Hag Sukkot and the Hajj: Mourn 700, Celebrate 70

Sukkot prayers at the Western Wall holding the lulav, the etrog, the myrtle branches and willow branches (CC BY 2.5 Pikiwikisrael via Wikimedia Commons)

ברוך דיין אמת.

700 dead on a pilgrimage is a tragedy for all people. For religion, it’s horrifying, since they clearly were going there to merely fulfill an obligation and to have a major spiritual experience.

There’s no mockery in my voice. There’s no schadenfreude in my words here. Just days ahead of Sukkot, a holiday known in Jewish history and law for its universal themes, this is a particular tragedy to mark. This time of year, Sukkot especially, is considered the pinpoint of joint Jewish and non-Jewish worship at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In Judaism, a pilgrimage is called a Hagg – the exact term used in Islam, the Hajj. Judaism requires three pilgrimages a year to the Temple, while Islam requires the Hajj be performed once in a lifetime.

It’s a prophecy of the Prophet Zechariah that in the future, after great trials and tribulations, that the peoples of the world will make pilgrimage just like the people of Israel – the Jewish people – precisely on Sukkot. Not on the other major Jewish pilgrimages of Passover and Shavuot, but on Sukkot.

The reasons Rabbis have given over the centuries for that are all kind of fluffy to be honest. There is a peculiar number of bulls that have to be sacrificed over the seven-day festival, 70 (Number 29:12-18), which corresponds to the number of nations the Torah recounts existed in the aftermath of the Great Flood. Seventy stands in as a symbol for ‘everything,’ but the great Rabbi Eliezer mentioned in the Talmud says the number definitely refers to the other peoples of the world (Tractate Sukkah 55b). He is almost undoubtedly piggybacking off Zechariah’s prophecy, but his simple one-sentence metaphor has fed hundreds of holiday speeches on the idea of Sukkot being a universal holiday. Sukkot is a time to invite everyone into the literal and proverbial tabernacle we build outside our home, outside our comfort zones, and party to great food and music and tidings for a peaceful future.

Sukkot prayers at the Western Wall holding the lulav, the etrog, the myrtle branches and willow branches (CC BY 2.5 Pikiwikisrael via Wikimedia Commons)

Sukkot prayers at the Western Wall holding the lulav, the etrog, the myrtle branches and willow branches (CC BY 2.5 Pikiwikisrael via Wikimedia Commons)

It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the imbroglio of illustrating this prophetic peace is the job of the religious leaders who are the most in tune with their congregants’ emotions and passions. Jews and Muslims are not at peace with each other despite all those rhetorical similarities. But let’s cut back on these token qualifiers and “buts” for a moment. We know all this shit is difficult. Forget it for a second.

As an Orthodox Jew aspiring to reinstate the annual trio of pilgrimages to Jerusalem, it is a pain to see 700 people fulfilling the exact same obligation die while doing it for no other reason other than some terrible accident of planning. I want Zechariah’s prophecy to mean something in this day and age. Sukkot’s redemptive power is a universal one, as the sacrifices brought tie in with a season of redemption on the heals of Yom Kippur but extending the forgiveness toward Jews through a network to atone for all the peoples of the world.

If I want Muslims to relate to my holiday of Sukkot for its universal redemption and for God’s atonement of all other peoples, in order to appreciate where I am coming from when I pray for the restoration of the Holy Temple in a disputed spot, then I must not ignore the tragedy of 700 pious people dying simply performing something they too recognize has restorative spiritual implications for the entire world.

It is simply the wrong kind of wailing to hear at such a holy occasion.

Thousands of Muslims perform the Hajj in Mecca (CC BY SA 2.0 Al Jazeera English via Wikimedia Commons)

Thousands of Muslims perform the Hajj in Mecca (CC BY SA 2.0 Al Jazeera English via Wikimedia Commons)

As Jews linger and wait for the chance to make their trek back to the Temple, there is a sense of awe I have at hearing so many people make such a trip to Saudi Arabia. If only we could appreciate that what we aspire to do for ourselves is just the same what our cousins aspire to do for themselves, we could all be that much closer to a real and not fantasized peace.

