Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pesach shopping rant

One of the many advantages of writing your own Blog is that you get to have your very own permanent HydePark style soap box to rant on about anything that's really getting on your goat.

Here's one such rant.

Last year, I was given "tlushim" (supermarket vouchers) for Pesach shopping in my local Yesh supermarket. I soon found that there was a serious problem buying Pesach items there. Whenever I got to the check-out counter to place my kasher-lePesach items on the conveyer belt, there was always someone in the queue who had a bread roll without a bag which they proceeded to place directly on the check-out table leaving chametz crumbs all over it. How on earth is anyone expected to buy Pesach items like this?

I spoke to the kupa-rashi (the main desk) and asked to speak to the manager of the supermarket about this problem. I suggested that the least they could do was to place signs by the bread shelves asking people nicely to put their rolls in a plastic bag. Alternatively they could open kasher-lePesach only check-out counters which would be clearly marked. Failing this they should just have to stop selling loose crumbly bread-rolls one month before Pesach.

The woman looked at me with her head slanted to one side and then phoned the manager. I overheard her saying that there was some crazy American who wanted to speak to him. Now as every Englishman knows living in Israel. One of the worst insults an Israeli can give you is to call you an "Amerikai". This can be roughly translated as "out of his mind nut job". Now this really gets up my nose and tugs very strongly on my goat.

There aren’t many Englishmen I know that would like to be mistaken for "Amerikayim" as the Israelis say (with particular emphasis on the "ayim" as they say it). Perhaps the one exception is the British comedy actor, Hugh Laurie who plays an American in the TV series House. You tell an Israeli that Hugh is in fact English and they simply don't believe you! I expect he'd be quite proud of this. BTW, I heard that he is settling down nicely in America and even wants to Americanize his name to something like "Massive Truck". (Think about it!)

Last year I spoke to the same supermarket about another problem. They said that they'd pass my comments to the main branch for consideration next year. Well, I'm waiting to see if they did take any notice.

The problem was that last year they were giving away sets of wine glasses for the Seder with large orders. These wine glasses were 220cc capacity. There are a few opinions as to a reviit of wine one should drink in order to fulfil your obligation for the mitzvah of the Arbah Kosos (the four cups) on Leil HaSeder ranging from Rav Naeh's 86cc up to the Chazen Ish's 150cc. Once one has selected one's wine glass and filled it up to the very top, one is required to drink at least half the glass. So, by giving away huge 220cc glasses they were forcing people to either drink 110cc of wine for each of the four cups or if they drank less, to (at least according to some opinions) not fulfil the mitzvah in the correct manner.

Will they take any notice of a crazy "Amerikai" like me?
Answers on a postcard.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hebrew U and Bar Ilan University professors seem to disagree on validity of Tanach?

Please note: The original Title was "Hebrew U and Bar Ilan University disagree on validity of Tanach"

Someone emailed me and expressed the opinion that the title could be interpreted as mocking Bar Ilan University. That was not my intention at all. Also, see **** UPDATE *** at the end of the original post.

I was somewhat confused by an article in the Jerusalem Post today and had to spend some time checking its validity. It seems that indeed the article was accurate. The logo on the left is for the Hebrew University. The one on the right is for Bar Ilan University. Just to explain the background first, here is a section from the website of Bar Ilan Uniniversity which purports to be a Torah Observant university.

About the University
Bar-Ilan University is the second largest university in Israel, with a student population of approximately 31,700 at the main campus in Ramat Gan, and at the four regional colleges operating under its auspices – in the Jordan Valley, in Safed, in the western Galilee and in Ashkelon.

The university regards the sacred principles of Judaism as the manifestation of the Jewish people's uniqueness, in accordance with the principles defined upon its establishment. The university's basic roles include supporting the safeguarding of these principles out of love and with the purpose of training and producing scholars, researchers and men of science knowledgeable in the Torah and imbued with the original Jewish spirit and love of one's brethren.

The university cultivates and combines Jewish identity and tradition with modern technologies and research. Instilling the fundamentals of Jewish heritage through basic Jewish studies, the Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studiesand other activities, while offering high-level academic studies and the development of advanced research within the framework of faculties, departments and research centers, renders the university unique.

The article is about the startling discovery of King Shlomo's defensive wall around the first Beis HaMikdash. At the dig they found indisputable proof of the validity and accuracy of the Tanach's description of King Shlomo's temple.

The head of the archeological team is one Professor Eilat Mazar of the the XXXXXXX university.

