Will the Real Dov Lipman Please Stand Up?

Doron Beckerman’s detailed response to Dov Lipman notwithstanding, Lipman’s reaction to recent statements by Benjamin Netanyahu gives rise to more basic questions.

In his guest post to the Emes VeEmunah blog, MK Lipman insisted that the criminal sanctions against yeshiva students were not at all critical to the law, but were simply necessary for the law to pass scrutiny by the Supreme Court:

There was one issue which they took issue with regarding the law. They were against the “criminal sanctions.” …

The Yesh Atid platform did not have this component as part of the law. We knew it would be an issue for the haredi world even if it was just theoretical but there will never be police entering yeshiva dormitories and arresting the boys. So why was it included?

The government attorneys explained that the reason why we were writing a law to begin with was because the Supreme Court demanded that the Knesset pass a law with “equality.” If there was no clause in the law which mentioned the possibility of a full draft if the goals were not met, the law suits which would come on the heels of the law’s passage would not pass the test of the Supreme Court and we would be back to trying to draft another law.

As quoted in the Jerusalem Post, however, MK Lipman says precisely the opposite — that without criminal sanctions, all the rest is meaningless:

Speaking to the haredi Radio Kol Hai station on Sunday morning, Netanyahu said a clause in the law for haredi conscription, which was approved in March 2014 and would impose a possible two-year jail term on haredi men refusing to enlist, had been forced upon him by his coalition partners and he had never agreed to it….

“Everyone knows it wasn’t our choice, and everyone also knows that we oppose the idea of criminal sanctions – that a Jew should sit in prison for learning Torah – and we will change this as I have already declared many times,” Netanyahu said…

Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman … heavily criticized the prime minister, saying his comments showed he was willing to reverse all progress made on the issue of haredi enlistment.

“I hope this makes it clear to all potential Likud voters that Prime Minister Netanyahu will undo the progress we have made over the last two years regarding the integration of the haredim into Israeli society,” Lipman said. “Now it is not mere speculation. He is saying it outright.”

MK Lipman needs to clarify his position. At least to his understanding, was Netanyahu talking about far more than the criminal sanctions? Did the Jerusalem Post blatantly misquote him? Or, perhaps, are the criminal sanctions far more central to Yesh Atid’s attempt at coercive social engineering than he stated in a post to an Orthodox blog?

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Sense and Centrifuges

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress is:

a) A bald political move to shore up support for his candidacy in imminent Israeli elections.

b) A misguided attempt to meddle in American partisan politics and embarrass President Obama

c) A straightforward effort to express sincere concerns about the Iranian danger, and the conviction that any negotiations with Iran are inherently misguided.

My guess? A bit of “all of the above.”

There’s no doubt that Mr. Netanyahu’s presenting himself as a prophet before the legislature of the superpower ally of Israel (if not as leader of the Jewish People itself, a mantel he’s been donning of late) will help him in his reelection bid. Or that he has often seized opportunities to express his dislike of Mr. Obama. (Yes, it’s mutual; kamayim hapanim lapanim… “As water reflects a face, so the heart of a man to a man.” – Mishlei, 27:19.)

But only a hardened cynic would assume that Mr. Netanyahu’s concern about Iran is a guise, that his disdain for negotiations isn’t sincere. It surely is.

But is it right?

For those who insist on seeing Mr. Obama as, at best, insufficiently concerned with Jews or Israel, the answer is clear. Those would be the people who condemn Mr. Obama’s reluctance to use the word “Islam” when referring to Islamist terrorism, and reject his reasoning that doing so would alienate 1.5 billion Muslims. And who seized on the president’s abysmal choice of adverb in a long interview, when he referred to “vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”

Whether the president meant to say “wanton” or just didn’t realize what he was saying (which happens to many a speaker), a president has no excuse for imprecision. The pouncing critics, though, ignored the fact that, in the wake of the attack, the White House called it a “violent assault on the Jewish community” and “the latest in a series of troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism.” Those intractable critics of Mr. Obama surely reject, as a matter of principle, his strategy regarding Iran.

No one doubts that Iran’s leaders are evil men, and cannot be trusted. How, though, to thwart their nuclear intentions? Mr. Netanyahu insists that Iran must shut down all its centrifuges, the machines at the core of the uranium-enrichment process, something no one believes Iran will ever do. The U.S. has chosen the path of negotiation (with, of course, verification, and likely some Stuxnet-style “alternate strategies” – one example of which was unfortunately uncovered by the Russian firm Kaspersky Lab last week), carrying the big stick of sanctions, which is what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.

If there were a practical option of just bombing Iranian nuclear sites to Islamic heaven, that would be the clear course of action. Unfortunately, no such option exists, and such an attempt would inflame not only Iran but its proxies and its friends like Russia and China, likely ushering in World War III.

Mr. Netanyahu has been bristling at reports that the current state of negotiations will leave a large number of centrifuges operational. But anyone who researches the subject will quickly learn that there are a number of factors, like how the machines are configured and what will happen to fuel produced by them, that render the number of centrifuges less than crucial.

Mr. Netanyahu is the face of Israel. But he isn’t a nuclear expert. (Recall his 2012 speech before the UN, where he held up a cartoon bomb and implied that by the following spring Iran would have nuclear weapons.) Someone who is, though, is the retired head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Uzi Eilam. And Mr. Eilam favors the negotiations approach, and asserts that “Netanyahu and other politicians have instilled a terrible and unnecessary fear in the Israeli public.”

Are he and Obama right? Or is Bibi? I don’t know, but neither do the posse of pundits who wouldn’t know a centrifuge from a centipede but loudly declare that Obama can’t be trusted and that Bibi is, if not melech Yisrael, at least the wisest of men.

The negotiations may well fail, which will trigger even harsher sanctions against Iran. To some, that will be a good thing. To others, an unrestricted Iran is cause for the deepest concern.

None of us can know whether or not to root for the negotiations’ success. What we all can do, though, is be mispallel that this Adar will bring about a modern-day Purim miracle in the land of the original one, complete with gallows, these, hosting malevolent mullahs.

© 2015 Hamodia

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Into the Trap

In his comments to my previous post, and in a post of his own, Rabbi Slifkin forcefully advocates for secular studies at High School age, and advocates withholding support from those Avreichim who choose to send their children to Yeshiva Ketanah.

