Monday, April 30, 2012

Haredim, secular Israelis and the Army


I read in a secular Israeli paper that more than 70% of the country's population want to see Haredim joining the army. If necessary, by force. A topic secular papers don't like mention a lot is that plenty of secular Israelis try to get around the army service because they simply don't want to join. 

Two weeks ago, a working colleague of mine was ordered to an army base because he hadn't participated in the annual reserve duty (Miluim) for the past two years. My colleague had kept his address as a secret and thus the army wasn't able to contact him and call him in for Miluim.

As soon as my colleague stepped into the army base, he got arrested. He was put into the military prison "Kele 4" and, surprise, surprise, he wasn't alone. Plenty of other Israelis had hidden themselves from the reserve duty and were waiting for their trial. After three days, my colleague went to court and was sent home. The army doesn't need him (although he was in a combat unit) and his punishment was changing his rank. From First Corporal to and ordinary Corporal. I am not too familiar with military ranks.:-)

In the end, the colleague won despite all his lazyness joining the reserve duty. He is free and the army is not interested in him anymore. Obviously there is no need for thousands of people joining the army. 

However, this doesn't mean that Haredim don't have to go to the army. I think they should although I am aware of all kinds of haredi society problems and Rabbi's decisions. I assume that secretly, many young Haredim would love to join in an entirely haredi unit but are too afraid due to society reactions. For instance, it will be hard finding a good Shidduch afterwards or the siblings won't get accepted into popular Yeshivot.

Personally I find it unfair that only one part of society is protecting our country. G - d asks us to do something and He will help but if we don't do, what are we expecting G - d to do ? I also find it unfair when young soldiers give their lives for their country and certain young Yeshiva guys don't even go to their classes / Chavrutas but hang around donwtown Jerusalem simply doing nothing. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Short Break


For the past few months I have been far behind with blogging. The reason is that I don't have much time for doing research besides my job. This week, I won't even have a day off and I am really sick of the situation. The positive thing is that I am only working in this job until the end of May and then start something new where I am actually my own boss. 

As soon as I am leaving this present job I will keep up my former research and introduce quite a few new ideas into the blog.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Criminal Minds" and Judaism


Personally, I am a great fan of the TV series CRIMINAL MINDS and mostly watch it on Youtube. Not all of the topics interest me but some are really good. In a way, it always amazes me how many weird characters live in the US when you look at all the different kinds of real (and not "Criminal Minds") serial killers. Why in the US and not in Europe or Israel ? An American I asked once told me that the US is a free country and sometimes people don't realize the potential madness of their neighbours.

I don't remember the exact chapter but the ARIZAL (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) talks about the mentally ill in the KITVE'I HaARI part "Sha'ar Ruach HaKodesh". There it actually says that "there are mentally ill people in the world but their task is looking for help". One has to fight his behaviour defect and search for serious help in order to change. 

It actually is an interesting idea asking why G - d allows such disgusting kind of crime to happen or whether our human behaviour or career - oriented society causes others to go astray.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Independence Day: "The Breslover Na Nach Nachman Movement in Tel Aviv"


Every year on the eve of the Israeli Independence Day (Erev Yom Ha'atzma'ut), the Breslover Na Nach Nachman Movement Chassidim are dancing around in downtown Tel Aviv. Tonight I spotted them waving Israeli flags right next to Kikar Rabin where the main celebrations took place. Not too many Nanas, as quite a few of them got arrested due to the Ambash scandal:

The original Breslover Chassidim from Mea Shearim (not the ones from the Ba'al Teshuva movements but the descendants of Rabbi Nachman's students) are anti - Zionist and not celebrating the Israeli Independence Day at all !!!

 One of the Breslovers was waving an Israeli flag and blowing the Shofar.

Photos: Miriam Woelke

Happy Birthday, Israel !!!


Photos from tonight's main event of Israel's 64th Independence Day (Yom Ha'azma'ut). One may be a Zionist or not, Tel Aviv is full of celebrations tonight. Meaning: No Sleep. 

