Category Archives: 5777

Diaspora Jewry Knesset Representation

Diaspora Jewry Knesset Representation

Our forefathers made one mistake. What they should have fought for was representation without taxation. -Fletcher Knebel

There’s an apocryphal statement that goes as follows: “One third of Israelis serve in the army, one third of Israelis work, and one third of Israelis pay taxes. The problem is that it’s always the same third.”

Since announcing my candidacy for Zehut International’s slot in the Zehut Knesset list, more than one person has complained that they feel it is unfair for non-Israeli citizens to have any say in the make-up of our parliament. If they live here, if they pay taxes, then they can vote, they say. There is an obvious logic to their argument. Just as we believe there should be no taxation without representation, the converse can also hold true that there should not be representation without some type of taxation.

However, there is a limit to that logic, especially regarding Israel.

If the State of Israel were merely a country of its citizens, a country like many other countries in the world, then it would be quite sensible to prevent any outsiders from meddling in our internal political process. However, Israel is so much more than that.

Israel is the Jewish homeland. Israel is a state for all Jews, wherever they are in the world. The relationship between Israel and world Jewry is an unbreakable bond that transcends politics. It is a yearning and a bond and a prayer that have been on our lips and in our hearts for two millennia. Israel is made up of our ancestors, our grandparents, our cousins, our brothers and our sisters who have come back from the far reaches of our planet to resettle the land. And they continue to do so. Distinctly from any other country in the world, every Jew can and should have a say as to the destiny of the State of Israel.

Understandably, those of us who are blessed and have the merit to live in Israel, to work in Israel, to pay taxes in Israel, to have children who serve in the army of Israel, should have a significantly greater say in our fate and destiny. Right now Israeli citizens have an exclusive say in Knesset elections and in the primaries of all of the political parties that hold primaries.

The innovation which Zehut has introduced for its primaries is to allow every tenth spot to be determined by vote of Jews in the Diaspora. This is a significant and meaningful innovation, though at this early stage of Zehut’s development it may be seen as a symbolic gesture. Keep in mind, there are a number of Israeli political parties which have no primaries at all, where their list is determined directly by the party leadership. Also, we’re talking here about the primaries, not the government election.

In reviewing Zehut’s decision to assign one tenth of its list to votes from the rest of the world, I thought it highly appropriate that they choose specifically that ratio.

The Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin 49b states: “Ten measures of wisdom descended upon the world. Israel took nine of them, and the rest of the world took one.”

Israel and the Israeli electorate do not possess all the wisdom of the world, nor do they have the sole right to an opinion as to the fate of Israel. Jewish Diaspora has a role. That role may be limited and tightly circumscribed, but it is an important and meaningful role nonetheless. To give Diaspora Jewry a disproportional role in Israeli elections would be inappropriate. But to give them no role whatsoever misses the point of the connection and the dependence we have to each other. A tenth of the vote is both sensible and talmudically based.

I look forward to our Diaspora siblings taking advantage of this unique opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in the Israeli political process, and I hope that my Israeli friends will both appreciate and welcome this important, though limited, participation of our brethren in the electoral process.

Shavua Tov,

Ben-Tzion Spitz

Zehut International Candidate for the Knesset

Running for the Knesset

I’m returning to Israeli politics. This time in a new party and in a new role. I’ve been invited to run in the primaries of the Zehut party to compete for a spot in their Knesset list.
However, there is a new and unique twist. The Zehut party has assigned spots on their list that non-Israeli Jews can vote for, for those who are members of Zehut InternationalThis is the first time in the history of the State of Israel that Jews from the Diaspora are given a voice to determine potential Knesset members. Mind you, it’s not a huge say, but it is a start. Zehut is assigning every tenth spot on its list to a Zehut International candidate. Meaning spots 10, 20 and 30 on their list are reserved for candidates voted on by Zehut International members.
Now for any party, especially a new one, there is always the possibility that they will receive fewer seats than hoped for, if any. Realistically, based on the latest polls, it would be incredibly impressive if even one Zehut International candidate makes it into the Knesset. Nonetheless, that is the spot I’m running for.
I would like to ask of you three things:

1. I generally use this email list for my Torah writings and want to keep it that way. I will create a separate list for my political updates. If you want to be on that list, please let me know.

