Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Arab Inquisition

The Reasons Beyond and Similarities Between Christian and Muslim Criticism of Judaism

The layman interested in worldly religious matters generally believes there to be a distinction between Christianity's and Islam's historical treatment of Jews and Judaism. He might argue, and not altogether illogically, that Islam was a far cry more just to Jews than Christendom ever was, that is to say, that Islam did not produce anything on the level of Inquisition, Crusade, or Concentration Camp. If he were to say this, then in this he would be absolutely correct. In the Muslim lands the Jew was subject to Islam's hierarchical pyramid, on which the Jew was near the bottom, but generally speaking he was relatively safe in his society and which cannot be argued for European Christendom.

But that this is generally true conceals an element of truth regarding Islam's outlook on Jews and Judaism. If we scratch the surface but a little we begin to see a set of similarities between the most negative of Christianity's viewpoints on Judaism and a strong correlative in Islam, especially in its contemporary expressions. We can rationalize then that similar behaviors will be produced forth from both Christianity and Islam owing to their similar ideologies regarding Judaism.


"German historians and Bible-critics were motivated by animosity towards our people. For more than a century they labored, in vain, to tear apart our Scriptures and to destroy their authenticity; and they endeavored to belittle our entire past. Their bias against us, augmented by their knowledge that their religious books could not withstand scholarly criticism, caused them to fabricate countless reckless theories (107-124) against our Scriptures. They challenged and ridiculed every statement, they ascribed the latest possible date for their composition and they accused our prophetic writers of forgery and plagiarism."

*I took this quote from Avigdor Miller's book, "Rejoice O Youth!"

One can present many objections to this point, the first one being that the German Bible-critics were atheists whom also attempted to decompose Christian Scripture. But a cursory look at the history of Bible criticism shows that indeed many professed Christians were involved in that intellectual crusade to destroy Judaism. Nowadays we are accustomed to seeing a "different kind of Christian," not one whom believes that the essence of his religion is the destruction of Judaism. However, that some sixty years ago, or less, a Christian was likely not held up by any "liberal" preoccupation with respecting the Jews and it was to him that the end of Judaism was seen partially as a Christian religious duty. This "type" of Christian was very much like today's Jihadist Muslim, and therefore the parallel between Inquisitionist Christian and Jihadist Muslim is almost perfect.

Today, this type of Christian has gone "underground" and a new Christian has emerged, one whom loves and respects the Jewish people and whom sees their text as his own. The underground Christian continues to hate the Jew, but privately, and those who do not have realized the limits of criticizing Jewish Scripture if they are to maintain belief in their own religion. One result is a series of "pro-Jewish" Christian movements, such as "Jews for Jesus" and "Messianic Judaism," and are sugary attempts to accomplish an older Christian goal, albeit in an entirely different manner, of the decomposition of Judaism's parts and their rearrangement as Christianity. It is in Christianity's lifeblood to forever attempt this conversion and it will seek any means to do so; the price of failure is the end of Christianity. It follows that broken Jewish individuals make the best targets, given that the religious duty is to break down and rearrange Judaism into Christianity; a broken Jewish individual is easy to convert into a Christian. A broken Jew is like a mathematical equation, it (the individual) is reduced to its simplest form and converted into another form. If the parallel between the Inquisitive spirit and the Jihadist spirit is valid, then we have entered a time in which a broken Jew is also a sitting duck for conversion to Islam. It is possible that this is not the first time in history in which such a phase was apparent.

But a Muslim would offer a rebuttal against the statement, "They challenged and ridiculed every statement, they ascribed the latest possible date for their composition and they accused our prophetic writers of forgery and plagiarism." Firstly, he would argue, that they do not challenge and ridicule every statement, but only the statements that were falsified by Jews with hidden motives. One basic Muslim belief, and if you think I might be slandering Islam then ask a Muslim, is that there were Jews in history who falsified and corrupted certain texts of the original revelation that they received. The purpose, they continue, was to change documented history in their favor and also to cheat Ishmael and later his descendants out of their proper birthright. The rebuttal against this is that every stated truth in the Tanakh, the Jewish Scriptures, which did not serve to confirm Islam was explained away by Islam as having been falsified by Jews. This served the purpose of using "the Jews" to filter out whatever Muslims could not rectify as foundations of their faith, and so they simply proclaimed that those things were corruptions and conveniently ignored them.

Another Muslim rebuttal is that every Prophet in the Tanakh is recognized by Islam as one of their own Prophets, and therefore they would never do something as horrible and dispicable as accusing a Prophetic writer of forgery. They would even argue that for Christians to accuse the Prophets of this was one of the essential reasons that G-d sent the Prophet Muhammad to rectify their corruption. Rather, it was not the Prophets whom were guilty of forgery, but rather the Jews themselves whom saw purpose in altering the words of the Prophets for their own means. Therefore, everything in the Books of the Prophets with which Muslims disagree, they attribute to Jewish corruption and not to the actual text as written down by the Prophets themselves. Therefore, by editing the text of the Jewish Scriptures, Muslims have been able to create a text with which they fully agree and which can culminate perfectly in the Qur'an, but it involves committing the very forgery of which they accuse the Jews. Again, "For more than a century they labored, in vain, to tear apart our Scriptures and to destroy their authenticity; and they endeavored to belittle our entire past," also refers to Muslim treatment of the Tanakh. This is evidenced by the fact that Muslims refer to all Prophets and Forefathers/mothers as "Muslims," which pushes aside their Jewish identity and at the same time negates it.

Islam, and perhaps this is an inherited legacy of Arab culture, places high value on spiritual confidence and unbreakable resolution. (By the way, this is precisely why Arab and Muslim nations resent national foes, such as other countries, whom also exude this unbreakable resolution; it makes them difficult to defeat) Consider, "Their bias against us, augmented by their knowledge that their religious books could not withstand scholarly criticism, caused them to fabricate countless reckless theories (107-124) against our Scriptures." It is the psychologically confirmed behavior that a person whom is insecure in himself tends to lash out against others as a defense mechanism. Therefore, under the veneer of unshakeable spiritual confidence and total dedication to faith, Islam suffers from the secret fear that perhaps the Qur'an does not have a chance in hell of standing up to the authenticity of the Tanakh. It is that fear that inspires Islam to make sweeping proclamations that the Jews (although it never actually identifies which Jews) have corrupted large sections of the Torah - this is nothing more than an attack based in Islam's hidden fear that perhaps the Torah is superior to the Qur'an. Again, the greater the threat, the greater the fear, and the greater the fear, the greater the reaction. Hence, a large portion of the violence by Muslim groups and governments towards "Jewish projects," one of which is the State of Israel, and the other of which is, simply said, the Jewish People, is fear that the Torah is right and that therefore the Jews are doing the right thing. Islam today, like "the Christianity of old," first became accustomed to making literary attacks on Jewish Scripture and then soon moved into the realm of tangibles and began making physical attacks on Jews, not just in Israel but wherever they were. We have entered, and have been in, a Muslim Inquisition of sorts for some time now, given wings by technology and the ability to access and spread information with relative ease, a luxury that the Crusaders did not have. One earmark of danger in this Jihading spirit is the obsession with manipulating or erasing history; the denial of the Holocaust is one way to open up a possibility, G-d forbid, that it can happen again. The Crusades led to the Holocaust and now the Jihadists are denying the reality of that Holocaust but are behaving in the same way as the Crusaders. This should be a yellow light to the world, if it is sensitive. In the end, there is practically, basically, comparitively, and essentially no difference between Christianity and Islam in relation to Judaism.

Another similarity is the almost total absence of the "average Christian" in European Christendom to speak out against the horrors of the Crusades, Inquisitions, and the our own contemporary Holocaust. In almost the exact same way, today Muslims are not speaking out against the horrors being committed by Muslims involved in terrorism and murderous ideologies. They of course do sometimes say, only after being pushed to making such proclamations, that the actions of those Muslims are not it line and even antithetical to Islam, but their "gripe" is limited to words and not to actions. In other words, moderate Muslims (which is not a synonym for "peaceful") have fallen into the intellectual trap of explaining that Muslims whom commit acts of horror in the name of Islam are not really Muslims and therefore there is no reason to criticize them. If that were true, which I am to a degree willing to accept, then the real Muslims need to alienate the false Muslims, but that did not occur, which means that Muslims were not really interested in putting an end to Muslim terrorism, or at least were not able to or felt that they were not able to. This is the nature of terror; not only does it seek to put paralyzing fear into its target population, it also seeks to put fear into the hearts of those whom resist it, from its own people. Therefore, the same fear that acts on Israeli's to bend to the whims of Palestinian terror groups is the same fear that acts on moderate Muslims whom are afraid to speak out against other Muslim terror groups. A core of terror is created which paralyzes everybody and allows anything to happen, and everything that the terror group wishes. Slowly, slowly we see the re-emergence of a situation very similar to that of the pre-Holocaust reality, but in the name of Islam, not Christianity. I have Christian acquaintances whom apologize for the Crusades in the same way by saying that those people were not actually real Christians.

