Why is there no Knesset Party for English-speaking Immigrants?

Actually, there is.
Which one?
All of them.
That's the upshot of my latest post at the Times of Israel: Don't Vote for the Anglo Candidate


Comments on the Globes Interview with Moshe Feiglin

This interview with Feiglin is fascinating on many levels. A few comments are in order:
1) I think his views on non-Jewish citizens of the State of Israel are simply horrifying. He argues here that it's not racist to want to make them second class citizens because deep down they know that they're second class citizens.
2) I am extremely wary of someone - anyone - who confuses "my ideas about Judaism" with "Judaism." It's one thing to disagree with R. Elyashiv or R. Ovadiah on some issue within Judaism. It's another to imply that their views are not really the "Jewish" view.
3) I am in almost complete agreement with him about education: parents, not ministries, should have control over a kid's education, and vouchers would be excellent. The one place I part company is on the issue of a core curriculum. Free public education is predicated on the idea that it will make more productive citizens, and thus it is legitimate to condition funding on the teaching of content that will indeed accomplish that goal.
4) He seems to be an advocate of "compassionate conservatism", in which case the interviewer's invocation of Ayn Rand was pretty stupid.
5) I'm not sure how he squares his economic libertarianism with his views on unrestricted school vouchers. I can understand a perspective that wants to completely abolish public funding of schools. I can understand an argument that only core subjects should be publicly funded, and that parents should pay for discretionary education. I can even understand (but strongly oppose) a state that attempts to completely control all aspects of education. I cannot understand a position that is in favor of public funding of education but opposed to any sort of governmental regulation of how that money is spent. That's the worst kind of welfare statism, and completely inconsistent with everything else Feiglin says.


Israel Election Blogging?

I love Israeli elections. It's like color war on steroids. The debate is really robust and interesting, though there's also a lot of garbage, and the media often plays a big role in shaping perceptions of particular candidates.

I find myself regularly commenting and debating such issue on Facebook, so I've decided to start re-posting some of my longer and more analytic comments here. I think it'll be fun if you want to stick around for the ride.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I view the Likud as my political "home" in Israel and have for several years now. Just a few weeks ago (before the merger with Yisrael Beitenu), I paid membership dues to the Likud for the first time. That said, no political party or politician will be a priori immune to praise or criticism here.


Anyone know how to import comments?

The old comment host has shut down. I downloaded all of the old comments in a single file. Does anyone know how to easily import comments in a format that will automatically attach each one to the relevant post?



More Provocations

Ha'aretz's "Anglo File" has an article in its weekend edition on Anglo (i.e., American, pretty much) opposition and discomfort with Modi'in's policy of barring non-residents from Anabe Park.

The article is here. Here's the bit where I'm quoted:

When Baltimore native Elli Fischer drove past Modi'in's Anabeh Park during the Sukkot festival this week, he witnessed firsthand an ultra-Orthodox couple being denied entry due to a controversial new policy that restricts holiday admission to local residents.

Fischer, himself a Modi'in resident, stopped his car and arranged to have the family of five admitted as his guests - but not before arguing with park officials.
"The policy is nothing but thinly veiled anti-Haredi bigotry," Fischer, a writer, translator and ordained rabbi, chided the park officials.

Last week, before the onset of the seven-day Sukkot festival, the Modi'in-Maccabim-Reut municipality decided to close the popular park to nonresidents of the three communities in its jurisdiction, citing "overcrowding." It's the latest volley in a saga that has pitted the municipality against the mayor of the neighboring Haredi community of Modi'in Illit, Yaakov Gutterman, who recently announced that its archaeological sites would be closed to non-Haredi visitors.

Fischer, 36, suggests the new policy is linked to an incident that occurred in the park during this year's observance of Passover, when a female performer at a concert was asked to step off the stage by Haredi members of the audience.

Nothing, he says, can justify the exclusion of citizens - a principle to which many among Modi'in's burgeoning Anglo community are particularly sensitive, he explains. "Americans in particular grew up with the legacy of the fight for civil rights as a part of our cultural DNA," said Fischer, who invoked the images of separate water fountains for blacks and whites in the United States. "I think it very much affects the way that we relate to issues of discrimination and bigotry, whether it's against Haredim, Arabs or African migrants."


ADDeRabbi, Agent Provocateur

For those not following along at home, my fair hometown of Modiin has barred non-residents from visiting its spacious and beautiful Anabe Park during vacations and on Hol Ha-Mo'ed. This is a result of a pishing contest between Modiin's Mayor Haim Bibas and Modi'in Ilit's Mayor Yaakov Guterman, plus it plays into a strong anti-Haredi (and occasionally anti-religious) sentiment amongst a minority of Modiin residents (a political party, Modiin Hofshit, ran on an anti-religious platform and got only a few hundred votes for city council).

The new policy upsets me greatly, and I wanted to see how the policy was being implemented generally. As I got in line to enter the park, I could see that a few cars ahead of me the line was being held up by a Haredi family insisting on entering the park. Since the new regulations allow for Modiin residents to bring guests, I went and invited the family in as my guests. After a while, the guards let us in on that basis. Serendipitously, a reporter from Haaretz was there at the time. Her report is here (Hebrew) and here (English - paywall). The paragraphs relevant to my story are:

As the argument continued, a Modi’in resident, Eli Fischer, decided to see whether everyone was really being barred from the park, or only those in ultra-Orthodox garb.

“He’s my guest, let him in,” said Fischer, in an effort to help Tirnauer, at first without success. The guards checked Fischer’s identity card, and then started questioning Tirnauer and his family about their relationship. One of the ushers called a municipal security guard to help.

“He’s not really your guest, he’s here to make a provocation,” the security guard told Fischer. But Fischer persisted after the getting approval of his superiors the security guard allowed Fischer and his new acquaintances into the park.

“The park is empty, and I wanted to see what would happen, since according to the instructions that were publicized, [the park] is reserved for Modi’in residents and their guests,” said Fischer. “I don’t know why they were questioning me.”

The municipality said that the confrontation involving Tirnauer and Fischer was the first to occur since the instructions were issued, claiming it was a planned provocation by the media.
“During all the days that entrance to the park was restricted, there wasn’t a single incident, except for one in which a visitor who isn’t a city resident came with a reporter to create a provocation and get a headline,” the municipality said.
 The Hebrew version also includes a Gemara that I cited for the benefit of the reporter, from Sukkah 27b:
"All Israel are fit to dwell in a single sukkah."


iBavli Out-takes

The good folks at JRB have graciously allowed Shai and me to post some of the material (it was about half, maybe a bit more) that did not make the final published version. The excerpt he posted contains an extended musing on the arrival of digitization and media saturation as the twin axes of the information age, and what they might mean for Talmud study and authority.
The Talmud in the Digital Age: Notes from the Cutting Room Floor



Shai and I look at what the digitization of the Talmud means, specifically reviewing ArtScroll's new Talmud app, at Jewish Review of Books. There was a lot of material that did not end up in the review, because this topic is extremely broad. Perhaps there will be occasion to expand on it in the future.


Thoughts on Yeshiva Student Deferrals

As a taxpaying Israeli with two sons who will one day, in all probability, serve in the IDF (and also hopefully spend a good amount of time studying Torah seriously), I despise the fact that there are blanket military deferrals for yeshiva students. Its social and economic impact on this country are outrageous, as many have noted.

And yet, when I set out to study the history of these deferrals closely, I began to realize how difficult - even impossible - it would be to change this state of affairs. Many of us are used to thinking of Israel as an American or European style democracy, in which all are equal before the law. But Israel is not, and never has been, that type of democracy. From the earliest days of the state, it has been conceived as a form of consociationalism, in which Haredim were given a certain degree of cultural autonomy in return for their agreeing to join the state. The vast majority of the state, if it had its way, would abrogate this social contract, but can and should such an agreement be breached unilaterally? I tend to think not.

The Tal Law expires tomorrow. I do not know what the future holds, but I tend to think that the agreement will remain largely intact, and Haredim will continue to serve as a matter of personal choice and not as a matter of conscription.

My full analysis appears today on Jewish Ideas Daily.

Unrelated: here's a Times of Israel article on our Thursday Night event.


Utopian Musings: Jerusalem Hosts the 2032 Olympics, Commemorates Munich

I scribbled something of a utopian musing on Israel and Palestine co-hosting the 2032 Olympics and how they would commemorate Munich's 60th anniversay. It's over at the Times of Israel.

Speaking of utopianism, here's an article from last week on Shimon Peres's Presidential Conference. Enjoy.

More utopianism? Take a look at this event that I am attending tonight and that I helped organize. Not too late to come on out if you're in the neighborhood.

Is utopianism even permitted during the 9 days?


The Cholent Pot: Between Melting Pot and Salad Bowl

I've taken bits and pieces of old blog posts from here and tried to distill 6 years worth of lessons about being an American immigrant to Israel into a single blog post.For now it's over at TOI. I'll probably post it here in full over the next few days.


The Immigration Tightrope

Readers may or may not know that the issue of illegal African migration to Israel has been on my mind for a long time now, and like everyone else I have no great answers to the dilemma. There is a fundamental tension between two basic instincts that are central to the Jewish state; almost every article I've seen on the issue espouses one of these instincts, but rarely both. Today's feature at JID is an article I wrote expressing the tension and looking for signs that the country is moving toward a responsible policy. If you find it to be a balanced and hopeful piece that does not shy away from criticism, if you think that taking a broad and complex perspective is important (and that my article succeeds in taking a broad and complex view) - then please share it. Maybe is there's enough optimism it will become self-fulfilling. Let's hope.

A separate issue involves the citizenry and how we relate to the migrants who are here, while they're here. As of now the country's record has been less than stellar. I'm trying to do what I can on the local level, and I hope to have an announcement about a larger-scale project soon, but this is probably a losing battle. I allude to some of the reasons in the article - basically, Israel hasn't ever worked through these issues before, so there is hope that with time and education things might still change.

This is the first of a series of posts and articles on the issue of African migrants in Israel that will appear in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.


NYT Misses a Big Part of Battir’s Cultural Heritage

Yesterday’s New York Times had an article by Isabel Kershner on the efforts to get the village and area around Battir recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Battir is an Arab village southwest of Jerusalem that is home to an ancient irrigation and terracing system. Petitioners claim that this ancient system is worth preserving and is hoping to prevent Israel from building its security fence right through the area, which straddles the Green Line.

The villagers have petitioned the Supreme Court in Israel to have the barrier rerouted here to prevent the destruction of the striking beauty of the area and its ancient system of cultivation. A court decision is pending. The conservationists hope that a recommendation from the World Heritage Committee may help persuade the court not to reject the villagers’ petition…

“Nobody thinks that Israel’s security concerns are not legitimate or important,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an organization that works to promote cooperation on environmental issues in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. But, he added, “there are alternative ways to bring about security without destroying 4,000 years of cultural heritage for the Israelis, the Palestinians and all of humanity.”
The article is fascinating, and Kershner is one of the better journalists writing in Israel for Western print outlets. Moreover, Battir would be an excellent choice as a World Heritage Site, though perhaps for reasons other than the ones cited by Kershner. There are some small bones to pick (for example, the article refers to the Green Line as an “armistice line”; one wishes that the arbitrariness and flexibility implied by that description would extend to all discussion of potential future borders between Israel and Palestine), but the biggest problem with the article is the egregious omission of perhaps the most significant chapter in Battir’s history.
Battir draws its name from Betar, the last Jewish stronghold to fall in the Bar Kokhba revolt. The fortress is identified with an area next to the present town called Khirbet al-Yahud – “the Jewish ruin.” The fall of Betar in 135 CE has been preserved in the archaeological and historical record as the final and utter defeat of the Jews, the last gasp of Jewish sovereignty for 1,800 years. Jewish memory – as preserved in the Talmudim and Midrashim – recalls Betar as a catastrophe of massive proportion whose implications for the future of Judaism exceeded even that of the destruction of the Temples. The rabbis viewed the fall of Betar, not the Temple, as worthy of adding a blessing to the Grace after Meals – a blessing that sought God in the minor miracles of an exilic existence and not in the divine flourishes of an integral Jewish civilization.

In fact, the Talmud offers an alternative explanation for the fertility of Battir: “For seven years [after the fall of Betar] the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.”

So Battir and its environs are certainly worthy of being marked as a significant site with Jewish as well as world culture. No doubt the ancient terraces are worth preserving. Yet if these hills are to be recognized as a World Heritage Site, they must be acknowledged, first and foremost, for its significance to Jewish history.

Cross-posted to the Times of Israel. Also, see Yisrael Medad's response to the NYT article]


30 Years since Israeli MIAs Disappeared

My latest post at the Times of Israel marks exactly 30 years (on the Hebrew and English calendars) since the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, where Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumel, and Tzvi Feldman went missing. Take a look.

I spoke about them a bit at the brit of my son, Zechariah Yehuda (whose name coincidentally is that of two of the MIAs - the two who attended yeshivot where I studied as well), 6 years ago tomorrow (Hebrew calendar); his brit was on the day that Gilad Shalit was captured.


Quoted in an Article on SSM in Israel

I'm quoted in Michal Shmulovitz's article on same-sex marriage in Israel. I take the line (which I articulated more fully here) that Israel should have a civil marriage option, and that the civil option should recognize same-sex marriages.

The third-to-last paragraph of Shmulovitz's article is mind-blowing (yes, I know more and helped her with that paragraph; no, I'm not talking about it any further). The existence of lesbian couples who are keeping taharat ha-mishpacha (I wonder if they keep chumrot based on the chashash of poletet shichvat zera; by all counts, that should be, um, a non-issue) and covering their hair is the next step in the trend I discussed in my Orthosexuality article. Going back a bit further, to some much earlier musings on the subject of LGBT members of halakhic/Orthodox communities, I actually raised the question on this blog about whether same-sex couples should be encouraged to keep some form of taharat ha-mishpacha. Go figure.

We Remember the Ice Cream, and the Fish...

In honor of the parsha, I reposted this post from 4 years ago at the Times of Israel (with some additions from this post).
If you get to the end of the post, you will realize that it is a subtle zinger, not a Tuttle-Singer.


The Highest Form of Flattery

Never mind.
Anonymous commenter is right. This post was a petty rant and not even worthy of a personal blog.


Yom Ha-atzma'ut on Thursdays only

Four years ago I  proposed that Israel should always celebrate Yom Ha-atzma'ut on Thursdays. Well, it turns out that the government is proposing just that!


On following the Orioles in Israel

Gary Rosenblatt's column on four generations of baseball fandom in his family got me thinking: those of us who made aliyah may have similar experiences, but with the added element that we are actually purveyors of this facet of American culture to our kids and, perhaps eventually grandkids.
I posted my thoughts on the Times of Israel and Camden Chat.


Same-Sex Unions and Intermarriage: Against as a Jew, For as a Citizen

Cross-posted to the Times of Israel.

Though it is not a new dilemma, the issue of same-sex marriage took on became a larger topic of public conversation just this week, in the wake of President Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage.
The dilemma had taken a personal dimension just a few weeks earlier, when I was invited to the same-sex wedding of two former students.
I am torn, but ultimately feel the same way about this that I feel about civil unions in general in Israel: while I am against them personally and religiously, I believe that the state should not impose specific religious values on individuals.
Jewish law, halakha, does not recognize intermarriage or same-sex marriage, and views sexual relationships between Jews and non-Jews and between members of the same sex as forbidden, even sinful.
In Israel, religious bodies (not just Jewish ones) have controlled marriage, divorce, and by extension have established the boundaries of their religious communities since the Ottoman Period. It is an anomaly in a secular state apparatus (though there are still some in the Rav ZY Kook camp who imbue the state apparatus itself with religious significance).
Yet although this has been the state of affairs here for centuries, there are many reasons for even halakha-observant Israelis to oppose state enforcement of these halakhic considerations.In fact, whether separation of religion and state is conceived as protection of religion from the state or the individual from religion, exclusive religious control of marriage should be abolished.
With regard to the protection of the individual from the state, it goes without saying that the current system of religious control violates individual rights. In 1964, the United Nations adopted a convention on marriage that recognizes marriage as a human right. Since Israel upholds human rights and even enshrines them in its Basic Laws, the fact that the right to marry and found a family is not universally applied is deeply inconsistent.
The other side of the religion-state coin - the protection of religion from state - offers an even more compelling case for changing the system. As a result of the rabbinate's intimate involvement with this aspect of state functioning, it has become a wholly political entity, and has resulted in a situation in which conversion to Judaism - a purely halakhic issue - is subject to broad political debate and legislation. The absurdity of a secular state getting involved in the business of religious conversion could end tomorrow if there were a civil marriage option that allowed halakhic Jews and halakhic non-Jews (who often are equally Jewish in terms of background and culture) to wed.
Furthermore, by insisting on holding onto a very thin slice of governmental power, the rabbinate dooms itself to a much more profound irrelevance and contempt. By winning the marriage battle, they lose the much broader war for the hearts and minds of Jews. Installing a civil option will, hopefully, help rehabilitate the image and restore the relevance of halakha to broader Jewish life in Israel.
Same-sex marriage falls under the same rubric: it is increasingly acknowledged as being worthy of protection as a human right, like all marriage, and once a marriage option that functions independently of religion is established, there would be no reason to exclude same-sex unions from it.
I hope one day to marry off all of my children by means of huppah ve-kiddushin, according to the law of Moses and Israel. But the task of educating children about the importance of these values belongs to parents and communities, not to governments.


Confronting a Changed World: A Reading of the Rashbi Story, Part I

Dear friends and readers. Seven years ago, on this blog, I began a series of blog posts based on adult education classes I had given: a close reading of the Babylonian Talmud's version of the R. Shimon bar Yohai story. For several years now I have had in mind to rewrite that and other "Talmudic readings" that appeared on this blog and that I have taught, and perhaps even publish them in book form.

I have begun that process and hope to publish the book, tentatively titled Sage Stories: A Selection of Readings from the Babylonian Talmud. In honor of Lag Ba-Omer, I present below the first part of the Rashbi story (in its entirety, the Rashbi story will constitute three chapters of the book).

I would love your comments, feedback, and advice for publishing. I hope to write it in a way that is accessible to people with little or no talmudic background or familiarity with halakhic terms and concepts.

