From the Mother of the Meah Shearim Attack Victim

[Sometimes it is good to hear what it feels like from the people closest to the event. Thanks to Dr Moshe Shoshan for the translation.]

It has been a stormy Shabbat for us as we have gone back and forth between a desire to crush and destroy the rioters and the understanding that they represent only a crazy minority in the chareidi community.

They tried to lynch my little boy, who happens to be 21 and an officer in the Givati infantry brigade.

What tears my heart out is the fact that no one came to his defense. Twelve noon, Meah Shearim, a place bustling with life. But no one remembered the mitzvah “לא תעמוד על דם רעיך ” “Stand not idly by as you neighbors blood is spilt.” A mitzvah deoraita.

Men women and children watched the lynching and none of them offered any aid or a place to hide from the hooligans.

I am trying to use this experience to somehow bring change and hope.

I am searching for people from the chareidi world who want to create dialog. I am searching for the silent majority who stood by when son was attacked. I want to give them strength and support. Don’t stand idly by and watch you own blood spilled.

My son, who will always remain “my little boy,” fought this summer in Shuja’iyya in Gaza, so that, among other things, Chareidim could learn Torah. It is clear to me that this is not Torah. Those who attacked him and those who watched are not among those who learn and observe the Torah.

To my son and his unit, 33 brave soldiers from the chareidi sector, I stand by you and support you and the entire incredible Shachar program [which helps to integrate chareidim into the IDF].

חיזקו ואמצו ואל ירך לבבכם

“Be strong and brave and let your hearts fear not”

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I, You, and He/She: A Conjugation Lesson

The real losers in the recent Israeli election — in addition to anti-Netanyahu Obama and Herzog— were the Israeli pollsters. The pre-election polls several days before the election (Israeli law wisely does not permit public polling within three days of an election) were far off the mark, showing Herzog/Livni to be at least four seats ahead. To top this off, the exit polls initially declared that the election was too close to call, when in fact it was an overwhelming Netanyahu victory, akin to a landslide.

The pollsters have spent the post–election weeks crying into their matzo-ball soup, trying to explain away why they went wrong: the electorate was undecided until the end; had polling been permitted until election day they would have been more accurate (but what about the exit poll errors?); the campaign was a volatile one, with daily ups and downs.

The miscalculation of the pollsters was for me a delight. It underscored the importance of each individual, and the uniqueness of am Yisroel. Just as the Jewish people are not subject to the ordinary rules of historic logic — we should have evaporated and disappeared millenia ago together with the empires of Assyria and Rome and Egypt — so is it with the residents of the modern State of Israel. As befits what Shemos 32:9 describes as an am k’shei oref, a stubborn stiff-necked people , we are not subject to the ordinary rules of polling. The samplings might be very ”scientific,” but we are very contrary and combative, and the principles of polling that apply to other groups do not apply to us. We are, after all, a people levadad yishkon, that “dwelleth alone” (Bamidbar 22:9). It is futile to try to anticipate what such a people will think or behave or decide tomorrow or the next day — as, incidentally, Moshe Rabbenu long ago discovered much to his chagrin.

For it is a central Jewish belief that each Jew is an individual: separate, unique and apart, different from every other Jew. The Ten Commandments were spoken in the second person singular: You, and not you-all. You as an individual shall honor your father and mother; you as an individual shall have no other gods before Me; you as an individual shall observe the Shabbos; you as an individual shall not steal, murder, commit adultery. G d speaks to us singly and exclusively.

Pollsters, on the other hand, function differently. There is no “I,” no “you,” no “he/she.” They see only a huge, formless “all-of-you” which enables the pollsters to assure us that when certain groups come from the same demographic, live in the same neighborhood, and derive from similar ethnic backgrounds, they will all think the same way, act the same way, and vote the same way. Polling rubs away all uniqueness, and transforms thousands of separate individuals into a single, nondescript, amorphous glob.

But occasionally that group of inchoate lumpenproletariat explodes into separate and distinct individuals who rise up and say, We are not a monolithic sampling, not lumps of clay. We are like our Creator, who is Echad. Just as He is One, so did He create each one of us as one, and not as robotic , random statistics on some esoteric polling algorithm. As the Mishna in Sanhedrin 37a states: Bishvili nivra ha-olam “Because of me was the world created.” The decisions of unique individuals cannot be anticipated through the prism of scientific samplings — especially since already in Talmudc times we were characterized as an ama p’ziza, a hasty, passionate and impulsive people. (Talmud, Shabbos 88a); i.e, the very bane of poll sampling.

How refreshing it was to see the pollsters go down to defeat. It could not have come at a more propitious time, for we were beginning to wonder why we need elections at all, and why stand in line for hours just to cast our ballots when the professionals could simply dispatch a few pollsters to inform us in advance who will live and who will die in the elections.