In truth, to a Muslim, there is no such thing as a Jew. Therefore, every Jewish endeavor is also null and void and subject to replacement by Muslim endeavors. There is so much within the Tanakh, Jewish Scriptures, that Muslims have to negate or ignore if their stated claims about the truth of Islam are to be credible. Therefore Islam must attack the authenticity of Jewish Scripture in order to survive, exactly in the same which Christianity had to. I am not here to find a way for Islam to create a way to juxtapose itself with Judaism peacefully; I have found that to be a basically useless endeavour coming from a Jew. Only Islam is able to create such a reality and comes down its will to do so. So, to use the prior quoted statement, Muslim "historians and Bible-critics were motivated by animosity towards our people," and are. This is a phase of not a Spanish, but an Arab Inquisition.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Like Talking to A Wall (But Not Quite) -------

I said that I would actually begin to write journals here, a veering away from my regular essays and political, religious, spiritual commentaries on Jewish and wordly matters. Studying in a yeshiva and being in Israel is providing me with things worthy for me to enter into a journal.

The stones and sidewalks of Jerusalem were wettened by the rain, which we had prayed for, and although the sky was gray, the air was transparent and the light of G-d shone through it. The off-white stones of Jerusalem's sidewalks held in them little puddlings that collected dirt, yet were not slippery; the stones of Jerusalem stabilize a person on his path. I had no clue that Jerusalem was as lush of a place as it was; certain areas included trees reaching over peoples' yard fences, green leaves hanging near your face as you passed houses. We took a left turn down a narrow winding flight of off-white stairs that opened into a paved walkway circling a little garden area - the stairs compensating for the City's being built on a hill. On Shabbat we went to do bikkur cholim, visiting of the sick, which is a mitzvah in the Torah, and as it says in Shacharit (the morning service), bikkur cholim is one of those mitzvahs that has a special effect on your place in the Olam Haba, the World to Come.

Upon arrival, we visited several sick and/or simply people with minor injuries. Some were elderly, some young, some American, some Israeli's, some Arabs. With us were three of Rabbi Aidilman's kids, seven and a half, nine, and twelve. Most of our songs were Shabbat songs, and many of the people sang along with us. As I expected before coming to Israel, I knew that my views would be challenged. Some have so far been confirmed, but many new paths have been opened up, one because I'm studying in a yeshiva and being exposed to the farther reaches of Judaism so far in my development, and others having to do with the social landscapes of the Land and State of Israel. Israel is the only place in the world where Arabs speak Hebrew, and so we asked a mother covered in a hijab if she wanted us to sing her young son. She said that we could, but since all we had were Shabbat songs, and Muslims don't observe Shabbat, Snir, my friend, juggled for him and walked on his hands for about thirty seconds. The boy, whom had a bandage wrapped around his head and reminded me of a boy I had seen in a Palestinian propaganda video, was appreciative and smiled. The other boy in the room also enjoyed the show and I tried to speak with him in the little Arabic that I know. It was the parents who seemed uncomfortable, if any about the bearded, kippah-and-tzitzis-wearing Jews, more than the kids, but maybe this is altogether something that I'm thinking. When we finished we told them "goodbye" and left with our tzitziyot (stringed undershirts that Jewish men are required to wear) trailing behind us. To think that I had almost taken my normal Shabbos shluff (Shabbat nap) than doing this.

Later that night, after beginning kitchen duty with a number of other people, I and a few bachurim (yeshiva students) went to a Sbarro (pizza restaurant) where we met up with Rabbi Holland and his family from Scottsdale. On the way, we also ran into Yitz (John Pierce), Jordan Krizman, and Dan and Arielle Cucher. After the meal and benching, I decided to depart from them and to take the opportunity to go to the Kotel, the Western Wall, the holiest place in the world, and for Jews.

It was night. The walk was not very far and my friends had told me the general direction, so I walked down the streets inching towards it. On a map, I was less than a millimeter east from where the Wall was. At a point, I reached a wide arched corridor-area, still with the off-white Jerusalem stone filled with puddlings of water, lit up by low yellow lights that reminded me of the sauce-soaked color of the chicken that my Savta (grandma on my mother's side) used to cook when she was physically alive. I sporadically passed people, both stationary and walking in the other direction, as well as walking in my direction but more quickly. Most were seemingly observant folk, some Chassidim, like the three gentlemen in the black suits and shtreimels (furry hats that some Chassidic Jews wear). I inched my way closer and closer to the Kotel and in an open area of space. I just veered off the main street when I saw the ramparts of one of the outside walls of Jerusalem's Temple; to the left of me were modern buildings and cars swishing by, to the right of me were ancient walls and streets that led to more ancient walls, I took a right and was glad that this was not the Kotel, I don't remember it being so close to the hustle and bustle of traffic. In an area of open black sky, I could see David's Citadel in a space between two buildings nearer to me; I thought that it might have been one tfach, a hand-breadth, so I put my hand in the air and it was the width of one knuckle. As I went down the ramp the tip of the Citadel was buried by the rising horizon of the buildings. On the other side of the buildings where the Citadel was plainly visible in its entire height, a woman who I would guess was in her late forties, and a man she was with, probably her husband, had stopped walking and she was taking a picture of David's Citadel.

Down a ramp, I crossed a street that seemed like an intersection although much smaller, and began walking down an even narrower corridor of the same type. All the corridors had a similar attribute, every fifteen or so feet there were two stairs then one, and these strange ramps a feet or so to the sides of the stairs, as if for one to walk down if the stairs proved difficult. Since the ramp was a bit wider than the width of a human foot, I think that it was built to allow water to slip down and into the drains, a modern model of something that surely must have existed here during the continuing life-span of the City. Jerusalem, and Israel by extension, is the confluence of ancient next to modern, and I finally understood that the confluence strips both words of their meaning and forces one to recognize that the nature of things is always the same.

I passed a house on the left in which I heard an Arabic song crying out and thought to myself, "This is how Jerusalem is." I tried to make sense of the blue Arabic writing I saw on the walls but wasn't able to, and passed by a few shady looking youngsters who were sitting in the corridors, darker than the previous ones. One had a cap which I thought was a kippah, and as I passed them I looked straight ahead. As I saw a few Arab women and some men, I realized torn posters on the walls of a kaffiya-ed person whom was probably Yasser Arafat, and realized that even though maps show where the Green Line seperates, stumbling into the shadier areas of the West Bank is not too difficult for one whom is not familiar with Jerusalem. I realized suddenly where I was, a Jew wearing a kippah on his head and his tzitzis flailing at his side, no place for a Jew to be at night. I saw that the corridor continued to a wall that might have only allowed a left or a right turn, I kept myself calm, walked a bit more as to not seem totally lost, and turned around to exit the area which I had just entered, repassing the three youth, one whom had spit a particle of something onto the ground.

Amazingly, it only took me three minutes or so to reach the Kotel area, and my heart de-constricted when I saw the Hebrew sign reading "Kotel." Just around the corner was a place where I might go and never come back, and here was the holiest place in the Jewish world. I was walking in an open-air corridor upstairs from the Kotel Plaza facing it head-on, and in between the slender, cubicle metal bars, I looked at the Kotel. I stopped for a moment, wrapped my hands around them, and considered what I was seeing but concluded that standing to look at such a thing is fruitless and so I continued. I asked the Ethiopian Jew how to get down to the Plaza just as I saw the stairway; he didn't have to check me for weapons.

As I walked down the stairs, which reminded me of the stairs leading down from some Library of Congress-type building, I allowed the whole scene of the Kotel, to sink into my vision. People were walking here and there, it was not too busy, Chassids with Shtreimels, men and women, secular and religious, a French family, and a tour group bunched together just taking in the view. In the section farther from the Wall was an Israeli army jeep with blue lights just watchdogging the area, which is how I am thoroughly convinced it should be. I walked slowly as I did down the corridors where I let my thoughts build into heaps and buildings; I had all the time I needed here. I walked closer and closer to the Kotel and was amazed at its size, the closer I neared it, the more impossible it was to keep it all in my purview, until the one little section in front of me was enough.

Four years ago, I would have had to wear one of the "Kotel crews" paper kippahs, but now I wore my own, along with the beard on my face and my tzitzis; they could keep them for somebody new. Green plants burst forth from the crevasses between the meeting points of the huge bricks, also where dozens and dozens of small pieces of paper of all colors with prayers written on them were bunched into the crevasses, and up to the left a dove or pigeon was perched in a ridge, with its head shoved into its body, probably to stay warm. I neared the Kotel and put my hands on the it, then let my forehead touch it, then the surface of my face, and then I kissed it. One whom has not been to the Kotel for a period of time, four years for me, is halachically (Jewish Law-wise) required to tear his outermost garment the length of one tfach (a handbreadth). The feeling there was somber as if I had been on the surface of the moon, and I stood there for several moments with my face to the Wall, took off my overshirt and placed it on a chair behind me, and grabbed the place where I had made the cut over my heart to tear my shirt. As I tore the shirt to comemorate the destruction of the Temple, I began to cry, and I neared my face to the Wall and the tears made it as shiny as did the raindrops on the sidewalk. I took off my glasses and put them in my pocket because the vision I needed here was without my eyes. I could near my face closer to the Wall and look into the tear drops hanging on its shapes, in which the lights from behind me were refracted and broken into crystals and were glistening.

