September 30, 2005

What will you hear this year?

Rosh Hashana actually doesn’t mean “New Year” but rather the Head, or Climax, of the year! After all, the Torah describes the festival as falling in the ‘seventh month’, and Nisan is the first of month of the year. Anyway, by the time we get to the Mishna, some two thousand years ago, we find not one but four New Years.

The first of Nisan is the New Year for Months and Kings (thank goodness we don’t have any anymore, and no I’m not ecstatic at the prospect of the Messiah reinstituting the monarchy--I only hope Elijah persuades him to try other forms of government instead).

The first of Elul is the break-off point for deciding which newborn animals in your herds need tithing in any given year. Both Rebbi Elazar and Rebbi Shimon think it’s the first of Tishrei. See rabbis have been arguing on fundamentals for thousands of years and show no sign of tiring.

The first of Shevat is the New Year for Trees according to the school of Shammai, but it’s the fifteenth according to Hillel.

And the first of Tishrei is the New Year for Years, Seventh-Year Sabbaticals and Jubilees, and for fixing the three years fruit trees must grow before you can eat the fruit, and the cut-off point for tithing vegetables! Wow, if ever there was a case of rabbinic inflation, this is it!

But, joking aside, the Mishna goes on to say that on Rosh Hashana (quoting Psalms 36) ALL humanity pass before God like sheep (one by one, like soldiers in single file). I have always been struck by the fact that it says and is repeated in our liturgy, “ALL of humanity”, not only Jews. Somehow we have got used to thinking that God only sits in judgment of Jews on Rosh Hashana, and that we should be thinking about and praying for ourselves exclusively.

Yet the text is very clear. This is about everyone, the whole of the world, all humanity. Believe it or not, if one accepts the idea of God as Creator, then logically God must care about everyone created, even a humble peasant on the Ganges delta (or in Darfur, for that matter, although clearly the UN doesn’t give a damn). But you really wouldn’t know it to hear some people go on about how only Jews have Heavenly Souls and “shikker is a goy” and “only Yidden are close to the Almighty” and anyway who cares about the rest of the world “cos ‘I’m alright, Moishe”!

Now I believe that is why the shofar is so crucial to the occasion—precisely because it is all sound, totally universal and equal to all human beings, with no words that can carry cultural baggage. And sound can conjure up so many different emotions. The three sounds are all universal sounds of sadness, pain and alarm. We switch off when rabbis and politicians speak and preach. But perhaps a deep piercing sound can penetrate our egotistical carapaces where words cannot.

You know that in Classical music there’s a school of thought that works should be played on instruments of the time they were written, which creates a sound very different from that of modern orchestras. But the sound of the shofar today is the same sound that accompanied the exiles from the Inquisition, the Romans, and the Babylonians. It is the same sound that was heard four thousand years ago. So nothing conjures up the history of our people like the Shofar.

In the Gemara the rabbis disagree as to when the world was created. (No, dear readers, two thousand years ago no one had heard of Darwin or carbon dating.) Was it Nisan or was it Tishrei? (And, wonder of wonders, no one called the person who disagreed a heretic. But we were evidently much more civilized two thousand years ago, of course.) So Rosh Hashana has come to symbolize a new start, for us and for the world. A chance to rethink and to try to get it right. Or at least to do better than last year.

The great Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said the crying of the shofar is the pain of childbirth. To create something new you have to break out of the old. The newborn child’s first sound is the cry. It heralds something new. So on Rosh Hashana we return to the womb in a way—the womb we came from and the womb of the world’s creation. On both humanity has etched its marks and sullied the purity of the original vision but now we are given an opportunity to return, to write a new chapter.

Sadly for most of us the routines of religion or of social expectation or of habit are just that—routines, carried out without a thought or without any intention of change. And so another child is born to cry on earth and die too soon and fail to fulfill its potential. And another part of nature is eradicated to meet the material appetites for more. And our religion will continue to be hijacked by obscurantists, while at the same time it grows and it thrives and ‘waxes fat’ within its own self-preoccupied little ghettos. And the world that God created goes on and another year passes, and what, dear friends, have we really done since last time?

