I suspect that most of us if asked, “What can we do for those murdered in Kehillat Bnei Torah?” would be hard pressed to answer. We might mention contributing to the families of those slain, but for the pure korbonos themselves, we would be stumped. After all, they are already in the Olam HaEmes far beyond our reach. If pressed, we might come up with learning mishnayos or some other good deed l’ilui nishmasam (for the elevation of their souls), but nothing more than we might do for anyone who passed away.
These various responses, however, fail to take account of the sudden, shocking manner of their deaths, and the worldwide attention that they garnered, first and foremost among Torah observant Jews. In a hesped for Rabbi Moshe Twersky, H”yd, at the end of shiva, his brother Rabbi Meir Twersky distinguished between different forms of dying al Kiddush Hashem. In some cases, an otherwise ordinary and incomplete life might be somehow redeemed by the manner of its ending. But with respect to his brother, he said, the death al Kiddush Hashem, was the natural culmination or fulfillment of a life lived al Kiddush Hashem.
Rabbi Moshe Twersky himself seems to have sensed something of the sort. Death al Kiddush Hashem was a subject very much on his mind. In a June 2012 drashah, he told his talmidim, “Again, you hae to be ready for Kiddush Hashem. One never knows. It could happen anywhere. It could happen in Moscow;’it could happen in Paris; it could happen in London: it could happen in New York; it could happen in Yerushalayim. An Arab could come up with a knife, and it could happen. Anywhere. Any place. Anytime.”
But what does it mean that one’s death al Kiddush Hashem is the natural culmination of one’s life? I think it means that Hashem has found one’s life to be so exemplary that He holds it up as an example for emulation for all to see. Thus the shocking, much publicized nature of the deaths.
Had Rabbi Kalman Levine, Hy’d, for instance, lived many more decades of intense avodas Hashem, he would surely have had a licthige Gan Eden awaiting him. But few outside his family and close friends would have known anything about him. My sons had to remind me of how a few years ago he completely uplifted the very simple chasanah of a young man from the Ukraine with whom he had been learning a few years ago with his joyful dancing. (At the shiva house, there were many tearful stories of those who told the mourners they would not have been religious today had Reb Kalman not taken the time to learn with them at low points in their lives.)
Now the whole world knows who Rabbi Kalman Levine was, and Reb Aryeh Kupinsky, Hy”d, and Reb Avraham Goldberg, Hy”d. Hashem acted in such a way that we would all know of these men, and the same is true of some of those still in grave condition. At the end of the shiva, Rabbi Yitzchak Mordechai Rubin, the rav of Kehillas Bnei Torah, described Chaim Yechiel ben Malka, may Hashem grant him a full recovery, and how he literally runs to minyan in the morning.
The message Hashem is sending us by highlighting these lives of Kiddush Hashem is that we must learn from their lives and use them as models for ourselves, each according to his madrega (level). That doesn’t just mean a few moments of inspiration and some tears. It means reflecting deeply on what can be learned from them and taking on concrete kabolos (resolutions) to apply those lessons to our own lives. Without that, the inspiration will soon pass.
That is what we can do for the niftarim (deceased). We can maximize the impact of their lives of Kiddush Hashem in such a way that their tragic deaths do not go to waste but become the culmination of their lives lived on a very high level.
An old friend from yeshiva days called from Lakewood this week to share some of his discussions with his oldest son learning in Israel about the tragic events in Har Nof. (Those discussions form the basis for most of this column.)
In the course of our conversation, he recalled the murder a quarter century ago of Eliezer Schlesinger, H”yd, by a young Arab woman in a park near his yeshiva, as he and his chavrusah sat speaking in learning in the early hours of the morning.
At the time of the petirah of the young bochur described by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as “an ilui among the iluim, a masmid among the masmidim, tahor ve’kodesh, his personal kabolos came to light and were widely publicized, something that would never have happened except for the tragic circumstances of his death. My friend was then an twenty-year-old bochur, two years older than the niftar, learning in Brisk. He still recalls the powerful impact that those kabolos had on him. It had never dawned on him until those kabolos became public that an eighteen-year-old bochur could search his deeds with such rigor or that he could live with such high aspirations continually before him. It was thus revealed to him how much more was demanded of him, and how much more he could strive for. As the late gaon Rabbi Efraim Zuravin, who learned with Eliezer Schlesinger in chavrusah said in a hesped, “Who knows if his entire eighteen years were not just to teach us that such bnei aliyah exist in the world and to what an eighteen-year-old bochur can reach.”
