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Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
It is not enough for a non-Jewish person to feel Jewish, or to love Israel, in order to be Jewish.
The Chinese Man In America
Perhaps you have heard the story about the Chinese man who came to America. Arriving at Kennedy Airport in New York, he entered the U.S. Customs line for citizens of the United States. When the Customs official asked to see the Chinese man’s passport, he showed him his passport from China.
The moral of the story is that it is not enough for a non-Jewish person to feel Jewish, or to love Israel, in order to be Jewish. Just as there are laws for foreigners who want to become American, there are laws for people who want to become Jewish. Since this subject is a “bombshell” as one reader said, and since several people sent in very emotional comments, we will try to deal with it in greater depth after the Purim holiday.
A Match Made In Heaven
Last night I went to the wonderful wedding of my wife’s cousin from the Hasidic side of her family. All of the men wore furry Streimmel hats. Many of the young boys wore those cute, box-like caps from the old country. Yiddish was the main language. Of course, the men and women guests were separated, seated in different rooms of the wedding hall. The happy, bashful, nineteen-year-old Hatan (groom) looked like he was still in grade school. He had met the Kallah, my wife’s eighteen-year-old cousin, only one time before, on their one and only shidduch (date). Until meeting once again under the chuppah (wedding canopy), they had not exchanged a look, and certainly not a kiss for months. What purity! What holiness! What faith and trust in G-d!
The truth is, Chetz, shmetz. That isn’t what is going to save us when the missiles, G-d forbid, come raining down again. Last week, the Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, told a crowd at the Kotel that, “Now is the time to cry out to Hashem. Not when the enemy’s missiles are on their way. Then it will be too late. We have to wake up now and return to the Torah. That’s the only thing that can save us.”
At the very beginning of the recent fiasco in Lebanon, Rabbi Levy issued a poster. “All of our jet fighters, and tanks, and artillery canons, and warships won’t help,” he proclaimed. “Only when the Nation of Israel returns to the Torah for the Sake of Heaven, and only when our Torah leaders sit together in unity, without warring with one another, will our soldiers be victorious over the enemies of G-d and Israel in all of their battles, for all of Israel’s might and strength comes from our holy Torah!”
It is a holiday for me today. I heard on the radio this morning that the Oscars will be awarded tonight in L.A., and my heart did not jump even one bit. Nothing. Not even a small palpitation or a droplet of sweat on my palm. I couldn’t care in the least. I have no idea what movies have been nominated, or what actors, and I couldn’t care less. That’s the incredible power of t’shuva, of repentance, of giving up the lie that we are Americans, and Frenchmen, and Italians, and returning to our roots. I feel like I have exchanged every cell in my body. A spiritual overhaul of prayer, and Torah study, and tears of atonement, and thousands of dunks in the mikvah, has transformed me into a different person, with totally different thoughts, dreams, and aspirations than I had when I was trying to be an American success in L.A., trying to be as rich, and handsome, and famous, and gentile as all of the Hollywood stars who will flock to the Oscars tonight.
Thank G-d, thank G-d, thank G-d. Halleluyah. “He has raised me out of the dunghill to sit me with the princes of His people.”
In honor of the occasion, I am posting an article that I wrote for IsraelNN a few months ago regarding the evils of movies. If you want to save your souls, don’t watch the Oscars tonight. If you want to be a holy Jew, you have to work on it. You can’t have the best of both worlds, as the Modern Orthodox like to believe. Holiness and impurity don’t go together. All of those actresses may look lovely in their sparkling, low-cut gowns, but is it worth it to frizzle your brain? When you pollute your eyes with things you shouldn’t see, the soul which sits in your brain is polluted as well. When that happens, your spiritual radar is smashed, and for example, the Land of Israel, becomes just a nice place to visit, like a Disneyland for Jews, and you think you can be just as serious a Jew in Beverly Hills, or Monsey.
So take it from someone who’s been there. Don’t watch the Oscars. Don’t watch movies at all. Do your brain a favor and study Torah instead.
Fishman Goes to the Movies
The truth is I haven't seen a movie in the last five years, and that was for only a minute. Even though I graduated from film school and wrote screenplays in Hollywood, and still make short videos from time to time on subjects like Gush Katif and Amona, after becoming a ba'al t'shuvah, I gradually lost all desire for the make-believe world of the movies.