My crying continued for several long moments - there was no reason to try to stop, it felt good, although I cannot explictly explain why exactly, other than the obvious, I was crying. There was something more to it than just that and it's a bit mysterious. When I finished, I wiped my face on my shirt, took the siddur from off the chair behind me, opened up to Ma'ariv (the evening servince) and davined (prayed) it there. When I got to the Shema I put my face to the Kotel and slightly cried through its words. After finishing the prayers, I said specific prayers for my dad, mom, sister, and then myself. Afterwards I walked backwards away from the Wall, and when I got to a certain dividing line, I turned around, and went to the right to the mainstreet to catch the bus back to the yeshiva. The big Israeli flag was right where it should have been, in the center of the Plaza in the walkway area. On the way towards the exit I turned around and was far enough away from the huge Kotel to see the Al-Aqsa mosque, dull and non-reflective in the night.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Twenty Four Hour Time Differential Treatment

Simply add nine hours to the time that you see to find out what time I really posted the blog. The best way to do this is to add 9 to the number, and if it's greater than twelve, subtract twelve. For example, 5:57 AM. Add 9, so you get 14:57 PM, then subract twelve, and you get 2:57 PM. I posted this blog at 9:57 AM according to this computer's clock.
Israeli Culture - Jewish Culture

I spent my first observed Shabbat in Omer, the suburb of Be'er Sheva in which my mom and her sister (Tzila) and family live, and it was pretty nice. One of the biggest things that I'm adjusting to is that, for a person who is observant in Israel versus in other places, here all the places and things being spoken about in the davining [praying] (which are from the Tanakh) happened right here in places that you can visit. It's amazing how in the U.S. when I davin, even though it's real, there is something theoretical about it, which of course I would only know once I've davined here. It's something that I'm still trying to connect in my mind, which I probably eventually will. For example, if you go to the Kotel [Western Wall] and davin (which I haven't yet) and you read the Akeidah (binding of Isaac), that occurred right on top of the area where the mosque is. I mean, you're recalling the binding of Isaac literally within a very short distance from where it actually occurred. That's a bit overwhelming to me and I'll have to perch on that one like an egg for a while before I actually get it. On top of that, Israel is basically all Jewish, so being an observant Jew here takes on a different meaning, one that I'm still trying to get because I've gotten so used to davining in physical galus [exile]. There isn't much that sets you apart from other people here, although that's not what drove me to be observant in the States, but a side-effect of being observant in the States is that being different can become a motivating factor. Here, the only thing that makes you different, if even, is that one is observant and one is not. Even the culture here is religious, which apparently makes some people come to the conclusion that since the culture is religious, the need for religion itself is called into question.

The other day I had a conversation with the husband of the lady for whom my mom works (she babysits her daughters). He was telling me how in Israel, everything and everyone is Jewish, the shops (for the most part) all close on Shabbat, and basically everything is kosher (regardless of what type of hechsher you choose) - you don't need to do much to be religious. I thought to myself, "That's interesting. Does your intent in your mind and heart have to be observant, or can you just follow all the laws without meaning to? Does that count as being religious?" I strive to say "yes," because on one hand, you cannot control a person's mind and heart, and so the way for a religious state to function is by providing, for example, only kosher food. But in Israel too you may buy kosher cheese and kosher meat and make an un-kosher meal, so religiosity still boils down to a willful choice. On top of that, there are places where you can buy non-kosher foods, and from the way he made it sound, they are labeled "non-kosher foods." Hehe, that's a bit crude - legally speaking it's like saying, "Here's where you can do all the illegal stuff." State law and religious law - different concepts. So in light of that, I would say "no," living in a state where the opportunity to be religious is provided for you in mass quantities does not amount to being religious, because your choice can always be to not be religious. The conclusion? You cannot really be religious by osmosis, you must have a say in your absorbing it. His opinion was that Israel should not be a theocracy, forcing you to eat kosher and closing your store on Shabbat (since working is prohibited), and indeed we see that all of the people in Omer close their stores on Shabbat willfully; what they do at home with regards to turning lights on and off, for example, which is also prohibited by Jewish Law, is done in the privacy of their own homes. His point was that free will should be the only determining factor in choosing to comply with Jewish Law, and I can agree, but so many people don't use their free will for that same stated purpose.

But maybe, I'm thinking, I'm thinking like a galus Jew, like a Jew who has lived in a place where his surrounding culture is so separated from Jewish religiosity that he has been forced out of necessity to create a definition of Judaism that is explicitly religious. That, at least, is what the man intoned of "galus Judaism." (my phrase) But then I thought, "the Torah says not to eat these foods," so observance is not a matter of culture or responses to adversity, it's plain out law. In times of adversity the law might be the only social adhesive that the Jews have, but if you take away that adversity, the law does not disappear. And I think that's the unique scenario in Israel; the overarching external threats have "suddenly" disappeared, so now the people have the chance to ponder if they really need the Torah or not. They begin to wonder if perhaps they can replace that "older" social glue with a newer one, and that's the creation of Israeli culture.

Now here's the interesting question - how Jewish is Israeli culture? It's pretty Jewish, but for the last 2,000 years "Jewish" has meant "being a minority within a non-Jewish majority," and so a Jewish country challenges the notion that to be a Jew is to define yourself as the opposite of everyone all the time. That's why 56 year-old Israel is still being created - the date of Israel's independence was, to a degree, an arbitrary date in the history of the Jewish people - it did not stop Jewish history, it just redirected it to a different direction. We must also consider that Israel allowed Jewish history to continue, not just because all the Jews (of Europe at least) would have been murdered, but because it allowed us to keep our identity intact, which was soon to become impossible in Europe. Nevertheless, even before I was becoming observant I had the feeling that Israeli's seemed to think about the creation of Israel as the end of their history as Jews, which then allowed (and necessitated) a culture that was, in their minds, not Jewish. This makes sense if the attempt to break from Jewish history was the attempt to break from the darkness that was so closely attached to it, from the Ashkenazi (European Jews') perspective. By discarding Jewish identity, perhaps one could discard the onslaught that came with it. The brilliant irony of this is that the external threats have not disappeared, they are still there, in the form of Arab state policies, i.e., Islam, and there is even an internal promise of destruction connected to the external nations, the farce of Palestinian nationalism.

I'm pro-Israeli culture though, if I understand that the State of Israel is the first collection of Jews in thousands of years into a sovereign political and social entity, then I have no choice but to accept that it exists. That I accept the existence of Israeli culture of course doesn't exempt me from being a critic of Israeli society (and from seeing its good points too). It's not enough to just accept it though, like I'm simply tolerating something that would be better if it did not exist. Culture is what happens when you put a bunch of people together in defined borders, especially if they have a common basis for identity, like the Jews. So here Israeli culture is the basis of expression of identity, which is being Jewish. The only thing I can pray for is for Israeli culture to reap value in producing a culture which is reflective of Jewish values, and Jewish values are religious in nature, not secular.

You can't ask for every single individual to become the most machmir Jew out there, but you can ask for them to be mindful of the most basic of mitzvah's, like kashrut and Shabbat. It is not too far beyond the reaches of human imagination to envision and create a society in which everybody recognizes Shabbat. The first Zionists, many of which were Socialist ideologues, lifted the kibbutzim (small socialist communities) into existence by the labor of their very hands and turned them into flourishing centers of production for the entire State. Today, many production companies are known by the names chosen by those original kibbutzim - by many tokens, the kibbutzim were a success. The Socialist Zionists were motivated by Herzl's words, "If you want it, it is no myth," - "Im tirtzu, ein zo hagada." Preparing food before Shabbat so that one does not have to cook during that time is an easy task compared to erecting and establishing kibbutzim from nothing. So again, it boils down to a matter of choice.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Everyone Has Their Own Path

When you're discussing something with a person and they say "everyone has their own path," what that usually mean is "I want to live my life the way I want without providing anybody and explanation." This is a fair enough assertion in a free world and in a free state, but it has a further implication. What it also means is that they do not want their way of life challenged, even theoretically or implicitly in a free exchange of ideas; when someone says "everyone has their own path," what they are really doing is shutting down free exchange of ideas in the name of free exchange of ideas, or in other words, they are being closed-minded in the name of open-mindedness, and that is one of the most ironic things. Not only is this ironic, it is extremely silly, and it happens all the time.

