Wednesday, 15 August 2018

"As it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us".

From RRW 


Israel Holds the Free World's Destiny in Her Hands:
These stubborn Israeli Jews are alone - alone in resisting in a battle for all of us.

Giulio Meotti
Published: Sunday, July 20, 2014 12:45 AM
The writer is an Italian journalist with Il Foglio.

The people of Israel are valiant, going about their daily lives knowing that Muslim killers might explode a bomb or rocket in any public place at any time.

Even more valiant are the Israeli soldiers, who are now fighting inside Gaza, house by house, spied on by cruel eyes, hated by old and young, targeted by beheaders, longed for by their families. These lone Jews fighting in a long night hold the free world's destiny in their hands.

The world is burning with jealousy of Israel and what it achieved for its people in a mere 65 years.

These stubborn Israeli Jews are alone - alone in resisting in a battle for all of us. It has been calculated that since the year of the founding of the state, more than 60,000 rockets have fallen on Israel. The Israelis are victimized and they are alone, abandoned by the world - now, just as then.

In the Second World War, hope didn't come from the Western avant garde, but from the Jews who rebelled against tyranny. The same is happening today

Open any Western newspaper and you will read about the trendy Israeli life under Hamas' rockets, life as usual, while the Arabs die. No mention of Israel as the most heavily bombed nation in the world. No mention of the trauma inflicted on two generations of Jewish children.

Israel is the first line of Western defense in the battle for non-Muslim survival and prosperity in the world. And now that the Jews are running for shelters and employing their brilliant Iron Dome, the world is burning with jealousy of Israel and what it achieved for its people in a mere 65 years.

For the UN, for the Christian bodies, for the White House, for the European Union, for the complacent public opinion and its journalistic sentinels, an independent Jewish State bearing the name "Israel," with Jerusalem as its capital, a renewal of life in the land of the Bible, a vital Jewish people restored after 2,000 years to its own holy land, has raised unresolved questions and disturbing conclusions.

The Israelis are a very special people because they know how to live in the present and make this present worth living, while the West has drained its peoples' souls and made their lives meaningless, with only shallow-minded hedonism and materialism remaining. This is why Gentiles often hate the Jews.

The sagacious American author Eric Hoffer gave voice to the most tragic Holocaust-related 20th-century truth: "I have a premonition that will not leave me, as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us".

A peaceful and unique nation like Israel and its people have to resort to violent means to survive. My heart breaks for them.


In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Rambam's Letter to the Sages of Lunel

