Monday, 26 February 2018

It is great to have you back Home, Ms. X

Life can be one amazing rollercoaster for some. Mine has been. It is not only what happens to us that makes it that way, it is also those we attract and invite into it and those we inadvertently meet on our life’s path.

 Ms. X, the person whose story I am about to share with you, has been my friend on FB for sometimes now. Today, for some unknown reason, she shared it with me for the first time. Several hours later, I am still deeply touched by that revelation.

I decided to tell her story for two reasons. The first has to do with my desire to expose missionaries and their antics, an undertaking I have chosen as our people are very dear to me and I will fight to defend them against any efforts to steal our souls. The second, Ms. X’s story is an inspiring and in my view, a heroic account of a young woman who, despite repeated efforts to drown her spiritually and emotionally was able to unshackle herself from the chains that held her captive for a long time, educate herself about our great Jewish tradition, came back Home and is doing her share to educate young Jewish children so that they do not fall pray to missionaries and their devious antics.

Ms. X was born in the U.S. to two Jewish parents. Her biological father passed away when she was about 6 years of age. He mother remarried a Yisraeli man and they ended up living here for about two years before moving back to the U.S.

When Ms. X attended school in California, she met her first husband, a non- Jew. They settled in the Bible Belt area.

In a way, Ms. X represents a growing segment of the Jewish population in the U.S., the assimilated kind. Though born and raised in conservative Judaism, she felt that something was missing in her Jewish upbringing. It was her need to establish a personal relationship with G-d.

She was fertile ground for missionaries who rushed to fill in the void.

It happened one bright day when she was driving with her step daughter past a building which looked like a synagogue. It had Yisraeli and American flags flying side by side in front of it. The following Friday night, she to attend services there.

As she soon learned, it was a “messianic synagogue.” Upon arrival, she was greeted by a Jewish woman who befriended her and “took her under her wings” instantaneously. That woman and the “rabbi” explained to her how she could “have the best of both world” by becoming a member. They spoke to her about their close relationship with god, something they evidently learned was missing in her life and capitulated on it. They also offered solace for her terminally ill daughter and sensed that she was lonely with no family and no friends as her then husband was trying to isolate her from them. Naturally, he approved of her new affiliation. In short, she was the ultimate and perfect target for the missionaries’ mission.

At one point, her “benefactors” discovered that one of her close friends was dying of cancer. That is when they started to apply pressure on her to try and convince her dying friend to become a follower of their messiah. They laid on her that if her friend died without having accepted him, he was doomed to damnation and go to hell which, of course would be her fault.

When she tried to leave that group after over 5 years, she faced threats, pressure and intimidation. “As I was leaving the Messianics, I found you,” she told me. “I found your articles beyond helpful. I learned so much from you,” she added much to my surprise.  It was that dying friend, Ms. X told me, who had directed her to my articles. In fact, it was this mutual friend of ours that helped her during those days and bring her c back to Judaism.

Fortunately for her, Ms. X also turned to Chabbad and they, as always, were extremely supportive. It was the Chabbad Rabbi who told her, “The colour of your soul has always and always will be Jewish even if you were lost for a while.”

Ms. X is now happily married to a Jewish man. She teaches at a local Jewish school and volunteers at Chabbad Torah time. She is active in exposing missionaries, especially those targeting Jews. “My heart goes out to all those lost Jews. I want them to know that hope is not lost and that they can always come back Home.”

“I will help you in any way I can to expose their antics,” she later wrote to me in a private message. “Missionaries need to be stopped. They go after Jews and lie to them. They go after the vulnerable and the weak and exploit their need to be loved and supported.”

I will be going to sleep with a smile on my face tonight. Unbeknown to me, I have helped save a Jewish soul. According to our sages, that is akin to saving a whole world. Life is beautiful!

Happy Purim and may our Jewish People continue to go from strength to strength

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Guardians of Shabbat

It is Shabbat morning here in Eretz Yisrael.

