Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Israel vote will expose Democratic divisions

From RRW
https://thehill.com/homenews/house/454232-israel-vote-will-expose-democratic-divisions

JVO Blog -- Is Judaism a Religion?

Jewish Values Online (jewishvaluesonline.org) is a website that asks the Jewish view on a variety of issues, some specifically Jewish and some from the world around us -- and then presents answers from each of the denominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members of their Panel of Scholars. Nishmablog, over the years, has also featured the responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. 

The Jewish Values Online website also offers a blog which presents comments on various topics within Judaism and the Jewish world. See http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/jvoblog/index?aid=0. Rabbi Hecht is also a blogger on this blog.

His latest post 

Is Judaism a Religion?
is now available http://jewishvaluescenter.org/jvoblog/JudaismAReligion 

A link is also up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JewishValuesOnline/  

While comments are most welcome at both these sites, as we also would like to develop a discussion on this topic here at Nishmablog, we also present the article below

* * * * *
          For those who regularly read my work, the question framed in this title would, no doubt, be seen as a loaded one. They would clearly surmise that something is up for I almost always inherently critique the use of the term ‘Judaism’ used generically -- by itself, without the use of an accompanying adjective reflecting the specific branch of Judaism that is under discussion. They know that I maintain that the generic use of this term is problematic for it does not reflect the significant theological distinctions between the different branches and the variant streams of Jewish expression. They further know that it is my belief that the lack of this knowledge is one of the main reasons for many of the troubles within the modern Jewish world, including the inability to dialogue as necessary. (This is a reason for my involvement in Jewish Values Online. One of its goals is to clarify these theological distinctions.) Still, I used the term generically here – so some must be wondering: What’s up?  

          The answer may be found in the other problematic word that I used in this title – and that is the term ‘religion’. If I simply asked what that word means, I would expect the general response to be that this term basically refers to a system that accepts the existence of a Deity (or deities, not to exclude the polytheistic religions). Yet, would one then refer to Platonic or Aristotelian philosophy as religions? Both are systems of thought that accept a Deity. I would venture to say, though, that we would be hard-pressed to refer to these two philosophical systems as religions (albeit that some of their ideas may be incorporated within a religion). The issue is not really what is technically meant by the use of this word but what do we truly mean when we use this term?
          What are we really thinking when we define someone as religious? This is where we begin to see the essential issue within our question. When we think of someone being religious in general, we think of spirituality, an otherworldliness -- a certain mindset. But is this what we are thinking when we generally describe another Jew as being religious? We think of this person as keeping Shabbat, kosher, etc. -- but otherwise, actually, we think of this person very much like any other Jew. True, there may be some Jewish religious people who are spiritual but we also know many religious Jews who are not so spiritual. In the Jewish world, we actually define religious in terms of behaviour, not, necessarily, mindset. We would even go so far as to use the word religious in describing an individual who keeps Shabbat and kosher but may not even believe in God. What does this say about Jewishness?
          We all know of many synagogues, across all the branches, which actually don’t seem to be very spiritual. How many times have we heard of Jews who explored other realms of spirituality, not because they didn’t like Jewish spirituality, but because their Jewish world did not seem to even have any spirituality? I, in fact, have heard of many non-Jews who have asked and/or are asking the very question I used as the title of this piece: Is Judaism a Religion? This is because, in their connection with Jews and the Jewish world, they do not see the spirituality which they expect to find in the realm of religion. 
          One of the greatest indications of this focus on behaviour within the Jewish world is actually the ‘ceremony’ that was employed for many years to mark a boy’s coming of age. Of course, I am referring to the Bar Mitzvah. What was that actually all about? A boy marked his becoming a man by, effectively, chanting to some tune a bunch of syllables which reflected words in a different language that the boy generally did not understand. It really was all about a behaviour, a behaviour which, especially to the boy, had no reason. Was the mindset of the boy even addressed? Jewishness just became doing Jewish things which, generally, were absent any reason (except that this is just what Jews do). Or, if explanations were given, they were very simplistic and did not really show anything unique about the Jewish mindset. Across the board – and this is the reason for the generic use of the term – for the vast majority of Jews, Judaism was their religion without a mindset and, clearly, as such, without spirituality.
          With the advancement of assimilation, it became obvious to many that this was a problem. The Jewish community turned to many possible answers. One was to argue that Jewishness actually contains spirituality – which it, in fact, does. That response, however, did not really work to the extent that its proponents would have wanted because Jews, through their Jewish experiences, already didn’t think so highly of spirituality in any event. The fact is that there was also a very significant reason for why Judaism developed into this ‘religion’ of behaviour unlike generic religions which focused on faith and spirituality. This is because it always focused on behaviour because, unlike religions in general, its focus was this world. While otherworldliness is an important part of Torah, it is not its essence. The classical Divine directive of Torah is to develop this world.
          Adam was told to conquer this world. What this means is that he and his descendants should develop a good and proper human civilization which would be beneficial for all Creation. (The different theological constructs of the branches of Judaism actually yield different definitions of what is a proper civilization. This recognition is one of the reasons for why these constructs are important to know.) Civilization is about this world and ties implicitly into behaviour – actually all human behaviour. Jewishness is really not about otherworld spirituality, although there is an important place for that within its realm. Within Judaism, however, there is no ‘Give onto Caesar what is Caesar’s and onto God what is God’s’ because it is all Godly. The accountant’s role in creating a good society is a Divine task. Jewish law touches upon what most people would see as secular issues. The Jewish world simply never saw the distinction. All of life was part of Judaism.
          The problem that then developed in the Jewish world was that to impart such a concept on a future generation you need an intensive educational system. With the limitations that then developed in this regard, choices had to be made. The behavioural side of Jewishness took over because that’s the way Jews think. Our focus is the practical in this world. We didn’t, though, explain or teach why Jews, specifically, think like this. It is an essential part of our teaching from God. Thus, without the proper transmission of this education, we have the ensuing problems which we now continue to face.
          Is Judaism a religion? Well, if it is, it sure isn’t like any other! This teaching must be a prime element in any form of present Jewish education.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

