Wednesday, 12 July 2017

“Ki Mitziyon Tetze Torah Udvar Hashem Mirushalayim” (From Zion Shall Torah come forth and Hashem’s word from Jerusalem)

When I read about the growing gap between Jews in the Diaspora, mainly the U.S., and those in Yisrael, I am filled with a sense of loss, and great distress. Some have been unhappy about Yisrael’s policies toward the Palestinians. Recently, however, many American Jews have expressed hurt and humiliation with Yisrael’s conversion laws and other rulings by the Rabbinate.
Let us be honest, Jews have rarely been, internally, a united group. We all are familiar with the saying, “Two Jews, three opinions.” Being at odds with each other, questioning, debating and disagreeing has been part of who we were, are and forever will be.
Despite those traits, though, we have always shared one tradition and one set of guidelines about Jewish customs, dates of observances and commemorative events. It started on Mount Sinai where G-d commanded Am Yisrael to follow His laws, adhere to His Torah and set dates of the months and the years. Since Moses was the bearer of G-d’s commandments, the power to determine the interpretation of G-d’s Laws, decide when the Holy Days occur and other rulings was given to him and later to his successors, the Prophets, the Sanhedrin and the Rabbinical courts. Naturally, these decisions all originated in Eretz Yisrael, Zion where the Jewish religious authorities, past and present, have always been situated (except on a few occasions where these guidelines were still followed). Their decisions were uncontested and unchallenged.
For instance, in ancient times, the rabbis decreed that Jews in the Diaspora should celebrate Holy Days for two days. Some still do. There is a good reason behind it.
The Lunar Calendar which is what determines Jewish Holy Days was, at times, confusing. Prior to the arrival of the fixed calendar, the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court, situated in Zion, Yerushalayim, the Spiritual center of the Jewish People would establish whether any month was 29 or 30 days depending on the first sightings of the new moon. Accordingly, if there was a Holy Day on that month, communities in Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora would know when to celebrate and observe it.
Once the Sanhedrin found the testimonies of detection of the new moon legitimate and decreed that a new month began, the message was disseminated to distant Jewish communities outside of Eretz Yisrael via bonfires which were lit on pre-selected mountaintops. When spotted, lookout stations on other mountaintops would light their own fires to transmit the message to the Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
Unfortunately, a sect by the name of Samaritans which rejected Rabbinic authority and were opposed to their rulings started to light their own fires in an effort to manipulate the calendar and cause more confusion.
As a result and to avoid disorder, the method of communicating by fires stopped. Instead, messengers were dispatched to pass on the decree of the Rabbis to Jewish communities outside of Eretz Yisrael. Messengers were much slower than the fire lighting and resulted in confusion among distant communities concerning the precise date of the New Month.
Due to the disarray surrounding the start of the new month, the Rabbis ruled that outside of Eretz Yisrael, every Holy Day should be celebrated for two days to ensure that at least one day of the observance of that Holy Day would be on the correct day.
Since the fixed calendar came into use in the 4th century CE, some may ask whether the need to keep the two days observance in the Diaspora is still relevant.
One answer is provided by Rabbi Hai Gaon who was an undisputed authority on Jewish law in the 11th century. According to him, the obligation to keep two Holy Days dates back to the days of the prophets.
And herein lies the root of what some may consider a problem. There is a general rule that once a rabbinical sanctioning has been made by the Sanhedrin and accepted by the entire Jewish people, it can be absolved only by a court in a similar prominence to the one that decreed it. However, finding nowadays a court that will equate the Sanhedrin in stature is almost impossible, let alone one that would equate with that of the prophets who were divinely inspired.
And that is but one example.
Which brings us back to the titular message. Tradition, as prescribed by the religious authorities in Tzion (Zion), has kept Judaism going for over two millennia. It is this tradition that has helped preserve us as a People that survived when many around us disappeared and forgotten. Do we wish to end up like them and enter oblivion? Do we want to re-form that which has proved to be the best form, one that withstood the storms of time, one that ensured our survival, one that has connected Jews the world over and forged us into the strong eternal entity that we are today?


