Sometimes a first-person account is just so sad you could cry. And when the writer seems oblivious to the sadness, well, then it’s sadder still.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently offered a piece written by a Jewish woman explaining her and her husband’s decision to forgo having children.
“As a Conservative Jew raised in the Midwest,” she writes, “I always assumed I’d have kids…. In my mind, being a grown-up meant having children.”
During her college days, she stopped in at the Brown University Hillel House and met a young man. Eventually they began to date.
When marriage came up, they discussed how “religiously” to raise their children, and found that they had different opinions. Her partner wanted to observe the Sabbath but she did not. And, if they each did his or her own thing she feared the “inevitable” questions their children would have about their mother’s level of observance.
Then, she writes, “It occurred to me that our potential problems would vanish if we just skipped parenthood.” Problem – at least if she could get her boyfriend on board – solved.
As it happened, after the young man became her husband, he began “losing his religion.” They were busy with their careers and, she writes, “reproducing was the farthest thing from my mind.” Then she found websites of people who had decided not to have children, and shared them with her husband. They laughed together “at jokes about sleep-deprived parents and children misbehaving in public.”
So other people, too, they realized, “lacked the drive to make and raise babies, and were they ever happy,” the woman recounts. “They described enticing benefits, one of which particularly stood out for me: having their beloved to themselves and cultivating a devoted, satisfying relationship.”
And so she and her husband decided that “life would be better without kids.”
The couple’s mothers were not happy, as one might expect. His was the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and had told her son in his youth that “If you don’t raise Jewish children, you’re letting Hitler win.”
“There is no coming back from aiding Hitler,” observes the writer, and “so we all avoid the topic.”
But, she insists, she and her husband are happy. They have each other entirely to themselves, without any pesky little people intruding on their relationship. And they owe it all to Judaism, the writer explains, without which she and her husband would never have met at that Hillel House.
“Ironically,” she concludes, “if it weren’t for Judaism… it may never have occurred to me not to have children at all.”
The writer knows, of course, and acknowledges, that Judaism favors children; indeed, she may even know, there is a Torah commandment to be fruitful. But she and her partner have made a conscious decision to reject their religious heritage.
What’s more, the husband and wife are depriving themselves not only of an important mitzvah, and not only of the life beyond death that is a son or daughter, but of the sublime joy of being parents. Sleepless nights and misbehaved children? Some of the most difficult or embarrassing parental situations, any parent could tell the writer, morph with time into some of the most meaningful, even wonderful, memories imaginable.
Is it hard? Of course. What worthwhile endeavor isn’t?
Do parents experience trying times? Yes. Life is trying; that’s its point.
Will it all have been worth it, in fact many millions of times over? Yes again.
And if the writer and her husband really think that their relationship to each other would suffer, rather than be strengthened, by their sharing the privilege of forging a new generation, they are astoundingly naïve. The greatest boon for any relationship is not a shared taste in music, nor a shared desire for childlessness; it is a shared challenging but meaningful endeavor. And when the endeavor is something as momentous as creating and guiding new lives, the bond that can result is most powerful.
Time will tell whether the writer’s and her husband’s bond of mutual desire for childlessness will itself prove sufficiently strong to maintain their relationship. But one thing is certain. The couple’s assumption that the mutual nurturing of a new generation is a mere pain rather than an unparalleled privilege is a sad mistake.
Made all the more sad by the couple’s utter unawareness of the fact.
© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran
(For a decade-old essay about the Jewish choice to have children, please click here.)
Many Jews are so scarred (rightfully so!) by stories of horrors perpetrated upon us in the name of Christianity, that those stories become a defining part of their reality. Christian hatred of Jews is a given, as real and permanent as gravity. They cannot imagine a world without it. If you are one of those, please stop reading. The rest is not for you.
If you have room in your world view for change in the way some people relate to us, and we to them, you might be interested in learning about salient points of the major document (officially called an apostolic exhortation) that Pope Francis released a short while ago.
Overall, the document is extremely warm and accommodating to Jews and Judaism. It speaks of friendship for a Jewish people that enjoys significance in an irrevocable covenantal relationship with G-d. It owns up to the debt owed to them, and apologizes for their past persecution when done by Christians.
