Viewing One Another with a Favorable Eye

Just before Rosh Hashanah, Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of Yaakov Naftali Fraenkel, one the three murdered yeshiva students, issued a video message through Aish.com to the entire Jewish people. She recounted very briefly the torture of the18 days of searching for her son and Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaer: The parents knew almost from the beginning that their sons had almost certainly been murdered, and yet they maintained stoic countenances, filled with faith, throughout. Their nobility awed the entire nation.

Her message, however, was not about what the parents suffered or about the irreparable hole in their hearts. Rather she focused on those “amazing hours” of which it was said, “We went out searching for the boys and we discovered ourselves.” She likened those days to a flash of lightning on a dark and gloomy night that illuminates the way forward: “We had days and days of lightning. . . . [W]e saw about ourselves that we are part of something huge, a people, a true family. That’s for real.”

Mrs. Fraenkel knows that it is not all kumbaya moments ahead of us, and that we will return to old patterns – indeed we already have. Yet, she insists, that the closeness of what Jews around the world felt in those eighteen days and during the fifty days of Operation Protective Shield is no illusion, and urges each of us to do something tangible to preserve those feelings of caring intensely for one another.

MRS. FRAENKEL’S THEME of Jewish unity and concern for one another also happens to be one of the principal themes of the three holidays in the cycle of repentance – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot – in which we currently find ourselves. On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the creation of the world, which came about only because of G-d’s desire to give to a being outside of Himself. And we emulate His chesed by inviting friends and guests to join us in festive meals.

The goal of Rosh Hashanah is to crown G-d as King. Without a nation there can be no King, our Sages tell us. And without a sense of common purpose and being joined together in some fundamental fashion, there is no nation, only a motley crew of individuals.

In recognition of this fact, there hung in the Talmud Torah of Kelm throughout Elul a yellowing sign from the days of the Alter, proclaiming: “All the Rosh Hashanah prayers are designed to glorify the Kingdom of Heaven, and we, for our part, are called upon to crown the Lord as King of Kings. With what shall we crown Him? With love for others and charitable acts, as Moshe said in his parting blessing: ‘There will be a King in Yeshurun when the leaders of the people gather together, with the tribes of Israel as one.'”

During the Ten Days of Repentance, which culminate with Yom Kippur, the principal means of arousing G-d’s mercy is through the recitation of the 13 Divine attributes, which G-d taught to Moshe Rabbeinu. These can only be recited by a minyan of Jews, not by an individual. On Yom Kippur, all the Al Cheits — For the sin which we committed . . . — are in the plural: Because Jews are responsible for one another we are each implicated in the sins of our fellow Jews.

A Midrash on Sukkot, explains that we leave our well-protected homes for a flimsy, temporary dwelling as a protection against the extension of our current exile, which resulted from sinat chinam, causeless hatred. How so?

When we exchange the security of our homes to live in a dwelling that reminds us of the Clouds of Glory that protected our ancestors in a howling wilderness, we simultaneously leave the material realm for a more spiritual realm. To the extent that we maintain a materialistic perspective, we tend to view our fellow Jews as competitors in a zero-sum battle for larger slices of a limited pie. But the spiritual realm is infinite, and when it is our focus, our fellow Jews become not competitors but partners in spiritual growth. Thus the sukkah serves as an antidote to the division and hatred that brought about our millennial exile.

I AGREE with Mrs. Fraenkel that the events of the summer aroused/revealed a powerful yearning for greater unity among Jews. That yearning is no illusion. We watched the three sets of parents through their ordeal and were overwhelmed by their strength. And a few weeks later, we were again awed by the bravery of young Jewish soldiers putting their lives on the line to enter the Gaza Strip with its labyrinth of underground tunnels and booby-trapped homes, from which heavily armed enemy might suddenly jump out at any moment. Over the summer, I suspect that there were few Jews in Israel not filled with gratitude for the privilege of being born into the eternal Jewish people.

By giving open expression to our gratitude, admiration, and respect for Jews perhaps not exactly like ourselves, we gained a taste of what it might be like to view one another as precious brothers and sisters whose positive traits are far more prominent in our eyes than the negative. And we discovered that we like the taste. We learned that we don’t have to construct our identities on the basis of denying any qualities worthy of emulation to those who do not belong to our group.

I was gratified that the haredi community did not stand apart from the intense identification with one another. In every neighborhood, there were collections of food and other items for the soldiers.