Again, the assertion is a fair assertion, but it becomes more silly when the person volunteers that piece of information, as in, when their view of life is not even being directly challenged or pressed. Sometimes the person will say, "I am free to do what I do and you are free to do what you do." However, as nice and tolerant as this sounds, there is actually a relatively grave side to such a way of thinking. The "live and let live" attitude, as I am sure this has been argued before, allows peace and tolerance, but when society faces its turbulent times, to which it is prone, then "live and let live" becomes something more like the Beatles song suggests, "live and let die," or maybe even "die and let die." If we really want to be extremists we can even say that it becomes "kill and let kill."

We Jews have a responsibility in this world, and it is to call society out when it's messing up - to a certain degree we are experts at this, both left and right-wing, religious and secular. Everyone should know that one essential rule of thumb when acting as a critic of society is the rejection of the false premise that "live and let live" is a valid maxim when one person lives within a greater society. We know that a few crazy people can bring a society to shambles and therefore "live and let live" begins to fade into "irresponsibility." This is not a suggestion for creating a morally legislative police state, rather, it is a suggestion that we try to move away from a societal norm which says that individual freedom with the goal of attaining maximal pleasure be severely questioned and challenged, and if we are up to it, changed. If we are free and we live in a free state and in a free world and we have free minds, then it is the ultimate expression of our freedom to restrain ourselves when it comes to our own lives in order to keep society a clean and healthy place. This is the job description of every Jew. There is no greater freedom than this.

Recall that in the instance of our being brought out of slavery and into freedom, G-d gave us commandments; with freedom we had commandments, we became free to keep them and so everyday we must become free from the shackles of society in order to keep our relationship with G-d. A huge part of our relationship with G-d is the betterment of society.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I have to jot down all my rants before Shabbat starts while they're fresh. I've been going through thoughts in my head, as I usually do, but more and more I'm improving them in Hebrew. Anyway, I'll take a break from that for a while and write in English.

I've been thinking, there is a percentage of Israeli's that tend to, or what to tend to, see Israeli history as separate from Jewish history. Before I go on, this does serve an important practical purpose for the simple reason that we cannot live in La-La Land and pretend that the State of Israel never was created, as some people within our Jewish family like to do, even religious people. But on the other hand we cannot, for reasons of accuracy, insist that Israeli history is not Jewish history, because it was our very Jewish history which necessitated the creation of the Jewish State. Then it hit me, if we pretend that Israel is free from Jewish history, and we know that the Jewish history which necessitated the Jewish State was a dark one, then perhaps we can free ourselves from the bonds of the darker side of Jewish history; I am afraid that that is the attitude behind the attempt to free Israel from Jewish history.

I hate to shine in on the rain of people who want to think that way, but there is nothing that we can do to free ourselves from our history, and why would we want to? By freeing ourselves from our history we free ourselves from our identity, and a person, not to mention a nation of people, without an identity is a broken people and a broken identity - therefore there are some Israeli's (Jews) who are broken people, broken from their past because they want to escape it. Sadly for them, the entire world (and the states around Israel) have not denied themselves the memory of Jewish history and therefore even if the Jew tries to wrestle himself free of his identity as a Jew, the nations simply won't allow him to win that battle. In that, in a roundabout way which comes with much violence and hatred, the nations, in this case the Arabs, are doing us Jews a great favor, they are not letting us forget our identity.

But I argue all the time that there is a much better and more joyous way to remember our identity. We do not need to define ourselves the way that our enemies would like to remember us. Our enemies make us realize that we cannot escape our identity by hating us for it and enacting all kinds of horrible things on us for it, but we do not need to concede to that association with our identity. We are Jews and we are the light of the world; this was always true. We are the Jews that fix the world. We are the Jews that stand up to falsehood and burn illusion. We are the Jews that bother the dickens out of the world to realize the truth and destroy evil. We are the Jews, the children of Revelation. We are the Jews that have our own Land and our capital city Jerusalem, where we will have our Temple and bring sacrifices to G-d. We are the Jews that work with the nations to bring about G-dly revelation. We are the Jews that kill our enemies. We are G-d's inside crew, and if anybody has to have a problem with that, it's the nations, not us. Further, I argue, they need not have a problem with that, they need to embrace it and be happy, as do we. As long as we concede to a national definition of squirrel-like fear of everything that moves, no wonder we want to replace Jewish history with Israeli history, which is anything that we want it to be and is usually the opposite of what we perceive "Jewish" to be. It's Israeli Jews and many Jews not native to Israel whom cover their fear with layers and shells of sophisticated and intellectually stimulating philosophy and political and social defensive propositions, but even just the last fifty six years enable to us to cut through those layers like cake - they are false cover-ups for a persistent Jewish fear, even if those speaking them have about them an aura of confidence. This is all a facade. It is the most painful when these people act as if they are trying to do the best for the State of Israel, but again, the State of Israel is not an entity independent of Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism, and so if the accepted definition of the State of Israel is one which seeks to distance itself from a Jewish essence, then what is best for the State of Israel is not best for the Jewish People.

The State of Israel has no right to exist if it is not the Jewish State, and the secular intellectual elite tries to argue the opposite of this. But let's take a cue from our Arab neighbors and those living within the State; they have no problem telling us that the State of Israel has no right to exist as a secular state, and indeed we are getting our truth from an interesting source, those Arabs. The Arabs are a people with deep ties to their history and religion, something that we have turned into a lie about ourselves, and they know especially well that a people whom does not have an indigenious right to land will be forced to leave that land. We react to their jeers, which tell us that we are not native, with our secular democratic propaganda that Israel can be a state providing equality for both Jews and Arabs. This way we hope that they will see it our way, that we do not need to be native for there to be a state here for both of us. But they know that this is a long line of nonsense and they don't buy it for one minute. The really sad thing, or should I actually say happy thing, is that we are native, far more native than the Arabs, whom arrived here through conquest at a time that we were in exile! Their religion even, Islam, and yes, Christianity, are founded on taking from us what is ours although the more hostile culprit is Islam. How in the world can a thinking person call the Arabs native?! And the Palestinians(?!), they have absolutely nothing on nativity; their entire national identity, the opposite of ours, is a total political fabrication as a result of the Six Day War in 1967! Why are we, the 3,000 year-old Jews conceding that the 38 year-old Palestinians have more rights and more just cause than we to this Land?

We have no future and no right to be here, no matter how sophisticated our arguments are for the opposite, until we realize that our state is a Jewish State, which means that Jews are higher up on the social pyramid. If you have a hard time understanding how this works, just read up on how the Muslims structured their societies with regards to Jews, and that they functioned especially well with regards to making peace. We were Jews when we created this State; why has that fact changed?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Muezzin of Omer ---------

I was interrupted from a dream in which my friend Seth was explaining a project of his to me. An hour before davining (praying) time for Shacharit (the morning service), I was awakened by the Imam of Omer's (in Be'er Sheva) call to the faithful to pray. To show my G-d that He is the King of the world, and of mine, I like my prayers to be the first thing in the day that I do. But since the Imam woke me up an hour before Shacharit, his repetitive singing voice was what I heard as I lay in my bed. Eventually I had to put my plugs in my ears, and since his voice, coming from down the street, I shoved them in further into my ears to block out the sound - it seems that even my holiness and connection to G-d is not safe from the clutching fingers of Islam.

Were I a Muslim, I would have been spiritually stirred in my bed from my slumber to worship. But I am a Jew and therefore the sound was different in my ears. In the abstract mental state of just waking up, I wondered if we were in Spain in the 13th Century where there was the confluence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and where those three religions functioned in close proximity. In the Golden Age of Spain the three religions were enthralled in a intersection of sorts where information, knowledge, and even spirituality were shared. If that was the situation here, I would have been welcoming of the Imam to earnestly call the faithful of Islam to come worship our One G-d. But we were in Israel in the 21st Century where there still exists an Arab Muslim (and sometimes Christian) nationalism unfriendly to the notion of a Jewish state, and it was in light of that knowledge that I was unsympathetic to the otherwise genuine and humble call to the faithful to pray.

In America, where I have lived for the last twenty years, I was annoyed with the prospect of our Land being made an establishing point for Muslim rule, but my understanding was relatively theoretical. This is only my third day here, but now hearing the muezzin (the one whom calls out the prayer) in Israel I couldn't help but feel the almost tangible promise of the statement made by that call. It is then that I understood the call to have a double-fold meaning, the first being the gathering of the faithful of the Muslims to pray, and the second, the political message to the "unfaithful" declaring the dominating nature of the religion of Islam and its intent on staying just where it is, perhaps pointing to a future time of total sovereignty here. In this, Israel is a land no different than any other land where Islam tries to root itself, but on the other hand it is entirely different in that Israel is the unique and only homeland of the Jewish People, and so the politics of Islam create a scenario of survival for the Jewish State. How much more bothered would I be had I heard the muezzin during my davining at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem, the most intimate connecting point that a Jew knows with his/her G-d, and even (and of course) that place has had to concede to the apparently obligatory and unchallenged right of Islam to create an "outpost" for itself anywhere.

