Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner Separate After Weiner's Latest Texting Scandal

It looks like the beginning of the end of the Weiner/Abedin partnership:
Huma Abedin, one of Democraatic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's top aides, said on Monday that she was separating from her husband, Anthony Weiner, after a sex scandal similar to an earlier incident that led him to resign from the US Congress.

"After long and painful consideration and work on my marriage, I have made the decision to separate from my husband," Huma Abedin said in a statement.

Can you hear me clapping? Huma added the following:
Anthony and I remain devoted to doing what is best for our son, who is the light of our life. During this difficult time, I ask for respect for our privacy.
Good luck with that one, Huma.

I've been following this scandal for quite some time. There was much to be learned from this debacle:

Weinergate, Shavuot and the Zohar

How Rep. Anthony Weiner Can Leverage Weinergate

Anthony Weiner Resigns From Congress

Should Rep. Anthony Weiner Change His Name?

Anthony Weiner Resigns From Congress: For Real!

Will Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin Get Divorced?

The Weiner Incident in the Kosher Bakery

Anthony Weiner's Day of Judgment

Anthony Weiner vs. Saul Kessler: Hakoras HaTov

Huma Abedin's Next Step

With the month of Elul just around the corner, we all must remember that the gates of Teshuvah are open to all of us, even someone like Anthony Weiner. Will we take advantage of the opportunity?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Is Fluency in Hebrew an Impediment to Learning the Torah?

Check out what Rabbi Dovid Abenson has to say (also published here):
Shloime, an Israeli bochur who is fluent in Ivrit, struggles to keep up with shiur and does not enjoy learning. His mother is perplexed. Since Ivrit or Modern Hebrew, as it is also known as, is his mother tongue, his mother wonders why he has a difficulty understanding the Gemara or Chumash text.

To understand this conundrum, let’s take a look at the following:

A) Grammatical differences between Modern and Classical Hebrew.

There are numerous grammatical differences between Modern and Classical Hebrew. One of the most radical and striking examples is that Modern Hebrew has eliminated the grammatical rules of “Vav HaHepuch”(Vav conversive) used extensively throughout Tanach. The founder of modern Hebrew Eliezer Ben­Yehuda supplanted the true sacred language of the Jewish people by cannibalizing and distorting it to create a “new” language so to speak ­ preventing them from being able to truly understand our holy Torah for the past 100 years. It has gone so far that most recently Avraham Ahuvia, a 90­ year-old retired kibbutznik Bible teacher completed a new modern Hebrew “translation” of the Bible. What he did, according to publisher Rafi Mozes of Reches Educational Projects, was “mediate between the Biblical language and the Hebrew spoken today.” Drora Halevy, national supervisor of Bible studies at the Ministry of Education, claims: “This translation cuts out the heart of the Bible. It reduces the Bible to just another book. In the Bible, form and content are bound together. The translation kills it.”

There is only one language in Hebrew which is called “Lashon HaKodesh”. It is the first language which Hashem created and was spoken by the first man Odom HaRishon. On the other hand, modern Hebrew, as Gil’ad Zuckermann, a professor of linguistics, maintains, is a hybrid of ancient Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Romanian to name a few. Basically, now we have two Hebrew languages, Lashon HaKodesh which is termed “Biblical” or “Classical Hebrew”, and a second language called חדשה עברית” ­ Modern Hebrew”.

B) Change in meaning and distortion of words.

Modern Hebrew has misconstrued Biblical words. The word “Chashmal”, which translates into Ivrit as electricity, has no original bearing to electricity at all. It has been taken from Yecheskel 6:4, “K’ain chashmal mitoch aish,” translated as “and from the midst comes a semblance of Chashmal from the midst of the fire”. The Gemara in Chagiga, 13A, relates a story wherein a talmid once speculated upon the identity of Chashmal ­ “so a fire came forth and consumed him.” We see from this story that Chashmal is a mystical concept relating to the “Ma’aseh Merkovah” and the Gemara gives certain indications of the meaning of the word, but nevertheless, it is a difficult word to understand. Since the word attributes to fire, it has been misconstrued and downplayed into a physical component, demoting the spiritual essence of the word.

To quote again from Gil’ad Zuckermann, “egla meshulleshet”[Genesis 15:9] is not a triangular cow, as most Israelis translate it, but rather ‘a heifer’ ­ nor ”yeled sha’ashuim [Jeremiah 31:19] a ‘playboy’, but a ‘delightful child!! I would like to add yet another popular word ‘glida’ which means ‘ice cream’ to every Israeli. This word is actually not Hebrew but rather an Aramaic word for frost. (Genesis 31:40)

C) Care when teaching Torah in Ivrit.

