Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Terror and "salvation" in Navajo land

My day ended in a motel where an Apache woman welcomed me at the check in counter while the stern faced great chief Geronimo gazed at me from the wall.
Yes, I was in Apache territory and B-H  I found quiet place to rest for the night. A few hours before, I was going through terror in the territories of the Apache’s close cousins, the Navajos. No, no horseman chased me, for today’s Native Americans use pickup trucks! No one at all chased me; in fact there was no one in the desert besides me and my Suburban, a Suburban showing a loss of tire pressure on the tire pressure indicator. Every few minutes I was losing one pound of pressure. The temperature outside was over 100’F but the beautiful but empty road ahead didn’t promise any help in case I eventually needed it. As my Google map was showing me that I was approaching one of the major Navajo towns, the question was if I will make it without breaking down on the side of the road. Boruch Hashem I arrived in town with five pounds of pressure left in the tire. It took me few minutes to find the tire shop which was still open and able to help me. At the third tire shop I visited a large Navajo lady was sitting behind the desk. It is quite usual for a Navajo woman to operate the business as they seem to lead their families. However her husband showed up while the workers were busy with my tire.
The radio station was blaring from the loud speakers and I noticed that the language was in their native Navajo. On the wall hung a poster announcing a play, a theater performance called ‘Passion’. The actors were dressed in clothing resembling that which was worn two thousand years ago in Palestine and left no doubt in my mind what the performance was about. It was about the death of the man from Natzret.
I asked the owner of the business, the lady seating behind the desk if she saw the performance. She admitted that she had.
“Did you like it?” I asked.
“Yes.” - answered the lady. “It was played in our in language.”
 “How did they portray Jews in this play, as good people or bad people?” - I asked.
At this moment I decided to reveal my identity as a Jew, partially at least, as I usually don’t go in to the details of my whole life story.
“I’m Jewish.” I said to her.
First she seemed not to understand what I was talking about as probably she never saw a Jew before in her life. I picked up my cowboy hat which I wear when I travel alone in the west and showed her my big velvet yarmulka. She was a little bit shocked I guess, as she stopped talking to me immersing herself in reading the newspaper.
A few minutes later her husband walked in. She told him something in Navajo and I understood that it was about me.
He asked me which church I pray in and I answered as I have answered this question in the past. (I describe this story in my book “Another Convert”) that I go to pray in a synagogue and not in a church. Being unaware about his level of knowledge of religious affairs I quickly started to explain.
- You see, the man about whom you believe was messiah was Jewish but we Jews don’t believe that he was messiah. We follow and do everything that Moses taught us.
He said “ I know who Moses was, we have a Bible translated to Navajo.”
I wasn’t surprised as it is known fact that the Bible has been translated to almost all languages spoken on our planet. Some alphabets and even vocabularies were created especially to bring the stories of the Patriarchs and the Jewish children, to the nations of the world. As I was curious I asked him, “How do you call Moses in the Navajo language?  And Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”
He said “We have their names in English but all the rest is in our language.”
Then the man started to describe some miracles which he performed or witnessed in the name of Hanotzri which is nothing new to me as I come from an environment where a big part of the faith was supported by such stories.
The Navajo man was also a kind of preacher of the ‘Gospel” to his people, perhaps he wanted to ‘save’ my poor soul as well, not knowing that I still remember the “gospel’ almost by heart which probably makes my knowledge of it better than most of the Christian preachers.
I allowed him to talk as my immunization shield for this kind of “good” acts of “saving my soul” is as thick as the walls of Fort Knox.  But two thoughts crossed (no pun intended) my mind while the man continued to talk.
Chazal teaches us that the two offshoots of our religion are considered as preparatory stages in the history of mankind, preparing nations to accept the One Creator and his moral requirements, and his chosen people as the spiritual leaders of humanity. You can find such statements everywhere, from Yehuda Halevi and the Rambam to Maharal and Rav Hirsh. Maharal seem to go as far as giving the goim that believe in One Creator the chalachic status of Gerim Toshvim. Rav Hirsh in turn, calls Muslims – half Jewish. It is fact that from the time when our father Abraham recognized Hashem and his Torah the age of Torah began, as Mesechtas ‘Avoida Zarah’ describes it. From one man – Abraham, emerged the nation who accepted the Law of God, from this nation emerged the teaching about this One God and moral conduct. Today the majority of mankind believes in some form in a Creator of heaven and earth and to a certain extent lives their lives according to the laws of morality.
I know, there is still much to do, we – mankind, are still deep in the forest of confusion and paganism. There is still much to do for us Jews.
The other thought which came to me while I was listening to the Navajo preacher was more of a personal kind. I thought back to the various mp3s  I listened to as I was driving through the desert. I was listening to some of the deeper levels of our Torah getting high with some of the ideas derived sometimes from seemingly insignificant details of Torah Shebiksav – the written Torah. Some enzymes or other natural chemicals in my body are making me almost drunk when I learn and recognize the nature of the creation and the tasks of our existence on this Earth. I feel thrilled and extremely happy to have this opportunity to learn these issues as they are the essence of our being and a direct link of our connection to HBH. Every mitzva performed after recognition of its deeper meaning has new value and gives me new excitement.
I wouldn’t experience all of this if I would have stayed at the same level that the man talking to me was at. While for him it brought him to a higher level of humanity as he recognized G-d of Bible as the Creator and His basic moral requirements, for me that path was just not enough.
I never have enough of Him – the One and Only, and that’s how I wish it should be forever.

