Archive | Ask the Rabbi

No, Hanukkah is not a ‘Jewish Christmas’

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Every year I am challenged as a mother by the proximity of Hanukkah to Christmas, especially in a year like this where the two actually coincide. How can we possibly compete, with our candles, with their stunning display of colorful lights, filling the malls, decorating their houses, on their trees?
What do I say when the kids ask me if Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas?
Shawn P.
Dear Shawn,
What you and many like you are facing is truly a real challenge. We and our children are surrounded by the culture of the country in which we live, and if we try to “outdo” those around us we are doomed to failure. We must instead, while acknowledging the compelling nature of the local culture, focus on the beauty of what we have as Jews.
I have always been struck by what I consider one of the greatest ironies of Jewish history: Scholars have shown that many of the customs and celebrations of Christmas are actually based upon our celebration of Hanukkah, which predated Christianity by hundreds of years. In their desire to attract Jews to Christianity, its founders established this holiday at the same time as Hanukkah, with many similarities, but better, hoping it would break down the barriers for Jews to enter their fold. Hence their lights, which are an embellishment of our lights. The gifts, which started later, a takeoff on our Hanukkah “gelt.” The original 12 days of Christmas are a replica of the Torah reading of Hanukkah, which outlines the gift of the 12 heads of the tribes during the consecration (Hanukkah) of the original tabernacle, over 12 days.
Studies show that more Jews observe Hanukkah than any other Jewish holiday. Some sociologists explain this phenomenon — as you mentioned — that many Jews consider Hanukkah their “Jewish Christmas.” How ironic is it that the very holiday which is a replica of Hanukkah should be reversed and serve as the source of Jews observing Hanukkah!
(The irony continues to grow: Many, if not most, of the familiar Christmas carols which literally define the contemporary holiday were actually composed by Jews! I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas; Winter Wonderland; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Let it Snow, Let it Snow; Silver Bells; You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch — to mention a few — were all composed by Jews!)
To make it even more ironic, the very essence of Hanukkah was enacted as a celebration of the Jews to withstand the Syrian-Greeks’ attempts to assimilate the Jews into Greek culture and society. The miracle of the menorah was performed upon a flask of olive oil. One of the symbolisms of the oil is that even when mixed well with water, eventually the oil will not remain in suspension but will separate and rise to the top. So too the Jews were not able to become assimilated; they eventually separated and rose back to the top, to their connection to G-d and to each other. The last thing we would expect is for Hanukkah to be a way to identify with the culture around us, the antithesis of its own essential message!
I would recommend you visit some of the many wonderful Jewish websites which offer a wealth of material you can utilize to explain the beauty of Hanukkah to your children and will enrich your own appreciation of this special time. Aish.com and Chabad.org, to mention a couple, provide reading material, videos, cartoons and many multimedia opportunities to bring Hanukkah alive to your family and friends.
On Hanukkah we begin with one light and ascend to more and more lights, day by day. May Hanukkah be a time that all Jews will ascend and grow in their observance and pride to be who they are!
A joyous and meaningful Hanukkah to you and all the readers.

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We have responsibility to fulfill word of God, not rewrite His meaning

