Monthly Archives: August 2019

Why Jews Must Remember History

Image result for torah scroll
by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

In Eikev, Moses sets out a political doctrine of such wisdom that it can never become redundant or obsolete. He does it by way of a pointed contrast between the ideal to which Israel is called, and the danger with which it is faced. This is the ideal:

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and revering Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land — a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. (Deut. 8:6–10)

And this is the danger:

Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws, and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. … You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deut. 8:11–18)

The two passages follow directly on from one another. They are linked by the phrase “when you have eaten and are satisfied,” and the contrast between them is a fugue between the verbs “to remember” and “to forget.”

Good things, says Moses, will happen to you. Everything, however, will depend on how you respond. Either you will eat and be satisfied and bless God, remembering that all things come from Him — or you will eat and be satisfied and forget to whom you owe all this. You will think it comes entirely from your own efforts: “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” Although this may seem a small difference, it will, says Moses, make all the difference. This alone will define your future as a nation in its own land.

Moses’ argument is brilliant and counter-intuitive. You may think, he says, that the hard times are behind you. You have wandered for 40 years without a home. There were times when you had no water, no food. You were exposed to the elements. You were attacked by your enemies. You may think this was the test of your strength. It was not. The real challenge is not poverty but affluence, not slavery but freedom, not homelessness but home.

Many nations have been lifted to great heights when they faced difficulty and danger. They fought battles and won. They came through crises — droughts, plagues, recessions, defeats — and were toughened by them. When times are hard, people grow. They bury their differences. There is a sense of community and solidarity, of neighbors and strangers pulling together. Many people who have lived through a war know this.

The real test of a nation is not if it can survive a crisis but if it can survive the lack of a crisis. Can it stay strong during times of ease and plenty, power and prestige? That is the challenge that has defeated every civilization known to history. Let it not, says Moses, defeat you.

Moses’ foresight was little less than stunning. The pages of history are littered with the relics of nations that seemed impregnable in their day, but which eventually declined and fell and lapsed into oblivion — and always for the reason Moses prophetically foresaw. They forgot.

Memories fade. People lose sight of the values they once fought for — justice, equality, independence, freedom. The nation, its early battles over, becomes strong. Some of its members grow rich. They become lax, self-indulgent, over-sophisticated, decadent. They lose their sense of social solidarity. They no longer feel it their duty to care for the poor, the weak, the marginal, and the losers. They begin to feel that such wealth and position as they have is theirs by right.

The bonds of fraternity and collective responsibility begin to fray. The less well-off feel an acute sense of injustice. The scene is set for either revolution or conquest. Societies succumb to external pressures when they have long been weakened by internal decay. That was the danger Moses foresaw and about which he warned.

His analysis has proved true time and again, and it has been restated by several great analysts of the human condition. In the 14th century, the Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) argued that when a civilization becomes great, its elites get used to luxury and comfort, and the people as a whole lose what he called their asabiyyah, their social solidarity. The people then become prey to a conquering enemy, less civilized than they are but more cohesive and driven.

The Italian political philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) described a similar cycle: People, he said, “first sense what is necessary, then consider what is useful, next attend to comfort, later delight in pleasures, soon grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad squandering their estates.” Affluence begets decadence.

In the 20th century, few said it better than Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy. He believed that the two great peaks of civilization were reached in ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy, but he was honest enough to see that the very features that made them great contained the seeds of their own demise:

What had happened in the great age of Greece happened again in Renaissance Italy: traditional moral restraints disappeared, because they were seen to be associated with superstition; the liberation from fetters made individuals energetic and creative, producing a rare fluorescence of genius; but the anarchy and treachery which inevitably resulted from the decay of morals made Italians collectively impotent, and they fell, like the Greeks, under the domination of nations less civilized than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion.

Moses, however, did more than prophesy and warn. He also taught how the danger could be avoided, and here too his insight is as relevant now as it was then. He spoke of the vital significance of memory for the moral health of a society.

Throughout history there have been many attempts to ground ethics in universal attributes of humanity. Some, like Immanuel Kant, based it on reason. Others based it on duty. Bentham rooted it in consequences (“the greatest happiness for the greatest number”). David Hume attributed it to certain basic emotions: sympathy, empathy, compassion. Adam Smith predicated it on the capacity to stand back from situations and judge them with detachment (“the impartial spectator”). Each of these has its virtues, but none has proved fail-safe.

Judaism took, and takes, a different view. The guardian of conscience is memory.

Time and again the verb zachor, “remember,” resonates through Moses’ speeches in Deuteronomy:

  • Remember that you were slaves in Egypt … therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Shabbat day. (Deut. 5:15)
  • Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years… (Deut. 8:2)
  • Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert… (Deut. 9:7)
  • Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt. (Deut. 24:9)
  • Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. (Deut. 25:17)
  • Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past. (Deut. 32:7)

As Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi notes in his great treatise Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, “Only in Israel and nowhere else is the injunction to remember felt as a religious imperative to an entire people.”

Civilizations begin to die when they forget. Israel was commanded never to forget.

In an eloquent passage, the American scholar Jacob Neusner once wrote:

Civilization hangs suspended, from generation to generation, by the gossamer strand of memory. If only one cohort of mothers and fathers fails to convey to its children what it has learned from its parents, then the great chain of learning and wisdom snaps. If the guardians of human knowledge stumble only one time, in their fall collapses the whole edifice of knowledge and understanding.

The politics of free societies depends on the handing on of memory. That was Moses’ insight, and it speaks to us with undiminished power today.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. The author of over 30 books, he can be followed on social media @RabbiSacks or at

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Posted by on August 31, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Translation of Evil

See, I give you today the blessing and the curse

Deuteronomy 11:26

“The blessing and the curse”: all phenomena, and all human activity, seem subject to categorization by these two most basic definers of reality. A development is either positive or negative, an occurrence either fortunate or tragic, an act either virtuous or iniquitous.

Indeed, the principle of “free choice”—that man has been granted the absolute autonomy to choose between good and evil—lies at the heart of the Torah’s most basic premise: that human life is purposeful. That our deeds are not predetermined by our nature or any universal law, but are the product of our independent volition, making us true “partners with G‑d in creation” whose choices and actions effect the continuing development of the world as envisioned by its Creator.

Philosophers and theologians of all ages have asked: From where does this dichotomy stem? Does evil come from G‑d? If G‑d is the exclusive source of all, and is the essence of good, can there be evil in His work? If He is the ultimate unity and singularity, can there exist such duality within His potential?

In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “From the Supernal One’s word there cannot emerge both evil and good” (Lamentations 3:38). Yet the Torah unequivocally states: “See, I am giving you today the blessing and the curse”—I, and no other, am the exclusive source and grantor of both.


One approach to understanding the Torah’s conception of “the blessing and the curse” is to see how this verse is rendered by the great translators of the Torah.

Aramaic, which was widely spoken by the Jewish people for fifteen centuries, is the “second language” of the Torah. It is the language of the Talmud, and even of several biblical chapters. There are also a number of important Aramaic translations of the Torah, including one compiled at the end of the first century CE by Onkelos, a Roman convert to Judaism who was a nephew of the emperor Titus; and a translation compiled a half-century earlier by the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel.

In Onkelos’ translation, the Hebrew word kelalah in the above-quoted verse is translated literally as “curse” (levatin in the Aramaic). But in Rabbi Yonatan’s translation, the verse appears thus: “See, I give you today the blessing and its transmutation.” The author is not merely avoiding the unsavory term “curse”—he himself uses that term but three verses later in Deuteronomy 11:29, and in a number of other places in the Torah where the word kelalah appears. Also, if Rabbi Yonatan just wanted to avoid using a negative expression, he would have written “the blessing and its opposite” or some similar euphemism. The Aramaic word he uses, chilufa, means “exchange” and “transmutation,” implying that “the curse” is something which devolves from the blessing and is thus an alternate form of the same essence.

In the words of our sages, “No evil descends from heaven”—only two types of good. The first is a “blatant” and obvious good—a good which can be experienced only as such in our lives. The other is also good, for nothing but good can “emerge from the Supernal One”; but it is a “concealed good,” a good that is subject to how we choose to receive and experience it. Because of the free choice granted us, it is in our power to distort these heavenly blessings into curses, to subvert these positive energies into negative forces.

Onkelos’s is the more “literal” of the two translations. Its purpose is to provide the student with the most rudimentary meaning of the verse. The verse, in the Hebrew, says “the blessing and the curse,” and Onkelos renders it as such in the Aramaic. Anyone searching for the deeper significance of the negative in our world must refer to those Torah texts which address such issues.

