Friday, May 30, 2008

Shabbes Plans


After some Shabbatot of not doing too much, this Shabbat I am planning much more. Until I am falling asleep, I will go to different chassidic Tishes tonight. And if I am still awake, I will straight go for Shacharit. Maybe with a little break in between.

It is almost June and usually around this time, the Toldot Aharon Rebbe David Kahn, as well as his brother, the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn, travel abroad. Of course not together, as both groups have a certain history and are a kind of competitors until today. Furthermore, both Rebbes are going to collect money from all over the world and none of the two brothers wants the other one to know where the cash is coming from.

Last year they started their trips in June and came only back at the end of August. I missed them very much, as I love both Tishes.


Tish at Toldot Aharon

However, I will see tonight if they are still in Jerusalem or already abroad.

In case they are gone, there will be chassidic Tishes at Belz, at the Slonim, at Kretchnif and maybe at Dushinsky as well. And don't forget to check out if the "Shomrei Emunim" in Mea Shearim Street are on.

My goal is to find out some more details about where I can meet some Mea Shearim Rabbis - in case they meet with women at all. If not, I want to question the Rebbitzens and at a few groups, this is an easy matter. Once I have already spoken with the Jerusalemer Kretchnif Rebbitzen. But it is also easy to approach the Toldot Aharon or the Avraham Yitzchak Rebbitzens. Unfortunately, the Belzer Rebbitzen is always surrounded by women and it is hard to get through.

Shabbat Shalom to all of you !!!!!!

The unknown Chavakuk (Habakuk)


Be honest. Are you at all making an effort studying the minor prophets such as Ovadiah, Micha, Malachi, Zephaniah, Nachum, Amoz, Yoel or Chavakuk (Habakuk) ? Today the studies of Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah), Yeshayahu (Jesaja) or Yechezkel (Jezekiel) are extremely popular but the minor prophets seem to be neglected. Unfortunately, people don't realize how important the minor prophets are and how much we can learn from them.

For instance, the Prophet Chavakuk is challenging G – d in a very unique way. He brings up the question why good people have to suffer and bad people obviously seem to prosper. Where is the fairness ?

Chavakuk actually dares to ask what all of us would like to know but are afraid to confront G – d with such questions. "We don't ask such questions but simply accept everything".
As if it was too embarrassing to ask G – d and accuse Him. Shouldn't we rather believe in Him and His actions instead of questioning Him (among others the Talmud commentator Maharsha).

According to the ZOHAR, Chavakuk was the son of the Shunamite woman who provided shelter for Elisha. Elisha was so grateful that he resurrected her dead son while he laid down on him. He put his hand on the son's hand, he put his legs on the son's legs, etc. The "Zohar" identifies Chavakuk - חבקוק with the resurrected son. And if we have a look at the roots of the Hebrew letters, we notice the words "Chibek - חיבק" or "Chibuk - חיבוק" which mean "to hug" or "hug". The particular hug, Elisha gave Chavakuk.

Chavakuk lived at the time of the evil King Menashe and prophesized about the Babylonians and Nevuchadnezzer. Commentators actually state that Chavakuk is questioning G –d why bad people are prospering ? Where is G – d to punish them ?

And ? Where is He ?
In the course of Jewish history, many nations with the desire to destroy the Jewish people, disappeared. Chavakuk would be the perfect book for Holocaust victims because they wanted or even did accuse G – d of letting them suffer. "Is such a tremendous suffering fair, G – d ?"

Let us have a look at reality. Don't we realize the punishment of bad people ? Whole nations and individuals.
Eventually Chavakuk draws the conclusion that a righteous person will live because he has a belief (see Chavakuk 2:4 and Talmud Makkot 24a). In the end, again, everything is about unlimited belief and Bitul. Honestly, what else can we really do ? We can accuse G – d but won't receive any precise answer and can only hope that there will be better times in the future.

In 1948, the Jews got their own state and stood at the beach in Tel Aviv. Who would have dreamt about it only a few years earlier when Jews were massacred in Auschwitz, Majdanek, etc. ? Nobody because Europe's Judaism was almost finished. Everyone expected the worst but suddenly things began to change. This shows us that G – d does intervene, even when we think that all the things happening are so unfair.

Chavakuk is questioning G – d in a revolutionary way, as no one has ever done before and after. The question is if we are allowed to ask and challenge ?

But why shouldn't we ?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The new Chief Rabbi of Iran


The Iranian President has appointed a new Chief Rabbi for Iranian Jewry. In order to show his good intentions with the Jews. Officially he doesn't hate them but he just wants Israel blown up. Is Achmadinejad more generous than Hitler ?

And who could it be, the new Chief Rabbi of Iran ?
Who else but Moshe Friedman. The Rabbi from Vienna. The Rabbi who dreams about being a Neturei Karta member.

Hopefully Friedman is going to move to Iran and we won't hear from him again. And who knows ? Maybe he will help the President to finish building the nuclear weapons against Israel.

There is hardly anything to say to this subject except that Friedman knows the public relation business very well. He keeps himself in the headlines and loves to be "important". However, most people forget that Friedman is not a Neturei Karta member and rejected by the group. And the Neturei Karta is anything but not just the Neturei Karta. The group includes different directions and ideologies. Just look at Mea Shearim where there are already two Neturei Karta Synagogues. "Torah veYirah" is more moderate but if you walk a few meters further, you get to the real nutcase place of Israel Hirsch. He is the son of the former leader Moshe Hirsch who now suffers from Alzheimer. Israel Hirsch and his small group is even hated in Mea Shearim. The Hirsch - Group might be the right place for Friedman but Friedman wants the headlines for himself and not sharing anything with Israel Hirsch.

I am curious to see how Iranian Jewry is going to react. Friedman is Ashkenazi and can he really live without Tschund on Shabbat and only bite into rice and Gondi (Chicken meatball with Humus) ?

Have a wonderful trip, Mr. Friedman. And try not to come back !!!

The other Dimension


A friend of mine ended up with Chabad due to reasons I prefer not to mention here. Not that he ever wanted to join Chabad but he somehow had no other choice. However, Chabad influenced him in a positive way which all of his friends surprised. The only problem is that he ended up with the Chabad – Meshichistim who think that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Meshiach

Our friend, let's call him A., has changed in a positive way but one point is very obvious: He hardly comes to see his other friends because he is totally involved in Chabad activities. They don't even allow him to go to places where there is only a Hechsher (kosher certificate) from the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem (Rabbanut). Chabad has strict Kashrut regulations and they only eat products with a Hechsher of the "Badatz (Beit Din Zedek) Edah HaCharedit". When it comes to meat, they only eat their own Hechsher.

First we thought that our friend is getting lost because we hardly ever saw him. Then, only a few weeks ago, he called up another friend and complained that he feels like in prison. However, when I met him downtown Jerusalem a few day ago, he seemed to have changed his mind again. No more words about a prison. He even appears to be happy, as Chabad finally gave him a task and responsibility in life. On the other hand, he started believing in certain ideas of the Meshichistim. A. told me what I had already heard before from other Messianic Chabadniks. Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson didn't die. He is still alive and on the day of his so – called death in June 1994, he just became invisible. Invisible for our human eyes, as he now lives in a different higher dimension. He is still there but we cannot see him. Therefore, his coffin is empty.
Well, maybe we should have a look inside then.

Many of those Meshichistim claim that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe became invisible. One small and very extreme group within Chabad even claims that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe was actually "G – d". They started calling him "Creator". But this weirdo opinion is even too much for our friend A. "Those must be the real nutty ones", he says.

When I saw A. last, a few days ago, he wanted to missionize me. I should believe in the Rebbe and everything would be fine. He made the same remarks to other people at a Shiur. The house was full of national religious and Litvaks and you can surely imagine their response. Nevertheless, A. continued and stuck to his opinion.

Then he told me that I should do "Iggeret HaKodesh".
"What ?" I asked.
A. explained me the Chabad – concept of doing "Iggeret HaKodesh". You take a small piece of paper and write all your personal questions on it. Maybe together with some prayers. "To the Lubavitcher Rebbe", he added but I told that I would surely not write prayers to the dead Rebbe.

However, you take the piece of paper and stick it into one of the pages into the book "Iggeret haKodesh". Just take a page. Open it, put the paper somewhere and see what it says in this particular paragraph in the book. This is supposed to be your answer from the Rebbe. A. stated that it is important not to interpret the answer by yourself but I should come to see one of the Chabad rabbis and get advice.

"But I prefer doing it alone", I said stubbornly.

"Then at least don't forget to wash your hands before you do it because you are talking to the Meshiach. He speaks to you through the "Iggeret HaKodesh".

Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Meshiach, lives in other dimensions and is not dead. Here we have our explanation. And soon I will speak to him while putting a piece of paper into a book doing my "Iggeret HaKodesh"

"Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu veRabbeinu ……."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Latest bans on "Shefa - Market" and "Egged"


The lastest Fakshivilim (news posters on the walls) in Mea Shearim are calling for new bans (Cherem) against the state - owned bus company "Egged" and the "Shefa - Market" of the Dor - Alon group.

In the past, I have mentioned the bans before:

An anti - Egged poster on the walls of Mea Shearim. It shows Egged buses rolling over a haredi crowd. Haredim should not take any Egged buses, as the company doesn't keep Shabbat.

Another poster calling for an Egged - ban and the supermarket chain Shefa and AM:PM are also included.

A few insights into Chassidut Satmar


Chassidut Satmar is one of the world's most famous chassidic groups. Not only one of the most famous groups but also the largest with 150,000 members. Many times, the Lubavitcher (Chabad) claim to be the biggest group; however, no one really has exact figures about the Chabad members but Satmar does. You cannot just call yourself Satmar but have to undergo an official process of acceptance into the group.

Chassidut Satmar (originally from the town of Satu Mare in today's Romania) is a vast subject and it is extremely hard to put everything into a few articles. As an introduction, I decided to take some insights out of the book "Satmar – Two Generations of an Urban Island" by Israel Rubin. However, not all the information are taken from one book but I also added from other sources. The author Israel Rubin is not a Satmarer Chassid but successfully convinced Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum to give him permission inquiring about the group. Later on, he wrote a book about Satmar. The book came out in the seventies but he wrote a Chidush in 1997, as many things had changed.

Whoever hears the name "Satmar" immediately thinks of fanatic loonies; totally anti – Zionist, militant and extremely closed. They just seem to be nuts.
This is the known image of Satmar. Many things are true and others are not. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of rumours going on about the group but Satmar is not interested in doing some public relation in order to improve their negative image. They simply don't see a necessity in explaining their actions. Outsiders, on the other hand, hear something about the group or read some news in the paper. The subject "Satmar" is rather complex and whoever deals with the matter in detail has anything but an easy job.

The founder of Chassidut Satmar was Rebbe Yoel (Yoelish) Teitelbaum. His name it totally connected with Satmar and both are not to be separated. Satmar is Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum. Still alive, people used to say that he is an inaccessible person but Israel Rubin claims the opposite. One just had to know where to find the Rebbe, then wait and if he was lucky, he could speak to him.

Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum

Another severe mistake people make is to think that Satmar and the Neturei Karta are the same. However, both groups act as independent entities although, among others, Satmar finances the Neturei Karta. But Satmar finances other groups as well; the Toldot Aharon, for instance.

Chassidut Satmar has a relatively short history because Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum only founded the group in the early years of the 20th century. His ancestor was the famous "Yismach Moshe – Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Ujhel (1759 – 1841)". Due to his ancestor, Rebbe Yoel has a direct connection to the Baal Shem Tov (approx. 1700 – 1760), as the "Yismach Moshe" was a student of the "Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin (1745 – 1815)". The "Yismach Moshe" was well – known but never founded his own chassidic group.

Rebbe Yoel (Yoelish) Teitelbaum was born on 18 Tevet 1887 in Sighet (today Romania). In 1904, at the age of 17, he married Chava, the daughter of the Plantsheh Rebbe (Rabbi Avraham Chaim Horovitz). The Horovitz dynastie was friendly with the Teitelbaum and the Halberstam family. Shortly after the wedding, Rebbe Yoel's father passed away and his older brother, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Teitelbaum, took over the job as the Rabbi of Sighet. Rebbe Yoel was not too excited about this fact and left for Satmar (then Hungary, today Romania). At the age of 24, Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum was anything but a reserved quiet, organized and a person with tact but his brother Rabbi Chaim Zvi was. This is the reason why the Jews in Sighet preferred his the older brother as their rabbi and for many years. Whereas Rebbe Yoelish tried to find recognition in Sighet as well.

At that time, the region belonged to Hungary and when the Hungarian religious Zionist Mizrachi Movement started, Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum began his attacks against the members. According to Rebbe Yoel, Zionism was even more dangerous when it operated under religious disguise. A religious Jew cannot be a Zionist.
Despite his militant attacks against the Zionists, Rebbe Yoel's group was relatively unknown and insignificant in 1926. And they were overshadowed by the big groups such as Sighet and Munkatch.

Rabbi Chaim Zvi died unexpectedly in 1926. His son was only 14 year old and Rebbe Yoel saw his chance to become the next Rebbe of Sighet. Nevertheless, the towns politics prevented him from becoming their new Rabbi and four years later, the son of Rabbi Chaim Zvi, Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, became the new Rabbi of Sighet. However, the new Rabbi was too young and inexperienced and many Chassidim decided to travel to Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum. After different rabbi's positions, in 1934, Rebbe Yoel went back to Satmar where he stayed until 1944.

From May 1944 – the end of 1945, Hungarian Jewish life only took place in Budapest. Elsewhere the Nazis had destroyed any Jewish life. Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum escaped from the Nazis and ironically, the Zionists helped him. The Rebbe escaped on the legendary "Kastner – Transport" to Switzerland; a train taking 1700 out of Nazi Germany because Rudolf Kastner had made a deal with Adolf Eichmann. A very controversial deal even until today. The other 450,000 Jews remaining in Hungary were taken to Auschwitz and murdered. On 7 December 1944 (21 Kislev), Rebbe Yoel arrived at the Swiss border and until today, the Satmarer Chassidim commemorate this day.

After a short stay in Switzerland, Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum came to Jerusalem where he lived until 1946. Eventually he moved to Brooklyn where he founded the Kehilah "Yeter Lev D'Satmar" in Williamsburgh in 1948. The new community grew extremely fast and already in 1961, the included 860 households. 90% of the community members were not original members of the earlier Satmarer community but came from other places. Today you cannot just join Satmar but have to fulfill certain requirements and a special committee has to decide your case.

In 1968, Rebbe Yoelish suffered a stroke paralyzing him. Although he partially recovered, his further activities were very limited. In August (Av) 1979, The great Satmarer Rebbe passed away at the age of 92. He had been married twice (his first wife Chava died in 1936). He had three daughters with his first wife of all dieing at a young age. A year after the death of his first wife, Rebbe Yoel married his second wife: Alte Feiga, the daughter of Rabbi Avigdor Shapiro. Alte Feiga Teitelbaum was an extremely charismatic person and one could write whole books about her.

After the death of the Rebbe, a male heir was missing, as the Rebbe never had a son. His nephew, the Sigheter Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, took over the position as the new Satmarer Rebbe.

Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum at a weddings' dance

There was a small group which refused to accept Rebbe Moshe because they claimed that the widow Alte Feiga Teitelbaum should have a position as a female Rebbe replacement. Obviously they thought that through her they still would be very close to Rebbe Yoelish. Anyway, the new Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum was very controversial. First of all, he had his own Sigheter community. Furthermore, Rebbe Yoelish had never announced him as his successor and no will was found.

Satmar's great concept is "Chesed – Charity". They are extremely active in doing kindness such as hospital visits or inviting people into their homes. Their religious believe should remain very simple and without any intellect. The followers should not feel a need for analytic discussions. The Satmarer Chassidim are not history oriented but look into the future and especially at the coming of the Meshiach. As anti – Zionists, they believe in the three oaths mentioned in Tamud Ketubot 111.
The Holocaust was a G – dly punishment for Zionism.

Until today, Satmarer Chassidim still consider Rebbe Yoel as a cult figure. They simply see him as a "saint". In Satmar, only the Rebbe makes all the decisions and nobody else. Even in personal matters, as it says that the Chassidim are unable to make their own decisions. By taking over any kinds of decisions, Rebbe Yoel avoided the adjustment and assimilation into American society. Chassidut Satmar is an elite group. It is divided into classes such as, for example, the Toldot Aharon. The highest status have the "Sheyneh Yidden" – like Shochtim (ritual slaughterer), rabbis, relatives of rabbis, Sofrim (scribes), business people, Talmidim Chachamim (learned people) as well as militant anti – Zionists. The authority of the Rebbe is even stipulated in the Takanot (internal laws) Article 8. The Takanot are written down in Yiddish.

"His honorable holiness, our lord, teacher and master, the scholar and saint Reb Yoel Teitelbaum – may he live for long and good years, Amen ! – is our rov, may he be thus for long years to come. No one may replace him without his consent. He is the sole authority in all spiritual matters. No religious functionary may be appointed without his approval. His decision is binding for every member."

