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Protecting a Life is Always a Priority

(Published in Jewish Journal March 27)
The Torah commands us protect our lives, and those of others. Based on the verse, “Guard yourself and guard your soul very much” (Deut. 4:9). According to Jewish law, it is a duty to take all due precautions and avoid anything that may endanger life. “Anyone who violates such prohibitions, saying ‘I’m only putting myself at risk – what business is that of anybody else?’ or ‘I’m not particular about such things’ deserves a lashing, while those who are careful about such things will be blessed” (Choshen Mishpat 427, 8-10).”

Every family that cares for keeping the sanctity of the Sabbath also must care for the sanctity of life and take extra precautions to ensure the safety of our homes.

Below are some guidelines in accordance with Jewish law:

  • All families must install dual-sensor smoke and fire alarms and additional carbon monoxide alarms around their homes, test them weekly, and gently vacuum them monthly. They should be installed in bedrooms, hallways, attics, basements, and you can check the National Fire Protection Association website for details.
  • Never use cracked, worn or sheared electric chords – whether on a hot plate, Sukkah lights, lamps etc.
  • Do not overload sockets or improperly use extension chords.
  • Keep candles under adult supervision, use self-extinguishing Shabbat and Hanukkah candles – and extinguish menorahs before going to bed.
  • Never leave flammable material (curtains, hand towels etc.) in proximity to heat sources such as hot plates, Shabbat, Hanukkah or Yom Tov candles.
  • While we are not permitted to extinguish a fire without reason on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to extinguish a unintentional fire in a home on Shabbbat as it is a direct threat to people in adjacent homes. Even in an isolated home, with no apparent neighbors, the fire must be put out because it could spread to the field or forest and harm someone else.

Food Safety Guidelines for Shabbat Observance in accordance with Halacha:

  • To enjoy warm food on Shabbat, electric hot plates should be used with an appliance timer, which turns off at bed time and back on in the morning. On Shabbat, solid foods should remain on the cold hotplate overnight. On Yom Tov, when it is permitted to cook, any food can be placed back on the hot plate in the morning.
  • Chulent or Hamim can be cooked safely in an electric slow-cooker overnight. Reminder to remove the pot insert from the slow cooker before serving the chulent in order to avoid stirring a cooked food in a cooking vessel. Also the slow cooker can be put on a timer to turn off after your meal time.
  • Leaving on a gas-range on a low flame is common practice whether on Shabbat or on Yom Tov among orthodox families – please be very cautious. Try to find alternatives. On Shabbos use a metal “blech” to cover a low flame. On Yom Tov, any time the flame is not being used for cooking, covered with a pot of water. If a flame goes out – turn off the gas immediately.
  • Ovens that have built-
    in Sabbath modes – which overrides the auto-shut-off function for the duration of a three-day holiday – have been tested for this use and are designed to safely operate for 72 hours.

We have a sacred duty to protect life. By educating ourselves, and protecting our families and communities with diligence in these and other safety issues, we are fulfilling that mitzvah.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.

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Never Forget: Iran is the Problem, not Boteach

IMG_6447In a Jewish world desperate for unity, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach succeeded in uniting a broad array of Jewish groups, including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, secular and religious, right leaning, and left leaning, centrist and apolitical — to condemn his full-page ad attack against National Security Advisor Susan Rice in the New York Times.

If only that unity could be channeled into publicizing the existential threat a nuclear Iran poses to America and the world, perhaps the US Administration would truly recognize the danger that a nuclear armed Iran would be, and reject any deal that would leave Iran within reach of the bomb.

Boteach’s tactics are reminiscent of Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook) and his supporters who tried to move the United States to protect the Jews of Europe being slaughtered by Germany during WWII by allowing increased immigration of European Jews into America. Bergson’s group ran shocking full page ads in the Times and other newspapers as part of their campaign to tell the world of the destruction of European Jewry.

Boteach knew that his attack on Rice would be controversial. The establishment’s denunciation only proves to Boteach and his supporters — and he counts the outspoken Sheldon Adelson among them — that American Jewish leadership is incapable of articulating a unified position on Iran.

Details of the Iran deal, currently being worked on in secret by America and Iran, have been leaked across the media for days. By all accounts it allows for Iran to maintain a serious nuclear program.

Yet news that Iran will be on the path from being a pariah state, to a legitimized nuclear power, has not galvanized major American Jewish organizations to protests, mass petition campaigns or to even to take out ads in the Times.

Rather, American Jewish groups are distracted, busy fighting a very public battle over whether Bibi’s speech to congress this week is good or bad for Israel and the Jews.

