Sunday, December 30, 2007

Live The Dream! - Of Dreams, Reality and Fantasy!

I have recently taken on a new job. I have been contracted by Nefesh B'Nefesh (link) to create, market and run educational seminars for groups of Gap Year (Shanna BaAretz, Yeshiva, Midrasha, other) programs. It is an exciting project, as we attempt to raise awareness to the fact that Aliya is an attainable goal, that it is a realistic option for a young person's future. We feel that most of the students who have spent a year or two in Israel feel that it would be wonderful if only they could live here, but that for some reason (finance, family, language, who knows?) it is not practical. We'd like to suggest that it is more possible than people think. That their life goals can be fulfilled here, and that they can live a comfortable and happy life here. Hat is the educational goal. Wish me luck!

Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) have the motto: "Live the Dream!" The objective of the catchphrase is to suggest that your dream of living in Israel, of realizing an age old Jewish yearning, can become your reality, your everyday life.

I think that the motto also aims to hint that our everyday prosaic, humdrum routine lives, can be imbued in some manner by the dream – היינו כחולמים! That every day here in Israel can feel inspired and elevated, that it can resonate with a deeper and wider vision of the Jewish past, present and future.


I began thinking about this a little more after talking to one particular school in preparation for my NBN work. It is a program that integrates Israelis and Americans. The school representative spoke to me and said something like this:

"Our students really need this project. You see, in certain schools they are in a bubble. They give them shiurim about how they can walk outside and see the spark of spirituality as they walk through the streets of Jerusalem. But our students are living in Israel as Israelis, amongst Israelis. They see just how normal things are here. They hear about the problems and difficulties, the strains and regular life. You need to give them more of that spark; that dream."

And I thought to myself, Is that our choice? Are there only two possibilities: The day to day reality of Israeli living – flat, hard and frequently under strain; or a vision of dream, but possibly dislocated from the normal experience of life here?

ירושלים של מטה- ירושלים של מעלה

And at the same time, the Annapolis conference and its aftermath are in full swing and, of course, the future of Jerusalem is on the chopping board. Will Jerusalem be divided? What will be the status of the Arab neighborhoods, the Temple Mount?

We – a good, Religious Zionist home – were discussing the issues, when my 11 yr. old son (who holds moderate right wing views) commented: "I don't get it! Isn't Jerusalem already divided? We all know that there is an Arab part of Jerusalem and a Jewish part!" Sobering words!

At the same time the OU in America issue a pronouncement condemning the possible division of Jerusalem expressing their:

"deepest concern over recent statements …. that your Government is prepared to divide the holy city of Yerushalayim …Our relationship to Yerushalayim is one that transcends time, space and other physical constraints … Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and peopleof the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city."

In Israel, a great number of Israelis are willing to contemplate the prospect of ceding certain parts of Arab populated Jerusalem to the PA in the hope of Peace.

And I couldn't help but be impressed by the disconnect here. The Israeli government and many Israelis are being forced to grapple with Jerusalem as a practical problem in the here and now, an issue that must be addressed for the wellbeing of the future of Medinat Yisrael. It is very much a pragmatic view of Jerusalem as the capital of a modern Jewish State. Whereas the OU has a more idealized view of a holy city, in trust for all Jews of all ages, transcending time, space and anything worldly.

Is Jerusalem the city of the dream or must Jerusalem face up to reality? Is Jerusalem the city of all Jews, or is it the Capital of Israel? Are we dealing with ירושלים של מעלה or ירושלים של מטה? Is the OU's view simply a shortsighted fantasy, a virtual reality in an already divided city? Or is the Israeli government blinded by the here and now, not facing up to a stronger meta-historic pulse of the eternity of Jewish History?


But we are, after all, the people of the dream. Even Herzl's famous line אם תרצו אין זו אגדה rests upon a 2000 year dream – the Hope התקווה שנות אלפיים – that we return to our land. We talk about this every Tefilla, every musaph, every broken glass at a wedding, every Tisha BeAv, every Mevarchim Hachodesh. Our prayers voice the dream. Dare we shatter the dream and turn it into a reality? Dare we bring the dream down from the stars and let it exist upon Earth?

