Monday, September 21, 2015

Bris Milah

Once again the Statue of Liberty is waving to me as I pass Hamilton Bridge. Built over some side water canal, this bridge hasn't been used in all capacity probably more than half a year, and is being fixed continuously for at least the last 19 years. Yeah, that’s how often I pass this bridge: A ramp on the left, a ramp on the right, and pavement in the middle. Additional lanes and other various revamping operations usually keep a number of other lines closed to the general public.    
Well, it’s New York. It costs a lot of money to live in this city and a lot of money to make money. Yeah, if you think there's some hidden message in this last statement, allow me to clarify – I strongly believe something corrupt is going on over here, but well…corruption is going on everywhere.
At least when they stop me again on the FDR drive, the east side highway of Manhattan Island, I can glance at the UN building overhead and hope that this time they are solving some world conflict.  I know the UN doesn’t really fulfill our desire for world peace, but as long as those buffoons, can come knock their shoes on the rostrum and call each other - devils or the axis of evil, and as long as some human lives are saved because they vent their hellish fumes there… it's ok.
Let them talk and let them close traffic on the FDR. It's a small price to pay for the good that comes from there.

I enjoyed the Holidays with my beautiful grandchildren, the smartest and cutest grand- daughters, and with my children we eagerly awaited our newest arrival.  Personally, considering how much Nachas my granddaughters are giving me, I can have a hundred of them, but you know…. we were hoping for a boy.

So Be'ezras Hashem we got one.
He is the first boy born as a Jew in his entire family, and mine.  Ever.
My children converted together with me when they were still small.
Now I have a male descendant with the DNA of our Patriarchs in his veins.
Not that this fact makes me jump with ecstasy, for it was always clear to me that there is nothing more important in life than our own relationship with Hashem. But if this DNA can enhance that, it's good enough for me.
There are certain promises given to Gerim about their descendants, in the words of the Sages. So I hope and pray that those promises, along with the promises given to the Fathers of the Jewish people, will be fulfilled in all of my descendants, and that these two lines of heavenly guarantees will fuse and merge in them.
But before that hope comes to realization, we have to fulfill the will of our Creator as his chosen children - which is the commandment of Bris Mila – circumcision.
Bris Mila happened on the eighth day from the day my grandson was born. This coincided with the first day of Succos, the day we invite Avruhom Uvini himself as a guest in our succos. This fact gives me goose bumps every time I think about it. It is hard to imagine a better ‘hello’ and smile from Heaven than this.

When I think about it, my own Bris comes to memory.
I wrote about it in my book, but since the book is no longer available I will repeat the story and even give some more details.

**********In the early fall of 22 years ago, when I was 27 years old, I took part in the first Jewish circumcision to commence in Poland in some forty five years. It was performed in Warsaw.
There were a few of us attending. Most were from Warsaw, 3 of us were
from Wroclaw. It was arranged by Rabbi Schudrich who, at the time, was working in kiruv in Poland. For almost half a century, Poland officially didn’t have a Mohel to perform circumcision.
When I came to the US, in the synagogue where I attend prayers, I met an older Jew whose father was a Mohel and had been a Mohel in my own native city. He said the problem in Poland was not that there was nobody to perform circumcision - there was nobody who would want to do it to his child.
If you think it stemmed from a lack of conviction, you are wrong. We are talking about a country where, not too far in the past, having this sign on the body meant having the mark of death. Even at that time, 22 years ago, if anyone would find out you are circumcised – at a doctor's office, in the army, etc. - this information could leak anytime and it meant civil death in this rabidly anti-Semitic country.
Above that, it was illegal to perform any procedure without a license from the government, and those laws were very much scrutinized. We were risking arrest and who knows what after that. All of us.
Even the Polish word for circumcision – obrzezanie - has the same root as butchering, bloodbath, etc. Now you can get a small picture of this despised procedure, perpetrated by a despised people with a despised name - and all of it illegal…

Everything was organized in underground fashion. We didn’t know where we would go, who would do it, and what would happen afterward. Adult circumcision is quite a serious procedure, even when you don’t have all of the above listed disadvantages stacked against you.
We came by train to Warsaw on the morning of the day when it was supposes to happen.
In the Synagogue, we got the address of the place where circumcision would be performed. It was in some dental office located in an apartment building in Mirow, which once used to be a Jewish neighborhood like Boro Park or Williamsburg is today.
We walked the very same cobblestones from which, some fifty years earlier, Pinkert’s funeral company walked every morning and collected the dead bodies put there by the inhabitants of Warsaw’s Ghetto. The buildings were redone, but many streets were the same streets, the same stones soaked with blood of the butchered Jews who inhabited this once biggest Jewish city.

The door looked like any other door in the building, but in the small apartment was a legal dentist's workplace. I don’t remember if the owner was there, but most likely not. All the other personnel had taken the day off. The only people who were awaiting us there was our Mohel - Rabbi Yitzchok Fisher from New York (later my neighbor in Monsey), his assistant, and Rabbi Schudrich.
I will skip this rather graphic part of the story, as well as what the next few days felt like. If anybody wants to reconsider his plans for an adult circumcision, please contact me in private. But just as I didn’t blink an eye then, I wouldn’t blink again.

For anybody else the day of my grandson's Bris Mila and the Bris itself could be just another Bris, as tens of them are happening on a daily basis in a few-block radius in the city. Maybe there is some curiosity to it, but still…Maimonides Hospital in the Boro Park neighborhood has the highest birth rate in the country.  
But for me, that day, the day of my circumcision and the day of circumcision for my first Jewish-born descendent are defining moments of my life.
There is no exaggeration if I say that my own circumcision was in fact only leading to this and other, Be'ezras Hashem – with the G-d’s help, Brisen to come.

But let me ask you –What are you thinking after reading the above? The guy is boasting about his own righteousness, is that how it looks?
Didn’t we say just few days ago in Slichos – Lo vchesed vlo vmaasim buni lfuneichu – Neither with our kindness nor with our good deeds are we approaching You. As paupers and beggars we are knocking at Your door.
Lushon Hakoidesh – the holy tongue is an amazing language of communication. The amount of information that can be contained in every sentence, every word, every letter and every dot is just incredible. The word Buni is built from four letters – Bays – Alef – Nun – Voov. Buni: Coming to, approaching.
When we read the same word with a slightly different pronunciation, it becomes BAni: in ourselves, with our very essence. And when we read the very same word as BeOni it means ‘in mourning.’
Who has to be eradicated if it is us given to Him, and whom are we mourning?
If we take the second letter, the letter Alef, away from this word, the word will change meaning. Bni Lfuneichu: My son, my descendent before you.
“Not with my kindness nor with my deeds, but with my child I stand before You Hashem.”

Now… what is the meaning of Alef itself, who is the Alef?
Alef is one, and One is HBH. But it can't be that we eradicating Him from the sequence.
This Alef is the second letter in the word and in fact it is a secondary Alef, which is eliminated – our own illusionary Alef, our ego - Ani.
“Not with ourselves are we coming to You Hashem, but we offer You our children.”
WE are in fact our children – BAni – my true me is Bni - my child, each of them separate.
”Not with our kindness, not with our deeds, not with anything that we may consider our own, but with the very gift from You, our future generations!”

I grew up on the land where Cain killed Heivel.
He recognized him by the sign on his body.
Not for the first time in Jewish history was this mark a death sentence.
I was aware of the consequences that could've happened to me, and what I could bring onto my descendants with Bris Mila. But I was also aware of the thousands of Jewish parents who didn’t blink, knowing all of this way better than me. They knew it from their family experience, but for me it was theoretical.
The awareness of my Creator was within me when I walked the autumn streets of the Polish capital.
Now was the time to show readiness, just as the first believer, Avruhom did. He did and all of his children followed. I wanted myself and my descendants to be part of these people.

