Thursday, November 24, 2005

Paper: Financial Boost For Aliyah?

From The Jewish Week:

Financial Boost For Aliyah?

Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization promoting North American immigration, is poised to score government resources — but only if an Israeli cabinet decision is actually implemented.

Michele Chabin - Israel Correspondent

Jerusalem - Suddenly, aliyah to Israel, which has been growing over the last few years, has been thrust onto the country’s national stage. And it could emerge as an election issue if a showdown over national priorities — domestic issues vs. security — materializes in a matchup between Labor’s new head, Amir Peretz, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The cabinet’s unprecedented decision this week to directly fund “experienced organizations that operate programs to encourage immigration and promote the successful absorption of new immigrants” from Western countries should theoretically give a big boost to Nefesh B’Nefesh, which actively promotes the aliyah of North American Jews. The group’s name means “soul to soul.”

The problem is the timing. The cabinet’s announcement coincided with Sharon’s decision to quit the Likud and the scheduling of new elections in March.

As someone very familiar with the project’s terms told The Jewish Week, “the government made the decision, but whether it will be implemented is another question. We have elections coming up soon and it’s unclear what will happen after that, or even before. We know what happened with birthright,” the source said, referring to the fact that the government temporarily slashed its funding of the popular Israel experience program, despite a formal commitment to provide millions of dollars on a multi-year basis.

“You shouldn’t count on anything,” said the source.

What is clear is that Sharon, who has cut public assistance to the bone during his tenure, will be going head-to-head with Peretz, a self-proclaimed champion of the underclass. Whether the government’s decision to fund organizations that promote aliyah will go over well with the masses come Election Day remains to be seen.

Assuming the decision is indeed enacted, the treasury will initially allocate approximately $2.5 million (approximately $5 million in 2006 and 2007) to the prime minister’s office, which will in turn funnel the money directly to organizations with a proven track record dating back at least two years.

In reality, only Nefesh B’Nefesh — which the cabinet singled out as a positive example in its communiqué — has been around two years, meaning that other, similar organizations — most notably the French aliyah organization AMI — will not at this point receive funding. This fact has reportedly raised the ire of AMI officials, who declined to comment for this article.

An official in the prime minister’s office said that the criteria might soon be eased to enable AMI, which this year brought some 3,000 French immigrants to Israel, to receive funding.

Danny Oberman, Nefesh B’Nefesh’s executive vice president, said in an interview that he could not discuss the exact details of the proposed funding, since they had yet to be finalized.

“What I can say is that we are very excited about the government’s decision,” Oberman said. “Our problem has always been that there are more [immigrants] requesting assistance than we’re able to assist.”

Although Nefesh B’Nefesh, whose budget has until now depended on contributions from private donors and the Jewish Agency, is currently in the midst of a promotional campaign to woo potential immigrants, “there is much more we could do with the necessary funds,” Oberman said.

Oberman said the proposed government funding “will help us expand in two areas. First, to give additional financial assistance to a wider audience and second, to be more proactive: to place more ads, to hold more seminars, more meetings with potential olim. For example, we just flew over the minister of health to meet with American medical personnel, to give them information on how to get licensed in Israel.”

Asked why only about 3,000 North Americans will have made aliyah by the end of this year — a substantial increase over previous years but still a tiny percentage of the Jews who live in North America — Oberman replied, “I don’t think Israel has been marketed sufficiently well. Until recently, aliyah hasn’t been on the American Jewish agenda. Perhaps people aren’t aware that people [who make aliyah] are leading happy, productive lives. The fact that planeloads of Americans are making aliyah is giving aliyah a new prominence.”

Nefesh B’Nefesh brought over six planes full of immigrants during the summer, and another flight is scheduled for Chanukah. By the end of 2005, it will have facilitated the aliyah of 3,200 individuals. Almost 7,000 people have made aliyah through the organization since its inception in 2002.

According to the organization’s fact sheet, 94 percent of Nefesh B’Nefesh-enabled households have at least one employed person. A whopping 99 percent have remained in Israel, a substantial achievement given the fact that many olim arrived at the height of the Palestinian uprising and while the country’s economy was in a shambles due not only to the intifada but the high-tech crash.

“During the past several years the economy has been terrible, the intifada was terrible,” said David London, the director of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), an organization that provides information, social activities and job assistance to both new and veteran immigrants. “Many veteran olim left, mostly for financial reasons.”

Now that the economic and security situations have both improved, London said, “an organization like Nefesh B’Nefesh, which utilizes direct marketing and all the latest technological advances like call centers and teleconferencing, can increase the numbers. The organization is very professional.”

Some say that level of professionalism has grown over time. In the past, Nefesh B’Nefesh raised the ire of some new immigrants, who found themselves unable to avail themselves of the organization’s many services — including expedited passports and other paperwork; job and housing assistance; and a social network — because they were either unable or unwilling to join one of its scheduled flights. Now, all new immigrants from North America are eligible, provided they apply to the organization prior to making aliyah.

Also eligible are people already living in Israel who decide to change their status from student or temporary/permanent resident to new immigrant.

Thanks to a special grant earmarked for this purpose, Oberman said, “we instituted ‘Express Aliyah’ in 2004 because we believe that people living here should be Israeli citizens. We think their chances of staying here increase by making a commitment to the country. The assistance we provide is mostly on a bureaucratic level, though some financial aid is available.”

Although Chava Neustadter, a 33-year-old new immigrant from Englewood, N.J., by way of Manhattan, would have changed her status from resident to olah hadasha even without Nefesh B’Nefesh’s help, she was happy when the organization gave her some sage advice and cut through the paperwork.

“I came on my own in March 2003 as a temporary resident,” Neustadter recalled, seated on the plush American sofa that had arrived on her “lift” [shipment] from the U.S. just the day before. “At the time I wasn’t quite ready to sign on the dotted line to become a citizen.”

When she met her future husband, Marc, a year and a half later, “it cemented my desire to stay here,” Neustadter continued. “But when I went to the Interior Ministry, I was told I’d have to wait two months for an appointment. Then I approached Nefesh B’Nefesh and they gave me a lot of information, including the fact that if you leave the country before the ministry appointment, it sets the clock back. They eased the process.”

Oberman said that Nefesh B’Nefesh’s mission to cut through the red tape at a government ministry, to provide a job or help translate a resume into Hebrew is akin to a calling.

“Aliyah is what the state is founded on. Israel has become the center of the Jewish world. Our future depends on this.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Avraham Avinu On The “What If She Doesn’t Want Aliyah?” Question

(Aryeh Kaplan’s ZT”L translation below from "The Living Torah" - page 103.)

(Bereshis 24:1-4)
Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and G-d had blessed Abraham with everything. He said to the senior servant of his household, who was in charge of all that he owned, 'Place your hand under my thigh. I will bind you by an oath to G-d, L-rd of heaven and earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live. Instead, you must go to my native land, to my birthplace, and obtain a wife for my son Isaac.'

Eliezer pops the famous question...
(Bereshis 24:5)
'But what if the girl does not want to come back with me to this land?' asked the servant. 'Shall I bring your son back to the land that you left?'

Avraham’s clear cut response:
(Bereshis 24:6-8)
Be most careful in this respect,' replied Abraham. 'Do not bring my son back there! G-d, the L-rd of heaven, took me away from my father's house and the land of my birth. He spoke to me and made an oath. 'To your offspring I will give this land.' He will send His angel before you, and you will indeed find a wife there for my son. If the girl does not want to come back with you, then you shall be absolved of my oath. But [no matter what,] do not bring my son back there!'

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Do Good Or The Land Will Vomit You Out...

The following is an excerpt below is taken from volume 2 of the Yalkut ME’AM LO’EZ on Parshat Vayarea. (I’m still behind but I’m catching up!) This was translated by Rav Aryeh Kaplan ZT”L. The author Rav Yaakov Culi (1689-1732) discusses why Sodom got totally wiped out and writes the following:

Returning to the account of Sodom, some people ask a serious question about the punishment of Sodom and Gomorah. True, they deserved to be punished, but there are many other people in the world who sin, and we do not see them punished in a similar manner. We never see a sinful nation so destroyed that so survivors remain.

Sodom deserved this punishment because it was on the boundary of the Holy Land. The holiness of the Land of Israel was matched only by the sinfulness of cities, who actually did things to spite G-d. The land itself could not tolerate them; it did not wish to be defiled by their sins.

This came to teach the Jews a lesson. If they inherited the land of Canaan, they would have to be very careful to keep the Torah and its commandments. If not, they would not be worthy of inhabiting the Holy Land.

Many people make pilgrimages to the Land of Israel, going to Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed. Whether one goes to visit or to settle, he must behave differently than in other lands. In the Land of Israel one must be very careful not do anything wrong. The main reason for going to the Land of Israel is to awaken the heart to repent. [Then on has a portion in the World the Come for merely walking in the land.] But if one goes there merely for vacation, to eat and rest, this has no value in the Future World. And if one does not behave properly, the land throws him out, just as it “vomited out” the Canaanites who lived there and defiled the land through their evil deeds.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Giving to and Living in Eretz Yisrael

The following excerpt below is taken from volume 2 of the Yalkut ME’AM LO’EZ (pp. 75-77). This was translated by Rav Aryeh Kaplan ZT”L and the translator’s note inserted below is his. The author Rav Yaakov Culi (1689-1732) discusses “Ransoming Captives” in relation to Parshat Lekh Lekha and then writes the following:

(Bold found below is mine.)

In is of particular importance to give charity to the poor in the Holy Land. They take precedence over the poor of other lands. Although, as a general rule, the poor of one’s own city take precedence over the poor of other towns, this only applies to cities outside the Holy Land: The poor in the Holy Land take precedence even over the poor of one’s own city.

The reason for this is that the poor in the Holy Land are like captives. They are in constant danger from their neighbors. Everyone has an obligation to help them, and this is considered ransoming captives.

Letters are brought from the Holy Land by those who collect charity, both with regard to the community as a whole and with regard to individuals, spelling out this obligation, with many quotations from the Talmud and codes. However, they are written in Hebrew and most people cannot read them. If they do not ask others to explain, they have no idea whatever of the troubles that people in the Holy Land encounter.

I would therefore like to tell you something about the poor in the Holy Land, to arouse your hearts so that you will know the greatness of this land, and how much the people who live there suffer. It is very important to know this. Every day, both in the Amidah and in the Grace after Meals, we pray to G-d that he have mercy on us and rebuild Jerusalem. We must therefore know the troubles of those who live there so that we will strive to help them.

