Posts

It’s not so hard to judge someone’s soul to the side of ‘good’.

A little while before Rosh Hashana, Rachel from New York challenged me over in the comments section to ‘walk the walk’, and judge Avigdor Lieberman favorably.

In case you happen to live on planet Mars, Avigdor Lieberman is the Russian-born head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, who is trying to force all chareidim to leave their shtenders, and to serve in the IDF.

Lieberman is so adamant about this, he brought down the last government – and is continuing to sow chaos in Israel politically, by refusing to sit with Bibi Netanyahu in any new government, and also by refusing to sit with the ‘religious’ parties that make up the Knesset’s natural right-wing ‘bloc’.

Because of Lieberman, we’ve already had 2 elections in five months – and no government. And you read it here first, we will be going to third elections, very soon.

So, how to judge Avigdor Lieberman to the side of ‘good’?

It’s a tough challenge, but after doing a fair bit of praying on it, here’s where I’m up to.

==

The starting point with Rebbe Nachman’s lesson of Azamra is that while we have to clearly state when ACTIONS are bad and evil and anti-Torah and anti-God, that’s very different from saying the ESSENCE of a person is evil. Rav Ofer Erez explains this magnificently, in this video with full English subtitles:

==

==

A Jew’s essence, their soul, is only good.

But what happens? All these klipot, all these external forces of evil come along to confuse and trip us up, and then before long you have people who are committing the worst sins in the world, but who are still telling themselves that they are doing ‘the right thing’, and that this is just how it has to be.

Let’s take a look at Lieberman, to see how that’s playing out.

Lieberman lacks emuna, and he doesn’t believe that God is running the world and controlling everything and everyone.

If he had more emuna, he would know that the best defense for the land of Israel is for all of the Jews who live here to wholeheartedly return to God, and to start doing what God wants, i.e. living a Torah-observant lifestyle.

But poor guy, he doesn’t know that.

He never went to cheder, he never went to yeshiva, he grew up in the Soviet Union where religion and God were anathema, and then he moved to Israel and started moving in political circles where religion and God are still anathema.

A guy like Lieberman, he wakes up every morning, and what does he see?

He sees Hamas with rockets in Gaza. And Hezbollah with rockets in Lebanon. And Syria trying to build a nuclear reactor on the Northern border. And Iran trying to complete their nuclear reactors, so they can nuke Israel, God forbid, over in the Gulf – and he’s totally petrified by the idea that some mad mullah can flip a switch, and boom!!! No more Israel.

Because Lieberman doesn’t have God in the picture, what does he think can help to solve this awful problem, this terrible danger to the Jewish state?

In his mind, Israel can only be defended against all these threats by a strong army.

In Lieberman’s mind, if the country fills up with pacifist frummers who only want to learn Torah and don’t want to serve in the army – then Israel will be finished.

==

Before we continue, I challenge you, dear reader, to take a long, hard look in the mirror and to ask yourself if you also believe that the IDF is what is really protecting Israel.

Because if the answer is ‘yes’, that means you and Lieberman are essentially on the same page.

==

Now, people with emuna know that God is protecting Israel, and that this country gets open miracles morning, noon and night.

People with emuna know that people like Rabbi Berland, and the late Baba Elazar, z’tl, and all the other big rabbis, tzaddikim and kabbalists, are working around the clock to keep ‘sweetening’ the spiritual judgments that manifest as terrorists, rockets and nukes, God forbid.

People with emuna are aware that it’s the Jewish people’s own sins that is causing us our terrible security problems with our neighbors, and that if we would return to God and His Torah, the whole Iranian nuke issue will fizzle like a sparkler in a shower.

Lieberman doesn’t have emuna.

So, according to his incorrect paradigm of what’s going on here, unless he can find a way to ‘force’ all the peacenik yeshiva bochurs into the army, sooner or later, he believes the army will collapse and the State of Israel will be destroyed or overrun by our enemies, God forbid.

Because of that belief, he has now apparently declared an all-out war against religion, or what he calls a ‘halachic state’, where Torah law would be pre-eminent.

Is this ‘good’ or ‘right’? No, it’s totally evil.

Why is he doing it?

Because he has very little emuna, doesn’t believe in God, and believes that superior force, and targeted killings, and all the other super-evil stuff that’s being done in the name of ‘security’ here and elsewhere, is the only way to protect the Jewish state.

(Lieberman’s Wikipedia entry makes very interesting reading. In many ways, you could argue he’s consistently acted as one of Israel’s more principled politicians, including severing ties with the corrupt Mossad, back in 2011. I also found this, which certainly muddies the waters on his views of ‘organized religion’ in Israel, too:

While his party is sometimes described by the news media[55] as doctrinally secular and aiming to reduce the role of the rabbinical system in government, it actually supports the continuation of the role of Orthodox rabbinical courts, but wants more nationally minded religious people, rather than the ultra-orthodox, in charge.[56] It does not advocate introducing civil marriage within Israeli law, but rather to find a solution to some of those who cannot marry under such laws.[55] It does not advocate a separation of religion and state in Israeli society.[56]

==

So now, we circle back to the message of the ‘whoever finds fault‘ post, because Lieberman isn’t the only one who think that ‘chareidim’ are bad, and wrecking the economy, and need to be forced to serve in the army.

There are a whole bunch of ostensibly ‘religious’ Jews both here and abroad who also totally lack emuna, and believe the same thing, too.

Just they are less vitriolic (and probably, also less honest….) about expressing it. They think it’s fine for a few yeshiva bochurs to carry on learning, but they clearly would prefer most Moshes to put down their gemara and pick up their uzis, and to become truly productive citizens of Israel.

Honestly? It’s much, much harder for me to judge them favorably, because you’d think that surely they should know better than some Russian guy who never went to cheder and who grew up under atheist, communist rule….

But I digress.

==

So, let’s sum up where we’ve got to:

Lieberman’s ACTIONS of going after the Torah world, and trying to ‘secularise’ Israel are clearly wrong, bad and evil.

Lieberman’s MOTIVATIONS are confused and mixed-up, but at least conceivably could stem from a genuine concern that if Torah observant Jews don’t serve in the IDF and ‘contribute economically’ to Israel, the Jewish State will either be destroyed, conquered or collapsed.

So that’s how we can judge the ESSENCE of Lieberman to the side of merit, even though his actions are clearly evil and atrocious.

==

Ahead of Yom Kippur, it’s a really good idea to practice this Azamra thing as much as possible, because however we judge others, that is how God will judge us.

 

We’re all doing things wrong ALL THE TIME.

We hurt people, we step on them, we selfishly put ourselves first, we look down our noses at other Jews, and act holier-than-thou. We act like pigs, so very much of the time.