This essay was written a year ago when my grandson Shloime Zalman was born.
Hashem should bless him, his parents and siblings with a life of peace and plenty, and all as a means to serve HBH and grow spiritually. May they use all of their potential for the good of Klal Yisroel, and may he in particular be a source of Nachas to his parents.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Little Big Horn Battlefield and Amulek

I had a business appointment in the Crow Indian territory, but there were a few hours to spare before that meeting and nowhere to go for miles in any direction.
There was nowhere to visit other than the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument.
I usually have the inclination to see a variety of interesting places; not only those of exceptional natural beauty, but also those of historical significance. But it's very rare for me to stop at any sites that commemorate military campaigns. Why? You will understand by the time you reach the end of this essay.
Still, with time to kill I stopped at the Little Big Horn visitor center to learn more about the place. In the past I had driven past the Monument with my family, and so the basic facts were known to me. But this was the first time I actually entered this former western frontier battlefield.
Gentle hills were covered with prairie-type vegetation, visible from three sides, all the way to the horizon. On the west, the Big Horn Mountains were still covered with snow, as they are until early summer in this part of the mountain chain.
Paved paths led me to the spot where a major clash took place; where many of the bodies of killed American soldiers were found. Hills were spotted with white marble tablets that looked like small tombstones. From the information display I learned that the stones indicate the places where the slaughtered bodies had lain, stripped of all valuables, until an additional regiment of the army arrived. The deceased bodies were then collected and laid to rest in a nearby cemetery, which was also used later for the slain soldiers of other U.S wars.

Walking the paths between the white marble stones, from time to time I stopped to read the names and ages of the soldiers. What struck me was not the young age of many of the soldiers, for that is precisely the age group that is used on battlefields all over the world. What did surprise me to learn, was that more than 40% of the slaughtered soldiers were not born Americans.
That was not, however, the case of their commander Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Custer was of German and perhaps Irish ancestry, but he was born in Ohio. Colonel Custer was a hero of the Civil War, known to many as the ‘Boy General’ who earned his celebrity status in his early twenties.
Dressed in a custom-ordered, distinguished uniform, he often engaged in the most dangerous acts, thus gaining the respect of other soldiers through his fearless and aggressive pursuit of enemies. He killed those enemies with visible satisfaction.
In fact, this sadist actually wrote in a letter that while he understands that Civil War doesn’t serve his country well, he wishes it would never end.
Soon after the Civil War did end, the American army struggled with a surplus in the military industry, as many governments do after war. One of the enemies which the army was next deployed to fight emerged in the western territories of what is today the state of Utah: the Mormon Church. But that was not where Colonel Custer was sent.
After pursuing different lines of fame and business, including an attempt to fight for the army of Benito Juarez in Mexico, Custer found new fields upon which to discharge his natural drives – the American Indian Wars.

As the American frontier was moving westward, the interests of indigenous populations were challenged. Sioux or Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne Native American nations were on the frontlines of American progress.
As noted shortly in Wikipedia:
By the time of Custer's expedition to the Black Hills in 1874, the level of conflict and tension between the U.S. and many of the Plains Indians tribes (including the Lakota, Sioux and Cheyenne) had become exceedingly high. Americans continually broke treaty agreements and advanced further westward, resulting in violence and acts of depredation by both sides. To take possession of the Black Hills (and thus the gold deposits), and to stop Indian attacks, the U.S. decided to corral all remaining free Plains Indians. The Grant government set a deadline of January 31, 1876 for all Lakota and Arapaho wintering in the "unseeded territory" to report to their designated agencies (reservations) or be considered "hostile."
The problem was that Cheyenne Indians never signed any treaty with the American Government, as was also the case with many other tribes.

To get a better picture of the situation, imagine that someone breaks into your home and takes room after room into his possession. As proof of his right to do so, he presents you with some document which he calls, for example, ‘Manifest Destiny.’ He genuinely believes that he has the G-d-given right to possess and manage your house.
After pushing you down to the basement, he comes to you with a ‘peace’ treaty that says you can now occupy a few rooms in the basement, as long as you comply with certain rules.
Of course, you don’t know what he is talking about because you still remember the comfort and coziness of the couch in your living room. So you refuse to sign any treaty. Rightly, you feel that this may not be the end of this intruder's demands.
And that's exactly what happens next.
The invader discovers that the main water valve is in the room where you put your air mattress, as you are trying to somehow organize your life. Now he wants you out of the room because his strategic interests must be protected.
In his generosity he shows you the closet under the steps, which he is ready to grant you under the terms of a new ‘peace’ treaty.
That is precisely what happened with Lakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne and many other American nations.
They refused to go to the reservations that were designated for them.
If you would see the Black Hills in South Dakota and what kind of wasteland surrounds this most beautiful region of the country, you would understand why they did not want to leave the area.
Whatever was not wasteland was prairie, where bison once roamed. But the white man almost annihilated the bison. For Plain Indians, countless herds of Bison were a source of food, clothing, building materials and tools. They were an essential element to their survival. That element was destroyed precisely in order to cut them off from the source of their livelihood. Bands of settlers rode their horses, killing as many bison as possible without taking anything from the animals. Their goal was solely to deprive the Indians. And it all happened with the quiet acceptance of the government.

In the spring of 1876, the American Government deployed three different units of its army to bring the Indians to ‘order’ by enclosing them in reservations.
One of the groups was led by the commander of the 7th cavalry regiment – Colonel George Armstrong Custer.
Custer was informed about an Indian village in nearby Little Big Horn River in today’s Montana. He decided to engage them in battle, even though the village was estimated as being populated by as many as eight thousand people, at least 1500 to 1800 of them warriors protecting their families and possessions.
Custer didn’t have that number of people with him. If he would have waited for two more American army units, their numbers and their technological superiority in the profession of killing people would have given him certain victory. But this war celebrity had already been lauded in the books and the national press, and he didn’t want to share the fame with others. He decided to engage in battle with the Indians on his own. After all, his middle name was Armstrong… and that’s probably how he saw himself.
He divided his unit into three smaller groups, but I will not share any further details of what happened after that, because describing the loss of human life causes me pain.
Between June 25 and 26 of 1876, most of his soldiers were killed - including their commander.

It was only a temporarily successful defense for the 8000 souls who tried to avoid an encounter with people who invaded their land from beyond the great sea – the Atlantic Ocean. The other two units of the American army arrived shortly thereafter and defeated the Indian tribes, forcing them into reservations upon which they are still living today.
If you would take a road trip through the states where the story described above happened - Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming - you would probably be as surprised as many of the east coasters are who visit the western States. You would find that this land is empty; there are almost no people living there, and no major industry. Miles of land are not even cultivated. Here and there, some cows wander on the horizon, but otherwise the land is almost barren.
What was the urgency, you may ask, to take this land almost 150 years ago, if it is still uninhabited and almost unused? If the indigenous population was suppressed and their numbers weren't increasing; if the Europeans weren't arriving in big numbers; what was the land grab for? Coal in Wyoming was not yet discovered, neither was oil in Dakota and Montana. Why did white American men consider it so imperative to enclose the nomadic tribes in the reservations? Was it only about the gold in the Black Hills?

Walking among those white marble matzevos I noticed commemoration stones that were the same size but a different color. These were sparsely dotting the prairie. I went closer to them to read their inscriptions.
Those stone were not as weathered as the white ones, indicating that those brown stones were put on the battlefield much later than the white ones. The names inscribed on the newer stones were those of the Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne warriors.

