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A Talmudic Scholar’s Appreciation of the American Constitution

Sept. 5 2017

Orthodox Jews in the United States remember Moses Feinstein (1895-1986) as a preeminent halakhist who brought his immense erudition to bear on the thorniest questions of Jewish practice. But when, in March 1939, America celebrated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution, he delivered a sermon displaying a rarely noted political awareness. As Elli Fischer observes, his encomium to the wisdom of the American system of government must be read in the context of rising Nazi and Communist threats to Jews and to the world in general. Herewith, quoted by Fischer, the sermon’s key passage:

Every superstition and every nonsensical opinion in the world claims to bring light to the world and creates beautiful things to deceive and win over adherents. However, since many do not espouse [these beliefs, their followers] compel anyone they can, with sword and spear, to adopt their views. This is true in all times, with respect both to matters of faith and to matters of ideology, past and present, and especially in Russia and Germany. . . . Ultimately, all that is left is wickedness, not the ideology it was fashioned to support; what need do they have for [ideology] once they have swords and spears? . . . In the end, only the sword and spear remain, while the light is completely extinguished, as we see in the extremes of Germany and Russia.

Therefore, no sovereign power should accept one single faith or one single ideology, because ultimately only the power will remain, without an ideology, and this leads to destruction, as we see with our very eyes . . . . Rather, [a regime] must only serve its function, which is to see that no one perpetrates injustice against another, steals, or murders, for, [as the Talmud states] if not for the fear of the regime, people would swallow one another alive. However, with regard to opinion, religion, and speech, everyone shall be free to do as he wishes.

Therefore, the United States, which established in its Constitution 150 years ago that it will not uphold any faith or any ideology, rather, that each person shall do as he desires, and the regime will see that people do not molest one another, is carrying out God’s will. It is for that reason that it has succeeded and become great in our times.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Moses Feinstein, Religion & Holidays, Totalitarianism, U.S. Constitution

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount