A member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America once remarked to me that things would be going splendidly in our world were it not for our propensity to continually shoot ourselves in the foot. What took place at the Kosel on Rosh Chodesh Sivan provides a textbook example.
The enduring image of the Rosh Chodesh davening should have been of thousands upon thousands of religious girls and women davening and reciting Tehillim with intensity, their voices never rising above a whisper. Nowhere in today’s world is such purity to be found as in a gathering of Jewish daughters praying or reciting Tehillim. Even before I reached the Kosel, the sight of so many Bais Yaakov girls brought tears to my eyes.
The images broadcast worldwide should have been of the tiny Women of the Wall (WoW) group totally engulfed in the much, much larger group of religious women praying at the Kosel — numerically batul beshishim.
The idea of filling the area directly in front of the Kosel and almost the entire KoselPlazawith frum women and girls completely flummoxed WoW. When they first got wind of the large numbers of women who would be at the Kosel, they were left to issuing a pathetic “invitation” to all their “sisters” — including chareidi women — to join them at the Kosel for their monthly show, in an effort to spin the overwhelming presence of chareidi women.
When WoW leader Anat Hoffman arrived at the Kosel and saw the area in front of the Kosel entirely filled, her face registered astonishment. She and her group had no choice but to regroup in theKoselPlaza.
Moreover, the Rosh Chodesh prayer gathering offered the media a number of interesting back stories. One was the remarkable consensus between the national religious and chareidi worlds over the issue of the sanctity of the Kosel. For once, Israel’s religious constellation was fully unified about the importance of the issue. The leading chareidi gedolim, beginning with Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, and the most prominent rabbonim in the national religious world, all called for women and girls to go to the Kosel on Friday morning. And there were busloads of girls from national religious seminaries along with those from chareidi seminaries.
Thus, on the very day on which Israeli encamped in at Sinai as one person with one heart —vayichan sham Yisrael neged hahar — so did the religious community inIsrael achieve a rare degree of unity.
Another remarkable aspect of the gathering of thousands of women was that the entire initiative came from two women, one of them only 25 years old, from the off-the-beaten path settlement of Kochav Yaakov. They decided to do something to counter WoW after aJerusalemdistrict court ordered that WoW be allowed to worship as they like at the Kosel. And they did.
Just as Sarah Schenirer’s Bais Yaakov movement could not have spread as rapidly as it did without the support of the Chofetz Chaim and the Imrei Emes of Gur, so the thousands of women and girls would not have shown up at the Kosel without the call of the gedolim. But the idea originated entirely with these two women, and they conducted the media campaign.
That this was first and foremost a women’s initiative destroyed the image of downtrodden, subservient frum women, and WoW’s narrative that they seek to liberate chareidi women from their shackles. So ingrained is the image of passive frum women that Ha’aretz reporter Judy Maltz called Ronit Peskin, one of the founders of Women of the Wall, a liar, when the latter told her that her organization was behind the gathering.
UNFORTUNATELY, none of these images or stories made their way into the press coverage of the Rosh Chodesh davening due to the boorish behavior of a group of a few dozen young chareidi men. Had they been on the direct payroll of WoW, they could not possibly have done a more effective job of ensuring that the real story of what took place at the Kosel on Rosh Chodesh Sivan would not be heard.
Instead, the media lumped together the thousands of religious women, who did nothing more than daven, with the hooligans under the rubric of “chareidi protesters,” and twisted the explicit support of Rabbi Steinman and other gedolim for the women’s gathering into an endorsement of the wild behavior of a small group of young chareidi men.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Rabbi Steinman explicitly conditioned his approval for the women’s prayer gathering on assurances that there would be no violence. The whole point was to contrast the quiet, sincere prayer of religious girls and women with the camera-seeking behavior of WoW.
When I arrived at the Kosel a little past 7:00 a.m., police had already pushed back most of the male protestors to the ramparts on the northern side of the KoselPlaza, where they were periodically shouting and making it difficult to daven on the men’s side of the mechitzah. Their main “achievement” at that point was drowning out the beautiful singing of Hallel from a number of minyanim on the men’s side.
I was astounded to see the media cameras focused relentlessly on the small group on the ramparts and totally ignoring the presence of many thousands of women.
I do not claim to be a bochen kelayos, but it was clear to me that the young men on the ramparts were thoroughly enjoying the opportunity provided by WoW to let out their animal spirits. Their periodic shouting and later tossing of objects at WoW struck me as nothing so much as a plea for attention.
