May 12, 2017


[Rabbi Cohen] with his father, the Nazir, and an IDF soldier on the day the Kotel was liberated.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen (Urim Publications, 2017)


To Zion: Review of American Interests in the Holy Land

May 11, 2017

To Zion


American Interests jpost blog postPossibly one of the first photos of Jews at the Western Wall (1859), by Mendel Diness, a yeshiva student who turned Christian preacher. (photo credit:SPECIAL COLLECTIONS/FINE ARTS LIBRARY/HARVARD UNIVERSITY. ALL IMAGES WERE EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION)

April 6, 2017

A new book presents Jewish life in the Holy Land through historical photos, with a special focus on the connection between America and the Land of Israel.

The intricate connection between Zion – as a physical and a metaphysical idea – and America, the “Land of the Free,” is a remarkably interesting one. Many of the early settlers in New England saw themselves as the new Israelites and America as the new Promised Land.

This is why Lenny Ben-David’s book American Interests in the Holy Land begins its journey with the Puritans and their fascinating connection to the spirit of the Bible and the concept of Zion. However, we quickly move to the book’s real point of departure, the 19th century, which saw the beginning of modern photography, and was a turning point in Jewish as well as American presence in Palestine.

The book is a sort of Zionist coffee-table book for curious readers with a taste for visual history, built in the form of short, independent photo-essays, each presenting the reader with a specific story, or figure, through related photographs.

One of these, for example, is the story of John Mendenhall Diness – an ex-Jewish yeshiva student who was born in Odessa, studied in Heidelberg (Germany), finding himself eventually in Jerusalem. There, he converted to Christianity and became one of the earliest professional photographers in Palestine, providing valuable documentation of Jerusalem and its surroundings (Diness’s photographic heritage left us, for example, one of the earliest photos of Jews at the Western Wall, taken in 1859).

He eventually moved to the US, where he became a preacher. His collection of photos and the man behind them were completely unknown to scholars and research until the end of the 1980s, when the photos were accidentally found in a garage sale by a photography expert. This discovery led to them being made available to the public.

Each chapter is accompanied with photographs related to its subject matter.

The format is clear: A short story, quotes, and of course photos.

The author also included many – and sometimes very long (albeit interesting) – excerpts from 19th century accounts from travelers and enthusiasts about Palestine (ranging from Mark Twain to president Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state), and especially about its Jewish and American populations.

An intriguing figure that Ben-David dedicates a chapter to is Lydia Von Finkelstein Montford, a performer, lecturer about the Land of Israel and a journalist.

She was born in Jerusalem in 1855 and died in the US in 1917, and her interesting accounts of life in Jerusalem, as quoted in the book, offer a unique viewpoint.

The industrious reader will start his or her journey in the 19th century and will move on, with some detours, to the 20th century, and the establishment of the State of Israel and the War of Independence in 1948.

BEN-DAVID’S book is a very personal endeavor…. In the introduction, he explains that “perhaps by oversight or malicious intent, some historic photographic albums and collections ignore the graphic proof of Jewish life in the Holy Land over the last 160 years.”

This book, we are led to understand, strives to redress this misrepresentation….

The general feeling of the book is that of an interested observer who has undertaken the mission to explain his overall message – that the Jews have been here for a very long time, contrary to widespread propaganda. Indeed, this book actually started out as a blogger’s quest and most of the photos in the book are available and accessible for anyone to see online, through the author’s website – – that preceded the book.

Ben-David is not a historian, but he understands the power of photography and clearly enjoys it.

The fact that this is not an academic book has advantages, as well as obvious disadvantages. One of the pluses is that the reader may feel a certain companionship with the author, who can be seen as giving his guest a tour in his private gallery. The downside is that not everything is satisfactorily explained.

Nonetheless, anyone who picks up this book will surely be interested in meandering through its pages, with a 100% chance of coming across something that will spark his or her curiosity.

American Interests in the Holy Land, Lenny Ben David
Urim Publications, 2017
Hardcover, 184 pages

Review of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring by Joseph Polak

May 9, 2017

A similarly artful framing may be found in Joseph Polak’s slender work After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring. Like Kulka, Polak was a child survivor. Whereas the Israeli historian was a boy of seven when the family’s nightmare started in Prague, Polak was a mere infant when his mother became an inmate at Bergen Belsen in 1944. The older child had suppressed personal recollections of the Shoah for the sake of scientific inquiry. The infant from the Hague had pushed off recalling his first steps among the corpses by becoming a noted professor and rabbi at Boston University.

