Message From the Har Nof Widows

Har Nof Widows Letter

[loose translation:]
We turn to acheinu Bnei Yisrael wherever they may be. Let us all come together to increase the rachamei Shomayim shown to us! Let us all accept upon ourselves that we will increase love and brotherhood – between each person and his fellow, between community and community, between major group and major group.

Our request is that every individual should see to it to accept upon himself on Erev Shabbos Parshas Toldos, to sanctify this coming Shabbos as a day of ahavas chinam. It should be a day that we refrain from all kinds of divisive conversation, lashon hora, and rechilus.

This will be a great uplift to the souls of the heads of our families who were slaughtered for the holiness of His Holy Name.

May Hashem look from above, see our affliction, wipe away our tears, and say, “Enough!” to our sorrow.
May we merit to see the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily in our days – Amen, Amen.

Signed with a broken and crushed heart:
Chayah Levine and family
Breina Goldberg and family
Yaakovah Kupinsky and family
Bashi Twersky and family

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Do We Care About a Jewish Israel?

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner

Opponents of traditional Torah values are trying to change the face of Judaism in Israel, and have laid out their plans in full detail. Are we listening? Are we going to respond? Are we going to protect the Mesorah and Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael?

Discussions in Israel today – in the media, in the halls of Knesset, and at the highest levels of government – threaten the religious status quo in Israel as never before. If passed into law, bills currently being forwarded will expand the divide between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities in Israel and worldwide.

These changes are frequently not the result of internal pressure for change; rather, American groups are demanding change, and the Israeli government is responding to that pressure. And Orthodox American Jews, those who would protect tradition and oppose deviations from eternal Jewish values, are largely absent from the dialogue.

Proposed legislation will permit public transportation, and allow malls, movie theaters, and restaurants to open on the Shabbos. Another change (which recently passed through Knesset committees and the Cabinet, and does not require a full Knesset vote) removes the Chief Rabbinate’s authority over conversions to Judaism, allowing the rabbi of any Israeli community, big or small, to perform conversions that will be recognized by the State of Israel. (To be fair, there are guidelines and procedures, but they are basically formalities.) Anyone interested in living in Israel or marrying a Jew will be able to shop for the most lenient rabbi available – today an Orthodox rabbi willing to overlook basic halachic requirements of geirus, tomorrow a non-Orthodox clergyperson – and one can only imagine the potential consequences.

If the liberal movements congratulated the Prime Minister on this decision, what message does that send us?

Some groups are not satisfied with this level of lowering the standards, or with the Knesset vote to do away with separate Ashkenazic and Sephardic Chief Rabbis. They propose to do away with the Chief Rabbinate entirely, which would have tremendous ramifications both in Israel and around the globe. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate is currently a worldwide voice representing Torah and Torah standards for Jewish identity, marriage and divorce, kashruth, mitzvos hatluyos ba’Aretz, and a host of other issues. These activists aim to silence that voice.

On another front, American liberals, in conjunction with Israeli feminists, are bent upon turning the Kosel into an outlet for “pluralism.” Though the new section developed and designated for them by the Israeli government is hardly used, they demand that it be expanded to equal the traditional Kotel plaza in both size and prominence, and have a shared entrance. They further insist that even the traditional section be changed – and these demands are being given serious consideration.

Much of the pressure on the Israeli government results from an unholy alliance between dedicated secularists in Israel and liberal synagogue movements in the United States. They are often aided by secular American Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee and the New Israel Fund, and even groups representing the new “Open Orthodoxy.”

The Global Planning Table of the Jewish Federations of North America recently announced a new “Israel Religious Expression Platform… [to] support issues of Jewish diversity and freedom of religious expression in Israel.” The immediate goal of this project focuses on “the issue of marriage freedom.” In less obfuscated language, this project intends to void halachic marriage standards for Jewish Israelis, and they have earmarked an initial $2 million for this effort.

Reform and Conservative leaders in America are trying to change Israel in order to prop up their imploding movements in America. The recent Pew Survey indicates that the once-dominant Conservative movement has lost over 50% of its members in just the past decade. While Reform leaders claim to represent the largest movement today, merely 10% of American Jews are actually members of their synagogues. And at this moment, with the reality of their own failure contrasted with the abundant growth of American Orthodoxy, they are desperate to rally their marginally-affiliated members. Rather than try to appeal to the local population that has grown disillusioned with their movements, they choose to fight to distort Jewish standards in Israel.

Why are they successful? It’s simple: Their leaders and representatives constantly visit the halls of Knesset, meeting with Israeli government officials, cultivating relationships, raising money for MKs, and hosting them in their American communities. They talk to the secular media, write op-eds for the Israeli and American press, claiming that their views represent those of the greater American Jewish community. And they will often resort to threatening Israel that they will lose American support unless their demands are met.

Unfortunately, the American Torah community often observes passively from the sidelines, doing little until laws are enacted. Then we awaken and protest – but all too often, it is too late for our efforts to have an impact.

I believe that the Torah community must become far more proactive in promoting our views, taking control of the situation rather than letting those with a hostile agenda control our response. To be sure, we must represent the views and guidance of our Gedolim in America and Israel, but we cannot wait idly until adverse changes have already been made before running to them for advice. We need to get ahead of the curve, outlining the issues, proposing possible strategies, and requesting guidance from the Gedolim on how to change the dialogue and present Torah perspectives on these issues to the public and elected officials.

To provide one recent example: when the so-called “Women Of the Wall” presented a serious monthly problem during their Rosh Chodesh events, provoking inappropriate responses from bochurim so they could grab headlines and promote a false narrative of Orthodox men oppressing women, a small group of askanim helped women in Israel to create “Women For the Wall” to promote Jewish traditions. We analyzed the issue, identified possible courses of action, and went to Gedolim for direction. Not only did they guide our activities, but they publicly called upon thousands of women to participate – creating a powerful response which greatly blunted the impact of the Women Of the Wall. Today, Women For the Wall continues to promote the Torah perspective of the Kosel.

