Saturday, 31 December 2011

Madness in Ramat Beth Shemesh

 The story is well known.

A prospective Ger came to Hillel and asked him to teach him the entire Torah whilst standing on one foot. Hillel took him aside and told him:
“Don’t do unto others that which you would not want to be done to yourself.. the rest is commentary .. now go and learn”.

To me, as a religious Jew these words are the quintessence of Judaism. If you want to be a frum Jew- it’s not just about keeping the laws between yourself and G-d but it’s the laws between yourself and your fellow man that have to count as well.
As Rabbi Akiva put it “the Mitzvah of loving your fellow as yourself –zeh klal gadol batOrah- is an important principle of the Torah”.

All this is simple- I don’t need to say this. We all know that there are  mitzvoth that are between ourselves and G-d and ourselves and man. And my mission as a Jew is to work on both of these aspects to the best of my ability.
That’s how I serve Hashem!
However, I want to suggest that there are Jews out there who might call themselves frum or even Chareidi yet they do not understand, they are completely misguided and  give the impression that they are frum because they wear the garb the full regalia; the hat, the long jacket , the long peyote and the works, yet they are not frum at all.

Years ago, when I was in Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Yerushalayim- 1981, There was the famed road to Ramot about ¼ mile from the Yeshiva. Every Shabbat afternoon without fail there would be Chareidim who would dutifully go from their vantage point overlooking the road, and throw stones at the Shabbat desecrators who were driving cars on that road on Shabbat.
We Yeshiva Bachurim, would go there to watch and get our Shabbat afternoon entertainment, and  witness the scuttles taking place between the police and the so called “chareidim”.
Incidentally- my Rosh Yeshiva if he would have found out about our attendance there he would not have been pleased, he didn’t approve of watching the goings on because he felt it added fuel to these extremists.
However I never really understood; notwithstanding the fact that one could cause criminal damage, and one certainly could be hurting somebody by throwing a stone. You are not allowed to even pick up a stone on Shabbat let alone to throw it, so I never understood how these Chareidi thugs ever did what they did.
But fast forward the clock to Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet and the events of the past week. The international media have really picked up on this one and it has become a major Chilul Hashem.
A Dati Leumi girls school is next to a Chareidi neighbourhood. There are members of the Chareidi community who disapprove because the girls are not dressed according to the standard of the Chareidi community.
Yet we have to understand the school is Dati Leumi, which means it is a frum school and the children are dressed in a modern but  tzniut way-  it’s just not Chareidi.
Channel 2 Israeli TV follows an eight year old girl (photo above) on her way to school and you see how this girl is literally too scared to go to school. Why? Because protesters from the Chareidi community are there outside the school gates in force every day  hurling abuse and spitting at the kids and calling them all types of names.
In my opinion:  To chant, to spit, to use the violence of words against children goes against the dictum of Hillel. It’s not Chareidi- it’s not frum.
And then there’s the mishugas with the busses. I don’t think there is any serious Rabbinic authority who would hold that you need to separate the men and women in busses.
The secular press are having a field day with this one. Just cast your eyes on the JC,  and they devote two double pages to this story. They even insert a little article about the threat of the Ultra orthodox community-that by 2059 there will be 30% Chareidi Jews in Israel. It’s almost as if the main threat to Israel comes from within.

But I want to tell you something it’s a complete distortion of the facts. Already the mainstream Chareidi organisations have spoken out in unison against this behaviour. A very sharp statement was issued by Agudat Yisrael of America condemning this and calling these people not representative of the Chareidi community.
The RCA Rabbinical Council of America- the largest body of Orthodox Rabbis in the world has also said that the police in Israel need to be supported to do everything they can to stop this intimidation perpetrated by members of that community.
But this doesn’t get reported in the press- instead all Chareidim become tarnished with this brush of extremism.
 Hence the mixing in, and the fomenting of hatred by the secular press to create a schism in Israeli society.

What’s my take on all of this?

In this morning’s Sedra, Yosef reveals his identity to the brothers.

In the words of Rabbi Norman Lamm, Dean of Yeshiva University: Yosef is the quintessential Modern Orthodox Jew- he is straddling two worlds. Brought up in Canaan in a sheltered environment, he now has become the top man in Egypt. He has reached the pinnacle of success- yet throughout he doesn’t forget his identity; he never forgets that it is Hashem who has caused all of this to happen.

So how far does this straddling of both worlds go?  How Modern can you become before you lose your identity and the modern takes over the orthodox- and you become assimilated into the dominant culture?

