Middle East 3:45 AM 3/7/2014
Inside Israel 1:14 AM 3/7/2014
Middle East 3:13 AM 3/7/2014
Life Lessons with Judy Simon
The former community activist and senator, known to friends and foes alike as both a great orator and accomplished author, is apparently striving to add yet another lofty title to his already remarkable resume.
Not content with merely being the President of the United States, Obama evidently wishes to assume the role of Chief Rabbi as well.
That, at least, is the impression one gets from the remarks he delivered last week in the East Room of the White House to mark Jewish American Heritage Month.
Speaking to a cluster of prominent invitees, the Commander-in-Chief suddenly morphed into the Interpreter-in-Chief, as he expounded on a theme taken straight from Jewish belief.
Invoking the principle of "Tikkun Olam", or repairing the world, Obama chose to twist this age-old idea almost entirely beyond recognition, suggesting that it encompasses everything from "rebuilding our economy" to "strengthening old alliances and forging new ones".
And then, taking this dubious line of thinking a step further, he even linked it to his efforts to create a Palestinian state.
Needless to say, it is quite common for politicians to wrap themselves in the flag, or in this case a prayer shawl, in an effort to cloak their positions with a semblance of authenticity and legitimacy.
But this time, Obama has gone too far. His distortion of the concept of "Tikkun Olam" is so breathtaking in its arrogance, and offensive in its ignorance, that it cannot be overlooked.
Not only does it exhibit a fundamental misunderstanding of Jewish theology, but it is also an insult to Jewish history and destiny.
To be sure, the term "Tikkun Olam" has taken a beating in recent decades, primarily thanks to various liberal groups which have misappropriated the expression to further their social-action and political agendas.
Often concerned more with saving trees in a South American rainforest than with assisting their fellow Jews in need, they slap the label of "Tikkun Olam" on to their activities with utter disregard for the origins and meaning of the phrase.
The term "Tikkun Olam" first appears in the Talmud, where it is used primarily in connection with rabbinical enactments concerning, of all things, divorce.
But the phrase is perhaps most well-known because of a reference to it in the Aleinu prayer, which is recited thrice daily at the end of services.
And that is what makes this all so deliciously ironic, because if Obama, or for that matter, many of his Jewish supporters who bandy about the term, would bother to take a look at its context, they might not rush to employ it as frequently as they do.
"Therefore we place our hope in you O L-rd our G-d," begins the second paragraph of Aleinu, "that we shall soon see the glory of your power, the elimination of abominations from the earth, the idols felled, and the repair of the world ("Le-Taken Olam") through the kingdom of G-d."
That hardly sounds like the platform of the Democratic party, don't you think?
Indeed, it is evident that the ultimate "Tikkun Olam", the one which Jews enunciate three times a day every day, has nothing to do with multiculturalism, pluralism, or even global warming.
It represents a yearning for the day when the entire world will acknowledge the G-d of Israel as Creator of the Universe.
Somehow I doubt that is what Obama has in mind for the rest of his term of office.
But the irony gets even better. For according to tradition, the first paragraph of Aleinu was authored by Joshua, who led the Israelites in conquering the very same Land of Israel that Obama now wishes to divide as part of his ambitious plan to "repair the world".
And the second section was said to have been composed by a Biblical figure named Achan, who took part in the capture of Jericho.
Thus, if one were to insist on applying "Tikkun Olam" to modern-day political agendas, it clearly would resonate more profoundly with those who wish to settle the Land of Israel, rather than carve it up.
But that has not stopped Obama and others from seeking to redefine this religious term, misrepresent it and then exploit it in order to score a few political points.
And that has got to stop. It is time that we take back the term "Tikkun Olam", which has often become a cover for some Jews to dilute Judaism and transform it into little more than fighting oil spills or salvaging endangered species of birds.
Now don't get me wrong. I am of course all in favor of Jews playing an active part in public life and contributing to the betterment of society and mankind. Looking beyond ourselves and helping others is surely something to be encouraged and fostered.
