So They Don’t Really Want To Stamp Out Torah, After All

You are going to have to read this excerpt from an article by Dov Lipman, even if he is unpopular with much of our readership, especially since he is only quoting Mishpacha. It appears in today’s Times of Israel. Don’t hug the messenger if you don’t want, but don’t shoot him either.

The Haredi newspaper, Mishpacha, sponsored a poll to determine the attitudes of secular Israelis towards Haredim. They hired one of Israel’s top pollsters, Mina Tzemach, to do the research.

Here are some of the results:

1) 72% of secular Israelis believe that the Haredim do not contribute to the Jewish nature of Israel.
2) 67% believe that the IDF is obligated to provide Haredim who serve with all of their religious
needs to make sure that their lifestyle is not impacted negatively by their army service.
3) 82% are willing to hire Haredim to work in their companies.
4) 93% believe that there must be dialogue between the secular and Haredim to preserve unity in Israeli society.
5) 52% feel that Haredim and secular living side by side in the same areas will lead to better
relationships between these populations.
6) 77% know Haredim personally and 83% have a favorable outlook towards the Haredim who
they do know.
7) Among those who live in neighborhoods with Haredim, 77% say that the Haredim do not disturb
their lives in any way.
8) 91% want to make sure that Israel preserves its Jewish identity, 89% believe that Israeli
children must be familiar with Jewish tradition, and 50% feel that the education system is not doing enough to preserve these beliefs.
9) 92% have a mezuzah on their front doors.

Hatred towards Haredim? Want Haredim to be less religious? Despise Torah and mitzvot? One
professional poll has dispelled all these myths about secular Israel and should be a wake-up call to the entire Haredi establishment.

Lest anyone think that this is my assessment as member of Knesset in the Yesh Atid party, I will quote from Rabbi Moshe Grylak, editor of Mishpacha…”

Rabbi Grylak writes: “To admit the truth, we were stunned. If this poll is correct, we have been living all the time with a mistake. We were sure that the average secular Israeli despised us. Not only that, but we in the Haredi media in partnership with the Haredi politicians, spread this feeling and spoke about it over and over, all the time. And behold, this beautiful structure falls apart
.
Behold, it has become clear, that the truth is different: Most and close to all don’t hate. An elite minority, perhaps, hates, but this is not the lot of the majority. The majority has no interest in us at all. They don’t have hatred, they don’t have love, they are simply indifferent. We are a black hole. They pass Bnei Brak and have zero curiosity to enter its streets, our kitchens, our living rooms, or our Torah institutions What does this say to us and about us? Why are we not a source of inspiration? What is flawed about us in that which we are not succeeding to spread to the greater society? We must change approaches and the way we look at one another. We must stop fortifying ourselves behind mistaken walls and change paths. We must feel a sense of ‘shlichut, messengers to Israeli society….simply because this is the Jewish way: To be a model and example.”

I could say, “I hate to say ‘I told you so,’” but it wouldn’t be true. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful Pesach bonus if a few people correctly understood the implications of this poll, as Rabbi Grylak clearly does?

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The Tikvah Yeshiva Fellowships – Exciting New Program

Friday saw the launch of a program that will be exciting to yeshiva men with unfulfilled intellectual leanings, to Klal Yisrael, and to this author, who will be given an opportunity to pay back a debt many decades old.

The Tikvah Fund (TF) announced that it is now accepting candidate applications for the Tikvah Yeshiva Fellowship Program, to be held August 10-17 at the Glen Cove Mansion on Long Island. The program is designed for talmidei yeshivos between the ages of 20-30 who are possessed of enough intellectual curiosity to want to spend a week with some stellar presenters from both the Torah and secular communities, exploring issues of the relationship of the Torah Jew to the betterment of general society.

The Tikvah Fund, in its own words, “ [is]aimed at men and women who wish to influence the intellectual, religious, and political life of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” It leans heavily to classic conservative thinking on political and economic issues. To help create a new generation of Jewish leadership, it organizes seminars and fellowships that bring icons of American intellectual achievement to talented Jewish participants. The current list of presenters at one of its programs includes Ruth Wisse, Yuval Levin, Walter Russell Mead (a Jonathan Rosenblum favorite!), and Elliot Abrams. Wanting to be fully inclusive, TF has tried recruiting Orthodox participants, and understood that charedi participants might have their own needs. It reached out to Rabbi Mayer Schiller and myself to help craft the special program that will run this August. (Rabbi Schiller is a rebbi at Bais Shraga in Monsey and at MTA in Manhattan, the author of one of the first books on the teshuvah movement, a former resident of New Square (he upgraded to Monsey), and the celebrated and successful coach of the MTA hockey team.)

We hope to expose Tikvah Yeshiva Fellows to topics and the thought of Torah personalities that are often not part of the typical yeshiva curriculum. Faculty is in formation, but already includes a young chassidishe talmid chacham who wrote a powerful examination of attitudes towards non-Jews that appeared in the chassidishe journal Paamonim, and another who completed an entire sefer on the matter. The secular faculty will include people similar to Ryan Anderson and Phillip Munoz, who are already committed.

Completing the program will be a mark of distinction in seeking future employment, and will hone verbal and written communications skills. It will yield , BE”H, dividends to Klal Yisrael as a whole, by hopefully inspiring young people to become leaders of their communities, and better advocates for Torah principles within the larger society that surrounds us. A generation or so, young people got “hooked” on working for the tzibbur through their contact with those who devoted themselves to the klal, and through some experience volunteering for such work. As the yeshiva experience tightened the restrictions on all outside activity, we lost the greater part of our feeder system of leadership. Identifying young people with an extraordinary sense of curiosity and exciting it for a week just may be enough to jump-start future involvement with the work of imagining a Torah future proactively, rather than only responding to crises as they occur.

