Welcome to TheCollegeRabbi.com

birthright adAre you a Jewish college student? Do you feel disconnected from the Jewish community? Is the Jewish community on your campus too small? Is there a large Jewish Student Union but it’s just “not your scene”?

Maybe you run the show. You’re a small Jewish college community that would like to provide more from their students, but just don’t have the resources.

I’m here for you. I am the College Rabbi and I can provide the Jewish resources you need. I’m here to answer questions, provide resources, and just to talk to if you need.

Feel free to surf the pages of this site. Also, enjoy the blog!

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9/11′s Bar Mitzvah

Numbers are very significant in Judaism and the number 13 very much so.  13 is the number that signifies maturity and adulthood.  G-d’s attributes of mercy, both those formulated in Exodus 34:6-7 and in Micah 7, are formulated in terms of 13, demonstrating that the way of the adult is to conduct themselves with mercy and forgiveness.  So on this the 13th anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers it behooves us to reflect deeper on those events.

“Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.” Gn. 14:4

The Abir Yaakov says the events in Genesis 14, the War of the Four and Five Kings, allude to a great spiritual truth.  Chedorlaomer is symbolic of the Evil Inclination, which a child is completely subservient to.  Only in the 13th year when a child reaches adulthood do they have the ability to “rebel”, to subdue their passions and wants to clear logic and moral reasoning.  Man is naturally motivated by emotions but as an adult we are mandated to either ignore them or direct them in the right direction.

Some will always grieve.  I’m not speaking about the families because they are grieving for loved ones, a terrible lose I can’t imagine and don’t wish on anyone.  I’m talking about those people who grieve for the simpler life before 9/11/01, the generation I grew up in that was criticized by their parents for being angry about nothing while they had Vietnam hanging over their heads.  Others will be angry because they feel their rights to safety and security have been permanently breached.  There will be those still calling for blood and those urging tolerance, some even to the point of apologizing on behalf of the terrorists.  In truth, none of these approaches are appropriate anymore.

As adults, a generation that has reached maturity in respect to 9/11, we need to take a different approach, a rational approach, and an active approach.  We have enough facts to know what motivated these people and should know enough that we can stop people from getting sucked into these kinds of activities.  We need to engage in more acts of kindness, the simple kind like holding a door for someone.  We need to take an interventionalist approach to our friends and families lives, that if we see someone involved in something dangerous, we need to show our concern and step in, before they make a rash decision that may cause them to hurt themselves and/or others.

But on top of this, we need to become better informed about the positions we take and who we vote for.  Most of us take the positions we do because our gut told us to.  This is not how an adult should conduct themselves.  Adults are supposed to take the time to do research, evaluate the situation, and make decisions based on logic.   We need to move as a society from raw emotion to thoughtful reflection or risk never being able to.  Let us hope this year can be a year of healing for our nation.

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Birthright: Come See For Yourself!

As bad as the 4000+ rockets that were fired into Israel during Operation Protective Edge were for Israel, the PR war arguably took a worse toll on it.   Jews all over the world suffered collateral damage for “Israeli aggression” along with their Israeli brothers and sisters, which was nothing of the sort.  A synagogue in France was attacked and Jews were murdered in cold blood in Belgium.  “Peace” demonstrations all over the world turned into anti-Semitic hate fests.  #Hitlerwasright trended on Twitter.

Meanwhile back on campus, Israel’s story is seldom heard.  Numerous student organizations have taken the position that Israel is a massive violator of human rights, possibly the worst in the world, and have organized campaigns as BDS and Mock Evictions which have served not only to demonize Israel but intimidate Jewish students at colleges in America and beyond.  Many if not most academics in Middle Eastern and Judaic studies have largely accepted the Israel-as-oppressor narrative and teach it in the classroom.  At the same time major Jewish organizations are debating whether or not to include anti-Zionist voices such as J Street at the table.  One really has to ask: is it all true?  Is Israel really that bad?

