Friday, January 14, 2005

Sanhedrin Roundup

So last week several more articles have come out about the Sanhedrin. The curious question, of course, is how both the world and Israeli media have been largely ignoring it since October when it was re-established. And certainly when one considers all the ramification involved there is a very good explanation why the media and/or the State chooses to keep this thing silent.

Previously – in October, only two articles appeared. One on (Arutz-7) and one in Maariv. And the Maariv article made it sound like most religious rabbis are against its formation. There was also a news story on IsraelNationalTV (and though I didn’t hear it IsraelNationalRadio also had an interview with a key player.) In January published another story about it – this one went into greater depth, had photos, and and included this sentence: The Sanhedrin was reestablished through the ordination of one rabbi agreed upon by many prominent rabbis in Israel and approved as “fitting to serve” by former Chief Sefardi Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and leading Ashkenazi Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Seeming to debunk Maariv’s claims that Rav Elyashiv was against it.

This week however represented a major development. It was no surprise that published another detailed story, an opinion and a divar Torah on the subject. But for the first time so did the Jerusalem Post, albeit indirectly. While the JPost seemed to take a similar approach as Maariv – portraying the group as merely a few “extremist nutcases” – the fact that they even mentioned it is significant. Even more significant was that Haaretz – the “Israeli New York Times” - published a Jonathan Spyer opinion article – which whether they intended it or not explained precisely why they are being mum on the Sanhedrin. The opinion piece in also spelled out the “mainstream” media’s fears.

One thing is certain. Israel is at a crossroad. And whether we like it or not, and whether or not we are paying attention, the developments in Israel over the next few months, will set a new course for the Jewish people. We should pray that we are headed in the right direction and have faith that Hashem will not lead us astray. In the meantime we’ll be watching.

Here are this week’s pieces:

From Arutz-7:
Sanhedrin Rabbis Discuss Sublime, Procedural Issues
Friday, January 14, 2005 / 4 Shevat 5765

The 71 rabbis seeking to fulfill the Biblical commandment of renewing the Sanhedrin continue to meet regularly, solidifying their organizational structure and establishing an agenda of topics.

Their most recent meeting was this week, in which they discussed technical and procedural issues, topics for their agenda, and the Halakhic [Jewish legal] and other ramifications of renewing the Passover sacrifice.

The rabbis held a festive ceremony this past October 13th, the 28th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, inaugurating the Sanhedrin as Judaism's supreme legal body. They stress that by doing so, they are merely fulfilling a Biblical mitzvah (obligation). “It is a special mitzvah , based on our presence in Israel, to establish a Sanhedrin,” Rabbi Meir HaLevi, one of the 71 members of the new Sanhedrin, has explained. “The Rambam [12th-century Torah scholar Maimonides] describes the process exactly in the Mishnah Torah [his seminal work codifying Jewish Law]. When he wrote it, there was no Sanhedrin, and he therefore outlines the steps necessary to establish one."

A religious-legal assembly of 71 Sages that convened in the Holy Temple and for several centuries after its destruction, the Sanhedrin was the highest Jewish judicial tribunal in the Land of Israel. Organizers of the current edition stress that they are still in a transitional phase, and that though today's members are all Torah scholars and experts in many secular and scientific fields, every one of them has agreed to step aside the moment a more deserving candidate should step forward.

Meeting in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Sanhedrin consists of representatives of all stripes of religious Jewish society. Hareidi-religious, Hassidic, national-religious, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, modern Orthodox and university professors sit side by side in a semi-circle, seeking to re-establish Jewish legal tradition after 2,000 years of exile.

"We can make a real difference," said one member, Rabbi Chaim Richman of Jerusalem. "Many cardinal issues are on the public agenda, and our body – which is totally based on Torah, even down to its rules and regulations – is naturally geared to deal with them. Issues such as agunot (estranged women whose husbands refuse to give them a divorce), abortions, traffic safety, economic issues, education, and so much more."

"Not only are we commanded to establish the Sanhedrin," Rabbi Richman told Arutz-7's Yosef Meiri, "but this seems to be the perfect time to do so - a time of Divine will. On the one hand, there is a spiritual void in the 'establishment,' and on the other hand, there is a real thirst among the public for spirituality and guidance."

