Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ants in the Bisquick

Someone pointed out the discrepancy between Don & Ryan in the previous story. This gave me the idea of creating a story in which Ryan was Don's son. And of course Amber & Steve make an appearance. This one is for all the moms and dads and anyone who grew up in a household like mine. Enjoy!

Ants in the Bisquick

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Apple Pie

My sister Dustfinger told me of the way in which she thought dates could play out and the absurd circumstances she envisioned. Thus, poof! A story was born.

Apple Pie

The Burning Bush, The Simple Jew & The Tzaddik

This is an excerpt from Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi by Nissan Mindel, pages 69-73.

The main strictures which the Mithnagdim leveled against the Beshtian doctrines centered on two points:

Firstly, the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov accorded especial esteem to the prayers and Tehillim-recital of the unlearned and untutored Jew, even though he did not know what he was saying. This attitude, the Mithnagdim contended, tended to give the am ha'aretz and ignoramus a sense of undeserved self-importance, and lowered the prestige of the talmidei-chachamim. It seemed to ignore the Talmudic saying that "all calamities that occur in the world are due to the amei-ha'aretz."

Secondly, according to the doctrine of the Ba'al Shem Tov, even a Gaon and Tzaddik have to serve G-d in the way of Teshuvah. The Mithnagdim took strong exception to this doctrine, arguing that it placed the sainta nd scholar in the category of ordinary sinners and repenters. Such a notion surely undermined the honor of the Torah and the dignity of the talmidei-chachamim. The Mithnagdim further concluded that this notion was in contradiction to the view of the Torah, Written and Oral, which described the Tzaddik as the "foundation of the world" and the talmidei-chachamim as those who "increase peace in the world" and as the true "builders" of the Jewish nation. The Beshtian notion of requiring them, too, to do penance was humiliating, and most objectionable.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman replied to the said two main contentions of the Mithnagdim as follows:

"The basis of the doctrine of the Ba'al Shem Tov and of the teachings of his successor, my teacher and master the Maggid of Miezricz, which illuminate the way of Divine service, followed by all the disciples of our master the Maggid, is to be found in the first Divine revelation to Moshe Rabbeinu.

"My teacher, the Maggid of Miezricz, taught me the following doctrine, which he had received from the Ba'al Shem Tov:
    It is written, "And the angel of God appeared (vayyera) unto him in a flame of fire from the midst of the bush. And he saw that the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then said Moshe, 'I will turn aside and see this great sight" (Exod. 3:2-3).

    The Targum renders the word vayyera ("appeared") by v'itgali ("revealed himself"). The meaning of "revelation" is that it comes within the perception of everyone, to each one according to one's capacity, down to the lowest levels. Thus, the Targum also renders the word vayyered in Exod. 19:20 ("And G-d came down on Mount Sinai") by v'itgali ("revealed himself"), though elsewhere, e.g. Gen. 38:1 ("And Judah came down"), the word vayyered is rendered by v'nahat ("descended"). Similarly in Gen. 11:5 the Targum gives a corresponding rendition in the sense of "revelation," as in the case of the revelation at Mt. Sinai.

    Now, just as the revelation at Sinai was intended for all the people, from Moshe down to the Jew of the most humble station, so must "revelation" be understood in the other instances, including the first revelation to Moshe out of the Burning Bush. Here, too, we must assume a revelation which can be perceived on all levels, down to the lowest, as already mentioned.

    The words b'labat esh are rendered by Rashi by b'shalhevet shel esh, libo shel esh ("in a flame of fire; the heart of fire"). Thus, the message of G-d (i.e. "G-dliness") is to be found in the "heart of fire," i.e. in the earnest and sincere inwardness of the heart, where the fiery embers of G-dliness abide.

    The words "from the midst of the bush" elicit Rashi's further commentary: "But not from another [more stately] tree, alluding to the verse, 'I am with him in distress (tzarah)'" (Ps. 91:15). Tzarah (literally "narrow place") alludes to this material world, which is so called because it is limited in space; and also because the Light of the En Sof is concealed therein in Nature, and is thus "confined" and "constricted," as it were. By contrast, the supernal worlds, where the Light of the En Sof shines forth manifestly, are called "wide, open spaces."

    However, the design and purpose of the creation of this physical world is to illuminate it and convert it from צרה to צהר- "light"- by means of the light of the Torah and the Mitzvoth, to be studied and observed in the daily life.

    It is written, "Man is like a tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19). There are fruit-bearing trees, to which, according to Rabbi Yochanan, the talmidei-chachamim are likened (Taanit 7a); and there is the sneh, a humble bush that bears no fruit. Yet the "fiery flame" was manifest in the sneh. To be sure, the talmidei-chachamim, the students of the Torah, are filled with fire, since the Torah is called "fire" (Deut. 33:2), but it is not the inextinguishable kind of fire which burned in the sneh. The talmidei-chachamim can, and do, quench their inner fire by the intellectual gratification which they derive from their Torah studies, from the new insights which they discover, and from original innovations in the interpretation and exposition of the wisdom of the Talmud.

    Not so the ordinary and unlearned Jew, the sneh- in whom burns an inextinguishable fire, and unquenchable longing for attachment to G-d. The only spiritual expression that the simple and untutored Jew can find, is in prayer and the recital of Tehillim. And though he may not know the exact meaning of the sacred words he intones, they contain the full force of his sincerity and wholeheartedness.

    The only motivation of these humble Jews is their simple faith in G-d, which creates in them the burning and insatiable desire for Torah and Mitzvoth, a desire which, of necessity, remains unsatisfied and unquenched.

    That is why the eternal "fiery flame" (labat esh) is to be found precisely in the hearts of these simple, sincere folk.

    It is written, "And Moshe said, 'I will turn and see this great sight'" (Exod. 3:3) which, according to Rashi, means "I will turn from here, to come closer to there." This indicates that Moshe Rabbeinu understood the Divine message of the Burning Bush which emphasized the unique quality of the ordinary Jew- the Labat esh being found precisely in the sneh, rather than in the cedars of Lebanon. The realization of this evoked a sense of Teshuvah in him, and a change of outlook and direction ("I will turn [ashuva] from here to come closer there").

    Now, Moshe Rabbeinu was a perfect Tzaddik. The course of Teshuvah of the perfect Tzaddik is quite different from that of the ordinary repenter. It is effected in the manner of "I will turn from here to come closer there." In other words, no one, not even the greatest Tzaddik, should be static in his Divine service, however perfect it may seem at any time. There must be a constant striviting toward ever greater heights, turning from one high level to a still higher one, with a constant desire to get closer to G-d. In this progression, which is essentially an infinite process, each higher level attained leaves the previous level, however satisfactory it seemed previously, deficient by comparison. Hence there is room for Teshuvah even for the perfect Tzaddik."