There is an apocryphal story about the Talmidim of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav. That they decided to travel to Eretz Yisrael. They spent the entire sea voyage to the Holy Land spiritually preparing themselves for their meeting with the purest the holiest of lands. They prayed and meditated in anticipation. And then one day, the boat sighted land! The ecstasy grew in intensity, the spirituality felt palpable, the Hasidim were filled with emotion.

Upon landing they could not contain their disappointment. "There are trees here just like in Poland. The earth is like the earth in Poland! There are hills just like in Poland!" They could not withstand the thought that this Land, this Holy Land, existed within the realm of the physical! How could a spiritual land be simple rocks and grass and trees?

And do you know what they did?

They turned around and sailed back home.

Sometimes we must realize that the dream is a reality. We must know that even dreams come in the guise of human decisions, in bricks and mortar, in sweat and toil, in wars and soldiers, in the clods of earth of Eretz Yisrael.


And so, how do we retain the dream while keeping our feet firmly planted? Do we give up on a pristine dream-like image when we settle for the here and now practicalities of life?

On a personal note, despite the fact that we go to work, wash the dishes, do the laundry and what have you, I believe that we do experience the dimension of the dream on a frequent basis. Personally I palpably sense the privilege of living in our Holy Land whether it is the fact that I can listen to the radio and speak to my children in Hebrew, whether it is the fact that I drive to work passing through bona fide Biblical landscape, whether it is pride in our chayalim, or simply the fact that these are MY people and this is MY land and these our OUR problems. There is a gratifying sense of belonging. When each and every place resonates with historic significance, life is suffused with a rich texture of significance. We DO "live the dream!" somehow in my life there is a balance, a fusion.

At some level in grappling with this problem – and I am aware that it fails to solve the Peace Process - I frame this problem in the language of dialectic.

Woe to the person who fails to have dreams, to reach for truth. And yet the person who will never live his dream because reality fails to match perfection, is a person who will have missed out on life, will have failed to achieve. We cannot build and grow in a world of dreams but only on this planet, in our homes, and communities even if they fall short of some theoretical ideal. But we can still dream.

Feel free to add your comments:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holy Veg.

Shemitta is beginning to kick in as we now begin to see vegetables with Kedushat Sheviit in special shemitta stores. These carrots were planted prior to shemitta but were picked in a special manner called Otzar Beit din, allowing them to be harvested and distributed without violating Shemitta. In addition, the supplier of these carrots is "Otzar Haaretz" which tries to minimise reliance upon the famous Heter Mechira and yet, will make every effort to buy only from Jewish farms rather than Palestinian produce.

I love the packaging here as it informs and warns that the carrots have special sanctity and hence must be treated in a particularly respectful manner. And yet it also informs us that "it shall be for you to eat" - a verse from Vayikra ch.25 - that tells us that fruit may be eaten during the Shemitta year... and according to Nachmanides, one fufils a mitzva every time one consumes Shemitta fruit!

From the outside, Shemitta may appear as an annoyance. However, today we do not consume korbanot, nor Teruma or Maaser Sheni. we have no access to any of our "holy foods". Except Shemitta food. It is the only opportunity to consume food categorised as sacred or holy.

And that is a special opportunity that living in Israel can afford us. It puts a big smile on my face just seeing this packaging.
Related posts... see here and here

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Is the Old thinking the Best?

Two pieces caught my eye on Ynet today. Here is the first (link) by satirist Jackie Levy. This time he was being serious:

The events of this past week should be remembered. After the Qassam attacks on Sderot have become a natural law; after we got used to it, and thought that Gaza-region residents also got used to it; after we got accustomed to the fact there is no need to look for a motive for each and every Qassam, as they simply keep on pouring down one by one.

After our eyes were opened and we realized that Sderot is a price that the government of Israel is willing to pay; after all this, suddenly the IDF utilized high-level intelligence, coupled with impressive execution ability, and hit the enemy with a lethal and accurate blow. This time, it was done without impassioned speeches and silly words such as “Haniyeh will never forget etc. etc.”