So kol hakavod to this volatile and crotchety Israeli electorate which does not like to be predictable, refuses to be reduced to a statistic, and prefers to leave prophecy to people like Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Let the pollsters agonize over their defeat, and let President Obama mouth his puerile pique. Neither I, nor You, nor He/ She wishes them better luck next time.

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Tikvah Institute For Yeshiva Men – Second Season

We are excited to announce that applications are now being accepted for this summer’s Tikvah Institute for Yeshiva Men.

Buoyed by a dream last year, we launched a program aimed at some of the best and brightest of the yeshiva world. We were not sure at first whether we would find enough applicants to make the Tikvah Institute worth running. Our optimism paid off, BH. We were swamped with applicants, and acceptance became quite competitive.

It was a diverse bunch when measured by age, geography, learning background, and prior exposure to secular disciplines. What participants shared proved more important. All had spent serious time learning in yeshivos and identified with the yeshiva world. All were bright and intellectually curious. Most importantly for the objectives of the program, all shared the conviction that the Torah speaks to the broader concerns of communities and nations, both Jewish and non-Jewish. While the ordinary avodah of the yeshivah man must focus on mastering more Shas and poskim, applicants looked to bein hazmanim to explore elements of Torah that broaden the mind and prepare one for a life of potential leadership within the Torah community.

We’re ready for the second iteration of the program, and it is even more exciting than last year’s hugely successful (as measured by participant feedback) debut – largely through the creativity of my colleague, Rabbi Mark Gottlieb.

Part of the mission of the Tikvah Fund is ensuring that some of the key traditional political and economic values that make nations great will live on in the next generation. Tikvah recognized that there is a natural affinity for these values in the Orthodox community. That community does not always recognize the place of those values within the clash of ideas in general society, or the impact that dilution of those values would have on the Torah community, here and even in Israel. (We are talking core values here, not partisan politics.) The summer program seeks to equip talented bnei Torah with the conceptual background to advance those values, and the confidence in their rootedness in Torah hashkafah to want to do so.

Thus the multiple daily components of the program, about which more can be found on the website. Briefly, the week will provide historical and conceptual background to the great political and economic theories of modern society. This will come by way of quick immersion in key material, taught by world-class instructors. It will explore the Torah material in regard to these idea, and examine what the Torah expects the Torah Jew to do by way of advancing and sharing its positions. It will deal with the ways in which challenges to these ideas will impact on the Torah lifestyle in the short run, and what can and should be done to respond to those challenges.

There is more on the website. If a reader skipped all of the framework, he would still have to get excited by the faculty. The Torah side includes personalities that any knowledgeable ben Torah would be excited to be with: Rav Ahron Lopiansky, Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz, Rav Yirmiyahu Kagan, and Jonathan Rosenblum. (Pretty impressive how many colleagues from Cross-Currents and Klal Perspectives we managed to include, if I do say so myself!) A week – including a heimish Shabbos – spent interacting formally and informally with such Torah thinkers will leave a lasting impression.

The secular side includes A-list thinkers. Roger Scruton is nothing less than a philosopher of rock-star status, if you can excuse the oxymoronic description. William Kristol is not only one of the architects and bulldogs of contemporary conservative thought, but one of America’s most listened-to social commentators. Robert George is one of the most formidable intellectuals in America, period – as well as the thinker who has made talking about natural law (best known to yeshiva students through Daf alef (yes – look there!) amud beis of the Vilna Shas, Berachos) possible once more.

While the prospect of learning from and interacting with giants in their respective Torah and secular disciplines will sound exciting, even greater chizuk will come from spending a week with bright, motivated bnei Torah from other yeshivos and backgrounds.

Please spread the word. Help us identify potential candidates for the program (which includes all expenses, plus a stipend!). They will be grateful – and, in the long run, so will Klal Yisrael.

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Shooting From The Heart

Although blacks constitute approximately 13% of the American population, the FBI reported in 2013 that 38.5% of people arrested for violent crimes were African-Americans.

Statistics like that one, coupled with a largely unsavory urban black culture (not to mention what passes in some circles for black leadership), predisposes many of us to assume the worst about all blacks – or, at very least, to be sympathetic to law enforcement officers in their dealings with black suspects.

And, as a result, many white Americans tend to be wary of claims that black Americans are unfairly singled out by police for arrest, mistreated and even killed without justification.

So when, in 2013, George Zimmerman, a volunteer with a local “Neighborhood Watch” in Sanford, Florida, was acquitted by a jury of shooting to death Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black youth whom Mr. Zimmerman was following (against orders from a dispatcher to not do so) and with whom he got into an altercation, many of us felt that the volunteer’s claim that he killed the youth in self-defense was plausible, if not probable. The subsequent protests over the killing were regarded by many as an indefensible rush to judgment.