Flags, Flags, Flags

I hate the spray of the kids :-)

Photos: Miriam Woelke

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Independence Day celebrations at the HURVA Synagogue / Jerusalem


Tomorrow night (Wednesday), Israel is starting to celebrate its 64th birthday !  

 The HURVA  Synagogue from the outside.

Photos: Miriam Woelke

The following video provides a brief impression on the Independence Day celebrations at the famous HURVA – Synagogue located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. The video was recorded two years ago and shows national religious Jews celebrating the country's independence.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Contradictions to the OMER, Part 2

 Israel's Beauty

Photo: Miriam Woelke


Just recently I wrote a short kabbalistic point of view on "Counting the Omer – Sefirat HaOmer" and now I would like to point out a contradiction between "Sefirat HaOmer" and the present State of Israel.

On Pessach we have started counting the Omer until Shavuot. On Shavuot, the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai and until then, we are counting the Omer according to a certain way of prayer. Chabad (Lubavitch) published a great counting calendar including the daily kabbalistic Sefirot. 

It was Pessach when the Jews left Egypt and 50 days later, they received the Torah at Mount Sinai. The entire period of 50 days is seen as a spiritual cleansing process of the soul. When the Jews left Egypt, almost all of them only had a slave mentality. Moreover, many of them were influenced by Egyptian culture and mentality. If G – d hadn’t decided to finally take them out, almost all of them had soon or later fallen into Egyptian idol – worship. 

Slavery kills your own free will because you totally depend on your owner. You do what he says and he makes all decisions for you. In the end, you are not even able to manage your own life but always wait for further orders. This is how the Jews left Egypt but G – d wanted them to learn how to make decisions and lead an independent life. 

 The Sefirat HaOmer period is a time of mourning. At least until the 33rd day (Lag Ba’Omer). A day when the plague stopped killing Rabbi Akivah’s students. At the moment, however, we are still in the mourning period and listening to music, men don’t shave and no weddings are taking place. Now the great contradiction comes: A mourning period and no music. However, the State of Israel is going to celebrate its Independence Day in the middle of the Omer period. Tomorrow night. With huge celebrations, parties and the countries greatest celebration is going to take place at Tel Aviv’s Kikar Rabin. In front of the Municipality, tomorrow night at 9pm ! 

How then can Jews celebrate in the middle of the Omer period ? Is this allowed or is there a contradiction ? 

The truth is that many Haredim don’t celebrate Independence Day not only because they are against the present State of Israel but because we are still in a mourning period. National religious Jews, on the other hand, do celebrate Independence Day. However, they do so in a religious way and those of you who are in Jerusalem tomorrow night: There will be a religious Independence Day celebration at the Great Synagogue at King George Street. The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis is going to speak and the choir will sing. 

 I am not the most enthusiastic Independence Day celebrator and I also have to work on the holiday itself. Nevertheless, I am grateful to G – d that there is a State of Israel where Jews can go to without depending on the nations alone. After all those years in Israel I cannot imagine ever returning to the Diaspora in order to live there.

Something about the Future

Ramat Gan, located between Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv.

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Some weeks ago I announced that I am planning to move back to Jerusalem. An announcement I regretted only a few days later. I had started to analyze whether I really want to move back to Jerusalem and if I was happy with this decision. I wasn't. Don't ask why because I cannot really tell myself. Maybe because I got used to the Tel Aviv mentality. And I don't mean this in a sense of the city's secularism but because of a rather "New York Life Style". Jerusalem seems to be so "village - like" compared to Tel Aviv. Furthermore Jerusalem's mentality simply became strange to me. Always being suspicious and the entire capital is full of pressure. Politically as well as in a religious sense. When I was in Jerusalem during Pessach, I heard some Yeshiva guys talking about this Halacha and that Halacha. One guy wanted to be more strict than the other. This is simply not my world anymore and I am not saying that it has something to do with religion. Maybe I just became too pragmatic. In Tel Aviv you work, you create and you act. I like this kind of life and not the typical Jerusalem complaint "What should I do ?" 

