Category Archives: soviet jewry

Life is with People – Immortality in the Hebrew Bible

An exploration of Death and Resurrection in the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Literature

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Intro

the Sefer ha-Chinuch was published anonymously in 13th century Spain and was written by a father to his son, upon reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah. See

27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD (Proverbs 20: 27)

כז  נֵר ה’, נִשְׁמַת אָדָם

23 For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life;
(Proverbs 6: 23)

The only word that comes close to the netherworld is Shaol [Strongs H7585] which translates as “grave”, “pit”, or “abode of the dead”.  It first appears in with regard to Jacob in

And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said: ‘Nay, but I will go down to the grave to my son mourning.’ And his father wept for him. Genesis 37: 35

וַיָּקֻמוּ כָל-בָּנָיו וְכָל-בְּנֹתָיו לְנַחֲמוֹ, וַיְמָאֵן לְהִתְנַחֵם, וַיֹּאמֶר, כִּי-אֵרֵד אֶל-בְּנִי אָבֵל שְׁאֹלָה; וַיֵּבְךְּ אֹתוֹ, אָבִיו

And he said: ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he only is left; if harm befall him by the way in which ye go, then will ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. (Genesis 42: 38)

יֹּאמֶר, לֹא-יֵרֵד בְּנִי עִמָּכֶם:  כִּי-אָחִיו מֵת וְהוּא לְבַדּוֹ נִשְׁאָר, וּקְרָאָהוּ אָסוֹן בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכוּ-בָהּ, וְהוֹרַדְתֶּם אֶת-שֵׂיבָתִי בְּיָגוֹן, שְׁאוֹלָה

In the field of biblical studies, renowned for its deficit of basic agreement and the depth of its controversies, one cannot but be impressed by the longevity and breadth of the consensus about the early Israelite notion of life after death. The consensus, to be brief, is that there was none, that “everyone who dies goes to Sheol,” as Johannes Pedersen put it about eighty years ago,

 

 

Genesis 49: 33 And Jacob concluded commanding his sons, and he drew his legs [up] into the bed, and expired and was brought in to his people.

 

וַיְכַ֤ל יַֽעֲקֹב֙ לְצַוֹּ֣ת אֶת־בָּנָ֔יו וַיֶּֽאֱסֹ֥ף רַגְלָ֖יו אֶל־הַמִּטָּ֑ה וַיִּגְוַ֖ע וַיֵּאָ֥סֶף אֶל־עַמָּֽיו:

and he drew his legs: Heb. וַיֶאֱסֹף רַגְלָיו, he drew in his legs.  

ויאסף רגליו: הכניס רגליו:

and expired and was brought in: But no mention is made of death in his regard, and our Rabbis of blessed memory said: Our father Jacob did not die. — [From Ta’anith 5b]  

ויגוע ויאסף: ומיתה לא נאמרה בו, ואמרו רבותינו ז”ל יעקב אבינו לא מת

 

Our forefather Jacob did not die. He said to him: Was it for not that he was eulogized, embalmed and buried? He said to him: I expound a verse as it is written (Jeremiah 30:10) “Do not fear, my servant Jacob, said Adonai, and do not be dismayed O Israel. For I will save you from afar and your seed from the land of captivity.  The verse likens him (Jacob) to his seed (Israel); as his seed will then be alive so he too will be alive.

 

הכי אמר רבי יוחנן: יעקב אבינו לא מת. – אמר ליה: וכי בכדי ספדו ספדניא וחנטו חנטייא וקברו קברייא? – אמר  ליה: מקרא אני דורש, שנאמר (ירמיהו ל‘) ואתה אל תירא עבדי יעקב נאם הואל תחת ישראל כי הנני מושיעך מרחוק ואת זרעך מארץ שבים, מקיש הוא לזרעו, מה זרעו בחיים אף הוא בחיים..

 

A major focus of that favor – especially important, as we are about to see, in the case of Abraham and job – is family, particularly the continuation of one’s lineage through descendants alive at one’s death. Many expressions, some of them idiomatic, communicate this essential mode of divine favor. The idiom “He was gathered to his kin” or “to his fathers” (wayye’asep ‘el-`ammayw / ‘abotayw),

 

Professor Jon D. Levenson. Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life

 

Eternal Life – Immortality

Daniel 12:2

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.

