Lisa, I am very disappointed and personally hurt by your words directed against me.
You and I have communicated before. We are in agreement on many issues, and have always been amicable with regards to the exceptions. So I find it difficult to adequately express my surprise and pain to have discovered your essay, in which you accuse me personally of bloodshed.
Yes, you did accuse me personally. You said it explicitly: “The entire Hareidi community spilled this blood.” I have the Fedora hat. I have the beard, the big black yarmulke, and the Tzitzis. And I pray in the right synagogues. You meant me.
I warned that hateful essays would be written. I just didn’t expect someone like yourself to be the writer. Your words were painful precisely because your accusation was both hateful and personal.
I understand that you disagree with our continued fealty to the Book of Leviticus, but our calling a certain act “to’eva” has not, in our community, ever encouraged murder. That is simply because the same Torah that calls that action “to’eva” also requires us to love every Jew, to not hate our brethren, and above all, not to murder. I am not somehow collectively responsible for everything written by a charedi person on a website, and I chose different words myself — but despite what you claimed in your essay, at no time did the website you mentioned ever refer to a person as to’eva, just a parade.
You said that the “small rabbis in the Hareidi community” are calling people to’eva. Can you identify one, or did you simply make an assumption that Hareidim “must” think that way? I suspect the latter — for if you had actually wanted to know what our Rabbis say regarding those with homosexual inclinations, you might have watched or remembered the interviews of HaRav Aharon Feldman and several others in the 2001 movie “Trembling Before G-d.” You would have seen how they balanced uncompromising love for the Torah with uncompromising love for every Jew.
But even without learning what we actually think, surely you observed that Schlissel was in jail for the last ten years, rather than sitting in a class in a charedi neighborhood. If it were true, as you assert, that referencing the Bible leads our extremist members to murder, surely it should have been someone who was actually in our community for the past decade who committed this horrendous crime.
In actuality, there was near silence about the upcoming parade, rather than condemnation. Did you notice that the same website, which has had five articles after the attack — including the incident itself, “Why the Gay Pride Parade Stabber is a Murderer,” an update on the victims, calls for the police chief to resign, and widespread condemnations — had no coverage whatsoever prior to the attack? The (secular) commenter on charedi affairs for Channel 10 noticed the charedi silence, and reflected that Schlissel was more likely to have been driven crazy because the community ignored the parade.
I challenge you to find another population group of 900,000 people — whether Israelis or Americans — with a similar murder rate to ours. Charedim do not murder, neither Arabs or Jews, and neither do we encourage it, with an unparalleled degree of uniformity. This does not mean perfection, because we remain human beings. But we certainly do better than any other group of similar size. Israel’s annual murder rate (excluding victims of terror) is 1.7 per hundred thousand. When was the last time you heard an accusation of murder directed against a charedi person? Surely you know the media would have made quite certain we all knew about it.
Yes, you’ve accused the most peaceful community in Israel of encouraging murder.
We are and remain human beings. We, like any other community, have our share of the mentally ill. We, like any other community, trust the police to do their job. Instead we had a single unhinged individual do a heinous act ten years ago, and when the police let him loose they apparently didn’t contemplate the possibility that he might not be cured of his illness, and might go back again, “k’kelev chozer al kei’o — like a dog returning to its vomit.”
This isn’t to say that the charedi community was entirely absent from the scene — charedim direct and are Jerusalem’s predominant members of the United Hatzalah organization, whose volunteer first responders make Israel’s emergency response time the fastest in the world. That same community that you claim wished to murder those at the parade, was there in numbers to rescue them.
They represent the true heart of the charedi community, willing to sacrifice work and family time to help those in need of urgent care — regardless of whether the person is Jewish, much less his or her level of religiosity. There was one murderer, and dozens of volunteers ready to drop what they were doing to try to save his victims. Is it not obvious that most charedim aim to save lives, not take them?
Yet you didn’t ask questions. You expressed no sympathy for the phenomenon of mental illness and how horrified Schlissel’s family — and extended family — most assuredly are. You reserved no words for the police who released this person from prison three weeks before the parade, and failed to keep an eye on his behavior. Instead, you accused me, simply because I am charedi, of participating in his act — and encouraged your readers to hate me as a result. I hope you can see why I might feel personally hurt.
As I was finishing this essay, I learned that Shira Banki, one of the six victims of Yishai Schlissel, succumbed to her wounds today. She was 16. HaMakom Yinachem, may G-d console all her family and all who mourn our loss.
First things first: I learned while preparing this that one of the victims of today’s stabbing in Jerusalem is unstable and in critical condition. Whoever he or she may be, and I hope we’ll get his or her name for our Tefilos — please say a kepital (chapter) of Tehilim (Psalms) for his or her speedy recovery.
I hope I’m wrong. But I expect open displays of bigotry in the days ahead, after the “gay pride” parade in Jerusalem was disrupted by a terrorist stabbing.
I am, of course, referring to open displays of bigotry against the Orthodox community. Because if someone uses the actions of a single deranged individual to slander an entire community, to imply that the community somehow supported or abetted the crime via action or attitude, that isn’t fighting bigotry — it’s showing it.
And in this case, the terrorist who ran through Jerusalem’s parade stabbing people, though clearly mentally ill, (probably) grew up in our community and was dressed in the garb of an Orthodox Jew. That he thought this was somehow an appropriate act is evidence prima facie of his evil insanity. The idea that he represented any haredi opinion or school of thought is risible.