For me, this is a wonderful opportunity to try to pay back some of the investment of time and energy of a few of my great mentors. Besides all of my important rabbeim, two “chance” encounters with incredibly gifted people shaped the rest of my life. In one, I was picked up while hitchhiking in the Catskills by Rav Nachman Bulman zt”l; in the other, I was bowled over by a presentation by Rav Aryeh Kaplan zt”l at an NCSY event. In both cases, a single exposure to depth and articulation that I was not used to led to many years of tutelage and inspiration. Many of us stand in awe at the explosive growth of the Torah community in the last decades, but often find a monotony and sameness in many of its members. We realize that people haven’t changed; only the circumstances of their education. The same seforim that turned us on can do the same for others. We just need to find ways to bring those seforim to young people who have not seen them. At least for me, the Tikvah Yeshiva Fellowships will serve as a serious attempt at determining whether this will work.

Applications and more information are available online. All expenses of the resident program are paid by the Tikvah Fund, and a modest stipend for participation is also provided. The deadline for applications is May 31.

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More on the Charedi Draft

I had this as a comment to Rabbi Landesman’s post, but Rabbi Adlerstein encouraged me to elevate it to a post unto itself. He did say that Rabbi Landesman may go “a second round” as well — so let me say now that much as I might wish to continue, it is already known in the Menken house that my study, which is the one room that is my sole responsibility to clean, is also the last to be ready for bedikas chametz. Should Rabbi Landesman wish to have it, I’ll have to surrender the last word.

Nonetheless, what Rabbi Landesman appears to have overlooked is that the problem of the day is neither motzi dibat ha’Aretz nor motzi dibat ha-medinah, but rather, motzi dibat ha-haredim l’dvar HaShem, the bad-mouthing of the Charedim who, on advice of their Gedolim, continue not to go into the Army. Rabbi Landesman seems to level no criticism against those who reside outside our world yet critique it (often in the most bizarre fashion) at every occasion, including the present one — on the contrary, he only seems to find fault with those of us in Chutz L’Aretz who presume to defend the position of the Gedolim (and the members of the Moetzos in question, at last count, do all reside in Eretz Yisrael).

Based on interaction between Rabbi Landesman and myself, I believe it reasonable to conclude that, in both appearance and in fact, I was one of those criticized for playing armchair quarterback — residing in Chutz L’Aretz (a decision made due to the needs of my Kiruv work) yet commenting upon situations in Israel based upon “hearsay evidence, isolated incidents or the agenda driven reporting of the chareidi and non-chareidi press.”

I’m sure Rabbi Landesman recalls that he and I disagreed on the situation in Emanuel — up until the government sent a Yemenite Rabbi to jail for racism and the farce of the entire enterprise was revealed. By that time, the sources for my research and the first-person accounts were well known. In this case, let me just say that Rabbi Landesman does not know my sources, what I know, or how I know it — but none of “hearsay,” “isolated incidents” or “agenda-driven reporting” apply.

Rabbi Landesman writes that he is “deeply troubled by the total self-denial characteristic of many elements in the yeshiva world that we – the chareidi world of which I consider myself a member in good standing – may well be at least partially at fault for the success of Yair Lapid and his cohorts.” I’m going to return to something I wrote in reply to Rabbi Landesman almost precisely four years ago:

One thing I can tell you with certainty: we are not viewed with antipathy because of our failures; we are viewed with antipathy because of our successes. How do I know? Simple: 25 years ago, today’s problems were barely on the radar, yet the antipathy was much the same. If anything has changed, it is that the Chinuch Atzmai schools are blossoming, attracting ever more non-religious Israeli families to “abandon” the secular system. It is that the Rabbi of the Western Wall is now able to preserve Jewish practice at our holiest site. It is that the number of those serving the Jewish people in the halls of a yeshiva rather than on a military base increases every year, rather than dying on the vine as the Zionists expected (Despite the Charedi Nachal units, with their apparently very positive history of discipline and performance).

The supporters of Lapid are not a new breed. His father, Shulamit Aloni, and others were decrying charedi parasites a generation ago. And people of good will in both the IDF and the charedi community were trying to find a mutually-acceptable solution — thus the start of Nahal Charedi, despite all its problems and rough patches.

We seem to agree that Nachal was designed with “young men who did not find their place in the olam hayeshivot” in mind. A close relative (whose son contemplated joining Nachal) put it that the program attracts the same sort of yeshiva dropouts being supported by yeshiva-work and other study programs in America which help yeshiva boys to not drop out completely. This matches closely an article in Times of Israel which appeared after several MKs invited a cluster of reporters to observe the “largest-yet draft of ultra-Orthodox soldiers.” The reporter dryly observed that “those glimpsed entering the base… did not appear to have left a very observant yeshiva in the recent past” [the accompanying photo explains nicely], and quoted another as having told the MKs that “The army is running a program that brings (wayward ultra-Orthodox) back into a fold, and that’s very nice, but there were no ultra-Orthodox drafted today.”

I know where I’ve done my research, and where I haven’t. But it is my understanding that the past draft to which Rabbi Landesman refers, “wherein Netzach was forced to create a second battalion,” preceded the current draft law, which only passed a month ago. [UPDATE: I wrote this hurriedly on Friday, and didn't have time to find what I'd recalled seeing. Joe Hill's comment links to an article on YNet which flatly contradicts the statement that "Netzach continues to grow despite the brouhaha."] But even so, we seem to be in agreement that due to rough language and other influences, even the Nachal Charedi program is not a great environment for “good” yeshiva boys.

Has there been another Kol Isha incident, of the kind that caused the Chief Rabbi of the IAF, Lt. Moshe Ravad, to resign from the Shachar IAF program due to its broken promises? Perhaps not. But Tzippy Diskind Yarom has documented thirteen recent incidents which, in her words, indicate that “the Army is not prepared for Charedim, does not want Charedim, and does not want them [to be] Charedim.” The list has been translated by Israel Matzav, and I suggest a careful perusal by anyone who believes I was relying upon hearsay or isolated incidents. Soldiers of Nachal Charedi were taken to observe a baptism and an all-day “educational seminar” in a church, placed in courses with women, and required to choose between making a kitchen kosher on their own time or eating treif. And in a throw-back to the good old days, several had their payos shaven off. Would Rabbi Landesman honestly have us believe that these are merely “problems” opposite “a great deal of good will and desire to remove all of the obstacles?”

