Guest post from R’ Meir Deutsch in response to my post on R’ Cardozo on Tisha B’Av

R Meir’s reactions to my original post (which is in italicised black) are in red. My reactions to R’ Meir are in blue

About your article concerning Tischa b’Av, here are some of my observations.
About your AL CHETs (“Who can” and “Who cannot”); you mention daily events at present, not Tisha B’Av ones. Maybe we should read it on Yom Ha’Atzmaut or on its eve, Yom Ha’Zikaron to remind us that we were a nation before and take care at present that we remain one?

These are just my thoughts.

I see all terrible things, whether remembered or not remembered encapsulated in the overarching Galus. Galus, is of course not just a geographical location. It certainly includes geographic considerations which are reflected by more than 200 Mitzvos which only apply, many Rabbinically at the moment, only in our Holy Land. I stress our Holy Land because it remains Holy to this day according to Halacha. However, even with the Second Beis Hamikdosh, while some Jews lived in the Diaspora (something I find difficult to comprehend) and others actually defiled it in horrible ways that are beyond belief (as described in the Medrash), my personal feeling has always been that whilst steps are taken, miracles happen, and renaissance occurs, all of that is secondary to the eschatological final redemption. On Tisha B’Av, bdavka, I can’t help but think that גלינו מארצינו has both aspects, and is a sad reality. It is one day of mourning, akin to Shiva, where we remember עטרת ראשינו which is not perched in its proper place. And while we have דומה דודי כצבי and are sometimes seemingly teased in directions of euphoria, we then find ourselves, yes even the second-rate ones like me sitting in Australia, depressed about the state of our existence. It extends through the trio: תורת ישראל, עם ישראל and ארץ ישראל all of which portray levels of Galut which should not make it sensible to join our fellow Jews, and recite Eicha together, in a low light, and mournful tone. The qualitative aspect cannot be seen to be ideal today, and just like one doesn’t read Bereishis literally, someone of the stature of Rabbi Cardozo, would surely be able to see between lines, and interpret poetically and midrashically, without the feelings of (not a quote) “what am I doing in Shule with everyone saying Eicha, let me say it alone at home, as it’s challenging to swallow”

I read with incredulity the continuing slide to the left

What do you mean by that? .ימין ושמאל תפרוצי. What is meant by left. by respected people, such as Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopez Cardozo

Rabbi Dr Cardozo is a thinker. This is a hallmark of those with intellect. At the same time intellect may preclude a level of Bittul. I don’t have his intellect, but I’m often accused of not being able to exhibit Bittul. Indeed, this week’s parsha includes a wonderful vort from Rav Soloveitchik which sums up this concept. I wrote it for another forum and will put it up before Shabbos. It tends to be those who are more inclined to mould judaism into new trends, that I refer to as the left. Open Orthodoxy and Partnership Minyanim, and things of that nature (as opposed to Yoatzot Halacha) are the types of things which I call “left” wing. Rabbi Benny Lau is another who I see sometimes express himself this way. I don’t see Rabonim who live in this world and are not cloistered in an attic, like Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter, as ‘right wing fundamentalists’. He is at YU and heads Psak at the OU, and in all my correspondence with him, I have found him to be as straight as an arrow, and moderate, maintaining the strong Menorah base transmitted to him from Rav Soloveitchik. One thing he isn’t, is a philosopher.

Who can not find a day to be sad when a Jew from Jerusalem is called up to the Torah and is asked “what is your name”, and they answer “Chaim”. And after being asked “Ben?” they say “Ben Esrim V’shmoneh”? It’s not funny.

On the other hand, a relative of mine was called up in the diaspora. He said his name: Ra’anan Lior ben Avraham, the Gabai said: not your secular name, your Hebrew name.

I find that just as sad. It’s not a contest. It’s a reflection of the poor quality of Jewish Education that the Mapai have managed to infuse into Israeli society and which the religious zionists ignored for too long while they were perhaps over focussed on outposts at the expense of spreading good Jewish education in Tel Aviv etc

I am not sure how Rabbi Cardozo qualitatively defines the Messianic era, but it seems to me, if he enunciated that, he’d have no issue, on the saddest day of the year, to join in the Shiva, that we all take part in. Don’t we eat meat and drink wine during the Shiva? On Yahrzeit we have a Kiddush (not our minhag). It is true, that our Rabbis also promised us that this will be transformed to a day of Yom Tov. We still do not have a Temple, but we have a Yerushalayim. Is it the time to transform it to a Yom Tov?