I will write more about the topic of Muslim rights in Israel a bit later - I might have to after Shabbat since I and my mom are going into Be'er Sheva today for her to get a haircut, for me to exchange some money, and to get some more tzitziyot (the stringed vests that Jewish men are required to wear by Torah Law).

On another note, on my way to the synagogue behind my aunt's house this morning, I tied the gate so that the dogs could not get out. My aunt has a white husky named Nina, and earlier, my uncle Ofer dropped off his black lab because he had some business in the area. The dogs stand inside the grassy garden area most of the day and don't go into the house. The white dog is allowed to roam free in the neighborhood because she will always return home, but the black lab might run away so we keep it inside. Nina ran out as I stepped through the gate and started to chew on some trash bags nearby. I told her to come back in but she would not because she does not listen, and so I had to tie the gate, knowing that she would stay outside until I returned. She was too enthralled by the trash to listen to me. As I walked along side the house I heard the black lab running back and forth and could see her through the bushes of the house.

I'll continue this later, gotta go catch the bus to Be'er Sheva...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Prophets of Tanakh as Literary Genre

It could be said, although I haven't read things from all types of literary genre, and there are a whole lot, that the Prophets of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) can be, from a literary perspective, categorized as a genre. The prime characteristic of this genre would be the criticism of aspects of one's own society. Now, I can't claim with absolution that it is responsible for the creation of this genre because there are many records of writings that criticize their society, but the unique aspect of Prophetic criticism is that it turns an eye to the universal; the criticism is concerned with the whole of its society but further with the whole of human society as well. Many types of literature can claim in honesty and truth to also criticize their societies, but they criticize them for their own well-being, which is not entirely a sin, but nevertheless it does not take into account the rest of humanity. It can therefore be said that the Prophetic criticism found in the Torah is in actuality a genre of its own, which criticizes first its own, and then others, but its own for the sake of others. What this reveals is the heart of the Jewish essence, that one must improve for his/her own sake but as well for the sake of others. Likewise, a society must improve for its own sake and for the sake of others, and the Jewish society (national and/or international) must improve for its own sake and for the sake of every society.

Not only is this a unique genre of its own, it is the epitome of the religious Jewish concept of the "Chosen People," stating that the Jews are "a light to the nations," that they teach, guide, and will teach and guide the entirety of the world's nations into the light of G-dliness. There is no other genre in the world that deals with the betterment of society this way because there is no other society in the world (other than Islam forming in the 7th century) that believes in the One G-d. Therefore, the belief in the One G-d sets up a system where a core group of the recipients of revelation adhere to the instructions of G-d; the aim of the Jewish adherence to the commandments serves to a) correct themselves and b) to correct the world. This is done in an indirect way - the nations of the world do not need to accept Judaism on themselves in order to be corrected, they need only to learn from the Jews and to accept on themselves the Seven Laws of Noah, which were given to Noah and to his descendants, the nations, after the flood. Only Judaism produces a type of literature intended to fix the entire world because only they believe in the necessity of integration under G-d due to His sole existence. If nations believe in polytheism or do not believe in gods at all, there is nothing motivating them to move in a direction of unification of society, which is why when those nations criticize themselves, it exists only for the purpose of bettering their own society and not that of the world.

This betterment cannot occur if the Jews are living in darkness themselves, so first the Jews must bring themselves into the light, which for them is the Torah, and only then will the nations have any hope of seeing the light. Therefore, light emanates from G-d into the Torah, light emanates from the Torah to the Jewish People, and from the Jewish People emanates light to the nations of the world, "or la'goyim," a light to the nations. If the Jewish People are not receptive of this light, they obstruct the cycle and light does not emanate into the world, therefore it is in the interest of every Jew to take and absorb the light from the Torah for a) his/her own sake and b) for the sake of everybody else. It is at times when it seems that the Jews, or many of the Jews, have abandoned this light and this task (G-d forbid) is when other nations take it upon themselves to bring this light into the world, or in other words, they push us aside and attempt to fulfill our job for us. This always has negative implications for everyone involved because it is a violation of the system that G-d created, and we cannot blame the nations for doing this before blaming ourselves, the Jews.

For example, the Talmud says that the Temple was destroyed in the second century due to a sin called "baseless hatred," or "sinat chinam" between the Jewish People. It was at this exact point in time in history in which the Christian religion came onto the scene, and what things did the Christian religion claim? It claimed all of the things that Judaism claimed, such as: been given the Torah, "having" the Messiah, being the "New Israel," and being the arbiters of the "new covenant" between G-d and humanity. Christianity stood for everything that Judaism stood for and attempted to fill in its role, all in the name of harmony with Judaism. What we see is that, simply said, Christianity moved in and shoved Judaism aside, a theft or invasion of sorts, but the source of this is not in Christianity, which was nothing more than an obscure polytheism strand running through the Roman theological realm, but the result of Jewish error. The result is that Judaism's power of truth was passed on from the Jews to another source, which would claim to be the real Judaism, drawing from its truth and emanating it to the world on its own in an altered and false fashion. The result is a conflict of truth between Judaism, which still exists, and the new religion claiming to be Judaism, and the latter's energetic attempts at claiming everyone in the world. A return to Judaism by Jews is the only thing that can remedy this and nothing else. The falseness that has ensued in the name of truth needs to be outlit by the truth of the Torah, and it is not a wonder in the least that Jews have been the central target of suffering at the hands of this religion claiming to be Judaism, interestingly, all the while it was claiming to love them.

Islam is similar but also different. It has had made no false illusory statements of loving the Jews; its resentment for us is clear from the beginning. The pressure it exerts on Judaism and on those of Jews whom are not able to withstand it, has led to some Jews breaking down and becoming Muslims - this is akin to the psychological phenomenon, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Islam's religious sites enjoy protected status from the international watchdog of the world, are located in isolated areas that nobody wants to visit, and therefore allow billions of Muslims to swamp those areas unchallenged. This gives Muslims a sense of completion and confidence, the type that existed for Jews when the Temple stood and will be again when it is rebuilt, but the weak Jew, such as Yosef Cohen, aka "Yussuf Khattab," cannot wait and therefore finds Jewish comfort in Islam.

There was no known Jewish sin in the time when Islam arose which is agreed upon by Jews (as is regarding Christianity), so Islam simply made up its own sins for them; the Jews' worship of the Golden Calf and their corruption of the texts of the Torah in order to cheat Ishmael out of his birthright. Islam explains that G-d passed the covenant on to them as a result of these sins, and also explains that G-d took the covenant away from the Christians for the same reason of corruption. The corruption, they claim, necessitated the Qur'an, which they say was the correction and return to the correct text as it was given and initially explained by G-d.

We see that each religion claimed to be Judaism in a different way; Christianity claimed to have the covenant, the Torah, the Messiah, and to be Israel, while Islam claimed that there was no religious nationalism but only true faith, which was the faith of all the forefathers and foremothers, all of which they call "Muslims," and that both Isaac and Ishmael and all of their descendants inherited the blessing of Abraham. It was "the Jews," some unknown and abstract enemy, whom changed what the Torah said about the righteous Isaac and Ishmael in order to say that Isaac inherited what was rightfully Ishmael's. What we see is that Islam claims to be Judaism by making even farther reaching sweeping conclusions, by saying that there was never such a thing as Judaism. It had to reach even farther back into the religious narrative in order to reach back farther than did Christianity, which claimed the truth of the entire Tanakh. Therefore, Islam had to reach back to a point preceding the delivery of the Torah to the Jews, and so the life story of Isaac and Ishmael was just the tender spot in the historical religious narrative for which they searched, the beginning of lineage. By saying that the entire lineage of Judaism is called into question, which climaxed with the descendants of Isaac receiving the Torah, Islam attempts to suspend Jewish faith in a black hole of obscurity and inaccuracy only to be remedied by the delivery of the Qur'an. It invents a disease and then invents the cure, but neither are real. This is not simply a "new way of looking at things," which cannot be all that bad necessarily, but it was the same thing as Christianity, an attempt to shove aside Judaism by placing itself in its place, kin to robbery. This is the irony of such a development; the robbers accuse the owners of robbery - the Muslims have accused the Jews, the rightful owners of the covenant, of stealing it from them. It is no wonder that the heart of Jewish/Muslim politics have been the same; Arabs accuse Israeli's of taking their land from them, when in reality it is Jewish land. Therefore, to a certain degree, Islam has set itself up as a more hostile self-proclaimed enemy to Judaism than has Christianity, exclaiming that the entirety of Jewish history has been fraudulent and has not even occurred. Christians, ignorantly and even maliciously making childish comments about the Jews have attempted to dismember Judaism, but Islam has attempted to say that Judaism is the product of a big lie. All of these religous Muslim sentiments have been preserved almost perfectly intact in Arab politics; Arafat has said that the Temple never existed and Islam ignores the near 3,000 year history of the existence of a Jewish state, built by King David, with Jerusalem as its capital.