Yet sadly, I expect some newscasters, journalists and opinion writers to ignore the fact that there were no similar attacks since 2005, when this very same individual did precisely the same thing — clearly demonstrating that he does not represent any school of thought in the haredi community, as there was no one else to take his place while he rotted in jail.
I expect them to ignore the role of police in protecting the community from terrorists both foreign and domestic, who were clearly aware of this individual and his previous history, knew he had been released just weeks ago, yet apparently did nothing whatsoever to prevent this individual from repeating his terrorist violence:
Several weeks ago, an ultra-Orthodox radio station, Kav HaNeues, interviewed Schlissel after his release from prison, referring to him as a “Haredi terrorist.” Schlissel told the station, “If a single person comes and wants to hold the [gay pride] parade, then therefore in order to do something, something extreme is necessary.” Referring to members of the LGBT community, Schlissel also said that “these impure people want to defile Jerusalem,” and “the objective — I need to stop this parade.”…
Jerusalem District police chief Moshe Adri says police knew Schlissel was released from prison, but didn’t have any concrete intel he was in the area or planning an attack. He says the investigation is in its early stages. A reporter for Channel 2 says Schlissel didn’t hide his intention, and that he had written on the Internet that he would continue his efforts against the LGBT community. When asked whether the police had been aware of rumors on WhatsApp claiming Schlissel was planning an attack, Adri says the police weren’t aware of such rumors.
Don’t get me wrong. I do want to know what the broadcasters and listeners of Kav HaNeues thought he was saying. Usually, when a person says “I’m gonna kill him” we know it’s just words — but here was a guy who did this before. Did anyone think to report him? Did they ignore it? But failing to act without an explicit threat isn’t surprising, though one would hope we would do better.
Terrorism — including terrorism against those trying to promote to’eva in Jerusalem — must be stopped. It is the obligation of the police to stop terrorism, and they clearly failed in their duties in this case.
And we must stand against terrorism, bigotry and hate, in all their many forms.
by Rabbi Pesach Lerner
When Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay, recently appeared on Galei Zahal Radio to address Jewish conversion and religious standards in Israel, media and political figures picked up on a half quote found within a small segment of his interview, and had a field day. “Reform Jews aren’t Jews,” blared the headlines — never mind that he said otherwise, repeatedly, in that same segment.
Why ignore the context, content, and intent of his remarks? The American Reform Movement is pressuring Israel to change its religious standards to match their own; MK Azoulay was responding to this pressure. He said that Reform Jews aren’t simply Jews, but Jews who erred. They have strayed from the path of Torah, he explained, and he implied that they are at risk: “We must truly be concerned that every Jew returns to the lap of Judaism, and we will receive everyone with love.” Every Jew is welcome — but American Reform standards, he maintained, don’t belong in Israel.
This is not, as some might wish to believe, Azoulay’s opinion because he is an Orthodox Rabbi. It is simply because Azoulay is an Israeli.
Israel’s current President, Ruby Rivlin, was a Likud MK in 1997 when Reform Rabbi Uri Regev brought him to the United States to learn more about American Jewry. Upon his return, he told the Israeli media that “as a Jew who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments, I was deeply shocked…Any connection between [Reform] and Judaism didn’t approach reality. I felt as if I were in a church.”
The Reform movement claims that more Israelis would be involved with Judaism if Reform were given greater recognition — but the evidence suggests otherwise. According to periodic studies by the Guttman Center, Israelis are increasing their attachment to Jewish tradition and religion — while the Pew Forum survey shows just the opposite happening in America, and especially within Reform.
Despite a massive influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, 75% of whom define themselves as secular, Israel’s Jewish population remains evenly divided between those who classify themselves as “secular” and those who call themselves “traditional” or “Orthodox.” And that statistic uses a definition of “secular” that would surprise any American.
Only 17% of Israelis consider themselves fully non-observant, while two-thirds of “secular” Israelis are in reality “somewhat observant” or even “very” observant. According to the Guttman Center’s recent surveys, “a vast majority of secular Jews observe certain aspects of Jewish tradition (eat kosher food, refrain from driving on Shabbat, fast on Yom-Kippur, not eat chametz on Pesach, light Chanukah candles, etc.).”
Most critically for the future of Judaism, Israel’s younger generation evidences a far greater attachment to Judaism than previous ones. Whereas 68% of Israelis over 60 are secular and just 24% are traditional, only 37% of adults under 30 are secular while 31% are traditional. And this is besides the phenomenal growth of the Orthodox population — which has reached 32%, nearly one-third of all young adults.
In every one of these key metrics, American Reform Judaism is sadly moving in the opposite direction. Just over 50% of Reform Jews reported to the Pew Forum that they fasted for even part of Yom Kippur; only 10% “always” or “usually” light Sabbath candles, and just 7% keep kosher at home. And these are merely symptoms of a much deeper problem.
In contrast to the marked increase in the affiliation of younger Israelis, American Reform Jewish involvement is in free fall. Just 7% of elderly American Jews identify themselves as secular, as “Jews of no religion” — but nearly one-third of the youngest generation, the “millenials,” describe themselves as such. Reform rabbis claim to represent the largest American Jewish movement, but only 14% of American Jewish adults are actually members of their temples — and that percentage is declining rapidly.
Asked what it means to be Jewish, American Reform Jews are vastly more likely to identify “remembering the Holocaust” or even “being intellectually curious” than to reference Jewish observances or practices. Fully half of Reform Jews who are married at all are married to non-Jews — and despite decades of increasingly desperate efforts to welcome intermarried families into their temples, children of intermarriage remain much less likely to be affiliated with Judaism.
