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. At least we didn’t until recently. A study published a few years ago has determined the mechanism whereby dew enhances plant performance, and provided the experimental data to back it up. Not surprisingly, the study was conducted by three Israeli scientists who found it difficult to accept that the Biblical enthusiasm for dew was without merit.

Dew forms when water vapor condenses on a cooler surface, including the surfaces of plants. This moisture doesn’t seem to have any way of entering the plant and becoming part of its metabolic pathway. If so, what good could it do? Simply put, the moisture contributed by the dew changes its local humidity, which in turn affects the opening of the stoma, the tiny openings through which the leaf “breathes.” Dew changes the rate at which leaves lose moisture and acquire CO2. That’s 2/3 of the process of photosynthesis right there. Dew directly influences the leaf’s photosynthetic efficiency and productivity.

Hashkafically, we had a handle on tal much longer ago. A passage in the gemara (Taanis 4A) has Knesses Yisrael asking Hashem for rain. He responds with something much better – dew. Rain is sometimes desired, but sometimes not; dew is always a hit. A recent work by a talmid of R Yaakov Hillel (בית שער: מפסח עד עצרת, ר’ מיכאל בורנשטיין, עמ’ 380-381) explains. The pathway of rain is fairly apparent. Vapor rises, gathering in clouds, sometimes yielding rain. But then again, sometimes not. It is a symbol of what Hashem gives us only after we have taken the necessary first steps on our own, or what is called isra’usa de-lesasa. Dew, on the other hand, seems to appear as if out of nowhere, ubiquitously. It symbolizes the bounty Hashem grants us without precondition, simply out of His supernal – and constant – Will. It is an outgrowth of what the mekubalim call isra’usa de-le’eilah.

The avodah of the month of Tishrei deals with the recovery program of Klal Yisrael after the eigel. Teshuvah brought about their rapprochement with Hashem. It is all about isra’usa de-lesasa. Pesach, however, is about Hashem reaching out to those who did not have sufficient merit or preparation for neither redemption or the Torah they received some weeks later. We daven for rain in Tishrei, and dew in Nissan.
We read the haftorah of the resurrection of the dry bones on Pesach, says the Tur (Orach Chaim 490) because it is the time that is linked to techiyas ha-meisim. It is the ultimate expression of the Heavenly Tal, the Retzon Hashem that will banish evil. The thirty-nine (in gematria, ט”ל) curses of Adam and Chavah will cease. As a result, the need for death will disappear, and even those who died previously will return to a purified world.

May it happen speedily, in our days.

[Thanks to Yosef Stolz, Los Angeles, for all the scientific leg-work and guidance.]

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

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 2% to 3.25%, or at least four seats. None of the Arab parties saw themselves as viable in that calculus. So they decided on a sort of multiple-wives marriage of necessity. And ended up with more seats than their combined catch in 2013.

The irony? The law that brought them together was pushed through by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose own party, Yisrael Beiteinu, scored only six seats this time around, less than half of the Joint List.

The head of the Joint List, lawyer Ayman Odeh, somehow managed to herd the cats that comprise the list. He also strikes a moderate, unflappable pose. In a campaign ad, he appears at a Jewish family’s Shabbos table, after the mainstream party candidates have burst in and made their cases. They leave when Mr. Odeh enters and, smiling, he says to the Jewish family, “We all live in the same building together and we all want the same thing: Equal rights, peace and quiet.”

And in a debate, when Mr. Lieberman told Mr. Odeh that he should better be in Ramallah or Gaza and that “You’re not wanted here,” the Arab, who was born in Haifa, calmly responded to the Russian-born foreign minister, “I am very wanted in my homeland,” and went on to emphasize what he characterized as his party’s universalist and democratic message.

To be sure, some of the cats in his herd are anything but universalist or democratic. Which is why the Joint List’s campaign slogan was the soothing but hollow “The Will of the People.”