When we hear the Shofar and we finally say “Next Year in Jerusalem”, will we really mean it or will we just be relieved it’s all over and go back to our old ways for another year?

Have a sweet year everyone, in which we try to make it sweet for others too!


(I want to thank Rabbi Zvi Leshem for some of his ideas.)

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September 24, 2005

Tattoos

I hate tattoos with such a passion its almost illogical. Nowadays you can hardly open your eyes without seeing them—the ugly black, dirty red, dark blue, and mud green, on arms, ankles, butts, necks and, most revoltingly, whole arms or legs or torsos. It’s not my idea of art. Although I guess "pop art" might disprove my opinion, I find nothing beautiful or aesthetic in them--just ritualized self-desecration and self-mutilation. Yet every sports icon, Hollywood actor or model seems to need one.

All over the New York subway you find adverts offering to remove tattoos. I guess if “Lola Forever” has turned into “Lola the Slut” you’ll not want to advertise the fact. Or if Joe no longer loves you, you might not attract new custom if his name stares up at a suitor whenever you undress! Crosses become a problem if you convert to Islam, just as I’m reliably informed that California plastic surgeons are swamped with requests to undo circumcisions! (I suppose there was a time when circumcisions were less visible than most tattoos. Clearly this no longer the case in San Francisco!)

Why do I hate tattoos so? Well, frankly, it started as a class thing back in post-war Britain. Then the only people who had tattoos were lower ranks in the Armed Services and, in particular, sailors who had the reputation of either having a man or a woman in every port! Tattoo parlors were seedy tobacco-shrouded cells you would pass in the red light district of Soho (I was only passing through MiLud) or the back streets of cold, wet and seedy British holiday resorts, surrounded by cheap stores selling rock, candy floss and "Kiss Me Quick" t-shirts.

Then they graduated to Rockers and brutish motorbike riders who traveled in gangs and associated with the criminal classes and were always the murderers in Sam Peckinpah films. And there were stories about needles spreading diseases and drugs and abortions.

So in my youth respectable youngsters would no more have entertained the idea of getting a tattoo than they would have considered castration!

Then there was my Jewish upbringing. The Torah describes how Jewish men removed their jewelry after the Golden Calf episode, so I knew that good Jewish boys wouldn’t wear jewelry. And only Hebrew Slaves who couldn’t face freedom had their ears pierced, so I certainly wasn’t going to have an earring and be identified as a slave. Similarly, tattoos were against the law, as stated in Leviticus 20.28, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you; I am the Lord.” So leaving aside the residual class snobbery of my English upbringing, my Jewish side was heavily antithetic to tattoos.

But then, before my eyes, society began to change. The pop culture of the sixties, the films "Clockwork Orange" and "If", "angry young men" like the playwright John Osborne, and working class actors like Terence Stamp and Tom Courtenay all helped elevate cockney and working class culture so that upper-class snobs started trying to speak like Michael Caine and cockney photographer David Bailey became an honorary aristocrat. Slowly the values and standards and hypocrisies of Victorian England were turned upon their heads. This process took time and slowly gathered pace as British society opened up and sucked in millions of others.

In one way I welcomed the collapse of the old, class-ridden, racist, hypocritical standards. As a Jew I no longer felt the need to hide, to be a Jew at home and a Brit in public. But a lot of the change was for the worse. Fashion came to dictate morality and superficiality, and dumbing down slowly swept away the good standards with the bad.