The Brisker Rav famously said that both the housewife and the cat want the mice out of the house. But the housewife wishes they were never there in the first place, while the cat is delighted to have them for supper. The group at the Kosel fell into the category of the Brisker Rav’s “cats.”
Perhaps they did not know that Rabbi Steinman had specifically demanded that any demonstrations be conducted without violence, but even that will not exculpate them from the charge of gross stupidity. That their attacks on WoW would play into the latter’s hands by turning them into victims should have been obvious to any sentient being.
Nor is gross stupidity a minor sin. As Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler writes in his commentary on the Al Cheit of Yom Kippur, the first sin is to be a fool.
The women were there at the direction of gedolei Yisrael. But whose direction were the rowdies following? When have gedolei Yisrael ever condoned violence?
Quite apart from serving as unwitting accomplices to WoW, the young men betrayed a certain gasus ruach. Anyone looking at the women’s side of the Kosel entirely filled with women davening should have sensed that this was the most effective response to WoW, both in practical terms and, more importantly, klapei Shamayim. Anything that detracted from that gathering could only do harm.
Still, I have no confidence that if Women of theWall were to organize a similar gathering next month that the results would be any different. I’m afraid that unthinking loudmouths would reappear and once again act as if on cue from Anat Hoffman.
Is there nothing we can do to prevent our communal agenda from continually be kidnapped by those who answer to no authority?
This article appeared in Mishpacha, May 21
I really must avoid spicy foods – even my wife’s scrumptious jalapeno pepper-laced cornbread – before retiring at night. The recipe’s great, but for someone approaching 60, it’s a recipe, too, for indigestion-fueled nightmares.
The scene: the Kotel Maaravi, or “Western Wall” in Jerusalem. The time: some future point, may it never arrive, when Anat Hoffman’s vision of the holy place has been realized.
Ms. Hoffman, of course, is the famously melodramatic chairwoman of the feminist group “Women of the Wall,” who has orchestrated countless demonstrations (with adoring media and bevy of cameras in tow) in the form of untraditional prayer services at the holy site; who has reveled in being arrested for her provocations by Israeli police; and who is celebrated by temple clubs and coffee klatches across the United States as the Jewish reincarnation of Rosa Parks. She recently told a Jewish newspaper in California that the Wall should become, in effect, a timeshare. “For six hours a day,” she explained, “the Wall will be a national monument, open to others but not to Orthodox men.”
Those “others,” in Chairman Hoffman’s hope, will presumably include not only the group she leads (and which she characterizes as praying in a halachic manner, although she is personally a Reform Jew) but any group seeking solace under the sheltering umbrella of “pluralism.”
Ms. Hoffman also serves as the executive director of the Reform group the Israel Religious Action Center, which laments the fact that “Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Humanistic, and secular Jews have no representation on the council overseeing the operations of the holy site” and declares that the current single standard there “must be changed.”
That’s what apparently fueled my nightmare. In it, the timeshare model had apparently been found too cumbersome. Each of the various groups laying claim to a “piece of the wall” wanted to express themselves without any time limit; and so a geographical solution to the pluralism problem had been instituted. The Kotel had been Balkanized.
One crowded sliver of the plaza continued to be a place of traditional Orthodox worship, men on one side of a partition, women on the other, everyone welcome. But the area had been severely truncated, to make room for the others.
Nearby, the Reform service, comprised mostly of women in colorful talleitot and kippot, featured a folk guitarist and her choir. (The Orthodox men next-door had resorted to earplugs.)
The Conservative service turnout was sparse, and most of those in attendance were on the far side of middle-age.
The Reconstructionist area was empty, but a sign designated its identity.
The Renewal spot was populated by various small groups of people, some quietly meditating in the lotus position, others dancing in a circle and others still seemingly lost in a daze of unknown provenance.
The Humanistic Kotel-space harbored a small band of people chanting “Hear O Israel, Humanity is holy, Humanity is One.”
There were other successful applicants for Kotel space too. Over toward the end of what had once been the common plaza, was a Jewish animal rights group holding a “blessing of the pets” ceremony, which was followed by a noisy “bark mitzvah” celebration for a pug wearing a kippah. And at the very end of the site were the Jewish Vegetarians of America, waving ceremonial stalks of celery.
At the other end of the pluralized plaza was the Jewish Global Warmist Alliance. Its members were sitting on the ground, wrapped in sackcloth and singing dirges from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
At the back of the plaza, protesting the fact that they hadn’t yet been awarded a space of their own, were members of a “Hebrew-Christian” group, in Jewish religious garb of their own.
