Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ivrit b'Ivrit (Hebrew immersion) for teaching Talmud

From time to time, I hear parents and teachers debating the value of teaching elementary school and high school students their Judaic studies in an Ivrit b'Ivrit program - meaning, Hebrew immersion.

The argument I generally hear in favor is that language immersion is a great way to learn the language, and the material being taught is meant to be learned in Hebrew.

The argument I generally hear against is that language acquisition skills vary from child to child, and that a normal-sized class cannot be kept to a pace that will work well for all of them. This results, potentially, in poor learning of both the language and the Judaic studies material.

I am not a classroom educator, and so I have no opinion on the general subject. However, the other day I was asked to comment on teaching Talmud with Hebrew immersion, and I must admit that I'm not sure why this is even a question. Gemara is hard, and certainly for elementary and high school students. Why make things still harder, by using it as an opportunity to teach Hebrew as well? Won't they just learn both subjects poorly?

Or, as I once heard a school president ask, "Would you teach kids Calculus in Greek?"

Of course, the answer is to make aliyah, so that Hebrew won't be foreign, and then Ivrit b'Ivrit will be just fine for our kids...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Would you kill an Amalekite?

The other day, while in the beit midrash, I overheard a high school student ask his rebbe, "If you had a person from Amalek in front of you, would you kill him?" [For background on Amalek, see Deuteronomy, the end of Chapter 25.]

The rebbe dodged the question in favor of getting to the topic at hand in his shiur, but he suggested that the student ask me. The student hasn't yet come to me, but I do have my answer ready.

I think it's a good question. I think we should overlook the fact that this mitzvah is not real today - that Amalek may well be ideological, that we don't know who Amalek is, and so on. Yes, eradicating Amalek is not a situation we face. But the point of his question is not this mitzvah, per se; rather, the question is how far you would go in violation of human instinct and social norms to fulfill a mitzvah.

Rabbi, you are horrified by the barbaric murder of a British soldier in London. So, Rabbi, what would you do if you believed that Judaism required you to execute someone?

And my answer is that this hypothetical mitzvah would pose a challenge to my emunah [faith], as do many mitzvot; the difference is simply in degree.

To be clear: It's not about agreeing or disagreeing with a particular mitzvah; I take it as a given that killing people who do not pose any clear threat is something we disagree with. Rather, it's about overall faith in Judaism, and the strength of that faith.

Many (most?) of us who lay claim to belief still live with questions regarding Judaism. We have questions about Gd's actions in the world, the authenticity of our tradition, and so on. The degree to which faith overcomes doubt is the degree to which faith can motivate us to follow Judaism even when our native instincts, or social instruction, would lead us elsewhere.

There are Jews whose faith is strong enough to get them to support Jewish causes with their money, but not enough to get them to run their lives by Judaism's principles.

Some people's emunah is strong enough to lead them to observe Shabbos, or kashrus, but not to "come out" as Jews at work or in a social setting.

Some people's emunah is strong enough for all of these – but they stop short on something more demanding, or more challenging of their belief.

And for many (most?) of us, I expect, emunah would fall short of convincing us to execute an Amalekite who did not appear to pose a threat.

But enough of my response- What would you say to that high school student's question?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Parshat Behaalotcha: A Grown-Up View of G-d

I wrote the following for this week's Toronto Torah. It's an idea that occurred to me only in the last few days, and I find it compelling. What do you think?

We may observe that each of the Torah's chumashim presents a transition for the Jewish nation:
  • In Bereishit we are born, evolving into a clan.
  • In Shemot we evolve further, experiencing slavery, redemption and revelation en route to becoming a G-d-centered nation with an ideology and a mission.
  • In Vayikra we develop spiritually, learning the mechanics and meanings of sanctity and purity.
  • In Bamidbar we again evolve, from the fresh-faced recipients of the Torah at Sinai to an older, perhaps sadder nation on the cusp of  entering the Land of Israel.
  • In Devarim we lose Moshe, the great leader who had molded us, and the nation of masorah [received tradition] takes the place of the nation of direct personal experience.
The above observation runs into a snag, though, in a talmudic reflection (Shabbat 116a) on our parshah. Noting the odd insignia which demarcate the beginning of Bamidbar 10:35 and the end of Bamidbar 10:36 in the Torah, Rabbi Yehudah haNasi contends that these two verses, Bamidbar 10:35-36, constitute a chumash in themselves. Indeed, that talmudic passage even deems this an independent chumash as far as certain issues of Jewish law. [Of course, viewing Bamidbar 10:35-36 as an independent book should render the word chumash, meant to connote one of the Torah's five books, obsolete; there would now be seven chumashim! However, we will continue to use the term chumash in this article, rather than coin a new term.] But if this small section is a chumash, then what transition takes place therein?