Yosef sends his brothers back to Canaan to bring the news to his father Yaakov and to bring him back to Egypt to ride out the famine.
To each of the brothers he gives a change of clothes, but to Binyamin his full brother he gives Chamesh chalifot semalot- five changes of clothes.
So the question is: we know why Yosef came down to Egypt in the first place.. because his father showed a preference to him by giving him a ketonet passim a coat of many colours which enflamed the jealousy of the brothers. Yet now Yosef is doing the same thing, he’s showing a preference to his beloved brother Binyamin by giving him 5 changes of clothing. Is it possible that Yosef has not learnt anything from this experience and is going back to where they started?

Now listen to this cryptic statement of the Gemara in Megillah. He says that the 5 changes of clothing that Yosef gave to Binyamin correspond and are reminiscent of the five garments worn by Mordechai a descendant of Binyamin when he rode in front of the king at the end of the Purim story.

Mordechai had risen to prominence in the court of Achashveirosh. He had foiled the plot of Bigtan and Teresh to assassinate the king. He now receives all the kavod for his goodness. Mordechai is a story of success. A Jew has risen to prominence. He even wears the special clothes to show how high up he has climbed on the social ladder. But with all that he remained throughout first and foremost an Ish Yehudi- a Jewish man- that is how he is described.
So Yosef is giving these five changes of Egyptian clothing to his brother Binyamin with the message. You can live in Egypt and you can wear even the clothing. But throughout, like Mordechai your descendant, you remain a Jew. It’s not the black hat or the long coat that makes you who you are- it’s what’s going on in your heart and in your mind!!