I woke up then, thankfully. But not before I sensed a deeper, ethereal moaning, inaudible to human ears but causing the very universe to shudder, emanating from the other side of the Wall.
© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran
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The thought, a staple in the writings of the celebrated Jewish thinker Rabbi E. E. Dessler (1892-1953), is best known to people unfamiliar with his thought and writings from a famous and evocative paragraph written by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years,” Emerson mused, “how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of G-d which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”
Rav Dessler, who wrote poetry too but was above all a keenly incisive philosophical thinker, explains that there really is no inherent difference between nature and what we call the miraculous. We simply use the word “nature” for the miracles to which we are accustomed, and “miracles” for those we haven’t previously experienced. All there is, in the end, is G-d’s will.
That we are inured to the magnificence of the stars in the sky is unfortunate. We city dwellers can still capture some of the grandeur of Emerson’s “city of G-d” if we journey to less light-polluted places. I recall the shock I felt as a young man driving with some friends through West Virginia on a cross-country trek and suddenly seeing, for the first time in my life, the Milky Way. It was a moonless night and the river of white across the sky so struck us we stopped the car and got out to gape at the splendor.
It’s important, though, to try to capture some of the miraculous in the mundane wherever we are and whatever we are surveying. The short Jewish prayer on awakening – “I am thankful before You, living, everlasting King, that You have mercifully returned my soul to me…” – sets the day’s stage for acknowledging the Divine gifts we are daily given. That our sleep was not permanent, yes, but also that our hearts have been beating all the while, and our lungs filling and emptying; that arms and legs do our bidding, that the food we eat nourishes us and allows us to live, to think, to do…
But human nature makes it hard to be filled with gratitude at the sight of the rising sun, much as we should be.
And so it’s a special occasion when we are able to see something in nature that reminds us of Rav Dessler’s nature-equals-miracle equation. And one such occasion is near, at least for those of us in the northeast of the United States.
The more perceptive among us might notice in coming days small holes appearing in the ground. And the least perceptive will find it impossible to not notice what will quickly follow: billions of large dark blue insects with strikingly red eyes and beautiful lacy, orange-veined, nearly transparent wings. People who are not blessed with the miracle of vision will know of the sudden visitors through the miracle of hearing. The noise that large numbers of Magicicada septendecim generate en masse can be overwhelming.
As another poet, born Robert Zimmerman, put it, “And the locusts sang, yeah, it gave me a chill.”
What will allow us, if we’re sufficiently sensitive, to see the upcoming “natural” happening not as an infestation but an inspiration will be the knowledge that the members of “Brood II,” the cicada group soon to emerge, emerge only every 17 years.
Although they are commonly called “locusts,” cicadas are not biologically related to locusts (which we Westerners call “grasshoppers”). But they are impressive creatures, ferocious-looking but entirely harmless to humans and animals (who readily feast on them).
After the insects mate and the females among them lay their eggs, they quickly die. The nymphs that will emerge from the eggs several weeks later will then burrow into the ground, to make their own grand entrance, G-d willing (meant most pointedly) in 2030.
No one really knows why the cicadas spend so much time waiting to emerge, and how they “know” when 17 years have elapsed. John Cooley, a research scientist at the University of Connecticut who has been studying Magicicada septendecim since the early 1990s, was asked about the 17-year wait.
“Man,” he responded, “I wish I knew.”
No doubt science will eventually provide a good hypothesis or two for the marvel. But anyone who wants to experience the frisson born of recognizing the miraculous in the natural, who wants to see the phenomenal in the phenomenon, can just open his ears and eyes to these unlikely envoys of beauty.
And consider, as Mr. Zimmerman did, that “Yeah, the locusts sang, and they were singing for me.”
© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran
A “re-run” of a Shavuos-themed essay, about how the holiday might be seen as a celebration of something that contemporary society considers debasing, can be read here.
Subscribers to “An Observant Eye” read last week about an oasis of good will between Muslims and Jews in North Africa, an uncharacteristically charedi-positive piece in Haaretz, “atheist shoes” and America and Israel’s alleged responsibility for a desecration of a revered Muslim’s tomb. And more. Subscriptions can be entered here.
When a “movement” has more media appearances than members, do we notice something amiss? When a group claiming to favor prayer calls for dismantling a place of worship, do we smell smoke? And when leaders of an organization demand “Ahavat Yisrael” and then express outright revulsion for all who oppose their agenda, do we finally penetrate the veneer?
This is the tragic saga of the “Women of the Wall,” which portrays itself worldwide as advocating for “women’s rights,” but in Israel is known primarily for dishonoring a Holy Site with political circus – and sowing offense and discord.
