Monday, June 30, 2008

Gur likes to separate

B"H

Those who look for chassidic information should not only rely on literature but also talk to Chassidim. And as everyone can surely imagine: In this respect, a woman has it much harder than a man.
An acquaintance of mine (a guy) just walks into all kinds of synagogues and talks to the Chassidim freely. For women it is not that easy, as they are already separated from the men and only depend on other women.

Male Chassidim don't speak to strange women except for their wives and daughters. This is the official version which is not always correct in our days. From the very beginning, I succeeded in talking to male Chassidim. It always depends on the situation and on the person himself. However, as soon as they hear that a woman knows a little, they start coming by themselves because they are curious.

The ones who like to talk are the Vishnitzer Chassidim connected to the Rebbe (two sons ?) in Bnei Brak. Belz loves to talk as well but the Belzer differ from the Vishnitzer, as they always promote their Rebbe and Belz, Belz, Belz.

The Vishnitzer I know, know everything about Chassidut and other groups. As soon as I start asking about Vishnitz they answer as well; and not only about the positive side. At Toldot Aharon and their split off, the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, I can only talk to the women. I have to admit that my best conversations I had with a few Toldot Aharon women.

Very hard to get are the Gerer (Gur) Chassidim. I know a few of them for some years but they still love to tell me all the propaganda:
The Rebbe, the Rebbe, the Rebbe.
Anything positive you can imagine. The moment I start asking about certain background information, the guys keep quiete. They even claimed that Gur has no written Takanot (internal laws) which I found hard to believe from the beginning. Then I asked Chassidim from other groups about it and they said that Gur surely must have something but doesn't want to hand it over to outsiders.

Chassidut Gur is a extremely closed group. You think that the Toldot Aharon are secret ? Well, go to Gur and you find something worse.

Friends told me that I should be stubborn until I get some information but I have to say that I am not that interested in Gur that I would run after them for months let alone years. Whatever I get, I get. Another reason is that to me, Chassidut Gur is not that interesting although I am a Peshis'cha - fan (Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshis'cha, 1765 – 1827).

On the other hand, I hardly have an explanation why Gur tries to be so secret. Maybe it is their way of keeping separate and they don't want to avoid contact with negative influences. Avoid that Chassidim marry out or leave the group.

But if Chassidut Gur fears that outsiders could know about their Sex – Takanot, I have to say that all other Chassidim know about them anyway. And if not, you can find all the necessary information on the Internet.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Urgent: Rabbi Wanted …

B"H

G – d ? Who is G – d ?

Okay, He does exist and rules the world. On the other hand, He is far away and this is very positive. He can remain far away because we on earth have other plans such as power, money and good reputations.

"G – d, if we need you we will let you know. But not now and in the meantime, don't bother us and see you later".



No, I am not talking about secular Jews having such an opinion about G – d. I am talking about Rabbis. Rabbis whose task it should be a religious one. Get Jews closer to Judaism, have a religious Torah life, inspire and give advice. Apparently a perfect rabbis' world and rabbis fulfilling their tasks are mostly an unrealistic dream or illusion.

Judaism teaches that with every new generation, we are loosing a little more wisdom and understanding. In Talmudic times we still had such great Rabbis as Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Gamliel or Rabbi Me'ir; later on we had the Rambam, the Ramban, Rabbeinu Gershom, the Spanish Kabbalists, the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch all the way to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Not leaving out the chassidic masters as well as the Vilna Gaon.
But what is left today ?

Of course, today we also have some great Rabbis but let's admit: Nothing seems to be anymore as it used to be.

Today, many chassidic Rebbes only live off the reputation of their ancestors. They, themselves, are not such great Geonim and Talmidim Chachamim anymore. However, in our days, it seems to be enough that someone is the son or grandson of a Zaddik or simply born into a famous rabbinic family. But this is not my subject today and I am going to write about this issue a little later.

Not only the chassidic world is facing some problems; no, particularly the litvishe world and its rabbis. The Vilna Gaon and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein died a long time ago and many times we wish that they should come back and lead us because, at many places, there is only one thing counting in the Israeli litvishe world, and that is called politics.

Rabbi Eliyashiv, the great spiritual leader of the Israeli Litvak movement is the best example. It was him supporting Rabbi Jonah Metzger when the new Chief Rabbi was about to be elected. Hardly anyone else considered Metzger as a suitable candidate, as he is anything but a specialist in Halacha. It is known that he doesn’t know too much about Judaism. At least not as much as a rabbi should. Metzger is a very ordinary person with ordinary skills. The only thing he apparently knows very well is flattering around celebrities and thus, getting appointed into high positions. Rabbi Eliyashiv didn't care so much about this fact but enjoyed his power over the future Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi.

Metzger's predecessor Rabbi Israel Lau wasn't too much different from him. Several times, Lau was accused of taking bribery and sexually molesting other women. But concerning Lau, his supporters and he himself always like to stress that he is a Holocaust survivor rescued by his older brother from the Buchenwald concentration camp. Nevertheless, Lau is no halachic Gaon but he is politically correct and has connections. Not too much to G – d but to Israeli politicians.

Last Fridays' edition of the Israeli daily MAARIV published a long article about the present Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Jonah Metzger. Already in the past, many women complained about him as he tried to sexually abuse them. Not only women but also young boys. Leading Sephardi rabbis tried to interfere and never planned to agree appointing Metzger as Chief Rabbi of Israel. In the end, even Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef agreed because he didn't want to cause a dispute with Rabbi Eliyashiv.

But what about us, the "ordinary" Jews ? Is there a rabbi we can trust and who is independent ? Who only depends on Torah and G – d and doesn't only have his power and policies in mind ?

Chassidic rabbis don't recognize the Israeli Chief Rabbis (Ashkenazi and Sephardi) as such. Every chassidic group has its own Rebbe and internal rules and neither Metzger nor Amar are qualified for giving advice to Chassidim. And by the way, the chief rabbis' positions are more political than religious anyway. However, since the times of Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Avraham Shapira, only rabbis without much Torah knowledge were appointed.

Where are all the great Rabbis today ?
It seems that we really have to look for them with binoculars, as they have become so rare. Which Rabbi can we trust and who doesn't only think about himself ? Sometimes you think that you found the perfect trustworthy rabbi and later on you find out that he is just a crook as many others. The famous crook – example for Germany is the "Landesrabbiner" from Stuttgart Netanel Wurmser.

But who cares ? Are we surprised ?
No, as already the Vilna Goan stated that in the times before Meshiach, the majority of the rabbis will be corrupt (Erev Rav). Unfortunately, we have to wait for Meshiach in order to get some better rabbis.

Despite all the negative aspects, there are actually very good rabbis. No matter if national religious, litvish or chassidic. Not to forget mentioning the rabbis of the Edah HaCharedit who sometimes seem to be a little extreme but halachically right.

A chassidic rabbi I personally respect (although I have never spoken to him) is the Dushinsky Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky.

Laser Show versus Failure

B"H

Now the Jerusalem bridge has been officially introduced to the public but believe it or not, for the next two years or so, the bridge is completely useless. The new tram is only due to start running in another two years but who knows.

For the municipality, the bridge is not only a bridge and thus a connection between Jaffa Road and Sderot Herzl but a new status symbol. Even a new Fetish. According to the city council, Jerusalem needs to change its appearance and become more modern. Not only Torah and Kotel (Wester Wall) but also high tech. The bridge should be the new face of the modern Jerusalem.

Demonstrations against the bridge even started before the actual building. Reasons: too ugly and far too expensive.

In the end, the costs were more than 270 million Shekels (more than 50 million Euro) and the Jerusalemites consider this as the biggest tax waste ever. Nevertheless, last night, when the official opening took place, city council, Prime Minister and further celebrities showed more optimism than concern. The enormous costs and construction failures were not mentioned at all in the speeches but rather the great future of the Holy City.

Only towards the ceremony's end, I walked with a friend of mine to the event. It was more by accident, as we were originally planning to have some ice cream in the Ben Yehudah Mall. As soon as we left the house, we saw the gigantic laser show from far away and decided to walk a little closer. Finally we ended up in front of the bridge. When we arrived, most people were already on their way home. The bands had finished playing and Olmert's car plus Shabak – bodyguards had long passed us. Actually we were surprised that to many spectators had shown up for the opening celebration. Even plenty of Haredim (Ultra – Orthod.) were there.

We were already about to leave as we saw some people walking over the bridge. I concluded that obviously anyone could walk over the bridge and my friend and I started looking for the entrance. Already after a few minutes we found it and started walking over the bridge. First, we were wondering why the floor was rather a mess. Half plastic glass and half wood. In other words, walking there was dangerous but we thought this is okay, as there were plenty of others walking around.

The bridge was so crowded with people and suddenly some policemen showed up and told everybody to leave. It took some time to leave, as there were so many people. Mostly Haredim. However, it was so strange. Security was everywhere but not at the two entrances to the bridge. If a terrorist would have wanted to blow it up, he was free to do so. No security at all around the bridge but instead sitting in a new Borekas Bar next door. Apparently having a cup of coffee was more important.