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First   

                             A Letter from Maimonides to the Rabbis of Lunel

         I decided to continue with the Maimonides’ letters topic for another week. This time I will write about my third favorite letter of Maimonides, a letter to the Rabbis of Lunel (a city in southern France). This letter was composed in the year 1200, four years before Maimonides passed away. Maimonides had been living in Egypt since about 1166.
         The background to this letter is as follows. In 1194, the Rabbis of Lunel wrote to Maimonides for the first time, asking about the validity of astrology. Maimonides replied that it is not a science and  is foolishness. Thereafter, the Rabbis of Lunel sent him a few other letters. For example, they asked him some respectful questions on his Mishneh Torah.
          The scholar Joel Kraemer writes: “It was uplifting for [Maimonides] to receive letters from scholars who appreciated what he had done and asked friendly and constructive questions, although Abraham ben David of Posquiรจres, who wrote animadversions on the Mishneh Torah, belonged to this circle… After Maimonides had worked for ten years on the Mishneh Torah, learned colleagues found it wanting, accused him of self-aggrandizement, and tried to destroy his reputation. Now in southern France he found scholars who valued his work, who were sincerely puzzled by some passages, and addressed him with veneration. The Spanish origin of many Provencal scholars surely pleased him. His hopes for a continuation of learning were centered in southern France...” See J. Kraemer, Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Greatest Minds (2008), p. 432.
         As further background, Maimonides completed his Guide to the Perplexed around 1191. But it was composed in Arabic. The Rabbis of Lunel could not read Arabic and asked that Maimonides translate it into Hebrew, along with some of his other works.
        Here is the main part of the interesting letter that Maimonides wrote to the Rabbis of Lunel in the year 1200:
                 “ …I am forwarding to you now the third part of the Guide…in the Arabic language. However, with regard to your request that I may translate the text into the holy tongue for you- I myself could wish that I were young enough to be able to fulfill your wish concerning this and the other works which I have composed in the language of Ishmael…But I must blame the unfavorable times for preventing me from doing so. I have not even time to work out and to improve my commentaries and other works composed in the rabbinic language, which contain various obscurities, in order to arrange new editions- to say nothing of making translations from one language into another…
             But you have in your midst the learned and well instructed R. Samuel ben Judah (Ibn Tibbon), on whom the Lord has bestowed the necessary insight and excellent penmanship for performing the translation you have asked for. I have already written to him about this subject.
           To you, my honored friends, may you remain confident and strong, I have now to tell the truth: You, members of the congregation of Lunel, and of the neighboring towns, stand alone in raising the banner of Moses. You apply yourselves to the study of the Talmud and also cherish wisdom. The study of Torah in our communities has ceased; most of the bigger congregations are dead to spiritual aims; the remaining communities are facing the end. In the whole of Palestine there are three or four places only, and even these are weak, and in the whole of Syria none but a few in Aleppo occupy themselves with the Torah according to the truth, but they have it not much at heart. In the Babylonian Diaspora there are only two or three groups in Yemen, and in the rest of Arabia they know little of the Talmud and are merely acquainted with aggadic exposition.