And last year, when Eric Garner, who was illegally selling individual cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner, died after being put in a chokehold by police, it seemed self-evident that the overweight and asthmatic black man’s death was unfortunate but didn’t negatively reflect on the officer who applied the chokehold and who ignored Mr. Garner’s 11 wheezy pleas that “I can’t breathe.” When a grand jury declined to indict the officer, that judgment seemed vindicated.

It was also last year that a grand jury elected to not indict Ferguson, Missouri policeman Darren Wilson, for killing Michael Brown, a black youth, in the line of duty; and the U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute the officer for a civil rights violation. There were widespread protests over that killing, but also a widespread sense that the reaction then, too, had been misguided, and the protesters’ claims of police racism unjustified.

Then, though, came the blatantly racist e-mails exchanged by various Ferguson court and police employees, which led the Justice Department to assert “a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department that violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and federal statutory law.” Mr. Wilson was not personally implicated in that ugliness, but the culture of bias clearly existed.

And now we are confronted with the case of Walter Scott, the 50-year-old unarmed black man stopped by a North Charleston, South Carolina police officer for driving with a broken taillight. Mr. Scott was shot in the back and killed when he fled (presumably, according to reports, because he feared being taken into custody over missed child support payments).

Of all the recent cases, this is the only one where we needn’t – indeed, cannot – rely for judgment on either our preconceptions or anyone’s word. A bystander’s cellphone video of the incident shows the policeman, Michael Slager, aiming and shooting at Mr. Scott’s back multiple times.

And there’s audio, too, of Mr. Slager telling someone, presumably his wife, that he had killed somebody who had “grabbed my Taser” – the stun gun used to subdue people engaged in violence or resisting arrest. In the video, the policeman is seen calmly taking something from his patrol car, walking over to the man he had just shot to death and dropping the object near his body.

Mr. Slager is charged with murder.

There are, I think, two takeaways from the most recent story. One is something the alleged murderer discovered in a this-worldly way but that believing Jews know well in a more profound one: “There is an eye that sees and an ear that hears” – and, of course, “all your deeds are recorded…” (Avos 2:1).

The other is that, while it’s only human to harbor preconceptions, it’s important to realize that presumptions can be wrong, and to recognize that racial prejudice, like religious prejudice, exists, and can lead to terrible things. Yes, most police are upstanding public servants who would never mistreat any citizen. But by the same token, most blacks are law-abiding citizens. There are black criminals, to be sure; but there are also trigger-happy racist cops.

And if any group should be rightly disturbed by the specter of innocent people being killed by armed authorities, it should be one that has been victimized by hatred and violence over most of recorded history.

© 2015 Hamodia

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Reflections of a Non-Talmid

It was not the small number of personal interactions with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l that made the greatest impression upon me. To be sure, I could detect greatness, humility, lomdus. But I wasn’t around them long enough for them to change who I was.

It was not even some of his remarkable writing – although I certainly gained from it. His piece arguing for the existence of a morality dwelling outside of Torah texts continues to be the platform of discussion of the subject, which ever side you are on. His long monograph comparing and contrasting arguments for and against secular study remains the seminal modern treatment of the subject. (Scrupulously fair, in my reading he does a better job explaining the latter than the former.) The honesty of a Tradition article a few years ago blew me away. It asks painful questions (and provides no answers) as to whether our romanticized views of marriage and intimacy are really consistent with Torah texts, or the product of our desire to be PC. Even more important to me was his response in a Jewish Action forum about reasons for belief. (Genius that he was, his honesty made him forego an opportunity to distill belief into a product that could be mass-produced and shared. Instead, he argued that belief came easy to him because he had spent time with three rabbeim – Rav Hutner, R Aron Soloviechik, and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik – in whom Hashem’s greatness itself shone through. He knew that his experience was not replicable – that none of his readers could aspire to the same experience, but he answered honestly nonetheless.)

Not being a talmid, I’m sure I missed hundreds of other examples, like the one that a reader sent yesterday:

And yet, fundamentally, relatively little has changed in regard to the halakhic tragedy of shevi’it. Awareness of the mizvah has been heightened; more and more observant Jews have been sensitized to it; and greater effort is expended in coping with the basic halakhic issues. Nevertheless, the essential reality remains. For most, shemittah exists, to the extent that it is experienced at all, more as a problem than as a value, as a mizvah that confronts us with the challenge to circumvent it more than with the impetus to implement it. To be sure, its impact upon producers – and I don’t mean just neglected lawns – is more vivid than upon consumers; and of the latter, those who heed the view of R. Moshe di Trani (the Mabit), against that of the Bet Yosef, that the sanctity of shevi’it must be observed with regard to non-Jewish produce, are more affected than those who do not. And yet, the underlying fact is beyond challenge. Overwhelmingly, we have lost the vision, we have been left with an obstacle course – and that is hardly how we should strive to experience a halakhic lifestyle. Would we, for even a moment, countenance relating to our weekly Shabbat as we do to our septennial one?

To me, the greatest impact came through his addressing a disquieting concern by example. I was zocheh to observe real gadlus, and sometimes spend time in its company. The experience was transfiguring. Yet the frum world in which I live elevates bitul to a virtue. Sometimes it seems that the way we keep people on the straight and narrow depends on training them to despise everything else. Where would that leave someone who truly understood, relished and loved other kinds of knowledge? I have met talmidei chachamim who were well versed in other disciplines, but their interest in them seemed more on the order of knowing them so that they could better reject them.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein didn’t just know Milton and Spenser. He appreciated them. He delighted in them, and countless other authors. Despite this, his feet drew him always to the beis medrash, where he found learning to be his delight of delights, towering over any other endeavor. He was a masmid when he was young, and remained one his entire life. (Devotion to learning went hand in hand with devotion to teaching. A vignette contributed by a talmid, David Weinberg, is instructive: I remember being startled from my yeshiva bed at 4 am during the First Lebanon War by a hand that was shaking my shoulder. It was Rabbi Lichtenstein, making rounds of the dormitories to personally awaken his students for early Talmud class, so that he could fly-off to southern Lebanon just after 7 am prayers to visit his students on the battlefront. When the Rosh Yeshiva himself pulls you out of bed because he can’t imagine cancelling a Talmud class, you don’t dare roll-over and go back to sleep! And you learn a lesson or two in self-discipline, dedication, and comradeship.)

In short, Rav Aharon mechayev es ha-modernim.

Yehi zichro baruch.

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Kavah M’or Eineinu

by Yitzchak Etshalom

The light of our eyes has been extinguished. This was the anguished phrase that kept repeating in my head all morning, since waking to the awful tidings of the untimely passing of Moreinu Harav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l.

“Rav Aharon” will be remembered from many angles, from a multitude of perspectives, by students, Talmidim (those aren’t the same), colleagues, neighbors and co-builders of the magnificent institutions that bear his imprimatur. I am not equal to the task and would prefer the silence of Aharon to the words for Aharon, but a talmid’s obligation is to internalize what his Rebbe has taught him. R. Aharon taught us many, many things, some from the sanctified texts on our shelves, many from arcane texts we never encountered before and, here and there, a few from those lines of Dostoevsky, Spenser and Milton that only he could weave into a Shiur on Avot d’Rabbi Natan or Ramban al haTorah. But he taught us much, much more with the sheer force of his majestic humility.

There is a simple Mishnah (ahh, we thought that such things existed before R. Aharon showed us how wrong we were…) in Avot that speaks … Read More >>

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Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l

By Hillel Goldberg

Last Monday morning at the close of davening I received a call from my son, in tears, who told me that Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein had passed away. I told my son about his teacher what his teacher had told me about my father 43 years ago: Blessed is the Judge of Truth, Baruch Dayan Emet. It is one thing to utter that phrase to someone who has lost a loved one. It is something else entirely for someone to utter that phrase to you as you are steeped in grief and shock about the loss of your own father.

And a close rebbe, or Torah teacher, is, says the Torah, like a father. So the circle closes: I had to tell my son about his teacher, who was also his father, what my teacher, who was also my father, told me on that terrible day in 1972 when I learned about the death of my father.

This phrase, Blessed is the Judge of Truth, will have been uttered, by the time this appears, thousands and probably tens of thousands of times, for that was the reach of Rav Lichtenstein. He had thousands of disciples/sons, gathered unself-consciously … Read More >>

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Happy Birthday to a Great Country: Haaretz vs. the Meshech Chochmah

I still don’t understand why my friends at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles urged me some time ago to attend a small reception for Avi Shavit and his then-current book, My Promised Land. Even one of my colleagues on this blog recommended going to the reception. The book had succeeded in generating much discussion. Its author, a veteran Haaretz journalist, was amply credentialed to write an update on the Jewish State, its successes, failures, and challenges. In person, he demonstrated that he knew his material, and was personally engaging, fair-minded, and accessible. At the time, participating seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

Over the next months, I slowly read the book. Then I changed my mind.