The article states:

"Ancient stone fortifications that were recently uncovered outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City date back some 3,000 years to the time of King Solomon and support the biblical narrative about the era, according to archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who spoke to a group of reporters at the site on Monday".

The article then goes into detail of the remarkable find but towards the end states :

"Nonetheless, other archeologists posit that the biblical narrative reflecting the existence of a powerful monarchy in Jerusalem is largely mythical and that there was no strong government to speak of in that era.

Aren Maeir, an archeology professor at YYYYYYYY university, said he has yet to see evidence that the fortifications are as old as Mazar claims. There are remains from the 10th century in Jerusalem, he said, but proof of a strong, centralized kingdom at that time remains "tenuous."

While some see the biblical account of the kingdoms of David and Solomon as accurate and others reject it entirely, Maeir said the truth was likely somewhere in the middle.

"There's a kernel of historicity in the story of the kingdom of David," he said.

OK, so Professor Eilat Mazar used the Tanach as her guide and has presented very thorough scientific evidence of the accuracy of the Tanach references. Professor Aren Maeir however is of the opinion that the Biblical account of King Shlomo's temple is half mythical.

(Eilat Mazar on the left, Aren Maeir on the right)

Now for a little quiz.

One professor comes from the religious right leaning Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. The other from the secular left leaning Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Which one is which?
You guessed it, Eilat is from the Hebrew University and Maeir from Bar Ilan.

Confused? I was too!

**** UPDATE ***

I have just got off the phone with the person who comments on this blog under the name Bouncer. He is travelling at the moment so couldn't post but had some interesting comments to make.

Being a scientist himself he said that whilst doing a scientific analysis of any evidence, one should not let one's personal belief systems interfere with one's work. If it does then your conclusions are worthless. That the Bar Ilan professor professed some scepticism and did not agree with the Hebrew U's professor's conclusions was a actually a healthy position to take and is a credit to his scientific credentials.

His second comment was that being Torah Jews, we should not be looking for scientific confirmation of the validity of Tanach. At the end of the day it's actually of little value.

(I hope I've expressed his opinion accurately. If not, I'll amend it).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Whisky Competition and Purim Shpeal

Whisky Competition (Status=Closed)

The competition is open to anyone living in the Yerushalayim and surrounding area.

Entries will be accepted up to Purim (2010)

I have two miniature bottles of J&B to give away as a prize to the first two who answer these simple questions:

1. How many bottles of whiskey does Scotland produce each year?

2. What would you call a Bottle of Scotch less than 3 years old?

3. How many countries produce Scotch whisky outside of Scotland?

4. Which of these is not a Scotch whisky?
Pig's Nose, Sheep Dip, Bushmills, Auchentoshan

(Answers at the bottom of the page.)

And now for something completely different...

Written by a close friend of mine. (He's actually about 2 meters away from me at the moment).

Hilchot Purim – what, and how much to drink on Purim

Compiled and edited by Rabbi Diskslipstein Shlita, The Giffnocker Rebbi

Question: What alcoholic beverage should I drink on Purim?

Answer: There is a major machloket among modern poskim about this question. This is neither the time nor the place to go into full details of all the various opinions, but I will try to cover some of the major ones.

The Admo”r from Chabbad (the L-bavicher Rebbi), in a psak halacha given 3 years after his death, claims that the ideal drink for Purim is vodka. He proves this from a pasuk in Shemot (15, 23) about the incident of the bitter waters of Mara. The Torah says:
וַיָּבאוּ מָרָתָה וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לִשְׁתּת מַיִם מִמָּרָה כִּי מָרִים הֵם עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמָהּ מָרָה:

“And they came to Mara but could not drink water from Mara because it was bitter, therefore they called its name Mara.”

The L-bavicher Rebbi asks why the water was bitter – and answers that it was bitter because it was really vodka. He explains that the name of the place “Mara” is taken from two words – Ma Ra – What is so bad? In other words, what is wrong with drinking vodka? He concluded his tshuva with a directive to his followers to make sure that every Jew drinks sufficient vodka (with the proper kavana) on Purim, in order to speed up the coming of the M-shiach יחי א-דונינו מורינו ורבינו מלך המ-שיח לעולם ועד

Rav Mizrachi is of the opinion that ONLY wine may be drunk. Rav C. Mizrachi bases this on Ahashverosh’s feasts, where the Megilla itself tells us that Ahashverosh got himself drunk on wine.

