Reclaiming the Jewish Naqba by Rabbi Lopatin

November 11, 2010

I do not know who Mayor Dieter Salomon of Freiburg Germany is, but he recently made some excellent points – transformative – to help Jews and Israelis define their relationship with history and with the Palestinians.  It involves an exhibit that a pro-Palestinian group wanted Freiburg to sponsor, which the mayor rejected because of its one-sidedness.  But note two powerful points by the mayor: First for the Palestinians – and all Arabs – to take responsibility for their own predicament – that will be the only thing that will pull them out of where they are.  Second, we Jews and Zionists have to start using the term The Other Naqba: the expulsion of 800,000 Jews from Arab lands and their welcome absorption into the new Jewish State of Israel.  Let’s start remembering that many Jews were Palestinians and that we have a Naqba story to tell as loudly as anyone else.

From the Jerusalem Post:

The mayor of Freiburg, Dieter Salomon, pulled the plug on a Palestinian “Nakba” exhibit, which was slated to open on Friday in the local library, because “from the perspective of the city of Freiburg, the presentation is one-sided,” Edith Lamersdorf, the mayor’s spokeswoman, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“One-sided accusations and friend-foe paradigms do not promote insight into the complicated relationships in the Middle East or contribute to understanding and peaceful development in the region,” the Green Party’s Dieter Salomon said in a statement last week.

“Palestinian Arabs do not appear in the presentation as responsible and active actors in this conflict. There is, for example, no discussion of the anti-Semitically motivated Arab pogroms that took place since the mid-19th century, and especially after 1945, in the Jewish settlement areas in the Arab regions. The other ‘Nakba’ [catastrophe] meant flight and expulsion for hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews, who had to leave their homes and were taken in by Israel,” the mayor said.


Modern Orthodoxy and Rabbinic Authority – Rabbi Barry Gelman

November 3, 2010

Rabbi Benny Lau has written an impassioned plea for education towards independent thought within the Religious Zionist / Modern Orthodox community. He criticizes blind obedience to Torah sages. Such obedience e, Rabbi Lau argues, leads to a “culture of dependency and submission.” This, in turn, represses independent thought and personal freedom.

 I agree with Rabbi Lau’s overall contentions. I offer three points in response.

  1. There is no denying that Orthodox Judaism does call for a degree of surrendering personal autonomy. We mustn’t leave our children with the impression that “anything goes” as long as they arrive at their conclusions with clear thinking.
  2. The arguments made by Rabbi Lau supporting a culture of argumentation both in the times of our early sages and in contemporary times, are related to arguments by Rabbis who were well versed in Torah. We must be careful that Rabbi Lau’s call for independent thinking not degenerate into a situation where Torah scholarship is not recognized as the key factor in halachik argumentation. I seems like an obvious point but, often in the Modern Orthodox community,  Torah scholarship and the Halachik process are not valued as much as they should be.  While scholars should not be deified, as pointed out by Rabbi Lau, our community must find a happy medium between appreciation of learning and scholarship on the one hand and deification of Rabbis on the other hand.
  3. The Religious Zionist / Modern Orthodox Community must work on developing top flight poskim who have the scholarship needed to be widely accepted (no one gets universal acceptance) and an appreciation of the importance of fostering independent thinking. I have wondered about a mode of Psak wherein Poskim offeria range of acceptable options to any given question along with the reasoning to allow for the questioner to feel more empowered in the process.

 All in all, I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Lau’s sentiments, however, the community he is speaking to both in America and Israel, need to be cautious about these points.


Standing Together: Chicago’s Muslims Stand with her Jews, by Rabbi Lopatin

November 1, 2010

Friends,

 

I have worked over the years with building Jewish-Muslim relations in Chicago by co-chairing the Jewish Muslim Community Building Initiative of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, a social justice organization.  Our shul has hosted every year an Iftar meal for Muslims to break their Ramadan fast and to come together – after Jews davening Mincha and Ma’ariv and the Muslims  praying their Salat (in the JCC) – in camaraderie and friendship.  We learn during the year, frequently with a rabbi and an imam presenting their own respective religion’s take on a biblical/Q’ur’anic story or an issue such as health care.  The letter below is from the head of the largest Muslim organization in Chicago, which includes the diversity of the Muslim community – Arabs and non-Arabs – and even the controversial CAIR-Chicago.  I think the letter speaks for itself:

(CHICAGO- OCTOBER 29, 2010) – The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago stands with our faith partners and the Jewish community in condemning the recent terrorist act to send explosives through cargo airlines to Jewish organizations in Chicago.

