Sunday, November 30, 2008

At least in India ministers take responsibility

Top Indian Security Official Resigns as Toll Eclipses 180

India’s highest-ranking security official resigned on Sunday, as the government began to reckon with the fallout from a three-day standoff with militants that raised troubling questions about India’s vulnerability to terrorism.

The response may not have been great but at least those in charge have the courage to take responsibility and resign. In Israel we know what would have happened, just look at what happened after the Second Lebanon war. The politicians in Israel could learn something from the politicians in India.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

קופת העיר is off on another trip

This time to the graves of the Chasam Sofer and the Maharsha. Just to remind everyone, in August they had a "historic trip" to Vilna.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

R' Hirsch on the lessons we can learn from Yaakov and Esav

The following is from RSRH's essay "Lessons From
Jacob and Esau" that appears on pages 319 - 331
of his Collected Writing VII. This volume deals
with his thoughts on Jewish Education.

Down to our present day we have been able to
observe the disastrous consequences of a
one-sided approach to the unique task of being a
Jew. Many a son of a pious talmid chacham has
been totally lost to Judaism because his father
insisted on training him to become a talmid
chacham without considering whether his
personality and inclinations truly lay in that
direction. Thus he is exposed to Jewish life in
only one context: that of a quiet existence of
study and meditation for which he has neither
talent nor desire. What attracts him instead is
the busy, colorful life of the world outside. But
as a result of the narrow view of life in which
he has been trained he gets the impression that
in order to participate in the active, variegated
life for which he yearns, he must give up his
mission as a Jew. He consequently abandons his
Judaism in order to fling himself into the
maelstrom of excitement and temptations offered by the world outside.

The story of such an individual might end quite
differently if only, instead of forcing him into
the mold of a talmid chacham, his father would
raise him from the very beginning to become a man
of the world who, at the same time, is faithful
to his duties as a Jew; if only that father would
teach this son that the activities of the world
outside, too, have their place in God's plan,
that it is possible to preserve and to
demonstrate one's complete loyalty to Judaism
even as a sophisticated man of the world. He
should make his son understand that, as a matter
of fact, many, if not perhaps the most important,
aspects of Jewish living are intended primarily
to be practiced amidst the conditions and
aspirations of everyday life, in the midst of the
world and not in isolation from it. He should
make his son understand that the Taryag
Mitzvos are not meant to be observed in the
klaus [Judeo-German equivalent for a small
synagogue. (Ed.)] or in the beth hamidrash but
precisely in the practical life of the farmer or
the public-spirited citizen. If only that father
would make it clear to his son that the spirit
and the happiness of Judaism are just as
accessible to a Zevulun "in the world outside" as
they are to an Issachar "in the tents,"?who knows
whether that son might not stand by his father's
deathbed and gently close his father's eyes as a loyal, pious Jew?

Why can't the Charedi world today understand this? Why do they insist that Torah only is for everyone when it clearly isn't?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tzipi Livni throws a fit on an El Al flight?

The NY Post is reporting the following:

ISRAELI foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who could become prime minister after February's general elections, threw a temper tantrum aboard a recent El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Newark after she was seated in business class instead of first. "She really went berserk over the fact that there were kids near her," says a fellow passenger.

I wonder why this wasn't reported in the Israeli press?

How old was Rivka when she married Yitzchak?

Everyone know the medrash quoted by Rashi that she was 3 years old. However, the Gemara in יבמות and the Sifri in וזאת הברכה disagree.

The Gemara in יבמות ס"א discusses who a Kohen Gadol can marry. The Torah says בתולה, the gemara says that a בתולה means a נערה, a girl who is between 12 and and 12.5. The Gemara says that we know this from the pasuk by Rivka which calls her a בתולה. We see clearly that the Gemara assumes that she was older then 3 (at least 12).

In fact, all of the Rishonim point this out (that the Gemara argues on the medrash that Rashi quotes) and say that it is a machlokes hamidrashim. The Rishonim also point out the gemara later on ס"ד. The Mishna has the din that if a couple is married for 10 years with no children they should divorce. The Gemara asks why isn't it 20 years as Yitzchak married at the age of 40 and didn't have kids until 60. According to Rashi that Rivka was 3 there is no question, for the first 10 years she couldn't have kids. You see clearly from the Gemara that the assumption is that Rivka was old enough to have children at the time of the marraige.

The Sifri in וזאת הברכה says that Rivka lived 133 years. If you work backwards from her death she got married at the age of 14 (see Tosafos in יבמות ס"א for the exact calculation).

Why did Rashi pick the medrash that she was 3 against the gemara? It would seem that Rashi thought that was the simpler pshat in the pesukim. It all seems to hinge on when the akeida was. The following facts are mentioned in the Chumash itself.

1. Yitzchak was 37 when Sara died (she was 90 when he was born and died at 127).
2. Yitzchak was 40 when he married Rivka
3. Rivka was born around the time of the Akeida (see the end of וירא).

If the Akeida was when Yitzchak was 37 then Rivka was only 3 when she married. On the other hand if the akeida was 10 years earlier then she was around 14.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Valis was sentenced to 6 years in prison yesterday

For those who don't remember, 2 years ago, Yisrael Valis, a 19-year-old father was accused of violently killing his infant son. At the time there were riots in Yerushalayim and proclamations by the Gedolim that he was innocent (see this post, Psak in the name of R' Elyashiv: Valis is innocent ). Yesterday he was sentenced to 6 years in prison (see here for more details). I don't hear anyone proclaiming his innocence any more.

What does this say about the original reaction?

ועשית ככל אשר יורוך

This is the new slogan in the Charedi world to mean listen to דעת תורה.

Lately it is being used to mean that everyone needs to listen to R' Elyashiv whatever he says. Here is a good example:

The implication of the poster is that everyone needs to now stop wearing sheitels because R' Elyashiv said so.

The problem is that for the past 2000 years halacha hasn't worked that way. Once there is no בית דין הגדול there is no final psak. Throughout the generations we find disputes in halacha and we don't always pasken like the "posek hador". R' Moshe Feinstein was certainly the posek in America after WWII and yet many of his psakim were not accepted. The same goes for the Chazon Ish and every other great posek. Therefore, for these people to say that we always pasken like R' Elyashiv is a perversion of the halachic process and was never the case. The fact is that R' Elyashiv has shitas on many issues that no one paskens like, they just aren't publicized.

A good example of this is the shita of the Chazon Ish by מעמיד of a succa. The Chazon Ish holds that you cannot use metal anywhere in your succa even screws becuase it is considered מעמיד בדבר המקבל טומאה. There is no question that in his day the Chazon Ish was the "posek" in Israel. Yet, very few people followed this shita of the Chazon Ish. The answer is simple. As great as the Chazon Ish was we don't pasken like him on every issue. The same applies to R' Elyashiv and therefore every person needs to consult their Rabbanim about every issue.

Unfortunately there is a trend in the Charedi world taht says everyone has to be exactly the same. There is no room for different psakim, different minhagim, etc. Everyone has to follow a specific shita and that is it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why is gas so expensive in Israel?

The answer is very simple, TAXES.

The current price of NIS 5.49 for 1 liter of 95 octane gasoline, is composed of the following:

Price of the actual gas per liter: NIS 1.66
Marketing costs (gas station profits): NIS 0.68
Excise tax: NIS 2.42
VAT tax: NIS 0.73

In other words the real cost is NIS 2.34, the other NIS 3.15 is taxes. In percentage terms taxes are a whopping 57% of the total price.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is the Cherem on Shefa Shuk slowly disappearing?

I heard a fascinating story on the radio last night. It seems that Hamodia (run by Gerrer Chasidim) and Ger in general were behind the cherem on Shefa Shuk. After the elections in Yerushalayim where Gerrer Chasidim voted for Nir Barkat a chiloni and not Meir Porush, many have come to the conclusion that Ger is acting in their own interest and not לשם שמים. They are saying that if they can vote for a chiloni because of a fight over Chinuch Atzmai, land etc. then why should we believe them about Shefa Shuk. Therefore, they have decided to start shopping in Shefa Shuk again. In addition, many people have canceled their subscription to Hamodia.

