Hooray! I Have Found A Home in the Israeli Political World! by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

October 14, 2009

If you have read this blog, you know that all of us, rabbis and Maharat, think out of the box and sometimes unpredictably. You may have seen my views of the One State solution, one democratic, Jewish and Palestinian State allowing all self declared Jews to return and Palestinians to return. You may have also seen my desire for separation of church and state in the Jewish state of the future – in Israel. Feel free to dismiss me as naïve, foolish, crazy, irresponsible, etc. However, the last laugh is on those who mock me: I can say will full confidence that I am in the tradition of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism. And… as a follower of Jabotinsky, I feel at home in the party of Menecham Begin, his heir, Herut and Likud. Yes, I see myself as part of Likud.

Huh? A One Stater in Likud? Well, let’s look briefly at the principles of Revisionist Zionism:
1) Jews returning in the millions to the homeland. Jabotinsky hoped European Jews in the 1930’s would fill up both sides of the Jordan with Jews; in the 21st century, we have to look to Africa and Asia – and still not give up hope in America – to bring in those huge numbers so that Jews remain a majority culture in our land.
2) The right of Jews to live in their homeland – even more important the getting the State. Herut opposed partition in 1947, giving up our rights to our land, as we should oppose partition in 2009. In the 21st century, our priority should not be demographics or a homogeneous state; no, our priority must remain a solution where Jews can live in Tel Aviv or Hebron, or Gaza or Shechem or Modiin. Everywhere! Palestinians can by homes or start communities in these places as well. Anyone who has any suggestion that gives up Jews returning to Gush Katif should be rejected as compromising the essential rights and dreams of the Jewish people.
3) Liberalism in terms of freedom of the individual: open and free markets, capitalism rather than socialism.
4) Being strong and demonstrating strength: Any solution in the 21st century needs to involve the army – the IDF – not tolerating any pocket of terrorism or fiefdom outside the control of the One State – no Gazas controlled by rogue, terrorist regimes.
5) When you look at the writings of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, he has different attitudes towards the indigenous Arabs. Everywhere he wants them to know that the Jews are staying. However, in some places he writes that once the Jews are established in their land, they can allow the Arabs to be full participants – including voting – in a liberal democracy. Yes, Jabotinsky understood that if the Jews are strong and confident, they have nothing to fear from Arabs/Palestinians getting the vote.
6) It is clear that while Jabotinsky wanted a Jewish state – designated for the Jews and filled with Jewish culture – he did not want a state with rabbinic control. He had European democracies in mind, where the look and feel is Christian, but the power resides in the government of the people, not the church leaders.
I am planning to move to Israel because I believe that God wants us to live in the Holy Land and God wants us to build a moral and ethical state where Judaism can flourish and have an impact. With the vision of Jabotinsky I hope we can all gain the strength to build communities anywhere in the land and that that land should be a full democracy which will allow Judaism to flourish in all its diversity and creativity, taking the best from cultures dwelling alongside of us, including Palestinian, Arab culture. Likud – here I come!

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

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Making Sacrifices Meaningful by Rabbi Lopatin

