Emor – People or Priests

If only Vayikra had ended last week. The message of holiness that shapes how we live, how relate to one another, how we care and how we love was inspiring. Unfortunately, the rupture of Nadav and Avihu’s death is still not healed. The Cohanim are treated to a whole new set of laws this week. Degraded and dehumanized, they are forced through examinations like show dogs. The Torah is not concerned with their mind or their soul, but only with heir height, weight, and the symmetry of their eyebrows. Their relationships are limited, and the law will now control whom they can love and whom they may grieve. The one priest, who exceeds all his brothers, who has the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies is further objectified. His mobility is limited, and his wife is chosen by the most crass of qualities – only a virgin.

Thank God he did not make me a priest. Thank God he only limited this horrific life to a few. Nadav and Avihu showed us that when personality and care merge with the Holy, the results can be disastrous. The reaction is to clamp down, to eliminate the human from the direct encounter with God. That is the role of the priest. The person whose humanity is stripped to be God’s servant.

The rest of us still have Kedoshim. We still have the world where we partner with God, or take his place in the world. Where we merge our desires and loves with God’s will and do what he will not do in our world. We do not encounter God directly, but rather let God enter our world through our lives.

Imagine what it meant for Korach to rebel against Aaron – to say that we should all be priests. That difficult complicated life, where God’s existence weaves with our own, is insulting to Korach. He does not want humanity, he wants the pure encounter with God, where our own selves disappears. Where thought and logic reign supreme, and love and emotion are left behind. That is the world of the ancient Cohanim. Instead, today, we have Kedoshim.

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Acharei Mot – Kedoshim

Imagine what Aaron must be feeling. On what should have been his finest day, God killed, suddenly, publicly, without warning, his two children. Children who did nothing wrong save from trying to worship that same God. He is beyond words. His silence is not that of the suffering saint, but the silence of a man who no longer knows what to think or what to feel.

When the world is strange, when evil appears, and when things don’t seem fair or make sense, we desire comfort. Even after we grow up, we still want a mother to pick us up, to hold us, to assure us that things will work out, and that there is hope. We want to crawl into her bosom and cry, and to be afraid no longer. God is the greatest mother of all. God hears the tears of orphans and widows, of the poor and the abused. But, for Aaron, God is not a mother. God is the murderer, the very one who cast the shadows of chaos on his life. What then? What is to be done after the most senseless of deaths?

The response is a set of laws. No longer will our actions be determined by caprice but by rules and structure. We will now be responsible for creating order, for shaping a world that can make sense. It begins from the most sensitive place, from the Holy of Holies, whose dedication was marred by the bloodletting, and it continues out to all realms of our lives. From how we do business to who we sleep with, each act must be intentful, considered, and performed to improve the world. If God can not mother the world, we will, and if God will not perfect the world – we must.

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Vayikra tells of the oscillating flow between tameh and tahor, pure and tainted. Actions and events, some controlled by people, others in God’s hands cast the verdict of tuma’a upon the ancient Israelites. Turned away from public gatherings and from the communal feasts, the impure have time and opportunity to pursue their own interests. Without demands, they can meditate, think, and explore the world. The impure can grow, but it is difficult for them to contribute. Society has its own rules and it does not pause as the hermits reflect.

Time passes, wounds heal, and the erstwhile loners seek the company of peers. The prophets return from wandering in the desert and come to Jerusalem to preach their wisdom. Nursing mothers, after months of loving intimacy, want to shape a world where all can care as they did. God welcomes them all back. God calls them all to come to the Temple, to stand proudly at the gates and declaim their commitment to creating community.

A motley array of the sick, the proud, the outcasts, and the monks, all wait in line to perform their final task – a sacrifice. Before the speeches, balls, and performances the debutantes are commanded to reflect for one last moment, and to feel pain. They must give something away, destroy something alive and beautiful, and know that even at this moment there is death.

In every transition, something must be given up. Old opportunities are sacrificed to create room for new ones. Even when we laud a world of togetherness and purity – the value of solitude and quiet is not impeached. The Torah knows that perfection is impossible, and it does not demand it. It only wants us to pause, at the moment of success, and recognize what we have lost.

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Yvette?

Yesterday, I was frightened. Weeks and weeks of racist, xenophobic commercials from Yisrael Beiteinu had my blood pressure up, and polls showing Mr. Lieberman getting as many as 20 mandates on fear alone had me wondering who these Israelis were, and my boycott pencil was being sharpened.

Last night, as I watched results come in, I was curious and confused.

