Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fine Line: Criticizing Israel Without Anti-Semitism

[I'm in the middle of writing down my thoughts on the diaspora community - especially the frum community - stifling debate on Israel. This seems to be part one of a series (not sure how long) on this topic.]

Adin Steinsaltz
Fine Line: Criticizing Israel Without Anti-Semitism

The term “anti-Semitism” is itself a euphemism for "anti-Jewishness," and it is therefore easy to replace it with other words that may have a similar meaning. In many places, to be “anti-Semitic” has become unacceptable and has thus been replaced with “anti-Zionism” or anti-Israel stances, which are easier to condone.

In my view, anyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, may criticize the State of Israel without being anti-Semitic, but it is walking a fine line. One’s criticism of Israel should be of a certain nature.

The critique must be honest and without other agendas. The first step in making such a critique, as in any other criticism, is to verify the facts. Misinformation and negative propaganda are in abundance today, particularly in this day and age of the Internet. Furthermore, anti-Semitism is not confined only to non-Jews; Jews can be - and sometimes actually become - quite anti-Semitic. Therefore, Jewish, and even Israeli, sources may be as unreliable as Iranian or Syrian sources. When criticizing Israel, one must be careful about truth vs. misinformation, reality vs. prejudice.

In addition to the issue of factuality, there are other, more subtle elements involved here. Anti-Zionism and anti-Israel positions may be a covert expression of a desire to eradicate any concentrated Jewish existence. This desire may not manifest itself in killing Jews physically, but merely as a wish that, somehow, the Jewish people should disappear. A critique of Israel with this intent is, by its very nature, an expression of anti-Semitism.

In a certain way, there is a widespread belief, even sometimes reluctant, in Jewish “superiority,” not only in mundane matters, but also in morality. This results in an attitude that holds Jews, and by extension, the Jewish state, to standards that are not expected of any other nation. One must be aware of this tendency when making a critique of Israel.

Within these limits, anyone – including a faithful Jew – has the right to criticize Israel, even if sometimes the criticism may not be completely right.

On Faith: Washington Post Online February 24, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Mishkan and Why We Needed to Build it

There is a machloket among the meforshim as to whether the detail given regarding the mishkan had a specific purpose. The two sides basically fall between the Abarbanel, who states that they must have a more important meaning than the pshat, and the Rambam, who believes that the specific details are just that - the blueprints for the more important part, the mishkan - and that we shouldn't try to understand each minutiae.

Nechama Leibowitz's comments in "Terumah 4" present both sides and give supporting evidence and other meforshim who agree with each. In my view I find the opinion of Abarbanel more convincing. It seems to me that if the minutiae meant nothing then why include them? The Torah spends very little time explaining the lives of the avot and goes in to great detail here (and other mitzvot). We have a Torah sh'baal peh to help us understand what is not written down - it seems that God did not want us to forget the detail.

The Midrash Raba on Parshat Terumah begins by saying that v'yichu li - take for me - as opposed to v'yitnu - give to me - means that we have the ability to acquire God through talmud torah. By contributing to the building of the mishkan we are acquiring Hashem. The midrash goes on to describe a parable about a King and his daughter's new husband who wants a room in the new couples house to stay close to her. The midrash says that this is similar to the purpose of the mishkan, that we need to build a place for Hashem so that he can be close to the Torah (the daughter). According to this Midrash asu li mikdash does not just mean build for me a mikdash, but rather as a plea to us - when we learn Torah we are giving Hashem a place to dwell. Talmud Torah is not just a necessary endeavor in the life of a Jew but is k'neged kulam the greatest venture we can take.

The building of the Mishkan has a purpose, in fact it has multiple purposes, to continue the revelation at Sinai, to give korbanot, to make atonement for our sins, but the primary purpose that we built the mishkan and it didn't just fall from the sky was so that we could work for it, to toil in the details. That in order to make a makom for God on earth we must strive and toil to make it perfect, it's an allusion to our selves. In order to make ourselves godly - kadosh - we must make a concerted effort to get there.