There is a way, a great FREE way to find out for yourself. Taglit-Birthright Israel is a program that’s been in existence for 20 years sending Jews ages 18-26 the opportunity for a whirlwind adventure to explore the country for themselves.  They get to visit major historical and archaeological sites, go on hikes, hear speakers, and a taste of the religious side of things.  Many different Birthright programs exist all with different focuses and lengths of time.  I was pleased as punch that Yael Adventures reached out to me and asked me if I could let students know about their exciting 10-day trip.  While I haven’t had the opportunity to go on it myself (sob sob), it looks like a very well-rounded and substantive itinerary.   They visit the holy city of Tzfat and modern metropolis Tel Aviv.  There’s hiking on Masada and rafting in the Jordan River.  They even do Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel (Western Wall), which is a must in my humble rabbinic opinion.  The hotel is in walking distance of Meir Shearim so you can go tisching as well Friday night if you like.  If you don’t know what these things are you will learn quickly.

For more information call 781-715-1126 or write recruiters@freeisraeladventures.com and tell them the College Rabbi send you.  Registration for Winter 2014-2015 has already begun.

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Inreach at Club Orthodox

I wish I could say that I involve myself with college students because everything is cool in the Orthodox community and that we are having no issues with retention.  This is unfortunately not true and a lot of ink has been spilled over the problem.  Basically there’s been two basic schools of thought on how to make Judaism more appealing: make it fun (R’ Fink) or make it educational (R’ Sommer).   In truth both have a point.  Judaism was never like the Amish Church and it was never meant to be held to be an ideal.  Therefore, those who wish to create a more inclusive, welcoming, warm, happy environment in the Orthodox world are certainly right to do so.  However, it’s also true that Orthodoxy is not a social club and should never become one.  Judaism is ultimately about service of G-d and fulfilling His commandments, and once that ceases to be the focus Judaism loses its raison d’être.

The fact of the matter is that it’s Judaism’s message, and any religion’s message for that matter, that is its main selling point.  No religious service no matter how cool or freaky will ever have the pure pleasure aspects of secular culture nor can it rid itself of its inherently sectarian nature that hard-line secularists love to demonize it more.  That’s why I actually took offense on behalf of Mormons for R’ Fink’s left-handed compliment of their success.   The reason they have the kind of communal atmosphere that he would like to see in our community is because it is a natural extension of their belief system, and the reason Mormonism is a draw is people see that, regardless of how far out some of their beliefs actually are.   R’ Sommer is dead on that the focus of any in-reach or outreach movement within Judaism must come from our main selling points: we possess the G-d given truth that our ancestors received from Sinai and living our lives in accordance with the Torah’s tenets is not only the right thing to do but the thing that is ultimately what will benefit its practitioners the best.

However as R’ Fink points out, there is a numbers game aspect to it.  Every Jew who gets disconnected from Torah is literally being cut off from the source of life and we can’t just write it off as collateral damage.  We all know: he who saves a life saves the world entire.  So R’ Fink is correct that Judaism needs to be experiential and a positive experience.  We need to make the part of Jewish life that is outside the classroom less like a classroom. I would say the #1 activity in the Orthodox community being offered is shiurim.  There must be other ways to communicate the message without making life like school because many people were just not cut out to spend their lives in a classroom and are alienated by the current structure of the Orthodox community.  And it’s not like we have no precedent.  Bakashot Shabbat mornings, the Hassidishe tishe.   These are the kind of activities I believe R’ Fink is alluding to, activities that encourage bonding and the social aspect and education comes along for the ride.

We absolutely must teach proofs of G-d, but how is the question.  We can be creative and we must be creative.  And as both of these rabbis acknowledge, we can always use improvement in our interpersonal skills in general.  But this should go without saying.

