Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Expulsion of Migron and the SPU

This is a hilarious classic comedy sketch from the British comedy series “Not the Nine O’clock News” featuring Griff Rhys Jones and Rowan Atkinson.

The punch line “…this is why I’m transferring you to the SPG…” is only understandable by those who lived in Britain in the 1970s and 80s. The SPG was a very controversial special Police unit to combat public unrest, named the “Special Patrol Group”. The unit was deployed to confront possible riot situations. Because they were trained in anti-riot techniques and crowd control, using non-standard police equipment that made them look like a South American Para Military force, they quickly became very unpopular and were seen as an affront to the British way of life. In 1987, after a public outcry due to a series of controversial court cases and accusations of brutality brought against the force, they were disbanded.

Photo shows Police tackling protesters in the Southall riots in April 1979 - Blair Peach, an anti-fascist protestor, received a fatal blow to the head minutes after the Special Patrol Group arrived at the scene. A Police report determined that he was killed by a member of the SPG although no officer was ever arrested.

Although it is tempting to see a need for such a force in times of crisis, at least in Britain, the consensus was that the danger to freedom, justice and democracy outweighed any possible advantage of having such a police unit.

Now look at this video taken on the 6th September 2011 in the Jewish settlement of Migron.

I have to say that I was shocked to the core and deeply ashamed after watching this, that anything like this could happen in Israel. This Police unit, known as the ”Yechida Siur Meyuchedet” (a direct translation being “The Special Patrol Unit”) or “Yasam” for short, has the almost identical  name to the British force which was disbanded all those years ago. This unit is an insult to everything we hold dear in Judaism and the State of Israel.

I would hope that anyone watching this video, whether left or right wing, religious or not, must surely condemn the existence of such a unit within Israel’s police force.

They seem to be made of trained inhumane thugs who have been given a license to be a law unto themselves.

They have no name tags and refuse to divulge their names which means that unwarranted assaults and abuse carried out by these men will go unpunished.

What happened in Migron is unacceptable in any freedom loving democratic country which claims to have a civilised legal system with full citizen’s rights. There needs to be a public outcry from everyone who believes in even basic human rights of Israeli citizens to dismantle this unit.

A leftwing friend at work said that being that this occured "over the Green Line" and not "in Israel proper" so regular civil rights do not apply and that in certain situations, the police must have the power to use more force than would usually be acceptable, if only to protect themselves and prevent a potentially dangerous situation. You know what, I can understand what he was saying but, and this is a huge BUT! No one, but no one should be beyond the law. There must be a way to hold these men accountable if and when they cross the line.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

With the deepest respect,…badly done, badly done!...

The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Great Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks does seem to consistently and successfully annoy me with his writings and speeches. I’m sure it’s nothing personal as indeed is this criticism of a Parshat Hashavuah he wrote some few weeks ago.

The article in question was penned for parshas Ve’eschanan.

My general criticism of the article is that the writer sounds more like an Oxbridge educated Church of England parish vicar rather than an Orthodox Rabbi in his writings.

I thought his blatant and inappropriate criticism of the State of Israel very unfortunate. However this point should be a subject of a blog post all on its own.

What I also found disturbing which is the subject of this post,  is the astonishing credence and honour he gives to a Church of England translation of the Bible, lending it dangerous and (unorthodox if you will) totally undue legitimacy in the eyes of his target audience which I assume are the members of the Orthodox Jewish community. His words would however warm the cockles of the hearts of his fellow English Bishops in the House of Lords. I cannot read Lord Sack’s mind but were these Xstian Clerics his real intended audience?

He writes
“Then came the translation of the Bible into the vernacular. We tend to forget that the Hebrew Bible is a subversive work…..In the 1530s the great Tyndale translation appeared. Tyndale paid for this with his life: he was arrested, found guilty of heresy, strangled and burned at the stake in 1536”.
Surely his Lordship’s words are incompatible with any accepted [Orthodox] hashkafa?

The Tyndale Bible is a translation into English of (at least according to most modern scholars) the German translation by Luther, written some few years earlier. It is not, as is commonly claimed, a direct translation from the Hebrew. We see that wherever Luther mistranslates from the original Hebrew (sometimes through ignorance and sometimes intentionally to conform to Xstian theology and score some anti-Jewish propaganda points) so does Tyndale.