As I sit here, on this sunny and peaceful morning, sipping my morning coffee, I marvel at the wisdom of G-d, for dedicating one day a week to resting and turning the Shabbat into an Oneg , a pleasure.

Shabbat is the most important holiday in the Jewish/Hebrew calendar. It has got to be. Not only does it occur 52 times a year, it is first and foremost the sign of the Covenant between G-d and Am Yisrael, entered at Mount Sinai.

According to Shemot Rabba 25:12; Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:1 "the scion of David (Mashiach) will come if they [Am Yisrael] keep just one Shabbat, because the Shabbat is equivalent to all the mitzvot.”

Now, I am not an observant Jew in the traditional sense of the word. I do not have the self-discipline that is needed to be one. I do, however, respect this Mitzvah and remember it each Friday evening when I light Shabbat candles.

For me, Shabbat is a day of reckoning, a day or reflection and a day of expressing gratitude.

Shabbat, according to Ahad Ha'am, a Jewish writer and thinker, has also preserved and shielded Am Yisrael more than our people have kept it.

But is it not only remembering the Shabbat that we, Jews, are required. We are also commanded to observe it.

Let us be honest to ourselves, my fellow Jews. Have we ALL kept and observed this Mitzvah?

The answer, my friends, is known.

We, or at least most of us, do, however, remember Shabbat. In fact, here in Eretz Yisrael, it is impossible not to remember it. We feel it in the air each Friday. The stores are hustling and bustling with last minute shopping. Jews, observant, secular, atheists, as one, wish each other "Shabbat Shalom," as they rush home to prepare, each in their own way, for this very special day.

This few millennia old tradition has been passed on to us from generation to generation.

Time to pause and ask ourselves, who were the true guardians of Shabbat over the centuries?

The answer always leads me to one group, Hareidi and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Probably not the answer that many would like to hear. In my view, though, it is that very group which many of us disagree with, oppose, mock, despise and resent, which has contributed much to preserving the Shabbat legacy. And yes, there are many aspects of that segment in our Jewish society that I will never approve of.

Nonetheless, let us face it. It is them and their practices that have brought us thus far. If not for their staunch adherence and dedication, often at a dear and high price for their safety and well-being, the Mitzvah and tradition of keeping Shabbat would have not been observed and preserved, at least not the way and manner that G-d has intended for us.

I believe it is them, the few
 who our great national poet, Bialik described in his immortal poem “ אם יש את נפשך לדעת “ (“If your soul wishes to know” which I highly recommend to any Hebrew literate person to read) as “a few ears of grain, a shadow of what has remained, sorrowful Jews, with dried faces, Jews of the Galut (Diaspora), the ones carrying its burden, those who drown their sorrow in a fading page of Gemara, trying to consign to oblivion their poverty through the ancient debate of the Midrash, trying to forget their worries by reciting Psalms.” A poor sight indeed, but one that has ensured our role in history and has helped us remain the People of Eternity. They are, according to Bialik, “the treasure of our soul,” the “guardians of our great Jewish Spirit.” They are but “a spark,” a sliver of Hope, "the remnant that was miraculously rescued from the great fire which our forefathers had kept burning on their altars, always.”

Hareidi Jews, whether we like to admit it or not, also, are the guardians of our people and our tradition. I will never forget that. I cannot forget that and forever will be grateful to them and all the other Guardians of the wonderful gift of Shabbat throughout our turmoiled and eventful Jewish history.

Shavua tov.             

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The "Hidden Jews" of the East

Many of us have heard about the fate of the Spanish Jews who lived under the Inquisition, the Anoosim. Few, however, myself included, have heard about the Mashadi Jews in Iran who had to endure a similar fate.

A few days ago, I met with a descendant of one such family, Kami Izhakov. This is their story.

Their story begins in 1734 when a king by the name of Nadir Shah, a tolerant man, sought to fortify the northeastern border of then Persia. Towards that end, he brought Jews and resettled them in Mashad, in the District of Khorasan. It is the second holiest city to Shiite Muslims and was, therefore, forbidden to Jews.

