Friday, June 26, 2009

Parshat Chukat - פרשת חוקת

"אז ישיר ישראל את השירה הזאת עלי באר ענו לה"
(פסוק יז: פרק כא)

I haven't had too much spare time this week, but I do have a quick parsha thought I'd like to share with you. In the quote above, we read of how Am Yisrael sing of the "Be'er Miriam," the well from which water miraculously flowed that accompanied them during their travails in the desert. While this seems reasonable enough, a question is begs to be asked; Why is it only now that Am Yisrael recognise the blessing of this well? After all, they had been in the desert for many years - shouldn't they have made their gratefulness known earlier?

To understand this difficulty, we have to look at the situation it's proper context. The generation who were suddenly (quite literally) singing the well's praises had never fully appreciated what a blessing the Be'er was. This generation had been born in the desert and to them, a rock that rolled around of it's own volition and produced drinking water (in huge quantities) was of no great consequence. To them, it was no more miraculous than a rainfall or a sunrise.

When Hashem punished Am Yisrael for speaking against him a few verses earlier in the Parsha, the B'nei Yisrael finally understood what a miracle this well was. Until this time, they had never appreciated Hashem's beneficence and it was only when that which they had always had was taken away that they grasped it's goodness and their dependence on Hashem.

Part of their punishment was that "הנחשים השרפים," "the poisonous snakes" that lived in the desert, were sent after B'nei Yisrael, and consequently bit and killed many Jews. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out the letter ה - which means "The." This word indicates that these snakes were already in the desert and that they had always been there, even though Am Yisrael had not encountered them in their desert travels thus far. Rav Hirsch teaches that we should understand that these snakes were kept away from the B'nei Yisrael in an act of kindness by Hashem. However, because they had shown themselves to be unappreciative of the kindness of the Be'er, Hashem punished them with the snakes so that they would appreciate all that Hashem had done to prevent them from experiencing hardship.

There is a vital lesson that we must learn from this incident. We cannot only be thankful for that which we are blessed with, rather we must appreciate all that we are not burdened with. Here we learn that the snakes had always been in the desert and only by Hashem's grace were the B'nei Yisrael spared being bitten by them. The B'nei Yisrael grew accustomed to the miracles that Hashem had done for them. The moment Hashem stopped sustaining these miracles, it became abundantly clear just how much we are dependent on his love and good will for us.

I'd like to credit Ezra Javasky for telling me this D'var Torah. Ezra points out that we should thank Hashem for planting his Torah in our minds.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom from the Old City of Jerusalem :)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

So this is it!

In under three hours, I will be in the air aboard an El-Al plane. Finally. I've been waiting for this moment for a very long time, and my Aliyah is shaping up to be one of the defining moments in my life.

In Parshat Kedoshim, we are commanded "You shall be holy." But what does holy mean? One way of understanding this is to recognise that there are different types of holiness - there's holiness in time, which is why we celebrate Shabbat at a fixed period, once a week. There's also holiness in speech and action; much of Judaism is linked to acts and/or pronouncing words in a certain way in order to make them and ourselves holy.

I am making a conscious decision that I should be living my life in Eretz Yisrael, the historic homeland of the Jews, what is now Israel, the modern Jewish state. I have learned of how various Rabbis over the ages, aware of the significance of living in the land of our forefathers, worked hard so that they could live in the land of Israel. While many expressed an earnest desire to move to this part of the world, a good number were never able to fulfill their dream. In the day of cheap and fast telecommunications and air travel, it's a travesty that so many religious orthodox do not move to Israel.*

And then there's the Kedushat Hamakom, the holiness of a specific place. Much like at a Jewish wedding ceremony, there's a wedding canopy, and within that canopy the bride circles the groom (seven times), a parallel can be drawn with Eretz Yisrael and the inner circle of Jerusalem (which intriguingly rests upon seven hills). Living in the land of Israel is an integral part of the Jewish faith, and though we can observe Jewish law outside of Israel, as the the famous commentator the Rambam stated, it is only considered an education, an act of preparation for performing the Mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael, as was intended. in the concept of Kedusha, holiness. When one is in Israel, he can fully observe Jewish law by acting in the right manner, at the right time, in the right place.

