Call For Material to Honor R Hershel Schachter

[Editor's Note: Given the large place that Rav Schachter's thought has contributed to the discussions on the blog, the request to post the request that follows seems eminently reasonable.]

In honor of Rav Schachter’s continued and unflagging ahavah and mesiras nefesh for Torah, Am Yisrael and his talmidim in particular, we are soliciting your personal thoughts, remembrances and anecdotes of Rav Schachter that will be assembled and presented in book form to Rav Schachter personally this Pesach. Your submission can be in long or short form, in any language, and on any topic, but should principally be a message that demonstrates your hakaras hatov to Rav Schachter and the influence and impact that he has had on your life and those around you.

We have already received nearly 50 submissions, but each additional submission adds immeasurably to the whole collection, and we would appreciate if you would take a few moments to provide your own.

Please feel free to send your message to this email (RHSGIFT@gmail.com). If possible, please also include some brief biographical information about yourself: if you were a talmid in the Shiur, where you now live, your profession, and any other information you think would … Read More >>

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A Letter From a Troubled Charedi Father

Dovid Landesman

My late rebbi, Rav Dov Schwartzman z”l, once told me that the essence of the sin of the spies dispatched by Moshe is that they were motzi dibat ha-aretz in chutz la-aretz [they defamed the Land of Israel at a time when they were outside that land]. I can very well understand those who would contend that there is a substantial difference between motzi dibat ha-aretz and motzi dibat ha-medinah; nevertheless, I am profoundly disturbed by the postings and comments – and even more so by the tone – of those who permanently reside in the Diaspora and choose to analyze the questions and challenges raised by the current draft situation in EY based on hearsay evidence, isolated incidents or the agenda driven reporting of the chareidi and non-chareidi press.

Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the total self-denial characteristic of many elements in the yeshiva world that we – the chareidi world of which I consider myself a member in good standing – may well be at least partially at fault for the success of Yair Lapid and his cohorts. The question of national service is not new and has been festering in Israeli society for … Read More >>

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More on Drafting Yeshiva Boys

by Rabbi Doron Beckerman

Many of the arguments regarding the hot-button topic of drafting Yeshiva boys unfortunately seem to suffer from profound confusion. In an attempt to clarify the issues as seen from a mainstream Charedi viewpoint, I present a list of questions and the answers as I understand them.

Q: Why don’t Charedim go to the army?

A: Do you mean Charedim, or those studying full-time in Yeshiva or Kollel?

Q: Start with those studying full-time.

A: Because there was always a portion of Klal Yisrael that was dedicated to full-time Torah study and that did not serve in the army.

Q: Is there halachic basis for this exemption?

A: Yes. While it is a matter of debate among the Poskim, the preponderance of Poskim maintain that those studying Torah are exempt. Sources include: R’ Yechiel Michel Tukaczinsky (HaTorah VeHamedinah, 1952); R’ Yitzchak Arieli (Einayim LaMishpat, Bava Basra 7b); R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah IV, 33); R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Sefer Hilchos Medinah II, Sha’ar 3); R’ Moshe Tzvi Neriah (Bnei HaYeshivos Vegiyyusam).

Q: Is part of the calculus that Torah study provides protection to its inhabitants?

A: Yes.

Q: Do Charedim believe that there is no … Read More >>

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A New Dialogue in Eretz Yisroel – The Transformative Model

Binyomin Wolf

Both sides on the chareidi draft issue in Eretz Yisroel see the other as an existential threat. The current coalition government apparently thought that they did not need to compromise on the imprisonment issue when they unilaterally negotiated and recently passed their draft bill. On the other hand, the various chareidi communities do not think they need to compromise in their total opposition to the law in any form and believe their show of solidarity on the issue at the Atzeres Tefillah gathering in Yerushalayim backs up that position. All they need to do it wait until the next election and give a majority to any coalition government which agrees to repeal the law.

When both sides look at the other, they feel simultaneously vulnerable and powerful. In reality, this is the perfect opening for leaders on both sides to participate in an open-ended dialogue that, based on past history, has a strong potential to not only enable them to reach a peaceable resolution to the conflict, but to bring them closer together. That framework for conversation is called “transformative mediation.”

