Yehuda Lave, Spiritual Advisor and Counselor

Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money,  and spiritual engagement. Now also a Blogger on the Times of Israel. Look for my column

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Plague backward is Pleasure (at least in Hebrew anyway) נגע is ענג

Plague backward is Pleasure (at least in Hebrew anyway) נגע is ענג

When you believe in the Torah as a practicing Orthodox Jew, you see the connection between the section of the Torah that is read in the synagogue each week (called the Parsha) as a predictor of biblical times.

So an Orthodox Jew turns to the Torah to try to make sense out of what is going on. This week, because of the special intricacies of the Hebrew calendar we read two parsha sections: Tazria and Metzora.

In Chapter 14 verses 34 and 35 the Torah says:

34) When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you as for a possession, and I put the plague (נגע) of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession;

35) Then he that owns the house shall come and tell the priest, saying: as if it (כנגע) were a plague there seems to be in the house.

Rashi (our main commentator) says on verse 34, this is GOOD tiding when there is a plague for the Amorites had hidden treasures of gold in the walls of their houses and when the plague was declared the house had to be torn down and the GOLD was discovered.

And on verse 35, Rashi says: Even if he is a wise man and knows that it is definitely a plague, he should not pronounce it as a clear case of plague, and instead of saying “It seems to me to be a plague” but should instead say “It seems to me to be as if it were a plague”.

What is the difference? The difference is while it seems like something is a plague, it might turn out to be a pleasure. While these are hard words to take while we are under the current plague, but Jews are used to taking lemons and turning them into lemonade.

No greater case can be made against the plagues of the world on this Tuesday the 21st of April (Nisan 27, 5780) Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Yom Hashoah is a day set aside for Jews to remember the Holocaust. The name comes from the Hebrew word 'shoah', which means 'whirlwind'. Yom Hashoah was established in Israel in 1959 by law. It falls on the 27th of the Jewish month of Nissan, a date chosen because it is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Everyone knows this was the worst plague on the Jewish people, yet the Rabbis teach us that we were privileged to come back to the land of Israel, because of the guilt of the world (and of course G-d said it was time to come home).

The word for Plague in Hebrew is נגע and for pleasure is ענג

Oneg (Pleasure): delight (particularly, spiritual delight) 

Rambam concludes that there are two possible causes of worry, the past and the future. A person worries about what was and what will be. Rambam writes, "Worrying about the past, has no benefit and someone who sighs and frets over something that has already passed, is senseless and foolish. Bad enough that such a person once had a problem, but he makes things worse by worrying about it after it has passed and gone." (Guide for the Perplexed)

As for worrying about future troubles, that too, says Rambam is nonsense. It is possible that the trouble will come, and it is possible that the trouble will never come. One should gladden his heart with trust in G d. G d is all good, and whatever He sends a person is only for the best, even though we don't always understand why or how.

Our goal is to be sensitive to the needs of society and to be free means to be helpful and considerate of others. In this context, CORONA has caused us to show sensitivity to the elderly and vulnerable populations. All of us are self-isolating in our homes not just because we are afraid of being infected, but mainly because being outdoors endangers other people. This demonstrates incredible consideration and regard for the elderly and vulnerable populations and this is one of the signs of our being truly free, according to Rav Soloveitchik.

Just as the CORONA epidemic began with only one person and spread to the entire world, so too, the good we do has an effect on the entire world. CORONA demonstrates that individuals have tremendous influence over the whole world. This influence can be used for good, or it can be used for evil. All of us have a unique and special mission in life to change the world for the better, ONE good deed at a time!

Ideas, that help explain how the world works

Peter Principle: Good workers will continue to be promoted until they end up in a role they’re bad at.

The Mystery of G-d's ways

Sidney was thinking about how good his wife had been to him, and how fortunate he was to have her. He asked G-d, "Lord, why did You make her so kind hearted?"

G-d responded, "So you could love her, my son."

"Why did You make her so attractive?"

"So you could love her, my son."

"Why did You maker her such a good cook?"

"So you could love her, my son."

