Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Sandbox That Is Ours

Today is Yom Ha'atzmaut, the day it was sealed that the Land of Israel was officially ours. Afterwards, we sealed that covenant in blood.

As a sidepoint, very tangentially, this always reminds me of the idea that God can write decrees that will bring calamity upon the Jews and sign them with clay/earth or in blood. If it is written in blood, there is no hope of changing the decree, but if it is sealed with earth, then there is still a chance. Similarly, once we sealed our claim to the land in blood, there is no changing it... (Obviously this is not an original idea; the fact that Abraham buried his dead within the land of Israel makes it his legally, or at least, I recall learning that once.)

There's a sentiment expressed by the rapper Subliminal (who wrote HaTzioni HaAcharon- The Last Zionist) in an interview he had with Rolling Stone Magazine in 2005 that goes as follows:
    Subliminal, born Kobi Shimoni, is not afraid of political confrontation, and he stands by admittedly militant songs like "Biladi" (Arabic for "My Land"). "When we talk politics with Arabs in Israel, they say, 'My grandfather used to live in Tel Aviv, and now it's owned by Jewish people -- we want to come back,'" he says. "I respond, 'My parents came from Iran and Tunisia, but nobody is going to give our property back to us. It's all been confiscated . . . We have this little sandbox we call Israel. We give our hearts and lives to make it a proud country. Every one serves in the Israeli Defense Force in order for Israel to survive. You have half of the globe. What the fuck do you want from us? Go live in Saudi Arabia.'"
I'm just curious: When you're not being politically correct, how many of you agree with that sentiment?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

we'll have this fight another day

we’ll have this fight another day
that’s what I think, that’s what I say
because tonight is dedicated to
the sun and stars and sky and you

in fields made of mist so white
a princess lies, a lovely sight
upon the grass, the breeze so sweet
brushes her face, tickles her feet

a dandelion plucked anew
the spores fluttering where once it grew
a thousand flecks of gold that dance
and paint her, dusted in romance

laughing, light floods her throat
abolished are the words of rote
kisses pressed against her brows
soon to end in wedding vows

the church bells sing so merrily
she skips upstairs so happily
we had the fight a different day
that night was only there for play

My Sentiments Exactly


The House of Dolls

My friend Shimon was telling me about music, and he mentioned the band Joy Division because of his love for the song, "Ceremony." I had never heard of Joy Division. "What does it mean?" I asked innocently. "It's the name they gave to the part of the camp where they housed the Jewish women whom they turned into prostitutes for the Germans," he answered me.

Could such a thing be possible? I wondered. I had never heard of the Joy Divisions. Arbeit macht frei, work makes free, is the motto that I have always heard. But whoever heard of labour via joy? And yet, apparently they existed, these nightmarish places where the sterilized women were made to service the Nazis, their lives at the mercy of the Germans, their smiles feigned as they begged for their lives with every movement of their hands, their legs.

Thus it was that I discovered House of Dolls by Ka-tzetznik. Having originally seen only the cover of the book, I imagined a nightmarish thriller-type novel, something sickening and sensationalist. But that is not what this is. House of Dolls is a gentle, lyrical novel, beautiful and haunting. If it were music, it would be the strains of pain rising from the pure touch of the bow to the violin. It touches the heart in a much deeper place than a merely sensationalist, graphic depiction of events would have, because it tells a story. The characters are given context; the book mostly revolves around Harry and Daniella, brother and sister. It is Daniella who is eventually taken to join the Doll's House, the Joy Division...

I will reproduce several excerpts below, but I warn you in advance, this is not for the faint-hearted.


Joy Division.

Here, in the rose-tinted blocks, there was no flogging. Here they kept close watch over the girls' bodies to keep them whole, undamaged. Here, when a girl was flogged she was not permitted to return to the Joy Division. She was immediately tossed on the van and- Off to the crematorium!

Here every girl got a new outfit. Every week- clean underwear. Compared to the food in the Labor Division it really was paradise here, as Renya Zeidner had said. But the girls who lapsed into sin in this paradise received a "report." Just a "report." Sinners with three such "reports" were led out, usually with teh arrival of a new transport, to the Execution Square, where Elsa, the Master-Kalefactress, cleansed the sin out of their bodies. Sin Purgation it was called. Upon which the purgated bodies were tossed on the van: Let the other maidens of paradise behold and beware of sin.

Here, every day, at two o'clock, German soldiers, on their way to the Russian front, came from the nearby transit depots to entertain themselves with the girls of the Doll House. The girls had to put their all into the satisfaction of their esteemed guests. If such a guest was not satisfied with the "enjoyment," he had only to report it, on leaving, in the orderly room and give the girl's breast number. After three such "reports" the girl was automatically doomed: She hadn't duly appreciated the great honor bestowed upon her; she had made light of the honor of a German warrior!



Enjoyment Duty.

There is not a sound in the block. The girls sit, each on her bed, legs propped on the floor. Fifty beds, in two single files, with fifty girls seated backs to each other. No one had decreed this seating arrangement. They seem to be sitting this way deliberately, so their glances should not meet. Fear is contagious. Soon they will be called upon to smile. The smile is not optional. The smile attests to the girl's attitude to Enjoyment. Her life depends on the smile. Soon they will be called upon to be happy.

There is not a sound in the block.

For a while yet they are permitted to commune with fear, with this thing about to take place here. Now they are still permitted to feel the horror of what awaits them. And they abandon themselves to the opean arms of fear, which any moment will have to give way to the Germans. Soon their faces will wear smiles. The noble German guest hasn't come here to look at sad eyes. He has come to Enjoy! To get his bucketful of joy! That clear to the Doll? If not, he'll make it clear to her! First of all, let's have the number! He wants a copy of th enumber in his pocket. Just for the heck of it. Afterwards, when he passes by the orderly room, he'll think it over. But just now, with her brand number already jotted down in his pocket, let the Doll be so good as to love him up! The way he likes it! With gusto! Gay does it! He wants to get his fill of her just the way he washes down a mug of Prussian bear, white foam and all.

Outside, the gong booms-

Two o'clock.

It's time.

There is not a sound in the block. Fifty girls- as if they had nothing to say to each other. Fifty beds- like ffity stools arrayed on the Execution Square before the naked bodies are strapped to them.

Outside, German voices are approaching. Elsa is screeching final orders to the kalefactresses, drowning out the Germans' ribaldry. Maybe that will help draw their attention and serve them notice just who and what she is here. Even Yaga lingers on the square in front of the blocks. They hustle and bustle and shout outside like stage directors before curtain time on opening night. Any moment now the block gate will open, and the Germans will come in.

Fifty beds- like fifty before the firing squad, standing motionless in a straight row, staring into the gun muzzles, waiting for the bullet to pierce the heart-silent. They have nothing to say to each other.

Every day. At exactly two o'clock.


Enjoyment Duty.

At Daniella's bed, the German hangs his jacket in the closet. In the adjacent bed, the girl looks right into the German's eyes. She smiles- but her smile weeps, as though she had drawn it out of a jar of tears where it had been soaking. The girl's eyes rake through the German's countenance, trying to divine as by face-reading: What does this face have in store for her today? Is there a human spark hidden behind it? She searches for the spark. She wants so to find it, hold on to it, reach out a hand to it like a drowner. Her life is now in his hands. She now belongs to him, all of her. He will express his opinion about her. His opinion- an irrevocable verdict. Will he sate himself, like the beast gorging down its prey, grunting and going on its way, or will he let her have a "report" just for kicks, so as not to miss out on this extra pleasure?


In a nearby bed, the German gets up, makes ready to leave. The girl's arms, white and naked, cling to him. Her face twists into a smile as her lips whisper, "Please sir, was the gentleman satisfied?"

