Sunday, July 13, 2014

Defending the Indefensible, or Simply Whitewashing

                                                                                                  B-H
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.

Enlightenment

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.”

Conclusion

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


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

                                                                              B-H

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.

                                                                                                  B-H

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

                                                                                                  B-H

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

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why do Jews separate themselves from the rest of society?

                                                                                                  B-H

Once, after a business meeting I was asked this question by a Muslim engineer. A well-educated and highly intelligent person, he contributed his talents and knowledge to the common good of our society. His question was, I guess, common among non-Jews who live with us in the same neighborhoods and cities.
“Why do you Jews separate yourselves from the rest of us? Do you think you are somehow better than we are?"
B-H I did have an answer for him, and that answer I would like to share now with my readers.
Among the nations of the world, there are countless narratives about the creation of the universe and the beginnings of man. According to those accounts, creation of the world involved a whole assortment of different elements ranging from fighting gods to gigantic eggs, turtles, elephants and more. All of those fanciful stories describe different ways that the world supposedly came to be, and how humanity was first recognized as a people.
Lehavdil, the story recounted in the Torah, although for some scoffers may look equally fantastic, is in many ways different from the various other interpretations of creation. I will not dwell on the topic of briyas haolam – Creation itself in this essay; I will focus rather on one specific aspect of the Biblical account.
When you ask any Jewish kid attending a religious school the question: Which precept of the Torah is the most important of them all? He will probably answer, or even sing to you the song: "Umar rabbi Akiva, umar rabbi Akiva… Rabbi Akiva said: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' This is a great principle of the Torah.”
Well, it is impossible to disagree with such a statement. Love, or at least mutual respect, is the most highly admirable and desired characteristic for any G-d-fearing person in the world. I can safely say it is the most fundamental dogma in almost every modern religion. This so-called 'golden rule' became the foundation of human civilization and the tenet of most societies, not only in theory but surely also to a certain extent in practice. These days, relatively fewer people are being killed by other human beings than in times prior. (Although, on the other hand, today there are some men in possession of weapons with the ability to annihilate masses of people, and bring an unprecedented death toll upon the world.)
But…Talmud Yerushalmi, (Nedurim) brings a different opinion about which precept in the Torah is most important:  "Ben Azzai disagreed. The verse 'This is the book of the descendants of Adam, whom G-d made in His likeness' (Genesis 5:1). This principle is even greater."
This is just a sampling of the sweet taste of our beloved Talmud. Rabbi Akiva tells us to love our neighbor, our brother, our friend. But is this dictum really an unshakeable statement? Indeed, someone might ask: Who is this neighbor that we should honor; who is this brother that we should love? According to some foreign beliefs, the answers to that question can vary. After all, if we all evolved from different chimpanzees, hatched from different eggs, or were born from different battling gods, then we don't really have that much in common with one another. We're not exactly brothers, are we? We're more like individual entities that happen to coexist on earth together.
But then came Rabbi Ben Azzai with his proposition.
All people are descendants of a single pair of parents. We were not created from different fighting gods who were ripped to pieces, as the Mesopotamian mythology describes. They were not built from different physical materials. We didn’t evolve from different species of monkeys under disparate trees. We are all children of one human, created by One G-d in His likeness.
How exceptional is this message!? How different from anything conceived by the ancient world.
In today’s reality, everybody claims the truth of brotherly love as his own. Christians, Muslims, and even members of religious movements that didn’t sprout from the Jewish root are proud of spreading this memorandum. However, it is the Jewish Torah which, as the first written sours in human history, teaches equality for all human beings with the narrative of Hashem's creation of Adam, the first father of humanity, from clay.  The same clay was used in the birth of one man, and all of mankind. It is Jewish Talmud which places this precept as the most important of all verses in the Torah. And it is the Jewish nation to whom this Torah was entrusted.
Yes, we hold ourselves separate from the other nations and societies.
We work together with them. We live together with them. We have great interest in politics and other events concerning the countries in which we live. We are electing and sometimes we are elected. We pay what we owe to support a common goal. We engage in various projects which bring progress and prosperity to a broad society.
However, we have rules and regulation which do not allow us to be completely integrated with other groups of people in certain areas of life. And the reason for our separation is precisely this one: to upkeep this ancient Jewish teaching, that all people of the earth are descendants of the same parents. We are all brothers and sisters. Brotherhood is the reality for which we all wait, and for which we have a prophetic promise that will someday come true. It will come, however, only when we remember that this is what G-d entrusted to us.