It is the commandment of G-d to follow the commandments and so we see that G-d's plan is to improve this world through the application of Torah, which is a plan relating to the whole of His creations.

This concept has remained alive and relatively strong in Jewish society, even after it has gone through powerful shifts largely transforming much of it into secular emanations of the religious Torah. The social ideal of fixing society from the inside out is at the heart of every Jewish voice and organization that screams for the betterment of society. Most Jews are in folly when they insist that Jews behave in this way because they are traditionally a mistreated people - even though we have been mistreated for more than 2,000 years, the betterment of society leads back to times when Jewish society was at its higher points, under the leadership of King David for example. Before this it leads back to Moses and Abraham, the roots of the Torah, and so we see that the betterment of society is the root of Judaism and is independent of Jewish suffering. The power of the Jewish urge to better society becomes even more powerful at times of Jewish suffering, but we see that at times of Jewish suffering it is Jews whom speak for the sake of everyone, while others at times of their own suffering only speak for themselves. Therefore it seems to be an inherently Jewish trait to speak for others, not one which was borne out of suffering, but out of love for G-d.

Paradoxically, as a secular trait not recognizing the imminence of G-d, the Jewish trait of decrying suffering takes on a destructive function when it fully secularizes, providing "solutions" that do not seek to integrate society but rather to destroy society by wiping away all differences, and societies have responded as expected to this illness, they've lashed out at the Jews. It is without G-d that the Jewish mentality of betterment yearns to blur everyone into one inseparable society strictly in the name of hiding themselves in that society so that they can no longer be hunted. Time and time again, when this has been done, the Jews in the end have met a wave destruction that nearly destroyed them completely; the lesson, when Jews try to be like everyone in order to find safety, the society rejects them and distinguishes them, in effect preparing them for destruction at the hands of the particular madman, be it Torquemada or Hitler or maybe now Ahmedinajad.

This shows that there is an absolute difference between the Jewish religious commandment of the betterment of society and its secular/atheistic parallel; the former acts as an expression of the unity of the world under the One G-d, through the recognition of borders, not through erasing them, while the latter tries to integrate Jews into the rest of society, erasing that border, and the response has always been that that society has felt targeted and invaded and responded by alienating the Jews from within it. It is as if, socially speaking, the nations which have housed the Jews did not want their borders erased; they too rejoiced in having a separate identity. They were willing to house the Jews, even peacefully, as long as they knew that there was a difference between them, but it is not they who should be demanding on the maintenance of this difference, it is we! And even more importantly, they were even more at peace with Jews when they saw that the Jews were not only not trying to integrate with them, but when they were proudly and solidly stating their identity and status as Jews. Many times, it seems, people followed the Jews into the light of G-dliness as long as the Jews were following the Torah. It's as if G-d programmed the rules of society to deject and even attack Jews when they tried to erase these borders, but to respect and follow Jews when they stated these borders clearly and told the nations what was expected of them. If G-d made everything, then He also made society, and if He made society and He gave the Torah to the Jews in order to be a light to the nations, then He could have also programmed the nations to spurn the Jews when they rejected the Torah. But this also means that the opposite is true; He programmed society to follow the Jews when they follow the Torah, and through that, G-d claims all nations, His creations, which is what He wants to do. Jews know this unfolding of events as Messianic Redemption and suffice it to say that a Jew will lead the world through this unfolding of events.

In our own modern times this is especially relevant, like it always is. The Prophetic genre of self-criticism has made its way into the heart of a score of social equality movements. In fact, it is such a powerful moral imperative that virtually every social equality movement either names, is based on, or incidentally acts in the manner prescribed by the Prophets - it has become a civilizational utility for social equality and betterment. Time and again, it is the Tanakh that social organizations use as ideological posts, not the Gospels or any of the Christian Bible and not the Qur'an, although those two religions, through organizations such as the Salvation Army, Save-A-Child, and propaganda about the utopian visions of Islam, have attempted to replace Judiasm.

Again, we cannot pin social equality and betterment, universal things, solely on the Jews and the Torah, but also again, it is only the Torah that is monotheistic in scope and therefore only the Torah that seeks unity through integration, by directing everything towards G-dliness. The perverted secular form of this, sometimes as we have seen, advanced by Jews, tries to annihilate difference and in doing so annihilates society, while the polytheistic or pagan version of this cares only for the improvement of its own society and does not lay an eye on the rest of the world.

If a Jew truly wants to better the world, he/she must be unafraid of the world, for it is only observance of Torah which will fix it. We must view the world like an untamed animal - in order to tame it one must first get through the animal's initial aggressive behavior by being equally aggressive with it. We have a job to do and cannot afford to abandon it; it is a perfect career move for those who like action and adventure and spurn boring moments. To translate, we must be aggressive and energized with our mitzvahs, unafraid of the world's reaction, which could be violent, rejectory, alienating, or demeaning. The reasons: a) to improve our own lives, and b) to improve the lives of others - humanity, like children, are apt to reject and spit out their medicine, but we Jews must administer it, and the blessing of this is that we need to start with ourselves. Finally, the power and joy one gets from keeping the Torah is enough to trump any or all difficulties that he/she recieves from others when doing so - every obstacle becomes like a flicker of a flame held up to the sun - this is not the same for secularism, a god that does not exist but is nonetheless worshipped, and by many Jews as well. It is in the religious history of Jews to worship every god/dess that has come along, which has also been decried by the Prophets.

*The sad thing, but which is joyful because it speaks to the truth of Judaism, is that other monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, don't function in the same way as does Judaism. Christianity is arguably not monotheism and therefore integration is made impossible, and Islam cares only of itself, not of the rest of the world, which is why it so adamantly, violently, and aggressively argues against the "Chosen People" notion and accuses the Jews of having a superiority complex, of which it itself is guilty. We see that Judaism is full of Prophets, like a pomegranite is full of seeds. Christianity, on the other hand, was founded by a person deemed to be Divinity, and Islam was founded by the only prophet to have actually practiced the religion he started. Therefore, the way that both of these religions integrate the Truth of what the Torah's Prophets were saying is extremely interesting; Christianity does it by downplaying a) the Prophets' moral nature, and/or b) by simply claiming that Jesus had to come because the Jews could not live up to the standards set by G-d - this is a fatalistic and defeatist view of G-d, not at all at home to Judaism. Islam explains the Prophetic genre by "turning" all of the Prophets into Muslims, i.e., interpreting them as proto-Muslims, and therefore simply latching itself onto Jewish religious history. In other words, since Islam began with Muhammad and has no real past before him, it simply turns Judaism into Muslim history by messing around with the contents and intonation of the Torah; it's as if the Tanakh is part one of the Qur'an and the Christian Bible, which Islam treated the same way, is part two, and the Qur'an is the final part. In other words, Christians give credence (although not absolute) to the Jewish Prophets but have no Christian prophets, while the Muslims, having no Muslim prophets other than Muhammad, have no choice but to draw from the extensive well of Jewish Prophets and to explain them as the forebearers of their own religion. We too, then, Jews, would be the forebearers of Islam because we are motivated by the words of the Prophets to do as they spoke, which was to follow the Torah. In other words, Jews are the light to the Muslims too, whom are also a nation, but whom seem to disregard Jews as apostates of truth and Muslims are therefore beyond reproach, until the arrival of the Mashiach.
Day #1 in Israel (October 16th, 2006)

Please don't mind the writing errors, I was pretty out of it when I wrote this.

Okay, so it hasn't been exactly a day, but come 2 PM on the 16th (Israel time) and 24 hours would have passed since I set foot in Israel.

Leaving the Tucson airport on Jet Blue, for whom my first friend in Tucson, Sam Potts, works, we said our goodbyes and I got on the plane. Right before lift-off he came on the plane, we spoke for a bit, then he had to go back to work.

After flying to New York, in which I had a thirteen hour layover, I looked for the nearest shul (synagogue). I had been in NY before this but never went around, now that I had thirteen hours, I would explore a bit of what I could. The first thing I decided to do was to see Crown Heights, but the driver, a Lebanese Maronite Christian named Eid Ghassani was more familiar with Williamsburg, and that's where he took me.

Upon arrival I saw chassidim (chassidic men and women) everywhere, I felt like I was somewhere back in Europe, but no, this is America and we live here now. So the neighborhoods had a real tight-knit feel to them and suffice it to say that this was something entirely foreign to me as far as Jewishness goes - I was raised in Tucson, Arizona and the "extent" of my Jewish experiences have been, practically speaking only, there. This was a whole new world for me here and I guess this is the world of which I had heard many people speaking before but now was seeing. I asked a chassidic gentelman if he could tell me where the nearest shul was and as we walked he told me that there was one, not this block and not the next, but the one after that. Half smiling I asked him if there was a nearer one and he told me that there was a Satmar shul right here and a restaurant across the street. We made a small comment about hasghacha pratit (Divine providence) and I went into the shul to davin (pray).

