Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Implications of Saying" Who Has Not Made Me a Gentile" or " Who Made Me an Israelite".

The Implications of Saying" Who Has Not Made Me a Gentile" or " Who Made Me an Israelite".

After the previous discussion on the free vs. slave blessing and its relation to the American political heritage , I turn now to the next two controversial blessings upon awakening. These are the affirmations, or rather, negations:“ “ sh’lo asani goi”, and  “shelo asnai Isha”.

The traditional texts of the prayer book have it formulated as” shelo asani goy (alternate version:nochri or “a”kum”),shelo asani aved, shelo asani isha (alternate version, for women: sheasani kiretzono).

Blessed are you… who has not made me a gentile (or alien or idolator),who has not made me a slave, who has not made me a woman ( or, for women, who has made me according to his will).

The liberal Jewish movements have, for ideologically sound reasons, reformulated these as affirmations, positive rather than negative statements.  This is the common  formulation: she’asani b’tzalmo, , she’asani yisra’eil, , she’asani ben-horin ( masc.) bat-horin ( fem.).

Blessed are You… who has made me in His image, who has made me an Israelite, who has made me a free man/woman.)

The Gentile/Israelite blessing

Whether I say, “Who has not made me an alien or gentile”, or , in the positive, “who had made me an  Israelite,” we are declaring the immutability of our existence as a people. It rubs everyone the wrong way but it reflects the reality of our existence.

Now that the US Government has decided to consider Jews as an ethnic entity, in regard to protections offered to other minority groups in the US from harassment or hate crimes, the New York Times and other pundits have suddenly decided that Jews are just members of a religion.

This would be fine if it didn’t go in the face of League of Nations and later, United Nations, decisions regarding the Jews as an ethnic entity, nor the statements of many of Americas founders regarding Jews as a people, or the countless and endless statements and declarations etched in Jewish law and dicta defining Jews as a people, or ethnicity.

If a Jew then, makes a declaration,” who has not made me a Gentile” ( meaning, someone of any other nation) is that, therefore, a claim of superiority in and of itself? (Note: One who has converted to Judaism and thereby is accepted into the general community of the Jewish people is considered reborn a Jew). 

It is most definitely not a claim of Jewish political obedience to one central political authority. That position is overridden by the Rabbinic edict,” Dina d’ Malchuta Dina”,” The law of the land of your residence is the law” .

But what did the Jew who lived in the years following the destruction of the Temple until the dawn of 18th and 19th century, or indeed, any Jew in central and East Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s , or in the Middle East with the rise of Arab nationalism, feel about being a Jew?

Persecution? Discrimination? Forced impoverishment? Economic restrictions? Legal restrictions? Danger to life and limb? Even today, in a kosher market in New Jersey?

So, rather than give praise, a Jew should have said, with the poet Heinrich  Heine, "Judaism is not a religion; it is a misfortune.”(Heine, although himself formally baptized, never gave up on his Jewish identity).

Yet despite that, and despite the fact that a drop of water at the baptismal font, or a declaration of the shahadah in Islam would have meant the end of these troubles, the Jew remained a Jew, and continued to declare “ shelo asani goy”.  

The Jew was always stubborn and stiff-necked in remaining a Jew. In his and her travails, the Jew felt  nobility, greater than that of the Kings and Sultans. 

Why was the existence of the Jew, as a people, not just as a faith, a problem for the two great Abrahamic religions?

In Christianity, the faith in Jesus as Savior made possible the elimination of all barriers between Jew and Gentile- therefore, the Jew, as Jew, had no value, except as a proof of his sin ( Wandering Jew).

In  Islam, the revelations to Mohammed are for the entire world; therefore, the Jew, as a nation, has no function. This is a core argument in modern Moslem polemics against the rights of Jews to an State- the Jew, as a people , have no existence. They exist only as a religious precursor to Islam, and are thereby tolerated, as members of an inferior  faith.

How has modern world dealt with the Jew as a people? The “ Judenfrage”, the Jewish Question, obsessed European political thinkers.

On the left, read  Karl Marx’ ” On the Jewish Question,” a rebuttal to statements by Bruno Bauer that Jews can not be granted equal rights.

Marx, baptized descendent of great Rabbis, responds that the emancipation of the Jew is on the condition that the Jew cease being a Jew, but not by virtue of religion:

“For the present-day Jew’s capacity for emancipation is the relation of Judaism to the emancipation of the modern world. This relation necessarily results from the special position of Judaism in the contemporary enslaved world.. . .Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.

What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. [ Note: this is undoubtedly one of the greatest libels of Jews in modern times up until Hitler]

Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time. An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible. His religious consciousness would be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society. On the other hand, if the Jew recognizes that this practical nature of his is futile and works to abolish it, he extricates himself from his previous development and works for human emancipation as such and turns against the supreme practical expression of human self-estrangement.

