Chanukah: ‘Fear No Evil’

25 11 2013


During the past week, I have bumped into Natan Sharansky twice on the streets of Katamon. Last Motsei Shabbat and this past Shabbat morning on his way to shul. Both times I greeted him and we made small talk for a few minutes. One of my favourite books is, ‘Fear No Evil’. When you read that book, you realize that despite his humility and modesty, Sharansky is a true Jewish hero. The strength of character, resolution and willpower he demonstrated whilst a refusenik is something we should all learn from and is the essence of what Chanukah is really all about as I will explain.

Sharansky was denied an exit visa to Israel in 1973 and was one of the founders of the Refusenik movement in Moscow. In 1977 he was arrested and spent 13 years in a Siberian labour camp. In 1986 he was released by Gorbachev and in 1988 he wrote, ‘Fear No Evil’, based on his time as a prisoner.

In his lecture a few weeks ago at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks referred to two parallel yet opposing movements that have been existent throughout the build up and existence of the Jewish State. Those who were narrowly focused on ‘Torat Yisrael’ – the spiritual, the Law, the Torah ( the ‘Charedim’) and those who were passionate about nationalism, ‘Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael’ – the people, the collective nation and the land (the ‘Chilonim’). Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook attempted to be the bridge the gap between these two trends, which is still one of the main objectives of the Dati Leumi sector.

The question of what is the main source of the Chanukah story is unclear. Rashi comments that when the Gemarah in Shabbat asks ‘My Chanukah’ – literally, ‘What is Chanukah?’, the Gemarah is asking, ‘ What is the actual reason we celebrate Chanukah’. So, we see the answer has never been obvious.

Looking at the sources of the Chanukah story we see these two paradigms that Rabbi Sacks was describing in a more modern context. The ‘Spiritual’ one, focusing on the miracle of the oil as discussed in the Gemarah in Shabbat and Megillat Taanit and the ‘Physical ‘one, which commemorates the war, as mentioned in the Sefer Makabim and the ‘Al Hanissim’ Tefilah. The Rambam in Hilchot Chanukah 3:1/2, mentions both of these miracles, so maybe he is setting the precedent for Rav Kook’s philosophy.

But is that it? Is the Chanukah story just revolving around these two paradigms – Spirituality vs. Nationalism?

I would like to suggest a third aspect and angle to the Chanukah story that is based on the additional tefillah we say on Chanukah after ‘Al Hanisim’, ‘Bimei Mattityahu Ben Yochanan..’ This paragraph describes the victory of the weak against the strong, the few against the many, the pure against the impure and the righteous against the wicked..’ – the victory of the human spirit.

What kept the Chashmoniam fighting if there was so little chance that they would win? Where did their determination, resolve and tenacity come from? What was the source of their courage, indomitability and relentlessness?

Was it the spirituality, the ‘Torat Yisrael’ of the Gemarah in Shabbat and Megillat Taanit or the nationalism, the ‘Eretz Yisrael’ of the Sefer Makabim? I would like to suggest a third side to explain how they were able to win and beat the Greeks. Not based on the level of collective, the national, but rather on the level of the individual – and we see that strength in Jewish heroes like Natan Sharansky.

hol and shoah

When I think about my grandparents and their friends, the survivors and refugees from the Shoah, it is this dimension of Chanukah they represented. Not so much the collective and national ‘Eretz Yisrael’ – as when they escaped Europe they didn’t go to Israel or the spiritual or intellectual ‘Torat Yisrael’ – as not all of them were on that spiritual level as a result of their suffering and having witnessed what they had.

But on a more individual, human and private level, the belief that however hard and difficult their lives were and however little sense it all made, they never gave up. By showing that tenacious and unflinching resolve to carry on and rebuild their shattered lives they demonstrated that same inner spirit as the Chashmonaim thousands of years earlier.

It was that inner optimism and faith – that’s also what Chanukah is about. Not just the nationalism, the ‘Eretz Yisrael’ of Sefer Makabim or the spirituality, the ‘Torat Yisrael’ of the Gemarah in Shabbat, but also the human spirit and optimism of individuals of the ‘Al Hanisim’ Tefilah , who through sheer relentlessness and single-mindedness, kept going against the odds.As throughout our history, in the Chanukah story, the Jews were in the minority. Yet, as a result of our inner spirit, optimism and positivity we were able to overcome all the obstacles.

The Haftarah we read on Chanukah from Zechariah,’ Lo Ve’chayil Velo Vechoach, Ki im Bruchi Amar Hashem’ – mentions that inner human spirit, rooted in G-d’s spirit, that has kept the Jews going and is the secret to our survival.

Chanukah Sameach,

Benjy Singer.

Rabbi Chaim Brovender on Limmud: “What’s the Problem?”

21 11 2013

rabbi brovender

So, Anglo Jewry finally has something to get excited about. No, not Iran, Syria, Rav Metzger, Lieberman or even the new curtains and grass area in the Katamon Shteiblech. But something far more significant than all that – Limmud. Yes, thanks to social media, Limmud has gone viral and everyone is talking about it. The ‘MOO’ – Modern/Open Orthodox Facebook page has suddenly become the place where anyone who has anything to say about Limmud is hanging out.

My old friend from Yeshivat Har Etzion, Elie Jesner framed it, a ‘Limmud War’, which has connected people from all over the globe, who are very busy ‘liking’, ‘sharing’ and blogging. Even Rav Benny Lau expressed his views on Facebook yesterday, which is ironic, as last week he said he didn’t understand Diaspora Jewry.

I have been asked by several followers of the ‘My Shteiblech’ facebook page and website ( I run, to explain in more detail the whole fuss in Anglo Jewry at the moment around the Limmud Conference. Here is my response to those people:

Last night, after his Parsha shiur I chatted with Rabbi Chaim Brovender whilst he was waiting for his taxi which was fortunately late about the Limmud debate. His response was three words, ‘What’s the problem?’ He said it was fine for me to share his views with you all on my blog. I will be paraphrasing what he said in my own words. I will also be including my own thoughts and reflections.

Orthodox Rabbanim taking part.

