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Volume 1625: Bechukotai  20 Iyar 5776 28/05/2016

As Shabbat Approaches

"The Land of your Enemies will Devour You" [Vayikra 26:38]/Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B'Yavne

The above verse is referring not merely to physical defeat but also to a loss of national identity. The Meshech Chochma comments, "They will think that Berlin is Jerusalem." And this indeed is the harshest difficulty of the exile – when many people are convinced in philosophical or religious terms that after the destruction of the Temple the Jews have become nothing more than citizens of the lands in which they live, and that the only thing which is characteristic of them is the performance of the mitzvot. People called themselves "Germans of the Mosaic faith." The following are some examples that show how far matters went.

- The Chief Rabbi of the Liberal Jews of Hungary wrote: "Political Zionism which wants to establish a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael is in my opinion dangerous spiritual madness... The Zionist movement, which wants to transform Judaism from a religious sect into a nation, will never succeed in Hungary. We are Hungarians of the Jewish faith. Jewish nationalism does not exist. Everybody agrees to this, including the modern and Orthodox sectors." The same opinion was also voiced by the Orthodox rabbi.

- The Rabbinical Council of Germany also published a declaration, which stated as follows: "The aspirations of those who are called 'Zionists' to establish a national Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael are in conflict with the messianic mission of Judaism, as is included in the holy books and in later religious sources."

- According to the Chief Rabbi of Paris, "The Jewish nation is dead. The nationalistic framework is dead. But what has not died and will never die is the Jewish spirit."

- The Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen wrote that Zionism "is an insult to the patriotism of the Jews, who feel at home (in Germany). Both politically and emotionally, they feel that they are in their homeland... In all matters related to our spiritual lives we have a strong feeling of religious partnership that is closer than the relationship between Jewish messianic feeling and German humanism. Therefore, our feelings towards Germany and its people carries with it a character of close allegiance which is so strong that it is almost an expression of religious fervor."

- Many Jewish soldiers fought in the First World War. In a book that the German army published about letters sent by Jewish soldiers who fell in the war, the Minister of Defense at the time, Franz Josef Strauss, wrote the following in the introduction: "Reading these letters reveals a love for the homeland and patriotism which has long been lost to us. Moreover, in their letters from the front the Jewish soldiers who fought for Germany showed a deep-felt love for the homeland which is hard for us to understand at all in this day and age."

With this in mind, a Chassidic Rebbe came to the conclusion that it is easier to take the Jews out of exile than to take the exile out of the Jews. In this spirit, Theodore Herzl wrote, "Veteran prisoners do not have any desire to leave their prison." Herzl's assistant in London, Israel Zangwill, wrote, "Anti-Zionism can be hidden very easily under a mask of philosophy and it can wrap itself in religion, but it is really nothing more than the behavior of the prisoner who is hidden within each and every one of us, which has become our second nature. It is the yellow star which we were forced to wear for hundreds of years, and it remains to this day, sewn onto the lapels of our souls."

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Point Of View

Nine Thousand Falashmura Too Many: Enough is Enough!/Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

Pioneers on a Journey in the Desert

Next week, on Yom Yerushalayim, the Jews of Ethiopia commemorate a day of memorial for 4,000 people who lost their lives on their way through the long and treacherous deserts of Sudan to Eretz Yisrael. It is good and proper that the elders of the community and the government of Israel have decided to commemorate their actions on this date of the twenty-eighth of Iyar. Their eyes were constantly pointed in the direction of Jerusalem, and they fell on a wearying journey towards redemption with the goal-prayer " Orsalem" (Jerusalem) on their lips. I will never forget the image of a group of men and women from among the community of "Beita Yisrael" who gathered together for prayer in a shack serving as a synagogue, in a picturesque forest in the city of Addis Ababa. I visited there in the late 90's as part of my role as the head of the Conversion Authority, together with their friend and savior, Rabbi Menachem Waldman. I seem to remember that aside from the Kaisim and some intellectual youths, the prayers consisted of only a single word, which was repeated as a mantra and as an eternal goal: "Orsalem, Orsalem..."