One person I knew I’d see this summer was Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff, a black-hatted rabbi from Queens. I first met him during the Second Lebanon War when he travelled around the North for several weeks giving encouragement to residents stuck in shelters. The next time I met him was at the shiva home of one of the eight yeshiva students murdered in Mercaz HaRav: He had flown in for a day to visit all eight shiva homes. And this summer, he came on his own dime, after the ceasefire had gone into effect, to visit the most seriously wounded soldiers in hospitals from Haifa to Beersheba.

When I wrote about his trip in Mishpacha, the largest circulation haredi publication in the world, the response was overwhelming. But the most important was that of Mrs. Tzila Schneider, who runs an organization called Kesher Yehudi, which sets up learning partnerships between haredi and secular Jews. She dispatched a group of volunteers to Tel Hashomer Hospital, where the largest contingent of seriously wounded soldiers is in rehabilitation, with the injunction: This is not to be a one-time visit only, but an ongoing relationship. There are now close to thirty volunteers learning weekly with soldiers who will likely be in hospital for a prolonged period of time.

IN THE SPIRIT OF THE MONTH of teshuva and in response to Mrs. Fraenkel’s plea that each of us try to do something to keep the spirit of the summer going, I’d like to express two things that I admire about my fellow Israeli Jews.

By definition anyone living in Israel must have some level of faith. There is no country whose citizens face on a constant basis so many mortal threats. Hezbollah possesses a huge arsenal of missiles – ten times what Hamas had at the outset of Operation Protective Shield and of greater range and sophistication. It has the capacity to overwhelm the Iron Dome system. Iran’s proxy on our border has also gained much battle experience in Syria.

The Golan Heights border is heating up again after decades of relative quiet, Jordan’s long-term stability is very much in question, and the Egyptian army is a long way from suppressing any threat from Sinai jihadists. And each of these threats – indeed all of them combined – pale besides that of a nuclear-armed Iran committed to wiping Israel off the map.

Yet Israeli Jews remain by almost every measure among the most optimistic people in the world. Perhaps it is davka because they subject themselves to so many dangers to live in Israel that Israeli Jews remain so optimistic about the future. Rabbi Noach Weinberg always used to challenge new students at Aish HaTorah to tell him what they’d be willing to die for. “If you don’t know what you’d be willing to die for, you don’t know what you are living for either,” he would say.

Because Israeli Jews know that there is something they would be willing to die for they also know that there is some purpose to their lives. In the course of Operation Protective Edge, many farewell letters (to be opened only in the case of death) of soldiers killed in battle were published. I was struck by how many of those soldiers, and not just the religious ones, expressed their eagerness to risk their lives to protect “the Jewish people.”

The second quality that stands out about Israelis is a certain moral seriousness. When a suffocating political correctness has rendered common sense remarkably uncommon and the basic instinct for self-preservation has atrophied in Western societies, both qualities are plentiful in Israel. Israel’s situation does not permit us the luxury of viewing the world around as we would like it to be, not as it is.

Every time I fly out of Israel without having to remove my shoes or being left clutching my pants after having been deprived of my belt, I’m grateful to live in a country where it is not forbidden to use a flicker of intelligence in determining whom to search. For that too I am grateful.

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Misplaced Zeal

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

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The “Shabbos App” is a Farce

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.]

  4. 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.

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Why I Love Rav Shmuel – And Will Advocate Vaccination Nonetheless

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.

It means:

• 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.

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What’s (Shabbos) App?

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.

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Malignancies

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 … Read More >>

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The Waning Strength and Influence of American Jewry – Including Orthodoxy

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 >>

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Time After Time

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 >>

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On The Derech To Rosh Hashanah

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 >>

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School News

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 >>

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From Volozhin to Sanz, Gush Etzion to Talmon – A 5774 Retrospective

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.

I Volozhin

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 >>

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When Orthodox Jews Boycott Israeli Produce

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 >>

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A Connection to Torah for All

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 >>

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Stubborn Spirit

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 >>

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Living with Emunah

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 >>

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Travels In Israel and the Tochachoh For Moderns

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 >>

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Immoral “Morality”

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.”

“It”?

