Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Revenge as a State of Emergency


Some Jewish - American blogs claim that dropouts like Gitty Grunwald are a sign that haredi society failed. But who exactly fails when someone decides to leave haredi society ? And by the way, I am also talking about the national religious society, as they do face the same problems.

Is the Jewish Orthodoxy not obligated to help all its members ? What happens when someone faces a crisis or is mentally completely down ? What if someone is having doubts about G - d and the world as a whole ? Is he the kicked out because he doesn't fit into the system anymore ?

I would like to share some private thoughts describing my own experiences. But please note that there are severe differences between dropouts who grew up in haredi society and Baalei Teshuva (those who joined later).

When I finally decided to leave haredi society, I always considered this step as temporarily. Even my return to Germany was supposed to be temporarily (which it was). The only thing I wanted was distance myself in order to get a clear mind and then decide how to go on.

The first difficulty dropouts are being confronted with is letting their environment know what is happening. Explain it to a society which regards anything like that as a catastrophe. For me, on the other hand, it was rather easy, as one morning, I just put on some pants. No more long skirts and having difficulties climbing on a bus.
Then what ? At that time I used to live in a more or less haredi building let alone neighbourhood. Already in the staircase one of our chassidic neighbours showed up. He was on the way taking his kids into kindergarden (Cheder) and to my great surprise, he greeted me with "Good Morning". He didn't say anything else but his kids couldn't stop starring at my pants.

On the bus I felt great. I looked at all the Haredim sitting there and was so glad not to be one of them anymore. A feeling of total freedom arouse.
In the Jewish Quarter in the Old City I met a young haredi woman I know. She looked at my me and her following reaction was one of the most surprising in my entire life. She only asked one question:
"Who hurt you ?"
And it was this question letting me almost burst out and faint. However, I pulled myself together and stumbled something I cannot even remember today.
But, who did hurt me ?
At that time, I had a weird flatemate who wanted to be more extreme than extreme and it was definitely partially her fault that I ended up with too many expectations. The main reasons, however, was me. I had jumped into religion too fast and my expectations weren't fulfilled either. Of course, I should have known but I was inexperienced and, to keep myself calm, started lying to myself.
In the end, my whole world crashed.

The reactions of my environment were surprising to me. The vast majority showed understanding and told me to take a break. Nevertheless, I should work on myself and come back to society later. Everyone agreed that becoming religious takes time and the worst mistake people do is rush into it.

My personal reaction was anger. Anger about everyone else, all the Haredim but the greatest anger I felt about myself. I wasn't able anymore seeing the Haredim sitting on the bus, studying Talmud and whispering the words in their special melody. At one Shabbat dinner at a rabbi's home I refused saying Birkat HaMazon (Grace after the Meal). I just couldn't look at any prayer book anymore let alone seeing others praying enthusiastically. I thought that once I was back in Germany, I would take revenge on the whole haredi society and publish all its negativity.

Even in Germany it took me a long time to get over it. But once you work and go back into the daily routine it starts getting better. The pain is getting less and less. What bothered me a lot was that I had no one to talk to. The local haredi rabbi was a failure, as he didn't know anything about society problems. What was left was the phone and the Internet. Friends and a Jerusalem rabbi (Chabad) helped me a lot and I never lost the connection.

Haredi society can be very odd sometimes. Maybe it has improved today but ten years ago, people didn't really knew how to deal with problems. I didn't have any doubts regarding religion but what I did was missing certain things from my former life. Mainly freedom. The way of thinking rather than non - kosher food.

Not many Haredim are willing to talk to a person with problems. As soon as they hear the word "crisis", they either change the subject or run as fast as they can. Otherwise, so they think, one could end up in the same emotional mess.

The only one I could talk to was a Chabad - Rabbi who helped a lot. Reality is that I wasn't able to solve my crisis in Germany. The only thing I did there was delaying everything. A solution can only be found in Jerusalem by facing the haredi world. Nevertheless, gaining some distance in Germany was positive.

And here we are with those born into haredi society:
They often face much less tolerance then I did, as expectations are much higher. Especially when your father is a rabbi. Those who are lucky get a social worker from the outside trying to work out a compromise between the child and his parents. Others, on the other hand, are being thrown out of the Yeshiva because there they are seen as "bad influence" to the others. Instead, they are given other tasks or sometimes just end up as a Shababnik (look religious but don't practice anything). In any case, it is better keeping problem cases within society than letting them end up on the street.

Let's get briefly get back to Gitty Grunwald:
She wasn't born into Satmar but already three years old when her mother joined. It would be much worse if she was born that way and if her father was a respected rabbi. She decided to get the media involved and let them take pictures which are anything but modest. Her way of revenge can only be destructive because thus, she is destroying her own personality. Gitty's reaction is an outcry. She wants attention and it wouldn't have been such a bad idea if Satmar had sent someone to talk to her about her problems. At least someone who had listened to her. After years of hiding and silence, a potential dropout feels like screaming it out. But when no one listens, it is hard to find an objective solution for oneself.

It is extremely important to find the source of the problem and work out a concept avoiding any further crises. How do I deal with it now and in the future ?
Only taking revenge doesn't help and only causes inner self - destruction. You should set up priorities and the most important priority should be YOU. Build up a new life and care about your future. Don't let revenge rule and prevent you from advancing in life.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Talmud ? What is that ?


Many times I like to quote from the Talmud. But what actually is the Talmud ?

For Jews it mostly means a thick book full of laws. Complicated laws which only seem to make sense after a longer period of intense studies. Non – Jews, on the other hand, consider the Talmud as something mystic or bad mouthing the non – Jewish world. We can find plenty of Christian anti – Semitic websites quoting from the Talmud in an absurd wrong way. Taking Talmudic quotes or passages completely out of the context and turning it into something Gentile hatred. Those sites do this on purpose and they don't bother about explanations and interpretations. Anything Jewish must be bad to begin with. Times haven't changed too much since the Middle Ages and its Inquisition.

In fact, the Talmud is not easy to understand. Professional studies are required and no one should quote without any understanding. People without former studies can easily misinterpret the Talmud, as they are not familiar with the metaphors; let alone the necessary commentaries and commentators. Moreover, most translations into different languages (except for the English Steinsaltz – Artscroll - Edition) are a catastrophe. The Mishna is written in Hebrew and the following Gemarot are in Aramaic. Translations can hardly express the plays on words in the Hebrew and Aramaic context. One of the most famous play on words in the Talmud are the first sentences on page 2a in the Tractate of Avodah Zarah (Idol Worship). No one would even notice the play on words without the original edition.

Thousands of books have been written about the Talmud. Here I am only referring to a brilliant book from the Chabad – Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Jerusalem), "The Essential Talmud". I took many of my following explanations from Rabbi Steinsaltz's book.

First of all, you have to understand something very basic.
The Talmud is not a strange edition to the Torah; but it would be impossible to understand the Torah and keep its laws (Mitzwot) without the Talmud. Where the Torah doesn't tell us "how", the Talmud provides all the details. Torah and Talmud are the foundation of Judaism. The Talmud is a "guide" to practical Judaism.

Hardly any other Jewish book has caused so many controversies and bloodshed throughout history. Most of the time this happened due to misinterpretations and wrong understanding. The church hates the Talmud and throughout history, especially during the Middle Ages, several Talmud burnings took place. At other times, Talmud study was forbidden to Jews. Thus, the church was hoping that Jews would forget about their religion and eventually convert to Christianity.

The formal Talmud definition is "a summary of the oral law" put together by the Sages from Palestine and Babylon in the course of the centuries. Basically the Talmud consists of two units: the Mishna and the Gemara. Both together form the Talmud. As I mentioned before, the Mishna consists of laws only and was written in Hebrew. After the Mishna text, you always find the Gear (Plural: Gemarot), the Rabbinic discussions about the interpretation of the law.

Nevertheless, this simple way of explanation is far too artificial, as the Talmud includes so much more. It is a collection of Jewish wisdom from 2000 years. It is a mixture of laws, legends and philosophy; everything contains a unique logic together with an extraordinary pragmatism. Further contexts are history, science, anecdotes and even humor. The Talmud is a collection of paradoxes: a well arranged logic frame and each word was chosen carefully and then interpreted. Those who look for absolute halachic answers will be disappointed. More than 90 % of the given halachic solutions are "Machloket – open to different interpretations, discussions and disputes". The most famous Talmudic dispute took place between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel. This dispute lasted for a whole century. In the end, a compromise was found:
"Both, Hillel and Shammai, speak the word of G – d".
Only the fact that one method is preferred (until today, the Halacha of Hillel is valid) doesn't mean that the other method (Shammai (1)) is halachically invalid.

The Talmud consists of many different tractates which weren't written by only one author. The authors lived in different time periods and each of them added his own opinions. Thus, they were confronted with different problems and circumstances. Due to these facts, the Talmud doesn't have a clear trend or specific objective. Every debate in the Gemara is unique and every subject is discussed according to the particular time period. The entire Talmud is a back and forth of questions and answers. An antique method of Talmud study was to study the answer carefully in order to figure out the question. Finding out the question is necessary, as the many times, the Talmud doesn't tell us the question. After reaching a certain basic knowledge, the student should be able asking himself and other questions claim a doubt. The Talmud is not a religious work where everyone has to agree upon. On the contrary, it demands and allows doubts. The student only receives his true answers through spiritual communication (the intellectual and emotional debate).

