My Female Soldier

A great deal has been written and said recently that paints an unfair picture of religious girls serving in the IDF. I would like to set the record straight as the father of such a soldier.

Our fourth daughter decided that she was going to the army, unlike her three older sisters who did national service known as “Sherut Leumi.” At first we were apprehensive about her decision, mainly because of the bad press and the concern that the army will be a bad influence on her religious observance.

She was adamant that this is what she was doing. She joined a wonderful preparatory program that involved serious Torah studies at Kibbutz Ein Hanetziv, and the deal was done. Her Kibbutz experience intensified her love for learning at a higher level than at any time in her previous twelve years of study.

She has been in the army for nearly a year now and it has been an extremely positive experience. When she told people in the army that her father was a rabbi, they assumed I was a Reform rabbi. The idea that I am Religious-Zionist came as big a surprise as the fact that she did not hide that she was religious.

Our daughter works in a unit that works at rehabilitating soldiers who are greatly disadvantaged. Many come from the streets or from difficult home situations, and the army wants these soldiers to be productive members of society when they finish their service. This specific service involves teaching and building self esteem.

We are impressed that the IDF shows such concern for its soldiers. But we are more impressed by the dedication of these young “religious” girls and the devotion they show in their work. It is extremely rewarding and they have seen great success.

Aside from all of this, the willingness to interact between religious and secular is extremely important. It may sound shocking but there are numerous secular Israelis who have never even had a conversation with a religious Jew. This is not an exaggeration.

When these girls show a willingness to explain what it means to be religious, it bridges gaps and the girls themselves are strengthened. They know they are being looked at all of the time and must set a good example.

Admittedly, not all units are like this one and there are definitely problems of religion and the mixing of the sexes. It needs to be pointed out that giving “labels” to things, can be very damaging. The label that religious girls serving in the army are “damaged” does such a terrible disservice to so many remarkable young ladies.

In many circles, a girl is similarly branded for the terrible sin of “wearing pants.” Such an act of heresy may prevent the “good catches” from looking at a girl in pants. I am well aware of the rules of modesty and agree that dressing according to Halachic standards, is preferred. But this issue like so many others, is blown way out of proportion.

Meanwhile, I will tip my knit Kippa (a symbol of religious Zionism), to a number of very special pants wearing female soldiers, that bring us all a great deal of pride

Poisoning Innocent Minds

One of the beautiful aspects of youth, is the simplicity and innocence of young people. Despite the bravado of claiming to know everything, there still remains a great deal of gullibility and naïveté about the real world. When a young person picks up a history book, he will assume that the facts presented are authentic. They represent a true accounting of the events presented. As he grows older and becomes more seasoned and knowledgeable, he will learn that the very same period that he studied, can be learned from a totally different bent. The victims suddenly become the oppressors and the villains now become the heroes. What may have been thought to be crimes, become acts of altruism. Being older and wiser, our student learns that even history books are biased. The personal views of the historian are incorporated into the description of historic events. The reason why the media has been under attack so strongly, is that within their description of current events, there is an undertone of presumed values that are not shared by all. Just like the history books, it is almost impossible to be objective in reporting. Ideally, these values should at least be shared by the majority, but they are not. A case in point is the coverage of President Trump’s efforts to screen those entering America. His intentions are to protect the United States citizens from potential criminals and terrorists. This is why he wants to build a wall on the Mexican border. The drugs smuggled into the country and the crimes committed by many illegals, has led to the deaths of thousands of citizens. It would seem to make sense that people need to feel safer. Not only does terrorism kill, but drug overdose and armed robberies, do, too. Nevertheless, as obvious and logical that this might be, there still remains a philosophical question regarding collective punishment. One school of thought says that human life is sacred and the loss of one innocent human being cannot be taken lightly. If an entire ethnic group or people, suffer as a result of this, this must be done in order to prevent the death of even one person. Even though there are many of that group who could be honest, law abiding citizens, they will be included with the criminals. The second school of thought sees this as unjust. They are against collective punishment, for they see it as morally wrong to punish the majority for the sins of the few. This view of justice takes precedence even above the potential loss of life. Collective punishment is viewed as racist. And to be a racist is far worse than having innocent people dying needlessly. Mainstream media seems to adopt this latter view. The real issue of saving and protecting American citizens, is overshadowed by that dirty word called “racism.” Those proposing such laws can then be included with other notorious racists. This leads to the unthinkable where the “protectors” of the people suddenly become equated with Nazis, Heaven forbid. The masses are stirred up to violently protest this “threat to civilization.” There should at least be an attempt at objectivity by the media. They should not be fanning the flames of dissension by forcing their views on the masses. They should try to present both sides. They do not have the right to preach their view of morality in how they report the news.

The tragedy of this reality are the innocent minds that are poisoned by these biases. The same is true on college campuses where so called scholars impose their views on their students. At the very least, there should be a clear delineation by those in positions of influence, that they are presenting “their” view of truth. They should make it clear that other views exist that may also be correct. I once took a course on the Middle East conflict at a Chicago university. For 15 weeks, I was subjected to vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rants by this professor. Eventually, other Jewish students protested against this so called scholar. There was a small victory as the name of the class was changed to “The Arab View of the Middle East Conflict.” Nobody has the right to force their views on others. Maybe a solution to this dillema would be to define the specific leaning of the presenters of the news. CNN would be called, “A Leftist Liberal presentation of current events.” Fox News would be “A Conservative presentation.” This would certainly avoid a great deal of confusion. Perhaps this would lead to the possibility of sharing views in a civil, respectable manner. I once debated a notorious leftist on the subject of our rights to Judea and Samaria. I made a point of expressing my views in a dignified and respectful manner. A mutual party asked each of us separately what we thought of our debating partner. Surprisingly, we each gave the same response. “He is a nice person but his views are dangerous!” This is the ideal in sharing opposing views. It is my sincere hope that sanity will shine through and there will be an end to all of the dissension and ill will. Goodness must prevail and evil must be destroyed. The world will then be a better place to live in

The Yardstick for the Jew

I t used to be that Jews were trained to adopt a philosophy regarding any election, that the candidate who is “good for the Jews”, gets the Jewish vote. Unfortunately, things have gotten very confused in the Jewish world and this confusion is so great that Jews are no longer certain what is really Jewish and what is not. Dennis Prager recently wrote an article blasting a Conservative rabbi for advocating a fast day on the day Donald Trump was sworn in. Others felt the “Jewish” thing to do was to sit Shiva after the election results came in. Prager contends that to the Liberal Left, their philosophy represents true Judaism and anything else is not Jewish. It is absolutely necessary to restate the impact that the State of Israel has on worldwide Jewry. The image of the Jew has changed dramatically since we have Israel. Jews are viewed with much more respect and dignity because of Israel and the Israel Defence Forces. Jews are safer all over the world because Israel is protecting them. In short, the treatment of Israel reflects an attitude towards all of the Jewish people. If someone speaks out against Israel, he is belittling the entire Jewish nation. Zionism and Judaism are one and the same. One cannot hate Zionists and love Jews. Today, political correctness has taken priority over much more important issues. Because of the tremendous influence of the media, being polite and outwardly accepting, gives a politician great leeway in covering up dangerous views. And to the contrary, if one has ideas that will benefit the world, but he cannot express them in a politically correct manner, they will be discarded. The Torah acquaints us with our first politically correct villain. Lavan, whose name means white. He always seemed to say the right things. He found a rationale for switching Rachel and Leah, and for cheating Jacob in every way possible. At our Passover Seder, we mention that Lavan wished to utterly destroy us. Our prophets warn us to “Beware of the smoothed tongue.” Former President Obama is constantly praised for his grace, charisma, and gentlemanly manner in how he conducted himself during his presidency. People are fooled into thinking that he is a friend to Israel. Ironically, he is our modern day Lavan. Obama’s inability to say the words, “radical Islamic terror,” and at the same time, relentlessly blaming Jewish settlements for all the problems in the Middle East, is very Lavan-like. His promoting a deal with Iran, a nation that sponsors terrorism, is an obvious affront to Israel and the Jewish people. Obama’s abstention during his last month in office at the United Nations was despicable and showed how he really felt about the Jews. If someone is bad for Israel and the Jews, he is not our friend. Every Jew who voted for him, should feel ashamed. All is not in vain, if a lesson is learned from this. Assimilation is the greatest tragedy in our times. Not only is intermarriage a plague, but so is the assimilation of truly Jewish ideas. When all is said and done we have the G-d of Israel and our own people to rely on. History has taught us this lesson through a long and painful exile The Rabbis repeatedly speak of truth and peace, Emet and Shalom, going together. When we recognize the truth, as difficult as it may be, we have peace of mind. Let us hope we learn from this very tumultuous election, to be wiser and support only those who truly support Israel, the Jewish nation, and show respect for the G-d of Israel.

