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.”

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Internet ettiquete for the holidays

While this piece was written for a pre Yom Kippur crowd, since there are traditions that the books remain open until Hoshana Rabba, it is important to note and to consider.  How we write on the internet is something of which we need to be conscious.

 

Dozens, hundreds and thousands of comments – “talkbacks” – can be found under articles on Israeli websites from readers seeking to address the article itself (in the best-case scenario) or its writer and other talkbackers (usually in the worst-case scenario).  

The talkbacks are often offensive, although not legally problematic. Still, after a talkback is published, its writer can no longer take it back and delete it.

 

This is what happened to a reader who regretted a talkback he sent to a certain website. He decided to turn to Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva, for advice.

 

“Dear rabbi, I have failed. I expressed contempt for religious scholars by writing inappropriate comments on the Internet. How can I take it back? Do I have to contact them and ask for their forgiveness, or not?”

 

Here is the rabbi’s answer:

“It’s very hard to fix things written on the Internet. The reason is that they are not deleted and appear time and again on different search engines. Therefore, every person writing on the Internet must act in a very responsible manner.

 

“One must remember that according to the Shulchan Aruch code of laws for Yom KippurEve, a person does not have to forgive slander against him, and Rabbi Moses Isserles explains that the slander resurfaces even after the forgiveness request and forgiveness does not solve the problem. So one must be very, very careful.

 

“So what should be done to make amends? There are three stages to this amendment (and we are talking about hurting any person, not necessarily scholars):

 

“A. If possible, call and ask for forgiveness. Each case must be considered individually, as it can sometimes be a lot to ask for; but, in principle, it’s the right thing to do. It’s important both for the person whose forgiveness we seek, even if he is still hurt and insulted, and for the person asking for forgiveness as part of shame’s ‘atonement repairs.’

 

 

“B. Try to repair the damage. You can’t erase what has been written, but you can write other talkbacks (of course only if that’s what you really thinks, and not lies) mentioning the good things about the person you hurt. Here too, each case must be considered individually as it can sometimes be a touch of slander in itself and can evoke harsh words against that person, but you must do all in your power to restore the offended person’s reputation.

 

“C. Turn the fall into a repair, and make a deep internal decision that you shall not resume the sin of writing nasty things about another person in public. This is an answer out of love, which turns malice into rights.

Repentance rules for talkbacker

Reader who wrote offensive comments against religious scholars on certain website asks Rabbi Sherlo’s advice on atonement. Answer includes three stages
Ynet

Dozens, hundreds and thousands of comments – “talkbacks” – can be found under articles on Israeli websites from readers seeking to address the article itself (in the best-case scenario) or its writer and other talkbackers (usually in the worst-case scenario).  The talkbacks are often offensive, although not legally problematic. Still, after a talkback is published, its writer can no longer take it back and delete it.

Talking Back?
Rabbi Aviner: Don’t read talkbacks / Kobi Nahshoni
One of Religious Zionism’s leaders says responding to articles on websites may lead to religious and moral transgressions. ‘Talkbacks can bring many blessings, but for the most part we see that they have many negative sides which means it isn’t worth it in the long run’
Full story

This is what happened to a reader who regretted a talkback he sent to a certain website. He decided to turn to Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva, for advice.

“Dear rabbi, I have failed. I expressed contempt for religious scholars by writing inappropriate comments on the Internet. How can I take it back? Do I have to contact them and ask for their forgiveness, or not?” Here is the rabbi’s answer: “It’s very hard to fix things written on the Internet. The reason is that they are not deleted and appear time and again on different search engines. Therefore, every person writing on the Internet must act in a very responsible manner. “One must remember that according to the Shulchan Aruch code of laws for Yom KippurEve, a person does not have to forgive slander against him, and Rabbi Moses Isserles explains that the slander resurfaces even after the forgiveness request and forgiveness does not solve the problem. So one must be very, very careful.“So what should be done to make amends? There are three stages to this amendment (and we are talking about hurting any person, not necessarily scholars):

“A. If possible, call and ask for forgiveness. Each case must be considered individually, as it can sometimes be a lot to ask for; but, in principle, it’s the right thing to do. It’s important both for the person whose forgiveness we seek, even if he is still hurt and insulted, and for the person asking for forgiveness as part of shame’s ‘atonement repairs.’

