Even with protective cover from Senator Charles E. Schumer – as determined a defender of Israel as there ever was – and even speaking only for myself, I hesitate to address the overwrought reaction in some corners to President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. I don’t want to be labeled an anti-Semite too.
Not that there wasn’t or isn’t cause for some concern about Mr. Hagel. He is famously on record as having once referred to AIPAC as the “Jewish lobby,” and in the past questioned the wisdom of too hastily employing military force against Iran. But such things – you might want to sit down – do not an anti-Semite or unconscionable isolationist make.
At least not to reasonable eyes. Unfortunately, some tend to the visceral rather than the rational in such matters, prisoners of their own preconceptions. Despite the clear and ample evidence to the contrary, they just can’t stop pegging the president as less than committed to Israel’s wellbeing, and can be counted on to shoot at anything that moves if Mr. Obama set it into motion. So Mr. Hagel was immediately judged by some as bad for Israel, if for no … Read More >>
American politicians tainted by scandal and forced to resign their positions usually explain that they want “to spend more time with their families.” Issam al-Aryan, a top advisor to Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, who recently tendered his own resignation said he is overly “occupied with my work as head of the Freedom and Justice Party bloc in the Shura Council.” He must not lack for family time.
The scandal that attached itself to Mr. al-Aryan was that he had publicly invited Israeli Jews of Egyptian descent to return to their erstwhile home. “Egypt,” he told Jews who had fled Egypt over the years, “is worthier of you than Israel,” which, he explained, is a “racist, occupying entity.”
There was no rush of Egypt-born Israelis to take up Mr. al-Aryan’s offer, or for that matter any evidence of even a single Jewish individual who was enticed by the prospect of leaving a modern, prosperous country, not to mention his ancestral homeland, for a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated pit of poverty and political upheaval. What did come quickly, though, was the backlash against the Egyptian politician for his impudent invitation.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Mahmoud Ghozlan, for example, lambasted Mr. al-Aryan, insisting that “Egyptian … Read More >>
I was heartened by the responses I received to my essay last week, in which I suggested that Jews of good will on each side of the issue of women’s prayer groups at the Kosel Ma’aravi make an effort to empathize with those on the other.
Even as someone who wishes to see the Jewish religious tradition of millennia upheld at that holy spot, I still consider it important to try to appreciate how women used to women’s or mixed-sex services might feel in a segregated national Jewish prayer area where the only group services are men’s. And I expressed my hope that those women, too, will try to put themselves in the shoes of men who embrace halacha and thus may not hear women’s voices raised in song. Where such empathy might lead was not my point; the empathy itself was.
I heard, among others, from several non-Orthodox rabbis who (even though they prefer a different setup at the Kosel than I) expressed their appreciation for what I wrote. Heartening too was that I didn’t receive a single communication from anyone in my own charedi community eschewing empathy for those unlike us. (Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising, … Read More >>
It’s easy to dismiss the antics of Warrior of the Wall Anat Hoffman. Her guerrilla gatherings of women in vocal prayer services at the Kosel Maaravi, or Western Wall, in defiance of an Israeli Supreme Court decision and in affront to the traditional Jewish men and women who most frequent the prayer site, are legend. That’s largely because Ms. Hoffman, head of “Women of the Wall” and executive director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, makes sure the media are summoned and present to record her activities and detainments, which number eight at last count. She can bank, too, on the support – although some of it is uneasy – from the non-Orthodox American Jewish community.
Even those of us, however, who see danger and disunity in Ms. Hoffman’s goal of “liberating” the Wall from Jewish religious tradition – halacha forbids Jewish men from hearing the voices of women singing or chanting – would do well to realize that not all the women who flock to the activist’s side are political agitators. Some are surely sincere, and deserve our own sincere consideration.
Imagine a woman raised in a Reform or Conservative environment, who read from the Torah … Read More >>
Most people, asked if there was any specific Jewish connection to the recent horrific murder of 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, would probably respond “Noah Pozner,” one of the six-year-old casualties.
