Friday, August 29, 2014

On The Sofer Tragedy: A Defense of Israel

By now you have all heard that the body of Aaron Sofer has been found. Tragically, he fell during a hike, and died as a result of his injuries.

While the search was underway, a number of people, including prominent figures, accused the State of Israel and the general public of being relatively indifferent to the cause due to Sofer being a charedi yeshivah student. The purpose of this post is to defend the government and general public of Israel against this condemnation.

It is not an exceptional event for people to go missing in Israel. There have been several cases in the last year. Every year the police in Israel process around five thousand reports on missing persons. Most of these cases are quickly closed, but twenty to thirty cases remain open each year. According to a Jerusalem Post article from two years ago, there are currently over a thousand children and teens in Israel listed as missing. How many of them have you heard about? Cases of missing persons do not generally make the headlines, because there can be all sorts of reasons for it. The situation of a missing person only makes headlines to the extent that it is believed to be a terrorist abduction. One might argue that this is not rational - after all, the potential for tragedy is the same, whether a person has a hiking accident or a car accident or is abducted by terrorists. However, the fact of human psychology is that society is more traumatized by the latter. Furthermore, the latter is more part of the government's responsibility and purview, and thus the government expends more effort in such cases.

Now, in the charedi community, it was widely believed that Aaron Sofer had been abducted. A family member publicly quoted Rav Chaim Kanievsky as saying that Sofer was alive and being held in an Arab village. Thus, there was naturally very deep concern. But outside of the charedi community, few believed that this was the case. Especially at the outset, there was little reason to believe that Aaron Sofer had been abducted. Personally, I was certain that he had experienced a hiking accident. I have hiked in that area many times and I know that the terrain can sometimes be deceptive, with unexpected crevasses. Furthermore, it would be extremely unlikely for terrorists to be staking out that area in the hopes of capturing somebody. Since it was unlikely that he had been abducted, there was naturally less of a response than in the case of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, where it was clear from the outset that they had been abducted.

But could it be that there was less concern from the general public than in comparable cases? I don't think that there is sufficient data to answer that question. If one believes that such was indeed the case, there are a number of potential factors involved. One is that he was an American citizen rather than an Israeli citizen; another is that he was a charedi yeshivah student. As I noted in my posts contrasting the great concern that the charedi community expressed for the yeshivah students in Japan with the lesser concern that they expressed for Gilad Shalit, to a certain extent (though only to a certain extent) it is inevitable and understandable that people care more about those in their own community. Indeed, consider that some sectors of the charedi community seem have put a lot more effort into prayer rallies and suchlike for Aaron Sofer than they did for Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Of course, we should aim to care about all Jews, but it is inevitable that we care more about those to whom we feel closest. How many Jews in America, or charedi Jews in Israel, know the name Shachar Shalev, a 20-year-old soldier who was struggling for his life for the last six weeks as a result of injuries sustained in Gaza, and finally succumbed this week?

Brooklyn city council member Dov Hikind issued a criticism of the Israeli authorities that was particularly strange:
"Not enough was done from the very beginning. Not enough attention was paid to the disappearance of Aaron. So I want to say to the Israeli government: treat Aaron as if he were an Israeli soldier missing. Because we know what the Israeli government does when an Israeli soldier goes missing - every resource in the world is put into it." 
I do not think that his criticism of the government was appropriate. As discussed above, much less effort is put into these things when there is little reason to suspect terrorist involvement. The government does not put "every resource in the world" into searching for each of the 20-30 people who go missing each year. Furthermore, Hikind's demand that Sofer be treated like an Israeli soldier was very strange. Aside from the fact that Sofer wasn't Israeli, he wasn't a soldier. Of course a country will be far more concerned with the welfare of someone risking his life to defend it than with the welfare of a person who is not doing that! Likewise, I presume that people donate more money to those who are disabled as a result of IDF service than to those who are disabled as a result of car accidents. One person wrote to me about the irony of a community that refuses to serve in the army to protect the country, but demands to be treated like soldiers in terms of the concern extended to them.