We must learn from the playbook successfully exploited by the pluralist movements. Our American national Torah organizations must open their own offices in Israel to communicate Torah views to the government, media, and leading opinion-makers. Better yet, they should jointly sponsor an organization which has the support of the greater American Orthodox community, and which can ally with like-minded organizations in Israel and worldwide.

We, too, must visit the Knesset, both to lobby and to cultivate relationships with MKs – especially outside the Charedi and Orthodox parties. We must identify those who might be willing to ally with our interests, and help them to raise money as they campaign for their party lists. Once elected to the Knesset, their doors will be open to us.

We must send missions of rabbis and lay leaders to Israel to voice our opinions, and invite and sponsor non-religious MKs to visit our home communities to see our growth and vitality. We must educate Israeli officials about the realities of American intermarriage and assimilation, and show them just how little authority Reform and Conservative leaders possess even among their own members. By contrast, we must show them who is truly investing in Israel, sending their children to study there, and making aliyah: the Orthodox. They must learn that we are the American Jews with the most concern for Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, and that we will represent the dominant American Jewish community just a decade from now.

We must be as vocal and proactive in support of Shabbos, halachic marriage and divorce, conversion and kashruth standards, the Chief Rabbis, traditional prayer at the Kosel, and so many other issues, as the others are active against them. And with the guidance of our Gedolim, a concerted effort, and, of course, siyata diShmaya, we can and will be successful.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner is a musmach of Yeshivas Ner Yisrael of Baltimore and executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, where he served for over 20 years. He has been involved in tzorchei tzibbur and inyanei haklal [communal needs and matters] for over 35 years.

First published in Mishpacha.

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Status (Quo) Update

ITEM: In the wake of the shooting in Jerusalem of political activist Yehuda Glick, allegedly by an Islamic Jihad member who was killed by police after he fired at them, and the subsequent closing of the mosque on Har HaBayis to Muslim worshippers for several hours, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to maintain the “status quo” at the site.

ITEM: Mr. Netanyahu insisted that Israel is indeed “determined to maintain the status quo” at the holy site.

Status Quo: A Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs. The related phrase often intended by “status quo” is status quo ante, or, “the state of affairs that existed previously.”

It is unfortunate, in fact tragic, that a mosque occupies the site where the Beis Hamikdash stood and will one day stand again. But the state of Israel respects the understandable 1967 decision of then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol after the Six Day War, when Yerushalayim was reunited, to cede control of access to Har HaBayis to Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf, or religious trust. Even to the point of prohibiting Jewish prayer on the site, in seeming violation of at least the spirit of the state’s “Preservation of the Holy Places Law” enacted that same year.

All of which should be a pointed reminder that, the state of Israel notwithstanding, we clearly remain in galus. But there is no practical issue here, as the recognized poskei hador have made clear that it is halachically forbidden for a Jew to ascend to the Har Habayis.

What’s interesting, however, is Mr. Netanyahu’s declared respect for the status quo.

Because he only recently succumbed to pressure brought to bear by ministers Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman and lent his support to the conversion bill passed by his cabinet. That enactment will permit municipal rabbis to hold special conversion courts, allowing for multiple conversion standards and potentially creating a class of tens of thousands of Israelis who are recognized as Jewish by the state but whose conversions did not meet accepted halachic requirements.

Rabbi Seth Farber, a conversion liberalization activist, hailed the enactment as “the first major reform in religion and state that has the potential to fundamentally change the status quo in Israel.” Indeed.

Then there is the “Equal Burden of Service” law, which, earlier this year, ended exemptions for charedi yeshiva students from military service, exploding another status quo that has existed since the founding of Israel.

More recently, a feminist group has insisted that it be permitted to publicly and vocally hold its “progressive” services, which greatly offend Orthodox Jews, at the Kosel plaza. The group’s members were given an area in front of another part of the Kosel for their “non-traditional” services. But they insist on changing the… status quo at the Kosel.

A few years ago I had the privilege of addressing the issue of “Jewish Pluralism” in Israel before general (mostly Jewish but decidedly non-Orthodox) audiences on two university campuses. One point I made was that, contrary to many people’s assumption, none of the socioreligious conflicts in Israel have been engendered by the country’s religious populace. All were initiated by people seeking to change the status quo that has served Israel well since its inception by maintaining a modus vivendi among its religious, traditional and secular citizens.

Some of the listeners seemed surprised to be confronted by that fact, despite its obvious truth. They had been fed so steady a diet of rhetoric about “creeping haredization” and “religious coercion” that they hadn’t noticed that it was junk food.

Pretty much whatever the religious/secular crisis du jour may be – images on buses in Meah Shearim, the closure of streets in religious neighborhoods, allotment of government funding for the institutions of new “Judaisms” – the conflict has been produced by those intent on changing things, not those committed to preserving them.

There is nothing necessarily or inherently bad, of course, about change, at least responsible change. But making changes in time-honored agreements and undertakings, especially at the expense of upsetting longstanding accommodations, offending in the process large numbers of heartfelt Jews and doing violence to amity and good will is, well, as Mr. Netanyahu intimated with regard to the Har HaBayis, deeply unwise.

And so, the question practically shouts itself from the rooftops of Yerushalayim: Why is the ideal of maintaining peace and harmony by preserving the status quo sufficiently sublime to apply to the Muslim world, but not to the Jewish one?

© 2014 Hamodia

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Sanctity and Tradition – Where Are Things Heading, and Why Should We Care? A Response to R. Ysoscher Katz

by Avrohom Gordimer

I must have really hit a raw nerve:

Another peeping RCA rabbi. R. Gordimer, like his colleague R. Freundel, is peeping into people’s bedrooms (who sleeps with whom and who’s married to whom) and perversely sexualizes the important conversations in our community.

These abusive Rabbis need to be stopped from further corroding our communal fiber. We can’t allow them to continue trespassing boundaries and trample on our standards of tznius and kedusha.

–October 30, 2014 Facebook post by R. Ysoscher Katz, Chair of Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), reacting to my recent Cross-Currents article. (I presume that “who’s married to whom” refers to data in my article about several YCT students and a YCT rebbe being married to non-Orthodox clergy – something I and others find to be very concerning.)