The document includes language important to supporters of Israel looking to defeat the Palestinian and BDS wars against her legitimacy. As I generally eschew political commentary in these pages, I will not write here about that part of the story. BE”H, I hope to publish on it in the general media. I will bring one point, however, to the attention of our readers. I believe it presents an important compliment – and challenge – to frum Jews.
The Vatican regards itself as a sovereign state. It has conducted its own foreign affairs for centuries. Nothing gets out with the imprimatur of the Church without every word and nuance being weighed and measured. There are no haphazard or casual expressions, unless multiple people have blundered. Those people are expert in diplomacy, and assessing the impact their words will have on those who scrutinize them.
This makes it interesting to compare what the document says about Muslims (to whom the Pope also extends the olive branch) with what it says concerning Jews.
Here, in part, is what the document says about Muslims and Islam:
Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”… It is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services.
In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!
The interest in Muslims is magnified by their immigration to Christian countries. There is some sharing of values. Many take G-d seriously. Francis gives them not so subtle mussar about the importance of learning to respect others, and asks for reciprocity of the freedoms and privileges that Christians have given them.
All of this is absent in his treatment of Jews. The connection of Chistianity to Judaism is organic, not accidental. He does not ask anything of them, but talks of friendship and a special relationship.
But most important, at least in my reading, are some key words in Section 249: “G-d continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word.” In other words, there is recognition and expectation that Jews remain an עם חכם ונבון/ a wise and comprehending people. They possess Divine wisdom, and those who seek deeper understanding of His ways ought to listen to what they have to say, when they speak in the name of the Torah.
Some of us – myself included – have witnessed this thirst for Jewish insight again and again, from people light-years away from converting. Some of us realize that we are in the first generation in many centuries that we can even think of trying to apply the Torah’s wisdom to the questions that trouble general society – not as part of a polemic, but simply to enhance the good of humanity, and Hashem’s glory.
It is quite a challenge. How much are we doing to own up to it, and to equip ourselves and our children with the tools to create a kind of Kiddush Hashem that was unthinkable for centuries?
The following essay was written for Haaretz and appeared on its website recently under a different title. I share it here with that paper’s permission.
There’s a striking irony in the fact that Chanukah is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays among American Jews.
Cynics have contended that it’s Chanukah’s proximity to the Christian winter holiday, with all the latter’s ubiquitous glitz, baubles and musical offerings, that has elevated Chanukah – seen by some as a “minor” celebration, since it’s a post-Biblical commemoration – to the pantheon (if a Greek word is appropriate here) of popular Jewish observances.
In fact, though, Chanukah is not minor at all; a wealth of Jewish mystical literature enwraps it, and laws (albeit rabbinical in origin) govern the nightly lighting of the holiday’s candles and the recital of Al Hanisim (“For the miracles”) in our prayers over Chanukah’s eight days.
As to whether many American Jews are enamoured of Frosty the Snowman, well, it’s an open question. Me, I prefer my winter nights silent.
But onward to the irony, which is not only striking but significant.
I recall hearing a Reform rabbi on a public radio program a couple of years ago extolling Chanukah as a celebration of “pluralism” and “tolerance.” After all, the Greek-Syrian Seleucid enemy of the Jews at the time of the Chanukah miracle, he explained, were intolerant of Jewish religious practices. Well, yes, but the Jewish rebellion wasn’t aimed at establishing some sort of Middle-Eastern First Amendment but rather to fiercely defend the study and practice of the Torah. And to rid the Temple of idols. Judaism has no tolerance at all for some things, idolatry prime among them.
What is more, the Jewish uprising also – and here we close in on the irony – was to counter the influence on Jews of a foreign culture.
To the Jewish religious leaders who established the observance of Chanukah, a greater threat than the flesh-and-blood forces that had defiled the Holy Temple was the adoption by Jews of Hellenistic ideals.
For the Seleucids not only forbade observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, Jewish modesty laws and Torah-study, they held out to Jews the sweet but poison fruit of Greek culture, and some Jews devoured it whole.
The enemy, in other words, didn’t just install a statue of Zeus in the Temple, but an assimilationist attitude in some Jewish hearts. And Chanukah stands for the fight against that attitude.
It’s easy to dismiss the ancient Greek soap-opera that passed for divine doings, the gods who were described as acting like the lowest of men. It isn’t likely that many Jews (or Greeks, for that matter) really believed the tales of celestial hijinks that passed for spirituality at the time.