So that's the religious reason why I'm moving. Not that I need to reasons, (the above is good enough,) I have another: Jews cannot remain outside of Israel much longer. I say this as a statement of fact; in every single country in Europe where Jews have lived, there has either an expulsion or, at the very least, blood libels and massacres of the local Jewish population. Much as American Jewry likes to portray Britain and France as cauldrons of hate and deep-seated anti-semitism, they're not. Unfortunately though, it would seem that these countries are becoming ever more liberal, and their values are becoming eroded as extremists from all sectors of society gang up on the Jews. More and more, we see the so-called liberal elements of society team up with the Islamic fundamentalists in their hatred for Israel, and by extension, Judaism.

Jews over the last few hundred years, have worked tremendously hard for their place in Britain, and have been richly rewarded with genuine acceptance by many parts of society. Unfortunately, all this hard work can be easily undone, and I don't see how Jewish leaders can sustain this status of recognition for much longer. As long as the Jewish people live in the land of other nations, we will never be more than guests. At times we will be like the rich aunt who, despite all her various inadequacies, is tolerated by her nephew as he knows that he will be rewarded with a £20 note with each visit, and sometimes we are the guest who has overstayed our welcome and in such cases, it's only be a matter of time till hints are dropped and maybe even a firm mention of our departure is proposed by our host country. In only one country can Jews be safe in the knowledge that they can be free to practice Judaism without prejudice or mistreatment. In only country is it possible for a Jew to live free from the prospect of harassment by virtue of his identity. I don't agree with Rabbi Meir Kahane's politics, but as he succinctly said, "And it is because we became so upset over upsetting you, dear world, that we decided to leave you - in a manner of speaking - and establish a Jewish state."

So this is it. Destination: Israel!

* This is not a criticism. Each person has their own reasons, and I am in no place to judge.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Parshat Shelach Lecha - פרשת שלח לך

This week's Parsha details the episode of the Meraglim - the spies who were sent on a reconnaissance mission into Canaan, the future land of Israel. There are two things I'd like to point out about this incident. One derives from a D'var Torah I read online by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky, and one I heard from a friend who I believe would prefer to stay anonymous.

R' Yosef Kalatsky's D'var Torah refers to the Haftara which is taken from Sefer Yehoshua in Nevi'im. There a similar episode is related whereby Yehoshua sends out Meraglim, spies, of his own. In this case, he sends out Caleb and Pinchas to scout out Jericho. The text there says that they were sent out as, "מרגלים חרש." The commentators point out that word חרש can be interpreted as silent or alternatively may be understood to mean earthenware. We learn that the latter word hints at the cover that Pinchas and Calev took while they were scouting the land - they posed as earthenware salesmen. The question is, why is that significant?

The choice of earthenware as the trade which the spies used for cover is noteworthy because earthenware is typically used for pots, jugs and the like - it is used to hold things. Once an earthenware jug or ot is broken, the fragments that are made are completely useless - there is no intrinsic value in earthenware. Unlike metal which can be melted down and reused, earthenware is only valuable as long as it has a purpose - it's value is entirely dependent on it's purpose.

Now we can understand why Pinchas and Calev were descibed as earthenware salesmen because they were charged with a task, and they made themselves fit the roles described to them. The spies who were sent by Moshe to scout out the land of Canaan, but they had their own designs and ultimately did not fulfill the purpose of their mission.

The second thing I'd like to mention about the incident of the meraglim is brought to you by a good friend of mine. He and I were once talking as we meandering through the streets of the Old City. He posed me the following question: Why did the Meraglim report back with bad things to say about Eretz Yisrael? After all they had been through, why should they have worried about entering the land of Israel? Moreover, this was the generation that had just received the Torah at Har Sinai - surely they couldn't have tripped up so easily?

The question really caught me. All too often I have only learned about incidents that happened in the Torah from a child's perspective - often the person or people we read about acted improperly, but we all too easily dismiss the misguided actions of our forbears as foolish or thoughtless when the reality is very different.

My friend answered for me. In this case, the spies sent by Moshe were, as read in the Torah, all great leaders. These people, as I pointed out above, had all been present at the greatest moment in the world's history - the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Clearly they understood the gravity of the situation they were in, it would be foolish of us to doubt their understanding of the task they had been charged with. It was not because of some plot that these men failed in their mission - their mistake was an honest and well-intended one.

