Monday, April 18, 2005

Following on the same Path

Following on the same Path
April 18, 2005


In a few days we will all be celebrating the holiday of liberation and redemption, the conclusion of Israel's exile in Egypt.

The Passover holiday is a really bright star on the Jewish calendar. It represents the end of our cold winter and the commencement of spring and summer, bringing with them the warmth so longed for during the rainy season.

But the enthusiasm sparked by Pesach is more than a corporeal comfort. It also represents the birth of a people, physically and spiritually. We are taught that Israel's deliverance from Egypt was literally a birth process, the very creation of the Jewish people, having progressed from a 'family clan' led by our Forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to to a full-fledged people, including over 600,000 men, meaning that the total population was in the millions.

As we all know, a new-born is created with a body and also a soul, two integral elements of a living being. So too, the fledgling Jewish people were begotten with a physical and spiritual being.  Am Yisrael, as a whole, has a body and a soul, just as does an individual.

The very first experience of this infant nation was that of 'geula' – of redemption, from hundreds of years of bondage, to freedom, as a people of G-d. This path, from darkness to light, lies in the very essence of our existence. It is the spiritual energy from which our spiritual roots will feed for eternity, as we say so many times, on so many different occasions, 'zacher l'yitziat mitzraim' – a remembrance of the redemption from Egypt.

And all the more so on the first night of Passover, when we repeat annually, not that we only remember redemption from exile, but rather that it as if we are actually living that redemption today.

History has shown just how true and necessary this concept is. How many times have the Jewish people faced total blackness – a darkness with seemingly no end – no light at the end of the tunnel. The destruction of the First Temple and exile, the destruction of the Second Temple and exile – an exile which lasted almost 2,000 years. We suffered exiles within exiles, from so many countries in Europe, expelling Jews as if they were nothing more than bugs; from France in 1182, from England in 1290, and most notably from Spain in 1492, when some 200,000 Jews were evicted from their homes, and host country. How many thousands were tortured and/or burned at the stake by Father Tomas de Torquemada, the Hitler of his day.  And 60 years ago: Aushwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Bensen. Six million.

What do these events have to do with Passover? Very simply, without the roots of Passover, without the inbred hope and knowledge that from within the darkness there is always light, that redemption is always around the corner, even when that corner is hidden and not yet visible, without this promise, how could any people survive such cataclysmic occurrences over thousands of years? 

This is the essence of the Jewish people.

If we desire, we can go back a little further, to the days of the first Jew, and see in him the same faith later to be instilled in all the people. Abraham was commanded by his Creator to take his beloved son, Isaac, 'to the place which I will show you.' And there Abraham was ordered to take a butcher's knife and slaughter the one person who was to continue in his footsteps. Abraham did not hesitate, not even for a moment, believing with all his heart and soul, that whatever G-d commanded was to be implemented – after all, who was he, a mere human being, to question the Almighty? That seed of faith sprouted the Jewish people, who survived 210 years in Egypt and two thousand years of exile at the hands of so many Torquemadas and Hitlers.

So many people ask how we Jews in Hebron, today numbering close to 900, can live with, and deal with the overwhelming animosity which surrounds us. For instance, another 'hate article' appeared in HaAretz newspaper, comparing Jewish Hebron to "old Harlem" or the "Sadr section of Baghdad." []

This article is based upon the problems we are presently having in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, centering around the "Sharabati House," an Arab home jutting into the neighborhood.

First, some background about the house. According to Yehuda Abushdid, who lived with his family in Hebron in 1929, the elder Sharabati, (who died a few years ago) participated in raping and murdering Jews during the 1929 riots and massacre.

Some six years ago, a Sharabati son jumped from his house into the Avraham Avinu courtyard with a knife, in an attempt to kill someone. When apprehended he claimed that he wanted to 'kill an Arab.' In response, the Israeli authorities turned him over to the 'palestinian authority police,' who promptly released him.

Homemade bombs were twice hurled into the Avraham Avinu playground. They cannot be directly attributed to the family, due to lack of solid evidence. However, it is more than likely that they had a hand in the terrorism they know so well.

Almost five years ago, at the beginning of the Oslo war, when the Hebron's Jewish neighborhoods came under daily shooting attacks, the IDF removed the Sharabatis from their home and did not permit them to return, for security reasons.