For several generations, especially in the days of the "Judges" as well as the time of the "First Temple" (approx. 950 – 586 C.E.), laws were not always kept as required. After a while, the prophets always asked the people to do Teshuva (repentance). Very early, our Sages (rabbis, commentators) had to admit that many names for plants or animals mentioned in the Talmud were already unknown in their times and couldn't be identified anymore. Furthermore, many concepts or Mitzvot from the Torah had to be interpreted, as the Torah itself doesn’t provide us with further explanations. For example, the "Totafot" – a word from the biblical "Shema Israel – Prayer". The Rabbis learned out of this context that the Tefillin derive from this concept. In the course of time, customs and lifestyles changed and thus, new problems and questions came up. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz here particularly mentions the Shabbat. It says in the Torah that we shall work for six days and rest on the seventh day. Each generation, however, had a totally different understanding of what exactly work and rest mean. All the time, work and rest had to be defined anew. Additionally, many Torah passages can only be understood through their detailed interpretation in the Talmud. The Korbanot (sacrifices) for instance. Or when the Torah demands from a husband to provide his wife with a Get (divorce certificate) after the actual divorce. In this case, the Torah doesn't tell what it should say in this Get but only the Talmud does.

Each generation has more demand for interpretation. The Israelites under Moshe still knew all Torah explanations without even thinking about solutions. Later on, the young generation learnt from the elders and further generations had to study more and more. The "Anshei Knesset HaGedolah – Men of the Great Assembly" collected holy writings and then decided which of them is going to become part of the Nevi'im (Book of Prophets). The Men of the Great Assembly gave shape to the Torah by dividing its verses; just the way we know it from the Torah Parashot on Shabbat. Which Parasha is being read ? From where to where ? Furthermore, the synagogue service and its rituals were established as well the "Amidah – prayer" (the Shemona Ezrei).


(1) Shammai:
There are commentaries claiming that in the time of Meshiach, we will only follow the halachic interpretations of Shammai



G – d's Throne


As a child we tend to think in pictures; everything we imagine, we imagine as something material in a picture. When I was a child, I always thought of G – d as this old man with a long white beard walking up and down in heaven. Later in our lives we all begin to realize that what a child imagines is not always true. And especially those who start studying about Judaism are soon confronted with a expression called "G – d's Throne". As soon as I heard the expression "G – d's Throne", I sometimes do start thinking like a child: An old man sitting on his throne. Moreover, the same expression is also used on Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year) when it says at the beginning of Shacharit (morning prayer) that G – d (HaMelech) is sitting in the upper world so judge.

As we know, the Torah, Talmud, Midrash, Aggadah and many other Jewish religious writings consist of metaphors. It seems as if words and even concepts are transformed into symbols and many times, we just get lost. What is the meaning of the symbols ? Usually commentaries help; however, the problem is even getting bigger as soon as you come to a symbol or a word which is used in a different context somewhere else. Then you have to understand the connection between the first and all the other meanings of the same word or symbol. Just look into the Book of Yechezkel and you find quite a few examples.

But what does it mean "G – d's Throne" ? Is there a throne somewhere standing in heaven and an old man sits on it ?

Of course, "G – d's Throne" is only another metaphor and not to be taken literally. The Rambam (Maimonides) writes in his book "The Guide for the Perplexed" – 1:9, that only someone with authority is able to sit on a throne. Kings, for instance. Furthermore, the expression "Throne" is also used for the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and for heaven. In the Mishkan, G – d manifests His greatness and His light coming down on us into the physical world. Heaven represents G – d's existence and His powers; the same as a throne.

In order to understand the concept we need to remember that G – d created our world and universe with different powers. Kabbalah limits His powers to ten although this does not mean that He only has ten different powers (the 10 Sefirot). G – d has countless attributes, and many we neither know nor are able to grasp with our human mind.

As soon as G – d's sits on His throne and starts judging, it means that He does so with His highest levels of power (the Sefirot). For instance: If G – d wants to be merciful, he bends down (metaphorically speaking). "Bending down" stands for using lower levels of His power. However, when he sits on His throne in order to judge, He uses all His full powers on the highest levels. Or in other words, He activates His highest powers in order to act and cause a reaction.

Thus, "G – d's Throne" is a metaphor for actions on the highest level of His attributes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

New Haredi Protests


The Israeli "Shefa" - supermarket is still under a Cherem (ban).
As I wrote many times before, the "Shefa" market belongs to the "Dor - Alon Group" which also owns the famous supermarket chain "AM:PM". And "AM:PM" is the real problem, as it is also open on Shabbat. If you go to Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan today, the "AM:PM" seems to me almighty. There is hardly any corner without a branch. The products are generally kosher but not the opening hours on Shabbat.

The "Shefa" customers, however, are mostly Haredim or national religious and Rabbi Eliyashiv as well as the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, decided to place a ban on the "Shefa". As long as the "Dor Alon - Group" keeps its "AM:PM" open on Shabbat, "Shefa" is under a Cherem.

"Shefa - Market"

I don't know how "Shefa" is dealing with all the financial losses and sometimes we even forget about the ban. Is it still valid or not ?

Ten days ago, I walked through Bnei Brak and I became more than aware of the ban's validity. Posters everywhere and the Cherem has been constantly renewed.

Tel Aviv papers have been recently reporting about a new haredi ban. Another trefe (unkosher) supermarket owner (I think it is Arkadi Gaydamak) is planning to build a huge branch of "Tiv Ta'am" right next to a haredi neighbourhood in Tel Aviv. The haredi population, on the other hand, sees its real estate prices shrinking. Which Haredi would buy a house near a trefe supermarket ? And, who at all, wants to live near such a place, let alone its customers ?

The latest case is Haifa where a new haredi ban might be coming up. Haifa decided in favour of certain public buses running on Shabbat. This is nothing new, as those buses have been running on Shabbat for years. The passengers claim that those buses neither run through haredi neighbourhoods nor disturb anyone else.

The point I want to make is not to favour or oppose haredi bans but I am rather having a question.

Why do the Haredim only start banning or judging when everything is already taking place ? Why not before ?

"Tiv Ta'am" has been selling pork for years and no one said a word.

"AM:PM" has been open on Shabbat for years and the actual ban only started a few months ago.

The Haifa buses have been running for years and now haredi rabbis are complaining.

Where were all the complaints and all the modesty police squads before ? Do they only act when the "trefe" is moving closer to haredi neighbourhoods ?

Where are the complaints or demonstration against a place called "The Kingdom of Pork Factory" near the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv ? Where have all the protests against the non - kosher stores in Jerusalem's Agrippas gone ? Why is everyone complaining now ? Is it just politics, as usual ?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chassidic Tish in Ruzhin - Boyan


First we really thought that we wouldn't make it. The Shabbat dinner at Rabbi Mordechai Machlises house took unbelievable long, as there were so many guests. Since Rabbi Machlis has been adding another room to his living room, people just keep on streaming in. As there now is more space, he publishes his meals on Janglo.

At least 200 guests passed his living room last Shabbat. Especially when an American student group of 42 people walked it. Then the new room wasn't even enough anymore and the Machlis family had to open the door leading to the Sukka (added ot the house). The result was that the whole Sukka was full of guests.

Some people had told me about Boyan for quite a while, I always wanted to go to their Rebbe's Tish. But sometimes the problem is that an outsider like me doesn't know when different groups have their Tishes. There are those whose Rebbe only gives a Tish on special occasions like holidays etc. Or those celebrating every Shabbat or once a month. However, in Ruzhin – Boyan a Tish takes place every Shabbat Mevarchim (the Shabbat before the new Jewish month starts). And this was last Friday. Moreover, a grandchild was born to Rebbe Nachum Dov Brayer and, of course, this is a reason for a Tish.

Ruzhin – Boyan ?
This name might sound strange to some people.
The group has its origin in the Ukraine and the founder of Chassidut Ruzhin, Rebbe Israel Friedman (1796 – 1850), has famous family roots. His fathers side comes from Rabbi Avraham Mal'ach who was the son of the Maggid of Mezritch (the successor of the Baal Shem Tov). Rebbe Israel had six sons and all of them founded chassidic dynasties such as Sadigura or Boyan. Therefore, Boyan is a branch of Ruzhin.

The great Boyaner synagogue is located in the Ge'ulah neighbourhood in Jerusalem (in Machei Israel Street). So far, people always told me how nice and friendly the Boyaner would be. One even claimed that this is the case because not too many outsiders visit the Rebbe's Tish. The Tishes regular Tishes of Toldot Aharon, Avraham Yitzchak or Belz are packed but who knows about Boyan ?
I know their synagogue for some years and every time when I passed it during Sukkot, I noticed the gigantic Sukka right in front of the building. Last Friday night at 11pm, we left the Machlises and went to Boyan. At 11.30pm, Rebbe Nachum Dov Brayer walked into the Synagogue and took his special seat. My friend and I had found the women's entrance (Ezrat Nashim) very easily and there were other women walking in anyway. We came on time and got great spots behind the glass windows.

The Boyaner Rebbe and his wife are Americans but the Rebbitzen wasn't their last Erev Shabbat. Rebbe Brayer looked very young in comparison to other chassidic Rebbes. A few hundred Chassidim had gathered and the Boyaner wear a regular Streimel (fur hat) and a long black coat on Shabbat. Not like the colourful coats of the Romanian or Hungarian Rebbes or Chassidim.

Before I went to the Tish, I had received an e – mail from a blog reader. "Look at the Rebbe's Streimel", he had announced and I did pay attention. Usually chassidic Rebbes wear a Streimel with a little round top in the middle. The Boyaner Rebbe, however, wears a regular Streimel but on the top in the middle a peak stands out. Whatever you want to call it, it looks very unusual.

In the middle: The Boyaner Rebbe, Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer, with Sidur in his hand. Look at the unusual shape of the top of his Streimel.

During the two hours of the Tish, the Boyaner Rebbe was rather quiet. He sang and gave a Derasha (Torah teaching) but otherwise, he made a very quiet impression. Unfortunately, we females couldn't hear anything of his Derasha but what can I say, as he cannot use a microphone on Shabbat.

