I received much feedback concerning a piece I posted here several weeks ago (here) and a follow-up on my personal website (here), about second-guessing or disparaging the decisions of Jewish religious leaders.
A pertinent Mishneh that I didn’t cite – for the simple, unfortunate reason that I hadn’t remembered it – was part of the page of Talmud studied by Daf Yomi participants shortly thereafter. It is in Rosh Hashana, 25a. And it may well be the single most important statement about the topic.
The Mishneh tells of how Rabban Gamliel accepted two witnesses’ claimed sighting of the new moon (which affects all of the Jewish world’s calendar and holidays) that seemed to fly in the face of all logic, since the new moon was not evident the next night. Rabbi Dosa ben Hyrcanus pointed out the seeming impossibility of the witnesses being correct, and Rabbi Yehoshua, a student of Rabban Gamliel, felt compelled to concur.
Rabbam Gamliel, however, reprimanded his student for that fact and insisted that Rabbi Yehosua appear before him with his staff and coin-purse on the day that, according to Rabbi Dosa and all reason, should have been Yom Kippur. R’ Yehoshua was … Read More >>
Commuting to and from Manhattan daily on the Staten Island Ferry brings me into the vicinity of many a tourist. The boat sometimes resembles a United Nations General Assembly debate, without the translators.
When I hear German or a Slavic language spoken, I can’t help but recall the wry words of the late New York City mayor Ed Koch as he led the Ukrainian Day parade one year. He told the parade’s grand marshal: “You know, if this were the old country this wouldn’t be a parade, it would be a pogrom. I wouldn’t be walking down Fifth Avenue; I would be running… and you would be running after me.”
And I’m reminded, too, of the sentiment of my dear father, may he be well, who spent the war years first fleeing the Nazis and then in a Soviet Siberian labor camp. When I asked him many years ago how he feels when he meets a German non-Jew, he told me that any German “has to prove himself” to be free of the Jew-hatred that came to define his people. My father’s “default” view of a German (or, for that matter, Pole or Ukrainian or Romanian…) is “guilty,” or … Read More >>
It isn’t every year that news reports about Agudath Israel of America’s annual dinner make the pages of media like the Forward or The New York Times. This, however, was one such year.
The reason for the attention was the heartfelt and stirring speech delivered by the Novominsker Rebbe, shlit”a, the Rosh Agudas Yisroel, at the gathering. And the fact that New York City mayor Bill de Blasio chose not to contest the Rebbe’s words.
Rav Perlow spoke to the issue of organized deviations from the Jewish mesorah, a topic that is timely because of the insistence of the latest such movement on calling itself “Open Orthodoxy,” rather than summoning the courage to find an independent adjective for itself, as did the Conservative and Reform movements of the past.
Over the past century or two, the term “Orthodox” in the Jewish world has been synonymous with full affirmation of the mesorah – including most prominently the historicity of Yetzias Mitzrayim; the fact that the Torah, both Written and Oral, was bequeathed to our ancestors at Har Sinai; and that Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov actually existed – concepts that prominent products or leaders of the “Open Orthodoxy” movement are … Read More >>
Shmuly Yanklowitz (“Why This Rabbi Is Swearing Off Kosher Meat,” Houses of Worship, May 30) is entitled to swear off meat if he chooses, but not to pass off his reasons for doing so as having anything to do with Orthodox Judaism.
Jewish religious law prohibits the infliction of avoidable pain on animals, and the vast majority of kosher slaughterhouses, overseen and inspected by both governmental agencies and rabbinic supervisors, are entirely sensitive to that law and its implications.
“Kosher,” however, has nothing to do with health or “ethics.” There are Jewish ethical laws and Jewish ritual laws. Kashrut is entirely in the latter category. And it is simply not “Orthodox” to contend otherwise.
Rabbi Avi Shafran Director of Public Affairs Agudath Israel of America
A piece I wrote for the Forward about Shavuos is here .
“Nahoul” is a giant bee, or, better, a man in a furry bee costume. He is one of the intended-to-be-lovable characters on “Pioneers of Tomorrow,” a children’s television program produced in Gaza.
In a recent episode, Nahoul encourages a boy from Jenin to attack his Jewish neighbors. “Punch them,” he advises. “Turn their faces into tomatoes.”
“If his neighbors are Jewish or Zionist,” Rawan, the little girl host of the show adds helpfully, “that goes without saying.” Nahoul then advises throwing stones at “the Jews.”
A bit later in the program, another little girl shares her hope to become a policewoman, so that she can “shoot the Jews.”
“All of them?” the host asks with a smile.
“Yes,” the other girl replies.
Nahoul is likely to meet the fate of other cuddly animals – like Farfour the Mouse, a rabbit and a bear – that were previously featured on the program only to suddenly disappear, the show’s little viewers being informed that each character had been “martyred” by Israelis.