We changed the “l’Shana ha’Ba’a Bi’Yrushalayim” to “l’Shana ha’Ba’a Bi’Yrushalayim HABNUYA” the addition is for the Temple – we already are in Yerushalayim.

I feel this is syntactic and in fact supports my comments and not opposes them. Halachically, it is true, that there are ramifications being in Yerushalayim: for example Korban Pesach.

Rabbi Cardozo, surely you aren’t suggesting you see the Yom Tov, but are blind to the myriad of reasons to be sad?

I attend Yom Hashoa out of solidarity, but my real Yom Hashoa tacks onto Tisha B’Av. Each one with his own feelings and customs.

I ask myself: Why would G-d destroy HIS home? It was a place where the Jews worshiped G-d, and not a home of his people. I do not know G-d’s intentions, but shall try my understandings or reasoning. Can one imagine anyone bringing today sacrifices? How would Judaism look if they did? Can it be that G-d’s intention was to stop those sacrifices, and the best way was to destroy the building? ונשלמה פרים שפתינו.

These are questions beyond our human understanding. The Rambam who to my knowledge is the only one who codifies the Halachos of Beis Habechirah and the times of the Mashiach, is certainly not suggesting that there won’t be sacrifices. I know there are those who interpret Rav Kook as implying there may be Korbanos Mincha. At the end of the day, as the Rambam notes, we lack a certain Mesora for these times, because they were hidden from us, and could not have been passed down. He says explicitly words that “all these details we will truly properly know at the time when they happen”

About Yom Hashoa: I was interviewed by GINZACH KIDUSH HASHEM (the Charedi Yad Vashem), and asked: how can you explain the Shoah? My reply was:

We have quite a limited view of the world and its future, as against G-d who has a wider one. At the destruction of the Temple, the Jews were driven out of their city Jerusalem, many were killed others dispersed among the Nations, and many were sold to slavery. They did not enjoy those days, they suffered quite a bit. They probably said Kinot. But G-d had a wider view; my children are going to dwell all over the globe, learn different trades and cultures. Had we stayed in our country, with the Temple, I (or probably also you) would surely dwell in my tent in the Negev as a shepherd looking after my flock – just like a Bedouin. The same with the holocaust, I can still not see the whole picture, but one is that the Jews, after the terrible holocaust, are again a NATION with their own country. Would the world grant us a piece of land if there was no holocaust? Would the Jews come to Eretz Yisrael, the land of desert and camels? Maybe it isn’t yet a full Geula, but surely a beginning. Why did we need six million sacrifices? Would not one million or fewer be enough? Please do not put this question to me. I am not G-d’s accountant.

By the way, in one of the Agudat Yisrael Knesiot (5679 Zurich) there was a discussion whether Jews are a Mosaic sect or a Nation! Because of such a question my father in law, and other German Rabbis left Agudat Yisrael. I thought that Yetziat Mitzraim was our transformation from a nomadic tribe into a Nation. Was I wrong?

I’m a second generation holocaust generation, but feel it acutely, likely due to the fact that for most of my life, I was surrounded only by holocaust survivors, who would challenge my religiosity, even when I was 10 years of age and ask me questions that I could not and dared not answer. It is certainly the case that history would record that an outcome of the holocaust was the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland. These are happenings that I don’t understand either. Do I have to pay 6 million lives to acquire something that we have already been promised? Did God not have other more gentle ways to somehow not interfere and yet interfere in the ways of the world so we would have the same outcome? Why didn’t he send Eliyahu down before the final solution and say ENOUGH. ושבו בנים לגבולם. I don’t know and I don’t believe anyone knows, despite the Satmar and other rhetoric. Indeed, on Tisha B’Av, as we sit on the eve of the full redemption, we can only sit exasperated while more human korbanos occur, and anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism, and Tisha B’Av encompasses all that.