[Translator’s note: The author in writing about the situation in his time, over two centuries ago. Much of what he writes, however, is still applicable today.]

G-d decreed that those who live in the Holy Land suffer. They suffer because of crowding, because of the rulers of the land, because of hunger, and because of want. Few are the years when such troubles do not exist.

As the Talmud says, one reason is because the Land of Israel was not given to us through out merit, but through suffering. Whenever there is something that involves great good, the [evil powers of the] Other Side do everything in their power to destroy it. The people that live in the Holy Land are very important. We constantly say, “because of our sins, we remain in exile and the Holy Temple (Beth HaMikdash) sits in ruins.” But still, the Divine Presence (Shekhinah) has never left the Western Wall, which is Jerusalem. The Divine Presence has been taken away from us, leaving us without any good, but it never left this singular place.

Our sages teach that if a person walks four cubits in the Land of Israel he has atoned for all his sins. A person buried in the Holy Land is like one buried under the Great Altar [which was the focal point of the Holy Temple]. From all this, we see how holy the Land of Israel is.

The Other Side therefore strives with all its might to prevent people from settling in the Holy Land. It tries to cause people to emigrate from the Land of Israel. When people remain in the Land of Israel and do not budge an inch, they have a greater merit than anyone else.

A second reason that people in the Holy Land suffer may be related to the fact that G-d causes saints to suffer to test them. It is thus written, “G-d tests the righteous” (Psalms 11:5). Most of the people who live in the Holy Land are very precious in G-d’s eyes, since they experience much suffering and tragedy, including subjugation worse than that of slaves, and they endure in all so as to fulfill G-d’s commandments. They accept everything with forbearance, and do not abandon the Holy Land.

Prayers recited in these holy places are more acceptable to G-d than those said elsewhere. This is the meaning of Jacob’s words, “This is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). This will be discussed in more detail in its proper place. Prayers said in other lands are accepted because they ascend together with those recited in the Holy Land. In other lands, very few prayers are accepted.

Similarly, when people study the Torah in the Holy Land, it is more precious than such study elsewhere. One reason is that the people in the Holy Land study in great poverty, and such self-sacrifice is precious to G-d. They put all their troubles and suffering out of mind and immerse themselves in study.

There is another reason why prayer and Torah study is more acceptable to G-d in the Holy Land. Unlike other lands, this land is under G-d’s personal direction, not that of any angel. Therefore, prayer and study is more precious.

We who live in other places, and do not have the merit to immigrate to the Land of Israel, have an obligation to help those that live in the Holy Land, so they can live there in peace. When we make it possible for them to pray, our prayers are also accepted.

When we do not help them, they are persecuted by the government there. The first thing they do is close down the synagogues. Even when they do not do that, the Jews musr hide out because of persecution, and the synagogues remain closed automatically. The synagogues remain empty, since the congregations are in hiding.

I myself was born and raised in these places, and I have personally witnessed all these persecutions. Slaves in Malta live better than most people in the Holy Land. Fortunate is the person living elsewhere who worries about the residents of the Holy Land. There is no ransoming of captives greater than this.

This all relates to the situation in general. Now I will speak about details. There are many sages and family men living there in utter poverty; with my own eyes I have seen men dying from starvation. Some of this is for the reasons discussed earlier. However, there is also another reason.

In other countries, the greatest sage is chosen as the rabbi of a city. Other scholars become ritual slaughterers or teachers. There are always people who are willing to have their children tutored. People who are not scholars can always find work with which to earn a living, and they do not have to seek charity. In every city there is some means of earning a living.

This, however, is not presently true in the Holy Land. The cities cannot support the scholars, since the communities do not have the funds. Poor family men cannot find work with which to earn a living, and they do not have to seek charity. In every city there is some means of earning a living.

This, however, is not presently true in the Holy Land. The cities cannot support the scholars, since the communities do not have the funds. Poor family men cannot find work with which to earn a living. Since everyone is poor, there is no one to give them charity or loan them money. Their only means of support in money consecrated toward their support, with the interest sent to the Holy Land. This prevents people from dying of starvation.

Still, the poverty is so great that this money cannot sustain the populace. Therefore, a person who wishes to gain eternal life should strive to send donations to help the impoverished sages and family men in the Holy Land, so that they will be able to pray and study the Torah. Through this, he will be worthy of the World to Come, just as if he himself were there, since it is through him that the people there can exist.

In general, the greatest charity is that given to the poor in the Land of Israel. This is the same as redeeming captives.

There are so many worthy tzeduka’s to give to in Eretz Yisrael. But here are three of them:

Ezras Torah


Kupat Ha’ir (no website but apparently you can call 1-866-221-9352)

I would also like to add that this situation is Eretz Yisrael is not nearly as dire as in was two centuries ago when this was written. Still as Rav Kaplan writes MUCH of what was written above is VERY applicable today. But the reason the situation is less dire is because more and more people are making Aliyah. For example less than a decade ago the area in Israel now called “Ramat Beit Shemesh” was a barren hilltop. Today it is practically a full grown city. It can support grocery stores, schools, doctors, dentists, pharmacies, laundromats, and you get the idea – a full viable economy.

I said it before but every generation of Jews that make Aliyah make it that much easier for the next generation of Jews to come. The suffering becomes more and more diminished as more Jews make Aliyah and help strengthen the economy.