There was one study in 2008 that wrote what was probably obvious for a lot of Muslims: the feeling of openness, euphoria and release from the Hajj carries over into how Hajjis view other people when they return home. There is a hint of something new, a calm to be desired that they see as being implementable throughout the world, that Muslims and non-Muslims can live together in harmony. The stories of a universal Sukkot and global harmony are not a fantasy – they are happening in Mecca. They will happen in Jerusalem. For Jews, the future of Sukkot as a holiday of peace will happen. There will be open arms. We will see it soon through divine action or our own hands to make it happen.

May we merit a Sukkot where we see a bright light ahead, where we see the glory of God’s splendor radiating from Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem for Israel and all peoples. May the aftermath of tragedy at this year’s Hajj not obscure the awakening 2 million Muslims experienced. May we all merit the day we celebrate together, pray for rain together, sing and eat dates together (since, you know, fruit is less complicated than having kosher and hallal meat at the same table). A Happy Sukkot to all. May we all complete our pilgrimages as God has demanded of us, very soon and in our lifetimes.

Israel’s Survival, Golden Age and Future: Interview with Shalom Salomon Wald

Israeli Air Force (IAF) jets fly by Tel Aviv on Israel's 63rd Independence Day (CC BY 3.0 IDF via Wikimedia Commons)

(This interview was originally published in three installments at Arutz 7: Part I & Part II & Part III.)

THE RISE AND FALL AND SURVIVAL OF JEWISH CIVILIZATION

Shalom Salomon Wald was born in Italy but moved to Switzerland ahead of World War II. He can recall the aerial battles that took place just across the border from Basel.  He worked with the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) for 38 years, primarily in science and technology policy where he eventually became the Head of the OECD/DSTI Biotechnology Unit.

“I was always interested in history. I did study history in Basel but didn’t graduate in it. It’s a part of my life and I was affected by the Shoah,” says Wald. “I remember the B-17s flying over Basel at the border to bomb Germany.”

Recently, Wald completed a five-years-long work in the study of the rise and fall of nations with a special focus on the future of Israel. The book, Rise and Decline of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People, was supported by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). Continue reading

The Temple Mount vs. Jerusalem vs. Settlement Blocs vs. Isolated Settlements vs. Unbuilt Settlements

The Temple Mount needs to be on centrists' agenda. (CC BY SA 3.0 Godot13)

I support Bayit Yehudi and protecting the religious interests of the State of Israel.

That being said, the last year and a half even more than the previous four has been particularly damaging to the notion of Religious Zionism. There’s been no strategy or foresight in settlement projects. There’s been no prioritization or differentiation between the importance of Jerusalem and towns in the West Bank; even less has there been any effort to distinguish the centrality of the Temple Mount over any other area of Jerusalem.

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Tachlis: Converts aren’t Protesting the Laws, just the Execution

Jackie Chan "What are you talking about?"

On Orthodox Jewish conversion, I think that something’s getting lost in this back-and-forth public discourse since the Freundel debacle went public. I don’t really hear Rabbi Pruzansky being on point with his personal statements or resignations. He keeps referring to Halachic elements of the process for conversion, as if that’s what most of the people complaining are actually talking about. It’s a bit ironic that he is talking about public mischaracterizations when that’s more what converts seemed to be worried about themselves – that too many laymen in the community and Rabbis in the community are misjudging the intent of the converts well after the fact and are ignoring the distress that uncertainty and emotional roiling constant questioning and second guessing is causing for us.

But more importantly, there is a need to be strict about conversion. It’s not a personal matter. Conversion is a communal experience. We’re expanding the community. We’re reinforcing the commitment to Torah with someone completely new and trying to add that as an integrated element of someone’s everyday life. Life with Israel as a people is inseparable from one’s personal life. We’re throwing out lot in with the Jewish people, which means throwing our lot in with the common constitution of the Jewish people: the Torah. In all my arguments against the Israeli Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America, I have had nothing in mind other than the fostering of a culture of Torah and reinforcing the integration of new Jews into the people.

I feel a bit of extra responsibility, perhaps because of my personality or my experience, but mostly because I chose to follow this issue more closely and become more familiar with the Halachah on essential matters of conversion. I anticipated in 2006, well before I finally dunked on Mar Cheshvan 13, 5768, that this might be an ongoing issue. I don’t think that this trait, which is so clearly expressed by a number of recent converts in their writings the last few weeks, is being appreciated by the same people who administered our respective journeys. When we call for these different Rabbinical organizations to relax or to protest something, we are concerned about principles like לא תונו את הגר, לא תלחצנו, ואהבת רעך כמוך. We’re not whining.

Perhaps we see some sort of manifestation of what one commentator interprets of the often repeated Talmudic comment גרים קשים לישראל כספחת. He states that sincere converts’ meticulousness can make native-born Jews feel inadequate or insecure in their own faith and practice. He suggests that some converts might make demands of the community that the community might not demand of itself, based on the standard of the Torah’s rules that the community may unfortunately be sometimes lax on.

Any request to change convention isn’t targeted at the Halachah, but the attitude. A misunderstanding that’s come from reports about Barry Freundel’s conversions is that people think the process itself is the most common problem. That’s not what the private groups on Facebook for Jewish converts are talking about. It’s about the post-mikveh world. It’s not targeted at letting down the safeguards for the community and demands of the candidate, but at the post-conversion attitude that many of my brethren feel isn’t matching the 36-time repeated mitzvah to love and not verbally chase after the ger once he or she has joined the community.

We converted Orthodox for a reason. We passed muster for a reason. We are sincere. We understand the perspective to protect the community with strict standards for new entrants. We know that the standards even 100 years ago were stricter than what the gemara in Yevamot 47 lays out, or the basic letter of the law outlined by the Rambam in Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah chapters 14-15 and the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah chapters 268-269. We get all that. But if we do question any conventions from even 10 or 20 years ago, it comes out of concern for the same Torah from another perspective. We want strict standards on all elements of Jewish law respective to converts: entrance and integration.

Reopen Jewish Conversion Courts to All RCA Rabbis

Freundel-e1413317892667

Open the Jewish Conversion Process Back Up to All RCA Rabbis

Barry Freundel, the former RCA chairman of conversion issues

In a controversial public exchange between Rabbi Avi Weiss and, as it were, Barry Freundel in 2009, Freundel described the system whereas only 150 people had been converted since 2007 and only 150 other candidates were in the process. The GPS had 15 authoritative Rabbinical courts spread throughout the United States, overseen by 40 judges.

There are far more than 40 Rabbis qualified in the United States to judge candidates for conversion. There are far more than 150 people interested in converting Judaism. There are more than 15 cities where they are located.

As a result of the GPS, previous conversion courts in Delaware, Michigan and Kansas are currently defunct. The GPS assumes that only so many Rabbis in the United States are responsible enough to judge a candidate’s suitability to enter the Jewish fold.

Yet, conversions are among the most legalistically simple procedures in Jewish law. Qualifications to sit on a tribunal to oversee a conversion are minuscule and require, based on the letter of the law, no special Rabbinical expertise or experience governing a Jewish community. In essence, if a layman can run a conversion court, for damn sure so can anyone who is a certified member of the Rabbinical Council of America.

With so little capacity to process candidates in place, it is inevitable that the supply of Orthodox conversions would fall. Relative to demand, supply has been deliberately strangled. It is no wonder that Barry Freundel spoke of only 150 candidates in 2009. There are millions of Americans with mixed ancestry who are likely to consider their Jewish identity in the future, and many of whom who will reach out for a spiritual lifeline from Orthodox Rabbinical authorities.

Unfortunately, the value of the conversion has suffered rather than appreciated from that lower supply. The tighter restrictions have resulted in cold attitudes by some Rabbis, and far worse a general perception among Orthodox Jews that converts are to be more suspected then marveled; more interrogated than honored; to never be fully accepted and to always be watched.

Converts’ Well-Being is More Important to the Torah than Doubts over Procedure

When in doubt over a Rabbinical law, err on the side of leniency. When in doubt over a Torah-based law, err on the side of caution.

While not all the concerns of stricter authorities are over Rabbinical legislation amended to Jewish law by the Sanhedrin in ancient times or customs that have developed over the centuries, many of them are. The amount of extra effort converts have had to make, plus the suspicion that follows them throughout the community, are the expense current Rabbinical bodies have paid in order to clear doubts over matters of procedure and suspected ulterior motives to convert. Rabbinical authorities have become lax in their attitude toward the many-mentioned edict of God in the Torah to not oppress the convert (Exodus 22:20, Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, Leviticus 25:17, and so on). The best course of action to reverse this is to undo the trend of unrelenting pressure. Trust the convert more than you might even trust the overseeing judge.

