Whether or not Israel actually lost the war, the recent Israel/Lebanon war surely resulted in a less than preferred outcome for the Jewish people. Young Jewish souls were lost. Soldiers remain kidnapped. Property was devastated, and families were severely disrupted with communities forced into bomb shelters or compelled to evacuate their towns. Deep residual emotional scars abound.
The less informed have commenced the predictable banter of demands for resignations and admissions of culpability. Those identified as responsible include a parade of politicians and military leaders. The results of war allegedly reflect the failed efforts and judgments of these individuals. But other observers, particularly the more spiritually advanced, understand otherwise.
Since the inception of the modern Israeli state, a significant segement of Orthodox Jewry has understood the Torah learning of Torah scholars as dictating fate on the battlefield. After each Israeli military victory, the learned have rejected the military bravado of the secular Israeli. It is not the bravery or strategic prowess of the Israeli soldier or commander that facilitated victory – it is rather pious Torah study and behavior, taking place behind the scenes, that guides our fate. The prayers and religious behavior of the righteous have facilitated … Read More >>
Since childhood, we have been taught how to behave. We have been trained well in the arena of do’s and don’ts. We have also been taught which emotions are appropriate and which are not. Usually, we know which feelings are appropriate; hope, or trust, or sorrow, or regret. Regarding some people, we should feel love, towards others, compassion. Yet to others, anger or hostility. But in the words of one of New York’s former mayors, “how am I doing” is an easier question regarding our behavior, as opposed to our emotions.
Behavior is discernable, measurable in hours, dollars, words or activities. Feelings are elusive. Feelings reside in our hearts and cannot be observed, touched or quantified. How are feelings measured? Perhaps we are behaving as directed, but failing to internalize our commitments. We act as we should, but does that deem us to be the person whom we should be? Are we defined by what we do, or by what we feel?
The Jewish nation is at war. The residents of Israel are vulnerable to rockets and terror, and once again, young Jews are marching off to battle, confronting the horrors of war. Those of us watching from the distance are challenged with the deepest of challenges – how are we to act, and how are we to feel? Particularly for those of us whose children have avoided the front lines by living outside of Israel, or by choosing the role of full time Israeli Torah students, these are days of reckoning. How are we to act? How are we to feel? Continue reading → The War, Tisha B’Av, and a Season for Self Assessment
Last night, the religious, Jewish community of Boro Park came out in droves to protest the alleged mistreatment of an elder Jew by the local police. The protestors believed that the police had been unjustifiably physical and assertive against an unthreatening 75 year old. The authorities assert that the police did nothing improper, and in any event, the elder man had violated the law, and had acted in an uncooperative and belligerent manner.
Not long ago, the religious community of Lakewood, New Jersey responded in similar public protest when word spread that an elder rabbi had been physically mistreated by local police. There, too, the authorities maintain that the police, responding to a traffic violation, acted in accordance with proper police protocol. The Lakewood community, led by leading local rabbis, nevertheless, held an organized march to the Lakewood police station, seeking to ensure that the police mistreatment not be ignored, and certainly not be repeated.
As a young boy, not yet in high school, I often participated in local rallies in support of Soviet Jewry. Just a bar mitzva boy, I attended rallies in support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But then I enrolled in a yeshiva … Read More >>
A student of the Talmud will often attempt to avoid the frustration of an apparently academic Talmudic dispute by identifying practical legal ramifications. One of the more common areas of Jewish law in which such consequences can be found is in the laws of vows (nedarim). For example, Talmudic disagreement regarding the translation of a term can find ramifications in determining the effect of a vow using such disputed language. I once even suggested that the central High Holiday role of Kol Nidre (the annulment of vows) was introduced to highlight the High Holiday challenge of bringing relevance to the obscure.
A student of global, political events also faces the challenge of identifying personal, practical consequences of world events. International developments, whether in Iran, North Korea, the Philipines or elsewhere, surely have significance. But what is the practical consequence to me? Until elected to national office, or appointed to a position of influence, I experience little practical impact by world events, other than in triggering a spectator’s curiosity, and perhaps a paragraph or two of prayer.
For the parent or teacher, however, every world event is laden with practical consequences. The teacher and parent must confront the obvious challenges. … Read More >>
With Super Bowl fever about to engulf the country, I begin to think about the wonderous role of professional sports in our national culture. Many of my friends discouraged their children from following professional sports, feeling that the elevation of junk yard peasants to the status of heros would threaten their childrens’ values and life goals. Since I was fairly comfortable that no child of mine would be capable of more than eight minutes of continuous physical exertion, I was fairly confident that a career in professional sports was not a life’s path I needed worry about discouraging. Moreover, with the paucity of recreational venues for me to take my children, and my eagerness to play hero to my boys, I found Shea and Giant Stadiums to be wonderful bonding arenas. But aside from serving as a parenting device (and my kids amazingly seem to drop their interest in the box scores once the high school charm of Torah studies kicks in), and a topic of safe conversation in the office (“so, those Knicks, eh?”), professional sports also highlights many lessons that would otherwise have been elusive to me. The magic of marriage is one such example.