They claim to speak for women, but disparage their spirituality. Chair Anat Hoffman referred to traditional prayers at the Wall as “men-only,” discarding those of millions of women annually. Founding member Phyllis Chesler asserted that recognition of their group will “acknowledge women as spiritual and religious beings, capable of non-coerced autonomous, independent, and halachic prayer.” She imagines that traditional women, “forced to obey ultra-misogynist views,” are lacking in all of the above.
But founding and current member Prof. Shulamit Magnus takes the crown. She claims that only women ignorant of Judaism oppose them, and having invented this fact, then declares that it “speaks volumes about the subjugated place of women in [traditional] society, and about the male structures that construct and control that society with an iron hand.” She describes traditional Judaism as “archaic, alien and repulsive.”
With the exception of their own monthly pilgrimages, the leadership doesn’t seem to find praying at the Wall all that momentous, either. As a leader of the Reform movement in Israel, Hoffman recently proposed dismantling the place of worship in favor of a “national monument” on a daily basis. Reform Rabbis in Israel declared in 1999 that “one should not consider the Western Wall as possessing any sanctity.” Why, then, the brouhaha?
Last week, Anat Hoffman confronted a Knesset Committee wearing a Tallit, and a Likud MK had a moment of comprehension. “This is not an Halachic argument,” he said. “It is about hegemony. They are trying to take over.” Hoffman made this explicit in an interview with the BBC: she wants to fragment Judaism in the Jewish state, and is using a place of worship for political theater.
In “secular” Tel Aviv there are over 550 traditional (what Americans might call “Orthodox”) synagogues with daily prayers, and one Reform Temple open only on Shabbat. The movement has scant footing in Israel, and Hoffman hopes to use this as a wedge issue to shore up support. Sadly, she seems to care little for the alienation she causes among Jews who needlessly fear their rights might be ignored in the Jewish state.
After all of the tumult and press coverage, and despite a board and staff of ten, only around 50 people go to the Wall itself on a monthly basis. Most women respect the sanctity and tradition practiced at the Wall for millennia, and are not interested in offending others in a place of worship.
Recently some of the heretofore silent majority launched a new group, striving to preserve the Kotel as the one place on earth where Jews of all persuasions pray peacefully, side by side. They are the Women For the Wall, and it is they who deserve our support and admiration.
by Moshe Hauer
This week the Jewish world will celebrate the 46th anniversary of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. This miraculous event restored unity to the city that symbolizes Jewish unity, described by the Psalmist as “the city that is united together” (Psalm 122). In fact, King David only established Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after mending the divisions within the Jewish People and gaining their unified support (Samuel II, chapter 5). As such, and with keen awareness of all that continues to divide our People – especially in Yerushalayim – I would like to share three quotes from Rav Avraham Yitzchak haKohein Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Palestine. The quotes present a concept and a strategy of Jewish unity.
The quote below comes from Rav Kook’s “Ayn Ayoh” commentary to the Aggadaic passages in TB Berachos (64a), and is also found in his “Siddur Olat Riyah” (quote translated by Chanan Morrison). It presents a concept of peace and unity that clearly guided Rav Kook’s communal thinking and activities.
“Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Haninah: Torah scholars increase peace in the world. As it says, “All of Your children are students of God; great is the peace of Your children” (Isaiah 54:13). Read this not as “banayich” — ‘Your children’ — but rather “bonayich” — ‘Your builders’.” (Berachot 64a)
Considering the vast number of disagreements and differences of opinion among Torah scholars, Rabbi Haninah’s statement seems, well, counterintuitive. Do scholars really increase peace in the world? And why did Rabbi Haninah insist that they are ‘builders’? What does this tell us about scholars and peace?
People mistakenly believe that peace in the world means that everyone will share common viewpoints and think the same way. So when they see scholars disagreeing about an issue, this appears to be the exact opposite of peace.
True peace, however, comes precisely through the proliferation of divergent views. When all of the various angles and sides of an issue are exposed, and we are able to clarify how each one has its place — that is true peace. The Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ means both ‘peace’ and ‘completeness.’ We will only attain complete knowledge when we are able to accommodate all views — even those that appear contradictory – as partial perceptions of the whole truth. Like an interlocking puzzle, together they present a complete picture.
For this reason, Rabbi Haninah emphasized that scholars are like builders. A building is erected from all sides, using a variety of materials and skills. So too, the whole truth is constructed from diverse views, opinions and methods of analysis.