In two places in his responsa (Igros Moshe YD 3 82; YD 4 36:1 [the latter responsum is from 1982]), Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the verse in Psalms (1:1): “Praised is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” He explains that this refers to people who prematurely concern themselves with the future need for parnassah. They take sources from Chazal which state that one may not rely on miracles, and they are superlatively stringent in that regard, to the point of abandoning singular focus on one’s Torah studies during one’s formative years.

In the earlier responsum (YD 3 81), R’ Moshe states that in places where there is no need to establish High Schools (primarily because there is no risk that the children will otherwise attend public school) it is forbidden to establish them. In the next one (YD 3 82), which addressed those in charge of Mesivtos (Yeshiva High Schools), he adds that it is strictly forbidden for those youngsters engaged in full time Torah study to take away any time at all for secular studies. Thus, as I indicated in my own comments to my previous post, the halachic and ideological burden of proof necessary to shoulder the responsibility for abolishment of Yeshivah Ketanah, almost as an eis laasos (“an abandonment of Torah for the sake of its preservation”) rests extraordinarily heavily on those who seek to do so.

So let us examine the options.

It is agreed that a significant percentage of those in Yeshiva Ketanah will indeed become those who support themselves from within the Torah world. As Rabbeim, Rabbanim, Rashei Yeshiva, Mechabrei Sefarim, Mashgichei Kashrus, Toanim Rabbaniyim, Sofrim, Kiruv, and perhaps some others I’ve failed to mention. Let us further recall that if we look at the setup Hashem envisioned for the Jewish people entering Eretz Yisrael, He purposely made it so that Shevet Levi, some 8% of the populace, would not have land, making it virtually impossible for them to earn a living. Thus, it became the responsibility of the nation at large to provide these Torah leaders, teachers, and students with Maaser. As R’ Hirsch explains,Hashem issued a Biblical prohibition against abandoning the Leviyim (Chinuch, Mitzvah 450) due to concern for potential bitterness against the financial burden on the nation at large. He adds that the length of our days upon the Land depends on our appreciation of the Leviim, and allowing them to influence the spiritual development of the nation.

The Mitzvah to support the Levi applies nowadays, as per Chinuch there, to those who study Torah and cannot take the time to earn their keep. The Chafetz Chaim (Torah Or 11) asserts that the primary address for one’s Maaser money nowadays must be those who toil in Torah. There’s much to say about the centrality of the Torah learners, but I’ll choose a quote from the Ohr HaChaim, (Bereishis 1:1, 5) – “[The world was created] for Torah, called “Reishis…” and thus, one who merited Torah has merited the entire world, and one who has not merited Torah should not benefit from the world even to the extent of setting foot in it, unless he serves a supporting role for those who toil in it.”

It is further agreed that about 50% of those who attend Yeshiva Ketanah do manage to crack the pre-academic tracks and go on to earn degrees. Who are those 50% (comprising, for the most part, those who are not the most successful in Yeshiva and Kollel)? As I stated, this needs to be studied. One commentor went to far as to question my intellectual honesty in even raising the question, while apparently failing to realize that he likely provided one cornerstone of the study – what level of secular studies was there in the subject’s elementary school! Other factors I mentioned may very well play a role as well.

It is further agreed that many Charedim who went to Yeshiva Ketanah do have jobs. Granted, not extremely well-paying ones. but jobs: electricians, technicians, shopkeepers, clerks, bank tellers, security guards, cab drivers, bakers, real estate agents, moneychangers… In aggregate, many such jobs exist. This is a workable fallback option that has to be taken with open eyes, but does not contradict one’s responsibility to have a means of livelihood. The final Mishnah is Kiddushin states that one should teach his son an honest and easy trade, and then daven to He who owns all wealth and possessions, for all crafts have those who are poor and those who are wealthy (and my experience in a matzah bakery this week, meeting someone with a doctorate kneading dough [double entendre unintended], eloquently bears this out).

Yes, ultimately, there are poor people in the Charedi world. Some of them, heroically, choose to stay poor and dedicate their lives to Torah. Others do not. But one might think Israel is a country comprising solely wealthy non-Charedim and poor Charedim. There is severe poverty among other subgroups in Israeli society. And they, sadly, don’t even have Mishpachah magazines with glossy adverts for expensive Pesach resorts and upscale homes in Central Jerusalem to trumpet it. Many of them don’t even have mishpachah to help them out.

In sum, before undertaking this battle, it must be firmly, virtually unequivocally established that it is unreasonable to expect to earn a living coming out of Yeshiva Ketanah, or at least to come up with a set of solid predictive factors. Considering, for example, that among my siblings, the one who attended Yeshiva Ketanah fares the best financially, a blanket rejection is simply a non-starter.

[Note: I shut down comments on the previous post because I was dealing with them as they came, at breakneck chat room pace (note the time stamps), not the ordinary blogging stroll. I thought this would be of service to the readers, but burned myself out in the process. For this one, I plan to take it slower. I beg your indulgence.]

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Connectedness, Neo-Chassidus and The Woman’s Challenge

By Alexandra Fleksher

The Spring 2012 edition of Klal Perspectives addressed the rising concern that Orthodox Jews are feeling a disconnect to G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people. The topic has taken center stage yet again with the recent discussions about neo-Chassidism, particularly in the winter edition of the OU’s Jewish Action. Clearly, many Orthodox Jews are seeking ways to reconnect to their Yiddishkeit and explore new (or old?) avenues to infuse their avodas Hashem with spirituality, meaning and relevance.

Neo-Chassidism fascinates me. I attended two Modern Orthodox weddings in the New York area since the summer, prior to my exposure to the term “neo-Chassidism.” I immediately observed a number of young men with a particular look I had never seen before. They were not the typical “Tzfat type” with long beards and payos dressed in relaxed, loose-fitted Israeli style clothes. Rather, these young men were wearing modern slim fit suits, trendy shoes and ties, but from the neck up they looked like Breslovers. Their beards were reaching mid-tie, and their payos were just about as long.

Questions ran through my mind. If these boys are in college and are planning to be professionals, would they anticipate to enter the workforce with chest-length payos? And if they do work in the secular world, do they wear their payos and beards free? These boys were not chassidim working on 42nd street, but rather college-educated young men expressing their connection to Judaism in this visible way. I was curious if any of them were married, speculated if they would raise their boys in the same fashion, and seriously wondered what their wives looked like.

I spotted one of these neo-Chassids leaving the wedding with a sefer under one arm and his wife by the other. Lo and behold, she did not appear to be a hippie. She was dressed fashionably and flaunted a stylish long sheitel. Anecdotal evidence, yes, but very interesting, nonetheless.
Both of these weddings featured Eitan Katz as the singer who played almost exclusively Carlebach and Sefardi style fare not usually as prevalent in the typical American Orthodox wedding. And when the post-chuppah Carlebach version of “Od Yeshama” rang out the halls were rocking. I closed my eyes and felt I was transported to a yishuv in Eretz Yisrael. “There’s definitely a trend here,” I observed to my husband at the second wedding, “and we know nothing about it.”

While there have been concerns expressed about neo-Chassidism as a movement, one thing is clear to me, at least: it is certainly refreshing to see a generation of young people so outwardly (and presumably inwardly) devoted to something of the spirit, something that hits them as deep and joyous.
But then I had to return home to Cleveland, and back to my reality as a mother of four. Neo-Chassidism doesn’t do it for me, and my friends and I who are busy balancing our various responsibilities are not running to join the movement (although maybe we should pick up a Sfas Emes once a while).
But many of us are concerned with how we stay connected, how we prioritize our Yiddishkeit for ourselves, and how we keep growing in the midst of the many demands placed upon us as Jewish woman, wife and mother.

Last May, our shul hosted a panel for women in the community addressing the topic, “Supporting our Husbands who are Working: Supporting him, Supporting you.” I wrote a piece for Cross-Currents.
Now it was time to focus on supporting us, frum women who have the holy job, in partnership with our husbands, of transmitting Judaism to the next generation. But how do we make sure we sustain it in ourselves when it’s so easy to get distracted, to become wrapped up in the aesthetics, popular culture and foreign values that have a subtle and not so subtle way of creeping into our daily existence? How do we make sure our own connection to Torah learning and living is vibrant and alive? Most importantly, do we realize how critical this is to our success as builders and nurturers of beautiful Jewish families

So came to be our December panel which was entitled, “How We Stay Connected: To Hashem, our Community, our Families and Ourselves.” Our panel featured no rebbetzins or community leaders. The goal was peer-to-peer support; in other words, grassroots chizuk. When a rebbetzin stands up and delivers a lecture, a person can walk away inspired but can also have an excuse: this is her job to stay inspired and inspire us. But when it is a friend or an acquaintance who shares her struggles and then offers her own ways she has found to stay connected to her personal growth, there are no more excuses.

The beauty of the panel was that participants could feel validated and inspired by our neighbors and friends. The panelists, representing various stages of life, were well-spoken and confident, true role models of sincerely growth-oriented and priority-driven Jewish women. As I was listening to their personal stories and insights during a planning meeting, I was reminded of a principle in DBT, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: there are two dialectical truths which are equally valid nonetheless, and they are, “I am doing the best I can” and “I can do better.” We Jewish women are doing some amazing things day in and day out in raising Torah-true families and being loyal to our mesorah, and that must be recognized. It is also true that we can learn from others who might be staying connected in certain areas a little bit better than we are.

Women have a unique struggle with connectedness. While we do possess binah yeseira which enables us to have a certain spiritual intuitiveness, our days are often so steeped in physicality that it sometimes can be difficult to be more than minimally aware of our focus. It is hard not to fall down the slippery slope of valuing the physicality for what it is, in and of itself. Whether it be beautifying mishloach manos, Shabbos meals, our homes, simchos, tznius clothing, or sheitels, it is hard to not get wrapped up in the externals at the expense of our true connection to the mitzvah. This struggle is especially acute for women who are more aesthetically inclined.

Even browsing issues of our frum magazines, one cannot miss the plethora of advertisements and photographs which certainly add an element of, and often a desire for, “materialism in the name of mitzvos” in our already busy lives, with so many important things already vying for our attention. A frum ladies magazine this past year featured an article about strollers, and the average price tag of the models featured was $663 (one was as high as $1099). The article even featured a $459 stroller and described it as “a quality stroller yet it is affordable.” Ironically, the same issue mentioned in the pages earlier that “middle-class families struggle terribly, too” in regards to budgeting and the frum lifestyle. Of course, one has a right to spend her money as she wishes, but it is quite another thing when a frum magazine determines what is and what is not affordable for its readership. Clearly, the bar has been raised. No wonder we have debt issues in our communities.
I truly believe the frum woman wants to keep her priorities straight and do the right thing. I truly believe that at times, she finds it hard to work out the balance. Often, she is just so busy, and, to tell the truth, so tired. In an attempt to attend to our numerous responsibilities, we struggle with not putting our own physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual needs on the proverbial back burner. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t.

Raising children can be isolating. Working outside the home can be as well, especially if we work in a secular environment and struggle to find the time to stay connected to our community. Many women find it challenging, amidst balancing our responsibilities to our husband, children, and home, to make the effort to meet with friends and attend shiurim. In contrast, when a man returns to shul three times a day, he gets an immediate dose of connectedness – to his community, to his focus, and to Hashem. A woman must make a different kind of effort to incorporate tefilah into her life. And she must make an effort to pause in the blessed craziness and incorporate whatever it takes for her to stay connected to her Judaism, whether it is davening, learning, chesed, other forms of personal growth, and/or working on the recognition that her reality is her avodas Hashem. She must do this not just for her family, but for herself.

One of the recurring themes mentioned during our panel was the transition from singlehood to marriage with or without children. When a woman is single, she can devote herself to her spiritual growth, find methods that fit into her lifestyle and often keep the high from seminary, if she attended. When a husband and kids come into the mix, some struggle while applying their old methods of avodas Hashem to their current reality. One of the practical suggestions addressed in this panel was toning down expectations – figuring out a realistic way to daven, to listen to words of inspiration, and to find growth and satisfaction though marriage and through raising a family.

Interestingly, three out of four panelists participated in phone chaburas led by rabbis or rebbetzins which focus on topics such as personal growth and parenting, and they recommended them strongly as a practical way to stay connected. These chaburas provide a dial-in number so one can call to listen to the recording whenever is convenient. Another panelist spoke about how she always connected intellectually to Judaism but found it impractical to pick up a sefer and do the type of learning she wanted to do. She found ways of attending shiurim, joining phone chaburas, and learning at her own pace which enabled her to keep up her commitment to learning. A mother of six children, five years old and under (four of them are quads) talked about how she realized that, with four identical faces staring up at her, parenting was her vehicle for growth, and that by thinking ahead and imagining her children as the type of adults she hoped they would become, she needed to become that wife and mother who would raise such human beings.