The Transformative Model

The chareidi and non-chareidi communities in Eretz Yisroel need some framework … Read More >>

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Purim: Respecting the Limits

Avrohom Gordimer

The final hours of my Purim this year were utterly ruined by several incidents of irresponsible drinking. It is time that our communities aggressively tackle this most serious matter head-on. No, I am not advocating the approach of not drinking. I myself, in a very controlled way, imbibe on Purim in a manner that totally fulfills the mitzvah of “Ad d’lo yada” according to the Shulchan Aruch. At that time, during my seudas Purim, I experience the Mishteh and Simchah qualities of Purim, as I focus internally and share divrei Torah about what I believe are the inner meaning of the day and the true significance of Purim drinking. I make sure that drinking concludes two hours before Maariv, that drinking occurs exclusively at the Purim seudah (v. Rambam Hilchos Megillah 2:15 and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 695:2), that the only intoxicating beverage present is wine (v. Rambam ibid.), and that minors only imbibe a very small, monitored amount. These guidelines typically ensure a really inspiring, joyous and outstanding Purim, which my family and guests appreciate and seek to replicate.

This year, several incidents upon which I will not elaborate spoiled everything. While we are all familiar … Read More >>

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The Beit Shemesh Elections – One Chareidi Perspective

by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

It seemed to us, the residents of Beit Shemesh, as if the whole world stood still to follow the elections. Politicians from Netanyahu on down all made statements and took sides (strictly on party lines: everyone against the Chareidim). As they put it, the entire future of Beit Shemesh — and of Israel for that matter — depended on the outcome. This was the final hope for Beit Shemesh, they declared. Would it be a forward-looking city welcoming to all, or yet another (backwards, intolerant, impoverished) Chareidi stronghold?

What happened that pit this usually easygoing, peace-loving, heavily-Anglo city against itself in some cataclysmic, no-holds-barred struggle for survival? And why did some consider the outcome an awe-inspiring kiddush Hashem while others called it a disgrace to all the Torah is supposed to hold dear? We all know there are hotheads and troublemakers among us — on both sides of the fence — but in all honesty, I think all of us here know that the vast majority of us are proud of our city and proud of the fact that we live in peace and harmony 99.9% of the time. To most of us Beit Shemesh … Read More >>

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Living in Chutz LaAretz and the IDF – A Halachic Overview and Proposal

by Doron Beckerman

My analysis of this issue will be short and succinct, for a reason. If one considers Israel’s current situation to be active milchemes mitzvah, one who lives in chutz la’aretz and is physically able to serve in the IDF is more obligated to do so than those studying Torah in Eretz Yisrael. (Sources are available upon request.)

In that light, I propose the following law, called “The HaAcheichem Law,” which shall consist of two basic clauses:

a) All Jews entering Israel between the age of seventeen and thirty implicitly agree to submit to a draft for up to three years should the IDF determine this to be in their interests.

b) Exception: Those who come to study Torah. Of those, 20% will be free to study here undisturbed, but the other 80% must agree to the same conditions as other Jews. Additionally, all Yeshivos that fall below a 50% draft rate among their students from the Diaspora will no longer be eligible to any government funding.

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A Berdichiver Moment

By Dovid Landesman

One of the more famous stories about R.Levi Yitzchak zt”l recalls his visit to the local marketplace. There he came across a wagon driver wearing tallit and tefillin, busily digigng the wheel of his cart out of the mud in which it was mired. The gabbai who accompanied his master was aghast at the insensitivity of this simple Jew, hastily reciting his morning prayers in such an unsuitable fashion. But R. Levi Yitzchak saw something else. Looking up to heaven, the Rebbe raised his voice and declared: “Ribbono shel olam, what nachat you must have from your children. Even when they are working in the mud, they think only of you!”

I remembered the story as I watched the IDF video of the sailors who had interdicted the Panamanian ship carrying missiles bound for Gaza. In case you missed it, the clip shows the crew of one of the destroyers singing Shalom Aleichim and then listening to Kiddush. Obviously the film was taken on Shabbat and initially I was disturbed by the needless act of chilul Shabbat that it represented. But then I thought, “Wow! Here was the crew of an Israeli destroyer along with members … Read More >>

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KePurim

[from R. Yossi Huttler, Cross-Currents' poet laureate]

KePurim

if in middle of night I cannot sleep may I disturb Your peace open Your book of remembrance read to You though I know You don’t forget

may I point to where and when I did some good so that I merit mention for some chayim tovim

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The Modern Orthodox Straw Man

By Avrohom Gordimer

There are times when one must take a firm stand and stake out a principled position, or deal with what may be the nightmarish consequences of not standing strong. And there are watershed moments in Jewish history, when new events and trends that portend substantial challenge to the stability of Jewish practice must be addressed. We have just witnessed both of the above transpire.