May we all be zocheh to use the horrible murders of the four kedoshim in the same fashion, and in so doing continue to add merit to the lives of those so brutally taken from us.
A non-Orthodox writer recently reached out to ask if I would participate in a panel discussion about Chanukah. The other panelists would be non-Orthodox clergy.
While I cherish every opportunity to interact with Jews who live different lives from my own, I had to decline the invitation, as I have had to do on other similar occasions. I explained that my policy with regard to such kind and appreciated invitations is a sort of passive “civil-disobedience” statement of principle, “intended as an alternative to shouting from the rooftops that we don’t accept any model of ‘multiple Judaisms.’ So, instead, [I] opt to not do anything that might send a subtle or subliminal message to the contrary.”
“Sorry,” I added, “Really. But I do deeply appreciate your reaching out on this.”
The extender of the invitation, Abby Pogrebin, was a guest in the Shafran sukkah this past Chol Hamoed. Both my wife and I were impressed with both her good will and her desire to learn more about traditional Jewish life and beliefs. In fact, she is currently writing a series of articles for the secular Jewish paper the Forward on her experiences observing (in both the word’s senses) all the Jewish holidays and fast days over the course of a year.
Ms. Pogrebin recently produced her Chanukah-themed entry in the series and, with remarkable candor, reported that her research has led her to the understanding that Chanukah is really about the victory of Jews faithful to the Jewish religious heritage over those who were willing to jettison it.
“I know it’s too simplistic to say the Maccabees stand in for the observant, and the rest of us for the Hellenized,” she writes. “But implicit in so many rabbinic Hanukkah teachings is that we’re in danger of losing our compass, losing our difference – abandoning the text and traditions that make us Jews.”
Then she continues in a personal vein: “And that sense of alarm makes me look harder at where I fall on the spectrum before Hanukkah begins this year.”
Ms. Pogrebin goes on to quote Jewish writer Arthur Kurzweil as maintaining that Chanukah “is about Jewish intolerance in the best sense of the word” – that is to say, intolerance of assimilation to the larger culture.
He adds an analogy: “Baseball has four bases. You can invent a game with five bases; maybe it’s even a better game. But it’s not baseball.” Judaism, he explains, “is not whatever you want it to be.”
She goes on to note that it was hard for her “not to see the echoes of Maccabee-Hellenist tension this very month,” citing her failure to enlist traditionally Orthodox participants in a panel discussion she was moderating, the one to which she invited me. Having requested, and received, my permission to do so, she then quoted my response to her invitation.
Of course she finds reassuring voices, like that of Conservative rabbi Rachel Ain, who tells her “I wear tefillin every morning. They’re black and what all the men wear. I find it so powerful. I also wear a kippah, but it’s a beaded kippah and I have a tallit that was made for me – it’s green and purple and blue – and it’s very feminine and very halachic… Hellenizing? I say it’s innovating.”
But Ms. Pogrebin is a tenacious reporter, and cannot ignore the other, more Jewishly grounded, testimonies she received.
And it personally pains her. In words like Mr. Kurzweil’s and mine, she hears an echo of “countless voices in the observant world who would likely dismiss my level of Judaism as perilously assimilated.” And she is, understandably, distressed by that thought.
“Hanukkah,” she realizes, “celebrates those who refused to blend in.”
“Where,” therefore, she wonders, “does that leave those of us who, to one degree or another, already have?”
To my lights, Ms. Pogrebin is too hard on herself. She’s no Hellenist. She may be entangled with the larger culture in which she lives – so are, to one or another degree, all too many observant Jews. But she doesn’t reject the Jewish religious tradition, as did the Hellenists of old. In fact, she has embarked on a quest to better understand our mesorah, and seems rightly suspicious of the blandishments of those who proffer “innovations” to Jewish religious praxis.
Observance, to be sure, is central to Yiddishkeit. But a heartfelt undertaking by someone who wasn’t raised to be Torah-observant to learn more about observance, is hardly the enterprise of a Hellenist. It’s the hallmark, I’d say, of a Jew.
© 2014 Hamodia
“מאי חנוכה” – “What is Chanukah?” With these words does the Gemara (Shabbos 21a) commence its presentation of the religious historical underpinnings of Chanukah.
Unfortunately, Chanukah has become the most misunderstood and distorted of Jewish holidays. The secular American Jewish observance of Chanukah is largely manifest as the Festival of Consumerism (along with latkes, dreidels and vague messages of generic religious tolerance); the secular Israeli observance of Chanukah is manifest as the Festival of Might – the Maccabees’ religious devotion and attribution of their success to Hashem has been pretty much sidelined. And among the rabbinate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) has the message of Chanukah likewise become grossly malformed.