Up until now, Am Yisrael had camped in the desert with Hashem's schinah surrounding them on all sides. They travelled with the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, accompanying them wherever they went, shielding them from the elements, ensuring that the conditons would be optimally comfortable. In this time, Am Yisrael would learn Torah from Moshe and they experienced very direct connection with Hashem. Their food was provided for in the form of the heaven-sent Man, their clothes miraculously grew with them, and within the clouds, even if it were scorchingly hot outside, the conditions remained permanently pleasantly Spring-like. As all the physical needs of Am Yisrael were taken care of, all that remained to be done was to learn Torah.

The Meraglim, seeing that settling the land of Israel would require hard labour and many hours of toiling, working the land, decided that it would be better to stay in the desert with Hashem looking after them so that B'nei Yisrael would be able to continue learning Torah without interruption. In this context, we can say that surely there's not a more noble mistake in the entire Torah!

Unfortunately for the Meraglim, their decison was indeed in error. They had missed the point; this world is all about work and engaging oneself with one's surroundings. There can be withdrawal to a desert island in order to meditate and ponder the meaning of life - life is to be lived, to be experienced. The Meraglim didn;t understand that tilling the land doesn't actually take away from learning Torah - doing such mundane tasks in Eretz Yisrael take on a higher physical dimension.

My friend finished by stating how he thinks that we would do well to learn the lesson being taught here - it is vitally important to live in Israel, even if it tougher, for in Eretz Yisrael, normal and everyday acts sanctified with holiness.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

I'd like to point out that I thought I'd take the opportunity to write rather Zionistic d'var torah as the next 7 days will be very special for me. This is my last week in London and I will finally officially make Aliyah on Thursday. Wish me luck :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bibi responds to Obama

A few hours ago, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at Bar Ilan University in his first major public appearance since Barack Obama's "message of peace" at Cairo University last week. Netanyahu's reaction was hotly anticipated, and he certainly did not let the press down, stating for the first time in Israel's history, support for the creation of a Palestinian state. The one caveat to this support is that it must be a demilitarised state - a suggestion that many will find unacceptable.

Overall, the reaction from Israelis has been one of appreciation and approval. My facebook page was swamped with messages posted such as "Have we found a leader?" and "Bibi gave a good, eloquent and uplifting speech." Such sentiments seem typical of the general Israeli reception of the speech. Whereas the biggest story in the foreign press was the historic call for the Palestinians to finally have a state of their own, Israelis seemed generally unperturbed by such a statement; even if hasn't actually happened yet, most Israelis have accepted the need for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Because Israel has never seen true peace, its Prime Ministers have tended to be men who previously served as high ranking officers in the IDF. Moreover, as the prospects of a Palestinian state being formed next to Israel become more and more realistic, Israelis increasingly feel that any leader who gives land to the Palestinians must not be construed as "weak." As such, Benjamin Netanyahu stands in a different category entirely to the competition - he is trusted by a large swathe of the public in a way that no other politician in Israel is. There is no doubt that he cares desperately. Although Netanyahu does not make a habit of mentioning his late brother, Yoni, (a hero who was the sole casualty of an extraordinary IDF rescue mission in 1976) today he did. Speaking as one who understands the pain and emotion his country has undergone, Netanyahu said clearly "I do not want war. No one in Israel wants war" to great applause. Whereas often Israelis feel that displaying our exhaustion is a interpreted by our enemies as a sign of weakness, Netanyahu sounded absolutely honest and crucially avoided coming across as sounding weak or resigned to American coercion.

While Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement was the first time an official had gone on record to lend support to a future Palestinian state, it is not really a shock. Last week, I read newspaper headlines saying that Netanyahu "may give in to Obama's demands," or "cave to American pressure," but here the reality couldn't be further from the truth; in 1997 Yassir Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu, during his first stint as the Israeli PM, agreed to hand over control of Hebron to the PA. This was well before Obama came to power. The withdrawal from this city was made against huge internal pressure, and serves to prove that Netanyahu, a man who is perceived as being right-wing and hawkish, actually wants a Palestinian state to be built alongside Israel.