2. Check out Zehut International. If it’s interesting to you, join, and then vote for me in the primaries. Note: Membership in Israeli political parties is fee-based, unlike in the US or other countries. Consequently membership numbers are often low and each vote carries a lot of weight. Because Zehut International is such a new initiative, its membership is just getting started, and members will have a dis-proportionally large impact on the coming election. 

3. If you’re interested in helping out with my campaign, please let me know.

Ben-Tzion Spitz

On Capital Punishment

On Capital Punishment

 Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness; it is the one crime in which society has a direct interest. -W. H. Auden

God is very clear on where He stands on the topic of capital punishment. Even though God commands Do Not Murder (as opposed to Do Not Kill) in the Ten Commandments, there is a long list of sins (murder among them) that God prescribes the death penalty for. Already to Noah and his sons God warns: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man.”(Genesis 9:6)

The Rabbis however explained that in most of those cases, it is actually quite rare for the death penalty to be carried out. The guilty party needs to have been given an explicit and detailed warning before committing the sin; there needs to have been two valid witnesses to the sin and a variety of other judicial requirements. No video or circumstantial evidence suffice.

The more bloodthirsty among us may feel that this practical suspension of justice is unfair. How is it that all these sinners and murderers can roam around free and unpunished? The Talmud tells us not to worry. God has his way of inflicting the right punishment on each deserving individual, at the right time and in the right form, if the human court is unable to carry out its duty.

The more merciful among us may feel that punishment for crimes, even one as odious as murder, is unwarranted, and that the death penalty especially has no place in modern civilization.

Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 35:33 explains part of the rationale for the death penalty:

“A human society that does not regard the blood of each of its members as sacred, one that does not take up the cudgel for innocent human blood that has been spilled negates the very purpose for which the forces of earth operate.”

“The hypocrisy can be purged from the land only if the innocent blood that has been spilled, and the human being who has lost his life as a result, finds an advocate in the society that survives him and the murderer is made to atone for his deed by dying at the hands of that advocate, thus losing his own life, which he has forfeited by his crime. For since he has spilled the blood of his fellow man, his own blood no longer has a right to life; he has forfeited his own right to existence. And to tolerate the continued existence of one who knowingly and deliberately murdered a fellow man would be a travesty on the dignity of man, who was made in the image of God.”

May all murderers be brought to justice, whether earthly or divine, and may we see justice reign in the land.

Shabbat Shalom,



On the confluence of the Babylonian Talmud’s Tractate Sanhedrin that we have started this week in the Daf Yomi cycle, with Maimonides’ Laws of Sanhedrin that we are in the midst of in the Rambam Yomi cycle – both of which deal with the subject of capital punishment.

Children redeem

Children redeem

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. -James Baldwin

The structure of inheritance of the Land of Israel as stated in the Torah is unusual. It was based on the identity of the men of the generation preceding the exodus out of Egypt, but also dependent on the number of their male descendants that actually entered the land forty years later. That territory was bequeathed to the men that entered the land based on their connection to their grandfathers. However, if we think about it, this retroactively made their dead grandfathers the owners of that land that they never saw nor stepped on, by the mere fact that their grandchildren entered the land.

Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 26:55 highlights this phenomenon and teaches two lessons from this inheritance mechanism.

One, that God’s promises — in this case, of the land of Israel – are so certain to come to pass, that they actually convey a legal right and it transformed the last generation of Jewish slaves in Egypt into the rightful landowners of the yet-to-be-conquered land, able to bequeath it to their grandchildren when they actually enter and take possession of the land.

Two, in Rabbi Hirsch’s own words: “The greatest and most precious acquisitions of parents and grandparents are children and grandchildren that prove themselves loyal and true to their heritage. Such progeny bear witness to the merits of its forebears and atones for their shortcomings.”

The generation of the desert was a particularly difficult generation. They had experienced the Exodus, seen the Ten Plagues upon Egypt, traversed the Parting of the Sea, and had been part of God’s Revelation at Mount Sinai where He declared the Ten Commandments and presented Moses with the entirety of the Torah. Nonetheless, they proved to be a stiff-necked people, creating and worshipping the Golden Calf, complaining and demonstrating consistent lack of faith in God and His precepts. That generation was doomed to die in the desert. They were not worthy of entering the Promised Land.

Nonetheless, even with such a historic disappointment, they must have done something right, for their children did enter and inherit the land. The children were worthy and they had received instruction from their parents.

Rabbi Hirsch elaborates: “… that the sons were given the land only as heirs of their fathers and as bearers of their names, proves that, notwithstanding the error that had cost their fathers the right to enter the land, these same fathers, during thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness, had implanted the right spirit in the new generation.”

Whether we like it or not, our children will often emulate and learn from us, for better or worse. However, they can also be a source of redemption, correcting the errors we didn’t have the opportunity, wisdom or strength to correct, but wished to nonetheless.

May we appreciate the positive lessons and model of our parents and may we aim to be worthy of emulation by the next generation.

Shabbat Shalom,



To new colleagues and friends on the West Coast, and their children.

Well-rounded Blessings

Well-rounded Blessings

The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. -Albert Einstein

Balak, King of Moab, fearful of the Israeli nation’s proximity to his border, hires the famed sorcerer Bilaam to curse the people of Israel. Bilaam had a reputation for successfully cursing whomever he wished to curse. However, in what turns out to be a highly comic series of events, every time Bilaam opens his mouth to try to curse, and contrary to his own will, God has some of the most beautiful blessings in the entire Torah come forth from his lips.

Balak takes Bilaam to three different locations, with the hope that perhaps the differing vantage points will provide Bilaam a better chance of overcoming the divine insistence on blessing Israel as opposed to letting Bilaam curse them.

Rabbi Hirsch in Numbers Chapters 23 and 24 explains the deeper significance of each of the locations from the point of view of Balak and the three characteristics he sought to attack within Israel:

The first location, the high places of Baal represents the supreme “force of nature” and material prosperity.

The second place, the Field of Seers represents insight, prudence and foresight; intellectual and spiritual powers.

However, after neither of those attacks succeeded, after Balak and Bilaam understood that there was no chink in the armor of Israel in those attributes, they sought one last angle. In Rabbi Hirsch’s words:

“A nation may be blessed with every conceivable material and spiritual gift and still hasten headlong into ruin. Providence may shower upon it all the treasures, all the physical and spiritual wealth that heaven affords, and yet that nation may bear within itself a worm devouring it from within so that all its prosperity will be turned into adversity, and it will ultimately become not only unworthy but also incapable of receiving and retaining God’s blessings. This worm is called immorality; it is the shameless surrender to dissolute sensualism.”

That is what is represented by the third and final location, the Peak of Peor. At that point in time, Bilaam was not able to find anything amiss in the morality of Israel and hence the source of one of the most beautiful phrases that he utters, referring to Israel’s moral purity, and which have been made a part of our daily liturgy: “How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel.”

Rabbi Hirsch adds that those people and nations that respect and promote the principles for which Israel stands, will themselves reap all the blessings of material abundance and a rich intellectual and spiritual life, based on a clear moral existence.

May we strive for and achieve those goals.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Budapest, a beautiful city, gifted with many blessings.

Old Eternal Law

Old Eternal Law

There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy. -Henry Miller

The Torah is filled with arcane laws, many of which no longer apply in our day and age. One of the most esoteric and least understood laws is the one about the Red Heifer. The Torah prescribes an unusual ritual that was performed in the times of the Temple.

A completely red cow was taken and slaughtered. The cow was then burned together with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool. The resulting ashes were then mixed with water from a fresh spring source. All of this process was done in a state of extreme ritual purity, yet those involved in the preparation became impure. This water mixture had the unique and exclusive ability to purify anyone who had become ritually contaminated by any contact with the dead.

Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 19:10 highlights that the Torah’s conclusion to this section is unusual. It states that “…it shall remain for them an everlasting statute.” By concluding this law in such a forceful fashion, the Torah is coming to teach a much deeper lesson than merely redacting a ritual that would not apply for a majority of Jewish history. It is coming to affirm that there is an eternal aspect to the law. The eternal aspect is not necessarily that the formula for purification is reenacted, but rather that the law itself, along with all of the Torah is of divine origin. And hence, that fundamental to our lives is the unflinching belief that the Torah and its laws are of eternal value. There are continuous lessons to be learned, by all people, in all ages, from the Torah. But the first step is an actual belief in the divine and the eternal nature of the Torah.

Rabbi Hirsch states that in this case: “the dictum of the Red Heifer proclaims the principle of atonement and the fundamental tenet that all authority is based on the Law and that all hopes for Israel’s salvation are dependent on Israel’s recognition of the Law as an everlasting norm for Israel.”

May we learn and successfully apply the ancient lessons of the Torah in our own lives.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the eventual separation of Religion and State which certain political actions are hastening.

The Authority of Servitude

The Authority of Servitude

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. -Max De Pree

Some of the high and mighty of Israel contest the authority of Moses. Moses’ reaction is unusual. He falls on his face. He doesn’t debate with Korach and his followers. He doesn’t remind them that God chose him. He doesn’t mention that he consistently refused the job and repeatedly asked God to choose someone else. Moses, the unquestionable choice of God to lead the people of Israel, doesn’t do any of what we might expect him to do to buttress his position and exert his divinely-ordained authority.

Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 16:4 explains the rationale for Moses’ submissive response of falling on his face, as opposed to the myriad of stronger responses he could have faced this rebellion with.

Korach and his followers weren’t being rationale. They had an agenda, with little connection to the reality or history of their miraculous exodus from Egypt and the direct divine revelations they encountered in the dessert. Moses understood that it would be folly to debate these people. Furthermore, since God had appointed Moses, it was God’s job to reaffirm His decision that Moses was his choice. The discussion was out of Moses’ hands.

Rabbi Hirsch explains further:

“The veracity of a messenger can be confirmed only by the one who sent him; so, too, the authenticity of Moses’ mission can be confirmed only by God Himself. For this reason Moses does not utter a word to counter Korach’s accusations. If God would not consider it proper to refute Korach’s words by reconfirming the authenticity of Moses’s mission, then his mission was indeed at an end, and so “he fell on his face.”

However, we know that God did indeed intervene in a most dramatic way which cost Korach and the rebels their lives. The authority of Moses and Aaron is clearly demonstrated by God, to the eventual satisfaction of the nation of Israel. God retained the men that demonstrated true service and violently and destructively removed the self-serving demagogues.

May our varied leaders understand the meaning of service.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the authoritative team at Farsight, for their incredible example of service.

Clothes make the human

Clothes make the human

Modesty is the conscience of the body. -Honore de Balzac

In order to understand the Mitzva of Tzitzit, the commandment for men to wear fringes on the four corners of a garment, Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 15:41 takes us all the way back to the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve, and the sin of the forbidden fruit.

Eve took the fruit because it seemed pleasurable. Adam and Eve ignored God’s direct warning and let their instinct for physical gratification supersede the spiritual reality they were a part of. That is when they lost their innocence. That is when they demonstrated the strength of their animalistic nature and the weakness of their human resolve. That is when they realized that their nakedness was a source of shame and embarrassment, for they proved themselves no better than animals, though they were blessed with a divine spirit, intellect, intelligence, free will. That is when they are exiled from the Paradise of Eden.

That is when God gives them clothing.

The clothing served two purposes: one, to cover the nakedness, to demonstrate that they are indeed human, distinct from animals, that there is such a concept as modesty, that our instinct for physical gratification must be controlled, channeled, even sanctified. The second purpose is to protect them from the environment. The world outside of Eden is one of thorns and thistles, where weather, the elements, the surroundings are no longer idyllic.

The language of the command of the Tzitzit warns not to go after “your heart and after your eyes,” exactly the error and language used to describe the sin of Adam and Eve. The Tzitzit is a direct reminder as to the primal purpose of clothing: We are humans, not animals. Do not give in to animalistic urges. We are spiritual beings encased in flesh and bone. The body, that source of potential physical pleasure, needs to be clothed, needs to be modest; physical pleasures need to be partaken in specific, healthy, constructive ways.

When we forget the lessons of Adam and Eve, when we “go after our hearts and after our eyes,” when we forget the concept of modesty, when we forget the intrinsic nobility of man, then we risk becoming little more than sophisticated animals, driven and controlled by our urges.

May our clothing ever be dignified.

Shabbat Shalom,



In support of Rabbi Joseph Dweck, a modest and dignified leader.

Batman and Soviet Jewry

Batman and Soviet Jewry

In the mid-80’s, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) at Yeshiva University organized a trip for volunteers to travel to Washington, D.C. to educate members of congress as to details of what the struggle was actually about. They split us up into pairs and we wandered the halls of congress seeking congressmen that would listen to us. In most cases we were politely attended by the Legal Aid of each congressman, who would give us a few minutes of their time, listen to our rehearsed speech, take dutiful notes, and tell us earnestly that they would convey are message to the congressman. We repeated this routine from office to office.

However, in one office the story went a little differently. We were sitting with the Legal Aid, giving our schpiel, when someone walked out of the Congresswoman’s office. The Legal Aid turned to us and said: “Do you know who that is? That’s Adam West, Batman!” My friend and I looked at each other, turned to the Legal Aid and said, “Excuse us for a moment.” He nodded in comprehension. We ran out of the office and down the hall to catch up with the long strides of the tall celebrity.

He must have heard us coming (he was Batman after all). He turned around and as we came within arm’s reach, he grabbed each of us by the lapel of our suit jackets and in his deep Batman voice declared: “You villains, you!”

I wanted to respond with something witty like “Holy mackerel, Batman!” but we were simply awestruck and dumbfounded and merely gazed at him in open-mouthed, wide-eyed adulation. He smiled a big heroic smile, turned around and continued on his way. This was the highlight of our Soviet Jewry trip.

We returned to the congresswoman’s office and now the Legal Aid ushered us into the office of the congresswoman herself, Barbara Vucanovich of Nevada. She was a gracious host. The reason Adam West had been visiting is because their children had just gotten engaged to each other. Congresswoman Vucanovich then proceeded to inquire about Soviet Jewry and after our talk she promised to vote in favor of whatever legislation would help the cause.

We all know how the struggle for Soviet Jewry ended and now you know that Batman himself had a small, if not heroic, part in this battle of good against evil. May he rest in peace.



Long Divine Plan

Long Divine Plan 

A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. -H. Stanley Judd

Amongst the many unique and unusual aspects of the Torah, as compared to any other book of law ever composed, is that a significant portion of the prescribed laws were not relevant to the time or place where the Torah was first introduced.

Many of the laws are dependent on a land yet to be conquered. Many require a Temple yet to be built. Many involve businesses, courts and institutions that were yet to become reality. All human law systems come to address existing issues, to give an answer to a pressing need or situation, to solve or prevent a problem in society. The Torah’s laws are for the most part forward-looking, imagining the people of Israel, in the land of Israel, with its own self-rule. Some of the laws are so esoteric that the Sages of old claim they will never be applied, while many other laws will only become relevant again in the Messianic Era.

This week’s Torah reading presents an array of both past and future laws as well as the narrative of some of the disappointments God had with Israel. Rabbi Hirsch, commenting on Numbers 8:1 comes to the following conclusion:

“Precisely the paradox that there should have been such a wide gap between Israel as it was at the time of the Giving of the Law, on the one hand, and the Law and its assumptions and requirements, on the other, a gap that could be bridged only over a span of centuries, should be the most eloquent proof that this Law is indeed of Divine origin and should mark it as a unique phenomenon in the history of mankind. All other codes of law were predicated on conditions that prevailed at the time of their origin. This Law is the only one to have set itself up as the supreme goal of human development on earth; it still awaits a generation sufficiently mature at last to translate its ideals into reality.”

God’s Torah is a long term plan for the nation of Israel and for the world as a whole. It is a plan that has been unfolding for more than 3,000 years with agonizing lows and dizzying highs. Just fifty years ago we reached another milestone in that inscrutable plan: the reunification of Jerusalem and the return of the Jewish people to much of its ancestral land.

May we witness and participate in more positive developments of this historic process.

Shabbat Shalom,



On 50 years of renewed Jewish sovereignty over ancient Jewish land.