Thursday, 27 August 2015

Intimidation of Jews on Temple Mount

Dani Seeman, a guide with The Temple Institute, posted these videos of a recent tour group he led on Temple Mount.

While the introduction Dani gives is fascinating, together with the security briefing by a policeman, once the group gets onto Temple Mount itself, most of his guided tour is drowned out by the constant heckling of initially women and then also men - incessantly shouting "Alah Akhbar!" at the visiting Jews.

I have witnessed similar, but less organized, harassment on and around Temple Mount. The situation appears to have got far worse. I understand the funded harassers are now a constant part of visiting Temple Mount these days.

Dani explained to me: "this is unfortunately now the norm. The Muslims constantly test the boundaries & push out when they see that the police don’t react. (so much for Bibi’s holy ‘status quo’).

"The more I go up the more I am convinced that the way to improve things is to get more Jews involved, more going up & more often. Then will be more push from below on the establishment."

I admire Dani for his persistence & calmness in the face of the intimidation and harassment. The Show Will Go On!

[Plug: If you are looking for a guided tour of the Temple Mount, Dani's email is]

These Jewish Students Just Made a HUGE Kiddush Hashem on National Televi...

Monday, 24 August 2015

Important Progress: Rabbis Sign Declaration to Report Child Abuse

In an important step forward, around 100 orthodox rabbis from the USA have signed a declaration, calling upon members of the public to report child abuse allegations and cases directly to the authorities (without being required to involve a rabbi in that decision).

It is believed that this statement has been prompted by the case of Todros Grynhaus in Manchester, England, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sexual crimes against two under-aged girls.

Important Announcement

We, the undersigned, affirm that any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse has a religious obligation to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information. These individuals have the experience, expertise and training to thoroughly and responsibly investigate the matter. Furthermore, those deemed “mandated reporters” under secular law must obey their State’s reporting requirements.

Lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse, as we are too often tragically reminded. The Torah’s statement in Leviticus 19:16, “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed," obligates every member of the community to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others.

In conclusion, every individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable cause for suspicion of child abuse has a Torah obligation to promptly notify the proper civil authorities.

This follows a previous statement in 2011 by the US Agudath Yisrael, following the tragic and gruesome murder of 8 year old Leiby Kletzky in Borough Park, New York, which directed their followers to report abuse cases and suspicions to their rabbi, to seek a ruling whether or not to report onwards to the authorities.

In that 2011 declaration, the Agudah used the term "reglaim ledavar"- which is a halchik definition of level of certainty of the facts - which can only be ruled upon by a halachik authority, ie a rabbi.
"Where there is “raglayim la’davar” (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused or molested, the matter should be reported to the authorities."

"However, where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim la’davar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities."


"the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi…"

The Agudah statement does not distinguish between mandated and non-mandated reporters under the law. 

In parallel to that statement from Agudah, also in 2011, the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America - a Modern Orthodox rabbinical organization) also issued their own statement.

The RCA's bottom line is:

"if one becomes aware of an instance of child abuse or endangerment, one is obligated to refer the matter to the secular authorities immediately,"

and then adds,

"As always where the facts are uncertain one should use common sense and consultations with experts, both lay and rabbinic, to determine how and when to report such matters to the authorities."

On the related topic of those who are "mandated reporters" (ie required by US law to report suspicions of child abuse):

"A person covered by mandatory reporter laws must comply with those laws, even in a case in which
Jewish law might otherwise not require a person to report such child abuse or endangerment."  

In almost verbatim wording to the new rabbinical statement, the 2011 RCA statement also refers to the biblical injunction not to "stand by the blood of your neighbour":

The biblical verse “do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed" is understood by Jewish Law to mandate that one must do all in one’s power to prevent harm to others - even if monetary harm, but certainly physical harm.
Conclusion: It is very encouraging progress that the signatories of the new statement have publicly stepped forward and rejected the Agudah policy which requires anyone with a suspicion of child abuse to first report and take direction from their rabbis - but rather to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information.