Yet together with the deterioration (others might prefer to use the word evolution) of certain respects of Western secular standards, scientific and medical expertise continued to advance. One result of this was the ability to change our appearances through plastic surgery. Now it is possible to totally transform the way people look. Sadly, the boob-dominated Barbie Doll look became the ideal that millions of Western females began to aspire to. In many groups, even in very Orthodox wealthy communities, you can see lots of these clones. Inner qualities gave way almost exclusively to outer appearance, and outer is dictated entirely by the entertainment and fashion industry. I guess Torah values still leave plenty of room for individuals to pursue their own Holy Grails!

Nevertheless, you might even think illogically, the one thing you will not find in Orthodox communities are tattoos. Actually that claim is not quite correct, because new halachic literature does discuss the issue of tattoos and whether you can put your tefillin on them or not, so there must be quite a lot of new arrivals with tattoos in place. But to intentionally have one when one is aware of the religious prohibition makes a nonsense of, say, modern pseudo-Kabbalah tattoos.

Now that Entertainment and Fashion have become, for millions, the gods of the twenty-first century, if they decide tattoos are good then everyone has to think that tattoos are good. But I find them ugly. Tatt as in tattoo! Objectively, aesthetically, tattoos are limited both in color and form, far more restricted than other forms of art. I’m not going to say it has no value at all, but rather as Pop is to Classical, it is ephemeral and transient.

Sure there are some intelligent, cultured and, indeed, good people who wear pony tails, earrings and tattoos. But I’m glad to say it is a minority interest. Real value lies in something far deeper than tattooing or piercing one’s body. Their current omnipresence is a sign of our times, and not everything in our times is for the best. When Angelina Jolie’s or Madonna’s or David Beckham’s body decoration becomes the touchstone of society we are in real trouble!

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September 22, 2005

Dumb and Dumber

Every time you think religious leaders can’t get any more dumb, they get dumber!

So Katrina was punishment for the Gaza withdrawal was it? “Hurricanes hardly happen”, but why didn’t one turn up off the Gaza coast instead? Sometimes I really wonder what the Almighty thinks about the way some rabbis make our religion into a laughingstock. And it doesn’t help that other religions have equally challenged leaders.

A few months ago the clerics of the world were all busy claiming that the tsunami was God’s punishment for whichever was their favorite enemy at the time. Now you will have heard that Katrina was punishment for Afghanistan, Iraq and Christian Crusaders. It was punishment for gay marriage, pornography, atheism, slavery, killing Aztecs, Incas and Red Indians, not to mention Monica Lewinsky and Hugh Heffner.

It is one thing to believe that God intervenes in human affairs. It is one thing to claim that we need to learn lessons from every catastrophe. But it is quite another thing to say, “You know, guys, I am privy to Heavenly information, and it was personally revealed to me via the Holy Spirit that God Himself nudged Katrina off its original course with the precise intention of teaching New Orleans a real lesson for all that decadent jazz down there.”

Sadly, our religion is made a mockery of by other jokers. Here’s a report from The Forward, a Jewish newspaper in the USA:

The Orthodox Union, representing 1000 congregations in North America, sent an urgent letter to the Israeli Supreme Court urging it to forbid Prime Minister Sharon’s government from destroying the synagogues from 21 recently evacuated Jewish settlements in Gaza. In its letter, the OU. . .argued that bulldozing the sanctuaries would violate Jewish Law and put synagogues in the Diaspora in jeopardy. The President of the OU said the organization (which is the world’s largest certifier of kosher foods) was supporting the preparation of a report alleging that Sharon’s government repeatedly violated the civil rights of disengagement supporters.
Now, I understand why the Knesset or frustrated Cabinet members should want to make useless gestures in pursuit of political capital. But what sort of stupid gesture was the OU’s? Was it the frustrated, futile, angry act of American Modern Orthodoxy that so blindly allied itself with the Gaza settlers and now feels the need to assert itself? Are there no greater issues in life in Israel today to be addressed? Did the OU really think it better to have the synagogues desecrated in the crudest way by howling mobs of Palestinian youth, instead of an efficient, if sad, demolition by Israeli contractors (perhaps with pieces to sell to those who care for buildings more than people)? And if the argument was that the Israeli Government should re-construct them elsewhere, who would pay? And wouldn’t the money be better spent combating poverty? Priorities, my dear!