וְרַבִּים, מִיְּשֵׁנֵי אַדְמַת-עָפָר יָקִיצוּ; אֵלֶּה לְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם, וְאֵלֶּה לַחֲרָפוֹת לְדִרְאוֹן עוֹלָם

“One element that truly is novel in Dan 11z:11 -3 is, however, signaled by an expression that, for all its frequency in later Jewish literature, occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, hayye `olam, “eternal life””

Death, Children, draught

There are three things that are never satisfied… The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not satisfied with water Proverbs 30: 15-16

שְׁאוֹל, וְעֹצֶר-רָחַם:    אֶרֶץ, לֹא-שָׂבְעָה מַּיִם

Famine, miraculous birth, Heaven on earth … return to land

Slavery

To these must be added slavery, of course, which often appears in connection with them, especially with death. Thus, it is revealing, as we have observed,13 that Joseph’s brothers, seething with resentment over their father’s rank favoritism, resolve first to kill the boy and then, having given that nefarious plan up, sell him into slavery instead (Gen 37:118- z8). This parallels and adumbrates (in reverse order) Pharaoh’s efforts to control the rapid growth of Israel’s population, which begin with enslavement and graduate to genocide (Exod 11:8-22). It also parallels, and perhaps distantly reflects, the Canaanite tale of the god Baal, who miraculously overcomes comes the daunting challenges of enslavement to Yamm (Sea) and annihilation by Mot (Death).14 That Israel, fleeing Pharaoh’s enslavement, escapes death by a miraculous passage through the sea (Exod 114:11-115:211) is thus no coincidence and anything but an arbitrary concatenation of unrelated items.15 It is, rather, a manifestation in narrative of the deep inner connection between slavery and death that we have been exploring in another genre, the poetic oracles of prophets.”

Moses on the Mountain top – national redemption

Could it be clearer that the Mosaic promises center on the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that is, the whole Israelite nation, and not on Moses’ own progeny? Thus, when “the LORD showed him the whole land” (Dent 34:1) just before Moses died and the Israelites began to take possession of it, the scene is remarkably reminiscent of Jacob’s, Joseph’s, and job’s viewing several generations of descendants just before their own deaths. In the Deuteronomic theology, the fulfillment of Moses’ life continues and remains real, visible, and powerful after his death. It takes the form of Israel’s dwelling in the promised land and living in deliberate obedience to the Torah book he bequeathed them, for all their generations (e.g., Dent 31:9-z3; Josh z:6-8). In Deuteronomy, all Israel has become, in a sense, the progeny of Moses.

Untimely death

Thus, Jacob, having (so far as he knows) lost to the jaws of a wild beast his beloved Joseph, the son of his old age, “refused to be comforted, saying, `No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol”‘ (Gen 3735)• It would be a capital error to interpret either Joseph’s or Jacob’s anticipated presence in Sheol as punitive. Joseph’s is owing to his having died a violent and premature death that is not followed by a proper burial or mitigated by the continuation that comes from having children. Each of these conditions alone could bring him to Sheol.

 
Just as a person is commanded to honor his father and hold him in awe, so, too, is he obligated to honor his teacher and hold him in awe. [Indeed, the measure of honor and awe] due one’s teacher exceeds that due one’s father. His father brings him into the life of this world, while his teacher, who teaches him wisdom, brings him into the life of the world to come.  Mishnah Torah, Talmud Torah – Chapter Four: 1

כשם שאדם מצווה בכבוד אביו ויראתו כך הוא חייב בכבוד רבו ויראתו יתר מאביו שאביו מביאו לחיי העולם הזה ורבו שלמדו חכמה מביאו לחיי העולם הבא

 

See: Bava Metzia 33a Keritot 28a states a different reason: “He and his father are both obligated to honor his teacher.” The Rambam quotes this in Sefer HaMitzvot (Positive Mitzvah 209).

 

When his teacher dies, he should rend all his garments until he reveals his heart. He should never mend them.  Mishnah Torah, Talmud Torah – Chapter Four: 9

וכשימות רבו קורע כל בגדיו עד שהוא מגלה את לבו ואינו מאחה לעולם

When his teacher dies, he should rend all his garments until he reveals his heart. – With regard to the rending of one’s garments until one’s heart is revealed, see Hilchot Eivel 8:3, 9:2 and Mo’ed Katan 22a.