Polak’s memoir also struggles with language explicitly. A key chapter in his book takes the shape of a metaphysical drama, a play for two voices deeply anchored in Jewish texts. The soul of the infant and his angel are arguing moments before the mother starts giving birth. Both are able to see across worlds and time. Both know about the disaster that is already leading more than a million children to their deaths. Rightfully, the infant’s soul proclaims: “I am not going into that inferno.” [Joseph Polak, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2015), 4.16 Ibid., 30.]

The angel, hastened by the mother’s dilating cervix, wants to cut the conversation short, but at the same time the heavenly messenger cannot lie. He explains to the child that he is condemned not to be among the martyred children but among those who will have to bear witness. The question for both the angel and the soul centers on where is God.

Only a highly evocative writer can picture for us the Beit Midrash, the Celestial Study Hall, where God has exiled himself to be both near and far from the murdered children’s crying. In the Hall of Judgment, where God should have been, sit the children, “their faces ashen, their hair grey, weeping, weeping, not understanding.” These are not exactly stage directions in a conventional literary sense, but they do guide the moral imagination into crevices where theories of phatic language cannot penetrate. Pared down to the bare bones, these words create a listening space in which the reader is both accosted and elevated.

This double impact is more powerful for not being sought. The best writers about the Shoah are those who allow the reader to glimpse their own reluctance to enter the nightmare. Kulka, like Levi and Polak, avoids reading and adding to Holocaust literature. He confronts the Shoah within himself and does not become one of the easily classified Holocaust writers. This confrontation takes place despite words. It is as if language had been squeezed through the roughest wringer and only its darkest stains remain. Kulka speaks eloquently about the thwarted desire to “smash and shatter the invisible wall of the city forbidden to me”—the city in which life goes on as if the Shoah did not happen (82). But the metropolis of death keeps reclaiming him. The boy who skirted “piles of skeletons of the corpses” on the way to the youth hut to practice music and black humor keeps haunting the historian who had already addressed Nazi ideology in his scientific research (84). The willful doubling up of the language of death haunts the reader as well, and thereby casts a new light upon the Shoah.

Similarly, Polak, draws us into the barracks of Bergen Belsen where typhus infected inmates are literally drowning in their own feces. Terrence Des Pres had already circled this nightmare skillfully in his 1976 book The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps. What is new in Polak’s evocation of the “excremental assault” is the understated but forceful tone that the twenty-first century needs in order to stem the tide of willful forgetting. This tone is most evident in small details about a mother who weighs less than fifty pounds and who is so weak that she cannot lift her buttocks off the floor while yellow stool bubbles on her thighs. No one wants to linger on this image, none of us wants to inhale the stench. Neither does the author, the son of a cultured woman reduced to the kind of helplessness we all want to avoid. But it is precisely in allowing avoidance its linguistic space that we are enabled to see what is impossible to conceive.

Vera Schwarcz, “To Catch the Echo: Rethinking Acts of Witnessing to the Shoah” in History and Theory 54 (October 2015), 436–437.



Review for A Concise Code of Jewish Law for Converts “A must-have for converts and those who work with them”

May 8, 2017

Rabbi Michael Broyde’s newest work, A Concise Code of Jewish Law for Converts, is an extremely unique and original contribution to the world of English halachic literature. At the same, time, it also serves as a great outreach effort to converts.

There are essentially two sections to the book, each of similar length. The first section addresses the halachic issues relevant to converts, and it is arranged in the order of the Shulchan Aruch. This makes it especially useful for rabbis and others studying these issues. For example, just as S.A. OC 25 discusses the mitzvah of tefillin, S.A. YD 2 discusses shechita, and S.A. CM 7 discusses judges, so too, these halachot relevant to converts can be found in the book under the same categorization. Of course, the most prominent issue of halachot relating to converts are those relating to marriage, making the Even Ha’ezer section of the book quite practical and thorough.

The second section of the book consists of essays on matters relating to converts, presented in the thorough Rav Broyde style we are used to. These include: whether converts recite the “shelo asani goy” blessing, whether converts may sit on a Beit Din, the children of converts, and whether the born-Jewish daughter of a non-Jewish man is permitted to marry a Kohen.