Firstly, Rabbi Brovender thought as I argued in my previous blog, that Orthodox Rabbanim should be there teaching, inspiring and influencing. He said that the Orthodox Rabbinate could have taken over Limmud.  Two teachers of mine from Yerushalayim, Gila Rosen and Gideon Sylvester will be there, as I’m sure Rafi Zarum will be, and I’m envious of anyone who will be listening to them. Rabbi Brovender also said that, ‘people want to hear real ideas and truths’ – charismatic Orthodox Rabbanim and teachers are the best candidates to provide it.

Observant people going.

Secondly, he said that he saw no problem if ‘frum’ participants go there to learn – ‘If they want to be there who is to stop them? – If they want to learn in Gateshead, let them go there too, although Limmud is for people who otherwise would have no access to Jewish learning’.

I have to be honest and say I’m more guarded and cautious that Rabbi Brovender.  I’m not convinced that Limmud is the place for people from more observant backgrounds. By participants hearing and choosing between Orthodox and non-Orthodox presenters, like you were walking around a supermarket with a trolley, the impression made is that they are presenting philosophies and ideas that are equally authentic, warranted, well founded, justifiable and true.

Another problem that I know Dayan Ehrenthreu speaks about is social.  A friend of mine, raised the following scenario to me last night. What if a frum guy meets a girl from a reform background and then six months later, she is honest with him and tells him that only her father is Halachically Jewish and her mother isn’t. These types of situations happen and it’s a real issue that the Orthodox community cares about.

As I mentioned in my previous blog about Limmud, the harm and damage that the Reform and other non-Orthodox communities are doing to the continuity of the Jewish People as reported in the Pew Report and discussed last week at the GA Summit in Jerusalem, due to intermarriage is tragic and cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Equally injurious is the heartache and pain that intermarriage causes to the nuclear and extended Jewish family.

The difficulty of defining: ‘Apikorsim’, ‘Kofrim’ and ‘Minim’.

The third issue I asked Rabbi Brovender about is whether the Rabbis and teachers from non-Orthodox movements are ‘Apikorsim’, ‘Kofrim’, or ‘Minim’ – this is a very complex and broad topic.  Having spent the last view days looking into it myself, yes, it’s a real Pandora’s Box. A friend of mine, Johnny Solomon has written on these topics and I would suggest contacting him. I am certainly not learned enough to understand what these three different categories actually mean or whether they apply nowadays.

Rabbi Brovender made the following points:

1) When the Gemarah, the Rambam and others use the terms Apikores, Kofer or Min, they are referring to someone who consciously rejects the doctrines and precepts of Judaism, not someone who is a ‘Tinok She’Nishbaa’ – someone who was taken captive, meaning basically someone who was not brought up and educated in an observant environment.  Rabbi Brovender said, that for instance a Reform Rabbi who was brought up in a reform community and home, cannot be categorized as a Kofer, Apikores or Min.

2) Rabbi Brovender said that the terms Kofer, Apikores and Min are very hard to define and even harder to apply and only specific people can fit into them. Rabbi Brovender said it’s very dangerous for people who don’t really understand what the Rambam and others mean by these terms to use them in common speech.

3) On the other hand, Rabbi Brovender said, obviously, when the Rambam and others do try to define and discuss these terms as they do, they are trying to transmit fundamental and pivotal values and beliefs central of Judaism.  You need to learn the Rambam and Kuzari etc. to be aware of what views and ideas are the authentic Jewish perspective and approach and at least be sensitive to what maybe ‘Kfira’ or ‘Apikorses’. It isn’t spiritually healthy to learn and discuss Torah with people whose beliefs are contrary to the tenents the Rambam, Kuzari etc. are trying to inculcate and impress us with.

Here is some of my own research I have done over the past few days on this issue (just so you can look them up and learn the topic properly if you wish):

1) The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva chapter 3: 6, 7 and 8, categorises 3 types of non-believers or deniers of the truth: 1) Kofrim, 2) Apikorsim, and 3) Minim. Again, as we know central to the Rambam’s methodology was using categories and concepts, although the distinction between these 3 types in the Gemarah is not so clear. As far as I understand, a ‘Kofer’ is someone who denies the truth of ‘Torah Min Hashamayim’; an ‘Apikores’ is the result of this ‘Kfira’ – although the Rambam distinguishes between a ‘Kofer’ and an ‘Apikores’ in Hilchot Teshuva 3: 6 and 8.

2) The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva 3:7, discusses the 3rd, worst category of a ‘Min’ The Gemarah says that ‘Stam Mashshevet Min Avodah Zarah’ – that an average ‘Min’ is an idolater. I asked a Rav, who explained to me that a ‘Min’ believes the opposite of what the internal meaning and significance of the Torah She’Bichtav and Torah Baal Peh should be and what Hashem intended.

3) The Kesef Mishna there, in Hilchot Teshuva 3:8 makes the point that there is no difference between the Torah She’Bichtav or Torah She’Baal Peh-either way a ‘Kofer’ – denier is defined as someone who believes that the Torah is not ‘Min Hashamayim’.  Again, you need to study the 3rd chapter of Hilchot Teshuva properly to understand the distinctions between the categories he writes about.

4) The Gemarah in Sanhedrin in the 10th chapter, ‘Perek Chelek’ and Rambam in his explanation on the Mishnayot says that those who claim that the Torah is not ‘Min Hashamayim’ or those who claim that Moshe Rabbenu wrote the Torah himself, under his own initiative and ‘Apikorsim’  all have no share in Olam Habah. In Hilchot Teshuva 3:6, the Rambam lists Minim, Apikorsim and Kofrim as having no share in Olam Habah.

5) Who is an ‘Apikores’?

The Rishonim at the beginning of the 10th chapter of Sanhedrin – ‘Perek Chelek’ lists the following: One who ridicules Torah scholars or the Torah itself, a denier of the existence or oneness of G-d, one who denies prophecy or the divinity of the Torah She’Baal Peh, one who doesn’t keep the moadot, one who does not respect the Bet Mikdash and Avodah, one who publically and intentionally sins and one who doesn’t believe in the coming of the Moshiach. The Meiri writes, all these categories cause the destruction of the Torah and are included in the category of ‘Apikores’.