Without further ado:


The Best Passover Reads, 5772

A large part of what I do for JID is sift through hundreds and hundreds of items posted online in an effort to find the good stuff (which is then sifted further to post the best stuff). You would not believe how much Pesach-related material appears every year. Every local newspaper, Jewish and general, has something on it. There's not a lot to get excited about, but there is the occasional piece that makes you sit up and pay attention. Here are this year's Pesach pieces that quickened my pulse a bit:

  1. 1. Leon Wieseltier's review of the New Ameratzishe American Haggadah. Yes, it's a hatchet job and he overstates the case, but the central critique seems to be that re-inventing the wheel (in this case composing a brand new translation of the haggadah) does not necessarily mean doing it better. It's part of a larger debate about innovation and conservatism (see, for example, Zak Braiterman's response to Wieseltier, and the earlier exchange between me and Braiterman).Link
  2. Judith Shulevitz has a Levinasian reading of the Talmud's derivation of the requirement to seek out hametz with a light. The contrived scriptural acrobatics point toward a deeper theological anthropology. Terrific.
  3. Howard Jacobson muses on the poem "Dayenu". Jacobson is the greatest living Jewish writer (in English). Here, he comes up with witty and profound sentences like: "The Dayenu is a series of self-generating conditional clauses, composed, if you like, in that most kop-dreying of all tenses, the Judaeo-hypothetic-preconditional, in which problems are imagined in advance of their occurring, imagined, indeed, in spite of their having been averted, and there is no fathoming the sequence of causation: Do our travails precede our giving thanks, or does our giving thanks occasion our travails?"
  4. Thanks to S. of On the Main Line and Dr. Paul Shaviv of CHAT, we can now listen to Pesach tunes of 370 years ago. Read the whole story here.
  5. This is not limited to one article, but it is certainly a trend: Pesach has long had a culture of chumra, but it seems that things may be starting to change (or maybe it's a function of my shifting vantage point). This year, I've seen popular pieces about a kezayit being the size of an olive, about scaling back what is included in kitniyot, about going easy on the Pesach cleaning, and about not using horseradish for maror (see also this earlier article; this last one is not really a kula, but when I was growing up the general sense was that horseradish was the "real" stuff and that lettuce was some sort of leniency). Trend or no?

That's it (so far) for 5772. Take a look at some posts of Pesach past for more goodies.


Haroset Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's Israel has a seasonal flavor - haroset ice cream - available only at their factory outlet. I have sampled it, and review it at the Times of Israel, here.


Kitniyot and Common Sense: R. Zvi Leshem's Guide

Rabbi Zvi Leshem, whose English article on Kitniyot I embedded here last year, has updated this article this real. Considering that the article was viewed thousands of times, it seems to have served a purpose and spoken to a real need. He takes a balanced, commonsense approach (which confirmed a lot of the ideas I began outlining here). There's a definite trend afoot - at least in Israel - for Ashkenazim to take a long look at the restrictions of kitniyot and take back much of what has fallen under its rubric in recent generations. The the article by R. Yehuda Fris that appeared in Tehumin (which can be found at the end of this thread) remains the most comprehensive guide in Hebrew, but R. Leshem's Hebrew and English articles are well presented and easily accessible. Without further ado:


מנהג הקטניות


The Biur Hametz Project

Last week, I posted about an idea for a project to change how we perform the mitzva of Bi'ur Hametz, namely, by giving it away instead of burning it and/or selling it. The project just got some momentum when Beit Hillel, a new Israeli rabbinical organization (of which I am a member) endorsed the idea in a press release. In Modi'in, I'm working together with a local charity organization to collect food for both Jews and non-Jews - goods that can be stored will be sold and distributed to Jews after Pesach, while items that would otherwise go bad will be given to needy non-Jews (specifically, asylum-seekers and refugees living in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv) before Pesach. More info is available on the project FB page here, and info on local collection sites appears on this spreadsheet. To add another location, use this form.

Perhaps another post will address why I think initiatives like this are so important.

Here's the (Hebrew followed by English) text of the press release from Beit Hillel:

פרוייקט "ביעור חמץ"

השנה, במקום לבער את החמץ שלנו במדורה או למכור אותו לאדם שאינו יהודי, אנו מציעים להשתמש בחמץ לעשיית צדקה

כידוע, יש מצוה להשבית את כל השאור והחמץ מבתינו בערב פסח, ובכל קהילות ישראל המנהג נפוץ לבער את החמץ במדורה. עם זאת, לפעמים אנו שורפים אוכל שאפשר היה לנצל. כמו כן, לפעמים אנו מבערים דברים שאינם אסורים להחזיק בפסח – למשל קטניות לאשכנזים – אבל לא יחזיקו מעמד למשך החג. זאת ועוד, עינינו רואות שיש כאלה ששורפים שקיות ואריזות, שכמובן אינם "חמץ" ובכך מזהמים את האויר.

לכן, אנו מציעים לחבר מצוה למצוה ונשבית את השאור והחמץ מבתינו על ידי נתינתו לאנשים נזקקים בשני אופנים:

את החמץ שניתן לשמור עד לאחר החג אנו ממליצים לקבץ ולמכור באופן מרוכז במכירה הרגילה, כדי לחלקו לעניים לאחר החג (שהרי עבור העניים זהו הפסד מרובה ומותר למכור חמץ לכתחילה עבור כך).

את החמץ שלא יחזיק מעמד עד לאחר הפסח, ניתן לאנשים נזקקים שאינם יהודים אשר לא חלים עליהם האיסורים של חמץ בפסח. אנו קוראים לתרום את כל סוגי החמץ באופנים הנ"ל, ובכך "כל דיכפין ייתי וייכל."

בעיר מודיעין, ארגון "עזר מודיעין" יאסוף מוצרים שיחזיקו מעמד עד אחרי החג ויחולקו ליהודים נזקקים, כמו גם מוצרי חמץ שלא יחזיקו מעמד – לחם, אריזות פתוחות, וכד' – שיחולקו בערב פסח לנזקקים שאינם יהודים.

בברכת חג כשר ושמח.

The “Biur Hametz” Project

This year, instead of burning our hametz in a bonfire or selling it to a non-Jew, we propose using it for the mitzva of tzedaka.

As is well known, it is a mitzva to dispose of all hametz and leaven from our homes before Pesach. Throughout the Jewish world, this is accomplished this by burning the hametz in a large communal bonfire. Nevertheless, sometimes we burn food that could have been salvaged (and eating is considered a bona fide method of disposal). Additionally, we sometimes burn food items that need not be disposed of – for example, kitniyot for Ashkenazim – but that would go bad before the end of Pesach. Moreover, many people burn plastic packaging and bags, items which are not hametz but do pollute the air when burned.

Therefore, we propose combining one mitzva to another and disposing of our hametz by giving it to those who need it, in one of two ways:

We recommend giving hametz that would keep until after Pesach be collected and sold together in the regular way, and then distributed to the Jewish needy after the holiday.

Hametz that would not keep until after Pesach will be given to needy non-Jews, for whom the prohibition against consuming hametz on Pesach does not apply.

We recommend donating all of our hametz in these two ways, thereby fulfilling what it says in the Haggadah: “all who are hungry, let them come and eat.

In the city of Modi'in, the "Ezer Modi'in" organization is collecting items that will last until after Pesach for distributing to needy Jews, and hametz items that will not last, like loaves of bread and open packages, which will be distributed to needy non-Jews on the day before Pesach

Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday.


The Toulouse Killer and the Pastoureaux

I posted a theory about the Toulouse killer, connecting him with a massacre of the Jews in that same city in 1320, at the Times of Israel.This may be nothing more than a flight of my imagination, but on the off chance that there's something to it, and it somehow generates a lead on finding the bastard, I consider it worth putting out there.

Binary Beinart

I live in Modiin, part of what Peter Beinart calls "democratic Israel," the part of the Holy Land that he deems worthy of vigorous embrace. But I have a problem - my parents and two of my sisters live across the Green Line. Tomorrow I have a family simcha in Samaria the West Bank "nondemocratic Israel". If I were to take Beinart's recommendation seriously and, like some of Israel's most prominent authors, refuse to visit settlements, I'd miss the bris. Perhaps I can ask for a hetter, a special dispensation to visit the banned-lands.

Let me say that I agree with Beinart's central premise, even if I disagree with his narrative about how it came to be: it is untenable for Israel to assert its control over [insert territorial term of choice here] without giving its Arab residents a horizon of citizenship, be it citizenship in Israel or an independent Palestine. But there are many reasons not to adopt Beinart's approach to this dilemma, one of which relates directly to my present situation.

Beinart proposes to combining a boycott of most of post-1967 Israel with a vigorous embrace of pre-1967 Israel (plus East Jerusalem). This does not merely entail drawing a line through territories, but also through families and friendships. He wants to put 300,000 Jews in cherem.

Israeli society definitely has its political, geographic, and conceptual fault lines. but the intimacy of Israeli society makes it impossible to imagine an absolute division of the Israeli Jewish citizen body into two distinct classes, as deep as the disagreements might be.


Occupy Bi'ur Hametz

In a recent post at the Times of Israel, I wrote about a project to encourage Israeli Jews to give away their hametz to needy non-Jews before the holiday. I understand that there are charities that collect sealed foods to distribute to needy Jews after the holiday, and I think that's wonderful and certainly don't want to take away from that. I'm focusing on the hametz and/or other non-kosher-for-Pesach products that would otherwise go bad over the course of the week.

There are two components - a "sur me-ra" and an "aseh tov":
The first component is to prevent dangerous situations that develop when there are large public bonfires with kids running around (a long-standing pet peeve of mine), not to mention the fact that people burn things (like plastic bags) that are pollutants and need not be burned.
The second component relates to the fact that there are plenty of needy people in Israel who are not Jewish, and who unfortunately are often neglected - and in this the religious community is no exception. My hope is that enough momentum will be generated that different communities can collect and distribute this surplus hametz where it is needed and at their discretion - whether among Druze, Bedouin, African asylum seekers, etc.

There's a Facebook "event" whose purpose is to coordinate volunteers once a critical mass is achieved. Please feel free to "attend", share, and invite others.

Hag kasher ve-sameah.


Footnotes and Toponyms

1. My first post on the recently launched Times of Israel contends that it was no coincidence that Iran and Israel were both represented at the Oscars.
2. Speaking of the Oscars and Israel's nomination, Arts & Letters Daily "picked" the review of Footnote that Shai Secunda and I co-authored. ALDaily is a big deal.
3. Some have asked about the lecture on translating Jewish toponyms that I gave at the recent conference of the Israel Translators' Association. I've uploaded the notes and presentation, but I have not had the chance to write it up more fully. The "Ethiopian" question is its own post, and I saw that the issue was discussed in a recent post at Seforim, which appeared after the lecture. Barukh She-kivanti to Targum Yonatan.


Tu Bi-Shvat Past

  1. Someone translated and adapted yesterday's blog post into French. Pretty cool.
  2. An article I wrote about the Israeli Rabbinate's policy on government-supervised milk appeared in the Jerusalem Post earlier in the week. Related links: my article on RMF, a chabura I gave about RMF's policy of "reluctant leniency," OU policy on government supervised milk, a recent panel discussion on chalav Yisrael, the Rabbanut's position paper on chalav Yisrael).
  3. I made my Hebrew debut this week, for local shul publication. I translated an earlier essay on the mishna in Avot (3:7 - "What a beautiful tree!") which appeared here and here into Hebrew. 
  4. A Tu Bi-Shvat seder I put together a few years ago is here. The phases of the seder correspond to historical celebrations of Tu Bi-Shvat.


This Tu Bi-Shvat, Eat Fresh Fruit

[Adapted from this 2-year old blog post]

The celebration of Tu Bi-Shvat evolved over time. Originally it was nothing more than a demarcation line between two years’ worth of crops, with ramifications for the various tithes and contributions that must be made annually. It was not a holiday in any sense. But during the long exile, when few Jews were able to live in the Land of Israel, and the initial meaning of Tu Bi-Shvat became impracticable, many Jewish communities began eating fruits symbolically on Tu Bi-Shvat, imbuing it with certain sense of celebration. In the 16th century, the mystics of Safed intensified the celebration, and an elaborate ritual meal was developed around the eating of the land’s produce. Tu Bi-Shvat has continued to evolve, especially after the Jews returned en masse to their ancient homeland over the past century, but the custom of eating the fruit of the land has persisted.

