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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Misguided Boycotts

Boycotts can be a very powerful tool to express displeasure with (not to mention put pressure on)vendors or service-providers who ignore or abuse those whom they rely upon for income.  However, just as with endless demonstrations, Israelis have begin using this potent tool indiscriminately and without just cause.  People call for and organize boycotts (and demonstrations) at the drop of a hat without really considering all the angles. 

Take for example the Haredi world's call to boycott El Al. 

During the recent labor strike, Ben Gurion Airport was closed, and any airline with planes scheduled to fly in or out of Israel was thrown into chaos as the delays rippled through their schedules.  Planes/crews ended up out of position for an ever-widening circle of flights and the results were twofold for El Al:

1.  They decided that the most expedient solution to this was to fly some of the stranded planes on Shabbat in order to bring them (and their crews) into position for other scheduled flights.  This was a purely economic decision... one that is hard to fault.

2.  An El Al flight scheduled to return from Russia sat for so long due to the strike that its food supply was found to have spoiled.  On such a long flight it would be unthinkable not provide nourishment to the passengers, so a decision was made to buy non-kosher sandwiches and fresh fruit in Russia for the trip.  All passengers were informed that the sandwiches were not kosher and anyone who was concerned about such things was advise to eat only the fruit.

So, because a flight or two flew on Shabbat and because non-kosher food was served on a flight... the Haredi world immediately called for a boycott of El Al.

What makes this boycott misguided is the fact that El Al is no longer an Israeli government owned entity subject to the dictates of the Rabbinate.  It is a private company that is obliged to compete in a cut-throat business environment.  Yet, for whatever reason, El Al still bends over backwards to adhere to their previous policies of not traveling on Shabbat and always serving kosher food.

The same Haredim who called for this boycott of El Al all willingly fly on other privately owned/managed airlines that desecrate the sabbath and serve non-kosher food.  And I guarantee you that these other airlines do not take nearly the same pains to accommodate the needs of religious Jewish travelers as El Al. 

The result:  The moment El Al was forced to look after its own well-being for just a moment... BOYCOTT!

Another of these misguided boycotts is aimed at UPS, the world's largest package delivery company.  Emails have been flying around the Jewish world for the past couple of days stating (quite correctly) that UPS has a policy of not delivering to Jewish communities outside the green line. 

Yes, you read that correctly. 

They will deliver anywhere inside the green line... and they will deliver to any Arab community outside the green line... but they won't deliver to Gush Etzion... Ariel... or any other community in Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria.

On the surface, this appears to be a perfectly legitimate cause for Jewish outrage.  However, once again there are factors that the people calling for a boycott have willfully ignored:

First of all, UPS may be a global company, but they rely on local workers to deliver their packages.  A company of UPS's stature isn't going to turn up their nose at potential revenue just because of political considerations.  UPS has an obligation to its stock-holders to maximize profit... and every package delivered is money in the bank. 

However, to include any destination in their available delivery routes, a courier company has to have a reliable way of getting the packages there EVERY SINGLE TIME! 

The Arab UPS drivers have no problem driving into Ramallah or Jenin to deliver a package... but the Jewish drivers (many, if not most, of whom live inside the green line) are terrified to drive into 'the territories.  This isn't UPS's fault or some anti-Semitic plot.  It is the fault of the typical Jewish Israeli. 

I can hear you already asking:  "So why don't they simply have the Arab drivers deliver to the Jewish communities outside the green line?!"  To which I would ask you the following question:

Even if all Jewish communities outside the green line allowed unaccompanied Arabs to drive past their gates (which is certainly not an assumption that can be made during these difficult times), How many of you residents of Efrat, Ariel, Elazar, Karnei Shomron, Kiryat Arba, Beit El, etc. would feel comfortable opening a box that had been dropped off by an Arab UPS driver?

