Who Walks In? Thoughts on Pesach in Memory of Niot Watzman z”l

From the Tzav-Pesach 2017 issue of Shabbat Shalom, the weekly Torah portion sheet published by Oz Veshalom. The Hebrew version can be foundon the Oz Veshalom website

Haim Watzman

Each Seder night, at the beginning of the Maggid, the telling of the story of the Exodus, we declare “Ha lahma anya,” “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.” We then make another declaration: “Kol dikhfin,” “Let all come eat, all who are needy come and partake of our Pesach offering.” The first mention of matzah is followed immediately by an invitation to anyone who may be passing by to join us, not just for the holiday meal but also to participate in fulfilling the commandment of telling the story of the Exodus and eating the Pesach sacrifice. The “all” of “kol dikhfin” are at poor people who do not have the means to conduct a Seder themselves. (While most English translations render “Let all who are hungry come eat,” the “who are hungry” is an interpretive gloss not present in the Aramaic.)

A question immediately arises: why do we make this declaration on Pesach, as part of the ritual? After all, on every holiday, indeed every day, we are subject to the commandments of charity and hospitality.

This invitation to the hungry to sit down at our Seder table caused a measure of discomfort among commentators on the Haggadah. According to the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, a person cannot simply be asked to partake of a particular Paschal lamb. The Torah commands: “But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share one with a neighbor who dwells nearby, in proportion to the number of persons: you shall contribute for the lamb according to what each household will eat” (Exodus 12:4, New JPS). The Sages learned from this verse that the Pesach sacrifice “is not eaten except by those subscribed to it” (Mishnah Zevahim 5:8). A person needs to have been included in a company of people who have subscribed to the same lamb before it is sacrificed; if he has not, he many not eat its meat at the Seder in fulfillment of the laws of Pesach. If that is the case, how can a person be brought into our Seder at the last minute, after the sacrifice has been made and we are sitting and reading the Haggadah?

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Keeping Spain Spanish — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

April 15, 1492

To her most royal Catholic highness, Isabella, Queen of Castille and Leon:

The Genoan madman who bears this letter assured me that he will be received into your august presence this very week. Knowing, as I do, how intelligent you are and how efficient you always have been in acquitting your duties as sovereign, I cannot give much credence to the claims of this man whose breath smells of sausage and whose speech consists mostly of arm-waving. But at this point I am desperate and have no other prospect for conveying a message to court.

  illustration by Avi Katz

 illustration by Avi Katz

I perhaps may take credit for teaching you to first read the second paragraph of every document as a way of deciding whether it is worth your time, so let me get to the point. I have been incarcerated this fortnight in a so-called open detention facility somewhere in Andalusia, on the grounds that I am an illegal infiltrator into your majesty’s kingdom.

You may recall that at the end of last month I requested your leave to travel to outlying areas of your realm to ensure that your highness’s taxes are being collected efficiently. Just outside of Toledo I was abducted by a gang of gendarmes claiming to be in Your Majesty’s service. They served me with a warrant for my arrest—which I am sure was fabricated by Her Majesty’s enemies, or perhaps by lackeys of your most royal but not always very sharp husband, who could easily have been tricked into signing a document unread—on the grounds that I reside in Spain illegally.

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Jeff’s Ride for Human Rights

Haim Watzman

When I met Jeff Heller during my first week at Duke University in 1974, I had little idea of who I was, where I was going, or even what I wanted to major in. Jeff had it all planned out-he was on his way to law school. But it was clear from the start that he wasn’t like the other pre-law and pre-med students, most of whom were interested mostly in the large incomes those professions promised to provide.

Jeff was a man of principle and remained one through three years at Duke and another three years at Chicago Law School. Yes, he followed the usual post-law school path by getting a job at a high-powered law firm, but it was clear to me that he wouldn’t last long in that environment. He soon left to start up his own practice. Sometimes law firm attrition can be high in particular law sectors as lawyers may feel like they are not being utilized enough or they discover a different law path in the opposite direction, whichever it is, law firms need to be able to connect with their employees, otherwise, they will leave for greener pastures as Jeff did.