Their Religion - our religion

The reaction by the Liberal-Left to the inhauguration of Donald Trump and his election to the US presidency, is difficult to understand. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals, who are still in a state of shock and mourning, because their candidate lost. Perhaps an analysis of the beliefs of the Liberal-Left in contrast to traditional Jewish beliefs, may shed light in explaining this intense response to a legitimate democratic process in choosing the leader of the free world. It appears that the philosophy of the liberals has developed into a kind of religion. If this is accurate, and its devotees feel certain that they have the monopoly on all that is just and merciful in this world, it is understandable that they lament the blindness of those who do not “see the world as they do.” And what adds salt to their wounds, is that the winner epitomizes the opposite of this great wisdom of the religion of Liberalism. The Liberals have an attitude that it is not possible to be more compassionate and caring than they are. They are so sure of this that they mock those who live according to the Torah. Their arrogance convinces them that the Torah is no longer relevant. Since it is outdated, they needed to step in and teach the world proper values. G-d’s holy Bible has no relevance to today’s sophisticated, technological world. Traditional Judaism believes the Torah applies for all generations. It is a reflection of G-d’s will in the universe. We are totally subservient to Him. His exaltedness does not allow for any other value system or philosophy to come close to the Torah, in terms of justice and morality. The Rabbis speak of humility as the prerequisite to piety, and freedom from sin. Humbling oneself allows a person to turn evil into good. The negation of the Torah and G-d, and substituting instead a new definition of right and wrong, is anything but, humility. The Liberal religion believes that evil does not exist and man is inherently good. Crime is only an expression of frustration. If everyone received love and understanding, and economic opportunity, there would be no crime. Our Torah believes that G-d created good and evil. It is up to man to use his free will to make the right choices. If he chooses good, he is rewarded. If he chooses evil, he will be punished. Unlike the Liberals, there is absolute accountability for one’s actions. The Liberal religion stresses the importance of doing what makes one feel good and be happy. As long as nobody is directly being harmed, feeling happy outweighs real morality. The Torah believes that every Jews’ actions affect the world. There has to be a system that tells a person when he has crossed the line, in his pursuit of happiness. This is the reason for the Seven Noachide Laws. A society must maintain limits, if it is to thrive and certain types of pursuing happiness, are morally wrong and unacceptable. The issue of collective punishment is very different according to the Liberals and the Torah. The Liberals will welcome refugees as a sign of benevelonce, and are willing to take the risk that they are inviting criminals into our country. The Torah demands that we do all in our power to protect the lives of every Jew. There is no glory in allowing ourselves to be killed because we won’t shoot the enemy that uses a child as its human shield.

Probably the most infuriating aspect of the Liberal religion, is seeing someone who is not politically correct. If one can be perceived as a mysoginist, homophobic, or xenophobic, it makes the blood boil. The Torah does not wish to insult anyone, but clearly, the three cardinal sins of murder, idolworship, and sexual immorality, are so severe, that one must be prepared to die rather than violate these transgressions. It seems that to the Liberals, nothing can be worse than to be a racist or even tell an ethnic joke. The liberal views stated above, are constantly being reinforced by the media. They have been adopted by the masses. However, there has now emerged an even louder voice saying that the world is not a better place because of these views. People are not happier and do not have any real direction as a result of thinking this way. The Torah system has survived for thousands of years because it represents G-d’s will in His world. The realization that Liberalism is not correct would make a liberal sad and depressed. But instead of mourning, serious soul-searching is necessary. Humility as described by the Rabbis, is desperately needed to fix that which was made crooked. There is a striking similarity between the world of the liberals crashing down and the Arab-Israeli conflict. For centuries, the Muslim world viewed the Jews as rejected by G-d and that Islam was meant to rule the region known as the Middle East. It was inconceivable that a Jewish entity of any size could exist in the region. They were so sure of the truth of their beliefs. Now that there is a strong return of over six million Jews to their ancestral homeland, instead of seeing Israel as a fluke and wishing to destroy us, there should equally be an acceptance of reality. The only absolute truth in the world is G-d and the Torah. If Donald Trump continues to ask G-d for success, he will succeed in a big way. In the words of the Tanach, “G-d and the Torah are One.”

Trump and Jewish Loyalty

Shavua Tov from LA. I was able to watch the inauguration live which was very memorable. At 12:00 noon on Friday when Trump was sworn in, I had an overwhelming feeling that at that moment, the world became a better place as evil was weakened. In שמות פרשת ,we get a glimpse of our first encounter with self-hating, traitorous Jews. Rashi quotes the Midrash describing how Moshe Rabbeinu, when he was prince of Egypt, could not understand what the Jewish people could have done to deserve being enslaved by another nation. After killing the Egyptian, he is approached on the following day by two treasonous Jews who are not loyal to Moshe’s heroic act. They become informers to Pharoah of Moshe’s act. When Moshe sees this, he says, הדבר נודע אכן” .Now I understand the matter.” The Midrash says that when Moshe saw this lack of loyalty between Jews, and their willingness to help the enemy, he felt this was the reason why they deserved to be punished so severely. May Hashem grant us the ability to destroy the enemies from within, by having them do Teshuva. Needless to say, our enemies from without should also be destroyed. And it would be a good idea if our leaders in Israel would learn from Trump, and openly ask for Hashem’s blessings and help

Sarah's Fulfilled Life

Shavua Tov. There is an interesting explanation to the death of אמינו שרה .Most commentators connect her death to יצחק עקידת and the grief she felt caused her soul to leave her. Another way of looking at this episode was that the Akeida was the very incident that gave Sarah, the ultimate satisfaction and contentment as a Jewish mother. The goal of every Jew is to raise their children and grandchildren in the way of Judaism according to the example they set and the values they instill in them. This is a lifelong task that is usually never completely fulfilled. In Sarah’s case, Yitzchak was everything she had in terms of the future. When she heard of her son’s incredible faith and willingness to sanctify Hashem’s name at the Akeida, her life was done. Yitzchak had surpassed her in a way beyond anything she could have taught him. She died a happy woman. We should follow Sarah’s example of making it our biggest priority to never stop trying to teach our children right from wrong, holy from profane, and important from unimportant. Hopefully, our children will listen and glean from our wisdom and experience.

