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 and ideal move, it is unfortunate that nothing substantial of any sort has been proffered to stop the hemorrhaging. The disappearance of the bulk of American Jewry and all that this disappearance portends are on the horizon and are well underway.

I am pretty sure I know what people are now thinking: Yes, it is exceedingly tragic that the preponderance of American Jewry is subjecting itself to voluntary extinction (despite the century-old promises of three groups of mavericks to create the most impactful and committed Jewish communities ever by Reforming, partially Conserving and Reconstructing our religion), but what about the Orthodox?! The same Pew data that presages the demise of non-Orthodox American Jewry presents a pretty rosy forecast about the ascendancy of American Orthodoxy; the Orthodox will IYH grow and proposer and will replace the non-Orthodox in terms of Jewish societal presence and influence, especially regarding continued American political support for the State of Israel and the assurance of American Jewish safety and security. In fact, assuming that Orthodox population trends continue, the future public presence and impact of American Jewry will surpass that of the 20th century, in which the limited and steadily declining non-Orthodox populations stood at the fore.

Alas, it is this writer’s opinion that such is wishful thinking, for Orthodoxy, despite its smashing success, is incrementally undermining its influence as well as its infrastructure. The latter, regrettably, is likely to profoundly stunt religious growth and prevent the flourishing and perhaps even the continuation of greatness in Torah and preeminent rabbinic leadership.
One of the keys to Jewish impact and influence in the United States has been the settlement of the bulk of American Jews in major cities, where municipal and resultant state governance is quite powerful and plays a significant role on local and national levels. When the largest Jewish population in America is represented by names like Schumer, Cuomo, Giuliani and Bloomberg, it means something massive. However, think of what would happen if the lion’s share of American Jewry would retreat to the woods or the country, living in rural or semi-rural clusters as the Amish communities do; such would mean the end of any meaningful Jewish presence on a public level, as well as the dramatic demise of influence on political discourse and other issues of great import. (On a very practical, domestic level, as a result of the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security has provided synagogues and other Jewish institutions with an abundance of security apparatuses, and the New York City police department has provided heightened, special patrols in Jewish neighborhoods on holidays and other specific occasions; these services are ongoing. Imagine how things would be in the absence of heavy Jewish constituencies and connectivity to the major powers of political influence…)

While I would hardly compare Orthodox settlement trends to those of the Amish, there is an inkling of similarity that is noteworthy to reflect upon in terms of impact. Here in New York City, droves of Orthodox Jews – especially young families – are relocating to small towns and villages north of the city and in New Jersey. In Los Angeles, Orthodox migration to neighborhoods outside of the city limits is increasing significantly. And such is the case throughout America, as people in general (Jews and non-Jews) depart from the major cities and even from the more populous states. Just as the result of this in general means a diminution of public and political influence for those who have left the epicenters of impact and clout, such is the result for Jewry. Distancing oneself from access and affiliation with those who direct the public discourse results in exclusion of one’s interests from that discourse; the formula is simple.

The import of having sizable Orthodox populations in areas of political power will be crucial. However, Orthodox demographic trends are undermining this important source of future leverage and influence, as urban centers are abandoned for small, suburban and often downright rural communities, which do not show up on the political radar, or whose presence there is minimal when compared with the potential.

Although the current Orthodox settlement trend can be referred to as a migration or relocation in geographical terms, in religious terms, we have on our hands a splintering and disenfranchisement of sorts, for correlative to decentralized geographic super-bases of Orthodoxy, there has developed a religious fragmentation that threatens to undo the spiritual successes of American Orthodox life. Please allow me to explain:

Starting a few decades ago, many Orthodox pulpit rabbis and communal leaders reacted negatively to the proliferation of breakaway minyanim and the “shteibel phenomenon” that have drawn masses away from established shuls and their main minyanim. (Please see this compelling recent article on the subject by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.) Putting aside considerations such as the obvious effect on the stability of established shuls and minyanim that the mass departure of droves of people therefrom causes, the participants in breakaway and express shteibel-type minyanim (for those who are not naturally part of a shteibel on a communal or family level) frequently lack a regular connection to a seasoned rav or halachic authority and often fail to become religiously well-integrated into the overall community. While no one absolves established shuls and their main minyanim from conceivably providing ample reason for many of their attendees to jump ship and look elsewhere, the larger impact of this phenomenon is quite commonly a sense of disenfranchisement from Torah authority and the splintering of solid religious communities.

What if the breakaway phenomenon were to occur in the yeshiva system? Well, it has, and the results are arguably quite negative. With the exception of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel and RIETS, which attract large groups of long-term talmidim because of these yeshivos’ college affiliations and their unique appeal due to other, differing reasons, virtually all of the large, established yeshivos in America are suffering. Over the past decade, several dozen small “junior yeshivos” have arisen, which cater to bochurim immediately out of high school. These yeshivos, located primarily in Lakewood, Rockland County and northern and central New Jersey, provide their talmidim with the basics of derech ha-limud and classical “lomdishe reyd”; the most popular maggidei shiur in large part are now to be found at these small, new yeshivos. After a stint of a few years, the talmidim leave the junior yeshivos and attend yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel for a couple of years, after which they return to America, where they learn in Lakewood and seek to marry. The large, established American yeshivos (excluding BMG of Lakewood, of course) are by definition not part of this system and thereby have lost a very sizeable percentage of prospective talmidim; these large yeshivos have lost their predominance.

Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum in Yated Neeman has documented one of the major effects of the current yeshiva trend: yeshiva students often have no one whom they consider to be their rebbe. Being enrolled in three different yeshivos (and spending one’s most mature years of learning attending a chabura rather than a shiur with a rebbe) can leave a talmid disconnected, lacking a long-term relationship with any one rebbe. This disconnect, as part of the new yeshiva trend, can impact not only the rebbe-talmid relationship, but it can also prevent talmidim from thoroughly acquiring a mesorah in learning and the overall mesorah of a yeshiva.

As the smaller yeshivos attract the bulk of bochurim, the larger, established yeshivos are shrinking. While it may be argued that had the larger yeshivos featured more maggidei shiur and provided more individualized focus for younger talmidim, this phenomenon may not have occurred, the fact is that most of the larger yeshivos are a shadow of what they used to be. This translates into less exposure and connection between senior roshei yeshiva and the overall population of yeshiva talmidim, and a dramatic decentralization of Torah authority. Whereas a few decades ago, every yeshiva graduate had exposure and quite often enjoyed a personal relationship with a gadol ba-Torah due to prolonged attendance at one of the major yeshivos, such is no longer the case. The potential for considerable disconnect between the senior Torah authorities who head the major yeshivos and the those who attend yeshivos in general today is frightening.

The voluntary shrinkage of Orthodox power is occurring on a religious-institutional level, as most of the large yeshivos are being abandoned to a significant degree for smaller, new yeshivos, and small kollelim that are not connected with larger, established Torah institutions are popping up and becoming the sites of preference for many learners. This decentralizes Torah authority, it can impact severely on the quality of learning, and it disenfranchises the masses from connection with gedolei Torah. It also in a sense can prevent the emergence of future gedolim and manhigim, as there is a scattering of Torah mosdos into tiny, disjointed pieces and a disconnect from larger Torah mosdos, in which such leadership has been traditionally cultivated over a steady period of many years.

BH, I live in a community which offers exposure to renowned roshei yeshiva and seasoned, senior poskim, who are accessible and in touch with the local talmidim and laity on a constant basis. A friend of mine, who lives in a much larger, distant Torah community that hosts one large yeshiva and a dispersion of many small junior yeshivos, often asks me what the roshei yeshiva and poskim in my community have stated regarding certain halachic issues, or how they have advised people to conduct themselves pertaining to specific areas of halachic dispute. I once asked this friend why he poses these questions to me, seeing that his own community has far more talmidei chochomim than my community can ever dream of having. My friend replied that despite his access to countless local talmidei chochomim, he does not have access to rabbonim who have a mesorah from Europe and who are preeminent poskim with years of prolonged learning and shimush with the gedolim of yesteryear. That said it all.

The American Orthodox community has an extraordinary opportunity to lead and impact societally and to grow in Torah as perhaps never before. This requires communal and religious centralization, and it necessitates commitment to the rabbinic and institutional infrastructure that the gedolim and preeminent lay leadership of previous generations established and cultivated with smashing success. Decentralization and fragmentation threaten to jeopardize the infrastructure and to destabilize the system; let us again galvanize our strength and get back with the program.

Rabbi Gordimer is a kashrus professional, a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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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 teshuva involves a return to, and recalibration of, the past.

How else to understand the Talmudic teaching that sins committed intentionally are retroactively rendered by even the most elemental teshuva (that born of fear) into unintentional sins? Or the even more astonishing fact that when teshuva is embraced out of pure love for Hashem, it actually changes sins into good deeds?

What a remarkable thought. Chillul Shabbos transformed into honoring of Shabbos? Eating treif into eating matzah on Pesach? Telling loshon hora into saying a dvar Torah? No, not remarkable. Stupefying.

Time is the bane of human existence. The Kli Yakar notes that the word the Torah uses for the sun and moon—“me’oros,” or “luminaries,” (Bereishis, 1:16), which lacks the expected vov, can be read “me’eiros,” or “afflictions.”

“For all that comes under the influence of time,” he explains, “is afflicted with pain.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, zt”l, notes, similarly, that the term “memsheles,” (ibid) which describes those luminaries’ roles, implies “subjugation.” For, the Rosh Yeshiva explains, we are enslaved by time, unable to control it or escape its relentless progression. Our positions in space are subject to our manipulation. Not so our positions in time.

Except when it comes to teshuvah. By truly confronting our misguided actions and feeling pain for them and resolving to not repeat them, we can reach back into the past and actually change it. We are freed from the subjugation of time.

Which might well lie at the root of the larger theme of freedom that is so prominent on Rosh Hashana. Tishrei, the month of repentence, is rooted in “shara,” the Aramaic word for “freeing”; the shofar is associated with Yovel, when slaves are released; we read from the Torah about Yitzchak Avinu’s release from his “binding”; and Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of Yosef’s release from his Egyptian prison, and of the breaking of what can be thought of as Sarah and Chana’s childlessness-chains.

There happens to be an exquisite symbol of our Aseres Yemei Teshuva ability to transcend time in the Rosh Hashana night sky. Actually, the symbol is the absence of one.

The sun may mark the passage of days for others, but for Klal Yisroel, it is the moon to which we look to identify the months of our years. It is not only, by its perpetual renewal, a symbol of the Jewish People. It keeps time for us. It is, one might say, our clock.

And on Rosh Hashana, the first of the Asers Yimei Teshuvah, it goes missing. Of all the holidays in the Jewish year, only Rosh Hashana, which by definition occurs at the beginning of a Jewish month, sports a moonless sky.

