Mr. Leonard Grunstein

By Mr. Leonard Grunstein

All you need in life is balance; haven’t we all received this advice, at one time or another? But, is this sentiment anything more than an endearing platitude?

When I was younger, hearing this guidance sympathetically expressed was often annoying. We had little time for such wisdom. Most of us were busy juggling school, work and family responsibilities and trying to excel at all of them. Besides, the lesson we were taught at home, by Holocaust survivor parents, was we had to be better in order to succeed. That meant studying and working harder, not sloughing off. Excuses like not feeling well or needing me-time were unacceptable. They earned a rebuke not a plaudit. Our orientation and charge was to achieve success in this wonderful land of America, never mind the personal sacrifice required. It was the least we could do to honor the sacrifices of our own parents, who afforded us this opportunity.

When we were children, my father regaled us with stories about when he first came to this country. He told us how, at the beginning, he had to find new employment regularly, because he would not work on the Sabbath. It was a time when Saturday was a regular part of the workweek and not coming to work on Saturday usually resulted in being fired. The common refrain was: don’t come to work Saturday then don’t come Monday. This continued until he obtained a job at Westinghouse, which was more forgiving and allowed him to work on Sunday, instead. Eventually, he opened up his own business and became his own boss. He was always closed on the Sabbath and, as required, on the Jewish Holidays. This meant having to deal with Blue Laws and all sorts of other challenges, but he was unwavering in his observance of the commandments. His poignant message of not being a slave to a slave and only a slave to G-d took on a level of immediacy, as we worked in the business beside him.

When we later faced our own challenges in the professions and business concerning the Sabbath and other religious observances, his example and message resonated and strengthened our resolve. Observance of our traditions kept us grounded, despite working long hours and the pressures and stresses of life. It didn’t always seem that way at the time. Sundays were usually workdays and we missed sharing in the popular custom of Sundays being set aside for family or entertainment and leisure. Vacations were often cancelled or cut short because of some client’s emergency. However, with the benefit of hindsight, it is much clearer now how the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays functioned to provide us with balance in our lives. It was a time when family and friends regularly joined together and enjoyed each other’s company, without any outside distractions like work, phones or computers. There was ample time for reflection and study. It was pure bliss.

As I grew older, I began to appreciate this more fully and that there was more to life than just work. However, yearning for a more balanced life doesn’t make it so. The quest for true balance can be elusive. It is not just about expressing the slogan, like a mantra. How then is balance achieved in practice? Is there a handbook that can be followed, beyond you’ll know when you feel it? Is the Torah such a manual and its observance a formula for achieving balance?

Maimonides[i] explores the matter and his profound insights are bracing. He introduces his analysis with the declaration that the Torah is complete[ii] and it provides for the greatest equilibrium possible. This is no empty superlative; Maimonides posits that the balance it enables is perfection. Therefore, the Bible[iii] enjoins us only to observe and do as G-d instructed. It proscribes adding to or subtracting from those instructions[iv] or veering left or right[v]. As Maimonides notes, any excess or deficiency unbalances the perfect equilibrium. He doesn’t mince words. Whether it’s a life of overindulgence or the deprivation of a monastic existence, both these lifestyle choices are not the solution; they are a part of the problem. They are self-imposed extremes, which are inconsistent with the balanced approach of a Torah prescribed lifestyle.

There are many layers and nuances to this approach to life. One cogent example is not overdoing even the performance of a commandment. This is because notwithstanding the best of intentions, it often undermines the very observance of the commandment[vi]. Coming from a world where overdoing most things is the norm this is not intuitively obvious. Another example is not performing the commandments precisely as prescribed, which could also result in unintended consequences[vii]. It is much like a life-saving medicine, which can become a poisonous drug if not taken properly. In this regard I can’t help but note, the Talmud records even excessive devotion to the abstract study of Torah, without attention to its purpose of performing the commandments[viii], can become a deadly drug[ix]. Indeed, the Talmud[x] disparages those addicted to this practice, declaring it would have been better if they were never born.

The Talmud also cautions against the all too human tendency to add prohibitions. As Rav Dimi[xi] somewhat caustically remarked, isn’t it enough what the Torah prohibits; does a person have to go and prohibit other things? The Talmud illustrates[xii] this principle with the example of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were commanded by G-d not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge[xiii]. Eve, though, unilaterally added an additional stricture against touching it, as well[xiv]. This enabled the snake to importune Eve into eating the prohibited fruit. The snake pushed her against the tree and demonstrated that nothing untoward occurred by touching the tree. Eve was thus induced to eat the prohibited fruit too. The Talmud succinctly summarizes this concept as whoever adds, subtracts[xv].

Rashi[xvi] also focuses on the human predilection to pick and choose among things that must be done and to favor some over others. He advises that a seemingly slight commandment must be as beloved as a weighty one. All too often, when a great deal of attention is devoted to one commandment, perceived to be particularly important or virtuous, it inevitably leads to non-performance of others. Who hasn’t heard or tendered the excuse I was too busy to do something, because I was involved in work, community affairs, doing good deeds or charitable matters? The Torah, like the life it is intended to govern, is a finely balanced machine. Whether the commandments appear rational or not, we like them or don’t or they seem onerous or too easy, it’s about doing them all, precisely as prescribed. Any excess, deficiency or deviation can upset the balance and cause the machine to self-destruct. By properly embracing the entirety[xvii], a genuine balance can be achieved.

Interestingly, the Talmud[xviii] does cite four particular commandments, which require strengthening constantly and the utmost exertion[xix], to wit: (a) Torah study; (b) prayer; (c) doing good deeds; and (d) a worldly occupation[xx]. However, if this were literally so, then complying with this dictum in respect of any one activity would necessarily negate the practicability of doing so with regard to the others. Yet, the Talmud enjoins a person to engage in all four activities with the same kind of intensity. How is this possible?

It is humbly suggested the juxtaposition is not coincidental. The exuberant performance any one of these commandments can readily occupy the entire day and the perceived virtue of the cause can negate any sense of time or other commitments[xxi]. However, the Torah requires all of these, as well as, the other commandments to be observed; not just some of them.

What then is the formula for balancing the performance of these and the other commandments to achieve equilibrium and the perfection that is the object of the Torah? Perhaps the answer lies in the nature of the quality of the commitment. This, as opposed to the quantity of time actually spent on the performance of a commandment, which may vary as it relates to a particular person and circumstance. This concept underlies how the Talmud and sages reconcile the commandments of studying Torah with pursuing a worldly occupation, which appear to be in direct opposition to each other. The analysis may help inform the search for how to achieve balance.

The Talmud records that Torah study[xxii] and having a worldly occupation[xxiii] are both commandments derived from the Bible. It analyzes the nature of these commandments and its conclusions are refreshing and every bit as relevant today as they were in ancient times.

Torah study is a fundamental part of Jewish life. It is not some abstract academic activity that cannot be embraced by everyone. It’s all about learning for the purpose of doing[xxiv]. Study takes precedence only because it leads to performance[xxv]. A person must know what is commanded and how properly to fulfill the commandments, before he or she can set about performing them. Ultimately, though, performance is the key[xxvi]. While, Torah study should be a priority, it is not required to be all consuming to the exclusion of all else in life. In line with the foregoing, the Mishna[xxvii] reports a person whose learning exceeds his actions is like a rootless tree that is blown over by the wind.

The Talmud is replete with examples when other matters take precedence over Torah study. For instance, Rabbi Akiva dismissed classes at the Academy on the day of the eve of Passover to enable fathers to arrange for the children to nap, so they would be able to stay awake at the Seder that evening[xxviii]. This was similarly the case before Yom Kippur, to enable the children to be fed before the fast[xxix]. Torah studies may also be interrupted to participate in a funeral procession or wedding procession[xxx] or to visit the sick and attend to their needs[xxxi]. This includes sweeping their room to assure their comfort and cleanliness. In general, when the opportunity to perform a time sensitive commandment presents itself[xxxii], then that’s the priority.

Work is also an essential requirement of life. The Talmud[xxxiii] actually derives the commandment to have a worldly occupation from the Biblical[xxxiv] use of the word ‘life’ in the phrase ‘and you shall choose life’[xxxv]. The concept of men and women having to work begins with the very origination of humankind. The Bible[xxxvi] describes how G-d created Adam and Eve, placed them in the Garden of Eden and commanded them to work it and guard it[xxxvii]. Even in this idyllic setting, they had to work[xxxviii]. Being self-sufficient is a great refinement[xxxix]. It is beneficial both physically and spiritually[xl]. It is so fundamental to life, that the Talmud[xli] reports, Moses not only taught the people of Israel the Torah, he also advised them on the trade or profession each should pursue, to enable them to earn a living. The Bible also states six days shall you work[xlii] and on the seventh day rest[xliii]. Is it any wonder, given this tradition and work ethic commanded by G-d, that the Patriarchs, Abraham[xliv], Isaac[xlv] and Jacob[xlvi] were such accomplished and wealthy businessmen[xlvii]?

The Talmud[xlviii] also records a parent is obligated, among other things, to teach a child both Torah and a craft (i.e.: a means of earning a living)[xlix]. It goes on to report failing to teach the child a means of earning a living inevitably results in the child learning banditry. Torah study and a worldly occupation are both fundamental and critically important to life[l]. The Talmud[li] even permits a father to arrange for a teacher, to teach a young child Torah or a craft, on the Sabbath[lii].

Torah study has no defined time period within which it must be performed and, often, as a practical matter, neither does the pursuit of a worldly occupation. Torah is to be studied during the day and night and it has no fixed measure[liii]. In my own experience, work can be every bit as demanding. What then are the parameters? Are there any limits on what must be done to perform these commandments, properly? Furthermore, someone involved in the performance of a commandment is generally exempt from performing another commandment[liv]? Wouldn’t that principle apply to the commandments to study Torah study and earn a living, as well? Does studying Torah, therefore, preclude working to earn a living or vice versa?

It is suggested the Torah prescribed balance is a dynamic one. It is not a fixed formulation that is unmindful of the disparate needs of various individuals and their changing circumstances over a lifetime.

During the early formative years, education takes precedence, until a basic level of Torah knowledge and proficiency[lv] is achieved. Ideally, this begins at age 6, in accordance with the pedagogical program laid out in the Talmud[lvi].

Thereafter, there are the other considerations of life that can and do intervene. Thus, when called upon to meet the needs of a spouse and growing family, it is not about making them suffer materially[lvii]; work may take precedence over studying Torah to meet their needs. Evading this personal responsibility by studying Torah and becoming a public charge are not a legitimate option. Maimonides decries anyone who determines that he will only be involved in Torah, not do work to support himself and, instead, obtain his livelihood from charity. Torah study is incumbent on everyone, including the rich and poor[lviii]. Maimonides also cautions[lix]a person should not say he will first make money and then devote himself to learning Torah. Rather, it is critical that Torah be studied at regularly fixed times. The key is lessening the time devoted to work or business and enforcing a commitment to regular study of Torah on a priority basis. How much time must actually be devoted to Torah study is variable, depending on the circumstances.

A very hard working soul, barely able to earn a subsistence living and with little or no time for anything else, might be able to rely on Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s view[lx] that the minimum amount of Torah study can be as little as reciting the Shema twice daily[lxi]. However, what about a wealthier individual, who can afford some leisure time? What about those who are fortunate enough to retire in good health; does the minimum standard suffice or is more required? Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai would likely require more time be devoted to Torah study under these circumstances[lxii].

