The powerful swell of voices on Broadway, thirteen stories below Agudath Israel’s offices, did more than disturb my concentration. A thousand people were blocking traffic and loudly chanting in unison, the roar less redolent of “Hashem hu ho’Elokim!” at Neila’s end than of what I imagine “Kill the Jews!” must have sounded like during pogroms. Which was ironic, considering that, in light of the cause and location, a large number of the shouters were likely Jewish.
The “Flood Wall Street” event was but a weak echo of what had taken place a day earlier, when an estimated 300,000 people (including members of close to 100 Jewish groups, parts of the “Jewish Climate Campaign”), participated in the “People’s Climate March” on the West Side of Manhattan. But the smaller demonstration was large enough and loud enough for me. I had to wonder what made the chanting seem so sinister.
It may have had to do with something the late writer Michael Crichton famously asserted, that people “have to believe in something that gives meaning” to their lives, and that “environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists.” (And, I’d add, even for some who may believe in a Creator but just don’t fully trust Him.)
Environmentalism, Mr. Crichton elaborated, posits “an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature,” then “a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge”—i.e. technology and exploitation of natural resources—and that “as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all.”
“We are all energy sinners,” he concluded, paraphrasing the new religion’s world-view, “doomed to die, unless we seek salvation.”
MIT Meteorology Professor Richard Lindzen similarly labeled environmentalism a religion, its devotees convinced “that they are in possession of a higher truth” and intolerant of “heretics, or ‘climate change deniers,’ to use green parlance.”
And so it may have been religious zeal that I heard in the din from below. And while zeal is a good thing when sourced in commitment to the true religion, its emergence from a misguided one is cause for alarm. (See: Medieval Christianity, Contemporary Islamism…)
To be sure, the earth’s climate is changing. But it has changed many times over the millennia, even over recent centuries. Enviro-zealots are convinced that the current climate change signals the end of the world (or, at least, the destruction of the world as we know it), and that humanity is at fault for the impending doom (and has the power to head it off).
Some of us, though, feel that a passuk we recite daily – “Tremble before Him, all the earth; indeed, the world is fixed so that it cannot falter” (Divrei Hayomim 1 16:30) – reassures us that Hashem has built self-correcting mechanisms into nature, and that our zeal should be reserved for Torah-study and mitzvos.
For daring to challenge the contemporary party line, though, anyone in the least skeptical about the planet’s prognosis is vilified by those who believe that humans can break and, alone, make the earth. The protesters were not just vocal and loud, they were angry.
A recent ScienceTimes section in the New York Times was dedicated largely to cris de coeur about climate change. Hidden among the Chicken Little alarms, however, were some interesting tidbits.
Like the fact that polar bears on Hudson Bay, deprived of ice coverage, and thus seals, in the summer, are feasting instead on a windfall of snow geese, birds that, due to the same warming that caused the ice to recede, have migrated north from the American south and Midwest. And that some varieties of soybeans “grow especially well in high carbon dioxide levels.” And that in naturalist Diane Ackerman’s words, “A warmer world won’t be terrible for everyone and it’s bound to inspire new technologies and good surprises…” And that Mongolian herders, deprived by drought of grasslands, have been moving to cities, where members of families of erstwhile nomads are now gainfully employed and enjoying the benefits of electricity and indoor plumbing for the first time.
None of which is to deny the possibility that we do well to explore alternate energy sources and pollute less. It’s only to note the deep complexity and unpredictability of change in the natural world, and the great resourcefulness and creativity that Hashem has planted in human minds.
And to lead us to consider that environmentalism may be but the latest of the “isms” about which Rav Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, warned.
© 2014 Hamodia
It is true that the “Shabbos App” has attracted a great deal of attention and discussion. Personally, I am waiting for the prankster to come forward and explain that this was all designed to make Orthodox Jews look bad by demonstrating their focus on … what, precisely, I’m not sure. Probably that we care about Shabbos at all, and are distressed by those teens in many communities who are unable to set aside their phones when required by Halacha. But we’ll get to that eventually. The simple fact of the matter is that this whole thing is a farce, and of course we have yet to see anyone pony up $49.95 to get their (non-working) copy and prove me right or wrong. And I’m pretty sure I’m right. Rabbosai, you’ve all been fooled.