So help Israel by first giving to the above tzeducka’s and then make Aliyah!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Visit to Kever Rochel (Pictures!)

I plan to post more pictures about this later this week so stay tuned. This part was cross posted on Kumah.

Our Matriarch Rachel Emeinu's, Yartzeit was today, the 11th of Cheshvan.
So Kumah planned a visit along with Arutz Sheva's Israel National News.

Below are some highlights of what you missed if you weren't with us!

Kumah's Yishai hard at work trying to fit everyone on the bus.
(In the end no one was turned away!)

Our tour guide, Chaim, asks how many people are new olim.
Almost the whole bus raises their hand!
(Yishai snaps a picture.)

Kever Rochel doesn't look like it used to. Security is much tighter.

The "security wall" makes things look like one big maze.

The "great shofar" calls us, her children, "to return to our borders."

Long lines form as so many of her children come.

But Kumah's got it covered.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union)gives us the VIP treatment.
No waiting on long lines for us.

Instead we head straight in.

"No entry allowed!"

Unless of course, you are part of the special Kumah trip.

Chaim brings us into this brand new beautiful Bet Medrish just built
right behind Kever Rochel.

(If you'd like to help support it financially contact Kumah and we will put you in touch with the right people.)

"Mamma Rochel!"

Light a Yartzeit candle.

Kumah's Ezra praying.

Over 20,000 men...

...and women...

visited their mother today!

Afterwards we toasted with wine from the Bet-El winery...

...and enjoyed a delicious lunch in Gilo-
with a STUNNING view of the rest of Jerusalem!

Next time you can come and be there with us too!

Friday, November 11, 2005

TT: This is Not About Aliya

From This Week's Torah Tidbits:

This is not about Aliya
This will teach you not to always rely on headlines to tell you what the Lead Tidbit is about. Of course it is about Aliya. Why shouldn't it be. G-d told Avra(ha)m to go to the Land that He will show him. That was and is Eretz Yisrael. But more than G-d telling Avraham to go to Eretz Yisrael, He told US that He told Avraham to go to Eretz Yisrael. [Go ahead - reread that sentence until it sinks in. Then proceed.]

Take a look at B'reishit 16:16. And Avram was 86 years old when Hagar gave birth to Yishmael... Now look at the next pasuk, 17:1. And Avram was 99 years old... There is a 13-year gap between these two p'sukim. What happened during those 13 years? We don't know. And do you know why? Because G-d didn't tell us about those years. And that is because whatever happened during those 13 years has nothing to teach us. Whatever the Torah tells us is there to teach us things. If it's in the Torah, we have something to learn. If it isn't there, there's nothing for us to learn.

Which brings us back to G-d telling Avraham to go to Eretz Yisrael and giving the Land to him in perpetuity - AND to His telling us.

This (Eretz Yisrael) is where He wanted Avraham and Sarah to be, to live, and to become the progenitors of the Jewish People. And this is where He wants us to be too. It's almost as simple as that.

Of course, it isn't just living here. It is committing ourselves to G-d, His Torah, the way of life He wants us to follow.

When you have guests and they leave, do you escort them to the door and walk them out a little? If you do, you learned it from Avraham Avinu. If you don't, you should. Because that is one of the lessons G-d wants us to learn from Avraham.

Did you leave your native country, your hometown, your father's house and come to live in Israel? Good. Just what HaShem wants of us. Not yet? Don't wait too long.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Report: Warnings over Jewish theocracy in Israel

This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.

The World Today - Thursday, 10 November , 2005 12:47:04
Reporter: Matt Brown

ELEANOR HALL: Staying in the Middle East, there are warnings today about the push to establish a theocracy, not one based on Sharia law in a country like Iraq, but a Jewish theocracy in Israel.

There a group of radical rabbis is seeking to challenge the secular state of Israel by reviving an ancient religious court.

The ultimate court in Biblical times, the Sanhedrin, hasn't existed for more than 1,500 years.

But during the last year extremist rabbis have been re-establishing this ancient authority, in the hope it will change the course of their nation.

From Jerusalem, Middle East Correspondent Matt Brown reports.

(sound of prayer)

MATT BROWN: Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem gather at the Western Wall where their holy temple stood 2,000 years ago. At the time, the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin, met here too.

The Sanhedrin was the ultimate source of law in the Holy Land. And now an attempt to revive that ancient court has opened up a new front in the struggle over Israel's future.

HAIM RICHMAN: The revolution in Israel is not a physical revolution. It's a revolution in thought, in education, in family values.

MATT BROWN: Rabbi Haim Richman is one of a small group of rabbis that's come together to revive the Sanhedrin, a court of 71 Torah sages, which represents a fundamental challenge to the secular state and the secular supreme court at its core.

HAIM RICHMAN: The Sanhedrin is proscribed by the Torah, by the Bible of Israel, to be the source of legislature for the Jewish people.

MATT BROWN: Emeritus Law Professor Shmuel Shilo, an expert on religious as well as secular law in Israel, says the rabbis want to take Israel back to a system out of step with modern democracy.

SHMUEL SHILO: There is a group which is not satisfied with having a secular government and would like the government to be more, maybe that wouldn't like the term, but in a sense, a theocracy.

MATT BROWN: But that's a label warmly embraced by Rabbi Richman.