Is the Torah on Trial

It often amazes me that in the State of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, that quoting from our holy Torah can bring with it claims of racism. Many have lost their potential appointments to important positions by committing the “crime” of quoting from the Five Books of Moses. On numerous occasions, Knesset members were removed from the podium for reading direct quotations from Maimonides and his Mishne Torah. This is a very strange phenomenon when we are known as the “people of the book.” It is likely that the primary miracle of Jewish survival during an Exile that has lasted nearly two thousand years, was because of our study and strict adherence to the Torah given on Mount Sinai, as was transmitted by Moses our Teacher. Until modern times, the perfection and sanctity of the Torah was never brought into question. It was understood that this was the only book that was written directly by G-d Himself. It was accepted by way of a covenant that this book applied for all generations. It was impossible for it to grow outdated. Every father and grandfather in every generation took the utmost care to give over meticulously the details as to how to live by the Torah’s teachings. The ability to challenge the validity of the Torah’s teachings has to come from either a great deal of ignorance or unbelievable arrogance. The ignorance might be able to be comprehended on one level. There are many Jews who have never studied or were never really exposed to its teachings. There was a recent study in America that showed an extremely high number of people who did not even know the contents of the Ten Commandments. The very idea that any individual who serves as a judge in Israel on any level and is not well versed in just the basic teachings of the legal system of traditional Judaism and Jewish Law, is unacceptable. If there is such ignorance, it may begin with the assumption that there is no validity to that system. This is where the arrogance comes in. For anyone to casually brush off the teachings of the Torah and the great scholars that existed in every generation, screams out arrogance to the highest degree. Is it possible to say that one’s own value system and determination of right and wrong is more compassionate and more just than that which we received on Mount Sinai? It’s as if this individual is saying to G-d, “You did an admirable job when we heard You speak the first two of the Ten Commandments on Sinai. The book You wrote served us well for a time but, unfortunately, Your book is no longer applicable to today’s modern technological world. But don”t worry, G-d, we’ve come up with our own system that we think works much better than what You gave us.” In essence, this is what is happening today. Often people who are believers in the Torah’s teachings, are accused of not being able to think for themselves. Those who believe that the world was created in six days, are given the title of “creationists”, as if there is something wrong with them for believing in the written word. The reality is that it’s time to accept that the alternative that has been presented, has failed miserably. The degradation of morality continues to decline. Recently MTV carried a segment urging young people to examine if perhaps they need to change genders. Already the Target Department Stores have decided to allocate thirty million dollars to create transgender bathrooms! The “it makes me feel good” philosophy, or so called tolerance of all types of deviant behavior, is not making the world a better place. People are more depressed and more unhappy. It’s time we stop putting the Torah on trial, and go back to living by its truth. The Torah has served us well for the past 3300 years. The irony is that we would not have a State of Israel without it and yet, so many reject it. As we say in our prayers when we place the Torah to the ark, “It’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. Bring us back Hashem to You, and we will return. Renew our days as of old.”

Mr. Trump - Rebuild the Third Temple

Dear Mr. Trump,

When I voted for you, I hoped you would be the first American president to make it clear

that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace. I then watched a clip where you understood that a two state solution was not viable because of all of the hate and incitement in the Arab world. Children from the age of two are already being brainwashed to see Israel and the Jewish people in the worst way.

I would add to this that it is against the Islamic religion to recognize a Jewish entity of ANY size. They believe that the entire region is meant to be pan-Arabic. To accept a State of Israel, would be an admission of the falsehood of the religion. This is a bigger problem than even the hate and incitement that makes a solution that much more difficult.

You are about to become the most powerful man on earth. When it comes to the Middle East, every president has tried to build his legacy by forcing an unrealistic settlement on the parties in conflict. I would like to suggest that you build your legacy in a way that wasn’t attempted for a few thousand years.

Mr. Trump, you have developed some of the most amazing building projects in your career. Rebuilding the third Temple, would be your most ambitious project by far. The Temple was a place that actually brought peace to the world. The Rabbis of the Talmud have stated that had the nations of the world known how much they benefited from the Temple, they would never have destroyed it.

There is an interesting precedent to this proposal. In Scriptures in the Book of Nehemiah, we learn that King Darius was approached by Nehemiah, his butler, with the request that the walls of Jerusalem be fortified so that he and Ezra would succeed in rebuilding the second Temple.

There are opinions that say that Darius was the son of Esther and Achashveirosh, the King of Persia. You might remember that the good king also liked women by trying to show off his wife’s beauty and then making a beauty pageant to choose the new king. The Talmud adds that at the feast of Achashveirosh, he got into a deep philosophical discussion as to which women are more beautiful based on where they came from. That discussion would certainly qualify as “locker room” talk. 

By building the third Temple, you will help bring back morality and holiness to the world. It will cause everyone to want to get closer to G-d and elevate himself to be a more righteous and caring individual. Knowing that Temple service will be restored to the holiest place on earth, will have a ripple effect throughout the world.

I realize that we might have a little problem with the El Aksa Mosque as well as the Dome of the Rock. Our modern technology will allow us to move these buildings to Mecca without causing any damage to these ancient structures. Mecca will then become an even more popular place of prayer than it is today. If you get resistance from some world leaders, Putin will have your back for sure.

As for the details as to how to do the actual construction, the Temple Institute is ready to assist you. Rumor has it, that there is even a Red Heifer waiting for service. Through your efforts, the world will change dramatically for the good.

So many people laughed at you when you decided to run for president. They are not laughing any more.I know you like challenges and you want to make your mark on the world. As crazy as all of this sounds, Mr. Trump, you just might be the one to pull this off. Oh, and by the way, an added bonus for getting the job done, will be the coming of the Messiah. 

The Loss of Morality

The great Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his classic work, Path of the Just, makes a brilliant observation regarding human nature.

The Ramchal, as he is also known, writes of the importance of reviewing and repeating basic and somewhat obvious lessons of human behavior. As obvious as they might be, if people are not reminded of these teachings, they will be forgotten.

An example of such a situation would be how society judges a righteous person. The obvious definition would be to describe an individual who loves and fears G-d, and he occupies his time doing numerous acts of kindness. He would be loved and respected and regarded as a righteous person.

Rabbi Luzzatto explains that if this definition were not repeated on a regular basis, after a while people would forget and a new description of “righteous” would emerge. The new “Tzaddik” would be one who fasts all of the time or immerses himself in a ritual bath of snow, and does other outragous acts of holiness. The true righteous person would now be overlooked as too ordinary.

I fear that we are experiencing a similar situation of forgetfulness in today’s society. Basic concepts that were seen as obvious, because they are no longer emphasized, have become forgotten.

The older generation that I proudly admit to being a part of, were taught basic moral truths. It was a given that when a young man or woman grows up, he or she are expected to marry and raise a family. If a couple would choose to live together before marriage, it was shocking and considered promiscuous. Virginity was something cherished and couples were expected to wait until marriage before engaging in sexual activity.

For whatever reason, such values were not repeated, and were forgotten. The “new morality” replaced the old, and people who held on to these old values were shunned and seen as archaic and out of touch with reality.

What is even more painful is that a basic value as faith in G-d, and trusting that the truths taught in the Bible, still have relevance, has also been forgotten. There have even been numerous articles belittling people who believe in the Bible’s description of creation.

The assumption is that the new values (or lack of them) becomes the norm. The old values are substituted with a repeated mantra of “do whatever makes you feel good.” Or, “if it makes you happy, it has to be right.”

Such views lead to a breakdown of all that is sacred. It creates a society of instant gratification. Marriage is seen by many as too difficult, not to mention the hardships of raising children. There is a lack of appreciation for those who understand that intimacy is sacred. We are not animals that need our lusts satisfied the moment one’s desire is awakened.

We would do well to learn from scholars who understand the world and are able to clarify right from wrong, and holy from profane. We need to study and review over and over again, their sacred teachings. If we don’t, we might be seduced into believing that the “new morality” has validity and represents progress. The reality is that the world is not a better place because of the loss of real morality. 