Kol Hakavod - Kudos to these many distinguished rabbonim!!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Off The Beaten Track: Kutná Hora, Czech Republic

We headed off the beaten path during a family vacation in the Czech Republic, having rented a car, and we went to Kutna Hora, about an hour's drive East from Prague.

Kutna Hora is a picturesque small town which achieved prominence during the middle ages and until the 16th Century, due to its (then) rich silver mines and associated industries, such as a Mint (which continued for several centuries after the silver mines were abandoned). 

The Silver Museum in the town includes the option of dressing up in sort-of miner's gear and then going through shafts and tunnels of the ancient mines. It felt a bit like Hezekiah's tunnel in King David's City, Jerusalem, just without the water.  

We found an information leaflet in the museum about a new exhibition at the town's synagogue, a five minute walk away. 

The impressive synagogue  building (photo above) had a prominent star of David on the front of the building, and several more on other facades. There was also a recent sculpture in front of the building, with Jewish themes. 

Our tour guide was a boy (I guess 17), called David who spoke some English. When I asked him, he said that his grandmother on his father's side was Jewish. 

The synagogue is currently used as an active Church, adorned (as my son pointed out) with a large picture of a Jewish person (being crucified), and so we didn't go into the main sanctuary.  

David kindly obliged by taking photos of the main exhibits in the exhibition, and then explained them to us and answered our questions.
The story is that Jews were only permitted, during the main period of Kutna Hora's silver-boom in the Middle Ages, to be employed in limited tasks and professions. Along with being excluded from many trades, Jews were also forbidden to live in the town itself. 

The Jews therefore lived in surrounding villages where they built synagogues, schools and communal facilities, and traveled in to the town to work. 

This synagogue was relatively recently built (19th Century), and was actively used until the deportation in the summer of 1942 to Therezinstadt and the subsequent murder of all but 15 of the 110 Jewish inhabitants of Hutna Hora. Their names are recorded on the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, along with around 77,000 names of their fellow Czech Jews who also were murdered by the Nazis. 
Pinkas Synagogue, Prague, with names of Holocaust Victims 
There was apparently one Jewish woman who lived in the town until she recently passed away. There are no known Jews living in the town today. 

The modest Jewish museum was opened this year.  

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Those Ubiquitous Caps

Whether or not to look Jewish is a big issue when travelling abroad - particularly with concerns of antisemitism in Europe and Israel-phobia throughout the world. 

On a visit to Prague, Czech Republic, last week, I again revisited this topic.

Many of the Jewish travelers I met there, were wearing baseball caps. This in an effort to keep their Jewish identity low-profile. I attach a photo of one such gentleman who kindly agreed to pose. 

I noticed that almost none of the genuine gentiles in Prague were wearing baseball hats.

And those occasional fellows who did, did not wear formal black trousers, shirts, etc - but rather shorts and tee shirts, with their caps. 

In short, there is probably no surer sign that someone is Jewish while abroad, than the now ubiquitous 'Jewish' hat - the baseball cap.   

I further reasoned that any reasonably informed antisemite, would know that.

Furthermore, any well-intentioned casual passers-by, who may recognise a kippa as a distinctive Jew identifier,would probably NOT recognise the baseball cap as such.

So imagine the following scenarios:

Jewish Chap 1 is abroad and, in an attempt to look like a gentile, wears his baseball cap. 
Regretfully, the nightmare comes true, and he is set upon by antisemites. Bystanders assume it is a common brawl going on, and keep well away.

Jewish Chap 2 is also abroad, and proudly and openly Jewish, wears his kippa. Unfortunately, he too is set upon by Jew-hating thugs. However, instantly recognising this is a racist attack, onlookers quickly intervene to save the Jewish victim. (Yes, I do believe there are many regular gentiles in Europe who would do this).    

QED - if you want to be safe and also cover your head while abroad - I recommend wearing a kippa, not a baseball cap!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Do Extreme Acts Require An Extreme Response?

The two blood-chilling murders of the past days, the murder 16 year old Shira Banki by knife-wielding Yishai Schlissel, and the burning to death of one-and-a-half year old Ali Dawabsha, have evoked repugnance and horror in the Israeli public.