And here’s another jewel from a different North American journal of Jewish juvenilia, The Jewish Press:

As the Lijensker Rebbe was deeply pained by the appalling condition of the eternal resting place of Jaroslav, he joined Rabbi Mayer Gabbai, an expert in cemetery rehabilitation, and planned to rebuild the Ohel (Sepulcher) and restore its glory. The cemetery is under the watchful eye of the local authority. A formal application would have been denied without consideration.

In the darkness of the night, Rabbi Gabbai and the Lijensker Rebbe excavated around the gravesite. After he discovered the foundations, an architect was employed to draw up plans for the rebuilding. In order to avoid detection and eventual interference, all building efforts had to be carried out in the darkness of the night. Supplies had to be brought in under several subterfuges so that an onlooker would not understand what was underway.

A team of experienced roofers had to be covertly recruited, smuggled into the cemetery in the middle of the night and complete the work before sunrise. All night activities had to be scheduled on evenings that had no other local events. Of course, after completion of the Ohel, its detection was only a matter of time. Literally only a few days after the cement dried, the complaint was filed with a notice of impending destruction. The Lijensker Rebbe quickly mobilized all his contacts and brought as much international and diplomatic pressure as possible to avert the second destruction of this saintly Ohel, and at the very last moment the municipal order to demolish the Ohel was rescinded.
So if he had so much influence why not use it BEFOREHAND?!!

Have you noticed that there are sections of the Ultra-Orthodox world that seem more concerned with the dead than the living? Part of it is, of course, traditional reverence for the remains of spiritual giants. Part of it is misplaced nostalgia for the imagined perfection of the ghettos of the past. But why can’t half the energy that’s put into the dead be applied to alleviating many of the pressures and limitations that too many living Jews suffer from simply through religious inertia that refuses to get off its butt and use tools provided within our constitution to help some people who could benefit from lenient or innovative ruling?

But there’s another issue here. It’s the paradigm of, “To hell with the Law of the Land, let’s see what we can away with. Let’s fiddle and hopefully we’ll find a way of hanging on to our ill-gotten gains.” It may be harmless enough over petty bureaucrats and graves in Belarus or the Ukraine, but it’s less so over fiddling social security, illegal real estate practices and devious business dealings that ought not to be encouraged or praised when ill-gotten gains get allocated to yeshivas and kollels while rebbes turn a blind eye.

There is something sick in the minds of too many outwardly religious people wherever you look. It always amazes me that so much good and wonderful work is done, nevertheless, and that there are so many really good, spiritual souls that have succeeded in rising above the murk that surrounds them.

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September 12, 2005

My Own Trumpet

I’ve just had a book of my essays published in Manchester. It’s not my first book. I’ve written others on Judaism, theology and mysticism. But for me this book is rather special.

I was brought up in an oral society. My late father, universally known as Kopul Rosen, was a famous orator. His style of grand oratory is no longer practiced nowadays. When we hear people talk in public they are lecturers, speakers, entertainers, some of note and distinction, but none of them that I have heard is an orator.

My father was born into a poor but loving and caring family of refugees in London over ninety years ago. He spoke Yiddish at home and English on the street. He grew up in a London in ferment, during the dramatic spread of Communism and Socialism, the Great War and then the Great Depression, and the rise of Mosley Fascism. As a Jew he grew up during the classical formative Zionist struggle for a Jewish State.

It was a time before modern mass communication and electronic entertainment. As a result, thousands would turn up to hear great speakers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who would hold audiences spellbound for hours. As kids, my father would regale us with stories of great orators in Yiddish and English and the tricks and skills they employed to hold their audiences’ attention. He would tell us about the hours he spent at Hyde Park Corner listening to the massively popular Sunday morning soapbox debates and the constant sparring and heckling.

