Tag Archives: Israel

Kill the Copts… No Kill the Syrians… No Kill the Jews!

;SDLKdnkf;wkng'ksjddg'askdjfThis past month a church in Minya, Egypt was forced to cancel Mass for the first time in 1600 years. While over the past two millennia the Coptic Church has experienced no shortage of anti-Christian sentiment and persecution in Egypt, the lawlessness towards Christians hit a zenith recently. For Copts, distancing themselves from their holy sites – if those edifices still happen to stand – was the only reasonable course of (in)action considering the utter brutality carried out against the Copt’s infrastructure. In fact, in the last two weeks, 37 churches have been destroyed, scores of Christian businesses ransacked and several worshipers have been killed by Muslim Brotherhood members. As the Brotherhood represents the pro-Morsi Islamicist side of Egyptian politics, Copts – as Christians – are (rightfully so) seen as siding with the army and pushing for a strong, secular Egyptian government. While Copts make up about ten percent of the Egypt’s ninety million strong population, this nine million person minority clearly experiences the daily pangs of Islamicist persecution.

While Egypt experiences a taste of civil war, Syrian civilians – especially around Damascus – suffer the real thing daily. With China and Russia obstructing the UN from taking a unified stance against Assad’s regime’s killing of civilians, most Western powers feel chained by the specter of Iraq and the belief that unilateral action is unfavorable, and must be shelved as the preferred method of a true world power.

Allow me to raise the following hypothetical: if Jews still remained in Egypt or Syria, what would be their plight? As we can be certain our imagined Jewish minority would have voted against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in post-Mubarak elections last year, would their plight be any different from the Copts? Could we even suppose that this Jewish minority – representing significantly less than the ten percent of the Egyptian population that the Copts claim – would not have been persecuted? Indeed, we could be sure that a mini-Kristallnacht would have been perpetrated against the Jews over the last month. On the Syria front, what if Jews had not trickled out of Syria since 1948? In truth, the world cannot even protect Sunni Muslims from the Shiite and Alawite ruling party of Syria. As Assad kills thousands of innocent civilians, gases cities and brutally tortures traitors to his cause, what would be the plight of the 2013 Syrian Jew had they not fled over the last six decades? Ought we to believe that the world would intervene if these Syrian Jews were genocidally killed during the Syrian revolution? Syrians cannot even protect themselves from their own cruel regime with over 100,000 murdered and counting, and as pointed out above, Russia and China obstruct world efforts to intervene. Would the world, today, intervene to save the Syrian Jew? The Christians of Egypt can claim over a billion Jesus followers worldwide who can do nothing for them but watch in horror. Sunni Muslims also enjoy over a billion adherents, but no one intervenes. So, would someone stand up for our hypothetical Jew? The only reason that a Holocaust does not occur today is because there are no Jews left in all those Arab lands, and those Jews happen to be reasonably safe in Israel already. Let not one of us lie to ourselves and believe that in 2013, our contemporaneous Human Rights Council or the world’s sense of morality and ethics would prevent a Holocaust against Middle Eastern Jewry in Arab lands if not for the safe haven that is State of Israel. Only through Israel is there life for these Jews!


Filed under Miscellaneous

What Are Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith?

As I said in my last post, I want to continue writing about modern scholarship and traditional faith with a post listing some of the traditional rabbinic sources that deny a complete Mosaic authorship to the Torah. I’m not sure how many places you might look for such sources, but Marc B. Shapiro wrote a fascinating book which is mostly a compendium of these sources.

At any rate, before I post about some of the sources listed in Shapiro’s book (which I’ll do next time), I thought I’d post what Rambam’s 13 principles actually are. Even though as a community we seem to pay a lot of lip service to the principles, and certainly in the Orthodox community, the Yigdal poem (a version of the principles) is recited daily or weekly, it still seems like a lot of people don’t exactly know what each of the principles are.

Before we get to the actual list, I want to emphasize again how important the principles are. In Rambam’s opinion:

1) One who accepts the principles of faith will certainly have a place in Olam HaBa (The World to Come/Paradise). If someone accepts the principles, but sins in pretty much all other regards in Judaism, this person is treated with love and compassion as a member of the Jewish people.

2) One who even doubts the principles has removed himself from the Jewish people. Jews are obligated to hate and destroy this person, even if such a person is exact in keeping of the mitzvot (commandments).

These aren’t small points to make. You may argue that there is no 14th principle that Rambam is always right (as Rabbi Menachem Leibtag pithily remarked in his fascinating talk at LSS) or that Rambam changed his mind later on, wrote his true views esoterically, etc. For these reasons, and others, it is really hard to view the 13 principles as the end of the discussion when it comes to Jewish dogma. Menachem Kellner’s Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought is essential reading on this topic, and can’t be recommended enough. Like other Littman books, you might find it a little pricey, and prefer to go to the library. Littman is a non-profit publisher, so I don’t really hold it against them for charging a little more than I’d ideally like to pay. Not to mention that every single book I have read from their publishing house has been superb. That is kind of amazing, actually.

So, then. On to the principles.

1) God exists in a unique and self sufficient manner. If God stopped existing, so would everything else, since the totality of existence relies on God, who is the cause of everything in existence. However, if all of the existence were to stop existing, God would not be affected, as he is not caused by the universe. Yahu Skaist reminded me I should have been clear, as Rambam is there and in MT Yesodei HaTorah 1:3, that it is not possible for God to cease to exist. Rather, this is a theory discussed to make a point.

2) God is one, and His unity is entirely unique1.

3) God has no body, nor any physical attributes at all2.

4) God is beyond time.

5) Only God may be worshiped3.

6) God communicates with man, in what is known as prophecy4.

7) Moses was the greatest prophet, and God spoke to him directly while Moses was awake, as opposed to through an angel, while asleep. This is how all other prophets receive prophecy. Moses was not weakened by prophecy, like other prophets. Additionally, he was able to choose when to receive a prophecy, as opposed to all other prophets, who had no idea when they would have another revelation.

8) The entire Torah was given to Moses at Sinai.

9) The Torah cannot be replaced or changed in any way. It has therefore not been changed since Moses received it in its entirety on Sinai.

10) God knows of, and cares about, the actions of mankind.

11) God rewards good and punishes evil.

12) There will be a Messiah/Messianic age.

13) God will resurrect (at least some of) the dead at some point.

Many have been noted that the principles can be put into 3 classes: 1-5 are about God, 6-9 are about revelation, and 10-13 are about reward and punishment. Additionally  Abravanel writes in his Rosh Amanah that really all beliefs in the Torah are equally important. This being the case, it is worth discussing why Rambam would write his principles in the first place, but that’s for another post.

Now that we’ve gone through the principles themselves, I feel we can discuss some of the traditional opinions which differ from them, specifically, in regards to the principles about Mosaic prophecy.


1When we describe unity we might refer to several things which are unified, such as the several players on a baseball team. Cars have parts, books have pages, the universe has perhaps infinite pieces. However, God’s unity precludes any “other” whatsoever, and He is not subject to the division of parts. His oneness is dis-similar to all other unities.

2This is really implied by the second principle, and L. Jabocs (Principles of the Jewish Faith) quotes Friedlander as saying that Rambam includes this principle because it was a prevalent belief that God has a body, even among Jewish scholars.

3As we have already ruled out the possibility of other deities (since God is the cause of the everything else, is One, so that nothing else is similar to Him, and is not affected by anything else so that we might think He has a partner or equal), this principles comes to preclude the worship of God’s works and messengers. Angels, the sun, the deceased, etc. Obviously, the sun is a gift from God, and we ought to appreciate it. But to worship it as a form of appreciation to God would still be forbidden. The same goes for everything else in life.