But five years ago, my wife had an urge to see a movie, and she insisted that I take her.
"Go with a friend," I suggested.
"I don't want to go with a friend," she answered. "I want to go see a film with my husband."
I offered to rent a video that she could watch on the computer. But she was adamant. Either we go to a movie together or we get a divorce. Of course, I am exaggerating, but she made me understand that if I didn't give in, I was going to be in for a lot of trouble.
So, I went downstairs in our building to my parents' apartment to take a look at the Jerusalem Post movie guide. Finally, I found a movie that seemed alright. The blurb said that it was based on a true story about an aging British novelist, Iris Murdoch, who had Alzheimer's disease. How sexy could that be, I thought? Since my mother suffered from Alzheimer's, I figured maybe I could learn something about the disease and, at the same time, make my wife happy.
At the ticket window, I asked if there were commercials before the film, since commercials in Israel are usually filled with models who are not exactly dressed according to the standards of Jewish Law. After being assured that there were no commercials at this theater, we bought tickets and made our way inside. Indeed, there were no commercials, but there were previews of upcoming attractions. The first was a new Italian release featuring a half-naked actress.
"Gevalt!" I yelled out.
Heads turned our way in the darkened theater. My wife tugged at my arm. "Don't you dare!" she whispered.
The next preview was even worse.
"Gevalt!" I screamed out again.
My wife sunk down in her chair as if she wanted to disappear. I heard a scattering of chuckles and someone shouted for me to shut up.
"I told you we should have stayed at home," I said to my wife.
Finally, the movie started. Up on the screen, in poetic slow motion, a pretty young woman walks through the woods, down to the bank of a pond, obviously a flashback to the old woman's youth. In one deft motion, she takes off her dress and dives naked into the water.
Cut to underwater. Still in slow motion, the naked actress swims through the crystal clear depths....
"Fire! Fire!" I screamed out in Hebrew. Continuing to scream, I jumped out of my seat and made my way to the corridor. "Fire! Fire!" I yelled as I hurried out of the theater, leaving my poor wife to watch the movie alone.
Needless to say, my wife doesn't ask me to take her to films anymore. I waited for her in the car.
"You were right," she said, when she rejoined me after the movie. "Every ten minutes of the film, they returned to the flashback of the old lady as a young woman swimming naked underwater."
What else is new? After spending several years in Hollywood, you learn that in movie-making, the bottom line is the box-office gross. You can't expect your average moviegoer to sit two hours through a movie about an old lady with Alzheimer's disease without throwing in a little nudity every ten minutes to keep them munching away on their popcorn.
For the same reason, I couldn't watch Schindler's List. Every ten minutes, some Nazi butcher was jumping into bed with a naked Jewish girl. Spielberg could have gotten the point across without the nudity, but that's what sells tickets.
Think I am exaggerating? Let me give you another example. Several years ago, I was asked to lecture to a group of yeshiva students from South Africa. When they showed up late, I asked what happened. They explained that they had a few free hours, so they went to see a movie, Titanic.
"The Titanic!" I exclaimed. "Seeing a movie like that is worse than eating pork!"
All the guys booed. "The cinematography was great," they proclaimed.
"Since when does great cinematography override the Torah prohibitions of, 'You shall not turn after your hearts and after your eyes to lead you astray,' and 'You shall guard yourself from every evil thing,' meaning you should not look at prohibited matters by day and come to impure emissions at night?" (Avodah Zara 20B; Niddah 13A)
"It's a completely clean movie," one of the students insisted.
"Look, guys," I told them. "I haven't seen the movie, but you don't have to have ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) to know that there is bound to be a pretty girl and a good-looking guy on board. Once the ship hits the iceberg, they have to find some way to consummate their passion before the ship sinks into the cold, unloving ocean. Am I right?"
They answered with grumbles.
"Whether you guys like it or not, watching an attractive actress on a movie screen for two hours, and exposing yourselves to that kind of ongoing visual stimulation, is a no-no for a Jew."