Some time later the house was searched and a number of articles identifying them with Arab terror organizations were discovered. []

Recently the IDF decided to allow the Sharabati family to return to their home. Their homecoming is to be preceded by major renovations of the decrepit building, which is falling apart. Hebron's Jewish community voiced vehement opposition to this decision because the security situation is still explosive. An Arab family, living directly above our courtyard and playground is a lethal threat. Our cries went unheard. Almost two weeks ago the security forces literally invaded the neighborhood, declared the courtyard, playground, and kindergarten a 'closed military zone' and proceeded to build the "Hebron Wall," separating the Arab house from the rest of the neighborhood.

Since then border police have been stationed next to the wall, (which is several meters high and very thick), as well as on rooftops of Hebron resident apartment buildings. Unfortunately not all of these border policemen have received modern cultural training: they have urinated on the rooftops (above people's homes), and have broken equipment and caused damage to property. One woman found a bottle of urine on her porch.

The Ha'Aretz newspaper account also relates to a spontaneous protest upon arrival of the state Attorney General, Manny Mazuz. For those of you not familiar with Mazuz, he made the decision not to indict Ariel Sharon for any of the corruption crimes he committed in the past, thereby allowing him to continue with the eviction of almost 10,000 people from their homes in Gush Katif and the northern Sinai. I can assure you, if any of us had been suspected of the same crimes, with the same evidence available, there is no doubt that we would have been indicted. So why not protest against him?

The article also refers to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood as a 'ghetto.' Once upon a time, almost 500 years ago, it was a ghetto. That's when Jews, previously exiled from Spain, arrived at the site.  Today, thank G-d, anyone with eyes in his head sees that it is no longer a ghetto. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for construction of the 'Hebron Wall,' to justify Ha'aretz' account of the neighborhood.

The article is, of course, extremely negative, attempting to blacken Hebron's name. However, it is essential to understand who wrote this article: Zvi Bar'el. Just who is Bar'el?

I heard the following account from Kiryat Arba-Hebron resident and artist, Baruch Nachshon: "I think it was 29 years ago. We were conducting a 'Brit Milah' for our newborn son in Ma'arat HaMachpela – the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Bar'el was then the deputy governor of Hebron. He came into the room in Ma'arat HaMachpela just as we were about to begin the blessing over the wine. Bar'el took the cup of wine from the person who was holding it, and with a smile on his face, poured the wine onto the floor. He then took my hat from my head and used it to wipe the floor, with his foot. We all stood there, totally stunned."

This is the same Zvi Bar'el, who almost 30 years later, continues to spout the same hate he expressed so grossly during a ritual circumcision ceremony at the second holiest site to the Jewish people, in the entire world.

What more could we expect from him? Hebron=Old Harlem, or Sidr, Baghdad?
In his view, we are worse.

Despite such horrid attacks upon such a holy city, and the people trying to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors, Hebron's lights continue to glow. How? For the very reasons I enumerated at the beginning of this article, because we know, without any doubt, that the light is just around the corner. Or perhaps it is already glowing; we only need open our eyes to see it.

So too it is with our belief that Gush Katif and the northern Shomron will be saved – their land will not be abandoned, their residents not expelled from their homes. Sharon will not be allowed to follow in the footsteps of the French, English and Spanish, who brutally drove tens and hundreds of thousands of Jews from their residences.

How will salvation appear? In truth, I really don't know. But then again, neither did Abraham when commanded to kill Yitzhak. And neither did Moses, when ordered to take the reins, to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt.

But, both did as they were told, and the results are self-evident. We are only following the same path that they showed us, and with G-d's help, we too will witness success and redemption.

With blessings from Hebron for a very happy Passover holiday.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Real Tel Aviv

The Real Tel Aviv
April 10, 2005

The year was 1979. Ten women and forty children had recently moved into the basement floor of Beit Hadassah in Hebron, and set up house, as best as possible. Sort of like an urban kibbutz. A large eating area and several rooms for the mothers and their children. Swings hanging between tree branches and makeshift see-saws comprised the playground. Showers were a bucket of water poured over the head outside, blocked off from the others by a flimsy curtain. Running water was a luxury not yet available.