He should never mend them. – Mo’ed Katan 26a equates garments torn over a teacher’s passing with those torn over a father’s passing, with regard to the latter law. On this basis, the Rambam concludes that the same principle applies regarding the extent one rends his garments.

Kadish DeRabanan

Magnified and sanctified — may God’s Great

Name fill the world God created. May God’s

splendor be seen in the world In your life, in your

days, in the life of all Israel, quickly and soon.

And let us say, Amen.

Forever may the Great Name be blessed.

Blessed and praised, splendid and supreme —

May the holy Name, bless God, be praised

beyond all the blessings and songs that can be

uttered in this world. And let us say, Amen.

 

For Israel and for our teachers, our students,

and generations of teachers and students to

come, for all who study Torah here and

everywhere, for them and for you, may there

be fullness of peace, grace, kindness and

compassion, long life, ample nourishment and

salvation from our Source who is in heaven

and on earth. And let us say, Amen.

עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל רַבָּנָן. וְעַל תַּלְמִידֵיהוֹן וְעַל כָּל תַּלְמִידֵי תַלְמִידֵיהוֹן. וְעַל כָּל מַאן דְּעָסְקִין בְּאוֹרַיְתָא. דִּי בְאַתְרָא קַדִּישָׁא הָדֵין וְדִי בְכָל אֲתַר וַאֲתַר. יְהֵא לְהוֹן וּלְכוֹן שְׁלָמָא רַבָּא חִנָּא וְחִסְדָּא וְרַחֲמִין וְחַיִּין אֲרִיכִין וּמְזוֹנֵי רְוִיחֵי וּפֻרְקָנָא מִן קֳדָם אֲבוּהוֹן דְּבִשְׁמַיָּא וְאַרְעָא וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן

 

May there be great peace and good life from

heaven above for us and all Israel. And let us say,

Amen. May the One who makes peace in the

high heavens compassionately bring peace upon

us all and all Israel. And let us say, Amen.

 

יתגדל ויתקדש שמיה רבא דעתיר לחדתא עלמא ולאחייא מתייא ולמיפרק עמיה ולמיבני קרתא דירושלים ולשכללא היכלא קדישא ולמיעקר פולחנא נוכראה מן ארעא ולאתבא פולחנא דשמיא לאתריה בזיויה ויחודיה, וימליך מלכותיה… ונחמתא דאמירן בעלמא ואמרו אמן. על רבנן ועל תלמידיהון ועל תלמידי תלמידיהון דעסקין באורייתא די באתרא הדין ודי בכל אתר ואתר, יהא להון ולכון חינא וחסדא ורחמי וסייעתא ורווחא מקדם אבוהון דבשמיא ואמרו אמן. יהא שלמא… וכו’ (רמב”ם הלכות תפילה)

 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָנוּ תּוֹרַת אֱמֶת וְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם נָטַע בְּתוֹכֵנוּ, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי נוֹתֵן הַתּוֹרָה

 

 

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A Sabbath Bride – Marriage on Shabbat

An exploration of traditional Jewish sources regarding weddings held on or before the Sabbath and a discussion of how they might guide us as we re-create Jewish wedding rituals for contemporary times and culture.

 

If you like the madlik podcast please subscribe (and LIKE us) at iTunes.  And for your Andoids, the podcast is now available on Google PlayMusic and Stitcher.  For easy links go to madlik.com

Listen to the madlik podcast:


Notes (on last week’s podcast)

Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage
Brandeis University Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

 

See also:  Study: 1 in 4 US intermarried couples wed by Jewish officiant

Notes

לא חולצין ולא מיבמין ואין כונסין ולא מקדישין ולא מעריכין ולא מחרימין ולא מפרישין תרומות ומעשרות ואין פודין הבן ואין מגרשין אלא אם כן הוא גט שכיב מרע {{רמ”א|(דתקיף ליה עלמא)}}. וכולם אם נעשו שוגגין או מזידין או מוטעין מה שעשוי עשוי

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים שלט

The following is a responsum of the Remah, explaining his decision to perform a wedding late on Friday night long after Shabbat had begun. Although he rules that marriages should not take place on Shabbat, he holds that there are a few exceptional authorities such as Rabbeinu Tam and Rabbi Moshe of Coucy who permitted. “Although it is not the law that we may hold marriages on Shabbat we have these two exceptional opinions to rely upon in times of emergency; for great is the principle of protecting the honor of human beings, and at times the parties are unable to agree on the dowry until Friday night and the wedding is then held.”