What else is special in Boyan ?
As usual, I can only write from a women's perspective and this always means no Shirayim (no Rebbe's food). The Boyaner Rebbe only made Kiddush and handed out some Challah (Shabbat bread). Nevertheless, the Chassidim got apple slices and chick peas (humus). Let alone cold soda water. We females got nothing.
One of the women seemed to be some kind of a guard. At least she was in charge, this was obvious. After a while she came up to us and asked who we were. I told her and we started talking about Tishes. And as she seemed to be very open I also added that I write about Judaism on the Internet. If I have a chance, I always add this because I prefer to be honest and don't play games. Most groups I went to know that I write about them. At least some of the Chassidim. Most except for Toldot Aharon where I haven't had the right opportunity yet. Anyone else, Karlin – Stolin, Dushinsky, Belz, Gur, Vishnitz and other know what I am doing.

One thing I have to criticize so far:
I wasn't too excited about the Boyan songs (Niggunim) although the Chassidim were swinging on their metal benches. They reminded me a little of the Slonim (Jerusalem) because they sounded a little slow. The best songs I have heard so far where in Belz. But who knows; I haven't been to Vishnitz yet and people told me that after Vishnitz, I will definitely change my mind.
Nevertheless, the two last Boyaner songs were not bad.

The Boyaner Tish was great and I can only recommend it.
What we liked in particular was the friendliness of the women (I cannot judge the men !!!!). My friend who has been accompanying me to the Tishes for a long time, was completely off. She loves Boyan and made me asking the "in – charge – lady" at what time the synagogue service starts on Shabbat. My friends Hebrew is not the best and this is why I had to ask. The women were pleased and invited us to the morning service. Well, my friend was anxious to go but I overslept a little. Next time, we will go. If I wake up.
Unfortunately, the Boyaner only have their Tish once a month. However, right after Tisha Be'Av (Mourning day for te destruction of both Temples), a big wedding is taking place in the group. Hopefully we will be able to go and have a look.

And what else is to say about Ruzhin – Boyan ?

Yes, the Boyaner have Takanot (internal group laws). The majority, however, only concerns the behaviour and details of the synagogue service. Furthermore, the food for Kiddush. The Rebbe very much stresses silence during the prayer service. He, on the other hand, prays in a separate room and only appears in front of the public during the taking out and putting back the Torah into the Aron HaKodesh and Birkat HaCohanim.

Yes, Boyan does accept outsiders as group members. Nevertheless, it seems that they don't missionize or run after new members as other chassidic groups such as Belz or Chabad. Many times, newcomers into the group face problems with themselves at the moment when chassidic life doesn't go in accordance with their former dreams and hopes.

Yes, a woman is allowed to work in the outside world (computers, etc.). On the other hand, women don't participate in any higher Jewish studies as the Talmud or the Rambam.

No, the Boyaner don't necessarily listen to the radio, as secular matters don't improve Devekut (closeness to G – d).

Otherwise every member lives a relatively independent life and they do make their own decisions. The Rebbe is not the big boss because this is not his personality. Someone Boyan told me that the Chassidim accept the Rebbe's decisions out of love and out of knowing that he is their guide.

Boyan reminded me a little of the Slonim and Nadvorna.
I will definitely go again. Do I have another choice ?
My friend is so excited and doesn't stop asking questions anymore.

The Yahrzeit of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria

The famous cemetery in Safed (Northern Israel)


This upcoming Shabbat, we are celebrating the beginning of the new month "Menachem Av". A few days later, on 5th Av, we remember the Yahrzeit (day of death) of one of the greatest Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria.

It is always important to especially remember the Arizal and here is an article in his memory:

Who was Rabbi Yitzchak Luria ?

Hardly any other Kabbalist has influenced the Kabbalah as much as Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. And no other Kabbalist has remained as mysterious as him within the course of the centuries.

Who was the famous Kabbalist Rabbi Luria who seemed to jump out of the dark into the light and thus changed the way of thinking of all following Kabbalists and Kabbalah itself?

Yitzchak ben Shlomo (Salomon) Luria was born in Jerusalem in 1534. Until today you can see the house where he was born in the Old City of Jerusalem. And in case you are going for a visit, you will find a very nice synagogue inside the building.

Except for his ordinary name Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, we also know him under his additional name ARI (the Lion). The Hebrew word LION - ARI stands for the abbreviation "HaElohi Rabbi Yitzchak (the Holy Yitzchak).

Born in Jerusalem in 1534, Rabbi Luria spent the early years of his life with his uncle in Egypt. For ten years, he lived on a small island belonging to his uncle. During the week, Rabbi Luria lived there in a cave and only for Shabbat he came back to the shore in order to celebrate Shabbat with some company.

On the island, Rabbi Luria transformed into a great Kabbalist. Most of the time he spent studying the ZOHAR (Book of Splendor). He studied each page until he understood the whole meaning. No matter how long it took him and how complicated it was. Studying the Zohar is anything but easy, as it almost entirely consists of symbols and metaphors. G - d, His different powers which whom He created the world, the angels, everything is explained in metaphors.

At the age of 36, the ARI moved to Safed (Tsafed) in Northern Israel. Until then, no one knew about him at all.
Already in those days, the city of Safed was famous for its Kabbalist circle consisting of six or seven extremely intelligent students and rabbis. Shortly after Rabbi Luria arrived in town, people quickly realized what kind of a great extraordinary authority he was.

After the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, died in 1570, his best and closest student, Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543 - 1620), took over the leadership of the Safed circle. And please note that, at that time, Rabbi Vital was only 27 years old ! Thus you can see, how great those Kabbalists in Safed were.

Of course, Rabbi Chaim Vital looked down on the newcomer and had never heard of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. He even refused to go and see him after people reported him about the greatness of the ARI. Rabbi Vital just said that Rabbi Luria should come to him and not vice versa. By the way, the ARI made the same claim and, for this reason, it took a while until they finally met. Apparently Rabbi Chaim Vital gave in and went to see his "competitor" and became the most famous student of the ARI.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria hardly left any writings and almost everything we know of his teachings today was transmitted by his students. And as many students participated to write the famous "ETZ CHAIM - The Tree of Life", there seem to occur many discrepancies. Especially towards the end of the book. Most of it was written by Rabbi Chaim Vital but also another student, Rabbi Israel Sarug, joined and wrote a few pages. And especially about Rabbi Israel Sarug it was said that he wasn't really a student of the ARI and misinterpreted many concepts.

Today you can find to ARI synagogues in Safed; one is Ashkenazi and the other one is Sephardi. However, you can visit both and I can only recommend a visit. The municipality is taking care of the synagogues but the area around Safed has always been in danger of earthquakes. In the course of the centuries, many times the town was almost destroyed.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria died at the early age of 38.
Why ? No one really knows it.
He himself always claimed that the purpose of his whole existence is to tell a certain kabbalistic secret to his student Rabbi Chaim Vital. As soon as he did so, his life would end.
And this is exactly what happened.

Some time after the death of his great teacher, Rabbi Chaim Vital moved to Damascus where is is also buried.

Those of you visiting Safed should definitely visit the famous cemetery. Just walk a few meters from the Central Bus Station down the Ari Street and you will have the most amazing view right over the cemetery. An unbelievable landscape and you can even see until Meron (where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is buried). A breathtaking view.

There are always people standing at the ARI's grave and praying. So, you cannot miss the grave. Sometimes, however, his grave is becoming too much of a shrine and other rabbis buried on the same particular cemetery seem to be left out. For instance, Rabbi Yosef Karo (the author of the "Shulchan Aruch") or Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz (who wrote the "Lecha Dodi" song we sing on Erev Shabbat).

Right above the cemetery you can find the Mikveh of the ARI who is still in use. But for men only, as usual.
Or rather - "unfortunately".

Friday, July 25, 2008

What else it there to say ?


Highly recommended:

Gitty Grunwald in Israel


The present weekend edition of Israel's left - wing paper "Haaretz" took over the entire "New York Magazin" report on Gitty Grunwald and published it in Hebrew. Including the photos, by the way.

Gitty's decision to leave Kiryat Yoel and Satmar is her private matter and I accept it. But why did she run to the press ? In order to get some public support for her upcoming custody court case ?

Okay, I can accept that in a way although other Satmar runaways don't necessarily run to the "New York Magazin" to complain.

What I don't accept are her photos showing Gitty and her daughter half - naked. If you want attention, at least, show some self - respect. In this case not only Gitty to herself but even more to her daughter Esther Miriam.

I could be as mad as something at Satmar but nothing would cause me to stand around in a bikini or undress my daughter in front of any camera. And, in this respect, I do understand Satmar.

How much did Gitty charge the "New York Magazin" for those pictures ?
Maybe the answer would cause me to change my mind.:-)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shabbat in Ruzhin - Boyan


This coming Shabbat I am going to spend in Jerusalem where I am, among other things, going to participate in a chassidic Tish of the group Ruzhin - Boyan. They are celebrating a special event and thus, this week, have their Tish on an Erev Shabbat (Friday night) instead of Seudat Shlishit (third meal).

I am very much looking forward to the Tish, as I have never been to Boyan before.

The Boyaner Synagogue in Ge'ulah / Jerusalem

The Crusaders and their first Massacre


The main goal of the Crusades was to Christianize the Holy Land - but there was only one "little" problem: the Muslims.
The plan of the church was getting rid of the Muslims, conquer Jerusalem and turn the whole country into a Christian shrine. Fortunately, all of the Crusades failed but until today we can hear glorifying stories about the "heros", the Crusaders. There are not too many books also mentioning the endless suffering and mass destruction the Crusaders actually caused.

The First Crusade began in 1096. Towards the beginning of the summer, the Crusaders passed Germany on their way to Israel. Wherever they passed through, further Christians fanatics or peasants joined the march. Many of them were even hoping for a better life in the Holy Land. They had nothing to loose and even brought their whole family with them.

