Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) in Israel


Every year at the same date, Israel remembers those 6 Mio Jews who died in the Holocaust. As this time the date falls on Shabbat, the national Holocaust Memorial Day "Yom HaShoah" already starts tonight. The central memorial event is going to take place at the "Yad VaShem" in Jerusalem at about 8pm tonight

Israelis consider the Yom HaShoah as extremely important although every year anew, the same discussions seem to come up. By the way, we will face the same situation in the coming week when we remember the fallen soldiers and, a day later, celebrate our 60th Independence Day.

Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel is always depressing. Many Holocaust survivors tell their private stories on the radio and the daily papers are full as well. Usually I walk around on such a day with a nervous feeling in the stomach. On Thursday morning, we all stand attention to a siren sound lasting for two minutes. Even the traffic and buses stop and people stand still. Usually everybody does so except for Arabs and many Haredim.
Arabs ? Okay, or has anyone expected a different kind of behaviour ?

But Jews who ignore the siren sound and don't stand still ? How can that be ? Do the Haredim ignore the victims and don't show any respect ? The secular Israeli press loves this subject.

However, one has to understand or at least be aware of the reasons why Haredim act in such a way. And I have to emphasize that not all Haredim react in such a manner but only a few. Let's say mostly "Mea Shearim".
Why do they do this ?

Certain Haredim do not accept the stipulated date of the Holocaust Memorial Day. Stipulated by a secular Zionist government. Instead religious Jews have their own way of remembering the Holocaust victims. By choosing the Asarah Be'Tevet – The Tenth of the Jewish month of Tevet (approx. in Dec. or Jan.). Furthermore they also have their own particular way to mourn and don't feel the need for listening to a siren.

In order to bring everyone together, there have been discussions going on if we should move the present Memorial date to Tisha Be'Av. There are many pros and cons and nothing has been decided so far.

For tourists in Israel:
Life goes on as usual but tonight (Wednesday) all discos, amusement parks, cinemas, theatres or Internet Cafes close in the early evening hours. Tomorrow (Thursday) everything will be open as usual.

The Rebbe's Survival


I am very aware of touching an extremely difficult and painful subject and I have to be careful not to cause any misunderstanding. But, on the other hand, there are always people such as Neo – Nazis and anti - Semites who twist around words and use anything they can for their own stupid and vicious propaganda. However, today anyone can find anything on the Internet and thus twist it around as much as he likes.

Furthermore, I have to admit that I haven't had the time so far to deal with the matter more intensively. Unfortunately, I have to say, because the issue itself interests me a lot. But what I did was talking to some Gerer Chassidim.

There is no doubt that especially the chassidic population of Eastern Europe suffered tremendously during the Holocaust. It wasn't only a matter of personal survival but the existence of whole chassidic dynasties was at stake. And chassidic groups such as Belz, Vishnitz, Gur, Zanz – Klausenburg, Satmar or Bobov (those are only a few examples of many) were lucky to keep their groups alive.

Nevertheless, there is another issue which, unfortunately, is not discussed so many times. Of course, there is some literature but, as I said before, it takes time to do intense research. If you prefer serving the net instead, you are able to find details. The only problem is that I cannot confirm the claims stated on the Internet.

The question arises how chassidic Rebbes dealt with the Holocaust. Did all or, at least, the majority tell their followers to escape Europe ? Were there early warnings or did some Rebbes ignoring the upcoming danger ?
Different religious Jewish sites accuse the former Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Rokeach, of ordering his Chassidim to stay in Europe.

I have been dealing with Rebbe Aharon Rokeach for quite a while because I am writing about his flight from the Gestapo in order to put the article into my German blog. And because I have been dealing with the subject a bit, I cannot really believe the accusations but, at the same time, I am not denying that they might be true.

Fact is that the former Belzer Rebbe Aharon Rokeach suffered tremendous personal losses during the Holocaust. He lost his son, Rabbi Moshe Rokeach, who was burned alive in a Synagogue by the Germans. Furthermore, the Rebbe lost his brother, Rabbi Shalom of Opatov (Apta), who was hiding in a forest and eventually died of starvation. Rebbe Aharon himself only succeeded in the last minute to escape Eastern Europe and head for Palestine. Thus, the existence of Chassidut Belz was guaranteed.

The Gerer Rebbe at the time had it much easier. Chassidut Gur and the Rebbe were an important figure in Polish Jewry and the Rebbe could leave for Palestine. Other chassidic groups were not that lucky.

Did chassidic Rebbes leave their Chassidim in order to safe their own lives ?
This is a very hard and painful subject to touch. Some Gerer Chassidim once told me that today, Chassiut Gur consists of countless Chassidim who joined the group only after the war. Most of the original Gerer Chassidim (about 100,000) were murdered by the Nazis. The Gerer stressed that the Rebbe had escaped the slaughter but when I asked about the Chassidim who had remained in Poland, they remained silent.

But did or do the Chassidim see the escape of a Rebbe as a coward act ? What was more important ? The survival of an individual or the group's survival ? And if, for instance, the Belzer Rebbe hadn't escaped, would there still be a Chassidut Belz today ? Honestly, I am glad not to have to make such decisions as the Rebbes to.

As far as I know, there is no questioning the matter within the present chassidic groups. Maybe there has never been and the followers succeeded in considering everything as fate. Instead the chassidic groups concentrated on building up their communities after the Holocaust but still being aware of the tremendous losses they had suffered.

After all those years we still remain with the question: What is more important ? The individual or the survival of a group ? The answer is that there is no perfect answer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Yehi Adoneinu ...


"Yehi Adoneinu Moreinu veRabbeinu – Melech HaMeshiach – LeOlam vaEd".

Using this kind of slogan doesn't mean that I agree to it. On the contrary, I think the expression is terrible.

Nowadays "Yehi Adoneinu…." is constantly being used by those Chabadnikkim who believe that the last Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (passed away in June 1994) was the Meshiach; or in other words – the Meshichistim.

The sentence "Yehi Adoneinu …." has become part of the Meshichist prayer service a long time ago. And don't even dare to claim that the Rebbe wasn't the Meshiach if a Messianic Chabadnik is around. Even the former house of Rebbe Schneerson in New York – Crown Heights – Eastern Parkway 770 (called "770" in the short version") has been a place of controversies. Officially the regular (those who do not think that the Rebbe was the Meshiach) rule the place. However, reality is that the Meshichistim have taken over the Rebbe's house in 770. They decide who is allowed in and who should rather stay outside. Fights between the two groups are nothing uncommon anymore. The Israeli "Kfar Chabad" near Rishon LeZion is much more moderate and both groups live together without making a big fuss.

Personally I know quite a few Chabadnikkim and most of them are not Messianic. But why am I writing about the Meshichistim ? Only in order to spread further gossip ?
Not at all. For some years I used to study with Chabad and during that time, and most of the time it was a pleasure being with them and I learned a lot.

I do write this article due to another reason.
Those of you who enter Tel Aviv and pass Kibbutz Galuyiot will definitely see it. It is hard to overlook anyway: the gigantic poster of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson to the right. On the poster he smiles at all of us and underneath it says: "Meshiach ose Nissim veNifla'ot – Meshiach does miracles and great deeds".

I don't know what Chabad exactly means by this but neither in the Tanach nor in further rabbinic literature is stated that the Meshiach is going to do miracles. Only G – d Himself is in charge of miracles and no human being could ever reach a miracle level. G – d is NOT the Meshiach and the Meshiach is NOT G – d. Both identities are totally different and NOT the same.

It goes without saying that the Meshiach is going to do great deeds. No doubt about that. But miracles ?
Do the Chabad – Meshichistim thus claim that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was also G – d ? Sometimes I am a little confused by all their different statements. However, even many Chabad – Meshichistim are confused and consider such a claim as totally exaggerated. Recently, someone had told me that she saw Chabad posters in New York claiming that Rebbe Schneerson is G – d.
But not enough with that. There are directions within the Chabad – Meshichist – movement stating that the Rebbe never died. He is the Meshiach and among us. We just have to open our eyes.

Every time I am asking myself what kind of people are able to believe in such concepts (the Rebbe is the Meshiach). Psychologists would say that those people are searching for a father figure. They simple need a strong personality in their lives telling them What to do. I myself had such experiences with the Meshichistim. Anyway I only know very few of them and therefore I don't intend to generalize.

But how about accepting reality ? Okay, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson passed away and there is no successor. So what ? Other groups such as Breslov have managed and survived the same problem. Why are the Chabad – Meshichistim unable to accept the Rebbe's death ? And could a new appointed successor (rebbe) solve the whole issue ? For that it is already far too late because there is just no chance that all Chabadnikkim would ever agree upon one new rebbe. There are too many disputes within the groups and everyone wants to gain more power.