Needless to say, I will not sling back the mud. Aside from the totally ludicrous content of R. Katz’ post, it is eminently clear from the innumerable sources documented in my recent article and in previous articles (such as this) which people, movements and institutions are “perversely sexualizing” the sacred and “trespassing boundaries and trampling on our standards of tznius and kedusha”.

But that is not why I am posting this essay. There is something far more fundamental that needs to be addressed; it is a question that Open Orthodox leadership has asked me, and those who are unfamiliar with the history and state of contemporary Orthodoxy have likewise posed this question – and in truth, beneath the mud, it is what R. Katz is really asking:

Why do I (and so many others) care about what is transpiring within Open Orthodoxy? Does it really matter in the larger picture? How in the world does it affect you? Just move on, focus on your own things, and let it be…

Those of us who are familiar with the Conservative movement recall all too well how various innovations allegedly within the bounds of Halacha led to the erosion and disintegration of that movement, which initially had functioned as the unofficial liberal flank of Orthodoxy. Conservative scholars, comprising the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), issued novel and progressive halachic rulings regarding, among other things, perceived archaic and chauvinistic aspects of Halacha that were preventing Judaism and its Conservative adherents from flourishing religiously and comfortably in the context of modern society. Over the course of more than half a century, innovative CJLS rulings redefined gender roles at public prayer, permitted driving to shul on Shabbos, sanctioned marriages and conversions that were heretofore not acceptable, authorized the ordination of female clergy, liberalized positions toward homosexuality in congregational life, and so forth. We all know that this dilution of Halacha and traditional attitudes led to the wholesale abrogation of Halacha and mass assimilation by Conservative Jewry. The innovations wrought utter and unthinkable disaster.

Those of us who are concerned about the actions and trajectory of Open Orthodoxy fear that this movement is rapidly manifesting itself as the new Conservative movement, as we see clear similarities and patterns, and we are sounding the alarms. Rabbis and writers throughout the Orthodox spectrum, to my right and to my left, see history repeating itself and detect great danger, and we dare not be silent in the face of significant and increasing innovations that portend the departure from Orthodoxy on the part of large numbers of Jews. (The inherent problems pertaining to many of Open Orthodoxy’s innovations, and the overall objectionability of the approach behind them, have already been discussed in previous articles, such as this, this, and this.)

Moreover, despite the contentions of some, Open Orthodox innovations do indeed impact well beyond the Open Orthodox community. Case in point: Last week, the rabbi of a large Open Orthodox congregation announced the implementation of “a radical change in (conversion) policy” such that henceforth, in consultation with the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat and in consultation with the Maharat (female rabbinic clergy) of his shul, the halachic protocol for conversions which he oversees will be significantly revised. This revision, which relates to the level of beis din supervision of conversions, will render most of the conversions overseen by this Open Orthodox rabbi invalid according to halachic consensus (v. Hil. Issurei Bi’ah 14:6, YD 268:2, Igros Moshe YD 2:127 but also 3:112), thereby causing untold future harm to this rabbi’s converts and causing most batei din to have to reject the rabbi’s converts as Jewish. This will result in further, critical schism within Orthodoxy, it most definitely will affect the Jewish People at large, and it will in particular impact the broader Orthodox community.

In a d’var Torah issued by Yeshivat Maharat this past week, it was suggested that Avrohom Avinu sexually exploited Sarah Imeinu (“Abram employs Sarai’s sexuality as a tool…”) and that Sarah therefore became a sexual abuser herself. (This egregious suggestion by far exceeds the interpretation of the Ramban on Bereshis 12:10; neither the Ramban, nor any Meforshim, have penned anything close to the outrageous interpretation proffered in this Yeshivat Maharat literature.) Another post this week by a YCT rabbinic leader stated that Bris Milah is an act of brutality (yet that we are commanded to perform it as service of God, despite the theological difficulty thereof). Although one can argue that such irreverent/problematic ideas, while somewhat common within Open Orthodoxy (as cited extensively in the second hyperlink above), should not affect those who object to them from without, these ideas are being promulgated en masse, and as Open Orthodox clergy and educators continue to increase their presence in more mainstream Orthodox synagogues and schools, the Open Orthodox approach to Torah, mitzvos and Biblical personalities will spread and become part of the mainstream. This is of grave concern to all of Orthodoxy. (It is clear that many within Open Orthodoxy do not subscribe to these objectionable interpretations and approaches to Torah, but a very vocal segment of Open Orthodox leadership and constituency does, and this is a real issue.)

I would love to cease posting these articles. How wonderful would it be for Open Orthodox leadership to decide that rather than modify Orthodoxy and challenge its foundational and classical values, it should place its focus on preserving Orthodoxy as is and it should use its dynamic, energetic and personable staff and student body to spread Torah in the original to those who otherwise would not have exposure to the beauty of traditional Judaism! No one would object, everyone would support the endeavor, and those currently involved with Open Orthodoxy would fulfill a holy mission that others cannot adequately execute.

I implore the leadership of Open Orthodoxy to assess where the movement is heading and to consider the momentous success in spreading authentic Torah that could be achieved by seriously recalibrating the system and redirecting the movement. That would be a win-win situation for all.

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

(In the event that any of the hyperlinks did not open properly, here are the web links in the order that they appear in the above essay:

http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2014/10/30/looting-the-kodesh/

http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2014/07/27/open-orthodoxy-and-the-rebirth-of-the-conservative-movement/

http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2013/06/03/what-about-mesorah-do-you-not-understand/

http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2014/01/28/women-and-tefillin-a-study-in-breached-boundaries/

http://www.yucommentator.org/2014/02/the-boundaries-and-essence-of-orthodoxy-a-response-to-dr-aaron-koller/

http://rabbishmuel.com/

http://static.squarespace.com/static/5348363de4b0531dce75bc53/t/5453ac44e4b024a86e8b5d17/1414769732248/ParshatLechLechaHagarandSaraiAbuseDvar.pdf)

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Sefer Torah Abuse

We rend our garments if a sefer Torah is, chalilah, desecrated. If one should fall to the ground, it is customary for those present to undertake to fast that day. I don’t know what the proper reaction is to seeing a sefer Torah employed as a prop in the service of a social cause, but a recent such exploitation made my heart hurt.