וגדול כבוד הבריות שדוחה לא תעשה דלא תסור מכל הדברים אשר יורוך

and shalt not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. Deuteronomy 24:18

“I heard behind me the sound of a great noise. Voices passed through the camp saying, Look at that man Moshe (Exodus 33:8).”

After the Golden Calf when Moses separated himself from the people…..

It concerned the action taken by me recently when I arranged a wedding in the usual way. All knew the state of the bride as she entered under the wedding canopy. It was in the dark of night on Friday evening, an hour and a half after night had fallen. The circumstances which impelled me to this action are clear. It is known to all who live in our city and this is what happened:

There was a poor man in our land who had betrothed his elder daughter to a suitable mate. During the period of the betrothal, which was of considerable duration, the father went to his world and left life to all of Israel. The daughter was left bereaved, without father and mother, except for relatives who lived far from her. They shut their eyes to her plight, all except one relative, the brother of her mother, who brought her into his house, for she had no relatives closer than he.

Then, when the time came for her marriage and it was time to prepare for the feast and the requirements of the wedding canopy, she did not see anything of the dowry and the other needs which the relatives had promised her. But she was told to take her ritual bath and prepare herself for the marriage, and that the dowry would be forthcoming. This maiden then did as the women neighbors commanded her. They deck her with the veil on the sixth day, as virgins are decked. When the shadows of the evening began to fall and Shabbat was approaching, her relatives who were to give the dowry closed their fists and refused to give a sufficient amount, so that at least a third of the dowry was still lacking. Then the groom absolutely refused to marry her. He paid no attention to the pleas of the leaders of the city that he refrain from putting a daughter of Israel to shame for the sake of mere money. He refused to listen to them, “as a deaf serpent does not hear the voice of a charmer (Psalms 58:5).” Nor did the voice of the Rabbi move him.

Because of these quarrels, time drew on; as the saying goes, “There is no marriage settlement without dispute,” and the work of Satan prompted them until the time mentioned above came. Then they finally agreed and the groom consented to enter under the wedding canopy and no longer to shame a worthy daughter of Israel. Thereupon I arose and conducted the marriage at that hour.

Now, since people are complaining against me, I have come now to remove their complaints from me and to bring the proof and the reasons upon which I relied in this matter, saying: In this way beholden and sanctified.

Thus says Moshe, the son of my father and teacher, Israel of blessed memory, the one called

Moshe Isserles of Krakow (Translation Rabbi Simcha Weinberg See)

For Hebrew text and discussion of The Orphan Bride see: קידושין בשבת    הרב אביעד ברטוב –

בטעם האיסור דאין מקדשין וכונסין אשה בשבת

 שולחן ערוך אורח חיים שלט ד

משנה ברורה על אורח חיים שלט

Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage

Rabbeinu Tam

Moses Isserles

 —————-

Musical Selection: Avi Perets – Boi Kallah – An Aaron Teitelbaum Production – אבי פרץ – בואי כלה

 

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Filed under Bible, Judaism, Religion, Sabbath, Shabbat, social commentary, soviet jewry, Torah

wear big tzitzit and follow a rebbe whose not afraid

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on parshat shalach

Earlier this week I was randomly browsing SoundCloud and I came across an audio recording of a young  Shlomo Carlebach.   There are only three audio files posted and one,  from a late 80’s Ruach Retreat in upstate New York was on parshat shalach.  Ok, Ok,.. so when it comes to Reb Shlomo, maybe there’s no such thing as random….

Carlebach, known as “The Singing Rabbi” who wrote melodies that have enhanced every aspect of every denominational liturgy also wrote Am Yisroel Chai;  the anthem of the Soviet Jewry movement.  You may have also heard his stories preserved in a CD set.  But he was much more than a singer or story teller.  Carlebach was an original thinker and charismatic leader who affected thousands of change makers in the Jewish world.