But the ancient Greeks had something much more enticing to offer. Hellas celebrated the physical world; it developed geometry, calculated the earth’s circumference, proposed a heliocentric theory of the solar system and focused attention on the human being, at least as a physical specimen. It philosophized about life and love.
But much of Hellenist thought revolved around the idea that the enjoyment of life was the most worthwhile goal of man, yielding us the words “cynic,” “epicurean,” and “hedonist” all Greek in origin.
Western society today revolves around pleasure too. It adopts the language of “freedom” and “rights” to disguise the fact, but it’s a pretty transparent fig leaf.
To be sure, most Jews in the U.S. remain stubbornly, laudably, proud of their Jewishness. But, all the same, they have been culturally colonized by a sort of contemporary Hellenism, American style.
Which bring us – if you haven’t already guessed – to the irony.
Because Chanukah addresses neither pluralism nor tolerance (admirable though those concepts may be in their proper places), but rather Jewish identity and continuity, the challenges most urgently faced by contemporary American Jews.
And its message stands right in front of them, in the flickering flames.
The “miracle of the lights,” Jewish tradition teaches, was not arbitrary. Abundant meaning for the Jewish ages shone from the Temple candelabra’s supernatural eight-day burning of a one-day supply of oil. For light, our tradition further teaches, means Torah, its study and its observance – not “contemporized,” and not edited to conform to the Zeitgeist, but as it has been handed down over the centuries.
When American Jews light their Chanukah candles they may not consider that the holiday they are acknowledging speaks most poignantly to them.
But they should.
© 2013 Haaretz
For older essays with a Chanukah theme, please click here.
I was saddened to learn of the petirah of one of the giants of the American shul rabbinate, Rav Yosef Grunblatt, z”l.
Surely much will be written about him by those who knew him best – his family, students, and mispallelim during the decades he served at the Queens Jewish Center in Forest Hills. I can only share, as an exercise in hakoras hatov, the way he affected my life.
In my much younger days, I was wont to see things in black and white. Right-wing yeshiva people were the good guys; everyone else was a little (or a lot) off. Genuinely frum people avoided areas like philosophy. They left that for “YU people.” Rabbi Grunblatt was the first (but certainly not the last) I encountered who helped me explode that myth, and my life (and that of my own talmidim) is the better for it.
Rabbi Grunblatt, after all, was “seriously” grounded in Torah. He had gone to Torah Vodaas, and loved deeper learning. Yet, by the time I discovered him in my late teens, he was a respected authority on serious philosophy in the Orthodox world. That got me thinking, even before I met him in the flesh.
I did spend time with him a number of times after that, first, as an NCSY advisor at shabbatonim at his shul, later as a scholar-in-residence. The woman he married later in life after his wife of many decades was nifteres is the mother and mother-in-law of close friends. The passage of time only increased my estimation for him as one of the most significant intellectual assets that the Orthodox community possessed. I never heard him deliver without including serious thought – always with Torah content.
In one early, memorable conversation, he revealed that he could not accept the approach of Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l in Kovetz Maamarim. R. Elchonon argued that belief in HKBH was logically and intuitively necessary. The compelling reasons for it were obvious and apparent. People chose not to believe only because of the self-serving need for freedom and independence. It is just more comfortable to live without an all-knowing G-d calling the shots.
R. Grunblatt said that his experience with serious doubters did not allow him to accept that position. He had met too many people who struggled with emunah, despite having no apparent difficulty living a life bound by halacha. They were not overtly looking for an easy way out. Coming from a strong mussar background, I tried arguing that R. Elchonon did not mean that the shochad/self-bribery he spoke about operated overtly. He meant, I argued, that merely the smallest disposition all of us share towards comfort and autonomy would subtly influence all the evidence on the side of belief.
He heard this – somewhat – but his mind was not much set at ease by my proposal. With the passing of decades, I probably moved much closer to his position than he to my earlier one. In any event, precisely because he had the yiras ha-rommemus for R. Elchonon (unlike many others I have encountered), his intellectual honesty and integrity made a deep impression upon a young mind. It is reassuring to meet people who can think for themselves, but stay within the bounds of a Torah community.