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 >>

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In Brief:

Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg – CNN Hero, and Mine

-- 2:28 am

In a large mosque in Detroit hangs a plaque honoring Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg. That will give you just an inkling of the Kiddush Hashem that Rabbi G (as he is affectionately called) has created for decades in cities, hospitals, universities, and corporate installations throughout the US and abroad. He has now made the final cut in the annual CNN Heroes competition. Making it to the top ten contenders will itself bolster the image of the frum Jew as people read his amazing accomplishments while viewing his bearded visage crowned with a large black yarmulke.

Like Avraham Avinu whom the Torah describes as “vayakam…me’al pnei meiso,” R Goldberg took the loss of his infant Soro Basya to leukemia as a signal to move on to even greater accomplishment. Coupling his background in the martial arts with his huge reservoir of compassion and empathy, R Goldberg developed a program that teaches children to manage their pain, while giving them a sense of meaning and purpose as they then teach these techniques to others – including corporate executives. He has been featured in dozens of stories on network television and magazines like People. (The most recent coverage was in The Forward, where you can get more details.) He has managed to build up his chesed project while also serving as the camp rabbi at Camp Simcha for many years, rabbi emeritus of Young Israel of Southfield, Daf Yomi magid shiur, and clinical professor at a Detroit medical school.

With all the tarnishing of the image of the frum Jew in the last years, R Goldberg’s candidacy affords us a wonderful opportunity to burnish it in the eyes of millions. Which is why I intend, B”N, to vote for him twice a day (once by email; once by Facebook; this is both allowed and encouraged by the rules) at the official site. I encourage you to do the same – for the sake of all the kids that he will reach with the prize money, and for the purpose of providing a glimpse of the deracheha darchei noam that a Torah Jew can bring to our troubled world.

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“Personal Torah”

-- 10:25 pm

A recent announcement by a respected Conservative rabbi has been trumpeted widely as evidence of his heroism. My take is somewhat different, and was published, to the periodical’s credit, by the Forward. You can read it here

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Yom Kippur Shiur Available For Download

-- 11:27 pm

My annual Yom Kippur shiur is available for download. It was given earlier today to a gathering of women in Los Angeles, and comes in three sections, for reasons explained, within the shuir. The first is a large part of the Nesivos Shalom’s section Avodas Hashem, reduced to a list of bullet points. The middle section is a hodgepodge of shorter vertlach on Yom Kippur and teshuva. The last part is a maamar of Pachad Yitzchok.

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Letter in NYT

-- 9:03 pm

To the Editor:

Dr. Barron H. Lerner concedes that it was proper for medicine to abandon the medical paternalism that had doctors make “life-and-death decisions for patients by themselves,” but he asserts that doctors should be “bolder and more courageous,” seeing “their duty not simply as providing options” but as ensuring “the most appropriate care,” even if that means “saying no to specific demands.”

To be sure, patients and their families need to be well informed about treatments and prognoses. But it is not a doctor’s role to make ultimate decisions for his patients.

Dr. Lerner doesn’t like interventions that have “little or no chance of succeeding.” No one, though, has yet succeeded in surviving life indefinitely. And decisions about when, if ever, to give up on it are the province of patients and their religious advisers, not graduates of medical schools.

(Rabbi) AVI SHAFRAN
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, Sept. 19, 2014

Other letters on the topic can be read here.

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Jewish Action – Fall Issue

-- 3:30 am

Ask six frum Jews (of various genders) what they recommend as Elul reading, and you should get about 57 opinions, right? Jewish Action tried this, and the results are published in the Fall issue.

As one of the respondants, I was delighted to see that half of us went with recognized works of major baalei machshavah, which was the route that I described as working best for me. Within that group, only two seforim were chosen by more than one respondant: Sifsei Chaim, and Nesivos Shalom.

This provides a great opportunity for unvarnished self-promotion of my own adaptation of Nesivos Shalom (for those who are just not going to use the Hebrew original, which is the best way to go). Just in case anyone has forgotten.

You can order easily online here or on Amazon. It comes with a great cover.

Nesivos-Shalom-cover

 

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Burdened By The Times?

-- 2:45 pm

by Lawrence Reisman

I must confess that I read The New York Times regularly. Outside of the Middle East, I find the coverage to be fairly complete, in line with my biases, and even willing to contradict my preconceived notions now and then. More often than its detractors give it credit for, it will report when the liberal platitudes are simply not working. But enough of defending The Times. When it comes to Israel and the Mideast, I find its biases annoying. Mostly though, I live with them. I can see through what they’re saying, and I have no trouble finding alternative sources of information. So, most of the time, I live with it.