We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time, an element which through historical development – to which in this harmful respect the Jews have zealously contributed – has been brought to its present high level, at which it must necessarily begin to disintegrate.

In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.

( referring to Bruno Bauer’s claim that Jews had inordinate financial power)

This is no isolated fact. The Jew has emancipated himself in a Jewish manner, not only because he has acquired financial power, but also because, through him and also apart from him, money has become a world power and the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of the Christian nations. The Jews have emancipated themselves insofar as the Christians have become Jews.”

A century later, this analysis of Judaism would reappear in different iterations, from the capitalists on the right, with Henry Ford’s “ The international Jew”, or on the Communist left, as an official, government sanctioned academic text in the Soviet Union, in the 1960’s, under title” Judaism without Embellishment.” ( Note that Ford, the father of mass production and the  American automobile industry, was a major source of inspiration to Adolph Hitler).

That is from the father of the left.

Then, from  Friedrich Nietzsche, who inspired the contemporary avant garde with his assault on bourgeoise morality , and also inspired the rantings of Nazism with his concept of the great figure, a Ubermensch (  Superman) who is beyond good and evil.  on   slave morality:

This is from a summary of the concept:

“According to Nietzsche, masters are creators of morality; slaves respond to master morality with their slave morality. Unlike master morality, which is sentiment, slave morality is based on re-sentiment—devaluing that which the master values and the slave does not have. . . .

Biblical principles of humility, charity, and pity are the result of universalizing the plight of the slave onto all humankind, and thus enslaving the masters as well. "The democratic movement is the heir to Christianity”,the political manifestation of slave morality because of its obsession with freedom and equality. (–slave_morality#CITEREFNietzsche1973)

And who is to blame for this?

“...the Jews achieved that miracle of inversion of values thanks to which life on earth has for a couple millennia acquired a new and dangerous fascination - their prophets fused "rich", "godless", "evil", "violent", "sensual" into one, and were the first to coin the word "world" as a term of infamy. It is this inversion of values (with which is involved the employment of the word for "poor" as a synonym for "holy" and "friend") that the significance of the Jewish people resides: With them, there begins the slave revolt in morals".( Beyond Good and Evil)

In other words, because we have been the source of the moral system of the west, which   insists on the rights of the weak and the oppressed and therefore we are the cause of the disorder and decay in the world.

Jews have been a conundrum, to far left and far right. 

We don’t need to apologize for it.

For that reason, the present version, which is in the Conservative liturgy, is a braver statement:

She asani Yisrael.

Who has made me an Israelite.

That is where we stand, with no apologies.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Our Shanghai Ghetto visit on Chinese news media

Our visit to the Shanghai Ghetto Museum was reported on Chinese news media:

This is the direct link to the website:

This is the video that appeared with it:

In the center, the Museum Director. To his right, my brother-in-law, Dror Zadok, and to his left, my sister-in-law, Helene Zadok. Ofra and I are standing next to her.Our guide, James ( wearing a beige vest), is standing on the far right of the photo.

This is the  presentation plaque.

Latest Recommended
This is a rough translation, courtesy of Google Translate, with some minor touch-ups.
In order not to forget the memories - " Joseph - He Fengshan project of the first delegation to visit Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum
2019-11-02 15:56:39 LONDON

For the unforgettable memories -the first group of " Joseph- He Fengshan" project visited Shanghai Jewish Refugees Memorial