Matys Weiser

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who is a Jew?

From time to time we are informed by the media about DNA research which allegedly will reveal finally who is who?
Results of such research will not tell as about person’s merit or character, his accomplishments or spirituality, it may inform us however about which DNA pool he comes from. But will Jews use this data, to determine who is a Jew?

The Torah teaches us about the 70 descendants of Noah. These descendants were the protoplast of all nations of the world. Due to the adaptive character of DNA through the years peoples skin color and other natural characteristics changed. Different genes allowed for variety of populations to adapt to diverse environments. DNA allows these changes to happen. These changes are also called ‘micro evolution’ within the specie. The same DNA however doesn’t allow one specie to change into another specie because  DNA mutations are always harmful to the new organism that come to existence with the mutated/broken DNA. The changes that do occur within the specie only happen by using and combining different, healthy ‘ingredients’ of DNA, received from common ancestors. This rule applies to fauna and flora as well.  

Within the last 4000 years most of the nations of the world mixed and intermingled one with another. The tradition of the Jewish sages tell us, that after King Sancheriv resettled entire groups of people within his Assyrian empire, there remains no trace of those original nations. Even our “cousins” the Ishmaelim or Edomim have no distinct connection to their original ancestors. Their lineage is more a matter of agreement, tradition and certain cultural and religious aspects characteristically common to those two civilizations rather than real lineage as descendants of their ancestors.

Is Jewish lineage and its connection to their ancestors different then the other nations of the world? Much different. Due to the fact that a Jew was defined not only by his national membership in the Jewish nation but due to his faith that prohibited him to marry a non Jewish person there exists to a much greater extent the possibility to talk about something which we can call - Jewish DNA pool.

It is necessary however to remember that this ‘Jewish DNA pool” has overflowed or  drained into the bigger “World DNA pool” through our history by voluntary and compulsory conversions to other religions. Maybe it will be possible with future advances in science to actually discover how many non Jews are in fact descendants of the four emahos (Sarah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah) but will it change anything regarding their Jewishness, will it make them  Jewish?
According to Halacha – the Jewish code of law it will not. Jewish Codex of Law defines who is Jew and who isn’t from the time of Moishe Rabeinu i.e. the establishment of the Jewish nation until the beginning of XIX century. However since the time of Haskala – the so called Jewish enlightenment’ there is a lot of confusion regarding definition of who is a “Jew” or “Jewish” 

The theory of race is not a new invention. Already in ancient history there were people who maintained superiority over other parts of humanity. In the XIX century however modern racism was reinvented especially after the publication of Charles Darwin’s book. It became popular to believe that different people stepped down from different trees at different times, and their undergoing different evolutions made them naturally more talented and capable or less talented.

Racism does have however, great supporters among the adherents of the Bible including the Bible’s own people –the Jews. As was said above, there is such a thing like a ‘Jewish DNA pool’ but does it make the Jewish people into a Jewish race? Such a theory was promoted by some of the scientists of racism in that crucial XIX century, some of them Jewish some of them not. Among the people believing in racial theories were such luminaries of existential philosophy as Emanuel Kant and Friedrich Hegel (not Jews).
But it was their adherent Martin Heidegger who was a member of the German Nazi party who believed in the practical application of those theories. And we all know how harmful   these practical applications of race were for the Jews.

Now new theories of race are emerging based on DNA. The Jewish Newspaper claming to be orthodox asks in its title “Who is a Jew? DNA can hold a key.”

Just stunning! A so called orthodox newspaper!