Posted on 15 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I read with much curiosity the recent TJP article titled “Temple Shalom makes it clear: LGBT welcome,” Dec. 8, 2016.
The article quotes Rabbi Paley taking issue with Orthodoxy which takes literally the verse in Leviticus 18:22, saying “the Rabbis restricted it making it impossibly narrow.”
I’m interested in hearing your take on Rabbi Paley’s comments.
Lisa B.
Dear Lisa,
I would prefer to stay away, in this column, from the actual subject discussed in that article, and rather focus on the thought process by which Rabbi Paley arrives at his conclusions, in the interest of scholarly discussion. I find that if we connect this discussion to the subject at hand, it often becomes an emotional discussion rather than a scholarly one, with one side accusing the other of a lack of compassion and the like. The important thing is to be intellectually honest and to quote proofs in context.
Firstly, to say the “rabbis restricted” the verse; it was never the rabbis who restricted a verse in the Torah, the verse stands on its own right.
Paley’s “proof” that the verse is not to be taken literally is “that Judaism allows for capital punishment, which is almost impossible to do.” This has nothing to do with the interpretation or understanding of the aforementioned verse, as the death penalty is not even invoked in that entire section of the Torah.
Furthermore, I’m not sure how Paley intends to prove from the fact that it’s nearly impossible to carry out capital punishment to reinterpret an explicit verse in the Torah. First of all, is the difficulty to carry out capital punishment a blanket license to reinterpret anything in the Torah?
Secondly, capital punishment, with all of its difficulty, has indeed been carried out in Jewish history, albeit very seldom.
(One may ask, if the Torah invokes capital punishment, why does it make it so difficult to carry out? The Talmud, in fact, discusses a court which carried out capital punishment once in 70 years and it was referred to, derogatorily, as the “bloody court!” The reason is that any misdeed which has capital punishment attached to it shows how severe that act is in the eyes of God, and how careful one must be to refrain from it. But insofar as it’s worthy of capital punishment, rather than us carrying it out, we leave it to God to do so.)
Paley pointed out that numerous passages in the Torah of prohibitions are not carried out today, like prohibitions against cloth blends or mixing two types of seeds in fields, as a further proof that the above verse doesn’t apply today; sadly, it seems he doesn’t know that these prohibitions are very much alive and well. There are laboratories in New York and New Jersey and numerous experts throughout the world who are dedicated to checking clothing for shaatnez, ensuring that in conformance with the biblical injunction against wearing clothing made of linen and wool, these mixtures are not worn by observant Jews. The mixture of seeds is only prohibited by the Torah in the Land of Israel, where that law is also scrupulously observed by observant farmers.
As to Paley’s claim as to “the hypocrisy of one text as our basis,” and that “we do not live biblical Judaism, we live rabbinic Judaism,” I would roundly agree that we do not interpret the Torah based upon its literal meaning, but how it was explained by the Al-mighty in the Oral Tradition, handed down as the Mishna and Talmud.
That does not mean that every rabbi has the license to make up his own oral tradition and interpret anything as he likes.
Paley gives an example from the story of Rabbi Eliezer and the sages who disagreed with him, even in the face of a heavenly voice proclaiming that the law is like the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, saying the Reform Rabbis love to quote that story, deriving from it that whatever we determine will be right.
This story is being taken grossly out of context; the rabbis were arguing over a very subtle point in the Oral Tradition, with ramifications in the esoteric laws of ritual purity. There was no verse anyone was disagreeing with. The lesson of that story is dual: that the laws of the Torah are decided by the majority, and this applies even if the minority opinion will get an “OK from Heaven.” This is because, as the Talmud stresses, once the Torah was given at Sinai it is no longer “in Heaven”; it is to be understood through the principles of Torah passed down at Sinai.
From that point on, the Torah is not understood prophetically, rather with the understanding of the sages. This is applying to the “gray areas” open to discussion, not to explicit verses in the Torah that were already clearly given at Sinai.
Lastly, Paley contends that since in Genesis 1:26 it says that all humans were made in God’s image, “we will create Torah correctly,” meaning that we, in God’s image, can create our own Torah.
It is beyond the space allotted to me to show how grossly this verse has been taken out of context, perhaps another time. Suffice it to say that God clearly had no intention in that verse to say that every human has the wisdom of God to rewrite his or her new Torah. To be in the image of God punctuates our responsibility to fulfill the word of God, not to attempt to play God or be God!

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Improving our sphere of influence far better than pointing fingers

