So much of Jewish life revolves around the Jewish community.

Wherever Jews happen to live, whatever language they happen to speak, whatever Jewish traditions, customs and laws they happen to keep (or not…) being part of a community will often figure as a very major part of Jewish life.

No two communities are the same, each is a unique blend of the history, personalities, beliefs and customs that have molded it over the generations. While so many of the different community customs have been lost over the years, many Jews are still striving to maintain their cultural heritage, and to apply to Jewish life in the modern world, in the face of a growing number of issues, challenges and changes.

In this category, we’ll take a look at a bunch of topics including:

  • Jewish Communal Events – what’s really shaping modern Jewish life
  • Jewish News – the information that we really need to know about living as a Jew today
  • The importance of Jewish communal life
  • History of Jewish community – in all sorts of different places around the globe
  • Day-to-day relationships – both intramural and extramural, with other peoples and faiths
  • Modern values in kehillas – and how they are changing, sometimes unrecognisably, from traditional Torah values
  • Jewish community issues and challenges – both within Israel, and abroad
  • Community leaders, rabbis, and personalities.

A picture speaks a thousand words.

Here is a picture of two massive volcanic fields on Australia’s Sapphire Coast, known in geological parlance as the Boyd Volcanic Complex, and the Yalwal Volcanic Complex.

The Eruption and Emplacement Mechanisms of the Southern Boyd Volcanic Complex Pyroclastic Units, New South Wales: A Study of Munganno Point – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Map-showing-the-Yalwal-Volcanic-Complex-and-the-Boyd-Volcanic-Complex-within-the-context_fig1_305227282 [accessed 13 Jan, 2020]

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Geologists like to tell people these volcanoes were last active in the ‘Devonian Period’, i.e. 419 million years ago (sic).

Lucky thing, that, because otherwise a thoughtful onlooker might become a little perturbed by the huge amount of overlap between this picture above, of the volcanic complexes, and this picture, below, showing where the recent bush fires sprang up:

 

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This comes from THIS website on Australian volcanoes:

“Like the mountains, the volcanoes are all on the eastern side of Australia, in a series of chains running north to south, starting 500 km of the northeastern coast (the Maer islands) to Tasmania in the south. The total length is 4400 km. That is a sizable sequence! It closely follows the Great Dividing Range, the third longest continental mountain chain in the world. There are also two chains of submarine volcanoes further to the east, off the coast.”

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On December 17th 2019 (which happened to coincide with Chabad’s celebration of Kislev 19th this year, when the Alter Rebbe was amazingly released from the Czar’s prison after a 53 day there) – Australia registered it’s hottest day ‘ever’.

Apparently, the temperature hit 105.6 degrees.

That same day, there was a massive spike in seismic activity on December 17th, 2019:

Image from the Volcano Discovery website.

And then, very shortly after that all the bushfires went up many levels of intensity.

As I’ve written about in many other places, when there is a lot of seismic activity in volcanic regions, that leads to natural methane being released in great quantities and rising up to the surface. Methane is highly flammable. All it takes is a spark – a strike of lightning, say – and whoosh! A massive fire can instantly get started that can race across the land at an unbelievable pace, because it’s burning methane.

That’s exactly what happened in volcanic California, too, last year, when the Paradise fire occurred.

No coincidence that one of the main Australian towns affected by these bushfires is called ‘Eden’.

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Hashem is definitely sending a message here.

Lucky, that those volcanoes in Australia are all 400 millions years old (sic). Even though here and there, there are hints that the official history of the area’s seismic and volcanic activity is a little ‘off’. Like the account of the Tathra tsunami, that hit the Sapphire Coast in the 1500s and totally wrecked the whole area.

Also, strange that a week before all that earthquake activity was recorded in Australia on December 17th, the White Island Volcano in New Zealand erupted, killing 18 people and badly burning many more.

Seismic pressure was clearly building all across that area.

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Just like in California, the white settlers of Australia pretty much eradicated the natives, and totally disparaged all their ‘tall stories’ that clearly indicated that recent and massive earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions were a regular feature of life. If they hadn’t committed genocide, maybe the settlers would have realised that:

There’s a very good reason that the native peoples of North America and the native peoples of Australia were nomadic, and lived a very basic life, with very few permanent buildings or institutions.

When you live life in the heart of a land that is being regularly convulsed by seismic and volcanic cataclysms, that is the safest way. And also, it’s pointless building permanent dwelling places, just to have them burn down, fall down or get washed away.

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It’s such a shame that the early white settlers didn’t show more respect to the indigenous peoples in North America and Australia. If they had, they may have understood much earlier on that life is far more fragile, and buildings far less permanent, than it first appears.

Of course, God wanted things this way.

He had His reasons for pausing the biggest, regular earthquakes and frequent volcanoes for 200 years, so that modern people would settle on America’s West Coast, and on Australia’s East Coast, and believe that they’d live there forever.

I wonder, do the people of Australia understand that the only reason their volcanoes are pegged as being so very old, and so very inactive, is because modern scientists didn’t date them to take into account of a how massive ‘bushfire event’, like we’re currently seeing, could totally skew any hint of a ‘normal’ comparison for carbon dating?

Take a look at this article, for more about that:

Climate Change Might Break Carbon Dating

Fossil fuel emissions mess with the ratio of carbon isotopes in the atmosphere

In short, when forest fires like this set up, they make anything carbon dated at the time they are taking place appear way, way older than they actually are.

And if you want to know more about why all the dating methods used by “science” are all totally flawed in different ways, but for similar reasons, read THIS.

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Long story short, the same natural phenomenon that has been causing the fires in California is causing the fires in Australia.

God is sending some good ol’ fashioned fire and brimstone to these areas, and the more interesting question is why? What does corrupt, Godless, hedonistic, California have in common with Eastern Australia?

I have some ideas.

But that’s a story for another time.

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I’ve been reading up on the history of Shabtai Tzvi and Jacob Frank who were false messiahs from 350 and 250 years ago, respectively.

In the process, I uncovered a great many new facts that I didn’t know before, and also some questions that continue to beg answers, even in our times. So without any further ado, let’s dive into the world of these false messiahs, who continued to shape the Jewish community in so many ways, long after their deaths.

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The story begins in Izmir, Turkey, when the Turkish Jew Shabtai Tzvi (1626-1676) (who I’ll call SHATZ for short) announces he’s the long-awaited messiah of the Jewish people. Initially, many Jews – including a great many learned rabbis – believe his claims.

But SHATZ has been dabbling in the Kabbalah and the occult, and he quickly develops a theology of going against the Torah of Moses, and deliberately doing the opposite of any given commandment. His reasoning is that now that the Moshiach has come, ‘evil’ has returned to its root in good, and there is no such thing as ‘bad’ anymore.

To prove this, he and his followers start creating new ‘Jewish festivals’, based on their own experiences and the ‘miraculous events’ occurring within their community, and abolish traditional fasts, particularly Tisha B’Av.

The Sabbateans also publically reject the Talmud, i.e. the Oral Law, and heap scorn on the heads of the rabbis who wrote it, claiming they distorted original Judaism.

It’s important to note that this is the same claim the xtians make against Judaism. They also reject what they term ‘rabbinic Judaism’, but rabbinic Judaism is the Oral Law, and it’s an integral part of Judaism that was also given to Moshe Rabbenu alongside the Written Torah at Sinai.

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In the best ‘National Enquirer’ tradition, SHATZ star really takes off after the rabbis expel him from Salonika for ‘marrying’ a Torah.

That’s when he moves to Jerusalem and acquires his own prophet by the name of Nathan of Gaza. Nathan of Gaza proclaims that SHATZ is the Moshiach in 1665, and by October of that year, the news already hit the European Jewish communities

The Chmielnicki Uprising (1648-1657) had killed a third of Europe’s Jews at this point, they were desperate for salvation. Also, the xtians believed that the End of Days was going to begin in 1665 – and that’s why the English decided to let the Jews return to the UK in 1655, because they figured it wouldn’t be long before they’d return to Israel, in any case.

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 This Nathan is an extremely convincing spokesman, and quickly hits on the idea of smearing anyone who denies the ‘moshiach-ness’ of SHATZ as being from the ‘Erev Rav’.

In the meantime, stories start to abound within the Jewish community (but are often quickly suppressed) that the SHATZ and his very large group of followers are engaging in shockingly illicit activities, including wife swapping, incest, deliberately eating pork and public orgies (to name but a few).

Very few rabbis seem to be prepared to publically call the SHATZ out on all the immorality and licentiousness surrounding him, although Rabbi Jacob Sasportas (1610-1698) and the Chacham Tzvi take the lead in opposing him. Rabbi Sasportas becomes the sworn enemy of the Sabbateans, and states that they are Erev Rav. But few people take this seriously, until SHATZ converts to Islam on September 15, 1666 on pain of death.

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At that stage, his followers split into three main groups:

Group 1: Well-meaning Jews who were duped into believing that SHATZ is the Moshiach between 1665 and his conversion in September in 1666. Large numbers of this group make teshuva after Shabtai becomes an apostate, and return to the Jewish fold.

Group 2: Crypto-Sabbateans – who maintain a pious Jewish exterior, but who engage in all sorts of licentious behavior behind closed doors, and continue to believe that SHATZ actually is the Moshiach.

Group 3: Hard-core Sabbateans, many of whom also sham convert to Islam, but whose real religion continues to be Sabbateanism. The infamous ‘Donmeh[1]’ of Turkey belong to this last group. Many of these Jews schism off and out of the Jewish community, at this point.

But not all of them, especially in Podalia and Eastern Europe.

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SHATZ dies in 1676 – but that doesn’t faze his followers, or derail the ‘SHATZ is Moshiach’ propaganda machine.

In order to keep the show on the road, his leading followers come up with the idea that Shabtai Tzvi’s soul will conveniently ‘reincarnate’ in one of his followers 49 days after his death.

That person becomes the new leader, and the messianic fervor that’s powering the Sabbatean’s activities continue to churn, and bring in new adherents, power and funds. The Sabbatians teach that the the original Shabtai Tzvi will come back from the dead, as part of techias hameitim, and take over where he left off.

The Sabbatean community continues to emphasize kabbalah over normative halacha, but have a status within the Jewish community similar to the Karaites – i.e. both the xtians and the Jews of that time still consider them to be Jewish, at least technically, but a sect, not normative Judaism.

Xtians eye these developments with great interest. The Karaite community in Amsterdam at this time is being financially supported by the Protestants there, who want to undermine ‘Rabbinic Judaism’ by presenting the Karaites as being more authentic, and more akin to the original Jews.

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So, for the next 100 years or so, the Sabbatean community continues.

It is more ‘openly’ Sabbatean in Turkey, and more ‘secretly’ Sabbatean elsewhere, particularly in the 4 lands of Poland, and especially in the Polish province of Podolia, which covers an area consisting of modern-day Ukraine and Moravia.

Podolia borders Turkey, and there is a lot of exchange between the Jews of these areas.

So far, I probably haven’t told you too much you didn’t know before. But hang on, because here where the story ramps up a level.

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At exactly the same time that the Baal Shem Tov and chassidut appears on the scene in the Ukraine (Podolia), Jacob Frank also shows up. It’s a well-known spiritual principle that every good thing has its ‘bad’ mirror image. God arranges things like this, in order to maintain free choice, and that’s often why things can seem so confusing to us mere mortals.

We see that rabbi with a shtreimel, this rabbi with a beard…. They both appear to be identical, from the outside, yet one is a destructive luminary of fire, and the other is a holy luminary of light. And unless we’re continually asking God to show us the truth, we can very easily find ourselves being tugged after those charismatic – but false – luminaries of fire.