So what possible role could the Joint List play in the Knesset? It will surely use its votes to oppose measures it sees as expansionist or anti-Arab. But beyond those things, which the liberal parties will oppose no less, are there any other causes such a confederacy of incoherence might embrace?

Practically speaking, the Joint List’s fractious felines can probably come together on the issue of Arab poverty, and Israel’s insufficient assistance to that sector of its citizenry.

Israel ranks high among developed nations in the percentage of its citizens living in poverty. Economist Paul Krugman attributes that in part to “policy choices: Israel does less to lift people out of poverty than any other advanced country.”

According to a 2013 National Insurance Institute report, the poverty rate among Israel’s Arabs – some 20% of the population – was 47.4%.

The same report estimates the poverty rate at the time among Israeli chareidim (approximately 10% of the population) at 66%. Both communities’ high poverty can be attributed, at least in part, to low earnings and government cutbacks in child allotments.

So it might not be outlandish to imagine that, however either impoverished sector may feel about each other, both will vote to bolster any legislation put before the Knesset designed to assist poor families. Stranger unplanned but de facto alliances have taken place.

For Jews who perceive Israel in nationalistic or religious colors, the emergence of an Arab party with 13 seats in the Knesset may seem like a violation of the idea of the state. Those of us, though, who see Israel as a wonderful democracy and haven for Jews but who are not flag wavers or Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebrators might dare to hope that the Joint List, the abhorrent nature of some of its members notwithstanding, might end up actually helping advance the Israeli societal good.

© 2015 Hamodia

Rabbiavishafran.com

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

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, in a single-minded approach to dealing with perceived threats from without. Others chafed at the conformity and lack of nuance they sensed in this approach. The dust has far from settled.

But there are other fault lines in such a system, some a tad more diabolical. Some cannot be spoken about openly. At such times, fiction can be a good vehicle for conveying a message. (Think George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, or Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.)

What follows was submitted by a card-carrying yeshiva-trained charedi writer, living in Israel. Identity, of course, cannot be divulged, for fear of reprisals. It would provide food for thought even if it were the product of merely imagining the future, rather than based on observation of the present – and an occasional story in the press. It is, however, unfortunately based on fact. Because those facts are not being demonstrated here, readers cannot and should not be expected to accept them as verified. The story is not meant as an expose, or as muckraking. It is offered for a specific purpose, which will be stated later.

Tuesday December 15, 1998 was a sunny but cold day in Jerusalem. Most people in Israel were preoccupied with the reports of a likely imminent US attack on Iraq and the implications for Israelis who still remembered Sadaam Hussein’s scuds that rained down on Israel during the Gulf War seven years earlier. Chaim Horowitz, however, was busy with other more important things. The threat of imminent war didn’t concern him at all, as he was taking his entire family to the States that evening or an open ended vacation until the hostilities had passed. He was excited about the meeting that he had arranged at his office and was just waiting for his longtime friend, Rabbi Reuvain Gross to walk in.

Chaim and Reuvain went back 20 years to when they were chavrusos in Ponevezh. Although their personalities were polar opposites, they were the two brightest bochurim in yeshiva and learned together for 3 years. Reuvain was a very charismatic fellow, who craved attention and was always in the middle of everything going on in yeshiva. He was majorly popular and his outgoing personality did a very good job of masking his serious character flaws. Most people who knew him would tell you that he would give his shirt off his back to help another yid. It was only those few who dared to challenge his authority who caught a glimpse of his extreme egotistical nature. As expected, Reuvain did a shidduch with a granddaughter of one of the top Bnei Brak gedolim. He went on to open a very popular yeshiva of his own in Kiryat Sefer. He was extremely well connected with the families of the various gedolim in Bnei Brak.