Boteach, many American Jewish leaders, and the Christian Zionist lobby, believe Bibi’s speech to the US Congress can help to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons and make the case for strengthening America’s resolve against Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.

He is not alone. Even the Obama Administration, wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, is afraid that Bibi’s speech to congress could scuttle a deal with Iran.

We can look into the historical record to see who stood against Peter Bergson’s tactics to bring the plight of European Jewry to the pages of the NY Times and in public demonstrations in Washington. We can see their publicly stated positions aimed at defusing any hint the American Jews might be accused of disloyalty to America in favor of foreign Jews.

According to recent scholarship, prominent Jewish organizations tried to have Bergson deported and had the IRS audit his group to try to find irregularities. Likewise nearly every mainstream Jewish organization, including the greatest Zionist leaders tried to discredit Bergson.

In addition to Bergson’s ad campaign, and renting Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl and other massive venues for a show he produced called “We Will Not Die”, he organized a March of Rabbis on Washington.

Bergson and the March of 500 Orthodox rabbis on October 6, 1943 did not succeed in meeting President Roosevelt, or in being heard in congress. Instead, the Jewish establishment blocked them any way possible worried that these Jews would increase American anti-Semitism.

When asked about his tactics, Bergson said in 1973, “Why did we respond the way we did? The question should be, why didn’t the others? We responded as a human and as a Jew should.”

Bergson’s March, which included Jewish War Veterans, met the Vice President and a few members of congress. Their pressure helped rescue of some 200,000 mostly Hungarian Jews through changes in the policies of the War Refugee Board.

We see today that those who condemn Boteach’s NY Times advertisement and demand he publically apologize, seem to be echoing the concern Jews have always felt when we have achieved a high level of acceptance within any nation – we are worried that to press for protecting World Jewry, and Israel in particular, makes us vulnerable to the anti-Semites’ claim that Jews are a fifth-column or have dual loyalties.

This fear is burned into our collective memory as a foundational fact of our national story. From the time recorded in the Bible when Pharaoh’s advisors feared that the Israelites would join with some potential invading force and overthrow Egypt, to today’s Zionist conspiracies, our enemies have accused us of treachery. This fear of being accused of disloyalty runs deep in our national psyche.

While Boteach’s tactics — a personal attack on a prominent politician — are very controversial and offensive to most, it’s because Boteach believes the stakes are very high.

The Jewish Establishment has proven the point that Boteach has set out to prove — that there is no unified voice on how to combat a mortal enemy of the Jewish people, but only on trying to make the Jewish community not seem ungrateful for everything that Susan Rice and the US Administration have done for Israel.

As in Bergson’s day, it appears to some Jews in America who have taken to Boteach’s defense, that the Jewish Establishment is more concerned about losing its good access to the White House than the threat of Iran with the Bomb.

If history can be any kind of teacher, then the lesson must be: If Iran is allowed to build a nuclear weapon, to regain its standing it the world and lose its pariah status, it doesn’t matter how many good deeds Susan Rice and the President have done for Israel. They will have given Israel’s mortal enemy the ability to slaughter Jews by the millions.

One cannot help but take note of the state of affairs in American Jewish life when the Jewish Establishment agrees to roundly condemn a fellow Jew. The unified criticism aimed at one well-known Jewish American is unprecedented in recent times. Public and strident Jewish critics of Israel, whose names are respected, and whose current criticisms are simple reiterations of poisonous anti-Zionist rhetoric, have never received such treatment. The danger of their Jewish attack on Israel’s right to exist does not seem to galvanize anyone, let alone the diverse groups now condemning Boteach.

Boteach has been aiming to be a player in politics since he started at Oxford. Kosher Sex was never his end game. He won’t leave the issue of bilateral Israeli American relations to others, because he and his backers believe their voices need to be heard at the table. While Boteach had a following before, thanks to this avalanche of derision, Boteach now has a bigger platform. He can summon a NY Times ad with a few phone calls. He has a larger social media imprint than all the major Jewish organizations that condemned him — combined.

Boteach is the son of an Iranian Jew. He knows what happened to his family and the other Jews of Iran when the Islamists came to power in 1979, and he as well as every other Iranian Jew, distrust Iran more thoroughly than any other segment of our community.

Boteach is not a unifying figure. That is not his operating guideline. Neither was Bergson. Boteach is out to stop Iran from getting the bomb, and he’ll use all his political capital, connections, as well as the negative attention he can get to bring the issue into the public sphere.

Instead of turning on Boteach, the Jewish establishment needs to turn on Iran, publically, verbally, unashamedly, without fear of an anti-Semitic backlash.