The Rokeach adds to Rav Carmel Mizrachi by quoting the Gemara (Megilla, 7b)
חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי

He says that the word “libisumei” comes from the word בוסם meaning perfume, so the wine drunk on Purim has to be spiced or at least have a fragrant bouquet.

But the most ingenious answer is that of Rav Burns of Galloway, who quotes the first halacha of Hilchot Pesach:
שלושים יום קודם הפסח שואלים ודורשים בהלכות החג

“30 days before the start of Pesach we should start to study Hilchot Pesach.” He calculates that this comes out on Adar 14th exactly. As the first mitzva of Pesach that we perform is biyur chametz, Rabbi Burns tells us that we should start Pesach preparations on Purim by drinking Whisky. Rabbi Burns finds further support for this idea from Breishit (36, 39) where whisky is referred to as מי זהב. The opinion of drinking whisky is also supported by the Admo”r from Bells and Rav Yoynason Walker. According to Sefer HaMacabim, those who cannot drink whisky can still be yotze by drinking beer.

Question: What is the minimum amount of alcohol that one must drink on Purim to be yotze the mitzva?

Answer: Rav Mordechai of Barkan (known as the “ba’al ha-guide”) points out that on Seder night we are supposed to drink 4 reviot of wine, yet not get drunk. Therefore, on Purim, we must drink at least twice this much. Rav Mordechai gives various opinions as to the volume of a reviit, ranging from 86cc to 150cc (see appendixes 2-17 of his guide for the detailed calculation). Therefore the minimum amount that must be drunk on Purim is between 688cc (just over 2/3 of a litre or most of a 750ml bottle) and 1200cc (just over 1 and a half 750ml bottles). He explains that the quote from the Gemara (brought above) says “חייב איניש” – a MAN is OBLIGED to get drunk – therefore all adult males must go according to the more stringent opinion and drink at least 1200cc, while women and children may accept the lesser opinion and drink at least 688cc. He therefore recommends that you make sure you have at least 1 bottle of alcoholic drink for each female or child at the seuda and at least two bottles of alcoholic drink for each adult male.

Purim Sameach

Answers to the Whisky Quiz

1. Scotch whisky is spelt without an “e”. Therefore the answer is Zero!

2. British Law allows only Scotch that has matured for at least three years to be called Scotch whisky. Therefore the answer is “not Scotch”.

3. Although there are a few countries that produce whiskey, only Scotland produces Scotch whisky. So the answer is Zero.

4. They are all Scotch whiskies except Bushmills which is an Irish whiskey.

Monday, February 15, 2010

HP Recovery Utility backup1.exe won't run.

Note: If you've come here via a search and need the solution quick, just scroll down until you see Problem: in green.

A Review of HP Recovery Utility and Paragon Rescue Kit 9

I recently was given an HP Compaq laptop to fix. The laptop had Vista installed. The laptop would start and tell you that it was installing Update 1 of 3….0%. To cut a long story short and get to the main subject of the post, when I did a restore and got the laptop up and running I noticed that the anti-virus, Task manager, Regedit, and Administrator user had all been disabled. When I tried to enter safe-mode, Vista crashed. There was nothing to do except a full reinstall.

When I began the "Restore to factory settings" the HP laptop ran a program called "HP recovery Utility" which claimed to do backup of all your picture, document and email files.

Clicking Next brought me to the backing up window where it stated "0% complete. There was a status field showing which file it was reading. It seemed to be reading every single file on the disk. After an hour it was still reading 0%! It hadn't crashed though. You could still see it reading through the files. I waited another hour and to my utter delight saw the scale move up to 1%! Great! At this rate, by my calculations it was going to take another 200 hours (that’s 8.333333 days) to complete the backups of a 160Gb disk. I could have done a complete image snapshot of the disk in 20 minutes! I let it run and it did speed up. It took around 6 hours to complete.

Then I started the Windows Vista installation. That took only around 10 minutes. Amazing I thought! Windows came up looking sparkling and new! This is just to lead you into a force sense of security though. The first thing it did was to inform you that it had to download Windows updates and restart after installation. These updates took around 4 hours eventually reaching Vista Service Pack 2. Why all the little updates Microsoft? Where are your cumulative updates? Why couldn't I just have had to install SP2 and that would have been that? Four hours plus on updates is totally ridiculous!

I had the pleasure of seeing these Windows around 20 times spread over many hours. It seemed unending!

After installing an anti-virus and Office and having to suffer through yet more Windows Updates it finally let me try and restore the backed up files.