4Before you get clever and question whether Rambam’s principles should be considered incorrect because he relies on an Aristotelian understanding of metaphysics for his principles, I’ll note that Rambam did not rely 100% on Aristotle’s metaphysics. Rather, he regarded it as the best theories available. However, all theories of what goes on beyond the moon were considered uncertain by him. This means that if Rambam included the active intellect in his 13 principles, it is not that you should accept the active intellect as dogma. Rather, we should accept the bottom line, which is prophecy, and examine for ourselves what might be the best metaphysical theory today. Rambam includes his theory because that is the best they had at the time.


Filed under Philosophy, Rationalism

Is Modern Biblical Scholarship A Danger to Traditional Belief? (Part 1)

LSS scholarsip and belief

Most of us never stop to think about modern biblical scholarship, and in the Orthodox community my impression is that it’s generally viewed as either a danger to be avoided, or a seriously misguided approach to the Torah and the rest of the Bible.

But is this really true? Lincoln Square Synogogue’s Community Scholar Elana Stein Hain just organized a forum on the topic, with two presentations and a question and answer session from two of the most prominent Orthodox Bible scholars today, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Dr. James Kugel. Rabbi Leibtag is a teacher at the Har Etzion Yeshiva, as well a prominent teacher, lecturer, and writer on TaNaKh (Bible). He regularly lectures in both Israel and North America. Dr. Kugel,  a world renowned expert on Biblical scholarship and author of  “How To Read the Bible” (among other fascinating works), was a professor at Harvard before retiring to Israel and Bar Ilan University. 

Both speakers were superb, and I want to share some interesting points I wrote down from their presentations and answers. I’m a long time Kugel fan, so getting to hear him was very exciting for me, and I actually (and probably very awkwardly) asked him to take a photo with me. Why not?

I’ve never heard Rabbi Leibtag before, but I’ve heard high praise lavished on him, and he didn’t disappoint. I’m definitely going to check out his writings now, and I’m excited to learn some new things.

One of the most interesting points that came out of the evening was a fundamental disagreement between Dr. Kugel and Rabbi Leibtag, but I’ll get to that later.

Rabbi Liebtag spoke first. He was an entertaining speaker with some surprising views, but I think his perspectives would be considered a lot more mainstream in Israel.

If I understood him correctly, Rabbi Leibtag views modern biblical scholarship as a tool in studying Torah. This means that while we believe (unshakably) that God gave us the Torah, we don’t know exactly how this took place. Modern scholarship delves through history to find out what actually happened, and thus sheds light on this question.

This can be compared to modern science telling us how God created the world. It is our belief that He did so, but we don’t know how, exactly. Science and modern scholarship become tools to answer these questions, though in Leibtag’s opinion, archaeology is still in the baby stage.

This being the case, scholarship is not only not a danger, but a useful tool in our toolbox (this is his phrase).

The problem with modern scholarship really comes in when it comes to teaching it. In Rabbi Leibtag’s opinion, God created the world to have nations. He then chose one nation as His servants in order to bring Godliness to the world. This is the goal of the Torah, and the question is what role scholarship plays in this goal.

As we said, it is a tool in his opinion. The problem with scholarship is as follows:

The goal of Godliness may be likened to a bridge. When building the bridge, we need many parts. The cement, the pillars, etc. Sometimes we need to replace parts, and so too we sometimes replace parts in our belief system.

In his opinion, the parts we replace should not be viewed so much as traditional beliefs, but as traditional understandings of traditional beliefs. Thus, our understanding until this point in time did not include modern scholarship. Now it does, and our understanding has been somewhat adjusted.

However, the tool of modern scholarship is a “power tool”, and it’s not for kids. When we replace parts of the bridge, we need to do so carefully. If you’re ready, it’s a great tool. If you’re not, the bridge may fall apart.

That was really his main speil, I think. Importantly, he mentioned that he believes we should bring new understandings to the Torah. He quoted his teacher Rabbi Bruer as saying “You should read Torah like Rashi did: Without Rashi”. Therefore, while some understandably take the approach that a new interpretation must be wrong or one of our past interpreters would have thought of it already, the best approach is actually to read the Torah anew in every generation.

If we did not do this, no one would ever have written a commentary after Rashi, or Ramban, etc.

Tied into this point is the role of subjectivity in reading the Torah. While there are many objective tools (language and theme connections, contradictions, similar stories, etc.) in the end we make a subjective choice of how to understand the Torah, and this is our hiddush, novel understanding.

The Torah is not a book which makes simple clear points like a law book, which wants you to know exactly how to act. Rather, the Torah has many different voices, repetitions, contradictions, and styles, all of which invite the reader to delve into the text, rather than to skim it. To simply read the Torah like a book of directives is to miss how one should read Torah.

His quote of the night was in regards to this. In his pithy phrasing the Torah is “not an artscroll how to think book.” It takes effort to read it, and we have to engage in deep study and thought to use objective tools to come to a new subjective conclusion.

Part two will follow with some of Dr. Kugel’s remarks.

If you’d like to submit a guest post or response, please contact me on Facebook or Twitter.


Filed under Miscellaneous, Tanakh/Bible

“Eleh Moadei” According to the Gra

by Rabbi David Eisenman

It is by now well-known that the Vilna Ga’on’s learning towards the end of his life focused on reading Tanach (Bible) very closely, and finding in the nuances of the Torah bases for  the entirety of our system of halakha (Jewish law).

One striking instance of this can be seen in the The Vilna Ga’on (Gra’s) revolutionary explanation of a seemingly simple pasuk (verse) in this week’s parshah (Torah portion). Vayikra (Leviticus) 23 is a list of all the mo’adim, the holidays, starting from Pesach and ending with Sukkot.   This list is introduced in 23:2, “Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them [these are] the holidays of Hashem, that should be designated as Holy Days.” Verse 3 then continues. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day it is Shabbat Shabbaton …, you may do no work [on it]”   Then verse 4 begins listing the Mo’adim.

Asks the Gra: First, verse 3 seems completely out of context—verse 2 introduces a list of the Mo’adim, a list that begins in verse 4.  Verse 3 is about Shabbat, most certsinly not a mo’ed.  What is that verse doing here?  And second, why is the Seventh Day that this verse mentions— Shabbat—referred to as “Shabbat Shabbaton,” and not just as Shabbat?

The  Gra suggest reading verse 2 completely differently from its simple meaning, and reading it in a way that supports the halakha that one may cook on yom tov (holidays), but not on Yom Kippur.

Suggests the Gra:  The six days referred to in verse 3 , days on which work may not be done, refer to the six days during the year which are mo’adim, but in which we may cook: Rosh HaShanah, the first day of Sukkot, Sh’mini Atzeret, The first and last days of Pesach, and Shavu’ot.  (Of course, we are speaking of the ideal calendar, not the chutz la’aretz (outside of Israel) calendar, with its second days of each of these yom tovs.)  These  are the six days the Torah is referring to, on which one may work.  The seventh day on which one may not work is Yom Hakippurim, a day on which cooking is forbidden, and a day which is referred to as “Shabbat Shabbaton” (e.g., Vayikra 23:32).

Thus, our pasuk is not at all out of context: it introduces the mo’adim as a whole, and introduces us the basic difference between them and Shabbat Shabbaton. With this explanation in mind, we see that Shabbat is not mentioned at all in this verse.  A great example of how deeply one must dig when reading the Torah.

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Filed under Parshah

Organized Religion- Good Or Bad?