He was also an astute commentator on current affairs. During the height of the Vietnam War, sentiment where I hung out was as conservative as it is today. Student protesters were seen as acid-head cowards who didn’t want to be drafted – in contradistinction to us yeshiva students, who had valid reasons not to want to be drafted. A few of us were not so sure, and saw another side to the conflict. Rabbi Grunblatt at the time wrote a piece that was remarkably balanced, giving credit for moral sensitivity where it was due, while unflinchingly calling out the flaws in their conduct. He reduced their position to a pithy phrase: “misplaced yetzer tov.” Agreeing or disagreeing with his assessment was not so important. What he communicated to me at the time was generosity of spirit, effective communication and nuanced thinking – items in even shorter supply today than back then.
Yehi zicho baruch.
Given her decades-long reputation for bold innovation without looking over her shoulder for approval, I expected her to be tall, large and speak with a commanding voice. I was completely unprepared for what Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom turned out to be in person when I met her earlier today at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.
A breath of fresh air, she was indeed. Anyone who did what an entire culture couldn’t do for decades – create a functioning college for haredim – has to be a breath of fresh air. This powerhouse, however, is a diminutive, soft-spoken, understated woman who speaks uncompromised loyalty to the values of a Torah community (and the legacy of her father, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l) with a smile and a soothing voice.
Twenty-five years ago, a philanthropist handed Rav Ovadiah a blank check to create a modality for haredi women to receive the secular education they needed to earn enough to take their families out of poverty. Her father said, “Not yet,” which she says means that there were not yet enough people to teach the classes in a manner that would not conflict with the Torah concepts with which the young women had been nurtured. Bar-Shalom kept asking about the idea, and thirteen years ago got the green light from her father to create such an institution. At the time, she could identify only about 60 haredim in the entire country who held degrees.
Today, there are about one thousand students in the Haredi College in Yerushalayim. About two-thirds of them are women, many married with children. (Day care is available on campus.) The men have their own, separate program. Both have access to a variety of specialties, all of them geared to finding jobs in areas that are more lucrative than what is available within haredi society. Programs in more purely academic areas are not unthinkable, said Bar Shalom, as long as they will win the approval of the rabbonim who guide the college. But these are things of the future. At the moment, the thrust of the college is empowering people to become fully employable, and help bring haredim into the general work force, and hopefully easing the friction between the haredi and secular worlds.
Eight thousand have graduated. The college is constantly expanding. Affiliation currently is with Bar-Ilan and Ben-Gurion universities. More affiliations are in the works. A program is scheduled to come to Bnei Brak, and then to other locations. Programs run by Haredi College have shepherded students through law school and medical school – both men and women.
Donors (all non-frum) are easier to come by for men’s programs, so they are subsidized. The women pay their way, although there are some scholarships. The women students finance their education by working at whatever jobs they can find – even those who are also taking care of families. They are motivated by the chance to break out of the poverty around them. Even Toldos Ahron women take part – although they refuse to benefit from any support from the State. (Toldos Ahron comes up with the equivalent amount of money for them, so they need not compromise their rejection of the government.)
Bar Shalom peppers her remarks with frequent references to emunah, tzniyus, and the passion the haredi world has for its life-style. She is an insider to this, not an outsider. Still, in a departure from the style of so many others, she speaks about the current tensions in Israel and the catch-phrase shivyon banetel (equality of burden) without a trace of hostility in her voice. She cites the arguments of those clamoring to impose change upon the haredi community in a way that shows that she understands her opponents, without resorting to defensiveness, counterattack and blame-fixing. She understands that there is a problem, but she wants the solution to come from within, not imposed from without.
Her independence can take her to places far from the typical haredi set of interests. She has met with Abbas. Years ago, she penned an open letter to Palestinian women, speaking of the ability of women to use what they have in common to bring about peace more easily than men. She stressed the Torah values of the sanctity of life, and the image of G-d. She appealed to the common experience of motherhood, and telescoped her message into a single plea, or bit of advice: “Watch your children.”
Committed as she is to providing real options for haredim to enter the workforce, I was curious to hear about her reaction to the video shown motza’ei Shabbos at the Agudah Convention. Produced by Hamodia, the video showed the effects of poverty in the haredi community upon its children. It is emotionally charged, and appeals for funding to help alleviate the crushing poverty that is taking a toll on the health of young, innocent victims.
