Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Converting Amalek?

Originally published 3/19/08, 11:54 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

Can one fulfill the mitzvah of destroying Amalek by converting them? There are more sides to this question than one might first think.

See, further, http://www.nishma.org/articles/update/updatemarch92-choice.htm.

Have a freilich Purim.
Rabbi Ben Hecht

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Jewish Ledger: The Democrats' Dilemma

From RRW
Click the cover to flip through this weeks Ledger online!
Why the Democrats' Ilhan Omar problem isn't going away
This week's eBlast sponsored by:


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says 
 AIPAC is coming after her. It's not.


"I am a proud Palestinian" 
Expert in Arab, Palestinian affairs speaks candidly to Stamford teens


Sen. Lindsey Graham, on Golan Heights, says he will spearhead effort to recognize Israel's sovereignty


I'm That Jew
 Take a look... 
The NEW issue of
All Things Jewish
is online! 

Ledger Publications, 36 Woodland Street, Hartford, CT 06105

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Interesting Words in the Megillah-Part 2

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First 

                               Interesting Words in the Megillah-Part II
            Medinah (1:1 and elsewhere): province, region. This word does not appear in the Torah but it appears in Nach, starting with I Kings and in some of the books that date after that.
               If you were inventing a word for “region,” perhaps you might invent some word with a root like “neighbor” or “family.” Alternatively, to mention a more pessimistic approach, the French philosopher Ernest Renan once wrote that “a nation is a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors.” After that brief introduction, what exactly is the origin of this word “medinah?” The answer is easily seen. That initial mem is not a part of the root. The root of the word is din: law and jurisdiction. Fundamentally, what creates a region? The fact that people are united by a legal system that has authority and jurisdiction over them.
          Karpas: (1:6): This is the only time this word appears in the Tanach. It is a loanword from Persian and means “fine fabric, linen.”  In the Mishna, Tosefta and Talmud, we find our well-known word “karpas” that has the meaning of a plant, or celery/parsley. That word may also ultimately derive from Persian but it derives from a completely different Persian word.  See Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, p. 287.
           (Note that the Mishnah, Tosefta and Talmud never mention “karpas” in connection with the seder. “Karpas” is not mentioned in connection with the seder until the Geonic period.)
           Nigzar (2:1): The root G-Z-R in Tanach typically has a meaning like “cut” or “separate.” But here it has the meaning “decree”: Achashverosh remembers Vashti and what was “nigzar aleha” (=decreed upon her).  The verb also has the meaning “decree” at Job 22:28. How did a verb that originally meant “cut” develop meanings like “decree” and “decide”? Interestingly, there is a connection between “cut” and words like “decree,” “decide” and “determine” in many languages. For example, in English, when we make a decision, we often say that “we are drawing a line,” i.e., making a separation.  The explanation is probably that a decree separates the past from the present and separates what is permitted from what is forbidden.
             I saw something like this in the Radak, Sefer Ha-Shorashim, entry G-Z-R. When he discusses Esther 2:1, he explains that the meaning of “nigzar” is:  “nechtakh ha-davar she-lo yashuv od achor”=the matter is decided so it will not go back to the previous way.
              Omein (2:7): We are told that Mordechai was “omein” to Esther. How should we translate this word?
            Of course, we all know this root aleph-mem-nun. Usually it means something like “trust” or “believe.” But one time in Tanach, at Shir Ha-Shirim 7:2, it means “craftsman.”  The “trust/believe” meaning and the “craftsman” meaning are not related, as the latter comes from Akkadian. (But I did see one non-scholarly source that did not realize this and translated the A-M-N of Shir Ha-Shirim 7:2 as a “dependable worker”!)  (This reminds me that I once saw a Teaneckshuls moderator post an instruction that one is not allowed to ask for “reliable contractors,” as this implicitly maligns the rest of the contractors!)
             Ok, so what did Mordechai do for Esther? And what did Naomi do for Ruth’s baby? (She is described as an “omenet” at Ruth 4:16.) Were they teaching their children crafts?
            Many translate the word at Ruth 4:16 and elsewhere (e.g., Num. 11:12) as “nurse.” But the application of this word to Mordechai (and other men, see, e.g., II Kings 10:1,5) is difficult! And how would this “nurse” meaning have arisen from the root A-M-N?
           I prefer a different approach. A common translation of our word at Esther 2:7 is “brought up.”   But can we relate this to the root A-M-N? A reasonable explanation is provided by the article on our root in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. This article takes the position that the “bring up a child” (omein and omenet) meaning comes from the “trust” meaning, since the verb is used of men and women who are entrusted with (and trusted with) the care of dependent children. This article denies the existence of the “nurse” meaning altogether.
         Because “omein” has been commonly thought to mean “nurse,” yet the word is male (unlike “omenet”), the Hertz Chumash was forced into the following translation at Num. 11:12: “as a nursing-father carries the suckling child”! (Note that this Chumash was merely reprinting the 1917 translation of the Jewish Publication Society at the top. Only the comments in the lower part of the page are by Rabbi Dr. Hertz. I only realized this two years ago, at age 58!)
            Igeret (9:26,29): This word only appears in Esther, Nechemiah and II Chronicles. (A related word also appears two times in Ezra.) Everyone realizes from the context that the word means a letter. But why? There is a root in Hebrew, Aleph-Gimmel-Resh, that means “gather.” See, e.g.,  Deut: 28:39. Therefore, many of the traditional commentaries believed that an “igeret” was a collection of thoughts.  But scholars now realize that the word “igeret” is likely derived from the Akkadian word “egirtu” that meant “letter.”
          P.S.  If you need a review on identifying Achashverosh and Esther in secular sources, please read the long article in my Esther Unmasked (2015), pp. 129-167. (If you only want a three-page version, please read my new book Roots and Rituals, pp. 214-17.)
     P.P.S. As I explain in these articles, Achashverosh’s name in its original Persian form was:  “Khshayarsha.” Almost no one realizes this but 2500 years later there are still people in Iran (and the U.S.)  with the first or last name “Khshayarsha,” or a name derived from it, like “Khashayarsha,” or “Khashayar.” One of them is Iranian-born Khashayar Khatiri, now living in America, who was involved in raising over $1 million for the Pittsburgh synagogue!

Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. While he collects his thoughts and formulates his columns, he can be reached via email at MFirstAtty@aol.com. No letters please.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Shimon Peres: The Early Years

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                       Shimon Peres: The Early Years

                  I base this column on Shimon Peres: The Biography, by Michael Bar-Zohar (2007), parts I and II.
                 Bar-Zohar writes in the introduction: “To many, Shimon Peres was an enigma…. He was different from all the others who worked at his side. A son of Israel whose roots were in a faraway land; a master of the Hebrew language, yet with a foreign accent; the ultimate defense expert of Israel, who had never worn a uniform; a mediocre politician, yet a statesmen with a splendid vision; a kibbutznik without a formal education, yet abounding in culture….A complex man of many faces and contradictions.”
                 Shimon was born in Poland in 1923.   Shimon’s grandfather on his mother’s side was Zvi Meltzer, a graduate of the famous Volozhin yeshiva. Shimon was his favorite grandson.
                  One day a traveler came to Poland from Palestine. He held in his hand a golden orange.       Shimon wrote: “I’ll never forget our town Jews gaping with feverish eyes at the small orange that symbolized for them their most precious hopes and dreams.  And for the first time in my life I felt, almost physically, what was Eretz-Israel.”
                    Shimon’s childhood passed with almost no contact with Gentiles. He would often quote the French-Jewish philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch: “Jewish life in the Diaspora was similar to a voyage in the subway—you travel underground, you don’t see the scenery, and nobody sees you in the train.”
                   When Shimon was nine, his father Getzel immigrated to Palestine by himself. After three long years, the immigration certificates came for the rest of the family. On the station platform, his grandfather instructed him: “Be a Jew, forever!” These were the last words he ever heard from his grandfather. The bearded face of his grandfather became for him the symbol of Judaism; whenever he saw a bearded rabbi, he would remember his beloved grandfather!      
              “My goal in life is to serve my people. The most important service to the people of Israel is building the country [by] working the land.” Thus wrote 15 year old Shimon on his arrival at the youth village of Ben-Shemen.  When he arrived in Ben-Shemen he looked like a child from Eastern Europe. But when he left, two and a half years later, he was a kibbutznik, active in Working Youth, a worker of the land, and deeply rooted in the Labor movement.
              The young Shimon Persky changed his name to Peres, and eventually met Ben-Gurion (who had changed his name from Gruen). Peres was appointed assistant defense secretary for navy affairs. “So there I was, a twenty-six-year old kibbutznik…running complex defense programs, and then, on top of everything, becoming the acting Secretary of the Navy. My naval experience consisted of a moderate proficiency at breast-stroke and one childhood attempt to build a raft and launch it off the coast of Tel Aviv.”
               His big mistake was choosing not to fight in the War of Independence. A poet quipped that Peres belonged to those “who heard gunfire only on the telephone.”
             After the War of Independence, Ben-Gurion sent him to New York and appointed him deputy director of the Ministry of Defense so that he could work during the day and study in the evenings. He also went to Harvard management school for a few months. That is where he learned to dress in a suit and tie!
              He was devoted to his work for the Ministry of Defense in New York. His job involved taking risks, as the mission used illegal methods to buy weapons.  Peres and his team bought torpedo boats, Mustang, Mosquito and Harvard aircraft; tanks; communication equipment; and spare parts.
             While in New York during the winter of 1951, Peres received an urgent request for cannons for the IDF. He found out that the Canadian Army was selling thirty cannons from their Second World War surplus. Peres was told that he could get the cannons for $2 million. But the director general of the Treasury, Pinhas Sapir sent a special message to New York, telling him he would not get a penny from the budget. Peres decided he would raise the money himself. He traveled to Montreal and went to see Sam Bronfman. Together, they drove to Ottawa and spoke to the weapons minister. Bronfman was able to cut the price in half. He then asked Peres: Who will get you the million? Peres replied: You!
                Bronfman was stunned. But when he recovered, he dictated a guest list of fifty to his wife. Bronfman’s guests responded warmly and raised close to a million dollars.
                In 1952, Peres returned to Israel with his family. At the age of 29, he was appointed deputy director of the Defense Ministry. He said: “I know how to build a force and Moshe [Dayan] knows how to use it.”
