Friday, April 27, 2007

April 27-May 5, 2007– Iyar 10-17, 5767

April 27-May 5, 2007– Iyar 10-17, 5767


Rabbi Joshua HammermanTemple Beth El, StamfordConnecticut


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Contents of the Shabbat O Gram:

(Click to scroll down)


Just the Facts (service schedule)  

The (Occasionally) Ranting Rabbi

Mitzvah/Tzedakkah Opportunities

Ask the Rabbi

 Spiritual Journey on the Web

    The Beth El Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary

Required Reading and Action Items (links to key articles on Israel and Jewish life

 Announcements (goings on in and around TBE)

Joke for the Week


See photos of our TBE teens at our new USY website:


Check out for photos from our recent Cantors’ Concert,

Plus Purim photos and our extensive library of photo albums,

articles, sermons, info about the temple,

Shabbat-O-Grams and links to the Jewish world.



Quote for the Week




Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.

-- Golda Meir









Candle lighting: 7:28 pm on Friday, 27 April 2007.  For Havdalah times, other Jewish calendar information, and to download a Jewish calendar to your PDA, click on  To see the festivals of other faiths as well, go to  The United Synagogue has updated its candlelighting information. To learn more, click here.


Friday Evening:


Kabbalat Shabbat: 6:30 PM – in the LOBBY


Tot Shabbat: 6:45 PM – in the CHAPEL


Shabbat Morning:


Service begins at 9:30 AM




Children’s Services: 10:30 AM


Our Torah Portion for Shabbat Morning

Parashat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim

פרשת אחרי מות־קדשים

Leviticus 16:1 - 20:27

1: 19:15-18
2: 19:19-22
3: 19:23-32
4: 19:33-37
5: 20:1-7
6: 20:8-22
7: 20:23-27
maf: 20:25-27

Haftarah for Ashkenazim: Amos 9:7 - 9:15

If you liked Storahtelling, Storahtelling’s new weekly blog about the Torah portion is at  Also check out Torahquest at  ORT Navigating the BibleRashi in EnglishBibleGateway: Useful for comparing different translations: Note- this is a Christian site.What’s Bothering Rashi

 (Bonchek) Each week, one example from the parashah is deconstructed. See a weekly commentary from the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet, at  Read the Masorti commentary at  University of Judaism,  JTS commentary is at: USCJ Torah Sparks can be found at: UAHC Shabbat Table Talk discussions are at, Reconstructionists are at  Other divrei Torah via the Torahnet home page: Test your Parasha I.Q.: CLAL’s Torah commentary archive:  World Zionist Organization Education page, including Nehama Liebowitz archives of parsha commentaries: For a more Kabbalistic/Zionist/Orthodox perspective from Rav Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel, go to For some probing questions and meditations on key verses of the portion, with a liberal kabbalistic bent, go to or, for Kabbalistic commentaries from the Zohar itself, go to  Also, try  To see the weekly commentary from Hillel, geared to college students and others, go to For a Jewish Renewal and feminist approach go to .  For a comprehensive Orthodox viewpoint from the Israeli rabbi, Yaakov Fogelman, go to the Torah Outreach Program at  Guided meditations for each portion by Judith Abrams at For online Parsha quizzes from Pardes in Israel, go to Torah for Kids:  Weekly Lesson of Popular Israeli Rabbi Mordechai Elon: - and his parsha sheets:   From Bar Ilan University:


100 Blessings: Download information about the grace after meals (see Birkat Ha-mazon explained in Wikipedia and in the Jewish Virtual Library)  The actual prayer can be downloaded at Birkat Hamazon [pdf]

Morning Minyan

7:30 Weekdays, 9:30 Sundays






Ranting Rabbi


Holocaust and Hip Hop


“God Almighty When Will it End.”


This year, Grammy award winning Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari and Israeli rap/hip-hop star Kobi "Subliminal" Shimoni co-produced this hip-hop music video expressing their sentiments on the Shoah.  It is called “God Almighty When Will it End.”


Check it out at –  


This video is an attempt by Israel’s younger generation to come to grips with the Shoah.  In light of current threats from Iran, it is understandable that younger people would have a renewed preoccupation with what seems like the eternal Jewish restlessness.  In May, a huge worldwide audience will listen to Israel’s entry in the annual Eurovision contest, a controversial (and amusing) number by the group Teapacks called “Push the Button.”  The song chides the Iranian leadership but calls to mind all the other terrorist bullies and Hitler wannabees out there who wax apocalyptic in their threats.  See that song at  “Push the Button” beautifully melds the current existential torment with timeless Jewish chutzpah and time-tested Israeli bravura, and I think it has a chance to win.


Before you click and watch “God Almighty…” prepare to see something that is quite non-traditional, which may be disturbing to some, especially to Holocaust survivors.  Know that in Israel this video was distributed by the thousands to students in schools, by recommendation, approval and blessing of -- amongst others -- Professor Yehuda Bauer (Israel's leading historian on the Holocaust) and Rabbi Benny Lau (son of Holocaust survivor and former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau).


Devra Jaffe Berkowitz, who forwarded me the video link to “God Almighty When Will it End,” commented, “At first the use of rap to convey the Holocaust was a bit unsettling to me (seemed to not capture the gravity of the events).  However, given that so many young people feel so unmoved by traditional ways of depicting the Shoah, I truly feel that anything that can connect people to what happened is welcome and needed.  I am interested to see what others think.”


I sent the link out to our college students yesterday and a few have already responded – and here’s what some of them had to say:


Rabbi Hammerman-


At first, I was shocked at the arrangement of the Bodies in the first scene. However, I think how they come to life is very interesting and it shows that Jews who died had lives and stories that made them stand out.


I also noticed the translation of part of Hatikvah, "Looking Towards Zion...." Let me know if I am wrong about those words being in the Israeli National Anthem.


Overall, I think it was neat that "Subliminal" chose to do this and I thought the violin part by Miri Ben-Ari was well done.


So, those are my thoughts. I hope all is well.




Andy Bailer



Rabbi Hammerman,


I saw the video. The combination of the violin and the woman's voice were really powerful. The song reminds me of another song about the Holocaust, "Never Again" by the Wu Tang Clan. They're both incredible songs and they show that our generation still remembers the atrocities of the Holocaust and we will never forget. Though sadly there will soon no longer be survivors alive to tell their stories, their stories will still live on through us. We are the link between them and the next generation, and we will make sure that the next generation knows to never forget as well. Thanks for the video.


Rachel Maimon


So what do you think?




Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads


Next week I’ll be attending the rabbinical assembly convention in Boston.  Needless to say, much of the conversation will revolve around recent decisions made regarding gay rights.  I’ll have a chance to discuss those issues in depth with congregants at special sessions being set up by myself and the ritual committee – on Sunday May 20 at 10 AM and during the afternoon of our Synaplex of June 23.  I am especially anxious to hear your concerns and to get a sense of what congregants are feeling about the matter.  I’ve also written about it in this month’s bulletin and will be discussing these matters in other settings, including the Beth EL discussion group.  There are long term and wide ranging implications for the congregation as we digest the meaning of these current decisions.  Meanwhile, take a look at this new assessment of the state-of-the-movement found on


And see the following article by the new jts chancellor on Jews and the land of Israel

 Exuding Holiness, By Arnold M. Eisen







Mitzvah/Tzedakkah Opportunties

Beth El Cares
Cathy Satz (968-9191;
Cheryl Wolff (968-6361;
BETH EL CARES co-chairs



350 Roxbury Rd. Stamford CT

SUNDAY MAY 6 8:30 AM - 1:15PM


“Give the ‘Gift of Life”.  Get involved in a short term mitzvah project that will save lives.

Call Cheryl Wolff today at 203-968-6361 to schedule a donation time.


The Children of Sderot



This was passed along to me by Ilana ginsberg,

who is studying in Israel this semester


Dear Friends,


We are turning to you for help in supporting the charitable project that the Russian School of Mathematics has started. We call this project "The Children of Sderot".


