Beyond the Cusp

December 18, 2013

Who Are Most Jewish or at Least Acceptable as Jews?

Of the entirety of the Jewish people are only the Hareidi and maybe the Orthodox the only real Jews or are the Conservative and Reform just as Jewish and how about Kabbalah or even Reconstructionist and other less popular forms of Judaism? The answer you will receive depends just as much on the individual as it does which particular branch of Judaism the responder belongs. Then there is a question as to whether one need be a Zionist to be a true Jew. This has become a pertinent question which will receive some coverage in the near future due to Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Reform movement’s US conference through a live video link. Hareidi leaders, who are quoted in Hareidi newspaper Hamevaser claimed that the previous Prime Ministers had resisted recognizing the Reform movement claiming, “It is too bad that Netanyahu is adding fuel to the raging fire and pushing the cart further into the abyss.” The Hareidi tied the Prime Minister’s apparent sin to the current political situations adding, “This is even more serious because these are very sensitive days, in which Hareidi Jewry is fighting for its life because of the decree for forcibly enlisting yeshiva students. On days in which the tension needs to be lessened, the prime minister elects to deepen the damage to the Hareidi public, and strengthen the Reform movement that has led to grave assimilation in the Jewish people.” And finally they accused the Prime Minister saying, “By so doing, Netanyahu proves that the struggle is not for ‘equality in bearing the civil burden’ or other clichés. This is a clear plot to destroy religion, Torah and the mitzvoth [commandments]. That is the true aim and there is no other.”


 Where the best answers would likely come from learned Rabbis there is a more political way to view this question, namely who will be determined to be Jewish should, G0d forbid, part or all of the world go off the cliff and once again decide the world would be a better place without any Jews populating the planet. Such an event is not as impossible as many had believed it had become as the memory of the horrors which gripped Europe under the hatreds of the Nazis. One need only look almost anywhere on the Earth and evidence points to a sharp increase in anti-Semitism. Iran regularly holds demonstrations with tens of thousands chanting “Death to Israel, Death to America” where by Israel they mean not only the nation but also the Jewish people and they do not mean just the United States when saying America as much as the entirety of the Western world. Then there are the leadership of the Palestinians such as Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Khaled Mashaal of Hamas will regularly speak of removing the Jews from residing in Israel as they claim that once they regain rule over the lands from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea their first order of business will be to remove, read that as murder, every last Jew so as to repurify the lands and remove what they see as a blight.


Throughout the history of Judaism there have been sects or divisions of Jews who strayed from the strict laws, mitzvah, commandments and rituals that the most strictly religious Jews hold to as the essence of being Jewish. Even the manners and practices for the most religious of Jews has altered over the ages. One obvious example are the restrictions on not eating leavened during Passover as the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi rule different items as forbidden during the holiday with rice being one of the most often used examples. Much of the disturbance between the different forms of Judaism comes down to the level of strictness regarding observance of the laws, traditions, mitzvah and rituals. What many do not take into account is all the different forms of Judaism currently are unable of completely following all of the commandments as there is not a Temple in Jerusalem to which many of the commandments and mitzvah require in order to be practiced. Rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, or elsewhere if that is the decision as before King Solomon built the First Temple there were other sites where the Tabernacle had been kept and where the mitzvoth pertaining to it had been held, should be one of Judaism’s highest priorities and that should be accepted as a foremost desire of the Jewish people. Still, there are some among the most religious of Jews who claim that Zionism is a wrongheaded cause and the Holy Temple must await the coming of the Messiah as that is who is to rebuild the Holy Temple. Just what the Jewish people need, another argument dividing us.

Now we can get to the opinion section where whatever I write I will likely receive a ton of grief for every ounce of kudos. My belief is that even the most secularized and unobservant of Jews is still a Jew even if they have completely sworn off their religiosity as there is still that remote glimmer of hope that something will awaken the spirit within them and they will return to the fold and recommit to Judaism. I would ask of those who are most observant and who have great difficulty with those Jews who only practice some of the Jewish rituals and commandments to keep open arms readied for any Jew who desires to rejoin and to remember that even after choosing to return and fully practice Judaism the wayward Jew must be walked at their own pace and care taken not to overwhelm them with changes expecting them to miraculously transform overnight. Were that it was that easy. Many Jews today are not observant because their parents were not observant and they were never taught what is required of an observant Jew. Many of these Jews do not read Hebrew and even more do not understand more than a smattering of Hebrew though they can read the Siddur and say many or even all of the prayers exactly as they are to be chanted. The lack of speaking and understanding Hebrew can pose a very high and difficult hurdle to returning to the fold and becoming a practicing Jew. Remember that even at the worst of times when many if not most of the Jewish people were Hellenized and spent more time practicing the Greek religions and philosophies than they did observing Torah yet still the Greeks were cast out and the majority of those lost Jews found their way back or their children returned to Judaism. The Jewish people are very likely on the leading cusp of such a change in these perilous times. The Jewish people have always bound together in the face of adversity and adversity is coming and very few even see it, let alone prepared for the evils approaching. When the problems strike it will require the religious members of Judaism to embrace their less observant Jews and teach them patiently Torah and the Commandments. They will need guidance and comforting and will stumble many times and will require understanding and support as they climb slowly back to the heights of Torah observance. Many will not understand what is happening to them or even why or how they were condemned for being Jews as their parents were not practicing Jews and held no ties to the family that are the Jewish people. There is a claim that almost every Jew alive today is no more than four or five generations removed from a religiously practicing Jew. Let us pray it will take less generations to bring them back home and that can only happen if those Jews who hold true to Torah are willing to take the time and live by example showing the joys that come with Jewish observance.