The German shoves her away, spits, walks off. The girl sits there, her naked white arms hanging spiritlessly from her knees. She looks to him. He is going away, carrying in his pocket the fate of her polluted life. The Execution Square looms before her eyes. She looks, looks. The German is already gone, and she is still looking to him-

Was he?...



Suddenly, he felt an awful pain around his eyes. From every limb of his body, from his skin, from the roots of his hair, the pain converged upon his eyes and all started beseeching him:

"A tear- a tear- please, just one..."

He rolled off the white sheet. The searing pain around the eyes grew more agonizing, more excruciating. A roaring blaze. The pupils of his eyes flared up like two seething volcanoes, and the pain erupted and streamed into his every bone. He dragged himself to the table, let himself into the Mussulman seat. Queer sounds started escaping from his throat. The weird cheeping of an ailing bird. His arms reached out to the empty chair opposite.

"A tear- Please, only one- just one..."

He lifted his gnarled, calcified hands and pointed to his eyelids: There....he...he feels something there, something he's never felt before...He twittered and breathed his plea to the empty chair:

"...tear...only....only one..."

Hippocrates of Concentration Camp Universe! Prescribe this patient his cure!



It may be wrong of me, but one of my first thoughts upon completing this book was, "How lucky am I!" God of the Universe has blessed me with millions of blessings, and so few of them do I actually realize. How lucky am I, who cannot conceive of the horror of such a place; how lucky am I who was never a girl as these girls were, how lucky am I, who has the privilege and the advantage to study here and to learn and who shall never be touched by anyone against my will, let alone forced; how lucky, how lucky! For this I may compose a fervent prayer of thanks, that I am so blessed and I am so lucky; my life is charmed, free from every horror. From the depths of their suffering, these women beg us to acknowledge our own blessings, and this I do, for I am so lucky, so lucky; God has blessed me far beyond my capacity to imagine.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Who Rocks The House?

Who rocks the house?
Chana rocks the house!
And when Chana rocks the house
She rocks it
All the way down!

Otherwise known as: The Thesis is finished, and now I can get back to living. As Rihanna says, I'm going to take a bow now, and then I'm going to make you move...because you see,

Well I’m not paralyzed
But, I seem to be struck by you
I want to make you move
Because you’re standing still
If your body matches
What your eyes can do
You’ll probably move right through
Me on my way to you

is stuck in my head and is currently my favorite song. So I'm off to have a Finger Eleven "Paralyzer" dance party. And then I can throw in some "24," "Gossip Girl," and "House" for good measure. And when all that's done, I can go worry about the next step of troublesome responsibilities.

Rock on, my dear empanadas (as Dana would say)!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Exile and Redemption in Tanach and Jewish History: YU Tanach Yom Iyun 2009

The links to the handouts are available here. (I'll add links to the source packets as time permits; I can't scan everything right this moment.)




4. Source Packet for Dr. Shawn Zelig Aster's lecture: BUILDING THE JEWISH NATION IN THE TIME OF NEHEMIAH


Exile and Redemption in Tanach and Jewish History
Exile and Redemption in Tanach and Jewish History silvergleam YU Tanach Yom Iyun 2009. Exile and Redemption in Tanach and Jewish History.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is Zionism Diametrically Opposed to Judaism?

Is Zionism Diametrically Opposed to Judaism?
Is Zionism Diametrically Opposed to Judaism? silvergleam These are source sheets for a lecture by Rabbi Kenneth Brander addressing the question of whether Zionism is diametrically opposed to Judaism.

And here is the last page of the sources, which I forgot to scan to the PDF; make sure you take a look at this page as well.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander presented a lecture over Shabbat entitled "Is Zionism Diametrically Opposed to Judaism?" where he went through different ideas and beliefs regarding Zionism and Judaism. To begin with, he mentioned that we must be cognizant of and respect other opinions. He then had us look through the array of sources I have provided for you above in order to explain how exactly we can be observant Jews and also Zionists. I thought this was something appropriate for people to learn before Yom Ha'Atzmaut and figured I would provide these sources for you.

To begin with, Rabbi Brander had us look at the verse in Numbers 33 stating that we shall inherit the land and live in it because God gave it to us to inherit it. We then looked at Source 2, the Ramban, who states that we are obligated in conquering the land in all the generations. This to the point that even if a man and a woman are married and one wishes to live in the land of Israel and the other does not, we permit them to get divorced so that the one who wishes to live in the land of Israel is able to do so.

However, there is then a Gemara in Ketubot 11a which states that there are 3 shvuos, three oaths. These oaths are as follows: 1) We shall not go up to the Land of Israel 2) God commanded the Jews not to rebel against the nations of the world 3) God told the idol-worshippers not to oppress the Jews too much.

Said Rabbi Brander, it is off of these three oaths that the Satmar Rav bases his idea that the State of Israel nowadays is incorrect. The Satmar Rav states that we swore that we would not go up to the Land of Israel and this is why we should not be making aliyah nowadays.

Then there is a Tosafot in Ketubot 110b (source 4) which states that Rabbeinu Chaim stated that it is dangerous to live in the land of Israel nowadays and also now it is not a mitzvah for our generation to go up to Israel because there are many mitzvot that specifically apply to the land of Israel that we will not be able to keep appropriately.

Rabbi Brander then showed us that many people who are known to assemble compilations of the ideas in the Gemara completely pass over this Rabbeinu Chaim. For example, the Rosh does not mention it (source 5). The Maharit, Rabbi Joseph ben Moses Trani (source 6) states that this statement from Rabbeinu Chaim is actually a mistake and was never said by him. Some student made an error and wrote it in, but Rabbeinu Chaim never said it. The Pitchei Teshuva in Eben ha'Ezer 75:6 (source 7) tells a story where there were people who wanted to make aliyah and the Beit Din ruled they could not due to this Rabbeinu Chaim. The higher beit din overturned this ruling and stated that these people could indeed make aliyah because this Rabbeinu Chaim is a "talmid toeh kitvo" - a student made an error and wrote it in Rabbeinu Chaim's name, but Rabbeinu Chaim never said this.

Then we come back to the idea of the three oaths that we swore. Rabbi Abraham Bornstein, the Av Beit Din of Sochaczew (source 8) states that the Ramba and all the other poskim do not bring this idea of these three oaths down by halakha.

Rabbi Ezekiel Landau (source 9) mentions that in fact, you are not allowed to learn out halakhot from the aggadic sections of the Talmud, and these three oaths appear in an aggadic section of the Talmud, so to learn halakha from them is incorrect.

This article in the Beit Yitzchak (source 3) mentions a lot of similar sources for why people should make aliyah.

Then there is the question of whether the State of Israel, such that it is, can be seen as the beginning of the redemption. Can the redemption come about through such unholy means?

Rabbi Brander mentioned that Rav Kook quoted the gemara in Sanhedrin 98a (source 12) and said that Mashiach can come in two ways- riding on a donkey or on the wings of eagles, in the blink of an eye. Why specifically does it use the language of riding on a donkey? Because a donkey is the only animal in halakha which is impure (not tahor) but nevertheless has halakhic status. We do peter rechem on a donkey- we have to redeem the firstborn donkey. Says Rav Kook, just as there is this mitzvah by the donkey, which is an impure animal, and it is accorded halakhic status, so too can we regard the secular Jews who are helping to create a State- the Ben Gurions of the age and suchlike. These people have a kind of purity to them, a halakhic status, even though they are not creating a purely Jewish/ halakhic state.

Ramban to Parshat Ha'Azinu 32:40 states that it is certain that we shall have the future redemption, and it is set in stone that it shall happen, even if we are not deserving. There is no condition that first we must all repent and then the redemption shall happen, but rather that it shall happen either way; we could perhaps hasten it if we do teshuva- but it can definitely happen. Hence there is no reason to doubt the fact that the creation of the State of Israel can be a part of the Geulah.