The book, and the direction of its rulings, are clearly in the spirit of “loving the convert” a concept that is discussed at length in the introduction. Indeed, Rav Broyde quotes Rav Moshe Feinstein who says that we should endeavor to rule leniently for converts, and that doing so is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of loving the convert.

This book is a must have for converts and those who work with them.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin
Originally Published May 6, 2017 on


“…No Jew in history with a more well-rounded resume of leadership positions in the Jewish community.”

May 7, 2017

There may be no Jew in history with a more well-rounded resume of leadership positions in the Jewish community.

Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen served as a soldier in Israel’s War for Independence (in the Old City of Jerusalem, no less), as a captive, as a chief chaplain (in a Jordanian prison, and later in the IDF Air Force), as a law school graduate, as a legislator, as a deputy mayor of Jerusalem, as a chief rabbi of Haifa, as president of the religious courts in Haifa, as a decisor, as a fund raiser for Israel bonds and the UJA, as a dean of two prestigious post-graduate religious institutions (Machon Harry Fischel, and Ariel, which he founded), as the chief representative of the Israel chief rabbinate to the Vatican in Rome and to the church of England, and above all, as a unifier who was personally friendly with his comrades in arms Yitzchak Rabin and Arik Sharon, and many others, having built relationships with people ranging from Rav Kook, when a child (spending a lot of time on the Rav’s knee, and not just at the brit), with the Chazon Ish as a teen-ager, then with the iconic Rabbi Soloveitchik, the iconoclastic rabbis of Chovevei, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, etc., and above all with secular Jews and even Arabs. He got his Arab captors to dance with the Jewish prisoners in wartime when in a Jordanian prison. How often has that happened even in peacetime since then?

A recent biography by Professor Yechiel Frish and Rabbi Yedidya HaCohen has just been translated from the Hebrew to English by Urim, at the suggestion of a nephew of his, Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq., who also participated in the editorial process and added an entire chapter on his uncle’s activities abroad. The book was dedicated by RZA Presidium member Martin Oliner, and Reva Oliner. Rabbi Reichel offers a presentation in person on the intriguing topic of nearly 100 ironies associated with Chief Rabbi Cohen, who was ironically referred to by a prominent world-famous rabbi (May 14, 2008) as in effect “the chief rabbi of the world” (even though (1) he was never universally known outside of Israel, and (2) he never served as chief rabbi of any entity more than a large and diverse city or an air force, although, in still another irony, during one period he served as the only person ever to serve as chief rabbi of all of the Jews of Israel — the Ashkenazi Jews and the Sfardim (April 2003).

Reichel also offers to serve as a scholar in residence in your community to discuss his 3 inter-related recent books – also on Rav Cohen’s inspirational father-in-law, The Maverick Rabbi (Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein), and on Harry Fischel (Goldstein’s father-in-law), who played a major role, mostly posthumously, in Rav Cohen’s life.

Attached is a cover of the book on Rav Cohen, and below is a link to the Israel Chief rabbinate’s official prayer for Yom Yerushalayim, as written by Rav Cohen, and as sung by a chazzan with a whole symphony orchestra.

Cantor Avremi Kirshnbaum תפילה לירושלים מילים הרב שאר ישוב כהן – YouTube

חג שמח:



Originally published in the Religious Zionists of America (RZA) newsletter

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: The IDF Rabbi

May 5, 2017


Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of the Israel Air Force

Rabbi Cohen’s first rabbinic experience was a military chaplain. In this capacity, he conducted scores of weddings, supervised the kashrut in the military bases, and generally instilled Jewish values in the soldiers. Rabbi Cohen served in a number of different capacities, and was eventually appointed to the position of Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Air Force, a position which he held until the year 5715 (1954/5), when he was released with the rank of major. Even after his “release,” however, he continued to serve in the reserves for over twenty years, until after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, despite his own war injury. During the Yom Kippur War, Rabbi Cohen served as the chaplain of the front command division, under the charge of his friend, Maj. -Gen. Ariel (Arik) Sharon (1928-2014), who later became the Prime Minister of Israel.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen
pp. 184, Urim Publications, 2017

Purchase here to read more!