HAIM RICHMAN: I'm not afraid by that word, I don't believe it's a dirty word. I believe the Jewish people are theo-anthropoids, or however you like to call them. And yes, a theocracy meaning that the Torah teaches us that the basis of human existence is to know that there is a God in the world and to serve him. And like Bob Dylan said, a good Jewish boy, you got to serve somebody.

MATT BROWN: This challenge to the secular state isn't just a project of a hand full of rabbis. When Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, withdrew from the Gaza strip in August and handed it back to the Palestinians he was accused of betraying a Jewish biblical birthright to the land.

Scores of teenagers were arrested in the protests against the evacuation. When one of them recently turned to the rabbis of the Sanhedrin for guidance they ruled that she was right to refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of the court in which she was being tried, and she's not alone.

HAIM RICHMAN: She is actually under house arrest. And just now, in these very days, we have a similar situation with another group of girls who are ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation simply because of the fact that they had the audacity to state that they don't recognise the authority of the court to try them. And what they mean by that they don't recognise it is that they are requesting to be tried by a court based on what we call Torah values, the values of the Bible of Israel.

MATT BROWN: The rabbis are hoping that growing disenchantment with democracy Israeli-style will help them make the Sanhedrin the ultimate source of authority in Israel once more.

ELEANOR HALL: Matt Brown reporting from Jerusalem.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Event: Visited Your Mother Lately?


Our Matriarch Rachel Emeinu's, Yartzeit is on the 11th of Cheshvan, Sunday, November 13th.

She has been awaiting our return for 2000 years!

Arutz Sheva's Israel National News, the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund, and Kumah, are organizing a special visit to Kever Rachel (the Tomb of Rachel). The trip includes bulletproof buses, a guided tour of the area, refreshments, singing, dancing, and praying.

When: Sunday, Nov 13th, 11th of Cheshvan

Where: Meet at Binyanei Ha'Umah at 9:30AM

Cost: 80 NIS

We will return to Binyanei Ha'Umah at approximately 2:30PM

You must RSVP at

Yirmiyahu 31
15. Thus says G-d: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
16. Thus says G-d: Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says G-d; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
17. There is hope for your future, says G-d; and your children shall come again to their own border.

Veshavu Banim Legvulam!

A7: Jewish Agency Reports First Growth in Aliyah Since Intifada

Arutz-7 reports:

( The new Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski announced that this year will see the first rise in immigration since the start of the Palestinian Authority-based terrorist war against Israel, five years ago. He made the statement as part of his first report to the Knesset Aliyah and Absorption Committee.

"We are expecting about 23,000 to 24,000 new immigrants this year," Bielsky said, "thanks to the increase in aliyah from France and from North America. At the same time, nearly 80% of North American Jewry has never been to Israel, has not even visited." To address that issue, Bielsky said, the Jewish Agency would be emphasizing the Birthright program and the Trek program, which focus on bringing Jewish youth to Israel to promote familiarity and Jewish solidarity.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

One Year Later: The Sanhedrin Watch Continues...

Today two articles on the Sanhedrin were published. One – no surprise – by Arutz-7. But the other was by, of all papers, Haaretz! In any case they are both posted below:

Arutz-7 reports:

Sanhedrin Project Unveiled With Humility

23:02 Nov 03, '05 / 1 Cheshvan 5766
By Ezra HaLevi

A conference this week unveiled the Sanhedrin project to the public, shifting away from euphoric satisfaction with the launch of the Court one year ago and moving toward broadening participation.

Since it was launched in Tiberius last year, the Court of 71 rabbis has strived to fulfill the halachic (Jewish legal) requirements for renewing authentic semicha (rabbinic ordination passed down from Moses) and for reestablishing the Great Court, which was disbanded 1,600 years ago. At Sunday’s conference, distinguished members of the Court, led by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz), presented a humble, yet exhilarating plan to widen the scope and acceptance of the Court to truly move toward becoming the restored Sanhedrin of old.

Along with the increasingly modest references to the current institution of a Court or Sanhedrin project came new high-caliber participants in the project. Rabbi Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) publicly accepted the position of Nassi, President of the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Re’em HaKohen – head of the largest Hesder Yeshiva in Israel - delivered the first address of the morning and Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi and Dayan (Rabbinical Court Judge) Dov Lior spoke both at the conference and later at the festive meal.

Media covering statements by Sanhedrin rabbis at festive meal.

Also participating in the conference were Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, who heads the Tzomet Institute and Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Chief Rabbinate. Both spoke about the relationship of Torah Law with the law of the State of Israel, with Rozen focusing on the grassroots desire for honest and sincere leadership in Israeli society following the crisis of the Disengagement and Arussi outlining the critical importance of the formation of a unified court of Torah monetary law.

Rabbi Ratzon Arussi addresses those attending the conference.

The crowd attending the conference, which took place in a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, overflowed onto the street and consisted of many stripes of religious Jews, with a sprinkling of secular Jerusalemites interested in the return to biblical concepts.

Part of the crowd that attended the conference

“While it would be easy to write off secular Jewry as not interested in the preservation of Jewish tradition and therefore not meriting consideration by the Sanhedrin,” said Rabbi Re’em HaKohen in his opening address, “the authority and divine inspiration of the ultimate Sanhedrin comes from the Divine Presence, which our rabbis tell us rested upon the Jewish people at Sinai because not one single Jew was left out or excluded. The Sanhedrin project is a vehicle toward unity and unity is what will be the vehicle that will restore the Divine Glory to the Sanhedrin.”