The Sanhedrin's takanon, document of regulations, is still undergoing final adjustments prior to its official adoption. A permanent Nassi, President, and Av Beit HaDin, literally, Court Father, still must be elected. The continuing role of the Vaad HaMechonen , the founding committee that has led the Sanhedrin thus far, also needs to be determined. But the Sanhedrin is carefully moving ahead, strictly adhering to the guidelines set out by Maimonides, who classified the obligation to reestablish the Sanhedrin as one that is incumbent upon every generation.

“The Sanhedrin is past its greatest initial hurdles,” a spokesman told IsraelNN's Ezra HaLevi, “namely, the return of genuine semikha [authentic rabbinical ordination] to Israel, and the historic meeting in Tiberias in Tishrei, at which 71 rabbis actually convened and officially reinstated the Sanhedrin. We believe these achievements are irreversible.”

Contrary to the expected criticism, Sanhedrin organizers insist that the reinstatement ceremony was neither just a show nor a one-time phenomenon, but is rather Halakhically-sound and a true beginning.

The rabbis were asked to prepare topics they thought the Sanhedrin should deal with, and a fascinating array of topics was produced. In addition to those mentioned above by Rabbi Richman, the list included such issues as:
* uniform kashrut certification
* the precise length of the biblical cubit (with ramifications on many issues, including the location of the altar on the Temple Mount)
* unemployment
* assisting Anousim from Spain and Portugal and others whose ancestors were forced to convert
* lost Jewish tribes from other parts of the world
* unifying Sephardic and Ashkenazi practices on issues such as prayer liturgy, kitniyot (legumes) on Passover, and glass utensils
* the Sanhedrin's decision-making procedures
* foreign workers
* unifying the religious parties
* restoring the Davidic monarchy
* an ethical code for Israel's army (as opposed to the present one, which is based largely on secular sources)
* the establishment of regional "small Sanhedrins"
* the long-missing "t'chelet" blue color
* sending delegations around the country to hear people's concerns,
and much more.

Though a lecture on renewing the Paschal offering was delivered at the last meeting, not all of the 71 are yet convinced that the time is ripe for it. Various opinions were put forth, including by those opposed to the renewal of the Passover offering until the exact location of the Temple altar is determined through prophecy.

"The real achievement of the meeting was that rabbis from such diverse backgrounds could sit together to discuss such an issue," said Rabbi Michael S. Bar-Ron, an associate of the Sanhedrin from Beit Shemesh. " It demonstrated that the Sanhedrin is alive, and has begun the long road towards its chief goal of restoring the crown of Torah to its former glory."

As expected, the issue of the disengagement came up, but the acting Nassi refused to allow the discussion until at least one rabbi supporting the plan could be found to present a sincere argument supporting it. No one could be found, and the topic was dropped.

"The Sanhedrin aims to inspire the Jewish people," Rabbi Richman said, "not coerce them. Via 'ways of pleasantness,' we will achieve a renewal of unified Jewish observance and practice."

From The Jerusalem Post:
Hear ye, hear ye: Sanhedrin seeks David's scion as king
By Yaakov Katz, THE JERUSALEM POST Jan. 12, 2005

Will Jews begin proclaiming "Long live the king" in the near future?

According to a group of 71 Jewish scholars who met this week in the Old City of Jerusalem in the form of a modern-day Sanhedrin – a duplicate of the religious tribunal which convened during the time of the Second Temple – a coronation day is growing closer.

As one member of the group put it, "We would have liked it to happen yesterday. But we are willing to wait until tomorrow."

There hasn't been a genuine Sanhedrin in Israel for nearly 1,600 years; the last one to be proclaimed was in France, by Napoleon, for political gain. Shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, religious affairs minister Judah Leib Maimon raised the notion of reinstituting the ancient body, to no avail.

The group composed largely of Kahane sympathizers that gave itself the name Sanhedrin in October, however, met Sunday to discuss the creation of a Jewish monarchy in the State of Israel.

For the past several years a group called the Monarchists has conducted extensive research into the lineage of several families in an effort to discover who has the closest bloodline to the biblical King David – a requirement for any future Jewish king.

Rabbi Yosef Dayan from Psagot, known for his recent threats to place a death curse on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is said to be a leading candidate to become the "king of Israel."