At some moment it was recognized by descendents of European immigrants that not only were those Indians defending their families and their livelihoods, but they displayed military valor and bravery.
It struck me because this mindset is exactly the same approach of the culture in which I was raised: civilians can be mass murdered, but soldiers are interned in POW camps and officers are treated with honors, including allowing them to carry unloaded weapons. Military might is admired.
It struck me also because I clearly remember the words of my beloved rabbi, Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch:
“Philistia feared, Edom remained stunned, Moab trembled, Canaan was quite dumbfounded; it was only Amalek, completely unprovoked, who hurried out of his way to gain renown and take up arms against the Force which had laid even a Pharaoh low. He alone lo ire Elokim, did not fear G-d.
He alone was the heir of that spirit which chose the sword as his lot, who sought to realize the seeking renown in laurels of blood and the naseh luni sheim with which old Nimrod started the history of the world to the destruction of the happiness of nations and men. This seeking renown by the force of arms is the first and last enemy of the happiness of mankind and of the Kingdom of G-d on earth.
The policy of the Pharaohs — using force ruthlessly to further their own interests, certainly had an interest in keeping up slavery, but that policy can even be a friend of freedom, when freedom serves its interests. But Amalek's renown-seeking sword knows no rest so long as one single pulse beats in freedom, and pays no homage to it. So long as any modest, quiet happiness exists which does not tremble before its might.
Before similar forces, armed to the teeth like himself, Amalek does not yield, but rather sees in such measures a sign of recognition and fear of his sword. He wages war against them, of course, but honors opponents who acknowledge him and have similar principles to his own.
But in Israel he sees an object of mortal hate and complete disdain, where one dares to think the sword is dispensable, where one dares to trust in spiritual moral powers, powers of which the sword has no idea, and which are beyond its reach.
In the representative of the idea of the greatness which Man can attain by Peace, Amalek sees the utter scorn of all his principles, sees in it his one real enemy, and senses somehow his own ultimate collapse.

When I was reading those words of Rav Hirsch for the first time, I have to admit, tears rolled down my cheeks. I cried with the tears of exaltation, for one more time I saw that the idea of aversion to violence is not only my own conviction.
Nonviolence is not only hinted at in some cryptic message of our father Yitzchok that “Hakol kol Yaakov veyidaim yadey Eisav” – The voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Eisav. Our sages of blessed memory explained those words multiple times as an obligation imposed on Yaakov and his descendent not to engage in violence and even avoid situations where self-defense must be used.
There are other places in Chumash where we find similar messages. For example, the words of Chazal on the ‘blessing’ of Yaakov to his sons Shimon veLayvi, in which weapons are called ‘stolen devices’. Stolen because they belong to uncle Eisav and his descendants, but not to bnei Yaakov, not to Yisrael.
I exulted to read the words of Rav Hirsch. He was one of the most prominent leaders of our people, having a unique clarity and understanding of the Jewish mission and role in history. And he explained this fundamental truth in a most lucid manner.
Rav Hirsch didn’t stop only by explaining the historical and political reality which started with Nimrod, continued with Eisav and then with his archetype grandson Amulek. Rav Hirsch spoke about the ultimate collapse of the ‘philosophy of conquer and control’.
“Es Zaicher Amulek - It is not Amalek who is so pernicious for the moral future of mankind, but Zaicher Amulek, the glorifying of the memory of Amalek which is the danger. As long as the annals of humanity cover the memory of the heroes of the sword with glory, as long as those that throttle and murder the happiness of mankind are not buried in oblivion, so long will each successive generation look up in worship to these "great ones" of violence and force, and their memory will awaken the desire to emulate these heroes, and acquire equal glory by equal violence and force. Only when the divine laws of morals have become the sole criterion as to the worth of the greatest and smallest of men, and no longer in inverse proportion but in direct proportion to greatness and power do the demands of morality grow, and the greater and more powerful a man is, the less any lapse in the laws of morality is excused, then and then only will the reign of Amalek cease forever in the world. That this is the final goal of G-d's management and direction of the history of the world is expressed here after the first weakening of Amalek, "I will utterly obliterate the keeping up the remembrance of Amalek from as far as the heavens reach."
This is not some peripheral topic in our Torah, as there are no peripherals in the Torah. There are only essentials.
But here more than anywhere else Rav Hirsch explains the very essence of our existence, which has multiple connections to our struggle with the Spirit of Eisav, a.k.a. the Satan, Snake, Angle of Death or Other side. 
Here is revealed the hidden message; the core reason of our existence as Jews and as mankind at the same time, where the goal of history is the recognition of diversity in order to unite in complete Oneness. The first step to achieving recognition of the ‘other’ is simply by not killing him or violating him in any other manner. For in the face and existence of the ‘other’, we need to recognize the ‘face’ and existence of the One.
But to get to this stage we must first stop killing each other, justify killing, honor murderers, or remember heroes of violence. We should be ashamed to talk about warriors, soldiers, generals and politicians who caused loss of human life instead of admiring them or giving them even quiet recognition. Even to those who fought so called ‘just wars,’ where some bloody regimes were defeated and further butchery was stopped. For as long as it happened through the means of violence, not much was really achieved in the general struggle of history.

When, almost thirty years ago, I stood in the front of a military commission in the office of higher command, this is almost precisely what I told them.
At the time, refuseniks like me were normally given a sentence of two years' incarceration. And after hours of scaring me with visions of being harmed and beaten in jail, they laughed and ridiculed my naivety in this tough and cruel world.
They thought: Here he is – a big guy, six and a half feet tall, who thinks that using physical force is in reality a defeat and a failure. A giant of a man who says that in case of attack he would rather try to escape and avoid harming his assailant, than engage in struggle and knock him down to the ground.
My statements were radical for them to the extent that they couldn’t stop laughing for a long time. "A big guy big like you…you can probably kill with the strike of your bare hand… and you would rather run away, you idiot?!"
I answered, "Perhaps I can. But I don't want to. And I don’t want to be part of your institution either."
Almost thirty years have passed, and my policy hasn't changed Burich Hashem.

Of course there are Hilchos Roidef – Torah Laws regarding self-defense and the defense of another person in situations of direct endangerment to life, health or even the possessions of a Jew. But that has nothing to do with the cult of Amulek and his sword.
I know that even among our own people, there are those who will label me with the words of Lenin – “pacifists are useful idiots.”
Be'ezras Hashem I would rather remain an ‘idiot’ and pray for them to distance themselves from the dogma of Lenin.

This is what I realized once again on the battlefield of Little Big Horn.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Miracle in New York