However, I decided to stay in the Tel Aviv area but need to look for a bigger apartment. For the past year, I have been living in a matchbox where I can hardly move but pay a lot of rent. As everyone knows, Tel Aviv is expensive and some say that it is more expensive than Singapore. At least, this is what I read somewhere today.:-)

Rents are high and you have to work a lot in order to make a living. I guess that readers from New York know what I am talking about.:-)

This is why I decided to look for an apartment in Ramat Gan. The city is very close to Tel Aviv and on the other side of it we find the haredi part of Bnei Brak. Furthermore, Ramat Gan is still a bit less expensive than Tel Aviv and has lots of quiet parts. 

My plan is moving there and I will try finding a place as close to Bnei Brak as I can. Hopefully by the end of May / beginning of June, I will be back at the chassidic Tishes. Not only in Mea Shearim but especially in Bnei Brak. I have to find out about Vishnitz and Nadvorna because their Rebbes just passed away recently and we have to see how the two chassidic groups are going to continue. 

Haredi Bnei Brak

Photo: Miriam Woelke

In the upcoming weeks I am going to tell you about me looking for a new apartment. All those crazy experiences you have when you search for a new place to live. In addition to that you will get to know many details about Bnei Brak and the haredi life there.

Israel commemorates its fallen soldiers and prepares for celebrations


Tonight at 8pm, the nationwide YOM HA'ZIKARON (Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and terror victims) has begun with a 2 - minute siren sound. 

YOM HA'ZIKARON always causes a strange feeling. A depressing and sad atmosphere. 22,993 soldiers died in action since the foundation of the "State of Israel" in 1948. 

No doubt, our country knows how to mourn and tonight, even a city like Tel Aviv is quiet. Shops, restaurants, cinemas or cafes are closed. Tomorrow, business will be as usual but interrupted by another siren sound at 11am. 

Tomorrow (Wednesday) night, sadness is turning into overwhelming celebrations when at about 8.30 / 9pm the events for Israel's 64th birthday are going to start. A symbolic sign of the history of the Jewish people: After sadness and mourning comes endless joy ! 

Israeli flags are everywhere due to the upcoming Independence Day. Here outside the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv.

Flag inside the Azrieli Mall

Flag at the Community Center at the Neve Zedek neighbourhood

Also in Neve Zedek

Photos: Miriam Woelke

Monday, April 23, 2012

Be realistic and question Aliyah to Zfat

The newer part of Zfat (Safed)

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Some time ago I wrote an article on countless American Jews making Aliyah to Zfat (Safed). Besides all the spirituality I assume that many Olim (new immigrants) may be attracted by the lower rents and housing prices of Zfat. 

I was overhearing a conversation yesterday. Two new immigrants from the US (one from New York, the other I don’t know) were talking to each other. One guy said that he is going up to Zfat, as one has to be realistic. Who is able to pay the exaggerated rents in Tel Aviv or the coastal area ? Zfat would be much better and rent is lower. 

I wanted to interfere but had not time due to work. What I wanted to ask the guy moving to Zfat was: 

Lower rent doesn’t mean finding employment. There is hardly any work in Zfat. Especially for those who don’t know fluent Hebrew yet. The only industry basically is the local candle factory. If you are lucky and have medical knowledge, you may find a job at the local SIEV HOSPITAL. What else is there to do ? Various immigrants start a spiritual center or go into healing in order to make money. Others rent out rooms to visitors but the Zfat Municipality has limited the amount of rooms a house owner is allowed to rent out. 

The problem is that the entire area around doesn’t have jobs to offer. Down in Tiberias, the unemployment rate is extremely high. The same in Zfat and lots of people are on the dole. 

When you still want to move to Zfat, bring some money in order to support yourself because it may take ages until you find a firm income.

Egypt's historical Change

e - mails


I am a bit behind with publishing comments and answering e - mails but I will try my best to carry out everything in the course of the day !

Rosh Chodesh Iyar - ראש חודש אייר

Moonlight over the Grand canyon

Photo: NASA


Yesterday and today, we are celebrating Rosh Chodesh IYAR, the beginning of the new Jewish month Iyar (אייר), and I almost missed it. I have been more than tired lately and just went to sleep after work. And when you do so, you definitely miss something coming up.:-) 

Officially the name IYAR has its roots in the Babylonian language but the chassidic book  "Bnei Yissachar" regards the first letters of Iyar as an abbriviation of the names of our forefathers. At least the first letter: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov und Rachel. 