The airwaves in Gaza are tightly controlled by Hamas, the de facto government, and “Pioneers of Tomorrow” is part of that violent and hateful group’s effort to educate … Read More >>
As I expected, my critique of some recent writing of Rabbi Berel Wein has generated many comments and communications, yeas and nays.
A follow-up explanation can be read here.
There exists a mentality, even among some who should know better, like the respected popular historian Rabbi Berel Wein, that any one of us can, and even should, second-guess the attitudes and decisions of Torah luminaries of the past.
In that thinking, for instance, the opposition of many Gedolim in the 1930s and 1940s to the establishment of a Jewish state was a regrettable mistake. After all, the cavalier thinking goes, a state was in the end established, and in many ways it flourishes; so the Gedolim who opposed it must have been wrong. And we should acknowledge their error and impress it upon our children with a nationalistic commemoration of the day on which Israel declared her independence.
None of us, however, can possibly know what the world would be like today had Israel not come into being. What would have happened to the European survivors of the Holocaust who moved to Israel? Would they have languished in the ruins of Europe and eventually disappeared instead? Rebuilt their communities? Emigrated to the West? Would Eretz Yisrael have remained a British mandate, become a part of Jordan, morphed into a new Arab state? Would Jews have been barred from … Read More >>
The term “botched execution,” much in the news of late because of the case of convicted murderer Clayton Darrell Lockett, might seem to imply that the condemned prisoner has remained alive. Mr. Lockett, however, died, at least indirectly as a result of the lethal three-drug cocktail administered to him on April 29. His death was technically due to a heart attack, after he showed signs of life and even tried to speak at a point when the drugs should have conclusively dispatched him and the official execution was halted.
It turns out that the intravenous line sending the drugs into his body might at some point simply have slipped out (his body was covered during the procedure) but his protracted death has brought the subject of lethal injection as a means of execution – and the death penalty itself – into the global spotlight.
Considering that the crime for which Mr. Lockett was sentenced to death was the shooting and burying alive of an acquaintance, it’s hard to argue that, even if Mr. Lockett had an unnecessarily protracted painful death, it was devoid of some measure of justice – to the degree justice can be attained in this world.
… Read More >>
A sports team owner’s base racism was all the talk of the world town last week. But a more subtle – and thus more dangerous – prejudice has been on public display, too, of late. It was largely ignored, however, likely because the bias revealed was against charedi Jews.
The opportunity for expressing the bias was the situation in the Monsey-area East Ramapo school district, whose public schools service a largely minority population but where there are many yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs. And a prominent salvo in the recent bias-barrage was fired by New York Times columnist Michael Powell, who pens a column in the paper highlighting people against whom the writer has rendered his personal judgment of guilt.
His villains in an April 7 offering titled “A School Board That Overlooks Its Obligation To Students” were the Orthodox Jewish members of that entity, which is charged with overseeing the workings and government funding of all schools in the district. Of the approximately 30,000 school children in the district, roughly 22,000 are in yeshivos; the remaining 8,000 are in public schools.
Mr. Powell began his piece by lamenting the laying off of assistant principals, art teachers and a band … Read More >>
Tommy, a resident of Gloversville, New York, filed a lawsuit in a New York state court last year against Patrick and Diane Lavery for what he claims was his unlawful detention in a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed.” Actually, to be more precise, the lawsuit was filed on Tommy’s behalf, by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), as he is a chimpanzee.
Legal action was initiated at the same time on behalf of Kiko, a chimp in Niagara Falls, and Hercules and Leo, primates in a research facility at Stony Brook University on Long Island.
The NhRP asked the court to declare Tommy, then 26, “a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned.”
In October 2011, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit on behalf of five orcas, accusing the theme parks owning them of violating the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. The suit was dismissed by a judge in the U.S. District Court for Southern California who wrote in his ruling that “the only reasonable interpretation of the 13th Amendment’s plain language is that it applies to persons, and not to nonpersons such … Read More >>
This article appeared under a different title in Haaretz earlier this week and is posted here with the paper’s permission.
Well, it won’t be long now before Israel institutes penalties for watching television on the Sabbath and declares a religious war against the Palestinians. At least that’s what a cursory – or, actually, even a careful – reading of a recent New York Times op-ed might lead one to conclude.
In the piece, Abbas Milani, the head of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University, and Israel Waismel-Manor, a University of Haifa senior lecturer, argue that Iran and Israel might be “trading places,” the former easing into a more secular mode, the latter slouching toward theocracy.
Whether the writers’ take on Iran has any merit isn’t known to me. But their take on Israel is risible, and the evidence they summon shows how clueless even academics can be.