This concept of constructive peace underlies the value Rav Kook placed on the secular efforts to build the State, and inspired his readiness to build upon those efforts. While others could not see themselves partnering with secular Zionists in any way, Rav Kook saw them as providing a critical aspect of the national rebuilding that is to be worked with, in the way of true Torah scholars:
When the world of the faithful and the true critiques the Zionist movement, it is not a negating critique, meaning that it does not consider the movement without positive value, that it is something absolutely negative. Rather it is a constructive critique, proposing that Zionism must be raised even higher, must be dramatically elevated,
because in its current form only a small part of true Jewish life is visible within it, and even less of the holy force that ought to be present in an endeavor as critical as this that truly represents the nation as a whole, together with all the generations past and with its ultimate destiny.
This force in its truest form will not be found in the secular cultural world, when it alone is engaged in the work of nation building. For this purpose diplomatic and literary skills – as well as other gifts of modernity and of humanity – are insufficient even in their most polished forms. They are however wonderful things and serve us well as means to an end, and utilized properly they will serve as excellent tools for the movement to restore the Jewish soul of the nation in its fullest expression…. (Letters, no. 888)
Finally, this concept of unity was the basis for Rav Kook’s strategy for constructively building the Jewish future, expressed most clearly in this letter to a colleague, a leader in the Mizrachi movement.
My dear friend,
I will rely on the words of our holy sages who say, “Any love which does not include rebuke is not love.” And therefore, because of our close friendship, I find myself obligated to come to you with this rebuke.
It has come to my attention that in a speech which you gave … you spoke very negatively about the holy institution Shaarei Torah and you disparaged its Torah scholars and its students. I literally trembled when I heard this, and if not for the fact that I heard it from someone who is completely trustworthy, I would never have believed such a thing about someone as great as yourself.
My friend, this is not the way – to tear down with your hands our holy institutions, our treasure houses of life. It is possible [as you have suggested] that our times require us to create schools that teach secular subjects, so that our generation will be drawn to attend them, provided of course that they are imbued with the spirit of the Torah. However, how terrible it would be if because of this we would attack our existing institutions – our living and enduring holy treasure houses. I myself have on more than one occasion assessed the students of Shaarei Torah and I will testify that [it will help us] establish a generation of G-d fearing Torah scholars, filled with a love of Torah and fear of Heaven…. And this is specifically because this holy institution has followed the paths laid by the Torah giants of previous generations. … Only through the ancient Beit HaMedrash and those who study there can Torah and light come to Bnei Yisrael. …
Please strengthen yourself in the following idea, that we must only build up and never tear down, to add and never to take away.
I know that you will accept these words with love and good-will, even though they are words of rebuke. And I beg you to be careful in the future from speaking in any way against our holy institutions which are as the sun to us, treasure houses of Torah and fear of heaven, to raise for us holy sheep to give light, … and to see clearly that Torah may come from them in the future.
And if you have any suggestions of any kind, please… (Letters, #570)
How productive it would be if we could adopt this concept of peace, with each “camp” recognizing the substantive contribution of the other and trying to build upon it without devaluing the other or tearing it down. Then we could truly enhance peace in our world.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is spiritual leader of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, and a member of the Editorial Board of Klal Perspectives.
It’s a story I tell a lot, since, well, its point comes up a lot. Blessedly, my audience, at least judging from its response, hadn’t heard it before.
The psychiatrist asks the new patient what the problem is. “I’m dead,” he confides earnestly, “but my family won’t believe me.”
The doctor raises an eyebrow, thinks a moment, and asks the patient what he knows about dead people. After listing a few things – they don’t breathe, their hearts don’t beat – the patient adds, “and they don’t bleed very much.” At which point the psychiatrist pulls out a blade and runs it against patient’s arm, which begins to bleed, profusely.
The patient is aghast and puzzled. He looks up from his wound at the slyly smiling doctor and concedes, “I guess I was wrong.”
“Dead people,” he continues, “do bleed.”
I interrupted the laughter with the sobering suggestion that it’s not only the emotionally compromised victims of delusions, however, who see the world through their own particular lenses. Most of us do, at least if we have strong convictions. And the yields of those sometimes very different lenses are the stuff of conflict.
My brief presentation took place … Read More >>
We routinely turn away contributors of “pure” halacha and hashkafa pieces. Not that our regular contributors undervalue them. To the contrary, I believe that every one of our authors consider pure Torah pieces more valuable than any of our blogging activity. However, we tell ourselves that readers will have no trouble finding a full assortment of quality Torah pieces elsewhere. What we try to do at Cross-Currents is slake the thirst of many – for better or worse – for treatments of applied Torah, or the intersection between Torah thought and the unfolding of events in the world around us.