I know this sounds terribly racist (and it is... sorry), but in an age where the first two questions the airline security people ask are a) "have any of your bags or packages been out of your possession?"; and b) "did you receive any packages from someone you don't know?", I would feel a little queasy opening a package that could easily have been diverted to a bomb-maker on its way to my kitchen table.

Getting back to the call for a boycott of UPS, there is certainly cause for anger when a vital service is being withheld from Jews in Judea and Samaria (although it should be noted that FedEx and DHL somehow manage to deliver to these areas).  But the anger in this case is misdirected and misguided.  It isn't that UPS doesn't want the additional business from the settlers (and those who want to mail them packages).  It's just that UPS can't find enough Jewish/Israeli drivers willing to routinely drive beyond the green line.  That may be a shame and an embarrassment... but it isn't cause for a boycott.

Both of the calls for boycott I have mentioned here are perfect examples of how this powerful tool/weapon is being abused. 

By all means, if a vendor or service-provider is unresponsive (or even abusive) to the people it relies upon for sustenance...  call for a boycott.  But if there are perfectly valid reasons for the services to have suffered that are outside the control of a company, it might behoove us to take a deep breath, make an honest assessment of who did what... and then, if appropriate, direct our frustration in a direction where it is likely to actually do some good.

Just my two cents.

On a related note... I hope nobody out there is boycotting the Weblog Awads since someone we all know is a finalist (hint hint)

Posted by David Bogner on December 14, 2006 | Permalink


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Sad, isn't it?

Posted by: Account Deleted | Dec 14, 2006 1:29:00 PM


At the risk of being too predictable...

Two factors that may be relevant to the El Al boycott:

1- Although El Al is no longer a government owned company, It is still owned an operated primarily (if not entirely) by Jews. All things being equal, according to Jewish law it is preferable to do business with a Jew who is Shomer Shabbat -- or even a non-Jew -- rather than do business with a Jew who desecrates Shabbat. The Charedi community would rather fly with a non-Jewish carrier -- even one that flies on Shabbat -- to avoid "aiding and abetting" in Jews desecrating Shabbat.

2- Over the years there have been many, many meetings between the administration of El Al and Charedi MKs & Rabbis. They have always managed to work out mutually beneficial agreements. A cornerstone of El Al's commitment has always been that they wouldn't fly passenger flights on Shabbat. The recent decision to disregard that condition was made in full knowledge that it would upset the balance with the Charedi community. A boycott is a perfectly legitimate way for the Charedim to show displeasure with the decision, and to remind El Al that all commitments go both ways.

Posted by: wogo | Dec 14, 2006 3:25:40 PM

You note well that 1) El Al is generally sensitive to Hareidi issues and that 2) Hareidim do fly other airlines who work on Shabbat and serve non-kosher food.

In reference to your last paragraph where you provide reasonable boycott grounds (unresponsive, abusive), what would be your position if El Al simply decided to fly on Shabbat because it was better for business? Would you consider a Hareidi boycott acceptable, since El Al, though private, still "represents" Israel to the public and this desecration is too much to bear? Or not acceptable, since El Al is private and has the right under the law to choose their best path to economic success, even if a portion of the potential customer base is unhappy with their policies?

Posted by: Yonah | Dec 14, 2006 3:31:47 PM

On the El Al boycott:
I agree with you 100% that the boycott is misguided, for exactly the reasons you state.

On the UPS boycott:
As you pointed out yourself, somehow DHL and Fed Ex have found ways to deliver to Jewish communities outside the green line. Why isn't UPS doing it? As you point out, it is primarily due to economic considerations (not necessarily political ones). So what? That's exactly the point of a boycott! The goal is to apply economic pressure (via refusing to use their service) to change the equation and make it so that they have more to lose by not going to those communities. There is nothing wrong with using a boycott to further an economic aim rather than a political one. Even a partial boycott - even a small loss of business - means that UPS will now have to decide which is the smartest business decision:

- Take a loss by shipping to Jewish communities outside the green line.

- Take a loss by refusing to ship to those communities, and then losing business to a partial boycott.

