Thursday, May 31, 2007

'GLAT' kosher

While we are on the topic of boxes and getting out of them, this is the reason that google are the number one search engine on the planet:

It is one page of their job interview questionnaire (the GLAT). You can find the answers and more questions here. By thinking outside the box (literally) google have been able to consistently create products and services that work. I have no idea how they think of these things.
This is what we should be doing in Judaism as well. Escape from all the 'normal' thinking and problems, and view things in a new way, so that we can see the beauty in everything and escape from the boxes.
One team who have tried (with quite a bit of success) is Aish (not that I am their biggest fan, but they get points for trying). Look here to see that I am not the only one who finds Torah in Simpsons (though I would not have chosen such an obvious one).
Time to get out of the box and get GLAT!

I like... being Jewish

I like music. When I say that I don't mean that I only like a specific kind of music (for example only music in D minor, or only microtonal music). True, there are some kinds of music that I don't like, but many more that I do like. And even those that I don't like, I am prepared (to a certain extent) to give them a go.
I like heavy rock though I don't like death metal
I like Bach and Beethoven but strongly dislike Gamelan music
I like reggae but I don't like hip hop or rap
I like sixties acoustic, but I don't like free form jazz
I like Ladysmith Black Mambazo but I don't like Miami Boys Choir
I like Billy Bragg but I don't like the cover versions of his songs
I like punk but not all the aggro that goes with it
I like glam rock but not David Bowie's attitude to Jews

But what do you do with someone like Fish, or Marrilion, or even Dream Theatre? They don't fit neatly into any category, except that I like them all.
Having labels for music is kind of useful when you have to chose an online radio station to listen to, or when you want to find the right bin with the CDs that you like, but it is more useless than useful, because the bands and people I like could be in several different categories.

Which is why I just like music. There are even moments when i can put up with Abba. It is much better (I think) to avoid the labels and categories, and just get on with the tunes.

Yet people seem to have a need for labels. And this is most damaging when it comes to Judaism. We can't just be 'Jewish' but have to be Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, New Age Atheist Jewish etc. Within each group (but mainly within Orthodoxy) we have more and more refined definitions. Chasidic, chareidi, modern chareidi, modern orthodox, traditional orthodox, etc.
I posted the link to the quiz to find out what kind of Jew you are. I enjoyed the questions and thought it was cute. But the best result was the person who scored exactly the same in almost every category. In other words, just plain Jewish without any labels.
It gets worse, because some people think that those who don't fit into their category are no longer Jewish. In the same way that I struggle to see how some of John Cage's stuff (or most Jewish music) is really music, they can't understand how someone who looks or thinks differently can still be Jewish. We all know that the Second Temple was destroyed because people invalidated those who had a different hashkafa than they did (look at the Netziv's introduction to Haemek Davar). But nothing seems to have changed since then.
At Sinai, we all stood around the mountain, each tribe in its place. This means that each tribe and each individual had a slightly different perspective on what happened there. Each person saw and heard something slightly different than anyone else. This is because there are multiple paths to Torah. As long as we are facing Sinai and trying our best to relate to G-d and people in the best way, we can agree to disagree.
I was speaking to someone the other night who claims to not be chareidi. But he isn't anything else either. He suggested making a new category called 'Askan' for people who just get on with it and do things, rather than worry about labels. I think that is a great idea.
Let's all be Jewish, and appreciate that there are many paths to Torah and to serving G-d.

Sorry for the rant, but where else if not a blog.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Right Wing Modern O?

I found this test on the internet (it was a link from re-jew-venate). These kind of tests never mean anything, and are always wrong, but actually I think this just about sums me up (I do usually wear a hat, and feel guilty when I don't). If nothing else, this test might explain to Richard the difference between chareidi and not.

Try it and post your results. User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.

This is me:

Left Wing Modern Orthodox: 37%
Right Wing Modern Orthodox: 74%
Left Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 66%
Right Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 33%

This means you're: Right Wing Modern O.

What does it mean?

You're shteiging away in the YU beis medrash and really enjoying that Kant class in the afternoon. You've achieved shiurvanna - the perfect synthesis of frumkeit and the outside world. Everyone to the left is way too modern and everyone to the right is too rigid and machmir. Sometimes you feel guilty about not wearing a hat.

Fantastic Friends

The Talmud in Bava Metzia (24a) says that one of the three things a person is permitted to lie about (tell fibs) is how well he was treated and looked after when he stayed in someone's home. Rashi explains that if he were to be honest about how well he was looked after, the hosts would be inundated with requests for hospitality and he would be doing them a disservice.
Notwithstanding that advice from the Talmud, I have to say how wonderful my hosts were in both Leeds and London. Those of you who know them already know what wonderful ba'alei chesed they are, and how warm and friendly. For those of you who don't know them, I won't say their names in this forum, and in that way will hopefully be able to stick to the Talmudic advice.
Whether it was driving to the other side of town to pick me up, inviting guests who they thought I would like to see (and would like to see me), having an open door policy, providing everything I could ever need, and making me completely at home - they did it all. I can't thank them enough for having me to stay (and I am not pleasant to be around, because I am usually grumpy and obnoxious - the 'old' depends on your perspective). It is never easy having guests - it disrupts daily life and the usual schedule, you have to share your carrot juice 3 ways, and it takes hours of organising, planning and arranging. Not to mention phone bills, and usage, extra laundry, and having someone else read your newspaper. I can only tell you that I was so well looked after, and made to feel completely comfortable and as if I was at home.
I also want to publicly (globally) thank the people who drove me to Asda to go shopping until 1 in the morning, and the person who drove me half way to London (that is a long time to put up with me in a small car) and everyone else who did so much. Thank you. It is never easy being away from home, especially for a Shabbos or YomTov, but this was the next best thing. Thank you and thank you again.
Even though I don't want to tell you who I stayed with in Leeds, I can show you a photo of him from 1957 (I don't think you will recognise him so much later on). He is sitting next to his father and brother where the red oval is.

(actually this is the wrong picture and the wrong place in the stands, but I didn't want you to be able to recognise him. Just know that he was there!)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not grumpy and not old - an apology

Those of you who know me will (hopefully) realise that in my last post I was using the phrase 'grumpy old men' as a term of endearment. I include myself (see my profile) in the lovely people of Leeds who are 'grumpy old men' (though some of them are none of those).
It was only several days later that I saw that some people had taken offence at this phrase. I have been unable to get to a computer until now (I have just arrived back in Jerusalem), and have been walking around with a sick feeling in my stomach at the thought that I had offended people. To those who took offence, I offer my sincerest apologies. I certainly didn't mean it as anything other than an expression of love, friendship and closeness. I know that if you don't know me (and perhaps this is a British/ New Zealand divided by a common language thing) this might not seem like such a nice phrase, but it was meant with the utmost love and care for all those wonderful people in Leeds who made not only this trip so special, but also the entire four years that i was there.
I also realised when rereading my last post (which in fairness was written while doing several other things just before Shabbat) that it sounded very egocentric. I was also looking at the glass half empty when i should have seen it as overflowing.

I know that blogs are for ranting, and that is what I was doing (not in any fair or meaningful way) but it is bad for my midos, so I'll try to do better next time.

The truth is that it was truly fantastic to see so many old friends again, and to catch up on what has been going on. They say you can never cross the same river twice, but it was as if I had never been away. Everyone looked younger if anything. And I saw the children of the couples who I had married while in Leeds, and the grandchildren of their parents.
I had such a wonderful time while in Leeds, and I must apologise for sounding so grumpy in my last blog.
Thank you, all of you, for everything. And please accept my apology.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Where are the socks?

I have to admit that this has not been the most succesful trip so far. For example, the main reason I came here was for a wedding. Except that the wedding has been called off (for good reason, but still very sad).
I had hoped to pick up some stuff that I had left in Leeds from 3 years ago, and which has been sitting in someone's garage since then (nothing all that essential, but some cutlery, a pasta pot, some kilt socks and some other equally essential items - oh yes, and a trampoline). Except that in the past 3 years they have migrated to the bottom of a huge pile of stuff and I wasn't able to get to them at all (and didn't have time to empty the other stuff).
I had come to leeds to speak in 2 Shuls, which was fine, except that I lost my voice by the second day, so it was a very quiet sermon (I properly lost my voice - how am I going to yell at my kids when I get home?)
And finally, the other thing I needed was some Winnie the Pooh socks from Asda. I went there last night (after yomtov - about 1:00 am). They sell absolutely everything there, except for golfing shoes (according to one of the workers) - and Winnie the Pooh socks!
So now I have come down to London. I'm staying in Edgeware with some fantastic friends. Things can only get better from now on.
But I must admit it was fantastic listening to all the grumpy old men - exactly as it was when I left Yorkshire 3 years ago!
have a great shabbos everyone. looking forward to reporting about a wonderful couple of days in the capital.

Monday, May 21, 2007

England trip

I'm off in a couple of hours to England. i'll be in leeds for Shavuot (speaking at the tikkun lail in UHC, sermon first day at BHH at second day at UHC).
Then I'll be in London for shabbat and will be giving a shiur to women in Hendon on Sunday night.
If you are able or interested in coming to any of those events I look forward to seeing you.
this is also an apology that I probably won't be able to blog until I get back.

I have had this blog now for exactly 6 months. It started out as a way to keep in touch with the Midreshet Rachel women and share some shiurim with them. I also thought I could sell some mezuzut that i had written online. but after sekking the few that i had i found that i didn't have any time to write more.

And i got slightly addicted to blogging. i realised it is like giving a sermon without the stage fright. And without having to connect everything to the Parsha. So it is a lot of fun.