But experience demonstrates that when we embrace universalism at the expense of particularism, and reduce Judaism to nothing more than a hodge-podge of liberal causes, we do both ourselves and the world a great disservice. This, after all, is the road which leads directly to assimilation and to ruin.
It is precisely by caring for our own, and putting Jewish concerns first, such as Israel and Jewish education, that we can continue to have a lasting and profound impact on the cosmos as proud and knowledgeable Jews.
The fact is that we do not need to make the world a better place in order to keep Judaism strong. The opposite is true. By strengthening our practice and our faith, we can then contribute the most, both to ourselves and to others.
So by all means, if you care about the fate of toads in Wyoming or salmon in Oregon, go ahead and do something about it.
But in the process, don't overlook Torah study, or the campaign to free Gilad Shalit, or the need to help Ethiopian Jews build a better life in Israel.
The surest path to repairing the world starts right here at home. And if we don't start worrying a little more about ourselves, you can rest assured that no one else will do it for us.
--- from the June 4 Jerusalem Post
it was precisely 25 years ago next month that French intelligence agents, acting upon the orders of then-President Francois Mitterand, covertly attacked and blew up a Greenpeace vessel in New Zealand
Among these leading the charge to denounce Israel in unsparing terms over the Gaza flotilla incident have been the pusillanimous paragons of piety in Paris.
On Monday, without even bothering to check the facts, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reflexively condemned Israel and accused it of a "disproportionate use of force".
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was "deeply shocked" by the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla and insisted that "nothing can justify the use of such violence".
As always, it is hard to take Paris' moral posturing all too seriously, given their track record of cozying up to dictators and selling arms and ammunition to just about everyone except the Devil himself (though I'm sure they tried leaving messages for him.....).
But what is particularly galling about this Gallic gumption is the sheer hypocrisy that it represents.
After all, it was precisely 25 years ago next month that French intelligence agents, acting upon the orders of then-President Francois Mitterand, covertly attacked and blew up a Greenpeace vessel in New Zealand to prevent the environmental activists from disrupting a French nuclear test.
The ship, known as the Rainbow Warrior, was docked in port of Auckland, New Zealand's capital, and as a result of the blast, a photographer on board was killed.
So just exactly who do the French think they are to be lecturing Israel?
As I note in the column below, it would be refreshing to hear our leaders invoking some reliance on the Almighty and putting G-d back into the national conversation, injecting the sacred into their public discourse – and ours. Now, more than ever, is the time to do so.
Where is G-d?
By Michael Freund
Yesterday at 11 a.m., air raid sirens sounded across the country. Emergency crews went into position, security forces entered a heightened state of readiness and thousands of people made their way to public shelters.
It was a chilling scene, as schoolchildren were shepherded to safety, and the innocence of our nation’s youth was disrupted by the din of the alarm. Thankfully, it was only a drill.
As Col. Chilik Soffer of the IDF Home Front Command bluntly noted: “Every country trains for emergency scenarios like earthquakes and fires. Here in Israel we train for those as well as for enemy attacks.”
Living in the Middle East, it would appear, like any tough neighborhood, requires taking all sorts of precautions, however unpleasant.
And while the government tried to calm the country’s nerves, assuring us that this exercise was routine and bore no relation to the dire state of the region, it was hard to escape the feeling that something ominous is in the air. Indeed, the headlines of late have been filled with all sorts of warnings and threats, as our foes dispatch daily reminders that their intentions are anything but peaceful.
In the past few days, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad spoke openly of war and embracing the “resistance option,” while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reasserted his determination to bring about Israel’s demise. To our north, Hizbullah is busy rearming, and its thug-in-chief Hassan Nasrallah boldly declared that Israeli commercial and civilian shipping could come under attack.
Meanwhile, to the south, rocket-fire emanating from Gaza resumed, and Palestinian terrorists sought to attack soldiers guarding the frontier. In every direction, it seems, our enemies are gearing up for a war of extermination, each one trying to outdo the other in a frenzy of blood-curdling intimidation.
The arc of iniquity that stretches from Beirut to Damascus, and from there to Teheran and all the way back to Gaza, is not just rattling its saber, but may be getting ready to unsheathe it.