My day ended somewhere in Northeastern Oregon, where I could while away some time before a morning appointment in Tacoma. Instead of taking the shortest route to Tacoma, I wanted to see Mt Rainier on my way there. So I steered my vehicle off the interstate and left behind the volcanic landscape with fruit orchards in the valleys around Yakima. Soon I was driving through different valleys - mountain gorges surrounded by high, but still volcanic, peaks.
At first my car zoomed into a tunnel of greenery made out of cedars and pines and leafy trees. But the green subway quickly got darker, as only Evergreen trees can survive the harsh winter conditions of a higher elevation.
After the mountain pass where I expected to see Mt Rainier, I stopped to view some small-but-stunning alpine lakes. The awesome view that I had awaited surprised me once again. Mt. Rainier towered like the sharp teeth of some giant monster peak. She was there, but how different she looked. In the past I usually saw Mt Rainier under a clear sky; but now, when I came from the East in the late afternoon, the view was completely different. The sunshine created beams of light that shone between the branches fashioning the tunnel through which I drove. Now, seeing the mountain in open space made for nothing less than a supernatural sight. In the haze coming straight from the distant Pacific Ocean, the photons - particles of light that are slowed down in the combined atoms of hydrogen and oxygen - gave the mountain a ghostly, ethereal look.
As in all of the rest of nature, here too I saw a miracle: a miracle of shapes, lights, smells and sounds. It was an act of creation at work – by the Creator Himself.
At that moment, I thought about another miracle; A miracle that can only be seen from a 'different light.' A miracle back there in the big city – in Babylon itself.
Just a few days earlier I spent some time with my children and granddaughters in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. Although I davened there with few minyanim alongside some Chusheve Chasidishe Rebbes, I didn’t go to ask them for a miracle - even though my life requires nothing less than that right now. I went to regenerate and recharge my spiritual batteries in my Rav’s Beis Hamedrash, and also some other places. But as always, what impressed me most in Boro Park was the view of the Yididshe gass – the Jewish street.
The kedusha – the holiness of institutions of learning and prayer that can be found on almost every block and corner are seeping out of the buildings and are detectable for a sensitive soul, even on the polluted streets of this urban jungle. In the madness of traffic and sidewalks filled with people, if you open your eyes you can still see peace and love in the faces, conversations and simple behaviors of people passing you on the street.
Yes, life in the city is stressful and fast-paced, but I don’t want to compare the Jewish residents of Bavel to some happy and perhaps less-stressed villagers. In that competition Boro Parkers would lose, since I personally prefer town life rather than city life. Still, the presence of true Torah Jews in The City; people who are devoted to self-improvement, social development and general holiness, is nothing less than a miracle.
While driving and witnessing the miracle of this 14000+ ft mountain, I was thinking about different experiences and occurrences that are even more fascinating for me than the sight of physical beauty, even given the fact that I am a nature enthusiast who truly appreciates magnificent geographical phenomena.
I was reminded of some other memories, from the same places and the same streets.
I remember going with my son to some small book store somewhere in Brooklyn, to buy some sefurim and books. While building the pile together, the salesman began speaking to us in a manner which no salesman ever should. In fact, no man should speak that way to any other human being.
I took it rather patiently, though that older Chasidic man was not talking in a manner befitting his Chasidic attire. His language was simply inappropriate for welcoming a client, especially a client who obviously intended to spend a few hundred dollars in his store. I understood that there must be something wrong with the man. But my son, who was the brunt of his bitter comments, was a bit less tolerant and certainly feeling more stressed. At one point my son gave a short speech to the salesman in his native Yiddish, and then asked me to leave the books and go. I felt for my boy as he was being humiliated for no reason, and with regret I left the sefurim and we walked out of the store.
I expressed to my son my suspicion that the salesman was perhaps suffering from some condition which caused him to act in this manner. But my son disagreed with me, clearly shaken by the whole situation.
Two blocks past the store we encountered a man who was disheveled and eccentric. There are a few men like him in the neighborhood, but each is slightly different in appearance and behavior.
This man's tzitzis (talis katan) was covered with countless flecks of dirt and splotches of food which had fallen on it. His beard and payos had obviously not been brushed for years. Even his veise zaken (white sacks) were more gray than white. He had some sheets of plastic covering him, boxes of ripped suitcases in one hand and a stick in his other hand, which he was waving while screaming to the passersby, including the two of us. He also wore Chasidic garb, but in his case there was no doubt that the man was mentally disturbed.
A few days later, when I was already back in the West; my son told me that he checked on the man in the book store to learn what could be the cause of such strange behavior. In der kleine yidishe velt (in the small Jewish World) even within the big city, it doesn’t take long to find information. My son learned with sadness that indeed the salesman was disturbed, even though he can function somewhat in society and work with people most of the time. He has some health issues which can cause the kind of erratic conduct we experienced in the store.
I thought about other possible situations, while I was driving. What if this incident had happened, not to us, but to some out-of-towners who were visiting Boro Park - a place where they would expect to see only people who are on the spiritual level of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? What if this would be someone looking to recharge his spiritual batteries, and he instead got them burned by a salesman with a bad attitude?
Would he have enough understanding for his fellow Jew who is suffering from a mental condition? Would he be able to rationalize to himself that he is not dealing with a normal situation?
I don’t know. I hope that many would weigh the circumstances with love and patience. I hope they would still see what I see every time I go back to these places of holiness. Despite the fact that we have some cases of mental illness or undeveloped middos (character traits) or even white collar criminals and other people of inappropriate conduct in the frum community, the holiness can still be detectible to the sensitive eye, on the streets of the big city.
And that is a great miracle.
Someone may ask – Why employ a man with mental problems as a salesman in their store?
Well… a yid darft parnuse (it is honorable for a Jew to work for his living). Perhaps this was the only place where some other Jew offered him occupation. Although it may not benefit the owner financially, it is a definite act of chesed (kindness). Chesed is not cost-effective – but it is compassionate.
This Yid might have ended up like the other person whom we encountered after leaving the store – on the street – had it not been for the kindness of the proprietor.  So why was he employed while the other fellow remained homeless? Perhaps the stage or form of his mental condition didn't allow the street person to take even a simple job or live somewhere where he can wash and sleep in human conditions. But he is still among us, he is still us, he is still part of the holy Jewish street in the big city.
He too is part of this miracle.

Matys Weiser

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Some people asked me repeatedly about my stand on so called Gaza operation.

Well… it should be known for whoever read some of me essays or posts containing passages from the writings of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch which there is few on my blog. If anyone has doubt I think following reflects my views on this topic in the best possible way:

Matys Weiser

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Defending the Indefensible, or Simply Whitewashing