BUT OUR ESSENCE IS GOOD.

And the more we make an effort to see that in others, the more we’ll uncover that true goodness in ourselves, too, and rescue our souls (and everyone else’s….) from the klipot.

==

You might also like this article:

“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.

====

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.

====

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.”

====

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….)

====

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:

====

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.”

====

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’…)

====

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.

====

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.”

====

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.”

====

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.

====

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.

====

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.

====

Photo by Daniela Holzer on Unsplash

You might also like these articles:

Rebbe Nachman on real Jewish leaders.

Reposting this article on the difference between luminaries of fire and luminaries of light, from 2016.

In Part 2 of Likutey Moharan, Lesson 67, he writes:

“There are luminaries of light and luminaries of fire, and they are antagonistic [i.e. opposing each other.] When the luminaries of light are empowered, the luminaries of fire are subdued, and inversely, when the luminaries of light are subdued and diminished, the luminaries of fire are empowered.”

A little later on in that same lesson, Rebbe Nachman explains that:

“When someone who totally lacks God’s name becomes renowned – when his name becomes renowned and exalted – God’s name becomes diminished and disappears. Then, pseudo-miracle workers and magicians become exalted, and things happen in the world against which only the names of demonic powers are able to protect….

“Fires are caused in the world on account of the names of these ignominiously renowned people becoming great and enhanced, for this causes God’s name to disappear, the luminaries of light to be subdued, and the luminaries of fire to become empowered.”

What is Rabbenu telling us here?

Firstly, he’s telling us that some of the rabbis, leaders and spiritual mentors in the world are the good guys – the ‘luminaries of light’, and that some of them are the bad guys, or the ‘luminaries of fire’.

This is a fact, however upsetting, and the sooner we come to terms with it, the easier it will be to spot the ‘luminaries of fire’ before they burn us up with their bad advice, false judgment and heretical ideas that are really the antithesis of emuna and serving Hashem.

Rabbenu is also telling us that when the ‘famous’ people in the world are essentially God-less heretics, that’s when these ‘luminaries of fire’ will come to the fore, and that’s when all the pseudo-miracle workers etc will start pouring out of the cracks to confuse us even more.

It’s hard to think of a more secular bunch of ‘elites’ than we have in the world today, whether in Israel or elsewhere.

Who talks about God these days, or includes Him in any policy decisions? Certainly not the politicians, pundits, academics and journalists in Israel, and certainly not the politicians, pundits, academics and journalists anywhere else, either.

So that’s the situation we’re currently in.

====

But Rebbe Nachman is also telling us HOW we can spot who is a faker, and who isn’t:

A luminary of light does just that: they light you up. They exude spiritual light. They shine in the darkness – really literally as well as figuratively.

Unaltered image taken of Rabbi Eliezer Berland

I remember a few years’ back one of the first times I went to see Rav Arush giving a shiur, his face was mamash shining, and I spent most of the night trying to figure out where the spotlight was…. There was no spotlight.

The same with Rav Berland. So many people describe meeting him in the same way: they were instantly struck by the light of holiness coming off him. It was enough to affect powerful spiritual changes in them without him even saying a word.

Luminaries of fire don’t have that light.

What they have instead is thunderous rhetoric, quick one-liners, heapings of blame, self-righteousness, arrogance, and often very quick tempers for anyone who dares to challenge them, take up too much of their time, or otherwise upset them in some way.

Luminaries of fire are scary people, once you peel off all the ‘fake nice’ that they go to great pains to cover it up with.  They roast you for not being good enough. They blast you for not being tznius enough, or having enough emuna (or simply, for being a flawed human being.)

They dole out judgment and advice with narrowed eyes and an obvious dislike (all carefully concealed). Also, whatever ‘spiritual uplift’ they do possess, it doesn’t illuminate so much as completely burn you out.

Your rapt attention, your obvious devotion and respect – it’s all just fuel for the insatiable fire of their own ego and self-interest.

====

Before I knew all this, I used to occasionally have phone calls with a ‘luminary of fire’ that would leave me feeling very weird afterwards, like I’d just been mugged somehow, but couldn’t for the life of me work out how, or who’d done it.

It was the luminary of fire, taking all of my respect for them to build a bigger bonfire for themselves. There was some light, too, but it was so hot and uncomfortable speaking to them I subconsciously decided to keep my distance.

It’s only when I overcame that reticence, to have the first ‘real’ conversation with them in all the time I’d been following them, that it became shockingly obvious that I was dealing with a faker, a luminary of fire, not a luminary of light.

Let’s end with this: Luminaries of light can hold their candle up even in your darkest hour, and give you a path out of despair.

Luminaries of fire can’t.

The only thing they can do is ‘explode’ in some way – at you, for being such a useless, worthless, imperfect sinner. Fire is anger. Fire is intolerance. Fire is harsh words, and criticism and machloket.

May the luminaries of light be empowered again very soon, may God’s name be exalted and spoken about once again, and may we all have illumination instead of destruction in our lives.

====

You might also like these articles:

 

The facts on the ground, about converts and corruption in Latin America.

The last few days, I’ve been up to my eyeballs investigating a whole bunch of things related to what’s going on with corruption and converts in Latin America, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • The straight up halacha of performing an orthodox Jewish conversion appears to be much more simple than I realized.

According to this article, by Rabbi and Dayan Yirmiyaho Kaganoff, all you need is three orthodox Jews – not necessarily even Rabbis! – and a commitment from the would-be convert to do their utmost to keep the Torah, and abide by its commandments for the conversion to be valid.

“The basic requirement for becoming a Jew is accepting Hashem’s commandments, since a Jew is, by definition, someone who has a covenant with G-d to observe the Torah.”

“As mentioned before, conversion is an act that requires a proper beis din, meaning minimally, three fully-observant male Jews.”

  • There is a difference between an ‘halachically correct’ conversion, and a conversion that is recognized by the local orthodox community and / or the State of Israel Rabbinate.

Long story short, the whole situation with the anousim and with conversions generally, has become horribly politicized, and there seems to be a lot of vested interests who don’t want to see hordes of newly-orthodox Sephardic Jews in their communities and / or moving to Israel; and who especially don’t want to see millions of orthodox Sephardim suddenly upsetting the political balance and challenging Ashkenazi dominance in the worldwide Jewish community.

  • Latin America countries have had a takana, or agreement in place since the 1935 which was first introduced by the expat Syrian community in Argentina, that they won’t accept any new converts.

I had never heard of this before, so I did some digging and this is what I found:

“[T]he 1935 Takana… forbids marriage to those who convert for the purpose of marriage… [with] subsequent reaffirmations issued by Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, the Brooklyn, NY Syrian Jewish community’s Chief Rabbi, and the Rabbinical Council of the Syrian community.