Rabbi Schneur Zalman emphasized that the said fundamental tenets of the Ba'al Shem Tov were based on the first Divine revelation to Moshe Rabbeinu, whom G-d had chosen to be the first deliverer and leader of the Jewish nation and he went on to explain the precedental nature of that revelation:

The Divine revelation to Moshe Rabbeinu was quite different from the Divine revelation to Noah, or even to Abraham. For the Divine revelation to Noah was a personal one, due to special Divine grace. Whether Noah was singled out for this Divine love because "Noah found favor in the eyes of G-d" (Gen. 6:8), or because he actually merited it, as it is written, "For I have found thee righteous before Me in this generatoin" (ibid. 7:1), it was, nevertheless, a personal revelation, confined to him only.

The Divine revelation to Abraham was quite different. It contained certain instructions as to Divine service, and was attended by extraordinary tests and trial. It was, obviously, on an altogether higher level, though it, too, came as a result of special Divine love, as it is written, "For I know him (Rashi: love him) that he will command his children and his household after him, that they observe the way of G-d, to do righteousness and justice," (Gen. 18:19). In the Midrash Abraham was also called the "Supreme King's favorite" (B.R. ch. 42). Be it as it may, G-d's revelation to Abraham was also, essentially, a personal one.

However, the Divine revelation to Moshe Rabbeinu- Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained- was not merely a personal one, but rather a general one, serving as a guideline for all future leaders of our people. This revelation showed that a Jewish leader should look for the labat esh in the sneh- among the ordinary people. The leader must try to discover this spark in the heart of the simple folk and fan it into an all-consuming flame.

The Feeling For Beauty

Now as to Chaikl Vilner- and it's about him that I've come here- he is not at all the sort of scholar you depicted. A singular danger lies in wait for him- the feeling for beauty. With his poetic fantasy he beautifully embellishes what he likes, or persuades himself that he likes, until he becomes intoxicated and seduced by it.

~Tsemakh Atlas in The Yeshiva, Volume 1, page 386


"The Talmud bids us drag the yetzer ha-ra into the beth medresh. If it's a stone, it will be worn away; if it's iron, it will crumble." Chaikl said, "But the whole street can't be dragged into the beth medresh. And what's more important, I like the plain people, and I don't want to run away from my street."

"A ben Torah cannot like the street which sinks into materiality and which doesn't observe Sabbath or keep kosher and has no respect for Torah scholars." Reb Avraham- Shaye did not take his nearsighted eyes from the book; he caressed the Rashi script with his beard as if consoling the Torah that it was not yet entirely abandoned. "And besides, I want to ask you- for a person doesn't simply roam the streets aimlessly- do you know where you're going or what you're looking for?"

"Of course I'm not roaming around aimlessly. I'm trying to get to know the people on my street. Torah scholars always talk about opposites, about good and evil, truth and falsehood, beautiful and disgusting. By so doing they think they're making good, true, and beautiful all one concept and bad, false and disgusting the other concept, on the other side of the fence. Actually the world is full of things- like the stars and the grass- that are neither good nor bad, not true or false, not smart or foolish. They live their own lives and astonish us with their eternal laws, to which they are always subjected. Even the concepts of good and evil can be looked at from another point of view than that of the Torah scholars. Torah scholars control everyone to see if his deeds are in accord with the law and his feelings with the Musar books- but they are blind and callous toward people themselves. There is also the way of the poet and philosopher, which doesn't judge man, an approach that teaches until we understand that bad traits and habits can't be pulled out like rotten teeth or like thorns from a garden. Heredity affects man from within and environment from without. And by showing the entire chain of cause and effect that dominates man, the poets and philosophers redeem man from the darkness within him. They fulfill the mitzva of redemption of captives by helping man to better understand himself and, indeed, to become better..."

"Fine, Chaikl." Reb Avraham-Shaye closed the book and stood up. "If you show me one person whom the books of your poets and philosophers have made a better person, I'll carry his laundry to the bathhouse. I understand you want to tell me before I go to the Land of Israel that you have completely abandoned the path of Torah."

"I wanted you to know that I am not the cow who kicks the milk pail and spills the milk because a rage or a passion sweeps over me, as you told my mother. I'm not one of those rebellious slaves who doesn't want to bear the yoke of Torah and mitzvas because he is happy when his burden is light. I have a different outlook on life. Religious functionaries always complain because they have to deal with ordinary, everyday Jews, while I consider the plain Jew who struggles to make a living the most noble and admirable one of the thirty-six saints for whose sake God does not destroy the world."

~The Yeshiva, Volume 2, pages 378-379


He who does not have the feeling for beauty cannot possibly understand how limited and darkened the world appears when limited only to the strict understanding of the law, with no room or wherewithal for those who cannot approach. This is, of course, why the Musarnik's approach is Chaikl's undoing; had he been trained in Hasidism, there is a far better chance he would have remained. The beauty he seeks is there, even within the simple people he so loves. The world of the Musarniks has no place for those who live within worlds of stories, poetry and imagination. They cannot even understand the battle the poet's soul wages. To find beauty in that which is not sanctified, to see it in decay and degradation? To them this is impossible. But assuming one is this way, the question must become how to channel it, and this can only take place within the realms of Hasidic thought. There, all can be sanctified; thus the beauty one recognizes and feels is attached to the spark that must be uplifted. The problem arises when one mistakes the dark beauty found in total ruin and decay for the sanctified kind; then one is lost. It is almost impossible to extricate oneself from those thorns and that path; once having tasted of desire, the world will burn in unquenched fire.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seudah HaMafsekes: Bukharian Style

All hail Mommy, Queen of the Kitchen. And you didn't even get to see the special Yom Kippur soup.

First we show you the whole table, laden with delicacies:

Now, a close-up of the dishes:

And a side-view:

This is how the Sephardim honor Shabbat Shabbaton. Many thanks to all participants for vacating their seats during picture-time. *smile* Gemar Tov to all!

Kreplach & Lekach: The Joy of Yom Kippur!