Now that there’s a new Pope, I can’t help thinking about the positives and negatives of Organized or (Institutional) Religion. I think for the most part, when I’ve heard the term “Organized Religion” it has come from someone saying they don’t like it. In my experience, these negative feelings have come from people who consider themselves religious/spiritual, but do not wish to take part in the institutional aspects of whichever faith.

I think there are many reasons that people may feel this way, but I’ve basically come into contact with two main explanations. The first is that institutions restrict religion, making it too formal and ritualized, when it should be something that flows from the soul. The other claim is that the organized religions basically go after each other and create, if not war, then something less than a complete peace (if only by arguing).

Now, as a Halakhic Jew, I’m just about as organized and institution oriented as you can get, so you might reasonably assume that I support this type of religion. This is true, though from the perspective of Jewish law, even if you strongly disagree with the system, it is still binding. That is a good example of the possibly constricting nature of institutional Judaism.

On the other hand, I can’t help but think of the positive aspects of this kind of religion.

1. Organized Religion Can Be Shared. Spontaneous Spirituality Cannot Be: It seems to me that if we abolished the institutions involved in religion, and in Judaism I think this includes the law as institution, we would basically also abolish shared religion. Each person might have their own religious feelings and beliefs, but there would be no way to share it.

For the Jewish people, this basically means no more Jewish people, since this is what binds us. And lest you respond that a pure nationalism is possible, I will ask you how exactly you define the Jewish people? Even if you want to reject the Halakha, you must have some organized and formal definition which we might share and rally around.

So for the national religion, of which Judaism is the only example off the top of my head, it seems impossible to survive without at least some major organized points, just in order to keep us together. In fact, how can any group worship together, or how can a parent share a religious act with a child? It is true that they could both perhaps do some act which feels religious to each them, but to do it together requires a shared act and planning. Jewish law gives us the ability to share our religion together, whether it is by the Passover Seder or morning prayers.

There is a larger point here, I think. Spirituality in Judaism is born of a sense of community. Although the individual’s spiritual life is very important, in the bottom line we all go to Shul together, are responsible for each other, etc. A lone person’s spiritual life may be very full, but remains the worship of just that person.

Doesn’t his smile make you want to organize a religion?

2. Planning Is Good: Furthermore, organization of course comes with all of the obvious advantages that planning and preparation give to actions over those actions which are done spontaneously. Someone who plans may find out while there is still time that the charity they thought of donating to is tied to a terrorist organization (and this actually is not as rare as we might think) whereas the spontaneous gift giver may end up giving a few dollars to drug dealers, terrorists, or others who it is                                                                                          wrong to support.

 All of this is not to say that spontaneous religious feeling isn’t often very important (especially in prayer, say), but rather to defend what is sometimes put down unfairly in my opinion.

Additionally, I’d like to consider the arguments that religion creates. As we all know, religions tend to disagree with each other, and this may perhaps be multiplied within a religious group, where different factions argue for one opinion or another. This is, of course, especially true of Judaism, where arguing is basically our bread and butter.

Now, it is very understandable why many of us want to refrain from all the disagreement (and all of this is without even getting to the wars caused by religion), but I still think we might find many advantages in arguments, provided they are conducted in a respectful manner.

3. Arguing Is Good Too: First, arguing helps us test opinions and get closer to the truth1. If we are going to worship God together, then it is important to consider the way we do it, even though this requires disagreements.

Additionally, arguing is a sign that we are not complacent. We wish to move forward, analyze ourselves, our religion, our law, and our shared experiences. Through sifting through minute discussions, even those discussions which go on for thousands of years, we come closer together.

Relevant to this is the fact that Torah needs disagreement. Those of us who study Talmud know that each page is filled with machlokot, or arguments. Torah, which requires disagreement by its very nature, is considered to be equal to all of our other commandments and values (provided that we put it into practice).

4. Disagreeing Together: Additionally, arguing, while it seems to be something which highlights the gap between two parties, also highlights what is in fact shared by those two groups. A group of people arguing about how to serve God agree they must serve God, since the argument would be quite foolish and pointless otherwise. And so on and so forth.

So I might just be naive, but this whole organized religion thing doesn’t seem too bad to me! But what do you think?


This article is really a bit of a sequel to my earlier post Is Judaism Too Dry?. If you’d like to submit a guest post or response, please contact me on Facebook or Twitter.


1As is well known, the Common Law system, which operates in such countries as Britain, the US, and Israel, relies on this point. It is called the Adversarial System for this reason.



Filed under Miscellaneous

Divine Providence in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed

by David Pellow

This post was originally submitted as a midterm paper in David’s course ‘Maimonides and His Modern Interpreters’ with Dr. Kenneth Green.


In the final chapter of The Guide of the Perplexed Maimonides writes “the perfection of man that may truly be gloried in is the one… who knows His providence extending over His creatures as manifested in the act of bringing them into being and in their governance as it is” (III.54, Pines p. 638). Maimonides devotes significant attention in the Guide to understanding divine providence “as it is”. He presents his own beliefs on divine providence as being directly opposed to an opinion of the Sages and some of the Gaonim (III. 17, Pines, p. 471) and highlights a contradiction between two opinions presented in the bible (III. 23, Pines p. 492). He refers to some of the details of his understanding as “extraordinary speculation” which reveals “divine secrets” (III. 41, Pines p. 624) and as something which “came to me through something similar to prophetic revelation” (III. 22, Pines p. 488). This paper will present Maimonides’ understanding of divine providence and attempt to highlight some of the divine secrets which it reveals.

Five Approaches to Providence:

There are five opinions about the nature of divine providence that Maimonides considers before developing his own. The first opinion is attributed to Epicurus and states that there is no providence whatsoever. Maimonides considers this opinion to have been successfully disproven by Aristotle and dismisses any further consideration of it. The second opinion is that of Aristotle who believes that the permanent and ordered things which exist in the natural world receive divine providence. This means that the celestial bodies and the species are the objects of providence, while individuals, even of the human species, are not – everything that happens to them is by chance. The opinion of the Ash’arite sect is that everything is the object of divine providence; even the random movements of inanimate objects result from the divine will. The fourth opinion is that of the Mu’tazilite sect which believes that man has free will but also that divine providence governs everything according to the divine wisdom. (III. 17, Pines pp. 464-470)

Before presenting the Jewish opinion, Maimonides explains the reasons behind the other opinions of providence. Aristotle’s view conforms to his observation of nature in which what occurs to individuals of earthly species is not orderly. The Ash’arites’ opinion is a result of the principle of God’s omniscience – since God knows all, everything which occurs is necessary with reference to Him and results from the divine will. The Mu’tazilites do not want to ascribe the injustices of the world to divine will and believe in human beings’ free will. Therefore they say that all of God’s actions are a result of His wisdom and there are no injustices. (III. 17, Pines pp. 465-469)

The Opinion of the Jewish Law:

The opinion of the Jewish Law rests on two principles – that humans have absolute free will, and that nothing God does is unjust. The consequence of these principles is that all the good or bad circumstances which befall people are the deserved rewards or punishments for their actions. However, “the various modes of deserts” (III. 17, Pines p. 469) are unknown, which explains why occurrences can appear to be unjust.

After presenting these opinions, Maimonides summarizes them and mentions a number of additions to the opinion found in the Torah made by Sages and Gaonim which he does not agree with. He then presents his own opinion. By structuring the discussion in this way, Maimonides suggests that his own opinion follows the opinion of the Jewish Law but will be formulated in a way which addresses the legitimate issues that necessitated the development of the other opinions. The complications which Maimonides’ view of providence must explain are: the seeming lack of natural order in what occurs to individual people, divine knowledge of everything that occurs and will occur, humans’ free will, and the apparent injustices that seem to contradict the principle of deserved reward and punishment.

