The idea that something found that dates to the era when the Jerusalem was controlled by Christians and pagans, an era in which Jews were almost always banned from living in the city, could somehow prove something about a Temple that was destroyed hundreds of years earlier is bizarre. But that is exactly the claim some Chabad hasidim are making.
For a Jewish religious group to intentionally misrepresent or mistranslate a biblical text is an awful thing. Artscroll has done this, most infamously with its translation of the text of Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs). But Chabad has done something arguably worse – it misrepresents centuries of rabbinic opinions, known history and the mistranslates the Torah itself, all in a quest to promote its late rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (d. 1994) as the messiah.
The late rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, insisted the Temple menorah had straight branches coming out from its trunk at sharp angles. Schneerson's claim – which is not backed by any historical or archaeological evidence at all, has become a Chabad totem anyway – hence the strangely shaped giant menorahs Chabad uses on Hanukkah to represent "authentic Judaism" to the public. Here's proof Schneerson was completely, totally and spectacularly wrong.
Women of the Wall tried to bring a menorah to the Kotel (Western Wall) tonight, but the Kotel's guards, who work for the Kotel's state-employed haredi rabbi, wouldn't let them bring it in. Police also were involved in violation of the law and of the attorney general's legal opinion. But a female Member of Knesset, Ksenia Svetlova, used her parliamentary immunity to get the menorah (which is much smaller than the large menorah used in the official but illegal gender-segregated state ceremony in the men's section) into the women's section. And Israel's right-wing government is yet again silent as the law is broken by haredim in its name.
"…The archaeological evidence currently at hand is still insufficient to establish that this is the burial place of the Maccabees. If what we uncovered is not the Tomb of the Maccabees itself, then there is a high probability that this is the site that early Christianity identified as the royal funerary enclosure, and therefore, perhaps, erected the structure. Evidently one cannot rule out the assumptions of the past, but an excavation and a lot of hard work are still required in order to confirm that assumption unequivocally, and the riddle remains unsolved–the search for the elusive Tomb of the Maccabees continues".…
After the Australian Royal Commission hearings into widespread coverups of child sex abuse in Chabad institutions, including those Chabad institutions that Rabbi Pinchus Feldman heads in Sydney, exposed horrific behavior by Chabad rabbis – including Feldman himself – one might think politicians would be loathe to be seen with Feldman and the other Chabad rabbis – but you would be wrong.
The protocol is essentially the protocol haredi leaders broke in New York City a decade ago. It relies heavily on cooperation from and truth-telling by haredi leaders who have repeatedly promoted lies about the safety of MBP. It also relies on Rockland County officials telling the truth – something lots of people find dubious at best.
Halakha (rabbinic Jewish law) allows a menorah to be made of pretty much anything, even a potato. But it also ranks menorah materials in order of preference: gold is the best at fulfilling the mitzvah, silver second best, brass third, copper fourth, etc. Halakha also explains how the candles should be displayed, in what order they should be lit, and the need for a shammas ('servant') candle to use to light the other candles and prevent anyone from using the light of the actual Hanukkah candles as practical illumination rather than a stand-alone symbol of the holiday and a mitzvah. But how much of this fits in with the actual history of menorahs themselves? Not much, it seems.
We all know about the miracle of the single cruse of oil that miraculously lasted eight days. What most of do not know is that the whole story is a fairy tale made up generations after the Hanukkah story took place. It never happened and no contemporaneous source makes any claim that such a miracle took place.
A senior aide to Naftali Bennett, Israel's Minister of Economy, Trade, Religious Affairs and Disapora Relations, sent me a letter last week that Bennett wrote about his unilateral Kotel (Western Wall) "compromise" with the intent that I post it. I responded by asking Bennett 6 questions regarding it and regarding the official ministry-made video he had released earlier last week. Neither Bennett or his aide responded. What follows are my questions, Bennett's deceptive letter, and a link to the video he released.
“The evil regime and its emissaries the hardakim [slur for haredi soldiers]” are these enemies. “Therefore, at every time of day there should be people available in the Holy Land to fulfill with beauty and self-sacrifice the zealousness of [the biblical] Pinchas who ‘took a spear in his hand’ and to do harakiri [Japanese ritual disembowelment done as a death penalty for a dishonored samurai] on every single hardak [slur for a haredi soldier] until those who cause others to sin will be no more."
