Thursday 31 July 2014

Urgent Legislative Alert

KAJ/Breuer's forward this from the Agudah...

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rabbi Labish Becker <>
Date: Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 2:14 PM
Subject: Urgent Legislative Alert

Don't Delay Iron Dome Funding

The Iron Dome defense system has been a highly effective means of shooting down Hamas rockets that could have killed or injured thousands of Israelis. The Obama Administration, the Senate and the House - on a bipartisan basis -- all recognize how vital and critical Iron Dome is to Israel's security and there is universal support for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding for this critical system.

Our message:

(1)   We are deeply grateful for the full, strong and bipartisan support of the Obama Administration, the Senate and the House, for additional funding for the Iron Dome defense system.
(2)   We urge Congress to do everything in its power to find an appropriate legislative vehicle - now, as rockets continue to fly  and kill -- that will allow for the quick approval of this funding before Congress recesses for the summer
You message should be positive, supportive and non-partisan.
Please contact the Senate and House Leadership, as well as your own Senators and Congresspersons, and convey the above message this evening (by leaving a message) and/or tomorrow morning (by speaking to a staffer).  Leadership numbers are below. To be connected to your elected officials, you may call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asked to be connected to their offices.

Senate Leadership:

Majority Leader Harry Reid - (202) 224-2158

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell - (202) 224-3135

Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbra Mikulski - (202) 224-7363

Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby - (202)  224-7257

House Leadership:

Speaker John Boehner - (202) 225-0600

Majority Leader Eric Cantor - (202) 225-4000

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy - (202) 225-0197

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - (202) 225-0100

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer - (202) 225-3130

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (202) 225-2771

Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey - (202) 225-3481

 Much Hatzlacha!

Rabbi Abba Cohen
Agudath Israel of America
     Vice President for Federal Affairs
       Washington Director and Counsel
       P(202) 835-0414; F(202) 835-0424

Kol Tuv,

Huffington Post: The Hypocrisy of Hamas

There are so many reasons to be upset with some of the media presentations in regard to the present conflict in Gaza. One item that specifically bothers me is watching someone from Hamas who is not concerned with civilian casualties -- as evidenced by Hamas' specific targeting of civilian population centres which include women and children -- then complain about the loss of civilians. I expressed my thoughts further on this in my latest Huffington Post blog: The Hypocrisy of Hamas

My original title for the post, btw, was 'The Mocking of Values' but it was changed by the editors. (I leave it to you to decide which title is better.)

Please feel free to comment here or there.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Exposing the Fig Leaf Covering Anti-Semitism - 2: Dr. Aton Holzer's Rebuttal

«[Dear] Mr. Horton:

"An open letter for the people of Gaza" on July 22, 2014 is totally inappropriate for publication in a medical journal. The article is replete with omissions and distortions, as I am certain you are well aware. The notion that a liberal western democracy would be interested in "massacring" Gazans -- and that its people and military would willingly engage in such an aim -- would be laughable if not chilling, given that the democracy being accused of bloodlust is the world's only Jewish state. In any event, simple perusal of Israeli press -- and the mindset of its editorials, even the furthest to the "right" -- would instantly reveal the fallacy of such a claim. Likewise, the ratio of reported deaths to ordnance dropped belies this claim. Further, the wholesale acceptance of numbers published by Hamas-controlled agencies in the fog of war is not a methodology that would pass muster for epidemiologists or biostatisticians.
The fact of IDF dropping of leaflets, cellphone calls, "roof knocking" all instantly reveal the "massacre" blood libel for what it is: a disgrace upon the reputation of The Lancet. Moreover, if the authors of the article have been working in Shifa and Wafa hospitals for any length of time, they are criminally negligent for looking away from the war crime Hamas perpetrated over the years by using these hospitals to store rockets and ammunition. As you surely know, medical facilities used to store munitions or launch military operations lose any legal protection under international humanitarian law.
Although I still do not believe that the Lancet would have been the place for it, a productive article that actually aimed to help the citizens of Gaza would have called out Hamas, which has brought about a humanitarian crisis by kidnapping and murdering Israeli civilians, bringing upon Gaza the blockade; that took the hundreds of millions of dollars in money and goods and used them to buy costly missiles and commission tunnels for terrorizing Israel's population -- hundreds of tons of concrete that could have built two hospitals and more; and that stored and launched these missiles from hospitals, clinics, schools and civilian homes, and prevented civilians from leaving them when called by Israel to evacuate. A productive article would call upon Qatar and Turkey to cease funding this entity known as Hamas, and for the international community to drive it from power and arrest its leaders.
It goes without saying that I and the community of physicians of which I am a part expect that you will print a well-reasoned rebuttal from Israeli physicians. Particularly in light of today's news item about the deaths of three Israeli soldiers in a booby-trapped UNRWA medical clinic (!) hiding a tunnel shaft, I think that basic decency would dictate that you print a retraction, as well.
Sincerely yours,

Aton M. Holzer, MD, FAAD, AMACMS
Miami, FL, USA»

Rabbi Dr. Aton Holzer is a member of the RCA

Kol Tuv,

Exposing the Fig Leaf Covering Anti-Semitism - 1: The Attack in "Lancet"

«An open letter for the people in Gaza:
We are doctors and scientists, who spend our lives developing means to care and protect health and lives. We are also informed people; we teach the ethics of our professions, together with the knowledge and practice of it. We all have worked in and known the situation of Gaza for years.

On the basis of our ethics and practice, we are denouncing what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel.

We ask our colleagues, old and young professionals, to denounce this Israeli aggression. We challenge the perversity of a propaganda that justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre, a so-called "defensive aggression". In reality it is a ruthless assault of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity. We wish to report the facts as we see them and their implications on the lives of the people.

We denounce the myth propagated by Israel that the aggression is done caring about saving civilian lives and children's well being.
An open letter for the people in Gaza : The Lancet

Richard Horton is the Editor of Lancet but not the author of this article.