Maimonides’ Opinion:

Maimonides agrees with Aristotle that the events which occur to the individuals of all other species are “due to pure chance” (III. 17, Pines p. 471) but he says that individual humans are watched over by divine providence. While Maimonides says that his opinion is based only “upon what has clearly appeared as the intention of the book of God and of the books of our prophets” (III. 17, Pines p. 471), it does build on the Aristotelian explanation of how providence works. According to Aristotle, the various intellects which exist “overflow from God… and they are the intermediaries between God and all these bodies” (II. 4, Pines p. 259). Aristotle says that divine providence only reaches the permanent things such as the species, however he also says that “the individuals of every species are also not neglected” (III. 17, Pines p. 465) in that every individual is given capacities which allow it to survive, ensuring the permanence of the species. In humans this includes the “faculty through which every one of them, according to the perfection of the individual in question, governs, thinks, and reflects on what may render possible the durability of himself as an individual and the preservation of his species.” (III. 17, Pines p. 465)

Maimonides extends this opinion of Aristotle’s and combines it with the Jewish opinion, saying

the species with which this intellectual overflow is united, so that it became endowed with intellect and so that everything that is disclosed to a being endowed with intellect was disclosed to it, is the one accompanied by divine providence, which appraises all its actions from the point of view of reward and punishment. (III. 17, Pines p. 472)

He argues that this way of extending Aristotle’s opinion makes sense since “the divine overflow that exists united to the human species, I mean the human intellect, is merely what exists as individual intellects” (III. 18, Pines p. 475). This means that the providence which reaches the human species through the overflow of intellect does in fact reach individuals of the species.

Likewise, Maimonides interprets the Jewish opinion of providential reward and punishment in a way which makes it fit into an Aristotelian natural order. Since providence over human individuals depends on the divine overflow of intellect, it watches over each person proportionately to the intellectual excellence that he has achieved.

The fact that some individuals are preserved from calamities, whereas those befall others, is due not to their bodily forces and their natural dispositions… but to their perfection and deficiency, I mean their nearness to, or remoteness from, God… those who are near to Him are exceedingly well protected… those who are far from Him are given over to whatever may happen to befall them. (III. 18, Pines, p. 476)

According to this, the “punishment” for those who lack perfection is that they are not governed by divine providence, instead everything that occurs to them is the result of pure chance.

The major argument which Maimonides must defend his theory against is the observation that there are wicked people who do well and good people who have many evil occurrences befall them. First, Maimonides addresses the possibility that this disorder is a consequence of God’s ignorance of what happens to individual species, an opinion which is incompatible with his explanation of divine providence. He explains that ignorance would be a deficiency in God which must be denied (III. 19, Pines p. 477) and therefore the nature of God’s knowledge must be explored in order to understand why it does not contradict empirical observations of what occurs. Maimonides’ key insight on this topic is that confusion about God’s knowledge is caused by extrapolating from the nature of human knowledge to God’s knowledge when in fact God’s knowledge is fundamentally different from human knowledge.

we do not know the true reality of his knowledge because it is His essence, we do know that He does not apprehend at certain times while being ignorant at others… that His knowledge is neither multiple nor finite; that nothing among all the beings is hidden from Him; and that His knowledge of them does not abolish their natures, for the possible remains as it was with the nature of possibility (III. 20, Pines, p. 483)

Any apparent conflicts between divine knowledge and actual occurrences must be attributed to limitations in human understanding, not God’s.

The Book of Job and the Problem of Reward and Punishment:

After bracketing the problem of knowledge in this way Maimonides is left to tackle the bigger problem of explaining observed occurrences which contradict the principle of reward and punishment. According to Maimonides the authoritative Jewish source on this question is the book of Job. Maimonides explains that Job is a parabolic esoteric book which uses repetition to hide the particular notions expressed by the characters in it. (III. 22,23, Pines p. 486,495) Maimonides uses hints and “mention” to convey the “great enigmas” and “truths than which none is higher” (III. 22, Pines p. 486) contained in the book of Job. I will attempt to reconstruct the interpretation that Maimonides presents through these hints.

Satan, who causes Job’s misfortune, is not present intentionally but rather as a by-product of the existence of the other “sons of God” which act as agents in creating the natural order. Satan’s existence is a particular feature specifically of the earthly realm because of its nature. The effects of Satan’s actions only reach terrestrial things, but cannot affect the human soul. However, because Job is not wise or intelligent, he is not a recipient of the divine providence which overflows specifically onto the intellect, and therefore is left to the mercy of the pure chance which governs the world. (III. 22, Pines p 487-489)

According to a dictum of the Sages “Satan, the evil inclination, and the angel of death are one and the same” (III. 22, Pines p. 489). Satan is the nature of the physical, earthly world of generation and corruption which provides opportunity for the evil inclination to lead one astray, resulting in misfortune according to the pure chance which governs the rest of the natural world apart from the perfect who are watched over by divine providence. Maimonides makes this clearer in a number of other discussions. In his discussion of the nature of divine overflow he says “imagination… is also in true reality the evil impulse” (II. 12, Pines p. 280). In the discussion of man’s form which “is the image of God and His likeness” being “bound to earthy, turbid and dark matter” (III. 8, Pines p. 431), Maimonides makes clear that the very nature of this world creates a struggle of human intellect over the low, physical nature which is “consequent upon his matter” (III. 8, Pines p. 431). He says that noble people

seek a state of perpetual permanence according to what is required by their noble form. They only reflect on the mental representation of an intelligible, on the grasp of a true opinion regarding everything, and on union with the divine intellect, which lets overflow toward them that through which that form exists. Whenever the impulses of matter impel such an individual toward… the generally admitted shame inherent in matter, he feels pain because of his entanglement, is ashamed and abashed… (III. 8, Pines p. 432)

One without intellect who does not overcome his base matter follows the evil inclination, i.e. the imagination, and, as Maimonides already explained, does not receive divine providence. He is left to suffer the chance circumstances of the material world. The discussion of evil also confirms this interpretation. Maimonides writes that1

it may in no way be said of God… that He produces evil in an essential act; I mean that he … has a primary intention to produce evil… He only produces being, and all being is good. On the other hand, all the evils are privations with which an act is only connected… through the fact that God has brought matter into existence provided with the nature it has – namely, a nature that consists in matter always being a concomitant of privation… it is the cause of all passing-away and to being attained by any of the evils. (III. 11, Pines p. 440)

Secrets of Providence:

After explaining the reason for the evils which befall righteous individuals, Maimonides continues to explain the rest of the book of Job’s secrets regarding divine providence. Job’s original opinion and those of his three friends correspond to the four opinions of providence previously outlined. These opinions are criticized by God. Specifically, about the opinion of Eliphaz, which Maimonides says corresponds to the opinion of the Jewish Law, God says “For ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right” (III. 23, Pines p. 492). The true opinions are those of Elihu and Job after his revelation. Elihu says that several times throughout an individual’s life an angel may intercede and rescue him from the evil circumstances into which he has fallen. These occasions correspond to the occasions when “God speaketh once, yea twice” (III. 23, Pines p. 495) to a man through prophecy, which occurs when his intellect overflows into his imaginative faculty (II. 36, Pines p. 372). According to Maimonides, Elihu’s opinion is confirmed by his description of the natural world. Likewise, Job’s revelation which leads him to the true understanding of his situation consists solely of descriptions of nature. By understanding that the nature of how the world works is not similar to anything which is within human ability to apprehend one can understand that it is impossible to comprehend divine providence. One must simply believe that there is divine providence which cannot be fully understood. This will allow him to accept the evils he sees in the world without them causing any “doubts regarding the deity” (III. 23, Pines p. 497).

