Traditionally, Jewish values and beliefs have been based on the Torah, the five books of Moses that were handed down to the nation at Mount Sinai.

As the Torah was effectively dictated by God to Moses, the laws it contains are a Divine blueprint for a how a Jew can live a happy, healthy, spiritually-fulfilling and meaningful life.

Many of these ideas have become the bedrock of universal morality, including the sanctity of human life, and the need to give people at least one day a week of from working, have become the foundation of modern society.

The posts in this category will explore how we can try to really apply Jewish core values and beliefs to our every day life – and what can be preventing us from doing that. Along the way, we’ll take a look at:

  • Jewish community mores
  • Traditional Jewish family and marriage values today
  • Important orthodox Jewish values and how they relate to things like working on our middot, or character traits
  • Jewish morals and morality, as set out by the Torah
  • Putting the Torah’s values into practice, in our real lives- and how that so often diverges from the ‘ideal way of being’ we’re aspiring to
  • Unique vs Universal Jewish values
  • The Jewish idea of God
  • Jewish kosher
  • Jewish kosher food
  • Jewish law
  • Jewish mysticism
  • Jewish messiah
  • Jewish new year
  • Jewish news
  • Jewish orthodox
  • Jewish old testament
  • Jewish prayer
  • Jewish population
  • Jewish prayer shawl
  • Jewish rabbi
  • Jewish rituals
  • Jewish rules
  • Jewish sabbath
  • Jewish synagogue
  • Jewish seder
  • Jewish sayings
  • Jewish sects
  • Jewish temple
  • Jewish traditions
  • Jewish Torah
  • Jewish Talmud
  • Jewish terms
  • Jewish tribes
  • Zionist vs Jewish

Getting back to talking about God.

It keeps happening to me that I intend to leave all the awful corruption, and ‘politics’, and yucky stuff going on in the world behind, and to try to return to more spiritual matters – but I can’t.

God just isn’t letting me.

I had a couple of nice pieces planned out in my head to write up for the site about my own struggles with the idea of ‘renewal’, and whether it’s possible for me to have ‘renewal’ without also having to move house every five minutes, when I woke up with a brainwave to go and research 666 5th Avenue, NYC.

That number is interesting, isn’t it? It’s the number the xtians like to assign to their ‘anti-Moshiach’, and they call it colloquially ‘the mark of the beast’. It also happens to be 66.6 – the remainder of the 33.3 that the Freemasons are obsessed with, the top third of the pyramid on the back of the dollar that happens to contain Bilaam’s all-seeing evil eye.

There’s a lot going on with that property, and once I’ve finished researching it properly, I’ll lay it all out here for you, dear reader, as long as it’s safe for me to do that.

In the meantime, I’ve had no time to write up anything else….but lucky for me, over on the ravberland.com website, Rabbi Yissachar Berg has started giving classes again. Here’s a taste of his most recent class, about finding the good point within, aka Azamra:

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You can sign up for the full-length webinar classes HERE. And if you’re feeling like you need some uplifting Torah, or feeling like you’re struggling to find the good in others, and particularly in yourself, then this is highly recommended.

And BH, there will be more classes in English coming too. I’m pushing my better half to return to giving classes again online. He did it for years at Chut Shel Chessed, but kind of burned out, and so hasn’t been giving classes for years now.

So far, I’ve twisted his arm hard enough to get an agreement from him to start doing a short ‘Parsha of the week’ shiur based on Rabbi Berland on the Parsha starting this week. I’ll post it here when it’s up, but it’s permanent home will be on the new ‘Breslov TV’ channel over on ravberland.com.

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And then, in turn I’ve also had my arm twisted gently to get on with doing some classes again on Breslov teachings.

Like my better half, I also totally went off the idea for a long time because doing those classes took a lot out of me, n a whole bunch of ways. And they also fed into my ga’ava in a massive way around 6 years ago, which led to a lot of big problems that I simply don’t want to pop up again.

So I’ve been running away from that idea for years.

But in Uman, I had a conversation that brought me around to the idea again, and as I wrote about HERE, I know so many of us are pretty lonely at the moment, because we can’t talk about ‘real’ stuff with most of the people we know, without them thinking we are totally nutso.

So, I floated the trial balloon to see if there is interest, and BH, 17 women came back to me.

We’re going to be trying to apply Rabbenu’s teachings in a real, gentle way to the craziness that is our own life. I’m trying something new with this class, and not structuring it to death. I’m going to try talking from the heart, based on Breslov and Rav Berland sources, around a particular subject, then make some space for others to share their ideas, too.

The idea is to build a community, not just a class, so we can stop feeling so lonely and alone in our emuna, and commitment to really seeing God’s hand in the world, and in our own lives, and sticking by our principles even when ‘everyone else’ thinks we’re crazy.

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The first class will be 10am Jerusalem time this Sunday, February 2nd, via Zoom, and it’s for women only.

I’ll post the link up on the website, and also over on my blog on the ravberland.com site a little closer to the time

If it works, I’ll try to do a class in the evening that will work for people in the US, too, but I’m building up slowly to that. There will also be a recording available for ladies who sign up to the mailing list. You can do that below, and yes, I will also sort that side of things out properly too, going forward, with God’s help, so it’s easier to share links and sign up information around.

There’s only one way to fight all this awful corruption spreading everywhere. And that’s by taking a look inside, connecting to our own good and amplifying our own yearning for Hashem and kedusha.

If that sounds interesting to you, come join me Sunday:

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I just got this.

It’s another young man who was in Ukraine last week, praying at all the kivrei tzaddikim there, when he and his kallah and sister got caught up in a head-on crash that was not their fault.

Miraculously, Neria Or – the young man in question – wasn’t hurt, and neither were the other people with him. But the accident was fatal for the Ukrainians in the other car.

The Ukrainians have arrested Neria, and he’s sitting in prison in Ukraine.

I just donated something to this – because I should at least do one thing meaningful today, to show God I’m trying to do what He wants, even while still listening to Ed Sheeran songs on Youtube.

If you would like to help, you can go HERE.

But first watch the video below, and understand that these are real people involved, real families.

It seems there are so many tikkunim going on at the moment, centred around the Ukraine.

It seems so many Jews are somehow ‘stuck’ in that mess, one way or another. So every dollar we spend freeing Neria is somehow freeing ourselves, somehow sweetening the judgments on ourselves.

Go HERE to do something meaningful today, and to help a fellow Jew.

There but for the grace of God go we.

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God never intended for the Jewish people to be so caught up in Esav’s wars.

Last week, we read the final parsha, Vayechi, in Sefer Bereishit, where Yaakov Avinu calls his sons to him for a final blessing. When he gets to Shimon and Levi, he castigates them for adopting the ‘stolen craft’ of his brother Esav.

