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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.
Since it is Rabbi Meir Kahane’s yahrtzeit today, we thought it fitting to post one of his most powerful essays.
Last night, while rereading the wonderful biography of Rabbi Meir, written by his wife, which covers the early years of his lifelong dedication to the Jewish People, I came across his devastating article about Bernie and Brigette. Unfortunately, its scathing message is as true today as it was back then, almost 35 years ago.
We have written about programs like Birthright in the past. Sure it’s a great thing to send young Jews to Israel for an inspirational visit. If even one Jew ends up marrying a Jewish mate because of it, and coming on aliyah, then all of the millions of dollars are worth it. But, after these kids return to their college campuses and their enticing shiksa classmates, their experience in Israel will all too often turn into a fond memory with snapshots they can show to the non-Jews that they marry. If he is still charged up from his visit, maybe Bernie will insist that Brigette undergo some worthless conversion. Maybe he’ll get her to light Sabbath candles and tell their kids that they’re Jews. And when they grow up, maybe Bernie’s gentile’s children will pass themselves off as the real thing and get some Jew to marry them. What a mess it will be! There will even be “Jewish” weddings where both the bride and groom are gentiles. Soon in America, you won’t be able to know if the person you are marrying is really a Jew, or if he or she innocently believes they’re Jewish because that’s what their parents told them, and the rabbis and temples and Jewish establishment all went along with the charade.
Prophet that he was, Rabbi Meir envisioned it all. Here is his article. It’s long, but it’s an incredible, dynamite piece of writing that tells the truth in the brilliant, straight-to-the-jugular way which characterizes the Rabbi’s writings. May his memory be an inspiration and blessing to all of us.
WHAT MAKES BERNIE RUN?
by Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy"D
(Federal prison, Manhattan, Lag Ba'Omer, April 29, 1975)
Once there was a television program, which centered about the theme of intermarriage. The heroes of the piece were named Bernie and Brigitte. The American Jewish Establishment put great pressure on the particular network that televised the series and the program was ultimately dropped. Bernie and Brigitte were no longer. They had been canceled...
How relatively simple it was to cancel Bernie and Brigitte on television and how much more difficult to struggle against the curse and cancer of intermarriage and assimilation that exists in real American Jewish life. How simple to picket a television series to death and how hard to stamp out the disease that afflicts us daily in the real-life existence that is the lot of American Jewry. lf we no longer find Bernie and Brigitte strolling hand in hand across our television screens we need only look at our campuses, at our streets at our neighborhoods, Bernie is alive and well.
What makes Bernie run? What makes Bernie run after Brigitte? What makes Bernie run away from Judaism and cut the chain of generations? What makes Bernie run away from the Judaism that his great-grandfather clutched at the risk of loss of happiness material wealth and so often very life? What makes Bernie run? This is the question that drives the American Jewish Establishment to frantically set up committees, study groups, surveys and commissions. This is the question that drives them to study the problem again and again and then again. This is the question to which they allocate so much time and so much communal money. This is the question that is at the top of their puzzled order of priorities, over which they scratch their collective well-groomed heads: What makes Bernie run?
The puzzled shepherds of the American Jewish communities can close down their study groups and their commissions and their committees: they can put an end to the learned and expensive surveys. They can stop spending Jewish communal funds. What makes Bernie run away from Judaism? Who created that Bernie who turns from Judaism in disgust or in indifference? Who created the Bernie who pants after a shiksa or who marches for Jesus or Trotsky or Arafat or for nothing Jewish? Who created a Bernie who finds Judaism as unimportant as the color of his hair?
Why, the answer is obvious: The very same Establishment groups who are busily creating the committees, commissions, study groups and surveys to find out the answer to these questions. Who made Bernie run away from Judaism? The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the B'nai Brith, the federations on every level and in every locality, the temple rabbis and Bernie's most intimate Establishment figures- his parents.
All of these are the criminals. All of these had a hand in murdering Bernie as a Jew. All of these robbed him of his heritage, of the beauties of his inheritance. All of these make Bernie run. The Jewish Establishment groups - The AJCommittee, the Congress, the B'nai Brith, the federations, ALL the spokesmen for the American Jewish community - the ruling clique, uniformly marched down the American road with a melting pot under their arms, beating it over and over again and shouting forth the Eleventh Commandment to the American Jew: Thou shalt melt!
Thou shalt melt, thou shalt integrate, thou shalt amalgamate, thou shalt be an American as all others. They beat the drums for interfaith, exchanging pulpits with ministers enthusiastically, in a frantic effort to prove to Christian and Jew alike that there is essentially no difference between them. They were partially successful - the Christians were not convinced but the Jews were.