(Also of interest is that Rav Steinman ordered yeshivah students to take time off their learning and search for him. Evidently, Rav Steinman felt that this hishtadlus would be of greater value than their learning Torah in his merit. This is consistent with Rav Steinman's position, as told to Rav Moshe Schneider, that today's Torah cannot be presumed to be lishmah and therefore cannot be assumed to have supernatural protective abilities. We see that Rav Steinman's position is that the opposition to charedim serving in the IDF or doing national service is not because their Torah studies is a form of providing protection, but rather because army service would harm their way of life.)

The case of Aaron Sofer is a terrible tragedy. But it is not a reason to criticize the government or people of Israel. Let us pray for the Sofer family to be comforted, and for all missing persons to be located.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rationalism and the International Dateline

There were many fascinating comments written in response to my post "No, I Am Not Desecrating Shabbos," about the international dateline and halachah. It would be great if someone would write a full halachic treatment of this topic from a rationalist standpoint. I can't do this myself, but I would like to point out some things that such a work should take into account:

1) Chazal (at least, those in Babylonia) were of the view that the world is basically flat, with a slight rise to Israel and Jerusalem at the center. (See my monograph The Sun's Path At Night for sources.)

2) The Rishonim, for the most part, knew that the world is a sphere. However, they believed that the lower half was entirely uninhabited. To quote a comment by R. David Ohsie: "The Rishonim, like others, made the assumption that the inhabited part of the world spanned approximately 12 timezones. Naturally, the eastern edge had the earliest times and the western edge had the latest times. There was no need for a "dateline" per se because civilization did not wrap around the globe. The question of where exactly the day turns would be completely theoretical and probably was not considered important; it certainly had no meaning in halacha."

3) Most recent halachic authorities to weigh in on the topic of the dateline probably did not realize/ accept the previous two points. (A notable exception would be R. Menachem Kasher.)

4) To what extent can a halachic dateline be implemented? Here is another fascinating comment from R. David Ohsie:
I want to point out one other huge problem with any "degree" based dateline, especially ones that are close to Asia. We have a general principle that the Torah can be applied with the technology available in ancient times. Anything that requires modern technology, such as a microscope, is not considered imperative. Now in ancient times, there was no way to measure latitude accurately, nor generally to map the extent of landmasses. So to say that the halacha requires you to know that Indonesia is less than 90* from Jerusalem while Japan is greater than 90* or that the western tip of Australia is less than 90* from Jerusalem while you are sitting in the eastern side would be beyond what the halacha required. So more than the fact that the Torah never says where the dateline is, it could not have required a dateline, since that would require the knowledge of modern technology to implement.

5) There is a basic distinction between the mystical and rationalist schools of thought regarding concepts such as sanctity, whether of items, rituals or dates. According to the mystical school of thought, the sanctity of these things exists as an actual metaphysical entity. According to the rationalist school of thought, on the other hand, the sanctity of these items is a state of designation. For extensive and excellent discussion, see Menachem Kellner, Maimonides' Confrontation With Mysticism (which is the most fundamentally important book for anyone interested in rationalist Judaism).

Saturday, August 23, 2014

If I Could Make One Point

If I could get a full-page advertisement with just one sentence in the New York Times or Britain's Independent or Guardian, or have one chance to speak to the awful Jon Snow from Britain's Channel 4 news, I would say as follows:

The US, UK and NATO have killed tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as unavoidable collateral damage and accidents of war; why condemn Israel for doing much less?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Does Rationalism Mandate seeing Judeopathy as Naturalistic?

Here is something that I posted four years ago. It came to mind after reading about the United Nations Human Rights Council, which has condemned Israel more than almost every other country combined, and for which the only officially-mandated topic for its sessions is human rights abuses by Israel.

Is Judeopathy (a.k.a. antisemitism, but I dislike that word as it is inherently and deliberately misleading) a naturalistic phenomenon? That is to say, can it be entirely explained in terms of political, social and psychological reasons? Or is there some metaphysical factor involved?

Prof. Menachem Kellner explains that one of the differences between the mystical school of thought (as represented by R. Yehudah HaLevi) and Rambam's school of thought is that according to the former, there is an inherent metaphysical difference between Jews and non-Jews, whereas according to the latter there is none. From this and other things it probably follows that according to Rambam, Judeopathy is a naturalistic phenomenon.