During the half a year we've had kittens (though not for long) and a baby (and she sure is a keeper).I've switched jobs a few times and Ehud olmert and his pals haven't. We've argued about bonfires and been inspired by dead Rabbis. I've enjoyed myself.

i had hoped to make a bit of extra money with adsense, but so far that hasn't happened. i'm still hoping.

i suppose the main reason that adsense isn't working for me is that in the 6 months I have had almost 1000 hits (but not quite). That is pretty pathetic. My goal for the next 6 months is to try and get a LOT more hits,. For this I'll need your help. If you rad this blog and enjoy it, could you please link to it from your blog, or tell your friends to have a look at it.

So please link to me, help support the israeli economy, and keep on sending me your feedback.

Thank you. See you all when i get back!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

2nd Sivan - Minchas Elazar

Today was the 70th yarzheit of the Munkacher Rebbe, the Minchas Elazar. You can read about how the American chasidim celebrated at

The rebbe of Munkacs (or Munkatch), Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira (who led the community from 1913 until his death in 1937) was the most outspoken voice of religious anti-Zionism. He had succeeded his father, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Spira, who had earlier inherited the mantle of leadership from his father Rabbi Shlomo Spira. This Hasidic dynasty was based in the town of Mukacheve, known as "Munkacs", "Minkatch" or "Munkacz" in common Jewish usage.

This is a video from 1933 of the Rebbe warning American Jews to keep Shabbos.

(For a longer video of life in Munkatch in 1933 click on this link

This is what Wikipedia has to say about him:

Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira (December 17, 1871 in Stryzow, Poland – May 13, 1937) was one of the Rebbes of the Hasidic movement Munkacz (or Munkatsh). His father, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Spira was a scion of the illustrious Spira family which had held rabbinical positions in Munkács dating back to the first Hasidic Rabbi in Munkács, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira who served as Chief Rabbi between the years of 1828 and 1832. Rabbi Chaim Elazar assumed the position as Chief Justice of the Rabbinical Court in Munkács in the year 1903, where he served alongside his father until Rabbi Tzvi Hersh’s passing in 1913. Rabbi Chaim Elazar then succeeded his father as Chief Rabbi of Munkács and the surrounding communities.

From a very young age Rabbi Chaim Elazar proved to have a prodigious mind. At the young age of 11 he began writing his first book on Jewish Law. In his short life Rabbi Chaim Elazar wrote and published over 20 books on the Jewish Law, Torah, Hasidism, and religious philosophy and customs. His most notable work which made him world famous was the scholarly work “Minchas Elazar” which contains 6 volumes. He was the most outspoken voice of religious anti-Zionism.

Rabbi Chaim Elazar led his community with unsurpassed dignity and drew worldwide respect and honor for Munkács. His keen understanding and vast knowledge in Jewish as well as worldly matters drew thousands of people to his home where they sought his advice and blessings. Under his leadership, the Munkács Jewish community grew in leaps and bounds and at the time of his death in 1937, over half of the town’s inhabitants were Jewish.

One of the most memorable events in Munkács was the wedding of Rabbi Chaim Elazar’s only daughter Frima which took place in March of 1933. Over 15,000 guests attended the wedding. Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia opened their borders and no visa was necessary for people who wished to attend the wedding. International filming companies came to Munkács from all over Europe and America to document the historic event.

Rabbi Chaim Elazar championed the causes of his needy brethren in Munkács and established a vast network of charitable institutions to ease their burden. He established schools where children were taught under his constant guidance. His yeshiva (rabbinical college) in Munkács attracted hundreds of students from all corners of the globe who flocked to Munkács to study under his wing, many of them growing to become the next generation's rabbis, community leaders, etc.

He was respected not only by the international Jewish community, but as well by the gentile world. He was visited by world leaders such as Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš as well as Tomáš Masaryk, Queen Wilhelmina of Holland and many others who sought his sagely advice and blessings. He was known as a “wonder rabbi” and “miracle worker”.

Upon his untimely death in 1937, after fighting a grave illness, he was succeeded as Chief Rabbi by his son-in-law Rabbi Baruch Yehoshua Yerachmiel Rabinowicz who was husband to Rabbi Spira’s only daughter Frima. Rabbi Baruch served as chief rabbi until the Nazi occupation of Munkács in 1944. Rabbi Spira left an everlasting impression on Munkács and the entire world for generations to come.

Thousands of followers visit his gravesite in the Munkács Jewish Cemetery throughout the year, where they come to pray and bequest salvation, especially on the anniversary of his death in the month of May.

The Munkács Hasidic Dynasty continues to this day under the dynamic leadership of the grandson of Rabbi Chaim Elazar, Grand Rabbi Moshe Leib Rabinovich who resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thank you Open Office!

I have been going crazy (not unusual) for the past 2 days trying to get Microsoft Word to do something very simple (I could have done it with a pen and paper). The programme kept on crashing on me every time (I think it has a thing against Bamidbar). After several hours (over 2 days) and dozens of crashes (just Word, not the whole computer luckily) I decided to give up on Bill Gates and try Open Office. I downloaded it from here and it is simple, obvious, clear and most importantly IT WORKS!! Yay!!! Thank you Open Office and Sun computers!

I can now get on with my work, (while listening to the phenomenal Steve Vai - check out this clip (unless you are still not listening to music because it is the Omer, in which case please don't). Bulgarian Wedding Music?????

OK, better stop blogging and get back to work. Thanks for listening/ reading.

The best toy ever!

My good friend and colleague, Rabbi Tanchum Burton has found the ultimate in post-modern, egalitarian, torah observant children's toys. It is the egalitarian barbie! You can see her giving the daf yomi shiur, wearing her tefillin and doing hagba. Fantastic! Click the link (and tell him I sent you).

What could top that? Your thoughts on the back of a postage stamp please. (How about the tonka toys succah, or the lego aron kodesh, or how about the do-it-yourself playmobile brit kit? I'm sure someone with photoshop can create any or all of those and things that are more fantastic than I can even dream of.

29th Iyar - Tefillat HaShlah

There is a special and beautiful prayer the the Shlah wrote to be recited today (Thursday, 29th Iyar - Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan). It is a prayer for children, who will grow up to be G-d fearing and righteous.
I highly recommend that everyone recite this prayer right now. Either English or Hebrew will do. As a service artscroll have put the prayer on the front page of their website.
You can see the prayer (which is on 3 pages, though it isn't actually all that long, here: page 1; page 2; page 3
I can't send you to the Artscroll website without also mentioning this fantastic blog, by someone who does exactly what I wished I had the time and ability to do. (Even the title is perfect - 'What's bothering Artscroll', or the web address 'elucidation-not-translation'. Check it out here: He gets is perfect!

Have a wonderful day, may your preparations for kabbalat hatorah be succesful and meaningful.

(BTW this is the biography of the Shlah (which is an abbreviation of the name of his book - Shnei Luchot HaBrit - the two tablets of the covenant).

The holy gaon, Reb Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz was born in Lemberg in approximately the year 5230 (1470). His father R' Avrohom Halevi was dayan in Prague, Cracow and lastly in Lemberg. R' Yeshaya learnt with his father and with the gaon R' Shlomo Ben Reb Yehudah Leib zt"l, better known as the Maharshal Hasheini, the second Maharshal. He also learnt with the Maharam of Lublin, zt"l.

He married Chaya, daughter of one of the prominent members of the community in Vienna, Rabbi Avrohom Moyal. In an awesome statement, R' Sheftel zt"l later wrote about his mother, the Rebbetzin Chaya, "It was said in her generation that she lacked nothing in deeds and traits of the holy Imahos, Soroh, Rivka, Rochel and Leah."

Over the years, R' Yeshaya Halevi practiced as rov in various communities: in 5260 (1500) in Dubno, Russia, in 5262 in Ostroa and from 5266 he took over the reins in Frankfurt, leading the prestigious kehilla until their expulsion from the city on 27 Elul 5274 (1514).

The rabbi was exiled together with his flock and he returned to Prague, where he was appointed Rov in 5275 (1515). When his Rebbetzin passed away on 4th Adar 5280 (1520), Reb Yeshaya Halevi decided to make his dream of going to live in Eretz Yisroel a reality. On 8th Elul 5281 the Shloh boarded the ship and after a turbulent, difficult journey he arrived in the holy land on 2nd Kislev, 5282.

Upon reaching Yerushalayim, he was immediately accepted as Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisroel. Seeing the immense poverty of the settlers in the holy land, the Shloh sent messengers to the Diaspora and their Rabbonim, particularly to the communities where he had served as rov, initiating a tzedokoh campaign which he called "Yachatz" -- an acronym in Hebrew for the three cities Yerushalayim, Chevron and Tzfas. On 11th Elul, 5285 (1525), the Shloh was imprisoned due to a libel trumped up by the wicked Machmed Ibn Paroueh.

On Rosh Hashonoh, start of the year 5286 he was freed and he fled to Tzfas and Teverioh. There he established his center of learning and prayer in the ancient Beis Haknesses on the shores of the Kinneret in Teverioh. He was niftar on 11th Nisan and is buried in the old cemetery in Teverioh close to the grave of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai.