A year later, I drove one of my sons to an out-of-town yeshiva for an interview. Finishing late, we decided to spend the night at a hotel, rather than starting out on the long trip back to Jerusalem. "The movie Titanic is playing on cable," my boy informed me. "Can we watch?"
"What the heck?" I figured. Many people had advised me to see the movie, to see all of the wondrous cinematography and special effects, so I agreed to watch a few minutes.
How does the great award-winner start? We are back once again underwater. This time, we are following the point of view of the camera as it is moves toward the sunken ship and enters into a porthole. After a few mysterious turns down empty corridors, we enter an eerily undisturbed cabin. We pass by a large canopy bed and move toward a dresser, zooming in to a screen-filling close-up of a framed photograph of - you guessed it - a beautiful naked girl. And this is the movie that almost every Jewish boy in the world, from the age of eight to eighty, has seen who knows how many times.
The point is that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and forbidden images, whether we want to face it or not, pollute a Jew's soul with a terrible impurity.
In his book Kuntres HaAvodah, Rebbe Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch, one of the early great rabbis of the Chabad Hassidic movement, writes the following:
Everyone who is concerned about his soul, not to pollute it, G-d forbid, should guard over his eyes. And if this is difficult for him, he should endeavor to restrain himself with all of his strength and might. He must take to heart that this matter is instrumental to the well-being of his soul. If he does not guard himself in this matter, then all of his Divine service is accounted as nothing, and all of his achievements are as naught, and his service of G-d will fall lower and lower....
Behold, there are people who are far from actually committing evil deeds, G-d forbid, but their hearts pull them to look and stare [at women]. They gaze with a seemingly cold detachment, and they do not feel any immediate excitement when they look, but the reason for their being attracted is because they experience an inner pleasure.... This gazing, even with seeming detachment, creates an impression and a great stain on the soul, which will not go away without arousing some actual evil in its wake, G-d forbid....
Thus, it is every man's duty to control himself and to guard over the things he sees. In so doing, he will save himself from evil, and his service of G-d will find favor. He will bring salvation to his soul, and he will rise higher and higher. (Kuntres HaAvodah, ch. 2. For an English translation and commentary, see the book Love Like Fire and Water, Moznaim Publishing Corp)
The nation of Israel is called upon to be a holy nation. Just as we have to be careful what we eat, we have to be careful what we see. When a man feasts his eyes on the beauty of another woman, even if just her face, these images poison the purity of the Jewish soul.
As Hanukah approaches, we recall in our prayers how the Greeks polluted all of the oils in the Temple. It was not only the lights of the Menorah; the hedonist Hellenistic culture caused us to stray, polluting the lights of our Jewish eyes, our Jewish minds and our holy Jewish souls. The movies of today, with all of their nudity and sensual imagery, serve the same function as the erotic Greek sculpture and nude Olympics of old.
A Jew who strives to enjoy the best of both worlds is fooling himself. He may have a good time at the movies, but in doing so, he is darkening the light of his soul and severing his connection to Torah.
by Tzvi Fishman
My dear and beloved brothers, in all lands of our dispersion and wandering, in order to dispel the feelings of some readers who worry lest this interchange kindles a hatred between brothers, G-d forbid, let me assure you that it is out of love and concern for the well-being of our nation that we write, hoping to bring light to the darkness of exile, just as one calls out to a friend whom he sees falling off a cliff.
If our language lacks the softness and outpouring of love that this holy mission requires, then hear the words of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, whose heart was filled with love for every Jew and for all of G-d’s Creation.
Rabbi Kook emphasized that the true revival and repentance of the Jewish people is in our return to a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. Again and again, in his letters and speeches, he called the Jewish people to return home to Zion. One public proclamation, sent out all over the Diaspora, years before the Holocaust, was entitled, “The Great Call.”
“To the Land of Israel, Gentlemen, To the Land of Israel! Let us utter this appeal in one voice, in a great and never-ending cry.
“Come to the Land of Israel, dear brothers, come to the Land of Israel. Save your souls, the soul of your generation, the soul of the entire nation; save her from desolation and destruction, save her from decay and degradation, save her from defilement and all evil, from all of the suffering and oppression that threatens to come upon her in all the lands of the world without exception or distinction....