One example which really catches Tyndale out is Luther’s mistranslation of the word “Matzah” which, as any Jewish child would tell you means “unleavened bread”.

Luther mistranslates this word Matzah as “ungesdäuert” which means "unsoured" bread because he mistranslates the word “seor” as sour. The word “Seor” is used in Rabbinic Halachic terminology to refer to sourdough (a substance that in itself is non-edible but can be used as a leavening agent to make chametz bread) but within a Torah context means any kind of leavened or fermented dough either still raw or later cooked. Tyndale gives the game away by translating Luther’s “ungesdäuert” for Matza as “sweetbread”, that is, bread which is not sour. Translating from German into English, it is an understandable mistake.

There are many other examples but this simple and blatant one will suffice to prove my point. Despite legend, there is no evidence that he even knew Hebrew, let alone consulted with Rabbonim as to the correct way to translate the Torah.

Tyndale’s execution probably has more to do with his break from the traditional Catholic doctrine into Lutheranism rather than his supposed blasphemous translation from Hebrew.

Tyndale is to be praised for his passionate campaign in the reintroduction of English as the official language of government and religion.

To quote Melvyn Bragg, “William Tyndale has had more influence on the way we speak than anyone except Shakespeare.”

His Bible caused a radical change in the English language and English society as a whole. Tyndale promised “A Bible for the people in their spoken language”. He waged a cultural war against what he saw as foreign influences within England and as part of this, believed passionately in the wide spread dissemination throughout England of a Bible written in plain English, not necessarily an accurate one though.

He was found guilty of heresy and executed in Holland in October 1536. His last words were reportedly “Oh Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”. In fact, the king’s eyes had already been opened and within days, Henry VIII started adopting Tyndale’s very reforms, breaking away from Rome. Unfortunately it came just too late to save Tyndale.

I would agree with any Englishman that Tyndale is without doubt a national hero. However praise and credence for his Bible in a Parshat HaShavuah sheet which is meant after all to teach us Torah, is in my opinion, nauseatingly inappropriate.

Let no British Jew forget, least of all an Orthodox Rabbi that Tyndale’s Bible still contains all the mistranslations, out and out lies and pure anti-Semitism which you will find in any Xstian Bible. This is the same Xstian Bible which has been used for centuries to kick up anti-Jewish hatred and inspire and instigate persecution and pogroms, eventually and directly resulting in The Holocaust.

With the greatest respect to the chief Rabbi, to quote from another great English classic, Jane Austen’s Emma:

…badly done Emma, badly done!...I must tell you the truth while I still can, proving myself your friend by the most faithful counsel, trusting that sometime you will do my faith in you greater justice than you do it now...”.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Looking for a great red wine for Rosh Hashana?

Looking for a great red wine to start your Rosh Hashana with?

Well I have been busy lately writing some wine reviews.


Ramat HaGolan (Golan Heights) Winery Yarden Mount Hermon Red 2009 versus Psagot "Edom" Blend 2009.


