Tisha Be’Av and Why We Need to Forget About the Romans, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

“When bad things happen to a group, its members can ask one of two questions: “What did we do wrong?” or “Who did this to us?” The entire fate of the group will depend on which it chooses.”(Lord Jonathan Sacks)

It was the great Roman empire and Titus Vespasian who destroyed the Beit Hamikdash almost two thousand years ago, except it wasn’t and it would help us a great deal to understand that they were not the ones to destroy the Beit Hamikdash.

Yes, this does refer in part to the rabbinic teaching (Talmud Bavli, Yuma 9a) that says:” why was the first Temple destroyed? Because of three things it had: idle worship, idolatry, and bloodshed. Why was the second Temple destroyed? Because of baseless hate(“sinat chinam”) that they had among them.” These words bringing Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, the great founder of the first modern day Yeshiva system, to write[1] that it is only after the Jews had destroyed the Temple’s spiritual infrastructure that God allowed Titus to come along and destroy the remaining physical representation of what the Temple was really all about.

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Ruth, Shavuot, and the Power of ‘Yes We Can,’ By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

While being a potential bestseller and most viewed on Netflix, the story of a Moabite princess who took upon herself poverty and estrangement in following her ex-mother in law into a strange land, would not be your predicted required text for a solemn day marking receiving the Torah at Saini. And yet, it is. Why did the rabbis Institute reading the book of Ruth on Shavuot and how did this once-impoverished-immigrant become the Royal Matriarch of the most powerful bloodline the Jewish people have ever seen–the House of David.

To properly understand this, we zoom out on the journey, which brought Ruth to the land of Israel. Midrashic sources teach that when Elimelekh, Ruth’s father in law, left Israel, he left in a cowardly manner[1]. Hunger and poverty descended on the land of Israel. Elimelekh, a wealthy man, did not want to hear more beggars knocking on his door nor did he want any more hungry neighbors dwindling his supply of food. He packed up and left for Moav. Elimelekh, the philanthropist and community leader, leaves his townsmen at the peak of their most difficult moment. Even as famine and poverty strike, he dives for the exit.

After Elimelekh’s family arrives in Moav and his two sons marry girls from among the Moabite aristocracy, he and his tow sons die in Moav. His two daughters in law, Ruth, and Orpah face a similar, yet far more difficult, choice than the choice Elimelekh faced not long ago. They can leave their old and impoverished ex-mother in law to her own fate of poverty and loneliness, or they can risk joining that very same fate, by joining her. Ruth and Orpah now can either remain with their well-established families in Moav, or they can join an old (former) mother in law who can guarantee only poverty and loneliness.

The right choice seems obvious—leave Naomi. And yet, unlike her sister-in-law Orpah, Ruth decides to stay with Naomi. She accepts Judaism, its commandments, difficulties, and begins traveling with Naomi to an unknown land—the land of Israel.

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Chanukah and The World’s Oldest Love-Hate Relationship, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

How do the Greeks go down in Jewish history books? Are they the “good guys” or the “bad guys?” A look at the Chanukah story offers a seemingly obvious answer: the Greeks were the bad guys and the Maccabees were the good guys. However, when taking a closer look at Jewish historical and philosophical sources, the matter is not as simple as it may seem. The clash between Jewish and Greek cultures seems to be so great, only because of the profound similarities. When thinking of the relationship between the Jewish and Greek culture, one cannot help but think of Sigmund Freud’s words: “not infrequently…friend and enemy have coincided in the same person.”

The rabbis teach us that while it is forbidden to write a kosher Torah scroll in any language other than its original Hebrew, there is one exception to that – one can write it in Greek. The rabbis (Megilah 9b) learn this from the verse “May God expand Japheth, and may He dwell in the tents of Shem” (Bereishit 9:27). The rabbis understand this to be teaching that “the beauty of Yefet—Greece—may dwell in the tents of Shem (the Jews).” The fact that the only two languages in which a kosher Torah can be written are Hebrew and Greek, speaks volumes of the place of importance that Greece holds in Judaism.