The Cabinet has reportedly issued decrees enabling the security services to use anti-terror imprisonment and torture methods against Jewish terrorists.

These policies, which are no longer used against Arab terror suspects, due to the intervention of the Supreme Court, include the ability of the police to retain and hold suspects without trial, charging and access to lawyers, for unlimited periods; torture methods reportedly include "shaking" which was permitted by the 1987 Landau Commission in cases of "ticking bomb"scenarios, but rarely used in practice due to objections from the legal system and human rights groups.

Arrests of right-wing activists have already started with Meir Ettinger being arrested for suspected involvement in a Jewish terror group.

It is worthwhile noting that, although the Guy Parade in Jerusalem is undoubtedly offensive and provocative to many orthodeox residents, it is grossly unfair to generalise to "Chareidim" as a collective group, from the repeat acts of Yishai Schlissel, an individual who had recently finished his 10 year sentence for a similar stabbing attack on a Gay Parade in 2005.

If there are heads to roll, aside from his, perhaps these should be in the legal process and prison services, who released Schlissel, this truly "ticking bomb" to again endanger the public and tragically shed blood.

The arson attack in the village of Duma, reportedly showed commonality with other "price tag" attacks, chiefly the scrawling of Hebrew graffiti on a wall.

According to reports, the Dawabsha's house was located deep within the sprawling village of Duma and was one of two buildings which were firebombed; not an easy target for Jewish infiltrators into a hostile village. The connection of the grafitti to the arson is circumstantial, and such price-tag-style grafitti is notoriously subject to forgery, including by Arabs to re-frame internecine violence (which is unfortunately a very widespread phenomenon) as "Jewish terrorism" (which fortunately is very rare).

Jews may indeed have been involved in the grisly murder; I don't know one way or the other.

The 'facts' (1+1=2) as laid out instantly by the Palestinians, the press, Israel's police and politicians, should be subjected to thorough forensic verification.

Particularly before using this case as the grounds to introduce far-reaching policies and measures which may rapidly develop into a witch-hunt, such as was launched subsequent to the Rabin assassination.

Schlissel needs to be locked up so that he never endangers the public again - probably for the rest of his life. That closes the case of the Gay Parade stabbing. No further generalisations and new policies are required.

And whoever murdered Ali Dawabsha should be found, arrested, tried and sentenced for their vile crime. As indeed happened in the case of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian youth who was abducted, murdered and burnt in the Jersualem forest.

That is far short of justifying the extreme policy changes that politicians are introducing as their knee-jerk populist responses to these horrific acts.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

10 Years, 10th Av: Gush Gatif - What Didn't Happen Next

Our orange ribbon still hangs from our car mirror. 10 years later. "Zecher LeChorban Gush Katif" - in memory of the destroyed Gush Katif.

Today is 10th Av (although we are marking the 9th, due to Shabbat); the exact Jewish date that the decrees of Hitnatkut/Disengagement was carried out, with the forced evacuation of nearly 9000 Jews form their homes in 21 towns and villages in the Gaza Strip and from four villages in Northern Shomron.

Over the years, it has become clearer that the destruction of the Gush Katif and Northern Shomron settlements, was but a prototype for what was planned to be a much larger expulsion of many more towns and villages in the Yehudah and Shomron.

When Arik Sharon introduced Disengagement, at the Herzlia Conference in 2003, he did not present it as bringing Peace, presenting an Oslo-esque New Middle East, but rather an initiative taken in the context that there was "no Palestinian Partner", and future steps needed to be unilateral rather than negotiated.

The Disengagement was a process by which the State Israel would define its own borders.

This Disengagement therefore required Israel to voluntarily withdraw from all areas which, by 'concensus', would not be part of the future State of Israel. These were described as those areas outside of the "settlement blocks" - ie not Gush Etzion, Ariel and the large Jerusalem neighborhoods, such as Pisgat Zeev, Har Choma, Gilo, etc.

The Evacuation & Compensation Law, which provided the legal basis for the expulsions was framed in such a way that it was not specific to Gush Katif - but rather gave a general foundation for future evacuations.