Rashi explains there:

Klei Hamas – ‘stolen tools’. This craft of murder is in their possession by theft. It is from the blessing of Esav. Yaakov admonished them, “It is his [Esav’s] craft, and you robbed him of it.”

The full verse from the Torah reads:

“Shimon and Levi are brothers, klei hamas are their weapons. Into their design may my soul not enter! With their congregation do not unite, O my honor! For in their rage they killed a man, and in their wish they hamstrung an ox. Accursed is their rage for it is mighty, and their wrath for it is harsh. I will divide them in Yaakov, and I will disperse them in Israel.”

Clearly, Yaakov Avinu is very unhappy about his sons – forbears of the Jewish people – acting like his brother Esav, and killing people left, right and centre whenever they got angry and ‘felt justified’ in doing so.

This is not the Jewish way. The voice is the voice of Yaakov – it’s the voice of prayer, the voice of emuna, the voice of knowing that God is really running the world.

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Following the awful Chanuka attack in the shul in Monsey a couple of weeks ago, I was personally horrified when I saw pictures of orthodox Jews walking around toting what looked like machine guns.

Killing people is not our craft, it’s the craft of Esav. Of course, we’re meant to defend ourselves with all means possible, and to make every effort to save our life (although why moving to Israel doesn’t seem to make it on to that list is a bit of a mystery to me, I have to admit…)

But there is a world of difference between discreetly arranging security for shuls, schools and Jewish neighborhoods and strutting around for the media like Moshele the Terminator. Esav is way, way better at killing people and murdering people than we are. It’s a very dangerous game to get involved.

There are somewhere between 20-25 million people in the US with white supremacist tendencies. They are Esav mamash. A lot of them have machine guns. A lot of them are just waiting for ‘Moishele the Terminator’ to cross the line and actually kill someone, even in self-defense, so they can use that as a pretext to come after Jews all over the place.

Of course, what I’m writing here also has implications for the State of Israel, and for the whole idea that the IDF and the military is what is protecting the Jews here. This is an idea that has profound, far-reaching implications, and I certainly can’t cover off all the angles in one post.

But I will say that every time I hear apparently orthodox Jews advocating for ‘carpet bombing’ Gaza, and other extremely violent acts, I shudder. Is this really how Jews are meant to act and behave? Isn’t ‘carpet bombing Gaza’ a perfect example of klei hamas? Isn’t that just what the terrorists and the neo-Nazis would love to do to us, too?

Anything that puts Jews even tangentially into the same moral space as terrorists and Nazis has to be bad, doesn’t it?

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These are big questions, they need to be dealt with and discussed carefully by our qualified Sages and rabbis, and let’s be clear that in the State of Israel, that’s simply not happening. Our country is run by people who have adopted the ‘stolen craft’ of Esav as their main religion, and we are all paying the price for it.

Which brings me to the next point I want to make, about how the idea that killing and murdering people is somehow the best solution to every problem gained so much traction in the first place.

Let me share something that I received via email yesterday, from a Jew in America:

“I enjoy your writings (on rivkalevy.com) but I must admit, they either entertain me or stress me.  I know you used to be “secular media” and I think you still think like the secular media, like saying Trump “illegally” killed Soleimeni.  Wow,  That’s a stretch. I really can’t believe that you think that.  The man was a terrorist that not only killed thousands of american soldiers, but terrorized his own people.

“He has killed thousands and thousands of people.  The Iranians feared and hated him.  Plus, he was about to attack more Americans.  I know you are not too fond of America, but I know many soldiers (my Dad was a career soldier) and we have jewish soldiers at [army base] that become members of our Chabad.  I care about our soldiers and thank our President for caring  and protecting them, unlike our previous President.  I feel he should be hung as a traitor. I can’t stand the man.

“We are in a war and I thank GD that He mercifully delivered us from the traitor BO and may He destroy all evil among us (leftists) and brought us a strong man like Trump, may Hashem protect him.  Yes,Trump is Esav.  Yes, the west is Esav.  Yes America is Esav, but I was born and raised here and believe me, not all Americans are the enemy.  You want an enemy.  Try Ishmael.

“It seems your hatred of Trump and America has blinded you to reality.”

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My inbox is never a dull place!

So, let’s take my correspondent’s points one by one, to see if we can ascertain where the truth really lies, and what ‘reality’ actually consists of.

  1. It’s a stretch to say that Trump ‘illegally’ killed Soleimani.

“Extra-judicial killing” is a phrase that’s used by armies, militias and government sponsored ‘death squads’ around the world.

Here’s how Section 3a of the United States Torture Victim Protection Act defines extrajudicial killing:

“[A] deliberate killing not authorized by a previous judgment pronounced by a regular constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. Such term, however, does not include any such killing that, under international law, is lawfully carried out under the authority of a foreign nation.

Was Soleimani brought to a ‘regular constituted court’ and given a trial that afforded him ‘all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’? Nope.

“Extra-judicial killing” is a spin-doctor way of describing a murder where no legal due process was followed, or to say the same thing in blunter terms, an illegal murder. When Al Capone was mowing people down on the streets of Chicago that was also ‘extra-judicial killing’.

As we can see, ‘extra-judicial killing’ is an extremely murky area, and also very prone to being used and abused by individuals and agencies who don’t want to have to justify their actions or have too much public scrutiny and moral accountability.

When it comes to Soleimani’s murder, the excuse the US used to get around its own regulations as stated above, in their Torture Victim Protection Act, is that Soleimani’s killing was not an assassination, but an act of “National Self Defense”.

This is the same legal justification that Israel uses for many of its targeted killings, and the difference is that when it comes to Israel, I mostly believe it.

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Amongst the many, many problems with ‘extra judicial murders’ tho, is that the people who are carrying them out argue that any given target’s normal legal rights as a civilian – or even as a human being! – should be totally trampled and ignored if that person is deemed to be a threat to national security.

But who is defining what that actually means?

What’s the legal basis for deciding these things? Where is the public scrutiny to ensure that immoral people with a lust for power and taste for murdering anyone who gets in their way doesn’t abuse this idea, to simply get anyone who opposes what they want murdered and out of the picture?

Also, from the viewpoint of halacha, this is not at all a simple matter. One of the 7 Noahide laws is that the non-Jewish nations should create courts of law and follow a judicial process. By definition extra-judicial killings take place outside of any legal framework.

And when non-Jewish nations don’t follow one of the 7 Noahide laws, they are subject to the death penalty. (It’s a post for another time, but if you go through each of the 7 Noahide laws and see how places like the USA are doing, as a nation, let’s just say it doesn’t stack up in their favor.)

So, is it a stretch to say that Soleimani’s killing is ‘illegal’?