Sderot is a small city with a population of 25,000 people. It is nearly on the border of Israel and Gaza. The houses and schools, streets and hospitals of Sderot are constantly being hit with "Kassam" rockets.


Right now the situation in the city is simply tragic. The timeframe from when a rocket is sent from Gaza to when it explodes on the streets of Sderot, is fifteen seconds. That's not a misprint- FIFTEEN SECONDS! That means that people, who have just heard the sirens, have only fifteen seconds to flee to the shelter. There is a catastrophic lack of shelters, and some schools and houses don't even have them at all. Some of the schools are closed because of that. That's how Sderot, has been living for the past five years - on the edge, not knowing when the next rocket will fall. Obviously, those that suffer the most because of this are the children. They are forced to live in an atmosphere where they are not sure of anything. They have to fear for their lives. Many refuse to go to school and stay home where it's not as scary. Teenagers are scared to sleep alone and fall asleep only in bed with their parents. And little children, when asked the innocent question of "why do snails have their own little homes on their backs?" answer without thinking “so they can hide from the “Kassams". In the city there's absolutely no work being done with the children. They have been abandoned to figure things out on their own.


We want to help these children, to do something for them. Even if it’s just a little bit of help - we will do what we can. Our project is already under way. My daughter, Masha, a student in Cornell University, is spending her semester in Tel-Aviv. Now she visits Sderot regularly, twice a week, to help the children to prepare a play about their lives. We hope to bring the show to Boston.


The Russian School of Mathematics has invited 10 children, who are in this play, to summer camp - Camp Sunapee. Our present to them is a summer rest free of the sound of siren signaling an imminent bombing. Our initiative is supported by Shaloh House and Rabbi Dan Rodkin. They also have decided to take 10 kids to Shaloh House camp. We want to give these children, even if for a short time, something they don't have at home: happiness, safety, and care.


Now it is necessary to raise money for transportation and associated expenses (note that the camps are free for these kids) .

Our goal is to raise $36,000. The Russian Jewish Community Foundation has made a special fund for this.

Checks can be made payable to: RJCF Children of Sderot Fund Mail to: Russian Jewish Communtiy Foundation 800 South Street, Ste. 600 Waltham, MA 02453 Please forward this letter to your friends and colleagues.


Please do not delay. We have only a month to do it.


We have the ability to take away fear for 20 children of Sderot, if only for a part of a summer.


To give them 30 days without a bomb exploding and the sound of a siren – But we need your help!


Thank you for your support.

Inna Rifkin

Russian School of Math



Jeremy Simon’s Mitzvah Project


Jeremy Simon’s mitzvah project is collecting toys/games for children in the pediatric unit at Stamford Hospital.  When a child enters the hospital for day or in-patient surgery, they are given the opportunity to pick a toy from “David’s Treasure Tree Toy Closet”.  It is theirs to keep and gives them comfort while they are in the hospital.  The toys/games can be for younger kids through teenagers, preferably something they can play by themselves.  If you are interested in donating something, there is an orange container outside the temple office.  Please feel free to drop items in it and Jeremy will be delivering them in person to Stamford Hospital.  It is his hope that by doing this mitzvah, he will be making a small difference in someone else’s life.


A message from Bat Mitzvah student Emily katz


The holocaust was to "never happen again".  Yet today a genocide continues unnoticed in Dafur.  As we speak over 3.5 million men,women and children are left starving and homeless everyday. That is the reason I, have started to raise money for the people of Darfur.  Please help the people Dafur put out this genocide, so we know there will never again be another holocaust. Please go to this website and donate money for those people in Darur, every penny counts.  All money will be greatly appreciated.  Thank You!

Click on



Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Bennett Cancer Center Walk, Run & Ride


The Walk, Run & Ride will be on June 3, 2007 in the morning. Each year, more than 50 TBE members participate together to raise money for local cancer patients and their families.  Please join our team for 2007! 


We welcome ALL new and past walkers to the Sisterhood’s TBE Walk Team.  We always have a great time for a great cause.  You can walk at your own pace and you will have other TBE members to walk with!  Although there is no set amount for personal fundraising, please try to raise $100 in sponsorships.


2007 - New Start Location and Route: We will gather at Mill River Park in Stamford to walk/run a 5K route down Main Street, to Atlantic Street, up Bedford Street and down Summer Street.  The RIDE will feature a 50K and a 100K that loops through Stamford, New Canaan, Darien and back.


Important Information:  To participate please do the following:


§         Register on-line:  go to the new web-site  Follow the instructions to “register with an existing team”. 

§         Register by mail:  call Beth Silver for a participation form.

§         All participants receive an event t-shirt.  If you would like the TBE logo on the event t-shirt, you MUST contact Beth Silver before May 15 to place your order (even if you marked a t-shirt size on-line or by paper registration.  Beth doesn’t receive information about your TBE logo t-shirt order unless you contact her). 


Call or email Beth Silver for details at 967-8852, or  If you are unable to join the team this year, please consider donating or sponsoring the TBE team.  We will walk on your behalf!


Looking forward to having YOU on the team!    


Thank you!


Sisterhood of TBE




The Friendly Visitor and Friendly Shopper programs of Senior Services of Stamford endeavor to match enthusiastic and caring volunteers with homebound seniors.



One hour every week or so is all you need to visit with or food shop for one of our community’s homebound seniors. The schedule is mutually agreed upon with the senior.  The individuals we serve are grateful and responsive to those who reach out to them for a visit, a chat, a card game; or to food shop for them, since they are not mobile anymore.


With the help of volunteers we strive to enable seniors to live independent and fulfilled lives of dignity.  We currently have many seniors waiting.


WHO?  YOU!!! 

Won't you consider volunteering? You will gain great personal satisfaction by seeing how your assistance and friendship immediately impacts the life of a local senior.


Anyone 16 years of age and older may volunteer, no driving is required. Seniors are homebound for the most part. Shoppers pick up groceries, take them back to the senior’s home, and usually stay for a short visit. Visitors spend an hour sharing conversation, looking at photographs, playing cards or board games, or assisting in letter writing; basically participating in the activities that good friends typically share when they are together.  Many seniors especially love to have visitors with babies and young children, so bring them along!


For more information, contact Juli Harris, Program Director, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at (203) 324-6584, or via email:



Friendly Visitor and Friendly Shopper Programs


945 Summer Street w Stamford, CT 06905 w PH: 203-324-6584 w Fax: 203-324-3787


Free Them Now


Ehud Goldwasser         Eldad Regev            Gilad Schalit

 Kidnapped Israeli Soldiers


 Click for more information

 Sign the petition at








Vol. 1, Number 8

April 2007


Why is it Customary to Mourn Between Pesah and Shavuot?1

By Rabbi David Golinkin

(Orah Hayyim 493)



Here is a fascinating new responsum by Rabbi David Golinkin, the prime halakhic authority among Masorti Jews in Israel and well respected among Conservative Jews worldwide.  For more background on counting the Omer, go to, and for Lag B’Omer background, go to


Note that it is my practice to perform weddings at various times during the Omer season, and rabbis’ practices vary widely.  Here is Rabbi Golinkin’s response.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


Question: It is customary not to get married and not to shave or cut one’s hair between Pesah and Lag Ba’omer or Pesah and Shavuot. Why do we mourn during the period of Sefirat Ha’omer (the counting of the omer)? Is there any point in maintaining these mourning customs today? 




I) The Rabbi Akiva Theory


This question was first asked of Rav Natronai Gaon (ca. 719 c.e. or 859 c.e.) or of Rav Hai Gaon (cl. 1038):2

And regarding your question, why don’t we betroth or marry between Pesah and Atzeret (Shavuot) – is it because of an actual prohibition or not?


You should know that this does not stem from a prohibition but from a mourning custom, for so said our Sages: “Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples and they all died between Pesah and Atzeret because they didn’t treat each other with respect” and they further taught “and they all died a cruel death from diphtheria” (Yevamot 62b). And from that time forward the Rishonim (early sages) had the custom not to marry on these days, but he who jumps and marries, we do not punish him by punishment or lashes, but if he comes to ask before the fact, we do not instruct him to marry. And as for betrothal, he who wants to betroth between Pesah and Atzeret betroths, because the main joy is the [marriage] huppah (canopy). (Otzar Hageonim to Yevamot p. 141, parag. 327).