The Ohr HaChayim actually mentions that God first plans to look to the religious Jews to bring the Geulah, but they will ignore Him, and therefore he will turn to the sinners to do it, and they will help Him to bring it. So this is absolutely consistent with what we have seen regarding the State of Israel and its creation.

Apparently R' Aaron Soloveitchik wrote that we even see in Melachim 8 the story of Gechazi and his sons who are all lepers, and yet they are the ones who save the city (I don't understand this, as that does not seem clear to me from the pesukim, so I would say- through which the knowledge that the city is saved is brought to us. I would have to see where R' Soloveitchik actually writes this to understand better.) They decide to approach the enemy camp and discover that it is empty; the enemy has fled! And this is the same Gechazi who made Elisha look foolish before Naaman and asked for silver and presents that Elisha did not wish for, so if God can bring about the Geula through people who have actually sinned against God's prophet and against God, all the more so can He bring it through ordinary people who have not actively sinned against God, per se.

In source 16, Rabbi Tzvi Kalisher writes a letter to the Rothschilds- he was on a crusade to have the Rothschilds purchase the land of the Temple Mount; he was very concerned about Israel and was one of the first religious Zionists- so this shows that he was very much connected to this.

This is where Rabbi Brander concluded, as it was very late at night; he showed us that our Zionism is very much rooted in halakha and we can feel very comfortable stating that religious Zionism is a halakhically permissible situation.


Here is my question: The Satmar Rav must have been an extremely learned man, and I am certain he knew all of this (including the fact that people say that Rabbeinu Chaim is an error and it is not accepted, and that we do not learn halakhot out of aggadic sections of Gemara). In that case, why was he so vehemently opposed to the State of Israel? It cannot be just because he did not know this...

And Thus We Triumph

There is a contest at Stern College for a creative writing award. One submits a story, essay, or poem without one's name. Someone collects all of them, and then assembles them before the judging panel, who chooses the winner(s). It is obviously completely based on the submission, because the texts are submitted without names. I found out just before Shabbat that I won the award. It was for a story I've never showed any of you. In any case, you can be proud of me.

I also want to congratulate Estee Goldschmidt on her amazing mastery of different ideas and the shiur she presented to us over Shabbat. It was very beautiful and creative. Mazal Tov, Estee, and may you go on to present many more shiurim and wonderful chaburot. I will tell you a secret. I have never officially given any shiurim (divrei torah, yes, a shiur, no, except maybe to NCSYers.) In this you have surpassed me, and I am very happy for you.

And now I want to acknowledge one of the lovely children who never fails to make me happy. She is almost 7 years old. She was at the Shabbaton today. We will call her Violet. We were speaking about many things, and one of the things we spoke about was the following:

Violet: It was a very sad letter.
Me: Why was it so sad?
Violet: It was a very sad letter because it said her brother died.
Me: Do you know what it means when somebody dies?
Violet: Not exactly.
Me: Do you want to know what it means?
Violet: Hashem misses them.
[I pause to assess this answer, which strikes me as beautiful.]
Me: Yes, Hashem misses them, and He takes them to Him. But we are sad, because we miss them, too. Do you know anyone who died?
Violet: Not so much.

I love Violet. If only I were surrounded by children all the time, I think I would be happy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fantastic Things That Make Me Happy

My father has informed me I need to have a positive mental attitude. So I have decided to create the CHEER-UP Chana Brigade, which will consist of various funny or amusing things that have happened or occurred to me of late. And all of you should feel free to add happymaking things to this list as well, and so we shall all be cheered simultaneously!


Birkat HaChama

Let's begin by describing Birkat HaChama in Chicago. You see, we all woke up at 6:00 in the morning to do it. Then, we traipsed out to the huge open fields by the JCC, behind the assisted living apartment and Winston Towers, to smile up at everyone in the cold (because it was freezing in Chicago over Pesach.) There were 1500 people, a live band, and a mechitza made by interweaving DO NOT CROSS THE POLICE LINE yellow tape around two stands that normally function to hold up volleyball nets. Off of all this I coined the catchphrase: "1500 ppl, live band, DO NOT CROSS THE POLICE LINE mechitza- Chicago: We do Birkat HaChama In Style."

For a stylish Birkat HaChama experience, choose Chicago 28 years from now- and vote for us to host the Olympic Games, too!


Dancing in the Kitchen

Dustfinger: *starts dancing in the kitchen*
Me: okay
Dustfinger: *starts dancing with me*
Me: okay
Dustfinger: I think I’ve started picking up some of your spunk

The Sinning Spoons

(after I have announced my impending irritability)
Dustfinger: yeah, I don’t know why she is depressed all of a sudden
Dustfinger: irritable, not depressed, my bad, irritable!
Mother: *shakes head*
Me: *washes dishes*
Mother: wash dishes
Me: I did!
Mother: And what about the two milchig spoons in the sink? Did they sin?
Me: *grumpy look* yes


Madlib Your Mood

I feel ______ today because I have to go ______ to look at __________. On the one hand, this is fun, but on the other hand, this is ________. There is also the problem of my _______ and whether I should pluck them for the upcoming _______ or leave them to attain a lovely shape.


The iSorry Application

In China, they have professional apologizers. I have created the iSorry iPod application to take care of that for you.

The iSorry allows you to send a pre-made voice-recorded apology to your lover/ friend's phone. It will download automatically to their phone and play. Here are some sample messages:

1. Hey Sweetie, I'm sorry I cheated on you the other night. It was a drunk booty call and she means nothing to me and I love yoooou (segue to romantic Titanic music)

2. Hey Darling, just called to say I'm sorry about the dog leaving its business on the floor this morning; I know this wasn't the best start to your morning.

3. Hey Cupcake, just wanted you to know that I wanted to say sorry, but with the economic crisis decided to do it this way, which goes 0.10 cents per message, as opposed to buying you flowers, which costs $10.00. Aren't you proud of my money-saving ethic?

4. Hey *insert male name here*, I'm so sorry I wasn't home last night when you came by; I had a doctor's appointment (yeah, sure you did) and I would love to make it up to you.


The Clown Protest

If not for the fact that I am going uptown today, I would totally be doing THIS instead:

*NYC Protest at the UN –*
*We will go as clowns!*
Demonstrate that the Durban II Conference was a circus*
Friday, April 24, 2009**
*12:00pm - 1:00pm

United Nations Headquarters42nd and 1st AVENew York, NY We will go to the UN wearing clown wigs and red nosesIf the UN and the world use the Durban II conference on racism as a facadefor attacking Israel and Jews, we are obligated to defend Israel againstfalse accusations and double standards.We MUST also feel compelled to highlight the true suffering that is incurredthroughout the world, while the UN remains silent! Bringing public attentionto the farcical values of the world's leaders is a first step.While we are all supporters of Israel, this is NOT a pro-Israel rally. THISIS A PROTEST against the United Nations hosting Achmadinejad, a protestagainst the Durban II conference, and a protest against the United Nationssilence on the most serious human rights abuses in the worlds!

Any excuse to dress up in a clown costume. God, am I dying to be there!


Conversation with the Boys on Gmail Chat

Urchin: ur in new york
Me: Yes
Urchin: yay
Taran: so u guys keep chatting. i'll come in soon ;)
Urchin: i need to shower so ttfn tata for now
Taran dont abandon her thats bad manners:(
Me: yeah, don't abandon me

The Rebbe and the Fantasy Book

Me: you're here now! hello beloved. i have had an awful sad day
Excellent Friend: hi
Me: can you please make me happier
Excellent Friend: i finished the golden fool. started fools fate
Me: oh wow! that's amazing! what did you think of golden fool?! when you finish fool's fate, i really want to talk to you about the whole series
Excellent Friend: i thought it would be kind of funny if i actually brought that book to the yeshive. imagine what my rebbe would say when he saw the front cover?
Me: of golden fool, you mean?
Excellent Friend: yeah
Me: yes, i think he would wonder about the tattoos.
plus he probably would not know that the Fool is a man


That's all for now...what makes you happy?