I went to the backup folder where there was a single massive .fbw file and an application file called Backup1.exe. I ran the application and clicked Next and it began. "Restoring files, 0% complete…". I simply had no time for this so I cancelled the restore and shut the laptop down.

Problem: Backup1.exe won't run

The next day I tried to run the restore again. I double clicked on backup1.exe and up popped the Vista "confirm" window and then nothing happens. I tried again but nothing! There was no error message at all. I looked in the Task manager but there was no entry for the application. I tried running it with Administrator privilege but still nothing. I tried in Safe Mode but it refused to run. I tried switching off User Control Security but that didn't seem to be the problem either.


I did a Google and found loads of people complaining that Backup1.exe would not run but no one had an answer! Eventually, after googling the problem for 20 mins someone mentioned in one of the forums that if you had run the application and cancelled, it leaves log files in a folder called "System Recovery Files" on drive C.

If the tool sees this folder then it won't run! Simply deleting or renaming the folder brings the Backup1.exe back to life! Frustrating is not the word! The programmer of this nightmare tool ought to be tortured to death for wasting so many people's time! Not only will it not run if there are old log files there but when you come to do a restore it gives you no option to change the destination folder of the restored files. Recovery to "C:\System recovery Files" folder had simply been hard coded in. This would mean that had you partitioned drive C to a minimum and created a drive D to hold your data then there would not be enough space on drive C to restore the files and there would be no way of retrieving them. Great coding!

The next time I need to do a full Windows reinstall but need to backup personal files I'm not going to bother with HP Recovery Utility. There is a much easier and far quicker tool available and it's free!

Introducing Paragon Rescue Kit 9 !

This utility creates a CD image file which you burn onto a disk and use to boot a damaged machine with. It will boot up even if Windows is completely corrupted and gives you access to all the files on the disk. You can back the files up on another partition on the same hard disk or you can connect a USB hard drive to the computer and use that. Backups are done by using a standard Windows Explorer Style interface to decide which files and folders to copy to the destination drive. It's that simple.
After you have finished copying all the files you think you need, you can access these folders and files by plugging the USB hard drive into another computer, just to check that you have all the files you need. (They are not compressed or encrypted in any way). After that you can wipe out drive C and begin a fresh Windows installation safe in the knowledge that you have all personal files backed up. Amazing utility!

Up until now I have played it really safe and installed a new hard drive into the desktop and then installed a fresh copy of Windows on that. Afterwards I simply copy the old files fromteh old disk onto the new disk. This method may cost NIS 200 for a new drive but it guarantees 100% file recovery unless the old disk itself is damaged beyond repair. Obviously you can't use this "Sledge Hammer" approach with a laptop as it only allows installation of one hard disk at a time.

Using Paragon rescue Kit you can use this on a desktop machine or laptop and once saved check the files before doing a Windows reinstall. There are plenty of similar tools out there costing between $30 and $300. This thing does it better and for free.

In a future post I'll tell you (beli neder) how to convert a USB disk-on-key device to use as a CD/DVD boot disk.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tongue in cheek causes egg on face by putting foot in mouth, gets the boot

See article on Ynet,7340,L-3848434,00.html

Baroness Jenny Tonge has crossed the thin line of acceptable criticism of Israel and into pure and simple anti-Semitism many times before. It seems that even the Liberal democrats have some moral standards left or perhaps it’s simply a case of being embarrassed by this hateful nasty woman's outrageous comments once too many times, that she has finally been fired.

I am not being cynical without due justification. The Liberal Democrat Leader, Mr Nick Clegg, while giving Tonge the boot, insisted that he did not believe her to be anti-Semitic or racist! Was he being tongue in cheek? I think not. The only other explanation therefore must be that she simply embarrassed the party too much. A case of Tonge putting foot in mouth causing egg on face too many times.

''Following discussions with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Lord McNally, I have decided that Jenny Tonge will stand down as Liberal Democrat health spokesperson in the Lords following her unacceptable comments suggesting an inquiry into highly offensive allegations against the IDF humanitarian operation in Haiti,'' Mr Clegg said.

''The comments were wrong, distasteful and provocative and I recognise the deep and understandable distress they have caused to the Jewish community.

''While I do not believe that Jenny Tonge is anti-semitic or racist, I regard her comments as wholly unacceptable. Jenny Tonge apologises unreservedly for the offence she has caused.''...

As far as the Israeli Haiti Rescue Team is concerned; after being accused by Tonge's forked tongue of organ stealing and getting the boot, the shoe is now on the other foot. I suppose she will claim that there was in fact proof of body parts stealing but that Israel has since got rid of the evidence. A clear case of not wanting to speak to the accused organ grinder and being all too willing to listen to the monkey if you ask me.

