Thanksgiving was first celebrated by the settlers at Plymouth in the Massachusetts colony in 1621 under the leadership of Governor William Bradford. Washington and Madison each issued a Thanksgiving proclamation once during their Presidencies. It was not until 1863, however, when Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation that the holiday was established as a national annual event, occurring on the last Thursday of November. The first observance of the national holiday came one week after the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg. (NPS.GOV)

I find the rare honesty and spirit of Lincoln’s proclamation reminds me that we can have God-fearing and wise leaders acting for good. Alas, we are a nation suffering under haughty leaders, drunk on the wine of their power, acting irresponsibly, deceitfully, gorging themselves on our national spirit, consuming our national pride, empowering tyrants, arming evildoers, enriching themselves, their cronies, and their class, without guilt, endangering and sacrificing lives for vain mislaid schemes.

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in

which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.


Islamic Awareness: Scapegoating and Conspiracies

yassinSpeakers for this past week’s “Islamic Awareness  Week” are infamous for their disdain for Jews, Israel, and anyone that is not Muslim. They promulgate vast conspiracy theories that place Jews at the center of a cabal that planned the World Trade Center destruction, created the war in Iraq, and even Osama Bin Laden.  They in turn, attempt to convert non-Muslims, and bring Islamic fundamentalism to Muslim American students.

The keynote speaker at UCI, Pomona and Long Beach State, Sheik Khalid Yasin, founded and directs the ‘Islamic Broadcasting Corporation Ltd (IBC)’, ‘The Purpose of Life Centre‘ in England. Yasin told the students at CSULB he was a “university lecturer” and a “sociologist” and then spoke for an hour about how he understood the desperation that drives Muslims to “retail terrorism.”  He said that however bad this “retail terror” might seem, it is nothing compared to “wholesale terror.”  The speech was an apology for terrorism, ignored all studies about the origins and causes of terror, and seemed designed to make Muslim students angry about being falsely identified with terror.

The disturbing side of Yassin’s lecture is his strong conviction that a secret cabal rules the world, headed by Paul Wolfowitz. This cabal planned the World Trade Center destruction, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

The Muslim students brought to campus a speaker that touted as a world renown scholar—he turned out to be a conspiracy buff.  He derided Homeland Security, President Bush, and foretold of America’s demise, unless we embarrass Islam.

Most likely due to our continued pressure, Malik Ali’s speech at UCI  continued not one reference to Jews or Zionists, our students leaders say.  For the first time in years, he did not insult or deride Jews and Israel.  At publication time we are still waiting for reports from Yyvonne Ridley’s speech.

Tell us Rabbeinu Yonah, Can we lie?

There is much going on today. It is 69 years since the official start of the Holocaust. While we know it was in planning for centuries during heavy antisemitism, the flames of Kristallnacht are considered the start of the destruction of European Jewry.

Today is also the yarztheit of Rabbeinu Yonah.

Today is also the parsha of Toldot.

So here are some thoughts about lying from Rabbeinu Yonah. In light of the story in the parsha, where Rivka makes Yaakov lie to his father, I though this would be insightful.

R’ Yona (Shaarei Teshuva 3:178-186.) lists nine different categories of lies. In order of severity, they are:
a. People who cheat in business, causing others financial loss;
b. People who exploit others after gaining their trust through deception;
c. People whose lies cause others to lose out on some gain or benefit that was coming to them;
d. People who fabricate stories merely for the sake of lying;
e. People who hold out the promise of giving another person material goods while never intending to follow up on their promise;
f. People who intend to keep a promise but do not honor their commitment;
g. People who act as though they did a favor or a good deed for another;
h. People who praise themselves for virtues that they do not possess;
i. People who change minor details when retelling an episode.

A careful analysis of these nine categories shows that all of the lies are told either for the purpose of cheating another person, or for no apparent reason.

R’ Yona, however, does not list those who lie for a “good” purpose or for a “good” reason.