My Promised Land reads like a tell-all expose – for a nation, rather than an individual. Shavit takes aim at a slew of impressions we grew up with about the vastly outnumbered innocent good guys prevailing over the demonic bad guys. He destroys their innocence – and ours. People liked the book for one of two reasons. Critics of Israel loved it for exposing the warts, bursting the bubbles, and taking Israel down a few notches, gleefully using the material … Read More >>

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RFRA Battles and Us

The controversy surrounding the passage by the Indiana legislature of a RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) should be a great concern to all Torah Jews. Agudath Israel of America played a major role in the passage of a federal RFRA statute in 1993. That legislation gained unanimous passage in the House and the support of 97 senators in the Senate, before being signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Since then 20 states have passed their own RFRA statutes, and another 11 have judicially extended similar protections under their state constitutions. Yet suddenly RFRA statutes are culturally anathema.

The federal RRFA statute came in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the so-called peyote case. Smith effectively reversed Sherbert v. Verner (1963) and its progeny. In the latter case, the Supreme Court ruled that South Carolina could not deny unemployment benefits to a woman whose religious beliefs prevented her from being “available to work” on Saturday. Justice Brennan, one of the Court’s leading liberal lights, enunciated a two-part test for state infringements on the exercise of religion: (1) the state would have to enunciate a “compelling state interest” for the infringement and (2) demonstrate … Read More >>

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Evtach Vilo Efchad

The “bedikas matzah” (the search for matzah crumbs in the couch and the carpet) is over. Post-Pesach, the vacuum cleaners have been recalled into service, and the boxes of Pesach dishes and utensils have been marched back down to the cellar (or up to the attic), silently passing their chametz counterparts being marched in the opposite direction.

The Sedarim took place and their ethereal light shone. Questions were asked and responses recounted. Divrei Torah were delivered, and, for the fortunate among us, new insights were granted.

And the haftarah on Yom Tov’s final day (in chutz laAretz) was read. Were we listening?

The excerpt from Yeshayahu (10:32-12:6) includes the Navi’s vision of the end of history, when the “wolf will dwell with the lamb” and perfect peace will reign among the world’s human inhabitants as well, for they will all recognize Hashem and His people.

The backdrop for the expression of that vision was the massing outside Yerushalayim of the army of Ashur, intoxicated with its successful conquest of much of Eretz Yisroel. Its king Sancheriv and his henchman Ravshakeh mocked the Jews; brimming with self-confidence, they blustered and blasphemed. But the besieging forces were to meet a … Read More >>

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A Foreign Fire

Last night was the yahrtzeit, the anniversary of his passing, of Rav Zvi Elimelech Hertzberg zt”l, my wife’s grandfather. The Hertzbergs were amazing people — they took Holocaust refugees into their homes, treated them like children, and helped them go on to lead productive lives here in America. Someone pointed out to me not long ago that as a result of their efforts, there are hundreds of sincere, active Jews in Baltimore and beyond who otherwise would have been lost.

As the Rav of his shul, Rabbi Dovid Katz shlit”a, pointed out last night, Rav Hertzberg would also speak truth to power. He was fired from rabbinic posts for being too honest — until a group of devoted followers created a synagogue, named for his father Avraham zt”l, and set him up as their Rabbi.

At a time when it was extremely unpopular to do so, Rav Hertzberg drew lessons like this one, from this week’s Torah reading. It refers to Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon the High Priest, who went outside what G-d had commanded — and were killed as a result. Reading the passage, one could think that it was a cruel or capricious … Read More >>

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Children Surviving Divorce

by David Mandel

Polio, Tuberculosis, Cancer – each word elicits stark images of masses yearning for ‎a better day. And for each, better days would come. Sanitariums closed in the early 20th Century, Iron Lungs were mothballed in the mid- 20th Century, and today, Cancer research‎ is extending life and the quality of life for millions worldwide.

It may appear jarring to include divorce in the same body of discussion. After all, personal suffering from a life-threatening medical condition can be greatly traumatic and immediately consequential.Nevertheless, emotional trauma has proven to equate with physical trauma as research in recent battlefield conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown. Children in this generation of high conflict divorce ‎suffer greatly emotionally due to their parents’ selfish feud and will require significantly more support than any pharmaceutical can prescribe.

Consider two scenarios.

A 35 year-old father of three children seeks my advice. He and his wife have decided to divorce. He would like to discuss a path that will cause the least amount of disruption and emotional upheaval for his children. I laud him and his wife for their unselfishness and parenting maturity. We explore various options that include their … Read More >>

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Same Sex Marriage, Polygamy and Sharia Law: Some Thoughts

By Michael J. Broyde

The first step to planning for the future is predicting the likely challenges: Same sex marriage is here, allowing religiously based discrimination is proposed as part of the solution and the very fabric of our secular society is changing. What should we be planning for and what are the challenges?