President Barack Obama declared today that authorities had uncovered a “credible terrorist threat” against the United States following the overseas discovery of U.S.-bound packages containing explosives aboard cargo jets. President Obama said both had been addressed to Jewish organizations in the Chicago area.

“We are thankful to our law enforcement agencies to uncover this plot before it could cause any harm,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, chairperson of the Council. “Illinois Muslims stand united with our Jewish partners and organizations in condemning this terrorist and heinous act. There is no place in Islam for terrorizing innocent people or spreading mayhem.”

“We urge our fellow citizens to stay alert and cooperate with law enforcement agencies,” said Mohamad Nasir, executive director of the Council. “This is our duty. One of the best ways to fight the perverted message of terrorists and protect our homeland is to affirm our patriotism through civic work, interfaith action and voting in large numbers on November 2nd.”

Peace has not broken out in the world, and Jews and Israel still have our enemies who wish to destroy us at any opportunity.  But at least we have come to the point where the local Jewish and Muslim communities can work together as “faith partners”.  Words do mean something, and the words are sweet.


Halacha as Business-My Take on the Rotem Bill-By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

July 29, 2010

The recent (now tabled)  bill submitted to the Kenesset by MK Rotem expands the range of whom under law in Israel has the authority to perform conversions, and in addition severely limits anyone’s ability to retroactively undo a conversion performed in Israel.

The bill was formulated by Israel Baytenu, a non-religious party, to facilitate the conversions of hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews who are Jewish enough to make Aliyah, (they are defined as a Jew according to the Nuremberg laws) yet are not halachically Jewish, such as someone with a paternal grandfather or father who is Jewish.   That the handful of more liberal rabbis of cities who are part of the Rabbanut (but who until this point were either unable to do conversions or the conversions they did do were undone by their more religiously rightwing counterparts) can help to solve the gargantuan dilemma of so many Jewish people who can not under law marry in their own country, is wonderful.

What did this secular party have to offer the other side, the Charedi Rabbanut, in exchange for the possibility of Russian Jews who are not fully observant converting without having their conversions subsequently undone?   The answer of course, as with all things political, is power.  In exchange, the Rabbanut will be the arbiter of all questions of Jewish status.   This possibility has caused the Reform and Conservative movements to become up in arms, at the future possibility that their conversions will no longer be accepted under law for purposes of Aliyah as they are now.   Weather this new bill will effect the ability of someone born of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother to make Aliyah (that is who is a Jew based on whom Hitler would have killed) is not clear to me.  I have heard different answers to the question.

Maybe I am naïve but what bothers me most about the bill is the reduction of Halachic concerns to the level of a business dealings.   Give us the Russians and in exchange you can have the Conservative and Reform….etc.   If Charedi Rabbis really believe that the conversion of the Russians is outside the bounds of halacha, why are they willing to go along with the bill in exchange for more exclusive power over the definition of who is a Jew?   Practice is then not based on one’s intellectual assessment of halacha but on a political negotiation, which gives something, in this case more jurisdiction, in exchange for halachic compromise.

The beauty of a Jewish country should be that Jewish attitudes and halchic concerns inform all the workings of the state, from the lofty to the mundane.  But this should not work the other way around.  Though Judaism should, I believe, influence politics in Israel, when the opposite is true and politics influences Judaism and Halacha we are going down an appalling path.   Instead of Torah sanctifying the mundane it quickly becomes, in the words of our rabbis, deker lachkor bah, a shovel to dig with.   The mundane sullying Torah.   May the holiness of torah and its ethical and religious teachings color all aspects of life in the holy land and not itself become low, speedily in our days.