May 4, 2017

I generally find articles by Jerusalem Post op-ed editor Seth Frantzman to be well-reasoned, insightful and informative. So I was disappointed and saddened to read his April 25 article, “Plan for, don’t gripe about, climate change,” in which he argues that we should accept and plan to deal with climate change by, for example, planning “for ocean levels rising several inches,” instead of “trying to ‘defeat’ it.”

Unfortunately, climate change is an existential threat to Israel and, indeed, to the whole world, with ocean levels potentially rising many feet, and averting a global climate catastrophe must become a major focus for civilization today.
An outrageous exaggeration? Not according to science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists and virtually all peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals, that argue that climate change is largely caused by human activities and poses great threats to humanity. All the leaders of the 195 nations at the December 2015 Paris Climate Change conference, including Israel, agreed that immediate steps must be taken to combat climate change. The Pentagon and other military groups believe that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refuges to flee from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms and more.

The world is already seeing the effects of climate change. Contrary to the views of many climate-change deniers, the world’s temperature has significantly increased in recent years. Every decade since at least the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade and all of the 17 warmest years since temperature records started being kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2016 was the warmest year globally, breaking the record held previously by 2015 and before that by 2014, the first time that there have been three consecutive years of record temperatures.

Just as a person with a high fever suffers from many of its effects, there have been many negative effects of the increased global temperature. Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections. This has caused an increase in ocean levels worldwide with the potential for major flooding. Already some coastal cities, including Miami, Florida, are experiencing “sunny day flooding,” due to high tides. Glaciers are “reservoirs in the sky,” providing important water for irrigating cops every spring, so their retreat will be a major threat to future food supplies for an increasing world population.

There has also been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms and floods. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that “humanity is on a collision course with nature.”

Unfortunately, prospects for the future are truly terrifying. Many climate experts believe that we are close to a tipping point where climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur.

All the severe climate events that have occurred so far have occurred due to an average world temperature increase of only one degree Celsius since the start of the industrial revolution. While climate scientists hope that the total temperature increase can be limited to two degrees Celsius, largely because that is the best that can be hoped for with current trends and momentum, the world is now on track for an average increase of at least four degrees Celsius, which would produce a world with almost unimaginably negative climate events.

Another alarming factor is that, while climate experts believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world has now reached 414 ppm, and the CO2 level is increasing by at least 3 ppm per year.

Many people believe that climate change has become a political issue, mainly promoted by liberals like Al Gore. However, the conservative group ConservAmerica (, formerly known as “Republicans for Environmental Protection,” is very concerned about climate change threats. They are working to end the denial about climate threats and the urgency of working to avert them on the part of the majority of conservatives, but so far with very limited success.

Given the above, averting a potential climate catastrophe should be a central focus of civilization today, in order to leave a liveable world for future generations. Every aspect of life should be considered. The world has to shift to renewable forms of energy, improve our transportation systems, produce more efficient cars and other means of transportation, produce far less meat and other animal-based foods, and do everything else possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

As president emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I want to stress the generally unknown or disregarded importance of shifts toward vegan diets. Animal- based agriculture its a major contributor to climate change, largely due to the emission of methane from cows and other farmed animals, since methane is from 72 to 105 times as potent as CO2 per molecule in warming the atmosphere, during the 20 years that the gas is in the atmosphere.

Two studies support this conclusion:

1. A 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization study, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” found that livestock agriculture emitted more GHGs, in CO2 equivalents, than all the cars, planes, ships and other means of transportation worldwide combined.

2. A 2009 front-page story in World Watch magazine, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank, found that the livestock sector was responsible for at least 51% of all human-induced GHGs.

So, a major shift away from animal-based diets is essential to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe.

Because the threats are so great, it is essential that everyone make this issue a major priority, and make every effort to make dietary and other lifestyle changes, in order to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. Unfortunately, “denial is not just a river in Egypt,” and most people today are, in effect, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as we head toward a giant iceberg.

When I hear of a baby being born, I wonder how his or her life will be affected by our rapidly warming world, with its rising oceans and increasingly severe storms. This is especially relevant to me as I write this as I have a granddaughter who recently married and a grandson who is planning a wedding with his fiancée.

The Jerusalem Post would do a great public service by using its excellent writers and editors to help increase awareness of the seriousness of climate threats and the steps necessary to help avert a climate catastrophe.

Written by Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island
Originally Published May  2, 2017 on