The always thoughtful Robert J. Avrech, in the most recent issue of Jewish Action (Spring 2012, page 6) makes the following claim:

Homosexual marriage is front and center as Hollywood’s most urgent social movement. But government-endorsed homosexual marriage will inevitably lead to the legalization of Islamic polygamous marriages, which is a straight line to the sharia law—ironically, a mortal threat to homosexuals who are cruelly and systematically persecuted, tortured and murdered under Islamic law.

This paragraph makes a number of important claims, all of which are important in our community deciding upon a course of action. He may be correct that Hollywood’s embrace of gay marriage will ultimately lead to the script ending in a place that will not make liberal writers happy. It might turn out that Islamists will somehow take advantage of the changes in American thinking, and slip in a few … Read More >>

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Muddy Study

Have you heard the story of the scientist whose area of research was insects’ hearing? He trained a flea to jump on command. In the interest of his research, he pulled off one of the flea’s legs and ordered it to jump. The insect complied, if a bit clumsily because of its handicap. The scientist recorded the data – the delay in the jump, the distance covered, etc., on a chart. After a second amputation, the flea’s response to the command was even less impressive, and the new results were duly entered on the chart. After a third leg was removed, the flea’s jump was greatly compromised, and the chart became host to the new data. Finally, after being deprived of all of its legs, all the flea could do when ordered to jump was buzz about hopelessly on the table.

Solemnly, the scientist consulted his chart, created a formula to reflect his findings, and recorded his conclusion: “Fleas hear with their legs.”

The myopic researcher was brought to mind by a recent article about the work of two French economists, Ruben Durante and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya. The piece, which appeared at MarketWatch, published by Dow Jones & Co., relates … Read More >>

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You Can Make a Difference!

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner

It is common knowledge that in Israel today, there is an ongoing battle for the definition and future of Judaism in the Jewish state. Will Torah standards be preserved, and funding for Torah study be maintained or increased, or, ch”v, will the very meaning of the word “Judaism” – and critical matters such as conversion, marriage, divorce, Shabbos and Kashrus – be watered down to the most liberal of American definitions?

What is far less known is that in addition to increasing Tefillah/prayer and Torah study, there is a bit of hishtadlus activity, requiring little expense and effort, that each of us can do to help, to make a difference.

There is an organization today with direct impact upon the way both private donations and Israeli government funding are spent – hundreds of millions of dollars – on encouraging immigration, settlement in Israel, and Jewish services in Israel and abroad.

Its decisions affect whether the shlichim sent by the Israel Jewish Agency to communities around the world are observant or not, the type of conversion encouraged by those and other representatives of Israel, the nature of the “Jewish” education provided to thousands in the former … Read More >>

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Dew-ey Wins!: Tal, Explained

While ancients waxed poetic about dew, most of us city folk only think about it when it fogs our windshields early in the morning. That changes, of course, on the first day of Pesach when we sing its praises in Tefilas Tal and ask HKBH that it should always descend as a blessing.

Determining what that blessing is, however, can be challenging. If you thought that dew – the condensation of water vapor on cooler surfaces – provides plants with water in much the same way as rain does, think again – at least according to contemporary authorities. Tanach and the siddur had much more positive things to say about dew than today’s botanists. The customary wisdom for many years was that dew might provide potable water for survivalists, but did nothing for plants. To the contrary, they claimed. Plants did not and could not assimilate the dew-moisture, while it did promote the growth of plant diseases! In the familiar refrain le-brachah v’lo le-kelalah, we had the latter part figured out, but were clueless about the former.

The Torah, of course, makes no mistakes. There has to be a berachah in tal, even if we don’t understand it. … Read More >>

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And In Third Place…

And so the horse trading begins.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has gotten down to the nitty-gritty business of cobbling together a government coalition. Particularly attractive stallions, thankfully, will be the religious parties, the Prime Minister’s “natural partners,” as he calls them, although, apparently unnaturally, he jettisoned them the last time around. Their being in Bibi’s good graces (for now) is happy news.

What many may not see as happy news is the remarkable fact that, after Likud and the Zionist Union (Hamachaneh Hatzioni), the third largest winner of votes was… the “Joint List” (Hareshima Hameshutefet) – the new Arab party, comprised of four previous Arab parties.

No one is concerned that the Joint List’s 13 seats will make it an attractive partner to a Likud-dominated government – or, for that matter, any government. Nor would the Joint List itself consider being part of either. Its very essence is oppositional.

The genesis of the Joint List, though, holds some irony; and its success, perhaps, something positive.

The impetus for the joining together of the four Arab parties, representing utterly disparate, contradictory, ideologies – communism, feminism, Islamism, and Palestinian nationalism was legislation passed last year raising the electoral threshold from … Read More >>

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Askanim For Hire?