What is the Purpose of Zionism, Part 2- By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

April 25, 2010

Last week I wrote that it seemed from the torah that the goal of the Jewish people to be a “blessing to all the peoples of the world” as God tells Abraham, can only happen by going to the “land which I will show you,” and there becoming a “great nation.”  Why is it that being a Jewish landed nation is important beyond the obvious reason that the world and its nations can see us more clearly as a national example on par with other nations?  Is there something uniquely spiritual and holy, something uniquely “torahdik” about being a nation in a land? The following quote from Rav Kook I think may shed some light (my thanks to my teacher Rabbi Israel Samet for the quote):

אורות עמ’ קד

בראשית מטעו של העם הזה, אשר ידע לקרוא בשם הרעיון האלהי הברור והטהור בעת השלטון הכביר של האליליות בטומאתה-פראותה, נתגלתה השאיפה להקים צבור אנושי גדול אשר “ישמור את דרך ד’ לעשות צדקה ומשפט”. זוהי השאיפה, שבאה מכח ההכרה הברורה והעזה והתביעה המוסרית הכוללת והרמה, להוציא את האנושיות מתחת סבל נורא של צרות רוחניות וחמריות ולהביאנה לחיי חופש מלאי הוד ועדן, באור האידיאה האלהית, ולהצליח בזה את כל האדם כלו. למלואה של שאיפה זו צריך דוקא, שצבור זה יהיה בעל מדינה פוליטית וסוציאלית וכסא ממלכה לאומית, ברום התרבות האנושית, “עם חכם ונבון וגוי גדול”, והאידיאה האלהית המוחלטת מושלת שמה ומחיה את העם ואת הארץ במאור-חייה. למען דעת, שלא רק יחידים חכמים מצויינים, חסידים ונזירים ואנשי-קדש, חיים באור האידיאה האלהית, כי גם עמים שלמים, מתוקנים ומשוכללים בכל תקוני התרבות והישוב המדיני; עמים שלמים, הכוללים בתוכם את כל השדרות האנושיות השונות, מן רום האינטליגנציה האמנותית, הפרושית, המשכלת והקדושה, עד המערכות הרחבות, הסוציאליות, הפוליטיות והאקנומיות, ועד הפרולטריון לכל פלגותיו, אפילו היותר נמוך ומגושם.

“At the beginning of this nation’s formation, it knew how to call in the name of the pure idea of God at the time of the controlling ideology of idol worship, there was revealed in it them a desire to form a large human group that would “guard the way of God, to do justice and righteousness.”  This is the desire that comes from the clear, subtle, ethical  recognition of the need to take man from under the terrible burden of physical and spiritual pain and to bring man to a life of freedom full of grace and kindness, in the light of Divine ideology, and through this to redeem the whole person.  But to fulfill this yearning there must be a community that has a politic, country, and culture.  A “big nation that is wise and intelligent.”   This encompassing divine ideology must rule there and enliven the people and its land in its light in order to know that not just wise and holy individuals alone live in the light of this Divine ideology but also whole nation with elaborate cultures and a functioning society, from the intellectual, holy, and esthetic to the vast systems -social, political and economic, to the proletariat and all its sub-sections, even the lowest and poorest of them.”  (Orot 204)

Rabbi Kook here seems to be saying that the torah and a relationship to God and Godly ideas can not be achieved solely as an individual or even as a community.  It takes the complexities and structures of nationhood to truly achieve it.

In addition to this second outwardly oriented national reason for the importance of a Jewish nation state in the Land of Israel, another important reason for the existence of a Jewish nation state I think, is as a light unto itself.  Some have argued that the Torah, though given in the desert, is clearly written for the Jewish nation living as a people in the Land of Israel, and thus can only truly be observed as just that.

The Ramb”n is the most famous opinion who holds that mitzvoth kept outside of the Land of Israel are not truly obligatory mitzvoth.  That settling the Land of Israel is equal to all the mitzvoth and that outside of Israel mitzvoth are done only so we do not forget them but are not really an obligation in the same way as those performed within the land are.

Why is this so?  It’s a holy land but how does that change the nature of specific person oriented mitzvoth such as matza, shofar or tifilin?  Such mitzvot do not seem tied to the land.

Perhaps if the mitzvoth are not just meant to be about an individual’s soul and relationship to God but about a landed nation’s function visa via other peoples, this would explain why each mitzvah, how each citizen acts, is in turn an inextricable part of the whole, like a mosaic or a Surat painting, together coloring the world in the shades of Torah.


What is the Purpose of Zionism? –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

April 9, 2010

Although in the modern Orthodox community it is not PC to admit this, I am not a Zionist.   I did not grow up feeling or being taught that Israel, in the modern sense of the term, was essential for the Jews or for being Jewish.  I was taught that though Israel is a holy land, the land God gave to Avrohom and the Jewish people, but the torah is what makes us who we are.  The Jews have lived for as much times in exile as not and the torah has flourished there, in spite of all our persecution.  I grew up looking not to Zion for torah but to Vilna.   Indeed the Jews remain the Jews without Israel, but with out torah we are merely another nationality like all others.