So, at this period of time, from the 1730s on, there are a number of Jewish ‘wonder workers’ stalking all over Europe, some of whom – like the Baal Shem Tov – are holy of holies, and others of whom – like Jacob Frank, and Samuel Falk of London – are actually fakers who are using dark kabbalah for their own ends.

(It’s a side point, but Samuel Falk was one of the leaders of the movement to get more Jews into devil-worshipping Freemasonry, in the name of Jewish ‘emancipation’. He was known as a miracle worker in London, where he acquired the name ‘the Baal-Shem of London’. I was a little shocked to learn that the picture that is usually said to be of the Baal Shem Tov is actually a picture of this guy, instead!)

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So, Frank is a Polish Jew, probably already from a family of secret Sabbatians, who moves to Turkey and is initiated into Sabbateanism on his wedding night.

All this coincides with the death of Berakhiah, the current leader of the Sabbateans who claims to be a reincarnation of the SHATZ. So Frank spots his opportunity, and claims that he’s the next link in the Sabbatian’s chain of command.

He’s a powerfully charismatic individual with a strong lust for power and celebrity, so many of the existing Sabbatean community in Turkey accept him as their leader. Frank decides to head back to Poland, where many thousands of the crypto-Sabbateans live. These people appear externally to be orthodox Jews, but are secretly doing all sorts of deviant and evil things that are totally against the Torah.

Empowered by Frank, many of these Jews – which includes a large number of rabbis – start to come out of the closet, and to openly challenge ‘Rabbinic Judaism’ by doing things like publically eating on the Fast of Esther.

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In 1656, the infamous ‘Lanckronie’ affair occurs.

This is when Frank and his followers first come to the attention of the wider Jewish and xtian authorities, for behaving in some very disturbing ways. The matter is investigated, and it’s discovered that the rabbis of Lanckronie, Busk and Krzywcze are all Sabbatians – and starting to act in increasingly brazen ways.

Frank and his followers – which at this point, number anywhere between 1,000 – 15,000 – portray themselves as a separate and ‘more authentic’ stream of Judaism. They start requesting an area of land from the catholic Polish authorities where they can live semi-autonomously.

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Moving back to Poland is a big deal for Frank.

At that time, the Jews can’t really own land, they can only rent it. After Shabtai Tzvi fails to deliver on returning the Jews to their own homeland in Israel, Frank and his followers decide to give up on Israel, and transfer “Sabbatian messianic hopes connected to the Land of Israel to Poland”[2] instead.

Frank starts giving sermons where he tells his followers:

“Poland was ‘the ground for the ascension’ – the place where the Shechinah would rise out of the earth.”[3]

The Frankists are keen to break the link between ‘redemption’ and getting land for the Jews, and also believe in the final unification of world faiths before ‘the End’.

So, there are two things going on now. First, Frank and his followers want to own their own land, and they are happy to suck up to the xtians and to play their game in order to acquire some status and wealth. But second, there really is a philosophical underpinning for everything they’re doing, based (loosely) on Shabtai Tzvi’s distorted teachings.

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At this stage, Rabbi Jacob Emden, son of the Chacham Tzvi, heads the growing opposition to the Sabbateans.

In May 1756, following the Lanckronie scandal, the Sabbatians are formally put in cherem, and the study of kabbalah is outlawed for anyone under 40 years of age.

The Rabbis also release a statement that:

“On the basis of the codifiers, we pronounce that it is a positive commandment to kill them [i.e. the Frankists].”

Off the back of this announcement, the Jews subsequently kill 18 Frankists in Podolia and wound another 30.

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Frank flees back to Turkey – where he secretly converts to Islam and become ‘Ahmed Frank’. But he has a lot of competition in Turkey, where the Donmeh hold sway, so Frank decides to head back to Poland in June 1757.

At that time, he approaches the Polish Church to request they organize a disputation between the Frankists and the formal Jewish community, claiming that ‘Sabbatianism’ is closer to original Judaism because they don’t hold by the Talmud (i.e. the Oral Law).

This is music to the bishops’ ears, especially as Frank and his followers are willing to claim that the Talmud encourages Jews to sacrifice xtians and to use their blood in matzahs, in order to spite the formal Jewish community that’s attacking them.

So, the infamous blood libels were actually begun by apostate Jews who were looking for a way to break rabbinic control over the Jewish community. It’s totally shocking, isn’t it?

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The confrontation happens on June 20, 1757 in Kaminetz, and amongst the 9 points being argued by Frank we find these:

#6 We believe that God may take upon Himself mortal human flesh… [this was phrased carefully as Frank believed that this applied to Shabtai Tzvi and then himself – but he made it sound at this stage as though he was talking about yoshki]

#7 In accord with Daniel’s prophecy, we believe the city of Jerusalem will not be rebuilt until the end of time.

#8 We believe that the Jews have waited in vain for the messiah to come and to bring them happiness and grant them power over other nations.

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Unsurprisingly, the catholic Bishop of Kaminetz, Dembowski, states the Frankists have won and decrees that the Talmud should be burnt.

It’s a pyrrhic victory for the Frankists, though, because Bishop Dembowski unexpectedly dies very soon after this. Xtian sources explain that a plague breaks out in Kaminetz, and the Bishop’s ghost is seen walking around by residents.

The xtians decide to dig the Bishop’s body up and behead it – their way of ‘killing’ his ghost – but it doesn’t work. The plague intensifies, and now the Bishop is seen walking around carrying his head under his arm. So now, the xtians dig his body up again, and burn it in the same place where the Talmud was burnt – and the plague and the ghost subsequently disappear.

Fancy that.

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With their main supporter dead, the Frankists are now in a very vulnerable position.

Up until now, they haven’t wanted to convert to xtianity, but they’ve burnt their boats with Judaism, and the Jewish community no longer considers them to be Jews.

At this point, Rabbi Emden and his supporters, chiefly a man named Baruch Yavan, decide the best way to deal with the Frankists is to bribe the catholic church to pressure them to convert out of Judaism. They expend a lot of money and effort on bribing the Papal Nuncio in the region to make this happen, and it pays off.

A second dispute is held in Lvov (Lemberg) on July 17-19, 1759, where amongst the 7 points being debated, the Frankists claim:

  • All the prophecies about Moshiach have already been fulfilled.

  • Moshiach is G-d, who took human form.

  • So all sacrifices and ceremonies should be abolished now.

  • Everyone should follow Moshiach’s teachings, for ‘salvation lies only within it’.

  • The Talmud encourages the Jews to perform human sacrifices and to shed xtian blood.

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Long story short, immediately after this dispute in Lvov, Frank and between 1,000-7,000 of his followers convert to xtianity, including the Rabbis of the polish towns of Busk and Gliniany.

To give just one example of the scale of what happened, two thirds of the Jewish community of Busk convert.

To put this in context, only 4 communities in Poland at this time had more than 3,000 Jews, and Lvov – with 7,400 Jews – was the second biggest Jewish community in the country.

This is a totally massive blow to the Jewish community.

Yet, Rabbi Emden and many of his circle, including the Vilna Gaon, celebrate this mass conversion as a ‘miracle from heaven’, as now they don’t have to deal with the Frankists in-house anymore.

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By contrast, the Baal Shem Tov takes this mass conversion very hard, and dies the following year.

According to Wikipedia:

“After the mass conversion of the Frankists, the Baal Shem Tov allegedly said that as long as a diseased limb is connected with the body, there is hope that it may be saved; but, once amputated, it is gone, and there is no hope.”

Writing in Likutey Moharan, I:207, Rebbe Nachman has this to say about it:

“This was what caused the departing of the Baal Shem Tov, who had said that he would depart on account of the Shabtai Tzvi episode. Several of the leaders of the generation and outstanding scholars had become followers of Shabtai Tzvi, who had fooled them, as well known.

“They left the community and spoke evil against the entirety of the Oral Torah (i.e. the Talmud) because harsh gevurot had come upon them and they did not ameliorate them…Thus, they spoke evil words against the community, and these words befell the leader of the generation, who at that time was the Baal Shem Tov, which is what caused his departing.

“And the Baal Shem Tov is quoted as saying that the Shabtai Tzvi episode caused two holes in his heart, which causes his departing. This is because speaking against the Oral Torah and speaking against the tzaddik of the generation is one and the same thing.”

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Let’s sum up the rest of Frank’s story as briefly as we can, as it’s actually not what I want to focus on.

Frank is imprisoned by the Catholic church in 1760 when they realise he’s still claiming to be the messiah to his own followers. In 1767, Frank approaches the Russians and offers to become Greek Orthodox, together with his thousands of followers.

(By way of context, the massacre of Jewish martyrs in Uman that caused Rebbe Nachman to request to be buried there happens in 1768. Given all the voluntary conversion to xtianity that was going all around them in the Jewish community, we can see that the Jewish martyrs behavior was even more exemplary than perhaps we realized.)

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When Russia conquers Poland in 1772, they free Frank, who goes to Moravia, which is part of the Hapsburg Empire.

There, he becomes a celebrity, and hobnobs with monarchs, all on the promise of being able to deliver up thousands of Jews for conversion. For example, just two months after Frank arrives there, another 8 families convert in Prozznitz – including the rabbi!

Frank also becomes involved with Freemasonry, and his followers are instrumental in trying to set up Freemason lodges called the ‘Order of Asiatic Brethren’ that will welcome both xtians and Jews. According to Jacob Calmonson, a leading maskil at this time,

“Jewish efforts to secure emancipation ran parallel with the history of their relations with freemasons.”

But the non-Jewish Freemasons complain, and after 1785, there is a massive clampdown on the number of Jews who can join Freemason lodges within the Hapsburg Empire. That’s when the Frankists branch out into the so-called ‘Illuminati’ Lodges.

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A year later, in 1786, Frank falls out with Emperor Joseph II and leaves for Frankfurt Am Main.

He meets Prince Wolfgang Ernst II, thanks to his Freemason connections, and the Prussian Monarch gives him a castle in Offenbach to live in, together with his children and followers.

At this stage, the Frankists and the Freemasons are both starting to be spoken of as a ‘State within a State’ and as types of international spy networks.

Frank dies in Offenbach, and his followers claim that Frank – who was meant to be ‘immortal’ – has now: “shed his human form, [to] clothe himself in divinity, so he could triumph over death.”

His children, particularly Eva Frank take over the franchise as a sort of female ‘messiah’, but don’t do nearly as well with it. Eva Frank dies in 1816, and apparently that’s where the story ends.

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Really, that story is still going.

It’s not a commonly-known fact in our times, but the main false accusations being hurled at the head of the nascent Breslov community in the Ukraine by their detractors was that they had Sabbatian sympathies.

There was so much ‘heat’ generated against Breslov that a rabbinically-sanctioned attempt was even made on the life of Rabbi Nachman’s main student, Rav Natan. Just the murder got the wrong ‘Rav Natan of Breslov’, and killed the wrong person[4].

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By the early 1800s, there were an estimated 24,000 former Jews – including large numbers of Rabbis – who had converted as part of the Frankist disaster in Poland alone.

And ‘secret Sabbatians’ still abounded, particularly in places like Czechoslavakia, Bohemia and Moravia, where they tended to keep up the pretense of Jewish observance and even extreme Jewish piety externally, whilst all the time believing and acting in ways that were totally against Judaism.

Even world-famous rabbis like Jonathan Eybeshutz were actually secret Sabbatians, and Rabbi Eybeshutz’ son, Wolf, actually became a well-known, totally immoral Sabbatian ‘prophet’ who for a time vied with Frank for leadership of the Sabbatians.