  1. Well done and flawless observations: Given the age of Jewish festivals and holy days, and given the active practice of customs associated with these days over such a long period, this would seem the logical place upon which to find common ground among Jewish streams of practice. Perversely, this is not the case because some folk have completely abandoned Judaism and have no intention of finding a celebrating common modalities.

    In this regard, I vividly recall speaking to a Reform rabbi in Macon, Georgia about continuity of Jewish customs. You might imagine my shock to learn that congregational garage sales were held by this temple a couple times a year ... on Shabbat!

    If Jews cannot agree on some reasonable observance of Shabbat, a mitzvah having its very own place within the Law of G-d, where can we start? Can we not, a the very least, pay lip-service to this holy day until out of eye and ear shot of others? If so, even this would be an improvement, albeit hypocritical; keeping in mind and deriving some satisfaction from the observation, "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue."

    Should HaShem wish to rid Judaism of those who obstinately refuse all counsel, he will decide where and when. As for us, it seems to me that we must continue trying to redeem the wanderers of Israel. Although we may ultimately fail, the effort is our duty.

  2. Thank you, Allen. And this is but one example of why a unifying Jewish authority was needed to keep Am Yisrael and the Jewish people together. We were dispersed all over the world, open to influences (mostly Hellenistic). Had we not had Torah and Halacha to give us the guidelines all these years, we would have had the same fate as Ancient Greece, Rome and all those Empires of ancient times.

  3. You've hit the nail on the head. This is a topic that touches me deeply and saddens me to the depths of my heart. With the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, and looking at history that can potentially repeat itself if we are not careful, how can we have time to play political and power struggle games?

    Regardless of one's level of observance, type of movement he/she belongs to, we should ALL strive to be AM ECHAD - we should have unconditional AHAVAT YISRAEL and unconditional AHAVAT ERETZ YISRAEL.

    Don't base your love for your fellow Jews based on their belief system, love them for who they are. Don't hate the Land if you don't agree with the government that runs it. This is the Land that HaKadosh Baru Hu gave us, it is the Land where some of your fellow Jews live. When you say bad things about this precious piece of Land that HaShem called His own, you are ultimately cutting yourself off from Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. To those who don't believe me, please take a look in Torah. It's all there...

    Regardless of where you are, regardless of who you are - whether Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc., PLEASE THINK AND UPHOLD TORAH EMET FIRST BEFORE LETTING SOCIETAL VALUES (E.G. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS) TAKE OVER... THE LATTER ARE EPHEMERAL COMPARED TO TORAH'S TIMELESSNESS.

  4. What a great comment, Steven!. I am also heartbroken. A friend of mine who is an observant Jew married a great woman who converted by a rabbi that I know adheres to Halacha. Suddenly the rabbinate blacklisted that rabbi. My friend and his wife are heartbroken. The rug was pulled from underneath them. However, as you say we need to be AM ECHAD!!!

  5. If you have BITACHON, then you know that it will be resolved sooner or later, based on what HaShem has in store for you.

    In the case of the convert, if the person is an honest (i.e. one believes that HaShem IS ECHAD, that TORAH MITZVOT ARE TRUE, and one AGREED TO JOIN AM YISRAEL = AHAVAT AS DISCUSSED ABOVE), then HaShem already knows what is in that person's heart.

    I can't imagine how awful it would be to be in that situation... with the conversion as well as the marriage considered null and void. Despite complications that this causes (such as Shomer Negiah if you hold Machmir views for example), one should never forget the COVENANT you were born into or entered, and not to hold negative views on a whole segment of the Jewish population (who would most likely love you and not think any less of you) because of the few that hold the decision-making power... (Note that I am not saying anything about the ones in power, because I have no idea what the reasoning behind the blacklisting for every Rabbi is.)

  6. Steven, since I last posted my replay, I have called the Chief Rabbinate office here in Yerushalayim, Yisrael. NO SUCH LIST HAS EVER BEEN PUBLISHED! I fear that the same elements who are trying to undermine Yisrael's authority on Judaism are the same ones that are trying desperately to create a rift among Jews and divide us :-(