Gratitude and Fortitude — Agudath Israel Statement

As enemy missiles continue to rain on Jewish communities in Eretz Yisroel, and many are intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, it is incumbent on all Jews to feel hakaras hatov, “recognition of the good,” toward the United States of America, which has funded the system over the years of its development. We are reminded, at a time like this, how America has made a major contribution to the defense of Israel, for which we must be deeply grateful.

At the same time, we must remember that Im Hashem lo yishmor ir, shov shokad shomer – “If Hashem will not guard the city, for naught does the guard stand vigilant” (Tehillim, 127) – and that it is therefore to Hashem that we must focus our entreaties with special intensity at this critical time.

Our prayers should include entreaties for the wellbeing of our fellow Jews under attack, as well as for those who are risking their lives to defend them and defeat those who wish us harm.

As has been the practice in many shuls over past years, in response to the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) 83, 130 and 142 after … Read More >>

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If Only

To re-read Rachel Fraenkel’s words in a New York Times report that appeared mere hours before the discovery that her son Naftali and his two friends, Hashem yinkom damam, had been murdered is to experience anew the shattering moment that accompanied the first reports of the discovery.

Confiding to a reporter her belief that the kidnapping would “end in a positive way,” she took care to add: “Not that I don’t consider other things. I’m not in denial. If I have to fall apart, I’ll have time to do it later.”

The time, to the anguish and agony of us all, came.

I was on the phone with a colleague discussing an important legal development when I heard a mid-sentence gasp on the other end of the line, and thought I sensed tears. Although no official word had yet been released, my colleague had just received an alarming e-mail and informed me that some news sources were reporting a “development.” Suddenly the legal issue had not the slightest importance.

It was astounding how so many Jews so far removed from one another – geographically and otherwise – came together in hope and tefilla during the weeks the boys were … Read More >>

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Agudath Israel statement on arrests in murder of Arab boy

Reports of arrests of members of the Jewish community in connection with the recent murder of an Arab youth, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, should fill us all with revulsion.

The Jewish faith does not tolerate violence other than in self-defense and condemns murder as a grave crime. To take the life of an innocent human being is not only an indefensible, evil act but, here, brings our people down to the level of our most implacable and cruel enemies. It is a chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s name.

The entire Jewish world was plunged into mourning at the news of the three innocent Jewish teens who were murdered several weeks ago by as-yet unapprehended parties. And mourning was, and is, the proper response of individuals to such crimes, not misguided attempts by vigilantes to exact “revenge,” which is the Creator’s to dispense.

May the families of both the murdered Jewish boys and the murdered Arab boy be comforted. And may governmental authorities successfully bring all the murderers to the justice that can be meted out in this world.

We beseech the Creator, the One who “makes peace in His heavens,” to send us the day soon when … Read More >>

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Agudath Israel Statement on Today’s Tragic News from Israel

Agudath Israel of America joins Jews and civilized people the world over in anguish and agony over the news of the vicious murders of the three boys kidnapped on June 12, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, Hy”d.

This horrific act is, in the end, not a crime against Israel or Jews alone, but against humanity – in both senses of the word. It bespeaks the deepest and most revolting inhumanity imaginable, the seizing of innocent, idealistic young people and the casual snuffing out of their lives and futures.

Hamas and its allies, which now include the Palestinian Authority, are ultimately responsible for these premeditated, heinous murders. The hatred and incitement that have characterized so much of the campaign to establish a new Arab state alongside Israel are what have yielded these young lifeless bodies, and all the death and destruction born of Arab terrorism over the years.

There are those who believe that all people are, deep down, good. Hamas and its friends, along with other terrorist groups and rogue nations like Iran, give the lie to that lovely but naïve fantasy.

It is our hope that the nations of the free world and their leaders … Read More >>

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Driving Lesson

The article below appeared earlier this week in Haaretz (under a more incendiary title).

Back in the day, before contoured bucket seats became de rigueur in cars, the front seat of family vehicles – especially larger ones – was once a couch-like affair that could, and often did, comfortably seat three adults across. The scene: Mr. and Mrs. Weisskopf, citizens of a certain age, are driving somewhere. The missus is upset, and her husband asks what’s wrong.

“Do you remember,” she says, wistfully but with unmistakable resentment, “how we used to sit so near one another on our drives? Look at us! We’re at totally opposite ends of the seat!”

The man is puzzled, as well he might be. “But dear,” he replies, looking across at her, his hands firm on the steering wheel, “I’m driving!”

The chestnut comes to mind upon reading some of the reactions of Reform leaders to the election of Ruby Rivlin to Israel’s presidency.

“He may be open-minded on a variety of issues,” Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who now heads the “religious pluralism” organization Hiddush, pronounced about the president-elect, “but his mind was made up” about Judaism’s definition. He is “the same … Read More >>

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From The Mouths of Secularists

“…To this very day, if you ask for my religion, I say ‘Orthodox Hebrew’ – in the sense that the church [sic] I’m not attending is that one. If I were to go to a church, that’s the one I would go to. That’s the one I failed. It doesn’t mean I’m something else…”

Those are the words of the famous physicist and Nobel laureate I. I. Rabi (1898-1988), quoted in the book “Rabi, Scientist and Citizen.” He was born into an observant family in Galicia, and was still a baby when his parents immigrated to the United States.

Although he eventually lost his connection to Jewish observance, he confided toward the end of his life that “Sometimes I feel I shouldn’t have dropped it so completely”; and, as his earlier words above testify, he rejected the idea that Judaism could ever be anything other than what it always has been, or that he – or any Jew – could ever be anything other than an Orthodox Jew – whether or not he chose to live like one.

A similar sentiment was voiced several years ago by then-Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, the man elected last week to be … Read More >>

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How Prayer Can #BringBackOurBoys

Two recent articles have sought to demean the concept of tefilla at times of crisis like the present one. A response to the critics that I wrote for the Forward can be read here.

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A (for now) Final Post About Jewish Authority

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 >>

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Of Peoples… and People

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 >>

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Dangerous and Defective Products

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.

Really.

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 >>

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Letter in June 5 Wall St. Journal

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

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Freedom, Love and Blintzes

A piece I wrote for the Forward about Shavuos is here .

Chag same’ach!

http://forward.com/articles/198768/shavuot-is-holiday-that-speaks-of-love-and-freedom/?

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Children’s Programming

“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.

“Good.”

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 >>

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Retroactive Prophecy Redux

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.

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Retroactive Prophecy

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 >>

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A Place Called Doubt

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 >>

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Bias Vs. Backbone

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 >>

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Jungle Jurisprudence

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 >>

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The Secular Sky Is Falling!

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 >>

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The (Almost) Rude Jewish Man

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 >>

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Social Injustice

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 >>

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The Second Son

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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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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Masquerading As Feminism

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 >>

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