Our task is to learn from the deeds of our forefathers and, therefore, there is the tradition to study the Talmud Tractate AVOT on Rosh Chodesh Iyar. As we are in the middle of counting the OMER, we automatically have the chance of doing at least one daily Mitzvah. 

Every new month also stands for a new beginning in our lives. Moreover we should thank G - d that we got to this point in our life; meaning, that we have been alive so far.The month of Iyar stands for LIGHT and, according to "The Book of Creation" and "Bnei Yissachar", it is the month of HEALING. Spring has arrived and thus we are filled with new energies. 

According to Kabbalah (Sefer Yetzirah - Book of Creation), every Jewish month has its own letter, tribe, human organ or sense. The letter of Iyar is the VAV ו, the tribe is Yissachar, the human sense is thought, the horoscope is Taurus and the organ is the right kidney. It says in Talmud Berachot 61b that the kidney gives us advice and the heart decides about which way to go. The tongue articulates and the mouth ends the process. 

On 14th Iyar (this year the date is falling on 6 May (Sunday), we are going to celebrate "Pessach Sheni", the second Pessach. Everyone should have one Mazza left in order to eat it on Pessach Sheni. Whoever used to be impure on Pessach, received a second chance to eat from the Korban Pessach. 

In Iyar, we also celebrate Lag Be'Omer. This year, Lag Be'Omer is going to start on a Wednesday night and we are celebrating until Thursday night (9 + 10 May).

On Rosh Chodesh Iyar, we are commemorating the Yahrzeit of the famous chassidic Rabbi Menachem Mendel von Vitebsk, 1730 - 1788.

Chodesh Tov – חודש טוב - A great, healthy and successful month of Iyar.


The Kever of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk in Tiberias

The House of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk in Tiberias 

Tel Aviv Traffic

Evening traffic in Tel Aviv. Between the Azrieli Towers and the Ministry of Defence.

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Jaspar Stone and Dama Ben Netina


In Judaism, sleep is considered as something very important. Not only because sleep is good for your health but also in regard to "not waking up a person in vain". One should respect a person sleeping and not constantly waking him up for no reason. 

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 1:1) teaches us how to honour one's father by telling us about the Gentile DAMA BEN NETINA. The story which is also mentioned in Talmud Bavli - Kiddushin 31a, further teaches us how important sleep can be. 

The person who honoured his father most was actually vicious Esav. Despite all his evil deeds, Esav never forgot to honour his father Yaakov. For instance, he always put on clean clothes before standing in front of his father. 

In the days of the First Temple, a man called Dama Ben Netina used to live in Ashkelon. He was not Jewish and his family was supporting itself with two different businesses: 1. Dealing with diamonds 2. raising cattle and flocks of sheep. 

In the times of the First Temple, the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol) still wore the breastplate Urim ve’Turim. It disappeared after the Temple destruction by the Babylonians. I will digg deeper into the entire topic of the Urim veTurim in a different article. Here I am only mentioning briefly that the Cohen HaGadol used also used the breastplate for getting answers regarding complicated questions and issues. 

The breastplate consisted of twelve precious stones representing the twelve Jewish tribes. The Talmud tells us that once, the Jaspar stone representing the tribe of Benjamin got lost. Thus, a new Jaspar had to be found but this turned out to be very hard. No one seemed to own such a stone. After a while the Jews found out that the Gentile Dama Ben Netina owned a Jaspar.

Money was collected and a Jewish delegation travelled to Ashkelon in order to purchase the Jaspar from Dama. The latter received the Jews in his house but told them to be quiet, as his father was asleep. The Jews told him what had happened and Dama was willing to sell his Jaspar. However, the stone was laying in a safe and the key for the safe was under his father's pillow. Dama Ben Netina refused to wake up his father in order to get the key. 