Still now, after her booting, rather than getting cold feet, she will be free to express her anti-Semitism fully, having been kicked back upstairs to the House of Lords.

I am waiting for the demands for a  House of Lords inquiry as to whether the human ears that we Jews use to make our Purim Chumantashen came from Iran, the traditional export country, or from Haiti? I must admit that this year's chocolate flavoured brown "oznei Haman" ("Haman's ear" as we call them in Israel) found in the shops do look rather suspicious!

Iranian or Haitian ears?

It would finally show the justification for the world's (read British) outrage against Israel, especially after last year's scandal where imported Xtian baby blood from Scandinavia, used to bake the matzos for Pesach broke EU's food and additives standards regulations.

There has only been one other scandel to my memory, even remotely similer and that was way back in 1969 involving real crunchy frogs. See here for old news real on YouTube.

"My name is Superintendent Parrot and I are from the hygiene squad.We want to have a word with you about your box of chocolates entitled the Whizzo Quality Assortment..."

Carmel Red Ridge 2007 and Gamla Sauvignon Blanc vintage 2009

Carmel Mizrachi Red Ridge 2007

I have always been very disappointed with Carmel Mizrachi wines. In the past, even their NIS 100 plus "Private Collection" have shown the same problem which is a rather rough unpleasant aftertaste on the palette. Again and again I've given Carmel another try in the hope that they would finally get it right only to be disappointed yet again.

Three weeks ago I saw a new wine on the shelves called Carmel Red Ridge 2007. It was cheap (NIS 33) and as it was the end of the month and I had to keep my credit card bill down, I decided to give it a try (against my better judgement). I even commented to my wife as I took the bottle off the self that being the produce of Eretz Yisrael, I so much wanted to enjoy Carmel wines but had never yet found one I liked because of that rough aftertaste characteristic. An American Chareidi guy who was standing near us, laughed, nodding his head. It seems I'm not the only one.

The back label describes the Red Ridge as a dry red wine made mainly from Carignan, with a little Shiraz, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon, all grown in vineyards in the valleys surrounding Zichron Ya’acov.

Kiddush Friday night we opened the bottle at room temperature and let it breathe through Shalom Aleichem, Eishes Chayil and giving the children their brachos. As I poured out the wine I was impressed by the colour which was an encouraging medium dark royal red. It had the aroma of fresh berries and a wonderful round satisfying deep fruity taste. I'd describe the taste as young and confident. Now for the aftertaste. I waited for that bitterness my delight it didn't come. Instead I was treated to a long warm taste of stewed garden berries. This wine brought a smile to the faces of the whole family. I took another sip and let it sit in the mouth for a few seconds. Oh boy! Carmel finally got it right!

This might be described as a cheap table wine but don't be snobbish. Give it a try.

Golan winery Gamla Sauvignon Blanc vintage 2009

We opened a new Gamla Sauvignon Blanc vintage 2009 for Kiddush, Shabbos morning yesterday. This vintage hit the supermarkets last week. We were delighted by its attractive colour, aroma and delicious delicate refreshing taste. If I didn't know better I'd think that the Golan winery mixed the wine with fresh tropical fruit juice. Some at the table said "bananas", others said "pineapple'. I tasted a mixture of both.
The 2006 was enjoyable but nothing to write home about (or to dedicate a blog post to). The 2007 vintage was a little disappointing being too acidy, especially considering that the Gamla Chardonnay of the same year was exceptional. The 2009 however is spectacular and simply perfect for a warm Shabbos day.
My advice is to serve this straight from the fridge in tall flute glasses to capture that tropical fruit aroma. (I know many people turn their noses up at serving anything but sparkling wine in tall flute glasses but they are missing out on the benefits of that first nose).

Don't rush through the Kiddush. Make it dramatic and meaningful in the sure knowledge that you have the wine to back up your sentiment. (You'll also give the wine just enough time to breathe). I bought this in Shefa Shuk for NIS 36 (if I'm not mistaken). Great value I'd say.

Shefa Shuk near the Belz Beis Midrash, Yerushalayim.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The inside story of a Messianic Jew who returned to Torah: Penina Taylor

I've just finished listening to a fascinating Israel National Radio recorded broadcast hosted by Rabbi Tovia Singer where he interviewed what sounded like a very sweet and sincere women by the name of Penina Taylor.