Smoking Adventures

It's one of my most cherished beliefs that everyone has something beautiful in them; the only question is whether or not I am able to perceive it.

Last night I went to Duane Reade to purchase milk, and while waiting in line, I heard the following conversation taking place behind me.

MAN: When will you give up smoking?
LADY: I'm not going to give it up.
MAN: It's a bad habit.
LADY: You know, if you say that one more time...
MAN: (leading voice) Yes?
LADY: I'll start poking you!
(Insert me trying to stifle giggles)
MAN: Aha...
(They move to the front of the line, by the register)
LADY: Wha-what happened? (She is looking at the Duane Reade that has absolutely NO cigarettes, no Marlboros, nothing...just signs...)
DUANE READE LADY: Sorry, ma'am; we're all out...
LADY: Where can I get - ?
DUANE READE LADY: There's a corner-shop over at ______.
LADY: (turns on her heel, walking out of the shop, to her boyfriend) That's so weird!
MAN: Maybe it's a sign.
LADY: Sign, my a**.
MAN: Really, maybe this means you should...

And off walked the man and the lady (she of the blonde tresses in a red coat, and he of the nicely combed brown hair and suit) into the night.

What I thought was sweet about this conversation:

A) The man cares about the lady and wants her to be healthy, hence his insistence despite her desire for him to stop
B) Her threat to *poke* him!

Human beings are really wonderful.

Tanach Yom Iyun THIS SUNDAY (April 26)


It's that time of year again! Get ready to attend this upcoming Sunday's Tanakh Yom Iyun, entitled "Exile and Redemption in Tanakh and Jewish History."

Tanach Yom Iyun on April 26
Tanach Yom Iyun on April 26 silvergleam

The Yom Iyun will feature talks by Menachem Liebtag, David Berger, Jeremy Wieder, Elana Stein Hain, Mordechai Cohen, and many more!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jewish Prostitution: The Ugly Side of Shtetl Life

Today I read a book entitled Bodies and Souls: The Tragic Plight of Three Jewish Women Forced into Prostitution in the Americas, written by Isabel Vincent. It is horrifying. Those of us born in America have a tendency to romance shtetl life, our images painted by films and movies where the shuffling Jews look clean and happy despite the hard times, and joy somehow wins out against the difficulty of living. However, books like these illustrate the reality, which is what shtetl life could actually allow for and harbor...namely, the horror of white slave-trafficking.

I reproduce two excerpts of the book below.


Sophia's family received him with great warmth and countless apologies. Sophia, they said, is young and inexperienced. She knows nothing of life, they said. She's innocent. She's only thirteen. Isaac waved away their concerns, and to show his good faith, he promised to make their union official. There was no time for a proper wedding, he said. Could the Chamys family round up two witnesses, and could they meet in the shitbl for the ceremony?

Even though the wedding was organized in such haste, and would not be officiated by a religious leader, the Chamys family would not have thought anything amiss. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such ritual weddings were common in the smaller, poorer shtetls where rabbis were rarely present. The ceremony required only the presence of one Jewish witness, and was commonly referred to in Yiddish as a stille chuppah or "silent wedding."

In the presence of the witness, which in Sophia's case could have been the local cobbler or the tailor, Isaac would make her an offer of a ring or money, and the witness would pronounce the couple officially married. It's not clear what Isaac presented to Sophia as a token of his affection, but it became clear to police years later that this was not the first time that he had entered into such a union.

The ritual marriages had absolutely no validity under civil law, so women entering into these compromising situations had no legal protection. The practice had even been outlawed in some parts of Eastern Europe but continued in the more backward regions well into the twentieth century.

Of course, this was very convenient for pimps like Isaac Boorosky, for whom the stille chuppah became a very important tool, allowing them to entrap ignorant women and rob them of their civil rights. It is not known how many impoverished young women Isaac married in these "silent weddings." It is clear that pimps working in America would typically return to Eastern Europe and travel from shtetl to shtetl acquiring multiple wives in stille chuppah ceremonies.



As one prominent Jewish colonel noted in 1893, "In Buenos Aires there are Jews who are a disgrace to Judaism, and when I think of them, I am an anti-Semite of the most bigoted description."

But the traffickers refused to give up; they were determined to be respected Jews at any cost. At the turn of the last century, they bought their own cemetery in the outlying suburbs of Avellaneda. They also donated a portion of their profits to purchase a property where they maintained an office and a synagogue. When they established their headquarters on an upscale stretch of Cordoba Steet in Buenos Aires, most of the members were tapped for donations. The donor list was found years later by investigating authorities, who noted with interest that most of the donations were objects used to outfit the synagogue. According to the list, Simon Briel donated a chandelier for the women's bathroom. M.A. Rosmarin donated a velvet sheath emboridered with gold for the Torah, while Selij Rubinach gave a set of Bibles. David Brostein donated an oak altar.

Their bourgeois sensibilities extended to charitable causes. Men like Isaac clearly wanted to be remembered after they died. In Sholem Aleichem's "The Man from Buenos Aires," the pimp Motek enumerates a dizzying array of his pressing social responsibilities: "There isn't a thing in the world that doesn't cost me money- synagogues, hospitals, emigrant funds, concerts. Not so long ago I received a letter from a yeshiva In Jerusalem. A handsome letter with a Star of David on top, with seals and signatures of rabbis. The letter was addressed to me personally in very impressive language: 'To our Master, the Renowned and Wealthy Reb Mordecai.'"


There's something sickening about people desiring money earned through prostituting innocent women to support Torah institutions...although I suppose one can look at it the other way and say that even a pimp was able to do some good for his religion.

Vincent explores the community the Jewish prostitutes formed in Brazil, specifically those brought there through the Zwi Migdal trade ring. Set apart from the respectable Jewish community, which refused to aid them, uninterested in how they came to be there, and even the fact that they many of them were raped, brutalized, or otherwise forced into their lot, they had no recourse but to create their own community. They had no alternative, as there was no sense of community amongst the prostitutes. The Brazilian prostitutes turned against the Jewish women in an anti-Semitic fit; they accused the Jews of bringing anal sex and sadomasochism to Brazil. Nevertheless, some of the Jewish prostitutes prevailed. They created a society referred to as the Society of Truth, really managed by a former prostitute named Rebecca Freedman who also purchased a cemetery for the prostitutes and created her own Chevra Kadisha for them. The irony of a Jewish prostitute performing taharos for the other women whom the respectable Jewish community chose to ignore is almost monstrous.

The portrait raised by the book is also saddening in that rabbis were for the most part unconcerned:
    In any case, he had no time for mad feminists. He was the spiritual leader of Budapest's Jewish congregation. He had more important things to think about, more important things to do than to speak to this diminutive spinster with the acid tongue. "The issue [of white slavery] doesn't interest me," he said.

    When he was reminded of his role as the chairman of the Society for the Protection of Children, the rabbi seemed to shrug off his responsibilities to protect them from slave traffickers. "Yes," he said without batting an eyelid. "But only of children up to twelve or thirteen years of age. The older ones are not my business."

At turns, sad, depressing, horrifying or otherwise moving, this fascinating window into the un-romantic version of shtetl life, apparently also depicted in the short story mentioned above by Shalom Aleichem entitled "The Man from Buenois Aires." This is definitely not the picture you will get when you watch Hollywood films or read romanticized versions of the shtetl in Jewish books.

The Tablets

The son left a note on his father's pillow that read:

Dear Father,

We are both blind. You don't always see how much I have done for you and I don't always see how much you taught me. But you think that I took the Tablets and I just threw them to the ground. That's not what happened. They were too heavy and they simply dropped from my hands.

~Off the Derech by Faranak Margolese, Page 133

Playing With The Neighbors

It is surprising, sometimes, how vivid our memories are. Sometimes, without any intentional desire, I am suddenly drawn back into a memory and relive it, with all the sensations, with everything I felt at the time. I hesitate at times to talk about events that pain me, because to talk about them, unless I do so on a very superficial level, is to relive them.