Whatever or whoever was in the way of the Crusades got destroyed or killed. Mercy was not such an important attribute in those days.
Of course, it was well – known that there was still a Jewish community in Jerusalem in the year of 1096. Among them were many members of the Karaite sect who denied the validity of the Oral Law, hence the Talmud. However, the Crusaders didn't see a difference and even need to get until Jerusalem in order to satisfy their blood thirst; on their way through Germany, they already killed 100,000 Jews and destroyed Jewish communities in the Rhineland such as Cologne, Speyer, Trier, Mainz, Metz or further away Regensburg and Prague. Wherever the passed through, the Crusaders left a bloodbath. And those massacres remained in the memory of the Jews for the following centuries. A lot of literature was written on the subject and especially the Jewish Philosopher and Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham ibn Da'ud described the terrible events in his book "Sefer HaKabbalah".

A common claim is that until the year 1096, Jews and Christian lived relatively peaceful in Germany. It goes without saying that both populations were divided by two different religious ideologies but, nevertheless, personal contacts and trade existed. However, after the massacres of the First Crusade, things changed rapidly and more and more pogroms followed. The historians Heinrich Graetz and Simon Dubnow state that all the peaceful life before 1096 was nothing but artificially, as there had been lots of hidden hatred for the Jews within the German population. The historians even consider the Third Reich as a parallel to the German massacres of the Crusade. The behaviour of the German population was very similar. Suddenly they bursted out and let all their anti – Semitic hatred out.

When the Crusaders marched towards the German Jewish communities, a very high number of Jews gave up and agreed to convert to Christianity. Anyway, many of them probably followed their Jewish way of life secretly at home. Just like the Spanish Marranos did. To the outside world they behaved like Christians and inside their own house they started lighting Shabbat candles.

On the other hand, many Jews didn't want to give in and either fled or sacrificed (killed) themselves as a "Kiddush HaShem – Sanctification of G – d". Halachically, a forced conversion is not valid and a Jew is always considered a Jew. Even if Jews convert to another religion, the Halacha says that they are still Jewish. No escape from Judaism despite all the ongoing self – hatred.
And especially no escape from G – d !

On the other hand, a Jewish convert to another religion cannot be called up to the Torah. At least not as long he is worshipping idols and doesn't do Teshuva (repentance). This laws also apply to Cohanim (priests).

Years after the massacres, the Rambam (Maimonides) made a Halacha that Jews being forced to convert to another religion (Islam or Christianity) are innocent. In his "Epistle of Martyrdom" he suggests that Jews should rather change their location or country in order to escape forced conversions. German Jews, hoever, didn't have the time for an escape anymore.

When the Muslim Almohad (today's "Al Khaida") conquered Spain in the times of the Rambam and then killed thousands of people rejecting Islam, the Rambam advised the Jews not to sacrifice themselves and die. Although the Almohad killed countless people, after a while the Jews could continue practicing their own religion and weren't forced to convert to Islam. At the times of the marching Crusaders, the Jews didn't have a choice but to convert or get killed.

The author Jeremy Cohen is asking if the Jews have been suffering throughout the times from a "1096 complex".
In the summer of 1971, the Newsweek – columnist Stewart Alsop criticized the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir for being too hesitant and suspicious in the peace talks of the Middle East. Alsop claimed that this kind of behaviour stems from the exaggerated "Massada Complex" where Jews also preferred to kill themselves rather than to get caught and being forced to worship idols.

Golda Meir had a brilliant response to this claim:
"Yes, it is true. We Jews have a "Massada Complex", we have a "Pogrom Complex" and we have a "Hitler Complex".

"The Key to Redemption"


Highly recommended !!!

A great blog against Christian missionaries:

"The Key to Redemption"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pulling down Posters


I couldn't believe it yesterday. Suddenly I received an e - mail from a friend of mine who had been a victim of a Jerusalem bomb attack almost eleven years ago. Diana Campuzano from New York finally made it back to Israel after all those years. Since the Ben Yehudah bomb exploded (in 1997) and she got badly injured, she hadn't been back to Israel and especially not to Jerusalem. Once she told me that she could just not handle the memories from the attack.

Now she is here and we met yesterday. I took her to Rabbi Mordechai Machlis for a class and a dinner afterwards. Everything was great and Diana looks good although the signs of her injuries are still visible.

After 11pm we left the Rabbi's house and started walking towards the Old City when Diana noticed a young chassidic couple pulling at a poster hanging in a glass box as a street sign. First I didn't notice what is going on and the couple passed us. Then Diana said: "Look what they did".

A cinema poster with an actor on it was almost pulled out of the box. The young chassidic couple was from the extreme group of Toldot Aharon and apparently wanted to save all of us from bad movies or our own Yetzer (evil side within us). No more secular posters and no more movies ! Ironically, I said to Diana that we should maybe give the couple two cinema tickets for free. Maybe they would enjoy themselves.

However, the couple only succeeded in pulling out half of the poster but I started asking myself what kind of character or whatever one must have to do such a thing. The event didn't take place in Mea Shearim. It took place at the entrance to the Maalot Dafna neighbourhood right at a very busy highway. The area is religious but also secular, as right across is East - Jerusalem and the highway is busy with all kinds of cars. And no one ever has been bothered by posters. Yesterdays' poster wasn't even pornographic or anything. I think it showed the new "Batman" movie but I am not sure. There was a kind of a crazy looking guy on it. Weird but not pornographic or offending.

I just wondered what kind of upbringing this young couple had. Being in a closed extreme ultra - orthodox society. People call Toldot Aharon much worse than Satmar. Both groups have great members but some of them are just as weird as the guy on the poster. The Toldot Aharon live further down in a backyard in Shivtei Israel Street and if they take posters down in their area - okay, I accept that. But walking around in public places and starting to force the whole society in accepting their understanding of modesty is crazy. Nevertheless, I suppose the couple was just too young and hopefully in another few years or so, they might grow up and get some more understanding. An understanding that there are other people, other Jews, in this world as well. I also don't go to Mea Shearim and pull down the posters of certain "Modesty Committees" because I don't like the context.

Any Jew, if chassidic or not, should show at least some respect to everyone else. Dealing with other people is one of our Tikkunim (soul rectifications) and G - d didn't place us in this world in order to shut ourselves up in a backyard and only speak to people who are exactly like us. On the other hand, I am not too upset about the couple, as I got to know many Toldot Aharon members who are great people and, up to a certain point, very open minded.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gitty's World


The New Yorker chassidic and even non – chassidic world seems to be very busy with one subject these days. I read about the story in different blogs and websites and people are so excited. First I thought that I shouldn't really refer to it. Lot's of gossip and everyone has been writing about it anyway. But then, two days ago, I went to the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Mordechai Machlise's mother, Sarah Machlis, and witnessed a totally unnecessary argument among some of the guests. Two Brits, one was Jewish and the other wasn't, started gossiping about the haredi world. All of them (the Haredim) are parasites. No one works but everyone accepts the child's allowance and further money from the government. All Haredim are Neturei Karta but use the State of Israel for their own purposes.

Me and an acquaintance of mine who works as a haredi journalist for the Israeli radio channel "Kol Israel" tried to defend the Haredim. People who are not familiar with precise details about issues such as Neturei Karta, Haredim, Edah HaCharedit, etc. shouldn't be gossiping and spreading rumours. And this is what it is: rumours without any background information. People know absolutely nothing but think they have something to say.

Unfortunately, many Jews behave this way. I admit that there is lots of anger and frustration around. The Israeli governmental system allows Haredim to go to Yeshiva instead of joining the army or looking for a job. However, this also has been changing within the past few years. But people starting to talk about the Edah or Neturei Karta should at least be familiar with the subject. And this is why I now do refer to the latest New Yorker case.

Jews and Gentiles read the particular article in the "New York Magazine" and it is a pity that no real professional background explanations were given.

But let's have a look at the story first:

Almost three weeks ago, the "New York Magazine" published an article about a 23 – year – old woman who left the Satmar community in Kiryat Yoel. And since, Chassidim cannot stop talking about it and reading all the gossip. I know many Chassidim who do that and have a great laugh. At least, as long as it doesn't concern their own group. But Satmar; who doesn't want to hear more gossip about Satmar ? That's always interesting. The chassidic world is full of gossip and Satmar is one their favourite subjects.

Gitty Grunwald escaped from Satmar and is using the media in order to get her daughter back. Once, her mother used to be a hippie from a secular home. She came to Kiryat Yoel (Satmar town near New York) and found shelter. Then she became religious including a member in Satmar. Her daughter Sterna Gittel (Gitty) Grunwald grew up in the known extreme way. No TV, no contact with the outside world and as a young teenager she was married off to a Satmarer Chassid.
This is life in Kiryat Yoel and everywhere else in the haredi world. Nothing to be excited about because this is the way society works.

To make it short, Gitty didn't get along with her husband. Not in their bedroom and not anywhere else. In the meantime, Gitty also had discovered her own freedom and started to follow her own ways of life. The couple got divorced and Gitty left Kiryat Yoel together with her daughter Esther Miriam. A little later, her Ex snatched Esther Miriam from her and brought her back to Kiryat Yoel. Now Gitty went to the press and faces a court case for custody. She wants her 4 – year – old daughter back and raise her in a "normal" way and not like the "Taliban" (her own words) in Kiryat Yoel. A non – Jewish court is going to make the verdict.
A non – Jewish court ? No Beit Din ?
Nothing unusual for Satmar, as they have faced such a kind of court before when the two present Rebbes were fighting about leadership.

Since the article was published, countless blogs and other sites wrote about Gitty. Mostly in favour of her and in order to support her. Friends of hers even introduced a "Gitty – Site" where people can make donations. New York is expensive, her new life is expensive and so is the lawyer.

So far, I have lots of sympathy for Gitty and can understand her. But what the "New York Magazine" also publishes is a slideshow with the latest Gitty pictures. There, everyone can see her in different positions; even dressed in a bikini. Other Chassidim love this. Seeing a Satmarer Chassidiah in a bikini. What a laugh.