If we wouldn't keep ourselves separate? If we wouldn't detach ourselves as a nation, from all the other societies, religions and civilizations in the world, then our story of truth; our message of morality; our belief in the oneness of creation would be lost. Without the Jews standing as pillars of the past, the future would soon be forgotten.
Matys Weiser

Saturday, March 22, 2014

After Purim reflections from Monsey and Brooklyn.

                                                                                                  B-H

The week before Purim, somewhere in the west, I tried to convince a fellow Jew to visit one of the Hasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn on his trip to NY, which coincided with the day of Purim. I told him, "No matter how much I may try to explain the festivity on the streets of Boro Park or Williamsburg on Purim, there are just no adequate words to describe it."
Many of the Jews from the west never saw a Hasidic person in their lives altogether. For some of them I was the first, which is really an ironic fact. Some of my fellow Jews visited the Holy Land and encountered Hasidim or other Haredim there, but it was rather like a tourist–aborigine type of experience. To fully immerse oneself and participate in the Festival of Purim on the streets or in the better homes and Butei Medrushim in the areas most populated by Haredim in our country, is exceptional. Whoever wants can still find lots of pictures online, but well… it's like seeing the Grand Canyon in a 2-dimensional photo. Haredi neighborhoods are spiritual wonders of the world, and this alone makes them greater than even the most riveting panoramic beauty which, by the way, provides my means of livelihood as I make a living by giving tours to people through the Canyons in the Mountains. But although I love to travel, my family, friends, neighbors and just random fellow Yiden are sorely missed during my time away.
The morning after my arrival in New York I joined a minyan which, when I travel, is rather a luxury for me. In one of mid-sized Hasidic synagogues I davened (prayed) with a ten o’clock minyan, which in this particular synagogue is scheduled every half hour from morning until ten men can no longer be found for a minyan. When a quorum of ten men is no longer available at that location, everyone knows where there are other minyanim just a few streets away. In some other places the morning prayers are conducted all the way to Hatzois – midday or, with shame I have to admit, even after that hour. With shame; for it is prohibited by Shulchan Aruch – the Codex of Jewish Law - to say morning prayers after midday. But in the Hasidishe Velt people have all kinds of life situations and they sometimes break the law in such instances, praying after the prescribed time.
I was there still well before that time but as I said, it was not one of the big Butei Medrushim - maybe two hundred seats in two rooms separated by a removable wall. We got our minyan easily for there were still plenty of individuals and Havrusos – men learning in pairs. To pray with a minyan we need ten men older than bar mitzvah (13) but four of them can be counted even if they are not participating in the prayers. Six must be part of the actual praying group. A few minutes later we got well above the required quorum.
Some of the Yiden who finished a previous minyan sat around the table where they delighted in consuming a big loaf of marble cake while shmoozing – chattering about everything that Hasidim chat about – their Rebbes, work, world politics, etc.
Probably due to the Yom Tov Purim there were more men than usual in that place at the time, including Bucherim – unmarried Yeshiva students. They probably came home from out-of-town Yeshivos and now enjoyed not only the cake and herring with shnapps, but also the exchange of news with their peers from various Yeshivos. On one side of table, an older Hasid in his late thirties was sharing memories from his Yeshiva days with a few Bucherim. Apparently, some of the young students where learning under the guidance of the same Rabbis that he once learned from. The man visibly enjoyed the shmooze with the Bucherim, but he soon departed for whatever occupation he keeps.
We finished our prayers as others were learning or chattering in different spots of the Bais Medrash. I packed my Tallis and Tefilin and walked out to the cold streets of Brooklyn. Around the corner three little girls with their Pushkes were collecting Tzeduka – money for the financially impoverished, or to support their schools. I didn’t read what the purpose of their collection was, as it is usually written on the Tzeduka Pushke – the can with the opening for the money on the top of it. The view of those girls, the oldest not more than perhaps 9 or 10, in the cold and moist weather of NY, melted my heart. Whatever they collected for, it must be worth supporting.