Chaim was very quiet and introverted. He was happy to have Reuvain get all the attention in yeshiva. Chaim wasn’t all that interested in being in yeshiva in the first place, and was quietly planning his exit into the world of commerce. Chaim’s mind was always working at warp speed, thinking of new ways to make some money. While Reuvain ‘s yetzer hora was power and kavod, Chaim’s was purely financial. No one even seemed to notice when Chaim left kollel after just one year and started dabbling in real estate. He quickly became very successful and over the years had cultivated relationships with politicians in both the religious and secular camps.
Over the years Chaim and Reuvain maintained a fairly close relationship. Although they were officially in completely different circles, the bond they had made in yeshiva kept them together. Chaim knew that there wasn’t a better person in the world than Reuvain with whom he could share his idea for his new venture. His connections and his personal drive for power made him the perfect candidate.

As soon as Reuvain walked in Chaim got straight to the point. “Reuvain, do you remember how things were 20 years ago when Rav Shach had to decide on a major issue? He spent days gathering information from all the relevant parties, and only after carefully analyzing all the information himself would he make a decision. He didn’t rely on a few trusted advisors for information. “ “Sure I remember”, said Reuvain. “There wasn’t even a gabbai who would control who came and spoke to Rav Shach. Anyone was able to come and speak to him. Of course, most people respected his time and only came for major issues”. “Well” said Chaim, “today there is a growing phenomenon of the chareidi public insisting that every small matter be brought to the gedolim to decide on. While in the past, it was only major matters concerning all of klal yisroel that were brought to Rav Shach and his contemporaries to weigh in on, today every minor decision is brought to the gedolim in Bnei Brak. They’re even coming from America to ask about issues that pertain only to America.” “What’s your point?” asked Reuvain. “We both know that this was never Rav Shach’s idea of what daas torah means. It was self understood that most issues should be decided at the local level by the people most familiar with the details of the matter at hand. Ever since Yisro made his recommendation to Moshe Rabbeinu that there should be שרי עשרות this was the accepted practice in klal yisroel. I don’t know why things have recently changed and frankly I didn’t come here to discuss hashkafa. What was the point of you calling this meeting today? I was under the assumption that you had some great opportunity for me.”

“Reuvain, don’t you see the opportunity here? The sheer volume of issues that the gedolim are being asked to get involved in have made it impossible for them to be able to research the issues themselves. They are forced to rely on those closest to them for information. And things will only get worse as the chareidi world continues to grow. This newfangled absurd idea that people cannot make even the most minor of decisions without consulting the gedolim in Bnei Brak has created a situation in which every aspect of chareidi life is now being controlled by a handful of gedolim. Any chaider or bais Yaakov that opens up anywhere in Eretz Yisroel needs to first receive a haskama from one of the Bnei Brak gedolim. Any organization that has anything to do with the chareidi tzibbur first requires the input of the gedolim. Absolutely nothing can be done, without first receiving the bracha from the gedolim. The gedolim will increasingly need to rely on those around them to help determine what is worthy of their support and what they should oppose. If we strategically place ourselves in positions where the gedolim are relying on us to make the decisions it gives us almost complete control of the entire chareidi world in Eretz Yisroel and beyond. Between your family connections and my political ones, I think we are uniquely situated to take total control of the chareidi world. We will need to involve a select group of people to make this happen, but I’m confident that it can be done.”

Wow, you’re a genius Chaim” said Reuvain, “but I don’t get what’s in this for you? Power was never your thing. You were always looking for ways to make another buck.” “I’m not really a genius”, said Chaim. I’m probably just a few years ahead of the game. It will soon become obvious to anyone and everyone that what I’ve outlined here will be the new reality. As far as what’s in it for me, obviously as the trusted advisor to the gedolim, I’m entitled to charge something for my work. When someone wants the bracha or haskama from one of the gedolim, I will be the person they approach. I will explain to them that I’m a busy person, and I will need to be compensated for the time that it takes me to research whether or not their venture deserves the support of the gadol. The fee will depend on the size of the project. A new chaider is worth many millions of dollars. I can easily request $200,000 if I successfully obtain the support of the gedolim for a certain individual to open a cheider. If someone wants the backing of the gedolim to get appointed as a dayan by the Rabbanut, I can easily charge $70,000 to obtain the necessary backing. For goodness sakes, with technology exploding the way it is, we can set up a special vaad that gives special approval to certain devices. If we charge just $50 for the stamp, that translates into millions of dollars in easy income. Of course, we’ll need to use some of the money to reinvest into our venture by giving kickbacks and donations to all the right people, but overall, we’ll do quite well.”

