Monday, 11 December 2017

United with Israel: Applying the Balfour Declaration Correctly

That the Balfour Declaration has to be acknowledged as a significant and positive document in the history of the Jewish People is not in question. What this significance is, though, has to be carefully articulated. Many supporters of Israel, sadly, give it an importance that is, in fact, detrimental to Israel's standing among the nations of the world -- and we have to be extremely careful about this. In regard to this, please see my latest post in the United with Israel blog at

At the present time, this posting is not up on the UWI Facebook page; my hope is that it will be in the near future. Please feel free to comment here or on one of the UWI sites.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday, 10 December 2017

What Motivated the Decrees of Antiochus?

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                     What Motivated Antiochus to Issue his Decrees?                                                                                                                                                                                     
                 Antiochus (=Antiochus IV) acceded to the throne in 175 B.C.E.  In the beginning of his reign, a priest named Jason purchased the high priesthood with a bribe. At Jason’s initiative, many Jews in Jerusalem began to follow a Hellenistic way of life. A few years later, Menelaus usurped the high priesthood from Jason with his own bribe.
                 In 167 B.C.E., Antiochus issued his decrees:
                       The king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah
                       containing orders to follow customs foreign to the land, to put a stop to
                       burnt offerings and meal offering and libation in the temple, to violate
                       Sabbaths and festivals, to defile temple and holy things, to build illicit
                       altars and illicit temples and idolatrous shrines, to sacrifice swine and
                       ritually unfit animals, to leave their sons uncircumcised and to draw
                       abomination upon themselves by means of all kinds of uncleanness and
                       profanation, so as to forget the Torah and violate all the commandments.
                       Whoever disobeyed the word of the king was to be put to death. (I Macc.1:44-50).           
Antiochus also ordered the burning of Torah scrolls and the death of anyone found with such scrolls.
               Some Jews chose death as martyrs, but many complied with the king’s orders, willingly or out of fear of punishment.
              The persecution reached Modein, where Mattathias, a priest, had settled with his five sons after fleeing Jerusalem. In Modein, Mattathias slew a Jew who had publicly sacrificed upon a pagan altar. He also slew the king’s official who had ordered the sacrifice. Mattathias then fled with his sons to the mountains. Other Jews joined them.

              Eventually, the Jewish fighters gained in numbers and they began to strike back at  the royal government and the apostate Jews. They demolished some of the pagan altars that had been erected. Mattathias died early in the revolt, but the revolt and the effort to liberate territories continued, led by his son Judah. Eventually, the Temple area was liberated, and on the 25th of Kislev in 164 B.C.E. the Temple was rededicated, and the sacrificial service restored. (The fight for independence continued after that. It was not until 142 B.C.E. that Judea finally achieved independence.)                                                                                  
            There are three main approaches that historians have taken to explain the decrees of Antiochus:
           ° One approach views the decrees as motivated primarily by his desire to spread Hellenism or to culturally unify what was perhaps a crumbling empire. In this approach, Antiochus presumably would have desired to interfere with other religions in his empire as well.
           °   Another approach views Menelaus and his Hellenistic followers as the main force behind the enactment of the decrees. In this approach, it is thought that Antiochus himself was indifferent about whether the Jews observed the Sabbath and holidays, the rite of circumcision, and the dietary laws. But in the minds of the Hellenistic Jews who found these rituals barbaric, it was important to reform Judaism to eliminate them. 
            °   A third approach views the decrees as primarily a response by Antiochus to what he perceived as a revolt by the Jews. 
             Language that supports the first approach is found at I Macc. 1: 41-43:
                              41: The king wrote to all his kingdom, for all to become
                                     one people and for each to abandon his own customs.
                              42: All the gentiles agreed to the terms of the king’s proclamation.
                              43: Many Israelites, too, accepted his religion and sacrificed to

              But a weakness with the first approach is that we have very little other evidence of attempts by Antiochus to interfere with the religious practices of peoples in his kingdom.