Personally, I can't bring myself to believe that. About 12 years ago I engaged in an extensive study of Judeopathy. (I even wrote a book on it, largely based on the teachings of Rav Moshe Shapiro, that I never published.) In the course of my research, one study that I read (Grosser and Halperin, Anti-Semitism, Citadel Press 1976) concluded that there are one hundred and eighteen factors that must be invoked to account for antisemitism! The longevity, extent, and irrationality of the phenomenon led me to the conclusion that it cannot be reduced to a solely naturalistic phenomenon.

Does that mean that I am not a rationalist? That depends on how one defines and applies rationalism.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teenage Mutant and Ninja Turtles

I'm currently in LA for a few days, having returned from my vacation on the island of Maui. But I wanted to share one more post relating to the precarious status of the wildlife indigenous to that island.

A week ago, I went out on a catamaran to explore the coral reefs. I went snorkeling from the boat, and also did snuba diving. Snuba is a sort of cross between snorkeling and scuba, whereby the oxygen tank stays on a floating raft, while your respirator is connected to it via a long hose, as follows:


There were many fabulously colored fish to be seen on the reef. But the big attraction was a reptile - the sea turtles for which this part of the world is famous:


Sea turtles are amazing to watch underwater. These huge animals are incredibly graceful as they swim slowly along. While snorkeling, I was able to swim with each of them for several minutes at a time. They displayed no fear, and once one swam close enough for me to touch; I was sorely tempted to do so, but it is illegal.

Unfortunately, not all the turtles were as attractive as the one in the picture above. One of them had a bizarre cauliflower-like growth emerging from its neck. This strange mutation was actually a disease specific to marine turtles called fibropapillomatosis. It is rarely found in adult turtles, since by the time the turtle reaches adulthood the tumor has either regressed or killed it, which means that this mutant turtle was probably a teenager.

The cause of the disease is unclear. But in recent years it has risen such that in now affects a staggering 92% of the turtles in some areas. As such, it would appear to relate to human factors. It is speculated that it is the result of turtles feeding on yet another invasive species that has been introduced (unwittingly) by man - certain types of algae.

Let's finish this post on a a lighter note. A few days after my underwater turtle encounter, I was on a beach, and I saw a (healthy) turtle swimming right up to the sand. The water was so amazingly clear that I was able to take the following photo:



As the turtle approached the sand, I stepped into the shallows, taking care to observe the law prohibiting contact between humans and turtles.

But the turtle didn't care about the law.

With a flap of its flippers and a surge of the surf, the turtle suddenly shot forwards. Exhibiting the martial skills of a ninja warrior, it catapulted into me and gave me a mighty whack on my shins. YEEOUCH!



Well, at least it was nice to see that this ninja turtle wasn't a teenage mutant.

So, that's the end of my "field reports" for this summer, which began with a leopard bite and ended with a turtle slam. If you'd like to join me for next year's African adventure, scheduled for the beginning of June, please be in touch. Meanwhile, I'll be returning to the usual topics for this blog, and I'm pleased to announce that the Rationalist Medical Halacha blog is also back in action.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Unintended Consequences

I would like to introduce this post with a picture of a smiley face:



What is this funny face? We'll get to that later, but first, let us return to another question that I posed in an earlier post: Why did God create lizard-eating plants? In the post, I suggested that the question is not necessarily valid. God may not have purposefully created the plant; instead, it may be nothing more than a by-product of the evolutionary process that God decided to employ in creation.

This claim caused some consternation. One person protested that "certainly the Rambam believed each plant and animal has a purpose." But I would disagree.

Even when it comes to Torah, Rambam believed that there are unintended consequences. In the Guide for the Perplexed 3:34, Rambam explains that while each mitzvah serves for the betterment of mankind, that is only from a general perspective; there could well be individual cases in which the mitzvah turns out to be detrimental. The Torah must be absolute in its binding nature, which is why exceptions can't usually be made, but this necessarily means that it will not always be beneficial to everyone. Rambam does not see this as presenting any limitation in God's wisdom and power; it's just an inherent drawback of any universal system.