I remember a time when I was in 6th grade, probably about 11 years old. My mother had asked me to welcome a new couple into our neighborhood. Excited, I had taken the cake or whatever the welcoming gift was, and I and Dustfinger, who was probably about 8 at the time, traipsed on over. We were both dressed in long-sleeved shirts and pants. I had on green pants, as I remember. We knocked at the door and the lady of the house opened it. I asked her whether her daughter wanted to come bike-riding with me. She looked me up and down, thanked me, but said no.

Only later did I find out that her daughter wasn't allowed to play with little girls who wore pants. That day, I didn't know why she looked at me that way, why it was that I was found wanting. All I knew was that there was something about me that she didn't like, and I didn't know why. It was so undeserved, and so cruel, and it has left an impression on me to this day. I remember all the pain and confusion I felt then. Innocently, I had tried time and again to try to play with this little girl, and each time I was refused.

People who judge children by their attire and not by the pureness of their heart commit a grave wrong. There is something of value in teaching another person that one doesn't have to act the same way that others act, but can nonetheless respect them as people, reach out to them, and act kindly towards them. This is the way we were brought up in my house, and we would meet people who were both more religious and less religious than us, and would honor them either way.

I believe that God loved me as the 11-year-old-girl I was. I believe He knew that I intended no wrong against Him, that I loved His world of sky and sunshine and wind and snow, this miraculous world that had been given to me as my plaything and my universe, to shelter and encompass me. I do not see why mortal men should attempt to be holier than God. All this talk of being concerned about how other children "influence" other children religiously is somewhat ridiculous. Are your children so frail that they cannot understand that you do certain things in your house, and other people do certain things in theirs, and we approach each person with love, regardless? And if they are so frail, why is that so?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sparks of the Holy Tongue

I rummaged through my father's library and found a fascinating rare book that is currently out of print entitled Sparks of the Holy Tongue. It is by M. Glazerson. My father was good enough to allow me to read the book on the plane back to New York. The Yeshiva University library also has a copy. I have reproduced the introduction below, and have attached links to a few pages. Please read them; the book is utterly compelling; if they had taught me dikduk this way, I would have been an expert by now. If you only have time to read one of the excerpts, I suggest the one on "Sin and Punishment"; that is my favorite. I would love to copy the whole book for you, but that's forbidden. So I must content myself with giving you a taste and hopefully whetting your appetite...


Chapter 1

Letters as Keys to the Knowledge of the Torah

We are prompted to ask why the Torah is written without vowels or punctuation. Was this done for reasons of convenience or because of necessity?

Rabbeinu Bechaye, author of "Duties of the Heart", answers our question stating that the Torah was written in the form in which we know it in order to render it capable of many different interpretations, each, of course, correct. Thus, for example, one may legitimately combine letters, ignoring their separation in two words. (i.e. cutting across their division into words).

It is on this basis that the Vilna Gaon explains the Gemara on the last few verses of the Torah which describe the death of Moses. The obvious question which comes tom ind is how could Moses have recorded his own death? The Gemara's answer is that the whole Torah, which served as a blueprint for the creation of the world, was written by G-d in a jumbled form, one unintelligible to man, and that it was the task of Moses to rearrange the letters and unravel the words to render them intelligible to man. This he did with the exception of the last eight verses which were left to his successor, Joshua, to re-set in a comprehensible form, one which, as it transpired, recorded Moses' death.

The rearrangement of letters into different sets of words is one of the keys to the Torah with which our Sages have revealed great hidden treasures. It is apt, in this connection, to explain the well-known request by the angels to G-d to bestow the Torah upon them instead of upon mortal beings. At first sight such a request appears ludicrous, for does the Torah not speak of, and to man? However, in its untransliterated form, the Torah could conceivably relate to non-human beings.

Letters are keys to our knowledge of the Torah in other ways too. In the introduction to his commentary on the Torah the Ramban records that knowledge of the Torah was conveyed to Moses in several ways, directly; by allusion; by way of computing the quantitative values of (the letters) of words and by interpreting the shape of letters.

Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Josi Haglili, stipulates as two of the thirty-two keys to the knowledge of the Torah, the computation of the quantitative values of letters and the creation of words from the first letters of a series of words.

Another commentator, the Pardes Rimonim, lists among the means of unearthing the secrets of the Torah, the combination of words, the combination of letters of the same sequence in successive words (eg. every second letter), interchanging letters of the same sequence in a series of words and the computation of the qualitative values of letters.

The multifarious ways of learning the Torah bear witness to its depth and to the verse: "The measure thereof (of the Torah) is longer than the earth and broader than the sea." Such analyses should stimulate us to delve further into the well-springs of the Torah.


LINKS TO EXCERPTS (When viewing the image, click the magnifying glass icon to enlarge)

1. Letters as a Source of Different Shades of Meanings, Page 1
2. Letters as a Source of Different Shades of Meanings, Page 2
3. The World is as We View It, Page 1
4. The World is as We View It, Page 2
5. Sin and Punishment, Page 1
6. Sin and Punishment, Page 2

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Love Between David & Jonathan

Samuel I, Chapter 18, 1
א וַיְהִי, כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אֶל-שָׁאוּל, וְנֶפֶשׁ יְהוֹנָתָן, נִקְשְׁרָה בְּנֶפֶשׁ דָּוִד; ויאהבו (וַיֶּאֱהָבֵהוּ) יְהוֹנָתָן, כְּנַפְשׁוֹ.
1 And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

This phraseology is similar to that describing the love of Jacob and Benjamin.

Genesis 44:30
ל וְעַתָּה, כְּבֹאִי אֶל-עַבְדְּךָ אָבִי, וְהַנַּעַר, אֵינֶנּוּ אִתָּנוּ; וְנַפְשׁוֹ, קְשׁוּרָה בְנַפְשׁוֹ.
30 Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad is not with us; seeing that his soul is bound up with the lad's soul;

My father notes that this love is not reciprocated in this form by either party. David's soul is not described as "bound up" with Jonathan's, nor is Benjamin's soul "bound up" with Jacob's. This is because this love was unconditional and boundless, like the love that a parent has for a child, which is generally unable to be fully reciprocated.

Samuel I, Chapter 18: 3
ג וַיִּכְרֹת יְהוֹנָתָן וְדָוִד, בְּרִית, בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתוֹ, כְּנַפְשׁוֹ.3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.

Samuel I, Chapter 19: 1
א וַיְדַבֵּר שָׁאוּל, אֶל-יוֹנָתָן בְּנוֹ וְאֶל-כָּל-עֲבָדָיו, לְהָמִית, אֶת-דָּוִד; וִיהוֹנָתָן, בֶּן-שָׁאוּל, חָפֵץ בְּדָוִד, מְאֹד.
1 And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants, that they should slay David; but Jonathan Saul's son delighted much in David.

Samuel I, Chapter 20:3ג וַיִּשָּׁבַע עוֹד דָּוִד, וַיֹּאמֶר יָדֹעַ יָדַע אָבִיךָ כִּי-מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, וַיֹּאמֶר אַל-יֵדַע-זֹאת יְהוֹנָתָן, פֶּן-יֵעָצֵב; וְאוּלָם, חַי-יְהוָה וְחֵי נַפְשֶׁךָ--כִּי כְפֶשַׂע, בֵּינִי וּבֵין הַמָּוֶת.3 And David swore moreover, and said: 'Thy father knoweth well that I have found favour in thine eyes; and he saith: Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved; but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.'