Beyond the Cusp


December 5, 2013

The Provocateurs at the Wall

Again this week on Rosh Hodesh, the first day of a Hebrew month, there was the planned provocation at the Kotel, the Western Wall, by a group of self-proclaimed reformers demanding that Israel in general and the Kotel area in particular be made more accepting. They deem it a necessity that the traditions and rules which currently exist and are mostly kept by unspoken agreement be torn asunder and room made for universal acceptance of practices and attitudes from within the broad spectrum of the Jewish faith. These “Women of the Wall” feel that having the Kotel and environs be controlled and run under Halacha, the traditional religious interpretations of the Law and Commandments also referred to as Talmudic Law is too restrictive and foreboding, making the wall unwelcoming to many lesser religious Jews. These are the traditionally accepted practices and more by which traditional Orthodox Jews live their lives. The Women of the Wall want that Reform and Conservative Jews be permitted to hold their religious practices, especially those which run contrary to Halacha. Their argument is that by only allowing the most stringent interpretations of Judaism to be permitted at this the holiest place on Earth to Jews that there are numerous Jews who are being left out and unable to participate in activities or even to pray at the Wall.


There are those reading this and asking why cannot the Wall be made more inclusive. The answer to this question was recently taken up by Jewish Authorities and the Knesset and a compromise was offered where a new section of the Western Wall has been cleared near to the Robinson Arch as an additional area adjacent to the traditional Kotel established where those who would prefer a less traditional set of practices be observed or held can be done without disturbing the peace and holiness that is preserved at the Kotel. The Women of the Wall initially had said that this was adequate and that they were satisfied and accepted this new arrangement. That was before the first of a new month where apparently they have changed their minds or something is awry as they were once again holding their “service” at the Wall which includes directly challenging Jewish Traditions and accepted practices as a provocation. Another claim they have made is that visitors from outside Israel might feel put off by the traditional and Halachic rules at the Kotel and that all the varied forms of Judaism should be granted acceptance of their rules, law, and commandments as they practice their faith and not be basically struck over the head with the stringent rules currently in place. Their demands that there basically be no rules regarding practices and services at the Kotel remind me of a quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton which states, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”


I feel a confession should be made about myself. I would not be considered to be an overly religious and practicing Jew under Halachic Law and was not raised as an Orthodox Jew as is the case for the majority of Jews in the United States and elsewhere outside of Israel. I have been to visit the Western Wall and did not feel out of place any more than my normal nervousness to being at a holy place which, in many ways, far exceeds my life’s experience of being Jewish and Torah observance and actually found some peace that this place was run under rules of strict observance that honored the traditions and the time honored values of Judaism as it was practiced over the centuries when the Jews, the Hebrews, the Israelites lived and ruled the Promised Land and observed and lived by the Torah, the rules handed down from on High. Personally I would not desire the Western Wall be changed in any way except possibly have scheduled classes for those seeking to reclaim their heritage, but that can be done most anywhere in Israel if you truly desire to do so.


Some might demand to have explained why this has caused such a ruckus and why cannot the rules be liberalized to allow for such practices from less observant Jewish sects. The first question that needs to be raised to answer this is exactly how far will it be necessary to redefine what is acceptable and what when the new lines are challenged and further changes are demanded? Eventually such a route would lead to complete anarchy and no rules what-so-ever.  Furthermore, the solution put in place should have satisfied all involved as a new section was made available for those practices outside of the Orthodoxy. Let us for a moment change the solution around and see if we can predict what would have happened if the main section of the Western Wall had been made to conform with the Women of the Wall’s demands and the Orthodox traditional Halachic rules were made to be applied in the newly opened section. I feel extremely comfortable in predicting that had that been the new arrangement, then these ladies would have held their protest observance at the new wall demanding it also be adjusted to their definitions of what is acceptable. Their leaders have made their true intentions known in slips during interviews when they admitted their ultimate aim is to redefine Judaism away from the strict Orthodoxy and make everything bend to accommodate the Conservative, Reform and other sects and to erase any vestiges of the Orthodoxy. Their aim is not to establish universal acceptance of all forms of Judaism but rather the universal rejection of traditional Orthodox Judaism.