The verses themselves do not seem to contain any action, or any lessons for Jewish practice: "And it was, when the Ark travelled, that Moshe said: Arise, G-d, and Your enemies will be scattered, and those who hate You will flee before You. And when it rested, he would say: Settle, G-d, among the myriads of thousands of Israel." How do the Jewish people change in the course of these two verses?

Perhaps an answer lies not in action or halachah, but in the depiction of G-d offered here. Until now, the "bad guys" of the Torah fought directly with the Jews; as their stories are spelled out in the Torah, the Egyptians and the Amalekites were concerned primarily with the Jews, and with G-d only second, if at all. Here, for the first time in Jewish history, G-d is presented as having enemies, and the Jews are eager for their defeat.

In the early emotional life of a child, a parent lacks any personality or identity beyond that of protector and nurturer. The narrative of a parent's existence, his life before the child was born, her ambitions and social interactions, are of no relevance for the child. At some stage, though, the child becomes aware of the parent's broader identity, and of the role that the child plays on that fuller stage. This, perhaps, is the metamorphosis that takes place in Bamidbar 10:35-36 – we learn of our Parent's existence beyond His actions of feeding, clothing, teaching and protecting us. We learn of G-d's relationship with the broader world.

Much of our Judaism is applicable only once we undergo this metamorphosis, recognizing the importance of spreading awareness of G-d and of our own responsibility to execute that mission. The concepts of kiddush HaShem and  its opposite, chillul HaShem, are about more than sanctifying the Divine Name in our own midst (Vayikra 22:32); they are also about how G-d is viewed in the greater world. (Yechezkel 38:23) The imperative, "Cause the Name of G-d to be beloved through your actions," is linked by the Talmud (Yoma 86a) to a verse in Devarim (6:5), after this book, and not in Shemot or Vayikra. And so it is that in Shemot we are told that G-d will personally wipe out the name of Amalek (Shemot 17:14), but in Devarim we are told that it is also our own mission to wipe out the name of Amalek. (Devarim 25:19)

Unfortunately, our transition did not go smoothly; in the very next biblical chapter we displayed conduct as selfish as any in the preceding chapters of our history, complaining of the faintest privation and driving Moshe to desperation. We were not yet ready, and the path to maturity was long and winding, but there were flashes of brilliance along the route, such as Yehoshua and Kalev standing up to slander, Pinchas standing up to immorality, and Devorah standing up to national cowardice.

Truth be told, we are not yet at end the end of this path; we have not yet reached the stage at which all of us, all the time, ask, "What can I do to promote G-d right now?" This is not a matter of evangelism per se, but of actions which, by dint of their visible loyalty to Divine command, challenge the foes identified in Bamidbar 10:35.

We would do well to learn the lessons of this chumash, to stop seeing G-d as exclusively personal and instead comprehend the greater picture, a universe in which we are active participants in promoting Truth. When we do, we will also merit the second half of this chumash, Bamidbar 10:36, and G-d will settle among the myriads of thousands of Israel.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Power of Souvenirs, Personal and National

Last week, I heard a high school rebbe relate to his students the standard explanations for why Jews eat dairy on Shavuos, including the idea that we are meant to have a dairy meal and a meat meal in order to require separate loaves of bread, mirroring the ritual שתי הלחם, two loaves of bread brought in the Beis haMikdash on Shavuos.

One of the students challenged his rebbe on the grounds that such memorials are irrelevant; in a world that has not known such an offering for nearly two thousand years, why bother commemorating it in this way? Of course, the student meant to challenge not only this custom, but many similar commemorative customs.

My instinctive response was that we have these commemorations because we value that past and long to return to it. But then, on Shabbos, I happened to notice a small, unfinished wood night table my Rebbetzin and I have had since we got married. It was originally part of a desk in my Rebbetzin's apartment when she was in school. We took the desk apart when we moved into our first place, and this piece of it has moved with us ever since. We could easily get rid of it - it doesn't really serve much of a purpose at this point - but I feel like the souvenir anchors me.

I am not only the person I am today, I have a story, a life, a continuum and a history. I am anchored; making a decision to uproot and alter my existence would be an uprooting of more than just a moment. I am more than a cartoon on a single page in a flipbook, an individual moment connected to other individual moments creating the illusion of a narrative; my souvenir, my memories, demonstrate that I am a whole story.

Some people call such souvenirs "baggage", in a negative sense, because they can forestall necessary, refreshing change - but anchors have a positive aspect as well, keeping us from floating adrift.

Which brings me back to the two loaves of bread, and other such national souvenirs.