The exploiters, for their part, were jubilant. Members of the feminist group “Women of the Wall,” they had obtained a sefer Torah small enough to smuggle into the Kosel Maaravi plaza, where they proceeded to hold a “bat-mitzvah” ceremony, complete with a woman reading from the Torah and the 12-year-old reciting birchas haTorah.

“Today we made history for women @ Kotel,” the group announced on social media. “We must recreate this victory each month with great opposition.”

The latter phrase may have been incoherent, but the sentiment was clear. By flouting the Jewish mesorah (and current Kosel regulations) and by evading the Israeli police, the intrepid women had, at least in their own minds, scored points for their team.

For more than three decades, the Kotel has been a place – perhaps the only one in the world – where Jews of all affiliations and persuasions have regularly prayed side by side. What has allowed for that minor miracle has been the maintenance of a standard at the holy site that all Jews can abide.

Last year, to maintain that uniqueness, Women of the Wall was assigned an area in front of part of the Kosel, Robinson’s Arch (or Ezras Yisrael), for their “non-traditional” services. But the feminist group’s leader, Anat Hoffman, blithely dismissed that equally holy area as a “sunbathing deck.” With its recent incursion into the main Kosel plaza, the group has made it clear that it has no interest in avoiding offense, but rather, on the contrary, is committed to being “in the face” of the vast majority of regular visitors to the Kosel for tefillah, whom it views as the enemy.

Part of the recent verbal victory dance was performed by Women of the Wall’s Executive Director, Lesley Sachs, who seized upon the fact that the small scroll, which she said was 200 years old, had likely been written to avoid its seizure by enemies of Jews. “This time,” she explained, it was used to avoid “Jews imposing restrictions on Jews.” That would be the Rav of the Kosel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, and those who, like him, wish for the standards of Jewish tradition to mediate public services at the Kosel.

It wasn’t only the sefer Torah that was conscripted for the cause. So was the bat-mitzvah girl.

The daughter of an immigrant from Russia, she was one of four whose images appeared in recent bus ads in Yerushalayim that were part of Women of the Wall’s campaign to hold such ceremonies at the Kosel. The Hebrew text of one, featuring a young girl in a tallis and holding a Torah, read: “Mom, I too want a bat mitzvah at the Kotel.”

After the celebration, the honoree shared that, amid the merriment, she had become “very emotional” at the Torah-reading, and “just had a lot of fun.” As, from all appearances, did her minders.

Predictably, the mainstream media were full of praise for the successful subterfuge, and the cause in which it was committed. Among the effervescent expressions was a piece by Lexi Erdheim, a rabbinic student at a Reform institution and a “Women of the Wall Intern.”

Ms. Erdheim wrote that she “could only imagine” the “overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment” felt by those who had been fighting for years to obtain “women’s right to free prayer at the Kotel,” and who were finally able to “witness a young girl chant from a sefer torah.”

But she injected a note of reservation, too, since, “despite this momentous occasion, the battle is not over.” Still and all, she wrote, she was, “reminded of a quote from Pirkei Avot: ‘You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it’.”

Another mishnah in Pirkei Avos, though, is more fitting for the occasion of a sefer Torah employed as a PR prop. It was cited well before Ms. Erdheim’s piece appeared, by Leah Aharoni, a co-founder of the mesorah-respecting group “Women For the Wall”: “Rabbi Tzaddok would say… ‘Do not make the Torah a crown to magnify yourself with, or a spade with which to dig’.”

© 2014 Hamodia

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An American Hero Named Elimelech

Have you ever heard of Elimelech Goldberg? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either. [Dr. Elimelech Goldstein, the volunteer medical director of Hatzalah of Baltimore, is a friend and former roommate, but that’s another story entirely.] But if you’re familiar with the Orthodox community, you’ve surely heard of the Chai Lifeline organization, and their incredible Camp Simcha for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Rabbi Goldberg was, for many years, the director of that camp; his first daughter, Sarah, passed away at age 2 after fighting leukemia, so he had a powerful bond with children fighting illness. And he is also a black belt in a style of martial arts… one that you’ve probably never heard of either. But that’s relevant, so bear with me please.

A South Korean man named Kwang Jo Choi was a leading instructor in Tae Kwon Do, which is probably more familiar (and if not, it’s the South Korean version of Karate). He moved to North America in order to find orthopedists to help with injuries suffered as a result, which, he learned, were caused by the way he was performing martial arts. So he created a new style, called Choi Kwang Do, … Read More >>

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TheThree Cardinal Sins of Singing

by Aron White – A Young Writer contribution

Singing is part of many areas of Avodas Hashem. The Gemara refers to a Shul as a “Makom Rina,” and place of singing. The Medrash says that there are 9 songs in Tanach, and a tenth will be sung at the time of Mashiach. At our most special Simchas, our summer camps, our Shabbos tables – music and songs accompany us.

However, sometimes this wonderful way of expressing our emotions is cheapened and misused. Here are the three sins that we currently commit in some of our songs.

Sin One – The totally inappropriate song

Sometimes, in the interest of a good tune, we sing words that are totally inappropriate to the current mood. A great example is a favourite wedding song, Mordechai Ben David`s “Zachreini Na”. As Shimshon sits in captivity of the Pelishtim, his eyes having been gouged out, he prays to Hashem to allow him to go down fighting, and avenge his killers as he dies – “Remember me, and give me strength this one time, and I will avenge (my death) from the Philistines.” (Hashem grants this request, and he brings down the building on top of … Read More >>

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High Holy Days with the Military

by Samantha Hauptman

Rosh Hashana – The head of the year, a time to reflect on the past year and resolve to be more tolerant, more compassionate, and more observant for the year ahead. The new-year offers hope and opportunity. So, when Rabbi David Becker, who is involved in military chaplaincy through Pirchei Shoshanim, asked if we wanted to join him at camp Pendleton for the High Holy Days, I was certainly intrigued.