Sidney thought about this. Then he asked, "I don't mean to sound ungrateful or anything but…why did You make her so unintelligent?"

"So she could love you, my son."

INTO THE FRAY: Back from the Brink! By Dr. Martin Sherman

Just over a year ago, immediately after the announcement of the union between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, and the establishment of the Blue & White party (Feb. 21, 2019), I published a column, entitled: Gantz-Lapid’s directionless ad hoc political concoction (Feb. 22, 2019).  


Perverse political entity 


In it, I predicted that “… it is not easy to envisage great cohesion and sense of purpose in the party ranks regarding multiple issues that are bound to arise after the elections–whether in the security, diplomatic or socio-economic spheres—and whether the Blue & Whites find themselves in government or opposition.”  


This of course, was not really a difficult conclusion to draw. Indeed, any mediocre political scientist, with a minimal grasp of the fundamentals of his professional discipline, should not have had any problem arriving at it. After all, as I pointed out, even a cursory “glance at the composition of the Blue & White list reveals it to be a highly anomalous—the less charitable might say “perverse”— political entity”.  


Indeed, rather than being a body that coalesced around some ideo-intellectual credo or consensus—however remote—on some socio-political or strategic agenda, there is now little doubt that the centripetal forces that brought Blue & White’s disparate components together, comprised little more than an anti-Netanyahu sentiment: Some bear him a grudge because of a past affront they felt he had inflicted on them; others appear to harbor an aversion to him, on a personal basis rather than due to any substantive disagreement over policy.”  


Thus, within the “same political framework, we find a Labor Union leader alongside a champion of free market competition; hardline hawks as well as left-leaning doves.”

Zionism poised on a knife edge.  


As it turns out, the false façade of Blue & White was even more friable and fragile than I thought it to be. For it cracked and crumbled even before any substantive decisions on security or socio-economic policy were called for. Indeed, under the assault of recalcitrant reality, even the fast-drying Bibiphobic glue proved unable to hold things together.  


Thus, on Thursday (March 27, 2020), barely thirteen months after its inception, and the great fanfare and Bibiphobic hope that accompanied it, Blue & White ceased to exist as a serious competitor to the Likud. Benny Gantz threw his political lot in with a Netanyahu-led Right-wing coalition.  


But until that dramatic and unexpected moment, it would be little exaggeration to say that the entire Zionist endeavor was poised on a knife edge. Indeed, it appeared increasingly likely that the Blue & White leadership was prepared to undertake precisely what it solemnly undertook not to—in repeated pledges to the electorate.  


For, there seemed little doubt that the party had crossed the psychological and ideological Rubicon and was prepared to provide the anti-Zionist, dominantly Arab Joint List unprecedented access to positions of governmental power and influence in charting the future of the Jewish nation-state—in ways hitherto unimaginable. 


“Disgraceful decision” 


Thus, last Tuesday (March 24, 2020), the Joint List was assigned chairmanship of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, the  responsibilities of which include a number of security-related matters pertaining to the handling of wounded IDF veterans and victims of terrorism.  


The decision to establish the committee was made by the Knesset Arrangements Committee, which was chaired by Blue & White. 


In recent years, the committee has overseen the regulation of compensation for wounded Israeli soldiers and veterans, as well as medical and income benefits for soldiers, members of the Israel Police and the Israel Prison Service. The committee also oversees pension funds and savings plans for government institutions, into which the pension funds of everyone who serves in the IDF and Israel’s other security branches are deposited.  


The committee also has the authority to revoke the National Insurance benefits and other stipends of convicted terrorists and their families. 


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to entrust the work of the committee to representatives of the Joint List, which opposes Israel being defined as a Jewish state and whose members openly identify with its most vehement enemies, a “disgrace.”  


“…female soldiers not my issue.” 


Making the appointment even more outlandish was the fact that the person selected to head the committee was Joint List MK Aida Touma Suleiman, who not only publicly called for the “Law of Return” to be revoked, but prescribed that the way to reduce Jewish victims of Arab terror would be for Jews to leave their ancient home land—apparently unmindful of how “splendidly” that formula worked in Gaza…Indeed, Suleiman even had the gall to accuse the late Ari Fuld of “executing” his Arab assailant—who fatally stabbed him in the back—when, despite his wounds, managed to shoot his attacker preventing any further victims.  