On the other hand, the translation of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel provides a more esoteric interpretation of the Torah, incorporating many Midrashic and Talmudic insights. So instead of simply calling “the curse” a curse, it alludes to the true significance of what we experience as evil in our lives. In essence, Rabbi Yonatan is telling us, what G‑d gives is good; but G‑d has granted us the ability to experience both “the blessing and its transmutation”—to divert His goodness to destructive ends, G‑d forbid.

This also explains why Rabbi Yonatan translates kelalah as “transmutation” in the above-cited verse (verse 26) and in a later verse (verse 28), yet in verse 29 he renders it literally as “curse,” in the manner of Onkelos. In light of the above, the reason for the differentiation is clear: the first two verses speak of G‑d’s giving us both a blessing and a “curse”; but G‑d does not give curses—only the option and capability to “transmute” His blessings. On the other hand, the third verse (“And it shall come to pass, when the L‑rd your G‑d has brought you into the land . . . you shall declare the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Eival”) speaks of our articulation of the two pathways of life, where the “concealed good” can be received and perceived as an actual “curse.”


On a deeper level, the different perspectives on the nature of evil expressed by these two Aramaic translations of the Torah reflect the spiritual-historical circumstances under which they were compiled.

Galut, the state of physical and spiritual displacement in which we have found ourselves since the destruction of the Holy Temple and our exile from our land nearly two thousand years ago, is a primary cause for the distortion of G‑d’s blessing into “its transmutation.” When the people of Israel inhabited the Holy Land and experienced G‑d’s manifest presence in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they experienced the divine truth as a tactual reality. The intrinsic goodness and perfection of all that comes from G‑d was openly perceivable and accessible.

Galut, on the other hand, is a state of being which veils and distorts our soul’s inner vision, making it far more difficult to relate to the divine essence in every event and experience of our lives. Galut is an environment in which the “concealed good” that is granted us is all too readily transmuted into negativity and evil.

The translation by Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, also called the “Jerusalem Translation,”1 was compiled in the Holy Land in the generation before the Temple’s destruction. The very fact that its authorship was necessary—that for many Jews the language of the Torah was no longer their mother tongue, and the word of G‑d was accessible only through the medium of a vernacular—bespeaks the encroaching galut. The “concealed good” was already being experienced as something other than an expression of G‑d’s loving relationship with us.

Still, in Rabbi Yonatan’s day the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem. The descending veil of galut was translucent still, allowing the recognition, if not the experience, of the true nature of reality. One was aware that what one perceived as negative in one’s life was a distortion of the divine goodness.

The Onkelos Translation was compiled a generation later, by the nephew of the Roman emperor who destroyed the Holy Temple and drove the people of Israel into exile. In Onkelos’ day, the galut had intensified to the point that the prevalent reality was that of a world dichotomized by good and evil, a world in which the “concealed good” is regarded as simply “the curse.”

But it is precisely such a world that offers the ultimate in freedom of choice, which, in turn, lends true import and significance to the deeds of man. It is precisely such a world that poses the greater—and more rewarding—challenge: to reveal the underlying goodness, unity and perfection of G‑d’s creation.


1.Certain editions of the Chumash include both a “Translation of Yonatan ben Uziel” as well as a “Jerusalem Translation.” According to most commentaries, these are two versions of the same work.

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Posted by on August 31, 2019 in Uncategorized


Am I Like Rachel Dolezal?

Yegór Ósipov-Gipsh

By Avraham Osipov-Gipsh

‘I performed Jewish. I lived Jewish. And nobody owns the right to tell me if I am Jewish or not.’

I was born three years after the Soviet Union was dissolved, in Tatarstan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia, some 1,100 kilometers east of Moscow. Both my parents are Russian. However, I am Jewish.

When I was 11, my parents divorced and I stayed with my mother. She soon met another man, who later became her partner, and then her husband. He was Jewish. Or, rather, I was told that he was Jewish. “What should I do with it?” I thought, because I never heard of anything called “a nation,” or “an ethnicity” before. I started questioning him about what it meant, but he, being one of millions of Soviet Jews whose parents and grandparents had abandoned all Jewish practices, was unable to tell me much. I started learning on my own from books, mainly about contemporary Israel.

The following year I went to a new school on the outskirts of Moscow. Students there were split into two competing categories—guys from the North Caucasian republics of Russia and those who considered themselves properly “white” Russian and looked down on anyone who was “black,” like the kids from the Caucasus. Ethnic clashes occurred daily after school. I told everyone I was Jewish. This placed me outside the Russian/North Caucasian binary but created a minority of one. I endured two years of anti-Semitic mockery and some physical violence. Somehow, though, I stuck with my Jewish self-identity. It was public at school and private at home: I no longer talked to my stepfather about his Jewishness, or mine.

When I was 14, I started attending a different school. This was a well-known, competitive Moscow school, where many of the students were Jewish, some also coming from families of former dissidents. No one ever asked if I was Jewish: It seemed assumed. Over the years, though, some differences emerged between me and the other Jewish teenagers at the school—most of them had at least a surface familiarity with Jewish ritual, and most had relatives in Israel. I made up a back story to explain these things away. In this story, it was my biological father who was Jewish (as was my stepfather). We had lived in Tel Aviv until I was 5. I even found a preschool that I had supposedly “attended.” Everyone, literally everyone—except for my parents—believed that I was Jewish and a former Israeli: My friends were hanging out with a fellow Jew, my lecturers were teaching me among many Jews, my girlfriend was dating a fellow Jew. Later, during my second year at university, my tutor, a prominent Russian scholar, said to me, “You must be careful in your statements because you represent the Israeli community among the students of our university.” I indeed represented it, though the Israeli community, if there was one at my university, hardly knew about it.

I was maturing, and so was my Jewish identity. I was reading books, going to events and talking to people, everything connected with what I found the most appealing and interesting part of Jewish history—European prewar Jewry and the modern State of Israel. I knew more about Israeli culture and history than most of my peers. I was accepted as Jewish at the Jewish cultural center in Moscow, through which I got free Hebrew lessons. I was invited to Jewish holidays and ignored those invitations because I was  unfamiliar with the ritual and also because I felt I was not ready to join in religious ceremony. I was among five people present at a meeting held by the dean of the faculty of Jewish studies at Moscow State University, where scholarship options for Jewish students were discussed. I worked for a Jewish media outlet. I was living a secular Jewish life, but I also happen to believe in God. This meant that eventually I would ask a congregation to accept me for giur, a conversion ceremony.

I did it last October, when I moved to Amsterdam to study there. I was now 19. After three meetings with different rabbis and seven months of processing my request, the Liberal Congregation of The Netherlands (Liberaal Joods Gemeente) rejected my request for conversion. Officially I was told that LJG “prioritized the process for Jewish father, Jewish background or a Jewish spouse.” Another reason was, as a rabbi has explained to me a month later, that, roughly speaking, I am not religious enough. Later, the LGBT shul, Beit HaChidush, rejected me as well. Thus I learned that I did not have a “Jewish background” despite years of living as someone who was Jewish.

Over the months when my case was being discussed, my girlfriend and I broke up and I decided to tell her who I really was. But then I realized there was nothing to tell. There was no story, no “dual life”: just me, my identity, and my life. I told everything to her, and then—in a few weeks—to my closest friends, as well as to my parents. I felt liberated as never before. They finally knew what kind of Jew I am.


What is my Jewishness? What was it? Could I have picked another identity when I was 12 years old and wanted to be different from the others if my mother’s partner had been, say, Georgian? Probably.

If being Jewish is a matter of biology, my DNA test clearly tells me I have 0 percent of Jewish ancestry (I have checked).

If being Jewish is a matter of a family, then I am not Jewish, because I was not raised Jewish. And I am, because my stepfather, who has indeed raised me, is Jewish.

If being Jewish is a question of religion, then I am not Jewish, because I never took part in religious ceremony, I never attended a service at a synagogue before moving to The Netherlands, I never studied at a Jewish religious school. And yet I am, because I believe in the Jewish God.

If being Jewish is a matter of social recognition, then I am not Jewish, because Dutch congregations refused to accept me as a Jew. And I am because everyone who knows me in Russia knows me as a Jew.

If being Jewish is a matter of belonging to a nation, then I am not Jewish, because there is not a single document that says I am Jewish. And I am because every time a terrorist attack happens in Israel, I rush to call my friends there, and because I consider the occupation of Palestinian lands, which must end, and the Israeli housing crisis, to be pressing social issues of my time.

If being Jewish is a matter of appearance and visibility, then I—with blond hair and Scandinavian looks—am not Jewish. And I am, because sometimes I wear a kippah and it feels just right.

If being Jewish is a matter of culture, then I am not Jewish: I am not against intermarriage, I don’t do “things that only Jews do,” I am not acquainted with Jewish theater and Jewish cuisine. And I am, because I love Agnon and the Barry sisters, Waltz With Bashir and Rutu Modan. Because I feel Israel is my home, a big shul, and I will strive to make it a better, more tolerant, and peaceful place.