The days around Purim are especially filled with boys and girls collecting everywhere - on the streets, from home to home, in the stores and in synagogues. I mean everywhere, of course, in Jewish neighborhoods. And so, on the day of Purim itself millions of dollars are transferred from hand to hand, from pocket to pocket - and this is only one of the major periods of the Jewish year when money for the needy is given even by those who are themselves less privileged, in even extra amounts, regardless of the routine Tzeduka they give all year round. And then Pesach is yet another occasion to give. Elul – the whole month of Elul. And then Chanukah gelt! These are just a few times that are worthy of mention.
Baruch Hashem I spent a few days with my children and granddaughters. I visited my Rav and participated in a private Seuda – a meal in his house, where we always have arch and interesting discussions with him and his sons and sons in law who are all Magidei Shiur – Teachers of Talmud and Mashgiahim – supervisors of spiritual growth in various Hasidic Yeshivos. Besides some basic hashkafa – life philosophy and current issues which we talked about, I got another glimpse into the present stage of Haredi education in general.
I had a few short hours to take care of some other issues that life on this earth required, but somehow a few of my closest friends managed to get together with me for a meal. This meal was not connected to the festival of Purim as it took place on the evening after Shushan Purim. They caught up with me in my Monsey Shul – synagogue - and convinced me to wash (to eat a meal with bread) to celebrate the occasion of my arrival.
There are not enough words to convey my appreciation for their devotion as they left their various occupations just to shmooze with their old friend. They do it every time I come, but usually they know in advance when I am coming and there are more of my haverim and havrusos – friends and learning partners. This time I called last minute and there were only four of us, not including my host’s boys and girls.
Reb Aizyk the Soifer – scribe was my host. He is one of the greatest people I have ever met. He and his rebetzin and kein ain hara their sixteen children and unspecified number of grandchildren are all amazing individuals. Reb Aizyk can sometimes give two kidushim – meals in the Bais Medrash for the occasion of the birth of a new granddaughter, or attend two brisen - circumcisions of his grandsons, just a few days apart.
His wisdom guided me countless times in life. His way of giving me mussar – ethical instruction - doesn’t sound anything close to criticism or censure. Always dressed in some Mushal – a parable - he makes my brain work intensely to figure out if this is really the reproof I think it is. Not because the message is unclear, but because it is so softly hidden behind the delicate veil of his kind words.
Then there is Reb Mendel. He used to be a Dayan – a judge of rabbinical court in one of the major Hasidic groups of the east coast. He gave up this occupation as his delicate soul couldn’t deal with some of the problems and issues of the world. He knows Talmud by heart but he claims that for this position one must also have extraordinary Koichos – strength.
To give you a glimpse of my friend’s holiness; he is my age, a grandpa already, who grew up here in America. He only just learned from me a few months ago that there are such places as pubs and bars and what people do in those places. You don't believe me? I don’t blame you. But there are people on a level of holiness which most of us cannot even imagine! Like this man, my Rabbi and my friend, who spends his days only involved in learning and doing good deeds of all kinds for his fellow people, supporting his family mostly by tutoring. I consult with him about most of the ideas which I later publicize on this blog and in other places. Of the three friends listed here, it is Reb Mendel's opinion that I take most into consideration, for many reasons. He also sometimes likes to share his thoughts or Hidushim – Torah novelties with me and then tells me "You can use that on your thing on the Internet."
The youngest among us was Reb Yankel, my Tanya havruso from the time when I still resided more in Monsey than anywhere else. Although he never learned English in his school, as it was not allowed for reasons of moral purity in his Moisad – the faction which is led by his father, he was nevertheless able to fluently explain to me the depths of this beautiful Sefer Tanya – (I think 'good book' would be the best translation of the word ‘sefer’) in English rather than in Yiddish, as my articulacy is limited in that language. He is in his early thirties with a few children running around in his house, and yet he is still learning in Kollel – a learning institution for married men. I hope that his brilliant mind will one day serve our people in a much broader sphere.

