And the responses truly begin – Beit Shemesh continued

I will highlight a couple of posts that have begun to pop up. I came across a couple this afternoon which I will highlight. All I can say is I wish these thoughts had existed earlier, but… Additionally, still waiting for Gedolei Yisrael to speak up against the violence, as opposed to the following report.

It’s Time to Act

Wow! Maybe things are beginning to change. These seems to be a groundswell of Charedi outrage about the the Chilul HaShem that the Meah Shearim crowd has been responsible for – both in Bet Shemesh and on their home turf. The following is a front page editorial published in the very Charedi newspaper, Hamodia. It was written and signed by the publisher Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein. This is unprecedented. It is republished in VIN. I republish it here in its entirety:

Last Shabbos morning was exceptionally beautiful in Yerushalayim. As always, the streets were full of Yidden going to and from shul, passing walls plastered with a variety of posters and advertisements.

Suddenly I noticed a placard announcing a demonstration in Kikar HaShabbos, to take place on Motzoei Shabbos.

Participants would be required to wear a yellow star and don prisoners’ uniforms, similar to what was worn in the Nazi death camps, and demonstrate against the harassment of the authorities with regard to the mehadrin lines and other similar grievances. I was horrified.
In a subsequent conversation in which I described the placard, its content and style, to a resident of Yerushalayim with a lot of life experience, I was surprised at his calm response. He just brushed it off with a wave of his hand. “Nonsense! Meshuga’im!” he exclaimed.

But this time, these “meshuga’im” overstepped the line. They went too far. What has been imprinted in everyone’s memory, with the eager collaboration of the secular media, is the horrific image of a small child wearing a yellow star, with his arms raised, and, not coincidentally, remarkably resembling the famous photo of a child with his arms raised in the Warsaw Ghetto.
How did the hands of the parents not tremble when they dressed their small child in this horrific uniform?

What does this father know about the Holocaust, about children in the Holocaust, about the significance of such a photo? Obviously, less than nothing. With pre-meditated cynicism, the fringe group to which he belongs has desecrated an iconic symbol for their own ends.
What will this father tell his son when he grows older and tries to understand how his father opted to turn him into a symbol that will haunt him all his life?

It’s not pleasant to be a chareidi in Yerushalayim — or anywhere else in Eretz Yisrael for that matter — these days. During the remainder of my brief stay in Eretz Yisrael, wherever one went the reaction was the same: “You chareidim! Shame on you!”

The more polite, well-mannered people said, “We know they are a radical minority, we know they are casting a stain on the entire chareidi community with their behavior, but why do you remain silent?”

The time has come to shatter the silence. Ignoring these fanatics is no longer an option, since they go out of their way to attract the secular media in order to broadcast their warped messages to the entire world.

I make no demands on this group, since they are not rational. The father of that child and his cohorts not only did not apologize or explain themselves, they even pledged to continue in their ways, according to secular media reports.

My demand is from us: How did we, in our naiveté, think that the actions of this fringe group could just be ignored? How did we give them a platform, allowing them to act as the representatives of chareidi Jewry?

What we desperately need is a serious media campaign to present the true position of Torah Jewry to the world. As my father, Rabbi Leibel Levin, z”l, and Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, understood when they founded Mercaz L’hasbarah Datit and Am Echad, respectively, for this purpose, we dare not relinquish the spokesmanship of Klal Yisrael to irrational, irresponsible and self-serving fringe elements.

If we want to survive, if we want to merit understanding in Israel and abroad as Orthodox Jews who want to live our lives in accordance with the Torah, we must act — immediately!

Postscript: VIN also has this from Rav Ovadia Yosef. Finally the righteous outrage I have been waiting for!

By , on January 4th, 2012

Just when I thought I was going to have to spend time taking issue with what others have written on these pages, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Rav of Cong. Ahavas Israel in Passaic NJ captured the mood perfectly enough, that I no longer feel compelled to distance myself from the content. (This “Short Vort” appears today on his website, ahavasisrael.org )

Hey Yankel- how are you doing?

Thanks a lot for the pics you sent me. You and your son really look well fed and robust.

However, since you asked me how I am doing, I have no choice but to be honest.

Jake, oh sorry, I meant Yankel- I have known you all of my life; after all, you are my older brother.

I have always worshipped the ground you walked on and attempted to emulate all of your ways and movements.

After all, why not? While I went off to live in ‘treif America’ you settled in the land of our fathers’: Eretz Yisroel.

While I chose to use English as my spoken language, you kept to the ‘mama loshon’ and insisted on exclusively speaking Yiddish.

While I dressed in more ‘Western style dress’, you were obsessive in maintaining what you were emphatic was ‘authentic Jewish dress’.

I admired you for both of these traits.

And while me and many of my friends had no issue in using our ‘goyishe names’, you always insisted that we refer to you as Yankel and nothing else.

Although sometimes I kidded you for you obstinacy in the maintenance of these three cardinal traits of Jewish identity, in truth I envied you for what certainly seemed to me at the time as your authentic and ‘more Jewish’ lifestyle.

You are living in Meah Shearim; you have the freedom to teach your kids the way you want to; you are protected by the State; and for the most part no one- and I mean no one- interferes with your life at all.

