Posts filed under ‘Judaism’

Herzl and a High Holiday in Hungary

I spent Yom Kippur in the beautiful Hungarian capital Budapest.

Coming from the northern part of the European Diaspora, I was struck by two things. First of all, I hadn’t really realized how many Jews still live in Hungary. Apparently, there were twenty different minyanim in Budapest on the Day of Atonement. Secondly, the security level was almost non-existent. So, not only are there tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest, but they feel safe and act accordingly.

For Kol Nidrei I went to the Great Synagogue on Dohány Street, the biggest Jewish house of worship in Europe and second only to Temple Emanuel in New York. The gilded, three-story synagogue has 2,964 seats and on the eve of Yom Kippur it was filled to capacity. Of course I’m not sure that there was a minyan of people who were actually following the service, but that’s not the point.

I, who actually did follow, can say that it was a fascinating experience – something of a combination of a Roman Catholic mass and an evening at the opera. Admittedly, it would be easy to make fun of the Neolog rite with its choir, organ and theatrical choreography, but one has to admit that it was a splendid spectacle and I would recommend it to anyone.

And all those party-poopers who tut disapprovingly and complain that what went down in Dohány isn’t Judaism, should remember that we actually have this kind of Habsburg baroque extravaganza to thank for the existence of the state of Israel.

Theodore Herzl, the Budapest-born father of political Zionism, was obsessed with finding a solution to the Jewish Question. One of his first ideas was conversion en masse of all the Jews, and he had even decided to lead by example and undergo baptism. (Yes, I know, that particular tidbit is usually left out of his biography at Bnei Akiva summer camp.)

However, Herzl decided that he would attend Kol Nidrei services one last time, and he was so overwhelmed by its beauty and grandeur that he decided to remain Jewish and find another solution to the predicament of his coreligionists.

The rest is history.

September 23, 2010 at 19:14 Leave a comment

The Sound of Tradition?

Are you also one of the countless soccer fans who feel that you get your World Cup experience ruined by the vuvuzela? You’re not alone.

Once the cacophonic torture is over, you’ve sent off the last angry e-mail to FIFA and you’ve had a chance to calm down, you might want to forget all about it.

But you shouldn’t.

Instead, you should try to turn this trauma into an educational opportunity. For instance, come Rosh Hashanah and you return to the annual fight with the kids who don’t want to go to shul, you might want to try convincing them to come and hear the wuswusela.

June 26, 2010 at 19:18 Leave a comment

Who’s the Victim, again?

As predicted, yesterday saw huge Haredi demonstrations in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Imanuel. According to estimates, some 100,000 people took to the street in protest against the Supreme Court ruling that those responsible for the continued discrimination in a girls’ school in Imanuel be sent to prison.

The media of course reports non-stop on the issue. This is as it should be, and I have no objection to that. There is, however, one aspect of this massive coverage that surprises, and irks, me.

We never hear from the victims. No one even talks about them or tells the story from their perspective.

Instead, the media – TV, press and radio – presents the whole affair as a clash between the Haredim and the state. It’s as if everyone had forgotten that the core issue here isn’t that the judicial system is sending poor, distraught parents to prison. The core issue here, is that the discrimination and prejudice against Mizrahi Jews in the Haredi sector is so widespread and accepted, that Ashkenazi Haredim aren’t even willing to let Mizrahi girls study with their daughters.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is racism. And it’s illegal.

By ignoring this, the media buys into the Haredi narrative of an aggressive state gratuitously harassing innocent people who just want to live their lives in peace and quiet.

Another thing that puzzles me is where Shas is in all of this. This is a party whose raison d’être is to fight Ashkenazi racism and discrimination against Jews of Middle Eastern origins. Where are they now? How can they abandon the girls in Imanuel and sleep at night?

June 18, 2010 at 10:59 1 comment

A Hot Summer Ahead

The political temperature is rising and the clouds of a colossal culture clash are looming on the Jerusalem horizon. Over the last few days, the Supreme Court has passed down two rulings that have shocked and enraged people in the Haredi community.