Another panelist, who had an advantage over the others due to her life experience, addressed prioritizing life responsibilities and the importance of keeping your eye on the goal in our everyday lives. The final panelist shared her personal story of her role in dealing with a husband’s illness, addressing the challenges of staying connected during nisyonos. She proved how her traumatic experience actually deepened her emunah and belief in Hashem tenfold. Even in the most challenging of circumstances, she showed us through example that it is possible to continue to grow one’s relationship with Hashem and actually be changed for the better.
In my opening remarks as moderator, I proposed the following idea, a reinterpretation of Gary Chapman’s “love tank” concept from The Five Love Languages. Chapman explains that we each have a tank that needs to be filled. Our love tank is filled in different ways, depending on our own unique needs and definition of what it means to feel loved. Our job is to fill the tank of our loved ones not by how we feel loved, but how they feel loved. [2]

May I suggest we also have a tank that is our source of connection to Hashem. We have to keep it filled, and it will not fill up by itself. Often our tank runs empty because it is neglected. Sometimes we fill it with the wrong things, the Kool Aid of gashmiyus that gives us that initial sugar rush but cannot possibly keep the engine running. As Jewish women, we must find the methods that personally to speak to us, and we must make an effort to keep filling that tank up. It requires time and maintenance, but who said the things most important in life come easy?

——————————-
[1] Linehan, M. M. 1993. Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press

[2] Chapman, Gary. 1995. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.

Alexandra Fleksher holds a Master’s in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School of Education. Over the past 12 years, she has taught in community schools and Bais Yaakovs.

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The Chofetz Chaim Video: The Rosetta Stone

At long last, Hollywood has finally contributed something to Torah. A collection of Fox Movietone newsreels from the silent film days is preserved and housed at the University of South Carolina. One item dating to 1923 preserves footage of Torah personalities attending the first Agudah Knessia Gedolah in Vienna. Remarkably, it includes footage of the Chofetz Chaim himself (of whom photos are rare), as well as other Torah personalities, the sight of which should quicken the heart of any Torah Jew.

Several of those shown perished before the War. Some survived. At least four were martyred by the Nazis.

A century makes a huge difference. Five of the eighteen personalities held doctorates. A good number were Germans, who still constituted a strong, distinct group within Agudah. One of those (Rabbi Leo Jung) was at one point a candidate for the presidency of Yeshiva University.

At least among the non-Chassidim, the couture stands out. Most look quite spiffy and dapper. (As one of my sons remarked, “and that was before Charles Tyrwhitt.”)

The Chofetz Chaim seems uncomfortable with the camera, and Hashgacha helped out. His facial features remain indistinct. Someone tries to cover the lens of the camera. Many others, however, seem either quite ready to pose, or stare at the camera out of curiosity. (Remember that motion picture cameras back then were quite massive affairs.)

I don’t know the source, but I received a guide to the other personalities and translated it into English. There seem to be some inaccuracies. I preserved the listing and timing as it was sent, despite at least one being out of order.

0:27 Rav Avrohom Tzvi Perlmutter, Av Beis Din, Warsaw
0:47 Rav Yisroel Friedman, Chortkover Rebbe
0:57 The Chofetz Chaim, accompanied on one side by his on, and on the other by his grandson, R. Kaplan
1:47 R. Yitzchok Zelig Morgenstern, the Admur of Sokolov
1:57R Dr Asher Michoel Cohen, Av Beis Din, Basel
2:05 R Yehuda Leib Tzirelson, Av Beis Din, Kishinev
2:22 R Elchonon Wasserman
2:28 R Asher Mendelson, Agudah, Poland
2:56 R. Dr. Pinchas Kahan, Av Beis Din, Ansbach
3:02 R.Tuvia Horowitz, Av Beis Din, Sanok
3:16 Moreinu R Yaakov Rosenheim, Pres. Agudah
3:55 R. Dr. Leo Jung, The Jewish Center, New York
3:16 R. Dr. Meir Hildesheimer, Berlin
3:58 R. Spitzer, Agudah, Hungary
4:13 R Chatzkel Sarna, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron
4:28 R Moshe Blau, Yerushalayim
4:34 R Dr Tuvia Levenstein, Av Beis Din, Zurich

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A Response to MK Lipman

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, in a guest post on the Emes VeEmunah blog, presents his perspective on Yesh Atid’s efforts toward integrating Charedim into the IDF and the Israeli work force. The post, coming as it does from a position of government authority, deserves some scrutiny. I intersperse some quotes from the post along with my comments.

(1) “Just to clarify, the law says that if the goals are not met, then a full draft will apply to haredim just like the rest of Israeli society with the elite masmidim not having to serve. It doesn’t mention jail. It doesn’t mention arresting yeshiva boys. It says the regular draft will apply. Since for the rest of Israeli society, failure to show up when drafted is a criminal offense, the same would apply to haredim in that situation.”

Well, yes. In other words, the law says that Yeshiva boys beyond those elite masmidim are subject to arrest and prison. I don’t understand what this clarifies. Perhaps it does clarify one issue: There is no mechanism in place for determining who those “elite masmidim” are.

It is also the case that MK Lipman has little to no appreciation of the … Read More >>

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Fruitful Conversations About Fruitful Continuity

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner & Rabbi Yaakov Menken

In a recent editorial in The Forward (“Be Fruitful and Multiply — Please?”, Dec. 12), Jane Eisner sets aside the Pew Report’s alarming statistics regarding non-Orthodox intermarriage and assimilation to focus upon fertility, which she terms “an even more fraught issue.” Yet it is unclear why she believes the decline in childbearing to be the dominant cause of the diminution of the non-Orthodox community, nor why begging women to have more children will contribute significantly to a reversal.

[This response was initially accepted for publication in The Forward itself, but subsequently they decided not to print it. We believe this an unfortunate decision both for The Forward and its readership.]

Eisner correctly states that non-Orthodox fertility hovers around 1.7 children per family, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. But Zero Population Growth will not preserve a Jewish community whose children are deserting it. The Pew Survey reports that fifty percent of married Reform Jewish adults have a non-Jewish spouse, and children of intermarriage are much less likely to be raised as Jews. Even beyond that, one-third of young Jewish adults raised as Reform Jews now classify … Read More >>

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Doubt Thyself

For years, national network news anchorman Brian Williams told various versions of a story about his experiences during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. His recent admission that he had gotten crucial facts wrong and his subsequent suspension don’t just comprise another case of the sudden fall of a mighty man (if one can define might as having earned widespread respect – and $10 million a year). The scandal may actually hold a niced-sized nugget of instructional hashkafah-gold.

