Wednesday, 25 July 2007

A Night to Mourn

For Tisha Ba'Av I joined my friend (and several thousand others) at the civic center for Maariv, followed by a reading of Eicha, after which we all went for a stroll around the old city of Jerusalem. It was a very warm evening, and the walk was pleasant despite the fact that we had just begun our fast. The route was lined on both sides with soldiers and security people--why? I was told that it was to prevent the Arabs from "provoking" us. Maybe it was the police presence or maybe they just didn't care, because there were no incidents, and in fact the only Arabs we noticed were either finishing off their day and hurrying home, or watching out of curiousity.

Near the end of the walk we stopped for the usual "political" speeches. I was told by my friend that one year the woman who organized the march announced that they were now going to storm the Temple Mount and reclaim it (or something to that effect). Needless to say it did not happen, nor did anything untoward occur this year. One of the rabbis said Kaddish, and we noticed that on the hill just above where he was standing, were a group of Arabs, watching through the gate. I couldn't see if they responded with Amen (I somehow doubt it) but they did not seem to be anything other than mildly curious. Perhaps there is hope after all--who knows.

My only disappointment with the walk was this--it was supposed to be a somber occasion in line with the fact that we were in mourning for the loss of the 1st and 2nd Temples, and all the tragedy the Jewish people have suffered. Instead, it was almost like a circus--people were laughing, posing for pictures, fooling around--even during Maariv and the reading of Eicha. It did seem that the brassy ones were mostly American tourists, but never-the-less it saddened me that such an important time in Jewish life has been denegrated to the point of "a night out". Then, of course, the beginning of the march had to be delayed while the reporters and cameras were organized so that the "leaders" could "announce" the start.
Regardless of the political "posers" it was a lovely walk, with views and sites that one does not usually see (like the original gigantic stones of the wall).
We ended the evening at the Kotel, where thousands were gathering for prayers. It was the first time I had seen the mehitza extended right to the end of the plaza. The Kotel is awesome at any time, but when it is packed with Jews in prayer, well, I get emotional just thinking about it.
I pray that one day we will be able to walk around the old city walls without a permit and heavy security, and that we may see the coming of moshiac and the rebuilding of the temple soon--in our time.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Perceptions of Jews by Renowned Non-Jews

A Reminder:
The Fast of Tisha B'Av begins Monday night, July 23 and Tisha B'Av itself is on Tuesday July 24. The Day is observed in the Synagogue with the reading of Kinnot and the book of Eicha. Tfillin are not worn during the Shacharit Morning Service on the 9th of Av but are put on for the Minha afternoon Service...Shabbat Shalom and "have an easy fast"

This article was sent to me by one of my teachers, who had it sent to him, etc., etc. If anyone knows who the author is please drop me an email. This is an article to read slowly and thoughtfully...awesome!

Perceptions of Jews by Renowned Non-Jews
Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world...Winston Churchill

The Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire, and has illumined with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring, and fountain out of which all the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs and their religions...Leo Tolstoy

It was in vain that we locked them up for several hundred years behind the walls of the Ghetto. No sooner were their prison gates unbarred than they easily caught up with us, even on those paths which we opened up without their aid...AA Leroy Beaulieu, French publicist, 1842

The Jew gave us the Outside and the Inside--our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact--new, adventure, surprise, unique, individual, person, vocation, time, history, future, freedom, progress, spirit, faith, hope, justice--are the gifts of the Jews...Thomas Cahill, Irish Author

One of the gifts of the Jewish culture to Christianity is that it has taught Christians to think like Jews, and any modern man who has not learned to think as though he were a Jew can hardly be said to have learned to think at all...William Rees-Mogg, former Editor-in-Chief for The Times of London and a member of the House of Lords

It is certain that in certain parts of the world we can see a peculiar people, separated from the other peoples of the world and this is called the Jewish people...This people is not only of remarkable antiquity but has also lasted for a singular long time... For whereas the people of Greece and Italy, of Sparta, Athens and Rome and others who came so much later have perished so long ago, these still exist, despite the efforts of so many powerful kings who have tried a hundred times to wipe them out, as their historians testify, and as can easily be judged by the natural order of things over such a long spell of years. They have always been preserved, however, and their preservation was foretold...My encounter with this people amazes me...Blaise Pascal, French Mathematician