2019-11-02 15:56:39 Oriental Network

   20 th century, 30 's to 40 early years, and the wave of anti-Semitism in Europe 
under Nazi persecution crazy, thousands of Jews fled their homes. At that time, the rest of the world either could not afford or feared offending the Nazis and closed their doors to the Jews. And Shanghai, China, thousands of miles away has become the Noah's Ark for Jewish refugees due to multiple factors . According to statistics, about 25,000 Jews came to seek refuge in Shanghai at the time. Except for those who died of illness, the rest survived, and 408 people were born .
 " Joseph Ho Fengshan The first mission of the project came to Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum visit, and the museum staff retracing of this history. The project is a Houston-based US-China Cultural Exchange Center initiated education, aims to mutual visits in the form of push move the Jewish people and Chinese people understand each other, to spread the spirit of love. Of this 20 Jewish international delegation, flew directly from Israel to Shanghai, while 17 were born in Israel and later moved to the United States.
  In reference before the concept started in the United States Special Envoy for Education Exchange Center in Houston on behalf of  Dror Zadok. representatives of the US Educational Exchange Center Dr. Wu Wei, president of the Houston Holocaust Museum and chairman Benjamin  Warren Presented a gift to the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Memorial. Zadok told reporters that this special gift was made for the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Memorial Hall by the Houston Holocaust Memorial Museum. He thanked the memorial for its contribution to the life history of Shanghai residents and Jewish refugees during World War II. In the photo frame is Benjamin Warren (left), US-China Education Exchange Center . President Dr. Wu Wei (middle) and Dror Zadok right.
   Mrs.  Helene Zadok  reported , five years ago, she and Mr. Zadok also participated together in Houston Beth Hall organized by the Jewish Refugees in Shanghai exhibition view, then Shanghai The Jewish Refugees Museum brought more than 50 exhibits and archives , which caused a lot of local response. What moved her most was that when the whole world was rejecting Jews, only Shanghai opened its doors to Jews.
   On behalf of the delegation, the US envoy in educational and cultural exchange center in Los Angeles on behalf of Dali Gott presented the valuable information   on the work of the well-known tycoon Victor Sassoon.. 
  With reference conduct concept, a gripping story, depicting the joys and sorrows of the picture unfolding in front of members of the delegation. There is both Chinese Schindler said the Chinese Consul General in Vienna, Austria issued Ho risked Jewish refugees life and death visa epic, there are 17 -year-old Eric Tauber . All the consulates were thrilled to save a family by getting 20 visas to Shanghai while eating behind closed doors; there were the dangers of Jewish refugees fleeing to Shanghai on the cold Siberian train after the sea route was cut off by the Nazis, and after life gradually stabilized Central European style open near the basket overseas cafe, bar and restaurant, eventually forming the famed little Vienna good news; there are body now was the Jewish heritage of Shanghai Education You Tai YMCA school information, also reflected after the Japanese occupation of Shanghai An introduction to the most difficult period when refugees rushed into the Ghetto (also known as Ghetto .
   Jewish Refugee Relief Society in Shanghai
   According to the guide introduced, there were Wanduo Jewish refugees and 10 million residents of Shanghai Hongkou mixed population. Jews in Shanghai has been able to free from hunger and cold, in addition to the Jewish state inter-ministerial committee United States Joint Relief Committee ," and other rescue foreign economic assistance and resettlement community, Hongkou area of Shanghai residents also lent a helping hand.
 The old people who   are still gathered around Tangshan Road have recalled this history: At that time, the people in the lower part of Shanghai who lived with Jews in the isolation zone were friendly and kind. They gave up their rooms to house Jewish refugees, helped them find jobs, lent them some living tools, and accepted Jewish refugee children to school.

   The guide also introduced an oil painting called "New Year's Eve". Its creative inspiration comes from the true memories of a Jewish refugee. On a traditional New Year's Eve, a Chinese family invited a Jewish refugee family to their home for dinner : There are not many food and drinks on the dinner table, but everyone talks and laughs, and it is fun; careful The Chinese housewife helped them prepare the knife and fork in advance; when they saw that the Jews were not used to eating with others on a plate, the owner quickly divided the food into the plate in front of everyone. "
   Like so ordinary Shanghai people to rescue, to accept Jewish refugees example, there are many, many ......
  1993 Nian 10 Yue 14 , Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during a visit to the site of Moses synagogue inscription, on behalf of the Government of Israel thanked the Chinese people a helping hand in times of crisis in the life and death of the Jewish people out of.
     Reference After the outlook, members of the delegation were in the yard a relaxing moment, but also talking about it. Ms. Ofra Weinberg from Los Angeles said she was very happy that the former site of the Moses Synagogue was so well preserved. It also vividly presented history through multimedia and other forms. Jewish descendants can come here to learn about the difficult history of their own nation, The stubborn will and optimism of the forefathers . Although she has not personally experienced it, she has known this memorial long ago, because a friend of hers was born here and told her the story of how her parents escaped from the Nazi slaughter. Her friends ’parents’ The name is on the wall of the refugee list. She also expressed her heartfelt thanks to the people of Shanghai. Without the assistance of that year, millions of Jews and future generations would not have a rich life now. Ms. Sylvia Yahalom , who was born in Israel, came to Shanghai for the second time. She also thought it was a beautiful and memorable spot . She also wanted to go to the white horse cafe on the opposite side and the slightly old red brick spires on Zhoushan Road Take a look at the old house, where it is the epitome of Little Vienna and it was once the busiest neighborhood in the Jewish quarter. 
  Reference outlook began to look at the good, the ending in a relaxed atmosphere. Because here is not only a memory of suffering, but also the friendship of watchfulness and help in suffering, as well as the hope of going to the poor and sitting in the clouds. He once sailed across the sea to escape the disaster, and once settled and prospered to welcome the new life. I believe that this memorial, which records the historical changes of the Jewish nation, will become a permanent link between the Jewish people and the Chinese people in the world.