In my teenage years, I used to have friends who lived in the tenement house adjacent to mine. My family had just moved to the big city and the first pals I met there, were those boys. They appeared to be from a nice family, educated and rather well-to-do, as far as Communism allowed. They were good looking and had excellent manners.
But I was soon to learn that all those qualities were only surface-deep.
If any window glass got broken in the neighborhood, they were behind it. If someone woke up one morning to find that his car has been scratched with a nail, one of the younger brothers was probably the culprit. If school furniture or instruments got damaged, chances were that one of them had done it. Moreover, if something was stolen in the vicinity, there was a big probability that the owner could find it in their basement. They asked me many times to be their watchman, in case someone found out about their escapades.
However, when the parents of these boys got called to the school or were even visited by the local police officers, the boys need not have worried, because they were protected. They were protected by something which people might call ‘blind paternal love.’ Whether or not such an emotion was beneficial to the children, we will analyze B-H soon.
The parents would swear by all the saints, raise their arms in incredulity and claim that ‘Their boys? Their treasures? Their well-mannered and beautiful sons? They could not possibly do anything wrong. Impossible! It could not have been them!'
I didn’t hang out with them for too long, because somehow I aspired to higher ideals that could not mesh with that lifestyle. But the boys were still my neighbors, so for the next few years I observed how their lives rolled steadily downhill, unstopped by those who were supposed to guard them. The parents failed to protect them, not from the hostility of the world, but from their own evil urges. They ended up as common criminals. And the degree of their criminality only increased over time, as the younger one was the worst miscreant of all. He just permitted himself more than his life role models, his older brothers.
When I analyze this story, which I witnessed with my own eyes, I came to a certain belief. It was not the boys whom the parents were protecting. It was the image of themselves which they cherished in their hearts and minds; an image of self-love and self-righteousness, which just did not allow them to see anything wrong with their family. That is what they protected. That is what they really defended.
The obvious conclusion of this story is that if they would have distanced themselves somewhat from their offspring, if they would really have loved their children instead of their self-image, if they would have corrected the crooked paths of their boys, they would have saved them from destruction.
A little bit of awareness, some modesty and truth, may have been unpleasant in the short run, but would certainly have been helpful in the long run.
What I’m going to write may sound bitter, especially when written by a convert who, by the nature of things, is always suspected of not only being uneducated on matters of Yiddishkeit but also lacking in Jewish self-consciousness and perhaps Ahavas Yisroel.
No matter how much I prove otherwise, there will always be some who accuse me of such. But I will try.
I became a Jew in the most anti-Semitic country in the world after WWII, in a community where aveira was far more common than Mitzvah. Personally, I was later Gegavened even by some frum people. I could go on much longer, but this should be enough. Still, I say and I believe “Mi Kamochu Bagoyim K'Yisruel” – There is no nation among the nations like Yisruel.
I love every Yid and it makes no difference to me when I have the opportunity to help any of my brothers, any member of my Jewish family. Not even when he represents total moral failure or an ideology that contravenes the Torah which I believe.
Justification for this is simple. He must not be aware of what he is missing, and probably it is not his own rejection of Torah but what he was taught by other evildoers that causes him or her to be irreligious. He never tasted the sweetness of real Yidishkeit and the only way to make it accessible to him is through brotherly love and active help on a personal level.
It is prohibited, however, according to the teachings of Chazal as was explained by the Chasam Sofer and Rav SH.R. Hirsch, to be engaged on any level with a group calling itself Jewish, but which is not representing the Jewish way of life.
It is extremely painful to repeatedly see how some of us, religious Jews, publicly defend acts that are committed by members of our family which do no represent what we are about and what our Jewish mission is in the world.
Quite the opposite! Actions which are contradictory to our laws and our values can sometimes cause physical and moral destruction to creation. Worse still, they can cause others to follow in their footsteps. Subconsciously, goyim believe that if the Jews can do an avaira, they can too. Unwittingly, we are the world's compass. If the Chosen Nation, called by the holy name, commits a crime or an atrocity, the goy in his mind and conscience permits himself to do the same or worse.
A really evil act, even one perpetrated by a Jew, is recognized by the Gentile as such because certain evils are self-evident. For those deeds, the evildoer will be held solely responsible at the time of Final judgment.  But for the impression of permissiveness in a sin; for the bad example that our misbehavior sets for the world, we have no defense. Those misdeeds will be held on our account. As Mamleches Kohanim – a Kingdom of Priests and Ohr L’amim – a light to the nations, we are obliged to keep higher standards of morality and ideals.
Too often, unfortunately, the Nations follow our renegades instead of our righteous.
It is said that at least some of our misdeeds are also committed under the bad influence of the nations. This is true. But still, who is supposed to lead in this game called history?
When other people question the misbehaviors of our own Jewish family who represent the betrayal of what we treasure most, Torah and Mitzvois, some of us defend them. Is this right?
I will not even mention the topic of Mesira, which is the most self-defeating act that can pervade our circles. We should always bear in mind how harshly the Torah forbids it, and be aware that there are strict halachic rules regarding this issue.
Let us look together into the Talmud, the protective walls of our nation. Let us examine what our position should be, when the sins of our fellow Jews are committed in public. These avairos are sinful by any standards, including rule Dina De Malchusa Dina – the rule of the country where we live is our rule. DDMD applies as long as it is not openly in opposition to the Revealed Truth.
Yoma 86b in the middle of the page: "Rav Yehuda said that Rav contrasted the following verses. On the one hand it is written: ‘Fortunate is one whose transgression is forgiven, when sin is concealed.’ But on the other hand it is written: ‘One who conceals his sins will not succeed.’ This is not a difficulty, says the Gemura. The second verse, which objects to the concealment of wrongdoing, deals with a sin that is already widely known.” Rashi elucidates: “When people discover that someone sinned, the honor of Heaven is diminished.”
When a Jew transgresses any commandment of the Torah, and knowledge of it becomes public, it creates Hilul Hashem which is by many accounts the worst part of the sin itself.
On the same page of Gemura the fascinating topic continues in the last Beraisa:
“We expose hypocrites, for otherwise a desecration of the Name might ensue.”
The Talmud says specifically that when a person pretends to be a righteous, for example by calling himself with the holy name “Jew” but acting with behavior that is antithetical to the positive characteristics ascribed to Jews, we must call that what it is – a sin.
Chazal is teaching us in many places, that it was never the intention of our Torah to whitewash even our fathers and our greatest of teachers. They were indeed righteous but if they failed even on their own level, it revealed their human character. It showed that the Torah was not given to humans who are made of superior material, but to simple flesh and blood like our own. In other words, their behaviors should motivate us. For if it was possible for the greatest people from the pages of the Torah to uphold the commandments, so it is possible for us.
Any effort to whitewash their mistakes would bring the opposite result than what was intended. That is exactly what happens when we try to whitewash something that is obvious to everybody around us, including ourselves. But we conveniently make ourselves believe that the whole act, event or situation was different than the reality.
It is highly desirable to find explanations and sometimes even justifications for our fellow family members; as long as they do not perpetrate a crime against intellect.
There are always plenty of anti-Semites, including those from our fold, who are waiting to amplify any Jewish misbehavior. And if those misbehaviors don't exist they will fabricate ugly stories to pin on the Jew. For this kind of false accusations we should always be ready to defend our people and our values.
If, however, in the false attempt to defend the indefensible we are adding lie to the sin, we cause Desecration of The Name – Hilul Hashem of even greater proportions.
It is highly required to defend our brother or sister if we bring him to do Tshuva. However, without realization of sin Tshuva is impossible. If we try to defend only our self-image at the price of our fellow Jew not being informed about his transgressions, we do not really help him. We only lead him toward further destruction.
Besides that, there are those of our as-yet-irreligious brothers who will not understand what our ‘good’ intention was. They will see only a defense of sin, which will make sin seem permissible to them.
Our condoning is a disservice to our fellow Yid who transgresses. If we repaved his path back to the heights of real Jewishness, we would enable more members of our family to follow the path of righteousness instead of going astray. Ultimately, whitewashing will only bring blemish to the holy nation and disrespect to our G-d.
Love cannot be blind. Real love is not that which is directed toward ourselves.

First Emes, then Shuloim, as the Nuvi directs - in this sequence. Because without truth, there cannot be peace.
Matys Weiser 

Monday, June 30, 2014

4th of July - The Polish Link

When the dogma of the trinity was developing in the soon-to-become Christian Roman Empire, there were two  outspoken leaders of two conflicted streams of Christianity. One of them was Athanasius, who was perhaps the main propagator of the dogma of partnership in heavenly matters by the human called Jesus. The other, Arius,  strongly opposed such ideas. Both of them were from Alexandria in Egypt.  
Athanasius  prevailed, and under the auspices of Cesar Constantine the Great in 325 in Nicaea, it was declared that there are two gods in heaven. Some fifty years later in Ephesus, the third god was added, and that is how the trinity dogma was formed. Since then, many groups among the Christians opposing this dogma of trinity have been called Arian.
When Martin Luther was nailing his 95 Theses to the cathedral church of Wittenberg, perhaps he didn’t know  that by this act he began what is known in the history of the Church and mankind as The Reformation. Neither he nor his followers, nor alternate leaders of Reformation detracted from the basic Christian belief in the trinity. In fact, one of the reformers, John Calvin, burned  another Christian thinker, Michael Servetus, at the stake for denouncing the trinity dogma. Nevertheless, there were circles among Christian reformers to whom this and other Christian dogmas and social institutions were at least without any basis in scriptures and simply ridiculous. One  such group developed in Poland. At first, the movement of the so-called Polish Brothers separated from the Calvinist church, but it soon grew to the one of most influential movements not only in Poland, but in Europe. We have to remember that Poland was, at the time, at peak of its historical development. Needless to say, it was the biggest country in Europe at the time, and this alone was enough reason to attract intellectuals who spread the Arian ideology throughout  Europe.
A significant amount of the Polish aristocracy joined or was under the influence of the Polish Arians. The movement was not monolithic, and tolerated different streams of social and theological thought. On one side, for example, there were so called judaizantes represented by Szymon Budny, or Marcin from Olawa, my town of birth; they were observing Sabbath as the holy day instead of Sunday and observed some basic Biblical dietary laws. On the other side of the spectrum, perhaps, was Italian-born theologian Faust Socin. In the later stage of the development of the Polish Brothers movement, they were even called ‘Socinians,” especially among foreigners.
The Brothers built several printing houses and the Academy of Rakow, which attracted students from all over  Europe.  Many of the Polish Brothers were pacifists and refused to participate in any military conflicts of the country or even appear with a weapon in public. Polish law, however,  required the members of the aristocracy to wear a sword as one of the symbols of being its member. Many Brothers chose to wear a wooden sword, which obviously said everything about their owners.
For almost one hundred years, the Polish Arians influenced the religious and political thought of Europe. But the Polish Church soon was able to influence the king to bring in a powerful anti-Reformation force – the Jesuits – and in what had been till then tolerant Poland, the war of words and pamphlets exploded. In 1638, the students of the Rakowian Academy were accused of throwing stones at a roadside cross. An out-of-control young students' prank served the influential Church to justify further persecution. Arians didn’t believe in either the human deity or its material representation hanged on the wood, in this case hung all over Poland. The Jesuits brought the issue to the Polish Parliament and king. The academy of Polish Brothers was closed, and in 1658, the group was sentenced to banishment under penalty of death. Those who converted to Catholicism were spared, but those who chose emigration were stripped of all their possessions.
Many of the Polish Brothers immigrated to Amsterdam, which then was the most tolerant city in Europe. They didn’t develop there into any significant movement, but some of them and people influenced by their ideas emigrated further to America, where they became what  are known today as Unitarians.


