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.”

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.

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.

Technology and Shabbat – 21st century variety.

A recent article was published about the how observant Jews will face the rise of the e-book and the digitization of newspapers and magazines.  Let me begin by quoting a portion of the article:

So how are Jews responding? Some are thinking of ways to accommodate emerging technology within the structure of traditional Sabbath observance while others wrestle with the implications of the shifting media landscape for Jewish law and observance. A number stress that, regardless of legal considerations, the Sabbath’s rules and spirit have never been more important they are today, when technology saturates our lives.

The discussion arises at a moment when all religions are exploring what the digital revolution means for their communities, whether it’s the Amish deciding which devices to adopt, Muslims experimenting with online worship, or Roman Catholic clergy wondering whether social networks represent a new form of pastoral ministry.

Perhaps the simplest way to engage with digital media on the Sabbath is to plan ahead and print reading materials out during the week. But others are floating more high-tech solutions. The blogger Morris Rosenthal, for example, imagines a special Kindle that can bypass Sabbath prohibitions by disabling its buttons, turning itself on at a preset time, and flipping through a book at a predetermined clip.

Jeffrey Fox, a Modern Orthodox rabbi and the head of Yeshivat Maharat, an institution in Riverdale, NY that trains women to be religious leaders, doubts this type of device will catch on. Unlike popular Sabbath-compliant electronic appliances such as the Shabbat Elevator or the Shabbat Amigo scooter, he explains, there is no burning need to read a Kindle on the Sabbath, absent print materials vanishing entirely.

Fox believes that e-readers – like other electrical appliances that don’t generate light and heat – are technically permissible on the Sabbath but should not be used because they are a step away from forbidden activity and because, in epitomizing our weekday existence, aren’t appropriate for the Sabbath.

Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, says that even if an e-reader is invented that adheres to Jewish law, he worries such a device could undermine the Sabbath’s values.

“The Torah says you shouldn’t leave your place on the seventh day,” Nevins explains. “You can say Judaism is creating a local ideal that you experience Shabbat in a place with people and don’t go out of those boundaries … The problem with virtual experiences is they distract our attention from our local environment and break all boundaries of space and time. Shabbat is about reinforcing boundaries of space and time so we can have a specific experience.”

Nevins is writing a legal opinion on using electronic devices on the Sabbath in which he supports the use of appliances like electrical wheelchairs that help disabled individuals participate in communal life but not devices like e-readers that could disturb the Sabbath’s tranquility. He plans to submit the opinion for discussion and eventually a vote to the Conservative movement’s law-making body in May.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in New York, explains that since the Reform movement doesn’t consider Jewish law binding, “The key for us [on the Sabbath] is abstaining from work that we do to earn a living and using the time to reflect and enjoy and sanctify, which is ultimately what the day is about. To the extent to which technology can contribute to that, then by all means make use of it.”

Fox thinks that if the Orthodox community comes to reevaluate its stance on electricity use on the Sabbath, it won’t be a reaction to e-readers alone but rather a result of our homes, in the next 50 to 75 years, becoming so thoroughly wired that Jews will be left with no choice but to use electronic devices.

Nevins sees parallels between contemporary discussions about electronic devices and the Conservative movement’s decision in the 1950s (when the automobile and television were the new technologies) to permit driving to synagogue on the Sabbath.

“As Jews were moving to the suburbs … we said we’re going to lose everyone if we don’t let them drive to synagogue,” he says. “To some extent it was true because people would drive one way or the other but, on the other hand, making peace with [driving to synagogue] formally undermined an ideal we have, which was the neighborhood community. There is a similar danger here. If we become too relaxed about this we could lose the distinctive flavor of Shabbat.”

Nevins’ message about shielding the Sabbath’s spirit against the gale of digital transformation echoes among Jews of different levels of observance.

While I am not a regular user of an e-reader, I do have the capability of reading electronically on my cell phone.  Yet, the truth is, as someone who likes paper, I don’t feel the struggle.  Shabbat is a day for the paper book.  However, not to diminish the challenge, it is true that for many, why do I want to have different reading for Shabbat than weekday, especially if there is something during the week that I am reading which I feel would enhance my Shabbat enjoyment.  Furthermore, the e-book phenomenon is growning when the Jewish publishing companies, like Artscroll, are selling books in e-book form.  Of course, Artscroll also recognizes that one is not using the book on Shabbat.

This brings me to a related question.  Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill on his blog, The Book of Doctrines and Opinions, had a series of posts about a phenomenon regarding Shabbat in which one is Shomer Shabbat but communicates via texting, tweeting, etc.  (see here, here, and here).  I was talking with a colleague of mine who is Conservadox.  He was telling me his children are the only one’s from their age groups and peers who don’t text on Shabbat and how that causes them to often miss out on plans for Saturday night.  While I personally am happy when I get to turn my cell phones off for Shabbat, and am not advocating for this idea of a half-Shabbat, I can see how it can have it’s disadvantages for people.  The reality of today’s world being instant communication, to shut the world off for 25 hrs a week can be quite daunting for some.

To come back to the original article, it is quite telling that the Orthodox and Conservative rabbi quoted both seem to suggest that halacha could accomodate this change, but wonder if allowing e-readers on Shabbat would ultimately take away from the sanctity of the day.  For me, knowing that Shabbat is a quiet time for me and my library is part of the spiritual high of the day.

Addendum:  I came across another write up on the subject at the Jewish Book Review blog.  The author, Jason Miller, presents an argument that is in favor of working on how to make technology Shabbat friendly and Shabbat technology friendly.