It’s certainly possible, of course, that the broadcaster had been intentionally lying when he claimed to have been on a helicopter that came under fire (a rather foolish choice, since those present with him at the time could, as several eventually did, contradict his account). But it is also conceivable that Mr. Williams may have unconsciously conflated something he knew had happened to someone else with what actually happened to him, or confused a vivid fantasy with reality.

As Hillary Clinton may have when, in 2008, she claimed to have landed in Bosnia in 1996 amid sniper fire. She recanted her assertion when a video of the moment showed otherwise.

Many of us, understandably, might more readily attribute a … Read More >>

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The Parameters of Polemics

Although one of my recent articles was posted nine days ago, its comments section is still extremely active, with readers energetically debating the article’s main topics as well as the substance of one of the article’s illustrations. Reading between the lines of many of the comments, some fascinating patterns and perspectives can be detected.

What emerges here, and has been specifically articulated by a few commenters, is a focus on the propriety of debating opinions in matters of Torah when those opinions are based on approaches that are fundamentally problematic. Does one briefly state why such opinions are problematic and say no more, lest it appear that one is entertaining the legitimacy of those opinions or is equating them with bona fide and acceptable opinions in matters of Torah, or does one tackle such opinions head-on and demonstrate their internal fallacies?

Historically, the greatest of rabbinic leadership has rebutted not only the general approaches but also the specific content of views that are antithetical to Torah belief. Renowned polemical literature (including peirushei Torah – Torah commentaries) against the Kara’im (Karaites), Maskilim and Reformers comes to mind, in which the offending approaches were not only labeled and demonstrated to … Read More >>

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ISIS and Jewish Experience: A Reaction to Atlantic

You don’t need me to tell you that Graeme Wood’s 10,000 word treatment of ISIS in the March Atlantic may prove to be a game-changer. Hard-hitting, detailed, well-researched, it is going to be a lightning rod for commentary and debate. And frum Jews will comprehend it a bit better than most.

No one outdoes the President in misunderstanding ISIS. He did it again today at a high-level three day conference on global terrorism. The folks at ISIS “are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists,” he said. Nothing, says Wood, could be further from the truth. ISIS is all about religion, and a religious leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who has assumed a role not seen in many centuries.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

In other words, the language, aspirations, traditions of Islam saturate the soil over which the blood of those executed daily flows. Westerners don’t get, not just because they are into Pollyanna … Read More >>

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Ben Yeshiva: You Need Not Leave – A Yotzei Min Ha-Klal Perspective

I read the new (and fabulous!) edition of Klal Perspectives with great intrigue. Grappling with the transition from ben yeshiva to baal habayis is a very sensitive topic in general, but for those personally undergoing this transition, it is often one of disorientation, frustration, and even trauma and despair.

The solutions presented to enabling a smooth (as possible) transition, and the resolutions for balancing Torah and avodah, are delicate and often pretty touchy, but they make a lot of sense and are welcome and quite necessary. Yet in the end, to an idealistic ben yeshiva, they can reflect a sense of abandonment of his idealism, for if one has been bred and cultivated to embrace Torah excellence and focus on limud ha-Torah as the apex, a prescription that includes an abandonment of his ascent to the peak is an exceedingly hard pill to swallow.

Obviously, one needs to be practical and fulfill his responsibility to provide for his family and himself; the challenge, rather, is the perceived need to basically throw in the towel, say goodbye to the beis medrash and radically change course. Giving up one’s life ambition in Torah is not easy, no matter how important … Read More >>

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Creativity Restored: the Mesoras HaRav Chumash

R. Yisroel Salanter, it is said, decried the fact that derush had turned the corpus of Chazal from an instructional form into a plaything for rhetoricians. Every rov found pesukim and midrashim to be infinitely pliable, capable of taking whatever shape he wanted. They became springboards ready to launch any thought that met his fancy. But if Torah texts could mean anything, R. Yisroel lamented, then they effectively meant nothing. If you didn’t like what a rov said about some passage, just saunter down the street and a different rov would likely assure you that the words meant the polar opposite. Whatever lesson – or lessons – HKBH and Chazal had in mind when they wrote what they did were lost to the surrounding static.

Perhaps the conservatism, the cautiousness we observe in new works on Chumash and Chazal are part of a corrective to R. Yisroel’s observation. Perhaps people reasoned that it was more important to showcase the words of the Sages themselves than their own verbal pyrotechnics. Maybe that is why we see lots of works citing lots of other, earlier works, but not very much genuine creativity.

Or so it seems. While studying Netziv, … Read More >>

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In Praise of Brainwashing

A reference to a Shabbos seudah as “brainwashing.” An attempt by a flag-draped man to enter a Montreal Jewish day school. And a pre-school morah’s report. All took place recently and, together, helped me better understand something fundamental about life.

The cynical reference to Shabbos was from a woman quoted in a book. Sadly, she had left the Jewish observance of her childhood behind.

“My father was always tired and so was my mother,” she explained to the author. “They were fighting. We were fighting. And so there was not that kind of love and joy that makes the brainwashing really stick.”

The brainwashing.

On the very day that quote appeared in a book review, a man draped in a flag of Quebec tried to enter a chareidi Jewish day school, Yeshiva Gedola, in Montreal, claiming that he wanted to “liberate” its students.

Wisely, the school’s staff did not allow the fellow into the building. One staff member said “When I answered through the intercom, the man told me: ‘I want to talk to the children because they are imprisoned in this school… I want to liberate the children’.”

Liberate the children.

Two people with a similar … Read More >>

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Klal Perspectives: New Issue on the Ben-Torah Baal-HaBayis

It wasn’t so long ago that when people spoke about the issues bnei Torah faced in the workplace, they meant how to deal with the power lunch at a treif restaurant, and the hand proffered by a female executive.

Things have changed, and not for the better. We had the vocabulary to deal with the old issues. Various positions emerged; none of them upset existing protocols or deeply-held beliefs.

Not so today. The angst faced by working bnei Torah has no easy antidote. Baalei batim struggle to keep afloat financially, attempting to satisfy the demands of an Orthodox household that far exceed the earning power of most couples. At the same time, the self-image of the ben Torah which had been so inextricably bound up in earlier years with the quantity and quality of learning takes a merciless beating as there just isn’t enough time to go around between responsibilities of earner, husband, father, and community member.