The group considered Rebbe Yoelish as infallibly. Despite the Rebbe's authority, sometimes he did loose control. Especially over the militants who he critizised but in the end, the did whatever they wanted. Satmar claims to represent the most authentic Judaism. However, I am not sure if authentic Judaism should have anything to do with spying on each other. The famous "Watchdogs" seem to know everything and as soon as someone breaks the law, they appear and give out personal warnings. If this doesn't help, they threaten to inform the Rebbe. The Toldot Aharon follow a similar system.

A Satmarer Chassid is visiting his Rebbe on a regular basis. If possible, as there are 150,000 members. The waiting list is endless but one has to consult the Rebbe in different personal matters. One of the most important issues is family life. "Sexual satisfaction is in itself valued as a deterrent to sinful thoughts. Also mystical reasons are important for having sex. Sex is also regarded as man's most vulnerable point". The highest goal is to marry into a respected family; status is very important and should be improved.

Who would have thought so ? The husband is obligated to help his wife in the household, as both spouses are responsible for making a living. Children have to respect their parents. Relatives are expected to help weaker family members and support them. The ideal age to get married is 18. Both candidates meet in the living room in the girl's home. They are allowed to talk to each other in the presence of the parents. The future groom is giving a speech on Torah which is traditionally interrupted by songs.

In chassidic circles it is very common to sign a binding contract at the engament party. Chassidut Satmar doesn't make a difference. After the signature, a plate is broken and refreshments are served. Usually men and women celebrate in separate rooms. However, this is only the case when there are guests. If family only family members celebrate, everyone sits together in one room. Israel Rubin states that the whole engagement ceremony is less complicated today. Nowadays, the two fathers would just shake hands as a sign for a deal. The wedding is taking place after a few months. The date is stipulated according to the girls being a Niddah (woman menstruating). Familiy purity laws (Taharat HaMishpacha) are extremely important and in Satmar, a woman has to wait at least 12 days until after her menstruation. Then she is considered as clean (tehora) and can go to the Chuppah.

The wedding is always celebrated in two different halls due to modesty reasons. Men and women sit separate. The groom wears a long Kaftan (chassidic coat) and his new Streimel (traditional fur hat).

A traditional Streimel

In other chassidic groups, the groom is wearing the Streimel for a whole week before the wedding. Right before he goes under the Chuppah, he puts on a white Kittel. White is the colour representing purity. The climax of a special chassidic wedding is always the Mitzweh – Tanz of the Rebbe with the bride. For this, the bride is standing at the men's side and therefore, her face is covered. Not to make her blind but to avoid that the men might follow their Yetzer – thoughts. After the Mitzweh – Tanz, the wedding is over.

In the past, the new Satmarer husbands had to look for a job immediately after getting married. But then, Rebbe Yoel made a new decree (Takana) that first the new husband has to study in a Kollel for one or two years. Children are expected to respect their parents. Even when the children are already married off. At an early age, boys and girls are taught their role in life. Of course, girls have to help their mothers in with the household and learn how to knit and sew; boys, on the other hand learn what ? Yes, Torah.

Satmarer Chassidim refuse any autopsy, as they consider it against Halacha. At the time of Meshiach, the death will be resurrected and how does it look when someones body is cut into pieces ?
The Talmud actually teaches at one point that the resurrected won't have wounds, as the sun or the Infinite Light is going to heel everything. Anyway, no autopsy is a Satmar decision and I cannot change their internal laws. A dead body is not only washed according to Jewish rituals but also taken to the Mikweh.

Satmar sends its girls to the "Beit Rachel – Schools" and not to any Beit Yaakov. Beit Yaakov is an institution of the Agudat Israel (Gur, Vishnitz, Belz) and is totally rejected. Instead they follow the Chatam Sofer who was against any new innovations. Satmar is very proud of its own school system; also because it has created many new jobs – especially for women.

The headquarter is in New York. About 30 miles outside New York you can find "Kiryat Yoel". A Satmar village near Monroe in Orange County which was established in 1976. It includes 340 acres and in 1990, Kiryat Yoel had 8000 inhabitants.

Kiryat Yoel

After Rebbe Yoelish passed away (in Aug. 1979), his nephew Rabbi Moshe took over the Rebbe's position. Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum died in April 2006. He was an Auschwitz survivor and his first wife Leah was murdered there. Later, he got remarried and had three sons and four daughters. His oldest son, Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum (born in 1948) is married to the daughter of the Vishnitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak, Rebbe Moshe Yehoshua Hager.

Since Rebbe Moshe died, his two oldest sons have been fighting about the Rebbe's position. There is an open war between them which, unfortunately, divided the group into two separate groups. Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum rules of Kiryat Yoel and his brother, Rebbe Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, rules over Williamsburgh. In Israel the Rebbe Zalman Leib Center is in Mea Shearim, Yoel Street, and Rebbe Aharon has his follower located in Ge'ulah (Yonah Street) and in Bnei Brak.

One of the two Satmarer Rebben, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum

The second Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum

More than thousand things could be said about Satmar. Their policies, Sidur, Chassidut, etc. However, I limited my article and mostly mention the information given by Israel Rubin.
For the future I am planning an article on the Satmarer anti - Zionism including Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum's book "Vayoel Moshe".

Satmar women with the traditional Shabbat - Tichel on their wigs

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brit in Belz


Chassidut Belz in Jerusalem has a huge Brit Milah (circumcision) going on tonight.

Location: Beit Midrash Belz in Jerusalem

Lag Ba'Omer Photos from Mea Shearim


As promised, here are the Lag Ba'Omer photos from Mea Shearim which my friend and I made last Thursday night.

Not a great quality but at least something - The bonfire on the roof top of the Neturei Karta synagogue "Torah Ve'Yirah".

Near Karlin - Stolin

In front of the Satmarer Synagogue in Yoel Street (the followers of Rebbe Zalman Leib Teitelbaum)

The Satmarer Beit Midrash in the background - Yoel Street

Near Karlin - Stolin

The Frum Girls


Sometimes it happens that a bus stops next to me. A bus full of haredi Beit Yaakov girls (litvish or from some chassidic groups). Everyone can easily spot out the frum Beit Yaakov girls due to their dark blue coloured skirt and the light blue coloured blouse.

When I used to live in haredi neighbourhoods, I asked many of my neighbours about Beit Yaakov. It depends on whom you ask. The Litvaks probably give you different answers then the Chassidim. Basically, a Beit Yaakov girl has to be dressed properly when she shows up in class. One neighbour (chassidic) told me that once her daughter was sent home by the teacher because she wore sneakers. The daughter came home and changed her shoes into something more modest. Furthermore, a Beit Yaakov girl is not allowed to wear her hair open. This might attract a male teacher, if there is one.

However, when I see them on a bus, most of them do the same. At least on the buses going a longer distance. Almost all of them take out their Sidur or Tehilim and start praying. I remember that once I went on a trip to the Dead Sea with my Yeshiva and although swimming wasn't allowed for us (modesty reasons), many girls ran into the water. A little later, another bus stopped and who got off the bus ? Beit Yaakov girls. But they weren't like us. None ran into the sea but over to a hut where they started praying Maariv (evening prayer). We looked at them a little embarrassed as we knew that we should stand praying next to the hut as well but tried to push the thought away.

This incident happened more than ten years ago but as soon as I see a bus with the praying Beit Yaakov girls, I still feel a kind of guilty for not doing the same. And I still push the thought away. At least a little bit……

"Torah Light" versus "G – d's Will"


What is G – d's will ?
Kabbalistically speaking, G – d is an infinite being without any form or matter. A being we are unable to grasp with our human thoughts and mind. But how do we know what G – d's will is ?
We just have to look into the Torah and know His will. At least we should acknowledge that He created the universe and everything in existence.

He gave us the Torah as instructions about how our life should be. Additionally it says in the Torah that nothing should be taken out or changed. The Torah is eternal.

You can argue that times have changed. Many things mentioned in the Torah don't seem to be up – to – date and therefore not valid anymore. Times have changed and today we need to be flexible and adjust.

Superficially speaking, you might be right but as soon as you take a deeper look into the matter you will realize that many topics mentioned in the Torah apply to each of us. Nothing is out of time because the world hasn't changed and we still face the same problems.

The Jews kept the Torah or they didn't. Directions and specifications such as orthodox, conservative, progressive or reform were unheard of. Jews used to be religious, traditional or nothing until the reform movement started in Germany. I have to state that the first reform Jews kept the Torah; they still kept Shabbat and ate kosher food. But slowly slowly, the Torah became of less importance and the reform movement claimed that it was just a book and not written by G – d anyway. The first opponents of the reform movement were actually the Chassidim and the Litvaks. Right at the beginning, the "orthodox" rabbis saw the danger in the new movement. And they were right.