And by the way, as soon as Olmert started his speech, people giving him boos.





Illegal walks on the bridge


Far right in yellow dress: A security guard is calling for law and order !







Even members of the Edah HaCharedit were cruising the new "Zionist" bridge.



Here are further and more professional pictures of the opening ceremony:
http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=38257

Friday, June 27, 2008

3 Tammuz

B"H

Next week (Thursday 3 and Friday 4, July), we are going to celebrate Rosh Chodes Tammuz (the beginning of the Jewish month Tammuz).

For Chabad (Lubavitcher) Chassidim is Tammuz 3rd an extremely important date because …

A few days ago, I spoke with a Chabad – Meshichist about this date.
Meshichists are those within the Chabad group who believe that the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is the Meshiach.

Actually Tammuz 3rd is the Yahrzeit of Rebbe Schneerson, as he died in June 1994.
In Judaism, anniversaries (Yahrzeits) of someone's death are celebrated with a memorial service, a meal, many guests and speeches about the deceased. Thus, his soul is rising to a higher level.



The last Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.


As soon as I mentioned the word "Yahrzeit" to the Meshichist, he almost fainted. Chabad – Meshichists believe that the Rebbe has no Yahrzeit and didn't die. Instead Tammuz 3rd is the day when Rebbe Schneerson became invisible. He is still around but just in another dimension where we cannot see him.

I found the reaction of the Meshichist quite amusing but I also asked myself how people can really believe such claims. How far do people go in order to believe something ? Do they just react this way because they want to believe it ?

Maybe in order to escape the crucial reality where Rebbe Schneerson died in June 1994.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Official Bridge Opening Ceremony


Opening ceremony with laser - show. View from Agrippas Street.


Last night, Jerusalem's new bridge had its great time. The official opening took place for a construction site which is totally unnecessary and a complete waste of money. No one needs this bridge but surprisingly plenty of people showed up for the opening ceremony.

A detailed article and more pictures are on the way.









Fireworks









In case of emergency ! The restrooms.








Questions & No Answers

B"H

Just like everyone else, I am also having plenty of questions regarding religion. And many times I have been, and I still am, totally unable to find any answers which would satisfy me. However, I keep on searching, as no one should ever give up hope.

There is one particular concept in Judaism which is bothering me a lot. Not that I am constantly thinking about it but when it comes to the point, I do start thinking. Actually there are two concepts bothering me and I will start explaining the second one first. Hopefully I am succeeding in connecting the two subjects. My thoughts do not mean in any way that I don't believe in those concepts or that I have any doubts. On the contrary, because I do believe in them I am having my own thought.

Number one bothering me: Certain statements concerning Meshiach in Talmud Sanhedrin and Halachot. Many commentators, Kabbalists and Philosophers provide us with further explanations and details. According to most statements, we will all be on a higher soul level after the arrival of Meshiach. We won't do anything wrong anymore, hence no more sinning. The only thing we are going to do is fulfilling the will of G – d.

So, what bothers me about that ?

Maybe "bothering" is the wrong formulation but for me personally, it it extremely hard to imagine not having any more Free Will. I admit that life is much easier and convenient when there won't be any more evil in the world and therefore, we don't constantly need to distinguish between good and evil. There will be only good and this is it. There won't be any more negative character traits after the arrival of Meshiach. In the end, everything will be good and this is the ideal goal and purpose.

Okay, so everything is only good. But what about my Free Will ? Am I suddenly a Zombie due to the fact that I am only doing G – d's will and nothing else ?

Do I sound egoistic by only looking at my Free Will ?
Maybe but according to my understanding, G – d created us with a Free Will in the first place and why does He suddenly need us only to act as He wants ?

On the other hand, aren't we obligated to do everything He wants from us ? Wasn't it Him who created us and the whole world ? And isn't it us depending upon Him because we couldn't exist without Him ?

But why did G – d provided us with a Free Will in the first place ? Why did we first have the ability to distinguish between good and evil ?

According to Kabbalah the whole purpose of Free Will is to use it for a Tikun Olam (complete soul rectification). By keeping Torah Mitzwot we are making the world a better place and introducing higher moral and religious standards which eventually lead us to the arrival of Meshiach. But does the "final output" Meshiach at the same time means that we are going to loose our Free Will and that we are transforming into a puppet – on - a – string ?

No Rabbi, Philosopher, Talmid Chacham or Kabbalist is able to define the Jewish concept of Free Will. What does Free Will mean and how far does it go ? Where is its beginning and its end ?

The Talmud teaches us that G – d knows everything. He knows the future, the present and the past. He knows our thoughts and many say that He knows exactly what kind of decisions we are going to make. How far does G – d influences our Free Will without us even realizing it ?

And here we come to the second point bothering me.
Talmidim Chachamim including the Rambam (Maimonides) argue about the question how much Free Will humans really possess. Some say that we don't have any Free Will at all and that what we think is our Free Will turns out to be just an illusion. G – d decides everything and therefore He also determines my thoughts and my actions.

Let's just briefly assume that G – d determines everything and we don't have a Free Will.

Why then do we sin ? If He determines our actions, shouldn't we then be perfect and on an amazing high religious soul level ? Why do we still sin ?

And if He determines everything, why are we held responsible for our actions ? Every criminal could just claim that it wasn't him doing anything wrong but G – d made him do so. And why should we be punished for our negative actions if G – d made us do so ?
And what about me, the small tiny individual ? What am I ? Am I simply a guinea pig or puppet and only G – d is pulling the strings ?

For us humans it turns out to be much more positive when we have the feeling of total freedom. If is only up to us making a distinction and decision between good and bad deeds. Between leading a life according to the Torah or not. If not, would I at all be a human being and not only a puppet ?

The perfect chassidic answer to this is that everyone has to have faith in a G – d who, on the other hand, does everything for the good. Consequently, we don't have any right questioning His reasons / actions because our limited human intellect couldn't grasp His thoughts anyway. And this is exactly the answer Rabbis giving me to my questions. And if not this kind of answer then that we simply don't know. How should we know, as G – d has never informed us.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I don't have any doubts about the Meshiach and Free Will – concept. However, it still gives me a very strange feeling to know that one day (in case I will see the Meshiach), I will be on a level where I am only doing G – d's will. In a way it seems frightening. A fear of loosing freedom and the individual personality.

Some might claim that exactly this is our main purpose of creation and being. Nevertheless, I am still having problems to know that I might live without a Free Will and not asking myself if I am doing the right or the wrong thing. No wonder that the Hollywood movie "The Matrix" was so extremely popular among orthodox Jews. The more Torah we study, the more we are interested in receiving answers to all our questions. Not necessarily about the purpose of our whole being, as the Rambam explains in his book "Moreh Nevuchim – The Guide for the Perplexed (chapter 13)", but rather the question of how far G – d really influences our lives.

The final conclusion is that there is no answer but only speculations and opinions. And the only thing we can do is keep on guessing because only G – d can definitely answer all our questions. A G – d who is totally unknown to us and we cannot even grasp.


Links:

The Jewish Meshiach Concept - Part 1

The Jewish Meshiach Concept - Part 2

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Philosophy in Chassidut ?

B"H

Although I like the haredi world and admire certain people, I still always remain reluctant when it comes to a certain subject called "education". Looking at a haredi school's curriculum scares me away.

Despite all criticism, different haredi groups and directions have changed the curriculum to the better. Al least the girls' school curriculum. Example: the Vishnitzer Chassidim.
They, for instance, started teaching their girls English. This is already something, at least in Israel where English among Haredim is not to be taken for granted. If you speak to a Gerer Chassid (male or female) or to someone from Toldot Aharon in English, then you have a language disaster coming up if you don't know Hebrew or Yiddish. Those Chassidim don't know any English unless they are from the States or England.

The Haredi world, or in other words, Litvishe and Vishnitzer Chassidim decided to teach English to the girls and the reason seems obvious. Girls are becoming wives and many wives have to earn the family's income. Especially Israeli high tech companies are looking for haredi women in order to employ them. Working in the high tech field is good money but the applicants have to know English. And here you have the reason.

I am not generalizing haredi education and there are groups offering more and better education than others. Especially the Batei Yaakov in England and the States are much more advanced and efficient than in Israel. But what I do criticize are certain subjects definitely belonging onto a curriculum. Such as higher math, physics and other science and especially history and philosophy.

Chassidim, however, always seemed to have a problem with philosophy; even with Jewish philosophy. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was probably the most fundamental opponent of philosophy. Until today, Breslover Chassidim don't really study the Rambam's famous book "Moreh Nevuchim – The Guide for the Perplexed". It is strange because Chabad (Lubavitch) does exactly the opposite and Chabadnikim love the Rambam.