Former ‘Messianic Jew’ Helps Jews in the Church Return

She has an incredible story of being brought up in secular Jewish home, being converted to Xtianity at University, gradually moving into "Messianic Judaism" (sic) and serious missionary activity, only to come full circle and returning to Judaism as a Shomrei Mitzvos Torah Jew. Indeed, her new book is called "Coming full circle".

A lot of what she said I had heard before such as the intentional deceptive attempts of Messianic Xtian leaders to hide Xtianity behind a mask of superficial Jewish practice. For instance, she explained how Messianic Churches were designed to look like synagogues.

But what struck me most was that in Penina's opinion, 99% of Jews who convert to Xtianity do not do so because of a verse or a revelation but because a regular person, a roommate, a work colleague or person on the street showed kindness or compassion and appeared happy. They tell the potential convert incredibly simplistic and shallow things that sound so profound that they are taken in. The next stage is to go to their church where they are surrounded by smiling warm faces who bend over backwards to offer any assistance. The convert finds an instant social network amongst fellow believers and a warm feeling inside that satisfies their emotional need for spirituality.

The vast majority of these converts never feel the need to question anything they are told. If any doubts do creep in then the Ace in hand is played; the "Hell" card. The logic goes like this. If the Xtians are wrong then the worst that will happen is you'll die and decompose after you lose consciousness. However if you have doubts or even reject their belief and the Xtian doctrine is the truth after all then you will burn in hell for eternity. Pretty frightening stuff! She explained that this keeps all but the strongest in line.

This might possibly explain why even after a Jew has seemingly won an argument against a missionary and successfully disproved a Xtian proof text, the Xtian pretends that the event never happened and just goes on to the next so called "proof text". They don't seem to comprehend that any one of the many facts that prove Yoski Poski was not the Jewish Messiah means that in fact, the game is over. There is no second round.

Coming back to her main point about Jews who convert, Penina explains that virtually all anti-missionaries who attempt to bring these lost Jews back in the fold use confrontational techniques such as intellectual discussions of verses that disprove their Xtian faith. However, they ignore the strongest motivation keeping these lost soles in the church or in their messianic synagogues and that is the love and support they get from that group.

Torah Judaism may have the Emes on its side and perhaps is the only religion that can actually be proved by logic and intellect. However, perhaps, due to 2,000 years of persecution and Golus, we sometimes find it difficult to be warm and welcoming to strangers in our community and do not pay enough attention to fellow daveners.

Take a simple example. Someone is given a kavod of say opening the Aron Kodesh or Hagba'ah or even an Aliyah. When they return to their seats, how many of us make that effort to wish the guy a "yashar koach" and shake his hand? Some shuls make an effort. Most don't. When strangers appear in shul, how much effort is made to give them a smile, a simple Shabbat Shalom / Goot Shabbos or ask them where they are from? If someone does speak to them it's more than often to inform them that they are in someone's seat and that they should move!

I know people are tired on Shabbos and prefer to have a shmooze with their friend or concentrate on perfecting their davening and I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. What I am saying is that we must make a greater effort to acknowledge others in shul. To warmly shake the guy's hand as he passes by and wish him a yashar koach is not going to kill you and may even keep that Jewish family alive for another generation. Am I exaggerating or being over dramatic? I don't think so. If you believe that talking should be kept to a bare minimum in shul then wait until after the tephila or at the Kiddush to greet a new face.

This applies perhaps even more when it comes to the youth. If a teenager has just finished leining the Parsha or reading Haftorah or has received any kavod, I believe that the minyan should make a big fuss of him. We must send all the youth the message that they are not only welcome and appreciated but that they are very very precious and important to us. They after all are our future.

I admit that I got annoyed with one of the gabaim a few weeks ago who I notice repeatedly neglects to wish people "yashar koach". I find the lack of effort to shake people's hands very frustrating. One of the gabbai's responsibilities ought to be to make people feel welcome.

Again, I know that I am generalising and that there are some very friendly shuls out there. Anyone who knows me should not take this as a criticism of my own shul which I believe is pretty good when it comes to welcoming guests. However I unfortunately have experienced too many very unfriendly shuls to realise that this is a real problem.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chareidi or religious state schools. Who has it right?

Every now and again you see an article in either YNET or The Jerusalem Post about a child from a Sefardi family whose parents have sent him/her to a Chareidi Ashkenazi school because they believe that the standard of Torah education is higher there. The parents complain that the school gives priority to Ashkenazi children, only allowing a few Sefardi kids a place. Then if the child is selected, the parents complain that the Ashkenazi school is brainwashing their child with Ashkenazi traditions, customs and prayer. Predictably, the article is always biased in favour of the parents because perceived racism and anti-Chareidi articles make for good page hits and talkbacks.