But for some reason, the fruit we eat on Tu Bi-Shvat is always dried. Growing up in the US, we celebrated Tu Bi-Shvat with dried fruits that, if they did not actually come from Israel, reminded us of Israel (for some odd reason, carob, bokser in Yiddish, always featured prominently, as though it were edible). If the point is to celebrate the fruit of the Land of Israel, why not eat it fresh?

The obvious answer is that the holiday takes place in the middle of the winter, when fresh fruit was often unavailable, especially in the cold countries of the Ashkenazic Diaspora. Moreover, drying was a way to make fruit more durable; it could last through the winter and also would not spoil in transit. As a rule, until modern times, the only way that a Diaspora community could obtain fruit from Israel for Tu Bi-Shvat was if it was dried. This is an example of a 'custom' born out of a very straightforward reality. Nevertheless, even with the advent of refrigeration and rapid transport, the old habit of eating dried fruit of Tu Bi-Shvat remained. So in grade school we suffered through the leathery bokser instead of enjoying fresh apples. It was part of the experience.

Here in Israel, the persistence of this custom takes on an even more ironic dimension. Much of the dried fruit available here is imported. On Tu Bi-Shvat of years past, marketing efforts have been made to encourage the purchase and consumption of Israeli dried fruit instead of relying on imports. After all, the original custom was to eat from the fruits of the Land of Israel.

But there is a much simpler solution: Eat fresh fruit! The custom to eat dried fruit was only because that was the only Israeli fruit available; it was never the ideal. So why not enjoy the good stuff?

There is actually precedent for this idea in rabbinic literature. Discussing the mitzva of bringing the first fruits to Jerusalem, the mishna (Bikkurim 3:3) states: "Those who were close brought figs and grapes, and those who were distant brought dried figs and raisins." When using fruit for a mitzva, it was better to use fresh fruit; however, in the interests of increased portability and durability, those who had a long trek could bring dried fruits.

There is a deeper level to this as well. Rabbi Kook (in Eyn Ayah) discusses how those who are "close" and those who are "distant" represent either two distinct spiritual states. “Closeness” is associated with the land of Israel and the fullness of the potential of Jewish existence, whereas “distance” is associated with an exilic Jewish existence that sacrifices its full flavor for the sake of durability and portability. The first group is associated with fresh fruit, and the latter group with dried fruit. Both are acceptable, but “fresh fruit” is preferred.

A little something to consider as you eat your Tu Bi-Shvat fruits, be they dried or fresh.


Segulah for Parnassah

It is now (in Israel, according to the Jewish calendar) Tuesday of the week that we read Beshalach. By now, many of you have gotten your reminder to recite "Parshat Ha-man" today/tomorrow.
Each year, I like to take the opportunity to remind readers that there is a much more ancient, pedigreed, and effective segula for earning a living. Read about it here.


For the Sake of Clarification: I'm not a Rav Bina Hater

I thought that my last post was balanced in that it acknowledged that Rav Bina's methods work for most of the students who attend there. My criticism is that the yeshiva does not do enoughto minimize collateral damage.

I've posted about Rav Bina before - once I praised him for his ads sticking up for Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh (while a bunch of other blogs were piling on, I might add - see the comments there), and once I reviewed a biography of his father-in-law, Rav Boruch Milikowsky. Looking back on the latter post, there are some similarities between Rav Bina and his father-in-law.


Fisking the defenses of Rav Bina

There have been a number of defenses and justifications of R. Bina's approach since yesterday's article (and my comments on it) appeared. This post will address two of them - the spirited defense of an alumnus, and Rav Bina's official response.

