Jewish Black Magic: They Cursed Ariel Sharon with the Pulsa D'Nora in 2005 - and can it work in October 2020 for someone else?

I've spent years teaching numerous college courses on religion - always with the disclaimer that we will cover only the positive aspects of the subject. Religion used for evil, that is for war or other forms of harm, is a misuse and distortion of systems of faith.

Curses, I reasoned, were a misuse and distortion of religious practice.

Curses invoked before the Rabin assassination changed my mind about that. Prior to that tragic event, on the eve of Yom Kippur, a group of "Kabbalists" intoned the pulsa curse outside the Rabin residence. Once again, in the summer of 2005, another group gathered to invoke the curse against P.M. Ariel Sharon. It seemed to me that curses indeed were part of our religion - like it or not.

One blogger, Canonist, dealt briefly with the curse back in July 2005, complete with a link to the video of the curse "ceremony" and quotations from learned professors:
Praying for Ariel Sharon's Death

Yesterday's death-curse seems thus far to have gone unanswered by the Almighty, but we'll see. Generally speaking, I don't write much about Israel and the disengagement, but this latest is quite interesting. PaleoJudaica's got a great roundup, including descriptions of the pulsa de-nura ceremony, its detractors, and the threat of prosecution that've come out of it. Meantime, you can actually watch the ceremony in this video, which, with a bunch of people in sweats reading from photocopies, looks oddly like some run-of-the-mill Jewish ceremony, like burning chametz or somesuch. The video comes courtesy of Samuel Heilman, via a listserv to which he wrote, with the subject "Jewish Jihadists": "Lest any of you think that only Islamists have jihadists, see the video below in which so-called 'religious Jews' pray for Prime Minister Sharon's Death in a Pulsa De Nura." Bold words on both sides. Let's see what comes of them.
Erudite rabbis have written about the matter, explaining that magic is not a part of Judaism, as in the following:


Pandemic Kohelet: An Israelite Form of Meditation: Ecclesiastes is a cynical reflection on life’s futility that we can resonate to now more than ever.

I think you will like this article published today on TheTorah.com! Kohelet: An Israelite Form of Meditation. Ecclesiastes is a cynical reflection on life’s futility. The constant sonorous repetition, visualizations, and references to breath serve as a sustained meditation to help free the reader’s soul from the agonizing struggle of life.


Talmudic Advice from a Swim Addict: Swim 100 laps every day

The Tosefta quotes Rabbi Meir (2nd century CE) saying that everyone should strive to recite 100 blessings each day. It then goes on to explain how one can do this.

Blessings are berakhot ברכות in Hebrew. In modern Hebrew the laps that one swims in a pool are called berechot בריכות.

I playfully and read the Talmud this way: Don't say 100 berakhot, say 100 berechot.
More about Meir from Wikipedia: Meir was buried in a standing position near the Kinneret. Pictured here. It is said that he asked to be buried this way so when the Final Redemption occurs, Rabbi Meir would be spared the trouble of arising from his grave and could just walk out to greet the Jewish Messiah. He requested that he be buried in Israel by the seashore so that the water that washes the shores should also lap his grave (Jerusalem Talmud, Kelaim 9:4).
And so I have my Talmudic encouragement to swim 100 laps a day. On many days each year, I get to that goal.

Here are a few of my past reflections on swimming...


Jerusalem and Tisha B'Av - 1986 v. 2020 - How times change!

Today I published my thoughts for Tisha B'Av 2020 - see it as an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post. I say Jerusalem's destruction symbolizes the sufferings of our pandemic world today.

Tisha B'Av has serious meaning for us this year. For many years I did not think that was true.

Thirty-two years ago, on August 13, 1986, I wrote an op-ed that was published in the Jerusalem Post saying that Jerusalem is not desolate. My underlying point was that when we pray, it’s false to say that Jerusalem today is in ruins.

The title that the editors assigned to the op ed was, “Some prefer to give it a new meaning,” although that’s not exactly what I said. Here is the editorial:

“I shall be fasting this week [for Tisha B’Av]. But this year, more than ever before, I feel silly mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem. I really do not know what to do when it comes time to listen to and recite for myself the classical laments for the fast of Tisha B’Av. Much of what we say about Jerusalem in the synagogue is just not true anymore.

“It is obvious to anyone and everyone that Jerusalem does not lie in ruins. On the contrary, this is my fourth extended visit to Jerusalem in the last seven years. Over the last seven years I have watched as buildings spread out from the center of town to the new neighborhoods. Now Jerusalem sprawls across the hills of Judea, south and north from Gilo to Ramot and beyond.