“I’m actually quite surprised”, said Reuvain. “It seems quite unethical to take advantage of people like that.” “You’re right and you’re wrong”, responded Chaim. “You’re right that it is inherently unethical to have such a system where so much power is concentrated with such a small group of people. However, we’re not the ones who created the current reality. The chareidi tzibbur themselves are to blame for creating this situation. It is only a matter of time before other people realize what is happening and do exactly what I’m proposing that we do. At least if we do it, we know that we’re both good people who will try to be fair and not get completely blinded by power and money. You’re wrong to think that if we don’t proceed the end result will be better. Less scrupulous people will do exactly what I’m proposing that we do. Not only will we not have gained anything, we’ll also be left suffering under the control of whichever askanim do eventually put my idea into action. We should get to work right away, cultivating our relationships, and by the time other people realize what is going on, we’ll already be untouchable.”

How much of this describes reality today? Most of us have no way of knowing. Hopefully, we detest conspiracy theories, and we resist such tales until faced with incontrovertible proof of their existence. But alas there are times when we need to pay attention to conspiratorialists. A special corollary of Murphy’s Law has it that where something can go wrong that allows people to immorally profit without seeing themselves as immoral, it will. We may not know what is happening around certain Torah leaders, but we should take into account the probability that if we keep concentrating power in more limited circles, there will be people using their relationship for their own gain. (It has happened before, with greater people. See Shabbos 56A, that Shmuel’s sons pursuit of profit meant nothing more than establishing central bureaucracies that were able to employ more government servants, rather than serve the people by taking services to them, as Shmuel did.)

Here is the real point. Many of us realize that the concept of Daas Torah underwent a transformation in the last decades. Some of it was for the better; much not. It has worked for some people, and put others on spiritual skids. The new Daas Torah has stifled individuality and creativity, and muted the voices of local rabbonim. It has narrowed the boundaries of our world, and erased diversity. It has contributed to a backlash in some parts of the Orthodox world that have thrown out the notion of authority altogether, and replaced it with the eigel ha-zahav of personal autonomy.

Many of us have watched friends, neighbors, talmidim grow secretly cynical of all rabbinic pronouncements in such a system. They conform outwardly, and secretly reject. For those of us who remain intensely committed to the importance of Daas Torah – at least the way it was understood not so long ago, and for centuries before – this is the unkindest cut of them all. The stretching of Daas Torah beyond what it ever was for the purpose of elevating it has succeeded in toppling it altogether in parts of the Olam Ha-Torah.

This should not be. Those who are content with living with their secret cynicism and rejection of idealized depictions of reality that they read in Torah media should realize that things might very well get much worse. We might go from inadequate but well-meaning gatekeepers to corrupt influence brokers. It will be our fault if this happens, if we do not take back parts of our lives. We must have the courage to forego going “to the top” for every decision in life, personal and communal. We must reinvest confidence in local morei hora’ah – and in ourselves.

We must do this not to destroy Daas Torah, c”v, but to save it from its own excess.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

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 mean music, but poetry as well. We could speak of the commonality, the overlap, but we cannot evade the differences. Poetry does not have that universal appeal, at least not anymore.

The difference, I think, is that good poetry is the output of a soul that has been touched by the uncommon. Not everyone will see it; fewer will be moved by it; fewer still will be able to distill the specialness into effective words.

Yossi could. He had the penetrating eye of one who learned in Litvishe yeshivos, and the heartstrings of a neshama that inherited the greatness of Beis Zvil. When he looked at a mitzvah, at a Yom Tov, at any part of a Torah life, he saw what malachim likely see, and felt compelled to share it with whomever could understand.

