Odds and Ends

1) When Mishpacha published last week’s post “On Making Money” they wisely decided to edit out most of the lawyer jokes. I considered doing the same, and unwisely decided that given that I am a member of the club — three years of law school, two years of major firm practice — readers would cut me a little bit of slack. As I thought I made clear, had I not decided to move to Israel and spend my days irritating readers of Cross-Currents, I would probably have lived out my days practicing law as well.

In any event, I appreciate all those who wrote to let me know that not all lawyers are shysters and that many professionals are very generous. I’m grateful as well to those who clued me in on the fact that there are dishonest businessmen, and that there are many good reasons why a frum Jew might prefer the professions to business. I never knew any of those things.

Generalizations when used to make judgments about individuals are odious. But that does not mean that general comparisons have no place. Not all smokers die young; nor do all non-smokers live to a ripe old age. But it is useful to know the average differential between the two groups. In point of fact, the different levels of charitable (not necessarily tzedakah) giving between businessmen and professionals is well known. The growing professionalization of the Jewish community is but one of the many trends that keeps Federation professionals up at night, and there is an extensive literature on this subject.

I do believe that those who have been obviously blessed from birth tend to treat their gifts and the fruits of their gifts with a certain sense of entitlement. They have to work on appreciating that what one is born with is a gift, and that gift is unearned. For instance, I read this morning that entrepreneurs give far more than those who inherit their wealth. My guess is that most highly successful professionals did well (though perhaps not brilliantly) in school from an early age, and that they tend to view whatever gene they possess that made academic success easier as “just the way things are.” (I’m often struck by how frequently contributors to the Yale Law School Magazine resort to “stupid” as the preferred taunt of anyone who does not share their public policy prescriptions.) Can this tendency to take one’s natural gifts for granted, and to view the material rewards that those gifts facilitate as “wholly earned,” be overcome? Of course it can. That’s what mussar is about. (Oh yes, I’m also aware that genes alone do not guarantee success, and that successful professionals have usually had to work very hard as well.)

After rereading the thread, I have decided to forego a future column examining whether there is also a humor deficit among professionals.

2) CVMay (Answering (some) critics — Part II) quotes Rebbetzin Esther Farbstein, the leading Holocaust researcher in the chareidi world and a brilliant scholar, to suggest that the failures of the Yad Vashem exhibition hall can be largely attributed to failure of the chareidi population to work with Yad Vashem when the museum was first established. I have been in frequent contact with Rebbetzin Farbstein in recent years on this and related issues, and I can assure CVMay that nothing could be further from her opinion. Not that I question the accuracy of his quote. But for years — long before the opening of the new exhibit — she has been in dialogue with the museum about what materials are missing, where they can be found, etc. The ongoing absence of those materials cannot be attributed to the fact that no one has raised the issue.

Moreover, the regnant “narrative” of Eastern European Jewry going like “sheep to the slaughter” and the contrast to the brave, militaristic “new Jew” in Israel that dominated at the time Yad Vashem was founded certainly had a much bigger impact on the form of the original exhibit than the participation, or lact of it, of the chareidi community.

3) My landsman Harry Maryles takes issue somewhere or other (comment 7, I believe) with the implication that Professor Binyamin Ish-Shalom advocates something less than traditional halachic conversions. I disagree — strongly. First, the joint conversion institute that he heads is based on the students in the conversion course hearing lectures from teachers from all “streams” of Judaism (charedim, presumably, excepted). In other words, many, if not most of the teachers do not themselves accept the yoke of mitzvos as binding upon them. Only someone who views giyur as solely a technical ceremony — milah and tevilah in front of three gentlemen who possess semichah from an Orthodox institution or who call themselves Orthodox — without any concern with an acceptance of the yoke of mitzvos could possibly find anything to commend in such an institute.

As part of his criticism of the Chief Rabbinate for being too strict, Dr. Ish-Shalom cites a survey that 70% of the non-Jewish immigrants would “consider” conversion if it did not require them to become religious. Of what possible relevance would that statistic be to someone who believes that giyur requires kabolos ol mitzvos.