"Dayan has the best lineage to King David," several members of the Sanhedrin told The Jerusalem Post. They say he has two documented ancient sources which draw a direct line between him and the males in his family to King David some 3,000 years ago.

"Many people can show they are descendants of King David, but they cannot show that the line is only male," one Sanhedrin member explained. "That makes Dayan the leading candidate to become king."

The Monarchists have consulted with non-Jewish experts on lineage. They concurred that, without a doubt, Dayan is a direct descendent of the House of David.

The only question now is how to establish the Jewish monarchy in spite of the presiding democratic government.

"There are two possibilities," Dayan explained. "The first is that the nation or a majority from within will want the monarchy and will uproot the presiding democratic government."

The second, more realistic option, he said, is "the one cited by Maimonides – and that is that no one will know how it will be until it happens."

Some of the other ideas discussed at the Sanhedrin meeting included the construction of an altar on the Temple Mount to be used for the Passover Offering during the upcoming holiday.

One of the ideas, members said, is to climb the Mount and build the altar within minutes and sacrifice the lamb before security forces can stop them. Another, said leading Sanhedrin member Baruch Ben-Yosef, is to pray for a tsunami-like disaster on the Mount.

"In one second, God wiped out 150,000 people," he said. "Who knows? Maybe he'll help us if we show him we are ready."

Participants also discussed Ben-Yosef's idea of reinstating the Sanhedrin's authority to announce Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new lunar month.
"It is very important to reinstate the Sanhedrin's authority to announce the month, because it will force people to understand that God gave us the power to control the calendar and our own destiny," Ben-Yosef said.

A Dvar Torah from Arutz-7:

The First Mitzvah
by Moshe Lerman
January 10, 2005

According to our sages, the first mitzvah given to the People of Israel is found in parashat Bo: "This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year." (Shemot 12:2)

As Rashi explains at this verse, it alludes to two aspects of the Jewish calendar: The appearance of the new moon is the start of a new month, and Nissan - the month of Pesach - is the first month of the year. It is the task of the Sanhedrin to announce the start of every new month and to announce the start of a new year.

After the Jewish population of the Land of Israel had dwindled, the Sanhedrin stopped functioning, about 1,650 years ago. Since that time, we have a fixed calendar based on a cyclic pattern of 19 years, in which years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 19 are leap years that have thirteen lunar months instead of twelve.

The average Jewish holiday is now a little more than a week later than it was 1,650 years ago, due to a very small inaccuracy of the fixed calendar. For example, before last century, Pesach was solely in March or April. However, in recent decennia it has happened that the seventh day of Pesach was on May 1. And three centuries from now, the first three days of May will at times be Pesach.

It is possible to undo the historical shift of our holidays by changing the formula for the leap years. A simple calculation based on the precise cycle times of the Moon around the Earth and the Earth around the Sun shows that if years 1, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 17 would be leap years, the average Jewish holiday would be very close to what it was 1,650 years ago. The years 6 and 17 are leap years in both the old and the new pattern and would therefore be the natural times to switch over.

It is tempting to say that a renewed performance of the first mitzvah given to the nation could be the first task of our new Sanhedrin. However, the Sanhedrin cannot use its power in this way without first founding itself. Indeed, such seems to be the hidden meaning of the prophetic words of Rabbi Yitzchak, cited by Rashi in his first comment to the Torah:

"Rabbi Yitzchak said: 'The Torah could have started with "This month shall be for you," because it was the first mitzvah Israel was commanded. What is the reason that it began with Bereshit? Because "He declared the power of His deeds to His people, to give them an inheritance of nations (Psalm 111)." Thus, if the nations of the world will say: "You are bandits, because you conquered the lands of the seven nations," then Israel will say to them: "The whole Earth belongs to the Holy One, Blessed is He. He created the Land and He gave it to who was proper in his eyes. It was His wish to give it to them, and it was His wish to take it from them and to give it to us."'"

In my humble opinion, the proper foundation of the Sanhedrin presents itself in reality. The world, including the Israeli government, is saying we are bandits. It is incumbent upon the People of Israel to give them the correct answer. Here, I suggest, is the first mitzvah for the new Sanhedrin. It must announce Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel.