And suddenly, Haniyeh proposed that we all sit down and talk. His
Hamas emissaries were interviewed by Israeli media outlets and said that we must not forget abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and that we can talk business.

The events of this past week should be remembered, because we tend to forget quickly. It is not nice to say that someone only understands force, particularly if that someone is Arab. Yet what can we do, this is how it is with enemies... They only understand force. Otherwise, they apparently would not be enemies.

Is this dated old thinking? Or is it good old straight up common sense that we used to think before we were blinded by new ideas?

Here is another couple of news items that I would like to link together:

From Ynet:

Poll: One-third of Israeli youth want to live abroad
A poll carried out by the Smith Institute at the behest of the Israeli Zionism Institute found that 35% of Israeli youth would be interested in moving abroad if they had the opportunity compared with 48% who believe it is better to live in Israel.

And from Haaretz:

Immigration to Israel in 2007 down 6%, at its lowest since 1989
The number of new immigrants arriving in Israel in 2007 was 19,700 - a decline of 6 percent over last year, according to the Absorption Ministry end-of-the-year statistics released on Sunday. This is the lowest number of immigrants since 1989, after the wave of immigration following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Forecasts for 2008 do not show an increase in newcomers.

35% of youth want to leave. few desire to come.

In short... Gentlemen! We have a problem!

In other words, it is time for Israel and Israelis to wake up. Israelis have lost faith in israel! If we do not invest more in educating people as to why they are here, if we fail to realise that post-Zionism in the Education system is like a cancer in our body eating away at society, then we are doomed to failure. If we fail to attack our basic problems in society - the integration of Israeli Arabs, Education, lawlessness and corruption, a lack of valued in public life - if we fail to make life worthwhile and meaningful here, then we are in BIG trouble.

When will our leaders realise that unless we are proud of Israel, of Judaism of our actions and achievements, unless we stop celebrating America and begin to celebrate Israel, we will have a constant state of Yerida bleeding our society.

We have just experienced a 50 day teacher strike. We are experiencing a deep University strike that threatens the semester in Israeli Higher education. Israeli academics are flocking abroad. Why? some say due to the lack of funds and prestige of Higher education in Israel. I do not know the solution. But I do know that education is essential to the national spirit. We cannot disenfranchise education from Israel, from Zionism, from Judaism. How can we not realise that education is key to a healthy society?

But a further point. society must be healthy, vibrant, empowered and proud. Sometimes we marginalise good and valuable groups in Israeli society like Settlers and people who share their views (15% of country) Haredim (15%) or Arabs (15%). There are those who feel that only the liberal-secular view is legitimate and that is the main persona of the Israeli media. How can we have a society with so many people feeling on the fringes? Can we alienate such wide sections of our loyal population without risking internal collapse?

When will our leaders stop putting out fires and begin to look ahead to the long term view? When will they realise that we have to educate and build Israeli society for a future together, and that is the most important thing or else there will be no society worth defending?

Back to Old thinking maybe? Maybe teach good old-time zionism? That we deserve to be here. Taht we are Jews. That we have a rich Jewish tradition. That we care deeply about books, education, higher cukture, morality, community, kindness, compassion, contribution, land, social Justice, etc. etc. Could that be a cure???


I have lots of things to post about and little time/energy. I am working pretty hard lately and am not always finding the extra hour to write an articulate posting. Nonetheless I do hope to be posting soon on
  • the dangers or advantages of the Internet and in particular, the "anonymity" of the Internet.
  • the dilemmas and tension between inclusivism vs. exclusivism in Israel/Judaism/and beyond.
  • The Israeli Constitution which is being formed as we speak!

Interesting Rav Soloveitchik Evening in Efrat

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What is the Quality of your Street?

I heard a speech once in which a rabbi was lamenting the transition in society from a spirit of collectivism and community to a world of individualism. He said: ' Look at our food! We once had kreplach and kneidlach. It was all about lach - (trans.) "to you!" We were looking at the other, how we could contribute to society. But now we have Bis-li, Kef-li, kin-li! It is all about li - =(trans.) - to me. What can I take for myself.'