              Israel found support in France in important sections of the army and the right wing, which regarded Britain as France’s traditional rival and identified with Israel’s struggle against the British mandate. In addition, Socialist Party leaders considered Mapai a sister party, and former Resistance fighters and political figures who survived Nazi atrocities felt a deep identification with the Jewish people. The struggle of Israel, a small and enlightened nation, against the fanatic jihad of millions of Muslims fired up the imagination of many Frenchmen.
                An early story is that Peres flew to Paris and phoned the French Deputy Prime Minister who immediately received him in his office. They started a negotiation for the purchase of 155-mm. cannons. Peres finalized the deal with an aging colonel in the Ministry of Defense. But Peres had no idea how one government paid another. He suggested that Israel deposit one million dollars in the bank account of the French Ministry of Defense, and they would settle their bills later. “To my surprise, he agreed to that suggestion, and the cannons started to move.”
                 Peres stated:  “I came as an uneducated kibbutznik, who had no idea about France.“ But Yossef Nehemias, the defense ministry’s envoy to Paris, tutored Peres on French culture and table manners. During his flights to and from Israel, he would study French with diligence. Many of the secrets of French grammar still eluded him, but he achieved a basic knowledge of the language.
                 For Peres, the 1956 Sinai campaign had an unexpected result. He suddenly emerged from the shadows as the real architect of the French alliance. Now the veil was lifted slightly, enough to crown him with laurels. Peres was incessantly shuttling between Tel Aviv and Lod airport, welcoming or sending off delegations of senior French officers, past and present ministers and deputy ministers of defense, air and armaments.
                 The French press was full of enthusiastic reports about “brave little Israel.”  “France is ready to sell Israel all the weapons she needs,” declared the president of the French parliament’s Defense Committee. France stood by Israel at international forums, first and foremost at the United Nations. Researchers and scientists of both countries worked together on joint projects. Israeli officers trained at French academies and military schools.
                  In both France and Israel a league was created to work toward achieving a formal alliance between the two nations. Some of the most eminent French leaders joined the league. One statesman declared at a meeting in Paris, “If a party of national unity could ever be created in France, its name would bear the initials I.S.R.A.E.L.”
                 France’s pro-Israel policy stemmed from its vital interests at the time. But if Peres had not been able to detect those interests and harness them to the needs and goals of Israel, the alliance between the two nations might never have even been born.
                  Peres objected to the theory that Israel should “integrate in the Middle East.” He maintained that the connection of Israel to that part of the world was geographical only, and that Israel should ignore the area and seek permanent association with Europe. “I don’t need music records from Yemen or books from Egypt…We should follow the world’s big blocks and the only natural place for us…is Europe.”
                  In 1958, there was a coup in Iraq. Thereafter, subversive groups revolted against King Hussein and besieged the royal palace in Amman. With Ben Gurion’s consent, an airlift over Israel’s territory carried 2000 British troops to Amman. The prompt British operation saved the king. This turmoil made the U.S. realize how important Israel could be. Gradually, the American suspicion toward Israel changed into growing cooperation.
               P.S.  I bought Bar-Zohar’s book a few years ago for a small price. Then when Peres died, the price greatly increased!
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. Now he thinks about a new field: gambling on purchasing biographies of elderly statesmen!

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Cuomo criticizes House Dems over anti-hate resolution

I found it somewhat surprising to find this on CNN. One may find some questions with the specific language but it is nice to see that the basic issue is being addressed across the board. Please see


Saturday, 9 March 2019

P. Vayiqra - Two Mussar Maxims from Torah T'mimah

Here are two tweets giving us Mussar on the parshah from the Torah Temimah.

"@NishmaTweet: P. Vayiqra 1:1 Mussar 1 TT [1] don't enter pi'tom. Announce yourself first. Good etiquette, good psychology."

"@NishmaTweet: P. Vayiqra 1:1 Mussar 2 TT [2] don't talk or address someone w/o getting their approval first also Good etiquette & good psychology."

Thus, we see some Midrash Halachah offering us practical ethical behaviour:
Don't startle people by entering abruptly.
Don't talk or preach to people w/o asking their permission first.
Be considerate - and use wisdom when doing so.

Shavua Tov,