Settlements, Anti-Semetism and Self-Hating Jews

The great Jewish philosopher and halachist, Maimonides, once made a very poignant statement. He said that one who says he only follows the Written Law and not the Oral Law, is really saying that the entire Torah is false.

The point here is that people often camouflage their true feelings so as not to sound too extreme for fear of being unpopular. It is unacceptable to openly say that one hates Jews. Therefore, in our modern sophisticated world, this sentiment is expressed in a more subtle way.

In the 70s, the anti-Semitic campaign was initiated with slogans such as, “Jewish people, yes. Zionism, no.” There was also an attempt to equate Zionism with racism. One’s conscience could be clear for one might justify one’s feelings by thinking that he or she only hates Zionists and not Jews. The reality, of course, is that Jews and Zionists are one and the same.

Later, a new mantra was initiated to play on the sentiments of the liberal world by repeatedly mentioning the “self determination of the Palestinian people.” Suddenly, the same Jewish people that were persecuted for nearly 2,000 years, became the “bullies” to this poor downtrodden people. This proved to be another successful attempt that aroused those anti-Jewish feelings.

The most successful campaign to undermine the entire Jewish people is the repeated declaration that “Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are an obstacle to peace.” It must be stated loud and clear that anyone who expresses this view is actually covering up his hatred of Israel and the Jewish people! And if a Jew believes this to be true, he is a self-hating Jew.

Once and for all the truth must finally come out with no apologies. Israel is not in “occupied” territory but Jews have returned to lands promised to us in the Bible and liberated in a defensive battle. If the Palestinians truly wanted peace, why can’t they accept living side by side with the Jewish people. The Jews will live in their settlements and the Arabs will live in their villages. Most settlements were established on empty hilltops far away from Arab populations. Is this an obstacle to peace?

Any non-Jew from the United Nations to the President of the United States who reinforces this notion of “settlements being an obstacle to peace”, does not like the Jewish people. It is a cover-

up for their great disdain for Israel and the Jewish people. We are not occupiers and we do not mistreat the Palestinian people. Failure to acknowledge this, fans the flames of Jew hatred.

If a Jew adopts such a philosophy regarding the settlements, it is an indication that he is ashamed of his being part of the Jewish nation. He would rather be “politically correct” and feel the pain of foreign nations than feel the plight of his own people. This makes him a self-hating Jew because he does not take pride in his Jewish heritage and the specialness of being a Jew.

This disconnection from his Jewish roots, causes him to bend over backwards to try to “understand” the frustrations of those who wish to destroy us. They delude themselves into believing that if they were only given love and economic opportunity, they would behave. They become blind to the vicious hatred that threatens Jewish survival and they aid the cause of the enemy.

If we would finally collectively announce without hesitation that this “obstacle to peace” is an anti- Semitic declaration, we would all be better off. When lies and falsehoods are allowed to exist in the world, darkness and evil is given strength. If we are to be a “light unto the nations”, we must eliminate falsehood with truth and goodness.

Israel’s existence and revival is good for the world. For out of Zion comes compassion, love of mankind and all that is sacred. We are in an era where G-d’s glory is again being manifest in the world. This light will shine brighter when lies and deception and the covering up of truth continues to exist. The first lie that must be put to rest once and for all is the “occupation” question. Settlements are not an obstacle to peace. Hatred of Jews and Israel is the real obstacle to peace. 

 

Incredible New Way to Learn Hebrew: Introducing- Hebrewvision

Mr. Avi Natan and EBS Publishing have developed a new and exciting method of learning Hebrew. It is designed as an application for I-Phones, I-Pads and Apple Computers. To our knowledge, this method has not yet been tried in the teaching of any language. The idea is to take into account the way that knowledge is being transmitted in the age of advanced technology. The information is given over by numerous videos and interactive stimuli. Instead of memorizing words or concepts, they are taught through making associations and being entertained. The videos themselves are creative and fun to watch. It becomes much easier to learn the language by making associations and by pushing buttons to get to the right answer. The Hebrew words are repeated and a translation and transliteration comes with each word. The presentation is done in such a way that it can even be mesmerizing to children as young as toddlers. On numerous occasions, I took out Hebrewvision from my phone to entertain children who were waiting in a line and driving their parents crazy. Instead of spending hours on pointless video games, Hebrewvision is similarly entertaining and children are learning at the same time. The application is meant for people of all ages and is divided into six books. Each book ends with a test to see if the information is being grasped. It can be used in a classroom setting or could be ideal for tourists trying to find their way in Israel. It is useful for anyone trying to expand his knowledge of the Hebrew language. Each book becomes a little more sophisticated than the previous one. The first book teaches the Hebrew letters with each letter associated with a different animal. There is a short video of that particular animal with the letter flashed as well as the name of the animal in Hebrew with its translation and transliteration. The viewer presses buttons that give the name, letter, and sound of the animal. The second book teaches numbers and how to tell time. Each number has it’s own video or game. For example, the number four has four balloons appear and the the student pops the balloons and is then taught the number four. He will later move the hands of a grandfather clock to earn how to tell time in Hebrew. The third book is all about food. It is divided into sections starting with fruits and vegetables, followed by dairy items, fish and meat, as well as drinks. Each food has either a video or some button pushing to learn the names of these foods. One could take this to a market and find virtually every food needed. Some foods are presented in a comical way as the eggs fall to the floor and crack, the watermelon explodes, and the strawberry gets doused with chocolate. The fourth book is about the home. It includes colors, clothing and the items that one might find in the various rooms of one’s home. There are videos interspersed, with the student testing himself by dragging the items written to their appropriate place in each room. Again, the combination of the visual with interaction is designed to help remember the various words. The fifth book is titled, “world” and it contains the names of people of various occupations. It gives the names of the places one might visit when he is out in the world. This includes restaurants and malls, synagogues, churches, and mosques, just as an example. It teaches about the seasons and various types of precipitation. It also includes the various means of transportation. The sixth book is actual speaking with simple useful phrases being taught. It is basic Hebrew that would allow someone the ability to get along on a visit to Israel. The information is presented in a clever way that should also help one’s memory. We have not found any language being taught in this manner and we believe that this reflects the overall change in today’s world as to how we gain knowledge. Creativity, entertainment, and interactivity, seems to be the way we get people’s attention. Hebrewvision attempts to meet this change in the manner that the subject of Hebrew is presented.

 

Hebrewvision can be obtained by going to the Apple I-Books / I-Tunes Store and typing in the word: “Hebrewvision”. For more information, please contact me at: rav@ravkennycohen.com

 

 

The Saddest Day of the Year

The Ninth of Av is the national day of mourning for the Jewish people. It is on this day that our two temples were destroyed. It was on this day that the city of Beitar was captured by the Romans that led to the murder of tens of thousands of Jews. And it was on this day

that the Jewish people in the desert cried all night after hearing the evil report of the spies. It is a date of great pain and suffering throughout our history.

Coincidentally, the month of Av is the eleventh month in the Hebrew calendar. The new year, or Rosh Hashana, falls in the month of Tishrei. The Ninth of Av is the ninth day of the eleventh month, or the first “nine eleven” that became known as a date in infamy.

Most Jews do not fully understand why the loss of our two temples is so tragic. It seems to many that an extremely beautiful structure that was the central place of prayer, no longer existed. This is very unfortunate but there are still synagogues throughout the Jewish world. I will attempt to explain the depth and extent of this tragedy.