Posted on 08 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I read with interest your commentary entitled “When the World Strikes…” in the TJP of Nov. 3, 2016. I always find your message stimulating, even when I disagree with it.
I know, of course, of the venerable history of the theory of mipnei chatoteinu as an explanation for bad things that befall us. And there can be no doubt that some of the evils that beset people are generated by their own behavior. A drug addict or compulsive gambler certainly bears a good deal of responsibility for an unfortunate outcome. On the other hand, if one presses this formulation further, one comes up with some absurd conclusions … I shall not accept the notion that a million and a half children were murdered because Germans were following the prompting of some “renegade” Jews and were induced to commit genocide because Jews criticized each other. That conclusion is, to me, obscene….
You might consider addressing these concerns in future columns … I look forward to learning what you have to say.
With best regards,
Kenneth D. Roseman
Dear Rabbi Roseman,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Under the circumstances, however, I feel it is fit to invoke the well-known witticism of a great sage, who was inclined to quip, “You may quote my Torah in your own name, but don’t quote your Torah in my name!”
The conclusion you draw from my column is your conclusion, not mine!
I was quoting from the thesis of Rav Elchonon Wasserman ob’m, who had written his piece titled A Word To the Generation, addressed to the Jewish people of his generation who were living through increasing anti-Semitism and decrees. Rav Wasserman, one of the pre-eminent sages of pre-Holocaust Europe, was highly respected by Jews, Gentiles and even the anti-religious Jews who opposed him, for his piety, integrity and vast scholarship and sagacious wisdom. As we mentioned, sadly, Rav Wasserman himself joined the holy convocation of the 6 million martyrs when his predictions came true.
Rav Wasserman, culling from the wisdom of the ages, from the Prophets until his time, points to numerous examples in our history when Jews stood up against each other and made decrees against the fulfillment of mitzvos, which served as a catalyst for our Gentile hosts or neighbors to amplify those decrees sevenfold and more. Rav Wasserman was not, nor am I, offering the explanation as to why these decrees were incurred. Only God knows the answer or answers to the ultimate question of why. The main thrust of his thesis is that for whatever reason these ominous events play out, the catalyst is when Jews open the door for others by standing up against fellow Jews.
Far earlier than Rav Wasserman, the Talmud explains the destruction of the second Temple and subsequent exile due to hatred of one Jew toward another, which was rampant in that generation. The Talmud relates the well-known story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. A wealthy man threw an elaborate party and asked his messenger to go and invite Kamtza his friend, and mistakenly brought Bar Kamtza, a man whom he hated. The wealthy man asked Bar Kamtza to leave, and he asked him not to embarrass him once he was already there and he would pay him for his portion.
The wealthy man said no, but Bar Kamtza did not leave. He offered to pay for half of the entire banquet, and then for the entire banquet. The wealthy man responded by physically having him pushed out. Bar Kamtza went to the Roman authorities and said the Jews were rebelling against them, leading to the Romans’ destroying the Temple and exiling the Jews. Clearly that story itself wasn’t the reason for the destruction and exile, but the Talmud relates this story to show how it was indeed the catalyst for the impending destruction to play out.
Rav Wasserman’s and my intention are one, that rather than following our natural tendency to look outward when analyzing events that befall us, to point fingers and blame, instead to look inward and use these events as an opportunity to do some soul-searching. Perhaps if we improve that which is in our sphere of influence, namely ourselves, we can effect positive change in ways beyond our wildest dreams or expectations.

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Wisdom of Torah not found on social media