There is an inherent contradiction in this exposition of divine providence. According to Maimonides, the main point of the most important biblical source on providence (a source which supersedes even the common opinion of the rest of Jewish Law) is that it is impossible to apprehend divine providence. Yet in these very chapters Maimonides has gone a long way in explaining providence, and he explains even more in another discussion of providence in the final chapters of the book. Maimonides explains that the realization of the incomprehensibility of providence will lead one to not become doubtful as a result of the misfortunes which occur. But in Chapter 51 he explains how misfortunes occur to perfect people and says that it is this explanation which resolves the doubts raised by philosophers regarding the misfortunes that befall excellent individuals (III. 51, Pines, p. 625).

In the final section of the Guide about achieving human perfection Maimonides expands his explanation of divine providence. “The intellect which overflowed from Him… toward us is the bond between us and Him” (III. 51, Pines p. 621) which can be strengthened by focusing on loving and knowing God and weakened by ignoring God and occupying oneself with other things. The most perfect prophets – Moses and the Patriarchs – reached a state such that their intellect was always occupied with God and this bond was always present. This allowed them to receive divine providence even when they were occupied with material things (III. 51, Pines pp. 623-624), and, in the case of Moses, “all the gross faculties in the body ceased to function” (III. 51, Pines p. 620). For other people, even those “endowed with the most perfect apprehension” (III. 51, Pines p. 624), there are always times at which their thoughts are emptied of God, and in those times “providence withdraws” (III. 51, Pines p. 625). This is not a complete withdrawal to the state of those with “no cognition at all” (III. 51, Pines p. 625) who are like those that walk in darkness, but rather it is like someone on a cloudy day who is separated from the light of the sun. Maimonides’ “extraordinary speculation” (III. 51, Pines p. 624) is that any evils of the world which befall the perfect men and prophets must occur during these times of preoccupation with other matters, when they are occupied with their intellectual apprehension of God “all evils are prevented from befalling” them (III. 51, Pines p. 626). This explains why it appears that misfortunes occur to excellent people – they are all during times of preoccupation with things other than God when divine providence is cut off. It also fits together with the earlier statement that the intervention of an angel will save a man only several times in his life – most people do not reach the level of true apprehension and love of God except for during a few brief “lightning flashes” in the darkness of their life.

It is now possible to address the problem with Maimonides exposition of divine providence mentioned above. Most of what Maimonides has said about providence is negative – he claims that most of the time most people are not the recipients of personal divine providence. In keeping with his view of negative theology, he claims that the most important lesson about divine providence is that it is in no way similar to human providence and it is beyond all apprehension. He explains why there is usually no divine providence – it is part of the nature of the material world of generation and corruption which separates it from God. He says that humans can overcome this limitation of the material world through their intellects and describes what happens as a “bond” caused by the “overflow” of divine intellect and an individual person’s intellect. However, he does not explain how this happens, it is something which is beyond apprehension and tied to the similarly incomprehensible ability for prophecy, and can result in miraculous interventions which save one from the misfortunes which occur to all those around him. He has indeed left the key question of how individual divine providence is able to occur in the natural world as something which is impossible to apprehend, as he claimed.

Trials in the Torah:

There is one last issue which Maimonides as biblical interpreter must address, particularly since it is a potential cause of perplexity for students of the bible. This issue is the problem of trials – cases in the Torah where it seems that God caused misfortune to befall someone or a group of people who have not sinned in order to give them a reward. Maimonides addresses all the cases in the Torah where this occurs and shows that in all of them the purpose of the trial is to make known the degree of the faith or obedience of the individual or group who is being tested (III. 24, Pines p. 499). In this way he removes the possibility of becoming confused by the words of the Torah into a wrong belief regarding the nature of providence.


A proper understanding of divine providence is considered by Maimonides to be one of the most important secrets of the Torah which is necessary to achieve human perfection. Divine providence is inherently related to prophecy, divine knowledge, God’s actions in the world, the Jewish notion of reward and punishment, and the conflict between human beings’ base matter and imagination and their divine image, the intellect. By defining a number of inviolable principles such as absolute human free will, the impossibility of any ignorance or injustice being attributed to God, and the Jewish idea of reward and punishment, Maimonides is able to combine ideas from Aristotelian philosophy, traditional Jewish sources, and the key biblical source on providence, the book of Job. The understanding that results from this is that punishment is the absence of providence which leaves one susceptible to the pure chance of the natural world, and reward comes in the form of miraculous protection provided by providence whose mechanisms in the natural world are impossible to apprehend. By understanding that one cannot truly apprehend how providence works, one is able to gain a more perfect understanding of God which will be strengthened rather than shaken by the natural order of what occurs in the world of generation and corruption as a necessary result of its material nature.

David Pellow is studying for a degree in Engineering Science at the University of Toronto

1 Compare the use of “intention” in this quotation and in the explanation of Satan’s presence among the sons of God


Filed under Philosophy, Rationalism

Esther: The Ultimate Jewish Role Model

This Dvar Torah originally appeared in Elana Sharp’s compilation of insights into the Megillah. Contact her on Facebook if you want to be added to her weekly Dvar Torah email list. Additionally, the thought I’ve written here was sparked by theories discussed in Dr. Baruch Alster’s class on the Megilot, though of course any shortcomings are mine alone.

I) The 7th chapter of the book of Esther is a perfectly contained whirlwind of events, and, I think, the climax of the story. The perek (chapter) begins where we have just left off: Haman has just publicly honored his enemy Mordechai, and his wife Zeresh has warned him that he may fall to his ruin. Having just enough time to mourn and hear such depressing news from the person he relies on the most, the kings servants come and bring him to Esther’s banquet, to which he had previously been invited.

This is where we begin. As we all know, it is at this banquet that Esther tells her husband that she and her people have a grave enemy who seeks to destroy, massacre, and exterminate herself and her people


Achashverosh, boiling over with anger, eyes narrowed, turns to Esther and bellows those those short, powerful words:“Who is he and where is he who dared to do this?” He is angered. He is                                                                                     shocked, and amazed. Who would do this?

We all know, of course, who it is:

“The adversary and the enemy, this evil man Haman!”

This is all the more shocking. The evil man is Haman? The king leaves the room. He needs some space to consider what has happened.

The very enemy had been there at the table the entire time. He was a guest now, and he was a guest in the past. A trusted adviser for some time, he had influenced exceedingly important matters of policy and was given broad powers. If Achashverosh thought that Haman had crossed some lines, shouldn’t he have noticed before? After all, was it not he who had given Haman the very power he was using to try and destroy Esther and the Jewish people?

II) I think there is a simple lesson here which we are supposed to learn, but first let me describe each major acting force in the Megilah, before the lesson unwraps itself before us.

Achashverosh is a fool, pushed this way and that by others, his eyes closed to obvious consequences and responsibilities. He holds great power, Haman is evil, vindictive and prideful, but clever and sometimes fearful. He tries to control his surroundings because he realizes the threat and challenges in them, and this allows him to influence his king.

Mordechai is steadfast and confident, the consummate and calm hero who faces whatever comes. Esther is less confident, wavering at times, and often passive, but she comes through in the end. She rises to meet the incredible challenge before her, and she is met with the success she deserves. She is the only person in the Megilah who changes, and as she evolves she becomes a stronger person.

What is the lesson in all this, which we are taught from the 7th chapter, and the events we have described?

III) I think it is in the 7th chapter that we, the readers of the book of Esther, look ourselves in the mirror. We are very complex, so sometimes it’s hard to see things the way they are.

Perhaps, like Achashverosh in our chapter, something challenges us to open our eyes for a moment, and to protest against the status quo. We have closed our eyes to our actions like the king, and maybe we allowed our less desirable qualities, the Haman ins us, to come out.

We’ve been ignoring the fact that we hurt someone else, perhaps that we have done so often. That’s how Haman got to the table. We invited him, we asked him to advise us and to sometimes act on our behalf. All the while our eyes were closed.

Mordechai is not at the table. He is steadfast, and strong- stronger than we usually are in fact, and he does not usually come to the table. He holds the knowledge of tradition and a strong faith, and so do we. But it’s hard to be so strong all the time, and sometimes, it seems like our strongest qualities do not even come with us to greet a challenge. It’s just us, our desire to abdicate ourselves from free will, and our lesser qualities as people.

This is why we must be like Esther. Esther is the hero of the Megilah, and in fact, she is the hero of our day to day lives. She shows us that even though we may start off with many weaknesses, we can work on ourselves until we meet the challenges that we come upon. She takes control, pointing out the enemy. Indeed, he has been at the table the entire time. Is Achashverosh not a little bit of an enemy as well? Compliant in evil, allowing it to happen? Is that who we are?

She turns to Mordechai for advice, and she grows. So do we.

IV) We have, however, left out God. God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, at least not explicitly. Why is that?

I think the Megilah reflects an obvious aspect of our every day lives when it does not mention God’s influence explicitly. We don’t always notice God in the background, even as we might celebrate a holiday thanking Him for saving us! Usually this is a bad thing, but the truth is, the Megilah teaches us a valuable lesson when it does not mention God.

Leaving out God teaches us that we may not simply say “God will take care of this”, whatever the situation may be. He has given us free will, and therefore responsibility, and we, the weak, the vindictive, the good, must rise to the task. Esther is the paragon of accepting responsibility upon herself. She teaches us not to simply give up and say God will deal with it, but to meet each challenge, and when necessary, point out evil.

This is what she does in the 7th chapter. The stage is set, and everyone will be there, each part of our personalities. We have something to do, and we could try and ignore it, or we could even do something immoral. Who’ll know?

The Mordechai in us will know. The Esther in us will know too. It is our job, like her, to look in the mirror, decide what needs to be done, and to do something about it.



Filed under Miscellaneous

Na’aseh ViNishma, the Diaspora, and the Failure to Make Aliyah

By Eytan Meyersdorf

“And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: ‘All that the LORD hath spoken will we do, and we will hear (na’aseh vinishma).‘” Exodus, 24 7.

As Jewish intellectuals and modern-rabbis broaden their search for ta’amei hamitzvot (reasons behind the commandments), this passage grows more and more problematic. “Na’aseh vinishma,” the Jewish people’s blind acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, poses serious questions for many independent-thinking Jews.

However, when examining the context and history more closely, one can see how this “blind acceptance” by the Jewish people was not so blind after all: God had just performed ten extraordinary miracles that devastated the world’s superpower, split the sea, and engulfed the remainder of the Egyptian army in its waters. After seeing all of these miracles, it is not hard to understand the Jewish people’s willingness to accept God’s Torah without knowing its contents. It is actually logical.

With all the imperfections attributed to the generation of
Matan Torah, they managed to grasp something that our generation fails to understand – the recognition of God’s will and intervention.

The very existence of the State of Israel is God’s modern-day splitting of the Red Sea. God sent us miracles and signs in the form of the IDF, the Six Day War, and Israel’s thriving world of Torah, yet we still insist on waiting, we still insist on “hearing.” God sent us the weatherman, the boat, and the plane to save us from the storm, but we are waiting for God Himself to save come and rescue us – meanwhile, God is crying out, “This is me saving you, get on the boat, get on the plane!”


We pray three times every day, “Sound the great shofar for our freedom and raise a banner to gather our exiles and unite us together from the four corners of the earth” – the shofar has been sounded and the banner has been raised – we just need to open our eyes.

People give many reasons for not making Aliyah, but whatever their reasoning, they’re waiting for more, they are waiting for nishma, and only then vina’aseh. But the time where God will cast ten plagues on our enemies is over – we are no longer living in a time where God performs open miracles. Rather, He communicates to us through nature, mundane occurrences, and messengers, and it is our obligation as Jews to identify them.

If there is only one thing that we can learn from the generation of Matan Torah, let it be their ability to recognize and credit divine intervention for what it is, divine. From the ashes of the Holocaust to the miraculous victories of 1948 and 1967, the boat and the plane have come to us in the forms of Nefesh B’ Nefesh and the Jewish Agency. It is our job, our obligation, as Jews to recognize all these miracles and exercise the appropriate action – na’aseh vinishma.

Eytan is studying Political Science at Bar Ilan University and runs the My Nation Lives (עמי חי) group on facebook.

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Filed under Miscellaneous

Would Rambam Say the Ten Plagues Are Miracles?

Equipped with my very own Little Midrash Says as a child, I did not question that the ten plagues were extraordinarily miraculous. In fact, after existence itself, I think they might just be as miraculous as it gets. Don’t you?

We often like to point out little miracles all the time, because if God gives us a miracle, then He must love us. Rambam, however, insists that nature is a constant state of affairs1, and this is an important backbone for his worldview.


He therefore minimizes how often we say something is a miracle- which we might define as God’s disruptions to the natural order of things- and tells us that all miracles were actually planned and prepared to occur before there any laws of nature, that is, before creation. God sets a timer, the miracles occur and disrupt the natural order of things, and then everything goes back to normal2.

In fact, not only does he limit miracles to things that have been prepared since the Big Bang, but he seems intent on taking away as many of our miracles as possible!

This can be seen from his statement in the Treatise of Resurrection:

“Only in those cases when we are taught explicitly that a particular event is a miracle and there is absolutely no possibility of giving any other account of it, only then do we feel forced to admit that it is a miracle.”3

So two things need to happen for us to call something a miracle: We have to be taught clearly that it’s miraculous, and it needs to be impossible to explain it in a natural way. Otherwise, it’s just not a miracle.

So what does this mean for the plagues in particular?

Were we taught they were miracles? Yes. Is there “absolutely no possibility of giving any other account of it”?

Well, maybe.

If you take Nahum Sarna seriously- and I hasten to remind you that even Haym Soloveitchik respects him– then perhaps the plagues may be explained in a natural manner. In his “Exploring Exodus”4, which is well written and generally awesome, he gives natural explanations for the first nine plagues, which in his words “can all be explained within the context of the familiar vicissitudes of nature that imperil the Nile Valley…”.


He then begins to detail not only how the first nine plagues are natural occurrences, but how they each naturally caused the following plague! Now cause and affect, science fans, is nature at its very best5.

We will not go into detail here in regards to the natural explanation to each plague, but Dr. Sarna references a paper which explains the theory, and we are forced to ask if this qualifies as a “possibility” of a natural explanation. “Possible” is a pretty broad word, so my guess is yes, but you may know better than I.

At any rate, we then have nine non-miraculous occurrences, wondrous and providential as they were6. The tenth however, remains impossible to explain, and may be viewed as a miraculous plague against the Egyptians that was prepared before time.

To me this raises the question of free will versus God’s ability to see the future, but we’re not going to get into that here. At any rate, this isn’t so much a Dvar Torah, but a way to annoy your friends and family, I guess.

Do so at your own peril, and if you’re looking for a lesson, then perhaps end with “and therefore the natural order of things is truly important to Jewish theology!”