“On the ninth day of Av this year the observant Jews of Jerusalem will congregate in synagogues throughout the city to mourn and lament. What they say inside these halls will not reflect the reality immediately outside them.

“And so this year I have resolved to add a few silent paragraphs to my prayers. Then when I leave the synagogue and step out into the rebuilt city of our people, I will feel that I have been candid in my meditations and forthright in my worship. I shall say something like this:

“‘Jerusalem is not desolate. It stands glorious above our Land. Our capital looks down on the miracle of the modern state of our people, rebuilt by the sweat and labor of our brethren and sisters. A thousand settlements testify to our return and we are homeless no more.’

“‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem are not homeless. Beautiful buildings abound, apartments, condominiums, villas, large and small. Hotels and hostels, old and new. Whosoever wishes may come and live here. Whosoever is hungry shall find sustenance here.’

“‘Enemies do not govern our land. The Knesset, the site of our self-government, stands at the center of our new metropolis, a vibrant testimony to our freedom. Independent and sovereign, we struggle with each other and with the states of the world, and somehow, we manage to live in harmony among ourselves, and to survive in the swirling community of nations.’

“‘Yes, the Temple was destroyed. But we have built other edifices in its stead. Long ago, in another age, our national center was taken from us by forces we could not resist. But now we have built new structures where we symbolize and express our spirit, our minds and our creative energies, and most of all, our freedom.’

“‘A great synagogue and many more stand in our capital. They serve as the many beating hearts of our spiritual organs. In dozens of yeshivot, teachers build the religious minds of our youth. Schools abound. When school is in session, wherever you turn there are children on their way to classes from kindergartens to high schools, soaking up the knowledge of our world.’

“‘A great Hebrew University answers to the essence of our wider educational appetites, in the capital of our nation. In its laboratories, classrooms and libraries, students try to unravel the mysteries of nature and society and strive to construct a new and better order.’

“‘The Israel Museum, the Bezalel School, the Jerusalem Theatre and other institutions small and large. cater to our cultural needs. In Jerusalem we display our past and our present. We sing and dance and we mourn no more. We paint and draw and sculpt and adorn the urban hub of our people, the crown of our land.’

“‘As we watch, day-by-day, luxury hotels go up and up. Lush green gardens bloom before us. We repose in parks and swimming pools. We find our needs in supermarkets, bakeries and department stores. And we indulge our extravagances in shops and markets, elegant restaurants and offbeat cafes.’

“‘The city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt. Still, the work is never done. And the struggle will not end. But: our city is not desolate. How can we mourn? We must, yes, we are obliged, indeed, it is the highest duty, for us to celebrate. For with God’s help, but in accordance with our own will and with our own hands, we have raised Jerusalem beyond its highest heights. Never before in all of our history has this city attained such glory.’

“And so that is what I shall add as I conclude my lamentations on Tisha B’Av this year. I shall be cheerful this year, and I will not mourn. But I shall do so silently, because this is my own private devotion. Will others join me?”


Pandemic Lamentations: My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for July 2020

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

These past few months in 2020 have been such a sad time of worldwide suffering, specifically due to the impact of the covid-19 virus. On the upcoming Tisha B’Av fast day (the ninth day of Av, which this year begins on the evening of July 29 and ends at sundown on July 30), would it be appropriate to make note of what is going on around us and perhaps to recite prayers to lament and to seek consolation for our present sufferings? How would that work for us?

Lamenting in Leonia

Dear Lamenting,

Yes, that surely is appropriate to do. Though our world of 2020 seems distant from the ancient times of Tisha B’Av, in 70 C. E., when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, the underlying human conditions of life have not changed. Sadly, this year we have come to the point where right now we face extraordinary suffering, trauma, and destruction, on the personal, communal, and global level.

To make for yourself a meaningful Tisha B’Av 2020, you will need to creatively repurpose our old and established rituals, which were instituted after the destructions of 70 C.E. Under the circumstances, you should go for it, and create a new set of lamentations for yourself.


Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy

We are observing the 20th Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy (aleha hashalom).

We miss her so very much. She would have loved to see the progress of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and take pride in all of their accomplishments. She would have loved to read books to her great-grandchildren and to watch them play and grow.

She was born in NYC and attended the public schools in Washington Heights. She watched from her classroom window as they built the George Washington Bridge.

She graduated from Hunter High School, Hunter College and went on to a career in public service at the OPA and then into the field education. Together with my dad, she founded the Park East Day School when my father was rabbi at the Park East Synagogue, then called Congregation Zichron Ephraim. She subsequently taught in NYC public schools for many years.

She is interred on Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem. Her beautiful memorial photo site is here.