If being Jewish is a matter of anti-Semitism, then I am not Jewish, because the hatred I experienced would have been there if I had “othered” myself in any other way, not necessarily as a Jew. And I am, because I was told I should not exist because Jews, and not other group, rule the world.

If being Jewish is a matter of self-determination, then I am not only Jewish. I am European, Russian, white, bisexual, liberal, post-soviet, middle-class, a student. I am dozens of other identities. And I am Jewish.


Following the story of Rachel Dolezal this week I was thinking about how the uncertainty experienced by a person who has to perform many identities simultaneously is compensated with locating oneself in certain and defined boundaries, be those national, sexual, racial, social, or another sort. In case of Rachel Dolezal, this mechanism is extended to other person: She is told she can be either black or white, and this must be clear to society around her.

During one of the Amsterdam meetings with a rabbi I was told by a member of the congregation that I do not know what being Jewish is, that I was born in a time of little anti-Semitism, that I didn’t experience “enough” of it. The same is being said about Rachel Dolezal—that before becoming a black woman she wasn’t a black girl, that she didn’t live a black life but performed one. I can’t and do not want to get into Rachel Dolezal’s head. But her intentions do not matter: Nobody exclusively owns blackness and no one can tell Rachel Dolezal who she is, as well as demand from her to decide who she is. It was not only she who “performed” black, it was everyone around her who performed her blackness, too.

In Judaism, a person is considered Jewish if born from a Jewish mother or has undergone a conversion procedure. Speaking in nonreligious definitions, the biggest institution that believes it has the right to determine who is a Jew is the State of Israel. In 1962, Father Oswald Daniel Rufeisen (“Brother Daniel”), a Jew who converted to Catholicism during WWII, applied for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. During the hearings, four justices intended to set, as one scholarly version describes it, “some objective boundaries to the concept of Jewishness,” while Haim Cohen was the only justice arguing that in the absence of secular criteria of who is a Jew, such a definition should be “a subjective test.” The court ruled 4 to 1 that a Jew who voluntarily converted to Christianity cannot be considered a Jew under the secular Law of Return. Oswald Rufeisen was denied Israeli citizenship, but no “objective boundaries” were set to the secular definition of who is a Jew. Israeli Law of Return is based on the Nuremberg Laws’ definition of a Jew, though more than 70 years passed since the Holocaust. For Israel, it is still Nazi Germany that defines who is a Jew and who is not.

Some weeks ago my stepfather and my mother received aliyah visas to Israel, which will automatically turn into Israeli citizenship when they pass through customs at Ben-Gurion airport this July. Under Nuremberg Laws, my mother, who never expressed a wish of converting to Judaism or acquire a Jewish identity, is Israeli and will now be treated as a Jew every moment she will take out her Israeli passport everywhere in the world. Her voluntary decision to enter a Jewish family made her Jewish in the eyes of the law. But my voluntary decision and earnest desire didn’t: I, in turn, will be encountering obstacles to being recognized as Jewish on every step, both in Israel and outside of it.

But for me it doesn’t matter anymore. I performed Jewish. I lived Jewish. And nobody owns the right to tell me if I am Jewish or not, or demand me to choose. Not anti-Semites, not a single congregation, not the State of Israel.

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Posted by on August 31, 2019 in Uncategorized


El Pueblo Elegido

Image result for Franz Rosenzweig

Alicia Korenbrot

Hace cien años Franz Rosenzweig terminó de escribir su libro más importante, “La Estrella de la Redención”, a traves del cual trazó nuevos caminos en las preocupaciones por el futuro de la teología y la filosofía judías. Entre los temas que trata ocupa un lugar decisivo el saberse pueblo elegido de los judíos. Aceptar una elección implica un compromiso, una obligación que se debe cumplir puntualmente. Ser elegido por Dios ha sido la ambición de muchos pueblos, pero, ¿ser elegido para qué? Es una pregunta fundamental en el pensamiento de Franz Rosenzweig, uno de los filósofos existencialistas religiosos más importantes del siglo pasado y uno de los teólogos más influyentes hasta el presente. Nació el 25 de diciembre de 1886 en Kassel, Alemania y murió en Frankfurt am Maine en 1929, el 10 de diciembre. Su familia asimilada tenía una buena posición económica y social, sus dos hijos recibieron una educación rica en literatura y arte, pobre en judaísmo.

Como parte de un grupo de jóvenes, inquietos, brillantes que encontraron su camino por los senderos del cristianismo, también el joven Franz estaba por convertirse al cristianismo en 1913.

Estudiaba medicina cuando decidió cambiarla por filosofía, se oponía a Hegel y al idealismo alemán, se inclinaba por el existencialismo que quería entender la realidad a partir de la experiencia y los intereses de la persona concreta, individual y no mediante conceptos abstractos.

En octubre de 1913 asistió al servicio de Yom Kippur en una sinagoga modesta en Berlín. El drama litúrgico de los pecados humanos y el perdón divino, la afirmación, unicidad de Dios y su amor tuvo un efecto poderoso en Franz. Lo que pensaba que encontraría en la iglesia –la fe que le daría una orientación en el mundo- lo encontró en la sinagoga. Sintió que debía ser judío.

Dedicó el año académico a la lectura intensa de fuentes hebreas clásicas y a las conferencias de Herman Cohen, eminente pensador judío alemán.

Durante la Primera Guerra Mundial se unió al ejército en una unidad contra la aviación que le dejaba tiempo para leer y escribir, publico un artículo sobre problemas teológicos –judaísmo y cristianismo-, elaboro un plan para reformar el sistema escolar alemán y escribió, “En Tiempo”, un programa para reorganizar la educación judía.

En 1918 fue enviado a un curso cerca de Varsovia ocupada por los alemanes y pudo observar la vida de los judíos de Europa Oriental que lo impresiono profundamente por la vitalidad y riqueza de su fe.

Cuando regreso a su puesto se sintió listo para empezar lo que sería su obra más importante: su filosofía existencialista, demostrando la relación mutua entre Dios, el ser humano y el mundo, basado en la experiencia humana, el sentido común y la realidad del lenguaje y el dialogo. Su fundamento se inicia en la revelación de Dios que se hace presente al hombre por su amor y despierta en el la conciencia de un Yo. Termino de escribir “La Estrella de la Redención” en ’19, apareció en ’21, ignorada por corrientes de filosofía académica, muy admirada por existencialistas y, especialmente, por teólogos jóvenes.

En “La Estrella de la Redención” se encuentra la mayor parte de sus respuestas al misterio de la elección, caso límite de particularidad social y política del pueblo judío. Históricamente, Franz trabaja después de la Ilustración y la identificación del judaísmo como religión, no nacionalidad y descubrió que falta el sentido genuino del judaísmo y lo ve como un barco en búsqueda de su muelle propio, en la búsqueda estudia la separación entre cristianismo y judaísmo en sus sentidos descriptivo y prescriptivo. Los cristianos creen que ellos son los electos desde la muerte de su redentor, Jesús. No pueden superar la irritación fundamental, casi amenazadora a su vida, de la existencia continua de los judíos que siguen afirmando ser elegidos. Explican el cambio en la elección divina por el error necio de los judíos que no reconocen al Mesías. El sufrimiento judío es castigo divino a su “necedad”.

Los judíos también valorizan todo sufrimiento como castigo, pero por razones muy diferentes: por corrupción del sacerdocio, difamación y calumnias entre los judíos, helenización, monarquía ilegitima, etc. Pero, al mismo tiempo, la teodicea judía entiende su exilio como evento positivo, como un nuevo estado, una tarea nueva, en la espera del Mesías: recuperar las chispas divinas regadas por el mundo, fuera de la Tierra Prometida, o llevar los valores judíos al mundo no-judío, o por ambas.

El pueblo judío es “el pueblo eterno”, según Rosenzwieg, porque la elección conllevaba la Torah que fue recibida. Esto significa que envolvía al pueblo judío con la vida eterna. Hay una conexión profunda entre la elección y el esquema de creación-revelación-redención, estructura de su pensamiento religioso.

La creación es para todos, Adán es un ser humano como lo serán todos los hombres, no es judío, Dios se revela a Abran que recibe la Torah, Dios le asigna a él y a sus descendientes un papel especial. Se llamará Abraham, es judío y el eslabón que une la elección y la revelación. “Israel es más que el pueblo elegido, es el uno y único pueblo elegido, el pueblo del Dios uno y único.” Esta frase de Rosenzwieg se aclara si se entiende el paso de la revelación a la redención, la diferencia entre los dos sentidos judíos de la elección, la diferencia entre revelación y redención se entiende por la diferencia entre una elección exclusiva y una inclusiva. La importancia de la elección exclusiva es que Dios le da al pueblo judío la Torah que es recibida. Los otros pueblos que no la tienen no viven completamente en la eternidad de Dios. Pero la exclusividad es solo temporal, los judíos deben difundir los valores de la Torah para que todos los pueblos también lleguen a seguir la senda de Dios y ser elegidos de Dios.