Samuel I, Chapter 20: 17
יז וַיּוֹסֶף יְהוֹנָתָן לְהַשְׁבִּיעַ אֶת-דָּוִד, בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתוֹ: כִּי-אַהֲבַת נַפְשׁוֹ, אֲהֵבוֹ. {ס}
17 And Jonathan caused David to swear again, for the love that he had to him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul. {S}

Samuel I, Chapter 20: 41
מא הַנַּעַר, בָּא, וְדָוִד קָם מֵאֵצֶל הַנֶּגֶב, וַיִּפֹּל לְאַפָּיו אַרְצָה וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים; וַיִּשְּׁקוּ אִישׁ אֶת-רֵעֵהוּ, וַיִּבְכּוּ אִישׁ אֶת-רֵעֵהוּ, עַד-דָּוִד, הִגְדִּיל.
41 And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the South, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times; and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.

Samuel II, Chapter 1: 26כו צַר-לִי עָלֶיךָ, אָחִי יְהוֹנָתָן--נָעַמְתָּ לִּי, מְאֹד; נִפְלְאַתָה אַהֲבָתְךָ לִי, מֵאַהֲבַת נָשִׁים.
26 I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me; wonderful was thy love to me, passing the love of women.


David & Jonathan are often mentioned in the same breath, yet, if you analyze the verses, it seems as though the love that Jonathan showed to David was stronger. Jonathan's love is described, over and over again, as a love of the soul. Jonathan's soul is bound up with David's soul; he loves David as he loves his own soul. David's expressions are more subdued. David expresses himself by using a very formal expression to Jonathan; he states that King Saul knows that David has "found favor" in Jonathan's eyes (an expression echoed by Esther when she hopes to have found favor in King Ahaseurus' eyes). Perhaps this is because David does not wish to impose too much, and does not wish to state bluntly that King Saul is aware of the love that Jonathan bears toward David; he therefore uses a more formal expression. David later expresses his love for Jonathan by kissing him and weeping longer than Jonathan does before he must hide away from him. But once again, he does not use words to describe his feelings; they are there in his actions, in his tears. His last paeon and lament for Saul & Jonathan states that he is distressed for his "brother Jonathan." For Jonathan to be his brother, Jonathan still exists outside himself; this suggests that David's love for Jonathan was not a love where he loved him as he did his own soul. He also mentions "wonderful was thy love to me, passing the love of women," but says nothing of his own feelings, the love that he feels towards Jonathan.

Perhaps this relationship is the model for the one that Solomon described in Song of Songs. The love of the maiden in the Song of Songs is similar to that of Jonathan. In 3:1, she clearly describes that:

א עַל-מִשְׁכָּבִי, בַּלֵּילוֹת, בִּקַּשְׁתִּי, אֵת שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי; בִּקַּשְׁתִּיו, וְלֹא מְצָאתִיו.
1 By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth; I sought him, but I found him not.

Her emphasis is on the soul and on the fact that she searches for the one whom her soul loves.

Note in contrast that the male speaker in the song, like David, describes the Shunamite maiden's love for him but does not discuss the feelings he has for her:

י מַה-יָּפוּ דֹדַיִךְ, אֲחֹתִי כַלָּה; מַה-טֹּבוּ דֹדַיִךְ מִיַּיִן, וְרֵיחַ שְׁמָנַיִךְ מִכָּל-בְּשָׂמִים.
10 How fair is thy love, my sister, my bride! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all manner of spices!

It is true that the male speaker in the Song of Songs calls his beloved by endearing names, but even so, it is clear that he is less expressive and certainly less soul-focused than she is. He focuses on her love for him or on how love itself is a delight, but does not describe his endless love for her. This is similar to David, who only expresses himself through his tears and his paeon. And even in his paeon, he is describing the way in which the love Jonathan bore him affected him, rather than speaking, in the first person, about the love he bore Jonathan.

Thus, if we are to be like one of these pair, it would seem to me that we would wish to be like Jonathan, whose love consumed his soul, and who loved with his whole being, for David was like his own soul, no outside relation- even one as close as "brother."

Yair Has Been Published!

My beloved friend Yair of "Yair's List of Torah Links" fame, has been PUBLISHED in a freaking journal! He is a freaking celebrity! He is also amazingly talented and crazy brilliant and I am so goddamned happy for him! This is the best piece of news I have had all day because a) today has been miserable b) this is FANTASTIC NEWS.

Mazal Tov, Yair! May this be the first of many wonderful publications and may I be blessed to live to attend all your award dinners! And may you only go from strength to strength and continue on to be happy always.

Yair has been published in HaDor, formerly known as HaDoar. Check it out! Apparently you can pick it up in your local Hebrew bookstore, since it is published nationwide.

How lucky I am to have such wonderfully brilliant friends!


Why I didn't know this before now is an excellent question, but let it be made clear: Sometimes Stern makes absolutely awful decisions when determining whom to let go from their school or faculty. It is a shame and an outrage that the one woman in this school who is more learned than all the others, who knows how to teach Torah in a clear and systematic way, who fascinates, captivates and otherwise offers others the thrill of truly learning should not be rehired. This one woman taught me more Torah than all my other Judaic studies teachers combined, and in their idiocy, the administration did not realize that they had possession of a gem, and they allowed her to slip through their fingers. They should have fired other people on the Judaic studies faculty before letting her go!

Angel of Death + Bas Kol + Elijah

Okay, two questions.

A) Where is the source for the fact that God will kill the Malach HaMaves? (Obviously we say that in Chad Gadya, but where is it originally from?)

B) Are there many places in which Bas Kol means Eliyahu in the Gemara (according to various commentaries?) Can anyone think of some places? Or other places where God and Eliyahu are interchangeable? As we saw in my Akiva post, per the nice Columbia Student, the Maharam Schiff states that the Bas Kol that happens by the Oven of Aknai is really Eliyahu coming to tell us the answer...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Could Tamar & Judah Have Been A Marriage?

So I had a question and I was wondering if anyone could answer it for me.

After reading Rabbi Kaplan's Made in Heaven (wrote about this here), I learned that there are three ways in which one can marry a woman:

1) Bi'ah (Sexual Relations)
2) Shtar (Document)
3) For the man to give an object worth the value of at least one prutah to the woman

But there is another idea, apparently rabbinic in nature.

4) To place the two people under one garment (this is like in Megillas Rut, where Rus asks for Boaz to place his garment over her)

If you look at the Tamar & Judah story, it seems awfully like a marriage in those terms.

To begin with, Tamar is veiled, as a bride would be at her wedding:

יד וַתָּסַר בִּגְדֵי אַלְמְנוּתָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ, וַתְּכַס בַּצָּעִיף וַתִּתְעַלָּף, וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּפֶתַח עֵינַיִם, אֲשֶׁר עַל-דֶּרֶךְ תִּמְנָתָה: כִּי רָאֲתָה, כִּי-גָדַל שֵׁלָה, וְהִוא, לֹא-נִתְּנָה לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה.

14 And she put off from her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the entrance of Enaim, which is by the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she was not given unto him to wife.

In the verse, it even specifies that the reason Tamar goes out in this way is because she was not given to Shelah as a wife, which suggests she wishes to be someone else's wife.

Obviously the bi'ah portion of this is taken care of, because later we find out Tamar is pregnant by Judah.

Judah gives her his signet ring, wrap and staff. The signet ring and staff would be worth at least a prutah, whereas the wrap is the garment that we see at the wedding (either as a tallis over both bride and groom or the actual chupah itself).

יח וַיֹּאמֶר, מָה הָעֵרָבוֹן אֲשֶׁר אֶתֶּן-לָךְ, וַתֹּאמֶר חֹתָמְךָ וּפְתִילֶךָ, וּמַטְּךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדֶךָ; וַיִּתֶּן-לָהּ וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ, וַתַּהַר לוֹ.

18 And he said: 'What pledge shall I give thee?' And she said: 'Thy signet and thy cord, and thy staff that is in thy hand.' And he gave them to her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.