The reform movement became extremely successful in the United States, and today, the US and England are the most famous negative examples for the effects of the reform. Many statistics show us disastrous results.

Already in the early days, reform Jews started changing Halacha. Kashrut, Shabbat, Third Temple or Meshiach ? Who needs that ? They even introduced their own Sidur (prayer book) where they had erased whole passages written hundreds of years ago. Prayers added by the Sanhedrin were taken out as well. Just a few weeks ago, the head of the world's reform movement, Mr. Joffe, admitted that reform Jews don't have not much left of a Jewish identity. Keeping Shabbat is totally forgotten even if there might be some Shabbat feeling.

Halacha is completely irrelevant to a reform Jew. "What do we care about the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) and the "old" guy Rambam (Maimonides) ? Today we lead a modern life and what do you want ? Leave us alone ?"

Is G – d not modern enough for those Jews making this claim ? Who else is modern enough ?

Everything could be just perfect if there weren't these orthodox Jews bothering. Reform Jews as well as the non – Jewish press see the orthodox as weird fundamentalists who live and dress like 2000 years ago and discriminate their wives. Those who hear this and don't have a clue about orthodox society of course start hating the orthodox. They live in places like Mea Shearim, hang around lazy without work and just keep their ancient laws.
Orthodoxy doesn't recognize the reform movement, as everybody knows. Of course, a reform Jew is a Jew but reform converts are not considered as Jewish at all. We don't need to discuss this matter, as it is a fact.

But what has the reform movement really gained ?
There is not much positive to tell. Thanks to the reform, Jews more and more assimilated and nowadays almost half of the Jewish population is intermarrying. 50% of US Jewry is marrying a non – Jewish spouse. This is just horrifying and many times I meet kids from such mixed marriages who want to study at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. But only after their orthodox conversion to Judaism. What intermarrying parents don't realize is the identity problem such kids have. But I also heard that especially the non – Jewish parent pushes the kids to accept Christianity.

So, what have the reform gained ?
They erased Halacha, as it is too ancient. The Torah ? Well, a nice old book. And G – d ? He is far away and He simply has to understand that times have changed.

The tragedy is that more and more Jews got lost over the past decades. They are not being taught the basics of the Jewish religion, are totally assimilated and don't have a Jewish tradition anymore. No wonder they start searching for their spirituality somewhere else. In Israel, the extreme left – wing party Meretz used to be a coalition partner in the past. And ministers of education such as Yossi Sarid or Shulamit Aloni abolished Jewish religious studies at schools. Nothing religious whatsoever and today we see the terrible results.

Now the present minister of education, Yuli Tamir, is planning to start a huge PR – campagne for the reform movement. Israeli kids may be taught reform ideology in the near future. Some "Judaism Light" instead of "G – d's will". That's enough. Don't we already have enough knowing nothing about their own religion ? Rambam who ?

In the eyes of reform Jews, the orthodox are wild fanatics who bother. Maybe it is just their own consciences when they claim that the Torah is not valid anymore. I want to do whatever I want and I need an excuse. "Excuse me G – d but you are out of time".
What I see more and more in Tel Aviv is that especially the so – called secular show lots of interest in orthodox Judaism. Not that they are now all on the Teshuva – Trip but what they are searching for is answers. A reform rabbi isn't able answering all their religious questions. Many secular show lots of respect to orthodox society and Chassidut is more than popular. Everyone wants to know more about Chassidut. Despite all the negativity, maybe this gives us some hope

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Dream of Freedom


At the moment I am writing on a longer article for my German chassidic blog. The topic is: Chassidut Satmar.
And the more I learn about Satmar or other groups, I am asking myself why the close relatives of a chassidic Rebbe agree to marry someone from a different chassidic group. Let's take the Toldot Aharon, for instance.

The Toldot Aharon Rebbe David Kahn likes to marry off all his relatives to Shidduchim from other chassidic groups. Just look at his daughter last year who got married to the son of the Spinka Rebbe or his grandson who, a few months ago, married the granddaughter of Rabbi Moshe Halberstam (an Edah HaCharedit member before he passed away)

But not every Rebbe is like that. As mentioned before, the Gerer Rebbe has the custom to marry off his relatives within Chassidut Gur. On the other hand, there are certain rumours that many chassidic girls refuse to marry davka a Gerer Chassid. True or not, I don't intend going into the details. However, Gur has certain strange customs and it is probably much better when they marry among each other.

In Judaism, a woman getting married is always following the customs of her husband. If the husband is sephardi, then she automatically follows his customs. As an ashkenazi wife this isn't too bad sometimes, as in most cases, you are then allowed to eat rice during Pessach. Vice versa it is the same case. A sephardi woman married to an aschkenazi guy has to get adjusted to his customs.

One thing I know: I would never marry someone sephardi, as I am too stuck in my ashkenazi mentality. And a sephardi guy would never be accepted in the ashkenazi chassidic society. "Yes, there are Sepharadim in chassidic communities", you might claim. There are but look how accepted they are. Maybe I should rather say how "unaccepted" they are.

It is not a matter of loosing status, it is a matter of the difference in each others mentality.

If I ever decide to behave in a more proper way, should I marry someone chassidic ? And into which group ? And should it be a group at all ? I know that I would only get someone like me anyway but this might make it much easier. Well, the easiest freakiest way would be the neo - chassidic Carlebach movement. Nevertheless, as soon as I see Carlebachers, I escape as fast as I can.

Let's look at a strict chassidic group such as Satmar. If you join at an early age, everything seems to be easier anyway. When you are young, you can accept severe changes in your life much easier. The Satmarer state in their Takanot (internal laws) that the Rebbe has the highest power and decides everything. Even about your personal life. Would I be willing to accept this if I marry someone Satmar or close to Satmar ?

I have been thinking about the whole question quite often and, so far, I haven't found any answer. Chassid yes, but which direction ? Maybe Belz, as the Belzer do have a certain freedom. But could I follow all the Rebbe's decrees ? I think that I should continue being without a group. At least for the time being.

But how about other people willing to do this immediately ? Can the couple really solve all the problems (mentality, customs) before the wedding ?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

News from Gur (Ger)


In the week after Shavuot, Chassidut Gur (Ger) is going to celebrate a huge wedding (Chaseneh). The grandson of Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter is getting married.

The present Rebbe of Chassidut Gur, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter.

Chassidut Gur has the tradtion to marry off the Rebbe's children and grandchildren within their Chassidut. Not like, for instance, Chassidut Toldot Aharon, where the Rebbe's close relatives are getting Shidduchim from other chassidic groups.

Furthermore, the Gerer Chassidim don't have the custom the travel to Meron on Lag Ba'Omer. Instead they had big celebrations and a Se'udah (festive meal) in Bnei Brak.

I want to find out more details about the upcoming wedding and if I find the time, I might even go.

The "Epistle of Martyrdom"


Whoever is looking for philosophy in Judaism shouldn't leave out the writings of the Rambam (Maimonides). His "Moreh Nevuchim - Guide of the Perplexed" or his Epistles, for instance.

The Rambam himself was born into a time of catastrophes and he is giving us a great example how Judaism is able to survive any bad times. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam or Maimonides, was born in Cordoba / Spain in 1135. At that time, the town was reigned by the Muslims but years later, Spain was overrun by the Almohad (Al Muwahhidun). Originally the Almohad came from Marocco which they had conquered first. Today you can compare the Almohad to the terrorist organization Al Khaida; Muslim extremists killing anyone not obeying their rules.

It goes without saying that the Rambam and his family didn't intend to convert to Islam and for them a time of restless wandering began. In 1160, they finally ended up in Fez (Marrocco). From there they made their way to Egypt.

Until today, Muslims like to claim that the Rambam converted to Islam. There is no proof whatsoever for this claim. However, I cannot imagine that a person like the Rambam would convert to Islam. But let's just assume that he did, why then did he call the Muslim Prophet Muhammed a "madman" ? At least three times, the Rambam called Muhammed by this name in his "Iggeret Teman - Epistle of Jemen".

He probably wrote the "Epistle of Martyrdom" in 1165; shortly after his family left Fez for Egypt. The Epistle consists of advice how to get away or survive the mass conversions to Islam. How the Jews of Spain should react to the danger of the Almohad. According to the Rambam, Jews who were forced to do Avodah Zarah (idol worship) didn't do anything wrong and are not to be called "Rasha - Evil".