  Video Clip: Zheng Qian )

Source Oriental Network )
Author Lu Yu-kun )

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Morning Benediction: Who has not made me a slave

שלא עשני עבד
The Morning Benediction: Who has not made me a slave

Thanksgiving- The Hebrew Bible as the source of the concept of human freedom:

It has long been understood that the American holiday of Thanksgiving has its roots in the Biblical Festival of Sukkoth, during which, thanks was made for the fall harvest. The Pilgrims, who were themselves religious dissidents fleeing the corruption of English civilization, saw themselves as a new Israel landing in a new Promised Land.

It is not often realized to what great extent the Hebrew Bible had in its shaping of the American mentality at its best and in its idealized potential.

Many years ago, when I was director of the Jewish Culture Foundation , New York University’s equivalent of Hillel, my  faculty sponsor and guide was the head of the Hebrew Department and later, President of Dropsie College for Hebrew. He was one of the first to bring to public attention the depth of influence of ancient Israel on the new land.

Cover page of the Book. Hebraic Foundations of American Democracy

Myself, in the white shirt, at NYU, speaking with NYPD about security during an event for Israel at Washington Square, back in those days!

What is now becoming clear is that the Hebrew Bible shaped not only the religious tradition of American polity, but the secular conception behind the US Constitution.

One of the greatest minds to influence  Jefferson, Madison, and the other intellects who set up our form of government was John Locke; he was likewise , a major shaper of  English Parliamentary democracy.  John Locke “dominates American political thought as no thinker anywhere dominates the political thought of a nation.(Louis Hartz) ” It is now coming to light the extent to which his political views were shaped by the stories of rebellions and restrictions on rulers of some tribes on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. This is now termed Political Hebraism.

Jeremy Waldron first drew attention to this question in his 2002 book God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke’s Political Thought, and explained it this way:
Anyone who reads the Two Treatises of Government, alert to their religious and theological character, will find it quite striking how much is made of Old Testament sources and how little of any teaching or doctrine from the Christian Gospels and Epistles . . . Jesus and St Paul may be there in the background of Locke’s theory of equality. Maybe. But they are well in the background, and their specific teachings are not appealed to at all . . . By contrast the Old Testament is all over the Two Treatises . ..

When we say “ Thanksgiving “ on Thanksgiving Day in America, we are, as American citizens, enjoying the benefits of political theory that our tent-dwelling forefathers( mothers) shaped and which our Mayflower sailing forefathers( mothers) attempted to emulate.

Move aside, Athens!

Let’s look at the siddur and see how one of the key elements of American political theory is phrased.

We start with what is a controversial statement for moderns:
Talmud Menahot 43b
It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Meir would say: A man is obligated to recite three blessings every day praising God for His kindnesses, and these blessings are: Who did not make me a gentile; Who did not make me a woman; and Who did not make me an ignoramus( Hebrew:boor).

I will postpone the problematic statement on “ gentile” and “ woman” in depth at this point. Suffice it to say that Rabbi Meir,(cmid-2nd century) the great shaper of Rabbinic teachings that will become the Mishna, is married to Beruriah, who is ranked as a Rabbinic authority in her own right.

Right now, look at the last statement: Who has not made me a “ boor”, an ignoramus.The Hebrew word “ boor” means the same as the English word “ boor”’ ironically, the Hebrew “boor” is used in tandem with “ Am Haaretz”, the famers, referring to those uneducated in religion,  just as “boor” in old English meant a farmer, who also lacked education in acceptable behavior.

For Rabbi Meir, like many scholars of his day, he was proud that he had the opportunity to cultivate his mind and with it, his understanding of the obligations of the Torah, as that is the goal of every Jew. In this, he was following in the teachings of Hillel, the Elder, who taught that “Ain Am Haaretz Chasid”, the ignorant can never achieve piety.

This now leads to a new discussion in the Talmud:

“Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov heard his son reciting the blessing: Who did not make me an ignoramus. Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov said to him: Is it in fact proper to go this far in reciting blessings? Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov’s son said to him: Rather, what blessing should one recite? If you will say that one should recite: Who did not make me a slave, that is the same as a woman; why should one recite two blessings about the same matter? Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov answered: Nevertheless, a slave  is more lowly than a woman, and therefore it is appropriate to recite an additional blessing on not having been born a slave.”( Translations from

 To understand this discussion, one must know the Rabbinic dictum:”Gadol Hamtzuveh veoseh” ,” One who carries out a commandment because he or she is obligated, is greater ( in spiritual virtue) than one who carries out a commandment who had no such obligation.” This is not a peculiarly Jewish concept. It is a precursor to the “ categorical imperative” of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.  

The ignorant Jew is still obliged to observe all the mitzvot, all the commandments, of the Torah, even if he doesn’t understand what he is doing. The woman, because of her obligations in caring for the family household ( especially in bearing and rearing children), could not physically observe all the commandments, and hence, was exempt from those that were “time-bound”, that needed to be performed at a certain time and place. She was otherwise bound to observe all the rest.