Today, I am feeling better.
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For the Sake of Peace, Pray for the IDF

Here’s my thesis: The best thing that can happen for peace in the Middle East, today, is a decisive military victory for the IDF in Gaza – not an immediate ceasefire. Now that you’ve read that, take a minute to get angry, yell at me, tell me I’m wrong, and the like. Good. Next step, let me explain myself.
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Subtlety and the Art of Ignorance

Ahh, it’s that time of year again. “The time when kings go to war” (actually, that’s the spring, but close enough anyway) Israel pulls out its M-16s and us lonely bloggers soak our fingers in baths of vitriol before attacking the keyboard. Two and a half years ago, frustration over how people were writing about Second Lebanon War made me start blogging, and after a long hiatus, this year’s media war has gotten me going again.

You’ve seen them, long screeds and rants, some on this blog, many on others. Desperate e-mails forwarded to you by colleagues and family. One e-mail I received had the ridiculous claim that it is only leftist groups in the Diaspora that oppose this current war, and not those in Israel. While that is blatantly false, it did get me thinking. The difference between the discourse in the two cultures, seems to be the question of subtlety.
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Uri L’Tzedek Declares Victory

That’s right folks, we can all eat meat again. So say the good people at Uri L’Tzedek.

A few weeks ago, Rubashkin’s retained former federal prosecutor James Martin from the Prevene group to insure the company’s compliance with relevant secular and Jewish laws. No one was really sure how serious this would be, or what Mr. Martin could actually do. However, following a meeting with Mr. Martin, the Uri leaders were satisfied that he was prepared to do exactly what they had wanted. The original open letter had called for the company to comply with all relevant laws (both Jewish and secular) and to bring in a third party for verification. Well, well, it looks like Mr. Rubashkin listened, and did exactly as he was asked.

So today is a happy day. A good day for Jewish law, for workers’ rights, for consumer activism, and for Uri L’Tzedek.

So it would seem at least. But, I don’t know, I feel a little empty. Something doesn’t sit right for me. Uri L’Tzedek had the right demands, and they were fulfilled, but I guess I wanted a little repentance, a little chest thumping. Something akin to how Tylenol dealt with the cyanide crisis of the ’80s. A radical change, a broad corporate effort to make the world better. That hasn’t happened. Well, maybe that’s asking too much. You can’t ask people to be good people, only to do the right thing. And, well, it seems they have.

However, Uri L’Tzedek, and the rest of us should remain vigilant. Mr. Martin was only retained for one year, and we need to make sure that the work he does is effective. But, until then – enjoy your hot dogs!

Four Murdered, Dozens Hurt

First rocks, then bombs, and guns, busses, and exploding cars. Today, a bulldozer. The enemies of peace will kill any way they can. God save us.

The Right Way to Criticize Israel

It is here in the Palestinian territories that you see the worst side of Israel . . . Yet it is also here that you see the very best side of Israel.

Alright, there’s nothing Earth shattering here. No brand new observation that we haven’t seen before, but Nicholas Kristoff does it right today. Too often our friends on the right laud Israel’s greatness while ignoring the underbelly, and too often our friends on the left scourge Israel for its mistakes, while missing it’s beauty. If you want a balanced opinion, read Mr. Kristoff’s essay. It’s an easy read, and it’s good for the soul.

Obama Mishegaas

Well, there’s much to be written about the Obamaphobia in many parts of the Jewish community, and I would recommend checking out this wonderful op-ed by Rabbi Yosef Blau in the Jewish Week a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, I thought I would share with you this picture of a bumper sticker that I got last week. (Hat tip to Akiva Weiss)
Obama Aliyah

Blogging the Omer Day 33: Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

Week Five, Day 5

Hod of Hod

Today is the strange, poorly understood festival we call Lag Ba’Omer (Day 33 of the Omer). Today, all around Israel, people go outdoors, run around have fun and light bonfires. Thousands of these beautiful fires are lit, dotting the entire map with dancing light. (Last year I flew on Lag Ba’Omer, it was one of the most amazing flights I have ever taken.) The only problem is that Israel is known as the land of millk and honey, not firewood. So, scavenging kids, and adults, go looking for anything at all that will burn. Construction pallates disappear, trees are uprooted, furniture destroyed, and all of that destruction goes up into the air. For an entire day, the country is covered in disgusting smog. It is difficult to breath, and there isa massive spike in emergency room asthma visits. The released carbon dioxide and toxic chemicals from burnt plastics spread all over the country, and settle down back all across the entire region. A Knesset committee decided to act, yesterday. So, it’s too late to help out this year, but maybe in the future we can see a more moderate celebration.

Meanwhile, let’s give a little hat tip to some organizations that are working hard to keep outdoor revelry possible.