Now most of you know that Satmars have an entirely different pronunciation of Hebrew than most Jews, so I was just barely able to keep up in the davining. I eventually trained myself to respond "amen" when I heard "brich Hi," which in most pronunciations is "baruch Hu" and means "blessed is He," at least their consistent in their difference. With the wonderful Satmars, "amen" becomes "umayn." They also speak almost entirely Yiddish, so walking around the Satmar quarter of New York I also heard alot of Yiddish conversation between young bachurim (guys) and bachurot (ladies), and I think a bit of German too.

After leaving the very large shul, by my experience, I went across the street to the restaurant where a young bachur worked. I got a bagette with tuna fish, egg salad, tomatoes, and spicy olives, said netilat yada'im (a religious practice of washing the hands and saying a blessing) and ate, and it was good. After benching (a prayer said after eating bread) it was time to explore the Yiddin (Jews in Yiddish) of Williamsburg, so I walked around basically aimlessly for a bit just absorbing in the visions. I must say that I felt a bit estranged most of the time, not having come from a background such as many of the people here, but nevertheless, several chassidishe (chassidic) menches (nice people) volunteered the question, "Do you need some help?finding something?" With that as my method I managed finding most of what I came to see.

A note about the neighborhoods; most of what I saw was set up as shtetls (small communities also translated as 'ghettos') of Jews and then, in close proximity, areas of other ethnicities, the major one I saw being black Americans and some Jamaicans too. As I walked around I got the impression that I was not being watched as I would have been in Tucson had I walked into a black neighborhood; it seems that the blacks and the Jews in this area are quite used to seeing each other. I finally decided to get on a bus and go to Crown Heights, and a frum (religious) Jewish lady told me how to get there. When the bus passed St. John's (which I think was a street), I got off, walked a few blocks back, took a right, walked another few blocks (where I was now seeing chassidim again, but these were all Lubavitchers, and then arrived at 770, which were the Chabad headquarters when the Lubavitcher Rebbe (z"l) was alive. I saw young bachurim and bachurot, a few Teymani (Yemenite) Lubavitchers (chassidim adherent to the Lubavitcher teachings) as well. I went down the stairs into 770 where I saw a huge amount of people davining, and there were apparently several minyanim (a group of at least ten men, a required number for men to say certain blessings) wrapping t'fillin (the commandment to bind the Name of G-d on the arm and head) - a buzz of davining had filled the entire place, I walked around a bit and then went outside again. As I was sitting on a step and thinking of what to do next, a familiar face walked by me. I dismissed it thinking that it must have been a person similar in appearance to one that I knew, but after he was about thirty feet away I ran up after him and said, "Ya'akov," and surely enough it was Ya'akov Menaker, a very special Jew that I met in Tucson at Rabbi Shemtov's house.

Ya'akov Menaker is a good person, a zisele (sweet) Yid, one whom I like and respect very much. He calmly said, "no way," as did I, and I explained to him what I was doing here. His brother went to the house where Ya'akov lives and he and I went back into 770 and Ya'akov showed me around. We went to the back of the shul where Ya'akov pointed up to a balcony where the Rebbe (the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Scheerson) would sit, in proximity to the womens' section (men and women sit in seperated areas in Orthodox shuls). Then we went to the far right corner where the Rebbe would sit. As Ya'akov explained it to me, after the passing of the Rebbe, who was a great and beloved leader to Lubavitcher chassidim (and did a lot of good for Jews as a whole as well), that people tend to try to keep the memory alive, as do people when any beloved one dies. His shtender (where he placed his siddur, prayer book) is in tact there covered with a plastic covering bag and a rug is rolled up. Then Ya'akov told me something that I was not entirely prepared to hear but was not entirely shocked either. There is an amount of Lubavitch chassidim, I have no clue how many, whom believe that the Rebbe was the Mashiach (Messiah). Nothing I say here is dematory towards Chabad, which is a group that I respect. Suffice it to say, because many people have a hard time with this, that most chassidim believe that their rebbe is the Messiah. Nevertheless, as Ya'akov told me, every morning at 10 o'clock people there roll out the rug with the expectation of the return of the Rebbe. There was not much to discuss for me because I was aware of the nature of the belief about the Rebbe, and we left shortly after this.

We went to Menaker's house, which was very very near at chit chatted about Israel and other things. I met his wife, Rayza, as they have been married for a few months. About an hour later they wanted to go Central Park with me, but after seeing on a map how far it was from the train station I realized that it would be a stupid risk to go that far if I wanted to make it to the airport on time, where I had put my bags in storage. Also seeing that I wasn't at all familiar with the NY train system, I figured it was a bad idea, so we took a train to a place of which I now forget the name. There we parted and Ya'akov told me not to get lost and I believe I said that I wouldn't. On the train I eventually had to ask someone how to get to the next spot because it wasn't clear how to know which was the right train, and the information lady told me to get on the train labeled "Far Rockaway." When that train came I boarded it and it took me back to the airport. I helped a German girl who asked me to help her with her bag, got off at the Terminal Four exit, and she continued to Seven. Upon arrival I went to Terminal Four, got my bags, and found a fairly secluded place to davin Mincha (the second prayer of the day).

It was around three PM and the plane was scheduled to arrive at 8:20 PM. I love the way flights to Israel are always full of Jews, I think Terminal Four was probably all Jews just sittin' around waiting to fly to their Holy Land. At around six, it must have been, a gentleman in a black hat went up to me and asked, "Ma'ariv," which is third prayer of the day, at evening, and last. I responded, "Yes," took my siddur, and a minyan of us davined there in the airport. A while later the plane arrived and we boarded - I could not believe I was on the way to Israel.

I had basically last minute decided to go to study in a yeshiva in Israel, of which my dad was fully supportive, and now, three weeks later, I was on my way to Israel after four years of not being there, fulfilling a dream. If things work out, G-d willing, I'll stay here forever.

The sun moved around the globe of the Earth and come 7 AM, or so, a bachur on the plane started wrapping t'fillin (which men do in the morning prayers). He must have acted as the rooster because soon several people were, including myself, and eventually we all huddled in the back of the plane davining. Some women were davining in their seats as well. The Israeli flight attendant got upset that we were taking up so much room, (hehe) but we finished our obligation to G-d taking up as little room as possible and sat back down. It was my first time davining twice in an airport and once on a plane.

Upon landing, which had arrived in Tel-Aviv at around 2 PM and not 12:50 as scheduled, I knew that my uncle Yossi, who was supposed to pick me up, had probably had to leave. Therefore, I didn't particularly hurry in checking in my bags. After around half an hour I had both of them and called my aunt Miriam's house, the only number I had (apparently I didn't bring Yossi's with me). My young cousin, Tal, answered, and told me that nobody was there. I knew I had to take a bus or cab now, so I went outside and found a cab to Jerusalem, which is an address that I had. On the way I realized that it was the wrong address so I called my sister using another passenger's phone, an American Jewish kid who was in Israel to help Israeli's in the north. I told her what was going on and thank G-d I was in the same area in Jerusalem in which she studied for nine months, so she told me to go to the bus station there.

After arriving there, and having to drag my two suitcases everywhere and getting help from people around me, mostly Israeli bachurim, one who even gave me some money, I managed to get on a bus to Be'er Sheva. An young bachura also paid a fare for me since I was out of shkalim (shekels, the Israeli currency) - some big time chessed going on there. The bus was full of younger kids, I think high school age, so I stood. A quarter of the way I sat down on the floor near the exit and from the sheer tiredness, I began dozing off sporadically and my head lolled up and down. Everytime the bus hit a bump or swerved (because it was an Israeli driver) I awoke with a violent spasm of my entire body. In order to stay awake, I stood up, but apparently that didn't keep me from falling into deep levels of sleep for about ten seconds at a time, and the deeper the sleep the more grossly violent was the spasm which awoke me, and the more of my body which it included - I'm sure it was quite a sight.

Not much later the bus arrived at the station, I called my sister, and then my mom (who lives in Omer, a suburb of Be'er Sheva) and I took a cab to her house. Upon arrival there, which is the same neighborhood as my aunt Tzila's, I met my mom and we took my bags to her house. We chit-chatted a bit but I was ready to sleep, and did so at my aunt and uncle's (Chayim and Tzila), a three-or-so-minute walk. So far I had had an eventful twenty four hours of absolute time; davining with Satmars, seeing 770, hanging with Ya'akov, floundering in the streets of NY, taking a train of obscurity, davining twice in airport and once on a plain, getting lost in Jerusalem's bus system (entirely my fault), and finally arriving in Omer, "home sweet home" but somehow home sweet home (for many reasons, once because it's Israel) and seeing my mom. My mom bought me some food (pita bread, plain yogurt, and milky, which is like this pudding with frosting that I always ate as a child here) which was very, very nice. Then we walked to my aunt's house where I saw her three kids (Nir, Ori, and Michal, 15, 16, 17), and Nir, who is buff now, beat me in arm wrestling. I made my bed and went to sleep.

