Sunday, August 29, 2010

Traffic Jams and the Jewish problem

Last week I reposted an article about the Monster Traffic Jam in China where cars were (and still are) stuck for several days.

While writing, I couldn’t help but wonder what a frum Jew would do in a similar situation, well as if on cue, Erev Shabbat there was a large traffic jam in the Shomron, leaving dozens of motorists stranded right before Shabbat.

In contrast to the situation in China where local residents sold supplies to the motorists at inflated prices, the residents of the town Adam came out to help the stranded motorists and provided food and accommodation for Shabbat.

Here’s the story as reported in Arutz 7:

This Shabbat, dozens of Jewish families were stranded in a traffic jam as Shabbat came in and were hosted in the town of Adam (Geva Binyamin).

The traffic jam was caused by an accident between an Israeli and Palestinian car between the Hizme and Adam junctions, northeast of Jerusalem. Several Jews and Arabs were injured in the accident, which occurred at 6 PM on Friday evening, and police forces arrived on the scene soon afterwards.

By 7 PM, when Shabbat was coming in, traffic was at a near standstill, catching many drivers on their way home before sundown. As driving on the Shabbat is forbidden by Torah law, many Jewish drivers parked their cars on the side of the road, took their belongings, and walked, some of them more than a kilometer, until they reached the Jewish town of Adam. Some even continued to the towns of Pesagot and Kochav Yaakov, which are several kilometers further down the road.
The first small groups arrived on foot as the Jews of Adam were beginning their Friday night prayers in the synagogue. "There was a giant traffic jam on the road," said the walkers, breathless. "The sun was setting. We realized we weren't going to make it," they explained, setting down their backpacks and belongings.
The word spread like wildfire. Once the townspeople understood the situation, they mobilized immediately, sending several runners to help the stragglers enter the town, alerting the security apparatus, and quickly allocating stranded families to the Adam residents for Shabbat meals and places to sleep.


Hat Tip: Life in Israel and Joe Settler

Interestingly enough, Heshy at Frum Satire also was stranded Erev Shabbat, but with a little Hashacha Pratit he managed to make it to a Beit Chabad minutes before Shkia.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Monster Traffic Jam

Next time you’re complaining about heavy traffic, just be glad that you’re not in China where there is a traffic jam 100 km long, with some vehicles stuck for five days so far.

They hope to clear all the traffic within three weeks.

Here are extracts of the AP report as published in the Chicago Tribune:

BEIJING (AP) — China has just been declared the world's second biggest economy, and now it has a monster traffic jam to match.
Triggered by road construction, the snarl-up began 10 days ago and was 100 kilometers (60 miles) long at one point. Reaching almost to the outskirts of Beijing, traffic still creeps along in fits and starts, and the crisis could last for another three weeks, authorities say.

In the worst-hit stretches of the road in northern China, drivers pass the time sitting in the shade of their immobilized trucks, playing cards, sleeping on the asphalt or bargaining with price-gouging food vendors. Many of the trucks that carry fruit and vegetables are unrefrigerated, and the cargoes are assumed to be rotting.
On Sunday, the eighth day of the near-standstill, trucks moved just over a kilometer (less than a mile) on the worst section, said Zhang Minghai, a traffic director in Zhangjiakou, a city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Beijing. China Central Television reported Tuesday that some vehicles had been stuck for five days.

Monday, August 23, 2010

בְּראשׁ הַשָּׁנָה יִכָּתֵבוּן וּבְיום צום כִּפּוּר יֵחָתֵמוּן

As we approach Yom HaDin, we should all stop and appreciate what we have. And be thankful to HaShem for every living moment.

I found the following song very powerful…

The song was recorded by Yisrael Chaim in the days before his Bar Mitzva.
The Song was recorded between chemo sessions

May HaShem grant Yisrael Chaim a רפואה שלימה, together with all חולי ישראל

Hat tip: gruntig

Thursday, August 19, 2010

2 Thoughts on Charedi Isolationism

Saw 2 interesting comments today that I wanted to share.

One was a comment on a Jerusalem Post article about army exemptions for charedim.

Commenter Norma Gellman responded to the article as follows:

It's time the non-religious become 1st class citizens, the Haridi need to serve the country like everyone else. This may also help to bring them into the 21st century

That last line sums up exactly why many Charedim try to avoid the army, and why many secular feel that this is the most important issue in the county is the Charedi draft. It is nothing to do with defending the country, rather the main issue is whether the Charedi community should be ‘brought into the 21st century”?

Not sure exactly what Norma means by “21st Century”, but if it is a reference to many of the values we see coming out of Hollywood of off the Internet, I don’t want the army teaching those values to my kids.