The Ethiopian Aspect of the Broadening of the Coalition

Let us take a great leap forward from that past memory to current Israeli politics. The expansion of the coalition, changes in the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, and all of the ramifications of these events took place in part as a direct consequence of the Ethiopian situation. Likud MK's Avraham Neguise and David Amsalem threatened the Prime Minister and the coalition government, and they even refrained from taking part in some important votes in the Knesset, until a decision was made to bring another 9,000 Olim from Ethiopia, with a promise that this "will be the last group ever." This last phrase has been repeated in the last decade ten or more times, and the government was finally forced to give in to the strong pressure from many groups, including foreign governments and lobbyists, mainly from the United States.

Beita Yisrael and the Falashmura

Let us take a moment to clarify the background and some basic facts for our readers from my point of view. The Jews of Ethiopia have been in constant contact with the other Jews of the world for more than a hundred years. Many scholars have identified them, based among other things on Jewish sources from the era of the Geonim, as remnants of the Tribe of Dan, which was sent into exile beyond the "Dark Mountains" with the Ten Tribes before the destruction of the First Temple. Many halachic discussions have taken place about recognizing them as Jews, and the government of Israel granted them rights under the Law of Return, after a decision by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who based his reasoning on a responsa of the Radbaz in the sixteenth century. (The truth is that there might be some problems with this responsa, but "who will come to argue once the King has decided?") In the wake of Rabbi Yosef's ruling, tens of thousands of the Beita Yisrael community were brought to Israel in Operation Moshe (1984) and Operation Shlomo (1981), which were carried out with great initiative and much pomp. It is true that the Chief Rabbis at the time, Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliyahu, ruled that they must be immersed in a mikveh as a stringent move, but many of the people did not do so, since they were in any case accepted as full citizens, following the responsa of Rabbi Yosef.

However, the end has not yet come, even after these grandiose operations. Thousands of the Falashmura communities, who were originally part of Beita Yisrael but who converted to Christianity (and who clearly took part in mixed marriages with other Ethiopians) made their way to the camps of the Olim, waiting to be brought to Israel. Some of them were related to previous Olim from Beita Yisrael, but none of them had rights under the Law of Return. They were never recognized as Jews – and please do not allow yourselves to be confused about the facts. The government of Israel acted in a gesture of kindness, mainly in response to American charity organizations which preferred to send the people to the Middle East and not to California or Pennsylvania, and it decided to allow them to enter Israel on quotas as non-Jews, as a humanitarian act! The Falashmura have indeed been brought here slowly starting in the 90's, and they are required to go through a minimal conversion process suitable for their status, after they have graduated from special conversion ulpanim in absorption centers. And those who do not pass through this conversion are also allowed to stay, as a humanitarian gesture.

Now and then, activist groups have managed, with strong political pressure, to force the government to accept additional groups, using such formulas as, "Only another 5,000, that's all!" MK Avraham Neguise, who found himself in the position of a deciding factor within the coalition, raised the price to "another 9,000, and that's it." Clearly this is an overdose! This entire matter is excessive in the eyes of many Kaisim, among the elders of Beita Yisrael, who view the Falashmura as a foreign element and not as Jewish brothers. As far as I can see, the number of Falashmura is more than the number of original members of Beita Yisrael.

(Written after the end of Shabbat, Torah portion of Behar.)

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Notes From The Haftarah

"We have not Lost our Hope" /Rabbi Oury Cherki, Machon Meir, Rabbi of Beit Yehuda Congregation, Jerusalem

The complaint by Yirmiyahu the Prophet about the scourge of idol worship which was practiced by Bnei Yisrael takes on a special meaning in view of the spiritual revolution that took place during his lifetime. At the end of the era of the Second Temple, those with the intuition of the Holy Spirit were able to sense that the end of paganism was drawing near, or at least that it was about to become much weaker than it had been in the past. "G-d, my strength and my stronghold and my refuge, the nations will come to You from the ends of the earth, and they will say: The heritage of our fathers was a lie, vanity without any good reason" [Yirmiyah 16:19].

This prophecy can be linked to the appearance of critical thinking which was expressed in the development of Greek science and philosophy, and which eradicated from the world the mythological outlook which at the time ruled supreme in the realm of the human spirit. Our sages link this transformation to the exit of the holy Shechina from the world (in the form of a flaming lion cub which fled from the Holy of Holies) and the end of the era of prophecy (Yoma 69b). Indirectly, this led to the stifling of the desire for idol worship among Yisrael in particular and to a great extent among the rest of the world.