This Talmud[lxiii] reports the model of integrating Torah with a worldly occupation is a sustainable one. The many who followed this paradigm succeeded in both endeavors. Others who devoted themselves exclusively to the study of Torah and were not involved at all in earning a living failed at both. This theme is echoed in Avot[lxiv], which extols the virtue of integrating Torah and a worldly occupation. It goes on to say that exertion in both of these activities in tandem causes sin to be forgotten. Study of Torah in the absence of a worldly occupation is ultimately fruitless and leads to sin. Just working is also an aimless pursuit. There has got to be more to life to give it meaning. Avot[lxv] encapsulates the notion that a good life requires both the pursuit of Torah study and a worldly occupation in a pithy remark. It posits if there is no Torah then there is no worldly occupation and if there is no worldly occupation then there is no Torah. Without a worldly occupation, as a regular source of livelihood, the individual will be forced constantly to scrounge around or beg door to door to just to earn bare sustenance. The person will perforce have no time for the regular study of Torah. On the other hand without Torah there is no purpose[lxvi] to the worldly occupation.

This symbiotic relationship between Torah and a worldly occupation is at the heart of the search for balance. If these two fundamental aspects of life cannot be balanced, then the perfection of equilibrium is unachievable, in practice. Hence, the focus on how to integrate the two is critical.

The decision to lessen involvement in a business is a very difficult one; but it’s a necessary one to acquire Torah[lxvii]. Making this kind of choice is an essential part of the refinement process that leads to genuine enlightenment[lxviii]. Establishing boundaries, which allow for the creation of time slots away from work and its triggers of non-stop action is the beginning of this process. The freed up time can be used for the maintenance and restoration of physical and mental health. This includes Torah study and other good deeds. It doesn’t mean golf, tennis and other recreational activities are off the table. It’s about integrating them all in a balanced package.

Rav Yosef Karo, in his Shulchan Aruch[lxix], offers practical suggestions about how a person might order his day to accomplish this purpose. He advises that after morning prayers in the Synagogue, the person should next visit the Study Hall to study some Torah[lxx]. Having a regular and fixed time to study Torah, before going to work can potentially change a person’s entire perspective on life; it did for me.

Free time is one of the ultimate luxuries of life and devoting it to Torah and good deeds are one of the least costly and gainful ways to make use of it. They are also among the most rewarding ones. The psychic reward, feeling of accomplishment and pure joy they engender help improve both mental and physical health. Perhaps this is how the soul is nourished and, in turn, it is a part of the spiritual reward it yields. As a recovering workaholic, I remember sometimes feeling guilty about taking time off. Work was also an extremely heady activity. Disconnecting, while extremely important, was difficult to do, even during holidays and vacations. However, by choosing to control these powerful urges and impulses, in favor of other vitally important activities like Torah study and other good deeds, we develop into more refined individuals.

Over the course of a lifetime, there may be times when there can be greater devotion to Torah study. Now that I’ve retired, I am experiencing first hand this compelling need to rebalance. It’s not as easy as I thought. It begins with establishing a new structure for the day and programming in a set of priorities. The comfort of having full-time employment and knowing there was a place to be everyday and during certain times that was virtually sacrosanct is gone. So is the automatic social and mental engagement of full-time work. A void is created which is not easily filled with gainful activities. The shock can be unnerving. Staying home all day is not an attractive option. It can be lonely and full of diversions that are not at all satisfying.

However, going to a Yeshiva study hall opens up new vistas. I have found not just solace, but fulfillment in the study hall. It is a place where social and mental engagement is the rule. Rigorously studying original sources on a particular subject, with one or more study partners, in preparation for and to enable active participation in the daily seminar, given by a genuine Torah scholar on the subject, is a dream. The atmosphere of academic freedom, intellectual honesty demanded of all participants and the in-depth understanding achieved through this intense process is amazing. Frankly, it’s exhilarating and, dare I say, every bit as addictive an experience as the very best of times at work. In this regard, I can’t help but note, Rabbi Nehorai’s dictum in the Talmud[lxxi] that a trade or other profession serves a person well in the days of his youth, when he has enough strength to work. However, in the days of his old age, it is as if he were stuck in a state of famine. Torah, however, is not like this. It serves a person in the time of his youth and provides him with a future and hope in the time of his old age.

Don’t for a moment think that this means we retirees are exempt from the need to do some work. The Mishna[lxxii] stresses there are important psychological aspects to work that make it critical that everyone have some level of involvement in this fundamental human activity. It records that idleness leads to licentiousness or mental illness. Avot[lxxiii] reports Shemaya said love work. Work is not just a necessary evil needed to make a living. It is a part of what makes life meaningful and productive.

Avot D’Rav Natan[lxxiv] provides excellent advice for the independently wealthy or retired person, who does not have to work to earn a living. It counsels doing some property renovations or gardening. Idleness is extremely unhealthy. Being involved in some form of work activity is extremely important and so is keeping physically fit. Whether it’s working out at the gym, walking outdoors, bicycling or other forms of vigorous activity, a regular exercise regimen is vitally important.

A healthy portion of the day can be devoted to Torah study and especially at a Study Hall with others. The environment enables a combination of mental and social engagement that is good for the mind, body and soul. Doing good deeds is also an essential part of life. Helping others in need not only improves their lives, it enhances ours as well.

Bachya ibn Paquda, in his seminal work, the Duties of the Heart[lxxv], cites King Solomon’s statement in Ecclesiastes[lxxvi], which succinctly expresses the concept of balance. A person should not be overly righteous nor overly wicked or a fool. Rav Paquda explains a person should not separate himself from the world. Rather, he should love to do for his neighbor that which he would love happen to himself [lxxvii]. He urges us to help each other in Torah and worldly matters. He notes this includes helping with the plowing and harvesting, buying and selling and other societal matters. Well, at least we can inspire each other regularly to Hey, were retired, but we still have to keep physical fit.

Maimonides[lxxviii] also advises it is beneficial to listen to music, look at art and stroll in beautiful gardens or other venues. This summer we were privileged to enjoy so many wonderful free outdoor concerts in Bergen County and stroll through the NY Botanical Gardens and other beautiful and inspirational venues.

All of these wonderful activities nourish the mind, body and soul, but they must be integrated and balanced so as to maintain a beneficial equilibrium. The Torah offers a means of achieving this dynamic balance in life, provided that, don’t add or subtract or veer left or right. Let’s not miss the opportunity to achieve the perfected equilibrium it promises.


[i] Guide for the Perplexed II: 39.

[ii] See Deuteronomy 4:8, as well as, the Ralbag’s commentary thereon, which notes the Torah as an entirety is a formulation designed to yield good and wisdom. See also Psalms 19:8, as well as, Psalms 4:27 and Rashi’s commentary thereon.

[iii] Deuteronomy 13:1.

[iv] See also Deuteronomy 4:2.

[v] Deuteronomy 17:11 and 5:29. See also Joshua 1:7 and Proverbs 4:27.

[vi] See Rashi’s commentary on Deuteronomy 4:2, as well as, Sifre Deuteronomy 82.

[vii] Such as those who intended to defile the idol Ba’al Peor; not realizing their unseemly actions were the method by which it was worshiped. See Alshich commentary on Deuteronomy 4:2 and Haemek Davar commentary on the next verse, Deuteronomy 4:3.

[viii] Encapsulated by the Hebrew term, ‘Lishma’.

[ix] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Taanit, at page 7a. See also Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, at page 72b, which condemns Torah scholars who immerse themselves in Torah and have no fear of Heaven. The Maharsha explains it is studying Torah Lishma (i.e.: for the sake of performing the Mitzvot) that is deemed to be for the sake of heaven, because this is what G-d commanded us to do.

[x] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot, at page 17a and Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Shabbos 1:2, at pages 4a-b (of Zhitomer edition).

[xi] Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Nedarim 9:1 (page 25a of Zhitomer edition).

[xii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, at page 29a.

[xiii] Genesis 2:17.

[xiv] Genesis 3:3.

[xv] See also commentaries on Deuteronomy 4:2 of Rabbeinu Bachya, Kli Yakar and Daat Zekanim. Reference may also be made to the Sefer Yereim 371:1 and the Sefer HaChinuch 454:3.

[xvi] See Rashi’s commentary on Deuteronomy 13:1, as well as, Sifre Deuteronomy 82.

[xvii] Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 9:1.

[xviii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot, at page 32b.

[xix] Ibid and see Rashi commentary thereon.

[xx] Rashi, in his commentary on this Talmudic text, notes this includes the striving of a craftsman to improve his craftsmanship, businessman to perfect his business acumen and soldier to hone his skill in the military arts.

[xxi] While there is a general principle that a person’s involvement in the performance of one Mitzva exempts the person from performance of another, there are limitations on this principle. See, for example, Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Brachot (page 16a) and Shabbos (page 11a), as well as, Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Bikkurim 3:3 (page 8a of Zhitomer edition). Cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Brachot 1:2 (page 8a of Zhitomer edition) as to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai not interrupting Torah study to recite the Shema (which functionally is the equivalent of Torah study). The Talmudic text goes on to describe that this did not mean he would not interrupt Torah study to build a Succah and prepare a Lulav. See a similar discussion in Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Shabbos 1:2 (page 4a of Zhitomer edition).

[xxii] The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin (at page 29b), derives this obligation from Deuteronomy 11:19. It specifies a father is obligated to teach Torah to his sons. In analyzing this verse, the Talmud poses the question of what if the father didn’t teach the son Torah, then is the son obligated to teach himself? The Talmud answers in the affirmative. It focuses on the letters of the word “v’limaditem”, which, like the whole text of the Bible scroll, is handwritten without vowels. It derives this teaching by, in effect, reading the same consonant letters as the word “u’limaditem. There is no difference in the way each of these words are written in the Torah scroll, but the way they are each vocalized results in a different meaning. The former means “and you shall teach”; the later means “and you shall study”. Hence, if the child grows up without being taught Torah by the father, then it is incumbent on the child to study the Torah, on his or her own. The Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (SM’G) notes (in Mitzvah Number 12) the obligation extends to grandchildren based on Deuteronomy 4:9, which states that shall make it known to children and children of children. The Mitzvah to teach children is also set forth in Deuteronomy 6:7. The SM’G explains that this also includes students, citing Kings II 2:3 (which states that the children of the prophets went out to meet Elisha, the prophet). The term children as used in this context means students. The Sefer Yeraim (Section 26) cites Chronicles II, 29:11, because King Chiziyahu taught Torah to Israel and they were called his sons. The Yeraim also interprets the requirement in Deuteronomy 6:12, to ‘guard them, so that don’t forget’, to mean perform the Mitzvot; not just study them (as provided in Deuteronomy 5:1, 6:7 and 29:8).

[xxiii] See Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sota, Chapter 9, Halacha 15 (page 45a of the Zhitomer edition), which records that Rabbi Yishmael derives the commandment to have a means of earning a living from Deuteronomy 30:19. It states: “and you shall choose life”. He interprets this to mean you shall choose a trade so as to earn a living and be self-sufficient. The Talmudic discussion concludes with the observation that this trumps the seeming requirement that Torah be studied all day and night as implied in Joshua 1:8. See also the Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Kesubot (at page 5a) and Kiddushin (at page 30b). The Talmud reports that Chizkiah derives the commandment to have a trade or profession from Ecclesiastes 9:9. It states that a person should ‘see life with his wife, whom he loves’. It interprets the term ‘life’ to mean having a trade or profession (i.e.: a means of earning a living). It enables life, because the person can support himself, a spouse and family. It also notes that the term ‘life’ is juxtaposed with the term ‘wife’. Thus, the Talmud reasons, just as a father is obligated to see to it that his son has a wife to marry so too is he obligated to teach his son a craft. If the term wife is interpreted allegorically to mean Torah, then just as the father is obligated to teach his son Torah so is he obligated to teach his son a means of earning a living. See also Rashi’s commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:9, where he says that life means a combination of Torah and an occupation. Rashi makes a somewhat similar point in reference to the discussion in Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kesubot (at page 5a). He notes Ecclesiastes 9:9 refers to having an occupation that is self-supporting together with the Torah. Cf. Rashi in his commentary on Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Kamma, at page 100a, where he states that ‘life’ means Torah. However, in his commentary on Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Metzia, at page 30b, he takes the position that ‘life’ means a worldly occupation. Rashi’s commentary on the actual verse in Ecclesiastes (and in Kesubot, at page 5a) seems to reconcile these two thoughts. Rav Yehoshua Falk (an 18th Century Halachic authority), in his Talmudic commentary, the Pnei Yehoshua (on Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Kamma, page 100a) also reconciles the apparent contradiction between Rashi’s commentary on the Talmudic text in Bava Kamma and Bava Metzia. He explains that they are two aspects of life. While it is extremely important to study Torah, it is also important to acquire a worldly occupation. This is consistent with the statement in Avot 2:2 that Torah not accompanied by a worldly occupation is destined to fail.

