Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Living In the Wake of the Isis Attacks in Paris
Purim is months down the road—not until late in March—and hence Shababt Zakhor, the Shabbat preceding it with its special Maftir reading about Amalek, the incarnation of evil for the Torah and indeed for later tradition, won’t be read until a few days before—March 19th--. And yet, courtesy of a message by Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Hermann, the spiritual leader of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, let me invoke that scriptural reading which bids us not to forget what Amalek did to us.
ISIS has now become the incarnation of evil in the world. Its brutal, intolerant, fundamentalist and deadly form of Islam has as we have recently seen taken far too many lives in many places, not only in the territory of its caliphate, which rules over swatches of Syria and Iraq. ISIS is today’s Amalek. It has demonstrated the ability to target the West where it hurts.
But my colleague offered an interesting insight, a way of understanding what impact ISIS has made upon us. She observed that if you add up the valuation of the letters of Amalek—this is known as Gematria—you come up with the sum of 240. That is the same valuation as the word Safek, which means doubt.
And so what doubt is there because of Amalek’s latest iteration? It is the doubt that we can ever again be safe. There are not enough police and military to ensure that every place we go will be safe. It was nice that the police department sent a car to sit in the Temple’s parking lot Friday evening, but the reality is given how these terrorists operate—drive by shootings, infiltration of venues, suicide bombers--, no place is really safe, even with a police car or two in place. We doubt our ability to be safe. Last month while Sarrae and I were in Jerusalem for the Zionist Congress we avoided walking through the Old City: for who knew where the crazies with a knife might be lurking. We were being careful because of people with knives; not people with explosive belts and AK 47s.
In the light of the recent terror attacks and threats, and with the release of a video which appears to target New York City, do we now avoid major public places; demand body-armored and armed personnel everywhere with metal and bomb detectors for public venues? Do we avoid cities, countries, because of these attacks? Amalek/ISIS has given us doubt about how to proceed with our lives; as to whether we can feel safe again.
This doubt has yet another dimension. It makes us look askance at anybody from the Mideast or who is a Muslim. Half of the states want to ban refugees from Syria, and Congress is about to debate the issue, as well: perhaps a terrorist or two will infiltrate along with those who genuinely require refuge; since there are no guarantees that this won’t happen, even with screening, let’s ban the lot of them. This fear is giving too much credence to the power of ISIS. If a few terrors attack cause us to doubt the intentions of all others, who are fleeing the chaos of war-torn Syria, just because of their point of origin or of their religion, we have handed Amalek another victory.
There are no easy answers, despite what some politicians and talking heads posit. Bombing of ISIS zones will degrade its power; but it will not eliminate the hyrda-like nature of the beast. Even boots on the ground—and to be honest our nation lacks the appetite to so engage—will not be able to ensure that ISIS will be totally extinguished. Some allies on the ground will help; better intelligence; and some mazel will help quash the threat. But it won’t happen overnight. And even if we succeed in eliminating the caliphate and chopping off its global tentacles, then there may well be embers that will have the potential to unleash terror. Safek, doubt will remain.
Amalek/ISIS has made our lives a bit more insecure; filled out lives with doubt. Perhaps we need to learn from our Israeli brothers and sisters who in the wake of attacks have tightened security but also have vowed to go on with their lives.
We mourn for those who have been murdered; pray for those who were wounded in body and in spirit; and hope that the doubt generated by ISIS/Amalek may yet be overcome.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
Cure-in-a-comb: Help for the Balding
Is there now hope for those us afflicted with male pattern baldness? A team of students at the Technion think they have come up with a better solution.
Finasteride is a drug that promised hair. However, in a percentage of those who took it, it had some devastating side effects: erectile dysfunction and a greater risk for prostate and male breast cancer.
Stepping into the breach are Alexey Tomsov and his partners on the Technion’s International Genetically Engineered Team (iGem). The team with the cute designation, “Cure-in-a-comb” won the IGEM 2015 Jamboree gold medal and first-place prize for Best New application out of a field of 259 teams of graduate and undergraduate students from around the world. The team is now working to refine the product and commercialize it. “We have a prototype comb already,” said Tomsov, “and we validated our enzyme in the lab.” It took the team of 10 students—7 of them women!!- over a year to develop the product.
The Technion team learned that a testosterone derivative called DHT causes hair follicles to deteriorate. While finasteride prevent testosterone from converting to DHT, it as noted, also had significant unwelcome side effects. “We wanted to treat DHT locally, not like a drug that throughout the body. We wanted to utilize the natural microflora on the scalp,” said Tomsov.
The user injects a comb-like device with an enzyme that triggers a specific bacteria on the scalp to secrete a substance that breaks down the DHT hormone. The comb and syringe are designed to be reusable.
Since the team’s return from the Boston competition in late September, they have been working with their mentor Professor Roee Amit to perfect the product. Their goal is to create a startup, do clinical trials and apply for regulatory approval. This process could take several years before fruition. Until then, keep you hats on.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The Torah portion of Vah’yeahtsay (Genesis 31:17-32:3) is read this Saturday, November 21st.
31:19 Meanwhile Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household idols [terpahim].
31:19 And Rachel stole the teraphim. The reason is that that they shouldn't tell her father that Jacob was fleeing, and to separate her father from idolatry....And Rabbi A. [Abraham ibn Ezra, 12th century Spanish exegete] raised a difficulty [with the text[; why did she take them with her and didn’t bury them on the way. [Ibn Ezra does offer an answer: Rachel is fearful that her father would engage in astrology and discover the route they were taking to flee.] And it appears to me to offer the following answer: that she didn’t have time to bury them on the way for Jacob had maidservants, many slaves, and 12 sons and they would have seen her doing this and she was desirous that even Jacob would not know about this until they reached their destination and then she would find in her home a place and time [to bury them.] As for what the teraphim were, there are those who say that they are copper/bronze instruments which enables one to know the divisions of the hours and others say that is something astrological which creates an image at fixed times and the image would speak as it says "The teraphim spoke delusion" (Zechariah 10:2).... [Ibn Ezra offers these same explanations. Rashi, the 11th century French scholar suggests that they had something to do with idol worship] (Sefer Toledot Yitzchak L'Chameshah Chumshay Torah MayRabaynu Yirzchak Karo Zatz:"al, Dodo shel Maran HaB"Y [Beit Yoseph] Zatz"al. Born in Toledo, Spain, in 1458, Rabbi Isaac Karo headed a yeshiva in that community. He moved to Lisbon in 1492, when the Jews of Spain were expelled. Following the 1497 to forcibly convert all the Jews in Portugal, he managed to flee and ended up in Istanbul, however, all but one of his sons perished while en route. It is there that he completed his commentary on the Pentateuch in 1517, where it was published. 4 editions of the commentary were published within 14 years. He adopted and mentored his nephew, Joseph Karo, who would go on to be the author of the Shulchan Aruch, the classic code of Jewish law. Scholars are divided as to where the senior Karo spent the remainder of his life: some believe that he migrated to Jerusalem; others believe that he ended his days in Damascus. He died in 1535. In addition to his commentary, he wrote a number of responsa: 3 are included in the works of his nephew. There are additional ones in manuscript. A commentary on Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, now lost, is quoted in a late 16th century work by Samuel de Uceda. His students compiled a collection of his sermons under the title Hasday David. 20 years ago, Professor Shaul Regev published from a manuscript, Derashot R. Yitzchak Karo, a compilation of sermons delivered at weddings, funerals, and other special occasions.)