The most glorious period in our history was the reign of King Solomon. His temple was clearly one of the most wondrous buildings that existed. People came from all over the world to marvel at its physical beauty. King Solomon used 150,000 workers over a seven year period to give a dwelling place for G-d on earth. Because of his incredible wealth, Solomon used huge amounts of gold to adorn his temple.

The material side, despite its splendor, was dwarfed by the intense spiritual contentment of the Jewish nation. A benevolent king ruled the land with strength and justice. There was peace and prosperity. The Torah was the law that was observed by all. The judicial system led by the Great Sanhedrin of seventy one righteous scholars, convened on the Temple Mount. Even when someone lost a case litigated in court, he would walk away singing, knowing that truth was the victor.

The Temple was a symbol of the special bond between G-d and His people. The three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot, and Succot had the entire nation joined together in prayer and celebration. They could literally feel G-d’s Presence. They left the holidays rejuvenated and elevated. Witnessing the face of the High Priest on Yom Kippur after he successfully prayed on behalf of the people in the Holy of Holies, was an incredible sight to see. 

 

In essence, there was a fulfillment of the verse in the Book of Ezekiel, “You will be My people, and I will be your G-d.” The ongoing daily sacrifices with the offering of the incense, filled Jerusalem with a sweet holy fragrance. The Talmud relates that even as far as Jericho, the sheep sneezed from the incense known as “Ketoret!” The Jewish nation was fulfilling its purpose after the exodus from Egypt.

The Book of Kings tells us that Solomon’s temple was completed 480 years after leaving Egypt. This was the culmination of Jewish destiny. We were told that we were to be led to the Promised Land where we would become a great nation. We would teach the world morality and seek the welfare of all of the nations. This was what Judaism was intended to be. The Jewish people were to serve G-d in the Land of Israel with the Temple as the central symbol of this role given to the Chosen People.

There was a constant warning that if we weakened in our faith and abandon the laws of the Torah, we would be banished from the land. We would be placed in an unnatural situation where we would be disconnected from our source and be challenged to survive in a hostile world. We suffered in the Exile every kind of humiliation imaginable. It was only our prayers, remaining steadfast in our observance of the Torah, and the words, “Next year in Jerusalem,” that miraculously allowed us to survive.

Today we live in amazing times. On the negative side, there is so much ignorance among our people. Assimilation and intermarriage runs rampant, with the infiltration of philosophies that are foreign to Judaism. But on the positive side, we have witnessed a return of over six million Jews to our beloved State of Israel. We are getting closer to the point where we can see this long and bitter exile coming to an end.

The prophets predicted that at the end of this journey, there would be a famine in the land. But it would not be a famine of bread and water. It would be a famine of the masses not seeking out the word of G-d. Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, is meant to be a day of reflection on what we once had and lost. It is the saddest day of the year when we realize what we once were and how far we have strayed.

The rabbis of the Talmud reflected on our history and said that if our only sin was that we “did not adequately mourn for Jerusalem,” our exile would continue. We must pray that the Jewish nation be great once again and we fulfill our holy destiny in this world. It is not natural for the Jewish people to be outside of its land.

We are also taught that those who do mourn for our holy Temple and Jerusalem, and deeply yearn that we return to the “days of old,” will merit to see its rebuilding. We will again have that special relationship of “You will be My people and I will be your G-d.” May that day come speedily in our time. 

Aliyah Analogy

The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin 102b, relates a very strange story concerning Rav Ashi and Menashe, King of Israel. Rav Ashi was giving a discourse about certain kings who despite their great Torah knowledge, chose the path of evil and idol worship.

King Menashe lived hundreds of years before Rav Ashi but appeared to him in a dream the following night. Menashe showed the rabbi that he was an even greater scholar than him. The rabbi asked him for an explanation. “If you were so great in your scholarship, how could you have been led to the path of something so primitive and repulsive as idol worship?” The king responded, “Don’t judge me. If you would have lived when I lived, you, too, would have worshiped idols. The allure was so great that only rare individuals were able to overcome that temptation.”

If it were possible for someone to jump ahead into the future and reflect on the times that we are now living in, he might ask the following question to the Jews of the Diaspora.

“If you were worthy to live during the period that followed the formation of the State of Israel, and you witnessed the incredible transformation of swamp land turned into an oasis; And you saw the ingathering of the exiles where the Jewish population went from 600,000 in 1948 to over six million in 2016; And you were worthy to see the emergence of a Jewish army, yes a Jewish army, that with the help of G-d, was victorious in many wars against terrible odds; And in a relatively short time, modern cities emerged that encouraged the development of high tech that became the envy of the world; And Jews were free to practice their religion where they would grow up not knowing what anti-semitism was; and despite all of that, you thought it better to remain in the Exile and not be part of the Jewish State and make Aliya, it makes no sense at all.”

The response of the present generation, might be very similar to that of King Menashe “Don’t judge us. If you would have lived in our times where the desire for comfort was so great, and people did not have the courage to do the right thing; And rabbis told us it was okay to stay because they, too, were weak and did not know how to lead; And the value system emphasized the importance of feeling good and looking for short cuts; And even the Ultra Orthodox preached that you could be even more religious in your Jewish ghettos. The pull to stay comfortable was so great, that had you lived when we did, you, too, would not have moved to Israel.

During this period of the “Three Weeks”, where we mourn for the destruction of our Holy Temple, it is tragic that we do not learn the lessons of history. There are, thank G-d, many Jews that do understand the special times we are living in, and have made the commitment to do their part in strengthening our Homeland by bringing their families here to live. The inabilty to understand and comprehend how truly special these times are, is the very reason why we mourn.

May G-d grant the Jewish nation from the four corners of the earth, the ability to simply open their eyes, and join their brethren to come to the only country where Jews are truly welcome. We will then be able to tell our Mother Rachel to weep no more. Your children have finally and permanently, come home. 

Evil Exists

There is an ongoing debate regarding the nature of man. Some believe that man is inherently good. It is only because of the unfortunate situations that he may be forced to endure, that causes him to act in an undesirable way. But every individual, if treated with love and kindness, will tap into this goodness and behave in an exemplary fashion. He will contribute to society in a positive way, and he will certainly not harm others.

The other school of thought happens to coincide with the Torah and traditional Jewish beliefs. Man has the potential for good, but there is evil in the world. If one does not actively work at fighting evil, it can consume a person to the point where he epitomizes evil. Adolf Hitler would be one example of pure evil, but, unfortunately, many are not far behind in their essences and in their conduct in this world.

If we examine the Torah, our introduction to evil comes with the sin of Adam and Eve. They are commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge “that allows one to know good and bad.” Once they sinned, evil now existed in the world as a challenge to man. If he overcomes it, he has the potential to become righteous. If he succumbs to it, he becomes wicked.

At the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, we are told that G-d places choices before us between the curse and death and the blessing and life. We are commanded to “choose life”. Again, it is made clear that it is in our hands to make the right choices. The wrong choice attaches us to curses and death.

We are also given a commandment to utterly destroy Amalek. The Rabbis tell us that Amalek, Satan, the evil eye, the evil inclination, and the Sitra Achara, known as the “dark side” in Kabbalistic terminology, are all one and the same, evil. Only when they are destroyed, will goodness reign in the world.

The Prophets and Scriptures clearly point out that G-d created evil in this world. In Isaiah 45:7 it is written, “I am the One Who forms light and creates darkness; Who makes peace and creates evil.” And in Lamentations 3:38 it is written, “Is it not from the Most High that evil and good emanate!”

The Talmud in Tractae Kiddushin clearly states that G-d created the evil inclination and created Torah as its antidote. The Baal Hatanya, the first of the Chabad rabbis that began its dynasty, writes that G-d reluctantly created evil in the world for the sole purpose of rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked.