As Rabbi David Feldman has pointed out (Feldman, 1962, note 3) the Gaon’s opinion was quoted and/or accepted by many medieval codifiers including R. Yitzhak ibn Ghayat (Spain, 11th Century), R. Avraham Hayarhi (Toledo, 13th Century), R. Zidkiyahu ben Avraham Harofe (Italy, 13th Century), and R. Joshua Ibn Shuib, R. Shimon ben Zemah Duran and Rabbeinu Yeruham (14th Century)


The Gaon in his Responsum was referring to a famous passage found in Yevamot 62b:

It was said that R. Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of disciples, from Gabbat to Antipatris; and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until R. Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were R. Meir, R. Judah, R. Yossi, R. Shimon and R. Elazar b. Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: All of them died between Pesah and Shavuot. R. Hamma ben Abba or, it might be said, R. Hiyya b. Abin said: All of them died a cruel death. What was it? R. Nahman replied: Diphtheria. 


Quite a few modern scholars took this passage as a veiled reference to the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 c.e.) since Rabbi Akiva was an avid supporter of Bar Kokhba, who considered him the Messiah (Yerushalmi Ta’anit 4:8, fol. 68d). They maintained that 24,000 Jewish soldiers were killed by the Romans between Pesah and Shavuot, except on Lag Ba’omer which was a military victory. This was the opinion of R. Nahaman Krochmal, Joseph Derenbourg, R. Yitzhak Nissenbaum, and Professors Shmuel Safrai, Aaron Oppenheimer and Haim Licht.3


Nonetheless, the Rabbi Akiva theory is extremely problematic for a number of reasons:

a)     12 and 12,000 are round numbers in rabbinic literature;4

b)    In the parallel passages, there are other round numbers;5

c)     Most of the parallel passages do not mention when the tragedy occurred;6

d)    The tone is legendary: “because they did not treat each other with respect”;

e)     The Talmud itself says nothing about mourning customs to commemorate this tragedy.


Indeed, Dr. Aaron Amit of Bar Ilan University and the Schechter Institute has recently shown that this story has no historical basis at all. It was woven together from various legendary motifs in order to illustrate Rabbi Akiva’s opinion in Avot D’rabbi Nattan (ed. Schechter, pp. 15-16) that just as a person should teach disciples in his youth, he should continue to do so in his old age. It was the Babylonian Amoraim who added the motifs of “from Pesah to Atzeret” and diphtheria.


II) The Lemuralia Theory


In 1869, Dr. Julius Landsberger explained that the Jewish period of mourning from Pesah until Lag Ba’omer was borrowed from the Romans. According to Ovid (43 b.c.e.-18 c.e.), the Romans did not marry during the 31 days of May which is called Lemuralia. These are funeral rites honoring the souls of the departed which return to wander over the earth, disturbing the peace of the living. Lemuralia rites were held during this season and no Roman maiden would risk her happiness by marrying in May. This superstition later migrated from Rome to FranceScotland and Germany and gave birth to the popular couplets: “If you marry in Lent, you will live to repent” and “Marry in May, rue the day”. Indeed, this is why so many people get married in June! Theodore Gaster later concurred with this theory (pp. 52-53).


III) The Gehinom Theory


R. Zidkiyah ben Avraham Harofe (Italy, 13th Century) refers in the name of his brother Binyamin to Seder Olam Rabbah, Chapter 3 (ed. Ratner, p. 16; cf. Mishnah Eduyot 2:10 and other parallels). Rabbi Akiva says there that the sentence of the wicked in Gehinom (Hell) is 12 months, but Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri says that the sentence of the wicked in Gehinom is from Pesah to Atzeret. Therefore, we mourn between Pesah and Shavuot for the wicked who are suffering in Gehinom (Shiboley Haleket, ed. Buber, par. 235, p. 218)


IV) The Agriculture Anxiety Theory


Rabbi David Abudraham (Spain, 14th Century), says that we count the Omer from Pesah to Shavuot because the world is in pain (tsa’ar) from Pesah to Shavuot regarding the grains and the trees (Abudraham Hashalem, Jerusalem, 1959, p. 241). This explanation was repeated by  Rabbi Ya’akov Reischer (Germany, 1670-1733) in his Hok Ya’akov to Orah Hayyim 493: “because these are the days of Judgment regarding the grain”.


These Rabbis were influenced by many rabbinic sources, which say that the crops are judged between Pesah and Shavuot:

1.     “On Pesah the grain is judged and on Atzeret – the fruit of the trees” (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:2).

2.     [How is the Omer waved?] He waves it from side to side in order to stop the evil winds; he waves it up and down in order to stop evil dew (Sukkah 37b = Menahot 62a = Vayikra Rabbah 28:5, ed. Margaliyot pp. 658-659).7


Theodore Gaster (p. 52) summarized this explanation as follows: “The days or weeks preceding the harvest and opening of the agricultural year, [are] a time when the corporate life of the community is, so to speak, in eclipse”.


V) Reinterpretation of the Custom


The result of this uncertainty regarding the reasons for mourning during the Sefirah season has been that many Jews no longer observe these customs. Indeed, it is very difficult for rabbis to justify such an observance to their congregants on the basis of the reasons cited above. As a result, the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has, over the years, relaxed many of the restrictions connected with the Sefirah season.8 However, if one examines medieval Jewish history, one concludes that the appropriate action is not to abolish the customs of mourning during the Sefirah season but rather to reinterpret them. This is what happened in 1096 after the First Crusade, as Salo Baron explained:


…Since most of the massacres had taken place in the spring months of Iyyar and Sivan, a heavy pall fell on the traditional period of the Sefirat HaOmer… this entire seven week interval… was now reemphasized as a protected period of national mourning.9


Indeed, this is the explanation given by Sefer Minhag Tov which was written in Italy in the 13th century: the mourning is “in honor of the pious and upright who sacrificed themselves in order to sanctify God’s name” (ed. Weiss in Hazofeh 13 [1929], p. 231, No. 61).  A similar explanation was given by Sefer Assufot which was written in the thirteenth century by a disciple of Rabbi Elazar of Worms: “that people do not marry between Pesah and Atzeret, this is because of the pain of the decrees, that the communities were killed in this entire kingdom” (Feldman, 1962, note 46). This explanation was repeated by Rabbi David Halevi (Poland, 1586-1667) in the Taz to Orah Hayyim 493 (subpar. 2) and by Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal Epstein (Russia, 1829-1908) in his Arukh Hashulhan (Orah Hayyim 493).


Similarly, after the Chmielnicki massacres which took place in the spring of 1648, the Sefirah season was reemphasized as a period of mourning for the martyrs of that time. As Rabbi Yaakov Emden (Germany, d. 1776) wrote in his Siddur Bet Ya’akov (ed. Lemberg, 1904, p. 268): “Rabbi Akiva’s students died and, due to our many sins, a number of communities were destroyed at the same time of year during the Crusades in Ashkenaz and in 1648 in Poland”.


Thus we see that the restrictions of the Sefirah season were continuously reinterpreted. The Geonim took a group of already existing customs and explained them as signs of mourning for R. Akiva’s students. Medieval halakhic authorities took an already existing period of mourning and reinterpreted it to commemorate the massacres of the Crusades. Rabbi Ya’akov Emden did the same regarding the Chmielnicki massacres. We can and should continue this process. We should re-designate this traditional period of mourning - which also coincides with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of Nissan-Sivan 5703 - as a period of mourning for the Six Million. The halakhic restrictions have existed for over a thousand years; all we need do is reapply them and reinterpret them in light of the tragedy confronting us.


By declaring the Sefirah season a period of mourning for the martyrs of the Shoah, we will achieve two objectives:

1)                 We will be following in the footsteps of the Men of the Great Assembly shehehziru attarah leyoshnah (Yoma 69b). They revitalized ancient customs that had fallen into disuse.

2)                 We will be commemorating the Holocaust in a manner befitting the magnitude of the tragedy. Yom Hashoah will not be just a one-day event, but will become part of the Sefirah season dedicated to mourning for the Six Million.10


David Golinkin


         The 22nd day of the Omer 5767



1.                                   This responsum is an expanded version of Golinkin, 1984 and Golinkin 1991 (see the Bibliography below). In this teshuvah, we have quoted the major primary sources and added recent scholarship on the subject.

2.                                   Halakhot Pesukot Min Hageonim, ed. J. Muller, Cracow, 1893, p. 54 attributed this teshuvah to Rav Natronai Gaon, but there were two Geonim by that name. Yerahmiel Brody, Teshuvot Rav Natronai Bar Hilai GaonJerusalem, 1994, p. 48, note 90 ascribes this responsum with caution to Rav Hai Gaon.

3.                                   R. Nahman Krochmal is quoted by Feldman, EJ, col. 1388. The other scholars are listed in the Bibliography below.

4.                                   See Binyamin Kosovsky, Otzar Leshon Hatalmud, Volume 30, Jerusalem, 5733, pp. 1208-1211; Boaz Cohen's Index to Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol. 7, Philadelphia, 1938, p. 483; and Rashi to Shabbat 119a and Hullin 95b.

5.                                   Yevamot 62b: 12,000 pairsKohelet Rabbah to 11:6, ed. Vilna, fol. 29b: 12,000Bereshit Rabbah 61:3, ed. Theodore-Albeck, p. 660: 12,000Tanhuma Haye Sarah 6 and Tanhuma Buber, ibid, p. 122: 300Arugot Habosem, ed. Urbach, Vol. 1, Jerusalem, 1939, p. 75: 80,000; and cf. Silberman, p. 222

6.                                   See Bereshit Rabbah; Tanhuma and Tanhuma Buber; Arugot Habosem.

7.                                   Regarding this theory, see Akiva Ben Ezra at length and cf. Shabbat 129b and Megillah 31b quoted by Rabbi Feldman, 1962, note 8.

8.                                   See the summary in Rabbi Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious PracticeNew York, 1979, pp. 143-144.

9.                                   Salo Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, second edition, Vol. IV, Philadelphia, 1957, p. 145 and p. 310, note 67.

10.                               I have purposely omitted two important topics in this responsum. Regarding the different periods of mourning during Sefirah (from Pesah until Lag Baomer or from Rosh Hodesh Iyar until Shavuot etc. etc.) see Rabbi Adler and Rabbi Sperber. Regarding exactly why we rejoice on Lag Ba’omer, see Ben Ezra, Feldman, Gaster, Goren, Kafih, Lieberman and Morgenstern.



Spiritual Journey on the Web


The Best Jewish Blogs


Online journals and commentaries called “blogs” (weblogs) have become an important part of the culture in a very brief time.  Ask any politician or journalist about that!  One might say that the Shabbat-O-Gram is a blog of sorts (and would be considered a big one, given the hundreds of visits we receive each week).  But alas, the O gram is not in the running for any awards this year.  Go to  and vote for the third annual Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards.  There are several categories and some fascinating new blogs.  See all the nominees here.  And there are lots of them.  I am personally fond of old friend Nigel Savage’s work with Hazon, and his marvelous new blog, “The Jew and the Carrot,”, dealing with “Jews, food and contemporary issues.”



 Pirkei Avot

It’s customary during the period between Passover and Shavuot to study that classic of our tradition, the Ethics of our Ancestors, or Pirke Avot.  See the text at and some commentaries at

I’d love to know which of these timeless maxims you find especially relevant!




The Beth El Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary



Excerpts from Alex Rosenberg’s D’var Torah on Tazria-Metzora


Those of you, who know me, know that I am fascinated by pop culture.   One reason for this fascination is the Jewish influence on our culture.  For example, I find it interesting that Leonardo DiCaprio, who happens to be Jonathan’s idol, is going out with an Israeli swimsuit model by the name of Bar Refaeli, who happens to be one of my idols. 


In fact, in mid March, Leonardo and Refaeli visited Israel together, bringing out a frenzy of paparazzi that’s not been seen at the Western Wall since biblical times.  A number of their bodyguards were arrested in a melee with photographers.  Bar Rafaeli’s house was surrounded by media and fans, and the two had to carefully plan every move.  Rumors have it that the trip to Israel was actually made so that Leo could meet Rafaeli’s parents and that a wedding has been planned.


As you can see, it’s not easy being a celebrity, although I wouldn’t mind trying.  In our society, celebrities often become outcasts, worshipped from afar, but harassed from up close, to the point where they lose all privacy and are forced to live outside their communities.  In some ways, it is similar to the people with leprosy described in my torah portion.


Try to think of Britney Spears, as I often do.  She’s become such an outcast that not only can’t she appear in public, but she can’t even watch TV for fear of seeing herself being humiliated. It’s enough to make me feel a little sympathy for her, even though she brought much of it on herself.


Many celebrities have spoken about the burden of being famous.  Aside from the loss of privacy, celebrities are the primary target of gossip.   The rabbis have compared gossip to leprosy, because like leprosy and other diseases, gossip spreads very quickly and can ruin lives. 


There is a story about a person who told an ugly rumor about a rabbi which led to the rabbi becoming an outcast.  One day, the person spreading the rumor went to the rabbi to apologize.  The rabbi took him to a roof where he took a large pillow and cut it in half, causing all of the feathers to scatter in the wind.  The rabbi then instructed the person to gather all the feathers.


“That’s impossible,” he said.


“Exactly,” the rabbi replied.  “And it is also impossible to take back all the words you’ve said.  Cruel words like feathers fly.” 


Getting back to my torah portion, there is a description in the section describing how, after seven days of quarantine, the Kohen – or priest – would personally bring the leper back into the community.  There’s an important lesson here – that each of us has a responsibility to make sure that no one feels left out, and that no one’s life is allowed to be ruined by disease, including the disease of gossip.


Pop culture can be very dangerous but we can also use it for good.  For example, for my mitzvah project, I’ve been designing buttons with popular logos and sayings, such as “Kiss me, I’m Jewish.”   The money I raise will go toward the Ronald McDonald House and the Smile Train.   So, while words can hurt, in this particular project they can heal.


it’s not an easy life, being Leo or Britney.  As a Bar Mitzvah, I sort of know how it feels.  I’ve got paparazzi here as well, although we’re not supposed to notice them on Shabbat.  And everyone is watching my every move, listening to my every syllable.  But I guarantee you I wont be shaving my head. There is also another difference.  Instead of being sent away from the community, today I am being accepted into it!


And so today I’m a celebrity for a day – but I’ll be a Bar Mitzvah for life!


Rabbi Hammerman’s Response to Alex


·        So – do you think Leonardo will convert?  (I would NOT want to do THAT conversion).  But think of it – if he converted and then married Bar Rafaeli, it would be the first time a Jewish wedding was also a Bar Mitzvah.


·        In essence we ALL are celebrities.  Your portion shows that everyone is subject to potential impurity – we all can be corrupted, whether by success or fame or greed or – Or we can be purified by it.  And for every person, that moment comes – we call it our “15 minutes of fame.”  But Pirke Avot put it differently in chapter 4 (we study it at this time of year)

Ben Azzai said, “Despise no person and deem nothing impossible; for there is no person who does not have his day and there is no thing that does not have its place.”

·        Virginia Tech Professor Liviu Librescu had his 15 minutes this week – actually it was just one minute, or maybe less – the time it took for him to decide to bar the door to his classroom and sacrifice himself to save his students

·        His funeral in Ra'anana yesterday morning was attended by some 200 friends, family members, foreign diplomats and others who came to pay their respects.

·        Speaking at the ceremony, Librescu's son Joe lamented the questions he had never asked his father. "They're asking me today about your past, and I don't

·        know what to tell them," he said. "I'm proud of you. I walk today with [my] head held high. Sometimes I didn't hear you, but my ears are now wide open to your legacy," he went on. "I'm doing my best, reaching to the moon - I know I can reach it because of you."