The opinionators contend that the “nonreligious Zionism” advanced by David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s is “under threat” today by “Orthodox parties” that “aspire to transform Israel into a theocracy.”
The irony is intriguing. It was none other than Ben-Gurion who pledged, in a 1947 agreement with the Agudath Israel World … Read More >>
Time was when you saw a person talking to himself you assumed he was deranged or at least a little off. These days, of course, prattling people wired up or Bluetoothed are commonplace. The unhinged are well camouflaged among the masses.
The middle-aged woman in the elevator didn’t even have anything in or clipped to her ear; she was holding an actual, physical cellphone near the side of her face. And so, when she said, once, and then again, “Which is the way out?” I wondered to whom she was speaking and what topic was being discussed.
It was the end of a workday in downtown Manhattan, and only the woman, whom I hadn’t ever encountered before, was in the elevator when it stopped at my floor. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but had little choice. So I started to imagine what might have yielded her repeated, somewhat urgent-sounding question. A tax problem? (April was imminent.) A troubled relationship? Some existential crisis?
Following elevator etiquette, I faced the door. But, for some reason (in retrospect, probably siyata DiShmaya), I turned briefly in the woman’s direction. It was a good thing I did. Phone or not, she had been talking, … Read More >>
The following essay currently appears on the New York Jewish Week website.. (My regular weekly essays appear in the Wednesday edition of Hamodia.)
It was Albert Camus’ insight that bad things often result from ignorance, and that “good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
He could have been writing of the good souls whose desire for social justice has impelled them to smear members of the East Ramapo School District board for increased public school class size and cuts in school programs and extracurricular activities like sports and music.
A Jewish group, Uri L’Tzedek, is among the critics of the board, and contends that the majority “fervently Orthodox” members of the school board have been unfair to the primarily African-American, Haitian and Hispanic public school student population. In the pages of the New York Jewish Week, a founder of the group, Rabbi Ari Hart, amplified its objections in passionate terms (“East Ramapo’s Children Are Suffering”). Unfortunately, passion is no replacement for understanding.
Rabbi Hart claims to have conducted a “careful review of the facts” and to have spoken to “leaders from the Jewish and non-Jewish community.” But he apparently didn’t speak … Read More >>
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!
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 >>
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 >>
On Purim, Jewish men, to varying degrees, imbibe strong drink, and Jewish women do their best to keep them safe and anchored in civilization. The holiday thus may not seem very female-centered. But it is.
Not just because its hero is a heroine and the holy book about the historical event it commemorates is named after her, but because Megillas Esther verily revolves around femininity.
The pliable, preposterous monarch we meet at the Megillah’s start is a poster child (or, perhaps better, poster adolescent) for male chauvinism. His 180-day drinking party, as the Talmud describes it, was a bacchanal of arrested-development “good ol’ boys” acting like louts, and entailed the debasement, and eventual execution, of his queen.
And the next action of the foolhardy king was to organize the antithesis of true respect for women: a beauty contest.
And Achashverosh, of course, ends up being manipulated by a woman, our reticent, modest heroine Esther, and led by her to dispatch the Jews’ mortal enemy, saving her people from his evil plans.
But there’s a good deal more here, too, although it’s a good deal more subtle. Mordechai, the Midrash teaches us, was miraculously able to physically nurse the baby … Read More >>
It was gratifying to see that a recent essay of mine in the Forward stimulated thoughtful responses.
I had made the case for jettisoning the time-honored (if, to me, less than honorable) term “ultra-Orthodox.” I argued that, like “ultra-conservative” or “ultra-liberal” in domestic politics, the prefix implies extremism, something that isn’t accurate about most charedim.
What best to replace it with is less obvious, as “charedi” is a foreign word, and euphemisms like “fervently Orthodox” insult non-charedi Jews, many of whom are as fervent in their prayer and observances as any charedi Jew (not to mention that some charedi Jews are far from fervent).
I suggested using the unadorned word “Orthodox” to refer to charedim, whose lives, I contended, most resemble those of their forbears.
After all, I argued, self-described “Centrist” and “Modern” and “Open” Orthodox Jews are, well, self-described, with those prefixes of their choices. So why not use “Orthodox” alone, without any modifier, to refer to “black-hatters,” or “yeshivish” folks. (The charedi subset of Chassidim could simply be called Chassidim, a word familiar to English speakers.) Think Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Coke…
One immediate response to my essay came from Samuel Heilman, a Queens College … Read More >>
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.
My interest in the recently concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi was roughly equivalent to my interest in the recently concluded International Kennel Club dog show in Chicago. Which is to say, nil.
But a “Jewish” issue that trailed in the snow behind the Sochi shenanigans was amusing. At least, initially. Pondered a bit, it was a reminder of something disturbing.