Kol Tuv,

Tuesday 29 July 2014

What We're Up Against, Kamikazes Round 2?
Kol Tuv,

BBC News - Why Israelis are rallying behind latest Gaza campaign

Unifying effect

The reason why Hamas has been so effective in unifying Israelis is that they attacked the Israeli consensus.

They didn't attack the West Bank, whose fate divides Israelis. They attacked Tel Aviv and close to Ben-Gurion International Airport with rockets, targeted left-wing agricultural communities on Israel's side of the border with Gaza from what Israel calls terror tunnels, and allegedly kidnapped boys on the way home from school in a society that is obsessed with children.

Many more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis, but Israelis put the blame on Hamas
By doing so, Hamas built up the stamina of an Israeli population that was more impatient in previous standoffs in Gaza.

Polls have shown that support for the ground offensive is sky-high and that Mr Netanyahu's backing of a proposed Egyptian cease fire was extremely unpopular.

Kol Tuv,

Monday 28 July 2014

יש פנים לחיילים !
Kol Tuv,

In Memory of Rav Yaakov Simcha Cohen z"l

The late Rav Yaakov Simcha Cohen z"l was an occasional contributor to NishmaBlog, and a most frequent contributor to the Jewish Press. He recently was Niftar, and left a void amongst those who knew him, even those who knew him casually.

Rav Dov Fischer, who is also a Nishmblog contributor wrote a moving eulogy of our Chaveir, and we are presenting it here to honor R Cohen's Memory.

* * * * *

In Memory of Rav Yaakov Simcha Cohen z"l

"With so much going on — in the Mideast, etc. — I didn't have a chance to post until now that I recently lost a very dear and deep, inspirational friend and personal mentor, ever-so-recently.  And then I thought: As among those of us who have enriched the RCA, few among us have enriched it with as much pure Torah and just-pure Halakhic discussion as did Rav Jacob Simcha Cohen zikhrono livrakha.

When I was a young fellow in my mid-thirties, just beginning my rabbonus in Los Angeles back in the late 1980s, it was Rav Cohen who urged me to write and encouraged me to pursue my writing and to publish as often as possible on inyanei d'yoma.  Back then, only five years out of Smikha at RIETS, I was the new kid on the block in Los Angeles when I arrived in 1987, and — from outta nowhere — I became a weekly fixture in the Jewish Journal, the L.A. equivalent in tone and substance to the New York Jewish Week, and a regular contributor to the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times.  Indeed, the L.A. Times ultimately did a feature a story on me and my writings. -
The response to my writings then was not unlike what it is now (v'ha-mayven yavin).  In short order, I wondered whether I should just step aside because one or two rabbinical colleagues were resenting the publicity being directed my way, and I just didn't have time for the pain.  During that critical formative period in my career, two rabbonim came into my life and encouraged me to write and publish, and to continue writing and publishing, and not to hold back — Rav Cohen and, yibadel l'chaim, Rav Abner Weiss.

Rav Cohen z"l became a mentor for me and to me, even as we also became friends over the years while always honoring the mentor-protégée relationship.  I also would consult with him often on piskei halakhah. After he moved to Florida, I lost touch with him, but then we reconnected off-line, prompted by writings posted on this Forum.  During the past four years, or so, we conducted an ongoing private conversation offline, and he always encouraged me, even as he always taught me more and more.

Rav Yaakov Simcha Cohen z"l also was one of the sweetest guys I ever met.  I still remember the first time he and I ever met, as he pressed me to start attending Rabbinical Council of California meetings — "C'mon, Dov.  Get out of the Valley for an afternoon, and meet the boys!"  — and he was one of the greatest Torah scholars I knew outside the classic world of roshei yeshiva.  He was a tremendous tzaddik of a person — and those of us who knew him, well or even indirectly, will nod in agreement.  So I write now with the hope that others who have benefited from knowing Rav Yaakov Simcha might find a few moments to remember him on this Forum, a Forum that he so uniquely enriched for so many of us for so many years.

— Dov Fischer

Kol Tuv,

Sunday 27 July 2014

As the Flames of Anti-Semitism are fanned

I have found what appears to be an incredible uptick in Jewish Self-Hatred as Israel is under threat.
«Noam Chomsky is one of the most violent-thinking anti-Semites around today. He speaks at college campuses throughout the world and spreads anti-Semitic messages to students. The hardest thing about combating Chomsky's messages is that he is Jewish, and he denies his messages are rooted in anti-Semitism, even when he stands up for Holocaust deniers, supports terrorism, and praises genocides.

See below for examples of Chomsky's hate speech and different organizations countering his messages, followed by questions students should ask him when he speaks on campus:...»
Noam Chomsky: A Jewish Anti-Semite

Kol Tuv,


"National and racial chauvinism is a vestige of the misanthropic customs characteristic of the period of cannibalism. Anti-semitism, as an extreme form of racial chauvinism, is the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism.

Anti-semitism is of advantage to the exploiters as a lightning conductor that deflects the blows aimed by the working people at capitalism. Anti-semitism is dangerous for the working people as being a false path that leads them off the right road and lands them in the jungle. Hence Communists, as consistent internationalists, cannot but be irreconcilable, sworn enemies of anti-semitism.

In the U.S.S.R. anti-semitism is punishable with the utmost severity of the law as a phenomenon deeply hostile to the Soviet system. Under U.S.S.R. law active anti-semites are liable to the death penalty.[9]»
On 12 January 1931, Stalin gave the above answer to an inquiry on the subject of the Soviet attitude toward antisemitism from the Jewish News Agency in the United States....

~ Wikipedia

Kol Tuv,

Saturday 26 July 2014

Mussar: The Problem with Rigid Doctrine

"Fervent insistence on an ideology makes evidence, experience, and arguments irrelevant:

If you possess the absolute truth, those who disagree are by definition wrong, and evidence of success or failure is irrelevant.