The video sparked controversy and backlash in some circles. Some argued that applying band-aids to the situation is ultimately cruel, because it allows the system to limp along, without confronting the real cause of the poverty. People ought not to give in to maudlin sentiment, but to apply pressure severe enough that the community will make the necessary changes.
I know many people who share that point of view, and can understand it. But I cannot agree, for several reasons. The children are indeed innocent victims. Our reaction in the past as frum Jews has always been to alleviate pain, regardless of blame. (Ironically, Americans seem to be more accepting of this position than our own community. They have realized for decades that, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it “cycles of dependency” kept people trapped in a welfare system of living on the public dole. Yet, they have shown again and again at the ballot box that they are generally unwilling to cut back on food and services for children.) Additionally, it is simply not true that continued support for haredi families sentences yet another generation to poverty. There have been changes taking shape in the community for years. Some of them have been set back by resistance to the perceived pressure from outside to change the haredi way of life. But those changes have developed programs and institutions that do offer real possibilities of education for the children who are suffering today. It is simply not the case that it will be too late for them.
I asked Adina Bar Shalom what she thought about those calling for tough love. If Americans cover the shortfall caused by the recent draconian cuts in support for families, won’t this impede or slow the very process of change she has worked so hard for? Will it disincentivize people from utilizing the very exit strategy from poverty that she is promoting? She shook her head. “It won’t. There is no greater happiness than being able to support one’s family. There is a process to make this happen. But we must support families during this process.”
Following the time-honored if somewhat irritating tradition of speechmakers who begin by announcing that they are departing from the scheduled topic, I informed those present that instead of focusing on the media’s coverage of Orthodox Jews, I would make my presentation on cloud seeding.
The venue was Agudath Israel of America’s recent 91st national convention, which took place this past weekend at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in New Jersey, where thousands converged to hear words of inspiration and admonition from some of the Orthodox world’s guiding elders.
And, for some of the attendees, to hear words of lesser gravity from people like me, at various smaller sessions. Still, the Sunday morning one in which I participated, along with Rabbi Labish Becker, the session’s chairman; respected educator Rabbi Aaron Brafman and accomplished attorney Avi Schick; drew close to 500 souls.
A few voices in the back of the hall demanded that I repeat myself, for surely they had misheard. So I did, but, before puzzlement could turn to consternation, I launched into a pretty funny joke. No, I’m not going to repeat it here. If you’re really curious, you can get the CD from email@example.com .
But I will … Read More >>
Knowing too many of the main players in the UK Limmud controversy (and being particularly close with Rabbis Rosenblum and Cardoza) I am going to sit this one out. I agreed with arguments in both of their presentations, as well as disagreed with some. The same holds true of Rabbi Kimche’s. ‘Nuff said.
There may be room for an important sidebar conversation, however. Many of us respect the position enunciated decades ago by American gedolei roshei yeshivah that we should not participate in forums with non-Orthodox Jewish clergy. Bnei Torah from YU have every reason not to be bound by that thinking, since Rav Soloveitchik refused to sign (as well as a few others), at least not without one change in the language that was not inserted in time. We should be able, without any trace of insubordination, to at least inquire about the parameters of the ban. To whom does it apply? Are there exceptions to the rule? Will there ever come a time at which the ban should be reexamined, and possibly even relaxed? I believe I know the answer to the first two questions. The third, I believe, is worthwhile at least putting on the … Read More >>
So the Jewish Federations of North America, the massive collected financial might of America’s leading Jewish donors, has left Jerusalem. Their General Assembly only meets in Jerusalem once every five years, so this was a major event. And what have we learned? Primarily, that the system has failed. As Michael Freund, the director of Shavei Israel, wrote: “this GA was reminiscent of the ill-fated RMS Titanic as it steamed straight for an iceberg in the northern Atlantic ocean in April 1912, oblivious to the impending doom.”