Posted on 01 December 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
As you requested, I have written down some of my thoughts that I shared with you last week at the JCC concerning our contemporary culture. As you know, I did not grow up observant nor have I studied in a yeshiva; these thoughts are my own from what I have culled from our culture and from my own personal life:
I believe that social media is highly addictive and is an environment that affects people in not only conscious but unconscious ways that can be detrimental. I’ve seen many successful people that have become addicted to social media, engaging in “people talk” and “people watching,” and observed how it adversely affected their lives.
 I personally have found that starting with keeping Shabbos I could have a wonderful 24-hour hiatus from social media. After realizing this benefit about two years ago, I got off social media altogether, which has transformed my life. Rather than turning to browse what everybody else is up to (aka gossip), I now spend my time reading and learning and starting to develop an understanding of who I am, the essence of my being.
My guide and environment is no longer seeing and watching what others are doing on social media (the cars they have, the friends they have, the places they travel, the beautiful women that hang on their shoulders, or the number of kids they have). I now use my immediate environment of Torah-knowledgeable Jews as my barometer for what is right and wrong. And I’ve come to realize that everything that is good in life is the byproduct of doing the right thing. Things that provide immediate pleasure are usually fleeting.
Recently I heard Rabbi Taub from Pennsylvania speak at Learningfest and say that the only way to cure an addiction is a spiritual relationship with God. My ultimate conclusion is the following: There will be many people becoming religious in the next few years. The psychological benefit is so tremendous and it will be a response to addiction of instant gratification and social media and narcissism of our society. Being disciplined about speech is the keystone habit change that provides individuals with the sensitivity to transform their entire lives.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your readership.
Micheal J.
Dear Micheal,
It has truly been refreshing to watch you in your odyssey of the discovery of Torah thought and depth, and how profoundly you have inculcated that depth into your own thoughts and in your life. You have embarked upon a journey which affords yourself the opportunity to enrich your life greatly, while freeing yourself from the shackles of much of the narcissism and gossip so prevalent in our generation, as you have commented.
I would only hope that this depth will not remain, as you note, a response to the instant gratification, social media and narcissism of our society. Torah should not be an escape from negativity, although that negativity may be the catalyst for one’s search into Torah. Ultimately one needs to recognize the wisdom of Torah in its own right, and how its depth and profundity is what has kept us alive as a nation despite myriad negative influences and philosophies over the generations which have challenged its wisdom and our eternity. Keep up the great work!

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Why we don’t add to prayer service

Posted on 24 November 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve often wondered if we could add a section to our prayer service for Thanksgiving, like we do for Hanukkah and Purim. After all, so many Jews have benefited by living in America, and Jews around the world have benefited because there is a USA, even if they don’t live there, especially Jews in Israel!
I asked this question in our Sunday school, and there was a discussion, but no clear answer.
Thank you if you answer this,
Brandon L.
Dear Brandon,
You’re asking a great question, which is a very Jewish question, one of real appreciation for the many blessings you enjoy being Jewish in America! I totally concur that the Jews around the world benefit greatly by the fact that there is a United States, for many reasons, among them America’s generous support for Israel. The level of religious freedom and equality we enjoy here is unprecedented, and has not been enjoyed by Jews in any county for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It is most certainly incumbent upon us, as Jews and as Americans, to have tremendous feelings of appreciation for all of this, as reflected by the prayer for the United States recited weekly on Shabbos in synagogues throughout the country.
The question of adding to the actual Amida prayer, like we do for Hanukkah and Purim, however, is a more complicated one. We can’t add a “holiday” to the Jewish calendar, which would take on the meaning to the Jewish year as Hanukkah or Purim. Even those holidays, which celebrated the rescue, emancipation and existence of the Jewish people, were not added by agreement or a vote. Even the early sages of that time relied upon prophesy, and without actual prophesy would not have had the license to add a rabbinical holiday to the Jewish calendar.
Prophesy ceased soon after the Purim miracle, at the beginning of the period of the “Men of the Great Assembly,” upon the Jews return to Israel with Ezra and Nehemia to rebuild the Second Temple after the 70 year Persian-Median exile. (I always say, that’s when we became a non-prophet organization!)  From that time forward we no longer have the license to add a new holiday to the Jewish calendar and an addition to the amidah.
The prayer service, especially the Amidah prayer (which you’re referring to the addition of Hanukkah and Purim into), was composed by the same group of sages, the Men of the Great Assembly. It was written by a venerable group of 120 sages, among them the remaining prophets. They utilized this prophecy to know what precisely needs to be in the prayer service to carry the Jews through their future years of exile and Diaspora. Among the additions to the daily service, they injected paragraphs for Hanukkah and Purim.
Although we can’t add to the actual service, you could certainly add in your own private expressions of appreciation. On a communal level, as we mentioned above, most synagogues recite a weekly prayer for the guidance and safety of the United States, its citizens and leaders. We all need to pray to God to give guidance to the recently elected new leadership of our country as well.
On the same note, all of Judaism is about appreciation. The very name “Jew,” from the word “Yehudi,” comes from the root “hoda’ah,” which means appreciation. Every mitzvah that we do, and every prayer, is to show our appreciation to the Al-mighty for the many blessings in our lives. To the extent that being American is a blessing for us, we can thank God for that blessing, having it in mind in the mitzvos we perform on Thanksgiving, and every day of the year. Wishing all the readers a happy Thanksgiving.