Rosh Hashana also involves worry about menus and new ways to prepare symbolic foods such as leeks. I shop, cook and clean, and then try to enter the Holiday stress-free with a smile and blessing for each of my children. So, while the idea of Rosh Hashana at a Marine Base sounded highly unconventional, Rabbi Becker was offering the opportunity to leave behind the drudgery of preparing for the holiday and a chance to interact with Jewish Marines, who in all likelihood had never experienced a traditional Orthodox service. Through Pirchei Shoshanim, approximately 60 Orthodox Jews were invited to Camp Pendleton to express our gratitude to the men and women who guarantee our freedom of religion by serving in the United Stated Military.

Each family … Read More >>

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Moral Climate Change

My pre-Sukkos column about the furious, quasi-religious zeal of some environmental alarmists apparently generated some… well, furious, quasi-religious zeal.

In an editorial, the New Jersey Jewish Standard’s managing editor mocked my contention that the Creator is ultimately in charge of the universe He created; and the editor of the New Jersey Jewish News invoked the celebrated atheist Richard Dawkins to berate me for my skepticism about scientific predictions. (What’s with Jersey? Has climate change done a number on its journalists’ equanimity?)

In my column, just to recall, I described my unease with the rage I heard at a large climate change rally, noted that the climate has changed in the past and, yes, contended that, in the end, the Creator is in charge, and our own charge is, above all, to heed His Torah.

I did not, though, call into question the reality of climate change, or in any way disparage measures aimed at trying to curb it. I readily stated that “we do well to explore alternate energy sources and pollute less.” But my sin, alas, was too great to bear.

In addition to the two papers’ public proclamations of my heresy, several Jewish individuals wrote me privately. … Read More >>

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Why I Am Stepping Down From a GPS Beis Din

By Steven Pruzansky

After seven years as head of the Bet Din L’Giyur (the conversion court) in Bergen County, under the auspices of the Beth Din of America and the Gerus Protocol and Standards (GPS) adopted by the RCA in 2007, I have decided to resign from the Bet Din. I sent this missive to my supervisors:

“After much deliberation, I have decided to resign as Rosh Bet Din of the RCBC and step down from the Bet Din itself, effective immediately.

It has been spiritually rewarding to serve in this capacity for the last seven years. I am extremely proud of the professionalism, sensitivity, integrity and fidelity to Halacha of the RCBC Bet Din that I and my colleagues established, and that successfully brought more than 100 gerei Tzedek tachat kanfei hashechina.

In the current climate, with changes to GPS protocols contemplated, it is an appropriate time for new leadership.

I wish you all continued hatzlacha.”

In the current cynical climate, I must append the following. Lest anyone gets the wrong impression, and at the risk of sounding silly and self-serving, suffice it to say that I am not resigning because of any scandal. There … Read More >>

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Looting the Kodesh

by Avrohom Gordimer

Looters have invaded sacred space; the plane in crisis has been hijacked.

Obviously, the Orthodox community must act with extreme care, meticulousness and scrutiny pursuant to the recent startling allegations of highly immoral crimes involving mikveh and conversion on the part of a well-known Modern Orthodox rabbi. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) took immediate action, and so have mikveh associations and synagogues. Undoubtedly, the entire scope of necessary responsive actions that may be needed remains to be seen and would have to be implemented comprehensively and with thorough deliberation.

All steps taken need to be done with the goal of securing the system, protecting all users, and restoring a sense of utmost safety and privacy, rather than with an eye toward dismantling the system and redefining it. Sadly, this has not fully been the case.

Moreover, and seldom discussed, is the need to fortify the atmosphere of sanctity that pertains to mikveh and conversion such that these two holy institutions are not associated with anything base or crass. When a reputation has been unjustifiably sullied, it needs to be restored; when a mitzvah has been publicly associated with lewdness, the import and sacred image … Read More >>

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Elon Musk Can Sleep Easier

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, was quoted yesterday comparing artificial intelligence (AI) to “summoning the demon.” “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I would guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that… With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and… he’s sure he can control the demon? Didn’t work out.” This is not a new sentiment for Musk, who called AI “more dangerous than nukes” earlier this summer.

Could AI truly be an “existential threat” – could computers, intended to help us, instead make us extinct? In theory, yes. Musk referred to HAL 9000, the sentient computer that murdered the crew in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as “a puppy dog” compared to what AI could produce. Colossus: The Forbin Project, the 1970 movie about two supercomputers that took over the world (and nuked a city when not obeyed), enslaving mankind for the “good” of mankind, seems more in line with his concerns.

If Musk has erred, it’s not because he has overestimated the power of consciousness. On … Read More >>

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Kiruv Goes On: the Models Change

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler in his justly famous essay on Sukkos (“Bitul HaYesh”) brings a Midrash that compares our entry into the sukkah to a mini-galus. The Midrash explains why the mitzvah of sukkah follows Yom Kippur: Perhaps the Jewish people have been decreed for galus, exile, (or an extension of the current galus). And if so, perhaps HaKadosh Baruch Hu will accept our leaving our fixed abode to live in the sukkah for seven days in lieu of a full-scale exile.

Thus sukkah is, at some level, an antidote for exile. Rabbi Dessler explains how. Our current galus came about for the sin of sinas chinam, senseless hatred. From a materialistic perspective, which views the world as a limited pie, anyone else’s gain of a larger piece inevitably comes at everyone else’s expense. The primarily relationship between people is as competitors.

Leaving behind the security of our normal dwelling for an insecure, temporary dwelling, forces us to give up some of our reliance on the material and place our trust in Hashem. That move from a material to a spiritual perspective in turn allows us to see our fellow Jews as joined to us in a common spiritual … Read More >>

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Winter High

The wishes of “git vinter!” customary in some communities after Shemini Atzeres might put some people in mind of fall’s end weeks hence, and give them a chill. Not me.

I’m decidedly in the minority when it comes to the seasons of the year (as I am, as an aficionado of early morning, when it comes to the times of the day). While I’m thrilled with the onset of each new season, appreciating the changes that I didn’t fully experience during the several years I spent in California, winter is my favorite season.