His holy seforim were accepted and beloved by Jews the world over, a fact which is proven by the amount of times his great sefer Shnei Luchos Habris had to be printed over and over. His famous siddur Shaar Hashomayim is also world renowned and in reference to it the Shach wrote in his approbation, "I guarantee that whoever davens with this siddur, his tefilloh will be accepted."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

28th Iyar

Not only is today Yom Yerusahalayim and also the yarzheit of Shmuel HaNavi (as per my last blog), but my brother also told me several interesting things about the date.
He claims that if you do the maths (and I'm not quite sure how to do it, but it certainly seems approximately correct) this is the anniversary of the first battle with Amalek in the desert (at Refidim). If you look at the end of parshat Beshalach you find the Israelites complaining about whether G-d is in their midst or not. Then the tribe of Amalek comes and attacks. Moshe tells Yehoshua to prepare an army, and the next day they wage proper war against Amalek (while Moshe stands on the top of the mountain, Aharon and Chur hold his hands up and as long as Moshe's hands are in the air, and the Israelites remember G-d they are victorious). So today is the anniversary of that first victory. The 'tomorrow' of the verse represents an ongoing war with Amalek for eternity (as the next verse says), and we have still not defeated Amalek (nor will we do so until the coming of the Mashiach). It is easy to point at current political trends or personalities and claim that they are the spiritual heirs of Amalek, but I'm never totally convinced. However, we can say that Yom Yerushalayim is certainly the date of a tremendous victory for Israel, which was clearly miraculous (as are all the wars, and even the existence of Israel, but I think the Six Day War was the most open and obvious miracle). May we see many more victories and always remember that G-d is amongst us at all times.
the other cute things about this date is the 'midah' of today (in sefirat haomer). The midah is chesed she'b'malchus. This is the giving aspect of kingship. Take this with a large dose of salt, because I don't actually think it is what the midah means, but it is a neat party trick.
The person who most clearly represented chesed was Avraham. His most positive interaction with kingship was with Malchitzedek. Malchitzedek (aka Shem the son of Noach) was king of Shalem. Shalem was given another name by Avraham - Yireh (G-d will see). The Midrash puts these two words together to make the final name of the city - Yireh + Shalem = Yerushalayim!
So this is the city of chesed and malchus.
Or not.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

28th Iyar - Shmuel HaNavi

Tomorrow is Yom Yerushalayim. No doubt everyone will be blogging about this important and wonderful modern festival.
In my day job at I have just completed (just in the nick of time) a source sheet for students and a teachers' guide about Yom Yerushalayim. If you are a teacher, Rabbi, student or just plain interested you will find interesting and inspiring sources about Yom Yerushalayim. They can be downloaded (free of charge) from torahlab. Click on the link for the source booklet pdf and the teachers' guide pdf.

If you have time you should also visit their website: (even though hopefully in the next couple of days they will have a brand new website up and running at the same address). Click on my blog there - at the moment Rabbi Burton is leading with the most reads of his blog - help me out please!

(this is a cross posting from torahlab)
Yarzheit of Shmeul HaNavi
28th of Iyar, Yom Yerushalayim, also has another meaning in the Jewish calendar. According to tradition (Shulchan Aruch 580; 2, based on Megillat Ta’anit – although in the original it says 29th Iyar) it is the yarzheit of both Shmuel Hanavi, and his mother Chana. For hundreds of years on this date people would go to the grave of Shmuel Hanavi, which is on the Rama (part of former ‘east Jerusalem’). The original custom of lighting fires and torches was not on Lag B’Omer, but ten days later, on the 28th of Iyar. Rabbeinu Ovadiah Bartenura came to live in Israel, and writes back to his brother that people would gather from all around on the day of his death and light torches. (This is printed in Darkei Tzion – available here: The editor has emended the date, because he thinks it must be talking about Lag B’Omer and the Yarzheit of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai. Of course at the time of the Bartenura (which was before the printing of the Zohar) nobody thought that date was his yarzheit, nor do we have any record of fires on Lag B’Omer before the modern era).
King David and Shmuel the prophet met in Ramah one night (while David was fleeing from King Shaul) and figured out the exact location where the Temple should be built. Even though David himself was not permitted to build the Temple, he purchased the land and took the Ark there. David and Shmuel were both totally committed to Yerushalayim and making that the central capital of Israel (before David made it his capital there had been no central place of authority – Shiloh was the site of the Mishkan, but governance was localized within each tribe). The Talmud in Zevachim 54b learns from the verses in the chumash and shows how they figured out exactly where the Temple should be situated. Although Jerusalem is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah (though it is mentioned 656 times in the rest of Nach), David and Shmuel were able to figure out the place that G-d had chosen from before creation to be His resting place on earth.
In a beautiful quirk of history, the place where they met to figure out this location – Ramah – which is also the burial place of Shmuel, was also liberated in the Six Day War which we celebrate on Yom Yerushalayim.
Wishing you all a wonderful Yom Yerushalayim, and a happy bonfire day, and may the merit of the prophet Shmuel help us and protect us against all modern day enemies who want to diminish the greatness of Jerusalem as the center of Israel and the Jewish world.

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

(also posted on

The following posting was added to a discussion group yesterday. My wife and I were arguing about whether it was serious or a joke. (my opinion: anything signed by ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ is by definition a joke – that is the joke pseudonym of choice).

[Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells was the nom de plume of a prolific writer of letters to the "Thunderer" - the London Times - during the first half of the 20th century. His alias became almost as widely known as the title of the Fleet Street newspaper itself, and was synonymous with diatribe. He delivered scathing attacks on organisations and individuals that came to his ultra-critical attention.
He was self opinionated and convinced of his own infallibility. He was the quintessential Englishman. But what marks him out in particular is that, despite being regularly published, he was never identified, and his real name remains a mystery to this day. He was simply "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". – according to ]

Here is the post:

Subject: Re Noise-zemiros regulation required

I am sick and tired of this so-called 'singing' late at night on Fridays when i am trying to sleep, after 9pm.
Some sort of regulation must surely be in order- perhaps some sort of
'mishmeres hazemiros' , a volunteer group to go round on Friday evening and request people who are singing to stop. Please contact me if you are available to attend a preliminary meeting.
If people wish to celebrate Shabbos they can learn Torah. Quietly. If the Gedolim had wanted us to sing zemiros they would have published seforim with them in. Obviously that is not the case.
Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

The issue of performing my ‘mitzvah’ at the expense of someone else is an old chestnut that the mussar writers love to talk about. Especially at selichos time, when the alarm clocks wake up the whole neighborhood (transgressing the Torah prohibition of stealing (sleep) not to mention putting a stumbling block in front of the neighbors who are trying to ‘love their fellow Jew’) in order to say extra prayers before G-d asking Him to have mercy on them and forgive their sins.

Another classic (and this one is for men only I’m afraid) is the old ‘tzitzis slap’ from the guys in the row in front wrapping their tallis around their head (and into my cheek!)

Or how about speeding home in the car in order to daven with a minyan. Endangering the lives of others presumably takes second place to the importance of a quorum.

So, perhaps consideration is in order for those who indulge in lively zemiros on an Leil Shabbos.

However, I particularly like the idea of a 'mishmeres hazemiros’ (aka hear no evil) to control noise levels. We could combine them with the tzniyus patrol (see no evil) and the anti lashon hora brigade (speak no evil).
In fact, I have taken the liberty of training the first batch of new recruits already (no offence intended to those who take the lashon hora brigading or tzniyus patrolling seriously)

27th Iyar - Megillat Taanit

In Megillat Taanit it says that today is a day of celebration because on this day the Chashmonaim nullified the decree of the Greeks. This is the day that they 'removed the garlands from Jerusalem.
The Greeks would put garlands of flowers (roses) outside their temples of idolatry and also outside all the stores and markets. They would sing songs to their idols. they They also wrote on the horns of oxen and the foreheads of donkeys 'the owner of this animal has no portion in the G-d above'. This is also what the Plishtim (Philistines/ Palestinians) used to do, as the verse states "no plough can be found..." (Shmuel 1 13:19-22).
Here is the original text:

בעשרין ושבעה ביה אתנטילו כלילאי מן ירושלם דילא למספד. שבימי מלכות יון היו עושין עטרות של ורד ותולין אותן על פתחי בתי עבודה זרה שלהם ועל פתחי החניות ועל פתחי החצרות ושרין בשיר לעבודה זרה וכותבין על קרניו של שור ועל מצחי חמורים אין לבעליו חלק בעליון כשם שהיו הפלשתים עושים שנאמר וחרש לא ימצא וגו' והיתה הפצירה פים למחרשות ולאתים וכשגברה יד בני חשמונאי בטלום ויום שבטלום עשאוהו יום טוב.

It seems that the purpose in putting the idolatry in the marketplace and outside the stores, as well as writing on the farm animals that they had no portion in G-d, was to drive the 'frum' Jews to bankruptcy. The only way to earn a living at that time was by acknowledging (at least externally) the validity of idols and the denial of G-d.
This was what the Philistines did in the time of Shmuel, when the Israelites were forbidden from working the land and were dependent on their oppressors for their livelihood.
The Chashmonaim abolished this practice and made the day into one of celebration, which is forbidden for mourning and eulogising (according to one version of the text, in practice we say that these laws of megillat taanit don't apply nowadays).

I wonder if there is any connection between the ancient Greeks and Philistines, who wanted to destroy Israel economically, and the EU and Palestinians, who want to boycott Israeli products and services.
Surely not.
Let's hope that we can celebrate the end of all anti Israel sentiment in the near future.

Monday, May 14, 2007

26th Iyar - the Ramchal

The Ramchal - Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato passed away on this day 240 years ago (and was born 300 years ago). Today his writings are amongst the most influential for mussar (Mesilat Yesharim), hashkafa (Derech Hashem and Da'at Tevunot) and kabbalah (Kelach Pitchei Chachma and Adir Bamarom). Though he died before the age of 40 he left behind a huge number of works, which also include poetry and drama. He was the Jewish equivalent of a Rennaisance man. Despite his brilliance (or because of it) he spent most of his life being attacked as a suspected Sabbatean. He also felt that the Mashiach was coming at any moment, and depending on which letter you read either thought he was the Mashiach, or one of his students was.
His clear thinking and analysis, his ability to present complex issues in a straight forward and simple manner, and his breadth of knoweldge, make the Ramchal one of the most important Jewish thinkers of the past few hundred years.
He is buried in Tiveria, next to Rabbi Akiva (giving rise to the idea that he was a reincarnation of Rabbi Akiva, sent to 'fix' the first 40 years of R' Akiva's life before he went to learn Torah).

This is from

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto

Though Rabbi Moshe Chaim is best known for his masterly ethical work, Mesillat Yesharim, probably the most popular musar work in Jewish literature, his main focus in most of his numerous works was on the kabbalah.

