Thursday, 27 September 2018

A Vort for Sukkos

Moirai V’Raboisai! Here is my vort Lekovod Sukkos specially for my dear readers and followers.

Why is it that on Pesach we pile on the stringencies while on Sukkos it is just the opposite and the leniencies win over?

Let me give some examples. The Torah tells us to eat Matzoh on Pesach because our ancestors left Egypt in a hurry or because it is a slave’s ration and yet we spend a lifetime’s saving on some stale indigestible cardboard that supposedly complies with every stringency under the sun. That is also nothing compared to the ban on chometz. The Torah commands us to refrain from unleavened bread for just seven days which might be bad enough. But along come Chazal and add on about three-quarters of a day on Erev Pesach when chometz is also forbidden just in case. And it’s not just the duration of the ban but also the subject matter. Chometz means leavened dough but along came the rabbis and throw rice and millet into the bargain and of course the ashkenazim go even further and ban all legumes. The Torah says only that chometz may not be found in your homes but along come the sages and say it must be burned.

But these examples are largely unnecessary because who doesn’t know how crazy Pesach gets. Every other prohibition has a de minimis exemption whereas chometz on Pesach, even the tiniest of particles is forbidden. Which is why we drive ourselves crazy for weeks before and which all culminates in the hide-and-seek game of Bedikas Chometz. All for the sake of eliminating that leavened atom hiding in the eaves of the attic or in the crease of the curtain.

Now contrast all this with Sukkos. The Torah could not be plainer by saying, thou shalt sit in booths for 7 days. Or tabernacles. Or sheds. However you translate it, it still comes to something that shields you from four sides and on top. The Torah also gives a reason, for in booths did I settle the Children of Israel when I brought them out from the Land of Egypt. So there you are. A booth is a booth is a booth. Well, so you would think until Chazal intervene though this time in the opposite direction.

It needn’t have 4 walls and actually 3 walls will do very nicely. And while we’re at it even 3 complete walls are a tad too much and the 3rd wall can be a mere tefach in width, which is all of about 8-10 cm. As for the height of the walls, they needn’t reach the roof and so long that the gap is not too large we’ll create a legal fiction of the ‘crooked wall’ and pretend the wall reaches to the roof even though in reality it does not. This is still not the end of it and there are yet more fictions to ‘connect’ that which is asunder and to ‘suspend’ invisible walls. And all of this to create a supposed booth even if it is so small that it can hold nothing but the head and the majority of a single human body and little else.

Which brings us back to the glaring contrast where on Pesach which is supposedly to celebrate our freedom and yet we pile it on while on Sukkos when we are supposed to shield ourselves from the elements and yet it is all interpreted in the direction of exposure.

And so we come to the vort itself.

On Pesach we indeed celebrate our liberation from our oppressors and our emergence from slavery to independence and so the Torah and Chazal remind us that freedom need be handled with care. Too much freedom may bring on overindulgence, the liberation of oneself can lead to the oppression of others and and an overabundance of individual liberty may be followed by an abuse of the very freedoms we pined for during our affliction.

We needn’t look far for examples. In our times we find countries that in the past fought to shake off their oppressors, whether the Americans of their British overlords or more recently Eastern European countries of Soviet rule, are now electing semi-tyrants with oppressive policies towards minorities and the disadvantaged. The leader of a country formed of immigrants and which gave us the first amendment protecting freedom of speech spends his time viciously attacking migrants and a free press. Likewise, the internet that was supposed to empower individuals, communities and society at large with ready access to information and communication is instead used to spread lies and hate and addict people to the very portal through which their freedom was supposedly to be gained. As the Posuk says in Shiras Ha’azinu after listing the abundance enjoyed by the B’nei Yisroel, And Yeshurun grew fat and kicked - you became fat, you became obese, you became engorged - and he abandoned the God who made him and held in contempt the Rock, his Saviour.