These are just a few words about the friends whom I met during my visit home. There are still others whom I couldn’t manage to meet, but who are also extraordinary people. What they all have in common is that each of them is struggling toward the same singular goal: to live a life according to the will of their Creator and to ultimately be a better person tomorrow, than they are today.
Matys Weiser

Sunday, March 9, 2014

4th of July, Purim and Amulek

                                                                                                                 B-H
4th of July, Purim and Amulek

Yeah! I agree that this title is at least a little strange, but well… this blog is about a stranger’s views, isn’t it?
When I wrote this essay I didn’t think about Purim. I thought about the Declaration of Independence, the American Constitution, and their authors' influences on the world today. And I wanted to divide the ten pages of my thoughts so that the last installment will be posted the week before July 4th. I know it's a long span of time, but I have a few other essays ready to be posted and I-H they will appear periodically among the continuing episodes, breaking up the monotony somewhere between today's installment, and the one before July 4th.
So, what does the 4th of July have to do with Purim? Read below to find out…

4th of July

My strong desire was to post this essay on the Fourth of July… last year. Instead I wrote it on the Fourth of July, 2013. Another small contribution to the prove Yiddish saying “Mentch tracht G-d lacht.” B”H, I finally found some time free of my other occupations and responsibilities to sit down and share with my readers the ideas which have been lingering in my mind for a while already.
I write this essay in Santa Fe, New Mexico, hosted by Chabad shliach Rabbi Berel Levertov. Here in Santa Fe, one of the ways to celebrate the fourth of July is a huge gathering in the town’s plaza, sharing pancakes in warm, family-like atmosphere with other townspeople and visitors coming to this popular tourist destination.
All over the country, its millions of citizens and not-citizens are celebrating the holiday in a similarly joyous atmosphere, placing their portable chairs and tables in the large spaces in the towns to watch fireworks or placing their seats on the side of the main street of almost every town of this country to see the 4th of July parade. I don’t have to describe more of the details of those celebrations to most Americans, but there are some enclaves where you will not hear loud music and the clatter of hundreds of people on the street. Towns where citizens considering themselves no less American than any other Americans do not celebrate Independence Day in the way so common all over the country.
Why it this so? Do they have no love – or at least appreciation – for the freedom which they experience in this land? Do they not recognize that this freedom is guaranteed to them by the document celebrated on this very day, The Declaration of Independence? Do they separate themselves from the rest of the country’s citizens due to a lack of patriotic sentiment?
In towns like Monsey, New Square, Kirias Joel or Lakewood you will also see loud crowds dancing and celebrating on the street, adults and children singing and playing music in almost ecstatic festivity. But this is not necessarily happening on the Fourth of July. This celebration may take place at almost any day of the year, and it is called Hachnasas Sefer Torah, the Jewish celebration of completing a hand- written Torah scroll and placing it in the synagogue or Bais Hamidrash, the hall of study. This way, Jews celebrate the Source – for us, Torah is the Source of everything, but for rest of our fellow citizens it should be known that this very scroll so celebrated by us is the source of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. How is this so?

I heard this idea first from my Rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Bruzda, soon after I settled in this land that welcomes refugees like me. “When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he kept the Bible on his lap,” he used to say, the simple meaning of  which is that this document – perhaps the most important document in American history – was influenced by ideas whose roots are in Jewish Scriptures. But was the Bible in fact  laying on the lap or desk of Thomas Jefferson, and if yes, how did he derive those lofty ideas contained in this document from the Book from which some other people, with their criminal minds, can find justification for mass murder and other crimes of all sorts?
In this essay, be'ezras Hashem, I will try to follow at least one of perhaps many links leading from the Torah to the Declaration of Independence and the ideological foundations of American Constitution.
To keep the facts straight: Jefferson was not a Jew-lover and neither, were the individuals and groups which influenced him. Since the split of the Notzrim – the sect which later became the religion known as Christianity – from rabbinic Judaism, its growth was fed and fertilized by hatred toward Jews. The gentiles adopting the ideas and ideals derived from Jewish scriptures saw it perfectly fitting to build their civilization on the Jewish scriptures and at the same time despise the Jews. (It is beyond the scope of this work to explain how this could happen; IY”H, this may be a topic of a future essay.)
Nevertheless, our sages agree that two “offshoots” of our religion– namely, Christianity and Islam – are preparatory stages for the arrival of the Messiah and recognition of the Almighty's rulership by whole of humanity. Rav Hirsch, for example, in his commentary on Chumash, goes so far in the case of Islam as to call Muslims “half-Jewish.” Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the Maharal of Prague, explains along similar lines our recognition of Muslims as Bnei Noach,  people with the halachic status of ger toshav, a gentile of full social rights among Jewish people. However, since he was writing in a Christian country, he abruptly cut his explanation of the status of Christians due to belief of the Christians in shituf, the type of idol worship where the object is considered a partner with G-d.
To further understand the history described in this essay, we must recognize that there are some Christian minorities who do not believe in the dogma of the Trinity coined in the fourth century. And I will write some information about them, but before that we will have to go back in time all the way to the era soon after the Mabul, the flood of Noach, or even before that.