A review of a new volume of teshuvos would then seem to be out of character for Cross-Currents treatment. It would be that, were it not for their extraordinary author, Rav Asher Weiss, shlit”a. As we shall see, both the scope of his work and the ease with which he addresses the complexities of cutting-edge issues are breaths of fresh air to people who have not given up on a Torah enthusiastically and confidently confronts the world at large.
The personality of the author entirely predicts this work. Rav Weiss is upbeat, optimistic, and accessible. His appeal does not … Read More >>
The Talmud in Eruvin [47b-48a] discusses the unusual case of a lake situated between two villages, such that each end of the lake is within the Sabbath limits of one or the other village. Because the water mixes, and thus someone who goes out and draws water might be removing water from the Sabbath limits of the other village, Rebbe Chiyah says you can’t draw water without an iron wall dividing the lake. The Talmud continues that Rebbe Yosse bar Rebbe Chanina disagrees — and laughs at Rebbe Chiyah.
The Talmud asks… why? Without focusing upon the rest of the story, and the actual reason behind the laughter, it’s interesting to note what the Talmud discounts. “Because his logic goes with a lenient view, he laughs at someone who teaches a more stringent opinion?!” The Talmud finds that inconceivable!
So you might think, as I did, that obviously the rabbis of the Talmud did not understand the blogger mindset. You know, the type of person who will make fun of anything that his shallow mind doesn’t understand? Perhaps the rabbis didn’t know such people!
But then I realized, no, of course not. The Talmud isn’t talking about your average … Read More >>
A discomfiting feeling crept over me as I watched the fellow remove his head.
Well, not his head – though that would have been discomfiting too, even more so. This was just a costume head, that of the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster. The scene: a small island of concrete in the middle of lower Broadway in Manhattan, where a moment before, Mr. Monster had been happily (at least his expression seemed to say so) posing with a pair of happy children (their expressions left no doubt), the latter’s parents pointing their phones at the photogenic performer and progeny.
My discomfiture arose from discordance, the jarring contrast between the friendly furry face, now dangling from a hand, and the entertainer’s actual own face, heavily stubbled and sneering. Grumbling and angry, he was clearly not enjoying his job.
It might be a professional hazard. A year or so later, an Elmo in Times Square began shouting anti-Semitic rants (with his head on, so to speak) and blocking traffic before being arrested. Another Cookie Monster in the same area stands accused of shoving a 2-year-old when he deemed his mother’s tip insufficient for his services. (“He was using words that … Read More >>
Some unwarranted criticism that was lobbed last week at several Orthodox writers greatly disturbed this one.
The target of one volley – though the shots widely missed their mark – was Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, one of the preeminent representatives of the charedi world. He was harshly criticized in a magazine editorial for a column he penned in a different magazine wherein he sought a silver lining in the current political disenfranchisement of charedi parties in the Israeli government coalition.
Rabbi Rosenblum suggested that the current situation “affords new opportunities to meet our fellow Jews on the individual level” and that now that they know that “we no longer threaten them” in the political realm, “they may be more open… to getting behind the stereotypes that fuel the animus” against charedim in Israel. “On a one-to-one basis,” he suggested, “we can show them what Torah means to us, what we are prepared to sacrifice for it, and what it might mean for them as well.”
Astonishingly, the writer of those words was pilloried for that sentiment, and misrepresented, too, as having asserted that “the hatred secular Israelis have toward charedim is the fault of the hated rather than the … Read More >>
Two weeks ago, we read in Parshas Shemini how on the day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon Hakohein, brought a “strange fire in front of Hashem” and were consumed by a “fire that went forth from before Hashem.” Targum Onkelos translates a “strange fire” as one “not commanded by Hashem.”
Later this summer, we will read of Korach and his followers. Korach made a specifically democratic argument against the “appropriation” of any special role in the Divine service by either Moshe Rabbeinu or his brother, Aharon Hakohein: “For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy. . . “
Nor can there be any question of the sincerity of the followers of Korach. Moshe warned them that only one of those who brought the incense offering would survive, and yet 250 showed up the next morning and placed the incense on their censors. Their evident sincerity did not avail them, and each one perished in the same fashion as Nadav and Avihu.