There’s another Jewish connection, though, or at least an imagined one, to the massacre. Even while the slaughtered innocents were still being prepared for burial, neo-Nazi websites began to assert, on the sole basis of their operators’ fevered imaginations and an ugly sort of wishful thinking, that Adam Lanza, the mass murderer, was a Jew.
Or at least, the bloggers claimed, a half-Jew (although from which half the evil emerged was left unclear).
One site proffered evidence, too: The name “Adam,” it explained, is exclusively used by Jews. (How clueless we’ve all been about, among others, Adam Smith and Adam Clayton Powell.)
An Iranian website, Qodsna.com, quickly joined the contemptible chorus, adding the accusation that the notoriously self-censoring Western media, which had provided nary a word about Mr. Lanza’s alleged Jewish parentage, had actively conspired to hide it. The article was revealingly titled “The Common Roots of the Palestine and Sandy Hook Crimes.” (A second article on the … Read More >>
As a single young man in 1977, I once found myself in a science museum where I viewed a just released short film that – there’s really no other way to put it – expanded my consciousness. It apparently did the same for many others and remains to this day, despite powerful advances in special effects, an impressive work.
Produced the year I encountered it by husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames, “Powers of Ten” begins with a simple scene, a picnic in a Chicago park. As predicted by the voice-over, though, the camera pulls away from the picnic, at a rate of one power of ten per 10 seconds. The zoom-out continues straight up, so that, in a few seconds, the picnic blanket is but a dot of color against the green expanse of the park, which soon enough, with the camera continuing to soar heavenward, itself shrinks to a speck. Then the viewer sees the outline of Lake Michigan, then North America; the earth’s cloud cover next fills the screen, and then earth itself, which itself quickly recedes into the distance. Eventually we see an image of our solar system and then the galaxy to … Read More >>
Similar advertisements abound, but this one took the cake.
I’ve always been simultaneously amused and saddened by pitches for “high-end timepieces,” more accurately known as overpriced wristwatches.
Amused, because the most intricate Swiss movements consisting of scores, if not hundreds, of near-microscopic moving parts are no better (and often worse) at keeping accurate time than simple quartz or digital watches available for less than a thousandth the price. And saddened, by the thought that there are actually people out there whose self-image is so fragile (and whose understanding of money’s worth is so distorted) that they actually waste large amounts of cash for such status symbols.
Enter now, in the ad I saw, the French luxury goods house Hermès. It is presenting marks—pardon, discerning fashion-conscious folks—with the opportunity to purchase a truly revolutionary timepiece, one that can… make time stand still.
This is not a joke, or at least it’s not being presented inaccurately. The ad copy, in its entirety, reads:
La montre Hermès reinvents time and set it to the tempo of your desires.
Press on the pushbutton and suspend time.
Beneath the dial, time continues to run within the heart of the mechanism.
Another push on … Read More >>
Students of Daf Yomi will reach it on the seventh day of Chanukah, “it” being a particularly trenchant mishna in Mesechta Shabbos, considering that the following day, “Zos Chanukah,” is identified in the Jewish mystical tradition as the last echo of the Days of Judgment that began with Rosh Hashana.
It’s easy to overlook this particular passage’s implication, but it’s one that is fundamental to life. On the surface, the mishna (73a) deals simply with categories of forbidden actions on Shabbos, including mocheik, or “erasing,” the sister-melacha of “writing.”
The designation of forbidden actions on the Sabbath is determined by which acts were necessary for the building and use of the mishkan, or desert-tabernacle. Where exactly was writing used? The Talmud (ibid, 103b) explains that the gilded wooden beams used for the structure – which was dismantled and rebuilt repeatedly – were inscribed with letters to indicate which beams were to be placed where. (My sukkah and I’m sure many other sukkos benefit from a similar component-designation system.)
And erasing? Well, that, Rashi on the mishna explains, derives from the need to correct errors when the wrong letters were mistakenly inscribed on beams.