Certainly, then, the same can be true with the natural world. Assuming that God desired to use a naturalistic process that would result in intelligent life, this may result in all kinds of byproducts that were not God's intention. (This is not to say that He did not know that these would result.) As such, it is not necessarily valid to presume that there is a Divine purpose in any given aspect of the natural world. (Note that Rambam also says that various aspects of non-literal Torah stories do not all need to have deeper meaning; they may simply be written to flesh out the story.)

Thus, following Rambam's view, we do not need to presume that there was specific Divine intent and purpose in the development of lizard-eating plants. Or dinosaurs. Or in the smiley face pictured above, which was on the back of a spider that I photographed this week:

 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Major Myna Problem

Here on the jungle island paradise of Maui, there are many amazing creatures to be seen. Unfortunately, they are almost all the wrong ones.

In the pond outside, there are cane toads, which make a very loud cacophony. at night. Cane toads (also known as giant toads or marine toads) can reach up to fifteen inches in body length, though these ones are only about a third that size. There are about forty adult toads outside, and about a quarter of a million tadpoles in the pond. Here's a toad that I photographed last night:


Now, I happen to have a soft spot for toads, and I was excited to see them. But they shouldn't be here. They were introduced to Maui in order to eat insects that were ravaging the sugar cane crop, but they have multiplied out of control. Since they are poisonous, they have no predators.

The only native mammal species to Maui is a certain bat. But I met a bold and very cute baby mongoose:


The mongooses were introduced to Maui to kill the rats that had arrived on the ships. However, instead of killing the rats, the mongooses killed the unique native birdlife.

Maui is apparently home to all kinds of extraordinary birds. But I haven't seen any of them. I've seen some sparrows and chickens, which were introduced by man. But the most common bird here by far is the myna.

The myna bird has beautiful songs and vocalizations. Still, it shouldn't be here, either. There are staggering numbers of them in Maui - they are simply everywhere. Unfortunately, the myna bird is now also spreading in Israel, after some captive birds escaped about twenty years ago. At the time, myna birds cost many thousands of shekels to purchase; now, they are everywhere, from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat.

The ecological catastrophes of invasive species were often caused by people who were overly presumptuous about meddling with the natural world. In 1890, someone decided that America would look better if all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare lived there, and released sixty starlings in Central Park. They now number 200 million and have driven native species such as purple martens and eastern bluebirds to the brink of extinction.

We need to approach the natural world with humility. God has set up the universe such that it produces tremendous biological diversity. To preserve this wealth, we must respect it. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Unexpected Predators

Although I am currently on an exotic island that I have never visited before, and nor have most of you, I saw a place yesterday that will be familiar to many of you. It's a smaller, very steep, island, just off the coast:


You don't recognize it? Perhaps that's because when you last saw it, you were looking at it from the other side:


(Those reading this via email will have to go to www.rationalistjudaism.com to see the video above.)

Unfortunately, there are no actual dinosaurs on this island. However, I did see something else that was almost as primeval and horrifying. It was just a few yards away from where I took the above picture. Here it is:


It's a pitcher plant. That odd-looking leaf is about ten inches tall and forms a cup that has a few inches of liquid at the bottom. The inner surface is extremely slippery, and any creature that ventures inside falls into the liquid - which is not water. Instead, it is a digestive juice!

The normal prey of pitcher plants is insects. But this one had caught something quite a bit bigger:


It's a lizard, now in the process of being eaten by the plant. Even more surprisingly, it is a gecko, which (as noted in Sefer Mishlei) has an amazing ability to stick to walls, yet could not maintain a grip on the inner wall of the pitcher plant.

So there are no man-eating reptiles on this island, but there are reptile-eating plants! Amazing. I would wonder why Hashem made such a thing, but according to the rationalist perspective, there is really no such question. The horrifying pitcher plant is simply a byproduct of the evolutionary process.

In the next post, I will discuss a theological lesson to be learned from the animals on this island.

Friday, August 8, 2014

No, I Am Not Desecrating Shabbos

Yesterday, I took my 15th plane flight so far this summer, this time not for work but instead joining a family vacation. I am now further from Israel than I have ever been in my life. This presented an interesting question when I recited mincha yesterday: Should I face east or west? I had flown from the east to get here, but the shortest journey home would be to travel west to get back home.