Just what might be expected from Suleiman as the newly appointed chair, can be inferred from her past conduct as chair of the less influential Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality, where she refused to allow a debate on the issues facing female IDF soldiers. 


Her “reasoning” for this was, according to Suleiman: “I didn’t serve in the military, there’s no one in my vicinity who is serving in the military, I don’t know what the problems are there and it’s not on my agendaThe issue of female soldiers is not my issue.” 


Of course, none of this was unknown to the folks at Blue & White. However, undeterred, they proceeded to appoint Suleiman to the Chair of the influential committee. 

Near metamorphosis: From Blue & White to Red & Green 


But it is not only the radical views of some of the Joint List MKs that makes Blue & White’s near affiliation with the Red & Green (Leftist-Islamist) alliance of Joint List so puzzling and perverse. 


Indeed, as a collective political faction, the official party platform of the Joint List not only blatantly violates the conditions for participation in Knesset elections, as set out in Clause 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset; but if anything it violates—to an even greater degree—Blue & White’s professed Zionist credentials. 


Thus, in Article 1 in the platform, under “Fundamental Principles”, we learn that the Joint List supports (among other things) (a) Israel relinquishing the Golan Heights, (b)  the Right of Return; (c) uprooting all the Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria; and (d) the division of Jerusalem. It reads: “The Joint List will fight for a just peace in the region, based on the United Nations’ resolutions, and calling for: an end the occupation of all territories conquered in 1967; the dismantling of all Israeli settlements and the racist separation fence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; the release of all political prisoners; the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem; and finding a just solution for the problem of the Palestinian refugees which assures the right of return in accordance with [the] UN General Assembly Resolution 194.”  


From Blue & White to Red & Green (cont.) 


In Article 2, The Joint List clearly rejects Israel as the nation state of the Jews:  

The Joint List will fight for full national and civic equality for the Arab-Palestinian public in Israel as a native minority with collective and individual rights. The list will demand recognition of the Arab public as a national minority with the right to self-administration in the fields of culture, education, and religion, as part of the Arab-Palestinian people and the Arab nation. [emphasis added – MS.] 

But the Joint List not only rejects the Jewish character of Israel, it also opposes any effort on the part of the Arab sector to contribute to it defense. Thus, Article 2 continues: “[The Joint List] will fight to annul compulsory military service for the Arab-Druze community, and against all programs of military recruitment and national service for young Arab people…”  


Yet, astonishingly, despite all this, Blue & White MK Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon, former IDF Chief-of-Staff, and ostensibly the leader of the hawkish faction in the party, came out with the staggering post-election declaration: “The election results put us in the position of choosing which election promise to break. In this situation, removing Netanyahu is the main goal. We have no choice but to rely on the Joint List.”  

 Strange political bedfellows 


Indeed, arguably, one of the saddest spectacles in Israel’s political theater today is the unravelling of Yaalon’s public image . 


Driven by a sense of personal affront at the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu, who due to coalition exigencies, replaced him as Defense Minister with Avigdor Liberman, offering him the Foreign Affairs portfolio (which he refused), Yaalon has descended into mire of petulant pique and pettiness, coupled with a vicious vindictiveness–that has lost him the esteem of many who once held him in highest regard. 


Indeed, today Ya’alon is so infused with a desire to inflict vengeance on Netanyahu that he would rather to collaborate with the anti-Zionist “Red-Green” Joint List, than support a unity government headed by Netanyahu—including a rotation arrangement with his hitherto colleague, Benny Gantz.  


Thus, although Netanyahu has guided Israel for over a decade through stormy seas, notching up numerous noteworthy (even remarkable) achievements, Ya’alon apparently sees his continued incumbency as a greater danger to the Jewish state than the Joint List, a faction openly committed to dismantling Israel as a Jewish state.  Moreover, some of the Joint List members, such as Mansour Abbas, publicly call for introducing Sharia law in Israel, permitting polygamy for its Muslim citizens and lifting the quarantine on the Hamas ruled Gaza—see also here


They and Ya’alon certainly make strange—indeed, bizarre—political bedfellows.  


