Double Standard

Many have written – mostly recently our own Yaakov Menken on Cross-Currents on Jan 11 – to the effect that it is unfair to associate Charedim with NK. While indeed extremely unfortunate, this association in the public mind is, in my view, not unfair.

Every societal group must bear responsibility for the natural outcome of its own values. Accordingly, while Charedim may be within their rights to join those who label Boruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir as natural by-products of what is to them a misguided religious zionist movement, Charedim cannot simultaneously attempt to distance themselves from the natural by-products of their own movement. As orthodox Jews charged with carrying out their affairs to the highest possible degree of authenticity and probity, Religious Zionists and Charedim each must honestly acknowledge and attempt to root out their respective problem areas. Failure to even attempt to do so, on either side of the aisle, gives the clearest indication of values truly held, not merely espoused.

On the Charedi side of the ledger the following contrast is interesting, though not necessarily dispositive: In Monsey last year a local citizen was publicized as a brazen seller of non-kosher chickens purposely labeled as kosher in outrageous … Read More >>

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Ahead to the past

Here is my sister’s travelogue from her recent visit to our mother’s birthplace in Berlin:

I had to choose whether to fly with my husband and two of our boys to Berlin, or whether to stay home and have a few quiet days to myself. “Mom, you can do whatever you like,” said the boys, probably wishing in a way for a ‘guys’ trip just with their father, “but just decide quickly.” I chose Berlin.

I felt a bit awkward telling family and friends that we were going to Berlin on vacation. Most Jews likely feel ambivalent about visiting Berlin. On one hand there is a certain curiosity to see the city that begot one of the greatest horrors in human history. On the other hand there is a feeling of disgust and terror at actually being there. But it has a special meaning for me. Berlin is my mother’s birthplace. She lived there until the outbreak of World War II at which time she was fortunate to be able to leave on a kindertransport to England.

My parents traveled to Berlin in 1996 as guests of the Berlin government. Before my trip, I went through their photographs and … Read More >>

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To Serve with Honor

I recently received the following painful question and gave the following response. It is posted here with the questioner’s permission, of course. Readers’ comments, as always, are welcome. I have added some translations from Hebrew in brackets throughout this post.

QUESTION:

Dear Gedalia:

I’ve been meaning to ask you a question for some time now, and finally have a chance since law school finals are over and I’ve started my not-too demanding summer job.

While this year was definitely a challenge in terms of balancing family, learning, and law school, that challenge was not what I found most difficult. For me, the greatest difficulty was no longer being “in learning” and feeling outcast and looked down upon, to a degree, by those still “in learning.”

At the outset I have to admit that much of my feelings may be a result of my own insecurities as a baal teshuva [newly observant Jew] and the like, but I did receive comments from some people that, in my mind, were patronizing at best and insulting at worst (i.e. “don’t worry, I know some people who went to law school who still became a rabbi – talmid chacham – mechanech, [Torah scholar or teacher] etc.,”), as if being a frum lawyer and supporting one’s family is not “good enough”. Continue reading → To Serve with Honor

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Sunrise, Sunset

My daughter was married last week to a fine young man. She is our eldest and she is the first of our children to be married. It is a firm Jewish belief that deceased anscestors are in some way present at a wedding. So, in contemplating the extraordinary course of events through which G-d led us to arrive at this joyous day, I recalled to myself some of our family history.

I never met either set of my grandparents. And, as far as I know, my two sets of grandparents never met each other. They were all born in Lodz in the 1880s and 1890s and lived in Germany between WWI and WWII. All four of them were slaughtered by the Germans. We know the general location where the slaughters took place, but there is of course no specific grave or marker at the place of the crimes.