At six in the morning I awoke (not as violently as I did on the bus) after a deep sleep, got my t'fillin and siddur and went to davin in the synagogue behind the house, which I never cared to see. I spoke with my uncle Chayim a bit, who is a very nice person and we always got along. I became an observant Jew during the last four years in Tucson and the last time I was in Israel I was not, and there was no reason for any of my family to think that I would become. Now that they suddenly see this bearded kippah-wearing dude, it's kind of new to them; I felt that Chayim was acting a bit accomodating, which he always has, but I hope it's not because I'm observant now - regardless of the decision I'm still the same person. Seeing my family's reaction to my decision is something which I have been eager for and anticipated, but now that the time has come, I realize that the responses might be a bit more dynamic than expected. Nevertheless, it's all good, I don't really mind and I know things will be find. Chayim showed me where all the food was, and then went to the Chabad synagogue behind the house, where I davined and wrapped t'fillin for the first time in Israel. There two men there, one of which I learned was the rabbi there. After finishing I went to the rabbi's house right next door, the door of which read "Rav Ginsburg" in Hebrew, and told him that I was finished so he could lock it, as he asked me. Then on the way back to my mom's house I saw her, got some pita bread and borecas, met some of her friends who work in the stores, and came back here to write all of this down right here.

Right now, Doris, an Egyptian Israel and my mom's downstairs landlord, is speaking with the Bedouin man who has come to fix the roof.

Until later, this is all I have now.

Peace, Yaniv...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Four Scores of Poems (or more, or less)

These are old poems and writings of mine that I found while cleaning out my room to pack away the stuff that I'm taking with me and the stuff that I'm going to try to sell.

Lost, lost
I become so lost
And Your hand never leaves me
I look up to the sky and my kippah falls off
Yet I have myself to blame
I still feel the same as that special day
The day of my rescuing and my reckoning
When You answered my beckoning
Let not the confused of Your servants
Through their ego and vice, thirst for prestige
Cause the rest of Your servants to fall on their knees
Such pain and malcontent they bring with loud and fearful mouths
They fear all the wrong things - not You
So they have no starting point of wisdom
They fear their peers in high buildings
Looking down on small Jews - I am filled with rage - I forget "ahavat Israel"
Please G-d, be more compassionate than I
Towards those who publically decry
Jews who boast the Arabic tongue
Soothe the enemies at gates
For fortune and attention, praise and prestige
Falseness that enemy too condemns and rejects from his own
But readily accepts from them
Save us please from fools of their own souls!

Awesome Cleaner
Clean my body
You clean my soul
You cause me to remember that I am whole
To give to You is to become rich
No investment better than You
It's an instant success
How to become rich overnight!
No dirt stands up to You
For You created it all
I say, "Help me;" I never fall
You are the Source of reality
Thank You for making me - just so I can know You
Every morning I wake up at 6:13
I arise from my slumber at 6:13 in the morning
And I awoke from my sleep with Your Torah
Oh thank You G-d! I remember the days of darkness
I could not hear Your voie - but neither will He sleep, nor will He slumber
The Protector of Israel!
The darkness was so thick and raw, I could smell it
The stench of despair, of stagnation, of nowhere to go
Like a lamp on a street, You lit up the night
You are the Most Precious - yet infinitely free - You are Freedom
Close to those who call You - You are close to those who truly call
I call You now G-d, Who hears on the day we call!
No voices are kept from You
You hear them all
Why You are so great, I can't know
Life's worth is measured by contemplating Your greatness - so much, there is always more to know!
When the sun burns out - You will still shine forever!
The world is Your mirror
Mirror, mirror on the Wall, You are the greatest of them all!
My dad on Earth - You are my Dad in Heaven
Ask yourself, "Can the sun come up at night"
When G-d shows Himself to you - the sun has come up at night - and it is instantly day

I reject the notion that our existence generates hate and injustice
The multitude minorities open their mouths against us
We are white, but not quite
I do not know all the secrets of our existence
But I will not be blamed for breathing
Guilt for living will not poison my soul
I am free from the constraints of the unjust
The wicked have no yoke on me
But my bondage is chosen and predetermined by the Alm-ghty
He is my Yoke and my Freedom
I will give Him my best fruits
I will throw my pain at Him
And He will throw comfort at me according to His Will
My cup will indeed overflow; I have seen it before
He is the One with unlimited funds
The wealthiest and most generous Philanthropist
His Mind is purely good - and we are made in His Image

Sometimes the will cannot yield joy on its own
The soul needs nourishment to produce the joy
I cannot always be found inside
And the world's lights are confusing
Get away from the city lights if you can
The soul of the aching rejects nutrition
Herein lies the battle - those who know it can beat it
Sugar was in my eyes, and all that I saw was sweet
I bit into a sweet honey fruit; I remember the taste and long for it again
I know that the present is a present ~ but sometimes its hard to understand
Everyone around me simmers in joy, caught in their own satisfaction
She exists across a gulf now, and I want no communication with her
Supposedly her path is happy and right, but I know I walk more solidly
At times I feel like changing my location
But if I cannot find joy where I stand, then wherever I stand, I will find no joy
This wind will not uproot - we have been given the knowledge by G-d
To yield our own produce. We are His crops, and we know where the water is

The tension of best intention
G-d's Presence rests on us forever,
Bless Him
The stress designed to impress...
G-d's Presence, so bless Him
She comes to meet us
We can't see her, but she greets us
We can't touch her, but she meets us
G-d delivers her to us, right to our doorstep
Never late yet always free
The way every delivery should always be...
And the way they will for eternity...
Holy explosion, from the mundane, our expulsion... from the vulgar, our immigration...
The week's hill, from here we see all,
Come down with our faces glowing - thanks to the All-knowing

It's double trouble when buildings turn to rubble and your flesh begins to bubble. Plummeted plains into the high rise, when terror reigned in their eyes, terror reigned from the skies. Terrorize --> terror eyes. Now you feel the heat from the Arab streets, turning meat on a towering skewer, the attitude from the sewer. Who's the bloody brewer? When the flesh begins to bubble, turn your eyes to the Middle Eastern stubble. Don't obscure the fact that you've entered a pact, that will condemn you to death from a bomb in a backpack. You can't go back once he's crossed that line. Pretty soon it will be contact with the Divine. Terror rained from the skies and degraged people to flies, how many existing ties? When bin Ladin dies, the existing compromise that comprises of hate still waits for its fate. Irate against the State, in this state of affairs, he addresses his cares, hiding from burning Bush's and Blairs. He won't talk so loud when he looks up and sees an American cloud of righteous indignation, there is no talking with murderers of the nation. Say a prayer for the salvation from damnation for the damned nation.

Call your goons off now!
Call them off, you practitioners of false religion!
We are no longer deceived by your pious subtleties
In fact, "remove the log from your own eye!"
Until you realize that G-d has no birthplace and no birthdate
You are in the ranks of tri-theism!

Until you realize that He has no body, you are a tritheist!
A Christian man researched all the "Jewish languages" of the world... he found 75
He then went on a mission to write a "Bible," a decrepid monstrosity, combining the Tanakh
with flagrant sorcery, which is known as the "New Testament," in all 75 languages!
We will keep our own, keep your hands and feet to yourself;
offer no hugs and walk in the other direction!
You murderers of spirit; you manipulators of confusion
You take advantage of people on no good path and you bring them to a lie
But you remind us that we must hug our own
And you all must be corrected, for it is you that live a life that needs saving!
Come, be saved, redeemed from the fake hell that you have created for yourselves
And look at this fake hell that you have created, you damn us to it, you have created it for us,
you sick believers!
This hell awaits only for you; luckily it is not real
You worship Satan, you fear him more than you fear G-d; this is your ultimate flaw!
But you may still repent, accept that Satan is not an external character!
Accept that Satan exists only in you; he is not G-d's adversary, he is yours and yours alone!
G-d lets him live s that he may test us, and 2,004 years ago, he defeated you!
G-d may destroy him at any time, but He requires that we see Satan and turn away,
for that reason he exists
Accept the external truth, that the Messiah has not stepped foot on this earth yet!
Accept the Law of Moses, which your misled Paul has led you all away from,
like sheep to a bad field; your leader was a perverted sheperd!
Reject he whom you label "Messiah," reject that he can save you, for dead men save no one.
They must be buried and eventually forgotten
Know that you have been destroyers; look in the history of the last 2,005 years;
who has the sword?!
He had Greek blood and Roman vocabulary, he had blonde hair and blue eyes, skin so white
and cheeks so red, his eyes so full of tears that I felt like vomiting?
This is your god?
He is a portrayal, a mistake, a manifestation of your pagan fears
Most of you are sons and daughters of Gentile nations
Please accept Noah's Seven laws!
Bring Meshiach!
Your god loves unconditionally, yet you worship from fear of external separation to Hell
"Our" G-d shows anger, yet all are with Him forever after death!
That is "our" G-d; what do you worship?
That man is not G-d, who only we are His sons and daughters!
That man was a Jewish idol!