               In our second approach, Menelaus and his Hellenistic followers are the main force behind the enactment of the decrees. A main support for this is that, at Antiquities XII, 384-85, Josephus writes that Menelaus was the one who convinced Antiochus IV to compel the Jews to abandon their religion. But none of the other narrative sources connect the decrees with Menelaus or his followers. Moreover, the decrees of Antiochus were not limited to particular rituals that Hellenistic Jews might have viewed as barbaric. The decrees essentially compelled the Jews to reject their entire religion. It seems unlikely that this was the vision of Menelaus and his followers, even assuming that Menelaus was an ardently Hellenistic Jew.            
               The third approach seems to be closest to the truth. It relies in large part on the fifth chapter of II Maccabees, which describes the events of 168 B.C.E. The chapter begins with  mention of Antiochus’ second incursion into Egypt. According to the author of II Maccabees,  the deposed high priest Jason heard a false report that Antiochus had passed away while in Egypt. Jason then took 1000 men and mounted a surprise attack on Jerusalem, presumably to recapture his office from Menelaus. Some details about the fighting are provided. Eventually, at verse 5:11, the author of II Maccabees concludes: “[w]hen the king received news of the events, he concluded that Judaea was in revolt.”
              The author of II Maccabees continues (5:11-16):
                               [H]e broke camp and set out from Egypt. With the fury of
                               a wild beast, he took the city, treating it as enemy territory
                               captured in war. He ordered the soldiers to slay mercilessly
                               whomever they met and to butcher those who withdrew into
                               their houses…[F]orty thousand fell by the sword and an
                               equal number were sold as slaves. Unsatisfied with these
                               atrocities, Antiochus had the audacity to enter the holiest
                               temple in the whole world…With polluted hands he seized
                               the sacred vessels and swept up the gifts deposited by many
                               other kings…

           The author of II Maccabees implies that Antiochus misunderstood the situation before him. In this view, there was no Jewish revolt in Jerusalem against Seleucid rule at this time, just a misunderstanding by Antiochus. But several scholars have taken a further step and speculated that Antiochus was correct and that there was a Jewish revolt in Jerusalem against Seleucid rule at this time.  Whether or not Antiochus was correct in his understanding, it is clear that Antiochus now regarded Jerusalem as a hostile city and behaved toward it accordingly. The suggestion is then made that Antiochus viewed the scribes and the interpreters of Jewish Law as leaders in the revolt and its aftermath, and as the ones who had the support of the masses. This Jewish Law had to be extirpated, Antiochus reasoned, if the city was to be controlled.     
            Finally, a story has come down to us in various ancient sources about the humiliating manner in which Antiochus’ attempt to invade Egypt was rebuffed in 168 B.C.E. When Antiochus was with his forces in Egypt, Roman forces caught up with him and ordered him to withdraw. When Antiochus said he needed time to consult with his advisers, the leader of the Roman forces took out a stick, drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus, and insisted that he make his decision before he took another step. Humiliated, Antiochus yielded and agreed to withdraw his army from Egypt. This event occurred about eighteen months before the persecution of Judea was launched in 167 B.C.E. It has been suggested that this humiliation influenced him and led him to overcompensate in the manner in which he responded to the rebellion he perceived in Judea.  
The above is an abridged version of an article published in Ḥakirah, vol. 16 and in the author’s book Esther Unmasked.                                


Thursday, 7 December 2017

3 Days of Prayer to Combat 3 Days of Rage

From the Rabbinical Council of America

Today President Trump announced that the US Government recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.   We are grateful to the President for his leadership and request that everyone call the White House expressing support for this courageous act.
This announcement, however good it is, has potential to ignite riots in Israel and beyond.  In light of this possibility, we request that everyone prays to Hashem for peace in Israel and all communities around the world, and recites Tehillim, especially Chapter 83 & 126.
In addition, in response to the "Three Days of Rage" being initiated by our enemies, let us create "Three Days of Tefilah" where we increase our kavanah, especially when we recite the berakhot ofve-li-Yerushalayim Ircha and Retzei..
May we merit the fulfillment of the prophetic vision of  Zechariya haNavi:
כֹּה אָמַר ה' שַׁבְתִּי אֶל צִיּוֹן וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם וְנִקְרְאָה יְרוּשָׁלַם עִיר הָאֱמֶת וְהַר ה' צְ-בָאוֹת הַר הַקֹּדֶשׁ כֹּה אָמַר ה' צְבָ-אוֹת עֹד יֵשְׁבוּ זְקֵנִים וּזְקֵנוֹת בִּרְחֹבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם וְאִישׁ מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ בְּיָדוֹ מֵרֹב יָמִים
וּרְחֹבוֹת הָעִיר יִמָּלְאוּ יְלָדִים וִילָדוֹת מְשַׂחֲקִים בִּרְחֹבֹתֶיהָ

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

New RBH shiur on Koshertube on YouTube: Why Quote Shammai Before Hillel

The gemara in Eruvin praises Beit Hillel for consistently presenting the opinion of Beit Shammai even before presenting their own view on the subject. This indicates a significant value in presenting an opposing position even before presenting your own. It is more than a matter and lesson in respect; it positively impacts on one's own opinion.

