Pulsa denura is commonly considered the most severe of kabbalistic curses. According to descriptions found in books and the media, ten righteous kabbalists gather at midnight in a synagogue, by the light of black candles, blow shofars and recite the curse. If the curse has been uttered by worthy and righteous men and against an appropriate target, the target is supposed to die within the year. If it has been uttered by unworthy persons or against a target who has not sinned, the curse is supposed to have a boomerang effect.
Among the persons against whom the pulsa denura has been recited, or at least against whom its use has been threatened: the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the late Jerusalem mayor Gershon Agron and the incumbent mayor, Uri Lupolianski. It is doubtful if any Israeli public figure could be considered truly high-ranking without a pulsa denura being invoked against him at least once - in a synagogue or at least in a press leak.
Despite all this, an article in the religion supplement of the independent ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) weekly Mishpacha recently claimed that there is, in fact, no such thing. The two authors of the article, Dr. Dov Schwartz of Bar-Ilan University and Haredi activist Moshe Blau, spoke at length with three high-ranking kabbalists, and received the answers: "I don't know of it," "I've never heard of any such thing," and "There is no such curse in the Torah."
The two writers have made a study of the places in which the term pulsa denura appears in the sources, and have found that it is usually a reference to divine punishment imposed by God on angels, and not a curse or banishment from the community. Among the literal interpretations found for the expression: Ball of fire, whip of fire, burst of fire.
The two researchers reached the conclusion that the pulsa denura invoked today is merely a new and particularly frightening version of an excommunication edict, a ceremony that also incorporates extinguishing candles, blowing shofars in synagogue and reciting a curse. Excommunication does not really frighten secular Jews. In the final analysis, what do they care if the Haredim ostracize them? After Israel's establishment, the term pulsa denura replaced excommunication.
The researchers did not identify who gave excommunication its new name. But so as not to hold the reader in suspense, we will note that use of the curse in the early days of the state was usually attributed to religious struggles in Jerusalem that involved the leader of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta movement, Amram Blau.
"Pulsa denura is not a kabbalistic ceremony," they concluded. "Kabbalists do not take part in it, it is not done at midnight but rather at midday - not after a fast of three days, not to the light of black candles, the text is not read seven times, and the persons do not necessarily stand facing the east."
In any event, the writers seemed to have a good time making fun of the secular, who "although they do not believe in the Creator of the World or his Torah, believe - and how - in pulsa denura."
To hand over or not to hand over
In the Haredi book of transgressions, handing someone over to the authorities - informing - is one of the most serious offenses. This is a relic of the days when the non-Jewish ruler was considered an enemy, and a Jew who informed on his fellow Jew was placing him in mortal danger. Therefore, it was determined that someone who handed someone over to the authorities was considered a rodef, one who endangers the life of a Jew. The very friendly Diaspora in the United States, and the need to cooperate with American legal authorities, created an ongoing challenge for the rabbis. Is U.S. non-Jewish law equivalent to the "Polish landlord" law? And is it really forbidden to inform on someone?
A new ruling by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv appears in Yeshurun, a compendium of articles on halacha (Jewish religious law), in which the rabbi says it is permissible, in certain cases, to hand over a child abuser to the American police. Elyashiv, considered the most important interpreter of halakha by Ashkenazi Haredim, said that it was permitted to inform the government in cases in which, "It is clear that he has committed a foul deed, and that this [informing] constitutes a sort of repair of the world." Elyashiv adds another condition, according to which the situation must be that, "Someone is abusing a boy or girl such that we are unable to stop him from continuing his evil actions."
Nevertheless, he cautions that the permit does not apply "in cases in which the story is totally unsubstantiated, but is only a figment of someone's imagination. If we permit this (in other words, informing on someone on the basis of rumor - S.I.), not only does this not constitute repair of the world, but it destroys the world, and possibly due to some feeling of bitterness by a pupil toward the teacher, falsely accuses the teacher, and I cannot see any reason to sanction it."
Elyashiv's willingness to permit cooperation with U.S. authorities shrinks when it comes to parental abuse of children. This has to do with the concern that the child will be removed from his parents' home and given to a foster family that is either Christian or secular. "There is no doubt that this would harm the soul of the child, even if for a short while," writes Elyashiv, who instructed that Torah sages must be consulted in every case of parental abuse.
At what point would the national-religious public cease to view the State of Israel as its state? In the past few months, more and more voices have said that the disengagement is the fault line.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, the head of the hesder yeshiva in Petah Tikva and one of the more important young rabbis in the national-religious camp, offered another, quite surprising, answer. "At least for me, the limit - in terms of connection to the state, is when the state decides that it does not wish to be a Jewish state," Cherlow said in an interview with Bimahshava Techila (At First Thought), a bulletin published by "Realistic Religious Zionism," a movement of young religious people that fights against the national-religious public's exclusive focus on issues related to the Greater Land of Israel. Cherlow also offered examples of measures that could cause a rupture: "Abolishment of the Law of Return - in particular abolishment of the Law of Return - abolishment of the Hebrew calendar, abolishment of Hebrew as an official language." He makes it clear that in his opinion, the disengagement is not a reason not to celebrate Independence Day.
Regarding the Supreme Court's decision ordering the acceptance by the Interior Ministry of conversions to Judaism of Israeli residents performed by non-Orthodox rabbis residing abroad, Cherlow wrote, "You have to bear in mind that the High Court of Justice issued its ruling because the Knesset avoided taking a stand, and you have to bear in mind that the Knesset avoided taking a stand because we in the religious Zionist world rebuffed the Neeman committee and opted for an all or nothing approach. Because religious Zionism opted for an all or nothing approach, it is getting nothing."
The Shoah Scroll
The Orthodox response to the Holocaust is far from uniform. For instance, Haredim object to the officially observed Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day (Yom Hashoah) due to its secular content and the fact that it falls in the month of Nisan, when mourning is forbidden. In addition, there is still no broadly accepted text for Holocaust Day such as exists for Tisha B'Av (the Book of Lamentations), the Passover seder (the Haggada) and Purim (the Book of Esther).
One group that has adopted Holocaust Day and is proposing a unique liturgical text is the Conservative movement, which this year published Megillat Hashoah (the Shoah Scroll), composed by literature professor Avigdor Shinan. The scroll completes the Conservative initiative to formulate an order of unique prayers for Holocaust Day. The introduction to the Shoah Scroll states, in the spirit of the Passover Haggada, that, "The new commandment of Jewish life is that each of us must see himself as if he has witnessed the Shoah with his own flesh."
The scroll contains six chapters, to commemorate the 6 million. Among the chapters: The testimony of a young Jewish man who was employed in a death camp disposing of bodies, and was forced to remove the gold teeth from the mouth of his dead brother, and the testimony of a Christian who sneaked into the Warsaw Ghetto. The scroll contends with the ultimate religious question - where was God in the Holocaust? "Was this thing known in the heavens? Was all decreed by the Merciful God? - There is no voice and no answer, only infuriating silence."
In the same context, one of the Conservatives' prayers for Holocaust Day includes the statement, "We came to ask the questions that have no answer, but they cannot be left without a question."
The president of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Reuven Hammer, writes in the introduction to the scroll, "We must not say or teach that the Shoah was the will of God or a punishment that God imposed on us - it may be that we do not have an answer to the mysteries of the Shoah, but there are answers that we must completely reject."
The scroll ends with the following recommendations: "Do not mourn too much, but do not sink into the forgetfulness of apathy; do not let the Days of Darkness return - cry and also wipe away the tear; do not have mercy and do not forgive, do not try to understand; teach to live without response: by your blood you shall live."