It didn’t matter what ideology you were preaching so long as you used words and language to make your point or to demolish a speaker. First-class minds sparred with each other. Fisticuffs were rare. It was language that was used in the most skillfully cruel and humiliating way. More often than not, humor was the weapon of choice rather than anger. By the time I visited Hyde Park Corner, cranks, lunatic missionaries, or intellectually-challenged fanatics occupied the soapboxes. It was a pale shadow of its illustrious past. But its impact on my father could be seen in the way he argued and debated, and totally demolished any argument his argumentative kids might try throwing back at him.

Even in Eastern Europe, where he went to study at Mir, he was known for his Yiddish oratory and his facility with Yiddish for rhyming, jesting and entertainment. Throughout my life I have met people who recall the tremendous impact he made, even in one of the greatest yeshivas of all time.

My father became an amazingly popular and admired rabbi. His oratory packed synagogues wherever he went and his famous evidence to the Anglo-American Palestine commission in 1946 was regarded in its day as the most outstanding contribution made in the English language.

In 1948 he left the rabbinate in disgust and set up Carmel College. Though he spent most of his time fundraising away from the school, his powers of speech and powerful personality inspired generations of pupils. The school was suffused with the magic of his personality even when he was absent.

I mention all this because I was not brought up to think of writing as my means of making a living, but speech. My father did write a small book on "Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement" for his MA in Manchester in 1939. He wrote a PhD on "The Concept of the Mitzvah", and shortly before he died he left a collection of popular essays to a mythical pupil, called "Dear David". But that was all. Sadly, only those who actually heard him speak can have any idea of what an amazing man and orator he was.

He didn’t want me to try to follow in his footsteps and I originally went up to university to study architecture. But his death when I was 19 galvanized me into wanting to pick up his baton. So I threw myself into Jewish education and the rabbinate, using the tools he bequeathed me. Over the next forty years I talked and taught and spoke and lectured and used my own style of public speaking wherever I was. I am nothing more than a shadow of my father, but it’s gratifying to be told so often that it was not wasted. But as I get older I become more and more aware of the ephemeral nature of the spoken word and the fading impact even of the greatest of personalities. So I have decided belatedly to switch out of speaking and into writing. This was how I came to turn to journalism and my newspaper columns. Simultaneously I began to start serious, literary writing as well--a very different skill and occupation.

I did not expect my more ephemeral essays to find a publisher. It was entirely due to the prompting and support of Mancunian Joe Dwek that this collection of my essays came into being. We were pupils together at Carmel. I must confess I was a very naughty boy. Having a father who was headmaster as well didn’t help--I got into double trouble. Joe was my House Captain, Soccer Captain, and Prefect, and for some reason he took it upon himself to defend me. He has been a supportive friend ever since.

But we also share a legacy from my father of deep commitment to Judaism based on knowledge and scholarship. Joe’s excellent brain always reacted against stupidity, fundamentalism and obscurantism, and he has always encouraged those in the Jewish community who were academically gifted, open-minded, and not a little iconoclastic.

So as someone born in Manchester, having a book published in Manchester, by friends who are Mancunian, with the support of the Manchester Jewish Telegraph makes this book very special. If you read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.


To purchase Jeremy Rosen's book of essays, Beyond the Pulpit, or any of his other books, you can order online in the UK. (Just click on the word "online".)

Outside the UK, please contact shoshana@jeremyrosen.com

September 02, 2005

Synagoguaphobia

As we start the month of Elul and prepare ourselves for the coming Days of Awe, the pit of my stomach tightens as I realize that the time of the year is approaching when I’m going to have to spend a lot more time than usual in synagogues.