All of the above explains the position of the Gedolim that, as HaRav Aharon Feldman shlit”a stated, IDF service is at present a situation of spiritual pikuach nefesh. I suppose his words, as well, could be set aside as those of a “chutz-nik,” as he is now the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel and member of the American Moetzes following some 5 decades in Israel — but I don’t think his words should be so cavalierly dismissed.

There were, and remain, many opportunities for measured and intelligent change — all of which cannot happen while under fire. There was agreement from the Gedolim that they could understand the State reducing financial support of yeshivos, but not criminalization of students. Shaked herself did not want the criminalization clause, outside experts on our community warned it would be counter-productive, and Lapid quite deliberately declared war against the idea of students sitting in yeshiva. Let’s agree that is what he did. Before you have a treaty, you have to have a cease-fire, and right now Lapid is up on the ramparts with guns blazing.

I’d like to polish this further, but Shabbos is also too close at hand!

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A Letter From a Troubled Charedi Father

Dovid Landesman

My late rebbi, Rav Dov Schwartzman z”l, once told me that the essence of the sin of the spies dispatched by Moshe is that they were motzi dibat ha-aretz in chutz la-aretz [they defamed the Land of Israel at a time when they were outside that land]. I can very well understand those who would contend that there is a substantial difference between motzi dibat ha-aretz and motzi dibat ha-medinah; nevertheless, I am profoundly disturbed by the postings and comments – and even more so by the tone – of those
who permanently reside in the Diaspora and choose to analyze the questions and challenges raised by the current draft situation in EY based on hearsay evidence, isolated incidents or the agenda driven reporting of the chareidi and non-chareidi press.

Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the total self-denial characteristic of many elements in the yeshiva world that we – the chareidi world of which I consider myself a member in good standing – may well be at least partially at fault for the success of Yair Lapid and his cohorts. The question of national service is not new and has been festering in Israeli society for decades. A percentage of avreichim who chose to leave kollel or bachurim who chose to leave yeshivot found the means in the past to fulfill their national obligations. But many did not do so and chose to remain registered as toratam umnutom – with the full co-operation of the yeshivot – long after they had left full time residency in the beit midrash. The resentment that they engendered in both the chiloni and dati world is, to my mind, the source of the strange pact between Bennet and Lapid.

Is it difficult to be a chareidi in the IDF? Yes, it is, but as far as I know that is not a heter for avoiding the draft. Many years ago, at the petichah of Ponovezh’s annual Yarchei Kallah, Rav Shach zt”l spoke forcefully against those who are registered in yeshivot but are not learning. He specifically declared that they should enlist without mentioning that doing so would present challenges. Enlisting in the IDF twenty or thirty years ago was far more difficult than it is today. There were compromises that had to be made – but the bachurim in Chevron who chose to enlist before the Six Day War – some of whom are prominent roshei yeshiva today – never heard Rav Chatzkel Sarne tell them that they were on the road to shmad.

As the father of a young man who served for three years in Netzach Yehudah, and as a friend [and relative] of those responsible for creating the unit, I feel duty-bound to reply to some of the allegations made and inferred in some of the posts and comments. First of all, Netzach continues to grow despite the brouhaha surrounding the current controversy. The past draft created a situation wherein Netzach was forced to create a second battalion.

It is important to understand that Netzach was not the creation of the roshei yeshiva, the Chassidic world, the Va’ad ha-Yeshivot or the politicians ostensibly representing the chareidi world. The same is true of the Shachar units in the airforce and military intelligence designed for young married avreichim who find it necessary to leave kollel for a variety of reasons. The Netzach battalion was founded by a number of apolitical askanim involved in working with young men who did not find their place in the olam hayeshivot. They recognized that the lack of a suitable framework and structure for these young men was a disaster. Never has Netzach attempted to woo students from the beit midrash. But it should be clear that to characterize the battalion as a haven for shababnikim is to besmirch fine young bnei
Torah who have chosen an alternative path.

The non-chareidi commanders and officers of Netzach continue to do everything to make the idea
work. Yes there are problems as is true of any organizational framework asked to change long standing policies. But in my discussions with the rabbanim of Netzach I am told that there is a great deal of good will and desire to remove all of the obstacles. Netzach soldiers continue to be sent to officer training courses but have you heard even one new incident of being forced to listen to kol isha? I can tell you that at the recent celebration of the founding of the Kfir division to which Netzach is attached, the officers in charge of the program arranged that no women sing so that the Netzach soldiers could participate fully even though their commander had assured the officers that they would simply absent themselves from that part of the program.

Sadly, I cannot say that I see the same good will in the chareidi world. I cannot fathom how prominent rebbes and roshei yeshiva publicly declare that no-one – learning or not learning – will serve, and reinforce their positions by raising images of Cantonistim while spewing rhetoric about g’zeirot shmad.

Our community needs to do some hard thinking as to where we are headed and how we see ourselves within the jurisdiction of a sovereign state. In many ways we have made a Kiddush Hashem in Israeli society. Yad Sarah and Ezer mi-Tzion, to name but two of the many service organizations serving the entire Israeli population, have changed the attitudes of many to the chareidi world. But there are a number of gestures that we could easily make that would change the atmosphere immensely.

Imagine the impression that would be created if one of the gedolim came to the swearing-in ceremony of Netzach and exhorted the young men to be m’kadesh shem shamayim. Imagine how powerful the message would have been had the recent tefillah asifah closed with a mi-shebeirach for the soldiers and police who risk their lives to make it possible for us to live in relative security. M’at min ha-or docheh harbei min hachoshech – a little bit of love dispels much darkness. Similarly, a bit of ahavat Yisrael can eradicate the sinah that is so rampant.

Rabbi Dovid Landesman is a magid shiur at Yeshiva Tifferet Yerushalayim

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At Least Some Of Us Can All Get Along

I know that I am not alone in feeling that the last few weeks have been particularly trying to yeshiva-educated people who nonetheless recoil from some of its rhetoric, and all of the divisiveness that it has generated. Witnessing a different model helps restore some optimism for the future.