So, suspicion fell on Rabbenu and his small group of students, because while Rabbi Jacob Emden and the Vilna Gaon preached a creed of excommunication and excision from the Jewish community, Rebbe Nachman took a totally different tack to trying to solve the problem of the Frankists and crypto-Sabbatians, as we’re about to discover.

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Over Shabbat, I was pondering large sections of Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom and Tzaddik, when I realized that so many of Rebbe Nachman’s mysterious journeys were to places where key events in the Frankist history had taken place. Many decades after the disputation and Talmud burning in Kaminetz, Rebbe Nachman made a trip to the town, at the behest of the Baal Shem Tov, who he said came to him in a dream.

Jews had been banished from living in Kaminetz after 1757 after the disputation with the Frankists that lead to the burning of the Talmud and the devastating plage, but very shortly after Rabbenu’s trip there, the Jews were allowed back in.

Then in 1807, after Sukkot, Rebbe Nachman suddenly left for Lvov (Lemberg) in a big hurry – and no-one knew why. Rav Natan went running after him, and caught up with Rabbenu at Krassnoy. That was when Rabbenu first taught the lesson of Azamra I:282.

There, Rabbenu taught:

 “Know: one must judge every person favorably. Even if the person is totally wicked, one must search and find in him some bit of good, regarding which he is not wicked. By finding in him this bit of good and judging him favorably, one actually elevates him to the direction of righteousness and is able to bring him to repentance.”

In Tzaddik, Rav Natan explained that when Rebbe Nachman was giving over this lesson, “He seemed fairly pleased, and he spoke about the purpose of his journey, connecting it with the idea of the sanctuary each of the Tzaddikim builds” – as set out in Lesson I:282, where the Tzaddik can even draw the good in total sinners back to Hashem.

Once I understood what was going on all over that area at this time, so soon after Jacob Frank had lead the mass conversion of many thousands of ‘orthodox’ Jews into xtianity, I started to view these words in a totally different light.

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Rabbi Emden and the Vilna Gaon had one approach to the problem, where they basically (and arguably correctly!) termed the Frankists in their midst as unfixable Erev Rav, and attempted to cut them out of the Jewish community.

This is very much in keeping with the writings attributed to Hillel Rivlin of Shklov[5], student of the Vilna Gaon and author of Kol HaTor about the Erev Rav, vis:

“[T]he Erev Rav is our greatest enemy, the one who separates the two moshiachs. The klipah of the Erev Rav works only through deception and roundabout ways. Therefore, the war against the Erev Rav is the most difficult and bitterest of all. We must strengthen ourselves for this war, anyone who does not participate in the battle against the Erev Rav becomes, defacto, a partner with the klipah of the Erev Rav, and was better off not being born in the first place.”

But there’s one massive problem with this approach:

It doesn’t work.

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I write way more about this in my book Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, and I discuss this problem a lot on my blog, too, but practically speaking, it’s impossible to really determine who is unfixable Erev Rav and who isn’t – especially when you’re dealing with pious hypocrites who keep up a façade of perfect frumkeit.

And if we look back at what happened after the Frankists were forced to convert out of Judaism, we’ll see that declaring an all-out war against them didn’t work then, either.

All that happened is that Judaism permanently lost many thousands of souls, whose children could have returned to the fold of orthodox Judaism at a later date.

Not only that, the Frankists and crypto-Sabbateans became more brazen after they were forced out of Judaism, and were spurred on to join forces with the Freemasons and to get involved in things that we are still paying the price for globally, today.

Once they were pushed beyond the pale, and totally ejected from the Jewish community, the Frankists pintele yid was effectively extinguished.

But the whole world still views them as Jews, and we Jews are being tarred with the same brush.

Even more ironically, so many of the descendants of the Vilna Gaon’s students – including the author of the Kol HaTor himself! – are today’s immoral politicians and elites in Israel. This is not a simple problem, not at all.

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As I read of events 250 years ago, I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels today.

Today, there are still so many people flinging the ‘Erev Rav’ accusation at other Jews’ heads. There are still segments of Jewish society who are acting in some very immoral ways, both within the bounds and beyond the bounds of externally ‘orthodox’ Judaism.

In so many ways, it feels as though the same test has swung around again.

And this time, we have to try a different approach to solving the problem. It’s not going to work, to just cut off from our fellow Jew and pretend they are someone else’s problem. Each Jew is responsible for the other – and when we forget that, God has a way of reminding us.

The anti-Semites out there make no distinction between Jews in Jersey City, and Jews in Monsey, and Jews in the Conservative ‘Tree of Life’ in Pittsburgh.

We can’t cut off from all the troubling and even ‘evil’ elements in our midst, much as we might like to.

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So what’s the answer?

Azamra.

Azamra is the only way of fixing the ‘unfixable’ Erev Rav in our midst.

If we see the point of good in these people – without lying to ourselves or whitewashing their ‘bad’ – then God will do what’s required to resolve the problem, and somehow return that spark of goodness to a place of holiness.

From my own experience, when I do ‘Azamra’ on the yucky people out there, that’s precisely when their bad deeds start to catch up with them, and their suffering grows so great that they are prompted to make teshuva in some way, however small.

Rabbenu’s approach works, however you care to define that word.

And cutting people out of our lives and publically degrading them doesn’t. All that does is give more ammunition to the anti-Semites out there, who are churning out stuff 24/7 about the Rothschilds, and the Mossad, and the State of Israel being behind all of the world’s woes.

God is in control, here, not us.

God wants us to do Azamra on all the Jews we know.

If more of us can follow this approach, then the terrible scar left by Jacob Frank and his followers, and Shabtai Tzvi and his acolytes, will finally heal.

And the Temple will be rebuilt peacefully, in our days.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] Today, there’s an estimated 100,000 donmeh living in Turkey.

[2] The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement (1755-1816), by Pawel Maciejko.

[3] Ibid

[4] See Through Fire and Water.

[5] Hillel Rivlin is also an ancestor of the current President of Israel, Ruby Rivlin.

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

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Yesterday, both my girls were at Haditch.

This is the small town in the Ukraine where the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch passed away and was buried, when he was fleeing Napoleon.

While many other of the Chassidic masters of that time had strong opinions on whether Napoleon was preferred to the Russian Tsar, when it came to the eternal question of is this good for the Jews? – the Alter Rebbe was the only one who actually encouraged his followers to actively spy for the Tsar against Napoleon’s forces.

One Lubavitcher chassid was actually working as a translator for the French forces, and on the Chabad.org website HERE, you can find a first-hand account of how he was nearly caught by Napoleon himself, who suspected there was a Russian spy in the camp.

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Recently, Rabbi Berland has been returning to the idea in his shiurim and comments that it’s not a good idea for Jews to get too close to the levers of power.

He brings the example of Rabbi Haim Farhi, who was the Jewish administrator of Akko at the time that Napoleon tried to conquer Israel, back in 1799.

Farhi’s boss was the notorious Pasha Ahmed Al Jazzar, a man renowned for his acts of sadism, fierce temper and cruelty. I visited Al Jazzar’s impressive bath house when I had my day out in Akko a few weeks ago. There, they told the story of how Al Jazzar had 37 wives, and one time, the rumor reached his ears that one of them had cheated on him.

Outraged, he lined all his wives up, and went down the line, trying to figure out who it was. He was unsuccessful. So instead, he had all 37 of his wives killed, just to be on the safe side. They are buried outside the walls of Akko. Or so the story goes.

So Haim Farhi apparently got off relatively easily, when Al Jazzar only sliced off the tip of his nose, and the top of his left ear, and blinded him in one eye. Even today, you can still see portraits of the one-eyed, mutilated Jewish advisor standing next to Al Jazzar, which means ‘butcher’ in Arabic.

Farhi ended up outliving Al Jazzar, and the next pasha, Abdullah ibn Ali, was initially a much more gentle character who was practically Farhi’s step-son. But as time went on, this second Pasha turned on him, had him murdered, and then threw his body over the port wall of Old Akko and into the sea. They never found him, and Farhi didn’t receive a Jewish burial.

Farhi’s widow died on the road to Syria, trying to escape Abdullah’s revenge. Later on, Haim Farhi’s still influential family effectively went to war against Abdullah, and instigated a small scale civil war within the Ottoman empire, which included violent clashes in the Golan Heights, Shechem, and the Beqaa Valley.

So, there are clear dangers involved in getting ‘involved’ with government, as the Alter Rebbe himself discovered, when he died on the road, escaping from Napoleon’s forces.

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What does all this have to do with us, today?

These messages are eternal, and the warning still stands.

Two weeks’ ago, just before the UK’s recent General Election, the current British Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, put out a public statement virulently criticizing the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for being an anti-Semite. That Corbyn is an anti-Semite is not in question: he’s clearly an anti-Semite.

But personally, I was amazed that Rabbi Mirvis put out the statement that he did, about the leader of the main opposition party, a couple of weeks before one of the most important General Elections the UK has ever held.

Rabbi Mirvis was clearly trying to ‘influence’ the elections, and to reduce the number of people willing to vote for Corbyn.

Now, I don’t have a crystal ball, and I have no idea what’s coming down the pipe in the UK. What I can tell you, is that leaving all the pro / anti Brexit questions to one side, the simple fact of leaving the EU is going to be enormously wrenching and chaotic for the country.

It’s not going to be simple, and who knows how much economic pain is really going to be involved with this process? That it could lead to better things down the road is possible, who knows, but there’s no getting around the short-term ‘pain’ it’s going to cause in a bunch of different ways.

And when that ‘pain’ hits, some people in the UK will start looking around for scapegoats to blame.

Rabbi Mirvis, with his ill-timed letter that effectively guaranteed that no-one ‘decent’ would ever publically admit to voting for Corbyn and his ‘pro a second referendum on Brexit’ Labour party – will then loom large.

And then what?

That is the question.

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And things are pretty bad on the ‘meddling in goyish politics front’ in the US, too.

On both sides of the debate, you have Jews prominently trying to sway public opinion, trying to affect political processes, trying to get as close as they can, to the levers of power.

And it’s making me very nervous.

Make no mistake, the anti-Semites out there are collecting their ‘evidence’ with a very keen eye. And it’s not so much the secular Jewish politicians who are holding their attention – although clearly, they are still very much part of the equation – but all those rabbis with long beards and black hats, who keep turning up in the corridors of power all over the world.

I know, it’s hard to build shuls and schools all over the world, in even the most far-flung places, without having to deal with the government. You need to get the permissions and permits, you need to apply for the grants and funding, you need to ‘grease the wheels’ to get these things off the ground, and rolling along*.

But it seems to me, that so many of these obvious Jews with beards and black hats have forgotten that they are in galut, and have forgotten who they are dealing with.

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Today’s beloved leader who apparently loves the Jews so much could be out on his ear tomorrow – and then what?

When Napoleon was trying to conquer Israel, he tried to ‘tempt’ the Jews in Israel to defect over to his side, by promising them all sorts of political freedom, civil equality, and financial opportunities.

Even though the dhimmi Chaim Farhi had been blinded and mutilated by his Muslim master, he totally refused Napoleon’s offer to act as a ‘fifth column’ for the invading French – and thank goodness he did, because otherwise, one way or another, the 9,000 Jews in Akko would have lost their lives.

If Al Jazzar would have got a sniff of this proposed treachery, there’s no question he would have killed all the Jews he could lay his hands on, as a ‘lesson’ for the rest of the Jews under Turkish rule – all of whom would automatically now be suspected as potential foreign agents.