I ought to explain how I came to feel this way. I don’t really find most synagogues particularly good places to pray in. I do enjoy praying, meditating, contemplating, whichever variation, very much. I go off into my own imagination and have conversations with that Great Spirit Beyond. Sometimes it is very therapeutic. It is just like having a friend or an analyst in space to work things out with and say things I couldn’t to anyone else. It’s also an escape into another world. I float off into a warm cocoon of Divine energy that in a way recharges my spiritual batteries. Sometimes I do this alone. On the other hand, I also enjoy being part of a group of others who are either singing or silently communing in an atmosphere of togetherness. So I really do love both the experience of private prayer and of community prayer.

But there is something about a synagogue that puts me off. I can handle shtieblach—small intense little prayer groups that usually meet in houses or small crowded places. I can cope with the shoving and the noise and the general buzz of familiarity and the ability to wander in and out as I feel like, for a breath of fresh air or just to stretch. I go to a shtieble to have a very specific range of experiences that are often as much social as spiritual. But synagogue services and formality fill me with dread.

I love study, Torah of any kind. So in principle I should like sermons and drashot, more academically based talks. I Iove the opera. So I ought to delight in Chazzanut. So why is it that I can’t take sermons or cantors in synagogues?

I grew up in Carmel College, a Jewish residential school in the Oxfordshire countryside, where students took the services. Most of the kids were not religious and found services boring, a chore, or down right torture. Yet the services were short, with lots of singing, and took place in familiar, everyday sorts of spaces that were not awe-inspiring or impersonal. So it was all relatively tolerable compared to the experiences I had when I came up to town and was dragged along to a big London synagogue. Regardless of denomination or degree of religiosity, they were all as bad as each other.

There were rows of pews in which dark-suited, glowering men sat huddled together or singly, staring across to other soulful, detached characters on the opposition benches. In the front of the central bima there were usually a couple of very self-important men in top hats and tallis scarves giving regular instructions to busy little beadles in long black gowns who scurried around the synagogue dealing with this and that—handing out honors, dispensing books and religious articles and chasing little boys out of the sanctum sanctorum to run around and make a noise outside.

Sometimes the top hats would start shushing or commanding and then they would give up and return to nattering amongst themselves, and the beadle would wander in and out, whispering to friends and buddies or telling jokes and laughing. The rabbi would be sitting in splendid isolation up by the ark, looking solemn and pompous. I couldn’t understand why he had to be dressed in a funny hat and a long pleated black cape that made him look like a minister of the church or even perhaps an assistant to the Angel of Death. Gazing imperiously around at his flock, he would occasionally nod at someone, but most of the time he was lost in a book.

Then he would get down from on high and slowly follow the procession of the Torah at funereal pace around the bima. Very serious. Very formal. Very remote. Nodding at this one or that—and you could tell who he thought was important or not. When he got up onto his special little lectern he would start speaking in a language that was unfamiliar, in tones that sounded sepulchral and medieval. And what I did understand was boring or quite irrelevant to the way I looked at the world. Very often I noticed that people talked or dozed off or even sneaked out and huddled around outside until the rabbi had finished.

The Chazzan often scared me. The powerful, bellowing voice sounded strained and strange. The pointless repetitions dragged out the service when I just wanted to go out and play. I knew I had to wait until it finished, but it just wouldn’t stop.

Worst of all was the reading from the scrolls, Kriat HaTorah. There would be a little bit of reading, which I could follow and could practice my own reading alongside. But then it stopped and a whole flurry of strange activity went on. The people up on the bima started nattering and laughing, and meanwhile the rabbi or someone else would start rattling off at great speed, stopping to ask someone something and then off again. A whole long list of names was read out and then someone mentioned money and everyone called out, “Shkoyach!” Meanwhile, in the congregation everyone else was chatting and sending semaphore signs up to the ladies' gallery, women were mouthing instructions down to the men, and hordes of kids started running in and running out and it was bedlam.