"This is not the first time that the governor has attacked haredim in a racist way. It comes from a world view of blind hatred and lack of concern for poverty, and he is riding the wave of hatred for haredim. It is interesting that the governor is not concerned about the Arab population, which has doubled, but just haredim, just as Pharaoh was concerned in his day ‘lest they multiply’ and decreed that every son that is born be killed, and just as anti-Semites in Europe worried about the growth in the Jewish population.…"
“Today Women of the Wall liberated the Western Wall for all Jewish people. We did it for the 8-year-old girl who can now dream of having her Bat Mitzvah at the wall and for the grandmother who cannot climb on a chair to see her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. We did it for the great diversity of Jews in the world, all of whom deserve to pray according to their belief and custom at the Western Wall."
"While elevating Hanukkah [to a major Jewish holiday by, in part, putting large Hanukkah menorahs on public display to compete with Christmas trees and manger scenes] does a lot of good for children’s morale, ignoring or sanitizing its historical basis does a great disservice to the Jewish past and present."
The issue of a Jewish doctor violating the Shabbat to treat a non-Jew has come up again in Israel. The Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that one of Israel’s prominent rabbis, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was quoted as telling his students during a class that, "If a gentile were to get injured in a car accident during Sabbath, and he is brought to the hospital – Israel must not treat him." He then goes on to explain loopholes in the law that would allow a Jewish doctor to treat a non-Jewish patient on the Shabbat under certain conditions.
The heated exchange was prompted by Livnat's announcement that she will convene the Ministerial Committee on the Status of Women, which she heads, to discuss the exclusion of women from Israeli public space. "It would seem that there had been great advancements in women's standing [but] with every step forward we're making one backward."
I ran across this short Hanukka Davar HaTorah from Mir's rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, on YouTube. It's not easy to understand because Rabbi Finkel has Parkinson's Disease, and his speech is effected. He speaks faintly and haltingly as a result.
Rabbi Finkel also speaks with a Chicago accent. He was born there, I believe, but his mother Sarah is from Saint Paul, Minnesota. She grew up on 13th Street. My father, o.h., grew up on 14th Street. My father's older sisters were contemporaries and friends of Sarah in their preteen years.
Sarah Rosenblum was one of the few of her generation to remain Orthodox. I can count the others on the fingers of one hand, with fingers left over. No one in my father's family remained Orthodox, although his oldest sister kept a kosher home.
Sarah's father was a shochet and the family davened at the Russian, or Red, shul on 13th Street. My father's family davened at the Litvish, or White, shul on 14th. Solly and Maxie Weisberg lived down the block from Sarah's family. (More about both, who I knew well, later.) So did my friend Marv Edelstein, who told me Friday he ran a kosher chicken business from the time he was seven years old. The family had barns behind the house where Marv raised chickens. He hired a shochet – Meltzer, not Nosson Tzvi's grandfather – to shecht the chickens and Marv delivered them to homes in the neighborhood.
I grew up with Sarah's nephews. Their father, Sarah's youngest brother, was a contemporary of my father. Years ago, Victor was sitting next to me a shul meeting, a meeting where the rabbi was campaigning for a huge expansion of the shul's building. Victor, stunned at the scope and cost of the expansion, whispered to me, "Scotty, who does he think is going to pay for this?" Without pausing I replied, "You, Victor." Victor's hands clasped his chest and he let out a loud startled gasp. Heads turned. "You shouldn't joke like that," Victor hissed. "I'm not joking," was my reply. I left for Israel and a year of yeshiva shortly after that meeting. After first trying Kfar Chabad (for less than 24 hours – another story for another time), I settled in at Aish HaTorah. Eventually, Nosson Tzvi's brother Gedaliah was a teacher of mine there, but it would only be later, after I returned to Minnesota and Gedaliah came to visit his Uncle Victor and his cousins, that we both realized the connection. And, yes, Nosson Tzvi's Uncle Victor did pay for a large chunk of the shul's expansion.