Therefore, when a magid shiur’s ‘mameh loshon’ is “Modern Hebrew”, it is vital, that when teaching, he make a very clear distinction between it and ‘Lashon HaKodesh’. His student will thereby avoid the frustration of confusing similarities and fully obtain the clarity of understanding which ensures true enjoyment and success in Torah study.

D) Sometimes it’s easier when the differences are obvious.

In conclusion, as was suggested at the beginning of this article, contrary to popular assumption, fluency in “Ivrit” does not necessarily guarantee an advantage in the vast unending arena of Torah learning. On the contrary, it may sometimes be a pitfall rather than a plus. Far better when someone knows he does not know ­ than when he doesn’t and thinks he does!

After requesting the good Rabbi's forgiveness, I would like to point out the following:

1) It is much more likely that Shloime is not learning well because of bad chemistry with the teacher than it is because he cannot make the switch between Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew. I state this as a father of five native Hebrew speakers who all learned Torah in the original.

2) Much of the Gemara is in Aramaic, which has many words that are similar to Hebrew but which is in any case a different language. A native Hebrew speaker who follows Jewish Law and learns "shanayim mikrah ve'echad targum" can navigate the Gemara pretty well with the help of Rashi and a good Rebbe.

3) “Vav HaHepuch” disappeared from most Hebrew literature long before Ben Yehuda. (If you don't believe me, take a look at Maimonides Mishnah Torah, Laws of Idol Worship 1:1)

4) One has to wonder if Rabbi Abenson would consider the Mishnah to be written in "Loshon HaKodesh". After all it was written without “Vav HaHepuch”. Not only that, but "Lashon Torah Lechud, Lashon Chachamim Lechud". Are Chazal guilty of "cannibalizing and distorting" Hebrew by using roots that do not appear in the Torah (see Rambam's commentary on the Mishnah, Terumah 1:1)?

5) The Rabbi is certainly correct that some words in Modern Hebrew have a different meaning than they have in the Torah. "Lashon Torah Lechud, Lashon Chachamim Lechud, Lashon Medinat Yisrael 5776 Lechud". However, there is not doubt in my mind that native Hebrew speakers have a tremendous advantage when it comes to learning the Torah than native English speakers.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The 9th of Av: It's About the Temple!

It turns out that I am not the only one who disagrees with Rabbi Cardozo, who wrote an article on why he does not read the Book of Lamentations on the 9th of Av. British United Synagogue's rabbi in Israel, Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, also wrote a rebuttal to Rabbi Cardozo, making some of the same points that I made, but making others that go in a totally different (and IMHO incorrect) direction.

Maybe it is me, but I had the feeling after reading Rabbi Sylvester's article, that he was trying to market the 9th of Av more as a "Tikkun Olam" kind of thing and less as a day of mourning the loss of the Holy Temple. He writes:

This day prises open the heart of darkness forcing us to confront historical tragedies and current failings. Thankfully, our suffering does not compare with the horrors facing Jewry 2,000 years ago or even 100 years ago, but all is not perfect, and in reading the Book of Lamentations, we probe our situation asking Eicha? Why?

Why do some of our neighbors refuse to accept Israel’s existence and daily plot its destruction? Why must we live with the constant fear that they will develop nuclear capabilities and hold the world to ransom? Why are we forbidden from murmuring a short prayer on the Temple Mount — our holiest site? Why across Europe is terror and anti-Semitism on the rise forcing many Jews to leave their homes and abandon their countries?

Beyond the confines of our Jewish state and Diaspora communities, we live in the shadow of refugees, flood victims, child slaves and those surrounded by scarcity, war and disease.

I met some of them on my American Jewish World Service’s delegation to Ghana; wonderful people who live in abject poverty, with no toilets or running water and little access to medicine except for the local witch-doctor. It shocked me to the core; but these were not the most deprived. Every single day, approximately 20,000 people die for lack of food and medicine. It would not take much to stave off their hunger and save their lives.

In these circumstances, we have no right to complacency and no room to relinquish the biblical book reminding us that life has had and continues to have threads of tragedy.