From these two famous episodes, we learn three things. First, when it comes to Divine service, modern categories, like “rights of religious expression” and “equality,” are misplaced. Hashem … Read More >>
It’s difficult to know whether shock-jock Michael Savage is in fact the actual person whose Bronx-accented ranting emanates daily from radios across the country, or whether that voice belongs to an adopted persona, a cantankerous, rude and hilariously self-aggrandizing misfit who seeks to capitalize on an assortment of angers lurking in the dark corners of listeners’ souls.
Certainly the fact that the former Michael Weiner adopted the name “Savage,” of all things, and that the portly 70-ish fellow introduces his program with abrasive headbanger music more suitable to a pierced punk rocker than a political pontificator would seem to argue for the alter ego case. So would optimism about the human condition: It would be disturbing to know that such an abrasive person was in fact real.
Already disturbing is the fact that the fellow (or his affected persona) has Jewish admirers. Those fans apparently figure that someone who voices fury for terrorists, bashes Israel-bashers and claims to stand up for traditional morals not only can’t be all bad but must be all good. No logic there, of course, but no one ever claimed that fandom is fettered by reason.
And so some Orthodox Jewish admirers of Mr. … Read More >>
The Women of the Wall must be one of the most offensively misnamed groups in history. They don’t represent the Wall, they don’t represent the vast majority of the women who pray there, and they don’t represent sincere prayer.
As she was led off by police, their director, Lesley Sachs, was caught on video shouting out: “to all women from all denominations, there is more than one way to be a Jew!” Her actions were never about joining the others in prayer, but about disrupting them.
MK Michal Rozin said it best: “It’s not a religious issue, it’s a political issue.” Of course, it’s a religious site, and thus the first question should have been whether or not it is appropriate to stage a political protest in a place where others are accustomed to praying in peace.
This is why the proposal from Natan Sharansky, much as it is being celebrated in the press, is actually drawing a more positive reaction from Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz than from the group. According to the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Rabinowitz said that he will not oppose the plan “for the sake of unity and out of … Read More >>
The Jimmy Carter debacle may tell us more about the values and principles of our community than we bargained for. Subgroups that believe they have little in common seem to behave – or misbehave – in similar fashion.
By the time Carter appeared at Cardozo Law School to accept an award from the Journal of Conflict Resolution, the event had earned the condemnation of the ZOA, the National Council of Young Israel, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the ADL. These organizations had little choice. Carter, alongside Desmond Tutu, has been among the most damaging public figures to the Jewish State. He gave the “apartheid” calumny a good name; he has been vociferously anti-Israel and flirted with Hamas terrorism. As a paid shill of the Saudis who support him, this is hardly unexpected. The fact that he is a puppet jerked back and forth by his handlers does not, unfortunately, put a dent in the high-profile damage he does to Jewish interests.
This was not merely an issue of Jewish pride dictating that, in today’s world, an Israel-hater is a Jew-hater, and Jewish institutions ought not be seen as supportive of honoring those who hate us. Carter is far … Read More >>
Back in 2009, I was troubled by the reaction of many of my friends to President Obama’s speech in Cairo to the Muslim world.
I had shared the same concerns they had about Mr. Obama during his first campaign for the presidency – his Chicago politics background, his attendance of a church headed by a rabid racist, his association with other distasteful characters, the suddenness of his rise to political prominence. But after his election (which happened somehow, despite my vote for his rival) I tried to focus not on the past but the present. And I found his Cairo speech pleasantly surprising.
That he chose to address the Islamic world in itself did not disturb me. Were I in his position, I reflected, were I a person of color who lived in a Muslim environment as a child and now the leader of a free world plagued by Islamic extremism, I would have made the same choice, seized the golden opportunity to try to reach the Muslim masses with a message of moderation.
And, continuing my thought experiment, I imagined myself saying much what the new president did. He spoke of Islamic culture’s accomplishments, extended a hand of … Read More >>
Amid the ongoing avalanche of political conversions, punditry and testimonials on behalf of redefining marriage was a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times by a professor of biology, David George Haskell.
The professor’s contribution to the effort to bring public pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears two cases concerning the meaning of marriage was to note that some plants, lichen, snails and bees do not mate in ways that we would characterized as male-female pairs. In fact, Dr. Haskell informs us, even apes in the rainforest may form same-sex bonds.
Of course, that hardly constitutes “nature’s case for same-sex marriage,” the title that ran above the professor’s piece. At least not if society wishes to continue to disapprove of things like thievery, murder and cannibalism, all easily spotted in the wild. (There’s a reason, after all, it’s called the wild.)
To be fair, Dr. Haskell’s true target (despite his piece’s misleading title) is only the argument that, as the 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone wrote, marriage should be “founded in nature.”