If the boycott is significant enough, the second loss might become greater - and suddenly, it makes sense for UPS to change its policy and begin to ship to Jewish communities in the green line.

There's nothing wrong with this kind of boycott.


Posted by: LT | Dec 14, 2006 3:42:23 PM

a. ... Very.

Wogo... Yes, predictable, but I don't mind since the points you raised are worth addressing:
1. I think you will be hard pressed to find an operating first-tier airline that does not have Jews on it's board and among its shareholders. Also, you did a little side-step in this first point. You said that if a Jew had a choice of doing business with a shomer shabbat Jew or one that is not it was preferable to do business with the frum guy... but then you intimated that given the choice between doing business with a Jew who breaks the sabbath and a non-Jew the obvious choice is the non-Jew and I don't know that this is the case.
2. You are correct that El Al has had many meetings and very favorable (for both sides) agreements with Haredi leaders. What you don't note is that no other airline has made the kind of commitments to the Haredim that El Al has. Another important point is that El Al didn't abandon its agreement with the Haredim but rather made two very extraordinary exceptions to them. Under the circumstances I described an airline would be committing financial suicide to do otherwise. Yes, a boycott is a perfectly legitimate way for the Haredim to express their displeasure... but I still maintain that a boycott is an extreme step to take and wouldn't even be appropriate if , say, El Al announced that it was going to regularly operate on Shabbat and always serve non-kosher food. In my mind this is also a loyalty issue and the Haredi world has good reason to be loyal to El Al... far too much to have been forgotten over a difficult and extraordinary one-time business decision. For instance, why on earth would El Al enter into an agreement with the Haredim when the Haredim have not committed to fly only El Al? The answer is simple: good faith. And the response to good faith (even when extraordinary cercumstances intrude) is NOT a boycott.

Yonah... If El Al were to announce its intention to operate 365 days a year I would say that the Haredim would have cause to treat them like any other airline and use them or not use them as price and schedule dictate. But an all-out boycott would still not be appropriate since (as I pointed out to wogo) there are Jewish stockholders and management in almost all first tier airlines (at least in the west).

LT... I don't have exact numbers, but FedEx and DHL are somewhat smaller than UPS and are likely looking to gain market share. Just as with airlines, nobody can afford to leave an abandoned route or territory untended. FedEx and DHL may have made a strategic decision that being late or non-responsive in certain areas is better than not having any business from those areas. A good example from my days as a musician was that on any given date we would not book more affairs for our band than we had quality musicians to play. Many other bands would run after the work we turned down and staff the bands with second rate musicians just to get the work. Our attitude was that if we couldn't serve the client well we wouldn't serve them at all. If a Sephardi customer that we were not able to serve on a particular date started a rumor that we were not willing to play for Sephardim he/she could probably succeed in organizing a boycott... but this wouldn't make it just. I suspect this is the kind of decision behind UPS's decision in Judea and Samaria.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 14, 2006 3:53:51 PM


There was another short-lived boycott movement a few years ago when Starbucks pulled out of Israel.

In reality, Starbucks had invested a huge amount in Israel but their business model simply failed and they cut their losses. Ironically, the CEO is a strong supporter of Israel and Jewish causes. Luckily, the boycott was cut off at the pass.

Posted by: mochassid | Dec 14, 2006 4:37:49 PM

Trep (can I call you that? Or should I call you David?),

My main point was simply that there's nothing wrong with a boycott motivated by economic reasons. Your post seems to be arguing that any boycott not organized for justifiable political reasons is a misguided boycott. I agree with you that there's no political justification for boycotting UPS because I agree with you that their decision not to ship to Jewish communities outside the green line is likely economically motivated.

But what I'm arguing is that that economically-motivated boycotts are legitimate and valid. There's nothing untoward about exerting a market pressure on UPS to try to convince them to reconsider their decision not to ship to Jewish communities outside the green line. Basically, I disagree with your characterization of the UPS boycott as "misguided" or "an abuse of the boycott tool".