The Jewish vision became the prototype for many similar grand designs for humanity, both divine and man made. The Jews, therefore, stand at the center of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose...Paul Johnson, American Historian

As long as the world lasts, all who want to make progress in righteousness will come to Israel for inspiration as to the people who had the sense for righteousness most glowing and strongest...Matthew Arnold, British poet and critic

Indeed it is difficult for all other nations of the world to live in the presence of the Jews. It is irritating and most uncomfortable. The Jews embarrass the world as they have done things which are beyond the imaginable. They have become moral strangers since the day their forefather, Abraham, introduced the world to high ethical standards and to the fear of Heaven. They brought the world the Ten Commandments, which many nations prefer to defy.

They violated the rules of history by staying alive, totally at odds with common sense and historical evidence. They outlived all their former enemies, including vast empires such as the Romans and the Greeks. They angered the world with their return to their homeland after 2000 years of exile and after the murder of six million of their brothers and sisters.

They aggravated mankind by building, in the wink of an eye, a democratic State which others were not able to create in even hundreds of years. They built living monuments such as the duty to be holy and the privilege to serve one's fellow men. They had their hands in every human progressive endeavor, whether in science, medicine, psychology or any other discipline, while totally out of proportion to their actual numbers.

They gave the world the Bible and even their "savior." Jews taught the world not to accept the world as it is, but to transform it, yet only a few nations wanted to listen. Moreover, the Jews introduced the world to one God, yet only a minority wanted to draw the moral consequences. So the nations of the world realize that they would have been lost without the Jews. And while their subconscious tries to remind them of how much of Western civilization is framed in terms of concepts first articulated by the Jews, they do everything to suppress it.

They deny that Jews remind them of a higher purpose of life and the need to be honorable, and do everything to escape its consequences. It is simply too much to handle for them, too embarrassing to admit, and above all, too difficult to live by.

So the nations of the world decided once again to go out of 'their' way in order to find a stick to hit the Jews. The goal: to prove that Jews are as immoral and guilty of massacre and genocide as some of they themselves are. All this in order to hide and justify their own failure to even protest when six million Jews were brought to the slaughterhouses of Auschwitz and Dachau; so as to wipe out the moral conscience of which the Jews remind them, and they found a stick. Nothing could be more gratifying for them than to find the Jews in a struggle with another people (who are completely terrorized by their own leaders) against whom the Jews, against their best wishes, have to defend themselves in order to survive. With great satisfaction, the world allows and initiates the rewriting of history so as to fuel the rage of yet another people against the Jews. This in spite of the fact that the nations understand very well that peace between the parties could have come a long time ago, if only the Jews would have had a fair chance. Instead, they happily jumped on the wagon of hate so as to justify their jealousy of the Jews and their incompetence to deal with their own moral issues. When Jews look at the bizarre play taking place in The Hague, they can only smile as this artificial game once more proves how the world paradoxically admits the Jews uniqueness. It is in their need to undermine the Jews, that they actually elevate them.

The study of history of Europe during the past centuries teaches us one uniform lesson: That the nations which received and in any way dealt fairly and mercifully with the Jew have prospered; and that the nations that have tortured and oppressed them have written out their own curse...Olive Schreiner, South African novelist and social activist

If there is any honor in all the world that I should like, it would be to be an honorary Jewish citizen...ALRowse, authority on Shakespeare

