Monday, December 31, 2007

Marriage for America


It was quite a while ago and I hope that in the meantime, both main figures of this story are happily married or at least, happy with their lives.

It was an Erev Shabbat and I together with a few other people were invited at my friend Channah's. Channah lives in Mea Shearim and has been married for many years to a Satmarer Chassid. Together, they have more than ten children of whom all are married and already have their own children.

Whoever comes to Channah's Shabbat meals has to get used to many things. Among other things, women and men do have separate seating; the women in the living room with the old Austrian red furniture, and the men sit right at the entrance door in front of the living room.

The separation is due to modesty reasons and usually Channah's husband is taking care of male visitors while Channah and her daughters like to talk to the females.

I was sitting next to the door and could spy into the men's section. A Satmarer Chassid at about my age was sitting there. Channah was running around with her dishes and told me that the guy was born in Hungary and had joined Chassidut Satmar only recently. To be honest, I already thought about how to manage a Shidduch date with the guy but Channah destroyed all my dreams. She announced that the guy had just got engaged with a very nice young American girl.

Who could that be ? Of course, a girl who had also found her way to Satmar and was ready to wear a hanky (white Tichel) over her wig on Shabbat.

Nevertheless, I was totally mistaken. A very nice young girl walked in and her face was shining. Her fiancée seemed to be happy as well but I was upset.

On the next day, we were all back at Channah's for lunch. This time, our host couldn't stop talking about the nice couple anymore. She just went on and on.

Afterwards I didn't see the couple for a few months and had already forgotten about the incident. But only until I once took a bus from the Kotel (Western Wall) to my religious neighbourhood where I used to live. The bus was packed with Haredim and suddenly someone tipped on my shoulder. It was the American girl from Channah's. I would have never recognized her but she did.

Curiously I asked if she and the Hungarian had finally got married.
She told me that the whole thing was just a disaster. "The only thing he wanted was my American passport in order to live in the States."

Every day he asked her at least a thousand times when she is ready to move to New York but she had made Aliyah and didn't intend to return to the US. As soon as he finally got the message, he left her. Or in other words, she kicked him out.
Probably he was already busy looking for another young American girl who believed his stories. The Satmar thing had just been his own show and he wasn't interested at all.

The girl was lucky to find that out before her wedding. And I was happy that I never had to face such a situation.

Maybe the Hungarian would have also liked a German passport, who knows. The only thing is that I am only an Israeli citizen, as I lost my German citizenship.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Not for me


It has nothing to do with yesterdays Tish but somehow it struck me. For quite some time I have been asking myself why I am completely unable to join a chassidic group. Is it the way of following just one rebbe or ideology ? Is it the kind of dress including wearing a skirt all the time ? Wearing a skirt can sometimes be a real pain and I am only a skirt type on Shabbat. That's enough for me.

But when I look at it, I could change. Even wearing a skirt.
First I thought that I am too lazy to make an effort. However, since last night, I really know why I could not join a group. The reason is very simple: I am just not made for a group. I cannot imagine joining all these women in a particular chassidic group, being one of them and sitting together in order to talk about women's issues. Cooking, kids, neighbours, household. This would totally bore me to death.

Not that I am intending to talk about Talmud studies, history, science or whatever. But being limited within a society and being forced to behave in a certain way in order to get accepted by the society is not for me. The thing which would bother me most is having no one to talk to.

Of course, many (especially those from Chabad) might claim that not all the women are uneducated and that it is possible to find someone to talk to. Chabad would say: "Come and join us, as we are the most intelligent Chassidut".

True or not, the closed women's clubs bother me and I am definitely not one of them.

The Dance of the Rebbe


Gur, Belz, Karlin - Stolin, Toldot Aharon, Toldot Avraham Yitzchak and the Slonim are the biggest chassidic groups giving Tishes on Shabbat. Those Tishes are quite popular and mostly packed. But who really knows about the small chassidic group Kretchnif ?

As usual, we went for the Shabbat dinner at Rabbi Mordechai Machlis and there we forgot to pay attention to the time. Suddenly it was 11pm and almost to late for any Tish. During the winter, the Tishes start much earlier and the one's which don't are not taking place at the moment. As I wrote before, the Rebbes of Avraham Yitzchak as well as Toldot Aharon are abroad.

We had to make new plans and decided to go to Dushinsky frist. There is was too quiet and we figured that there won't be a Tish. Through Rehov Yoel we wanted to enter Mea Shearim but got stuck on the way. Across the Beit Midrash of Satmar and the Karlin – Synagogue is a small street called Avinoam. And in Avinoam the the synagogue of Chassidut Kretchnif.

The building is rather big and the women's entrance is, as so often, on the backside of the building. After all the amounts of food at the Machlises, climbing up the stairs to the third floor was rather difficult. But as soon as one manages, he doesn't regret all the efforts. Before you get to the women's side, you have to pass a small way which is open to the outside. From there you have a great view over Jerusalem.

The women's side was anything but busy. Only a few women from Kretchnif were there. Including the Rebbitzen who was placed on a kind of thrown; just as her husband downstairs. She seems to be a very nice woman although almost everybody else looks at outsiders as if they are suspicious. This is only at the women's side whereas men from outside the group are not being starred at. And last night, the place was full of outsiders: Toldot Aharon, Slonim, Satmar, Gur, Belz, Shomrei Emunim and three young litvishe guys. The Rebbe of the Jerusalem Kretchnifer accepts everybody and hands out food to anyone. He is very welcoming. The women upstairs, on the other hand, are a very closed group and I think that it would take a long time until they open up.

We arrived relatively late and it was already 11.30pm. The Rebbe had finished eating and was now conducting the Chassidim and motivate them to sing. He likes all the singing and he encourages everybody to participate. Chairs and tables were moved aside and then the show began. The Rebbe was standing in front of his chair and all the Chassidim were dancing around him in a big circle. Then they took their seats again and the Rebbe started dancing alone. This was very nice to see and I really enjoyed it.

In the meantime, a fruit tray and two giant cakes were shipped in. One cake was seemingly a carrot cake and the other was what we call in Hebrew "Ugat Sheish". Both of them were still steaming and the nice smell was all over the place. But before the goodies were handed out, another circle was built and more dancing took place. This time, the Rebbe joined the Chassidim and danced with them in a circle. He was so fast that all the others couldn't keep up with him. The Rebbe just sang and danced. Finally everybody lined up in front of him and got fruit and cake.

Even the Rebbitzen and her small clan. I wasn't interested in all these woman but tried to listen to the Rebbe who gave a Drasha. He spoke about the Exodus, that the Jews got the Mitzwah of Shabbat and that whoever keeps Shabbat, comes out with a strengthened soul (Neshama).

The Rebbe spoke in Yiddish and it is not easy to understand him, as he doesn’t speak too loud and clear. Even the Chassidim had to move closer and be silent. I was in the middle of listening, as the women suddenly started to talk while eating the cake. Why do women always have to start talking when the Rebbe speaks ? Can't they just talk about their family businesses later and listen for a few minutes ? However, the noise destroyed my hearing the Rebbe and I wasn't able to follow his Drasha anymore.

A few more songs after the cake and the Tish was over.
I have to admit that we really enjoyed it this time. All the times before we only saw Kretchnif as a replacement but now, as we saw more, we look at it as a great Tish. I can really recommend it and if you are a guy, line up early for the cake.

Here a Link to a Video where the Kretchnifer Rebbe of Jerusalem is dancing with his youngest daughter. For modesty reasons, the daughter has her face covered with a Tichel.

The Kretchnif Tish

Friday, December 28, 2007

What's up with Gur ?


Again, Erev Shabbat is approaching and actually we were planning to join the Maariv - prayer at the great synagogue of Chassidut Gur (Yiddish: Ger). However, I just spoke to a few Gerer Chassidim and was told that their Rebbe is not coming to Jerusalem tonight. Instead, he is staying at home in Bnei Brak.

The Rebbe might be coming to Jerusalem in about two weeks or more. If anyone is interested in going to Gur:

1. There will not be a Tish in Jerusalem for the coming two weeks.

2. The Shabbat prayer does not take place in their great synagogue but in the Gerer Beit Midrash in Ge'ulah.

The present Rebbe of Chassidut Gur: Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter

As I am female, I am not allowed to go to the Gerer Rebbe's Tish but I was told (by men) that the Tish is only for 1,5 hours. The Rebbe quickly eats and finishes his Tish rather early, as he very much emphasizes Gemara - studies. And this is what they do right after the Tish: studying Gemara.

Nevertheless, we will see which Tishes are on tonight and I will let you know on Sunday.

Have a great Shabbat - Shabbat Shalom - Gid Shabbes from Jerusalem.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

How stupid should a woman be ?


The latest edition of the "Jewish Press" is mentioning an interesting subject and actually I have been thinking about it lately anyway. Probably because this Tuesday, someone announced at a shiur that she just got engaged. The wedding is probably taking place before Pessach. The thing bothering me, of course, is the fact that she only saw her fiancée ten times. So far.

My intention is not to talk about her but about the Shidduchim practices in general. I do accept that religious Jews just don't go out and pick up someone in the street in order to get married. Each religious group follows its own customs. Generally, the national religious are more open, the Haredim more closed, whatever. Anybody familiar with the subject knows that the one following these kind of practices could write novels about his experiences.

The article in the "Jewish Press" was bringing up the interesting question if an intelligent woman going to a Shidduch should pretend to be stupid. Isn't it better to find out first who the guy is coming to the meeting ? If he prefers having a wife studying Talmud or at the university or rather someone being at home and raising the kids ?

The conclusion was that many women do think that way and first pretend to be uneducated.

I couldn't believe what I read. Almost the whole female orthodox world is talking about some kind of emancipation. For instance, Talmud study for women has become very popular among the litvishe society in Jerusalem.

How can a young woman undermine her education when she is going or even looking for a Shidduch ? Why not tell the truth and, by the way, who wants to be married to such a guy who wants a rather uneducated woman ? He should look for such a woman from the beginning and the educated woman shouldn' t even take him into consideration. Why pretend ? Only because she is desperate and wants to get married ?

The main question is why men many times prefer an uneducated wife ? Maybe in order to avoid that the wife might find out later that the husband is not the greatest Talmid Chacham as he always claimed ?
Are men in general being afraid of intelligent women ?
I don't see why a woman should not go to universities or study Talmud. And, by the way, I don't think that every man studying Talmud is really made to study it. There are many incapable men as well but obviously no one is telling them the truth.

When Chabad explains the Chassidic World….

then everything just sounds too much Chabad and no other chassidic group or context is being mentioned anymore.

Exactly this kind of experience I had last night when I went for a shiur to the Jerusalem Israel Center (Orthodox Union).
I was the first of our course to arrive and our usual classroom was already occupied by a small group of Israeli women. Later they went to a different room but before, I had plenty of time to talk to those women. Basically they were secular but wanted to participate in a shiur about "Relationships in the Chassidic World".
First I thought that this is concerning Shidduchim but I was mistaken. One woman told me that the shiur is about relationships between wife and husband in the chassidic society.

"Wow, I said, this sounds interesting. About what groups is the lecturer talking ?"

"Well, the women responded, our lecturer is a woman from Chabad. So we learn about Chabad and sometimes also about Breslov".

I was quite disappointed and told her that chassidut includes countless chassidic groups and not only Chabad and sometimes Breslov. What about Vishnitz, Satmar, Belz and all those others ? And if the class doesn't want to visit chassidic Tishes on Shabbat and speak to some women there ?

The women from the course was a kind of shocked and said that those chassidic women must be complete extremists and not approachable.

Furthermore, I told her that Chabad is not representative. They and Breslov are rather open minded and cannot be compared to other chassidic groups at all. Of course, you can talk about them but should mention that there are other groups and not call it "Talks about the Chassidic World" but about "Talks about Chabad".

I told them that I write about chassidut and mentioned a few facts about other groups. Suddenly the women were very interested and wanted to know more.

I really would have liked to see the face of the Chabad – lecturer when later her class demanded some information about Belz or Satmar.

It is high time that people understand that the chassidic world does not only consist of Chabad.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Will a Kosher Internet be successful ?


What really really goes on my nerves lately is seeing more and more male Haredim using the Internet in a negative way.
Of course, this is nothing new, as for years Haredim have been sneaking into Jerusalem internet cafes in order to surf through pornographic sites, news, soccer, basketball or forums. At the Internet Cafe in Yaffa Road they even asked for Mechizot (small wooden separations) so that no one can see what they are looking at.

When I mentioned this subject to some haredi friends a few years ago, I was cut off. They claimed that this is only a lie and gossip about the haredi world. And the anti - religious crazy former politician Tommy Lapid had set up this rumour.
In the meantime we all know that the haredi world has a severe problem with the "Yetzer HaRah - the bad side in a person". And it is always the guys using the net and not the Beit Yaakov - girls.

One of the two owners of the Internet Cafe in Yaffa Road told me that every second week the Mea Shearim "Modesty Police - Mishmeret HaZniut" is showing up and asking the owners not to let the haredi population into the Internet Cafe. The owners claim that it is their business and one of them said to me that if even a camel was putting enough money on the counter, it would get a computer. In other words, money is everything.

Lately, some haredi rabbis wanted to make decisions about a kosher internet. The net would be allowed to the haredi population but only kosher sites, of course. But who could check that ? The Haredim enter the Internet Cafe in groups and stay there for 3, 4 or 5 hours. On Mozzaei Shabbat (Shabbat end) they come, put the streimel aside and surf the net. Anybody does it. Litvishe or Chassidim, it doesn't matter who. Belz, Gur, litvish, Breslov, you name it. The only one's I haven't seen so far are Toldot Aharon but this doesn't mean their society is holier than the others.

The same is starting at the university library now. Many Haredim come in and immediately sit at the free computers. Many of them were thrown out, as the university computers are only for research. Well, they do research but not in the subject they are supposed to.

I have no solution solving the problem. On the one hand, people want to be religious or at least they look so from the outside. On the other hand, as soon as a computer is around, the Torah seems to be forgotten.

It is high time for the Yeshivot to deal with the problem.

Neshama Yeterah – The Additional Soul on Shabbat


The simple interpretation of the "Neshama Yeterah" is that it is an additional soul every Jew receives on Shabbat. According to the Talmud and some commentators, a Jew receives this soul every Friday night and according to other opinions, a Jew receives this kind of soul already on Wednesdays.
The most general opinion is, however, that the Neshama Yeterah enters on Friday night and leaves the Jew on Mozzaei Shabbat (right after Shabbat is over).

Nevertheless, the Neshama Yeterah is not an easy subject to understand let alone to write about. Kabbalah has further ideas about the additional soul, but here I only want to talk about the general opinion which is "the additional soul on Shabbat".

In the Gemara in Talmud Taanit 27b you can find a highly interesting discussion. Basically the Gemara is talking about fasting but mentions something else as well. We hear about the Nazareans who mostly used to live in the Galilee in northern Israel. The Nazareans were halachic Jews who kept all the Torah laws but additionally saw Mr. J. as their Meshiach. The Meshiach believe was the only difference to other Jews who did not believe in any J. – stories.

Historically, people from the Galilee were mostly living in villages and not too educated. Furthermore, it was always the north of Israel which was very much into messianic ideas and no wonder that J. came from there.

When J. was walking around and preaching, the uneducated type of Jew from the north believed him and this is why he was quite successful there. In cities, however, he could never gain any majority because J. had to face the educated type of Jew.
After J. died, his followers kept all the Jewish Halachot except but additionally saw him as the Meshiach. They never thought about giving up the Halachot and if someone had told them that once there will be a person called Paul denying anything halachic, they would have been shocked.

The Talmud in Taanit 27b discusses a very interesting subject. Rabbi Reish Lakish cannot understand why the later followers of J. changed the Shabbat from a Saturday into a Sunday. This is absolutely ridiculous, as the additional soul enters a Jew on Friday night. On Saturday night, it leaves him already.
So why turn the original Shabbat into a Sunday ? The change into a Sunday is totally absurd and doesn’t make any sense.The Nazareans were definitely no great talmudic scholars.

If you look into Talmud Sofrim 17:5, you can see the same passage but with one difference. There the Nazareans are called Christians.

Why there and not in Taanit ?

Especially during the Middle Ages, the church forced the Jews to take out whole passages from the Talmud. Not too many passages talk about J. and Christians anyway but the church considered other idol worship subjects discussed in the Talmud as talking about J. This is one of their misunderstandings of the whole Talmud, as the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) for instance, mostly referred to Roman and Babylonian idol worship and not to Christianity at all.
During the Middle Ages and also later, the church was obsessed with keeping its worldwide power and could not take the risk of something against their claims being published.

The former forbidden passages from the Talmud are to be found in the so – called Hashmatot and many Talmud editions have put those passages back anyway.


I have published the same article in my German blog and one reader suggested that the Shabbat was changed into a Sunday because the Christians wanted to make it easier for idol worshipers to adjust. In history, many idol worshipers kept the Sunday as a weekly holiday and wouldn't have been willing to give it up when converting to Christianity.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Latest Missionary Attacks


Yad Le'Achim's latest warnings against missionary activities in Israel:

Christian missionaries are not ashamed to exploit the desparate situation in Sderot

Planned Evangelical village at the Kinneret

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mishkenot HaRoim


Below you can look at the only, so far, existing picture of the Mishkenot HaRoim in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood. The Mishkenot HaRoim are members of the Edah HaCharedit and keep themselves rather as a secret.

In the middle: Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ullmann of the Edah HaCharedit (Chassidut Dushinsky). To the left is the Rebbe of the Mishkenot HaRoim: Rabbi Chaim Rabinovitz.

Yentl and the Progress


Who doesn't remember the movie "Yentl" with Barbara Streisand ? The young Jewish woman Yentl goes to a marketplace of her small chassidic town and and finds a stand where books are being sold. Instead of looking through cooking books or other books concerning womens' issues, she looks through books about Talmudic studies. The owner of the stand runs up to her and sends her to the side with the cooking books.

This situation took place about a hundred years ago but it wasn't unusual at all to find this anywhere in the haredi world until a few years ago. Suddenly many things have changed and more and more Jewish religious (national religious and haredi) are participating in classes for higher Jewish studies. If it is Talmud, Jewish philosophy or even Kabbalah, women are everywhere nowadays. At least in Jerusalem.

The last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, was almost the only chassidic Rebbe emphasizing Talmud studies for women. The Chassidut Breslov claims to be quite open but doesn't offer too many Talmudic studies for women but rather specialize in kabbalistic studies. Or, at least, teach women the stories of Rabbi Nachman on a very high level. But not only Chabad and Breslov seem to catch up, also the litvshe movement is very active. Women Yeshivot like Nishmat or Shearim teach lots of Gemara and offer Chavruta.

I don't really know the historical background when the Jewish mens' world got the idea that a woman should study less and if they do, then only some easier Torah concepts. A little Rashi here, some Tehillim there. Enough.

But when you look back into Jewish history you will find many important Torah educated women. Just look at our foremothers Sarah, Rivka (Rebbeka), Leah and Rachel. They were even on a level of a prophet.

Yael, Deborah and Hulda from the time of the Kings followed suit. Not to forget the daughter of the Talmudic Rabbi Me'ir: Beruriah. And last but not least, Rashi's daughter or Adel (Udel), the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. Not the son of the Baal Shem Tov, Zvi, took over his father's position. It was Adel who was the intelligent one in the family and later gave birth to intellectual children who became well – known Chassidim.

Today there are countless courses for women. There is hardly a subject one cannot learn about. Many women even founded their own institutions and started teaching. With success, as there is a high demand.

Slowly, slowly, even the chassidic society is undergoing some changes. Chabad and Breslov are only the beginning. However, for the women from Vishnitz, Satmar, Belz, Toldot Aharon, this doesn't really apply so far. The men's world would not allow them higher Jewish studies, and I could list many reasons for this.
Let's look at it from the women's side: Too many men are afraid that a woman might get "too" educated and eventually knows more than her husband. What if it turns out that the husband is not the great Torah scholar he always claimed to be ? Should he get mad and be ashamed of himself ?

I think that the wife might take it much easier than her Macho husband. Especially the Mea Shearim Edah HaCharedit could be worried about women studying higher issues. Doesn't this automatically lead to rebellion ?
These are thoughts only a man can think of. Eventually all chassidic will change a bit, as women will not always keep quiet. And by the way, many men even prefer an educated women.

If a group like Toldot Aharon would announce today that courses for higher Jewish learning are available, do you know how many of their women would run and participate in such classes ? The room would be packed.

Let's bet.

Marathon through Mea Shearim


Weather was perfect; only cold but no rain. It was nice to take a walk through the streets of Mea Shearim last Erev Shabbat.

First I ended up with the Machlis family and their hundred guests for the regular Shabbat dinner. It was so packed that three tables on the porch outside had to be set up. My friends and me were lucky, as we succeeded in occupying a table next to the entrance door. Next to us sat a guy from Chabad who had two yellow Meschiach - stickers on his clothes. I don't know if he was one of the Meshichistim or not. I didn't ask him although during the meal, him and me had a great discussion about Chabad chassidut.
According to the Chabadnik, the group does plan many more activities in Germany. I cannot say that Chabad is too successful in Germany, as especially there the Jews bring forward too many prejudices against Chabad. German Jews see all Chabadnikkim automatically as Meshichistim without realizing that there are different movements inside Chabad.

I told the Chabadnik that especially Satmar rejects them because Chabad is too much into missionizing Jews. The Chabadnik laughed and said that this is very true. However, he gave me the Chabad concept about the whole missionizing matter. As we all know, every Jew has a special spark (Nizotz) in his soul connecting him to G - d. By missionizing, this Nizotz is being reawakened and thus the secular Jew can suddenly connect to his Creator. One Torah concept might be enough to reawaken the spark. And this is the task of Chabad.

Actually I was planning to take this Chabad couple with me for a chassidic Tish but somehow the two of them just disappeared. With a friend I went to the Dushinsky Tish first. In the past we hadn't been too lucky with the Tish at Dushinsky's. Either no Tish took place, the women were not allowed in or we came too late.
Last Erev Shabbat then we couldn't believe our fortune. There was a Tish and we even found a good place in the Ezrat Nashim in order to look down to the Chassidim and the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky.

The Dushinsky Rebbe: Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky

I wasn't planning to stay for too long, as I had made up many plans for that night. However, I have to say that although Dushinsky does not have the best Niggunim (songs), they do have the greatest singers. It was more than listening to a professional choir. Next to the room where the Tish takes place, they built a new synagogue. We had a look into it from upstairs and if anyone wants to see a great synagogue should definitely go to Dushinsky. The Aron HaKodesh is huge and on its left side, two special wooden chairs are placed. The bigger one is obviously for the Rebbe and the smaller one seems to be for the second man in Chassidut Dushinsky: for Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ullmann. Rabbi Ullmann is one of the most important figures in the Edah HaCharedit.

After about half an hour we left and walked through Yoel Street into Mea Shearim. Our first destination was the synagogue of the secret Edah group "Mishkenot HaRoim". Usually their two doors are wide open and I though I might be lucky. The door to the left was obviously the men's entrance. There is another door on the right which seemed to be the women;s entrance. We were standing in front of the building and thinking to go in or not.
At the same moment, some litvishe Yeshiva guys showed up and opened the men's door. A Chassid came out and didn't want to let them inside. They had to leave and walked away. Of course, we thought that the same might also apply to us. We walked away as well but couldn't stop thinking about the open women's entrance door.
After 100 meters we decided to go back. Actually my friend was more brave than me. We came back to the building and another Chassid walked out. I asked him if the other door is the women's entrance. He looked at me that replied that they do not have a Tish. He said it and disappeared.

Well, I do not recommend to anyone doing the same as we did after the Chassid walked away. We just walked into the second door. We climbed up some stairs but suddenly saw man'e clothes hanging there. We weren't so sure if this was really a women's entrance and decided to leave. Everything rather looked like a total men's society inside. I will definitely go back and ask some people. The thing I can say is that all kinds of male members of different Edah groups were going in and out. But Edah members only !!!

The chassidic groups of Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak did not have a Tish that night. We heard that the Rebbe of Avraham Yitzchak, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kahn, went on a vacation to Mexico and won't have a Tish for another few months. If this is right I am really asking myself why especially he is going away all the time. Doesn't he have to take care of his Chassidim ? And even if not, there are plenty of Chassidim who do not have much money and hardly make a living. Why then is a Rebbe allowed to travel and waste so much money for himself ? The Rebbes of Belz, Slonim Jerusalem, Kretchnif Jerusalem or Dushinsky are hardly traveling.

Rather spontaneously we decided to visit some synagogues instead. Usually everything is open in Mea Shearim on Friday night. However, last Erev Shabbat everything seemed to be abandoned and people apparently went to sleep early. The synagogues of Sadigora and Kaliv were closed. Tchernobyl was open and busy but, as usual, the women's entrance was locked. This forces us to come back during the daytime. Nevertheless, we had a great long walk and I was completely finished when I finally came home.

This Friday night we are going to the Maariv service. The doors won't be locked because thousands of Chassidim will be praying at this place. I am talking about the huge synagogue of Chassidut GUR.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A busy Shabbat


Sometimes I am really jealous that the New Yorker have such an incredible choice of chassidic Tishes. On the other hand, New York is not Jerusalem and it is better to be here.

This Shabbat, I am planning to go to the synagogue of the unknown group Mishkenot HaRoim. The Mishkenot HaRoim keep themselves as a kind of secret organization. Very little is known about them. They are part of the anti - Zionist umbrella organization Edah HaCharedit in Mea Shearim. A few months ago, they organized a Yahrzeit service for the famous Neturei Karta head Rabbi Amram Blau (Yiddish: Bloi). Rabbi Blau passed away in 1974 and was a famous Jerusalem figure, as he fought against anything anti - religious.

I wanted to participate in the Yahrzeit service. Not because I agree with certain anti - State of Israel ideas, but because I was interested in seeing the group.
From the Mea Shearim posters (Fakshivilim), however, I learned that the memorial service only included the learning of Talmudic Mishnayot. This was it. In haredi circles this means "NO WOMEN" but only men.

I hope the Mishkenot HaRoim let me into their synagogue. Furthermore, I am planning to go to the Munkatch, Tchernobyl and Sadigora synagogues in Jerusalem.

Have a great Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom. Git Shabbes.

Pictures from the ultra - orthodox Mea Shearim / Jerusalem

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Story from the Arizal


The wife of Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, Rabbanit Henny Machlis, very much likes to tell the following story on Shabbat:

It was at the time of the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 - 1572) in Safed.

There was a certain poor couple which one day decided to give G - d a present. They were thinking and thinking what they could give to G-d. Eventually they came to the conclusion to bake Lechem HaPanim (the shewbread from the Temple).

On a Friday morning they started to bake the Lechem HaPanim. They were singing and dancing through the kitchen, and their house was full of joy. An hour before Shabbat, the husband of the couple went to the synagogue and put the Lechem HaPanim into the Aron HaKodesh. The couple hoped that G - d would accept their present for Shabbat.

A little later, the rabbi of the synagogue found the Lechem HaPanim in the Aron and thought: Who could have been so crazy to put Shabbat challot into the Aron HaKodesh.
Finally he took the challot home.

In the middle of the night, the husband of the couple came back to the synagogue, checked the Aron and saw that the bread was gone. Happily he went home and told his wife that G - d had accepted their present.

From now on they did so every Friday. The house was full of joy and they were dancing around the kitchen table. And every Friday, the rabbi was wondering who had put the bread into the Aron. Until one Friday he decided to hide in the synagogue and see what is going on.
That's what he did and after a while he saw the man putting the Lechem HaPanim into the Aron. The rabbi jumped unto the man and said: "What are you doing here?"
The man replied that him and his wife baked the Lechem HaPanim as a Shabbat present for G - d.
You fool, replied the rabbi. Do you really think that G-d needs you presents ? Go home and take your challot with you.

Disappointed and broken came the man home to his wife and told her what had happened. They started crying.

A few days later, the Arizal came to the rabbi and told him that there was a decree in the heavenly court. The rabbi will die within a few days.
Why ? asked the rabbi the Arizal.
The Arizal answered: When the couple baked the Lechem HaPanim, there was so much joy in the upper worlds which had never been since the Temple was destroyed. And you just destroyed the couple's joy. That's why the heavenly court made its decision.

It is not known if the rabbi really died later on or if his Teshuva was accepted.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Looking for a Home


The issue I would like to point out here is only based on my personal experiences in Jerusalem. I cannot say if the same is happening outside Israel.

I have already mentioned the difficulties of converts to orthodox Judaism several times before. People from all over the world come to Bnei Brak or Jerusalem and convert.
The issue which caught my attention is that many of those converts afterwards decide to lead a haredi lifestyle. After their Beit Din they either join a chassidic group or the litvishe movement. According to my experience, most of the participants are male.