The slave, however, is not a free agent, in any sense, and therefore, could not be bound to any commitment of observance. That lack of obligation put the slave on the lowest level.

Where is this idea from?

Hear is the concept, in similar form, attributed to Plato, who at his deathbed, “lauded his guardian genius and Fortune because he had been born a man and not an irrational animal, because he was a Greek and not a Barbarian, and because his birth had fallen in the times of Socrates.”

What did Socrates teach ?

He used to say there were three blessings for which he was grateful to Fortune:” First, that I was born a human being and not one of the brutes; next, that I was born a man and not a woman; thirdly, a Greek and not a Barbarian.”

It’s not a European concept only; thus, in a -  Order by: relevance | pagesrelevance | pages-  ‹ Previous  Next ›  -  View allLoading… Zoroastrian prayer, “who has made his followers Iranian, children of the true faith, and free, not slaves.

The traditional texts of the prayer book have it formulated as” shelo asani goy(alt.:nochri),shelo asani aved, shelo asani isha (alt., for women: sheasani kiretzono).
Blessed are you… who has not made me a gentile (or alien),who has not made me a slave, who has not made me a woman( at for women: who has made me according to his will).

(This is the current liberal  formulation: she’asani b’tzalmo, , she’asani yisra’eil, , she’asani ben-horin ( masc.) bat-horin ( feminine).
Blessed are You… who has made me in His image, who has made me an Israelite, who has made me a free man/woman.)

I will discuss the other two at a later date; for now, I will focus on the “slave” and the Thanksgiving connection .

I bring below a painful discussion about this prayer that occurred during the Holocaust. It is recorded by Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, who survived ghetto and camp in Lithuania. This is in his responsa,Min Hama'amakim, ( From Out of the Depths):

"And during the morning prayer, when the prayer leader, Avraham Yosef, May God avenge his death,  began to say the blessings of the dawn,  in trembling and sweat, and  who came to the Blessing of  "Not-Slave" , he exclaimed in a bitter voice to the Lord: How can I say the is blessing while we are under curfew and captivity? How can a slave bless the free-born’s blessing while the yoke of slavery is thrown on his neck and shackles of prison are on his body? How can a slave who is subjected to human degradation and disgrace, lacking his bread and water, and eating gall and wormwood, how can such a slave bless his creator to say 'who has not made me a slave.' Is this not laughter and mockery, like one crazy and twisted, with no mind and wisdom! And after all, there is the rule is that we should focus in prayer and blessing, and that our mouths and hearts will be attuned. How do I say this blessing when my heart is not in it? "

Rabbi Oshri, of blessed memory, replied that such a question had already been asked to our Rabbi Aboulafia, one of the great medieval Sages. In his reply, quoted in Avodrahum on the blessings of the dawn, it is said that the blessing of the "non-slave " is not about the physical work that the slave was forced to do, but about his spiritual status: a Canaanite slave does not obey the commandments, and we recite the blessing that God did not make us slaves and therefore, we were privileged to accept the Torah and the commandments.

After this answer, Rabbi Oshri elaborated:

The basis of this blessing was fixed not on the slavery of the body, but on the slavery of the soul, expressed  in the concept of a Canaanite slave who is not under the obligation  of the mitzvot and does not a part the community of Israel. A Jew, who is bound to the mitzvot, even when he is held captive, can fulfill the mitzvot. Even if he cannot fulfill them because of duress, the Merciful One absolves him, but even here, the principal of observance is still in effect and he is still a “son of the commandments”. Thus, it is good to recite this blessing even when under siege and captivity.

That is why I told my questioners that God forbid that they would cancel this blessing established by the ancient founders, our Sages of  blessed memory. On the contrary, it is precisely now that we are obliged to recite this blessing so that our enemies and their followers will recognize that although we are subject to their hands to do to us by their own evil will, nevertheless we consider ourselves to as a free people under siege and captivity  Our salvation is nigh  our redemption will be revealed.”

 What is the source of that existential freedom that inspired Rabbi Oshry?

·          And it says, “And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets” (Exodus 32:16). Read not haruth [‘graven’] but heruth [ ‘freedom’]. For there is no free man but one that occupies himself with the study of the Torah. And whoever regularly occupies himself with the study of the Torah he is surely exalted .( Pirke Avot 6:2)

Other topics on freedom: The economic freedom of the laborer

The right to quit , or to strike, is intrinsic to the status of the hired laborer, who is no one’s slave:

 Talmud Bava Metzia 10a. A discussion on where the laborer stands as an agent of the employer, and at what point, that agency stops:

Rav Naḥman said to him: As long as he does not retract his commitment, his hand is like the employer’s hand. When he does retract his commitment, he is able to do so. But this is not because matters are structured to the benefit of the laborer, but for a different reason, as it is written: “For to Me the children of Israel are slaves; they are My slaves whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 25:55), which indicates: They are My slaves, and not slaves of slaves, i.e., of other Jews.