It is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months. This could really hurt UTJ in the upcoming elections. Many Chareidim will have a very difficult time voting for UTJ if Litzman is number 1 on the list.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Biased Media

We always think of the mainstream media as biased against Israel, Jews etc. What is fascinating is that the Charedi press has it's own biases.

I get both the weekly Hamodia in English as well as Mishpacha in Hebrew and it is always interesting to see what news is in one and not the other and vice versa.

This week the difference is dramatic. Mishpacha devotes a huge number of articles to the municipal elections focusing on Porush's loss in Yerushalayim. Hamodia on the other hand almost completely ignores the elections. They have one small article and that is it. Why the big difference?

The answer is simple. Hamodia is run by Gerrer Chasidim and Ger right now is feuding with much of the Charedi world. Ger refused to support Porush in Yerushalayim and in fact, may have actually told some of their Chasidim to vote for a chiloni candidate. Similarly in Bet Shemesh, Ger did not endorse the Charedi candidate from Shas supported by Degel Hatorah, rather they supported Shalom Lerner who is religious but not Charedi.

Here is a fascinating article from VosIzNeias

Meanwhile, the rebbe of Ger, Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, aware of the threat that Porush presents, has called on his hassidim not to vote for him, even though he's the city's only haredi candidate. Ger enjoys the support of the Boyan Hassidic sect, which is still angry at Porush for bucking its authority in the Betar municipal elections.

In Friday's Hamodia, a weekly controlled by the hassidic sect, Alter placed a front page notice calling to vote for Agudath Yisrael. Conspicuously absent was the rebbe's electoral command regarding the mayoral race. Porush's name simply was not mentioned.

The rebbe's omission was particularly striking since it was accompanied by an ad publicizing the opinions of a list of leading haredi rabbis who specifically called to vote not only for Agudath Yisrael and for Porush.

Here is another interesting article from VosIzNeias

Outside a polling place in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood yesterday, young Hasidic followers of mayoral candidate Meir Porush gathered. On the other side of the street, youngsters in the distinctive dress of the Gerrer Hasidic community set up their own post. The tension between the two camps was palpable.

After a few minutes, the Gerrers crossed the street and entered the station. On the orders of their rebbe, due to a longstanding grievance between their group and Porush's camp, they were threatening to vote for secular candidate Nir Barkat. All eyes were now on the Gerrer voters to see whether they would indeed "betray" the ultra-Orthodox sector by voting for Barkat.

A young Gerrer walked into the station slowly with his grandfather and assisted the old man in inserting his ballot into the box. On leaving, he encountered an acquaintance from his community and the two began a lively discussion, from which it emerged that both voted for Barkat. "Like everyone," he told his friend jokingly.

Was his hand shaking, his friend asked. "No way," was the response. "The rebbe said so, and so we're happy to vote for Barkat." Hearing the tale, Moshe Friedman, the head of Porush's campaign, let out a sigh, saying, "it breaks your heart."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What should we make of the success of Tov in Bet Shemesh?

Tov in Bet Shemesh, despite being attacked non-stop by the local Rabbonim, who even brought R' Shteinman to RBS to speak, got over 1200 votes and a seat on the city council.

I think that a lot of the rank and file Charedim feel like the guy quoted below. When you couple that with the fact that the Torah world is broke this might be a serious change.

Israel - Haredi Voting Signals Weakening of Sector's Political Establishment

The 2008 municipal elections will go down in history as a watershed event for haredi politics that will likely have far-reaching implications on the national level.

For the first time in Israeli political history, the normally obedient haredi voters showed signs of rebellion.

In two haredi centers - Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh - there is a significant haredi contingent that has come out openly against the haredi political establishment.
Many have begun to question their obligations to a rabbinic leadership that rejects them and offers them no future. Many also are being to question rabbinic opinion on mundane matters such municipal elections.