IN THE meantime, our closest ally, the United States, has increasingly turned hostile to us and our interests, badgering us to make still more concessions to the enemies gathering at the gate.
Like it or not, we are very much a nation that is dwelling alone.
In the face of all this, there is a knife-like question piercing through the fog of fear: Where is G-d?
Some might take this as a challenge to divine justice, but that is not what I intend. I am a man of faith, and I believe our deliverance will assuredly come.
What I mean to say is: Where is G-d in our public discourse? Why aren’t we turning to Him in this hour of need?
Sure, diplomacy and military readiness are crucial, and we must continue to invest our efforts in these areas, even as we hope for the best. But the piercing siren sounded yesterday brought to mind the wailing of the shofar on Yom Kippur, penetrating the serene obliviousness that characterizes much of our daily lives. This was a spiritual wake-up call, sounding to arouse us and jolt us into action. We can choose to ignore it, but we do so at our peril.
Each night, our generals and defense officials grace the television screens, insisting that “Israel is strong” and “we are ready.”
I’m glad to hear it and hope it’s true. But as we have seen in the past, overconfidence can breed arrogance, which is a recipe for disaster.
A dash of humility and a healthy dose of faith are just as critical to ensuring success. That’s why I’d like to see our leaders projecting a little less conceit and a lot more conviction.
How refreshing it would be to hear them invoking some reliance on the Almighty and putting G-d back into the national conversation, injecting the sacred into their public discourse – and ours.
This is more than just semantics; it goes to the very heart of the challenges we face. Belief in a higher power and in the justness of our cause is our spiritual ammunition, giving us the strength and determination to turn back any foe.
The great hassidic leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, once asked a student where G-d could be found. The surprised young scholar offered the seemingly obvious answer: Rabbi, He is surely everywhere! “No!” said the Kotzker, with fiery certitude. “G-d is only where we let Him in!”
Now, more than ever, would be the perfect time to do so.
----- from the May 27 Jerusalem Post
Indeed, it is time for the intense longing for Zion embodied in our daily and Sabbath prayers to be translated into a concrete plan of action for North American Jews, and this is where rabbis can step up and make a difference.
The Zionist Elephant in the Room
By Michael Freund
Jews around the world this week commemorated the 62nd anniversary of the momentous rebirth of the Jewish state in the land of Israel with all the pomp and ceremony warranted by such a meaningful day on the calendar.
Across North America, Federations and Jewish community centers held lectures and celebrations, youth movements convened a range of special activities, and synagogues played host to festive services of prayer and thanksgiving.
Participants waved blue and white flags with pride and downed falafel with abandon as they expressed their love and admiration, albeit from afar, for the historic undertaking known as the State of Israel.
And this, of course, is at it should be. The return of the Jewish people to our land and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty are the two greatest miracles of the modern era, so it is only natural that Diaspora Jews would see fit to venerate this turn of events.
As the late Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel, who served as Israel's first Sephardic Chief Rabbi from 1948 to 1954, wrote in his last will and testament, "Our generation has been granted a great and wonderful privilege in the revelation of the hand of the L-rd, hidden and mighty, on behalf of His chosen people, gathering our exiles and bringing them to their patrimony till we have become a people dwelling in its own land".
Indeed, if that isn't worth celebrating, then what is?
But amid all the revelry and excitement this past Tuesday in places such as New York, Toronto and Los Angeles, there is one central item that was prominently and conspicuously missing from the agenda. And that, oddly enough, was aliyah.
It is, so to speak, the Zionist elephant in the room, a painfully obvious subject which Diaspora Jews are aware of but few wish to touch, because it raises so many awkward and uncomfortable questions about the future.
And while immigration to Israel from North America has been steadily on the rise, thanks in part to the admirable work of the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization, the few thousand brave souls who make the move each year still represent just a fraction of a portion of a small sliver of the Canadian and American Jewish communities.
There are surely many reasons for this, and it is easy to point the finger at causes such as a lack of basic Zionist and Jewish education or the misplaced priorities of various national Jewish groups.