For a Prime Minister's first major policy speech, it is undeniable that Mr. Netanyahu spoke extremely well and made a very solid case for Israel, but I still have reservations as to whether he has done enough. Many people in the western world are misinformed (or worse) and believe that the settlements are a major stumbling block to peace in the region, whereas many Israelis know that this simply isn't the case. Despite this, Netanyahu conceded that settlement building needs to stop - a statement that should go some way to appeasing Obama's insistence on a freeze on all settlement activity. Truth be told, Netanyahu only presented a minor bargaining chip there - even though no he agreed that no more settlements can be built, and that Israel is obligated to dismantle a number of settlements, he refused to make the natural growth of existing settlements illegal. I think that the majority of Israelis agree with this position, and that even those who don't (on either extreme of the political spectrum) will be able to deal with this solution.

And yet, I was disappointed with the speech. It's not that Netanyahu said anything wrong - far from it - without understatement I can say that I agreed with every word. Importantly, Netanyahu set Barack Obama straight on the issue the historical rights of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria. (Something which is not connected to the Holocaust.)

There's an element of Israelis and Jews who are convinced that Obama is anti-Zionistic and anti-Semitic. They refer to his middle name, Hussein, and his religious background, and say that he either is a Muslim, or at the very least sympathises with Muslims. I don't buy into this theory at all. I prefer to believe that Obama is an highly ideological man, a true liberal who wants to see both Palestine and Israel flourish. Unfortunately, no matter how much Barack Obama wants to bring peace to the Middle East, he will only be allowed to fulfill his dream if the Palestinians want to share in his vision. For as long as the Palestinian people are engaged in terrorism, they compromise their ability to be true partners in a real peace process, and forcing Israel to accept a two-state solution at such a time is recklessly naive. Netanyahu has invited the Palestinians to talk peace, but we all know that talking peace is cheap - doing peace is so much more expensive. At the present time, we have no signs that the Palestinians are ready for peace, neither spoken or in action, and as such it would be foolish to create a Palestinian state at this moment in time.

It is not by chance that Netanyahu spoke at the Begin-Sadat Center, which was named after the Israeli and Egyptian leaders who signed the historic 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace treaty. The centre was named after two leaders who put an end to a longstanding bloody conflict with the declaration of "no more wars," a statement that resonates deeply within the Israeli psyche. This centre is part of Bar Ilan University, a campus universally recognised as the most conservative in Israel. Yet, no one objects to the naming of a peace research institute after an Arab man. Such a thing would be unthinkable in an Arab state, but in Israel this is a cause for pride. Twice in his speech, Netanyahu mentioned Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin and expressed admiration for their work and Israel's hope that we can follow in their footsteps. Regrettably though, neither Mahmoud Abbas (leader of the PA) and Ismail Haniyeh, (one of Hamas' chief leaders) are good candidates for making peace with Israel. Both are committed to stifling a Jewish state from thriving - Haniyeh by taking the extremist and belicose stance, and Abbas by playing the role of the reasonable moderate who argues that a Jewish state is racist.

I am disappointed that while Netanyahu expressed support for a Palestinian state and offered to meet Arab leaders "in any place and at any time, in Damascus, Riyadh and Beirut, and of course Jerusalem," he didn't at least mention his disappointment with the Arab world for their continued denial of the existence of the Jewish state and their stubborn refusal to even set foot in Israeli territory. I am disappointed that while Netanyahu endorsed the creation of a future Palestinian state that will neighbour Israel, he didn't stress his dismay that Palestinian terrorism has killed hundreds, maimed thousands and bereaved families will be affected for the rest of their lives. Netanyahu invited the Palestinians to the table without any "pre-conditions," but shouldn't a pre-condition be that Hamas stops firing rockets at the civilians of Sderot and that Fatah accept the concept of Jewish sovereignty in Israel just as the overwhelming majority of Israelis accept that Palestinians deserve autonomy?