We need look no further than the parshah we just read to find evidence of the potential for abuse of power. The Netziv takes note of the pasuk (Vayikra 4:22) dealing with the chet of the Nasi. He asks why the word beshgagah / unintentionally is left dangling till the end. Should it not have immediately modified the action of the Nasi? He concludes that the pasuk can/should be read as: When a ruler sins and commits one of the sins that ordinarily we would not expect to be done by anyone even unintentionally….

Such is the power of leadership and authority. Where there is too little, there is anarchy and too much room for the reign of personal subjectivity. Where there is a surfeit of authority, there is room for abuse.

Such abuse can be intentional, but it can be just as potent when unintentional – or someplace in between. For various reasons, parts of the Torah world moved in recent decades to a preference for tighter control by a smaller number of people, often at a great distance from their geographical location, and hence lacking a hands-on awareness of their special circumstances. Some found comfort in this, … Read More >>

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Yosef Huttler, z”l

Rabbi Yosef Huttler, Cross-Currents’ poet laureate, took his artistry to a more discriminating audience when he entered the Yeshiva Shel Maaloh a few days ago.

I knew Yossi over a long period of time, beginning with the time he learned Yoreh Deah in our beis medrash. I saw him develop the different facets of his personality: rov, attorney, husband, father, and, in the last few years, long-suffering patient. I saw and appreciated his keen discernment, his understated genius, and his enormous emunah.

I loved his poetry, which would have been sufficient reason to publish it. Yet, there was more to it than that. Rav Herzog, zt”l, explained why the Torah sees itself as shirah, song (Devarim 31:19). Generally, only a physicist can appreciated an esoteric presentation of cutting-edge physics. A dentist might enjoy a good chidush in dentistry; a zookeeper can catch the interest of another zookeeper. People outside particular disciplines will not ordinarily get excited about conversation in those fields.

Music, R. Herzog observed, is different. It speaks a universal language; it has instant appeal to everyone. So does Torah, he said. Everyone can enjoy it, without special preparation.

Interestingly, the word shirah does not only … Read More >>

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In Brief:

Challenges to Tranquility

-- 10:36 am

An article of mine about dealing with change appears in a new periodical, “InSight,” published by Rabbi Avraham Mifsud of Detroit. You can read the piece here.

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1984?

-- 10:51 am

My rumination for the Forward on the contemporary state of religious rights — like that of citizens to disapprove of relationships — can be read here.

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Pesach the Rabbi Served Chametz

-- 4:08 pm

After reading many new approaches to Pesach on the part of the Open Orthodox rabbinate, I felt compelled to note some of them and explain the problems. So too for a new Open Orthodox p’sak.

Here is my article about this all, for those who are interested:

A joyous and kosher Pesach to all.

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The Seder Is A Mother

-- 9:30 pm

The Forward published an essay I wrote about the “maternal” essence of the Pesach Seder. You can read it here.

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Pesach Shiur Now Available

-- 1:45 am

A bit more somber than usual. We live in somber times. May Hashem soon bring the geulah we so desperately long for.

Some thoughts on magid from R. Hutner, RSRH, R. Soloveitchik, and the new Beis Shaar.

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What We Mean When We Talk About Fire Safety And Jewish Observance

-- 10:33 am

An article I wrote about the blaming of the recent horrific fire in Brooklyn on Sabbath-observance appears in Haaretz here. You may need to register (free of charge) on the site to access it.

May we hear only happy news from all Jewish communities.

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Annual Pre-Pesach Shiur For Women

-- 9:38 pm

My annual shiur for women on aspects of the treatment of the baalei machshavah of the Haggadah will take place BEH this Wednesday at noon on the third floor of the headquarters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. For security reasons, potential participants need to pre-register if they are thinking of attending. Email mkochba@aol.com. No charge.

As in the past, I hope to post it online later that day.

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Who Won?

-- 5:28 pm

Before you dismiss this as naive, ask yourself whether you wouldn’t prefer that more people would write and think this way than what you witnessed during the election.

And whether the accolades to the “Nation” are not in fact consistent with both the thought of Chazal – and recent history.