Now this is simply a cute pun, but there is no doubt of course that we have become more individualistic and look to exercise our personal choices wherever we can. At certain smachot people do not dance in a circle anymore, doing the same step. It is all about my individual style. Society doesn't encourage people to conform and belong to a community, an act that often engenders personal sacrifice. Rather we are told to find our inner selves and to express ourselves etc.

But this speech was dragged up from my subconscious this Shabbat when one of our Shabbat guests brought us a box of English chocolate called "Quality Street." Quality Street has a lovely selection of brightly wrapped chocolates mixed together , each chocolate with different tastes, and you have to decide which one to pick etc. etc.

Now when I was a kid, Quality Street wasn't kosher. When they were added to the famous "list" (link) it was certainly a Yom Tov for Anglo Jewry. But when I was a kid, the motto of Quality Street was:

"Made for Sharing"

I looked on the box and saw that the subtitle, the motto, the marketing pitch has altered. It now reads:

"What's your Favourite?"

From a family sharing a box of chocolates together, we have moved to each person picking their personal favourite. It's not made for sharing any more. It's about me! Well- that sort of sums it all up!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Parashat Vayigash. Puzzling Midrashic Approach

The parasha this week opens with Yehudah's dramatic speech. Joseph's cup has been discovered in Binyamin's sack. The brothers know that it is unthinkable to return to Canaan without Binyamin. they must plead their case before Joseph, the enigmatic Egyptian. The brothers seem absolutely helpless. Joseph holds all the cards. Yehudah courageously steps forward to seek a way to pull upon Joseph's heartstrings.

This is the peshat.

However there is a certain strain in the Midrash - brought partially by Rashi - that takes a rather different vantage point. As I have presented things, the brothers are desperate and guilty. They must appeal to Joseph's compassion, his humanity, as they present him with an image of their aging and ailing father.

But the perspective from Midrash portrays the brothers as threatening; aggressive. In Rashi's words:

...and let your wrath not be kindled - From here you
learn that he (Yehudah) spoke to him (Joseph) harshly.

For you are like Pharaoh - This is its simple meaning. Its midrashic meaning is, however: You will ultimately be punished with Leprosy because of him, just as Pharaoh was punished because of my great-grandmother Sarah for the one night that he detained her (Gen. 12:17).

Another explanation: Just as Pharaoh issues decrees and does not carry them out, makes promises and does not fulfill them, so do you. Now, is this the “setting of an eye,” concerning which you said [that you wanted] “to set your eye upon him” ? [See verse 21.]

Another explanation: For like you, so is Pharaoh-if you provoke
me, I will kill you and your master. [From Gen. Rabbah 93:6]19.

My lord asked his servants - From the beginning, you came
upon us with a pretext. Why did you have to ask all these [questions]? Were we looking to [marry] your daughter, or were you looking to [marry] our sister? Nonetheless, “we said to my lord” (verse 20). We did not conceal anything. [From Gen. Rabbah 93:8]

If we adopt this reading as seen in these comments of Rashi, the brothers are talking tough with Joseph, threatening him and making all manner of accusation. They talk with a superior tone as if they are in control. Of course, from the vantage point of peshat, the circumstances hardly support the possibility of the brothers - themselves guilty of stealing Joseph's goblet - being in a position to bargain with, let alone threaten, Joseph. (...and see the Ramban who makes this point.)

so where does the Midrash come from?

In Bereshit Rabba there are some more extreme depictions:

"When Judah got angry his hairs stood on end and protruded, and he put iron
balls into his mouth and they emerged as dust... Judah turned to Naftali and asked: 'How many marketplaces are there in Egypt?' 'Twelve,' He replied. 'Fine! I'll take three and you each take one, and we will destroy every man in Egypt.' The brothers
responded: "Egypt is not like Sh'chem...'"
Destroying all the men of Egypt? Grinding iron balls in your mouth. This is certainly entertaining. But what are Chazal trying to tell us?