In Poland and abroad, the recollection of the Polish Brothers diminished, and a few centuries later in a then-strong Catholic Poland, their memory was almost completely forgotten. The Polish Brothers left, however, a heritage in the form of a few volumes written by different members of the movement. Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum was a set of books which influenced religious and political thinkers in Europe and on the new continent in the 17th century.
In those writings, Polish Antitrinitarians developed ideas of freedom of religion and government arrangement unknown in Europe until then. One of the most innovative thoughts discussed in those books was the idea of separation of Church and State for the first time in the history of the continent.
"As one should not mix together matters of religion with matters of state, so one should not allow for religion and state to be in opposition to one another," and "one should not bring into conflict religion and state nor should they be mixed together," writes Samuel Przypkowski in his work “De iure Christiani magistratus et privatorum in belli pacisque negotiis,” published in approximately 1650.
One of the consequences of the separation of Church and state is the disengagement of government from persecution of heretics and other dissidents.
Marian Hillar's work on the topic of Polish Antitrinitarian influence on fundamental ideas at the roots of the American political system is probably the best written to date. In his work “From the Polish Socinians to American Constitution,” he describes the political beliefs rooted in Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum as follows:
“To be a heretic is not a political but ecclesiastical infraction. The matters concerning the church are different from matters concerning the state. Their fusion leads to disasters and wars. The function of the State is protection of all religious groups—pagans, idolaters, heretics, apostates... The State flourishes when an accord and harmony reigns among the citizens as it was recommended by Moslems and not by Christians.”
Mr. Hillar summarizes the Polish Brothers' impact on political thinkers in contemporary Europe and, by extension, on the new continent: 
“We find arguments used by Przypkowski, Szlichtyng, and Crell repeated later in the works of John Locke, Pierre Bayle and even Voltaire, and their echo in writings of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Przypkowski's ideas were the most original and his work the most exhaustive Polish study on the mutual relations of Church and State.”
“The intellectual ferment Socinian ideas produced in all of Europe determined the future philosophical trends and led directly to the development of Enlightenment. The precursor ideas of the Polish Brethren on religious freedom were later expanded, perfected and popularized by John Locke (1632-1704) in England and Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) in France and Holland. Their ideas on religious freedom, toleration, their philosophical and religious arguments, coincide with those used by the Polish philosophers. Locke possessed in his library works of earlier Antitrinitarians, works of Szlichtyng, Socinus, Smalcius, Wolzogen, Wiszowaty, BFP, Racovian Catechism, Przypkowski's Dissertatio de pace ... etc. He certainly read them and was influenced by them. ( [51] ) Grandson of Jan Crell, Samuel Crell, was Locke's friend. Locke went further presenting a detailed analysis of toleration and state church relations from a political point of view, obviously under circum­stances in England. Bayle makes numerous references to Socinians and their rationality.”
“The ideas of John Locke were transplanted directly to the American continent by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson who implemented them for the first time in the American legislation. They were philosophers-statesmen who shared a strong conviction for absolute freedom of conscience and distrusted any kind of established ecclesiastical institution. Their conviction was that the established churches create only "ignorance and corruption", introduce "diabolic principle of persecution." The exercise of religion should be completely separated from government, toleration was not enough only absolute freedom could be acceptable. Democracy understood as the institution erecting a "wall of separation" between church and state, and protecting the liberties of minority groups
against the imposition of majority views was for them the best guarantee of religious freedom. Both were broadly educated and Thomas Jefferson had a keen interest in studying religions including the Socinians. Their writings follow Locke and quite echo the Socinian literature. ([55]) The Polish Brethren were forerunners of the later thinkers who developed ideas of the Enlightenment and humanistic modern times.”

In my research, I found yet another link connecting Jefferson, Madison and Adams to Antitrinitarians.
In his essay on the religious affiliations of Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Thom Belote writes:
“While a student at William and Mary College, he began to read the Scottish moral philosophers and other authors who had made themselves students of church history. These scholars opened the door for Jefferson's informed criticism of prevailing religious institutions and beliefs. But it was the world renowned English Unitarian minister and scientist, Joseph Priestley, who had the most profound impact on his thought.” Later, he writes that “Jefferson never joined a Unitarian church. He did attend Unitarian services while visiting with Joseph Priestley after his immigration to Pennsylvania and spoke highly of those services. He corresponded on religious matters with numerous Unitarians, among them Jared Sparks (Unitarian minister, historian and president of Harvard), Thomas Cooper, Benjamin Waterhouse and John Adams. He was perhaps most open concerning his own beliefs in his long exchange of letters with John Adams during their late years, 1812-26.”


As I stated at the beginning of this essay, there are not my innovative thoughts; I followed other researchers collecting the data for this article. What may be innovative, however, is the sequence in which I put some of the more and less known historical facts together.
Many of our contemporaries presume that the American political system is a child of the European Enlightenment, and when they think ‘Enlightenment,’ this means antireligion or antibiblical.
I hope that, with G-d's help, I was able, if not to prove, then at least to expose, that there is a solid link between Jewish scripture, and even Jewish political philosophy,  and the political ideas of some of the Founding Fathers. At least we can say that various political philosophies are rooted in those Jewish scriptures.
Today, many of those who declare themselves atheists, i.e. they consider G-d as their personal enemy, regard themselves as children of the Enlightenment and humanists.
At these final lines of this essay I will take the liberty of quoting one of the fathers of Enlightenment,  Voltaire himself, who writes: "What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason."
And one more time, the same Voltaire: "It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? (Thank you, Mr. Voltaire.) The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?"
Well, if this is what makes a person a humanist, then Matys Weiser is a humanist. But the reason for my humanism lays not in writings of the fathers of the Enlightenment, or the Polish Brothers or any other group of people inspired by Jewish teachings. It is the following of the Jewish teachings which makes me a humanist.
In Mesechtas Nedarim of the Talmud Yerushalmi, there is discussion recorded between two Sages and leaders of the Jewish people. They were asked which of the the verses of the Torah is most important? “V'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha – you should love your neighbor as yourself,” answered Rabbi Akiva. But Ben Azzai pointed to a different verse of Torah,“Ze Sefer Toledos Adam – this is the book of generations of Adam,” stating that we are all children of the same father who was created by G-d.
Maybe the words of Voltaire were an Enlightenment for his European contemporaries and later followers. Maybe it was a chiddush, a novelty, for bnei Esaw to recognize that all people are descendants of the same father and creation of the same Creator. This wasn’t any chiddush for Jews, as we always knew it, as our children learn it in cheider, that ahavas briah – the love of creation – is what the Creator wants from us. And if sometimes “creation,” some of bnei Adam, persecuted and killed Jewish children and as a reaction to this persecution some of us developed certain distrust toward our non- Jewish or sometimes Jewish  neighbors, we still learn our old Scriptures, our old Talmud, and we still have leaders who, when the time is right, remind us of our principles.