The result is that we have to continue suffering through more Chabad - Meshiach songs and wait until the real Meshiach is going to come. Hopefully soon !!!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Edah HaCharedit and the Struggle for Tradition


There was hardly any police to be seen at last weeks' demonstration of the Edah HaCharedit. The reason must have been the intermediate days of the Pessach holiday.
In advance the anti – Zionist umbrella organization "Edah HaCharedit" had announced a huge demonstration for the Tuesday of Chol HaMoed Pessach and all the Edah Rabbis showed up on time. The location of the demonstration was the "Kikar Shabbat" in Ge'ulah. The streets around were closed and the only thing disturbing was another demonstration taking place a few hundred meters far away at Jaffa Road. There, about ten secular guys demonstrated for their so - called right of eating Chametz (wheat, rye, barley, etc. products) during Pessach. The Haredim in Ge'ulah, on the other hand, didn't even know about that kind of demonstration, and if they had, they wouldn't have cared anyway.

Everyone is entitled to have his own opinion on the subject of "selling Chametz during Pessach". Unfortunately, a new Israeli law allows doing so. Nevertheless, each of us should ask himself: "How far can I personally go and get assimilated into the non – Jewish world ? Where exactly is my limit where I say – Until here and not any further ? Where does my Judaism and Jewish identity start ?"

And am I at all able to decided about my own life ? Who or what am I ?
And what, if I am just a puppet – on – the – string who has no free will at all and is just a little tiny piece in the whole of G – d's creation ? Already the Ishbitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, had a doubt if there is something like a free will at all. It is probably better and especially more convenient not to know the true answer to this.

The Edah HaCharedit is an anti – Zionist umbrella organization with its headquarter in Strauss Street – in the Jerusalem Ge'ulah neighbourhood. To be more precise, the Edah HaCharedit includes different haredi groups or directions. The members are chassidic groups such as Satmar, Dushinsky, Toldot Aharon, Avraham Yitzchak (sometimes has a special status, as Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn is more open minded), Spinka or parts of Breslov. Another important member are the "Mishkenot HaRoim" who are more an organization with a certain goal than a chassidic group. A further extremely important member is the original litvishe Soloveitchik – movement "Brisk". However, many people always make the same mistake and count the "Neturei Karta" into the Edah HaCharedit. The Neturei Karta is NOT a member of the Edah and has its own regulations and directions. And, by the way, the Neturei Karta consists of many directions and to claim that the Neturei Karta is one organization, is also not true.

The Israeli haredi world consists of two big powerful organizations; the first one is the "Edah HaCharedit" and the second is the "Agudat Israel". The Edah doesn't make any compromises with Zionism and the Agudah, on the other hand, has its own Knesset party, the "Yahadut HaTorah". The Edah HaCharedit looks down on the Agudat Israel, as it sees in them so – called religious Jews who co – operate with the Zionist enemy. There are litvishe Haredim in the Agudah as well as Chassidut Gur (Gerer Chassidim), Chassidut Vishnitz and Chassiut Belz.
The Polish Chassidut Gur has always been a member of the Agudat Israel, Chassidut Belz, on the other hand, used to be a member in the Edah until approx. 1982. Then the present Rebbe Yissachar Dov Rokeach decided to leave and join the Agudah instead. This caused a kind of war between certain Edah members such as Satmar and Toldot Aharon and Belzer Chassidim. Until today, Belz and Satmar or Toldot Aharon are not too friendly with each other although younger Belzer Chassidim are not that hostile anymore. At least not the ones I spoke to.

The Agudat Israel as a whole seems to have less problems than the Edah HaCharedit. At least financially.
The two chassidic groups Belz and Gur are extremely rich and have an immense political impact on Israel. The Edah, on the other hand, only gets its money from Satmar and some private donors. Mostly from the US.
The Edah HaCharedit was founded in 1919. One of the founders was the famous Rabbi Chaim Yosef Sonnenfeld who was, at the same time, the head of the Edah. The main reason for the foundation was the rejection of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook as Chief Rabbi of the Zionist Chief Rabbinate.

Whoever wants to see the Edah HaCharedit in Action, has to go to Mea Shearim or Bnei Brak (near Tel Aviv) and either read the "Fakshivilim – News Posters" on the walls or talk personally to Edah Chassidim.
Unfortunately, another rumour is always being spread: All Mea Shearim inhabitants are anti – Zionist and totally extreme fundamentalists. This rumour is obviously spread by people who have no idea of what they are talking about.

First of all, not everyone in Mea Shearim is anti – Zionist or an Edah member. Just the opposite, because there sometimes are conflicts between Edah members and the ones who are not. The best example are the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. Although they are Edah members, as I mentioned before, Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn, likes to go his own ways. At least sometimes. And this is the reason, why he is criticized by other Edah members. But even Karlin – Stolin has sometimes been criticized by fundamentalist groups.

And whoever considers Mea Shearim as "too extreme" hasn't been to Bnei Brak (near Tel Aviv) yet. Or have you ever seen a Christian missionary walking around in Bnei Brak. Although mostly litvish, Bnei Brak does have many Chassidim such as Vishnitz, Satmar, Zhvil, Sadigora, Skver, Shomrei Emunim, Spinka, Koznitz and many other. And, not to forget, the Neturei Karta has its own synagogue.

When I arrived at the demonstration, all the surrounding streets had already been closed off. A truck was set up as a stage and in the back of the truck, plenty of white plastic chairs were placed. Soon the Edah Rabbis arrived and were seated in the back of the truck.
As usual, men were placed in the front and women in the back। Actually there were hardly any women. 15 or maybe even less. However, I could hear everything but sometimes had difficulties to see from the distance. And this is the reason why I couldn't figure out all the Rabbis making a speech. I know that Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch and Rabbi Rosenberger (Chassidut Satmar) spoke. And, by the way, the Edah didn't call the demonstration "Demonstration" but "Gathering – Atzeret". The Toldot Aharon Chassidim were the absolute majority. No doubt about that. And it was a Toldot Aharon Chassid starting off by reading Tehillim (Psalms). The later speeches were all in Yiddish and only one Rabbi spoke in Hebrew. However, sometimes certain announcements were made in Hebrew.

All Rabbis giving a speech agreed upon one point:
60 years of the Zionist State – what has the State really gained ?
A secular and partly anti – religious State seeing his task in being a modern Jewish State.
Can there be a Torah in the modern world or does represent Torah the modern world as well ?
But as we all know or should know, the Torah goes with time, as it is valid and binds us Jews eternally.

According to the Edah HaCharedit, the Zionist secular education system has completely failed. What kind of a youth do we have today due to the secular system ? A youth whose main goal is to be westernized and modern. Where are the former Torah values today ? Where are we at all today ? Years ago, no one would have got the idea of changing the law and allowing Chametz during Pessach. Not in Israel and especially not in Jerusalem. Where are the ideals of the Jewish People ? G – d Himself has declared us as His "Chosen People". Is everything forgotten ? The secular education system is to be held responsible for the disaster. An education system founded by politicians who have no idea about Judaism and neither show respect for the Torah. What do you expect ?

And I have to say that here I couldn't agree more with the Edah HaCharedit.

But also other conflicts were mentioned and it would have been much more positive, if the members or Chassidim of the Agudat Israel had shown up. I only saw three or four curious Belzer Chassidim and two Chassidei Gur were quickly passing through. Unfortunately, the Gerer Rebbe is sometimes too passive. There are times when something is at stake and the Edah as well as the Agudah should forget about their disputes. At least for a limited time. And there are times when even the members of the Agudah should protest and say out loud their opinion instead of keeping quiet and please the Knesset and its politicians.

The secular press arrived even before the demonstration really started. Cameras were shipped in and reporters were waiting for some action. After the demonstration started, the journalists became more and more a pain. Anyway, how can the Israeli press be so stupid by sending journalists who don't know any Yiddish ? The result was, of course, that the journalists couldn't figure out what was going on and had to ask some Chassidim for translations. However, the Toldot Aharon Chassid on the stage called the haredi public not to answer the questions of the secular media. The journalists didn't give up and ran to some young American litvishe Yeshiva students. The only problem was that the Litvishe also didn't have a clue of what was going on and eventually the Edah sent out some guards in order to watch that no one is breaking the rule of talking to the secular journalists.

I started asking myself how an ordinary secular or traditional Israeli would face the whole situation in front of his TV. What he sees is some old rabbis with a long beard talking about Mitzwot, Zionism and maybe a G – dly destruction of Jerusalem because the Jews sell Chametz on Pessach. What does the Israeli or let's assume a teenager think ? What impression cause the Edah Rabbis in Tel Aviv or Eilat ? Are they able to get them onto their side or at least, make themselves clear ? Or don't people think that there are these old fundamentalists in Mea Shearim not having a clue about what is going on in the world ?

This is another point where each of us should start asking himself and reconsider the real purpose of the demonstration. The whole thing is not about identifying oneself with Mea Shearim or moving in there tomorrow. The issue is about our own Jewish ideals and Torah concepts. Are the Edah Rabbis so wrong by reminding us of our purpose in life ? Aren't they just saying out loud a tremendous society problem in our times ? And could it be that we don't want to hear it because they are our conscience which we very much like to turn off ?