Obviously this was only in lieu of the kid goat he planned on giving her later, but is it possible that there is a relationship between the narrative and the law? I know Simcha has done research into various relationships between narrative stories and halakha before. Could it be that due to the fact that Judah gave the woman his ring, wrap and staff and slept with her, we begin the tradition of marrying through a ring, saying we must have the two under one garment, and also using bi'ah as an indicator? (Or at least, that these two ideas are linked?) The only part lacking here is the official shtar.

Before you protest that we would not learn anything out of such an untraditional relationship, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan himself brings down that the source for Sheva Brachos comes from Shimshon's marriage, where he had days of feasting. If Shimshon's marriage to a gentile woman can be considered a forerunner for our own Sheva Brachos, it seems likely that the relationship between Tamar and Judah could possibly be a forerunner to something...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Silence of Giving

I heard a beautiful mashal recently; I wanted to tell it over to all of you. After all, this is the parsha in which we learn vayidom Aharon- and Aaron was silent.


Once upon a time there was a King. He ruled his land justly and well and wisely and acted with compassion toward all. His kingdom was made up of many city-states, and in each city state there were rulers who were his vassals. They pledged allegiance to him, but were able to create many laws and rule their lands so long as they did not impugn upon his authority.

One of these city-state kings had a daughter. She was a beautiful princess, clever and quick-witted, always interested in learning about the world. She was taught to reign in her kingdom, taught the ways of her people, their customs and culture, and she absorbed it all with pleasure and enjoyment.

A different city-state king had a son. He was a handsome prince who was also taught to rule. He used to walk through the streets and accustom himself with the people and their ways, learning about them and their habits, in order to ensure that he would rule well.

It was the custom that at different periods during their training, the respective princes and princesses would go on a tour of the realm in order to learn about different people and their particular cultures. It was on one such tour that the prince and the princess met, and fascinated by each others' differences and similarities, they became friends. They learned much from one another, and enjoyed one another's company.

The King of the entire realm watched this with approval. He even brought the two to his court, where he ensured that they would have access to the royal scrolls and treasury, allowing them a rare honor. However, after a time, he summoned the prince to himself and informed him, "On pain of death- her death, not yours-, you are not permitted to speak to the princess anymore."

The prince wished to object but the King explained, "You were raised for different purposes, to rule different lands. You have learned what you could from one another, now you must return to your respective kingdoms and rule them individually. Should you try to annex them, you would fail, as their ways are too different, their cultures too far apart. You have a duty to your kingdom, and she to hers."

The prince did not want to immediately sever all ties with the princess. He thought that this would be unkind, and likely to be misinterpreted as cruel. He therefore was very careful to wait until she had returned to her home kingdom, where she would be near her family and friends, before initiating an unusual silence, where he did not speak with her nor communicate with her. It was very painful for him, but he wanted to give her the chance to sever contact with him rather than do so himself. Thus she need not feel rejected.

Unbeknownst to the prince, the King had issued the same directive regarding silence to the princess. When the prince did not speak with her or otherwise send a messenger to her, she took it as a good omen. And so she penned a missive which she sent to the prince explaining that she too must keep silence from now on, as it was the only way to spare him.

Such a silence is considered the silence of giving. Each thought only for the other; therefore, their silence is precious before God.


To explain: The King is God. The prince and the princess might be any two people who converse with one another on a regular basis. But there are certain laws that God creates where he forbids conversation on certain topics; for example, there are the laws of lashon hara. When it comes to such situations, there is a penalty for both the one speaking and the one listening. But there are other times where there are simple ideas that one person may be ready to hear and another person will not; it will throw the other person into immense doubt and confusion. In such a case, when someone keeps silent despite desiring to speak, it is considered a silence of giving, because they care more for the other person's well-being than they do their own need to be heard.

In the case of Aharon, he did not need to be silent necessarily. But his silence indicated that he took the Divine decree and accepted it; he would not fight it. In this case, it is a silence of giving, because it would have been understandable for him to mourn or cry or fight against God, but he chose instead to allow the honor of God to prevail. He cared more for God's honor than for his own need to be heard; thus, he was silent. Thus, in a way, he gave to God; he gave himself and dedicated himself as His servant.

Thus it is said, in Proverbs 29:11:

יא כָּל-רוּחוֹ, יוֹצִיא כְסִיל; וְחָכָם, בְּאָחוֹר יְשַׁבְּחֶנָּה.
11 A fool spendeth all his spirit; but a wise man stilleth it within him.

There are times when to be silent is to give to someone; this is the highest form of love as described by Rabbi Dessler.

Homeland: The Best History of the State of Israel Possible

Well do I remember my father bringing home a grey hardcover book about Israel with a bunch of smiling kids on the cover and attempting to make me read it.

Me, the kid who reads everything. I was about 13 or so at the time. And yet I could not get through this book.

I tried, in order to please him. But I could not. It was absolutely impossible. That's because the book was deeply boring, exceedingly uninteresting. There was nothing to capture the imagination, nothing to allow me to visualize the growth of the State. And from that point onward, my illiteracy about the State of Israel grew.

Oh, I vaguely knew that there was this man named Theodor Herzl who was somewhat important, and Chaim Weizmann figured into things somewhere, and I had read enough of the Rav's works to know his view on Zionism, but I really didn't understand how this had all happened, how the rise to create a Jewish state began, how one event followed the next.

And then came an amazing book entitled Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel.

This is a book published by Nachshon Press in 2007. It is good. By this, I mean really, really good, like fantastically good, like I read-the-whole-book-in-one-sitting-and-did-not-move-from-the-chair good. And I now have an excellent working knowledge of how one event followed the next and how the state of Israel was formed. I could not give it higher praise if I tried.

To begin with, the book starts all the way back at the beginning of the Creation of the World, then follows the biblical account of how the land of Israel was given to Abraham, and works from there all the way up to a modern-day version of how the State of Israel was created. The style is that of a professor speaking to students, so that relevant questions are "asked" by students and "answered" by the professor. The book is exceedingly objective, citing facts where possible, and different versions of events when necessary. To top it all off, both the author and illustrator were exceedingly familiar with Medrish, which comes through in the exquisite, bright and fascinating drawings (which you can see if you click the link!) The book is easy-to-read because it is written almost in comic style, with the bright, lifelike pictures attracting most of the attention and the comic font adding relevant details. The best part about this book is how well it puts everything in order; all the stories flow from one another. There were so many places where I thought, "Oh, that's how it fits together," while reading this.

To give you an idea of how clear and easy this book makes things, let me produce for you their explanation of the different forms of Zionism on page 40, something which finally clarified terms for me.

RELIGIOUS ZIONISM: Although some traditional Jews oppose Zionism, rabbis are also among the movement's early activists. In 1834, Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai argues that a Jewish return to the land would help bring the Messiah. In 1862, Rabbi Zvi-Hirsch Kalischer writes Seeking Zion suggesting similar ideas.

SOCIALIST ZIONISM: Moses Hess publishes Rome and Jerusalem in 1862. A colleague of Marx, Hess is persuaded by Jew-hatred in Germany to embrace the concept of a Jewish state. Like him, many Zionist leaders want to fuse living in Palestine with socialist ideals.

CULTURAL ZIONISM: Some hope to revitalize Palestine as a center of Jewish culture. Ahad Ha'Am (One of the People), the pen name of Asher Ginzberg (B. 1856), along with H.N. Bialik (B. 1873), the great Hebrew poet, represent this effort to create a new national Jewish life.

LABOR ZIONISM: A.D. Gordon (B. 1856) promotes Hebrew labor, the idea that working the land will transform the Jewish people. Gordon thinks of a relationship with nature in spiritual terms. When Jews rebuild the land, the land rebuilds the Jews.