The Rambam writes that ‘Apikores’ comes from the Aramaic word,’ Hefker’, referring to one who disrespects and disgraces the Torah and thereby makes it ‘ownerless’. Others explain the word, ‘Afikor’ who was a Greek philosopher who spread views which were against the Torah and accepted Mesorah (tradition).

6) If you read through the Rambam’s  Hilchot Yesodey Hatorah, Deot and Talmud Torah you will get an understanding of how Talmidei Chachamim should be respected and their views listened to and not just ignored or ridiculed. The Rambam in Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:1 says that the role of a Rav or teacher of Torah is to bring their students to ‘Olam Habah’, implying that he must belief in that value system in the first place, before being able to teach them Torah. If an Apikores as the Mishna in Perek Chelek and the Rambam writes has no share in Olam Habah, how can he teach it and his views be respected, discussed, listened to or read?

7) The Rambam in 6, 7, 8 and 9 of his 13 Ikarim lists the basic tenents of faith that we should believe with regard to the Mesorah. The Abarbanel in his perush, ‘Rosh Abana’ on the Rambam’s Ikarim, Rav Yosef Albo in his Ikarim as well as the Kuzari and Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, all discuss issues such as ‘Torah Min Hashamayim’, the words of the Neviim are true and Divine, the Torah is unchangeable, enduring and unfading and the eternal truth and that Moshe Rabbenu received Nevuah that was over and above that of the other Neviim.

8) The Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah, 141:8 and Shach based on the Gemarah in Chagigah discussing Elisha Ben Avuya and R’Meir, rules that it is forbidden for a teacher of Torah who has left the ‘Derech Hatovah’ to teach Torah, even if he is learned and the community needs him.

(The next few points I have discussed with other Rabbanim and friends but didn’t have time to with Rabbi Brovender as unfortunately his taxi came.)

Discussions with representatives and people from non-Orthodox movements on issues relating to Torah, Halacha and Faith.

This is one of the main points of Rabbi Kimche’s letter. He feels that Limmud has a progressive, liberal agenda. If the Orthodox presenters are going to represent and defend Orthodoxy then it’s fine. If they are going to listen, exchange ideas and learn from non-Orthodox Rabbis and leaders then as far as I understand there is a serious Halachic problem with this.

As is known, Rav Soloveichik was against any inter-denominational debate on issues related to Torah, religion or faith. The Rav was primarily an ‘Ish Halacha’ and therefore it makes sense that he did not believe there was any value is discussing issues relating to Torah, Halacha, or faith with non-Orthodox Rabbis as they were speaking a different language. On social issues, I believe he said that there was room for cooperation and working together. The Rav was concerned with blurring the lines and giving any type of legitimacy or credence to non-Orthodox movements and their Rabbis and leaders.

We need to be realistic and honest. Does the Judaism of Mordechi Kaplan, Louis Jacobs, Abraham Geiger, Leopold Zunz, Claude Montefiore, Isaac Wise, Samuel Holdheim have anything in common and to discuss, with the Judaism of the Vilna Gaon, the Chofetz Chaim, R’Chaim Volozhin, R’Chaim Soloveichik, the Netziv, the Brisker Rav or Rav Moshe Feinstein. I sadly don’t think that people whose beliefs are rooted in the Pittsburgh Conference of 1885, have much to discuss on issues relating to Torah, faith and religion with people whose beliefs are rooted in the Yeshiva of Volozhin.

A core question: Does Orthodoxy really care?

A friend of mine said that he thought the basic issue in the Limmud Controversy is whether Orthodoxy really and genuinely cares about what is going on outside their own community. Do they feel compelled to educate, share and influence Jews wherever and however.

As I argued in my previous blog post, I feel that Orthodox Rabbanim and teachers should be at Limmud, as I am convinced we should, which was the main point I was trying to make. The purpose is not just to do ‘Kiruv’ but because we should feel a sense of responsibility towards every Jew. I do believe we are, ‘One People’, however varying, disparate and discrepant our attitudes, standpoints and ways of thinking.

My concluding thoughts.

My shmooze with Rabbi Brovender last night on Rechov Cheyl Nashim was enlightening as they always are. As some of you know, speaking informally with Rabbi Brovender, is as much a learning experience as sitting in his shiurim. I am of the view that Rabbi Kimche did raise some valid points in his letter that many of us do sympathize with.

The more Halachic issues about whether Orthodox people can learn Torah from Rabbis and teachers from non-Orthodox movements is a real Halachic question and not just based on a Hashkafa (personal outlook) or politics. As Rabbi Brovender pointed out, if views on Torah are ‘Kfira’ or ‘Apikorsos’ (simply meaning heresy or denial of the truth) then it is highly problematic to hear and discuss them, even if the people espousing them may not be categorised as ‘Apikorsim’, ‘Kofrim’, or ‘Minim’.

In his book, ‘Tradition in an Untraditional Age’, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes about the responses within Judaism to the Enlightenment and Emancipation.  As he describes they went in diametrically opposing directions. It is the duty of those of us who are somewhere in the middle to try to bridge the gaps, without compromising and adjusting the basic tenents and doctrines we were educated with at school and Yeshiva. Making concessions on fundamental precepts and beliefs of Judaism and Faith and not publically supporting what you really believe is the truth, is not being inclusive, pluralist or tolerant, but rather dishonest, unprincipled and untruthful.

Judaism is not just based on intellectual study, debate and inquiry. It’s also about being part of a received, Divine Mesorah based upon principles and beliefs laid down and discussed by the Rambam, Kuzari and others. Giving shiurim and lectures, learning and writing books, articles and blogs about Torah and Jewish ideas is nice, but that’s just the means, the funnel – the ends and purpose of all that learning and study, is feeling, behaving and seeing yourself as part of a Mesorah that is defined, based and rooted in Har Sinai and the Divine Revelation to Moshe Rabbeinu.