Rambam's advice:
Neither worshipping idols in public nor should anyone feel any joy by doing so.
But didn't Esther (see Megillat Esther) didn't worship idols in public ?
Yes, but she was more or less passive.
Rava commentates: There is a big difference between doing idol worship with personal joy or without.

Desecrating G – d's name is the severest sin a Jew can do. No other sin is mentioned in the Torah as many times as the "issur of idol worship". And G – d even adds that there is hardly any Teshuva for it. If a Jew, on the other hand, sanctifies G – d's name, he will be rewarded.

The Rambam suggested that the Jews should leave a town or village as soon as they were oppressed. The reason for that he found in the Torah when Avraham left his father Terach in order to follow G – d's will. The Rambam sees in this Torah Passuk a proof that a Jew should separate himself from people who don't really walk in the path of Torah.

After the Almohad took over Spain, they demanded from the Jews to proclaim in public that there is no G – d but Allah and that Muhammed is his prophet. This was the only thing the Jews were supposed to do and the Almohad didn't require any mass conversions to Islam. However, this proclamation had to be made in public and according to Halacha, this is a big problem.
In the Middle Ages, religion and politics were totally connected with each other. Religion was not a privat matter but decided about one's social and political status. Furthermore, Judaism, Islam as well as Christianity claimed to be the only inherit of the true tradition. Each religion saw itself as the true pathway of G - d. A person belonging to one of these religions automatically denied the claim and the truth of the other two. Islam accused the Jews of erasing Muhammed's name out of the Torah and considered Ezra guilty of doing so. Jews should finally admit that their parents and grandparents followed the wrong believe – that the Torah is unique and eternal.

Maimonides (the Rambam) decided that any kind martyrdom of Spanish Jewry under the reign of the Almohad was unnecessary.
As we know, Jews who are forced to do certain sins such as sexual perversion, eating non – kosher food or worshipping idols, should rather commit suicide than following the demands of the oppressor. However, the Rambam decided that in this case no consequences were necessary. Other rabbis, on the other hand, stated just the opposite. Until today people claim that the Rambam rather favoured a political decision than a halachic one.

As the Almohad didn't force the Jews to obey the laws of Islam and the Jews were thus able to continue with their Torah mitzwot, there was no reason to assume that Islam would cause any damage to the Jewish communities. Therefore, the Jews could give in.
Furthermore, the Rambam didn't see any contradiction to the Jewish believe and the unity of G – d. These two factors played an immense important role in his decision. He was even willing to tell the Jewish communities to follow the orders of the Almohad and not to let anyone commit suicide. In his epistle he made it very clear that their situation was very complex and unique. It was a special situation but, on the other hand, he didn't deny the fact that suicide could be a choice. But, at the same time, the Rambam was against a "suicidal solution". Instead he favoured a solution where the Jews should be calm and wait until the whole thing would come to an end. Rushing into a suicide would definitely not be the right solution dealing with the situation. And rushing into suicide would be absolutely against any Halacha. He also made it very clear in his epistle that all Jews suffering under the Almohad would do a great "Kiddush HaShem – Sactification of G – d".


From the book "Crises and Leadership" by Halkin / Hartman

Chabad and the Drums

Chabad - House in Ben Yehudah No. 5


It was relatively quiet between Pessach and Lag Ba' Omer (33. Day of the Omer) but now they are all back: The Chabad Messianics (Meshichistim) from Ben Yehudah No. 5. Even their drums were in action.

The mourning period for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva is finished on Lag Ba' Omer and we are allowed to listen to music again. Only a few days ago, a friend of mine, a Chabadnik, told me that they would dance at Zion Square on Lag Ba' Omer. Waving their yellow Meshiach flags and listening to the "Yechi Adoneinu…." - music.

The Chabad - Meshichistim are those who believe that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (died in June 1994) is the Meshiach. They are only one part of Chabad and not everyone is like them.

However, the Chabad branch in the Jerusalem shopping mall Ben Yehudah No. 5 is one of the Meshichistim. No doubt about that, as there are plenty of yellow Meshiach flags hanging out of the window and their members walk around with the black Kipa (Yarmulke) with its white "Yechi Adoneinu…" - printing.

On Erev Lag Ba' Omer (Thursday), the Chabadnikim from Ben Yehudah had a stand at the huge event of the local soccer club "Beitar Yerushalaim". The controversial owner of the club, the Russian - Israeli Billionaire, Arcadi Gaydamak, had invited all the fans and they only had to pay for their wodka. Chabad had decided to bring some spirituality into the pop concert by laying Tefilin etc. A great idea, by the way.

So, there was no dancing at Zion Square on Erev Lag Ba'Omer but last Friday afternoon they caught up. A private yellow bus had shipped in some children and women and then everyone was ready for the march through the mall. The kids were playing the drums and you can be sure about one thing: Chabad got all the attention and they know how to organize. They are the great experts in public relations.

The Chabadnikim were waving their flags and walked through Ben Yehudah and some side streets until Zion Square. Of course, they didn't forget to scream "Yechi Adoneinu…." on the way.

The march ended peacefully and Shabbat could start.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Jerusalem is burning

Mystical bonfires in Meron


Until Erev Shabbat (tonight) we still celebrate Lag Ba'Omer. However, all the main mystical celebrations took already place last night (Thursday).

Bonfires are the great mystical tradition on Lag Ba'Omer. The day is the Yahrzeit (anniversary of someone's death) of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and it is the day when the plague among the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped.

Most Haredim from Bnei Brak went to Meron in northern Israel, to the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It is said that 400,000 people went to Meron this week. I didn't even try because what can you see when there are such crowds ? And the women ? They are somewhere in the back anyway. Saying Tehillim (Psalms) and that's it. Instead, I went to Jerusalem and my destination was Mea Shearim. As usual, I went with a friend and we made lots of photos which I am going to put into the blog next week.

Crowds in Meron on Lag Ba'Omer

First I read the Fakshivilim (news posters) on the walls of Mea Shearim. The anti – Zionist umbrella organization "Edah HaCharedit" had placed another ban on the state – owned Egged busses. Reason: Egged works on Shabbat.
Altogether, 5700 special Egged busses went to Meron.
Who took those busses when the Edah placed a ban on them ? I have no idea but, nevertheless, there are always enough customers around.

Last night, Jerusalem was burning everywhere. The bonfires are very popular and the religious have been collecting wood for the whole week. The local soccer club "Beitar Yerushalaim" had a huge pop concert in Sacher Park. Beitar owner, the controversial Russian Israel Billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, had sponsored the event and thousands of Beitar fans showed up. The music could be heard until the Machane Yehudah Market.

In Mea Shearim is was quiet.
Our first destination was "Kikar Supnik" in Strauss Street where the anti – Zionist chassidic group Dushinsky has its boy's school. They had lit a bonfire right in front of the school but the music was so bad. Their singer wasn't really tuned and it was anything but a pleasure listening to him. They should have thrown in a CD or played something better. However, the Chassidim were dancing and the women were standing further in the back. It was nice but the music wasn't.

Second destination:
Yoel Street in Mea Shearim and not too far away from Supnik.
The Satmarer Chassidim had their bonfire but at that time, at about 10.30 pm, there wasn't too much of it left. Not many Chassidim were there, as everyone seemed to be in Meron. It was full of women and children. The Satmarer Beit Midrash in Yoel Street belongs to the followers of Rebbe Zalman Leib Teitelbaum.

Only a few meters further away was the next bonfire and great chassidic music could be heard. And where there is great music, there is Karlin – Stolin. The Karliner had a great atmosphere and a nice bonfire. Their Chassidim were dancing enthusiastically and some Breslovers and national religious joined. It was the best atmosphere in Mea Shearim. Only 15m further away, the next bonfire was lit by litvishe Haredim. The fire went wild and all of us thought that the whole thing might explode. People escaped from the rising flames but everything went okay.

The Toldot Aharon Rebbe had taken his Chassidim to Meron and is just coming back today. So, there will be a chassidic Tish at Toldot Aharon's tonight. I think that their women were glad that the men were gone. At least it gave them a little break. Laundry was hanging outside and normally hanging out laundry on Lag ba'Omer is a disaster. But it was quiet in the Toldot Aharon backyard and the laundry was not in a smoky danger.

At midnight, the Mea Shearim market was extremely quiet. People were in the streets but no more bonfires. Nevertheless, we found one still burning. On the rooftop of the "Torah ve'Yirah" – Synagogue of the Neturei Karta.

We saw a Neturei Karta Chassid cutting the hair of a little boy.
Cutting the hair for the first time of three year old boys is a mystical tradition on Lag Ba'Omer.