And it’s not as if Reform leaders are doing much better themselves. The demand for “inclusion” has led inexorably towards the endorsement of intermarried rabbis — no one expects the movement to hold out even another decade. And that’s not the only Jewish standard of marriage to be jettisoned in recent years: the movement openly supported and celebrated the recent Supreme Court decision endorsing same-gender marriage.
Regardless of one’s personal opinion or level of religiosity, no one can claim that Reform maintains even its own version of Jewish standards when the prevailing wind changes direction. The positions of Reform Judaism are those which today’s Central Conference of American Rabbis say they are, never mind what was said a generation ago. So what American Reform leaders are demanding of Israel is not simply that they accept Reform positions of today, but that Israel pre-approve, carte blanche, whatever Reform positions will be in decades to come.
In a recent interview, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren commented that “when you look at the Pew Report you see that the rate of assimilation among non-Orthodox Jews is massive, but at the same time, the Orthodox community is growing very fast. So the Jewish community in America might be smaller 30 to 40 years from now, but it will be more connected religiously and probably more connected to Israel.”
The Reform Movement was an unprecedented social experiment upon the Jewish people. Reform leaders claimed that the Jews could abandon the path of Torah, abandon the code of conduct that has set us apart for thousands of years, and remain Jewish. In America, this experiment has proven itself a failure of historic proportions. And at the same time, in Israel, where even secular Jews recognize the traditional definitions of Judaism, observance and attachment to Judaism are increasing rapidly.
For all his undiplomatic language, MK Azoulay had it right. Reform Judaism in America has had no great positive impact on Jewish continuity; in actuality, the evidence indicates the opposite. Reform Judaism is collapsing in the United States; the worst thing Israel could do to the integrity and continuity of the Jewish people is to import that failed model at this critical time.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner is Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel.
by Rabbi Nahum Spirn
אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבּוֹרִים – How the mighty have fallen. These words, spoken by King David in his eulogy for King Saul, seem to apply oh-all-too well to you, R’ Herzl. How we looked up to you when we were in Gush. How my peers were impressed by your incisive analyses of Rishonim when you taught them Yoreh De’ah in Gruss.
And now, in your recent essay explaining your decision to ordain women: From a few vague sentences in the writings of the Ishbitzer, you bring out not just a new yesod in a sugya (a fundamental, underlying principle in a Talmudic topic). No, not just that. Rather, a whole new yesod turning upside-down all of Jewish intellectual and religious history. How weak a basis can one have (see here)!
So how is it possible? How is it possible that a leading student of Rav Lichtenstein, one who excelled in understanding when a Rishon (early Talmudic commentator) was making a clear point and when he was ambiguous and thus open to interpretation — how can it be that this student takes a few ambiguous and esoteric statements from a few Chassidic masters and says that “our [own] refined moral convictions and moral sensibilities may be considered a form of divine revelation”?
Perhaps the answer, R’ Herzl, is that there are additional sources, sources you did not quote in your essay, that espouse your approach. So let us look at some additional sources:
- The Ishbitzer did not make up the idea, in the words of R’ Yaakov Elman (here), that there is “much greater room for a dynamic human involvement in the post-Biblical halachic process” than had been assumed by earlier scholars. The idea came from the Ishbitzer’s rebbe, R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshischa. And it was developed much more in the writings of the Ishbitzer’s talmid (student), R’ Tzaddok HaKohen. Thus he writes in Resisei Layla (p. 14b):
- Thus, even though later generations are inferior [to earlier ones], they nevertheless maintain their awareness [of knowledge], as dwarfs [on the shoulders of] giants … and they themselves continue the process of this opening of new Gates [of knowledge]. Even though they themselves are greatly inferior [in comparison to their forebears, their insights] are more profound, for they have already passed through the Gates opened for the earlier generations (translation Elman).
2) The Vilna Gaon on Mishlei 16:4 writes:
Every person has his own [spiritual] path to walk… When there were prophets, people would go to the prophets to inquire of God, and the prophet would tell [him] … the path he should take, based on the root of his soul and the nature of his body… And when prophecy ended, there was [still] ruach hakodesh (Divine spirit) in Israel, and each person’s [own] spirit would inform him how to act; for each and every person has ruach hakodesh (translation mine).
Not bad, right?
But let’s go back to analyze these sources, starting with the first:
1) In R’ Gordimer’s response to you, he noted that the Chassidic sources you cited do not at all speak about halachic decision-making or observance. This is true. But let us grant the possibility that they were talking about halacha, too. Does R’ Tzaddok not support you?
It is clear that the answer is no, and this for two completely separate reasons:
- a) In halachic matters, who has the authority and the right to create brand new halachic principles? Do the greatest rabbis of the last 1500 years have that right?
They do not. Only Chazal do. The last Amoraim (Sages of the Gemara) were the last of Chazal, and thus the last people to have this authority. The period of the Amoraim ended approximately 1500 years ago. Even the Vilna Gaon did not believe he had the authority to create brand new halachic principles.
R’ Chaim Brisker famously said that our job today is to understand the Rishonim, i.e., to figure out how the Rishonim (Rashi and his colleagues who lived from 1000-1500 C.E.) understood the words of Chazal. In other words, in halachic matters, we don’t even pretend to have the ability to understand Chazal in brand new ways!
- b) R’ Tzaddok HaKohen, in the paragraph translated above, speaks of later generations opening “new Gates of knowledge.” This is possible, he writes, because “they have already passed through the Gates opened for the earlier generations.”