9 years ago I published: "God’s Favorite Prayers" - it has been a delicious improvement on all previous theologies of Jewish prayers

"God’s Favorite Prayers" (ISBN 0615509495) is a new published book that unlocks the personalities behind the prayers. Author Tzvee Zahavy introduces readers to the archetypes within Jewish liturgy in this engaging new volume.

"God’s Favorite Prayers" invites the reader into the heart of Jewish spirituality, to learn about its idiom and imagery, its emotions and its great sweeping dramas. The author invites the reader to meet six ideal personalities of Jewish prayer and to get to know some of God's favorite prayers.

According to Zahavy, Jews recite and sing and meditate prayers that derive from six distinct archetypes. He labels those six personalities: the performer, the mystic, the scribe, the priest, the meditator and the celebrity.


Rabbi Soloveitchik on the Ontology of Women and Replies to it - all in the Link

Note: A credible scholar gave a class on zoom  yesterday showing in detail that the Rav was wrong in his halakhic premises about this topic. I concur with that conclusion.
A New Transcription: Surrendering to the Almighty
By Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l | March 14, 2019
Editor’s note: Torahweb.org has just completed this new transcription as part of a forthcoming book. The full shiur, made in 1975 to Rabbinic alumni, is available on YU Torah here: https://tinyurl.com/y5ylmmax. This text is excerpted only in the interest of space, omitting several introductory paragraphs. The full transcription, with full footnotes, is available here: https://tinyurl.com/y5akgjoj.
...Today, let me say it in Hebrew, «כלו כל הקיצין» [2], and I feel it is my duty to make the following statement, and I am very sad that I have to do it. But somehow, I have no choice in the matter; there is no alternative. What I am going to say, I want you to understand, is my credo about Torah and the way Torah should be taught and Torah should be studied.
The study of Torah has had such a great cathartic impact upon me, as you understand it, is rooted in the wondrous experience I always have when I open up the Gemara. Somehow, when I do open up the Gemara, either alone or when I am in company, and I do teach others, I have the impression - don’t call it hallucination, it is not a hallucination - I have the impression as if I heard, I would say, soft footsteps of somebody invisible, who comes in and sits down with me, sometimes looking over my shoulder. It is simply, the idea is not a mystical idea, it is the Gemara, the mishna in Avos, the Gemara in Berachos say, «אפילו אחד יושב ועוסק בתורה שכינה שרויה» [4] and we all believe that the nosein haTorah, the One who gave us the Torah, has never deserted the Torah, and He simply walks, He accompanies the Torah, wherever the Torah has a, let’s say, a rendezvous, an appointment, a date with somebody, He is there.


How to Deal With Facebook Stalkers, List Snubs and Technology Taboo Makers - My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for June 2020

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I am on Facebook a lot and have many friends there. Recently, one of those people, whom I have known for many years, started replying negatively on every post that I made and on every comment that I put on Facebook. These were not just critical replies. They were snarky at first, and then became nasty and highly personal in nature.

I unfriended this person. But somehow, he still manages to find and comment on all my posts. What should I do to stop this?

Besieged in Bergenfield

Dear Besieged,

Facebook has mechanisms for actively blocking content from specific individuals. You can and should poke around the platform until you find them, and then invoke the harshest level of blocking against this offending person. Be persistent. Since Facebook thrives on content proliferation, your postings make money for them, and thus it deliberately makes the blocking process possible, but neither easy nor intuitive.


Are dirty tricks in negotiations kosher?

Day after day we see ill will and bad faith in the negotiations in our marketplace and workplace.

No, dirty tricks are not kosher.

But you ask, exactly what are dirty tricks and how can you deal with them?

Several years ago we took one course in Negotiations in the MBA program at Rutgers. Each year the brilliant professor who taught the course, Daniel Levin sends emails to his former students to remind them about how to respond in a negotiation to the prevalent issue of distributive tactics or what we normally call "dirty tricks."

According to Levin, the top ten dirty tricks in negotiations are:
1. Good Cop/Bad Cop
2. Emotional Intimidation
3. Lowball (or Highball) Offer
4. Opening with a Take It or Leave It Offer
5. Exploiting the Trappings of Power
6. Increasing an Offer's Appearance of Legitimacy
7. Pretending to Have Limited Authority
8. Playing a Game of Chicken
9. Lying about Priorities
10. Nibbling
Levin gives us his priceless suggestions for responses in his Talmudic analysis here. Study it and study it some more, because everything you need to know about dirty tricks is in that grid.

We've said many times that in all of the years of our education through college and rabbinical school and graduate school at Brown, Levin's negotiations course in the MBA program at Rutgers was the most valuable course that we ever took.

We use the skills that we learned there every day.

Thank you again Dan Levin.