“Practice” would perhaps be an exaggeration, because he spent most of his time and efforts for the next three decades working for a pittance, or just as often nothing at all, defending refugees who fled persecution and death. These people arrived in the United States and then found themselves in jail, threatened with deportation, facing an Immigration Service that refused to listen, refused to believe their stories, and refused to provide them with fundamental due process.

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“For You Were Slaves…” Remember?

Gershom Gorenberg

I have a new article up at the Hadassah Magazine site on African refugees in Israel:

When he was 13, Akon told us, the government-backed militia came to his village in southern Sudan.

“They started killing people and burning their houses,” Akon said, speaking so quietly that I had to lean over our coffee cups to hear his voice amid the music in the Jerusalem café. “They killed my mother. My sister, they raped her, and she died.” The militiamen took Akon to northern Sudan, where they sold him as a slave.

So began the nine-year odyssey that brought him to Jerusalem.

Looking across the table, I saw lines in a dark face. He looked much older than 22 years. The family that bought him, he said, put him to work taking care of their cattle and camels. He was the first to rise each day, the last to sleep. He was beaten and insulted. Because he would not convert from Christianity to Islam, he said, “I was a devil in their eyes.”

Slavery was something I had read about in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and history textbooks. Now a former slave sat across from me. I thought of inviting him to my Pesah Seder, then wondered what he would think of the words.

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Refuge or Refusal: Israel and Darfur

“An infiltrator is subject to five years imprisonment,” reads the government-backed bill that gained initial approval of the Knesset yesterday, by a vote of 21-1*. If the “infiltrator” – someone crossing illegally into Israel – is from an enemy country, the maximum sentence goes up to seven years.

In other words: The law states that if a refugee from Darfur fleeing genocide reaches the State of Israel, he or she can expect not refuge but seven years imprisonment.

Consider yesterday’s vote a preliminary decision to declare that Israel is no longer a Jewish state – for to refuse refuge is to deny the most basic values of Judaism and to erase the lessons of Jewish history. Rather than “The Prevention of Infiltration Act,” this bill should be titled, “Act of Amnesia.”

According to Ha’aretz , the bill has been sent to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, “which does not have experience with migration issues and whose sessions are held in camera.” Before I go further, let me note that the fax number of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is +972 2 6753100 and the email address is v_bitchon@knesset.gov.il . The committee chair

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Department of Hope: Celebrating Israel’s 80th

What could Israel look like in 20 years, if we do things right? My article looking forward is now online at the National Post in Canada:

In Israel, 2028, Ibrahim Abdullah Hapalit is the reigning literary star. His first novel, Sinai, is based on his childhood escape from Darfur, across Egypt and the Sinai desert to the promised land. The last chapter, "Light," describes his parents’ ambivalence when he asked to light a Hanukkah menorah so he could be like the other children in his school. Critics rave over Hapalit’s Hebrew, built out of Biblical language and the Chinese-West African slang of south Tel Aviv’s immigrant alleys.

In Israel in the summer of 2028, no visitor to Jerusalem would skip outdoor Friday night services on the promenade overlooking the Old City from the south. Dozens of congregations meet there, a grand bazaar of Jewish religious styles. Rabbi Sarit Avihai,

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The Land of Asylum

This idea that Israel should offer asylum to non-Jewish refugees – how new is that? Some crazy concept thought up by secular Tel Aviv liberals with no concern for Israel’s Jewish character?

Actually, no. Just a bit older than that.

After my post a few days ago on the need for a new policy on African refugees reaching Israel, I got an email from my son, who’s now studying at Ma’aleh Gilboa, the yeshiva of the Religious Kibbutz Movement. He sent me a text from Sefer Hahinukh, an anonymous 13th century religious text

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