Rabbi Yisroel Mayer Kagan, zt”l, of Radin in Poland, is most often called by the name of his work, Chofetz Chaim, on the evil of gossip. Accompanying his tremendous knowledge of Torah, this leader of his generation was known for his profound insight. And with his keen vision, Rabbi Kagan condemned the idea of federated giving. He compared it to the advent of electric lighting in his city, when everyone stopped lighting candles (and backup generators weren’t yet available). As long as there were candles burning, even if one candle went out there was other light. But when the electricity went out, the entire city was plunged into darkness. Similarly, he said, if individuals make decisions, then the most needy charities will somehow get the support that they need. But if everything is handed to the Federations, he explained, then institutions will collapse and individuals will go hungry if the custodians of the coffers do not respond to those appeals.
There is one thing that he didn’t mention: the assumption that the curators would be good at what they do. He didn’t imagine a world in which federations had executives who sat in large executive offices and enjoyed all-expenses-paid executive trips to Israel, at which to demonstrate their collective executive incompetence. In actuality, the leadership of the Federations make the architects of the ObamaCare website look positively brilliant. At the GA, they pushed the wrong issues in the wrong place, and completely ignored the most important and pressing communal priorities on both sides of the Atlantic.
As everyone knows, the most important issue in Israel today is the “peace process,” and the fact that it’s leading nowhere towards peace simply makes discussion more urgent. But it was entirely absent from the GA agenda; JFNA president Jerry Silverman told reporters that since everyone agrees on a two-state solution, it wasn’t worth discussing. J.J. Goldberg dismantled this argument in The Forward:
In fact, this is one of the most fraught and divisive issues on the agenda of organized American Jewry. Beyond substantive questions like settlements and Jerusalem, Diaspora Jewish federations are constantly forced to reexamine the limits of permissible debate within their own walls. The debate over debate is bitter, nationwide and relentless. Jerusalem might have been just the place to discuss it, with the federation movement’s top leadership present and Israel’s leading diplomatic and military minds available.
But it was left out. The closest the assembly came to the topic was a series of how-to sessions on best techniques for defending Israel’s image.
And the most important issue in America? If you haven’t been sleeping for the past two months, you’ve probably heard of the Pew Report, and its devastating analysis of the future of non-Torah-observant Jewry — those best represented by the JFNA. And here I’ll quote Michael Freund again:
If the Jewish federations were serious about confronting this crisis, they should have taken the extraordinary step of reformatting the GA’s schedule in order to focus on the existential emergency at hand.
Instead, in an act of pathetic hubris, they had the gall to add a single session on Monday, with the self-aggrandizing title, “Responding to Pew: How Federations are Successfully Engaging the Next Generation.”
“Successfully”? Who are they kidding? Back in 1990, after the National Jewish Population Survey revealed an intermarriage rate of 52% (which was subsequently the subject of much debate), the Jewish world was stirred into action, vowing to do whatever was necessary to stem the tide of assimilation.
Here we are, more than two decades – and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on bolstering Jewish identity – later, and for all intents and purposes the situation has only worsened as growing numbers of Jews turn their backs on their heritage.
So if the Federations couldn’t be bothered with such trivial issues, to what did they devote their time?
Continue reading → Federated Blindness
Torah Judaism has always been defined by belief in binding halacha, based upon the Torah given to Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai and the rabbinical exegesis contained in the Talmud. While there are endless disputes as to the precise contours of the halacha, about its obligatory nature and the sources for its determination there are none.
The halacha is the framework within which each Jew creates his or her individual relationship to G-d. Every Jew has a unique mission in the world and an aspect of G-d that only he — by virtue of his unique combination of strengthens and challenges, singular familial and historical situation — can reveal. But again, it is G-d’s commands that create the framework for the fulfillment of that mission.
G-d’s existence is, in philosophical terms, necessary; ours is contingent and depends on our attachment to Him.
BETWEEN TORAH JUDAISM AND THE VARIOUS HETERODOX MOVEMENTS of Jews there is no theological common ground or meeting point. There is no continuum from lesser to greater Jewish practice, for at the theological level the chasm is unbridgeable and absolute.
Both in our eyes and those of our enemies Judaism was always defined by the Law we received … Read More >>
While those of us here south of the border (the Canadian one, that is) were focused on our own local elections, a Chassidic woman candidate in a Montreal borough was busy making history.