Leadership of mainstream Orthodox organs which largely represent Modern Orthodoxy has drawn a line and publicly declared that partnership minyanim (prayer groups that identify as Orthodox, in which men and women both lead parts of the service) are not within the parameters of acceptable Orthodox practice. Responding to a proliferation of partnership minyanim, including their occurrence in liberal Orthodox synagogues and the serious challenges to traditional Orthodox tefillah that the partnership minyan phenomenon has engendered, the Orthodox establishment has taken decisive action – action that hearkens back to the historically-defining actions by the same Orthodox establishment regarding the issue of mechitza over half a century ago.

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) began the process with the publication of piskei halacha to this effect by R. Hershel Schachter, R. Gedalia … Read More >>

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A Next Step in Debating Partnership Minyanim

By Chaim Saiman and Yoel Finkelman

[Editor’s Note: Publishing what follows may seem out of character for Cross-Currents. While it does not violate our editorial policy, it does challenge what has become a theme of several writers: the illegitimacy of Open Orthodoxy. Nonetheless, we are going to publish it. Here is why:

We do encourage readers to familiarize themselves with different points of view, so long as they do not involve prohibited kefirah. The authors penned their piece respectfully. Both are known to me personally, and are worthwhile emulating in important ways.

Professor Saiman has deep roots outside the haredi world. Yet he does not shy away from going wherever he has to in order to enhance his own Torah study. I was introduced to him through and because of the many hours he spends at the Philadelphia Community Kollel. The rest of us should be so accepting of what we could gain from those outside our immediate community!

Dr. Finkelman writes some of the most trenchant criticism of the haredi world. That is one of his professional subjects of interest. But in private discussion, I have found him to be just as trenchant in his criticism of his … Read More >>

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On the making of Constitutional Arrangements

by Raphael Davidovich

In the latest attempt to quell the ongoing culture wars in Israel, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni last year gave Law Professor Ruth Gavison a formidable task. Gavison was asked to help prepare “a constitutional arrangement dealing with Israel’s identity” as “a Jewish and Democratic state.” The task is a fascinating one, one I love discussing because it is an area of personal interest for me. But it is a task that should not be fulfilled.

Whenever someone in the Israeli Leadership advocates a new constitutional arrangement, it should be mandatory to reread the history of why Israel presently has no formal constitutional arrangement as most other countries do. The brief history is as follows: The Constituent Assembly charged with the writing of a Constitution for the State of Israel ended its task in 1949, its job undone, and instead became the newborn State’s first Parliament. It would be simple to conclude that the document wasn’t written because of the machinations and political ploys of Ben-Gurion, or this group or that power-hungry faction. It would also be simple to argue that the group couldn’t come to agreement because of the old truism that Jews are argumentative, like that old joke about Ben-Gurion being the Prime Minister of two million prime ministers. But these arguments would be wrong. We need to properly understand what happened, and it says something about Jewry in Israel and throughout the world.

The constituent assembly could not write a constitution because a true constitution can only be a viable document when applied to a group that has certain basic outlooks and principles in common that they wish to codify and establish as axiomatic, virtually unarguable, to future generations of leaders who might be tempted by the need for political expedience to ignore those principles.

To be clear, what Israelis who say they want a Constitutional Arrangement really mean is that they want a two-tier system of laws: One set of Supreme Laws, which usually includes a Bill of Individual Rights, and one set of all other laws passed by the Knesset which would be subservient to that first set. This concept originated in our times with the American Constitution.

The American Constitutional experiment contained a feature that was novel to the world of political realism at the time, even though nowadays it’s so common that it’s taken for granted; that a State should have an upper tier of Law and a lower tier of law. The higher level of law, with fewer words, usually loftier, dominates; it insists that all other laws passed by the legislature conform to it or be declared null and void. This is specifically what is meant nowadays by people when they speak of a country having a Written Constitution. This is actually sloppy wording, as it leads to such sentences as “England does not have a written constitution”, or “Israel does not have a written constitution.”

