I’ve been thinking of posting a piece or two on Jewish media bias and I still hope to do so. In the interim (which, in my case can last months . . .), however, I can’t resist posting the below item from today’s JTA News Bulletin, without comment.
No comment because even a thousand-word post couldn’t possibly make as clear as this item does just how profoundly out-of-touch JTA and other secular Jewish media outlets (who also get much of their material from JTA) are about the realities of Orthodox Jewish life. Unless, perhaps, using its telepathic powers or other forms of divination, it knows things about us that we don’t.
I only wish there was some way to convey to these media folks how embarrassing their publicly displayed ignorance of things Orthodox and, oftentimes of Jewish tradition, history and texts, is (assuming, that is, that they care.)
Rabbinic emissary to pray for rain
A thousand Orthodox rabbis are sending an emissary to Atlanta to pray for rain.
Rabbi [name omitted - EK] will perform an ancient prayer ritual Wednesday seeking divine help to end the drought in the South, the Christian Newswire reported. [The … Read More >>
OK, I’ll admit it: I’ve been jealous for some time of co-contributors Yonason Rosenblum and Rabbi Avi Shafran for their ability to post pieces they’ve written and published in other venues. So I figured I’ll try my hand at this bit of literary economy as well by posting the piece below, although it’s not standard Cross-Currents fare. It appears, with small changes, in two parts in the October and November editions of Yashar, the monthly newsletter of the Mussar Institute.
Aficionados of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone may recall the episode in which an inveterate gambler named Bob comes up to the pearly gates and is shown to his place of eternal repose. Opening the doors to a large hall, he beholds a scene that is clearly his idea of heaven. It’s a casino packed with patrons enjoying every manner of games of chance, and Bob, too, quickly joins in the fun.
Lo and behold, he wins at one game after another. Whether it’s roulette, blackjack or the slots, Bob simply never loses. This goes on for some time, until Bob begins to tire of his constant winning ways. Sitting down at the bar, he orders a beer – it’s … Read More >>
Aha! Now that I’ve got your attention, I can tell the truth: this post is about the closing of the New York Kollel, an adult education program housed in and partially supported by Reform’s Hebrew Union College branch in New York (and thus, my headline about “leaving Kollel” is further inaccurate; it’s the Kollel that’s leaving its students, not vice versa).
The Jewish Week reports on the Kollel’s closing:
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which has housed and helped support the Kollel since 1995, announced this spring that it would close the program, following a two and a half year “strategic planning process” that found the Kollel to be a financial drain.
“We seriously had to look at a number of wonderful programs that we would have been delighted to continue, but we frankly could not afford. The New York Kollel Program is one of them,” Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC president, wrote in a letter to Kollel participants who signed a petition and sent letters in recent months as part of a student-led campaign to save the Kollel.
But at least some associated with the program said shutting its doors was not only a shame, but a … Read More >>
Stop him before he writes again.
At least that’s what they must be saying up in Morningside Heights in the inner sanctum of the Conservative movement, in the wake of his latest Commentary salvo, The Perplexities of Conservative Judaism. As in his whole series of articles in Commentary over the last several years, describing and diagnosing the progressive disintegration of secular American Jewry, Wertheimer pulls no punches.
Here are a few of the money quotes:
Of the theological brochure the movement got around to publishing in 1988, he writes: “Significantly, it was not until the late 20th century that the movement even tried to produce a statement of principles. Attempting to harmonize irreconcilable beliefs, the resulting document, Emet ve’Emunah, was virtually incomprehensible.”
He also bears out a point made not long ago on this site by Kobre (but which appeared towards the end of a characteristically long piece, which is why some may have missed it) regarding Conservatism’s selective abandonment of pluralism, at least the intra-movement kind, with this damning indictment:
When religious traditionalists dominated the movement’s key institutions, the tactic adopted by proponents of innovation was to argue for pluralism. Rather … Read More >>
Dancing this past Simchas Torah to Toras Hashem Temimah, we arrived at the words “eidus Hashem ne’emanah, machkimas pesi” and the following occurred to me:
Elsewhere, the possuk defines a pesi as a “ma’amin l’chol davar,” one who’ll believe anything. Now, it was G.K. Chesterton who famously observed that when one stops believing in G-d, it’s not that henceforth he believes in nothing, but rather that he’ll now believe in anything.