“Such marriages were not to be recognized by the community. Children of such marriages could not attend community yeshivot. Further, rites of passage such as bar mitzvahs, weddings and the right to be buried in the community’s cemetery were denied, as well as synagogue honors.”

It’s important to note that this Takana was first introduced to discourage insincere converts who only wanted to marry a Jew. But now, it’s been wholesale applied to the Bnei Anousim in Latin America who have Jewish roots, and want to return to their faith.

And ironically, the only people who can get around this Takana today tend to be the wealthy, connected Jews who dafka are trying to get someone converted just so they can marry them.

  • This Takana 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. (As a side note, there has been so much corruption going on with selling conversions that in some ways, this is a sensible approach to take, as far as it goes. But not enough is being done to help sincere converts find other ways to meet the criteria.)

  • People with money in Latin America are often finding ways to convert ‘orthodox’ – by hook or by crook – in any case.

People without money – even if they are totally sincere and have been living as orthodox Jews for a few years already without formal recognition of their conversion – are basically stuffed.

====

Of course, this is totally the olam hafuch, or the upside-down world!

Moshiach is meant to be overseeing the ingathering of exiles and a lot of them can’t get on the plane because all the politics and conversion corruption in Latin America (and elsewhere…) is preventing them from being recognized as Jews, and they don’t have the money required to beat the system.

This is what one of my readers sent me, when she got in touch with one of her local Orthodox Rabbis to discuss the problem:

Screenshot of a text message from a rabbi talking about conversions

====

I also learnt that there is a difference between Bnei Anousim and Bnei Conversos.

Bnei Anousim are secret Jews who kept many of their Jewish customs, albeit it secretly, often without knowing why, and who were usually very strict about marrying into each other’s families.

These people are considered to be Jewish (if they can prove their traditions and geneology), but will often have to undergo an immersion in a mikva without saying a bracha.

Meanwhile, the Bnei Conversos are people who started off as Jews, but who converted to Catholicism and totally assimilated into the non-Jewish society. The descendants of these people are considered non-Jews, and will have to undergo a full conversion.

There is a lot more to be said about the subject of converts and corruption in Latin America. The more I’ve been researching, the more unbelievable corruption at every level I’ve been uncovering. It’s been very disappointing, to be honest.

====

The last thing to tell you is a story I heard about someone who converted through a Beit Din that’s known as one of the strictest in Chutz L’Aretz.

For four years, this person learnt halacha, went to shul, did everything they were told. (They had a Jewish boyfriend who was very keen that they convert properly before they got married, but who really doesn’t believe in the Torah.)

The man had been raised in an orthodox family, so he and his wife-to-be played their part beautifully for the four years required by the conversion process.

Very soon after the wedding, the wife returned to her roots, and can now be found back in church on an Easter Sunday.

You tell me: Is this woman really Jewish? Are her kids really Jewish?

But this is the woman with orthodox papers from the ‘strictest’ Beit Din in the world, for converts.

It’s the olam hafuch. And until Moshiach shows up to ‘sniff out’ who is really Jewish and who isn’t, it’s probably going to continue. And when that birur process starts in earnest, I think there are going to be a lot of very surprising things coming to light, in a whole bunch of different ways.

====

You might also like these articles related to converts and corruption in Latin America:

Photo by MCML ➖XXXIII (steal my _ _ art) on Unsplash

Sometimes, a picture speaks a thousand words.

Definition of clickbait

something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.
“It is difficult to remember a time when you could scroll through the social media outlet of your choice and not be bombarded with: You’ll never believe what happened when … This is the cutest thing ever … This the biggest mistake you can make … Take this quiz to see which character you are on … They are all classic clickbait models.”
— Emily Shire

Cartoon of an angler fish using'click bait' to entice a naive reader (fish)

Nuff said.

Who are the people who are really preventing the geula from coming the sweet way?

You should know something: I never wanted my blog to be a ‘geula blog’. I have a lot more stuff I like to talk about, and write about, and discuss about, but what can I do? Every time I try to make a mental detour away from geula, God seems to be pulling me right back to it.

And there is so very much happening at the moment, and there are so few ‘geula bloggers’ – or anyone else – really covering what’s happening, because they have painted themselves into an ‘anti Rabbi Berland’ corner, because they believed all the false stories put about in the press.

I can’t help but think about that comment from Kol HaTor, rightly or wrongly attributed to the Vilna Gaon, about how the people with unfixable Erev Rav traits will operate at the end of days, to delay Moshiach and prolong the exile:

In Kol HaTor Chapter 2, Section 2, Letter bet, the Vilna Gaon says the following:

 “The general purpose of the two moshiachs, Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David, throughout all the generations has been to protect and fight against the three ‘heads’ of the klipot (evil husks): Eisav, Yishmael and the Erev Rav…..

“….the 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.”

So now, let’s dive off the deep end, and ask the question, ‘What if?’

What if Rabbi Eliezer Berland really is the Moshiach, what then?

(Again, let’s stress before we continue that the Moshiach has an awful lot to do and accomplish before he can unequivocably be recognized as THE Moshiach. He has to fight wars on behalf of the Jewish people – without firing a shot. He has to bring us back to real emuna, belief in Hashem, and Hashem’s mastery of the world.

He has to oversee the ingathering of the exiles, and he has to rebuild the Third Temple. (See this article for more Torah Sources identifying the Moshiach.) That’s a lot to do, and until and unless all of these things have been done, we can only really talk about hezkat Moshiach, i.e. a presumption that someone is a strong contender to potentially be the Moshiach.

====

So now, let’s go back and say, what if Rabbi Eliezer Berland is this ‘hezkat Moshiach’, what then?

How would that fit in with how people with pronounced Erev Rav character traits might react to him? And could their actions and reactions be delaying the geula? And how would that fit together with the Kol HaTor’s warning, above, that:

“[A]nyone 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”?

EREV RAV CHARACTER TRAITS

I’ve set out all this information very clearly in my book, Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, but I think it’s useful to remind ourselves of the way people with Erev Rav character traits act. There are two separate, but overlapping, definitions of ‘Erev Rav’-type people, one as set out by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and the other by the Vilna Gaon.

Here’s how they describe the Erev Rav:

====

BAALEI MACHLOKET

In addition, there is a tradition from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov that every group of people with pronounced ‘Erev Rav’ characteristics can be fixed, except those people who Rabbenu calls baalei machloket, which literally translates as ‘masters of contention / controversy / scandal / strife’.

Or to put it another way, journalists.

Or to put it in modern media parlance, bloggers, v-loggers, Youtubers, Facebookers, and all those people who like to leave disgusting comments, anonymously, on other people’s posts.