One morning Miriam Levinger, waking up her six-year old son, suddenly opened her eyes in shock. A registered nurse, Miriam's own eyes darkened as she looked into her son's eyes. What she saw was yellow. Literally. The child wasn't scared. He was sick. Without any running water, without normal sanitary facilities, living in a filthy building vacant for years, jaundice was a real possibility. Seeing her son's yellow eyes, Miriam Levinger knew that the disease had arrived. She also knew that jaundice is very contagious and would likely spread quickly from child to child.

As she describes it, Miriam was certain that the Beit Hadassah venture would soon be over. She was sure that as soon as the other women heard that her son was infected with jaundice, they would all leave, immediately. Girding her strength, and ready for the worst, she started making the rounds. "My son has jaundice." "Oh, really. What else is new this morning?" And that's the way is was, from one to the other. "O.K. – it will pass – he'll be healthy soon." Not one woman left.

One of the women was pregnant, and of course, jaundice and pregnancy are not overly compatible. "Shoshana, you can't stay here and risk infection." Shoshana's reply: If I leave, I won't be able to return. I'm staying." (Beit Hadassah was then under siege – anyone who left couldn't go back, and no one else was allowed in.) "But Shoshana…".  "No buts – I'm not leaving. Miriam will take care of me."

Shoshana, after receiving special permission to leave Beit Hadassah and return, later gave birth to a little girl, named her Hadassah, and returned to Beit Hadassah.

The Beit Hadassah women and children all survived one of the first tests of their will and determination: jaundice.

Almost exactly eleven years ago the Ze'ev family was enjoying their Passover holiday meal at the new home they had just finished building in Shilo, in the Shomron. As is customary, during the meal the younger Ze'ev children 'stole' a piece of Matza, needed to later complete the traditional ceremonies. As the time approached to conclude the meal, their father Yisrael, and mother, Miriam, looked at the eight kids and asked them to return the Matza. "What will you give us if we give it back," they asked. "Well, what do you want?"  What do children usually ask for  - a basketball, a doll, a book, or maybe a bicycle. But this time the kids had a different idea in mind. Glancing at their sister, Isca, then 18 years old, they took a deep breath and answered.

Watching them closely, Isca smiled to herself. A first-class instigator, Isca had coached her younger siblings well, one by one.

"We want to go live in Hebron. If we can go live in Hebron, we'll give you the Matza back. Otherwise…"

Yisrael and Miriam looked at each other and shrugged. "O.K.," Yisrael answered, "if that's what you want, that's what you'll get. Now, go get the Matza."

And that's how the Ze'ev family decided to move to Hebron.

Almost exactly a year later, troublemaker Isca received her own personal reward. Isca had already been living and working in Kiryat Arba for a year, performing her national volunteer service at Midreshet Hevron. Now, living in Hebron, not far from Rabbi Moshe and Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger, Isca's sparkling personality drew the attention of one of the Levinger daughters. She decided to play matchmaker and arranged a meeting between Isca and one of her brothers. Soon after there was an engagement party and then a wedding. Isca Ze'ev married the little boy who came down with jaundice in Beit Hadassah, sixteen years earlier, Shlomo Levinger.

For most of their married life the young Levingers, today parents of four, lived in the same building where Shlomo spent a year of his early childhood. But this time, rather than live in the basement, Shlomo and his family lived on the top floor of Beit Hadassah. I have a personal affinity to the Shlomo, Isca and their children, as we have been neighbors for almost seven years, living across the hall from each other. But a few days ago, on Friday, we bid them farewell.

Early Friday morning the movers arrived, packed up their truck, and chugged up a very steep hill, about 3 minutes away. No, they aren't leaving Hebron. Rather, the Levingers became the first family to move into Hebron's newest building in the Admot Ishai (Tel Rumeida) neighborhood. The new building, called "Beit Menachem" in honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbi, Rabbi Menachem M. Shneerson, will house seven families and a Torah study hall. The site's official dedication will take place during the upcoming Passover festivities [].

I think it very auspicious that the Levinger family initiate this new apartment building. Directly under their apartment is the Hebron Archeological Park, which contains artifacts from 4,500 to 1,500 years old, including a wall from the days of Abraham and a house from the era of King Hezekiah, some 2,700 years ago.