[xxiv] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, at page 40b. See also Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Pesachim, 3:7 (page 22a of Zhitomer edition).

[xxv] However, performance is the object of study. Thus, the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yevamot, at page 109b, states that if don’t actually do the Mitzvot then lose the reward for Torah study. Along the same lines, Simon, the son of Rabban Gamliel said (Avot 1:17) that study is not the primary thing; it is all about performance of the Mitzvot.

[xxvi] See, for example, Shu”t Maharit, Responsa Number 100. He states that learning itself is not primary; it’s the action (performance of the Mitzvot). The practical application of the Torah is doing good deeds and repentance. See also Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zara, at page 17b, which reports that Rabbi Huna said, he who occupies himself only in studying Torah acts as if he has no G-d. Reference may also be made to the HaEmek Davar commentary on Deuteronomy 4:14.

[xxvii] Avot 3:17.

[xxviii] See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Pesachim, at page 109a, which reports Rabbi Akiva would generally not announce that it was time to leave the Academy; but he did so on these occasions.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim, at page 40a, which also involved Rabbi Akiva.

[xxxii] See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Moed Katan, at page 9a-b. See also Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:4 and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:8. It should be noted that this is the case so long as the Mitzvah cannot be adequately performed by another.

[xxxiii] Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sota, Chapter 9, Halacha 15 (page 45a of the Zhitomer edition).

[xxxiv] Deuteronomy 30:19.

[xxxv] Cf. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, at page 30b. See also a similar discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Kamma, at page 99b-100a, but based on another Biblical verse (Ecclesiastes 9:9), which states that a person should ‘see life with his wife, whom he loves’. The Talmud interprets the term ‘life’ to mean to have a trade or profession (i.e.: a means of earning a living). It enables life, because the person can support himself, a spouse and family.

[xxxvi] Genesis 2:15

[xxxvii] See Avot D’Rav Natan 11:1, where Shemaya and Abtalyon are recorded as saying love work (as they do in Avot 1:10). It goes on to explain that a person should love work and not hate it, because just as the Torah was given by a covenant so too was work given by a covenant. It then cites the Verse from Genesis, noted below, that six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is Sabbath unto the Lord, your G-d.

[xxxviii] See Ibn Ezra commentary on Genesis 2:15, which describes the work as watering the Garden of Eden. Guarding it meant against animals entering and ruining it. See also the Radak commentary on Genesis 2:15, which describes the work in the Garden of Eden as cultivating the land to yield vegetables, tending the trees to eat the fruit. Guarding it meant against the animals and birds. Reference may also be made to Avot D’Rav Natan 11:1, which reports Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said Adam did not taste any food until he had first done work.

[xxxix] Psalms 128:2.

[xl] See Hagaot Maimoniyot commentary on Maimonides’ Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:11, in Note 2.

[xli] See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Metzia, at page 30b. It cites Exodus 18:20, which provides for Moses to inform them of the path that they shall pursue and the things they should do. This is interpreted to refer to showing each person how they should earn their livelihood. See also Rashi commentary thereon. He explains that the requirement that Moses caution them regarding observance of the laws of the Torah is already adequately covered at the beginning of the verse. Thus, the reference to teaching them the path in which they shall walk and the things they should do must mean something other than Torah. Therefore, the Talmud concludes it means a trade or profession by which a living can be earned. Reference may also be made a similar discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Kamma, at page 99b-100a.

[xlii] Rabbeinu Bachya offers a marvelous insight on these verses in Exodus. He states that during six days of the week, it is possible to serve G-d by doing work. This is how our forefathers served G-d, through their cattle and other physical matters. The seventh day, though, was the Sabbath, a day of rest. It was when no form of work was done and it was wholly devoted to G-d.

[xliii] Exodus 20:9-10. See also the discussion in the Zohar Chadash (Volume I on Genesis, pages 156-160 of the Matok M’Dvash edition). It records that as G-d worked for six days creating the world and then rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath, so too must man. This Zohar text begins with Rabbi Yochanan discussing the meaning of the Verse in Proverbs (24:3) that a person should build his house with wisdom. He interprets the Verse to mean that there are three things a person should do in the following order: (1) build a house to live in; (2) plant a vineyard so as to be able to sustain himself financially; and (3) marry a woman, have kids and support them. The Zohar states that having a means of earning a living will enable a person to support his wife and family and still have time to serve G-d and be involved in Torah. As the Sages said, if there is no flour (i.e.: means of earning a living) there is no Torah (Avot 3:17). The Zohar then cites as proof, the order of creation by G-d of the world. First, G-d created the world as a home for man. Then, G-d prepared a source for feeding and sustaining man (i.e.: earning a living), in the form of the animals, birds, plants and trees, which could be harnessed by man for this purpose. Finally, G-d created a wife for Adam, brought her to him, they married and had children. Following this model, a man must apply himself to earning a living and make times for Torah. He must work hard at both, because by doing so he forgets sin. The Zohar quips that should someone say he’s too highborn or good to work, tell him he’s an idiot. The Zohar goes on to say that G-d did the work of creating the world before man came into existence. G-d rested on the 7th day and, hence, the concept of Shabbos. Rabbi Yochanan says this is why, in the order of creation, mankind was created last. It was to teach man that just as G-d works every day, but the Sabbath, so too must man. G-d also provided an exemplar for man who was created in G-d’s image. Thus, just as G-d created the world and what’s in it, so too must man do the work of developing the world. This responsibility was delegated by G-d to man. The obligation is to do what the world needs and to repair it, as G-d did before man. Interestingly, the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin (at page 29a) suggests a somewhat different order than the Zohar noted above. It advises that the first order of priority is securing a means to earn a living and then secondly obtaining a house. Both sources agree that should only marry after satisfy both the first two threshold requirements. Maimonides is critical of anyone who marries first saying that only a fool would do so (Mishne Torah, Hilchot Deot 5:11). (See Mishne Torah, Hilchot Ishut 12:2 as to a husband’s obligation to support his spouse.

[xliv] Genesis 24:1.

[xlv] Genesis 26:14.

[xlvi] Genesis 31:1.

[xlvii] See The Camel in the Patriarchal Narrative, by Shnayer Z. Leiman, in the Yavneh Review 6:16-26 (1967), which describes how domesticated camels in the time of the Patriarchs were a luxury afforded only by the very wealthy trader. See also The Wealth of the Biblical Patriarchs, by Stephen Caesar, in the Biblical Archeology Review (10/14/09). Example in the Bible of the wealth and business interests of the Patriarchs include the reference to Abraham having abundant cattle, sheep, donkeys and camels, as well as, servants, when he went to Egypt (Genesis 12:16) and that G-d blessed Abraham with everything (Genesis 24:1). There is also the matter of Abraham paying an outrageous price for the field of Ephron, in order to inter Sara in the Machpelah burial cave under the property. He paid the price in the silver coinage that was acceptable negotiable currency for traders at the time (Genesis 23:16). Isaac was a landowner and successful businessman. He seeded the land and reaped a hundredfold yield. He became rich and continued to grow until he became very wealthy (Genesis 26:12-13). Jacob was an astute businessman, who outwitted the wily Lavan (Genesis Chapters 30-31). In the climactic encounter between them, Jacob recounted how hard he worked for Lavan for 20 years to achieve his success. This was despite Lavan changing the deal 10 times. Jacob told Laban that he suffered in the heat of the day and the cold at night and went without sleep. Yet Lavan would have taken it all and left him penniless, were it not for the blessings of G-d, who witnessed his hardship and the toil of his hands (Genesis 31:38). When Jacob encounters Esau, upon his return home to the Land of Israel, he has abundant cattle, donkeys, sheep and goats, as well as, numerous servants (Genesis 32:5). Jacob, his wives and children are all also riding on camels (Genesis 31:17-18);

[xlviii] See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, at page 29a. See also page 30b, beginning with the introductory phrase “To teach him a craft”.

[xlix] See also Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Makkos, at page 8b.

[l] See the discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, at page 30b, which relates how one implies the other. By combining Torah and a trade or profession, a person can earn life in the world to come because toiling in both causes a person to avoid sin. See also Avot2:2. Maimonides has an interesting way of phrasing a similar concept in his Mishne Torah, Hilchot Gezela V’Aveida 6:11. In the context of avoiding games of chance that are akin to theft, he states that a person should rather spend his time engaged in two things, matters of wisdom and development of the world. It is the combination of mental and physical engagement that is the secret to avoiding sin.

[li] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kesubot 5a. See also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Hilchot Shabbos, 306:7. The Magen Avraham and Mishna Brurah on this text explain that this is because this too is a Mitzvah.

[lii] See Babylonia Talmud, Tractate Shabbos 150a and Rashi commentary thereon. See also Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shabbos, 24:5 and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 306:6.

[liii] Mishna Peah 1:1.

[liv] Ibid. See also Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Sukkah (pages 25a-b), Brachot (page 11a) and Bava Kamma (page 56b).

[lv] See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, at page 30a, as well as, Ran commentary on Tractate Nedarim, at page 8a. The standard of proficiency is based on the interpretation of the word “V’Shinantem” in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:7) as meaning it must be sharply honed (i.e.: clear-cut) in your mouth, so that if anyone asks, you will be able to answer with alacrity.

[lvi] See Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Bava Batra, at page 21a. Interestingly, the Yeshiva program was first instituted with students at the ages of 16-17. However, that effort proved to be a failure. The Talmud reports that in response to discipline by a teacher, students were known to rebel and just leave. This problem was not cured until Yehoshua ben Gamla reformed the system by establishing Yeshivot in each district for children beginning at the age of 6-7. The Talmud also prescribed methods of discipline that were not harsh. If the problem was a child not studying, then it advised just letting the child remain in the company of his classmates. It notes that eventually he will pay attention to his studies (because of peer pressure). Rashi on the text states that should not reject the child or punish him excessively. The Talmud cautions that children under the age of 6 should not be accepted in Yeshiva. They were presumably too young to be subjected to the intensive program of study, referred to as stuffing the children with Torah, (See Rashi commentary on the text.)

[lvii] Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Deot 5:10.

[lviii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, at page 35b.

[lix] Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:7.

[lx] See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Menachot, at page 99b. See also Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim, at page 8a. The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary on Peah 1:1, goes even further and asserts just saying one word of the Shema is sufficient.

[lxi] See also Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Brachot 1:5 (page 9a of Zhitomer edition). It states Rabbi Nachman said, in the name of Rebbe, that anyone who reads the Shema in the morning and at night is deemed to have fulfilled the obligation of meditating on the Torah day and night, as prescribed in Joshua 1:8.

[lxii] See Tzlach commentary on Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot (page 35b), under the heading V’osfata.

[lxiii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot, at page 35b.

[lxiv] Avot 2:2.

[lxv] Avot 3:17.