There are times when I wonder about the evolution of halachah and machshavah (Jewish thought), managed as it is by human beings who are doing their best to be faithful to a tradition. We are easily swayed by today's isms, all claims of fealty to masorah aside.

In the realm of modern Jewish thought, Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik were all quite clearly influenced by their philosophical contemporaries. Halachah, too, displays such influences, ואכמ"ל. And beyond the big thinkers - in hundreds of small communities around the world, despite the Internet and higher Jewish education, Judaism tends to become more or less what the rabbi of that time and place says it is. There is a sense that the inmates really can take over the asylum, overthrowing what is there overnight.

Here, too, the souvenir is valuable as an anchor. These objects and their rituals are our anchors, reminding us that we have a past, a continuum, a history, and that changing it is not an uprooting of a moment, but of a whole story. This, too, may be rejected as "baggage" - but I see great positives in the anchor as well.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Befriending donors or Using people?

I subscribe to fundraising-related emails from Guidestar, a great site for non-profits. After Shavuot I found a Guidestar email in my inbox, with a link to an article entitled, "Befriending Your Donors: Interview with Fundraiser Thomas Wolf".

The interview begins with the following question and answer:

Your book is about relating to donors, at times befriending them. A cynical person might say that's a manipulative ploy to snare money.
That's an attitude I've never understood. I like people. I like getting to know them whether they have money or turn out to be donors. Invariably, our relating makes them feel good and makes me feel good—especially when we strike a bond or find common interests. Why should there be an invisible barrier just because someone is a potential supporter?

I've known fundraisers who became close to donors in unlikely ways, and I've always wondered about this. My gut, after reading the answer listed, is that it's still manipulative. If you are a friend already, fine - but if you only become friends after you learn they are possible donors, that bothers me.

What do you think?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A sinister new phishing scam - Phishing for Jews, Part II

Almost two years ago,  I posted "Phishing for Jews, Part I" about a scam in which the traditional false email of "I'm out of money overseas" is made more credible by adding, "I would appreciate whatever you can help with , promise to refund you right as soon as I'm back home in a couple of days Be'H."

On Sunday I received a next-generation Jew Phish, an email with the following text at the bottom, looking for all the world like a standard Gmail attachment (I have neutralized the dangerous links here):

Sexual Abuse at YU and the OU.doc
17K   View   Download

Looks just like there is an attachment - and it is designed to attract a member of the Jewish community, with that heading.

I was suspicious, so I checked the "view" and "download" links before clicking. Sure enough, they would not have led to a document at all. As I soon found out from others who had clicked, following the link would have taken the reader to a website where he would have been asked to sign into his Gmail account - entering his login and password - in order to read the supposed attachment.

Someone is looking to snare members of the tribe by using tribe-specific bait, it seems. I wonder if it's going on among other ethnicities as well.

If you receive an email like this, delete it immediately, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. And if you clicked on it and logged in, then it's time to flush your email account - new password, check the auto-forward settings and password recovery options to ensure they haven't been altered, and turn on two-step sign-in authentication...

Friday, May 10, 2013

Don't live in the moment! Presentism, Eternalism and Yom haMeyuchas (Derashah, Bamidbar 5773)

I was asked to speak this Shabbos, and I've come up with the following draft text. [You may recognize the first idea from this 2009 post.]


Good Yom Tov, Chag Sameach! 
Today, the second day of Sivan, has a special name, Yom haMeyuchas. People often use the term "yichus" to describe special family connections, but "yichus", literally, means "association", or "relationship".  The second day of Sivan is called Yom haMeyuchas  because it has good associates: Yesterday was Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month, a day of special status, and tomorrow is the first day of the biblical preparation period before the Torah was given at Sinai. That makes today Yom haMeyuchas, a day with illustrious associates.

The idea that a day can enjoy special status due to its neighbours is not exclusive to the second day of Sivan; the Talmud[1] lists several special days when we don't fast or we don't offer tearful eulogies, because those precede or follow key celebrations. The days themselves lack celebratory characteristics, but the status of their aristocratic neighbours offers reflected glory.

In truth, the concept of Reflected Glory is not necessarily a good thing. Look at our entire world, which appears to live in Yom haMeyuchas mode in a most unhealthy way. We clamour for autographs from benchwarming ballplayers, we drop the names of former classmates who have gone on to greatness, we talk about great-uncles and third-cousins who have just published a hit novel or who appear in a new movie, we go to great lengths to see and be seen. [Case in point: My Facebook post here.]