May HKBH bring nechamah to his wife, his children, his father and his siblings. He will be sorely missed.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Persian Diversion

It was a tad early for “Purim Torah,” but on Taanis Esther, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zari responded to a question from an NBC correspondent by insisting that Iran cares deeply for and is entirely protective of its Jews.

Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent assertion in his speech before the U.S. Congress that “Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazis were a Jewish problem,” Mr. Zarif bristled and changed the topic to the Israeli leader’s citation in his speech to Megillas Esther.

“He even distorts his own scripture,” said the Iranian about the Israeli. “If – if you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews.” We needn’t engage Mr. Zarif on the finer points of the Purim story, but the question in the end, of course, isn’t what Achashverosh was or did, but what Iran is and does (and wants to do).

(Mr. Zarif, incidentally, also proudly cited Koresh, as having granted the Jews of his time permission to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash – apparently oblivious to the irony of the fact that the aforementioned edifice was to be built, and in time was built, in Yerushalayim.)

The Iranian foreign minister animatedly explained how “We have a history of tolerance and cooperation and living together in coexistence with our own Jewish people, and with – with Jews everywhere in the world.” And he added, “If we wanted to annihilate Jews, we have a large number of Jewish population in Iran” who presumably could provide a convenient first stage opportunity. But, Mr. Zarif went on to proudly state, Jews “have a representative in Iranian parliament allocated to them, disproportionately to their number.”

A recent CNN article happily swallowed that sunny Iranian party line, describing the Iranian Jewish community of Esfahan in warm and delicate tones. It characterized the community’s members as happy, and interviewed several. Not one of them had anything negative to say about the current Iranian regime, clear proof of its benevolence (or, perhaps, of the very opposite).

Esfahan Jewish community leader Sion Mahgrefte, the article noted, while he “declined to comment directly on political matters, especially in the current heated environment,” did assert that the members of his community felt very much at home in Iran.” Puts one in mind of James Baldwin’s line about home being “not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”

The NBC interviewer was, thankfully, less meek. She presented Mr. Zarif with a statement made by Iran’s “supreme leader,” Sayyid Ali Khamenei, in which he declared: “This barbaric wolf-like and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime [and which] has no cure but to be annihilated.” “Can you understand,” the interviewer asked, “why Jews and others would take umbrage at that kind of language?”

He could not, of course, and insisted that “annihilating” a country of six million Jews (evocative number, that) is one thing; hating Jews elsewhere, something entirely another. Slippery fish, that distinction between Jews and a country of Jews.

Iran’s Jews may not be overtly persecuted these days, but there are subtle sorts of repression too. No Iranian Jew can dare speak up in defense of Israel in any way, for fear of his life. And not long after the inception of the current “Islamic Republic,” the Jewish community’s leader at the time was arrested on charges of “corruption” and “friendship with the enemies of G-d” and executed. Other Iranian Jews have likewise been executed over ensuing years for being “spies.” (One wonders how thin the line is between being a Jew in Iran and a spy.) Criticism of the Iranian policy of appointing Muslims to oversee Jewish schools, moreover, resulted in the shutting down of the last remaining Iranian Jewish newspaper, in 1991.

And so, Iran’s claim of love for its Jews, and some Iranian Jews’ claim to feel safe and protected, has to be taken with a grain, or perhaps a nuclear missile silo, worth of salt. It is belied not only by Iran’s execution of Jews and its declared wish to annihilate a country with arguably more Jews than any other, but by the less guarded words of Iran’s allies and proxies.

Like Hassan Nasrallah, a leader of Hezbollah, the group conceived in 1982 by Iranian clerics and still funded by Iran. “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel,” he said in 2002, “it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Thank you, Hassan, for your candor.

© 2015 Hamodia

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

The Politics of Adar

The masses were exuberant; champagne bubbling over, shouts of victory and pride, emotions bursting forth with confidence and joyous affirmation of a smashing success. Triumph and euphoria filled the air. But the morning after, fear and trepidation gripped the celebrants, the glee and sense of security dissipating in a fleeting moment.