My father's grandfather had his own shteibel for a few years on the far edge of that area of Saint Paul. But the Jewish community developed closer to downtown and eventually the little shtiebel closed. My great-grandfather became the shammash of both the 13th and 14th Street shuls but still lived almost a mile away. On rainy Shabbat evenings a priest from the Catholic church, impressed with my great-grandfather's religious dedication, used to walk him home under an open umbrella, afraid he would otherwise become ill from the rain and cold. My great-great grandfather also had, for a time, an informal after public school heder of sorts where he taught a few students the rudiments of Biblical Hebrew and basic davening, halakha and leining.This ended when Saint Paul's rabbis opened a formal Talumud Torah in about 1913.
So who else remained strictly Orthodox? Sarah Rosenblum Finkel did it by moving to Chicago, as did one of Marv Edelstein's relatives. The founder and gabbi of the only Orthodox shul in Saint Paul, Isaac Symes, was another. Then there was David Katz, a Navy boxing champion in WW2, shell-shocked and seriously damaged by the War. Dave worked as a milkman and then as a shipping clerk. When Sons of Jacob, the big Orthodox synagogue in Saint Paul, voted to join the Conservative Movement in the late 1970s, Dave was one of the few members to leave – perhaps the only member to leave, if the stories I heard in shul are true. He served as the shul's livery service, picking up several older members and, sometimes, a car-less college student for the minyan every morning and most evenings.
The last Orthodox rabbi of Sons of Jacob was Moishe Lichtman. Moishe, I later learned, grew up in Brooklyn. His grandfather was very close to the Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitlebaum. Moishe, who was an illui of sorts, used to sit on Reb Yoilish's lap during the Third Sabbath meal. Manis Friedman, a man without smicha, once dismissed Moishe Lichtman as a "BT" and "not a real rabbi." Moishe at 13 could have easily out-learned Manis at any age. Sons of Jacob became Beth Jacob. Its first and so far only Rabbi is Morris Allen of Hechsher Tzedek fame.
The other person to remain Orthodox was Nachman Liefschultz, a rag picker. His father had been a hasid of the Orsha Rebbe, a grandson of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Feller, the head Chabad shaliach here, took Russian "chief rabbi" Berel Lazar's father to Nachman's nursing home so Rabbi Lazar could see a "chossid from the Rebbe Rashab," not realizing Nachman's family were Orsha hasidim.
Nachman was mentally slow. It took him ten minutes or longer to write a check at the grocery store. Yet he still functioned as a hazzan and knew a lot of Torah, mostly agadata, by heart. His siblings all belonged to Conservative synagogues. In his 90s, blind and cancer-ridden, Nachman used to daven by heart in his nursing home bed. I was privileged to raise money and buy Nachman his last pair of tefillin, arba kanfot, and the mezzuzah for his nursing home door.
So why so few Orthodox Jews from those generations?
I don't know for sure. What I do know is the following:
Orthodoxy lost the war with modernity because it behaved like Saint Paul's early rabbis. Rather than learning its lesson, much of Orthodoxy has instead repeated those errors, banning books and banning rabbis, finding heretics under every tallis and shtender, bickering and fighting, regressing, rather than progressing.
Demographic trends indicate Orthodoxy should become the dominant American Judaism by mid-century, but it won't be because it has attracted so many ba'alei teshuva or retained so many of its born members – the data says Orthodoxy has done none of this. Orthodoxy will dominate only because few others want to participate in a Judaism so fouled by petty-minded rivalries and short-sighted antics, or in what they perceive to be the irrelevancy of all Jewish streams and organizations. Jews are leaving the virtual shtetl in droves and newcomers – BTs and converts – do not come close to making up the loss. Orthodoxy may end up the last man standing but it won't be because it knocked anyone out of the ring – it will be because most people, even many Orthodox Jews, do not care enough to compete.
The farther away from Orthodoxy one goes, the farther away from the shtetlkeit and taboos one is is. This means it is far easier for a non-Orthodox Jew to leave Judaism. Often they do this without even noticing and without their friends and family noticing, as well.