Thus on Pesach when we were released from human servitude and we were awarded our first taste of freedom we tether ourselves to a higher duty and more meaningful purpose in order to contain the abuses that may follow the acquisition of too many rights and privileges. To enjoy our newly acquired freedom and liberation we limit them and set ourselves boundaries so as not to become corrupted by instant gratification and inebriated by too much of a good thing.

Sukkos on the other hand is the very opposite of Pesach. The Israelites were punished to wander in the desert for forty years when they were prevented from entering the promised land. Sukkos thus symbolises wandering and exile. We say in the prayer on the first night of Sukkos when first entering the sukkah, In the merit of leaving my home may it count for me as if I have wandered far. Also in the famous Yiddish poem, A Sukele a Kleine (A Weeny Sukkah) by Avraham Reisen (see here for translation) the shaky Sukkoh buffeted by the winds symbolises our exile and persecution along the way.

And so when we wander and are afflicted our attitude must be the very opposite of Pesach. We cannot in such times afford to close ourselves off from the world in a narcissism of exactitude and pedantry. Instead we must make allowance for outside winds to blow through our midst. Be they winds of change or be it a cooling breeze, sealing ourselves off from the outside on all sides with top to down walls is not an option. A sukkah with too thick a covering is invalid and instead we are forced to construct a roof through which the stars may be seen. Walls need not be on all four sides and they need not hermetically seal us off from the outside. We may breathe the outside air and we may dream beyond what is close and familiar and yet the sukkah will continue to shield and protect us. Because even in its reduced and exposed state the sukkah is still where God settles the Children of Israel.

Have a Good Yom Tov!

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Non-denial denial “from UOHC Rabbinate”

IMG-20180912-WA0010 (002)

Wednesday ‘Vayelech’, Fast of Gedaliah… 5779

[12 September 2018]

Denial on behalf of the Rabbonim

A signed public rabbinical announcement was published on the eve of Rosh Hashono purportedly from the Rabbonim and Dayonim of our holy community have announced their support, intervened or have expressed a view in respect of one of the candidates in the English [British] Parliament.

We hereby clarify that none of our rabbonim has signed the public announcement and that our principle remains as ever that we do not intervene or express any view in relation to general political affairs.

There Rabbonim and Geonim will in future not express either verbally or in writing any view regarding political affairs. May it be the Will [of God] that no fault should result from us.

Signed on behalf of the Beth Din



There is something odd about this letter it being in Yiddish which is not used for public announcements of this type and extremely poorly written. It also misrepresents the initial letter as if it commented on a specific candidate or party which was never the case. The initial letter condemned other Jews for antagonising Jeremy Corbyn and on this this letter [assuming it’s genuine] is silent.

I repeat that I spoke to a signatory himself who confirmed the original letter was a true document. I also know from other sources that Rav Schlesinger signed it. In addition, had it been forged they would have added the Vizhinitzer Rebbe to the original notice but who is conspicuously absent.

UPDATE: As initially suspected, this letter is a fake

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Oy Jeremy Corbyn – Rabbis for Jeremy

Translation of public notice by group of Stamford Hill rabbis

Public notice from the Rabbis

We were shocked to hear that there are those who are spreading reports that the Jews in England [Britain] are united against the head of the Labour party, Mr Jeremy Corbyn. They have also publicised that as a result Jews are considering leaving the land of England [Britain] out of concern that he may be elected as prime minister.

We therefore publicise our views that we are in no way associated with these aforementioned irresponsible activities.

Jews who are loyal to God and His Torah seek the peace of the state in which they reside and treat her leaders with respect and, God forbid, we would never contemplate antagonising political leaders. As our sages of blessed memory have taught us and as we have been commanded by the Prophet Jeremiah (29:7), Seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you and pray for her to God for in her peace will there be peace unto you.

In the merit of our acceptance of the yoke of the exile and conducting ourselves with humility in this country as we have during millennia of our exile throughout our generations will we merit to be rescued from various severe troubles and to a Good Inscription and Sealing.