In a world where paganism is about to lose its relevance, we might wonder why it is specifically the nation of G-d which continues to worship idols. And that is the basis for the words of rebuke by the prophet: "Will man be able to make a god for himself? But they are not gods!" [16:20]. That is, even for those among the other nations who worshipped idols this approach has begun to lose its appeal. Could it be that this fault is linked to a high-quality benefit? After all, the nation of Yisrael is considered "stiff-necked" not only in the negative but also in the active sense, in that they do not rush to repent "and they are not eager to accept a rebuke" [Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, Chapter 14]. Bnei Yisrael will not change their minds until they are strongly convinced by the arguments of the one who rebukes them. They will not be convinced by mere oratorical skills.

The stiff-necked nature of Yisrael is the reason that its history is so full of severe crises consisting of destruction and rebuilding, which cause it to change its very nature as time goes on. "Therefore, I declare to them this time – I will tell them about My hand and My might, and they will know that My name is G-d." [16:21].

The nation of Yisrael is subject to extreme heights and depths. "When you perform the will of G-d no people can have control over you, but when you do not perform the will of G-d you will be handed over to an inferior nation" [Ketuvot 66b]. This constant zigzag could threaten the very existence of Yisrael. However, a safety mechanism was put in place in advance which guarantees the existence of the nation. This is the heavenly Temple – the desire of the Holy One, Blessed be He, to be revealed within history by the nation of Yisrael, a desire which appeared at the very start of Creation. This consoling idea is described by Yirmiyahu in the Haftarah as "A Throne of Honor raised up from the very beginning, the site of our holy Temple" [17:12]. And this is our source which gives us hope: "G-d is the hope of Yisrael" [17:13].

Thus, in the end, the Haftarah of rebuke ends on an optimistic note: "Help me and I will be saved, for You are my praise" [17:14].

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When The Children Open Their Hearts

Look what Happened Just because of a Nail /Meirav Maggeni,
Author of Content and Stories in Chemed, the Religious School System

"Whoever doesn't come this afternoon to help us gather wood will not be allowed to join our campfire," I said to the girls before we went our separate ways at the end of a hard day of study.

Mira said, "But I have a piano lesson." Daphna said, "I promised to look after my little brothers." I was upset, and I said to them, "What will happen to our campfire on Lag B'Omer?" Chaya tried to calm us down, and she suggested that all those who could come would do so, and the others would find some other way to help in the preparations. She explained, "We have to get lists of songs ready, to divide up who will bring what food, and to prepare games and stories..."

But I did not agree. "We need everybody to be there, no exceptions! We cannot drag heavy pieces of wood when only some of the girls come to help! And anyway, it's not fair and not right to have only some of the girls drag around all the wood. I also have much nicer things that I could be doing this afternoon. We have to have a hard and fast rule: Whoever doesn't help gather the trees cannot participate, and that's all!" And I stomped out of the room...

This is an argument that we have almost every day, but I think that I am absolutely right. In my eyes, everybody must be equal, and nobody should get any special treatment. In principle, the time has come for this class of girls to work together if we all think that the campfire is important.

Promptly at 4 pm I got to the oak tree, breathing heavily from running, and right away I saw that some of the girls were missing. I said angrily, "Those who didn't come cannot come to our bonfire! Now, let's get to work!"

We divided up into teams and started looking for wood. Ruth and I looked behind the storage area of the local grocery store, but there was nothing left there. We went on, and suddenly I saw a large board standing off to one side. I ran towards it as if it was a treasure, and then I saw that there were some boys who also saw the board and were running towards it. I got there first and I jumped onto the board, with both feet. And then I felt a very sharp pain. There was a nail in the board, and it went through my shoe and into my foot.

I screamed from the pain, and it took a great effort to get the nail out of my foot. Limping on one foot and with help from my friends, I managed to get home. I washed my foot and I hoped that the next day I would be able to walk again. But in the morning I did not feel well, and I couldn't get out of bed. Imma put her hand on my forehead, and she immediately said that I had a high fever. Then she looked at my foot, and she was shocked by the sight. It was swollen and full of pus. We saw a doctor, who gave me medicine and told me that I was not allowed to get out of bed. Imma gave me a bunch of interesting books and some delicious cookies, but I was in a very bad mood. All I could think about was our bonfire.

As I lay there, my thoughts were jumbled by the medicine, and they came to me one after another.

I heard familiar voices. "Go away." There they were: Ruth, Daphna, and Mira, pointing at me and shouting. "You didn't gather any wood, you can't come to the campfire!" My friends were dancing around a huge bonfire, to the music of a guitar. They ate marshmallows. But they wouldn't let me come close.