I think that the Edah HaCharedit definitely has an image problem and there is a lot to improve. Only remaining separate from the outside world is not a good solution. Even the Toldot Aharon saw themselves confronted with this problem (at the time of the Jerusalem gay parade two years ago) and chose Rabbi Popenheim to represent them before the media.

Although I very much agree with the Edah Rabbis, they should have also listed some more positive aspects of society. Of course, selling Chametz on Pessach is a terrible thing to do, but aren't there thousands of Jews who do not at all agree to this ? Shouldn't we concentrate more on the good than only on the bad and all kinds of punishments ?

Another prayer took place at the end of the demonstration. A prayer from the Yom Kippur service. Afterwards the demonstration ended peacefully and everybody went his own way. Unfortunately, the press , searching so desperately for scandals, had left a long time before and didn't see the peaceful ending.

Links to similar subjects:

Big Brother is watching you

Contradiction Neturei Karta

The Talmudic reason for Anti - Zionism

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Seventh Day of Pessach


As most of us know, according to Jewish tradition, the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on the seventh day of Pessach. This year, the seventh day was also a Shabbat and a holiday on a Shabbat always means double holiness and lots of spirituality.

After the Shabbat meal on Friday night (Erev Shabbat), my friend and I went to the chassidic Tish of the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak in the Mea Shearim market. The men's section downstairs was packed but upstairs, the Ezrat Nashim was almost empty. We got some great seats and slowly slowly, more and more women streamed inside. Even the Rebbitzen came later.

Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn was in a great spiritual mood and encouraged his Chassidim to sing. He loves songs and swinging. However, it seemed that it was only him being in a swinging mood and it took him some time to wake up his Chassidim. Usually the Rebbe succeeds.

We didn't stay to long and usually I don't like leaving the Avraham Yitzchak early, as I love their Tish .Nevertheless, we had to move on to Toldot Aharon, as I had read about a special Minhag (custom) they keep on the seventh day of Pessach, and I wanted to find out more. I had read in the book of Amnon Levy ("The Haredim") that on the seventh day of Pessach, the Toldot Aharon Chassidim spill water into their Beit Midrash and the Rebbe is dancing through it. Thus representing "Yetziat Mizraim - Crossing the Red Sea". It sounded very spiritual and I would have loved to see that.

When we got to the Toldot Aharon Tish, the place was packed. Hundreds of Chassidim and even worse, hundreds of women occupying the benches. There was no way for us climbing up the metal benches. Luckily, we found some space to stand and look through the Mechitzah. It was relatively late, midnight, and Rebbe David Kahn had just started his Tish.
Eventually we sat down on the back benches without seeing anything. However, it was interesting watching all the women going in and out. It was about after midnight when I asked a Toldot Aharon woman about the custom and when it is going to take place. And her answer proofed once more that you shouldn't trust in books but speak to the Chassidim yourself.
The custom "spilling the water in the Beit Midrash" doesn't exist at all. She told me that around 3am, the Rebbe is going to dance by himself. His Chassidim build a circle and he dances. He does it with such ecstasy that his Neshama (soul) is rising into the upper worlds and thus, the souls (Neshamot) of the Chassidim are rising as well.

When I asked her if all the women were able to see it she gave me the Beit HaMikdash (Temple in Jerusalem) as an example. It says in the Talmud that in the Beit HaMikdash was never a lack of space. Hundreds of thousands of people used to pray there and they all found a spot. The same in the Toldot Aharon Synagogue. As soon as the Rebbe dances, all the women would found a spot; no matter how packed it was.

As we were tired, we decided to leave and unfortunately missed the opportunity of getting the feeling of the Beit HaMikdash. By the way, the Toldot Aharon Rebbe dances by himself twice a year. On the seventh day of Pessach and on Simchat Torah. But on Simchat Torah, only members are allowed into the synagogue due to lack of space. And here we go. Sometimes no other place reaches the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash.


Haredim and Jewish History


Although the headline only mentions "Haredim", this article concerns all kinds of Haredim. Chassidim and Litvishe and not to forget, the national religious.

The thing I always realize anew is that today's Yeshivot mostly leave out one subject: Jewish history.

The Yeshiva curriculum wants the students to study Torah, Talmud, Halachot and Mussar or Chassidut but when it comes to Jewish history, religious students hardly know anything. It goes without saying that also from the Talmud we learn plenty of history. Nevertheless, all the details let alone facts are not always given. Furthermore many worldly events as well as political intrigues are not mentioned. The history of new Babylonian Talmudic centers after the Second Temple destruction is mentioned in the Talmud, however later events such as the destruction of the "Reish Galuta – the ancestors of King David" happened too late and haven't found a place in the Gemara anymore. And who knows about "Bustenai", one of the last, if not the last ancestor of King David ? He later married a non – Jew and the leading rabbis decided that his children are to be considered as Jewish because they didn't want to endanger the existence of the House of King David.

But we don't need to look as far as Babylon. Who of today's Yeshiva students does learn details about Jews once becoming Hellenists ? Who knows about the real events leading to the Second Temple destruction ? And what about later periods ? How great was the Islamic influence in Judaism ? Didn't the Spanish Jews take over many Islamic expressions from their landsmen ?

A brief look at the book "The Kuzari – Al Khazari" by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi (1075 – 1141) is already enough. Many times, the author uses Arabic expressions and tries to fit them into Judaism or the Hebrew language. At the early Middle Ages, Jews living in Spain spoke Arabic anyway.

How much did philosophers and even Chritianity influence Judaism ?
Just have a look at the Spanish Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Abulafia from the Middle Ages. It is said that he used to have close contacts to monks. A very difficult and wide subject and I might write about it more detailed in the future.
Until today, many religious Jews refuse to study the Kabbalah of Rabbi Abulafia. And if they don't refuse it, they study it extremely carefully, as there is a claim that he underwent some Christian influences.

Nevertheless, despite a tight curriculum, isn't it important to learn more history and thus about your own roots ?
An acquaintance of mine, a Chassid, is even writing a book about philosophical influences in Judaism. By the way, he is not the first let alone the only one. Already the Rambam (Maimonides) was a great philosopher and dealt with the famous Greek philosophers.

It is a real pity that science is not a subject in today's Yeshivot anymore. Especially science teaches us more about G – d's greatness and His Creations and I have no explanation why is completely disappeared from the curriculums. Instead, Yeshiva students learn Mishnayiot and Sugiot from the Talmud. If possible, by heart and then they are proud of themselves. If the Rambam or even the Vilna Gaon entered a Yeshiva today and were looking at the curriculum they would probably faint. Why did this happen ? Once, rabbis also used to be great scientist, philosophers and even astronomers. But when you look at them today, there is hardly anything coming out of their mouth except Talmudic concepts. It seems that in our times the most important halachic discussions are being held about setting up Mechitzot in synagogues or Israeli buses in order to make them "kosher – men and women are being separated".

I have absolutely no idea how one could change the present situation. How could someone convince a Yeshiva to extend its curriculum ? Even the first Hesder Yeshivot, I think it was back in Poland, were rejected as too modern. The original idea of the haredi Beit Yaakov girl's school was providing haredi girls with a higher education. And what happened later ? Just look at the Israeli Beit Yaakov today. The only thing the girls learn is some basic Torah knowledge, a little Rashi here and there, cooking, ironing and how to build a family. However, the Beit Yaakov situation in London or New York is very different from the Israeli one. In the Diaspora, Beit Yaakov is much more advanced as in Israel.

The question arises why no one of the students complaints to the teachers. Of course, when you are young, you don't know. The whole day you hear from the teachers that the so – called secular studies are dangerous and only turn you into an Apikores (Heretic) but to me it seems that even the teachers have no idea what they are talking about. What do they know about science and its importance ? They have never learned it either.

So, call it a brainwash from early age. Young students learn that this is Apikores. And those ones who are interested have to keep their studies secret in order not to be thrown out of the Yeshiva.

When I speak to Haredim about this issue, most of them do agree and the older ones among them think that it really is a shame that today's students don't know their own history, philosophy or scientific matter. I admit that philosophy is not for everyone but history and science are extremely important subjects.

Jews buying property in the Arab Quarter


Already last Sukkot, I did the tour but decided repeating it. And, in fact, Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim was offering the same free tour again on this Chol HaMoed Pessach. Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim is a national religious Yeshiva located in the Arab Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Ironically right next to the Christian Via Dolorosa.
Some consider the Yeshiva and its more than 200 students as extremely right wing and those opinions are probably right. Rosh Yeshiva (the Head of the Yeshiva) is the famous Rabbi Shlomo Aviner.