POLITICAL ZIONISM: In 1881, Leon Pinsker, an assimilated Russian Jew, is alarmed by the outbreak of pogroms, officially sanctioned violent attacks against Jews. He calls for Jewish self-emancipation. A similar story begins at the 1894 trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish army captain falsely accused of spying for Germany. Theodor Herzl covers the trial as an Austrian Journalist. Shocked at the animosity the trial provokes against Jews, he begins to campaign intensively for a Jewish territory.

Another amazing example of how well this book was made is the fact that when the illustrator drew Moshe on Mount Nebo looking out onto the land, he drew the faint outline of skyscrapers, as Israel is in modern-day society. This is obviously taken from the Midrash that Moshe saw far into the future and knew all that Israel would become.

This Yom Ha'Atzmaut, if you are looking for an avenue of educating your children (or if you are looking to educate yourself), purchase a copy of Homeland. It is probably one of the best books you will ever read in your life.

The Jewish Wedding Ceremony

Today I read an exquisite book entitled Made in Heaven by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. It is a Jewish Wedding Guide. The reason I read it is because many of my friends are engaged and/or soon to be married, please God (shoutout to Malka and Batya!), and I wanted to have a better understanding of all the different rites and customs that each person chooses to observe at their wedding. Also, I think the entire marriage and wedding ceremony is fascinating.

Here are some of the things I learned (but by no means a comprehensive guide. If you want the guide, I highly recommend purchasing Made in Heaven; it is wonderfully informative.) I am going to quote directly from the book unless otherwise indicated.


1. Many difficult problems arise when tenaim are broken, and in the confusion following the war [World War II], such broken engagements became a common occurrence. Therefore, the tenaim ceremony was shifted to just before the wedding so that there would be no chance that it would be broken.

In circles where formal tenaim are not made, it is customary to have a "word" (vort in Yiddish). While this is considered a formal engagement, it is not as immutable as tenaim. The custom at a vort is to make a meal, and to have the rabbi or another officiant make a kinyan with the bride, groom, and their parents.

A kinyan is a formal acceptance of obligation. The act of acceptance is usually done by taking the corner of a handkerchief, napkin, or other object that the officiant is holding. According to Jewish law, taking the object is a formal acceptance of an obligation. The practice is mentioned in the Bible: "This was the ancient practice in confirm all things: a man would take off his shoe and give it to the other party. This, among the Israelites, would create an obligation" (Ruth 4:7). While the Biblical custom may have involved a shoe, a handkerchief or other article can also be used. (Pages 28-29)

2. The main part of the ceremony is the groom giving something of value to the bride. In theory, then, the marriage could be contracted with a potato or an article of clothing. The requirement that the article used in the ceremony belong to the groom is a clear point of law.

In order to understand this, one must understand what is accomplished when something of value is given. There are two ways of purchasing something in Jewish law: by cash (kesef) or by barter (chaliphin). When something is purchased by barter, what has transpired is simply an exchange of property. However, when a transaction is made for cash, the transaction can also effect a change of status.

Therefore, when the groom gives the bride something of value, he is not "buying her." Rather, he is changing her status from that of a single woman to that of a married one. Obviously, a woman is not a chattel, and cannot be purchased for money. The money is merely a legal consideration that makes the woman's new status binding. The Talmud states emphatically that a woman cannot be married through a barter transaction, because this would imply a change in ownership, and would give the woman the status of a chattel. (45-46)

My brother Taran has informed me he plans on giving me a potato at my wedding to remind me of the way in which I gleefully taught him this (today at Havdalah I decided everyone needed to know you could marry people with potatoes.)

3. The giving of a ring also symbolized the giving over of authority. Thus, when Pharoah transferred authority to Joseph, he gave him his ring (Genesis 41:42). Similarly, Achashverosh gave his ring of authority first to Haman (Esther 3:10), and later to Esther (Esther 8:2). In giving his new wife a ring, the husband is symbolically giving her authority over his household and everything else that is his. From that moment on, everything in their lives will be shared. (49)

4. When a man puts on tefillin, he winds the strap three times around his left middle finger and says, "I will betroth you to Me forever. I will betroth you to Me in justice, love and kindness. I will betroth you to Me in faith, and you shall know God" (Hosea 2:21, 22). The strap is thus a renewal of the "marriage" between God and Israel, and it is therefore wound around the finger just like a wedding ring. Then, just as the strap binds man to God, the wedding ring binds the bridegroom to his bride. (50)

5. On only using a smooth gold ring, without any engraving: There are also kabbalistic reasons for this. The perfectly smooth ring represents the perfectly smooth, untroubled cycle of life. In some circles, the custom is that the ring not have any design or pattern on it, neither on the inside nor on the outside. (53)

Rav Harold Shusterman of Bnei Reuven here in Chicago refused to marry my parents unless they used a plain gold band. "Bella'leh," he told my mother, "do you want your marriage to be smooth and untroubled?" He did tell her that she could add designs or engraving after the wedding. I see in this book using a smooth band is cited as being a Lubavitch custom from Sefer HaMinhagim; Rav Shusterman was Lubavitch. As an aside, he also forbade them to use white wine; my parents were married with rich red wine under the chupah.

5. On the Sabbath before the wedding, it is the custom for the groom to be called to the reading of the Torah. This is called an Aufruf, which literally means calling up.

The source of this custom is the Midrashic teaching that when King Solomon built the Temple, he made two special gates, one for mourners, and one for bridegrooms, so that mourners would be consoled and bridegrooms would be blessed. When a bridegroom would enter, the people near the gate would say, "May He who dwells in this Temple bless you with good children." Later, when Solomon's Temple was destroyed, it became the custom to have the bridegroom come to the synagogue so that the people would be able to bless him. (68)

6. By the Aufruf: The nuts that are thrown are alluded to in the verse, "I went down to the nut garden..." (Song of Songs 6:11) Before one can enjoy the kernel of a nut, one must first break away the shell. Similarly, before two people can know one another intimately, they must break away the shells that surround them. In marriage, the barriers between husband and wife gradually disappear.

It is also taught that the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, has a numerical value of 17. This is the same as the numerical value for tov, meaning good. This indicates that the bridegroom is forgiven all his sins, and has been transformed from a state of sin to a state of good. (72)

But if this is the case, why is it that on Rosh Hashana we are forbidden to serve nuts or nut cake because it equals the gematria of cheit without an aleph?

7. Another possible reason why the couple fasts is that the first sin involved eating- eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Therefore, on the day that the bride and groom are seeking forgiveness from sin, they refrain from eating. It is almost a statement that they want nothing to do with the sinful eating of the Tree of Knowledge. (83)

8. However, the Midrash teaches that man is like glass- if glass is broken, it can be remelted and reblown. Similarly, even when a man dies, his life is not over. We believe in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead; just as glass can be restored, so can a person after he dies.

That is why we break glass, as opposed to pottery. The breaking of glass recalls our mortality, but it also recalls the divine promise of immortality.

Another allusion to the breaking of the glass is that just as glass can be remelted and restored, so can man, even after his soul has been shattered and blemished by sin. No matter what sins a person may have committed, if he repents, God forgives him. It is thus taught, "Nothing can stand up before repentance." The bridal couple have all their sins forgiven on their wedding day; therefore, this is a particularly appropriate time to break the glass. It indicates that no matter how broken they are spiritually, they can be restored just as the glass can.

Another reason that a glass vessel in particular is broken is because of the tradition that King Solomon built a special gate for bridegrooms. According to one tradition, this gate was made of glass. The glass is broken to recall that with the destruction of the Temple, the glass gate was also shattered. (204)

9. It is a very beautiful custom in many circles to set aside a special table for the poor, where any poor person can come in and partake of the wedding meal. When the poor are invited to a meal, the table becomes like an altar, atoning for all the host's sins. It is considered very auspicious for the newlywed couple that their wedding is open to the poor. (210)

10. The practice of a cake-cutting "ceremony" has no place in Jewish tradition (211)

Now, what does that mean? Is there a problem with a wedding cake in Jewish tradition? I love wedding cakes.