I strongly believe that serving in the army is a Mitzva, and the Charedi community should join the rest of the nation in army of some other type of national service, but if the purpose of the draft is to get them to break from their values, and adopt “21st century” values, I understand completely (and support) the Charedi leadership opposition to military service.

For a totally different perspective, Hasidic-Feminist has a fascinating article about life in the Satmar World and how the entire lifestyle is geared towards separating Chasidm from the rest of society. A well written article and definitely worth a read.

Some highlights:

I davened every day. While my lips moved in futile prayer, the sexy little voices in my head never stopped talking, infringing on my relationship with God, luring me to earthly temptations. The more I tried to silence them, the more those voices clamored; spurring me onward in my dangerous quests for adventure…

Satmar is currently the largest and most extreme of the Hasidic sects; the thick beards and long side curls, as well as the traditional black hat and coat, are more than just a religious dress code. They are ways to mark Satmar Hasidim as separate in the most glaring way possible. Difference is what keeps Hasidic people on their narrow path.

Mostly though, Hasids keep to themselves; they prefer the safety of their home base and the spiritual protection it affords them. Once inside the community, Hasids close themselves off to the many opportunities and conveniences on the outside. They have no inkling of popular culture, and are ignorant about secular ideas. Most Hasidim have not received any education beyond religious schooling, and can barely speak English. Although I taught myself to speak and write English fluently, I was a conspicuous exception. All my life I felt drawn to the English language, because it allowed for much more freedom of emotion and expression than Yiddish. While Yiddish was my native tongue, somehow the words that were available never seemed right, and so the language stunted my thoughts, constricted my voice.

Hasidic people find interacting with the secular world a frightening ordeal; the struggle to speak English and fit in coupled with an eccentric demeanor results in an awkward encounter at best. I had to overcome those fears every time I left Williamsburg; at least when I blended in with the others around me I felt normal, but on the outside I felt exposed, an object of ridicule. It was impossible for me to de-emphasize my difference. The Grand Rabbi of Satmar, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, had intended these obstacles, designing a lifestyle that would separate us so completely that assimilation would be nearly impossible. Rabbi Teitelbaum had reinvented the Hasidic movement in the post war period of the 1950s; he claimed that assimilation had been the cause of the Holocaust, and that only by demonstrating true devotion to God could the Jewish people prevent another outpouring of His wrath. Only in America did the Hasidic lifestyle become such an intensely structured experience; every act and thought was accompanied by detailed rules and guidelines. For a Satmar Hasid, there was only one morally correct way in which to conduct one’s life, with no room for difference.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of Tolerance and Intoloerance

2 news articles really bothered me today:

  • Arutz7 is reporting that the Samaria Residents’ Council is complaining about instructions to soldiers not to eat in front of Muslims during Ramada, and to extend times that check points are open to accommodate Muslims observing Ramadan.
  • Jerusalem Post reports that Residents of Binyamin have launched a protest against the planned Arab city of Rawabi (which has been dubbed as the “Palestinian Modi’in”)

These articles bother not only because of the apparent intolerance within the National Jewish Community, but because I think that this type of attitude hurts not only mutual co-existence, but the cause of the Nationalist camp.

I believe that all possible plans for the future of this Land fall into one of 2 categories:

Either we decide that Jews and Arabs will never get on together, and we should put up a large wall or border between “Us” and ‘Them” and make sure that we have as little interaction as possible. This is the basis of the “2 State Solution” proposed by many on the left. It is also the basis of the proponents of Transfer, the only difference being where we put the border.

The only alternative that I can think of is that we agree that we have to live together and we work to encourage mutual tolerance and interaction. A good start to this would be to instil sensitivities to the cultural norms of each other. If Muslims are fasting this month, we should be sensitive to that when interacting with them. (A while ago I wrote about the importance of increased interaction between Jews and Arabs in a post on “My Peace Plan”)

Similarly, I think that the proposed new Arab city of Rawabi, which would be a few minutes drive from my house, is an excellent idea. I don’t believe that “Poverty Breeds Terrorism”, or that improving the Palestinian standard of living will eliminate radicals, it will however have many benefits to both the Jewish and Arab population:

  • For the Arabs, having quality affordable housing by itself is a great benefit
  • It’ll reduce overcrowding in Ramallah and Jerusalem, and hopefully discourage illegal Palestinian building within Jerusalem, as there will be cheaper alternatives.
  • It’ll boost the Palestinian economy, which in turn will support the Israeli economy, as Palestinians will spend their goods in Israel or to buy Israeli goods (the Israeli and Palestinians economies are really a single intertwined item)
  • Increasing the Palestinian Standard of living will probably decrease family sizes; statistically all over the World, as Standard of Living goes up, family size goes down (One of the very few exceptions is within the Religious Jewish community). Reduced Palestinian family size would offset the “demographic time bomb”, which was the justification for plans like the Gaza withdrawal or the creation of the PA, both of which increased terrorism and made the prospects of genuine peace more unattainable

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chickens for Yom Tov

Recently when I spoke to my mother (who’s in New Zealand) she mentioned that she had two chickens left in the freezer which she was saving for Rosh Hashanah as she wasn’t sure whether there would be any more kosher meat available in the country by then.