I was privileged to experience a different spirit a week ago when I served as scholar in residence at the BAYT in Thornhill, Ontario. Its physical size would predict that it belongs in Texas, not Toronto. (It is the largest shul in Canada, and I believe the second largest anywhere in North America. Joe Tannenbaum a”h who knew a few things about construction designed it large.) That translates into over 800 member families, nine different minyanim on Shabbos morning. Enough people come together at mincha on Shabbos to rate as an asifa. The building brings together members of a black kollel and a white kollel, who get along with each other and even participate in joint events.

As a visiting speaker, I am sensitive to the varied personalities of communities and shuls. There are places where people will come over and tell you how great you were, even when you know you were off your mark. There are communities where you can turn in a stellar performance, but no one will think of telling you that. A more common reaction is that people will line up to talk to you, but only if they can play the game of Jewish Geography, letting you know to whom they are related by blood or business.

The BAYT was none of the above. It stood out for friendliness – especially for a large shul. People came over just to say “Good Shabbos,” or “Shabbat Shalom,” or “Welcome,” even if they had nothing else to say about the drashah or shiur. Maybe it has something to do with playing hockey.

It is hard to know whether the friendliness of the people makes it easier to keep the different subgroups working together under one roof, or it is the togetherness that keeps people on the friendly side. Whatever, observing in one shul so many different groups and modes of head-covering is inspiring. Black hats, kipot serugot, and beketches. These are not groups of non-opinionated wimps. To the contrary, strong factional preferences are very much alive. Among other things, I got pushback for some of the things I spoke about. Nonetheless, those factions do not walk out and make Shabbos for themselves.

The pushback came at my major presentation, on the subject of what I call “the third way.” I presented an analysis of changes in both the modern Orthodox community, and in the haredi community, and how those changes created a void in the middle that is becoming populated with people no longer fully comfortable with either of the two traditional options. I then spoke of the cardinal values of this group, and how they differed from some current practice, but are consistent with the mesorah of other Torah personalities of not so long ago. One person dismissed my presentation as the product of “right-wing YU,” which essentially proved my point, since I never attended YU: this new group in the middle brings together those who grew up in parts of the haredi world with those in the more Torah-oriented parts of the YU world.

The BAYT was the house that Rabbi Baruch Taub (whom I had the pleasure to serve under in my NCSY days) built, and he deserves huge credit for putting together a wonderful tzibbur. But the BAYT has become so big, that cracks would appear on the edifice were it not for the masterful job done by his successor, Rabbi Daniel Korobkin – an LA native son.

How does he do it? As far as I could see, by both being himself while being quite tolerant and accepting of others. He wears a black hat, but has no problem hosting a few gemara classes open to women, or inviting Dov Lipman to speak – and then asking him the hard questions. He circulates among a good number of the nine minyanim on any particular Shabbos, maintaining a relationship both with the people and with the special content and character of each “synaplex” component. He projects as a strong leader, rather than a weak rabbinic mezuzah – something affixed to a community to make it look more outwardly Jewish.

How does his tzibbur do it? Apparently by preserving the ability to speak with others with civility and respect, even when they disagree about important things. How refreshing that is, given the contemptible rhetoric we keep hearing from Israel. The foul words of hyperventilating politicians and journalists have not only stained the image of Torah itself in the eyes of the rest of the world, they have driven untold numbers of people (if the comments I get are any indication) to cut important umbilical cords to institutions and people who previously nurtured them.

I will repeat what has been said before, only to distance myself (and many of our readers) from what others have said. Israel is not populated by resha’im. Neither is its government, generally. There is no campaign to destroy Torah. The social engineering that many Israelis demand aims at the defusing of an economic time-bomb, and perhaps more ambitiously at an “es achai anochi mevakesh,” trying to find some sense of a national future that can be shared by all its citizens. The process has been full of broken promises and horribly short-sighted decisions – but so has the (public) behavior of some in the haredi world.

One of the worst examples was the marketing slogan of Adopt-A-Kollel: “Shebechol dor vodor omdim aleinu lechaloseinu.” I do not have the words or the stomach to flesh out how terribly wrong this is – and no amount of reassurance will convince me otherwise. To accept it would mean to throw away my individuality, and my rabbeim worked too hard at instilling it in me. (Aside: the marketing should not be confused with the project. I will lose friends for saying this, but so be it. Adopt-A-Kollel is a good idea – especially for all of us who believe, secretly or otherwise, that the draft law as a whole is not such a terrible thing. Whatever the changes that will be occurring in the haredi world, it should pain us that there might also be some reduction in the kol Torah (whether in volume or in quality) that we must never cease cherishing. Critics outside the haredi community are all too glib about the shuttering of existing institutions, and a reduction in the number of safsalim in the beis Medrash – even those populated by students of less than stellar accomplishment. We understand that the present system is unsustainable bederech hateva, but we should not applaud the immediate negative effects, even if we believe that in the long run, Torah will be left stronger. No one cheers the pain of recuperation, even if the future will bring better health than enjoyed before the surgery. Giving to Adopt-A-Kollel will not artificially keep the old system alive. There are just too many kollelim for that to happen. The strongest will survive – and we should help make that happen, if only to teach ourselves and our children that we value all Torah that is learned.)

We might be well served to remember the observations of the Meshech Chochmah in this week’s parshah (Vayikra 16:30). The Mishnah (Sotah 48a) says that after the death of the “first ones,” the urim v’tumim ceased functioning. Rav Huna sees these first ones as Dovid and Shlomo. Rav Meir Simcha explains this to mean that after those kings, the nation was split in two. The messages transmitted through the urim v’tumim utilized the letters associated with the stones of the different shevatim. If the shevatim were divided against each other, the letters could not combine.

How can we expect a way out of the current morass, when we read language of the kind we do? Divided as we are into two or more camps, the words of leadership and guidance we seek simply can’t come together. As long as we persist this way, we will not find a way out of the darkness. If we can start with simply regenerating a vocabulary of respect and civility, perhaps the Divine enlightenment will come.