In Orthodoxy, we believe you express your commitment to that Mesorah by living a lifestyle according with and defined by Chazal and Halacha. Yes, of course there is room for pluralism, diversity, heterogeneity and debate – that’s what the Torah She’Baal Peh is all based on. But first we believe that you need to accept, respect and consent to the basic beliefs, principles and ideologies of Authentic Judaism.

You are welcome to respond to this blog post. But please bear in mind, I wrote it is for my weekly ‘thoughtsfromtheshteiblech’personal blog and for the ‘My Shteiblech’ facebook page and website I run ( It’s not a public statement or Halachic Teshuva like my previous post about Limmud was treated like by some.

Benjy Singer.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis and Limmud: Why he should go, Where I agree with Rabbi Kimche and disagree with Rabbi Cardozo and What Rav Soloveichik and Rav Hirsch may have advised him.

14 11 2013
mirvis and sacksWhy Rabbi Mirvis should go to Limmud:
I once heard Rabbi Riskin tell the story that when he was a Rabbi at Lincoln Square and teaching Baalei Teshuva at YU, he also periodically gave classes at a local Reform Temple. However, after a few years, the Reform Temple stopped inviting him to speak, as the students had decided to switch and study with him full time at Yeshiva University. The students told Rabbi Riskin that as he was presenting Orthodoxy in such an stimulating and interesting way, they had decided to follow him and learn full time in an Orthodox institution.
I have been following the debates currently going on in Anglo Jewry with regard to the decision of Chief Rabbi Mirvis to attend Limmud this winter and the response of Rabbi Kimche. It is not my intention to criticize Rabbi Kimche, who is a highly respected Talmid Chacham and communal leader. I would also add that whilst I lived in Hendon before making Aliyah, I very much enjoyed davening in Ner Yisrael and listening to Rabbi Kimche’s drashot and shiurim.
I want to make clear that I don’t think observant Jews should participate at Limmud, unless they are there in an educational and teaching capacity. If observant Jews want to spend their winter holidays learning, I think they should sit in a bet midrash with a chevruta or attend shiurim in a traditional Orthodox environment. If they want to experience Jewish culture, why not come here to Israel and support our economy at the same time!
I do believe there is a problem at Limmud, that Orthodoxy is presented as just another alternative to the non-Orthodox movements and participants are encouraged to choose which one they agree with. But it is precisely because of this that there needs to be an Orthodox presence! If you believe what you are saying is the truth, then why can’t you market and promote it?
As Rabbi Nathan Cardozo writes,’ Judaism is on the decline in many parts of the world, and we have to do everything in our power to turn the tide. What is necessary is creative thinking and bold ideas. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary Orthodox leadership when a Chief Rabbi is called courageous because he accepts the invitation to teach Torah at such an event like Limmud. What could be more obvious?’
Anyone who understands and cares about Anglo Jewry, needs to realize how important it is that the voice of Orthodoxy is heard at Limmud. This past Tuesday night I attended Rabbi Sacks’ lecture at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem and I was thinking to myself what a shame it was that he was not allowed to speak at Limmud whilst he was Chief Rabbi – just think of all those Jews he could have inspired and influenced. Like Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Mirvis is able to present Orthodoxy in an intelligent, attractive and highly articulate manner that speaks to the modern mind, which is why both Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Mirvis should be speaking at Limmud.
The Mishna in Pirkei Avot, tells us we should be like Aharon,’loving people, and bringing them closer to Torah’. The Rambam in Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:2, says that every sage has an obligation to teach Torah to their fellow Jews.
Furthermore, we see in Sefer Beraishit, in Chapter 18, when confronting Sodom, Avraham intercedes for Sodom – the angels had already arrived in Sodom to carry out its destruction, but Avraham prayed for its survival. Rav Moshe Feinstein explains why Avraham also pleaded and davened for those who were not righteous and says that Avraham cared only for the truth as defined by the Torah – he wanted them to change for the better. Therefore he felt that if there was a nucleus of just ten good people in a city there was hope that they could influence the others by teaching and example.
The Midrash quoted by Rashi is critical of Noach when comparing him to Avraham, saying that Noach was only able to influence his own generation and would not have been able to make an impact on the generation of Avraham, as he was too inward looking and parochial, whilst Avraham was outward looking and had a far wider reach.
As Rabbi Cardozo wrote in defending the decision of Rabbi Mirvis to attend Limmud, ‘Orthodoxy needs to be able to present itself in a strong and confident way’. I remember on one of the occasions I attended Limmud when Rabbi Norman Lamm was there. The mere fact his voice was heard and Orthodoxy was represented, meant that people could hear an authentic Orthodox perspective.
The sad reality is, that Anglo Jewry is facing the challenge of widespread ignorance of and detachment from Judaism, and the more learning that takes place the better – however and wherever. I remember Rabbi Dr Jeffrey Cohen telling me how much he enjoyed the buzz and thirst for learning at Limmud. He felt he had made a significant impact by teaching at Limmud as he was giving participants the opportunity of hearing the Orthodox viewpoint.
The argument that by attending, Rabbi Mirvis and other Orthodox Rabbis are giving legitimacy to Non-Orthodox movements present, may have been true thirty years ago, but is no longer sound. In fact the opposite is true, through attending Limmud, Orthodox Rabbis assuming they are quality speakers, are able to demonstrate how Orthodoxy can be equally relevant and stimulating. People are intelligent enough to make decisions for themselves, and if the Orthodox speaker is engaging then I think the impact can only be positive.
Limmud also provides an important social function, giving Jews an opportunity to interact and discuss and for people who would otherwise be alone over the winter holidays. It is important therefore that Orthodox Rabbanim and educators are present to run minyanim and be there for the observant Jews who may want the option of being taught by them.
Rabbi Cardozo’s article in the Jerusalem Post, on November 8th:
Where I disagree with Rabbi Cardozo is when he writes, ‘ I encourage the Dayan (Ehrentreu) to sit on a panels with Reform and Conservative rabbis and thinkers and carefully listen to what they have to say, take advice from them, and if necessary prove them wrong. He should invite them to join with him in the struggle to ensure that young Jews fall in love with Judaism and become convinced of the beauty of Orthodoxy.’
I am sorry Rabbi Cardozo, but you should read the Pew Report published a few weeks ago – both the Conservative and Reform movements are failing, as a result of the high rates of assimilation and intermarriage in their communities. I also do not accept what Rabbi Cardozo suggests, that Orthodox Rabbanim should be on joint panels with Reform and Conservative leaders. There is no need to ‘carefully listen to what they have to say’ – their Judaism is not authentic Judaism and has no future – they don’t believe in Torah Min Hashamayim and sadly so many of their children marry out.