Born in Padua, Italy, into a distinguished family, his genius was obvious from a very early age. Besides his complete mastery of the entire Biblical, Rabbinic, and Kabbalistic literature, he was thoroughly educated in the science and literature of the time. He was the author of three full-length plays, which have been published, in modern editions. Unfortunately, his preoccupation with kabbalah and the impact he made on the young, aroused opposition and false suspicion of Sabbatean influence. About 60 years ago, a huge cache of letters was found (published by Dr. Simon Ginzburg in 1937) which describes at length in his own words, the persecution that he endured.

Eventually, he left Italy and settled in Amsterdam. In 1740, at the age of 33, he published the Mesillat Yesharim, which contains nothing Kabbalistic. It is a moving, inspiring work describing how a thoughtful Jew may climb the ladder of purification until he attains the level of holiness. At least three English translations of this work have been made. In 1743, Reb Moshe Chaim left for Eretz Yisrael with his family, arriving in the same month that the sainted R. Chaim ben Atar died. Little is known of his life in the Holy Land and just a few years later, he and his family perished in a plague.

Though most of R. Moshe Chaim's opponents are long forgotten, his profound spirituality continues to touch and inspire Jews of all groups. Both the Gaon of Vilna and the Maggid of Mezeritch were great admirers. In recent years, largely through the efforts of the late Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, a new edition of his works have been published, including several heretofore unpublished manuscripts. And, in one of the standard texts of Modern Hebrew literature, R. Moshe Chaim is hailed as the father of Modern Hebrew literature.

I'm sure thousands of people will be at his kever today - my chevruta is going up north, so will let me know how packed it was. Here is a picture of his gravestone:

May his Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pizza for 4 with all the toppings - to take away!

Today the BBC reports:

A British climber is in the closing stages of an attempt to set a world record for the highest mobile call.

Rod Baber is making final preparations to scale Mount Everest and make the call from its north ridge.

What I want to know is whether the pizza place will deliver when he finally makes that call!

Someone should tell him that at the time of the tower of Bavel they made a similar attempt to climb to the highest point in the world (and construct the tower that would take them there). They weren't going to make a phone call - they didn't need to, since everyone lived in the same place and spoke the same language - but they wanted to show that their technology was greater than G-d. I hope Mr Baber won't make that mistake, but will realise the wonders of nature and the Creator who made them. It astonishes me that G-d made a human being who is able to live at sea level and is also able to ascend to such heights and breath (just about) and even move around a little bit.

But on a more serious note, can you imagine the lengths he is going to in order to make the highest mobile phone call! Days, weeks, months of preparations and money in order to break the record. And what will he do? Call someone on the ground!

While he is doing that we have the opportunity every day for our prayers to be heard in the heavens. That is much further (and closer, since G-d is everywhere) than the top of Everest. When we pray with sincerity we can achieve in an instant far more than Rod Bader will do with all his preparations.

(The main reason I am posting this is to take my mind of the much more disturbing news (which isn't really news anyway) that both the EU and the US wish we didn't have access to the kotel and the Old City, but should cede it to the Palestinians!
This is the Jerusalem Post article:

The United States ambassador in Israel, Richard Jones, will not be participating in Monday's Jerusalem Day ceremony at the Knesset, sources said Sunday afternoon. It was not yet clear whether his decision to absent himself, which followed a similar decision by the EU, was politically motivated.

And to make matters worse in 12 years the city will belong to Hamas anyway, even without the foreign politicians helping out:

Hamas may conquer Jerusalem within 12 years, says mayor

Uri Lupolianski warns cabinet ministers that demographic shift could lead to Palestinian group gaining control of Israel’s capital. As government discusses 40-year anniversary of city's reunification, Olmert promises to invest in its development

So let's just watch Rod Baber and his attempt at the highest mobile phone call - and let's hope for his sake an aeroplane doesn't go overhead while he is trying to make his call, because not only will he not be able to hear when the pizza will be ready, but someone on the plane might be making an even higher phone call!)

Too busy?

I was rereading a book of essays (before they had blogs people had to write 'essays') by Umberto Eco called 'How to Travel with Salmon'. One of the pieces he has there is to analyse how much spare time he has in a year. He writes: When the dentist tells me that he has no time available to see me until next week, I believe him, so why do people not believe me when I say that I am too busy to appear at their conference...
He urges all others to do a similar calculation to see how much free time they have.
This is Israel - it is impossible to plan by the year. I am doing well if I know what I am doing a month from now. So I wanted to calculate how much free time I have in a week. Eco starts off with the assumption that he needs 8 hours sleep a night (as well as an hour and a half to get dressed and have breakfast!!!). Since sleep is usually the last thing after everything else is done, I wanted to work out that calculation last.

In a week there are 168 hours. On shabbat I don't do any work (obviously) so subtract 25 hours, gives 143.
i work for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week (25 hours), and have kollel with Rabbi Triebitz 4 hours a day, also 5 days a week (20). This leaves 98 hours. I teach at Midreshet Rachel for 2.5 hours a week (not counting when we run over time) and Shapell's for 3.5, leaving 92 hours.
Davening shacharit each day (on average) is 1 hour, plus another half an hour each day for mincha/ma'ariv, leaves 83. I learn daf yomi every day for at least half an hour = 80.5. I tutor someone twice a week for two hours each time, and have a skype chevruta for 2 hours once a week. I also learn with someone on Thursday nights, and someeone else on Friday mornings for at least an hour each. that leaves 72.5 (plus I am just starting learning with two more people (at the same time) for an hour + each week, but I won't count that, since we aren't starting until tonight).
I am translating a book for someone, which I am supposed to spend 2 hours on each day - 60.5. I probably spend at least an hour each day travelling to and from work etc. = 55.5. I don't always have time to eat, but assuming another hour each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner would leave 49.5 hours.
So I have less than fifty hours in a week to spend time with my wife and kids, to do the shopping, any cleaning/laundry or dishes that don't get done, and for any relaxing/ guitar playing.
That should leave me with at least 5 hours a night to sleep (assuming none of the kids wakes up in the middle of the night and needs dealing with). So will someone please tell me - WHY AM I SO TIRED?

25 Iyar - Rav Yaakov Loeberbaum of Lisa, (Nesivos)

Today (25 Iyar) is the Yarzheit of Reb Yaakov Loeberbaum of Lisa, known by the name of either of two of his seforim as the Chavas Daas or the Nesivos (Hamishpat) who dies in 1832

Wikipedia has a very good and thorough entry on him (though unless you have learnt a nesivos or a chavas daas it is hard to appreciate his genius).

Yaakov Lorberbaum
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Yaakov ben Yaakov Moshe Lorberbaum of Lissa (1760-1832) (known in English as Jacob ben Jacob Moses of Lissa or Jacob Lorberbaum or Jacob Lisser, Hebrew: יעקב בן יעקב משה מליסא) was a Rabbi and Posek. He is known as the "Ba'al HaNesivos" for his most well-known work, or as the "Lissa Rav" for the city in which he was Chief Rabbi.

* 1 Biography
* 2 Works
* 3 Jewish Encyclopedia Bibliography
* 4 References
* 5 External links


Rabbi Lorberbaum was the great-grandson of the Chacham Tzvi, Rabbi Zvi Ashkenazi; he was therefore related to Rav Jacob Emden. His father, Rav Yaakov Moshe died before he was born, and his relative, Rav Yosef Teomim, brought him up. He studied under Rabbi Meshullam Eger. In 1809, he agreed to become the Rav in Lissa, where he enlarged his Yeshiva's enrollment. Hundreds of scholars came to study there in the years of his leadership. Among his students were Elijah Gutmacher, Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Shraga Feivel Danziger, and others who became scholars and pioneers of the Hibbat Zion movement. Along with Rabbi Akiva Eiger and his son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer, Rabbi Loberbaum vehemently fought against the maskilim, the reformers of the Jewish Enlightenment. In 1822, he left Lissa and moved to Kalish (Kalisz), where he wrote many of his works. He was head of the Beth din in Kalish and afterward in Lissa (today known as Leszno, Poland).

He was widely respected as a posek, and is one of three authorities on whom Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried based his rulings in the Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, the well known precis of Jewish law. Similarly, the Chochmat Adam, by rabbi Avraham Danzig, was written in consultation with Rabbi Lorberbaum - as well as Rabbi Chaim Volozhin.

His status was such that it is reported that Rabbi Akiva Eiger once fainted when he was honored with an Aliyah in the lieu of Rav Yaakov. (see Shimusha Shel Torah, written by Rabbi Meir Tzvi Bergman, a grandson of Rabbi Elazar Shach.)

Rabbi Lorberbaum died in Stryj (then in Galicia) on May 25, 1832.


Reb Yaakov wrote many works of Torah on Talmud and on Halakha (Jewish law).

* Works on Talmud include:
o Torat Giṭṭin, commentary on Shulḥan 'Aruk, Even Ha'ezer, 119-155, and ḥiddushim on the Talmudic treatise Giṭṭin (Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1813; Warsaw, 1815)
o Bet Ya'aḳob, commentary on Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 66-118, and on the Talmudic tractate Ketubot (Grubeschow, 1823)
o Emes L’Yaakov (on Talmudic lore)
o He also published his late father's works on the Talmud, including his famous novellae to Tractate Keritot

* Works of Halakha include:
o Ḥawwot Da'at, commentary on Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 69-201; the earlier sections of Yoreh De'ah (1-68) are very briefly dealt with in the form of an introduction to the work (Lemberg, 1799; Dyhernfurth, 1810, and often since in editions of the Yoreh De'ah, as the Wilna 1894 ed.). In it the works of earlier commentators are discussed and somewhat pilpulistically developed.
o Meḳor Ḥayyim, commentary on Shulḥan 'Aruk, Orach Chayim, 429 and following, with notes on the commentaries Ture Zahab and Magen Abraham; the second part contains ḥiddushim on Keritot (Zolkiev, 1807; Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1813; Warsaw, 1825; Dyhernfurth, 1827)
o Nesivos HaMishpat on Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, in two parts (Dyhernfurth, Lemberg; Zolkiev, 1809, 1816; Sudilkov, 1830; and often since in Lemberg editions of Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ). It is said that Nesivos HaMishpat was made famous by the strong attacks against it in the Ketzos HaChoshen of Rabbi Aryeh Leib Heller.
o Ḳehillat Ya'aḳob, a collection of discussions and notes on several legal points in the Eben ha-'Ezer and Oraḥ Ḥayyim
o Derech Chaim on Orach Chayim (Zolkiev, 1828; Altona, 1831). This compendium is very popular and was frequently reprinted in the larger Hebrew prayer-books. These dinim are taken either from later exponents of the Law as contained in the works Ṭure Zahab, Magen Abraham, Peri Megadim, etc., or from his own decisions. The sources from which he borrowed are usually indicated.