What could be more fitting than to have a representative of Hebron's 'first family,' a son of Rabbi Moshe and Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger, known as the 'father and mother' of Hebron's modern Jewish community, be the first to move into this new edifice?

To me, this site could be called Tel Aviv. Why? Today's Israeli metropolis is named after Theodore Herzl's book, Altneuland., which literally means 'old – new land,' with 'Tel' representing the old and 'Aviv' (which means spring in Hebrew), representing the new. However, the authentic 'old' is here in Hebron, the roots of our existence, at the site called Tel Hebron. And the new is directly above the old – a beautiful new apartment complex, the buds of the rebirth of the Jewish People in the City of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

It won't be long before "Beit Menachem" will be full of families with many children running around. These families and children are the blossoms on the trees planted by Abraham and Sarah, almost 4,000 years ago, at this very site. We thank G-d for the privilege to follow in the footsteps of such esteemed ancestors, being able to rebuild and live in the real Tel Aviv.

With blessings from Hebron.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Chop off their tongues?

Chop off their tongues?
April 3, 2005


I was aghast, reading an article titled "Disengagement and Halacha" by Eitan Kastner. [ – username: dwilder; password: eretz]  Posted a few days ago, this article summarizes a program recently held in New York, concerning the current 'disengagement' and its status in Jewish law (Halacha in Hebrew). Sponsored by the Yeshiva University Israel Club, the program featured three noted and important Rabbis, all holding major positions at Yeshiva University.

For those of you not familiar with this institution, ranks Yeshiva University 46th on its list of national universities, together with Penn. State, the University of Texas and others, a few places above Syracuse, George Washington and Boston U. According to it is " the oldest and largest university under Jewish auspices in the United States… and includes the well-known Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Talmudic and Israel research institutes, and the graduate school of mathematical studies."

Yeshiva University is a bastion of higher education, combining the best of Jewish educators, together with top notch secular programs. Many graduates of the undergraduate and postgraduate studies are official, ordained rabbis.

Amongst the university's top educational staff are Chancellor Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Dean Rabbi Zevulun Charlop and Spiritual supervisor Rabbi Yosef Blau.  These men considered to be, literally, 'the cream of the crop," scholars with international reputations, spoke at the above-mentioned program.

This is one of the reasons I am so upset.

In short, these three rabbis all agreed that according to strict Jewish Torah law, the government of Israel can justifiably 'give back territory if they feel that the welfare of the country depends on it.'  The foundation of their opinion is a rabbinic ruling which says, "the law of the land is the law" (dina d'malchuta dina). Simplistically, whatever the government legally decides, is valid.

They also all oppose 'refusal to obey orders' by soldiers and police, forced to carry out Sharon's dirty work.

However, former university president Lamm goes several steps further. Speaking about 'ideology of fundamentalist settlers,' Lamm says, "When you take any mitzvah and you make it a supreme mitzvah above all other things in a way that Chazal (our Rabbis) do not say, then it is a form of idolatry." In other words, we are all idol worshipers. 

He adds, ""Whether the government should do it or should not do it is irrelevant. The government, having done what they did, we have no choice but to support them," and concludes that refusers should be "appropriately punished."

Rabbi Blau had the last word: ""Those who are so adamantly opposed to it [disengagement] should come up with an alternate policy with a long range approach."

It's difficult for me to relate to these men as 'Rabbis' – their opinions border on blasphemy.

True,  'the law of the land is law,' is legitimate but only as long as it does not negate Torah. Rabbi Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba, in answer to a question writes: "During the First Temple Era there were kings who broke Torah law. The prophets were sent to admonish them.  It makes no difference, kings or prime ministers, if they act against Torah, Jewish law prevails and one is not obligated to obey them."

For example, should the government decide that 'the welfare of the State' demands that all Jews work on Shabbat – the Sabbath, or that all Jews must eat, at least once a day, a mixed meat and dairy meal (which is forbidden), how would these same Rabbis rule? In the days when the Greeks and the Romans forbade Torah study, did the great teachers obey?  Rabbi Akiva, perhaps the greatest of our Sages, was tortured and killed by the Romans for teaching Torah to the masses. Should a future government decide, G-d forbid, to abandon Ma'arat HaMachpela and Temple Mount, how would these esteemed Rabbis rule?