But this means that the scholar of the later generation is going in the same direction as the earlier generations. He has passed through various Gates, and now he is able to continue further, opening new Gates. It is obvious that the later-generation scholar cannot contradict what has been taught in the earlier “Gate.” He cannot undo it; it has already been accepted as truth. He can only build upon it.
So, R’ Herzl, would R’ Tzaddok give you the right to create brand new halachic principles? Would he allow you to use your own “refined moral convictions and moral sensibilities” to create a new “Gate” that contradicts all the earlier Gates opened by the scholars throughout Jewish history?!
Let us go on to the next source.
2) The Vilna Gaon in Mishlei sounds just like you, doesn’t he? “Each person’s [own] spirit would inform him how to act; for each and every person has ruach hakodesh.” Wow.
But let us read further in the very same passage by the Vilna Gaon:
Praiseworthy is the person whom Hashem considers to be without sin and who has no deceit in his spirit. … But who can say, “My heart has merited,” who has no deceit in his spirit at all, and [that] his nature does not desire and does not lean toward anything but the word of the will of God? … If God forbid there is in his heart a small “root flourishing with gall and wormwood,” then there is deceit in his heart. If [such a person] will act according to [the dictates of] his [own] spirit — and every person’s path is pure and upright in his [own] eyes — he will fall from the heavens to the earth until he will not be able to rise [any more]; he will turn away from the ways of Hashem without realizing [it] himself (translation mine).
So while we might all have ruach hakodesh, evidently that Divine spirit will not help us too much unless we are true and perfect tzaddikim! R’ Herzl, with all due respect, do you qualify? I certainly don’t.
R’ Herzl, these sources cannot justify your “new theology.” What, then, can it be that leads you to posit that “our [own] refined moral convictions and moral sensibilities may be considered a form of divine revelation”?
I am afraid there is but one answer. You have written (here) about your acceptance of the teaching of the Bible scholars that the Torah was written over many centuries and is not entirely the actual Word of Hashem. If this is so, then clearly the things you are writing now, to utilize one of our favorite expressions from Gush, are “le’shitaso” — following one’s own opinion on a related topic elsewhere. If you hold the opinion that human beings can add onto the Torah itself, and their additions can become, for all intents and purposes, the Word of God Himself — then indeed you must hold that “a person’s own convictions and sensibilities are a form of divine revelation.” Le’shitaso.
Here is not the place for a discussion of Biblical Criticism. The idea that Jews in any era would have accepted large-scale additions to their Sifrei Torah seems to me crazy. But I know that arguments have been made. I would like to quote Rav Lichtenstein again. In 1984 a question was posed to Rav Lichtenstein during a Question-and-Answer session (the type of session that came to be known affectionately in later years as a “press conference”). The question was: In light of the ideal of “freedom of inquiry,” why had Rav Lichtenstein strongly discouraged the reading of certain books? (The questioner mentioned two books. One was The Canterbury Tales; I don’t remember the other.) Rav Lichtenstein answered, “First of all, the list of books I would say that one should not read is far longer than the two books you just mentioned.” And then he went on to quote Thomas Aquinas, who said that there are two types of Truth: Truth of Revelation and Truth of Reason. While Truth of Revelation is most powerful – one has heard something directly from God Himself! – nevertheless, Truth of Reason can overpower Truth of Revelation. That is to say, we can become convinced by our logic of something that is against something known to us by revelation. And therefore, Rav Lichtenstein concluded, one should not read books that may “convince” us of something that is against our Tradition.
R’ Herzl, you did not heed our rebbe’s advice. You became convinced by the Bible critics. You have adopted a forbidden belief (no Rishon holds this way!).
It is, of course, your prerogative.
But why did you have to tell everyone? The Gemara (Yoma 86b) rules that if a person committed a sin that is בֵּין אָדָם לַמָּקוֹם (between man and God), he should not publicize it. The Rambam codifies this ruling (Hil. Teshuvah 2:5), calling its violation עַזּוּת פָּנִים (brazenness). It is not right to share one’s religious doubts (or in this case, “certainties” of the falsehood of traditional Torah beliefs); to publish essays that may bring others to do things that are against halacha. To the contrary: Elisha ben Avuyah, the great rebbe of R’ Meir who became a heretic, warned R’ Meir to turn back when the 2000-cubit techum (the limit for walking outside the city on Shabbos) was approaching.
So we come to the original topic: ordaining women. I don’t want to discuss the halacha — I don’t think I’m qualified. (I will tell you that I am a supporter of women learning, and of the Yoetzet Halacha program.) But I have noticed something troubling about the women being “ordained” as Maharats, or as rabbis, or as whatever they may be called: A high percentage of them have expressed, in different ways, a desire to utilize their own “convictions and sensibilities” to change the halachic landscape (see, for example, here, here, and here). These women, whether technically your students, R’ Herzl, or not, appear to be highly in tune with your kind of thinking. What prevents them from wreaking havoc with the halakhic system?
You provided the answer. You wrote that your basis for ordaining women was your “new theology.” And you wrote that humility will enable those who follow the “new theology” to “avoid falling into a totally subjective scheme in which anything goes and my personal preferences take precedence over all else, including the Halakha.”
But creating a new theology — one that is not supported by any Rishon or Acharon — how is that consistent with humility?
Who is actually guilty, in the Ishbitzer’s words, of “creating God in our own image”?
 After all, as R’ Elman points out, R’ Tzaddok in his writings refers repeatedly to Moshe Rabbeinu not understanding the novel points in R’ Akiva’s shiur many centuries later (Menachos 29b) — and the shiur was almost certainly on halachic topics, as the Gemara itself implies.