* Other works by Rabbi Lorberbaum include:
o Imrei Yosher (on the five scrolls)[citation needed]
o Ẓeror ha-Mor and Palge Mayim, commentaries on Canticles and Lamentations, under the general title Imre Yosher (ib. 1815 and 1819)
o Ma'aseh Nissim, a commentary on the Pesach Haggadah, with the text and a short compendium of the Passover ritual (Kiẓẓur Dinim; Zolkiev, 1807, 1835; Minsk, 1816; Dyhernfurth, 1817, and later)
o Nakhalat Yaakov (Breslau, 1849), published by his grandson Naphtali Z. N. Chachamowicz after his death, comprising sermons on the Torah Portion, halakhic decisions, responsa, and his last will. In this famous ethical will he asked that his sons devote time every day to learn at least on page of Gemara.
o Ta'alumot Ḥokmah, commentary on Ecclesiastes (Lemberg, 1804; Dyhernfurth, 1819)

Friday, May 11, 2007

23rd Iyar - destruction of Worms

Today is the anniversary of the massacre of the Jewish community of Worms. This was one of the oldest and most famous European Jewish community. It was all but destroyed in 1096 by the crusaders. This event is commemorated on Tisha B'Av in the Kinah "Mi Yitein Roshi Mayim". (This is the time of the famous story of Rashi and Godfrey of Bouillon. Although Rashi lived some of his life in Worms he was not directly affected by this massacre to the best of my knowledge). So much for the 'Robin Hood' stories they tell about Richard the Lionheart (who was also involved in this crusade, which is why his brother, sheriff John was running the show and being mean to Robin and his merry men).

This is what Wikipedia says about Judaism in Worms over the centuries:

The city is known as a former center for Judaism. The cemetery (illustration, right) dating from the 11th century is believed to be the oldest in Europe; an ancient synagogue was built around 1034. Prominent rabbis of Worms include Elazar Rokeach and Yair Bacharach. At the Rabbinical Synod held at Worms in the eleventh century, rabbis for the first time explicitly prohibited polygamy. Much of the Jewish Quarter was destroyed in the events known as Kristallnacht in 1938, and a recognizable Jewish community in Worms no longer exists. However, after renovations in the 1970s and 1980s, many of the buildings of the Quarter can be seen in a close to original state, preserved as an outdoor museum.

And this is their entry about the massacre of the three communities known by the acronym 'Shum' - for Speyer, Worm and Mainz:

The largest of these crusades, and the most involved in attacking Jews, was that led by Count Emicho. Setting off in the early summer of 1096, an army of around 10,000 men, women, and children proceeded through the Rhine valley, towards the Main River and then to the Danube. Emicho was joined by William the Carpenter and Drogo of Nesle, among others from the Rhineland, eastern France, Lorraine, Flanders, and even England.

Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, absent in southern Italy, ordered the Jews to be protected when he learned of Emicho's intent. After some Jews were killed at Metz in May, Bishop John of Speyer, gave shelter to the Jewish inhabitants. Still at least 12 Jews of Speyer were slain by crusaders on May 3.[2] The Bishop of Worms also attempted to shelter Jews, but the crusaders broke in to his episcopal palace and killed the Jews inside on May 18. At least 800 Jews were massacred in Worms when they refused Christian baptism.[7][2]

News of Emicho's crusade spread quickly, and he was prevented from entering Mainz on May 25 by Bishop Ruthard. Emicho also took an offering of gold raised by the Jews of Mainz in hoped to gain his favor and their safety.[2] Bishop Ruthard tried to protect the Jews by hiding them in his lightly fortified palace. Nevertheless Emicho did not prevent his followers from entering the city[2] on May 27 and a massacre followed. Many among the Christian business class (the burghers) in Mainz, had working ties with Jews and gave them shelter from the mobs (as the burghers in Prague had done).[1] The Mainz burghers joined with the militia of the bishop and the burgrave (the town's military governor) in fighting off the first waves of crusaders. This stand had to be abandoned when crusaders continued to arrive in ever greater numbers.[1] Despite the example of the burghers, many ordinary citizens in Mainz and other the towns were caught up in the frenzy and joined in the persecution and pillaging.[1] Mainz was the site of the greatest violence, with at least 1,100 Jews and (possibly more) being killed by troops under Clarambaud and Thomas.[2] One man, named Isaac, was forcefully converted, but later, wracked with guilt, killed his family and burned himself alive in his house. Another woman, Rachel, killed her four children with her own hands so that they would not be killed by the crusaders.

Eliezer b. Nathan, a Jewish chronicler at the times paraphrased Habakkuk 1:6 and wrote of “cruel foreigners, fierce and swift, Frenchmen and Germans…[who] put crosses on their clothing and were more plentiful than locusts on the face of the earth.”[2]

On May 29 Emicho arrived at Cologne, where most Jews had already left or were hiding in Christian houses. In Cologne, other smaller bands of crusaders met Emicho, and they left with quite a lot of money taken from the Jews there. Emicho continued towards Hungary, soon joined by some Swabians. Coloman of Hungary refused to allow them through Hungary. Count Emicho and his warriors besieged Meseberg, on the Leitha. This led Caloman to prepare to flee into Russia, but the morale of the crusader mob began to fail which inspired the Hungarians and most of the mob was slaughtered or drown in the river. Count Emicho and a few of the leaders escaped into Italy or back to their own homes.[5] William the Carpenter and other survivors eventually joined Hugh of Vermandois and the main body of crusader knights.

May their Souls be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Identity Parade

Pity the poor editor of the Jerusalem Post. He has a horrific story about parents selling their two young daughters as wives to two older men. And to make it worse the mother of the men (who were brothers) argued that this was an accepted custom.
That is the story. But wouldn't it be better with a picture to go with it? Except that they are not allowed to reveal the identity of the suspects or the victims. So what can they do?
Luckily one muslim woman looks pretty much the same as the other, so they solved the problem by putting this picture with the article:

The only thing I don't understand is why they had to write the following caption underneath the picture:

Veiled Palestinian women. (Not related to story.)

HOW WOULD WE KNOW? How could anyone tell if they were related to the story or not? How would we know if these are nobel laureates or suicide bombers? What does a kid say when he gets lost in the supermarket and they ask him what his mother looks like?

I know there are chareidim who wish all women would dress like this, and I respect and understand other religions and customs. BUT what a great way to commit a crime. No longer any need for the stocking over the head, the veil says it all.

I just wish they wouldn't put the funny pictures with the horrific stories (like that one about Mickey Mouse and the Hamas TV chanel).

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

YID With LID: PRAYER REQUEST !!!!!!!!!!!!!

YID With LID: PRAYER REQUEST !!!!!!!!!!!!!

I've been reading yid with a lid's blog for a while, and he usually has something important and interesting to say.
Today he has something of vital importance on his blog. His wife is about to have a heart valve replacement. If anyone is reading my blog who hasn't seen his, please daven for her today.
Her name is Leah bat Baylee Gittle.

May she have a complete and speedy recovery.

refuah shleima.

(and this shows the beauty of the internet and blogs - despite all the garbage and dangers out there - we can feel connected to people on the other side of the world and care about them. And even more importantly, daven for them. Please help to do your bit.)

I didn't find it

I was taken in by historical revisionism. I thought the Bartenura was an early source for the custom of bonfires on Lag B'Omer (and I know I said I wouldn't talk about bonfires any more, but this is about the dangers of revisionism and how stupid I am).
I even cited the Bartenura correctly, that he writes that he saw the fires on 28th of Iyar. Then the editor corrects him and says he must mean the 18th of Iyar, which is the Yarzheit of the Rashbi.
Since I was looking for Lag B'Omer bonfires, that is what I found. If I had used my brain a bit I would have known firstly that the Bartenura would never have thought that Lag B'Omer was the Yarzheit of R' Shimon bar Yochai, because that is based on the kitvei AriZal (and another editorial emmendment) which wasn't written until at least 100 years later. And also, that 28th of Iyar is a real Yarzheit of someone more important to Yerushalayim - Shmuel HaNavi. There was an age old tradition to go to his grave on the 28th of Iyar, which only came to an end in 1948 when the Jordanians captured his grave and did not allow Jews to go there. His Yarzheit was eclipsed 19 years later when that date became Yom Yerushalayim, the day that Jews were once again allowed to go to his grave (but more importantly also allowed to go the kotel and the old city).
So there is no source for Lag B'Omer bonfires from the Bartenura. It was the 'editors' trying to make history fit with the reality as they dreamt it up. Unfortunately nowadays there is a lot of made up history - to the extent where nobody believes anything they read in any Jewish publication (I hope) nor in any Artscroll book. But don't think this is a new thing. Editors have been changing the facts of history for well over a century.
So, there is no medieval source for bonfires on Lag B'Omer (and my brother sent me 4 modern sources who are against the whole 'Meron', bonfire celebration thing). I have learnt not to trust meddling editors, and I feel like an idiot.
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

22nd Iyar - Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri

Today is the yarzheit of the saba kadisha. I admit that i had never heard of him before today, when i started researching his yarzheit. What an amazing person. I have just copied an article that originally appeared in Yated (and I'm hoping that since they have banned the internet they won't notice the plagiarism).