Mindy Pollak, a chassidic woman (from the Vizhnitz community) was elected – the first chassidic person to do so – to the Montreal borough council of Outremont, where there have been running tensions for years between non-Jewish residents and the growing number of Orthodox Jews living there. Her opponent, journalist Pierre Lacerte, had supported a borough councilor widely considered anti-chassidic (if not anti-Semitic) in the latter’s attempt to undermine the construction of an eruv and new shuls in the neighborhood. According to one report, supporters of Mr. Lacerte went knocking on doors without mezuzahs, distributing flyers and announcing that “We’re here to talk about the Jews.”
Ms. Pollak’s political ally and friend was, and is, Leila Marshy, a filmmaker of Arab ancestry who describes herself as a “militant Palestinian.”
An article in the Globe and Mail before the recent election quoted Ms. Pollak as saying that “if we focus on what we have in common rather than what divides us, then we can work toward … Read More >>
From a recent obituary:
Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor whose pioneering research into how humans interact with technology found that the increasingly screen-saturated, multitasking modern world was not nurturing the ability to concentrate, analyze or feel empathy, died on Saturday near Lake Tahoe. Dr. Nass, who majored in math at Princeton but became a professor of communication at Stanford, spent more than 25 years studying people as they confronted the constantly changing technology of the computer age — how they responded to simulated voices in the 1990s (we trust male voices to give us driving directions); the titillation of 24-hour news networks and smartphone swiping (we are naturally weak for endless streams of blather, whether on a television news crawl or Twitter); and the anxiety of operating (or not) a self-driving vehicle in the fast-arriving future.
One of his most publicized research projects was a 2009 study on multitasking. He and his colleagues presumed that people who frequently juggle computer, phone or television screens, or just different applications, would display some special skill at ignoring irrelevant information, or efficiently switching between tasks, or that they would prove to have a particularly orderly memory.
“We all bet high multitaskers were … Read More >>
Matzav.com is running an article entitled “EXPOSED: Women of the Wall Linked To Rabidly Anti-Israel Groups,” which it reprinted from Jerusalem Online. But if you go looking for the original article, you won’t find it. It has been taken down. In a comment posted to Matzav, the reporter, Rachel Avraham, doubles down on her accusations against Women of the Wall:
Women of the Wall threatened Jerusalem Online News with legal action, hence why it was removed. This is a routine scare tactic of radical leftists, since they only can tolerate having their own views published and are opposed to dissent. However, all of the facts in the article are documented and have been checked numerous times before publication. I am a serious investigative journalist and would not have published it otherwise. I want to thank Matzav.com for reprinting the article, so the article will be public at this moment. Women of the Wall had the article taken down because they threaten news organizations that don’t publish what they like. Since I proved beyond a doubt to my editor that Women of the Wall representatives lied to him about the accuracy of the article so he would be pressured … Read More >>
Jonathan Sarna says that the RCA should know better. Writing in The Forward, Dr. Sarna, an acclaimed scholar, finds irony in the letter published a few days ago in Haaretz that responded to an earlier piece by Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the new president of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT). In that piece, Rabbi Lopatin decried the attempts of the “ultra-Orthodox” to read him and his colleagues out of the bounds of Orthodoxy. He announced that no one had the right to do that, and that he and his friends were in for the long haul. The letter, signed by over forty rabbis (now over sixty, and none of them particularly associated with “ultra-Orthodoxy”), demonstrated that resistance to the announced program of Open Orthodoxy (OO) and Morethodoxy was not limited to the “extremes” of the Orthodox continuum, but came primarily from the center. The letter cited the belief of the signatories (full disclosure: I was one of them) that no one was agitating to drive them out. By their actions and pronouncements they had walked out and begun essentially a new denomination of neo-Conservatism.
Because it was only a letter, it made no attempt to list all the ways in … Read More >>
What issues could possibly have ignited the firestorm sweeping through the yeshiva community in Israel? A week and a half ago, one point of view was shared with the public in an impassioned presentation in Har Nof. Rabbi Doron Beckerman obtained a write-up of that presentation, and provided a summary of it, which forms the basis of what you will read. Unless you decide that you have no interest in any of the details, in which case I urge you to scroll down to the paragraph in block quotes. That paragraph, the penultimate one in the original document, can stand alone as a level-headed, Torah-true response to a perplexing and tragic part of the current news cycle, even to those who might find parts of the drasha foreign to their thinking and life-style.