This, then, is Dovid HaMelech’s paean to the Torah — it wises up the pesi. That is to say, Hashem’s testimony teaches the pesi, whose standards of truth are so low and whose inability to think subtly is so great that he’ll believe anything so long as it suits his physical and ego drives, to search for and believe in only that which proves itself to be the truth.
For a living, breathing example of how this works in practice, consider this gem from an interview last week in the Guardian of Dick Dawkins, who, for those thankfully unfamiliar with him, makes a living writing atheistic best-sellers and does a little teaching on the side:
When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has … Read More >>
I had just concluded the morning Daf Yomi shiur when Donny, our resident Teimani, spoke up with a fascinating tale. This past Purim, his brother suffered a robbery at his Hertzeliya home. Thieves had stolen the housekey and picked the combination of his safe, making off with $50,000.
Donny arrived in Eretz Yisrael soon after that and together the brothers sought the counsel of HaGaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlit”a. I don’t have all the details of what he told them, other than a blessing for success in the matter.
One night several weeks ago, at 4 AM, Donny received a call from his brother: “Donny, I’ve recovered the money!” Earlier that day, Donny’s brother had received an urgent cellphone call to come home at once. Waiting for him there were the two young thieves. They had, in the interim, been chozeir b’tshuvah and had returned to the scene of their crime to return their ill-gotten gains, all 50K — plus an additional fifth of the original sum!
This all started me thinking, in the spirit of the season, about my own t’shuva prospects. Here was an episode in which two individuals’ repentance could actually be gauged in … Read More >>
A well-worn anecdote has it that a teacher assigned the writing of an essay with the requirement that it relate to elephants in some way. Looking through the submitted papers, the teacher came upon the one authored by the only Italian in the class entitled “Eating Habits of the Elephant.” Next was a piece by the lone Frenchman headlined “Romantic Interests of the Elephant.” Reaching the last essay in the pile, he found the essay of the token Jew. His topic? “The Elephant and the Jewish Problem.”
One elephant that hasn’t left the room, so to speak, a full month after the publication of that article, is the one relating to the non-Jewish question — that is, the issue of what conclusions are to be drawn from the halacha that requires suspension of melacha proscriptions on Shabbos to save the life of a Jew but not that of a non-Jew, except where failure to save the latter’s life would foster enmity towards Jews, with potential violent repercussions.
I’m fully mindful that, with the onset of Feldman Fatigue Syndrome, this post might go by entirely unnoticed. But I’ve decided to launch it into the blogosphere anyway if only as … Read More >>
The Forward recently reported on another in a series of what it calls “cushy confabs” that bring together the really important Jews to deliberate and pontificate (although the pontiff himself was not invited — perhaps that big yarmulke did him in) and decide the future course of Jewry and Judaism for all us small folk.
In this sense, this gathering of pretentious eggheads, enjoying an all-expenses-paid jaunt on the dime of a filthy-rich sponsor whose own pretensions are slaked by soaking in the intellectual aroma of the former — read: those who can pontificate; those who can’t, bankroll others who pontificate — is so entirely irrelevant that even the slight energy expended by tapping on a keypad grants it more than its due.
This latest shindig, last month’s grand summit of Jewish People Policy Planner People, some other such regular inanity called — so very understatedly — “The Conversation” — they’re all so fungible and so deeply meaningless.
But one incident at this latest outing, held in Park City, Utah, and put on by the Bronfmans, needs comment. The Forward‘s reporter describes the scene when old man Bronfman arose to address the assemblage:
Looking out at … Read More >>
Since several commenters criticized my fellow contributor Yonason (pardon the Hebrew!) Rosenblum for omitting an individual’s rabbinic title, I thought I’d post a recent correspondence of mine with a JTA editor on the very same topic.
To be sure, it’ll be a great day when omitting the title “rabbi” is the most egregious form of anti-Ortho bias in the secular Jewish media, and, in fact, as my correspondence below makes clear, I didn’t even see this as an instance of such bias.