The ebullience of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic reelection victory soured and fizzled as the White House responded with a snub and startlingly declared the following day that the United States’ (favorable) policy toward the State of Israel pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be reassessed, reflecting an unprecedented blow. Israeli politicians and supporters went scrambling in a damage control effort to salvage the favor and grace of the State’s most powerful ally.

The irony does not stop with the unparalleled White House affront toward a world leader, and the potential pulling of the rug out from under Israeli security concerns, allowing a lone and tiny allied country to be diplomatically devoured by the pack of wolves that constitutes much of the international community vis a vis the State of Israel at the United Nations. The irony cuts much deeper, to the point of the incredulous.

… Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Finance Minister Moshe Gafni

Dror Feuer, in Globes Magazine of 1/31/15, writes (my translation):

I think I have a good idea for this country: a Charedi Finance Minister. I am utterly serious. I suggest that in any government that may arise, under any constellation and any coalition pieced together, a Charedi Finance Minister should be appointed. I’ll try to convince you why.

But first, I would ask the non-Charedim among you to admit that you chafed at this. The first thing that came to your head, and if not the first then the third, is that a Charedi Finance Minister will steal all the money and give it to Yeshivos, because that’s how they are. Maybe this even comes fully packaged with a visual image. No need to paint it for you, right? You’ve seen this image a million times, you know the type.

Don’t be frightened, this happens to everyone involuntarily, I would almost say naturally. We’ve always wanted to be like all the other nations, no? So here. Anti-Semitism has always been part of the deal. When you think about it, in a world of PC identity politics, sector sensitivities and commando forces on Facebook, the only group in Israel … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Rabbi Riskin and Female Halachic Adjudicators: It Does Not Compute

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s ambitious program to fill Israeli society with female halachic adjudicators just experienced a significant advance, as R. Riskin appointed a woman, Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, to the position of Mahniga Ruhanit (Spiritual Leader) in his city of Efrat. R. Riskin explained that Dr. Rosenfeld will render halachic rulings on questions posed to her, and that there is no bar to women serving as rabbinic judges:

Her sponsor, Rabbi Riskin was very clear about the validity of this role. “The only reason why women cannot be judges is if they are not accepted by the people. When it is clear they are accepted and have halachic knowledge, they can render halachic decisions,” says Rabbi Riskin.

As such, R. Riskin has founded the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership, which aims to create a cohort of female halachic leaders, trained and certified as follows:

Morot Hora’ah: Five-year program training women in the classic rabbinic curriculum of Kashrut, Shabbat, Family Purity, Mourning, and Marriage. This training is complemented by an extensive curriculum of philosophical, social, and psychological training for communal leadership.

Completion of the course and success in written tests leads to Heter Hora’ah – the centuries-old … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

The Differences We Make

In Baltimore’s Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, in whose yeshivah gedolah I was fortunate to study in the 1970s, the custom was that each beis medrash bachur would learn during night seder with a high school-age boy. I enjoyed the experience and it probably set me on a path to become a mechanech, in which role I was privileged to serve for nearly two decades.

At least one of my night-seder chavrusos, as it happened, followed me into the field of Jewish education, becoming, as I learned years later, the principal of a middle school in New England and then of a Bais Yaakov in Rockland County, the position he currently occupies.

I had only seen him once since our youths, when I was a rebbi and principal in Providence, Rhode Island, where he had brought a group of students from his school there for a Shabbos. That, though, was more than twenty-five years ago, and so it was a special pleasure to find myself at a meeting not long ago that, as it happened, took place in his home. It was an even greater pleasure to hear what he told me when he took me aside before the meeting began.

… Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

A Hint of What We Daven For Daily

A wedding took place last week. The bride and groom weren’t members of Klal Yisrael, so it wasn’t a Jewish wedding. And yet, at least in a way, it was.