Nothing could work, short of changing the way we have been taught to think for many years. But we are suspicious of such change – rightfully so. We understand the human capacity for rationalization, for developing intellectual castles in … Read More >>

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American Libertarianism, Orthodox Libertarianism, and Lessons from Shushan

Lately, I have been haunted with the feeling that the moral stability of American society is quickly and quite substantially crumbling. Although moral norms have very arguably declined over time, such decline seems to be astonishingly accelerated at present. One of my clients recently commented the same to me, and my sense is that there is a broad awareness of acute change in the air, as the standards which have formed much of the base of American society are being rapidly chipped away.

As I read about states being required to recognize gay marriage, sodomy laws stricken down and bans on adultery repealed, and I see people all over New York City publicly smoking marijuana, I am confronted by the reality that principles are being replaced by permissiveness and moral norms are now subjective rather than objective. (Not to mention the many indictments of very public figures, including Orthodox Jews, for crimes of the worst types of unethical and immoral conduct. More on the Orthodox aspect of this discussion later…)

What does Jewish tradition have to say about such a society?

In a deep, brilliant shiur about Purim, Rav Soloveitchik addressed this issue:

The hedonic … Read More >>

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Ignore Headlines — and Be a Mensch

In February, 2001, I penned a piece for Moment Magazine that caused quite a ruckus.

I had titled it “Time to Come Home,” and it was addressed to Jews who belonged to Conservative Jewish congregations. I made the case that the Conservative movement’s claim of fealty to halacha was hollow and that the movement essentially took its cues from whatever non-Jewish society felt was acceptable or proper.

The issue of same-sex relationships, I contended, would prove my point. At the time, the movement hadn’t yet rejected the Torah’s clear prohibitions in that area. I predicted that, as the larger societal milieu was coming to embrace such relationships as morally acceptable, the Conservative movement would follow suit in due time.

(It did, of course, rather quickly. In 2006, the movement’s “Committee on Jewish Law and Standards” endorsed a position permitting “commitment ceremonies” between people of the same gender and the ordination as Conservative rabbis of people living openly homosexual lives. But the accuracy of my prediction is not my topic here.)

I pleaded that Conservative Jews who truly respected the concept of halacha should join their Orthodox brothers and sisters, and “come home,” as per the piece’s title.

… Read More >>

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Dovid Winiarz – My Brother, My Keeper

By Shmuel Winiarz

It hurts. Deeply. The initial blinding shock has passed, but as the sheloshim approaches, my mind inevitably wanders to thinking about my brother Dovid. I internally reflect on his life story and the calamitous circumstances of his untimely passing. I try to envision the path forward, knowing that it will be without Dovid’s inimitable presence. It may be a trite expression, but life will simply not be the same.

Dovid was an extrovert’s extrovert and his joie de vivre lit up the day of every person whose path happened to intertwine with his. As a result, many people befriended Dovid and felt close to him. To me, Dovid was my big brother, not Orwellian style, but in the truest and best meaning of the term. His relationship with all five of his younger siblings would be aptly described by interpreting Hashomer Achi Anochi not as a rhetorical question but as a statement of sacred responsibility. Dovid always made it his business to be there for us. He lent an empathic ear when needed. He gave select advice and would always make a call or a connection or a take a trip out when a … Read More >>

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Wedded Bling

Do the price of an engagement ring and cost of wedding have anything to do with how strong a marriage will prove to be? Two Emory University economists recently studied that question. They noted that the multibillion-dollar wedding industry sends the subliminal message that large amounts of money spent on getting married can help assure successful marriages. However, the researchers found, the evidence suggested that, if anything, relatively inexpensive weddings are associated with lower likelihood of divorce.

Correlation, it is famously and accurately said, does not necessarily imply causation. It has been noted, for instance, that per capita consumption of cheese in the U.S. correlates closely with the number of people who died by becoming entangled in their bedsheets. And mathematical proficiency generally correlates with shoe size (children’s feet, after all, being smaller than those of adults).

So it’s wise not to put too much emphasis on the recent research, which was based on a survey of nearly 3,400 people who answered 40 questions, much less to extrapolate from it to the observant Jewish community.

But still.

The researchers’ conclusion – “We find that marriage duration is either not associated or inversely associated with spending on the … Read More >>

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Football Fever

In this season of playoffs and super bowl, the thoughts of red-blooded Americans center on the most vital topic of the day: football. Even if we normally consider less crucial matters such as relationship with others or with Gd, the media tells us what really matters: who defeated whom, with its heroes and winners. A look at some of the heroes:

— Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens running back, savagely battered his fiance in an elevator. Reinstated after a three- game suspension, he was given a standing ovation when he appeared on the field. (Had he fumbled a ball, of course, he would have been booed.)

— Adrian Peterson, mainstay of the Minnesota Vikings, was suspended for mercilessly beating his young child.

— Ray Lewis, former star of the Ravens, was exonerated from murder charges although the evidence clearly pointed to him as the murderer ( a la O.J. Simpson).

— Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons quarterback commanding a long term contract for 90 million, was jailed for two years for killing dogs in a gambling operation.

— Alex Hernandez, former tight end for Boston Patriots, is in prison awaiting trial for premeditated murder.

— New Orleans Saints players were … Read More >>

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Gil Tal Obligates All of Us

“Hillel will obligate the poor [to learn Torah]; Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum obligates the rich; and Yosef the evil ones” (Yoma 35b). After Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum, whose father left him one thousand cities and one thousand ships at sea, and nevertheless sat and learned day and night, no one will be able to say that they were so occupied managing their property that they had no time to learn. And after Hillel, no one will be able to say they were too poor to learn. And after Yosef, no one will be able to say they were too beautiful to resist all the blandishments placed before him.

Gil Tal, profiled in a recent issue of HaModia’s Inyan Magazine by Rhona Lewis, will obligate all the rest of us. Tal lives on a non-religious moshav near Nahariya, apparently never learned in a yeshiva at any level, and has a job as a manager in a high-tech company in Yokneam, which keeps him away from home eleven hours a day. Yet within less than five years of picking up masechta Berachos, he has finished Shas with the ArtScroll Schottenstein Gemara.

Tal relates that prior to a recent visit to New … Read More >>

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In Brief:

Metzitza Bipeh

-- 12:06 pm

C-C readers are probably aware of the fact that a tentative agreement was reached yesterday between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and an association of mohelim and Orthodox representatives with regard to the practice of metzitza bipeh.

An article of mine that appeared in Haaretz yesterday on the ostensible tie between the rite and the cold sore virus (which can be dangerous to babies) can be read here.

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Klal Perspectives – The Next Issue

-- 7:37 pm

Readers are always weighing in on ideas for future issues of KP. The editors take them very seriously. In the last few weeks in particular, a number of people contacted me offline with ideas that I thought had considerable merit. I encouraged them to put them in an email, and I would forward them to the full board. I have no recollection of who they were.