Let’s look at the evidence, which falls into four basic categories: the announcement, the website, the video, and the backers.
- The Announcement
- They claim they’ll release it in February. If it takes that long to build this (which it shouldn’t), there’s no need to start marketing it so far in advance.
- The promised final version will cost $49.95, which is extraordinarily high for an app, much less one purporting to be a public service (compare to the various apps for Siddurim, Zmanim, collections of Sefarim, and even finding a minyan).
- As of yesterday, Oct. 5, there’s a “Shabbos App” on Google Play (now that it’s getting so much coverage, they suddenly realized they don’t need until February after all). It “does not function with all features listed,” but it still costs $49.95, enough to dissuade anyone from downloading it to see if it actually does anything at all. [It is trivial to create an expiring preview/trial.] Indeed, no one reports having seen or tried out this app, and Google Play lists the number of downloads as “1-5,” which would of course include the uploader himself.
- It is called the “Shabbos App.” “Half Shabbat” seems to be more common than “Half Shabbos,” v’hamayvin yavin. Even if you disagree, stay with me.
- The Website
- Its tag line is “Nisht shver tzu zein a Yid,” which, of course, doesn’t speak to the teen observing “Half Shabbat” at all.
- The site claims the above is its registered mark, ®. It’s hard to imagine registering a Yiddish phrase as distinctly “yours” with the USPTO, as required by law to use the ® symbol, nor does a trademark search turn up any results.
- The site is not only peppered with Yiddish, foreign to most of those afflicted with “Half Shabbat,” but refers to “Toirah,” a spelling that is the exclusive province of those intending to mock or belittle Torah observance and/or observant Jews. [Don't take my word for it.]
- Ditto: Reboin’eh Shel Oi’lem, Koisaiv, Moichek, Poiskim.
- “Who We Are” says they are “a team of ehrlich’e yidden.” I’ve said this before: observant Jews don’t call themselves good Jews, or ehrlich’e, or what-have-you that implies we’re doing what we should. We’ll call someone else ehrlich, but we’re not going to be Azei Panim [brazen] and say Tzadikim Anachnu v’lo Chatanu [we are righteous and have not sinned] (cf. Yom Kippur prayers).
- Then, of course, there’s what the website doesn’t have. While the website claims their app provides “solutions” to the “Halachic issues,” there is no reference whatsoever to consultation with any Halachic authority from any circle. There are no approbations. There is no Rav anywhere who claims to have been consulted about this purported “solution” for frum Jews, much less to having agreed with any of its claims.
- The Video
- As a PR vehicle it is ludicrous, with needless repitition, and of course a hand writing most every word in the narration.
- The frum community has any number of professional-quality radio / narration voices. Both narrators in this video have what could only be described as an exaggerated inability to pronounce basic terms, such as “Shabbos.”
- In one panel, the male narrator mispronounces “Sha-bohs” with a hard o (as in the word “oh”) and in the next pronounces it more or less correctly (as pronounced, it sounds like “Shabbus”), but then he combines it with “Meh-NOO-Kah”
- There are no real “interviews,” merely the narrators offering up poor imitations of Chassidic and Litvish accents.
- In general, the narration is so stiff that one comment suggested these were computer voices. Listening carefully to the word emphasis, it’s clear that the narrators are, in fact, human — just (deliberately?) incapable of pronouncing the words correctly.
- As compared to the narration, the text itself, like the website, exhibits intimate knowledge of things like a Chassid going to tisch and a Litvak (in a Fedora) reaching his chavrusa — and even referencing the Chazon Ish as a Da’as Yachid. Anyone able to write such narration would certainly have recognized that a pair of gentile announcers were not appropriate for the material or audience.
- One of the so-called “interviews” claims that the Rabbis who would assur the “Shabbos app” are “party poopers” who should “get a life.” Another claims that the Rabbis who would ban this App will “look stupid” as did those who stopped the “Big Event” with Lipa. [Of course, Lipa post that controversy is no longer known for "pushing the boundaries" of Jewish music, teaching Chassidic youth non-Jewish rock tunes as he did before, meaning that he respected the Rabbonim much more than the authors of this video.]