The reality is that of course, both England and Israel have written constitutions. What they lack is the legal framework that mandates that some laws be subservient to other laws. Their constitutions are in the laws that set up the government. They have laws that provide for various freedoms, civil and political rights and limitations. They do not set up a hierarchy among those laws, one trumping the other. They adhere to the older principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty, rejected by the US Constitution, that one Parliament cannot limit another. For example, one Parliament cannot pass a law that states that it may not be revoked except by unanimous consent. All laws are equal to each other, even the ones that scholars call “constitutional”.

Why do countries, such as the USA, want a two-tier system? The answer, briefly stated earlier, is that the founding people and founding leaders of a nation want certain laws enshrined at a level that later legislatures or leaders will not be allowed to override because of the political expediencies of the moment.

Now in many countries, including Israel, it is well known that different groups of people have different ideals they believe are worth preserving at all costs. If a nation has several groups of people with conflicting ideals, the differences cannot and should not be resolved at the “Constitutional” level at all! Put another way, if one group that does not have behind it the true political will of the vast majority of the people, tries to take advantage of a propitious moment and attempt to enact certain reforms at the constitutional level, trouble will usually ensue for one of several reasons:
Continue reading → On the making of Constitutional Arrangements

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What the ASA’s Boycott Taught (Reminded) Me

by Rabbi Akiva Males

In the closing months of 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to boycott Israeli universities. This move is part of a much larger effort in the ongoing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement intended to isolate Israel. In the aftermath of this academic boycott, many of Israel’s supporters rightfully voiced our hurt feelings, disappointment, and/or strong disagreement with the ASA’s offensive maneuver.

In January, before my wife and I traveled to visit family in Israel, I read an important article in The NY Jewish Week by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin which reminded me of a crucial yet simple concept. As supporters of Israel, we need to find responsible ways to express our outrage with the ASA. At the same time, we also need to recognize the many American universities who found the strength to resist joining in this boycott.

It is not enough to scream “gevalt” when we have been wounded. We also have to call out “thank you” to those who are our friends, to those who stood up for truth, to those who have refused to have their educational institutions seduced by the all too common siren song of anti-Israeli behavior. We … Read More >>

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Rav Meir Schuster: The Man at The Wall, zt”l

by Bracha Goetz

It was almost time for Shabbos.

There were a number of things I still needed to do, but it was hard for me to stop reading the stories that were just then being collected about Rabbi Meir Schuster, who, in his late sixties, had become very ill with a degenerative illness known as Lewy Body Disease, which combines the symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. The stories collected are all about what Reb Meir did with his own life, and the many, many lives that he helped transform. An intensity in my heart was building with each word I read, and I was transported back, over thirty years ago.

It is 1976. The man who was to become my husband was praying at the Kotel. Larry had finished his time in a kibbutz ulpan, and was still volunteering in a development town in the Negev, when he decided to spend the weekend in Jerusalem. He was scheduled to return to the States a few weeks later, with no clear plans. Larry put a note in a crevice in the Wall and then prayed sincerely to find his path in life. When he finished, there was a tap on his shoulder. It was Rabbi Schuster, asking him, “Do you have the time?” Thank G-d, Larry did have the time, and he followed Reb Meir to a yeshiva for baalei teshuva where he began the process of finding his life’s path. After nine years of learning and teaching at Yeshiva Aish HaTorah, young wandering Larry became Rabbi Aryeh Goetz.

It is 1978, and after completing my first year of medical school, I was volunteering on the oncology ward at Hadassah Hospital, visiting with patients who were dying, while my secret mission was to learn the purpose of living. During my first few days in Israel, I went to the Kotel, and Reb Meir Schuster found me there. His purity and his sincerity came right into my heart. I began to study with Rebbetzin Denah Weinberg, and at the women’s division of Ohr Someyach, as the process of understanding the purpose of living began for me as well.

It is 1979, and every torch is lit on the Menorah beside the Kotel, as it is the eighth night of Chanukah. My soon-to-be husband is sitting near me on a bench in the Kotel plaza. He tells me that on the eighth day of Chanukah, the spiritual potential for dedication is at its greatest. He wants to know if on this night full of the power of dedication, I will agree to be his partner in life, so we can continue our separate journeys together.