I’ll let you make up your own mind.

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  1. “[Soleimani] was a terrorist that not only killed thousands of american soldiers, but terrorized his own people.”

My view is that all senior military men are basically psychopaths, whichever country they happen to live in. Anyone who likes killing people for a living is not a ‘nice’ person, let’s be very clear on that.

But to claim that he’s killed “thousands of American soldiers” – it’s just not credible.

Wikipedia says this for the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq since 2003, which is when the US invaded Iraq:

“As of June 29, 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Defense casualty website, there were 4,424 total deaths (including both killed in action and non-hostile) and 31,952 wounded in action (WIA) as a result of the Iraq War.”

But the US wasn’t fighting Iran then, these soldiers were killed as a result of the US deciding to invade a sovereign nation. Where’s the proof that Soleimani is connected to even one of these deaths in Iraq?

Let’s take a look at Afghanistan now, where again the US decided to invade back in 2001 after 9/11.

“As of July 7, 2018, there have been 2,372 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,320 American service members have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,720 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities.”

Again, what does this have to do with Soleimani?

Last stop, for now, is Syria.

How many US soldiers had been killed there, by the time Trump said he’d withdraw US troops in April 2018?

Just 2.

And this is the arena where there is the most credible argument to be made that Soleimani and Iran could be behind these deaths.

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Now, let’s flip things on their head, and let’s ask an uncomfortable question:

How many non-Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan as a result of the US deciding to launch its ‘war on terror’?

The answer comes from researchers at Brown’s University, who released their findings from the ‘Costs of War Project’ in November 2018:

“Brown’s researchers estimate that at least 480,000 people have been directly killed by violence over the course of these conflicts, more than 244,000 of them civilians. In addition to those killed by direct acts violence, the number of indirect deaths — those resulting from disease, displacement, and the loss of critical infrastructure — is believed to be several times higher, running into the millions.”

While we’re on this subject, back in 2011 Wikileaks released footage of 2 American Apache helicopters mowing down a large group of people standing in the street in the Iraq, which included many civilians and 2 Reuters journalists.

You should watch this brief clip of what happened, even though it’s from the Al-Jazeera news network, because as I keep trying to tell you, there is no such thing as a 0-100% argument. There is some truth on all sides of the discussion, and doing the birur means that we make our best effort to tease it out.

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Releasing this clip was probably the trigger for the NSA to target Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently being kept in solitary confinement (!) in Belmarsh Prison in the UK, while the USA tries to ‘extradite’ him to the US on trumped-up charges of hacking computers. Really? It all just boils down to the US trying to keep its grip on the world.

Assange is not an American citizen, he’s an Australian. And publishing footage of American helicopter pilots callously killing Iraqi civilians is the best type of journalism, and the best ‘balance’ against military abuses of power.

But the NSA and President Trump don’t think so. Trump happily signed the extradition order for Julian Assange, the journalist you see here saying ‘war corrupts the people who engage in it’ – and that’s what first clued me in that Trump is not the ‘almost Moshiach’ so many people still believe him to be.

Let’s be clear, this is not about partisan politics.

When he was President, Obama arranged the prosecution of 8 journalists and whistle-blowers under the same Espionage Act they are trying to use to prosecute Assange, including Chelsea Manning, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake, and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

And Trump is simply continuing the trend.

Back in May 2019, his administration decided to prosecute Daniel Everett Hale, a former intelligence analyst for the Air Force who shared worrying information about America’s use of drones and assassinations in its war on terror with journalist Jeremy Scahill.

Scahill later turned that information into a book and a documentary called ‘Dirty Wars’.

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Here’s a synopsis:

“Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill traces the rise of the Joint Special Operations Command. He exposes covert operations to capture and kill people, but those agents do not exist on paper.”

And they are still continuing to operate under Trump. So much for draining the swamp.

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3) “We are in a war and I thank GD that He mercifully delivered us from the traitor BO and may He destroy all evil among us (leftists) and brought us a strong man like Trump, may Hashem protect him.  Yes,Trump is Esav.  Yes, the west is Esav.  Yes America is Esav, but I was born and raised here and believe me, not all Americans are the enemy.  You want an enemy.  Try Ishmael.”

Yes, we certainly are in a war. Not just one, many. And behind the scenes, you will find the NSA and the CIA and the American military pulling the strings of nearly all of them.

Esav excels at klei Hamas.

It’s no coincidence that these words also translate to the ‘tools of Hamas’, i.e. the terror organization on Israel’s front door step.

Let’s put all the pretense aside and deal with facts for a moment.

The US has been unrivalled in starting and pursuing wars all across the planet, for the better part of 80 years. It doesn’t matter who is in the Whitehouse, it’s the CIA and the NSA and the military, and all the powerful vested interests in the US and the UK and elsewhere who are really calling the shots in the world.

And as I’ve written about elsewhere, those vested interests excel in destabilizing third world countries, installing ‘puppet’ rulers who owe their power to American / Western support, and then asset-stripping those countries of all their natural resources and wealth.

America has been doing this for decades, all over the planet, and murdering people in their hundreds of thousands – including civilians – is a big part of how they operate.

Maybe it’s deliberate, maybe it’s just collateral damage, I don’t know. But either way, America has so much innocent blood on its hands.

I don’t blame my American correspondent for believing that the American military is not ‘the enemy’. But at this stage, there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who have seen their lives, families and countries blown apart by the US military / CIA / NSA.

And all on the flimsiest of excuses.

Human life is valuable, even when a person lives in Iraq or Afghanistan. And not all Muslims are terrorists. America wants wars, because America is good at wars, and wars are good for America’s economy.

But these wars have proven to be so very bad for everyone else.

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4) “It seems your hatred of Trump and America has blinded you to reality.”

Sigh.

Sometimes I wonder, what’s going to happen when Israel finally shrugs off America’s bridle, and stops being America’s pawn in the Middle East.

The IDF is a ‘stolen craft’, and the Jewish people are built for prayer and peace, not war and murder. It’s just a matter of time before our true Jewish nature starts to reassert itself nationally, when we stop believing Esav’s opinion that killing people is the answer to our problems, and when more and more of us start to turn to God for a real solution to our problems.

You know that when Moshiach is finally revealed, that’s going to happen, don’t you? And then what? Will Moshiach also be portrayed as a ‘mad Jewish mullah’ with a beard, another threat to America’s ‘national security’ that will be extra-judicially targeted for extermination, God forbid?

And then what?

What side will my correspondent – and all the many orthodox Jews like her, who believe all the spin and PR and lies about America being the ‘good Esav’ – find themselves on, then?

That is the question.

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Photo by Diego González on Unsplash

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You might also like this article:

Reposting this, while I’m busy getting my Cut Your Stress course done.