There was no real Jewish philosophy until the time of Raabi Saadia Gaon (9th – 10th century). The reason for a missing philosophy was that there was simply no need for it. Many years before, the Jews had lost their Second Temple and leading rabbis had been extremely busy putting together the Talmud and further laws in order to ensure the survival of the Jewish people living in the Diaspora. Only when Islam started to rise and the Karaites proclaimed their strange ideas, Judaism was forced to react and provide answers. And Rabbi Saadia Gaon was then the greates opponent of the Karaite movement. He wrote several books and succeeded in destroying all their claims and arguments. He alone won all the discussions and disputes.

As I mentioned before, the chassidic movement under the Baal Shem Tov wasn't interested in philosophy. Philosophical questions and ideas, rationality, reasoning … all this doesn't fit into a world of Kabbalah and total spirituality. And Rabbi Nachman emphasized the concept of the "Simple Jew" with faith.
One has to see G – d everywhere and, although His reasons and thoughts are not ours, we have to accept His actions.

Jewish philosophy is very diverse. You can find poems, laws, Torah texts or even Aristotelian ideas. Rabbi ibn Da'ud and his successor, the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) are the first discussing Aristotelian ideas and comparing them to Judaism. Aristotle had a similar picture of G – d; that there can only be one G – d ruling over everything.

Not all thesis are welcomed in the haredi world. Rabbis fear that their communities could be let astray. Someone studying philosophy should have reached a certain age and be strongly observant. I am sure that different Rebbes do deal with philosophy but keep it far away from their Chassidim. The only group teaching lots of philosophy are the Chabad Chassidim, as they consider themselves to be the most intellectual chassidic group. And just have a look at the "Tanya" of the Chabad founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. The "Tanya" consists of plenty of philosophical as well as kabbalistic ideas and concepts.

Unfortunately, I don't know too many Haredi dealing with philosophy. I actually do know some Vishnitzer Chassidim doing research on how far Judaism was influenced by non – Jewish philosophical ideas. A very interesting but complicated subject. And, unfortunately, not too many haredi students today know about Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy or Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gvirol.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dead without a Trace

B"H

The Mishna in Talmud Shabbat 151b teaches that "whoever closes the eyes of a dying person at the moment of death – is a murderer".

Even if there is no hope that a person is going to survive, the eyes should only be closed after a while and not immediately or, Chas veChalilah, seconds before the actual death.
The Talmud raises the question if closing the eyes too early wouldn't hasten the death of the particular person. Can you imagine that you are still alive and then someone is coming and closing your eyes ? Just like "Oh, he or she is going to die anyway. So, what does it matter and have a nice day".

The great commentator Rashi states that the early closing the eyes of a dying person can hasten his death. One should wait an appropriate length of time before closing the eyes, since the "dead" person may in fact not yet be dead but merely unconscious (see the Mishna Torah of the Rambam, Hilchot Aveil 4:5).

Further details concerning closing the eyes of a dead person can be found in the Shulchan Aruch – Yoreh Deah 352:4.

I am anything but a Posek (halachic expert) but exactly this Mishna immediately came into my mind when I heard about the Israeli Chief Army Rabbi planning to declare the two kidnapped soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, as "fallen soldiers with unknown burial place".

Actually this week, an exchange of hostages should have taken place. The two Israelis against the Lebanese terrorist and murderer Samir Kuntar and four other Lebanese war hostages. However, according to the the Israeli Chief Army Rabbi the exchange could be unnecessary, as we don't know if the two soldiers are still alive. And therefore, he might declare them as "fallen soldiers with unknown burial place". Of course, the families of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are furious and planning to complain at the Supreme Court.

Not only concerning the "Goldwasser – Regev case", the question arises if we shouldn't always hope for the best as long as there is no clear evidence ? Giving the benefit of a doubt even if the situation and reality seem to appear hopeless. Or should we just give up and acknowledge the facts ?

I think that the Mishna in Shabbat gives us an answer.
Someone giving up hope too early is a murderer. In the case of the two soldiers, only two years have passed. On the other hand, DNA and other blood analyses have prooven that at least one of the soldiers must have died before or shortly after the kidnapping. But who can tell anything for sure ?

The great halachic expert, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, once decided in favour of Holocaust survivors whose spouses vanished in the Holocaust. His halachic decrees can be studied in his books "Iggerot Moshe". Anyway it would be interesting to have Rabbi Feinstein's opinion today. Unfortunately, we don't.

The decision the Army Rabbi is maybe going to make might be based on reality. Nevertheless, should not everyone consider humanity as well ? Isn't especially humanity more important in this case ? How should the families keep their hope in order to deal with the situation ?

Of course, the relatives of the two soldiers have to be realistic as well and face the facts, but isn't it especially hope keeping us alive and let us manage the worst situations ? No matter how.

Niggunim and Takanot of Chassidut Gur

B"H

Surprisingly more and more people ask me about Chassidut Gur (Yiddish: Ger). This is very surprising to me because I always expected people asking about the extremists Satmar and especially about Toldot Aharon. Instead, many readers obviously prefer Gur and now I am forced to find out a little more. In a way this is quite easy, as I know Gerer Chassidim but on the other hand, the Gerer are known for only telling a small part of what is going on.

Just recently, one reader asked me about Niggunim (melodies) of Chassidut Gur. There is a CD with about a hundred songs or so, and whoever is interested can acquire this CD at institutions of Gur (Yeshivot or Synagogues). I heard that there are some chassidic stores where you can also buy it.

Chassidut Gur is the largest chassidic group in Israel with approx. 10,000 members. They are mostly located in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and in Ashdod where they are building a hospital at the moment. Otherwise you can find them in Antwerpen, Zurich, New York and probably in London.

I know some Gerer Chassidim, a Gur dropout and an internal Gerer "social worker" taking care of any kind of problems within Gur.

For me as a woman, it is rather complicated getting into close touch with Gur. The former Rebbes defined the women's role very clearly. Gerer Chassidiot (female Gerer members) have a certain role to keep and Gur is the only chassidic group where women are not allowed to participate in the Tish of Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter. Gur is a total men's world.

Maybe the same is taking place at Chassidut Alexander, as they are very similar and connected to Gur. But about that, I have no exact information yet.

All the internal Gerer laws are defined in the Takanot. Surprisingly, even the sex issue is described and this might be one of the reasons why Gerer male Chassidim are not meeting such a great Shidduch demand of women from other chassidic groups. Even the relatives of the Gerer Rebbe are mostly married to members of their own group.

A Gerer Chassid told me that accepting the internal laws (Takanot) works very different in Gur. Whereas the members of Toldot Aharon are obligated to sign them (every year anew), Gerer Chassidim would only read and accept them quietly. No big deal would be made about a signing ceremony or something.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine asked me if I could get him the written Takanot of Chassidut Gur. I was joking when I told him that he couldn't read them anyway. He is a Sephardic Jew and doesn't know any Yiddish; and the Takanot are definitely written in the Yiddish language. "Well, he said, you can translate".

A few days ago, I spoke to a Gerer Chassid and he claimed that the Gerer Takanot are not available in a written form but only orally. I cannot help it but I had the feeling that he didn't tell me the truth. Maybe I am wrong and overreacting.
Let's say, the Chassid told me the truth. Okay.
However, I would really appreciate it if one of the readers could inform me if the Chassid was right. Are the Takanot of Chassidut Gur are available in writing ?

I also asked him about his explanation why Gur is so popular among my readers, and he told me the following:
Gur presents itself rather as a big secret and they love to separate themselves from other chassidic groups. This would, of course, arouse curiosity among outsiders.

I responded that I had actually expected people being interested in Satmar or Toldot Aharon because they seem to be separated and secret. "No, said the Gerer, even Satmar and Toldot Aharon have some kind of public relation. The Gerer Rebbe, on the other hand, keeps everything secret and only the members know what is going on. And the members keep quiet no matter what".
Well, I could see that.

However, the Gerer Chassidim I know are willing to talk about Gur. And if, according to their opinion, I am allowed to get an answer and write about it, they will tell me. But there is a limit. I am a woman and an outsider and Gur wants to present itself in the very best light. So, I am going to receive "propaganda" material and everything besides I have to get in a different way called "by accident" ……..

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pictures from the Efrat Settlement

B"H

Here are some photos showing the Torah event at Rabbi Yosef Yedidiahu Klausner's house last Friday noon. He lives in the settlement of Efrat near Jerusalem (25,000 inhabitants).



Rabbi Yosef Yedidiahu Klausner's new house with his own Synagogue on the ground floor.









The Synagogue on the ground floor



To the left in front of the Aron HaKodesh: Rabbi Klausner



Landscape around Efrat



A new settlement it being build




The new Torah scroll is being carried into the Synagogue. In the middle: Rabbi Klausner with grey hat and the new Torah scroll in his arm.