Not that I like shoveling snow any more than anyone else. But there’s something about the rolling in of a massive cold front that – how can I say it? – warms my heart (if not my hands). To me, the frigid cold is exciting, inspiring. Besides, watching snow fall from a warm place through a window and running chilled hands under a warm stream of water are distinct pleasures of their own.

What’s more, winter is symbolic of childhood.

You didn’t know that? Neither did I, at least until I found the thought in the Maharal’s Gur Aryeh supercommentary on Rashi (Beraishis 26:34); it is … Read More >>

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Fixing The Damaging Messages We Are Teaching Women And Girls

by Leslie Ginsparg Klein

“Orthodox women should have a job, not a career.” That is the message that frum girls are hearing at home and throughout their education. I’ve heard it repeated by my students, graduates of Bais Yaakov high schools and seminaries, who use it as a guiding principle. Words are powerful and words have significance. These words, and their implicit meaning, are damaging to women and our community. I implore parents and educators to stop using them.

In Pirkei Avos (1:11), the Mishnah warns us of the importance of being meticulous in the language that we use, particularly when we are in a leadership role. “Chachamim hizharu bidvareichem,” (Scholars, be careful with your words.) Rav Hirsch explains that this warning is directed at teachers and those who are guiding others in life. They need to take care not to use language that is “inaccurate, vague or ambiguous and may inspire erroneous views.” I fear this is exactly what is happening today with regards to guiding girls and women in their professional choices.

Why does it matter whether we call work a job or a career? What do people mean when they make that differentiation? Within sections … Read More >>

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Viewing One Another with a Favorable Eye

Just before Rosh Hashanah, Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of Yaakov Naftali Fraenkel, one the three murdered yeshiva students, issued a video message through Aish.com to the entire Jewish people. She recounted very briefly the torture of the18 days of searching for her son and Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaer: The parents knew almost from the beginning that their sons had almost certainly been murdered, and yet they maintained stoic countenances, filled with faith, throughout. Their nobility awed the entire nation.

Her message, however, was not about what the parents suffered or about the irreparable hole in their hearts. Rather she focused on those “amazing hours” of which it was said, “We went out searching for the boys and we discovered ourselves.” She likened those days to a flash of lightning on a dark and gloomy night that illuminates the way forward: “We had days and days of lightning. . . . [W]e saw about ourselves that we are part of something huge, a people, a true family. That’s for real.”

Mrs. Fraenkel knows that it is not all kumbaya moments ahead of us, and that we will return to old patterns – indeed we already have. Yet, she insists, … Read More >>

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Misplaced Zeal

The powerful swell of voices on Broadway, thirteen stories below Agudath Israel’s offices, did more than disturb my concentration. A thousand people were blocking traffic and loudly chanting in unison, the roar less redolent of “Hashem hu ho’Elokim!” at Neila’s end than of what I imagine “Kill the Jews!” must have sounded like during pogroms. Which was ironic, considering that, in light of the cause and location, a large number of the shouters were likely Jewish.

The “Flood Wall Street” event was but a weak echo of what had taken place a day earlier, when an estimated 300,000 people (including members of close to 100 Jewish groups, parts of the “Jewish Climate Campaign”), participated in the “People’s Climate March” on the West Side of Manhattan. But the smaller demonstration was large enough and loud enough for me. I had to wonder what made the chanting seem so sinister.

It may have had to do with something the late writer Michael Crichton famously asserted, that people “have to believe in something that gives meaning” to their lives, and that “environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists.” (And, I’d add, even for some who may believe in … Read More >>

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The “Shabbos App” is a Farce

It is true that the “Shabbos App” has attracted a great deal of attention and discussion. Personally, I am waiting for the prankster to come forward and explain that this was all designed to make Orthodox Jews look bad by demonstrating their focus on … what, precisely, I’m not sure. Probably that we care about Shabbos at all, and are distressed by those teens in many communities who are unable to set aside their phones when required by Halacha. But we’ll get to that eventually. The simple fact of the matter is that this whole thing is a farce, and of course we have yet to see anyone pony up $49.95 to get their (non-working) copy and prove me right or wrong. And I’m pretty sure I’m right. Rabbosai, you’ve all been fooled.

Let’s look at the evidence, which falls into four basic categories: the announcement, the website, the video, and the backers.

The Announcement They claim they’ll release it in February. If it takes that long to build this (which it shouldn’t), there’s no need to start marketing it so far in advance. The promised final version will cost $49.95, which is extraordinarily high for an app, much … Read More >>

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Why I Love Rav Shmuel – And Will Advocate Vaccination Nonetheless

There is no contradiction. Anyone who finds one has targeted a straw man.

I have had the benefit of association with three generations of Kamenetskys. They have never, ever let me down when I have turned to them for guidance and insight.

The short but meaningful times I spent with both Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l provided the bases of a lifetime of confidence in the halachic system, and in the concept of emunas chachamim.

Making the transition from a fairly black yeshiva to teaching at a West Coast institution with the name YU just would not have happened without Rav Yaakov reassuring me that it was a good move. I am still in awe of the precision and focus of a man well into his eighties, late at night, as I drove him from Brooklyn to his home in Monsey. Watching and listening to him provided unshakeable evidence that mussar could work – that the visions of R Yisrael Salanter and the Alter of Slabodka were no pipe dream.

Lehavdil bein chaim le-chaim, Rav Shmuel continued the trademark smile of his father, as well as copious advice, to me and to all my … Read More >>

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What’s (Shabbos) App?

Yielding to the many who have asked for my take on the now-infamous Shabbos app, here is the quick and dirty version:

It does not do what its developers say it does – “The Shabbos App will give all Yidden a way to keep Shabbos with all the chumrahs.” Not only does it fail to address all or many chumros, it does not address many issues of ikkar ha-din. By that I mean real, normative issurim. We don’t even have to go to “spirit of Shabbos” halachos, which also happen to be binding.

For some people, using the app will be worse than texting without it.

The notion that a time-delay turns an action into a grama is wrong on two counts. Grama is still forbidden mi-derabbanan – not as a chumra. And there is little to support the notion that a delay in an action manifesting its desired consequence makes it a grama.