That observation isn’t a meaningless one. “Sound the shofar at the new month, at the appointed time for the day of rejoicing,” declares the passuk in Tehillim (81:4) in reference, Chazal teach us, to Rosh Hashana. And the word for “at the appointed time”—“bakeseh”—can be read to mean “at the covering” – a reference to the moon’s absence in the Rosh Hashana sky.

So it might not be an overreach to imagine that sky, with its missing “Jewish clock,” to be a subtle reminder that time can be overcome in an entirely real way, through the Divine gift of teshuvah, and our heartfelt determination.

© 2014 Hamodia

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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 Kippur – even though they may no longer be observant. Often, their dress and overall appearance are at odds with the standards of the community and they may be tentatively standing at the outer edge of our Shuls – literally and figuratively.
On their behalf, I humbly appeal to you to reach out to them warmly and welcome them back.
Please don’t comment on their appearance or how long they have been away. Sadly, so many of the kids tell me that well-intentioned, decent people ‘kibbitz with them about the length of their absence, or the clothing they are wearing – and how deeply they are hurt by that.

Don’t misread their discomfort as disrespect, or their tentativeness as a lack of commitment. Just walk over to them and say, “It’s so nice to see you.” Give them a warm, welcoming and genuine smile. Invite them to sit next to you – and permit them the space to turn down your invitation. I assure you that whether or not they accept it, they will be grateful to you for your unconditional acceptance.

Next week, we will soon read in the beautiful and haunting Tefilla Zakka of Rabbi Avraham Danzig before Kol Nidrei, “Avinu Malkeinu, rachem aleinu k’rachem av al b’noi shemarad b’aviv …” – Our Father and King, have mercy on us as a father has mercy on his son who rebelled against him and left his home; [and] when he returns to his father with shame and tears, it is the nature of the father to have mercy on his son.”

In the merit of us welcoming our wayward children back home with open arms, so too, shall Hashem envelope us in His welcoming embrace and grant us a year of fulfillment, joy and happiness.

(It occurred to me that Maharal offers another model to draw from, besides the one in Tefilah Zakah. The gemara often caricatures people in bizarre ways. Describing Paroh as merely an amah tall, and his beard the same length, comes to mind. Maharal explains that Chazal often speak about how people would look if their outer appearance accurately portrayed their inner self. Paroh, for all his bluster, was a very, very small person. He would look to be an amah tall. Of course, says the Maharal, biology just doesn’t work that way, and Paroh looked no different from anyone else.

Imagine, following this thinking, what we would look like if our outer appearance reflected the aveiros which we drag to shul with us! What if every fault, every indiscretion, every bad midah became visible – as they are to HKBH. Who would look stranger? Us – or the OTD kid who shows up in shul, despite who-knows-what in his history that pushed him to the position he took?)

Rabbi Horowitz appends a related piece he published some time ago, which is still relevant and moving:

A distinguished Rabbi approached me a few months ago and asked me to share a personal experience of his with my readers. Nearly thirty years ago, a young man who came from a very distinguished Orthodox family and was no longer observant, approached him in Shul on Yom Kippur. This individual informed the Rabbi that he felt drawn to attend Yom Kippur davening despite his non-religious status, but that he was troubled by a nagging question. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he remembered hearing from his Rebbeim that if one repents out of sincere love for Hashem, all his previous sins are transformed to merits.

“Come on Rabbi,” he asked. “Do you really believe that? How is it possible for Hashem to consider everything that I have done in the past few years as mitzvos? Do you have any idea how many terrible things I did? How can G-d ever accept me back? I might believe that Hashem could wipe my slate clean. But how could what I have done ever be considered mitzvos?”
The Rabbi was quiet for a long moment, not really knowing what or how to respond. He then softly informed the young man that one day in the future he may wish to take all the mistakes and experiences of his youthful rebellion and utilize them to assist others who find themselves in similar predicaments. “When that happens,” said the Rabbi, “it will all becomezechusim (merits) – for you, and for the children whose lives you will save.”

The Rabbi informed me that this young man devoted his life to helping wayward teens and is currently heading a program in Eretz Yisroel that has, over the past two decades, assisted hundreds of at-risk teens regain their footing and become proud, productive members of our Torah community.

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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 an attendant increase in class size, and the termination of almost all extra-curricular activities – e.g., sports and band. (Most of the extra-curricular activities have since been returned, after the school district obtained a grant from a private foundation.) And one appraiser was convicted of undervaluing a school building sold to a yeshiva.

But consanguinity does not establish causation. After months of scouring school budgets and tax rolls, Ungar-Sargon concluded that the cuts the education budget had been necessitated by the slashing of the state education budgets that cost East Ramapo $45,000,000 over a five-year period. Ungar-Sargon found that other nearby school districts had also dropped activities and fired teachers in response to similar cuts in state aid.

Ungar-Sargon also notes that the state formula for determining school aid rather dramatically disadvantages East Ramapo, and played a significant role in the reduced school spending. In establishing the district’s eligibility for supplemental funding, New York State relies on a formula that divides property tax revenues by the total number of students in the public schools. That formula makes East Ramapo look like a wealthy district when it is anything but. The public school population is heavily made up of African Americans and Haitian and Latino immigrants: 78% qualify for free or reduced lunches. The formula ignores that over two-third of the districts school children attend private schools, but nevertheless are entitled to costly services such as school busing and special education. (Ungar-Sargon calculated that the property taxes paid by private school parents comfortably cover the services they receive.)