A Dr. Spyer Haaretz Opinion Piece:
Last update - 09:23 07/01/2005
A disengagement of disenchantment
By Jonathan Spyer

The political direction of which Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan forms a part is the most significant development in Israeli policymaking since 1967. It is an attempt to finally free the Israeli political discussion from the squabble between rival utopias that has dominated it since the 1970s.

The first of these promised utopias, that of the left, has already largely vanished from the public discourse - a victim of the cataclysmic failure of the Oslo process of the 1990s. This project posited a historic compromise between Israel and Palestinian nationalism, based on the ascendancy of shared, rational economic interests. As it turned out, the shared interests were perceived by only one of the sides. The collapse of Oslo cast the proponents of the possibility of rapprochement between Zionist Israel and the leadership of Palestinian nationalism as currently constituted into political irrelevance.

The result of the eclipse of the left is that the drama of the clash of ideas in Israel is currently taking place in the center-rightward side of the arena. The battle is being fought between a disenchanted, realist outlook, as represented by Ariel Sharon and his allies, and the redemptive ambitions of the religious nationalist camp. The flagship of the latter has for a generation been the settlement enterprise in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Nevertheless, it should be understood that the clash between Sharon and the Yesha Council [representing settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza] is not ultimately an argument over demarcation and real estate. Rather, it is about fundamentally differing conceptions of democracy, of Jewish statehood, and ultimately of the very dynamics governing international affairs.

For right-of-center Israelis, the right to construct Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is axiomatic. And in a society increasingly demobilized, fragmented and self-critical, the apparent willingness of the settlers to cleave to old, treasured values and pay the price for them awakened the admiration of circles far beyond the religious nationalist public from which their leadership has been drawn.

Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the agenda of the most militant elements of the Yesha leadership, and their political allies in, for example, the Jewish leadership group of Moshe Feiglin, are far from the concerns, ambitions and desires of the greater part of the Israeli Jewish public. They are also far from anything resembling classical Zionism. Feiglin, the controller of around 130 votes in the Likud Party Central Committee, and one of the architects of the prime minister's defeat in the Likud referendum in April 2004, openly advocates disobedience by Israel Defense Forces soldiers to thwart disengagement. "No one can overcome God's will to keep us in Gaza," he tells his followers. He also favors stripping Arab Israelis of their citizenship, ending military service for women and establishing a Sanhedrin on the Temple Mount. Such views, exotic and bizarre to the Israeli mainstream, are representative of the wilder streams now preparing civil disobedience. The clash between Feiglin and his allies and the prime minister and his camp is thus about more than disengagement from Gaza and part of northern Samaria. With increasingly unveiled calls to sedition being heard, it is shaping up to be about the right of elected government to govern, and a clash between the advocates of Jewish nationalism as we have known it and the partisans of something else entirely.

As for the "road map" guiding the advocates of disengagement, its key elements are the following items:

l Firstly, a rejection of arguments positing the im minent emergence of "democratic" leaderships in various parts of the Middle East and among the Palestinians, and the consequent emergence of a consensual "peace between democracies." Abu Mazen's latest statements in support of the so-called "right of return" and his rejection of firm action against Palestinian terror groups indicate that for the foreseeable future, Israel is likely to remain a Jewish democracy surrounded by neighbors seeking its demise. Palestinian nationalism has not yet crossed the Rubicon of historical rapprochement with Israel. It is showing no signs of being about to do so.

l Secondly, the awareness that something must be done. Demographic realities make the status quo untenable. A Jewish state presiding over an Arab majority will be an arrangement with a brief future ahead of it.

l Thirdly, the awareness that the bringing into being of a Palestinian state with provisional borders, created as part of a process of cooperation between Israel and its most important ally, the United States, represents the best possible outcome in the current reality. Irreconcilable issues will remain unreconciled. But a political arrangement including (limited) Palestinian sovereignty will have been established.

l Fourthly, Israel's security in the dysfunctional region in which it is situated will continue to derive, in this arrangement, from the strength of its armed forces and their technological edge.

Disengagement is the first step along this road. The plan is the product of disenchantment, and hence has none of the heady thrills of utopia about it. In the weeks to come, its opponents, most significant among them advocates of theocracy of various stripes, will be mobilizing to make its implementation impossible. The future direction - internal and external - of the State of Israel will to no small extent be dependent on the outcome of this contest.

Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, Inter-Disciplinary Center, Herzliya.

And finally the Arutz-7 Moshe Yisraeli Opinion piece:

The Jewish Republic of Judea & Samaria
by Moshe Yisraeli
December 27, 2004

In view of the recent developments in the Sharon government, I am musing about whether anyone has considered the creation of a second Jewish state, in Judea and Samaria with eastern Jerusalem as its capital. It does not sound practical at the moment, but we can certainly do a better job than the Palestinians ever will.

There is already a Judea, Samaria and Gaza Council and there is the newly created Sanhedrin. Professor Eidelberg and Moshe Feiglin have both drafted good Torah-based constitutional constructs that would be fine starting points. For security, we would need to hire some of the finest mercenaries. Good mercenaries are more efficient than regular armies, and we would need less of them, especially if they are well-equipped commando units.

The beauty of such a state is that it will not be violating any UN resolutions or the British Mandate. It would not be a part of the State of Israel and thus not an occupying force.

As for the Arabs, they may have Ramallah and any other Arab-dominated city as a neighborhood or an Arabistan enclave within the new Jewish state. They may also keep their current communities in Gaza, which would become the definitive Islamic Palestinian Republic.

The world community would no doubt cry foul. But it is already crying foul, so there will be no love lost. We would certainly not be the beneficiaries of any aid from anyone in the world except some staunch fundamentalist Christian entities and Jews who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. As a landlocked state, we would be dependent on Israel. I'm not sure this would be the best arrangement, but at least we would both be Hebrew-speaking states.

In Judea and Samaria, Jews are outnumbered 250,000 to 1,500,000 Arabs; how can a venture of this kind be possible without a massacre?

Jewish wars have always been won at incredible odds. It is almost as if the Jewish neshama needs such odds in order to perform royally. In any event, Jews are more organized and more purposeful than their Arab counterparts. Some of the current IDF soldiers can be recruited into the army of the new Jewish state. A sharp force whose hands are not tied can fight much better than the currently constrained IDF, which is still fighting a conventional war against guerillas.

The end of the cold war has spawned a plethora of mercenary firms eager to help, for a price. A timely and coordinated withdrawal of the IDF from Judea and Samaria would not create a sudden vacuum for Arabs to massacre Jews, because there would be recruited IDF forces and mercenaries ready to take their place. This would be a force fighting by completely different rules.

A declaration of independence by Jews in Judea and Samaria would create saliency on the ground with Arabs. The issue would be what brand of hegemony will be sovereign over Judea and Samaria. It will have to be either a renegade group of Jews living in Judea and Samaria, or a militant group of Arabs living in enclaves of Judea and Samaria. The Arabs would have to fight the Jews of Judea and Samaria in order to win their state. They would not need to fight Israel anymore, thus taking pressure off Israel and allowing undeterred development. One would think Israel might welcome such a scenario and even facilitate the surreptitious funding of such an enterprise.

The Palestinian infrastructure, electricity and water are still dependent on Israel. The state of Israel is currently providing and paying for these services. The declaration of independence puts the new republic in control or gives it access to these vital assets, allowing it to do untold harm to the Palestinian community should the Arabs have any hostile ideas. Their supply of arms and explosives will be greatly curtailed by the new mercenary commando unit patrols. Their food supplies could be greatly curtailed, too.

Arab states may launch an attack again, but if they have any pride at all, they would find it absurd to mobilize the Arab nation of 300 million against a 250,000-person rag-tag bunch of Jews. The United Nations and other international organizations will most likely try to assist the Arabs. Depending on how invasive their assistance would be, this could develop into a situation of the world against the Jewish Republic of Judea and Samaria. However, the most likely scenario would be the world community putting pressure on Israel to curtail the new republic - something that would probably drag on long enough for the new republic to take root (as long as Ariel Sharon is not in office).

With the establishment of the new Jewish republic, Arabs in Judea and Samaria may opt to sell their properties and be transferred to Arab states, taking their rightful place within the Arab nation. Those who remain will be subject to Jewish hegemony as non-voting residents (a status of ger).

Of course, we would need lots and lots of money. Who would fund such an enterprise? How much would it cost? If we can find a reliable source of cash for the formative years of this Jewish state, is this a viable alternative? What would be our economic base?


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