Not one of the ideas which I will write below is my own unless declared so. The Almighty’s providence has put the right teachers and right books on my life path. With His help, I will try to put in perspective the development of human thought, which led part of humanity to accept upon them a government “from the people by the people and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address.
Needles to say, the connection between Jewish thought and the Declaration of Independence is not exclusive, as there are many traces of different influences over various individuals which led to the creation of the American form of government. However, thanks to my individual path of life and spiritual development, I was able to put the following facts together.

Two modes of civilization
After the sin of the first man and the act of killing of his first son, the moral behavior of humanity deteriorated to the stage that any repair, any tikkun, any restoration of humanity's ties with the Creator was impossible. The catharsis of Noach's flood was supposed to serve for the human race as a new start for developing recognition of Almighty and His laws of morality. Instead, the age of “nothingness” as the Talmud calls it in mesechtas Avodah Zarah, continued for another several hundred years.
Between the Great Flood and the recognition of Creator by Abraham, humanity got an opportunity to build a new civilization of free individuals, families and societies. This new development was expected to be based on mutual tolerance, understanding and love between human and human, family and family, and tribe and tribe. Unfortunately, the two individuals who thought about G-d and his will for humanity were not listened to. Shaim, the son of Noach, and his grandson Aiver were trying to influence humanity from their yeshiva, a learning center located on the hill of the Holy Land, toward service of G-d. But far away, in the plains of Bavel, a different center of thought and social philosophy was developing, and I do not speak now about our father Abraham, not yet.
Nimrod called upon his people to build a tower, a project, in order to establish a name for themselves.  According to the Scripture, he was the first to build a city. According to Chazal, the Sages of blessed memory, he was the first to establish a government.
“I will offer you protection,” he said to people whom he made his subjects, “ and the price will be not high: some of your freedom, some of your dignity and some kavod - recognition - for me; we'll make a deal.”

So the history of oppressive government began.

Abraham was born in Nimrod’s idolatrous kingdom. When he came to recognition of the Creator as the sole independent ruling power, Nimrod’s ideology was severely undermined. The idea of G-d and his Law ruling the people, and an independent and free people developing their own relationship with Almighty, was an obstacle to his political and social philosophy. E pluribus unum was a strange idea to Nimrod. He wanted unity, but centralized under the banner of the Babylonian Empire, of which he made himself  king. His insignia was the beged,  the clothing, of the first man Adam, which Nimrod possessed and which he believed had magical powers. He didn’t know that those garments were garments of separation from the Creator, which He Himself crafted for the first man after his sin. The Midrash tells us that Nimrod saw the possession of those clothes as the symbol of his authority.

One of the grandsons of Abraham was hungry for more than the spiritual powers which were being developed in Abraham’s family for two generations already. Eisav  wanted both spiritual and physical greatness, which wouldn’t be wrong if the physical would be in service of the spiritual, as  was the desire of his father Yitzchak and grandfather Abraham, and by extension, the Creator Himself. Eisav, on the other hand, saw  spirituality at best as  subservient to the somatic, and at worst as an obstacle to indulging in total admiration, submission and service of the body and its desires. Eisav wanted to combine his ideas with ideology of Nimrod by taking into his possession the garment of Adam which was in Nimrod’s hands. The only way to do this was by killing  Nimrod — and he did.  
On  the very day his grandfather Abraham passed away, Eisav disregarded his right to be the continuation of the faith and life philosophy implanted within the family of Abraham. Perhaps from this very day, the two modes of civilization have been struggling for domination over the human race.
On one side it is the civilization of Yaakov –Yisroel, the civilization which developed from Shaim son of Noah, who was also called Malchitzedek – the king of justice.  Malchitzedek was the king of Shalem, the city of peace that would eventually become Yerushalayim.
It is he who Avraham visits after winning in battle over the four kings and to whom he gives his contributions. It is Malchitzedek to whom Rivka turns for advice about her pregnancy of Yaakov and Esav. It is Yeshiva of Shaim and Aiver where our father Yaakov learns the ways of G-d for 17 years nonstop, without taking any sleep. But the revolution started by Abraham perfected and brought to the new level the teachings of Shaim and Aiver.
In the person of Yaakov and his family the civilization of ‘voice’ — teaching, idea and ideology, justice, freedom, recognition of independence and Godliness of every human being, a civilization of peace — plants its seed among  mankind.
On the other side is the anti-Shaim, anti-Semitic Nimrod-Esav-Amalek civilization. This civilization is based on 'hands- – submission, servitude, conquest, war, militarism, domination, occupation, control, destruction, sword – the use of physical power.