Now, let’s fit in another piece of the puzzle.

====

THE HIDDEN SCROLL, AND THE WAR AGAINST TORAH SCHOLARS

Rabbi Nachman wrote a hidden scroll about what would be at the End of Days, that was passed down within the Breslov community, and most recently was in the possession of the late Rabbi Eliezer Schick, z’tl. In that scroll, Rabbi Nachman made it clear that:

“At first, there will be a huge controversy surrounding Moshiach, and people will say [in astonishment], ‘That’s Moshiach?!’”

(Btw, this whole statement about the Hidden Scroll is set out in One in a Generation, Volume II.)

Writing in his book The Workings of the Tzaddik, Rabbi Eliezer Schick brought down the following about the geula:

“Rav Natan once spoke up about Rebbe Nachman’s Hidden Scroll and said, ‘The war of Gog and Magog is not specifically described in the Hidden Scroll, but what was indicated was that there would be a flood of heresy in the world, and that would be the huge test facing us, and the Moshiach.”

Rabbi Shick continues: “So from this we can learn that every time, in every generation, that we see enormous accusations between the people of Israel, and we see that arrogance is increasing — know! The Moshiach is already ready to reveal himself! It’s only the heresy and the arrogance that is covering him up and concealing him…

The war of Gog and Magog includes all the controversy and accusations that there will be around these same true tzaddikim, who reveal the true will of God, because they [i.e., the arrogant people and mockers] want to devour them alive, may God have mercy.

And they will say every forbidden thing about them [the true tzaddikim] and make fun of them a lot — and by so doing, they will distance the Jewish people from them. And this is what lengthens the bitter exile, may God have mercy. And so I say, woe to them! And woe to the souls of those who have any part in the controversy and the arguments concerning the true tzaddikim, who reveal the true will of God.

For they are the brazen-faced of the generation, those with the face of a dog, the soldiers of Gog and Magog, who conceal the truth, and they are the wicked people of the generation… of whom it’s said: “When you see that he is so brazen-faced it is a proof that he is wicked”, and it’s written in the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:10): ‘He who is brazen-faced, and he who is an inveterate sower of strife and hatred —  he is the most wicked of wicked people,’ may God have mercy.”

====

Let’s break this down again, and take it step by step.

In Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, I bring a whole bunch of sources to show that ‘the brazen-faced of the generation’ is always a code-word our Sages use when they are talking about people with unfixable Erev Traits.

So, this is what Rebbe Nachman is really telling us, about what the Erev Rav will do to the Moshiach at the End of Days, to delay the geula (my clarifications are underlined, and in square brackets):

[The Erev Rav] will say every forbidden thing about [Rabbi Eliezer Berland], and make fun of [him and his followers] a lot – and by so doing, they will distance the Jewish people from [Rabbi Eliezer Berland and Shuvu Banim]. And this is what lengthens the bitter exile, may God have mercy.

And so I say, woe to them! And woe to the souls of those who have any part in the controversy and the arguments concerning [Rabbi Eliezer Berland and] the true tzaddikim, who reveal the true will of God.

For [the bloggers, v’loggers, journalists, commentators and writers] are the [Erev Rav] of the generation, those with the face of a dog, the soldiers of Gog and Magog, who conceal the truth, and they are the wicked people of the generation… of whom it’s said: “When you see that he is so brazen-faced it is a proof that he is wicked”, and it’s written in the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:10): ‘He who is brazen-faced, and he who is an inveterate sower of strife and hatred —  he is the most wicked of wicked people,’ may God have mercy.”

====

Let’s continue our exploration of ‘What if?’

Let’s go back to what was written in the Kol HaTor, above, to see if we can shine a little more light about what we’re actually being told there, too, about what will happen just before the geula. Again, my clarifications are underlined and in square brackets:

“….the [media] is our greatest enemy, the one who separates the two moshiachs. The klipah of the [anti-Rabbi Berland media, including bloggers, Facebookers, journalists and anonymous commentators] works only through deception and roundabout ways. Therefore, the war against the [media] 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 [anti-Rabbi Berland media] becomes, defacto, a partner with the klipah of the Erev Rav [i.e. the anti-Torah, anti-Moshiach, anti-geula media], and was better off not being born in the first place.”

====

The Psak Din from the Badatz Beis Din forbidding speaking negatively about Rabbi Berland

Two days ago, a group of three senior rabbis representing the most reputable Beis Dins (Religious Jewish courts) in Israel released a psak din (above) that it is totally forbidden for people to engage in sharing around anymore slanderous stories or negative comments about Rabbi Berland, in any part of the media.

The story of how this Beis Din came to issue that judgment is very interesting.

Rabbi Berland’s main persecutors, aka the Meah Shearim Mafiosos, spent the last two years ‘grooming’ these rabbis in an effort to try to persuade them to excommunicate Rabbi Berland and his community.

Two weeks ago, Rabbi Berland was summoned to come before the Beis Din – and everyone who knew about this held their breath, waiting for yet another hammer to fall on the head of decency and truth. Instead, the Beis Din issued this statement.

For sure, the Meah Shearim Mafiosos are already working furiously behind the scenes with their usual violent threats of retribution, which normally boil down to the same tactics of threatening to go to the media with more baseless allegations against anyone who doesn’t immediately bend over backwards and give them what they want.

Because the [Erev Rav] media in Israel is known to be so anti-Torah, and because they are happy to make up and embellish any lie against the Torah community here, however outlandish and ridiculous, this threat has silenced literally tens of even the most senior rabbis here in Israel.

These rabbis know all too well that their reputations and institutions will be immediately ruined by the salacious headlines everyone is reading in the [Erev Rav] media – regardless of whether they are true.

Again, let’s just remind ourselves what the Kol HaTor said:

“[A]nyone who does not participate in the battle against the [anti-Torah, anti-God media] becomes, defacto, a partner with the klipah of the [the anti-Torah, anti-Moshiach, anti-geula media], and was better off not being born in the first place.”

====

In the meantime, this stunning psak din was handed down by the Badatz Beis Din, together with a request that it should be publicized in all the Torah publications and news sites – and for the first 24 hours, NONE OF THEM TOUCHED IT WITH A BARGE POLE.

None of these same ‘haredi’ media sites who have been spreading scandal and slander about Rabbi Berland and Shuvu Banim non-stop for years wanted their readers to see this psak din.

Interesting, no?

Eventually, matzav.com and yeshivaworldnews did stick something up, but YWN stuck it together with the same rehash of many of the lies they like to keep regurgitating about the Rav, in total disregard of the Badatz psak din they just posted up.

So much for the ‘haredi’ media – and let’s not even talk about the secular media, who for sure won’t touch this story with a barge pole.