Thou shalt melt, thou shalt integrate, thou shalt Americanize thyself and so they raised high the banner of the public school and fought, with a zeal no one knew that they possessed, the one weapon that might have given Bernie knowledge, and a sense of pride and roots. In fear and with hostility, they declared a holy war against the Jewish Day School, the parochial school, and the yeshiva. They piously rationalized their struggle on the sacred grounds of separation of church and state but the real reason for their war (and they took the lead among all Americans in fighting the slightest aid to parochial schools) was their fear and consequent hatred of the parochialism and separatism of the yeshiva. The yeshiva threatened them with too much Jewishness! What would the gentile say if Jews were too Jewish, If they looked and behaved too differently, if their profile was not properly low? How did one mix easily with gentiles in the non-kosher country clubs they were so eager to join; how did one assimilate if Jews did not learn to drop the embarrassing customs, habits and old ritual baggage?
The public school! This was the way to equality, to uniformity, to mixing and assimilating. And so, they urged their flock to send Bernie to the public school (and the flock, as eager to mix as the shepherds, needed little urging). Bernie went to public school.
And today as the shepherds run frenziedly about surveying Bernie and asking him, where did you meet Brigitte? He calmly answers: "Why, in the public school in the public school; in the public school to which you sent me!"
Who made Bernie what he is? Who made Bernie run? The Establishment groups, and leaders who took a Judaism of particularism, of separatism, of uniqueness, of DlFFERENCE, and who- in their fears, insecurities and ignorance- created an American brand that leveled all uniqueness, 'proved' that Jews and Christians were no different, and eliminated every logical and moral reason to be different. They created Bernie: they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run away from Judaism? Who else made Bernie what he is and is not? The massive, gaudy mausoleums that dot the landscape of every Jewish suburb. The temples. The temples whose senior rabbi is the caterer. The temples that perform human sacrifice rites each Sabbath morning and they call them, The Bar Mitzvah.
The Bar Mitzvah, that is not the beginning of a Jew but his end, his spiritual death. The Bar Mitzvah- that culmination of an empty, vapid, childish, shallow Jewish "education," taught by men and women whose ignorance and lack of Jewish content makes them superb vehicles for the "education" they pass on. The Bar Mitzvah, that obscene cult of ostentatiousness, the ultimate in Jewish status seeking, the competitive drive to bankrupt that pathetic and hapless "father of the Bar Mitzvah." The Bar Mitzvah where the young lamb babbles the words he neither understands nor cares to, to the accompanying nachas, pride, of beaming women and men who would not know a correct word from a mistake, whose ignorance is sublime and whose disgusting display of conspicuous vulgarity sends G-d fleeing from the mausoleum in wrath...
The Bar Mitzvah whose necessary "religious" interlude long ago was subordinated to the piece-de-resistance of the entire immorality play - the "reception." The sickening waste of money and degrading of Judaism, where materialism runs amok in the guise of religion, where drunks and half-dressed women dance and give praise to the L-rd, with African dance, American tunes, and universal abomination. The Bar Mitzvah where the assimilationists, ignoramuses and despoilers of Judaism, beam with patronizing pleasure as the decrepit grandmother- Bubby- is resurrected from her nursing home or Miami Beach condominium and trotted out to light a candle to the applause of the go-go girls and dirty comedians waiting to do their act.
The temple, where man thinks up G-d rather than admit that He made him. The temples, where the Jew can create any kind of religion that he cares to and call it Judaism. The temple, where things too difficult are junked and where from the Board of Directors shall come forth Torah and the voice of the L-rd from the approving Sisterhood membership. The temple, run by men whose ignorance of Judaism is exceeded only by their arrogant insistence on saluting it. The temple, where Bernie visits "G-d" and meets "Judaism" and flees from it in horror. The temples: they created Bernie, they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run from Judaism? The temple rabbis. The kept theologians who knowingly preside over fraud and grotesque jokes. The well-paid functionaries whose salaries are payments to hold their silence and to declare light, darkness and darkness, light: to give their stamp of kashrut on the impure meat that their temples serve up as "Judaism." The bribe takers whose eyes are blinded and consciences dulled by kavod, the honor of sitting on the pulpit before the eyes of the congregants, and by the comfortable salary augmented by the offerings of thankful beneficiaries of weddings, funerals and unveilings. The false prophets who hold their silence as Judaism is twisted, perverted, turned into a humorless joke and who, knowing their own corruptness and fraud of soul, rush to justify the fraud by 'rabbinical' or lingo that pronounce them "good." The temple rabbis who take a Judaism of Divinity and truth and go about Reconstructing it and Reforming it and making a mockery of Conserving it.
The temple rabbis who took the age-old axiom of Revelation, real Revelation, upon which is built the Divinity of Torah and junked it. The temple rabbis who made Judaism the product of ''wise men" (and if so, are there not wise Christians and Buddhists and atheists) and thus removed any sacredness and necessary reason for observance. The temple rabbis, so many of whom do not believe in G-d, who took the real and awesome Jewish G-d of history who made man and Created all and who rewards and punishes, and exchanged Him for a "god" who is "the spirit within man," indistinguishable from indigestion...They are the models of Jewish "religious" leadership we give unto Bernie, these empty vessels whose greatest fortune is that their congregants know even less, about Judaism than they do.
