Thursday, December 28, 2006

Parshat Vayigash - Yoseph's Wagons.

Yoseph reveals his true identity to the brothers. Now they go to Eretz Yisrael to tell their father that Yoseph is alive. But when they give him the good tidings:

"His heart went numb, for he did not believe them. When they recounted all that Yosef had said to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Ya'akov revived. "

what was it about the wagons that revived Yaakov's soul? Why would this help him to accept the surprise news of Yoseph?

In this shiur we examine, text, context and Midrash.
Read the shiur here.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Subliminal Assimilation

I just chanced upon this in the NYTimes.

It reminds me about how every year, my students here in Yeshivot in Israel, express nostalgia and genuine feelings of how they miss the Christmas atmosphere in the US/UK or wherever they come from. These are modern Orthodox studnets who have never stepped out of a Jewish school environment. As a kid, I loved the Christmas TV because they really screened the best movies, but I would not have said that I loved Christmas! When I express my surprise that this is not exactly a Jewish holiday, they respond, with teenage disdain (as if I should lighten up) that it is just the pretty lights and the songs in the shops and malls etc. etc. And I cannot help feeling that they are absolutely unaware just how assimilated they are. How absorbed they are in the culture of a religion that is alien to our own. And the amazing thing is that they don't see it! (Read the article in the NYTimes. Is it innocent or insidious?)

I am I being extreme here?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Parashat Miketz - Yehuda's Responsibility

Yehuda said to his father, Yisra'el: "Send the boy in my care, and let us be on our way, that we may live and not die: you and we and our children. I myself will be surety for him (anokhi e'ervennu); you may hold me responsible (mi-yadi tevakshena): if I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I shall stand guilty forever. For we could have been there and back twice by now had we not dawdled. (43:8-9)

Up to this point in the Joseph story, Yaakov patently refuses to send Binyamin down to Egypt. Suddunley, with this conversation, Yaakov indicatess his willingness to send Binyamin. And this begs the question: How did Yehuda persuade Ya'akov? What in his words pushed his father to the "tipping point?" What phrase found a place in Ya'akov's mind? What was it that induced a change of heart?

Read the shiur here

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Jewish Campus Atmosphere

I subscribe and contribute to a Jewish Educators' List, Lookjed.

This query was recently submitted to the list:

One of my students heading to college next year is seeking a campus whichhas a strong Orthodox Shabbat community. Some campuses have a strong Orthodox community during the week, but everyone goes home for Shabbat;other campuses have lots of people for Shabbat but not the most spiritually conducive atmosphere. What college would you recommend?

Rabbi Eitan Mayer
Menahel Chinuchi
Midreshet MoriahJerusalem

Adderabbi has already posted on this. I thought that I would give my response too.

This is what I answered:

Rabbi Mayer asked about a student who seeks a campus with a good Shabbat atmsophere. I love a good Shabbat davening and a warm Shabbat environment. And yet, I would like to critique the assumption of the question. If this student is dorming on campus, her whole life is there 24/7! She should then be searching for a community with a great Beit Midrash, an approachable Rabbi and Rebbetzin, good shiurim, and a week-long vibrant Jewish Community. This will affect the totality of her Jewish commitment in a way much stronger than Shabbat alone.

Too many Jews are "Shabbat Jews" who come "out the closet" just for Shabbat, but whose minds and wider lifestyle is elsewhere. To be a religiously vibrant and spiritually successful university student, one should be looking for Judaism in all spheres.

I would add one further point. The people who succeed on campus are frequently the givers, the activists, the organisers and machers. We should advise this student, who cares so deeply about Shabbat to get onto the committee that organises Shabbat atmosphere on the college campus. That way, she can be active in creating the appropriate atmosphere. She will grow significantly as a result.

Space Invaders

I came down to my computer this morning to find my 10 year old playing a game that I actually recognised. Yes! It was quite amoment of nostalgia - Space Invaders!

I remember so clearly (in the days before anyone had PC's) , how we would pile into the local barber's shop and spend 10p for a turn on Pacman or Space invaders. It's fun to see how life turns full circle. And apparently, even in computer games, there are "classics."

Chanukka Fire

Beit Shammai advise us that we should light Channuka candles in descending order, starting with eight the first night, and progressing to a single light on the final night. Our Halakha follows Beit Hillel who advise us to light 1,2,3,….8. The Gemara presents the logic of each opinion, and yet this machloket has provided ample room for the darshanim to probe the meaning of the Channuka lights. Here is one such explanation.

Fire is something that has potential both for creation and destruction. We harness the energy of combustion to drive our cars and power our electricity. Fire provides heat and light. And yet fire can destroy indiscriminately, burning buildings and lives into oblivion.
The Machloket regarding the number of lights relates to the function and motive of the fire of the Chashmonaim, the spirit of their rebellion.

Beit Shammai sees the fire of the Channuka lights as symbolic of the war waged against Hellenism. The fire purges the impurities burning them out, destroying them. Our Chanukka lights represent the fire that burns out the ideologies and practices that are incompatible with Judaism, and hence, as Chanukka progresses there is less and less to burn, less evil to remove, to eradicate. Judaism emerges purged.

Beit Hillel's fire is a positive force. Beit Hillel say: We do not burn out the evil. We simply begin to light the illuminating fire of Torah. And each night the fire grows in intensity and size. (This idea from R.Zevin – LaTorah Velamoadim.) Our answer to evil is to increase goodness, we fight Hellenism with our Torah.

Do we focus on suppressing the negative, or do we promote and build the positive? The Halakha is like Beit Hillel. And yet, think about it - can one indeed build the positive without removing the negative? Can one create good without fighting evil? Can one create holiness without removing Tum'ah?

Monday, December 18, 2006

An ideal Channuka Tiyul

Today on a Channukah tiyul, we walked through a newly opened 400m long ancient tunnel at Armon Hanetziv (just by the Tayelet). It is part of a water system originally developed by the Hasmonean kings that once brought water to the Temple in Jerusalem! (...and water still flowed through here in the early 20th Century) The kids had a great time.

The springs that produced the water originated south of Gush Etzion at Ein Koziba and flowed through the hills in an aqueduct over 20 km long to Har Habayit! Another aqueduct was built by Herod originating just below Efrat, flowing through Bethlehem and arriving at Herod's palace at Jaffa gate/Migdal David! These engineering feats are just incredible. They calculated the precise elevations in order to keep the water flowing (20 km long, descending only 85 m in height!)

My kids are old hands at these ancient aquducts having visited the water system around Efrat many times. My son is more familiar with the ins and outs of the water to the Beit Mikdash than he is with the Center of town in modern day Jerusalem! He spent teh tour correcting the tour guide. It seemed a very appropriate tiyul for Channuka, connecting to the Temple and the Hasmonean kings and it is very cool to go "back in time" visiting places which have such historic and archeological value just 500 metres from where I work.

Unfortunately, today we seem to be experts at wasting water and abusing our scarce water sources. We have alot to learn from the ancients.

(Details of the tiyul are here and here)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Parashat Vayeshev

This week's parsha shiur.

Rashi quotes a disturbing Midrash in the opening lines of the Parsha:

“Vayeshev Yaakov - Yaakov wished to dwell in calm and tranquillity. The trouble (lit. rage) of Joseph pounced upon him. God says: Tzaddikim want a peaceful life? Is the good that awaits them in the World To Come not sufficient that they desire calm and tranquillity in this world?”

I say that it is disturbing, because if we are to take the message of this midrashic comment to heart, then what is being demanded from the righteous is to expel all aspirations of personal calm and harmony, and to set forth on a path of torment and self denial. Is this the ideology which is recommended by Torah?