A litvishe guy invited us into the local Synagogue in the Mea Shearim market. We had already spied through the windows and saw one of the most beautiful synagogues. Eastern European style, with drawings on the ceiling and chandeliers. It was great. After his invitation we entered the Ezrat Nashim (women's section) but were disappointed. A curtain as Mechitzah hindered us from having a great view into the beautiful men's section. The Ezrat Nashim was kept rather plain. But we will be back for a Synagogue service.

All in all, I enjoyed myself very much and I wish everyone a happy Lag Ba'Omer.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why this was and not that way ?


"Why this way and not that way" ? - This is the question we keep on asking throughout our lives. "Why did G - d create the world in such and such a way ? If I was G - d, of course, I would have done something else. And why don't get bad people punished immediately ?"

G - d created us and the world according to a perfect plan. He didn't want us to be robots which just act according to one will. Instead He created us with a "Free Will" and the "Free Will - Concept" must include positive and negative sides. There has to be good and evil in this world because otherwise we wouldn't have a choice. We can choose between secualr, religious, G - dfearing or the opposite. What kind of a person do we want to be ? Good or evil or something in between ? It is all up to us.

Of course, He could have created us as perfect human being but obviously this wasn't His plan. And would bad people receive their punishment instantly, where would be our Free Will ? We see someone getting punished and, of course, we won't do the same mistakes as he did. So, we do G - d's will out of fear but not out of love, Devekut, etc.

But doesn't G - d still sometimes interfere ? There are times when we have a certain plan in life and want to make it real. Then, however, everything seems to go just wrong. You could see this as a hint from G - d. Maybe He knows that this is not the right path for you and wants somehow make you aware of your mistake. Other people simply see the difficulties as a challenge. A challenge from G - d to work harder and not to give up.

"Free Will" is one of the most important concepts in Judaism. Nevertheless, according to some opinions like the Ishbitzer Rebbe, we do not have a Free Will. Everything is up to G - d and we only do what He wants and estimates. This leaves us with the question if this opinion couldn't be used as an excuse ? Anything we do wrong was planned by G - d and it isn't really my fault. Those are very philosophical questions and, so far, I haven't met anyone who could determine Free Will. Where does it start and where does it end ?

Maybe we should all use our Free Will and think it over for some time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Have they really all joined ?


Someone seems to take care that the ban on the "Shefa Market" should be taken seriously. New Fashivilim (posters) were hung up in Mea Shearim. Usually such posters are signed by a certain organization such as the "Edah HaCharedit", the "Neturei Karta", etc. Some posters are even signed by a so - called "Purity Committee". But the latest posters on the "Shefa - Market" ban are not signed at all.

"I also decided not to buy at Shefa and not going to Meron (1) on an EGGED - bus".

This is what the latest poster says. No signature whatsoever.

The ban on the "Shefa - Market" is well known but the ban on EGGED buses is new to me. The editors of the poster claim that the company owning "Shefa" as well as the Israeli bus company EGGED don't keep Shabbat and therefore have to be punished.

To what kind of Haredim does this poster apply ?
Gur, Belz or litvishe Haredim ?
Definitely not to members of the Edah HaCharedit such as Toldot Aharon, Satmar, Dushinsky, etc. Those chassidic groups only buy at certain places and mostly not at "Shefa" anyway. And those groups also don't use the "Zionist" EGGED - buses anyway.

So, to whom are the posters addressed ? And does really everyone join the bans ?

I would like to know what the Haredim think about the whole issue. On the other hand, what if someone decides not to join the ban but his group companions see him walking into "Shefa" ?
These are the situations when I am glad not to be a member of any chassidic group.

(1) Meron:
This week, thousands of religious Jews travel to Meron (northern Israel) on Lag Ba'Omer (start Thursday night). Lag Ba'Omer is the day when the plague which killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva stopped. Furthermore, it is the Yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who is buried in Meron.
Especially for Chassidim, it is a very popular custom to go to Meron on Lag Ba"omer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why can't we be together ?


"Sin'at Chinam - baseless hatred" is one of the most tragic causes of destruction in Judaism. All Jews are required to love each other. No one should look down on the other person and think that he or she is so much better.

Especially in this time of counting the Omer (from Pessach to Shavuot), "baseless hatred" is of extreme importance. In says in Talmud Yevamot that 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague because each of them thought that he is better than the other student. And as they were supposed to be on such a high level, G - d punished them for their egoistic behaviour.

And are we so much better today ?
Of course not, as we are no super humans. Over and over again we love to do the same mistakes and get ourselves back into trouble.

I wouldn't really call it "baseless hatred" but rather "voluntarily separation". Today many Jewish religious groups refuse having contact with other groups which are not exactly like them.
"You don't like my Rebbe and I don't like your Rebbe".
So, where is the togetherness ?

If you walk around downtown Jerusalem, Bnei Brak or in any Israeli town, you will see religious women not associating with other religious women. Many haredi women do not associate with national religious women. Why ? Because the others might not be as religious and pious as I am. Therefore, I have to separate myself.

The national religious women, on the other hand, don't too much separate but would be ready to associate with haredi women. The other problem occuring is: Would the national religious associate with the secular ?

I cannot be your friend because you are not on the same level as I am. I am haredi and you are "only" national religious. I am religious and you are just secular. I am haredi and don’t go to your national religious Shiurim (classes).

What I keep on noticing is that men are not so much into that separation. In the streets I see countless chassidic guys talking to the national religious and even to the secular. In their daily lives, religious men might come into more contact with different kinds of societies than their women at home.

So, where are we today ?
We Jews still don't love to associate with anyone.
If I look religious, wearing a skirt etc., the religious talk to me. If I don't, many don't even look at me.

As Rabbi Mordechai Machlis likes to say:
"Many Jews might be surprised when Meshiach is coming. If Meshiach isn't from their particular group but someone else".

Obviously only the Meshiach can bring us all together at one table. A very sad thought.

Burning Christian Missionary Propaganda in Or Yehuda


Or Yehuda, a small town near Tel Aviv, did what bigger places should have already done a long time ago. Inhabitants collected Christian missionary material and burned everything publicly. Thus, several hundred New Testaments were burned.

First it was said that Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon (SHASS – Party) was responsible for the book burning. However, later he claimed that the incident was not planned at all, but a spontaneous reaction. The inhabitants of Or Yehuda are traditional, stick to their Jewish heritage and don't want any idol worship in their town.

I just wish that other places would follow this example.
As soon as I see a pile of New Testaments laid out by Christian missionaries, I throw everything into the garbage. Unfortunately, Christian missionary material is getting more and more and their camouflage within the texts is becoming better. Jews who don't know anything about their own religion might think that the booklets are of Jewish origin.

For more information about Christian missionary activities in Israel go here:

Yad Le'Achim

By the way, the Messianics protested and demanded a police investigations. But who cares about what they want ?

Druckman – Conversions invalid


The European Rabbis Conference stated that they will not recognize conversions done by a Beit Din of Rabbi Chaim Druckman.
All converts to Judaism who converted with Chaim Druckman should get familiar with the idea that their conversion is invalid and that they are not Jewish according to Halacha.

In Israel, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, is famous for converting anyone to Judaism without even checking who this person is. The European Rabbis Conference stated that Druckman also went abroad (to Europe) in order to convert people. Druckman didn't even know the candidates and was completely unfamiliar with the infrastructure where the candidates lived. Jews in the States might be used to kosher food but Europe doesn't have such an infrastructure of kosher shops or active community life. And Druckman even converted people from regions without any Jewish community or kosher shops.

Chaim Druckman

Chaim Druckman' s conversion caused a great investigation in Israel, as he converted people who openly don't keep any Torah Mitzwot. At the moment, Israeli authorities haven't made up their mind what is going to happen to those converts. Are they Jewish or not and can they keep their Israeli ID ?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The unlimited Piety of the Toldot Aharon Women


Every time anew I am tremendously impressed by the piety of the Toldot Aharon women. Or realistically speaking: Their female group members grow up in a strict society, marry at the age of approx. 18 years and afterwards only lead a family life. Is there any room for feminism ? How can there if the group is run by a men's society ?
The women only have a women's role, housewife and mother. She might work if necessary. However, a woman will never be able to get a leading position within the group accept of being the Rebbitzen.

Most of us outsiders consider such way of life as primitive. How can a woman of our times agree to such conditions ? Welcome back in the Middle Ages. Never ever heard about feminism ?

What I realized is that you can have a great conversation with a Toldot Aharon woman but in the end she will only tell you one thing: "Well, we all need to pray harder and trust in G – d".

And this conclusion after a long time talking to her about anything.
And this is her only response ? Haven't we expected much more after a longer discussion ? I talked and talked and then this one sentence about prayer and G – d... Maybe I should just freak out.