Many years ago when Rabbi Avi Weiss asked me to come to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and interview to be his assistant, though I had spent many years at Yeshiva University I still did not see Zionism and the modern state of Israel as important.   At one point during the interview I was asked how I saw the place of Israel. I responded that I thought Israel was a holy land, a good place to study torah and keep mitzvot dependant upon the land, but, I said that I did not think it was that important to being a Jew or to the Jewish people.

After the weekend, Reb Avi told me, “Chaim, you can not be a rabbi in America without coming to terms with Israel.”  And so 15 years ago, after that interview my wife and I went to Israel for 6 months.   I had never really learned in Israel, (my education had been mostly in Charedi Yeshivot in America), or lived there before, and I remember at the end of our time turning to Sara my wife and saying, “You know, maybe Israel is the home of the Jewish people.”  Yet a committed emotional Zionist I was not.

And so it is hard for someone like me to feel that living in Israel is important; if torah is more important shouldn’t one decide where to live based on where they learn torah best?   But after a trip I took to Israel a year ago I gave a derasha looking at God’s first command to Abraham, God tells Avrohom to “go to the land, become a nation and then be a blessing to all the people of the world.”  It seemed that a prerequisite to fulfilling the original and ongoing mission of the Jewish people to be a light unto the nations was somehow dependent on becoming a landed nation in the land which “I will show you.”  The only truly valid reason I could see for the importance of aliyah, since I was not taught that the land of Israel would save the Jews from persecution and the halachic question of the need to settle the land is one subject to argument.

This past week I read Rabbi Ian Pear’s book, “The Accidental Zionist” in which he argues precisely this, that to be a blessing to the people of the world, to fulfill the Jewish mission, especially in the modern period it is essential to be a landed nation state.   Only then can we be a model to the other nations on a world level.

The book is well said, interesting, and inspiring, well worth reading.  Of course it seems to me there is a need for a second book.   When the Jews make a nation in the land how do they proceed to be that national model to the world?  It is not enough to say they do it by just keeping the torah since most of the torah we are used to does not address the national questions, and a theocracy is not really doable or productive at this point.  So how do we as a Jewish nation in a land go about being in a conscious and organized way, “a blessing to all of the families (nations) of the world,” as god commanded Abraham when they first met?


Why We Need a Reversion of Conversion-By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

April 3, 2010

A while back I sent a certain Orthodox rabbi a link to Rabbi Marc Angel’s article about conversion which appeared in the Forward http://www.forward.com/articles/11985/ in which Rabbi Angel argues quoting former chief Sephardic Rabbi Uziel, that we should err on the side of accepting converts rather than rejecting them and criticizes the high barriers the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has placed before those who wish to be part of our people.    The particular rabbi’s response to me was, “Don’t get involved with ideas and people which are so extremely liberal, everyone like that wants to hang their hat on Rav Uziel the one minority opinion.”  End of conversation.

Another conversion experience:  Several years ago I brought a very sincere potential convert  to a Orthodox Bait Din which had functioned for many years and whose conversions are widely accepted.   The potential ger had a Jewish father and non Jewish mother, and no Jewish girlfriend or wife that he wished to please.  He just wanted to be an observant, full-fledged Jew.  After about a year of study and several meetings with the bait din the bait din brought him in for what I assumed would be his final meeting and conversion, he was fully religious, studying torah and attending synagogue, had taught himself Hebrew off the internet and was actually studying mishnah and chumash on his own in Hebrew by this point.  A no brainer. 

After his meeting I asked how it went, when would the mikvah be?  He answered that they had given him a test of which he knew practically all the answers, except for all the names of the Hebrew months, and they had sent him back to wait another 6 months before converting him asking him to study more halacha, specifically a book by Rabbi Shimon Eider on the laws of the 3 weeks and a 150 page English halacha book on the laws of yichud, the  laws pertaining to with whom and when one is allowed to be in a room together with someone of the opposite gender.  

Enraged I called the head of the bait din, “isn’t this a violation of “lo tunu et hageer”   (The biblical commandment not to oppress the stranger, which some commentaries applies even to one just considering conversion) I asked?  