Reb Meir is there, too, on the night when my husband asked me to marry him. We both see him at the same moment. He is looking for more and more lost neshamas, waiting to be found, including those who, like us, will be blessed to find each other too.

Reb Meir has been with us ever since, as well, helping us raise our children to strive for the simple purity that he offered both of us. From our oldest son who has opened the Yeshiva High School of Arizona, to our youngest daughter, who was a madrecha in the Heritage House that Reb Meir established, Reb Meir’s pure idealism has gotten infused into our children’s lives. His gentle tap has even come to be felt by all the grandchildren that have also now blessed our lives, thank G-d.

And we were only two of the tens of thousands of neshamas that Reb Meir helped lead to the spiritual wellsprings craved. The ripples spreading out from all the neshamas he effected, are not possible to count. Not in this world. The reach of this one humble man is endless.

From what I learned from reading about Reb Meir, his parents were survivors of the Holocaust from Poland, and they were not observant, although Reb Meir’s grandmother still was. Stanley, as he was known then, was brought up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and attended public school there. When Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua Twerski opened a Talmud Torah in Milwaukee, through his bubbie’s gentle urging, her grandson, Meir Tzvi, known to everyone else as Stanley Schuster, became one of its first students. Rabbi Twerski was devoted to being m’karev Reb Meir, and he helped young Meir Schuster catch up in his Hebrew studies.

Rabbi Twerski recalled Reb Meir’s tremendous thirst for learning about Judaism, and he said that he used to daven and bentch with such tremendous fervor, soon after he learned how, that it inspired all around him. He remembered when “Stanley” at the age of 14, with his parents’ consent, went off to learn in yeshiva in Skokie, Illinois. He had already become a masmid (very devoted Torah learner) and from there, he went on to learn in Yeshiva Ner Israel in Baltimore, Maryland, where he studied for seven years, and got semicha.

At Ner Israel, he was known for being an extremely dedicated student and for doing a semi-speech fast on Shabbos, only speaking words of Torah. According to his friends, Reb Meir was an excellent listener, but a very quiet person who spoke very little, not wanting to speak one superfluous word. He was just about the last person any of them would have imagined going into the field of kiruv.

Reb Meir was always on the look-out for ways to do chesed and help others, and always with his great big, warm smile. Reb Meir also took on a job that was definitely not sought after, of going around to awaken his fellow students. He would faithfully walk through the dorms every morning, calling in Yiddish repeatedly and with such pure earnestness, “Wake up, Wake up – it’s time to serve Hashem.”

After Reb Meir got married, he and his wife, Esther, moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1968. They came with two suitcases , and intended to stay for a year, while Reb Meir learned in the Mir Yeshiva. He never went back to America until many years later, after he had established the Heritage House, and needed to raise funds for it. (No wonder he was able to encourage thousands of others to stay in Eretz Yisroel longer too!)
Continue reading → Rav Meir Schuster: The Man at The Wall, zt”l

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Halachic Process and Rabbinic Authority: R. Yissocher Katz’ Response to R. Schachter

by Avrohom Gordimer

When challenging a world-eminent halachic master, be prepared. Nice try, but… These thoughts immediately came to mind upon reading the response of R. Ysoscher Katz chair of the Department of Talmud at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, to R. Hershel Schachter’s p’sak prohibiting Partnership Minyanim – public prayer groups which identify themselves as Orthodox, in which women lead parts of the public service, such as Kabbalas Shabbos and Pesukei Z’Dimra. (See also here , here , here and here ) Let’s look at R. Schachter’s p’sak and then turn to R. Katz’ response. As this requires detail and focus, and cannot be presented summarily, we need to break it down by section.

I. R. Schachter’s P’sak In his p’sak, R. Schachter demonstrates that the Ruach Ha-Halacha (Spirit of the Law) is a legal principle that governs halachic decision-making, and that innovations in Torah practice, even if they otherwise would appear to be technically legitimate, must be vetted by the greatest halachic masters of the generation (gedolei ha-dor), who are trained and attuned to the Ruach Ha-Halacha and can discern whether a certain practice conforms thereto. R. Schachter … Read More >>

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Women and Tefillin: A Study in Breached Boundaries

Avrohom Gordimer

The horse is out of the barn. There are no rules anymore. Everything goes. Making it up as you go along.