This morning, I cracked open ‘Advice’ (the English translation of the kitzur Likutey Moharan) and I got to this, from the chapter entitled:

Alien philosophies and ideologies:

The only true wisdom is the wisdom of the Tzaddikim. [Their wisdom] enables them to form a lofty perception of God, and gives them the power to communicate this perception to those who follow them. Compared with this wisdom, all other ideological systems are utter foolishness.”

The more I dip my toe in the murky waters of ‘intellectual debate’, including all this ortho-fem rubbish, and all this ‘anti-Tzaddikim / anti-rabbis / anti-emuna / anti-Breslov’ rubbish, the more I see this is true. Rebbe Nachman then continues:

“Because of our many sins, it can sometimes happen that this genuine wisdom falls into the hands of the heathens, and the Sitra Achra. Their new-found wisdom gives them power and dominion, and then the heathens gain the upper hand, God forbid.”

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That’s why the ‘heathens’ like learning Gemara, and why the devil-worshipping Freemasons like learning Kabbalah.

They pick out the bits of ‘genuine wisdom’ that appeals to them, and then create some Frankenstein-Faith with it. Some of these ideologies are ‘religious’ – like xtianity – and some of them – like feminism – are not. Rabbenu continues:

Who can bear the sound of the great and terrible cry when this wisdom falls into their hands and fools pretend to be wise?

“They try to adapt this genuine wisdom to their own purposes, as if it could be made a part of their own ideologies – as if their own foolishness has anything to do with the knowledge of God!

“They start claiming that they alone are the wise ones and that there is no wisdom greater than their own mistaken speculation, which is simply ‘parasiting’ off the fallen, genuine wisdom.”

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It’s well known that the most successful ‘lies’ always contain a tiny grain of truth.

That’s what attracts us in, that’s what initially fools us. It’s easy to think that it’s no big deal, when people start trying to twist Torah to their own ends and goals, with all their ‘tikkun olam’ codewords and other warped ideas, that go totally against what the Torah actually says.

To counter that impression, Rabbenu then tells us:

“God Himself cries out because of this!”

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It’s a big deal! It’s a really big deal!

We can’t just twist the Torah and its wisdom to our own ends, and try to get a PhD thesis out of it, or a reputation for being a ‘deep’ philosophical thinker, or an intellectual, or even (may Hashem save us…) a ‘big tzaddik’. This brings us back to the idea I wrote about here about doing things for God, instead of just trying to serve ourselves.

So now we know all this, how should we try to respond? Back to Rebbe Nachman:

“Every Jew has a part to play in the task of identifying how this wisdom that has fallen into their hands can be separated from them, and elevated, in order to return to its source.

The way to achieve this is through acts of charity and kindness, under the guidance and inspiration of the Tzaddikim.”

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To sum up: we need to be closely attached to our True Tzaddikim, who are the only people who really possess genuine wisdom in this lowly world, and being inspired by them to give charity and do kind deeds. The more we do that, the easier we’ll find it to spot all this fake, fallen ‘wisdom’ and to call it out.

And doing that will give God a lot of nachas.

It’s time for the way we relate to ’emuna’ to evolve.

This was first written for the ravberland.com website, but I think it’s touching on something that’s close to the heart of people on this website, too, so I’m reposting it here.

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The last few months (ok, years….) it’s been so flipping heavy, hasn’t it?

Every day has brought new heartaches, new challenges, new worries to us all.

Ten years ago, when the first emuna revolution really started to develop, it looked we were so close to sorting all this yucky golus stuff out, and finally getting into geula and redemption, personal and national.

The three rules of emuna came out and what else did we need, to really cope with life’s vicissitudes and to get to geula and moshiach already?

(In case you’ve forgotten, the three rules of emuna are:

  • God is doing everything.
  • Everything God does is good, even if it’s sometimes painful and hard to bear.
  • Every single thing that I experience contains some message, or clue, from God, about what I might need to work on, fix, rectify or otherwise acknowledge.)

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But there was a problem.

Call it a marketing issue, call it a misunderstanding, call it a problem in translating deep spiritual concepts into a language that materialistic Westerners can really grasp, however it happened it doesn’t really matter. But the problem was this:

Emuna back then appeared to be being ‘sold’ as a way to get God to do what you want.

At least, that’s how I understood what I was being told, 10 years ago.

Just pray enough, do enough six hours, ratchet your level of observance up to the absolute max – even if it’s not really where you’re truthfully holding – and then, you’ll be able to force God into giving you what you want! More kids, better health, a new apartment, a great job! You can get it all, if you just follow this blueprint!

What can I tell you?

Over the years, my email filled up with people who’d done their best to follow this blueprint, and who still – inevitably – found that at some point, at some stage, the emuna solution stopped ‘working’, and they were left with a big problem they couldn’t solve, or make disappear, no matter how much hitbodedut they did, or books they gave out, or people they preached at.

Disappointed, a lot of these people then turned their back on ‘emuna’, and came to believe that it didn’t work, the way they’d been told it would.

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The same thing almost happened to me.

I was very clear about why I started to do an hour day of hitbodedut: I was trying to force God to expand my family from just the two kids I had, to maybe four, or even six.

And guess what?

It failed miserably!

My hitbodedut also failed miserably at giving me my own home in Jerusalem – even WITH a mortgage. It failed miserably at getting my kids to grow up like perfectly frum Beis Yaacov princesses. It failed miserably at getting my family to move to Israel, and at making me friends who weren’t psychos, and sometimes, even at getting my cakes to come out half-edible.

Sure, there were also a lot of miracles that have happened, and things that did move, and unexpectedly amazing insights that occurred, all thanks to hitbodedut, but if I had to sum it up, I would say this:

The miracles I saw as a result of my hitbodedut were almost never because my prayers succeeded in changing God’s mind, and almost always because they’d succeeded in changing me.

I’d get a steer in my hitbodedut that I’d need to apologise to someone, or back down on something, or work on some really bad middot that I’d just been whitewashing and justifying, and then, very often, the ‘problem’ would disappear miraculously.

But not every problem.

12 years after I began to do hitbodedut to have more kids, I still don’t have more kids. I still don’t own a house in Jerusalem. I still don’t have a lot of things ticked off on my list of what I was trying to force Hashem to give me.

But what I do have, I hope, is a much clearer idea of what real emuna is, and how much we need it.

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Recasting the three rules of emuna

To sum it up, real emuna is where we do our best to know that God is doing everything – so we stop beating ourselves up and blaming others, for not being perfect, and we act with more understanding and compassion.

Real emuna is where we do our best to internalize that even the very painful circumstances we sometimes have to go through are ultimately for our good – so we can still smile through the tears, and still sincerely acknowledge and thank for all the tremendous good we all still have in our lives.