Consequently, a Jew can never be enslaved to another Jew with a contract from which he cannot release himself whenever he wishes.

Freedom includes freedom of mobility and freedom of commerce, as expressed in the words on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, taken from Leviticus 25:10.

“You shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release ( Liberty) throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you”

What is the liberty  which the makers of the bell had in mind?

Talmud Rosh Hashanah 9b

The Gemara asks: It is clear that according to everyone the term deror is a word meaning liberty. From where may this be inferred? The Gemara answers: As it is taught in a baraita: The word deror is a term meaning only liberty. Rabbi Yehuda said: What is the meaning of the word deror? It is like a man who dwells [medayyer] in any dwelling [dayyara] and moves merchandise around the entire country, i.e., he can live and do business wherever he wants.

It is the freedom of the sparrow ( Hebrew: Dror), free to fly high or low, right or left.

The individual is never a serf, bound to the lord’s manor. The individual is free to engage in his or her business without the restrictions that were imposed by kings and lords, because there is only One King and Lord..

John Locke, and his students, the rebels against the King of England, understood this very well.!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

China, Japan, and the Jews: Reflections on my visit ,October- November 2019

China, Japan, and the Jews: Reflections on my visit ,October- November 2019

A.      General Impression.

Admittedly, since I only spent a week in both countries, this must be a superficial overlook. However, I did have a chance for some open conversation with well-informed locals.

I could see a great dynamism in both China and Japan. China, despite a supposed slowing general rate of growth, and Japan, with a sluggish economy, looked very robust. I had the clear sense that if all the East Asian nations worked together, they would be on top of the world, and the US and Europe would be their lunch.
Huawei Showroom in Shanghai. Huawei is the leader in 5G technology.

The Ginza, Tokyo’s prime shopping venue, puts Rodeo Drive in its back pocket. Their prime shoppers—Chinese tourists.

It was easy to discern political limitations in China. To surf the web,  I could either go through highly filtered Baidu and shopped on Alibaba, or, as I did, have a VPN ( Virtual Private Network) setup on my smartphone in advance, that enabled me to surf the web on Google and Facebook and handle email from servers outside China.

There is heightened security everywhere, far beyond what would be needed to combat terrorism. On our tour bus, there were three cameras visible, one facing the driver, one facing the guide, and one facing the passengers. It is well known that the Chinese government has implemented behavioral controls on social media, with points and demerits for approved and disapproved behavior. This is but a modern variation on history; the Chinese rule has, from antiquity, been top-down. That said and done, people moved about and acted freely, and we weren’t worried about theft or robbery, as the cameras did a very good job of preventing criminal behavior.

A State- sponsored Buddhist Shrine. Religions may operate freely, if the leadership passes government OK (nix for Falun Gong or Tibetan Lama- Buddhism).

For a state that labels itself “ Communist”, it is closer to free-market economy( where people pay out of pocket for medical procedures , even with state health coverage, as well as out of pocket for education if  they want better for their child), but free only to the point that it serves the nation ( what is called ,the ”corporate state”).

For two opposing perspectives on the future of China:

Japan was a study in contrast, a capitalist society with a free health system. Personal control is very tight, but it is social control imposed by culture and tradition, not by government. It is exceptionally clean and the people exceptionally helpful. The land of advanced robotics is also a very traditional land; ancestral piety, the visiting of shrines and prayers to the ancestors, is a critical element in their society. While formal religion is very fluid, whereby animism, Shintoism and Buddhism weave in and out of each other ( and a Christian wedding ceremony is very “ in” today), it is a religious society in the sense of following ancient customs. We visited beautiful shrines on a national holiday ( a cultural awareness holiday). The shrines were packed with families, in best dress, suits, kimonos and robes, offering prayers to the ancestors for blessing.

Interesting similar customs: Our Shiva period of mourning of seven days is bested by the Japanese mourning period of seven times seven days. We wash our hands (Natilat yadayim ) before meals and after attending the cemetery; they wash hands and mouth before they pray at the shrine.

Netilat yadayim

Children in their festive finest

Other thoughts:

Both societies are socially homogeneous; cultural or racial diversity is not their concern! Neither actively encourages immigration, unless it is from neighboring, ethnically similar Koreas or Vietnam, for example. What about refugee asylum? Japan accepts about 20 out of close to 20,000 asylum seekers every year! Both countries are facing a population implosion, though, and opening doors for new young workers may be unavoidable.