"Please let me come," I begged. "It's not my fault." And Mira started to laugh. "Is it my fault that I have a piano lesson?" And Daphna asked me, "Is it my fault that my mother told me to take care of the children?"

And I picked up my foot, shouting, "My foot!" I wanted them to pay attention and to understand...

I opened up my eyes, and Imma was there, patting me on my head and wiping sweat from my forehead.

The next day I felt a lot better. The swelling had gone down and the pain was also much less. And I was even used to taking the medicine. But there was another reason for the way I felt good. Would you like to know what it was?

Sabba Avraham had come to visit his sick granddaughter! After he filled me with a mound of strawberry chocolates he suddenly looked very serious, and he said: "Whenever something not nice happens to us, there is always a special present hiding behind it. If we can only figure out what it is, we will be very happy."

When Sabba left, I was left with my own thoughts. What good result could come out of my painful experience? And then, suddenly, I knew! I discovered my present!

Two days later I went back to school. The girls were very happy to see me. And before we all went home, Chaya called out – "We will all meet by the old oak tree to gather wood at 4 pm."

But I declared: "Of course I will come, and I will be very careful not to touch any old nails. And anybody who can't come should think of some other way to contribute to our campfire." All my friends were very surprised to hear me say this. "The whole class is invited to come to our campfire!"

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Holy & Secular

Is there a Jewish Nation? /Rabbi Amichai Gordin
Yeshivat Har Etzion and Shaalvim High School

Professor Chana Yablonka, the head of the Jewish History Department in Ben Gurion University, said the following in an interview on the radio on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day: "A memorial ceremony is an unusual event... It is attended by the best individuals of the Jewish nation: Jews, Arabs, residents of the Galil and residents of the central region. The nation of Yisrael flows into the amphitheater... It leaves us with a feeling of collectivism."

* * * * * *

Nimrod Nir is the son of Judy Shalom Nir Moses, a prominent media figure. He was raised by the former minister Silvan Shalom and not by his natural father, who had passed away. In the last elections he voted for the Joint Arab List. In an interview in the newspaper Haaretz, this son of prominent figures in our land, intimately involved in wealth and the ruling class of the country, explained his vote:

"For me, to be a Jew means to serve as the ideal for enlightenment and humanitarianism in the world. In this era of regular incitement against them ... I voted for the Joint List, for a quarter of my brothers who suffer from dehumanization."

* * * * * *

These two speakers, who stem from the intimate part of the "white tribe," have expressed an opinion which is not unusual within Israeli society. For them, the "nation of Yisrael" is a group of people who happen right now to be living in Eretz Yisrael. When Nimrod Nir says that the Arabs in the land are a quarter of all his brothers, he is saying that the Arabs who live in the land are his brothers. He is also saying that the Jews who live abroad are not his brothers (if we would take into account all the Jews who live abroad, the Israeli Arabs would not be a quarter of the total but only one-eighth.)

When the State of Israel was established, there was a heated argument about the question "Who is a Jew?" Everybody agreed that we are Jews, but the dispute was about how to define Judaism. Is it traditional Judaism, or Judaism as it is practiced in Eretz Yisrael? But now the dispute is no longer about the question "Who is Jewish?" but rather concerns the question, "Does Judaism exist at all?"

The precious brothers quoted above do not define themselves as Jews but rather as human beings. Their Jewish identity is momentary and a passing element. Their national identities are just as important to them as the identity of the soccer team which they support and the area where they live. For Yablonka, there are residents of the Galil and of the central region, and there are Arabs and Jews. The "Galil" identity is temporary and has no internal significance, and the same is true of her identity as a Jew.

This viewpoint draws its basis from the post-modern approach, which claims that there is no such thing as a "nationality." Nationality is a temporary collection of people who have joined forces as a way of living their lives. As far as these two people are concerned, people who zealously guard over their Jewish heritage can be compared to people who are zealous in their support of the Jerusalem Beitar soccer team. It's nice to support the team, but one should be careful not to exaggerate too much.

There is no reason in the world for a fan of the Jerusalem Beitar team not to marry a fan of the Tel Aviv Macabi team. Similarly, they claim that there is no reason at all for a Jew to refrain from marrying a Gentile. We are all examples of the human race, that and no more or less.