There is nothing to learn from the experience of other countries. [Cultures]

Respectful arguments are a waste of time. Compromise is weakness. And if your policies fail, you don't abandon them; instead, you double down, asserting that they would have worked if only they had been carried to their logical extreme."
― Bill Clinton

Kol Tuv,

Thursday 24 July 2014

J Street Challenge

Kol Tuv,

Rav Dov Fischer - How Did We Get into this mess in the first place?

«Among those in Israel's nationalist community, there never was doubt that then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to disengage unilaterally from Gaza was a disaster-in-the-making, a disengagement from reality.  Adopted by the Knesset on June 6, 2004 and implemented a year later, in August and September 2005, the plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza never fooled the nationalist community.

For Zion's sake, millions in Israel did not hold their peace.  Nationalists identified by wearing orange, the color of the Gaza Regional Council.  On July 25, 2004, tens of thousands of Israelis formed a human chain that stretched 90 kilometers from the Erez crossing in Gaza to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem, protesting the disastrous plan.  On October 14, more than 100,000 demonstrated in cities throughout Israel against the proposed disengagement.»
Remember How this Mess Began - Op-Eds - Arutz Sheva

Kol Tuv,

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Nishma-Parshah: Masei

Take a look at what's on
for Parshat Masei

Parshah Mas'ei

Parsha: Matot/Maasei, "How did Hatzi Shevet Menashe Get There?"

Israel's Deadly Invasion of Gaza Is Morally Justified

I invite you to view the following argument which deals with an important moral issue that is faced in regard to the war against Hamas. Please see

There is always a problem when those who don't uphold a moral principle are able to apply this moral in their defense. The result is often ludicrous and immoral, in a broader sense, in itself. I believe that this article faces this issue.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

P.S. I wish to thank Sharon Lacks for directing me to this article.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

A Funny thing Happening when Googling "Israel and Obama"

Here is what I found...

Chris Christie says Obama 'dropped the ball' on Israel-U.S. relations |

Canadian PM Rebukes Obama on His Israel Stance | Yeshiva World News

I didn't hunt for or cherry pick these links! They were simply #1 and #3 when I Googled "Israel and Obama".

I realize that Google knows I'm from NJ, but I didn't expect them to know I used to go to Yeshiva in Canada 40 years ago.

Kol Tuv,

Reflections on Parshat Mas'ei and the Matzav in Gaza

במדבר פרק לג

ג... מִמָּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח,
יָצְאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּיָד רָמָה--לְעֵינֵי, כָּל-מִצְרָיִם

ד וּמִצְרַיִם מְקַבְּרִים,
אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה ה` בָּהֶם--כָּל-בְּכוֹר;
וּבֵאלֹהֵיהֶם, עָשָׂה ה` שְׁפָטִים

The Israelites left in Triumph
The Egyptians were busy burying their dead...

נה וְאִם-לֹא תוֹרִישׁוּ אֶת-יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ, מִפְּנֵיכֶם--וְהָיָה אֲשֶׁר תּוֹתִירוּ מֵהֶם, לְשִׂכִּים בְּעֵינֵיכֶם וְלִצְנִינִם בְּצִדֵּיכֶם; וְצָרְרוּ אֶתְכֶם--עַל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יֹשְׁבִים בָּהּ.

Admonition: do not to leave the residents behind lest they become a a thorn in the side of the Israelites.

Kol Tuv,

Sunday 20 July 2014

Palestinian Hollywood = Pallywood

"PALLYWOOD - so fitting! Just as Hollywood in California is renowned as the FAKE CAPITAL of the world in the business of ENTERTAINMENT, so "PALLYWOOD" ..."

Kol Tuv,

Rav Dov Fischer on the Current Matzav

«When America learned that the Soviets quietly were setting up missile bases in Cuba, 90 miles from Florida, the "best and the brightest" who advised President John F. Kennedy counseled a naval blockade that threatened bringing the entire world to the brink of nuclear holocaust.  No missile actually had been launched towards America.  Indeed, the Soviets and Cubans were trying their best to camouflage and hide what they were building. 

President Kennedy did not exercise restraint.  These were his words to the American people: "It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union."  He confronted Nikita Khrushchev with a naval blockade and did not back down. 
Invasion - the American Way - Op-Eds - Arutz Sheva

Kol Tuv,

Saturday 19 July 2014

Mussar: This Land is My Land....

Derech Emet:

Yalkut Meam Loez commentary on Kohelet [Ecclesiastes], chapter 2, verse 4:
If the Beth HaMikdash [Jewish Temple in Jerusalem] had been built on stolen land, then G-d would NOT have settled His Presence there [because the Biblical Book of Isaiah,
chapter 61, verse 8, teaches that G-d hates sacrificial offerings tainted by theft].
The Yalkut Meam Loez commentary on Kohelet was written by Rabbi Shmuel Yerushalmi, following the death of Rabbi Yaakov Culi in 1732 CE in Constantinople.

Kol Tuv,

Friday 18 July 2014

A Message For Our Generation - Rabbi Dovid M. Cohen

R Dovid M. Cohen
Rabbi of Young Israel of the West Side
«When I think of people dying al Kiddush Hashem, in sanctification of God's name, I tend to focus on the Holocaust or earlier generations in our history. Our generation, with its material comforts and affluence, initially doesn't come to mind when I think of mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) and dying al Kiddush Hashem.

I therefore was perplexed and surprised when reflecting on just a few of the Jews killed in recent years due to the fact that they were Jews: The eight boys learning in Mercaz HaRav; the five members of the Fogel family, including a three-month-old baby girl, in Itamar; the Holtzbergs, Chabad shluchim in Mumbai, India; Baruch Sandler and his two children in Toulouse, France; and the still raw trauma of the murder of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel and Gilad Shaar. ...»

