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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Should Diaspora Jews have a say about the fate of Jerusalem?

The Israeli government (including the current one) has always said no. On most issues I agree with this. If you don't live in the country and share the risks and sacrifices then you don't have a say.

However, Jerusalem is different. Jerusalem is something that all Jews have prayed for for generations. It is the spiritual capital of Judaism. Therefore, I think that all Jews should have a say as to the fate of Jerusalem. We can learn from Yasser Arafat, who at Camp David, said that he could not give the Western Wall to Israel, because Jerusalem belongs to the entire Muslim nation, so he first must go to Cairo and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and ask them for permission. Jerusalem certainly belongs to the entire Jewish nation and therefore Olmert has no right to give it away.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Will Annapolis succeed?

Bernard Lewis (professor emeritus at Princeton) has a brilliant article about the chances of success for the Annapolis conference.

The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, "What is the conflict about?" There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.

If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.

If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.
...
Without genuine acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated.
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A good example of how this problem affects negotiation is the much-discussed refugee question.
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In the other Arab countries, they were and remained stateless aliens without rights or opportunities, maintained by U.N. funding. Paradoxically, if a Palestinian fled to Britain or America, he was eligible for naturalization after five years, and his locally-born children were citizens by birth. If he went to Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, he and his descendants remained stateless, now entering the fourth or fifth generation
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Which brings us back to the Annapolis summit. If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed. And in light of the past record, it is clear that is and will remain the issue, until the Arab leadership either achieves or renounces its purpose -- to destroy Israel. Both seem equally unlikely for the time being.


Until the Arabs accept Israel as a Jewish state there is nothing to talk about. Nothing that has happened recently has changed in terms of their accepting Israel, rather the tactics have changed. Why is it so hard for the leaders of Israel to see this?

This is why organizations like Peace Now are so misguided. They claim that if Israel really wanted to make peace then peace would happen. Unfortunately, they are sadly mistaken. As Bernard Lewis said, If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed, if the other side doesn't want to make peace then peace will not happen. As Professor Robert Auman said The very act of running crazedly after the longed-for peace is precisely that which distances it from us.

Only decisive, unambiguous victory for one side or the other can end a long, bitter conflict. Until Israel learns this there will never be peace. Organizations like Peace Now not only don't bring peace now, but like Neville Chamberlain, actually encourage the other side to continue the battle.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hashgocha Pratis, what does it mean?

I recently saw someone make the following statement on Avoda.

I have heard from a reliable source, in the name of Dayan Abramsky, that "today, anyone who does not believe in the Baal Shem Tov's shita in hashgacha pratis [i.e. the one that the Chinuch rejected] is an apikores".

Here is the opinion that the Chinuch rejected.

Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 169:

There are sects among mankind who maintain that Divine providence controls all the matters of this world… that when a leaf falls from a tree, He decreed that it would fall…. This approach is far-removed from the intellect.

In other words anyone who doesn't believe what the Chinuch called far-removed from the intellect is an apikorsus. Anyone who doesn't believe that everything that happens (even the most insignificant thing like a leaf falling from a tree) is decreed from heaven is an apikorsus.

This kind of statement boggles the mind. Most of the Rishonim including both the Rambam and the Ramban hold like the Chinuch. They state explicitly that except for exceptional tzadikkim everyone is exposed to (chance) מקרה. The amount of hashgocha a person has is directly related to how close they are to Hashem. The average person is very much exposed to chance (the forces of nature etc.).

Interestingly enough this also comes up in this week's parsha (וישב).

When the brothers are planning on killing Yosef, Reuven saves him by suggesting to throw him into the pit. The mefarshim ask what did Reuven accomplish, the pit was very dangerous (full of snakes, etc.), even life threatening. The אור החיים and the אלשיך both answer as follows. A person has בחירה חפשית and therefore the brothers could kill Yosef even if he was not supposed to die. However, animals since they have no בחירה חפשית cannot kill someone if he is not supposed to die. In other words, בחירה חפשית trumps hashgocha pratis. A person can be killed even though there was no gezera on him to die. The Netziv gives this answer as well, however he qualifies it by saying that this only applies to someone who is not a צדיק גמור, but a צדיק גמור cannot be harmed even through בחירה חפשית (as both the Rambam and the Ramban say that the closer a person is to Hashem the more hashgacha they have).

Believe it or not people defend the original statement (anyone who does not believe in the Baal Shem Tov's shita in hashgacha pratis is an apikores) as follows.

Many rishonim lived before the discovery of the Zohar, and all lived before the AriZal and the Baal Shem Tov, so they were missing information. The AriZal was taught by Eliyahu Hanavi, and the Baal Shem Tov by Achiyah Hashiloni, and therefore knew things that had been completely forgotten in previous generations.

In my mind this is very dangerous if not apikorsus. This destroys the whole idea of the mesora. What happened to לא בשמים היא? How can we believe that the Rishonim מפיהם אנו חיים for life and death issues could be so mistaken on such a fundamental issue? How can we think that they were missing such a vital chunk of the mesora?

It is also based on "chassidishe maases". Was the Baal Shem Tov really taught by Ahiyah Hashiloni? The Gra and all those who opposed (and still oppose) chasidus obviously did not think so.