These are your rabbis, Oh Bernie, and then we wonder why he refuses to enter the temple over which they preside. Only they themselves know what frauds they are; only they, in their hearts, know what a life of lies they lead: only they, in the inner recesses of their being, know the self- hate and contempt they feel for themselves each day that they have to perform acts of faith they no longer believe in and teach a religion that long ago they secretly began to doubt. The temple rabbis; they created Bernie, they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run away from the embrace of Judaism into Brigitte's waiting arms? The parents, the good Jewish parents. The loving Jewish mother who took off her golden nose rings and made a Golden Calf, which she worships avidly. The Golden Calf called "success'' and "money" and "making it" and "my son-the-doctor." The Golden Calf of material success before which she burns incense and for which she threw the G-d of Jewish values into the trash cans of medieval obscurantism. The Jewish father whose values are those of the garment center and the racetrack and bagels and lox on Sunday morning before taking the family out to the Chinese restaurant on Sunday after-noon. The Jewish father who tries to think like a gentile, act like a gentile, dress like a gentile, drink like a gentile, and curse like a gentile and then demand that Bernie marry a "nice Jewish girl."
The Jewish parents whose credo is upward and upward in wealth and status and who created a comfortable Judaism that would accommodate their needs. Who moved to the suburbs and created a suburban Judaism, and a suburban G-d, ethical and cultured and nice- a vaguely Jewish Santa Claus. Who turned down the Orthodox synagogue of their parents, grandparents and generations beyond because it was too Jewish and too out of step with modern times and too difficult and too outmoded and not compatible with the new pagan-Jewish lifestyle they were creating. Who turned either to the Reform that gave both status (how familiar their Christian friends would find it if ever they stopped by) as well as license (one could be almost anything and do the same in that incredible anarchy known as Reform or -better still- to that new and upcoming movement known as "Conservatism."
How many Jewish refugees from Brooklyn and the Bronx arrived in their new status symbols in Massapequa find themselves surrounded by strange natives known generally as "goyim" with large tribal groups called "Protestants?" How many of the Jews, in panic, fearing that Bernie would come home with a Mary rather than a Shirley banded together to build a quick temple of "Jewish Center" to save their precious ones? How many of them who did not know a Jewish concept from a Catholic catechism decided to call it 'Conservative' because Orthodox is 'too old-fashioned' and Reform is 'like a church?' And how amazed was the minuscule, unimportant Conservative movement to be suddenly besieged with requests for 'Conservative rabbis' that did not exist? And how many Conservative temples were suddenly hiring Orthodox rabbis who prostituted themselves to the Long Island god of gold? And how true it is that it was not the Conservative movement (sic) that built all the new temples that suddenly made them so prominent but the ordinary, ignorant Jews who bought a temple just as they bought any other commodity they needed and who set the terms of the deal. Bernie's Parents bought their temple and their rabbi and proceeded to create Judaism and G-d in their own image. The garment center knew exactly how to cut a suit to fit...
Judaism, but not too much, If Bernie was sent to that vast cultural wasteland known as the "religious" or "Hebrew" school which he so despised, it was not so much that he become religious as so that he might acquire 'culture.' (At least enough to let him babble the proper words on the great day of Bar Mitzvah initiation rites.) lf he came home and mentioned something about Sabbath observance or a ban on ham and bacon, his parents smiled and told him that "we are not sending you there for that" or "you do not have to listen to everything the teacher says." They played games with Bernie and thought that they could deceive him never realizing in their own stupidity, that no one can ultimately deceive a child. They created a fraud and thought that they could foist it on their Bernie. They created a Judaism that was created in their own image- a Cohenism or a Goldbergism or a Schwartzism and tried to pretend that it was Judaism. They defrauded themselves because it so suited them and thought that Bernie would grow up to be as fraudulent, hypocritical, materialistic and disgusting as they. But he did not. That which makes Sammy run does not necessarily affect Bernie.
They thought that Judaism was a faucet that could be turned on and off at will. They wanted to give up the uncomfortable and the inconvenient things but still keep the 'important' things, like marrying a Shirley. Bernie was honest. He took the whole thing and junked it. He turned on the faucet all the way and Judaism spilled out in to it. He married Brigitte to the wailing of his parents who shrieked to one and all: Where did we go wrong??
Where did they go wrong??
Where did they go right??
When one thinks about it, the gall and the arrogance of Bernie's murderers are stupefying. All of them- sleek Jewish Establishment organizations and their portly leaders; the million-dollar temple-mausoleums; the temple rabbi-functionaries; the pitiful and hapless parents. All those whose yardstick was "what will the gentile say" and who proceeded to tailor their 'Judaism' to fit not the Jew but the gentile; all those spiritual schizophrenics who did not know whether they were Jews or not, fish or fowl, meat or milk; all these now point their grubby accusing fingers at Bernie and shout indignantly:
"Why are you such a bad Jew? Why are you a traitor to your people? Why can't you marry a nice Jewish girl, Iike your mother? Why do you want to marry Brigitte the shiksa?"
The hypocrisy is nauseating and amusing at the same time, but Bernie listens and finds nothing humorous in it. "Why do I want to marry Brigitte? Why not? She is good looking, polite and doesn't nag. Why do I want to marry Brigitte? Why not?