The Jews kept on offering more and more money but Dama still refused. He said that it is not the money but a matter of honouring his father. The Jews were impressed and returned to Jerusalem. Some time later, a businessman was found who sold them his Jaspar. 

One or two years later, the Jews needed another "Parah Adumah - Red Hefer" for burning it in a special procedure on the Mount of Olives (see Talmud Tractate Parah). Such a cow must only have red hair and not hair of a different colour. It turned out that Dama Ben Netina had such a cow whose ashes are able to bring about spiritual cleansing. 

Again, the Jews went to see Dama and purchased the red cow. This time, the deal took place and Dama Ben Netina only asked for the amount the Jews had offered him before for the Jaspar.

What this story also teaches us is that sometimes we feel like loosing a business. At first we are not willing to agree due to moral reasons but, in the end, another deal may come up rewarding us for the loss. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

How Israel's BANK LEUMI stole money from Holocaust victims


Some years ago, a terrible scandal was discovered. Israel's famous and second largest BANK LEUMI kept money from accunts belonging Holocaust victims for itself without giving out any information. 
All details HERE !

What kind of a world is this when even Jews steal from Holocaust victims in order to make more profit ?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Toldot Aharon on the way to the Kotel

Going towards Jaffa Gate in order to get down to the Kotel (Western Wall). Toldot Aharon or Toldot Avraham Yitzchak on Chol Ha'Moed Pessach.

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Picture of the Day

Its advertising but I like the idea !



I am not at all a fan of Israel's President Shimon Peres but last night, on Erev Yom Ha'Shoah, he made a point:

A video from the official opening of this year's "Holocaust Memorial Day" at Jerusalem's Holocaust Museum YAD VASHEM. The ceremony took place last night and was broadcasted live by all Israeli TV stations. 

The chassidic response to the Holocaust


Tonight and tomorrow (Thursday), Israel commemorates the Holocaust and its victims:

Thousands of books have been written about the Holocaust. However, not too many deal with the religious side of it. The big question mark is still behind the Chassidim. Why did so many Chassidim die during the Holocaust while the Rebbes escaped ? Wouldn't it have been better if the Rebbes had stayed and died with their Chassidim instead of a kind of leaving them alone ? What was the role of the Gerer (Gur) Rebbe when he left Poland ? At the time of the Second World War, the Gerer Rebbe was already a very well known figure and as a celebrity it is easier to flee. But not only Gur has to deal with such a question. What about the Belzer Rebbe ? Today, Chassidut Belz considers the escape of their former Rebbe as a miracle. 

It isn't that easy to judge and many chassidic groups have to ask themselves if they reacted right or wrong. Unfortunately, this matter has been totally neglected after the war. There are many books about miraculous escapes of different Rebbes but hardly any book deals with the question of famous Rebbes who were able to escape and left the Chassidim behind. 

In this article, I am only mentioning a few different points of view to the subject "Chassidim and the Holocaust". I base the facts on the book of Pesach Schindler who did some research on this issue (The Chassidic Response to the Holocaust). Of course, there are plenty of other books; especially those describing the escapes and survivals of certain Rebbes in detail. Such as the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Halberstam, or the survival of Chassidut Satmar or Bobov. 

The fact which Germans until today do not like to hear or are not even being aware of is that thousands of Chassidim died in the Holocaust. They don't know that whole chassidic dynasties were almost wiped out and to tell the truth, not too many of them are interested anyway. Until today, Chassidim are something strange in German society. No wonder because only Chabad set up some branches in the former Nazi country. 

Pesach Schindler in his book "The Chassidic Response to the Holocaust":

The majority of the Chassidim considered the Holocaust as a decree from G – d. No one has the right criticizing G – d's judgment and ask questions. All the answers for our questions we are going to receive from the Meshiach. Furthermore, times of suffering are supposed to be the forerunner of Meshiach (there are different interpretations about this statement). 

The Grodzisker Rebbe, Rabbi Israel Shapira, said in Treblinka:
We should not question G – d's actions. 