That doesn’t mean we become unfeeling robots, pretending we don’t hurt when we do, or pretending we aren’t sad when we are. What it does mean, is that we understand that we need to work on those feelings of pain and sadness, until they transform into joy and acceptance of the way Hashem is running the world.

And to have patience with that process, because sometimes, it can take a very long time.

And lastly, real emuna is where we understand that the miracle will really only come once we change ourselves, and get the message that God is sending us. And that sometimes, the ‘miracle’ will never come, no matter how much we pray for it, because the lesson God is trying to teach us is one of bittul, nullifying ourselves to His will, and accepting how He chooses for us to live our lives.

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Everybody has their heartache today, everybody has their pain.

Some people lack health, others lack spouses, others lack children, others lack true love and understanding, others lack money, others lack a sense of purpose…. The list goes on and on.

But while all these problems and ‘lacks’ are so different, the solution is the same for them all:

To let go of our expectations, and our demands, and to accept that however God chooses to run our lives, that’s the best it could be.

That’s really what emuna is for. That’s really the ‘secret’ of how having emuna can help you live life happily and joyfully. Not by ‘forcing’ God to do what we want, chas v’halila, but by accepting that whatever God does, that’s OK by us.

That’s the work, that’s the goal.

That’s certainly the message I get loud and clear from almost everything I read, and everything I hear, from Rabbi Eliezer Berland.

And that’s what the next emuna revolution is really going to be about.

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Aka, why ‘bad’ things don’t really happen to ‘good’ people.

In the Gemara, Tractate Brachot 5b, we find the following:

Rav Huna had four hundred barrels of wine that soured, i.e. they turned into vinegar. Rav Yehuda, the brother of Rav Salla Chasida, as well as other Sages, went in to visit him…They said to him: “Let master [Rav Huna] examine his affairs to determine the cause of this loss. He said to them: Am I suspect in your eyes? They said to him:

Is the Holy One, Blessed is He, suspect of punishing without justice?

He said to them: “If there is anyone who heard something about me that I must rectify, let him speak!”

They responded to him: “This is what we heard about you: Master did not give branches to his sharecropper.” He said to them: “Did he leave me any of them?! He stole all of them from me!” That is, he took far more than his rightful share.

They said to him, “This is an example of the popular adage: Steal from a thief and feel the taste of stealing!”

He said to them: “I accept upon myself to give him his share of the remaining branches.”

Some say that then, a miracle occurred and the vinegar reverted to wine. And others say that the price of vinegar rose, and [his vinegar] sold at the price of wine.

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Rav Huna was a massive Sage who could do open miracles and revive the dead.

When Rav Huna’s vinegar soured, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to start throwing around his ‘tzaddik’ credentials, and to avoid examining his deeds.

“I’m such a big tzaddik!! I don’t deserve this!! Why is Hashem punishing me for nothing (God forbid)?! Why is Hashem doing such a bad thing to such a good person, like me?”

We all do this, at certain times. It’s understandable.

But there’s a massive problem (or 8…) with this approach, and that is:

That it makes Hashem out to be the bad guy.

It’s basically saying, “Nothing wrong with me, or my deeds, bub. This is a totally unjustified punishment. God has somehow got this wrong, He’s picking on the wrong guy…”

This is the polar opposite of how a Jew with emuna is meant to approach things. A Jew with emuna doesn’t throw all the problem on God, and start flashing their ‘tzaddik’ credentials all over the place.

A Jew with emuna takes a deep breath, a long spiritual pause, and tries to apply the three rules of emuna, namely:

  • God is doing everything.
  • Everything God is doing is ultimately for my benefit, even though right now I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t causing me a lot of pain, suffering and heartache.
  • God is trying to send me a message, here, that this is something I need to work on or fix or change or tikkun.

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Unlike us, Rav Huna really was a bona fide tzaddik.

He wasn’t a secret member of the local Freemasons lodge; he wasn’t sucking up to corrupt politicians for ‘donations’ to his yeshiva, or firebombing buses, or working for the Mossad or the FBI on the side.

Rav Huna wasn’t flirting with women he wasn’t married to. He wasn’t speaking lashon hara all over the place (like yours truly…) He wasn’t angrily raging at his poor wife and children behind closed doors after a bad day at the beit midrash; or harshly criticizing everybody else on Youtube; or dancing for the Pope; or being paid by Big Pharma to sign on to a psak din trying to force everyone to vaccinate their children.

He was a bona fide tzaddik.

And yet, his vinegar still turned sour.

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Having emuna doesn’t mean that we pretend the hard things in our life don’t hurt us, or bother us.

Before we get to the story of Rav Huna, we have the stories of Rav Yochanan (who lost 10 children) and Rav Elazar (who was seriously ill) – and in both instances, the Gemara makes it very clear that these tzaddikim were feeling their pain and sorrow acutely.

They weren’t robotic, emotionless ‘super-tzaddikim’, who could go through awful suffering and just keep telling everyone how great it all was. They suffered, they admitted they were suffering, and that they felt sad and pained – and then, they pulled themselves together and got on with life.

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Just to confuse matters, there is also  such a thing as being sent a ‘suffering from love’.

If we examine our deeds, and we truly find there is absolutely nothing we can think of that we need to fix, acknowledge or work on, that would somehow explain why God was sending us our harsh circumstances, then we’re dealing with a ‘suffering from love’.

In our generation, there are a lot of loose ends, a lot of tikkunim from previous lives that need to be paid down. Maybe, we were sacrificing our children to Moloch in temple times, or snitching on our fellow Jew for money to the Sultan or the Czar, or cheating on our spouse, or cheating on our taxes…

Who knows?

And now, God is cleaning that stuff off our souls by sending us some hard experiences to go through.

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I learned from the experience with my father-in-law being a Freemason that the sins of the fathers really are visited on the sons up until the third or fourth generation, exactly as it says in the Torah.

When my husband’s left foot refused to heal up for four months, it could have been tempting to pretend my husband is a tzaddik[1], and God is just punishing him, stam, because Hashem is mean and sadistic (God forbid a million times!!!).

But that’s not the path of emuna.

The path of emuna is to keep praying about our suffering, to keep justifying Hashem, and to know that He’s totally righteous, kind and good, and to keep searching for what the heck is going on here?!

It took us 4 months of effort, many long hours of praying, much soul-searching, and eventually a big pidyon with the Rav to start to uncover the real spiritual source of my husband’s dodgy left foot. But thank God, probably all in the Rav’s zchut, eventually we got there.

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Rav Huna was a massive tzaddik.

And even Rav Huna’s vinegar went sour.