- The Backers
- YidTec is supposed to be a frum outfit in Wilmington, DE. Anyone heard of them? Right.
- That’s because in actuality, YidTec isn’t in Wilmington at all. In articles it claims the firm is in California. But it was incorporated by The Company Corporation in Delaware, today, October 6.
- The Facebook page for the Shabbos App (which has been around since September 22, several weeks longer than YidTec has been a company), as well as the Google Play page, both claim that the physical address of YidTec is that of Delaware Business Incorporators, a competitor of the Company Corporation.
- The Facebook page “Ban the Shabbos App” was created on October 1, to claim the Shabbos App is “worse than 1000 Holocausts” [sic]. It uses similar Hebrew spellings (“oi”) to those I pointed out on shabbosapp.com, criticizes the Gedolim for not banning the app (yet), and refers to Rav Adlerstein’s post earlier today as a “softie half-hearted ban-free screed about the Destroy-Shabbos App.”
- The Kickstarter Facebook link doesn’t go to the page of YidTec or the Shabbos App, but of Yitz Appel, who doesn’t look overtly frum and has a very sparse presence, especially for someone claiming to be an App developer.
- Yitz Appel with the same photo seems to have a similarly minimal and protected presence on Instagram, Houzz.com, and on Meetup.com as a member of Young Jewish Professionals of Santa Monica, CA. Nothing indicates any serious involvement with either Judaism or app development.
- The other developer quoted in articles about this App, “Yossi Goldstein” from Colorado, is found only in these articles.
Oh, and last but not least, the app claims it will avoid problems of heating the phone due to overuse, by constantly consuming power, causing the battery to constantly be hot. In other words, the app offers to deliberately roast your phone.
To me, this builds an overwhelming case. I do not believe this is offered with serious intent at all, but rather to mock attempts by serious, committed Jews to face the new challenges presented by modern technology. As Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato wrote in Mesilas Yesharim, mockery is a tremendously destructive force, to the point that trying to reason with or guide a mocker is like trying to teach a drunk or one who is mentally ill. And I suspect that a psychologist would have a field day trying to understand the motives of the author of this scam, and trying to cure him of his underlying issues.
There is no contradiction. Anyone who finds one has targeted a straw man.
I have had the benefit of association with three generations of Kamenetskys. They have never, ever let me down when I have turned to them for guidance and insight.
The short but meaningful times I spent with both Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l provided the bases of a lifetime of confidence in the halachic system, and in the concept of emunas chachamim.
Making the transition from a fairly black yeshiva to teaching at a West Coast institution with the name YU just would not have happened without Rav Yaakov reassuring me that it was a good move. I am still in awe of the precision and focus of a man well into his eighties, late at night, as I drove him from Brooklyn to his home in Monsey. Watching and listening to him provided unshakeable evidence that mussar could work – that the visions of R Yisrael Salanter and the Alter of Slabodka were no pipe dream.
Lehavdil bein chaim le-chaim, Rav Shmuel continued the trademark smile of his father, as well as copious advice, to me and to all my family members who have sought it. The advice he gave about matters of chinuch and shidduchim always went beyond common sense to an uncommon sense that combined decades of hands-on experience with the acute penetration of an active Torah mind.
My children have sat in his office as he tried to balance a conversation with them and incessant emergency phone interruptions, often concerning sordid and scandalous situation that would have driven the average decent man to insanity. He handled all of them with patience and aplomb – and resumed his smile.
He has been there as we have had to puzzle through issues of whether a young attorney should move to a more demanding firm so that he might have more freedom in his life years in the future, and which community offered greater opportunities for developing inner talents that had not yet been tapped. He has held our hands through family crises, and helped us stay clear of conflicts we could not win. Torn by opposing arguments concerning important hashkafic issues, he provided the assurance that could only come from someone at the summit of the Torah hierarchy.
In more recent years, when I found some changes and features of the contemporary Torah scene maddening, it has been his son, Rav Sholom, who has kept me sane. (Some might take issue with that.) Besides his conviction, I delight in his genius.
So will I waver in my belief in the efficacy of vaccination, and that schools should absolutely bar children who have not been inoculated? Not a chance.
The concept of daas Torah as I understand it (as do many of my colleagues) means several things – but stays clear of others.