Would DNA be a key to find about the Jewishness of Moishe Rabainu sons? Or Pinchas ben Eleazar who (Eleazar) married  Moishe Rabenu’s wife sister?  Pinchas who is is Eliahu HaNavi as our tradition tells us, is the grand son of Yisro the ger? How many of us could even imagine that, Eliahu Hanavi is a son of person who was not born with complite Jewish DNA!? What about the mitochondria of King’s David’s great grandmother Ruth?
Shemaya, Avtalion, Onkelos, Rabbi Meir bal HaNess, Rabbi Akiva, Abraham baal Ha Toisfos…

Again and again in these types of discussions I mention the names of a few of the greatest Jewish sages just to shock people into thinking and not just regurgitating ideas completely strange to their ancestors, ancestors who perhaps also have some of the DNA from out of the “pool”.
The  Bobover Rebbe, Reb Shloimie Halbershtam once said to Jewish  convert – “I also have blood of Gerim in my veins. I can trace my ancestry all the way to King David and his Great grand mother was a Moabite.”

We will continue this topic in a future essay.

Matys Weiser

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Last week the whole country was breathlessly awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the so called Obamacare. In this essay I will share with my readers my point of view on the topic of the universal health care law, I say “law” because I’m afraid that the present bill is not exactly what people of our country really need, it is certainly not something which can be called a universal healthcare system.

Before I even start, for the reason which you will understand soon, I have to make a statement. My paternal grandfather was killed by the Germans in WW2 in the Mathausen concentration camp and my maternal grandfather was injured by a German bullet on the front line of the same war. I have my personal reasons to feel a certain reserve toward the German people, although I’m able to put it aside when it comes to something that we Americans can learn from them. Besides, I’m a person who believes in the responsibility of individuals without blaming entire groups or nations. I do not put the blame for Nazism on the entire country of Germany or on another population. I know, a lot of people will disagree vehemently with me on this but this is not the only issue where my convictions put me in the minority.
Also, for those that accuse me of being a socialist, I will tell it straight at the beginning. Yes, I am a socialist or to be more precise – a social democrat. That’s where my political views orbit. No, I don’t believe in the Marxist or Leninist form of socialism. When the communist rulers wanted to impose it on us over thirty years ago I personally fought against them on top of the barricades erected in the city where I grew up (See my essay "Hanukkah' and pictures there). I risked my life fighting against communist dictatorship and thank G-d I was saved to raise my family and do lots of other things in my life.  Moreover, as a teenager I read some books on theory of socialism including “Capital” of Marx which didn’t appeal to me then and it still doesn’t appeal to me now. So before some of you will start to see my statements through the prism of ‘Chochmos’ acquired from ‘prophets’ like Limbaugh, Beck and Cavuto and other right wing mouth pieces of the corporate propaganda machine about socialism, please continue to read.

In 1883 the chancellor of united Germany, Otto von Bismarck, issued the first of his social bills. The “Health care bill” was passed by the Reichstag – the parliament in the same year. The next year the “Accident insurance bill” was passed. Five years later in 1889 “Old age and disability law” was proposed by Bismarck and approved by the German parliament, giving the foundation for social changes in many countries around the world, including ours. The social security system of our country is based on the idea of that German legislation.

From a certain point of view we may speculate that social legislation was a “lesser evil” chosen by the governing bodies of these countries instead of giving up the working masses under the influence of Marxists ideology which was calling for forceful changes in western societies. Marx, Engels and to certain extent LaSalle (all of them born Jewish) were already spreading this idea for decades, a dangerous idea that equality and social justice may be achieved only by the uprising of the  working class and more or less bloody revolution.

The social legislation and the following social changes were certainly “lesser” but was it “evil”?  Certainly it was evil from the position of the industrialists, who since the establishment of these new social regulations had to spend more money on the workers which meant that their profits decreased in order for them to be competitive. I have no doubt about it, all those who believe that the free market and capitalism are the true engines of progress and prosperity such regulations means unnecessary interference of government with the rules of the free market.
So… whose progress and prosperity are we talking about? Owners and industrialists – who are the in narrow margin of society or society itself? Is the free market really completely free and if it is not, where are the borders of this freedom? Isn’t it true that if instead of a worker being exploited to the limits of his capability we allow him to maintain a level of life where he can fulfill his family and social needs then he can work more effectively thus enriching his company and society?

Since Bismarck’s legislation, the German model of social protections regulated by a democratically elected government, proved to be successful; not only on the humanistic platform but also in industrial and technological progress. Germany, even with the huge setback of the WW1 and Nazi madness, was and still it is a leading economical and industrial power not limited only to Europe.

