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Thursday, August 20, 2015

On Gatkes and Anti-Semitism

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On Gatkes and Anti-Semitism


Three weeks ago I published a Drasha that discussed the Pollard affair and its relationship to the current questions regarding the proposed Iran nuclear agreement and the opposition to it. I made specific assertions about what I feel was an essential mishandling of the Iran situation on the part of the current Israeli government, but did not take a position on the actual proposed agreement itself.

After publishing that Drasha, I received a piece of hate mail from one subscriber who asked to be unsubscribed from my mailing list, claiming that I had crossed over from religious satire to political punditry, and that he chooses to get his political insights elsewhere.

Shoyn. Tashmish HaMitah him if he can't take a joke!

I was also removed from one Facebook group after posting the Drasha. Their loss. My membership in that group likely brought the average age of the membership down by twenty years. I guess that some people cannot handle alternative ideas and perspectives. They should probably stay away from reading the Mishnah, the Gemara, the Rishoinim and the Acharoinim, and stick to reading the biographies of famous rabbis published by Art Scroll, as well as watching Fox News.

Rabboisai - I was on the phone earlier today with my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah. She asked that I pick up my Einickel, Menachem Mendel Melech HaMoshiach, from Cheder. I told her that I could not, as I had several pairs of ladies’ Gatkes to inspect for Shatnez, and several men's suits to inspect for Mei Nidah. Upon hearing this, my Bashert, my beloved chosen one, called me an "anti-Semite". Me!!!

Just yesterday I was passing by a Shoeshine place, and some Chussid - or Amish guy, it is hard to tell the difference - stormed out and complained that he was solicited by the shoeshine guy for a tip. And he referred to the poor illegal Mexican immigrant as an "anti-Semite", and then sent an e-mail to Donald Trump to have the guy sent to a concentration camp.

Finally, in Shul last week, someone asked for an Aliyah in honor of the Yahrtzeit of his cat. But my Gabbai, a very competent and solid Mentch by the name of Moishie Von Ribbentrop did not give him an Aliyah, as we had a Chushuvah guest, Barry Manilow, who we needed to honor with an Aliyah. And what did the guy call my Gabbai? Yes, you guessed it. He called him an "anti Semitic Nazi bastard". And then he pulled of the Gabbai's Tallis and ripped off the Tzitzis and threw them at Barry Manilow, who decided to use them as tassels in his next concert performance.

I share these stories because we are now bombarded with the term "anti Semite". People disagree with the President of the United States and call him an "anti Semite". People do not like positions that he takes, or the fact that he mentions publicly that there is a $25 million advertising campaign against the Iran deal, or that political pressure is being put by lobbyists on members of congress to reject the Iran agreement, and refer to the administration's “anti-Semitic tactics”.

Prime Minister Netanyahu comes to address Congress, circumventing US government protocol, gets up in front of Congress to tell them that the President of the United States is an ignorant asshole, but he is OK. But the President disagrees with the Prime Minister and various Jewish organizations in the US, and suddenly he is an anti-Semite?

Let us remember that this is the president who held the first Seder ever in the White House. This is the president that raised intelligence collaboration with Israel to the highest levels ever - a fact acknowledged by the Israeli government. This is the president that has used the U.S.' apparatus in the UN to block the Palestinians from unilaterally declaring statehood. And he is called an anti Semite?!

Do you know what an anti Semite looks like? I do. I went to visit my long lost relatives recently - I went to Auschwitz (Mamish). In preparation for the trip, I read up on the operations of the camp, especially Mengele's activities. I learned about the machine like precision of the trains bounds to Auschwitz, the selection process, the removal of hair and teeth and prosthetic devices, and the use of ashes from the crematoria as fertilizer. (Dude, they may have killed all of our ancestors, but they were great at recycling.) I learned about the German totalitarian regime, the anti-Jewish laws. I read about the collaborators in the various countries in which Jews were killed and from which Jews were deported to the camps. That is anti-Semitism.

In my Yeshiva we have numerous people of Russian descent. I often hear about the anti-Jewish laws that existed in the Soviet Union, the professional and academic glass ceilings, the other institutional challenges to Jews. That is anti-Semitism.

I also read recently about the banning of Matisyahu from a concert in Spain because he would not disavow Israeli policy. Now.. He is a Jew, not an Israeli citizen! That is anti-Semitism.

However, we live in a society where there is freedom of speech. Where you can pretty much say what you like. That is a very powerful thing. But as Stan Lee has pointed out so often, "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility". Words can build, but they can also destroy.

There is an extremely famous Gemarah in Gittin, Daf Nun Zayin, Amud Aleph. It is the Medrish of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.