Under state law, property taxes, from which the public schools are primarily funded, can only be raised 2% per annum, without a super-majority vote of taxpayers. In 2010, the well-organized Orthodox community easily voted down a proposed 10% property tax hike, and was accused of “depleting the resources of the already-strapped East Ramapo schools” for doing so. Yet not one of the 53 other school districts in Rockland County and adjacent Putnam and Westchester Counties voted to raise property taxes above the statutory limits, despite having to impose their own educational cutbacks.

UNQUESTIONABLY, ONE OF THE MAJOR REASONS that the Orthodox communities in East Ramapo and elsewhere have chosen to participate in local school boards is to ensure that the community receives the special education assistance to which it is entitled under federal and state law. Though Orthodox children constitute a large majority of those in the East Ramapo district, they make up only one-third of the special needs population. Yet the sums involved run into the millions of dollars, and are currently the subject of a federal lawsuit against the school board.

The lawsuit charges that the school board has failed to fulfill the mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to place children in the most mainstreamed option, which would be the public schools special education classes. Among other things, the Board is accused of not litigating against parents who prefer a private school option for their special needs children.

The issue is not one of costs. School Superintendant Joel Klein points out that even the most expensive alternative to public schooling in the district – busing children to the public special education school in the Kiryas Joel School district – costs less than per student than would special education in the district. And the Board is on strong grounds in arguing that it is saving money by generally avoiding litigation with parents because it would be likely to lose the litigation and be saddled with paying plaintiff’s considerable legal costs. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that IDEA’s mainstreaming mandate was designed to prevent schools from segregating special needs children, not to preclude parents from opting out of mainstreaming.

Still the lead attorney in the lawsuit accuses the school board of having accommodated Orthodox parents desire to “segregate” their kids. As an example, she cites the fact the kids in the Yiddish-speaking class recently instituted in one of the public schools do not eat in the school lunchroom. Neither the fact that many of the special needs kids Orthodox kids are fed through feeding tubes connected directly to their stomachs nor the requirements of kashrus that prevent the Orthodox children from eating in the school cafeteria mollified her.

The principal of the school, Nancy Kavanaugh, told Ungar-Sargon that the Yiddish-speaking program had “been a terrific experience in more ways than we had anticipated.” Some of the teachers, she admits, were initially wary of bringing in Orthodox teachers, but everyone had come to have great respect for Orthodox culture. “The teachers are absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “They are so loving.” But the thing that impressed her most: “They don’t gossip. It is a sin. So if you ask any of the teachers down there about a situation, they are very reluctant to speak ill of anybody. If they have an issue, they find a gentle, nice way to say it.”

Meanwhile Albany has appointed attorney Hank Greenberg as a “fiscal monitor” of the East Ramapo School. To which Superintendant Klein responds, “I welcome it because we have nothing to hide.”

On the evidence of the Tablet article, not only is there nothing to hide: The school board deserves kudos not brickbats, for the long hours dedicated free of charge to serving the needs of all the children of East Ramapo.

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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 of Yeshiva University. The RIETS Chag HaSemicha which took place in March displayed how the Tree of Life of Volozhin is blossoming in that yeshiva. This point was driven home as Rosh Kollel and Rosh Yeshiva Rav Michael Rosensweig discussed the transmission of the Torah from the Batei Midrash of Moshe Rabbeinu and his talmid Yehoshua to the present. It was intensified as Rosh Kollel and Rosh Yeshiva Rav Herschel Schachter continued the tradition of Rav Soloveitchik in addressing the musmachim themselves.

Contemporary Volozhin is not confined to Washingtone Heights . At the entrance to Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh, Volozhin thrives in Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, founded by Rav Kook. Our son in-law conveys that a frequent explanation advanced by talmidim for happenings in Mercaz is “this is the way it was done in Volozhin”. A little to the south in Givat Mordechai Volozhin pulsates in Yeshivat Chevron, whose leadership includes great-grandchildren of Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein. Volozhin is alive in both Lakewood East (in Ramot) and Lakewood West (in New Jersey), headed by great-grandchildren of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer.

Members of the Beit HaRav of Volozhin are prominent in Mesirat HaTorah. Great-grandson of Rav Chaim, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis HaLevi, passed the torch to his son Rav Chaim, who passed the torch to his sons, Rav Moshe and to Rav Yitzchak Zev (Rav Velvel), the Griz. The progeny of the Beit HaRav are continuing the family tradition of Mesirat HaTorah from Arei Yehuda in Alon Shvut to Chutzot Yerushalayim in Rechov Press and Sanhedria Murchevet, from Beit Shemesh to Block Shmonim, from the Land of Lincoln to the Empire State. The chain continues.

On that uplifting day in the elevated period between Purim and Pesach, a cloud on the horizon was the physical absence of the esteemed Rosh Kollel and Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.

II The Summer

And then they kidnapped and murdered our boys, may Hashem avenge their blood. They sent missiles by air and gunmen in tunnels. 3 precious families sanctified The Name and inspired and united the Jewish People. The rabbinic and communal leadership of 3 wonderful communities strengthened their flock. The Jewish People united and went to war, displaying tremendous mesirut nefesh and bravery, with 70 soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice, may Hashem avenge their blood.