View from Efrat to Jerusalem



An Arab town nearby



Landscape Efrat











Sunday, June 22, 2008

Danger Connects




B"H

An acquaintance of mine had invited as many people as he could to the opening of his own Yeshiva and Synagogue last Friday noon. Rabbi Yosef Yedidiayu Klausner had invested plenty of time, money, effort and nerves.

About a year ago, American born Rabbi Yosef Yedidiahu Klausner bought a four floor building in the national religious settlement (Yishuv) Efrat (near Jerusalem). The Rabbi is not the only one moving to the countryside, as life in a settlement is much cheaper. At least regarding rent, real estate and Arnona (city tax).

Together with my friend T., I walked to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. For her, the morning had been so much easier, as she had just got up. I, on the other hand, got up early and traveled all the way from Tel Aviv. We just went to the Bus Station and hoped for a bus leaving soon. Usually when you go to the countryside and you miss one bus, you have to wait for ages for the next one. But we were lucky and bus no. 167 to Efrat was due to leave in another five minutes or so. At 11.15 am, our bus took off.

T. had brought her digital camera with her but, unfortunately, we couldn't make any photos from the bus. All windows, except the one in front of the driver, were bullet – proofed and it was impossible to look out of the window. Bullet – proofed buses are nothing extraordinary in Israel. Especially not the Egged – buses going from Jerusalem into the settlements including Hebron, Kiryat Arba and all the rest of Gush Etzion. Countless times, buses were attacked and still are under attack. Palestinians shooting at buses or private cars, throwing stones or the worst of all – blowing up explosives right under the vehicles.

From the Central Bus Station no. 167 went to the shopping mall Malcha, then to the Gilo neighbourhood, and then direction Gush Etzion. The bus made a turn and went to Efrat. We passed a checkpoint but neither was our bus stopped nor were we checked at all. The landscape was an amazing. Green hills and fresh air. What a comparison to Jerusalem let alone Tel Aviv. Due to former terrorist attacks, the roads were surrounded by security fences and walls. Some walls even had a kind of roof top which should protect vehicles from stones being thrown by the Palestinians. The bus ride was great and there is a lot to see but still it was strange. Seeing all the security live is different from when you just watch it on TV.

There are several reasons why I wouldn't move into a Yishuv (settlement). First of all, you need a car because it costs to many nerves to only depend on the buses. If you miss one, you have to wait ages for the next bus, as I mentioned before. Then you drive or live behind wired fences, watch towers and security walls or fences. Everything seems aways be on high alert. Other people keep on telling me that once you get used to it, you don't see it anymore. And even if you live in Jerusalem,Tel Aviv or New York, there is no escape from terror anymore. So, it doesn't really matter anyway and it wouldn't be too bad.

After approx. 20 minutes, we arrived in Efrat. The Yishuv reminds me more of a small town but a village. To me it looks like the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Pisgat Ze'ev. New houses, new playgrounds and parks, everything is new. A little more far away you can see two or three arab villages or small towns.

Out bus took us directly to Rabbi Klausner's new home. A four floor building with a Beit Mirdash – Synagogue on the ground floor. As the Rabbi also celebrated a "Hachnasat Sefer Torah – Taking a new Torah scroll to the Ark", we still arrived at his Hakafot (the special dancing with the scroll). There were many national religious guests but hardly any Haredim at sight. To be quite honest, the Rabbi couldn't have chosen a worse date for his event. First of all it was Friday and people have to prepare for Shabbat. And secondly, the day before, Efrat had a huge celebration because of its 25th anniversary. So, most inhabitants went to great parties the day before and wanted to prepare everything for Shabbat on Friday. However, about 60 guests showed up and obviously enjoyed themselves.

A catering company provided chicken, water melon, cake, other kinds of meat and a few salads. And this is what people always get excited about: the food. The food came out and everyone was just running towards the buffet. The only problem was that there was hardly any shade and not enough chairs where people could sit down. The sun was burning and we had over 30 degrees Celsius. At least, the catering company should have set up some tents or roofs but there was almost no shade at all. Nevertheless, people ate and then went down to the Synagogue for Mincha (afternoon prayer).

While eating I started talking to a national religious woman from a smaller Yishuv in the north of Ramallah. She told me that her settlement was much smaller and not as huge as Efrat with its 25,000 inhabitants. I asked her if living out there wasn't too dangerous and, as everyone else before, she responded: "No". You just get used to it and it is the lifestyle she and her husband were always looking for. And if it is not too boring living there in a small village ? "No, she said, everybody knows everyone else and they all help each other out".
I reminded her that the problem is that as soon as you have a quarrel with someone in a village, you might have many, as everybody knows each other and might be befriended with each other. But this point didn't seem to bother her at all.

For me, small towns and villages are boring and I couldn't live there at all. Landscape, okay, for some time but what else ? Not, that I am looking for the great action but I just cannot be somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

After two hours or so, we left and went back to Jerusalem. I spoke to T. and S., another friend, and both said that they could live in such a settlement. It is quiet and peaceful, believe it or not. When we got onto the bus back, the windows were not bullet – proofed but the glass was only a little stronger. You didn't need a closer look in order to realize that the bus had got stoned in the past, as almost all the windows had some cracks. And actually Efrat is much saver than other settlements.

I don't know the exact plans of Rabbi Klausner but I wish him all the best with his new institution !!!!!



25 Years Efrat

Every year the same …..

B"H

Every year the same headline.
Every year, two gay parades are taking place:
one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv.

Today, many people seem to acknowledge homosexuality as something "normal" but, on the other hand, many people ask themselves what happened or is going to happen with our society.

Religious Jews might criticize me for my opinion but I have to admit that I don't care what is going on in other people's bedroom. And when I am saying "bedroom", I mean "in private or privacy". And private means in one's home.

Why do homosexuals feel the need to show everyone that they are gay ? Heterosexuals don't walk around demonstrating in the streets in order to show what they are. These are the questions Israelis are asking at the moment. I spoke to some of them and not all were religious.

This coming Thursday afternoon, the Jerusalem Gay Parade is taking place. Usually every year, Haredim demonstrate before the whole event takes place in order to get the parade canceled. Especially last year, there were wild demonstrations in Mea Shearim and some policemen even beat up some Haredim. Last years' demonstrations were extremely violent and Haredim burnt their trash cans all over the place.

This year it is just the opposite. Nothing is happening except for a small demonstration last week organized by the anti – Zionist umbrella organization "Edah HaCharedit". To be honest, we already had been awaiting demonstrations but nothing is happening. The Edah doesn't say too much and the silence leaves room for speculations.
Did anyone buy off the Edah ? We give you something and you keep quiet ?

Has everyone given in and doesn't care anymore ?
Or is it simply the change of the route ?
The parade is due to start at the Independence Park, means in front of the American Consulate in Agron Street. It ends at Safra Square in front of the municipality. Far away from everything including the Ben Yehudah Mall.

American Haredim criticized their Israeli counterparts but we hardly hear any voices protesting from Mea Shearim. Except from Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, one of the leading rabbis of the Edah. However, new Fakshivilim (news posters) were hung up and they declare the parade and all its participants as "trefe – impure".

The "isur – prohibition" of male homosexuality is an isur deoraita (a biblical prohibition) and therefore severe. If anyone is asking about female homosexuality … I have to admit that no rabbi has given me an answer so far, as the Torah only mentions males. However, Judaism is a family oriented religion and the perfect family consists of a father and a mother (female and male), and not the same sexes.

As I mentioned before, I don't care what people do in private. Nevertheless, a gay parade should never take place in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Tel Aviv …. well, okay, if people want, but Jerusalem as the G – dly city has a special status.

The only thing gays cause by marching through Jerusalem is desecrating the name of G – d, and it has absolutely nothing to do with demanding equal rights for everyone. Just the opposite. The gays emphasize the "Davka – Effect" which means "I do it on purpose because it is G – d's city". There is just one thing they seem to forget: They don't even realize how ridiculous their appearance is in other peoples eyes. The only thought is showing G – d that He is "not the only one in charge". Obviously only then the gays seem to have a good sleep at night. "Wow, we were so great today".

Jerusalem is not Tel Aviv and it never will be. But maybe the gays would find more acceptance if they, on the other hand, showed more respect and could do without showing their ridiculous lifestyle to everyone else including G – d.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Afternoon Escape

B"H

Obviously the Jerusalem National Library at the Givat Ram University Compound is the new meeting point for Haredim. Litvishe or Chassidim, you can meet anyone and each group or direction. Sometimes even the Toldot Aharon or Avraham Yitzchak; but those two groups much less than Belz, Vishnitz or especially Gerer (Gur) Chassidim.

Chassidut Gur is the biggest chassidic group in Israel with approx. 10,000 members. Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter lives in Bnei Brak, countless of his Chassidim live in Jerusalem and many have also settled in Ashdod. Officially, Gerer Chassidim are not allowed to use the Internet unless they work with it. Some months ago, the Gerer Rebbe made a decree that his Chassidim should not surf the net.

