THE LUCK OF THE IRISH, THE SUCCESS OF THE JEWS

Whoever told you that there is absolutely no connection between St. Patrick’s Day and Judaism were so occupied checking to see whether or not Irish eyes were smiling, that he overlooked the fact that three Jewish Holidays give us good reason to rethink Irish Linens, Irish Sweepstakes, and Irish Coffee.

Close to two millennia before Irish Linen was introduced into this world, our Rabbinic sages spoke of Yom Kippur Linen. Linen is one fabric that the Torah forbids us to mix with wool (Leviticus 19:19). When such a mixture occurs, it is referred to as Shaatnez. And yet, throughout the year, the Kohen Gadol or High Priest wore an “avnet” (translated as girdle/belt) made of Shaatnez. It was as though the Kohen Gadol was exempt from the prohibition of Shaatnez. On Yom Kippur however, the shaatnez exemption did not apply to the Kohen Gadol. In place of the avnet of Shaatnez, the Kohen Gadol girded himself with an avnet of pure linen. Perhaps the non-Shaatnez avnet, was to serve as a reminder that on Yom Kippur, there are no exemptions. On Yom Kippur, we are judged equally, from the Kohen Gadol in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the lowly Stable Boy in Yavneh.

The very first of what was to become the Irish Sweepstakes took place in Dublin, on May 19, 1939. The very first of what could be considered the Jewish Sweepstakes, took place in the Hebrew month of Adar, close to 2500 years ago. The Jewish sweepstakes were vastly different than the Irish Sweepstakes. For one thing, the Jewish Sweepstakes were sweep-stakes of destruction. Rather than pick a winner, the Jewish Sweepstakes were focused on a date that would give Haman the go ahead with his plan of cleansing ancient Persia from Jews. Aside from confiscating homes, businesses and worldly possessions of Jews, Haman’s real interest in the Jewish Sweepstakes was not wealth, but the destruction of Persia’s Jews. I may very well be a lone voice, but it is simply beyond me, why the idea of sweepstakes has not left negative associations and connotations with our people. And yet, despite those Jewish Sweepstakes and due to the efforts of Mordechai and Queen Esther, it was ultimately our people who were the winners.

Not long after the world was introduced to the Irish Sweepstakes, the Jewish World was introduced to a Pesach Haggadah that would make its way into countless Jewish homes in this country.  The Irish pride themselves with Irish Coffee; Maxwell House has every right to pride itself with Jewish Coffee. I could be wrong, but it’s possible, that back in the day,  Maxwell House was among the first, if not the first coffee to receive rabbinic certification as being Kosher for Pesach. In that Maxwell House Coffee had used as its slogan “Good to the last drop” for some time already, it’s beyond me why they didn’t capitalize on that slogan, by placing it on the back cover of its Passover Haggadah, under a picture of a seder participant dipping his or her finger into a goblet, as the Ten Plagues were being recounted with ten drops of wine. In my opinion, such a caption would have been sheer marketing genius!

I don’t begrudge the Irish their linens, their Sweepstakes, or their coffee. I would hope, however, that American Jews become aware of Jewish linen, Jewish Sweep Stakes and Jewish Coffee. Hopefully, all three convey important messages to us about Yom Kippur, Purim, and Pesach. Hopefully, there is more than a modicum of truth to the term “luck of the Irish.” Hopefully, the very same can be said about the success of the Jews.

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Pesach and Easter are not the only festivals that either overlap or fall in close proximity to one another. During a Jewish leap year, the same can often be said about Purim and St. Patrick’s Day.

With the Irish swinging their shillelaghs this past Sunday, and the Jews swirling their graggers this  Wednesday night and Thursday morning, perhaps it’s time to see that when all is said and done, St. Patrick’s day sheds light on Purim.

“The luck of the Irish” is a phrase not uncommon to many, if not most Americans. Other than being spurious, in that it is anything but complimentary – it implies that the success of the Irish came about through good fortune, rather than aptitude or know how – “the luck of the Irish” should give pause to us Jews.

Despite the multitudes of “Mazel Tovs” (good lucks) that Jews have joyfully wished one another over the ages, there is no place for mazel in Judaism. The Talmud so much as says so, when it states:  “Ein mazal l’Yisrael” or “mazel does not apply to Jews.”

Arguably, the Talmud is referring to what we now know as the horoscope. Jews, says Judaism,  ought not to pay heed to the horoscope. In true Greek or Roman fashion, the horoscope implies that the constellations play a significant role in our lives. Instead of Pisces, Virgo rising, a Jew, a believing Jew, knows implicitly that it is  HaShem who plays a significant role in his life. Small wonder then, that our rabbinic sages disqualified professional crap shooters and the like to serve as witnesses. The more one believes in the roll of the dice or the luck of the draw, explain our rabbinic sages, the less one is likely to believe in the dependability of our Heavenly Father.