Kol Tuv,

Thursday 17 July 2014

CAMERA Snapshots: Where's the Coverage? NYT, Others Ignore Attacks on Paris Synagogues

Kol Tuv,

Goodbye, New York Times - The Jewish Standard

By Helen Maryles Shankman •
Op-Ed Published: 10 July 2014

It was a fine affair, but now it's over
«Dear New York Times,

It's over between us.

For 30 years, I've been in love with you, NYT.

I met you soon after I moved here from Chicago. Never before had I read such thoughtful, compellingly written journalism, with dispatches from all over the globe that mirrored my politics and my interests. You opened my eyes, New York Times. Back in Chicago, the papers covered only local news, but you showed me there was a larger world out there, filled with enchanting possibilities.

It was love at first sight. From that very first time, I turned to your editorials and op-ed pages to shape my opinions. I wouldn't see a movie or a play until I read your reviews. I chose books based on your recommendations. I tore out your recipes and saved them in a special notebook. It was a thrill when my illustrations appeared in your hallowed Sunday Magazine. The papers that described 9/11 and the election of our first black President are preserved lovingly in my basement.

Many of my modern Orthodox friends and relatives stopped reading you long ago, NYT. You know why. That old bugaboo, your biased anti-Israel reporting. I always defended you. "We have to know all sides of the story," I explained to them. "You need to know how the other guy thinks. You can't just bury your head in the sand, shut yourself away from the world, and only read the opinions of people who agree with you."...»

Kol Tuv,

Tuesday 15 July 2014

JVO: Conversion

Jewish Values Online ( 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 dominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members of their Panel of Scholars.

This post continues this series on the Nishmablog that features responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. This week's presentation is to one of the questions to which Rabbi Hecht responded.

* * * * *

I am a religiously-unaffiliated philosophy professor seriously considering conversion to Judaism, and am currently learning as much as I can in order to make a decision. My reasons for wanting to convert are entirely my own - I find myself drawn to the religion's beliefs and practices and feel it may be where I belong. In my research I have found numerous books on the subject of conversion, however they normally focus on the process of conversion itself - the 'how'. Whilst this is certainly important, I feel I first need to tackle the question of 'should' on a deep and careful level. I would like to make a sincere spiritual and moral commitment, and I know that converting to Judaism is not a small or trivial commitment to make. Are you able to recommend any reading material that explores the question of 'should I convert?' in a deep and contemplative way? Something that explores not just the practicalities of the decision, but its deeper meaning in terms of one's moral commitments and relationship with God? I am particularly interested in the pros and cons in this respect, as I have sometimes encountered dire warnings that "It is better to be a righteous Gentile than to make a commitment that you cannot keep". I feel I will need to study and contemplate the pros and cons of conversions very deeply in order to choose wisely. Thank you for your time (and feel free to edit this overly-long question for clarity).