PS - thanks for taking the time to respond. =)

Posted by: LT | Dec 14, 2006 4:46:02 PM

I do believe you should look into the UPS story. Jameel and IsraelRules both took down their posts upon further investigation - it seems to be false that UPS is not delivering to Jewish communities outside of the Green Line (at least the majority of them).

I haven't seen this raised anywhere in all the hubbub over ElAl, but is ElAl owned by Jews? Would that not make it a very different situation than flying any other airline which flies on Shabbos?

While some of the things that are happening within the boycott bother me (saying a person is "in danger", etc.) it is within the rights of any bloc to boycott if they have the economic power to get their way. OTOH, demanding veto rights over a company is wrong.

Posted by: Ezzie | Dec 14, 2006 5:16:00 PM

I hardly ever agree with you on most of your subjects, however, this time, I do agree with you....

Posted by: Ma? | Dec 14, 2006 5:24:14 PM

it is within the rights of any bloc to boycott if they have the economic power to get their way. OTOH, demanding veto rights over a company is wrong.


You are correct, but as David pointed out no other airline will try to make the same accommodations as El Al.

It ends up as a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

It is not smart.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 14, 2006 5:38:09 PM

Thanks for exposing what is lying beneath the surface.

And btw, what do you win for being voted number 1?

Posted by: jaime | Dec 14, 2006 5:56:23 PM

(btw, I'm not addressing the Kosher food because I don't know if that really had a major impact on the decision to boycott -- it may have just been thrown in for good measure)

Re. "Jews on the board" vs. "Owned and operated almost entirely by Jews":

There is an abundance of Halachic literature dealing with ownership and partnership issues, including guidelines as to what makes a business "Jewish". El Al is clearly a Jewish-owned airline. Delta is not. Even if many Jews own stock. Even if a few Jews sit on the board. Everyone agrees that there is no problem flying Delta (or any other non-Jewish airline) even if they fly on Shabbat.

Re. preferences for doing business with a frum Jew vs. non-frum-Jew vs. non-Jew:

It was not at all a "side-step", and I only know this because I was recently involved in such a situation. There is in fact an opinion that (all things being equal) it is better to give your business to a non-Jew than to a nonobservant Jew.

FWIW, any Halachic wiggle-room that we have in these scenarios is based on how you define "all things being equal". Predictably, the Charedi leadership take a very broad approach, which may be why they seem willing to gloss over the "good faith" aspect of El Al's agreements (more on "good faith" below).

Re. "Good faith":

Over the years El Al has indeed acted in good faith to try to keep it's Charedi customer base happy. But it was also an economic decision for them. Even if they don't have an "exclusive", keeping the Charedim happy has added significantly to their bottom line.

Maybe the boycott is an extreme reaction. Maybe El Al truly had no choice but to fly on Shabbat. Or, maybe El Al was "testing the waters" -- trying to see how much they could get away with under extenuating circumstances... Trying to see how far they can stretch "extenuating circumstances" until they don't have to worry about Shabbat restrictions at all...

I'm not really sure how I feel about the boycott... But I do understand the reasoning behind it. The Charedim want El Al to know that Shabbat is non-negotiable.

Posted by: wogo | Dec 14, 2006 5:59:47 PM

As Jack says above, the El Al boycott is an act of nose-cutting leading to face-spiting.

You are a voice of reason. May you not be limited to shouting in the wilderness.

Posted by: Elisson | Dec 14, 2006 7:24:17 PM

I have the solution. Since it is prohibited to possess chametz [unleavened bread] on Pesach, any chametz left undisposed must be "sold" to a non-Jew. After the holiday the chametz is "bought" back the evening after Pesach ends. This transaction is routinely handled by a competant rabbi, no food is wasted, the non-Jew makes a small commission for a no-show job and everyone benefits. So El Al needs to have a "Shabbos CEO" who will formally purchase the airline an hour before sundown on Friday and then sell it back an hour after sundown on Saturday. I've talked to Keith, my mailman (a bonafide goy by the way) and he agrees to take the job. (Naturally as his agent, I get a cut.)