The audio talk that you are about to listen to is brilliant in its audacity and passion and surprisingly timely.  It relates to those living outside of Israel who criticize Israel.  It relates to “small” and fearful rabbinic authority and leadership and, with a little extrapolation, it relates to a modern Israeli trend of secular Jews (hilonim) taking back Judaism on their terms.

I am pleased to share this audio file on Madlik and in the tradition of the Yeshiva, I provide below the imagined sources (mareh mekomot) and context of Rabbi Calrebach’s talk below.

 https://soundcloud.com/carlebach-legacy/reb-shlomo-on-shlach-how-does-one-make-it-in-this-world

  1. Meraglim – These are the 12 biblical “spies” appointed by Moses to scout out the land of Israel (Eretz Yisroel) in Numbers 13.  Ten of these scouts returned with a negative report which resulted in a 40 year delay in entering the land of Israel.
  2. Carlebach talks about the positive commandment to wear ritual fringes (tzitzit) and he talks about the morality play of the biblical scouts.  These two themes adjoin each other in the text of Numbers 13 – 15 and Reb Shlomo, like Rabbinic scholars before him provides an explanation for the connection between the two seemingly unrelated subjects.The traditional answer relates the word  “to EXPLORE (la-tur) the land… TO EXPLORE the land of Canaan” (13:16-17) with “You shall not EXPLORE AFTER (lo taturu acharei) your hearts…” (15:39) (for more see: “You Shall Not Explore After Your Heart and After Your Eyes…” By Rav Amnon Bazak).  The scouts sinned by what they observed, the fringes are meant to correct one’s moral vision. Carlebach takes this implicit connection further by contrasting “little” tzitzit to small vision (see below)
  3. Reb Shlomo talks about little ztitzit and big zitizit and compares them to the little Shabbos and the Big Shabbos.  This is based on a statement in the Talmud Berachot 57b that our weekly Shabbat is one sixtieth of the world to come.  This concept is the source of the prayer in the Sabbath grace after meals “May the Merciful One grant us a day that shall be entirely Shabbat and eternal rest.הָרַחֲמָן הוּא  יַנחִילֵנוּ לְיוֹם שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ שַׁבָּת וּמְנוּחָה לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָמיםand the sixth stanza of Ma Yedidiut, a song sung at the Shabbat Table: Meayn Olam haba Yom Shabbat Menucha
    מעין עולם הבא יום שבת מנוחהI believe that Carlebach’s extension of this concept to another commandment, such as tzitzit is novel.  In any case, his point is that the spies or scouts could only see the small fringes, and we need leaders or rebbes who have the large tzitzit.
  4. Reb Shlomo tells an outrageous miracle tale typical of Hasidic stories about a student (talmid) of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Hasidic Movement).  You can hear the smile in his voice and laughter in the background. The Zanser Rebbe is reputed to have said of such miracle tales, “If you believe them, you’re a fool (“tippish”). If you don’t believe them, you’re a heretic (apikoris).”
  5. Baal Teshuva – A Baal Teshuva is literally a master of repentance and is traditionally a term applied to a sinner who changes his ways and returns to a life of observance.  In the 80’s, in large part through the efforts of Chabad and outreach yeshivot such as Eish HaTorah, many young Jews (yiddin) who were searching for their spiritual roots returned to Judaism and gave birth to what has been called the Baal Teshuva Movement.  Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi  both started as Chabad emissaries but as they addressed the spiritual needs of the children of the ‘60s they broke out of the constrains of Orthodoxy and created a Jewish Renewal that has enhanced all aspects of Judaism.  There is a tension between these newly inspired Jews and the pre-existing Orthodox community that Carlebach makes reference to. (his quote that Baal Teshuva is a nechtiga baal avera and a hyntica Am Ha’aretz Yesterday’s sinner is today’s ignorant Jew; is priceless..)
  6. Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873–1934), Israel’s national poet, famously exclaimed, “we will be a normal state only when we have the first Jewish prostitute the first Hebrew thief, and the first Hebrew policeman.” Carlebach uses this quote as if he is quoting a traditional Jewish text.  This is radical in and of itself.  What is more radical is where he takes it.  Reasons Carlebach, if we will be normal when we have secular Jewish thieves and a Jewish Underground, then we will really (mamash) become normal when we have our own [secular Jewish] Rebbes.  I’m not sure Carlebach envisioned the secular (hiloni) movement in contemporary Israel to take back Jewish texts and learning spearheaded by Bina, Elul, Beit Hillel and Ein Prat and other organizations, but his Bialik proof text works for me.
  7. Shietal is a wig for head covering
  8. Majority decides – see Exodus 23:2 “after a multitude to pervert justice”
    אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים—לְהַטֹּת
    and Babylonian Talmud Hulin 11a “From here we learn we go after the majority”. See also the story of The Oven of Akhnai (Babylonian Talmud Baba Metzia 59b) which ends with the punchline  “the Torah was already given on Mt. Sinai, and it says in it, “Follow the majority’s ruling” (Ex. 23:2). So we do not obey voices from Heaven.”Carlebach argues here, that when it comes to big decisions like going to the Land of Israel and seeing it’s potential, or …. Choosing a mate… or women learning Torah… we should not follow the majority, nor any rebbe, but follow our inner voice.
  9. “Thousands of Jews would have stayed alive if they had not listened to their Rebbes” Carlebach’s family fled Germany and where spared the Holocaust.  Carlebach is here squarely putting the blame for the death of thousands of faithful Jews on their rabbinic leaders who advised them not to emigrate to the secular yishuv in Israel.  Those same Rabbis are advising us on whether women can study Torah, and I would add are advising us (on the left) to take part in BDS boycotts of Israel and (on the right) to indefinitely occupy land located in Greater Israel.  I think that Carlebach is saying that we learn from the meraglim that we cannot be governed by fear, rebbes or majority opinion … we need to consult our conscience.