August 17, 2009

I have always had a rough time getting into the idea of animal, bird or grain sacrifices meaningful. The idea of killing an animal and spritzing its blood on the alter and burning some of it, eating some of it – has never spoken to me. Just last week, in Re’eh, we talked a lot about centralizing sacrifices. And this week, Parshat Shoftim, while focusing mainly on leadership issues, still manages to slip in how sacrifices: Which sacrifices go to the Kohanim, the spiritual leaders? How to make “leadership” sacrifices, and not blemished ones. What do we make of all this talk about sacrifices, and, more to the point, how do they relate to today’s world?
Here are some ideas I’ve picked up over the years: Even though “korban” comes from the root to get closer to God, the word “sacrifice” actually does convey the meaning of this ritual, but we normally forget that “sacrifice” is a powerful word for the lives we live: it means to give up something for a causes, for someone you love, for something you believe in and feel is right. At the core, that is what God wants – God wants us to make the necessary sacrifices in life in order to have a better connection to God – to come closer to God – and to have a meaningful life and to make this a better world.
One easy read of this interpretation and translation is in the “avodah” blessing we say at least three times every day of the week: “Retze Hashem Elokeinu… v’ishei Yisrael … t’kabel b’ratzon…” We ask God to please be happy with the People of Israel and to accept the “fires” – read sacrifices, day to day sacrifices – of Israel with favor… That doesn’t mean the ritual slaughter we do; that means the real tough choices we make to be Jews. No, it doesn’t have to be hard, “shveir”, to be a Jew, but it does require the ability to give up some things at some times. It’s those “fires” – we want God to accept. At the most painful and radical level, those are the burnt bodies of the millions of Jews who gave their lives merely for being born Jewish. That sacrifice, involuntary and tragic, is a holier fire than all the animal sacrifices offered in the Temple – first or second. But even the smaller burnt offerings, the moments of pleasure and opportunity that we sacrifice and burn for the sake of our love of God and Judaism and what is right, we ask for God to see them all and take them all in a sign of our devotion to God and our ability to rise up – the olah offering – and reach closer to God.
But will these sacrifices of love and devotion be enough? After all, in the standard Musaf, we Orthodox maintain the language: “And the Musaf of Yom… we will do and sacrifice with love as you have desired and as you have written to us in the Torah…” That’s not some vague offering of love and devotion and sacrifice. No, that‘s the real animal and grain, and we say so in the musaf davening as well. Actually, we would fulfill our obligation not enumerating the details, and so we see that those details are not central to the prayer. But still, we say we will sacrifice as God proscribed in the Torah! Look closely, however; we say we will do this sacrifice WITH LOVE! Yes, we will do the same thing God told us to do in the Torah, but we will do it in a mode of love. What will that look like? I don’t know. But what it looks like is not as important. What is important is that it is essentially a sacrifice not of an animal or a grain, but a sacrifice of love. And perhaps we won’t even need any animals to do these sacrifices in the future – the Torah commandment will be fulfilled with love. There are plenty of midrashim that clearly state that almost all the sacrifices will be eliminated in the Messianic era. I say no! The sacrifices will still be here, but they will be offered through love and devotion not through physical destruction of an animal or a bird or a grain.
One more thought regarding these sacrifices of love: Last week’s Parsha of Re’eh warned us not to offer these sacrifices anywhere but in the Holy Land and the Holy City where God’s name is sanctified. I think there is a hint in these verses that the sacrifices we make for Judaism and for God’s presence in the world should be done in Israel, the Land of Zion, and not, primarily in the Diaspora. Yes, there was a period where sacrifices were allowed on “bamot” – on altars everywhere. But ultimately, the Torah wants us to put our effort, our commitment our devotion and our love into the Land of Israel and come together to show our love of God. So work hard, Jews everywhere, and make the sacrifices of love that God requires, but save your most profound work for Israel, for the Land where God wanted all the sacrifices to be made, to build a great people in order to be the light onto the nations.