However, as many other Chassidim as well, also the Gerer do use the net and enjoy surfing. Some Chassidim but not all, as I don't want to generalize. And most of whom I see are surfing through news and chassidic sites. The Gerer are extremely curious and are very interested in what is going on in other groups.

I can say that I have quite a lot of experiences with Chassidut Gur. I know some of them, I know one of their internal social workers, I know one runaway and I used to work for a company owned by a Gerer Chassid. If I have a question concerning Gur, I do get an answer. At least if my acquaintances have an answer. I also need to add that my contacts with Chassidut Ger are exclusively with men and not with women.

Yesterday I had another experience with Gur which was rather negative. I probably shouldn't say "with Gur" because it was only one Chassid and he is an individual and doesn't represent the whole group.

I was sitting at the above mentioned National Library and almost about to go, as I had to catch my bus to Tel Aviv. So, I went downstairs to return the books back to the shelves and to use the library computer. Next to me at the computer was a young reddish haired Gerer Chassid. Probably in his early twenties. No, he did not watch "dirty pictures" but the news. However, to me he looked rather …..urrgghhh….as there was something wrong. Believe it or not, I didn't have a good feeling. Then he got up and almost flew over my chair. He didn't apologize and went upstairs where I had my stuff including my laptop. I watched him because within the past two years, many laptops had been stolen from library users and now the management is extremely careful.

As I sad, I had a bad feeling and therefore watched the Chassid walking around. He disappeared in the back of the shelves but didn't really know what to do. Another girl was sitting at my table and I thought that she would watch my computer and thus I wouldn't need to worry. As the Chassid was somewhere in the back and the situation seemed to be fine, I went to the restroom.

After a few minutes, I came back upstairs to my stuff. The girl was still sitting there but guess what had happened.

No, nothing stolen.
My laptop and everything was still there. But the Gerer Chassid had taken over my place. He was sitting on my chair, had my laptop right in front of him and everything looked as all belongs to him.

I need to mention that all the other chairs around were free and available. Nothing was occupied or crowded.

Of course, my thought was that now I have to explain that all of this is my stuff and I told the Chassid that he took my seat.

No reaction and the girl across looked up.

I told him again that this is my place and he finally hesitated and got up.

He stood next to the shelf and wanted the seat back. He said nothing but was waiting for me what I am going to do. If I sit down and that's it or if I leave.

I told him that if he has such an emergency using this particular chair, I am leaving anyway and he can have it.

He said nothing but just stood and stared.

Finally I left, as I had planned before. Downstairs I told the story to another Chassid and he got upset about the Gerer's behaviour. We thought about complaining to the clerks but eventually didn't. Maybe we should have and now I really regret that we didn't.

I am not gossiping about Chassidut Gur but maybe their Rabbis including the Rebbe should start watching their young members. Only finding a Shidduch and being married is not a solution.

There are problems in each chassidic groups as well as in the litvishe society and Rabbis should react. I cannot tell you any solution but those Chassidim give a bad reputation to your whole group.

It goes without saying that I am not accusing the whole Chassidut Gur. All chassidic groups consist of individuals and you cannot constantly check on an individual. Many Chassidim only study in their Yeshivot until the early afternoon and after 3.00pm, you can be sure that many of them show up at the National Library in order to surf the net or read all the secular papers. It seems like a kind of escape and they don't really mind to meet other Chassidim or Haredim here, as plenty of them seem to have the same goal.

However, if someone wears religious clothes, and in this case, chassidic clothes, then everyone around will be aware of the ones running after their Yetzer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nothing but Pork

B"H

Since the foundation of the State of Israel (1948) and even many years earlier, the population was mostly secular. Let alone the ruling governments. However, there had always been a certain limit of how far secularism could rule. When it came up to Yom Kippur, for instance, even secular Jews kept it because it is a tradition and the highest Jewish holiday. Besides Yom Kippur, many Jewish traditions were kept. Maybe not too much from the German Jews who especially came to Israel in the 30ies but from their counterparts from Russia, Hungary or Poland.

At that time, Germany was already so much reform that many Jews just didn't care anymore and considered themselves as "real" assimilated Germans who didn't need to have anything to do with old traditions. Times had changed and also a Jews had to be modern. In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, still more traditions were kept and countless orthodox people (such as Chassidim and Litvaks) lived there.

When the Jemenite Jews came to Israel the late 40ies and early 50ies, it became obvious that especially those Jews had kept the Torah for all the years being in the Diaspora. The same with the Persian, Iraki, Moroccan or Kurdish Jews. We can definitely say that until today, sephardic Jews are more traditonal than ashkenazi Jewry. Among other things, the dream of a real sephardic mother is seeing her son marrying a nice Jewish sephardic girl. Furthermore, the kitchen had to be kosher. Not super kosher but certain basic rules were kept.

In our modern world with videos, DVDs or Internet, many things have changed and many Jews started watching videos on Yom Kippur (there is no TV whatsoever in Israel on this holiday). Otherwise Yom Kippur would be too boring. People fast but watch movies in order to make time go by faster.

The "new" secularism reached its peak when the new immigrants (Olim Chadashim) from Russia came to Israel. Especially many of those immigrants took their Aliyah money from the government and invested it in opening non - kosher stores. Of course, there had always been non - kosher food in Israel and the most famous example is a particular Kibbutz raising pigs and selling pork. In the past, however, people kept a little more quiet about the Trefe subject but now, Israelis don't hide it anymore and talk about it publicly and without shame.

From the very beginning, Russian immigrants announced that they would like to have a "Russian Israel". Everything has to be just like in their old country, even the food. A totally insane idea because I am coming from Bavaria and don't start opening a "Bratwurst (sausage)" trade in Israel. It has to be taken into consideration that the vast majority of the Russian immigrants is not halachically Jewish at all and thus not interested in a Jewish state or Jewish religion. They don't make a secret out of being not Jewish and openly pray to idols and walk around with crosses around their necks.

Until today, many Russians insist on their food from "Mother Russia". First they opened pork stores in Beit Shemesh. There, however, haredi population has been constantly growing and within the next ten years or so, Beit Shemesh will be almost entirely haredi. And if this is taking place, the Haredim will kick the Russians out of town if they continue with their old ways.

But there were also protests in the northern town of Kiryat Shemona when the Russians opened pork stores. Unfortunately, within the past few years, haredi demonstrations against Trefe stores became less and less. When another non - kosher grocery store opened in Jerusalem's Agrippas Street a few years ago, the Haredim still protested in front of the entrance but soon later on, nothing happened anymore. Where are Satmar and all the other groups from the Edah HaCharedit ? Where are the Litvish ?

Nevertheless, a new trend came up together with the Trefe store in Agrippas. Now, also Jewish Israelis started opening non - kosher stores just like the Russians. And more and more secular Israelis began buying there. While on holiday trips abroad, Israelis had seen and tasted non - kosher and wanted to introduce the same at home. The grocery chain "Tiv Ta'am" is one of the famous non - kosher success story. And when "Tiv Ta'am" was facing an internal crises about a year ago, especially the Russians started crying again about maybe loosing one of their Trefe sources.

You can find more non - kosher stores in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem. In certain neighbourhoods, such as the Central Bus Station in south Tel Aviv, pork is highly demanded. I am just pointing out one store near the Central Bus Station called "The Kingdom of Pork Factory" whose customers are mostly Russians, Africans, Filipinos or Thais. The staff in this particular shop consists of Russians. The area around the Central Bus Station has transformed into "pork land" already some time ago, and the shop signs are in Russian, English or Thai.

Not everyone has to live in Mea Shearim or Bnei Brak and keep his house super kosher. On the other hand, Israel is the Holy Land and we, therefore, should show respect to G - d and His Torah. It is sad that no further haredi demonstrations are taking place and everybody just seems to accept the situation. Maybe such demonstrations don't even fit into certain current political concepts.

In Judaism, we have the concept of overcoming our own "Yetzer HaRah - evil side within us" and thus do a Tikun (rectification of the soul). And we are only able to do this when there is Free Will in this world. So, where would be our free will if we all lived in Bnei Brak, Boro Park or Mea Shearim ? By the way, I am not claiming here that those places are totally perfect and so super religious.

Despite all the Trefe stuff in our country, I still try to concentrate on the positive side. When we die, what are we going to tell G - d ? "Oh, I kept kosher because I lived in Mea Shearim and there wasn't any other choice anyway".

How great was our effort to fight our Yetzer and who would be better ? A Jew living in Tel Aviv and resisting all the Trefe temptations or a Jew from kosher Bnei Brak ? Who would get a higher reward ? Only when there is trefe food, we are able to choose and show our inner greatness.