Monday, 22 July 2019

ACTION ALERT: Support Anti-BDS Legislation

From RRW

July 22, 2019

ACTION ALERT

URGE YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SUPPORT BIPARTISAN ANTI-BDS RESOLUTION

BACKGROUND:
Israel continues to face threats from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. An important bipartisan resolution, H. Res. 246, introduced by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Ann Wagner (R-MO), now with 346 cosponsors, is aimed at combating boycotts of Israel, and opposes the global BDS movement and its efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel. It also reiterates congressional support for direct negotiations and efforts to enhance U.S.-Israel scientific and technological cooperation.

TAKE ACTION
The House of Representatives could be voting on this measure TOMORROW. Please urge your member of Congress to vote in favor of this resolution and to be on record opposing the anti-Israel BDS movement. Click here (https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative) to find out who is your representative. You can also call the congressional switchboard at 202-225-3121 to be connected.

TALKING POINTS
At its core, the BDS movement does not aim to effect political change, but to delegitimize Israel and undermine its right to exist.

The BDS movement attempts to undercut the prospect of peace, diminishes the incentives for the parties to negotiate, and undermines a critical US ally in the region.

BDS does not seek a final status agreement or peace deal, and numerous leaders of the BDS movement are on record calling for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, including its founder, Omar Barghouti.