But there is also a benefit to hanging around in good company: choose good friends, and they will influence you positively. This is not the pursuit of reflected glory; rather, it is the pursuit of personal glory, through glorious role models.[2]

[Derashah Mechanics note: I omitted the following paragraph when I spoke. It is on point, but keeping this in adds too much weight to the point about glorious role models, and I really want to spend the listeners' attention span on the point coming next, not this one.] This week, in the weekly cycle of Pirkei Avos, we learn the sixth chapter, and the story of Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma, who was offered great wealth to move away from his circle of talmidei chachamim and become a scholar in residence in a city bereft of scholarship. Rather than embrace the opportunity with pioneering spirit, Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma committed himself to remain in the residence of sages from whom he could learn. Of course there is value in outreach, and the tension between seeking good associates and creating community independently is a good topic for discussion, but Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma made a clear statement that being meyuchas, having good associates and role models, was central for him.

So perhaps this simple idea is the message of Yom haMeyuchas: Associate with positive role models. But it is also possible that Yom haMeyuchas has another message for us, a deeper message.

Presentism[3] is a school of philosophy found in some early Christian thinkers[4] and among Buddhists,[5] and even put to use by some Jews. According to Presentism, the past isn't real, and the future isn't real either; at any given moment, the people alive, the objects in existence, are the only things that are real.

Presentism is important in abstract philosophy in addressing questions like how objects change and in calculating how many dimensions the universe has, but I would like to borrow it from its context for a concrete application: Believing in presentism allows me to declare that no matter who I was yesterday or the day before, I am someone new today, and I will be someone new yet again tomorrow. The past is empowered with neither veto nor vote over my identity; חדשים לבקרים, each morning I become a new person.

This Presentist philosophy can be spiritually healthy; it can encourage us to break with old habits, to re-set dysfunctional relationships, to power our way out of a rut and chart a new course. Think of the inspiring example of R' Elazar ben Durdaya, and the way Rebbe noted that a single moment can change one's world.[6] There is a certain reassurance that comes from dislodging the moment from the timestream. It is not for naught that Jewish tradition has preserved, in various forms, the adage, העבר אין והעתיד עדיין וההווה כהרף עין – דאגה מניין? – The past is nothing, the future has yet to come, the present is the blink of an eye – so why worry? [For possible sources of this adage, see] Indeed, there is much to be said for Presentism - and on another day I might give a derashah praising it.

But Presentism is of limited use because it is an illusion; of course yesterday impacts today, and of course today impacts tomorrow! And so we turn to a different philosophy, which matches what we experience in our own lives.

Eternalism, the opposite of Presentism, is this philosophy. Eternalism argues that Time is a continuity, each moment equally real. The past is real, the future is real; they are just far away at the moment.

In the practical world, Eternalism makes significant sense. As Rav Kook noted,[7] everything that I do today is a product of my experiences in the past. There is always an influence from yesterday to today. In a sense, what I do today passes judgment on what I experienced in the past; if I do something good today, that shows that my past was positive. Moving forward, what I do tomorrow will pass judgment upon that which I did today. And so on.

So let's return to Yom haMeyuchas. As the Jew approaches Har Sinai and prepares to receive the Torah, it is tempting to apply Presentism. Yesterday I was a human being like any other, a Noachide, and then, on the second day of Sivan, Gd tells me, "You shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation,[8]" and I become something new, a Jew, with a covenant and a set of expectations.[9] It’s an instantaneous change, from Bnei Noach to Bnei Torah, from slaves of human beings to freely serving worshippers of the Divine, and perhaps the people we once were, pre-Torah, have no influence upon the people we are after we enter the brit.

Yom haMeyuchas, though, teaches us that the second day of Sivan is not only the day when Gd tells us we are holy. It is also the day after Rosh Chodesh, when we arrived at Sinai. It is also the day before the period of intense preparation to receive the Torah. This day exists in an influential chronological context.

The same is true for the nation. The Jews who leave Egypt were formed by three patriarchs and four matriarchs who bequeathed to them a legacy of courage and faith and love and fire. They descend from siblings who quarreled and spouses who persevered and slaves who refused to be beaten down but instead embraced their beliefs and called upon Gd. This nation is Meyuchas! They have so much to draw on.

_________ and __________, at the end of a recent day the sun set and the stars came out and you turned from 12 to 13, but the past twelve years of your existence, the many generations who preceded you on this planet, were not erased. You are Meyuchas, you have great ancestors, a loving family, great teachers, good friends, and twelve years of life and education. You are Meyuchas to each other, as twins, too! The teenage years are a period of reinvention, as they should be, but draw on your past as you shape your future.