As was presented here a while back, one prominent member of the YCT rabbinate equates Chanukah with the legalization of same-sex marriage. And last week, a YCT leader, perplexed by the apparent clash of the message of Chanukah with his open, pluralistic religious orientation, declared that Chazal actually rejected the hashkafah of the Chashmona’im, instead favoring the values of pluralism and openness. Invoking a very radical understanding of Chanukah, we are told:
The rabbis were giving a clear indication of their distaste for the Chashmonaim and their approach… Chazal did everything they could to squelch this holiday of zealotry and intra-Jewish fighting. Ultimately compromising with a people who wanted or needed the heroics of the Maccabees marked on the calendar, they allowed for a much muted holiday… But Chazal’s approach to Chanukah espouses openness to the world around us and tolerance of difference. In lighting the candles, we open up to the world around us with the light of Torah and mitzvoth guiding us in our exploration of the other. Let us celebrate this beautiful chag by remembering the pride of the Chashmonaim but also the openness of Chazal to the outside world…
Another well-known far-left rabbi, who prides himself as the first openly gay/same-sex married Orthodox rabbi, writing on the Neo-Conservative Morethodoxy website, has just posited that we reinvent Chanukah in our own image, as it were.
After a lengthy summary of some of the Chanukah accounts from the Book of Maccabees, with a secular twist from an historian, we are advised that:
Instead of eight days of presents, (a coarse imitation of both Christmas and the materialist society we live in) why not remake Chanukah as an eight day celebration of diaspora Jewish culture? We could celebrate a different aspect of Jewish culture each day—food, literature, art, music, dance, philosophy, wisdom and faith. Perhaps Chanukah is the time of year that we ought to look at the tensions between our desire to be part of the larger world and our mandate to be a unique and special people. Such a remaking of Chanukah would not make us comfortable allies with zealots, but it might well allow us to ask ourselves some challenging questions about Jewish authenticity and purpose.
Then, the inner spiritual message of Chanukah as elucidated by the Chassidic masters is presented, but the Morethodoxy writer suggests that this inner spiritual message should replace the approach to Chanukah as conveyed by Chazal:
Chanukah in this Hasidic key isn’t about the war against the Greeks, or miraculous oil, but its also not about a cultural rededication to outward expressions of Jewish practice or observance. It is about rededication to a form of Jewish life that begins with a recovery of an authentic self, a rediscovery of one’s deeper sense of unique purpose. The light that for the rabbinic sages served to publicize an ancient miraculous renewal, was turned into a flashlight leading inwardly on a journey to the soul.
I am more than confident that the great rebbes who plumbed the inner meaning of Chanukah would be aghast to read that a Morethodoxy writer has presented their thoughts as a rejection of the basics of Chanukah.
The writer concludes:
Perhaps the most exciting element of Chanukah then is its quicksilver nature. It renews itself by reconstituting the original material of military and spiritual resistance into dazzling new forms of cultural and spiritual creativity. And so, perhaps its fundamental image is that of a rededication as a reboot, a recovery of something lost, a restoration that is also a renewall like the rekindling of a lamp with an ember found deep inside us.
In less eloquent terms, Chanukah is really whatever we decide it to be, according to this writer.
In stark contrast to the above Neo-Conservative approaches, let us turn to the words of Rav Yosef Dov Ha-Levi Soloveitchik zt”l:
Just as the Ner Tamid (Perpetual Flame) was the symbol of Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah (Manifestation of the Divine Presence) in the Beis Ha-Mikdash, so, too, the Ner Chanukah also serves as the symbol of Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah among Jews all over the world. The Ner Chanukah, itself, embodies the Ner Tamid of the Mikdash. Thus, the purpose of the mitzvah of Pirsumei Nisa (Publicizing the Miracle), by Chanukah, is to demonstrate the presence of Giluy Shechinah (Revelation of the Divine Preence), through the lighting of the Ner Chanukah. The light of the Ner Chanukah is the medium of revelation of the Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah among the Jews. In the same manner as the Ner Tamid tells the story of the Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah among the Jews in the Mikdash, so too, the Ner Chanukah states the story of the Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah in the present generation.