• Accepting major Torah policy decisions arrived at when the vast majority of gedolei Torah – meeting together! – comes to such a decision. I don’t think such a meeting has taken place in decades. (They have taken place if one narrows his definition of gedolim to a particular subgroup of talmidei chachamim, which should of course be followed by those who identify with that subgroup to the exclusion of other groups.)
• Cherishing the special insight that comes from spending a life-time immersed in Torah thought. Sometimes, this must be coupled with hands-on experience with the nuances of a local situation. Sometimes, the question is generic enough that it needn’t be.
• Seeking the advice of a gadol when one cannot fully grasp the fine points of a hashkafic dilemma, or how to proceed when at an impasse about selecting from competing options.
It does not mean:
• Relying on their opinion in matters of general culture or science, particularly when one has strong, well-founded opinions himself.
I understand that there are different models of relating to Torah leaders. Prof. Yaakov Elman, writing about R. Hutner’s embrace of individuality and autonomy in the current issue of Tradition, cites a passage that appeared in the Hebrew edition of Mishpacha (13 Tishrei 5772), but was elided in the English version:
The dependence that a Belzer hasid develops for his rebbe is thus absolute. Any question, small or large, is referred to the rebbe, and when the answer arrives (not always quickly), it is accepted without demur. When there are questions or disagreements within Belzer shtieblach or its institutions, it is the rebbe’s view that is determinative, even when it is surprising or totally different from what was expected. Der rebbe hot geheisen (the rebbe has commanded) is the usual expression employed in Belz.
Rav Shmuel might be disappointed by my strong belief in the scientific case for vaccination, but I doubt if he will hold it against me. After all, it was his father, Rav Moshe, and others of that generation who lived and taught a different model.
While I have never met a chosid who actually thought his rebbe infallible, the possibility of error looms even larger in the (old) Litvishe approach with which I am comfortable. This is actually liberating, rather than shocking. Virtually everyone will be let down at times by the people he looks up to. We should not be crushed when this happens. If we only learn from perfect people, we will learn from no one. Gadlus does not mean perfection; great people sometimes make mistakes, and even have identifiable areas of weakness. Our job is to admire the greatness, and learn from them at the times that they display the luster, not the tarnish.
One of my greatest frustrations as a teacher is my inability to convey a true sense of gadlus to talmidim who have never had the privilege that I had – of meeting real gedolim. I have never found a solution to this problem.
Yielding to the many who have asked for my take on the now-infamous Shabbos app, here is the quick and dirty version:
It does not do what its developers say it does – “The Shabbos App will give all Yidden a way to keep Shabbos with all the chumrahs.” Not only does it fail to address all or many chumros, it does not address many issues of ikkar ha-din. By that I mean real, normative issurim. We don’t even have to go to “spirit of Shabbos” halachos, which also happen to be binding.
For some people, using the app will be worse than texting without it.
The notion that a time-delay turns an action into a grama is wrong on two counts. Grama is still forbidden mi-derabbanan – not as a chumra. And there is little to support the notion that a delay in an action manifesting its desired consequence makes it a grama.
Without providing much detail, consider the melachah of tzeidah according to the Rambam (Shabbos 10:22), where temporarily causing a deer to freeze out of fright is chayav mi-dorayso when it delays a hunting dog (after a delay!) to seize it. Or removing oil from a lamp, which causes it (after a delay, according to the Rosh according to whom the Mechaber paskens) to be extinguished earlier than otherwise – and is chayav (According to the Ramo, it is “only” a derabbanan – but many acharonim according to the Mishnah Berurah 514:23 are machmir like the Mechaber. Finally – a real chumrah!) Or placing grain in a hopper where water-driven millstones will grind it later – which is chayav according to the vast majority of acharonim who take issue with the Magen Avraham. (See Shut Achiezer 3:60 who writes that they all hold that when a melachah is commonly done in a particular manner, it becomes meleches machsheves, and is an issur d’orayso even when it would ordinarily be seen as a grama.)