And the same is true for all of us, us Meyuchasim – not only in terms of learning from our past, but also in terms of planning our future. And more: The moves we make today - speaking a kind word or offering a listening ear, picking up a sefer, giving tzedakah, pausing to think before saying a berachah, thinking about davening instead of turning to talk to a friend - all of these are not only about today, but also about tomorrow. Today is not the only Yom haMeyuchas, the only day influenced by its neighbours! Tomorrow will also be a Yom haMeyuchas, for today will be its influence. Who do we want to be tomorrow, and what are we doing today in order to get there?

Chag Sameach! Happy Yom haMeyuchas – and may our every day be a Yom haMeyuchas, too.

Yom haMeyuchas Sameach!

[1] Taanit 17b-18b
[2] Cf. Avot 4:14, 4:15, and 6:9, as well as R' Elazar ben Arach in Shabbat 147b.
[6] Avodah Zarah 17a
[7] Orot haTeshuvah
[8] Shemot 19:4-6
[9] Shabbat 86b-87a, within both points of view

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Shiur Theatre: Claiming Jerusalem, Acts Three and Four

And here are the last two acts of this Shiur Theatre performance. We needed to oversimplify some issues for both Islam and Judaism in the interest of the medium; I'm not happy about that, but I think we were on the mark:


Marty and Mahmoud walk into the room, talking

MAHMOUD: Of course Jerusalem is holy! Why is this "religious meaning" even a question?

MARTY: I don't know; I dreamed about it last night, so I'm asking.

MAHMOUD: It is holy; we call it Al-Quds, the holy site, do we not? We have also called it the home of holiness, Bayt al-Maqdis –

Ghost appears in the room, looking like a denizen of 100 CE trying to appear modern and failing

GHOST: Bayt al-Maqdis, yeah, that's real creative naming. Rip off  more of our religion, why don't you?

MAHMOUD (startled and offended): What- What is this?

MARTY: Oh, errrrr – this is the Ghost of Jerusalem past – or present – or, well, I'm not really sure what era that outfit represents, actually.

GHOST: You can just call me Ghost of Jerusalem, that's fine. Sorry to interrupt, but I just really want to hear about  the religious meaning of this city in Islam.

MAHMOUD (regaining equilibrium): It is holy, it is the site of Haram Ash-Sharif, it is most holy!

GHOST (mock-impressed): Really – that mountain is holy?

MAHMOUD: Yes, holy.

GHOST: So holy your kids play soccer and volleyball on the mountain?

MAHMOUD: Hey, your adults do shots of whiskey and talk about sports in the synagogue.

GHOST (concedes the point): Touche. Okay, let's go back to talking about the city.

MAHMOUD: The city is holy, it is the home of Haram Ash-Sharif, our most sacred location!

GHOST (skeptical): Most sacred?

MAHMOUD: Well, third-most sacred.

GHOST: That's if you’re a Sunni, right? What about Shiites, where is Haram Ash-Sharif on their Top Ten list? Is it even in their top ten? Wikipedia didn't seem to know.

MAHMOUD (mumbling): That's actually not so clear.

GHOST: Excuse me?

MAHMOUD: It is not important – all Muslims recognize this city as sacred. We even believe that before the great Day of Judgment, the mahdi will conquer the city and rule over it for seven years.

GHOST: Understood, but I mean more than that, Mahmoud, when I say "religious meaning". Look: Do Muslims bury people in Jerusalem?

MAHMOUD: Certainly, that is considered a great merit in Islam! Thousands, perhaps millions of Muslims have been buried in Jerusalem!

GHOST: So you use the city as a cemetery for every commoner; in Judaism, we consider Jerusalem special, and only Kings from the line of King David may be buried in the Old City.. But let's try something else – do you have tithing in Islam?

MAHMOUD: Certainly; we give zaqat to the needy.

GHOST: Very nice – but in Judaism we also have maaser sheni, a tithe we bring to Jerusalem and eat there. Do you have any tithes to bring to Jerusalem?

MAHMOUD (under his breath): No.

GHOST: I see; a holy city, indeed. And your practice of animal sacrifice to mark the end of Eid al-Adha – is that something you do in Jerusalem, at Haram Ash-Sharif?


GHOST: I see; because, you know, in Judaism we bring korbanot on Har haBayit, that place where you've built that temporary structure (points), and the entire city is so holy that one may eat portions from many of these sacred korbanot throughout the city. One more question: Is a Muslim instructed to live in Jerusalem?

MAHMOUD: We have no obligation to live anywhere in particular; all the world belongs to Allah.

GHOST: Actually, King David said Gd gives the world to us… but no matter. We have a mitzvah of living in Jerusalem, so much so that a woman who wishes to live there can compel her husband to move there with her.