Rav Bina's Response:
Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends of Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh,    
Throughout my nearly 40 years of teaching, I have spent every morning before davening asking Hashem to help guide me to make the right decisions for the benefit of my students.
This may be wholly accurate, but it is also entirely irrelevant. The key question is not whether he asked God for guidance, but whether that petition was granted. 
You can imagine my pain when I became aware of the recent hurtful and unbalanced article about me and the yeshiva.
I'm sure it was painful and hurtful. Possibly even unbalanced (as a corrective, something I'm sure he can understand). I note that he did not say the article is inaccurate.
As you know, I treat all my students like they are my own children and work to provide them with a warm and caring environment with the ultimate goal of creating generations of Jews who care and respect Torah, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. 
I have not seen anybody suggest that he does not mean well. On the contrary, he apparently cares very, very deeply about his students. This, once again, is entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand. Good intentions, as we all know, are no guarantee of proper actions. Even abusive parents love their kids. To put a blunter point on it, Motti Elon could have written this paragraph with all sincerity, too.
At yeshiva, we try to enhance our students' relationship with Hashem and their families by giving them tools they will be able to use to evolve into leaders in their communities.
This is PR talk. Empowerment. Leadership. Blah, blah, blah. 
Well, at least I hope it is; I hope he doesn't think he's running an elite institution (like his father did).
This is what the yeshiva has done and this is what the yeshiva, with Hashem's help, will continue to do.
No doubt, but at what cost?
To my 3,000-and-growing alumni and families - Thank you for your continued support. It means a lot to me personally and to the entire Netiv Aryeh staff and family.    
This is his defense - you found what 5-10 people to talk out of 3,000 alumni? That's a 99.7% success rate. The reality is that the trail of wreckage is much broader than 0.3% of alumni. I think the NYJW article correctly states that there 's a "significant minority" that have a very different narrative of what goes on there.
With much love,
Aharon Bina 
On to the more spirited and substantive defense, posted by Doni Joszef:
It was only a matter of time...
Several months ago, a family friend let me in on a secret: An exposé was in the works, and its target was none other than Rav Bina.
Which Rav Bina?
Yes, THE “Rav Bina.”
Not helpful...
The Rav Bina we’ve all heard crazy stories about.
Oh, that Rav Bina.
The Rav Bina people love to hate.
More like, "the Rav Bina people love to tell crazy stories about" because, admit it, they're pretty crazy. The one about the guy davening mincha at the kotel in shorts? Classic. No malicious intent.
The Rav Bina that made me miserable, and made me think twice about myself, and made me wait for his sporadic 45 second naps at 4:00AM as I sat in his living room, silent and obedient. The Rav Bina that stood under my Chupah, shedding tears as he officiated my wedding. Yes, that Rav Bina.
OK, he has a very iconoclastic educational methodology that is really and truly based on love. And it works with some people. We get that. The NYJW article says that.
The Jewish Week has taken the myth out of Rav Bina’s legendary reputation.It’s public. It’s official. It was only a matter of time.
Because when parents, teachers, and students make decisions about who to entrust with their well-being for a year or two, it should be based on myth and legend, not fact and public record.
Of course, the “I Hate Rav Bina Blog” (gotta love the cleverness of that name) began spilling some of these secrets a few years ago.Feeling a sense of personal responsibility, I chimed in and posted my two cents. I wanted to defend Rav Bina. Or, at the very least, balance the skewed image being portrayed.
Not sure what you're getting at here.
The nature of the blog was more personal, provocative, and attacking. So was my response. The nature of the Jewish Week’s article was more balanced and principled – so is this response.
OK, here we go. A balanced and principled response. Excellent. Recognition that there's a difference between a haters' blog and a reputable publication. Even better.
Of course, I’d love to get heated and passionate and opinionated as I subject Rav Bina’s opponents to the tortures of my demeaning textual sarcasm. But I’d be acting on impulse. Hock is fun. But it’s not very mature.
You have already distanced yourself from R. Bina, since he uses demeaning (verbal) sarcasm as a way to build character. His defenders have tried to justify it, but none have denied it. But you think it's immature, and I agree.
I also would not call Rav Bina's detractors and critics "opponents."The latter term implies that it's something personal, which it is not.
Instead, I’d like to address the underlying issue: Where do we draw the line between healthy tough love and verbal abuse? Was Rav Bina’s approach, perhaps, a misguided one?
That and more: is the line between tough love and verbal (and emotional) abuse fixed, or does it depend on the student and his circumstances? And was there sufficient "truth in advertising" that enabled prospective students and their families to avoid being blindsided by his unconventional educational methods?
I am torn.
My own therapeutic approach is diametrically opposed to Rav Bina’s general style. I am a soft love type of guy – professionally and personally. 
But this is not about personal predispositions and "style." It's not chocolate vs. vanilla.
As such, my tendency is to empathize with the victims and feel pained by the stories I’ve heard and the experiences that I myself had to endure when things were less-than-sunny in mine and Rav Bina’s interesting relationship.
The implication here is that you have overcome your natural empathy because Rav Bina got results, in your case. But are those who did not emerge unscathed from the crucible of Rav Bina's affections somehow at fault and not deserving of empathy? Or are you suggesting that they are acceptable collateral damage?
But I trusted him. 
I did then. I do now. 
And this has made all the difference.
You skipped some steps here. You trusted him then, so you made it through the harrowing process? You trust him now, so you are willing to accept that this entire trail of wreckage is for the best? Or a fabrication? And how did he earn that trust? Before things got less-than-sunny or after? I will concede that Rav Bina's unconventional methods work with some students. The question is how we - as a community - ensure that the students who would thrive under his system get the opportunity to, and those who would be harmed by it know to stay the heck away. Gary Rosenblatt has helped clear that up. You, so far, have not.
Rav Bina’s greatest strength is also what brought this entire saga into fruition. He says it like it is. He’s politically incorrect if he needs to be. He laughs at conventional norms that most of us just accept because we’d rather just go with the flow. Rav Bina is upfront and authentic – perhaps, some may argue, to a fault.
There's a fallacy at play here. We tend to think that if someone says something wildly unpopular and unconventional, they must be right. Otherwise, why would they go out on a limb and say it? But in reality, just because people say unpopular, unconventional, and politically incorrect things, it does not mean that they're right. In a frum context, I'd call this the "ish emes" fallacy, and it's generally said about anyone who fulminates and bashes and rants. I have no problem with unconventional, believe me. I have a problem with misjudgment at another's expense.
The good news: people get exactly what they sign up for. 
Except when they don't. 
The bad news: people don’t always think before they act. 
You are blaming the victim. Though there may be some contributory negligence, people generally DO think before spending upwards of $20,000. Take a look at YNA's website - is there any intimation of what a student can expect? Anything about "tough love"? You say caveat emptor. I say, be honest about your approach, or else Gary Rosenblatt will keep you honest.
Some people need a softer, more sugarcoated type of place. There is no shortage of options.
You're right. There are. And now, armed with a better understanding of Netiv Aryeh's non-sugarcoated approach, many students who would otherwise end up there can find the right options.
No one is particularly at fault here.
When a kid gets to YNA and is completely blindsided by Rav Bina's tactics, nobody is at fault? A kid from out-of-town, a recent ba'al teshuva, someone just following his friends - somebody recruited that kid and didn't tell him what to expect. You're right that parents should be more diligent, but sheesh, man, if this is such a big part of the yeshiva, can't you be up front about it?
Rav Bina is blessed with an uncanny intuition. He has a gift. He grasps you in his realness. But he’s also human. He’s not always on the ball. Nobody is.
So out of 110 shana aleph kids every year, how many does he not grasp? Let's get some raw numbers. Is he right 99 times out of 100, or is he the proverbial broken clock that's right twice a day? How much collateral damage is acceptable? Maybe if he'd be more up-front about what he's trying to do, he wouldn't have to rely on his own flawed judgment when accepting students.
Many would have benefited greatly had they thought twice about which yeshiva to attend. If you aren’t ready to be challenged, if you don’t respond well to pressure, if you’d rather be fine-tuned than re-wired – go to another yeshiva. You’d be doing yourself and Rav Bina a tremendous favor.
It would help if the yeshiva told prospective students that they can expect re-wiring, not fine-tuning. Stop blaming the victim.
Tough love is not abuse. 
Except when it is.
It looks like abuse because it pains its recipient.
Tell that to the judge.
But egos are only broken through submission, and, sometimes, tough love is the only way to break past the countless defenses that our egos cleverly devise. Many of us could use a bit of ego adjustment. We need to be right-sized, even if it hurts.
I don't think your psychoanalytic model of the ego is particularly sound, let alone whether it needs to be broken and forced into submission through tough love. But even accepting all that, the process you describe is a last resort, not a popular program for teenagers. You're advocating chemotherapy for someone who just needs an aspirin. It's frankly horrifying.
I needed it, and I got it. Today I can appreciate what I then resented. I got exactly what I paid for. And I’m eternally grateful.
I'm glad that electroshock therapy worked for you, but I'd still sue the shrink who administers it to all his patients for malpractice.
Abuse is an act of aggression.Tough love is an act of affection.
Why on earth would you assume that they're mutually exclusive?
The wild & crazy Rav Bina tales can often paint the portrait of a ruthless aggressor.
No. They paint the portrait of a wild & crazy man.
You sometimes get the feeling that Netiv Aryeh looks a lot like Zimbardo’s infamous prison experiment, where inmates are tormented by the bullying of their guards. 
You especially get that feeling when former "inmates" testify that Rav Bina forges group identity by labeling them as outsiders.
Nothing could be further from reality
Beg to differ.
and anyone that has ever met Rav Bina – even those who testify against him – knows that he has a gentle heart and a sensitive soul. He is a softy, despite his legendary reputation.
Awww, c'mere ya big lug.
Seriously, how is this relevant, even if true?
Rav Bina is The Soul’s best friend, and The Ego’s worst enemy.
See my comment above about your psychoanalytic model. The Ego and the Soul are not mortal enemies. 
Sometimes we need some shaking in order to awaken. He shook me hard. And I thank him for that.
Again, what about success rate, collateral damage, proportionality, and truth in advertising?
Netiv Aryeh is my home away from home. It is for many of us. And it always will be.
A lollypop can look a lot like love, and a drill can look a lot like abuse. But when you have a mouth full of cavities, there’s no choice but to drill. A loving mother forces her child to endure the pain; she knows it’s in her child’s best interest. Many yeshivas choose the safer route, showering their students with candy and sugar. Rav Bina chooses the less popular route. He drills.
But sometimes there's no cavity. And Rav Bina, as uncanny as you think his judgment of character is, sometimes forces the child to endure pain unnecessarily. Which is abusive.
I know it's part of YNA's culture to think that it's a yeshiva for "real men" whereas other yeshivas are for wimps. I get that. And I think it's part of the problem - what red-blooded 18 year old wants to go to a yeshiva for sissies? So you dupe a kid into thinking it's the right place for him. Well done.
Perhaps the victims were not ready for a cleaning.
Or maybe they didn't need one.
Perhaps they still needed lollypops.
Or just liked them occasionally.
It’s a shame they signed up for the dentist.
Maybe they just didn't think they would be visiting the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors.
Moral of the story: Don’t blame the dentist for trying to do what he does best. Ego can be a tough cavity to drill. But in the end, you walk out cleansed.
 The dentist who runs straight to the drill without a check-up, even if he's a great driller, is guilty of malpractice.