The opinion is based on a highly complicated chassidic concept:
Evil has its roots in good. According to the Zohar there is a spark of Kedusha (holiness) even in the "other side". Meshiach is coming close when Torah and Mitzwot are being kept even in the most evil times. The whole diaspora (Galut) is a Jewish tragedy. 

However, there were also different opinions.
Many Chassidim became resistance fighters and even built their own resistance groups. The Belzer Rebbe asked his Chassidim to leave Europe. The same did the Komaner Rebbe. Twenty Chassidim of the Ostrower Rebbe were prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to rescue the life of their Rebbe. In the end, the Nazis shot the Chassidim and the Rebbe. 

If the circumstances allowed it, many Chassidim refused to change their chassidic clothing style or to have the beard shaved. Many chassidic Rebbes (Admorim) didn't leave their Chassidim alone and went with them into the gas chambers. Even in Auschwitz – Birkenau the Mitzwot were kept; there still existed prayer services and Mazzot were baked. 

And there were also those chassidic Rabbis who did question G – d's actions. If G – d doesn't break His own commandments ? 

Rabbi Aharon Rokeach (Belz) was asked if the Jews should not ask G – d for a divine intervention. The Rebbe's response: No, everything happening is already a G – dly decree. 

Once someone told me that many Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz asked leading Rabbis in the camp if they couldn't curse the Germans and thus cause them do die. Rabbis even asked G – d for advice and a Bat Kol (according to Rashi it is an echo of a heavenly voice, see Talmud Yoma 9b and Eruvin 13b) responded: NO. No curses should take place. 

There are no answers to the Holocaust. Not even religious answers. It seems like we really have to wait for the Meshiach in order to find out why it happened. For the Chassidim, suffering has not ended. We all know about the war between Gog and Magog. The last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, however, said that already World War II was Gog and Magog and now everything is ready for the arrival of the Meshiach. 

And how do the Chassidim refer to the Germans today ?
As you can surely imagine, Germans are not be seen as the greatest friends. I know a Gerer Chassid who was born in Poland and he lost his whole family in the concentration camps. His name is Rabbi Shalom Mark (Markovitch) and he published a small booklet describing his experiences as a child in different camps. He called the booklet: "Choose Life". In his booklet as well as in his speeches, Rabbi Shalom Mark highly criticizes the Germans. He calls them gangsters and murderers. Even if he does meet younger Germans from time to time, the Rabbi still cannot get rid of his mixed feelings about them. 

And it is not only the Chassidim who don't want to forgive; also the Israeli national religious have their problems with the Germans. Have you ever seen the present German chancellor Angela Merkel being invited by the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, of by Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ?
Fact is that 99% of the chassidic population avoid going to Germany. Chabad is there but many Chabadnikkim have mixed feelings. The problem already starts as soon as you see elderly Germans. Then you always ask yourself what they did during the war. Let alone the new Neonazis walking around today. 

A sephardi Chassid told me that although Angela Merkel seems to be quite Israel friendly, this doesn't cause the Jews to forgive the Germans. Until today, many Israelis have difficulties hearing the German language. It always reminds you of something bad or evil. A national religious American born woman said to me that she doesn't ban German products as her mother did. However, she still thinks that there is something evil in the German character and culture. "Germans always want to be superior", she said. 

In other words, it is not enough for the Germans running to Jewish memorial services on January 27th (the German Holocaust Memorial Day). There is more to it than being sorry once a year. Germany has to prove that it is a different country. A democracy fighting anti – Semitism.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012



At this very moment, the Israel's annual "YOM HA'SHOAH - Holocaust Remembrance Day" is starting at Yad Vashem.  Every year anew, I am giving links to former articles about the Holocaust but this time, I am also putting an entire movie into the blog. It is the German movie "DOWNFALL" describing the last days of Germany's dictator Adolph Hitler. The movie was very popular in Germany but there was a whole discussion going on whether Hitler's role wasn't made too friendly and human. Doesn't he appear as too nice in the movie ? I don't think so. The Fuehrer Bunker was not a concentration camp and Hilter dealt with his followers in a different way than with enemies. 

The movie itself is in German but has English subtitles !!!