But I'd like to direct attention in an entirely different direction, to what I see as perhaps one of the greatest sources of frustration and failure when it comes to encouraging Jews to make aliyah, and that is the silence of rabbis on this critical point.
Sure, communal rabbis have their hands full already. Just keeping their congregants Jewishly-involved and motivated presents a great challenge for many in the free societies of the West.
But as the spiritual and educational leaders of their communities, Diaspora rabbis can and should do more to advance and promote aliyah, especially among the more committed and observant.
It is time for the intense longing for Zion embodied in our daily and Sabbath prayers to be translated into a concrete plan of action for North American Jews and this is where rabbis can step up and make a difference.
By taking a few simple steps, rabbis can help raise the aliyah consciousness of increasing numbers of Diaspora Jews.
These could include establishing a Rabbinical Aliyah Council, which would coordinate aliyah-centered programming and initiatives at synagogues across America.
By coming together in such a forum, rabbis would be sending an important message to their congregants underlining the centrality of aliyah and placing it squarely on the national Jewish agenda.
It would also serve as an impetus and a reminder to rabbis that they need to tackle this crucial issue.
Synagogues around the country should also devote a special Sabbath each year to the theme of aliyah. A fortuitous time to do so is when the weekly Torah portion of Lech Lecha from the book of Genesis is read in which our father Abraham became the first Jew to move to Israel.
That can be the launching point for sermons, discussions and panel sessions on the history, theology and ideology behind going home to Zion.
Synagogues could also establish an Aliyah Wall of Honor, highlighting members of the local congregation and community who have made the move. This would underline communal respect and admiration for those who make aliyah, and project a sense of aspiration and purpose to members of the younger generation.
There is of course a need for more materials to be written in English on the religious and Zionist reasons for moving to Israel, and for bonds to be strengthened between immigrants and the communities they left behind.
This will serve to strengthen the position of aliyah in the mindset of more Jews, and lend further legitimacy to the idea of considering it as an option.
Rabbis have a central role to play in making this happen, and they would do well to learn from the example in the Talmud of Rabbi Zeira.
One of the Amoraim, Rabbi Zeira was born in Babylonia but longed for the Land of Israel. Prior to moving, he spent a hundred days fasting to forget the methodology of study he learned in the Exile in order to make a fresh start once in Israel (Tractate Berachot 57a).
And when he reached the Jordan River, Rabbi Zeira was so eager to enter the land that he crossed through the water without bothering to remove his clothes.
When a passerby mocked him, Rabbi Zeira replied, "Why shouldn't I be impatient when I am pursuing a blessing which was denied even to Moses and Aaron"? (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Shevuot 35).
If only we saw a similar level of impatience among the rabbis of North America and the West.
Nonetheless, centuries later, the blessing of which Rabbi Zeira spoke is still here, awaiting us all, in the Land of Israel. Now is the time for the rabbis to encourage Jews to pursue it.
I don't know about you, but the thought of the Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia going nuclear just does not make it any easier for me to sleep at night.
One of the consequences of the Obama administration's sloppy handling of Iran's atomic ambitions has been to set the stage for a region-wide race to develop nuclear technology.
By allowing Tehran to proceed apace with its rush to the nuclear threshold, Washington has unwittingly created the conditions for a future nuclear arms race that will destabilize the entire Middle East.
Gulf Arab states, which traditionally view Iran with suspicion, are naturally terrified at the prospect of the Ayatollahs having their finger on the button, so an increasing number have now begun to plunge down the path toward nuclear know-how.
The latest to do so is Saudi Arabia, which despite being the largest supplier of petroleum oil in the world, announced this week that it will be opening a nuclear research center in Riyadh.
As the Financial Times notes, the Saudis now join a growing list of Arab countries - which includes Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - that is looking to develop nuclear energy, ostensibly for peaceful purposes.
I don't know about you, but the thought of the Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia going nuclear just does not make it any easier for me to sleep at night.
It may of course already be too late to prevent this trend from spreading. But in either event, it is time that Washington realize the damage it is doing to its own interests by allowing Iran to continue with its mad dash to build nuclear weapons. The sooner the Tyrant of Tehran is stopped, the safer all of us will be.