It was the summer of the chayal who entered the tunnel to retrieve the body of Hadar Goldin, may Hashem avenge his blood. It was the summer of Racheli Fraenkel proclaiming that Hashem is not our employee. It was the summer of the Minister of Finance davening from his grandfather’s siddur and quoting the Arizal on Ahavat Yisrael. It was the summer of Ophir Sha’ar mentioning his desire to cover Gilad with his tallit in Birchat Kohanim. It was the summer of mayor of Elad, Sruli Porush, yelling Tehillim in ha’a’vara sefaradit. It was the summer of Rav Itzy Weinberger singing with chayalim on the yeshiva roof in Sderot and continuing to sing in the secure room after the siren went off. It was the summer of the Fraenkel parents instructing the American Ambassador that the US should extend the same effort to rescue all 3 boys, not only their son who was a US citizen. It was the summer of the Achdut Yisrael-chizuk trip of Rav Shay Schachter, whose email went viral.

Rav Rami Berachyahu, mara de’atra of Talmon, home of the Sha’ar Family, organized an azkara to be held shortly after the shloshim of the boys. Shiurei Torah to provide nechama and to inspire. In order to approach the azkarah, we go back to New York of the mid-50s, a young yeshiva in The Land in the early 70s and an exalted night in Brooklyn in 1980.

III Chinuch Atzmai Dinner 1956, Yeshivat Har Etzion

While Rav Soloveitchik nurtured the Tree of Life of Volozhin in the Brisker tradition, Rav Aharon Kotler, perpetuated Torat Volozhin in Lakewood. Rav Aharon learned in Slabodka where Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein was Rosh Yeshiva (prior to his aliya with a large segment of the yeshiva to Chevron), attended shiurim from Rav Boruch Ber in a nearby yeshiva, married the daughter of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer and was Rosh Yeshiva in Kletzk.

Rav Aharon was a powerhouse of Torah scholarship, learning with intensity and genius. He reached the US in WWII and was involved in rescue attempts for Jews trapped in Europe. He heeded the advice of rav of Lakewood, Rav Nissan Waxman and established the Beth Midrash Gevoha in that location. Rav Aharon was actively involved in the Chinuch Atzmai school system.

Rav Aharon invited Rav Solveitchik to be guest of honor at the Chinuch Atzmai Dinner in 1956. The Rov agreed. During his address the Rov movingly conveyed his respect and affection towards Rav Aharon stating that he reminded him of Rav Akiva Eiger and of his grandfather, Rav Chaim Brisker. It marked an exalted moment- the Bostoner Rov and the Kletzker Rosh Yeshiva, teachers of Torah at the highest level, with different darchei limud and positions on several issues of the day- in concert together, warmly displaying mutual respect and focusing on what unites them. Ashreinu ma tov chelkenu that these are our Gedolim. The Tree of Life of Volozhin continues.

Rav Yehuda Amital survived the Shoah (“I have experienced a developed world, a destroyed world and a rebuilt world and my beard is not yet white”) and learned in Yeshivat Chevron under Rav Chatzkel Sarna (talmid and son in law of Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein). He married the granddaughter of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, niece of Rav Aharon Kotler. Following the 6 Day War he founded a yeshivat hesder located in Gush Etzion, Yeshivat Har Etzion, aka “the Gush”.

Similar to his uncle, he extended his hand to a leader of the Brisker branch of Volozhin. A decade and a half after the Chinuch Atzmai Dinner, Rav Amital invited the talmid and son in law of Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva and Rosh Kollel in RIETS, to become Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshivat Har Etzion. Rav Lichtenstein consented, and the two Roshei Yeshiva taught Torah together harmoniously for decades. At a yeshiva function many years into their blessed partnership, Rav Lichtenstein conveyed how he was asked what did he see so long ago that motivated him to tie his future into Yeshivat Har Etzion? “Rav Amital” was his response. A unification of the branches of Volozhin, lehagdil Torah uliha’adira.

IV The Farbrengen, 1980

On the evening marking the 30th year of the leadership of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Chassidim gathered at 770 in Crown Heights. An evening of elevation, of “didan natzach”. The Holy Fire of Chassidut that did not bow to the Czar or to the Soviet Empire, the Holy Fire of Chassidut that engages and reaches out to the collective Jewish People, including those estranged from their sacred roots.

In the midst of the farbrengen, Rav Soloveitchik, descendant of Rav Chaim Volozhiner, disciple of the Gra, arrived to honor the Rebbe. The scion of the author of Nefesh HaChaim, the sefer that outlines the philosophy of Mitnagdic Volozhin. The Rov who in Ish HaHalachah contrasts the Lithuanian derech to that of Chabad. The arrival of Rav Soloveitchik in 770 was electric; a great moment was happening. The Rebbe greeted the Rov with deep respect and warmth.

Reaching out to the great Chassidic leader was within the family tradition. Despite his ideological oppostion to aspects of Chassidut, Rav Chaim Volozhiner himself cooperated with Chassidic leaders in communal matters to strengthen Torah observance and reached out with warmth to students with Chassidic inclinations in Volozhin. The great-grandfather of the Rov, the Beis HaLevi related with respect and affection towards many Chassidic masters, including Rav Yechezkel of Shinove, the son of Rav Chaim of Sanz.

An awesome moment- a link in the chain of Volozhin meeting with the leader of the movement founded by the author of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav and of the Tanya, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Recognition of the Holy Fire of Chassidut. This Holy Fire is manifested in:

Rav Leibele Eiger solving the kashya of his grandfather, Rav Akiva Eiger, concerning the gezara of not blasting the shofar on Shabbat.

The Torah greatness of the Chiddushei HaRim, Rav Chaim Sanzer, Avnei Nezer and Sefas Emes.

The chassid in the Modzhitzer shtiebel in Warsaw whom when asked by the young Rav Soloveitchik when would they would daven Ma’ariv to end the Shabbat responded “What is with you? Are you already longing for the weekdays to begin? What do you mean when will we daven Ma’ariv, are we lacking anything now?”

