Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Recalling A Day of Jewish Heroes


All of us are aware of December 7th as a “day that will live in infamy,” the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But how many of us know what happened on December 6th? Even if I provide the year, I doubt many will know—even Sarrae didn’t get it immediately. On December 6, 1987, on the eve of Gorbachev’s visit with Reagan, a quarter of a million people gathered in Washington, D.C., and staged the largest Soviet Jewry rally in history.


Natan Sharansky, who had been the focus of so many rallies, and who had been released in 1986, insisted that there must be a mass rally and that they should aim for 250,000 participants. The organizers weren’t as optimistic: 150,000 was their best guess.


Many of us had attended innumerable smaller demonstrations in Manhattan, not far from the United Nations. But this rally, organized within five weeks—for this is when notice of Gorbachev’s arrival was announced—was unprecedented in its scope. There was concern that a poor attendance would signal to the Kremlin that after 25 years of demonstrations American Jewish interest in the cause of Soviet Jewry had waned. And the date was problematic: not only was there barely more than a month to organize and rally the troops around the country, there was concern over the weather. December is not a great time to have people gather outdoors, even in Washington, D.C.


Those of us who made it to Washington—I was one of them, whereas Sarrae was off in Jerusalem attending a Zionist conference—were stunned by the size of the turnout. (I had made the schlep 20 years earlier for the rally held in the midst of the 6 Day War: and I thought that turnout was impressive.) The highlight for most of us was the presence of some of the refuseniks for whom we had rallied over the years. In addition to Sharansky, we saw Ida Nudel, Yosef Begun, Vladimir and Masha Slepak, and Yuri Edelstein. Of course, Elie Wiesel was on hand to remind us that had there been such rallies in the 40’s “millions of Jews would have been saved…too many were silent then. We are not silent today.”


The rally had an impact on the Reagan Gorbachev discussions. The president pointedly asked his counterpart as to whether he had heard about the rally. And though the formal topic of their negotiations was arms reduction, Reagan repeatedly raised the issue of Soviet Jewish emigration.



More Soviet Jews were able to leave in the wake of the rally and even more fled with the fall of the Soviet Union. They now represent a significant element of Israeli society; have re-animated Jewish life in Germany; and here in America they have had their impact, as well. (One small example: many of the barbers on Long Island are Jews from the former Soviet Union.)


We can be proud of our efforts over the course of a quarter of a century proclaiming on behalf of Soviet Jewry “Let my people go.” It is salutary to pause to recall a landmark moment in that struggle.


Shabbat shalom.



Postscript. Shortly after I concluded this piece, President Trump announced that the United States formally recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (De facto it has done so for years. For example, the American ambassador goes up to Jerusalem to present his credentials and it is there that he meets with Israeli officials, not in Tel Aviv.) Let us hope and pray that this December 6th will go down as the beginning of a new round of violence, rather as a decisive turning point to the good of our people.







Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


Antibiotic Resistance: A Step Towards a Solution


Antibiotic resistance is a growing phenomenon. It is estimated that within 30 years that 10 million deaths a year will occur because of antimicrobial resistance, overtaking cancer as the leading cause of death.


An Israeli team has recently been awarded a Discovery Award grant for its promising developments in rapidly diagnosing antibiotic resistance. These Awards are given to teams and individuals to fund their ongoing research in pursuit of the Longitude Prize---10 million British, Pounds--, which will be awarded for a solution to the problem of antibiotic resistance.


The Israel team is a collaboration between Professor Ester Segal’s research group at the Technion and food engineering and clinicians from the B’nai Zion Medical Center in Haifa. The Israeli team has developed a technology than can determine resistance in less than 3 hours, using minimal amounts of material. Given that current lab work requires 24 hours to confirm the presence of bacteria and another 24 to 36 hours to identify the correct antibiotic to use, the Israeli team’s process is a major step in reaching the goal of the British prize.


The Israel team grows bacteria on small photonic silicon chips and then, according to PhD student Heidi Leonard of the Technion, the light reflecting off the surface of these biochips is measured and the scientists are able to determine “whether bacteria are growing or dying in the presence of certain antibiotics and specific antibiotic concentrations.”






Payrush LaParshahah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Vahyeahshev (Genesis 238:1-30) is read this Saturday, December 9th.


38:12 A long time afterward, Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died. When his period of mourning was over, Judah went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, together with his friend Hirah the Adullamite.. (13) And Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is coming up to Timnah for the sheepshearing.”(14) So she took off her widow’s garb, covered hers face with a veil, and wrapping herself up, sat down at the entrance to Enaim , which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him as a wife. (15) When Judah saw her, he took for a harlot; for she had covered her face; (16) So he turned aside to her by the road and said, “Here, let me sleep with you”—he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. “What,” she asked, “will you pay for sleeping with me?”


Once again, the narrator shows us a character’s motives. We should not be scandalized by Tamar’s actions, because we know her reasons. Biblical authors rarely do this, but the stories about Lot’s daughters, Ruth, and Tamar all tell us why these women act unconventionally. Now Tamar saw that Shelah had grown and she hadn’t been given to him as a wife. She will be trapped for life if she doesn’t do something. But Judah did not sleep with her when Onan died, and she has no reason to suppose that she can either convince or entice him to do so now. His fear of her has already prevented him from approaching her, so she must hide her identity. Tamar takes dramatic action, removing her widow’s garments and wrapping herself in a veil. When Judah sees her sitting by the road, he assumes she is a prostitute. The veil does not signal this, for ancient texts indicate that prostitutes were not usually veiled. Proverbs 7 refers to the bold appearance of the prostitute, and the veil is married woman’s garb in the book of Judith (Jdt. 10:2, 16:9). The Middle Assyrian laws allow only married women to veil themselves, specifically prohibiting prostitutes from doing so (MAL par 40). This makes sense, for if prostitutes could wear veils, any woman could be one without fear of being recognized. This is what Tamar does. Using her veil as anti-recognition strategy, sitting at the “opening of the eyes” [the literal translation of “Petach Enaim”, translated as “the entrance to Enaim”], she draws a veil across Judah’s eyes and prevents him from seeing her identity. He assumes that she is a prostitute because only a “street-walker” would be hanging around in the open roadway! The narrator once again stresses Judah’s lack of knowledge: he did not recognize his daughter-in-law. By this device, the narrator shows us Judah sleeping with Tamar while telling us that he is certainly not guilty of desiring his own daughter-in-law. He sees a woman sitting in the street. Such a woman would be considered approachable, and Judah approaches. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of their Stories, pp.269-270. Dr. Frymer-Kensky was born in 1943 and earned her A.B. in ancient world studies from City College in 1965. That same year she received a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature degree from JTS. She went on to earn a Master’s from Yale in Semitics in 1967 and subsequently a doctorate in Assyriology and Sumerology from Yale in 1977. She served as an assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies at Wayne State and also taught at JTS, Ben Gurion University, and McMaster. For a time she was director of biblical studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She joined the faculty of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago in 1995. In addition to this volume which received the Koret Jewish Book Award in 2002, she was the author of In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, Motherprayer: The Pregnant Woman’s Spiritual Companion, and Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism. This last volume was a collection of her articles. Her commentary on the book of Ruth for the Jewish Publication Society was completed after her death by Tamar Cohn Eskenazi. She was named one of the Jewish Chicagoans of the year in 2005. She died in 2006.)

The Red Tent. Other novels by Diamant are Good Harbor, Day After Night and The Boston Girl. In addition to her writing, she is the founding president of Mayyim Hayyim, Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center in Newton, Massachusetts.)

Thu, December 14 2017 26 Kislev 5778