The sneaking-in of four settlements in North Shomron into the evacuation process of Gush Katif was to provide a precedent for further, much larger withdrawals in both Yehuda and Shomron.

The "Security Fence" was planned by Sharon and implemented as a new national border of the State of Israel.

When Arik Sharon was stonewalled by his own party, in the Likud Party Conference, he withdrew from the Likud party (which he had founded) and then in November 2005 (after Gush Katif was rubble) set up his own  new party 'Kadima'.

Kadima's explicit platform was to withdraw from all of the 'non-Israeli' Yehudah and Shomron. In English, the Hitnatkut policy was re-named The Re-Alignment Plan.

This led to Shimon Peres leaving the Labour Party (his home for 60 years), along with many other left wing politicians, and joining as no.2 in Kadima "to promote the Palestinian Peace Process"

When Arik Sharon had a stroke and became comatose, the Kadima Party leadership passed to Part Chairman, Ehud Olmert.

Olmert's Kadima won the 2006 General Election and, with a clear popular mandate, there was now no political obstacle to enacting the next stage/s of Hitnatkut - "Re-Alignment".

This next phase of Re-Alignment was to have been the destruction and evacuation of between 40,000 to 100,000 Jews from many (up to 100) towns and villages, including Kiryat Arba, Shilo, Bet El, Eastern Gush Etzion (Tekoah etc), Hebron, Hebron Hills, perhaps Givat Ze'ev, small settlements in East Jerusalem, etc..etc..

The first fly in Olmert's ointment was Amona - a small settlement in Yehuda. Four buildings were slated for destruction and this was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The campaign against these demolitions was not in the hands of Moetzet Yesha, who had led the Gush Katif campaign, but had returned to the grass roots, reminiscent of the Oslo campaign.

On 1st February, 2006, in a bitter clash between 10,000 security personnel (police and army) against 4000 mainly young demonstrators, hundreds were injured. Among them, my daughter Shira was knocked unconscious there by a police woman's baton, and my nephew had his arm deliberately broken by a riot-policeman.

A subsequent national enquiry found that the security forces had acted with excessive brutality, deliberately breaking bones and smashing heads of teenage protesters.

The idea of settlers hugging soldiers, as had been stage managed at Gush Katif, was history - and the future Re-Alignment evacuations would appear to follow a far more violent model, with the potential for civil war.  Many erstwhile supporters in the Kadima Party, voiced reservations and even withdrew their public support for Re-Alignment.

The final break-down of the Alignment Plan was the 2nd Lebanon War.

The disastrous 2nd Lebanon War, which was not planned, but rather spontaneously triggered by the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the Lebanon border, resulted in high Israeli casualties, international outcry against Israel, and some tactical victories against Hezbollah.

Having spent two years focused on evacuating Jews from Gush Katif, the IDF was clearly ill-equipped to defend Israel.

On the last days of the Lebanon War, Ehud Olmert announced that the Re-Alignment Plan was 'shelved'.

With all the bitterness and grief I still feel ten years later for the residents and towns of Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron - I feel grateful that God directly intervened in the following years to prevent even more tragic destruction of vastly more people and their communities in the next planned stage/s of the Hitnatkut from Yehuda, Shomron and East Jerusalem.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Is Life Like Waze?

I was told an interesting parable by my daughter Avital, in the name of Rav Daniel Stavsky.

This is an interesting approach to the old chestnut question how can we have freedom to choose, when God is all knowing and is in control of the whole world, down to the finest detail?

Life is like Waze. (Waze is an Israeli-invented GPS and traffic management system)

The beginning and end of each trip is defined.

The optimal route is also mapped out for us.

Yet, at any point in the journey we can use our own judgement to change or ignore the route, whether motivated by I-know-better, or simply failing to follow the instructions properly.

There may be significant consequences to departing from the instructed route - Waze no longer guarantees getting to our objective in an optimal way.

The optimal route can also be changed by Waze mid-stream, as conditions change in real-time on the roads. These factors are outside of our control or influence.

However, we can chose to contribute by sending Waze (and other users) information, such as about obstacles we experience in our journey, traffic reports, etc - thereby helping other people to have an easier journey.

What do you think - is life really like Waze?