The main conflict between the Hellenists and the Jews centered around the concept of Bechiras Yisrael (Chosenness of the Jewish People). The Hellenists wanted the Jews to abandon their awareness of Bechiras Yisrael. The Hellenists, and later the Romans, hated the Jews because the Jews believed in Bechiras Yisrael. Thus, the function of Ner Chanukah is to remind us of the Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah…
The Shechinah addresses itself through the Ner Chanukah, and the Ner Chanukah demonstrates that the Shechinah resides among the Jews: “.עדות היא לבאי עולם שהשכינה שורה בישראל” (“The Western Lamp of the Menorah in the Beis Ha-Mikdash is testimony that the Divine Presence resides among the Jewish People.” – Shabbos 26b) This concept is the crux of the entire Torah. Thus, the Rambam used special language (explained earlier in this shiur – AG) with regard to Chanukah.
Furthermore, הנרות הללו קודש הם (“These lights are holy”) means that one should react to the Ner Chanukah in the same manner that Moses reacted to the fire of the Burning Bush, where he immediately sought to investigate that strange phenomena: “.אסורה ואראה את המראה הגדול הזה” – “I will detour and investigate this strange sight.” Our reaction to the Ner Chanukah should be similar to that. One must investigate and analyze the purpose of Nes Chanukah. The Rambam, thus, repeatedly emphasizes that Ner Chanukah is not to be taken as simply another mitzvah d’Rabbanan (rabbinical enactment), but is to be regarded as one of the fundamental mitzvos which symbolizes the relationship between God and the Jews.
In an essay presented in Sefer Mi’Peninei Ha-Rav (Chanukah, s. 1), Rav Soloveitchik explains that the author of Book of Maccabees recorded the historical events of Chanukah without appreciating their profundity; it was a superficial narrative. Rav Soloveitchik elaborates that the crux of Chanukah is the battle against desecration and defilement, and the “aliyah mi-tumah” (“emergence from impurity”) on the part of the nation, after the Hellenist Jews, who were the primary adversary, were overtaken by the Chashmona’im and recommitted to Torah.
Chanukah compels us to think and act as Torah Jews under all circumstances, in the face of all cultures and environments. Let us recommit and rededicate ourselves to this charge, and may we soon merit to again have the Ner Tamid and experience a complete Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah.
The challenge by a reader to what I wrote earlier deserves more prominent attention than a comment to his comment:
Your article really encompasses the larger question of how a Jew is to understand God’s relationship with non-Jews. A traditional belief you and I are both familiar with has it that God relates to Jews on an individual level (hashgacha pratis) but to non-Jews on a general level. Really? How are we to square that, then, with the numerous statements of Christian writers down through the centuries in which they described feeling God at their side? That, at certain great moments in their life, they knew God was with them? These statements – and I’ve heard them often, simply from Christian friends and acquaintances – put the lie to the belief that God only intervenes personally with Jews.
I believe that this “traditional belief” is inaccurately understood. There are classic sources that speak of Hashem relating to Jews with hashgacha pratis, unlike his relationship with non-Jews. This cannot (or may not) mean what you imply it means.
Can there be prayer without hashgacha pratis? Isn’t tefillah – at least petitionary tefillah – a request that Hashem intervene directly on behalf of the mispallel? And does the navi not charactierize the beis ha-mikdosh as “beis tefillah…lechol ha-amim?” Does this not mean that He listens to the prayers of everyone and anyone? (This would put us at odds, I imagine, with the contention of a previous leader of the Southern Baptist Convention that “G-d does not listen to the prayers of Jews”) When you say karov Hashem lechol kor’ov, lechol asher yikr’uhu be-emes, whom do you include in “lechol?”
I think that this “traditional belief” – which in itself would not preclude other opinions – refers to the default configuration, as it were. As members of the am nivchar, Jews begin with an assumed position of hashgacha pratis. They can lose good measures of that. See Chovos Ha-Levavos, beginning of Shaar ha-Bitachon, who writes that one of the advantages of bitachon in Hashem is that if one has it, Hashem conducts Himself towards a person that way. If he believes that his life is governed only in part by Divine Providence, and affected by other factors as well, Hashem leaves him under the influence of those factors!
Non-Jews (particularly those of Chazal, who were pagan or semi-pagan) are not “naturally” given to direct “personalized” Providence. That is not, however, a description of permanent status. Any human being who believes in such Providence is met with such hashgacha by G-d. It would seem to me that plenty of non-Jews today firmly believe in such Divine guidance of their lives.
Years ago, I asked a prominent figure in the haredi world how he deals with significant numbers of non-Jews whom he routinely counseled. I asked specifically about people facing tragedy who were firm believers in G-d, while not being Jewish. How would his words of support and/or consolation differ to someone staring death in the face. He responded, “I speak to them exactly the same way I speak to Yidden.”