            Only lately some well-to-do men came forward and purchased three copies of my code which they distributed through messengers in these countries, one copy for each country. Thus the horizon of these Jews was widened and the religious life in all communities as far as India revived. The Jews of India know nothing of the Torah and of the laws, save the Sabbath and circumcision. In the towns of Berbery which belong to the realm of Islam, the Jews read the Torah and observe it according to its literal meaning. What was inflicted upon the Jews of Maghreb as punishment for their sins you know.
          Therefore be firm and courageous for the sake of our people and our God; make up your minds to remain brave men. Everything depends on you; the decision is in your hands. Do not rely upon my support, because I am an old man with gray hair. And know that for this not my age but my weak body is responsible…”
(The above translation of this Hebrew letter is taken from A Maimonides Reader by I. Twersky. A slightly different text is printed in Y. Shailat, Iggerot Ha-Rambam, vol. 2. There are two surviving manuscripts of this letter. They differ slightly.)
       1.   This letter is interesting because of the broad survey of the Jewish communities that Maimonides undertakes. He describes Torah learning as dying or deteriorating everywhere and believes that the future of Judaism depends on the community of Lunel.  (Maimonides says this earlier in the letter as well, in a portion of the letter not included by Twersky: “ha-Torah…lahem levadam hi hayom le-morashah, adat Lunel.”)
          Another thing I always found interesting about this letter is Maimonides’ failure to mention the communities of northern France and Germany, where there was much Torah learning going on in the year 1200. Today we can name dozens of cities and many learned Rishonim from this broad region from this time.
           When I first observed this omission, I thought it reflected some type of implicit criticism by Maimonides of the method of learning in northern France and Germany. But then Rabbi Kanarfogel pointed out to me that I was reading too much into the omission. Maimonides had been living in Egypt for about 34 years when he wrote this letter. By that time, the communities of northern France and Germany were probably just not on his radar.  As noted in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (11:757), we have evidence of Maimonides corresponding with every part of the Jewish world, except for the area of northern France and Germany.
       That what was going on in northern France and Germany was off Maimonides’ radar is hard for us moderns to imagine. Every Shabbat I turn the pages of a certain weekly Jewish newspaper and without  even trying I am informed of the happenings in far-off Jewish communities such as Ireland, Australia and India, just to name a few examples.
       The letter did refer to “members of the congregation of Lunel, and of the neighboring towns.” Perhaps the latter phrase (“ve-khol he-arim asher sevivoteikhem”) was meant to include the towns of northern France and Germany, but a fair reading of the entire letter makes this interpretation unlikely.
         2. The text of the letter printed by Shailat adds an additional phrase. Maimonides tells the Rabbis of Lunel: “ve-aleikhem mitzvat yibum, o chalotz o yabem.” Here Maimonides is comparing the Torah, now being abandoned in most communities, to a widow. He is encouraging the Rabbis of Lunel to do the proper thing and “marry it,” rather than let it remain abandoned.
         3. I always enjoy Maimonides’ comment about being proud of one Mishneh Torah being sent to each of three countries. If one make an assumption of  two boys in each Teaneck family, with each getting three sets of Mishneh Torah as bar-mitzvah presents (as is often the case!), plus the sets of Mishneh Torah owned by their fathers, we may have 10,000 sets in Teaneck alone!
Mitchell First can be reached at Like Maimonides, he hopes to have his books sent to far away venues to revive Jewish learning. Unlike Samuel ibn Tibbon, his handwriting has always been horrendous.