Yet, I do find JTA to regularly exhibit what I term “passive-aggressive bias.” This means their slant is neither blatant nor particularly noxious (which is, sadly, not so of certain other media offenders);but over time, a perceptible pattern emerges in a variety of ways, of treating Ortho individuals and institutions more shabbily than others, dismissively or with bemusement. I therefore saw this “omission of rabbinic title” issue as a way to open a dialogue with JTA on the broader matter of their pervasive editorial attitude toward Orthos.
For years now, I’ve tried, as a private citizen, to engage various media players on their treatment of the Orthodox community, and I believe it would it would … Read More >>
How does one cope with the pain, sitting here in New York, while at this moment, thousands of miles away, our beautifully pure, and purely beautiful, Yerushalayim is being traumatized?
Yerushalayim, whose streets and alleyways — including Rechov HaMelech Dovid – have known the footsteps of prophets, kings, high priests, countless millions of spiritual heroes, known and unknown.
Yerushalayim, within whose embrace sits ge’on uzeinu, Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, shlit”a, who, at this moment, is undoubtedly sitting and singing a melody over a sefer as he has for the last eighty uninterrupted years of toil in Torah, and who tends a flock of thousands and thousands of toilers in Torah and their families.
Could it really be that within those same boundaries unfolds a spectacle in which others — Jews! — exalt into a parade, a philosophy, a movement . . . what? What is it they pay homage to thus? What great truth, what powerful ideal must lie thereunder? At root, under the layers of repackaging and posturing, only the pettiest and basest of fleeting, animalistic urges.
But then, seeking some slight comfort from the pain, I recall a wonderful article by a rebbe of mine, Rav … Read More >>
It sure seems like the Borei Olam has a wonderful sense of humor.
Just as Dick Dawkins and his fellow best-selling nihilists were riding high, selling books like hotcakes the better to worship their highest being, Mammon, with, along comes Newton’s Secrets, a new exhibit at Hebrew U. revealing Isaac Newton, whom many regard as the father of modern science, to be a wild-eyed fundamentalist not altogether different from your average Brisker, right down to studying Rambam‘s Hilchos Avodas HaKorbanos.
No small exhibit, this; Newton’s theological writings, here on public display for the first time, number close to three million words. Here’s how the Associated Press describes their contents:
Three-century-old manuscripts by Isaac Newton calculating the exact date of the apocalypse, detailing the precise dimensions of the ancient temple in Jerusalem and interpreting passages of the Bible — exhibited this week for the first time — lay bare the little-known religious intensity of a man many consider history’s greatest scientist.
Newton, who died 280 years ago, is known for laying much of the groundwork for modern physics, astronomy, math and optics. But in a new Jerusalem exhibit, he appears as a scholar of deep faith who … Read More >>
Note: This post contains what some may regard as more than their minimum daily requirement of sarcasm. Personally, I regard this as healthy facetiousness towards deserving recipients. But if you are facetiousness-sensitive (or have any other relevant allergies), by all means, skip this post. I don’t get paid by the reader (or, come to think of it, any other way).
The April 27th edition of the Forward featured a story entitled “Al Jazeera Gathering Draws a Full Minyan To Heart of Arab World,” which appears below with minimal deletions of mine, including removal of the last names of the Jewish participants:
Doha, Qatar – Some participants at the third-annual forum of the Arab satellite network Al Jazeera were sorry they didn’t bring matzo with them — had they known how many fellow Jews were attending the media conference, they would have made a Passover Seder.
“We could have used the hotel wine to fill our cups,” Mark L. said only half-jokingly. A professor of Middle East studies at University of California in Irvine, L. was one of several Jewish participants who attended the invitation-only conference in Doha, organized by Al Jazeera.
Ethan Z., whose wife is a Reform … Read More >>
Note: This is the little-awaited sequel to “Who Is That Masked Fundamentalist?,” which I posted on May 8 (and what a master of suspense am I!)