As one haredi put it, "What do rabbis know about politics? Do I ask a rabbi what kind of floor cleaner I should use? We need a separation between religion and politics. I don't want rabbis to tell me what kind of cellular phone to use or where to sit on the bus.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Municipal elections in Israel today

Today is election day for all of the local elections, mayor and city council.

I would like to focus on 1 city, Bet Shemesh, that is not getting much attention from the national press but is actually very important.

One of the candidates running for mayor is Moshe Abutbul from Shas. Abutbul made deals with a number of non-religious parties and from his ads in the secular press you would never know that he is Charedi or from Shas. Every ad has him surrounded by his bare headed coalition partners who are featured prominently. There is only 1 party that he made a deal with, that does not feature in any of his ads at all, UTJ. The reason is obvious, he is trying to to run as the stealth Charedi candidate.

This is a very important race for Shas and the Charedi world as a whole. For Shas, if Abutbul wins he would be this would be the first mayor ever elected from Shas. For the Charedi world as a whole this race is very important. The Charedi world looks at Bet Shemesh as the next big Charedi city and a place that can alleviate the housing issues.

Another interesting development in Bet Shemesh is the party Tov. Tov is a party started by Charedi baal habatim who feel that UTJ doesn't really represent them. UTJ has ran a very nasty campaign against Tov and has basically tried everything possible to get them to withdraw. They even sponsored an assembly in one of the shuls in which the focus how they (Tov) are going against the gedolim, and how people who vote for TOV cannot be called frum etc.

What UTJ hasn't done is explain why someone should vote for them, aside from the fact that the gedolim say so. This is part of the reason for Tov's success.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack Hussein Obama, the next President of America

Now that the election is over I would like to make a few comments.

I. Who is Barack Obama?

No one really knows. After 2 years of campaigning there are still huge holes in his life story. It is hard to know what he really stands for and who he really trusts.

In any case he is by far the least experienced President ever. He has been in the Senate for a grand total of 2 years 4 years. His biggest job before the campaign was as a community activist.

II. The press was completely biased in favor of Obama

In Israel we like to complain about how the press is left wing and how the press protected Sharon when he decided on the disengagement and how the press loves Livni and is in favor of her. However, believe it or not, the American press was as bad or worse in the last election. How is it that we still don't know where Obama was born? How is it that the LA Times refuses to release a video of Obama with a Palestinian radical? Last January, in an interview to the San Francisco Chronicle Obama said that he would bankrupt the coal industry. This statement only came out this past Sunday too late to effect anything. The list could go on for a long time. Basically the press gave Obama a free pass.

III. Obama is the clear winner

The American system produces winners and losers. Obama won Mcain lost. Listening to the radio in Israel this morning, they were talking about how Obama won by 5 points (52% - 47%) and how that is a big victory. Lets shift gears a second and think about the election in Israel. Imagine Netanyahu and Likud win 5% more votes then Livni and Kadima. Will the press think that it is a big victory? I think not. 5% of the vote is 6 seats. In other words if the Likud would win 35 seats Kadima would win 29. It would not be a decisive victory at all.

The difference is that the US has a winner take all system. Someone wins and someone loses. Here everyone wins. Because of that, there are so many parties and it is impossible to govern.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Only in Israel: A transitional government can't appoint Judges but can negotiate to give away the Golan

The Attorney General was asked if it is legal for Olmert to negotiate with Syria even though he has resigned and is running a transitional government. The answer, yes. However, the Justice Minister wants to have a meeting of the committee to appoint judges and appoint new Supreme Court justices but the President of the Supreme Court (who herself was appointed by a transitional government) has refused claiming that a transitional government has no authority to appoint new judges.

Think of how absurd this is. The transitional government can negotiate away the country, that is not important, but it can't appoint Supremem Court justices, that is too important for a transitional government. Does this make any sense???

Of course given the Judicial Dictatorship we live in Beinish may be right. Appointing Supreme Court justices is the most important thing because in the end they rule the country.