However, I won't because at the same time, I know the women are right.

They are right and I tremendously admire their piety. How can they have such incredible unlimited trust in G – d ?
Look at us. Many times we say our prayers and many times we tend to give up. Our hopes, our desires and demands….
Nothing seems to be fulfilled and G – d is anywhere but not listening to our prayers. And then I see these women and they just do it. "Of course, we pray. Can there be a doubt about it ? What being in the mood or not ?"
They just do it without all the questioning and considering the pro and cons: "Maybe another time. How about tomorrow ? I really promise. Tomorrow is the day…"

We outsiders always think that we are so free. No group laws (Takanot) being forced upon us; everything seems cool and easy. There are times when our self – esteem of all our freedom overcomes us and we start looking down on these chassidic women. And then we go to a Toldot Aharon Tish and we realize that all our self – esteem and freedom means hardly anything compared to the piety of those women.

I wish I would get to such a level of piety.

Longing for Chassidut


I can hardly explain how much I have missed my active participation in Chassidut within the past two weeks. This might sound as if I had no Chassidut at all but, of course, this is not the case. The only thing I did was taking everything rather easy instead of jumping into everything available. It is always good having a little break but, on the other hand, I cannot wait to go back again.

However, this Shabbat I was back.
The first thing I did was going for a Shabbat meal in Mea Shearim.
And again my host asked me not to publish any details about her on the Internet, and I again told her that I will not and respect her request.

The only thing I want to mention is that she had a full house and I enjoyed myself very much.

Nevertheless, I want to mention another incident taking place at this particular Shabbat meal.

I was placed next to a approx. 60 year old chassidic woman and, after a while, she started a conversation with me. At first glance I thought that she might be a Toldot Aharon member but I noticed quickly that this was not the case. Otherwise she would have eaten with her family and not with us. But I still asked her because she wore the same clothes as the Toldot Aharon women do.
Her answer was not too surprising but still a little unusual. She is not a member but likes to dress like this. With an apron and a white head cover. "But, she continued, I only belong to HaShem and I am a member of His group".

And right away she started quoting me verses from the Prophets. I couldn't really follow her too much, as everything sounded somehow mixed up. But never mind !

And then she asked me if this was true, the story about the mother of the two Rebbe brothers, Rabbi David Kahn (Toldot Aharon) and Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kahn (Avraham Yitzchak):
When the mother of those two was still a young girl, she was standing on a certain public balcony to enjoy the landscape. Suddenly a group of teenagers came and stood beside her.
"The teenagers were obviously from a Kibbutz and dressed immodestly. Well, what can you expect from a Kibbutz", the woman said to me.

Somehow the mother of the two Rebbes had this vision. She saw her grandfather who pulled her off the balcony. A few minutes later, the balcony collapsed and all the Kibbutz kids fell and were injured. And some even killed, according to my neighbour at the table.

"Well, well, she continued, this all happened because they Kibbutznikim were dressed immodestly. Because of the missing modesty (Zniut), HaShem took away His Shechinah (presence) and people were judged immediately".

I told her that I don't know if the balcony story is true but that I definitely do not agree with her at all. I don't think that any human being can say for sure why certain things happen in this world. There are many tragic events we don't understand and, of course, we ask ourselves why it happened. This is very human.
Nevertheless, we are unable of claiming that this and that happened because G – d punished so and so because of this and that. The only thing we can do is guess. The moment I claim that G – d did this and that, I would be G – d. We humans have to understand that there are endless things in this world only G – d know, and we should be careful with judging situations and giving interpretations.

"You don't believe in the Prophets and our Mefarshim (commentators)", the woman asked me in a kind of shock.

"It is not that I don't believe in the Prophets. But everyone can take sentences out of a context and quote", I responded.

After some further discussions the women stopped talking to me. But at the same moment, the other people at the table started with her and told her exactly what I had told her before. However, the woman didn't give up and insisted on the G – dly punishment theory.

Later on, I went to the Machlises in order to pick up a friend and we then went to the chassidic Tishes in Mea Shearim. Already on my way to the Machlis home I saw many Toldot Aharon Chassidim and knew that there must be some Tishes around. And our first destination were the Toldot Aharon where another incident was waiting for us.

The moment we entered the staircase from Shivtei Israel Street, we saw him. A young Litvak walked right in front of us into the women's section (Ezrat Nashim). While climbing up the stairs I told him that he should go around the building and then he will find the men's entrance. But the Litvak wasn't interested at all.

Still in the staircase, some Toldot Aharon women told him that he is in the wrong section.

The Litvak wasn't interested but looked confused.

All of us arrived upstairs at the Ezrat Nashim where at least a hundred women were placed on the metal benches. As soon as they saw the Litvak entering, they told him to leave. He didn't but just stood and stared. Again I explained him the right way but he stared at me and said: "I don't know".

A woman finally got up and ran downstairs in order to get a male Chassid and throw out the Litvak. In the meantime, another woman approached me and asked who this guy was. I told her that he is rather confused and not too much in this world. "Okay", she said.
A minute later, the Litvak was taken out by a Toldot Aharon Chassid.

After the incident, we found some great seats. Rebbe David Kahn was eating his chicken soup and my Toldot Aharon neighbour kept on a conversation with an American chassidic woman. Satmar, I guess.
Suddenly the American turned to me and asked if I speak English. "English, Hebrew, whatever you want", I replied. Unfortunately, we all seemed to be busy or somewhere else in our minds. I talked to my friend and felt tired. The Samarer ? talked to a Toldot Aharon woman. A missed opportunity but we will repeat it.

Due to our "falling asleep condition", we didn't stay for too long and left. But there is no Mea Shearim without a walk through the local market. And, what did we see there ? The Toldot Avraham Yitzchak had a Tish going on. We went and left after Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov's Derasha. I have to admit that I fell asleep but not because of his speech. Somewhere in my sleep I still heard his voice. However, I was gone.

And this was it on Friday night. I enjoyed myself very much but should start overcoming my desire of going to sleep.


The Urge to Communicate

Friday, May 16, 2008



Everything comes unexpectedly.
Actually I was planning my Shabbat with the Satmarer Chassidim in Bnei Brak but then ended up in Jerusalem with an invitation from Mea Shearim instead.

This Shabbat I am going to take action and not having a break and sleep, as I did for the past two weeks. And I am obligated to do something anyway, as I am invited to Mea Shearim.

The host always demands from me not to write about them and, therefore, I cannot mention the name of the chassidic group. However, it is a small group which is also a member of the anti - Zionist umbrella organization "Edah HaCharedit". We usually eat in two separate rooms; one room is for men only and the second one is for women. Everything will be extremely modest and I am putting on modest clothes and try to behave as good as I can. And I can if I have to.

After dinner, I am going out looking for chassidic Tishes and tomorrow morning I am going to one of the synagogues. Completely frum….

Maybe I succeed in escaping for a short while.
Then I might jump to Rabbi Mordechai Machlis and his hundred guests. There, I am not being watched all the time and can feel free. Well, I still this kind of change sometimes.

Shabbat Shalom - Gid Shabbes - שבת שלום

Mea Shearim Photos:

"Toldot Aharon" couple

In case you need head covers

שרופי הכבשנים מאשימים


A few days ago, a young Chassid approached me and said:
"Miriam, I know that you are dealing with certain subjects. Why not mentioning this on your site ?"

While he spoke, he handed me a booklet.
"A present", he claimed and smiled.

I have known the Chassid for quite a while by sight but had never really spoken to him. One day he saw me with pamphlets from the anti – Zionist umbrella organization "Edah HaCharedit" and starred at me. I cannot even say to which chassidic group he belongs.
Maybe Vishnitz ? I will ask him next time.
Strange, he knows my name and I don't even know anything about him.

The booklet he gave me is interesting and frightening at the same time. I knew that Haredim, and in particular Chassidim, accuse the national religious movement, the Zionists", of being guilty that thousands of Chassidim were murdered by the Nazis. Today's national religious movement points out at different occasions that the Agudat Israel, including Chassidut Gur, told their followers, not to leave Eastern Europe. As a result, thousands of Chassidim were murdered. Had the Rebbes reacted in a different way and warned their Chassidim, countless lives could have been saved.
This is a fact.

On the other hand, how did the national religious movement react ? Were they always the good guys, as they claimed after the war ?

The booklet I received from the Chassid claims something completely different and I am planning to write about it in detail within the upcoming week. The booklet is called: שרופי הכבשנים מאשימים - תעודות מסמכים ועדויות על פושעי שואה יהודים

It consists of ten different articles and the author is the famous Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel. A name many people know.
Rabbi Weissmandel mentions the role of the Catholic church, the pope, the Christians and the refusal of the Zionist Keren HaYesod to free money for buying Jews out of the hands of the Nazis killers.

