30 April 2012

AISH - Don't get burned!

8 Iyyar 5772
Day 23 of the Omer
Disturbing news about Aish HaTorah continues to come to light.

Today, Rabbi Lazer Brody reported the following via his Lazer Beams Blog:

I received an email from Chaim Michel (pen name, to protect his privacy for obvious reasons), calling my attention to his article, "What Husbands Need to Know" on Aish.com, where he attributes saving his virtually hopeless marriage to "The Garden of Peace" by our beloved rabbi and spiritual guide Rav Shalom Arush shlit"a. Chaim was quite upset that the Aish editors toned down his praise for Rav Arush and the book as well as removed some of his most important points, such as the necessity to guard one's eyes and maintain personal holiness to assure marital bliss. When he confronted them about it, they purportedly told him, "those parts are not for our readers." [emphasis mine]

Last December, I wrote to them to point out that their featured Hanukah video actually promoted Hellenism and this was their response, in part:

The strategy behind Chanukah: Rock of Ages is to reach totally unaffiliated, disconnected Jews who have no interest in Judaism. An entertaining, viral film that gets enormous traffic and exposure in mainstream media (the Chanukah film was just featured on The Today Show) gets people to visit Aish.com, where we have treasure trove of articles and films that explore the deeper Torah-based meaning of Chanukah and Judaism.

The idea seems to be to hide the fact that Torah makes demands on us. I don't think you can apply marketing techniques to Torah. This reminds me of the old bait and switch tactic - lure them in with some feel-good video and then hope the real Truth will grab and hold them.

They cite numbers and percentages as proof that their methods achieve success:

...Aish.com has an impressive track record in outreach. Our recent user's survey showed that over 80% of non-frum Jews told us that Aish.com has given them a better understanding of Judaism and has increased their sense of Jewish pride. 59% said they have increased their Jewish observance. Our last two viral films garnered just under 10,000 new email subscribers. That is an enormous success."
But the Torah teaches us that quality is superior to quantity. If Aish believes, as has been hinted, that the ends justify the means and that they measure their success by the numbers of subscribers to their email list, is anything off-limits?

Pastor Hagee on the Roof (of Aish haTorah) - Update

...Jewish Israel contacted the administration of the Aish HaTorah World Center at the Kotel and asked if they were aware that Pastor Hagee had visited their center and was filmed proclaiming the gospel from their roof. Shira Plotkin, Private Events Coordinator, spoke with me and confirmed that Hagee had indeed been at Aish. Jewish Israel remained on the phone as Ms. Plotkin and Mordechai David, Director of Operations for the Aish World Center, viewed the video. This writer was asked to give Aish some time to formulate a response before releasing a report.

About an hour after the initial phone conversation, Jewish Israel was called by Yossi Lapko, who introduced himself as the personal assistant to Rabbi Yehuda Weinberg, the COO of Aish Jerusalem. Mr. Lapko told Jewish Israelthat Aish can't take responsibility for what is said or done on their rooftop and that they have no control over tourists or guests. Lapko confirmed that he is fully aware of the fact that Hagee is a celebrated mega pastor and that he was aware of Hagee's visit to Aish last week. However, Mr. Lapko claims it was not a pre-planned visit with a film crew or entourage. Lapko reiterated that the Aish building is frequented by many visitors.

Mr. Lapko did feel that the content of the video was terrible and he said he would have stopped it had he known what was being said, but he clearly wanted to underplay the incident - referring to it as, "like spilt milk". Jewish Israelwas also told that Aish has no plans to change their visitation policy at this time or to caution guests to respect the nature and location of their site. Lapko also seemed opposed to having any type of supervision on the roof.
[emphasis mine]

One has to wonder if Aish has accepted donations from Hagee as have so many others. And if so, if the acceptance of "donations" might play a bigger role in directing decisions at Aish.

Could this perceived willingness to bend the rules for what some might see as the greater good be behind one very questionable "rabbi's" recent advice to an equally questionable conversion candidate? Having already been rejected by the most outstanding conversion schools, she was coached to approach Aish with instructions to emphasize to them that the family has money and might be convinced to endow Aish with some of it, ostensibly in gratitude for their assistance.

Once one steps onto that very slippery slope called compromise, no matter how worthy the cause, one can never be entirely sure of where one will end up.

The Fall of the Erev Rav is in Sight

8 Iyyar 5772
Day 23 of the Omer

“The Erev Rav delay the redemption much more than all the nations of the World”
(Raaya Mehemna-Sefer Ha Zohar)

The Erev Rav are those who have the souls of Egyptians whose goal was to disrupt Bnei Yisrael's redemption and lead them back to Egyptian slavery - if not in actuality, then spiritually.

...the "mixed multitude" consisted entirely of one people all the members of which spoke one language: namely, all the sorcerers of Egypt and all its magicians, as it is written, "And the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments" (Ex. 7, 2); for they wanted to oppose the wonderful works of the Holy One, blessed be He. (Zohar Hakadosh Ki Tissa 191A)

And what a job they have been doing! You can take the Jew out of the exile, but the only One who can take the exile out of the Jew is HKB"H! And that day is not far off!!