You touch upon numerous issues in your question and I will not be able to respond to all of them within this answer (albeit that it is still a long one). What I hope to do, though, is to focus upon what I consider to be the initial concerns that you have to first address. I also hope to provide some direction for you on how to go from there.
The first question you must ask is what you mean by – or what is generally meant by -- conversion to Judaism. This may seem to be a trivial question but, in fact, it is a most significant one for the exact nature and goal of the transformation that is represented by the term ‘conversion to Judaism’ is understood differently by different people. This, thus, yields a problem in discussing the issue for what one person may mean by this term could be vastly different than what another person means. It is, therefore, important for you to fully understand what you mean by this term, both personally and within the context of others, before you determine the path to meet your goal.
This investigation must begin with the concept of the group. The starting point is that there is a group of individuals defined as Jews and the simplest understanding of conversion is that it is the method by which a person becomes a member of this group. But what exactly is the nature of this group? Since the term ‘conversion’ generally has religious connotations, there is a basic assumption that the nature of the group would be theological, i.e. Jews are individuals with a shared theology of a certain type. Is this, though, a proper way of defining the Jewish group?
There are actually two major difficulties with this definition. The first is that defining the Jewish group solely by theology would yield difficulties for Jewishness seems to also cover a nationalistic/ethnic/cultural dimension. The recent Pew Report on Jewish Americans even included a category entitled ‘Jews of no religion’ for it found that over 20% of American Jews “say they have no particular religion although they have direct Jewish ancestry (at least one Jewish parent) and consider themselves Jewish or partly Jewish.” In defining themselves as members of the Jewish group, such individuals clearly do not see this group as being defined by shared theology. The fact is that one of the essential elements of the Jewish group, within the consciousness of most Jews, is shared nationality or peoplehood. To many who stress this aspect of Jewishness, conversion is actually the term for how one not born Jewish can become part of this peoplehood, almost, regardless of theology. The very fact that Jewishness is even tied to birth would actually seem to give weight to this factor of Jewishness. So is the Jewish group a collection of individuals with a shared theology or a peoplehood or, somehow, both? If one argues both, how do these two elements of group identity come together to define the nature of this group? In wishing to convert, you must ask: what exactly is the nature of this group with which you wish to join?
This leads to the second basic difficulty that you must consider in tackling this issue of the group’s nature and that concerns the theological distinctions within Judaism. The branches of Judaism actually reflect major differences in theology that many Jews, unfortunately, do not even recognize. Further on this, please see my Adjective and Non-Adjective Jews, Nishma Introspection 5761-2. While there may be certain elements of theology that are shared by the variant branches, the reality is that in any conversion process that would be undertaken by an individual, the theology that would be taught would be specific to one of the branches of Judaism. In solely theological terms, it would be more correct for an individual to state that he/she is converting to or has converted to Orthodoxy Judaism or Reform Judaism, for example, rather than just state that he/she is converting to or has converted to Judaism. That would be a clearer representation of the shared theology. As such, in theological terms, you have to also determine with which theological grouping you wish to connect, i.e. which branch of Judaism you wish to join. This actually also leads us back to the first difficulty for while the theological distinctions between the branches of Judaism, by definition, splinter the broad group, the peoplehood aspect of Jewishness connects individuals within the broad group beyond the theological distinctions. As such, we do not talk of converts to Conservative Judaism or Orthodox Judaism but people wishing to become part of the overall group of Jews – which again brings in the peoplehood aspect.
So the first thing you have to do on this path of conversion is to truly decide the nature of the Jewishness which you wish to pursue. As conversion is in the hands of the branches of Judaism, you have to make a decision as to which branch of Judaism you wish to consider – at least, as a starting point. This would mean that you have to get in touch with a rabbi within the branch with which you wish to start this process. It may also mean that you will have to discuss the issue with rabbis of different branches in order to find the path that you wish to follow. As a philosophy professor, I am sure you can understand that the process of conversion is really an investigation of truth and your place within it. What I am simply presenting is the process of investigating this specific truth regarding Jewishness. It is then within the branch, or understanding of truth, that you have accepted that you will have to further investigate your questions and the one I am posing regarding the relationship between theology and peoplehood in Jewish identity.
It is actually with this issue that I would like to conclude. Since I brought up the issue of whether Jewishness reflects peoplehood or religious commitment or, somehow, both, I think that I should explain how Orthodoxy approaches the matter. This may also provide a basis for how to approach your further questions from an Orthodox perspective.
Jewishness actually reflects, within Orthodoxy, a nationalistic identity. A Jew is a member of the Jewish nation and one is either a member of this nation through birth (born to a Jewish mother) or through gerut, generally translated as conversion. In general terms (without entering into a discussion of technicalities), in order for one to become part of this nation, though, one must accept the faith of Orthodox Judaism as a pre-requisite. Simply, gerut is how one becomes a member of the Jewish nation but before being considered a candidate for becoming a member of the Jewish nation, the person must already be a believer in the universal theology of Orthodox Judaism. While Jews are expected to have a shared theology, the fact is that shared theology is not a defining factor of Jewishness. One may be Jewish without sharing the theology of Orthodox Judaism and sharing the theology of Orthodox Judaism does not make one Jewish. This demands further explanation.
As a universal religion, Orthodox Judaism’s theology actually applies to all humanity. The ideal within Orthodoxy – and this is found in the presentation of various Messianic ideals – is that all of humanity will adopt the theology and understanding of God as presented within Orthodoxy. What Orthodoxy presents, though, is a distinction in Divine expectations between the Jewish nation and the rest of humanity. God distinguished the Jewish nation and gave them the Torah which consisted of 613 commandments. For the rest of Mankind, God solely demanded observance of the 7 Laws of Noach, the Noachide Code. So being designated at birth as a Jew -- meaning that one is designated thereby as a member of the Jewish nation – simply defines an individual as subject to the Torah commandments. This is a designation that is inherent and cannot be lost. Non-observance of these commandments, even a rejection of basic theological principles including belief in God, does not result in a person losing the national status of being a Jew. The person is still part of the nation and still obligated in the Torah. Still, the essence of Jewish national identity is that it is the nation designated by God to receive the gift of the Torah and be bound by these additional Divine responsibilities with their further Divine benefits.
The wish to join the nation by someone not Jewish is thus understood to be, within this theological perspective, a wish by this person to be bound by the Torah commandments and not solely the Noachide Code. Gerut is thus designated as the process by which a non-Jew can become a Jew, enter into the covenant between God and the Jewish People, and thereby be bound by the laws incumbent upon a Jew. Given that national identity specifically concerns this commitment, fundamental to gerut, as such, is the acceptance of this commitment, kabbalat mitzvot, the acceptance of the Torah commandments. This commitment is obviously built upon an acceptance of the underlying theology so, theoretically, the process  of conversion within Orthodoxy is one whereby an individual, who believes in this universal theology, wishes to join the Jewish nation because of a wish to be bound by the Torah Code. The process confirms this commitment.
A non-Jew, however, does not have to become a member of the Jewish nation and, pursuant to the universal theology of Orthodox Judaism, can be a Righteous Gentile through the observance of the Noachide Code. It is within this context that the question of ‘why convert?’ really exists. What are the proper motivations for one to want to become a member of the Jewish nation with its greater obligations? (In regard to Righteous Gentiles, you may wish to look at the life of Aime Pailliere  (19th century) who is generally presented as the first modern Noachide.)
You are correct to state that you “will need to study and contemplate the pros and cons of conversions very deeply in order to choose wisely.” This study must begin with the above questions and your choice of the person to further instruct you, not only in the nature of the theology you wish to pursue but also in terms of your personal connection to it. Please feel free to contact me through if you think I can be of further assistance.

Torat Ramchal

Some Ramchal Resources -

Ramchal - - Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto - The Ramchal

Kol Tuv,

Monday 14 July 2014

Urgent Prayer for Wounded Soldier

Very Urgent!!

Please say Kappitel 121
for the injured soldier who is in a difficult state 

מרדכי חי בן ברכה יהודית

Kol Tuv,

On Shabbat: Seeing Red

Our Chaveir, R Jay Chaim Shoulson, sent us a very inspiring email. We are sharing it with his kind permission.
"I did something this past Shabbat that may work for some other Congregations...

We tied our public address system into an App connected to Israel's Red Alert system.

All day Shabbat, when there was a Tzeva Adom alert in Israel, it went off in real time in our shul. I did not tell any one in advance. When it went off the first time at 9:30am, I announced that everyone has 15 seconds to get down to the basement. Then I explained what the noise was.
The alerts kept going off all day.  It was very emotional.  People began to understand what it was like in Israel.
After the first alert, I asked people to stop their Tefillot and stand for a moment of silence and Tefillah during each alert.