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With ballots cast, remember Truth connects us with God

Posted on 17 November 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I know you don’t use your column to discuss politics, and I’m not trying to pull you into what is still a very emotional situation throughout the country; but I am wondering if there are any Jewish lessons we can learn from this past very heated and sometimes not so nice election period?
— Cindy K.
Dear Cindy,
Unfortunately, there were a number of things which transpired, some which continue to emerge, which we have Jewish lessons to learn from. To be more precise, there are Jewish lessons to be learned of how not to be from many of the things that were said and done.
I think we can focus on one central idea which was glaring during this period and spreads to many other areas in world politics — in ways we haven’t seen the likes of before.
That is the importance of Truth.
So much of the candidates’ debate time and air time in general was spent, not in the discussion of real issues, but in bashing one another and trying to show how what was said about each other was a lie.
This was not at all isolated to the candidates themselves. A. O. Salzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, penned a letter to readers Friday promising that the paper would “reflect” on its coverage of this year’s election, after the paper was taken to task for demonizing Trump and his camp from the very outset, making Clinton look functional and organized and the Trump campaign discombobulated. (See at length “New York Times publisher vows to ‘rededicate’ paper to reporting honestly,” foxnews.com). My intent is not to defend one candidate or another, only that we need to recognize that a significant amount of information the electorate was fed was not necessarily the truth.
This, on the backdrop of a world body as significant as UNESCO voting, twice, that Jerusalem does not historically belong to the Jews, rather to the Muslim world, a world that came about thousands of years after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were there and well over a thousand years after King Solomon built the Temple there. We are living in a world in which Truth is a rare commodity.
This is not a totally new problem. The Medrash relates that when God posed the question to the angelic court whether or not to create Man, the Angel of Truth voted he should not be created because he will be full of lies. We see that the potential to lie is greater than to tell the truth.
The Talmud explains this to be implicit in the very fiber of creation. The building blocks by which the world was created are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When one peers into the aleph-beis, the Hebrew alphabet, we unlock many secrets of creation. The word for “lie,” “sheker,” is spelled “shin kuf reish”; those three letters appear together in the Hebrew alphabet. Since they are close together, we learn that sheker, a lie, is very “close,” or easy to tell. Truth, however, which is “emet” is Hebrew, is spelled “aleph mem tav”; the first letter, the last letter and the middle letter. Those letters are as far apart as can be in the Hebrew alphabet. This is to teach us that truth is distant; one needs to work hard to stick to the truth and live by it, unlike a lie which is prevalent and very easy to live by!
That is why the Angel of Truth voted not to create a being who would be so liable to fall into a life of lies. (There’s an old Yiddish saying that, “if you tell the truth you don’t need to remember what you said!”)
If God chose to create us despite the vote of the Angel of Truth, knowing full well that He is creating a world where it’s easier to live by a lie than by truth, than God was creating Man with exactly this test in mind, the test of living by truth. God is referred to as “Elokim Emes,” the God of Truth, and one connects to God through Truth.
May we learn this important lesson from that which we saw, heard and loathed, during the election period and in the world around us, and strive to be the children of Jacob who manifested and was the pillar of Truth in the world; “titein emes l’Yaakov,” the Jewish people live by Truth.

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Parsing truth from lies tough, necessary task