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Time Out for a Kvetch

Have you ever been confronted by "missionizers"? I thought that in Jerusalem I would be free from this irritant, but apparently not and I am getting weary of their blether. I really don't care what people choose to bow down to, but I do care when they try to make me do the same! I came to Israel so I could live an observant, Jewish lifestyle, yet every time I walk down the street I am confronted by someone trying to "save" me.
But that is not the worst of it. Now, they are showing up on Shabbos, at the tables of good people who open their homes so others can share in the meals and celebration of the Holy Shabbat. I cannot fathom how a they can eat like pigs (even filling plastic bags to take away) then proceed to insult the entire company by spouting their idolatrous garbage. It is not possible to suggest that they "not" ruin the Holiness of the day because these people long for confrontation. So instead, I will say my peace in here...To all the missionizers in the world:
You are free to follow your religion (illogical as it is), but you have no right to impose it on my life and beliefs. If you really need to "save" someone, why don't you do something about the priests who have been (and still are) abusing children for decades, or your preachers who pilfer the coffers, debase their followers and cheat on taxes. Do something about the creeps who finance their new cars, swimming pools, etc. by wringing "donations" from sad, lonely people living way below the poverty line...Stop telling people that they need to "support Israel" when the truth is that all they are supporting is you! If you really love Israel and really want to "help" why don't you go back where you came from and get a job, then adopt an orphan, or help the families that lost their homes in Gush Katif, or the people from Sderot who are being blown out of their homes. The only thing we need to be save from is people like you!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Orthodox Judaism--Part I

I want to preface this and any future articles I may write with this statement: The opinions expressed are my own, based on personal experience, studies and research. I am not an authority and Strongly Advise you to check with a Qualified Rabbi in all cases. These articles are for general information in the hope that you will do your own research and discovery in your personal search for truth. I have spoken with many people (including rabbis) and attended synagogues of the various movements in an effort to "find" my own community. For the record, I am a follower of the Orthodox movement.

The State of Israel has two “chief” rabbis to serve the Orthodox communities--one for the Ashkenazi (primarily from Eastern Europe) and the other for the Sephardi (primarily Spanish-Portugese and Arab).
There are some differences in the prayer books, but all follow the three daily services of Shacharis (morning), Minchah (afternoon) and Maariv (evening) as well as the bedtime Shema (generally last thing said prior to turning out the lights). Women's obligations to prayer are slightly different from those of men--I will deal with that in later article. There are slight variances in the Siddur each group uses, but generally, you can feel at home in most synagogues.
All Orthodox Jews believe Gd is one, incorporeal and not limited by time or space, that He gave Moses the whole Torah (both written and oral) at Mount Sinai. They believe that the Torah is divine truth, that has come down to us intact and unchanged and cannot be added to, taken from, or modified in any way. They believe that the Torah contains 613 mitzvot binding upon Jews but not upon non-Jews. They believe that the Jewish people were the preservers of the word of God.

In the Siddur, at the end of the Shacharit service, are the Thirteen Principles of Faith compiled by Maimonides. These principles include all of the basic tenets which one must acknowledge as truths in order to be considered a Jew, and to partake in the world to come. Although this is not the sole reason for comprehending these ideas, it is crucial to understand them and know them as true. Whoever does not believe in any of these 13 principles, is not considered part of the Jewish people, and will not have a share in the world to come.

The thirteen principles are organized into three general categories:
(I) The Nature of Belief
I hold with complete faith that the Creator whose Name shall be blessed:
1) is the Creator and Director of all creatures, and that he alone made, makes and will make everything that exists.
2) is [the perfect] Unity and there is no Unity like him in any manner and that he alone, our God, was is and will be.
3) has no [physical] body, nor can any corporeal effect influence Him, and that he has no form at all.
4) is the First and the Last. [is eternal]
5) is alone worthy to be the object of prayer, and that it is not fitting to pray to anything other than Him alone.