This may (but not necessarily) relate to a vastly more significant halachic question: Am I desecrating Shabbos by writing this on my computer? Certainly some Poskim would say so!

Here is the background: As we fly west from Israel, we keep moving the hour back, so as not to outpace the sun. But if we were to constantly do that, we could end up arriving back in Israel at an earlier time and date than having left it! Hence, the need for an international dateline. But where is the halachic international dateline?

This is a famous and complex question that I certainly can't do justice to in a blog post. But I will outline the issues and mention the factors that are relevant from a rationalist Jewish viewpoint.

There are three well-known approaches to this question, the first of which has two variants. The first approach is based on an inference from the words of the Baal HaMaor, which are in turn an inference from the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah relating to when the new moon can be seen. This is a very technical discussion, but the bottom line is that according to this view, the day begins six hours (90°) east of Jerusalem. According to the strict interpretation of this, followed by the Brisker Rav, China and parts of Russia and Australia would be west of the halachic dateline, i.e. people in those places would observe Shabbos on what the rest of the world considers to be Sunday.

A variant on this approach is that of the Chazon Ish. He considers it unreasonable for the halachic dateline to bisect a country - it would mean that your next-door neighbor could be keeping Shabbos on a different day than you! Hence, he says that contiguous land of China, Russia and Australia should be incorporated to their western parts. According to this, only places such as New Zealand would be keeping Shabbos on what the rest of the world considers Sunday.

Some, however, would entirely reject these approaches. This is because they consider the inference from the Baal HaMaor's inference to be either technically incorrect, or unsuitable for resolving a question that Chazal were not addressing.

A second approach is that of Rav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky. He bases himself of the Gemara's statement that Jerusalem is the navel, i.e. center, of the world. This is understood to mean that it is the Prime Meridian. Accordingly, the halachic dateline is 180° east/west of Jerusalem. This is extremely close to the secular international dateline - the significant difference being the Hawaiian islands. These would on the western side of the halachic dateline rather then the eastern side, and thus eleven hours ahead of Israel rather than thirteen hours behind; accordingly, Shabbos would be on Friday.

But while it may seem intuitive to use this Gemara to resolve the question, it is problematic. The meaning of the Gemara's statement that Jerusalem is the "navel" of the world is not at all clear. Even if it is making a geographic rather than spiritual statement, it was stated at a time when the conception of world geography was very different. In fact, when the Americas were discovered, R. David Gans felt that this Gemara posed a problem, and felt forced to explain it as a geo-cultural statement that Jerusalem is the center of the civilized world (or something like that; it's a long time since I saw it).

A third approach is that of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer and Rav Zvi Pesach Frank. They are of the view that there is no halachic Prime Meridian and thus no unique halachic international dateline. Rather, one simply follows what the rest of the world considers to be the day of the week. It would seem that this would be the correct approach from the rationalist perspective.

However, there is one further wrinkle. What about being choshesh lechol hedeyos - being concerned for all opinions? After all, we are talking about Shabbos - a very serious matter! Perhaps Jews in eastern Australia should avoid melachah on Sunday, and Jews in Hawaii should avoid melachah on Friday?

The answer to this also relates to rationalist vs. mystical approaches to Judaism. According to the mystical approach, there is a metaphysical reality to Shabbos, an objective spiritual state that is "out there". Hence, one would probably want to make absolutely sure to be in line with it, and one would take into account other views; after all, they might be right. According to the rationalist approach, on the other had, there is no independent metaphysical reality to Shabbos. Rather, Shabbos attains its status as a result of how we conduct ourselves.

Of course, there is much more to be said on topic, but I'll have to sign off here. Shabbat shalom!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What Is Real Achdus?

A number of people were very upset with the previous post, about charedi responses to the IDF mission in Gaza. Some of these people are charedim who naturally object to any criticism of their community. But others were not charedi at all (although I am pretty sure that they do not live in Israel and are not serving or sending their sons to serve in the IDF). They accused me of attempting to ruin the amazing achdus that has been achieved in the last month.