Posted on 10 November 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Last week you explained the UNESCO declaration about Jerusalem not belonging to Israel from a Jewish perspective (which I must say was a bit provocative). Do you have anything to add about the U.N.’s treatment of Israel in general, the double standard and the constant focus on Israel?
— Marge L.
Dear Marge,
Your question can be separated into three questions. There are several perspectives to be discussed with relation to the U.N.’s conduct with relation to Israel; we shall try to look at one or two of these.
I once saw a full-page New York Times ad which punctuated the absurdity with which the U.N. deals with Israel. There was a red line down the middle of the page. On the left side were enumerated all the countries allowed to join the U.N. Security Council, listing hundreds of names of countries which needed to be written quite small to fit in the page. On the other side of the line were written all the countries NOT allowed to join the UNSC, which could be written quite large. Guess which countries are not allowed to join? You guessed it! Only Israel! (Actually 2018 will mark the first time Israel will actually be allowed a bid for candidacy in that council.) What is the message?
Of course, from a sociopolitical perspective, a large part of the message is clearly anti-Semitism (which to be politically correct would be called “objections to Israel’s policies”). But, as we mentioned in last week’s column, we need to look more deeply into world events and see what they teach us spiritually — especially utilizing the essay of Rav Wasserman ob’m which we mentioned, who taught us that the nations do unto us that which we do upon ourselves.
For that we need to take a fresh look at these events through the lens of Torah. “Behold! It (the Jewish people) is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). Here it is, that red line! We will not be reckoned among the nations! Not for anti-Semitic reasons (God was not an anti-Semite!), but to teach us a lesson about ourselves and our mission.
To be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6), we need to recognize clearly that we are not one of those nations we are meant to be a light unto. In order to serve as an example to the others we must live by, and hold ourselves to, a higher standard. We truly are different! Our sources tell us that there are 70 principal nations of the world. We are not one of those 70, but rather represent them all. (See Deuteronomy 32:8 and commentary of Rashi.) The 70 Jews who went down to Egypt represent all 70 nations, as we are meant to illuminate them all with our light, the light of our Torah. Hence, there are 70 core languages, but Hebrew is not one of them, rather the source of them all. (See Genesis 11:1 and Rashi that the entire world spoke Hebrew until the tower of Babel, where the Hebrew was split into the 70 languages. See also Genesis 49:6 and Rashi that Pharaoh spoke all 70 languages but not Hebrew, which gave Joseph an advantage over him.)
When the Jews try to pretend that they are simply one of the nations of the world, forgetting their unique mission above and apart from the others, we are not so subtly reminded by the nations of the world that we are not one of them, hence the U.N.’s red line in that Times ad.
By the same token, our being held to a double standard in the U.N., leading to nonstop lies, condemnations and resolutions, is clearly, from a sociopolitical perspective, the fruits of their blatant anti-Semitism. From a spiritual perspective, however, we need to again look deeper. The Talmud teaches that no lie “has legs,” or can stand, without a bit of truth mixed in. What bit of truth could there be in this double standard? (For example, the Jerusalem Post reported this week that it is difficult to get an accurate count of civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq because they are lacking the constant monitoring by human rights groups that were present during Israel’s recent war with Gaza, counting every single casualty and immediately posting them.)
The bit of truth mixed into their falsehood is that, indeed, as a light unto the nations we are truly held to a higher standard, in our dedication to the service of God and to sanctify His Name in all that we do. It is when we forget that positive double standard, which is indicative of our elevated mission that we are held to a negative double standard; what we do to ourselves is what they do to us. When, however, we remember that mission and fulfill it, we are truly esteemed and respected by the nations of the world. “You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the people, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!’” (Deuteronomy 4:6)

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When world strikes, take hard look at ourselves

Posted on 03 November 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I’ve been losing sleep over the recent UNESCO vote to disconnect the Temple Mount from its historic connection to Judaism and the Jewish people, referring to the site only by its Arabic name of al-Haram al-Sharif. The absurdity of this is more than obvious, like Prime Minister Netanyahu quipped that this is like disconnecting the Wall of China from China.
What I’m wondering is if Judaism has any insight on how and why the world (UNESCO is a world body) could and would make such audacious claims and get away with it?
Martin L.
Dear Martin,
With regard to difficult questions such as these we look to the Torah which states, “Remember the days of old, understand the years of generation after generation; ask your father and he will relate it to you, your elders and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7). The Targum Yonasan says that “your father and the elders” refers to the words of the Torah and Prophets, who have both prophesied and experienced that which will befall the Jewish people and have the experience of generations with which to understand the ways of God in how He interacts with His nation. The Torah goes on to foretell all of the future history of the Jewish people in that context; when these things transpire we will have where to refer back to and see how these things aren’t really new, but have their roots in the Document which is the pedigree of our nation. You obviously did not turn to me to understand the political underpinnings of this resolution, but to gain insight into the spiritual side of this.
What I am about to say may be difficult to swallow, but in times like these that we are living in it is necessary to wash away the sugar coating and deliver the message as it is.
Your question has been dealt with in a treatise written by one of the pre-eminent Torah sages before and during World War II, Rav Elchanan Wasserman ob’m. Based upon the above verse and many which follow, R’ Wasserman explains the unprecedented current events of his time, which he prophesied were leading up to the Holocaust, by the adage that “the Gentiles do to us that which we do ourselves.” He cites a number of examples where the anti-religious Jews tried to stamp out different areas of religious life, and the Gentiles shortly thereafter made similar, even more violent decrees against all Jews, religious and secular. This sage was not coming after the fact of the Holocaust and making a judgment as to why it took place, rather was in the midst of events leading up to that tragedy, and wrote his treatise to European Jewry to wake up and smell the coffee, because things weren’t looking good. (R’ Wasserman himself was eventually murdered by Lithuanian Nazi sympathizers in the Kovno ghetto.) He cites his examples to show how every negative action by the Jews carries a more profoundly evil reaction by the Gentiles.
It has been discovered that most of the anti-Israel resolutions passed in the U.N. have been largely based upon information provided to that body by self-hating Israelis who are privy to much inside information, or misinformation, which is automatically assumed to be correct since it is being provided by Israelis themselves.
Taking this a step deeper, based on R’ Wasserman’s thesis, the nations wouldn’t have the audacity to claim that the Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount unless many Jews had already made that claim and attempted to create an Israel with no past. UNESCO could never get away with such a preposterous claim unless we had opened those gates of falsehood.
The spiritual way to fight this resolution and those like it are to reinforce our connection to Israel, Jerusalem and the Wall and all they stand for. This will pull out the spiritual rug from under the feet of those who seek our destruction. The more we connect ourselves to our past and bring it into our present and future, the less leverage our enemies will have to disconnect us from that rich past and to stamp out our future.

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Carrying on Oshman’s plans for encyclopedia

Posted on 20 October 2016 by admin

Dear Readers,
It is with profound sadness that I present this letter to you. It was recently submitted as a Letter to the Editor of the TJP, and a few short days after its submission, my dear friend and student Dr. Harvey Oshman was tragically taken from us.
As this project was so near and dear to his heart, Harvey’s widow Trina has named this project as the donation of choice in Harvey’s memory. It is in that spirit, that the editor has asked that we publish this letter posthumously in today’s column, in the same edition carrying Harvey’s obituary (p. 21).
May this project, The Dr. Harvey Oshman Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Thought, be a distinguished and fitting honor to his memory to be made available on his first yahrtzeit, with God’s help:
“It was a cold day by Houston standards as we stood at the foot of my grandmother’s grave. The rabbi spoke well of her life and, as he was completing his remarks, closed by saying, ‘ashes to ashes dust to dust may she live on in our memories.’ As we each proceeded to shovel a bit of dirt onto the casket, a cold shiver of fear ran down my spine.
“ ‘What about her soul?’ I thought. Do Jews not go to heaven? Rather than ask questions, I buried these doubts deep inside and began my trek toward Buddhism and any other religion that seemed to offer more hope than the sterile Judaism of my youth; a Judaism that seemed to provide no feeling, meaning, or spirituality and no answers to my burning questions.
“You might ask who is this guy and why is he telling us his story? My name is Dr. Harvey Oshman and I have been a practicing psychologist in Dallas for over 30 years. My story likely resonates with many of you who have come from a background similar to mine. Bereft of a sound Jewish education, I simply did not know of the concept of ‘olamhaba,’ that all Jews have a share in the world to come and that other religions use the Torah as a springboard for their concepts of a creator.
“This is why Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried’s ‘Ask the Rabbi’ column in the TJP has been so meaningful and inspirational for me. For many years, I have been a loyal subscriber to the TJP and look forward each week to its coming especially for this column. The questions are challenging and intriguing and the answers are always rich, interesting and informative. Rabbi Fried is also willing to explore issues that are controversial and emotionally laden and he does so with respect for the questions and questioner with delicacy and truth in the answers.
“I began to think how wonderful and useful it would be to embark on an endeavor to collate these letters published weekly over the past decade and a half  into an  encyclopedia of Jewish thought to be available to all who wish to partake of the rich traditions that I wish I had known more about earlier in life.
“After speaking with Rabbi Fried, he has agreed and is excited to embark on this journey. The rabbi was recently contacted by a publishing company in Israel who was also very impressed by the depth and breadth of his columns and has offered to take on this sizable project with the hope that this encyclopedia of Jewish thought, a proposed three-volume publication, will become a mainstay in Jewish homes throughout the English-speaking world.
“There will be a respectable cost in making this dream become a reality. I have taken on chairmanship of this worthy project. If you wish to join me in supporting this endeavor, please send an email to yfried@sbglobal.net. (Harvey had set up a separate email for this project which is no longer in service).
“Tax-deductible donations can be made in the memory of loved ones or in celebration of life events and significant others with a listing or page prominently displayed. Sponsorships of a chapter, book, or the entire series are available.
“Thanks in advance for your support!
— Dr. Harvey Oshman”