In his latest Koshertube shiur, Nishma's Rabbi Hecht expands upon this idea. We invite you to view Why Quote Shammai Before Hillel at

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Jewish Leaders Urge Withdrawal of Bill on Palestinian Minors

From RRW

As published by the Jewish News Service - November 20, 2017


by Rafael Medoff /

   In the wake of an attack by a teenage Palestinian terrorist that left two Israelis wounded last Friday, Jewish organizations and community leaders are calling for the withdrawal of a congressional measure targeting Israel’s treatment of Palestinian minors.

   Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and nine other Democrats in the House of Representatives last week introduced H.R. 4391, which would restrict U.S. aid to Israel if the Israelis undertake the “military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” The legislation specifies that any Palestinian under the age of 18 should be considered a child.

   Last Friday, a 17-year-old Palestinian deliberately ran over two Israeli civilians near the town of Efrat. One of the victims was a 70-year-old American immigrant. The attacker then exited his vehicle and attempted to stab several Israeli soldiers, who shot and wounded him. 

   The soldiers’ shooting and detention of the teenage terrorist are among the types of actions that would trigger the sanctions mandated by the McCollum bill.

   “I urge Congresswoman McCollum to withdraw her bill, before it helps inspire other young Palestinians to copy the 17-year-old attacker near Efrat,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. 

   “Palestinian youth do need a ‘protection act’—they need protection from Hamas that uses them as human shields for terrorism and who send them to dig terror tunnels,” Cooper added. “They need protection from the brainwashing of the Palestinian Authority that teaches them to deny the rights and humanity of their Jewish neighbors.”

   “The bill is dangerously presumptuous,” B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin told “It puts Israel in peril. This measure seemingly ignores the assaults on Israelis. It basically calls on Israel not to respond to acts of terror. At a time of heightened awareness to acts of terror everywhere, such legislation is surprising and disheartening.”

   Even if last Friday’s attack had not occurred, “this is an unwise piece of legislation,” Steve Grossman, former president of AIPAC and ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told “If the sponsors don’t withdraw it on their own, I urge them to do so—and if not, I hope the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will report it out unfavorably and make it clear to their colleagues that the bill is unwise and they do not support it.”

   “Israel has a solid system of checks and balances in place” to address any instances in which Israeli soldiers act inappropriately, Grossman said. “Israel, unlike virtually every other country in that region, has a robust and independent judiciary, which steps in if actions go beyond what is appropriate. It’s a central feature of Israel’s open and democratic society and it functions very effectively.” Therefore, Grossman said, “I agree with those who are saying the bill should not see the light of the day. This legislation is hostile to Israel, and hostile to appropriate public policy.”

   The purpose of McCollum’s bill is “to paint Israel in a negative light by presenting issues out of context, and misrepresenting the facts in the Middle East,” said Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress in North America. “The truth is that it is the Palestinians who abuse children by putting them in harm’s way and sending them out to commit stabbings, to throw rocks that have killed and wounded, and trained them to be suicide bombers.”

   The McCollum bill’s nine co-sponsors are Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin; Earl Blumenauer and Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon; André Carson of Indiana; John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan; Danny K. Davis and Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois; Raul Grijalva of Arizona; and Chellie Pingree of Maine.

   According to an analysis prepared by the Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor, “the entirety of the [McCollum] bill is premised on factually inaccurate claims from anti-Israel advocacy NGOs” such as Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P). Portions of the text of the bill appear to have been lifted directly, without attribution, from a DCI-P report issued last year or from the DCI-P website.

   At least three members of DCI-P’s board—Shawan Jabarin, Nasser Ibrahim and Dr. Majed Nasser—have been affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group.