If there was some special occasion, then there were rows and rows of extremely posh-dressed men below and women upstairs who paid not the least bit of attention to what was going on but seemed to be having a very jolly time. I felt out of place, bored and uninvolved. I just wanted it to be over as soon as possible but it went on and on and on and on. I felt like the country mouse and couldn’t wait to get back to the countryside.

If I was lucky enough to be taken to a shtiebel, then it was a different matter altogether. There was one in Bishops Avenue I used to love going to, even though the lovable rabbinical presence was fine at telling jokes but absolutely awful giving talks! He seemed to spend most of his time amongst the “natives”, giving out sweets and discussing important issues with the inner circle of congregants. Half the people there seemed to be having a jolly time too. But they were wandering around with whisky glasses, munching honey cake. Yes, they were talking too, but they seemed to go outside to chat. Inside they listened carefully to what was going on and just loved to shout out corrections and show how involved they were. When they prayed, there was silence. If someone finished in record-breaking time, he would ease himself out from between the others and go refill his glass. There was no Chazzan. All sorts of different members, some better and some worse, took turns at the front to say and sing. Everyone joined in and all went pretty quickly and painlessly.

Over the years I have come across people who simply adore formality and sermons and Chazzanut and funny hats and realize that humans come in a variety of shapes and have very different tastes. I have also met a lot of people whose memory of synagogue is as negative as mine was. I’ve been a rabbi all my working life and I still don’t like most synagogues. (Of course I’m excluding Yakar from these reservations which meets in a school and tries to avoid most of my strictures.)

Yet when I was sent off to Yeshiva in Israel as a young man, I discovered an amazing range of different sorts of shuls and shtiebles and styles and forms and pronunciations and customs. Judaism offers such a wide variety of experiences, suited different types of people. So, if you don’t like where you are or what you’ve seen, try somewhere else! As the Talmud says, “If someone says, 'I have tried but I haven't found,’ don't believe him!”

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The Withdrawal and Divine Intervention

In response to feedback I have received to the previous post (Withdrawal from Gaza), I wish to clarify my remarks about the dangers of declaring that it was the will of God not to withdraw from the settlements:

My position is based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin 87b. Rabbi Shmuel ben Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Yehonatan, "May the bones rot of those who calculate the end of days (the Coming of the Messiah), for the result is that people will say that since the predicted time has arrived, and yet He has not come, He will never come. But [even so], I say, we should simply wait for Him."

The issue is not one of Divine Intervention, that is a given. It is whether people can or should declare that something, whether the holocaust or the establishment of Israel, can be said to contain a definite message from God and declare exactly what that message is and insist it carries with it halachic ramifications.

Of course we are punished and rewarded for our actions, but as the Gemara in Brachot (or Rav Yannai in Avot) makes amply clear, we do NOT know how it works in practice and why Tzadik VeRa Lo, etc.

Of course rabbonim, even great rabbonim, have declared that this or that is a Divine Message. But does this mean they were necessarily right? Yes, we do believe this of the Churban Bayit 1 and 2, and the Galut, but after the end of nevuah I think not! Even if the relatively new idea of daat torah is trying to resurrect it! We accept the halacha as the revealed will of God it is true, but on matters where there is not universal agreement such statements are just divisive and counterproductive.

I indeed believe as a matter of personal emunah that God intervenes and did in the establishment and survival of Israel, but this carries with it no halachic imperative! So I think the "Tzur Yisrael" of the Declaration of Independence refers to God. Ben Gurion said it meant TZAHAL!

How do you deal with some rabbonim who say Israel is the work of God and others who say it is the work of the Devil? That is precisely the danger. So if one Rav declares "land for peace" is forbidden by God and another says it is permitted by God, all that happens is that that non-believers or doubters end up dismissing Torah.

I love faith so much that I am upset when people lay it open to ridicule!!

(Indeed, I love and venerate the memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztl so much that it hurts to see it diminished by misuse of religious terminology and ideology, which is why I made that comparison.)

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