The fervent and warm tefilla found in the Sanzer shtiebel in Tzfat.

The grandson of Rav Chaim Sanzer, the Rebbe of Klausenberg who in the Shoah made a neder that if Hashem would enable him to survive he would build a hospital to bring Jews into the world. The Rebbe lost his family in the Shoah, established a new family and built the Laniado hospital in Netanya. Several of our younger children were born in Laniado.

Rav Grossman of Migdal HaEmek meeting with and inspiring young Gilad Sha’ar before his bar mitzvah- and 3 years later being menachem his family.

From Washington Heights to Crown Heights- The Tree of Life of Volozhin meets the Holy Fire of Chassidut with mutual respect and affection. Leaders of the Jewish People side by side, the Chassidim rejoice and the letters of the Torah are dancing in the air.

V The Azkara in Talmon

Bein HaMetzarim, a day before Tisha Ba’Av. Mara de’atra of Talmon, Rav Rami Berachyahu invites Mosrei HaTorah of the generation to bring nechama and to inspire. Ophir Sha’ar, father of Gilad, of blessed memory, is a talmid of Yeshivat Har Etzion, thus Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yaakov Medan is invited to speak and delivers the final shiur. Before he spoke..

Rav Schachter delivered a shiur focused on a principle formulated by Rav Chaim Volozhiner- Divrei Torah foster Tashmishei Kedusha, Torah yields sanctity. The Rosh Kollel and Rosh Yeshiva develops this idea in multifaceted spheres, quoting his rebbe the Rov and advancing his own insights. The supremacy of Torah, the all-encompassing scope of Torah. Similar to the elevating words of Rav Rosenswieg 4 months earlier one wants to dance. One remembers why there is an azkara and one wants to cry. Rav Schachter quotes the gemara concerning the Sifrei Torah burning with the letters floating in the air and he himself cries.

As the Volozhiner Rosh Kollel and Rosh Yeshiva speaks the Minchas Asher, Av Beit Din Rav Asher Weiss, talmid and chassid of the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, of blessed memory, enters. Rav Asher Weiss whom teaches Torah from Ramot to Sderot. Son of a survivor of Auschwithz, Rav Asher conveys Torah with great clarity and with great love to all members of the Jewish People. He offers an alternative explanation to the gemara mentioned by Rav Schachter. The letters of the Torah are dancing and crying in the air.

And then it happens…

Accompanied by his children, the Rosh Kollel and Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein arrives. The lengths a rebbe will go to, the efforts he will expend, to comfort a talmid and to be mechabed the Torah. Rav Lichtenstein, the talmid of the Rov, chaver of Rav Schachter, rebbe of Rav Rosensweig. Rav Weiss notices Rav Lichtenstein- sitting with his son Rav Moshe, Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshivat Har Etzion- and publicly honors this great Volozhiner teacher of Torah. After the shiur, Rav Lichtenstin and Rav Weiss meet. The talmid and son in law of the Rov and the talmid and brother of son in law of the Rebbe. The Tree of Life of Volozhin and the Holy Fire of Chassidut. Our oldest son hears Rav Lichtenstein remark to Rav Weiss “devarim niflaim- wonderful words”. The letters of the Torah are dancing and crying in the air.

Rosh Yeshiva in Har Etzion, Rav Yaakov Medan ascends to speak. Rav Medan a talmid of the first class of the yeshiva founded by Rav Amital, and jointly led by Rav Amital and yibadel lechayim tovim ve’aruchim, Rav Lichtenstein. Rav Medan who appears in the famous picture of yeshivot hesder talmidim at Kriat HaTorah during the first Lebanon War. Rav Medan who publicly displays his respect for Chareidi brethren.

Rav Medan- in close proximity to the advent of Tisha Be’Av- calls attention to the following fact. This year marks 100 years to the outbreak of WWI, which occurred on Tisha Ba’Av. That war marked a low in the annals of the Jewish People- Jew vs. Jew on the battlefield. And now..such Jewish unity. The Rov and Rav Aharon Kotler, the Rov and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. A generation later, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Amital, Rav Lichtenstein and Rav Asher Weiss. The Tree of Life of Volozhin, the Holy Fire of Chassidut. Not a blurring of differences; ratherת mutual respect and affection for fellow Mosrei HaTorah. With our leaders so united, may this influence all members of the Jewish People.

VI Elul

Volozhin guides us to rise up from tragedy….

While in Slutsk, the wife of the Beis HaLevi died. The Netziv arrived to be menachem avel. Upon noticing him, the Beit HaLevi burst into tears exclaiming “Rabi Hirsch Leib, my wife Tzirel was a tzaddeket, and I worry that perhaps she died for my sins for wounding your honor during the rivalry in Volozhin and you still harbor feelings of hurt. Oy that I have caused her to die before her time. Please, Rabi Hirsch Leib, forgive me and remove anger from me”.

The Netziv assured the Beis HaLevi that he harbored no hard feelings, as they both had acted leShem Shamayim. As a proof, the Netziv mentioned how he implored the Beis HaLevi to remain in Volozhin.

After a few minutes of silence when the Netziv realized that there were no strangers in the room he approached the Beis HaLevi and said: “Rabi Yoshe Ber, from above it can be testified that I harbor no hard feelings and there is nothing to forgive you for. But to prove to you that my heart is at peace with you, I propose a shidduch between us. Your son Chaim should take for a wife my granddaughter Lipsha, daughter of Rabi Refael”.