  • Green Prophet This is the English language environmental blog. Started by a couple of people to write up the news, this has become a popular and active blog which keeps you up to date on everything environmental in Israel. Whether you’re looking for a good hike, info on the most recent shonda, or looking to help out, stop by here.
  • Adam Teva V’Din Check them out for some hard-core activism in Israel. These people are out for change, and they are going to make it happen.
  • Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel The granddaddy of environmentalism in Israel. Around since 1953, these people can pull strings. From large boycotts, to building trails and nature reserves, SPNI is where it is at.
  • Green Zionist Alliance One year ago, Noam Dolgin left his job as director of Teva to move back to Vancouver and start this upstart zionist organization. Believing that an important way to support Israel is to support its environment, the GZA is dedicated to mobilizing and educating diaspora Jews to what’s going on in Israel’s land, sea and air.

Rubashkin’s: Update and Next Steps

Since our call for donations, St. Bridget’s has received approximately forty thousand dollars. That’s real money. That’s real money that is making sure people have food, that their rent is paid, that they are getting legal representation, and that is reuniting families. Also, Rubashkin’s has responded to our lead. They have given meat (what else?) to the workers’ families, and are negotiating a way to pay the families at least part of their lost wages.

Bottom line – Yasher Koach. Thank you for donating and thank you for spreading the message. Our little campaign has made a difference. Now it’s time to move on, to figure out what the next steps are. Here are some ideas.
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It’s Our Turn to Help

The Rubashkin’s raid made big news earlier in the week, and we were angry. We were furious, filled with righteous indignation, ready to destroy the kosher meat industry, to throw out kashrut, to bash Orthodoxy until the last black hat disappeared from Iowa. But, now, it’s time to help. With hundreds of worker’s arrested, thousands of their family members are now in limbo. They have no money, no income, and no resources. They are frightened to apply for work, frightened to go shopping, and their kids aren’t going to school. Charities in Postville are pitching and do what they can to help these people, and unfortunately not-surprisingly, Agriprocessors isn’t helping out. I don’t often ask people to give tzedakah, and if I do, it’s a casual request. This is different. Anyone who has ever eaten kosher meat in this country has benefited from the hard, poorly compensated work these people have done, and now that they are in desperate need it is our turn to help.

Ari Hart, one of the leaders of Uri L’Tzedek, has been in contact with people on the ground, and he found this church, St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, which is working very hard with the families in town. However, the church’s resources are stretched thin, and they need donations.

Please, send money to:
St. Bridget’s Hispanic Fund
c/o Sister Mary McCauley
POB 369
Postville, IA 52162

Agriprocessors might be a large, unscrupulous company, but to these people, it represents one thing – Judaism. Please give. Please write a letter thanking them. Please let them know that you care.

No One is Jewish

Just when you thought the conversion mess couldn’t get any worse – the good folk in Israel drop another bomb. The Jerusalem Post reports that the High Rabbinical Court has ruled to invalidate, retroactively, all of the conversions performed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman since 1999.

Get this straight, Rabbi Chaim Druckman isn’t a reform, conservative, or heck even some strange liberal YCT guy. Rabbi Chaim Druckman is a major Rosh Yeshiva, a recognized halakhic scholar, and at times has been in charge of the national religious education system in Israel. His only offense apparently – he wears a knitted yarmulke. Rabbi Druckman, from Jpost

This isn’t a little thing. Rabbi Druckman isn’t just a private rabbi in a little synagogue. He was the head of the official, government conversion authority. This means that thousands of people’s conversions have been effectively invalidated. Also, this isn’t just a question of whether your local synagogue will let you enroll your kids in day school. This means that thousands of people are no longer Jewish, their kids are no longer Jewish, they are no longer married, they can not get married, they can no longer be buried in ordinary cemetaries, and can no longer go to religious schools. They have been placed as second class citizens. All apparently because one woman, more than fifteen years after she converted was no longer shomeret shabbat – according to the ideals of this rabbinic court. Do you understand how inane that is? This ruling basically says, that if one day, decades, marriages, and children after you convert, you happen to tear a piece of toilet paper on shabbat once not only are you no longer Jewish, but everyone your rabbi ever converted is no longer Jewish!

This is beyond absurd. Such a position threatens every conversion. Hey, why stop there? Perhaps your misbehavior could undermine your mother’s or your grandmother’s conversion. That fundamental principle of, “A Jew, even if he sins, is still a Jew” – gone. Hey, Moshe got angry and hit that rock. He sinned. Guess he never converted at Mount Sinai either. And if he didn’t, well I’ll let you figure that one out.

Perhaps I should stop here, but one last little fear. Ever since the RCA kowtowed to the Israel establishment, they’ve been promising that everything they do will only affect the future, and past conversions will not be doubted. Good luck with that now. If Rabbi Druckman’s sruggy invalidated his conversions, there are plenty of Orthodox rabbis who don’t wear velvet either.

Update: I found a copy of the original teshuva here. (Hat tip to Rabbi Jeff Fox) I plan on posting some more details soon, but it is important to realize that the original reporters did get one thing wrong. Her husband is not being forbidden to marry. Quite to the contrary, the previous beit din had issued an injunction on his getting married until this mess was settled. But, since the court decided he was never married in the first place, he is now free to do as he wills.