Asher Lopatin


Humility in Criticizing, Rabbi Asher Lopatin

July 28, 2009

Dear Friends,

On this week of Tish’a B’av, I want to write in a different tone. Yes, I do believe firmly in working on Kiddush Hashem, and avoiding Chilul Hashem. I said my piece last week. This time I want to apologize to anyone I might have hurt by the tone of my message. In writing this blog, sometimes I fall into the trap of being sensational and YELLING my point. But I understand, that especially when being critical of my brothers and sisters, I need to be humble and modest , avoiding any sarcasm and certainly not relishing in critique. The truth is that if the message is right and true, it will get heard without being “in your face” and sensational. I was happy that my ideas were picked up by many different outlets, but I feel that since it was a message of rebuke, tocheicha, I need to work harder to make sure not to feel even one shemetz – one iota – of satisfaction of taking on a community and its leadership. I just hope that despite just being a small pulpit rabbi in Chicago, people are listening. And I thank the Los Angeles Jewish Journal for hosting our blog, as well as Vos Iz Neis for picking up these blogs over the past week.
At the same time, I am gratified that beyond the issues of Hilul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem, the invitation to Me’ah She’arim from USA Yated Neeman editor Rabbi Pinchas Lipschutz was sincere, and we have been in touch, and I look forward to meeting with him, and eventually being in Me’ah She’arim together. This is a new relationship with a leader in the Yeshivishe world that I hope to foster, and I am grateful for it.
Moreover, from the idea of the invitation to Me’ah She’arim, I am working on an Achdus Mission to Israel. The mission should include rabbis from the spectrum of Orthodoxy, and should visit institutions and communities in Israel from the spectrum of Orthodoxy: from those in Me’ah She’arim to those in the Old City to those outside and part of Modern Orthodoxy in Israel. There have been a lot of emails of people excited about joining such a mission, and while it seems like it will be a challenge, I believe it is doable.
On the background of all the apparent Hillul Hashem of the past weeks and months – of course we don’t know who is guilty of what and to what extent and the circumstances that led to their alleged actions – I call for all of us to come together. I know Rav Yosef called for unity of all Jews committed to Judaism, and I agree with that as well, maybe we at Morethodoxy can be a catalyst to bring Orthodoxy together and to show that world that as much as we disagree vehemently, we can come together in mutual respect, and work toward the mutual good of Torah, Shem Hashem and Am Yisrael.
Perhaps, with God’s help, we are moving in the right direction as we head for the sad time when we Jews all over the world will sit together on the floor and try to find a way of “renewing our days as of old”.
May this Tish’a B’av move us to a time where there won’t be any more mourning for our People, a time of appreciating for each other which we all deserve.
Asher Lopatin


An Invitation to Me’ah She’rim for Rabbi Lopatin, and I accept!

July 24, 2009

From Rav Pinchas Lipschutz, Editor of Yated Neeman in the USA:

I invite Lopatin and the rabbi who wrote in The Jerusalem Post to join me for a visit to Meah Shearim. Let’s go visit the stores and places of business of the Reb Aralach – yes they do work – and see how they conduct themselves. Let’s visit their homes and see how they live. Let’s follow them to the Beis Medrash and observe them davening and learning. We’ll go to the rebbe and you can ask him all your questions. We’ll visit Ben Zion Oiring and watch a one-man chesed operation in action. We’ll talk to Uri Zohar and hear what he has to say. We will pay a visit to Rav Dovid Soloveitchik and you can ask him why he publicly referred to the sorry story as a blood libel. We can just stand at Kikar Shabbos and watch how these loving lovely people go about their daily affairs. If, G-d forbid there should be a need for another hafganah we can attend and watch how Yerushalmi yidden peacefully express their pain and how they are treated by the police. And we can stay till the bitter end and watch how the rif-raf comes and destroys the place. And then we can review together what we have seen and determine whether a re-evaluation is in order.

Dear Rav Lipschutz,

With a spirit of achdus and cheshbon hanefesh,I would like to take you up on your invitation to join you for a visit to Meah She’arim. I have been there many times, as I’m sure most of us reading this blog have, and have been there for a tisch at Toldos Ahron – I believe – but it would be different going with you in a spirit of love and appreciation for acheinu beis Yisrael, who are so committed to Torah and Yiddishkeit – as all of us recognize. I would like to organize an Achdus trip to Israel with Modern Orthodox rabbis, Centrist Orthodox rabbis and Yeshiveshe velt rabbonim all going together for the outstanding itinerary you propose for Meah She’arim, and then to continue into the Old City to visit Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim, then to walk on to Yeshivat Hakotel, Eish Hatorha, Yeshivat Porat Yosef, and to end up in Talpiot Mizrach to visit Beit Morasha and in Bakkah to visit the Pardes Institute, led by Rav Daniel Landes, the great grandson of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zt”l. I would like to invite also Rabbanei Tzohar – perhaps Rav Cherlow and Rav Yehoshua Shapira, as well as leading rabbanim in the Chareidi world in Eretz Yisrael. Together we will show how the greatest Kiddush HaShem is the Achdus of Klal Yisrael and its Torah leadership.