“Escape with your lives and come to Israel; G-d’s voice beckons us; His hand is outstretched to us; His spirit within our hearts unites us, encourages us and obliges us all to cry in a great, powerful and awesome voice: Brothers! Children of Israel, beloved and dear brethren, come to the Land of Israel, do not tarry with arrangements and official matters; rescue yourselves, gather, come to the Land of Israel...
“From the time we were exiled from our Land, the Torah has accompanied Israel into exile, wandering from Babylon to France, Spain, Germany, Eastern and Central Europe, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere. And now, how happy we would be if we were able to say that she has returned to her first place, to the Land of Israel, together with the people of Israel, which continues to multiply in the Holy Land.
“And now, who is so blind that he does not see the L-rd’s hand guiding us in this, and does not feel obligated to work along with G-d? A heavenly voice in the future will cry aloud on top of the mountains and say, ‘Whoever has wrought with G-d, let him come and receive his reward’ (Vayikra Rabbah, 27:2). Who can exempt himself from doing his part in bringing additional blessing and swifter salvation; from awakening many hearts to return to the Holy Land, to the L-rd’s legacy, that they may become a part of it, to settle it with enterprises and buildings, to purchase property, to plant and sow, to do everything necessary for the foundation of life of a stable and organized settlement....”
“Great is our obligation to awaken the venerable love of Zion, the eternal love which now, as in ancient times, burns in a holy flame of fire in the hearts of our people wherever they are. It is upon us to fight with all of our strength against hatred of the Holy Land, which has begun to insinuate itself into a few among us. We are duty bound to destroy with a mighty spiritual hand, and with the eternal holiness of ‘a desirable Land,’ the filth of the Spies, which ironically, at the time of salvation, has begun to awaken. This sin of the Spies is struggling with its remaining strength, but we can assuredly say, by the power of the Name of the eternal L-rd, who chose this desirable Land, that its struggle is like the last effort of a flame that shoots upward before it goes out entirely. The power of the love for the Holy Land, the love for Zion and Jerusalem, will advance on its path, and will illuminate ‘as the sun in its might,” all of the dwellings of Jacob. With bonds of love, it will draw everyone, all of her children, to the desirable Land, to the wellspring of their lives. The word of G-d stands forever....
“Woe, oppressed and unfortunate brothers, my heart, my heart is with you, my entire being is with you, attend carefully to what I say, give ear and your souls will live – under the garb of sorrow, the apparent and the concealed, in the face of ruin and desolation, of the upheaval and the trampling and destruction of all that is holy (in the Zionist movement), underneath this majestic agony is a brilliant illuminating light, a light that revitalizes and comforts the soul, a light that gives strength and hope, ‘As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you; and you shall find comfort in Jerusalem’ (Isaiah, 66:13). Alas, blind men, who will give you eyes to see deep within your hearts?”
(For the full text, see the book, “Selected Letters,” translated by Tzvi Feldman).
Another public proclamation written by Rabbi Kook was addressed to Orthodox communities in the Diaspora to urge their Aliyah to Israel. In establishing a movement called “The Banner of Jerusalem,” Rabbi Kook called upon all religious Jews to come to Israel to rebuild the nation’s spiritual life, just as the secular Zionists were rebuilding the physical, in the joint cause of national Redemption. (Abridged from “Selected Letters”)
BANNER OF JERUSALEM
“To our honored Jewish Religious Public. Orthodox Jews! We call you to the sacred task of building our Jewish nation in our Holy Land, in Eretz Yisrael. Come to us, rally together under the “Banner of Jerusalem” which we now raise aloft before the whole Jewish religious public.
“We all know the ‘Banner of Zion’ which unites a certain portion of our brethren on the basis of our Jewish secular interests in the Land of Israel. But there are many who have not joined the union of those who bear the Zionist flag, and a great many who feel it impossible to do so. We simply record the plain fact that this is so, without questioning its veracity.
“Yet it cannot be that the largest, most natural, and earnest portion of Jewry, the majority of the Jewish religious public, should remain indifferent to the wonderful events of the present, and not lend a hand in the holy task of building our nation on our sacred soil because of so called objections....