Before I explain where I am coming from, let us perform a thought experiment. As is well known, the major budget cutbacks for the charedi population in Israel have resulted in much hostility from the charedim towards the government. Now, imagine if the government were to go even further and entirely cut off all financial benefits to the charedi population. However, at the same time, the members of the government, and their voters, promise the charedi population that they love them and will sincerely pray for their financial wellbeing. The reaction from the charedi community would be one of rage - and they would understandably not consider their criticism of the government to be a breach in achdus!

Achdus does not just mean saying nice things about other people or praying for them. It means sharing joint concerns and responsibilities.

With this in mind, I hope that you can understand where I am coming from. Six months ago, nearly half a million charedim and charedi wannabees rallied in Jerusalem and declared Shefoch chamascha on the Israeli government and its supporters who would extend a partial equality in the draft to charedim (and they were not at all concerned that this was a breach of achdus). Looking at the faces of the 64 brave young men who sacrificed their lives for us this past month, one sees that they are all national-religious or secular Zionist. To people like me, whose children will probably one day be serving in the IDF during another Gaza war, this is extremely distressing. When certain charedi spokesmen/ apologists proudly crow about the amazing care and involvement of the charedi community in this war, presenting it as equal or even superior to the work of the IDF, this adds insult to injury (and it was hearing such claims that motivated me to write the post).

I will conclude by quoting an illuminating comment from my good friend and neighbor David Bar-Cohn:
When I think about the enormity of what my wife and I invest every single day with each of our kids, on every level - physical, emotional and otherwise, being ever so careful about every detail of their lives - the LAST thing I would possibly want to do is put my precious sons at risk of life and limb, exposing them to the hell of war, witnessing bloodshed and death, going head-to-head with terrorists. It's literally a living nightmare. Yet I know it would be immoral not to be prepared to do that. No, not everyone is cut out for actual battle. And there are plenty of other jobs that need to be done in the army, after all. I don't know what my sons will choose - some may be fighters, others not. Either way is okay by me. But that's an individual decision, NOT a communal one. It is wrong for a whole sector of society not to assume the same risks as everyone else, even if they believe they are making other contributions.
Honestly, I don't know how I'll be able to look many of my friends in the face if and when I have a son exposed to war, while they simply take a "pass" and try to justify it on religious grounds.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Charedi Response to the IDF in Gaza


It's time to take a look at the charedi response to the IDF operation in Gaza. There isn't enough information available to perform a proper analysis, so this post will be limited to surveying some reports that are available.

It's important that people evaluate the charedi response accurately. There are many claims that are being exaggerated, while other stories are not reported. Still other stories appear to be fabricated; one of my mentors asked me to include the story of Rav Steinman crying over the soldiers at his grandson's barmitzvah. However, while this story received much publicity in Commander Uri Schachter's victory report, I could not find any corroboration of it (and surely Rav Steinman's grandsons celebrated their barmitzvahs many decades ago!). Instead, it seems to be a distortion of a different and not very relevant story about Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

In documenting the various responses, note that I am only counting responses that genuinely represent the charedi world. Neturei Karta is not counted, since they are completely off the spectrum, have no wide following, and are despised by the rest of the charedi world. Likewise, I saw a claim for evidence of charedi concern from a certain "charedi" shul in RBS which sent care packages to soldiers - but almost every person in this shul grew up in a Zionist home and went to YU (and the people who initiated the campaign even have a son in the IDF), so they are not remotely representative of the charedi community.

There are several diverse reports of different responses that I found, each of which represents a fairly large group of people. Here they are, ordered from most abhorrent to most amazing:

Abhorrent - Hundreds of yeshivah and kollel students gathered in Bnei Brak to hear Rabbi Yisroel Yitzchak Kalmanovitz. He spoke about how during this war, it is important to remain vigilant not to join with secular Israelis on either a practical or emotional level. He also said that one should not pray for soldiers (except religious ones), and that it is perhaps better that secular soldiers die al kiddush Hashem than return home irreligious. (Sources: Here and here).

Disappointing - Here is a letter that I received: "My son was injured in Aza a few days ago (Baruch Hashem, he is fine and home and resting and recuperating). We spent the day in Soroka hospital yesterday with him. There were literally thousands of people who came by to visit the soldiers – bringing food, candies, gifts (backpacks filled with clothes, shampoo, shaving needs), toys, iPads!, ad bli di. People came from the tip of the North and from Eilat, celebrities and singers, chavrie Knesset, mothers and little children - you name it. However, with the exception of some Chabad and some Breslov, not one Charedi was among them."