Preamble to Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
When I read these words I truly feel proud, not because I contributed to it in any way, but  happy that I found the Source of it.

Matys Weiser

4th of July in Orthodox Synagogue - Bozeman Montana

This is not all what I want to share on the topic and I-H further essays will follow.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

4th of July and Kingdom of Gerim


Second installment of my essay about influences on the writers of American Declaration of independence and creators of political system which I believe was closest attempt to provide humanity with freedom to find the way back to lost Freedom.

L Kuvod Yom Tov Hashvios Zman matan Toirusaynee – For glory of holyday of Shvios day of gift of Torah – exceptional day for gerim.

Jewish Kingdoms

Descendants of Yaakov-Yisrael are the people chosen to be the spiritual leaders of humanity in the task of bringing mankind to ultimate recognition of Creator and His laws of morality. 
This is our sole destiny; this is  both our burden and our privilege . Ohr l'goyim and Mamleches Kohanim— this is what we are declared to be by the Torah . The light for the nations and the kingdom of priests – an assembly of people in charge of building unity between the Creator and His creation.
If we Jews are responsible for building  the moral, social and political progress of humanity, how is that reflected in what was expected to serve as the prime example of a perfect society which we were supposed to build in Eretz Yisroel, the holy land? What about other Jewish governments and kingdoms in history? Did they meet the ideal expected from us by the Creator?
The answer is provided by our sages, and unfortunately, the answer is - no.
The Jewish government and Jewish kings are supposed to serve only one goal:  the fulfillment of the laws of the Torah by the people of the Torah. This ideal has never  been realized; it is still awaiting us under the King Mashiach, whose days should come speedily.
We were close to the realization of a perfect society at the time of Shlomo Hamelech – king Salomon. Then Chizkiyahu Hamelech was a tefach – a handbreadth away from being Mashiach, but we, the people, were not ready yet.
We were able to build theocratic societies at certain points of our history, which were close to the ideal but never achieved it. It is necessary to say that theocracy was possible only at the time of prophets and prophecy. I believe that it was still possible during the times of the Anshey Kneses Hag'dolah, the Great Assembly,  when prophecy was taken away from the Jewish people soon after the second Temple was built. There is no possibility of theocracy anytime after that and in any other land than Eretz Yisroel.
Without the prophets or smicha - the authority of judges transmitted from generation to generation, the building of a government ruled by G-d is impossible. This ideal is temporarily lost, and the only alternative which may find acceptance and pleasure in the eyes of the Creator is when His free, independent, tolerant people will rule themselves according to the moral law known as the sheva mitzvos bnei Noach. Those rules are taught to humanity in G-d's scriptures, by the example of His chosen people, or by the recognition of the foundations of those moral laws in nature. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch writes in his commentary on Torah that the seven mitzvos bnei Noach  can be discerned by any sensitive intellect.

Only once more in  history was there a government ruled by the Jews, as according to the Talmud we are prohibited to have our Jewish government until arrival of Mashiach. It was not a government created by Jews, but one which became Jewish to a certain extent.

The kingdom of Khazaria

We have very limited information about the kingdom of Khazaria and the acceptance of the Jewish religion by its leaders, but we have even less  information about its social and political system.
At the end of the 9th century, King Bulan accepted Judaism for himself and his country, and although he was converted to Judaism by legitimate Rabbis of Talmudic Judaism, he himself never came to the level of observance which he perhaps wished  to come to. 
Obadiah, who was probably Bulan’s grandson, hired Rabbis and Jewish advisers and built synagogues and yeshivos to provide his country's citizens with a proper Jewish education, allowing them to be kosher Jews.
One of the striking characteristics of Bulan's kingdom is that, unlike many believe, most of its citizens were not Jewish. Even though some members of the aristocracy converted to Judaism, and there were Jews born to Jewish families and converts among the citizens of kingdom of Khazaria, the majority of its citizens were Christians, Muslims and Pagans. The Jewish king of Khazaria provided respected religious societies with their own independent court systems and judges judging people according to their laws. In the Jewish theocratic kingdom in Eretz Yisroel, it would have been impossible to tolerate pagans, for example, as citizens unless their form of paganism would recognize One Creator and basic moral regulations.
King Joseph of Khazaria declared in his letter to Jewish sage Ibn Shaprut, who lived in today’s Spain in the 10th century, that his ruling Jewish ancestors expelled and uprooted   witches and wizards. We must understand that those wizards were not Gandalfs or Harry Potters, but rather  worshipers of dark forces of asocial tendency. However, in this kingdom ruled by Jews, there was a complete separation of state from religion.
The kingdom of Khazaria was still not government from the people, by the people and for the people, but the Jewish kings of Khazaria provided their citizens with the freedom known to us from the document written by the founding fathers of the United States of America. How did it come to this —  the Jewish idea of the coexistence of different religious societies occupying one country where religion of the aristocracy or ruling class has nothing to do with their service to the country and religion of its citizens? Once more, we will skip a few centuries and we will find the thread in 16th -century Poland. It is needless to say that it would be extremely difficult – but not impossible – to find the sources of the American political system in Poland if not for my background.

Matys Weiser

Monday, May 19, 2014

Torah Im Derech Eretz.


Torah Im Derech Eretz is a common Jewish Weltanschauung that was initiated, or rather coined, by Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. Rav Hirsch is quite transparent about the way he intended to bring this philosophy to realization, although since the commencement of this idea there has been controversy and even confusion regarding his objectives.
In my humble opinion, the reason for misperception is because some of the authors who deciphered his writings never bothered to delve into Rav Hirsch’s original works. Instead they based their views on the interpretations of previous writers, often with their own agendas, supporting their theses with opinions and liberal personal views of Rav Hirsch himself.
Nevertheless, it is obvious in his writings that Rav Hirsch wanted Jewish children to learn subjects that were not commonly incorporated into the Eastern European Jewish curriculum.
Some of these subjects were supposed to be helpful in achieving a higher degree of education necessary in professional life. But in the schools that were established by him, this erudition was not limited only to math, biology or other sciences known and practiced by many members of Chazal throughout history. In Frankfurt’s Yeshiva they also learn about Goethe, Schiller and perhaps even Heine. Rav Hirsch believed that an awareness of the secular culture of the surrounding nations should be acquired, for it could be beneficial to the lives and futures of his students. He was not the first of the Rabbonim in Jewish history to take this trajectory, and also not the last.
I will not attempt to untangle an issue which the greatest of Jewish authorities wrangled with over the course of two thousand years. I-H, in one of my future posts I will take a stand on the topic of what certainly should not be incorporated under the Torah Im Derech Eretz clause, but what some people who claim they are adhering to this ideology – TIDE - include in it nonetheless.
My humble view of this matter is situated perhaps somewhere between Rav Hirsch’s and that of his Eastern European opponents of that time… although I have to admit I am probably closer to Rav Hirsch's purview. I believe that at least on some level, Yidden may glean a bit of knowledge from the general culture.
What I would like to talk about today is something which I would call practical Torah Im Derech Eretz.
The basis for this expression is the Mishna from Pirkei Avos in which Rabbi Gamaliel ben Yehuda HaNassi says that learning of Torah and Derech Eretz are beautiful together, and they protect a person from sin. If someone decides to learn only Torah, without the accompanying Derech Eretz, he will end in consequence as a sinner. Derech Eretz is understood and translated there as learning a professional occupation or earning a livelihood; but also as acting with polite, respectful, thoughtful, decent and civilized behavior.
In my travels around the various Jewish communities of the United States, almost everywhere I am asked the same question at our very first encounter: "Are you collecting?"
The first time I heard this question, I completely misunderstood the nature of it. I answered in all innocence, "Yes, I collect minerals, stones, fossils…"
Since then I have learned the true meaning of that query, and I understand what these Jews to know - but since I consider it an inappropriate question for anyone to ask, I still give them the same response with regard to my geological hobby.
The question really translates to: "Are you a beggar?"
There is a prevailing assumption among my Jewish brothers who live in far-flung communities in the outer reaches of the U.S. They automatically associate someone who is dressed like me, with black jacket, untrimmed beard and long payos (sidelocks), with an unlearned, underachieving person who was unfortunate to be born into a Charedi family. They instinctively jump to the conclusion that I was unable to learn a profession in my Charedi elementary school and yeshiva. And as a consequence of this lack of education, I, and all those who look like me, are incapable of working to support our families.
However crazy it sounds, the above notion and the described situation are not a result of my Charedi complexes. In fact, I do not have such inferiority neuroses for the simple reason that I was not born Charedi, or even Jewish! This has simply been my experience and an observation of my encounters with fellow Orthodox - but not Charedi - coreligionists.
As do most misjudgments, this one comes from a lack of awareness and a lot of misinformation. Many of those people meet Charedim only when, indeed, some of them come to collect funds, be it for various institutions in the Holy Land, or for themselves. Those Charedi individuals, however, do not and can not represent their communities in their entirety. It is ridiculous to think that all Charedim are cut from the same cloth and it creates an incredibly unjust presumption.
One trip to Brooklyn, Monsey or Kiryas Yoel would put this preconception to immediate rest.
There are Hasidic Jews who are car mechanics, construction workers, electricians, plumbers, bus drivers etc. There are Charedi real estate developers, business moguls and Wall Street tycoons; industrialists, doctors, lawyers and hi-tech professionals. But successful businesses run by Charedim are largely unseen in the places where Charedi presence is nonexistent.  Finding a bearded guy with long payos to come fix your car or service your refrigerator in Ogalala, Nebraska is a bit of a stretch. The very idea that Charedim actually do these things is almost unthinkable to some of our brothers in remote communities. But that’s daily life here on the northeastern coast.
For many years I worked in the building industry. There wasn't a single field of work, from architects to carpenters to plumbers, that didn't include Hasidic Jews in their ranks. Charedim do learn, and constantly improve their professional knowledge. I traveled to various Building Industry shows in the US, and always there were tens of Hasidim from every possible neighborhood trying to learn new technologies and make connections with suppliers and manufacturers.
There are different types of Jewish communities. Some of them are exclusively involved in Torah learning, to the exclusion of all else. They are to be respected for their focus on spirituality and for the strengthening of Klal Yisroel's sanctity. On the other side of the spectrum, there are others who keep their religion on the periphery of their lives.
My claim is that within the entire gamut of Jewish communities, Torah Im Derech Eretz is definitely realized. Maybe some communities don't meet the postulates of Rav Hirsh, but most certainly come close to the ideal of the Mishna Avos.