So who is that masked fundamentalist? Why, it’s the same fellow who unabashedly said this in full view of the Jewish Agency plenary:
There is nothing in all of Jewish history to suggest that a Jewish community anywhere, including in the Land of Israel, can sustain itself without G-d and Torah. Torah-free civilizations have no staying power. . . . There is no reason logically or historically to think that Israel could not find itself fifty years from now populated by Hebrew-speaking, once-Jewish goyim who are perfectly content to separate themselves from the Jewish people around the world.
But one moment, that quote was even more sharply fundamentalist than the first one, so that doesn’t help matters at all.
Well, how about this: He’s the same person who said the following, and at the very same JA meeting:
Judaism is also threatened by . . . those who immerse themselves in the minutiae of Jewish ritual while retreating behind ghetto walls — who are so focused on every jot and tittle of … Read More >>
No, I’m not referring to the various unsettling bits of background on Mr. Obama that continue to emerge. An example of these is this excerpt from a New York Times piece on Pastor Jeremiah Wright, who, according to the Times led Mr. Obama “from skeptic to self-described Christian.”
In 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views. . . .
Mr. Wright preached black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people, who by virtue of their oppression are better able to understand Scripture than those who have suffered less. That message can sound different to white audiences, said Dwight Hopkins, a professor at University of Chicago Divinity School and a Trinity member. “Some white people hear it as racism in reverse,” Dr. Hopkins said, while blacks hear, “Yes, we are somebody, we’re also made in God’s image.”
It was a 1988 sermon called “The Audacity to Hope” that turned Mr. Obama, in his late 20s, from … Read More >>
Question for the reader: Which well-known Jewish figure is the author of the following recently-penned lines?
[T]here is no reason for a famous person who just happens to be Jewish to command special respect, particularly if that person is not a practicing Jew.
Sadly, many of today’s Jewish stars are not committed Jews. The book Stars of David, a collection of interviews by Abigail Pogrebin, highlights sixty-two “Jewish celebrities,” many of whom have only incidental connections to Jewish life and tradition. Author Nora Ephron expresses mostly contempt for Judaism and for Israel; she takes delight in the fact that her two sons chose not to become b’nai mitzvah. While most of the other “stars” do express some pride in being Jewish, it amounts to little more than ethnic nostalgia. Sarah Jessica Parker, for example, has some interest in Judaism but also finds Unitarianism attractive and provides a Christmas tree for her child. Gene Wilder “feels” Jewish and remembers suffering from anti-Semitism but sees no merit in Judaism as a religion. Natalie Portman finds little evidence of Jewish teen involvement in social justice; the value young Jews are taught, she suggests, is the importance of getting a nice car … Read More >>
Note: Fellow C-C contributor Toby Katz e-mailed me to say she enjoyed my last post, but that some of its important points appear too far down for some Internet-age readers accustomed to skimming pieces and moving on. I hasten to follow both her advice and the example of her own last post, albeit without the sparkling wit thereof (having been to the Katz home last week for a wonderful pasta dinner and delightful conversation, I can attest that her family’s hospitality is as top-notch as her commentary).
The New York Times opened an editorial this past week on campaign finance this way:
Congress is still haunted by the black hat and easy-money grin of Jack Abramoff, the über-lobbyist who is in jail now but reportedly talking freely to investigators.
“Black hat“?! Am I the only one who finds this reference to the headgear of the most infamous Orthodox Jew in Washington jarring at the least, if not a tad sinister? Hey, I readily confess I have no love lost, and more, vis a vis the Times, only the tip of which dismay have I documented on this site. But then again, anyone familiar with the checkered record of the … Read More >>
Several weeks ago, a friend called with a request: would I respond in print to an essay appearing in that week’s Forward? I took a look at the piece in question and, sure enough, the writer had taken off after Orthodox Jews as ethical miscreants for declining to ordain homosexuals. Now, of course, her calumny isn’t stated quite so plainly; that would be tres gauche. Instead, she writes in a certain familiar passive-aggressive, faintly paternalistic mode, the unmistakeable upshot of which is, however, precisely as I put it above.
Not that any of this is new. Blessedly insulated Orthos may not realize it, and may care even less, but they, entire communities — and generations — of them, are regularly tarred publicly in the secular and heterodox media and literature as moral Neanderthals for their beliefs on an wide range of issues. Often, however, the tarring is more implied than explicit, complicating the response.