Jewish law forbids abortions (excepting cases when the woman's life may be jeopardized by the pregnancy). Would these Rabbis permit abortions because a state assembly has decided that 'it is in the best welfare of the state' to allow them?

There is also a question as to who can define 'what is good for the state.'  Rabbi Lamm says: "If you ask a rabbi how to treat Hutchins disease...don't. If you do, there is something very wrong with you. The rabbanim are experts in halacha. They are not experts in other fields." Who, in our case in Israel, is the expert?  According to Yediot Achronot senior military correspondent Alex Fishman (as reported by, "IDF sources predict that immediately after the disengagement, the ceasefire is expected to end with terrorist attacks in and from Judea and Samaria. Among the threats are mortar and Kassam rockets on Israel's new toll-way Highway 6, as well as other areas in the coastal plain and the Afula area. The "regular" ambush attacks on roads, as well as attacks on army bases and towns in Judea and Samaria, are also expected. The Palestinian terrorists are heavily-armed, Fishman writes: "Despite the successes in discovering arms-smuggling tunnels [between Egypt and Gaza], in the battle between smuggling and thwarting smuggling, the smugglers have won."

According to army estimates, in the eight-month period between July 2004 and February 2005, over 3,000 assault rifles were smuggled into Gaza, as well as 400,000 bullets, 400 pistols, and 600 kilograms of explosives.

In addition, over 180 anti-tank rocket launchers and 5 anti-aircraft rockets are now in the possession of the Palestinian terrorists. In short, Fishman sums up, "stopping the smuggling has become a matter of national existence. It is liable to spell the difference between a diplomatic agreement and a comprehensive war against the Palestinians."

So, who is the expert on what's best for Israel – Sharon, or top military analysts? It is a well known secret that both Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and Intelligence Chief Avi Dichter were axed by Sharon due to their professional opposition to the abandonment of Gush Katif.

Rabbi Lamm's statement about idolatry is incomprehensible. The very pillars of the Jewish people are founded on Eretz Yisrael. There is no question that the Jewish people came into existence in order to fulfill Torah in the Land of Israel. Without Eretz Yisrael there is no Jewish people. They are intrinsically entwined. So how can a 'learned Rabbi' define 'fundamentalist settlers' as idol worshipers because they desire only to preserve what is rightfully ours, the land that is the basis of our existence?

Eretz Yisrael has been defined as 'the soul of the Jewish people.' Who is best suited to deal with the soul – Rabbis or corrupt politicians?

And last, but certainly not least, I must reply to Rabbi Blau, who demanded " an alternate policy with a long range approach." There is only one plan that I know of, that I have no doubt, would work. And it is not an alternative plan, rather it is the primary plan. That is, of course, that Rabbis Lamm, Charlop and Blau should move themselves, with their entire institution, from New York, to, say, Neve Dekalim, or maybe Hebron, or perhaps Jerusalem, or, as a last resort, Tel Aviv. That is the policy that G-d had in mind some 3,700 years ago when He commanded Abraham to walk from Iraq to Eretz Yisrael. I guess you could also call it a 'long-range approach,' – eternal approaches could be defined as 'long-range.'

One final point: I don't know much about the family history of Rabbis Lamm and Blau. However, Rabbi Zevulan Charlop's grandfather was the renowned Torah scholar, Rabbi Ya'akov Moshe Charlop, the principal student of Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, the first Israeli Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Charlop, a true lover of Eretz Yisrael was a bountiful and sublime writer. But he also knew how to make a blunt point.

When the British suggested a "partition plan", dividing Eretz Yisrael into two entities, Rabbi Charlop wrote: "Behold, the matter is simple and clear – Heaven forbid that the Jewish People relinquish any tiny concession of any iota of land that is sanctified with the holiness of Eretz Yisrael…. There is no doubt that if the matter reaches the point where we will need sign an international agreement that includes any form of surrender of our rights to Eretz Yisrael, it is preferable for those signing to chop off their thumbs, rather than to chop up the garden of Zion." (“Zikof HaKooma, Daniel Sirkus, His Life and Deeds,” by Pincus Sirkus. Pg. 112. Also, Tachumin, Vol. 9, Pg. 270)

What would Rabbi Charlop say today about his grandson and his contemporaries? Maybe he would suggest chopping off their tongues so as not to defile their mouths, agreeing to dismember our Land?

With blessings from Hebron.