Ghost turns to Marty

GHOST: Marty, I think you see what I'm getting at here. To Muslims, the mountain is the key, and the city is the place where the mountain is. To Jews, the city is not only about that mountain, it has religious meaning of its own, because Gd is in the whole city. The Torah[1] identifies the city itself as the place of Gd's choosing. Gd tells King Solomon that He has chosen the city.[2] King Solomon[3] quotes Gd as saying, "I never chose a city but this one." Gd declares that He will never leave the city of Jerusalem.[4] And Daniel, in his exile in Babylon, prayed toward Jerusalem despite his exile, and so all Jews have prayed toward Jerusalem down through the ages.[5]

MAHMOUD: That may be so, Mister Ghost, but don't deny that Muslims consider Jerusalem glorious.

GHOST: That's an excellent point, Mahmoud, thank you for stating it. Tell me, if you will, about the fadha'il al-Quds, please.

MAHMOUD (smiling broadly): This is a literary tradition that goes back to the early days of Islam, of writing pamphlets praising the glory of this city you call Jerusalem. These include stories of people from the Quran and their association with Jerusalem. The rewards of those who are buried in this city. Traditions of Muhammad's visit to this place. Reward for prayer here. The glories of a holy city!

GHOST: Glorious indeed, Mahmoud, and I won't deny it – but we Jews have a different way to glorify this city, with its special religious meaning.

MAHMOUD: Huh? What is that supposed to mean?

GHOST: I do not devalue your perspective, but to Jews this city is glorious as a city of justice – this is also a part of its religious meaning.
  • The prophet Yeshayah said, "Zion will be redeemed with justice, and her returnees with righteousness."
  • The first king we associate with Jerusalem in the Bible  is named Malki Tzedek, meaning, "My king is righteousness."
  • Jerusalem is the seat of the Sanhedrin, the great home of justice.
  • The greatest criticism of Jerusalem in the Bible is ir hadamim, and the commentator Radak there[6] explained, "Even though it was a city of idols and other abhorrent practices, the great sin identified is the harming of innocent people."
Our vision of a holy Jerusalem is not just about the relationship between Man and Gd, but also the relationship between Man and Man.

MAHMOUD tries to get a word in, but Marty is ahead of him-

MARTY: Hey - doesn't Jerusalem also mean "City of Peace"?

MAHMOUD tries again, but is overridden; Marty and the Ghost are too engrossed in conversation.

GHOST: Quite possibly – and Jerusalem is meant to be a city of peace. Some sages said that it was never divided among the tribes of Israel, because it wasfor all.[7] When King David purchased it, he did so with shekalim collected from the entire nation.[8] Also, the Sages say the city represents the whole of Jewish society, one camp, as one unity.[9]

MAHMOUD tries a third time, but can't get a word in-

MARTY: Kind of like Washington DC?

MAHMOUD stalks off.

GHOST: Except for the peace and unity part, sure. (pause) In fact, one of the puzzles for Jews for centuries has been why the Bible does not clearly name Jerusalem as the site of the Temple until the time of King David, and Maimonides[10] writes that this was to keep the tribes from quarreling over the site – because the city is meant to be a city of peace. Of course, Mahmoud – (looks around) Mahmoud? Mahmoud?

Marty looks around, can't find him either.

GHOST: Looks like he didn't last much longer than the Jordanians in '67. Pity; I wanted to point out that Muslims also have a city called,"City of Peace", "Madinat as-Salam." They built it in the 8th century.

MARTY: Where is it?

GHOST: Baghdad.[11] (pause) That hasn't exactly worked out as planned…

MARTY: Oh. (pause) So, you are saying that Jerusalem itself is holy in Judaism because there are all sorts of laws governing what Jews do there, and because sacrifices may be eaten there. I get that. And Jews consider Jerusalem "the city of justice and righteousness and peace."

GHOST: Yes, you've got it.

MARTY: I have one more question. Mahmoud mentioned that a mahdi will reign in Jerusalem for several years before Judgment Day, but what does Judaism say will happen in Jerusalem in the time of the messiah? I know there is belief in a Messiah – I have a Lubavitch neighbour, he has a flag and a picture of the Messiah and everything – but is Jerusalem going to be central to Judaism in the future, too?

GHOST: Excellent question; let me get back to you tonight, as the Ghost of Jerusalem Future.

Exit stage left

ACT FOUR: The Future of Jerusalem

Marty is sitting in his chair, thumbing through pictures on his phone. Ghost enters, wearing an unusual hybrid of ancient and contemporary garb.

GHOST: So! Ready to go?

MARTY: Go where?

GHOST: To the future, Marty! Strap in, we're in for a ride!

MARTY: But where?