Sure, on Yom Ha’atzmaut and on Yom Yerushalayim, when I was a student in Israel, I celebrated. I went to Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, and euphorically danced all the way to the Kosel, and for the entire night danced until we davened Vatikin. We know how important it is to sing and give praise. Chizkiyahu Hamelech would have been Mashiach if he had sung, as openly stated by the Gemora in Sanhedrin (from memory).

I just expressed my humble thoughts.

And I thank you so much for sharing them. I heard second-hand, that Rabbi Cardozo felt I had not understood his points. That maybe so. As it is the Yohr Tzeit of the famed R’ Chaim Brisker now, I’d like to express that his Neshomo should have an Aliya. He revolutionised Torah learning.

Yom Hashoa 2012: a disturbing tale of contrast

Last night, as is traditional, we attended the Yom Hashoa Commemoration at Robert Blackwood Hall. My parents, both survivors, together with more than 15 of their offspring, sat in a row on the ground floor. Compared with my youthful recollections of the memorial, the last ten years have been exemplary. Representation from Jewish Schools in choir or prayer, together with witness testimonies typically dominate the program. This year commenced with a similar motif. Simply listening to a testimony is riveting, humbling and often a highly emotional experience. There is no need or place for theatrics, props or fancy multi-media. The barren figure of an elderly survivor speaking from a podium is a most powerful image. In some years, organisers have employed the recitation of poetry or similar artistic device. Those devices do nothing for me, personally. I am overly grounded and, although I am a musician, alternative displays of artistry do not add to my night.

But last night was different.

The testimony from Sarah was extraordinary. Speaking eloquently and without notes, Sarah took us through the moment she was separated from her parents in the Ghetto to the present day. She described her odyssey, her pain, and her haunting memories. Around me, the gasping and incredulity was palpable. I felt like an indiscriminate ant in the cosmos of surreality and struggled to hold back tears.

Over the last 40 years that I have attended commemorations, there has always been the recitation of Tehillim, in both Hebrew and Yiddish, by two representatives of Yeshivah College. This year, for an unknown reason, they were replaced by two girls from Beth Rivkah College (which had already been represented by their primary girls choir). Thinking the worst, I suspected that Yeshivah had pulled out of the event. I fired off an email and, that evening, received an immediate answer from Jerusalem. Unbelievably, Yeshivah had received a letter which stated that their services would not be required. I am flummoxed. Why would the organisers allow such a circumstance? What type of enfranchisement are they seeking to foment?

The removal of Yeshivah College was, however, not the greatest disappointment for me and many others. A new uber-modern style presentation had seemingly been incorporated to capture the “relevance” of the Holocaust to modern times and the “youth of today”. Icons of Facebook and the like were displayed in case we didn’t know which apps the “youth of today” were using. Seemingly wearing no Kippa, a young gentleman with a South African accent got off on the wrong foot. A casual style of presentation, together with ubiquitous hand motions one sees when a salesperson is selling their wares, greeted us. It was almost like we had been transported from the Holocaust to board room of an advertising agency. This was style, though and not substance, so we overlook those things and move on. Establishing his credentials, the gentleman, whose name escapes me, informed us that he had been on many “march of the living” trips, and was an active educator, with abundant experience relaying the message of the Holocaust to Jewish kids. We saw pictures which “proved” that he had been there, standing in front of the memorial at Majdanek. I was getting fidgety. Okay, I thought:

Please now tell us what your contribution to the evening will be. Enough about you and what you do. What are you going to contribute this evening that will help us commemorate the memory of the Kedoshim. How will you transport us back in time and help us experience and remember the enormity of the calamity to our people that was the Holocaust. Will you take us on a virtual tour of a Shtetl? Will you transport us into the bosom of a Ghetto or Concentration Camp? Will you struggle with the theological spider web induced by the moral turpitude of the human race?

Unfortunately, the presentation had little to do with these issues—the issues  we were seated in the hall to solemnly remember. Instead, we were served an agenda more readily apparent in left-wing circles. Lectured to remember that the world is still depraved and that we should be actively fighting against atrocities in Darfur, Sudan and the like, we were informed of useful meetings with leaders of the Sudanese community to help them deal with multiculturalism in Melbourne. We were, perhaps, meant to feel proud that they had enjoyed the attendance of the president of the JCCV.