Without providing much detail, consider the melachah of tzeidah according to the Rambam (Shabbos 10:22), where temporarily causing a deer to freeze out of fright is chayav mi-dorayso when it delays a hunting dog (after a delay!) to seize it. Or removing oil from … Read More >>

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In Brief:

Statement from Agudath Israel of America on this morning’s massacre of mispallelim in Har Nof

-- 11:26 am

This morning’s barbaric murder in Har Nof, Jerusalem of four Jews has left all caring people reeling – the tears are pouring this morning and our hearts are full of pain.

This vicious attack on people wearing tallis and tefillin and immersed in tefilla is ugly testimony to the depth of evil faced by Jews in Israel and the world over, in the form of brutal terrorists who revel in the killing of innocents.

The celebration of the murders in Gaza and elsewhere reiterates the despicable nature of those who wish the Holy Land to be Judenrein.

When cold-blooded murderers attack a makom Torah u’tefila in the Eretz Ha’kodesh, it is incumbent upon all of us to strengthen ourselves in Torah and tefila on behalf of our dear brethren in the Eretz Ha’kodesh. Imahem anachnu b’tzara.

We are mispallel that those who were injured in this brutal attack have a refuah shlaimah.

Our hearts go out to the families, particularly the almanos and the 26 innocent yesomim who lost their fathers – true kedoshim, holy men killed because they were Jews, who died with Jewish prayers on their lips.

May the families of the murdered, Rabbi Moshe Twersky, hy”d, Rabbi Kalman Levine, hy”d; Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, hy”d, and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, hy”d, be comforted amid the mourners of Tzion v’Yrushalayim.

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Ebola and Metzitza Bipeh

-- 10:07 am

Part of a message from the Medical Society of the State of New York to local physicians reads as follows:

“Strategies to limit the potential for [Ebola] transmission… should be based on the best available medical, scientific and epidemiological evidence; be proportional to the risk; balance the rights of individuals and the community…”

One has to wonder whether strategies to limit the potential of the transmission of other viruses, like New York City’s strategy of regulating ritual circumcision, are similarly “proportional to the risk.”

Or do religious practices for some reason enjoy less protection than secular ones?

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The Big Bang Contradicts Physics, not Religion

-- 7:12 pm

Pope Francis is in the news today, for having “sided with science” and against creationists — by endorsing the Big Bang Theory. According to these articles, his statement was “revolutionary” and “embraces modern science.”

As far as saying that the universe is billions of years old, or that creatures evolved, this could be true — though even there, he said that it could not have happened without Divine Intervention. When it comes to the Big Bang, however, these articles neatly turn the truth on its head.

Put simply, the Big Bang Theory violates the known laws of physics. This “Big Bang,” a point of energy that formed the universe — from where did it come? How was it formed? How did this energy and matter form, to then explode outwards? There are various conjectures and speculations to explain what might have happened, but what we know about astrophysics and thermodynamics doesn’t involve nothingness exploding into energy and matter.

In fact, the term “Big Bang” was placed upon the theory by a prominent astronomer who, like most of his colleagues, believed in a “steady state” universe with no known beginning. The majority belief in steady state persisted until detection of the cosmic microwave background radiation, a remnant of the Big Bang, proved in 1964 that the universe was expanding from a beginning point.

If anything, Pope Francis merely recognized that physicists have come to agree with the Biblical account. The Big Bang theory was proposed by Monseigneur Georges LeMaitre, a Catholic priest, and in 1951 Pope Pius XII declared it entirely consistent with Catholic belief.

But in actuality, the theory doesn’t belong to Monseigneur LeMaitre, either. The Ramba”n [Nachmanides] on Genesis 1:1 states that the universe began as a single point of pure energy, having the power to form all matter. If one reads it without knowing it’s the Ramba”n, it sounds like a clear lay description of the Big Bang.

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Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg – CNN Hero, and Mine

-- 2:28 am

In a large mosque in Detroit hangs a plaque honoring Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg. That will give you just an inkling of the Kiddush Hashem that Rabbi G (as he is affectionately called) has created for decades in cities, hospitals, universities, and corporate installations throughout the US and abroad. He has now made the final cut in the annual CNN Heroes competition. Making it to the top ten contenders will itself bolster the image of the frum Jew as people read his amazing accomplishments while viewing his bearded visage crowned with a large black yarmulke.

Like Avraham Avinu whom the Torah describes as “vayakam…me’al pnei meiso,” R Goldberg took the loss of his infant Soro Basya to leukemia as a signal to move on to even greater accomplishment. Coupling his background in the martial arts with his huge reservoir of compassion and empathy, R Goldberg developed a program that teaches children to manage their pain, while giving them a sense of meaning and purpose as they then teach these techniques to others – including corporate executives. He has been featured in dozens of stories on network television and magazines like People. (The most recent coverage was in The Forward, where you can get more details.) He has managed to build up his chesed project while also serving as the camp rabbi at Camp Simcha for many years, rabbi emeritus of Young Israel of Southfield, Daf Yomi magid shiur, and clinical professor at a Detroit medical school.

With all the tarnishing of the image of the frum Jew in the last years, R Goldberg’s candidacy affords us a wonderful opportunity to burnish it in the eyes of millions. Which is why I intend, B”N, to vote for him twice a day (once by email; once by Facebook; this is both allowed and encouraged by the rules) at the official site. I encourage you to do the same – for the sake of all the kids that he will reach with the prize money, and for the purpose of providing a glimpse of the deracheha darchei noam that a Torah Jew can bring to our troubled world.

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“Personal Torah”

-- 10:25 pm

A recent announcement by a respected Conservative rabbi has been trumpeted widely as evidence of his heroism. My take is somewhat different, and was published, to the periodical’s credit, by the Forward. You can read it here

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Yom Kippur Shiur Available For Download

-- 11:27 pm

My annual Yom Kippur shiur is available for download. It was given earlier today to a gathering of women in Los Angeles, and comes in three sections, for reasons explained, within the shuir. The first is a large part of the Nesivos Shalom’s section Avodas Hashem, reduced to a list of bullet points. The middle section is a hodgepodge of shorter vertlach on Yom Kippur and teshuva. The last part is a maamar of Pachad Yitzchok.