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A Letter to a Troubled Charedi Father

I received an email from a Charedi man with two sons in learning (one in Lakewood), who is very troubled by the current rejection of the draft. It is obvious that he does not count himself among those who do not understand that learning Torah all day requires extreme dedication and personal sacrifice, and is providing a profound service to the Jewish people — including by helping protect it. In other words, his problem is not with those who are successful in learning, but with those who are not. Why are they not in the Army, and why are the Gedolim, at present, making no effort to send them where they belong? This is a point addressed briefly by Rabbi Doron Beckerman in his larger post on the draft issue, but deserves greater elaboration.

This is my reply:

In an ideal world, it is obvious that any charedi boy who is not successful in his studies, and is prepared to go out to work, ought to be doing military service in any situation where everyone else is subject to conscription. That is indeed simple fairness; the IDF is preserving the security of Israel, and those who do not … Read More >>

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The (Not So) Subtle Racism of the Draft Bill

In describing the effects of the new draft bill one month ago, I considered only the response of what we would call the “core” charedi community — families in which both parents and children consider themselves bound to follow the directives of the Gedolei HaDor. An article in Ami Magazine about Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, considered the leading authority of Sephardic Jewry until his passing in October of last year, alerted me that I had not considered the disproportionate impact that the law will have on the Sephardic community.

What I described was accurate, and is already coming to pass. That could almost be a pun, as my statement that “the budding Torah scholars will very happily choose jail, and be fêted as heroes for doing so,” was proven in the person of Yaakov Yisrael Paz, who was arrested for following the directive of HaRav Shmuel Auerbach shlit”a not to report to an induction center. He was released after ten days, and promptly escorted to an audience with Rav Auerbach himself, carried by a crowd of singing and dancing bochurim happy that one of their friends had sanctified G-d’s name by going to jail for his religious … Read More >>

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A Brief Response to Rabbi Slifkin

The points raised by Rabbi Slifkin deserve a response, albeit not as elaborate as I might have liked, again due to serious time constraints.

1) Rabbi Slifkin notes that my single-sentence summary that there was always a portion of Klal Yisrael that was dedicated to full-time Torah study is “false,” for the Tribe of Levi was dedicated to teaching Torah, not studying it. Rabbi Slifkin would have been on target had I been referring to the Tribe of Levi; I was referring to the Torah scholars themselves – who have always existed in Klal Yisrael and whom it was a sin to draft, as per the sources regarding Avraham (Nedarim 32), Assa and others.

2) Rabbi Slifkin questions the extent or basis of “honorary Levite.” It is clear that the essential basis of the exemption granted to the Levites was not that they taught Torah, for if this were the case, the very next halachah in Rambam would have stated “Not only the Tribe of Levi, but any Torah teacher…” It does not. The common denominator between Levi and the personage in the following halachah is their spiritual idealism, casting off worldly pursuits and … Read More >>

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Women and Tefillin: R. Twersky’s Magisterial Approach

[Ultimately, it is not about women or tefillin - it is about the very nature of halachic process. Rabbi Mayer Twersky, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, grandson of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, and Harvard graduate, offers reasoning so compelling that I believe it should not be missed. It was first published on Torahweb.org, and is reproduced here with permission.]

May Orthodox Rabbis Permit Women to Don Tefillin [1]?

I

The Ruling of the Ramo and Modern Reaction

ואם הנשים רוצין להחמיר על עצמן מוחין בידן and if the women wish to act stringently [and don tefillin] we rebuke them (Ramo, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 38:3) Recently, some rabbis have publicized and implemented their view that women wishing to don tefillin should be accommodated, contra Ramo’s ruling. A firestorm of controversy has ensued. But seemingly there is ample justification for their position.

The argument runs as follows. What, in effect, have these rabbis done? To best serve their students/congregants they have, simply, sensitively aligned themselves with the Rambam, et al, whose view, contra Ramo, allows women to don tefillin. Surely, the view of Rambam, et al is valid.

The nominal argument continues. Times have unquestionably changed. We … Read More >>

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More on Drafting Yeshiva Boys

by Rabbi Doron Beckerman

Many of the arguments regarding the hot-button topic of drafting Yeshiva boys unfortunately seem to suffer from profound confusion. In an attempt to clarify the issues as seen from a mainstream Charedi viewpoint, I present a list of questions and the answers as I understand them.

Q: Why don’t Charedim go to the army?

A: Do you mean Charedim, or those studying full-time in Yeshiva or Kollel?

Q: Start with those studying full-time.

A: Because there was always a portion of Klal Yisrael that was dedicated to full-time Torah study and that did not serve in the army.

Q: Is there halachic basis for this exemption?

A: Yes. While it is a matter of debate among the Poskim, the preponderance of Poskim maintain that those studying Torah are exempt. Sources include: R’ Yechiel Michel Tukaczinsky (HaTorah VeHamedinah, 1952); R’ Yitzchak Arieli (Einayim LaMishpat, Bava Basra 7b); R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah IV, 33); R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Sefer Hilchos Medinah II, Sha’ar 3); R’ Moshe Tzvi Neriah (Bnei HaYeshivos Vegiyyusam).

Q: Is part of the calculus that Torah study provides protection to its inhabitants?

A: Yes.

Q: Do Charedim believe that there is no … Read More >>

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A New Dialogue in Eretz Yisroel – The Transformative Model

Binyomin Wolf

Both sides on the chareidi draft issue in Eretz Yisroel see the other as an existential threat. The current coalition government apparently thought that they did not need to compromise on the imprisonment issue when they unilaterally negotiated and recently passed their draft bill. On the other hand, the various chareidi communities do not think they need to compromise in their total opposition to the law in any form and believe their show of solidarity on the issue at the Atzeres Tefillah gathering in Yerushalayim backs up that position. All they need to do it wait until the next election and give a majority to any coalition government which agrees to repeal the law.

When both sides look at the other, they feel simultaneously vulnerable and powerful. In reality, this is the perfect opening for leaders on both sides to participate in an open-ended dialogue that, based on past history, has a strong potential to not only enable them to reach a peaceable resolution to the conflict, but to bring them closer together. That framework for conversation is called “transformative mediation.”