The weather was hot on Pessach, and thus we had the ideal weather for making all kinds of trips. Israelis just love to tour around on Chol HaMoed; no matter if it is Sukkot or Pessach. As an ordinary tourist you should never make the mistake traveling to the Dead Sea, Eilat or the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) when Israelis occupy every centimeter (inch) of free beach space. You are definitely going to loose the battle and thus rather concentrate on going after Chol HaMoed. And every time, Jerusalem's Old City is among the big attractions. Thousands of visitors walk through the Jewish Quarter in order to get to the Western Wall (Kotel). The majority of those visitors is either national religious, litvish or chassidic. And especially the religious don't bring any income to the Arab merchants. There are basically two reasons for religious Jews not buying too much from Arabs. The first reason is that nothing in the other Quarters of the Old City (Arab, Armenian or Christian) is kosher for Pessach. Secondly, there is something called "Ideology" which is extremely important to the national religious. None of them wants to buy anything from the enemy.

A huge sign was hung up right of the tunnel leading from the Kotel into the Arab Shuk (market):
"Tour through the Moslem Quarter by Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim. Free of charge".

Our guide's name was Avi'ad and he is a student at Ateret Cohanim. He carried a head phone and including a loud speaker when he led us through the tunnel right into the Arab Quarter. Avi'ad was in his early Twenties and his reddish hair and beard were cut short. We were about 20 participants including children and their parents, religious as well as secular, Sephardi as well as Ashekenazi. By the way, it seemed that I was the only one not being born in Israel. Officially our tour began outside the tunnel. We turned right and after a few meters stopped at the relatively new Yeshiva of the Breslover Rabbi Eliezer Berland. Rabbi Berland became famous in Breslov because he founded a new Baal Teshuva movement and the necessary study institutions.

Ateret Cohanim is, as mentioned before, not run by Breslov but by the national religious settler movement. Within the past years, the Yeshiva bought quite a few Arab houses in the Moslem Quarter. Usually the deals are made secretly in order not to endanger the life of an Arab who agrees to sell his property to Jews. Other Arabs would surely kill him for that and Ateret Cohanim even provides shelter and new names for such people. The main goal of Ateret Cohanim is to renovate the houses and then put Jewish families inside. This way, slowly slowly the Arab Quarter is becoming more Jewish or at least the Arabs cannot deny a Jewish presents.

One could argue that all those actions are illegal and unfair. Unfair to the Arabs trying to turn their quarter into something Jewish and thus causing more tensions. But what might be even worse – what about the Jews moving in ? Aren't they putting their kids into danger ? Every single day these kids are confronted with the danger of terrorism and have to fear for their lives. How can parents take such risks ?
As I already said, our first stop was the Yeshiva of Rabbi Eliezer Berland. And it was there where Avi'ad explained us that once the Arab Quarter was full of Jewish inhabitants. Several hundred Jews used to live there before the Moslem riots started in 1929 and 1936. Jews used to built and live in Yeshivot and when you pay attention today, you can still see the signs of former Mezuzot. Already in 1929, the Moslems decided to make their quarter "Judenrein" (Nazi expression for "Free of Jews"). They started building more and more mosques and told the Jews to leave. Due to the uprising danger, the Jews got scared and many moved to the Jewish Quarter. Others who didn't were killed by the Moslems in Pogroms. At that time, the British were occupying Palestine and as we all know, British soldiers didn't anything to protect Jews from Arabs. In order not to causing tensions, the British let the Moslems do whatever they wanted and kept quiet. The same happened when the Pogroms in the Old City took place.

However, Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim sees different meanings in their actions by buying Arab property. The first reason is that more and more religious Jews should settle inside the Arab Quarter in order to make Jerusalem more Jewish. And doesn't Israel and Jerusalem belong to the Jews anyway ? What do the Moslems want here at all ? They have no right whatsoever to be here ? It is extremely important that Jews walk through the Arab Quarter because otherwise the Arabs might think that they won. The more Jews they see in their areas, the more they realize that war is not over yet and that the Jews will always be around; no matter what.
I have to admit that I admire this way of thinking and personally consider these Jews doing this as very brave. I am anything but a frequent visitor of the Arab Quarter, as I cannot stand the mentality there. However, I could not live with all the security around me. Walls, high fences, guards and cameras. Every Jewish home in the Arab Quarter has a camera at the entrance. No one is going in and out without be checked thoroughly.

Someone in our tour group asked why there are hardly any Mezuzot in the doorways of the Jewish property. Avi'ad responded that the Mezuzot would only last for a few hours. If at all. The Arabs would just pull them off and throw them into the garbage. This has happened countless times before. Someone else from the tour group had a useful suggestion; why not putting the Mezuzot right into the concrete of the wall. Thus it would be impossible pulling them out.

Our route was very different from the one I took last Sukkot. This time we even went to the Armenian Quarter where I found out that the famous Israeli Youth Hostel in the former Bikur Cholim building doesn’t exist anymore. Instead it was turned into a Yeshiva. Today's Bikur Cholim Hospital in Strauss Street was originally founded in the Old City. One of the first Jerusalem hospitals was actually founded by Christians but when they started missionizing Jews, religious Jews founded the Jewish Bikur Cholim Hospital as well as Shaarei Zedek Medical Center. Today both hospitals are to be found in the new city.

Throughout the whole tour, Avi'ad showed us all the signs of former Jewish life in the Arab Quarter. We climbed over roofs and small stairs which was actually quite adventurous. We visited two Jewish houses where the kids of the family greeted us with cold drinks. In this heat we were all more than grateful for this. And whoever thinks that those kids living there must be scared is wrong. Those kids are more brave than most of us. They know how to live with the permanent danger and later in their lives, they become excellent soldiers in the army. They follow their parent's ideals and Oi Vavoi, a Palestinian is getting too close to them.

At the end of the tour, we watched a short documentary about the Israeli army winning the Six – Day – War in June 1967. The army conquered the Temple Mount (Har HaBait) and kicked out the Jordanian soldiers. But then Moshe Dayan made his famous mistake. He gave the keys to the Temple Mount back to the Moslems. What would have happened if he had not ? Would Meschiach have come ? Or was it just not the time yet and G – d caused another reality ?

Whatever the answer might be, one thing seems to be very clear: Ateret Cohanim inspires many tour participants to think. Even the secular and left – wingers suddenly realize the situation in Jerusalem's Old City and the Arab danger. And after the tour most people know that they won't vote for Olmert again. Israel is better off without him and his corrupt government.

Who wants the "Falash Mura" ?


For quite a couple of years, the "Falash Mura" have been mentioned in the Israeli press. Although no one definitely knows what do to with them, the members of the Falash Mura know how to get attention.

Especially at the time of Pessach, the history of the Falash Mura is easy to explain. When Moshe and the Jews left Egypt, thousands of Jews remained in the country of Paraoh. There were different reasons for their decision and later on, they moved to Sudan or Ethiopia.

In our times the subject of the so - called "Lost Tribes" came up again although most people misuse the whole subject for their own purposes. So do the Indians and many from Peru. They come to Israel and claim to be Jewish but Israel however sees itself confronted with people from Third World countries whose only goal is to look for a better life. There is nothing Jewish about the Indians and others. Haredim and Israeli society as a whole consider the Indian "Jews" as something alien but not as Jewish. The same is going to happen to the Falash Mura. Although probably once Jewish, the members of the Falash Mura are those who later on converted to Christianity. Today they mainly live in Ethiopia and don't see the point why they shouldn't be allowed to make Aliyah to Israel. The Israeli government and other officials however stated that Aliyah is only for Jews and not for those who converted to Christianity. Those should rather immigrate to the Vatican. Why should Israel accept such people ?

But it is not only a religious matter what causes the government to refuse the Falash Mura. Reality speaks a clear language. The thousands of Ethiopian Jews who have been coming here were hardly able to adjust to Israeli society. Most of them are illiterate and thus have no chance of learning Hebrew. Tribes still rule Ethiopian society and many times, the women are beaten by their husbands. Violence in the family, crime and language difficulties are only a few examples of Ethiopian society problems. When they first came to Israel, the Israeli population tried to help as much as they could. But soon, the integration problems became obvious. Israel is a high tech country with a modern society and the Ethiopians were not used to such standards. Instead they ended up in ghettos because Israelis look down on them and don't want them in their neighbourhood. Racism began and exists until today. If not worse than ever before.

Many times we read in the press about schools refusing Ethiopian children and the latest case happened in the Negev town of Beer Sheva where Ethiopian women were not allowed to enter a Mikweh (ritual bath) until the white population was done.
Many Ethiopians gave up on society and see themselves rejected by Israelis More and more teenagers start a crime career because they see their Israeli counterparts. Skateboards, computers, expensive clothes - and they cannot accept why they shouldn't be able to have the same chances. Only because their parents are illiterate and unemployed ? Many youngsters break into houses or sell drugs in order to make a living and this behaviour upsets Israelis even more.