Now think: the builders probably … Read More >>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 30, 2012
Statement From Agudath Israel of America on UN Resolution Concerning Palestinian Statehood
The declarations of Hamas, the Palestinian government of Gaza, that Israel must be destroyed, the countless rockets that have underscored that intent, and the cheering on of the same by Arab residents of the West Bank make a much greater historical noise than the craven “aye”s of the 138 representatives of nations who voted yesterday to change the status of “Palestine.”
Agudath Israel of America applauds our government and the governments of Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau on their principled stances in yesterday’s United Nations General Assembly vote on the status of “Palestine.”
May we soon see the day when the other nations of the world recognize that there is only one path to peace for Israel and the Arab population in its midst, and that, at present, only one of those parties has its hands outstretched to the other.
# # #
Beyond all the Arab declarations of animus for Israel, beyond Hamas’ firing of rockets from hospitals and schools, beyond its cynical propagandizing of the resultant civilian casualties when those batteries are destroyed by Israeli jets, beyond the Gazan crowds celebrating the extension of Hamas missiles’ ranges to within reach of Israeli population centers, one image may best capture the jihadi mindset: the dragging of a man’s corpse through the streets of Gaza City.
The executed man was an Arab, like the rider to whose motorcycle his body was tied, like the cheering men atop the other bikes in the macabre motorcade. He, along with several others who were likewise summarily murdered, had been accused of “collaborating” with Israel – i.e. with sending information to the Israelis that helped them identify missile sites or the whereabouts of jihadi military leaders.
The gleeful bikers, in the end, are but an unvarnished representation of a society that seems to suck in hatred and violence with its every breath. They reflect the essence of Hamas, the movement that Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi lauds when he speaks to his people, of the West Bank residents who cheered on the rockets launched from Gaza, … Read More >>
With the storm they call Sandy three weeks gone (though not its repercussions, unfortunately), the rear-view mirror perspective allows us to reflect anew on a Jewish truth: that “natural” disasters are meant to make us think.
Some of the thoughts that have already been contemplated were projected outward, at larger society’s excesses and decadence, seeing the storm as a sign of Divine disapproval of things that the Divine, as taught us by our religious tradition, strongly condemns.
Others have regarded the hurricane as a stimulus for collective Jewish repentance, or, turning even more inward, for their own personal self-improvement, in whatever areas they feel need attention.
Others still have looked at the tempest through the shining lens of the positive things it begat, the outpouring of concern and aid for others that came in its wake. From that perspective, Sandy was an opportunity to recognize the import of our interconnectedness, of the need to feel the pain of others, and to care for their needs.
All of those ideas are properly considered; what isn’t, though, is claiming that one knows with certitude the “reason” for the destruction and death—or any destruction or death. Making such assertions is the exclusive … Read More >>
Please forgive the “commercial” nature of this posting, but I just wanted to share with Cross-Currents readers that a collection of some of my essays from the past ten years or so has just been published and is available at:
Even if you’ve had enough of my writing yourself already, the volume might make a decent gift for a friend or relative who may not have had exposure to a (hopefully well-written — thanks to my foremost editor, my wife, and others who’ve helped me tweak my stuff) mesorah-based hashkafa.
In any event, I thought you might want to know. And if I was wrong, my apologies!
Is child abuse “more common in the Orthodox Jewish community than it is elsewhere? There are no reliable statistics … but there’s reason to believe the answer to that question might be yes.”
Those words, sandwiching an important admission between a sinister question and an unfounded speculation, were written back in 2006 by Robert Kolker in New York magazine.
Mr. Kolker’s “reason to believe” was based on speculation by the New York Jewish Week’s Hella Winston, who has since established herself as someone who views the Orthodox community through heavily jaundiced eyes.
Our hearts must ache with the anguish of victims of abuse, especially children. And it’s natural for people who have met survivors of terrible things to feel deeply for them, and angry at their abusers. But extrapolating from the harrowing accounts of carefully sought-out victims that abuse, which sadly exists in the Orthodox community as it does in all communities, is somehow emblematic of Orthodox life is like visiting Sloan Kettering and concluding that there is a national cancer epidemic raging.