One could argue that if the parents choose to send their child to a school which they know in advance teaches according to the Ashkenazi tradition then they really should not complain. The article though always argues that good schooling should be open to everyone and that it is the school that should stop being exclusively Ashkenazi. The climax of the article is always that giving priority to Ashkenazi children is racist. No doubt the author then sits back and waits for the flood of anti-Chareidi talkbacks to come in. Job well done. Pat on the back.
Not only are they wrong but they miss the real story which is the misguided, mistaken and destructive practice of the State Religious Zionist (Mamlachti Dati) schools in Israel.

Torah Judaism teaches us to follow the traditions and customs of our fathers, to know who we are and where we have come from. Every Jewish community should be proud of who they are and their unique traditions. Every tradition should be respected. We are not here to make a soup from our kids in Israel, to be watered down to a generic form of Jewish practice, but a salad bowl of beautiful contrasts and flavours. The State religious Zionist schools have got it tragically wrong. They attempt to teach halacha (Jewish law) according to all minhagim (customs) and have mandatory common tephila (morning prayer) for all kids using some kind of "nusach Achid", a generic prayer ritual.

In many towns (including my own), the majority of kids who go to the State Religious schools are from Sefardi backgrounds. Inevitably, due to force of numbers and despite the supposed practiced "nusach Achid", the Ashkenazi minority are forced to submit to the tunes of Sefardi prayer and order of prayer according to Sefardi traditions and customs.

My kids complain bitterly about this but when I have spoken to the school, my words have fallen on deaf ears. In my experience, any attempt by Ashkenazi parents to suggest parallel Ashkenazi minyanim (services) are rejected out right. Any suggestion to be excused from the school minyan and to pray with their father in his shul in the mornings is likewise rejected!

It is not just tephila where the problem exists. My daughter came home a few months ago and told me that her Halacha Rav at school (who is Sefardi) had told her that Ashkenazim were not allowed to use teabags on Shabbat. She was very upset at the thought that we may have been performing malacha on Shabbat all these years. I calmed her down and opened up " Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchosoh" by Rav Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth and showed her that we are allowed to use teabags on Shabbat from a kli shlishi which is indeed what we do. She was obviously greatly relieved. This is just one example of many.

Unlike all other religions which begin with a supposed revelation by a single person or a small group, Judaism claims that an entire people of some 3 million men women and children experienced Hakodesh Baruch Hu giving the Torah to the Jewish people. All other religions must by necessity begin with a leap of faith. You either believe that what this individual said he witnessed is the truth or not.

In total contrast, the entire Jewish people witnessed the same events from the 10 plagues to the Splitting of the Reed Sea to Har Sinai. We were told by Hashem to pass the record of this experience onto the next generation. This is the mitzvah of "Vehigadita Levincha" in Shemos 13:8 and is unquestionable proof of the truth of Hashem's Torah. This transfer from generation to generation is only possible with the use of a family tradition joining all the generations together.

This is why Leil HaSeder is so important and also answers an often asked question. Why are we so obsessed by so many family traditions on Pesach, many of them seemingly without reason? The answer is that these family minhagim connects us to all previous generations of our family. Just as our ancestor who stood on Har Sinai and heard Hashem's voice, passed down Torah, halacha and minhagim and the revelation experience to his children, so we continue that chain on Leil HaSeder.

This chain is made up of links such as the way we pray, the nigunim (tunes) we sing and the minhagim we observe.

It tears my kishkes inside out to think that families of generations of Torah and mitzvos observant Jews who have kept the light of Torah alive through the worst that the golus has thrown at them, including pogroms, forced conversions and forced deportations and kept loyal to Hashem by keeping their traditions and customs, finally come home to Eretz Yisrael only to have these schools expunge the very thing that has kept us all alive for 2,000 years and that which defines who we are.

Please don't think that this is an exclusively Ashkenazi war. I was speaking to a work colleague of mine who is Sefardia. She was telling me that she went to a State Religious school in the 1980s in Yerushalayim where the majority of teachers and kids happened to be Ashkenazi. To this day she feels uncomfortable praying Friday night in her grandfather's beit-knesset. She prefers the Ashkenazi services. She get's confused as to what is exclusively Ashkenazi Jewish law or customs or that which applies for all Jews because of what she was taught in school. She never learnt the Jewish law and customs exclusive to her family. She told me that she sends her kids to a Sefardi Chareidi school, despite having Zionist ideology, because of this.