However, despite all the difficulties, the Ethiopian is very proud of one thing; to be Jewish and to practice Judaism.
The only problem is that many couples consist of mixed marriages, as already in Ethiopia, Jews married Christians. And today you have to be careful because many of their children are not Jewish according to Halacha.

And now, a new danger seems to appear.
The government is considering to accept the Falash Mura for Aliyah. The Jewish Ethiopian community is going wild. They face enough society problems and in case the Falash Mura were making Aliyah, thousands of Christians would infiltrate into Ethiopian society. According to Ethiopian rabbis, the Falash Mura only have one goal which is missionizing Ethiopian Jews in Israel. And Israelis society will get mad as soon as they hear that Christians are exploiting the Aliyah rights. Why should the Israeli tax payer support Ethiopian Christians ?

Officially it is estimated that there are still 7000 Falash Mura in Ethiopia and they are all ready to make Aliyah. Come to a Western country and have a good live. Other sources, however, estimate the Falash Mura of about 10,000 members. No one knows the exact figures. And the Jewish Ethiopians in Israel have already announced that they will not accept the Falash Mura and regard them as outlaws. Not only them but also Israeli society doesn't want them in the country. Realistically speaking this new immigration will cause further ghettos and crime. Let alone a missionizing problem. The Falash Mura might be allowed to make Alyah but as soon as they arrive, they are and will remain outsiders in Israeli society.

Sooner or later Israel is going to regret the decision letting the Falash Mura make Aliyah and already today, no one really knows what to do with them.

Rabbi Akiva's Students and the Omer


It is customarily to refrain from listening to music during the Omer period. At least not until Lag Ba'Omer (the 33. day of the Omer). Not only music is avoided but also cutting ones hair and weddings.

Lag Ba'Omer was the day when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away. He was a student of the famous Tanna Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef.
We are always told that the time of the Omer period is a time of mourning and that's why we have to avoid listening to music or celebrating weddings. The Talmud Tractate Yevamot 62b teaches that during this time, 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague. Our Mefarshim refer to the death of the students as a G - dly punishment because the students spoke Lashon HaRah (idle talk) about each other. Each of them wanted to be the best and most respected person and didn't see the other ones anymore.

Historians, however, make a completely different statement. The students didn't die in a plague but died in the war with the Romans. This version seems to be more realistic and I totally agree with it. Rabbi Akiva falsely saw the Meschiach in Bar Kochba and supported him in the war against the Romans. He even let his students fight for Bar Kochba and many of them fell.

There is no doubt that the time of the Omer is a mourning period but unfortunately, many people might stress the wrong reason for it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chabad strikes back


No one could have invented such a story unless someone really saw it with his own eyes.

Before I start telling the event taking place in Jerusalem's shopping mall Ben Yehudah last night, I have to make it clear that not every Chabadnik is a Meshichist (one who believes that the last Lubavitsher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson) is the Meshiach. The Meshichistim do NOT represent the Chassidut Chabad as a whole !!!

Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson who passed away in June 1994.

The location of the incident was in Ben Yehudah Street No. 5, right in front of the Chabad House.

For a few weeks already, an American singer has been singing almost every night at this exact location. I have to admit that she is very good but on the other hand, an ordinary street singer doesn't bring his bodyguards. It is rather strange that she always has at least two people in order to protect her.

Last night, the Ben Yehudah was packed due to the holiday and the great weather of 37 degrees Celsius. However, no one was too much interested in the singer. I listened to her and maybe some other ten people. Everyone else was busy eating an ice cream.

Suddenly four Chabadnikkim came downstairs and started singing and dancing with two yellow Meshiach flags. The singer was upset and turned her loudspeaker on full volume. That was it. The Chabadnikkim were finished although they got lots of attention. At least a hundred people had gathered by now to watch the show. However, Chabad gave up and rolled the Meshiach flags together.

About half an hour later, I saw a cable being thrown downstairs from the Chabad House balcony. This was it, I thought. The big show could begin.
The Chabadnikkim came back and this time with two huge loudspeakers. After a short soundcheck, the Ben Yehudah was shaking. This time, the singer didn't have the slightest chance and she gave up. If she had a machine gun, she would have killed the Chassidim. Instead she tried to be nice and sang to their songs. She even danced with them in order to upset the Chassidim.

The singer's fans got wild and one started attacking a Chabadnik. Two policemen showed up and singer and fans complained about Chabad. Nothing helped and the Meshiach songs continued. In the meantime, some bystanders had joined the Chabad dance and some children were waving the flags.
The singer, on the other hand, ran around like a mad woman and tried to save her Hollywood career.

Eventually Chabad made an agreement with the police to stop the show after 40 minutes or so. And Chabad kept its word. Right after they packed, the singer started singing again but the approx. 200 bystanders left. The great show was over.
Unfortunately. Let's wait until tonight. Is Chabad striking back again ? Is the Meshiach coming to dance as well ?

Many people filmed the scenes and as soon as something appears on the Internet, I am going to publish it in this blog !!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The New Toldot Aharon Center


The construction of the new Toldot Aharon Center in Mea Shearim Street / Shivtei Israel Street doesn't seem to make any progress. A crane is still standing and shows some continuation but that's about it. One of the Toldot Aharon members told me that still lots of money is needed to finish building the new center.

Until then we can have at least a look at great pictures on the Internet how the new center is going to look.

View from Shivtei Israel Street

View from Mea Shearim Street


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Demonstration and Light Show


Two big events made headlines in Jerusalem's Pessach atmosphere. Actually there were more such as the "Bircat HaCohanim - Blessing of the Cohanim" at the Kotel (Western Wall) this morning.

The Old City is crowded with thousands of visitors. The atmosphere is great but forget about the prices. Bringing your own food is very wise instead of wasting too much money.

In the late afternoon I participated in a rallye of the Edah HaCharedit at Kikar Shabbat (Ge'ulah / Mea Shearim). The subject was the change of the law that selling Chametz during Pessach would be allowed in Israel and thus in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Many Edah rabbis spoke and I have a lot to write and prepare. Furthermore I got some really interesting Edah magazine; fresh out of the printing machine. As soon as I have sorted out all the information, I am going to put a longer article into this blog.

The afternoon demonstration of the Edah HaCharedit

Photo: Ynet

The second event just finished now.
The municipality organized a huge light show on the city walls right outside Jaffa Gate. The truth is that I found it very disappointing because I expected much more. Pictures and lights were shown on the walls explaining the history of Jerusalem. I don't know why but people always seem to make the same mistake all over when they show Avraham and Yitzchak. At the Akeida (Sacrificing of Yitzchak), Yitzchak was 37 years old and not a little boy. I think that the municipality should have avoided that mistake.

I enjoyed the demonstration more than the light show but nothing in life is perfect. What else can I say ???

Poster of the light show

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Breslover Chassidim at Zion Square (Jerusalem)


Whoever wants to laugh can do so while watching the video. The Breslover - Na Na - Chassidim are around.

Further links to Breslov:

Chassidut Breslov - Part 1

Chassidut Breslov - Part 2

A brief way of saying "Hello"


One thing for sure: In Israel we are having a "hot" Pessach. Weather is far too hot but people are using it for trips all over the country. Especially the beaches are packed.

My Seder was chassidic and, as expected, I ate far too much.
There is not too much going on in Mea Shearim during the Pessach holiday. The only exception might be tomorrow (Tuesday) with a huge demonstration against the "Law of selling Chametz during Pessach". The government considers to change the law and might permit the selling of Chametz during Pessach throughout Israel.

The demonstration against the changing of the law is going to take place:

1. At Kikar Shabbat.

2. Time: Tomorrow - Tuesday - Chol HaMoed, at 5pm

I assume that there will be thousands of men but hardly any women and if there are women like me, we are going to find ourselves behind an ugly Mechitzah (separation).

Reading the Fakshivilim on the Mea Shearim walls is more than interesting these days, and I can only recommend a walk through Mea Shearim Street.
The Neturei Karta has something to say about the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel ("The Zionists and their impure State"). Furthermore, the Neturei Karta is having a two days congress at their Synagogue "Torah ve'Yirah". It wasn't really clear to me when exactly, as they were giving different times. European and Israeli time but everything was too confusing although I would really like to go.

Another poster has a different message:
"Don't bring the following papers into your pure home: HaModiah, Yeter Ne'eman or Mishpacha". A few more were listed but, as you surely notice, all of them are litvishe newspapers or magazines. So don't bring the "impurity" into your home when you cleaned for Pessach.

Another interesting poster called parents to carefully choose a travel agency. Many Yeshivot go on trips in spring and, unfortunately, impure travel agencies take the Bachurim to mixed beaches were their Yetzer is aroused. So consult your rabbi before going to a travel agency.

It always surprises me anew reading this kind of messages on the Mea Shearim walls. You couldn't make up such stories. Even someone writing a book would never ever think of such issues. You have to go their and read it yourself.:-)

Have a great Pessach - Moadim Le'Simcha !!!!!!