These are among the clichés that came to mind when reading the many articles penned by those promoting and defending the decisions of two liberal Orthodox high schools to allow their female students to lay tefillin during morning services at school.

Notwithstanding the ruling of the Rema (OC 38:3) that one must protest any attempt by women to lay tefillin, notwithstanding the words of the Vilna Gaon (ibid.) that it is forbidden for women to lay tefillin, notwithstanding the elaboration of the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (OC 38:6) wherein the phrase “we do not permit” is applied to the notion of women laying tefillin, notwithstanding age-old accepted halachic consensus and practice that women do not lay tefillin, and notwithstanding the fact that no major halachic authority was consulted – these liberal Orthodox high schools decided that their female students may indeed lay tefillin.

As the Aruch Ha-Shulchan and others have explained, men do not keep their tefillin on all day and they instead limit their tefillin time to Tefillas Shacharis, due to the comprehensive bodily and mental purity that must be maintained while tefillin are worn. Since men are halachically required to lay tefillin, they have no choice and must keep their tefillin on at least for the morning prayers, after which the tefillin are customarily removed in deference to their sanctity, which could be offended should there be a lapse in bodily or mental purity. Women, on the other hand, are not required to lay tefillin, and they therefore should not do so, lest they be subject to a compromised state of bodily or mental purity while wearing tefillin. To lay tefillin and voluntarily expose the tefillin to potential offense of their sanctity due to such a lapse is discouraged or prohibited; hence do women not lay tefillin, explain the poskim. The poskim specifically differentiate between other mitzvos such as shofar, sukkah and lulav, from which women are exempt but may nonetheless voluntarily perform, and tefillin, whose voluntary performance may engender a prohibited offense of their sanctity.

Those who recently took to promoting and defending the notion of their female students laying tefillin argued that since even men are distracted with iPhones and secular reading materials while wearing tefillin, it is clear that we no longer adhere strictly to the purity requirement for laying tefillin, and women should therefore be no different:

But since nobody really does it the right way – as the Halacha cautions us – why are women any different from men in this respect? Just look at all the men who are consulting their I phones, or reading, during parts of the davening, while wearing tefillin– if that isn’t hesech ha-da’at, what is? So, essentially, we are all deficient in the scrupulous care of the body and the mind that is necessary for tefillin. If women, therefore, want to take the mitzvah of tefillin upon themselves, why is it any different from Sukkah and lulav and shofar
and many mitzvot that are time-caused which women accept upon themselves and, according to Ashkenazic practice, make brachot over those mitzvot? Why exclude them because of deficiencies in practice which men have too?

Others who recently endorsed the idea of their female students laying tefillin argued that since there are sources that do not object to women laying tefillin, female students who seek to lay tefillin as an expression of their sincere religiosity should not be prevented from doing so:

I felt it appropriate to see this as a legitimate practice albeit different than our communal practice – but one that has halakhic justification. As such, I granted the two girls permission in the context – in a tefilah setting – of a group of girls who were supportive of their practice. I felt it appropriate to create space at SAR for them to daven meaningfully. I explained this to our students in this way: it is a halakhically legitimate position despite it not being our common communal practice. But since there is support for it, I would be willing to create such space in the school. I did not, in so doing, create new policy nor invite any female student who wanted to don tefillin to do so.

Both of the above arguments are fundamentally flawed. While men in the congregation of the rabbi who proffered the first argument above may indeed be distracted with their iPhones and secular reading materials during Shacharis and while donning tefillin, from whence does one receive license to provide a wholesale dispensation from the purity requirements of wearing tefillin and thereby overturn half a millennium of p’sak in order to permit women to don tefillin, based on this newly-created dispensation?

The second argument relies on the fact that there exist halachic opinions that do not object to women laying tefillin; hence, there is a reliable basis for women who have a sincere religious desire to lay tefillin. Although halachic precedent and practice for at least half a millennium dictate otherwise, and although no poskim were consulted, those behind this decision have pointed to sources that justify their decision, while overriding the accepted sources on the matter.

Being consistent with this approach, let’s imagine if the letter from this school’s principal read as follows:

Continue reading → Women and Tefillin: A Study in Breached Boundaries

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The Real Story?

by Steven Pruzansky

The controversy du jour deals with the high school girls and their tefillin, and it has prompted the usual litany of responses. Once again, what passes for psak in the Modern Orthodox world is little more than cherry-picking the sources to find the single, even strained, interpretation of a rabbinic opinion in order to permit what it wants to permit or prohibit what it wants to prohibit. The preponderance of poskim or the consensus in the Torah world matters little; fables – like Rashi’s daughters wearing tefillin – carry more weight.