Readers who wish to see halachic analyses of greater length can find them in all nooks and crannies of the Orthodox world, including R. Moshe Elefant of the OU, and Rabbi Yisrael Rozen of Tzomet (the leader in the development of halacha-friendly technology)
Is it conceivable that the use of the app might reduce the number or severity of the prohibitions that a smartphone user violates? It is conceivable that according to some formulations of particular melachos this might be true. Is it conceivable that it will eliminate all important halachic issues? No.
In fact, some users will be particularly ill-served by it. Whatever advantage there might be, if any, will accrue to those who turn their eyes Heavenward and say, “Ribbono shel Olam! I am weak, and I feel terrible doing what I am doing! May it be Your will that You take note of the fact that I am trying hard to reduce my violation of Your holy Shabbos.”
Alas, there are other users who are telling themselves something very different. “Violating d’oraysos scares me. I can accept their authority, and am happy to find a work-around. The fact that my texting will still be forbidden mi-derabbanan does not scare me. I don’t believe that the Rabbis really have the authority to make life miserable for me.”
Those users could wind up losing, particularly if what they think is d’orayso is really only a derabbanan to begin with. Acting on a contemptuous attitude towards issurei derabbanan is a violation of lo sasur. While usually a derabbanan is a derabbanan is a derabbanan, violating one in a manner of rejecting the authority of the Rabbis to legislate is an issur d’orayso! (See R Elchanan Wasserman, Kuntrus Divrei Sofrim 1:35)
Bottom line – the Shabbos App pushes all the wrong buttons.
There’s nothing remotely funny, of course, about rabid Islamists beheading innocent Westerners they have kidnapped (or their fellow Muslims, for that matter).
Yet, there is something bizarrely droll about the characterization of such slaughter, and in particular its filming and the dissemination of the resultant videos, as a “recruitment tool.” According to experts like Peter Neumann, who directs a center for the study of political violence in London, that is the videos’ goal, based on past successes in attracting new recruits.
What I found almost humorous was the unthinkability (to put it mildly) of any group of normal human beings seeking adherents by murdering people on camera. Can you imagine the Mormon Church cutting off the heads of gentiles (its name for non-Mormons) in order to attract worshippers? The Republican party, to entice independents? The Rotary Club, to garner new members? The local Jewish Federation, to lure donors? You get the droll.
And then the all-too-serious question presents itself: What does it say about a cause that it attracts people by means of the gleeful shedding of innocent blood? And a corollary: What does it say about the people so attracted?
It is fashionable to seek to “understand” forces and individuals who do malevolent things, to put the acts into a “context” that makes them if not justifiable, at least comprehensible. There are times, though, what seems to be evil is, in fact, just evil, pure and simple. Like our times.
Likewise fashionable these days are attempts to characterize the Islamic State movement, against which President Obama has effectively declared war (explaining that “There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil”), and other Islamist hordes as not warranting a determined response by the civilized global community.
For all the odiousness of the groups’ means, the geopolitical fashionistas (hesitant Europeans and American isolationists alike) argue, such militants don’t threaten us directly. ISIS’s goal, in particular, is only to establish a Muslim caliphate in Eastern lands, not to harm the West. We have no camel in such races, they protest, no business involving our country in disputes that, in the end, are between this version of Islam and that version of Islam (and those, and those other ones too).
Intriguingly, though, current events have served up a compelling metaphor here.
For there is another deadly world crisis out there, likewise far away; and the larger world is determined, rightly, to deal with it. No one counsels ignoring it for its distance.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the number of Ebola cases in West Africa is increasing, and has asked UN member states to donate $1 billion to tackle the epidemic. President Obama announced that the United States will send troops, material to build field hospitals, additional health care workers and medical supplies to the tune of $75 million. The World Bank is promising $200 million to deal with the crisis. The World Health Organization has pledged $100 million. Britain is delivering a field hospital to the area. $181 million has been promised from the European Union and $50 million from the Gates Foundation.
Ebola, which results in uncontrolled internal and external bleeding and easily spreads itself around, is evil. Yes, yes, the virus is morally innocent, just doing what its DNA compels it to do. But from the perspective of thinking, feeling human beings who affirm life as an invaluable gift, the disease is a scourge, something to be fought and driven into submission, ideally eradicated. Even though it is “way over there,” doesn’t threaten most of us directly and, historically, has asserted itself only on the African continent.