There comes a time when the biases of The Times are too much, even for me. In a recent review of Lawrence Wright’s Thirteen Days in September (about the 1979 Camp David accords), the reviewer started off with the following:

On March 11, 1978, 11 Palestinian militants came ashore in Zodiac boats north of Tel Aviv and set about murdering as many Israelis as they could with guns and grenades. They hijacked a taxi and two buses; 38 were killed, including 13 children. The massacre was intended as a provocation; a disproportionate Israeli response was assumed.

Please notice how those who “set about murdering as many Israelis as they could,” are referred to as “militants.” All right, it’s not politically correct to use the word “terrorist” anymore, or maybe it is? Further on in the article, praising the author for showing Menachem Begin in a less negative light than he would like, the reviewer refers to Begin as a “former terrorist.” So an Israeli leader, about to abandon his vow never to give up the Sinai and make peace with Egypt is a “former terrorist,” while those who massacred (The Times’s word) 38 Israelis are only militants? The obvious and unabashed double standard is too much for even me.

I have written The New York Times Book Review calling attention to this linguistic imbalance. I would appreciate it if others would as well.

Lawrence M. Reisman is a certified public accountant and attorney working in New York City. His articles on Jewish subjects have been published in the New York Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, The Jerusalem Report, and The Jewish Observer.

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How Technological Machers Limit Consumption To Their Kids

-- 12:17 am

This article in the New York Times is not to be missed. Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids have iPads.

The money quote from Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired regarding his five children, aged 6 to 17:

My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules. That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.

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Two For Elul

-- 11:23 pm

Two poetic images from Cross-Currents’ resident poet, Rabbi Yossi Huttler

Yemei Ratzon(Elul) – Tefilin, Mezuzos, Neshomos

Casings and bodies
opened up
S/scribe scrutinizing
sacred letters within
for imperfections and omissions
judging the living
parchment whether so flawed
to be consigned genizah
or repairable enough
to merit longer life

Altarnate

running to You
ensnared by thickets
of my own gnarling
still deem me worthy
even a mere substitute
offering

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The Israeli Seminary Scandal

-- 4:28 am

We’ve stayed out of it, because we had nothing particularly insightful to add. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, who has been a fearless crusader against abuse in general, does have some special insight, and has been very much involved in the unfolding of the story. A few paragraphs taken from his recent blog post are so critical that they must be spread far and wide:

1) As nashim tzidkaniyos (righteous women) who, at great personal risk, did the right thing to protect others from what had happened to them?

2) As troublemakers and m’saprei lashon ha’ra (gossip-mongers), who ruined the career of Rabbi Meisels and jeopardized the very existence of the seminaries?

3) Or they are not mentioned at all – basically, “Let’s-Not-Spoil-the-Party-by-discussing-sordid-things-like-this.” (In the month of Elul, no less)

My dear friends, we at Project YES feel very strongly that the only responsible position for the leadership and faculty of these seminaries (and all seminaries) is to take option #1.

We propose that option #2 and even #3 are unacceptable as they send a very dangerous message — should current or future students have their boundaries violated, the wisest and safest route for them, would be to remain silent.

This is the quintessential “teachable moment” to educate our innocent and sheltered young ladies about hilchos yichud and their right to personal space. They also need to be taught that it is not a violation of hilchoslashon ha’ra to speak up, if these boundaries are violated in any way. Quite to the contrary, they should be informed that they are obligated to do so – and assured that they will be supported unconditionally when they do so.

Giving the young ladies messages contrary to these — either by commission or omission — after such a public scandal occurred, will create a toxic and unsafe environment for them both physically and spiritually.

We write these lines to encourage the current leadership of these seminaries, and to the educators in all high schools and seminaries, to convey these critical messages to their students, and to empower the parents of the students to insist that they do.

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27 Comments

Nothing Like a Compliment

-- 5:30 pm

As part of my recovery from the removal of a polyp from one of my vocal chords, I’ve been doing a course of voice training to prevent any recurrences. Much of the training in proper speech habits involves reciting a series of nonsense syllables – e.g., boom, bom, bam, bem, beem.

In a recent session, after reciting the above series, my therapist expressed his approval of the manner in which I had avoided straining my vocal chords. I found myself smiling in response to the compliment.