Kol tuv and a gut Shabbos,

Asher Lopatin


An Open Letter to My Chareidi Brothers and Sisters in Israel

July 22, 2009

Rabosai,
First I want to congratulate you for your fervor and unity in responding to those who are violating Shabbat by driving to Jerusalem on Shabbat and those who are intervening in family life in the Toldos Ahron community by treating children in the hospital when they are emaciated and weighing 7 kg at two years old.
But, secondly, I want to tell you that from a Torah True perspective your reactions are the very opposite of what you should be doing. Your commitment to Torah and current events gave you an opportunity for a great Kiddush Hashem, and instead you have distanced thousands – if not millions – from Torah. Didn’t you consider that Chilul Hashem B’farhesia, publicly profaning God’s name, is such a great sin that it outweighed going out on a limb to protect parking lots from cars on Shabbat, or to protect a family that really seems like it was abusing its children? Do you think that there could never be child abuse in your community? And was it not worth bringing an emaciated child – even you agree that he was dangerously emaciated – to one of the world’s leading hospitals for a check-up? Do you agree that doctors’ have a role in our lives in making some physical and psychological determinations?

Rather than resorting to violent riots that have turned off even people sympathetic to your love for Shabbat and the integrity of the family, you should have copied God the way we are supposed to: with love and kindness – midot hachesed – the loving traits of God. Wouldn’t it have been far more effective to have shown up at the parking lot on Shabbat with grape juice and challah rolls and offered people driving into Yerushalayim the ability to celebrate Shabbat just a little? Had you offered them cholent and kugal, don’t you think word would have gotten out that Shabbat is a beautiful thing? After all, these people driving into Jerusalem are choosing to spend Shabbat in the Holy City, not at the beach in Tel Aviv or Ashkelon! We all need to think of how we can reach out to our brothers and sisters even when they are sinning in our eyes, and rather than making them park dangerously all around Jerusalem, endangering pedestrians who are not violating Shabbat, make them realize that you are willing to interrupt your Shabbat to spend some time with them! Maybe the next time some of them would be willing to drive into Jerusalem on Friday night, spend the night in a hotel – even an Arab hotel in the Old City! – and experience a full Shabbat in Jerusalem. Why didn’t you suggest to the city that parking overnight in Jerusalem – from Friday night till Shabbat is over – should be made free, to encourage people to drive in before Shabbat? All these moves would have made Jerusalem, Shabbat and the religious way of life something beautiful, not ugly – God’s name would be glorified, not sullied by the dirty rubbish that you have been throwing at city workers.

Rather than rioting against what seems to be saving of a child’s life – piku’ach nefesh – didn’t you question for a moment what is going on? What are the names of Chareidi organizations that protect children – and spouses – from abuse? The Chareidi community in America has such organizations which serve the entire Jewish community – have you set up yours? I haven’t seen them involved or consulted. No, instead of blaming Hadassah hospital, the doctors and the media of a conspiracy, maybe you should begin a process of coming clean and accepting that domestic abuse occurs in all types of communities – from the most religious to the most secular, Jewish and non-Jewish. And that sometimes the police and the authorities have to be brought in to protect children and spouses. That would be the appropriate response, one that would be a Kiddush Hashem, which would win the respect of Jews and non-Jews for Torah and for Judaism.
My brothers and sisters in the Chareidi community: God’s name is not sanctified by you showing how much political muscle you have to close parking lots, to maintain the ‘status quo’, or to show that you can do whatever you like to your kids without the authorities intervening: that’s not the way to sanctify God’s name, or even your name. The way to Kiddush Hashem is for all of us to place God and God’s kindness above our own agendas, and to show that we are willing to sacrifice even your own serenity on Shabbat, our own control over our families, in order to protect the weak and make God’s name something beautiful and desirable, not something which people cannot run away from fast enough.

Asher Lopatin