And so it was…and the branches of the Beit HaRav were united and the Volozhiner/Brisker dynasty marched forward.

The forming of new Jewish Homes, Batim Ne’emanim BiYisrael, is the ultimate nechama and inspiration. This Elul marked 4 uplifiting weddings that I was privileged to attend. Present in all the weddings were those who figured so prominently in the uplifting and tragic events of this year.

On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Rav Rosensweig- talmid of Rav Lichtenstein, carrier of the torch of Volozhin- was mesader kiddushin as his daughter married his talmid. Similar to Chag HaSemicha a meeting of the generations as his father in law sang the Ketuba and his father spoke beneath the chupah. The Tree of Life continues- hachut hameshulash.

The following evening, Rav Itzy Weinberger, who had recently sang near the Gaza border in the midst of a missile attack, sang Im Eshkachach Yerushalayim (to Carlebach) under the chupah at his sons wedding, as his father was mesader kiddushin. Roshei Yeshiva of Volozhin in the Heights were the eidei kiddushin. The Tree of Life with the Holy Fire of Chassidut ablaze.

A week later Rav Schachter- in the presence of his son Rav Shay- was mesader kiddushin for a couple who met via a seforim sale. A month after delivering the shiur outlining the supremacy of Torah, 2 months after his son Rav Shay’s trip of nechama and connecting to fellow Jews- the carrier of the torch of Volozhin sat with a chatan who made a siyum on Masechet Kiddushin that he began to learn at the time of his engagement. The chain continues.

The following week in The Land, Rav Rami Berachyahu read the ketuba at the wedding of a son of Talmon. After providing leadership in the most tragic of times, connecting with fellow Jews in The Land and with our brethren worldwide in the White Shul, Bnai Yeshurun and the OU, Rav Rami merited to celebrate in the establishment of a new Jewish home. Not by accident, under the chupah prior to Im Eshkachach, everyone sang Chamol Al Ma’a’seycha. Always a nice idea, but quite fitting at the conclusion of the year of 5774.

May the year of 5775 be a year of besurot tovot, yeshuot venachamot for the entire Jewish People.

Reuven Ungar is the Director of Alumni Relations of Yeshivat Sha’alvim. He is a graduate of MTA and resident of Talmon.

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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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Israel’s New Torah Askanim

A few months back, Yisroel Besser posed the question in these pages: Where will the next generation of askanim come from and what can be done to nurture them? His article generated a great deal of discussion, but one aspect of the issue was not touched on by any of the discussants: How irrelevant the entire discussion would have struck most Torah Jews living in Israel.

Both the author and those who responded took it for granted that the term askan is one of high praise, connoting a person who serves the Klal by giving generously of both his time and money. Yet in Israel the term is almost always used pejoratively. Far from indicating someone who acts out of a lack of self-interest, it generally refers to someone who did not possess the necessary zitsfleish for long-term learning or the entrepreneurial skills to make it in business, and who instead cut out for himself a place on the periphery of a Torah leader or Knesset member to acquire a small fiefdom of power and influence.

What explains the differences in societal usage and norms? For one thing, the dominant social model in Israel for decades has been one … Read More >>

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What Do Gaza and Ferguson Have in Common

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.) was challenged last week about her support for an additional appropriation of $225 million for Iron Dome. Her town meeting questioner, John Bangert, asked incredulously, how she could not see the connection between Ferguson and Gaza – i.e., guns being turned on innocent civilians.

Bangert is right about the connection between events in Gaza and those in Ferguson, Mo., but it is not exactly the one he had in mind. Both represent examples of journalistic malfeasance, the manufacture of a false narrative based on emphasizing certain facts and eliding others. In Ferguson, the narrative was that of an innocent black teenager gunned down by a white cop; in Gaza, one of Israel brutally bombing innocent Palestinian civilians.

The media described Michael Brown as a “gentle giant,” who was on his way to his grandmother’s house, just a few days short of the start of college, when he was shot six times by Officer Darren Wilson, despite being unarmed. Brown’s companion at the time of the shooting variously, described him as fleeing at the time of the shooting or as having his hands up.

That particular version of events did not long survive. The autopsy commissioned … Read More >>

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Showing We Care

Two weeks ago, I was in Passaic for Shabbos. The main theme of my presentations in four shuls was the feeling of achdus in Israel, from the kidnapping of the three yeshiva students through Operation Protective Edge, and what can be done to preserve it. On Motzaei Shabbos, I spent several hours together with a group of alumni of Machon Shlomo and Machon Yaakov, two yeshivos for ba’alei teshuva in Har Nof.

One of those present asked me what I thought was the most important thing American Jews can do now for their brethren in Israel. He did not specify any particular kind of American Jews, or Israeli for that matter. I replied: Show them that you care about what is happening to them.

I’m not sure where that answer came from since I do not lack for remarkable organizations in Israel to recommend. Perhaps I was inspired by the widely distributed letter of Rabbi Shay Schacter, assistant rabbi of the White Shul in Lawrence, describing in poignant detail his four-day visit to Israel, as the emissary of Lawrence’s White Shul to convey condolences to the Shaer, Fraenkel, and Yifrach families and deliver letters of tanchumin from the congregation. … Read More >>

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Achdus: An Appeal For Ideas

Many, many people were touched by the palpable sense of achdus during the 18 days in which we davened for the three abducted teens, and during the weeks of war that followed.