What is a nice Jewish girl like my mother? One who desecrates the Sabbath like my mother? So does Brigitte. One who eats non-kosher food like dear Mom? So does Brigitte. One who comes to synagogue three times a year to parade about it in our version of Eastern parade? Brigitte has the real thing."
Of course, what Bernie is really saying -- NO, CRYlNG OUT -- is: "Tell me someone. Why should I be a Jew? Why is it so important to be a Jew? What difference does it make? Why not knock down the barriers between religions, nations and groups once and for all? What is there to Judaism that is so unique and special that I should adhere to it faithfully and marry within my faith? Why be a Jew!!!
It is an agonizing cry from the souls of tens of thousands of young Jews who assimilate, integrate and disappear into the outer space beyond Judaism. It is THE cry, THE question. It is asked by young men and women who have seen the emptiness and the vapidness of the Judaism they grew up with. It is asked by young Jews who have seen the ugliness and the vulgarity of their empty temples and the fraud and bankruptcy of their temple rabbis. It is asked by young people whose 'Judaism' gives nothing, absolutely nothing, in terms of ideals, self-sacrifice and meaning. It comes from those who equate the 'Judaism' they know with ostentatious wealth, fat and contented leaders paying lip service to G-d and 'religion' and the reality of that religion in the form of rabbis who do not believe in the Divinity of Torah or (increasingly) in G-d and in lay people whose ignorance of anything Jewish is compensated for by Hadassah and UJA checks.
Those who murdered Bernie took a Judaism of their ancestors that was strong and powerful enough to withstand inquisitions and Crusades and pogroms and Kishinevs and Auschwitzes, big and small. It was a Judaism that lived because its adherents were ready to die for it. It was a Judaism of the zeyde who believed in G-d and proved it by observing His commandments. It was a Judaism that came from G-d and not from man. It was a Judaism whose rabbis and leaders knew Torah, not the latest best-selling book list and who did as they said, setting a supreme example for the Bernies of old who knew why Judaism was different, who never for a moment thought of Brigitte.
The murderers took this and threw it away, exchanging it for 'American Judaism,' a grotesque mixture of Myron Cohen jokes, Miami Beach, UJA checks, Hadassah membership, Jewish food and Moshe Dayan eye-patches. It was a 'Judaism' that was stripped of all non-essentials so as to lighten the burden on the long-distance Jewish swimmer through the American waters of assimilation, equality and brotherhood. It was a "Judaism" whose adherents beamed as their leaders got it down to "ethics." Ethics! As if that was the beginning and end of Judaism. As if Christians and Shintoists could not be ethical, too. As if Brigitte was necessarily less ethical than Shirley. Ethics- intoned the well-paid rabbi from his magnificently furnished pulpit. Ethics- that is Judaism. lf that's all there is, then Bernie knows that Judaism has lost any exclusive hold on him. Everyone, today, is ethical. George Meany is ethical and Nelson Rockeffeller is ethical and Rev. Moon is ethical and Prince Sihanouk is ethical and the late King Faisel was ethical, as are his un-countable sons. Is that all there is to Judaism? lf that is all there is, then stop lecturing Bernie as he marches into the sun with his ethical shiksa. Bernie wants to know what is exclusive about Judaism, what is unique, what is special, what it has that others do not. Bernie wants to know this and those who murdered him have no answers for him. The head of the B'nai Brith has no answer for him. The temple caterer has no answer for him, nor the Board Chairman, nor the Sisterhood president. The temple rabbi has no answer for him. Mother and father surely have no answer for him. All of these have no answers for him because all of these have no answers for themselves.
Judaism lives or dies on the unique fact that G-d Revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and gave the Jew a truth that no one else has. Judaism lives or dies on the fact that the Bible and the Talmud with their laws, commandments, statutes and ordinances were divinely revealed and that the only way to holiness and true goodness comes from the observance of Torah laws. This is what kept Bernie's zeyde and bubby Jewish; nothing else. This is a reason for being Jewish. This is a reason for not marrying Brigitte. All the rest is fraud and buff. Poor Bernie, victim of the worst kind of robbery - the taking of his heritage and reason for being. lf only he would realize that the 'Judaism' that he saw his entire life was anything but that. lf only he realized that he was the victim of the worst kind of spiritual swindle. How fortunate he would be. How joyous and happy and how meaningful would his life become if he rediscovered the Judaism of his ancestors that was sold on the American continent for thirty pieces of dross. Jewish is beautiful if you do not play games with it- or with yourself. lf only Bernie understood. How fortunate he would be. He could then turn in his Brigitte for a reason for being.
A reason for being Jewish.
Rabbi Meir Kahane z"tl
It wouldn’t be right to let Reb Shlomo’s yahrtzeit pass without a few words of thanks. Reb Shlomo Carlebach helped me cling to the Torah and to the yearning to come to Eretz Yisrael at the crossroads of my t’shuva, when the evil inclination rose up against me with all of its force to persuade me that I had fastened onto an escapist’s illusion.
I only met Reb Shlomo once, briefly, in his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was his songs, echoing back over generations of Jewish history, that that gave me the spiritual fuel I needed to overcome all of the obstacles and doubts that face a penitent when he or she commences ופםמ a journey of return.
In those days, having tasted the sweetness of Torah, I had left Hollywood and was living in New York, my vision turned eastward toward Israel. In those early days of revelation and insight when the darkness of life suddenly vanished in the shattering brilliance of the Divine light that filled all of my being when I realized that there was a G-d, and that the Torah was true, and that Eretz Yisrael was the Land of the Jews, it was the soulful and joyous melodies of Reb Shlomo, the magnetic pull of his songs, the magical Hebrew of his words, and his heavenly whistling that pierced all of the barriers and noise and lies of American culture and secular living, seizing my heart, pumping Emunah and belief like adrenelin through my veins, to keep me on course.
Day after day, I walked around the steel and concrete jungle of Manhattan, riding the subways, on the way to meetings and work, I would listen to his songs on the earphones of my Walkman, volume turned up high to blast out all of the old and lying tapes of America - the lie that America was the greatest country in the world; the lie that American life was the best; the lie that success and money and fame were the most important values; the lie that religion was for losers; that the Torah was a fairytale just like all other man-made myths; the lie that I too was an American who must follow along with the stream, making capitalism my religion, and trying to be as beautiful and talented and successful and famous as the stars and writers of Hollywood. It was the whistling and humming and Biblical chords of Shlomo’s guitar, blasting in my ears to keep all the American falsehoods away, that kept me clinging to my newly discovered truth that there was a G-d, and that the Torah was true, and that G-d wanted His children, the Jewish People, to live in Israel. Day after day, Shlomo’s songs seeped into my heart, and my soul, and my brain, erasing the old lying tapes of America and the big lie that I was an American like everyone else, replacing the deceptions and deceits with holy new tapes of truth – tapes of praise to the Almighty, love songs to the Torah, and profound, deep-felt longings for Eretz Yisrael.
At night, I would sit in my Manhattan apartment alone, listening to the songs of Reb Shlomo, the songs of Hashem, or Torah, and of Eretz Yisrael, sitting on the floor, facing a poster of the Kotel, praying over and over again like a mantra, “Please G-d, take me to Israel. Please G-d, take me to Israel.”
But there where layers and layers of lies that stood in my way and had to be smashed. Not only the lies of America, but the lies of Diaspora living as well, the lies of family and friends and rabbis and the Jewish establishment who told me that I could be a full-fledged Jew in America too, that the Mashiach hadn’t yet come, that the Temple still wasn’t rebuilt, that the Land of Israel was also galut, that it wasn’t safe to be there, that there were secular monsters who controlled the country, on and on and on to convince me not to go.
How confusing it can be to a newcomer starting out on the journey! But I was lucky. G-d had come into my life in a miraculous way. I knew He was real. I knew the Torah was real. And I could read, in plain black and white in the Bible, that the place for the Jews, the place to keep the Torah, the place where G-d wanted me and every Jew to be was Eretz Yisrael. In my heart of heart, I knew it was true. I knew that to make my life count, and to be who I really was, to live a life of truth, and to please my Creator, I had to get to Israel. “You’re right, Tzvi,” Reb Shlomo’s songs told me, “You’re right.”
So do yourselves a big favor. Find a quiet place, sit down, and listen to some Carlebach songs. Forget about everything else. Junk all of the lies. Listen to the whistling. Listen to the words. Even if you don’t understand them. Listen to the truth of the melody, to the soulful longings of the Jewish People in his voice, a longing of two-thousand years, a longing for our Maker, a longing for our Torah, a longing for Jerusalem and for the holy mountains and Biblical valleys of Eretz Yisrael.
Thank you, Reb Shlomo. May your memory and songs be a blessing to all the Jewish People.
We learn the importance of modesty from our Matriarch, Sarah, who modestly kept inside her tent when strangers came to visit. While Sarah was reknowned for her beauty, she was so modest in her attire and manner that her husband, Avraham, didn't even notice how physically beautiful she was until he caught a reflection of her in a river on their way down to Egypt.
In honor of the modesty of Avraham and Sarah, here's a question and answer from our jewishsexuality.com website, where you can find nearly everything you wanted to know about jewish sexuality but were too embarrassed to ask.
I am beginning to return to Judaism and to keep Shabbat and kashrut, but being an attractive woman, and having dressed in the fashions of the day for so many years, I find it hard to cover myself up according to all the laws of modesty. Maybe if I understood the reasoning behind it, I would be more receptive. Can you enlighten me?
Modesty is, without a doubt, one of the foundations of Judaism and the Jewish People. In his book “P’ninai Halachah,” Rabbi Eliezer Melamed explains that the concepts of modesty stem from the Torah commandment, “Be holy, for I the L-rd your G-d am holy.” The Torah commentator, Rashi, explains that being holy is to separate oneself from forbidden sexual transgressions by establishing fences that distance a person from sin. The Torah also warns, “Do not make yourselves impure through these things, for in all of these matters the gentiles polluted themselves.”