Friday, April 18, 2008

פסח שמח וכשר


As many other bloggers, I am also taking some time off on Pessach. It could be that sometimes I am writing something small but we will see.

For people spending Pessach in Jerusalem:
The famous "Birkat HaCohanim - Blessing of the Cohanim" is going to take place on Tuesday morning. Afterwards the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu will hold his traditional Pessach speech at the square in the Jewish Quarter.

Pessach Sameach & Kasher - Have a great and happy Passover !!!!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pessach Pictures from Israel


No forbidden Chametz (wheat, barley, spelt, rye products) is allowed in this shop.

Announcements (Fashivilim) in Mea Shearim

Pessach - Kashering (of dishes) in Mea Shearim

Breslover Chassid

Boxes full of kosher Pessach cookies

Mazza production

Ready to deliver

Growing wheat in Northern Israel

Arutz 7

Far and Close


Although I really would like to join chassidic society with all its customs and laws, I am not able to do so. The Simple Jew once wrote me a comment that there are people who, for whatever reason, cannot let go their former life or behaviour. I totally agree with him and I am probably the living example for it. I cannot let go and the question always coming up is if someone should let go ? Forget everything and start a new life. In this case chassidic.
There are definitely groups such as Chabad or Breslov where you can join and at the same time, don't have to forget about your former lifestyle. You don't just have to make a cut and that's it. Forget about your secular family and friends. Just associate with other Chassidim and tell anyone beyond society to bounce off.

There are times when I seriously want to give up everything but reality doesn’t let me do so. I know myself to well and I would not be able to let go certain things in my life. Things I do consider as important. Maybe you don't but I like watching movies, reading novels, talk to all kinds of people and go to the beach.
Of course, I could replace all of this and my list might sound trivial to you. Going to a mall and having a cup of coffee. Sitting in a cafe together with men and woman. No separation and an "only" Hechsher (kosher certificate) from the Rabbanut Yerushalaim. Or wasting time by watching a stupid Hollywood movie or having a beer. Well, at least I don't smoke.

Once I had a flatmate who gave up everything in her life in order to lead a chassidic life style. She still talked to her parents and visited them but sent a letter to her former class mates in which she officially told them to "F… off" (excuse my words !!!). The class mates were shocked but, at the same time thought, that she is nuts.

When I was facing one of my crises, it was my flatmate telling me that I should stop dealing with anything but chassidic. No more national religious let alone secular or, Chas ve'Chaliah, not Jewish. I knew that in a way she was right but thought that I couldn't do this. Just dump all the friends and look for the perfect chassidic ones. In a way this would be too boring. Behaving all the time and not being able telling certain sarcastic jokes. Many female Baalot Teshuva (newly religious) drive me nuts when they claim that everything is Lashon HaRah (gossip, idle talk). Sometimes you feel that you cannot say anything anymore because a woman stares at you and says "Lashon HaRah". One Chabadnikit even suggested that I should show all my blog articles to my rabbi before I publish them. I was ready to kill her.

And especially those are the moments when I run away because I need a free society. Besides all my movies and novels, I need tolerant people and cannot deal with this called "so holy women praying all the time and not speaking Lashon HaRah". Well, at least they consider themselves as so holy but when you look closer they are just the opposite.

Sometimes I am happy when I am close to Chassidim and Chassidut but sometimes I also need my distance and freedom. Let's suppose I became chassidic and moved into a certain neighbourhood. I couldn't bear people watching me all the time. Does she keep this, does she pray enough…..

I admit that I am far from being happy with the whole situation. In a way I am not here and there. On the other hand, there are times when I am glad that I am neither here nor there. Psychologists would call it fear of settling somewhere permanently. Maybe this is that case, but not only. I am a person who many times needs a change and being stuck in a close society where I am unable to express myself in whatever way is not for me. Or do you honestly think that I could continue writing on the Internet ? Maybe unanimously but not under a real name. What would my holy neighbours think ?

Now everyone of you is waiting for a solution. Seriously, I don't see a solution. Either I become chassidic or I continue my "far and close way". Either I make a move or I don't.
At the moment, however, I am not moving.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Traitor ?


Am I a traitor or not ?

A short while ago, I wrote about the haredi "Shefa – Market (Shuk) boycott. The Haredim boycott their popular grocery chain Shefa – Market because its owner, the Dor Alon Group, also owns the grocery chain "AM:PM" which is open on Shabbat. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv as well the the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, called for a Shefa boycott until the Dor Alon Group gives in and closes AM:PM on Shabbat. As far as I know, the boycott has been delayed but nothing has been decided yet.

A little more then a week ago, posters (Fashivilim) appeared on the walls of Ge'ulah and Mea Shearim where the haredi population was informed that they can return shopping at Shefa. Last Sunday, however, Shefa opened one of its branch to the secular public and the Haredim started a wild demonstration in front of the particular branch. Shefa is designed for the haredi public and a customer is only let in when he dresses modestly. Women only enter dressed in long skirts and men with a head cover. If you don't accept the rules, you are not being allowed to enter.
Letting in the secular immodestly dressed public is seen as an offense by the Haredim. Shefa, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have much of a choice if they don't want their losses to grow.

Last week I entered a AM:PM branch in Tel Aviv. My excuse is that no other grocery store was open anymore. While entering I started asking myself if I am a traitor when I buy something at this "heretic" store. Although there were many customers inside, I ran out after less than a minute. The exaggerated prices had almost let me faint. How can people buy in such stores and who is able to pay such horrendous prices ?

Today at work I received coupons for the Pessach shopping. In Israel it is more then common that employers hands out such coupons as gifts to their employees. Usually before Pessach and Rosh HaShana.

And guess where I can go and spend the money ?
At the Shefa – Market.
Now what ?

Should I be loyal to the Haredim and keep boycotting or should I rather think materialistic and don't care ? Just get the groceries, no matter what.

I decided to be materialistic. I don't even have an excuse. Just pure materialism.

As I said, I am not sure about the latest boycott update. Is it put on hold or not ?
Am I getting stoned by the Haredim for entering or not ?
I will see tonight.

Mea Shearim and Ge'ulah before Pessach


The heat was almost unbearable last night but it didn't stop people from their Pessach preparations. The shops in the haredi neighbourhoods of Ge'ulah and Mea Shearim were open until late and unbelievable crowded. New dishes, shoes, clothes, Streimels or the last cleaning material, everything just faded away from the shops. People just didn't stop buying.

The streets were so crowded that many pedestrians started walking in the streets. Therefore, the traffic partly stopped and cars as well as buses were wildly blowing their horns.
Many shops were still open at 10.30pm. Haredim were running up and down and women were busy cleaning balconies and windows. Huge loads of potatoes, onions and carrots were stored in front of the shops. This will be our Ashkenazi food during Pessach.

Sometimes people carried a table outside and placed it in front of their house. The house is "kasher for Pessach" and for the last few days before the Seder, many haredi families prefer to eat outside in order not to mess up the house again. No more bread and cookie crumbs. Who is able to watch the little kids all the time and quickly some crumbs could find their way into the carpet.

The big problem starts this Friday night – Erev Shabbat. We are still supposed to eat bread before the meal but how can we do that by not messing up the living room ?
Many people eat their bread over a sink and, as I mentioned, simply sit outside. The whole flat is kosher for Pessach and already on Shabbat, we eat food kosher for Pessach (except for the bread). However, there won't be any more Challot but mostly Pita bread. Bakeries have already stopped their production and those few cleaning for Pessach, already sell food "kasher le'Pessach".

"Café Hillel" and "English Cake" will be kosher and open throughout Pessach. But in case you are Ashkenazi or even worse, chassidic, and therefore starving due to the strict food restrictions on Pessach, watch out as Hillel as well as English Cake will definitely ask for higher prices.

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Age is everywhere


New Age Breslov Graffiti

Sorry, but many extremely modern Chabadnikkim who only later joined Chabad seem to me rather like a New Age Clan than belonging to a serious chassidic group. The same with those Breslover Chassidim who join the "Na Na Cult" and put a huge white Kipa with the "Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me'uman" on their heads. Although their spiritual leader, Rabbi Israel Odesser, died some years ago, the Na Na Cult is quite successful. At least in Jerusalem.

They especially attract many society outlaws who suddenly see their future in the movement. But why not ? The only problem is that the original serious Breslover from Mea Shearim look down on them and don't take them serious at all.
Anyway, this is a wide subject and books could be written about the internal streams within Breslov; especially between the "real born" Breslovers and the Baalei Teshuva (who joined later).

Breslover New Age Logo

Today we see many Chabdnikkim as well the "Na Na followers" singing and dancing in the streets. But don't expect Klezmer tunes. Instead they like to take modern pop songs and turn them into something religious with religious texts. Texts which are easy to remember and remain in your memory for a long time. Call it "great PR". Everybody can join and dance to Rabbi Nachman songs or the songs of the Chabad Meshichistim "The Lubawitscher Rebbe is the Meshiach".