[lxvi] See Commentary of Rabbenu Yonah on the text of this Mishna (Avot 3:17), Notes (7) & (8). Rabbeinu Yonah ascribes a psychological aspect to this dictum. He notes that not being self-supporting has a devastating effect on the person. It destroys his self-esteem. As King Solomon wrote: one who hates gifts will live (Proverbs 15:27). As Avot 1:10 urges, love work. It provides a sense of dignity and self-worth. Rav Ovadiah Bartenura (a 15th Century Rabbi and commentator on the Mishna) in his commentary on this Mishna in Avot, explains loving work means a person is obligated to be involved in work, even if economically self-sufficient and doesn’t need to do so, financially.

[lxvii] See Avot 6:6

[lxviii] See Chovot HaLevavot (literally, Duties of the Heart), Gate of Belief, Chapter 3, Introduction-5. See also Lekutey Moharan 60:1.

[lxix] Orach Chaim, Sections 155-156.

[lxx] Although both Rav Yosef Karo and the Tur note that if he is hungry, then he can first eat something.

[lxxi] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, at page 82b.

[lxxii] Mishna Kesubot 5:5, also found in Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kesubot, at page 59b.

[lxxiii] Avot 1:10.

[lxxiv] Chapter 11.

[lxxv] In his introduction to this wok and in the Eighth Treatise, Examining the Soul.

[lxxvi] Ecclesiastes 7:16.

[lxxvii] Leviticus 19:18.

[lxxviii] See Maimonides, Shemonah Perakim, Chapter 5.


Wake up! Don’t just stand there. The crying sounds of the Shofar shake our complacency. It’s a call to action during the ten-day period, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending on Yom Kippur, known as the Days of Awe or the Ten Days of Repentance.

Rosh Hashanah is the time when the world is judged for the ensuing New Year. It is also a time for introspection, reckoning, heartfelt prayers and tears. Even the most pious can’t help feeling some trepidation. After all, no one is perfect. Rosh Hashanah is also a joyful holiday that we celebrate with family and friends, even as we pray for our lives and a good year. We eat special foods to raise our consciousness about what is at stake. This includes dipping an apple in honey to symbolize our yearning for a sweet New Year.

This ten-day period is a particularly propitious time for engaging in repentance. How then to repent? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Change is not as simple as making a resolution to do so. We are born with certain character traits and we are also nurtured to be creatures of habit. Habitual behavior is exceedingly difficult to change. Neuroscientists have written[i]about how a goal directed decision might come into conflict with the habitual behavior circuitry imprinted in the brain. It helps explain why trying to change our behavior can be a very frustrating process. By exercising our freewill to improve ourselves, we are, in effect, fighting our own accumulated experience of both nature and nurture.

The Talmud[ii] reflects on the problem and provides some comfort that the struggle can be successful. It notes that the letter ‘Heh’ in G-d’s name provides a clue. The letter is both open at the bottom and on the upper left side. It resembles a portico where anyone who wishes can leave. Humankind is endowed with freewill and anyone who wishes can either do right or wrong. We are not under compulsion one-way or the other. The Talmud goes on to say that G-d does actively help those who seek to do good and return. However, the entrance on the way back is not the same as the exit on the way out and, hence, the opening at the upper left.

Rabbi Shmuel Eidels[iii], a 16th century Talmudist, explains the Talmud’s metaphor in real terms. There are no real barriers that prevent someone from dropping out of the protective envelop of G-d and the performance of the commandments. Life happens and, absent the discipline of the commandments, new habits develop as the person evolves. Re-engaging and conforming to the Torah’s normative system might require sublimating inborn character traits, as well as, overcoming habitual behavior. Each person has their own subjective challenges to overcome, to re-orient themselves. There is, therefore, no coming back the same way as a person left. Re-access can only be obtained through a more circuitous route that figuratively leads to the opening at the upper left. R’ Eidels refers to Maimonides, who analyzed the subject[iv], for a further explanation of the process of rectification.

Maimonides generally counsels that perfection is about achieving moderation in all things. However, once a person inculcates bad habits, it is extremely difficult to shake them. Maimonides explains virtues or vices are acquired by the frequent repetition of acts that are associated with these qualities, over a long period of time. The person thereby becomes accustomed to them. If the acts performed are good ones, then the person gains a virtue. However, if they are bad ones, then the person acquires a vice. Once inclined towards an extreme, the soul becomes diseased.

Maimonides’ diagnosis of the human condition and habitual behavior is every bit as fresh today as it was more than eight hundred years ago. We now take for granted the link between a physical malady like substance abuse and the mind. The only difference between this and  Maimonides’ holistic approach is that he would likely view the condition as not only as a disease of the body and mind, but also of the soul.

Maimonides’ cure for an illness of the soul is analogous to his treatment of a person suffering from a physical ailment. When the equilibrium of physical health is disturbed, the treatment involves temporarily forcing it to go in exactly the opposite direction until it returns to its proper balanced condition. Once the necessary adjustment is achieved, the more aggressive treatment is ceased, with careful monitoring to assure there’s no relapse.

Resetting moral equilibrium requires a similar process. Maimonides provides the illustrative example of a person, who has developed a disposition of great avarice. Merely requiring the person to practice ordinary deeds of generosity is not curative. Maimonides prescribes that the person be induced to give exceedingly generously and to repeat this often and continuously until the propensity, which was the cause of his avarice, totally disappears. Then, when the person reaches the point where he or she is about to become a spendthrift, the person must be taught to moderate his or her propensity to spend. Thereafter, the person must continue with appropriate deeds of generosity and be vigilant so that there is no relapse into either extreme of avaricious or miserly behavior. Maintenance requires proper training and the repetition of good deeds, which conform to the standard of moderation[v].

It is well neigh impossible to proceed directly to a state of moderation and balance from any extreme of virtue or vice. Few can wake up one day after leading a mostly self-centered and indifferent existence and just proceed to change the way they are or how they relate to family or others. There are too many deeply ingrained habits, other encumbrances like work or cherished activities that get in the way. Thinking about it or expressing the need to change may sound nice, but it’s not a substitute for reforming our behavior. It does take determination; but more important is good practice. Indeed, Maimonides posits that our psyche is affected by what we do. Thus, performing acts of kindness and good deeds is an essential component in the cure, because it is how our brain is rewired. We can also truly benefit from a healthy dose of G-d’s help and that opening in a different direction.

Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, a 16th century Kaballist, considers the same issue from a somewhat different perspective[vi]. His focus is on avoiding the triggers that precipitate habitual behavior. His solution is to avoid situations that would result in triggering a conditioned response. Ordinary boundaries are insufficient to contain the sinful impulses and urges of someone well schooled and experienced in satisfying them. He, therefore, suggests erecting multiple barriers to distance the person from sin. Hence, the Talmudic reference to the small opening on the upper left.

I asked my grandchildren and others at one of the festive meals we attended this Rosh Hashanah to reflect on how they might shake it up. The answers were wonderful. The kids loved how everyone expressed concerns about their less than constructive habits and thought about ways to shake it up in a positive fashion. It was infectious and everyone was inspired by the discussion. The kid’s responses were precious. They included coming home and avoiding the habit of immediately opening the TV, checking the smart-phone or playing a video game, in order to do homework or a good deed. Some of the adults took up this theme and said they would refrain from staring at their smart-phone after they arrived home and give their spouse and family their undivided attention. Being mindful of others and helping those in need was a pervasive theme. The catch phrase of the evening was let’s shake it up.

Whether one of the methods noted above or some combination or other method of repentance is chosen, it’s a very personal and subjective process. One thing for sure, though, thinking about it is insufficient; it’s about doing something different and shaking it up. This ten-day period is a particularly good time to do so and G-d is there to help us complete the cure, once we’ve started the process. We’re down to less than a week and counting down.

Pick a good deed to perform or bad deed to avoid during the next few days until Yom Kippur. Reach out and mend fences with a family member, friend or neighbor you’ve tangled with this year. Hey, just hug it out. Show your spouse and children that you appreciate them and mean it with all your heart. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear of happiness and show them you are proud of them and truly care. It’s a time for forgiveness and overcompensating with graciousness and kindness[vii]. Wish everyone well; it’s thrilling to be able to bring people together and secure the blessings of peace.

It’s time to shake it up. May everyone’s journey of repentance be blessed with success and may we all be inscribed with a happy, healthy and blessed New Year.

[i] See, for example, Endocannabinoid Modulation of Orbitostriatal Circuits Gates Habit Formation, by Christina M. GremelJessica H. ChanceyBrady K. AtwoodGuoxiang LuoRachael NeveCharu RamakrishnanKarl DeisserothDavid M. Lovinger and Rui M. Costa, in Neuron, Volume 90, ISSUE 6 ( June 15, 2016).

[ii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Menachot, at page 29b.

[iii] In his Maharsha commentary on the foregoing Talmudic text.

[iv] Maimonides, Shemonah Perakim, Chapter 4.

[v] Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Deot 1:7.

[vi] In his Tomer Devorah, Chapter 1:8.

[vii] A person, who emulates G-d’s ways of mercy and graciousness in relation to others, benefits from these same qualities being invoked on his or her behalf . See Tomer Devorah, Chapter 1:1.

Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal and other fine publications.

Ronnie PerelisDr. Ronnie Perelis is the Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Associate Professor of Sephardic Studies and director of The Rabbi Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs.

This past August, he presented at two academic forums in Mexico while he was in the country to continue his research into the rediscovered manuscripts of Luis de Carvajal, which comprise the religious writings of a 16th-century secret Jew in colonial Mexico.

On August 8, Dr. Perelis gave a joint presentation with his research partner, Dr. Jesus De Prado Plumed of the department of history at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), to the Golden Age Literature Seminar at UNAM, directed by Dr. Raquel Barragán, Institute for Philological Research, titled “El regreso del manuscrito pródigo: nuevas perspectivas de investigación tras el redescubrimiento de los manuscritos de Luis de Carvajal (“José Lumbroso”), pensador criptojudío novohispano” [“The Return of the Prodigal Manuscript: new perspectives on the newly recovered writings of Luis de Carvajal (“José Lumbroso”), a crypto-Jewish thinker in Sixteenth Century Mexico.”].

Ronnie Perelis in Mexico CityOn August 9, Dr. Perelis visited a restored Ashkenazi synagogue in Mexico City’s historic center known as “La Sinagoga Justo Sierra” at the invitation of director Monica Unikel. “The Jews who lovingly built this synagogue in the 1940s left the neighborhood long ago,” said Dr. Perelis. “But many Jews still have their stores in the area, and there is a kosher restaurant providing delicious food, a mixture of Mexican and Syrian standards.”

The restoration efforts have both preserved the historical significance of this synagogue and placed it within the network of other important buildings in the area dating back to colonial times. It now has a new life as a space for cultural events and classes, and community building. “It is a great example of how something so local can become a conduit for a more global encounter and how the past can anchor us as we navigate the future.”

On his last day in Mexico City, Dr. Perelis gave a class on the history of the Jews of Mexico during the colonial period to members of Rabbi Marcos Meta’s Torah study program, Torá VaDaat, that is part of the Monte Sinaí Syrian Jewish Community. “I am very excited to share my research with members of Mexico City’s vibrant Jewish community because I believe that Carvajal’s story speaks to contemporary religious concerns. In particular, Carvajal holds a special place in the imagination of local Jews who see him as a forerunner of their own, and very different, Mexican-Jewish life.”

Dr. Perelis added that “this trip to Mexico inaugurates the Diasporas Project at the Schneier Program in International Relations. The Schneier program will sponsor cultural events, scholarly conferences and student research and service programs exploring the complex realities of life in a global age.”

The following week, he presented at Fordham University as part of the Early Modern Workshop’s annual conference. He spoke about the “Inquisitorial Prison as a site of Cross-Cultural Encounter: the Case of Manuel Cardoso de Macedo aka Abraham Pelengrino Guer.”