This does not mean Orthodoxy is full of happy, contented members – far from it. It means it is full of members who are unhappy, who are trapped within Orthodoxy by taboo and draconian barriers. (What do I mean by draconian barriers? Just ask a Footsteps kid what it's like to lose your entire family, all your friends, your job, your home and all your social support in one day, and have that happen when you cannot read or write coherently in the English language and do not have a high school degree.)
In pre-Destruction Palestine, there was a fight between the school of Hillel the Elder and the school of Shammai. While we say today that we follow Hillel, what we really follow is Hillel's school after it had already lost many important battles to Shammai. As the Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbat 1:4) makes clear, Shammai was dirty fighter who broke rules and used violence to get his way. Much of our anti-gentile legislation comes from him and was 'adopted' only because Shammai resorted to violence against the school of Hillel to get his way.
But the real divide in those days was between Jews like Philo – who commanded a far lager following than did the rabbis – and assimilationist elements in the Jewish elite. Which side retained more Jews? Philo, by far.
We would all probably be followers of Philo if not for two quirks of history. The first was the Destruction, which wiped out the sacrificial cult and at the same time forced several generations of rabbis to get along and play fair. This created a synthesis of the Shammai and Hillel schools. (And this may have happened because many more Shammai followers died in the revolt against Rome. Why? Because Shammai's virulent hatred of all things gentile led them to believe the revolt was a good thing.) So the cultic opposition to rabbinic Judaism was destroyed at the same time rabbinic Judaism was forced to unify.
The second quirk of history was the Diaspora revolt in 117 CE against Rome, fueled by increasing Roman persecution. The revolt failed and dozens of Jewish communities across the Mediterranean disappeared as a result. Lacking both the Jerusalem Temple as a focal point and a developed unified system to unite them, the communities that survived the revolt were weak and broken. Most faded away. Some remained, eventually adopting rabbinic Judaism during the standardization campaign waged by Babylonian rabbis after the completion of the Babylonian Talmud 400 or more years later.
Babylonian Jews did not participate in either revolt or in the revolt led by Bar Kohba in the 130s CE. They also lived under non-Roman and non-Greek rule, and did not face the challenges of science and philosophy faced by the Jews of Palestine and the Hellenist diaspora. Instead, Babylonian Judaism thrived on the folk superstitions and primitive theologies of the region. While the Greeks had deduced the existence of molecules and atoms, Babylonians 'divined' the future by casting and 'reading' chicken bones. Our Judaism is primarily a derivative of Babylonian Judaism.
Perhaps that is why Judaism as we know it thrives in closed societies but flounders in open ones, and why the most blatant pagan superstitions find a welcoming home in Jewish mysticism, hasidism and kabbala.
Where are Babylonian Jews today? Many became Muslim, often converting by choice, not by the sword, before the year 1100. Babylonian Judaism could not handle the intellectual and scientific challenges brought by Islam, just as it later would fail to handle the challenges of modernity, enlightenment and science in the west.
Given the chance, Jews opt for openness, knowledge and progress. The challenge for Jewish leaders is to constantly reinvent Judaism so that it can meet the challenges posed.
The ghetto never wins. It may temporarily keep Jews trapped inside Judaism, but eventually ghetto walls fall and Jews leave in droves, just like they left before, just like they are leaving today.
The New Yorker, of all places, has a brief profile of Aish HaTorah-New York City and its outreach program geared to wealthy executives who donate large sums of money to Aish – "(average: ten thousand dollars)". In this very brief piece, the Aish rabbi manages to mislead (okay, lie to) his student once and mislead the reporter once. First, the lie to the student:
“Maybe we can talk a little bit about Hanukkah,” [Rabbi Stuart] Shiff said.
“O.K.,” the executive said. “Seven candles?”
“Eight! We light eight candles to commemorate a miracle. What’s the miracle we’re commemorating?”
“I don’t know.”
“They found oil in a temple that was desecrated by the Syrian-Greek army,” Shiff began. He got as far as the eight days, and the executive interrupted. “Where did they get the idea in the first place? That’s my question—who wrote the book?”
“The Maccabees,” Shiff said. “It’s history.”
“Yeah,” the executive said. “History I can buy.”