(II) Authenticity of the Torah
I hold with complete faith:
6) that all the words of the [Jewish] prophets are true.
7) that the prophecy of Moses our teacher, E"H [variously translated as servant of God, or peace be upon him, but absent in the Arabic version] was truthful, and the he was the root of the prophets who came both before and after him.
8) that all of the Torah which now exists in our hands is that which was given to Moses our teacher.
9) that this Torah will not be exchanged [for another, or overturned], and that there will never be another Torah from the Creator whose Name shall be blessed.
(III)) Reward and Punishment
I hold with complete faith that the Creator whose Name shall be blessed:
10) knows every deed of human beings and all of their thoughts, as it is written, Who created together their hearts, who understands all their deeds.
11) grants good to those who observe His commands and causes those who transgress His commands to be punished.
...I hold with complete faith:
12) in the coming of the Moshiach [Anointed King], and even though he may tarry, with all this I will wait for him every day that shall come.
13) that there will be a resurrection of the dead at a time which shall arise in the WIll of the Creator whose Name is blessed, and consciousness of Him will arise forever and ever.
Although there is no longer a Sanhedrine, there are Rabbinical authorities and Orthodox Jews are expected to follow the decisions of the rabbis. "You shall not turn aside from the law that they [the Rabbis] declare to you"...Deuteronomy 17:11.
According to Rambam, "All who believe in the Torah of Moses are obligated to abide by the [decisions of the] High Court and to rely upon them." In other words, the obligation to abide by the words of the Sages stems from the authority that the Torah itself granted them.
Ramban, on the other hand, holds that we follow the Rabbis by virtue of the correctness of their words. Their strength stems from the fact that their words are true and their advice is good. By virtue of the quality of their advice we must follow them, for one who refuses to accept correct and true council is considered foolish.

Because Jewish law is so complex, and rulings vast, in every case one must consult a rabbi for halachic advice. It is important to note that there are differences of opinion, therefore you should not go looking for the most "lenient" rabbi every time you have a question! Minhagim vary from country to country and community to community, so it is vital that you choose your community, get to know your rabbi and consult him whenever you are in doubt.
...To Be Continued

Haredi Protests and Gay Rights

I am so tired of reading about "Gay Pride" and the horrible Haredi protests that I must add my own two-cents worth. Jerusalem is known worldwide as the Holy City, and as such various religious groups come here to worship. The idea of a gay parade is an abomination not only to the Haredi groups, but to other Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups as well.

The city of Jerusalem was forced to spend untold dollars to insure the protection of "gay rights", while the street they were parading down were filled with people who are hungry and have no place to sleep--I don't see any "Gay Donations" helping them out. In fact I would be interested to know if the gay rights people do anything for anyone other than themselves??

My message to the gay pride people is this--Why don't you hold your parade in Mecca?? I'll tell you why--because you'd get your throats slit. You come to Jerusalem because the people here are decent, so you take advantage of this decency to desecrate the Holiest city in the world.

I don't care one way or the other what people choose do do with their sex lives--as long as they keep it in their own bedrooms where it belongs and don't parade it past my front door expecting a vote of approval.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Choosing A "Branch"

Many religions have different "branches" or "sects" to reflect the various levels of commitment, rules to live by, etc.. Judaism is no different. Before diving into conversion you must decide which form of observance is will be best suited to your personality. Even though conversion involves "change" you must consider just how much changes you are capable (or willing) to make. Choosing the right path is vital in this respect.

Many people are familiar with the main groups in Judaism:

1) Orthodox
2) Haredim
3) Reform
4) Conservative

...But do you have any "real" idea what the the split-off groups in each of the above are about? I will delve into each group and it's various split-offs as well as some important points you may want to consider. Remember--if you are converting you will be a "Jew for Life" (you can't give it back!!) and choosing the right community will have a major impact on your life!
Group 2--Haredim
I am not going to spend too much time on this topic because there is in depth information at: [ ]
I have accompanied the author (my friend) on many journeys into the Haredi World of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, and shall continue to do so, but I am not the expert and I strongly recommend that you go through the entire site. Some of the groups mentioned are Vishnitz, Belz, Avraham Yitzchak , Toldot Aharon, Avraham Yitzchak and Sikarikim (if you are wondering who they are, I quote from "2000 years ago, the Sikarikim were a Jewish radical group fighting the Romans and even other Jews who supported the Roman occupation".

The bottom line is that there are multiple groups, each with their own doctrine, minhagim, mode of dress, attitudes towards women, study, davening, secular integration, etc. Do not assume that everyone you see in a black coat with peyus is simply "Haredi", and when you see (or hear) a news report about "Haredi" demonstrations in Mea Shearim, it could be one of dozens of groups. If you are a potential convert go to Shearim and bookmark it. Over the next months you will receive an education.

Israel, Jerusalem, Judaism, Zionism, Middle East, Aliyah, Conversion, and everything else that pops up