When I came on my frequent visits to you- I was constantly amazed and happy by your financial stability and the growth of your neighborhoods.

You now have air conditioning and cell phones, beautiful Shabbos clothes and thank Hashem you purchased apartments for all of your children when they married.

In short, you were blessed by He whose blessings count and I was happy for you.

Even though you complained sometimes about all of the Americans who came through your neighborhood, privately you admitted to me that only because of those American dollars which pour through the shops and collectors of your streets were you able to make beautiful and wonderful weddings for your children.

I remember how at the last wedding of your daughter you had two video-people- one for the women and one for the men. It did make me wonder why you needed that – after all, I (the Modern American) had no video person at my son’s wedding while you had two! However, I let it pass and was happy for you.

When you came to visit I took you around and helped you raise money for your apartments with a smile and with a feeling that ‘at least there are still authentic Jews’ living an authentic Jewish life in Yerushalayim.

When the incidents occurred in Beit Shemesh, I believed what I read in the Chareidi media that this was not indicative of the feelings of most ‘authentic Jews’ and that this was the work of a ‘fringe group’. Perhaps I did not ‘really’ believe this, however, I so wanted to believe that this was true so I let it pass.

I decided not to contact you about those incidents; after all, you do not live in Beit Shemesh and after all you are a member of the Edah Chareidis an ‘official and respected’ organization.

All that was before Motzei Shabbos; on Motzei Shabbos I turned on the computer and there you were with your son- my nephew- Yossele!!!

My own brother Yankel in the middle of the melee!

Yankel, how could you do it? And how could you do it to our Yossele?

Look at your smile Yankel as you proudly set your eyes on your son that you have manipulated to raise his hands in a grotesque, sickening and revolting pose which imitates that which is truly holy and pure.

Yankel, I am sending you a copy of the ‘authentic’ (as I know you always want that which is authentic) original photograph of the scared and frightened little boy.

That boy is terrified; not knowing what life has in store for him.

Look at the other people in the photograph (I know most of them are women, however, let’s be honest Yankel, you must have studied this photo intently before you ‘offered your son’ on the alter of hate) – they are petrified and to be pitied.

Look now at you Yankel and at the other people in the picture. All of you are well fed, dressed in your Shabbos finery; having just eaten a big Shalosh Shiddush and a big Melave Malka. None of you in the picture appear truly frightened or scared.

Yankel, what did you say to little Yossele before you sullied him with the badge of hate?

What words of ‘chizuk’ did you offer to his pristine Neshama as you told him to pose in that position of mockery and as a caricature of contempt and as a parody of sarcasm.

Yankel, you know and I know it; you have benefited from the ‘Zionist State’ more than the majority of secular Israelis!

You have protection from the Arabs; dollars streaming in from tourists and students and you do not have to give back a dime.

However, after the events of Motzei Shabbos- and you have pointed this out to me- no one can claim that you are just a ‘few fringe people’.

Yankel, I must admit that you are correct, just as you have told me so many times before- you are not a fringe group.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and execution of this Motzei Shabbos ‘rally’.

You had women sewing the Concentration Camp uniforms.

You had technical assistance in surfing the web to get the best Holocaust pictures.

You had printers and translators printing and translating your signs into Hebrew and English.

You had choreographers and script writers planning and practicing this complicated cavort of callous insensitivity.

In short as you had told me time and time again, you are no fringe group and you are not a few individuals as others would have us believe.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and the execution of this demonstration!

And as you have pointed out to me many, many times; although we have seen rabbinic bans and protests against concerts and books; against women rabbis and against individual authors, there has never been a single signed pronouncement appearing with the names of any prominent Chareidi Rabbis who have protested or denounced your actions!

I guess Yankel you are correct. If ‘shtika K’Hodaa’ (if silence is akin to agreement) then I guess you are right, as sad as it may be.

However, Yankel, with that being said, the reason I am writing to you is really because you are my brother and I do love you dearly.

I love you with you all my heart and soul and I so cherish the good and wonderful and spiritual times we spent together singing and discussing Torah.

I remember fondly you telling me about how happy you were when you found solace and peace in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

How happy you were with his love of each and every Jew and how he accepted all Jews no matter who they were and what their standing was.

You told me how he started a movement wherein each and every precious Jew could be counted and loved, irrespective of how learned he was or how he dressed.

You told how the Baal Shem Tov himself dressed as a simple Jew as he went around sharing his love for each and every Jew irrespective of their level of observance.

You told me that Hashem looks into the heart of every precious Jew and forgives their lapses.

However, that was before you sent me the picture of you and Yossele.

That was before I saw my nephew forced to pose with his hands held upright in ridicule of that which is pure and pristine.

You told me about love and now I see hate.

You told about compassion and now I see cruelty.

You told about sanctity and now I see sacrilege.

Yankel, I know you are my brother; however, Yankel I must ask you:

Who are you?
Often I can no longer recognize you anymore.

With all my love,

Your brother who loves and misses you.