Posted by: Arnie in NYC | Dec 14, 2006 8:11:53 PM


my understanding of the El Al boycott came up when someone at the airline said that maybe now they start flying on Shabbat (anyway the TLV airport is open, they said), not because of the flights that were stuck at different airports all over the world.

if that is that is the case, and the Haredi community wants to start the boycott, let them do it. and if they boycott el al, i think they will win, because the lost business to el al will be larger than the money they can make for flying on Shabbat (that is my honest opinion, i did not check any financial statements).

Posted by: David S | Dec 14, 2006 9:38:16 PM

Ummm, UPS does deliver in Judea and Samaria.

In fact in _your_ specific town just like some other major towns in J&S they even offer pickup service.

The UPS story going around has a lot of inaccuracies and its facts are out of date.

That's the internet for you - everyone is looking for a reason to protest and blow up - yet no one is upset with McDonalds or HomeCenter who really do boycott the settlements for political reasons.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Dec 14, 2006 10:19:37 PM

El Al has been trying for a while to fly on Shabbat (and not under the name SunDor).

The Chareidim are rightfully afraid that if this passes quietly then El Al will view this as an acceptable possibility. Why this matters to the Chareidim is a separate issue.

The OU and others have recommended not trusting the Kashrut on El Al for a while now as on more than one occassion non-kosher food was found in the ovens (brought on privately by the airline staff and then heated in the ovens). This is hardly a secret either. (Trep: I'll tell you more offline if you want to know.)

With regart to Mochassid's comment on Starbucks. He's right. It failed because the local franchiser must not have known what he was doing.

I only found out about Starbucks towards the end, when they had a branch somewhere in Tel Aviv.

Did that make sense? Not a single branch in Jerusalem where all the American's know about Starbucks? None in the mall? None in the Old City? Just a store in the middle of nowhere Tel Aviv, and no advertising.

Unfortunately, Starbucks failed in Israel because of really bad local business decisions.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Dec 14, 2006 10:33:38 PM

I rceived the following from UPS Customer Service in response to my query:

Thank you for your inquiry. UPS offers Worldwide Express service to and from Israel to both residential and business addresses and domestic service within Israel. UPS covers 99% of the population in Israel outside the West Bank, except for a few remote areas in the Golan Heights and the Negev Desert. In the West Bank, UPS covers all but remote areas with very low population density – on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. All packages coming from abroad are delivered into all areas of Yehuda and Shomron. This includes Gush EtZion. Customers residing in this area DO NOT have to go to Jerusalem to pick up their shipments.

Please contact us if you need any additional assistance.

Shakira Hanson
UPS Customer Service

Posted by: dov weinstock | Dec 14, 2006 11:28:16 PM

Okay, even if the UPS story is exagerated, if you follow your logic, it okay if a pizza delivery company refuses to deliver pizzas to a predominately African-American community because it can't get drivers to reliably go into areas they consider 'unsafe.' Even if there are other companies that manage to deliver there all the time? And a boycott of this wouldn't be reasonable?

Posted by: Annie | Dec 15, 2006 4:20:47 AM

Well, by now it's pretty clear that the UPS story has been at least somewhat distorted, the misinformation has led to some (rightfully) indignant reactions. That's the thing, though... how many of the issues we consider important actually turn out to be exaggerated or completely false? Across the blogosphere, it's easy for an individual blogger to retract a faulty story... But if you're looking at dozens of blogs with old stories, how is it different from reading MSM, which often doesn't bother to retract at all? That's what worries me lately.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 15, 2006 5:00:07 AM

Whew. I was worried I was becoming a Treppenwitz sycophant. This time, I agree with Wogo.