But what about us? What about us, dear reader? What about the blogs we read, and the comments we post, the Facebook friends we have, the groups we sit in online, and share our thoughts with?

What about us?

====

Let’s return to that question of ‘What if?’

What if Rabbi Berland really is hezkat Moshiach? What have we been doing, or writing, or sharing, or believing about this subject, and what side of the fence does that put us on?

What if we’re a blogger who re-hashed all the lies being told by the [Erev Rav] media?

What if we’re a commentator who said disgusting things about [the possible Moshiach] Rabbi Berland?

What if we’re now refusing to read, or share, or accept all the many positive stories and pieces of information that are increasingly coming to light about [the possible Moshiach] Rabbi Berland?

How could all of these things be delaying the geula?

Again, let’s remind ourselves of what the Kol HaTor wrote:

“[A]nyone who does not participate in the battle against the [anti-Torah, anti-God media] becomes, defacto, a partner with the klipah of the [the anti-Torah, anti-Moshiach, anti-geula media], and was better off not being born in the first place.”

And let’s remind ourselves of what Rebbe Nachman’s Hidden Scroll told us:

[The Erev Rav] will say every forbidden thing about [Rabbi Eliezer Berland], and make fun of [him and his followers] a lot – and by so doing, they will distance the Jewish people from [Rabbi Eliezer Berland and Shuvu Banim]. And this is what lengthens the bitter exile, may God have mercy.

====

Do you really want Moshiach? Really?

Do you really want to have a good chance of ‘making it’ through to geula, whatever that means, and not going down the pipes to perdition along with the other unfixable ‘Erev Rav’ types?

Way back when all this began, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Stern told us very clearly, that the last test before Moshiach came was the test of Rabbi Eliezer Berland.

And now, with the above clarifications, we can start to see why this is. IF Rabbi Berland could be the Moshiach, then the people who speak against him, the people who suppress all the good stories, and good information about him, the people who are using their ‘media presence’ to go against him, or to prevent his light from reaching more people – they are the ones who are preventing the geula with their own hands.

And they’re going against Hashem’s anointed. And they appear to be the unfixable ‘Erev Rav’ types our Sages warned us about, who would use all sorts of back-handed ways to fight against the Moshiach and delay the geula.

And if we don’t fight against these people with all our might – then we’d be better off not being born in the first place.

And that’s a very sobering thought, isn’t it?

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’ 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.”

That’s why the ‘heathens’ like learning Gemara, and 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.”

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. To counter that impression, Rabbenu then tells us:

“God Himself cries out because of this!”

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 intellectual. 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.”

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.

Can ‘orthodox Jew’ ever go together with ‘feminist’?

That’s what I find myself wondering more and more at the moment. Yesterday, a news story came to my attention that a bunch of Reform feminists, plus one apparently ‘modern orthodox’ feminist have decided to sue Ikea.

What was the furniture store’s terrible crime? In 2016, Ikea Israel made the mistake of trying to reach out to the chareidi community by printing a catalogue specially for them, that didn’t include any pictures of women in it.

Instead of applauding Ikea’s attempted sensitivity for the orthodox world, instead of adopting the maxim of live and let live, instead of letting the orthodox world decide for itself what sorts of pictures it wants to see in the publications that it brings into its home, a group called the “Israel Religious Action Center”, decided to sue Ikea Israel, instead.

WHO RUNS THE ‘ISRAEL RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER?’

A quick look at the IRAC website tells you that IRAC’s Executive Director is Anat Hoffman, who you may well recognise as the ‘founder and director’ of the infamous Women of the Wall. IRAC describes itself as “the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.”

IRAC has certainly been busy the last few years. Here’s some highlights from its website, where we’re told that:

IRAC plays a lead role in battling attempts by religious extremists to limit the participation and visibility of women in the public sphere in Israel, reversing the phenomena of gender segregation and exclusion and achieving remarkable success.

(Again, please remember that these people are the notorious Women of the Wall.)

Here’s some of what they’ve been up to, before the got around to suing Ikea:

1) In June 2017, they sued El Al to stop women or men asking to switch seats, if they didn’t want to sit next to someone of the opposite gender.

2) In 2015, the sued Bet Shemesh to force orthodox neighborhoods to remove signs asking women to dress modestly in their neighborhoods.

3) In 2014, they chummed up with Kolech, which describes itself as a ‘Religious Women’s Forum’ to sue the chareidi radio station Kol BeRama.

4) Now, they’re in the process of trying to sue the IDF to stop having ‘men only’ bases: “We are currently collecting testimonies of women soldiers who were harmed by women-free areas in the army.”

5) They’re also trying to prevent higher educational facilities where men and women can study without rubbing shoulders with the opposite gender.

Ah, peace n’love.

IRAC is being at least partially funded by the New Israel Fund. We’ll hear more about them in a moment.

Anyway, back to Ikea.

——

According to Haaretz, the suit filed by the complainants said:

“The total exclusion of women and girls from the catalog sends a serious and difficult message that women have no value and there is something wrong with their presence, even in the family-home space depicted in the catalog.

“This discrimination and exclusion has severely insulted, angered and traumatized those who received the catalog.”

Puhleeeze!

Does anyone in the world really think this is true? Do they really expect us to believe that some woman, somewhere in Beitar Illit, developed PTSD from getting an Ikea catalogue that only has pictures of men in it? And if it’s true, (look! There’s a flying pig!) – why is the lawsuit being brought by a Reform pressure group run by the Women of the Wall? And what the heck is that one, token ‘modern orthodox’ woman doing there?

Questions, questions.

But more and more, I’m noticing that the women who self-describe as ‘orthodox feminists’ seem to have decidedly un-orthodox leanings.

There seems to be an awful lot of overlap between how these ‘orthodox feminists’ see the world, and how anti-God, anti-Torah, anti-rabbinic Judaism people and organisations see the world.

And the alarm bells are starting to ring pretty loudly, about where these ‘ortho-fem’ people are really coming from, who is actually funding them, and where they are trying to push us all too.

I’m not saying that all of them are anti-Torah, or anti-God, or anti-rabbis, or anti-chareidi, chas v’shalom. I’m sure there are many strong orthodox women out there who really do believe that the Torah is the living word of God, and thus inviolable.

But at the same time, I keep hearing the same sort of ugly prejudice that you get from people who are avowedly ‘anti’ orthodox Judaism from these ‘ortho-fems’, including hate-filled rants against men, rabbis and chareidi Jews.

And for all that this ‘feminism’ is dressed up in pious language and lofty aspirations, hate-filled rants are always rooted in a whole bunch of bad middot, and emotional and mental dysfunction.