“B. Try to repair the damage. You can’t erase what has been written, but you can write other talkbacks (of course only if that’s what you really thinks, and not lies) mentioning the good things about the person you hurt. Here too, each case must be considered individually as it can sometimes be a touch of slander in itself and can evoke harsh words against that person, but you must do all in your power to restore the offended person’s reputation.

“C. Turn the fall into a repair, and make a deep internal decision that you shall not resume the sin of writing nasty things about another person in public. This is an answer out of love, which turns malice into rights.

My Worst Enemy’s Shiva

I found this today and felt it was quite important to share as a whole.  People have enough trouble paying a shiva visit in general.  How much more so when we think we need to visit someone we are in conflict with.  I am somewhat concerned by the Q and A here.  While I agree with the author’s response and strategies for visiting and how to visit, I would have started with a simpler question;  why do you feel the need to visit in the first place?  Is it out a sense of reconciliation, or a sense that the fighting was a mistake to begin with?  Or do you merely feel the need to fulfill the commandment of comforting the bereaved?  Nevertheless, consider the answer Hammerman offers for it does provide us a real sense of the appropriate timing and means of visiting while limiting the potential for fighting. 

Q. The mother of my worst enemy just died and I’m not sure whether to visit during Shiva. In truth, I sincerely see this as a chance to reconcile (we haven’t spoken in about five years but have a lot of friends in common). My only concern is that he would misinterpret the reason for the visit and kick me out of the house. I really don’t want to cause him any discomfort. What should I do?

A. Do you think this would be the first time that two people at a shiva had unresolved issues?  It happens all the time, usually involving people from the deceased’s family who are barely on speaking terms. I’ve seen amazing moments of reconciliation happen during the period of grieving. When someone says “over my dead body,” sometimes that’s precisely the most likely location for enemies to reunite, as happened to  Isaac and Ishmael when they buried Abraham.

So go.

But I add this disclaimer: If you poisoned his Akita or stole his birthright, I might hold off until the time is right. Jacob’s journey back to Esau was paved with gifts and trepidation. It took decades before each party was ready. In any event, if you do go to the Shiva, I’d avoid visiting during peak periods, when the mourner might feel you are simply making an appearance for show. If the guy shows signs of being uncomfortable with your presence, or worse, begins to make a scene, I’d make a hasty exit and not take it personally.  The rabbis explained that the second Temple was destroyed because of the resentment of a person humiliated in public by his worst enemy. Don’t let that happen to you. It’s also OK to wait until after shiva, when you might call and meet for coffee in a quite spot. Or maybe the best strategy would be to write a heartfelt letter.

I believe that all conflicts have an expiration date. Even the Hatfields and McCoys signed a truce just a few years ago. If you could reconcile with your worst enemy and become a true pursuer of peace, echoing the words of Psalm 34:15, you will make the world a better place. And an enormous weight will be taken off your shoulders.

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.

Is buying or being charitable more important in fulfilling Yishuv Eretz Israel?

The following question and answer were presented in this past week’s dvar Torah sheet from Eretz Hemdah.  It caught my eye because of the dualing values of planning on moving to Israel vs. being financially capable of supporting Israel from afar.

Ask the Rabbi by Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I have enough money to buy an apartment in Israel but I do not plan to live there in the near future. I could also use the money to help support people or programs in Israel. Which is the preferred way to fulfill yishuv Eretz Yisrael?

Answer: According to almost all opinions, there is a mitzva in our times to live in Israel (yeshivat Eretz Yisrael), with significant discussion about whether it is from the Torah (Ramban, Additions to Sefer Hamitzvot, Aseh 4) or rabbinic (see discussion in Rav Yisraeli’s Eretz Hemdah I, 1:4). In all likelihood, one fulfills this mitzva by being a permanent resident of Israel, not a tourist or even a landowner who visits often (Shut Hamaharit II, 28). Some even say that the living must be a normal, healthy inhabitation (see different applications in Shut Harashbash 2, Eretz Hemdah op. cit. and Amud Hayemini 22). In any case, none of the options you mentioned would be a full-fledged mitzva of yeshivat Eretz Yisrael.