 See Bava Metzia 86a: רבינא ור’ אשי – סוף הוראה. See also Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah, that all of Klal Yisrael is bound by the rabbinic legislation found in the Gemara and earlier works penned by Chazal; legislation penned later is binding only on local communities.
 Rav Lichtenstein’s advice was based, of course, on the words of Chazal, who taught: “הַרְחֵק מֵעָלֶיהָ דַרְכֶּךָ” זוֹ הַמִּינוּת, which means: Distance your way from “it” — this refers to heresy (Koheles Rabbah 1:24).
 Chagigah 15a; Rus Rabbah 6:4 (on Rus 3:13); Koheles Rabbah 7:18 (on Koheles 7:8).
 For a Yeshiva Maharat graduate who apparently doesn’t even feel comfortable identifying with Orthodoxy, see the end of the article here.
Rabbi Spirn is a graduate of Gush, YU, Revel, and RIETS. He also has Semicha Yadin-Yadin (from Torah Vo’daas) and Semicha in Hilchos Gittin (from R’ Gedalia Dov Schwartz and R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg). He has served in the rabbinate and taught in a wide spectrum of yeshivos.
I do not think that I am a great parent; I do not know if I am even a good one. Nonetheless, even those of us whose accomplishments are mediocre or worse learn from experience and can thus ascend the soap box once in a while to share advice with others (or to rant, based on the audience’s perspective).
Parenting in the frum world is a unique experience, as our schedules and obligations are typically far weightier than those of general society. Furthermore, unlike in the secular world, where education of youth is principally pragmatic – to provide the tools to make a living and conduct oneself properly, with awareness and appreciation for certain values and knowledge – the Jewish obligation of Talmud Torah, Torah study, transcends the pragmatic and is a holy lifelong endeavor of dedication to Hashem, demanding consistent reinforcement and presenting challenges throughout.
These factors – the character of a frum lifestyle and the nature of our chinuch (Torah education) obligations – combine in such a way that parenting for Orthodox Jews becomes a unique enterprise, requiring its own focus and cultivation, far beyond the “basics” of good parenting that general society preaches. Parenting in any society is never basic, but frum parenting brings with it a heightened new realm of essentials that must be brought to the fore.
Again, I do not consider myself to be a good example, yet experience and observation are worth something; I therefore would like to present some points to ponder regarding frum parenting, for those who are interested. Although lengthy books are written on this subject, I submit here a few of the areas of concern which I feel are the most overlooked.
Kids Being Normal, Parents Being Attuned and Focused
Although individuality is a virtue and is usually the basis for cultivating personal greatness, the value and centrality of the tzibbur, the public, looms large in Orthodox life. Cookie-cutter people are not the goal, but practical functioning and acceptance within the parameters of social norms is part of the vital fabric of frum society, for better or for worse. As such, our children very much need to operate and be accepted within the mainstream of their surroundings. While marching to one’s own drummer can more or less work in general society, in Orthodox society it is often a recipe for loneliness, future struggle and even failure.
Rabbi Chaim Pechter, my son’s high school principal, always advises parents on orientation night that despite parents’ own “sheetos” (ideological positions), such as that clothing style is irrelevant, or that one should not waste time and money at restaurants, parents are very ill-advised to make their children korbonos (sacrifices) for these values. Children (especially in frum society) need to feel that they fit in and are part of the norm. When children are forced to uphold values that conflict with the children’s social setting, the results are quite negative.
Hence, it is not only important to make sure that one’s children are in a proper environment, but it is also of utmost importance that one’s children are able to be mainstreamed in a healthy and good manner within that environment. This is where focused and attuned frum parenting comes in, as determining which communities/schools/social groups will provide an optimal environment is crucial, but being keyed in to the expectations and norms of that environment is also extremely necessary.
For example, unlike in general society, where summer is off-time and people frequently scatter and do their own things, in frum society, it is not uncommon and is even sometimes expected for everyone to be together and do pretty much the same thing, be it to attend certain camps, programs or the like. If most children in a frum community or school are attending a certain learning camp, day camp or program, or are working as counselors at a specific group of camps, one should think twice before deciding instead to send one’s child to nature camp or to an overseas program, as this seemingly innocent and noble move can set the child off from the others and deny him the sense of continuity, relative normalcy and cohesiveness that binds, identifies and is shared by the rest of the group.
School Above All Else
To describe the frum lifestyle as busy can be a massive understatement. Aside from placing primary focus on the service of Hashem via the “religious” aspects of life (daily tefillah, Torah learning, observance of mitzvos, Shabbos and Yom Tov schedules, etc.), while exerting full effort toward career and family, simchos can abound, with some people being invited to weddings several nights a week and to an aufruf or other affairs on countless Shabbosim.
While it is a mitzvah to attend these celebrations, the mitzvah of one’s children’s chinuch often comes first. Going away for Shabbos, which can deprive children of their normal sleep and schedules and can cause them to miss school on Erev Shabbos and Sunday, where applicable, has to be done on a very selective basis. Families who frequently go away for Shabbos are sometimes unaware of the negative impact it has on their children’s chinuch. So too for parents who are out very late at weddings on an extremely frequent basis. (And not to mention the effect of this all on one’s own Torah learning.)
Thank God, the range of yeshivos/day schools of all types is broad and ever-expanding. While this sounds like a positive development, it is actually a greater challenge, as mosdos chinuch (educational institutions) are becoming far more specialized than ever before. Sometimes the difference between one yeshiva and the next can be glaring, while at times it can be quite nuanced.