The BDS movement has been designated as anti-Semitic by the German Bundestag and called anti-Semitic by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The new resolution opposes the global efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel, reiterates congressional support for direct negotiation between the parties, and supports US-Israel scientific and technological cooperation.
Rabbinical Council of America, 305 Seventh Avenue, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10001

Shmoozing with Sir Paul McCartney

From RRW
https://www.aish.com/ci/a/Shmoozing-with-Sir-Paul-McCartney.html?mobile=yes

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Our Recital of a Verse Backwards in Kiddush Levanah

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                           Our Recital of a Verse Backwards in Kiddush Levanah

             We do something very unusual in Kiddush Levanah. After reciting the first half of Exodus 15:16 three times, “tipol aleihem eimatah va-vachad, bigdol zeroakha yidmu ka-aven,” we recite these same words backwards, three times: “ka-aven yidmu…aleihem tipol.” We are never else instructed to recite a verse or section of a verse backwards in our prayers. What is going on here? An article by David Farkas published several years ago in the Journal akirah (vol. 7) explores this custom and I would like to share it.
            A basic text of Kiddush Levanah is found in the Talmud at Sanhedrin 42a. But over the centuries many additional customs were added to what is found in the Talmud. That is what we are dealing with here.
             Aside from the backward recitation, our recital of Exodus 15:16 is also unusual because we are reciting only a part of the verse. The balance of the verse is “ad yaavor amkha YHVH, ad yaavor am zu kanita.” There is a statement in the Talmud (Megillah 22a) that implies that we should recite only full verses.
                Farkas observes that our present practice (first half of the verse, forwards three times, then backwards three times) has its origin in the Tur (d. 1340), sec. 426, and is then codified in the Rama. But earlier than the Tur, he can only find a reference to the practice in the Sefer Ha-Rokeach of R. Eleazar of Worms (d. 1238), sec. 229.  
                Interestingly, R. Eleazar of Worms instructs the recital of the entire verse, forwards and backwards, three times. (That the entire verse should be recited is also the view of Magen Avraham, who cites R. Eleazar.)
                 But going back to our fundamental question, where did R. Eleazar of Worms get the idea that any part of Ex. 15:16 should be recited forwards and backwards? Farkas directs our attention to  Masekhet Soferim. (According to the most recent scholarship, this work was completed in the ninth or tenth century.) The relevant passage in Masekhet Soferim has several instructions regarding Kiddush Levanah that are not found in the Talmud but that became part of our ritual. It includes the following instruction: “ve-omer shelosh pe’amim: 1) ke-shem she-ani roked….2) tipol aleihem eimatah va-fachad, u-le-mafrea, amen amen amen selah halleluyah.”  (This passage is in the 19th chapter of M. Higger’s scholarly edition of this work, but is in the 20th chapter of the standard printed edition.)
              Farkas suggests that the Tur was just passing down a tradition that originated with R. Eleazar of Worms, and that R. Eleazar of Worms misinterpreted the meaning of “u-le-mafrea in Masekhet Soferim.
             Farkas writes: “It seems strange that Maseches Soferim itself would suggest reading a verse backwards…What might not be out of place in a kabbalistic or chassidic text, seems decidedly out of place in Maseches Soferim. This work…is generally a sober halachik text governing the laws of scribes, Torah reading and liturgy. Although some aggadic passages are included in the work, nowhere else in Maseches Soferim do we find anything remotely resembling a suggestion to read a verse out of order.”
            Farkas points out that R. Eleazar of Worms was a figure within Chasidei Ashkenaz in Germany, a group that often gave mystical interpretations. Here it seems that R. Eleazar gave an unnecessarily mystical interpretation to the word “u-le-mafrea.”                 .
             Farkas admits that the hardest part of his task, after rejecting the interpretation of R. Eleazar of Worms, was to determine the correct interpretation of “u-le-mafrea” here. He observes that when the other Rishonim discuss Kiddush Levanah, they either quote the relevant passage from Masekhet Soferim without explaining how they understood the word “u-le-mafrea,” or they omit the relevant passage altogether.