And if Napoleon had conquered Israel thanks to Jewish turncoats, that would have sealed the paradigm that ‘Jews can’t be trusted to stay loyal to their countries of residence’, and yes, there would be more Jew slaughter happening again, at some point, God forbid, because of it.

Jews aren’t meant to mix into politics. And especially not ‘obvious’ Jews with long beards, black hats – and very short memories.

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The winds of change are blowing all over the place, at the moment.

None of us have any idea, really, what’s going on right now, where it’s all leading, and who ultimately is going to come out on top. And that there are so many visible Jews publically engaged in trying to affect goyish government at the very highest levels seems incredibly unwise, to say the least.

Because today’s rulers could be tomorrow’s toast.

The only wise course of action, as both Haim Farhi and the Alter Rebbe discovered a little too late, is to stay out of politics, and stay far away from government. 

We’re in galut, after all, we’re not at home.

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Writing in the Ohr Layesharim, the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Ber Schneersohn, has this to say, about why the Jews are in galut:  

“[U]ntil it is G-d’s will to redeem us, we must accept the yoke of exile to atone for our sins.”

The 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, stated in ‘Om Ani Chomah, 5709’ that:

“We are foresworn by the covenant of G-d that we cannot overcome [exile] with might or power, only by understanding and knowing the word and command of G-d.”

Both the Rebbes were addressing their remarks to the secular Zionists who were attempting to create a State of Israel by involving themselves in political intrigues and hob-nobbing with secular governments.

But just as this applies to a Jewish state, it surely applies even more to a non-Jewish state that Jews simply live in, until we finally get redeemed?

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“We cannot overcome exile with might or power.”

According to the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, exile – including all its holocausts, pogroms and suffering – is a punishment for our sins. It’s not supposed to be comfortable. Jews forget this at their peril. Galut is a temporary state of affairs, we aren’t ‘kings of our own castle’.

And that also still applies here, in the secular, anti-Torah State of Israel.

But the difference is this: When the political house of cards finally collapses here, it will be accompanied by a readiness to greet Moshiach, and a grassroots push to move the holy land of Israel from galut to geula.

By contrast, when the tottering political systems in the US, UK and elsewhere finally collapse, it will be accompanied by massive civil unrest, violence, and 25 million anti-Semites with semi-automatics who are trying to pin all their problems on the Jews.

That is the difference.

And so, we’ll leave this post where we began, with the warning for Jews to stay out of non-Jewish politics, and to keep a low profile, and to realise that wherever they happen to live, they are in galut to atone for their sins.

And let’s face it, there’s still a lot of atonement required.

====

FOOTNOTES:

  • There’s a very interesting article on the chabad.org website that explains that all 7 Lubavitcher Rebbes were granted the title by Czarist Russia of being ‘Honorary Hereditary Citizens’, “which in Imperial Russia was the highest rank short of titular nobility.” I’m just throwing this out there, as a curious – and surprising – fact, given how much persecution the Rebbes all endured in Russia.

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If there’s one thing you can learn from the Gemara, it’s how to discuss things like a mensch.

Let me start off by saying I know a volcano exploded in New Zealand with a lot of casualties a few days’ ago. Most people don’t know this, but the city of Auckland – New Zealand’s capital city – is built on a massive, active volcanic field.

That this hasn’t happened before is really just miraculous – and as we covered a while back in THIS post about the Grand Solar Minimum that started last year, the earthquakes and the volcanic explosions are due for a massive uptick all over the world in the next two decades – unless something ‘supernatural’ happens to sweeten them all.

I also know there was a terror attack in Jersey City, and that American anti-semitism also seems to be coming to a boil. At the end of this post, you’ll find a bunch of articles related to that topic, if you’d like to revisit them.

So, I’m not ignoring these things, just they aren’t my priority at the moment.

My priority is trying to figure out some more of the things that are keeping us all stuck, miserable and away from Hashem, because as soon as more of us break out of our inner galut, the outer galut – together with all its terrible issues and suffering – will get fixed, too.

Because the main – and actually only – thing keeping us in galut, and keeping all this suffering spinning around, is that we’re whitewashing and justifying our own bad middot, instead of trying to work on them.

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‘My rabbi is better than yours’

So, with that intro, I thought I’d take a look at what I’m going to call ‘my rabbi is better than your rabbi’ syndrome, which is basically more of that ‘partisan politics’ that’s poisoning the whole world, just it’s dressed up in pious clothing.

One of the reasons that I loved Breslov so much, when I finally stumbled across it, was because Breslov puts a big emphasis on respecting other Rebbes, and other orthodox Jewish paths, even when they don’t always agree with the Breslov shita.

After years of one-dimensional Torah from people who only ever seemed to quote the same small handful of sources, the same small group of commentators, the same small group of rabbis that they found ‘acceptable’, I got to Breslov, and it was like the whole panoply of the Torah was restored to the discussion.

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Breslov rabbis were as happy to quote the Vilna Gaon and Rav Shach as they were the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe Nachman.

Whoever had a good piece of Torah to teach, a good lesson to share, that commentator would be quoted and referenced, regardless of whether they were Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Litvak, Chassid, pro-zionist, anti-zionist – it didn’t matter! This was so refreshing to me, not least because I’ve learned that any system of ideas, or approach that has to be ‘green-housed’ to survive is just not very robust.

If an idea or approach can only thrive if it’s surrounded by an unquestioning echo-chamber that’s stuffed full of sycophants and yes-men, that’s extremely problematic – and it’s also extremely un-Jewish.

Because the Jewish way is NOT just to accept things in an unquestioning way, especially not big ideas about what God really wants from us. The Jewish way is to argue all over these subjects, and to really ‘wrestle with the truth’, because only in that way will our own biases and blind-spots get some light shone onto them.

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God is way, way bigger than any human being can grasp.

God’s Torah is the blueprint for creation, it stands to reason that even the greatest of us is going to grasp only a part of what’s really going on.

That’s why there is such an emphasis put on Jewish unity, because it’s only once you’ve got the opinion of the 599,999 other Jews around the table that you’re going to be able to start even approaching the real truth, the real wisdom contained in the Torah.

The Sages in the Gemara recognized this, and that’s why you find so very many debates between the different rabbis who are discussing these profoundly deep ideas, and trying to tease out what the truth really might be.

The Talmud is literally full of thousands upon thousands of arguments.

And some of those discussions are really not politically correct at all. It is one rabbi explaining to another rabbi why they think they are wrong, and some of the wording is often quite harif.

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For example, I just opened up the tractate of Gemara that happened to by lying on my coffee table, and got to this discussion in Shabbat 89a:

“One of the rabbis asked Rav Kahana: Have you ever heard what the meaning is of the name Mount Sinai?”

Rav Kahana tries to answer the question a couple of times, but the Rabbi he’s talking to is not impressed with his responses, and tells him:

“He told [Rav Kahana]: Why did you not frequent Rav Pappa and Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehoshua, who delve into Aggadah? If you had, you would know the answer to my question!”

Gosh, how embarrassing for Rav Kahana, that he’s being publically exposed for not knowing everything in a forum that is going to be pored-over and learnt by millions of Jews over the next 2,000 years!

And he’s in good company, because also in Shabbat 89a, you find a whole discussion about Moshe Rabbenu – the biggest prophet the Jewish people ever had – who is also getting some mild censure from no-less than Hashem:

“The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Moses: “Moses, are you a fibber? Of course I gave the Torah to you!”

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I’m bringing these sources from the Gemara to show that our Sages were never ‘above’ being questioned or challenged.

These arguments weave themselves throughout the whole Gemara, and lest you think that the only people who were allowed to challenge the Sages’ teachings were other Sages, the Gemara clearly shows that non-Jews –like the Sages of Athens, the daughter of Caesar – also argued with them, and were answered.

Even people from secular, criminal backgrounds, like Resh Lakish, the former robber-chief-turned-Gemara Sage were permitted and encouraged to challenge the teachings of their rabbis, in order to tease out the real truth.

It’s recorded in Bava Metzia 84 that Resh Lakish would challenge his teacher, Rabbi Yochanan, 24 times on every point he made, until the matter was properly clarified. That’s why Rabbi Yochanan was so upset when Resh Lakish died, because being challenged about what you’re teaching is how you really get to the truth.

And as the truth is the seal of Hashem, engaging in these arguments is also how we get closer to God, and closer to understanding what God really wants from us.

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Before we continue, let’s make a very important point:

While the Gemara totally encourages challenging the teachings of the Rabbis, it in no way encourages or condones personal insults, or approaching any of the Sages with anything less than total respect.

Sometimes, that can be a very fine line, and it has to be walked very carefully, and with a great deal of siyatta di shmeya. But, the Gemara makes it abundantly clear that you can respectfully disagree with a teaching, with a viewpoint, without that being a personal attack on the person whose view you are challenging.

Which brings me to the crux of this post.

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The last few days, my husband and I have been having a back and forth with someone who read my post ‘The Emuna Reboot’, and got highly offended but what they felt was ‘lashon hara’. I’ve tweaked the article to remove the thing that was ‘offending’ them, but the whole discussion kind of sharpened up for me that there were many things about that old-school ‘emuna approach’ that really don’t seem to be correct.

And just like the Sages of the Gemara took issue with each other’s teachings (‘l’havdil….), this whole ‘discussion’ has also made it obvious to me that debating and questioning ideas and teachings  about what ’emuna’ actually is, and how we truly acquire it, is actually the Jewish way.

It’s what God really wants from us.

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Sadly, we live in a period of time where flying monkeys are shaping the parameters of debate, and where any time you come close to discussing a Torah idea or teaching, they try to shut you down by loudly screeching lashon hara!!!!

But let me ask you this: If even a Tzaddik of the caliber of Moshe Rabbenu had to defend his teachings (so to speak) in the Talmud, why should any of the enormous tzaddikim of subsequent generations be exempt from having their teachings scrutinized and clarified?

This isn’t about partisan politics, or about ‘my rebbe is bigger than your rebbe’ – or at least, it shouldn’t be.

God forbid, we should utter a word of personal attack against any individual, let alone a Jewish leader, God forbid a million times over. But, to not be able to challenge a teaching?

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That’s what I’d like to see more of. Much less posturing, and much less arrogant MY chassidut / Jewish group / Rabbi / approach is the only one way of doing things!!!!

And much more hey, I don’t understand your approach, and X, Y and Z really doesn’t seem to be supported by Torah sources. Can we discuss this?

The last thing to say is that all this has made me so appreciate all the criticism, mud and insults that is being thrown at the Rav, and at Shuvu Banim, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Why?

Because at this stage, it’s very hard to be publically part of Shuvu Banim unless you are willing to do some serious work on acquiring emuna and humility, and dealing with people insulting you personally and challenging you harshly, every step of the way. I get dissed from my kids, I get challenged by my friends and neighbors, I get insulted on the internet – it’s all amazing stuff!

Because each time it happens, I have to take it back into hitbodedut and go through the process of peering into my blind spot, to find out where the truth lies. I’ve written about this before, but the truth is NEVER a 0-100% split.

Even the biggest psycho with the biggest vested interest always has something true that they’re sharing with you, that’s mixed up in all the lies and slanderous insults. One of my commentators wanted to know why I bother even reading insulting comments, or having these discussions with people.

The answer is, because they always teach me something about my own blind spot.

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God is using everyone to give us messages about what we ourselves need to work on, change and fix, and I’m certainly not a level where I can even begin to pretend that I’m perfect and have nothing left to work on or fix.

I’m not infallible. I’m a flawed human being.

And the point is, that neither should what we’re being taught by our rabbis be above question. Even the biggest Tzaddik will fall seven times, there is no such thing as a person who doesn’t sin, who doesn’t err, or make a mistake.