See all of the essays on this blog where I just posted Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s writings in reference to this distinction between the two modes of civilization. Needless to say, it was not his invention to see the history of mankind in this way; rather, this view is the core of the self-understanding of the Jewish mission in history by all our sages of blessed memory.


We will skip a big part of the human record to speed up to 1776, but two more issues have to be discussed in short: the revelation of Torah on Sinai and the creation of the Jewish nation, and lehavdil, direct sources which influenced political thought in the 16th  and 17th  centuries. The connecting link between Judaism and its ideas being spread among the rest of humanity in the last two thousand years have been mentioned earlier in this essay. 

Matys Weiser

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ukraine

                                                                                                  B-H
It is a difficult place. In both the Russian and Polish languages, it means "The place on the edge, at the border, near the end." Ukrainians developed their distinctive nationality later than most of the Slavonic nations. They made their capital in the city which was first capital to Russia, which cast its influenced over thousands of years. First conquered by Vikings from the north, Kiev became the seat of Russian power with the establishment of the first Tsar Dynasty – the Ruriks.
Then came the Mongols and Tatars, as Russia moved northward. After Asian withdrawal the land became part of the Polish Lithuanian commonwealth for several hundred years. Krai was at the edge of the biggest country in Europe at the time.
We will always remember what happened to our brothers and sisters in this land, when Chmielnitzki Y-Sh with his Cossaks murdered thousands of Jews there. He considered them an influential tool in the hands of the Polish government, to control 'Krai'.
A few millennia have passed since then, and the Ukrainians currently aspire to joint nations, which they view as free and independent.
By now most of us have seen horrible pictures from the newest chapter in the book of nations, as they try to overthrow their corrupted regimes. It causes pain to every human being who has a heart in his chest, to watch those scenes coming from Ukraine - regardless of the difficult past that Yidden endured there. We Jews will always see events in a different light from the rest of the world. To Ukrainians, Chmielnitzki will always be a hero who fought the oppressive Polish government; while for us, he will always be a cruel murderer, listed alongside Haman and Hitler Y-Sh.
Ten years ago, the Ukrainians tried to gain independence through their bloodless Orange Revolution, bringing some hope to this desperate nation. In those days, I spoke with my Ukrainian workers every day about the situation in their country, about their families, about their hopes and fears. I knew Ukraine firsthand from the years when I went there every few months to visit my friend, to preach, and to hopefully generate some business while I was still living in Poland. I knew this rich land with ambitious people who were constricted by the then post-Communist web of corruption.
I wished them the best and hoped they would win the Orange Revolution, in order to build a free and democratic society. Ten years later we see bloody war on the streets of Kiev as people are once again trying to get rid of corruption, this time as established by the oligarch Eastern-style ruling class.
Those scenes remind me of my own youth, when I was part of a similar revolution. I remember building barricades, throwing stones, running from the shots of the police forces in my then-Communist country. At least the Polish Communists didn’t allow the use of sharp ammunition in most cases. Nevertheless, police forces aimed small canons of tear gas at the running protesters. Many of those burning containers flew next to my head and fell at my feet while I ran hard so as not to get knocked out.
I was sixteen and that was a crucial year for me - one which shaped my entire future. I read intensively at the time: philosophy, religion, history. That was the year when I came to the conclusion about the futility of my own, and my countrymen's actions. I believe that it was more a result of my prayers than my reading, but both prayers and books were necessary to shape my views which, in foundation, have never changed since. Through my joining the People of The Book – the Nation of Torah, my views have crystallized and gained solid structure. What once came only from my kishkes, my understanding and my intellect, I found evidenced in a revelation of the Creators’s message to His nation in particular, and to humanity in general.
So many times in the history of mankind, nations and citizens overthrew some Nimrod who brutally turned them in to his subjects, in order to establish Eisav as their leader in his stead.
Eisav is smarter than Nimrod. Nimrod rules with cruelty, while Eisav works with cunning. Eisav may take away Nimrod's power, but his intentions are also not altruistic. Eisav recognizes the idea of freedom and independence, because he grew up in the house of Abraham. So rather than dictatorship, Eisav uses sly methods of controlling the masses by fooling them. But if his wiles don't work, he is always ready to use Nimrod's means of governance.
I know, the last few lines I wrote are very cryptic, but I-H I will write more about Nimrod, Eisav and lehavdil Yaakov in the coming months.
In those coming essays I will write about a part of human history and its struggle toward creating a free society - which was always the wish and the intention of the Creator. This is described in the Torah, which was written at a time when there were no other books and no other nations to write them.

