How the First Yom Kippur in Japan Put an 800-Year-Old Debate to the Test

In September 1941, the students of Poland’s Mir yeshiva found themselves in the Japanese city of Kobe, having fled Hitler’s advancing forces via Siberia. As the Jewish new year approached, they found themselves confronted with an urgent dilemma: on what day should they observe Yom Kippur? Nobody had yet clarified where Jewish law places the international dateline—a question first raised in the 12th century—and it was possible that they were to its east. Baruch Sterman and Judy Taubes Sterman explain:

The two main opinions at the time began with the assumption that Jerusalem is the center of the world. Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, a prominent yeshiva head in Jerusalem, set the dateline 180 degrees opposite Jerusalem. Rabbi Avraham Karelitz, the leading ḥaredi authority of the time (known as the Ḥazon Ish), argued that since noon in Jerusalem means sunset in China, the date line should be set at the eastern edge of the Eurasian continent. A third view held that there is no uniform date line, and Jewish law should follow the local date.

Japan lies to the east of the Ḥazon Ish date line but to the west of the line drawn by Rabbi Tucazinsky. The Jewish community in Japan had generally accepted the local reckoning of the date, but the Mirrer yeshiva in exile was looking for a more authoritative answer.

They sent a telegram to the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, Isaac Herzog—who had been instrumental in their rescue—asking for an opinion. He quickly summoned a council of rabbis to discuss the matter. While they provisionally decided that Kobe lies west of the line, Herzog returned to the question in his later writing:

He considered the opinion of the Ḥazon Ish, which was based on an analogy to a related position first expounded by the 12th-century Spanish scholar Rabbi Zerachiah Halevi of Gerondi. “This opinion,” Herzog wrote, “is built entirely on the premise that the top hemisphere of the Earth contains the land and all inhabitants, while the bottom is all water, with Jerusalem at the center of the top hemisphere.” As a modern, Herzog could not bring himself to accept this ruling. “Though I am but a thousandth of the dust under their feet,” he wrote of his rabbinic predecessors, he was unable to deny the obvious: “in reality this premise is erroneous.” Likewise, he saw no justification or precedent for “turning Jerusalem into our Greenwich” and setting the line 180 degrees opposite the Holy City, as Rabbi Tucazinsky had done.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Halakhah, Holocaust rescue, Japan, Yom Kippur

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law