Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Clarifying questions before offering answers…

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2014 at 10:16 am

When I was a yeshiva student some forty years ago, I remember a question posed by Rav Nosson Kaminetzky that caught everyone off guard. In many yeshivas it was the practice to set aside some time for a “mussar shmooze”–a talk dedicated to making students reflect on their spiritual growth. These talks diverted from normal Torah study, and their singular purpose was to inspire one to perfect his character both as a person, and as a Jew. Rav Nosson made the point that if these lessons fell on deaf ears, and did not affect real change in a person’s behavior, then they are a waste of time. The act of studying Torah at least results in the fulfilment of a mitzvah, even if it does not accomplish any other lofty goal. Why waste time on some ineffective “mussar shmooze” at the expense of Torah study? It’s funny that I remember the question, but have forgotten, or repressed, the answer.

Today, after reading Michael Oren’s op ed in WAPO, once again, that question emerges from my consciousness. Should this war be judged like Rav Nosson’s criterion for a successful “mussar shmooze”? In other words, that there needs to be a substantial change so dramatic that it justifies the expenditure of blood and treasure? Some like Ambassador Oren say just give us time to get the job done. While others counter that even when the job is done, it won’t be over, so you have accomplished little, or nothing. Just like the mussar shmooze that has no impact, it will be considered a tragic waste that will leave Israel emotionally and economically depleted not to mention, ethically compromised. Both sides of the divide are absolutely certain that their position is correct.

That means, nobody really knows.

Alison Benedikt (Arnold) represents unfortunately more people than her self…

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2014 at 10:22 am

The one who has mercy on those who are cruel will inevitably end up being cruel to the merciful. (Kohelet Rabba 7:17)

Can you imagine the wanton insenstivity of someone who views the burial of a young man as a pretext for airing her neurotic anxieties about her relationship to Judaism, Zionism, and her shmuck of a husband? True, if she had waited at least a week, the story would not have been current. But as when attorney Joseph Welch challenged Joseph McCarthy after attempting character assassination on yet another one of his “Communist” targets, Welsh eternlized the moment calling McCarthy out by saying:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?

Ms. Benedikt were your feelings so important for us to know? So critical that you need to assault the sacrifice that thirty thousand people regarded important enough to take a day to pay their respects?, Just because, he understood, as you can’t seem to that, he was surrounded by family– many of whom he can now never meet.

Hannah Arendt, philosopher and, paramour to the Nazi-sympathizing philospher Martin Heidegger, had some uncharitable things to say about the victims of the Nazi Holocaust and their complicity in their own death.  Among them, was her suggestion that Jewish passivity contributed significantly to their own demise. Rather than challenge that premise, Gershom Scholem the noteworthy scholar of Kabbalah, wondered, “Where was the Ahavat Yisrael?” But Hannah, a little compassion?

Sorry for my venting, but my real point is in regard to the comments that followed her fecal piece of treacle. People are so self-involved with justifying their personal conflicts regarding Israel that the feelings of grieving parents aren’t even considered for a second. For some reason, their narcissitic pre-occupations eclipse any concern for what parents, friends, and other relatives have lost. Are we so desperate to justify our feelings that we don’t think for a moment about the suffering of fellow human beings, even if you have conflicted feelings regarding the Zionist entity? Is the angst regarding civilian losses in Gaza so immediate that Mr. and Mrs. Steinberg be damned, we need to have my disturbed voice echo the funeral chant El Malei Rachamim?

These are all thoughtless, self asorbed cruel people who don’t consider how they might feel if they suffered, God forbid, such a horrific loss.  Would Benedikt wish to hear that her sister should be blamed for living in Israel, and that Lord Balfour conributed to her demise? Might she want people to wait a bit, giving her time to absorb her loss? Instead, she drags people into her pathetic world while Max’s parents sit shiva in a Jerusalem hotel room. Worse yet, the comments of her fellow travelers jump on the bandwagon applauding her for echoing the way they are feeling.

We know there is such a thing as identity politics, but there is also validation politics where the airing of feelings, and being conflicted becomes so all encompassing that nothing exists outside the realm of ones self–often in the name of compassion for all. Hannah Arendt stated that she belonged to the Jewish people, but she did not love them more than anyone else. For this, Scholem quit corresponding with her.

As for me:

Dear Mr. and Mrs Steinberg,

Your loss is so staggering that I hope the love demonstrated by the people of Israel gave you some small comfort. Please ignore the static of those like Alison Benedikt, and know that as I am writing this, I feel one sixitieth of your pain, and may you be consoled with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and have no cause to know more sorrow.

Blessed is the human created in [His] image… (Pirkei Avot 3:14)

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2014 at 9:36 am

This Mishnah in Pirkei Avot reverberates to all who value the sanctity of human life. This may appear to be a statement that needs little commentary. It is declarative, the message of which is clear and simple; but the prooftext bears some scrutiny. There are caveats that may bring offense to those who consider that being a human is merely a biological description.

The quotaion “…for in His image God made the human.” (Bereshith 9:6) is the second half of the verse which opens with “Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed.” The verse distinguishes between humans and the rest of creation. Monkeys are not created in the image, but humans are. If that’s the case why is the punishment for taking a human life fulfilled by killing the perpetrator? What happened to his Divine image? The intentional murder of another human, the verse teaches, and by extension, the Mishnah, causes that person to forfeit his place among the human family.

Challengers of this interpretation could claim that the reason the first part of the verse was omitted is significant, and the intention of Rabbi Akiva is a midrashic move that is meant to ignore the first half of the verse. Those familiar with how prooftexts are cited in the Talmud, know that the general presumption of citations is that they cover also parts of the verse that are not directly quoted. Here, that would seem to be the case because Rabbi Akiva could have quoted from the creation story which makes the unqualified declaration “for God created the human in His image, in the image of Him, He created him…” (Genesis 1:27) The use of this particular verse that justifies capital punishment for murder must be intentional.

A murderer loses his right to live, but more importantly, is the fact that this makes him  “other”–objectively other. He is missing a fundamental element of what it means to be human.

Certainly, the cynical abuse of human life by the criminal Hamas regime would fall in this category, but the shameful declarations of “Death to the Arabs” by Jews meant only to terrorize the Arabs who live among us violates and degrades the Divine image. The consequences of ignoring this incitement are too great. I believe the struggle against this behavior is as important as the destruction of Gaza’s tunnels. In this struggle, we dare not become like our enemies, and we must remember who are our foes, and more importantly, who aren’t.

Being born human does not guarantee that he will remain so. To hate the enemy is a horrific accessory of war, and certainly, the nihilistic and cynical modus operandi of Hamas needs to be despised. Everyone needs to be aware that in the chaos of battle tragic accidents will inevitably occur and innocent life will be lost. I don’t know what goes through the heads of each and every soldier as they invade Gaza, but I do know that the racist and bigoted statements of incitement as evidenced by the hundreds of nasty comments on social networks have the sole purpose of defiling the Divine image. And it is irrefutable that some of these people must be soldiers.

It is unfair, and upsetting to have the world focus on the asymmetry of losses conveniently forgetting the asymmetry of values between Israel and the Islamo-fascists of Gaza. But in the end, we not only have to look at ourselves in the mirror, but we need to be proud of what we see. It cannot be considered cool to normalize defamatory statements against those who will still be our neighbors. There is so much nobility that I’ve witnessed during these trying times, let us not tarnish our “image” by such subhuman ugliness.

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