If that holds for Moshe Rabbenu, and Rav Kahana of the Gemara, it certainly holds for everyone else.

So, to all those people who keep trying to close down the discussion by flinging abusive insults all over the place, let me ask you something:

What are you so afraid of? What are you scared is going to happen, if we actually look at these teachings and ideas and debate them on their own merits? Why are you so bound up in your way, your rabbi, your rebbe, your chassidut, your yeshiva being ‘right’, that you keep stomping on any suggestion of exploring their teachings outside of the ‘echo chamber’?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

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Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

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Articles about anti-Semitism in the USA:

It’s not all black and white after all, even in Lakewood.

Crazy times we live in, aren’t they?

I’m working so hard at the moment, trying to get my beta course on stress reduction for women up and running, and it’s so good to be trying to do something positive and uplifting, even tho it’s a lot of hard work.

I keep telling my husband: it’s good that this is our problem! It’s good that this is our stress! Long may it continue!

In the meantime, one of my readers just sent me the following letter, signed by a bunch of rabbis in Lakewood.

Personally, I’m very pleased to see some moral leadership on this subject in the American Jewish world, which is still arguing for the inviolability of free choice – even when it comes to vaccinations.

It’s a small light, in a very dark place, still.

But it’s a start.

And every dawn breaks gently.

 

None of us have a clue about what’s really going on, right now.

One of the striking elements of reading books like Tzaddik, and Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, is the number of times Rabbenu tells his followers: I don’t know anything.

And he really means it!

Over recent weeks, I’ve been thinking more and more how the people who regularly admit that they truly don’t know anything are really the only ones any one of us should be paying attention to. That’s for a few reasons.

First, true wisdom, true insight, isn’t linear.

It comes as flashes of inspiration that often catch you totally off guard, and up-end everything that you thought and believed was ‘true’.

The very action of acquiring more of this heavenly-inspired ‘knowledge’ and wisdom leaves you in a profound state of not knowing.

I know that’s what’s happening to me. The more I find out about Freemasons, vaccines, or even just what’s going on behind the façade of so many of the ‘regular’ people in my dalet amot, the less I truly feel that I ‘know’ anything.

At any moment, a new piece of information could come rushing up from the depths, or rushing out of the shadows, to turn everything all on its head, and change the whole picture.

There are no certainties in 2019, no guarantees.

Truth has become an expendable commodity for just about everyone, and in its place we have dogma, propaganda and totally unfounded assurances from other people that they know something we don’t.

Really?

The only source of clarity right now is what you get straight from talking to God, and from the mouths of our true Sages. And guess what? (Whisper this…) Our true sages don’t give a monkeys about impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill. It’s all a charade, a façade.

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Which brings me to the second reason why we need to only be listening to the people who aren’t trying to impress us with how much they know, and that boils down to humility and honesty.

Humility means that you aren’t trying to set yourself up as a ‘navi’, or a seer, pretending you have the inside edge about what’s going on all over the world when all you’re doing is watching Youtube videos and scrolling through your Facebook feed.

Let’s say it again: None of us know what’s going down at the moment, which side is up, who is really ‘good’, what is really ‘bad’.

All we have to go on is our intuition, the mirror principle, and any flashes of insight we might get in hitbodedut. While I’m a big believer in intuition and hunches, until the facts are incontrovertibly proved either way, everything is still just an educated guess.

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I think the Freemasons control most of the world and covertly (and not so covertly…) worship the devil. But I could be wrong about that, I admit it.

Ditto, I think Trump has been installed to pull off the ‘deal of the century’ which will see the US permanently installed in Israel to ‘protect us’ from our neighbors, while steadily asset-stripping the massive oilfields they just found in the Golan Heights (conveniently just recognized by Trump as belonging to Israel…) and the gas fields out to sea.

And maybe, something else, too. Who knows?

All I can tell you is that all of these ‘announcements’ from US and Israeli politicians seem to be aimed squarely at trying to provoke another war in the Middle East. Last week’s provocative hit on a PIJ leader didn’t lead to all-out war – miraculously! – so here, the Trump administration is trying to stir things up again, with another pointless ‘recognition’ of settlements in the West Bank, which changes precisely nothing, but is guaranteed to spark off riots in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Cynic that I am, I can’t help wondering if oil, or some other valuable natural resource, has just been found in the West Bank, too.

Under international law, if you try to cash in on the natural resources in an area whose sovereignty is under dispute, that counts as a ‘war crime’. That was the main problem with the oil fields up in the Golan – which Freemason Trump has now nicely solved for all his billionaire buddies with drilling rights.

But of course, I could be totally wrong about all this!

And if that’s the case, that’s OK with me. I’ll be the first to admit it.

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Which brings me back to the genius of Rabbenu’s “I know nothing’.

When you get in the habit of admitting that you really know nothing, then it gets way, way easier to admit when you inevitably get it wrong, and when you need to rethink things, make teshuva, and maybe apologise.

When you’re in the habit of knowing nothing, the ego doesn’t kick up quite the same fuss, when you have to put your hand up to being fallible and making mistakes. And while so many of us find that process painful and difficult, the more your practice it, the easier it gets.

Knowing nothing – and admitting that regularly – also works a treat to keep you humble, and open to learning from new information, new people, new facts you didn’t know before.

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Two weeks ago, I was in the local supermarket when there was an obviously American woman at the till, asking loudly:

Yesh condensed milk??

The lady serving her wasn’t being very helpful, so I arrogantly took it upon myself to inform her that I’ve never seen condensed milk in Israel, I’m not sure they even have it.

She gave me a glare and a tight smile, and then basically ignored me.

Hah! I thought to myself. Stupid new immigrant! What does she know about shopping in Israel… Not like me, who has lived here 15 years, and knows there is no condensed milk to be had!!!

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A few days ago, I was walking around that same supermarket when an elderly, Russian man literally sprang in front of me, and shoved two cans into my face.

He asked me in broken English what they were.

I took one can and read it carefully. My eyes opened in surprise.

It’s condensed milk, I told him.

He shoved the other can at me, and asked me to read the label of that one, too:

It’s also condensed milk, I told him, starting to flush.

He smiled happily at me – then put both cans back on the shelf and walked off.

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I don’t know much, but I know why God made that happen.

It was to show me how little I really know – about anything! – and to bring me down a peg or two.

Ah, Rivka.

So, you think you know ‘stuff’? You think you have some insight, some super-duper information no-one else has access to? Tut tut, the truth is, you really know nothing.

You don’t even know that the supermarket you’ve lived next to for two whole years and visit almost every days has not just one brand of condensed milk, but two!

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It’s humbling, having to admit I know nothing.

But it’s also actually a massive gift. I don’t have to pick fights because my ego is squirming, or because other people have different opinions to me.

Maybe, Trump really is going to drain the swamp.

(Excuse me while I laugh my head off hysterically.)

But maybe, that’s true! What do I know, really?

So I’m not going to take it personally if someone else has a different opinion.

Until the birur process starts to accelerate, it’s just getting more and more confusing, and harder and harder to figure out where the truth lies.

God doesn’t mind that we guess and get it wrong. Or that we suppose, based on totally false information and propaganda. He just gets upset with us when we arrogantly start dissing other people, because we think we know better than they do.

Because the truth is, we know nothing.

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Photo by Dave Webb on Unsplash

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What does it really mean to ‘go to yourself’?

This week, we’re reading Parsha Lech Lecha, where Avraham Avinu is given a clear steer by Hashem that he needs to leave his birth place, his family, his status and go to some unknown destination.

We know that the deeds of the forefathers are a ‘sign’ or message for their descendants, and that each of us will have to face some form of lech lecha in the service of Hashem. What do you think that would look like, for us today?

I was pondering this after my piece on Who is Armilus? over on the RavBerland.com site attracted some comments that caused me to raise an eyebrow.

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Apparently, few sacred cows are as sacred as Donald Trump…. Again, I’m not political in the least, and I really couldn’t give a monkeys who sits in the White House, or what party they belong to.

The political system everywhere in the world is an illusion, a Greek-inspired fantasy world that keeps us all at each other throats arguing partisan politics while the real baddies continue to pull the strings from behind the scenesAt this point, it seems sensible to assume that:

All politicians are bad, and are serving a system that is bad.

Are some better than others? Maybe. Who knows? Who really cares? It’s a shade of grey that only distracts from the underlying clarity that the political system is a fantasy that’s used to manipulate and confuse people into believing that they have some choice, or some say, in how the planet is really being run.

Really? We don’t.

And personally, I’m so weary of all these pointless discussions about impeachment, and Democrats vs Republicans, and Brexit yes or no, and Lieberman and Blue and White, and all the rest of it.

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All of this stuff is just keeping us away from the tachlis, the main point, the purpose of life:

To get closer to Hashem, and work on our own bad middot.

All this other stuff is just a pointless distraction. Partisan politics replaced religion as the ‘opium of the masses’, and it’s so frustrating to see how many people are literally wasting their time, their lives, on something that is 100% fantasy.

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The facts are these:

The US is interested in one thing, and one thing alone: it’s economy.

The US is using its army for one thing, and one thing alone: threatening and taking over third world countries so it can asset-strip them of their valuable natural resources, especially oil and natural gas.

The US ‘recognised’ the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel for one reason, and one reason alone:

There is a massive oil field there, that the Israeli mafia who run the country, together with the corrupt billionaires who are pulling the strings in the US and the UK have already divvied-up between them.

US company Genie was granted the contract to start exploring for oil in the Golan in 2013 – conveniently 18 months after Syria’s civil war began. The following information on Genie comes from the petroleum-economist site:

Genie was founded by Howard Jonas, who also founded the telecoms company, IDT. Jonas tried to emigrate to Israel in 2005 but found it impossible to manage his business from there. IDT is one of the largest private employers in Jerusalem, which Jonas has called the “centre of the world”.

Genies’ advisory board includes Rupert Murdoch, Dick Cheney and Jacob Rothschild.

The chairman of Genie’s Israeli subsidiary is Effie Eitam, a former leader of the Israeli National Religious Party, which represents Israeli settlers, and former minister for infrastructure. Eitam fought in the Golan and lives in one of its settlements.

Uzi Landau, the minister of infrastructure until last month, who granted the licence to explore for oil to Genie was a cabinet colleague of Eitam in at least two Israeli governments.

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Are you starting to see how all this works?

What’s amazing to me is that no-one is talking about what went on with the obvious corruption and croney-ism that’s behind this Genie / Golan Heights deal.

(Read THIS for more. I’m not sure how far down that rabbit hole I want to venture, at this point, and let me also point out that while this author is making some very interesting connections, clearly not everything he’s saying is true.)

But make no mistake, that any profit from these natural resources that should be going to you and me, the citizens of Israel, and to building the country, has already been slated to inflate the bank accounts and power-bases of the tiny handful of ‘elites’ who already own everything else in the world.

Trump good, Trump bad – who cares?

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Jews all over the world have a duty to stop lying to ourselves about what is really going on in the world.

The truth is, the Muslim regimes that the US and the West are trying to overthrow actually have far more in common with authentic Judaism than the ‘enlightened’ forces battling them. Of course, I’m not condoning ISIS violence, or Sharia law, or chopping people heads and hands off, God forbid, anything but.

God forbid, I’m not condoning the Iranian nuke, or it’s aggression against Israel.

But let’s take the blinders off, and ask ourselves a serious question, for a moment:

If we are really honest about what the US has done and is doing in the world, in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’, we will find that the US has wrecked and pillaged one country after another, both overtly and covertly, to service its insatiable greed.