Gitty here, Gitty there, Gitty visiting her daughter, Gitty in Kiryat Yoel, Gitty with her mother, Gitty superstar.
New York has a new story and everyone is excited and is waiting for continuation.

Gitty is allowed to visit her daughter at Kiryat Yoel but only under Satmar supervision. Otherwise, so Satmar, she could be a bad influence to Esther Miriam and even stuff her with non – kosher food. Recently, the authorities discovered that Gitty used drugs. Her Ex must have been jumping in the air out of happiness. Wow, nothing better could have happened to him. His Ex - wife taking drugs but demanding custody. Satmar yes or no, no court in this world would give custody to a mother using drugs. That's it. Finished.

Gitty has been receiving plenty of comments from her readership all advising her to stop all the flaky behaviour and get her life in order. She needs a social worker or some modern – orthodox rabbi helping her in the outside world of Kiryat Yoel. It is truly not Gitty's fault being totally uneducated. Satmar has other plans for women and teaches them how to be a good housewife and mother. But, on the other hand, many people who visited Kiryat Yoel told me afterwards that almost every household has a computer at home. And the Satmar girls schools have been teaching computer classes for quite a while.

Now Gitty has to find her new paths. Organize her life, get a high school degree, a profession, responsibility. The problem within haredi society is what they teach their kids at school:
The secular world only consists of "sex and drugs (and "rock'n roll"). The secular would hang around the whole day and have one orgy after the other accompanied by heroine. An empty world without goals and spirituality.

The moment members of the chassidic world decide to leave they think that from now on they need to use drugs and have wild sex. This is what they learned at school about the outside world. And only this way, the secular are going to accept them in their society. This is typical haredi thought and I have been confronted with it a few times already. Once a former Chassid used our apartment for changing his clothes and later on, cutting off his peyos (side curls). The my flatmate (a cop) found injections and dumped the white power down the toilet.

When I left haredi society, my new start in life was much easier, as I knew the outside world. Other growing up that way don't even have a clue about normal schools let alone a university. How do you teach them to talk to the opposite sex when they are not married ? They have to be taught the smallest things, even to use a deodorant.

But coming back to Gitty Grunwald:
At the moment, she still seems to be without any orientation and real goal in life. She, literally speaking, has to learn life and how to manage it. In my opinion, only religious people should counsel her. A rabbi who is familiar with the chassidic world and its society. Only the Orthodox are able to understand what Gitty is going through. I know this from my own experience. What does it help going to a secular or non – Jewish psychiatrist who doesn't have a clue what you are talking about ? The result will be that most of the time you will be explaining them the haredi world. Too much time will be wasted with explanations. But when you are in a position like Gitty, you are longing for help right away. You want to talk now and need a person who knows what you say.

People gave Gitty lots of hope and best wishes for the future. Not only secular but also many Haredim. However, she has to take some action quickly because otherwise she will not win the court case. The more she hesitates, the more the judge is going to favour her Ex with a stable home and personality.

I wish Gitty all the best and hopefully she has friends who really help her.

There is so much to talk about the subject and I only mentioned a few important points. Nevertheless, it is very important not to spread any stereotype opinions around. People should neither judge Gitty nor Satmar. Each of them has its or her reasons and we have to look at both sides.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Come to us ! Come to us !"


A Mishna from Talmud Avot (Pirkei Avot – Sayings of the Fathers), Chapter 6, Mishna 9. It is an interesting Mishna and a great example for explaining how Talmud study works.

But first of all the Mishna:

Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma said: "Once I was walking by the way when a man met me, and gave me the greeting of SHALOM. And I returned to him SHALOM.

The man said: Rabbi, from what place are you ?

I (the Rabbi) responded: From a great city of sages and scribes.

The man said: Rabbi, why don't you dwell with us in our place ? I will give you a thousand Dinars of gold, and precious stones and pearls.

I (the Rabbi) said to him: Even if you give me all the gold, precious stones and pearls that are in the world, I would not dwell anywhere excepting in a place of Torah."

So far the Mishna in Pirkei Avot.

This text leads us to many questions. First of all: Why do the Mishna and Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma tell us the story ? What do we learn from the context ? And we definitely have to learn something from it, as nothing in the Torah and the Talmud is written or mentioned in vain. The Torah is timeless and everything written in it also applies to us. Not only the Mitzwot (laws) but also the personal life of our ancestors. How did our forefathers and foremothers react in certain situations ? Don't we face the same situations until today ? How did the forefathers use their moral attributes ? Do we Jews today show enough responsibility to our people ? How did the forefather manage precarious situations ? We should ask ourselves all these questions when we doubt the validity of the Torah in our times.

But let's go back to the question why Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma tells us the whole story in detail. Why does he put so much emphasize on details instead of simply telling us: "Once I met a man who offered me precious stones when I move to his town. I said NO because I want to live where there is Torah study".

Wouldn't this be enough to tell us ? Why does Rabbi Yossi then tells us about the greetings and everything ?

First of all, we have to look into the Hebrew original text and whoever doesn't do so, is missing out the whole meaning and all the hints.

Rabbi Yossi doesn't say that he "met the man". Meeting someone by accident means in Hebrew "PAGASH - פגש" (from the infinitive "LIFGOSH - ליפגוש"). Meeting someone as a result of an appointment means in Hebrew (LEHIPAGESH - להיפגש). Thus, someone knowing Hebrew can hear immediately from of the conversation if someone met another person by accident or if they were having an appointment.

Our Mishna, however, doesn't tell us if Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma met the man due to an appointment. In fact, he didn't even know the man and therefore they met by accident. In the Mishna text it says that Rabbi Yossi PAGA - פגע this man. But PAGA usually means TO HURT SOMEONE and not TO MEET SOMEONE. PAGA is the past of LIFGOA – TO HURT - לפגוע.

The result would be that the Mishna translation is wrong. Rabbi Yossi met the man but got hurt by him. How did he get hurt ?

In order to understand this we, once again, need to look at the Hebrew original.

But, first of all, I want to bring in an additional thought.

Don't we learn from Talmud Berachot that anyone being greeted by another person has to respond with a greeting ? And if anyone doesn't respond to a greeting, he is considered a thief.

Why is this so ?

Another person is offering you something (his greeting) and you just take it but don't do anything in response. You are only the taker but don't give. This even applies to a person you normally cannot stand and wouldn't think of greeting at all. If he offers you a greeting, you have to respond.

Rabbi Yossi did so.

But doesn't it also say in Berachot that a religious righteous person should greet everybody first ? Making the first greeting is a special Mitzwah. Why then did Rabbi Yossi not greet the man before he greeted him ?

The answer gives us the word PAGA.
Rabbi Yossi saw from far away that the man is not up to anything good. Thus, the Rabbi didn't intend to greet him at all but just pass by. However, when the stranger greeted him, he had to respond. As a result, the stranger started his conversation about money.

What is so wrong about that ?
First of all, he hurt the Rabbi's feelings with his behaviour. And there we are back at the word PAGA. In a rather stupid way, the stranger wanted to convince him to move to another place.

From where do we learn that ?
Because in his introduction Rabbi Yossi said that he was "walking by the way".

Way ? What way ?
Was he symbolically speaking on the right way or right track ? Or maybe a strange thought came into his mind ?

What the stranger really wanted was leading the Rabbi astray. The best example for this are Christian missionaries whose intention it is to lead Jews astray. Their and the stranger's intention are negative and destructive to begin with.

The same as the following discussion with Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma.

The stranger didn't say: "You can live in my town".

What he rather said was: "You can live WITH (IMANU - עמנו) us in our PLACE - מקומנו".

WITH US at OUR PLACE. Here we have to take a closer look at the word "IMANU – WITH US".

The meaning is not only that the Rabbi could simply live at a different place. "LIVING WITH US" means here to adopt the lifestyle, customs and traditions of the inhabitants as well. The same with the Christian missionaries who want to lead us astray into idol worship. Once we are with them, they want us to adopt their way of life.

Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma refused and kept walking on the right path.


I want to thank the Chabad Rabbi who gave this teaching at a Shiur (class). Unfortunately, I missed out his name.

I don't live here anymore


Last Shabbat's events just seemed to be too much for me. Staying in Tel Aviv on Shabbat is very different from Jerusalem. When you are in Jerusalem and you are Jewish, you are being confronted with a thousand possibilities.

Let's say you are new in town or simply a Jewish tourist. You don't know anyone and are looking for a place for Shabbat. Then the easiest way for you is going to the Kotel (Western Wall) right after candle lighting and meeting a guy called Jeff Seidel at the water fountain at the entrance to the men's side of the Kotel. Jeff Seidel is a rather short guy from Chicago. He always wears saddle shoes has a black head. "Need a place for Shabbes ?" That's his regular question to anyone. Just meet Jeff and he will get you a place for Shabbat within minutes.

Nothing like this is happening anywhere else in Israel and you cannot compare anything to Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv, for instance, you have to know people and then, slowly slowly, you are able to step into something. The same in Bnei Brak.

Last Friday night, I spent the Kabbalat Shabbat at the Chabad shul near Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv. Everyone thinks that Chabad is so open and, at least, doing something. Well, not where I went. Most people praying there are not Chabad and the very few Chabadniks are not too interested in you. Of course, they like you to come but that's it. Nothing further is happening.

I had prepared my Shabbat meal in private. This is very recommendable when you are in Tel Aviv. At the Chabad shul I noticed a few newcomers and I think that they where waiting for a Kiddush afterwards. At least a common Kiddush. But nothing happened and people went home. When I saw all this I thought that maybe next time, I should bring some grape juice and some food and make a Kiddush for such people right outside in the park.

Of course, Chabad is not responsible for all those people who don't know what to do on Shabbat. But, at least, make a Kiddush or something small.