There is a second part of the mitzva, which the Ramban (op. cit.) calls kibush (conquest), i.e., to bring Eretz Yisrael under Jewish control. While doing so by military conquest in our times was hotly debated due to the Three Oaths (see Ketubot 111a and many contemporary sources), it is all but unanimous that it is a mitzva to obtain control by buying land. This is the basis for the famous leniency for yishuv Eretz Yisrael of having a non-Jew draw up on Shabbat a contract for land in Israel (Gittin 8b). However, this applies specifically when a Jew buys land in Eretz Yisrael from a non-Jew (Rashi, ad loc.; Rambam, Shabbat 4:11; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:11). Similar logic may apply to buying land or building a home in areas where Jewish settlement is not a given. However, buying a home in Rechavia is unlikely to contain that element of the mitzva. Acquiring a home from a Jew in order to enable aliya is a hechsher (facilitation of a) mitzva of yeshivat Eretz Yisrael, as are steps to strengthen the ability to remain in the Land (Shut Harashbash 1).

The matter of supporting the poor in Israel is not brought in the poskim as a mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisrael. Rather, the Sifrei derives from the pasuk dealing within the tzedaka priorities (relatives, neighbors, etc.) that the poor in Eretz Yisrael have precedence over the poor elsewhere. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 251:3) paskens this precedence, while the Rambam does not mention it, for some reason. Thus, if one wants to give money to the Israeli poor, he may use ma’aser money, which he should not do for a personal mitzva like buying an etrog or, for that matter, a home in Israel. Helping someone else buy a home in Israel so that they could afford to make aliya is helping them with their mitzva and, according to the accepted opinions, is a legitimate use of ma’aser money (see Living the Halachic Process, vol. I, F-4).

Just because something is not a full-fledged mitzva does not mean that it does not have value. It is certainly laudable to want to connect oneself to Eretz Yisrael by owning a home here. It is something he does for his Jewish self and from his own funds. Supporting different projects here may be at least a partial fulfillment of yishuv Eretz Yisrael and can use tzedaka funds.

Practically, concerning your dilemma, it makes a lot of sense to combine the elements as follows. One can buy a home and hope to some day move into it (making aliya easier) or have their children move into it. It is proper to rent it out in the meantime (rental subsidies for the needy are a wonderful form of tzedaka). In this way, not only would Israeli society gain from the infusion of funds, but you would avoid the phenomenon of absentee homeowners (especially in Yerushalayim; see link-  www.lightson.jerusalem.muni.il). These fine Jews unwittingly raise housing costs and drive Jews out of town, thereby hurting the day-to-day economy, exacerbating the national housing shortage, and harming demographics (including for municipal elections).

BBC News – New post-mortem method developed

BBC News – New post-mortem method developed.

If this method of autopsy is feasible as a non-invasive method, would halacha now be more willing to allow for autopsy to study disease? “The conventional autopsy process can be distressing for the family and is opposed by some communities on religious grounds.”  For me, both of these points are quite fascinating.  In a time when we are debating the questions of autonomy vs. rationing care, we are still finding that people are working on means to be sensitive to the emotional and spiritual needs of the clientele.

Misnomers about Hospice care

I was talking with a Rabbi this evening about hospice and Jewish law.  There are a couple of misperceptions which he shared that I thought were in need of clarification for people.

1.  Hospices get paid per patient and thus have no incentive to keep people on service for a long time:

From a financial standpoint, hospice is government funded through Medicare and Medicaid.  The way the funding works is that hospice is paid per patient, per day of care for the patient.  Therefore, it would behoove hospices to have patients on service for longer periods than just for a couple of days.  Being that it makes fiscal sense, it is sad to think that hospices do often act as if the goal is to provide a quick transition to death.  I think hospices need to rethink their approach in presenting to people what care is being given and its benefits.  People are still scared because they hear about how hospices stop all medications, etc.  Of course, hospices do stop medications that are counter to comfort care or have no effect on the person’s well being at this point.  In addition, many of the medications discontinued are only being taken because too many doctors prescribed too many things.  I have often witnessed how stopping the over consumption of medication can prolong a person’s life.

2.  Morphine is a problem because it shortens a person’s life:

Morphine is administered by hospices as one of many pain medication options.  Morphine’s primary function is to relax labored breathing.  Hospices are hopefully cautious in their use of morphine.  Additionally, rarely is a lethal dose given, especially if the hospice is managed by competent medical personnel.  Having said that, morphine has an unintended effect due to its ability to calm breathing, namely that a person might die “sooner.”  Since that is the case, people make the observational conclusion that morphine kills, leading to the fear of morphine use and the anger of hearing the hospice suggest such a measure.  From a halachic perspective, this is challenging, for while hastening death is considered murder, being that the quicker death was unintentional, it would be permissible to administer morphine.