The New York writer went on to offer an even more offensive, even less grounded, conjecture, protectively qualified by the cop-out preface “There are some who … Read More >>
As with a number of evil ideas, physician assisted suicide can be defended without great difficulty. The magic word for making the case is “autonomy”—the right of individuals to make choices about their future (or, here, lack of one).
That is precisely the argument that was made in Oregon, Washington and Montana, states that have legalized assisted suicide (or, as it has been renamed in Newspeak, “death with dignity”).
The same argument was made (and the phrase enshrined) of late in Massachusetts, where voters, by a slim margin rejected the “Death With Dignity Act,” permitting doctors to help patients kill themselves if they are “terminally ill.”
Every life, however, has a terminus. Mortality happens; in fact it’s currently the rule. And so, “terminal illness,” at least philosophically speaking, is a meaningless term. (Halacha recognizes a state of “in the actual process of dying”—goses—but that concept is of no pertinence here; it is forbidden to kill a goses.) One is either alive or one is not. And suicide is either an autonomy-based human right or it isn’t.
It pays to consider some questions here. Why do civilized societies consider a healthy person who wishes to end his life to … Read More >>
It might seem a sacrilegious thought but it’s entirely true: Your vote doesn’t count. When was the last time you heard of an election, even for a local office, decided by one vote? A school board single vote might be crucial. But anything on the order of a city-wide election—all the more so a state-wide contest, and even more still, a national one—has never turned on a single ballot.
Yes, yes, if everyone felt that way and chose to not vote, the system wouldn’t work. But that is a retort, not an argument. In the end, your personal vote, qua vote, carries no determinative weight.
Please don’t get me wrong. It is important, even imperative, for Orthodox Jews in America to vote. Foremost, because it is a privilege afforded us by the wonderful country in which we live; gratitude for our freedoms and opportunities mandates that we not ignore the gift of citizenship. And then there is the importance of our communities being seen by elected officials as reliable voters; when public servants face decisions, communities perceived as electorally active more readily command the attention of the deciders.
So by all means vote! But no matter how … Read More >>
In slow but clear Hebrew and with an endearingly wry smile, the elderly Jewish lady recalls a trip to America one summer with her sister. At a bank, she recounts, the teller, a young woman, said to her. “Oh, you have numbers on your arms! Yours ends with a ‘4’ and hers with a ‘5’!” That’s cool!”
The bubbeh’s smile widens and her eyes seem to twinkle as she recounts her response to the girl. “You’re right,” she quietly told her in English. “It’s cool… It’s from another epoch of our life. It’s cool.”
The testimony is offered in a documentary film, “Numbered,” whose US premiere is scheduled for later this month at a Chicago film festival. The film’s focus, however, is not so much on the cluelessness of young Americans but rather on the attitudes of different tattooed survivors to the memory-marks they carry day-in, day-out on their arms. And on the recent trend among some young Israelis who seek to perpetuate a connection to the Holocaust and the Jewish people by tattooing their own arms with numbers borne by concentration camp inmates.
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, such tattooing was introduced … Read More >>
The current extended silly season called a presidential campaign has certainly provided its share of absurdities. Wouldn’t it be nice if all there was to consider were objective facts about the candidates and carefully drawn policy statements by each? If those manipulative and disingenuous political ploys known as ads were outlawed? (I know, I know, we have a Constitution that’s very kind to free expression, even of lies and innuendo.) If money and gullibility didn’t somehow combine to yield votes?
Instead we have dog stories—that Mr. Romney long ago travelled with one atop his car (albeit in a windshield-equipped animal container—and with Seamus reportedly enjoying the ride); and that Mr. Obama, as a child in Indonesia, had tasted canine meat (a delicacy in a number of countries). And slightly less peripheral but ultimately irrelevant “issues” like the contents of the Republican candidate’s personal tax returns and the fact that some Navy SEALS don’t support the president’s re-election.