Again. Why does the Midrash portray the brothers in this confident aggressive stance? Is it tenable with the text? and if not, what is the Midrash doing here? Of course I do know that Midrashim may be metaphorical or express a deeper philosophical idea. But this empowerment, the agression and defiance, is so disonant with the text that I am feeling rather stretched to suggest a reasonable rationale or explanation for this approach.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please add them in the "comments".

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Lighting at a Chanukah Party - With a Bracha?

This week, I spent some time researching an interesting Chanukah question. It is a question that I have had for some time. I received the question - via Facebook – from a student of mine that read something like this:

"I want to try to organise a Chanukah party in my university this Thursday, but no one will be sleeping there … but the thing that's worrying me, is can we light if no one will be sleeping there? Otherwise, I really don't know if my fellow campus Jews will have any form of candle lighting over Chanukah... once again any suggestions??"

This question is a common one, especially in Israel where there are lots of office Channukah parties. Many religious people don't quite know how to act. In the office they say to them:

"You're religious, why don't you light for us?"

And they, nervous about Bracha Levatalla (making a non-mandated blessing, and hence uttering God's name without sanction) pass on the honour to someone less religious.

So, what does a person do?


Let me highlight the problem. The Talmud states that Chanukah lights be lit in the home – נר איש וביתו – and that ideally they be lit at the portal of the home[1]. If one lives in an apartment, they should be lit in the window facing the street. In times of danger – anti-Semitism in the streets – the Channukiah may be lit indoors. It is quite clear that the home is the arena for lighting. Moreover the Talmud specifies that a guest – a person in transit who lacks a fixed abode - must find a technique of enjoining the household. It would appear as clear that there is no Chanukah lighting in the absence of a home[2].

In order to relate to our problem we have to find a model of Chanukah lighting that transpires OUTSIDE the home.


The poskim (Religious legal experts) look towards the Minhag (custom) of lighting Chanukah lights at Shul (The synagogue.) In every shul, between Mincha and Maariv, Chanukah candles are lit with all the berachot. Now, the Halakhic literature is puzzled by this Custom because it post-dates the Talmud. What is the basis of this custom?

Various reasons are suggested:
· That there were times in which the synagogue was used as a place for wayfaring Jews to stay. Hence this WAS a "home" of sorts for some Jews.
· That the Custom was instituted during times of oppression when Jews were forced to abandon the public street oriented lighting, and lit indoors. Seeking an outlet for a public lighting, communities began to light indoors.
· Independently of any historic circumstances, the Beit Halevi stresses the two advantages of this approach: 1) The Pirsumei Nisa – publicity of the Chanukah miracle; and 2) To educate the public about the appropriate blessing and lighting of the Chanukah lights.

The Shulchan Aruch[3] tells us to light at shul WITH brachot but that an individual does NOT fulfill his mitzvah there and must light on his return home!

In our given situation of a Student Chanukah party, what factor applies? Generally, students are not sleeping in the University building, but although if they are – if the party takes place at one of the dorms - then there is NO problem! Regarding the argument that there is NO public lighting, in today's world many Jews DO light in public places. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that lighting at Chanukah parties educates and adds a focus of the Chanukah miracle to a gathering that would otherwise be secular in nature.


The modern Authorities are divided on the issue. Some say that the Custom of lighting at shul is SPECIFICALLY at a synagogue which constitutes a "Mikdash Me'at" (a mini Temple) and resembles the ancient Chanukah miracle (of the Menorah in the Temple.) Others say that we have to look primarily at the potential for spreading the miracle and wherever this can be fulfilled.

Many heavy-weight poskim (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Wosner, Rav Yitzchak Weiss, Tzitz Eliezer) all say that at a Chanukah party , brachot may NOT be recited. On the other hand, many poskim like Rav Ovadia Yosef, the Rabbis of Chabad-Lubavich, and many Religious Zionist authorities (Rav Rosenthal, Rav Melamed, Rav Sherlo) ALLOW brachot to be recited with an audience that is not religious and who will not otherwise light candles.

(Of course this is contingent on the party being held in the evening after sunset!)

And of course, here is an educational dilemma. Are we educating more by demonstrating Chanukah lighting? Or possibly we should be stressing that the Mitzva is connected to the home?