After Kabbalat Shabbat, I went to Bnei Brak and there was the same. Yeshivot are closed until August 16th (e.g. Ponibezh) and many Rebbes are on their holiday vacation. The result was that nothing was going on. Chassidut Modzizh had a Tish but this seems to be for men only. One of the two present Vishnitzer Rebbes of Bnei Brak, Rabbi Israel Hager, was in Petach Tikwah and celebrating something with the Vishnitz youth. So, he didn't give his regular Bnei Brak Tish.

I went to the Shomrei Emunim and to Nadvorna, but there was the same picture. Nothing happening. However, I felt connected to all those hundreds of outsiders walking around and looking for a chassidic Tish. None of us seemed to be successful that night and I went home to Tel Aviv.

Yesterday I went back to Chabad. Nice service but nothing else. No Kiddush, no nothing. I was very upset about it and I will start looking for another shul. Not that I am after the Kiddush but I like places with a certain personal atmosphere and not "come, pray and go home". Have a nice day. Maybe I am just too spoiled from the Jerusalem but that's the way it is.

Usually religious Jews are not too excited about Tel Aviv. The funny thing is that I really started to like living there. Except on Shabbat maybe. Last night, on Mozzaei Shabbat (after Shabbat was over), I went to Jerusalem because I am having an appointment here this morning. Well, I thought I would get some more "Shabbat leftover feeling" in Jerusalem but I was wrong. The only thing I felt was that I don't live here anymore. Strange feeling.

It doesn't seem that I had a great Shabbat but this can happen. Sometimes you are in the mood and sometimes you are not. Everything just goes wrong. Maybe it would be a good idea setting up a table in front of the Carmel Market and making a public Kiddush for all those Jews in Tel Aviv who are running around and looking for something, but nothing is showing up.

An easy fast (17th Tammuz) and a great week to all of you !!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ordinary Lives


During the summer, heat and humidity in Tel Aviv are unbearable. Either you go to the beach or you run into the shower several times a day. Usually, people go out in the evenings when the weather cooled down. Today, however, is Erev Shabbat and we are forced to organize everything during the day; hence in the heat.
But you can still go to the beach.

The murder of the two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, has recently influenced our lives very much. Until Wednesday, most of us still had some hope that at least one of the soldiers would come back alive. More or less.
As soon as the two coffins appeared on the TV - screen, all our hopes went down the drain. Israel was in shock and the whole country was morning. Within the past two years, those two soldiers and their families have become parts of us. Hardly a day went by when we didn't heard about them. We are all Goldwasser and Regev, as it can happen to all of us. Getting kidnapped or killed by Arab terrorists.

Nevertheless, life goes on and what would we do without forgetting about the deepest pain ? I think it was Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who said that G - d gave humankind a great gift: the ability to forget.

Not to forget totally but after some time, we are able to overcome our grief. And after some time we are able to forget the first greates pain. If we weren't able to do so, we would go crazy by always remembering the original pain all the time.

Israelis are used to pain and used to overcome the worst. Tonight Shabbat is going to start and on Shabbat, we are not allowed to be sad. Then Jews are supposed to enter a different spiritual world beyond our physical existence. The best way for me to do this is going to a chassidic Tish. I am in Tel Aviv this Shabbat. It is boiling hot but nothing is going to stop me from going to Bnei Brak tonight. Kabbalat Shabbat and then looking for one of the Tishes.

I am planning to go to the Biale Synagogue and then decide to which Tish to go. There are Vishnitz, the Shomrei Emunim, Sadigura, Nadvorna and some others. Not to forget Lelov.

As we say in Hebrew: It won't be boring.

Shabbat Shalom to everyone !

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The RAMCHAL about the Three Temples


The famous Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto - the RAMCHAL (born in Padua / Italy in 1707 – died in Israel in 1747) cannot be left out whenever talking about Jewish teachings. He wrote Mussar (Ethics) – books (such as "The Path of the Just" or "Derech HaShem – The Way of G – d") but he also published plenty of kabbalistic writings (e.g. Adir BaMarom). There is no Yeshiva today where the concepts of the Ramchal aren't taught.

In one of his writings, he explains us his understanding of the Three Tempels. Here are a few of his concepts:

According to the Rambam (Maimonides), the Third Temple is already being built in heaven and waiting to come down into our world (see also Exodus 15:17). But not only the Rambam said that the Third Temple has already been built in heaven; Rashi comes to the same conclusion.

But what exactly is the meaning of: The Third Temple has already been built in heaven and is ready to come down. Only Meshiach has to come and then we will see the Temple.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto interprets:
In Kabbalah and in Chassidut every single material things (and even humans) has / have its counterpart in the spiritual upper worlds (in heaven, so to speak). On Earth, we are very human with all our strengths and weaknesses but our own perfect counterpart is to be found in the upper spiritual worlds. My own totally perfect "I" or "ME".

After I die, this perfect counterpart of myself will show me what kind of person I should have been while I was alive. It is like standing in front of a mirror and someone is listing us all our sins and failures. Then my perfect "I" comes into the picture and shows me how I should have behaved, solved problems or dealt with people.

"Jerusalem" or the "Temple" have their own counterparts in the upper spiritual worlds. A perfect Jerusalem with perfect people and a Temple where there is no more corruption or anything, but just Holiness (Kedusha).

The meaning of "the Temple already being built in heaven" is not that G – d took some stones and started building. The concept we are talking about is not material but spiritual. A spiritual Temple, a spiritual "I" or "Me", a spiritual city of Jerusalem. These counterparts don't exist in a material sense but only show us spiritual perfection.

Let's remember:
With the arrival of Meshiach, we are receiving a higher soul level which doesn't even let us think of any more sinning. No more crime, anything negative or jealousy; people will be very different. And this way we are going to connect the perfect spiritual world with our material physical world.

Furthermore, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto asked the question why the Prophet Yechezkel (Yezekiel) saw the Third and not the Second Temple in his vision. In his time, the First Temple was destroyed but the Second hadn't even been built.

Yechezkel reached a level of prophecy called BINA; a complete total understanding beyond time and space. And due to this high level he was able to look into the future by even overlooking the Second Tempel (beyond time). The Second Temple itself was only due to be build in another 56 years from then on. But Yechezkel only saw a vision of an eternal unique G – dly Temple and this definitely couldn't have been the Second Temple.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Church and the Talmud


According to our great Sages, it was the "oral law" making the Jewish people unique. And we read in a Midrash that once, in the future, the nations will make the claim that they are "Jewish". A claim which I can only confirm without any hesitation. Countless Christian tourists arriving in Jerusalem already claim their Jewishness after a few days or so. In Israel we know that 99 % of such tourists are total nutcases and the inhabitants of Jerusalem are used to religiously mad tourists from all over the world.

But let's look back at the quoted Pasuk (verse) from the Midrash:

"And G – d will say: "The one holding my mystery in his hands is truly Israel".

And what is that mystery ?

The Mishna (the oral law from Mount Sinai).

The Sages considered the Talmud to be the bulwark of Judaism. An opinion the Christian world looked at with suspicion and hostility. Already in the seventh and eighth century, leading Christians made some attempts to prohibit Talmud study. Those attempts, however, failed.

Especially the Catholic Church very early saw a danger in the Talmud. Jewish converts to Christianity tried to prove Jewish Talmudic Sages wrong. The converts loved to organize public discussions but after a short time they realized that the Rabbi cannot be beaten. His arguments and knowledge were too much for the Christian converts and they failed in giving the proof. The most famous public dispute took place in Barcelona in 1263. A Jew who had converted to Christianity, Pablo Christiani, challenged the Ramban (Nachmanides). And, as you can probably imagine, who won the Talmudic argument ? Right, the Ramban, of course. How could anyone at all think about challenging the Ramban ? And, by the way, already in those days, certain Catholic clergy as the Dominicans acted in anti – Semitic ways against the Jews.

In the course of time, the church started to realize the importance of the Talmud to the Jewish world, and decided to destroy Talmudic writings. Another important point why the church rejected the Talmud was that the pope and his followers thought that the Talmud included anti – Christian elements, and this would cause the Jews hating Gentiles. And here again are the Dominicans who took care that certain Talmudic passages were taken out of Jewish literature. In 1240, Pope Gregory IX. ordered the burning of the Talmud. Similar Talmud burnings also took place in the course of the 13th century. In 1264, Pope Clement IV., for instance, ordered the burning of thousands of Talmud copies. At that time, the Talmud wasn't available in printed editions but only in loose copies of different tractates.
The Jews were shocked and considered these anti – Semitic actions as a "national catastrophe". Rabbi Me'ir of Rothenburg composed a special lament which we say in our Kinot (lamentations) on Tisha Be' Av (9th of Av, the day of the destruction of both Jerusalem Temples) until today.

But not everywhere in Europe the Talmud was burned. On the Iberian Peninsula, for instance, it was enough to take out "endangering" Talmudic passages. Passages, the church didn't like. In 1431, the church synod in Basel (Switzerland) reaffirmed the ban on the Talmud. A few years later, in 1509, the convert Johannes Pfefferkorn screamed for a new Talmud burning. Pfefferkorn, a former Jew, got associated with the Dominicans. However, a trial took place in where Johann Reuchlin took the part of defending Judaism. Although new burnings took place afterwards, Reuchlin's arguments had impressed the pope and in 1520, Pope Leo X. allowed the printing of the Talmud. For the duration of a few decades, some Talmudic editions were distributed. In 1553, however, Pope Julius III. made another decree and more Talmud burnings took place. At another church synod in 1564, Pope Pius IV., alleviated the harshness of the former decree and, again, allowed the distribution of the Talmud. Of course, there was a snare. The distribution could only take place where certain passages were removed from the Talmud. And thus, the Talmud could be printed in Basel; but only under the supervision of Catholic monks.