The Quiet Radicalization of the Democratic Party

From RRW

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Mussar: Enemies, Good and Evil

From RRW
"Better that my enemy should see good in me than I should see evil in him."

Yiddish Proverb

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Two Letters from the Rambam

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First   
                                 Two Interesting Letters from Maimonides
                We are fortunate that many different letters from Maimonides have survived. Here I am going to discuss my two favorites.
              Maimonides lived his early life in Spain, but spent the last thirty-eight years of his life in Egypt.  (It was in Egypt that he wrote his Mishneh Torah, completing it around 1177.) Around 1185, he was appointed to be one of the Egyptian court physicians by Saladin’s chief administrator, who was in effect the ruling Sultan at the time. (Saladin himself was out of the country and at war at this time.)  What was Maimonides’s life like while working as a physician in the Egyptian royal court?
            Fortunately, we have a letter that Maimonides wrote in 1199 to Samuel Ibn Tibbon describing his daily life at this position. This was five years before Maimonides’ death in 1204. The background to this letter is as follows.
             Maimonides completed his Guide to the Perplexed around 1191. But it was composed in Arabic. The Sages of Lunel (in southern France) could not read Arabic and asked that Maimonides translate it into Hebrew, along with some of his other works. But Maimonides did not have time to undertake such a project himself. Instead, he recommended Samuel Ibn Tibbon, then in his thirties, to do the translations.  Maimonides chose Samuel out of respect for Samuel’s father Judah (d. 1190). Judah had translated many important works from Arabic and had created the vocabulary and laid the foundations for such translations.
          In 1199, Maimonides wrote a long letter to Samuel giving him instructions about doing the translations. As part of this letter, Maimonides responded to Samuel’s request to come from France to Egypt to see Maimonides and ask him questions and discuss the relevant philosophical issues with him. Here is the part of the letter where Maimonides, now age 61, responds to Samuel’s request for a visit:
            Now God knows that in order to write this to you I have escaped to a secluded spot, where people would not think to find me, sometimes leaning for support against the wall, sometimes lying down on account of my excessive weakness, for I have grown old and feeble.
           With regard to your wish to come here to me, I cannot but say how greatly your visit would delight me…Yet I must advise you not to expose yourself to the perils of the voyage…You would not derive any advantage from your visit. Do not expect to be able to confer with me on any scientific subject, for even one hour either by day or by night, for the following is my daily occupation: I dwell at Misr [=Fostat] and the Sultan resides at Kahira [=Cairo]. These two places are two Sabbath days’ journey distant from each other. My duties to the Sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning; and when he or any of his children, or any of the inmates of his harem are indisposed, I dare not quit Kahira, but must stay during the greater part of the day In the palace…Hence, as a rule, I repair to Kahira very early in the day, and if nothing unusual happens, I do not return to Misr until the afternoon. Then I am almost dying with hunger. I find the antechamber filled with people, both Jews and Gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes- a mixed multitude, who await the time of my return. I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients, and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some light refreshment, the only meal I take in the twenty-four hours.  Then I attend to my patients, write prescriptions for their various ailments. Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes even, I solemnly assure you, until two hours and more into the night. I converse and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue, and when night falls, I am so exhausted that I can scarcely speak. In consequence of this, no Israelite can have any private interview with me except on the Sabbath. On this day the whole congregation, or at least the majority of its members, come to me after the morning service, when I instruct them as to their proceedings during the whole week; we study together until noon, when they depart. Some of them return, and read with me after the afternoon service until evening prayers. In this manner I spend that day…Now, when you have completed for our brethren the translation you have commenced, I beg that you will come to me but not with the hope of deriving any advantage from your visit as regards your studies, for my time is, as I have shown you, excessively occupied.”
Translation (from the Arabic) taken from I. Twersky, A Maimonides Reader, pp. 7-8. (This letter is also included in the Encyclopaedia Judaica entry for Maimonides, 11:757.)
        My other favorite letter of Maimonides is one written to a dayan named Pinchas ben Meshulam.  As we all know, Maimonides was much criticized for writing a major work of halakha, the Mishneh Torah, without giving his sources. Of course, Maimonides was merely trying to make it easy for everyone to know the halakha, by gathering all the scattered halakhot from the Bavli, Yerushalmi, and Tosefta, etc. into one place. But people nevertheless wanted to identify the passages from which Maimonides derived each of his conclusions. In a letter to Pinchas, Maimonides tells the following interesting story:
                  A judge came to me with pages from my book in his hand, from Hilkhot Rotzeach. He showed me a section and said: Read this. I read it. I then said to him: What is your question? He responded: Where do these words come from? I said to him, they are found in the relevant section, either from Eilu Hen Ha-Golin or from Sanhedrin…. He responded: I already looked through all of these and I could not find it. I said to him: Perhaps it was in the Jerusalem Talmud? He responded: I already searched in the Jerusalem Talmud and the Tosefta and did not find it. I said to him: I remember that at a certain place in Gittin these ideas were set forth. I pulled out a Gittin and I searched and could not find it. I was really puzzled…Finally, after he left, I remembered! I sent a messenger and brought him back and I showed him the matter explicitly in Yevamot, mentioned as an aside…”
                   “I am always worried when people come to me and ask: Where were these things said? Sometimes I can answer the questioner immediately: In this place. Other times I cannot say and I cannot remember the source without searching. I am greatly pained by this. I say to myself: If I am the author and the source escapes me, what about the rest of the people? I regret that I did not do the following, which now, if God lets, I will do, even though it is a lot of work. Every halakha that comes from elsewhere, I will give its source. For example, in the case of Hilkhot Shabbat from my Chibbur, every thing that is explicit in Masekhet Shabbat or Eruvin, I don’t have to give its source. But a halakha in Hilkhot Shabbat that comes from Masekhet Avodah Zarah or Pesachim or Zevachim or Kreitot, I will give its source. I will write: Halakha Plonit from chapter Ploni, its source is chapter Ploni from Masekhet Plonit. But this will be a new book into itself. I cannot do this in the body of the Chibur….”
           Sadly, Maimonides never was able to publish such a supplemental work.
          (I would like to acknowledge that I learned about this interesting letter from a shiur given by Rabbi Tully Harcsztark. This letter is printed in Y. Shailat, Iggerot Ha-Rambam, vol. 2, sec. 28. I only included a limited section of the letter and my translation from the original Hebrew is not a precise one.)
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at He admits that the main reason he puts footnotes in his books and scholarly articles is to remind himself of his sources.