Thought experiment in three parts: How would you explain the essence of being Jewish, or the Jewish mission, to an interested outsider to the halachic community – Jewish or non-Jewish? After you formulate your answer, try your hand at another question. How would you explain the need for exacting legal detail in the admissions process to the Jewish people, a.k.a geirus. Now, in what may be the hardest exercise, how would you get both of those answers to coexist with each other – in more minds than your own?
Despite both of us quite often disagreeing with each other, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo and I have remained good friends over the years. So I can admit to being jealous of his masterful treatment of the three questions. To be sure, some of us might use slightly different ways of expressing similar thoughts, but we can all gain from the humanity, sensitivity, and effectiveness of his approach.
What follows is his essay, as it appeared on his website. It is republished here with permission.
What makes one a Jew? Being born to a Jewish mother? Converting to Judaism? Not really. It is living by the spiritual order of Judaism that makes one a Jew; living through the Jews of the past and with the Jews of the present and future. We are Jews when we choose to be so; when we have discovered Jewishness on our own, through our search for the sacred; when we fight the never-ending spiritual struggle to find God, realize that the world needs a moral conscience, and carry that exalted burden so as to save the world and provide it with a mission.
One becomes a bit Jewish when one realizes that there cannot be nature without spirit and there is no neutrality in matters of moral conscience. But all this is not enough. We have a long way to go before we grow into full-fledged Jews. We must recognize the noble in the commonplace; endow the world with majestic beauty; acknowledge that mankind has not been the same since God overwhelmed us at Sinai; and accept that mankind without Sinai is not viable.
To create in ourselves Jewish vibrations we need to see the world sub specie aeternitatis (from the perspective of eternity). We must be able to step out of the box of our small lives and hold the cosmic view, while at the same time not losing the ground under our feet but dealing with our trivial day-to-day endeavors and sanctifying them. Not by escaping them through denial or declaring them of no importance, but by actually engaging them and using them as great opportunities to grow. As one painstakingly discovers this, one slowly becomes a Jew.
Some of us have to struggle to attain this; others seem to be born with it. They possess a mysterious Jewish soul that nobody can identify, but everyone recognizes it is there. It has something to do with destiny, certain feelings that no one can verbalize. What is at work is the internalization of the covenant between God, Abraham and, later, Sinai. It is in one’s blood even when one is not religious. It murmurs from the waves beyond the shore of our souls and overtakes our very being, expanding our Jewishness wherever we go.
Most Jews “have it,” but so do some non-Jews. They know they have it. It is thoroughly authentic. They are touched by it as every part of one’s body is touched by water when swimming, its molecules penetrating every fiber of one’s being. Nothing can deny it.
These are the authentic Jews, but not all of them belong to the people of Israel. Some are gentiles with gentile parents; others are children of mixed marriages. If they should wish to join the Jewish people they would have to convert in accordance with Halacha, although they have been “soul Jews” since birth.
But why are they not already full-fledged Jews, without a requirement to convert? All the ingredients are present! Why the need for the biological component of a Jewish mother, or the physical act of immersing in a mikveh (ritual bath)?
The reason must be that Halacha is not just about religious authenticity and quality of the soul. It is also about the down-to-earth reality of life. It asks a most important question: How shall we recognize who is Jewish and who is not? Can we read someone’s soul? How can one know for sure whether one is really Jewish? Can one read one’s own soul and perceive it? How do we know that our believed authenticity is genuine?
The world is a complex mixture of the ideal and the practical, where genuineness can easily and unknowingly be confused with pretentiousness. To live one’s life means to live in a manner that the physical constitution and the inner spirit of man interact, but also clash. There is total pandemonium when only the ideal reigns while the realistic and the workable are ignored.
Tension, even contradiction, between the ideal and the workable is the great challenge to Halacha. It therefore needs to make tradeoffs: How much authenticity and how much down-to-earth realism? How much should it function according to the dream and the spirit, and how much in deference to the needs of our physical world?
As much as Halacha would like to grant full dominion to the ideal, it must compromise by deferring to indispensable rules that allow the world to function. Just as it must come to terms with authenticity versus conformity (see Thoughts to Ponder 275), so it must deal with authentic Jewishness and the necessity to set external and even biological parameters for defining Jewish identity. And just as in the case of authenticity and conformity, here too, there will be victims and unpleasant consequences.
Some “soul Jews” will pay the price and be identified as non-Jews, despite the fact that “ideal” Halacha would have liked to include them. However unfortunate, Halacha must sometimes compromise the “Jewish soul” quality of an individual who because of these rules cannot be recognized as Jewish. Were we not to apply these imperatives, chaos would reign.