·        The professor's other son, Arie, said his father had "always said to be strong."

"Father, I believe that at this moment you're looking down on us from above and saying, what is all this crowing around? I only did what I had to do. From our childhood, you taught us to care for people, to work hard, to succeed, but you never taught us to be heroes. It is more theoretical a lesson than aerodynamics," he said. "A hero must have the right combination of certain attributes, and you had them."

·        According to Arie, his father "used every spare minute to do what he loved." Speaking of his father's teaching, Librescu said that "the courses in aerodynamics have ended. On the 16th of the month, you started a new career, teaching a new subject - heroism - [which] millions of students are learning."


·        YOUR name, Alex, is Ariel – lion of God.  We never know when our 15 minutes will come – perhaps this is yours right now – though I suspect that you will have many more opportunities to change the world – like perhaps EVERY DAY of your life – with everything you do and every word you say.


·        So I hope you will recall the true essence of fame in Jewish tradition – also expressed in chapter 5 of Pirke Avot:

“Who is honored? He that honors his fellow human being”




Required Reading and Action Items



Some GOOD NEWS from Israel 21c,,

 and other sources



Israel’s Independence Day Bloc Party

So, Israel turned 59 this week. How do Israeli’s celebrate, you may wonder?

Well if the following couple of articles are anything to go by, the answer is plainly: with meat!

I guess it is not so different from your typical American Fourth of July celebrations. People have a day off from work, the weather is perfectly warm, so they grab some friends, head to the nearest park and make a barbeque, or “Al ha esh” (meaning, literally, “on the fire”).

So in preparation for the great day of smoky fun, this article in Haaretz lists the seven top sources for quality gourmet meats in Israel.

While the Jerusalem Post’s Independence Day round-up is a little broader, there is certainly a listing for where to find great steaks, as well as details of a Bloc Party that was thrown by Arcady Gaydamak, the country’s Russian-born billionaire and perhaps most importantly, an all-day bash at one of Israel’s most popular clubs Haoman 17.

Take a look at the full listings, and you’ll wish you had been there to celebrate too!


How do You Mend a Broken Heart?


We have written about Save a Child’s Heart before at Come to think of it, we have also written about Idan Raichel .

But the following diary entry, which was published on Ynet News was so moving, we figured you would want to revisit both of these Israeli entities again. In the following article, Raichel documents the events of a mercy mission that he takes part in together with child cardiologists, traveling to AddisEthiopia and KigaliRwanda. I suggest that before reading it, you go to Idan’s MySpace page and play the song “Boee Come with Me” as background music for the article. You’ll see why, exactly, when you get to the end. Oh, and the next time Idan Raichel comes to a city near you, why don’t you give YOUR heart a boost, and try to catch the show!




now for the rest


Prime source: Daily Alert of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

See also

Israel at the UN: There Is a Limit to Israel's Restraint - Yitzhak Benhorin
The world must not interpret Israel's restraint as an acceptance of the situation, Israel's Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman told the Security Council on Wednesday. Gillerman asked the Council to "return to reality. That harrowing reality was seen Tuesday when Hamas, by its own account, launched more than 28 Kassam rockets and 61 mortar shells at Israel. The rockets detonated across a large area of land, and as far north as the city of Ashkelon. These attacks, which came as Israelis woke up to celebrate Independence Day, were nothing short of an act of severe provocation."
    "Later in the day, we learned that Hamas' fierce rocket fire was just a front, to divert attention away from its truly evil plans, to kidnap an Israeli soldier. Thankfully, the IDF thwarted the kidnapping....Since the ceasefire began at the end of November 2006, Israel has continually exhibited restraint to the more than 200 rockets fired at it by Palestinian terrorists....Israel needs no further evidence to know that Hamas' ways are not the ways of peace. Hamas has shown it will not stop its campaign of terror until its unholy ambitions of destroying Israel are fulfilled. Nothing - no initiatives, summits, or declarations - can take the place of an end to Palestinian terror." (Ynet News)
    See also Israel's Statement to the UN Security Council - Ambassador Dan Gillerman (United Nations)

No Gaza Operation for Now - Ron Ben-Yishai
Hamas' Independence Day attack was a highly calculated strategic move meant to achieve far-reaching military and diplomatic objectives, based on the Hizbullah model of July 12, 2006, when two IDF soldiers were kidnapped. The objective was to fan the flames of conflict in Gaza in order to create a new situation whereby Israel agrees to end its counter-terror operations in the West Bank. At the same time, since no soldiers were abducted and there were no casualties on our side, Israel would find it difficult to enlist international support and silent agreement by moderate Arab leaders for a wide-scale Gaza operation.
    The Independence Day offensive was a Hamas initiative undertaken without any substantive cause in order to undermine diplomatic peace efforts. The IDF is able and ready to carry out a wide-scale operation in Gaza even today, but this must be done under circumstances that would ensure its success. (Ynet News)

Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues
Palestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket at the western Negev Thursday morning. (Reuters/Ynet News)

Stopping Hamas - Editorial
On Wednesday, the Israeli cabinet decided against launching a major ground operation in Gaza. This is wise because there are four steps that should be taken before launching such an operation. First, end the policy of military restraint. This means greatly increasing the military pressure on Hamas by attacking known terrorists, their infrastructure and their operational leadership. As expected, Hamas has taken advantage of a period of much reduced IDF pressure to build up its terrorist capabilities. It makes no sense to continue giving Hamas such breathing room, now that its attacks have officially resumed. Second, Israel should consider non-violent sanctions against the PA. If Israelis must run for their lives to bomb shelters, why should Palestinians enjoy an uninterrupted supply of Israeli electricity?
    Third, Israel should be forcefully demanding an emergency session of the UN Security Council to condemn the unprovoked aggression by the PA against Israeli territory and citizens. Fourth, Israel must compel Egypt to carry out its most basic responsibility as a sovereign nation that claims to seek peace: stopping the flow of weapons across its own border to Hamas. Egyptian negligence leads to terrorist groups arming to the hilt in preparation for precipitating the next war. (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian Suffering - Tulin Daloglu
Israel is undeniably a democracy with a vibrant economy and contemporary society. The Hamas government, however, was elected democratically but is no friend of democracy. As Bassem Eid, founder and director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, delicately described the unbearable living conditions on the Palestinian side, he said, "It's not because of occupation but because of Arab culture....They could have, at least, built the infrastructure of Gaza." Eid believes Palestinians failed to negotiate with Israelis on any subject.
    Hamas' charter quotes a forged hadith (a traditional account of things said or done by Prophet Muhammad), saying that "there will come a time when the stone will call to a Muslim there is a Jew behind me" - widely interpreted as sanctioning violence against Jews. The Arab-Muslim world believes that the U.S. and Israel are losing in the Middle East and that the balance of power in the region will change in time. (Washington Times)

Al-Qaeda Strikes Back - Bruce Riedel (Foreign Affairs)

  • Al-Qaeda is a more dangerous enemy today than it has ever been before. Al-Qaeda moved swiftly to develop a capability in Iraq, where it had little or no presence before 9/11. On February 11, 2003, bin Laden sent a letter to the Iraqi people, broadcast via the satellite network al Jazeera, warning them to prepare for the "Crusaders' war to occupy one of Islam's former capitals."
  • Thousands of Arab volunteers, many of them inspired by bin Laden's words, went to Iraq in the run-up to the U.S. invasion. Some joined the network created by longtime bin Laden associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had fled Afghanistan and came to Iraq sometime in 2002 to begin preparations against the invasion. (Zarqawi had been a partner in al-Qaeda's millennium plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel and other targets in AmmanJordan, in December 2000. Later, in HeratAfghanistan, he ran operations complementary to al-Qaeda's.)
  • Al-Qaeda's relocation to Pakistan has also provided new opportunities for the group to expand its reach in the West, especially the UK. In November 2006, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of the British Security Service, known as MI5, said that some 200 networks of Muslims of South Asian descent were being monitored in the UK. At "the extreme end of this spectrum," she said, "are resilient networks directed from al-Qaeda in Pakistan."
  • One appealing option for al-Qaeda in the near future may be Lebanon, where extremist Sunni groups have long operated, particularly in Tripoli, which was controlled by a Sunni fundamentalist group during much of the 1980s, before Syria cracked down. If the Lebanese state is further weakened or civil war breaks out, al-Qaeda may seek a foothold there. The UN force stationed in Lebanon is likely to be a target, since the jihadists consider it to be another crusading army in the Muslim world.
  • Gaza is another prime candidate: it is already divided between Hamas and Fatah, and there is evidence that a small al-Qaeda apparatus is forming there. Israeli security sources have expressed growing alarm about this new al-Qaeda presence on their doorstep. Al-Qaeda is still too weak to overthrow established governments equipped with effective security services; it needs failed states to thrive.