What had actually so exercised my friend was another of the writer’s assertions: that one way of “changing the status of [homosexual] men . . . is to view the words the Torah uses to describe the realities of its own day as … Read More >>
As the title indicates, this will be (or, given my track record, might be) the first of several posts focusing on recent developments in the Conservative movement. I therefore want to preface these posts by pointing out something interesting.
When, in the past, this site has featured posts on the goings-on in the heterodox denominational world, some commenters have criticized the posters for excessive negativity, fighting irrelevant, old battles, triumphalism, etc.
How interesting, then: In the several months since Conservatism’s Committee on Law and Standards issued its long-awaited ruling on homosexual ordination and ceremonies, which was the biggest news in that movement in a long time and which frummies like us would have been expected to use as a cudgel with which to bash that movement, and the sundry other Judaisms for good measure, the number of C-C posts on the topic has been precisely . . . zero. Continue reading → Whither Conservatism? – I
There has been considerable hullabaloo in the Jewish media of late over Jewish demographics, much of it bewildering (and ultimately saddening), some of it strangely invisible.
First there was the study claiming that 60% of children in Boston’s intermarried homes are being raised as Jews, which advocates of aggressive outreach to the intermarried seized upon to bolster their cause. Prominent demographers like Steven Cohen raised incisive questions, however, about the study’s methodology and about what conclusions could reasonably be drawn from the data.
More recently, there’s been the dust-up over newly released studies that found another million Jews that the NJPS of 2000 had apparently misplaced. A huge sigh of relief could be sensed in the coverage of that story — no more need to agonize over the Jewish future, we’ve found an extra million Jews to join the millions already disappearing into American society, so all’s well on the Jewish front.
What has gone almost totally ignored, however, so far as I can tell, is a report released at the beginning of November by Synagogue 3000 and authored by the above-mentioned Mr. Cohen, which found, according to an article in the Forward (the only one I found … Read More >>
When last I wrote, it was to report on the politically (and anatomically?) correct move of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute to add a smattering of women to its board, and to voice my wistful musing on the likelihood that strongly Orthodox Jews would ever be invited to join that august body.
Lo and behold, I read on to find that one of the three new female members of the People Policy Planning politburo is Professor Suzanne Last Stone, a highly regarded Orthodox academic. Thought I: by golly, I wonder if the Planners realize that they’ve actually chosen a strongly Orthodox woman to join the club.
Now, I’ve never made the acquaintance of Prof. Stone, nor am I at all familiar with her professional writings. All I’m going on here is my vivid recollection of her contribution to the August 1996 Commentary symposium entitled “What Do American Jews Believe?” I’ve gotten many hours of reading pleasure out of my by-now dog-eared copy of that symposium, which I heartily recommend to readers who are not allergic to even a whiff of Orthodox triumphalism.
To explain what I mean by that, I’ll quote from a review of the symposium … Read More >>
So I noticed a news item in the latest Forward reporting that the important-sounding Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, whose job it is, apparently, to plan policy for all the Jews, has relented to the “intense pressure from Jewish communal leaders” to include more women on its board, after the Institute excluded women entirely from a brainstorming meeting of leaders of major Jewish organizations.
Institute leaders said the addition of the female board members is “meant to signal a dedication to eliminating gender imbalance within its ranks.” Notice that the move was but a “signal” of “dedication to eliminate” gender imbalance. Read: this was a desperate attempt to get enraged feminists off their backs for the time being and hopefully buy the ole boys’ network a few more years of cigar-smoking and off-color jokes in relative (and now less so) comfort in the organizational lockerroom.
All of this goes to show, for those who didn’t yet know, that the secular Jewish bigwigs are every bit as misogynistic as the Orthos supposedly are. The only difference between the two being that getting the former to buckle is as easy as having 55 influential leaders — read: zillionaires –send … Read More >>
Readers of Commentary know Joshua Muravchik as a regular and astute observer of political and security affairs for that periodical. That’s why an article by Muravchik, who is also a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in the January issue is all the more surprising in its naivete, on which more later.