Judaism believes in free will and overcoming temptations. Every Jew has the potential to reach the highest level of holiness if he works at it tirelessly. But man may use his free will to sink to a level lower than the animal. Those who have succeeded at achieving sanctity, have done it by making this a priority in life. They study G-d’s laws and the teachings of our sages constantly. They are always on guard to treat people well and to work on their character.

If one is not actively striving for good, but instead allows his lusts and desire for instant gratification to rule him, he will be far from holy, to say the least. As is written in the Book of Job. 5:7, “Man was born to struggle.” If we do not battle to do what is right, we are likely to fall. And it is possible to fall very hard.

Another interesting proof about man’s nature, comes from the Torah as well. Lavan, the father in- law of Jacob is remembered as a liar and a cheat. Some commentators felt that he and Bilaam were the same person. At one point, he intended to harm Jacob. G-d appears to him in a dream and tells him that he better leave Jacob alone if he knows what’s good for him. He tells Jacob about the dream but he still remains wicked.

The lesson here is that if a person is not interested in changing his nature, G-d Himself will not be able to change it. Any normal person who merited a revelation from G-d, should certainly become a believer. However, this will not happen when one has chosen the “curse and death.”

It is both shocking and horrifying to hear educated people make excuses for the most despicable animalistic behavior that we have been witnessing. How naive and foolish can people be to think that economic opportunity and ending the Occupation, is going to turn savage killers into saints. We have to call this terrorism what it is: pure evil in its lowest form. Murdering a thirteen year old girl in her sleep and gunning down a father of ten should evoke nothing but outrage.

Some say that we need to remove the leaders that incite and re-educate the Palestinian people to learn to live peacefully with us. Perhaps this is true but we don’t have the luxury of waiting around. Every Jewish life is precious. Rewarding or condoning evil, will not eliminate evil. It will increase it. We must not fool ourselves and minimize the battle we are up against. We must be strong and tenacious. What we are facing is a war between good and evil and life and blessing. Therefore, we must choose life! 

 

Lessons from Cubs Fans

The Chicago Cubs are my second favorite team in baseball. I moved to Chicago in the summer of 1967 right after the Six Day War. My hero was Sandy Koufax and I saw my Dodgers win three world championships and was proud that Koufax would not pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur.

My new friends in Chicago taught me what it meant to be a loyal baseball fan. The Cubs were perennial losers and have not won a World Series since 1907. In 2007, a die-hard fan said to me, “Okay, we had a bad century!” Now that it looks like the Cubs are winners and have a good chance this year of reaching their elusive dream, I thought that there are many Jewish lessons to be learned from the faithful Cubs fan.

The first lesson is optimism. Our holy Sages emphasize the importance of erasing negativity from our personalities. Being negative, pessimistic, or worrying do not yield any positive results. Optimism leads to enthusiasm and energizes a person. It allows him to function at a much higher level. “Wait until next year” has been said 108 times and it very well might be that the 109th could be the year of redemption.

Another lesson is learning to be happy with one’s lot in life. The Rabbis say that the truly wealthy man is the one who is happy with what he has. He is not jealous and is not interested in what others have. He feels blessed which fills him with love for the Al-mighty, who has provided him with all of his needs. I’ve been told by my friends from the Windy City, that the Cubs have had so many hall of fame players that they were fortunate to watch for so many years. They always manage to see the silver lining of each situation.

Loyalty is another praiseworthy attribute of the Cubs fan. We have been reading of the evil report of the ten spies, the rebellion of Korach, and the sin of the Golden Calf. All of these showed ingratitude to G-d and Moses. Yet, the Cubs fan sticks with his team. A lawyer friend once told me that he plans to have the words, “Cubs stink” on his tombstone, following his team until his dying day.

A very high level of worship is the concept of “YISURIM BE’AHAVA”, meaning, being able to accept suffering with love. This refers to an individual that despite the difficulties he’s going through, has the faith to realize that certain challenges are sent his way in order to strengthen him. G-d loves him and only wants his good and he is accepting of his fate. The Cubs fan accepts his fate in an admirable way as well.

Probably the most important lesson to be learned from the Cubs fan is faith. When one loses his faith, he loses his reason for living. Our faith has carried us through such a long and bitter exile. We never stopped believing that we would survive as a people and we would one day return to our sacred Land of Israel. Faith is representative of hope and a sincere belief that tomorrow will be a better day. G-d’s salvation can come like “the blink of an eye” and we must never stop believing.

Perhaps I’ve overdone it a bit in my praise of the Cubs fan and baseball is only a sport. But I think we are supposed to learn life’s lessons in every situation we are in. Would it be sacrilegious to say, “Next year in Wrigley!” 

To Be Honest and Religious

A common challenge to religion is the question as to whether it is possible to be an honest ethical human being without being a religious person. The question is very much based on the premise that man is inherently good, and he will use his inborn goodness to make

choices that will benefit mankind. Even with a minimum education, he will have a good sense of right and wrong.

A more serious problem arises when one looks at so called religious Jews who are supposed to represent the highest standards of morality and decency, and they are found to be lacking in scruples and integrity. Many use this as a justification for not practicing their religion as they see themselves as more upright in how they conduct their affairs than the Jew who observes the Sabbath and keeps Kosher, but cheats in business.

While such behavior from the religious Jew is entirely unacceptable and is a desecration of the name of G-d, it demonstrates a perversion of religion. Perhaps such people feel they are entitled to a free pass on certain laws that pertain to their fellow man, because they are so intensely exact on minute details of other laws. Whatever the case may be, this is wrong and is not representative of Judaism and its principles.

There are many individuals who feel that one need not believe in G-d in order to be a good person. And the desire to help others and feel the pain of the downtrodden, can come from using one’s intellect and common sense. This, too, may work in certain situations, but the reality is that man is very complex. He is made up of drives and habits that are difficult to overcome. There is also a very strong need for self gratification. Man clearly has the potential for good provided that he overcomes the numerous obstacles in his way.

 

If one were to truly examine how Judaism guides an individual towards trying to achieve human perfection, and gives the tools to be outstanding in interpersonal relationships, he might give our religion a second look. Forget about those who are a disgrace to our religion because of their hypocrisy. Let’s look at those who have allowed the teachings of the Torah to become their second nature. You will be amazed to see the level of sanctity that a human being is capable of achieving.

The key motivator at self improvement comes from fear of Heaven. When one attaches himself to G-d, he is constantly reminded that the Creator is with him at all times. He must bring honor to Him in the manner in which he conducts himself. He will not be able to hurt another individual with words or disrespect. He will be careful to be certain that any money that he earns will come through the highest level of integrity.

There are individuals who exude this goodness because they are constantly trying to improve themselves. If they even give in to anger or pride, they are disappointed with themselves. They will never go without making amends with someone they may have hurt even unintentionally.

There are so many books written describing human nature and man’s fragile make-up. A Jew is taught how to balance his nature so that he learns what his weaknesses are and what he needs to work on. For example, many of these books list pride and arrogance as the worst traits a person can have. Often what comes with this arrogance, is anger and self pity. This is followed by depression and sadness for this person thinks so highly of himself that he doesn’t deserve to be treated as he is.

On the other hand, humility is glorified. We are reminded that there is a direct correlation between greatness and humility. The greater the person, the more humble he is. the smaller he is, the more arrogant he is. Moses was the greatest man who ever lived and he was the most humble. It is obvious that the humble man will be the one that looks to the needs of others, while the arrogant man, sees only himself.

The Talmud in Tractate Yoma sums it up best when the following is pointed out: “An individual who handles his business affairs with integrity, and speaks kindly to all he meets, and he services the rabbis and scholars, such an individual is praised by G-d who says, ‘Through you, I will be glorified.”