Followed by:
Har Odem (Odem Mountain) Volcanic Merlot 2009


And lastly:
Dalton Reserve Merlot 2007


Sunday, September 18, 2011

A tribute to Daniel Rogov

I wish to give tribute to Israel’s first and foremost wine expert and critic, Daniel Rogov, who sadly passed away this month. Baruch Dayan Emes. Daniel Rogov was actually a pen name, his real name being David Joroff.
Oh how I remember when he used to write Israeli restaurant reviews in the Jerusalem Post back in the 1980s. He regularly incensed me with his reviews of non-kosher restaurants and recommendations of treif food. I remember thinking that there are thousands of treif food and drink reviews all over the world published every week. Was it too much to ask for that Israel’s leading English language newspaper review kosher restaurants and publish recipes with only kosher ingredients? I was not alone in my thinking.
Daniel, like the majority of Russian Jews who emigrated to the West in the 1930s, was a product of 2,000 years of assimilation, pogroms, starvation and general Jewish persecution. Most Jews who escaped the horrors of Europe just wanted to live a comfortable life and leave the Shtetl and “all that Jewish thing” behind. Remaining Torah observant was the exception not the rule. Many so called experts predicted the demise of Orthodox Jewry and Mitzvah observance by no later than the 1960s. How wrong they were but looking back at the state of World Jewry in the 1930s and 40s, how very understandable that feeling must have been.
I have heard Rav Zev Leff say in many of his shiurim that we Shomrei Shabbos Jews living today in the 21st century do not fully appreciate the heroism of those simple Yidden who remained loyal to the Rebeinu Shel Olam, Avinu Malkeinu when Orthodox Judaism was probably as popular as a skin rash. We should look back in awe at those holy champions who sent their children to Torah schools, refused to work on Shabbos and refused to buy treif food when they hardly had any money to feed their own children as it was. Despite all their trials, Shabbos in their homes was so sweet and overflowing with kedusha. How seductive assimilation must have been and understandable it is that the vast majority succumbed and compromised on their Judaism. Who are we to judge Jews like Rogov?  We who did not experience their challenges!
Had Hakodesh Baruch Hu not had rachmanus upon Klal Yisrael and sent the likes of Rav Moshe Feinstein (zt”l) and Rav Shlomo Zalman Aubach (zt”l) as well as many other Torah giants to save Klal Yisrael, who knows what would have happened?
Back in the 1980s, I don’t suppose there weren’t many if any Shomrei  Mitzvos food and wine experts out there with the talent to write professional and objective reviews. Despite taking a lot of (in my opinion) legitimate flak from those who condemned his promotion of treif food and saw him as “the enemy” in the war against assimilation, Daniel doesn’t seem to have become anti-religious in any way. Instead of ridiculing kosher food and wine, Daniel instead took the position that kosher consumers had every right to insist the same quality in food and wine as the gentile world's equivalent. It is no exaggeration to say that Daniel was in a large part, responsible for the tremendous success of the award winning Israeli Wine industry we have today and the abundance of excellent kosher Israeli wineries which spoil us rotten with their varieties and elegance and sophistication, considered as good as, if not the best in the world.
Daniel, at least in the beginning, almost single handedly waged (what was considered at the time) and almost impossible campaign against the world who associated kosher wine with sweet cough syrup like liquid, and he won! Today, people all over the world enjoy “Made in Israel” quality wines which brings much needed exports as well as associating excellence with something made in Israel. Most importantly however, Daniel’s legacy will be that today’s Frum Jews can raise the kedusha of their Shabbos Kiddush like no other previous generation by the hidur mitzvah of using a suburb quality kosher wine grown in in the soil of Eretz Yisrael, thanks to Daniel.
Many Rabbonim teach that it is preferable to use unsweetened wine for Kiddush as well as the mitzvah of the Arbah Kosos on Leil HaSeder. The reason being that sweetened wine was not suitable for use in the Beis HaMikdash service. Daniel Rogov, with his unique Yiddishe insight explains that the Land Of Israel before the destruction and exile of the Jewish people was a major wine producer (as is confirmed by certain Mishniot). The knowledge of making good kosher wine was lost however when we were sent into Golus. All over Europe, the non-Jews issued harsh decrees forbidding Jews from owning land or even being partners with a goy in having a share in a field. Consequently the Jewish community was forced to buy grapes from the local food markets in order to make kosher wine. These grapes were of course of the eating variety and not meant for wine making. To try and compensate for the poor quality grapes that produced bitter wine, the kosher wine maker was forced to add a lot of sugar. This is how, according to Daniel, we came to associate kosher wines with what is in fact “sweet alcoholic syrup”.
Now that we are back in our land after 2,000 years of exile (Baruch Hashem), Israel has quickly relearned all the wine making skills we once had by adopting skills from the French and Californians and even resurrected a few ancient skills of our own from examinations of archaeological digs. It would seem to me that the continued use of sweet sugary so called "Kiddush wine" for the mitzvos actually perpetuates the old anti-Semitic decree!
It is said that the Vilna Gaon put on his Shabbos Clothes to meet the first batch of kosher wine arriving in Vilna from Eretz Yisrael. The legend goes that the first batches were pretty awful stuff yet the Vilna Gaon insisted that wine from Eretz Yisrael took priority over better quality wine made in Chutz LaAeretz when it came to the mitzvah of Kiddush. Like the Vilna Gaon, Daniel’s actions and efforts in promoting quality kosher wine has made sure that wine from Eretz Yisrael today has become the preferred wine for most Shomrei Shabbos Jews all over the world.
May Daniel Rogov's name be remembered for a blessing, zichrono Lebracha.