Parshat Terumah

Last year I wrote this Dvar Torah on the purpose of the Mishkan. It's still one of my favorite posts.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Torah of Eretz Yisrael

Rav Kook on Bereishit 2:12:
"And the gold of that land is good" [Gen. 2:12].

Why is the Torah suddenly interested in the quality of gold? Was this verse written for prospectors of rare metals?

The Midrash explains that the land referred to is Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), and the precious commodity is none other than the Torah itself. The Midrash then declares,

"This teaches that there is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel" [Bereishit Rabbah 16:4].
This is a pretty remarkable statement. Is there really a different Torah in the Land of Israel? And in what way is it superior to the Torah outside of Israel?

Details and General Principles

According to Rav Kook, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is fundamentally different in its method and scope. The Torah of the Diaspora focuses on the details — specific laws and rules. The Torah of the Land of Israel, on the other hand, uses a more holistic approach. It connects those details with their governing moral principles.

This approach is particularly needed in our time of national renascence. We must reveal the truth and clarity of our Divine treasure. We must demonstrate the beauty and depth of practical mitzvot, by endowing them with the light of the mystical and philosophical side of the Torah. And the true depths and foundations of Torah can only be experienced in the Land of Israel.

Naomi is applying for scholarships to help us finance our move to Israel, one particular one asked why she'd rather study in Israel and not in the US. We had discussions about it and I could not explain myself to her. Much like a conversation I had with a woman waiting by the trempiada on the way to Gush Etzion at 3am. All I could say was unintelligible sentences about Torah feels different in Israel. I think this statement by Rav Kook (as Rav Morrison explains) explains exactly what I was feeling.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Seforim Sale (Year Three)

This was the third year in a row that I've made the trek from Maryland to YU for the Seforim Sale. I was not as "successful" as I was last year, but I did pick up a few seforim that I'm really excited about.
Some comments from the trip:
  • They only had one volume of Ayin Aiyeh and it was $42 - I think I'll wait till Israel
  • I've been looking for a good printing of Aruch HaShulchan for a while and I found one (the Oz V'Hadar one) but I didn't get it, but noticed that it's printed with "Opinions of the Mishna Berurah". Same thing for new printings on the Chayei Adam. Since when were we not good enough to look at either of these two seforim without knowing what the Mishna Berura ruled.
  • I've got two other books of the Rav Soloveitchik series above (Family Redeemed and Worship of the Heart) both are fantastic. There's an article on the Amidah in Worship that is worth the price alone. Absolutely incredible stuff.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Blue 32, Blue 32, Hut - Hut... Reflections on the Parsha

[I wrote this pre-Shabbos but didn't have enough time to post it]

Shmot 13:18:
But God made the people take a round-about way, the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea
This reversal of B'nei Yisrael (or rather their route) is rather odd. Why not take them directly to Yam Suf? Why do they have to wait there? Why send them on one path only to tell them to turn around and go another way? Shouldn't God have just said "Go to Yam Suf"? Yitziat Mizrayim is the seminal event in Jewish history but wouldn't the Exodus have been "good enough" with the Jews leaving, why did God have to drown Pharoah? If as the Rambam suggests that God cannot change his mind what is going on here? Clearly God must have done this on purpose.

The Ben Ish Chai - R' Yosef Chaim Baghdadi - says that Pharaoh is a man who uses trickery and deception and God does this to turn the tables on him. God couldn't just let B'nei Yisrael go without doing something to punish Pharaoh and his soldiers. The reversal of B'nei Yisrael's route was all part of God's plan to convince Pharaoh to send his army out after them - think smoke and daggers.

Maybe I had the Super Bowl on my brain - sorry ADDeRabbi, I'm not having a Super Bowl party this year, the Steelers and Eagles aren't playing - but it seems to me that this sounds like a football play. Fake right draw them into the back field and we'll head left and they'll never know what hit 'em.

Gut Voch.