I’m a few days late because I went home to Utah to visit my family over the weekend! I had a fantastic trip. I don’t get to see all my brothers at the same time very often, and this was the second time in less than a year that we were all together. Mike, who is a pilot in the Air Force, was home on leave, which is apparently fairly difficult to get when you aren’t married and can’t use your wife and kids as an excuse for time off. He has scads of time off banked up, which means we don’t see him often, but when we do it’s for a couple of weeks at a time.

We all had dinner at my older brother Sam’s house, with his five little kids running (or crawling) around and shouting. After the kids go to bed, we always end up playing Quiplash on Sam’s Jackbox setup. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it is essentially composed of up to 8 people playing against each other through their phones. The game asks questions that essentially beg for terribly inappropriate answers, and then players vote on the best answer. Considering that my brothers and I are, as my sister in law says, all the same person, the answers are often the same but worded slightly different. The content is usually horrifically lewd and we all get headaches from laughing so hard. So the weekend was awesome.

What better to follow up such debauchery than Jewish studies? This week, I’ve been slowly making my way through A Guide to Jewish Prayer. This is a great primer, although I will admit that the specifics on different variations of prayers and what they do or do not include flies blissfully right over my head. I’ve learned about piyyutim, Shacharit, and the Shema, but I still have no idea exactly what the differences between the various Ashkenazic/Sepharic customs are, or how prayer changes when Shabbat falls on a holiday.

A Guide to Jewish Prayer is informative and interesting, but I’m particularly enjoying studying a book called Messiansim, Zionsim, and Jewish Religious Radicalism by Aviezer Ravtizky. Wowza, that book is interesting. I actually think it would make excellent reading for anyone who wants to make Aliyah and really understand the political and social dynamics between various extremist religious sects in Israel. I had wondered more than once why the Haredim in Israel are so adamant about not serving in the IDF or why they seem to have no problem having a dozen kids and then living on the government dole. Turns out that many of them have significant theological reasons to believe they shouldn’t necessarily be in Israel in the first place, which places them in quite a predicament. “Hastening the End,” as they call the process of doing anything that would humanly speed up the coming of the Messiah, is forbidden – including settling in the land of Israel. Some believe that even cultivating the land – doing anything besides studying Torah – is to violate its holiness.

On the other hand, there are Messianic Zionists who argue that it wouldn’t be possible for the Messiah to come if humans don’t work to prepare His way. It is their obligation to make the Land of Israel a modern-day holy land for the Jews in preparation of the Messiah.

And then there are the common-sense secularists, whom are hated equally by Messianic Zionists and Ultra-Orthodox Haredim. These secular Zionists just want a safe place for Jews to live. Tired of the passive approach to self-defense and political engagement, which has historically resulted in pogrom after pogrom culminating the Holocaust, secular Zionists think that regardless of levels of observance, Israel needs to exist as a Jewish state so that Jews can exist safely.

I don’t think I know enough to hold a firm opinion yet, but I tend to side with the secularists if only because I think that when one is bullied, the appropriate response is to fight back. Regardless how special the Land of Israel is – and nobody who has been there can deny what that – Jews need to live in safety. I just can’t imagine Hashem creating a covenant with His people, asking them to commit to living a meaningful and virtuous life, and yet also be willing to allow themselves to be violently plowed over whenever society needs a scapegoat. Passivity has never been my strong suit, but especially when the safety of communities and kids are concerned, I always vote that people take matters into their own hands and protect their safety.

The idea of Jews being wiped out globally is not inconceivable. Israel is now a mighty safeguard against such a thing, and it wouldn’t exist without the efforts and sacrifices of those who had a vision of a safe place for Jews. I think that’s cool. Plus, like, Mossad. I was kind of hoping Udi was a secret agent when I first met him.

Coming up next time: My first ever experience with the halacha of Niddah! Niddah, loosely, is when a woman enters into menstruation and the halacha around it proves to be quite interesting. Anyone who wants to get married in the Orthodox tradition needs to know this information, and you typically learn it shortly before getting married. Rabbi’s wife teaches the class, but the class only takes place once a year and Rabbi wants me to take it now. Here’s to hoping that means the conversion will done a year from now!

Shavuah Tov!

Photo cred: touristisrael.com

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