By D. Sofer

Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri, otherwise known as the Saba Kadisha, was once
seated at a seudas mitzva of one of the most prominent members of Istanbul's
Jewish community, when he eard two maskilim discussing the "natural" causes
of earthquakes. His face ablaze, Rav Shlomo Eliezer rose from his seat and
vehemently countered their arguments.

"According to your scientific theories," he cried, "an earthquake can't
occur here at this moment. But if Hakadosh Baruch Hu wills it, an earthquake
will occur here this moment, in defiance of the laws of nature."

At that very moment, an earthquake shook the entire city. And Istanbul's
Jews came to regard Rav Shlomo Eliezer as a miracle worker.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer was a rare blend of gentleness and firmness. He was kind
and humble in his interpersonal relationships, yet resolute and undaunted
when it came to defending Torah values and Torah-true outlooks.

When the Torah's honor was at stake, he defied court ministers and even
kings. He feared no one but Hashem; yet all feared him because of his great


Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri was born in 5580, and he stemmed from a
distinguished family of sages. His great-grandfather, Rav Yaakov Shlomo
Eliezer, was the author of Mutzal Mi'Eish. His grandfather, Rav Chaim Shlomo
Eliezer, wrote Maggid Mi'Reishis, and his father, Rav Yaakov, was an
outstanding talmid chacham who passed away at an early age. His mother,
Chana, also came from a prominent family.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer's greatness was evident even as a youth. While still a
young man, he was appointed to the Vaad Haruchani of Istanbul. Many of
Istanbul's Jews pleaded with him to accept the position of Chacham Bashi, or
rav of the city, and to join its beis din. Rav Shlomo Eliezer, however,
refused to accept any rabbinical positions, preferring to devote himself to
Torah study. He also refused to wear the customary dress of Istanbul's
chachamim, which consisted of a turban and a silk robe. When people referred
to him as the city's rav, he would reply, "I am not a rav - just a simple

Appreciating his greatness, Istanbul's Jews founded a yeshiva for him, and
many outstanding scholars studied there. One of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's most
distinguished students was Rav Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini, the Sdeh Chemed.


Rav Shlomo Eliezer was so humble that he not only refused to accept a
rabbinical post, but also recommended his student, Rav Yitzchak Akarish, for
the position of Istanbul's chief rabbi.

Rav Yitzchak, author of Kiryat Arba, was one of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's most
outstanding students, and he devoted himself solely to Torah study. When his
family's financial situation became desperate, however, he sought Rav Shlomo
Eliezer's advice.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer promised to find Rav Yitzchak a rabbinical post - on one
condition: he had to accept any position offered to him.

Rav Yitzchak agreed to Rav Shlomo Eliezer's terms, but was startled when Rav
Shlomo Eliezer secured him a position as Rav of Istanbul. How could he serve
as a rav in the very same city in which his illustrious mentor lived? But he
had already accepted Rav Shlomo Eliezer's condition, and couldn't renege on
his word.

Istanbul's Jewish leaders were likewise reluctant to appoint Rav Yaakov -
for the very same reasons. However, they couldn't disregard Rav Shlomo
Eliezer's directive or his demand that Rav Yaakov receive a respectable

From then on, whenever questions were addressed to Rav Shlomo Eliezer, he
would refer them to Rav Yitzchak, stressing that he was the city's rav.


When the Jewish fugitives of the Spanish Inquisition originally settled in
Turkey, the Sultan made a pact with them that they would never be drafted
into his army. But when Abed El Chamid became Sultan, he issued a decree
obligating all non-Moslems to enlist in the Turkish army.

Serving in the army, however, involved desecrating the Shabbos and eating
nonkosher food. Istanbul's rabbanim tried to have the decree rescinded, but
they were unsuccessful. Despite its severity, they finally decided to accept
the decree, not wanting to provoke the Turkish authorities. The city's Vaad
Haruchani even issued a proclamation urging the region's Jews to fulfill
their obligations to the Turkish government, and to enlist.

Only one man protested this course of action: Rav Shlomo Eliezer.

At the Vaad meeting, he declared: "Since serving in the Turkish army
involves Shabbos desecration and the defiling of oneself with nonkosher
food, enlisting in the army is considered a chillul Hashem. We mustn't yield
to Sultan Abed El Chamid. If we are firm, Hashem will help us."

After completing his fiery speech, he burst into uncontrollable sobs. The
other members of the Vaad knew that Rav Shlomo Eliezer's words were
justified. Nonetheless, they feared expressing their opinion in public.

The Jewish community did have one hope, however. One of its wealthy members
was particularly influential in the Sultan's court.

But instead of trying to cancel the decree, the Jew collaborated with the
Sultan and helped promote it. But when he visited the palace to supervise
various aspects of the decree, he suddenly lost consciousness and died.

The following day, a large throng assembled at the wealthy man's funeral. In
Istanbul at that time, Rav Shlomo Eliezer was always the first to deliver a
hesped at a funeral, and no one dared to precede him. But instead of
attending the funeral, Rav Shlomo Eliezer remained at home.

The community leaders pleaded with Rav Shlomo Eliezer to attend the funeral,
or at least to grant others permission to eulogize the deceased. But Rav
Shlomo Eliezer flatly refused, saying that the man wasn't worthy of honor.

The niftar's sons offered Rav Shlomo Eliezer a large sum of money, which
they said could be used for tzedaka, if only he would relent.

With tear-filled eyes, Rav Shlomo Eliezer replied, "Yesterday I visited your
father and asked him not to collaborate with the Sultan. But he defied me.
Therefore, I cannot honor him."

In the end, none of the city's rabbanim eulogized the deceased. Everyone
knew that Rav Shlomo Eliezer was right and respected his actions.


When the Sultan learned of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's efforts to cancel his
decree, he was furious and decided to punish him for inciting the Jews
against him. He immediately summoned Rav Shlomo Eliezer to his palace.

Once in the palace, Rav Shlomo Eliezer quietly explained his position to the
Sultan. The Sultan was very impressed by Rav Shlomo Eliezer; in fact, he was
so impressed that he accorded him the title of Chacham Bashi, granting him
the authority to issue amendments and edicts in the Jewish community.

In the end, the draft decree wasn't implemented due to internal conflicts in
the royal court.

After being appointed Chacham Bashi, Rav Shlomo Eliezer decided to leave
Istanbul. In 5657, he was offered a position as the Rav of Damascus, which
he accepted.


During this time, the brilliant Rav Yitzchak Abulafia, author of Pnei
Yitzchak, lived in Damascus. He had a very sharp mind, and if he felt that a
halachic ruling by one of his contemporaries was incorrect, he did not
hesitate to challenge it.

A number of people advised Rav Shlomo Eliezer not to accept the position of
Rav of Damascus, lest his rulings come under Rav Yitzchak's scrutiny.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer was not deterred. "I look forward to learning from him,"
he explained.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer was warmly welcomed by Damascus' Jews, and he and Rav
Yitzchak soon developed a close relationship. The two studied together for
many hours a day, and Rav Yitzchak never saw a need to challenge Rav Shlomo
Eliezer's rulings.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer founded a yeshiva in Damascus, which produced dozens of
students who served as rabbanim and dayanim in Sephardic communities
throughout the region.


In 5664, when Rav Shlomo Eliezer was nearly 90, he moved to Eretz Yisroel.
He settled in Chaifa, where he studied undisturbed for the next several
years. When Tzefas' sages learned that Rav Shlomo Eliezer was in Eretz
Yisroel, however, they invited him to serve as their city's av beis din.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer accepted the position, and many people sought his counsel
and blessings.

In Nissan of 5674, Rav Shlomo Eliezer, accompanied by many of Tzefas'
residents, went out to bless the new moon. After completing the blessings,
he looked upward, clapped his hands and let out a piercing cry. Then he
said: "I see that a large-scale war will soon break out."

Four months later, World War I began.

During the war, Tzefas' residents suffered from a lack of food and water.
One time, the Turkish pasha visited the city. He was perched on a white
steed, and was accompanied by an entourage of soldiers. He wore a flashy
uniform, and a glossy medallion, which indicated his high rank, hung from
his neck.

When Rav Shlomo Eliezer heard of his arrival, he went out to greet him. The
pasha, who was awed by Rav Shlomo Eliezer's majestic appearance, asked him
for a blessing.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer replied, "Only the humble can receive blessings. I will
bless you after you come down from your horse."

The pasha got off his horse and lowered his head to receive the Rav Shlomo
Eliezer's blessing. "May Hashem help you in your efforts to see to the needs
of the oppressed Jewish Nation," Rav Shlomo Eliezer said.

The pasha was very impressed by Rav Shlomo Eliezer and, as a result of that
encounter, he made sure that Tzefas' residents had sufficient food and


In his later years, Rav Shlomo Eliezer suffered from many ailments. Having
no other recourse, he sought medical treatment in Yerushalayim. During his
trips there, he tried to remain incognito.

However, news of the hidden tzaddik's arrival spread quickly throughout the
city, and the gedolei haTorah of that time longed to meet him.

One of the many gedolim who visited Rav Shlomo Eliezer in his lodgings was
Rav Ezra Attia, who later became the rosh yeshiva of Porat Yosef. Rav Shlomo
Eliezer held Rav Attia in high esteem, and whenever Rav Attia called on him,
Rav Shlomo Eliezer would stand up for him.

In 5685, Rav Shlomo Eliezer contracted a serious illness. He was in Teveria
at the time, and he refused to undergo treatment in a hospital where tznius
wasn't meticulously observed. Instead, he was brought to Shaarei Tzedek
Hospital in Yerushalayim. When he recovered, Yerushalayim's sages pleaded
with him to settle in the city.