The perils—and curse—of “baseless hatred” 


Watching the emergence of these astounding political developments, one is inexorably drawn to the words of the Babylonian Talmud, (Yoma 9:B) on the gravity of the perils—and the curse—of baseless hatred among the Jewish people: Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things which prevailed there: idolatry, illicit sexual relations, bloodshed… But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they occupied themselves with Torah, mitzvot [religious observance] and acts of charity? Because baseless hatred prevailed. This teaches you that baseless hatred is equal to the three sins of idolatry, illicit sexual relations and murder. 

 There seems little more to add. 

Hope Is Nice, but After Coronavirus, Demonization of Israel Is Unlikely to Change By Gerald Steinberg

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin recently tried to provide some optimism amid the gloom and doom of the corona epidemic. Noting the cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he tweeted: “I just spoke to P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas. Our ability to work together in times of crisis is also a testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all.” This peaceful scenario is worthy of the Jewish prophets, particularly Isaiah and Micah.


Unfortunately, the reality now, as it was then, is quite different. In contrast to Rivlin’s optimism, the Palestinians and their allies are currently moving at full speed to continue their campaign of demonization against Israel.

Most notably, Palestinians, in coordination with an army of NGOs, are pressing the effort in the International Criminal Court to take the false “war crime” accusations to the next stage—a pseudo-investigation of Israel.

Over the past week, a number of these groups have submitted briefs (many of which go beyond the absurd in stretching historical truth) to prop up ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s weak attempt to justify this travesty. The NGO list includes Al Haq, Al Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), which work very closely with the P.A. in this campaign and are funded by European governments.

Among their Israeli allies, the Israeli left-wing group B’Tselem wrote a report accompanied by a media campaign (also enabled by European funders). As usual, B’Tselem blamed Israel exclusively for the conflict, erasing the long history of Palestinian rejectionism and terror, and even accused Israel of exploiting the Holocaust in rejecting the ICC prosecutor’s arguments. Breaking the Silence, Gisha and other NGOs continued to blame Israel for not doing enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus among Palestinians, repeating their one-line agenda—“occupation, occupation, occupation”—even in Gaza, where the “occupation” ended almost 15 years ago.

In parallel and also flying in the face of Rivlin’s optimism is the continuation of the discriminatory BDS movement, which is trying to exploit its latest “achievement” in the form of a U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) blacklist of selected businesses falsely accused of violating international law.

Human Rights Watch lobbied HRC Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to join this nasty form of warfare and is pressing this dubious success while the coronavirus pandemic rages. HRW head Ken Roth’s Twitter feed contains frequent propaganda, and Omar Shakir, who was hired by Roth to lead the BDS attack, finds gullible allies, like a student reporter for the Harvard Crimson, to repeat his lies. (Shakir left Israel a few months ago after his visa was not renewed.)

Sarah Leah Whitson, another veteran Israel-hater, continued along the same path in the face of the coronavirus. “Such a tiny taste. Missing a tablespoon of blood,” she tweeted. (This was Whitson’s response to Mairav Zonszein, who wrote, “6 million Jewish Israelis will now get a taste of what around the same number of Palestinians living under occupation have experienced for over half a century”).

After almost 20 years as one of Roth’s top warriors in the war to demonize Israel, Whitson recently left and joined the Quincy Institute—a new political “think tank” funded by billionaires George Soros and Charles Koch.

The ongoing demonization and political war against Israel, continuing unabated despite the global coronavirus disaster, is an important reality check for all of us. While hoping for a better future of beating swords (or keyboards) into plowshares is an important part of human nature and Jewish tradition, blind faith can also have dangerous consequences.

The ‘Zionism’ And ‘Judaism’ Of Esperanto Founder Ludwik Zamenhof By Saul Jay Singer

Ludwik Lejzer (“Eliezer Levi” in Hebrew) Zamenhof (1859-1917) is best known as the philologist who created Esperanto, the most widely-used constructed international auxiliary language in the world.