Be strict about adhering to these laws that demand Jews not verbally abuse converts, nor financially strangle them. Alleviate converts and would-be converts of financial obligations to the process, be it in classes or in travel. Do not foster a culture where converts are constantly forced to reaffirm their status with documents or to fear that their conversions might be reevaluated. In all likelihood, conversions are kosher by the bare standards of the Torah and would not have to be reevaluated anyway.

If there is a doubt over the intent of a convert during the process or what was taught to him leading up the actual physical conversion, those doubts cannot outweigh the commitments made during immersion in a mikvah. The act of dunking itself is a demonstration of commitment and enough to forget any lingering questions about procedure.

The Key Need Now is Trust

Reaffirm these commitments and assuredly converts will live more free of the fear they might be called back to dunk again. Of equal importance, Rabbis will begin to earn back trust the last decade’s politics have taken away from them, a trust so vital to instill a sense of respect from the community in its leaders.

 

What Judaism Should Take Away from Sunni Islam’s Tragedy

I realized I sounded like the most liberal person on my Facebook feed when I addressed the revelation that some ISIS recruits ordered beginner books on Islam before going off to Syria and Iraq to fight in a very proud “Muslim” militia. This discovery is a pretty strong indictment of the caliber of recruit, but only if you’re familiar with the dearth in Islamic learning today already – well, at least in Sunni Islam. Shiite Islam, believe it or not, actually has most of its shite together (pun intended).

Sunni Islam’s historic learning centers have shifted, the same as Judaism: from Israel and Babylon to Spain to Provence & Egypt to Poland & Lithuania to New York & Israel again. Sunni Islam is facing a major gap in learning in one particular area: the Arab World. But for many centuries, the center was Al-Azhar. Al-Azhar in Egypt has historically been a center for Islamic culture and thought, so much so that its prestigious top posts have been considered not just the most authoritative in the Arab World, but authoritative to all Sunni Muslims the world over. But for at least the last few decades its student body has been dictated by the Egyptian government, which has had no interest in strengthening religion in the country. Egypt’s military government has operated society in much the way the Soviet Union used to designate people’s professions when they were young. As it happens, the most intelligent have been sent into engineering and science, while the bottom of the barrel was sent to . . . Al-Azhar. The result has been the center of Sunni learning slowly falling apart. Saudi Arabia was there to fill the void though with a very particular type of Sunni philosophy. Financing schools across the Islamic world, particularly in Pakistan, the demanding nature of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi school of thought is considered the spark for most modern Islamist movements.

Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt

Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt (CC BY SA 3.0 Buyoof via Wikimedia Commons)

In summary, it’s been a disaster, particularly for the Arab World. There is no center for Palestinian or Lebanese or Jordanian or Syrian Sunni Islam. Arab Sunni Islam lacks a strong leadership. Its strongest leaders are hell-bent on political ideologies, no matter how religious they profess to be. Sociopaths like Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have easily filled the void – a void whose structure is entirely political and only colored in with the deep green saturation of Islam whose own bones have been gutted. To Muslims’ credit, many are aware of how much cultural traditions and even tribal codes of law sometimes are misrepresented as Islamic tradition – particularly in places like Afghanistan. But the Arab World has been hit hard by this. Islam, at least in the Arab world, is at best a shell being constantly shattered and taped back together by groups like ISIS and the slew of political militias operating across the Middle East.

What It Means for Jews

It’s a fact that Israel should be well aware of. Arab Sunni Islam has largely replaced clerisy with heresy, though don’t let those leaders hear you say it. While it constitutes a grave threat across the scope of humanity and obviously for Israelis that this situation has arisen, it is an inherent weakness to many Islamist movements that their leadership is hollow when it comes to religious authority. Sunni Islam faces a crisis in leadership.

The current Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, is an imbecile. He was appointed by Hosni Mubarak in 2010, but his education was not found at Al-Azhar, rather in a Ph.D. in Islamic Philosophy from the Paris-Sorbonne University in France. At times, it shines that his academic approach has overshadowed the jurisprudential approach needed to manage the religious lives of millions of people. He has deliberately taken Quranic verses deliberately out of context to justify political anti-Semitism and insinuate that Zionist-like movements have been thorns in the side of Muslims for 1,400 years. His stupidity might be his own fault, but his holding such a historically important position for Sunni Islam is the result of decades of neglect.

And from here we see that Judaism, in all its imperfection, is in much better shape. But Sunni Islam’s experience is a very harsh lesson for the Jewish people, whose educational centers are functionally in tact but are scant and face certain idiosyncratic issues.

Despite the seemingly miraculous, near-immediate reestablishment of displaced Yeshivas after the Holocaust, Jewish education though is quite limited around the world. Other movements in Judaism have had fewer than a dozen institutions of higher religious education between them. Divisions within the religion noticeably motivate different communities’ liberal and stringent tendencies to dig in and hold their positions, reinforcing their own views and often losing sight of the original position in law or point of a tradition, to the point that people become either so permissive or so strict that they violate other rules and principles of Jewish law or philosophy.

Knowledge of Hebrew is piss-poor. Bible literacy is atrocious in much of the Jewish community. Religion is considered malleable even without super-heating it to melting temperatures. It’s a different type of religious extremism, but one resulting from a general unfamiliarity with the sources essential to Jewish law.

So I propose a completely different way of doing things.

A Different Type of Convergence Plan

I could care less about your personal beliefs about the literal or metaphoric nature of the Bible in your respective personal and communal versions of Judaism – at least relative to this. At least teach something. At least enrich your literacy and expand the scope of what you know about that book, as well as its infinite series of commentaries and elucidations. Learn Hebrew. Learn Aramaic. Learn Yiddish. Go out of your way to find a Jew who is different than you, someone else who has picked up a philosophy of serial studying. Debate. Argue. Scream. But at least listen. Fight over coffee and converse deep into Friday night dinners, still debating the nature of the universe until the sun rises on Saturday morning and you take what you might have learned and that new-found respect for the way your Jewish peer understands the world and apply it to enrich how you see things yourself. Deliberately force the Jewish people to educate themselves, to educate each other and function as a much larger, less-divided community.

Returning from the Muslim-Jewish Conference just two weeks ago, I picked up as much about other Jewish groups as I did of the various Muslim groups represented there. The chief theme of an event like that is to not persuade the respective delegations to agree with each other, merely to get each other; merely to understand each other. And as oblivious as Jews might secretly think they are of their own religion and the practices of other groups, they are clearly capable and much more knowledgeable than they think. They clearly have the energy to punch above their own weight and represent themselves on a global stage with their own country and a globally represented community despite its small numbers – and lack of central leadership. The ability to invest so much spirit into an event like this with another group demonstrates that Jews have just as much capability to do this for themselves and march in lockstep with each other when they have to.

A Choice between Contempt and Admiration

Not tolerance. Not acceptance. Respect and more. Awe. Regard. Esteem.

For the sake of the next generation of Jews and Judaism, let us all take it as an imperative not to repeat the self-destructive errors of Sunni Islam in our own religious community. We have been through too much to treat each other with the type of contempt that Salafi Islamists treat each other with. As the most extreme of jihadist groups continue to recruit and even turn on each other, let’s remind ourselves that we as a people not only don’t want to mimic this tragic, embarrassing and self-destructive pattern of religious suicide. Let’s remind ourselves that we as a Jewish people have actually done this to ourselves in the past. We fought each other in the days leading up to the Roman destruction of the Temple. More recently, we allowed ourselves to slander each other during the 19th century and the early 20th, something which only stopped when our bitterly divided communities could not muster the strength to protect each other from the Nazi destroyer.

Jewish Population of Europe on the Eve of the Holocaust & World War II

Jewish Population of Europe in 1933, before Hitler’s Rise as Chancellor of Germany

It’s been a damning history that is not worth repeating. And now, on the heels of a humanitarian and political disaster with the rise of ISIS, we are watching all the worst of our own history happen to others: the zealous nature of past Jewish civil wars reflected in the battles between militias in Syria; the attempt to send Einsatzgruppen-style death squads against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq; the effort to form an evil empire stretched across an entire region of the world.

ISIS Massacre in Iraq

ISIS Massacre in Iraq

Jews, Hebrews, Israelites – whatever we might call ourselves – we have come way, way too far and had way, way too much experience to continue tripping over each other’s petty internal differences to not even muster a measly budget to make sure Jews the world over can recognize the freaking Aleph-Bet. We are too ambitious to limit our potential to waiting for the world to help us rescue ourselves from anti-Semitism.

Here we are, on the edge of a new era in history where Jews either wait to see how things develop or we can take an active role in shaping the world around us. I did not move my ass to Israel to wait for the European Union to do something about hatred toward Jews or for some sociopathic militia to mimic the Holocaust 500 miles away from the Jewish army sworn to never again allow such an atrocity to stain the earth with innocent blood.

Areas of ISIS control in Syria & Iraq, where religious minorities are being subjected to systematic murder.

Areas of ISIS control in Syria & Iraq, where religious minorities are being subjected to systematic murder.

Realizing the Jewish people’s potential to protect their own integrity, ensure their own prosperity and to simultaneously fulfill a mission to be a Light unto the Nations begins at home and with the little things. Before we talk about the glory of a Jewish people who have conquered their own petty differences, we need to embrace what is ours and to understand it both for ourselves and as a community: learn Hebrew; recognize the sacred texts; know Jewish history; don’t make assumptions about what kind of history can’t repeat itself; don’t make assumptions about the meaning of religious principles; don’t accuse each other of heresy – look what that has done to Sunni Islam. Most importantly, just understand your fellow Jew. If you aren’t Orthodox, figure out what’s behind your Orthodox peer. If you are Orthodox, get the view of your Reform brother. If you are or are not religious, have a respect for your neighbor that you’d want from him yourself.

Just a Few Suggestions

1. Make Jewish Education Happen by All Means at Our Disposal.

Break the spiral. If Jews can’t afford to come to a private school to get Hebrew, then bring it to them. For God’s sake push your local district to bring Hebrew to public schools. Modern Hebrew, as a foreign language, is a critical language for modern technology and politics. It is justifiable as an academic endeavor just as much as Spanish, French or Chinese is. For the private schools who give their students minimal exposure, flip your classes into immersion programs. Teach whole classes in Hebrew. Require your religious sessions to read entire chapters of Hebrew text. Bring this language completely back from the dead and finish the amazingly holy work of Modern Hebrew’s renaissance man, Eliezer Ben Yehuda.

2. Increase Contact with Other Jewish Communities

For all the risks that your students might pick up ‘undesirable’ ideas from “heretical” or “archaic” groups of wayward Jews, remember the consequences of allowing those divisions to get worse. In less savory economic times, no one can assume that perfect stranger communities who have made presumptions about each other for decades would have a hard time not attacking each other: if the comforts of the Western world where most Jews live were replaced by the poverty and corruption endemic to areas consumed by radical militias, Orthodox and Reform Jews’ civility toward each other today would be a distant fantasy. While the going isn’t so rough, the Jewish community has a duty to not be so presumptuous that it can’t happen to them. Break the barriers between us. We don’t have to agree. We just have to be brothers and sisters again. Neither group is too much a pushover to allow the other to simply talk them out of their hardened beliefs anyway. In all likelihood, and pretty much the point, we would find in each other ways to improve our own groups, thus unintentionally bringing our respective Jewish divisions together, setting the stage for another generation to take that progress even further.

3. Internationalize the Community

Israel is its center, but that isn’t to neglect New York or Paris. The global Jewish network is surprisingly weak considering how hard the community has worked for its resources. It is the vital interest of Israel and the Diaspora to not just be strategic allies to fight anti-Semitism, terrorism and neo-fascism, but also to approach many challenges as a single entity. Were the Jewish community in a country where they are greatly outnumbered and unorganized to face a violent surge in anti-Jewish violence, it will be the combined military and financial resources of Israel and the Diaspora that will have to respond to either extract the embattled community to safe ground or to beat back the threat. This is a very real possibility in 2014 in ways it hasn’t been since 1944. Had Israel lost the War of Independence in 1948, no one can say for certain how the Jewish world would have been able to pick up the pieces of the Holocaust the way it has. Now that Israel and the Diaspora have simultaneously rebuilt their societies, now is the time to invest in those two societies’ continued prosperity.

Learn your brother’s language: Hebrew, English, French, Russian and more. Go out of your way to build friendships with Jews the world over.

4. Speak Softly: Appoint a Representative for Global Jewry to Speak for Us

It should be an unequivocal goal that Jews appoint their own global Chief Rabbi on par with the Pope in Rome. The Pope cannot represent us. No matter how disparate we are, we cannot deprive ourselves of someone to look to for guidance, or to obscure our people’s immense care for global affairs by not having someone who can speak before tens of thousands of people and demonstrate that the Jewish people are on the map to make a difference. And in that same motion, do the very opposite of what Sunni Islam has allowed: a vacuum in confident and representative leadership.


5. Carry a Big Stick: Put Teeth and Grit behind the Principles of Modern Jewry.

Never Again. No Slavery. It’s not just for the Jewish people to talk up these themes. They are guiding policies that Israel and its partners in the Diaspora must actively put forward. Intervention to prevent genocide is the most natural outgrowth of the experience of centuries of persecution. Going forward, the State of Israel must take a moral stand – especially against the morally corrupt, double-standard-laden United Nations – and intervene in every way it can against evil armies like ISIS when they make ethnic mass murder their guiding policy. Jewish organizations from the left and right should reflect the way the Israeli left and right work hand in hand when Israel goes to war: lobby your respective governments to do whatever it takes to block genocide on any continent, in any country where it might occur.

Block human trafficking. End modern day forms of slavery like international prostitution. Join the effort against mass crime rings exporting kidnapped women throughout Europe, prisoners of war forced to labor for their captors in squalor.

Judaism & Islam as Anchors to Peace in the Middle East & Beyond

The following is an extremely long and general, but fairly thorough mission statement requested of me by the organizers of the Muslim-Jewish Conference in Vienna, Austria. I might be the only resident of a Jewish town in Judea & Samaria, the only resident of a West Bank settlement, who will be attending (I could be wrong). The fact I am a Religious Zionist makes me the ideal demographic to represent the community. I’m not sure if my spot on the left-right political continuum is as reflective, but this writing is a major exposé for me. I am never this open about certain views I have. I gain nothing from hiding some of my views on these issues, and the Jewish people gain much less by bottling up these views to the world at period in history where Jews’ very rights to free expression, association, religious practice and political independence face scrutiny that no other ethnic or religious group in the world experiences.

I was asked to characterize the conflict between Jews and Muslims, identify causes and then offer some idea for how to resolve that fight. I don’t expect a majority or minority to agree or disagree with me. My views are my own, though I admit I hope they weigh on how people view their own spirituality, politics, diplomatics (coined) and vision of the world . . .

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Forging Ahead during a War: Jews & Muslims

For everyone I am contacts with on Facebook, Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Arab and other, remember that this war will end. It won’t go on forever. Consider how you feel now and how you want to feel later. That isn’t to say you might not have changed your views on certain things, or your emotions won’t color your thoughts and your train of thought wouldn’t have changed, but ultimately this conflict still needs a light at the end of the tunnel . . . even if it takes ANOTHER generation.

I’m 28, have lived in Israel for only five years and just had my first child. My generation is just now getting the chance to enter leadership positions that could impact what the goals of either side of this conflict are, or how the general population of either side of the war sees the other.

Beyond the generalities, platitudes and lip service, Jews and Muslims unfortunately have some major problems with each other. What worries me about those divisions is that they are symptomatic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not divisions in and of themselves that can easily be solved when cooled passions are reignited every time there’s a rocket, suicide bomber, airstrike or blockade.

On August 7th, I’ll be traveling to Vienna, Austria for the fifth annual Muslim-Jewish Conference, where 100 young leaders will try to lead from the front, build bridges and overcome differences between the two communities. Speaking frankly, it’s one hell of a time for it to be happening. Operation Protective Edge is raging. Protests in Europe have evolved into riots. Social media channels, particularly Twitter, have turned into hotbeds of hate, misinformation and propaganda rather than areas of constructive discourse.

I’ll openly admit being caught up in the frenzy, something I’m trying to step back from in order to reach a constructive frame of mind in August.

Every discussion we have will have to have a practical angle, a pivoting point where theory can become something of an actionable reality.

Avenge, Don’t Revenge, the Deaths of Our Boys

The entire world was given a chance to express their solidarity with Israel in the face of the disparity it faces on a daily basis, where its citizens face physical threats on a daily basis from a constantly evolving list of enemies. This one case of three boys was a chance for anyone that wanted to do to stand up and say something fairly simple: Bring Back Their Boys. Even in the darkness that is the news these boys may have died soon after they disappeared, the reaction of certain diplomats at the United Nations, the split reaction of the Palestinian government and awkwardly celebratory reactions of thousands of Palestinians themselves demonstrated to the Jewish people they face a very formidable stupidity in this list of enemies which celebrates the exchange of death over the continuity of life.

Yes, it’s one case. It’s three boys in the scheme of hundreds of cases of disappearances and murder over the years, but it was a case that Israelis near unanimously decided was a special sort of outrage. No statement was made here today by the butchers on the Bank. There is no sympathy that can be extracted for any sort of nationalistic cause that celebrates a 16-year-old’s kidnapping by smiling and giving out candy.

A reminder to everyone who reads this: if you want vengeance, leave it to the IDF. Trust them. Embrace them like the citizens of Gush Etzion did during the search. Be in lock-step with them. Follow their lead. If you are called up, follow its command. Do not stoop to the level of hicks who murder hitchhikers. Do not give them the satisfaction of an emotional response. Allow the IDF to extract justice or wage war. If you want the death penalty, fight for it through the civil means the State of Israel has established. Push for legislation. Do not let your rage cut down a single olive tree, nor anything more intense. I suspect no one would try to match the evil that was perpetuated outside Hebron, but let’s not consider ourselves to be so arrogant that our own rage might justify retaliation.

The three kidnapped teens, from left to right: Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach (photo credit: Courtesy)

Retaliation should be measured and intelligent. Don’t fight hard, fight smart. Do not stoop to the level of Hamas that justifies kidnapping and murder. Don’t give them the satisfaction of weakening our resolve for a strategic, calculated and efficient counterattack. Let our army do the job. Support the IDF and be vigilant.

The Jewish people are better. They are not weak. They are not frightened. THEY ARE NOT TERRIFIED.

We, Together, Are An Army

I support the Israeli Defense Forces as our army against a force for murdering innocent people like the self-righteous Hamas. The Israeli Police now know they need to be better and more serious when they receive calls about kidnappings – not to be small-headed in their approach to crime. The State will now have to weigh an intelligent response.

Support making this country better. Do not let their deaths be in vain and let your desire for revenge overcome what this country needs right now. The Jewish people, the Israeli people have just been wronged. Do not give its enemies the satisfaction of a global outcry against revenge attacks. Do not stoop to their levels.

Many children will be named in the memory of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, so it is now your jobs to ensure those future Sons of Israel are welcomed into a nation made richer and stronger by tragedy. Learn Torah in their memories. Say hello to someone you politically argue with every day and be friendly. Do not judge your fellow Israeli by size or material of yarmulke and certainly by whether or not he wears one. Do not judge your neighbor by whether or not she covers her hair while married. Make our society better, do not let it descend into the obvious darkness the murderers’ corner of the world has.

Know the Enemy; Don’t Be Like Them

Refuse the culture of revenge. Embrace a culture of justice. Reject an emotional, uncultivated response. Embrace wisdom and strategy. Reject a culture of death. Embrace a culture of life.

Study your enemy if you must but do not rush to engage him. Help our army that defends for us, which fights for us.

Some of you out there might be aware that only about 65 years ago were the Jewish people confronted with the reality they needed an army.  There was very little in terms of clear Jewish Law on how a Jewish army may conduct itself.  Among the few laws recorded before the founding of the State of Israel was the rule that a soldier whose fear of battle is too debilitating is not only permitted to not go out to war, but obligated to. While this is a reality in every army, it does not have to be the reality of the Israeli one.  Undisciplined emotion is what enables fear to take root in the human mind and undermine its spirit.  Fear can also be a great motivator, but only if channeled correctly.  There is a difference though between being afraid and being terrified.  In a moment such as this one, where the Israeli collective is so unified in its grief and rage, remember the service you will do your nation to channel your rage and your fear instead of allowing them to run rampant.  Do not let this crime corrupt you, as its intent was.  Don’t let this massacre deviate you from the Path of the Righteous.  Take satisfaction in knowing that any man or woman who celebrates this tragedy is now less of a human being and less in control of their own sense of logic: they have just shown the world they are lacking in humanity.  It is vital now to demonstrate to the world we march in the spirit of justice; that we don’t give in to our anger nor our hate nor our suffering.  We are better than the logic of a terrorist.  We are able to outmaneuver terrorism.  Our army will not be deterred nor our nation sucked into the gravitas of revenge.

We shall avenge the deaths of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali – but we won’t take revenge.  We don’t abduct 16-year-olds outside of their high schools or mosques, from their houses of God, then murder them in fields.  We don’t do that.  We have been through too much to stoop so low and to let our wisdom escape from us.  We have the real capability to destroy Hamas and others like them by fighting their fire with a very different fire.  We have a righteous anger, so allow it to burn like a torch, not like a wildfire.  Take your grief and channel it to make our country a better place. Say “NO” to terrorism by refusing to engage it on its terms. Fight back right.