When I … Read More >>
Having been trained to question premises and to challenge conventional wisdoms, I am often perplexed by seemingly intelligent and intellectually honest individuals who respond to another’s view with an intolerance reflecting not merely disagreement, but also indignation at the very contemplation of the alternative. Rather than engage in mindful exploration of fact or opinion, the response presupposes a full and final analysis, and indicates that the mere contemplation of a different conclusion results from the pathetic reliance upon faulty information, or, more likely, small mindedness. The appropriate role for the United Sates in Iraq, the nature and entitlements of a Palestinian people, the declaration of the Rebbe as Moshiach, or whether the Yankees are the premier franchise in sports history are among topics that simply cannot be raised among certain groups.
But is that wrong? Does intellectual honesty compel the listener to entertain any and all opinions, or at least desist from dismissing as frivolous views that are so apparently ludicrous? Or is there a distinction between what notions I am entitled to dismiss in my internal thought process and what ideas I may appropriately dismiss publicly when articulated by another? I suggest that the summary dismissal of … Read More >>
Among the seasons, autumn tends to be most dramatic in its changes, with rain and sun exchanging dominance and the thermometer playing yoyo with our sweaters and jackets. The days grow shorter, and the elegance of baseball swings is replaced with the intensity of football huddles. The impending chill and dreariness of winter creates an ominous aura. Pyschologists suggest sunlight type lamps – they don’t do it for me.
The days following Yom Kippur also tend to be a bit of a downer. Expectations of personal growth borne of High Holiday pledges rapidly fade as commitments to self-improvement fall short at the first or second challenge. Yet again, promises to be different, to be better, are exposed as mere fancies, and a defeated ego retreats to lick its wounds in a in a bowl of chocolate ice cream.
I once thought that the post-Yom Kippur Succos experience is calendered during the weather changes of autumn to accentuate the personal changes that the holiday season is available to facilitate. How quaint, I thought, that the weather shows that change is, indeed, possible. Alas, I am reminded that people barely change, if at all. And that the weather, itself, rarely changes … Read More >>
Among the responsibilities borne by a law firm practioner is conducting autumn interviews of extremely bright, articulate and eager law students seeking employment the following summer, prior to their final year of school. Lawyers are often trained in how best to phrase the interview questions, avoid asking questions that off limits, and answer correctly the students’ inevitable inquiries about the firm. Personally, I take advantage of the interviews to pose questions that allow me to test whatever ideas happen to be on my mind at the time, while affording the interviewees the opportunity to evidence their thoughtfulness and deftness.
Over the past several of weeks, I have asked each of about ten students the following question:
“If the federal government decides to provide direct assistance to victims of Hurrican Katrina, what is the appropriate relative allocation of federal funds as between two families comprised of the identical number of family members with identical ages, each family devestated by the Hurricane and left with absolutely no housing, belongings and savings. But, although the two families currently appear to be identical in composition and need, prior to Katrina they lived very different lives. One of the two families owned a lovely home, two cars and a profitable retail business (all destroyed by the Hurricane and not covered by insurance). Prior to the Hurricane, the second family, by contrast, lived in a tenement, the parents barely holding menial jobs, and the children suffering for inadequate nutrition and substandard education, but not lacking for love.”
The answers I received were as expected. Several of the students felt that the formerly comfortable family should receive larger grants since that family had lost more, and should be made as close to whole as possible, while the second family required less to be made whole. Others felt that once the two families had been thrust by the forces of nature into the identical poverty, each family should be treated identically. After listening to their respective answers, I asked each interviewee if there were any other alternative approaches. Only one of the students, having identified the two choices listed above (and preferring the former), could not fathom a third alternative, despite my reiterating the request for a third alternative several times. Continue reading → Katrina and Summer Associate Interviews
In response to most tragedies suffered by others not close to me, I, like many others, limit my practical response to praying for the well being of the victims or donating charity on their behalf. When particularly catastrophic events leave me feeling that there is more that I should be doing for the victims, I ask others to join me in praying for the well being of the victims or, more often, asking others to donate charity, as well. (Reminds me of the story of the the pilot who announced to the passengers that the plane’s final engine had gone dead and urged everyone to do something religious. And so the sole Jew on board stood up and made an appeal for the UJA.)
Some may save a baby from an inferno or flood, others counsel the bereaved. I, by contrast, hope that my prayers and gifts are well received and ease someone’s plight.
For those confined to offerring prayers and donations, we (the silent majority of frustrated do gooders) certainly hope that our praying and donating is at least done correctly.
An exploration of prayer is probably best left to the spiritually sophisticated, but charity should be pretty simple. The problem, however, is that the charity obligation is fraught with so many twists and turns that I wonder why our formal religious education taught us little more than that charity is an obligation and that “a tenth” is usually enough. Every year, I segregate my charity allocation in a special account, and then engage in repeated turmoil regarding the appropriate and responsible allocation of the moneys. I consult with rabbis for parameters and activists regarding causes. Alas, the advice I receive always leaves me with choices and decisions. Continue reading → So Many Needs