Other recent accomplishments include an article in iMex Revista, edited by Jacobo Sefamí and Matthias Lehman, titled “Reimagining the Sagrada Familia: Family and Faith in the life of Luis de Carvajal, e Mozo (Mexico, 1590’s),” and an article in Religious Changes and Cultural Transformations in the Early Modern Western Sephardic Communities (edited by Yosef Kaplan, Brill, forthcoming 2018) titled “Prison Revelations and Jailhouse Encounters: Inquisitorial prisons as places of Judaizing activism and cross-cultural exchange.”


by Leonard Grunstein

Gaza is occupied by Gazans. Neither Egypt nor Israel, its territorial neighbors, occupy Gaza, as a matter of fact or law.

Yet, the provocative terms “occupation” and “occupier” are casually used, by many in the news media and others, to describe the relationship between Gaza and Israel. The words project an explosive image of Israel, as a so-called occupier, which is assumed to be oppressing an otherwise innocent and peaceful Gaza. The portrayal is expressed with such certainty, as if the occupation were an obvious truth; but it is nothing more than fake news. Gaza is not occupied by Israel and Gaza’s problems are self-inflicted[i].

The foundational definition of the term occupation under International Law is embodied in the Hague Convention[ii]. It provides that a territory is only considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of a hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised. There have been a number of cases over the years, which have analyzed whether an occupation existed under International Law and the nature of its essential constituent elements: (1) a military presence in the occupied territory; and (2) effective control of the territory.

One of the lead decisions is a judgment by the United States Military Tribunal in Nuremberg[iii], in 1948, in the aftermath of World War II. The Tribunal held that an occupation was more than an armed conflict, which destroyed any organized resistance. It also required maintaining a military presence and exercising governmental authority over the area conquered, to the exclusion of the established civil government.

In 2003, an International Tribunal[iv], dealing with claims of human rights violations in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia, further refined the standards for determining when an occupation existed, under International Law. It focused on the degree of control necessary to support such a finding. The Tribunal held that control meant actual and effective overall control over a territory and listed the indicia to be considered in making such a determination, as outlined below.

As a threshold matter, the military forces of the conquered territory must have surrendered, been defeated or withdrawn[v]. The putative occupier must have established its own temporary governmental administration over the territory, which it substituted for the displaced original government that it had rendered incapable of functioning publicly. The occupier had to be in a position to issue and enforce directions to the civilian population of the conquered territory. In addition, it had to maintain a military presence, on the ground, in the territory. The military force present either had to be sufficient, on its own, to make its occupying power felt or there had to be a capacity to send additional troops, within a reasonable period of time, to do so.

Unless all of these criteria were satisfied, there was no occupation, as a matter of law. The Tribunal went on to say the law of occupation applied only to those areas actually so controlled by the occupying power. The occupation ceased when the occupying power no longer forcibly exercised this degree of actual and effective control.

In 2005, an International Tribunal[vi], dealing with the conflict between Uganda and the Congo, focused on the requirement of a continuing military presence, as a condition to finding there was an occupation. Its analysis is cogent. It held that merely having the potential to invade and control a territory, not coupled with an actual presence and effective control, was insufficient.

The requirement that all these tests be met, in order to establish the existence of an occupation, makes eminent sense. Otherwise, it might well be argued that the United States occupies Canada and Mexico; not because it does, but because it could. The United States also has security arrangements with and military bases in such far-flung places as Germany, South Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere. Yet it would be nonsensical to suggest that it was, therefore, an occupying power in those countries. This is because it does not, in fact, exercise effective control. Moreover, a security arrangement or military presence, pursuant to an agreement with the host country, like those noted above, is neither hostile nor forcibly imposed.

How then could the terms “occupation” and “occupier” be so cavalierly, albeit inappropriately, applied to Israel’s present relationship with Gaza? How is it that so many are taken in by this canard? It may help to outline some of the modern history of Gaza to better understand how ludicrous it is to continue to mislabel Israel as an occupier of Gaza.

After Israel declared independence in May of 1948, Egypt and four other Arab countries invaded it. The Gaza Strip was conquered by Egypt and its Jewish community of Kfar Darom[vii] was destroyed. Egypt continued to control Gaza, even after the 1949 Armistice Agreement with Israel. Egypt only lost control of Gaza as a result of the Six Day War, which it precipitated in June of 1967.

A peace treaty was signed with Egypt in March of 1979. Egypt demanded and received the return of all of the Sinai under the treaty. It did not, however, require control of Gaza.

Israel administered Gaza until it transferred governmental authority over Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, in 1994, pursuant to the Gaza-Jericho Agreement[viii]. It entirely withdrew from Gaza, including removing any military presence and all Israeli residents, in September of 2005.

Under the Oslo II Agreement[ix] and the subsequent Disengagement Agreement of 2005[x] with the Palestinian Authority, Israel negotiated and obtained certain rights to patrol Gaza’s coastal waters and air space. This was intended to enable Israel to interdict illegal weapons deliveries to Gaza, which are expressly prohibited under the Agreements noted above. These agreed upon rights do not constitute effective governmental control[xi] over Gaza.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from the PA, in 2007[xii]. It remains the governing authority in Gaza to this day.

In reflecting on theses circumstances in 2008, the Supreme Court of Israel, in the Al-Bassiouni case[xiii], held that there was no occupation by Israel of Gaza, under International Law. It found that Israel did not have effective control over Gaza and Israeli soldiers were no longer stationed in Gaza. Military rule had ended and Israel had fully withdrawn from Gaza. It was, therefore, not in a position to enforce order and govern civilian life in Gaza. The Court was well aware of the security and other rights and obligations Israel had under the Oslo II Agreement and the Disengagement Agreement of 2005. Indeed, the very subject matter of the case was the arrangement under which Israel supplied Gaza with a portion of its electrical power requirements.

The European Court of Human Rights[xiv], in 2015, also ruled on whether control of the airspace above a territory and the adjacent sea was sufficient to constitute an occupation under International Law. The Court held that an occupation did not exist unless the alleged occupier had its military troops on the ground in the subject territory, in addition to being in a position to exercise effective control, without the consent of the sovereign. The Court found that the presence of foreign troops was a sine qua non requirement for there to be an occupation. As the Court noted, an occupation is inconceivable without “boots on the ground”. It went on to say, therefore, forces exercising naval or air control did not suffice.

Gaza has borders with Israel and Egypt. Both Israel and Egypt, like so many other countries, have a security presence on their own side of the border, but not in Gaza. They also have the general right to control their own borders and close them to non-citizens[xv]. Our own US Supreme Court[xvi] recognized this as a sovereign right of all countries. It held it was an established principle of International Law that every sovereign nation has the power, as inherent in sovereignty and essential to self-preservation, to forbid the entrance of foreigners within its dominions or to admit them only in such cases and upon such conditions as it may see fit to prescribe.

Gaza also has a security presence on its side of the borders with Egypt and Israel. It controls who and what enters and leaves[xvii] Gaza.

The Egyptian border crossing with Gaza is not controlled by Israel; it is controlled by Gaza and Egypt. Gaza also has the right to build an international airport[xviii] and use of its own adjacent territorial waters, but not for the purpose of importing weapons and other such materials proscribed under the Agreements noted above. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Hamas has managed to smuggle in rockets, other prohibited weapons and war-making materials, including by sea, over land and through underground tunnels illicitly constructed under the Egyptian border[xix].

Alas, Gaza and its people are under the control of Hamas, a terrorist organization[xx]. Its avowed goal, enshrined in its Charter, is the destruction of Israel[xxi]. It also espouses anti Semitic and genocidal doctrines[xxii] directed against the Jews, generally.

Hamas has attacked both its neighbors, Egypt[xxiii] and Israel. This required each to close their borders from time to time. However, despite Hamas’s continuing malevolent activities, they have each reopened border crossings to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza[xxiv]. It appears that Israel is more concerned about the health and welfare of the people of Gaza than Hamas or the PA[xxv].

Instead of choosing peace[xxvi], Hamas chose to wage an offensive war against Israel, shooting many thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, launching explosive and incendiary devices against Israel and attempting armed incursions of Israel. Hamas uses human shields and creates provocations in order to cause incidents, which as Hamas intends, are then dutifully reported by the news media. All this is instead of living in peace with its neighbors and devoting itself to the development of Gaza for the benefit of its people[xxvii]. Yet, Hamas remains firmly in control of Gaza and continues, however unwisely, govern it[xxviii].

Consider, if Hamas were so interested in the health and welfare of the people of Gaza and their ability to travel outside of Gaza, then why is it spending so much treasure on the surreptitious acquisition of missiles and other offensive weapons prohibited under the Agreement with Israel[xxix] and building terror tunnel? Why is not focused, instead, on building the international airport permitted under the Agreement with Israel and other infrastructure to improve the lives of the people? Why is it continuing to attack Israel and Egypt? Neither Egypt nor Israel threatens Gaza. Before it proceeded on this reckless belligerent path, Gaza was doing mutually beneficial business with Israel; Gazans regularly worked in Israel; and Gaza’s GDP was growing, not declining. The issue is not Israel or Egypt; it is Hamas that is the problem.

Why is the news media not focused on these matters? Why is it instead reinforcing the fiction of a so-called occupation? Why are many people taken in by this con, perpetuated by Hamas, with the active or at least complicit support of the news media? Why does the media continue, repeatedly, to make the same mistake of relying on what amounts to Hamas generated propaganda? When will they and we learn that there is something wrong afoot? Indeed, It was only a little more than a month ago, when a violent invasion of Israel, by Hamas controlled Gaza was falsely called a peaceful protest[xxx] and the armed participants, who were shot, incorrectly referred to as protestors[xxxi]. There is a pattern here; it’s not just a one- time innocent mistake that might be casually overlooked.

Perhaps, the answer, in part, lies in how news reports originate in places, under the tight control of a terrorist or totalitarian regime, like Hamas[xxxii]. Often reporters are, figuratively, parachuted in, to cover a conflict or other explosive situation. Their guides are often untrustworthy and more likely to be minders in the employ of the regime’s security services. They don’t have existing sources, proven to be reliable, or other facilities for independently checking out a story. The local press is neither free nor reliable. Hamas has censored, threatened, intimidated, jailed, silenced and, in effect, co-opted the local press into its service[xxxiii]. Indeed most of the local news media is funded by Hamas. Given the hold Hamas has on the people of Gaza, even seemingly spontaneous interviews of individuals on the street are suspect, as nothing more than Hamas staged Kabuki Theater.

Foreign journalists, on the ground in Gaza, are easy prey for the Hamas information/propaganda apparatus. They usually only see what Hamas wants them to see. With pressing deadlines, they often just report the unverified information supplied by inherently unreliable Hamas linked sources. As a result, the news media often get it wrong. Just check the articles I’ve cited or the online corrections site for a newspaper and see, for yourself, how many times this occurs. Unfortunately, by the time the truth ultimately emerges, it is too late and it is not afforded the same coverage or interest as the original flawed report.

But this is only a part of the story. It appears there are more insidious reasons for the biased and otherwise less than truthful reporting regarding Israel and Gaza. In 2014, Hamas attacked Israel with many thousands of rockets, targeting exclusively civilian areas in Israel. Many of the rocket and mortar attacks were launched from densely populated neighborhoods, in the vicinity of hotels and offices (where foreign journalists[xxxiv] were located), mosques, hospitals and schools. Yet, somehow, reports or photographs of this activity were not published by the news media at the time. Instead, we were bombarded with compelling images and news reports focused on the tragic consequences of what the media falsely described as indiscriminate or even intentional bombing of civilian targets in Gaza.

The news media just repeated the misinformation received from Hamas controlled sources, as if it were a credible[xxxv]. Any counter-narrative, which contradicted the Hamas one, appears to have been suppressed. I can’t help but wonder, what happened to the highly touted journalistic standards of integrity and editorial safeguards[xxxvi] designed to prevent this kind of abuse? They were nowhere apparent in the often false, misleading, biased[xxxvii] or hyperbolic pronouncements[xxxviii] of reporters on the ground in Gaza or news anchors at home, seemingly caught up in the moment. It was not serious, thoughtful and responsible reporting; it was theater. The more gruesome the visuals, the better TV it made. It was a Hamas orchestrated dramatic presentation, right out of its propaganda playbook.