I will i-H continue to write about the topic of TIDE in further essays.

Matys Weiser

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Minority Report


This report is about a minority of people who serve G-d. However, I will talk about a minority within the minority.
Let’s start from Abraham. He was one single person who “discovered” the Creator, and the natural conclusion of this discovery was a passionate desire to serve Him. The other desire, which I would say was an equally natural longing, was to share his discovery and the joy he derived from it, with others.
Avraham Avinu proclaimed the Name of G-d everywhere, and to everybody on his way. He and his wife Sarah were leaders of a movement of people who were attracted by them to follow the path of faith and morality. These are the neshumois – the souls which were born in Haran, as the Torah describes and Chazal – the sages of blessed memory explain.
But by the next generation, almost no one was left from this group of believers. Yitzchok didn’t have any coreligionists around him. Yaakov realized by means of prophecy and intelect that a community model for a society of believers would not work. The only means he had of carrying on the belief in Hashem, and receiving any revelations in the future, would be through the merits of his own family - the children of Yisrael.
Only a family like his would be able to survive against all adversities, against all the hate from people who were already accustomed to immoral ways of life. Only his family would have the spiritual strength to overcome the challenges of a world that chose the domination of carnality over the spirit.
But a family is diverse. It can have members of very different moral standing. Such was the case in the family of Yaakov. In order to win humanity back to the service of G-d, first this nation had to be won for Torah. This battle still persists today.
For most of Jewish history, it was only a minority of Jews – Sheairis Yisroel - who understood their mission and devoted every filament of their time, and every fiber of their being, to this service.
What about the rest of the Jewish family? Well, sometimes they're supportive, sometimes they're opposing, sometimes they're even openly persecuting. But most of the time, the children of Yisroel are simply unaware of the great significance and the awesome privilege of being a Jew.
Cheit HaAigel – The sin of the golden calf - was only the beginning of a long history of iniquity perpetrated by the Chosen Nation in opposition to the Torah. Rav Hirsch, and if I remember correctly also Rav Yehuda Halevi, uses Jewish resistance to the Heavenly teachings as proof for all the people who deny the G-dly character of Sinaic revelation. He writes that it had to take generations of contrition to elevate this nation to Torah’s standards; that it was not the Jewish people who ‘invented’ Torah, but Torah that invented and created the Jewish People. If, in fact, the Jews had conceived the Torah, why would they then so repetitively and obstinately reject their own creation?
Meanwhile, from the time when the children of Yaakov entered the Promised Land, their allegiance to the high standards required by Torah remained irresolute. The time of Shoftim – Judges - is described as “when everybody did as his heart told him to do.”
Then, subsequent to the era of Shoftim, we had three generations of flourishing Judaism under the leadership of kings Shaul, Duvid and Shlomo. After that, neither kings nor their subjects “Did what was good in the eyes of the Almighty.” For some 400 years there were only two kings who wholeheartedly served Hashem, and only one of those two was able to persuade his people to accept this Avoida – service of G-d.
Chizkiyuhi, according to Talmud, achieved such a high level of divinity that he had the potential to become Mashiach. But the world was not yet ready for redemption.
For most of the time of Judges and Kings, only a minority of Yidden came to the level of devotion which was prescribed for the entire nation. These were called “Bnai Nuviim – sons of Prophets.” The members of the Havuros – societies of faithful Jews, were often persecuted by their very own Jewish governments.
In this group we may surely include the “seven thousand faithful who did not bow to the Baal” in the time before Eliahu Hanuvi left this earthly realm. During the period when Torah was lost and Yiddishkeit was forgotten in the capital of the country – Yerushalayim, when only one neglected scroll lay covered in the dust of time, somewhere in the basement of the Bais Hamikdash, these were the committed folk who gathered in small groups, in towns, hamlets and even deserts, carrying the treasure of Torah in their learning, deeds and hearts.
The Churban was a lesson for our people. When we returned from Buvel – Babylonia – we were a changed people, but not free of the desires which continuously led us astray from the proper path.
In the interim, the government was largely dependent on empires that rose and fell in rapid succession. Jewish political elites were felled under the influence of unfamiliar cultures and foreign religions. Menelaos and Jason asked the Greeks to Hellenize the nation over which they supposedly reigned. Again, it was only one family of Hashmonuim – so called Maccabees that openly opposed the Misyavnim – the assimilators. But there were thousands of others who joined them and fought for Torah. And there were thousands more, hiding in remote places, who held the banner of Torah high even though they chose to wait and withdrew rather than move forward and fight. These were the first people ever to be called Hasidim.
It would be difficult for any Jew to describe the persecution of our holy leaders and committed Torah adherents, by the descendent of Hashmonuim - Alexander Yannay. Cruel and bloody tortures were used against the Perushim – Pharisees, to derail them from the path of Truth. But to no avail. Once again, the minority remained firm and faithful in the face of the majority.
More than two thousand years have since passed. Sometimes we came closer to the ideal paradigm of who and what we were intended to be, and in some instances we drifted father away from that exemplar. But one thing we should remember: Even among our own people, those who abided by the Torah and remained faithful to Hashem’s requirements were never the mainstream. The ‘Principle of Majority” applies only to Talmidei Chachumim - our spiritual leaders.

Matys Weiser