BTW, may I take this moment to compliment your "virtual dozens of fans" and yourself? I have read and heard the El Al debate elsewhere... and -- to put it kindly -- it has not been handled with as much grace, reason, and fairness as it has been addressed here. Thank you, all of you, for your ahavat Yisrael. There's hope for us yet.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Dec 15, 2006 1:51:06 PM

what about the security considerations involved, seems to me that we're talking about pikuah nefesh

Posted by: asher | Dec 17, 2006 6:39:59 AM

what about the security considerations involved, seems to me that we're talking about pikuah nefesh

Posted by: asher | Dec 17, 2006 6:40:32 AM

Check this out,

The Real Issue With El Al
Dean, Tiferet Chaya H.S. For Girls
By: Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Published: Thursday, December 14, 2006

We have been reading in the news how the Orthodox right-wing leaders have been attempting to use economic pressure to force El Al into a commitment to observe the Jewish Sabbath. Some of us may feel a bit uncomfortable with what, at first glance, may appear to be a religious coercion of sorts. Is this permitted? What about the other Jewish-owned airline that actually has scheduled flights on Shabbos? Why now? Let’s try to understand the underlying issues.

Do we recall the pain and the grief of September 11? For a few months after that tragedy, many of us cried when we saw the American flag. In fact, across the nation, from Wala Wala to Borough Park, Americans ran out and bought so many flags that the stores and wholesalers ran out of stock. The flag evoked strong feelings within us, striking a profound emotional cord that many of us were not even aware we possessed. The emotions ran deep—beyond the mere dyed cloth of which flags are made.

Flags represent something more than the cloth of which they are made. They represent a belief, an idea, and a conviction that we hold very dear. The flag contains within it aspirations and ideals that are more important than the banalities that surround us. This is why soldiers around the world willingly die for their flag.

Let’s return to our subject, though. The real issue behind the Orthodox machinations vis-à-vis El Al is that Shabbos observance does not merely represent ancient ritual aspects of Judaism. Shabbos observance is a noble principle and conviction within the nation of Israel. It is how we affirm to ourselves and to the world that the world is not, as some would have it, arbitrary and haphazard. It was not a random accident of some primordial chemical soup that created us. Shabbos has always been our protest: against the ancient idol-worshippers who viewed the world and our existence as the result of whimsical antics of capricious gods and deities, and against modern-day pontificators of theories of randomness that hide the underlying beauty, sophistication, and meaning in the world.

Shabbos observance declares that there was a Designer of the universe behind it all—a Designer who rewards good and punishes evil. The Mechilta (Parashas Ki Sisa) states that whoever observes Shabbos testifies to the One Who said and the world was created—that He created the world in the six primal days and then rested on the seventh. The verse in Yishayah 43:12 is most instructive: “You [Shabbos observers] are my witnesses.”

In the Kiddush we declare that Shabbos is a remembrance of the redemption from Egypt. The pasuk in Vayikra (22:33) states that Hashem is the One Who took us out of Egypt; it ends with the words, “I am Hashem.” Rashi points out, “I am Hashem—Who is trusted to reward those who do good.” (See also Ramban, Yevamos 6a, who equates the idea with Shabbos.) The Hamans, Hitlers, and the bin Ladens of the world, yimach shemam, cannot do their evil without consequence. Shemiras Shabbos is a megaphone to the world, declaring this self-evident truth.

But Shabbos observance is more than this; it is the flag of the Jewish people. Indeed, Shabbos is the oldest continuous flag known to mankind. Its message is universal—G-d created the world. It is a world with rhyme and reason and those who perform evil will most assuredly be punished.

We thus find that Shabbos observance is equated with observing all the other mitzvos in the Torah. It, in essence, defines the mission and role of the Jew. If one does not observe Shabbos, he is treated as one who is not part of the mission of Israel—indeed, even his wine is considered un-kosher.