Enough!

At this point, I and many others, were quietly seething. We didn’t need to be lectured on morality; certainly not tonight. The Holocaust was the worst tragedy in human terms that has occurred in our Jewish history. We were well aware of our place in the world. The most remote suggestion that to find “meaning” in the Holocaust today is to translate the miracle of our survival into a “Tikun Olam” style agenda where our role in this depraved and hypocritical world is to help poor people facing mass killings in their own countries, is downright facile. Did he think that had the Holocaust not have happened, our moral fibre would not be as strong? Did he think that the history of the Holocaust was a bizarre motivational prop to be utilised for the creation of a new, public and morally inclined, “Jewish identity”. Were we sitting in sadness in order to induce an inclusive Jewish moral spine into society at large?

No, sir, this was the night where people say Kaddish for our murdered. We remember our Kedoshim. This was a night where we commemorate our cataclysmic event. This was a night where we struggle to understand. Nobody can help us understand the enormity of our sadness. A lack of understanding is not healed or helped by those who distribute Jewish Aid to non-Jews. This is not a night for neo-moralistic tikun olam-style lectures.

Nobody put it better though than the Rav, in a letter he wrote on April 4, 1953, to the then president of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Theodore Adams. The Rav was addressing a joint religious/secular proposal to include a new liturgical paragraph into the Hagada, in order to commemorate the Shoah.

” The whole wording is reminiscent of many creations of a similar strain which try to substitute a mundane metaphysics of the historico-national experience for the great religious metaphysics of the God-experience, and following this tendency have replaced the traditional time-honoured and by-Jewish-martyrdom-sanctified phrases of kiddush Hashem and gevurotav shel ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu which express the transcendental meta-historical consciousness of our people with ultra-modern terms as gevurat yisrael and kiddush shem yisrael. Such a philosophy is rampant in all the literary manifestoes of the Mapai and Mapam ideologies, which let nationalistic “mystical” faith take the place of the faith in the God of Israel.”

Last night, I witnessed an incarnation of the self-same philosophy that, perhaps unintentionally, substitutes our specific historico-Judaic experience with a humanistically-inspired tikun olam dogma.

Yom Hashoa

I have just returned from Monash University where the Melbourne Jewish Community commemorated Yom Hashoa, remembering the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, may their names be blotted. Many families were seen attending together with a parent or grandparent, who are holocaust survivors. What person would not join their parent or grandparent on such an occasion? Sadly, I witnessed some families attend, as they always did, only this time without the Holocaust survivor in tow. Alas, the survivor had gone to meet their maker.

When I was a boy, attending this event was almost a punishment. It used to be held at Dallas Brooks Hall and maybe even Festival Hall before that. It tarried for what seemed an eternity. One could barely hear a non-Yiddish phrase. The evening was full of long speeches by people who spoke only the Queen’s Yiddish—the Litvishe style Yiddish so consummately enunciated by Bundists. I used to pray for the choir of old men and heaving women to emerge, for I knew that when they plodded onto the stage, it was time to sing the famous Partisan Song, that haunting melody forever etched in my mind. The lyrics were composed by Hirsh Glick, and tonight in Melbourne, we heard from Glick’s friend, Phil Maisel, formerly incarcerated in the Vilna Ghetto, who personally related the scene when Glick wrote the poem, thereafter describing how Glick was murdered by Estonian prison guards after trying to escape with a group of 40 inmates.

The Rav said that every time a Jew stops and remembers the Holocaust he fulfills the positive Torah command of remembering Amalek, זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק. Times have changed. We no longer endure the long and winding speeches mainly from members of the Bund. We have also lost the heart-rending and eloquent speech from Rav Chaim Gutnick ז’ל who captivated every heart on these occasions, often on the theme of the dry bones coming to life, the עצמות היבישות of the נביא יחזקאל. Instead, the devices of multi-media are intermeshed with chosen personal testimony, interesting narrative, and soulful choirs. The commemoration does not take long, is usually very powerful, and serves the purpose of transporting many of us, back in time, amongst the Nazi killing fields.