What then, is the great danger for our country that we are so scared by the moronic rhetoric from all kinds of “protectors” of the free market, capitalism and our style of life, against communism - socialist dictatorship? Who are we really protecting by supporting politicians and powers that clearly do not represent the broad society, including a big sector of the Jewish population who are not able to make ends meet?

Over the next hundred years after the German invention, different countries and societies adapted or created different social legislations protecting its citizens. Each one crafted to a specific situation or even to a specific culture who by democratic means chose to protect not only those who can protect themselves but also those who can not fight for their social rights - the poor, sick and old or disabled socially or economically in different ways. In many countries it was kind of a social revolution, especially those populations which were living out of the area of influence of Christian or Muslim ideals of the social justice or protection of the needy. In some of the countries it simply meant not sending old parents to the mountains to die or ending the killing of disabled or sick children. Although it must be said that this kind of cruel behavior is still acceptable in some cultures even today.

For me as a Jew, the major question is what is the measure of progress? Is it value of GDP or GDI? Is it, like the communists wanted, amount of steel produced per number of citizens? Is it the number of cars per family?  What is the progress that we are measuring?
When we look at the American Declaration Of Independence the first rights for all our citizens are 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.  It seems to be, that the fathers of this country understood progress to mean the protections of individuals and their freedom, and industrialization is certainly not to require sacrificing human life, health or happiness. For the founding fathers of this country the true measure and value of society was what makes humans more Human and society more humanistic. They focused on the good and prosperity of man without giving up his dignity or falling under servitude of any kind.

Where did these ideas and ideals come from? Can we ‘blame’ the French revolution or the Humanism of Voltaire for these not so new values? Before Voltaire there was Montesquieu and before him there were others.  At which point of history do we see the beginning of the idea of protection of human life, health and dignity as a value for itself? When it was first thought that unprivileged and weaker individuals have not only the same rights like every one else but that specifically these persons need the extraordinary protection of society?  

Before I will try to answer those questions according to my understanding, I will tell you an interesting story.  In 1128 CE, in Cairo Egypt a new hospital was opened for the public, its name was Al Mansur (by some sources it was in the year 1284, when probably some kind of extension or renovation was done.) The Hospital was declared by the ruler of the country to be a facility “for, the sick, poor, and rich alike.”
According to the decree of sultan who initiated the establishment of the hospital “the hospital is to serve all people from the king to the lowest of his subjects”.

This was the best hospital built at that time as reported by contemporary travelers and historians of that time such as Ibn-Battuta and Al-Kalkashandi. It was divided into different sections according to the medical ailments or different diseases. Music therapy was used as a form of therapy treatment for psychiatric patients. It served 4,000 patients daily and the patient's stay in the hospital was free. Moreover, on his discharge, the patient was given food and money for compensation for being out of work during his hospital stay.  Other sources describe, that there were steady working physicians and other personnel of the hospital as well as those who worked there by the systems of turns. One of the managers of the hospital was the personal physician of sultan al Kamil (brother of Salladin). The name of chief doctor of Al Mansur Hospital was Ibrahim or Abraham ibn Maymon - author of “HaMaspik LaOvdey HaShem” - the son of the Rambam.

That’s some idea of the social ideals at work, but again the same question persists, at which point of history do we see the beginning of the idea of protection of human life, health and dignity as a value for itself, that the value of life, health and well being of every member of the society as equal and worthy of protection; regardless of the social or economic position of that person in this society?

It is our own Torah which in the new era which started already in the time of Abraham our father, after 2000 years of nothingness (Talmud Avoda Zarah). The Torah was the first to teach hospitality, openness, justice, mutual respect and friendship. It taught the children of Israel to help each other, especially those without protection of relatives or family, the orphans, widows and yes - strangers. Jewish social institutions always served as an example not only for Christian or Muslim societies. Certainly institutions like: Bikur Cholim, HaChnosas Orchim, Gemilas Chesed or even Jewish courts. The very existence of those institutions served as a model for social care and justice unknown previously to the pagan world.

Today we Americans are living in a society of over 300,000,000 citizens. If more than 10% of us can not be treated as any citizen of medieval Cairo would have been then it is no progress at all! It is a huge failure of a civilization claiming to be a light of Judeo-Christian values. It is a shame!

Is Today’s America ready for a universal health care system? BeEzras Hashem I will try to answer this question in the near future.

Matys Weiser