(Of course there is a deep message in connecting the Mitzva of candle lighting to our homes. We are somehow stating that the true resilience of Judaism against Hellenism is in the Jewish home. What gives a Jewish person the wherewithal to resists the culture that surrounds him and to continue with pride, his Jewish practices? It is the Jewish education that he carries from his family, from his being raised in a home filled with Jewish enthusiasm, practice, knowledge and joy.)

In the end, I told the student concerned that if she could be pretty certain that various participants of the party would not otherwise be lighting, then she should happily light at the Chanukah party with brachot.

Afterwards, I thought that maybe there is another basis to allow the brachot here. In an educational setting, like an explanatory minyan, one is allowed to pronounce God's name in order to TEACH a bracha. To an audience which one is educating as to the elementary practice of Chanukah lighting, one may be allowed to light purely on the basis of the Mitzva of Chincuh and our responsibility to teach other Jews about their traditions.

[1] תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף כא עמוד ב
תנו רבנן: מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו... תנו רבנן: נר חנוכה מצוה להניחה על פתח ביתו מבחוץ. אם היה דר בעלייה - מניחה בחלון הסמוכה לרשות הרבים. ובשעת הסכנה - מניחה על שלחנו, ודיו.
[2] By home, we usually define the place that one is sleeping and eating.

[3] . שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תרעא סעיף ז
ובבה"כ מניחו (מ) בכותל דרום ((מא) או בדרום המנורה, (מב) ומסדרן ט ממזרח (מג) למערב) (ת"ה סי' ק"ד ב"י), (מד)
... ומדליקין [י] ומברכין (בבית הכנסת) משום פרסומי ניסא. הגה: ואין אדם יוצא בנרות של בהכ"נ, (מה) וצריך לחזור ולהדליק [יא] בביתו (ריב"ש סימן קי"א)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Fabulous Israel Story

David Bogner over at Treppenwitz blog is a tremendous story teller. However in his recent post about a taxi ride from Beer Sheva to Gush Etzion (via Ma'arat Hamachpela) he exceded himself. It really is one of those "Only in Israel" classics.

Read it here (link)

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin'.

So sings Bob Dylan.

We watch the world changing before our eyes! We watch as the Glaciers melt and the temperature rises. We watch on as the new global power constellations take shape (Christianity vs. Islam with the Jews in the thick of it?) Even in as short a period as a single decade we have witnessed the changes in the economic world map as China develops as a new world economic superpower. We watch as Hezbollah and Hamas rise in their strength, as Iran threatens. We know that the times they are a-changin'

And the amazing thing is that despite the changes that we know and see, we frequently feel powerless to intervene or guide a response. I wonder why? I feel that frequently we lack the perspective, the ability to adequately comprehend the processes as they take place. In many cases we only see the symptoms when the momentum is in full swing.

Well, as we all know the environment is one area in which things are already advancing (or declining) rapidly. I have to admit, that sometimes I worry for my kids, coming into a world that feels way more complicated than the world in which I grew up. I read the newspapers with trepidation, wondering how we could have been so irresponsible for so long, and how we continue with our recklessness. If we take the model of an individual, we know that we would be quite criminal of we saved a few shekels and thereby endangered our lives (and others) by driving a dangerous car etc. How can the world continue to pollute and ignore the depleting world resources just to boost the economy, blind in the face of economic greed? As regards global warming we dare not ignore the warning signs lest we accelerate the damage already done.

A further question is the reliance on fossil fuels. Not only is it having devastating ecological effects but the politics of oil can be no less problematic. We watch the pressure that certain Arab countries can exert upon the world with their oil money. Iran would not be so smug if it lacked oil. The effects can frequently be destabilising. Moreover limited oil supply and growing global consumption threaten economic stability and growth.

It is clear that a solution to these problems presents a pressing ethical and economic imperative.

That is why I love this idea (link).
It is great because it:
1. Uses solar power
2. Helps arid countries with its water problems.

I fully endorse this programme and I suggest that Israel be at the forefront of development of this sort.