             Farkas offers a few solutions. First he cites the English translation of the passage in the Soncino edition of Masekhet Soferim: “Let terror and dread fall upon them and may this be retrospective.” He suggests that the translator was expressing the idea that the punishment on the enemies of Israel, according to this passage, should also include retribution for prior attacks. (He also suggests creatively  that, since Kiddush Levanah can be recited up to approximately the middle of the month, we might be asking for retrospective application of the punishment to date back to the first of the month!)
           Then he suggests a more likely and entirely different approach. “U-lemafrea” really belongs to the subsequent phrase. The import of “u-le-mafrea” is merely: “as to what has previously been recited,” add “amen, amen, amen, selah, halleluyah.” Why was the word “u-le-mafrea”needed here at all?  Without it, we might have misunderstood and thought that the phrase “amen, amen, amen, selah, halleluyah” should also be recited three times. Or the “u-le-mafrea” clarifies that that these “amens” can be said “retrospectively” on the main earlier blessing of Kiddush Levanah that was interrupted with the various three-time statements.
             Of course, ordinarily we do not want people today to be reinterpreting texts and possibly changing practices. But this unusual custom cried out for re-analysis! (Farkas is an attorney who received rabbinical ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College in 1999.)
                               Additional notes:
   1. The author mentioned that there were no other examples of reading verses backwards in our prayers. But he does point out that in the bedtime Kriyat Shema, there is a three-word verse from Gen. 49:18, “liyshuatkha kiviti Hashem,” that is supposed to be read in various permutations. But this is a slightly different concept. (It surely has its origin in some mystical source later than Masekhet Soferim.)
   2. One issue I did not clarify above is precisely how the recital is done three times. The Complete ArtScroll Siddur (p. 614) instructs us to say the tipol” statement three times, and then the “ka-even” statement three times. But the Tur had implied that we first recite both the forward and backward verses, and then repeat this three times. (Similar was R. Eleazar of Worms.) This is what is done in  nusach ha-Gra today.
   3.  The next article in the same issue of akirah takes on a different issue involving Kiddush Levanah: the recital of “shalom aleikhem” to three different individuals. Masekhet Soferim had instructed: “ve-omer le-chaveiro shalosh pe’amim  shalom.’ ” How did one friend become three friends, and how did what we say evolve into “shalom aleikhem,” a greeting to each friend in the plural? I refer you to this article by Zvi Ron.  (Articles in akirah are available on line at hakirah.org. Briefly, Ron suggests that it was the influence of foreign languages, where the plural is often used as a sign of respect, that led to the shift to the plural “aleikhem” from the earlier practices of “shalom” and “shalom alekha.”)
       Why is there any kind of greeting to a friend or friends at all in Kiddush Levanah? Masekhet Soferim had not provided any explanation. I will mention two suggestions. Maharil (14th cent.) writes that since Kiddush Levanah “is such a great mitzvah, and is considered like greeting the Shekhinah, it is appropriate to greet one another out of joy and good feeling.” Another explanation (brought down in Mateh Moshe, 16th century, but found earlier as well) is that after wishing downfall on our enemies, it is appropriate to turn to our friend and say “Not on you. To you, only peace and peace.”
---------------------------
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com. He can relate to the concept of le-mafrea/backwardness since his last name is “First.”
 

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Mussar: G-d takes Pride and Joy in each and every Jew

originally posted May 5, 2012

Reb Nosson wrote: "Accept that everything that is said in Rebbe Nachman's holy books about the great pride and joy that G-d takes in each and every Jew, no matter his level, applies also to you!"

(Healing Leaves, p. 58)

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What does this mean to me?

The prophet Isaiah said in G-d's Name: "Yisrael, in whom I am glorified." The great pride and joy that G-d takes in each and every Jew is founded on our potential to reveal G-d's presence in the humble world of action, through the unique pathways of the mitzvos themselves. G-d created the universe so that He would have a dwelling place in the lower worlds. He wanted to have partners here—us—who willingly act to demonstrate that His Kingship extends all the way down to the place where His presence is concealed. This is what makes us His pride and joy; may G-d help us to fulfill our potential.

----

A prayer:

Help me always to recognize Your great love, O G-d.
Your love is beyond measure or limit; nevertheless You "constricted" Your G-dliness
and clothed Your love in the holy Torah and its precepts…
Each of Your precepts. is a holy channel through which
You may be perceived.

(The Flame of the Heart , p. 92)

Shalom and Regards,
RRW