Irrespective of the degree of difference between one yeshiva, Bais Yaakov or day school and the next, the impact upon students can be seismic. Carefully researching each potential school for one’s child is critical, including attending open house programs, speaking with families who succeeded and who did not succeed with each particular school, and looking closely at the paths taken by alumni.
There is a tendency among frum Jews who “cross party lines” to inadvertently be less careful with their choice of schools. For example, parents from Modern Orthodox backgrounds who enroll their children in more yeshivish schools are at times apt to fail to do the necessary research, as for these parents, by way of illustration, the sight of boys with hats and jackets is already a bit foreign, and most “black hat” yeshivos seem sort of similar. So too, parents from more yeshivish backgrounds who decide that their children need the exposure of a more Modern Orthodox school are sometimes prone to lump the Modern Orthodox schools together, within a certain range. In both of these systems, the differences between each school is real and often immense, and it behooves prospective parents to research each school with painstaking meticulousness before moving forward.
Being Very Involved
Unlike in general society, where couples have fewer children and study is for the most part not a family event, frum couples, who generally have many children, can feel bombarded with educational obligations for each child, such as school orientation evenings and parent-teacher conferences – one session for every child, and often at a variety of different schools – as well as weekly Avos U’Vanim learning programs and the like. While these events are blessings, they can seem to be quite a lot to juggle.
Yet it is important to attend and participate and to make this all an absolute priority.
Teachers have told me how many parents fail to attend parent-teacher conferences, and I observe parents who never once attend Avos U’Vanim programs with their sons; their sons attend by themselves, or not at all. The time and effort invested to intimately track and address one’s child’s progress, and to religiously bond and show where one’s priorities lie, yield priceless dividends – not to mention the personal negative impact on a child whose parents are typically no-shows for these events. This is part of the responsibility of parenting, and the long-term effect of these and similar endeavors is profound.
Setting an Example – Through Omission
Fathers have on occasion told me that they do not daven Maariv with a minyan, as their wives need them to help out at home in the evening, or that they learn at home at night in order to set an example for their children, or that they are less strict about certain z’manim (halachic time) issues, so that their children can be awake for Kiddush, Havdalah or the like.
Although if one’s wife literally cannot function without her husband missing Maariv with a minyan should warrant his davening at home, what may be more important in the larger picture is the example rather than the action. When children see that their father has to rush out for something very important – Maariv with a minyan – or that he spends a portion of each evening at the beis medrash, or that at certain times of the year, Kiddush and Havdalah are too late for them, they are imbued with the concept that Torah and Mitzvos come first and supersede all else. (I actually asked a preeminent posek [halachic decisor] about the Shabbos z’manim issue, and these words encapsulate his reply.) Just as not getting everything which one desires is a life lesson for patience and for appreciation of reality, the life lesson of sacrifice of one’s time for Torah and Mitzvos, taught by the animated example of one’s parents, is irreplaceable.
What Will Inspire Them?
Many people like prefer no-frills davening, and they prefer to pray at a small shteibel or beis medrash that has no derashos (speeches), minimal singing and often no rabbi. While I leave the propriety of this approach to the discretion of the person and his rav (if he has one – and one must!), for children it is quite often a recipe for a life of uninspired tefillah and lack of connection to a rabbi. When bringing children to shul, their needs for a positive example and an inspiring experience and must be given heavy consideration and acted upon.
So too, discussing intricate halachic topics at the Shabbos table with erudite guests is wonderful, but failure to also colorfully and intently discuss the parsha and so forth with one’s children, and to provide inspiration tailored to them, is really unwise and unfair.
The mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim (Hospitality) must be carefully calculated when dealing with a tableful of one’s own children, or even one child or one’s spouse. While it is extremely meritorious to provide a Shabbos meal or lodging to those who need a place, there are times when hospitality breeds hostility, such as when guests monopolize the host and deprive the children of basic attention and some private time with parents. There is no greater turn-off to a child at a Shabbos table than being ignored and drowned out. Some guests do not respect essential family dynamics, and one is wise to consider not hosting these guests when it comes at the large expense of one’s family. (Furthermore, the mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim pertains to those in need of hospitality. People who otherwise have a place to eat and stay, but are invited purely for social reasons, should certainly not have priority over the attention one is obliged to provide to one’s own household.)
Give Them Space
Even if a parent davens in a shul or a beis medrash which he feels is optimal for his children’s inspiration and appreciation of tefillah, everyone is different. If older children feel more comfortable davening in a different minyan, so long as that minyan is also seen as an optimal makom tefillah (place of prayer), consideration should be given to permit this, even though it means that the family does not all daven together. Everyone responds to different stimuli and is comfortable with different settings; assuming that a child knows how to daven and will be in a positive tefillah atmosphere, with good examples there, forcing him to daven elsewhere with his parents may not be wise.
To successfully grow into a ben or bas Torah, a genuine religious Jew who embodies the Torah, is no easy task, to put it lightly, yet it is attainable, as such is what Hashem expects, and it has been successfully achieved for thousands of years. However, even should a child not appear to be on the trajectory for we must aim, that child nonetheless needs unconditional love.
Guidance is Indispensable
Frum childrearing is among the most delicate and sensitive endeavors there ever will be. Ever so subtle decisions can impact a child for life. It is crucial for every parent to have an experienced rav or a seasoned mechanech (Torah educator) with whom to consult for the multitude of issues that can arise.
I realize that much of what I wrote above can be deflected and rejected as one amateur’s personal rant, and that it can be dismissed for stating the overly obvious. And yes, I anticipate all the critical comments and a few keystroke assaults. But if this article can be of positive use to even one reader, it was well worth entering the line of cyber-fire.