These schools are unwittingly tearing at the very fabric of Judaism. If parents wish to send their kids to Zionist religious schools then it is the responsibility of parents to compensate for the school's error and make sure that at least on Shabbos, father and son, mother and daughter daven together in a shul true to their nusach.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Choni HaMe'agel. Your questions answered

A number of people have asked me questions regarding my last post about the story of Choni HaMe'agel.

I only quoted the middle bit of the story so this is the full story:

Taanis 23a/b

Choni HaMe'agel was always bothered by the pasuk in Tehillim 126 that reads "A song of going up. When Hashem will return the captivity of Zion we will be like dreamers". One day he was walking along the road when he came across a man planting a carob tree…

(Read this part of the story in previous post)

…After speaking to the man's grandson and realising that he (Choni) had in fact slept for 70 years, he goes home only to find that his son has already died and that his grandson is living in the house. He announces to them that he is Choni HaMe'agel, back after disappearing for 70 years. They do not believe him and send him away. He walks to the Beis Midrash where he hears the Rabbanim teaching a halacha in the name of Choni HaMe'agel! He announces that he is Choni HaMe'agel but they assume he is a deranged person and throw him out the Beis Midrash. Alone and rejected he asks Hashem to take his life like the folk saying. "Give me companionship (from family and friends) or give me death".

There were two basic questions on this story:

1. Choni HaMe'agel dies of a broken heart, rejected by his family as well as those in the Beis Midrash. This does not seem appropriate considering he was a tzaddik?

2. The story regarding Choni HaMe'agel begins by Choni being troubled by the pasuk in Tehillim 126. He wonders what the term "like dreamers" means in this context. Somehow the story of the man planting a carob tree is supposed to answer this question but it is unclear how.

(The following perush is based on the Artscroll Tanach Series Tehillim Volume II. Page 1536)

Let's start by answering Choni's question on a pshat level. What does "we were like dreamers" mean?

The Seforno writes that when Zion (Am Yisrael) return to Eretz Yisrael from Babel after 70 years, the splendour and excitement of the occasion will seem like an impossible dream.

The Malbim writes that all through the bitter exile of Babel, the Jewish people never stopped dreaming of the return to their homeland – Eretz Yisrael. Am Yisrael had perfect faith in the "dreams", that is the nevuos (the prophetic visions) that the nevi'im (prophets) received, that we would return to Eretz Yisrael after 70 years.

The Radak (which seems to be the accepted pshat as I've seen this quoted most often), writes that when Zion (Am Yisrael) returns home to Eretz Yisrael, the memory of the harsh living in Chutz LaAretz, that is Babel, will seem like a bad dream.

Others interpret the Radak as saying that true reality only exists in Eretz Yisrael. Living as a Jew outside of our home land is like a bad dream that actually feels at the time so real and normal. However, in the morning we awake and immediately realise with shock just how abnormal the dream really was.

The Maharsha sees the story of Choni as a mashal for this point. Choni realises that his dreaming for 70 years while the carob tree continued to grow is a mashal for Am Yisrael surviving in Babel for 70 years. It is as if the Jewish people were kept in suspended animation whilst outside Eretz Yisrael.

Just as it is a supernatural event that he slept for 70 years and then woke up, so it was a ness (miracle) that Am Yisrael survived in Babel, torn from its routes.

Carob in Hebrew is Charov חרוב. The word comes from the shoresh (or route) charav  חרב which means lifeless. The Carob tree appears to be lifeless for 70 years, existing but not bearing fruit. Then suddenly after so long, it produces beautiful honey tasting carobs. This is a mashal for Am Yisrael in Babel.

Choni awakes after 70 years. He has been away from his home all this time sleeping, just as Am Yisrael has been in Babel sleeping for 70 years.

Both his family and the Beis Midrash honour and venerate the memory of Choni HaMe'agel, their Tzaddik grandfather and Rebbi yet they find it impossible to relate to the man himself in the flesh. Although Choni was given the privilege of seeing the carob tree bare fruit, his grownup grandson and his Torah being taught in the Beis Midrash, he realises that he really shouldn't be there. Just as Moshe Rabeinu was not allowed into Eretz Yisrael because he was the wrong type of leader for Am Yisrael living in Eretz Yisrael. So too Choni's Torah straight from Choni's mouth would not have been appropriate in that generation. Hakodesh Baruch Hu therefore takes his neshama to Olam Haba.