Then there are the outright mischaracterizations. Like the portrayal of Mr. Romney’s ill-spoken but less-than-horrifying admission to a group of donors that the 47% of Americans who pay no income tax aren’t likely to vote for him, as some sort of “let … Read More >>
A time-travelling housefly, transported back to the mid-1980s and spending a Sunday afternoon lazing high on the wall of an ornate living room in a stately home on the fashionable East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, would behold an unusual sight.
Below him would be a group of Jewish children, ages ranging from around three to eight, each holding a stuffed animal. The matron of the house, a meticulously-dressed lady of a certain age and the manor’s sole permanent resident, would preside, beaming, over the gathering, and ask the children to put their furry companions on chairs arranged around a table brimming with kosher cookies, chips, and candy.
The fly would be witnessing one of Mrs. Dorothy Fox’s “stuffed animal parties” (at which festivities whatever the animals didn’t eat would become fair game for their caretakers). After refreshments, Mrs. Fox, a divorcée of many years and someone whose love for children was joyfully reciprocated by the little ones, would take the crew of kids and creatures for a tour of her back yard, which was graced with statues and other interesting things. Leveraging even her name to please her young visitors, Mrs. Fox would encourage them to edit it … Read More >>
Olivewood is beautiful. It reminds me of Eretz Yisrael and little carved camels; it has a delicate, calming hue. And silver, well, it is pure and shiny and smooth, and brings sefer Torah ornaments to mind. The esrog boxes made of ornately carved olivewood and elegant, glimmering silver are most fitting containers for holding an objet d’mitzvah. My personal preference, though, is cardboard.
Not any cardboard, that is, but my cardboard, the white heavy-paper stock box in which an esrog of mine, many years ago, was packed when I bought it. These days, the standard-issue boxes tend toward illustrated green affairs. The old-fashioned white ones were more bland, but also better canvases on which a child’s imagination could assert itself.
And so my old esrog box—or at least its panels, re-attached now to a more sturdy modern box, covering up the garish green—is unique. Its sides and top feature a young child’s rendering in colored markers of, respectively, an esrog and lulav; a sukkah; a smiley-face;and (inexplicably but endearingly) a turtle whose shell is a sukkah covered with schach). The artists are now either mothers or “in shidduchim,” but some of us like, on occasion, to time-travel. We look … Read More >>
The Democratic National Committee, at least from the perspective of Israel supporters, had an exceedingly bad week when it convened.
Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was caught in an unpleasant untruth when she claimed that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren had described Republican policies as “dangerous” for Israel, an assertion Mr. Oren “categorically den[ied].” She subsequently denied making the claim, but her denial was conclusively contradicted by an audio recording.
And then there was the Democratic National Committee platform, which omitted its predecessor-document’s description of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (not to mention the phrase “G-d given,” in an unrelated context).
When the omission of the Jerusalem language came to light, courtesy of a close reading of the 32-page platform by a Republican operative, Democratic Israel stalwarts were taken by surprise. New York Senator Chuck Schumer was described by Politico as “flabbergasted”; and Newark, NJ mayor and platform committee co-chair Cory Booker called the omission “unfortunate.” Although he noted that the platform had been largely written from scratch and was not based on previous ones, he was at a loss to explain the lacuna.
Blue blood was in the water, though, and Republican sharks, not to mention the … Read More >>
[This is an Ami Magazine "News Commentary" piece -- one of several features I write for the publication.]
An umbrella group of institutions engaged in Jewish-Christian relations and the Anti-Defamation League both issued statements recently that were harshly critical of Rabbi Hershel Schachter, the respected posek (halachic authority), Rosh Yeshiva, and Rosh Kollel at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York. In a dvar Torah posted to the web, Rabbi Schachter had decried missionary activity in Eretz Yisrael and the efforts of some Orthodox-ordained rabbis to affirm Catholic claims to “a covenantal connection” to Eretz Yisrael.