(Let’s be clear that the European colonialists were doing all this before them, just the US has taken over where the Brits, French, Dutch and Belgians apparently stopped.)

The CIA, the NSA, MI6 and some of the other spook agencies have deliberately destabilized one country after another politically, so they could install a ‘puppet regime’ who would be very happy to let the Americans asset-strip the country. American companies get the fat contracts to ‘exploit’ the resources, and the American government sets the ‘fair’ price they are willing to pay for them.

And who loses out?

The poor citizens of these countries.

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I’m pointing this out because unless there is some massive, sincere teshuva unleashed in the US and the West, and particularly in the Jewish communities there, sooner or later God is going to pull the rug out from the USA’s feet.

The earth is already shaking, although the media is studiously ignoring all the signs that the seismic pressure is alarming, and pointing to the distinct possibility that the North American landscape may soon be about to change in a whole bunch of ways.

And I’m not talking about politics.

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Iran hates America, because the US overthrew its democratically-elected government back in the 1950s, to install their corrupt puppet, the Shah. The Shah oppressed his people ruthlessly – but sold oil to the Americans for a knock-down price. So he was painted as the good guy!!!

And the same thing has happened all over Latin America and Africa, too.

The world is in the awful mess it is in today, with billions of people stuck in a permanent ‘Third World’, because the US and NATO and the CIA went in time and time again to overthrow a democratic government that was inimical to Western economic interests, to replace it with a brutal, corrupt dictatorship that let the Americans and Europeans asset-strip to their hearts’ content.

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So what does all this have to do with lech lecha, and the Jews?

Rebbe Nachman teaches that each of the 70 nations of the world has a particular evil ‘trait’ that the Jews who live in that nation will have to overcome, in order to rectify it.

It’s as clear as daylight that the main evil trait of the USA is a lust for money.

It’s as clear as daylight, that the US has totally wrecked and corrupted half the world in their blind pursuit of oil, gas, and economic abundance.

It’s as clear as daylight, that the lust for money is also the main reason why more of America’s orthodox Jews aren’t moving to Israel – and why so many Jews in the US abandoned their yiddishkeit and assimilated in the first place.

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This week, God is giving us a prod in the back, and He’s telling us:

Lech Lecha!

Leave all that materialism, all that phoney talk about ‘justice and democracy’, all those lies about America being the world’s ‘good guy’, all that Greek fantasy about politics mattering an iota – and get real.

Get real.

Understand that the Jews who are living in America – and of course everywhere else in the world – have an awful lot of teshuva to make.

Enough with the pretend perfect.

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All God really requires of us, is for us to be honest about what the problems really are, and to ask for His help to overcome them.

But for as long as we’re pretending that the USA is ‘justice’ embodied, and for as long as we’re pretending that all the awful, bad, disgusting things that we ourselves do to other people are ‘justified’, we are a million miles away from really doing Lech Lecha, and leaving the bad behind to return to Hashem.

But maybe, just maybe, 5780 is the year to finally face that truth down.

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Since Rosh Hashana, I’ve just been feeling like I’m bouncing along the bottom, spiritually.

And there really isn’t much I can do about that, except not give up and let go.

Sukkot continued the theme of me hoping I could attain a spiritual level – even a basic one! – that sadly seems so far out of reach at the moment. True, me and the kids made our own decorations for the Sukkah this year, which was great. True, also, that I managed to roast some beef in a way that was edible, which was an open miracle.

Ten years ago, I tried to cook what I thought was beef for my brother when he came to visit from the UK, and because I had no idea what cut of meat I’d actually bought, it came out the chewiest meat I’d ever had to eat.

Because he’s British and kind of polite, my brother forced himself to eat it, but to this day, he likes to remind me of the ‘donkey stew’ that I dished up to him that night.

So getting a cut of beef to come out edible is quite an achievement for me.

But otherwise, I really can’t boast about my Sukkot.

True, I spent a lot of time sitting there by myself obsessively researching my husband’s family tree from Lithuania, but I can’t say I did more than that.

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Shabbat rolled around, and with it the strange mood I’d been in all week deepened and broadened out.

Does no-one else in this house know where the supermarket is? I wondered to myself, as I schlepped for the millionth time to replenish the cupboard and fridge.

Does no-one else know how to wash up? Does no-one else know how to cook?

In fairness, my kids weren’t around. One had descended to Egypt for the chag, and spent Sukkot in Sinai. Great.

The other was just at her friends all the holiday, including one night she spent in a 5 storey mansion in Rishon LeZion that had its own sauna, pool room, and was basically decked-out like a boutique hotel. The owners were mishpacha of one of my daughter’s friends, so she went to see how the other half live, as the owner had gone to Italy for Sukkot.

How festive of everyone. How very Sukkot-y of everyone.

The husband was out of action, still hobbling around on an ankle that has refused to heal for nearly three months, until we paid a pidyon over to Rav Berland shortly before Sukkot, and now things are looking up, Baruch Hashem.

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So Shabbat rolled around, and after yet another round of shopping and cooking for the ‘guests’ that call themselves my kids, I was in a bad mood.

The bad mood was compounded by all these Litvak ancestors who totally goyed out 100 years ago and stopped keeping anything.

One had even baptized the children he had with his non-Jewish wife, after naming them ‘Blumer’ and ‘Wolfe’. The mind boggles.

So, I was sitting there thinking that I’m not doing so well on the ‘upstanding spiritual Jewish household front’ at the moment, and long story short, that quickly snowballed into our annual massive fight in front of all the neighbors.

This has happened so many years in a row since we’ve been in Jerusalem, I think it’s some sort of institution now. Just as everyone else was finishing up their zemirot and bentching, the Levy Sukkot started up with World War III, arguing about things like free choice, and whether God (and parents….) still loves Jews that go completely off the derech.

God does, but I’m not God!!!

I told my kid that , and I could see she was shocked, but it’s the truth.

Or to be more accurate, I will continue to love my kids whatever, but I want to actually have kids I can relate to, and that I don’t have to walk on eggshells around because they’ve taken a path of confusion and now just talk pointless rubbish all the time (at best…).

I’m not God. I can’t pretend you can do whatever you want and that’s totally cool with me.

I thought some more, and then I added:

And I’m not sure God thinks that Jews can do whatever they want, too, even if they are still teenagers.

This was apparently shocking news.

Since then, we’ve made up again, baruch Hashem, but there went our neighborhood reputation…

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On Simchat Torah, I woke up with a cold, which got me out of going to shul for hakafot which was great, because I didn’t have a shul to go to, anyway. I danced a bit with the chumash in my own house, and started to feel like I don’t really belong in Baka, again.

The feeling was compounded when we went out for supper, and one of the other guests started slagging off the Rav.

I literally got all shaky, hearing this guy opine on things he really knows nothing about that equate to a one way ticket to gehinnom, and my husband started yelling at him.

The conversation then devolved into an argument about whether the Gemara is really ‘Torah’ (!) and then at that point, the yelling between my husband and this guy got so loud the man’s wife intervened and placed him under a gag order.

We spent the next hour making polite small talk about banal things that no-one could take offence at, and I thought to myself: What a waste of life! What a waste of time! And I felt kinda sad.

Next day, we got invited out again by neighbors of ours who I really like, but who have been surfing negative Youtube videos about the Rav. I gave them One in a Generation to try to put the other side –they read ¼ of it, and gave it back, still preferring the Youtube version of events.

What can I do?

Where can I go?

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The anglo, gashmius part of me quite enjoys Baka, with its leafy greenery, and ordered neighborhoods. But my soul is starting to wither here.

Once chag was out, we headed out to our old hood, to go hang out by Rav Berland’s ginormous Sukkah in the Meah Shearim bit of Musrara. There was trash everywhere. There were kids everywhere. There were people everywhere. I sat on a bench with my husband, and my soul lit up as my nose wrinkled.

You know, it takes a lot of effort to get trash into every corner of the streets, like that. They are actually putting some effort into doing this right…

As we stood by the bank on the corner of Meah Shearim, looking at home and simultaneously looking out of place, a group of chareidi men in a rush speed-walked past, accompanying some distinguished Rov. I have no idea who he was, just that people kept running over to kiss his hand.

I miss this madness, I told my husband. I miss this kedusha.

But I don’t miss the trash.

So not for the first time, I found myself caught between two worlds, two lifestyles, two neighborhoods. Clean, sociable and heretical in Baka, or filthy, isolated and holy in Musrara.

For the last year and a half, the body has been winning out.

But I think in 5780, the soul is starting to tip the balance again.

Now, I just need to find 3.5 million shekels from somewhere, to move back…

TBC

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Is the United States of America really the ‘good’ side of Edom?

After going into Yom Kippur in Israel with newspapers blaring headlines that Trump had given permission to Turkey to ‘invade’ Syria (!), I thought it was timely to try to track down what the Gemara says about the ‘good side’ of Edom.

I know there’s an idea being floated around that America is somehow the ‘good’ side of Edom, and that Trump is somehow akin to the Roman Emperor Antoninus, who had a very close relationship with Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi around 1800 years ago.

As things continue to get more and more ‘interesting’ in the international arena, I thought it was time to actually track down the sources in the Gemara that talk about Antoninus, most of which I found in Avoda Zara 10a and b. We can learn a lot from seeing what the Sages actually said about ‘Edom’ and its rulers, and how that maps on to modern-day America, and its rulers.

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The discussion begins in 10a, where the Sages are discussing idolatrous holidays and festivals.

They start talking about something called the ‘Ginusya day of their emperors’, and Rav Yehuda explains:

This is the day on which idolaters inaugurate their emperor.

The Gemara then asks:

But do [the Romans] appoint the son of a king as a king?

The Artscroll notes then state:

“The Emperors of Rome did not reign by hereditary right, but were selected by the previous ruler, or by the Senate.”

Does this sound familiar?

The Gemara then goes on to quote a verse from the prophecy of Ovadiah – which is very interesting in its own right, not least because of the following quotes from it:

“Even if you raise [your nest] like an eagle of if you place your nest amongst the stars, I will bring you down from there…..

“[T]he house of Yaakov will inherit those who had dispossessed them. The house of Yaakov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Esav for straw. And they will ignite them and devour them. There will be no survivor to the house of Esav, for Hashem has spoken.”

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The allusions to Edom being America seem obvious. The bald-headed eagle is the American emblem – and appears on the logo of the CIA, amongst other things – and ‘the stars’ are also prominently linked to the USA, in just about every sense of the word, beginning with their flag, moving through the space exploration program, and ending with Hollywood.

Let’s continue.

American white supremacism

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Rashi explains in his commentary on Genesis 36:43 that Edom is the ‘ancestor’ of Rome.

The Gemara continues to explains that Rome is ‘inferior among nations’ (quoting Ovadiah) because they:

“Do not appoint the son of a king as king.”

Clearly, the Sages aren’t impressed with the idea of ‘democracy’. The Gemara continues that Edom / Rome is “very despised”:

“Because they do not have their own writings or language.”

These descriptions also ‘fits’ the USA perfectly.

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The Gemara now introduces us to the Roman Emperor Antoninus, who had a close relationship with Rebbi, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. The discussion begins with how the Roman Authorities – aka the Senate – are ‘persecuting’ Antoninus, and how Rebbe advises him to kill them off one at a time, and “to not contend with all of them at once.”

Rebbe is scared to state this openly, because he’s wary of being bugged. The Gemara says:

“One can never be sure that a private conversation will remain secret.”

Admittedly, this does sound a little Trump-like. Let’s continue. The Gemara next explains about how Antoninus has a daughter who is acting in a way that could cause her father to become embroiled in a public scandal, and again Rebbe advises him on what to do with her.