As you already expect me to mention, of course, Chabad has many newcomers. Converts as well as born Jews who became religious later on in their lives (Baalei Teshuva). There is a difference between both groups; converts have other reasons joining the Haredim than Baalei Teshuva have. Anyway, so far I would only like to write about the convert issue.

Last night I had a discussion with someone who has met many of such cases as well as I have, and we both came to the same conclusion. Of course, I am not a psychologist but in my opinion many converts feel some kind of homeless after completing their conversion.
First they have a goal which is converting to Judaism and especially passing the Beit Din (Rabbinical Court) and getting the certificate done. But suddenly they realize that they are alone in a foreign land (Israel). They don't have a Jewish family or relatives. They want to lead an orthodox lifestyle but feel completely lonely. Now what ?

For many of them, Chabad and further chassidic groups are becoming a kind of home and even a family replacement. The "new Jews" go to a chassidic group and suddenly there is this feeling of "togetherness" which they haven't felt for a long time. Here they find traditions they didn't have before and they decide to take over those traditions, as they have nothing else. The Rebbe is becoming a kind of a "father figure". And with this statement I do not only mean the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

But not only Chabad is offering a lot; other even extreme groups accept newcomers. Besides, whoever wants to join Chabad should know that from the outside Chabad is considered to be very open to everyone. After having a closer look you will realize that there is a limit for every newcomer. Here I only want to give the example of "Shidduchim". But this is the same in every other chassidic group. None of the new participants is getting a Shidduch with someone who was born into the group. Usually converts marry converts or Baalei Teshuva although people in Mea Shearim always like to show off with the "Amram Blau - Story" and wish to proof you wrong. Rabbi Amram Blau died in the 70ies and used to be the head of the local Neturei Karta. Later in his life, he married a French convert. This happened against the decree of leading Mea Shearim rabbis and, as a punishment, Rabbi Blau was forced to live in the Bnei Brak exile for one year.

It would be very interesting making a study about converts to Judaism joining chassidic groups. What kind of difficulties do they face in their daily lives and how do they deal with them ?

An important step being accepted is getting married quickly. Then you can build your own family and don't have to worry anymore about getting invitations for Shabbat somewhere else. Getting invited for Shabbat as a single is always a pain but many people just don't like to stay at home alone and making their own Kiddush. I heard from many families that they also see it as a pain inviting singles almost every Shabbat.

Once you are married and have children, it might be much easier to adjust and get integrated into society. Realistically speaking, the born Chassidim will always watch you and your kids. In that society (also litvish) everybody is watching the other and newcomers are a permanent object of suspicion. Not necessarily with Chabad but definitely with Vishnitz, Satmar, Belz or Toldot Aharon.

A short while ago a friend of mine told me about a Polish - German couple who converted, joined Satmar and now lives in the Batei Hungari backyard in Mea Shearim. Both of them got adjusted quickly and didn't have any problems learning Yiddish fast. It would be interesting talking to them.

In Judaism it is a Mitzwah to help a convert after his conversion. Make it easy and comfortable for him to feel at home in his new religion. Today, however, things are different and not every convert is really welcomed. There are different reasons for this. One probably is that many converts are simply fakes. Furthermore, haredi society today makes too many differences among each other. They sometimes judge each other to harsh like "He is not good enough or he is not good enough at all". He is in this Yeshiva and I am there, meaning I am better than him. Simply speaking, everybody sees himself above his neighbour and whoever is not like me, cannot be with me.

I cannot understand a convert to Judaism who decides to have such a radical change in his life and joining a more extreme chassidic group. Not only that he has to change his clothes or neighbourhood but many times you also have to change your friends. Not only change but leave the other ones who are not like you anymore behind. I met people who even dumped their Gentile family. More or less.

It seems that sometimes the convert wants to eradicate his entire former history and create a new one. Not always for his environment but at least for himself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ein Sof – The Infinite Hidden G - d


One of the basic principles of Judaism is the concept of an incomprehensible G – d. In Kabbalah G – d is called Ein Sof. For the first time, the name Ein Sof appeared in the writings of Rabbi Azriel of Gerona (1160 – 1238). From the year 1300, the name Ein Sof became very common among the Kabbalists.

Even if the name Ein Sof was introduced much later, it does not mean that this concept did not exist in Judaism before. In fact it did all the time. According to Kabbalah, we never speak about G – d and His inner essence but only about His will. With our human way of understanding we would never be able to comprehend G – d. It is completely beyond our human mind to grasp Him and His being. Ein Sof is an absolute perfect being without any definition. He shows Himself in a way which is beyond nature. Only through His finite creation we are able to know that there is a G – d. The creator of everything from nothing (Yesh Mi Ein). And only through His creation we can estimate the time He is there. This, however, does not mean that G – d wasn't there before His creation. Of course He was, as he has no beginning and no end.

The great kabbalistic master Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534 – 1572) even made a distinction between the different kinds of Ein Sof within the Ein Sof.

According to author of the famous kabbalistic work "Maarechet HaElohut" (approx. 13th century), the hidden side of G – d could not be called G – d but only the revealed side of Him. This extreme claim caused a lot of harsh criticism in the Jewish world, as the hidden G – d Ein Sof is seen as absolute reality.

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) developed a complete new kabbalistic terminology. He identifies the Ein Sof with the Or HaEliyon. Before the creation of the world, only G – d and His inner light existed and filled out everything. The hidden G – d existed before any existence. He neither has a beginning nor an end and will exist forever.

Those kabbalistic concepts are to be understood as metaphors and not to be taken literally !!!

The Fast of Asarah Be' Tevet (10th Tevet)


Even if the Jews outside Israel don't really like to hear it, I cannot imagine that Jews abroad are able to commemorate certain events in Jewish history as authentic as we do in Israel. And especially in Jerusalem. The latest example was Chanukkah.
What do Jews who have never been to Jerusalem know about the Site of the Kotel (Western Wall), the Temple Mount and our city ? When you are standing right here in front of the sites where everything took place, you suddenly get a very different feeling and approach to the holidays.

The same is happening tomorrow with the Fast day of Asarah Be' Tevet. This Fast day is a rabbinic fast but has an immense historical meaning. This year, Asarah Be'Tevet is going to start tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.

On this day, the siege over Jerusalem by the Babylonians began. One of the greatest tragedy in Jewish history. Three years later, on Tisha Be'Av, the First Temple was destroyed. The 10th Tevet stands for endless suffering and destruction.

Generally both Temple destructions are considered as a G - dly punishment. During the times of the First Temple, the Jews participated in idol worship, sexual perversions and even sacrificed their children in the Tofet (a place near the todays' Cinemateq). The Tofet was one of the most horrifying sites in Jerusalem at that time. Even if the Jews believed in G - d, they misunderstood the principle of the sacrifices and thought that G - d favours childrens' sacrifices.

Not only the Temple was destroyed. With it disappeared the Aron HaKodesh with the tablets, prophecy, the Shechina hid itself more, and even the Shemen HaMishcha was gone. Today we do not have any prophecy but rather a Bat Kol which Rashi describes as an echo of a Heavenly voice.

Today many of us might consider the Asarah Be' Tevet as a kind of minor fast. "What does this all have to do with me and the problems today" ?

Leading Rabbis appointed the 10th of Tevet as a Holocaust Memorial Day. Kaddish is said for all the Jews whose date of death or the location of the grave is unknown. Many Haredim consider the Asarah Be' Tevet as the real Holocaust Memorial Day and not the one stipulated by the Knesset. This is one of the reasons why especially Haredim do not stand still when we hear the sirens.

Every year anew, this behaviour is causing harsh criticism but once you know their real reason, you can understand it. Their memorial day is Asarah Be' Tevet. One chassidic friend of mine once made a good point about the whole situation. She told me that the religious and particularly the haredi population does not need sirens or big shows. "What do you do anyway when you listen to the sirens", she asked me. You look around and get exited. We, on the other hand, sit down and say Tehillim".
What she said was actually very true and I agree that silent mourning is the better way.

It says in Talmud Taanit 30b that whoever mourn for Jerusalem will witness its rebuilding. Hence, the Ge'ulah.

In Jerusalem the fast begins tomorow morning at 5.16 am and end in the evening at 5.08 pm.

The 10th Tevet is a day of Teshuva and should lead our hearts to the realization to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. Everybody should realize that the universe was only created for him (Talmud Sanhedrin 37a) and thus, each of us is responsible for his actions. Every Jew has a special purpose in life and among the Jewish people, and he has to fulfill this task. With his actions, he not only influences his generation but also the future generations until the coming of Meschiach.

Zom Kal - Have an easy Fast !!!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kabbalistic Thought from the 13th Century


True prayer brings the human intellect into communion with the "Active Intellect" "like a kiss", but from there it ascends even to union through pure thought intended to reach the First Cause – the Primeval Will and to stand before G – d Himself.

(Zeror HaMor, chapter 5)

The world of Atzilut is pure thought where no speech whatsoever exists. Only G - d.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dancing around the TV


It is impossible to count all the people I have met since I became religious. When I started learning in a Yeshiva, I came in touch with so many people; friends took me to Shabbatot or we went to further Shiurim somewhere else. Suddenly I got to know many national religious and haredim including university professors. I learned how to speak to different people, how to behave. Sometimes it really turned out to be a cultural shock for someone like me not used to this kind of environment. However, I was surprised about myself how quickly I got adjusted and I definitely don't want to miss all the experiences.

The story I want to tell here has nothing to do with Chassidim but rather takes places in the national religious and litvishe world. The story might sound unimportant and quite common but this experience has been one of the most important in my life so far.

About ten years ago, I was invited to visit a certain acquaintance of mine in the national religious neighbourhood of Kiryat Moshe. I was in the middle of a serious religious crises and was about to go back to Germany for a while. To get things cleared out, so to speak.