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The last thing to take from the story of Rav Huna is that as soon as he got the message, everything turned around for the good. Sephardim say, his vinegar miraculously turned back into wine! Ashkenazim say, the price of vinegar suddenly shot up, and overtook the price of a good cabernet sauvignon!

Either way, the suffering was sweetened once Rav Huna took the steps required to fix the problem.

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What’s the tachlis, to take away from this?

  • We need to justify Hashem, and stop pretending He’s got the wrong guy when He sends us suffering or difficulties.
  • We need to do our best to figure out what we need to correct and fix, in order for the problem to go away. That usually means spending an hour a day doing hitbodedut, or at least a good, solid chunk of time where we sit and just take an honest look at ourselves.
  • If it’s still not clearing up, we need to bite the bullet and do a pidyon with the Rav, which is effectively a short-cut to getting out of the suffering, or even avoiding it in the first place. Money instead of blood.

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May Hashem help us all to do this, as it’s sometimes really, really hard.

And may this piece be for the refuah of Menachem Mendel Shlomo ben Chaya Rachel, who needs to raise money for a pidyon with the Rav urgently. You can donate for the pidyon HERE, and please say it’s for him in the message section.

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FOOTNOTE:

[1] The fact that my husband has put up with me for 23 years clearly gives credence to the idea that he could actually be a tzaddik, at least in theory.

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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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What’s really behind the Takana against accepting new converts in Latin America? The answer will shock you.

Two days ago, I had a phone call from one of my contacts in Latin America, who tipped me off that I should look a little more closely into the reasons why the Jewish communities of Latin America instituted a total ban on ‘outsiders’ being accepted, married and buried in their midst.

My source told me that it was because in the 1920s, when the takana was first instituted, there was an enormous problem with non-Jewish p*ostitutes being brought into these communities by a large underworld organization of Jewish p*mps. (Words are starred to avoid my site being banned by filters and to try to maintain our sensitivity.)

These ladies then wanted to convert to join the Jewish community, and the Jewish community was up in arms about this, and so they instituted a very severe ban on any conversions being performed, or any converts being allowed to join the community. I was given the name of a book to try to track down with more details, called Diber Shaul, and that was that.

Whaddya know?

The next day, I turned on the pc to start looking for that book, and immediately came across THIS article, which was written the same day I’d been speaking to my contact. There are no coincidences. God clearly wants this information to get out there, and it’s clearly still very relevant to things that are happening today.

Very quickly, I started to learn some amazing things about the genesis of the Jewish communities in South America at the turn of the 20th century, which have had an enormous impact on understanding why this takana came about in the first place.

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Before we continue, let’s just remind ourselves about what this takana actually is, and the problems it’s causing many thousands of Bnei Anousim, and also other people of Jewish descent, known as the Bnei Conversos, who are being prevented from having their Jewish roots, or orthodox Jewish conversions recognized by the communities they live in.

Here’s the starting point:

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Latin American countries have had a takana, or agreement in place since the 1920s which was first introduced by the expat Syrian community in Argentina, that they won’t accept any new converts until ‘the End of Days’, whatever that is supposed to mean. This is making it very hard for potential converts to meet the requirement set out by the Israeli Rabbinate, that they have to have spent at least 9 months living in an active, orthodox Jewish. Their local communities are totally shunning them, so even though their conversion may be halachically valid, they can’t meet the requirements to have their conversion recognized by State of Israel.

The current position with the State of Israel’s Rabbinate is that they will not accept any orthodox conversion done in Latin America. The convert will either have to move for a year to the US and convert there, or try to move to Israel for a year and convert here. If you don’t have money and connections, clearly neither of these routes are really so viable.

Practically speaking, the poor Bnei Anousim and Bnei Conversos are being banned from entering communal institutions like synagogues, mikvas and schools, and are being refused burial in Jewish cemeteries, even if they’ve had an impeccable orthodox conversion and are observing mitzvoth 100%.

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Dear reader, we’re about to hop down a massive bunny hole here, so prepare yourselves mentally.

Here’s a precis of the shocking things I’ve discovered about why this takana really came about in South America.

At the turn of the 20th century, Argentina was actually the 10th richest economy in the world. Its economy was booming, its ports were bustling, and many immigrants from Europe – mostly men – were arriving on its shores every day, to try to seek their fortune in the ‘New World’.

Of course, there were also many Jewish immigrants amongst them, and this is where the tale quickly becomes sordid.

At this point in time, historians estimated that there was as many as 10 men for every woman in South America’s big cities, so trafficking young girls and women from the Old Country to come and work in b*othels in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro became a very lucrative business. Jewish mobsters from Eastern Europe quickly spotted an opportunity to make some massive money – and so, the slave trade in young JEWISH women from impoverished shtetls in Poland began.

The first ship bearing these ‘Polacas’, as they came to be known, (which is Portuguese for ‘Polish Women’) landed in Brazil in 1867, and very quickly, the Jewish mobsters behind the trafficking of young Jewish p*rostitutes to the New World built up an international business worth some $50 million a year, in the 1890s.

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By 1913, this human trafficking network was running 431 b*othels in Rio de Janeiro alone, with other operations in the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo, Salvador, Santos and Recife, plus a further 2,000 brothels in Argentina.

The Jewish mobsters had also expanded their operations to big cities in the US, including New York, and other countries including South Africa, China and India.

Not all of the girls they trafficked were Jewish, but at the height of their operations, they had between 15,000 and 30,000 Jewish women ‘working’ for them in their establishments, mostly from poor Polish shtetls.

So now, we get to the next part of the story: How did these gangsters, or ruffianos, to give them their Spanish names (and avoid filter problems….) manage to get these young women from observant Jewish homes into this most sordid of professions, in a distant land?

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The most ‘successful’ and pernicious forms of evil always operates as much under the radar as possible, and likes to dress itself up in the cloak of ‘goodness’.

These Yiddish-speaking Jewish mobsters knew how desperately poor so many of the Jews in the Pale of Settlement were in Russia and Poland. Also, these communities had been under attack without via violent pogroms, and under attack within via the maskilim, or atheist-minded reforming Jews, for many decades.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, so many Jews were trying to flee to the New World in order to escape the violence, poverty and misery of the old. So, these mobsters set up a front called the “Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society”, and used this ‘charitable foundation’ as a respectable front for their illegal human trafficking activities.

Plus ca change.

Isabel Vincent wrote a book about three of these Jewish womenNot only that, they sent their expensively-dressed ruffianos to case the shtetls and recruit unsuspecting girls as ‘servants’ or in many instances, as wives. These girls were young, typically aged between 13-16, and they and their families were totally blown away by the opulent, sophisticated young men appearing in their midst who promised the young women a sparkling future in the New World.