“We are volunteers,” he replied, “I will not convert someone if there is a chance they will not observe a law on my account.”

I tell these stories now for two reasons.  Recently I had two experiences that offer at least a bit of indication that things may change.  That we have gone so far to one extreme that we may soon see the light and the Torah’s way and experience a corrective return to the middle.   Myself and several other rabbis met with Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, a member of Kenneset from the Shas party.  Rabbi Amsalem showed us the 2 volume magnum opus he has just published entitled “Zera Yisrael,” “seed of Israel”  which refers to someone who is not technically Jewish by birth but has some connection to the Jewish people, a Jewish father or grandparent, or perhaps lives in the Jewish country fighting its wars and casting their lot with its people.  

Such people are not halachically Jewish but are not like other non-Jews either, they occupy an intermediate space in Jewish law referred to as zera yisrael, much as the person in my story above or the myriads of Jews I see on a daily basis in America who due to an entire generation assimilating have a Jewish father or grandfather and a non Jewish mother.   In his book, which he says Rabbi Ovadiyah Yosef is willing to support, he argues that the opinion of Rabbi Uziel that someone, especially a person with a previous connection to the Jewish people, should be able to convert even without full acceptance of the commandments, is actually the opinion of tens of rishonim, early halachic commentators.    Not just a minority opinion ”upon which liberal hang their hat”.

Another experience was a speaker I heard today, Rabbi Telushkin, who has just written a book on the sage Hillel.  Well known are the stories in which a person wanting to convert but with outlandish demands, such as convert me while I stand on one foot, convert me on the condition that you make me a kohen gadol, convert me on the condition that I accept only the written torah and not the oral one, is rejected outright by Shamai and immediately accepted and converted by Hillel.  Only afterward did Hillel teach them the torah.  Rabbi Telushkin put it well, “Though Hillel always wins in the gemara, it is Shamai who wins in Jewish life.”  That just about sums it up I think.  

And so perhaps soon we will realize that though the words of Shamai are also the words of the living God, the law is like Hillel who is almost always lenient.  It seems this is what our tradition is supposed to be, leniency that results, as the converts say of Hillel, in lovingly bringing others underneath the wings of the divine presence.


Sleeping Over in the West Bank -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

February 21, 2010

Two weeks ago I traveled with 40 Rabbis, Rabbinical students and educators to Bethlehem, and spent two days talking with Arabs in the West Bank who have committed themselves to solving the looming problems of the Israeli Palestinian conflict peacefully.  I slept overnight in the very nice home of a Christian family in Bethlehem.  None of us visitors were Israeli citizens since they are not allowed in Bethlehem which is part of Area A, the Oslo section of the West Bank that is solely under PA control.

I., as many Anglo Jews and perhaps Israeli Jews, always imagined that to enter the West Bank was to take one’s life in one’s hands; that all West Bank citizens want most of all to kill Jews.   Hearing Arabic or seeing it would sometimes make me afraid.

While there is usually some truth in stereotypes, which is how they get to be stereotypes, it is also true that there are real people on the other side of the wall, Christians and Muslims, who do not fit the stereotype.  Though the situation did not become any clearer while I was there, and even less so after I returned to discuss my findings and experiences with Israelis I know, I did become more convinced that peace can only happen if real individuals are in touch with, and experience as people, other real human beings on the other side of each.

The following video is a 5 minute account of some of my experiences in Bethlehem.


More on learning with Rav Samet and the Yeshivah Gedolah of Lod -Rabbi Hyim Shafner

February 7, 2010

We are learning the beginning of Baba Kama which speaks of 4 avot, “parents” (meaning parent categories) of nizikin, of damages -the ox, the pit, the maaveh and the fire.

Typically in all books of the Talmud we find an interweaving of halachic, legal sections, and agaditah, narrative sections.   In many yeshivot these narrative sections are seen as beside the point, and in some of the yeshivot I attended even skipped over entirely; viewed as irrelevant to the halachic, or legal sections of the chapter.

The approach in Lod is just the opposite.  The narrative and legal sections must not only both be read but seen as an integrated whole.   When I asked Rabbi Samet about this he answered that this interweaving of law and narrative was the way in which chazal, our rabbis, wrote because it was their (and by extension Judaism’s?) world view.  The reason for the constant presence of agadah in what we usually see as primarily a legal book is not just to pepper the halacha with stories which would teach musar and hashkafah, ethics and Jewish thought, but because for chazal halacha and agada are one and the same.