I believe that this SoundCloud recording was posted by the Shlomo Carlebach Foundation which can be supported with a tax free contribution via PEF Israel Endowment Funds here.

young shlomo

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first refusnik

parshat vayetze

As suggested in an earlier post, much of the Genesis narratives relating to the patriarchs/matriarchs serve as a mythical paradigm for what befalls the Jewish People in Exodus and beyond.  “The stories of the patriarchs are to be taken as signs for their decedents” (Ma’asay Avot Symon LeBanim  מעשה אבות סימן לבנים).

It is in this context that we can best understand the multiple accounts of Abraham and Isaac going to a strange land (Egypt and Gerar respectively) as a result of a famine (Genesis 12: 10 26:2), causing a plague on the ruler (Pharoah and Avimelech respectively) and leaving with much wealth and prestige (Genesis 13: 2 15: 14 26: 12) …. A clear parallel to the latter Jewish People who, as 70 souls (Exodus 1: 5) went down to Egypt because of a famine, caused plagues to fall on Egypt and its Pharaoh and left with great wealth (Exodus 11: 2).

What’s missing from these patriarchal premonitions is the subjugation and internment that the Jews suffered in Egypt.  These elements appear only in the Jacob story.

In many of their exiles, the Jews were expelled or killed.  Jews being forcibly held as  in Egypt and later in the Soviet Union occurred only with one patriarch.

Jacob was the first Refusnik.

Jacob is forced to work for Laban for a total of 20 years before he utters the iconic “Let my people go” line. (Exodus 7: 2 and 26):

25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban: ‘Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country.
26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served thee, and let me go; for thou knowest my service wherewith I have served thee.’ Genesis 30: 25-26

וַיְהִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה רָחֵל אֶת-יוֹסֵף; וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב, אֶל-לָבָן, שַׁלְּחֵנִי וְאֵלְכָה, אֶל-מְקוֹמִי וּלְאַרְצִי

תְּנָה אֶת-נָשַׁי וְאֶת-יְלָדַי, אֲשֶׁר עָבַדְתִּי אֹתְךָ בָּהֵן–וְאֵלֵכָה:  כִּי אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ, אֶת-עֲבֹדָתִי אֲשֶׁר עֲבַדְתִּיךָ

Through repeated lies and tricks, it was clear that Laban had no intention of permitting Jacob, his wives and family to leave (Genesis 31: 41).

41 These twenty years have I been in thy house: I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy flock; and thou hast changed my wages ten times.