Esta es la importancia de la historia en el proceso de redención: la eternalizacion de los pueblos. La historia sagrada es la elección progresiva de las naciones. Según Rosenzwieg este trabajo se realiza por el cristianismo únicamente, mediante la evangelización. Al fin de la historia, cuando la exclusividad de la elección se vuelve obsoleta y se hace inclusiva, entonces, y solo entonces, se alcanza la verdad divina que no es judía ni cristiana, todos estarán incluidos en la elección de Dios y habrá solo un pueblo bajo “Dios uno y único”. En un mundo redimido la exclusividad del judaísmo y la evangelización del cristianismo serán superfluas. La verdad absoluta, eterna vive en sí y convierte el tiempo en eterno.

Mientras la historia sigue haciéndose, Dios quiere a todos. Contento con lo que es, el judío reza y añora al Mesias, cuya llegada significa la redención de todo el mundo. Rosenzwieg encuentra una contradicción fundamental en el judaísmo que divide la vida entre sagrado y profano y la tierra entre Israel y los otros pueblos.

La elección une a los judíos y los separa de los no-judíos; divide el mundo judío por dentro, como entre sábado y días de trabajo; entre Torah y vida cotidiana, olvidando la obligación de ver el mundo irredento no-judío y ensenarle los valores de la Torah. Una actitud que pone en gran peligro al judaísmo por una tentación interna de auto-absorción cuyo precio es abandonar el cuidado del mundo que está afuera.

Rosenzwieg se casó en ’20 y fue nombrado director del centro de estudios para adultos, Lehrhause, en Frankfort, animaba a los estudiantes a examinar las fuentes hebreas clásicas en búsqueda de lo vital y relevante. No ocupo el puesto mucho tiempo; a principios de ’22 enfermo de una forma de esclerosis que paralizaba todo el cuerpo progresivamente. Incapaz de hablar o escribir en sentido físico, natural, continuo muy interesado en sus semejantes y su comunidad. Con la ayuda de su esposa. creo un sistema de señales entre ellos y una máquina de escribir construida especialmente para él y pudo producir ensayos importantes, una versión anotada en alemán de la poesía de Juda Halevi; trabajo en una traducción al alemán de la Biblia con Martin Buber y escribió una serie de artículos sobre las particularidades y estilo del pensamiento bíblico. Como entretenimiento escribió comentarios para una revista respecto a grabaciones de música clásica y sagrada. Nada permitía adivinar que el autor estuviera mortalmente enfermo. La evidencia era de un espíritu fresco, agudo, con claridad intelectual, fe religiosa y sentido de humor hasta su muerte. Tenía 43 años y ya había dejado su huella de gran influencia en la historia de las ideas filosófico-religiosas.

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Why Didn’t G-d Specify the Location of the Holy Temple?

by Menachem Feldman

Preparing the Jewish people for their entry into the Promised Land, Moses paints a harmonious picture of one place where all will gather to celebrate and serve G‑d:

And you shall cross the Jordan and settle in the land the L‑rd, your G‑d, is giving you as an inheritance… And it will be, that the place the L‑rd, your G‑d, will choose in which to establish His Name there you shall bring all that I am commanding you: Your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the separation by your hand, and the choice of vows which you will vow to the L‑rd. And you shall rejoice before the L‑rd, your G‑d you and your sons and your daughters and your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite who is within your cities.1

The pilgrim festivals are central to this portion. The Torah commands us how and with whom to celebrate, but there is a glaring omission: although mentioned more than 10 times in the parshah, “the place the L‑rd your G‑d will choose” is left unnamed.

Moses spent 40 years teaching Torah and passing on the mitzvot with intricate detail. He transmitted the highly detailed laws of the sacrifices, including everything from which types of animals may be used to the location on the Temple where the animals should be offered. Yet the place where all this would happen is undisclosed. Why did Moses keep the location of the spiritual capital a secret? Why does the name of the city where the Holy Temple will be built remain a mystery?

Maimonides suggests three possibilities:

If the surrounding nations would know the future site of the Holy Temple, they would fortify the place with their strongest armies in an effort to stymie Jewish worship there.

If the current residents of the Temple Mount would realize the spiritual significance the place has to the Jewish people, they would do all they could to destroy and deface it.

The third reason (which Maimonides favors as the “strongest”) is that the Temple mount is in the portion of Judah and Benjamin. If the other tribes would know that it would not be in their portion, they would begin to quarrel over that spot, each one wishing to host G‑d in their own territory. G‑d solved this problem by only revealing His chosen location after Israel was ruled by a king who would be able to maintain peace even as some tribes were elevated over others.2

A more spiritual answer can be found in the verse where the phrase “the place the L‑rd, your G‑d, will choose” is used for the first time:

But only to the place which the L‑rd, your G‑d, shall choose from all your tribes, to set His Name there; you shall seek His presence and come there.3

“You shall seek His presence,” says the Torah. G‑d will choose Jerusalem only after the people themselves choose a place they feel is appropriate for His home. Only the Jew, who is part and parcel of the physical reality, can create a permanent dwelling place for G‑d in this physical world. Only after King David chose the site of Jerusalem, did G‑d, through the prophet, agree with the choice, establishing Jerusalem, and the Temple Mountain, as the spiritual capital of the world.

The holiness of every place G‑d chose for Divine revelation was temporary. The physical location of Mount Sinai, for example, did not retain its holiness. The one place chosen by humans (who did not wait for a sign from on high, but fulfilled the command to “seek His presence”) was the place that achieved permanent and everlasting holiness.

What is the lesson for us? To become the person we want to be, we cannot wait for inspiration from above. Inspiration alone will not change us for the better, unless we choose to get involved, to become a partner, to contribute to the effort, to do our part to “seek His presence.” G‑d will choose to send you Divine inspiration and success, but it will have a permanent effect only after you do your part in building your spiritual Jerusalem.4


1. Deuteronomy 12:10-12.

2.Guide to the Perplexed, 3:45

3.Ibid. 12:5

4.Inspired by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot vol. 30 p. 120.

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El sacerdote belga que salvó a 400 judíos

El sacerdote belga que salvó a 400 judíos
por Menucha Chana Levin

Dom Bruno se unió a la resistencia y poniendo en riesgo su vida estableció una red de escondites para niños judíos.

Al nacer en una piadosa familia católica de clase media alta de Bruselas, no fue raro que Henri Reynders eligiera dedicar su vida al sacerdocio. Pero en muchos otros aspectos, Reynders resultó ser una persona poco usual, y también un héroe. Después de asumir sus votos en Roma en 1925, condujo una vida monástica. Tres años más tarde, al ordenarse como sacerdote, se unió a la orden benedictina en el pueblo de Louvain y adoptó el nombre religioso de Dom Bruno. A pesar de ser profundamente religioso, su pensamiento se rebelaba respecto a algunas de las doctrinas de la iglesia.

Tras la invasión alemana a Polonia en setiembre de 1939, Bélgica movilizó a su ejército y Dom Bruno actuó como capellán en el 41 regimiento de artillería. Cuando los alemanes invadieron Bélgica, el pequeño país fue dominado rápidamente y el Rey Leopoldo se rindió en la batalla de Dunkirk. Dom Bruno fue herido en una pierna y pasó los siguientes seis meses en campamentos para prisioneros de guerra en Wolfsburg y Doessel, Alemania, brindando apoyo religioso y moral a los otros prisioneros.

Después de que el Rey Leopoldo se reuniera con Hitler, los alemanes liberaron a muchos prisioneros de guerra, entre ellos a Dom Bruno. Al regresar a la abadía, continuó con su carrera docente. Debido a sus fuertes creencias antinazis, se contactó con el floreciente movimiento de resistencia belga y ayudó a salvar a pilotos aliados que habían sido derribados para que pudieran regresar a Gran Bretaña.

Dom Bruno con algunos de los niños judíos que salvó durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial

Al completar los campos de exterminio en Polonia en 1942, los nazis comenzaron a deportar a los judíos de Bélgica. Dom Bruno recibió permiso del abad para trabajar como capellán en un hogar para ciegos en un pequeño pueblo. Allí Dom Bruno descubrió que el director del hogar y muchos de sus residentes en verdad eran judíos que se estaban escondiendo. Tanto adultos como niños habían encontrado allí un refugio gracias a Albert van den Berg, un conocido abogado que trabajaba con organizaciones cristianas de beneficencia.

La situación era extremadamente peligrosa, porque los nazis estaban cazando activamente a los judíos y en el área había muchos informantes belgas. Cuando Van den Berg y Dom Bruno comprendieron que el hogar ya no era un lugar seguro, lo cerraron y dispersaron a los judíos en áreas rurales. Dom Bruno tomó entonces la arriesgada tarea de organizar escondites para los niños, usando toda su influencia con amigos y conocidos. Él envió a los niños a hogares privados, incluso a la casa de su propia madre y de su hermano.

Viajó a diversas instituciones católicas, tales como internados, y pidió que albergaran a niños judíos. Él acompañaba personalmente a los niños y regresaba a visitarlos para llevarles noticias de sus padres si también ellos estaban ocultos. Dom Bruno les proveyó documentos falsos con nombres no judíos y tarjetas de raciones.

Dom Bruno viajaba de un lugar a otro en su bicicleta, solucionando problemas y asumiendo la responsabilidad incluso por los detalles pequeños de los planes. Al principio trabajó solo, recibiendo solamente ayuda económica de la operación de Van den Berg y del banquero belga Jules Dubois-Pelerin. Después de expandir sus contactos con otros grupos de resistencia, Dom Bruno tuvo que escaparse cuando la Gestapo comenzó a sospechar de sus actividades. Cuando la Gestapo registró la abadía Mont César, afortunadamente Dom Bruno no estaba allí, pero se vio obligado a esconderse, cambiar su hábito de sacerdote por ropa civil y usar una boina para ocultar su cabeza afeitada. Otro sacerdote le dio un documento falso.

A pesar del grave peligro, él continuó ayudando a los judíos incluso cuando él mismo se ocultaba. Su valentía salvó la vida de 400 judíos, la mayoría de ellos niños.

Quienes fueron salvados por Dom Bruno expresaron su profundo agradecimiento. Gilles Rozberg recuerda: “Una noche en 1943, cuando acababa de cumplir 13 años, me encontré con el Padre Bruno en la calle. Él no me conocía, pero yo lo reconocí por la forma en que caminaba, la túnica que vestía y su alto y elegante sombrero. Me arrojé a él y le supliqué que me ayudara. Tras unos breves segundos de sospecha y preocupación, me dijo que estaba dispuesto a ayudarme. Dos semanas más tarde me llevaron junto con mi hermano pequeño a un escondite”.

Dom Bruno en Jerusalem con algunos de los niños que ayudó a esconder

Gracias a la acción de la iglesia católica y al valiente movimiento de resistencia, tres cuarta parte de los 100.000 judíos de Bélgica lograron sobrevivir la guerra, pese a la masiva colaboración que existió. Tras la liberación de Bélgica en setiembre de 1944, Dom Bruno ayudó a reunir a los niños que estaban ocultos con sus padres y con otros miembros de sus familias. Sin embargo, los representantes de la comunidad judía se opusieron a los esfuerzos de algunas familias cristianas para adoptar a huérfanos judíos. Trágicamente, muchos de los niños más pequeños no podían recordar sus orígenes judíos y deseaban permanecer con las familias que los habían adoptado de forma no oficial. Bajo la ocupación nazi, Dom Bruno no permitió que convirtieran al catolicismo a los niños judíos. Posteriormente cambió su posición, porque creyó que el factor más importante era tener en cuenta lo que era mejor para cada niño.

Cuando terminó la guerra, Dom Bruno regresó brevemente a la abadía pero su orden lo reasignó a otros lugares en Bélgica, Francia y Roma. Su último puesto fue como vicario en el pueblo de Ottignies, donde se ocupó de los ancianos, los enfermos y los discapacitados.

En 1964, Yad Vashem honró a Dom Bruno como uno de los “Justos de las naciones”. Cuando su enfermedad de Parkinson empeoró, Dom Bruno se retiró a un hogar de ancianos. Murió a los 78 años y lo enterraron en su amada abadía.

Diez años después de su muerte, una plaza de la ciudad de Ottignies fue nombrada en su honor y colocaron una placa que dice: “Dom Bruno, benedicto (1903-1981). Héroe de la resistencia. Arriesgó su vida para salvar a 400 judíos de la barbarie nazi”. 

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Collective Joy

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

If we were to ask what key word epitomises the society Jews were to make in the Promised Land, several concepts would come to mind: justice, compassion, reverence, respect, holiness, responsibility, dignity, loyalty. Surprisingly, though, another word figures centrally in Moses’ speeches in Deuteronomy. It is a word that appears only once in each of the other books of the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.[1] Yet it appears twelve times in Deuteronomy, seven of them in Parshat Re’eh. The word is simcha, joy.

It is an unexpected word. The story of the Israelites thus far has not been a joyous one. It has been marked by suffering on the one hand, rebellion and dissension on the other. Yet Moses makes it eminently clear that joy is what the life of faith in the land of promise is about. Here are the seven instances in this parsha, and their contexts:

  1. The central Sanctuary, initially Shilo: “There in the presence of the Lord your God you and your families shall eat and rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deut. 12:7).
  2. Jerusalem and the Temple: “And there you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns” (Deut. 12:12).
  3. Sacred food that may be eaten only in Jerusalem: “Eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose – you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns – and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to” (Deut. 12:18).
  4. The second tithe: “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine, or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice” (Deut. 14:26).
  5. The festival of Shavuot: “And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place He will choose as a dwelling for His name – you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the strangers, the fatherless, and the widows living among you” (Deut. 16:11).
  6. The festival of Succot: “Be joyful at your feast – you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the strangers, the fatherless, and the widows who live in your towns” (Deut. 16:14).
  7. Succot, again. “For seven days, celebrate the feast to the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete [vehayita ach same’ach]” (Deut. 16:15).

Why does Moses emphasise joy specifically in the book of Deuteronomy? Perhaps because is there, in the speeches Moses delivered in the last month of his life, that he scaled the heights of prophetic vision never reached by anyone else before or since. It is as if, standing on a mountaintop, he sees the whole course of Jewish history unfold below him, and from that dizzying altitude he brings back a message to the people gathered around him: the next generation, the children of those he led out of Egypt, the people who will cross the Jordan he will not cross and enter the land he is only able to see from afar.

What he tells them is unexpected, counter-intuitive. In effect he says this: “You know what your parents suffered. You have heard about their slavery in Egypt. You yourselves have known what it is to wander in the wilderness without a home or shelter or security. You may think those were the greatest trials, but you are wrong. You are about to face a harder trial. The real test is security and contentment.”

Absurd though this sounds, it has proved true throughout Jewish history. In the many centuries of dispersion and persecution, from the destruction of the Second Temple to the nineteenth century, no one raised doubts about Jewish continuity. They did not ask, “Will we have Jewish grandchildren?” Only since Jews achieved freedom and equality in the Diaspora and independence and sovereignty in the State of Israel has that question come to be asked. When Jews had little to thank God for, they thanked Him, prayed to Him, and came to the synagogue and the house of study to hear and heed His word. When they had everything to thank Him for, many turned their backs on the synagogue and the house of study.

Moses was giving prophetic expression to the great paradox of faith: It is easy to speak to God in tears. It is hard to serve God in joy. It is the warning he delivered as the people came within sight of their destination: the Promised Land. Once there, they were in danger of forgetting that the land was theirs only because of God’s promise to them, and only for as long as they remembered their promise to God.

Simcha is usually translated as joy, rejoicing, gladness, happiness, pleasure, or delight. In fact, simcha has a nuance untranslatable into English. Joy, happiness, pleasure, and the like are all states of mind, emotions. They belong to the individual. We can feel them alone. Simcha, by contrast, is not a private emotion. It means happiness shared. It is a social state, a predicate of “we,” not “I.” There is no such thing as feeling simcha alone.

Moses repeatedly labours the point. When you rejoice, he says time and again, it must be “you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the strangers, the fatherless, and the widows in your towns.” A key theme of Parshat Re’eh is the idea of a central Sanctuary “in the place the Lord your God will choose.” As we know from later Jewish history, during the reign of King David, this place was Jerusalem, where David’s son Solomon eventually built the Temple.