The city of Mashad is situated on the silk road was renowned for commerce, mainly leather and fur. The King’s decision paid off. Soon after the resettlement of Jews there, prosperity followed. Their business sagacity coupled with their international connection soon helped the Jews turn the city into a vibrant business center. Even the Muslim residents who had treated the Jews contemptuously and had shunned them socially, soon enjoyed their contributions. Relationships between the two communities improved and both enjoyed the wealth and economic growth.

Unfortunately, after the assassination of the king twelve years later, Muslims began to persecute the Jews and make their lives unbearable.

According to some accounts, matters got worse following an incident which occurred in 1838. A Jewish woman who suffered from leprosy, sought the advice of her doctor. The latter suggested that she uses the blood of a dog to treat her ailment. The woman hired a young Muslim boy to kill a dog for her. The two had a scuffle and the young boy announced to the Muslims that Jews killed a dog during the holy fast day for the revered Ali whom the Shi’a Muslims consider the First Imam appointed by Muhammad.

That incident triggered the resurgence of Muslim hatred to Jews. On that day, crowds of Muslims burst into Jewish homes, pillaged, burned houses and the synagogue and murdered 32 Jews. The Jewish community at that time counted 400 people.
From that day on, the Jews of Mashad, endured a similar fate to the Jews of Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition. They became, outwardly, “Jadid Al Islam,” the New Muslims sadly assumed the role of leading a double life, one Jewish, one Muslim. It was reflected in their names, customs and practices.

The clever and pious Jews of Mashad, however, managed to remain loyal to their Judaism by using various means to deceive their Muslim oppressors. They prayed in cellars. They stationed a woman at the entrance to their buildings which stopped the entry of Muslims. They opened their shops on Shabbat but never conducted business. A child would generally be put in charge of the store and instructed to tell the customers that the owner was gone or that the merchandise they wish to purchase was not available.

Keeping Kashrut on Pesach was a more difficult endeavor. Yet, the Jews of Mashad never failed that either. They baked their own Matzah and continued to buy bread which they eventually shared among the poor residents of the city. Throughout their history, the Jews of Mashad postponed the Pesach celebration by about one week due to persecution and intimidation by their Muslim neighbours.

Kosher slaughter, another important tenet of our Jewish culture, as difficult as it was at times, was also adhered to by these Jews. On one occasion, a ritual slaughterer was caught, tortured and eventually killed for performing this important Mitzvah. 

Their double life was also reflected in the way, Mashad Jews attended houses of worship. Prior to entry into the mosque, they would ask forgiveness from G-d. On Friday mornings, they would go to the Mosque and in the evening observe the Shabbat rituals at home, in secrecy of course.

Under pressure applied by their Muslim authorities, many Jews were also forced to perform the custom of the Haj. Those that partook in the pilgrimage to Mecca, were honoured immensely. Funnily enough, they were the leaders of the Jewish community and were the most staunch and devout believers.

One of them was Kami’s grandfather.

Born in 1883 under the Name Rachamim Ben Yitzchak, he adopted the Muslim name Abdul Karim Izhakov. As one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Mashad, Rachamim was very influential. He was a successful businessman who travelled much and was there fore able to maintin valuable contacts with Jewish communities elsewhere. That important fact helped him smuggle a Sefer Torah to Mashad from Russia, a Sefer Torah that is proudly housed in a synagogue in Ramat Hasharon.

Moreover, when Rachamim made the Haj pilgrimage, he stopped in Eretz Yisrael and bought a piece of land in Yerushalayim. He was determined to ensure that he strikes Jewish Zionist roots for his future generatiosn here in Eretz Yisrael.

During WWII when Jewish children, later known as The Teheran Children, made their way out of the inferno in Poland on their way to Eretz Yisrael, it was Rachamim and his fellow Jewish community members that hosted them and helped ease the trauma that those kids had undergone.

With the rise to power of Riza Shah, the father of the late Shah, life became easier for the Jews of Mashahd. About 2000 of them realized their dream to move to Eretz Yisrael.