But there is more to it than that. There needs to be a nation of Israel, a physical entity able to carry the message of Judaism to the world. All members of this nation must have a common historical experience that has affected its spiritual and emotional makeup. There need to be root experiences, as Emil Fackenheim calls them, such as the exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the revelation at Sinai. The impact of these events crafted this people into a most unusual nation ready to take on the world and transform it. For Jews to send their message to the world they need to have a historical experience – as a family and later on as a nation – in which people inherit a commitment to a specific way of living even when some of its members object to it.
The fact that Judaism allows outsiders to join, though they were not part of this experience, is not only a wondrous thing but is also based on the fact that not all souls need these root experiences to become Jewish. They have other qualities that are as powerful and transforming, and that allow them to convert as long as they are absorbed into a strong core group whose very identity is embedded in these root experiences.
In terms of a pure and uncompromised religious ideal, this means that some Jews should not be Jews and some non-Jews should be Jews. Authenticity, after all, cannot be inherited; it can only be nurtured. Ideally, only those who consciously take on the Jewish mission, and live accordingly, should be considered Jews. If not for the need for a Jewish people, it would have been better to have a Jewish faith community where people can come and go depending on their willingness to commit to the Jewish religious way and its mission – just as other religions conduct themselves.
So, the demands of Halacha create victims when some “soul Jews” are left out of the fold, as is the case with children of mixed marriages who have non-Jewish mothers, or children of Jewish grandparents but non-Jewish parents. Similarly, with gentiles who have Jewish souls but no Jewish forefathers at all. All of these are casualties.
This is the price to be paid for the tension between the ideal and the need for compliance; for the paradox between the spirit and the law. That Halacha even allows any non-Jew to become Jewish through proper conversion is a most powerful expression of its humanity. In fact, it is a miracle.
There are probably billions of people who are full-fledged “soul Jews” but don’t know it, and very likely never will. Perhaps it is these Jews whom God had in mind when He blessed Avraham and told him that he would be the father of all nations and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore.
“According to you,” a reader wrote me privately about a recent column that appeared in this space, “we can’t make any conclusions, because of the unknowns.”
The column, titled “Unknown Unknowns,” pointed out how, particularly in political affairs (like the current American administration’s relationship with Israel) we don’t always have the whole picture. I noted as an example, how, at the very same time that many Jewish media were attacking President Obama for his ostensible hostility toward Israel, the president was determinedly working hand in glove with Israel in a secret cyber-project to undermine the Iranian nuclear program. As pundits huffed and puffed, Stuxnet was silently destroying centrifuges.
The reader was chagrined that I, as he read it, was counseling a moratorium on commentary about all political affairs. I wrote back to explain that no, I didn’t mean that at all. We can, and even should, express our concerns openly in the free country in which we’re privileged to live. But we must do so with reason and civility (maybe even fairness), not the sort of ranting that passes for dialectic on talk radio these days. I meant only (and perhaps should have written more clearly) that a degree … Read More >>
In yet another new thought-provoking issue of Jewish Action, readership was introduced to the dynamic and quickly spreading movement of Neo-Chassidus, in which the original emphases and spiritual experiences of the Chassidic movement are being revived and promulgated in order to reintroduce spirituality into perceived doldrums of Modern Orthodoxy. Farbrengens, hisbodedus, Carlebach-style davening, and soul-touching stories and teachings of the Chassidic masters are among the prominent features of this old-new movement.
While this new trend raises some serious questions, I do not want to get into that here. My only comment is that the perceived lack of passion and arguable absence of a dynamic consciousness in Modern Orthodox discourse and mindset of Hashem’s presence and involvement have precipitated what is nothing short of an outright, non-confrontational rejection of the foundations of Modern Orthodoxy on the part of some of the finest cream of its crop.
What I would like to discuss, though, is that those seeking to strengthen their connection with Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu should perhaps consider redirecting their focus toward the core values of “Hisnagdus” – the approach of traditional non-Chassidic Eastern European Torah life – in their journey to provide and experience a truly authentic … Read More >>
Television networks broadcasting President Obama’s brief speech last week about events in Ferguson, Missouri employed a split screen to juxtapose the president to rioters in Ferguson. At one level, that juxtaposition unfairly highlighted the president’s impotence.
But at another level, it captured one of the many disappointments of Obama’s presidency. Much of the euphoria that greeted the election of the first black president – Obama’s approval ratings were well above 70% at the outset of his presidency – lay in the hope that the United States could finally place the legacy of slavery and racism behind it. Yet race relations have taken a turn for the worst since he came into office.