For all the sweet talk for Obama's benefit, Netanyahu's speech was met by disgust in the Arab world. To quote Melanie Phillips: "How can there be a ‘two state solution’ when the Palestinians refuse to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state? Quite obviously, such a solution is off the table as far as the Palestinians are concerned."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Parshat Beha'alotcha - פרשת בהעלותך

וידבר ה' אל משה לאמר, דבר אל אהרון ואמרת אליו בהעלתך את הנרות אל מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות - And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, "Speak to Aharon and say to him, "When you kindle the lights, toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light." (Bamidbar 8:1-2)

Rashi explains that the six outer lights of the menorah (three to the left and three to the right of the central branch,) were directed towards the central one. He refers to the Medrash Tanchuma, where it is argued that since Hashem's presence caused the Bet Hamikdash to be lit up, the reason for this was so that the lights of the menorah would not be directed outward as if to illuminate the surrounding Bet Hamikdash. The menorah's purpose clearly was not for lighting; it served to highlight Hashem as the source of all light.

The word "בהעלתך," which literally means "when you cause to go up," is intriguing, too. HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Rabbi of Palestine, believed that we may learn much from the nature of a flame - it always rises straight up towards the heavens, striving to rise to God, no matter whether it is placed high or low. With this in mind, that the flame is turned elsewhere here is a remarkable deviation of spiritual and natural law. Why should this be?

In order to fathom this phenomenon we have to understand where the lights were being diverted towards. It is clear that the text sets out an imperative; that the lights of the menorah were to be lit toward it's face, as it says "אל מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות - toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light." The question is why should the flames all lean toward the "face," what was so significant about the face of the menorah?

I have two possible answers, one by the Sforno and one I read in the sefer קול דודי על התורה. The Sforno tenders an interesting an answer to this question, suggesting that the right side of the menorah is symbolic of those who engage in spiritual activity, whereas the left side represents involvement in temporal activity.

Alternatively, Rabbi David Feinstein, on whose lectures the sefer קול דודי על התורה is based, explains that the Menorah represents חכמה, and that the Menorah's seven lamps symbolise the seven branches of wisdom. It is possible to be wise in many ways - one can be an outstanding mathematician, an artist of breathtaking calibre or a brilliant scientist. The single most important thing though, is that the source of such wisdom is recognised and that our wisdom is used in the right way.

It is instructive to note that just as the lights of the menorah's six outer branches leaned toward the central branch, so too this central branch's light was directed towards the Kodesh HaKedashim, the resting place of God's presence in this world.

Whereas the Sforno and Rav Feinstein differ in their interpretations of what it is exactly that the menorah represents, they both agree on the lesson that may learn - the Torah teaches us here that we may understand from the Menorah how important it is to utilise and direct all our energies, be they intellectual, spiritual or physical, in our pursuit of becoming close to God.

Interestingly, we learn that God showed Moshe the method for producing the menorah several times, but Moshe simply could not get his head round the intricacies of the menorah's complex design. After repeatedly learning and forgetting it's design, Hashem told Moshe to go to a man called Betzalel. Incredibly, Betzalel understood how to make the menorah at the first time of asking. I believe that it's no coincidence that this episode happened to relate to the Menorah - I think that the common message is that we all have our different talents, and we have to work together to serve Hashem as one.

Wishing you a שבת שלום!

Josh has finished!

Just a quick post to congratulate my brother for completing his service in the IDF yesterday!

It's great to have him home safe and sound.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

One Country: Two Different Peoples

As I have mentioned from time to time, I spend a lot of my time trawling the internet, reading various columns and blogs. Recently I have discovered a lovely pro-Israel blog by a non-Jewish Englishman. The blog's name is Oy Va Goy, a clever play on the Yiddish phrase, "Oy va Voy" and a nod at the author's non-Jewish background. (At least, that's how I've understood it.) I highly suggest you bookmark this page; it's often one of the first to respond to Israel-related news and I find the writing thoughtful and provocative.

Recently, I read an article on this blog about the writer's take on gay pride parades in Israel . I don't want to write too much about the article itself, but I will say that I was impressed by the sensitivity and basic sensibility on view; something I feel that too many people sorely lack. The article's conclusion is that the gay community should "go and be proud" away from highly orthodox people - it's antagonistic and unnecessary.

The conclusion that a gay pride parade should not be held in Jerusalem is something I agree with - Jerusalem is Judaism's capital city and people flaunting themselves as actively doing something that is proscribed according Jewish law is intolerant and unnecessary. I have two problems though. Firstly, these (reasonable and logical)observations come from someone who is not Israeli and secondly, Israel's ultra-religious and ultra-secular contingents are highly ignorant and intolerant of one another. Sensible as they are, I fear that the writer's words will most likely not bring a solution or effect any change.