I don’t think anyone did! And here we are, ready to decide on our next issue. If you were one of those people, now is the time!

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25 Comments

Thanks (I Think), NYT

-- 2:17 pm

I can’t say with any certitude that my repeatedly bugging of the New York Times’ public editor (who sent the criticism to a different department — which never responded to me) had anything to do with it. Or that my opinion piece last year (at http://hamodia.com/2014/08/06/ugly-times/ ) did.

But I’m happy to report that the “Times Journeys” offering of a tour to Israel with the theme “The Israeli-Palestinian Conundrum” seems to no longer feature Hanan Ashwari (who David Harris once said “is to truth what smoking is to health”) as one of its resident experts for the tourists. (The come-on is at http://www.nytimes.com/times-journeys/travel/israeli-palestinian-dialogue/ .)

But it never hurts to be a squeaky wheel (and to encourage others to squeak along); sometimes one may get the grease. One thing is certain: every proper hishtadlus is worth the time and trouble.

And thanks, New York Times, if you did, for taking the criticism seriously.

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Womens Lib Haredi-Style

-- 9:40 am

An article of mine on an often-ignored aspect of the high poverty/low employment rates of haredim in Israel was published by the Forward this week. The paper chose its own title for the piece, a somewhat misleading one, but, well, so it goes. You can read it here.

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Je Suis Juif

-- 9:43 am

Here’s a piece of rare double good news from Gaza. First, the Egyptian army is in the process of razing Rafah, the Egyptian border town,that borders Gaza, in order to create a security zone around the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians seek to prevent the smuggling of arms and terrorists between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai, where a number of deadly attacks have recently been launched at the Egyptian military. Over two thousand families have been displaced by the Egyptian action, though Egypt has promised to rebuild shelter for them elsewhere.

The second piece of good news is that few readers have likely heard of Rafah’s fate. Had Israel conducted the same operation, as has often been proposed and rejected, the hue and cry around the world would have been deafening. But since Egypt is doing the razing no one cares apart from the displaced families. Similarly, Israel is always described as maintaining an embargo on the Gaza Strip, which is both untrue and impossible. Israel controls only one point of entry to Gaza; the Egyptians control the other. And under Gen. Al-Sisi, Egypt has been every bit as zealous about regulating the flow of potential military material into Gaza as Israel.

For once, then, the double standard universally applied to Israel has worked out in Israel’s favor. For its own reasons, Egypt shares Israel’s interest in cutting off smuggling of arms and material with a military use into Gaza, and can act with impunity.

Elliott Abrams points out that the double standard applied to Jews (not just Israel) was also on display last week in Paris. Along with all the signs, “Je suis Charlie” on display, he would like to have seen a few more signs, “Je suis Juif.”

As horrific as the attack on Charlie Hebdo was, it was no more so than the slaying of four Jews (including a father and his two sons) in a Jewish school in Toulouse two years ago. The staff of Charlie Hebdo knew very well that they were courting danger by sticking their fingers deep into the eyes of Muslim fanatics. But the Jewish victims in Toulouse or the four Jews murdered in a kosher supermarket in Paris two days after the attack on Charlie Hebdo made no choices. Their only “sin” was to be Jewish.

As Mark Steyn wrote in his 2008 book America Alone, from the start of the new millennia, French Muslims “have been carrying on a low-level intifada against synagogues, kosher butchers and Jewish schools, etc. The concern of the political class has been to prevent the spread of these attacks to targets of more, ah, general interest. They’re losing that battle.”

Several million Frenchmen were right to march in protest against an attempt by radical French Muslims to prove at gunpoint that the French tradition of free speech, including a healthy dose of anti-clericalism, does not apply to speech that offends them. But, at the same time, no healthy democracy can allow a group of its citizens – in this case the third largest Jewish community in the world – to become sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. That too should have merited a huge protest.

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We’re Not Kidnappers

-- 9:17 am

A piece I wrote for a Forward blog, in reaction to a mother’s lament over her newly-Orthodox daughter’s described rejection of her parents can be read here.

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Growing Older, in Verse

-- 3:31 am

By Yossi Huttler

[Editor’s Note: By now, Rabbi Yossi Huttler has become the resident poet of Cross-Currents. Readers under 40 may not know what a poem is; those over 40 may find that it resonates.]

Graying

It only seems
silent and painless
how it happened
one overnight
like it did
to Rabbi Elazar ben Azaraya
but many hurts
unseen or unheard
have shaded me
silvery and gray hues
lunar scars
just how dark
depending on the night
and its mishmarot

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1 Comment

Exodus Exegesis

-- 9:28 pm

Some interesting thoughts about Yetzias Mitzrayim that have been bouncing around in my head for a number of years can be read here.

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On Never Having to Mention Islam

-- 9:43 am

The Obama administration responded characteristically to the savage terrorist attack by gunmen shouting “Al-lahu Akbar” and “We have avenged the prophet” on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Press secretary Josh Earnest made the rounds of TV talk shows to repeat that “Islam is a religion of peace,” and to warn that the attack was still under investigation, and therefore it is “not clear who was responsible and what their motivations were.” If he really didn’t know their motivations, he was surely the last person on the planet in that position.

Secretary of State Kerry spoke of “extremists,” without mentioning what they represented the extreme version of, and insisted that the West does not face a war of civilizations – not with Islam or even a version of Islam.

No matter how many times the authors of savage deeds of barbarism proclaim that they are acting in the name of Al-lah, the “prophet,” or the “holy Koran;” no matter how many imams praise their actions and rejoice in their upholding the honor of Islam; no matter how many times they announce that their goal is imposition of sharia, Muslim religious law, on the entire world; no matter how many foundational Islamic texts calling for war on the infidel they cite – they can still count on Western apologists to deny their actions have anything to do with Islam. Why? Because everyone knows that “Islam is a religion of peace. Never mind that the three letter root for peace in Arabic is better translated as submission.

These flights of fancy have consequences: They endanger citizens of the West. Political correctness led the Obama administration to excise every reference to Islam from government anti-terrorist manuals, in contravention of Sun Tzu’s admonition in The Art of War: “Know your enemy.” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned against police surveillance of mosques, which are often terrorist recruitment and planning centers. That same slothful thinking leads to slack enforcement of airplane watch lists. Witness the “underwear bomber,” whose own father had informed authorities of his brainwashing by radical Islamists.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, new year’s day speech, thus came as a welcome refutation of so much nonsense about the lack of connection between Islam and terrorism. Speaking in the Al-Azhar University, a center of Islamic learning, al-Sisi lamented that “the corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years [are] antagonizing the entire world.” He asked whether it makes sense that “1.6 billion people [the world’s Islamic population] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants . . . so that they may live.”