To make it quite clear:
I am not promoting the trade of non - kosher food in Israel but only try seeing something positive in the whole present situation. Otherwise I am completely against non - kosher food in this country and find it disgusting and disrespectful that there exists such a thing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Aufruf in Toldot Avraham Yitzchak

B"H

This upcoming Shabbat, the Chassidut Toldot Avraham Yitzchak in Mea Shearim is having a huge celebration. An "Aufruf" is taking place during the Shacharit service on Shabbat. Friday night will be a special Tish with Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn and I assume that Rabbi Me'ir Brandsdorfer (Beit Din Zedek of the Edah HaCharedit and member of Avraham Yitzchak) is going to participate as well.

To my own shame I must admit that I forgot if a son or a grandson of Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn is getting married. However, the marriage is going to take place in the United States next week.


Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn (right) with Rabbi Me'ir Brandsdorfer (left)


Mazal Tov to the Rebbe who will be wildly celebrating.


Location: The Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Synagogue in Mea Shearim.

Only over my Dead Body

B"H

In its last weekend edition, the Israeli daily MAARIV published a longer article about certain "scandalous" actions of the haredi "ZAKA – Zihiu Korbanot Ason – Identification of Jews killed in catastrophes". When people hear the name ZAKA, they immediately think about bomb attacks and other catastrophes, but the ZAKA volunteers also take action in traffic accidents. Anywhere in the world where Jewish Israelis are killed, Zaka is getting involved.

One of the ZAKA founders is Yehuda Meshi Zahav, a follower of Rabbi Amram Blau (Bloi), a former head of the Neturei Karta in Jerusalem. Until today, Yehuda Meshi Zahav is involved in anti – Zionist activities but presents himself as a modern guy who talks to the outside world (modern world). Regarding ZAKA issues, he presents himself almost politician like.

ZAKA is known worldwide and extremely respected. Its members consist of male haredi volunteers who regard it as a great Mitzwa helping Jews to get the best funeral possible. Their work is admirable because who else would search many hours for body parts etc. on roof tops or any other places ? ZAKA tries to find even the smallest lost body part and thus, show respect to the ones who passed away. When the Meshiach comes, we will have the Resurrection of the Death and therefore it is extremely important that a dead body must be complete.

In Judaism, cremation of a dead body is halachically forbidden. Every dead Jewish body has to undergo certain procedures in order to get buried. After a person passes away, the dead body is ritually cleaned and then buried in a shroud or casket. However, no Jew is allowed to let his body cremated and then let his ashes be thrown into the sea etc.

Within the past years, however, more and more Israelis decided to cremate their bodies after they pass away. In fact, most of them are new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The vast majority of the Russians is not halachically Jewish but if you search very hard, you do find a few Jews according to Halacha. But also many of the halachically Russian Jews prefer a cremation of their bodies. If this is really took place, relatives and friends are free to pick up the ashes afterwards and do with it whatever they want. Different private companies offer this particular service of cremation but the whole procedure is anything but cheap.

It happened in many cases that a person who passed away had decided to be cremated but a relative refused to accept the decision and instead informs ZAKA. Then ZAKA takes care that the dead body is not leaving the fridge of the morgue or hospital until all relatives agree that the dead body is not going to be cremated but buried according to Halacha.

Many Russians claim that they have received threatening phone calls from ZAKA. According to them ZAKA threatened them by saying that they would inform the social benefit office and tell the authorities that so and so obviously had enough money to pay for a cremation but still receives support from the government. If the family of the dead person still refuses to agree to a halachic funeral, ZAKA takes care that the dead body remains in the fridge.

When Yehuda Meshi Zahav was asked if this is true, he confirmed the claims of the people involved. "Yes, ZAKA does sometimes threaten people if there is no other way. Halacha is Halacha and a Jew is not allowed to let his body cremated. No one has the right to change Halacha because he prefers a different way. And ZAKA takes its rights to walk with the Torah and Halacha. That's it.
Some months ago, a private cremation institute was burned down and everyone suspects the Haredim. However, I cannot tell if the perpetrators have ever been found.

Personally, I have never favoured cremation and I think that it is disgusting picking up a box with ashes inside and telling everyone that this used to be "Uncle Fritz". Can you imagine that you are being carried around in a box ? Of course, you can claim that once you are buried according to Halacha, various insects show up in order to eat your body. Isn't it better to be cremated and not facing all these worms ?

However, I think that cremation is something inhuman and especially Jews should stand up against it. I cannot help it but the word "crematory" always reminds me of Auschwitz and other death camps.


Links:

Website ZAKA

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1131367061138

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3528828,00.html

In Brief

B"H

1. Unfortunately, I missed the wedding of the Gerer Rebbe's grandson because I got mixed up with the date. I mistakenly thought that the event would be this week but the wedding already took place last Wednesday.

2. Next week, on June 25th, a huge celebration is taking place in Jerusalem. No, don't get excited…nothing religious.
The new bridge is having its opening celebration and after 6pm, all the traffic coming into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv is going to face a hard time. Famous politicians and pop singers are expected to participate in the event and free tours are offered. I am not sure if I would participate in such a free tour, as the tour will lead over the new bridge.

The bridge was a complete waste of money for the City of Jerusalem. Costs were far too high due to damages. The bridge is not stable enough and experts claim that it will fall apart soon. In the meantime, the construction company is trying its best fixing the bridge but no one can say for sure, if this ugly thing is going to last. Hopefully not !

3. Vegetarians and those who are against the killing of animals should go to Tel Aviv this week. Various demonstrations are taking place downtown. Last night, I saw a walking milk bottle in front of Dizengoff Center. Someone had dressed himself up as a milk bottle. Others wear T - Shirts saying that those who eat meat and dairy products or drink milk, are killers.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Fate of a Star

B"H

The great thing about Tel Aviv is that the faces of the inhabitants already tell the personal story of a person. Just look into the faces and you can read a lot or at least, imagine that you do. And in case you see nothing, be patient and soon exciting events are going to happen. Tel Aviv is never boring and there are always stories to tell.

In Jerusalem it is the Ben Yehudah Mall, and in Tel Aviv it is the entrance to the Carmel Market. Right at the corner Allenby / Sheinkin. The huge Carmel Market is definitely one of the excitements in downtown Tel Aviv, and any comparison to its counterpart, the Jerusalem Machane Yehudah Market, would be totally out of place. Both markets have its unique character but the Carmel is much more exciting and colourful. On the other hand, the entrances to the Jerusalem market are constantly guarded by the army whereas the Carmel Market is only under police surveillance on Fridays, right before Shabbat.

There is always something going on at the square in front of the Carmel Market. And if, for a change, not too much is going, you can always watch Chabad or Breslov standing there. Last Friday afternoon, however, the square was more than busy. Full of people doing their shopping for Shabbat or just enjoying life. "La'asot Chaim - לעשות חיים", we say in Hebrew.

When I got to the square, a group of young people dressed in freaky uniforms had just started their concert. About ten guys with big and small drums and tambourines stood in a circle and started playing. It didn't even take a second and the group got all the attention. They played well but loud. The noise obviously disturbed one of the elderly guys sitting on the nearby benches and he came over to complain. While shouting, the old guy was throwing around his arms and we all thought that he would hit one of the drummers. The audience got upset and asked the drummers to continue whereas the old guy eventually gave up and left. The members of the band, however, were quite embarrassed, and one of them said that the whole situation, people complaining about the noise, wasn't too pleasant. But eventually the continued playing.

A few meters far away, a female singer was giving her concert. I walked over to have a look and as soon as I saw her I thought: "Isn't she so - and - so ?"
I was already about to ask one of the bystanders but the loudspeaker prevented me from doing so. She had put it on full volume and nothing else besides her and her music, could be heard. But then I saw a notebook laying in front of the singer. On the front page it said her name in a spidery handwriting.
I was right with my guess. It was her.

In Israel, almost everyone knows her; abroad she is unknown.
I am talking about Miri Aloni.

Just to bring her back into your minds: Miri Aloni is or was one of the greatest and most colourful Israeli pop stars. She had a few hits and used to be quite good. However, a certain event made her almost famous all over the world. It was Miri Aloni singing with the previous Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin only minutes before he was killed. Mrs. Aloni and Y. Rabin stood together with other politicians and celebrities on the balcony of the Tel Aviv municipality in Ibn Gavirol Street and all of them were singing together "Shir Le'Shalom". A song through which Miri Aloni became known to everyone and whoever sees the singer today, will automatically be reminded of that particular night in November 1995.

It might be the case that ever since, people have been more identifying her with the Rabin assassination than with herself and her songs. And there are always times when a singer is out of fashion and doesn't get any job offers anymore. Exactly this happened to Miri Aloni after some time and for the past few years, she has been sitting at public places in Tel Aviv and giving her concerts as a street singer.

But don't make the mistake and think that Miri Aloni is an ordinary street singer who places a little box in front of herself in order to earn a few Shekels. Miri Aloni was a star, she still is and she will always be. She is definitely not what you would call a "lady" but rather an introverted hippie.