Both have made such colossal strides on the world scene. China had labored under Manchurian oppression, then under English and French manipulation through opium, then Japanese oppression, and then under their own huge move backwards of the “Cultural Revolution” . China opened again to the west in the 1970’s, and is today the 2nd largest world economy. Japan had intentionally shut itself off from outside contact for 200 years and only opened up reluctantly under the threat of American cannons in the 1850’s. Within 50 years, Japan had defeated Imperial Russia, with 80 years, sank the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and then, despite the devastation of its infrastructure, roared back to become the world’s 3rd largest economy. This tremendous progress has replicated itself in  similar cultures in South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, all of which lack an abundance of natural resources.

One can not but contrast this to the current failure of the Arab states, blessed with tremendous petroleum resources, in close contact with western technology over the past centuries, yet still mired in poverty, dictatorship and internecine bloodshed. Of course, as the President of Malaysia explains, it is the fault of the Jews, who “rule this world by proxy.”

B.      While Jews were under the thumb of Christian and Moslem rulers in Europe and the Middle east, we fared much better in the Far East, unburdened by the prejudices planted by religious scriptures.

Our connection is far older and deeper than the fabled Chinese fare for Jews at Christmas time.
A significant and important Jewish connection with China goes back to the early Middle Ages, along the fabled “ Silk Route”. As major members of the trade group labelled “Radhanites”, they brought European goods to China, and Chinese secrets to the West.

During the early middle ages, the Radhanites functioned as neutral go-betweens, keeping open the lines of communication and trade between the lands of the old Roman Empire and the Far East. As a result of the revenue they brought, Jewish merchants enjoyed significant privileges under the early Carolingians in France and throughout the Muslim world. Radhanites were among the first to establish a trade network that stretched from Western Europe to Eastern Asia.[10] More remarkable still, they engaged in this trade regularly and over an extended period of time, centuries before Marco Polo and ibn Battuta brought their tales of travel in the Orient to the Christians and the Muslims, respectively. “(

Jews were involved in the trading of knowledge between the East and West as well.
Trade routes of the Radhanites;;f=15;t=004874;go=older

It was not just merchandise that Jews brought back with them. Ashkenazic Jews brought back a bit of Chinese genetic composition as well.

“ The existence of some eastern Eurasian haplotypes in eastern Ashkenazi Jews supports an East Asian genetic contribution, likely from Chinese. Further evidence indicates that this connection can be attributed to a gene flow event that occurred less than 1.4 kilo-years ago (kya), which falls within the time frame of the Silk Road scenario and fits well with historical records and archaeological discoveries. This observed genetic contribution from Chinese to Ashkenazi Jews demonstrates that the historical exchange between Ashkenazim and the Far East was not confined to the cultural sphere but also extended to an exchange of genes.”(

Maybe this explains the Jewish predilection for Chinese fare!

In time, a significant number of Jews settled in the capital of China, during the Song dynasty, Kaifeng. Formerly P'ien-liang, it is now the capital of Honan province, central China. Jews arrived in Kaifeng probably before 1127 from India or Persia. They were an ethnic unit of approximately 1,000 in all. It is believed that their daily language was New Persian and presumably they were experts in the production of cotton fabrics, in dyeing them, or printing patterns on them. This industry was well developed in India, but China with its rapidly increasing population was just introducing cotton, in order to meet the acute silk shortage. The first Kaifeng synagogue was constructed in 1163. It was restored in 1279 and after being destroyed in a disastrous flood was rebuilt again through the efforts of *Chao Ying-ch'en, a mandarin of Jewish descent, in 1653, when the sacred scrolls were also restored. Thereafter the community fell into rapid decay, most likely as a result of its complete isolation from other centers of Jewish life. By the middle of the 19th century the Jews of Kaifeng preserved only a rudimentary knowledge of Judaism and only the ruins of the former synagogue were left.. At the end of World War II, about 200 or 250 traceable descendants of the original Kaifeng Jewish community still survived. (

Image: Li Kuang, Defender of city, c. 1600’s.  Many centuries later, another Jewish general would serve the Chinese people, Gen Ma Kun ( Moishe Cohen) or “ Two Gun Cohen, aide de camp to President Sun Yat Sen .

Chinese Haggadah 16th 17 th cent

C.      Jewish Refugees in the Shanghai Ghetto, Japan, and the role of a President of Hollywood Temple Beth El in Rescue

My brother and sister in law, Dror & Helene Zadok,  are friends with the Chinese Consul in Houston and the Shanghai Cultural Representative, who arranged a welcome at the Museum of the Shanghai Ghetto by the director (we were interviewed by museum staff as well). We were accompanied by “James” , who had visited Israel ,and  was personally fascinated by all things Jewish. He walked us through the sides streets of the original ghetto in the Hongkou district ( The old apartments, tiny and cramped, are still lived in use today; one tiny room encompasses kitchen, dining, living and bedroom ).

Modern era Jews had settled in China at the end of 19th and early 20th Century from Tsarist Russia. The Tsar was supportive of this, as it moved Jews away from Russia proper, a long-standing Tsarist goal.  With rise of Nazism, larger numbers came to Shanghai, which had been a foreign enclave of French and English in China.

“ Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees, was an area of approximately one square mile in the Hongkew district of Japanese-occupied Shanghai (the southern Hongkou and southwestern Yangpu districts of modern Shanghai). The area included the community around the Ohel Moshe Synagogue but about 23,000 of the city's Jewish refugees were restricted or relocated to the area from 1941 to 1945 by the Proclamation Concerning Restriction of Residence and Business of Stateless Refugees. It was one of the poorest and most crowded areas of the city. Local Jewish families and American Jewish charities aided them with shelter, food, and clothing.[1] The Japanese authorities increasingly stepped up restrictions, but the ghetto was not walled, and the local Chinese residents, whose living conditions were often as bad, did not leave

Entrance to the Museum 

A friend of ours was born there; a previous member of HTBE, our chief usher, as well as a member of another previous congregation where I had served had lived there during the time of the Holocaust.
A wall of refugees name. Shown are the names of my friend's parents, Rogozinski ( now Rogson). They were relatives of another previous member of HTBE.

Parokhet, Ark Cover, a tribute to the people of Hangkou

Ohel Moshe Synagogue

The story of the Ghetto

Typical living quarters

The Ghetto street scene today

Our guide, James

Life is still active in the Ghetto, minus the Jews

A monument located in a park used by the Ghetto residents

Monument to the refugees

What is the connection between Hollywood Temple Beth El and the Refugees of the Ghetto?

Anatole Ponve, a Jewish refugee from Russia, settled in Kobe, Japan in the  early 20th century. He opened a chain of import-export businesses throughout Far East-one in Harbin, China, led the Jewish community of Kob e. He was in LA at the outbreak of WWII and couldn’t return then, but both before and after war, he led efforts to get Jews out of Germany and German-occupied lands  and then, get those refugees out of  China and resettled. After the war, he returned to Tokyo we he  led the  Jewish community and obtained funds for synagogue. It is reported that he pulled together a minyan  for visiting actor, Edward G Robinson, who at one time, was a President of HTBE

Ponve later moved  back to LA  and became President of HTBE! His documents have been archived at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Leaders of the Kobe Jewish community. Ponve is 3rd from left

Excerpt from " The Fugu Plan" about Ponve and Hollywood Temple Beth El

Which brings us to Jews and Japan

D. Jews. Japan. And the Fugu Plan.

The Japanese believed Nazi propaganda about Jews but they believed the Nazis conclusion was wrong. Jews were like the Fugu fish, a deadly poisonous food, but, if prepared correctly by the chef, a great delicacy. We were wanted as allies, not as enemies. They therefore actively encouraged Jews to migrate to Manchuria !

There is a fascination with all things Jewish in the Far East.

In Korea, the education system has issued its Korean version of the Talmud, a short compilation of Talmudic passages, so that children can learn how to debate topics as do the Jews.

In Kyoto, at the grounds of the old Emperor’s palace, we met  Kenji, who had lived in Israel, spoke and wrote Hebrew, and has a consulting firm with the Hebrew name of “ Ariel”. He connected us with the Christian community of Beit Shalom. We were not able to meet with them on this trip, but hope to do so if we go back. They are known for graciously hosting visiting Jewish groups.

This church goes back many years. It is rooted in the idea that, in some way, Japan is bound up with the restoration of Israel. The founder established three core principals:
1.   To pray for the restoration of the nation of Israel;
2.   To pray for the spiritual renewal of Israel, which is the condition for the return of Christ;
3.   To pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which is the key to the peace of the world; and
To pray for the coming of the Messiah of Peace.[8]

Many years ago, I was a student intern for the noted philosopher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I  had the opportunity then to meet the son of the founder of the Makuya movement who was studying Jewish theology at my alma mater, the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Makuya" is the Japanese equivalent for the Hebrew word משכן  mishkan, which refers to the Holy Tabernacle, the portable shrine where God and man encounter (Exodus 29:42–43). This name aptly captures the basic religious orientation of the Makuyas, who emphasize the significance of the personal, ineffable encounter with the divine presence in everyday life. This experience, according to them, must not, and indeed cannot, be substituted by a dogmatic belief in creeds or a stabilization of a religious institution; hence, the idea of the "portable" shrine, the Holy Tabernacle.

Makuya is a group of fervent lovers of Israel and Jewish people. It sends young members to a number of kibbutzim in Israel, and makes pilgrimages to Jerusalem. "(

Two years ago, in Jerusalem, I was fascinated to watch a Japanese choir sing in perfect Hebrew at a public performance. During that same visit, I attended a festival in honor of Jerusalem sponsored by a Korean pro-Israel group.

Middle-eastern Islamic and European Christian civilizations have proven to be very problematic for Jews. Maybe its time to focus our sights, from California, due West.