What Moses is articulating for the first time is the idea of simcha as communal, social, and national rejoicing. The nation was to be brought together not just by crisis, catastrophe, or impending war, but by collective celebration in the presence of God. The celebration itself was to be deeply moral. Not only was this a religious act of thanksgiving; it was also to be a form of social inclusion. No one was to be left out: not the stranger, or the servant, or the lonely (the orphan and widow). In a remarkable passage in the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides makes this point in the strongest possible terms:

And while one eats and drinks, it is their duty to feed the stranger, the orphan, the widow, and other poor and unfortunate people, for those who lock the doors to their courtyard, eating and drinking with their family, without giving anything to eat and drink to the poor and the bitter in soul – their meal is not a rejoicing in a Divine commandment, but a rejoicing only in their own stomach. It is of such persons that Scripture says, “Their sacrifices shall be to them as the bread of mourners, all that eat thereof shall be polluted; for their bread is a disgrace to their own appetite” (Hos. 9:4). Rejoicing of this kind is a disgrace to those who indulge in it, as Scripture says, “And I will spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your sacrifices” (Mal. 2:3).[2]

Moses’ insight remains valid today. The West is more affluent than any previous society has ever been. Our life expectancy is longer, our standards of living higher, and our choices wider than at any time since Homo sapiens first walked on earth. Yet Western societies are not measurably happier. The most telling indices of unhappiness – drug and alcohol abuse, depressive illness, stress-related syndromes, eating disorders, and the rest – have risen by between 300 and 1,000 per cent in the space of two generations. Why so?

In 1968 I met the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, of blessed memory, for the first time. While I was there, the Chassidim told me the following story. A man had written to the Rebbe in roughly these terms: “I am depressed. I am lonely. I feel that life is meaningless. I try to pray, but the words do not come. I keep mitzvot but find no peace of mind. I need the Rebbe’s help.” The Rebbe sent a brilliant reply without using a single word. He simply circled the first word of every sentence and sent the letter back. The word in each case was “I.”

Our contemporary consumer is constructed in the first-person singular: I want, I need, I must have. There are many things we can achieve in the first-person singular but one we cannot, namely, simcha – because simcha is the joy we share, the joy we have only because we share. That, said Moses before the Israelites entered their land, would be their greatest challenge. Suffering, persecution, a common enemy, unite a people and turn it into a nation. But freedom, affluence, and security turn a nation into a collection of individuals, each pursuing his or her own happiness, often indifferent to the fate of those who have less, the lonely, the marginal, and the excluded. When that happens, societies start to disintegrate. At the height of their good fortune, the long slow process of decline begins.

The only way to avoid it, said Moses, is to share your happiness with others, and, in the midst of that collective, national celebration, serve God.[3] Blessings are not measured by how much we own or earn or spend or possess but by how much we share. Simcha is the mark of a sacred society. It is a place of collective joy.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Gen. 31:27; Ex. 4:14; Lev. 23:40; Num. 10:10.

[2] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yom Tov 6:18.

[3] The great French sociologist Émile Durkheim (whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all rabbis) argued, in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (trans. Karen E. Fields [New York: Free Press, 1995]), that religion is born in the experience of “collective effervescence,” which is closely related to simcha in the biblical sense.

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The Purpose of Judaism is to Disturb

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

שמור את חדש האביב ועשית פסח לי-ה-ו-ה אלהיך כי בחדש האביב הוציאך יהוה אלהיך ממצרים לילה

Keep the month of spring, and make the Passover offering to the Lord, your God, for in the month of spring, the Lord, your God, brought you out of Egypt at night. (Devarim 16:1)

There is little doubt that Halacha greatly complicates life for the religious Jew. There is no other religion that requires so much dedication and includes so much emphasis on detail. There is hardly a nook or cranny of a Jew’s life in which Halacha does not make its demands. Many halachic volumes and responsa have been written about minor issues, seemingly blowing them out of all proportion.

The exact amount of matza that must be eaten at the Pesach Seder is a case in point. The law requires the consumption of a ke-zayit (a unit of volume approximately equal to the size of an olive) to fulfill one’s obligation. But what is the size of an olive? For hundreds of years, halachic scholars have debated this question, and have even deliberated over the exact weight of an olive. Is today’s olive equal in size to the olive from the time of the Bible or of the Talmud? Many opinions have been suggested, and to this day a substantial number of religious Jews will adhere to one and reject others, believing that only a larger measurement will ensure that one has completely fulfilled one’s obligation according to all opinions.

Obsessive Halacha

The same is true about the lulav and etrog.[1] How tall must a lulav be? How green do the leaves have to be so that they are not considered dry? What if the etrog is not completely spotless? Is it still halachically acceptable? What is the correct size? What happens when its pitom, which botanists call its stigma (a flowered blossom protruding at the top), has been partially damaged? Thousands of questions like these are found in the Talmud and in the writings of later authorities.

To this day, the religious Jew takes delight in these debates, and in fact discusses them as if his life depends on it. To an outsider this looks altogether ludicrous, and the dismissal of it all as “hair-splitting” is well known. One wonders what people would say if they were told that their Christmas tree has to be of a certain measurement, with a particular number of leaves and ornaments. What if there were to be major differences of opinion among the authorities on whether the leaves must be fully green or may include some spots that are a bit yellow? And what if, “God forbid”, one ornament is missing or damaged?

What is behind this obsessive way in which Halacha deals with all these issues? What has this to do with religion? Isn’t religion the realm of the soul, of deep emotions and beliefs?

In this week’s parasha, we find a verse that directly deals with our problem:

Safeguard the month of the early ripening [Nissan] and bring the Pesach offering unto the Lord your God, for in the month of the early ripening the Lord your God took you out of Egypt at night.[2]

According to Jewish Tradition, this verse instructs the people of Israel to ensure that Pesach, which commemorates one the most important events in Jewish history, will always be celebrated in the spring.

Rabbi Ovadia Seforno, the great Italian commentator, comments on this verse in a most original way:

Guard with constant care that Nissan will fall in the spring by means of the ibbur, the aligning of the lunar and solar months through calculations, so that the lunar and solar years are equal.[3]

A careful reading of Seforno’s comment seems to reveal a most daring thesis, which directly deals with our question. Since the lunar year has fewer days than the solar year, and since the Jewish year is, to a great extent, based on the lunar year, it is necessary after a few lunar years to add an extra month—Adar Sheni, around March—to make sure that Nissan (and therefore Pesach) will fall in the spring and not in the winter.

In that case, alludes Seforno, there is a most important question: Why does the Jewish calendar not simply follow the solar year? If, in any case, we must make sure that Pesach falls in the spring, what is the purpose of consistently following lunar years when eventually one has to align these with the solar years?

The Purpose of Judaism is To Disturb

His answer is most telling: so as to complicate life. In order to make sure that the month of Nissan and the festival of Pesach will always fall in the spring, one has to make difficult astronomical calculations. The Torah deliberately complicated the Jewish year by modeling it on the lunar year, so that Nissan would not automatically fall in the spring, and so that the sages would have to make complicated calculations. Sure, it would have been much easier to follow the solar year. But that would have come with a serious religious setback. “A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner,” says the English proverb.

Judaism wants to make the sages and the Jewish community constantly aware that they live in the presence of God, and to accomplish that goal life must be complicated and an ongoing challenge! Only through constant preoccupation with the divine commandments and their minutiae, and only by confronting the obstacles to implementing these commandments, can one be cognizant of God’s presence.

Religion’s main task is to disturb. It should ensure, on a very pragmatic level, that we do not take anything for granted in our day-to-day lives. It is through challenges and complications that we are constantly surprised. These give birth to wonder, which then reminds us of God’s presence. It is not philosophical contemplation that brings man closer to God. God is not an intellectual issue, but the ultimate reality of life. Only in the deed, in the down-to-earth and heart-rending existence of daily life, which asks for sweat and blood, does one escape superficiality and enter awareness and attentiveness. By studying astronomy, encountering major complexities, and using scientific instruments for the purpose of ensuring that Pesach falls in the spring, the sages were forced to find solutions, which then made them aware of the sheer uniqueness of this world. Their total commitment to a biblical commandment, including the need to investigate, discuss, and implement it, gave them a sense of the mystery of life. Through the constant wonder that accompanied them in their search and ultimate resolution, they became aware of the Living God.

To Live Means to Stay Alert

This idea runs contrary to our way of thinking. If anything, Western civilization looks for ways to make life less complicated. Many of our scientific inventions are founded on this premise. And no doubt this is of great importance. Man’s life should be less complicated. It would grant him more time to enjoy life, to investigate elements of spirituality, and to search for deep, sacred beauty. But in these matters it is ongoing effort that is required. Were that not to be the case, one would fall into devastating boredom, which, after all, is the result of no longer noticing the uniqueness of our lives. This has disastrous consequences for the human spirit. It will slowly die. To live means to stay alert, to take notice. When it comes to the spirit, man should never live an effortless and uncomplicated life.

Scientific research has often revealed parts of our universe that can stir the heart of man in ways that were not possible in earlier times. Scientists dedicate their lives to the minutest properties of our physical world. They are fascinated with and often get carried away by the behavior of cells, the habits of insects, and the peculiarities of the DNA code (Heschel). As the saying goes, God is in the details.

Under the Microscope

So too, halachic authorities look for the smallest details so as to make man sensitive to every fine point of life. By making us careful about how much matza to eat, what size lulav to use, and to what extent our etrog should be spotless, they create a subconscious awareness in us of every dimension of life. Everything is put under a microscope in order to ensure that we never take anything as a given. Halacha is an anti-boredom device. It is the microscopic search for God.

Indeed, Judaism’s main purpose is to complicate life so as to create a psychological environment that makes the Jew constantly aware they are living in the presence of God and enjoying it to the fullest. This is in no way an eccentric observation; it is consistent with the very purpose of religious life.

Religion is a protest against taking life for granted. There are no insignificant phenomena or deeds in this world, and it is through Judaism’s demands and far-reaching interference in our daily life that we are made aware of God as our steadfast Companion.

This is clearly the meaning of the famous talmudic statement by Rabbi Chanania ben Akashia when he said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to make Israel worthy, therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundance, as it is said:[4] ‘God desires for the sake of His righteousness that the Torah be expanded and strengthened.’”[5]

But all this comes at a heavy price: One of the great challenges confronting Judaism today is the problem of behaviorism. The habitual performance of Halacha is the result of getting used to the way Judaism wants man to respond to life; all aspects of life should be nothing less than extraordinary, but for many of us, this is no longer the case.

The observance of Halacha for the sake of observance can easily lead to “hair splitting,” when man becomes robotic, is obsessed with detail, and can no longer see the forest for the trees. This, in turn, drives him to fanatical behavior.

Halacha Has Become Self-Defeating

Halachic living has become self-defeating for many of us. It actually encourages what it wishes to prevent: observing Halacha by rote, and failing to see the extraordinary. New ways must be found to prevent this phenomenon. We must teach Halacha as a musical symphony in which all students see opportunities to discover their inner selves. Halacha teachers must stand in front of their classes as a conductor stands before the orchestra and draw the Halacha out of its confinement, moving it beyond itself. They must show their students how to pull the ineffable out of the dry law and turn it into an encounter with God, the Source of all mystery, thereby transforming the world into a place of utter amazement where one lives in a constant state of awe and surprise. This will be possible only when we take a fresh look at ourselves and ask who we are and why we live. But as long as man hides behind his own superficiality, no halacha will accomplish its goal. We live on the fringes of this world and have lost contact with our inner selves. Halacha then becomes an external entity, cut off from its living roots.

No halacha can be taught in a vacuum. It can be transmitted only when the entirety of life is present. We must ensure that we can see all of life reflected in one detail of the Halacha, that it is infused with all the colors life offers us. This is impossible when the codes of Jewish Law are taught as self-contained works. They are just the outer shells of the music behind the notes. Just as musical notes are useless unless you play and pace your own music with these notes, so studying the codes is a meaningless undertaking unless with these notes we hear and play the music that cries out from our inner selves.

In a play on Nietzsche’s observation that “anyone who has looked deeply into the world may guess how much wisdom lies in the superficiality of men,”[6] I would suggest that one of the great tragedies of today’s halachic man is his obliviousness to how much profundity his halachic superficiality hides.

To paraphrase Abraham Joshua Heschel: Halacha is of no importance unless it is of supreme importance.


[1] The lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron) comprise two of the Four Species, or Arba’at ha-Minim, that are taken on Sukkot. See Vayikra 23:40.

[2] Devarim 16:1.

[3] Seforno, ad loc.

[4] Yeshayahu 42:21.

[5] Makkot 23b.

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. Walter Kaufmann (NY: Vintage Books, 1966), 71.

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Posted by on August 30, 2019 in Uncategorized


Jews and Arabs Together against the Nazis

Jews and Arabs Together against the Nazis
by Nadav Shragai and Israel Hayom

During the first three years of WWII thousands of Arabs and Jews from Mandate Palestine had fought side by side against the Nazi scourge.

One day, completely by chance, Professor Mustafa Abbasi from the village Jish in the upper Galilee, uncovered a family secret. Abbasi had wondered aloud how there could be a five-year difference between his mother’s date of birth and that of her younger sister. He then heard for the first time that his grandfather, Said Abbasi, had spent five long years away from home, volunteering with the British Army in World War II, battling the Nazis alongside Jewish volunteers.

Only later, after he had become a researcher and delved into the subject, did Abbasi learn how widespread a phenomenon that had been: thousands of Arabs and Jews from Mandate Palestine had fought side by side against the Nazi scourge.

As a historian and as a professor of the history at Tel-Hai Academic College, Abbasi has personally interviewed or secured testimonies from dozens of Palestinians who served in the British army in World War II and fought alongside Jews.

Radwan Said of Kafr Kana told Abbasi that he had served as a sniper and killed three Nazi soldiers in battles in Italy.

Abbasi spoke to the elders in his home village of Jish. One, Zaki Jubran, fought the Nazis along with his brother.

Abbasi would eventually discover lists of more and more Arabs who volunteered for the British army and served alongside Jews – from Jaffa, Jerusalem, Safed, Jenin, and Nablus. Tiberias alone, a city in which Jews and Arabs coexisted peacefully for many years, supplied hundreds of Arab volunteers. Hundreds of Arab fighters lost their lives. Others were taken prisoner. Yet more are still missing in action, over 70 years later.

This is a historical episode that is rarely discussed. It does not align with the various narratives about the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict prior to or after the war years. Abbasi’s research reveals that this was certainly no passing “phenomenon.” He writes about the joint Jewish-Arab war service in an in-depth article published in the last issue of Katedra, the oldest academic journal on Land of Israel studies, published by the Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi. He might turn it into a book.

Some 12,000 Arabs from Mandate Palestine volunteered for the British army during World War II.

All in all, some 12,000 Arabs from Mandate Palestine volunteered for the British army during World War II, approximately half the number of Jewish volunteers who joined up. Hundreds of Palestinian fighters were captured. Approximately 300 died in battle. Relations between the Jewish and Arab volunteers were mostly good. The leaders of the Jewish Yishuv, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, eventually had the Jewish volunteers removed from the mixed unit to establish the famous Jewish Brigade, which would go on to provide a crucial military basis for Israel in the 1948 War of Independence. The leaders had never liked the idea of Jews and Arabs from Mandate Palestine serving together, and there were also plenty on the Arab side who were against it.

At the time, the Arab population in pre-state Israel was split between the Husseinis, under Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini – a Nazi partner – and the Nashashibi clan, who openly supported the British and usually maintained good ties with the Jewish population. The years of the Arab revolt (1936-1939), which al-Husseini led against the British only a few years before World War II, did not make it easy for Arabs to volunteer for the British army. Abbasi believes the Arab enlistment was no surprise.

“About 60% [of the Arabs] supported the British and opposed the Husseinis. A large part was pro-Jew and pro-British and was even willing to compromise and accept the Partition Plan. In contrast to what we were erroneously taught in school, not all of them worshiped the Mufi Husseini. It was actually the Jewish side that tried and eventually succeeded in breaking up the partnership because the Zionist movement had a stronger national agenda. Ben-Gurion and his friends demanded a Jewish force that would fight under a Jewish symbol and a Jewish flag, and not in mixed units, and they eventually got it,” Abbasi says.

The Middle East Commando

Abbasi’s work demonstrates that many volunteers were motivated by financial need. In the first half of 1940, the auxiliary unit known as the “diggers force” was established. The diggers worked mostly in construction under the command of Maj. Henry Cater. The platoons included both Arabs and Jews. The commanders were British. A British propaganda campaign that aimed to increase the number of Arab volunteers featured heads of Arab towns and village leaders. Rallies were held in Abu Dis, Hebron, Jenin, Kafr Qaddum, and Jerusalem. Well-known Egyptian writer Abbas Mahmoud al-Aqqad said on a Radio Palestine broadcast that “The war is between humane, lofty values that England represents and the forces of darkness represented by the Nazis.”

On April 2, 1941, 6,000 people convened in the Hula Valley. The conference was organized by valley leader Kamal Hussein al-Youssef and attended by the mayor of Safed Zaki Kaddoura. After a feast, the Hula Valley dignitaries agreed to allow young Arabs to enlist in the British army and applauded King George VI.

In the first few months of 1942, as the Allies’ situation on the North African front grew worse, the British authorities began appealing to Arab women, as well. In May 1942, another large conference was held, this time in Tulkarem, and the mayor reminded those present about how brutally the Italians – who were allied with the Nazis – were treating the Libyans.

Abbasi has found that most of the Arab volunteers were village youth. Residents of cities, who enjoyed a higher quality of life, were less enthusiastic about military service in a distant country. Nevertheless, some “city boys” did enlist. These included hundreds of dock workers from Jaffa who lost their jobs when trade at the port tapered off during the Arab Revolt.

The lists of missing and dead Abbasi has found include the names of many prominent urban Arab families. Although many volunteers were motivated by money, there were those who signed up because of ideology, because they opposed the Nazi ideal of a master race and believed in the British and their values.