And a star, of course, needs a stage.
Before Miri starts her performance, she is busy building her own stage. She sets up a blue carpet and places plastic stools around it. This way, people can sit down and enjoy her songs. And maybe give some more money as well. Everything is in a complete order: the loudspeaker, the microphone, the plastic stools and her freaky black handbag placed on a separate stool.

White trousers, coloured shirt, sunglasses which could fit a Hollywood diva, and long blond curly hair, this is how she was dressed up last Friday. She sang all her songs including "Shir Le'Shalom" but somehow she couldn't really get hold of the loudspeaker. Full volume and making funny noises from time too time. It didn't bother the audience too much but sometimes it still was very disturbing.

How old would Miri Aloni be today ? In her sixties at least, but we shouldn't discuss the age of a star.

After a while, something seemed to disturb her. She got up and we thought that this is it. A guy asked what happened but Miri Aloni didn't answer him. It was as if she was in trance or if he didn't exist. Slowly she walked over to the drum players.
"Is she going to complain ?", I asked the guy who didn't seem to exist for the singer.
"No, she is going to start a big fuzz. Just wait and see", he responded.

And this is exactly what happened. Miri Aloni started yelling at the drum players. They started to get embarrassed again but soon the embarrassment turned into anger.
"Who are you and who am I ? I am a star and you are nothing."
Only a few minutes later, the drum players gave up and moved somewhere inside the market. Mrs. Superstar, on the other hand, returned to her little "living room" and continued singing just if nothing had happened. She had won the argument and was proud of her performance. Her audience wasn't upset about her behaviour but enjoyed listening to her songs.

Should she be ashamed of herself because she sings in the streets of Tel Aviv and not in big concert halls ? Once she used to be a real star but in the meantime, others have taken over.
Is this a reason to be ashamed ?

Not for Miri Aloni. Once a star - always a star. And Miri Aloni is still a star. Even in front of the Carmel Market.

Shabbat at Sheinkin

B"H

Usually Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv is known to be one of the most secular areas you can imagine. Until some time ago, it was THE most popular street. Cafes, shops with freaky clothes, horrendous rents, people not really dressed in a modest way, whatever you can imagine. Today, Sheinkin has lost almost all its glory, as Rothschild Boulevard has taken over. However Sheinkin is still a brand name although the Breslover Chassidim have opened a branch. And not too far away, you can actually find quite a lot Haredim.

Sheinkin, placed between King George and Allenby Street, also has a different attraction. Right next to the park, you can find a rather huge looking Synagogue belonging to Chabad. The first floor of the Synagogue is basically divided into two parts. Today's Synagogue, a rather new and modern looking Synagogue; and another huge Synagogue room. The huge room is not in use anymore although you can still find an Aron HaKodesh (Torah shrine).

I became aware of this Synagogue by accident but, as I don't believe in accidents, maybe there was a special reason for me going to this particular Synagogue. On Erev Shabbat (Friday night) I went for the Kabbalat Shabbat service. The atmosphere was cozy. Probably because not too many people were there. It took some time until the Rabbi showed up and slowly, slowly, more people walked in. In the end, there were about 20 men and 10 women.

I can only tell you about the women's side placed right behind a wooden Mechitzah; behind the men's side. In the middle of the service, the Rabbi gave a Drasha (teaching) where he spoke about the celebration of the Hachnasat Sefer Torah taking place a day before (last Thursday). Getting a new Torah scroll and taking it in a kind of festive procession to the Synagogue, is always an exciting event. As far as I understood, the procession took place from King George to the Synagogue near Sheinkin. The Rabbi was very excited when he told us that even secular car drivers got off their vehicles in order to come over and kiss the Torah. Bystanders got so excited and had tears in their eyes. And this in downtown secular Tel Aviv. "We have to accept what is here and hopefully it will improve", the Rabbi said.

I decided to go back for Shacharit, the morning service, because the Rabbi had announced that it will be the first time, the new Torah scroll is taken out of the Aron HaKodesh (shrine) and the Parasha is being read from it. Another reason was that Bnei Brak was a little far away and I didn't want to think walking there in the terrible humid heat. For Shacharit about 30 men showed up and after the Torah reading they had a great dancing with the new scroll.

I have to say that the people were extremely nice. However, not everyone is Chabad. In fact, the majority of participants was not Chabad. It was a good mixture of half Sepharadim and half Ashkenazim. At 6.10 pm in the evening, I went back for a Pirkei Avot (Saying of the Fathers) class. A women's class run by a Chabadnikit. Not bad although Chabad always teaches Chabad teachings but our teacher also mentioned Rashi. That's something, sarcastically speaking.

In case you are in Tel Aviv and you are looking for a good chassidic Synagogue service near the beach, go to this particular Chabad Synagogue and you will be warmly welcomed. What you should not do is expecting a Kiddush, as everyone goes home after the service. It didn't matter to me because I had prepared some food and made Kiddush by myself. However, I really enjoyed the service and the class, and if I am in the area, I will definitely go back.

In case you go - Hebrew is a must !!!!!!
In the near future, Chabad is also planning to open up a Yeshiva in the Synagogue building.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Jewish Meshiach (Part 2)

B"H

In the first Part, I listed the different opinions about when and how the Meshiach is coming. And, as I said, there is no precise answer but only interpretations.

In the course of the centuries, many Meshiach expectations have changed. Rabbi Akiva saw the Meshiach in Bar Kochba and his war against the Roman occupation. An opinion, Rabbi Akiva later on revoked. Bar Kochba died and this was the end of the story. No Meshiach, so far.

During the Middle Ages, many ideas started to become apocalyptic due to the Inquisition. The Jews became desperate to receive Meshiach who would end all their sufferings. And those sufferings from the Inquisition and early anti - Semitism were seen as the footsteps of Meshiach. Apocalyptic ideas became an extremely important component in kabbalistic literature. History simply couldn't go on like this and Meshiach had to show up. And these Messianic ideas also gave new hope to the Jews themselves (Gershom Sholem).

And how should Meshiach be ? What does he have to do in order to get accepted as such ?

Especially the Rambam (Maimonides) and the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin give a detailed list of conditions:

1. The Meshiach is going to reintroduce the Kingdom of King David. Old traditions will be reintroduced without bringing in any innovations.

2. Meshiach is going to build the Third Temple. Korbanot (sacrifices) will be reintroduced and the Levi'im (Levites) as well as the Cohanim (Priests) are going to be on duty again. Additionally, Shemittah (7th year) and the Yovel (50th year) will be counted again.

3. ALL PEOPLE are going to accept the Meshiach and no one will have any doubt nor start a discussion.

4. ALL PEOPLE are then going to believe in ONE G - d and no further religions will continue to exist. And, there won't be any conversions to Judaism anymore.
There won't be any more wars, hunger, crime, jealousy etc. We all will be on such a high spiritual level not allowing us to have any further negative thoughts.
There will be peace all over the world.

5. According to Midrashic literature the Meshiach will have a special sense of smell which whom he is able to identify Jews and Gentiles. Means, that by the smell Meshiach can say who is Jewish and who is not. Some Jews might be surprised to find out that they are not Jewish and some Gentiles might be surprised that they are Jewish.

The sense of smell stems from Adam and Chava in Gan Eden (Paradise). This sense is the only sense not being involved in the sin with the apple. Talmudic literature makes clear that both ate from the apple or whatever it was. According to some opinions it wasn't an apple but a fig, wheat, etc. However, both looked at it and ate it. But they never smelled it.

6. After Meshiach's arrival, all Jews are coming back to Israel and are going to live there. I have heard different opinions to this claim. Some commentators say that not all the Jews are coming back and some say that all Jews.

7. Everyone will follow the rules of Torah.

It says in the Midrash Tanchuma that there will be a "new Torah". However, this shouldn't be taken literally. The meaning here is that some of the holidays won't continue to exist anymore. There are two opinions; one claims that only Purim is going to continue to exist and another claim is that only Chanukkah is being celebrated in the future. Yom Kippur and Tisha Be' Av will stop to exist. Instead, the former fast days are going to turn into festive days with festive meals.
It says in Talmud Sanhedrin 97a and Avodah Zarah 9a that the world is only existing for 6000 years. I have already mentioned this in the first part.

The Vilna Gaon wrote many commentaries on the Messianic times, and in his commentary on the kabbalistic book and part of the ZOHAR (Sifra D'Zniuta - chapter 5) he states that if Meshiach is not showing up for whatever reasons, our world will return to TOHU, the Chaos before the physical creation of the world. A rather shocking statement.

Within the last 2000 years before the year 6000 (the present Jewish year is 5768), it is our task to decode the secrets of the Torah and thus bring Meshiach. The Rambam (Maimonides) and the Ramban (Nachmanides) argue about the changes in "Ma'aseh Bereshit - the creation process and in nature). The Rambam as well as the Talmud claims that there won't be any changes in nature and everything will basically be the same. We humans will also eat and drink. The Ramban, on the other hand, said that there will be severe changes and everything is going to be more spiritual. According to him we will have a different sky and we won't eat and drink anymore. Just like in a spiritual world.