Pretty soon, the Israelis in the Synagogue were looking to the computer screen and calling out each city endangered.  "It's Yerushalayim.  It's Tel Aviv.  It's Naharia. ..."
I think everyone felt the strain.
About thirty people stayed in the shul all day until Havdalah. You, too, can find the App - it is called COLOR RED.

If any one thinks that the prayers for the three boys murdered were not heard in shmayim, just look at the lack of success of these Hamas murderers to take another Jewish life.
With prayers for Am Yisrael."

Kol Tuv,

Sunday 13 July 2014

Israeli Government and Pulpit Rabbis

בקרוב: רבני קהילות מתוקצבים ע"י משרד הדתות - ערוץ 7

Kol Tuv,

Sderot teacher whose song to help schoolchildren cope

The Jewish Standard:

The story behind the amazing Sderot teacher whose song to help schoolchildren cope with the unimaginable circumstances of having to accept rocket fire as a new "normal."

These children used this song ever since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza to cope with life under fire. As of now, our post was viewed by 1,742,336 people, including hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Some have gone on to teach it in their shelters or watch it with their kids.

The documentary was made by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and written up in 2008 by IsraelNationalNews

Kol Tuv,

Saturday 12 July 2014

Mussar: Mindfullness Exercise for Increasing One's Chessed Quotient

Based upon Rabbi Zelig Pliskin's book "Kindness", chapter 8.

Practice this Mindfullness exercise for 2 weeks

Whenever you see someone, especially someone in your family life or your work life, ask yourself silently:

"What can I do for this person?"

At the end of each week, feel how this exercise has impacted you.

Repeat as often as needed.

Kol Tuv,

Friday 11 July 2014

Huffington Post: Stop the Downward Spiral of Hate in Israel

There is no doubt that the kidnappings and murders of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel touched the hearts of the Jewish People in a powerful, and even unique, way. The question is: why? Given all the terror that Israel has faced, why did this tragic and horrible event touch us so much? I expressed my thoughts on this in my latest Huffington Post blog: Stop the Downward Spiral of Hate.

My original title for the post, btw, was 'Ends and Means' but it was changed by the editors. (I hope the change does not misrepresent my thoughts.)

Please feel free to comment here or there.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Thursday 10 July 2014

The Jihad against the Jewish State

Guest Blogger:
Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz of
Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation of Chicago

As I did, please take your pen in hand and defend Israel's civilian population, men, women and children, whose lives are emperiled, by contacting via phone call, snail mail, fax or e mail Congress and the White House today!

PLO Logo:

The above is the symbol of the PLO.
Recognize that country - the future Palestinian State?
To the Members of the United States Congress:
The Arab League at its Cairo Summit in 1964: [see - ]
created an organization to represent the Palestinian people. The Palestinian National Council convened in Jerusalem on May 28, 1964. The PLO was founded on June 2, 1964. In its Proclamation the PLO stated:
"... the right of the Palestinian Arab people to its sacred homeland Palestine and affirming the inevitability of the battle to liberate the usurped part from it, and its determination to bring out its effective revolutionary entity and the mobilization of the capabilities and potentialities and its material, military and spiritual forces"
When the PLO was established in 1964 Gaza was controlled by Egypt, the Golan Heights by Syria and the West Bank and East Jerusalem by Jordan.  If the Arab League supported the establishment of a Palestinian State, why didn't they do it in 1964?

Read the PLO Proclamation carefully – "and affirming the inevitability of the battle to liberate theusurped part from it."  What was that "usurped part"? The State of Israel, which was recognized as a sovereign state by the United Nations in 1948.
Hamas, now a welcomed partner in the Palestinian Authority by Mahmoud Abbas openly declares as its goal not only the destruction of the State of Israel but the global extermination of all Jews. The introduction to their charter states, "Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious....The Movement [Hamas] is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah's victory is realized."
Their sympathizers in the so called Islamic State, occupying territory in both Syria and Iraq and now preparing to move on Jordan, are doing their part to rid the world of Christians as well.  The horror of the crucifixion of Christian faithful in Iraq and the destruction of Churches has been well reported in the media. The battle lines are drawn, not between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but between Western civilization and the international Jihad.
As a first response to this threat to Western civilization, and as a tangible support to America's one true ally in the Middle East, The State of Israel, Congress and President Obama should immediately curtail any and all aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Kol Tuv,

Video of Elephants in Ramat Gan

The Jewish Standard:
This happened this morning at the Safari Park in Ramat Gan. The older elephants heard the siren warning of an incoming missile from Gaza and then the woosh of a passing missile. Not only human parents have to worry about their children during this stressful time.
Here's to children everywhere being safe from explosions and war.

(Video courtesy of Sagit Horowitz:

Kol Tuv,

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Why is this "Family Restaurant" Being Barred from Hashgachah?

The Jewish Standard:

A rabbi hasn't walked into the bar... yet. Restaurateur learns that combining liquor and kashrut is no joke in Teaneck.

«It's not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town's population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O's in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity. ...»

Kol Tuv,

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Agudah Calls for Prayer

An Urgent Call to Prayer
Events currently unfolding in Eretz Yisroel demand our tefillos on behalf of all our fellow Jews who are privileged to live on holy soil.  Our rabbinic leadership has asked us to convey that simple, stark but urgent message to all of our constituents and supporters, indeed to all caring Jews. 
As has been the practice in many shuls over past years, in response to the call of Aguda's Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) 83, 130 and 142 after Shacharis, followed by the tefila of Acheinu, is recommended.  Indeed, our every prayer should include entreaties on behalf of our fellow Jews in Eretz Yisroel.
May our tefillos be received in mercy by Hakodosh Boroch Hu, and help usher in days of peace and security. 

Kol Tuv,

Pro-Israel Rally Comes Under Attack During Hamburg Demonstration

«The "Bring Back Our Boys" rally was organized by the Young Forum of the German-Israel Society and the Hamburg for Israel network, according to Germany's most popular Jewish newspaper: Juedische Allgemeine.