Rav Shlomo Eliezer acceded to the sages' request, and rented an apartment in
the Ruchama neighborhood, near Geula and Mekor Baruch. Today, the street on
which he lived is named in his memory.


Once Rav Shlomo Eliezer had settled in Yerushalayim, many gedolei Yisroel
from all sects frequented his home. Among those who consulted and conversed
with him in Torah were Rav Velvel Mintzberg, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav
Avraham Weinberg of Slonim and Rav Yitzchak Abuchatzeira.

The Minchas Elazor the Munkatcher Rebbe also made a special trip from
Hungary especially to see Rav Shlomo Eliezer, and a special bond of
friendship developed between them.


Many of Rav Shlomo Eliezer's halachic responses are included in his sefer
Saba Kadisha. Among them are replies the he wrote to Rav Yaakov Shaul
Elyashar, the Chacham Bashi of Yerushalayim; Rav Moshe Kliers, the av beis
din of Teveria; and Rav Pinchas Epstein, the av beis din of Yerushalayim's
Eida Hachareidis.

Various other letters, in which he discussed many public issues, were
collected in Masos Yerushalayim, Kumi Roni and Amudei Arazim.

On his way to Eretz Yisroel, Rav Shlomo Eliezer stopped off in Beirut, where
many questions were addressed to him regarding shmitta. His responses, which
indicate that he strongly opposed the heter mechira, appear in Afakata d'
Malka, written by Rav Shlomo Eliezer Margalios.


In Iyar, 5690, Rav Shlomo Eliezer contracted a serious case of pneumonia.
His dedicated physician, Dr. Wallach, spared no efforts to ease his
suffering, but to no avail.

On the 22nd of Iyar, Rav Shlomo Eliezer asked his students to wrap him in a
tallis and to place two pairs of tefillin on his arm and head. Then he began
to recite the Shema. When he reached the word "emes," he hinted to his
students to remove his tefillin. Then, with much effort, he said: "Enough.
The ikar is emes. I can't continue any longer."

Shortly afterward, at his suggestion, he was served a glass of warm milk.
After he had recited a shehakol blessing and had sipped some milk, his pure
soul departed to the World of Truth.

Thousands participated in his levaya. His students carried his bier from his
home in the Ruchama neighborhood all the way to Har Hazeisim, where he was
buried close to sunset.

He was 110 years old at the time of his petira, and he left behind
generations of students in several countries who carried on his life's work
of upholding Torah and all it stands for.

Re-Printed with(out) permission from Yated Ne'eman. All rights reserved.

May his Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

20th Iyar - Doros HaRishonim

Today is the yarzheit of Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik Rabinowitz, most famous as the author of Doros Harishonim. He was also the founder of Agudas Yisroel.
Doros Harishonim is a history of the Jewish people which was written as a response to the historians (e.g. Graetz) who claimed that the Torah was not from Sinai, the Mishna was not from Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, the Talmud was much later etc. The Doros Harishonim countered by making all the dates much earlier. He claimed that the basis of the Mishna is from the time of Hilllel and Shammai, and that the proto-Talmud was written by Rava and Abaye etc.He also claims that not only rules alone were given at Sinai but every possible range of opinion and every Halachic possibility were disclosed to Moses.
He had a tremendous wealth of knowledge, and brings a huge list of sources for everything. His history is basically the basis of modern 'frum' history (e.g. Artscroll). However, his sefer (actually it is 8 volumes in some editions) is out of print and almost completely unreadable. He writes with a clear agenda, and does not usually bring any outside historical sources to back up what he says. His ideas are controversial, and not really taken all that seriously by secular historians.
But it is a brilliant work of scholarship and worth having a look at if you can get your hands on it. There are some amazing ideas in the sefer that haven't been popularised.

Here is what wikipedia says about him:

Yitzhak Isaac Halevy (Rabinowitz) (September 21, 1847–May 15, 1914) (Hebrew: יצחק אייזק הלוי) was a rabbi, Jewish historian, and founder of the Agudath Israel organization.

Isaac Halevy was born in Ivenec, Provice of Minsk, near Vilna into a rabbinical family, the grandson of Moredecai Eliezer Kovner. After his father was killed by soldiers, he was raised by his paternal grandfather. At 13, he entered the Volozhin yeshiva, where he was recognized as a talmudic prodigy. He held a number of communal positions in his early adulthood, including gabbai of the aforementioned Volzhin Yeshiva.

Halevy was influential in having R. Haim Soloveichik appointed to head the yeshiva, and he hosted the latter in his own house for months at a time.

May his Soul be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

Monday, May 07, 2007

I found it

I found it! I found a source for lighting fires on Lag B'Omer that goes back earlier than a few decades.
Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura travelled to Israel and wrote letters to his brother back in Spain. These are published as Darkei Tzion, and are available online at If you look on page 17b (which is 33 of the scanned version) he says the following (this was written in 5149 - 1389):

On the 28th of Iyar on the day of his death (at this point the editor has 'fixed things up and added: It seems that this is a scribal error, and should say 18th of Iyar which is the day that the G-dly Tanna Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died, and is his yoma hilula) people gather from all around and light great torches, apart from the one which they use to light the eternal light.

So we have a historical basis for the custom of lighting bonfires on Lag B'Omer. I still think this custom has pagan origins, but at least it wasn't just made up in the past few weeks. The Bartenura doesn't give any explanation or reason for this custom, and neither does Rabbi KiTov, whose book gave me the clue to find this.

Does anyone else know of any sources that discuss this custom? I know of one Jerusalem Shul Rav who stood up on Shabbat and told his congregation that it is forbidden to go to the bonfires, because apart from the (lack of) safety issue, the pyres are made from wood that has been stolen by the kids from all sorts of places, and it is forbidden to get benefit from stolen things.

OK, I suppose that is probably enough about bonfires, and I should go back to making fun of the government now (and especially the defense minister, who disagrees with the Wingrad commission's findings, and thinks that he did an excellent job as defense minister - certainly better than all those war mongers with 'experience' would have done. At least he is honest enough to say that it would be a bad idea to have elections now because the wrong kind of people would get into government (i.e. anyone who isn't him). The article is here - if you feel like a laugh. It is on JPost

19th Iyar - Maharam m'Rotenburg

Today is the Yarzheit of one of the most influential Ashkenazi poskim. R' Meir m'Rotenburg (c. 1215-2 May 1293), the Maharam, was the teacher of both the Rosh and the Mordechai, who themselves are pretty much the basis of Ashkenazi Halacha. He is also famous for spending the last years of his life being held ransom and eventually dying in captivity. Even though money was raised to ransom him he refused to allow the people to give the money, because he was afraid that kidnapping Jews would become a regular occurrence if the authorities realised that it was lucrative. (Is there a message for today's leaders in that then?).

Here is the wikipedia entry on the Maharam
Maharam of Rothenburg was born in Worms, and studied in Germany at Wurtzburg and at Mainz in the Yeshivoth of the leading Talmudists of those days. He later moved to France, studying under the great Rabbi Yechiel ben Joseph of Paris, who had defended the Talmud in the reign of Louis IX. Rabbi Meir was an eyewitness to the subsequent public burning of twenty-four carloads of Talmudic manuscripts (Friday, June 17, 1244), and he bewailed this tragedy in his celebrated "Kina" Shaali serufah (שאלי שרופה) which is still recited on Tisha B'Av.

The following year Rabbi Meir returned to Germany, where he became the rabbi of several large communities successively. He taught in several German communities, but is primarily associated with Rothenburg ob der Tauber, where he opened his own school, maintained at his own cost. Among his disciples were many scholars who later became leading Talmudists and poskim, notably Asher ben Jehiel ("ROSH") and Rabbi Mordecai ben Hillel Ashkenazi ("The Mordechai"). Rabbi Meir, became universally acknowldged as the leading Ashkenazi authority on Talmud and Jewish law, and many communities in France, Italy and Germany frequently turned to him for instruction and guidance in all religious matters and on various points of law.

In 1286, King Rudolf I instituted a new persecution of the Jews, declaring them servi camerae ("serfs of the treasury"), which had the effect to negating their political freedoms. Along with many others, Meir left Germany with family and followers, but was captured in Lombardy and imprisoned in a fortress in Alsace. Tradition has it that a large ransom of 23,000 marks (approximately 15,144,900 U.S dollars today) was raised for him (by the ROSH), but Rabbi Meir refused it, for fear of encouraging the imprisonment of other rabbis. He died in prison after seven years. 14 years after his death a ransom was paid for his body by Alexander ben Shlomo (Susskind) Wimpen, who was subsequently laid to rest beside the Maharam.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

This is not Jewish!

Look at these photographs that kumah took last night! These bonfires are several stories high. And to place a kid on top of one of them to show how high it is! What is going on?

In Scotland, on the top of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, they do a similar thing (although they also paint themselves with woad and get naked - so don't go looking on the web for images - it can be bad for your spiritual health) - it is called Beltane and occurs on April 30 (so no connection to Lag B'Omer then is there)

This is a pagan fire ritual, and marks the beginning of the pastoral summer season.
Is this bonfire thing yet another pagan ritual adopted and 'koshered' by Judaism?
I'm just glad the Jews decided to keep their clothes on!

BTW There are many other pagan fire rituals that this custom could have been taken from, not to mention Guy Fawlkes (if you are British you will know what I mean). I just happen to know about Beltane, having lived in Edinburgh for 4 years and heard stories of what goes on there.