This lesson is always a winner at big meals.

Shabbat Shalom!

1“The world goes according to its custom” – BT Avoda Zara 54B

2Fox, in his superb Interpreting Maimonides (page 274) writes that “This view holds an obvious attraction for Maimonides. It preserves the order of nature, and for him this is of the highest intellectual and practical importance…Even the attested miracles are held by some sages to have been built into the order of the world at creation, and this too serves to reduce the effect of the breaks in the natural order resulting from active divine intervention.” This is based on the Guide 2:29.

3Treatise on Ressurrection. Cited and Translated by Marvin Fox in his Interpreting Maimonides, p..34. See also Guide for the Perplexed, 2:25., Eight Chapters, section 8.

4 p. 63-81

5 He even goes so far as to explain how they naturally would not have affected Goshen, in case anyone out there remembers to ask.

6Though of course providence is quite a complicated topic in Maimonidean thought.


Filed under Parshah, Rationalism

Things I learned, observed, noted or was surprised about on BirthRight

This past week, I returned from a BirthRight trip. I led a tour along with another Hillels of Georgia staff member and a qualified tour guide. We took almost 40 student throughout Israel, to its north, east and west borders and everywhere in the middle. Tons happened, but this is not a diary; it’s just an arbitrary list of observations and novelties that spoke to me on the trip. Hope you enjoy!

Bus 584
1. Sing it with me:
Yo I’m talking bout my man Ron, what a guy
Blue patches sick glasses, he so fly
They told him to serve for 3 years, so he did 9
A physicist with the sideburns of a god, he so fine
Tech’s gonna take off now that my mans here
Nuclear bombs runnin on hummus so stand clear
Driving tanks and playin guitar he’s about to get bigger
I’m talkin about Ron he’s my muhfuckin friend
I said rrrrroooonnn
Look at those bi’s they’ll make you sweat
I said rrrrooooonnnn
With this gracious hunk, there’s no need to fret
Did you also hear Michael’s voice singing it?
2. Roooooon
3. Sadly, I can’t arrive at any new place ever again without singing the mappah mappah song.
4. There might be scorpions in the desert, but at least we didn’t leave anyone behind.
5. Where’s a photo of a sleeping Dana in her FB montage
6. Rooooooon
7 watermelon is good on all occasions
8. Types of sleeping arrangements: a. Get out of the room b. Share a bed c. FB to be continued
8.5. Ron sleeps by day, parties by night.
9. How many snapchats does Yuri send us in one day
10. Rooooon.
11. How long til I get a Rosemarin shirt?
12. Who’s 23?
13. You can only have 3 meatballs and one drumstick
14. It’s perfectly acceptable that cinema city should bring on seizures
15. First drink is free … For you, you and you
16. Did he just buy a crossbow?
17. How come Rachel is immune to hot peppers.
18. If you don’t know someone’s name, just assume it is Rachel or Alex
19. Robby might seem quiet, bet get him alone with 40 birthrighters from another bus at a Bedouin tent and watch out
20. A big America at McDonald’s has nothing to do with america
21. You can pretty much put sesame seeds on anything
22. If it looks like schnitzel, that’s good enough
23. A whole bus cannot spontaneously beatbox
24. projectile missiles may be shot out from Gaza or taglit buses
25. Denial is not only a river in Egypt but a way to drop a wine bottle onto someone’s head
26. Hookahs should be brought from the US
27. Don’t try counting people after predrinks
28. Sometimes it’s so hot, you cannot see in front of you
29. Phones need not be returned at the airport
30. Fear us. Fear him. Fear her. Fear me.
31. Mazal tov!!
32. Cereal is best on a bus
33. Drugs. Get your drugs.
34. Naor….. Yes, that is your name!
35. If you don’t know anything about someone, buy them pretzels; if you can’t find pretzels, buy a lighter, and if you really care for someone, buy them a date
36. Some people might like country music, but not many
37. Cucumbers: for breakfast, lunch, dinner and for hiding behind your back and taking large bites
38. Achim…….achim, achim, achim, achim
39. iDFwu… What does that have to do with our trip?
40. We only do bat mitzvahs, not bar mitzvahs
41. I hate albatross. No, I love albatross
42. That’s a Selfie pole, not a stick
43. The Jordan river is for baptisms, and tremendous violence
44. Rachel can shoot someone from 2000 meters away
45. Rachel is not really Ethiopian.
46. The vomit hit the seat, bounced forward, hit my shirt, turned, splashed on the new bus, and landed on four others
47. In Israel, vegetarians eat meat…. Adam
48. “I said something nice about the Israelis, but I was lying”
49. Yes, you need another survey
50. Snapchats are not snapchats
51. Duran Duran
52. That’s not a cheap chair, Evan always falls through all chairs
53. Gil knows everything; gilgool
54. our shirts should have an O that’s blank in the middle
55. Sometimes strip club stories should be reserved for special occasions
56. Similarly, stories about blowing up port a potties should be reserved for special occasions
57. Can you say hamburger…… No
58. Apparently rubbing alcohol is 5 shekels a shot
59. No confidence cause English no good
60. Bocks game
61. Or or whore?
62. You can still get burnt using spf 100
63. Who the hell is Ashley?
64. Hair-ties are not bracelets #taglit
65. Why would you think wifi should work with more than 3 people connected?
66. Lauren hates pigeons, cats and bad ice coffees
67. I’m not drunk, just one eighth Asian
68. You can make alcohol out of any fruit
69. Of course we have a frisbee
70. The plot-line of Kingsmen enjoys several serious holes
71. Sunrise, sunset. That song is talking about our day at the Dead Sea and then Tel Aviv
72. Why is the music at the Dead Sea Russian? And on a loop?
73. Riddle: where are the gals not girls, the hens not chickens, and the C’s not consonants?
74. Ice coffee
75. Bananas are better in candy form, but cannot be juiced
76. Rooooon

general info about birthright

1. Israelis tolerate Taglit-BirthRight Americans as one would tolerate immigrant relatives. You try to help them out, direct them in the right direction, sometimes feed them, sometimes scold them, but you always have in the back of your mind a certain sympathy and understanding that they don’t quite belong where there are and you take that into account in all your dealings.

2. Whoever thought of the idea of mud being therapeutic, beneficial and healthy is a genius. To a straight person, when s/he visits the Dead Sea, it appears like a bunch of crazy people are piling on mud, all over their body, because they happen to be crazy. And then the mud lovers travel to the nearby Ahava factory and get to buy expensive samples of that substance you’ve been trying your whole life to adequately wash off. Whoever thought of this can sell ice to an Eskimo.


3. There is some guy in a glass case at Mazada who is writing a Torah scroll. First, why? Why is here there? Isn’t that weird? Why a glass case? Nonetheless, many students had not ever seen a scribe writing a Torah scroll, so we deemed it to be an educational opportunity for the students to catch a glimpse of this immensely weird, yet novel experience. One student surprisingly comments: Is he doing that letter by letter? Another student, before she enters the room: Oh, is he typing it (the Torah) in there?


4. Most Jews do not know what an Orthodox Jew is. I am an Orthodox Rabbi. Nonetheless, I was told repeatedly by many students that no one on the trip knows that I am Orthodox (even though I wore a kippah and tzitzit throughout the trip). Why not? Because Orthodox people have ear locks and dress in Polish garb, I learned. It was a massive surprise for many to discover that there is such a thing as Modern Orthodox, and we’re normalish. And I was equally surprised that so many Jews didn’t know Jews like me existed, all over the place.