The Transformative Model

The chareidi and non-chareidi communities in Eretz Yisroel need some framework … Read More >>

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Lapid Flunks the Leadership Test

Yair Lapid pushed the criminalization provisions in the new draft law through the cabinet. Without those provisions, he told his cabinet colleagues, he could not sell the law to his supporters. Rather than call his bluff and possibly bring the government down in the process, those who opposed criminalization – including Ayelet Shaked, who headed the committee that formulated the law, and Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon — caved and voted for criminalization.

Now, Lapid may be right that he could not have sold his supporters on the draft law without the criminalization provisions, but if so that merely reflects the degree to which he has bound himself by his own demagoguery and failed to lead.

In a similar fashion, Yasir Arafat was likely telling the truth when he told Bill Clinton at Camp David that signing a peace agreement with Israel would be tantamount to a death sentence for him. But that admission reflected the extent to which Arafat had used the Palestinian Authority media and educational system to whip the Palestinian populace into a frenzy of hatred of Israel since the onset of Oslo. He completely failed to educate his followers to the reality that a Palestinian … Read More >>

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The Virtues of Ham-Handed Moderation

As you’ve probably noticed, Cross-Currents has been very active these days. More content from a wider variety of writers, touching on some of the most timely issues of today, means more traffic — and more comments. I think it’s time again to make a comment about comments.

As most of you are aware, I share (and try to do more than my part) in the task of comment moderation. Usually it’s a short task – more recently, that has not been the case.

Responses flowed in to Rabbi Rosenblum’s latest on the Atzeres Tefilah. Initially, he thought to approve them all – until he had the opportunity to review them. At that point, both he and I felt that with entirely too few exceptions, the commenter had missed the point, didn’t know recent Jewish history, and/or was simply looking for an opportunity to bash Charedim. The signal to noise ratio was unacceptably low.

Comments ranged from “Are you really comparing Jewish knesset members with Hitler & Haman?” to “There was also the famous rabbis’ march on Washington. Were these gedolei hador also guilty of angering Hitler, yimach sh’mo, chas v’shalom?” Seriously now.

Is Rabbi Rosenblum really to … Read More >>

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Purim: Respecting the Limits

Avrohom Gordimer

The final hours of my Purim this year were utterly ruined by several incidents of irresponsible drinking. It is time that our communities aggressively tackle this most serious matter head-on. No, I am not advocating the approach of not drinking. I myself, in a very controlled way, imbibe on Purim in a manner that totally fulfills the mitzvah of “Ad d’lo yada” according to the Shulchan Aruch. At that time, during my seudas Purim, I experience the Mishteh and Simchah qualities of Purim, as I focus internally and share divrei Torah about what I believe are the inner meaning of the day and the true significance of Purim drinking. I make sure that drinking concludes two hours before Maariv, that drinking occurs exclusively at the Purim seudah (v. Rambam Hilchos Megillah 2:15 and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 695:2), that the only intoxicating beverage present is wine (v. Rambam ibid.), and that minors only imbibe a very small, monitored amount. These guidelines typically ensure a really inspiring, joyous and outstanding Purim, which my family and guests appreciate and seek to replicate.

This year, several incidents upon which I will not elaborate spoiled everything. While we are all familiar … Read More >>

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An Atzeres Tefillah

It is with good reason that the huge gathering in response to the Shaked Committee Report was styled as an atzeres tefillah (a prayer gathering), and not as a protest. Even in moments of high tension, when the Torah community feels under threat, what we say and how we say it matters. The rules of cost-benefit analysis do not cease at fateful times; they become ever more important. And that is why we need the clear da’as of the elders of the generation.

In every chareidi history of American Jewry’s responses to the Holocaust, one event always merits special mention l’gnai (for criticism) – a mass protest called by secular Jewish organizations in the mid-1930s calling for a boycott of German products. Those histories cite credible reports that Hitler, ym”sh, was enraged by the protests and thereby strengthened in his determination to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. (At a later stage, Agudath Israel of America was the only Jewish organization to circumvent the British-declared boycott of Nazi-held territory in order to send packages to starving Jews in Poland and elsewhere.)

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz relates in In Their Shadows a lesson the Chazon Ish taught … Read More >>

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Our Soulless Society

Back in 2005, The New York Times asked a number of contemporary thinkers what idea that is taken for granted these days they think will disappear “in the next 35 years.”

Professor Peter Singer, the Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University’s Orwellian-named “Center for Human Values,” responded: “the traditional view of the sanctity of human life.” That view, he explained, will “collapse under pressure from scientific, technological and demographic developments.”

It’s been less than ten years since that prediction but the professor is already being proven a prophet.

The Journal of Medical Ethics is a peer-reviewed academic journal in the field of bioethics, established in 1975. A scholarly paper that appeared in its pages in 2012 has, for some reason, been receiving new attention. It deserves it.

It was titled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” and was written by two academics, members of the philosophy departments of, respectively, the University of Milan and the University of Melbourne.

Its authors’ summary reads, in its entirety, as follows:

“Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that 1) both fetuses and newborns do not have … Read More >>

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Pondering the Prayer Gathering

The article below appeared last week, on March 11, in Haaretz. It is republished here with that paper’s permission.

The weather in Manhattan on Sunday – a few degrees above freezing – wasn’t as pleasant as Jerusalem’s a week earlier. But that didn’t stop an estimated 60,000 Orthodox Jews from turning out to participate in an American counterpart to the mammoth prayer gathering that had filled the Holy City’s streets the week before.

Many American haredim live in communities far removed from New York, and thus couldn’t participate. Still and all, an ocean of black hats stretched about a mile along, fittingly, Water Street, a major thoroughfare at Manhattan’s tip. Traffic reporters were beside themselves, direly warning drivers to abandon all hope of entering lower Manhattan, and reporters in truck buckets high above the crowd shouted down to us earthlings that they couldn’t spy an end to the mass of humanity.

And, as was the case at the Israeli happening, a broad spectrum of haredim was represented.