The ruffianos also took out matrimonial ads in the Jewish papers, as part of their twisted recruitment strategies, and they also worked with unscrupulous matchmakers who were keen to get their cut of what was becoming a very lucrative market.

In one story I read, a Yiddish-speaking ruffiano ‘married’ as many as 30 girls on one recruitment trip, and the ‘wives’ only found out about it once they were onboard the ship taking them to their new lives – but by that point, it was too late. Their ‘husbands’ would inform the girls that they were destined to work in b*othels, and the ones who refused were treated brutally, assaulted, starved and locked-up in cages until they changed their minds.

Once they were in their ‘New World’, these young girls were totally shunned by the rest of the Jewish community, who were either part of the problem, or scandalized by what was going on and trying to shut the operation down, or (probably the majority) just trying to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t happening, as the ruffianos had a lot of money… and gave lavish donations to Jewish institutions… and supported Jewish theatrical productions and other communal events.

In other words, the new life these young women discovered was totally and utterly hellish. I read one account of one very young Jewish woman being forced to service well over 200 men, in her first two weeks in NYC … Once again, it was JEWISH gangsters who created this situation.

Plus ca change.

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Here and there, some people did try to stand up to these Eastern European Jewish mobsters and ruffianos.

There were calls for the Jewish community to stop leasing them premises, and to stop calling them up for aliyot in shul (!), and efforts were made to bar them from attending the Jewish theatres in Buenos Aires, where they would often show up with a different young girl on their arm each night, to ‘showcase’ their products.

And finally, the ruffianos and the women who worked for them were barred from being buried in Jewish cemeteries.

All these actions against the ruffianos and their slave-‘workers’ form the basis of the takana that was instituted in Latin America, which today is still being applied to Bnei Anousim, Bnei Conversos, and other sincere people who want to convert to Judaism.

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In the meantime, the takana barely made a dent in the mobsters’ operations, beyond forcing them to change the name of their organisation, and to buy up land to build their own synagogues and cemeteries. In 1906, the Polish ambassador to Argentina made a formal complaint requesting that the “Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society”, be forced to drop the ‘Warsaw’, as Poland wanted to be totally disassociated from its activities.

So, on May 7, 1906, the mobsters formally renamed their organization the ‘Zwi Migdal Association’, after one of its leaders, Luis Zvi Migdal. A little later on, Zwi Migdal split, and another of the leading mobsters named Simon Rubinstein renamed his part of the organization ‘Ashkenazum’. Once they received formal recognition as Jewish ‘charitable’ organisations, they both built Jewish cemeteries on the outskirts of Argentina, which by that point contained a Jewish community of around half a million souls.

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Zwi Migdal’s human trafficking operation continued to grow and grow, reaching its peak in the 1920s.

It was untouchable, because so many of their customers were notable policemen, judges, politicians and businessmen, and almost everyone else was easily bought off with large bribes.

Plus ca change.

The woman who brought Zwi Migdal down was named Rachel Liberman, from Lodz, in Poland. She arrived in Buenos Aires at the age of 22, with her two small sons, planning to reunite with her husband who had moved there earlier. Rachel’s husband died within two months of her arriving in Argentina, leaving the young widow penniless, and without family in a foreign country.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened next. Some suggest she answered a fake ‘matrimonial ad’, others that she thought she was taking a job as a seamstress, others that she was tricked into p*ostitution by someone she believed she married as her second husband, but either way, Rachel ended up in the clutches of the Zwi Migdal mobsters.

She worked for them for 4 years, and managed to save enough money to set herself up in the furniture business and leave. But the Zwi Migdal gangsters didn’t want her setting an example for the rest of the Polacas, so they threatened and intimidated her until she returned.

So Rachel searched for a different route to freedom, and eventually, she ended up in the office of one of Buenos Aires’ few honest policemen, a man named Superintendent Julio Elsogray. Her testimony led to the arrest of over 350 ruffianos and mobsters, and then a trial which was presided over by one of Buenos Aires’ few remaining honest judges, named Dr. Rodriguez Ocampo.

When she was asked if she was willing to stand by her testimony, in the face of death threats from the mobsters, Rachel replied: “I can only die once. I’m standing by my testimony.” Clearly, a very brave woman.

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4 Zwi Migdal gangstersThe trial ended in September 1930, with 108 men sentenced to prison.

Barely a year later, the Zwi Migdal gangsters had called in enough favors from the corrupt politicians and judiciary to see all but 3 of the sentences quashed, and the p*mps freed to set up a new life, and go back to their old, disgusting ways, in Brazil, Uruguay and other locations.

The outbreak of the war in 1939 effectively put an end to the Zwi Midgal organization as we know it….

…. But I can’t help but wonder what really became of all those gangsters, and who took over from Luis Migdal, Simon Rubinstein, and all the others.

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But let’s get back to what all this means for the Bnei Anousim, and the takana in Latin America, which was basically instituted as a protest against the tens of thousands of Jewish women who had been brought to Argentina, Brazil, and other places to be forced to work in the oldest profession in the world.

The takana was first introduced by the Syrian Sephardi Jewish community in Argentina, as a way of keeping their Jewish community ‘pure’ against this influx of the worse immorality from the secular Ashkenazi world.

The trouble is, the origins of the takana have been forgotten because over the last few decades, the Jewish communities in both Argentina and Brazil have been doing an excellent job of whitewashing the human trafficking activities of the Zwi Migdal organization.

Many of the graves containing the Polaca women have had the names scrubbed off, at the behest of the Jewish community itself. You can kind of understand that – who wants to admit that their grandmother or great-grandmother worked in a b*othel? No-one.

But what disturbs me far, far more is that the evil, immoral criminals who profited from the human trafficking via their roles as ruffianos, madams and the gangster bosses also seem to have been totally whitewashed out of the history books.

Those people didn’t drop dead (sadly, at least not immediately…) They took their money, and they set up shop in other countries, and other Jewish communities all over the world. People like that don’t just retire, they keep engaging in human suffering and immorality until the very bitter end.

And if we knew more of their names, we could trace them, and their activities, and their descendants, and probably discover a lot of very interesting things about exactly why so many parts of the Jewish world looks as yucky as it does, today.

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To sum up: the whole subject of the takana needs airing out and properly discussing, despite the ongoing sensitivities in the Latin American Jewish communities.

Hopefully, if more people start to understand the historical circumstances that brought it into being back in the 1920s, this conversation can start to move forward, and a way can be found to dismantle it, and enable more of the Jews in Latin America to be accepted by the official Jewish community.

And I hope that shocking as this story is, telling it over will play some small part in getting the whole subject of the takana in Latin America to be revisited, and reconsidered.

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UPDATE:

After doing some more research, and in response to a comment, I found this. The plot thickens:

In reply to yaak.Thanks Yaak.