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Letter in NYT

-- 9:03 pm

To the Editor:

Dr. Barron H. Lerner concedes that it was proper for medicine to abandon the medical paternalism that had doctors make “life-and-death decisions for patients by themselves,” but he asserts that doctors should be “bolder and more courageous,” seeing “their duty not simply as providing options” but as ensuring “the most appropriate care,” even if that means “saying no to specific demands.”

To be sure, patients and their families need to be well informed about treatments and prognoses. But it is not a doctor’s role to make ultimate decisions for his patients.

Dr. Lerner doesn’t like interventions that have “little or no chance of succeeding.” No one, though, has yet succeeded in surviving life indefinitely. And decisions about when, if ever, to give up on it are the province of patients and their religious advisers, not graduates of medical schools.

(Rabbi) AVI SHAFRAN
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, Sept. 19, 2014

Other letters on the topic can be read here.

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Jewish Action – Fall Issue

-- 3:30 am

Ask six frum Jews (of various genders) what they recommend as Elul reading, and you should get about 57 opinions, right? Jewish Action tried this, and the results are published in the Fall issue.

As one of the respondants, I was delighted to see that half of us went with recognized works of major baalei machshavah, which was the route that I described as working best for me. Within that group, only two seforim were chosen by more than one respondant: Sifsei Chaim, and Nesivos Shalom.

This provides a great opportunity for unvarnished self-promotion of my own adaptation of Nesivos Shalom (for those who are just not going to use the Hebrew original, which is the best way to go). Just in case anyone has forgotten.

You can order easily online here or on Amazon. It comes with a great cover.

Nesivos-Shalom-cover

 

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Burdened By The Times?

-- 2:45 pm

by Lawrence Reisman

I must confess that I read The New York Times regularly. Outside of the Middle East, I find the coverage to be fairly complete, in line with my biases, and even willing to contradict my preconceived notions now and then. More often than its detractors give it credit for, it will report when the liberal platitudes are simply not working. But enough of defending The Times. When it comes to Israel and the Mideast, I find its biases annoying. Mostly though, I live with them. I can see through what they’re saying, and I have no trouble finding alternative sources of information. So, most of the time, I live with it.

There comes a time when the biases of The Times are too much, even for me. In a recent review of Lawrence Wright’s Thirteen Days in September (about the 1979 Camp David accords), the reviewer started off with the following:

On March 11, 1978, 11 Palestinian militants came ashore in Zodiac boats north of Tel Aviv and set about murdering as many Israelis as they could with guns and grenades. They hijacked a taxi and two buses; 38 were killed, including 13 children. The massacre was intended as a provocation; a disproportionate Israeli response was assumed.

Please notice how those who “set about murdering as many Israelis as they could,” are referred to as “militants.” All right, it’s not politically correct to use the word “terrorist” anymore, or maybe it is? Further on in the article, praising the author for showing Menachem Begin in a less negative light than he would like, the reviewer refers to Begin as a “former terrorist.” So an Israeli leader, about to abandon his vow never to give up the Sinai and make peace with Egypt is a “former terrorist,” while those who massacred (The Times’s word) 38 Israelis are only militants? The obvious and unabashed double standard is too much for even me.

I have written The New York Times Book Review calling attention to this linguistic imbalance. I would appreciate it if others would as well.

Lawrence M. Reisman is a certified public accountant and attorney working in New York City. His articles on Jewish subjects have been published in the New York Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, The Jerusalem Report, and The Jewish Observer.

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How Technological Machers Limit Consumption To Their Kids

-- 12:17 am

This article in the New York Times is not to be missed. Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids have iPads.

The money quote from Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired regarding his five children, aged 6 to 17:

My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules. That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.

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Two For Elul

-- 11:23 pm

Two poetic images from Cross-Currents’ resident poet, Rabbi Yossi Huttler

Yemei Ratzon(Elul) – Tefilin, Mezuzos, Neshomos

Casings and bodies
opened up
S/scribe scrutinizing
sacred letters within
for imperfections and omissions
judging the living
parchment whether so flawed
to be consigned genizah
or repairable enough
to merit longer life

Altarnate

running to You
ensnared by thickets
of my own gnarling
still deem me worthy
even a mere substitute
offering

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The Israeli Seminary Scandal

-- 4:28 am

We’ve stayed out of it, because we had nothing particularly insightful to add. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, who has been a fearless crusader against abuse in general, does have some special insight, and has been very much involved in the unfolding of the story. A few paragraphs taken from his recent blog post are so critical that they must be spread far and wide:

1) As nashim tzidkaniyos (righteous women) who, at great personal risk, did the right thing to protect others from what had happened to them?

2) As troublemakers and m’saprei lashon ha’ra (gossip-mongers), who ruined the career of Rabbi Meisels and jeopardized the very existence of the seminaries?

3) Or they are not mentioned at all – basically, “Let’s-Not-Spoil-the-Party-by-discussing-sordid-things-like-this.” (In the month of Elul, no less)

My dear friends, we at Project YES feel very strongly that the only responsible position for the leadership and faculty of these seminaries (and all seminaries) is to take option #1.

We propose that option #2 and even #3 are unacceptable as they send a very dangerous message — should current or future students have their boundaries violated, the wisest and safest route for them, would be to remain silent.

This is the quintessential “teachable moment” to educate our innocent and sheltered young ladies about hilchos yichud and their right to personal space. They also need to be taught that it is not a violation of hilchoslashon ha’ra to speak up, if these boundaries are violated in any way. Quite to the contrary, they should be informed that they are obligated to do so – and assured that they will be supported unconditionally when they do so.

Giving the young ladies messages contrary to these — either by commission or omission — after such a public scandal occurred, will create a toxic and unsafe environment for them both physically and spiritually.

We write these lines to encourage the current leadership of these seminaries, and to the educators in all high schools and seminaries, to convey these critical messages to their students, and to empower the parents of the students to insist that they do.

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27 Comments