The Torah has a generally negative view of falsehood.
1. Our Sages teach that the world is predicated on truth, as it says, “The world stands on three things, on justice, on truth, and on peace.”[ Avot, 1:18]
2. We are commanded to follow the ways of G-d. Just as He is truthful, so too, we should strive to be truthful in all of our ways.[ Deuteronomy, 28:9.]
3. Someone who distorts the truth is considered to be like an idol worshipper.[Sanhedrin 92A.]
4. The Gemara teaches that Jerusalem was destroyed because of a lack of honest men within its walls.[ Shabbat 119B]
5. In general, it is a good practice to be truthful. “Mi Davar Sheker Tirchak”. prohibits lying: “Keep far away from an untruth.”[ Exodus, 23:7.]
6. If a person lies in a court of law, he violates the Ten Commandments, “You shall not bear false witness.”[ Ibid, 20:12.]

These are general guidelines-none of which are included in the Tayrag Mitzvos.

Even a very likely candidate– “mi Davar Sheker tirchak” is written in the context of the Justice system. So for example: Don’t use flimsy evidence, hersay, or circumstantial evidence.

Three way dispute of Rishonim:
a) R’ Yerucham Perlow in commentary on Sefer Hamitzvos L’Rav Saadya Gaon (mitvah 23) claims that there is no prohibition on lying. He says all the p’sukim that prohibit lying are talking about witnesses or bet din. He says that it is not even prohibited rabinically. It is however, a bad middah.
b) Sefer Chareidim: says that it is a torah prohibition to say any lie.
C) Sefer Y’reim (mitvah 235): who says that lying is prohibited if it will cause damage.

The following, however, are some real-life situations with which the Poskim deal:

1. SECRETS? If one is asked information about a matter that is supposed to remain secret, he may answer, “I don’t know” (Harav S.Z Auerbach and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv quoted in Titen Emes L’yaakov pg. 7 )
2. DON’T WANT TO TELL? Similarly, although one is not allowed to lie in order to avoid telling bad news (YD 402:12.), it is permitted to say, “I don’t know” (Harav S.Z Auerbach, Harav S.Y. Elyashiv and Harav Y.Y. Fisher quoted in Titen Emes L’yaakov pg. 89. See also Metzudos Dovid Shmuel 2 18:29.)
3. EXAGGERATION During an appeal for funds, one is not allowed to announce a donation in an amount greater then he is planning to give, even if the aim is to spur others to commit themselves to larger donations (Minchas Yitzchok 3:97, based on Ma’harsha Sukkah 29a.).
4. DEVALUATION: A wealthy man is permitted to lie about his wealth if he fears “the evil eye” (Ayin H’ara) or if he does not want to arouse jealousy —Harav S.Y. Elyashiv quoted in Titen Emes L’yaakov pg. 78.
5. ADOPTED CHILD-AWKWARDNESS It is forbidden for an adopted son to be called to the Torah as the son of his adoptive father. Although this may not be considered a lie (See Rama Choshen Mishpat 42, Shu”t Chasam Sofer 76 and Shu”t Ha’amek Sheila EH 98), it is forbidden because it may lead to confusion when matters of inheritance and Chalitza, etc., arise (Minchas Yitzchok 2:115; 4:49; Harav S.Z. Auerbach quoted in Titen Emes L’yaakov pg. 96.).
6. RAISING FUNDS When collecting funds for a poor Talmid Chacham, one may say that he is collecting for Hachnasas Kallah if he thinks that people will be more receptive to that cause (Shu”t Mishne Sachir (end of vol. 1) quoting a story with the Chasam Sofer. Part of the ruling is based on the Midrash Rabba (Ki-Sisa) that compares a Talmid Chacham to a Kallah. In that story the Chasam Sofer allowed a Tzedaka fund intended for Hachnosas Kallah to support a well-known Talmid Chacham). It is also permitted to raise funds for Hachnasas Kallah, even when the collection is primarily for the benefit of the Chasan (Harav S.Z. Auerbach quoted in Titen Emes L’yaakov pg. 55.).
7. FOR FINANCIAL GAIN It is prohibited to lie for the sake of financial gain, even when no stealing is involved (R’ Yona (Shaarei Teshuva 180 & 186); Rashas”h (Shabbos 140b) and Sdei Chemed (vol. 4 pg. 87) opposing the Ma’harsha (Shabbos 140) who implies that it is permissible; Chofetz Chaim (Sfas Tomim 2).
8. TO SAVE SOMETHING If one fears that a package will be mishandled, it is permitted to write “glass” on it, even though it does not contain any glass (Harav S.Y. Elyashiv, Harav Y.Y. Fisher and Harav Chaim Kanievsky, quoted in Titen Emes L’yaakov pg. 66.).
9. TO NOT BE LATE If one sees that his wife will be late for Shabbos, he is permitted to tell her that the hour is later than it really is. →This is permitted only when it is clear that she is procrastinating. → If, however, she is rushing and harried and telling her that the hour is later than it really is will only pressure her further, it is forbidden to do so (Harav S. Y. Elyashiv quoted in Titen Emes L’yaakov pg. 86.). →Story from Detroit.
10. I’M NOT HOME/GOT NO TIME If, by refusing to receive a visitor, the visitor’s feelings will be hurt, one is permitted to leave instructions saying that he is not home (Harav S.Z Auerbach and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv quoted in Titen Emes L’yaakov pg. 76. See also Machtzis Ha’shekel OC 156 that → if one has no time to answer a question about a particular subject, he may say that he is not learning that subject now and cannot answer the question.). → One should not, however, instruct a minor to lie about his parents’ whereabouts, since that teaches the child to lie.
→ Lying is permissible if its purpose is to maintain love and harmony between a man and his wife. Abraham and Sarah.[ 7. Genesis, 18:12-13.] When G-d tells the aging Sarah that she will have a son, she laughs, saying how unlikely since her husband is so old. When G-d tells Abraham of Sarah’s laughter, he changes the story saying that Sarah blamed her own old age, not her husband’s. Our Sages teach that G-d lied to preserve “shalom bayit” between husband and wife, to safeguard the harmony in their marriage.[ Baba Metzia, 87A.]
This has many practical applications. For instance if a woman invariably puts too much salt in the Friday night soup, the husband can tell her that she is a wonderful cook without worrying about the prohibition against lying. Likewise, if a man is forty pounds overweight, his wife can still tell him that in her eyes he looks like a movie star.
12. HARMONY Harmony is so important that the permission to lie extends to bringing peace between any two individuals or groups.[ 9. Yevamot 65B.]
→The Sages of the House of Hillel taught that one can praise the beauty of a bride even though she is not particularly pretty.[ Ketubot, 17A.]
13. HUMILITY/PRIVACY It is also permissible to lie for the sake of humility. For instance, a Torah scholar of great quintessence is permitted to say that he hasn’t learned any tractates of Talmud when in fact he has learned them all.[Baba Metzia 23B.] Furthermore, to safeguard a couple’s privacy, a woman going to the mikvah on the night of her ritual immersion is allowed to say that she is going to the movies.[ibid]
14. WELL BEING The rabbis also permit lying in order to preserve a person’s wellbeing. For instance, if one was wined and dined royally at the Levy’s, if asked about the meal was, he can say it was “not bad” so that crowds of people won’t clamour for an invitation.[ibid]
15. TO AVOID EMBARRASSMENT, a person can lie. For instance, if someone has to enter the hospital for a hemorrhoid operation, he can tell people he is having his tonsils removed instead.[ P’ninei Halacha, Vol. 3, Pg. 159, based on the Rambam, Laws of Theft, 14:13]
16. While there are cases were lying is permissible, one should do so very carefully. Our Sages teach that a habitual liar will not witness the presence of the Shechina.[ Sotah 42A]

Ten ideas for Jon Stewart during the WGA strike

jonstewart_1.jpgWith a writer’s strike in Hollywood gripping the city like a shortage lattes, here are some Jewlicious ideas for late-night TV host Jon Stewart, whose programs were the first to suffer the effects of the WGA strike:

10. Go to Israel and study
9. Write your memoir
8. Join Jewlicious as a blogger
7. Become a slam-poet
6. Learn to bake challah
5. Start building your Monster Menorah
4. Eat falafel with ck in Machane Yehuda
3. Become a spokesman for a Jewish charity
2. Launch the independent Comedy Party
1. Be a Jewlicious Taglit-Birthright Israel trip adviser