“Mostly upper-class urban [youth] and educated people who had been influenced by British education and culture [joined]. … When the Italians bombed Tel Aviv and Jaffa and Haifa, hundreds were killed, both Jews and Arabs,” Abbasi notes.

Abbasi has also discovered that several dozen Jews and Arabs fought together alongside thousands of British and Egyptian troops at the First Battle of El Alamein in July 1942. The British Eighth Army managed to check the advance of Gen. Erwin Rommel’s forces and cause them heavy casualties. A few of the volunteers also took part in the Allied invasion at Normandy in the summer of 1944.

Jews and Arabs from Mandate Palestine fought together against the Nazis in Italy and Greece. They served in the transport, logistics, medical, and engineering positions. On Aug. 6, British War Secretary Anthony Eden informed Parliament that the British army would be establishing an Arab Brigade and then a Jewish Brigade within the infantry.

As January 1942 approached, the infantry corps included 18 platoons, seven Arab (one from Transjordan) and 11 Jewish ones. There were a total of 4,041 Arab volunteers and 10,000 Jewish volunteers from Palestina in the British infantry. Members of the 401st platoon who took part in fortification work and laying down railway tracks in France helped stall the Germany forces. That platoon included 250 Arabs and 450 Jews. When they returned to Palestina, they were welcomed as heroes by the High Commissioner.

Jews and Arabs also served together in the Middle East Commando unit, which included 240 Jews and 120 Arabs, under a team of British commanders. The volunteers with the unit underwent exhausting physical training and long marches in difficult conditions. At the end of 1940, some members of the unit took part in the first British attack in the Western Desert and burst through Italian lines at Bardia, on the Egyptian-Libyan border. In the winter of 1941, the unit fought fierce battles against the Italians.

One of the female Arab volunteers is pictured in the Falastin newspaper | Photo: Falastin (archive)

Nearly 200 Arab women from Palestina served in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps and in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The person responsible for assigning Jewish and Arab women jobs was Audrey Cheety, who was warned that she was taking on a dangerous job. A total of 60 women went through basic training. Only four were Arab, but Cheety managed to get them into officers training after she scolded Palestinian women’s organizations into helping the war effort.

The newspaper “Falastin” also threw itself into the war effort and published articles and pictures of female volunteers in uniform, such as Rahel Shaherazade from Jerusalem. Most of the female Arab volunteers were from cities.

One of the notable female volunteers was Anastasia (Asia) Halabi, who served as a driver and then became an officer. She was the sister of Jerusalem artist Sophie Halabi. The sisters’ mother was Russian, and their father was Arab. After 1948, Asia Halabi went on to serve as a liaison officer between the Jordanian army and the UN in Jerusalem.

Arabs and Jews serving closely together led to one ironic mistake that was reported in Haaretz a few years ago. Shahab Hajaj, an Arab who joined the British army, was captured by the Germans and died in 1943. To this day, Hajaj is commemorated as a fallen Israeli soldier on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Someone assumed he was Jewish.

“I believe that history can bring people closer, seek out common chapters, events that connect us. There are those, too.”

When asked if it’s possible that after the war, the same Jews and Arabs who had fought with the British as comrades wound up fighting each other in the 1948 War of Independence, Abbasi says “it’s definitely possible.”

“A lot of the Arab volunteers later joined the Jordanian Legion. The Jordanian Legion, as we know, fought against the Jews in 1948,” he says.

However, Abbasi stresses that he has not found proof that this actually happened, apart from stories he has heard, not first-hand.

Another historian, Prof. Mustafa Kabha, quotes research by Lebanese historian Bian Nowihad al-Hut in his book “The Palestinians – a People Dispersed.” Al-Hut based her research on research conducted by the Palestine Liberation Organization. She counted three Arab commando units and one commando unit comprised of Jews and Arabs that fought with the Allied forces in France.

Abbasi says that although he is aware of the personal side of the topic, it is not why he chose to research it.

“This is a widespread phenomenon in which Jews and Arabs found themselves on the same side. In our country, people are always looking for reasons to separate and stir up conflict between Jews and Arabs. I believe that history can bring people closer, seek out common chapters, events that connect us. There are those, too.

“There aren’t many, unfortunately. But they exist, and I thought that nothing could be more connecting than this partnership and comrade’s bond. This chapter of history has a mission – to open hearts, and not just seek out fights and enmity. With all due respect to the national narratives, people are more important,” says Abbasi.

“We meet at this historical point. In the first three years of World War II, Jews and Arabs fought, ate, trained, were taken prisoner, and killed together. That gives us a sliver of hope for the future. There are episodes of good neighborly relations, joint business ventures, mixed cities, and as a historian, a Muslim, and an Arab citizen of the state of Israel, I’m happy that I’ve had the privilege of revealing one of these times. Of course, it demands more, in-depth research.”

Indeed, the wealth of research into the time of the British Mandate, the thousands of volunteers from Palestina – Jews and Arabs, serving in mixed units and separate ones – have been almost totally forgotten. In his work, Abbasi quotes from the diaries of journalist and educator Taher al-Fatiani and Jerusalem writer Subhi Gusha, who recorded the sentiments of Arab society and the disputes that raged within it over the issue of volunteering for the British army and fighting alongside Jews.

Prof. Yoav Gelber has noted that after Crete and Greece fell in April 1941, 1,600 soldiers from Palestina were captured, including about 400 Arabs. Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, a leader of the Labor movement at the time, was one. Later, Ben-Aharon would go on to tell the story of how the Jews and Arabs joined forces in the prisoners’ camp. Yosef Almogi, a former cabinet minister, describes in his memoirs the unusual “togetherness” forced between the prisoners.

Abbasi’s research ends on a less positive note. The positive atmosphere, he says, “and the temporary closeness between [both] the British and the Arabs and the Arabs and the Jews came to an end. The difficult times that began immediately after the war have caused this special chapter in the history of the country to be forgotten.”

[In top photo: Arab residents of Jerusalem gather for an enlistment rally outside the Old City | Photo: Library of Congress]

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Posted by on August 18, 2019 in Uncategorized


Learning to Live with Uncertainty

How to attain greater peace of mind in world filled with risk and insecurity.

Learning to Live with Uncertainty
by Emuna Braverman

There are those who love rules and order, who make quick decisions and like closure. For these people, uncertainty and risk are rather painful. On the other hand, there are those who thrive on uncertainty, who prefer to keep all their options open, who have a very difficult time with decision-making, with being forced to choose one thing (or person) over another. These are the types of personalities that find uncertainty easier to live with, that are better able to tolerate risk, that could choose jobs in areas like sales and entertainment where there are no “guaranteed” salaries. (They also need spouses who have some ability to tolerate the uncertainty as well!)

Whether it’s an innate character trait or not, we all need to learn to live with uncertainty. We can’t know the future. We don’t know how our decisions will play out. We aren’t told whether our actions will lead to success our failure, whether this relationship will last or fade. We want certainty because it offers up the illusion of control. And we don’t have it because the Almighty wants to spare us this illusion. He wants us to recognize that ultimately He’s in charge.

Only by truly recognizing – and deeply internalizing – the idea that He wants our best and that everything is for our good can we cope with the unknown. The Torah suggests that at the end of his life, our forefather Jacob was given a vision of the end of days. He was desirous of sharing this information with his children, the leaders of the tribes of Israel. The Almighty, however, prevented him from doing so.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. If the end of days was too distant, they may have felt depressed and unmotivated. If it was too soon, they may have felt excited and unmotivated! Those are real concerns. But on the deeper level, I think that only through uncertainty can we come to faith and trust in the Almighty.

I say this as someone who loves structure, rules and order. I say this as someone who is always desperate for closure. A friend in sales says that their motto is “Better a slow yes than a quick no.” I’m afraid that, psychologically anyway, I prefer the quick no. I say this as someone who makes quick decisions (some that I live to regret – did I really want that color paint in the bathroom?). But I also say this as someone who recognizes that I have some growing to do, particularly in this area. I also say this as someone who understands that faith and trust require letting go.

The future is in the Almighty’s hands. There is NOTHING I can do to change that, and acceptance of this fact coupled with recognition of His love and kindness can only lead to greater peace of mind. We delude ourselves into thinking that greater control will lead to greater calm. If I continue to work on recognizing the Almighty’s love and care for me, His investment in my future and my good, then I could learn to tolerate uncertainty – even with equanimity. That’s my goal because, in the end, I really have no choice.

We all have to learn to live with uncertainty and to trust in the Almighty. Some of us are born with personalities that make this particular aspect of our relationship with God a little easier, but it’s incumbent on all of us to discover the inner resources that allow us to accept the reality that we are not in full control. And run with it.

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Posted by on August 17, 2019 in Uncategorized