 

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Yeshivish vs. Modern Orthodox Day Schools Round 2

The debate between Yeshivish vs. Modern Orthodox approaches to learning is far from over.  However, based on the responses given now, over a week since Part 1 went down, I think the winner is fairly clear:

Rabbi Sommer’s response, which I recommend reading, outlines an approach to learning that many educators have been voicing for some time, and rightly so: the curriculum has to change to focus on core knowledge such as Tanakh (Bible) and Mishnah and push Gemara to later.  However, it’s also an implicit concession to Rabbi Student that summer camp is not THE solution to our education woes, nor is turning school into summer camp the way to go.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have moved the discussion to content.  Rabbi Student shows of course that these questions have been raised in the Yeshivish world as well, which has given rise to the Zilberman Method.  The solution to our education woes is in education, serious education, education a la the Yeshivish approach, whatever form that does or will ultimately look like.  Point Rabbi Student.

There is a difference however between Rabbi Sommer’s outline for education and that of Zilberman and it does need mention.  Rabbi Sommer’s approach is informed by modern scholarship.  On this point he makes a strong case.  It’s not that the points in modern education scholarship (that are correct and effective) cannot be found throughout the Talmudic and Rabbinic literature, such as the Jigsaw Method and hands-on learning.  However, the academic institutions have fine-tuned them, systematized them, and made them workable for the classroom.  Teachers from the all walks would do well to receive formal training in curriculum development, testing design, and some of the other methodologies taught in Education programs.  Point Rabbi Sommer.

One thing I have noticed, a misunderstanding that appears in Rabbi Sommer’s piece as well as Zilber’s, is the understanding of what the Mishnah in Avot means at age 5 Mikrah, 10 Mishnah, and 15 Gemara.  While it is clear what Mikrah is, which is Bible literacy, Mishnah and Gemara are misunderstood.  Mishnah in the language of the Mishnah is rote teaching whereas Gemara is deeper understanding.  If we are really to meet the mandate of the Mishnah, ironically we must introduce Gemara early.  We just need to do it differently.  We need to treat learning Gemara at the early years as a reading exercise, since the research shows children learn language easier at early ages, and the Gemara has a language of its own.  What makes it easier is somewhere around 80% of all of the vocabulary in the Gemara can be found in about 20 pages.  The definitions have changed radically and Gemara now is every much as part of Mikrah as Tanakh was in the time of the Mishnah, a text that was only officially codified around the year 90 according to Dr. Lawrence Shiffman.   So the yeshivot are right to introduce Gemara early.  The question is how.  Point Rabbi Student.

Will there be a Round 3???

Posted in nomorethodoxy, Q & A, study skills, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yeshivish vs. Modern Orthodox Day Schools Round 1

I was just privy to a spirited debate on Twitter between two colleagues of mine over this article:

The debate centered around who’s approach in Jewish education was really winning the hearts and minds of our children: the Yeshivish (otherwise known as Lithuanian Haredi or ultra-Orthodox [sic]) or the Modern Orthodox approach.  As true scholars actually looking for truth, they both acknowledged the relative merits of each other’s approach.  Still, I think it a worthy endeavor to weed out some of the emotional talk and actually weigh up the two sides.

Yeshivish: The Yeshivish philosophy is that Torah, as the word of G-d, must be studied intently by everyone to the exclusion of other considerations.  This means that students study Torah, particularly Talmud, for large parts of the day with secular studies taking a back seat.  It’s intense and serious, and there’s very little time for recreation of any type.

Wins:

  • Students generally demonstrate a high level of observance and many desire to increase their observance levels
  • Overall retention rates are high
  • Torah scholarship is high and they are producing most of the major Torah scholars now
  • Students marry, marry early, and marry within the tribe

Losses

  • High level of stricture means some kids have no place and slip through the cracks
  • Some students who rebel rebel hard and become anti, and have even caused great embarrassment to the community through tell-all books and TV appearances
  • Students less equipped to handle some of the challenges presented by the Western world including academia, atheism, and certain temptations that they only learned were forbidden but not how to deal with them
  • Students less prepared to make a living

Modern Orthodox:  Modern Orthodox says that a Jewish student must be knowledgeable about Judaism and the secular world as well.  The value of Torah and secular studies is equated.  Many schools have incorporated a campy aspect to their Torah curriculum to get the kids to love Judaism by having fun with it.

Wins:

  • Students highly successful in secular studies, often entering top-notch schools and winning awards
  • Students enter lucrative careers and are often very financially successful
  • Students generally have a positive attitude toward Judaism and a positive self image
  • Students “fit in” to the Western world better and are less intimidated by it

Losses:

  • Retention and observance levels often lower than Yeshivish counterparts
  • Halacha (Jewish law) viewed as the rules for a Jew version of Dungeons & Dragons rather than a function of the Divine Imperative, where either they or their rabbis are the Dungeon Masters
  • Students often have Western attitudes toward sexuality and dating, leading to more secular patterns of dating, marriage, and divorce
  • Learning levels tend to be much lower and students are often neither inspired to continue lifelong Torah learning or even can without the assistance of English learning aids such as Artscroll

I guarantee the two gentlemen I am addressing this post to will take issue with at least some of the points I have made.  I wrote this to further discussion, not end it.

Round 2, fight!

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Sam HarriS’ Silly Semitic MiStakeS

I’m always interested in hearing a different perspective on controversial topics, even though I know going in I’m highly unlikely to agree with the viewpoint. Sam Harris’ recent defense of his own unwillingness not to bash Israel over the current conflagration in the Middle East did not disappoint.  I was really wondering how he was going to turn the crisis into a referendum on religion in general but I was taken aback how much he was willing to slam Israel for existing even as he was “defending” it.  I was unaware of his position that Israel’s existence was illegitimate simply because of the fact that it was founded as a “Jewish and democratic state” and since Judaism is a religion, a country could not be founded based on it.  I found his defense of his position not to criticize Israel very confused and self contradictory, and most of all completely uninformed.

I do not want this piece to become another piece of hasbara, because the issues with his positions go far beyond not knowing the historical background of the conflict.  His fallacies fall into three major areas: ignorance of Judaism, Middle East history, and a confused moral system.  In order not to distract from the major issues, I will simply add some links about Judaism’s approach to Zionism and Middle East history.  See at the end of the article.   I would hope that after he informed himself about these issues he might be in a better position to make public statements on the issue.

I want to hone in on the morality issue, as this is where Mr. Harris makes the crux of his argument.  I can see where many people might want to dismiss Jewish and Arab historical claims to the land as a “he said, she said” kind of thing.  Let’s remove all consideration of these factors and hone in on Mr. Harris’ wildly spinning moral compass.  If he’s willing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, on whatever grounds he is, shouldn’t Israel be able to defend itself?  Should Israel’s right to defend itself be strictly limited to the bare minimal and have to maximize risk to its own military and citizens in order to minimize casualty on the other side?  Does the fact that Israel is fighting an existential war change the rules of the level of conduct by which it must engage in war?

Actually, there is only one real question: where is he getting his ideas about what is or is not okay in warfare?  If he wants to take a Kantian approach, then the best place to look would probably be the Geneva Conventions, a generally accepted warfare practices guide. There it spells out what war crimes actually are: attacking civilian populations, using human shields, perfidy etc… By Sam Harris’ own admission Israel is not engaging in those behaviors, and is doing everything to minimize civilian casualties.  The concept of collateral damage is acknowledged and a nation that accidentally kills civilians while engaged in acceptable military behavior is not guilty of war crimes.  So how could he possibly say that he is certain Israel is engaging in war crimes?  If he is using his own conscience as the source of what constitutes a war crime, he has already proved that is an invalid place to start given his willingness to pass judgement and make assumptions without being informed of the facts on the ground.  If he says he’s sure something happened, but has no proof, then we have no reason to accept his certainty as anything but conjecture.

But it gets worse for him.   Why shouldn’t two nations at war be able to engage in total annihilation policies?  This is the way most nations engaged in warfare for much of human history, and the Middle East still operates on this principle.  Multigenerational blood feuds are not uncommon in the Middle East.  The Sunni-Shiite struggle is almost 1,400 years and counting.  If anywhere, it might be said that the Torah that he so much demonizes could  be considered the source for treating civilians and soldiers differently.  In the Humash (Pentateuch), G-d forbids the Jews from waging war with Edom, Moav, and Ammon despite the fact that they are blocking their way into the land of Israel.  Even when Israel is waging a revenge war against Midian they are ordered to spare some of the women as they could not be considered enemy combatants (Nm. 31), keeping in mind of course that the women who were killed were involved in a very unusual type of non-conventional warfare (Nm. 25:1-8).  The Jews spared some of the enemy Canaanites and gave them sanctuary after making promises not to destroy them despite the fact that the sanctuary was granted under false pretenses (Jo. 9).  The Torah, while technically permitting a forced relationship during combat, implicitly discourages it (Dt. 21:10-23), and Israeli soldiers have taken the Torah’s words to heart on this issue.  In fact, without the Torah’s injunctions to limit the scope of warfare, where would he get the idea that there’s such a thing as war crimes?  I think most people agree war sucks, but if you accept the fact that sovereign nations can engage in warfare to protect the interests of their populations, why must they have any regard for the lives of their enemies?

The problem becomes more acute when you take into account Mr. Harris’ position that morality is a kind of scientific Epicureanism with Utilitarian overtones.  He assumes that increasing happiness (as measured scientifically) for the most number of people defines what is moral and can be addressed largely in terms of meeting people’s physical wants and needs, although I would think he will concede to Maslow that higher order types of pleasures of self-actualization are actually the real goal.  There’s two problems with this.  First, it is very easy to use such a moral system to justify genocide of a small population if it will bring happiness to the general population.  Second, happiness is not held by all cultures to be the end determinant of what’s moral.  He’s clearly not familiar with the Jewish moral principle that the determination of what’s moral comes from obeying the will G-d and not from a pleasure principle as the final end.  In fact, one of the terms used in the Rabbinic literature for a heretic is an Apikorus, derived from its attitude toward the philosophy of Epicurus.   Edward Said, the famous Palestinian thinker, devoted an entire work called Orientalism to discussing the issue of Western thinkers misunderstanding or disregarding the cultural factors in moral, ethical, and political decision making.  As framed specifically in the context of this conflict, R’ Meir Kahane said that Israelis failed to understand the reason that their peace overtures and promises of material prosperity fell on deaf ears because the Palestinians would prefer to have THEIR outhouses to Israeli toilets.  Some even believe there’s a moral imperative to suffer or even die to achieve a lofty etherial goal that may or may not bring them pleasure in the conventional Western sense.

Reflecting on Mr. Harris’ half-hearted defense of Israeli conduct has made me realize one of the reasons hard scientists mock the social sciences and humanities.  The social sciences and humanities are not really scientific and suggest there is something to the human condition besides a mass of sophisticated organic chemicals interacting with one another.  Sam Harris runs into a major brick wall when making declarations about morality: without G-d, where does morality come from?  It’s an issue that philosophers have tried to address but have failed since every theory of morality without G-d ultimately breaks down.   This IMHO explains why he can’t actually take a definitive position for one side or the other and lacks moral clarity at a fundamental level.

References:

Jews are Indigenuous

Israellycool.com

ElderofZiyon.com

Israelnationalnews.com

timesofisrael.com

Torahtruejews.com *

* While the Neturai Karta distorts what our great rabbis have said to take an extreme position that has earned them the rare honor of banned from the Jewish community, they nonetheless have thoroughly documented not only Orthodox objections to Zionism but also some of the more shameful moments of early Zionist history. However, one should do their due diligence in fact checking before accepting their reports out of hand.

Posted in current events, Israel, philosophical pieces, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Reflections on a Smashed Guitar

It probably wasn’t the most rabbinic way to spend my anniversary, but it was definitely a fun way and not something I had done in years.  I went to see KISS and Def Leopard with my wife, my first time seeing both bands.  If you’ve been following my misadventures here and on Twitter, you will certainly understand how I chose KISS over seeing Nine Inch Nails again (not that the wife would have gone in for that) or Soundgarden.  Not that I have been to many shows since entering yeshiva, for a variety of reasons.  I will have to give KISS serious props for a memorable performance.  The theatrics were up there with Manson and GWAR.

BuyZUvCIgAAZ-EU

There’s a ritual that ends many a rock concert that I hadn’t really given that much to until my wife expressed a bit of horror when she realized what was about to happen.  Smashing the Strat (though an acoustic might work better) the lead guitarist was using after the show is a time-honored if not nonsensical rock tradition.  It’s also incredibly wasteful.  Oddly enough however, it reminded me of an incident in the Talmud (Berachot pg. 30) where both Mar bar Ravina and Rav Ashi both used the smashing of expensive glassware to sober the excessive levity at their sons’ weddings.   While the point was lost on most of the audience, it was not on my wife and her face showed as such.

Thinking about this got me to reflect on a few things that happened that evening that were mentioned by Paul Stanley during the course of the concert:

  1. A truck carrying a bunch of the lighting for the show flipped over.  The driver survived but the equipment did not.  It’s a sobering point to think the people providing entertainment, or anyone just doing their job for that matter, might be risking their life to do so.
  2. Paul mentioned all of the chaos in the world and how we all deserved one night to just get away from it because it will all be there tomorrow waiting for us.   Anyone following the news certainly knows this is true.  And yet how many of us spend more time in the escape than in the real world.   I spend quite a bit of time plugged in but with TV, internet, game consoles, people are spending more time escaping life than confronting it.  Everyone has the ability to positively contribute to fixing the world’s problems, but how many of us actually do?
  3. He also asked the audience if they pray and stated publicly that he did.  I was told by my diehard KISS fan compatriot that Paul has never said anything like this on stage.  Perhaps he was getting the audience to realize something.  They can do something to change the world; they can pray.  The end of the book of Leviticus describes a whole bunch of curses that will befall the Jews for not keeping the Torah, but if you look closely they are not curses at all.  G-d tells the Jews that he will treat them with keri, indifference.  G-d is telling us that the world is a naturally brutal hard place.  However, G-d can and will change nature in a second, if only we pursue a relationship with Him.  The Mishnah of Avot (2:4) tells us that if we make our will His, He will make His will ours.  It’s all about relationship, and Paul Stanley in the Torah spirit encouraged his fans to partake in that relationship through prayer.

On the idea that smashing the guitar is wasteful, smashing things is not always wasteful.  We smash a glass at Jewish weddings to diminish our joy a bit and to remind us of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and in being in exile.  So what might be the value added of destroying a guitar, a Biblical prohibition if there is no purpose (Dt. 20:19-20)?  Not that I’m saying it would qualify, but if I did want to give the rock world a pass on this issue I would it is for the entertainment value.  The Talmud in Taanit 22a says that there were two jesters who were worthy to enter Heaven because they brought joy to the depressed.  In a world where Tisha B’Av* has just ended, it doesn’t look like things will be much better next year.  While we do need to focus on making the world a better place, maybe a distraction isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Even if that distraction has fake blood coming from its mouth and pyrotechnics? Hmm. Maybe.

*Tisha B’Av is the Jewish day of communal mourning.  The destruction of both Temples, the fall of Beitar, the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 and Spain in 1492, and the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto all happened on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av.

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A Note on Jewish Burial Custom

I apologize to Dr. Ehrman for not reading the rest of his article “The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan and Their Significance“.  However, I already see a bunch of concepts relative to Jewish burial that are getting mixed up and I would like to clarify them.  Dr. Ehrman makes the claim that Jesus probably didn’t get a proper burial on the day of his crucifixion.  This would not fit with Jewish practice.  Unless there are extenuating circumstances, Jews always bury as quickly as possible.  For example, Hacham Ovadia Yosef zt”l’s funeral began only 5 hours after his passing. There are two reasons for this: 1. the burial and decomposition of the body atones for the deceased 2. the family can begin the seven day shiva process.  There is the consideration of having enough people present at the burial to give proper honor to the dead, which is often why Jewish burials are mostly conducted the next day in modern times.  Burial is only permitted during the day except in the case of a person who dies in Jerusalem.  There burials take place even at night.  In the case of a crucifixion victim it would be highly likely that Jews would have buried them that day if possible.