In fact, he said, agadah is in a way actually the main item.  Our story, an understanding of our world and the world around us is chazal’s thrust, halacha is one part of that story.   Indeed he said this is true of Tanach, the Bible, which is mostly narrative also.  When I asked about the first Rashi on the torah which seems to indicate that laws are the main purpose of the torah, and that the torah should have thus begun from the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people, Rabbi Samet answered that not only does the torah not start with law but with narrative, but in fact the torah is mostly narrative, with law interwoven.

Indeed, he replied, this precisely is Rashi’s answer, the torah had to start from birashit (Genesis) so that people would know that God created the world and thus had the authority to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish people.  Why is this the answer?  Because the story of the Jewish people as a nation in a land IS the story and point of the Torah.   There is no bifurcation of law and story, it is one.  The law is but a part of the story.   Thus when we study Talmud we must look closely at how the rabbis phrased what they did, often it is not for legal purposes but because they are looking at a much larger narrative, that of life in general and of the Jewish people in particular.

When I asked why it is only now that this approach has come to light, he replied that the reason we can recognize the intention of chazal is that it is we who live in their land and speak their language and thus are closest to the lives they led and the perceptive they had of the universe.   Halacha is not meant as a series of actions but as a life lived, as a national story, as the life and thought of a people and nation, halacha is part of this.  Thus each halachic concept must be seen as integrated with the agadah because it is agadah (I do not mean by this that it is not binding or not literal).

For instance, the point of labeling the “pit” as a “father “of damage has not only to do with it technically being a way to damage, for there are may ways and many “avot” of damage not listed in the Mishnah of the four Avot. The “pit” is more than a method of damage; it is an idea that plays a role in the Weltanschauung of chazal and in our vision as Jews.   When seen it this way, the answer to why Baba Kama begins with specifically these 4 “father” categories of damage when actually there are many more, becomes clear.   The rabbis were not only making a statement about the technicalities of damage but about central notions in the life of the Jewish people.  This is their program, their method and goal.

Thus the 4 “fathers” of damage, (which the Talmud says also have “children” categories or generations), the pit, the fire, the walking and the ox, loom large in our mishna not because they are the only ways to damage but for much bigger reasons that have everything to do both with damage and with who we are as a nation.   For example the “pit” is not only a place of potential damage but just the opposite also, the source of life in the Land of Israel.   Israel is a land in which it only rains during the rainy season, there is no large Nile River to irrigate the land, as the torah says in Devarim chapter 11, it is a land irrigated by the rains.   The only way to store rain is the bor, the pit.     Each source of damage is not only a damager, but its opposite also, a source of creation and life, reflecting the fragile nature of our universe and our mission in it as Jews.  Thus are these categories quite aptly referred to as “Avot” parents with “toldot” children.


One More Critical Idea Regarding Israel, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

December 18, 2009

Yesterday I posted my underlying political views re. Israel.  I wanted to add one major point.  And it is so important that it is the one time, that I can recall, that I have talked what can be viewed as politics – Israel politics – from the bima, from the pulpit.  It is regarding the rule of law in Israel, and, specifically, following the law when it comes to the IDF.  I believe that in the case of Israel, not only is the rule of law critical to the moral, ethical and national fiber of the state, but it is crucial for the very survival of the Jewish State.  Therefore, it becomes a religious issue of “pikuach nefesh” making sure that the best defense of the Jewish People – the State of Israel – can operate safely as a state of laws.  That applies to soldiers in the IDF, even if their rabbis tell them otherwise, and to those building communities all over the land.  I would push hard to allow the greatest freedom of expression the law will allow – free speech is important – and for the greatest latitude in letting Jews live everywhere in Eretz Yisrael, the land that God gave us, but we need to follow the laws of Israel.

Our rabbis had an ambivalent – to say the least – attitude towards the Hashmonaim who did not always stick to Jewish law.  They are still heroes, but their state did not last. I hope, and pray and plan to work  hard to make sure the the Jewish state that we have in our days lasts a lot longer, and one of the key ways of doing so is by making sure that all those who live in her holy boundaries, heroes or not, obey the law.

Shabbat shalom, Chodesh Tov and Chanuka same’ach,

Rabbi Asher Lopatin