Rabbi HaKohen also expressed the opinion that the project should refer to itself as a Court more often than a Sanhedrin in order to allow the recognized Gedolim, Torah Greats, to join the effort.

The prevailing opinion of most of the senior members of the Sanhedrin is that the Sanhedrin has not yet achieved full halachic (Jewish legal) status on par with its status before it was disbanded 1,600 years ago, but that its restoration is truly underway.

In his speech accepting the position of Nassi, Rabbi Even-Israel (Shteinzaltz) said that though the task of building the Sanhedrin will take some time, the ark that Noah built took 120 years to build. He expressed his opinion that the project should steer clear of political pronouncements – a point that was challenged by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel of the Temple Institute, who said that publicly opposing the expulsion and supporting those Jews expelled from Gaza and northern Samaria could not be referred to as political. The diverging viewpoints gave those in attendance a glimpse of the manner in which Sanhedrin members disagree with one another, yet remain in the cohesive body to provide a complete prism encasing the spectrum of Jewish thought.

Rabbis Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) and Ariel speak between sessions (Hebrew writing in upper corner reads: Love your neighbor as yourself)

Members of the Court delivered reports outlining how the nascent Sanhedrin is already working toward fulfilling some of the primary function that the ultimate Sanhedrin must fulfill – the role of societal leadership. In ancient times there was the Nassi, who was the legal head and there was the Av Beit HaDin, Father of the Court, who served more on a societal level. The Sanhedrin was the ultimate authority of Jewish law one the one hand, and a body of leadership for Jewish society on the other hand.

Among the projects currently being worked on are the Beit Din Bein HaAm v’HaMedina, the Court Dealing With the Relationship Between the Nation and the State. The Court, which is subordinate to the Sanhedrin, grabbed headlines in the Maariv Daily when an Israeli secular court allowed a person arrested during the expulsion from Gaza to obtain a ruling from the Sanhedrin regarding whether or not to agree to restricted conditions in exchange for release from prison.

Ettie Medad, wife of the director of the Honenu legal assistance organization, accepted the Sanhedrin Court’s ruling that she should refrain from agreeing to the restrictions, even though it meant indefinite continued incarceration with her small child. She was released three days later after informing the secular court of the ruling.

Currently in the courts is the case of a teenage girl who was arrested in the northern Samaria town of Sa-Nur and is refusing to be tried by secular courts, asking to be tried by the Sanhedrin’s Court instead.

The Beit Din Bein HaAm v’HaMedina is also engaged in high level discussions with the Ministry of Education in an attempt to improve the way in which Bible is taught in Israel’s public school system.

Other topics addressed at the conference included:

*Rabbi Shabati Sabbato commended those behind the Sanhedrin project and Rabbi Even Israel (Steinsaltz), saying that the Sanhedrin has withstood its first year, “in spite of all the derisiveness” toward the endeavor from some sectors.

* Rabbi Nachman Kahane, currently the Av Beit HaDin, spoke about the Sanhedrin project in light of world events and the failure of the United Nations to reject the Iranian calls to eradicate Israel.

* Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, Vice-Av Beit HaDin, spoke about the Sanhedrin’s achievements over the past year, including its interactions with the Ministry of Education.

* Rabbi Yehuda Edri summarized the various opinions regarding the place of the Holy Temple, a topic examined in depth by the Sanhedrin this year.

* Rabbi Gid’on Charlap, a master architect, summarized conclusions of the Sanhedrin’s committee regarding the place of the holy Temple - though the Sanhedrin has not yet ruled on accepting the committee’s conclusions at this time.

* Rabbi Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron spoke about the Sanhedrin’s mission to the B’nei Noach, non-Jews who observe the seven laws of Noah, emphasizing the high caliber and self-sacrifice of the Noahides he met on behalf of the Sanhedrin who are coming to Israel in Tevet (January) to be ordained as a high council for the B’nei Noach.

Sanhedrin spokesman Prof. Hillel Weiss, speaking with Israel National TV (Click here to view - segment begins at 1:35 mark), said that the Sanhedrin seeks to gain the support of the Jewish Nation not through coercion or animosity, but through love, which will eventually culminate in a basic law being put forth in the Knesset restoring the Court to its proper authority.

One of those who took the day off from work to attend the conference was Efrat resident Jeremy Gimpel. “I had read everything written about the renewed Sanhedrin with such excitement, I had to see for myself,” Gimpel said. “What struck me is that ever since Mt. Sinai, there were always 70 elders leading the Jewish people and I believe that G-d, in His infinite wisdom, knew the Jews would be dispersed among the 70 nations. To see all these rabbis and leaders gathered back in the land of Israel, bringing with them different traditions, cultures and approaches to Torah is a humbling experience and an answer to our daily prayer of Hashiva Shofteinu K’Varishona, Return our judges of old.”

Ha'aretz reports:

Now that there's a Sanhedrin, who needs the Supreme Court?
By Nadav Shragai

When the "new Sanhedrin" was established in Tiberias a year ago, hardly anyone took it seriously. The 71 rabbis who came to the northern city 1,660 years after the original Sanhedrin (the assembly of 71 ordained scholars that was both supreme court and legislature in Talmudic times) held its last meeting there, were welcomed by many in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox sectors with smiles tinged with derision.

