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.
Adar 8, 5767, 2/26/2007
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
Everyone is very friendly to me at these family affairs. After all, as a baal t’shuva from Hollyood, I am a curiosity for them. What struck me at the wedding was the beauty of a boy and girl getting married out of a great love and reverence for G-d. And out of a great love and reverence for their parents, who arranged the match. What a healthy, holy arrangement! What exquisite trust that, with G-d’s help, it will work out to be a match made in heaven. Where can you find such wholesomeness in our so-called “modern” world? While there is divorce in the world of Ultra-Orthodox, it is far far less than the frightening rate of divorce in every other sector of society. We could all benefit by heeding the advice of our Sages – to encourage our children to get married at young age, without excessive and unnecessary dating and contact, with the goal of building together a life based on Torah, and not out of feelings of lust, selfish pleasure, dependency, or gain.
During the wedding, I had a chance to talk with my wife’s brother-in-law. He has a classified job in one of Israel’s military industries.
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.”
Adar 7, 5767, 2/25/2007
Tzvi Fishman in Hollywood Days
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.”
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.
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:
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)
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.
Adar 7, 5767, 2/25/2007
by Tzvi Fishman
Celebrating the Establishment of the State of Israel
Adar 4, 5767, 2/22/2007
After the strident comments, both for and against my recent blogs regarding the obligation to live in Israel, I would like to apologize for not being able to answer each and every comment or question posted on this site. With morning mikvah, daily prayers, getting the kids off to school, work, errands, my writing for the blog and www.jewishsexuality.com, plus other writing, helping Mom and Dad, studying Torah as much as I
Thy bowing and kneeling in the direction of Israel is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship.
can, studying with the kids, getting them to sleep, an evening walk with my wife, Tikun Hatzot, and as much Torah learning as I can before falling off to sleep, I am, like everyone else, hard pressed for time.
I appreciate everyone’s comments, both the serious ones, and the ones that are off the wall. I simply cannot answer them all. But when there is something of a general nature, that affects the nation as a whole, I will try to answer whenever I can.
Therefore, to my soul brother, Shimshon from NYC, I will respond to some of his comments, lest they lead others astray. He writes:
“There is no obligation to live in Eretz Yisroel, or said another way, there is no obligation to LEAVE Galus (the Diaspora), because unless someone is completely clueless of reality, it is impossible to leave Galus by moving to Eretz Yisroel! Galus is still in Eretz Yisroel, and in some areas, there is more Galus in Israel than in any other places in the world.”
With all due respect to my honored brother, the fact is that Eretz Yisrael is a definite geographic place with geographical borders. This is the Jewish homeland.
Should Israel be left for the camels? Fetzael Springs, Jordan Valley
Photo by Inbal, Maaleh Ephraim
This is the place where our Forefathers lived. This is the place where G-d wants the Jewish People to live, the only place where a Jew can fulfill all of the Torah, the only place where the Jewish People as a whole can establish their own sovereign nation, which is the whole goal of the Torah, to establish the Kingdom of G-d in the world, and that can only be done here in this tiny potion of the globe.
The lands outside of these geographic borders are considered the Diaspora, where we wandered in exile for nearly 2000 years. For all of those years, we had no choice but to live in foreign lands. But once Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel was re-established with the State of Israel, then any Jew who continued to live in the exile did so of his own choosing, preferring foreign lands over the Jewish homeland.
My dear brother, Shimshon, is implying that since there are many instances of deplorable and un-Torah-like modes of behavior in Israel today, what he calls Galus, then there is no obligation to live there. But the Torah giants of the world have already proved this untrue, as in the words of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, in his classic treatise of Jewish faith, “The Kuzari.” For readers who have not yet studied this cardinal work, “The Kuzari” tells the story of a gentile king who is searching to find G-d and the true way of serving Him. Set in the land of the Kuzars (in southern Russia) his path ultimately leads him to a Rabbi, who sets forth the tenets of Judaism as being the one and only true ladder to G-d. After the Rabbi extols the centrality and incomparable holiness of the Land of Israel for the Jewish People, the king rebukes him:
“If this be so, you fall short of the duty laid down in the Law, by not endeavoring to reach that place and making it your abode in life and death. And even if it had no other attribute other than the Divine Presence dwelt there for five hundred years, this is sufficient reason for men’s souls to retire there and find purification there. Is it not the gate of heaven? Thy bowing and kneeling in the direction of it is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship. Yet your first forefathers chose it as an abode in preference to their birthplaces, and lived there as strangers, rather than as citizens of their own country. This they did even at a time when the Divine Presence was not yet visible, and the country was full of unchastity, impurity, and idolatry. Your fathers however, had no other desire than to remain in it.”
The Rabbi confesses that the king’s reproach is true: “When we pray, saying, ‘Worship at His holy mountain – worship at His footstool,’ and other prayers, this is like the chattering of the starling and the nightingale. We do not mean what we say by this sentence, nor others, as you rightly observe, O king of Kuzar” (Kuzari, 2:22-24).
As to Shimshon’s assertion that, “Jews are not more safe in Israel than they are outside it,” Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, who came on aliyah himself in a far more dangerous era, states that danger is not a factor when a person’s goal in coming to Israel is to get closer to G-d (Kuzari, 5:23). Furthermore, in the unanimous halachic ruling that the commandment to live in the Land of Israel applies in every generation, the “Pitchei T’shuva” states that since merchants regularly travel to Eretz Yisrael for business, the factor of danger is not a concern (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, Section 75, Sub-section 6). Additionally, the Ramban has taught us that the conquest and settlement of Israel is the Milchemet Mitzvah of the Torah, meaning that we are commanded to go to war to conquer the Land of Israel and to keep it in our hands, and this outweighs all considerations of danger, since one knows that in going to war, one’s life is at risk (Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment #4. Sefer HaChinuch, Precept 525. See also, “Torat Eretz Yisrael, Ch. 7). True, defending the Land of Israel is more dangerous than eating a bagel and lox in Brooklyn, but it is not for us to choose which commandments to do and which to avoid.