Millions of people in Africa are threatened by Ebola, and it is not easily contained. It thrives on ignorance (like that of villagers who have killed health workers, believing they are the cause of the disease) and attacks not only those who contract it casually but but exemplary human beings (like such health workers) as well.
Is not the biological scourge we all know must be routed a stunning counterpart to the sociopathic one that produces its own rivers of blood?
Comparing people to a disease has, understandably, become anathema in civil discourse. But such rhetoric is offensive because it is employed imprecisely or carelessly. Sometimes, though, it is an apt metaphor. Like when applied to groups that exult in slaughter of human beings, that seek to spread and whose recruitment tools include mugging behind masks for the cameras before cheerfully slitting throats.
© 2014 Hamodia
By Avrohom Gordimer
The Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project: A Portrait of Jewish Americans created shockwaves, as the shrinkage of (non-Orthodox) American Jewry and its impact and role were ominously documented and further forecast. Far fewer Jews, far less support for the State of Israel, far less religious affiliation and practice, and an overall disappearing American Jewish public presence are starkly indicated and are already occurring. Unless non-Orthodox Jewry returns to its traditional posture and makes a radical, sweeping commitment to intra-marriage and fortification of Jewish identity, its termination as a major religious-ethnic group is almost certain. This would obviously not only mean the effective end of American non-Orthodox Jewry, but it could also mean the end of significant American support for the State of Israel – a support that has been largely precipitated by elected officials seeking to secure the Jewish vote and responding to lobbying efforts on the part of large American Jewish organizations, representing sizeable Jewish political and financial support.
Despite the acutely negative predictions, non-Orthodox leadership has failed to take the necessary steps to attempt to salvage the situation. While a return to Torah observance, values and lifestyle would be the primary … Read More >>
Ever since the famous science fiction writer H. G. Wells penned “The Time Machine” in 1895, the notion of a protagonist traveling through time by means of magic or fantastic technology has captured the imaginations of countless writers and readers.
Wells’ famous work involved travel into the future. But many subsequent flights of fancy concerned going back in time to an earlier period and, often, tinkering with past events to change the future.
It might not immediately occur to most of us that our mesorah not only anticipated the idea of time travel but in fact teaches that it is entirely possible, an option available to us all. And, unlike so many popular fiction time travel fantasies where havoc is wreaked by intruding on an earlier time, Jewish travel to the past is sublime. And, in fact, required of us.
Is that not the upshot of how Chazal portray teshuvah, repentance? It is, after all, nothing less than traveling back through time and changing the past. The word itself, in fact, might best be translated as “returning.” We assume it refers to our own returning to where we should be. But it might well hold a deeper thought, that … Read More >>
Life is full of exceptions. So while I generally am uneasy about cross-posting (no pun intended), sometimes a piece is so important that you want a portion of the mitzvah of spreading it around. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz’s advice about unexpected guests in shuls for the Yomim Nora’im clearly qualifies.
[Sometimes there are less objective reasons for making exceptions. Because I have been unable to come down from the high of spending a week with the participants in the Tikvah Program For Yeshiva Men last month, whenever I find a trumpet sounding its success, I have a hard time putting it down. Earlier today, Gil Student published a new one on Torah Musings, by one of our participants, Shmuel Winiarz. He captured a good part of the magic.]
Back to the first compelling cross-post. Rabbi Horowitz speaks to an issue that is far more common than we would like to believe. I have observed the scene myself, but never had the insight to do something about it, as he did in his release earlier today:
Many of the kids my colleagues and I work with all year long return to their own Shul for Rosh Hashana and Yom … Read More >>
The same week that Mishpacha published a panel discussion with four Orthodox members of public school boards (“In the Hot Seat”), Tablet Magazine carried a 15-page article (“The Blame Game”) by Batya Ungar-Sargon on the communal tensions arising from the election of a majority chareidi school board in the East Ramapo School District, which covers Monsey and Spring Valley. The Tablet piece fully confirmed, and even supplemented, the Mishpacha panel’s presentation of their interest in serving all segments of the larger community, not just the Orthodox population.