No honest reading of the sources could ever give rise to a statement such as “Ramaz would be happy to allow any female student who wants to observe the mitzvah of tefillin to do so.” Happy? Tell it to the Rema or to the Aruch Hashulchan. And what about the prohibition of lo titgodedu ­– of not having contradictory practices in the same minyan (e.g., some girls wearing tefillin and others not)? And what of the statement being made to the traditional girls – that their service of G-d must somehow be inferior to that of their peers who are on a “higher” … Read More >>

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In Pursuit of Wisdom

by Yaakov Rosenblatt

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting family in New Jersey, I picked up a copy of The Lakewood Voice (Dec 25), a hand-out magazine comprised of news and advertisements. The cover story was about Lakewood Mesivtas. There was an informative article about why entry bechinos are delayed until Tu B’Adar. And there was a description of three types of bechinos an 8th grade boy might receive. The first option is a bechina in which the boy is asked to prepare a piece of Gemara. The second, considered more difficult, is where the boy is questioned at random on the Gemara he learned year to date. The third type of bechina, considered most challenging, is where the boy is asked questions he cannot answer. In that case, the tester isn’t expecting an answer, but is probing to see how the young man’s mind works.

I was surprised that there wasn’t a fourth option: a written test with questions on the entire body of information learned, middle school to date, including gemara, chumash, halacha, and yedi’os klalios. This would give the school a clear recap of the boy’s academic level.

Philosophically, a coming-of-age transition which … Read More >>

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The iPhone and the Get

by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

It is well known that the Gedolim of both Eretz Yisroel and America are rightly concerned about the devastating effects of exposure to pornographic images through rapidly developing technologies. And there is no question that even filtered access to the internet has no guarantees that a person may fall or stumble into the abyss. The internet and Smartphones are clearly a game-changer in terms of nisyonos, spiritual challenges to Klal Yisroel.

And as in many other venues in Judaism, organizations have arisen in order to assist in combating this new scourge. In Eretz Yisroel, these organizations are known as Amutahs, roughly equivalent the 501 C3 organization in the United States. Some organizations are of questionable legitimacy, but the vast majority of these organizations are genuine and justifiable.

Not everyone, however, will agree with the approach and mindset of those people who are involved in the day to day running of the organization. In order to gain a more universal legitimacy the people who run such organizations attempt to get letters of approbation and approval from leading Rabbis.

There may be another dynamic as well. Some of the people who run these organizations, well … Read More >>

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Non-Orthodox Orthodoxy: Playing With Fire

by Avrohom Gordimer

When an Orthodox rabbi’s actions cross into the realm of the non-Orthodox, the rabbi’s actions are typically defended by his sympathizers as being “within the outer bounds of Orthodoxy”. And when an Orthodox rabbi’s actions cross into the realm of the non-Orthodox, those actions only affect the rabbi and those who wittingly or unwittingly stray after him. But when an Orthodox rabbi’s actions are indefensibly non-Orthodox and can potentially impact thousands if not millions of Jews who have nothing to do with the rabbi, we are at a point of crisis. My friends, we are at that point of crisis.

Rabbi Avi Weiss has for years been on the periphery of Orthodoxy. His ordination of women and countless other activities typically associated with the non-Orthodox movements have placed him on the edge, yet with a small group of people consistently defending the innovations as being “within the broad tent of Orthodoxy”, to borrow another catchphrase of the Far Left.