When I arrived at the house of my acquaintance, let's call her B., I found out that her mother was visiting her as well. The children loved their grandmother so much that they didn't even go to school in order to play with her. The grandmother was only there for a few hours visit and she was playing enthusiastically with her grandchildren. They put a music video into the video machine and listened to children's songs. Suddenly granny and and the kids started dancing around the TV set. It was very funny to watch the whole scene.

Shortly after, the grandmother and me started a very intense discussion. Her daughter had told her that I speak German and it turned out that B.'s mother was actually born in Germany. Before the beginning of the Second World War, B.'s mother had left Germany as a young child together with her parents. They went to Palestine where they went to live in a religious Kibbutz. There, B.'s mother also met her later husband, a very strict religious man.

"I was so young", told me the grandmother. I didn't know anything about the world and hardly anything about the Jewish religion." She got married and had to follow the rules of her religious husband. She never openly complained and bore a few children. Her children turned out to be religious as well and even became haredi. One of her sons is a famous Jerusalem Posek.

"The first thing that I did when my husband died was buying myself a TV", she said. She started enjoying her life anew and was glad to get rid of the pressure. Of course, she still is religious but nothing is done by force anymore. Her children never accused their mother of having a more modern lifestyle now, and just accepted her as she was.

When I told her about my crises, she encouraged me to leave and look for different opportunities. At least to get things sorted out and a clear mind. This, however, doesn’t mean that I would totally leave religion. Instead I should learn how to deal with it and not jumping onto fanatic ideas or feeling guilty all the time.

"Your are still young and don't do the same mistakes as I did", B.'s mother told me. I will never forget her face when she said this to me. I could read all the disappointment of those years in her eyes. I didn't know whether I should feel sorry for her or not. Although she had a hard life, she got great children and grandchildren.

I wonder if she is still alive and might go over to visit B. and ask. I haven't been there for too long.

Shabbes, Shabbes


Last Shabbat I was a little unable to participate in any chassidic Tish. I was suffering from a bad cold and didn't feel like anything but going to bed. I did go for a Shabbat dinner but left early; right after the chicken soup.

On my way home I passed Mea Shearim where a car was driving around in the streets. Of course, the Chassidim started shouting "Shabbes, Shabbes", and the car disappeared quickly. Thus, at least, I got to see some action.

This coming Shabbat however, I am planning to do a lot. Especially by going to a synagogue of a very unknown group.

Shavua Tov – Have a great week !!!!

Friday, December 14, 2007

What's on tonight ?


Honestly I don't know what is on tonight. Whether there are chassidic Tishes and if so, which Rebbes are "performing".

The weather in Jerusalem is awful today. Sunny but very windy and cold. I hope that it won't be raining tonight when we go for the Shabbat dinner to Rabbi Mordechai Machlis.

The convenient thing on the way there is that I already pass the Toldot Aharon / Avraham Yitzchak neighbourhood, the Shivtei Israel Street. I know that we should go to more Maariv prayers in Mea Shearim on Shabbat but what keeps us a little away is that afterwards we have to wait another hour or so at the Machlises.
We already had this situation a few weeks ago when we went for Maariv to Karlin - Stolin.

Another "excuse" might be that the Toldot Aharon women have the custom, not to go to the synagogue on Friday nights. They only go for the Tish.
The women of Avraham Yitzchak, on the other hand, do participate in the Kabbalat Shabbat service but not many, I have to say.

I will let you know after Shabbat what and if something was going on. The one's of you living in New York probably have more to say then I do, as you have plenty of Tishes there. My friend and I have already thought about coming to NYC over Shabbat. :-)

Have a great Shabbes - Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dancing for Meshiach


The last Chanukkah candle was lit last night, and it is always nice to see all the lights shining together. It gives you a feeling of having something completed. For the past eight days, all our bakeries were full of Sufganiot and sometimes you could hardly buy anything else. At least in Jerusalem.

Last night it seemed that the whole city center of Jerusalem belonged to Chabad. They lit the Chanukkiot at Zion Square and in King George. Jaffa Road, near Zion Square, was full of Mitzwe Tanks and further Chabadnikkim were dancing while waving the yellow Meshiach flags in King George (right at the corner of Jaffa Road).

When I walked towards the group of Chabadnikkim dancing for Meshiach, I saw a friend of mine participating. He is anything but a Chabadnik but who knows. Maybe the whole situation has changed.

My friend is in his fourties and used to serve in an army unit until he got fired. His greatest challenge is to get up early in the morning and he mostly fails this mission. The army fired him because he hardly showed up after a while. Then he started working for different security companies where he still could not get rid of his problem. He very much likes doing nothing during the day and instead he just walks around. Jerusalem is full of soup kitchens and no one has to starve to death. My friend knows all of them including the weekly menu.

About a year ago, the unemployment office was fed up with him and sent him to work for another security company. This kind of force helped my friend to get back to himself. Suddenly his self - esteem grew and he had some money to spend. But unfortunately, this didn't last too long and this time it wasn't even his fault. His employer stole 1500 Shekels (approx. 380 $) from his salary without saying a word or giving any reason. My friend became frustrated and he doesn't really have the ability to fight for something. So he kept quiet and left the company.

This was last summer and since he lost his tiny apartment and stayed with a friend. But also the friend couldn't spend any more time with him and eventually my friend moved out. I don't know if he then found Chabad or Chabad found him.
He moved into one of the Chabad Centers and now he has a place to sleep and daily meals. Last week I saw him with a new kipa on his head saying "Melech HaMeshiach". He told me that Chabad gave it to him and that he wouldn't take this too seriously. He laughed and made fun of it.

A few days later, on Shabbat, he didn't show up for the meals at Rabbi Mordechai Machlises' house. This is rather unusual, as my friend used to come every Shabbat for years. Me and some friends made a joke that Chabad doesn’t let him away anymore.

Last night I saw my friend dancing to a Meshiach song with other Chabadnikkim in downtown Jerusalem. They, not him, were waving the yellow Meshiach flag with the blue crown in the middle.
My friend looked rather displeased and I could see that he doesn’t have much of a choice but participating in all the Chabad activities if he doesn't want to loose his bed. However, there was another tiny change: He wore a black hat.
My friend looked almost haredi and only his blue pants disturbed the picture. But never mind.
I went up to him and said HELLO. Very briefly, as he seemed to be quite embarrassed.

This morning I spoke to another mutual friend of ours and he said that Chabad is at least giving him a roof over the head and food. The rest is unimportant.

I don't really know how to judge the situation. Of course, our friend has a roof over his head and enough food but what he lost is his personal freedom. He cannot just make a spontaneous decision and go out. Instead, he has to live according to the Chabad rules or he might be thrown out of the center. I do see the point that Chabad is not a shelter for the homeless but on the other hand, one should not loose his freedom.

Maybe Chabad will change his life and get him to find a goal in life. Even if he doesn't stay with them.
On the other hand, I cannot help myself thinking that Satmar is right. Once, a friend of mine from Chassidut Satmar told me that if a Jew wants to become religious, he should do it because he wants it and not because he is forced to. And especially Chabad would only missionize Jews and don't really give them a choice.

Sunday, December 9, 2007



As soon as I start searching for sociological literature about "Society structures within Chassidic groups", I am having a hard time. There are so many people who think that they have something to say about "Chassidim" but most of those authors only know the subject from other books and others might have had a brief conversion with a Chassid. And then there are those who have lived for a while with a certain Chassidic group such as Satmar.
Very nice but this is not what I am looking for. Actually there are a few interesting studies about chassidic society made by the Brandeis University and that's about it.

What is the chassidic society and why do thousands of their members decide to follow a rebbe and a certain ideology ?

I don't have problems with the chassidic ideology at all, as I follow their teachings and many customs myself. However, I cannot imagine myself following one rebbe and accepting only his decisions and no one else's.

The first chassidic group trying to missionize me was, of course, Chabad. After many shiurim and Shabbatot I was asked to participate. Not only once but several times. When I refused to become a member, the Chabadnikkim were disappointed. Although I did explain all my reasons for being independent. I also studied with Breslov but they somehow did never try to missionize me. Further time I spend with Satmar but there the women only emphasized to me how important it is to be haredi. "One cannot be really religious without being haredi".

My last missionary attacks I "suffered" from Belz. As I know quite a few Belzer Chassidim, the "attacks" are still going on but so far, I always escaped their attempts. I cannot see myself joining any group and following a particular rebbe. But I do wonder how other people can do that. How can they follow a certain ideal ? The reasons are probably very different between those who were born into a chassidic group and those who decided to join from the outside.

A few months ago, I asked a friend of mine who is also dealing with the subject of "Chassidut", why a rebbe needs his Chassidim and why the Chassidim need the rebbe. One could claim that the rebbe is the Zaddik and the group needs him in order to draw itself closer to G – d. On the other hand, there are many opinions in Chassidut (see the Peshis'cha movement) that each Jew has to make his own effort in order to get closer to G – d. And each Jew has his own power to do this and thus, he doesn't necessarily needs a Zaddik, as each of us could be a Zaddik.

My friend, however, answered that in chassidic groups exist a symbioses: The rebbe needs his Chassidim and they need him. As a matter of fact, without this there wouldn't be any chassidic groups.

I would like to give two more examples for my theories:

The Chabad Center in the Jerusalem Mall Ben Yehudah is quite famous. The center has a soup kitchen and offers Shiurim on a regular basis. A few young Chabadnikkim run the center and whoever wants to join and live there is welcomed but has to accept the Chabad rules. I am not sure if I should call this "brainwashing". Brainwashing might be the wrong word, as there are actually people staying in the center who otherwise don't have a place to go. So they keep the Chabad rules in order not to be kicked out.

The Chabadnikkim in the center have their firm timetable. When to get up, when to pray, breakfast, Talmud study and so on. The timetable is so tight that there is no time for personal matters. Everybody needs some time for himself. To think, to relax, whatever. However, the Chabad timetable in the Ben Yehudah center does not allow a free minute. Everything is organized.

The second example I would like to mention is the Chassidut Toldot Aharon.

As far as I could find out, the Toldot Aharon Chassidim have a general meeting every year on the day of the Yahrzeit of the Maggid of Mezritch. Then, their Rebbe (Rabbi David Kahn) gives a Drasha and reads the internal laws of the group, the Takanot.
All Toldot Aharon members are obligated to fulfill those Takanot and if not, they are not considered to be part of the group. There is no discussion about this fact. And every year at this general meeting they have to sign the Takanot anew. Sometimes it happens that their Rebbe adds a few new laws.

When you see the women of Toldot Aharon in the streets of Mea Shearim or elsewhere, you always see them with other women from the same group. They might talk to an outsider but they would never become friends with someone not being part of Toldot Aharon. Not even with the women from Satmar. And this takes place although Satmar finances Toldot Aharon.

About two weeks ago, the Toldot Aharon Chassidim had another general meeting in their Beit Midrash. As far as I heard, newcomers into the group do not always have to sign all the Takanot, as there is an opinion that no one from the outside would be able to keep everything unless he is born into the group.
But I cannot confirm if this is really true or not.

How can people follow the rules of a rebbe and a society ? Is the Halacha not enough ? If not and you want to be chassidic so follow the basic opinions of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Chozeh of Lublin, the House of Kotzk or Peshis'cha.

We always look at the chassidic groups without realizing that we are basically doing the same. Everybody follows society rules and none of us is free from everything. Every society has its structure and rules.

This reason still doesn't make me understand why the Toldot Aharon members are not allowed to have friends from the outside. Each of us has to do his Tikkunim and in order to do this, you have to open up to other Jews. Even the Maharal of Prague writes in his commentary on the Pirkei Avot that a Jew is not alone in this world and thus has to fulfill his tasks.

The official reason for the Takanot is to avoid the destruction of the group. New strange ideas could have a great impact on the members and let the group fall apart.
When my friend and me go to the Tish of their split off Avraham Yitzchak, we do realize that many of those women become more and more modern. Becoming slightly more modern does not automatically mean to leave the group. Why then do they need all the rules to be cautious ? Is it more a dictatorship ?
The word "dictatorship" might be wrong because each member has the freedom to decide whether he wants to be a member or not. Of course, I admit that people who want to leave those groups might face extreme difficulties but eventually they could leave.

Why do they have to sign the Takanot and what does makes them signing at all ? Because he doesn't have another choice, as he was born into the group ? Does being born into a chassidic group mean having a home ? And do the Toldot Aharon members want to live without their Takanot at all ?

A secular friend of mine once said that all these Haredim follow the rules and the rebbes because they have nothing else in life and are unable to make their own decisions. She might be right concerning the newly religious.

Despite all the Takanot and internal rules of each chassidic group, one thing is very obvious. The members always find their own individual way to be a little more modern and to develope their own freedom.

One of the most important things for the Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak women seems to be jewellery. If a wedding is taking place, the groom obviously has to provide at least two new rings for the bride as well as a new watch. The young girls like silver or copper watches and shiny earrings. They really like to show off a little when they are with their friends or at the Tish.

Society pressure, rebbes, Takanot….
Chassidic society will continue its way and hardly any members are going to rebel. And maybe the Takanot or other rules are more a problem for us then to the Chassidim themselves.
The Chassidim always find a way around to ease the rules and let's be honest, some close their door and do it their own way.

Any changes towards modernity can only start from the inside and even if, it is a very slow process and needs plenty of patience. The Toldot Aharon women asked for music lessons at the girls' schools and have not yet succeeded. But don't undermine their effort, as already making such a demand is a great advance.

Rosh Chodesh Tevet (טבת)


Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the beginning of the new Jewish month Tevet.
Rosh Chodesh is always time for renewal and we should especially use the time to make positive changes in our lives.

This Rosh Chodesh even gets more Kedusha (holiness), as we still light the Chanukkah candles. Tonight we will light the 6th candle.
Chanukkah is the only holiday taking place in two months; it starts in Kislev and ends in Tevet. Every additional candle raises our Simcha (joy) and increases our inner light. According to kabbalistic and chassidic literature, everyone has his or her personal individual inner light in order to light up the world. For this reason it is extremely important that each of us lights his own Chanukkiah at home. When you go through Jewish religious areas you can see many Chanukkiot standing in the windows and it is customary that even small children light their own candles.

According to the "Sefer Yetzirah", every Jewish month hat its own colour, letter, tribe, organ, horoscope and human sense.

The colour of Tevet is blue, the tribe is the Tribe of Dan, the human sense is the anger, the letter is the AIN ע, the horoscope is Capricorn and the organ is the liver.

Historically, Tevet, Tammuz and Av are the worst months for the Jewish People. All of them are connected with negative events in Jewish history. Especially the 10th Tevet which I will describe in a later article.

Our task in the month of Tevet is to fight our own anger.
The Talmud Berachot 61b sees the liver in charge of our anger and in Tevet we should transform our negative anger into positive anger. According to the Chozeh of Lublin (Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz), we have the ability to take something negative (such as jealousy) and change it into something positive.

But how can jealousy be positive ?
At the moment when I am jealous of other people who became more religious than I am. They succeed in keeping the Mitzwot and I do not. Eventually this will lead me to make higher efforts in order to reach higher levels of observance as well.
The same with the negative anger. We have to overcome our own ego and strive for more perfection.

Halachic rules for Rosh Chodesh:

1) We do not fast.

2) We add the "Ya'ale VeYavo - prayer" in the Birkat HaMazon

3) Usually women do not do any work at home such as laundry, cleaning, etc.

Have a great Rosh Chodesh and a successful Chodesh Tevet.
חודש טוב ומוצלח

Shabbat Chanukkah in Mea Shearim


The worst what can happen to a religious Jew on Shabbat are heavy rain showers. Rain in Israel is a blessing, as we don't have too much rain and water. However, when someone plans to go somewhere on Erev Shabbat or Shabbat lunch, heavy rain showers turn out to be a catastrophe. Either you take a rain coat or you choose to get completely wet, as according to the Halacha, we are not allowed to use umbrellas on Shabbat.

Last Erev Shabbat my friend and I went through the whole experience. The winter has started in Israel and it was raining on Erev Shabbat. I took my rain coat and walked for about 30 minutes to Rabbi Mordechai Machlis in the Maalot Dafna neighbourhood. There, we had a great Shabbat meal where we especially enjoyed the hot delicious chicken soup.

Then we had the free choice. As it was the Shabbat during Chanukkah, all the chassidic groups had a Tish. I am sure that even the Shomrei Emunim had a Tish taking place. Otherwise they hardly have, as the Rebbe is not the youngest anymore and also lives in Bnei Brak.

During the winter, the chassidic Tishes start much earlier and you should be there at about 10pm. The Belzer Chassidim already start at 9pm and Dushinsky start at 9.45pm.

We walked down to Shivtei Israel Street and started with the Toldot Aharon synagogue. The Tishes on the holidays are always packed and as soon as we entered at Toldot Aharon, we saw hundreds of women watching the Tish downstairs. There was not space to stand left, let alone to sit. The Ezrat Nashim there consists of two huge rooms and both of them were completely full of women. We had no chance to squeeze ourselves inside and decided to move on to the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak just around the corner.

There we were lucky and found two great seats. Also at Avraham Yitzchak, the Tish was packed but there were still some seats at the Ezrat Nashim. The synagogue is still suffering from construction works going on but it was okay to sit and enjoy the Tish. Every day during Chanukkah, the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak have parties for the children going on. And we weren't too surprised when we saw many women taking their little kids to the Tish. Actually it was packed with small children. Sometimes is became too noisy and the Rebbitzin wasn't very pleased and told people to be quiet. But what can you do with babies and small children ?

Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn was in his great mood and was singing and conducting his Chassidim downstairs. He was so excited and couldn't calm down. Even at the end of the Tish he got so excited that he started to jump in his chair while he was sitting. However, I think that he does not feel to well and he reduced his dancing. Towards the end of the Tish, Avraham Yitzchak has the great custom to stand up, sing enthusiastically and jump. Unfortunately, last Erev Shabbat they reduced their jumps due to the Rebbe. Instead, they took each others hand and started swinging.

The Tish of the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak is and remains the best Tish in Mea Shearim. Followed by the Toldot Aharon.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Chanukkah Sameach from Jerusalem


Have a great Chanukkah and enjoy some pictures of the celebrations in Jerusalem.

A Chanukkah Teaching from the Baal Shem Tov


As soon as someone turns on the light in a dark room, no one knows that the room was once dark.

Thus, we also have to let shine our inner light in order to light up the world.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Changing Clothes and Identity


The thing I desperately missed in my religious life was wearing pants. It is not important what kind of pants. Whether jeans or something else. I just knew that I was envying any woman wearing pants.

A Jewish religious woman (a Bat Israel) wears long skirts without asking any questions. This is the Halacha.
Approx. ten years ago the hippie style clothes and groups did not yet exist. Today it is very common for some women wearing long pants and a long skirt on top. No matter if others can see the pants underneath or not. The more freaky, the better.
It goes without saying that in haredi circles such clothing style is totally unaccepted. No haredi girl or woman would ever think of wearing pants and skirt together. The freaky style is worn by many Carlebachers and national religious.

Maybe my life would be different today if this clothing style had existed almost ten years ago. Maybe not, as I am not the hippie freak at all and don't like wearing pants and skirt together. It reminds me of people who don't know what they want in their lives. They want to be frum but not too much, and are not here or there. It is the same when married women wear pants and cover their hair. It just doesn't fit and looks weird.