“Zion and Jerusalem go hand in hand. From the early beginning of our history, the term Zion has always expressed our kingdom, our material power, which is certainly holy in itself, and serves the realization of the spiritual aims of the nation, which was, is, and ever will be the kingdom of priests and the holy nation of the world.
“The term “Jerusalem,” however, expresses the goal of attaining holiness in itself as the highest idealistic tenet of our Jewish existence, both for us and for all humanity. The place of our Holy Temple – the future place of prayer for all peoples – the city where our Great Sanhedrin sat, from whence has gone forth and will go forth the Law for all of Israel – this is what Jerusalem signifies....
“We call to all religious Jews: come to us, unite with us, strengthen our power in the pursuit of our religious Jewish interests... Orthodox Jews, all the loyal believers in the Jewish faith, there can be no doubt that the Divine power is now manifesting itself in us amidst the great world events. We are certainly called to return to our ancient home in the Land of Israel, there to renew our ancient holy life....
“We religious Jews must all profoundly know and believe that the Divine hand is now leading us openly to our high, ideal destiny. We must make known to the whole world, the true meaning of the present wondrous happenings, whose purpose is so clearly the hastening of our redemption and salvation, from which alone will also spring forth the redemption and salvation of all mankind.
“With the flaming, illuminating, Divine faith, with all the luster of our holy Torah, with the vitality of all of the most refined and devout Jews, we shall carry our flag, the ‘Banner of Jerusalem’ by which alone the ‘Banner of Zion’ will also be properly hoisted. For the value of Jewish secular power will be elucidated to the world only in the light of our holy Jewish spiritual power, emphasized by the uplifted voices of the whole religious Jewish world community, setting with holy enthusiasm to the task of our national construction, of our return to the Land of Israel, by the grace of the Divine and illuminating light, O House of Jacob, come, and let us walk in the light of the L-rd.”
“With the deepest and most holy inspiration we call on all of you pious Jews, delay not. Do not let the time pass, which is striding along with such giant steps. Speedily come to our holy flag for the return to Zion, for the revival of our people, for the redemption of the Holy Land and its restoration....
“Strengthen yourselves, Jewish brethren. In your masses, rally around our holy, Divine, Jewish national flag, the Banner of Jerusalem. To all Jews, in all lands, in all of the Diaspora, let us without end repeat our motto: ‘You who have escaped from the sword, which is driving you in all ages through the lands of your exile, go, do not stand still, remember the L-rd from afar, and let the memory of Jerusalem arise in your hearts’ (Jeremiah, 51:50). Come brethren. Come in holy masses. ‘The things once predicted to Zion – behold, they are here! Again, I send a herald to Jerusalem’ (Isaiah, 41:27).
We became reconciled with being scattered Jewish communities around the world, minorities in other people’s countries, instead of a being a united holy nation in our own Land, the cornerstone of the Torah. So it may be that your husband may change his mind after studying the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. (The IsraelNationalNews Judaism-section archives is a good place to start.)
Also, come on a trip to Israel together. Meet with Americans who have made Aliyah. Speak with rabbis. Have your husband listen to some classes at a Zionist yeshiva that has an English-speaking program, like Machon Meir in Jerusalem. If after learning about Israel, he still doesn’t want to come, it may be because other factors are pulling him away.
If a wife wants to make Aliyah and the husband does not, a Jewish Court can force the husband to grant her a divorce and pay her the full sum of the Ketubah.
There is no question that moving to Israel is the biggest and toughest commandment, demanding a total life overhaul requiring great Emunah (faith). It is not a simple matter to leave one’s birthplace, extended family, language, culture, job, etc and start all over again in a new place. He may simply be afraid, and this is perfectly understandable. But ever since our forefather, Avraham, left his birthplace and family and moved to the Land of Israel, the potential is in our genes.
In short, do everything you can to save your marriage, and give your husband a chance to understand why you feel the way you do about living in Israel. If all of your efforts fail, and he still refuses to budge in his stance, then ask a real rabbi and not a mere blog writer like me.
For articles related to the holiness of the Land of Israel and also the holiness of a marriage relationship, see my site: JewishSexuality.com