We shall return to the theology in a few minutes. But for now, let us attempt to examine the midrashic method itself. How is this Midrash created? From where does it draw its ideas?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Olmert's Nuclear Gaffe

Much has been said about Olmert's gaffe the other day. Was it a mistake or was it deliberate? And even if it was a mistake, is Israel's nuclear program really a secret? And does anyone fool themselves (other than Robert Gates the new U.S. Secretary of Defense) that Iran is embarking on nuclear armarment to defend itself against Israel?

Even before this I read the following piece (read it in full here) in Yediot Acharonot by MK Eitan Cabel.

"Some 80 officers used to sit (perhaps they still do today) on one of the floors at the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense in Washington. They were dressed in US army uniforms and they went through paperwork, piles of paperwork. They would read, delete, correct, read again and approve with their own signatures every piece of paper that left the department. They didn't skip a word.

And what is the purpose of this department? Anyone who is anyone in the US armed forces, whether in the African Desert or in the Icebergs of Greenland, who is required to make a public address in front of civilians as American soldiers, is obliged (yes, obliged) to prepare his or her speech in writing long before the event.

The content of the speech must be approved at all levels of command, all the way back to that small department at the pentagon. At the end of the route, the content of the address is either approved or not and returned to the prospective speaker.

And that's how it comes to pass that (hardly) anything ever happens: There are no scandals, no storms and no sensational headlines in the newspapers. Everyone from generals to junior deputies express themselves in the same language. There must be order in the US military.

I once witnessed the criticism of a boring speech set to be delivered at the opening of a US military canteen in Germany. The address was aimed at thanking the base commander, the German neighbors and the mayors of the adjacent cities. I sounded my surprise vociferously. Inside, I ridiculed the drawn out effort devoted to the speech aimed at selling chocolate wafers.

The head of the department noticed my expression of ridicule: "That's the only way to run an empire," he said. "In Israel, where you come from, lack of organization reigns supreme," he concluded with a tone of contempt."

I do feel that as an Israeli society, we need to learn to keep our mouths shut. You hear so many irresponsible statements, so many goverment and police "leaks." It is, frankly, embarrasing that everyone knows the full blown procedings of the government Cabinet meetings, including who insulted whom. It is crazy that in the investigations of Katzav and Ramon, the newspaper publish full insider reports as to what happens within private and confidential Police investigations. More recently, because of the failures of the Lebanon War II, the senior command has been blaming the responsibility on lower-level officers. They have responded by giving their own version to the Press, and once again, all the IDF secrets and dirty linen is brought out to full public view.

Can people not understand that irresponsible speech causes severe harm? We have a culture in Israel of "winging it" (Hakol Beseder!) which allows MK's to all say whatever they like to the world press, and Israel suffers! In government, this should not happen. And the PM should know better.

I will conclude with something I heard on the radio yesterday. A speechwriter was commenting on Olmert's "mishap" and he said that the tragic thing is not what Olmert did say , but rather what he did NOT say. Press conferences and media interviews are all about image and PR, about creating "spin." They are there so that you can get your message over to the world. What Ehud Olmert achived, unfortunately was that he allowing everyone to think about the parity between a nuclear Israel and a nuclear Iran, has if it's fair; they have it so why can't we! He totally missed the boat here. He should have said something to the effects of:

There is one country in the Middle East that has publically stated a desire to obliterate another country. Iran seeks to destroy Israel. Fact! Now, Iran seeks nuclear capability. Fact! The conclusion is that Iran is a danger and Iran must be stopped.

That is the bare facts and tragically, Ehud Olmert, and hence Israel is failing in communicating that stark reality to the World Community.

Israel's Story in Maps

If you are a teacher, or simply want to inform people of Israel's history and border changes via maps, then this site is great. The maps are clear and the text is informative.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Anglo Olim and the Israel Challenge

How Israeli should Olim become? Here are some questions for my fellow Olim?

Do you listen to the news on Kol Yisrael?
Do you listen to Israeli music or read Israeli novels?
Do you ever attend Israeli theatre?
How accented is your Hebrew?