An ice dancer named Charlie White, who, with his partner, won a gold medal at the competition, was roundly celebrated by the media for his accomplishment, and by the Jewish media for his accomplishment… and Jewishness.
Despite the latter assertion, though, the skater’s mother apparently notified the Detroit Jewish News, the original reporter of Mr. White’s Jewish credentials, that neither she nor her son is a member of the tribe.
After some research, the paper discovered that the gold medal winner’s only Jewish connection was a Jewish stepfather; it apologized for its original reportage.
The Reform movement wouldn’t at present consider Charlie’s connection to the Jewish people sufficient to automatically qualify him as Jewish in its eyes. But it has long accepted a “patrilineal” definition of “Jewishness” – that is to say that, contrary to halacha, it … Read More >>
The article below appeared in Haaretz earlier this week, under the title “Partnership minyan is an innovation too far.” It is reproduced here with Haaretz’s permission.
What educators call a “teaching moment” is presented by the issue of “partnership minyanim,” prayer groups that aim to provide Orthodox Jewish women greater opportunity to participate in services.
Although halakha is distinctly male-centered in the realm of communal prayer (as in the requirement of ten men to establish a minyan, a quorum permitting the recital of certain prayers), “partnership minyanim” jury-rig prayer services so that women lead parts that arguably may not require a man.
The teaching moment is about how halakha works.
Differences of opinion are part and parcel of not only the Talmud but some contemporary halakhic issues; different conclusions may be made by different poskim, or halakhic decisors.
But a truth that tends to draw fire but remains a truth all the same is that not every rabbi is a qualified decisor. Few, indeed, are.
The most trenchant text here may be a Talmudic aphorism in Tractate Nedarim.
“[What might seem] constructive [advice] of the young [can in fact be] destructive; and [what might seem] destructive [advice] of … Read More >>
One would be forgiven, especially were one an optimist, for imagining that recent reports of the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s donation of $400,000 to a Teheran Jewish hospital might signal something positive about Iran’s current leadership. With Purim within sight, the idea of good news coming out of Persia is an enticing one.
Our theoretical optimist would also likely have been gratified by the words of the hospital’s director, Dr. Ciamak Morsadegh, who said the Iranian leader “is showing that we [Jews], as a religious minority, are part of this country, too.”
But the Iranian leader’s smiles, largesse and (to flashback several months) Rosh Hashana good wishes to the world’s Jews were lopsidedly outweighed by another recent report, this one provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
(MEMRI, the single most valuable news source for happenings in the Arab and Muslim worlds, does not profess or evidence any political stance; it simply translates and makes available speeches, media reports and other information, positive and negative alike, that aren’t otherwise accessible to the English-reading public.)
The report included a video clip and transcript of a broadcast aired on Iran television’s Channel 1 on February 6. … Read More >>
I think it’s time I came clean regarding my doubts about Judaism, about everything I was taught by my parents and rabbaim in yeshiva. How can we be sure that the Torah was really given to my ancestors at Sinai? Are its laws really eternal? Is halacha really G-d’s will? Are Jews in fact a special people? And are Orthodox Jews true examples of what a Jew should be?
I came across some very compelling literature that called traditional Jewish beliefs into question, and was disturbed by what I had read, and so I read more, and did a good amount of serious thinking and research.
As to Orthodox Jews themselves, yes, most seem to be fine people, but there have also always been “characters” – people with strange fixations or behavior patterns. And then there are Jews proven or rumored to be… not so nice.
The thought that the “outside” world might provide a more rarified and thoughtful community was an enticing one. And so I began to entertain doubts about Jewish beliefs, my religious identity and my community.
I was 14.
To my relief now, many decades later, there was no Internet then to intensify my … Read More >>
Of the slew of recent articles celebrating the idea of girls wearing tefillin two were particularly notable. One, because of how revealing it is of its author’s attitude toward halacha; the second, because it holds the seeds of a worthy lesson.
In Haaretz, feminist Elana Sztokman (upcoming book: “The War on Women in Israel”) asserted that “the crude, sexist responses within Orthodoxy to girls wearing tefillin” only “reflect men’s fears and prejudices.” And that her brand of “religious feminism is not about… women who are angry or provocative.”
She dismisses those who have noted that the Shulchan Aruch (technically, the Rama) criticizes women’s wearing of tefillin as just “try[ing] to make their objections rooted in halakha,” and she cites in her favor the halachic authority of the founder of a school described elsewhere as representing the “co-ed, egalitarian ethos of liberal Conservative Judaism.” That authority, Ms. Sztokman announces, has “unravel[led] the halakhic myths… about women and tefillin.”
What’s more, she continues, fealty to the halachic sources about the issue only shows how “some men think about women’s bodies and their roles in society” and “how deeply rooted misogynistic perceptions are in Orthodox life.”
And to think that … Read More >>