The Gemarah tells of a wealthy man who he sent his servant to deliver an invitation to a party to his friend, a man named Kamtza. However, the servant mistakes the recipient as Bar Kamtza, an enemy of the wealthy man. Upon seeing the hated Bar Kamtza at his party, the host orders him to leave. Bar Kamtza, attempting to save face, offers to make peace with the host, first offering to pay for the food he eats, then for half of the expenses of the party, and then for the entire party, and is each time rebuffed by the host.

Humiliated, Bar Kamsa vows revenge against the rabbis present who did not defend him and allowed him to be publicly embarrassed. He visits the Roman Emperor and tells him the Jews are inciting to revolt against the Roman Empire. The Emperor sends an animal with Bar Kamtza to be sacrificed as a peace offering in the Temple in Jerusalem. On the way, Bar Kamsa purposefully slightly wounds the animal in a way that would disqualify it as a sacrifice in the Temple.

Upon seeing the wounded animal, the rabbis present at the Temple have to make a decision as to how to respond to the delicate situation. Some advocate dispensing with the law and offering the animal anyway to avoid war. But this plan is vetoed by Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkolos who fears that people will begin to bring blemished animals to the Temple to be sacrificed. They then suggest putting Bar Kamsa to death to prove that he is at fault, but Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkolos again refuses, because this is not the mandated penalty for intentionally bringing a disqualified offering to the Temple.

Rabbi Yochanan says because of the actions of Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkolos the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from Israel.

This is the famous Gemarah that is mandated to be studied on Tisha Ba'Av the darkest day of the Jewish Calendar. The story speaks of Sinas Chinum, the callous, senseless hate of Jew versus Jew. But it also speaks of myopic Jewish leadership that fails to see outside of its own little bubble and beyond its Daled Amois. It is the ultimate accounting of the Talmud for the destruction of the Temple.



I have zero interest in making a definitive pronouncement on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran. There are arguments both in favor and against.

On the one hand, successful implementation and management of the proposed arrangement sets the Iranian nuclear efforts back by ten to fifteen years. But on the other hand, the Iranians will be allowed to continue to own and develop a nuclear program.

On the one hand, the agreement may strengthen the hand of the moderates, and at least half of the country is hungry for moving towards a more open and Western society. But on the other hand, the benefits of any arrangement, including the release of $150 billion in assets held since 1979 and the eventual investment dollars that will flow to Iran will offer a pool of funding to the Ayatollas and the Revolutionary Guard.

On the one hand, we can overlook the burning of flags and calls of "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" as political hyperbole that we have heard before, including from Egypt prior to the peace treaty. And while Iran has chemical weapons, it has never used them against Israel, implying a rational approach to geopolitics. But on the other hand, Iran arms and controls the Hezbollah, who have thousands of missiles aimed at Israel, funds Hamas (or did at one time) who have thousands of missiles aimed at Israel, and was responsible for blowing up the Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina.

On the one hand, Iran will be subject to inspections to ensure compliance. But on the other hand, Iran will have up to three weeks from the time of filing a complaint until an inspection can take place, giving Iran time to remove signs of violations. In addition, as we learned this week, apparently some of the inspections are going to be subcontracted to the Iranians themselves (!!!!) Like… What the Tashmish HaMitah?!?!

On the one hand, Persian women are kind of hot. But on the other hand, Ayatollahs’ turbans are much nicer that SHAS', so they may take ten seats in the next Israeli election.

So, unlike most members the Jewish community, I do not know what the right answer is. I guess I wasted the opportunity to develop such detailed expertise. When I was growing up I studied Gemara on Shabbos. Apparently, everyone else became expert military strategists by playing Risk all Shabbos afternoon.


Rabboisai, Klal Yisroel is a small nation in size, yet we have survived and thrived throughout the generations by using our brains. We should be smarter than using such hyperbole as calling the President of the United States an anti-Semite. Let’s leave the hyperbole to the Iranians, and focus on substance and strategy.

If the Jewish community is going to fight the Administration tooth and nail - as it has a perfect right to do - by using highly aggressive campaigns of information and lobbying, then we should have a bit of thicker skin when the other side pushes back. That is not anti-Semitism; that is the political process.

So, Rabboisai, let’s not cry wolf and get our Gatkes in a bunch. But if your Gatkes are bothering you, don’t worry about it too much. Just send them over and I will be happy to inspect them for Shatnez.


Ah Gutten Shabbos, you anti-Semite.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess


סֵפֶר "Bar Kamtza. 2007" said...

Who is Bar Kamtza??? Here is the answer:

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