Zamenhof took an early interest in philology under the influence of his Litvak Jewish father who, though fluent in Russian, Polish, German, and French, ironically earned the high position of the Czar’s “Official Censor” of Jewish publications because of his comprehensive knowledge of Yiddish and Hebrew.


As we shall see, Ludwik’s philological background, his being raised as an “emancipated Jew” – i.e., a cheder-educated Jew who practiced Judaism at home but was a man of the world in public – and his early fervent Zionism, later discarded, all played fundamental roles in the birth and development of Esperanto.

In his first published article on Zionism (1882), Zamenhof argued that although a Jewish homeland was essential to Jewish survival, it should not be in Eretz Yisrael because the land was desolate and primitive; because of guaranteed fierce resistance from the Christian and Moslem religious hierarchies; because religious Zionists already living there would vehemently oppose a secular Jewish state; and because, in any event, the Ottoman Turks would never cede its land to Jews.

He proposed instead that a Jewish colony be established on a 60-square mile tract on the fertile Mississippi River, where the Jews could farm and live in peace, but his grand “American plan” was almost universally mocked. As a result of his misguided notion, however, he came to understand the criticality of Eretz Yisrael to the 2,000-year-old Zionist dream and, in his very next article, he completely reversed course, employing lyrical and romantic language in manifesting a passionate Zionism centered on Eretz Yisrael.

Nor was his Zionism limited to his writing, as he became an active member of Chovevei Zion in Warsaw, served on its executive committee, led a student society called Shearit Israel (the “Remnant of Israel”), and established a broad fundraising network for aliyah. He was recognized as one of the great European Zionist leaders toward the end of the 19th century, but his Zionism proceeded along a unique path: philology.

In the aftermath of the infamous Russian pogroms following the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, Zamenhof joined many Jews in questioning whether they had any future in Eastern Europe. Many Jews embraced the ultimate Zionist solution – aliyah – as thousands fled to Eretz Yisrael as part of what came to be known as the “First Aliyah.” One of those Jews was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the “father of modern Hebrew,” who left Russia in 1881 and settled in Jerusalem. Central to his lexicographical efforts was his belief, forged during his years of yeshiva study, that Hebrew and Zionism are symbiotic and that no Jewish state could emerge without a common language, which he fervently believed must be Hebrew, the language of the Bible.

Zamenhof similarly believed in the necessity of a single language for all Jews, but he thought that language should be Yiddish, then spoken by some two-thirds of the world’s Jews. As such, he had initially turned to modernizing the Yiddish language, instituting the use of Latin characters and revised spellings and suggesting other orthographic innovations.

Although a substantive analysis of the structure of Esperanto is well beyond the scope of this article, it conspicuously incorporates some of Zamenhof’s Yiddish work – indeed, one commentator pithily characterizes Esperanto as “Yiddish for the goyim” – but it also employs the logical economy of consonants that is the hallmark of Hebrew.

In any case, there is little question that his profound knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic contributed to its logical structure. He claimed that Esperanto, which incorporates some 900 roots common to many Romance languages and 16 grammatical rules, was so simple that “even the most uneducated person can learn it very well in one week.” Tolstoy reportedly learned it in three to four hours.

As a precocious 10-year-old cognizant of the anti-Semitic environment in which he lived and of the numerous European conflicts raging around him, Zamenhof wrote The Tower of Babel, or the Białystok Tragedy in Five Acts, in which he concluded that the world’s evils were all caused by the lack of a common language. Even as a young man studying medicine at university in Moscow (M.D., 1884) and Vienna (ophthalmology, 1886), and later as a practicing physician in Lithuania and as an ophthalmologist in the Jewish quarter of Warsaw, he had been working on establishing the parameters of a politically-neutral universal language.