According to this PhD thesis by Victor Mirelman (link below), the Takana was first in Buenos Aires in 1927, instituted by the Chakham David Dabbah Shaul Setton, the rabbi of the Syrian community in Buenos Aires – and pretty much the only orthodox rabbi in Latin America at that time, who had a congregation still pious enough to listen to him. This Takana was then adopted throughout Latin America, as the state of the Jewish world was in complete disarray, with the Ashkenazi community’s main ‘rabbi’ in Buenos Aires being one Henry Joseph, who himself had married out and only did a ‘quickie’ conversion of his wife when he started acting as the defacto rabbi of the community. His own children married goyim in a church ceremony.

This meticulously sourced document brings a lot of eye-witness accounts of what was going on in Buenos Aires at the time, including Jews taking two of their friends as ‘witnesses’ to ‘convert’ non-Jewish women, then marry them – in a total mockery of the conversion process. This is also why Rav Kook in Israel, and other rabbis, supported this first Takana in Latin America, and why it spread to other communities there, beyond the Syrian community.

Then seperately in 1935. Rabbi Kassin instituted a similar Takana for the Syrian community in Brooklyn, which didn’t spread, wasn’t approved of other rabbis outside the community, and remains very controversial even today.

Here’s the link, check it out for yourself: https://digital.library.wayne.edu/item/wayne:WayneStateUniversityPress4448

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We’re all in this together.

You know how I came to realise that so many of my own opinions and attitudes were dripping with sinat chinam, or baseless hatred of my fellow Jew?

My teenagers.

I know a lot of parents bemoan those polite times of yesteryear when your kids just had to nod mutely as you behaved like a jerk, or treated them (and others…) abusively, or felt too scared to tell you the truth because they didn’t want a slap or a cold shoulder or some other form of parental punishment.

But you know what?

My chutzpahdik teenagers have helped me to work on my middot like no-one else.

They’ve magnified every little bit of arrogant self-righteousness, every tiny speck of lashon hara that I was trying to pass off as ‘chinuch’, and challenged every rage fit that was more befitting of a two year old than a grown woman.

And one of the main areas they’ve been working on is my attitudes towards other groups of Jews.

It’s human nature, to find your ‘place’, your milieu, your level in the world, and then to start defending it to the hilt as being ‘the best’, ‘the only’, while everyone else is awful, terrible, disgusting, yucky or inferior.

That’s why people who move to Israel love to point out the flaws in the people and places they left behind; that’s why people who have no intention of moving to Israel love to point out the flaws in the people and places of the Holy Land; that’s why ‘frummers’ rail against secular people, and secular people rail against chareidim, and national religious people have no idea who to rail against, so they take it all on a case-by-case basis.

And underneath all this self-righteous judgment and indignation and anger and finger-pointing and accusations lies….

Our own bad middot.

And nothing else.

This is what my teenagers helped me to learn. Every time I’d start telling them about the founding fathers of the State, and how many bad things they got up to (to try to counteract the hagiography going on in school about people like David Ben Gurion) – my youngest would go for the jugular.

You’re talking lashon hara!!! Why are you only seeing the bad in people, why can’t you see all the good they did, too?!?!

But, what about all the Yemenite children they kidnapped and sold to the highest bidders?

But, what about the awful treatment they doled out to the Sephardim (including your Saba?)

But, what about the 500,000 Jews in Hungary that they could have rescued, but chose not to?

Ima, I’m not saying they were good people, but they did a lot of good things, and they were still Jews! Why are you always looking at the bad?!

She had a point.

So, I started trying to work on it, and it was really, really hard going to keep identifying bad behavior without going off on big, generalized rants about the Jew themselves. As Rebbe Nachman teaches us, the soul of every Jew is only pure, it’s only good. It’s just surrounded by so much trauma, so many klipot that’s eating up all their innate good.

But then, as God likes to use the mirror principle both ways, after we had this discussion when my youngest started ranting about ‘chareidim who don’t serve in the army’, and ‘chareidim who go around abusing everyone’ etc etc – I had to give it back to her:

You’re talking lashon hara!!! Why are you only seeing the bad in people, why can’t you see all the good they did, too?!?!

Man, did she hit the roof. Because while it’s easy and enjoyable to point out other people’s blind spots and prejudices, it’s so very much harder to accept them being pointed out in yourself, and in your school, and in your classmates.

Over the next two years, we came back to this subject a lot, because me and my husband skew much more to the chareidi side of things, even though we aren’t chareidi, while my two kids are very much in the national religious camp.

Between us, and all the arguments about different groups, and different Jews, we eventually figured out that there are people doing very good things in all groups of Jews, and there are people doing very bad things in all groups of Jews.

It comes down to the idea that in Judaism, there are no ‘good people’ or ‘bad people’.

There are only ‘good actions’ and ‘bad actions’, and we are all a collection of our actions that ultimately, only God will judge as being overall ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

So, my kids act as a guard-dog on my natural tendency to start criticizing in others what I really just need to work on in myself. And I do the same for them – and while the arguments are not so pretty, while they’re happening, I can feel how much good they are doing us all.

These days, my kids are far more careful about throwing out derogatory statements about ‘chareidim’, because they know they are going to be challenged to bring real facts, and not just a collection of chareidi-bashing rumors and headlines.

(We’ve had some very interesting discussions around the Rav, for example, and that’s also what spurred me on to set the facts of the story down and write the book. Sadly, they don’t read English… but it’s going in the right direction.)

And on my side of things, they keep prodding me to look for the nekuda tova, the good point, in even the most yucky, anti-God Jews, and to keep trying to inject some compassion for them, and all the trauma they must have gone through as kids, to be such messed-up, hate-filled, yucky derangos.

Ultimately, we are in this together.

All the problems we see in everyone else are just our problems that WE need to acknowledge and work on, and there are no exceptions to this rule. The more we all internalize this, the less we’ll be pointing our fingers all over the place, and the more we’ll be putting our hands up to the fact that the main people holding up the geula is…us.

So, if you have a teenager at home, take a deep breath and unmuzzle them. It’s hard to hear – often so hard to hear!!! – when you get assailed with a strong dose of ‘teenage trufe’, but it’ll help you work on your middot like nothing else in the world.

There are crazy people all over the place. In every section of our community, there is sinat chinam and lashon hara and arrogance and jealousy and self-righteous anger.

We can’t fix those problems in anyone else. We can only work on ourselves.

And if we do that, we’ll accomplish everything God sent us down here to do.

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We just put together a website for the book telling the true story of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, which includes the back story, FAQs and the video. You can see the website at the address below, so please stop by and take a look – and if you want to help someone else get over their media-induced sinat chinam of Rabbi Berland, please feel free to share the link:

http://oneinageneration.com