In the process, he noted how the “official Catholic response” to the Zionist movement was a negative one, and how the position of the Vatican to this day is that Jerusalem should be an “international city.” And he noted Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l’s strong opposition to the establishment of religious bonds with Christian clergy—and how “shameful” it is that some claiming to be disciples of “the Rav” have disregarded or misrepresented his words. Rabbi Schachter is recognized as, in the words of the New York Jewish Week, “a leading disciple” of Rab Soloveitchik, whom the paper calls “a towering … Read More >>
The noise, news, deception and demagoguery that emanate from political conventions tend to intoxicate some Americans to break out their own flags and flyers and root loudly for their guy (and against the other guy). Parts of the Jewish community are no different, and excitedly join the fray. Inherent worriers that many of us are (and subject as we are to the Tochacha’s prediction that even the rustling of a leaf will sometimes terrify us), we may feel we’ve spied danger around this or that candidate’s corner.
That is our prerogative, of course, each of us according to his own degree of paranoia (and, as a member of the tribe once famously said, even paranoids have real enemies).
One thing we must take care to avoid, though, is hopping on any of the various bandwagons whose loudspeakers blare that this or that candidate is the enemy of mankind, Satan incarnate, a closet Communist, or a Nazi well-disguised. Our mesorah guides us to treat the leaders (and, presumably, would-be-leaders, for leaders they may yet be) of the countries where we dwell, with deference and honor. We can disagree with policies, of course, and even be critical. But we are … Read More >>
Some reporters have punished me over the past few years, for doing something they don’t like—asking that they pose their questions by e-mail.
Some background: As the media liaison for Agudath Israel of America, I regularly receive inquiries from members of the press about an assortment of issues, mostly about Agudah policies or initiatives but about all manner of things Jewish as well.
Although there are responsible journalists out there, competition for “eyeballs” tends to color, and often distorts, much reportage.
During my early years on the job I freely spoke with any and all reporters, confident that what I thought was my openness and good will would force my inquisitors to treat me, and our community, fairly. I was in for a surprise.
The first few times I was misquoted or my words mischaracterized, I assumed I hadn’t been sufficiently clear or that the reporters had made innocent mistakes. Eventually, though, I sobered and realized that some reporters were—are you sitting down?—not really interested in accuracy or truth. They were seeking, rather, some quote to plug into the article they had already written (at least in their heads), on a quest to get some words from … Read More >>
In his editorial last week, Ami’s editor Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter raised an important point about religious Jews’ presidential election priorities.
An interview he conducted earlier this summer included assertions about President Obama that, were they true, would properly earn the president the opprobrium of Jews concerned with Israel’s wellbeing (all Jews, one hopes).
While reasonable people can certainly think that a Republican president would be better for Israel, I subsequently pointed out that the assertions that appeared in Ami were unsubstantiated.
Now Rabbi Frankfurter has now chosen to level a new charge against the president, about his “social agenda,” which Newt Gingrich informed (or told) Rabbi Frankfurter is to create a “very, very secular America, in which religion can exist for about one hour a week.”
That alleged “ongoing effort to chase G-d out of the public sphere” (Rabbi Frankfurter’s words) began (in Mr. Gingrich’s) “with the Supreme Court decision on school prayer in 1963.” When Mr. Obama was two years old (the little rascal).
My defense of Mr. Obama on the issues of Israel and national security were never aimed at promoting his candidacy, but simply an effort to respect truth, and to urge the shunning of over-the-top … Read More >>
Like pretty much all publicity, the heavy reportage of the Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium earlier this month was something of a two-edged sword. Over the weeks since the Siyum, awareness of the event likely inspired many Jews to undertake Daf Yomi and legions of others to aspire to a greater degree of Jewish study and observance. It also brought the very idea of Torah study to the attention of large numbers of our fellow Jews who may have, in reading or watching reports about the Siyum, for the first time confronted Torah study as a real-life ideal.
All the reportage of the Siyum and Daf Yomi, however, also provided grist for some grumbling mills.
“The question is how much depth does one really get into with a Daf Yomi kind of approach,” sniffed Conservative Rabbi Steven Wernick of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “It’s breadth over depth,” he pronounced, explaining helpfully, and risibly, to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency how “the Conservative approach to Jewish study tends to be more depth-oriented.”
And then there was Arnold Eisen, the chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary, who penned an opinion piece for the Wall … Read More >>