Two days ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Yeshiva bochers can no longer count on studying instead of working, and expecting the government, in other words the tax payers, to support them and their families financially. That obviously caused an uproar in the Haredi sector, which has grown accustomed to the rest of the Israeli population paying for their lifestyle.

The ink on that ruling had hardly had time to dry before the next judicial blow to the Haredim. In a ruling yesterday, it was decided that if the illegal discrimination against girls of Oriental origins in Haredi schools is not discontinued by Thursday, that is tomorrow, the responsible parties will be sent to prison.

Significantly enough, it’s the judicial system – and not our elected politicians – who has put its foot down in defense of justice and democracy in this country. For years, our elected officials have opted to placate the demands of the growing Haredi sector in order to ensure their own positions, ignoring the growing financial, educational and social problems in the wake of this shortsighted policy.

And in the wings Yair Lapid is biding his time, waiting for the right moment to pick up his father’s fallen torch.

June 16, 2010 at 07:43 1 comment

Holiday Headaches

I have mixed feelings about Pesach.

These mixed feelings don’t stem exclusively from the fact that I don’t like to clean — but mostly.

Pesach is the ultimate holiday for the obsessive compulsive. No matter how much you clean, it can always get cleaner, and you can always think of yet another place that’s probably chametz-infested. I just finished cleaning my apartment, so now it’s kosher for the holiday, but still not particularly clean. After six hours of scrubbing, pouring boiling water and cursing, I still have to do the regular weekly cleaning of the floors and the bathroom.

The other problem about Pesach is obviously the issue of kashrut itself. I have still to hear a convincing argument why aluminum foil needs a kosher stamp. However, grocery shopping for the holiday a few days ago, I came across a happy surprise in the dairy-aisle: my favorite yoghurt is kosher-for-Passover. I started to get really excited about it, until I realized that this must mean that there is a significantly weaker connection between that yoghurt and real cheese cake than I would care to think about.

Oh well, I least the seasonal peanut cookies are here again.

Chag Pesach kasher — but no less importantly — sameach.

March 28, 2010 at 14:05 2 comments

What’s in a Name?

In the early 18th century, the followers of Rabbi Yehuda he-Hassid built a synagogue in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem — which was then known only as Jerusalem, since there wasn’t any New City yet. This building was destroyed already in 1721.

It became known as the Ruin Synagogue, Beit Ha-Knesset He-Hurba, and it remained a pile of rubble for some 140 years. Then, in 1864, it was rebuilt and became the main Ashkenazi house of worship in Jerusalem. Although its name was officially changed to the Beit Yaakov Synagogue, it was still referred to as Hurba, the Ruin.

In retrospect, that might have been pushing Lady Luck a bit too much.

As the Jordanian Arab Legion conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in May 1948, and even before the fighting within the walls had ended, they blew this symbol of Jewish presence in Jerusalem to bits. The building was once again reduced to ruins and remained that way for 62 years, a lone arch reminding passers-by of what had once stood there.

But then, a few years ago, renovations started, and tonight the synagogue is being rededicated.

That’s all great, but may I just suggest one thing: maybe a name change would be called for?

March 15, 2010 at 16:39 3 comments

Count on Me!

I’ve written about gematria before here, so I really shouldn’t have to explain it to you again. But since there might be one or two new readers out there I’m going to do it anyway. Basically, it’s a way of using the Hebrew alphabet to assign a word a certain numerical value and then believing that all words with the same numerical value are somehow connected, or share common qualities or whatever.

Some of you might find it less than convincing, but if you want to try it, I recommend a site I recently discovered called Khochmat Hagimatriyah. Here, you can type in any word and see what other words or phrases share the same numerical value.

I typed in my own name — מיכאל טוסבאינן — and these were some of the results I got:

מבין באופנה גדול

חי בסרט

?מי כאן אוהב פסטה

סקס באמבטיה

אידיוט גמור

and my personal favorite:

גבלס צדק

Convinced? Those of you who find these findings inconclusive, can try for yourselves here.

January 3, 2010 at 18:22 4 comments

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