There were Jewish businessmen and professionals from throughout New York and New Jersey, yeshiva and kollel students from places like Lakewood and Baltimore, chassidim of varied stripes, even including Satmar, a … Read More >>

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Purim Torah

If one were trying to prove to the Chareidi community that the new draft bill is not an attempt at coercive social engineering, that it is not motivated by a desire to change Chareidi life, or that there is a real effort to develop understanding and to work for mutual benefit, then one could scarcely imagine a more counterproductive effort than recent pieces attempting to “prove” from Torah sources that the unanimous position of the Gedolim is, in a word, wrong.

The Teshuvah of Reb Moshe zt”l referenced by R’ Yair Hoffman is clear and unambiguous. To claim that R’ Moshe was referring only to “scholars” or “metzuyanim” makes a pretzel from the straight words of his Teshuvah. R’ Moshe says that his words apply to “מי שלומד בישיבה גדולה ועוסק בתורה,” “whomever sits in yeshiva gedolah and involves himself with Torah.” According to R’ Moshe, the Gemara makes no distinction between Zekeinim and Tzurbah MiRabanon, between elders and the young — all are Rabanon, and “רבנן לא צריכי נטירותא” (they need no defense nor to participate in defense) applies to them all. It is his position that one who has a desire to learn Torah and … Read More >>

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The Beit Shemesh Elections – One Chareidi Perspective

by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

It seemed to us, the residents of Beit Shemesh, as if the whole world stood still to follow the elections. Politicians from Netanyahu on down all made statements and took sides (strictly on party lines: everyone against the Chareidim). As they put it, the entire future of Beit Shemesh — and of Israel for that matter — depended on the outcome. This was the final hope for Beit Shemesh, they declared. Would it be a forward-looking city welcoming to all, or yet another (backwards, intolerant, impoverished) Chareidi stronghold?

What happened that pit this usually easygoing, peace-loving, heavily-Anglo city against itself in some cataclysmic, no-holds-barred struggle for survival? And why did some consider the outcome an awe-inspiring kiddush Hashem while others called it a disgrace to all the Torah is supposed to hold dear? We all know there are hotheads and troublemakers among us — on both sides of the fence — but in all honesty, I think all of us here know that the vast majority of us are proud of our city and proud of the fact that we live in peace and harmony 99.9% of the time. To most of us Beit Shemesh … Read More >>

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A Response to Rabbi Slifkin

Last week, I penned an article articulating why there was a gathering in Manhattan of 50,000 Torah observant Jews who do not wish to see Yeshiva students forcibly drafted into the army.  The gathering was supported by leading Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbonim in America, and the leaders of Shas, Agudah, and Degel HaTorah  in Eretz Yisroel.  I made eight points:

  1. Soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and are playing a holy role.
  2. All of us, who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication, should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being.
  3. It is unfortunate that some do not express their hakaras hatov.
  4. Full-timeTorah study, like nuclear research, is very important.
  5. When there is a “super” milchemes Mitzvah all people have to go to war
  6. There is a debate whether there are two types of wars in halacha or 3 types of wars.
  7. Chareidim hold that there are 3 types and that right now the war situation in Israel is a standard milchemes mitzvah.  Bridegrooms go to war.  Torah scholars, according to the chareidi view, only go out to war in cases of “super” milchemes Mitzvah.
  8. Both sides should work toward better unity.

R. Slifkin chose to attack the article, but not directly on the eight points I made (although he addressed the last one).  Rather he chose to attack the Chareidi point of view, in what could be characterized as a diatribe.  It is easy to create a false straw man and knock it down. I will try to deal with each of Rabbi Slifkin’s responses point by point.
Continue reading → A Response to Rabbi Slifkin

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Living in Chutz LaAretz and the IDF – A Halachic Overview and Proposal

by Doron Beckerman

My analysis of this issue will be short and succinct, for a reason. If one considers Israel’s current situation to be active milchemes mitzvah, one who lives in chutz la’aretz and is physically able to serve in the IDF is more obligated to do so than those studying Torah in Eretz Yisrael. (Sources are available upon request.)

In that light, I propose the following law, called “The HaAcheichem Law,” which shall consist of two basic clauses:

a) All Jews entering Israel between the age of seventeen and thirty implicitly agree to submit to a draft for up to three years should the IDF determine this to be in their interests.

b) Exception: Those who come to study Torah. Of those, 20% will be free to study here undisturbed, but the other 80% must agree to the same conditions as other Jews. Additionally, all Yeshivos that fall below a 50% draft rate among their students from the Diaspora will no longer be eligible to any government funding.

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A Berdichiver Moment

By Dovid Landesman

One of the more famous stories about R.Levi Yitzchak zt”l recalls his visit to the local marketplace. There he came across a wagon driver wearing tallit and tefillin, busily digigng the wheel of his cart out of the mud in which it was mired. The gabbai who accompanied his master was aghast at the insensitivity of this simple Jew, hastily reciting his morning prayers in such an unsuitable fashion. But R. Levi Yitzchak saw something else. Looking up to heaven, the Rebbe raised his voice and declared: “Ribbono shel olam, what nachat you must have from your children. Even when they are working in the mud, they think only of you!”

I remembered the story as I watched the IDF video of the sailors who had interdicted the Panamanian ship carrying missiles bound for Gaza. In case you missed it, the clip shows the crew of one of the destroyers singing Shalom Aleichim and then listening to Kiddush. Obviously the film was taken on Shabbat and initially I was disturbed by the needless act of chilul Shabbat that it represented. But then I thought, “Wow! Here was the crew of an Israeli destroyer along with members … Read More >>

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In Brief:

The Second Son

-- 9:14 am

A Pesach-themed piece I penned for the Forward appears here

Chag kasher visame’ach to all Cross-Currents readers, and all of Klal Yisrael!

AS

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For Pre-Pesach Insomniacs

-- 10:34 pm

My semi-annual machshava shiur (for women, but suitable for all kinds of chromosomal construction) is available for free download as a .wav file, or here as an mp3.