Can you imagine such an absurd decree ?
On the other hand, the Jews obviously had to adjust themselves to the different time periods and maybe thought that "a little is better than nothing".

Nevertheless, everything changed in 1592 when Pope Clement II. put a new ban on the Talmud. His ban wasn't kept all over Europe and mostly only in Italy. Anywhere else it seemed to be acceptable only taking hostile passages to the church out of the Talmud. The main supervision of the printing process in Basel had a monk called Marco Marino.

First of all, Marino replaced the unwanted word "Talmud" with the words "Gemara" or "Shass". The next word being replaced was "Min – Heretic". "Min" was changed into "Sadducee". The Talmudic heretic "Min" was mainly used for certain Gnostics hardly for Christians. However, the church considered it as hostile.

Furthermore, the word "Rome" was replaced by "Aram – Mesopotamia" or by "Paras – Persia". Rome is mentioned all over in the Talmud, as the Romans occupied Palestine and introduced their idols. Just have a look into the Tractate Avodah Zarah (idol worship) and you will find Rome plenty of times. The church saw in the word "Rome" the Vatican. Of course, this is not true but they surely understood the hint. Vatican and idol worship.

A very difficult word for the church was "Goy". For some time, "Goy" was replaced by "Akum". The Hebrew translation for "Goy" is "people" and not only Gentile. "Goy" is even mentioned in the Torah when G – d calls the Jews "Goy Kadosh – Holy People".

"Akum" is a Talmudic abbreviation and stands for "Oved Kochavim – idol worshipper". Someone worshipping the planets, stars or the sun and the moon. Another convert to Christianity, however, informed the church that "Akum" is also a hostile word for Gentiles and the church then replaced "Goy" by "Kuti – Samaritan". In the Basel edition, "Goy" was replaced by "Kushi – African, Kushite".

Today, "Akum" is mostly used in Kashrut (kosher laws). Food is regarded as AKUM when is doesn’t meet the basic kosher rules. For instance, if a Gentile prepares food and does forbidden things. But this is a different subject.

Wherever the church saw a hidden hint to J. or Christianity, the passage had to be taken out entirely. Even when the context was not hostile or negative in any way. Additionally, the monks in Basel decided to take out passages which stood not in accordance with Christianity. It says in the Talmud that a human is born without sin. This is a basic Jewish concept. The church, on the other hand, considered this concept as a danger to Christianity. The result was that the passage had to be removed.

Another example:
It says in the Talmud that a man without a wife is not called a man. Judaism is family oriented and, therefore, a man should have a wife. And now guess how much the church liked this statement. They loved it so much that it had to be removed as well. Or is the Pope married ?

But not only the church interfered in Jewish or "G – dly" affairs; even the Russian authorities demanded from the Jews to replace certain words. Such as "Greeks" for instance, as Russian culture was very much influenced by Greek culture. The word "Goy" was replaced by "Ishmael".

And although the Jews tried to add former removed passages, the original prints are only being published in our times. The above facts I have given are only a few and don't show the whole Jewish dilemma with the church. It is unbelievable what the Popes did and still do. If the church is so sure that Christianity is the true religion why then do they want to destroy Judaism ? Why do they fake the Torah and fake literature and documents ? Let alone hiding Jewish Temple items in the Vatican. Is the clergy afraid that their "sheep" might run away as soon as they study more about Judaism ? Judaism, the true religion.

The truth is always coming out one day and if I may quote another forbidden passage from the Talmud (Avodah Zarah):

"The day will come when G – d is going to punish those nations which repressed His people, the Jews".

The nations have to take responsibility for their anti – Semitic actions and I would really like to know what the Popes or Martin Luther have to say.
Maybe they appear talking with subtitles, as all the passages are being removed …



"The Essential Talmud" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Jerusalem)

The Power of Food


Only one single statement enables us to realize that the first Rebbe and founder of Chassidut Lelov, Rebbe David Biderman of Lelov (1746 – 1814), was a follower of the Seer (Chozeh) of Lublin (Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, 1745 – 1815).
However, Reb David hadn't only studied under the Seer but also under Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. And it was Rabbi Elimelech who improved and expanded the Baal Shem Tov's concept of the Zaddik (righteous person). In his book "Noam Elimelech", Rabbi Elimelech makes his new expanded Zaddik ideas very clear.

Also Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz used to be a student of Rabbi Elimelech of Lejansk and he, as well, added further importance to the Zaddik. Rabbi Horowitz stated that he and any other Zaddik live in two different worlds: our lower material world as well as in the upper spiritual worlds. Furthermore, the Zaddik has "Ruach HaKodesh – a certain ability of prophecy". For instance, the Seer used to decide many halachic matters according to his ability of prophecy. Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshis'cha (1767 – 1827), on the other hand, questioned the Seer's ability and founded his own movement called Peshis'cha (Przysucha).

Chassidut Lelov is based on the basic principles of the Rabbi Horowitz of Lublin who praised the Zaddik concept although, according to the opinion of others, totally exaggerated. In his book "Migdal David", Reb David of Lelov made the statement that the food of a Zaddik has the same meaning as the sacrifices in the two Jerusalem Temples.

Personally, I am not in favour of such exaggerated concepts, as I have metioned many times before. Who or what exactly is a Zaddik ? Am I allowed to call myself a Zaddik ? Or do others give me the title and if so, on what criteria is this based ?

I completely agree with Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshis'cha as well as with his former student, the Kotzker Rebbe Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (1787 – 1859). Those two Rabbis emphasized private individual connections to G – d. It cannot be that an ordinary Chassid only relies on his Rebbe taking any G – dly matters in his own hands. But to get back to Rebbe David Biderman's statement that when a Zaddik eats, it is the same as if the Cohanim sacrifice the animals in the Temple: In my opinion, this is just too far off. If G – d would really appreciate the Zaddik's food so much then why didn't He create only Zaddikim in the first place ? Why then did G – d create ordinary Jews not being on such a high level ? The answer to me seems a statement from the Maharal of Prague who wrote in his commentary on the "Pirkei Avot – Sayings of the Fathers" that none of us is alone on this world. All of us are here in order to communicate with other people. If we like it or not.

G – d created this world in order that we Jews are able to do Torah Mitzwot. Thus, we create a Tikun (soul rectification) and pave the way for the coming of Meshiach. The principle of equality we already see in those Torah Parashot where G – d orders Moshe to arrange a census. The Jews in the desert gave a Shekel (a special weight) in order to be counted. This way, the whole census was executed and no one gave more or less. No matter if rich or poor, everyone had the same status. Our Mefarshim commentate that this shows us that every Jew is equal in the eyes of G – d.

The same should be the case today. I am not saying that a very righteous person shouldn't have an extraordinary relationship with G – d. However, I don't think that it is up to him claiming that only the Rebbe is a thousand percent righteous. Each of us has special powers and is able to reach the greatest relationship with G – d. Our challenge is, however, to use our powers in a positive way and not to waste our abilities.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Vatican and its protection of anti – Semites


It is nothing new at all that the Vatican keeps its anti – Semitic tradition until today. Everything seems to be allowed when the Vatican tries to expand its power and make lots of Catholic propaganda. Even if Catholic claims are anything but true. After the Romans stole Jewish items from the Second Temple, the early Roman Christians took over and apparently items as, for instance, the Temple Menorah and the original writings of the Rambam (Maimonides) are still locked up in the Vatican's chambers. No access for anyone which seems to be so ridiculous, as G – d is with His people called the Jews and not with a self – appointed "G – dly" replacement called pope. And until today, the paranoid goal of fanatic Christians, destroying Judaism, hasn't changed.

Every century, especially the Catholic church introduces a new decree against the Jews or Judaism. Why don't we Jews just don't want to believe in Mr. J. C. ? This question is driving the church mad. For centuries, most attempts have failed. I admit that hundreds of thousands of Jews got lost in the cuase of the time. Conversion to Christianity, Islam or simply going astray in other ways. But, as G – d promised in the Torah, Jews will always exist and our Mefarshim say that the world couldn't even exist without Jews. Only because of the Jews and Torah the world was created.

In our century, the Catholic church hasn't changed its ways. How should they, as they are still convinced that a Jewish mass conversion would bring back J. C.

But wait a minute. Wasn't J. C. G – d ?

Why does he need our help then ?

Who is he ?

Meshiach, G – d or an idiot ?

A fake and an idiot would be the right response.

Let's look at the role of the Catholic church during the time of the Third Reich. Did Pope Pius XII. make any attempt to save the Jews, G – d's people ? We all know that he didn't. Hitler's Holocaust was too convenient for the church. Easier than converting everybody; just get rid of them in the gas chamber.

And let's look at the Middle Ages.
The church is considering turning Queen Isabelle of Castille (Spain) into a "saint". Isabella was the Spanish Queen initiating the Inquisition in the 15th century. Today the church calls Isabella "a servant of G – d". Where is the outcry of the world ? Where are the complaints and oppositions ?

Already in the 15th century, an anti – Semite called Vincent Ferrer was canonized by the Vatican.

Anyone knows Vincent Ferrer ?
No, then hopefully his name is about to vanish from this planet.
In 1391, the first real pogroms took place in Spain. The Catholic Vincent Ferrer is responsible for inciting the mob with his anti – Semitic propaganda and thus causing the pogroms. In 1392, the Jewish communities faced the sad consequences.
100,000 Jews had been killed. Another 100,000 Jews had converted to Christianity. And further 100,000 Jews had escaped to Muslem countries.

Until today, Catholic schools all over the world are named after Vincent Ferrer; a guy Hitler would have been glad to have him. Why doesn't the church canonize the "good Catholic" Adolph Hitler then ? Or maybe making him into a "saint" ?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Toldot Aharon Rebbe on the Road


Last Erev Shabbat (Friday night), the Toldot Aharon Rebbe David Kahn gave his last Tish until the month of Elul (end of August). I went to his last Tish with a friend and a Toldot Aharon woman let us know that the Rebbe will be traveling abroad until the high holidays.

