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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Format

I had a poll up asking people if they liked the new design of this blog. The poll is now closed and the new design has won the competition. The spread was pretty even (except for 'dislike it' category - which no one voted for) But 'Love it' garnered twice as many votes any of the others.

Here is the percentage breakdown in each category:

Love it - 40%
Like it - 20%
Neutral - 20%
Dislike it - 0%
Hate it - 20%

So for the time being the new look is here to stay. There may yet be some additional tweaking but this is basically it.

If there is any further critiquing of the new look please do it now in the comments section. Why do you: love/like/dislike or hate - the new design. If there is something specific please tell me what that is and explain why you do or don't like it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Lonely Position on Jerusalem

Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim – Tishkach Yimini!

I am so tired of the ‘world’ telling me that Jerusalem is not ‘my home’ and is up for grabs. That’s what this AP ‘
editorial’ says. Israel has every right to claim ‘East’ Jerusalem as its eternal capital. That Palestinians contest it is their business. That the ‘world’ sides with them on this issue just mean they are wrong. Do we judge truth only by what ‘the world’ thinks?

Whether Israel should allow construction there as part of the ‘settlement freeze’ is a separate issue. But how on earth can anyone with any sense of history –Jewish or otherwise - say that the Jewish people have no special claim or right to live in Jerusalem and call it their capital?! …especially if they respect the bible?

That said I agree with the fact that there are certain people that have contributed to this attitude – stirring up resentment with their actions as the end of this editorial points out. But that doesn’t justify the view that Jerusalem isn’t ours. And I don’t care if it is a lonely position.

What follows is the article in question… and Yes. It makes me angry. And I am a ‘land for peace’ guy!

JERUSALEM (AP) — If there is ever to be Middle East peace, here's a knot that must somehow be undone.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have moved to sprawling Jewish areas in east Jerusalem believe they are ordinary residents of their capital who will never be asked to vacate their homes. It's a sentiment shared by most of their countrymen and affirmed by lawmakers who voted this week to limit a government's ability to ever pull out.

But it's a lonely position: no other government recognizes Israel's 43-year-old annexation of east Jerusalem, and the Palestinians are increasingly vocal about insisting that what Israelis universally call "neighborhoods" are in fact illegal "settlements."

Eight years ago, Herzl Yechezkel, an Israeli lawyer, was one of the first residents to move into the new Har Homa neighborhood, built on land Israel captured in 1967.

"Our neighborhood is inside the Jerusalem municipal area, and it's legitimate to build in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people," he said Tuesday, a day after the Knesset voted to require a special majority or a referendum before any pullout in east Jerusalem. "The Americans see Washington as their capital. Jerusalem is the same."

Few outside of Israel see it that way, though the issue of Israeli construction in east Jerusalem long took a back seat to the controversy over the more populous settlements in the West Bank and to the more explosive dispute over the walled Old City with its holy sites and echoes of biblical history.

But it is now taking center stage amid efforts to restart peace talks. The U.S. is pressing Israel to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank to draw the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Israel wants written assurances that east Jerusalem will be exempt, while Palestinians — who see it as their future capital — insist it be included.

In Monday's Knesset vote, lawmakers passed a measure requiring any future pullout from Israeli territory, including east Jerusalem, be approved by a two-thirds majority. If that fails, the matter would then go to a national referendum, where it would likely face an uphill battle.

While most Israelis recognize that Israel will have to withdraw from much of the West Bank and uproot at least some settlements, the Jewish areas of east Jerusalem are seen as part of the capital. Most residents were drawn by affordable prices and quality of life, rather than ideology, and many seem hardly to be aware that the areas are in dispute.

In past peace talks, Palestinians quietly acknowledged these neighborhoods would remain part of Israel under a final accord. The Oslo peace process of the 1990s went ahead while Israel built freely in east Jerusalem.

But the east Jerusalem neighborhoods have become increasingly contentious since the Obama administration put a spotlight on settlement construction and called for a full halt after taking office.
Palestinians have since demanded the freeze as a condition for talks, a position that lies at the heart of the current impasse.

Since the 1967 war, Israel has built a dozen Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, a semicircle of sorts ringing the Old City and filling in gaps between Arab areas.

Distant from the ancient holy sites at the city's heart, they are mundane urban neighborhoods of apartment buildings faced with beige stone, dotted with small shopping plazas. They are now home to 200,000 people, more than a quarter of Jerusalem's population.

Another 250,000 Arabs live in east Jerusalem, and 300,000 Jews live in the city's western sector.
Har Homa, in southern Jerusalem, is a good example of how integrated these areas have become. When the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot ranked the hottest neighborhoods in the country earlier this month, Har Homa — where housing prices have doubled in eight years — came in third. The paper made no mention of political complications.

On Tuesday, bulldozers started clearing land for 1,000 new housing units to expand Har Homa's population by a quarter. What might not have drawn much attention several years ago, however, drew reprimands this month from the U.S., the Palestinians and other countries.