By the late 1880s, he came to believe that he could establish global harmony by inspiring all people to adopt a single neutral medium of common understanding and, as such, he conceived Esperanto as a means of facilitating world peace through effective communication. As he later wrote in a 1905 correspondence, “My Jewishness has been the main reason why, from earliest childhood, I have given my all for a single great idea, a single dream – the dream of the unity of humankind.”

Devoting serious efforts to completing his philological work, Zamenhof published Lingvo Internacia (“International Language”), a seminal 1887 pamphlet (in Russian) under the pseudonym Doctoro Esperanto, or “Dr. Hopeful.” He had previously completed a working first draft of the article at age 19, but his father, unhappy about his son’s distraction from his medical studies, burned it. His expectations for Lingvo Internacia bordered on the delusional, as he characterized it as important as “the discovery of America, the use of steam engines and the introduction of the alphabet.”

Many commentators posit that Zamenhof was motivated to create Esperanto as an antidote to anti-Semitism and as a means to unite the entire Jewish Diaspora, a theory that finds substantive support from Zamenhof’s own words. For example, in 1907, he elaborated on this idea in a quote cited by the British press:


I can tell you that I acted mainly in the interests of my fellow believers when I was inventing this language. I saw them cut off from the world because of the language they spoke only between themselves and in a churlish manner. I saw them locked up in a ghetto and as a result they were exposed to the terrible curse of ethnic hatred, and the walls of the ghetto were mainly made of jargon.


In following this path, however, he rejected traditional Zionism in favor of universalism, albeit as an alleged means for Jewish survival. He rationalized his turn away from Jewish and Zionist issues by characterizing his new language as an inherently Jewish cause, constituting an important manifestation of the Jews serving G-d as “a light unto the nations.”

Nonetheless, even if he arguably acted with pure motives, at the end of the day he was no different than any of the legions of assimilationists throughout Jewish history who sought to solve the “Jewish problem” through the bastardization, and ultimate elimination, of the Jewish faith. His turn to human unity was not without guilt, however, as he later wrote of his being “tormented” by thoughts that he had “no moral right to work neutrally for human ideals, when my people suffered so much and had so few to fight on their behalf.”

In his drive to unite the world through Esperanto, he rejected not only Zionism, but also traditional Judaism, as he essentially formed a new religion which he believed to be essential to Esperanto’s mission. He maintained that the “Jewish people” had not actually existed for a long time; charged Jews with being hypocrites for clinging to a religion that few followed; and particularly spurned any Jewish claim to being G-d’s chosen people.

He argued that the Jews, “chained to a cadaver,” had to free themselves from the Mosaic Covenant and be subject only to the Golden Rule, which he considered to be the exemplar par excellence for ethical universalism. In a disgraceful display of impertinence, he named this new faith “Hillelism,” purposely usurping Hillel’s good name because of the first century tanna’s renown for his explication of the Golden Rule – which, though most often erroneously credited to Jesus, was always Jewish and had Mishnaic origins.

In Der Hilelismus (1901), Zamenhof promoted Hillelism as the solution to the “Jewish problem,” which he ascribed to “the pseudo-Palestinian character of their religion.” Unambiguously presenting Judaism as humanist philosophy, he advocated a Judaism of “pure monotheism” with no law other than the Golden Rule.

Pursuant to this “new” faith – which was virtually indistinguishable from virulent left-wing Reform Judaism – Jewish customs would be preserved, but only as lovely traditions and not as binding law. Zamenhof succeeded in unifying everyone under a single faith-based religious umbrella only to the extent that his new religion (and its false messiah) was all but universally rejected.

 Zamenhof postcard

Nonetheless, Esperanto itself, stripped of its religious machinations, grew in popularity worldwide, albeit gradually. Zamenhof himself hoped that the United States would become the international headquarters for Esperanto. On September 17, 1887, Der Deutsche Correspondent, a German-language newspaper published in Baltimore, became the first American publication to mention Esperanto.

Nonetheless, awareness of the new language in the U.S. was slow to spread and American newspapers paid little attention to it in its early years. In May 1897, almost 10 years after Zamenhof published Lingvo Internacia, The New York Times wrote an article about a “well-written little pamphlet” by “somebody named L. Samenhof.”