The idea that we have 20/20 hindsight is, in actuality, simply a myth. If hundreds of thousands had fled Europe, sacrificing their dedication to HaShem and His Torah, how do we know history would otherwise have stayed equal? … Read More >>
Mere minutes after last Tuesday’s announcement of the nuclear deal struck with Iran – well before anyone could possibly have read its 159 dense pages of highly technical details – the usual suspects were busy weighing in.
Organizations, leaders and politicians with long-standing animus toward President Obama extended their hostility to the deal, which they characterized as a spineless capitulation to a rogue regime. And knee-jerk defenders of Mr. Obama (a group that some imagine includes me, but doesn’t) heralded the agreement as the best thing since bagels.
Over ensuing days, open-minded observers waited patiently until experts had had a chance to carefully absorb the agreement’s terms and render their judgments. Alas, unanimity there wasn’t.
Some found the inspections regimen less than ideal, the sanctions phase-out too lenient, the preservation of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure too frightening, the term of the agreement too short. They warned of how the economic impact of the sanctions’ lifting will allow Iran to finance its non-nuclear murderous mischief throughout the Middle East; and wondered how a nation whose leaders have never paid any homage to honesty can be trusted to not cheat on its pledges.
Others sang the praises of Iran’s agreement to … Read More >>
“Al ma avdah et ha’aretz – For what was the Land lost?” our Sages asked in the wake of the destruction of the Temple.
To that question, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch notes, the historians had easy answers. The destructions of both Temples were hardly miraculous. Just the opposite: they followed THE normal rules of history. “How could tiny Judea have avoided falling prey to the rising Assyrian and Babylonian imperial powers! How could the insignificant power of Judea mount resistance to the mighty Roman legions!”
And the historians are right, Rabbi Hirsch pointed out. But they misunderstood the question that our Sages were asking. The surprise lay not in the defeats at the hands of the Babylonians and later the Romans. Rather the miracle was the “political existence of Judea for more than a thousand years, an existence for which every natural prerequisite was absent.” At the most vital crossroads of the ancient world, coveted by every major empire, how had the Jews maintained some level of independence for a millennium?
So the question our Sages asked was really: What happened to cause the miraculous Power to forsake Israel? Why did the same Power “Whose eagles’ wings alone raised … Read More >>
I thank my friend Rabbi Menken for a vivid demonstration of American democracy at its best. He took Natan Sharansky’s Town Square Test and emerged with his head still perched atop his shoulder blades. We are very fortunate to live in a country that tolerates dissent, even in the extreme.
Dissent happens even in the pages of Cross-Currents. I dissent. In the extreme.
The President is not mad. He is not an imbecile. He is not evil.
I have no doubt that he has the interests of America foremost in mind, as do many others who worked on the accord, and those who continue to defend it.
I do believe, as a layperson with no great insight or insider information, that the Iran deal is a poor one. I will work, along with other Americans, to persuade our legislators to push back against it. I believe that the short-term threat is not to Israel, but to the United States. The Iranians may actually slow progress towards the bomb for a few years to achieve relief from the crippling sanctions the West imposed. The greatest immediate threat is to countries other than Israel, which will feel the effect … Read More >>
During the Holocaust, the Nazis continued to divert trains and soldiers from the front lines in order to take more Jews to the ovens.
During intense sanctions, the Iranians continued to divert funds from basic necessities in order to support Hamas, Hezbollah, and other organizations devoted to the murder of infidels, but especially Jews.
It is obvious to everyone, including the Administration, that Hamas and Hezbollah will be major beneficiaries of sanctions relief. The Administration acknowledges this, and says that since the Iranians are doing that anyway, it can’t be worse.
This seems to this observer to be beyond any defensible logic — and a path to the murder of innocents.
Iran continues to call for “Death to Israel” and invests money in the murder of Jews. Netanyahu opposes any form of sanctions relief when that money will be spent upon murdering Jews.
The President has decided that it is Netanyahu who is being unreasonable.
[OK, updated. It has been called to my attention that for assorted reasons (a double-standard high among them), we have to speak more respectfully of this particular President than of all previous presidents (and I, for one, would have still less complimentary things … Read More >>
How the city still sits solitary! Some two thousand years later, transformed into a bustling metropolis, the city and her people still sit and mourn alone.
Many revile her today more intensely than the Roman conquerors of antiquity. Many do not, but that does not relieve the loneliness of her mourning on the night of Tisha B’Av. Who can encompass a fraction of her sustained pain of two millennia of isolation, contempt, wandering, insecurity, savagery, auto-da-fes, ghettos, and gas chambers? Her friends might offer sympathy, but only those who experienced the consequences of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdosh and the exiling of the Shechinah, who chronicled her suffering with quills dipped in blood, can understand.
And so it will be until the Temple is restored and the Divine Presence returns to its appointed place.
Tisha B’Av must remain an intensely private day of mourning, not to be shared with anyone else. It flows from Jewish aspirations, and Jewish disappointments.
Or so it would seem. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, however, thought differently. If we comprehended the purpose and function of the Beis HaMikdosh, the world would be mourning with us.
It is for this “Galus Shechinah,” this “Exile of … Read More >>
Upon the signing of an Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994, President Bill Clinton addressed the American people and assured them, “This is a good deal for the United States.” He explained that “North Korea [would] freeze and then dismantle its nuclear program” and that “U.S. and international inspectors will carefully monitor to make sure it keeps its commitments.”