Of course, the only books written by the Maccabbees or their supporters are 1 and 2 Maccabees and neither mention any "miracle of oil." No Jewish source even hints at such a "miracle" until hundreds of years later, and those sources are all rabbinic, not Hasmonean. (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 .)
Now the lie to the reporter:
“We go everywhere,” Shiff said on the train. “We go to J. P. Morgan, Bear, Bloomberg, Goldman—and everybody is so different. It’s not about conforming to anything. That last guy, I think sometimes he thinks he’s not living up to my expectations of him. But I don’t have any expectations. My whole job is helping him to stay connected. We like questions.”
If Mr. Wealthy Executive were Mr. Poor Working Stiff Aish would have far more "expectations" of him. Why? Because, Mr. Wealthy Executive's money buys him a lot of leeway. Anyone who has spent significant time at Aish in Jerusalem knows that the amount of time spent of students varies with evidence of money and evidence of buying into the program. If you do not have evidence of money and if you have very real, challenging questions about the Aish presentation of Judaism, you won't last long at Aish. Conversely, that same student, full of probing questions and not buying the Aish spin, will last far longer if he or his family are wealthy. Aish actively weeds out nonconformists at all levels of their program. Anyone deemd to be "not Aish material" is quickly pushed out. This process is relentless and heartless.
Aish is built on deception. Rabbi Noach Weinberg has spent more than 40 years developing ways to "get" kids, to deceive them, to manipulate them, to trick them into observance. There is an oft repeated rumor about Rabbi Weinberg. He and his wife have lived separate lives for many years, in adjoining apartments. They are divorced in all but name. Both hush up the separation to protect Aish and its womens' school, EYHAT. I've heard this from EYHAT students, from Aish students, from former BTs and from current "outreach professionals."
Rabbi Wienberg is a fraud, a charlatan, a snake oil salesman out to snatch the souls of your friends and your children. But don't worry. Even if he can't get your soul, he'll take your money – guaranteed.
JewishWorldReview.com has live streaming Hanukka music in either RealPlayer format or as an MP3 download.
[Hat Tip: Ben Max.]
UPDATE: This is really bad music, the worst haredi music out there, courtesy of Nachum Segal. Binyomin, you can do better than this.
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The New York Times: "The legal conflict has revealed a deep tension within the Orthodox community that has been reported in the Jewish weekly press, and has been the almost exclusive topic of discussion on some Orthodox Jewish Web sites like failedmessiah.com and unorthodoxjew.blogspot.com in the months since Mr. Hikind brought up sexual abuse."
The New York Times: "In Postville, residents were dismayed by a report posted on a Jewish Web site, FailedMessiah.com, saying that Sholom Rubashkin held a celebration in Postville last week after he was released from detention on $1 million bail."
THE COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: "[Jeff] Abbas passed the video to Shmarya Rosenberg, a blogger in St. Paul, Minnesota, who has provided some of the best coverage of the raid and its aftermath; a few days later, the video was referenced in The New York Times."
The Forward: Postville’s City Council initially voted to support the idea of a community benefits agreement, but later voted to withdraw support for such an agreement — a development first reported on the blog Failed Messiah.
Samuel Freedman in the Jerusalem Post: "[T]the scandal of Agriprocessors has been chronicled from Stephen Bloom's book Postville to Nathaniel Popper's investigative reports in the Forward to Julia Preston's coverage in The New York Times to the muckraking blogger FailedMessiah.com."
Religion In The News: "So authoritative has Rosenberg become that he is now regularly quoted by the Register; and his site has been referenced by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and both the Forward and the JTA."
Tablet Magazine: “If you’re Jewish and you were married five years ago, you have not confronted the problem that exists today,” Rosenberg says. “The problem is much worse for anyone who isn’t Orthodox. As the Haredi strength grows and their control grows, that’ll become clearer.”
Religion Dispatches: "The best collection of articles I’ve found can be perused at failedmessiah.com, the blog of Shmarya Rosenberg, who, with the perspective of insider turned disillusioned outsider, has been probing the nuances and hypocrisies of the ultra-Orthodox establishment since 2004."