The traditional universal day of mourning to remember and mourn Jewish tragedy is Tisha B’Av. The Rav strongly felt that Tisha B’Av should also be the day when the Holocaust is remembered. When Menachem Begin, then Prime Minister of the State of Israel, visited the Rav, one of the topics they discussed was contemporary modes of Holocaust commemoration. The Begin and Soloveitchik families were very close in Brisk, with Menachem Begin’s father being R’ Chaim Brisker’s Gabay. The Rav reportedly convinced Begin to press the Knesset to adopt Tisha B’Av as the (correct) day to also commemorate the Holocaust. A young Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, was also present at the Rav’s house at that meeting, as he describes in his wonderful collection of essays entitled “Listening to God” (I highly recommend his book). Upon returning to Israel, Begin, however, faced oppostion to this concept on practical grounds, because Israeli school children would be on holidays on Tisha B’Av and Ministers felt that the commemoration would be largely uneventful with the secular public.

Ironically, whilst the Kinos on Tisha B’Av are literally crying out for a Kina related to the Holocaust, and I have been personally moved by the Kina authored by the Bobover Rebbe ז’ל, the Rav (like his Uncle R’ Velvel ז’ל but for a different reason) was opposed to us adding new Kinos since we don’t have the ability to write with the requisite authority and style. The Chassidic genre, like the Bobover Rebbe, had no trouble adding a Kina and neither did the German-derived Rabbi Schwab ז’ל of Breuer’s Shule.

An interesting question can be asked: during the time of the second beis hamikdash, did the Jews fast on Tisha B’Av? On the one hand, the first temple was destroyed, and the level of miracles was lower in the second beis hamikdash. On the other hand, is it not anachronistic to mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash whilst the second Beis Hamikdash is standing and in use? It appears that both Rashi and the Ritva in Gemora Rosh Hashono 18B held that during the second beis hamikdash they did not fast on Tisha B’Av. On the other hand, the Rambam in his Pirush Hamishnayos to the first perek of Rosh Hashono, in the third Mishna, opines that the Jews did observe Tisha B’Av even during the time of the second Beis Hamikdash. The reason would seem to be, that although we regained the right to bring Korbanos (sacrifices) in the second Beish Hamikdash, after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, there has been and there is no end to the tragedies that befell and continued to befall our people. The Rambam held that until the Redemption, there is a direct link beginning from the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash extending until our times. Tisha B’Av essentially commemorates the beginning of, and the continuation of, Jewish suffering. The second beis hamikdash was a temporary hiatus; it did not signal an end to Jewish suffering and so the Jews, according to the Rambam continued to fast.

The Rav, perhaps following the Rambam, felt that no new mournful days should be added and that Tisha B’Av was more than just the destruction of the Temple. Tisha B’Av signified both the beginning and the continued suffering of the Jewish nations, reaching the contemporary unfathomable holocaust of our generation.

The Gemora in Avoda Zara 17A relates the famous story of R’ Elazar Ben Durdaya. R’ Elazar performed an intense level of repentance after an encounter with a famous harlot. This lady had indicated that R’ Elazar’s Teshuva would never be accepted in Heaven. R’ Elazar tried to summon all manner of help to effect T’shuva, after which he finally came to the realisation that the only way he could do T’shuva would be through his own efforts. With that cognisance, he sat down on top of a mountain and cried until his soul left him. A Heavenly voice proclaimed that Rav Elazar Ben Durdaya had entered Olam Habo –the World to Come. When Rebbi heard this story, he began crying and remarked,

“There are some who acquire their share of Olom Habo in just a moment.”

יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת

Many ask why Rebbi cried. Surely he should have been happy that R’ Elazar Ben Durdaya had been accepted to Heaven with a “clean slate”. Reb Chaim Shmulevitz ז’ל explains that Rebbi cried in recognition of universal human frailty. Each one of us potentially experiences a gripping moment in our lives that is capable of transforming our thoughts and deeds. Rebbi cried because so few of us are able to recognise or “seize the moment”. Our generation lives with that moment. It’s in our blood.

In terms of the Mitzvah to remember and not forget Amalek, our generation was cursed through the cataclysmic and inhuman tragedy of the Holocaust. If this remembrance though means that some, especially in our generation, choose a different date to remember, or different devices to remember, so be it. I will live with their choice, and join them.

If only we could all seize the moment.