It took place in a Muslim country that I won’t identify; the authorities there do not look favorably on Jews or on citizens who communicate with Jews, like the groom and his mother, who long ago decided that the Jewish mesorah is true. Long ago, she abandoned the Christianity into which she was born, and has tried mightily, and with some success, to convince her husband, a Hindu, to forsake the idols and rites of his own upbringing and join her in her acceptance of Torah. Talk about a complicated family dynamic.

“Tehilla,” as I’ll call her, has not converted to Judaism. She and her two adult sons are “Bnei Noach,” non-Jews who have accepted the Torah’s truth and who cherish Klal Yisrael.

There are similar non-Jews in Australia, Asia, Europe and here in the United States (a good number of them, for some reason, in the south). Many confront formidable societal obstacles, although Tehilla, considering where she lives, likely faces more than most.

“Tehilla” is an appropriate … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Faithless Ferocity

Earlier this month, a newly-married couple and the wife’s sister, upstanding citizens and model university students, were murdered by a neighbor of the couple’s in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

A heinous crime, to be sure, and it reverberated particularly loudly across the country and around the world. Because the victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were Muslims with Middle-Eastern roots; and the alleged murderer, Craig Stephen Hicks, a middle-aged white man.

The suspected killer turned himself in to authorities and was duly indicted. And while authorities said that their preliminary investigation indicated that a dispute over a parking space in the apartment complex where the victims and the alleged killer lived was the proximate cause of the murders, a multitude of Muslim voices wasted no time seizing on the tragedy as an anti-Muslim hate crime.

Members of the victims’ family were the first to make the charge. One tweeted, “My cousin, his wife and sister in law were murdered for being muslim [sic]. Someone tell me racism/hate crimes don’t exist. #MuslimLivesMatter.”

Personal grief can cloud judgment, and it’s understandable that a relative of the murdered young people might assume religious prejudice motivated their … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Learning from our Past, Building our Future (Part 2):

How Jewish History teaches us to create a positive community for tomorrow

by Leslie Ginsparg Klein

Generations of Jews have grappled with the same issues that face our Jewish community today. Their experiences provide us with suggestions as to how we can create a positive Jewish community today and ensure the commitment of our children. Colonials Jews provided us with two suggestions: education and infrastructure. Two important innovators from the early twentieth century, Sarah Schenirer and Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, give us two more answers.

EDUCATION In late 19th and early 20th century Europe, the Orthodox community found itself losing its youth in shocking numbers. While both boys and girls assimilated, girls were leaving Orthodoxy in even greater proportions. Some members of the community, including an unknown seamstress who would go on to become one of the most famous personages in Jewish history, identified the cause as a lack of quality Jewish education.

In the decades before the founding of Bais Yaakov, the movement for Jewish education for girls, parents not only allowed their daughters to attend Polish elementary schools and high schools beyond the requisite years, but many encouraged the girls’ intellectual pursuits. Some wealthy Orthodox … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Friends, Foes, and Charvona

When the afterglow fades, we will still be left with plenty to daven for on Purim. Why, then, do we act so stupidly when help is proffered?

Many of us, this writer included, thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress was moving, inspiring, and effectively spoke to American hearts as much as to Jewish ones. (Apparently some Arab and Iranian ones as well.) We hope that, BEH, he may have had some impact, although the initial reactions lined up according to predictable political and ideological positions. However optimistic we may be, at the end of the day we are still somewhat short of an appearance by Moshiach.

Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing. Jews are leaving Europe in droves, caught between a resurgent right and a steady torrent of Jew-hatred piously chanted in thousands of mosques and madrassas and spread through television and social media . BDS campaigns poison the minds of a next generation of leadership. Jihadists urge the faithful to exterminate the Jews, and we are told to take comfort in the Pew finding that only 22% of the Muslim world supports them. (That is more than the total population of the Axis powers before WWII.) Iran … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Dear Alyssa

Dear Alyssa,

Congratulations on winning the Oratory Contest of the Jewish youth movement BBYO. The topic was: “If you could modify any of the Ten Commandments, which would you choose and what would your modification be?”