In any case the fact is that many Acharonim after the Ari and the Besht agreed with the Rishonim.

The Meshech Chochma( Shemos 13:9)writes:

Divine Providence is manifest for each Jew according to his spiritual level as the Rambam explains in Moreh Nevuchim (3:18): Divine Providence is not equal for everyone but rather is proportional to their spiritual level. Consequently the Divine Providence for the prophets is extremely powerful each according to their level of prophecy. The Divine Providence for the pious and saintly is according to their level of perfection. In contrast the fools and the rebels lacking spirituality are in essence in the same category as animals... This concept that Divine Providence is proportional to spiritual level is one of foundations of Judaism...

The Meshech Chochma died less then a hundred years ago, did he not know the Ari and the Besht?

What is even more interesting is that the Or Hachaim Hakadosh was a Kabbalist after the Ari and he still says what he says in this week's parsha (see above). The Alshich was a talmid of the Ari, and the Netziv bases this idea on the Zohar. They didn't know the Ari's shita?

This is historical revisionism at it's worst.

I think that the Besht's shita has been accepted in the last 50 years for the following reasons:
1. It is theologically simple. It is a very black and white answer which fits into the current Charedi mindset and it promotes emuna peshuta
2. It is as the Chinuch wrote far-removed from the intellect, which fits the current anti-intellectual climate
3. It fits very well with a Torah only mindset. If everything (even a leaf falling) is from Hashem then Torah only makes a lot of sense. Everything else doesn't count anyway.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Now Olmert is giving them armored vehicles

Believe it or not Olmert is giving the PA armored cars. PM agrees to give PA 25 armored cars. Every day that passes he sinks to a new low. It was bad enough to give them automatic weapons and ammunition but armored cars? Does anyone have a doubt that these will be used against Israel? It is amazing how the 1990's is repeating itself right before our eyes, I feel like I am in the movie Groundhog Day. A peace conference that has no chance at succeeding. Concession after concession to the Palestinians. Giving the PA weapons to "fight" terror. We tried all of these in the 1990's and they all blew up in our faces. Why can't we learn from history?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dina and Yosef

In last week's parsha (ויצא) we have the story of the birth of Dina. Rashi there comments (based on the Medrash) that Leah understood that she was pregnant with a boy and if she had another boy then Rachel would only have 1 of the shevatim, therefore she davened and Hashem made a miracle and turned the baby into a girl, Dina.

There are a number of problems with this Rashi as well as with the whole story of Dina.

In Parshas ויגש, the Torah writes when it lists the descendents of Yaakov, ואת דינה בתו. Rashi comments (based on the Gemara in Nidda) that we see that the Torah calls Dina the daughter of Yaakov to show us that the father is responsible for having a daughter. The Maharsha there asks, what is the proof from Dina, after all Dina started off as a boy (per the medrash in ויצא) and therefore how can any proof be brought from Dina?

Another problem that comes up in Parshas Vayigash is that Rashi comments (based on the medrash) on the pasuk ושאול בן הכנענית, that after what happened with Shechem, Dina made Shimon promise to marry her. The obvious question is how could Shimon marry Dina, his full sister? Even though there is a machlokes whether the shevatim had the status of klal yisrael and had to keep all the mitzvos, they certaionly had to keep the 7 mitzvos of בני נח, and one of those is arayos which prohibits them to marry their sister from their mother.

Both the Tur and the Maharsha answer based on the תרגום יונתן in ויצא. The תרגום יונתן explains the birth of Dina as follows. Both Leah and Rachel were pregnant, Leah was pregnant with Yosef and Rachel with Dina and miraculously the fetuses were switched. Therefore, Dina was always a girl and the proof from the pasuk (that the man is responsible for girls) is fine because Yaakov caused Dina to be a girl. Also, since Yosef and Dina were switched, על פי הלכה Leah was not Dina's mother, rather Rachel was and a בן נח is allowed to marry his sister from his father.

This Tur however, raises another question, what about Yosef? Who על פי הלכה is considered to be his mother? If it is Leah, then what good was the נס? Rachel still ended up with only 1 of the shevatim. Therefore we need to differentiate and say that both Dina and Yosef were Rachel's children.

When we consider how the halacha determines who the the mother of a baby is there are 3 possible alternatives:
1. Whoever conceives the child
2. Wherever the fetus is 40 days after conception (as until then it is considered מיא בעלמא and for example you are allowed to daven for the sex of the child)
3. Whoever gives birth

We see that the Tur cannot hold from 1 because even though Yosef was conceived by Leah he is considered Rachel's son. The Tur cannot hold from 3 either as the Tur holds that Dina was considered Rachel's daughter even though Leah gave birth to her. It would seem that the Tur holds like option 2.

With this we can say the following about Yosef. Leah was pregnant with Yosef but it was before 40 days while Rachel was pregnant with Dina and it was after 40 days. Therefore when they switched Yosef was less then 40 days so he was considered Rachel's son as on day 40 he was in Rachel's womb, while Dina had already passed day 40 in Rachel's womb so she was considered Rachel's daughter even though Leah gave birth to her.

It turns out according to the Tur that Rachel was the mother of both Dina and Yosef.

This Tur clearly has ramifications l'halacha with regards to surrogate mothers etc.