Remember, never forget, it is Iran that has been supplying weapons, money, and training to Hamas and Hezbollah to wage a proxy war on Israel for decades.

Remember, never forget, it is Iran that is responsible for the deaths of more Americans that ISIS by many fold.

Remember, never forget, it is Iran that blew-up the Jewish community building in Argentina.

Remember, never forget, it is Iran has consistently lied to the world about its nuclear ambitions and hidden major parts of its nuclear program deep underground.

Remember, never forget, that it is Iran that has called for the repeated destruction of Israel

As we approach Purim, a Jewish holiday which commemorates our salvation from a Persian plan to destroy our people which was already set into motion, the world’s superpowers sit across the negotiating table from a murderous Iranian regime sworn to destroy Israel, and who have killed hundreds of Jews and Americans around the world.

Our sages created Purim to remember – and to never forget – that to ensure our survival as a people, it will take a unified community and holy chutzpah. Esther risked everything for her people.

Boteach has unwittingly unleashed some Jewish unity using some serious chutzpah. Can the American Jewish establishment use that to launch a major campaign against Iran reminiscent of the Soviet Jewry Movement or the Bergson group’s Emergency Committee?

I pray so.

Remember, never forget, Iran is the problem, not Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to congress and not Shmuley Boteach’s ad in the New York Times.

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Where God is Depends on Us

When children ask us, “where is God?” We usually tell them that “God is everywhere.”

It’s a beautiful answer, completely true, but it doesn’t help when you are older. When we see what goes on in the world, we often ask ourselves the very same question, “Where is God?” The truth of the matter is that God’s presence in the world is hidden, difficult to perceive, yet embedded in everything.

After the Jewish people received the Torah on Sinai God instructs them in Parshat Terumah, “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” (Shemot 25:8). God instructs the Jewish people to create a vessel to experience the proximity of God.

Shabbat is another vessel for us to experience the indwelling presence of God in the world. For on Shabbat, teaches the Sfat Emet, we experience the truth that everything that we have and do exists only because of God, and we are able to recognize the sanctity of all creation.

When we gather at the table and bless the Shabbat on Friday night with our candles, wine, and meal, the Shechinah, the indwelling presence of God is with us.

When we gather as a community to sing, dance and pray especially on Shabbat- the Shechinah, the indwelling presence of God is with us.

Whenever we wonder where God is, it usually means that we’re not making a place for God. Because when we live a life full of Shabbat and community, of gratitude and giving, we cannot help but experience the proximity of God.

God’s presence in the world is truly, as the Rebbe of Kotzk taught, wherever we let God in. Our lives, and the whole world, can be a dwelling place for God. This is what the Torah is all about.

But our relationship with God depends totally on us.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Saturday Night Online Shopping Report: Nazi Valentine’s Card on Etsy, Protocols for Kindle on Amazon

Just weeks after the 70th Anniversay of the liberation of Auschwitz, and a month after the brutal slaying of Jews and others in Paris, I am reminded of the fact that for most Americans the Holocaust, and Hitler, are so far removed from our times that they are OK to joke about.

Case in point: Etsy, the craft site, has for sale a card that says, “Will Jew be mine? I’ll be Furerious is you say no.” Including a picture with the likeness of Hitler. “Will Jew be mine” is a cute line for a card. Adding Hitler makes it’s offensive.

I have Tweeted about it, and sent messages to the author / creator bringing attention to the card, with the hope of having it taken off the site.

Mel Brooks mocks Nazis, as have many other comedians, and they are completely in their rights. There should be no law outlawing a joke. France is wrong to put on trial a comedian. I am not for censoring, arresting, or outlawing comedians.

But a site like Etsy — and Amazon who are selling White Power and Nazi music — need to take a stand against racism and antisemitism and refuse to sell this merchandise. It’s in their right as a retailer to choose what to sell, and both sites have plenty of other products to sell. They won’t go hungry, and no one will harm their business for acting ethically.

Amazon has been impervious to this pressure before, but hopefully Etsy will respond positively and remove the card. Better yet, perhaps the card’s author will realize its not just hurtful, but that its bad for business.

Meanwhile, I am ambivalent about the sale of Mein Kamf on the craft site.

Amazon has a longstanding policy of selling antisemitic items — souvenirs, books, music, videos, clothing. Today my biggest disspointment with the online retailer is the Kindle download of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

I guess no matter how much influence we “Jews” supposedly have in control of the world, we can’t seem to figure out how to get Amazon from selling this book.

Also appears on JewishJournal.com