The counter-demonstration that eventually had turned violent against the pro-Israel demonstrators was reportedly organized by the German ATTAC group.

The head of the Central Council of Jews told the German paper, "this kind of pure hatred against Israel not only exists in Germany but is expressed in violent assaults." He continued, hoping authorities would "quickly apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice." He hoped for more demonstrations in the future, saying that it's a good opportunity to showcase the "values that Israel has always stood for."»

Shalom and Best Regards,

"A wise man changes his mind, a fool never" ~Spanish Proverb

Monday 7 July 2014

Alisa Flatow - Age 40

«IF SHE HAD lived, Alisa Flatow would have turned 40 years old this year. But her life was snuffed out two decades ago when a suicide bomber attacked her bus in the Gaza Strip.

Last week, her family in West Orange received a small measure of justice.

Terrorism has become almost a daily fact of life. On any given day, somewhere in the world, someone commits murder in the name of God, politics – or both. Usually the victims are unarmed civilians, merely going through another piece of ordinary life — by riding a bus or eating in a restaurant or boarding an airplane.

Alisa Flatow had just turned 20 when she interrupted her studies at Brandeis University near Boston in 1995 to travel to Israel and enhance her knowledge of Judaism. By April, she felt she needed a break. So with two friends, she took a bus to spend a weekend at an Israeli-owned beach hotel in the Gaza Strip.

She never made it. As the bus cruised along a road, a man in a small truck pulled along side and detonated a massive bomb, killing Alisa and seven Israeli soldiers who had been on leave and were returning to their base.

After her funeral and burial in a Paramus cemetery, Alisa's family made a brave decision. They would not sit idly by, as world leaders prattled on about the horrors of terrorism and how sad it was to lose another innocent life. The Flatows – in particular Alisa's father, Stephen – asked basic questions that all crime victims want answered:

Who did this?»

Opinion: The father who never gave up - Opinion -

Kol Tuv,

Understanding the M'chabbeir on His Own Terms - 1

In S"A Hilchot Bassar B'chalav there is a lot going on INSIDE the text, a lot going on "In between the lines" and some curious omissions to boot.
Apparently, there is some confusion as to how best read certain passages and how best to understand them.
Here is a question to ponder: What does the M'chabbeir mean in Y"D 95:4 when he says "Muttar"?
שו"ע יורה דעה צה
סעיף ד
 יראה לי שאם נתנו אפר במים חמין שביורה קודם שהניחו הקדירות בתוכה, אף על פי שהשומן דבוק בהן, מותר, דעל ידי האפר הוא נותן טעם לפגם.

EG does he mean
1. The Process is Allowed L'chatcheelah?
2. That the dish(es) are muttar b'di'avad?
There are many approaches to this.
1. Let's take the M'chabbeir at face value in context -
View these 2 Halachot together as originally written without the intervening Rema - which came later from another author.
שו"ע יורה דעה צה סעיף ג
קערות של בשר שהודחו ביורה חולבת בחמין שהיד סולדת בהן, אפילו שניהם בני יומן, מותר, משום דהוה ליה נותן טעם בר נותן טעם דהתירא. והוא שיאמר ברי לי שלא היה שום שומן דבוק בהן.
ואם היה שומן דבוק בהן, צריך שיהא במים ס' כנגד ממשות שומן שעל פי הקערה.
סעיף ד
 יראה לי שאם נתנו אפר במים חמין שביורה קודם שהניחו הקדירות בתוכה, אף על פי שהשומן דבוק בהן, מותר, דעל ידי האפר הוא נותן טעם לפגם.
Let's "divide and conquer. Here is the very last clause from S'if 3

ואם היה שומן דבוק בהן, צריך שיהא במים ס' כנגד ממשות שומן שעל פי הקערה.
Once Again, this time followed by S'if 4:
שאם נתנו אפר במים חמין שביורה קודם שהניחו הקדירות בתוכה, אף על פי שהשומן דבוק בהן, מותר, דעל ידי האפר הוא נותן טעם לפגם.
So does it no simply follow that the
M'chabbeir is merely giving an alternate heter, namely eifer?
So it reads like this -
ואם היה שומן דבוק בהן
, צריך שיהא במים ס' כנגד ממשות שומן שעל פי הקערה.
אם נתנו אפר במים חמין שביורה קודם שהניחו הקדירות בתוכה,

Why did S"A separate them the 2 related clauses into separate s'ifim? Wouldn't it make MORE sense to preserve their continuity?
RRW: Probably Because the first case was sourced and the 2nd one was speculation.
If you have mamashut shuman
then, you need either:
A. A ratio of 60 times water
B Eifer to Pogeim the water
and then
C. The Keili is muttar

Kol Tuv,

Sunday 6 July 2014

Petition to End Aid to Hamas

Here is a link to a petition that you might want to consider signing and circulating..

Shalom and Best Regards,

"A wise man changes his mind, a fool never" ~Spanish Proverb

Dealing with Loss

The Chayei Adam lost his son Mosheh during his own lifetime. As a result, the Chayei Adam named several brief works in his memory

Recently,, R Herschel Schachter spoke at an RCA convention about one Kuntreis - Matzeivat Mosheh on Aveilut.

In addition the Chayei Adam also wrote

• Zichtru Torat Mosheh on Hilchot Shabbat

• Sefer Mitzvas Mosheh, or Kittzur Sefer Hareidim on Mitzvot.

His son's premature death motivated or inspired his father to publish at least 3 works. We can see how the Chayei Adam channeled his own grief by being Marbitz Torah.

Kol Tuv,

Saturday 5 July 2014

Mussar: We Leave Emtpy-Handed


Yalkut Meam Loez commentary on Kohelet [Ecclesiastes], chapter 5, verse 14:
This was taught in the name of Rabbi Meir:
When a baby enters this world, his hands are closed fists, as if to say:
When he leaves this world,
the palms of his hands are
stretched open [flat], as if to say:

CHRONOLOGY 1: Rabbi Meir was active around year 160 of the Common Era.
The Yalkut Meam Loez commentary on Kohelet was written by Rabbi Shmuel Yerushalmi,
following the death of Rabbi Yaakov Culi in 1732 CE in Constantinople.
Kol Tuv,

Friday 4 July 2014

Shalom and Best Regards,

"A wise man changes his mind, a fool never" ~Spanish Proverb

Thursday 3 July 2014

BDh"E: Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has passed away.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has passed away. May his memory be a blessing for the entire world.

Message from his family:
Dear Friends and Colleagues, It is with a very heavy heart that we must inform you that our beloved Reb Zalman R' Meshullam Zalman Hiyya ben Chaya Gittel veShlomo HaCohen took a few peaceful last breaths in his sleep, and slipped away from us this morning, July 3, 2014, at 8:40 am
at his home in Boulder, Colorado.

In accordance with his wishes there will be a simple graveside funeral tomorrow, July 4, 2014.

From the NJ Jewish Standard
New Year 5773
«But if Kol Nidrei's pleas to wipe out any unfulfilled vows and promises teach us anything, it is to mean what we say. Does language like "Our Father, our King, we have sinned before you; our Father, our King, we have no King but You" really speak for us? How do we avoid the High Holy Days trap of spending hour after hour reciting prayers we don't understand, in language we don't subscribe to, to a God we may not even believe in?

Can we find a way to enter into the experience more fully without putting our minds in the pawnshop and violating our Jewish compulsion for honesty?

One surprisingly simple and freeing solution begins with a distinction. Beliefs are the language of mind. Prayer, on the other hand, begins in the heart — not the muscle but the metaphor, the realm not of cardiologists but of poets. Real prayer — davening, as we Jews used to say back in the old country — is not a rational matter. It's a romance.»
New Year 5773 - The Jewish Standard

Kol Tuv,

Siyyum in Memory of the 3 Victims

Please be mifarseim this list throughout Klal Yisroel

Kol Tuv,

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Sen. Corey Booker Weighs In.

Sen. Booker weighs in.
I am deeply pained by the news that the bodies of the three Israeli teens kidnapped on June 12th have been found. In recent months, the world has witnessed in horror the abduction of school girls in Nigeria and kidnapping of innocent teenagers in the West Bank. The use of children as a weapon of terror is simply intolerable and the perpetrators of this unconscionable crime must be brought to justice.

The U.S. and Israel maintain an unshakable bond and ever-strong partnership, and today I join my brothers and sisters in Israel in grieving for these three young, innocent children. My prayers and thoughts are with the families of the victims. 

Kol Tuv,

Tuesday 1 July 2014

OU: Tonight 8PM Live Webcast with Rabbi Weinreb - A Torah Response to an Unspeakable Tragedy

If you are unable to see the message below, click here to view. Orthodox Union #EyalGiladNaftali -- Rabbi Weinreb live webcast

Please join Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President, Emeritus, of the Orthodox Union, as he addresses the topic:

"Were Our Tears Shed in Vain? A Torah Response to an Unspeakable Tragedy"

Rabbi Weinreb's gentle words of consolation, especially to the parents of "our" three boys, will be webcast live from Cong. Tiferes Israel in Passaic, NJ, tonight, 7/1 at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

Jewish communities around the world stand united in grief in the face of the senseless murders of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel.

After the unprecedented unity of 18 days of shared grief, fear and hope, Klal Yisrael now confronts difficult questions, some unanswerable.

In his remarks, Rabbi Weinreb, a longtime congregational rabbi and psychologist, will discuss facing pain, empathy with the pain of others, the real meaning of Ahavas Yisrael, unanswered prayers, where God fits in, lessons for parents, a special message for teens, suffering for the Land of Israel, and the path ahead.

To view the webcast click here. For other resources related to this devastating event, including how to discuss this with children, click here. The webcast will be available for streaming shortly after it concludes.

To attend in person:
Cong. Tifereth Israel
180 Passaic Avenue
Passaic, New Jersey 07055
Rabbi: Rabbi Aaron Cohen
President: Yaakov Ochs
7:45 Mincha. Maariv follows Rabbi Weinreb's remarks.

Kol Tuv,


June 30, 2014

We cry out in anguish and in outrage at the unspeakable horror of today's announcement that the three teens, whom Jews and so many other people of good will around the world dared to hope would be found and returned safely to their families, were instead murdered in cold blood by their Hamas kidnappers, apparently shortly after their abduction 18 days ago. The Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union, with the rest of acheinu kol beis Yisroel (our brothers, the entire nation of Israel), mourn this unthinkable tragedy, this worst possible end to the search for Naftali Frenkel 16; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Eyal Yifrach, 19. This is, unfortunately, only the latest episode in which innocent lives have been snuffed out by adherents of a murderous, amoral death cult sworn to the destruction of Israel, and the genocide of the Jewish people.

The Rabbinical Council of America and The Orthodox Union offer their profound condolences to the families of these three boys, whom we have all come to think of as our own sons. Naftali, Gilad and Eyal were our family, our brothers. The world needs to recognize, as it often fails to do, the nature of the enemies that are arrayed against Israel and the level of inhumanity of which they are capable. We join in the call for swift and resolute punishment for the perpetrators of this atrocity, and call upon world leaders to continue to affirm that such heinous tactics have no place in the civilized world. The recurring theme expressed by the courageous mothers of the teens, as they saw the throngs who joined with them in support, is the unity of the Jewish people. Before, we were unified in prayer and hope for the boys' safe return. Now, tragically, we are unified in grief.          

May the families, the people of Israel, all those who stood with the families and held them in their hearts and prayers, be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Kol Tuv,