Well, we know how well that worked out. Eight years later, North Korea kicked out international inspectors, and in 2006, it tested its first nuclear weapon underground. Wendy Sherman, the State Department policy coordinator for North Korea at the time of the signing of the Agreed Framework, just happens to have been the lead U.S. negotiator in nuclear talks with Iran since late 2013.
But it would be a mistake to make too much of the North Koran precedent. The Iranian deal that the U.S. is poised to sign, as I write, is worse, much worse, in every way than that with North Korea. North Korea at least had to kick out inspectors to go nuclear. The P5+1 agreement with Iran now on the table is so porous that inspections would be nearly useless. After first insisting that inspections … Read More >>
Every year, as we go through the Bein Ha-Metzarim, the period commencing with the Three Weeks and culminating with Tisha B’Av, I get very confused, and I think that many others do as well.
One the one hand, the Batei Mikdash (Temples) and the Galus (Exile) were caused by our sins. This is clear from Tanach (the Bible), the Talmud and the very texts of the Kinnos.
On the other hand, when punishment is meted out due to the commission of sin, the Jewish response is not so much to mourn and certainly not to complain, but to act – to do teshuva (repentance) and correct our ways. Such has been precedent since Biblical times, and throughout Jewish history. This being the case, why do we both mourn and complain on Tisha B’Av of the losses, the harsh wrath of God and the calamities that befell our people? If we know the reason for the punishment, let’s get over it and take action. Why wallow in sorrow?
Furthermore, and doubly perplexing, is that on Tisha B’Av, we actually question God – not heretically, but we ask questions of “why”: Why did God rage against us? Why did He not have … Read More >>
During the Islamic month of Ramadan, which is about to end, Muslims are to engage in introspection, fasting and spiritual improvement. Which, according to some, includes doing whatever they can to kill innocent people.
ISIS, for instance, exhorted Muslims to use Ramadan as a time for violence, and, earlier in the Islamic holy month, in apparent response, Islamists launched attacks on three continents. A deliveryman ISIS supporter crashed his truck into an American-owned chemical plant in France, in an attempt to blow it up, and then allegedly decapitated his boss at the scene and placed the murdered man’s head on on the plant’s gate. Mere hours later, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a Kuwait City mosque, killing 27 worshippers and injuring more than two hundred. A mere hour later came an attack on a Tunisian beach, where an Islamist gunman – may we call him a terrorist? – gunned down 39 people without warning.
It wasn’t just ISIS either. A Hamas-affiliated website, for instance, published an article titled “Resistance During Ramadan – A New Beginning And A Different Flavor,” which explained that “Ever since the first intifada, martyrdom operations, stabbing and shooting attacks have had a special … Read More >>
by Moshe Hauer
In 1812, as Napoleon and his Grand Arme̒e were approaching Russia, many Jewish leaders were eagerly anticipating their arrival, hoping that it would bring the liberty, equality and fraternity promised by the French Revolution, and with that some measure of relief from the persecution that was the Jews’ usual lot. Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya, felt otherwise, hoping, praying and actively working for the Czar’s army to prevail. As he wrote to one of his disciples:
If Bonaparte will be victorious, Jewish wealth will increase, and the prestige of the Jewish people will be raised; but their hearts will disintegrate and be distanced from their Father in Heaven. But if Alexander will be victorious, although Israel’s poverty will increase and their prestige will be lowered, their hearts will be joined, bound and unified with their Father in Heaven. (Igrot Kodesh Admur HaZaken, letter #64)
In our own time in the United States, a gracious and generous society that grants equal rights to the Jews, Jewish wealth and prestige have grown and religious Jewish communities and institutions have flourished. At the same time, the fears of the Baal HaTanya have certainly been realized as … Read More >>
Last week was spent in Toronto, where most of my davening was in Congregation Shomrai Shabbos. One instantly notices that a great deal of thought went into the design of the shul, with an eye to maximizing Torah learning. Whenever there is a minyan in one of the large rooms in the morning, there are at least three other rooms available for chavrusos and chaburos, each beautifully designed to foster harchavas hadaas. There are chaburos and chavrusos throughout the shul both early and late.
But what strikes me most about the shul is not just the amount of Torah learning, but the closeness of the members to one another and their allegiance to the rav, Rabbi Yacov Shalom Felder. Shomrai Shabbos is a chevra of Jews who have joined together with other aspiring bnei aliyah to strengthen one another in the growth process. And in Rabbi Felder they have a rav focused on building a community and on the ruchniyos growth of each member, despite the heavy demands on his time as vice-chairman of the Rabbinical Vaad HaKashrus of Toronto. His success is reflected in the wide diversity of the community in terms of backgrounds, hashkafah, and dress – … Read More >>
I mention my morning shiur fairly frequently in these pages, partly to indicate how important such a shiur with a rav whom each person in the shiur looks up to as a walking Mesilas Yesharim can be for a pashute baalebos, like myself. Though by far the bulk of the shiur is taken up with Gemara learning, I often feel the fifteen minutes of mussar/hashkafa at the beginning are the most important for me at this stage in my life. In recent years, we have finished the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on Mishlei (twice), Mesilas Yesharim (twice), and most of Nefesh HaChaim (so perhaps I should be careful about writing that the mussar seder has the largest impact).
Recently, we began the Ramchal’s Derech Hashem. In the first chapter, in which the Ramchal specifies what we can know about Hashem, he mentions that all these matters can be derived logically, but that he prefers to rely on the mesorah for his presentation. Elaborating on this comment, the rav made reference to the famous Ramban at the end of parashas Bo, which we have studied together many times.
The Ramban writes that Hashem does not perform open miracles in every generation, … Read More >>