You chose the fourth, the Sabbath, since “as a Reform Jew” you “do not observe the Sabbath in a traditional way.” Your suggested replacement, in consonance with your belief that “Judaism means something different to everyone,” is: “Be the Jew You Want to Be.”

You explained how “No one likes to be commanded to do anything, and especially not teens,” and that you therefore “practice Judaism in the way that works for” you.

“Judaism,” you wrote, “means something different to everyone. I believe that we should not let the kind of Jew we think we should be get in the way of the kind of Jew we want to be.”

What kind of Jews, though, should we want to be?

I don’t know if your family celebrates Passover. But most affiliated Jewish families, including those belonging to Reform congregations, do mark the holiday, which, you likely know, will arrive in mere weeks. If you have a Seder, it might have a contemporary … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

Will the Real Dov Lipman Please Stand Up?

Doron Beckerman’s detailed response to Dov Lipman notwithstanding, Lipman’s reaction to recent statements by Benjamin Netanyahu gives rise to more basic questions.

In his guest post to the Emes VeEmunah blog, MK Lipman insisted that the criminal sanctions against yeshiva students were not at all critical to the law, but were simply necessary for the law to pass scrutiny by the Supreme Court:

There was one issue which they took issue with regarding the law. They were against the “criminal sanctions.” …

The Yesh Atid platform did not have this component as part of the law. We knew it would be an issue for the haredi world even if it was just theoretical but there will never be police entering yeshiva dormitories and arresting the boys. So why was it included?

The government attorneys explained that the reason why we were writing a law to begin with was because the Supreme Court demanded that the Knesset pass a law with “equality.” If there was no clause in the law which mentioned the possibility of a full draft if the goals were not met, the law suits which would come on the heels of the law’s passage would … Read More >>

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

In Brief:

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.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

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.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

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.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

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.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

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]

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
41 Comments

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]

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
41 Comments

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

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
18 Comments

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.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
19 Comments

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.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

Purim – When Caution Is Everything

-- 4:18 pm

…Please help me keep our precious children safe. This is unchartered territory for them! Don’t let them convince you that they have everything under control. Be intrusive! Insist on clarity! Again, I will reiterate that I must be informed of all plans… Let us help the boys have a Purim as close to the ruchniyusdik simcha it was meant to be. Thank you for your cooperation!!

Although my son’s yeshiva high school is comprised of clean-cut, peaceful boys, whom I could never imagine getting into trouble or going where they should not be, I was thrilled to receive a long letter from my son’s principal sent to all parents, of which the above quote is a small segment. Purim is a time when one can never be too cautious, and it is a time when proactive, extreme control and intervention to prevent problems is fully warranted.

Although I wrote this article after last Purim, when it was too late to be of immediate use, readers may wish to peruse the article this year in advance of Purim, to consider what I feel are some critical precautions and to ponder how failing to establish necessary guidelines and limits can lead not only to danger, but to totally missing the deep message and powerful inspiration of Purim.

Purim is a time to perceive Hashem’s behind-the-scenes Presence and Providence; it is a day packed with the most profound and stirring of lessons and hadracha. Let’s capture the energy and beauty of Purim and not risk losing and sabotaging it all through unchecked self-comportment.

A freilichen Purim to all.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
2 Comments

Metzitza Bipeh

-- 12:06 pm

C-C readers are probably aware of the fact that a tentative agreement was reached yesterday between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and an association of mohelim and Orthodox representatives with regard to the practice of metzitza bipeh.

An article of mine that appeared in Haaretz yesterday on the ostensible tie between the rite and the cold sore virus (which can be dangerous to babies) can be read here.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
0 Comments

Klal Perspectives – The Next Issue

-- 7:37 pm

Readers are always weighing in on ideas for future issues of KP. The editors take them very seriously. In the last few weeks in particular, a number of people contacted me offline with ideas that I thought had considerable merit. I encouraged them to put them in an email, and I would forward them to the full board. I have no recollection of who they were.

I don’t think anyone did! And here we are, ready to decide on our next issue. If you were one of those people, now is the time!

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
26 Comments