While the Palestinians always viewed Israel's Jerusalem project "with great concern," said Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster and analyst, only recently did they come to top the agenda of the political elite. The change, he said, is connected to a generational shift to a younger leadership more sensitive to the threat posed by settlements to a future Palestinian state.

"The issue of insisting that Jerusalem settlements must be included in any freeze is something that has developed over time," Shikaki said. "A new leadership has emerged. The old guard is no longer in the driver's seat."

Palestinian officials have begun to lobby journalists to stop using the term "neighborhoods" when describing east Jerusalem.

"Israel's attempt to deceive the international consensus, and to redraw that consensus, has not been successful," said Husam Zomlot, a Palestinian spokesman. "These are not neighborhoods. They are illegal colonies, extraterritorial entities on occupied territory."
If Israel has lost international understanding where the east Jerusalem neighborhoods are concerned, it has itself at least partly to blame, said Yitzhak Reiter, an Israeli expert on Jerusalem at the Ashkelon Academic College.

For decades, Jews in east Jerusalem lived only in Jewish neighborhoods, largely avoiding daily friction with Arab residents. But in the last decade, several thousand ideological Jewish settlers have moved into the heart of Arab neighborhoods, where they live in isolated enclaves under heavy guard.

"In these places there is tension and violence that move the conflict back 40 years," Reiter said. "This is helping to end the quiet acceptance of the new reality Israel created in the older Jewish neighborhoods."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thank You Christians

I don’t agree with everything Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says in this op-ed. But I do agree with his take on Evangelical Christians - and the IFCJ (International Fellowship of Christians and Jews) that my friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein founded and leads.

And lead he does - to the tune of 100 million Christian dollars donated to Israel and other Jewish causes every year. As Shmuley says, this is a staggering amount of ‘no strings attached’ money! And it is money that we - the Jewish people would never otherwise see! I am therefore pleased to present this Jerusalem Post op-ed in its entirety!

Every year, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews raises about $100 million from mostly evangelical Christians in the US for distribution to social-welfare projects in Israel and the former Soviet Union. This is a staggering sum, making the IFCJ arguably the largest foundation for needy Jews in the world. One would think that the Jewish community would show immense gratitude to our Christian brothers and sisters for such love. I therefore found it extraordinary to hear that there is a campaign in the Israeli rabbinate to discredit the organization and forbid Jewish groups from benefiting from its funds.

In our religion, the worst of all character traits is to be an ingrate. Denying the goodness that others perform on your behalf leads to a closing of the human heart. No one wants to be taken for granted. So great is the Jewish emphasis on appreciation that our greatest prophet, Moses, was commanded by God not to strike the Nile River and turn it into blood (in the first plague against the Egyptians) because that same river had saved his life when he was a baby. Later, in plague number three, God warned Moses against smiting the dust of Egypt (and turning it into lice) because that dust had saved his life when he had to bury the body of a murderous Egyptian taskmaster.

Imagine that. A man who spoke to God “face to face” was told he must show thanks to water and dust. Such is the extent to which Judaism demands gratitude.

Over the past two decades, evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s most reliable friends. Pastors like John Hagee, my friend Pat Robertson and countless others have galvanized colossal Christian support for Israel. Even in the worst bombings of the second intifada, when tourism to Israel fell off a cliff, Christians still came in their millions. The same is true of stalwart Christian political support.

While President Barack Obama continues to bully Israel over apartments in Israel’s undivided and eternal capital, many American Christians have a litmus test for their elected leaders: You don’t support Israel? You’re out.

As I write these lines, former president George W. Bush is enjoying a public renaissance in America with the publication of his book, Decision Points. The best friend Israel ever had in the White House makes clear, at the beginning of his book, how he turned his life over to Jesus, and there can be no question that there is a direct link between his deep Christian faith and his unyielding support for Israel against those who, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seek its annihilation.

I am well aware of our differences with the Christian evangelical community, and would venture to say that I have conducted more debates with leading Christian scholars and missionaries – like my friend Dr. Michael Brown – on the messiahship of Jesus and the evangelical insistence that only Christians go to heaven than any other American rabbi over the past decade.

Jesus was a devout and observant Jew for every day of his life. He ate kosher, honored the Sabbath, donned tefillin and insisted on the indivisible unity of God. It would behoove our Christian brothers and sisters to conclude that they have much to learn about the historical Jesus from Jews.

Indeed, not only must attempts to convert Jews be emphatically resisted by the Jewish community, but precisely the opposite is true; Christians must learn from the Jews to reject any deification of Jesus – something which he would have seen as the ultimate sacrilege, and which is the subject of my upcoming book. They must follow Jesus as teacher and prophet rather than as God. Every human being is a child of God, as the Bible makes clear in Deuteronomy.

But whatever our theological differences, nothing negates the unparalleled kindness and friendship these Christians show Jews and the Jewish community.To say they do this merely to convert us, or because gathering Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse, is to perpetrate sacrilegious character assassination.

I was disheartened, in a recent visit to a mega-church in North Carolina, to hear even a renowned Christian scholar tell me the only reason American evangelicals send money to Israel is because they mistakenly believe that the funds are used to proselytize Jews.