Is it possible to be a good person without religion and fear of G-d? It certainly is. But when one delves into our sacred Torah and lives by the teachings of our sages, he will attain levels of greatness and holiness that will be the envy of all he meets. This is how the Jewish people truly become “a light unto the nations.” 

There is no question that there are some exceptionally good people in this world coming from all kinds of backgrounds. They are special in their desire to give of themselves and bring a smile to the less fortunate. Most likely, those individuals who have religion in their lives will be more ethical than those who do not. 

The Handwriting Is on the Wall

A lthough the Jewish people are known as the “People of the Book,” the simple message of our Holy Torah and Scriptures, often eludes us. There is a very clear description as to how Jewish history is meant to unfold. Perhaps it is a good idea to review some of these basic lessons.

The Jewish people officially began as a nation on Mount Sinai when a covenant was made with G- d to accept the Ten Commandments and the Torah. We were taken out of Egypt in order to live by these laws in the Land of Israel. The intention from the start was that we would thrive as a people when the land was inhabited by all of the respective tribes with all Jews living in the land “flowing with milk and honey.” We would be fulfilling the prophetic words, “You will be My people and I will be Your G-d.”

We were warned on numerous occasions that if we fail to observe the commandments, we will not be permitted to remain in Israel and we will be scattered among the nations. The banishing of the Jewish people is referred to as the “exile” and in Hebrew it is called the “Galut.” Being sent out of the land was a curse and was a clear sign of G-d’s disfavor of His people. In essence, the Galut was synonymous with rejection.

While some may claim that this Exile was necessary in order that we be a “light unto the nations,” it did not diminish from the fact that Jews only lived in all parts of the world because it was a punishment.

If we look at most of our years in Exile, they were bitter and painful. Jews suffered every form of persecution and humiliation imaginable. There were a few temporary reprieves from this suffering in places like Spain, until we were expelled, and the United States in modern times.

It is difficult for Jews to see themselves living the curse of the Galut, when life has been so good for so many Jews. America has been our most generous host in all of Jewish history. Everything has a price and the price of feeling welcome and living an affluent way of life, came with tragic assimilation and intermarriage. Perhaps an even bigger tragedy is that most Jews are not aware of what Galut is in terms of how it is described in Scriptures.

All of this has been predicted and shown to us in our Torah. What is also clearly predicted, is that there will come a time when G-d will no longer want His name desecrated among the nations, and He will decide to rebuild the House of Israel. He will gather Jews from the four corners of the earth and the desolate cities in Israel will once again be filled with Jews. The Land that failed to produce for nearly 2,000 years will once again flourish, bring forth bountiful produce as never before.

There would come a time when G-d will want His people to come home to Israel as was intended back in the days of Sinai. Based on a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah, the Redemption could either come swiftly, or “in its time”, depending on our merits. Most Rabbis feel that we are living in the period of “in it’s time” because all of the miraculous events of the last sixty-eight years have

come from G-d’s mercy, rather than our merits.

Another sign of the “master plan” is that we will no longer be wanted in the countries where we live, as we will have overstayed our welcome. We will be left with no choice but to come home to the only country that will welcome us with open arms. If our eyes are open to recognize this, we can come to Israel with dignity. If we do not, the situation could be most unpleasant, to say the least.

The handwriting is on the wall. Europe is not what it used to be. With the rise in anti-Semitism and Radical Islam, Jews are being forced to leave. America is not far behind. The terror attack in Orlando should be a wake up call to American Jews that the future does not bode well for them, either.

For those who study the Holy Books, none of what is happening comes as a surprise. It is all predicted. We would only hope that American rabbis who are supposed to be familiar with these books, encourage their congregants to come to Israel with their dignity and money. They must lead by example.

What is written here should not be viewed as pessimism and a bleak outlook of what lies ahead. On the contrary, these are incredible times that we are living in, where we openly see Divine protection on a daily basis. In order to see and appreciate the blessing, we must help end this cursed exile by having the courage and foresight to do the right thing. Now more than ever, Jews, it’s time to come home! 

 

The Wisdom of Rabbi Starr

As the holiday of Shavuot approaches, we not only give gratitude to G-d for the Torah given to us on Mount Sinai, but we also acknowledge our Torah scholars. Maimonides, in his section of Mishna Torah that deals with the laws related to Torah study, points out that there are two biblical laws connected with this subject. The first is the obligation to study Torah on a regular basis so that we be able to “teach our children,” and the second is to respect those who teach Torah and have a great knowledge of all that encompasses the holy books. Rabbi Berel Wein recently wrote that he felt that there was a certain intellectual dishonesty by those who adopt the way of moral relativism and “new age” views without taking a serious look at the wisdom of the old school and its sages. Before deciding that the values and principles taught in the past are no longer applicable, at least be familiar with them before rejecting them. Recently, I found myself reminiscing to my students some of the teachings of my beloved rabbi and mentor, Rabbi Selig Starr, of blessed memory. To my surprise, my students acknowledged that the teachings I received in the seventies are worth teaching again and need to be shared. Rabbi Starr came to Chicago from the Old Country and studied in such illustrious Yeshivot as Nevardok, Telshe, and Slobodka. He taught at the Hebrew Theological College from 1921 to 1981 and in certain instances was privileged to teach three generations. He was as proud of his M.A. from the University of Chicago as he was of his brilliance in Talmudic study. Rabbi Starr’s system of educating was definitely Old School. Even when he was eighty years old, sitting in Rabbi Starr’s class was a challenge. In the process of familiarizing his students with the Talmud and Jewish Law, he taught many important life lessons that are not heard very often in today’s sophisticated world of technology and scientific advances. The main theme of Rabbi Starr’s teachings was his emphasis on honesty and clarity of thought. The two go together for if one is honest, he will admit when he doesn’t understand and he will not fool himself. Rabbi Starr used to say in a humorous way that when you see two people in a conversation and both are nodding their heads, it means that neither one knows what the other is talking about! On numerous occasions he said, “You have to know what you know and know what you don’t know.” This theme continued when he described confusion as “the world’s most crippling disease.” He strongly disliked flattery and showing off. On one occasion I was privileged to take Rabbi Starr to a banquet where I thought the speaker spoke very eloquently. The rabbi was not impressed and he said, “He studied his Funk and Wagnall’s very well.” Rabbi Starr also warned against those who are unwilling to face their problems head on. He would say that when one continuously “sweeps the dust under the carpet, after a while, you have a mountain of dust.” If you are phony and insincere and you look for short cuts, you will have trouble living with yourself. You will not be able to sit comfortably on a chair and it will be as if the chair has “pins and needles.” You will not have peace of mind knowing that you are not really the person that you would like people to think you are.