Netanyahu’s choices: Strike Iran before or after Israeli elections

Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are facing another of the periodic opposition campaigns to unseat them – this time by pressure for an early election a year before its October, 2013 date.

...The newcomer to the anti-government ranks is the party registered Sunday, April 29, by ex-broadcaster Yair Lapid as “Yesh Atid” (There is a Future). His potential partners are former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi. They are all casting about for a political base, together or apart, from which to tip over the current government. Incumbent President Shimon Peres cheers them on from the wings.

...The vocal opponents are a group of disaffected ex-security officials. There are questions about why they did not resign on the grounds of the views they are now voicing instead of fighting to have their tours of duty extended.

Now they are casting out lines for careers in politics.

Ehud Olmert, one of the Yesh Atid founding fathers and a member of its inner leadership, set the new party’s security agenda in New York Sunday with this comment: “I think that fundamentally, Israelis believe that a nuclear Iran imperils their existence. That is not in dispute. Nor that we must do everything it takes to defend ourselves against this peril. The question is what should be done, who should do it and when. My answer is this: It is being done and continues to be done by the international community led by the United States.”

... Israel’s opposition parties gathered for the push to corner Netanyahu into announcing an early election. They got their wish sooner than they expected.

The prime minister, after turning the situation over for 48 hours, assented. He figured that the key weapon adopted by his rivals to knock him over was not in fact in their hands but in his: It is up to him and him alone to decide whether to attack Iran. In fact, if an election was forced on his government, he could defeat their scheme by bringing the attack forward. So the impression of Netanyahu and Barak fighting with their backs to the wall against a body of generals is totally misleading.

Their opponents are beginning to realize that their anti-government offensive has missed its mark and may well blow up in their faces.

Two keys points here:

“Yesh Atid” (There is a Future) - Yes, there is and a glorious one at that, for all those who have remained faithful to Hashem and to His covenant. This is a direct message from Heaven.

"It is up to him and him alone ...." - No, it's not. It's all up to HKB"H and He is the one inspiring all these political maneuverings in order to bring the conflict to fruition at His own time of choosing.

And it will mean the END of the Erev Rav rule over Eretz Yisrael FOREVER!

25 April 2012

With Thanks to HKB"H for Our Return to the Land

4 Iyar 5772
Day 19 of the Omer

IDF and Medinat Yisrael
by Phil Chernofsky

With Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzma'ut this week, our thoughts naturally dwell on the State of Israel and its army. Before we get into things, let me switch from the editorial WE to the personal first-person singular. I must say that the following does not necessarily reflect OU policy, but I would hope and pray that it is close. I also have to say that the following might rub some TTreaders the wrong way, but I hope and pray that it will be taken seriously and given serious thought.

When it comes to Medinat Yisrael - particularly celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut and thanking G-d for the State (which are not necessarily the same thing), we have to separate two issues. The principle and the details. Let's mention the details first, assuming (which is a big assumption) that one agrees in principle that we owe a debt of gratitude to G-d for the establishment of the State of Israel. Then the questions of Hallel yes or no, with or without a bracha, P'sukei d'Zimra of Yom Tov or not, Tachanun or not, Lam'natzei'ach or not, reading from Yeshayahu 10-12 or not, shaving in honor of the day or not, suspension of other S'fira practices or not, and a whole bunch of other issues, yes or no. However strongly one feels about any of these details - and many of us do, on both sides of each item, the basic agreement about the principle allows one to argue his side (backed up by reliable p'sak) and, perhaps, be reasonable about other opinions.

But... when it comes to the principle, here is the real problem. And here is the sharp personal feeling I referred to earlier. I believe, with all my heart, that an observant Jew who does not feel that we need to thank G-d for the State of Israel - with all of its shortcomings and problems, is holding back the Geula Sh'leima process. I picture G-d's saying to Himself (so to speak), let Me give them a major step on the road to the Complete Geula and see how they handle it.  Good, some of the people say and mean ZEH HAYOM ASA HASHEM...  This is a day that G-d made; let us rejoice. Good, some have a Seuda of Gratitude in honor of the establishment of the State. But what's wrong with the others - don't they realize that things happen in stages and that this stage is a big one? Don't they see the serious beginning and progress of the Ingathering of the Exiles? Don't they appreciate the State for Shabbat being the national day of rest and for Kashrut being the norm rather than the exception? And don't they see the unbelievable strides in Torah education and in the broad adherence to Jewish Tradition, even if full observance still has a long way to go? Do they not see the half-full cup? Is that not enough to say thank you and work for more? As Rabbi Gold is fond of saying: They bless G-d for the first of the season watermelon, how come they don't bless Him for the Medina?

This, then, is much more than a difference of opinion. It is a matter of principle. A very significant principle.