Here is the second part



Tonight at 8pm, the official ceremonies for this year's national YOM HA’SHOAH - Holocaust Remembrance Day are going to start. There will be a siren sound tomorrow morning and the news are flooded with Holocaust stories. Please don't forget that tonight, shops, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, etc. will be closing early !

Today's headlines: NEVER AGAIN !



Israel Hayom

Yediyot Acharonot

The KUZARI and Greek Philosophy

The KUZARI - Sefer HA'KUZARI by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Until today, Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, is one of the most famous Jewish poets and philosophers. He used to live in the "Golden Age" of medieval Spain. At a time when the Muslims were still reigning the country and very much supporting intellectual studies. On the other hand, leading Christians did the opposite in northern Europe, as they tried to keep their citizens uneducated. Spain under Muslim rule was flourishing and for hundreds of years, Jews enjoyed their personal intellectual freedom. 

It was Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi writing the famous KUZARI in the early 12 century. In general, the book is about the king of the Khazars (a people which really existed around the 8 century). The king is searching for a new religion for his people and thus invited a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim and a philosopher in order to see which one of them has the best reasons believing in his theology. In the end, the Jew wins and the entire people of the Khazars converted to Judaism. 

It is true that the Khazars converted to Judaism but historians claim that the story Rabbi Yehudah tells in his book is nothing but a fairy tale. In real, the Khazars had different reasons to convert and it had nothing to do with an angel appearing to King Bulan. 

Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, however, saw a necessity in writing the book, as, in his days, Greek philosophy of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle became popular among intellectual circles. Rabbis had to act in order to prevent Jews from leaving Judaism and following Greek philosophical ideas. 

Greek philosophy shows quite a few differences to Judaism. First of all regarding the creation of our universe. Greek philosophers thought that the universe has always been in existence. Judaism, however, believes that G - d created any existence from nothing. Furthermore, the Greeks regard the human intellect as something extremely important and only by being intellectual, one is able to have a relationship with the creator. A theory the Rambam (Maimonides) later discussed in his "Guide for the Perplexed – Moreh Nevuchim". Just like Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi's KUZARI, the Rambam's "Moreh Nevuchim" consists mostly of philosophical discussions. The Rambam like to use Aristotle as an example and quotes him plenty of times. 

The KUZARI is the Jewish response to Greek philosophy as well as Karaite ideas. The Karaites mainly spread in the very early Middle Ages as well as in the days of Rabbi Yehudah. Already Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon wrote against Karaite ideology. Basically, Karaites believe in the written Thora but not in the oral law. On Shabbat they sit in the dark, as they don't prepare any light in advance. Furthermore, the Karaites have a problem with Olam HaBah and the etrenal existence of the Neshama. Rabbis felt like they had to act and prepare a response. 

The KUZARI is a unique and great response to the Karaites as well as to Greek philosophy fans. The book points out Jewish basic believes but the reader has to have a knowledge about Greek philosophical ideas. It is not enough that one is sitting around being so terrible intellectual when he doesn't do anything else. In Judaism, a Jew has the task to fulfill Torah Mitzvot in order to have a relationship with G - d. Judaism is a religion of doing / acting. 

One doesn't just read the KUZARI but studies the book carefully. With all kinds of commetaries and, if necessaries, for years. I have been trying to do so but, unfortunately, my time is limited. However, those who want to understand and appreciate the content of the KUZARI won't get around studying Greek philosophy too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some Jews want to be so holy but are just the opposite !


Sitting at a religious part of a public library in Tel Aviv, suddenly a religious Jew appeared and sat down across me. The young guy doesn't really look born religious but rather dresses like a newly Ba'al Teshuva. Those modern people suddenly putting on a black Kipa. 

He sits down and immediately surrounds himself with two huge Talmudic editions. I guess in order to not see me.:-)

I can live with that but then he puts on a pair of gigantic earplugs. Those which are used by factory workers. The next step is him starting to sing while studying the Talmud or whatever he has hidden behind his self - made "wall". 