That smile gave me pause. I’m 63 years old, not an infant forming his first syllables. I’ve been regularly engaged in some form of public speaking since my bar mitzvah drashah. And I have not led a life bereft of all forms of positive feedback or felt a desperate craving for such.

Yet here I was smiling to myself at the smallest compliment for properly mouthing five nonsense syllables. My reaction brought home once again the incredible power that lies in even the smallest compliment and how much we should make use of that power.

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Responses to the Shidduch Proposal

-- 4:03 am

Besides abandoning CC for two weeks while running the Tikvah Program for Yeshiva Men (reaction coming later) and a few days of decompression at Mammoth, I waited to see if readers of Mishpacha would pick up on the flaws I spotted in the original piece. They didn’t – at least the ones that the magazine agreed to publish. So here are my own quibbles:

1) No one is to blame, but the accolades to Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz understated just how much good he does. It could be that Angelenos, closer to the action, have a better understanding of just how generous he is, how hard he (and his wife) try to help other Jews, and how unassuming he is in the terrific work he does. Readers should know that the description in Mishpacha was not exaggerated.
2) I think that the proposed solution runs the risk of ameliorating one crisis by adding to a different one – one that Mishpacha is less likely to write about. As it is, those encouraged to defer even thinking about parnasah plans during their years of learning often wake up to the cruel realization that they have positioned themselves out of range to do anything in life that is suitable to their personalities and interests. By the time they begin to explore parnasah, the education many need is beyond achieving, because it requires time and money, and they have several children to support. This has led to desperation, friction with spouses, and general unhappiness for too many people waking up to realize that they just cannot make ends meet.

If yeshiva men marry at younger ages as proposed, they will likely have even larger families by the time they consider employment, and even fewer of them will have the flexibility to seek academic or vocational training while someone else is supporting the family. More of them will be trapped as permanently undereducated and underemployed.

I have my doubts about the marriage readiness of twenty-year old men, but even if I can be pleasantly surprised, I can’t see how it can work without allowing and encouraging them to at least think of hatching a game plan for future employment, and understanding what will be necessary to enter the market.

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A New Look at Tehillim 144

-- 3:23 pm

Contributed by Doron Beckerman

לְדָוִד בָּרוּךְ ה’ צוּרִי הַמְלַמֵּד יָדַי לַקְרָב אֶצְבְּעוֹתַי לַמִּלְחָמָה:

(1) To David. Blessed is Hashem, my Rock, Who trains my hand for battle, my fingers for war.

[Every victory I accomplish in war does not come from the strength of my hand, for Hashem is He who trains my hand in war (Metzudos). May this strength and prowess be dedicated to the fulfillment of His will. It is solely for this purpose, and not out of vain lust for fame, that I cultivate these skills (Hirsch).]

חַסְדִּי וּמְצוּדָתִי מִשְׂגַּבִּי וּמְפַלְטִי לִי מָגִנִּי וּבוֹ חָסִיתִי הָרוֹדֵד עַמִּי תַחְתָּי:

(2) My loving-kindness [whatever skill and achievement I can call my own is all a generous gift of His loving-kindness (Hirsch)] and my fortress; my tower and my deliverer. My shield, and in Him do I take shelter; He who flattens nations beneath me (Radak).

ה’ מָה אָדָם וַתֵּדָעֵהוּ בֶּן אֱנוֹשׁ וַתְּחַשְּׁבֵהוּ:
אָדָם לַהֶבֶל דָּמָה יָמָיו כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר:
ה’ הַט שָׁמֶיךָ וְתֵרֵד גַּע בֶּהָרִים וְיֶעֱשָׁנוּ:
בְּרוֹק בָּרָק וּתְפִיצֵם שְׁלַח חִצֶּיךָ וּתְהֻמֵּם:
שְׁלַח יָדֶיךָ מִמָּרוֹם פְּצֵנִי וְהַצִּילֵנִי מִמַּיִם רַבִּים מִיַּד בְּנֵי נֵכָר:
אֲשֶׁר פִּיהֶם דִּבֶּר שָׁוְא וִימִינָם יְמִין שָׁקֶר:

(3-7) Hashem! What is man that You should know him? A son of mankind that You should grant him significance? Man is like vapor! His days are as a passing shadow! Hashem, bend Your heavens and descend. Touch the mountains and let them smoke! Flash lightning and scatter them! Send your arrows and stun them! Stretch forth Your hands from on high. Deliver me and save me from many waters, from the hand of alien peoples. Whose mouth utters falsehood, and their right hand is a right hand of mendacity.