18th Iyar - Yarzheit of the Rama

While everyone else is out burning down the town with their bonfires to celebrate the yarzheit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (who probably didn't die on Lag B'Omer anyway), I wanted to take the opportunity to remember someone who actually did die on this day, and was almost as influential (certainly for Ashkenazi Jews) as the RaSHBI.
Lag B'Omer is the day that the Rema passed away, in Cracow in 1572. He was 52 years old. Rema (or Rama) is an acronym for his real name 'Rabbi Moshe Isserles'.
He is most famous for his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (known as the Mapa - the tablecloth) which not only included Ashkenazi customs within R' Yosef Caro's code of law, but more importantly ensured that there would be only one standard text of Halacha for all of Jewry, rather than separate books for Ashkenazim and Sefardim. According to tradition he had written a work similar to the Shulchan Aruch, but destroyed it upon finding out that R' Caro had already written his book.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about him:

Rabbi Isserles was born in Cracow. His father, Israel Isserles, was a prominent Talmudist, said to have been independently wealthy, and probably headed the community; his grandfather, Jehiel Luria, was the first Rabbi of Brisk. Isserles studied in Lublin under Rabbi Shalom Shachna, who became his father-in-law. Among his fellow pupils were his relative Solomon Luria (Maharshal), and Chayyim b. Bezalel, an older brother of the Maharal. Rema’s wife died young, at the age of 20 and he later established the "Rema Synagogue" in Cracow in her memory (originally his house, built by his father in his honor—which he gave to the community). He later married the sister of Joseph ben Mordechai Gershon Ha-Kohen.
He returned to Cracow about 1550, when he established a large yeshiva and, being a wealthy man, supported his pupils at his own cost. In his teaching, he was opposed to pilpul and he emphasized simple interpretation of the Talmud. In 1553 he was appointed as dayan; he also served on the Council of the Four Lands. He became a world-renowned scholar and was approached by many other well-known rabbis, including Yosef Karo, for Halachic decisions. He was one of the greatest Jewish scholars of Poland, and was the primary halakhic authority for European Jewry of his day. He died in Cracow and was buried next to his synagogue. On his tombstone is inscribed: "From Moses (Maimonides) to Moses (Isserles) there was none like Moses". Until the Second World War, thousands of pilgrims visited his grave annually on Lag Ba'omer, his Yahrzeit (date of death).

In addition to the mappa (and the destroyed Shulchan Aruch) he wrote the Darchei Moshe, which is a commentary on the Tur, as well as Torat HaChatat (a Halachic sefer mainly on kashrut), Torat HaOlah (philosophy and hashkafa) and a collection of responsa.

This is the archway above the Shul built by the Rema.

So, once you have recovered from your bonfires and study of the Zohar, perhaps you could open up the Shulchan Aruch, learn some Halacha and bring merit to the soul of the Rema.

May his Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

A few words

I wanted to write a few words about the JIB awards. There has been quite a bit of moaning and complaining about the way it has been organised. After all, it has been hacked at least twice, people are ramping their own blogs on other media to increase votes, the vote counters are also entered in the contest, and Israeli and South African voters are ineligible. Doesn't sound too good does it. On the other hand, it is a lot better than any vote or election in Israel, which almost certainly has most of those problems. And the good news is that the winners of the JIB awards don't get to decide if and when Israel will attack Lebanon and/or Gaza!
In other words, who cares if it is not a true reflection of the 'best' Jewish blogs in the world? Is it worth getting upset about? We all know who are the best - don't we? (No, I won't list names. You can fill in the blank yourself, that way there will be no fighting afterwards). These awards are just a bit of fun. Why not just enjoy them.
I was pleased to be nominated, not because I thought I had a chance to win (in fact my goal was to try to get into double figures, which I just about managed in one category), but mainly for a laugh.
If I am honest, my other goal was to try and get a wee bit of traffic to my blog, because to be truthful the counter is very low. And the interesting thing is that I don't think it made any difference at all. Which led me to realise that the people who read this blog on don't have a clue what I am writing about now, because they never look at JBlog Central or the JIB awards. Conversely, nobody on either of those sites clicks back to to see it in the original. That is entirely reasonable, because when I'm reading blogs I also rarely click on the links to see the originals (or the copies), but it means that my readership is actually about double what the counter says (at least, I can pretend it is). That's a bit better for my ego.
There is one thing on JBlog Central that I don't understand, and that is the list of top 50 best blogs. I don't know how one qualifies for that. It doesn't seem to be just the cumulative total of votes, because the blogs are not in that order, nor does it seem to be the highest rated overall, because then the first post with 5 votes should always be at the top. My other blog was not on the list at the beginning of last week, then by the middle of the week it was suddenly number 18! (I think it is now 19). Perhaps there is a threshold of 1000 votes before being allowed onto the list? I didn't find any FAQs about this part of the website, so if anyone can explain it to me I'd appreciate it.
Anyway, thanks to the people who run JBlog Central, and the JIB awards. You put in the work, and usually have something good to show for it, but not much thanks. So, here is my vote of thanks. THANKS! (but I won't necessarily vote for any of you for the next defense minister - don't take it personally).
Thus ends the 'few words'. Thanks for reading (and feel free to click on the links and look at the blog in a different context).

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Emporor has no Clothes

Sorry to continue with Winograd, but this is priceless. Amir Peretz, the defence minister, who was harshly criticised by Winograd, thinks they were complimenting him. He sent out an e-mail showing how good he is.

* "It must be granted in the defense minister's favor that if he had had enough time, he would have acquired the necessary qualifications" (clause 159)

Nobody argues that given enough time an infinite number of monkeys could write the entire works of Shakespeare (Actually people do argue, but that is a different matter). So because he knows nothing, was totally unsuitable for the post, and had no experience, we should be grateful that eventually he would have learned???

* "The minister asked fundamental questions, displayed fast understanding, judgment and straight thinking" (clause 143)

How fundamental? What is a war? Do we have an army? Where is Lebanon? These are all very good fundamental questions, but it is not so good for the man in charge of the entire operation to be asking fundamental questions.

* "The defense minister sometimes showed insights which more experienced persons than him did not discover, and he significantly contributed to discussion and decisions on the targets of the offensives" (clause 146).

Sometimes showed insights. Needs no comment. Contributed to discussions and decisions - with no military background, or knowledge (though given time and enough fundamental questions he would have figured out that he was playing 'war' not monopoly!)

Wake up and smell the coffee boys! The writing is on the wall!

This is what the verse means "The heart of kings is in the hand of G-d". Our leaders lose their free choice at a certain point. They direct the nation in the way that G-d wants it to go.
So really it is our fault, not his. Peretz is the golem who G-d put in place to teach us to do teshuva.

So I say to myself - 'wake up and smell the coffee'. If the emporor has no clothes it is because I (and everyone else) have failed to see the truth, refused to recognise that G-d runs the show, and instead gone along with the pretence that it is a very beautiful suit that he wears.

Chatanu, Pashanu, Avinu.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Aides say 'give him a chance to learn'

Just to add to my previous post - the spin doctors have managed to turn the entire thing on its head. According to YNet:

Meanwhile Olmert aides said the Winograd Commission hinted that the prime minister should be given a chance to learn from his mistake.
"A culture that doesn't allow those who err to keep their posts is not a progressive culture," one aide quoted one of the report's footnotes. "It is likely to lose its most experienced individuals in order to allow people who have not made mistakes to repeat mistakes made by others."

In fact what the commission said was that they were forced to publish the interim report because the Prime Minister and government had failed to learn from their mistakes. They felt he was using the governmental committee as an excuse to not have to learn. But that now means (according to Olmert's aides) that he should be given another chance to learn. Perhaps I was wrong before when I said that a person is led on the path that they choose for themselves, maybe he is being given a chance to learn.
Or perhaps, like Pharaoh, he will not read the writing on the wall, and continue to say 'who is this G-d that I should listen to Him'.

Learning to Learn

I don't normally like discussing, or blogging, about politics, but the release of the Winograd report and the prime minister's immediate response are too good to pass up. Without wishing to discuss the findings and their implications I wanted to look at the learning process, and how that affects us.
The report was clear. It states:

4. This emphasis on learning lessons not only follows from our conception of the role of a public commission. It also follows from our belief that one of Israeli society's greatest sources of strength is its being a free, open and creative. Together with great achievements, the challenges facing it are existential. To cope with them, Israel must be a learning society - a society which examines its achievements and, in particular, its failures, in order to improve its ability to face the future.

5. Initially we hoped that the appointment of the Commission would serve as an incentive to accelerate learning processes in the relevant systems, so that we could devote our time to study all of the materials in depth, and present the public with a comprehensive picture. However, learning processes have been limited. In some ways an opposite, and worrying, process emerged - a process of 'waiting' for the Commission's Report before energetic and determined action was taken to redress the failures that have been revealed.

6. Therefore we decided to publish initially an Interim Report, focusing on the decisions related to the start of the war. We did this in the hope that the relevant bodies would take urgent action to change and correct all the implications.

In other words, the Winograd report was supposed to be an opportunity to learn. They published the interim report because they felt that their commission was hampering learning, rather than encouraging it. The entire purpose of this interim report is to allow for learning. (And remember that this commission was appointed by the Prime Minister as his advisory committee. They have no legal powers and cannot do anything except advise, which in their view means to facilitate learning).

What was the response of the Prime Minister? How will Olmert learn from the Winograd report?

Olmert said, he would work to implement the report's conclusions. He called a special cabinet session for Wednesday to begin the work, at which he plans to announce the creation of a special task to oversee the report's implementation, including both government officials and external experts.

The government's response to a report from a special task force calling on them to learn is ... another governmental task force to help them learn!!!!

A person is allowed to go on the path that they choose for themselves. If someone refuses to learn, they will find many ways to continue to avoid learning.

How often are we given the chance to learn, from our mistakes, from our successes, from other people. What do we do with that opportunity? Do we learn, and take steps to implement the conclusions that we reach, or do we set up another 'task force' allowing us to continue with business as usual and miss the opportunity for growth and personal development.

In my opinion the current Israeli government is not good for very much (like most of the previous ones), but what we can learn is what happens to someone who doesn't want to learn, who has too much vested interest to wish to make any real changes, to see clearly what fools we make of ourselves if we fail to learn while everyone else can see clearly what we should be doing.

Let's try to learn.