Although the great sage Maimonides recognizes the presence of certain omens – for example, if a man marries a woman and begins to advance in his career, he has every reason to see his wife as a contributing factor to his success – he cautions that these omens are in no way to be seen in the context of mazel. Rather it should be understood, explains the Rambam (an acronym for Maimonides) that it was the wife believing in her husband, that served as the impetus for the  husband reason to believe in himself. It wasn’t Zodiac symbol or the spin of a wheel that brought about the change; it was the husband himself who brought about the change, all because of the invaluable support provided by his wife.

Herein lies the powerful message found in St. Patricks Day shedding light on Purim. The very name “Purim” reminds us, that aside from irrational hatred,  the arch villain Haman was guided by the luck of the draw. The very day that Haman would settle on to change the history of the Jews in Persia was chosen by a lottery! By contradistinction, Esther, after finally having been convinced by Mordechai to appear before the King, leaves the following instructions: “Go, assemble all the Jews to be found in Shushan  and fast (and presumably pray) for me”. Esther’s response to the diabolical machinations of Haman was a thoroughly Jewish one. Ultimately, Haman left it all to chance; ultimately, Esther left nothing to chance.

Last week, I watched a renowned Reform Rabbi interview Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Lipstadt revealed that as a child, Emanuel Rackman was her family rabbi.

“You were very  lucky,” offered the interviewing rabbi. “I was very blessed,” countered Professor Lipstadt

M’GOSH M’GOLLY MEGILLAH

In all likelihood, the vast majority of Jews throughout this world will not be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this Shabbat. The amount of our people who will make a point to hoist a “McGuiness” at any of the three Shabbat meals later this week will undoubtedly hardly constitute a minyan. Nevertheless, it might behoove us to know that the monopoly for smiling does not belong to Irish eyes.

I have no idea how many Jews in this country know who served as the first Chief Rabbi of the nascent State of Israel. Whatever that number might be, I’m certain that far fewer Jews are aware that Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog (born in Lomza, Poland in 1888) served as the Rabbi of Belfast and ultimately rose to the position of Chief Rabbi of Ireland, before moving to Israel in 1936 to succeed Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as Chief Rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Herzog’s fluency in Irish was such that he was dubbed the “Sinn Fein Rabbi” (literally “We ourselves,” it was adopted as the name for the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.) Rabbi Herzog’s Irish-born son later served as Israel’s sixth President; his grandson and namesake, aka Bougie, rose in political power only to lose to Benjamin Netanyahu in the last national election.

A great affinity toward Israel on the part of the Irish government, there isn’t. One would think that, politically speaking, Irish leaders would look at Israel for inspiration; one would think that Irish leaders would see the daily struggle of Israel against terrorism ever since its founding 70 years ago as something they could relate to. Unfortunately, Irish leaders have instead chosen the “poor Palestinians” as their soulmates. This perhaps explains why formal relations between the two, Ireland and Israel, were not established until 1975 and why it wasn’t until the very end of 1993 that Ireland permitted Israel to open its embassy in Dublin. You know things could be much better when a few years back, unnamed sources from the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that “Ireland (is the) most hostile country toward us in Europe.” Politics, however, is politics and business is business. In 2010, Israeli imports from Ireland approached $520 million and exports to Ireland stood at $81 million. Israeli exports to Ireland include machinery and electronics, rubber and plastics, chemicals, textiles, optical/medical equipment, gems, and fruit and vegetables. Irish exports to Israel include machinery and electronics, chemicals, textiles, and foodstuffs.

However representative a government ought to be of its people, it’s heartening to know that not all Irish have adopted such a cool attitude toward Israel. In fact, there is a group of Irish people committed to understanding and supporting Israel’s security needs. That group proudly calls itself “Irish 4 Israel.” Among other objectives, its raison de etre is to counteract much of the hatred and lies spread in the name of “truth” within certain segments of Irish society and to ensure that Israel’s conflict with Palestinian terrorists along with their sponsors and enablers receives fair and impartial coverage from the Irish media.

As Erin Go Bragh rings loud and clear this Saturday in Irish neighborhoods throughout this country, as well as elsewhere in the world, it might very well be a propitious time for us to invoke Am Yisroel Chai. Whether the wish is “Ireland forever” or the “Jewish People Lives,” the sentiment is pretty much the same. May the Road of Peace rise up to greet us both.