As to contemporary Egyptians; when they struggled to break the chain of dictatorship, so too did the Ukrainians. I wish them a speedy end to the bloodshed and a speedy beginning to the rebuilding of their country in a way that will serve all its citizens well, giving them equal opportunity to develop as human beings and not the subjects. But watch out for Eisav.
Matys Weiser

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bill Nye v Ken Ham

                                                                                                  B-H

Driving across the continent, I was not able to see this three-hour debate live. But finally I got time due to blizzard conditions somewhere in the Columbia River Gorge, where further driving became completely impossible.
For those who don’t know the persons involved in this highly anticipated debate, I will shortly introduce Mr. Bill Nye and Mr. Ken Ham.
Americans like to have different guys explain different subjects to them, from politics to sports to the meaning of life. And after such well-thought-out and rehashed explanations, they can intone at the Thanksgiving Table with full authority that: Well… Dr. Gupta says so. Or Mr. Tyson was interviewed and in his opinion…
Not Mike Tyson, of course, but Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The specie of human that in the past was called a ‘sage’ is extinct in this country and this civilization. But these are the people who Americans see as the closest to bearing that title.
Mr. Nye is America’s science guy. With his Egghead facial features and bowtie, he looks like a quiet, stereotypical scientist with his whole being. It is hard to deny his passion for what he does and his broad knowledge in several subjects.
Mr. Ham is President of the Museum of Creations and one of the leading young earth creationists in the country. He's a devoted Christian preacher, scientist, and perhaps most importantly, a family man.
It is not hard to understand my interest in this debate, as I was expecting that the subject of my own interest and research, the Grand Canyon, would be called as a witness. As I wrote many times before, understanding of the Grand Canyon is a key to comprehending the past of our planet.
For evolutionists, the strata and fossils visible in Grand Canyon prove the old age of the planet. For creationists, Grand Canyon is the exposure of many layers of cemented mud brought on by Noah’s flood and the fossils show that the solidified organisms were cased in the stone during the same catastrophic event.
Myself, I went through my own quiet evolution from the evolutionist position, which was imposed on me in the public school system of a Communist country. Deep contemplation brought me to young earth creationist recognition, based on revision of my scientific knowledge on this topic.
Some may ask the question – do I need it? As a Charedi Jew, is it imperative for a person practicing the commandments of Torah on a daily basis to acquire this knowledge at all?
B-H I will came back to this question later. For now I will focus on the debate itself.
It is impossible to describe the almost three hours of discussion in the short essay which I intend this to be, but I will share with my reader some of the impressions from this arch and interesting debate.
Mr. Nye was asked before the debate about the necessity of any conversation with creationists, as in the opinion of secular scientists, creationists are officially considered unworthy of their time.
Mr. Nye probably calculated that this debate would bring him some more popularity, which he seems to crave in recent years. He also probably assumed it would be a piece of cake to debate those backward creationists in their secluded, insolated-from-the-outside-world den.
Unfortunately for him, any knowledge about creationism and creationists in general Mr. Nye probably learned from popular TV shows in which the idea of Intelligent Design is frequently ridiculed. He didn't know that those shows deliver a highly distorted picture of creationism, and that ridiculing serves nothing more than a broader moral relativism agenda.
In Mr. Ham, Mr Nye met a knowledgeable and well-prepared person who by any means doesn’t live in some Kentucky Appalachian village. He didn't preach some primitive understanding of The Book from a mouth that had missing dental work and, if I understood Mr. Nye correctly (he repeated it a few times), that very Book was translated to American English within the last three thousand years.
A few times in his conversation Mr Nye tried to describe the Creation Museum and its research institute as insulated from any outside ‘scientific’ world reality. Mr. Nye already previously expressed the belief that creationists, because they believe in Biblical Creation, are people who avoid technology. He was probably mixing them up with Amish people.
He was unable, however, to hide his surprise when Mr. Ham presented video clip statements from creationist inventors and scientists with degrees from so-called mainstream scientific institutions, who are still publishing in known scientific periodicals.