On the other matter of the IDF... I believe, with all my heart, that there should not be exemptions for Torah study. From the Torah we learn that for a MILCHEMET R'SHUT, an optional, non-essential war, there are several exemptions allowed. These include a person who has built a home and has not yet lived in it, a person who planted a vineyard but has not yet had a yield from it, person who has betrothed a woman but has not yet married her... and one who is afraid (different opinions on this, but most interesting is one who is afraid because he does not keep mitzvot properly, to put it mildly)... For a MILCHEMET MITZVA, an obligatory war - and this includes a defensive war in which the survival of the people is at stake - a Chatan joins the fighting even from his Chupa, etc. And the Torah student leaves the Beit Midrash. There is no doubt that we are in a situation of Milchemet Mitzva with enemies within Eretz Yisrael, neighboring Israel, and in other countries within missile range.

The first yeshiva student - perhaps the most significant one ever - was Yehoshua bin Nun. The Torah tells us that he was a fulltime student - he never left the Tent. Yet it was him that G-d instructed Moshe to call upon to form the army to fight against Amalek. And that was the beginning of a long military career for him. Remember though, that it was Yehoshua who received Torah from Moshe and transmitted it to his generation and to the further generations of the Z'keinim (Shoftim). Yehoshua is a major link in the entire Chain of Tradition.

With Hesder and other religious army service arrangements, and Nachal Chareidi, there are different options for the religious prospective soldier. And the more religious people who join the army, the better conditions get for the religious soldier. And there are many good reasons for all girls to be required to perform National Service of one kind or another.

But there is another powerful factor to add to the picture - with the same conclusion. The perception of the general population who do army service and reserve duty for many years, is that much of the Chareidi
community does not carry its weight in defense of this country. Many feel that they have larger burdens of milu'im than they would if more religious Jews would serve in the army. Reserve duty often disrupts family life and one's business - many feel that their reserve time would be reduced and more fairly distributed if more people would serve in the army. This perception causes a lowering of the esteem for Torah and religious Jews in the eyes of the less-religious and non-religious population. This is one of the definitions of Chilul HaShem.

Bottom line, it is the right thing to do for an eligible fellow, to serve in the army in some framework. And it will also be a Kiddush HaShem (or at least, alleviate a possible Chilul HaShem).  Here's the real bottom line: May it be G-d's Will, that just as we have been privileged to the beginning of the Redemption, so may we merit hearing the sound of the Shofar of Mashiach, speedily in our time.

(Reprinted with permission.)

24 April 2012

"Luxury and Ease"

2 Iyar 5772
Day 17 of the Omer
(Two weeks and three days)

I used the terms "luxury and ease" in relation to Jewish life in chu"l in a comment and someone was quick to respond that they aren't living the high life in chutz la'aretz. I'd like to point out that the terms are relative. When I think "luxury and ease," I think about hot water on demand. I think about having a car. About taking my groceries from the store's cart to my trunk and driving it all home into a driveway right outside my door and carrying them no further then the distance between the car and the kitchen.

Allow me to introduce you to my vehicle in Eretz Yisrael...

I have not driven a car since April 1996 when I came on aliyah. The reason is partly finances and partly choice. I can't afford to buy or fuel or insure one, but I also enjoy the freedom of not having to house one and feed it and take it for repairs when it breaks down or needs "new shoes." Not to mention that as the population expands, every bit of green space will have to be converted to roads and parking to accommodate this mixed blessing if every person will insist on owning his own vehicle. There have to be limits to private consumption.

Anyway, this is how I get around now. On my own two feet with a shuk buggy (cart or aggala, take your pick) to carry what my hands can't hold. That usually includes all the groceries each week. When my family was larger, I used this kind.
I've even moved house with a buggy like this. Many, many trips with small items, saving the big stuff for the movers. They charge by the hour, so every bit I could take on my own saved me money. The large one (click the picture to see it bettter)  is the "cadillac" of shuk buggies...

When I had to move across town, I borrowed one like this and took it on the bus. They fold up for easy storage on your mirpeset.

The hardest thing about using shuk buggies for transport is the steps. Many neighborhoods around the country are built terrace-style up the sides of hills, like this one in Har Nof.

When I first came to Israel, I lived up North in a development town where I had to drag my shuk buggy up 92 steps to reach my house from the major grocery. Well, I could have paid for delivery, but then you never know when it's going to arrive and it's usually Arabs who are bringing it.

For really major shopping like Pesach and Sukkot, I've indulged myself and hired a taxi. Now, that is real "luxury and ease!"

Note:  They're called shuk buggies because they are commonly used while shopping the stalls in the shuk where your hands can quickly fill to capacity and there is not space for anything larger.

23 April 2012

"Worrying" Development

2 Iyar 5772
Day 17 of the Omer
(Two weeks and three days)

North Korea reportedly interrupted television programming today to make the following announcement in reference to South Korea:

"[We will] reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, (or) in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style."

(North Korea issues unusually specific threat)

View video here.