Only a religious revolution, said al-Sisi, could keep Muslims from being seen as “a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.”

At least one Muslim it would appear has eyes to see that the source of the problem lies in Islam itself.

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Another Nail in the Coffin

-- 11:05 am

The Conservative Movement has been hemorrhaging for a quarter century. In the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, the movement constituted 37.8% of American Jewry. That percentage was less than half in the 2013 Pew Study – 18%. The only growing segment of the non-Orthodox world are those who describe themselves as unaffiliated or having no religion.

The Conservative Movement always proclaimed itself a halachic movement. But that pretense has long since proven unsustainable. Marshall Sklare’s definitive study of the movement’s apparent flourishing in the ’50s and ’60s, already hinted at the seeds of its own destruction. Rabbis, wrote Sklare, enter into an unwritten compact with their congregations to never discuss halacha. And to the extent that halacha is discussed, it is in terms of polling the unlearned laity for their opinions.

In a December, 2005 address to 700 Conservative clergy and educators, the movement’s leading theologian, Neil Gilman, said that it was dishonest for Conservative movement to continue to describe itself as halachic. At most, halacha is to be consulted in light of “changing social and cultural norms.”

Last week, the movement took another step towards oblivion when United Synagogue Youth, its teenage division, voted to drop its previous ban on USY officers dating non-Jews. Now those officers are required only “to strive to model healthy Jewish dating choices,” while recognizing the importance of intra-dating for Jewish continuity. (Of course, the very concept of high-school “dating” is foreign to Mishpacha readers.)

The new language was designed, according to senior Conservative leaders, to offer a more welcoming face to USYers who come from intermarried homes and to recognize the reality of intermarriage.

Jack Wertheimer, former provost of the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, has documented what that welcoming attitude to intermarried couples entails: a member of a synagogue ritual committee appearing on Ash Wednesday (a Catholic holiday) with ash on her forehead; a cogregant challenging a rabbi for not having given equal time to x-mas in his Chanukah sermon.

In it’s efforts to be up-to-date and adapt to changing social mores and realities – and thereby avoiding the alleged “fossilization” of the Orthodox – the only thing the movement has done is to join Reform in convincing its young that Judaism is trivial: It has no fixed standards; it demands no sacrifice. And every former red-line proves as flexible as President Obama’s threat to Syrian dictator Assad not to cross his red-line by employing chemical weapons.

A Judaism that accepts you what no matter what you do; one where there is no beyond the pale, only succeeds in conveys the message that Judaism is worthless. No wonder the 2013 PEW study found that young Jews are more likely to view a particular sense of humor and taste for certain ethnic foods – both qualities widely shared with non-Jews – as more central to their Jewish identity than any particularistic religious beliefs or practices.

Not without logic, do young Jews conclude: If Judaism validates my every opinion, and legitimizes my every action, why do I need Judaism? The more trivial Judaism becomes the less sense does it make to take one’s Judaism into consideration in dating and marriage compared to focusing on shared politics, attraction, even a taste for French films.

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20 Comments

Here We Go Again… (Yes, Yibaneh Ha-Mikdash)

-- 9:05 pm

It felt so good to write about different, constructive topics for a while: Chanukah, hashkafah, and a planned article on the Torah’s view of police conduct. It was refreshing. This, plus some new divrei Torah and several halachic articles in other venues, provided a welcome break from previous discussion about concerns within Orthodoxy.

It was thus with shock and regret that I read Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz’ new article, Please, God, Help me to understand why we must pray for a third Temple! It is not that I was so shocked by the article’s content, as Rabbi Yanklowitz has already published plenty of material that does not square with Orthodox thought and practice. The shock, rather, was due to the fact that someone who identifies as an Orthodox rabbi and who has exposed himself to harsh criticism for his previous controversial writings would again, without inhibition, publicly pen something so at odds with Torah theology.

The centrality in Judaism of the Beis Ha-Mikdash, perpetuating the role of the Mishkan as the locus of perceptible and palpably-sensed Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah (Manifestation of the Divine Presence), cannot be overstated. The notion of Hashem residing in our midst, as it were, and our ability to come close to Him in entreaty and sacrifice, are among the most fundamental elements of our theology. Sacrifice on Har Ha-Moriyah (Mount Moriah), where the Beis Ha-Mikdash is stationed, goes back to Adam Ha-Rishon (Adam, the first human), and communing with our Creator at that site, and offering of ourselves to Him as symbolically reflected through korbonos (sacrifices), is at the core of our tradition of Avodas Hashem (Divine Service). To reject these concepts is to reject the most intrinsic components of Judaism and the Jewish approach to communing with God.

Here is my response to Rabbi Yanklowitz’ new article. Let’s hope that there will eventually no longer be cause for more such responses.

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Letter in NYT Book Review

-- 6:38 pm

A slightly edited version of the letter below appears in the current New York Times Book Review:

Editor:

In reviewing “Living the Secular Life,” Susan Jacoby misunderstands the argument of those who maintain that the idea that there can be “good without God” is absurd.

The question isn’t whether an atheist can live an ethical life; of course she can. And believers can do profoundly unethical things. But an atheist has no reason to choose an ethical life. “Good deed” or “bad deed” can have no more true meaning for him than good weather and bad weather; right and wrong, no more import than right and left. If we are mere evolved apes, even if evolution has bequeathed us a gut feeling that an ethical life is preferred, we have no more compelling reason to embrace that evolutionary artifact than we are to capitulate to others, like overeating in times of plenty. If dieting isn’t immoral, neither is ignoring the small voice telling us that whacking our neighbor on the head and stealing his dog is wrong.

Only a psychopath, Ms. Jacoby contends, could disagree with the Golden Rule. The evidence presented by the large number of people convicted each year of thievery, assault, murder and rape (not to mention the even larger number of litigants in most civil lawsuits) would seem to argue otherwise. No, being willing to do unto others what one would not want done to himself isn’t a sign of psychopathy. It is a part of human nature. And only the conviction that there is an Ultimate Arbiter of right and wrong, and that we are created in the image of that God, can give us pause when we consider expressing the darker facets of our natures.

Rabbi Avi Shafran
New York, NY

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