זֶה-לִּי עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, בְּבֵיתֶךָ, עֲבַדְתִּיךָ אַרְבַּע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה בִּשְׁתֵּי בְנֹתֶיךָ, וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים בְּצֹאנֶךָ; וַתַּחֲלֵף אֶת-מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּי, עֲשֶׂרֶת מֹנִים

So Jacob escaped (Genesis 31:20) and Laban (as Pharaoh after him Exodus 14: 5) gave chase.  Finally, after being visited by God (Genesis 31: 29) Laban has a change of heart and agrees to let Jacob go. *

What makes the refusnik component of the exile/exodus model so important, is that unlike the other components (famine, plagues, riches and freedom) which are outside of the control of the protagonists, it is in experiencing physical and economic abuse and showing an unwillingness to make a deal that the refusnik finds his/her own redemption and serves as an inspiration to us all.

Jacob did not settle.  Even at great physical cost, he did not compromise.  Jacob was the first refusnik.

Unlike Abraham and Isaac, Jacob’s struggle for freedom is commemorated with a monument (Genesis 31: 45), because it was Jacob’s struggle for freedom and unwillingness to give up or compromise that was to be a model for us all. It was Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, and who fathered a people.

In a previous post a journey – russia to the promised land, I describe my family’s trip to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1974. On that trip, our first stop was Leningrad and the first refusniks that we met, the first refusniks to host us at their home, were Ida and Aba Taratuta.  We had not heard from the Taratuta’s  all these years until this summer, when in my capacity as President of PEF Israel Endowment Funds I received a receipt from one of the 1,000 plus charities we support in Israel: Remember and Save.  As I reached the bottom of the letter, my heart skipped a beat…. It was signed by Aba Taratuta who has established this amutah (charity) to archive the Jewish Aliya movement in the USSR.

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Haifa and met with Ida and Aba….  my first refusnik.

I took this video in which the Taratutas describe our family’s visit as well as the various jobs they were forced to take after being fired from their respective positions as government translator (Ida) and astophysicist (Aba).  [Once they were fired a refusnik had to find other work so as not to be arrested as a parasite.]  The Tratutas were refused exit from the Soviet Union for 15 years.  After arriving to Israel, they moved to Haifa were Aba became a professor of astrophysics at the Technion.   When Aba retired from the Technion he became a math teacher in an Israeli High School. In retrospect, he says, teaching High School math was more taxing than being a refusnik in the Soviet Union!

Aba has established the Remember and Save organization to collect, catalog, archive and make available the records of the alya movement from the Soviet Union from 1967-1989, including :

  • Lists of Movement activists and refuseniks
  • Petitions, and appeals of Jews to the Soviet officials; and appeals to Jewish and public organizations, to the media and to Western leaders and governments
  • Letters of the Movement activists, prisoners of Zion, refuseniks and letters to them from Israel and from the West
  • Official documents on the Aliya Movement
  • Photo, audio and video documentation
  • Jewish Samizdat (underground publications) in the USSR

Aba is concerned that time is running out and that refusniks are passing away and their memories and artifacts are being lost.  Just as Jacob commemorated his struggle with a monument to bear witness, Aba is working to preserve the memory of the soviet refusniks as an important academic resource and as an inspiration for us all.

Here are some pictures I took (then and now).

Ida Taratuta 1974 Leningrad

Ida and Aba Taratuta November 2012 Haifa

Ida and Aba Taratuta November 2012 Haifa

Aba Taratuta – 1974 – Leningrad

Aba Taratuta stands next to the mezuzah at his apartment in Haifa – November 2012

Aba Taratuta and Soviet Jewry activist Jerome Stern in Leningrad 1974

Michael Stern singing Jewish songs with refusniks in Soviet Union July 1974

Aba Taratuta with Geoffrey Stern – Haifa – November 2012

Aba Taratuta reviews book “a journey – russia to the promised land”

 

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* I have searched, unsuccessfully for corroboration in Rabbinic literature or the commentaries for what I believe is  an obvious parallel between Jacob’s personal exodus from Charan (servitude, internment, chase before a river/sea and final release to the homeland) and the national Exodus.  I do note that the Haftora for parshat Vayetzeh is from Hosea 12 and begins by establishing just such a parallel  (for Ashkenazim) with verse 13-14.
13 And Jacob fled into the field of Aram, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.
14 And by a prophet the LORD brought Israel up out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he kept.

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