This is but one of many issues that faces Olim to Israel. How much effort should I put into becoming "Israeli?" The facts are that many Olim fail to learn Hebrew, don't listen to the radio or get to know Israeli TV, don't read Hebrew newspapers. After all, today one can listen to US radio, read the NY Times, and watch British TV over the internet. In many ways, they are cut off from society. And in certain perspective, they are living in their past, unengaged in a living dialogue with the society that surrounds them, of which they are a part. I can only feel that they are losing out. After all, one who lives in a cultural vacuum becomes stagnant.

There are many causes of this phenomenon. One is lack fo confidence in grasping a new culture. Cultural identity is certainly a powerful thing. Our basic cultural "wiring" acquired during our formative childhood and youth is so deep that however long one lives in another environment as an adult, one's early cultural context remains with us in a powerful way. But I do feel that this is not the only thing for Olim.

Sometimes I feel that certain Olim from western countries latently feel that they come from a "better" place, and hence they are happy to confine themselves in their Olim's bubble and allow the Israeliness to be absorbed by their kids.

I have always been attracted not only to Eretz Yisrael but also to Hebrew and Israeli culture. I enjoy it. Now I admit, I speak predominantly in English at home, and I live in a community with a large anglo population. At the same time, I have been here in Israel for 15 years and so I am more than comfortable with the language. When I am in the makolet or park with my kids, or other public places I talk to them in Hebrew as I seek to have an identity as a "local" rather than an immigrant. I find that year by year I find myself more knowledgeable, more interested in the cultural scene here in Israel. I find that the CD's that I am attracted to buying are increasingly of Israeli artists, be it Shlomo Artzi or Etti Ankri or Achimoam Nini or Aharon Razael. I enjoy getting a Hebrew newspaper, whether it is Haaretz or Makor Rishon, and one of the reasons is for the Arts sections which give me a window into the wonderful range of plays, shows, concerts, artists, conferences, lectures, etc. that go on around the country. I listen to Galatz constantly. The last two films that I saw : "Someone to run with" and "Aviva my love" were both excellent Israeli dramas which showed the beauty of Israel alongside the more sordid elements. And I loved the films: for the scenery which I know and love, and saw differently through the camera lens; for the Hebrew language itself, and the wonderful idioms and references that only Hebrew has; and also just the notion of seeing an Israeli film gives me pride. What can I say?

Recently on our email list in Alon Shevut, there was a discussion about use of Hebrew by English speaking Olim. Some people expressed rather emphatically that anglos should be writing in Hebrew: עברי! דבר עברית! And that at least people should post in Hebrew alongside their English. Some Anglo-Olim replied equally forcefully expressing the sentiment that they had sacrificed enormously by leaving their previous countries and that Hebrew was tough for them. They called for people to value their Aliya and the contribution they bring to this country despite the fact that they will continue to function almost exclusively in English.

In the 1950's any Oleh would change their name, Hebraicising it, and would only speak in Hebrew. On the one hand, I really feel we could do with some of that today. Israel could do with a boost in its national pride and Israeli identity. But I am a realist. Today we live in more global and more liberal times. So many Israeli's love to play with English within their Hebrew. And so in today's world, the "other" identity of an Oleh is warmly welcomed here. No one will ambast you for not speaking fluent grammatical Hebrew. Nonetheless, I call upon all my fellow Olim to put in some effort and to work on engaging in a wider spectrum of the Israeli cultural experience; not to live over "here" but be culturally "there." Try it! It is a process, but becoming Israeli can be very rewarding and enriching!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Antisemitism: an "Academic" Problem?

Rav Beni Lau of Beit Morasha and Beit Knesset HaRamban has a nice parashat Hashavua piece about "הלכה בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב"

It is here in Hebrew and here in English.

I particularly like the way in which he relates to the academic research. He talks about the way in which Talmudic research demonstrates that the classic quote is wrong!