Diana Christensen walks on to the opposite side of the stage and sits down at a table

GHOST: Jerusalem – of the future! You asked me whether Jerusalem will be important for Jews when the Messiah comes, well, I'm going to show you! Do you see that woman over there? (points) That's Diane Christensen, she's about to become the unluckiest newscaster in the world.

MARTY: Unlucky why?

GHOST: You're about to find out – she is the anchor for Union Broadcasting Service's midday news on the day that Mashiach arrives. Just watch.

DIANA: And here's our sports reporter, Woodrow Paige, to talk about the NHL playoffs and the latest on the Leafs – Wait, something's coming in! (listens to her earpiece, half-rises in shock, then speaks to the air) The end of the world? What are you talking about? (listens again) Amos? Okay! Amos, what do you have for us?

One actor will play all of the various prophets. He will stand behind a pillar, acting as an audio correspondent.

AMOS (ADAM): (out of breath) Prepare to meet your Gd, Israel![12]

DIANA: What are you talking about? I don't understand!

AMOS (ADAM): You are fulfilling my prophecy! As Gd has declared, "I will send a hunger in the land – not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but to hear the word of Gd![13]"

DIANA: I'm not getting any of this. Yoel, could you help me out please?

YOEL (TORCZYNER): Yoel here. Sorry, I'm having a hard time hearing you; there's a shofar blowing in Zion, a trumpeting on Gd's holy mountain. Everyone is trembling – and now it's hard to see, there's cloud and darkness over the mountains – no, wait, it's an invasion of an army of locusts![14]

DIANA: Shofar? Locusts? Malachi, I can trust you to be sane - help me out!

MALACHI (ADAM): Malachi here. Gd just sent me a message, hold on, I'll read it to you: "Behold, I send My agent, and he will clear a path before Me – et cetera, et cetera – and who can bear the day of His arrival? He is like a purifying fire![15]"

DIANA: Okay, someone's putting me on. April first is long over guys, and it's not funny. Chavakuk, restore some sanity, please.

CHAVAKUK (TORCZYNER): Sure, Diana; not to worry, sanity is coming soon – the land will be filled with knowledge of Gd, like water covering the sea.[16]

DIANA: You too, huh? Isn't there anyone who can speak clearly?

TZEFANIAH (ADAM): Tzefaniah reporting for duty, Diana. This just in from Gd, in response to your request: I will give all of the nations clear speech.[17]

DIANA: Okay, fine. Clear speech. So what exactly is happening?

YOEL (TORCZYNER): Yoel speaking from the Valley of Yehoshaphat in the vicinity of Jerusalem, and there seems to be some kind of trial taking place, a trial of nations.

DIANA: Trial of the nations for what? What are the charges?

YOEL (TORCZYNER): The press release says it is, "For My nation and My lot, Israel… They sold off My children and took My treasures for their palaces.[18]"

DIANA: So this is a trial in Jerusalem of nations who harmed the Jews? Who announced this?

MALACHI (ADAM): Malachi here, Diana. A fellow named Elijah came around yesterday trying to tell me about this, but I thought he was just a crank. I gave him a cup of wine and some afikoman and sent him on his way.[19] I last saw him talking to some guy on a donkey.[20]

DIANA: What's at stake in this trial? What sort of penalties could the nations receive?

OVADIAH (EZRA): Ovadiah here, Diana. Gd has declared, "The house of Yaakov will be fire, and the house of Yosef flame, and the house of Esav will be straw – they will be consumed.[21]"

DIANA: A burning fire? But didn't Maimonides say that there is no difference between this world and the next, except the end of tyranny?[22]

AMOS (ADAM): Diana, it's Amos - The sun is setting and it's only midday! It's total night here – and the ground itself is shaking![23]

DIANA: Is it an earthquake?

ZECHARIAH (EZRA): Worse than that, Diana. It's me, Zechariah speaking now, and I'm seeing – well, I don't know what I'm seeing, but it looks like Gd is actually standing astride the Mount of Olives, and – yes, the mountain itself is splitting, half moving north and half moving south, and there's a great body of water coming out from within![24]

DIANA: What about the other mountains in the area?

ZECHARIAH (EZRA): Gone, Diana – just gone, from Geva to Rimon, flattened![25]

DIANA: Oh, my – is there anything to be done? Where are the world's militaries? Rabbi Malbim, you're our expert on the Bible, tell me what's going on!

Malbim enters the scene, muttering "Gog and Magog" repeatedly and stroking his beard

MALBIM: I have already explained in my commentary to Yechezkel that in the future the nations of Edom will be roused to conquer the land. They will slaughter many Egyptians… The Ishmaelites will then avenge their brothers from the Edomites… Then the Edomites will return to battle the Ishmaelites… These three battles will be the war of Gog and Magog at the end of days.[26]

Malbim wanders off

DIANA (getting more lost by the minute): Oh. Gog and Magog. Um. Zechariah – Can you tell me about anything besides the earthquakes?