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Revised Mission of this Blog

I have decided to take stock of this blog, and blog writing in general.  As such, I began a second blog as a spinoff, called The World of Pastoral and Spiritual Care.  I will be using that blog as a place to post about chaplaincy and other issues related to health care. 

As such, this blog needs to also be revamped.  I am looking at this blog as a general blog for me to post what I consider interesting reads.  In general, the posts will be about:

  • Politics
  • Israel
  • Divrei Torah I have read of interest
  • Other areas of Jewish Thought which come to mind. 

I will also state, as I did on my other blog, that while I will work on posting more frequently, my minimum goal is to post at least once a week.

Black magic widespread in Middle East

Black magic widespread in Middle East – JPost – Middle East.

While many of us would think this is merely superstitious, it is clear that much of the world still believes in traditional magic.  In the west, these are not as overtly discussed, but in the Middle East, fear of dark magic runs deep within the culture.  Keep in mind that this is not just a belief held by Islamic Arabs.  Many North African and Middle Eastern Jews also believe in the powers of magic, both for good and bad.  One book I recall reading was called Without Bounds, by Yoram Bilu, a professor of anthropology and psychology at the Hebrew University (also see here).  In it he describes the life of a lesser known North African rabbi, including discussion of demonology and magic.  The rabbi lived in the last century and his family continues to live in Israel today. As you will see from the article below, even those who recognize the “forbidden” elements of magic are hard-pressed not to be influenced by it. 

Belief in witchcraft, spells, the occult and protective charms runs deep, despite religious and governmental bans against using magic.

 

When Tara Umm Omar was a young bride in her first marriage, she and her Moroccan husband took the youngest sister of a family friend into their home. On the day the young Moroccan woman arrived, she gave Umm Omar a doll, which Umm Omar promptly placed in a dresser drawer.

When Umm Omar told a friend of the doll, the friend suspected it was an item for black magic and suggested the doll be destroyed. Instead, Umm Omar tossed it in the garbage. That’s when household items disappeared, the family dog barked incessantly, Umm Omar started fighting with her husband and she began seeing strange insects in the house. When the guest finally moved out, the couple found their bed sheets and an identical doll to Umm Omar’s among the woman’s discarded belongings.

The message to Umm Omar was clear: The woman she invited into her home sought to destroy her happiness through black magic.

Umm Omar is since remarried to a Saudi and now lives in Riyadh. She runs the popular blog, Future Husbands and Wives of Saudis, a help website for non-Saudis marrying Saudis. As a quasi-marriage counselor for brides and grooms nervously entering Saudi society, Umm Omar dispenses religious and practical advice to help ease the cultural shock. That includes providing insight to the real world concerns of black magic and the evil eye.

“The truth is that all magic is haram [prohibited] and only leads to bad ends,” Umm Omar told The Media Line.

Belief in black magic runs deep in Saudi society. The issue was raised last month when the quasi-legislative body Shoura Council granted permission for Moroccan women to work as maids in Saudi households. Hundreds of Saudi women complained to the Council that granting Moroccan maids permission to work was tantamount to allowing the use of black magic in their homes to steal their husbands. Saudi wives complained the issue was not lacking trust in their husbands, but their men were powerless to ward off spells.

While greeted with skepticism in western societies, Saudis would no more question the existence of black magic than they would Islam. Two surahs (chapters) in the Qur’an under Al Mi’wadhatyan address black magic and are often recited during or after prayer. Simply, part of being a Muslim is believing in the existence of magic.

In April of this year, members of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice underwent special training in the Eastern Province to investigate black magic crimes.

Although also found in Christianity and Judaism, casting spells is particularly common in Oman, Sudan, Yemen, Morocco and Indonesia. Turkey is a secular Muslim country, but protection against evil eye is deeply rooted in virtually all aspects of daily life. Tools of witchcraft include using lizards, dead birds, photographs, hair, thread, dirt, blood and red ink. Hiding places to place “spells” may be in bedrooms and under beds. Written spells generally contain the intended victim’s name and one or two words to state the intention to do harm.

In 2007, the religious police in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, removed 23 black magic tokens, including knives and written spells on paper, from two graves in a cemetery. Black magic artists placed the tokens at the heads and feet of the corpses.

The Saudi press reported recently that evil eye was suspected in causing the death of Mastoora Al-Ahmadi, the Saudi poet who garnered international attention for her performance on “The Million’s Poet” on Abu Dhabi TV. She was the first woman to reach the semifinals in the Arabic poetry contest. Al-Ahmadi died unexpectedly on Oct. 2 in Madinah after falling into a coma.

Howaizan Muhammad, 26, of Madinah, told The Media Line that she had difficulty finding a job and failed in many interviews. And she hated the jobs she did find. She broke up with her fiancé and couldn’t find a husband. “My sister told me to read the surah Al-Baqarah to protect me against any spells,” she says. “After 14 days, my father found a spell written on paper and in blood with my name on it on the roof under our water tank.”

Muhammad says she had Indonesian maids at the time, but notes that anybody could have left the spell.

Sheikh Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, an Islamic scholar based in Qatar and the author of The Exorcist Tradition in Islam, told The Media Line that Muslims must not fight witchcraft with their own magic but refer to the Qur’an. “There are a number of Qur’anic texts that the Prophet said should be read with reflection as a means of removing or reducing the effects of black magic,” he says. “Eating adjuwah dates from Madinah is also a means of protection.”