In an interview, Ungar-Sargon described the standard portrayal of the controversies in East Ramapo: Chassidim take over public school board in order to siphon off public monies from disadvantaged kids to pay for the schooling of their own special needs children. The New York Times, for instance, accused “[a]n Orthodox-dominated board of ensuring “that the community’s geometric expansion would be accompanied by copious tax dollars.” And Bloomberg News quoted accusations that the board was “siphoning public funds for private schools.”
Admittedly, the visuals were terrible: The election of a majority Orthodox board in 2005 was followed in 2009 by dramatic cuts in the public school services, including the firing of teachers, with … Read More >>
by Reuven Ungar
The following is written in memory of the boys and chayalim, may Hashem avenge their blood, who sanctified His Name. May their memory be a blessing.
Introduction: The outgoing year included events that gripped the collective Jewish People in a profound way. The following is an attempt to to reflect upon these events under the prism of Volozhin, highlighting the relevance of the flagship yeshiva of Lithuanian Jewry upon contemporary events. There is a pattern in the works- unity and the connection of the generations.
The mere mention of Yeshivat Volozhin, Etz Chaim, founded by Rav Chaim of Volozhin, disciple of the Gra, generates the following associations: Torah Lishma, mastery of Torah, devotion to Torah, of the Torah shelo tehe muchlefet. Jewish leadership and love of The Land of Israel. Rav Chaim, the Netziv, the Beis HaLevi and Rav Chaim Brisker. Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Rav Baruch Ber Lebowitz, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein and Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer.
Although the physical doors have been closed, the Tree of Life of Volozhin flourishes. It has survived the Czar and the Bolsheviks, the 60’s and post-modernism.
It is perpetuated in Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan … Read More >>
The article below appeared in Haaretz last week.
The “ultra-Orthodox” are at it again. This time they’re aiding and abetting the BDS movement.
Well, not intentionally perhaps, but still. An early welcome to 5775!
The Jewish year about to begin, of course, is a shmita, or “Sabbatical,” year, and its implications are sticking in the craw of some non-ultra-Orthodox Jews.
A bit of background: The Torah enjoins Jews privileged to live in the Holy Land to not till or plant during each seventh year. What grows of its own is to be treated as ownerless and may not be sold. The law is viewed as an expression of ultimate trust in G-d
When substantial numbers of Jews began to return to Eretz Yisrael in the 19th century, some of the pioneering Jewish farmers endeavored to observe shmita; most, though, living in deep poverty, did not. As a result, in 1896, religious leaders, including respected Haredi rabbis, approved a plan whereby land owned by Jews was legally transferred to the possession of Arabs for the duration of the shmita year, technically transforming Jewish farmers into sharecroppers and, with some conditions, permitting cultivation of the land.
During subsequent shmita years, many … Read More >>
Too many of our contemporary yeshiva high schools are seeking only the Eisavs among the applicants, Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg quotes a prominent rosh yeshiva as saying in his essay in the current issue of Klal Perspectives on High School Boys Chinuch. The rosh yeshiva meant that the high school yeshivos are seeking only those who are fully formed – asui, like Eisav – in both their intellectual abilities and their dedication to Gemara learning.
Rabbi Goldberg suggests that the source of that attitude may lie in a distortion of the widely quoted rabbinic dictum “a thousand enter and one goes out to hora’a.” Yeshivos vie to produce “the one who goes out to hora’a,“ and the status of a yeshiva is determined by the quality of its most accomplished graduates in Gemara learning. Parents go along by seeking entrance to the “best” yeshivos for their sons. The race to produce “the one,” and the competition to be the yeshiva for “only the best boys” yeshiva it leads to, can have several adverse consequences.
(I should emphasize that I am speaking theoretically. Rabbi Goldberg was writing in the American context, and I am in no position to evaluate … Read More >>
The birthday cake was ablaze with 105 candles, and many among the scores of people present at the Czech embassy in London this past spring for the party would not have been there – or anywhere – had it not been for the man in whose honor they had gathered.
Nicholas Winton, who remains in full possession of his faculties, including his sense of humor, saved the lives of 669 children, mostly Jewish, during the months before the Second World War broke out in 1939. There are an estimated 6000 people, many of those children, now grown, along with their own descendants, who are alive today because of his efforts, which went unrecognized for decades.