ZECHARIAH (EZRA): How about this direct quote from Gd: "And on that day I will seek to destroy all those who invade Jerusalem.[27]" He's also said something about a general of His, Mashiach ben Yosef, who was killed in a battle – I get the distinct impression that this made Him mad.

DIANA: What's the endgame here? Michah, tell me: Is Jerusalem fated to be a city of death and destruction?

MICHAH (TORCZYNER): Far from it, Diana, based on what I'm seeing. I see the mountain of the House of Gd elevated above other mountains, and nations streaming there, saying, "Let us ascend to the mountain of Gd and the house of the Gd of Yaakov, and He will teach us, for Torah will come from Zion and the word of Gd from Jerusalem!" I see them beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks - whatever those are. Yes, it looks like nation will not raise up sword against nation.[28]

DIANA (confused): But how will all of these streaming nations fit into Jerusalem?

ZECHARIAH (EZRA): It's Zechariah here, and I think I can answer that. It appears that Jerusalem is now expanding! Its stone walls have suddenly disintegrated, and new houses are appearing as I speak to you – all protected by a wall of fire which is expanding as the city expands![29]

DIANA (flustered): I see – and the centre of all of this justice will be where?

ZECHARIAH (EZRA): The palace of Gd in Jerusalem, it appears. There will be a king and a priest, and they will be at peace with each other, working together to lead.[30]


TZEFANIAH (ADAM): Tzefaniah here; Gd has told me, in an exclusive interview, that great righteousness will prevail; the remnant of Israel shall do nothing corrupt and no trickery will be upon their lips. And there will be some kind of medical tent, I think; Gd has told me that all of the lame will be healed![31]


MICHAH (TORCZYNER): Michah here, and yes, that's correct; I'm hearing the same thing![32]


ZECHARIAH (EZRA): Zechariah again - There will be sacrifices from the nations, according to what I'm hearing – and huts, apparently. Yes, all of them coming to Jerusalem every year to build these "succah" booths and pray for rain.[33]

DIANA (turrning back to viewers): Well, there you have it, the latest from Jerusalem. Lots of noise, shofar, earthquake, fire, hunger for the word of Gd, a war, someone riding a donkey, Gd on a mountain, free medical treatment, an expansion of the city, nations streaming in and bringing offerings, and a celebration of Succot – all that, from a range of prophets and correspondents, happening in Jerusalem… Now, where were we? Oh, yes, the Stanley Cup Finals.

GHOST: I think we have seen enough, Marty – does that give you something of a picture of how central Jerusalem is to the Jewish vision of Mashiach?

MARTY: The Bible certainly has a lot to say about it, and many different things to say about it. I hear that, loud and clear. But I still have a question.

GHOST: Of course; those prophecies were a lot to absorb. What's your question?

MARTY: Did the Leafs win the Cup?

GHOST: Sorry, Marty; I didn't hear any of those correspondents talk about Gehennom freezing over.

MARTY: Darn. Is there anything we can do about it?

GHOST: Sorry, Marty – You can't change the future!

Exit stage left

[1] Devarim 12:6-7
[2] Melachim I 8:16
[3] Divrei haYamim II 6:5-6
[4] Tehillim 132:14; Zevachim 119a; Rambam to Mishnah Zevachim 14:8; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Beit haBechirah 6:14-16
[5] Melachim I 8:44; Daniel 6
[6] Radak to Yechezkel 22:2. And see Melachim II 21:16, as Radak notes.
[7] See Yoma 12a
[8] Sifri Devarim 352
[9] Zevachim 116b; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Beit haBechirah 7:11
[10] Moreh haNevuchim 3:45
[12] Amos 4:12-13
[13] Amos 8:11-13
[14] Yoel 2
[15] Malachi 3:1-2
[16] Chavakuk 2:14
[17] Tzefaniah 3:9
[18] Yoel 4:1-6
[19] Malachi 3:23
[20] Zechariah 9:9
[21] Ovadia 1:15-21
[22] Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 12:2, from Berachot 34b
[23] Amos 8:8-9
[24] Zechariah 14:4
[25] Zechariah 14:10
[26] Malbim to Yoel 4:9
[27] Zechariah 12:9
[28] Michah 4:1-3
[29] Zechariah 2:8-10
[30] Zechariah 6:12-13
[31] Tzefaniah 3
[32] Michah 4:7
[33] Zechariah 14:16-21