The writer, a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, retired last year after 29 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97).

Ahmadinejad Was a Loser in the British Hostage Crisis - Dennis Ross
(New Republic/Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

  • Iran's seizure of 15 British sailors for nearly two weeks was an event that offered us a window to watch the balance of forces in the Iranian leadership. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was responsible for the seizure. Did the IRGC have the clout among the Iranian elite to determine how Iran's leaders would deal with the crisis? If it could be overruled after triggering a crisis, we would learn a great deal about its real political weight and discover whether the major decision-makers are governed more by pragmatism than rigid ideology.
  • The non-IRGC segments are mindful of the costs of isolation, and they don't seek nuclear arms at any price. That is the meaning of pragmatism - recognizing Iran's interests and not pursuing a path that ultimately costs Iran more than it gains. Our challenge on the nuclear issue is to develop a strategy that convinces the Iranians their interests will be harmed more than helped by acquiring nuclear arms.
  • The Iranian press did not even mention the crisis for several days after the British sailors were seized: This was hardly a case in which the regime was trying to whip the public into a frenzy. After the release of the sailors, Ahmadinejad was roundly criticized in many Iranian newspapers, which noted that the crisis cost Iran greatly without any corresponding benefit. Admadinejad himself acknowledged that the British made no concessions when he said that they weren't big enough to admit mistake.
  • What does this tell us about the Iranian nukes? - that the issue of Iran's nuclear future is not resolved. It is not ultimately in Ahmadinejad's hands or the hands of the IRGC. It may not be easy to stop or suspend the program, but it's not impossible.

A Letter from Israel


Here’s a letter I received this week from Nigel Savage of Hazon – who spoke here a few years ago.  He captures the Independence Day mood so perfectly.  I’ve heard from several Israeli friends and relatives lately of how gloomy things seem and how a war is expected this summer.  Nigel takes those sentiments and places them into the perspective of Israeli life in a magnificent way…read!

Dear All,

I’m in Israel for our Israel Ride, which starts next week.  I’ve often been in the country for Yom Ha’Atsma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day. But this year is the first time that I’ve been in Kfar Saba and Ra’anana for Yom Ha’Atsma’ut – and it turned out to be a really fascinating experience, and one that sheds  unexpected new light on the current conversation about the state of the State of Israel.

The backdrop to this is a very deep sense of anomie in the country.  I had two friends, late one night, tell me that “Israel is over – it’s a failed experiment. The government’s corrupt, there’s no real sense of Jewishness outside of the religious Zionist community. The young people don’t have any sense of commitment…”  Theirs was an extreme view, but it’s been a very troubling year here. A combination of the aftermath of the Lebanon War, the failure to gain the release of three still-held-hostage Israeli soldiers (whose kidnapping triggered the war), and a rather remarkable series of government scandals (remarkable for the number and seniority of the people and the breadth of unimpressive behavior revealed) has triggered a loss of existential confidence that’s been widely remarked upon in the country.

But sometimes as a visitor you see things that Israeli media coverage obscures: and I felt this strongly, last night, at the Yom Ha’Atsma’ut celebrations in Gan Ra’anana, the park in the center of Ra’anana.

I’m staying with my friends Stef & Josh. Their (rather great) kids, Eytan, Noam and Arielle are 14, 12 and 8. We go over to friends of theirs for dinner, first. The day before Yom Ha’Atsma’ut is Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Remembrance day. It’s the equivalent of Tisha B’Av for the Jewish community of Israel, both secular and modern orthodox: a solemn day, marked by solemn music, and a siren for 2 minutes at which people stand to attention for those who’ve died defending the country, or in terrorist attacks.

On TV, after the ceremony that inaugurates Yom Hazikaron, there’s a documentary in which they remember those who have died in the previous year, and interview their friends and family members. It’s heartwrenching, and it includes – invariably – lots of smiling photographs from earlier days.  A friend’s 12-year old says to her mother, talking about her 17-year old brother who goes to the army next year:  “We’d better take lots of photographs of [Ploni]” The mother is telling me this as we’re walking into the Yom Ha’Atsma’ut celebrations, and her eyes welled-up as she told me, as she had quietly cried when her daughter made the comment originally.  What can you say?

And we’re having this conversation while I’m walking amidst the largest crowd I’ve been in since I saw Man Utd and Chelsea in the FA Cup Final in 1994. (Ah yes: what goes around, comes around...).  I’m guessing somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000. People are converging on the park from every direction.

Once there, we spend the evening wandering through it. There are food stalls; people lying or sitting, chatting, eating. Red toffee apples on sticks. In one part, food stands: An ice cream stand. A Domino’s Pizza, absolutely mobbed out when fresh pizza arrives. Big balloons with helium. Kids spraying fake foam on each other. There’s a sort of “Jewish music” stage, and people listening and a few dancing. There are fireworks over the lake; I love fireworks. There’s a huge amphitheater where there’s the main music stage. In every direction people are walking, chatting, sitting, eating, bumping into friends. I’d say maybe 10 or 15% of the crowd are orthodox, the men wearing kippot, the women with hair covered. We were there from about 8.30pm till just after midnight, when we left, but at that point things were just warming up, and the park was as full as when we arrived. Last year Idan Reichel performed at 2am. This year local teen bands took the stage from 1am onwards.

It was a lovely evening out, and for my friends, and I’d guess for most of the Israelis there, just what they expect on Yom Ha’Atsma’ut. For Eytan and Noam and Arielle, this is just how it is, each year. But here are some of the things that to me were fascinating.

There was no alcohol. It didn’t seem to be banned – when I asked my friends why there was no alcohol they were taken aback by the question. If it were July 4th in the USA, people would have had coolers with beer. In the UK ditto. And with alcohol you’d also have had, as the evening wore on, growing numbers of drunk teenagers and young adults. Here there was just no alcohol, so no drunken people, and no objectionable drunken behavior.

And there was almost no police presence. There was the standard check of your bag at the entrances to the park – that was it. A huge huge crowd, and just no police. I don’t mean, “no police in relation to potential terrorist threats” – I mean “no police and when have you ever been in a huge crowd in the US or UK without policemen just walking around?”

There was an enormously wide range of ages. Toddlers in strollers, little kids running around, groups of 13-year olds, groups of 17-year olds, young couples, older couples, big families with tons of kids. And an enormous number of kids were with their friends rather than their parents. By midnight I think that some of the older folk had left and more teenagers had arrived; it looked like the median age was about 20, and kids aged 12 – 25 accounted for ¾ of the crowd. (And, even at midnight, tons of strollers with babies or little ones fast asleep, still being pushed along by their parents, happy and engaged.) Eytan had gone off with friends, and was staying over at a friend's. Arielle left earlier with some family friends. Aviv, Dov & Bryn’s 15 year-old, had come home the previous year by himself at 4 am.

Where in the world, nowadays, are adults happy to be out with huge numbers of teenagers? Where do you see families with little kids out at midnight, in enormous numbers? Where do parents live where they can have their kids wander off with friends, or walk home at night alone?

It’s very hard to describe what an unusual experience it is to be in such a large crowd, for so long, till fairly late at night, and have the entire experience be so easy, fun and good-humored.  It wasn’t very nationalistic – not many Israeli flags in evidence. It didn’t have any speeches. It was essentially the largest and most delightful neighborhood party I’ve ever been to – or ever expect to.

What I think it reveals is that many of the people of this country, and thus the country itself, are in better shape than they realize. The divisions of Israel – left and right, secular and religious, Jewish and Arab – are well-known and much discussed.  But the party in Ra’anana is a reminder that a very central part of Israeli society – the Jewish community from secular to modern orthodox – remains more coherent than one might think, in fundamental ways. The obverse of the overwhelming celebration of Yom Ha’Atsma’ut is the overwhelming honoring of Yom Hazikaron.  People know Israeli history and they know Jewish history. They don’t want to die needlessly, and if they’re serving in the army they want to trust that senior officers and senior government leaders are both competent and ethical.  But the core values of this society are remarkably strong.  There’s a rootedness in Jewish tradition, very widely understood. A strong ethos of volunteering and of helping out.  Strong webs of familial and social ties. There was astonishingly little litter last night, an amount so little that, all by itself, it would have been striking in the US or the UK.   Robert Putnam’s well-known book on US social dislocation is called “Bowling Alone”; the book about the healthily thick ties of Israeli society, epitomized by last night’s event, might be called “Partying Together.” (Note that if there were 70,000 people there – and I think there were more – that represents 1% of the population of the entire country – the equivalent of 3 million in the US.)

Yom Ha’Atsma’ut is a contemporary “chag” (holiday, understood in a semi-religious sense), and people walk around saying “chag sameach,” just as they would on Pesach or Succot. Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the British orthodox chief rabbi, somewhere writes that the word “simchah” should properly be translated as something like “that joy which arises through celebration with others.”  The smiles on people’s faces last night, the casual interaction of parents and kids, the interweaving of literally millions of different skeins of social connection, the easy commonality of shared history and experience, made last night a rather deep experience of simchah – and, using the word in its other sense, the largest “simchah” (ie festive wedding or bar mitzvah party) I’ve ever been to.

When you step back, the world is in a darker place than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. There’s the war in Iraq and its multiple causes and consequences; there’s a much greater awareness of the perils of climate change. In the UK, the US and Israel, governments have record low ratings in the opinion polls.  Israel faces a country – Iran – whose government denies that the Holocaust ever happened, that routinely publishes anti-semitic writings and cartoons that would be illegal and abhorrent in the civilized world, and that is seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

But the Jewish roots of Israel are stronger than I think most of us (Israelis sometimes included) really understand. We walked through a garden in the park of “shivat haminim” – the seven species, indigenous to the land of Israel, mentioned in the Torah.  Before Purim we have Ta’anit Esther, the fast of Esther; before Pesach we have the fast of the first-born. Yom Hazikaron in Israel is very different from Memorial Day in the US; Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzma’ut together have taken a traditional Jewish intuition about how you remember milestones, and is reinterpreting them in the lives of the first Jewish commonwealth in this land in 2,000 years.

And of course, the celebration doesn’t mean the challenges and problems don’t exist. By next Monday, 175 riders and more than 50 crew will gather in Jerusalem for the 5th Arava Institute Hazon Israel Ride: Cycling for Peace, Partnership & Environmental Protection. We’ll see a different part of the country, and engage different sorts of issues.  We’ll talk about some of the problems. We’ll happily have Israeli Palestinians (and Jordanians) with us.

But celebration is important, and for one night of the year, it’s good and proper that Israel’s 59th birthday celebrations – at least with the 1% of the country I was with – reveal more social health, coherence, roots, and hope, than most newspaper articles – or mealtime conversations – usually reveal.

I want to end with something about the counting of the omer. People who know me know that I love counting the omer. I love how a biblical agricultural harvest has accreted new levels of meaning, and continues to do so – much like the rest of Jewish tradition. Last night and today is the 21st day of the omer: Malchut she’b’tiferet. This is the last day of the week of tiferet, which is about that sense of beauty that arises from balance. And malchut is about sovereignty; it’s about taking all that precedes it, loftier and more ethereal stuff, and making it real in the world. So malchut she’b’tiferet is about beauty and balance – and taking it out into the world, in practical ways; even literally, in an actual sovereign state.

So my hope and my prayer, for all Israel’s disparate inhabitants, is that the start of the 60th year of the State of Israel should herald an ability to see the beauty and balance that already exists in our lives; and that the State itself, in its leaders and institutions, should rise to match some of the best qualities of the people who live here.

Chag sameach


Nigel Savage
Hazon / 829 Third Ave, 3rd floor, NY NY 10022 / 212 644 2332 / /

Hazon works to create a more healthy and sustainable Jewish world - as a step towards a more healthy and sustainable world for all. We gratefully acknowledge support from Bikkurim, the Dorot Foundation, FJC, Natan, UJA-Federation of New York, more than 3,000 individual donors, and our amazing board members and volunteers.





MYTH #260

"The Jews started the first war with the Arabs."


The chairman of the Arab Higher Committee said the Arabs would “fight for every inch of their country.” 1 Two days later, the holy men of Al-Azhar University in Cairo called on the Muslim world to proclaim a jihad (holy war) against the Jews. 2 Jamal Husseini, the Arab Higher Committee’s spokesman, had told the UN prior to the partition vote the Arabs would drench “the soil of our beloved country with the last drop of our blood . . . .” 3

Husseini’s prediction began to come true almost immediately after the UN adopted the partition resolution on November 29, 1947. The Arabs declared a protest strike and instigated riots that claimed the lives of 62 Jews and 32 Arabs. Violence continued to escalate through the end of the year. 4

The first large-scale assaults began on January 9, 1948, when approximately 1,000 Arabs attacked Jewish communities in northern Palestine. By February, the British said so many Arabs had infiltrated they lacked the forces to run them back. 5 In fact, the British turned over bases and arms to Arab irregulars and the Arab Legion.

In the first phase of the war, lasting from November 29, 1947 until April 1, 1948, the Palestinian Arabs took the offensive, with help from volunteers from neighboring countries. The Jews suffered severe casualties and passage along most of their major roadways was disrupted.

On April 26, 1948, Transjordan’s King Abdullah said:

All our efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Palestine problem have failed. The only way left for us is war. I will have the pleasure and honor to save Palestine. 6

On May 4, 1948, the Arab Legion attacked Kfar Etzion. The defenders drove them back, but the Legion returned a week later. After two days, the ill-equipped and outnumbered settlers were overwhelmed. Many defenders were massacred after they had surrendered. 7 This was prior to the invasion by the regular Arab armies that followed Israel’s declaration of independence.

The UN blamed the Arabs for the violence. The UN Palestine Commission, which was never permitted by the Arabs or British to go to Palestine to implement the resolution, reported to the Security Council on February 16, 1948, that “powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.” 8

The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight. 9

The British commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, John Bagot Glubb admitted:

Early in January, the first detachments of the Arab Liberation Army began to infiltrate into Palestine from Syria. Some came through Jordan and even through Amman . . . They were in reality to strike the first blow in the ruin of the Arabs of Palestine. 10

Despite the disadvantages in numbers, organization and weapons, the Jews began to take the initiative in the weeks from April 1 until the declaration of independence on May 14. The Haganah captured several major towns including Tiberias and Haifa, and temporarily opened the road to Jerusalem.

The partition resolution was never suspended or rescinded. Thus, Israel, the Jewish State in Palestine, was born on May 14, as the British finally left the country. Five Arab armies ( EgyptSyriaTransjordanLebanon and Iraq) immediately invaded Israel. Their intentions were declared by Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.” 11


1New York Times, ( December 1, 1947).
2Facts on File Yearbook, (NY: Facts on File, Inc., 1948), p. 48.
3J.C. Hurewitz, The Struggle For Palestine, (NY: Shocken Books, 1976), p. 308.
4Facts on File 1948, p. 231.
5Facts on File 1947, p. 231.
6Howard Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 322.
7Netanel Lorch, One Long War, (Jerusalem: Keter Books, 1976), p. 47; Ralph Patai, ed., Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, (NY: McGraw Hill, 1971), pp. 307-­308.
8Security Council Official Records, Special Supplement, (1948), p. 20.
9Security Council Official Records, S/Agenda/58, (April 16, 1948), p. 19.
10John Bagot Glubb, A Soldier with the Arabs, (London: Staughton and Hodder, 1957), p. 79.
11Isi Leibler, The Case For Israel, (Australia: The Globe Press, 1972), p. 15.

This article can be found at

Source: Myths & Facts Online -- A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Mitchell G. Bard.


Iran Alert


The Conference of Presidents has launched a new website,  IranAlert features:


- the latest news, updated daily, on the Iranian nuclear threat, missile program, and Iran divestment campaigns;

- recent analysis and commentary, as well as a collection of "must reads";

- key documents from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations, the US Government, and other governments;

- background information on Iran's nuclear and missile programs; and

- links to Iran divestment bills in state legislatures.






Shabbat Across America DINNER!






Learn   How   and   Why   To   Wear   Tallit   and   Tefillin

Guest    Speaker,    Cantor    Rachael    Littman


April  29,  2007  at  1:00pm,  at  the  home  of  Cantor  Littman


$25 Minimum Donation to Benefit Torah Fund*    Open to Paid-Up Sisterhood Members Only**

*Free to Purchasers of 2006-07 Torah Fund Pin **Dues Paid Now Will Be Applied to 2007-2008


Space Limited to First 50, So Reserve Now!

RSVP to Ellen Gottfried, 322-6901,  x308


Karen Hainbach, Chair, 322-8842











SUNDAY MAY 20TH , 2007

10:00 am - 12:00pm


Our kindergarteners and their wonderful teacher, Marlyn Agatstein, would like to invite you to visit their class. On Sunday, May 20, 2007, we will be opening our classroom and welcoming your family to come and share our classroom experiences with us. You will have the opportunity to explore our curriculum, sing with Nurit Avigdor, our music teacher, meet Karen Tobias, our creative art teacher, and cook delicious food for the holiday of Shavuot. This open house event will take place in the kindergarten room (lower level) at Temple Beth El Hebrew School.

We look forward to your joining us at 10:00 a.m. for two hours chock-full of fun activities. Feel free to bring the entire family with you!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call/e-mail

Eran Vaisben, our Education Director:; 203-322-6901, ext.305

or Sheryl Young, our Hebrew School Committee Chair:;  203-975-1990.


Learning and Latte at Borders

Stamford’s long-running monthly interfaith “tri-alogue”

featuring Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Rev. Douglas McArthur and Dr. Behjat Syed

This year’s topic:

“Moral Dilemmas for a World in Crisis”

Join us as we engage in friendly dialogue about some of the hot-button issues of the day.  

Meets on the second Tuesday of each month from 7:30-8:30 PM, October-May

 Topics (subject to last-minute adjustment to keep up with the headlines)


May 8 – What is the future of religion in America?  The world?  Is religion a source of evil? Can other religions be “true?”  How can pluralism work for the believer?


Support our Temple Gift Shop! 




Ready to renew or reinvent yourself?


Join us at Temple Beth El’s


May 3, 2007 at 7:00 p.m.


You are invited to this special event where you can get valuable tips on how to live healthier and feel great. You will hear from:


*      personal shopper on fashion

*      personal trainer on fitness

*      Weight Watchers representatives


Also, you’ll see makeup (before and after) done by Sue Berkoff as well as spring hair ideas.



Enjoy the vendor boutique and snacks.

Come relax with friends and take time for YOURSELF!



Bring a friend or two! The first 100 to respond will receive a special “Feel Beautiful” goody bag from Dove, along with other coupons and treats.


And to help you on your road to good health, the JCC is offering a 20% discount to all new JCC members plus a donation to TBE Sisterhood for all new members.


Patron   $20 ($25 at door)

Non-Member                     $25

Sponsor                             $36

Benefactor                         $54

Juniors (9-18)     $15


RSVP by April 20, 2007


Make checks payable to Sisterhood and send to Eileen H. Rosner, c/o Temple Beth El, 350 Roxbury RoadStamfordCT  06902


Co-chairs:  Mindy Fishman 203-594-9171 or and Maureen Leffand 203-569-7024 or


-         - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Sisterhood of Temple Beth El

Ladies’ Nite Out – May 3, 2007


Name of Guest(s) ____________________________________


Number Attending ______________                          Amount Enclosed _____________


Please make checks payable

to Sisterhood and send to:                           Check one:


Eileen H. Rosner                                                         ___ Patron ($20 Sisterhood member $25

c/o Temple Beth El                                                                     non-member)

350 Roxbury Road                                       ___ Sponsor ($36)

StamfordCT  06902                                    ___ Benefactor ($54)

___ Junior – ages 9-18 ($15)












From JFS



DEADLINE FAST APPROACHING FOR AN EVENING WITH JFS- SUNDAY – MAY 6 – 5:00 PM: Honoring Mitzvah Award Recipients Linda B. Gornitsky and Nancy Zinbarg Mimoun and Young Leadership Award Recipient LaurieAnn Scher. Reception and dinner at Congregation Agudath Sholom, 301 Strawberry Hill Ave.  For additional information and to RSVP, contact Iris Morrison at 921-4161 (Stamford); 454-4992 (Westport); or email




Jewish Family Service

733 Summer Street, 6th floor

StamfordCT  06901


The Fairfield County Jewish Couples 20s/30s Meetup Group

Meet other local Jewish couples. It is always nice to have one thing already in common. We are not religion pushers or ultra-religous people. We are just a group of couples looking to find a social network in Fairfield County.

You know that stage, college is over, the real world began. Yet you aren't in the children phases yet. How do you meet people? Dinner parties, Drinks, Friends to share and celebrate your birthday with...


Saturday, June 16, 2007, 7:00 PM 2007


(A location for this event hasn't been chosen yet)


Join Us for our very first Meetup! We are thinking of having everyone over to our house. A BBQ just to get to know everyone. No specific activities. Nothing is set in stone-so if you have any ideas bring them on!

Looking forward to meeting everyone!




The InterFaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut invites you to join with others of interfaith commitment on the following occasions:



Our Spring General Assembly

Thursday, May 17th, at 7:00 PM

at Bethel A.M.E. Church

150 Fairfield Ave.

in Stamford.


With a panel discussion focused on "Changing Perspectives on God in an Age of Terrorism."   Christian, Muslim and Jewish panelists--Rev. Elizabeth Krentz-Wee of St. Michael's Lutheran Church in New Canaan, Dr. Kareem Adeeb, President and Imam of the American Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies, and Rabbi Josh Hammerman of Temple Beth El in Stamford--will address this topic with Q&A to follow.  Also Reverends Ron Evans and Gary Brown will be presented with Interfaith Council Distinguished Service Awards for years of valuable interfaith contributions to our region. Some very brief Council business will also be conducted.


Thanks to Elizabeth Libner for this one:


"Hello. You have reached the office of the Board of Rabbis. If you are Orthodox, press 1. If you are Conservative, press 1 or 2. If you are Reform, press any button you like. If you are Reconstructionist, press all the buttons. Please hold while I transfer your call."

(1)  Hello. You have reached the Orthodox rabbi. The answer to your question is that it is forbidden by the Torah.
(2)  Hello. You have reached the Conservative rabbi. The answer to your question is that we have ruled that either answer is acceptable to some of us and neither answer is acceptable to all of us. We hope this has been helpful.
(3)  Hello. You have reached the Reform rabbi. The answer to your question is: if you want to, sure, why not? Who are we to say?
(4)  Hello. You have reached the Reconstructionist rabbi. The answer to your question presumes there is an answer to your question. However, my role is to empower you to answer your own question. To answer your own question, please hang up now.




Previous Shabbat-O-Grams can be accessed directly from the archives on our web site (

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