Born in 1909 in West Hampstead, England, Mr. Winton was baptized as a member of the Anglican Church and became a successful stockbroker. He lived a carefree life until December 1938, when a friend, Martin Blake, asked him to forgo a ski vacation and visit him in Czechoslovakia, where Mr. Blake had traveled in his capacity as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, a group that was providing assistance to refugees created by the German annexation of the Sudetenland … Read More >>
James McDonald, the first American ambassador to Israel, once remarked that Israel is the only country in the world that factors 25% miracle into all government planning. At some level, one must be a ba’al emunah to live in Israel.
Just consider last week’s news. According to one fully credible source, Hamas is already attempting to clear away the attack tunnels destroyed by the IDF and to rearm. And that was the least of the scary news of the week.
Israel TV reported that Israel is frantically preparing for a “very violent war” against Hezbollah. According to the report, Hezbollah has 100,000 rockets, over ten times as many as Hamas at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, and is thus capable of overwhelming Iron Dome’s protective shield. That 100,000 figure includes at least 5,000 missiles with precision guidance systems capable of reaching all Israel. Because their trajectory is not locked in at the time of firing, those missiles represent a far larger challenge for Iron Dome and the Arrow anti-missile defense systems.
Like Hamas, Hezbollah has built over the years an intricate system of interconnected underground tunnels from which it can fight defensively in southern Lebanon. And it is … Read More >>
Visiting Israel always yields delights and surprises. Sometimes they come instantly; sometimes they take reflection. Usually, in my experience, they involve taxi drivers. On my recent trip, I found new understanding of the tochachoh that we read last Shabbos. The insight was inspiring, but frightening.
The brief trip combined the bar-mitzvah of a grandson with some professional work, and a bit of time for some judicious sight-seeing. My friend Harvey Tannenbaum of Efrat was eager to show some of the places in the news of the last months. I gladly accepted the invitation, heeding my own recent suggestion that one way of promoting achdus was to cross the invisible boundaries that separate sub-communities from each other. (I would also travel to Mercaz HaRav for a Thursday night mishmar shiur by my mechutan and partner in the bar-mitzvah, R Mordechai Willig, that began at 12:30AM and drew about 70 talmidim, all of whom stayed eager and attentive, but that is not for this essay.)
Harvey is a Mekor Chaim parent. His son, Simcha, is a senior in the exclusive Dati Leumi high school from which two of the three murdered teens Hy”d left the night they were abducted. Makor Chaim, … Read More >>
In a good illustration of just how thick people who are intellectually gifted can be, the well-known biologist and militant atheist Richard Dawkins recently offered his opinion that Down syndrome children would best be prevented from being born. “It would be immoral,” he wrote, “to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”
The dehumanization says it all.
Professor Dawkins’ judgment of birthing a developmentally disabled child as “immoral” stems from his belief (shared by another famously mindless professor, Peter Singer, who also advocates euthanasia for severely handicapped infants and elderly) that an act’s morality should be gauged entirely by whether or not it increases happiness or suffering.
Mr. Dawkins’ comment drew considerable fire, as well it should have. Some of those who assailed the professor for his – let’s here reclaim an important adjective – immoral stance focused on the factual error of his creepy calculus. Two psychology researchers wrote, for example, in something of an understatement, that “individuals with Down syndrome can experience more happiness and potential for success than Mr. Dawkins seems to appreciate.”
In fact, 99% of respondents to a survey of those with Down syndrome (yes, 99%) report that … Read More >>
A few months back, Yisroel Besser posed the question in these pages: Where will the next generation of askanim come from and what can be done to nurture them? His article generated a great deal of discussion, but one aspect of the issue was not touched on by any of the discussants: How irrelevant the entire discussion would have struck most Torah Jews living in Israel.
Both the author and those who responded took it for granted that the term askan is one of high praise, connoting a person who serves the Klal by giving generously of both his time and money. Yet in Israel the term is almost always used pejoratively. Far from indicating someone who acts out of a lack of self-interest, it generally refers to someone who did not possess the necessary zitsfleish for long-term learning or the entrepreneurial skills to make it in business, and who instead cut out for himself a place on the periphery of a Torah leader or Knesset member to acquire a small fiefdom of power and influence.
What explains the differences in societal usage and norms? For one thing, the dominant social model in Israel for decades has been one … Read More >>