Let me tell you a story that happened to me thirteen years ago, so you can see why the alarm bells are starting to ring so loud about what’s really going on with so many of these ‘orthodox feminists’.

When I lived in Modiin 13 years ago, I wore jeans and didn’t cover my hair, but I still kept Shabbat and paid 10% to tzedaka and believed very strongly in God. At that time, I participated in a women’s shiur where each woman was given the chance to teach Torah according to her own views and derech.

All the women in that shiur self-described as ‘modern orthodox’, whatever that actually meant. Some covered their hair, some (like me) didn’t. Some only wore skirts, some (like me) didn’t. The shiur was unofficially led by a woman who described herself as an ‘orthodox feminist’, and who had a whole bunch of degrees in the pointless subject of ‘gender studies’.

I liked some of those shiurim a lot. Others made me cringe, like when one woman started going on about the ‘militant nature of the Torah’, and how she ‘couldn’t believe we have a book that actually tells us to go out and kill people’.

But even when I totally disagreed with what was being said, I never tried to shut the other person down.

As time went on, the ‘ortho-fem’ woman started giving over more and more subversive shiurim that I was finding increasingly disturbing and ‘anti’ God, and ‘anti’ orthodox Judaism, and it goes without saying, ‘anti’ men and definitely ‘anti’ rabbis.

And this was back when I was still wearing my jeans and not covering my hair, so no-one can accuse me of just parroting chareidi values. (As if…)

One day, it was my turn to give a shiur, so I decided to do something on emuna, as I was just then learning about the whole idea of making God a central part of my Jewish life. I started the class off by playing a one minute snippet of a CD by Rav Brody, something along the lines of:

You know why you’ve got all these problems? It’s because you think that YOU are the boss (instead of recognizing that God is running the world).

Perhaps predictably, the ortho-feminist went ballistic, and prevented me giving over the rest of my shiur, which deteriorated very swiftly into a shouting match.

That experience went a very long way to me deciding I had to get the heck out of Modiin.

Tolerance, tolerance, that’s what they preach. Intolerant, intolerant, that’s how they act.

So we moved away, and I didn’t hear anything more of this ‘ortho-feminist’ until three years later when I discovered she’d re-invented herself as a type of ‘ortho-fem’ marriage counsellor, ‘empowering women’ – or to describe it more accurately, an ortho-fem advocate for divorce, who went round wrecking a bunch of people’s relationships and religious observance.

At that stage, I think she was still officially ‘orthodox’, and so she founded websites devoted to ‘ortho-fem’ principles, and stood on soapboxes shouting loudly about discrimination against women in chareidi society, and even wrote books colorfully depicting the ‘war’ that was apparently happening against women in Israel.

Again, still wearing her ‘orthodox’ badge, so that people in the orthodox world would take her seriously.

Because if someone from say, Meretz, was spouting all that stuff, we’d all know it was politicized baloney.

So yesterday, after I read that article about the ‘modern orthodox’ woman who is suing Ikea, I got the urge to look up the ‘ortho-feminist’ to see what’s become of her, because it sounded like her kind of stunt.

Lo and behold, I learned that she’s now studying to become a reform ‘rabbi’ (yes, I’m using offensive WHATEVER quote marks) and a few months ago, she also joined the staff of the New Israel Fund.

In case you didn’t know, the New Israel Fund is openly committed to dismantling orthodox Judaism in the State of Israel. They state as much on their website, on the page with the Orwellian title of Promoting Pluralism and Tolerance.’

So she’s definitely NOT orthodox any more (like she ever really was….) but she’s definitely STILL a feminist.

Nothing in this world is ‘pareve’ or neutral. It’s either leading us closer to Hashem, or it’s taking us further away. 13 years ago, the reform-rabbi wannabe who now has a day job at an organization that was formed to try to destroy orthodox Judaism in Israel was also griping and grumping about there not being any pictures of women in orthodox publications.

And now look at her.

All this stuff is the thin edge of the wedge.

God gave us a Torah, God gave us rules to follow. God knows exactly what He’s doing.

Is the chareidi world behaving properly and appropriately all the time? Absolutely not. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.

But it’s not for Reform-minded feminists or the Meretz-loving New Israel Fund to decide how those changes should happen, or what those improvements should be. It’s up to our God-fearing Sages and our Torah-observant rabbis to make those decisions in accordance with halacha, the same way it’s been working since the Torah was handed down to Moshe over 3,000 years ago.

And so, we come back full circle, and I have to ask:

Can ‘orthodox Jew’ and ‘feminist’ ever really go together?

Because from where I’m standing, it’s increasingly looking like a resounding ‘no’.

UPDATE:

Following on from Ann Koffsky invitation to look at the frumwomenhavefaces.com website, in the comments section, I went to take a look.

These are my thoughts:

  1. The stated quotes from Rabbis don’t appear to have any actual Torah sources to back them up. I would like to see the Torah sources / commentaries that these opinions are based on.
  2. The FWHF website recommends that visitors: “Share these press guidelines from Chochmat Nashim with the Jewish media.”
  3. When I clicked over to see who is behind the Chochmat Nashim website, I found this statement:

We partner with leading organizations that share our goals and values, such as ITIMKolechThe Center for Women’s JusticeMavoi SatumYad La’isha and the International Young Israel Movement, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), as well as members of Knesset, social activists, community rabbis and religious leaders.

And again, the alarm bells started ringing very loudly. Apart from the International Young Israel Movement, all the other organisations are linked to and / or receiving money from the Reform movement, and / or the New Israel Fund.

Here’s some examples:

ITIM – Has a bunch of ‘Jewish Federation’ sponsors plus donors who like to emphasize promoting ‘Jewish pluralism’ and ‘tikkun olam’ in Israel – key Reform phrases.

Kolech – Got more than $50k from the New Israel Fund last year

The Center for Women’s Justice – Got $26,750 from the New Israel Fund last year

Mavoi Satum – Got $49,000 from the New Israel Fund last year

Yad L’Isha – Got $34,000 from the New Israel Fund last year.

It’s suspiciously hard to find any transparent funding information for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, but when I went over to their UK website, I discovered that one of their past Executive Directors is none other than my very own ‘ortho-fem’ from Modiin, – who is now working for the New Israel Fund and studying to be a reform ‘rabbi’.

So now, tell me why I should be taking ‘Chochmat Nashim’s’ claim to be an ‘orthodox’ website for women seriously, when they are ‘partnered’ with a whole bunch of organisations that are being directly funded by the New Israel Fund and Reform?

The more I’m looking into this topic, the more it stinks to high heaven.

The ‘ortho fem’ movement is being funded and organised by people who openly state they want to take down orthodox Judaism.

Caveat emptor.