"Talmudic scholars who identified with Rabbi Hirsch's (humanistic) Weltanschauung challenged the validity of the above-mentioned halakhic principle - רבי שמעון בן יוחי אומר הלכה בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב - through a philological examination of the midrashic terminology, and made an amazing discovery: No manuscript of the Sifri (the source that mentions this subject first) contains the word halakha in that particular context. Instead, the text reads, 'והלא בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב' - "After all, it is a well-known fact (vehalo beyadua) that Esau hates Jacob."

How did the word halakha creep into this text? Obviously, a simple graphic error occurred. The word vehalo והלא can be written in abbreviated form as 'והל - which a careless copier turned into halakha והלכה."

One might imagine then, that this particular Talmudic proverb has lost its validity, however Rav Lau concludes:

Although charming, this theory is irrelevant, because no philological study can ever overturn the axiomatic declaration that "according to halakha, it is a well-known fact that Esau hates Jacob." As long as there are world leaders like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the pessimistic view that the gentiles will always hate the Jews will persist.

Parashat Vayishlach: Reuven's Sin

I will be writing the Introduction to Parsha shiur for Gush's VBM over the coming few weeks.

Here is this week's shiur on the topic of Reuven's sin. The pasuk (Bereishit 35:22) tells us:

"When Yisrael dwelled in that land, Reuven went and slept with Bilha, his father's concubine, and Yisrael heard."

Rashi cites the midrash brought on Shabbat 55b:

"Because he switched around his [father's] bed, the Torah treats him as if he slept with her. Now, why did he switch and desecrate his bed? When Rachel died, Yaakov took his bed, which was placed most frequently in Rachel's tent rather than the other tents, and Yaakov put his bed in Bilha's tent. Reuven came to protest his mother's insult. He said: "If my mother's sister was a rival-wife to my mother, should the maidservant of my mother's sister now become a rival-wife to my mother?" Therefore, he made the switch."

According to the Torah text, Reuven slept with Bilha. According to the midrash, he simply adjusted his father's sleeping arrangements, obviously an unwelcome intrusion into his father's personal life, but not quite the same degree of sin! What is the truth here? Is the midrash not making an attempt to whitewash Reuven's severe crime? Why does the midrash feel a need to distort the facts of the matter?

Read the shiur here

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Parashat Vayishlach Shiur

Twenty years have passed but Esav hasn’t changed. Esav: hostile, eternally furious, dangerous, violent, indignant and unforgiving. Yaakov is understandably terrified. Wouldn’t you be frozen in terror if you were faced with an armed militia of 400 men? And who exactly are they fighting? – a family with twelve small children, a few slaves, and a large number of animals. A defenceless civilian target! Esav clearly has not changed. The years have not faded his anger, his insult. He is uncompromising. He has no mercy.

To your brother Esav: You see him as your brother, but he is acting towards you as the evil Esav. He is still filled with the same hate.” (Rashi, Passuk 7.)

“… He (Yaakov) prepared in three ways: Diplomatic reconciliation, prayer, and for violent confrontation.” (Rashi, v.9.)

This is the way in which we traditionally view our Parshat Hashavua. Esav is a threatening menace. Yaakov is the innocent victim. The atmosphere is one of impending tragedy. We read the pesukim tensely and nervously, certain that Yaakov will be able to escape only by the skin of his teeth, and by virtue of a large helping of divine assistance. It is, therefore, with a sense of incredulity and perplexity that we read of Esav’s warm greeting to Yaakov. Esav’s exuberant bear hug and kiss leaves us puzzled. How did this hunter, this monster, suddenly transform into a loving brother and a doting uncle? What changed Esav?


The Rashbam reads this narrative in a very different way. In his view, the messengers return from their rendezvous with Esav with a very different feeling:

We came to your brother, to Esav: And you gained his favour just as you wished! In fact he is so happy about your arrival that, in his love towards you he is coming to meet you with four hundred men in your honour. This is the focus of the text (Ikar peshuto.) Similar to this is the verse (in Shemot 4:14 which describes Aharon setting forth to meet his brother Moshe): ‘Indeed he is coming to meet you and he will be happy to see you.’