The Tish itself was a little slow, as everyone seemed to be tired. Only the Tehillim lady was full of energy.
The Tehillim lady who is not a Toldot Aharon member, is an elderly lady handing out Tehillim (Psalms) books at every Tish. She is very energetic and has this funny way of being so suspicious about everyone. Every woman should pray the small book twice and pray it; not just put it aside and do nothing. Don't you ever cheat !
Already a few minutes later, the Tehillim lady comes back and collects her books. "And don't dare stealing anything" - her eyes say.

Last Friday, I didn't get a book, as I probably looked too suspicious to her. However, when she came to collect her books she let me know that the way I was sitting there watching the Rebbe's Tish was totally immodest.

I sat with my legs crossed but due to my long skirt, my legs were modestly covered. Well, not for the anxious Tehillim lady who told me that a woman doesn't sit in a synagogue with her legs crossed.

Unfortunately, she didn't let the Toldot Aharon teenager girls know that, as they were also sitting with their legs crossed.

Nevertheless, there won't be a Tish at the Toldot Aharon and their split - off Toldot Avraham Yitzchak until the end of August.

Crossed legs, yes or no, I will definitely miss these two chassidic groups a lot.

Jews don't need a Medium


The famous Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato wrote in detail about G – d, the fate of the world and about the creation process. Plato's theory was that there had to be a so – called "third man" working as a medium between G – d and His creation, as G – d could not directly communicate with His creation (men) and vice versa.

The later Jewish philosophers Philo and Shlomo ibn Gvirol took over Plato's theory and added their own ideas and concepts. Shlomo ibn Gvirol, for instance, regarded the divine will as a kind of medium communicating between G – d and His Creation. However, not all the Jews at the time of Philo as well as of Shlomo ibn Gvirol accepted the ideas of these two philosophers. But not only in the past were their concepts widely rejected; also today the Platonian concept doesn' t have too much in common with the fundamental believe of Judaism.

Why ?
One of the foundation of Judaism is the idea that Jews don't need a medium in order to communicate with G – d. Him and us are totally able having a direct connection and thus personal relationship. Without any medium and abracadabra a la Harry Potter.

Christian society has its fundamental believe in a G – d who is also human. And especially the Christians welcomed the concepts of Philo and Ibn Gvirol. No wonder, as they used those philosophical ideas for their own purposes called a somehow G – d with human character traits. However, Judaism demands from Jews to use their individual human intellect. Each of us is able to have a direct relationship with G – d. But how are we able to do so, as G – t is an absolute infinite being and we are unable to grasp Him ?
G – d let us know His will in the Torah and by doing Torah mitzwot, we are able to build up a connection with Him. Therefore, we don't need a medium or anything in between Him and us. This is one of the great things in Judaism.

On the other hand, this way of "directness" brings us to the conclusion that there is an individual and a collective punishment. Jews don't only undergo an individual punishment but also a collective one. Example: If we don't act according to the Torah, G – d can cause not to let it rain in Israel or He could cause new conflicts with our enemies. The only way we can change His decree is by doing Teshuva (repent). But we don't need a medium or a human G – d.

Nevertheless, you could argue that there are Jewish concepts where other Jews are referred to as a kind of medium.

1. The role of the Zaddik (righteous) in Chassidut.

Isn't there a chassidic concept claiming that the Zaddik has special powers and furthermore builds a connection between G – d and His creation ? Only the Zaddik has the power to elevate the world and do certain rectifications (Tikunim).

2. Why do Jews travel all the time to the Kivrei Zaddikim (graves of the Zaddikim) such as our forefather, foremothers or famous Rabbis (Rambam or Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) ? Once I came to the grave of the Rambam (Maimonides) in Tiberias and saw several Sephardic Jews jumping onto the tombstone and praying and kissing it wildly. Can we use the Rambam in order to speak for us to G – d ?

I would have a lot to say about these two issues but I keep it short.

First of all, I don't agree with the absolute Zaddik concept in Chassidut. All of us are only humans; humans with strong and weak character traits. And so does the Zaddik. Moreover, there are also different controversial opinions about the role of the Zaddik in Chassidut. Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz (the Seer of Lublin), 1745 – 1815, as well as his teacher, Rabbi Elimelech of Lejansk, extended the role and importance of the Zaddik. Formerly, the Baal Shem emphasized the role of a Zaddik but not as much as his successors. And it is not only me disagreeing with the unlimited power and importance of the Zaddik. Already the former student of the Seer, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Rabinovicz of Przysucha (Yiddish: Peshis'cha), 1765 – 1814, opposed the fundamental Zaddik concept of his teacher and later on founded his own movement. The Peshis'cha movement where such famous groups like Gur, Biale, Rimanov, Kosnitz or Sassov come from.

Not everyone agreed and agrees to the importance of the Zaddik concept and especially today the question "who is a real Zaddik" is raised. Which chassidic Rebbe has the real status of an honest Zaddik ? And today, one opinion became very famous: "The Rebbe is not necessarily a Zaddik anymore but he is the son or grandson of a true Zaddik".

Regarding the visit of the graves of Zaddikim:
It could be that there is a special higher power at the gravesites of the Rambam or Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. Despite the Jewish concept that G – d is everywhere at the same time and with His same power. However, the best example for a higher Kedusha (holiness) is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Even when the Temple Mount is in the hand of Gentiles, as today, G – d never withdrew from there and is going to bring the full power of the place back as soon as Meshiach is coming.

Nevertheless, a visit to the Rambam's grave doesn't mean that he will be on my side and solve all my problems. I have to deal with G – d myself and don't need the help of a medium. Never forget the advantage of having a personal relationship with G – d and this makes us as important as all the Zaddikim together.
At least to G – d.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Just like in Iran …


A few days ago, I went back to Bnei Brak (near Tel Aviv) in order to get the haredi town a little better. In front of the Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv I took the number 54 bus going to Kiryat Vishnitz. Kiryat Vishnitz is a neighbourhood in Bnei Brak, and, as the name says, a neighbourhood of the Vishnitzer Chassidim. Well, people might think that this really sounds like extreme Orthodoxy where everyone is so modest and women cover themselves just like in Iran.

I decided not to go as far as the Kiryah because it was already late in the afternoon. Instead I wanted to walk through the crowded shopping areas such as Rabbi Akivah Street and Chazon Ish Street. To get to know the people and, by the way, I just enjoy watching people walking up and down. Moreover, I was planning to look for the number 1 bus because I had heard before that this local bus has a real separation between men and women. With "real" I mean a curtain as a Mechitzah in the middle of the bus and not "only" separate seating.

While I was looking for a bus stop in Bnei Brak I started asking myself where I pay the driver when I get on the bus. I am rather practical and this was a practical matter bothering me. If you look at all the other "modest or kosher" buses, men sit in the front and women in the back. However, women get on the bus where the driver sits and pay there. But what about the curtain and everything ? Unfortunately, in the end, I didn't find bus no. 1.
But next time I will.

Outsiders probably think that the Haredim are nuts; separate buses and so …
But reality rather shows that the majority of the Haredim are against such kosher buses. I spoke to many of them and they all opposed such fundamentalist ideas. Only a few extremist would make such a fuzz and demand kosher buses in order to get attention and show their power. And I should just have a look at the existing kosher buses. Many haredi travelers don't even keep the separate seating. Couples sit together somewhere in the middle and young guys can sometimes to be found in the back; right next to teenage girls. I saw this myself many times and no one on the bus complained or said a word.

Bnei Brak wants to be more strict than anyone else and sometimes haredi decrees just seem to be so ridiculous. Nevertheless, if you have a closer look at those issues, then sometimes you will realize that some decrees are not that bad. At least there is something behind. Even for women. And the decrees are anything but new. For a long time already we have been seeing all these modesty signs in the shop windows of Mea Shearim and Bnei Brak. Shop owners only want customers dressed modestly.

Does this sound like Iran or agaist any democracy ?
Maybe, but if I don't agree with those kind of regulations, I am not forced to buy there. I can buy anywhere else and don't need to make a fuzz about shop owners who don't want women in pants. There are plenty of other stores I can go to.
And, as you might know, Bnei Brak is the first city having a department store only for women. Many haredi women enjoy shopping without being watched by men or a pushy husband. The department store is very well accepted.

However, the worst could take place in the future. Unanimous fanatics hung up signs demanding separate sidewalks for men and women. This happened in Bnei Brak as well as in Beit Shemesh. The signs were hung up unofficially and taken down by the police. The Israeli press went completely wild about the issue but the Haredim themselves remained calm. Who cares about a few loonies with some fundamentalist ideas ?

One Chassid claimed that in the near future, most Jerusalem buses will have separate seating. "You will see", he told me.
I am not sure if I should believe him. Well, maybe, as the secular population is leaving the city and more and more Haredim are streaming in. Sometimes it bothers me a lot when I get on a bus passing haredi areas. The bus is full of male Haredim and everyone took his own seat. So, where do I sit ? My favourite behaviour in such a case is to sit down next to a Haredi. He then jumps up, leaves and I have the seat to myself. But I am not necessarily recommending this behaviour to you. It shouldn't be always imitated.

I admit that all this separation sounds like Iran. On the other hand, there are women realizing an advantage. They are not being stared at by perverts. Anyway, I could go on for hours about the subject but, so far, my conclusion is that the moment I get onto such a kosher bus, I have to accept certain rules. And if I don't like them, I am free to take another bus. Kosher Jerusalem buses are the bus no. 402 to Bnei Brak, bus no. 472 to Kiryat Sefer, bus no. 185 to Beitar or bus no. 417 to Ramat Beit Shemesh. And sometimes you will find Haredim not going according to the rules even on those buses. You just have to know when and how …