He notes there is a tendency to fight magic with magic, but it’s prohibited. “People should avoid charms, amulets and other things that people have proffered, which has become something of a business in the Muslim world.”

Philips acknowledges that Moroccans have an “international reputation” among Muslims for practicing witchcraft, but cautions against overemphasizing Moroccans as master artists of voodoo. “Historically they [Moroccans] are most noted for it. But they are not much different than most in the Muslim world. Chechnya and Bosnia probably engage in it more.”

Although Saudis may claim that witchcraft is at the heart of their distrust of foreign maids, Umm Omar suggests that old-fashioned power struggles and jealously play vital roles in conflicts.

“There is a factor that Saudis are more well-to-do than Moroccans and magic can be used to remove those blessings [of wealth] if [maids] dislike them,” Umm Omar says. “Saudi women are used to feeling superior over maids, and in some cases look down on them. Moroccan women do not like to be pushed around and will defend themselves. My experience with Moroccan and Saudi women is they both like to be in charge of the household and are naturally bossy.”

Umm Omar adds that if a maid feels threatened, she could resort to black magic. “Of course that is not to say that a Saudi woman won’t seek out magic to harm a Moroccan maid.”
Left unsaid in this battle of wills between Saudi and Moroccan women is the consequences of practicing black magic in Saudi Arabia. Practicing witchcraft is an offense punishable by death.

Saudi religious police arrested popular Lebanese television personality and fortuneteller Ali Sabat in May 2008 on charges of witchcraft while he was on a pilgrimage. A Saudi court sentenced him to death. But an appellate court threw out the sentence in 2010, citing lack of evidence that Sabat harmed anybody. According to Amnesty International, the last documented execution for witchcraft in Saudi Arabia was in 2007. A Saudi court sentenced Egyptian pharmacist Mustafa Ibrahim to death for casting spells in order to separate a married couple.

“Fortune telling is not just sleight of hand tricks, but involves the spirit,” says Philips. “As evil, it’s the same thing as black magic. Sharia proscribes the same punishment for both.”

Umm Omar points to ignorance and the absence of a strong foundation in the teachings of Islam that lead some Muslims to practice magic and evil eye.

Although Philips says that ignorance is no excuse for breaking laws, forgiveness should be considered. “God does forgive ignorance,” he says. “We should be more tolerant in some cases because some people are not doing [harmful] things deliberately.”

 

Shalit chronicles

I realize I am late to the party.  Part of this was purposeful in that I felt others had captured much of what was out there regarding the release of Gilad Shalit.  Yet, I came across three pieces over the weekend that made me decide it would be good to at least offer up some of the material online regarding how we should think about and react to his freedom.  Here are a couple of the more fascinating pieces I found (for some other headlines, check out Bruce’s Mideast Soundbites).

A Mother’s Pain – Sherri Mandel

Why are we against the exchange that allows murderers to go free? Because we know the suffering that they leave in their wake.

Why is it that terror victims are seemingly the only ones against the prisoner exchange? While other Israelis are rejoicing, we are in despair.

Arnold and Frimet Roth circulated a petition against the release of Ahlam Tamimi, an accomplice in their daughter Malki’s murder at the Sbarro pizza shop.

Tamimi says she is happy that many children were killed in the attack. Meir Schijveschuurder, whose family was massacred in the same attack, filed a petition with the high court and says he is going to leave Israel because of his feelings of betrayal. The parents of Yasmin Karisi feel that the state is dancing in their blood because Khalil Muhammad Abu Ulbah, who murdered their daughter and seven others by running them down with a bus at the Azor junction in 2001, is also on the list to be released. Twenty-six others were wounded in that attack.

Why are so many of us against the exchange that allows murderers and their accomplices to go free? Because we know the suffering that these murderers leave in their wake.

Yes, I want Gilad Schalit released. But not at any price. Not at the price we have experienced.

My son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were murdered by terrorists 10 years ago when they were 13 and 14 years old. They had been hiking in the wadi near our home when they were set upon by a Palestinian mob and stoned to death. It was a brutal, vicious murder.

We now run the Koby Mandell Foundation for terror victims’ families. We direct Camp Koby, a 10-day therapeutic sleep away camp for 400 children who have lost loved ones, mostly to terror. We also run mothers’ healing retreats and support groups.

MOST PEOPLE don’t understand the continuing devastation of grief: fathers who die of heart attacks, mothers who get sick with cancer, children who leave school, families whose only child was murdered. We see depression, suicide, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. You wouldn’t believe how many victims’ families are still on sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication. We see the pain that doesn’t diminish with time. We literally see people die of grief.

Bereaved families face acute psychological isolation.

Nobody understands us, they often complain.

They mean that nobody understands the duration or the severity of their pain and longing. In the aftermath of a prisoner exchange, this isolation will only be exacerbated.

So will the feeling that our children’s deaths don’t matter.

When people tell me that my son Koby died for nothing, I always used to say: No, it is our job to make his death mean something.