The first Esperanto magazine appeared in 1889. With great literary and linguistic skill, Zamenhof developed and tested his nascent language by writing original poems in Esperanto and by translating many classical works, including plays by Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, and Gogol (his translation of an article by the great Tolstoy was interestingly suppressed by the Russian czar). He also completed an Esperanto translation of the Torah shortly before his death.

By 1905, there were more than 300 Esperanto associations around the world and that same year, the first annual Esperanto Congress convened in Boulogne-sue-Mer, France with 700 attendees from 20 nations. To the joy of all present, and as evidence to many of the success of Zamenhof’s dream, all addresses were made in Esperanto and all attendees, who were otherwise unable to communicate with each other, conversed in Esperanto.

However, Zamenhof’s Judaism had become a burden to the movement he created to the point that to preserve and promote neutrality, the Esperanto Committee went to great lengths to conceal his Jewishness, particularly from the French press, then deeply embroiled in the Dreyfus Affair.

The Congress adopted Zamenhof’s Declaration on the Essence of Esperantism, pursuant to which Esperantism was declared to be a politically, religiously, and morally neutral movement that introduces an international auxiliary language available to all and dependent on no legal governmental authority.

By 1906, however, Zamenhof changed the name of the movement to “Humanitarianism” as a sop to non-Jewish Esperantists, thereby pushing it even more leftward and away from halachic Judaism. Nevertheless, he retained his belief that his movement would unite people in support of monotheism and would advance the Jewish imperative of tikkun olam (“repairing and improving the world,” which remains the mistaken focus of contemporary Reform Judaism).

Ironically, these attempts to de-Judaize the Esperanto movement failed as, from its very inception, Esperanto intensified many of the common schisms that have plagued contemporary Jewish unity, including particularly rifts between Zionists and Diasporists, Hebraists and Yiddishists, religious and secular, and nationalists and internationalists.

Even well after Zamenhof’s death, Hitler characterized Esperanto in Mein Kampf as “a Jewish conspiracy,” and both he and Stalin issued specific orders to execute Esperantists. Adding further irony to Zamenhof’s efforts to promote a universalist monotheistic faith, he is considered a god by the Japanese Oomoto religion (an offshoot of Shinto founded in 1892).

World War I devastated Zamenhof’s hopes of uniting all people and his disappointment, coupled with his over-ambitious work schedule, adversely affected his health and led to his death by heart attack in 1917. Esperanto suffered perhaps its greatest failure soon after, when its supporters failed to persuade the League of Nations to support it as the official international language.

Nonetheless, his daughter, Lidia, continued his work and became a member of the Baha’i faith, which she saw as sharing her late father’s humanist philosophy. Her adoption of a new religion, however, did not impress the Nazis, who confined her to the Warsaw ghetto before sending her to Treblinka, where she was murdered in 1942. (Zamenhof’s two other children were also Holocaust victims.)

Esperanto has retained its aficionados and maintained some degree of popularity. There are currently a million devotees who speak and read the language – and several thousand who have been raised by their parents to speak it as their native language; it has a limited literature of its own; there are still programs available to those who wish to learn the language; Esperanto symposia and seminars, including the annual meetings of the Esperanto Congress, continue to generate interest and draw attendees; and Esperanto is even an option on Google Translate. (Interestingly, the infamous George Soros, who was raised as a native Esperanto speaker, used the occasion of the 1947 Esperanto Congress to escape to the West.)

Nonetheless, Zamenhof’s grandiose but unrealistic dreams for his universal language never even came close to realization; Esperanto remains largely a historical curiosity; and, in the final analysis, it must be viewed as a failure.

In recognition of his idealism and quest for world peace, Zamenhof was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 13 times, but he never won it, and UNESCO named him as one of its eminent personalities of 2017. There is a Zamenhof Street in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – and in 1938 the minor planet Zamenhof was named in his honor.

See you tomorrow bli neder We want Moshiach now

Love Yehuda Lave

Rabbi Yehuda Lave

PO Box 7335, Rehavia Jerusalem 9107202


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