Notes on the Jewish Week Article about Rav Bina

The New York Jewish Week has a feature article this week about Rabbi Aharon Bina, the Rosh Yeshiva of Netiv Aryeh. It describes his "tough love" approach and how it inspires much love and much loathing, and very little in between. If you couldn't surmise who is behind the article, it was co-written by Gary Rosenblatt.

The article is very solid, but there are two elements that I think could have enhanced it immeasurably:
1) Rav Bina's approach is explicitly modeled on that of his father's, Rav Aryeh Bina. The elder Bina was a legendary educator and founder of the prestigious Netiv Meir yeshiva high school, whose alumni is a virtual Who's Who among prominent Religious Zionists (incidentally, the list skews left by Religious Zionist standards, and Junior has come to the defense of some of his father's students). Rav Aharon Bina, however, is not his father, and does not run an elite institution like his father did. In order to really understand who Rav Aharon Bina is and what he is trying to accomplish, one must start with his father, and with the relationship between father and son.
2) This issue gets back to the problem of the "charismatic educator" (let's define charisma as the condition in which the educator's personality overshadows the material being taught) that I've written about several times, most recently when the Motti Elon scandal first broke.Rav Bina fits Paul Shaviv's description of a "Pied Piper" rabbi (cited in that post on R. Elon). Let's see:
A charismatic teacher will deeply affect and influence some students, but will almost always leave a trail of emotional wreckage in is/her wake.
The emotional dependency and entanglement between teacher and student leads to boundaries being crossed.
The teacher becomes party to knowledge about students and their families that reinforces the teacher’s view that they are the only teachers who ‘really’ are reaching the students. The teacher, however, is neither a trained counselor nor a social worker. That knowledge becomes power.
A really charismatic teacher can end up running a ‘school within a school’. 
Check (until he started his own school).
The teacher will often employ techniques (and texts) which take students to the extremes of emotion or logic, and will then triumphantly show them how they are holding they key to resolution (‘At this moment, you have agreed that life has no meaning -- but here is the answer’).
As soon as they are disillusioned or dropped, they are written out of the teacher’s story. Often such students, very hurt, leave the school.
Check (once had a kid at my Shabbat table tell me he was no longer religious because of R. Bina. There are other such stories, and some appear in the NYJW article. I suspect many of these kids would drop observance anyway, but it's telling that Rav Bina becomes the object of their loathing).

Mild characteristics of cult leaders may be observed. 

I don't think Paul Shaviv is a prophet, and I don't think he was writing about any particular educator. He's been around the block a few times, and he has learned to identify global issues. The NYJW article misses something when it makes the issue about Rav Bina specifically, since the problem is present in virtually every school, even if he might be an extreme example of it.


Two Articles: One on Modiin and one on Baltimore

A few weeks ago, on the last day of Chanukkah, JID ran an article of mine on ancient and modern Modiin. I relate to Modiin as the Columbia, Maryland of Israel, but then move off of that to discuss a different dimension of my town. The article is here.

Today I posted on a Ravens fan blog, arguing (against conventional wisdom) that Joe Flacco actually played really well against the Texans. It's here.

I hope to post an update on my series about Eastern European rabbis in America this week.