Slate writer Jacob Weisberg wrote in February 2008 that only if Barack Obama were elected president would children in America be able to “grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives.” Well, America elected Obama, with the largest percentage of white votes of any Democratic candidate in forty years. But black children are more likely today to think of prejudice as a factor in their lives than they were six years ago.
The unknown state legislator who first came to national prominence with a … Read More >>
“Where is G-d?” After stumping his Chassidim, the Kotzker is reported to have answered his own question: “Wherever you will let Him in.” This profound and beautiful approach only works for those who are thoroughly convinced of His existence, and mildly familiar with the methods for inviting Him in. What are others to do? Some thoughts on recent attempts, and a consideration of where we differ. ********************************************************************* What could be better, I thought, than a take-down by Jack Miles of the whole lot of New Atheists – and in the pages of The Atlantic, no less. Jack Miles recently finished editing The Norton Anthology of World Religions, and might therefore know a thing or two about belief. His Atlantic essay, “Why G-d Will Not Die,” is taken from his postscript to that compendium, and is therefore his last word on the state of religion after pondering the rich assortment of faith-systems. Alas, his argument could not knock a one-legged agnostic stork off his perch. It does contain, however, some delectable tidbits and one-liners.
The story begins with a younger author delighting in the words of arch-atheist (and Israel-hater) Bertrand Russell:
That man is the product of causes … Read More >>
Dear King Abdullah,
I’m quite sure you don’t remember me. I was part of a sizable group of Jewish leaders, clergy, politicians and organizational representatives whom you, along with the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, invited to a gala lunch in a posh Manhattan hotel nine years ago.
To jog your memory, though, I was the fellow with the beard and black hat, and whose lips you may have noticed quietly moving when you entered the room. I was reciting a Jewish blessing that is to be pronounced when one sees a king. It goes “Blessed are You, G-d, Who has given of His glory to flesh and blood.” It is, for obvious reasons, not a common blessing to make, and I was happy to have the occasion to invoke it.
I remember well your address to the crowd. Its essence was your hope that Jews and Muslims might be able, despite political differences, to attain respect for each other’s religious beliefs. Your message was a vision, of a human race unified by its members’ recognition of the worth and dignity of one another. We, you may remember, applauded loudly and enthusiastically.
We learned, too, … Read More >>
If the concept of malpractice could be applied to p’sak Halacha (halachic decision making), we would have the case of a lifetime on our hands. I am sorry to say it, but the leadership of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat, undertaking to change geirus (conversion) protocol by issuing new piskei halacha (halachic rulings) to promote these changes, is juggling (halachic) torches and is doing so very irresponsibly. Converts and their descendants are going to be greatly harmed, and those easily impressed by halachic discussion that they cannot understand are going to be unwittingly drawn in and hoodwinked.
In light of recent accusations of a well-known rabbi committing crimes of immorality against converts – crimes of voyeurism, secretly viewing unclothed females at the mikveh preparing for conversion – R. Shmuel Herzfeld of Congregation Ohev Sholom/The National Synagogue, along with his synagogue’s maharat (female rabbi), turned to R. Jeffrey Fox, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat, asking for an halachic ruling regarding the need for a beis din to be present when females immerse in the mikveh for conversion. Even though the beis din which oversees conversion does not and is not allowed to view the converting woman’s body (the beis … Read More >>
Pesukei d’zimra are not yet over, and I’m crying. Without my even realizing it, the tears have been welling up in my eyes and now they are coming down my cheeks. My first reaction is embarrassment. My second is to try to figure out exactly what I’m crying about. I wish I were crying for the ten Jews already known dead [it will later turn out to be 18], for ten Jews who went from life to death in less time than it takes to blow out a match. That, at least, would be a madrega.
But I’m not crying for them – at least I’m not crying for them alone. I’m crying for myself, for the knowledge that I will never again feel safe here, that I will never again be able to send my children on a bus or to school or Machane Yehudah without going through a hundred calculations first. (“Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” Jewish Observer, April 1996.)
Those words were written in the aftermath of the second straight early Sunday morning suicide bombing on Jerusalem’s No. 18 bus in Adar 5756 (February 1996). But I was wrong. I had underestimated the human power of forgetting. Eventually, … Read More >>
Seldom do maspidim capture the essence of a person as well as they did on Thursday when they eulogized Rav Eliyahu Stewart z”l, a home-grown Angelino who was beloved to thousands. In an hour and a half of hespedim, no one needed to exaggerate his accomplishments. They stood proudly on their own. No one needed trivial filler to round out his life story. There was no time for that; the richness of his achievement didn’t allow for it. His rov of many years, and a succession of family members, spoke of someone who loved people, loved learning, and loved presenting Torah to talmidim. The massive number of people who essentially spent their rare holiday afternoon at his levaya was impressive testimony that the love was reciprocated.