It is accounts like this one that  make my Jewish essence overflow with pride and awe echoing over and over again the ancient bliss, “Am Yisrael Chai!”

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Beware of Translations Bearing Wrong Meanings

Those who know me, have by now come to realize that for me, translations, or rather mis-translations, of the Tanach from Hebrew to Greek first and then to other languages, are one of the greatest injustices committed against the Jewish people. Translations, more than often fail to reflect one very important underlying factor in its equation, the culture that is endemic to the language which is translated.

That is especially the pattern with the endeavours to translate the Tanach.

Make no mistake, I am all for educating and enriching as many as possible about different cultures, including our own. Not, however, when there seems to be primary agendas and biases woven into it.

I have written, and more than once, about the breaches and their ensuing perversion, unintentional or otherwise, that resulted from such practices. Any translation, by default, is bound to include any underlying personal and cultural fabrics of the translator, two elements that could affect the world views and understanding of a foreign concept.

Last week, I saw yet another example of it which triggered the rebellion of my Jewish pride and sense of justice. It violated a very sacred and entrenched notion in our Hebrew – Jewish culture.

It happened when I saw the translation of רוח הקודש (Ruach Hakodesh) as “The Holy Spirit.”
A brief visit to the Concordance (a publication which cites all words that appear in the Tanach) reveals that the term Ruach Hakodesh, which in Hebrew means “The Spirit of Holiness” never appears in the Hebrew Tanach. What does appear, and more than once, is “Ruach Elohim,” the “Spirit of G-d.”

First, we see it in Genesis 1:2 “וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם” (and the Spirit of G-d hovers above the water).
Later, we see it in Bresheet 14:38 when Pharaoh seeks a person who has the “Spirit of G-d” in them to help solve his dreams. “הֲנִמְצָא כָזֶה--אִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים בּוֹ (Bresheet 41:38).

Another instance where we come across the use of the term is in Exodus, וָאֲמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ, רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, בְּחָכְמָה וּבִתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת, וּבְכָל-מְלָאכָה
(Shemot 31:3) where G-d is looking for an architect for the Mishkan (dwelling). This person will be filled with the Spirit of G-d, wisdom, understanding and knowledge, wisdom of the heart.

Next we see the notion in the Book of Numbers “ וַתְּהִי עָלָיו, רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים.
(Bamidbar 24:2). Here it is mentioned in connection with Bilaam who was sent to curse Am Yisrael and ended up blessing them once the Spirit of G-d is upon him.

There are many other citations on the concept throughout the Tanach but I trust the reader has gotten the essence of it. In all mentions of the concept, its underlying attribute is the inspiring means of communication between G-d and mankind just as its literal translation connotes, “The Spirit of Holiness” which G-d has kindly bestowed on some human.

In the literature of Chaza”l, our Jewish sages, the term “Ruach Hakodesh” refers only to the gift of prophecy. Moreover, it is considered the lowest level in the hierarchy of prophecy. What follows from their writings is that “Ruach Hakodesh” (The Spirit of Holiness) is inside each one of us.The Talmud goes further to say that  “משמתו נביאים האחרונים חגי זכריה ומלאכי נסתלקה רוח הקדש מישראל” (with the passing away of the last prophets, Hagai, Zechariah and Malachi, so has Ruach Hakodesh, Yoma 9:2).

Unlike the Jewish “Spirit of Holiness,” Christianity mistranslated Ruach Hakoesh as “The Holy Spirit,” one of the components of its trinitarian belief system. It is a concept that is utterly foreign to Judaism and has no relations to it whatsoever.

As I showed above, any interpretation that the “Holy Spirit” equals the “Father and the Son” is based on interpretation of verses in the New Testament and any attempt to argue their case or support them by passages from the Tanach are futile.

Wish to understand the Tanach and what it stands for? Learn Hebrew and avoid falling prey to erroneous mis-translations, innocuous or dis-translations cushioned with some underlying theological agendas.