It was only later that we learned about the travesty of this reporting, when the Hamas inspired canard was laid bare. The sites Israel targeted were being used for rocket or mortar attacks against Israel. It was, most assuredly, not intentionally or indiscriminately bombing civilian targets. To the contrary, Israel took precautions to safeguard civilians, including providing advance warning of the sites to be bombed. As a result, the casualty figures for innocent civilians were significantly lower than is typical, in comparable conflicts elsewhere in the world[xxxix]. This was achieved, despite Hamas’ urging civilians to stay, become martyrs and not heed Israel’s advance warnings to leave the area.

Imagine if Hamas actually cared about its people? It could have avoided any civilian casualties by choosing not to attack Israel. Instead, it elected to start an unprovoked and offensive war against Israel, launching rocket and mortar attacks against civilian areas in Israel and using its own civilian population as human shields. Hamas intentionally and mercilessly put Gazan children and adults in harms way in order to maximize civilian casualties.

How was it then that the reality of the situation was callously ignored, even as rockets were being fired in the vicinity of news studios and hotels where news people stayed? Could the journalists in Gaza have been so unaware of everything occurring around them? It strains credibility to accept this as the explanation. Didn’t good reporting require checking where the rockets were fired from and to confirm whether the Hamas tales about indiscriminate bombing were, in fact, true?

Later, it emerged that journalists were being intimidated, threatened and acting under duress[xl]. They risked bodily harm or being expelled from Gaza, if they challenged Hamas and reported news contradicting its false narrative[xli]. Cameras were broken and reporters were prevented from filming anti-Hamas demonstrations, where many Gazans were shot dead by Hamas operatives. Some foreign journalists were even threatened with death. Editors[xlii] worried about their people on the ground in Gaza and said nothing. Many reporters on the ground in Gaza feared reprisals and, hence, didn’t provide a report of what was actually occurring until they were safely out of Gaza. Eventually, the true facts began to leak out[xliii]. However, it wasn’t until well after the fact that the Foreign Press Association condemned Hamas’ intimidation tactics and interference with their reporting in Gaza[xliv].

When will the media recognize that, whether willingly or unwillingly, they have, in effect, become an integral part of the Hamas apparatus intended to spread misinformation? When will we factor this into our appreciation of what we are hearing or seeing on the news or elsewhere?

It is important for us not to be so naïve as to believe that everyone in the media is wise or devoted to the truth. History teaches us otherwise. Never underestimate the power of laziness or stupidity. No profession is immune. Sometimes, though, the motives are more sinister. A reporter can be biased and influenced by deeply held ideological beliefs, including a misplaced sense of virtue too closely identified with the self-proclaimed victimhood of Hamas controlled Gaza. Some can be callous and cynical about the content of their reporting. They recognize the power of glaring headlines and displaying raw and horrible images, no matter the provenance or whether truthful or accurate. They are only interested in the potential for ratings generated from a viewership addicted, like voyeurs, to savage imagery. They may not intend to be enablers[xlv], but, when dealing with terrorist enterprises like Hamas, this is the net effect of their misguided actions. These are not new phenomena and its masters were and are some of the most disreputable forces in modern history[xlvi].

The major difference between the past and the present are the enhanced modes of communication in today’s information age. The evil intent of propaganda has not changed. However, its effect has been enhanced because of the power of this new media to reach and influence people. The propagation of disinformation via social media and other Internet platforms has become a near science[xlvii]. Hamas and the digital propaganda apparatus it controls have become masters of the medium, using social media, bots, trolls and bogus or less circumspect news sites to disseminate and repeat provocative and pithy slogans, false information and bogus[xlviii], staged or manufactured images, as potent tools to fool us.

Many innocent people are profoundly affected or even overwhelmed by the seemingly virtuous sentiments expressed. The constant repetition of messages that go viral makes them seem reliable. It is also so easy to succumb to their simplicity and seductive charm, championing the rights of supposed victims. Never mind that the victims may actually be the aggressors. It is so hard not to virtue signal acceptance of the apparent popular wisdom; it’s all but irresistible. It is a gift to propagandists and others seeking to disseminate their agenda driven messages. This may soon become an even more challenging problem, as Artificial Intelligence is adapted to become a player in this black art of disinformation. I can’t help but reflect on the prescience of the Talmud[xlix], more than 1,500 years ago, in predicting that in a future period[l], which may be our time, truth would be absent[li].

We, therefore, must steel ourselves, not to be so naïve and trusting. It is a critical lesson that informs how we might engage the new media of the Internet and social media. Indeed, the first clue that a source may be tainted is when it immediately engages our emotions and overwhelms us with a sense of injustice and outrage. It is also not easy to challenge proponents of a seemingly virtuous cause or the reliability or truthfulness of the message, without seeming to challenge the perceived virtue of the cause expressed. This is because challenging the applicability of noble sentiments is often confused with denying the validity of those sentiments.

Take a breath and wait a moment. We must be skeptical and not act out of an emotional connection to the perceived virtue of a cause.

Consider the apocryphal tale of the tragic death of an 8-month old baby, who reportedly died from tear gas inhalation at the Gaza border with Israel, in Hamas’ recent attempt at an armed invasion of Israel. Who could not be moved by the accompanying image of a dead child, held in the arms of a grieving mother, in the morgue of a hospital.

As it turns out, the whole story was contrived by Hamas, which paid for the parents to lie about the cause of death of the baby. It was not inhalation of tear gas at a border clash; rather it was a blood disease, which caused the baby’s death. It was the same deadly disease that felled her sibling earlier in the year[lii].

The version of the story Hamas invented and disseminated engendered a great deal of news coverage, with predictable results. As Hamas intended, it created a pall, which prevented any critical public discourse about the Hamas led armed invasion of Israel and what actually was occurring at the Gazan border with Israel. The true story did not receive much news coverage. I can’t help but wonder, where’s the outrage about this abuse. The news media were mere tools, used by Hamas to communicate falsehoods, in service of its agenda to delegitimize Israel.

Consider also the context. Much as we might wish that Hamas were conducting a so-called peaceful protest along the Gaza border, this was not the case.

Let’s be clear, it was not peaceful; it was not a protest; and it was not along the Gazan border with Israel. It was a violent armed invasion of Israel, itself[liii].

As we now know conclusively, 53 of the 60 people, reported as fatally shot by Israeli soldiers, were Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives[liv]. Hamas’ cynical and callous use of the Gazan people to mask, aid and reinforce an armed invasion by Hamas operatives has been acknowledged by Hamas[lv]. They were seeking to infiltrate into Israel, concealed in the confusion and surge of thousands of people attempting to breach the border fence[lvi]. Many were armed with guns, grenades, improvised explosive devices and other weapons. Their intention was ignoble; it was to kill Israeli civilians and commit mayhem within Israel. The Gazans were callously and recklessly urged on by Hamas to invade Israel, despite the many warnings by Israel not to approach the border fence. Hamas wanted to create martyrs. Yet, some in the mainstream media, remained obsessed with promoting the false narrative[lvii], created by Hamas, that this armed invasion was somehow a peaceful protest.

The fact that so many attacking Israel were only injured, not killed, speaks volumes. Israel used tear gas and predominately other non-lethal means to turn back the incursion on its sovereign territory. Even when shots were fired, Israeli soldiers sought to wound, not kill. Considering the pogroms that would have ensued had the terrorists and other Gazans been able to break through the border fence and attack the nearby civilian neighborhoods, the restraint was extraordinary. It is consistent with the highest standards of military conduct, as codified in the Talmud[lviii] and in the Halacha[lix], as well as, International Law[lx]. Ambassador Nikki Hailey eloquently supported Israel’s right to defend itself against the Gazan onslaught. She noted that no nation would have acted otherwise and glowingly acknowledged the extraordinary restraint shown by Israel in dealing with the situation[lxi].

Amazingly, even as Israel continues to defend itself against Hamas attacks, it still also has feelings of genuine empathy for the people of Gaza. Unlike many who just emote and vociferously express outrage about the crises in Gaza, Israel is actually doing something constructive to help. It continues to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, despite all the challenges posed by the terrorist regime of Hamas. The crises in Gaza is not only self-inflicted, it is perpetuated and needlessly deepened by Hamas[lxii]. Israel is also lending a helping hand and real assistance to the Syrian refugees on its northern border, in spite of all the dangers[lxiii]. How many of us sitting here can say the same.

Preventing armed terrorists from entering Israel and killing innocent civilians is a sacred mission. Israel has a very diverse society. Its citizens include members of the Jewish, Christian, Moslem, as well as, those of many other faiths, creeds, denominations and beliefs. Israeli society is a veritable kaleidoscope of color, orientation and places of origin from throughout the world. It is one of the most progressive places in the world. This cannot be said about Hamas controlled Gaza. Hamas is and was the aggressor and yet it manages to cast itself as the victim in this tragic drama it authored, produced and presented, with the help an accommodating news media.

Has propaganda, therefore, triumphed? Its object is to spread misinformation and quash any reasoned discussion. It appears that it is succeeding in many quarters. What can we do?

We must demand the unvarnished truth and balanced and unbiased news reporting. We have to challenge myths. How else can we have a constructive discourse? I have visited Gaza. It is not all a large refugee camp or an open-air prison, as some have proclaimed. It has many beautiful buildings and neighborhoods. If you don’t believe me then check it out yourself, by googling: Gaza beautiful pictures. Indeed check out Gaza airbnb. Be prepared for a pleasant surprise; it looks very little like the conditions described by many talking heads on television. By the way, similarly, Ramallah, Hebron and other Palestinian cities and towns in Judea and Samaria. They boast luxury buildings that rival those here in the US and more are being built.

It’s time to recognize the reality of the situation, as it exists and not as spuriously promoted by Hamas and their knowing or unknowing propaganda agents. As a matter of fact and law, there is no occupation of Gaza by anyone other than the Gazans living there. Its time to end the masquerade about Hamas controlled Gaza wanting peace, if only Israel would satisfy some suicidal condition. These, like the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, are nothing more than pretexts that are intended to conceal Hamas’ express goal of destroying Israel.

Peace should have been achieved when Israel fully withdrew from Gaza, in 2005. As the wise Charles Krauthammer, of blessed memory, wrote[lxiv] almost a dozen years ago:

“…Israel evacuated Gaza completely. It declared the border between Israel and Gaza an international frontier. Gaza became the first independent Palestinian territory in history. Yet Gazans continued the war…Why? Because occupation was a mere excuse to persuade gullible and historically ignorant Westerners to support the Arab cause against Israel. The issue is, and has always been, Israel’s existence. That is what is at stake.”

Not much has changed in all these years. Peace is still available simply by Gaza stopping its attacks on Israel and Egypt and just living in peace. The framework for peace is and has been in place for many years ago. All that’s left to do is for Gaza to honor it.

As Charles Krauthammer cautions, we can’t continue to be gullible and historically ignorant. The issue is and always has been Israel’s existence.

It’s time for Hamas to stop the charade, recognize Israel and stop attacking it. We should no longer be excusing or funding their misbehavior or give credence to their pretexts. All Gaza has to do to have peace is stop attacking its neighbors. Let the blessing of peace prevail.

[i] See Gaza’s Miseries Have Palestinian Authors, an opinion piece by Brett Stephens, in the New York Times, dated May 16, 2018.

[ii] Convention IV, Annex to the Convention Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Section III: Military Authority over the Territory of the Hostile State, Article 42.

[iii] United States v. List, United Nations War Crimes Commission, Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, Volume VIII, 1949, CASE No. 47, THE HOSTAGES TRIAL, TRIAL OF WILHELM LIST AND OTHERS, UNITED STATES MILITARY TRIBUNAL, NUREMBERG, Part I, beginning at page 38.