As long as I was among women wearing skirts, I didn't realize that I miss something. But as soon as a woman in pants appeared, I became jealous. The first time was in Yeshiva. A newly religious girl came in and she still hadn't said "Goodbye" to her pants and her past. The whole time I thought about if I could do this, wearing pants for a while. In the end, I turned out to be a coward who rather continued to suffer through.

At least twice a month I went to see some secular friends in my old Kibbutz. There, I was free to do anything but don't think that I got wild. On the contrary, I stuck to religion except for the skirt. I felt that the more I distanced myself from the religious life, the more strange I felt among the secular environment. However, the pants were never strange to me and in my opinion, one can wear pants and be religious. Of course, the religious environment doesn't agree and only judges people from the outside:

"Pants ?"

"Oh, you are secular".

When people said out loud what they thought, I used to freak out but, in the meantime, it just amuses me. As soon as I speak to the religious, they know that I am one of them: "Oh, I would have never guessed because you don't look so", they say.

To my Yeshiva and haredi environment I could not do that; wearing pants. At least not in public. Sometimes I still did it but secretly. It didn't take too long until I knew all the public restrooms in downtown Jerusalem. Can you imagine how it is to live with the fear of being caught ?

I always said to myself that I am an adult and can make my own decisions. No one is going to tell me what to wear. However, those excuses didn't help much. I was too afraid and the feeling of guilt never left me alone.

When I was on my way to the Kibbutz, I changed my clothes before I got on the bus. The pants were ready for use in my backpack. I used to take the bus on Fridays at about lunch time and went to the Central Bus Station. The streets were too crowded and I couldn't get changed in a quiet corner. Even the restrooms were packed and I didn' t think that it is a good idea to walk in dressed in a skirt and leave in pants. Someone might think that I am a pervert.
I found the prefect solution in a haredi neighbourhood although there was the greates danger of seeing me as a pervert. I changed my clothes at a construction site. Quickly I hid behind a wall, ran into the new entrance of the building and got changed. After a while I was ready to win any dressing competition without any difficulties. Within a minute I changed the skirt into a pair of pants. No one ever found out; not even when I walked to the Central Bus Station.

When I walk through the same street today, I still think about crawling out of the skirt and putting on pants. Of course, the construction site is long gone and there is a building standing now. Many days during the weeks I actually do wear longs skirts. Especially on Shabbat and religious occasions. For two reasons I don't feel guilty anymore. Many times I still wear skirts and it is much more comfortable not to make a whole show. Despite wearing also pants, I do consider myself as religious.

Since I have been going to Mea Shearim and all the chassidic Tishes, something has changed again. I meet people and they start recognizing me in the streets. So far, it hasn't happen but what if women from Toldot Aharon, etc. see me in the street in pants ? It seems that I would still be totally embarrassed. Probably more than those women would be.

The Existence of G - d


Why do so many people have problems believing in ONE absolutely perfect G - d ?

Can we after all imagine an infinite "being" without any form or shape ? It seems that too many times we just follow our human weaknesses and only want to accept a G - d we can see or touch. At least he should have a form. Many people prefer a human G - d with whom they can identify. However, in Judaism any idea of a human G - d, statues, pictures, etc. is seen as idol worship.

One of my favourite authors is the American Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z"l. In his book "Innerspace" he makes the best point about what G - d really is. G - d is ONE being. Hence, no one stands beside to him. Only He created everything. Our human intellect is limited and, therefore, unable to grasp ONE infinite entity such as G - d. In Judaism and particularly in Kabbalah, we don't speak of G - d's inner essence but only of His will and His relationship to His creation. Kabbalah has brought for countless metaphors in order to explain the relationship between G - d and His creation (see Rabbi A. Kaplan, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto - Ramchal, and others).

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707 - 1746) gave a detailed description of G - d and how He let's us know His will (see "138 Pitchei Chochmah" by Rabbi Luzzatto). Rabbi Luzzatto or most people know him by the abbreviation "Ramchal" is one of the most important Kabalists whose Kabbalistic writings are based on the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria). The Ramchal wrote about Kabbalah as well as about Mussar ("The Path of the Just" or "Derech HaShem").

It is very important to understand that G - d is only ONE being. His existence is infinite and we are not capable to understand what happened before the creation of the world and what comes afterwards. We can only speculate about the reason why G - d created our world and us.

We don't know the inner essence of G - d and only speak about His will. In the book "Yedid Nefesh" it says that through G - d's creation His will became visible. He has unlimited powers but created our world with limited powers. Thus, he only made a small part of Himself visible.

Why did G - d not create everything with His unlimited powers ?

Here we have to remember that G - d is absolutely perfect. If he had created the world with His perfect unlimited powers, then we would be perfect as well. For this reason, He had to limit His power in order to create humans with a free will. Only this way we can have the choice between good and evil. It is in our hands if we become G - d - fearing beings or the opposite. Do we fulfill the Mitzwot or not ? Our task is to control our nature and to use our resources in order to fulfill His will.

Many times in the Torah, G - d is described with human attributes. G - d speaks, G - d is angry, etc. We have to understand that there is no human attribute whatsoever which can describe G - d, as He has no such attributes. He gave us the Torah in a human language so that we are able to understand it.

Unfortunately, in the course of time, people took these metaphors literally and thus misinterpreted the whole Torah. The Rambam (Maimonides) tried his best to clarify such misconceptions. The first chapters of his "Guide of the Perplexed - Moreh Nevuchim" is full of clarifications of Torah metaphors.
The very first chapter of the "Guide" explains the first sentences of Parashat Bereshit. There is says that Adam HaRishon was created in the image of G - d. The word "image" doesn't mean a human G - d with shape and form. It only means that humans have an intellect just as G - d does. We can decide about good and evil.

Kabbalah often speaks about the Zimztum, a contraction of G - d. He had to limit Himself in order that men have free will.
But you have to be careful when you learn about the Zimztum, as this is nothing else but another metaphor and not to be taken literally. It is not a real event but only shows G - d's inner essence.

The book "Yedid Nefesh" brings up the question about the difference between G - d's will and our will. When we want something, we think and than act. Whereas when G - d wants something, he only thinks and already creates with His thoughts. The very unique thing is that He still keeps up a relationship with His creation afterwards.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Chanukkah Insights


Tomorrow night, Dec. 4 or 25th Kislev, the festival of Chanukkah begins. Chanukkah lasts for eight days and is the only holiday whose event actually happened in Israel. Especially in Jerusalem and in the Beit HaMikdash. It is a rabbinic holiday stipulated by the Sanhedrin. For the first time, Chanukkah was already celebrated one year after the Greeks were thrown out of the Temple.


Chanukkah is an entirely Jewish holiday although other religions such as Christianity like to steal Jewish holidays and claim them as their own. The Chashmonaim (Maccabim) were Cohanim and fought against idol worship in Israel. They fought for Judaism and the Jewish people and if they knew today how other religions use their ideas for their own selfish purposes, the Chashmonaim would turn around in their graves. Xmas and Chanukkah have nothing whatsoever in common and whoever tries to connect them, kicks the ideals of the Chashmonaim with his feet.

I am not mentioning the whole Chanukkah - history but I rather give some insights instead.

The goal of the Greek - Syrian occupation was to destroy the Jewish religion. Studying Torah, keeping Shabbat and Brit Milah (circumcision) was forbidden according to the law. In 165 B.C.E., the Chashmonaim won the war against the Greek idol worshipers and brought back the spirituality to the Jewish people. The Greeks concentrated on materialism and the beauty of the body whereas the Jews wanted to keep their religion. It was not only a physical but also a spiritual war. The Neshama fighting against materialism.

The real miracle of Chanukkah is not the military action of the Maccabim but the burning of the Menorah for eight days (see Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta in his book "Ohev Israel", the Sefat Emet and many others). After the Maccabim reconquered the Temple, they only found one tiny bottle of kosher olive oil which hadn't been used for idol worship. With this amount, the Menorah was only to burn for one day but miraculously the oil lasted for eight days. During that time, the Jews were able to produce more kosher olive oil.

In Kabbalah and Chassidut, the eight days of Chanukkah and the miracle are timeless. For G - d, time does not exist because He is infinite. Time only exists for us and is implanted in our DNA. The upper (higher) spiritual worlds of G - d do not know time. There, past, present and future coexist and all three times happen together. Therefore, Chanukkah is timeless.

But why miracle ? What exactly is a miracle ?
For us a miracle is always something supernatural. Something is happening against nature and we are unable to explain it with our human understanding. But not everything which seems to be a miracle is really a miracle. G - d is always able to change nature and at the time of the Chashmonaim He did. Thus, the Temple Menorah burnt for eight days instead of one.

Chassidut sees the Chanukkah candles as Jewish Neshamot (souls). The light itself is considered to be the "Or HaGanuz - the Hidden Light" which G - d created on the very first day of Creation. This "hidden light" will only be back in the time of Meschiach (see Bnei Yissachar and others). The eight days are a spiritual journey of body and soul. Food, candles and the history represent body and meditation; joy, warmth and light represent the soul.

The light of Chanukkah has the power to reach every single Jew, no matter how far he is away from his Jewish roots. His soul (Neshama) still contains the spark which enables him to connect directly to G - d (Rabbi Shmuel Bozorowsky, the present Admor of Chassidut Slonim in Jerusalem). This spark always remains with a Jew, even after his death. At the time of the resurrection, the spark will come to life again (Bnei Yissachar).

The Sefat Emet (one of the previous Rebbes of Chassidut Gur) considers each Chanukkah as a spiritual renewal. Especially for the Jews in the Diaspora. The Chanukkah light reminds them of their true Jewish identity and, at the same time, of the difficulties of living in the Diaspora.

The war of the Maccabim shows us that we should never give up hope because we Jews have the spiritual power to change everything. G - d can change nature any time and bring us the Ge'ulah.

Have a great and spiritual Chanukkah wherever you are - Chanukkah Sameach from Jerusalem - חנוכה שמח מירושלים.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Talmudic reason for anti - Zionism


The Edah HaCharedit located in the Jerusalem Mea Shearim neighbourhood is famous for its anti - Zionism. The Edah is an umbrella organization for different chassidic groups such as Dushinsky, Toldot Aharon, Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, Satmar, Spinka and parts of Breslov. On the other hand, the Edah also includes litvishe groups such as Brisk. Additionally another group participates in the Edah HaCharedit. Those are the Mishkenot HaRoim, a rather secret group whose synagogue is located in Mea Shearim Street.

Whoever walks through Mea Shearim today should be careful judging the Chassidim. Not all inhabitants are anti - Zionist and you need detailed information about the history of each group in order to know who is who. If you don't know so don't judge.

One of the biggest mistakes people usually make is calling the Edah HaCharedit a Neturei Karta branch. In other words, the Edah is the Neturei Karta. The same prejudice hits the Satmarer Chassidim all the time. Although there are 100,000 Satmarer Chassidim worldwide, the group is hardly known in Europe. If you do not go to Monroe (Kiryat Yoel), Williamsburgh, Antwerp, London or Israel, you will hardly hear about them. Besides Antwerp and London, Europe is not interested in them. For people without further knowledge, Satmar and the Neturei Karta are one and the same thing. Although this is not true it cannot be denied that the Neturei Karta does have a certain influence on the Edah through Satmar.

What is the basis for the anti - Zionism of the Edah HaCharedit and Chassidut Satmar ?

The former Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, turned Satmar into a big institution. Satmar (Satu Mare - Large Village) is located in today's Romania. In the past, it belonged to Hungary.
I am not explaining the whole Satmar history now, but I only want to mention briefly that Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum was arrested by the Nazis and later was allowed to flee to Switzerland. In 1947, he moved to Israel for about one year and lived with his son - in - law before he moved to the States. Once he was in New York, he rebuilt the Chassidut Satmar. After his death in 1979, Satmar is a kind of split into different fractions and groups and has been undergoing many difficulties.

Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum became really famous due to his extreme anti - Zionism. Rebbe Yoel, his Chassidim only called him "Rebbe Yoelish", did not found the anti - Zionist ideas. Already his father, Rabbi Chananyah Yom Tov Lippa and other famous rabbis had represented these ideas.

In 1958, Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum's famous book "Vayoel Moshe" was published. What it says in the book, is the absolute law for the Edah HaCharedit. Until today. Rebbe Teitelbaum wrote about the anti - Zionist ideology since the foundation of the secular State of Israel. The Rebbe accuses the Zionists with harsh words and even attacks the religious Zionist movement.

In this article, I want to explain the most fundamental reasons against Zionism. These famous reasons are from Talmud Ketubot 111a and already the Vilna Gaon was referring to them. The Gemara in Ketubot 111a is describing a discussion between two rabbis but the discussion has its original source already in "Shir HaShirim".
Rebbe Teitelbaum mentioned further reasons in his book. The available literature on this subject seems to be endless. Chassidic as well as litvishe rabbis wrote plenty of books and articles and due to this reason, so far, I only want to mention the Talmudic reason from Masechet Ketubot.

The facts in Ketubot 110b - 111a, as I mentioned before, are from Shir HaShirim.

In the Babylonian diaspora right after the destruction of the First Temple, Rabbi Ze'ira asked Rabbi Yehudah if he is permitted to return to Eretz Israe. Rabbi Yehudah answered: Whoever ascends from Babylon to Eretz Israel transgresses a positive commandment. Only G - d decides about the end of the Babylonian Galut. Hence, He will give us a sign. It is absolutely forbidden to make up our own minds and rush back to Eretz Israel.

Rabbi Ze'ira claimed that this law only applies to the Temple Kelim (dishes for the Avodah) and not to the Jews. Rabbi Yehudah responds that immigration to Eretz Israel is prohibited and he quotes from Shir HaShirim 2:7:

"I have adjured you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by gazelles or by hinds of the fileds etc. should you wake or rouse the love until it pleases".

This teaches us metaphorically that we are bound by an oath not to ascend to Eretz Israel until the Final Redemption. Rabbi Ze'ira, however, interpreted the verse that the Jewish people should not converge upon Eretz Israel in a wall of force.

The "daughters of Jerusalem" are all Jewish generations. They received an oath from G - d not to rush the coming of the Meschiach before He makes the decision Himself. In case the Jews go up to Israel, it could arouse G - d's unconditional love for them and influence Him to the good. Thus, the Jews would force Him to bring the Meschiach.

Like "gazelles and hinds" means that if the Jews break their oath before the time, they could be hunted like gazelles and hinds.

Rabbi Yehudah presents the oath:

1. The Jewish people should not converge upon Eretz Israel in a wall of force.

2. The Jews should not rebel against the nations.

3. G - d told the idolaters not to subjugate the Jewish people more than sufficient.

You can find those three reasons three times in Shir HaShirim (2:7, 5:8 and 8:4).

The Gemara in Ketubot 111a lists another three additional oaths:

1. Jewish prophets should not reveal the exact time of the Ge'ulah.

2. The Jews should not distance the end through their sins.

3. The Jews should not reveal the secret to the idolaters.
In fact there are secret calculations on the Jewish calendar but they are not to be revealed.

It is possible to accelerate the coming of the Meschiach. Rabbi Zadok of Lublin says that the duty of the Jews is to pray exessively and then Meschiach would come. On the other hand, no one can really define the word "exessively". What is enough and how intense should the prayers be ?

The Gemara continues with the punishments for not keeping the oaths.

G - d said to the Jewish people: "If you abide by the oath, it will be well and good for you, but if not, I will permit your flesh to be hunted by the idolaters as the gazelles and as the hinds of the field".

In other words:
The Jews have to live in the Diaspora until G - d makes His decision and brings the Meschiach. If we live in Israel we influence His decision and might be punished by Him. Only our presents in the Holy Land could bring the Ge'ulah and thus we break the oath. Therefore, we deserve to be punished.

Despite the oaths, many Chassidim and Mitnagdim (litvish) did not see a problem by settling in Israel. They did not plan a State of Israel but wanted to set up religious settlements which were to be ruled according to the Torah law. Furthermore, prayers are more accepted in Israel than in the Galut.

But already the Baal Shem Tov emphazised the importance of living in Galut. Jews do have many tasks there and only by fulfilling them we can bring the Meschiach (also see Chassidut Rozhin and Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta). Those Chassidim who came to Israel 200 years ago, were simply fed up with suffering in one pogrom after the other in Eastern Europa. They finally wanted to live in peace.

At the end of the last century however, political Zionism became more and more popular and the Chassidim started to fight the new secular ideas. Israel can only exist according to Torah law and not by secular law. As a counterpart to national religious and secular Zionism they founded the Agudat Israel and the Edah HaCharedit. Today the Agudah has five seats in the Knesset and includes groups such as Vishnitz, Belz, Gur and litvishe Haredim. Although the members of the Agudat Israel are not necessarily too Zionist, they think that it is important to be in the Knesset and not only let the secular rule.

The Edah HaCharedit, on the other hand, refuses any cooperation or recognition of the State of Israel. The majority of their members refuse to accept financial help from the Israeli government and instead built up their own pension system, insurance and old age homes.

According to Chassidut Satmar the present State of Israel means breaking the oaths with G - d. Israel was built because the Jews are too impatient and all wars and problems we face in Israel today, are a punishment from G - d. Rebbe Teitelbaum as well as the founder of Chassidut Toldot Aharon, Rebbe Aharon Roth, even claim that the secular Zionists caused the Holocaust to happen.

These kind of claims should not be misinterpreted and are to be taken with caution. Nobody knows why there was a Holocaust and why G - d did what He did. We can only speculate about the reasons but as we are not G - d, we simply don't know. I always refuse to accept any human responses or reasons given for the Holocaust.

Many of you might ask why the Satmarer Chassidim do live in Israel at all.

Rebbe Teitelbaum was not against settling in Israel as long as his Chassidim do not get involved in any way with the secular State of Israel. They do not participate in elections, do not use public Egged - buses, etc. They rather have their own institutions and keep foreign passports. Not all of them but many.

The Edah HaCharedit basically refuses to accept the national religious parties and their kind of Zionism. In the eyes of the Edah, religious Zionists only help the secular to keep up their unholy State and cause the delay of Meschiach. There are hardly any relations between the Edah and the Agudah, as they are also seen as traitors. Just like the national religious.

Despite all contradictions I have to admit that I do see some points in the oaths in Masechet Ketubot.
Are we Israelis really too impatient and did we found a State which, according to the Gemara, should not yet exist ? There are many pros and cons. The Ramban, for instance, says that it is a Mitzwah to live in Israel. Many others and even the Talmud agree with him.

Everybody has to find her or his own way in order to be happy. If the Edah members do not agree with my point of view it doesn’t have to mean that we are enemies. Within the past years I got to know plenty of anti - Zionists and we always got along extremely well as long as we didn't speak about politics. But whatever reasons anti - Zionists mentioned hundreds of years ago, they do not really apply anymore today. What does it mean that G - d told the nations not to oppress the Jews too much ? Can we really say so after the Holocaust ?

Maybe also the anti - Zionist society has to change certain opinions because of the Holocaust. At least, Jews have their own country where we can live without being put into ghettos or exterminated. You are free to claim that also today we don't live in peace in Israel. This is absolutely true but who knows ?
The Ge'ulah is supposed to come in stages and not at once. Maybe the present secular State of Israel is such a stage and soon the Meschiach will come and bring us a Torah ruled State.