Towards the end he adds:
In our generation, many people struggle to relate to the loss of the Temple and its service. But responsible rabbis should not call for us to forget our tragic history, and the ritual of one of our holiest days. If we want to understand Tisha B’Av, let us reflect on what a world of decency, justice and compassion would look like.
"In our generation, many people struggle to relate to the loss of the Temple and its service", the rabbi writes. I say, yes this is true, and it is the job of rabbis, educators and anybody who has the ability, to teach the Jewish People how to relate to the Temple and its service! Our enthusiasm for the Temple and the laws pertaining to it should not fall from our enthusiasm to other mitzvot! If we are of this state of mind, which is really what the Torah requires of us, mourning on the 9th of Av and reading The Book of Lamentations will be meaningful as our prophets and sages meant it to be.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Should We Still Be Reading the Book of Lamentations on the 9th of Av?

Let me say this as simply and concisely as possible: As long as the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple is not rebuilt, Jerusalem cannot be considered rebuilt, and the reciting of Eichah (The Book of Lamentations) and kinot is still quite relevant. You do not have to be a man of great erudition to know this.

Therefore I was quite surprised to see this piece from Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo. After begging his forgiveness I must disagree with what he wrote:

But in the here and now, where I live, Yerushalayim is a city of splendor, full of life, and contradicting everything I read in Eichah.

How can I, in good conscience, utter or even listen to words claiming that I live in a desolate city, when in fact I look out of my window and am amazed to see Yerushalayim rebuilt so splendidly, as if mocking the Scroll of Eichah?

There is something totally wrong about this. Isn’t it a slap in the face to the Holy One blessed be He, Who granted our generation such a magnificent, colorful, and lively city, with its spectacular views, parks full of beautiful flowers, impressive museums, and luxury hotels, to name just a few attractions?

And then we publicly read aloud that all this is not true, as if denying this divine blessing bestowed upon us after thousands of years of disaster and exile?

Rabbi Cardozo is correct in that we have been blessed that we have a "lively city", with "spectacular views, parks full of beautiful flowers", etc. We should certainly be grateful for this constantly. Being an ingrate is a terrible thing. Where I learned, we recited Hallel on Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day in order to thank God for the wonders he has wrought for us.

However, all this does not diminish the deep pain and mourning that dwells in the heart of the Jew who longs for the Temple. In some ways it even deepens the sense of loss. “The Temple Mount is in our hands”, however, in spite of this, two legged "foxes walk upon it" (Lamentations 5:18). We are so close, yet so far away.

Reciting Eichah on the 9th of Av is in no way a "slap in the face to the Holy One blessed be He", as Rabbi Cardozo suggests. Rather it is the genuine expression of mourning, still relevant today perhaps more than ever, of the loss of our Temple, and the ability to fulfill God's Will that was lost along with it. The return to Zion and the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over part of our holy land is wonderful indeed, but we are still far from where we really want to be.

May we merit to see the return of the Davidic dynasty and the building of the Holy Temple speedily in our days!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

More Evidence of America's Moral Decline

About a month ago, while I was pondering whether Donald Trump can make America great again, I wrote the following:
America's economic, military and political decline is a product of its moral decline. The United States of America is a country that still prints "In God we trust" on its money but has slowly but surely turned its back on God.

One of the expressions of the abandonment of God is America's embrace of illicit sexual relations and those that engage in them. This sordid embrace reached its culmination in the infamous OBERGEFELL v. HODGES decision.

Therefore, in answer to my original question,"Can Donald Trump make America great again?", the answer is a loud, resounding no. He does not seem to be a man of high enough moral fiber to pull Americans out of the sleazy cultural mud that there are drowning in. The change in America is going to come from the bottom up, if it is to come at all. It would take a miracle for the USA to reverse its moral decline, and only a miracle will make America great again.

I just read something that reinforces what I wrote a month ago. America really does need a miracle. The decline is steeper than I thought:
Monica Mares reunited with her son Caleb Peterson 18 years after giving him up for adoption, and just weeks later, the duo claimed to be "madly in love." Since incest is a fourth degree felony in New Mexico -- and illegal in all 50 states -- the couple faces trial in September after being charged with the indiscretion on February 25. If convicted, Mares and Peterson could each face 18 months in the slammer.

Mares, 36, and Peterson, 19, are not only fighting for their "love" in court, but asking the public to help fund their fight for mothers to sleep with their sons all around the country.

Yes, it is called incest. I do not know how all those who support homosexual relationships between consenting adults can logically oppose this. If this case makes it to the SCOTUS, will they be able to uphold laws against incest after sanctioning homosexual marriage?

Those of us who have taken upon themselves the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and the yoke of the commandments will continue to strive to be close to God. We shall continue to ascend, while others slide down the slope of their evil inclinations. "Blessed are You LORD, our God, King of the universe, who has given us a Torah of truth, and has implanted within us eternal life."

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