On this point, the NT account is correct.  However, Jews often did not bury people permanently at first but rather buried them in temporary graves and then transferred the bones to the family burial chamber.  This article has many of the early Jewish sources that discuss this.  Therefore, accounts of a highly elaborate burial where are permanent chamber was hued for the body of Jesus is highly unlikely, and the account of his death is questionably historical.

Posted in countermissionary, Jewish law, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Mourning Jonah

Every once and awhile the Bible comes to life in a way even I never expect.  One such instance was on YouTube where one of the people I was corresponding with identified himself as Assyrian.  I had assumed probably like most Jews that the Assyrians had vanished off the face of the Earth thousands of years ago or at least assimilated out of existence.  This Assyrian told me that this was not correct, and even more shocking is that he told me the Assyrians felt a certain kinship with the Jews.  The reason for this is because of the prophet Jonah, who the Bible records was swallowed by a fish running from his appointed task of telling the Assyrians to repent and then ultimately delivers the prophecy, is a revered saint by the Assyrians.  The Assyrians until today pay homage to Jonah by visiting his grave in Mosul, Iraq* for saving their community from destruction, despite the fact that they have since converted to Christianity.  For this they not only honor our holy prophet, but the Jews themselves.   Thus, Jonah’s grave not only has significant historical and cultural import, but is also a model of how people of divergent backgrounds can come to a place of mutual respect.

All of this is currently being destroyed.  ISIS, for the assumed reason that they felt Assyrian homage of the prophet Jonah was idolatrous, decided to destroy the gravesite and exhume the body of Jonah.  I don’t know if they were successful in the latter, but they have certainly accomplished the former.  This is one of the most tragic things that could happen in conflict besides for the loss of human life. Burial of the dead is one of the basic signs of humanity and someone that that Talmud calls a complete kindness since the recipient cannot return the favor. Jonah was himself a symbol of kindness, as he came to save Nineveh from the wrath of G-d despite his misgivings for the potential consequences against his own people. The Assyrians have repaid this kindness by the honor they have paid Jonah over the past 2,500+ years. A model of ethics and tolerance is being destroyed and the world is just standing by and watching.

But for the Jews it gets even worse. Besides for Israel itself, the Middle East is the seat of Jewish culture. Jewish communities existed in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran for thousands of years. A number of the traditional sites of the graves prophets are found throughout the Middle East, especially in Iraq where most Jews settled after the destruction of the First Temple. Since most of the communities of the Jews in the Middle East have been uprooted since the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 or later, the only thing that remains are the archaeological artifacts: burned out synagogues, mikvaot, judenrein Jewish quarters, and of course cemeteries. Regardless of whether this grave was actually Jonah’s grave, the tragedy for the Jews is clear. Most of the Middle East has been erased of Jewish inhabitants. Now the memory of our presence is being scrubbed as well. For this the Jews need to mourn as well.

*The article is written with the assumption that this is in fact the grave of Jonah. Another tradition says that his grave is in Mashhad, Israel. While the tradition this article is based on might be incorrect, the message of the article still holds true.

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Knowledge of Good and Evil-A JVO Question

The following question was asked on Jewish Values Online:

How is the Law the knowledge of good and evil?. Is the good and evil related to being in covenant relation with God? So it is good by using it only if you are in a unbroken covenant? Example: The Israelites broke the covenant (see prophet Jeremiah). They await a new covenant not like the Law of Moses. If the Law is the old covenant, is it evil to keep the Law? Is that what the knowledge of good and evil means? Law used in covenant and used out of covenant results in good and evil? All Blessings upon the Israel of God Russ

This is my answer:

http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/1213

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