But now I am not sure. It seems that the government is conspiring to ensure that our loved ones’ deaths were for nothing.

Cheapening our loved ones’ deaths only enhances the pain. If Israel is willing to free our loved ones’ murderers, then the rest of the world can look on and assume that the terrorists are really freedom fighters or militants. If Palestinians were murdering Jews in cold blood without justification, surely the Israeli government wouldn’t release them.

No sane government would.

When we were sitting shiva for Koby, a general in the army told us: “We will bring the killers to justice.” I believed him. I took his words to heart. Today I am thankful my son’s killers have not been found. So are my children. Of course, I don’t want the terrorists to kill again. But if they were to be released in this prisoner exchange, I don’t think I could bear it.

We don’t want other families to be put in our situation.

We don’t want terrorists to be free when our loved ones are six feet underground. Ten years after my son was beaten to death, the pain often feels like a prison. In many ways, I am not free.

We don’t want other terrorists to be emboldened because they know that even if they murder, they may not have to stay in prison. President Shimon Peres says he will pardon but he will not forgive. Terrorist victims’ families will not pardon or forgive the government for this release.

We have been betrayed. To pardon terrorists mocks our love and our pain.

Furthermore, terrorism aims to strike fear in an entire society, to bring a whole populace to its knees. During the intifada, the terrorists did not succeed in defeating Israeli society. But to release prisoners now signals to Hamas that their strategy of terror was correct, effective.

They will celebrate wholeheartedly because they have won.

And as a result of prisoner exchanges, the Israeli justice system can only be seen as a joke, a mockery, even a travesty of justice.

It provides no deterrent and no retribution. It’s as if our government says to the killers: Come hurt us again. We’ll be happy to release you one day. We’ll let you go when you demand it.

I want Gilad Schalit home.

We need to protect our own soldiers. But not with a wholesale prisoner exchange. I wish that I could rejoice with the Schalit family. But I can’t.

The price is too high.

The writer is the mother of Koby Mandell, who was stoned to death near his home in Tekoa in 2001.

‘Shalit release like resurrection of the dead’

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef expresses joy over kidnapped soldier’s return, says it illustrates what Jewish people should expect at End of Days by Kobi Nahshoni

Shas‘ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, says the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is a sort of “preview” for the resurrection of the dead.

In a sermon delivered Tuesday night ahead of the holiday of Simchat Torah, the rabbi explained that the joy over Gilad’s return to his family illustrates what the Jewish people should expect at the End of Days, when the dead will rise out of their graves and return to life.

Yosef concluded his sermon by stating that “this is a great day of joy for all the people of Israel for Gilad Shalit’s return.”

“Every day we say (in a prayer), ‘Blessed is God, the resurrector of the dead’ – what a great joy we’ll experience. We are being described what will happen.”

According to the rabbi, the entire world was excited about the soldier’s release from captivity after five years, and in the future the dead will return to their families even decades after being taken away from them.

In a bid to demonstrate the great joy in the days of the Messiah, Rabbi Yosef explained that it would be like a multitude of weddings, as each person returning to life will have to remarry his widow in order to live with her again.

“Everywhere you go – a chuppah. This one’s wife has been resurrected, and that one’s wife has been resurrected – what a joy it will be!”

 

Rabbi Yosef followed Shalit’s return home on Tuesday, after being involved in the early stages of the prisoner exchange deal – offering support and encouragement. The rabbi stayed at home as usual and continued his Torah studies, but asked his family members to update him on every development.

Upon hearing that the soldier’s physical and mental condition was satisfactory, he excitedly recited the “Blessed is God that redeems and saves” prayer and said Jews must continue praying for his full recovery.

A Mitzvah Behind the Price of a Soldier’s Freedom By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

On the Sabbath morning of Nov. 5, less than three weeks after the release of Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit in a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, Jews in synagogues throughout the world will read a Torah portion concerning Abraham’s early journeys. The text recounts how invaders conquered the city of Sodom, taking Abraham’s nephew Lot as a captive, and the way Abraham raised an army to rescue him.

The timing of this Torah reading is an absolute coincidence, an unplanned synchronicity between the religious calendar and breaking news. Yet the passage also offers an essential explanation, one almost entirely ignored in coverage of the Shalit deal, for Israel’s anguished decision to pay a ransom in the form of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including the perpetrators of terrorist attacks on civilians.

The story of Abraham saving Lot represents the earliest of a series of examples of the concept of “pidyon shvuyim” — redeeming the captives, invariably at a cost — in Jewish Scripture, rabbinic commentaries and legal codes. That concept, absorbed into the secular culture of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, helped validate the steep, indeed controversial, price of Sergeant Shalit’s liberation.

Far from being some abstruse, obscure point of theology, pidyon shvuyim is called in the Talmud a “mitzvah rabbah,” a great commandment. The Shulhan Arukh, a legal code compiled in the 16th century, states, “Redeeming captives takes precedence over sustaining the poor and clothing them, and there is no commandment more important than redeeming captives.”

So while journalists, analysts and scholars have offered various motivations for the disproportionate deal — the effect of the Arab Spring, the institutional culture of the Israeli Army to never leave behind its wounded, the symbolism of Sergeant Shalit as everyone’s child in a country of nearly universal military service — the principle of pidyon shvuyim preceded all those factors.