As I see it, Israel is a country struggling with a massive identity problem. Is it a modern country that embodies the principles of liberality, freedom and democracy or is Israel a state borne of Jewish values? The issue of gay pride is just one of many burning issues in Israeli society, but I think that it serves as a perfect example of the many positives and the many negatives in Israel today.

As an orthodox Jew, I have learned what the bible has to say about homosexuality, but I also know that it doesn't require believers to beat up homosexuals. Neither does the bible ban people from having homosexual feelings; that would be utterly impossible. The Torah does explicitly ban one aspect of gay relationships, but it doesn't require gay people to suppress their personality or emotions either.

I once heard someone tell me that there is a village somewhere in Israel where gay Haredi people live. I doubt that such a thing is true, but the concept sounded interesting to me. Throughout my schooling, I learned nothing about homosexuality from a Jewish perspective other that it was banned by the Torah. The concept that people could live simultaneously with Jewish and gay identities was something that I hadn't heard of before. Thinking about it more though, I see no reason for the two to clash - sexual orientation doesn't actually get in the way of being a practicing religious orthodox Jew.

Regrettably, many Haredim don't have such an enlightened attitude towards other lifestyles. I remember hearing a few years ago how the Haredi community of Me'ah She'arim reacted a to a similar gay parade being held in Jerusalem by rioting furiously in protest. People burned rubbish in the streets and tore down the traffic lights in their own neighbourhood to protest the offending parade - a ridiculous reaction in my opinion.

What concerns me most is that if this is the way Haredi people react to a gay pride parade, how does this bode for closet gays in their own community? What of the people who struggle with this dual identity and feel that they can never disclose their feelings for fear of ridicule and rejection? If there is one thing that I have learned about orthodox Judaism, it is that nobody is better or worse than anybody else. Despite this being a basic value, I find that it is often overlooked; too often religious Jews mock each other by using words like "Homo" and "Goy." It isn't acceptable to use homosexuality as a slur, even if is something that defies your own religious beliefs.

A few years ago while I was studying in Yeshiva in Jerusalem, my Rabbi held a group discussion at the end of one class. He wanted us students to think seriously about the controversy of the gay parade and how we should act. The Rabbi asked us whether we thought we should go out and demonstrate with the Haredim against the parade, but the class agreed that this would not be constructive or helpful. I remember clearly that we didn't take any action and let the event pass without getting ourselves involved, but I can't recall what the exact conclusion of the discussion was. One thing that I won't forget is that my Rabbi made a point that I find pertinent - what people do in the privacy of the bedroom is their own business and has nothing to do with us, but when people flaunt their activity in a provocative and tasteless manner then we have the right to be upset and protest.

I feel that a sensible attitude like this would go a long way in a country like Israel where everybody feels like he has a point to prove. Those who are liberally inclined are determined to fight for the justice of every cause, seeking equality for Arabs, for women for non-orthodox Jews and for homosexuals. Unfortunately, the more liberal in Israel sometimes push too hard and only succeed in infuriating and alienating others and here we have a case in point - there's simply no need to demonstrate one's sexual orientation in such an outrageous manner. I don't quite understand the mentality of people who feel the need to do such a thing, after all if heterosexual people don't need to go about parading and promoting themselves, why should the gay community? If the parade is to raise awareness and help bring about a greater level of acceptance then surely promoting gay culture in a more sober and tasteful fashion would be lead to increased acknowledgment by the religious establishment?

Which brings us to the Haredi community, who feel that their values, hundreds of years old, are being marginalised and subjected to mockery. The Haredi element of Israeli society is perceived as becoming increasingly extremist in reaction to safeguard themselves from the rest of Israeli society. Rioting against the gay pride parade is merely one example; now it is not unheard of to hear of women being verbally and/or physically assaulted for unwittingly taking a seat in the male section of a (de-facto) gender segregated bus. Similarly, women have been beaten up and had rocks thrown at them because their dress sense is deemed immodest by Hardei vigilantes. As an orthodox Jew, I understand precisely why the Hared community feels so strongly about violations of Jewish law (and in Jerusalem, too), but I cannot condone such actions.

Whereas the article's verdict is that a gay pride parade would be better held away from the Haredi community, I begin to wonder whether a gay parade should be held in Jerusalem so that those living a Haredi lifestyle will be exposed to homosexual culture. The different sectors of Israel society need to live together more cohesively, and a basic level of respect must be bred.

Ultimately, I agree with article's conclusion and reject the idea that a gay pride parade should be held in Jerusalem, even if the point being made is absolutely valid, it's about as necessary and sensible as a Jewish pride parade through downtown Tehran.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Parshat Naso - פרשת נשא

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי־תִשְׂטֶה אִשְׁתֹּו וּמָעֲלָה בֹו מָעַל׃ וְשָׁכַב אִישׁ אֹתָהּ שִׁכְבַת־זֶרַע וְנֶעְלַם מֵעֵינֵי אִישָׁהּ וְנִסְתְּרָה וְהִיא נִטְמָאָה וְעֵד אֵין בָּהּ וְהִוא לֹא נִתְפָּשָׂה׃ וְעָבַר עָלָיו רוּחַ־קִנְאָה וְקִנֵּא אֶת־אִשְׁתֹּו וְהִוא נִטְמָאָה אֹו־עָבַר עָלָיו רוּחַ־קִנְאָה וְקִנֵּא אֶת־אִשְׁתֹּו וְהִיא לֹא נִטְמָאָה׃ והביא האיש את־אשתו אל־הכהן והביא את־קרבנה עליה עשירת האיפה קמח שערים לא־יצק עליו שמן ולא־יתן עליו לבנה כי־מנחת קנאת הוא מנחת זכרון מזכרת עון׃

Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Any man whose wife shall go astray and commit treachery against him: and a man could have lain with her carnally but it was hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she became secluded and could have been defiled - but there was no witness against her - and she had not been forced: And a spirit of jealousy had passed over him and he had warned his wife and he had not become defiled: The man shall bring his wife to the Kohen and he shall bring her offering for her; a tenth-ephah of barley flour; he shall not pour oil over it and shall not put frankincense upon it, for it is a meal-offering of jealousies a meal-offering of remembrance, a reminder of iniquity.
(Bamidbar 5:12-15)

The text above details the case of a "Sotah," the wife who is suspected of having cuckolded her husband. Here the text writes specifically that the husband takes an active part in this mitzvah, as it says, "והביא האיש את־אשתו אל־הכהן - The man shall bring his wife to the Kohen." In Torah law, there is a concept of a Shaliach, a messenger who may perform a mitzvah on someone's behalf. Although we are encouraged to not use an emissary to do mitzvot that we could otherwise do ourselves, the practice remains permissible. Unusually here in the case of Sotah, the use of a Shaliach is banned.

In עזנים לתורה, Rav Zalman Sorotzkin's understanding of this text is explained. The Rav points out that the specification that the woman's husband must bring her to the Bet Hamikdash seems odd. In practice this is not the standard procedure, as the husband is forbidden from bringing his wife to the Kohanim alone and two Talmidei Chachamim are assigned to bring them to the Bet Hamikdash together. If that is the case, then why does the verse state that the husband shall bring her - what is being taught here?

The answer given is that the husband is forced to take an active role in proceedings so that he will truly understand what he is putting his wife through. For example, it might be fair enough for one to say that he has not got a good knowledge of Torah and as such will appoint an emissary to fulfill the father's mitzvah of teaching torah to his son, but there is no excuse as to why a man should not be able to follow up his accusation over his wife's promiscuity. More than that, it is hoped that by forcing the husband to subject his wife to the Sotah procedure, he will share in his wife's humiliation at the hands of the court and abort, even if there is good reason to suspect her of infidelity.

There is also another positive result of the husband's attendance of the procedure. In the event that the wife is proven innocent, he will be able to see her innocence being proved with his own eyes and he will understand the unnecessary suffering caused, as well as the relief and joy she will experience. It is one thing to use a messenger for a mitzvah that one must do for himself, but it really is a totally different thing to expect to charge a woman with infidelity and not even turn up for the hearing. By ensuring the husband has an active role in proceedings, the torah reduces the number of times people were put to death and the number of times that Hashem's name was erased needlessly.

Wishing you a שבת שלום!