From Rav Aviner, question as to who won:

The answer is simple: The Nation, because all of the political parties are good. They all love the Nation of Israel. They all love the Land of Israel. They all love the State of Israel. And they all love the spirit of Israel. But no one possesses all of the truth, all of the justice and all of the integrity. Hashem, in His kindness for His Nation, spread the talents and good qualities among the entire Nation of Israel and among all of the political parties. Everyone is required to find which party has the most positives and the least negatives. No one can claim that his party has it all. And if someone thinks that his party does have it all, he is dangerously close to “Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred.” “Sinat Chinam” is hating for no reason. Then why does he hate? He hates anything which is different. It is forbidden to be different. “Everyone is obligated to be exactly like me. And anyone who is not exactly like me is an enemy of the Nation.” Not true! We are all important. And I will remind you who established the State of Israel – it was the Nation. And who was victorious in the War of Independence – it was the Nation. And who was victorious in all of the wars – it was the Nation. And who built up the Land and transformed it from desolation into a garden of Hashem – it was the Nation. And who absorbed all of the exiles – it was the Nation. And who strengthened the economy- it was the Nation. And who returned the Torah to the Land of Israel – it was the Nation. Everything was done by the entire Nation. Our party is the Nation. If only we could establish one party of all of the Jews from one extreme to another! In the meantime, it is not possible and there are different parties with different opinions. But do not forget: we are one Nation and all of the parties must act with respect towards one another, with love towards one another and with the recognition that we need one another. Then, we will have “Ahavat Chinam – baseless love.” “Fortunate is the Nation for whom this is so” (Tehillim 144:15).

[Thanks to Martin Brody]

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Election Inversion

-- 3:08 am

Here in the US, we’ve come to expect an escalation of dirty campaigning and inattention to facts as campaigns drag on. Ironically, as we get closer to the Israeli election, some truths have emerged in the UTJ (“Gimmel”) election material. A number of commercials were quite good. My favorite:

The subtlety in the contrast between the kollel man and the working man is impressive – as well as the upbeat message that they are united by a common respect for the authority of Torah leadership. More impressive is the takeaway, which would seem to include the tacit message that “working charedi” is not an oxymoron. The fact that UTJ has taken to both YouTube and Facebook to troll for votes is also a concession of sorts. In the desperate hunt for votes, some images of the campaign will be impossible to completely erase after the last ballot box is stuffed – including the likelihood of an increasing role for women in the future.

Of course, the message is a mixed one from its inception. Just a short while ago MK Moshe Gafni insisted that he does not represent working charedim, who are not properly charedi.[Postscript – There is reason to believe that the translation of the interview with Gafni is seriously flawed. See the discussion in the Comments section.]

[Hat tip to Dr. Saul Newman, LA]

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Sounding the Shofar in Adar

-- 7:59 am

“The days of the elections draw nigh,” explained Maran Rosh HaYeshiva [Harav Steinman] Shlit”a, with tears on his cheek. “A person might make petty calculations and miss the moment. He can act correctly, spur others to action, and vote only in order to save Yiddishkeit from those who seek its harm, and to save his household. And that is his duty; that is the mission of the moment. But each person can have in mind that he is going out to make His great Name great. He can think that he is joining a huge community that votes for the sake of the honor of Heaven, the masses who refuse to kneel before the Baal, who do not want a government that wishes to uproot the kingship of Hashem, and they vote for the sake of His Name, with love. By way of a small act and a great thought, one can attain a moment that has none to surpass it, to cause ‘His great Name to be made great and sanctified.'”

Yes, casting a vote has a pragmatic aspect to it. But on a much higher plane, it is an uplifting declarative moment of unswerving loyalty to Hashem. The more this declaration is internalized and amplified, the greater the Kiddush Hashem.

R' Chaim Kanievsky casting his ballot

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Mishloach Manos from the Rebbetzin

-- 1:49 pm

The “Ayelet HaShachar” organization, which is the arm of the Wolfson Foundation that focuses on raising awareness of Yiddishkeit in small towns and kibbutzim, arranged for Rebbetzins of several leading lights of the Charedi community to deliver Mishloach Manos to the bereaved mothers and widows of IDF soldiers who fell in the recent Tzuk Eitan operation in Gaza.

Among the participants:
Rebbetzin Kolodetzky (daughter of R’ Chaim Kanievsky)
Rabbanit Yosef (wife of the Rishon Letzion)
Rabbanit Yosef (wife of youngest brother R’ Moshe)
Rabbanit Lau (wife of the current Chief Rabbi)
Rebbetzin Ezrachi (wife of Rav Baruch Mordechai, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yisrael)
Rebbetzin Zohar (wife of R’ Uri)
Rebbetzin Rabinowitz (wife of Rav of Kotel)
Rebbetzins of Ger, Sanz, Erloi, Slonim, Boston.

Here is Rebbetzin Kolodetzky reading her inscription to Mrs. Pomerantz, mother of Daniel Pomerantz HY”D, 21, Golani Brigade.

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Lichovod Purim

-- 10:29 am

An article I wrote about how Purim is a celebration of how Divine irony vanquishes mortal iron, appears in the Forward today. You can read it here.

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