There is a clear connection between the way the Nation of Israel safeguarded the laws of modesty throughout its generations, and its being spiritually distinguished from amongst the other nations. Even when we were in bondage in Egypt, a country steeped in immorality and sexual transgression, we didn’t succumb to their perverse culture, but rather guarded our modest traditions. Because of this, we merited to stand at Mount Sinai and receive the Divine Torah.
Immodesty and immorality emphasize the physical sides of man, while modesty highlights the inner spiritual aspect. While at first glance, it may seem like physical freedom reveals the full force of life, a deeper, more patient look reveals the very opposite – that it is the inner, more spiritual values that preserve the wellsprings of life and its holiness, and that, through this, the physical sides of life are elevated and blessed as well.
Judaism does not at all reject the material side of life. Everything has its purpose and place. However, the spiritual must guide the physical side of life to adopt its proper place and measure, and this is where modesty plays a vital role, for the individual, for the family, and for the community as a whole. Without modesty, the passions of the body and the powerful physical forces of life surge to the forefront, overshadowing the more discreet and inner spiritual side of man. In order to insure the supremacy of man’s Divine soul, the body has to be held in check, in its rightful place, and not be made into the principle thing. Only when the spiritual side of life occupies its true and central place, can the physical side of life be harnessed in the most productive fashion, without causing harm to the soul.
One of the basic rules of modesty is that a woman should dress or behave in a manner that draws excessive attention to her. There is absolutely no prohibition against a woman appearing attractive. On the contrary, it is important that every young unmarried woman and every wife should take care to present an attractive appearance, but it should be done in a subtle, somewhat underplayed fashion that projects beauty and pleasantness, faithfulness and good taste, and not beauty that projects provocativeness, arrogance, and sexual temptation.
The attribute of modesty, stamped in the character of the Jewish Nation throughout its history, is the factor that has led the Jewish People to all of its profound spiritual achievements, and therefore, Judaism stresses the value of modesty and a holy lifestyle.
Therefore, modesty has great value not only to the individual, but also to the family, and the Jewish Nation as a whole. On the individual level, immodesty is a transgression that emphasizes man’s external, physical side over his inner, spiritual nature. Every damaging act to man’s spiritual nature reduces the vitality of his being, weakening his spiritual powers, and therefore weakening his ability to love his fellow deeply. Take for example the world of movie stars who are constantly changing partners, being unable to develop a deep and lasting spiritual love because of their preoccupation with externalities.
On another level, breaches of modesty impair the wholeness of family life, and can destroy it completely. Even seemingly minor immodest behavior damages the foundations of family love and trust. Love must be directed toward one’s mate, and any loss of intimacy between husband and wife, when the powers of attraction and connection are directly outwardly through immodest dress and behavior, comes at the expense of the home, something which adversely affects, not only the husband and wife, but the children as well. When a woman tries to attract the attention of men outside of the house, it is certain that her love for her husband is not reaching its full potential. In contrast, by guarding the ways of modesty, a wife can direct the depth of her love to its natural and proper place.
When it comes to the Jewish Nation, it is modesty that preserves our unique spiritual character. The Torah commandment not to walk in the manners of the nations comes to safeguard us from following after the immoral customs of the gentiles. It is our adherence to the laws of modesty which has distinguished us from nations who lauded physical prowess, then disappeared from the stage of world history. Breaches of modesty on our part cloud the uniqueness of our nation and heritage, and break down the boundaries of holiness that the Torah wants us to keep.
Rabbi Melamed points out that the laws of modesty don’t come to reject physical beauty and natural love. On the contrary, the goal of modesty is to transform physical beauty and natural love to profound and lasting matters. In order that love does not focus only on its external aspects, the halachah comes to set boundaries of modesty that force us to place the emphasis on the deeper, inner, spiritual side of love, and thus, through this, to enhance the beauty of natural, physical love.
And while every woman has to guard the principles of modesty, married women all the more so, because love isn’t a physical matter that depends on the moment’s sensation. Love is a many-sided phenomenon, so that the more a person develops his and her spiritual aspects, he can reach a deeper and more soulful love. Love between people who are not modest in their ways usually is a fleeting thing based on external attraction and lust, which can’t stand the test of time, because lust and external beauty don’t last, and there is always someone more attractive than one’s partner. Once physical love reaches a climax, it naturally wanes, as we can see from the lives of celebrities, who are constantly changing partners.
However, people who guide their lives according to the rules of modesty, approach the physical aspects of beauty and love with a holy respect, because they express endless deep expressions of holy connection. And because the physical gives expression to profound and holy emotions, it is not proper for a married woman to display her physical charms before the eyes of the world.
Marriage is not the end of love’s attraction, but rather its beginning. Therefore a married woman has to be especially careful to guard her modesty in order to deepen the connection between herself and her husband, and to focus her, and his, attention on the deeper, more eternal aspects of love.
(Based on the book, “P’ninai Halachah,” Vol. 2, by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Chapter on Modesty).
Every Friday morning, I drive to Bnei Brak for a class with the revered Tzaddik, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi. As I wrote a few days ago, on Tuesday, a group of sixty students journeyed up north to the forests of the Hermon with Rabbi Levi for a day of atonement and special prayers for rain. So, of course, when crashes of thunder shook the walls of the yeshiva this morning, everyone was happy. When powerful gusts of rain splashed down from the heavens, Rabbi Leon led his students in singing the prayer of thanksgiving, “Nishmat Kol Chai,” thanking G-d for answering our prayers, along with the prayers of all the Jewish People for rain.
“Were our mouth filled with song as the sea is with water, and our tongue with ringing praise as the roaring waves, were our lips full of adoration as the wide expanses of heaven….we would still be unable to thank you and bless your Name, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, for one thousandth of the millions of countless favors which you have conferred on our fathers and on us….”
Someone came in soaking wet and said there was a river of rainwater outside the yeshiva. It says in the story of Creation, “And a river went out from the Garden of Eden.” A river of blessing. When we went outside in the downpour for a look, this is what we saw, directly outside the entrance to Rabbi Leon’s yeshiva:
Taxis, cars, and buses were stuck in the flood of rainwater that washed down one of Bnei Brak's busiest avenues right in front of the yeshiva. Students broke out in song. When an ambulance gut stuck in the flood, Rabbi Leon told everyone to pray for the rain to stop for a few minutes until city workers could open manholes to control the rising floodwaters. So, irony of irony, after all of our prayers for rain, we had to pray for the rain to stop!
Thank G-d for all of His goodness. Thank G-d who answers our prayers. Thank G-d for giving us Tzaddikim like Rabbi Leon, and for revealing His secrets to those who fear Him.
Our Matriarch, Rachel, and Yitzhak Rabin, both have their yahrtzeit today.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of shekels are spent in promulgating the “Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin” in the Israeli media, in schools, and in staging memorials ceremonies all over the country. Nevertheless, only a few dozen mourners will be on hand for the official memorial ceremony today at Mt. Herzl, and for many of them presenrt, attendance is a compulsory part of their jobs.
In contrast, a few nickels and dimes have been allotted for the anniversary of our mother, Rachel Emanu’s, yahrtzeit, yet tens of thousands of worshippers will make the difficult trek to Rachel’s Tomb to honor her memory and pray that in her merit, G-d will heal the sick, find shiduchim for the unmarried, grant livelihood for the destitute, and bring the scattered exiles home to Israel.
The difference is clear. The legacy of Rachel is the true legacy of the Jewish People, founded in the Torah and the Prophets of Israel, while the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin is a media invention, promulgating by the political left for its own misguided self-interests.
To Rabin’s dubious credit, in the original Oslo Agreement, Rachel Tomb’s was to fall under the sovereignty of the Arabs, as a part of Beitlechem, but, at the last minute, religious members of the Knesset appealed to him to change the arrangement, and he agreed.
The result is a colossal fortress surrounding the small building which houses the ancient tomb. Access to the holy site is via special army-escorted buses though a sci-fi like tunnel. The crowds that throng to the tiny site have to wait patiently until receiving the green light to enter the conclave, after previous busloads have left. Still, worshippers come from all over the country to pay respects to Rachel, who for centuries has tearfully begged Hashem to bring the exiled Jewish People back to Eretz Yisrael.
If not for the heavily guarded tunnels and fortress, Yitzhak Rabin’s partners in peace, the Arabs, would savagely attack and plunder Rachel’s Tomb, and all the worshippers there, just like they did with Yosef’s Tomb in Shechem.
Partners in peace! The blood boils in the veins of any healthy Jew at the mention of the travesty of Oslo and its legacy of bloodshed and murder, crippled bodies and over 1200 slaughtered Jews.
This morning in Jerusalem, driving my wife to one of the buses going to Rachel’s Tomb, we passed a group of religious Arab women walking peacefully along the sidewalk in our Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, either on their way to work for Jewish employers, or to do some shopping in one of our discount supermarkets, or to a course of studies in some career college. No one bothered them. No one said a word.
Now, if the situation was the opposite, and a group of religious Jewish women were strolling through Beitlechem, or Ramallah, or Shechem, or Aza, or any Arab-controlled city, they would be brutally raped, slaughtered, and chopped into pieces within minutes. That’s right – within minutes! And their bestial killers wouldn’t run away to avoid being caught – their blood-covered hands would proudly hold up the severed Jewish arms and legs so that the press could take pictures of the lynch.
These are the sons of Ishmael, Yitzhak Rabin’s partners in peace. This week’s Torah portion calls them “pere adam,” meaning a wild-ass of a man. This isn’t just an adjective. This is meant as a noun. The Torah categorizes the sons of Ishmael as a distinct species of creation, part wild-ass and part man. The holy Zohar states that their aspect of wild-ass is more dominant than their aspect of man (Yitro 86A). This is why US President Obama found it so difficult to fill up five minutes of his Cairo speech detailing the cultural contributions of the Arab peoples to mankind – outside of rape, theft, murder, and a few mediocre poems and calligraphy, they haven’t contributed didly.
Lest you think this is some mystical nonsense that I pulled out of my beard, let’s hear what the Chofetz Chaim had to say about the sons of Ishmael.