In a departure from his usual writing interests, Muravchik takes up the cultural implications of a current hit comedy film featuring British comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen as a Kazakh reporter whose travels through America . . . well, if you want the lowdown on the plot, read the article (notice how I assume that for readers of these words, such will be their sole source of information on the film — talk about naivete!).
Muravchik catalogues the various criticisms that have been leveled against the film, finally arriving at the one that is of particular relevance to Jews. He writes:
This raises another subject of concern to the critics. In ridiculing [Kazakh] sensibilities and practices, Baron Cohen makes relentless use of the rhetoric of anti-Semitism. The character Borat is deliriously frightened of Jews, and of the menace they supposedly portend. They are never far from his mind, and his store of knowledge about them includes every possible anti-Semitic canard. These he articulates with no special venom, merely as the received wisdom of one who has grown up in a village where, we are told, the big annual event is the “running of the Jew.” Continue reading → Some Observations To Make Benefit The Glorious Jewish Nation
I’m grappling with how to reconcile two recent episodes, one from earlier this year and the other very much in this week’s news, that seem contradictory. Allow me to present the perceived conflict and perhaps some perspicacious reader can help sort things out.
Item One: In an October 3 story, the JTA reported on the resignation of Boris Kapustin from his longtime post as leader of one of the Ukraine’s largest Reform congregations, located in the Crimean town of Kerch.
While Ukrainian Reform leaders cite Kapustin’s age and health concerns as reasons for his resignation, Kapustin told JTA his resignation stemmed from his opposition to the movement’s acceptance of same-sex commitment ceremonies.
‘I don’t want to participate in a movement that has organized a chupah for lesbians, which happened in Moscow this year,’ Kapustin said. He was referring to Rabi Nelly Shulman, who officiated at an April 2 commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. . . .
There were also repercussions within the Progressive movement, as Reform is referred to in the region. In late April, Zinovy Kogan resigned as chairman of the movement’s Moscow-based umbrella group. In August, a Reform congregation in the Ukrainian town of … Read More >>
Looking desperately for a small ray of light, a pocket of clean air, amidst the thick stench of what anyone following the political news would have to describe as a nationwide ethical meltdown ahead of Tuesday’s elections, I found, as Shlomo HaMelech put it, “that which my soul loved,” on WNYC this morning.
Tuning in to a “reporters’ roundtable” on the biggest tri-state election races, I heard host Brian Lehrer ask the Connecticut journalist about how Lieberman’s and Lamont’s campaigns were spending the upcoming last weekend of the contest. The latter began his response by noting matter-of-factly that as of sundown Friday evening, Lieberman would, of course, cease campaigning for the ensuing 24 hours in observance of Shabbos (not “the Sabbath”, mind you, or even “Shabbat,” but “Shabbos”). No further elaboration or discussion thereof, just that ten-second soundbite and on the conversation went.
What a marvelous moment, thought I. Whether or not it may have served to raise the consciousness of Shabbos Kodesh in the mind or heart of some Jew listening out there (or, perhaps, in mine . . .), the statement, by itself, was a pristine moment of Kiddush Shem Shomayim.
The notion that right there … Read More >>
An editorial in Friday’s Wall Street Journal regarding a new campaign of the Internal Revenue Service raises an alarming issue for religious communities. It reports that the IRS has newly expanded its Political Activity Compliance Initiative to “put some 15,000 nonprofits — mostly churches — on notice that preaching politics puts them at risk of audits, fines or, in some cases, the loss of tax-exempt status.”
More disturbingly, the IRS has announced that
It will no longer wait for complaints to come in, but will instead take action ‘to prevent violations.’ It will be reviewing the content of sermons, it says, as well as the financial books of religious organizations. The free exercise of religion could now come with a hefty bill.
This is an issue that impacts religious institutions at all points along the political spectrum. And, the IRS concedes, there is no bright-line test for determining what constitutes political activity. Indeed, the WSJ piece begins with an anecdote about a Pasadena minister whose church has been under investigation since 2004 because of a sermon he gave two days before that year’s presidential election opposing the Iraq War.
As the WSJ editorialist observes:
Churches … Read More >>