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12 comments to Odds and Ends

  • Steve Brizel

    If one reads the interviews with R M Angel and Professor Ish Shalom very carefully with an understanding that Kabalas HaMitzvos is an integral element of a person’s decision to become a Ger Tzedek , what emerges is an argument based upon a study quoted in another thread that the Poskim of prior generations R”L manipulated the psak in order to raise the bar for potential converts. That claim cannot stand in the presence of the element of Kabalas HaMitzvos as understood by Rov Rishonim or Poskim who clearly understood that Kabalas HaMitzvos is a crucial element of Gerus and one which is more than a mere verbal declaration of one’s intent . One can argue that there are maximal and minimal views to the element of Kabalas HaMItzvos as well as determine the view of Rov Rishonim and Poskim without resorting to claims that the Gdolei HaPoskim simply raised the ante.

  • Harry Maryles

    My landsman Harry Maryles takes issue somewhere or other (comment 7, I believe) with the implication that Professor Binyamin Ish-Shalom advocates something less than traditional halachic conversions. I disagree—strongly. First, the joint conversion institute that he heads is based on the students in the conversion course hearing lectures from teachers from all “streams” of Judaism (charedim, presumably, excepted).

    The basis of my comment was an article on Professor Ish-Shalom that made no reference to the issues you raise. Indeed, I would not give any credibility to conversions presided over by someone who allows educating potential converts via members of illegitimate heretical streams of Judaism.

    But I was only addressing a specific point that Professor Ish-Shalom made in that article which seemed to be contradicted here. It seemed fairly clear to me that he wasn’t suggesting we need not ask potential converts for a commitment to Jewish observance. He was only criticizing the way in which that is presented to them by ultra Orthodox rabbinical courts.

    If I understood him correctly he was saying that Charedi rabbinic leaders were presenting a very difficult set of Halachos to potential candidates that would scare many of them off, and he felt that doing so was not halachicly necessary. I think that he is right about that. All that Halacha requires is a sincere commitment to follow all of those laws. It does not say that we should discourage them by presenting the most difficult laws first.

    The Gemarah (Yevamos 24B and 47B if I recall correctly) tells us the procedure. Once they accept observance of Mitzvos in principle, then we tell them a few basics and convert them right away. They can then learn the other Halachos in a timely fashion at their own pace. And Halacha further tells us that once converted, the Judaism is final whether there is any observance or not. It is all about the intent at the time of the conversion, not actions post fact.

    But if what you say about Professor Ish-Shalom and his institution is true, that is an entirely different matter and I would agree that such conversions are very problematic.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    “In any event, I appreciate all those who wrote to let me know that not all lawyers are shysters and that many professionals are very generous. I’m grateful as well to those who clued me in on the fact that there are dishonest businessmen, and that there are many good reasons why a frum Jew might prefer the professions to business. I never knew any of those things.”

    I understand why you might wish to prefer defensive sarcasm over simply issuing an apology for unintentionally causing offense. Your blog, your choice, of course.

    On the other hand, I think the point of the criticism was to let you know that your generalizations were actually offensive and, despite your own perceptions, perhaps not as representative as you think. I doubt the goal was to actually tell you things that you “never knew”, even if the shtuch is sharper when you phrase it that way.

    So, snicker at the professionals’ sensitivity if you must, but perhaps, just perhaps, there is cause to reconsider. Your blog, your choice.

  • Chaim G.

    Mussar is a lost art. No one knows how to dish it out and still fewer know how to take it.

    It’s been replaced by sniping and bashing.

  • David Farkas

    The devil is in the details, as it so often is. Let us assume arguendo that kabbolas hamitzvas is a pre-requisite of conversion, and let us also assume the separate question that it has always been a pre-requsiste, and is not just another recent innovation. The question still remains, what is kabbolas hamitzvas? Does it include all the rabbinic laws?If one accepts yomtov rishon, but not yom tov sheni – will that prevent conversion? What about taharas hamishpacha, VD”L. “Kaballas Hamitzvas” is a very elastic concept.

  • hp

    “Kaballas Hamitzvas” is a very elastic concept”

    It is?

    Do you mean the Shulchan Aruch? Mishneh Berurah? Can you be more specific about which Mitzvot (not chumrot) are elastic?