Well the good news is that after the New Zealand Jewish Community launched legal proceedings against the Minister of Agriculture, the local court approved an interim agreement which would allow shechita until the case goes to trial.

Here is the official announcement from the shul in Wellington:

Dear Congregants,

As we informed the community last week, we filed legal proceedings against the Minister of Agriculture, seeking a restoration of the right to practise shechita in New Zealand.

We are pleased to report that an interim agreement has now been reached with the Minister, which will enable the continued practice of shechita in the period up to trial (which is likely to take place during 2011).

Court orders were made by consent in the Wellington High Court this morning, giving legal effect to that agreement. Every effort is being made to get chicken and local lamb "back on the table" as soon as possible.

The community would like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution the legal team at Russell McVeagh have made in putting together our case to achieve this positive outcome in such a short period.

Claire Massey
Chair, Board of Directors

Additional information in this article from and J-Wire.

So the good news is that if you’re in New Zealand for Yom Tov, there should be kosher meat available.

Hopefully the new Rabbi will be settled in Wellington by then.

Lets just hope that when the Shechita issue does get to trial in 2011, the court backs the basic right of the Jewish Community to eat meat in accordance with our religious requirements.

(If anyone wants to contribute to the court costs, details are available in this Facebook group)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Anyone know the end of this Joke

There’s been a joke going around the Internet that starts something like this…

A Priest, A Rabbi, and the Daughter of a Former US President walk into a wedding..

Unfortunately I can’t work out how the joke ends.

Someone told me that it ends with the end of American Jewry.

Someone else said that it ends with the success of the American melting pot experiment.

Maybe they were both right, that Jews can’t survive in a melting pot.

As someone much cleverer than me once said:

“If we don’t make Kiddush, the non-Jews will make Havdalah”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is it time to privatize the Rabbanut

Earlier this week I wrote about the dismal service offered by the Rabbanut when people come to register their marriage. Instead of being happy and encouraging the couple, they are often rude and force the couple to jump through hoops to prove that they are Jewish, even if they could confirm their status with a few phone calls.

Two commenters recommended using alternative services to the Rabbanut, one to the right (Eida Charedit), the other to the left (Tzohar). To the best of my knowledge, it is technically not legal to marry through either of these services yet Misrad Hapnim will often accept documents from the Eida (not sure about Tzohar) and register a couple as married.

I’ve also heard of couples marrying with a Reform rabbi, and somehow getting Misrad Hapnim to register the marriage.

I think that there is a lot of benefit to having a single body in charge of weddings, conversions, and divorces, it removes doubts for future generations and avoids the problem of “my son can’t marry your daughter”. It also means that there is a single location where records are kept, making it easier for future generations to trace family records.

That said, given the terrible service provided by the Rabbanut in some cities, maybe there should be some level of recognized competition to the Rabbanut.

This could mean licensing other organizations like the Eida or Tzohar to do weddings, and make sure that they have the halachic knowledge, appropriate supervision/control, and a proper record keeping system.

Alternatively they could relax the requirement to register the marriage in the city where one of the couple live. Given that some offices of the Rabbanbut are more “user friendly” than others, travelling to a neighbouring town to register a wedding would be a good alternative for some couples, and would keep control in the hands of the Rabbanut (I believe that this is similar to the conversion system proposed in the Rotem Bill).

There is already competition in other services provided by the Rabbanut such as Kashrut, Mikvaot, and Eruvin. Maybe it’s time to let the power of the free market force the Rabbanut to improve their customer services/

(BTW – I am deliberately avoiding the question of non Orthodox or secular weddings, I do have an opinion on that question, and maybe I’ll address it in a separate post)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Are we helping the enemy

Yesterday there was a flair-up on the Lebanese border.

the sequence of events was as follows:

  1. Israel needed to do maintenance work (cutting down a tree) in the closed military zone between the Border fence and the International Border.
  2. Even though Israeli troops would not be crossing the border, because this work was adjacent to the border they informed the UN Observers
  3. The UN observers notified the Lebanese army, and then went to Observe (after all that’s what they’re there for)
  4. The Lebanese army opened fire and killed an Israeli soldier who was working on the Israeli side of the border
  5. The international press reported that Israel had invaded Lebanese territory or was working in a disputed area when Lebanese troops opened fire. (Yahoo, AP, MSNBC, and the NY Times all mis-represented the facts, when a simple call to the UN Observers would have eliminated the need for “he said – she said"” journalism)

A few obvious questions:

  • Why are we coordinating our activities with UNIFIL if the result is that the Lebanese army is notified in advance of where they should attack us?
  • Why do we need UN soldiers to confirm that we did not cross the border, if the result is that the World media blames Israel anyway, or at least assigns equal blame.

As Kurt Cobain said:
“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you”

Hat tip: Barry Rubin.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Ultimate Wasted Opportunity

There have been several news articles recently about the impact of intermarriage. Many bloggers have written about the very public marriage between Princess Chelsea and some commoner who owns a Tallis. A former employer of mine, David Breakstone wrote about the challenge he faced when his son’s fiancé turned out to be not-Jewish according to Halacha.

As tragic as the challenge of Intermarriage is, one of the really frustrating things for me is when two Jewish people want to get married and are made to jump through hoops by the Rabbinate to prove their Judaism.

Ha’aretz ran one such story about Hillary Rubin who produced the necessary documentation to prove her Jewishness, but the Rabbanut still gave her problems, to the point that she is afraid to go to the Beit Din (there are additional details not mentioned in the article, you can see more about her background on her blog).

Unfortunately these types of stories are all to common in Israel. I remember when Debbie and I got engaged 15 years ago. When we went to the Rabbinate we had to wait several hours as the couple in front of us has some complications. I don’t know the details, but they were a Russian couple, and there was some issue (he may have been a Cohen). Lets just say that there were raised voices, and by the time the couple left the office I am sure that they would have been happy to never see another Rabbi again – ever.

The wait was so long, that it was getting close to Shkia. I had assumed that we would be finished in plenty of time for me to find a Minyan, but when I saw that it was getting late for Mincha, I went into a corner of the waiting room to Daven.

Of course as soon as I started Davening the couple in front of us left, and a very angry Rabbi stormed out of his office, saw Debbie by herself and demanded to know where the Chatan was. When she pointed to me davening in the corner his whole attitude changed. Suddenly he was very friendly and accommodating, he even went out of his way to find my brother’s file from when he got married several years earlier and photo-copied the letter of recognition of the Rabbi who had provided a letter confirming that I was Jewish and Single, and to top it off he offered us a discount.

I left the office very upset by the whole experience. I know many Rabbis and interact with them every day, I don’t care whether this Rabbi is rude to me; it will not effect my opinion of Judaism – however the couple in front of us, this may well have been the first time that they ever spoke to a Rabbi. By making the process difficult and unpleasant almost guarantees that they will go out of their way to avoid Rabbis or anything connected with Judaism in the future. Talk about a wasted opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that it is important the Jews in this country are married according to halacha (a separate arrangement should be made for people who aren’t Jewish, but that’s a separate story), however the whole way that the process is handled should be restructured.

One possible solution would be to work more with local neighbourhood Rabbis who already exist in big cities and are under the auspices of the Rabbinate. These Rabbis should have their roles increased and be trained more to work with local residents, particularly non-religious residents in their neighbourhood.

If there is a Brit, Bar Mitzva or R”L a death in the neighbourhood, the Rabbi should make it his responsibility to meet the family and offer his assistance as needed.

Similarly, if there is an engagement in the neighbourhood, instead of facing some bureaucrat at the Rabbanut, the couple should meet with their local Rabbi who hopefully would know their families personally.

It would be the Rabbi’s responsibility to fill in any paperwork and confirm that the couple are both Jewish. If there any questions, he should have resources to track down contacts in the cities that they come from, or their grandparents come from to see if there are records in the local communities or cemetery. Maybe he could call the Rabbi in the town that the couple grew up or speak to their grandparents.

In the vast majority of cases, with the required resources and a few phone calls, a trained Rabbi should be able to confirm that the happy couple of in fact Jewish.

If there really is a question, it should be the job of the local Rabbi to go with the couple to the Beit Din and try to resolve the issue together.

Unfortunately a proposal like this would decentralize the control of the Rabbanut and would face fierce opposition

On a more positive note, Tzhoar is an organization of Rabbis who are trying to set up services similar to what I described above. They are trying to get their Rabbis employed by local congregations so that they can have representatives in as many communities and neighbourhoods as possible. The already help people navigate the bureaucracy of the Rabbanut and provide support and assistance to engaged couples.

I am not sure whether Tzohar would be able to help Hillary, and others with similar cases, but I wish her success and hope that she is able to quickly resolve the issues with the Rabbanut, has a happy wedding and merits to build a Bayt Neeman BYisrael.