Unclear - Most Litvishe yeshivos followed a declared policy that yeshivah students should not take pleasure trips, on the grounds that it would be a chilul Hashem. It is unclear as to whether this was about genuinely identifying with the plight of the soldiers and sincerely putting into practice the much-vaunted belief that yeshivah learning protects, or whether it was about PR in light of the government plan to enlist yeshivah students - there are statements in both directions.

Praiseworthy (to some degree) - Chassidic yeshivos and some Litvishe yeshivos said that they would cancel summer vacation while the soldiers were fighting in Gaza, which is a good thing - although, of course, still not equal to actually serving in the army. 

Praiseworthy (to some degree) - The huge Mir yeshivah was davenning, learning, and making tzitzis for the soldiers, as well as sending food. I classify this as "somewhat praiseworthy" because, as fine as it is, some people are presenting it as equal to actually sharing the burden of military service - which it isn't. When my sons go into the army, I don't want other boys their age to be learning for them and tying tzitzis for them; I want them to be ALSO serving in the army, so that my sons don't have to put in double time, double sacrifice and double risk! But it is nevertheless a praiseworthy act that is hopefully a sign of great things to come.

Praiseworthy (to some degree) - Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rav of Agudath Israel of Madison, reported on many charedi women in Arzei Habira who prepared food packages for the soldiers, even if it meant using the chicken that was supposed to be for their own poor kollel families. I classify this as only somewhat praiseworthy for two reasons. First, as above, it still does not equal actually sending your sons to the army. Second, the report heaped praise on the "sacrifice" of the kollel families who are eating tuna instead of chicken, showing little appreciation of the infinitely greater mesiras nefesh being performed by the IDF. It said that "although we do our part in the ‘war effort' through Torah and Mitzvohs; we have not forgotten them who do their part on the front lines," giving the message that "We are so holy and special, but remember that the soldiers ALSO do their part." Whereas the reality is that the soldiers are doing vastly more, and at vastly greater personal sacrifice, than the people in Arzei HaBirah. Still, kudos to the women for doing this, even if their efforts are not being described appropriately.

Amazing - Hundreds of yeshivah and kollel students signed up for an initiative to volunteer for the IDF in combat roles. According to the organizer, "The volunteer position must be significant, otherwise it’s pointless. It’s not just something symbolic for us to check off and say, ‘Look, we came to serve in the army.’ People really want to contribute, and not simply as watchdogs in some remote installation." (Source) This is absolutely fantastic, and hopefully will translate into a serious change in attitudes to army service. Will Mishpacha and Ami report on it? (I'm guessing not.)

Conclusion: I think that the most striking aspect of all this is how diverse the response is. Normally, the charedi community is pretty homogenous. But here there is a tremendous range of responses. I would welcome suggestions as to why this is. The general trend, however, appears to be small steps towards a true realization of how much we need to value the IDF. Something is changing.

It's Over... For Some Of Us

Operation Protective Edge is winding down. Two of my three nephews serving in Gaza have already returned home. The pundits are discussing whether we won or lost. We managed to inflict serious punishment on Hamas, we destroyed the terror tunnels that they spent years and millions constructing, and with the current regime in Egypt opposed to them, it will not be easy for them to rearm.

But if it is a victory, it is a painful one. Even as our lives return to normal, we must remember that for many families, life will never return to how it was before. There are families grieving for loved ones that were lost, and families that will forever struggle with injury and disability.

We must support them however we can, and we must always remember our gratitude to them for the sacrifices that they made for us.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Fatah Claims To Have Murdered My Family

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades is the military wing of Mahmoud "Greatest Ever Peace Partner" Abbas' Fatah. They have a different version of events regarding what happened at my sister's house yesterday:

The military wing of the Palestinian National Liberation Movement - Fatah
Our belief in the right and the legitimacy of the resistance and to defend the soil of Palestine... thank God Almighty managed the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - Palestine from storming usurped Halamish near the city of Ramallah promptly at 5:49 pm on Sunday, 03.08.2014 AD. Fighters clashed with a group of Zionist settlers directly resulting in the death of 3 of the settlers and our fighters return to their bases safely.