Shockingly, Rabbi Weiss has now come forth with a plea that non-Orthodox, halachically invalid conversions be considered for recognition in the State of Israel. Rabbi Weiss posits that

Israel as a state should give equal … Read More >>

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I Am A Doctor

By Sharon Rais-Tessler

[Editor's Note: OK, I have a weakness for creative writing]

I am a doctor I am not G-d I know I’m not But I was taught That man is G-d What I decide What I do What I did Is always right Because I am G-d I know I’m not I am a lowly messenger Shelechus is all I do A sheleach is all I am G-d’s will flows Through my head Through my heart Through my hand Each day I rise And pray That today My shelechus will be right I will be a sheleach For only good Only good decisions Will I think Only compassion Will I feel Only with steadiness Will I perform I am not G-d I know I’m not All I know All I need to know Is Hashem is with me

Dr. Sharon Rais-Tessler is a mother, grandmother, and OB/GYN in Brooklyn

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Poem On The Parsha

by Yossi Huttler

[Editor's note: I met a friend at a chasunah recently, whom I had not seen in a while. The conversation turned to a topic that I hear more frequently these days, at least among my chevra. It is the disappearance of the creative element in contemporary Torah commentary. This is not to denigrate the quality and quantity of many recent works, which are often either sweeping in their breadth of information, or inspiring. But we have not seen real creativity since Rav Hutner zt"l. (The just-published Mesoras HaRav Chumash of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l does include many creative pieces, written, of course, in the same epoch.)

Those who appreciate poetry will appreciate this submission on the Parsha. Those who don't ought to consider where creativity lodges in the human personality, and what a frum poet and frum darshan have in common. ]

sui generis

and so after that first bris were you now known as Avraham ben Avraham a Patriarch to yourself and all that would follow

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The Open Orthodox Race to the Edge and Beyond: When Will It Stop?

by Avrohom Gordimer

The Open Orthodox rush to reshape traditional Judaism has become incrementally manifest in terms of both practice and belief, with Open Orthodox leadership actively promoting substantial modification of Torah observance and the creation of rituals that are foreign to normative Orthodoxy, while concomitantly asserting that one no longer needs to believe in the faith tenets of Orthodoxy in order for his or her Judaism to be Orthodox. While previous Cross-Currents articles and addressed many of these concerns, Open Orthodoxy has pushed full steam ahead with a new progression of breaches over the past few months, widening the base of those involved and deepening the degree of the changes being made to Orthodoxy. It is critical for the Orthodox public to be aware of this and to understand the underpinnings of these new seismic and startling Open Orthodox efforts to reshape and Reform.

I. Open Orthodox Changes to Practice

“Making it up as you go along” is usually not a recommended approach when doing anything serious. When it comes to Torah, such an approach is fatal. This is exactly what came to mind when viewing the new Ohev Sholom/The National Synagogue 2013 … Read More >>

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Yes, There Is Cause For Optimism

By Dovid Landesman

Many tell me that I am too critical, constantly finding fault [and regrettably it doesn’t take a sophisticated search engine] within the observant community in Eretz Yisrael. Their criticism has had its effect; although I still peruse the blogs, my fingers are reluctant to go to the keyboard to comment or contribute because I am uncomfortable in constantly harping on the shortcomings I perceive. Thus, it is with a great sigh of relief that I pen these words, sharing observations about the perceived state of our people.

Last Thursday night, Erev Yom Kippur, my wife and I drove to the Old City to attend a presentation at the Aish ha-Torah World Center. Our youngest son, who recently completed three years of army service in the Netzach Yehudah brigade, works there and we were curious to see what it was that made him such an enthusiastic supporter of the program. Cognizant of the ever present parking problems near the Old City, we left our car in Sanhedria and hailed a cab to take us to the kotel. We made it as far as French Hill; all roads leading to the Old City were closed so we transferred … Read More >>

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If Trayvon Were Tuvia: The Orthodox (Non)response to the Zimmerman Verdict

by Chaim Saiman

A Jewish boy¬— lets call him Tuvia Mendel— is walking home one night. Maybe he is a bit drunk, maybe not. Tuvia attracts the attention of a non-Jewish neighborhood watchman who describes him as wearing a dark suit, white shirt, black hat and white strings hanging out of his pants. The watchman calls the police, who advise him to hold back. Activities ensue and Tuvia is shot by the watchman. The watchman maintains that he was acting in self-defense and the jury so finds.

Other than changing Tuvia’s name and identity, lets try and hold all the other elements of the Trayvon Martin case constant, simply replicating the debates about the facts and the inferences to be drawn from them from the real case into our own. True, the trial brought out wildly different accounts of what happened, but if it was Tuvia rather than Trayvon, is there any doubt the Orthodox community would resolve these ambiguities differently?

The response would not be monolithic. Some would say the system is outright anti-semetic, drawing a straight line from the horrors of the European past to the American present. Others would hold that this serves as … Read More >>

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