Thursday, May 8, 2014

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Isaac Cardoso (1608-1687)

Rabbi Isaac Cardoso was a Jewish physician, philosopher and polemic writer. He was born as Fernando Cardoso into a marrano family in Beira, Portugal in 1604. His family, as many other Jewish families in Portugal, kept Jewish observance secretly for many generations. 

Fernando studied medicine, philosophy, and natural sciences at the prestigious university of Salamanca, Spain.  He excelled in his medical practice and in 1632 he became the chief physician of Madrid.   In Madrid he published an article on Mt. Vesuvius, analyzing the causes of earthquakes. He also composed a funeral poem (elegy)  for the famous Spanish poet Lope de Vega and a treatise on the uses of cold water, dedicated to King Philip IV of Spain.  Fernando Cardoso left Spain and settled in Venice where he embraced publicly Judaism.  In Venice he changed his name  to "Isaac."  After a short stay in Venice he settled in Verona, where he remained until his death, highly honored by Jews and Christians.

Aside from the works already mentioned, Cardoso published a comprehensive treatise on cosmogony, physics, medicine, philosophy, theology, and natural sciences, printed at Venice in 1673 under the title Philosophia Libera in Septem Libros Distributa.

He wrote his most famous Jewish book in Spanish,  "Las Excelencias y Calumnias de los Hebreos", printed in 1679 at Amsterdam.  In the first ten chapters of this long book he describes the "excelencias" (distinguishing features) of the Jews, their selection by God, their separation from all other peoples by special laws, their compassion for the sufferings of others, their philanthropy, chastity, faith, etc.; and in next ten chapters he refutes the "calumnias" (calumnies) brought against them; that they worship false gods, they have a tail,  smell badly, are hard and unfeeling toward other peoples, have corrupted Scripture, blaspheme holy images and the host, kill Christian children to use the blood for ritual purposes, etc.

This book was submitted in 1679 to Rabbi Shemuel Abohab in Venice. Rabbi Abohab praised the book and thanked rabbi Cardoso for his splendid work. 

Those who can understand classic Spanish can read now "Las Excelencias y Calumnias de los Hebreos", directly from the original source, thanks to Hebrewbooks.  See  THIS.  

A brief text from the introduction

"El pueblo de Ysrael, al mismo passo amado de Dios que perseguido de los hombres, ha dos mil anios desde el tiempo de Nebuhadnezar que anda esparzido en las unas maltratado, de otras herido, y de todas desespreciado, sin que haya monarquia o reyno que no haya desembainado contra el la espada..."

My translation (Y.B.): 
The people of Israel, at the same time loved by God and persecuted by men, has been two thousand years, from the times of Nebuhadnezzar,  scattered among the nations.... abused by some, wounded by other, and despised by all, there is no monarchy or kingdom that has not drawn its sword against him

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

YOM HAATZMAUT: 66 years of reconciliation

The 5th of Iyar, or May 14th, 1948, was one of the greatest days in the history of the people of Israel. That day, Israel's Independence Day or Yom haatzmaut, we regained our political independence and sovereignty over the land of Israel. After almost 1900 years of exile, at the mercy of uncountable tyrants, we finally are able to determine our own destiny, have our own army and defend ourselves from our restless enemies.  

But there is more to Yom Haatzmaut: the establishment of the State of Israel is the atchalata de-gueula, the first step toward our redemption.  A very important Sephardic rabbi, rabbi Yehuda Bibas,  (1776-1852) explained that the return to the land of Israel is our return to HaShem, and His return to us. A reconciliationbetween HaShem and His chosen people. 

What is the source of this beautiful idea?  Let's read carefully the first 5 pesuqim of Debarim (Deut.) Chapter 30. 

In the previous verses, the Tora anticipated that if the people of Israel abandons God's Tora, they will be taken to exile and live oppressed and persecuted among the nations. Now, the Tora says, a new thought might awake inside you. 30:1 "And when all these things come upon you (=the exile, the captivity, the suffering)...  and then you introspect in your heart, while you are among all the nations where HaShem your God has driven you...". This pasuq describes the beginning of Teshuba, our return to HaShem. Teshuba begins from us. First, with a new thinking: all this suffering, what is happening to the nation of Israel, was predicted by the Tora thousands of years ago! If abandoning haShem has caused all this suffering, coming back to Him will redeem us. 

This thought has to awake a feeling ( your hearth...), the feeling of longing to HaShem, our Father who loves us and whom we love.   30:2 and then, if you return to HaShem your God, and obey His voice, as all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul. These thoughts and emotions are translated into actions.  Now, we are coming back to HaShem. With heart and soul. With passion. We are back in track. Reengaged in God's covenant.  

Then is HaShem's turn. The biggest miracle is about to be described: 30:3 then HaShem your God will bring back those captives(=the Jews who were exiled among all the nations of the earth),and He will have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where HaShem your God has scattered you.  God's response to our Teshuba is "gueula", gathering us from among all the nations. 30:4 Even if your captives are in the ends of the horizon, from there HaShem your God will gather you, and from there He will take you. No matter how far we are, He will make it happen. He will bring us back from the "galut"  

30:5 and HaShem your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, so that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors.  The process of Teshuba is taking place in our days.   More and more Jews are coming back to haShem, to His land or to His Tora, or to both. Israel is prosperous, and growing in numbers. Every year tens of thousands of Jews come back from the end of the planet. Our reconciliation with haShem has began. We are the most privileged generation of Jews. We are living the fulfillment of prophecy.  We ARE this prophecy.

Yom HaAtzmaut Sameah!  

Monday, May 5, 2014

YOM HAZIKARON: 23,169 z"l

Israel Independence Day, YOM HA'ATZMAUT, which will begin tonight, celebrates the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. 
Today, YOM HAZIKARON, the day preceding this celebration, is devoted to honor the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the achievement of Israel's Independence and its continued existence.
They are Israel's heroes and, as Nathan Alterman called them, "The silver platter on which the State of Israel was given to us" . 

Today in Israel tens of thousands of people attend the local cemeteries to mourn their children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, and friends.    23.169 soldiers and victims of terrorism who fell on the wars of Israel, from the Independence war in 1948 until today. 

In the morning, at 11.00 am, a siren sounds across the country. Everyone and everything stops for two minutes: people, cars, businesses, public transportation, etc. honoring the memory of the fallen heroes. Many Israelis would spend the day at home watching on the Israeli National TV the short clips prepared especially for the occasion, in which they show the lives, the bravery and the heroism, particularly of the soldiers and victims of terror who were murdered this year.

Please, light a candle in their memory. 
May HaShem treasure their souls in the Gan Eden.

May HaShem protect our soldiers and shield them from the hands of our enemies.   

May HaShem bring peace, everlasting peace, to Medinat Israel. AMEN