An extremely frightening report.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jerusalem from a haredi point of view


Pictures taken by haredi women and girls for an upcoming exhibition:,7340,L-3543299,00.html

The exhibition will open on Sunday, May 18, at 5 pm, at the Oman Gallery, on 5 Zichron Yaakov Street, Jerusalem. It will be displayed until Thursday, May 22, between 9 am-1 pm and 4-8 pm.

Breslov is catching up


Aren't we all used to seeing Chabad everywhere we go ?
Chabadnikim are just anywhere; even in Thailand.

Within the past few years, I was always asking myself: "Why only Chabad ? Where is Breslov ?

Not that I am a great Breslover. In fact, I don't belong to any specific chassidic group. There are many things I like in each group and I wouldn't really be able to stick to only one particular group and follow only one Rebbe.

However, for some years I studied with Chabad as well as with Breslov although I wasn't interested in joining. My only goal was learning more about Chassidut. But one thing I have to admit: I feel much closer to the teachings and stories of Rabbi Nachman than I do with any story of one of the Lubavitcher Rebbes. One reason might be that Rabbi Nachman was a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman wasn't even a student of the Besht.

In Israel, Chabad is doing a great job by offering to put on Tefilin. In most shopping malls, Chabad has its stands. Tefilin, Parasha, whatever you want. In Jerusalem they have two soup kitchens: one across the Kotel (Western Wall) and another one in Mea Shearim. The Meshichistim are also visible, as they dance anywhere with their Meschiach flags.

But now Breslov has obviously decided to catch up. Two new stands in the Jerusalem Ben Yehudah shopping mall and one big stand in downtown Tel Aviv: Allenby - Sheinkin Street.

The two Ben Yehudah stands obviously don't work together. One is run by the Na Na Chassidim and the other is run by the students of Rabbi Shalom Arush. In Tel Aviv, on the other hand, the big stand is only run by the Na Na Chassidim.

The students of Rabbi Arush are very anxious selling his publications ("The Garden of Emuna" and others). When I passed by, they immediately asked me if I want a book or a Chizuk. However, "The Garden of Emuna" is already in my possession and I strongly recommend it to all people looking for explanations in life.

The last Lubavitcher Rebbe only died in June 1994, and therefore the group has still more structure or chassidic contexts. Yes, yes, I know that there are many groups with different goals inside Chabad. But still, Chabad has a headquarter and a certain kind of leadership.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was the only Rebbe the Breslover Chassidim ever had and since he died (1810), no one has ever taken the Rebbe's position. One might think that many ideas got lost and that there is no structure at all. But even without a Rebbe, Breslov has survived and Rabbis like Eliezer Berland or his student Rabbi Shalom Arush keep the Chassidut alive. Both Rabbis joined Breslov later on in their lives. Rabbi Berland founded his own Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and later, also his student Rabbi Arush founded his own institution.

Especially "The Garden Of Emuna" by Rabbi Arush became very popular in Israel. Thousands of copies were sold and it was even translated into English. I think that this is a great public relation for a chassidic group and Breslov is famous for accepting newcomers or bringing Jews closer to Judaism.

Many people from abroad asked me about Breslov. They read the stories of Rabbi Nachman and would like to know more. The only problem is that there aren't too many Breslovers in European countries or elsewhere. The result is that many interested people only depend on the Breslover websites.

Maybe Breslov should go a step further and start doing some outreach in other countries as Chabad does. First of all, it would be great having someone else offering Chassidut besides Chabad and furthermore, people would really be interested.

Maybe Breslov should take this into consideration.
Anyway, I am glad seeing some more Breslovers around in Israel.

Good luck in Ben Yehudah and Sheinkin !!!!

Breslov World

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New Bans – Old Demands


Whoever was walking through Mea Shearim last Shabbat, couldn't escape the new red posters (Fakshivilim) hanging around on all the walls. You could call the Fakshivilim the local news agency because this is the way, how many Haredim communicate. Thus you are being informed about bans, halachic decisions of the anti – Zionist umbrella organization "Edah HaCharedit" or the latest anti – Zionist boycotts of the Neturei Karta. Whatever you want, the news is screaming at you from the walls of Mea Shearim.

And last Shabbat it was screaming at me: "AM:PM is still open on Shabbat and therefore, the ban over the "Shefa – Market is continuing. Don't buy at "Shefa".

AM:PM and the "Shefa – Market" are Israeli grocery chains belonging to the Dor – Alon Group. Two different grocery chains with two completely different policies. AM:PM wants to attract secular Tel Aviv customers. While walking around in downtown Tel Aviv, you cannot escape any of those chains. Sometimes every second store already belongs to AM:PM. As the name says, the shops are open 24 hours a day; also on Shabbat. And here, the Haredim enter the game.

The "Shefa – Market", on the other hand, wants to attract haredi customers and is mostly located in their neighbourhoods. Whereas AM:PM is extremely expensive, Shefa is cheap. Usually the haredi population doesn't have too much money and therefore depends on cheap groceries. Both chains are tremendously successful despite the horrendous prices at AM:PM. If you want to enter the "Shefa – Market", be aware that you are dressed modestly. Men in long pants and a head cover and women in a long skirt and the arms covered until the elbow. A guard is watching outside and in case you are not modest enough, he will let you know. Buying at Shefa is nice and cheap which I can confirm. Their only problem is the haredi rabbinic ban (of Rabbi Eliyashiv and the Gerer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter). With the ban on Shefa, the Haredim want to force the Dor – Alon Group to close AM:PM on Shabbat. Without any success, so far.

Some might ask if such a ban can be successful at all. Who cares ? Aren't there enough customers anyway ?
Although the present State of Israel is mostly secular, no one should underestimate haredi customers and their influence on the market. Many kids – many customers.
And companies looking for huge profits have to take the haredi population into their considerations. There is no way around. Entrepreneurs understood this challenge a long time ago and started running modest haredi commercials and posters. Besides their regular commercials.

The leading mobile phone companies Cellcom and Orange have branches in all haredi neighbourhoods. The religious love their mobiles phones including all the trivial things such as cameras and games. And, of course, how else could it be – after a short while a certain problem appeared. The Haredim received porno spam as SMS. And in oder to prevent everyone from following his Yetzer (evil side in us), leading rabbis put a ban on regular cell phones. The companies reacted immediately and introduced "kosher" mobiles. If you have a phone with a 057 - number, you are definitely haredi. These phones block all kinds of spam.
And the haredi world reacted as well. Today their Beit Yaakov and Talmud Torah schools do not accept any students whose parents don't have a "koscher" phone. However, reality can be sometimes very different. Besides their "kosher" phone, many Haredim still continue keeping a regular phone.

But, pshhhh, the neighbours don't need to know everything.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Question & Answer With Miriam Woelke


Guest Post at the site of "A Simple Jew":

Am I immodest ?


Am I immodest ?

A Breslover Na Na Chassid seems to think so, as he feels the urgent need handing me out a book called "The modest Woman". As soon as he sees me in downtown Tel Aviv, he jumps on me. Not only onto me but on all females who, according to him or Halacha, are not dressed modestly. Instead of a long skirt I wear pants. However, my sleeves are fine and cover the elbow. So, no complaints about that.

I should have got used to it, nevertheless sometimes it still drives me mad when religious Jews judge other Jews according to the outside. Shouldn't especially a Chassid look into someone's soul (Neshama) first ? Well, not everyone is able to do so and now I have to suffer from the jumping Na Na Chassid. When I passed him last, I really thought about taking the book "The modest Woman". Giving a small donation and learning something about Zniut (modesty). I am also intending to ask the Na Na guy if he really thinks that I am immodest. I am just curious to see his face while asking him.

What do I expect ? Of course, haredi society considers me as immodest. Pants, uurrghhh.
However, within all my years living in Israel I learned one thing: One should not judge another Jew according to his outer appearance. Yes Kipa - No Kipa, black hat - knitted Kipa - no Kipa, skirt or pants ? What does it really tell us ?
You might be surprised how religious the non - Kipot can be. On the other hand, you might be surprised how neglecting the Haredim or the religious in general can be.

I am always asking myself how G - d "thinks" about the matter. Aren't we too obsessed with all the tiny details instead of judging with more "Kaf Se'chut - benefit of a doubt" ?

So, should I take the "modesty book", yes or no ?
Basically I already know what it says and I also know that it won't convince me. I could give a hundred explanations and justifications. At least G - d knows what is going on inside a person.