Perhaps one element was missing, through no ones fault, from the hespedim – the perspective of a friend. Maybe I am looking for catharsis. Maybe the shock, the grief, the void draws me to the keyboard, but I am driven to share some thoughts as someone who lost a decades-long friend and confidante.
The parallels to the life of Yaakov Avinu would be compelling even if Reb Eliyahu had not died during … Read More >>
Should you ever find yourself in an ornate, high-ceilinged room with a military-uniformed classical string ensemble segueing from a flawless rendition of a Bach concerto to an equally impressive (if less inspiring) version of “I Have a Little Dreidel,” it can only mean one thing: you’re at a White House Chanukah party.
I know, because during the George W. Bush administration, on behalf of Agudath Israel, I attended several of the yearly gatherings, which brought together assorted Jewish personalities, politicians and organizational representatives. One of the times when my wife didn’t accompany me, a major supporter of Agudath Israel was my guest.
I discovered then (aside from the fact that nothing compares to home-made potato latkes) that Mr. Bush is a mentch.
As we stood in the long line for the ritual photo-op with the president and first lady, my guest asked me if I minded if he alone stood next to the first couple for the photo. Having already garnered the souvenir before (along with a presidential seal paper hand-towel from the White House restroom, now hanging on our own bathroom wall), I didn’t. And so, when it was our turn, I stepped back to allow my guest … Read More >>
In Haaretz, Reform Rabbi Eric H, Yoffie, past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, conceded the main point of a recent piece I wrote for that paper – that there cannot be an American-style church-state divide in Israel. He takes issue, though, with my claim, which he labels “outrageous,” that the haredi community seeks only to preserve the religious status quo ante established at the founding of the Jewish state. Much has changed, he argues, demographically since then.
I did not, however, assert that demographics haven’t changed, a self-evident falsehood. The status quo ante I cited is the legal/social agreement reached between David Ben-Gurion and the haredi community (Agudath Israel at its head) shortly before the state’s birth (along with other norms put in place shortly thereafter).
Yes, as Rabbi Yoffie points out, Ben-Gurion probably couldn’t know that the haredi community would grow to the point where it represents a sizable portion of the Israeli populace; and Israel’s first Prime Minister indeed likely hoped for a Hertzlian “Jewish culture rooted in atheism, socialism, and Biblical teachings.” And yes, that didn’t happen. (Whether Ben-Gurion’s spirit presently is perturbed or pleased by the current state of affairs is unknown.) But … Read More >>
The New York Jewish Week was understandably unhappy at the comparison that a respected Modern Orthodox rabbi seemed to make between the paper and the rabid Nazi tabloid Der Stürmer, which, from1923 until 1945, incited Germans with lurid fictions about Jews.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Yeshurun, the largest Orthodox synagogue in Teaneck, NJ, recently stepped down from the Beit Din of Bergen County he led for seven years, mainly, he wrote, because of “the negativity associated today with conversion, and the cynicism and distrust fostered by so many…towards the rabbinate.”
Rabbi Pruzansky, a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, was also critical of a decision made by that latter organization to appoint a new conversion committee that will include several non-rabbinical members in addition to five rabbis. He expressed concern that the new committee may “water down the standards” for conversion and potentially lead to a return to “the old days of quickie conversions with little commitment.”
When the Jewish Week contacted him to elaborate, he declined to speak to its reporter, asserting that the paper is “one of the leading publications in the world of Orthodox-bashing and … Read More >>
[loose translation:] We turn to acheinu Bnei Yisrael wherever they may be. Let us all come together to increase the rachamei Shomayim shown to us! Let us all accept upon ourselves that we will increase love and brotherhood – between each person and his fellow, between community and community, between major group and major group.
Our request is that every individual should see to it to accept upon himself on Erev Shabbos Parshas Toldos, to sanctify this coming Shabbos as a day of ahavas chinam. It should be a day that we refrain from all kinds of divisive conversation, lashon hora, and rechilus.
This will be a great uplift to the souls of the heads of our families who were slaughtered for the holiness of His Holy Name.
May Hashem look from above, see our affliction, wipe away our tears, and say, “Enough!” to our sorrow. May we merit to see the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily in our days – Amen, Amen.
Signed with a broken and crushed heart: Chayah Levine and family Breina Goldberg and family Yaakovah Kupinsky and family Bashi Twersky and family