I disagree with Rabbi Cardozo, in that I don’t believe Orthodoxy should ‘take advice from them’ – again all you have to do is hear what was said at the GA Assembly this week in Jerusalem, to see how the Reform and Conservative movements are ineffective in ensuring their own continuity and survival, to realize why I think so.
I also don’t see why Orthodoxy needs to ‘prove them wrong’ . Orthodoxy has nothing to prove and no debate or discussion is needed. Rabbi Cardozo – What precisely is there to discuss anyway?
Also, I disagree with Rabbi Cardozo – Orthodoxy does not need the help of the Reform and Conservative movements to encourage young Jews to ‘fall in love with Judaism’. Orthodoxy can do it by themselves. Orthodoxy does not need to be diluted and distorted by the Reform and Conservative movements.
In support of Rabbi Kimche:
The issues that Rabbi Kimche addressed in his letter, some of which I agree, does not mean that charismatic Orthodox Rabbis and teachers cannot attend Limmud – as I mentioned above, the converse is true, they have an obligation to share their knowledge and passion.
I sympathize with Rabbi Kimche with regard to his concerns over the non-committal atmosphere at Limmud, where all views are seen as equally legitimate and the fundamental basics of Judaism such as Torah Min Hashamayim and the commitment to Rabbinic Halachah which has kept Judaism alive, are not at least respected by a number of presenters.
Based on what I have seen when I have attended Limmud, I agree with Rabbi Kimche with regard to the open and overly pluralist stance that exists at Limmud towards the Israel-Palestine debate. Presenting the arguments as equally legitimate, giving Pro-Palestinian speakers a platform and failing to demonstrate unequivocal support of Medinat Yisrael is unacceptable.
Halachic issues:
To my mind there is only one Halachic issue involved in going to teach at Limmud. The Gemarah in Massechet Chagigah says that it is forbidden to teach a talmid who is ‘Ayno Hagun’ -unbefitting. But the phrase, ‘Ayno Hagun’ is ambiguous. The vast majority of participants at Limmud are going out of a genuine interest to learn more about Judaism and experience Jewish culture. Furthermore, who are we to judge who is ‘Hagun’ and not – anyway are we so frum? Are we so ‘Hagun’?
Also, we see in many places in Halachah, unaffiliated Jews are viewed as ‘Tinokot She’Nishbaoo’ – Jews who have captured, meaning Jews who have not been given the opportunity to learn about Judaism. They are viewed by Halachah with understanding and leniency. Orthodoxy Rabbis and leaders have an obligation to educate them – not abandon and reject them.
The Chazon Ish said that unaffiliated and non observant Jews nowadays come into the category of ‘Tinokot She’Nishbaoo’ which can also be implied from the Rambam in Hilchot Mamrim.
Rav Shimson Raphael Hirsch and Austritt:
Rav Hirsch was living at a time when the Reform movements were starting and understandably felt threatened and on the defensive. Rav Hirsch was a fierce opponent of Reform Judaism and opposed early forms of Conservative Judaism. He believed in Austritt- an independent Orthodoxy. He believed there should be complete disconnect between Orthodox and non-Orthodox in all matters, even burial issues.
But Rav Hirsch was living at a time when the Reform movement was a serious threat. If you would have heard what they were talking about at the GA conference this week in Jerusalem when discussing the Pew Report, it is clear that the Reform and Conservative movements are becoming ineffective and weak and have failed to stop mass assimilation and intermarriage.
I do not think that Rav Hirsch would propose ‘Austritt’ nowadays, and instead he would advise Rabbi Mirvis to go and fill the vacuum and try to educate the vast majority of unaffiliated Jews towards Orthodoxy.
Rav Soloveichik:
I spoke to Rabbi Rakefett about Limmud, and he said that Rav Soloveichik was not opposed to teaching non-Orthodox Jews. The Rav was totally against inter-faith dialogue and inter-denominational dialogue that may give legitimacy and credence to non-Jewish or non-Orthodox theology or beliefs.
Rabbi Rakeffet said that the Rav was totally against supporting non-Orthodox institutions and presenting non-Orthodox movements and viewpoints as equally legitimate to Orthodoxy , but he wasn’t sure if this could be applied to Limmud, where there is such an opportunity to teach and influence. Rabbi Norman Lamm, who I mentioned above, has attended Limmud and was very close with the Rav. Again, I think Rav Soloveichik would advise Rabbi Mirvis to go.
Despite what I have just written, postulating what Rav Hirsch and Rav Soloveichik would have advised Rabbi Mirvis, on the other hand, it is up to the leaders of each generation to decide what the appropriate action to take is. Just like Rav Hirsch and Rav Soloveichik were presented with complex communal issues in their own historical contexts, so too Rabbi Mirvis is in ours. It is up to the leaders of specific time period, who understand their communities and the contexts in which they are working, as Rabbi Mirvis does, to decide what the correct action to take is.
So, to an extent, the question of what Rav Soloveichik or Rav Hirsch would have said about Limmud is irrelevant. The decisions of past and present senior Rabbanim of Anglo-Jewry with regard to their attendance at Limmud, like Rabbi Dr Jeffrey Cohen, Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Mirvis needs to be respected, as they understand the needs and requirements of the broader community.
Furthermore, I’m not sure if Rabbinic leaders outside of Anglo Jewry, like Ha’Rav Lichtenstein from Yeshivat Har Etzion or Rav Herschel Schechter from YU, are the people to be making the decision as to whether there should be participation by Orthodox Rabbanim at Limmud, as some suggest, as they may not be sensitive or aware of the key role Limmud plays in providing a unique opportunity for vast amounts of unaffiliated Jews to experience Jewish culture and learning.
Final thought:
I once heard Rabbi Sacks say that after the Shoah, all Jews should see themselves as survivors, in that we all have a responsibility to ensure the survival of Judaism and the Jewish People after it was almost destroyed. It is a travesty, therefore, that at Limmud, the largest Jewish conference in the world, the majority of the Orthodox Rabbinic leadership of Anglo Jewry do not feel compelled to attend and thereby give assimilated and unaffiliated Jews the opportunity of being attracted to living an Orthodox lifestyle.
As Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo wrote in his article in the Jerusalem Post, ‘ The enormous damage done by not having Orthodox teachers participating cannot be emphasized enough. Who of the distinguished dayanim and rabbis have the right to deny the participants of Limmud the opportunity to hear the Orthodox point of view? How do they dare stay away?’
As I mentioned, the Chazon Ish and the Rambam defined unaffiliated and non-observant Jews as ‘Tinokot She’nishbaoo’. Orthodox Rabbanim and teachers have an obligation to go out and teach, inspire and influence them.
Orthodoxy has a golden opportunity now to fill the vacuum created by the failure of the non Orthodox movements to ensure their own survival, as discussed at the GA Assembly this week in Jerusalem. They cannot do this, if they have no presence at conferences like Limmud and just remain in the safety of their own ‘Daled Amot’.
Just my thoughts and reflections.
Keep up the good work Anglo Jewry!
Benjy Singer.