That’s a straw man, though, and one that might benefit from a lit match. What is or is not “natural,” at least from … Read More >>
Already five years ago, a prominent American rosh yeshiva told me that we might be approaching the end of a miraculous period in which the secular Israeli government became the prime supporter of Torah learning on a scale unprecedented in Jewish history. If the new coalition guidelines are implemented, that moment has arrived.
The incoming government coalition results from a concatenation of long-range political trends and a series of inexplicable blunders by veteran politicians. First, we’ll consider the long-range trends. From 1977 until 2005, the Israeli public was divided primarily over the “peace process,” a trend that became even more pronounced after the signing of the Oslo Accords. Each side was willing to offer the chareidi parties whatever was required to join their coalition to prevail on the issue of paramount importance to them.
Since the failure of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, Israelis have soured on the possibility of peace and concluded that further territorial withdrawals will only result in the creation of another launching pad for rocket and terrorist attacks. That consensus closed the great fissure in Israeli politics. With issues of war and peace dormant, the possibility of new coalitions around other issues arose. Chareidi parties no longer hold the balance of power on the issue of paramount importance to most voters. Indeed for much of the non-chareidi public, the chareidim themselves are the most important issue.
Still, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was eager to retain the traditional alliance between Likud and the chareidi parties, in forming his new government. One does not sever old and reliable allies when the political roadmap ahead is filled with potholes. Unfortunately, the math did not work out. For one thing, Netanyahu made two bad decisions: He did not time new elections to coincide with the height of his popularity, and he decided to merge Likud and Yisrael Beitanu, whose leader, Avigdor Lieberman, immediately found himself under criminal indictment. As a result, Netanyahu ended up with ten less mandates than anticipated.
Second, Shas leader Rabbi Aryeh Deri feared having Bayit Yehudi headed by Naftali Bennett in the coalition, where it would threaten Shas’s control of the state religious establishment. Netanyahu had his own reasons for not wanting Bennett in the cabinet. The result was to drive Bennett’s settler party into the arms of the yuppies of Yesh Atid party, whose leader Yair Lapid has been a persistent critic of the settlement enterprise.
That unlikely pairing could unravel rapidly if President Obama pressures Israel for concessions to the Palestinians in return for American action on Iran. But it held rock firm throughout the drawn out coalition negotiations. The issue upon which Lapid and Bennett found common ground was “equality of service” – shorthand for greater chareidi participation in the IDF or national service. Interestingly, in an interview with Mishpacha during the campaign, Bennett did not once mention “equality of service.” He presented himself as someone who would provide Netanyahu’s “backbone” against negotiations leading to a Palestinian terror state.
Continue reading → Can We Do Anything to Lessen the Hatred?
The coalition government government’s plan for drafting charedim should give rise to some sighs of relief, and some guarded optimism. That is not likely to happen, because it is just not the way charedim in Israel react (at least publicly), and because there are definite grounds for concern.
It could have been much worse. Hence, the sigh of relief. Non-charedi Israels were determined to address the financial burden they believe is placed upon them by a huge community that is underemployed and expanding. Something was going to happen. As one major Torah figure said (privately, of course), “After decades of treating them like garbage, we should be surprised when they want to treat us the same way?” Many feared that the plan would be draconian and counterproductive. If it went too far, it would undo all the quiet progress that has already been made providing alternatives for those who do not find it within them to spend their time in productive, full-time learning and want to enter the work-force, or serve in Tzahal. While the public rhetoric in the community strenuously opposes both, literally thousands are voting with their feet. Programs to provide academic and vocational skills to charedi … Read More >>
Much of our Seder-night message to our children, mediated by the Haggadah, is forthright and clear. Some of it, though, is subtle and stealthy.
On the surface, it is a simple song – a recitation of events of Divine kindness over the course of Jewish history, from the Egyptian exodus until the Jewish arrival in the Holy Land – with the refrain “Dayeinu”: “It would have been enough for us.” It is a puzzling chorus, and everyone who has ever thought about Dayeinu has asked the obvious question.
Would it really have “been enough for us” had G-d not, say, split the Red Sea, trapping our ancestors between the water and the Egyptian army? Some take the approach that another miracle could have taken place to save the Jews, but that seems to weaken the import of the refrain. And then there are the other lines: “Had G-d not sustained us in the desert” – enough for us? “Had He not given us the Torah.” Enough? What are we saying?
Contending that we don’t really mean “Dayeinu” when we say it, that we only intend to declare how undeserving of all G-d’s kindnesses we are, is the … Read More >>