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Sukkah construction, use changes our relationships

Posted on 13 October 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could you please explain what is accomplished by sitting and eating in a sukkah? We understand it is a mitzvah to do so and the kids love it, but, truth be told, it is sometimes quite a schlep, both building it, taking the food in and out, and sitting in the sometimes not ideal weather.
Could you provide some insight which would perhaps add some meaning?
— Bart & Kimberly W.
Dear Bart and Kimberly,
The holiday of Succos, which begins this Sunday night, is referred to as “our time of joy.” Although there is a mitzvah of joy on every holiday, as the Torah says “vesamachta bechagecha,” be joyous on Succos. Succos has something unique about it as a time of joy which transcends that of any other time in the Jewish year.
Let’s consider for a moment what brings us happiness. Most people would say that they feel happy and comfortable in their homes, where they have their nice furniture, creature comforts and familiar surroundings. If that was truly the source of joy, that joy is quite vulnerable and transient. What if one suddenly lost their home, as happened with so many in the New Orleans flood just a few years ago? What if someone lost their job and had to foreclose on their home? As tragic and unsettling as that would be, from a Jewish perspective one would still need to find a way to be joyous in life. In order to do so, we must find a deeper source of joy than our physical trappings. We have been “wandering Jews” for thousands of years, uprooted from homes and communities with barely the clothes on our backs, but have somehow never lost our joy for life.
The true source of joy is our timeless connection to a higher Essence. Our connection to the Al-mighty has no relationship to time and place. Before being exiled, we had a special connection with the holy Temple, but even when we lost it and were exiled we retained our connection to God through Torah and mitzvos. For millennia we have shown that our joy does not depend upon time, place or physical surroundings, which is a big part of us being an Eternal People.
We bring that relationship alive on Succos. On Rosh Hashanah we “coronated” the King and entered His palace. On Yom Kippur we purify ourselves, transcending food and drink and forge a new, deep connection. This bond is not of a transient nature, rather it becomes part of our very existence. Succos is the time we celebrate that eternal bond. By the very nature of the celebration it’s not sufficient to simply celebrate, rather we need to “live” that bond. Hence the mitzvah of Succos is to build a spiritual place to live, to live our lives outside of our usual physical surroundings. In that way we can focus on our real, grounded existence, our loving connection to God. This brings us to unique joy, as we know that this is the one thing that no foreclosure or flood can ever take away from us.
We are that connection!
After solidifying that relationship with joy for an entire week, we can then transition back to our regular homes where we continue that unique relationship throughout the year. Although we return to our familiar places after Succos, somehow something seems different. What’s changed is that it’s not all about the house anymore — we’ve learned that our joy is linked to something much larger and higher. We can then utilize our homes and everything in them as vehicles to take us even higher. We repeat this every year; this cycle spirals us upward higher and higher every year!
A very joyous Succos holiday to you and all the readers!

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