Finally, dear Shimshon, you write: “The whole discussion of how Jews are an endangered species outside of the State of Israel because there is a staggering intermarriage rate is presumptuous, condescending, and odious.”
Why is the discussion of the staggering rate of intermarriage presumptuous, condescending, and odious? I can’t figure this out. Is this something we should be proud of? Or is it something to brush under the table in the hope that it will go away?
Assimilation is a Holocaust. Outside of Israel, we are losing 50% of world Jewry to its lures. In some places, the rate is far more. If we don’t discuss it, how can we fight it? And to whom is it condescending? To the Jew who marries out of his faith? Should we rather tip our hats to him, or her, and say thank you? With an average of only one or two children to a Diaspora family, and the spiraling rate of intermarriage, it is a simple mathematical equation that in another generation or two, the only Jews that will be left outside of Israel will be the Orthodox. And who will protect them when the native Germans, Frenchmen, and Americans get restless? The Israeli Army is too far away.
Perhaps our readers have other answers for the problem of assimilation. I can only think of two. One is that we have to give up our lives in exile amongst the goyim, and come home to Israel, where assimilation hardly exists. And we have to do everything we can to call our brothers and sisters back to the faith by exposing our misguided brothers and sisters to the exquisite beauty, holiness, and truth of the Torah.
Soon it will be Purim. Our Sages teach that the evil decree of the wicked Haman against the Jews came as Divine retribution because the Jews of Shushan had detached their hearts from the Land of Israel and were content to wallow in a foreign place and culture, feasting themselves at the kosher orgies of the Persian king, and standing silently by as the sacred vessels of the Jerusalem Temple were desecrated.
Even after the miraculous salvation of Purim, the Jews were still loathe to give up their positions of wealth and prestige and return to Israel. As the Kuzari makes clear: “Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a fraction was willing to do so, whilst the majority and the leaders among them remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and subservience to the gentiles, unwilling to abandon their houses and their business affairs” (Kuzari, 2:24).
Finally, years later, Hashem inspired the prophet Ezra with the mission of leading the Jews back to Israel to build the Second Temple. When he is told that the returning Jews have taken the alien women of the land for wives, he is stunned: “For they have taken the daughters of a foreign nation for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the peoples of those lands; indeed the hands of the (Jewish) princes and rulers have been the leaders in this crime. And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked out the hair of my head and beard, and sat down appalled” (Ezra, 9:2-3).
Immediately, Ezra issues a public proclamation, demanding that the Jews rectify this terrible wrong: “And Ezra, the Kohen, stood up and said to them, ‘You have transgressed and have taken alien women to increase the guilt of Israel. Now therefore make confession to the L-rd G-d of your fathers, and do His bidding, and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the alien women. Then all of the congregation answered with a loud voice, saying, ‘As you have said, so must we do” (Ezra, 10:10-12).
Ezra did not sweep this national scandal under the carpet, and neither should we. I apologize, my friends. For many, reading this may be uncomfortable, but what can we do? This is the teaching of the Bible. Out in the alien world of cyberspace, there are surely other websites that will tell you what you want to hear. On this blog, we will endeavor to bring you the truth.
Adar 3, 5767, 2/21/2007
Dear Rivka from Chicago,
On your comment to my previous post, you write that you want to live in Israel, but that your husband does not, and you ask what should you do?
Please understand that this blog is not an “Ask The Rabbi” column. First of all, I am not a rabbi. Secondly, personal and halachic matters like your question, which deal with Jewish Law, cannot be adequately answered over the Internet. I suggest you seek the advice of an Orthodox rabbi in Chicago who understands the centrality of the Land of Israel to Judaism.
There is no question that moving to Israel is the biggest and toughest commandment, demanding a total life overhaul requiring great Emunah.
If this is not possible, you should try to contact a rabbi in Israel. Having said this, and with the understanding that I am not presuming to give you an authorized rabbinic ruling on your question, I will venture a few words of guideline.
Jewish Law states that if a wife wants to make Aliyah to live in the Land of Israel, and the husband does not, then the Jewish Court can force the husband to grant her a divorce and he must also pay her the full sum of the Ketubah marriage contract (Rambam, Laws of Marriage, 13:19; Shulch Aruch, Even HaEzer, 75::3). We can see from this ruling the supreme importance the Torah gives to Eretz Yisrael, placing the commandment to live in Israel on an even higher sanctity than marriage.
Nevertheless, divorce is not a simple matter. Our Sages tell us that the altar of the Temple sheds tears when a Jewish marriage is annulled. Therefore, you should do everything you can to preserve your marriage and also come on Aliyah with your husband. This may take a lot of love and patience, and a lot of education. It may be that he simply never learned about the vital connection between Judaism and the Land of Israel.
Because of our almost 2000 year exile among the nations of the world, we stopped learning about Israel. Even in yeshivas devoted to Torah study, the centrality of the Holy Land to the full Torah life of the Holy Nation was ignored, and we became reconciled to a shrunken Torah lacking the plethora of commandments that can only be performed in the Land of Israel.
Jews led into Exile, Arch of Titus
For articles related to the holiness of the Land of Israel and also the holiness of a marriage relationship, see my site: JewishSexuality.com