Tuesday 'Atem Nitzovim', 24 Elul 5778 [4 September 2018]

Saturday, 17 February 2018

UOHC Slapped Down

In a rare act of public rebuke the full-page ad below was published in Hamodia anonymously but obviously by people in the communal educational sphere. The language and tone clearly shows that they had in their sights UOHC’s recent notice on Creationism which reportedly got UOHC into trouble with The Learning Trust for its extreme language. It definitely had many educational heads hopping mad that the UOHC which runs not a single educational institution should be making such crucial decisions without consulting anyone actually running one and is likely to be affected to the tune of millions of pounds.

The operative paragraph is translated below and the speeches referred to are a reference to a speech given by the rov of Satmar ‘86’. Notwithstanding the ad, the speech must have been intended for publication as it was delivered at shaleshudes and yet it was fully recorded.

Note the defiance in the final words of the translated paragraph calling to abide by the rulings of the rabbonim and leaders of the communities, in the plural, i.e. each community should follow its own rov and disregards the UOHC nonsense. Contrast that with UOHC’s notice addressed to ‘all who abide by our rulings’ to decline early-years funding. Apparently the total to date of those who obey UOHC and have declined funding stands at precisely zero. Including Satmar ‘86’!

According to the JC the early years funding is worth £7m+ to the community annually so don’t expect obedience to UOHC to increase any time soon.

And we therefore call on every single person to act with extreme caution not to be influenced by lone extremist operators who have the potential to cause irreversible damage, Heaven forfend. They are causing damage to the wider community and God forbid we should give in to pressure applied by various people to draw conclusions and make decisions based on a lack of knowledge and understanding in these matters. There is no purpose or justification for them to publicise speeches that were delivered privately, and we must follow the Daas Torah of the rabbonim and leaders of the communities

Saturday, 27 January 2018

UOHC on Creationism

UOHC creationism

To the Heads of our Town’s Boys’ and Girls’ Educational Institutions Who Educate our Sons and Daughters Tirelessly and Wonderfully in Torah, Fear of Heaven and Morals.

May God help them succeed in their holy work and flatten the mountains in front of them to a plain to enable them to commit all their resources towards education and to the existence and widening of the institutions without having to worry every step of the way what the authorities will say.

Let us express our gratitude to those who brought to our attention and alerted us that [institutions] must sign for the Hackney Learning Trust unwittingly and without understanding what they are signing and there is a great fear whether there isn’t in their signature a risk of heresy God forbid.

The Beis Din considered this with great seriousness on Thursday B’shalach [25 January 2018] and carefully evaluated the contract and the guidelines and we found that they place great doubts, Heaven forfend, in the creation of the world with the lie that the world is ancient, may their mouths be filled with earth. This is a lie that earlier sages of blessed memory contended with, and now they wish to infiltrate us with this falsehood. We are obliged to oppose this with great sacrifice and it may not be signed [even] in an ambiguous manner. And if as a result they will withhold from us their grants we will nonetheless not sell out our holy tenets for money. We will be forced to take measures to establish large funds so that our institutions do not collapse, God forbid.

Those who will make even greater sacrifices to donate to these funds once they are established will be rewarded many times over. It is, however, impossible for us to allow this situation to remain unchanged and we will have to assist and endeavour to find the funds with God’s help.

We therefore inform all those who abide by our rulings that they should not sign up to these clauses and those who have already signed must retract their signatures. They must send a letter attached to the contract [form] so that it is incorporated in the form that their signature does not apply to the clauses relating to this subject [i.e. creationism] both in the contract and the guidelines and that the signature does not pertain to those subjects.

This has all been unanimously agreed by all Rabbonim of the Beis Din at the above meeting. May God see our affliction and rescue us from bad and cruel decrees both in body and soul and that we should continue to succeed in the education of our sons and daughters in holy purity.

Signed Friday B’shlach [26 January 2018]

[Rav MCE Padwa]