[iv] Judgment, by the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Former Yugoslavia, in Prosecutor v. Naletic and Martinovic (Case No. IT-98-34-T), dated March 31, 2003.

[v] The Tribunal noted that areas where battles were still being fought were not to be considered occupied territory; although, this did not include sporadic resistance in areas already conquered.

[vi] Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda), I.C.J. Reports 2005, beginning at page 168.

[vii] See Jewish Communities Lost in War of Independence, on Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

[viii] The Gaza-Jericho Agreement, signed in Cairo, on May 4, 1994.

[ix] The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, dated September 28, 1995 (Oslo II). It follows up the original Oslo accord, embodied in the Israel-PLO: Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government Arrangements, signed in Washington, D.C., on September 13, 1993. By its terms, it supersedes the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, dated May 4, 1994, The Agreement on the Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities, signed in Erez, on August 29, 1994 and the Protocol on Further Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities, signed in Cairo, on August 27, 1995.

[x] Israel-Palestinian Authority Agreement on Movement and Access and Agreed Principles for Rafah Crossing, signed on November 15, 2005.

[xi] See Israel and the Struggle over the International Laws of War, by Peter Berkowitz, Hoover Institution Press-2012; Occupation and other forms of Administration of Foreign Territory, Report of Expert Meeting, by Tristan Ferraro, of the ICRC, dated March 2012; and Is Gaza Occupied?: Redefining the Status of Gaza Under International Law, by Elizabeth Samson, in the American University International Law Review, Volume 25, Issue 5, Article 4 (2010). See also the 2015 Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, discussed below.

[xii] See Hamas Seizes Broad Control in Gaza Strip, by Steven Erlanger, in the New York Times, dated June 14, 2007.

[xiii] Jaber Al-Bassiouni Ahmed and others v Prime Minister and Minister of Defense (HCJ 9132/07), Judgment dated January 27, 2008.

[xiv] Sargsyan v Azerbaijan (Application no. 40167/06), Judgment dated June 16, 2015 and Chiragove and others v Armenia (Application no. 13216/05), Judgment dated June 16, 2015.

[xv] There are limited exceptions under International Law for asylum seekers and refugees.

[xvi] Ekiu v US, 142 US 651, 659 (1892).

[xvii] See, for example, As Gaza hospitals suffer shortages, Hamas refuses Israeli medical aid, by Judah Ari Gross and AP, in the Times of Israel, on May 16, 2018; Hamas border guard killed in suicide attack on Gaza-Egypt border, by Jack Khoury, in Haaretz, dated August 17, 2017; Hamas is known for its suicide attacks. Now it’s been hit by one for the first time, by Hazem Balousha and Loveday Morris, in the Washington Post, dated August 17, 2017; and Hamas closes Gaza border following assassination, by Elior Levy, on Ynet, on March 26, 2017.[xviii] Annex I, Article XIII of the Oslo II Agreement.

[xix] See, for example, Shin Bet: Hamas bringing weapons, rocket-making material into Gaza, by Judah Ari Gross, in the Times of Israel, dated May 16, 2016; and Israel: Rockets Smuggled Into Gaza, by Steven Gutkin, the Associated Press, dated April 28, 2006; and reported in the Washington Post. See also Hamas Firing China-Designed, Syria-Made M-302 Rockets: Israel, on the NBC news site, dated July 10, 2014.

[xx] Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the US. See US State Department Country Reports on Terrorism, dated April 27, 2005, Chapter 6, Terrorist Groups, listing Hamas as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.[xxi] See Articles 6, 11, 13 and 14 of the Covenant of Hamas.

[xxii] See Article 7 of the Covenant of Hamas. See also, for example, Hamas in Their Own Words, dated May 2, 2011, on the ADL website; Anti Semitic Hate Speech in the Name of Islam, by Matthias Küntzel, in Der Spiegel online, dated May 16, 2008; Palestinian Nazi flags and Hamas talking points, by Sean Durns, at JNS, dated April 26, 2018; and Hamas co-founder admits ‘we are deceiving the public’ about peaceful protests, by TOI staff, at the Times of Israel, dated May 17, 2018.

[xxiii] See Hamas: Increased security along Gaza-Sinai frontier after deadly attack – Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Adam Rasgon, in the Jerusalem Post, on July 9, 2017; Egypt seals last breach in Gaza border, a Reuters report on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation news website, dated February 3, 2008; and Egypt and Palestine: The Hamas Factor – Palestinian Nationalism: Regional Perspectives, by Hamr Hamzawy, dated September 8, 2017, on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website;

[xxiv] See Israel to reopen Gaza crossing after rioters burn it for 3rd time, by Judah Ari Gross, in the Times of Israel, on May 15, 2018; and Egypt opens Gaza border following three-day closure, by Rabie Abu Zamil, on the Anadolu Agency website, dated July 2, 2018.

[xxv] See The Palestinian Authority Rejects Israeli US Ideas to Help Gaza, by Khaled Abu Toameh, in the Jerusalem Post, dated June 26, 2018, as well as, Israel reopens Gaza crossing, but Palestinians turn back some trucks, by Judah Ari Gross, in the Times of Israel, on May 15, 2018.[xxvi] See Hamas could have chosen peace. Instead, it made Gaza suffer, by Dennis Ross, an opinion peace in the Washington Post, on August 8, 2014.[xxvii] See Gaza and Hamas, by Elliot Abrams, on the Council on Foreign Relations website, dated May 16, 2018.

[xxviii] See Hamas co-founder says Gaza-based group ‘stronger than it has ever been’, I24 News, 12/14/17.

[xxix] Article XIV:4 of the Oslo II Agreement.

[xxx] See Hamas Leader Admits Gaza Protests are Not Peaceful, in Israel Today, dated

May 16, 2018; Senior Hamas Official: This Is Not Peaceful Resistance, It Is Supported by Our Weapons, by Andrew Kugle, in The Washington Free Beacon, dated May 15, 2018; and Media Coverage of Israeli-Palestinian Clash is Built on a Myth, by David Harsanyi, in National Review, dated May 18, 2018.

[xxxi] See CAMERA Prompts Los Angeles Times Correction on Fatalities Among Gaza ‘Protestors’, dated June 25, 2018, at

[xxxii] See, for example, Hamas’ rules for reporters control news, by Clifford D. May, an analysis/opinion piece in the Washington Times, dated, August 5, 2014; and The Palestinians and the Press Hazards for Reporters Working in the West Bank and Gaza, by Dave Gilson, in Frontline/World, at, March 2003

[xxxiii] See Gagged in Gaza, in the Economist, dated September 24, 2016; Press freedom group shocked at Hamas ban on Gaza journalists, by Roy Greenslade, in the Guardian, on January 1, 2013; In Gaza and West Bank, Palestinian journalists fear squeeze on free press, by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta, in Reuters, on September 19, 2016; In Gaza, authorities crack down on freedom of speech, by Victoria Schneider, in the New Arab, dated November 13, 2017; Violations of Freedom of the Press in Gaza, on the website; West Bank and Gaza, on the Freedom House website; and Palestine: Dangerous escalation in attacks on freedom of expression, on the Amnesty International website, dated August 23, 2017;

[xxxiv] This is not the first time something like this occurred. See Gaza Reporter Caught on Tape Confirming Hamas Fired Rockets Near TV Offices, by Yoav Stern, in Haaretz, on January 1, 2009

[xxxv] See Hamas Lies and the media believed it, by Oren Kessler, in US News, dated August 12, 2014.

[xxxvi] See What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel, by Matti Friedman, in Atlantic, dated November 30, 2014.

[xxxvii] See, for example, BBC Bias in Gaza, by Simon Plosker, on the Honest Reporting website, dated July 9, 2014; and Reporting from Jerusalem: The astonishing bias of NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, by Richard Grenell, on Fox News, dated October 16, 2015.

[xxxviii] See, for example, BBC finds Andrew Marr guilty of rules breach over a ‘misleading’ claim that Israel killed ‘lots of Palestinian kids’, by Chris Hastings, in the Daily Mail, on June 24, 2018; and Was it okay for U.K. journalist to make emotional, personal video about Gaza children?, in Haaretz, on September 10, 2014.

[xxxix] See, for example, Stop ignoring the facts about Cast Lead, by Jonathan Sacerdoti, in the New Statesman, dated December 30, 2011.

[xl] See Why Everything Reported from Gaza is Crazy Twisted, by Mark Levine, in the Tower Magazine, Issue 17, August 2014; Testimonies from Gaza and Hamas Intimidation of foreign journalists, on the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, dated August 11, 2014; Foreign press group condemns Hamas intimidation in Gaza, by Stuart Winer, in Times of Israel, dated August 11, 2014; Hamas Admits to Intimidating Foreign Journalists, by Simon Plosker, in Honest Reporting on its website, dated August 17, 2014; BBC interviewee admits intimidation of journalists in Gaza,, dated August 16, 2014; Hamas admits intimidating foreign press who reported wrong ‘message’, by TOI Staff, at the Times of Israel, on August 15, 2014; Foreign journalists reveal Hamas’ false front, by Daniel Bettini, in Ynet, dated August 7, 2014; Foreign Press group blasts Hamas’ ‘thuggish behavior’, by TOI Staff, at the Times of Israel, dated May 21, 2016; and Gaza prejudice and perfidy, an opinion piece at the Jerusalem Post, by David Weinberg, dated May 17, 2018.

[xli] See the in-depth analysis of the problem in: The Media Intifada: Bad Math, Ugly Truths About New York Times in Israel-Hamas War, by Richard Behar, in Forbes, dated August 21, 2014

[xlii] See An Insiders Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth, by Matti Friedman, in Tablet, dated August 26, 2014.

[xliii] See ‘Don’t Use Me’: Reporter Admits Seeing Rocket Fired from Gaza Hospital, then Blasts Pro-Israel Media for Quoting Her, by Shoshana Schwartz, in the Blaze, on August 3, 2014; Rare Footage Appears to Capture Gaza Rocket Site, by Nick-Robbins Early, dated August 5, 2014; The story Behind NDTV’s rocket launch footage, by Uriel Hellman, JTA, August 7, 2014; Hamas admits it did use schools and hospitals in Gaza Strip as ‘human shields’ to launch rocket attacks on Israel-but claims it was a ‘mistake’, by Mathew Blake, in the Daily Mail, on September 12. 2014; Gaza rocket launched during CBC interview, CBC News, August 8, 2014; and Why Everything Reported from Gaza is Crazy Twisted, by Mark Levine, in the Tower Magazine, Issue 17, August 2014;

[xliv] See Foreign press group condemns Hamas Intimidation in Gaza, by Stuart Winer, in the Times of Israel, on August 11, 2014;

[xlv] See Palestinians in Gaza are Dying for a Photo Op, by Liel Liebowitz, in Tablet, on May 15, 2018, as well as, Pavlich: Media gives Hamas exactly what they want, in the Hill, dated May 15, 2018.

[xlvi] Nazi Germany and its use of euphemisms like resettlement, special actions, special handling and the final solution to mask the mass murder of 6 million Jews is just one example. Others include Stalin, who, for example, covered up the reality of the pervasive famine that ensued as a result of his so-called “collectivization” program in the Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union, in the years 1932-33. Many millions of people died from hunger as a result of the forced collectivization. (See The Man-Made Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine, by Bohdan Krawchenko in Conflict Quarterly, Spring 1984: Kazakhstan: The Forgotten Famine, by Bruce Pannier, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, dated December 28, 2007; and How Stalin Hid Ukraine’s Famine From the World, by Anne Applebaum, in Atlantic Magazine, dated October 13, 2017.)

The use of the term collectivization is instructive, because it exemplifies how easily a virtuous sounding label can fool people. What could be wrong with working collectively together to accomplish a worthy goal, in furtherance of the common good? Unfortunately, that is not what the term, in fact, described. It was a euphemism for forcibly taking away a peasant’s crops, seeds, farmland, home, livestock, agricultural tools and most other belongings. Even after one intrepid journalist disclosed the enormity of the crime, the accepted wisdom was there was no famine. Rather, the mantra promoted by many of the remaining foreign journalists in Russia, who supported the false utopian vision of communism, was that the Russians were hungry, but not starving. The wordsmiths might just as well have substituted the word ”plenty” for “hunger”. After all, those suffering from malnutrition had plenty of problems.

Another example is Mao’s so-called “Great Leap Forward” program for China, in the years 1958-62. It was nothing of the sort; it was just another exercise in deceit. Overly ambitious goals for food production were established, never met and falsely reported as achieved. Grain needed for subsistence was seized. Instead of feeding the people, it was used to make ethyl alcohol to fuel newly developed missiles and as a cash crop for export to fund the modernization of the military. Mao’s effort at central planning and agricultural development was a not a great success, as he claimed; it was a spectacular failure. This time, many tens of millions of people died from starvation in the ensuing famine. (See China’s Great Famine; the true story, by Tania Branigan, in the Guardian, dated January 1, 2013; After 50 Years of Silence, China Slowly Confronts the ‘Great Leap Forward’, by Helen Gao, in The Atlantic, dated May 29, 2012; Remembering the Biggest Mass Murder in the History of the World, by Ilya Sonim, in the Washington Post, dated August, 3, 2016; and Mao’s Great Leap to Famine, by Frank Dikotter, in the New York Times, dated December 15, 2010.)

These awful, avoidable, man-made tragedies were covered up, at the time. Many willingly or innocently participated in this charade, because they believed they were serving a higher purpose. Some were what the KGB reportedly referred to as UI’s or useful idiots. Others were more sinister and had their own self-styled virtuous motives for perpetuating a fraud on the clueless public. Those desiring to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth were deemed to be lacking in virtue.

I understand that these failed experiments in scientific socialism and central planning are not generally and intensively studied in school. It’s a pity. There are some valuable lessons to be learnt from how socialism actually functioned in practice. It might temper the enthusiasm of some who suggest embracing this bankrupt economic system, yet again.

[xlvii] See Disinformation Wars, by Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova, in Foreign Policy, dated May 25, 2018. See also Israel is Losing the Social Media War, by David Patrikarakos, in Tablet, on June 25, 2018.

[xlviii] Images can be manipulated, including being staged, edited, cropped, photoshopped or composited. The lack of context or provenance can also affect how an image is perceived.

[xlix] Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Sotah, at page 49b and Sanhedrin, at page 97a.

[l] The Talmud refers to the period preceding the arrival of the Messiah.

[li] It is noteworthy that the Talmud also describes how the generation will have the face of a dog. Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik, of blessed memory, explained that the face of a generation was its leadership. The reference to a dog is an allusion to how it appears to lead, by walking ahead of its master. However, in reality it is gazing over its shoulder at its master and actually following. In modern parlance, the leaders will not genuinely lead, but rather, in effect, do what polling suggests their constituency desires. The Talmud also describes how there will be a culture of youth where elders defer to minors; those who fear sin will be despised; wisdom will decay; and an atmosphere of disrespect and mistrust, including within the home, will be prevalent. It is hard not to recognize the existence of these conditions in our times.

[lii] See Hamas paid family of 8-month-old to say she died during Gaza border clashes, in JTA, dated June 21, 2018. See also a similar article, by Jacob Magid, in the Times of Israel that same day, as well as, A Dead Baby, by Jerold Auerbach in the Algemeiner, on June 24, 2018.

[liii] See The truth about Hamas and Israel, by IDF Brigadier General Ronin Manelis, in the Wall Street Journal, dated May 20, 2018 (and reproduced at, as well as, Misplaced sympathy for the Hamas lynch mob, by Alan Dershowitz, at

[liv] Ibid. See also Gaza’s Miseries Have Palestinian Authors, by Bret Stephens, in the New York Times, on May 16, 2018; The Blood Isn’t on Trump’s Hands, by Jonathan S. Tobin, in the National Review on May 15, 2018; and What Sparked the latest Palestinian protests, by Thane Rosenbaum, at, on May 16, 2018.

[lv] Ibid. See also Hamas official: 50 of the 62 Gazans killed in border violence were our members, by Judah Ari Gross and TOI staff, in the Times of Israel on May 11, 2018;

[lvi] See the excellent Opinion piece in the New York Times, by Matti Friedman, entitled: Falling for Hamas’ Split Screen fallacy, dated May 16, 2018. See also Journalists Should Stop Falling for Hamas Deadly PR Efforts Against Israel, by David Harsanyi, in the Federalist, dated May 14, 2018 and another of his articles, entitled: Media Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Clash Is Built on a Myth, in the National Review, dated May 18, 2018.

[lvii] See one of the latest examples of this egregious practice, The Media Continues to Lie About Israeli Actions in Gaza, as reported by Alan Levick, in the Algemeiner, on July 2, 2018.

[lviii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, at pages 74a and 72b.

[lix] Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of Murder and the Preservation of Life 1:7-14.

[lx] Article 51 of the UN Charter.

[lxi] See video of Nikki Halley speech at UN on the subject, in Real Clear Politics, entitled, Nikki Haley on Gaza: No Country Acts With More “Restraint” Than Israel,

posted by Tim Hains, on May 15, 2018.

[lxii] See, for example, As Gaza hospitals suffer shortages, Hamas refuses Israeli medical aid, by Judah Ari Gross, in the Times of Israel, on May 16, 2018.

[lxiii] See Israeli residents go public with heartfelt aid to Syrians, by Abigail Klein Leichman, on The Israel 21c website, dated July 3, 2018.

[lxiv] See Why They Fight, by Charles Krauthammer, of blessed memory, in the Washington Post, on July 14, 2006.


Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier ’11YC ’13BR ’14R Sparks Discussions of Thought Leadership in the Orthodox Community

Shlomo ZuckierThe intellectual and spiritual journey of Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier ’11YC, ’13BR, ’14R exemplifies the Yeshiva University mission in action, not only academically but also through Zuckier’s participation in the Jewish community in multiple ways.

In addition to his YU degrees (including two master’s degrees from Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, both earned in 2013), he is a Beren Kollel Elyon Fellow at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS); he has also received an MA and MPhil in religious studies from Yale University, and expects to finish his PhD at Yale in 2019.

He has received a number of scholarships and fellowships (including the Wexner Fellowship), taught in the classroom, spoken from the pulpit, worked for three years as campus rabbi at Yale through the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, written dozens of articles and edited two books.

In that latter capacity as a writer/editor, he is also a co-founder—with Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff ’09YC, ’11R and Rabbi Ari Lamm ’10YC, ’15R—of The Lehrhaus, an online journal with a mission, according to its website, “to generate thoughtful and dynamic discourse among individuals within the Orthodox community and beyond who enjoy exploring the depth and diversity of Jewish ideas.”

Zuckier was born in 1987 in the hospital of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where his father, Lionel ’77YC, ’82E, worked. Two years later, his father, his mother, Lydia, and Shlomo moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, where they were, in Zuckier’s words, “a proud YU family.” All of Zuckier’s siblings studied at Yeshiva University schools. His two sisters graduated from Stern College for Women and one brother is a graduate of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. The youngest Zuckier brother attended the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy/Yeshiva High School for Boys and will enter Yeshiva College this fall.

The foundations of Zuckier’s current work, both his dissertation focusing on sacrifice in ancient Judaism, and his editorial work at The Lehrhaus, were laid at Yeshiva College. He cites Dr. Moshe Bernstein ’62YUHS, ’66YC, ’69R, ’69BR, The David A. and Fannie M. Denenberg Chair in Biblical Studies, as a formative influence. Zuckier honored his mentor by contributing an article to the Festschrift presented to Bernstein in November 2017 to honor Bernstein’s work in biblical interpretation in antiquity. “The seminars he offered,” Zuckier noted, “were conducted on a level matching any graduate seminar in Jewish studies.” Zuckier also praised Dr. Shalom Holtz, the current director of the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program and associate professor of Bible, for his guidance on Zuckier’s undergraduate thesis.

Shlomo also appreciates the direction and inspiration he received from Dr. Aaron Koller, associate professor of Bible and chair of the Robert M. Beren Department of Jewish Studies; Richard Steiner, professor of Semitics (now retired); and Dr. Yaakov Elman, the Herbert S. and Naomi Denenberg Chair in Talmudic Studies and professor of Jewish history at Revel.

In addition to those academic mentors, Zuckier is grateful for the theological and spiritual influence of Rabbi Shalom Carmy, assistant professor of Jewish philosophy and Bible, and Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, a Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS and the Rosh Kollel of the Beren Kollel Elyon, among many formative religious influences on the RIETS faculty.

As an undergraduate, one of Zuckier’s many activities was working on Kol Hamevaser (KHM), described as the “monthly Jewish thought magazine of the Yeshiva University student body,” serving first as associate editor and then as editor-in-chief. Those involved in the early years of KHM included Eleff and Lamm, and their collaboration eventually morphed into The Lehrhaus. (He also had the great good fortune to get to know his wife, Chana ’12S, ’14 GPATS, with whom he has two daughters, through their work on KHM.)

The impulse to create The Lehrhaus came from the trio’s shared experiences and intellectual interests. The name comes from the “house of learning” created by Franz Rosenzweig in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1920 as an alternative to what Rosenzweig considered an impersonal education in the universities; in Hebrew, the name translates smoothly to beit midrash. “We were YC alums, RIETS alums, Wexner fellows — three young Jewish thinkers who loved Jewish ideas very much and wanted to do something similar to KHM but with greater sophistication and on a larger scale. So, we brainstormed, and we felt that something was missing from online Jewish discourse, especially in the Orthodox community. There were partisan blogs and places to tell personal narratives, but what we felt was missing was something closer to a journal, a platform for serious textual analysis or pressing communal issues written for a broad audience.”

One of the templates The Lehrhaus founders had in mind was Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, begun in 1958 by Rabbi Norman Lamm and still publishing today. (Zuckier is a member of Tradition’s editorial board.) In its time, Tradition has covered topics as diverse as theology, history, biography, sociology, politics and ethics, and Zuckier, Lamm and Eleff saw The Lehrhaus as an online modern equivalent of Tradition, “a forum to generate thoughtful and dynamic discourse among individuals within the Orthodox community and beyond who enjoy exploring the depth and diversity of Jewish ideas.” By harnessing the power of the digital age, they felt, The Lehrhaus could “reinvigorate and perpetuate the great Jewish conversations of our times.”

Through 2015, they plotted out the elements of the publication; in 2016, they brought in others to fill out the editorial team and prepare for the launch, which happened in October of that same year. “We have been pleasantly surprised by the considerable number of readers who have visited the site,” said Zuckier. “We knew we were filling a void but weren’t sure if that vacuum represented a lack of interest or a real need that wasn’t being met,” he said with a laugh. “It seems that our combination of hard work and faith has paid off,” with The Lehrhaus receiving hundreds of thousands of clicks over its nearly two years of existence.

For the time being, the Zuckier family is living in Stamford, Connecticut. Chana, who attended Yale Law School from 2014 to 2017, is currently clerking for a federal judge, Shlomo is doing his dissertation work while participating in the Kollel Elyon and serving as a scholar-in-residence in various communities, and their two daughters are enjoying pre-school and nursery. “I love living in the world of ideas while simultaneously rooted in reality,” he said, and by all measures, he seems well-positioned to do just that.

Though the future is open-ended at the moment, Zuckier hopes to spend his career teaching Jewish texts at an advanced level and continuing his thought leadership in the Orthodox community.