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Yes, Being Jewish Means Being a Zionist, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Does being Jewish mean that you are a Zionist? Realizing that Judaism is around for more than 3,300 years while Zionism is around for no more than 200 years, can easily lead to the conclusion that they are not the same. Sadly, such an understanding is no longer even thinkable. The existential threats made to Jews around the world, in the name of “anti-Zionism”, and our shared fate as a people, say it very clearly-if you are Jewish, you are a Zionist.

The term “Zionists” used by the enemies of the Jewish people, refers not only to one kind of Jews, nor does it refer to all kinds of Jews living in Israel, but it is used to refer to all Jews living anywhere in the world. When Hezbollah claims to be an anti-Zionist organization fighting Israel’s occupation and then goes on to call for killing Jews all over the world, that should be pretty clear evidence for this. When Gaza girls who are supposedly taught to hate only the “occupier”, sing for the death of all Jews, that should be pretty convincing. When Chassidic Jews are stabbed and beaten in Brooklyn, Antwerp, London, Melbourne, and Jerusalem-all when “anti-Zionism”, that should give a clear idea of what this is all about. When they attack the “Zionists”, they are really attacking all Jews.

Why is this so important? Can the enemies of the Jewish people really affect our religious and political outlook? It’s important because this has to do with the core of what being Jewish means.

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Chametz on Pesach: Making the Jewish People Late Again, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open”-Alexander Graham Bell

After years of eating Matzah on Pesach, I am starting to have second thoughts. No, not second thoughts about fulfilling this mitzvah of eating matzah- but second thoughts about the commonly known reason for eating matzah.

We are told in the Haggadah, that the reason we eat matzah is because the Jewish people did not have time to wait for the bread to rise[i]. If indeed this is really the reason, why is it that the Jewish people ate matzah on the first Passover night ever? After all, the Jewish people had been commanded to eat matzah on the fifteenth of Nisan-the night before the Exodus- even before the reason of “leaving in haste” has ever become applicable.

Furthermore, if indeed the reason for eating matzah on the first night of Pesach is to remember the haste in which the Jewish people left Egypt, one can only wonder why we are commanded to eat matzah Pesach night. Why not eat matzah when haste was in place, on the fifteenth of Nisan-the morning of Pesach?

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Guck to Gold: Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

 

In one of my early days studying in Yeshiva, I was introduced to a compelling logical argument that would help me a lot later on when struggling with difficult Talmudic passages; if someone gives you too many answers to one question, that means there probably is no real answer to the question.

So many answers have been given to the question why bad things happen to good people; here too it seems reasonable to believe that The answer, remains elusive. Despite the question being asked, re-asked, and will-be-asked and endless amount of times, a final answer has yet to have emerged. Indeed the Mishna in Pirkey Avot (4:15) teaches:“ Rabbi Yannai would say: We have no comprehension of the tranquility of the wicked, nor of the suffering of the righteous.” Despite various approaches to this question that were known at the time, Rabbi Yannai believes that The ultimate answer, is yet to be known.

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Inside Out: Justice and Equality for Non-Jews in Jewish Law, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Anti-Semitic incidents, even in the relatively benign USA, have gone up more than 20% in the year 2014.

As an ancient people, we are well aware of the side effects of anti-Semitism. One of these side effects is the allegation that Jews and Judaism treat non-Jews “differently” and should therefore not be surprised when Jews are treated differently. Before addressing the content of this argument, it is important to note, that with this very allegation, the discriminatory treatment has already begun.

The fact that every religion treats believers in one way, and non-believers in another is a well-established one. The thoroughness with which this aspect of Judaism is examined, relative to other religions, is unparalleled and highly disproportionate. To scrutinize Judaism on its treatment of those who aren’t members is not only odd, but is out of place and astonishing.

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