“For most people in Israel, it doesn’t translate directly as a mitzvah, because even if they’re attached to Jewish tradition, they’re not halakhic,” said Noam Zohar, a professor of philosophy at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, using a term for following religious law. “But the underlying values — solidarity and the high value of every individual life — are part of our public ethos. The same values informed the high urgency of pidyon shvuyim.”

Moshe Halbertal, a philosophy professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, framed the issue similarly. “Those things are in the DNA of the culture,” he said of the religious teachings about ransoming captives. “It’s a sentiment that can’t be measured in exact legal or judicial terms. It plays a role in those moments of perplexity. You fall back on your basic identity. As a Jew, as an Israeli, what do I do?”

From its initial depiction in Genesis, the admonition to redeem captives reappears in the books of Leviticus and Nehemiah, as well as in the Talmud, Shulhan Arukh and writings of Maimonides. Among the ancient commentators, as well as among Israelis today, debate has persisted over whether pidyon shvuyim is an absolute value.

A passage in the Talmudic volume of Gittin, anticipating the recent voices of Israelis critical of the Shalit deal, cautions, “We do not redeem captives for more than their worth, so that enemies will not dedicate themselves to take other people captive.”

The traumas of Jewish history have provided innumerable opportunities for reconciling the tension between redemption and extortion. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews who traveled as merchants and traders were frequently kidnapped by pirates or highway bandits. During the Holocaust, German forces routinely threatened to destroy Jewish communities unless the residents paid a pre-emptive ransom.

As Bradley Burston wrote last week in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, over the past 54 years, the nation has freed a total of 13,509 Arab prisoners in exchanges that brought home 16 captive Israeli soldiers — a ratio of roughly 800 to 1.

With such an imbalance, pidyon shvuyim has been both a cherished and a contested belief. A prominent German rabbi taken captive in the 14th century, Meir ben Baruch, instructed his followers not to pay a ransom, which he feared would be onerously high, and ultimately was killed. Israel was torn apart in the 1950s by a libel trial involving Rudolf Kasztner, a Jewish activist in Hungary who had paid cash, gold and jewels to the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann in 1944 to save about 1,600 Jews headed for death camps. So controversial were Mr. Kasztner’s actions that he was assassinated by a fellow Israeli more than a decade after the war.

While Israelis have widely believed that sovereignty and military might ended the need for paying ransoms, the Shalit deal has proven otherwise. It was approved by a prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had repeatedly written against what he termed “terrorist blackmail” earlier in his political career.

“The Zionist diagnosis, the post-Holocaust diagnosis, was that powerlessness invites victimization,” said Michael Berenbaum of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, a prominent Holocaust historian. “What’s intriguing here is that power has not resolved Israel’s vulnerability.”

Indeed, as the Jewish ethicist Elliot N. Dorff pointed out, contemporary Israel is vulnerable in ways that the small, scattered communities of the Diaspora were not. It has its own enemy prisoners to be demanded in a trade. The Shalit negotiations took place in a constant media spotlight, tracking not just five years of failed deal making between Israel and Hamas but the tableau of Sergeant Shalit’s parents sitting in a protest tent outside Mr. Netanyahu’s office.

For all the practical, pragmatic, geopolitical calculations that went into the final deal, it also benefited from the endorsement of a leading Sephardic rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party. With his approval, the Shas members in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet voted for the deal. And, in an unspoken, little-noticed way, religious tradition informed a real-world decision.

“The whole issue of redeeming captives,” as Mr. Dorff put it, “has not been a theoretical one.”

Mea She’arim bookstore hit again by extremist Mafia

h/t failed Messiah

Since this is one of my favorite frum bookstores in Israel, I had to post this horrid story.  I know people are crazy, but perhaps it is time to deal with the problem.  Haredim have viewpoints we don’t agree with.  Yet, all that things like this do is make it seem as if our fundamentalists are no better than Islamic fundamentalists.  Sure, we don’t chop off hands for stealing, but the constant violence from seemingly religious and supposedly pious people is disgusting.  I hope that this wonderful bookstore does not get scared because of the fringe.  Besides, the people of Meah Shearim should realize that places like Ohr HaHayyim bring them money and business as well. 

Mea She’arim bookstore hit again by extremist Mafia… JPost – National News.

A bookstore in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim, which has been struggling with violence from a mafia-style “Purity Committee” that objects to their English and Zionist books, was attacked once again early on Wednesday morning.

Marlene Samuels, the manager of Or Hachaim/Manny’s Bookstore, found the outer windows of the shop smashed for the fifth time since the store’s opening in March 2010, and the second time in less than a week.

Radicals from the fringe anti-Zionist Sikrikim group have also glued its locks shut, thrown tar and fish oil at it and dumped bags of human excrement inside the store.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the police had received a complaint and opened an investigation.

He added that the police are using intelligence gathered from a wide range of sources to try to stop the violence against the store.

The harassment of the bookstore stems from the bookstore’s refusal to accept demands made by the Sikrikim, a group of 60-100 extremists in Mea She’arim which demands all businesses observe specific “modesty standards.”

At Or Hachaim, the Sikrikim’s demands include putting up a sign asking customers to dress modestly and removing all English-language and Zionist books. Two weeks ago, owners of the store met with Sikrikim representatives to try to stop the violence, but no solution was found.

“Their list is too long, they want every English book out, they want the store, that’s the bottom line,” said Samuels.

“Nothing good enough for them, and we can’t take out the English books, we won’t have a business.”

She complained that the police have not helped them try to find the culprits, despite security camera footage that clearly shows the men breaking the windows.

Samuels said they had considered putting up steel shutters on the building to protect the glass, but she worried the Sikrikim would find a way to destroy that as well.

“The only thing left to do is beat these people up,” a frustrated Samuels said on Wednesday, the second time in less than two weeks that all of the store’s outer windows have been broken. “Just find these people and beat them to a pulp. They’re cowards and only violence will quiet them down.”

Samuels said that other store owners suffering from similar abuse had hired vigilantes to stop the violence and been successful, though she doubted that the owners of Or Hachaim/Manny’s would do that.

Many of the other stores in the neighborhood have acquiesced to the Sikrikim’s demands, though they complain of the “mafia-like” control the small group of extremists wield over the area.

More Medical Schools Are Screening Applicants Closely for People Skills

Bedside manner is a very important element in patien care.  So much so that medical students are being given a basic training in how to have better people skills.  The NY Times had an article, “More Medical Schools Are Screening Applicants Closely for People Skills” which describes new means of teaching and testing how these future doctors will act in practice.  When i was first learning about chaplaincy work, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was something quite simple.  If a person enters a room and completely faces the patient, that patient will perceive the person having been in the room longer than they really were.  As such, body language and posture will often be the first step of refining people skills. 

The article goes further, as it indicates a need to teach the students how to be effecient and quick thinking while also being “in the room” with the person, even for a short interval.  Additionally, part of the article’s description of the increased need to find people friendly doctors is to also teach the need to work in a team.  Healthcare is no longer provided as a medical model in its own right as most people are looking for holistic care, requiring multiple disciplines to be available.  This is something hospice does well but other areas of medicine are not up to speed with yet. 

Doctors save lives, but they can sometimes be insufferable know-it-alls who bully nurses and do not listen to patients. Medical schools have traditionally done little to screen out such flawed applicants or to train them to behave better, but that is changing…

At Virginia Tech Carilion, 26 candidates showed up on a Saturday in March and stood with their backs to the doors of 26 small rooms. When a bell sounded, the applicants spun around and read a sheet of paper taped to the door that described an ethical conundrum. Two minutes later, the bell sounded again and the applicants charged into the small rooms and found an interviewer waiting. A chorus of cheerful greetings rang out, and the doors shut. The candidates had eight minutes to discuss that room’s situation. Then they moved to the next room, the next surprise conundrum and the next interviewer, who scored each applicant with a number and sometimes a brief note.

The school asked that the actual questions be kept secret, but some sample questions include whether giving patients unproven alternative remedies is ethical, whether pediatricians should support parents who want to circumcise their baby boys and whether insurance co-pays for medical visits are appropriate.

Virginia Tech Carilion administrators said they created questions that assessed how well candidates think on their feet and how willing they are to work in teams. The most important part of the interviews are often not candidates’ initial responses — there are no right or wrong answers — but how well they respond when someone disagrees with them, something that happens when working in teams.

Candidates who jump to improper conclusions, fail to listen or are overly opinionated fare poorly because such behavior undermines teams. Those who respond appropriately to the emotional tenor of the interviewer or ask for more information do well in the new admissions process because such tendencies are helpful not only with colleagues but also with patients.

“We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important,” said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carilion…

A pleasant bedside manner and an attentive ear have always been desirable traits in doctors, of course, but two trends have led school administrators to make the hunt for these qualities a priority. The first is a growing catalog of studies that pin the blame for an appalling share of preventable deaths on poor communication among doctors, patients and nurses that often results because some doctors, while technically competent, are socially inept.

The second and related trend is that medicine is evolving from an individual to a team sport. Solo medical practices are disappearing. In their place, large health systems — encouraged by new government policies — are creating teams to provide care coordinated across disciplines. The strength of such teams often has more to do with communication than the technical competence of any one member.

“When I entered medical school, it was all about being an individual expert,” said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, the president and chief executive of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “Now it’s all about applying that expertise to team-based patient care.”

Separate tables

I find myself fascinated by this article in Haaretz.  While I myself would not to live the lifestyle of complete segregation of genders, even in one’s home, I am not looking to offer a critique of this Hasidic practice.  Rather, I would like to comment on the article’s descriptions as to why separate tables has become a way of life for many in the Hasidic world.

Gender separation in schools and synagogues has always been an important facet of ultra-Orthodox life and is generally not contested. But the Hasidic members of the ultra-Orthodox community are now determined to extend gender separation to other venues in the public domain, such as banquet halls, buses, health clinics, and even some sidewalks in Jerusalem on certain days of the Jewish calendar.