When David Ben Gurion wanted to justify our right to this land, he based his argument on what is written in the Tanach. This new approach can never use the Tanach as a basis for any claims. We are all human, and the term "Jewish identity" has no significance of any kind. And that is why when Amos Oz wants to explain our right to this land he uses a parable of a board which is floating in the ocean. When a person is in dire straits in the middle of the sea (such as being a Holocaust survivor) he is allowed to push his way onto a passing life saver (Eretz Yisrael) that belongs to somebody else (the Arabs in our land). According to Amos Oz, our right to this land stems from the fact that we were refugees who came here. There is no reason to become excited about any link between us and an ancient nation which lived here for thousands of years.

And that characterizes the dispute which continues to this day. Do we belong to a nation known as the Jews, or is the truth that there is no such thing as nations or nationalities, and every man has his own free choice to decide whatever he wants.

* * * * * *

People will say to me, you are exaggerating. You took two specific examples and around them built up an entire thesis. Well, I invite you to study the document published by the Education Corps of the IDF which purports to summarize the formal position of the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces. "Israeli-Jewish identity: Identity is dynamic and is continuously in a process of growth and taking shape. It is not a given or a constant factor. Rather, it develops from social relationships, either in friendly encounters or out of strife... Replies to questions of identity are not permanent or known a priori..." [The Principles of the Education Corps, pages 48-54].

These very serious words of the Education Corps are written in a pleasant and gentle way, in an effort to strengthen a person's personal region of comfort. A person establishes his own developing identity. However, we must not let the gentle tones dull our reaction to the serious nature of the IDF's official position.

The Israel Defense Forces operates under the basic assumption that there is no absolute and abstract national identity, and in particular no Jewish identity. Our identity is merely a matter of our own personal choices.

The official outlook of the IDF means that Nir Nir is right when he defines the Arab citizens as a quarter of his brothers. Identity is not something permanent and given a priori, it changes and takes shape in accordance with our encounters with other people. For Nimrod Nir, to be a Jew means to be enlightened and humanistic. That is how he defines his identity. And the identity is not constant but rather develops as time goes on. What defines Prof. Yablonka's identity is the solidarity that she feels with her Arab neighbors. "Identity is not an a priori given or constant. Rather, it develops as a result of social relationships." There is no such thing as a Jewish identity, it all comes from the mind.

For reactions and comments:

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Zomet At The Crossroads

Electric Shavers /The Zomet Institute

Now that Lag B'Omer has come and gone, many men would like to remove the facial hair that accumulated on their faces, and electric shavers have become a desired item. What is the halacha with respect to these machines? It is well known that shaving the face with a razor is prohibited by Torah law, but everybody agrees that scissors can be used even if they give a shave as close as a razor.

Are the electric shavers of today considered razors or scissors? From the point of view of results, in both cases the hair is "destroyed" – that is, all of the different types of machines do not leave any hair behind. However, from the point of view of how the machine operates there are two distinct possibilities.

In electric shavers, there is a sharp blade which cuts the hair underneath a metal screen. In a machine where the blade cuts the hair without any contact with the screen, this can be considered the direct action of a razor. But when the blade comes into contact with the screen such that it participates in the cutting action, there are two surfaces which work together. And such a machine will be considered scissors and not a razor. Specific models which have been checked have been approved by the Zomet Institute.

Contact Zomet for details.

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Riddle of the Week

Bechukotai /Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"

I am a unique word that is found in blessings,

An additional name for one of the wars,

And a Moshav in the southern Shefeila.

(With thanks to Meir Malka of Tzefat, who sent us this riddle.)

The answers to last week's riddle it was - Four which are in the same group do not appear in sequence. (They are mentioned in three consecutive verses.)

In the sequence of years for Shemitta, there are four consecutive years: the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, and the ninth. In the Torah portion, these years appear in a different order: seventh, sixth, eighth, and ninth. This sequence is found in Vayikra 25:20-22. "And if you ask, what will we eat in the seventh year? After all, we will not plant or gather our produce. But I will command my blessing for you in the sixth year, and the produce will be sufficient for three years. And you will plant in the eighth year, and you will continue to eat from the old grains until the ninth year. Until its produce comes, you will eat old grain."

(With thanks to Asher Tze'iri from Petach Tikvah, who sent us the riddle.)

* * * * * *

We will be happy to publish your riddles here, with proper credit to the author. Send your suggestions to the e-mail address given below.

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