I know that groups of people have connected with each other (including “A-list” people in the charedi world), looking for practical ways to keep this spirit alive. Why, though, limit the discussion to these smaller groups? We’ve seen in the past that digitally turning to a wider audience has yielded great insight. We therefore ask you to think about ways in which to help bring disparate groups of Jews (especially disparate groups of Orthodox Jews) together. First and foremost, these methods should aim to increase respect (which is more than tolerance) for “others.”

I will start the process with a few ideas dealing specifically with the Orthodox community, and hope that they will jog the imagination of readers:

1) Research and find a tzedaka associated primarily with the “other” camp, and make regular, generous contributions [E.g. I would recommend JobKatif to readers on the charedi side]

2) Study a sefer that is associated with an important thinker of the other group

3) Spend time at an important … Read More >>

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Decommissioning Emunah

“But I will confess…” read the subject line in a recent e-mail from a dear friend, a very intelligent Jewish man who claims to be an atheist. In the message box the communication continued: “…that the continued existence of Jew-hatred… baffles me.”

“And,” my friend added, “I am not easily baffled.”

His comment was a reaction to a recent column that appeared in this space (which he saw electronically; he’s not yet a subscriber to Hamodia) that alluded to how powerful an argument for the Torah’s truth is the astounding, perplexing persistence of anti-Semitism.

If only my friend, and all Jews, would honestly and objectively consider that other, independent, anomalies also lead in the same direction.

Like the perseverance of the Jewish People itself, despite all the adversity it has faced and faces; like the uniqueness of the Torah’s recording of sins committed by its most venerated personalities, in such contrast to other religions’ fundamental texts; like the seemingly self-defeating laws the Torah commands, like shmitah and aliyah liregel , which no human would ever have decreed, as they put their observers in great danger; like the predictions the Torah makes that have come to pass, like … Read More >>

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Modern Orthodoxy Can Do Better

As the demographic ground beneath the feet of American Jews continues to shift, old denominational definitions and self-understandings change as well. Dr. Baruch Brody offers a fresh approach to demarcating Modern Orthodoxy’s territory in the current issue of Hakira (Volume 17; Summer 2014). While his essay is a fascinating read that shows much thought and passion, it is a disappointment to those of us who want to see Modern Orthodoxy (MO) succeed, whether we fully identify with that community or not.

Future historians may very well divide American Jewish time into two eras: BP and AP, or Before Pew and After Pew. At least so it seems for some of us in the Orthodox world, who had long been making claims about where we were all going that were roundly ignored or rejected – till Pew. During the decades of the Orthodox renaissance after the Holocaust, we argued that time was on our side. Orthodoxy may have been treated condescendingly as the benighted step-child of the real Jews, but we knew better. All forms of Judaism not based on halachic commitment would prove unsustainable, we predicted, while Orthodoxy would grow and flourish. After Pew, more people are at … Read More >>

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A Plaintive Cry (Or Two) For Understanding

by Moshe Shoshan

Over the past few years I have been conducting an on again, off again conversation with Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein via e-mail. My main purpose in conducting this dialog has been to come to a better understanding as to why even in moderate charedi forums such as Cross-Currents, there have been exceedingly few direct, strongly worded condemnations of the extreme, violent behaviour and rhetoric directed against the State of Israel, its government and Army as well as the Religious Zionist population. I refer not only to actions and words emanating from members of the more extreme communities affiliated with the Eidah Charedis, but also more mainstream charedi groups whose rhetoric and behaviour has become increasing strident and offensive to non-charedim.

To give but one example, last year, Chaim Walder, perhaps the most beloved religious children’s author in Israel, wrote an editorial the Hebrew Yated Ne’eman, the official organ of R. Steinman’s faction of the Yahadut ha-Torah political party. Walder’s column unequivocally and unapologetically compared Yair Lapid to Adolph Hitler yemach shemo ve-zichro. Rabbi Adlerstein and numerous other chareidim with who I am in contact agreed with me that such language is abhorrent, but no public condemnation … Read More >>

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The Final Test?

Mrs. Esther Wein recently shared with me a dvar Torah that she heard many years ago from her grandfather Rabbi Shimon Schwab, zt”l, which may have application to the rampant anti-Semitism that has exploded around the world in the wake of Operation Protective Edge.

Rabbi Schwab asked what average Egyptians did to merit the terrible punishments that befell them in the course of the plagues. And what was the nature of the individual judgment on those Egyptians who drowned at Yam Suf? After all, it was Pharaoh who refused to allow the bnei Yisrael to leave Egypt. Was every citizen of Egypt culpable for not have revolted against Pharaoh to force him to grant thebnei Yisrael permission to escape?

He answered that the litmus test for the average Egyptian came when Pharaoh added to the burden of the bnei Yisrael by requiring them to collect their own straw while retaining the same quota of bricks as before. The Jews, the Torah relates, had no choice but to fan out across Egypt in search of straw. Rabbi Schwab speculated that they were forced to knock on the doors of the Egyptians in their quest, and that the Egyptians were subsequently … Read More >>

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In Brief:

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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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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The Punker’s Lesson

-- 12:22 pm

A Tisha B’Av-themed piece appearing in the Forward can be read here.

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Daven For the Asir Tziyon

-- 11:58 am

Lt. Hadar Goldin’s chasuna is scheduled to take place before Rosh Hashanah.

Daven for him. Hadar ben Chedva Leah.

Daven for a quick end to the unimaginable pain of his parents and siblings.

Daven to end the tears of a kallah who is waiting

photo (1)

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“Of Public Record” – 2

-- 10:58 am

A second offering of interesting quotes from recent days’ media reports can be seen here.

For future such postings, occasionally check out rabbiavishafran.com

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