==

You might also like these articles:

The First Feminist in Israel

Healthy role models for Jewish women

Yesterday, I went back to Hevron, to go and so some hitbodedut at the Mearat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

So often, when I’m struggling with big decisions, big confusions, big inner turmoil, I’ve gone back to sit at a holy place – like Hevron, like Kever Rochel, like the Baba Sali, like Uman – and the clouds start to part, and a light starts to shine on a way out of the madness.

Like everyone else, I have a lot going on.

So, I was in Hevron yesterday, pondering on a lot of different things, when I happened to pick up a little booklet of Rav Shalom Arush’s ‘pearls of emuna’, that someone had left next to the grille overlooking the tomb of Avraham.

I picked it up, opened it up randomly, and got to a passage that (from memory) said something like this:

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan that the whole point of life is to keep giving the honor, the kavod, back to Hashem. And human beings are very bad at this, and they just want to keep trying to wrestle the honor that’s due to God back to themselves, in all types of different ways.

He brought direct quotes from Likutey Moharan, but I can’t remember the reference. But that was the gist.

And as always, it dealt so precisely with so many of the things I’m wrestling with, right now.

Like, why I am so terribly bothered and disturbed by all the rampant ‘self-promotion’ that’s going on all over the place, where even the yearning for geula seems to have been harnessed to a Paypal account.

And like, why I’m so terribly bothered by all these ‘rockstar rabbis’ and ‘rockstar rabbanits’ who speak so very eloquently, and who plaster themselves all over Youtube, and who seem to pop up like a rash on colorful glossy posters on lampposts and walls all over the Holy City of Jerusalem (and elsewhere…)

And like, why it upsets me so much that so very many of our ‘leaders’ – religious and otherwise – are clearly just ‘leading’ because of what’s in it for them, and their egos, and their bank accounts, and their social media following.

God is out the picture, fundamentally, even in the orthodox Jewish world.

So few people today are doing their Torah classes lishma, in order to give the honor due to God.

That’s strong language, I know, so let me try to explain what I’m talking about with some real-life examples.

A few years’ back, one of my neighbors strong-armed me into attending a ‘self-development / emuna’ workshop, by a well-known ‘rockstar rabbanit’ type in her home, because the rabbanit wanted a guarantee that at least 10 people would commit, “to make it worth her while”.

I baulked when my neighbor told me the cost was 50 shekels a class, and that I’d have to pay 400 shekels up front, to cover the whole 8 weeks.

Why so expensive?! I wanted to know.

Then I went to check out the slick website, the slick promo video, and I saw I’m dealing with a serious business person here, who is packaging their ‘Torah’ in a very commercially-sensible way. And I could see how making it financially ‘worth her while’ was actually the goal, the focus, of everything she was doing.

And then I baulked even more, because we’re warned away from people who turn their Torah learning into a ‘hammer’ with which to build up their own personality cults, and bank accounts.

But my neighbor wouldn’t relent, so I agreed to come and try one class (for 50 shekels…) and then to decide if I wanted to continue. I sat there, listening to some very warped ideas about how we can ‘force’ God to do what we want, and to give us what we want, and I came away extremely disturbed.

Because that’s total baloney. The real definition of emuna is accepting God’s will happily, while trying to work on the bad middot that are ‘blocking’ all the good stuff that God wants to send down to us.

But I guess that’s not such a commercially-viable message, and that no-one would want to pay 50 shekels a class just to be told their own bad middot are causing them all the problems.

Another time, a different ‘rockstar rabbnit’ rolled into town, and again it was an-singing, all-dancing event that was so expensive to attend, it actually provoked a storm of outrage in the village.

Why so expensive?! Everyone wanted to know.

But then, when you saw the fancy venue that was hired, and the expensive light and sound crew, and you counted the number of dancers, and comedians, and singers and performers who were the ‘warm up’ for that rockstar rabbanit, it all made perfect sense.

It was slick entertainment being packaged as Torah, and it was totally focused on the ‘feel-good’ factor, instead of the ‘actually becoming good’ factor – which again, is a much harder sell, commercially.

Again, I came away with a very uncomfortable feeling about it all, especially when I saw the queue of women lining up to get a ‘blessing’ and advice from the rabbanit after the show. I know firsthand how much damage bad advice can do to people who have been fooled into believing they’re dealing with a bona fide tzaddik.

You throw away your own critical thinking, you override your own gut feelings – and ultimately, the person isn’t really a tzaddik, doesn’t have any more of a connection to God than you do, and is really just dressing their own opinions and biases up as ‘ruach hakodesh’, or some sort of prophetic spirit.

In a nutshell: it’s extremely dangerous.

Another time, I was strong-armed into attending yet another Torah class given by yet another ‘rockstar rabbanit’, this time in Jerusalem. Again, I was left underwhelmed by the quality of the Torah being taught, and the character of the person giving it over, and overwhelmed by the insistence of the helper who waved her ‘donation cannister’ in the face of everyone who entered the room, and demanded a 30 shekel ‘donation’ before she’d let you sit down.

Ah, Torah lishma! Torah teaching for its own sake! Torah learning for God!

Not.

Not at all, actually.

I know rabbis and rabbanits need to eat, I really do. I know they need to put food on the table.

But as soon as the financial consideration becomes the imperative, all that person’s Torah, all that person’s wisdom, all that person’s ‘advice’ and insight, it’s all being harnessed to power their own honor and bank account, and God is out of the picture.

Even Rebbe Nachman tells us (in Sefer HaMiddot, Tzaddik, #18):

There is a tzaddik whose fame is reknown, who later falls through lust for money.

I.e., even a bona fide tzaddik can fall into a very bad place when financial considerations becomes the main engine driving their activities.

Also in Sefer HaMiddot (Tzaddik #57), Rabbenu tells us:

There are those that expound on the Torah with eloquence, yet their words lack truth.

But man, do they make for some good entertainment!

The rabbis and rabbanits who are truly serving God lishma, truly teaching Torah lishma, often do so at such an enormous cost to themselves, and their own comfort zone, and their own finances and ego.

That’s one of the ways you can tell who is ‘real’ and who isn’t, in our confused, upside-down, back-to-front world.

I prefer to learn Torah from people who I know from firsthand knowledge often lack the funds to pay their own electricity bills. And who often go into enormous debt putting out Torah teachings, or building new kollels and yeshivas, as Rav Natan did on behalf of Rebbe Nachman, and Breslov chassidut. And who literally go through a ‘fire and water’ of disgrace and humiliation, because they want all the honor to go to God, and not to become some ‘big name’ on the Torah circuit.

