of Beit Yaakov which is called Banot Vishnitz.

Many Vishnitz girls learn in Yiddish but today there are many who also learn in Hebrew. One can meet some of them in the Jerusalemer district Kiryat Mattersdorf where the girls have one of their schools. Normally, Beit Yaakov girls wear blue school uniforms. However, the Vishnitzer have red uniforms.

Another important thing is looking for a good Shidduch, preferably a Ben Torah. Whoever learns Torah won't be influenced from the outside world. Already two hours before the Shacharit prayer, chassidei Vishnitz begin with their Torah study. This is seen as a proper and intense preparation for a deep prayer. Furthermore, the men go into the Mikwe (ritual bath) on a daily basis.

Each chassidic Rebbe emphazises his particular customs. Vishnitz does so by putting on clean clothes. Clean clothes are a sign of a pure soul. The table of the Rebbe is famous. All his chassidim are around him and listen to his derashot (Torah explanations). Famous is also the Seudah (meal) on Rosh Chodesh.

It goes without saying that Vishnitz also emphazises the study of the Halachot (Shulchan Aruch) and the Talmud. What surprised me was to hear that very much value is being put on the study of the book "Mesillat Yesharim", "The Path of the Just" by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. A pure Mussar - book. How do I perfect myself in order to serve G-d.

Vishnitz is quite famous for its own Niggunim (melodies) which are even available on the internet. People whom I asked about Vishnitz said that they don't know any details but could sind me Vishnitz niggunim right away.

As we will later see with the Satmarer chassidim, Vishnitz is also socially very much involved. Gemilut Chassadim (Gemach). Whoever requires help of financial, material or any other matter goes to a Gemach. If it is clothes, glasses, dishes or money. Anything is available. Until now I thought that Chabad and Belz follow the strictest Pessach rules. But with Vishnitz I was taught better:

The Vishnitzer don't drink any milk on Pessach and don't smoke either. I read that there once was the custom not to eat any fish on Pessach. Whether this is still valid today I don't know. Also, they sieve the water on Pessach. Hence, like Belz and Chabad, they hang a rag around the tub in order to make sure that the water does not contain any chametz. There are very many different stories about this chassidic custom. One may either think that this is exaggerated or antiquated, but on the basis of my relationships to Belz, I myself hold this custom.


Regarding the topic Pessach: No chassidic group eats Gebrochts on Pessach. Litvishe haredim and other religious people do love their Mazze - ball - soup on Pessach. For Chassidim this is impossible and not kosher for Pessach. I also do keep this custom and I only participate in a chassidic Pessach Seder.

What should maybe much outsider interest: One must me born into chassidut Vishnitz. Otherwise no one is getting into the inner circle let alone accepted. Of course, a newcomer can probably study at one of their centers but it doesn't mean that he is Vishnitz.

A good friend of me informed me that he wants to arrange a meeting between me and a Vishnitzer chassid. This would be great because this way I could find out many more details. Hopefully, the meeting is going to take place and if, I am going to write more about the chassidut.

Otherwise, I will explain the Chassidut Toldot Aharon next. Toldot Aharon, the most fundamentalist group at all.

Cry for Help

B"H

The yesterday's edition of the haredi daily newspaper of HaModiah is telling us about an adventurous action of the anti - mission - group Yad LeAchim:

Yad LeAchim received a letter of a 11 - year old student - who with his parents had immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union.

For some weeks, every evening his mother would get visit from two women, who wanted to convert the family to the Christianity. Those women would teach his mother the NT. He himself tried to talk to his mother about the matter but she claimed that everything would be allright. The women just came to help.

The son had studied in religious Jewish schools and disliked the idea of the women coming into their home. Together with Yad LeAchim he arranged a secret meeting. As soon as the women showed up again, the son would let Yad LeAchim volunteers into their living room and confront them with the missionaries.

His father helped him and when the volunteers came into the living room, the two missionary women ran away. Yad LeAchim already knew them. Afterwards the family was invited to a anti – missionary – seminary taking place at the Chabad hostel ASCENT in Safed (northern Israel).