My father’s brother lived in London. He died about twelve years ago and is buried at the Enfield cemetery in London. I was very fond of my uncle (my son born shortly after his death is named after him) and I always hoped for an opportunity to visit his gravesite. The … Read More >>

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Touchy Situation

I was recently asked to explain why in business settings many orthodox Jews do not shake hands with members of the opposite gender. Here is how I responded:

“Traditional Judaism places a premium on the family bond and emphasizes heavily the unique and exclusive nature of the husband-wife relationship. Judaism expects men to reserve their sexuality for their wives and women to reserve their sexuality for their husbands. While sometimes hard to appreciate in our over-stimulated and media-saturated world, the power of touching can (or should) be formidable, and many Orthodox Jews – even though it is ‘merely’ a business setting – do not touch or shake hands with someone of the opposite gender. This is not strictly speaking forbidden by Jewish law; it is more in the nature of being very attuned to the issue. (Similarly, although not strictly speaking forbidden by Jewish law, many Orthodox couples will not hold hands or show affection in public. This is not prudery, it is privacy. Affection and passion are inherently private matters.)

It is worth noting that traditional Judaism promotes one’s inner self over the outer, physical trappings. For this reason Orthodox Jews, both men and women, tend … Read More >>

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Leviticus

Jonathan Rosenblum wrote: “I have been thinking for some time about how to fashion an argument against the “Gay Parade” in Jerusalem (and elsewhere) that would resonate with non-religious people and those who do not view homosexual acts as sinful. Citing Leviticus will be inadequate.”

I have also thought about this for a very long time (not in the context of the parade, but in the overall context of gay marriage) and have concluded that there is no such perspective; those who do not accept that there is a G-d Who gave us Leviticus have no source for a consistent moral code. Absent this consistency society can legislate whatever it wants based on passing trends. For example, witness the shift in ‘morality’ concerning abortion, euthanasia and gays over the past 35 years. The great ‘ethicist’ Peter Singer has written that “we find that we can no longer accept the ethics of the past.” I would argue instead, as Henry James said, that “a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. ”

Our current cultural debate about gay marriage necessarily engages two camps who cannot hear each other precisely because they are living … Read More >>

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Turn Right for the Siyum

Two expressions of a single idea:

1. Post-siyum a picture taken outside the Meadowlands (in New Jersey) showing ‘Racetrack’ and ‘Siyum HaShas’ directional traffic signs side-by-side was widely circulated and re-printed. The caption attached to this picture was ‘anu rotzim v’hem rotzim’, a quote from the siyum text itself meaning, basically, ‘They run to do what They feel is important (the Racetrack) and We run to do what We feel is important (Torah study).’

Something about this caption bothered me, but remained inchoate. I thought maybe it was the fact that the siyum’s venue in the various arenas, using the same facilities and infrastructure as are generally used for decidedly non-Jewish events, was much more of a statement than just the traffic sign; and that somehow using this caption diminished the overall distinction. Then I thought it was the fact that it was so gleefully sent around, raising my fear that We would use the siyum as a whip to denigrate Them. (See Marvin Schick’s April 4th post about how We sometimes talk about Them; I cannot agree more with his sentiments).

Finally we had our neighbors over for Layl Shabbos (Friday Night Dinner) and Mrs. … Read More >>

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Siyum HaShas and the Shufflers

One way in which authentic Judaism differs from societal norms currently in vogue in the Western world is that Judaism abhors the cult of hero-worship. Before you lift your strongest finger to punch out your indignant comment, well, let me try to explain. Also, be nice because this is my first post.

Judaism promotes hard work and substance over style. It is inconceivable that a Torah leader would have any bit of his personality invested in marketing his image and reputation. Torah leaders are almost literally designated by the people as a result of their piety and scholarship. Yes, sometimes we ‘worship’ our heroes – in some circles there even seems to be a trend in that direction. But, and here’s the key, our heroes do not worship themselves. Memo to Madonna, Arnold and the rest: at the end of the day it’s not how well you look or sell, it’s what you are.

Which brings me to the fine folks celebrating next week’s Siyum HaShas. Clearly only a small percentage of those in attendance are actually completing all of Shas. What are the rest of us (yes…sigh…us) doing there?

I can’t speak for others but I know why … Read More >>

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