I can more or less understand the modernity of outreach today. The groups want to attract newcomers and they seem to be quite successful. However, there is one modern movement I cannot really tolerate. It is just nothing for me and whenever I see them, I try to escape as fast as I can. The movement is calling itself "neo – chassidic" but has nothing to do with serious chassidic groups. Rather it is more for the real freaks and hippies. There is nothing worse than the Carlebachers.

A real Carlebacher would definitely not call himself "a Carlebacher" but a "follower of Shlomo".
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach used to be a Chabadnik for many years until he split away and started his own outreach program. Most of us know the famous melodies he composed which are extremely popular until today. But Reb Shlomo also had a very bad habit and therefore other rabbis, especially the haredi world, rejected him. Shlomo liked to give everyone a hug and when I say "everyone" I also mean the women. Many people, even female followers, still claim that it wasn't always a hug but also more. His true followers, on the other hand, don't stop admiring him, no matter what. And they still claim that Shlomo didn't just write his songs but received the melodies from the upper spiritual worlds.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Today you can find plenty of Carlebach Shuls and Carlebach Minyanim all around the world. One small synagogue in Jerusalem became quite famous among the Anglo population. "Kol Rina" in the Nachlaoth neighbourhood. "Kol Rina" is located in a bomb shelter and when you climb downstairs, you will get to a room which rather looks like a leftover from the hippie movement in the 70ies. There are even mattresses just in case you feel like laying down and receiving Shlomo's voice from the upper world.

Nevertheless, "Kol Rina" is very successful and most new immigrants from the States, the UK, etc. stream there every Shabbat. If you are familiar with the Carlebach – Style you can probably imagine that, in case you join, you will have a late Kiddush. Due to the Carlebach clapping, the service takes ages.

The ones who usually cannot stand "Shlomo and his clan" are the Haredim. "Reb Shlomo wasn't a Rabbi but only a singer", a chassidic friend of mine once said. There were even times when Reb Shlomo walked through Mea Shearim and Chassidim started spitting at him. Everyone can have his own opinion about Reb Shlomo and the Carlebachers. One thing is for sure: Despite his very open hippie style, he succeeded a lot in Kiruv. Many Jews found their way into orthodox Judaism davka through him.

However, from what I see in Nachlaot today, the New Age followers become more and more weird. It is not only the clothing style but the whole mentality is strange. As soon as they start talking you only hear "Shlomo, Shlomo, Shlomo". It can be that I am too conservative and like to concentrate on more serious chassidic groups or movements. But even if not, the Carlebachers are definitely not my cup of tea.

Reb Shlomo in Action

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pessach and the Modesty (צניעות)


Actually I should have found out many chassidic Pessach customs. I should have gone to several chassidic Tishes and interviewed the Chassidim. Nevertheless, I did nothing. I didn't even go for Maariv let alone Shacharit and it wasn't even laziness. I was simply too tired and my friend can confirm it.
Wasn't it me falling asleep on her couch and talking in my sleep ?
From one second to the other I was in a different world and started talking from Lala - Land. There was no other choice but going to bed.

If there are any chassidic Tishes taking place this coming Erev Shabbat, we will definitely be there and investigate. It would be interesting to find out if the Edah HaCharedit does another street division during Chol HaMoed Pessach. Last Sukkot, Mea Shearim Street as well as the market were divided into men's and women's sections. Traffic was rather complicated and during Chol HaMoed, Mea Shearim had employed a security company watching the male and female road traffic. But not only Mea Shearim; in Bnei Brak the same occured.

This Chol HaMoed we are going to have another look and thus behave very well. Following the rules of the Edah and not bothering the male Yetzer (negative site in us). Visiting Bnei Brak on Chol HaMoed is another challenge, as I am planning to throw myself into the modesty buses. No more looking around bored but sitting behind a Mechitzah. At least in the No. 1 bus in Bnei Brak. Egged - bus No. 402 from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak doesn't have a visible Mechitzah but men sit in the front and woman in the back. This will be an experience and I will let you all know how a woman feels sitting behind a curtain (bus no. 1).


The Fraud from the Mount of Olives


We are so used to it in Israel. We Jews dealing with Christian missionaries or other fundamental Christians know it too well. These kind of Christians always have the desire to claim that they are actually Jewish. They come to Jerusalem and first identify themselves as Christians. Very nice and honest.
After about two weeks however, suddenly they are Jewish. At least according to their own opinion. Jewish roots and the spirit, you know. We Jews have to understand that and especially the Ministry of the Interior being in charge of visa extensions.

But we Jews don't have any patience for these sick and illogical ideas of fundamentalist tourists and the Ministry of the Interior is more than fed up. No extension but deportation.
The frauds have to go home.

Those kinds of frauds do anything to make Jews think that they are Jewish as well. They try to learn Jewish religious expressions and as soon as they use them, I already know about their fraud identity. Last Erev Shabbat, another fraud tried to impress at the Shabbat dinner at Rabbi Mordechai Machlise's house. Rabbi Machlis is the only Rabbi in Jerusalem who accepts Gentiles for a Shabbat dinner. He sees it as a great Mitzwah and Chesed even if some of the Jewish religious guests complain about too much idol worship at the Shabbat table. Christians walk in with crosses around their neck and last Erev Shabbat, a cell phone rang a few times.
A few weeks ago (also on Erev Shabbat), a German Gentile took a picture of a group of religious Jews standing in front of the house. And now you can imagine why no other Rabbi in Jerusalem invites such ignorant people to his Shabbat table.

For a couple of years already, a group of young fundamental Christians has been living on top of the Mount of Olives. There they are busy praying and studying their idol worship ideas. No one says a word and even the local Arabs keep quiet. However, sometimes these Christians come down from the Mount of Olives and try to missionize. In a rather stupid manner, I have to say. Let alone that they look like jerks from far away. And as they do clothe themselves in Hippie style they claim to be Yeshiva students from Bat Ayin (a freaky Jewish orthod. Yeshiva and settlement in Gush Etzion, near Kiryat Arba). As soon as you talk to those guys you know that something is wrong. Just listen to their weird ideas about Judaism and you realize their true purpose.

Last Erev Shabbat, one of those frauds and originally from Mexico, got up and made a speech at the Machlis home. As usual, he introduced himself as Jewish and claimed to study the Tanach. Tanach is a famous example of expressions Christian missionaries picked up from Jewish vocabulary. "HaShem" is another one. But just listen, how they use it in a funny and stupid way.
So, Mexican fraud studies Tanach which also represents for him the New Testament. Then the Mexican fraud intended to continue with something kabbalistic. Why did the Holocaust happen and where was G - d ? Fraud gave a complete explanation about the Holocaust.

The only problem is that there is no explanation. If we had an explanation for everything happening in this world, we would be G - d. And taking the Holocaust as an example to teach something ridiculous is simply ignorant and rude.

Not only once, Christian missionaries make the claim that six million Jews died in the Holocaust because they didn't accept J.C. as the Meschiach. What a sick statement.

I wish our government would notice this and other statements, and not only accept money from vicious John Hagee and his followers. Instead, we Jews should rather concentrate on our own strengths keeping us alive for thousands of years.

And what happened to the Mexican fraud and his kabbalistic Holocaust statement ?
Nothing. He got some explanations from the Jewish point of view but just like all other missionaries, he didn't listen.

Further Information:

Israeli anti - missionary organization "Yad Le'Achim"

Jews for Judaism Jerusalem

Outreach Judaism

Ynet Forum

Everything kosher for Pessach - הכל כשר לפסח


Here is a very helpful link regarding Pessach Kashrut in Israel:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Christian Missionaries in Ben Yehudah


The weather has started to become nice and warm; even in the evenings you can sit outside, enjoy your ice cream and chat with friends. This is exactly what I did last night in the Ben Yehudah shopping mall downtown Jerusalem. But first I saw this obviously Christian music group standing there. I couldn't understand anything of their singing but already saw from far away this Christian fundamentalist smile saying: "I have seen the light but you Jews have not."

I met a haredi friend nearby and we sat down a little further away to talk. After ten minutes, the whole thing started. A young guy come up to us and asked if we are interested in some "new" ideas. He suggested that maybe we should take over a new life style. My friend and I weren't pleased, as you can imagine and these kinds of Christians drive me mad. I was already about telling him to mind his own business when my friend started a whole discussion with him.

The young guy, holding his blue "Holy Bible ?" in his hand, told us that he is 21 years old and from South Carolina. If we are interested in listening to some words from the New Testament. Well, we didn't feel like wasting our time with listening to schizophrenic ideas and said NO. My friend, however, tried to explain to the missionary that you don't come to Jerusalem and start all your idol worship mission. Who do you think you are ? We are Israelis and live here, we know the country and many of us have studied our religion for many years. Now comes along a Christian missionary and thinks that he can explain us something. What a stupidity.