Personally, I’m not on that level, no-where near it. While I’m clearly not writing to earn money (haha!) I still write to feel good about myself, to feel as though I’m doing something useful in the world. It’s not 100% lishma, it’s not totally for God

And that’s why it’s so humbling for me to watch and experience how it looks when Torah is truly being learned and taught – and lived – lishma.

This Torah isn’t light entertainment, this Torah doesn’t make for pretty Youtube videos, the people teaching this Torah aren’t showing up on the roster of speakers at the Dead Sea for Pesach.

This Torah is challenging the listeners – continually – to put their hand up and admit they aren’t perfect, and that they need to knuckle down and work on their own characters and relationships.

And that’s just not something anyone wants to pay good money to hear, is it?

But this Torah makes it blindingly clear that the honor belongs to God.

And no-one else.

And that’s how I know it’s real.

=======

UPDATE: I had a question about how paying a tzaddik a pidyon nefesh relates to what I’ve described above. BH, I will collate a bunch of sources, and answer that with some daas Torah next week some time.

It’s a complicated subject, so I can understand the confusion, and with God’s help, I will try to clarify the difference.

The last few weeks, I have to admit I’ve been struggling.

First I had that three weeks of ‘flu’, or whatever massive physical detox that actually was. Then, a lot of the things I’ve been working on the last little while started unraveling again, at least in my head.

I had issues on Sasson with a writer who was plagiarizing other people’s work, but didn’t seem to understand the problem when I explained it to them – repeatedly. Then, one by one the writers all seemed to get a little discouraged, and the creativity started drying up. I tried geeing it up with ‘themes’ and offers of monthly columns, but the people in the US really wanted to be paid to contribute regularly, and the people in Israel all got too busy with other stuff to be able to write.

Then, I had the issue with the pictures of women, which was the cue for someone who doesn’t even write for Sasson to send me a massively self-righteous email, knocking for me being so small-minded, judgmental and ‘anti-equality’.

So, my motivation to continue kind of sagged, because what’s the point?

Then, I spent two whole days  trying to stick up the back posts from Emunaroma 2017 on to this site, and as I was reading through them, I started to feel like why did I waste so much of my time writing this stuff? What’s the point?

At the same time, one of my teens has been extremely challenging the last few weeks, as mentioned HERE. She wants a nice, clean, new house. She wants a different kitchen. She wants a different bathroom, and for the apartment to be in a different part of Jerusalem.

After everything that happened with the house, I sympathise with her a lot, but it’s still sometimes rubbing salt in the wound when she stomps around complaining about how old and yucky and moldy everything is.

Mold always shows up in old apartments in Israel when it rains. And sure enough, I’m catching it spread across whole walls, and popping up behind a bed in our room, and behind the shelves and bookcase in the girl’s room.

Ah, now I understand why the rent was so reasonable.

In the meantime, my heart kind of sank again, because if it was my house, I’d do my best to tackle the mold problem fundamentally. But as it isn’t, all I can do is keep returning every few days with some wipees and bleach. I know it’ll be back again in a week or two, so again I had that feeling what’s the point?

Then I started reading an absolutely awful book – with no less than three rabbinic approbations! – which basically claimed that living in Eretz Yisrael is a total waste of time, and even a ‘sin’, because the State of Israel was created by reshaim who were using the State to uproot and replace religion and Torah.

That last bit is correct, but the rest of the author’s ideas – about massive Tzaddikim who live here being ‘reshaim gemorim’, or that the Six Days War was totally not miraculous, or that a Jew can live a perfectly nice life in Lakewood (without the high taxes, army service and threat of a nuclear Iran) – and be a better Jew than someone who sacrificed so much to live in the Holy Land totally and utterly depressed me.

The book is 1500 pages long, and by the middle, I started to doubt my own sanity for believing in the geula and Moshiach.

My husband saw what was going on, and took the book away to throw it out. I should have guessed it was bad news, and it had a whole chapter devoted to the ‘Erev Rav’ (who of course, only live in Israel….), and was packed to the gills full of lashon hara, arrogance and anti-emuna statements.

I learnt some interesting stuff still, which I may write about another time, but only if it’s going to help bring Am Yisrael more together, not divide us.

But I started to see why so many of the ‘ultra-orthodox’ Jews in the US and UK have absolutely no desire to make aliya – and even think it’s a mitzvah to look down on people who did, and to disdain those of us who really do believe that you should be ready for Moshiach every day, every moment, even if it’s never going to happen in your own lifetime.

There have been a few more disappointments and disses going on too, behind the scenes, which meant by the time we got to yesterday, I was feeling like my whole life is a total waste of time.

Not just what’s the point of writing? But, what’s the point of me?

Yesterday, I tried to do an imperfect long chat to God about it all, and by the end of that, I was in floods of tears.

I just felt so low and worthless, like whatever I do just fails and is pointless.

I drove out to Ashdod to take a look at the sea, and I felt a bit better. But when I got home, it all came crashing back down on me.

You’re pointless, Rivka. Nothing you do is ever going to get anywhere. You’ve been living in fantasy world getting ready for geula and Moshiach for the last 13 years, when you could have just stayed in London and enjoyed yourself. What an idiot, that you gave up your career and your house and your social group for this.

Man, it was bad.

I was a gibbering wreck when my husband came home, and I couldn’t even tell him what the problem was for the first two hours, I was crying so much and feeling so pointless.

I went to have a shower (that often helps when you’re in the middle of a nervous breakdown, btw), and by the time I was done, I could explain the issue.

I’m worthless, and nothing I’ve done matters in any way, shape or form. I have totally wasted my life, the last few years.

He looked at me blankly.

Then, he started the fight back.

I’m doing a little better today, although I’m still pretty shaky.

I’m still struggling to believe that I’m worth something, even if I’m not earning money. And that I’m a good enough mum, even if we live in an apartment that’s covered with mold and that doesn’t have a lot of home-made cookies in the pantry. And that I’m a good enough Jew, even though I have been finding so many things difficult recently, and I’ve run out of spiritual energy on so many fronts.

Of course, it was only after my total freak-out that I realized it’s Rosh Chodesh Adar – uniformly the most challenging time of the year. Last year, I signed the contract on the awful apartment on Rosh Chodesh Adar, and we all know what a ‘blessing’ that turned into.

I know we’re taught Adar is when the happiness appears, but my experience is that usually, the lead up to Purim is the darkest time of the year, and it’s only on Purim day itself that the heaviness starts to lift, and the light starts to shine through again.

And this year, we have two Adars!

We need all the help we can get, to make it through to Pesach in one piece.


After I wrote this, I checked my emails and found that Mary in NY had sent me this clip, from Rav Ofer Erez.

It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it explains (with English subtitles in 3 1/2 minutes) why we’re all feeling the pressure right now.

Over to Rav Ofer: