Showing posts from 2014

"I Asked My Rabbi" - Trump Card or Joker?

In a recent case of alleged sexual abuse of students by a senior member of staff in a school, other staff who appear to have known about these abusive practices, but failed to protect the students - have reportedly defended their behavior by claiming they "asked a rabbi".

The Rabbi allegedly told the staff to ignore the students' complaints, and take no protective actions.

In the orthodox system, asking "daas torah", a rabbinical authority, is a central tenet of the structure of religious and communal existence. Orthodox Jews are taught, from the cradle to the grave, that personal and ritual questions and dilemmas are to be referred to a qualified orthodox rabbi. The Mishna in Pirke Avot, "Oseh Lecha Rav" - is generally understood as an obligation on every individual to chose a rabbi, and then follow his teaching and instruction.

The extent of this rabbinical control over their followers & communities depends upon social sub-groupings and lifesty…

Cliffhangers in the Parsha

Last shabbat (Miketz) in shul, as the sefer torah was being carried from the Ark to the bimah, I whispered to my 21 year old son Yonatan - "He's done for! Yosef's been rotting in prison for years - and now the butler has forgotten all about him. He doesn't stand a chance. The eleven brothers will be the 11 tribes of Israel."

Yonatan gave me a quizzical look.

One could make a similar remark this week, at the turn of the parshiot (Miketz/Vayigash).

"Yehuda's has entered a guilty plea to Binyamin stealing the Prime Minister's cup. He's offered that all the brother's will be slaves to the PM - and been rejected. Yehuda is told to forget it, and that Binyamin stays while the brothers go home. Game over. They'll all go back to Canaan. They'll explain to Yaakov how they tried to save Binyamin, and failed. Yakov will die from grief. The Sons of Leah will take over Israel..."

Whoever split up the five books of Moses into weekly parshiot …

INTERPOL & Israel Police 'Crimes Against Children' Chief Speaking in Beit Shemesh

Superintendent Uri Sadeh, Head of Crimes against Children Investigations at the Cyber Crime Division, Israel National Police and formerly Coordinator of INTERPOL’s Crimes Against Children Unit in Lyon, France will speak on Motsei Shabbat 27th December in Beit Shemesh about “The Globalization of Pedophilia”.

SP Sadeh will present dramatic examples of how INTERPOL has successfully tracked down international child predators. The Magen fundraiser event is hosted in the home of Orit & Jan Wimpfheimer in Beit Shemesh, and will also feature David Morris, CEO of Magen, who will present for the first time in public Magen's “Project Four” Abuse Perpetrator Investigations & Liaison Unit.
Soups & dessert will be served, generously sponsored by BeSimcha Catering. 
Due to space limitations, preregistration is required. Donations for Magen will be solicited at the event. The organizers note that this event is not suitable for children.

When Should My Pet Dog Be Put-Down/Killed?

Over fifteen years ago, my kids found an abandoned litter of eight delightful puppies near some dustbins.

We took them in, and gradually found homes for seven of them, leaving us with a white, friendly and feisty puppy, we called Sheleg ("snow" in Hebrew). The vet reckoned he's a mix of Labrador and an Israeli breed, Canaani (Canaanite Shepherd).

Sheleg has been the family dog ever since, and has been our companion at home, on hikes and even on an occasional vacation. Sheleg is part of our family. In addition, Sheleg is very much MY dog - I'm responsible for him, take him out for walks every day, spend time with him, etc...

Sheleg is now about 15.5 years old, which by popular accounting (x7) equals 108.5 human-years!

His health has been dicey for the past two or three years, and on a few occasions we've taken him to the vet, all teared up, not expecting him to make a return journey. And we have been happily surprised each time, as Sheleg has fully recovered.

At …
Rabbi Ephraim Kestenbaum, 87, my father-in-law, lights 1st Night candle at Aish Kodesh, Ramat Beit Shemesh, together with the Piaseczna Rebbe, Rabbi Kalman Menachem Shapira. 
Chanuka Sameach!!

David Morris' Speech at Lema'an Achai Dinner

Last week, I was honoured at the Lema'an Achai Annual Dinner, to celebrate 15 years since the foundation of Lema'an Achai.

My speech was pre-recorded, which saved me some butterflies on the night!

There was also a tremendous new movie about Lema'an Achai itself, marking 15 years of service to the community:

If you would like to add your support to Lema'an Achai, you are warmly invited to donate online, by check (details here) or by phone 24/6: 02-99999.33

Favoritism - Vayeshev

"Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than all his children,,,and when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him..." (Gen 37; 3-4).

Whether the core problem here was favoritism by Jacob, or jealousy by Joseph's brothers, or arrogance of Joseph in flaunting his favoured status - or all three - the results were exile, catastrophe and centuries of bitter slavery in Egypt.

Many biblical commentators take Jacob to task for practicing favouritism. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, for example, writes, regarding Jacob's gift of the multicoloured coat to Joseph:

"That all this was not judicious or wise...that favouritism shown to one child had and has only harmful effects in the history of our forefathers and in the history of any home - these are made abundantly clear by the bitter consequences that ensue in this story. They are weaknesses that can easily recur in anyone's life, but are nonetheless weaknesses." (The Hir…

Herzog + Livni = Jokes


Shoshana's Story: Smart Chesed Success

The story of "Shoshana" is a touching presentation of how Lema'an Achai applies its holistic "smart chesed" solutions-oriented approach to helping families in crisis.  Sarit Brown does a great job in the role of Shoshana's daughter.

New Developments in Meisels Scandal

After a lull of three months in the public sphere, regarding the Elimelech Meisels seminaries scandal, three important publications have taken place, in rapid succession.

1st December, 2014 - Haaretz published an article by Alona Ferber, which uses the reported settlement of a civil suit to provide considerable background on the Meisels seminaries scandal.  The civil suit by parents of girls who had registered at the seminaries, and whose tuition fees had been held by the schools, was apparently settled with payments by the seminaries to the parents.

The article also publishes information about a process of continuing investigation by the two Batei Din involved, the Chicago Beit Din (CBD) and an Israeli Beit Din (IBD).

"According to sources close to developments, last month students gave testimony regarding the allegations of assault against Meisels in a teleconference between rabbis from the rabbinical courts in Israel and the U.S. that have been involved in the case, and represe…

Why Israel As A Jewish State?

Aside from the plentiful rain and storms, the next biggest topic in the news is the proposed bill to define Israel as primarily a Jewish State.

Some opponents to this law have said that it adds nothing to the Declaration of Independence, which clearly defines Israel as both Jewish and democratic. And if it does change anything, it would brush up with racism, and provide grounds for inequality of non-Jewish citizens under the law.

I view Netanyahu as calculatedly wrong-footing everyone on this law.

Yes, it will mean, for example, that KKL can allocate land to Jews, as positive discrimination, and other similar applications.

However, that's not enough practical importance to justify the public furor and direct risk to Netanyahu's coalition.

Here's my take on what Netanyahu may be working on.

Netanyahu has raised the topic of Israel as a Jewish State, in a totally different arena.

In May 2011, like a rabbit out of the hat, Netanyahu produced a novel requirement that Arabs re…

Racism and Security

Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni has sparked controversy by announcing new security measures for his municipality.

This is against the background of the barbaric massacre of congregants in the Bnei Torah synogogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem on Tuesday morning by two Israeli Arabs, who worked at a corner store nearby, and a series of terror attacks on Jews perpetrated by lone-wolf Arab terrorists.

In response to the situation, Shomoni has issued instructions that:

1. Armed guards, paid for by the city, are being placed at kindergartens, which are located near building sites. No controversy there.

2. Arabs who are currently employed to build bomb shelters for kindergartens in Ashkelon, which suffered hundreds of rocket and missile attacks in recent months and years, are being stopped from working and sent home.

This second one is kicking up a storm.

Predictably, left wingers and Arabs have immediately condemned the move as racist.

Less predictably, some right wing politicians, including Prime …

A personal response to the Har Nof massacre - Rabbi Yaacov Haber


Forty Year Old Man Marries Three Year Old Girl

Rashi provides a chronology (Gen 25:22), tracking the lives of Avraham and his family, which concludes that Rivka must have been aged three when she married Yitzhak (the events in Parshat Chayei Sarah). Why three? Rashi says this was because Yitzhak waited for Rivka until she was "ready for sexual relations".

Each year I find this comment by Rashi deeply troubling.

Here's some of the defensive positions I have heard:

1. Justification 2000 BCE: In Abraham's time adults marrying three year old infants was normative.

Problem: even if that's historically true (where the evidence??), so apparently was sacrificing children. The akeida, for example, is important ethically because it contests the assumptions of Abraham's times. Since when do we say the Avot were simply adopting the ethics of the pagans of 4000 years ago?

2. Justification 1100 CE: Rashi is bringing a chronological calculation, which concludes that Rivka was three. He then brings a mishna that states t…

Was This Man Killed in Cold Blood?

According to some Arab leaders, 22 year old Khair Hamdan of Kafr Kana was "murdered by police in cold blood".

For example, Mujahed Awawdeh, head of the Kafr Kana local council, "you can see in the video the police exited the vehicle and shot the man point blank in cold blood," he said, describing it as a "racist" act against an Israeli Arab.
The police had apparently been on their way to respond to an incident of a stun grenade being thrown in a family function in the town. 
In the video, the man approaches the police vehicle, apparently holding a large knife, which he smashes on the car window and door. Police exit the vehicle, one shoots the man, and several policemen drag the wounded man into the vehicle. There is currently a general strike in the Arab sector in protest at the killing.
Take a look at the video, and decide for yourself if this was a "cold blooded murder"? Are there ways that the police could/should have responded to the atta…

Parshat Vayera: Do Arabs or Jews 'Own' Temple Mount?

The attempted assassination of Rabbi Yehudah Glick, along with the increasing tensions and violence in Jerusalem, has put Temple Mount firmly in this week's headlines and news commentaries.

The main issues are:

1. Who "owns" Temple Mount?
2. Is it halachikly permissible for Jews to go there?
3. Is it a good idea, practically, for Jews to go up there now?

This week's parsha, Veyera, is relevant to this debate, particularly the first question - Who Owns Temple Mount?

Abraham has fathered Ishmael, through Sarah's maidservant Hagar, in the previous Parsha, and now he is told by messengers/angels that his barren and very old wife Sarah will give birth to a son. (Gen 18:18) "For Abraham is to become a great and might nation, and through it all the nations of the earth will be blessed!"

Sarah indeed gives birth to a son, and names him Yitzhak/Isaac.

Immediately following the weaning of Yitzhak, Sarah sees Ishmail mocking. At that point, Sarah demands that Av…

Changing Conversions in Israel & USA

Conversions to Judaism have become a hot topic over the past days in both the USA and in Israel.

In the USA, the harsh spotlight generated by the arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel has become the catalyst for a major review of the conversion process (called GPS - Geirus Policies and Standards Committee) under the RCA and Beit Din of America.

In Israel, a controversial Conversion Bill has been passed by the Cabinet, effectively turning it into law.

Furthermore, there is a connection between the two processes, as at the end of the day, both the RCA and the Rabbinate in Israel are seeking mutual recognition of their own converts as being fully Jewish.

The recent history of conversion processes in the diaspora and in Israel have been markedly different.

Both communities are faced with huge problems of intermarriage. Abroad, this is complicated by the strength of the Reform and Conservative movements, and the tiny minority status of the Jewish population as a whole amongst welcoming gentiles…

Chaos and Violence - Hapoel and Macabbi Tel Aviv

Violence erupted and was grossly mismanaged, at the Tel Aviv derby, between Hapoel and Macabbi football teams.

A series of violence, incompetence and extremely poor judgement (such as by the referee, who showed the red card to the victim!) resulted in the match being (correctly) abandoned.

Today, the violence continued, with a street brawl breaking out in the road outside the court house,,,

(As if Israel doesn't have enough on our plate).

Ramban Slams Abraham

Parshat Lech Lecha

The Ramban (Gen 12:10-13) describes Abraham as "sinning a grave sin inadvertently" twofold when he left Canaan during a famine to go down to Egypt:

1. By placing Sarah his wife in mortal danger by misrepresenting her as his sister, in order to protect his own life.

2. By leaving the Land of Israel, although God had commanded him to settle there, showing lack of faith that God would help them through the famine.

When Sarah afflicts the pregnant Hagar (Abraham's second wife and Sarah's maidservant), to the extent that Hagar flees from Sarah, and runs away into the desert, the Ramban harshly criticises both Sarah and Abraham: (Gen 16:6) "Our mother (Sarah) transgressed by afflicting her, as did Avraham by allowing her to do so."        

Furthermore, Ramban says that there were horrific and bloody consequences for the Jews due to Abraham and Sarah's sins.

According to the Ramban, Abraham's "grave sin" of leaving Israel dur…

The Vision and Tactics of Rabbi Yehuda Glick

Rabbi Yehuda Glick, the victim of last night's attempted assassination, is a man with a vision.

This vision is very clear - the rebuilding of the Temple in our days.

As this is a central tenant of Judaism, for which we pray for every day, it is surprising that his vision is so controversial, with the Arabs, with gentiles and Jews around the world, and even among orthodox Jews in Israel.

I have had the privilege of meeting Rabbi Glick on several occasions. Most recently, on my son Shimshon Raphael's wedding day, a year ago.

It is a custom among my son's circle to go up to the Temple Mount on their wedding days, both for the groom and for the bride (separately).

Rabbi Yehuda Glick greeted us warmly at the bottom of the ramp, sang Raphael up the ramp, and then gave us an extensive tour of the Temple Mount. His enthusiasm and sparkle were remarkable. (Particularly considering he must have given such a tour thousands of time).

Along the way, I asked him whether we could take s…

Kevin Unger's Brew: Beer and Politics

By Doug Greener (with kind permission)
From Israel Brews & Views
[DM: I am a fan of Kevin Unger, and I love his beers! You can order his prize-winning home brewed beers directly from Kevin on Nachal Dolev, Ramat Beit Shemesh - 052-3826751]
Every commercial craft brewer I've spoken to started out as a home-brewer. At some stage, they got the courage, went through the bureaucracy, and broke out into the world of business.

Your happy beer blogger with Kevin Unger (right)
and his (as yet) unnamed and unlabeled beer.

Kevin Unger of Beit Shemesh is right at this cusp. Every Thursday night, he and his brewing partner Betzalel brew two batches of 18 liters each in his kitchen. About half of the beer is sold to neighbors and fans. The other half Kevin and Betzalel drink with family and friends.

"I started home-brewing so that I could drink for cheaper than the price of commercial beer -- and get better beer at the same time," explains Unger. "Now, I'm drinking g…

Parsha Thoughts - This Week's Co-Star - The Land!

I would suggest there is an overlooked co-star in this most holy and ancient drama of Noah.

We think of the book of Genesis as the development of Man, from Adam, through Noah and to the Forefathers of the Jewish people - particularly these men's developing relationship with God.

Yet, in the Portion of Noah the word Aretz/Land is mentioned a remarkable 57 times and the word Adama/Ground a further 10 times.

As much as the Flood is a story of the sinfulness and destruction of the corrupt generation of Noah, it is also about the contamination and cleansing of the Aretz itself.

The sin of the generation of the Flood is expressed as a sinfulness of man on the Aretz:
Gen 6:5 When God saw that the evil of man was great on the Aretz... 
6:6 Then God was caused to alter His decision, that He had made man on the Aretz...
6:11 And the Aretz was corrupt before God's countenance, and so the Aretz was filled with wrongdoing (חמס).
6:12 And God looked at the Aretz and lo! it was corrupt, bec…

Parsha Thoughts - Who's Listening?!

On Shabbat Bereishit (Genesis) my rabbi, Rav Chaim Soloveichik, recommended that congregants strive to be more meticulous in reading the parsha and targum/translation during the week before, so they will be adequately prepared for the public reading on shabbat.

The first time I generally read through the weekly parsha (weekly Torah reading) is on a shabbat morning, along with the reader as he reads it publicly from the Torah scroll.

I will therefore be attempting to read the parsha before shabbat, and write up my thoughts to share with you on this blog.

This will be on a best-efforts basis (bli neder! no promises!).
To get the ball rolling, I will go back to Parsha Bereshit itself, (with a hat-tip to my friend Eric Rosen).

I will take a fresh look at the most famous and first Rashi on the Torah, on the first verse of Bereshit/Genesis "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth . . .".

Rabbi Yitzhak says: "The Torah should have started from the verse in Exodus…