There was always an emphasis on simplicity and orderliness in one’s life. It was important to keep calm and take everything into account before making an important decision. Rabbi Starr never liked seeing two people in an argument where they raised their voices in order to prove their point. He said that if you see such a verbal exchange, it means that “they are trying to prove that two plus two equals five!” Rabbi Starr gave brilliant marital advice to his students. He would tell an engaged student that you must work very hard at your marriage. Once you have made the decision of who you want to marry, she is the only woman for you for the rest of your life. You are going to do everything possible to make your marriage work. I have passed this advice along to numerous students of mine over the years, and on many occasions, they came back to tell me this was the best advice ever received. I learned it from Rabbi Starr. The final lesson learned from the esteemed rabbi was that one should never tell a lie. He would add, “not even a white lie.” It was honesty and truthfulness at all costs. We did not realize how such a simple idea as always telling the truth would prove to be a rarity among men. Upon examining the many ideas expressed here, it makes the Old School look pretty intelligent. Most of these teachings are not emphasized today, but they certainly should be. On this coming Shavuot holiday when we give thanks for having received the Torah, the greatest gift to mankind, we should reacquaint ourselves with the wisdom of our scholars. Their insights are far too precious to throw away in the name of progress and modernism. Chag Sameach

Coping With Intermarriage, A Very Sensitive Topic

Many years ago, I approached my beloved rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Zelig Starr, of blessed memory, and informed him that a relative of mine had chosen to marry a nonJew. Rabbi Starr’s response was that when the Torah described the tenth plague, it said that there was no house without a death. Really, he said, this was referring to our generation where virtually every family has at least one relative smitten with the plague of intermarriage. I realize that this subject is extremely sensitive and some of my colleagues advised me not to write about this. But my hope is that since the subject is raised so infrequently, perhaps it will generate some soul searching and discussion that will yield positive results. Intermarriage, plain and simple, is a tragedy for the Jewish people. When a Jew decides to marry out, the likelihood is that Judaism will not be practiced by that family and the offspring will not only lose its connection with the Jewish people, they will no longer be counted among the Jewish people. So much is written in Jewish literature about this subject. Ezra is remembered in his book, for his impassioned plea to the Jews to divorce their foreign wives, and most obeyed. The Torah itself gives a command in chapter seven of Deuteronomy not to intermarry. Numerous laws were instituted by the Rabbis for fear that it would lead to intermarriage. The intermarriage rate in the United States is sky-high and not much is being said about it. It is understandable why this is so common because there is so much interaction between Jews and Gentiles — especially on college campuses. I am not sure that there is anyone to blame for this phenomenon because it is happening to families of all backgrounds. It is not entirely clear where the threat of sitting Shiva for one who married out, originated. I was not able to find a Halachic source for this practice. But to this day, there are families that threaten to disown their children if they dare marry a non-Jew. It does not appear that such threats work in today’s society when the emphasis is on “feeling good’ and “doing what makes you happy.” Young people are smart enough to see through their parents and their hypocrisy. They will argue that since their parents show such little concern for Jewish practices, why should they. Aside from this, there is so much ignorance among Jews, that it almost seems natural for people to marry whomever they choose. Among more traditional families where a Jewish education was given, there could be a guilt factor involved. This feeling of guilt may never completely go away, but it is justified by the argument that the current non-Jewish spouse understands them so well in a way that no potential Jewish spouse ever could. A friend pointed out half-jokingly, that another factor to consider with a divorce rate of more than 50 percent, is that the intermarried couple may not stay married anyways. It seems clear that we certainly can no longer play “hardball” with our children and make threats and demands of them. We need to somehow find a way to leave the door open in the event that they decide to come home. Many of them do and eventually long to reconnect to their Judaism Probably the best advice of all as to how to bring our intermarried relatives back to the fold, is that we make the effort to be better role models. If they were to see how we step up our commitment to Judaism, it has to make an impression. Whether it becomes a passionate love and support for the State of Israel, or intensified study of Torah, the happiness and contentment that we demonstrate, has to make a dent. People today want to be happy and they will never find it through selfishness and materialism. If they suddenly notice a change in their loved ones who are now so full of excitement and pure joy in their renewed practice of Judaism, it will make them curious to say the least. They may wonder what came over their loved ones to induce such excitement. Leading by example, is always the best educational tool. One final point to consider that may give us a glimmer of hope that these lost souls may come home, is the State of Israel. Putting it mildly, the world is obsessed with Israel. We live in remarkable times and so many lives have been changed by visiting this incredible country. Magic happens here where stubborn non-believing souls breath the air of the Holy Land, and they are transformed. This literally is, “G-d’s country.” The plague of intermarriage painfully hovers above the Jewish people. It may not be that it is within our power to eliminate it. But we certainly can make a difference if we make a concerted effort ourselves to connect to the Torah given at Sinai and actively show how proud we are to be Jewish and how proud we are of the State of Israel. Am Yisrael Chai!

The Self-Hating Jew and the New Anti-Semite

The Kuzari, written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in the twelfth century, describes how the Jewish people came into being. Every generation from Adam to Jacob had offspring that was less than desirable. Even Abraham fathered Yishmael who was described as a “wild man” by the Torah. Likewise, Isaac fathered the evil Esau who was far from righteous, to put it mildly. Rabbi Halevi goes on to explain that Jacob was the first man to father children that were all holy men. G-d felt that from this family of twelve sons, He would create a family-nation known as the Children of Israel. We learn how the twelve sons of Israel became a nation of seventy when they went down to Egypt, and 600,000 with the exodus. The intention was that we were a family-nation and not really a religion. We were supposed to live together as one family in the Land of Israel. We were never to lose that sense of family and unity even when we went into exile and were scattered all over the world. What was unique to Judaism was that the pain of one Jew was the pain of every Jew. It did not matter what the geographical distance was between Jews, but we were meant to care for one another. This is felt strongest in Israel for when a soldier falls in battle, he is everyone’s son and brother. All share in the grief together because we are a family-nation. The Jewish people have had to endure every form of humiliation and persecution during our long, painful exile. The greatest humiliation was the Holocaust which causes some embarrassment to the world. Many believe the State of Israel would not have come into being had there not been a Holocaust. For this reason, it is no longer fashionable for the anti-Semite to openly say that he hates Jews. He needs to cover this up by saying that Jews are okay but the Zionists and their army are the cancer of the world. I remember as far back as the early seventies when on a college campus in Chicago, Palestinian students held a demonstration shouting, “Jewish people, yes. Zionism, no.” The world today has no problem libeling the Jewish State and it’s army relentlessly, camouflaging the Jew hatred behind it. It must be stated loud and clear that any second guessing of the Israeli army is almost always an expression of anti-Semitism. The army is not perfect but it is the most moral and caring army in the world. Similarly, distorting the facts regarding the treatment of Palestinians, and dwelling on the “occupation” is another way to cover up sentiments of hatred towards the Jewish people. Israel won a war in 1967 and regained lands that not only should be theirs because of the military victory, but also because of Israel’s biblical right to the land .When we hear that settlements are an obstacle to peace, we must recognize the absurdity of such statements. We never hear or have any expectation that the Palestinians be asked to live peacefully, side by side with us. Why should the construction of a Jewish settlement on an empty hilltop provoke such a strong reaction if not expressing disdain for the Jewish people? This is the new anti-Semitism. If one says that he is against Israel and its policies and army, it is acceptable in today’s world. It is not acceptable to say that you hate Jews. We must wake up and be aware that this is the essence of the constant attacks against our family-nation. Families are taught to stick together and to know that in difficult times, they need to be there for one another. Families expect loyalty. If a family member is attacked from the outside, he knows that his family will be there to support him and defend him. If a family member takes the position of the attacker and not his family member, it is a demonstration of gross disloyalty. It might be demonstrating that the attacker is loved and the family member is not. If the sentiment of a Jew is that he takes the side of the new anti-Semite and he opposes the occupation and ridicules the army’s policies, and is more concerned with the plight of the Palestinians, than his own people, he is a self-hating Jew. He is ashamed of his family and wants to be accepted by a different family. The only problem is that the family that he hopes will adopt him, hates him,too. But his hatred of his own family is so great, that he he is unable to see this reality. The only reason we survived as a people was with G-d’s help, and that we held firm to our beliefs, and we were always there for one another. G-d loves when there is Jewish unity and we live by His laws of brotherhood and togetherness. We always had to overcome the enemy from within but with all that we’ve been through, isn’t it time that we finally wake up and learn that there is no one to rely on but the G-d of Israel and our family!