And Yaakov was greatly frightened: in his heart. Even though Esav had expressed to the delegation his intention of honouring Yaakov, Yaakov did not believe that Esav’s intentions were good.”

So here we have a very different picture of Esav, and of Yaakov. But from where does the Rashbam develop this unorthodox reading? Does the text tolerate this reading?

Read more here

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Israeli Naivete?

Yesterday, when reading this passage in Rav Soloveitchik's Kol Dodi Dofek, this line seemed particularly timely. It seems that nothing has changed. This was written in 1956!

"With the establishment of the State of Israel, secular Zionism declares, we have become a people like all peoples, and the notion of 'a people that dwells alone' has lost its validity... Under the influence of this spirit of indiscriminate amity... the representatives of the State of Israel have often displayed an embarrassing naivete, improperly evaluated particular circumstances and situations, and failed to adequately discern hidden intentions of certain individuals. As a result of their child-like innocence, they trust the promises of people who promptly proceed to betray us and are overly impressed by flattery and pretty speeches. It appears to me that on a number of occasions the foreign policy of Israel has manifested an absence of a sense of honor, of national pride, of caution, and the fortitude to maintain one's own position.

All these mistakes flow from the prime error committed by Secular Zionism when it sought to erase the sense of isolation (of the Jewish People.)"

Ravitzky Has Woken Up!

Barukh Rofei Cholim!
Prof. Avi Ravitzky has awoken from his coma. He has recognised his family, spoken and written a little. There is a long way to go and I imagine there is still much to daven for, but this is wonderful news!

Travel Reflections. (Part 1): "Special Kosher" meals.

If I have been rather unprolific over the past week or two, it is because I was away in the U.S. as a scholar-in-residence and preparing rather intensely in the days leading up to the trip. I am now back in Artzeinu Hakedosha. And of course, travel brings with it new perspectives and thoughts. This post will concern Kashruth on El Al.

El Al has been in the news recently. Due to the strike last week, a plane flew out late on Friday causing chillul Shabbat. In addition, one flight served non-Kosher food. Now the charedi community are up in arms which is an interesting phenomenon in itself – Why do they feel so, so sensitive about the activities of El Al? But Charedim and El Al will might well be the topic of a future post.

Back to the food issue. Food on El Al is Kosher. It is all Kosher. But some people order "Special Kosher" meals. Why? Because these meals are Mehadrin[1], Cholov Yisrael[2], Pat Akum[3] etc. For a number of years now I have made a point of NOT ordering these "Special Kosher" meals and going for the standard El Al food.


Well, one of the reasons is simply that the Special Kosher food is diabolical. It was so unpleasant the last time I received it that I simply didn't eat the whole flight.

But there is a more serious reason. You see El Al is a Jewish airline, That is why they make all the food Kosher. Now if every religious traveler orders "Special Kosher," then what is the incentive for El Al to stay Kosher? (That is also the reason that the Charedi protest against non-Kosher food is so bewildering … they never eat the standard food!)

Moreover, if I always order "Special Kosher," then the secular person next to me gets the impression that his/her food is a little "less than Kosher"! I, personally, am happy to slightly adjust my personal Halakhic standards[4] in order to avoid that impression. I want the irreligious person next to me to feel that we are brothers, that we can share the same food as it conforms to a recognised kashrut standard. Now, part of this feeling is simply because air travel means that everyone is in such close quarters. But also, I remember that whenever I traveled British Airways to Israel I was impressed that many secular  Israelis ate the non-Kosher British Airways food. As a religious person, it saddened me. Of course I recognise they are not personally committed to Kashrut. However on El Al everyone eats Kosher. It is a wonderful Jewish environmnet. The very least I can do is to eat the same food and  boost El Al's decision, and celebrate the reality that El Al is kosher; rather than reinforcing the "holier than thou" separate community thing.

Now I do realise that some people may fail to understand this attitude. And that is because in today's world it is out of vogue. Let me illustrate what I mean.

The Rabbanut (Chief Rabbinate of Israel – responsible for Kashruth supervision nationwide) of the 1950's and '60's had a klal Yisrael approach to Kashruth. They had an agenda. They wanted to make it easy and cost-efficient and accessible to keep kashruth. To this end they adopted certain leniencies that would allow kashruth to be easy and to gain wide appeal despite the halakhically non-observant majority. For example they allowed a restaurant in which the mashgiach (supervisor) visited occasionally rather than a full-time pair of eyes. If a small felafel joint would have to pay the extra salary of the mashgiach it's food would be much more expensive that the non-kosher felafel place next door, and hence the mashgiach visited once a week and covered 30 restaurants and the felafel cost the same everywhere. Was this a more lenient approach? – yes! Is it supported by recognized Halakhic sources? Yes!

The Rabbanut of the '50's allowed Gelatin even from animal sources and this according to the Responsa of Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzinski. This allowed hotels to make all sorts of cream pies and tarts and Elite to make better toffees. Was it a more lenient approach? – Yes! But it was supported by authoritative opinion and most importantly it allowed Am Yisrael to keep Kosher and to eat – to "have your (Halakhic) cake and eat it" if you will excuse the expression!

And this relates to Heter Mechira and Bassar Kafou, and other leniencies that facilitated a nation-wide kashruth system that has proven itself, such that in 1980 there was virtually no foodstuff produced in Israel without the Rabbanut Hechsher.

Enter the Badatz! Suddenly along came a more learned public as the Yeshiva movement grew. Along came the Charedi Badatz and said: How can we rely on these leniencies? Would you eat this way in your kitchen? And gradually, mehadrin standards became more common in the marketplace, and the economic clout of the strictly Orthodox community is clear. They have many kids, and have many many mouths to feed.

Now on first glance this is a good thing. Halakhic Kashruth standards rose significantly. Who can complain?

But, the feeling "on the street" especially amongst secular circles was that the religious don't rely on the Rabbanut standard anymore. So, once again, if all the religious go to the Mehadrin – Badatz – felafel kiosk, then why bother paying the Rabbanut for a license at all? Just declare yourself non-Kosher, now you can open on Shabbat , and serve shrimps too!

And that is what has happened. The Rabbanut has lost its hold on the public arena. Now, the "klal Yisrael" severely eclipsed.

Kosher food is now more kosher than ever, and being eaten by fewer Jews!

Now I do know that there are many factors here: consumerism, individualism, Shas, the westernization of Israel and many other factors. And yet, I believe that the basic approach of the '50's Rabbanut is a recipe for Am Yisrael that takes responsibility for all Jews, and is uninterested in religious one-upmanship.
And so, on El Al, especially in the environment of a plane, in the context of our national Jewish airline, where we are all at such close quarters, I would like to eat together with my fellow Jews just like them, together with them and thereby to reinforce just how easy and pleasant it can be when we can all eat the same Kosher food.

[1] Meat that conforms to more stringent Halakha standards.
[2] Milk whose milking is supervised by a Jew.
[3] Bread baked at a Jewish Bakery
[4] The El Al standards are lower than that which I observe personally and in my home.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Turbulent Middle East

See this fascinating presentation (it takes 90 seconds) on the way that the Middle East has been captured and recaptured throughout History, amidst great bloodshed and violence. It has been the stage for all of the world's Imperial History.

I am still thinking about the spiritual implications. Any thoughts?

I have always thought that there was something in teh fact that Israel is at the crossroads of civilisation. This enables Israel to spread their particular mission of God and morality to the most advanced cultures of the globe. But wen I saw this presentation and realised how these world empires are just so enormous, what possibility do we really have in even having a micro-influence on the superpowers. On the other hand, history has proven that frequently , Jews have influenced major cultures and world leaders.

One thing is for sure. If God placed us in this central location, God wanted us to be connected to the cutting-edge of world events. He could have put us in Alaska or some lonely Island. We are supposed to interact with the most advanced of world cultures, to know what to take and what to resist and that is part of God's legacy for us.