Everything is beautifully prepared for our Seudah HaMafsekes. Dustfinger even decided to mix it up a bit with a new arrangement for the glasses; tis a party:

Incidentally, if you spy that painting to the left of the Alef-Beis? That was always my favorite painting. It is meant to depict the story of the Alef-Beis when they come before God and ask to be the first letter to start off the Torah. I loved that the letters shone; to me, the letters are always made of fire so this was the perfect depiction.

In any case, because we are Chassidim we have the minhag to eat kreplach and to be given lekach by our parents today. That's always fantastic because my parents have highly imaginative blessings for me.

Yom Kippur is the most joyous day of the whole year because all our sins are forgiven! I'm excited.

Og & Menashe: To Bore A Hole

My Rabbi mentioned the famous gemara regarding King Menashe in shul today:

והיו מלאכי השרת מסתמין את החלונות שלא תעלה תפילתו של מנשה לפני הקב"ה והיו מלאכי השרת אומרים לפני הקב"ה רבונו של עולם אדם שעבד ע"ז והעמיד צלם בהיכל אתה מקבלו בתשובה אמר להן אם איני מקבלו בתשובה הרי אני נועל את הדלת בפני כל בעלי תשובה. מה עשה לו הקב"ה חתר לו חתירה מתחת כסא הכבוד שלו ושמע תחינתו הדא היא דכתיב ויתפלל אליו ויעתר לו וישמע תחינתו וישיבהו

This is from Talmud Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:2.

When Menashe wished to repent, the Malachei HaShares (Ministering Angels) wished to hide his prayer from God so they closed all the windows to Heaven. God therefore decided to bore a hole beneath His Throne of glory in order to allow Menashe's prayer to enter, so much does He desire teshuva, true repentance.

The imagery struck me as familiar. It reminds me of the story of Og & Noah as brought down in Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 23.

How was Og saved from the Mabul (Flood?) He told Noah that he would be a servant to him and his children forever if only Noah would save him. Thus, he lay on top of the ark and Noah drilled a hole into its ceiling. Noah would pass Og's food to him through this little hole in the Ark and during the times that he was not receiving food, Og stopped up the hole with his little finger. (For a beautiful retelling of the story check out Howard Schwartz's The Diamond Tree.)

I think it is deliberate that the imagery echoes. When Noah saved Og, he drilled a little hole in the Ark through which to pass up his food to him. In return, Og saved Noah and everyone in the Ark by ensuring the rainwater could not get into the Ark through the hole and stopping it up with his little finger. When God wished to receive Menashe's prayer, thereby saving him from the conditions he was in (he was being boiled in a pot at the time), he chose to bore a hole underneath His Throne of Glory in order to receive his prayer.

Sometimes God is pleased by man's innovations. It occurred to me that perhaps God saw Noah's compassion for Og, for whom he chose to bore a little hole in the Ark so that he could pass him his food, and thought to Himself: If mortal man can take compassion upon a giant and bore a hole within the Ark for him, how much the more so can I take compassion upon my creatures and bore a hole beneath my throne for them! And thus does one man's kindness eventually benefit us all.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Sparkle Queen Is Back!

A brilliant equation has occurred to me!

If and , then everyone I touch is bound to sparkle!

I watched the premiere of "House" and decided the Sparkle Queen (i.e., yours truly) is back. It's Britney, b*tch. This is going to be an absolutely excellent year. And that's all there is to say about it.

Part of the New Year's resolutions is to laugh as much as possible. To entertain you, I offer you this story:

It's past 12:00 AM and I am trying to sleep. Tossing and turning in New York, my phone suddenly beeps. Perplexed, I pick it up. A Chicago number has sent me a pictoral message. It's entitled 'My New Family' and shows a tough black man in a red jersey holding two dogs. The dogs are wearing bling. I stare at it groggily, trying to understand who or what this is. Finally, I determine that indeed, I do not know a black man with two pimped-out dogs who treats them as family members. Having resolved this dilemma, I fall back asleep, laughing a little because of the poor man who inadvertantly has introduced himself to me via this medium. Tis a strange but wonderfully absurd world.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shul In My Basement!

This is beyond entertaining.

We have (with permission, and not to cause rivalries) a shul in our basement tonight. This amuses me to no end because I remember other people with shuls in their basements (and how I grew up as a child, going to Friday night davening with my father in someone's basement. I did not play, incidentally; I actually davened. Ah, how I longed to go play house with the others! But my father frowned upon this behavior; shul was for davening, not for toys.)

On another note, I believe God thinks far better of us than the people who claim to speak for Him. If it is not so, I and many of the people I love are all damned to hell. My whole life, if I were to believe them, is an exercise in transgression.


Perfidy by Ben Hecht is one of the most horrifying books I have ever read.

Horrifying. Soul-searing, something that will scorch your flesh and leave you frozen. I read it on the way back to Chicago tonight. Started crying on the airplane; it's a good thing the lady next to me was asleep, else she would have wanted to know what was wrong.

Perfidy tells the story of the Kastner Trial and Joel Brand and the Israeli government that was complicit and collaborated with the Nazis in sending Jews to their deaths. It is While Six Million Died as it pertains to Israel versus America.

Perhaps one of the most chilling scenes in the book:
    "It was mid-April, almost a month before my trip to Turkey (1944). One of the German agents in Budapest instructed me to wait at an appointed street corner and said that I would be brought before Eichmann.

    "A half hour later, I was taken to the luxurious hotel where Eichmann had his Headquarters. I was ushered immediately to his room.

    "The words which then passed between us I have imprinted themselves on my memory till I die.

    Brand spoke in German. He now articulates in the dog-bark of a Nazi S.S. officer. The court hears Eichmann's menacing yips out of Brand's mouth:

    "Do you know who I am?" he asked me. "I am the man who carried out all the actions [the Jewish extermination] in Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia. My next task is Hungary. I have checked up as to whether you and the Joint Distribution Committee are capable of getting things done, and I want to make a deal with you. Blood for Cargo and Cargo for Blood. Now tell me, what is it that you want to salvage- women who can bear children? Men in their prime? The aged? The young? Speak up!"

    "I was sitting. A civilian was standing beside us. No other Jews was present. A young woman sat behind the desk, pencil in hand. I presumed that she was taking down our talk in shorthand.

    "The meaning of his words dawned on me. I sat there thunderstruck. I never was a politician nor statesman and blurted out the first words that came to my mind:

    "I am not empowered to decide as to whom you are to murder!" I said. "I would like to save everybody. I don't understand this deal. Where are we to get the cargo? You have confiscated everything." Then I became full of hope and went on- "The local Jews and our friends abroad may perhaps muster sums of money, if lives are to be saved."

    "Eichmann answered, 'Go on then. Go ahead. To Switzerland, to Turkey, to Spain, wherever you please; so long as you can produce the cargo!"

    "What sort of cargo do you want?" I asked.

    "Anything at all," Eichmann said. "For example- trucks. Ten thousand trucks are worth a million Jews to me." He paused a moment and added. "Tea and coffee, too, and soap. One thousand tons of tea and coffee. All these I am in need of."

    "To this I replied, 'I haven't the vaguest idea where all these cargoes are to be obtained. Who on earth will treat this offer seriously? Which official body will believe that delivery of the trucks will in fact induce you to spare a million Jews?"

    "Eichmann answered that he was willing to offer one hundred thousand Jews in advance, and on receiving the proportionate payment, he would release another ten per cent. 'Pick them anywhere you want,' he said, 'Hungary, Auschwitz, Slovakia- anywhere you want and anyone you want."

    ~pages 219-220
Hecht speculates on why the Germans would have been willing to make this offer. The third reason he offers is the most damning:
    Reason three is the most obvious, and the most German. Should it turn out that the Allies do not give a hoot about saving a million Jews, and that they regard the offer with contempt and derision- that, in itself, will be a psychological victory for the Germans. The Allies will then be on record as having had no wish to save Jews when they could. How, then, will they be able to denounce Germans for killing them? Let Emissary Joel Brand come back to Budapest empty-handed, without ransom for a single Jewish child, and Germany will have proved its case against the Jews- nobody likes them. Or, more practically, will have established the fact that Germany's deliberate torture and murder of six million defenseless and unmenacing humans (Jews) did not make it an outcast from Western civilization. Germany's case?- "You not only made no protest against the slaughter, you refused to negotiate for the saving of the last million unslaughtered.

    ~pages 230-231
Hecht then relates how the Jewish Agency in Palestine decide to obey Britain's White Paper. As he puts it, "[t]hey decide on the criminal deed that must wreck all hope of saving the million men, women and children from German slaughter. They will betray Joel Brand to the British" (232). Brand is handed over to the British and kept for four and a half months. Finally, they release him. As Hecht interprets it, "Nobody feels too happy about the Joel Brand business. On the other hand, nobody feels too unhappy. Political objectives exonerate leaders from feeling guilt. They regard their actions, however cruel and vicious their results, as impersonal deeds dictated by national demands" (243). He continues, "Thus it comes to pass that though there are six million Jews murdered, there is no guilt. Neither German, Briton, American, nor Jew feels guilty" (243).

This book is damning. Had I read it in 10th grade, when Rabbi Carmel suggested I should, he would have achieved his objective. I would have been turned into an ardent anti-Zionist, scandalized, horrified and shocked by the crimes its leaders had committed. So we shall be glad I did not do so and am a little wiser now.

Why did Rabbi Carmel suggest I read Perfidy? Well, it was not his original idea. Rabbi Avigdor Miller instructs everyone to read it in his work Awake My Glory. Rabbi Avigdor Miller has an interesting view of Zionists; he sees them as pure evil. However, Rabbi Miller is wrong. He has misunderstood Hecht's intentions in writing this book. I know this because Hecht states them clearly, something Rabbi Miller chose to gloss over.

Hecht is appalled by the power of the ideal. He is horrified by the fact that people can do anything, no matter how horrifying it may be, due to the power of their ideals. He explains this vividly:
    Guilt does not make a politician outcast- be he Jewish, British, or Nazi. For the politician is never guilty as a wrongdoer; only as a wrong thinker or a wrong guesser. Even if his thoughts and guesses set bonfires raging in the world and rain disaster on large areas of it- he is still immune from guilt in the eyes of the law, and in the eyes of his contemporaries. History will sometimes take a look at him, dead in his grave, and give him a bad mark. But the contemporary verdict is nearly always the same- not guilty by virtue of serving an ideal.

    Although shaken and embittered by the continuing revelations in Halevi's court room, the statement of Israel offered no visible or audible sign of any suffering.

    There's the thing I find most ominous in my day- the rhinoceros hides that encase politicians' hearts. They will not react to the truth that exposes them any more than to a drop of rain. For they are never exposed. The evils proved against them reveal only that they were devoted servants of an ideal, a party, a national destiny.

    Exposed in the Kastner case, the Israel politicans do not need to disprove any of the facts in order to prove themselves not guilty. They need only to flash into the eyes of their constituents the "ideal" they served. Who attacks them, attacks Zionism. Who attacks Zionism attacks the finest development in two thousand unhappy years of Jewish history. Tyrants, dictators, and all power-drunk leaders operate always behind the screen of some Ideal. The Ideal exempts them of any guilt for what they do. More, it magically converts their connivings and wicked deeds into proof of how valorously the served the Ideal.

    "I understand Kastner," Eichmann writes in his autobiography, published in Life magazine. "He is an idealist like I am."

    ~page 162
Hecht states this again when he questions how Israel could ever have embarked on the case against Kastner, knowing as they did what the outcome must be. He answers:
    The answer is that authority has an unshakable faith in the image of virtue it calls itself. Authority knows the thousand lies and shenanigans out of which it was created. But authority does not regard these as its true character. Its true character is not what it is, but what it can induce people to believe it is. Thus, until it is led off to the guillotine for its villainies; its true character is always glory and beneficence.

    Like the actor, authority has faith in its false whiskers.

    But its deepest faith is in the human hunger for illusion. People will hang on to illusion as eagerly as to life itself.

    ~page 188
It is this concern over governments that can allow anything in the name of its ideals and the blind worship of authority that lead Hecht to write his book. As he concludes:
    The government of the Jews could not save the Jews. The "situation was too complex." No more can the governments of the United States and Russia save their own people. Their "ideals" are too important. Intoning implacably its ideals, government must ride its course to the Apocalypse. It cannot pause in its heroic dash for oblivion to look where it's going.

    At least, so it seems as I write these last pages. I hear no voices challenging the death's-head ideals of the United States. I hear only the ideal speaking, its tongue speaking as always of love. The love of country, the love of freedom, the love of a better way of life.

    What a dire word love has been in history. It has launched more carnage than any war cry of the species. For it is never love that an ideal has to offer, but love and death. It is always, "Love me, or I'll kill you."


    No voices rise to challenge Authority in my country.

Perfidy is an indictment, yes. But it is meant to be far more than that. Hecht has tackled an ambitious project- he wishes the reader to see what happens when one excuses all in the name of the ideal, refusing to challenge authority to stand up for what is right. How greatly ironic it is that Rabbi Avigdor Miller chose to enshrine this work against authority by utilizing his own authority to teach scores of Yeshiva Bochurim and Bais Yaakov girls that Zionism is evil! How amusing the fact that due to the authority of our Gedolim, we must believe in that! To use Perfidy to support an argument against the entirety of Zionism is to totally misunderstand the book. Hecht had a great and abiding love for the land of Israel. It was precisely because he loved it so much that he was so shaken by the actions of its leaders.

What does this book means to me? It shows me that all humans are flawed. There are Madoffs in the world who create Ponzi schemes that dazzle us in their horror, rabbis who abuse and molest children, men who refuse to give gets and keep their wives chained to them and leaders that chose to put their own interests ahead of those of innocent people. But does this mean that every trustee, every rabbi, every man divorcing a woman and every Israeli official is automatically flawed? That we should do away with Zionism and disregard all Zionists due to the horrors perpetrated by a few? Of course not. That makes no logical sense. As men we commit crimes in the name of our ideals and the crimes are grave. But to suggest an entire ideology must be disposed of due to the actions of some of the leaders of a society is to indict every country and every leader. The British were cruel to the Puritans and Quakers, whereas the Puritans and Quakers were awful to the Native Americans. Man has killed and murdered and shown how little other men mean to him across the strata of time. Why decide the entire institution of Zionism is monstrous without deciding humanity on a whole, every government and every country, is monstrous?

Had Rabbi Carmel succeeded in placing this book in the hand of the innocent fifteen-year-old girl that I was, he would have done me a great disservice. First, he would have shattered my illusions for absolutely no cause. It was not that he simply desired me to acquire more knowledge and information and then make up my own mind; no, he wished to turn me into an anti-Zionist. And as a child who believed wholly in the goodness of men this book would have totally confused me. It is darkly amusing that the same book which preaches that one ought not to permit everything in service of The Ideal is utilized to brainwash those within the religious camp in service of their ideal. My teachers at Templars hurt me irreparably in the service of their ideal - and yet believed they were helping me by acting as they did. The same people who place this book in the hands of innocent boys and girls with the intent to emotionally persuade them to dismiss an entire philosophy and ideology based on the actions of several flawed people are the ones who have totally ignored the message of this book. Dear my rabbis and teachers, you cannot have it both ways. Either cite the book in its entirety or don't cite it all, but to selectively teach it is to lie in precisely the manner Hecht detests. Indeed, his indictment can be extended to you, those who don the mask of false authority.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Teshuva vs. Kappara: Repentance and Atonement In Jewish Intellectual History/ Why Do We Read Jonah On Yom Kippur?

This person permitted me to disseminate their Torah so long as I do not cite them by name. Therefore, from now on I will refer to them as The Adept. The Adept is an incredibly learned Torah scholar and the Torah they teach compares in quality to that of Rebbetzin Sarah Greer's, which is my highest compliment. Should I say anything untoward, assume it is my misunderstanding of The Adept.

The Adept decided to offer a lecture on Teshuva & Kappara (Repentance & Atonement) in Jewish Thought in honor of the upcoming Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. Attached are the pages we shall make reference to throughout this lecture, with the understanding that it would also be helpful for you to have a Tanakh with you. Do not be daunted by the presence of this attachment or the supposed length of this post; The Adept's lectures are well worth any effort you may exercise. From now on, whenever I say 'I' in this post, assume it is The Adept who is speaking.

If for no other reason, you should read this in order to understand why we read the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur.

Teshuva and Kappara in Jewish Thought

The general tendency in rabbinic scholarship is to focus on the end product of Jewish scholarship. It's crucial, however, to examine the issue's historical development through the course of Jewish intellectual history. There is much to gain if you study Jewish thought vertically, not horizontally. It is crucial to know the process that leads to these answers.

I am going to ask four questions.

1. Is there a biblical obligation to do Teshuva (repent)?

2. Why do we read Sefer Yonah (the book of Jonah) on Yom Kippur?

3. In the Shulchan Aruch (see passage 1 in the document above) there is a practice of doing Kapparot for every male in the house. However, the Rama says this applies to women as well and even to the unborn fetus within a pregnant woman! Why on earth does a fetus need a kappara (atonement)?

4. There is a compendium by Rambam called Hilchos Teshuva [Laws of Repentance]. (To digress, there is a famous Ramban where he praises the Rambam and says look, he wrote Hilchos Tehuva, an amazing piece of work!) In Germany, the Rokeach publishes Sefer Rokeach and has a section called Hilchos Teshuva as well. But there are huge differences between the two Hilchos Teshuva. How is it possible in the 12th century when we have 2 greats recording Hilchos Teshuva we have two totally different accounts? (Immediate thought: Foreign influence! But obviously we will not accept that.)

Let's address question 1. We want to look at the peshuto shel mikra of the Bible. In the peshat, is there a biblical obligation to do Teshuva? Now, to defend myself lest I am deemed a heretic for looking at the peshat, let's offer precedent for those who look at peshat.

1. Look at Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvah Chaf- The Rambam tells us it is a mitzvah asei d'oraita to build the Beit HaMikdash but also tells us he won't list separately everything included in the Beit HaMikdash (it's all subsumed under this mitzvah.) However, in the middle of the mitzvah the Rambam throws in a question.

The Mizbeach that we know of was made of copper; alternatively there was one made of gold. They were also made of stone. However, in Exodus 20:21 it states "Make me a Mizbeach [altar] of earth!"

כ מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה, תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת-עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלָמֶיךָ, אֶת-צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת-בְּקָרֶךָ; בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי, אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ. 20 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace-offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come unto thee and bless thee.

In Exodus 20: 21 there is the option of an altar of stone:

כא וְאִם-מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, לֹא-תִבְנֶה אֶתְהֶן גָּזִית: כִּי חַרְבְּךָ הֵנַפְתָּ עָלֶיהָ, וַתְּחַלְלֶהָ. 21 And if thou make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast profaned it.

The altar of stone is confirmed in Deuteronomy 27:6:

ו אֲבָנִים שְׁלֵמוֹת תִּבְנֶה, אֶת-מִזְבַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; וְהַעֲלִיתָ עָלָיו עוֹלֹת, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 6 Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of unhewn stones; and thou shalt offer burnt-offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God.

Rambam regarding the mizbeach adama in Mitzvah Chaf questions: Maybe this is another mizbeach! He is trying to figure out the plain sense of the verse, the peshuto shel mikra. He does explain it, answering that this is not talking about the Beis HaMikdash but rather bamos- then you could build a mizbeach made of earth.

So Rambam, despite all the Chazals, still explains the plain sense of the verse.

2. The Maharal of Prague in the Tiferes Yisrael, Chapter 57 states: Many people are troubled as to why there is no mention in the Torah of Olam Haba? (There are endless Chazals but in the plain sense of the verse it is not mentioned.)

There's the problem of theodicy to which Olam Haba is the answer- so why isn't it mentioned in the Torah? The question has to be asked in the plain sense of the words- why?

Now, to find out his answer you should read the rest of what he says. But the point is that there is precedent for looking at the peshat and we have a right to examine Torah to figure out answers.

So let's proceed:

1. Do we see a biblical obligation to do Teshuva in the Torah (Five Books of Moses?)
2. Do we have dramatis personae who preach the need to do Teshuva?
3. Do we have dramatis personae who do Teshuva in the form the Rambam outlines (regret, confession and stating they will never do the sin again?) Or Baalei Teshuva in the Torah who are identified as such?

At this point everyone in attendance at the lecture began throwing out names and ideas. "Of course we have Teshuva," we figured. "Look at Kayin, the brothers of Joseph, etc." However, what we soon realized is that none of these is a biblical dictum or commandment to repent. Also, none of these characters preach the need to do Teshuva- you do not have someone in the Bible walking around saying, "Repent, o' ye sinners!" Indeed, the ideas of repentance appear in the Midrash but not in the plain text. Noah, according to the plain text, simply builds the Ark as God commands him, does not intercede and does not request that others do teshuva. Abraham bargains with God, searching for ten righteous people in whose merit to save the city. Whenever the Jews do something wrong in the desert, Moshe falls on his face and begs God to blast and smite him, but don't take it out on the Jews. We do have some elements of Teshuva in that the brothers of Joseph certainly feel regret and the Jews contribute their gold to build the Mikdash in order to make up for the Golden Calf, but it is not referred to by this name.

Ramban in HIlchos Teshuva, Perek Zayin, Halacha Hey states: We find Teshuvah in the Neviim (Prophets!) They all speak about it. The Torah promised us that after the Jews do Teshuva they will be redeemed. He cites Deuteronomy 30: 1-3 as his source. However, he notes these verses are a prediction, not a legal obligation. He is also the only one who points to V'shavta ad Hashem Elokecha as a source; everyone else disagrees with him.

Rambam pointed to Numbers 5:7 as the source.

וְהִתְוַדּוּ, אֶת-חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ, וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת-אֲשָׁמוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ, וַחֲמִישִׁתוֹ יֹסֵף עָלָיו; וְנָתַן, לַאֲשֶׁר אָשַׁם לוֹ. 7 then they shall confess their sin which they have done; and he shall make restitution for his guilt in full, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him in respect of whom he hath been guilty.

But even here we only have the element of confession as opposed to the three elements that the Rambam refers to! And this is cultic confession (doing so before offering the Korbanot) as opposed to individual confession.

There are various people who write lists of the 613 Mitzvot and they don't list Teshuva but rather Viduy as one of the mitzvot- and only within the cultic setting of bringing a Korban.

A 19th century Gadol B'Yisrael who has his finger on the pulse of Judaism is R' Joseph Babad, the Minchas Chinuch, commenting on the 613 commandments. And he was really surprised that Rambam brought Numbers 5:7 as a source! The Minchas Chinuch says the Rambam doesn't really believe there IS a mitzvas asei to do Teshuvah. Minchas Chinuch says Teshuva is only a means toward an end- Kappara.

Basically, his argument is that Rambam considered Teshuva like Gittin. There is no mitzvas asei to write a divorce document; all it is is an appropriate legal means to an end, namely if the parties want to remarry. The divorce document is not a mitzvah and is not even a mitzvah kiyumis. For Rambam, Teshuva is sound advice- a means toward the end of Kappara!

However, The Adept added, this cannot be right because it is very clear the Rambam says this is a mitzvas asei.

So nobody knows where Teshuva is from- it is not at all clear. Does the Torah require one to do Teshuva? Very hard to see where.

As for questions 2 and 3, it is very hard to find someone preaching Teshuva in the biblical text and we certainly do not have Baalei Teshuva in the Torah who are identified as such.

What DO I find in the Torah again and again?
The concept of Kappara [Atonement].

* The whole book of Leviticus, Deuteronomy 21: 8 (Egla Erufa), etc- many things that need to be atoned for. There is a strong idea within the biblical text that sin needs to be atoned for.

Now let's look at Neviim (the Prophets.) Let's use our three- question format again.

1. Does anyone preach Teshuva in the Neviim? Yes! Every Navi! The purpose of the Navi is to chastise people so that they will do Teshuva.

2. Do we have models in Neviim who do Teshuva?


David (Samuel II, Chapter 12)
Achav (Kings I, Chapter 21)
Josiah (Kings 22, 22:19)
Menashe (Chronicles 2, Chapter 33)

Now, nowhere is the tension between the ideas of Teshuva and Kappara (Repentance vs. Atonement) more palpable than in Sefer Yonah. Let's discuss Sefer Yonah.

Firstly, what was the sin of the people of Ninveh? Chamas, violence.

Why did Yonah not want to go to Ninveh?

1. Rashi to Jonah 1:3 states it's because he didn't want to make the Jews look bad. He knew if he went to Ninveh and asked them to repent, they would, whereas the Jews had not been doing so. God would negatively compare the Jews to the gentiles. (Mechilta)

2. Abarbanel states: They're pagans! There were ovdei avodah zarah- so yes, they did Teshuva for chamas, but what about Avodah Zarah? (They worshipped Marduk, Ashur, etc.)

3. Rashi to Jonah 4:1- Yonah is upset because now the nations will say that I am a Navi Sheker, a false prophet. (Yonah had formerly said in 40 days Ninveh will fall.) (Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer)

Now, let's look at the peshat. Jonah 4:2 tells you why he ran away!

ב וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֶל-יְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר, אָנָּה יְהוָה הֲלוֹא-זֶה דְבָרִי עַד-הֱיוֹתִי עַל-אַדְמָתִי--עַל-כֵּן קִדַּמְתִּי, לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה: כִּי יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי אַתָּה אֵל-חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם, אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב-חֶסֶד, וְנִחָם עַל-הָרָעָה. 2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said: 'I pray Thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in mine own country? Therefore I fled beforehand unto Tarshish; for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy, and repentest Thee of the evil.

Jonah ran away because "I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy and nicham al ha-ra- have compassion upon evil."

Let's compare this to God's description in Exodus 34:6-7.

ו וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָה עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן--אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת. 6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: 'The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;

ז נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָו‍ֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה, לֹא יְנַקֶּה--פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים, עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים. 7 keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.'

Let's focus on the words v'nakeh lo yenakeh. What does that mean? It's similar to mos yumas- verily, you shall die. You shall surely die! So v'nakeh lo yenakeh means 'but you certainly shall not be cleansed!"

Yes, Hashem is all these things and has all these qualities (Rashi says this) but the plain sense of the text is that God does not cleanse entirely. You sin? You pay! God remembers sins and punishes for sins (spread out over several generations.)

Now, Yonah knows what it says in the Torah and he is raised on the Torah (this is before the time of canonical Navi and Kesuvim.)

Indeed, look at Yonah's very name! He is Yonah ben Amitai- the son of Emes! Emes is the attribute of Din, Judgment. When Yonah talks about God's qualities in 4:2 the word 'Emes' is missing. 'V'nicham al ha'ra' is used instead, suggesting that God forgives the entire sin. There is nothing here about Emes. So what is Yonah saying to God? He is saying: Sin requires kaparah, atonement! It's the Neviim who came along and stressed this concept of Teshuva alone! The people of Ninveh need to atone, not just repent!

Look at passage 2 in the attachment above: It was asked to Wisdom, the sinner, what is his redemption? The evil a person does pursues him. The Prophets were asked and they said the nefesh ha'chotais hi tamus- the person who sinned shall die. David said that professional sinners will be wiped out. The Torah was asked and said to bring an Asham [guilt offering] and make atonement. They asked God and God answered that teshuva alone is the kappara [atonement].

Why do we read Sefer Yonah on Yom Kippur? Because Yom Kippur hangs upon the concept of Kappara! That was the whole Avodah in the Beit HaMikdash with the Kohen Gadol. But we don't have any of that! So we are despondent. In that case, that is why we read Sefer Yonah, because it shows that genuine Teshuva alone works! God is willing to accept repentance alone in place of atonement.

(See passages 3, 4 and 5) in the sheets above and you will see that yes, there was once a time where sin required kaparah, atonement, but nowadays Teshuva suffices.)

So why the differences between the two Hilchos Teshuva compendiums?

In Ashkenaz they preserve the tradition of Torah and Kappara- that's why we have penances of all sorts, etc.

In Spain the Rashba and Rambam banned Kapparos/ so the Mechaber who is Sephardi is very unhappy about Kapparos.

These two different strands of thought (atonement vs. repentance) were united by Chazal, then separated out into the two different strands once more. See passage 8 on page 2.

When and/or why does everything change? See Ezekiel 18.

There, God (in Navi) comes to say: I will change everything so the only people who are punished are those who do the sins (and not later generations.) The Gemara says that God's own teaching was overturned here (somewhere at the end of Mesechtas Makkos.)

[We have run out of time, but read through the rest of the sources on your own; they support this point.]

"The beauty of Judaism," concluded The Adept, "is that there are many different notions and ideas and during different time periods different ones rise to the top. It doesn't stay frozen. For example, the words mos yumas are all over the Torah but the Gemara says that never would have happened. How can that be? The answer is that times change. At the time of the Torah, the way to cleanse oneself of sin was through atonement. Later on it changed to repentance. In truth, there is basis for both ideas within the text; it is simply which one floats to the top depending on the generation. Judaism is not one size fits all."

Glee Channels Alphabet of Ben Sira

Watch this clip from the TV show "Glee" from 5:34 onward.

Alternatively, here's my transcription below.

Finn: Quinn. Quinn. Hey, what’s with the silent treatment? [He walks over to her; she is crying.] Whatever I did, I’m sorry.

Quinn: [a tear slipping down her cheek] I’m pregnant.

[Everything seems far, far away to Finn, who is reeling.]

At first I wasn’t sure …I’m so sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner.

Finn: [totally shocked] Mine?

Quinn: Yes, you. Who else’s would it be?

Finn: But we- we never-

Quinn: Last month? Hot tub?

[Flashback to Finn & Quinn in the hot tub. Finn replays the scene in his mind but is totally bemused.]

But we were wearing our swimsuits!

Quinn: AskJeeves said a hot tub is the perfect temperature for sperm; it helps it swim faster…

Finn: Ohmigod. [taking a breath] Ohmigod. Are you- are you- are you gonna get a-?

Quinn: [shakes head] No.


When I saw this scene I laughed out loud because it's taking the famous story of Jeremiah and his daughter and the fact that she becomes pregnant because there is sperm in the water of the mikva in "The Alphabet of Ben Sira" and giving us a modern-day application. (I think the idea of someone becoming pregnant through sperm in the mikva also appears in Gemara, but I don't remember where.) The point is...however unlikely or odd, there is always Torah (or that which relates to Torah, in any event) in TV shows. Huzzah!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Zionism, Perfidy & My Grandfather: The Intellectual and Emotional Battle for the High-School Student's Soul

It was 10th grade. I walked over to the apartment building which bore a plaque declaring it to be one of the Chicago Community Kollel's acquisitions. Walking up the stairs, I smiled at Rabbi Carmel, his wife and his mother-in-law. Rabbi Carmel's policy was to invite all of his students over for Shabbat lunch. Most students chose to bring a friend along with them. I came alone.

Rabbi Carmel remarked upon this as we sat at the table chewing spinach leaves laced with a delicately sweet dressing. "I think you're the first student I've ever had who came alone," he said.

In many ways I worshipped Rabbi Carmel. A newcomer to the Chicago community, his youth and outlook made him someone we were able to respect within the stifling confines of Templars. He had been raised Modern Orthodox and decided to become more right-wing as he grew up. Now he taught at my school, was part of the Kollel and gave shiurim to many. Despite my mischievousness in class, he contained himself and his temper. Once I wrote him an ode on the blackboard comparing him to Hillel the Sage who was also able to contain his anger.

I think perhaps my foolery, pinning his picture atop that of Mel Gibson (whom he disliked), searching his name on Google and proudly displaying the results, catching him out when he called me 'Chana' as opposed to attaching an appellation to my surname, mocking him for taking off his glasses when he spoke to us...was an attempt to see whether he would get angry with me. He never did. And thus, to the extent that I could, I trusted him. I don't remember how it came about but I began a correspondence with his wife. I would write letters to her, delivering them to him in class to pass to her. She would write back in some kind of Microsoft Word script font. I vividly remember arguing with her about "The Passion of the Christ." This was in the days before Mel Gibson had come out with his anti-Semitic slurs. I was determined to believe good of everyone and argued that Gibson was merely portraying the Gospels. If people were upset by the depiction, they should take issue with the Gospels, not him. After all, I had read the New Testament and thus knew where Gibson drew his material from.

I was attracted to his youth and understanding, the fact that he would play games with me and tolerate my antics. I appreciated the fact that he understood that teenagers could want more than was being offered within the four walls of Templars. I did not appreciate any attempt on his part to quiz, survey or psychoanalyze us. I did not trust him that much.

And so it was that I came for Shabbos, having stopped by briefly on Friday afternoon with an elongated cake that my father had purchased for me. It was a poppyseed cake. Rabbi Carmel was thrilled. "How did you know I like mun cake?" he inquired of me. I just shrugged my shoulders. He brought up this discussion on Saturday day as well. "It's not the usual kind of cake to buy," he said. He meant to compliment me for my discernment but in fact the comment wounded. I had failed at something as simple as picking out the right cake to buy for Shabbat- not that I had done so, of course- it was my father. For all I knew Rabbi Carmel was pretending, overemphasizing his joy so that I would not feel bad. I felt unhappy, and stored away the comment to worry over.

Somehow the conversation turned to Zionism. I was an ardent Zionist for one reason only: to me, that was my grandfather. My grandfather stood for Zionism. Every time HaTikvah came on the radio or was played on CD he would stand up and put his hand over his heart. He taught us all to do the same. The reverence that my grandfather felt for the state, his amazement and awe that he could live to see such a day was transmitted to all of us. For me, to be a Zionist was to be loyal to my grandfather. Anything else and I would betray him.

However, my assumption was that for my grandfather to be loyal to a cause, the cause must be wholly good. Rabbi Carmel attempted to dissuade me. "Do you know what the Israelis did to the Jews?" he inquired. "Do you know about the Yemenite children?"

I shrugged. I had heard vague reports about Israelis tricking Yemenite mothers out of their babies but I knew that could only have been a few very wicked people. There was no way it could have encompassed an actual policy. Israelis, I knew, were good.

"You should read Perfidy," he told me, proceeding to inform me of various atrocities committed by the Israelis.

"It's not true," I told him, defiant, steadfast. I did not know what he had to gain out of badmouthing my Israelis but I was uninterested in it. To me, Israel meant my grandfather. Anything which threatened this relationship or somehow undermined the sanctity of that bond was unimportant and a lie. I knew what kind of people Jews were. They were not the kind of people who would hurt one another, choosing support of a British government over their own, refusing to allow those fleeing from a bloodthirsty Germany entrance to their country. I knew that these were lies, made up in order to force me to obey some kind of Agudah-driven, right-wing anti-Zionist viewpoint.

And so I refused to read Perfidy. For years I avoided that book. To me, it was a book of lies and calumny written by a man whose soul was black and who dared to defame the nation and the land my grandfather loved in favor of promoting a twisted notion of loyalty in me.

It's been five years since that 10th grade encounter, but only now do I have the ability and the strength to read this book. I'm only on the beginning. Hecht writes with a kind of chuckling dark humor, so that you laugh along with him. However, he also generalizes and selectively reports events. He assumes this is all right because he informs you in the beginning of the book that he is not a true historian but only writing his perspective on certain events. I am surprised to find that I like the way he writes; it is conversational in a dry, entertaining way, not the sort where one desires the narrator to drop dead.

The problem with attempting to promote an agenda towards Zionism in high school is simply this. Unless you are willing to go to the effort of looking through the sources, beginning with the Gemara, present them objectively, and ensure that in addition to Perfidy and A Threat from Within we read Kol Dodi Dofek and The Rav Speaks: Five Addresses on Israel, History and the Jewish People, you have no right to promote one view over the other. Both perspectives are legitimate. Better, both can be proven. But to rail against Zionism at a bunch of impressionable high-schoolers means you fail to understand what Zionism means to us.

My friends and I didn't care about Zionism the political movement. In fact, we barely knew what that was. Zionism to us meant our fathers who served in the army, the grandfathers who stood up for HaTikvah, terrorist attacks in which our friends or those we cared for died, a land lush with power and color and the ability to make us fall to our knees in awe. The Zionism we cared for was an emotional Zionism, one taught to us by our fathers and grandfathers, one borne of love and not of mere intellectual ideology. To ask a child to sacrifice the reverence he owes his parents in favor of an agenda he cannot and will not wish to understand is to request a betrayal he will not make. To tell a student to remove the Israeli flag from her locker accomplishes nothing but sows the seeds of dissension and hatred. It does not explain why one disagrees with the aims or objectives of the Zionist movement. It only shows that somehow you have determined that an entire sector of the Jewish population is incorrect in their approach; you have written them off as wrong, bad and flawed. To us high schoolers, Zionism demonstrated our love for our relatives and the land that God gave us. We knew little or nothing about the conditions under which it was spawned and the mistakes its founders might or might not have made. It was not until this year that I even learned there was legitimate opposition to the Zionist movement from within the grounds of religious Judaism. It took me until I was 20 to learn that. And then, I learned it not from a teacher but from a student, a friend of mine who took the time to explain the textual basis for disagreement.

High schoolers are smart enough to understand if you actually take the time to show them the texts and proofs, the basis for your point, objectively demonstrating the fact that there are differing points of view within the Jewish spectrum of opinion. But if you simply rail against that which is dear to us, horrified when we sing HaTikvah on Tu B'Shvat, shouting in my face about the nefarious Israeli government and how they plotted to place Yom Ha'Shoa adjacent to Yom Ha'Atzmaut to suggest we wouldn't have the land except for the Holocaust, screaming that Yom Ha'Atzmaut itself should not be celebrated or acknowledged in any which way...then how shall I listen to you? You are asking me to turn my back on my fathers, brothers and cousins, to betray the ones I love and why? To embrace your hatred. It is a sacrifice I will never make, or if I do make it, it is one I will resent you for till the end of time. If I must choose between the screaming woman and my regal grandfather, standing when HaTikvah plays, you know who I will pick. So long as I am ignorant of the textual bases of these viewpoints, in a battle of emotions, I will choose those I love.