Why Israeli Schools should mark 75 years since Kristallnacht (Leil Habdolach) this week.

10 11 2013

I was somkristallnachtewhat shocked to hear on a radio discussion this morning that when being interviewed, some adults and children responded, that they didn’t feel it was necessary to dedicate special time this week in Israeli schools, learning about Kristallnacht.

This week, marks the 75 anniversary since Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) or as they call here in Israel, ‘Leil Habdolach’. On the 9/10th of November, 1938, in Germany and Vienna, over 1000 shuls were destroyed ( including those of my grandparents in Berlin, Leipzig and Vienna – in Vienna alone, 95 shuls were burnt down), 100 Jews were murdered, and over 30,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps. The windows of over 7000 Jewish owned businesses and properties were damaged and destroyed. Jews throughtout the streets of Germany and Vienna were beaten up and abused.
The SA stormtroopers and non-Jewish civilians were the perpetrators and the German authorities and citizens did absolutely nothing to stop what they saw happening in front of their eyes. They were completely passive and just stood by. They did not protest and stand up for the defenseless and innocent Jews.
Kristallnacht was a turning point in the fate of the Jews. It was the last stage towards the ‘Final Solution’. Many historians see Kristallnacht as the days when the Shoah began.
I can think of five reasons:
1) Over 30,000 were deported to concentration camps. It was the first time that Nazis deliberately targeted Jews for death – over 100 were killed. Previously, through the Nurembourg laws, Jews were restricted from being citizens and being part of society, now during Krsitallnacht they were being attacked physically.
2) The German authorities and the general non-Jewish public did absolutely nothing to protect the Jews. Jews received no protection under the law from acts of criminal violence and assaults. German citizens encouraged by Nazi propaganda, were encouraged to join in the destruction and violence.
3) It became ‘acceptable’ to beat up and kill Jews on the streets – the Jews had become islolated. The discrimination they had suffered changed from being economic, political and social to physical beatings, incarceration and murder.
4) The Nazis themselves, from now used violence to back up propaganda.
5) There was an international outcry after Kristallnacht which further isolated Hilter and make him feel besieged, encouraging and his colleagues, to carry out the ‘Final Solution.’
The one positive and highly significant result from Kristallnacht, is that it made Jews emigrate and made them realize finally that they had to leave, as they had no future there and their lives were at risk. Over 115,000 Jews left Germany and Vienna over the ten months after Kristallnacht.
So, why should schools in Israel 2013,  dedicate time this week to mark 75 years since the horrific events of November 9/10th 1938?
I would like to suggest the following reasons, based on the five points I made above:
1) Kristallnacht was the final, crucial stage in the dehumanisation of Jews in Europe. From a teaching perspective, these days need to be seen as the final step towards the destruction of European Jewry. How did the Nazis do it? Why did the propaganda work? Why did the German authorities and citizens do nothing?
2)  Over Kristallnacht, Jews were murdered, beaten and deported and shuls were burnt down and destroyed. This warrants being remembered by Jewish children living in Israel.
3) I don’t think you can ever say, ‘Never again’, but you can say is that now we have a Jewish State, we can protect ourselves and Jewish blood is no longer ‘Hefker’, free. This point needs to be discussed in Israeli schools and children need to be aware of how lucky they are now, living in a Jewish State, with an army.
4) As I mentioned, after Kristallnacht,  Jews were forced to finally leave Germany, Vienna etc and thus were saved – this could be discussed in more detail- Why did Jews in Germany suffer from such inertia and not want to leave?
5) Even though as I mentioned above there was an international outcry after Kristallnacht, on a practical level, the international community did not do enough to protect the Jews of Europe and the British policy of Appeasement continued. Furthermore, the Americans still did not take these events are seriously as they should have. After seeing how the Jews were treated over Kristallnacht, they should have started making plans to bomb the train lines to the concentration camps, some of which had already been constructed and were functional. Jews had started being deported to Buchenwald and other camps.
Kristallnacht can be used as a case study, to look further into the failure of the International Community to act in protecting the Jews, throughout the 1930′s, and not just from September 1939.
So, although Kristallnacht was 75 years ago, I believe it should be discussed and remembered in depth in Israeli schools this week. To teach firstly, about the suffering of the Jews in Europe during the 1930′s even before the actual Shoah itself, and secondly the importance of standing up for fellow human beings who are being persecuted and mistreated – which both the non-Jewish German/Austrian citizens and the International Community failed to do during Kristallnacht.
Just my response from what I heard on radio this morning,
Benjy Singer.

Childlessness in Sefer Beraishit: Despair or Discovery?

7 11 2013
nehamaAs the story of the Avot and Imahot unfolds, we see that childlessness and infertility were common among them. They do eventually go on to have children, who become the leaders of our Nation, but in the process of waiting and not knowing what the future holds, they go through periods of both despair and discovery – emotional ups and downs. Tefillah and Divine intervention resulted in the emergence of  a nation. This was G-d’s way of proving that Am Yisrael is not a natural phenomenon- without miracles we could not have existed, nor could we continue to exist.
Being childless was not just something the Imahot had to deal with, but actually it defined them and their Avodat Hashem – it was part of their essence and core being. The Avot are not described by the Torah as barren, as they had children and been promised offspring by G-d, but they played a supportive role to differing levels of success. Sarah in 11:31, Rivka in 25:21 and Rachel in 29:31 are all described as ‘Akarah’ – barren. (Leah is not ‘Akarah’ as she is already ‘Snuah’ (29:31/33) – ‘hated’, by Yaakov, unlike Rachel who is loved. The Malbim explains that Leah would not have been able to cope with being both ‘hated’ and ‘barren’. )
Childlessness and death:
The Torah in Beraishit 1:28, mentions the mitzvah of ‘Pru Urvu’. We hold like Bet Hillel, that each man is obligated to have a son and daughter. A woman is also part of the mitzvah of ‘Pru Uvru’ although it is debated as the the nature of her obligation.
In 30:1, Rachel compares being childless with being dead. Rashi 30:1, quoting the Beraishit Rabbah and Gemarah in Nedarim comments that not having sons is akin to being dead. The Shulchan Aruch at the beginning of Even Ha’ezer 1:1, says that a man who does not have children is like a murderer and causes the Shechina to leave the Jewish People. Obviously this is referring to a man who is choosing not to have children, unlike in Sefer Beraishit. Nevertheless, seeing a childless person as ‘dead’ or as a ‘murderer’ shows how Judaism views having children as pivotal and central to be able to living a Jewish lifestyle. (Although some of our greatest leaders like the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Chazon Ish and Nechama Leibovitz never had children as I mention at the end).
How each of the Avot and Imahot deal with their infertility reflects the nature of their relationship:
Avraham and Sarah:   They deal with it together in a natural and human way – it is part of their relationship. They don’t just daven and turn to G-d, but they support and turn to each other. Sarah allows Avraham to have more children with Hagar. They do chessed together, teaching people and spreading emunah. They discover more about each other and those around them, whilst they are hoping to have children together. They use their spare time to explore and contribute to their community and society.
It is interesting that the word ‘Vayitzchak’ in the context of Avraham and ‘Vatizchak’ in the context of Sarah is used. Even though as Onkolos explains the meaning of the word differently in the context of Avraham and Sarah. Avraham was genuinely happy and jubilant when he found out Sarah would give birth, as opposed to Sarah who was sceptical and cynical, nevertheless the fact the Torah uses the same word shows they were in this together. Also in 18:11, the Torah describes Avraham and Sarah TOGETHER- they were BOTH old.
At the same time, they also go through periods of despair. In 17: 1-16, G-d promises Avraham that he will have children, but his response in 17:17 is that he falls on his face in despair and says ‘How can a man of 100 and a woman of 90 give birth?’ In other words, despite the faith of Avraham and the promise G-d gave him, he couldn’t help responding how he did. Also as mentioned, Sarah laughs, ‘Va’tizchak’ when told she will have a child at her age, showing her bitterness and inner turmoil.
Yitzchak and Rivkah:   The Torah is very brief when describing how they dealt with their period of childlessness. They don’t talk about it and discuss.  Furthermore, as the Torah describes in the beginning of Parshat Toldot, Rivkah and NOT Yitzchak is barren. Why? As Yitzchak had been promised already in 17:19 that he would be blessed with children. G-d had promised Avraham that his destiny would be fulfilled through Yitzchak’s offspring.
Rashi describes how Yitzchak and Rivkah stand opposite each other when they daven – they are not davening together. Yitzchak davens for Rivkah and Rivkah davens for herself. Unlike Avraham and Sarah they are not going through their childlessness equally.
Their lack of communication and the way Yitzchak automatically turns to G-d, reflects the nature of their relationship. As described in Parshat Chayeh Sarah 24:63-64, the context in which they met was when Yitzchak was davening Mincha – they never did really communicate and their relationship was more technical. The Torah is brief in how it describes their period of childlessness – just one pasuk 25:21, which typifies how the Torah describes Yitzchak in general.
Rivkah and Yitzchak discover new ways of relating to G-d whilst they are waiting to have children together. Yitzchak davens for Rivkah and they learn about the power of Tefillah and the importance of davening for others. The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer comments that Yitzchak took Rivkah to Har Hamoriyah, the site of the Akeidah to daven with her. Rivkah also goes through despair when she is unsure if the promise from G-d to Yitzchak to have children will be through her or through another women, like what happened to Sarah and Hagar, when Sarah allowed Hagar to have children with Avraham.
Yaacov and Rachel:    As the Torah describes many times (29:18/ 20/ 30) , Yaacov truly loves Rachel, unlike Leah who the Torah describes twice as ‘Snuah’ 29: 31/33 – ‘hated’. Yaacov shows Rachel love, affection and empathy in helping her cope with her infertility. I think it is because Yaacov loves Rachel so much that he becomes so angry with her in 30:2 – Yaacov is saying to her (I am paraphrasing) ‘I have done everything I can for you to help you through this difficult time, now it is up to G-d’. He is also saying that G-d should be the address to whom she should vent her frustration and pain and not him.
The years of waiting for children, gives Yaacov and Rachel an opportunity to explore and deepen the love they have always for each other, which had always been very physical and external. They get to learn about each other in a more genuine and mature way. Yaacov has been infactuated with Rachel, and through helping her with being childless now sees her as a real person.
Rachel deals with her infertility the worst out of the Imahot as she is the one who is loved so much by her husband-it makes no sense to her. When Rachel says in 30:1, ‘Give me children – otherwise I am dead’, this reflects how she is a state of despair and completely distraut. I would like to suggest that the reason Rachel copes with her infertility so badly is because she believes she has been rejected, and Leah chosen. As Rav Yoel Bin Nun explains, we see throughout Sefer Beraishit this theme of being ‘chosen’ or ‘rejected’. Rashi explains that Rachel feels her infertility is a sign that Leah is superior to her spiritually.
We also see even though Yaacov was so close to Rachel and also had a deep faith, he also couldn’t hold in his sense of frustration in 30:2 , when he says to Rachel (paraphrasing) – ‘Why are you blaming me, G-d is your address’ . Yaacov also felt a sense of despair and helplessness, even though he already had children – he loved Rachel more, and wanted to help her, but couldn’t.
The power of Tefillah:
Another reason given for why Leah has children and is not barren, apart from the fact she is ‘Snuah’ ,is that she already had davened enough that she wouldn’t marry Esav. Rashi on 29:17, comments that the reason why Leah’s eyes were ‘ Rakot’ – tender, was as a result of her crying during tefillah that she being the older one, wouldn’t have to marry Esav. As she had davened for this reason, she wasn’t made to daven for having children too.
The Netziv sees the main purpose of tefillah is to get us to know oursleves and reflect on our relationship with G-d, and not that G-d actually answers us. Tefillah is a journey of discovery – As a result of being childless, the Avot and Imahot were taken on this journey and as a result become more spiritual beings which prepared them to become leaders of Am Yisrael.
The Gemarah in Yevamot 63, says that the reason why the Imahot were barren is that G-d loves the tefillah of Tzadikim. Through being barren and having to daven, they were given an opportunity to deepen their spiritual awareness and consciousness. Furthemore, we know the Gemarah in Brachot learns the Halachot of Tefillah from the Channah who was also barren. We see again with Channah, the connection in Tenach between childlessness, tefillah and deepening one’s relationship with G-d.
Final thought:
In Sefer Beraishit, childlessness is seen as part of one’s relationship with G-d. The purpose of the time period of being childless is to deepen one’s faith through tefillah and through coming to a realisation that in fact G-d is ultimately in charge of our destiny and is the source of our existence, continuity and happiness. As we see from how the Imahot dealt with being barren, they go through periods of both despair and discovery, not knowing what will be.
If we think of recent leaders of Jewry:  The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe – Menachem Mendel Shneerson, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the Chazon Ish, the Sridei Aish, Nechama Leibovitz and Sarah Scheerer, none of them had children. That’s not to suggest that’s an ideal- we all know it isn’t, neither from a human or religious perspective. But on the other hand we don’t know how G-d works and why things turn out as they do – man can only do so much and the rest is up to G-d. The Gemarah in Horayot and Zevachim says,’ Eyn Tzibur Meytim’, the community, Knesset Yisrael never dies – and is eternal. By throwing in our destiny with Am Yisrael we can also become immortal. Nechama Leibovitz is a household name and her teachings are studied throughout the world, even though she never had children.
We learn from Avraham and Sarah, that even though times were tough, and they didn’t understand what the purpose and meaning of their infertility was, they didn’t sit and wollow in sorrow and self pity, but instead used the time they had until they had Yitzchak, to teach and share their lives with others and do chessed. They also develop a greater sensitivity to the suffering of those around them, as they themselves went through uncertainty and pain.
In Sefer Iyov we see that the luck of Iyov changes when instead of focusing in on himself, he dedicates himself to others. As Rav Soloveichik said, instead of asking ‘Why’ is this happening to me, Iyov asks, ‘What’ can I do to redeem myself from my current situation?   We may not be able to control our fate and destiny completely, but we can change how we perceive and cope with it.
Shabbat Shalom,
Benjy Singer.