Among the various Hasidic sects, the Gur Hasidim are known to be most vigilant, going so far as to keep tabs on the activities of families and couples to ensure that the rules of gender separation are not violated. Among the most devout Gur Hasidim, a married couple will never be seen walking together in the street. Instead, the husband will walk ahead and the woman will follow, a few paces behind him. Not surprisingly, when gender separation was first instituted on buses about a decade ago, it began on those lines traveling from Jerusalem to Gur Hasidic neighborhoods in Bnei Brak and Ashdod.

Hebrew University lecturer Dr. Benjamin Brown, who specializes in Jewish philosophy and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, notes: “In the Gur Hasidic community, measures are taken to ensure that there is no mutual understanding between men and women, even between husband and wife.” Total gender segregation, especially among adolescents and young adults, he notes, is enforced. For this reason, a yeshiva student in the Gur community will never be present in the same house with a female guest, even if the female guest is a relation of a young woman who has just become engaged to a brother of the yeshiva student. Similarly, when they are invited to the wedding of a peer, Gur Hasid yeshiva students stay only for the ceremony and do not partake in the subsequent banquet. They also make a point of avoiding conversations even with their sisters-in-law.

According to Brown, this rigorous code of conduct is rooted in a desire to maintain what Gur Hasidim call “sanctity” in day-to-day life. It was formulated as a response to the appeal made by their legendary leader Rabbi Yisrael Alter (known as the “Beis Yisroel” ), who headed the community from the founding of the State of Israel in May 1948 until his death in 1976, that the principle of “sanctity” be formally integrated into family life. “The motive was not really the promotion of modesty,” Brown explains, “because during this same period, despite the strict code of conduct, women in the Gur Hasidic community always dressed elegantly and maintained a well-groomed appearance.”

When it comes to the general genre of gender separation, it would appear that one of the primary purposes is to increase one’s sanctity.  It is interesting to note how within much of the Haredi world, the idea of men learning (not just Torah) from women is not something looked well upon.  A women can attend a lecture given by a man, but not the other way around.  Much of this is related to the famous words from Psalms, Kol Kavuda Bat Melech Pnimah (45:14 – All glorious is the king’s daughter within the palace).  In the context of eating a meal together, it must be that since eating should be a sacred act, the sacredness of eating must not be done in the company of the opposite sex.  Further, by sitting together, even at different ends of the table, there is an increased possibility of social interactions, which would invalidate the sacredness of the meal.  A final thought comes to mind as well. 

For the Hasidic world, based on an idea of the ARI, the table is like a miniature mizbeach.  As such, the food we eat represents qodshim, which are to be eaten in a state of purity,  The table therefore cannot be hindered by gender mixing, as the meal is symbolic of partaking of the sacrifices in the Temple. 

Nava Wasserman, who is preparing her doctoral dissertation on Gur Hasidism at Bar-Ilan University, notes that the Beis Yisroel also favored separate tables for men and women. However, she points out, not all Gur Hasidim accept this strict code of conduct and there are no widely accepted norms in the community. Instead, each family applies the code or deviates from it, as it sees fit.

“In any event,” says Wasserman, “no one wants to see the woman of the family being forced to eat in the kitchen.”

But according to a Gur Hasid who asked to remain anonymous, when there are many guests for a meal and there is simply not enough space to accommodate them in the dining room or living room, the women sit in the kitchen. Whenever men and women sit separately, he notes, the men serve themselves so at least the women do not have to stand around, waiting to serve them.

To me, this was the most telling part.  I remember one meal at my Rabbi’s house, a chabad Rabbi, during Sukkot, when the men ate in the sukkah and the women ate indoors.  What was interesting about this separation was that the only reason was due to space limitations.  For many in these Hasidic communities, space is a real problem.  Even if one never invites non-family guests over, tables are full and sometimes it just becomes less of hassle to separate eating spaces instead of playing games.  It is like setting up a kids table when one has many guests.  It is not because kids shouldn’t be at the table, but there is no room and it becomes easier to separate kids and adults. 

About the in-laws

Over the years, the Gur Hasidim have become somewhat more flexible on this point, and in recent years, according to Brown, have opened their code of conduct to internal debate. Meanwhile, other Hasidic sects, such as Slonim and Toldot Aharon, have gradually become influenced by the Gur way of life and have begun to apply similar prohibitions in the area of marital relations. In addition, in many Hasidic families, Brown emphasizes, when guests are invited for dinner, there are always separate tables for men and women. Gender segregation often begins when the nuclear family expands, as children marry and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law are brought into the fold.

According to halakha (Jewish religious law), brothers-in-law are not relatives of the first degree. As such, they are prohibited from listening to a woman in their wife’s family sing and they are not allowed to be alone with any of the female members of their wife’s family. Thus, in Hasidic families, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law never sit around and engage in small talk. Instead, they keep their distance from one another.

This is another challenge that is faced.  In addition to the shock of men and women coming together in marriage when neither side has a good understanding of the other gender, but then there is the greater challenge of interacting with others of the opposite gender who are not directly related.  As such, many find their meals more comfortable with less intermingling.  Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between separate areas of the table and relegating women to eating in the kitchen.