R’ Yitzchak Mordechai HaKohen Rubin (RYMR) is the Rav of Kehillas Bnei Torah in Har Nof. He is better known as the author of Mareh Kohein on Hilchos Taharas Hamishpachah and the co-author of Orchos Shabbos and, as you can therefore understand, one of the top-notch poskim in Israel. He is a nephew of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (most well-known for getting his last psak … Read More >>
As someone with a well-honed sense of wonder, who delights at the sight of a blue jay (even though several of them regularly greet my wife and me outside the window during autumn breakfasts) and who, walking to Maariv each night, surveys the constellations and planets with awe (and feels a frisson at the occasional shooting star), I might be expected to marvel as well at modern communications technology.
And I do, at least to an extent. The rapid advance from dedicated word-processing machines (How futuristic was that StarWriter I bought in the 1980s! It had a five-line screen!) to computers, and then to more powerful computers – and the invention of e-mail and the Internet (thank you, Mr. Gore!) and smartphones – has been nothing short of astounding.
And yet, unlike blue jays and shooting stars, the state of personal tech today often leaves me grumpy. E-mail, for instance, for all its convenience and efficiency, seems to have only increased workloads. The Internet, for all the good that it may have to offer, presents so much that is the opposite of good – not just fraud and panderings to the lowest human instincts but avalanches of ill will … Read More >>
Rabbi Moshe Grylak’s op-ed in last week’s Mishpacha calmed the frayed nerves of a community with the instant effectiveness of a double espresso on the weary. He owned up to the existence of something tragic and embarrassing happening between the warring factions in Israel’s yeshiva world. He did not try to deny, apologize or minimize the tragedy. But he offered a picture-perfect response to us here in the US: stay out of it. Those who take sides with one Torah luminary against another do not fare well. HKBH does not take lightly blows to the honor of major talmidei chachamim.
No matter that there are other versions of the famous story of the Meshumad (especially the connection to the battle between R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonoson Eybeshutz) that might have better support in the historical record. The take-away from the tale related by R. Grylak is stronger than the story itself. Can any story be more powerful than the unambiguous advice of the Mishnah “Be cautious regarding the coal of the Chachamim…?”
We may not have to content ourselves with declaring a no-fly zone around this story, which seems to get worse every day. We may … Read More >>
The essay below was written for, and published by, Haaretz.com. I offer it here with that paper’s permission — and with my apologies to readers who may feel that enough has been written about its subject already.
And with gratitude to Rabbi Pinchas Lipschutz, Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein for having blazed the important trail of revealing what needed to be revealed here.
The perils of religious self-definition became amusingly apparent in the recent Pew survey of American Jews. One category of “Jews” was “Jews by affinity” – Americans lacking any Jewish parentage or any Jewish background who simply choose to call themselves Jews; more than one million people so identified themselves. Similarly suspicious are the survey’s self-described “Orthodox,” fully 15% of whom reported that they “regularly attend services” in a non-Jewish place of worship, 24% of whom handle money on the Sabbath and 4% of whom say they erect holiday trees in their homes in December.
In a recent op-ed, Rabbi Asher Lopatin insists that the “Open Orthodox” movement whose flagship institution, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, he now serves as president has every right and reason to call itself Orthodox – indeed … Read More >>
by Avrohom Gordimer
When an Orthodox rabbi’s actions cross into the realm of the non-Orthodox, the rabbi’s actions are typically defended by his sympathizers as being “within the outer bounds of Orthodoxy”. And when an Orthodox rabbi’s actions cross into the realm of the non-Orthodox, those actions only affect the rabbi and those who wittingly or unwittingly stray after him. But when an Orthodox rabbi’s actions are indefensibly non-Orthodox and can potentially impact thousands if not millions of Jews who have nothing to do with the rabbi, we are at a point of crisis. My friends, we are at that point of crisis.
Rabbi Avi Weiss has for years been on the periphery of Orthodoxy. His ordination of women and countless other activities typically associated with the non-Orthodox movements have placed him on the edge, yet with a small group of people consistently defending the innovations as being “within the broad tent of Orthodoxy”, to borrow another catchphrase of the Far Left.
Shockingly, Rabbi Weiss has now come forth with a plea that non-Orthodox, halachically invalid conversions be considered for recognition in the State of Israel. Rabbi Weiss posits that
Israel as a state should give equal … Read More >>