Mr. Nye was visibly surprised by the fact that creationists study and know the history of Darwinian Theory of Evolution probably better than most people, including scientists who believe in this theory of evolution.
Well, this is what, in my understanding, the various Creationist and Intelligent Design institutions do on a daily basis. One of the matters of their research is how materialistic theory of evolution became so popular and by what means of propagation.
I wish Mr. Ham had more time addressing Mr. Nye’s questions. Specifically, I wish he had thoroughly discussed the issue of trees bearing more yearly rings than the actual number of years in their lifetime. Or the issue of ice core drilling and what appears to be the longtime existence of the ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctica. I wish Mr. Ham had shared some more details or made it easier for the average observer of the debate to understand the huge problem with dating methods used by geologists. He asked the public to go to the Museum’s website to get some education on the topic, but from the debate point of view it was an insufficient argument.
Without question I give due respect to Mr. Nye, for our Sages tell us to make a blessing on the view of a knowledgeable man and Mr. Nye is, without a doubt, a man of knowledge. He is just on the wrong side ideologically.
So I do respect Mr. Ham whom, aside from his knowledge, I honor for his moral standing and family values, which we undoubtedly share.
For a Jewish viewer of the debate, it will be striking how many times Mr. Ham supports his belief of young earth creation with biblical teachings and his Christian faith. Of course as Jews we cannot share this part of his belief. There is a huge theological gap between Jewish and Christian beliefs, which cannot be bridged. The gap can not and should not be bridged, for we Jews have a different calling and a different mission in the world. But I have to admit that Mr. Ham’s stand, his statement of faith in a world where faith and belief is ridiculed on a daily basis, greatly impressed me.
His expression of faith is not strange to me. As a former Christian preacher, I recall my own past. My father-in-law was a builder of, and the head of, a community of Christian fundamentalists. My brother-in-law is leading this community even now. I always admired them and respected their faith, even when I myself understood that for me there was no spiritual progress possible anymore within the Christian faith framework.
I left their community and became a Jew. Since then, to use borrowed language, I praise the L-rd every day, every minute of my life, that He brought me to salvation.
I thank Hakuoish Burich He for allowing me to recognize and learn from the source – from the Torah – the source of life and life itself. He allows me to grasp that the Genesis or Bereishis or Maasey Bereishis is not just the story of how the Creator of the Universe brought to existence what we, with our limited perception, are calling home. He allowed me to see Bereishis as the portal to understand the essence of our existence, which lays in the fulfillment of the commandments of the Creator, reflecting His very essence.
There is no way to come to this level without becoming a member of the Bris. There is no other way than leaving silly things behind and diving into the ocean of Talmud and Mitzvois.
And this is what this debate showed me one more time.
Now, once more, I will bring up the question about my interest with Noah’s Flood – Mabul - and its souvenirs, which are visible everywhere I travel or stay.
Is it necessary for a Charedi Jew like me to put my time into a topic that seems to be irreverent for most of my coreligionists? It is indeed irreverent for most, but not for all. There are people who like to know more on various topics and the Mabul event described in our History books is one of the most important in the history of mankind and this planet. Without question, most fundamental is the moral, didactic side of it. But how many of us went to see Titus Arch or Coliseum Falvianum? How many of us went to Spain, Morocco, Poland or Ukraine to see the houses and synagogues of our ancestors? How many of us visited the Living Torah Museum in Boro Park?
Mabul is just another historical event about which, unfortunately, there is almost nobody in our environment who takes an interest. There is even some fear when it comes to the topic of dinosaurs and fossils. Many of us struggle with answers when our kids ask questions, or shove the whole thing with an Emuna Pshuta kind of answer.
There is no reason to dismiss those questions. There are books and websites discussing the topic in tremendous detail. Most important however, there are statements from Chazal shedding light on the topic. We only have to know where to look for those shards of light, and dare to explore them.
B'ezras Hashem, I dare.


Matys Weiser