Next, the Gemara describes how Antoninus is secretly sending Rebbi sacks full of crushed gold disguised as wheat, so that Rebbi will have money to pay the greedy Romans who will come after Antoninus. Then, the scene switches to the secret visits Antoninus would make to Rebbe’s house, where he’d kill the servants who accompanied him.

The Gemara says:

“Every day, he would wait upon Rebbi. He would serve him food and serve him drink. When Rebbi wished to climb onto his bed he would bend down before the bed and say [to Rebbi]: “Climb up on me to your bed.”

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Before we get into the next, really interesting part, I feel the urge to state the obvious, namely that Trump isn’t doing this for any Jewish sage, last I heard. He’s not sending Rabbi Berland sacks of gold, he’s not letting Rav Kanievsky use him as a footstool, he’s not asking the Biala Rebbe questions about how to keep Ivanka in line…

For sure, Trump has a problem with his ‘Deep State’ trying to take him out of action, same as Antontinus did, but without any of Antoninus’ corresponding personal piety. Let’s continue.

The Gemara now gets into a very interesting discussion that has reverberations for us, and our generation, and our confusion of how best to handle, and relate to ‘Edom’ / America. Antoninus asks Rebbi if he’s going to enter the World to Come, and Rebbi tells him yes. Antoninus then starts quoting the prophet Ovadiah at him, and says:

But it is written ‘and there will be no remnant to the house of Esav’, which implies that the descendants of Esav (Edomites / Romans) will not enter the World to Come. Rebbi responded: “That verse speaks only of one who acts in the manner of Esav.”

“This was also taught in a Baraisa: And there will be no remnant to the House of Esav. It could have been thought that this applies to all Edomites. To dispel this notion, [the Torah] states: To the House of Esav. By naming Esav, it teaches that only where the Edomite acts in the manner of Esav is he condemned; otherwise, he may enter the World to Come.”

All this is a direct quote from the Gemara.

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In the Artscroll notes it states:

“Edomites are barred from the World to Come only if they act like Esav (a barbarian who scorned God, committed murder and violated women.)….[A]ny gentile (even if he is not a ger toshav, who formally accepts the seven Noahide laws) has a portion in the World to Come, provided he does not emulate the barbaric Esav.”

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American white supremacism

Before we get into a discussion of whether the USA has a history of acting like the arch-hypocrite Esav, pretending to be good, pure and holy while actually rampaging around the world slaughtering anyone who stands in the way of its economic goals and other materialistic desires, let’s just return to the Gemara in Avoda Zara 10b.

Antoninus is still having difficulties believing Rebbi’s assertion that he will make it into the World to Come, and tells him:

But it is written: “There (in Gehinnom) is Edom, her kings and all her presidents.” Apparently, all the leaders of Edom are assigned to Gehinnom!

Rebbi replies that the verse isn’t talking about all Edom’s kings, just most of them; and that the verse states:

All her presidents, and not all her ministers.

The Artscroll notes explain:

“A president is a ruler of Rome who is not a king, but serves at the behest of the Senate (see Tosfos). A minister is a royal adviser (presumably a senator) – Raavad.”

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In other words, every single president of Edom / Rome / America is going to gehinnom, but here and there, there may be some Edomite royal heads of state, and also the odd Senator and Congressman who may actually escape the rampant moral corruption enough to make it into the World to Come.

The Gemara continues with more discussions about the relationship between Antoninus and Rebbe, and the Artscroll notes trace this back to the prophecy that Rebecca is told when she was carrying Esav (Edom) and Yaakov (Israel) back in Genesis, 25:23. I.e. the two babies are two nations, and when one is up, the other will be down.

“Two nations are in your womb…the elder shall serve the younger.”

The Artscroll notes then quote Rabbi Gedalyah Schorr, author of Or Gedalyah who explains that:

“Ideally, Yaakov-Israel and Esav-Edom were meant to enjoy a harmonious and complimentary partnership. Esav…was supposed to defeat evil, while Yaakov…was to promote good. Had Esav fulfilled his role, he would have been equal to Yaakov.”

This view is based on the midrash that states that six tribes should have descended from Esav and six from Yaakov, but this didn’t happen as Esav went bad, failed to live up to his spiritual job, and so Yaakov married Leah instead (who was Esav’s intended bride) and the whole course of Jewish history changed.

Again, Rav Schorr believes that the ‘perfect partnership’ between Edom and Israel did actually occur – uniquely – for one brief interlude in history, when Antoninus was (secretly…) subservient to Rebbe.

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From what I can tell, this passage in the midrash appears to be the basis of the idea that Trump is some sort of Edomite ‘good guy’, but there is absolutely no discussion here of any sort of ‘Edomite’ aspect of Moshiach and there is also a very large distinction made in these sources between EDOM and ESAV.

Parts of the former can make teshuva and get some share in the world to come. But Esav can’t. This is a very important distinction to make, if you’ve been reading articles like this.

Assuming Trump is a retread of Antoninus, the most that would mean is that he’s sneaking Rav Kanievsky sacks of gold and asking Rav Berland coded messages about what to do with Ivanka. Even Antoninus couldn’t and didn’t free Israel from Roman rule, nor give permission for the Jews to rebuild the temple.

And even making that equivalence between Trump and Antoninus seems to be stretching us past reality.  As we already mentioned, Trump is not sneaking billions to any Jewish sage, nor waiting hand and foot on any rabbi. If I’m wrong about this, please do let me know, as clearly that would change things.

Which bring is to the last part of this discussion, which is this:

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Is it realistic to assume that America is the ‘good’ part of Edom, and not actually the bad, unfixable, ‘Esav’ part of Edom?

And that’s where the conversation is going to get a little sticky, because once you move all the brainwashing about apple pie and Uncle Sam out the way, you’ll find that American history is just one, big list of atrocities, genocidal actions and wars. Sure, they were always dressed up as being ‘good’ and holy, but really, they boil down to America using its military might to bully the rest of the world into doing what suited it best, economically.

(Btw, the UK preceded the US, and is also totally corrupt and the ‘Esav’ part of Edom. Anglo Saxon culture also included the Nazis, who were clearly also really bad. However, we’re focusing on the US, because that’s who is still empire-building, and controlling the State of Israel, in 2019.)

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The United States committed the first ever genocide, when it brutally killed off millions of its native Americans over the course of a few decades, as I wrote about HERE.

For 250 years, it built its economy off the back of black slaves who were initially brought to America against their will, and then bred by their slave masters like so much chattel. No-one really knows how many blacks lost their lives amidst brutal conditions, worked to death by their pious, white American owners. No-one knows how many black women slaves were assaulted by their white masters. Blacks didn’t count as real people in America until well into the 1960s and the time of Martin Luther King Jr – and probably well beyond.

Then, we have all the European Jews that were barred from entering the US before and during World War II, even though Roosevelt knew they were being slaughtered by the millions. America held off from really joining the WW2 effort in Europe until the last possible minute, waiting for Stalin to have millions of his soldiers killed by the Nazis, and for the UK to be brought to its knees as an Imperial power.

And then, the US decides they are going to drop not just one nuclear bomb on Japan, but two. And not just on a smallish city of 10,000 people but on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where they killed almost a quarter of a million people, half of them in under a minute. This from Wikipedia:

Over the next two to four months, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed between 90,000 and 146,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000 and 80,000 people in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day.

This was totally cruel, totally murderous behavior. You want to try out your nuke? Pick a small target! Keep bombing in increments, until the Japanese gave up! Why bomb two such big cities like that, chik chak, with such terrible loss of life?

To this day, the United States of America is the only country to have actually used its nuclear weapons to destroy tens of thousands of people.

American white supremacism

Post WW2, the Dulles brothers and Eisenhower decided to secretly ship 1,600 hardcore Nazi scientists over to the US, as part of Operation Paperclip.

That Nazi science has morally corrupted the US in a million different ways, particularly in the realms of medicine,  biology and economics and industry, which most people still are blissfully unaware of. (Btw, I think that number is way too low. If you include intelligence assets that were ‘taken over’ by the CIA and the British, the number of former Nazis working for the West bounds into the thousands.)

The US has spent decades since WW2 rampaging around the world, starting wars whenever its economic interests are threatened, that have totally devastated whole countries and left tens of millions of people dead, homeless or totally impoverished and with nothing to look forward to.

Of course, American actions are always dressed up as ‘good’ and ‘holy’ and above reproach ‘, but really?

America is acting exactly like Esav.

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Is everyone in the US acting like Esav? No, clearly not. There are many good noahides / non-Jews in the US – and also in other parts of the Edomite Western world – and these people will be the parts of Edom who will make it to the World to Come, as described in the Gemara, above.

But America’s politicians? America’s presidents? America’s generals? America’s elites?

There is absolutely no basis in fact or Jewish sources for believing that these people are even close to being the ‘good’ part of Edom.

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What the sources do seem to clearly show, however is that the USA = Esav, mamash.

Right down to its ‘presidents’, senators, eagle emblem and stars and stripes flag. Here and there, there might be a good politician, but the Gemara is clear:

[A]ll the leaders of Edom are assigned to Gehinnom.

The LEADERS of Edom are all the politicians, heads of states and European royalty.

But America itself is obviously acting like ‘Esav’, pretending to be 100% kosher, but really just a pig.

And the sources are clear that:

[T]here will be no remnant to the House of Esav.

American white supremacism

Which is why I find statements like this to be extremely puzzling:

“When Esau is seen helping Israel, it is a sign Moshiach is right around the corner,” Rabbi Kessin said.

In explanation, Rabbi Kessin quoted the Bible concerning the prophesied fate of Jacob and Esau told to their mother, Rivka.

And Hashem answered her, “Two nations are in your womb, Two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.” Genesis 25:23

The rabbi noted an ambiguity in the Hebrew text that had vastly different import.

“Due to the absence of pronunciation markings, the wording of the Torah text can be read either as ‘va’ya’avod’, meaning he shall serve, or ‘va’ya’aved’,  he shall enslave,” the rabbi explained. “Esau will help Jacob by either serving him or by causing him to suffer since suffering is a way to bring God back into the world.”

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So, is Trump a possible reincarnation of Antoninus?

It’s possible, especially if you take into account Trump’s pronounced ‘anti war’ stances, but unlikely, especially if you look at recent tweets like this:

“President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world…and the Jewish people in Israel love him like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God… But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore.”

Does this sound like the kind of guy who’d be sending Rav Berland secret sacks of gold, or letting Rav Kanievsky use him as a footstool?….

If you look through the history books, there are other Roman leaders who sound far, far more like Trump than Antoninus Pius. And we’ll take a look at that side of things in the next post, BH.

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“Whoever finds fault, finds his own fault” – Tractate Kiddushin 70a

With a couple of days to go before the Yom HaDin, Rosh Hashana 5780, I thought that we’d take a look at a passage in the Gemara, Kiddushin 70a, which is where the ‘mirror principle’ is first stated by Chazal.

In case you don’t know what the ‘mirror principle’ is, it’s a statement by the Baal Shem Tov that the whole world is a just a mirror, and that whatever ‘bad’ we see peeking out at us in others is somehow just a reflection of our own ‘bad’.

But that’s not just a tenet of chassidut, it’s actually brought down in the Gemara. And if we look at the context of that statement, we can learn some truly remarkable things. Let’s begin this post over in Chapter Four of Tractate Kiddushin, where the Sages are discussing the genealogical laws, and describing the different categories of Jews who ascended to Israel, from Babylonia, before the Second Temple was built.

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The Gemara tells us:

Ten genealogical classes went up from Bablyonia to Eretz Yisrael: Kohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim, chalalim (disqualified Kohanim), converts, freed Caananite slaves, mamzerim, nesinim, shetukim and asufim.

While all of these classes were considered to be 100% Jewish, there were restrictions on who was allowed to marry each other. The Gemara sets out the basic rules:

Kohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim – can marry each other.

Leviim, Yisraelim, chalalim, converts and freed slaves – can marry each other.

Converts, freed slaves, mamzerim, nesinim, shetukim and asufim – can marry each other.

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Before we continue, let’s just explain some of the more unfamiliar terms:

Mamzer – Refers to someone who is 100% Jewish, halachically, but who was born as a result of a union that is forbidden by the Torah. This doesn’t apply to someone who was born out of wedlock, but whose biological parents could still have stood under an orthodox chuppah. It also doesn’t apply to the Jewish child of a ‘mixed marriage’ where the father is not Jewish. But it DOES apply to adulterous extra-marital relationships, and also to children born of incest, amongst other things.

Nesin – This refers to a group of Canaanites called the Gibeonites, who tricked Joshua into converting them to become Jews, so that he wouldn’t kill them when he was conquering Eretz Yisrael. Even though their conversion was considered valid, Joshua forbid the other Jews from marrying them as long as the temple stood. Then later, King David saw how cruel and barbaric they were, and permanently forbid them from marrying into the mainstream Jewish community.

Shetuk – According to the Gemara:

“These are shetukim, anyone who knows the identify of his mother, but does not know the identity of his father.”

Asuf – According to the Gemara:

“Anyone who is gathered in from the street and does not know the identity of either his father or his mother.”

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The Gemara then gets into a very interesting discussion about how Ezra the Scribe basically forced all these ‘genealogically unfit’ categories of Jews to ascend with him to come and rebuild Eretz Yisrael.

He was worried that if he left them behind in Babylonia, the rabbis there wouldn’t know how to keep them properly contained.

(It’s an interesting aside, but the Babylonian Talmud asserts that because Ezra took all the ‘unfit’ Jews with him to Israel, he left Babylonian Jewry “like fine, sifted flour.” So they state that Babylonia at that time was the most genealogically ‘fit’ Jewish community, followed by Eretz Yisrael, then followed by the rest of the diaspora (!) I’m willing to bet the Talmud Yerushalmi has a different view, but I don’t have a copy to compare….)

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The Gemara then gets into a whole big discussion about what a big, genealogical mess the whole thing is already (1800 years ago…).

There were so many Kohanim who’d married goyim and ‘forbidden’ women without anyone knowing; and there were so many slaves who didn’t follow the proper procedure for being freed (which would render them as halachically Jewish converts) before marrying a Jew; and there were mamzerim walking around all over the place, due to adulterous affairs.

The Gemara then states this:

A Tanna taught…Elijah [the Prophet] writes, and the Holy One, Blessed is He, signs: Woe to him who disqualifies his children and who taints his family, and who marries a woman who is not fit for him. Elijah ties him, and the Holy One, Blessed is He, whips him. And whoever declares others to be genealogically unfit is himself genealogically unfit. And he (i.e someone who is genealogically unfit] never speaks in praise of others.

Let’s just pause for a moment, and digest this, as it’s a statement with huge implications.

In the Artscroll footnotes, they note that Rashi comments that:

[A]nyone who regularly demeans the genealogical status of other families reveals himself to be genealogically blemished.

In other words, we are back to the mirror principle, big time. The Gemara continues:

And Shmuel said: The Baraisa means: He declares them unfit with his own blemish.

I.e., whatever he’s accusing others of being, he’s actually just describing himself.

The Gemara then tells the following story, to underline this point:

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There was a certain man from Nehardea who went into a butcher shop in Pumbedita[1]. He said to them: “Give me meat.” They said to him: “Wait until the attendant of Rav Yehudah bar Yechezkel[2], who is standing here, takes his meat, and then we will give you yours.”

He said: “Who is Yehuda bar Sheviskel that he should precede me and take before me!” They went and told Rav Yehuda what this man had said. [Rav Yehuda] placed a ban upon him. They told Rav Yehuda: “He habitually calls people slaves.” [Rav Yehuda] issued a proclamation that he [i.e. the Nehardean] was a slave himself.”

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What happens next is that the aggressive, brazen, disrespectful Nehardean than sues Rav Yehuda in the rabbinical court of Rav Nachman, the leader of the Nehardean community.

The story continues:

“Rav Nachman began the questioning: He said to [Rav Yehuda]: ‘Why did master place a ban upon that man?’

Rav Yehuda responded: ‘Because he harassed an agent of the Rabbis.’

Rav Nachman: ‘Then master should have given him lashes…Why did you excommunicate[3] him?’

Rav Yehuda: ‘As a penalty. I dealt with him even more stringently than that.’

Rav Nachman: ‘Why did master proclaim that he was a slave?’

Rav Yehuda: ‘Because he frequently calls people ‘slaves’. And a Tanna has taught in a Baraisa: Anyone who declares others… unfit, is himself unfit. And he never speaks in praise of others. And Shmuel said….’It is with his own blemish that he declares other unfit.’

(Try this: swap out the word ‘slave’ for ‘Erev Rav’…)

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Now, the Nehardean gets all bolshy, and starts shouting down Rav Yehuda, who is one of the Gedolei HaDor of Babylonian Jewry:

“Me you call a slave, when in fact I am descended from the royal family of Hasmoneans!”

Rav Yehuda says to him:

“Thus said Shmuel: ‘Whoever says, ‘I am descended from the family of the Hasmoneans is in truth a slave!”

Rav Nachman gets into a small discussion about whether Rav Yehuda is just making up quotes to try to bolster his case, and Rav Yehuda says no, Rav Masnah also heard this teaching. Rav Masnah hadn’t appeared in Nehardea in 13 years, but whaddya know? As they’re having this conversation, Rav Masnah happens to show up, and he confirms Rav Yehuda’s statement.

The Gemara continues:

“[Rav Nachman] subsequently proclaimed that the plaintiff was indeed a slave. That day, many ketubot were ripped up in Nehardea” – because Jewish men now suspected they were married to ‘slave’ women who they’d mistakenly believed to be Jewish.

Now, Rav Yehuda leaves town, and the people of Nehardea follow him, because they want to stone him to death, for all the trouble he’s making. Rav Yehuda gets them to quiet down by telling them that if they doesn’t leave him alone, he’s going to reveal right there the big secret that Shmuel taught him about the Jewish community in Nehardea, namely:

“There are two families in Nehardea: One is called the family of Yonah [i.e. the kosher dove] and one is called the family of Orvasi [i.e. the non-kosher and cruel oreiv, or raven. Perhaps another hint to the ‘Erev Rav’ problem.]… The family named after an impure bird is impure, and the family named after a pure bird is pure.”

The townspeople dropped their stones and ran away, before Rav Yehuda could disclose which family was which.

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Now, the Gemara goes through a whole bunch of proclamations the Sages of Babylonia made about all these ‘impure’ and ‘disqualified’ people in the Jewish community.

This problem is even in Eretz Yisrael, and when Rabbi Pinchas’ students start investigating the families in the Land of Israel, they realise they have to stop. Rashi explains why:

“Their research led them to discover the disqualification of certain powerful families who would kill them [if their impurities were revealed.”

Which brings us on to a VERY important point, about how Chazal decided to deal with this situation, and how they said it would ultimately get fixed (we’re now in Kiddushin 71a):

(R’ Yitzhak said):

“Once a genealogically tainted family is mixed with Israel, it is mixed. One should not isolate such a family and clarify which of its members are pure and which are impure. Rather, one should leave it, and in the Messianic era all of its members will be deemed pure.”

The Gemara continues, and makes a distinction between ‘genealogically impure’ families who forced their way into the Jewish community (i.e. like Herod the Great, for example), and tainted families where it all kind of just happened:

(Abaye explains):

“Families… whose impurities are publically known and who became mixed with Israel only through force, will be dealt with by Elijah the Prophet. But a tainted family that became mixed with Israel because people were unaware of its status, Elijah will allow to remain mixed.”

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Let’s finish with one more story from the Gemara, in Kiddushin 71b, then we’ll sum up what we just learnt together.

Rav Ulla comes to visit Rav Yehuda in Pumbedita, and he sees that his son, Rav Yitzhak, is still unmarried, so he asks Rav Yehuda:

“What’s going on? Why haven’t you married your son off?”

Rav Yehuda replies: “Who knows where I can find a genealogically fit wife for him?!”

Rav Ulla says to him: “Do we know where we come from?”

And then starts listing a whole bunch of verses stating how idolaters ravished Jewish women in the town of Judea in Biblical times; and talking about Jews who ‘defile their couches’, which R’ Abahu explains as referring to wife-swapping.

“Since our predecessors engaged in this type of adulterous activity, no-one can assume that he is genealogically fit!” says R’ Ulla. So then, Rav Yehuda asks him, “So what do we do?” Ulla answered him: “Go after silence, i.e. seek a family whose members are quiet and peaceable…[In Eretz Yisrael] they use the following method to investigate someone’s lineage:

“When two people would quarrel with each other, they would see which one is the first to quiet down, and then they would say, ‘that person is genealogically purer than the other.”

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LET’S SUM THIS UP:

It’s a great, eye-opening piece of Gemara, isn’t it? Can you imagine what might start to happen if more of our rabbis and commentators would actually learn some Gemara?

So, here’s the main takeaway points from Kiddushin 70a-72b:

  • Whenever we find fault in other Jews, we are really just identifying our own faults.
  • That particularly applies to finding fault with other people’s ‘genealogy’, like for example, going around calling other people ‘Erev Rav’, etc.
  • Even 1800 years ago, there were so many forbidden and / or adulterous unions going on in the Jewish community, that even the head of the Torah Academy in Pumbedita was having trouble finding a ‘genealogically fit’ wife for his son.
  • Adulterous affairs and immoral behavior have been going on for so long, not even the most illustrious Jew today can be 100% sure that some ancestor of theirs didn’t put a massive spanner in their genealogical works. So it behooves us all to act with a little humility, and to stop pointing fingers at other Jews.
  • When Moshiach shows up, he will declare everyone pure.
  • The exception to this is those people who pushed their way into the Jewish community ‘by force’, i.e. they never intended to convert sincerely, or to serve Hashem, they just wanted the status, money or other perks of technically being part of the Jewish community. Elijah the Prophet will push these people away.
  • The way you can tell how ‘genealogically pure’ someone is, is by checking their middot and temperament. If they are angry, argumentative, brazen, obsessed with their own honor, always have to be right, and can never back down, make peace and apologise – then they probably aren’t so ‘fit’, Jewishly-speaking. The more calm, conciliatory, peaceable and kind a person is, the more genealogically ‘fit’ they probably are.

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On that note, let me end by apologizing to any of my readers or email correspondents who I may well have upset or irked this year.

I’m a flawed human being, and I don’t always act and react appropriately, so please forgive me!

And I unconditionally forgive all the psychos, weirdos, and holier-than-thou pseudo-prophets who continue to make my life interesting, too.

May we ALL be blessed with a peaceful, productive, happy, healthy and sweet 5780.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] Pumbedita was the main centre of Torah learning in Babylonia, but Nehardea also had a significant, and learned Jewish population.

[2] This is the ‘Rav Yehuda’ of the Babylonian Talmud, who was head of the Torah academy in Pumbedita.

[3] By designating this man a ‘slave’, Rav Yehuda effectively removed his communal status as a Jew.

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Photo by Daniela Holzer on Unsplash

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