Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Audio Shiur: Parashat Ki Tavo - The Blessing of the Hidden

Audio Shiur:
Parashat Ki Tavo - The Blessing of the Hidden

There seems to be a great imbalance between the blessings of Ki Tavo (relatively few) and the curses (way more, and far more graphic). Why? By focusing on a nuance in the language as well as an insight in the Kli Yakkar, we suggest one possible answer.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

My First Parshah Shiur on ITV - Three Themes in Ki Teitzei

Yesterday morning I was working in a coffee shop when I got a text asking me if I could make it to Tel Aviv to record a short interview on the parashah. It just so happened that I had a meeting in Ramat Gan (and I almost never have meetings in the Tel Aviv area) so I agreed to do it. Here's the clip. Enjoy!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Audio Shiur: Parshat Ki Teitzei - Watching our Words, Keeping our Commitments

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Ki Teitzei - Watching our Words, Keeping our Commitments

The Torah commands us to take great care with the vows we make, and to keep our commitments. Yet, this raises the question of why vows have meaning at all. Why must we keep our promises? Why is a vow halachically binding? Are vows good or bad? How can something that propels us to spiritual growth be so dangerous?

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Audio Shiur: Parshat Shoftim - Faith in our Rabbinic Leaders

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Shoftim - Faith in our Rabbinic Leaders

Emunat Chachamim isn't simply an important detail in Jewish life; it's a fundamental aspect of Orthodoxy. In an era of democracy of information, where the notion of questioning authority in every area is not only encouraged, but essential culturally, the issue of emunat chachamim is a critical element of religious faith.

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Audio Shiur: Parashat Re'eh - Judaism and Income Inequality

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Re'eh - Judaism and Income Inequality

How we view "our" money says a great deal about our world view...

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Will Arye Deri Close the Supermarkets in Tel Aviv? The Political Hot Potato of Shabbat Enforcement in Israel

Zeev Kam - my favorite political reporter, just shared this post about a critical meeting that took place this week regarding the issue of stores remaining open for business in Tel Aviv. This issue has been percolating for a number of years, as smaller businesses complain that when larger chains remain open on Shabbat (as they do, and simply pay the fines for breaking the law), the smaller, privately owned stores feel that they too must remain open in order to compete. Some really do want to close because of Shabbat, while others want a day off, as the (secular) law mandates. They've been pushing the government to enforce the law and drastically reduce the number of stores which can remain open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv.

Generally, the Minister of the Interior decides whether to issue exemptions for stores that wish to remain open on Shabbat. Yet, Silvan Shalom, the previous Interior Minister punted, and sent the decision back to the Knesset as a whole (smart move). Netanyahu did what he usually does when confronting a difficult and challenging issue, especially surrounding the contentious issue of religion and state: he formed a committee, which met this week to issue its report.

As Kam describes the meeting, the Chareidi parties pushed hard for the option which would strongly enforce Shabbat. They feel that the State should make a strong statement in favor of Shabbat, even though everyone knows that many residents of Tel Aviv are not Shabbat observant. Media outlets reported that Netanyahu will turn over responsibility for this issue to the current Minister of the Interior: Arye Deri. (Any guess on what he'll decide to do?)

Yet, it's not really that simple. While Deri of course wants to increase Shemirat Shabbat, there are political realities that must also be addressed. At the meeting (which the Prime Minister attended), Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin (Likud) turned to the Chareidim and warned them that the solution must not be perceived as one community (the Chareidim) forcing its standards on the secular public. "Otherwise, Yair Lapid will have 30 seats in the next Knesset." Does Deri care enough about Shabbat to alienate enough secular Israelis to bring Lapid back to power? I wonder.

I would add that the Chareidim themselves bristled at the notion that anyone (i.e. Lapid's party) would enforce its values on the Chareidim, and for this reason insisted on the reversal of the law mandating that all Chareidi schools teach basic secular subjects like math and English. They were right. Change occurs not when one community forces itself on another, but when it comes from within.