Monday, 26 December 2011

Kenton Shul -Ask the Rabbi session

Here is a quick synopsis of some of the questions from our Ask the Rabbi session at Kenton Shul on Sunday to which sixty people turned up. We had four eminent Rabbis in attendance. Rabbi Zvi Cohen from Kingsbury; Rabbi Danny Bergson from Pinner; Rabbi Efraim Levine from Watford and LBD Kashrut; Rabbi Anthony Knopf from Hampstead Garden Suburb.
Rabbi Yehudah Black was in the chair.
It was a very successful morning programme.
Question 1: Malcolm Cash from Kenton Shul. Why are there so many different kinds of Kashrut authorities?
Answer from Rabbi Levine: We now have the London Board of shechita which bringsRa the separate strands of United, Sefardi and Federation communities together under one umbrella Shechita organisation, and one standard. If however one wanted to have glatt standard that would be dependant on the individual Kashrut authority concerned.
Question 2: David Hoffman from Kenton Shul: There is a proposal from the Government to go to European time which could be havoc for the Jewish community. It would affect adversely the times of the end of Shabbat in the summer and the start times of davening in the winter. We would be unable to put on Tallit and Tefillin until 7.30 in the morning. What is being done about this?
Rabbi Cohen: Discussions are being held between certain Jewish interest groups and MP’s.  
Rabbi Levine: We won’t switch to this time because of Scotland.
Rabbi Black; I attended a TV programme in Newcastle called Look North about ten years ago when this proposal was postulated– there was a lot of discussion against this proposal years ago.
Esther Gershuny from Wembley United announced that a study had been written about this entitled Gershuny + Hillman, concluding that if we were to go to European time it would reduce the number of children’s fatalities in the winter which would override all other concerns.
David Hoffman concluded that years ago in 1970 when this timing was last employed, the community davened and put on Tefillin before the zeman.
Question 3: Jeff Bennett from Kenton. IDF officers have been disciplined for not attending and walking out at concerts where women have sung. Should we be returning to the Anglo Jewish tradition of mixed choirs?
Rabbi Levine said that we should not return to that era because the law is Kol isha ervah- the voice is seen as immodest.
Rabbi Bergson agreed with that but said kol isha ervah has to be contextually based and perhaps today that does not apply as did all those years ago.
Rabbi Knopf said it was interesting to note how these choirs used to work. Is there perhaps room for leniency in the fact that the individual voices are not heard?
Question 4: Brenda Symes from Kenton (46 yrs a member!): Why don’t Orthodox Rabbis join with reform or progressives on the same panel?
Rabbi Knopf expounded that when in came to issues like security, anti semitism or welfare issues there wasn’t such an issue to join and speak with Reform + progressive Rabbis.
However, the main concern is when it comes to issues of Halachah. For example; all orthodox Rabbis agree that one should not drive on Shabbat. If you have a non orthodox Rabbi sitting at the same panel then by default that gives that viewpoint validity together with the Orthodox Rabbis.
Rabbi Bergson postulated that it was very strange that some Rabbis will sit on an inter faith panel but they will not sit with reform Rabbis. Indeed there are historical precedents that the Rabbis sat on panels with deviating ele,ments from Orthodox tradition, for example the Sadducees.
Question 5: Aubrey Kutner. Kenton Synagogue: Why is it wrong to drive on Shabbat?
Rabbi Cohen said that in order to answer this question one would need to step back. The Torah says that one is prohibited from doing any melacha on Shabbat as distinct from avodah (manual labour). Melacha means any creative work. Our Sages included in that 39 different categories of work. In driving a car there is the internal combustion engine which continually causes a spark to be produced as well as the lights and other aspects of a car which are all creative.
Rabbi Bergson emphasised the importance of unchanging principles applying to changing circumstances.
Sally Del Monte mentioned that in Israel there are new technologies that employ the gramma method that reduce the direct breaking of Shabbat for the disabled etc.
Rabbi Black accentuated that of course in a case of danger or just doubt of danger to life it goes without saying that one breaks Shabbat.
Question 6: Daniel Cash, Year 8 JFS: Why is it that when you go to different rabbis there are sometimes different answers to the same question?
Rabbi Levine quoted the dictum from Pirkei Avot; Asei Lecha Rav which means make a Rav for yourself. It is very important that you choose one particular Rabbi and you do not shop around like a supermarket. Then again you should be aware that there are Rabbis who specialise in specific types of questions like Kashrut etc.
Question 7: Marlene Knepler from Kenton: Marlene has been attending the Limmud conference for the early years of its inception. At the beginning a number of Orthodox Rabbis attended. However, it was decided that Limmud is not a suitable forum for US Rabbis to attend. How suitable is that? Are we losing out the opportunity to reach out to people by not attending?
 Rabbi Levine said that at the beginning Rabbis attended and it gave legitimacy to Reform etc views. The Enlightenment movement in the 19th Century is an example where Rabbis fought against it. He questioned those rabbis who do attend. Are they ignorant of the facts?
Rabbi Bergson announced that he will be going to Limmud this year with Rabbi Dov Caplan from HGS, to perform a musical Hallel service. You cannot compare todays situation with the early 19th Century enlightenment movement. In addition between 1990- 2010 the Orthodox middle of the road has dropped in numbers by 10%. He accentuated that when you attend Limmud you are not sharing a platform or a forum but you are sharing specific space- which is different.
Rabbi Knopf said that whatever a person does he should seek Halachic guidance on such a matter.
Marlen Knepler expressed that she thought it was very sad that the Rabbis do not attend and Irene Leeman said that there was never a panel of Rabbis at Limmud.
Question 8: Yosef Black from Kenton- attends Hasmonean Year 8: What happens if after Shabbat in England you travel West towards America where it is still Shabbat?
Rabbi cohen told the story of Dayan Abrahams who travelled after Yom Kippur  back into the fast and whether or not he should take his shoes off again? The truth is that we go according to where a person is when Shabbat came out.
Question 9: Freddie Segal from Wembley Sefardi. He is a solicitor who does a lot of wills and he must attend the funerals for clients. He has spoken to rabbis who have said that one should not go into a church. Yet he sees Chief Rabbis and representatives attending Church for funerals and weddings. Is there one rule for people and another for Chief rabbis?
Rabbi Bergson quoted from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef who said that it is completely forbidden to go into Church for any occasion. Christianity is for a Jew deemed idol worship and for a non Jew it is considered Shituf. Rabbi Bergson also quoted Rabbi J B Soloveitchik who said that it was even forbidden to view a televised church service.
Rabbi Levine suggested that if the Chief Rabbi were not to go it could be deemed as being morid bemalchut- rebelling against the king/queen or the government. Rabbi Black also stated that when he was a Rabbi in Newcastle he had been invited to a church service in St Martins in the centre of the Newcastle. When he had asked Dayan Gelley whether or not to go he was told not to go because of the above reasoning. The Chief rabbi or his representative must go because he is acting as an ambassador for the Jewish community in the presence of the Queen.
Question 10: Derek Lipton from Kenton: what about a mosque is it permitted to enter therein?
Rabbi Knopf suggested that the consensus of opinion was that it is a monotheistic religion however tyhere have been concerns in relation to their adoration of Mohammed. Rabbi black also added about the concern for the Kabbah in Mecca which was a leftover of idolatrous practices.
Question 11: Carmel Stockman: those Lubavitcher Chassidim who have a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in their homes, is this permitted?
Rabbi Cohen emphasised that Lubavitchers do not actually use the picture of the Rebbe to pray towards. Rabbi Bergson said that it is important in a shiva house to remove photos and pictures so that it would not appear that one were praying towards them. Rabbi Levine said that Lubavitcher Chassidim have pictures of their rebbe to give them inspiration.
Question 12: Coming on from that, what is the status of the Kotel –is that also deemed as idolatry?
Rabbi Knopf explained that it is important to understand thar we pray at the Kotel not to the Kotel and the practice of putting kvitlach in the wall is mentioned by the Orach Hachaim- a famous 17th Century Rabbi.