The declaration of the Sanhedrin's reestablishment was perceived as both a curiosity on the margins of the right and as a rebellion against halakhic conventions; as a perhaps daring step, but one that was also a warning; far-reaching, but to a large extent provocative.

The fact that the leading Torah scholars of this generation, or those who are identified as such, took no part in this pretentious venture posed many questions about the new Sanhedrin's source of power and authority. The founding rabbis, most of them fairly anonymous, did agree in writing to vacate their places in favor of rabbis who are greater Torah scholars, as soon as some are found willing to serve.

Nevertheless, the initial impression was that this was another effort by the Jewish Leadership movement within the Likud, an effort that had a Torah-oriented, halakhic-messianic slant and was striving for a revolution in the government.

The man who headed the new venture was Hillel Weiss, a professor of literature and one of the leaders of Jewish Leadership, who nearly twenty years ago reinstated another ancient practice: the traditional hakhel gathering, which took place once every seven years at the end of the Sukkot festival, the year after an agricultural Sabbatical (shmitta) year, and was attended by the king of Israel.

The first hakhel gathering organized by Weiss at the Western Wall plaza in 1987 was attended by then-president Chaim Herzog, prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, chief rabbis Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliahu and many other dignitaries. It has been repeated twice since, once every seven years.

A year after its establishment, it is impossible to see the new Sanhedrin as the domain of the extreme right wing alone: at a large gathering in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood Tuesday, Rabbi Adin Even Israel Steinsaltz, a well-known Talmud scholar who is much esteemed in Torah circles, both in the ultra-Orthodox world and in the national-religious sector, came forward as the president of the Sanhedrin.

Steinsaltz avoided delving into politics and spoke about gradually building up the ancient institution, which would take several generations, he said. The very fact that he is leading the new Sanhedrin can be considered a dramatic event, given the numerous efforts in the last few years to strengthen the Jewish character of the state, integrate into it elements of Hebrew law and to combat the idea of a state for all its citizens. The fact that the new Sanhedrin also includes many rabbis affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox stream, added to the fact that they are not among the best known and leading rabbis in that sector, endows the effort with another unusual dimension that distances it from being another "extreme right-wing" venture.

In its first year, the new Sanhedrin initiated a dialogue with the Ministry of Education over the Bible and Scriptures curriculum; set up a "High Council for the Sons of Noah," whose task it is to establish contact with non-Jewish communities seeking to observe the Noahide laws - the seven commandments given to the sons of Noah, or all mankind, which non-Jews are obligated to uphold according to halakha.

The Sanhedrin also discussed at length the physical location of the altar and Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount and dealt with the question of whether in our generation, Jews abroad must continue to observe the second festival day of the Diaspora, an additional day that is added to each of the three pilgrimage festivals - Sukkot, Passover and Shevuot.

The new Sanhedrin sharply attacked the disengagement plan and recently ruled that three minors who asked it for a ruling had acted properly when they refused to be tried in a court not based on Torah law.

"We hereby instruct you to continue your refusal, and the One who releases prisoners will release you from your confinement," the rabbis wrote them. In another ruling, the Sanhedrin's "Court for Matters of Nationhood and State" permitted a family from the evacuated community of Sa-Nur to accept compensation from the state for their evacuation, "even though this was an unjust law forced on the expellees."

Ordination revived

According to halakha, in order to revive the Sanhedrin, "ordination" is required, i.e., the ordination of members by others who are greater and wiser Torah scholars, to serve on the Supreme Court as necessary.

The first ordination, you may recall, was that of Joshua Bin Nun, whom Moses ordained. Other famous ordinations over the course of the generations included the "five elders": Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Eliezer Ben Shamu'a, who were ordained by Yehuda Ben Baba, between the towns of Usha and Shfaram.

Ordination ended in Israel when the yeshivas closed and the Sanhedrin stopped functioning. The last people ordained no longer placed their hands on their students' heads, because of the restrictions imposed by the Roman government.

Maimonides wrote that if all scholars in Israel agree to appoint scholars and ordain them, than these are ordained people and they may discuss matters of fines and punishment and may ordain others. However, even Maimonides did not see this as a fait accompli; he added that the matter needed to be "decided on."

In the 16th century, nearly all the Torah scholars in the land of Israel accepted the initiative of Rabbi Jacob Birav to resume ordination and reestablish the Sanhedrin. Rabbi Levy Ben Haviv, the rabbi of Jerusalem who was not informed of the plans, sabotaged the effort, and in the end Birav was forced to flee the country.

Upon the reestablishment of the state, the first minister of religion, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hacohen Maimon, attempted to renew the Sanhedrin, but the opposition of the ultra-Orthodox sabotaged the effort.

It is therefore surprising that the first ordained person in modern times, who ostensibly authorized the convening of the new Sanhedrin, was an ultra-Orthodox figure - Rabbi Dov Levanoni of Jerusalem. The members of the new Sanhedrin present a video in which Rabbi Levanoni relates how he received the first ordination to take place since the time of Rabbi Yaakov Birav, from one of the leaders of the Eidah Haredit's Beit Din Zedek religious court, Rabbi Moshe Halberstam. Levanoni ordained two other rabbis, and they ordained four more.