This issue began with the secular owners of the stores in Tel Aviv; with professional soccer players who wanted to keep Shabbat without having to work. They must take the lead on this issue and promote the notion that as a Jewish State, Shabbat must be a common value both for those people that observe Shabbat, and also for those that do not.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Audio Shiur: Parshat Pinchas - Sacrifices and Modern Values

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Pinchas - Sacrifices and Modern Values

The section on the Korban Tamid serves as a springboard to discuss the firestorm in Israel over recent rabbinic comments that address the conflict between ancient Torah values and modern Western values

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Parshat Balak: The Clash of Ancient and Modern Values

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Balak: The Clash of Ancient and Modern Values

How do we react when rabbis express values that seem totally contradictory to those that we hold dear today? What do we do when they're written explicitly in the Shulchan Aruch? Using the principal of halachah v'ein morin kein regarding kanai'm pog'im bo, we explore this difficult, challenging topic.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Parshat Beha'alotecha - Loving the Stranger

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Beha'alotecha - Loving the Stranger

What's the real reason why Yitro didn't want to stay - if he was in fact Yitro? Would we have remained with Moshe, given the same circumstances?

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Thought for Naso: Aggression in the Interest of Peace

Exactly thirty-five years ago this week, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to “strongly condemn” the State of Israel for an action it had taken, “which could at any time explode the situation in the area, with grave consequences for the vital interests of all States.” and represented "a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct.” Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the United States Ambassador to the UN at the time agreed, noting that the “means chosen by Israel hurt the peace and security of the area.” What action did Israel take in 1981 that prompted such strong universal condemnation? Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, preventing dictator Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons.

As the Kohanim are tasked with conveying the blessing of peace to the nation, a Kohen who was involved in causing a death – even accidentally – cannot participate in the Priestly Blessing. This rule is codified in the Code of Jewish Law (Orech Chaim 128:35): “A Kohein that killed a person, even accidentally, should not ‘lift up his hands’, even if he has subsequently repented.” In light of this ruling, an IDF soldier who was a Kohein once asked Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, the following question: Serving guard duty at an IDF post, he identified several Palestinian terrorists approaching to attack. He opened fire on the unit, killing several of them. He asked the rabbi whether his action would now prevent him from reciting the Priestly Blessing in the future. Rabbi Yosef answered unequivocally: He was certainly permitted to duchen. Rabbi Yosef wrote, “Had the soldier hesitated for even a moment from opening fire, who knows how many Jewish lives could have been lost…and heaven forbid that he should violate the verse, ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother…’ You merited eliminating [the terrorists] before [they could attack], and you should be blessed from above for the salvation that you have brought to Israel…” (see Mesos Teivel vol. 4 p. 26) According to Rabbi Yosef, eliminating deadly threats is not an act of war; it is an act of peace that prevents unnecessary death and protects innocent lives.

Is it difficult to imagine how different the world would be today had Israel not bombed Saddam’s reactors and Iraq had achieved nuclear weapons capability. Would a strongman who gassed thousands of his own citizens have hesitated for a moment to nuke Israel, his declared enemy? Would the United States have even considered the possibility of toppling Saddam in 1991, after he casually conquered Kuwait and threatened the stability of the Middle East? With the hindsight of history, we now recognize that Israel’s attack, rather than threatening peace and stability, enhanced and increased regional and global stability in incalculable ways. During the debate in the Security Council, Yehuda Blum, Israel’s representative to the UN said that, “the raid against the Iraqi atomic reactor Osirak had been an act of self-preservation with which Israel had exercised its right of self-defense...In order to avert greater pain to the civilian population in Baghdad, the Israeli government had decided to strike the nuclear facility before it could become an immediate and great menace to Israel.”

Today, thirty-five years later, no one harbors the illusion that the United Nations will retract its condemnation and commend Israel for its forward-looking “act of peace”. But honest students of history readily recognize the wisdom of Israel’s leaders at the time, and the peace and stability that their decisions, which prevented a madman from gaining access to the most terrible weapons humanity has ever known, brought to the world.