Rambam's "13 Priciples of Faith" include the believe in the Ge'ulah (Redemption), the Resurrection of the Dead, the Day of Judgment and Olam Habah (the World to Come). People who deny the Resurrection of the Dead have, according to a Mishna in Sanhedrin 90a no place in the World to Come. The same with people denying that G - d Himself gave the Torah or those pronouncing G - d's names.
Judaism is not like any other religions and anybody is able to get a place in the World to Come. It doesn't matter if Jewish or not Jewish, no one is excluded. Everyone according to his personal behaviour.

Right after Meshiach's arrival, the Tesurrection of the Dead is going to take place. There is a discussion about who really is going to be resurrected. Everybody or only the Zaddikim (righteous). Of course, we don't have a precise answer to this. Part of Jewish Kabbalah is the believe in reincarnations and if so, which reincarnation of a person (which personality) is resurrected ? The one with the most Torah Mitzwot.

The talmudic commentator Yad Ramah said that there a second resurrection is taking place right after Judgment Day. The regular resurrection will be followed by Judgment Day. Everyone is going to be judged but, as usual, we also find different opinions here because our souls (Neshamot) had been already judged after we died. Judgment Day will be followed by the World to Come (Olam HaBah). But be aware that here we have to differentiate between two concepts. The world of souls after we die and the world to come when people will be resurrected and judged.

Ramban and Ramah commentate that the second World to Come" is going to exist forever. Other commentators as well as Talmud Sanhedrin consider the World to Come as temporarily and discuss for how much longer our world is going to exist after Meshiach has come. The Hebrew word "OLAM - WORLD" consists of the letter roots "NE'ELAM - DISAPPEAR". From there we learn that the world won't exist forever.

It goes without saying that no one can predict what is going to happen and when. Everything is up to G - d. However, studying Torah and doing Torah Mitzwot gives us a slight chance of bringing the Meshiach ourselves. Rashi (in Sanhedrin 98b) wrote that Meshiach is coming on a donkey as well as on a cloud. Note that both ideas are metaphors. Riding on a donkey could also stand for a slow process of Meshiach's arrival and riding on a cloud could stand for a speedy redemption.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Chassidic Sounds near the Beach

B"H

Religious Jerusalemites love to look down on secular Tel Aviv and gossip. What's in Tel Aviv and who could live among all the leftists and secular ? It is rather like Sodom and Gomorrha.

But people let me tell you - It is not so. G - d is also in a place like Tel Aviv and there are actually many good people here.

When I tell the story about what happened to me a few hours ago, you might think that I am completely out of my mind. Nevertheless, it is a true story and it shows that Tel Aviv is not lost.

I was on my way to the Carmel Market near the beach when I decided to sit down in a small but very nice park for a few minutes. I sat down on a bench and suddenly noticed chassidic music coming from a certain building. Someone played a tape and everyone could hear the music through loudspeakers. I already had a thought but wanted to be sure. I walked around the building which turned out to be a synagogue. And whose synagogue ?
Chabad, of course.
As it looks very nice, I spontaneously decided to come back for Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night service). I always love it so see something new.

For tomorrow, I am planning to go to Bnei Brak but who knows. Maybe I will end up with Chabad.....

Shabbat Shalom to everyone and to those of you who don't know what to do tonight:
Just go into a park and hopefully you will hear chassidic music. Or to say it in Chabad - language: Even a place like Tel Aviv can be elevated !!!!!

The Jewish Meshiach (Part 1)

B"H

Religious Jews constantly talk about the Ge'ulah (Redemption) and Meshiach (Messiah) but how many of them are really aware of the Jewish Meshiach concept ?

Other religions believe in different aspects of a Meshiach concept. The strange thing is that other religions never deal with the Jewish concept. What are the conditions for accepting someone as the Meshiach ? And what is going to change in the future after his arrival ? Why have others claiming to be the long expected Meshiach never been accepted ? Why was the Christian figure J. never accepted ?

The Rambam (Maimonides) writes in his Mishna Torah (Hilchot Melachim 11:1) that it was Judaism teaching the Meshiach concept to the nations. Thus, at least, the idol worshipping nations learned about the G – d "Yud – Keh – Vav – Keh). In Midrashic literature it says that after the arrival of the Meshiach, other nations will say that they knew about the Meshiach idea but their ancestors interpreted it wrong and thus gave them the wrong information.

The following explanations are mostly based on the Talmud but do include some Prophet writings as well. Those who are planning to study the Book of Prophets should either have the Hebrew original texts or a precise translation. Most translations are wrong and thus, misinterpretations and false concepts come up all the time. The best example is the Book of Yechezkel (Ezekiel). Whoever doesn't understand its symbolic metaphoric language and hasn't studied the commentaries (Talmud Chagigah, Sanhedrin, etc.), might get some strange ideas about the context.
I am exclusively presenting the Jewish point of view without explaining other religions views.

The Gemara (rabbinic discussions) in Talmud Sanhedrin 97 teaches that before the Meshiach is coming, different events are going to take place. Nothing happens at once but in stages. After the Meshiach's arrival, two more stages are going to take place: the "Resurrection of the Death" and the "Day of Judgment". However, first I am writing about the issue of Meshiach. When exactly is he coming and how do we recognize him ?

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 97a as well as in Sotah 49b gives a description about the time right before Meshiach:

- In some parts of the world, people are starving and in other parts, people are rich.

- The wisdom of the Torah will be almost forgotten.

- Morality doesn't count too much anymore and everyone does what he wants. Younger people don't show respect to older people or to their parents.

- The generations is completely corrupt and no one says the truth anymore.

- There are going to be wars between the Jews (Israel) and other nations.

The Talmud commentator Maharsha said that the Jews will finally come to the conclusion that their only hope is G – d and that they should rather do Teshuva (repent). Historically, this already happened once – in the times of Esther and Mordechai. Throughout the centuries, people used to claim that there are signs showing that the Meshiach is on his way. And if you look into the Talmud you will realize that the listed events preceding the coming of Meshiach could fit into any time period. Don’ we have wars with the nations ? Isn't there hunger all over the world ?

The Rambam (Maimonides) writes in his Mishna Torah (Hilchot Melachim 12:2) that nobody knows for sure what will happen after Meshiach's arrival. The Prophets used hidden hints and our commentators can do nothing except discussing certain interpretations and ideas. Precise details are unknown to us.

G – d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. These six days represent 6000 years and it says in Talmud Sanhedrin 97a that our world is going to exit for 6000 years (6000 years according to the Jewish calendar). The Gemara also divides these 6000 years into three time periods:
The first 2000 years are the years of Tohu (Chaos). Later, Avraham was born and the following 2000 years were the years of Torah. The last 2000 years, however, are the years of the Ge'ulah (Redemption) and thus the coming of the Meshiach. And we are living in those last 2000 years. The Hebrew year is now 5768.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 97a and many other commentators have different opinions about the events taking place towards the year 6000. There are those who see a partial destruction coming and there are those who don't see any of this kind. If there was a destruction, then Meshiach would be coming. Whatever, the commentator Me'iri has a wonderful explanation: The complete destruction is only to be seen as a metaphor and the real meaning is that pogroms are going to take place. A further explanation of the Me'iri: A total destruction could also mean that the Yetzer HaRah (the evil side in each of us) is destroying us. According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Second World War already was the predicted destruction and thus represents the war between Gog and Magog.

Each generation has a potential Meshiach. However, we and himself don't know anything about it and no one can claim that he is the Meshiach. If G – d considers a certain generation worthy of having the Meshiach, He would reveal him. The Gemara in Sanhedrin continues with speculations about the arrival. I don't want to list all the speculations because I do agree with the opinion that we should patiently wait and not getting lost in all the speculations. Usually someone is coming when you don't expect him and it is probably the same with Meshiach. There are opinions claiming that we have to count different Shemittah or Yovel years but personally I regard this as a waste of time. There even exists and opinion that if we are getting lost in too many speculations, Meshiach is going to delay his arrival (see Sanhedrin 97a and the Maharsha).

So, when exactly are we seen as worthy receiving the Meshiach ? The Gemara in Sanhedrin 97 ff. lists different opinions. One of them is, of course, that we should return to G – d. When the Jews return to G – d, they will find mercy (Sanhedrin 97b). If they don't return, G – d could force them by giving them a hard time in order to make them repent. It says in Malachi 3:7: First the people have to return to G – d and then G – d will return to them and redeem them. Furthermore, it says in Jeremiah (Yirmeyahu) 3:14: G – d can force the people to return to Him. Even if they don't want the Meshiach, they cannot stop his arrival.

Result:

Ramban (Nachmanides), Rashi and the Maharsha said that G – d Himself has a firm date for Meshiach's arrival but the date is unknown to us humans.

The Jews can return to G – d voluntarily and G – d can force them to do so.


Part 2 will be following soon !!!!