[Please Hashem! Do not save us through hidden miracles, such that it gives the impression that man fights in the manner of war and is saved by fortress and shield. Save us with no intermediaries, so that everyone will recognize that the hand of Hashem has wrought this! Why should this vapor deny You? … They deny your hashgachah and say it is all happenstance (Malbim).

In view of the basically degenerate character of the enemy nations, however, their defeat by human hands, even though they were the hands of David, protected and strengthened by Hashem, is still not sufficient to bring more than temporary peace. Please grant us Your direct Divine intervention… for the enemy is perfidious, and only his utter destruction can bring about a state of peace that is truly permanent… It is impossible to make a dependable treaty of peace, for their word is deception and their handclasp is falsehood (Hirsch).]

אֱלֹקים שִׁיר חָדָשׁ אָשִׁירָה לָּךְ בְּנֵבֶל עָשׂוֹר אֲזַמְּרָה לָּךְ:
הַנּוֹתֵן תְּשׁוּעָה לַמְּלָכִים הַפּוֹצֶה אֶת דָּוִד עַבְדּוֹ מֵחֶרֶב רָעָה:
פְּצֵנִי וְהַצִּילֵנִי מִיַּד בְּנֵי נֵכָר אֲשֶׁר פִּיהֶם דִּבֶּר שָׁוְא וִימִינָם יְמִין שָׁקֶר:

(8-11) Hashem, I will sing to You a new song, I will sing to You with a ten-stringed lyre. He Who grants salvation to kings, Who delivers His servant, David, from the evil sword. Deliver me and save me from alien nations, whose mouth speaks falsehood and whose right hand is a right of mendacity.

[I wish to sing to You in my lifetime of universal perfection: “He has relieved me of the necessity to wield the sword, that evil in the history of nations.” I gladly forego the blood-stained laurels of military victory, and all my prayer is, “Deliver me!” Without such intervention, I am compelled to be ready at all times to wield the sword and to practice the skills of warfare, for the neighboring nations are perfidious foes (Hirsch).

Who delivers His servant from the evil sword of Goliath, which was solely for evil, with no political benefit. Deliver me, so that my enemies should not arise and rebel after they surrender. Their mouth speaks falsehood when they accept taxation and subjugation, and their right hand, as they sign the terms of subjugation, is mendacity (Sforno).]

אֲשֶׁר בָּנֵינוּ כִּנְטִעִים מְגֻדָּלִים בִּנְעוּרֵיהֶם בְּנוֹתֵינוּ כְזָוִיֹּת מְחֻטָּבוֹת תַּבְנִית הֵיכָל:
מְזָוֵינוּ מְלֵאִים מְפִיקִים מִזַּן אֶל זַן צֹאונֵנוּ מַאֲלִיפוֹת מְרֻבָּבוֹת בְּחוּצוֹתֵינוּ:
אַלּוּפֵינוּ מְסֻבָּלִים אֵין פֶּרֶץ וְאֵין יוֹצֵאת וְאֵין צְוָחָה בִּרְחֹבֹתֵינוּ:
אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם שֶׁכָּכָה לּוֹ אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם שֶׁה’ אֱלֹקיו:

(12-15) For our sons are as saplings, grown in their youth. Our daughters are as corners, chiseled in the form of the Sanctuary. Our pantries are full, giving forth all species. Our sheep multiplies by thousands and tens of thousands in our open areas. Our oxen are laden. There is no breach, none who go out, and there is no outcry in our streets. Praised is the nation who has it so! Praised is the nation whose God is Hashem!

[We are worthy of salvation because our sons are free of sin, since they are raised to fear sin from their youth. Our daughters have no shade of immodesty. We are therefore worthy of all this bounty and tranquility (Metzudos).

We give of our crops to the poor. No one breaches the words of the Torah. No one harms the other. No one shouts at the other, for all submit to the law. Praised is the nation whose deeds are such, who recognizes its Creator and prays to Him (Sforno).

Our primary praise is that Hashem is our God, for all this comes by virtue of Hashem’s presence in our midst, and He is our God and we are His flock (Malbim).]

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