Yemen Abuses Jews – Who Knew?

So, here’s a different source for a news story on this blog. HaTzofeh, the national religious newspaper in Israel, reports on extensive abuse of the few remaining Jews in Yemen. The newspaper reports that recently many Jews have been attacked, including the Rabbi of the community whose home was recently destroyed. The article also mentions ongoing human rights abuse, including forced conversions, and a law that makes marrying a Jew punishable by death. Strangest though, the article reports that the only organization working to help these Jews is Satmar. The flat-hatted chassidim want them to emigrate, not to Israel of course, but to the UK and America.

Yikes. That’s scary stuff, happening to our own brothers and sisters, and I had no idea. I don’t know what to do to stop this, but the first step must be making sure that people know. It’s a shame that I heard about it first from a religious rag which I usually only read for laughs.

Update: I found a Christian Science Monitor article about the abuse.

Newest in Israeli Justice – Arresting Foreign Journalists

I got this e-mail from a good fried of mine this morning. Tyson Herberger is a well-travelled, multilingual, Orthodox Jew. He’s married, lives in Jerusalem, and is pretty hard to pin down politically. You must read

Some of you may already now from reading the morning papers, but I am under house arrest for being a journalist.

Earlier this week Israel’s communications ministry and israeli police raided the Jerusalem studios of the radio station I work at. They seized all of the equipment in the studio itself, though left the rest of the offices intact. Everyone present at the time of the raid was taken into police custody for questioning. They released the secreatary after about 7 or 8 hours, and took the other 7 of us to
jail for the night as we were being detained.

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Such a Nice Jewish Boy

Efrayim Diveroli

So, who is this sweet kid in a nice Jewish living room? Is it (a) the newest “Jewish Jordan” (b) the guy my sister went out with last week (c) the man hired to replace Rabbi Herschel Schachter or (d) an international arms trader?

If you guessed (d), you’re right. Efraim Diveroli is the CEO of AEY Inc., the arms company suspended last week for ripping off the Pentagon and endangering Afghani and American soldiers.

Nice to know that our yiddishe kopfs are being put to a good use.


Not long after getting out of the army, a friend and I drove down to Eilat to relax for a couple of days. We were sitting in our hotel room after an amazing day of hiking and snorkeling, and there was the news. A suicide bombing. Twenty people were murdered, dozens more injured. It was the “Childrens’ Attack.” I stared helplessly at the TV screen, I prayed for the injured, and I prayed to see an image of the new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, distraught, upset, denouncing the violence. As the night rolled on, more people died, the army made plans, but Abu Mazen never appeared. My friend and I were shooken up, we couldn’t stay and swim any longer. We packed our bags and headed home.

The next morning, on the drive back, we stopped by an army base where my old unit was stationed. There was a good friend of mine, now an officer. Roi was doing some work on a tank, and he was alone. I climbed up with him, and we sat down to talk. There, on that hulk of steel we cried. We were sorry for ourselves, we were sorry for our country, we were sorry for the victims, we were sorry for the Palestinians, and we were sorry for the world. Niether of us had ever wanted to fight, but we did. We did it because we needed to, because there was a war, because we had a responsibility to keep our friends and our families safe. But, every day, we prayed for peace. We prayed for an end. Every day that we fought in the territories, every day that we caused Palestinian suffering, we understood just how much we shared with them, and how hurtful it was for everyone for this all to go on. The past few weeks had been quiet. Roi’s company was able to leave the front. We thought it was ending, that perhaps things would change, but the night before had shattered everything once again. So, we sat, stared at the sun, and we cried. We were tired.

That was nearly five years ago. Since then, wow, things have changed, right? Arafat died, the Red Sox won the World Series, the disengagement hapenned, I went to school, Arik had a stroke, Facebook, the Lebanon war – and we’re still fighting the Palestinians, and terrorism keeps on going. You know what? I am tired.

I am tired of fighting, I am tired of death. Yes, I will go on. I will continue to support Israel, I will continue to fight for peace. I will continue to draw attention to the genuine suffering of the Palestinian people, and I will continue to serve in the reserves, and God forbid – in another war. But, I am tired of all of this i am tired of trying to fight my way through this horrible moral thicket, and I am tired that for every thought of doubt I have, someone is questioning my character. Blaming me for the holocaust, blaming me for the death of Palestinians, blaming me for the death of Jewish citizens, and blaming me for ignoring Torah. All of this is complicated, it is exhausting. My thoughts have grown so jumbled and confused, that the beginnings and ends of conversations and arguments are hidden beneath so many layers of rhetoric.

I am lost, I am confused, and I am tired.