5. Buying deli meat in Israel is not like buying meat in America. All the meat seems a bit off. Of course, you accept that because you are hungry, but probably would abstain from it given different circumstances. From the Hebrew I was able to gather that I was eating shoulder meat, but it didn’t quite taste like any meat I have ever had.

6. Hiking is not universal. I regularly take my children on hikes, and I enjoyed many throughout my youth. But for some, hikes are an exotic thing that rural people do because they either have nothing better to do, need to access water, or are aborigines.

7. All alcoholic drinks purchased at a bar, that do not come in a bottle, are watered down for Americans. Israelis feel that is just OK. A sad truth, but it keeps students a bit less inebriated.

8. Gaza is a bad word. Just ten years ago, about 9000 Jews lived in Gaza and some Jews would drive into Gaza every week to do their shopping at the Arab market. Today: students were scared to be close to Gaza, to see Gaza, and even to mention the word Gaza.

9. The Bedoiun tent experience is a bit like the country of France at Epcot. Sure, the employees are French, you got a mini Eiffel Tower and all the food seems authentic, but something is just wrong. Similarly, everything seemed reasonably authentic at the Bedouin tent (except maybe the mashgiach), but something was just not right…. Everywhere.

10. Never mess with the guys at the Tel Aviv market. I misunderstood a vendor. He wanted 30 shkalim for a necklace and not seven. When I reiterated the price, he grabbed the necklace out of my hand and shoed me away. The necklace could be found at several other vendors within 50 feet of that guy, but that did not stop him from denying me.

11. Never mess with the guys at the Tel Aviv market II. I walked around with a student. As he never tasted a Turkish gold sweet before, he wanted to buy just one. But that is weird at the market. Usually, you buy a small bag of candies. I chose to intervene. I dropped a half-shekel piece by the vendor and informed him in my best American Hebrew that I was going to take a piece from the mountainish pile he had. He decided to offer me a Mussar Speech by starting: so you think we’re in Egypt. You don’t give me a half shekel piece! You want one. You ask me!

12. Israelis are very proud of the fact that they have unlimited info and wifi on their cell phones. That pride comes from the fact that Americans do not so they can pretend that Americans are still in the 3rd century despite the fact that everything in the universe says otherwise.

13. The quality of the potential picture will generally dictate the audacity of a crowd to engage with freezing water or extended uncomfortable poses. It is interesting how pictures have become one of the most important aspects of an event. Sometimes it is hard to appreciate the beauty or the significance of a place because of the plethora of cameras blocking the view. At weddings you can experience a similar problem: four hour wedding and four hours of pictures, and a videographer hanging on every dance move.

14. The most prominent Hebrew words used in Israel are Arabic. Sababa, Yalla, etc.

15. Animals like cows and camels that are deemed disgusting and dirty in our regular lives are fun and exciting in Israel.

16. Three things we only saw or experienced in Tel Aviv: (1) some Israeli artist whispered to some students as they walk by: So, you’re on Taglit. Don’t believe anything they tell you about Israel. (2) I saw a Meretz Party flag on some ladies windowsill. (3) Last, as the students frolic about Rabin square asking Israelis where they were when PM Rabin was assassinated, one Israeli answered: I didn’t like him. He was bad for the country, without exhibiting the smallest hint of care that he was assassinated. Only in Tel Aviv.

17. If you smoke a ton of weed, leave Detroit, move to Tzefat, grow out your beard and ear locks, use your Hebrew name, study Kabbalah and paint all day, you’re a reasonably successful individual in Israel. In fact, you’re so successful that we’ll send tons of people from your home country to learn from your ways.

18. If you hear a price and you pay it, then you screwed up.

19. People think they cannot wake up early. Given a good reason, anyone can wake up at any time. Dealing with a bunch of sleep deprived college students, who probably drink too much, they are able to wake up around 6 AM every day given the right impetus.

20. McDonalds is really good. Appreciate it!

21. Israeli soldiers are really, really in their early twenties…. Really. And, the IDF only offers Taglit attractive ones.

22. There were hardly any campaign ads throughout Israel. As Israel is insane about elections, I really found this hard to believe.

23. In America, we have never seen Tzipi Livni smile. While flipping through the channels in Israel, I got a glimpse of her smile as she was being interviewed for a comedy show. Really, it turns out I wasn’t missing much. But, on the tenu’ah party ads, it was interesting to note that many of them had two pictures: one of Peretz smiling next to a stoic Livni. Apparently, the tenu’ah campaign agrees that her smile should be held in check.

24. Sderot is beautiful, but the missile proof bus stops smell like urine. Next step, Israel needs to make missile proof and urine proof bus stops.


25. Things taste better when you pull them out of the ground yourself. I don’t remember the last time I ate a whole carrot, and I definitely have not desired one recently. Nonetheless, when I pulled that dirty monster out of the ground, I knew, then and there, it was my duty in life to consume that whole thing.


26. When traveling throughout Israel in the winter, don’t’ bring lots of clothes, but bring lots of socks. Your socks will always be wet, and no one likes wet socks.

27. I follow Israeli politics. I generally know everything that is happening there, but when you’re in Israel, everything becomes a blur. There are no sports, no Sunday football, no current events, just where are we going and where are we anyway?

28. Of the six Israeli that I asked who they are voting for in the upcoming elections, I got six different answers. Likud, Jewish Home, Green, Labor, Yesh Atid and undecided.

Facts, Opinions and Observations more pertinent to Bus 380

1. There is such a thing in Netanya, Israel as a 2 star hotel in 4 star garb.

2. For a quality Kabbalat Shabbat, you need two factors: first, someone must know the tune or words, and second, someone must have a reasonably good voice.

3. Haifa, apparently, is not worth visiting

4. Even without knowing Hebrew, you can pick up the important Hebrew words in songs through massive amounts of repetition.

5. Chabad are everywhere

6. People who are not accustomed to hearing Aggadatahs will make up great names for Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, like Rabbi Laser eyes.


7. Cats are more numerous than sand.

8. Sometimes it is reasonably hard to differentiate between breakfast and dinner menus.

9. Bar/Bat Mitzvahs are for peoples of all ages.

10. It is easier getting a small gun shaped lighter through security than a bottle of wine or a bottle opener.

11. A night out in Tel Aviv only makes sense once the club opens.

12. Sometimes people cannot differentiate between their aunts and their mother’s friends.

13. Mevushal (cooked) wine is only for people without a country says the Yarden factory.

14. When you’re drunk, on a bus traveling towards the West Bank, listening to musical numbers sung somewhat in tune, Israeli cereal is awesome.

15. Everyone knows Journey!

16. Given the right conditions, you can pee almost anywhere

17. The f-bomb can be used very comically. For example, after watching a video of the horrors that Sderot experienced, and travelling throughout the city, one ought to say: let’s get the f*&^ out of here! Similarly, if someone does not think you’re Jewish enough, one ought to say: I don’t give a f*&^ what they think.

18. For some people, the ultimate goal of the world, is to get another person drunk.

19. Eventually, you can eat Humous every meal and come to think that is completely normal.

20. If a Krav Mega teacher starts explaining how to evacuate a family quietly in the night, without waking any other family members, do not mess with him. He will probably kill you, quickly, without much thought.


21. Eventually sleep deprived people have no clue what day of the week it is

22. There is always someone with a better camera

23. There’s really no good reason why certain things are where they are in Israel. Two lions and a Temple Menorah in the old city…. Because.

menor kkkkkkk

24. There is Ruggalach and then there is Ruggalach.

25. It doesn’t matter if it is raining. In Jerusalem and Tzefat it was raining hard. Nonetheless, you still love the city. You just love it differently.

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