  • Bob Miller

    Would-be gerim first need to accept the halachic system in its totality as HaShem’s blueprint for their lives, and then need to accept the specific mitzvot that are brought to their attention. There is no way that training before giyur can possibly explore every mitzvah in depth, so some need to be singled out for explanation as critical starting points. Only their total commitment from the start can create some confidence that the gerim will get with and stay with the program, and not regard mitzvot covered in training as the only necessary ones.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Jonathan Rosenblum: In point of fact, the different levels of charitable (not necessarily tzedakah) giving between businessmen and professionals is well known. The growing professionalization of the Jewish community is but one of the many trends that keeps Federation professionals up at night, and there is an extensive literature on this subject.

    Ori: I wonder if the statistics are biased because business people’s stock in trade is money, and professionals’ is time. Would the statistics include the time doctors spend treating poor patients without medical insurance knowing they’ll never be paid for it, or cases lawyers take pro bono?

  • Tal Benschar

    “Kaballas ‘Ol Mitzvos” is not at all an “elastic concept.” The word ‘Ol means a yoke, and in this case is a metaphor for the obligation to keep the entire Torah. While it is true that a ger does not have to be informed about every mitzvah and every detail in Shulkhan Arukh (as though that were possible), the ger does have to accept the obligation of keeping the Torah in toto. If he has reservations about even one mitsvah, the geirus is invalid.

    One can analogize the concept to becoming a citizen of another country. When new citizens of the U.S., for example, are sworn, they pledge allegiance to the United States and accept to uphold its Constitution and laws. Now there is no way a new citizen can know every detail of every law on the books. But we expect the new citizen to accept the law of his new country in its totality. If the new citizen were to say, “I accept to live by the Constitution and laws of my new country, except for ________” fill in the blank with your favorite exception (e.g. except for income tax laws, except for laws against marijuana use, except for laws against slavery) then the person really has not accepted the laws of this new country.

    We would do well to remember what geirus really is. The gemara in Kerisus brings down a derasha “Kachem Kager” — just as you entered the covenant with circumcision, immersion and sacrifices, so too the convert. The essence of geirus is entering the covenant of Torah that Bnei Yisrael entered at Har Sinai. The same process used then (circumcision, immersion and sacrifices) is used in future generations for converts. At that time, Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah in toto — whatever it said, they accepted, although they were as yet ignorant of many details. That is what “kabbalas ‘ol mitzvos” means.

  • David

    ‘So, snicker at the professionals’ sensitivity if you must, but perhaps, just perhaps, there is cause to reconsider. Your blog, your choice.

    Comment by Moishe Potemkin — July 11, 2007 @ 2:25 pm ‘

    Actually, I am what you would call a ‘professional’, and I was simply amazed at the gross overreaction that the article engendered. And I also think that the sarcasm was well placed. Just my two cents.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    “Actually, I am what you would call a ‘professional’, and I was simply amazed at the gross overreaction that the article engendered. And I also think that the sarcasm was well placed. Just my two cents.”

    That’s fine – you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Given the “gross over-reaction,” though, many people clearly disagreed with you.

    Myself, I’m not sure that offenses need to be universal to be wrong.

  • Ben Bayit

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/business/15gilded.html?hp

    The new finacial titans are mostly professionals, not necessarily entrepeneurs.

    What’s keeping the Federations up at night is the fact that the children and grand-children of their uber-donors are no longer involved Jewishly (or not even Jewish) – not that they are successful lawyers, doctors and managers – who as can be seen in teh NY Times article also know how to make oodles and oodles of money – instead of business people.

    No, I’m sorry Jonathan Rosenbloom – you’re piece was an attempt to put forth the official party line against higher education and against technology which you did by putting forth claims that have no basis in reality. If anything what seriously damaged the fundraising of traditional community run yeshivas such as Torah Vodaas was that the newer administration aliented their professional and educated alumni by refusing to allow their children to attend the same institutions and – like their parents – train for professional skills in the evening. This necessitated a shift towards fund-rasing away from successful professional alumni and towards fundraising from hockers and hondlers. You joined up with the charedim as this was happening so you see it as a given – but it wasn’t always this way.