Their desire is to tear down rather than to build and that is where the problem lies. To accommodate these ladies’ demands would be to accept the pretext that Judaism has no traditional laws, no true standards and that anyone may define what is permitted in their view and practice of Judaism and nobody else has any right to claim that they have missed the mark of being a true and observant Jew. Traditions are necessary and the Orthodoxy and their holding to the ancient laws and enforcement of the Commandments is what will allow Judaism to survive. This is far from the first time that there have been Jews who claimed they were modernizing the religion of Judaism and making it relevant to the times. The most obvious was when the ancient lands of the Jews broke into two Kingdoms, the northern Kingdom named Israel which felt that their views of the traditions and laws needed to be accepted, and the Kingdom of Judah which was the southern Kingdom which observed the older traditions. In time the Northern Kingdom fell to invaders and were carried off where they either ceased to exist as Jews through assimilation or simply not having the traditions on which to hold their religion close. These became the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were deemed not to return until the final redemption and the return of all Jews to their Promised Land. The Kingdom of Judah did also eventually fall but the Jews from Judea had their traditions and Halachic Laws to keep their religion alive and separate from all other religions thus keeping them from assimilation. This survival of traditional Judaism has ramification even into modern times if one looks deeply enough knowing what they seek but perhaps that is a subject for a later article.


Beyond the Cusp


April 22, 2012

The Strangest of Oddities in the American Elections

One thing is sure about the coming Presidential Election cycle in the United States, it is going to have more than its share of oddities, surprises, wild claims, and simply unexplainable lapses of sanity. What may prove to be one of the least explainable lapses of sanity appears to be the rising support President Obama is receiving in polling from the Jewish voters and their inexplicable reasoning behind this support. Numerous polls have shown President Obama’s numbers slowly but steadily climbing among Jewish voters and the reasoning most often given is he is viewed as being very strong in his support of Israel. This claim stands in direct opposition to virtually everything President Obama has done regarding Israel and his treatment of Prime Minister Netanyahu. It ignores the supposed unintentional leaking of the Israeli negotiations with Azerbaijan where Israel was granted a lease on airfields situated just north of the border of Iran and Azerbaijan. Add to this that within a few days of this leak Israel found it necessary to publicly admit they had pulled most, if not all, of their covert operatives out from Iran due to fears that their existence and operations had become compromised. No mention was given as to what caused Israel to fear that their actions had been compromised or who may have been responsible necessitating this drastic move.

The reality behind this phenomenon is actually far more troubling than the result. American Jews, especially those on the left, have been drifting away from their traditional support for Israel and are blaming the Netanyahu Coalition Government for the lack of peace talks supporting the premise that Israel is the problem causing the breakdown in the peace process. This can be traced to the media and Obama Administration talking points supported by J-Street and many other pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel NGOs. Many American Jews have adopted the view that their liberal worldview trumps any concern or support for Israel and since the majority of those who support these leftist, liberal, progressive views also have taken oppositional stances on Israel. This forced a choice on the American Jews who have identified their Jewishness to align more with these very same political views than on the Hebrew Bible. Much like they see the American Constitution as an old, out-of-date, anachronistic, backward-looking document, they view the Hebrew Bible with much the same disdain and contempt. This is easily demonstrated by examining how American Jews view abortion, something forbidden by Torah except in the circumstance where the mother’s life is endangered, or observing the sacramental practices of their faith such as observing the rules of Kashrut, performing morning prayers with Tefillin (Phylacteries), observing and celebrating the Sabbath, and numerous other basic laws of Judaism. Visit any Synagogue on a Sabbath (Saturday) morning for prayer services and you will find the service held in a small chapel, or should they actually use the main room used to accommodate the High Holiday twice a year Jews, an almost empty room where the prayers might easily echo softly.

Their love and adoration for Israel is reflected in their loss of their heart for their faith. They have forgotten Jerusalem and no longer hold her as their primary joy. Ask these new age Jews if they remember Psalm 137 which reads,

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth

If do not remember you,

If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.

What is unfortunate is these same Jews can recite for you the main causes of Global Climate Change and the other mantras of the left which they hold fast to as the guides for their lives. It is unfortunate but becoming a reality in the United States that the Jews have done such a marvelous job of assimilation that all too soon there will be no religious Jews left there. There will be Jews who recognize that they were born Jewish but have no idea what it means to live Jewish. And those few Jews who remember their verses and the prayers and still hold fast to their traditions, what will become of them? Simple, they will make Aliyah and no longer will they make the assimilated Jews uncomfortable.

Beyond the Cusp

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