But is a boycott justified? The Terumas HaDeshen (siman 218) indicates that such coercive action is clearly permitted—even without going to a beis din first. The Terumas HaDeshen’s view is cited as authoritative by the Beis Yoseph (C.M. 220) and by the Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 221). And it is superior to physical coercion. Although, for example, the Rambam permits physical coercion in taking away a shaatnez article of clothing purposefully worn in the marketplace (See Hilchos Kilayim 10:9), the overall effects of such action must be taken into account before embarking upon them.

The rabbinic leadership in Israel has determined that the overall effects of forcing the “national airline” to observe Shabbos outweighs the negative “Shabbos P.R.” involved in any perceived religious coercion. But aside from the issue regarding general Shabbos observance in Israel, the issue should also prod ourselves a bit. It may be used as a catalyst to force us to delve into Shabbos a bit more. Let us not fall victim to the trap that many frum people fall into—in just observing mitzvos without the associated learning.

The Rishonim explain that it is imperative for a person to both know and understand the reasons for the mitzvos to the best of his or her abilities. The range of sources declaring this obligation is vast. The Rambam mentions it twice, once in his Guide to the Perplexed to his philosophically perplexed student Yoseph (see Moreh Nevuchim 3:31) and the other time to the rest of us in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Meilah 8:8). It is found in the Zohar (Parashas Yisro p. 93b) as well as in the writings of the Rishonim such as Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei HaAvodah 54) and the Ibn Ezra (Yesod HaMoreh Shaar 8). The obligation stems from three Torah motifs: First, the injunction to know G-d (Devarim 4:39; Yirmiyahu 9:23; Divrei HaYamim 28:9); second, the command to love G-d (Devarim 6:5, 11:13); and third, the commandment to study G-d’s Torah (Yehoshua 1:8).

In other words, it is not enough to do the mitzvos without taking the time to understand and to study both the specific and the general reasons behind the mitzvos. There is, however, one caveat. In unfolding the reasons for this important mitzvah, it behooves us to first explore the phrase “taamei hamitzvos”—the Hebrew for the term “reasons for the commandments.” Taam has a dual meaning in Hebrew; it means both “reason” and “taste.” Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt’l, provided the following explanation as to why the reasons for the commandments are called taamei hamitzvos: Man requires food in order to receive nourishment. Food is a necessity of life. Without it, man cannot exist. The fact that food has taste is not essential to the purpose of food; rather it is an extra benefit. Similarly, we are obligated to perform mitzvos because this is what Hashem wants of us. (Indeed, Rashi tells us [Vayikra 1:9] that fulfilling the mitzvos serves to give our Father in Heaven great satisfaction—nachas). The fact that the mitzvos have additional reasons that appeal to our intellect is an extra benefit.1

With all this in mind, we can now appreciate the idea behind the El Al issue. It is an attempt to restore the respect for the flag of the Jewish nation—so that we can, as a nation, rediscover our purpose and who it is that we really are. Will it work with El Al? Maybe or maybe not. But we must try. However, it cannot be accomplished without a concomitant, all-out attempt at communicating its reasons and beauties—and we must start with ourselves.


The author can be contacted at [email protected].

Posted by: Shlomo Walfish | Dec 17, 2006 8:54:30 AM

when I wrote about pikuah nefesh, I meant of course w/regard to El Al, not any other matter

Posted by: asher | Dec 17, 2006 10:36:18 AM

Shlomo W - pardon me, but what a crock! Chareidim don't care a fig for the national symbols of Israel, nor do they see it the state as something inherently Jewish. Sorry, but this is power politics from start to finish.

Posted by: dov weinstock | Dec 18, 2006 1:49:27 AM

and as for the Haredim and the symbols of state, we all know of their (dis)respect for the Supreme Court, their (not)standing for two-minutes silence on memorial day, and as for the Flag, has anyone else ever rescued an Israeli Flag from a bonfire on Lag B'Omer (I became hero to a group of American seminary girls, but that was NOT the point)

Posted by: asher | Dec 18, 2006 1:09:46 PM

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