Since each person can only ordain two people, it took almost a year to ordain the 120 men needed for the new Sanhedrin. Most of them were present at Tuesday's gathering in Hai Taib Street synagogue in Har Nof, to mark a year since the renewal of the ancient institution.

The new Sanhedrin is recognized by a very small public, and this is its Achilles heel. Rabbi Re'em Hacohen, the head of the hesder yeshiva in Otniel, who delivered the opening address at the meeting - he is not a member of the new Sanhedrin - sketched clear halakhic parameters that indicate the problems involved. According to him, it is not possible to resume the ordination without the consent of the entire Jewish people.

"The Sanhedrin is the foundation for the presence of the Divine spirit ... and until this body has representatives from the entire nation - and at the moment it does not have representatives of the entire nation, not even representatives of the religious, Torah observant segment of the nation, then it is problematic," Hacohen said. Like other speakers at the conference, he too feels that "today there is a total division between the executive and judicial branches, and the nation and the rabbinical court system is also not free of this plague." Nevertheless, he says, "The Sanhedrin cannot replace them until it draws its power from the entire nation."

The establishment of the new Sanhedrin reflects profound unhappiness with the way the Israeli legal system is run, there were harsh remarks to that effect at the conference. Rabbi Israel Rosen, the head of the Tsomet Institute of Halakha and Technology, which provides solutions to halakhic problems using technology, attacked the sections on religion and state, minorities and the status of the Supreme Court in the draft constitution proposed by the Israel Democracy Institute, for whom the "Supreme Court has become their Sanhedrin."

"But the Sanhedrin in its existing format," acknowledges Rosen, "is not serious. Even if in principle one accepts the need to revive the Sanhedrin, it should include authoritative halakhic scholars and Torah scholars of the first order. At the moment, it seems as if they have jumped too high."

Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, spiritual advisor to the ultra-Orthodox Nahal brigade and a member of the new Sanhedrin, accepts the criticism and defines the institution as "infrastructure only." Not everyone sees eye to eye with him. Hillel Weiss, who also has become one of the ordained members, says, "The goal of the new Sanhedrin is to become a source of authority for the Jewish people, and this is contrary to the accepted position of the left that the state of Israel is the source of this authority.

"I and many of my colleagues want to be part of this state, but not at the cost of our spiritual and physical destruction. This Sanhedrin draws together all the scars and injuries and anguish from the injustice and persecution that Jews endure here from the Supreme Court and whoever follows the Supreme Court and whoever pretends to maintain the rule of law here."

Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, the rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Supreme Rabbinical Council, also feels persecuted. On Tuesday, Arussi sharply criticized the Knesset and the court. He spoke about the "clash that is gaining momentum between Torah law and state law," and despaired over "barren dialogues with the secular side that ostensibly create understandings, which have no practical value for various connections to our heritage." The court, Arussi feels, "is today obligated only to the state, but not to its Jewish identity."

Arussi suggested setting red lines for this identity and announcing that if the Knesset does not incorporate them into legislation, all the religious parties will resign. Rabbi Dov Lior, the head of the Committee of Judea and Samaria Rabbis, said things at the conference that were even more far-reaching: "A collective of evil people is not part of the quorum ... every law against the Torah is invalid. There are forces of evil seeking to harm anything related to the sanctity of Israel, and the legal system is one area where the greatest desecration of God's name is occurring.

It is hard to know how long Steinsaltz will last as president of the new Sanhedrin. At the public session held on the first anniversary of the apparent reestablishment of the ancient institution, he appeared to be fighting internal opposition. He pointed out to those present that worldwide events couldn't happen in one fell swoop.

Jerusalem wasn't built in a day

"Before the flood, Noah built the ark and prepared to enter it for 120 years," he reminded the audience. "In order to move forward and no longer be defined as `an aborted fetus,' to become serious so we can say, `a child was born to us,' we need a lot of time. The mere mention of the name Sanhedrin is not a given. It is no longer a matter of a religious council, or a council for the cats on Emek Refaim Street. It's something that has historical meaning. A basic change, not of one small system, but of fundamental systems.

"It's no wonder that these things frighten people. There are people who are concerned about what is emerging here. And where is it headed? After we have made it through this year with no catastrophes occurring, even though there were some foolish comments and chuckling, we will intensify and strengthen our activities. We will do things with an eye toward future generations, not with a stopwatch and an annual calendar. The Jewish calendar is a calendar of thousands of years. A lot of patience and a lot of work are needed. I'd be happy if in another few years these chairs are filled by scholars who are greater than us and we can say: `I kept the chairs warm for you.'"

Steinsaltz used his position as president of the Sanhedrin to protest its involvement in politics. "I'm not afraid of the Supreme Court, the police or the attorney general. A rabbi is also permitted to engage in public issues, but to do so he has to have all the appropriate material before him, whether he is dealing with the kosher status of a chicken or the disengagement.

"When there is such a disengagement plan, and I don't have enough information about it, just as there is a commandment to speak out, there is a commandment to remain silent. As a private person, I, just like every one of us, have understanding, but as a rabbi, dealing with political matters such as the disengagement is a mockery of the essence of the concept of a Sanhedrin.

"If I don't want to be a laughing-stock, then I won't express an opinion on every issue. These words of truth need to be said, so that this Sanhedrin does not become a branch of the Yesha Council (of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza) or of the Council for Peace and Security."