Bullocks. I meet these evangelicals all the time. I have travelled with great men like Glen Megill of Rock of Africa on Christian relief missions to Zimbabwe, the poorest country on earth, and have listened as they told me their first commandment as Christians is to love and protect the Jewish people – for no other reason than that God commanded it.

Israel is a nation that dwells alone, with few friends and many enemies. Rather than rabbis and lay leaders attacking Christians for having nefarious motives for their charity, we should offer thanks and gratitude to all the hardworking Americans of faith who believe, as the Bible says, that through Israel all the Earth is blessed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Yeshivos and Kollelim

The following is a practical view of the reality of the Yeshiva system. It is not based on my views of Torah uMada which sees Mada as having intrinsic value that should be studied L’Shma.

Let me begin by saying that I have profound respect for all Roshei yeshiva as the leaders of Klal Israel. I believe that they are responsible for providing us with the next generation of Roshei Yeshiva and Gedolim. They provide the guidance spiritually - and a place to learn and thereby produce individuals who are capable of becoming our future leaders.

I would, also, like to make it known that my son is currently learning full time in Yeshivas Mir Yerushalyim, and is a Shoel uMeishiv to a Beis HaMedrash of over four hundred students in a new Beis HaMedrash there. He also has my full support to learn full time for the rest of his life, if he so chooses. This should give you some idea of my perspective. I am not a Yeshiva or Kollel basher.

The Problem

The problem is the systemic abuse of the Kollel and the Yeshiva in the sense that many Avreichim stay there far too long, and when they finally do leave they have virtually no training to enable them to compete in the Job market. I have spoken to many Roshei Yeshiva and Rosh Kollel about this problem and, so far, they privately agree with me. They, however, do not want to go on record.

To date as far as I know the only Rosh HaYeshiva who went on record was Rav Aaron Soloveichik, ZTL. He stated publicly as well as in print that not everyone is meant to learn full time, that learning full time is meant for the Yechidei Segula. " Vehogeisa Bo Yomim Va Lailos" is an imperative for them, in that fashion. The rest of us can fulfill our obligation of "Vehogiso" by being Koveiah Itim (setting aside time) both in the daytime and at night for learning Torah. One can theoretically even fulfill his obligation to learn Torah by reciting Krias Shema.

There are some Avreichim who don't have what it takes to make it in learning and, nevertheless, continue to doing so trying to “make it” despite years of not succeeding, instead of perhaps going into a field where they can contribute to a much higher degree to serve God and Klal Israel ( i.e. be more productive! ) Change is needed. The attitude needs to be developed that it is OK to get a job. It's not the end of the world if you want to support your family. In fact it is a very positive thing.

The problem is that The Roshei Kollel and Roshei Yeshiva are encouraging a “Torah only” approach as the only legitimate approach to Torah study. This attitude is based on the writings of Rabbi E. E. Dessler: Throw 1000 Bachurim into a Beis HaMedrash and if one rises to the top and the others fail, so be it! This is the “price” of creating a Gadol! 999 Bachurim or Yungeleit, who don’t make the grade don’t matter because: we need Gedolim!

I don’t agree that this is the “price”. Yes we need Gedolim, but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice anyone. A Torah nation requires the full spectrum of goods and services that all of society requires and we should be encouraging our students to follow their “calling”. If, for example a student has a certain facility for science, why not encourage him to go into medicine or scientific research?

Maybe that student is bright enough to be a big Talmud Chacham, but his real brilliance may be in medicine. Under the prevailing conditions in the Yeshiva system, that student’s desire to go into medicine or science will be discouraged.

The Solution

As I have said many times all Bnei Torah should spend time learning full time after high school for perhaps at least 5 years. But in most cases there should be preparation for some of that time, in conjunction with learning, for one's Parnassa. Although I believe all Bachurim need to learn post high school for at least a year or two without any of the distractions of college etc.) I believe that the Roshei Yeshiva who in many cases are surrogate fathers to these Bachurim should be more proactive in guiding those who do not "have what it takes in learning" into other areas.

Any Rosh HaYeshiva worth his salt knows which of his students are destined for greatness (and should be encouraged to stay in learning full time) and which of his students are not destined for greatness in learning. They should be guided into Parnassa.

The benefit of such an approach is immeasurable. In addition to contributing to Klal Yisroel in a better way ( each individual custom tailoring his contribution), the money needed to support the vast amounts of people presently in Kollel will be freed up and better distributed to those Avreichim who DO have what it takes.

They currently learn with great material sacrifice to themselves and their families. Why shouldn't they be able to learn full time L’Shma and not have to struggle for their own material well being and that of their families? Wouldn't their learning improve if they didn't have to worry about how they were going to get their next rent check?

A former Avreich confided in me that the peer pressure to stay in Kollel is enormous, and that while one is in Kollel the impression is made on the Yungeleit that leaving learning is a terrible thing. He was able to leave and found out that it wasn't that terrible, and in fact he is pretty well accepted by all of his Kollel friends.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wow!

That's all I can say about this Kiddush HaShem. Wow! Saw it on Hirhurim. Watch it and feel proud of our people.