We of the Al Aqsa Brigades warn the enemy we will hit them more painfully.
Fire with fire.... murder with murder by bombing and shelling

God is great and God praise
Resistance will continue until victory or martyrdom
Al -Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Palestine
08.03.2014 AD
(From here. Translation from ElderOfZiyon)

Now, although I am currently in Washington DC, thousands of miles away from my family, I am in constant contact with them. And I know with complete certainty that while they were lightly injured and traumatized, they were not killed. This is a fact that can easily be ascertained by anyone; heck, my nephew has even been posting about the incident on FaceBook.

Unfortunately, amongst Palestinians, there is complete and utter disregard for the truth. Even more unfortunately, the rest of the world does not realize that. The media will regularly accept Palestinian claims. I recall several years ago, with the Jenin operation, where all the media was freely accepting the Palestinian claims that 500 people were killed, though it eventually was clarified that it was only a tenth of that number. In the current conflict, the media will often "even-handedly" report Israel's and the Palestinians' versions of various events. This is even though that Palestinians have no accountability and freely make up whatever they want, whereas Israel, as a democracy with a free press, is much more careful about its statements.

The problem is that Israel is often slow off the mark in rebutting Palestinian claims. Often this is because the IDF wants to carefully investigate what happened. But this means that Palestinian claims about innocents being killed receive instant media coverage, while the correct reports come too late to counter the damage. It's important for people to document and publicize the Palestinians' complete disregard for truth.

A Narrow Escape

You may have read in the news today about two Palestinians who broke into a house this afternoon and attacked the person inside. The house was my sister's house and the person was my niece.

My sister lives in Neve Tzuf, a community of about 300 families in the Binyamin region, several miles north of Ramallah. Her house is, unfortunately right on the edge of the moshav. This afternoon, my 16-year-old niece was home with a friend. She heard noises, and discovered that two Palestinian Arabs had broken in. When they saw her, they started beating her. Her friend rushed to her aid but they beat him too. At this point one of my nephews came home, sounded the alarm, and the Arabs fled.

Thank God, my niece and her friend were not seriously injured. Contrary to some media reports, they were not stabbed, only bruised, but they are very traumatized. The incident appears to have been a burglary gone wrong rather than a terrorist attack, although it's still not entirely clear; and in that part of the world, there's a fine line between the two that can easily be crossed.

(One of my older nieces, Miri Maoz-Ovadia, is the spokeswoman for the Binyamin Regional Council. You can read her article on the incident (in Hebrew) at this link.)

My sister and brother-in-law would be labelled as "settlers." They have two sons and one son-in-law currently fighting in Gaza, and another son who served in Shayelet 13. Most of the world would imagine them to be a family of brutal, cruel monsters. But I, on the other hand, know them all to be mild-mannered, soft spoken, extremely kind people, who voted Labor when they lived in England. They just want to be able to live in their homeland and help the rest of their nation live in peace and security. The monsters are those who would beat up a sixteen-year-old girl.


P.S. To all my close friends, family and neighbors that are reading this - please DO NOT ever mention this incident to my children. Hopefully they will not find out about it for a long, long time.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bring Back Our Boy

When Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were taken, the response from the Jewish People was breathtaking in its enormity. Rallies and activities of every kind took place. Immense energy was expended.

After the discovery that they had already been murdered, very soon after they were taken, some people felt that all these efforts had been for nothing. But that is not the case.

It seems that one of our soldiers, Hadar Goldin, has been captured by Hamas. One cannot begin to imagine what a terrible ordeal this must be for him.

But he saw how Israel responded when Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were taken. Hadar knows that he will not be forgotten. He knows that the people of Israel will move heaven and earth to get him back and will leave no stone unturned until they have done so. Hopefully, he will be able to draw strength from this.

Let us pray and campaign on behalf of Hadar ben Chedva Leah, so that the IDF can continue its mission and bring him home.


The Evils of Civic Responsibility and National Pride?

A rabbinic colleague of mine recently purchased a Hebrew illustrated children's haggadah, Me-Avdut LeCherut , published by Yefeh Nof, ...