Rabbi Beni Nachteiler of Bnei Akiva and the Women of the Wall.

5 11 2013
I was somewhat surprised and disturbed to hear on the news last night and read an article by Jeremy Sharon in the Jerusalem Post yesterday, that Rabbi Beni Nachteiler, who is the director of the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva Education network, requested that girls learning at Bnei Akiva schools should join the Bet Yaacov girls at the Kotel this past Rosh Chodesh Kislev, in their silent protest against the ‘Women of the Wall.’
bnei akivaI am aware that Rav Ahron Leib Steinman shlita said the Bet Yaacov girls should go to the Kotel but I don’t see why the Bnei Akiva sector should follow this approach. Religious Jews should not be turning the Kotel into a battle ground and causing Sinat Chinam and Chilul Hashem. Religious Jews should take the higher moral and ethical ground, as they represent Orthodoxy.
The whole purpose and goal of the Dati Leumi community, which Bnei Akiva is part of and represents, is to act as a bridge between the ‘Religious’ and ‘Secular’. That was the ideology of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook and that’s what he believed in and fought for.
Sadly, Rav Kook’s belief in the importance of unity in ‘Am Yisrael’ over and above any other value including ‘Eretz Yisrael’, has now been distorted by the majority of the leadership of the ‘Merkaz’ and ‘Chardal’ community here, who have little or no connection with the majority ‘Chiloni’ sector.
Education is a very powerful tool for inculcating and nurturing values and ideals. But at the same time can be very dangerous, if educators aren’t aware of the implications of the decisions they are making and the messages that impressionable children take home with them.
Is turning the Kotel into a battle ground a Jewish ideal? Isn’t the Kotel one of the most sacred areas in Israel? Are ‘Dati Leumi’ Rabbanim and educators here in Israel so naive and narrow minded that they are now following the Charedi approach to solving problems in Israeli Society? Is that the way forward? Is that what Bnei Akiva stands for now?
By suggesting that girls learning in Bnei Akiva schools from Dati Leumi homes should go and join the Bet Yaacov girls at the Kotel yesterday in protesting against the ‘Women of the Wall’, Rabbi Nachteiler behaved irresponsibly and made a grave error. I very much hope that Ha’Rav Druckman clarifies the position of Bnei Akiva and Rabbi Nachteiler is taken to task.