After a while, two more missionary guys showed up, each of them holding another unholy bible in their hand. Actually they looked more like Nazis than missionaries.
I was really tempted to call Benjamin Kluger from the Israeli anti - missionary organiszation Yad Le'Achim. I know Benjamin and have spoken to him quite a few times but unfortunately, I didn't have his phone number.

Benjamin Kluger from the Jerusalem branch of "Yad Le'Achim"

It is high time that Yad Le'Achim is going to act in the Ben Yehudah Mall. The missionaries are spreading out because they think that in this location they have an easy target. Young Israelis who are mostly secular and don't know too much about Judaism. Such missionaries are more than arrogant and don't even see that they are one of the most vicious people. The Nazis killed Jews but the missionaries want to steal Jewish souls which makes it even worse.

Just go to Ben Yehudah on Mozzaei Shabbat and have a look. For many weeks now, a Christian choire has been singing there. Happy clappy missionaries waving their arms up in the air and probably experiencing schizophrenic visions.
Where are the Gerer Chassidim when you need them ? Hopefully someone is going to react soon.


Jews for Judaism in Jerusalem

A Youtube video where you can watch my friend dealing with another missionary in Ben Yehudah Street.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

False Hechsher for Mazzot


Unfortunately, Mazzot with a false Hechsher are nothing unusual nowadays. Business goes well before Pessach and everyone wants to gain a profit. And now the Rabbanut (Israeli Chief Rabbinate) gave out a special warning:

"Matzot Yehuda / Chevron is operating under a false hechsher and basically without any hechsher at all, so it would seem".

The company claims to have a Hechsher from Rabbi Dov Lior and Rabbi Eliyakim Levanoni but both Rabbis deny their involvement.

Further information:

The Statement of the Chief Rabbinate Jerusalem (Hebrew only),%202008.pdf?gda=7Jyz5lkAAACxA6DJ6zi25nwIwB8V_uM__RUWZ5vhIeq72gw9NN10B2G1qiJ7UbTIup-M2XPURDTJ0vokjLpFnmBGZHKfyNGII1_2cjx3id7rQl2vpmNoIvYKXuC1_ycNvjsDDw6NhcM

It all depends on the mood


Religion should never depend on one's mood. It is impossible leading a religious life today and tomorrow you do the opposite. Today I am in the mood and tomorrow I am not. Let's wait and see what I am up to the day after tomorrow.

Many people convert to Judaism because they are just in the mood or it seems a fashion to them. Judaism is IN and therefore, I want to be a part of it. But they make the mistake and don't realize the consequences. However, my intention is not to write about such irresponsible cases but rather about religious Jews who are sometimes simply fed up. Too much society pressure and / or those who put too much pressure / expectations upon themselves.

Is it really possible to take a break from religion ? Only for a short period of time and devote your life to other things ?
Every time I am leaving Jerusalem, I am seeing myself confronted with this question. Religious Jews in Jerusalem are always involved somewhere in their own environment. It doesn't matter if someone is Haredi or National Religious; each of them is more or less involved and can hardly escape. The worst is when you are married. In this case, you cannot just decided to take a short break from religion. What would your spouse say ?

An important chassidic concept is fulfilling the Mitzwot (Torah laws) with joy. Kabbalistic literature even mentions different kinds of levels you can reach by keeping Mitzwot. It all depends on your intention; are you doing it out of fear of G – d, because you want to do someone a favour, you do it because you are used to or you do it out of joy and love of G – d ?

Rabbi Nachman von Breslov (1772 - 1820) claimed that one who is not in a good mood today should force himself being joyful. If you just force yourself long enough, you might end up joyful.
But does this concept always work ? What happens if I have had really enough at the moment ? At least for now. Do I then need to force myself into something or wouldn't it be better to take a break ?

Both suggestions are right. Basically it is never wrong gaining a certain distance and this doesn't automatically mean that you are escaping from G – d let alone "off the derech". You can go to the beach but still say the Berachot (blessings) over your food. Not rushing to the synagogue on time doesn't mean that now you are falling into the depths of secularism.

Maybe the best way is finding a certain balance. Of course, many religious Jews such as Chassidim (not necessarily Chabad or Breslov but more closed groups) cannot keep a distance, as they are around the clock involved in community or further religious matters. Distance between Yeshiva and familiy ? In reality this is only a dream.

My personal solution might sound controversial but I think that sometimes it is better to take a break from religion; just in order to gain a distance and then returning with much more joy and energy. There are times when you need to think of something else and get a clear mind. Then you can start rethinking everything and realize what your goal is. But it can also be the case that someone decides to force himself just like Rabbi Nachman of Breslov suggested. Both aspects do depend very much on someone's personal situation, and only force doesn't always help.

One experience I am having over and over again:
You can always take a break but never ever really escape. On too many occasions religious thoughts and Mitzwot enter my mind. Usually this occurs automatically without me pushing it away, as I don't want to push it away.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rabbi Metzger's "Impossible Mission"


Almost everyone has heard about the mother of twelve from Beit Shemesh who abused her children and got arrested a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, child abuse is nothing new in Israel and almost daily we can read different stories in the newspapers. The mother of twelve children however, has been in the headlines since her arrest. The secular press just jumps on the subject and papers such as HAARETZ and YEDIOT ACHARONOT cannot get enough of the story.

The famous mum from Beit Shemesh is a haredi woman. A Baalat Teshuva who only became religious about seven years ago. She and some rabbis got arrested, as they are accused of child abuse. The rabbis obviously told the mother to torture her children because they (the kids) were obsessed by demons. I don't want to go into the exact torture details, as for me it is hard to understand all the different stories going around in the press.

The children claim that their mother has lost her mind when she became religious. The main role in her "new" life played some obscure rabbis who told her what to do. Two of those accused rabbis escaped to Canada and the rest is already behind bars.

I spoke to some Haredim about the case and, as it is very common in haredi society, they don't see anything wrong in their own society. Okay, this mother from Beit Shemesh is haredi. But what kind of a Haredi ?

Well, yes, she is a Baalat Teshuva, which turns her for most born Haredim automatically into a lower status.
"She is not one of us !!!".
Especially not when the police are after her and she destroys the haredi reputation.

And secondly, mum followed a bunch of freaky rabbis who really look more like freaks than serious rabbis. And do these "rabbis" have a Semicha (rabbi's certificate) at all or are they just some crazy self appointed ones ?

Many times, haredi society finds itself involved in scandals caused by Baalei Teshuva (those who later became religious in their lives). The most famous example is the Chassidut Breslov in Israel. Whereas you find the descendants of the original followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Mea Shearim, many other "newcomer groups" proclaiming themselves Breslov, consist of society outlaws.
Breslov and Chabad are the only chassidic groups making it more or less easy for outsiders to join. Any other chassidic group has strict rules and not everyone can just show up and get accepted.

Especially the Breslov community in Jerusalem faces more and more applicants who have formerly been criminals. Either drug addicts or those who were in jail for whatever reason. And many of those join the Breslover Na Na - cult. Serious Breslovers from Mea Shearim look down on them and don't accept them at all. The Mea Shearim population totally rejects them and even considers them as a danger to the kids in the neighbourhood. Of course, there are enough born Haredim causing scandals or becoming criminals as well. However, the mainstream of haredi society points its finger on the unreliable Baalei Teshuva.

Whereas Israel's secular press jumps on the abuse subject, haredi papers hardly mention the case. Have they mentioned the case at all ? Such topics have no place in the haredi press.
Once again, haredi society finds itself criticized because they don't break their silence. When a haredi family finds out that their child was abused, they rather keep quiete instead of going to the police. Those of you being familiar with the society know that it could be harmful getting involved with the police and starting a big fuzz. What about a nice Shidduch for the siblings ? What about the neighbours and the Yeshivot ? Haredim are afraid of scandals and they don't take risks. The majority of abused children have to overcome their personal nightmare alone, as they don't even get professional treatment from psychologists . The parents keep silent and business goes on as usual.

The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Jonah Metzger is now trying to encourage haredi society to go to the police and make complaints. Speak about child abuse because the abusers need to be put in jail. Obviously Rabbi Metzger's appeal won't be too successful; especially chassidic groups of all kinds and the Litvaks cannot change their behaviour so easily. Let alone in case the abuser is one of the greatest respected rabbis within the group ? How can you fight him anyway ?

There are still thousands of problems involved and another thousand considerations to be made. In the near future, haredi society won't change and further silence will be the response to child abuse. And with every new case, the secular press keeps on jumping on the subject and accusing haredi society as a whole. As soon as there appears another haredi criminal, the haredi world reacts in two different ways. Either they ignore the accusations and claim that everything is only "Lashon HaRah" or it is stated that the criminal had never been part of haredi society anyway. Preferably a Baal Teshuva who never succeeded in overcoming his Yetzer and has just been a burden all the time.