I tried to complain by telling him nicely to shut up but he didn't listen to me. This made me feel like dumping the books over his head but, as it is the Talmud, it may hurt the books. :-)

Eventually I got up and moved my stuff over to another table. This made the guy waking up and he removed his Talmudic "wall". Now he is happy. I still hear him singing from far away but I am gone. It looks like he wanted the whole table to himself.

What kind of a self - appointed "religious" guy is this ? Studying Talmud but disturbing other people and making them leave ? In my eyes, his studies are totally unnecessary. He does one thing but disrespects Bejn Adam le'Chavero. 

Forgot to count the OMER ?


What happens when I forgot to count the OMER the night before and I suddenly remember the next morning ? Am I allowed to still count ?

Yes, I may still count but without saying the blessing ! I only count the day and weeks.

What happens when I only count the days but leave out the weeks ? When a Jew only counts the days he is still allowed to count with a blessing (Mischna Berurah 489:7).

FLYTILLA Activists leave Swastika at Ben Gurion Airport

The so - called peace activists who were storming Ben Gurion Airport at few days ago, left a special present at the wall of their detention cell. Finally those pro - Palestinians activists from Europe showed us their true anti - Semitic face !

More details HERE !

The fate of the 12 Jewish Tribes


A reader of my German religious book asked me about the fate of the lost Jewish Tribes. Here is my answer: 

Where did the Jewish Tribes disappear to and is there a chance of return ? The "official" version among haredi circles is that when Meshiach is coming, it will be him determining who belongs to which Tribe. It says that Meshiach will find out the Tribe with his sense of smell. It was this particular human sense, Adam and Eve didn't use in a negative way when eating from the apple in Gan Eden (Paradise). For instance, the two tasted it but didn't use their sense of smell. Nevertheless, I want to point out that the famous apple apparently wasn't an apple but something else, as the Talmud teaches us ! 

The Assyrians exiled Ten of the Twelve Jewish Tribes while occupying the northern part of Israel. The Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 110b discusses the topic. Also whether these Ten Tribes are supposed to return in the times of Meshiach. Some Rabbis say YES, other claim the opposite. The Ten Tribes would be lost, as they left G - d and turned to idol - worship. 

Those of you who are interested in the subject have to be aware of the fact that there are plenty of questionable websites claiming to know where exactly those Tribes are and who belongs to whom. Honestly, I don't believe in any of those sites. They either belong to fundamental Christians who are looking for a way into Judaism or to self - appointed scientists and researches making crazy claims in order to sell books and make money. The fact is that no one knows where those Tribes are today ! 

The Assyrians took the Tribes into Exile and those Jews may have ended in Iraq as well as in China or India. For the past two centuries, a real fashion has started among Indians. Claiming to be Jewish in order to immigrate to Israel. Israelis, on the other hand, consider those Indians as people who want to escape poverty and run after our tax money. In fact, there are parts of the national religious movement, including the questionable Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, supporting those Indian "Bnei Menashe". They bring them to Israel, convert them or don't and organize Indian weddings. The Indians, however, stick together in their own communities and you will find them in settlements such as Kfar Tapuach or Kiryat Arba or elsewhere. Many of them used to live in Gush Katif when it still belonged to Israel. "Israel needs cheap farm workers!", this is what a Rabbi once told me. 

I neither believe in the Bnei Menashe business nor in those people coming from Peru claiming that they are Jewish and from a lost Tribe. The "Lost Tribe Claim" has become a real fashion and mostly from people born into Third World Countries searching for a better life in the Western world. Israelis are "rassists" and neither those people from Peru nor the Indians will ever be accepted into society but rather live among themselves. I hardly ever see them in Tel Aviv. 

I wish I had more time dealing with the Tribes and everything connected. Unfortunately, I have to work and my time is limited.:-) On the other hand, I wouldn't concentrate too much on "Where are the Tribes and who belongs to whom ?". As I said before: We simply don't know and there is no way to determine who is who. Why not wait until Meshiach comes instead of running after false speculations ?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wisdom from the ZOHAR


"Life in this world is like the light of the day, which appears in a moment when the sun sets".
From the kabbalistic "Book of Splendor - ZOHAR"

Blossoming tree in Tel Aviv

Photo: Miriam Woelke