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Best Purim Gragger Ever

-- 2:33 pm

[Very unfortunate update and postscript. Hat tip to Chaim Saiman]

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KePurim

-- 1:14 am

[from R. Yossi Huttler, Cross-Currents' poet laureate]

KePurim

if in middle of night
I cannot sleep
may I disturb Your peace
open Your book of remembrance
read to You
though I know You
don’t forget

may I point
to where and when
I did some good
so that I merit
mention
for some chayim
tovim

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Much Ado About “Ultra”

-- 4:01 pm

The Forward recently published an article of mine about the term “Ultra-Orthodox.” You can read it here .

A response to it, by Professor Samuel Heilman, is here .

And, finally, a rejoinder is here.

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Vive la Différence

-- 3:19 pm

When MK David Rotem, of the Yisrael Beytenu party, said that the Reform movement is “another Jewish religion,” and then added that the Charedim [which Times of Israel translates as "ultra-Orthodox," but I have little doubt that he used the correct and less inflammatory term "charedim"] could “of course” be considered “also another Jewish religion,” one thing happened: Reform leaders exploded, and got him to “walk back” his remarks.

If you read carefully, he may not have expressed himself well, but there is no significant change between what he said to Army Radio that got him into hot water, and in his “clarification.” What he said the first time was “the Reform are all Jews,” which, given the level of participation by non-Jewish partners in services, we know to be a substantial exaggeration. In his “clarification,” he said “I have never said belonging to the Reform movement makes anyone less Jewish.” Both times, he expressed a completely normative halachic position.

Here’s what didn’t happen: any similar uproar from the chareidim, the “ultra-Orthodox.” No fellow MKs berated him, whether in the plenary, committee room, or outside in the halls. No gedolim released proclamations or contacted the press. His comments were simply a nonissue.

The difference is simple: the chareidim don’t need David Rotem’s validation. We know who we are, we know what we believe, and we know it accords with thousands of years of Jewish tradition. So if he believes that he follows a different religion than ours, it’s his loss.

What this difference says about the Reform movement and its leaders is the topic of a longer essay.

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27 Comments

Phyllis Chesler Supports W4W?

-- 12:08 pm

Women For the Wall seems to have caught a leading member of WOW being too honest once again. Phyllis Chesler was a founder of WOW and now is part of the “Original WOW” that refuses to permit peace in the traditional women’s section. Yet here’s what she said on WOW’s Facebook Wall:

WOW Board knows that it has driven away many Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers by their religious practices, non-stop desire for media attention, their willingness to criticize Israel in North America and Europe during the years of the Al Aqsa Intifada.

I wonder what those who said WOW just wants to pray in their own style and don’t want media are saying now. Other than “oh no, she told the truth!”

Yes, Facebook is a time killer. But sometimes you catch important news…

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Why I Don’t Write More Often

-- 12:45 am

I should feel complimented that I get email all the time asking why I haven’t commented yet about this or that important story.

The simple answer is that I don’t like to write unless I feel that I have something semi-insightful to add to what is already out there. If Cross-Currents were to become a regular source of news to the community, I would have to quit my day-job.

I stumbled upon Frank Rich’s swan-song piece as an op-ed writer for the New York Times. He conveyed perfectly what I have thought for a long while – and why I have resisted writing more, even when I could carve out the time. I think he identifies an occupational hazard of many blogsters, particularly those who gain a following

I didn’t like what the relentless production of a newspaper column was doing to my writing. That routine can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion. Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice.

Of course, as more Americans turn to alternative sources for all their news, I would be open to a career change, despite Frank Rich’s warning. So if anyone has an “in” with Jon Stewart and can convince him to add me to his list of providers alongside Steve Colbert, have his people speak to my people.

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7 Comments

Who, Really, Are the Orthodox?

-- 1:07 pm

It’s rare that I simply refer to another article, but “I am Orthodox, and Orthodox is me” speaks for itself. I think the piece is stronger because the writer is both relatively unknown, and a woman. She truly speaks for us all when she says “those stereotypes about ‘the Orthodox’ are talking about me.”

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A Note of No Great Consequence

-- 8:58 am

Over the years I have written a few short stories and poems, only one of which I have shared with the public (in a book I published in 1981). I’ve decided to post some of that material on my website, rabbiavishafran.com, under the category “fiction.” So far, only one story, for children (sort of), is posted there, but I hope to edit and post others in the near future.

You can find the current posting here . If you have any interest in future fiction postings, please feel free to monitor the “fiction” category on the site every so often.

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Agudath Israel Condemns NY Post’s Lack Of “Basic Human Dignity”

-- 7:38 pm

The New York Post crossed a line today, even for a paper specializing in the sensational, with its offensive front-page cover and equally offensive coverage of the vicious murder of a young Hassidic father of eight, Menachem Stark, Hy”d.

The paper demonstrated the poorest taste by choosing to focus on anonymous accusations rather than on the human tragedy of a wife and family’s sudden and terrible loss, and on their, and their community’s, grieving. Particularly at a time when Jews have been attacked on New York streets and are regularly vilified by hateful people around the world, the tabloid has demonstrated unprecedented callousness and irresponsibility.

Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect very much from a medium like the Post, but one should, we think, be able to expect some basic human decency in the wake of a family’s terrible personal loss.

Agudath Israel of America and its constituents, along with decent people of all religions and ethnicities, extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Stark’s widow and children.

We, further, commend the New York City Police Department for its active pursuit of leads to Mr. Stark’s murderers, and pray that they be apprehended and brought to justice swiftly.

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Cross-Currents Live!

-- 3:16 am

In a manner of speaking. And only if you have Pesach free, and some discretionary funds available, and a spouse who really wants to go.

In other words, if you really want to argue the points of the last umpteen issues of Cross-Currents, you are invited to join the Adlersteins at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, where I will serve BE”H as Scholar in Residence for the upcoming Yom Tov.

The facility, I am told, is top of the line. Despite misgivings about leaving home for Pesach (we haven’t done this in years, but simply can’t fit our crowd into our small home), we have managed in the past to rescue a good deal of ruchniyus amid the opulence. We would welcome fellow travelers.

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6 Comments