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen, from Radin, was certainly one of the greatest Torah scholars of modern times. His unparalleled halachic work, the “Mishna Berura,” is the definitive compendium of Jewish law. In addition, his writings on good deeds and kindness, “Ahavat Chesed,” and his treatises on the evils of Lashon Hara, the books, “Chofetz Chaim” and Shmirat HaLashon, show his great piety and saintliness. He is known never to have spoken unfairly about anyone.
The following story is brought down by the revered Rabbi Dichovsky, of blessed memory, in his book, “Neot Desha,” on concluding a tractate of Talmud. In the introduction, he recounts his visit to the Chofetz Chaim in order to ask him if he could make aliyah to Israel at a time of clear and present danger. The story is a bit long, but because of its great value, we record it in full, in Rabbi Dichovsky’s own words:
“I saw it proper to record a statement made to me by the most pious of all of the Cohanim, the Rabbi of all Israel, the glory of the generation, the holy of all Israel, the Chofetz Chaim, may he be blessed in memory, in the matter of Aliyah. I asked him about this question, and the following are the details of our encounter.
“It was the beginning of the year, 1933. There was a group of Torah scholars who had organized themselves to go together to Israel to learn Torah. I too was amongst them, but I had many doubts, because I knew that many of the great gedolim (Torah scholars) of Israel were opposed. The heads of my Yeshiva were especially opposed to the idea that Yeshiva students would go to Eretz Yisrael, even for the sake of studying Torah. They said that the proper conditions had not as yet been established in order to facilitate Torah study with the proper diligence in the Holy Land, to the extent that we are able to study Torah in the yeshivot in the Diaspora. Therefore, I said in my heart, that I must not ask my rabbis in this matter, for obviously the answer will be no.
“Like Rabbi Zera, who ran away from his teacher, Rav Yehuda, when he wanted to make Aliyah to Israel (Tractate Ketubot, 110B,) I decided to go and ask the counsel of the righteous man of our generation, our revered Rabbi, and to receive his blessing before I departed. Therefore, just before the Day of Atonement, I journeyed to the yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim in the town of Radin, where I stayed in the shadow of this great, righteous individual. This was, as is known, the last Yom Kippur of this special Tzaddik, for at the end of the year, in the month of Elul, he was taken to the Yeshiva Above, may his merit be a shield to us and all Israel.
“In spite of his great physical weakness, a Heavenly Providence was with me, and I merited to see him the day after Yom Kippur. I told him my situation, and that I had a good chance of making Aliyah to Israel as a Torah student, only I had lingering doubts if I would be able to learn Torah with the same diligence with which I was learning now. Immediately, he answered, in his famous sweetness of speech, that there was no room at all for my wariness. Why in the world would I not be able to learn Torah there with absolute diligence – just the opposite would seem to be true, for the Land of Israel, without question, was more conducive for steadfast immersion in Torah. He recited the verse, ‘The gold of the Land is good,’ (Bereshit, 2:12) on which the Midrash says, ‘These (the gold of the Land is good) are the words of Torah, for there is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael; and there is no wisdom like the wisdom of Eretz Yisrael’ (Bereshit Raba, 16:7).
“Before I could express the rest of the doubts that I harbored - especially the fear of the danger in Israel because of the sons of Ishmael who were marauding violently against the Jews, for only a few years had passed since the end of the Hebron Massacre in the year 1929, which made clear to everyone the wild, bestial nature of the Ishmaelites, who with savagery and unbounded cruelty massacred Yeshiva students and showed no mercy even to the women and children - before I was able to confess all of my apprehensions, the Rabbi answered the question himself.
“In the following words of Torah, he said: ‘The holy Torah tells us regarding Ishmael that he is a ‘Pere Adam,’ a wild-ass of a man. It is known that our Torah is eternal, and if it says about Ishmael that he is a wild-ass of a man, then Ishmael will remain forever a wild-ass of a man. Even if all of the cultured nations of the world will gather together and try to educate Ishmael and transform him into a cultured individual, so that he will no longer be a wild-ass of a man, obviously this will be impossible in every fashion or form. They will not be able to do this through any means whatsoever, because he is not capable of being a cultured individual, for behold, the Torah testified regarding him that he is a wild-ass of a man. This means that forever, for all eternity, Ishmael is by definition a wild-ass of a man. Even if Ishmael will be involved in intellectual endeavor, like being a lawyer, or some similar profession, then he will be a beastly lawyer. If he will study diligently to be a professor, then he will be a beastly professor. This means that the bestiality of Ishmael will never cease.’
“Then the Chofetz Chaim let out a long, painful sigh and said, ‘Who knows what this wild-ass of a man is capable of perpetrating against the Jewish people in the end of days?’
“Concluding his words to me, he said, ‘Nevertheless, fear not – there is no reason for this to prevent you from making Aliyah to the Land of Israel.’
“Then he blessed me, saying, ‘Go in peace, and the L-rd will bless your path.’
“So I left him, and journeyed in peace to the Holy Land.”
So much for the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin.