The following is the concluding paragraph of an article in the current issue of Mishpacha:
“The failure of American Jewry during the Holocaust pales beside that of American Jewry today. By virtue of its unshakable adulation of Obama, American Jewry has watched calmly as he placed 6 million Jews in Israel under threat of extinction from an Iranian nuclear bomb.”
What precedes these lines is of a similar nature, including the comparison of the interim understanding regarding Iran to the 1938 Munich Agreement entered into by Hitler and Chamberlain. We are told, however, that “the comparison of Obama to Neville Chamberlain is unfair to the latter.” How charming.
If the article was written by an obscure figure in Jewish life, concern about its extremism would be ameliorated by the acknowledgement that the writer was speaking his own mind and few would pay heed. The author of the Mishpacha piece is Jonathan Rosenblum, deservedly a respected writer, and the sentiments that he expresses are shared by a great many in the Orthodox community. This adds both to the impact of the article and to the obligation to call the writer to task for his indulgence in paranoia and worse. … Read More >>
[To my recollection, which might be errant, I have never asked that anything I have written be circulated. The following is an exception, for reasons that I hope will be obvious.]
The latest issue of the Jewish Review of Books, a quarterly publication that has contained much good material, is quite nasty toward the Orthodox. The starting point is a polemic regarding the election of Israel’s Chief Rabbis, with particularly harsh words directed at Rav Ovadia Yosef, ztl, who was seriously ill when the piece was published. In that article and elsewhere there is the familiar usage, “ultra Orthodox,” a usage that does not become less offensive because it is employed by many who write about Jewish life. No other ethnic group, including those that have many dozens more adherents than the Orthodox and have engaged in extreme violence, merit the term. We Orthodox are the Chosen People among the Chosen People.
The greater offense is an illustration of Rav Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira together with a nun. They had no contact with each other. She lived considerably before he did and presumably she died in bed. He was murdered Al Kiddush HaShem.
Perhaps worse of all, is … Read More >>
My previous post which had nearly an identical title has generated a batch of nice comments, including a number that do not like what I wrote. That’s fine. For the record, nearly all of my close friends are quite conservative in politics, I voted for Ronald Reagan as president and intend to vote for Lhota in a couple of weeks. What I am getting at is that being conservative need not serve as license to embrace the far right and certainly not to distort.
I stand by what I posted previously about the poison that is being fed to too many in our community. This is a dynamic process that needs to be challenged. I have no illusions about the efficacy of the challenge that comes from me. Just the same, it is necessary to speak up, to insist that we be truthful.
There is a departure from the truth in writing about President Obama and Iran. As I noted and as should be obvious but alas isn’t to too many of us, thanks to the position taken by his administration powerful sanctions have been placed on Iran. Nothing remotely like this occurred during either of the Bush administrations. … Read More >>
We English-speaking Orthodox are blessed with an abundance of attractive publications ranging from a daily newspaper to weekly magazines and newspapers. There is much good writing and useful information in these publications and although it is at times a struggle to keep up with the flow and still spend sufficient time on Torah study and other vital needs, it is good to know that our community has reached this stage of development.
What we cannot – or ought not – be proud of is some of the content of these publications. There is too much writing that embraces far right-wing ideology and has reckless disregard of the truth. What I am referring to is not the embrace of conservatism, whether on social or economic issues. Rather, I am referring to writers who seem to regard Rush Limbaugh as their “Rebbe” and who think that the halachic requirement to respect the leaders of our country is something that they can disregard. Here are two recent examples:
“The American president cannot be convinced of the truth; instead he empowers tyrants such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar Assad and, most recently, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani.” (Matzav.com)
“Well, let’s check … Read More >>
The Pew Research Center has become the gold standard for demographic research in the United States. Its just-issued report on American Jews has already attracted much attention and the discussion is certain to increase in the coming weeks and months. It is at one level remarkable that Pew was able to produce this comprehensive study in a little more than a blink of an eye, while the last National Jewish Population Survey took more than a year to conduct and then was a mess.
There is much to be admired in the document produced by Pew. But there are also question marks, many specifically relating to the Orthodox. We are told that we constitute ten percent of American Jews. Almost amazingly, this statistic hasn’t changed much over the past thirty-forty years. The explanation given is the high attrition rate among the Orthodox, an explanation that was valid in 1970 but certainly is no longer valid. The figure is certainly higher than ten percent, especially when we consider fertility rates and what I have reported re enrollment in yeshivas and day schools.
There is no acknowledgement in the Pew report of the hyper-insularity of chassidim and many other … Read More >>
For more than forty years my office was located in Manhattan near City Hall, most of the time at 350 Broadway. One by one, the old office buildings are being vacated, as they are being converted into luxury residential apartments. I was the last tenant to leave.
I am now in Borough Park where I have lived for seventy years. My office is at the site right in the heart of the neighborhood on 13th Avenue and 50th Street where Yeshiva Etz Chaim once stood. There are benefits to being here, including being close to my home and close to every kind of store that I might need. There are also minor drawbacks, such as an abundance of street noise arising from much honking and other environmental circumstances common in Orthodox neighborhoods.
There is also the experience that I had yesterday. Sound trucks went by frequently, blaring out their messages in Yiddish. Invariably, each message began with the proclamation that “Gedolei Torah say that it is a sacred obligation [chov kadosh] to…” When the messages began, I thought that since we are in the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Great Rabbis were … Read More >>
After davening the other day and not in the main shul, a couple of fellows — one of them a medical doctor — asked whether I shared their assessment that President Obama is 1) a die-hard fundamentalist Muslim, 2) an anti-Semite and 3) obviously a hater of Israel whose policies are aimed at destroying the Jewish State. They were shocked that I did not share their view. I was not shocked to hear what they had to say because, sadly, such sentiments are increasingly heard within the Orthodox community. We are in the grip of heavy doses of paranoia and heavy doses of hatred. What makes the reality worse is that both the paranoia and the hatred are dynamic. What is being expressed today is more extreme than what had been expressed previously and what is being expressed today is likely to be mild by comparison with what will be said tomorrow.
What I am referring to is not the taking of conservative positions on a host of public issues. It is understandable and, from my perspective, correct that on a range of social issues, religious Jews do not accept liberal positions. It is also understandable, even though I … Read More >>
The post a week ago called “A Question of Aliya” evoked a substantial response, all of it to the point. If there is a need for further comment on my part, it is limited to the observation that I am full of admiration and at least a bit envious of those who took the path not taken by me and who made aliya. My point simply was to raise a question that in my experience has not been sufficiently addressed, it being how the Israeli pattern of basic education often results in a serious challenge to families with young children that have made aliya.
There is a related issue, perhaps not closely related but still fairly relevant, that is suggested by the title of this post. High tuition in the United States is a catalyst to an increased number of younger families considering and making aliya. If the pattern of Israeli basic education may be a disincentive to some families, high tuition is an incentive and, as is true of many decisions that people make, the economic factor is the critical determinant. I trust it need not be noted that there obviously are younger families, more than a few, … Read More >>
I am writing this from Israel near the end of perhaps my one-hundredth trip. The first was in 1959. As a rule, I am here three times a year. We have an apartment in Jerusalem and I have a relationship with the Avi Chai Foundation which is nearby. However, we are not considering aliya, primarily because our children and grandchildren are in the U.S. and my primary communal responsibilities are also there.
We once did consider aliya, at least at one or two levels of seriousness, including looking at an apartment. That was forty-three years ago, when we came with two young children and I taught at Bar Ilan. Although my feelings about Israel are powerful, I cannot say that I regret that we did not take advantage of the opportunity that was present in 1970.
Why? For all of its diversity, American Orthodoxy ranges across a continuum. There are the most charedi at one pole and the ultra-Modern Orthodox at the other pole, with much variety in-between. There is also much fluidity and movement and there is no socio-psychological compulsion to embrace either extreme. Charedi life in the U.S. is for many charedim not like charedi life in … Read More >>
In his pre-Siyum Hashas post which reprises his wonderful op ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein makes reference to the coverage of the last Siyum, including a front page article in the New York Times. Alas, although this year’s event was much larger and although learning Daf Hayomi has become a much larger phenomenon, the New York Times did not see fit to give what occurred last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey comparable prominence.
Of course, we should have no claim on where articles are to be placed in the publication that for American Jews is our newspaper of record. But we should expect respectful treatment. Today’s article in the Times is anything but. Written by Sharon Otterman, it is a negative piece and in many ways nasty. The title is “Orthodox Jews Celebrate Cycle of Talmudic Study,” but what appears in print tells us very little about the celebration of the completion of the study of the Talmud by tens of thousands of Jews around the world. What we get starting with the opening paragraph is a complaint about the place of women, both at the stadium and … Read More >>
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is widely admired and for many good reasons. I am a member of the chorus and almost always sings his praise. If this piece had been written two days earlier, the qualifying “almost” would not have appeared. Alas, Homer has nodded meaning that a truly wise man has slipped up with his submission, “A New, Ugly Wrinkle in the Tuition Crisis.” We are presented with a scenario of class warfare, the combatants being middle class religious Jews who send their kids to yeshivas and day schools on one side and rabbis, teachers, kollel members and who knows who else on the other side. For sure, there is a tuition crisis and for sure there are people who are angry. But there is no class warfare. There are serious issues that do not have ready solutions and the proof of the pudding is that they have gotten more serious with the passage of time. Here are some thoughts:
There are parents who believe that while they are paying the full tariff there are other parents who are getting off easy. Overwhelmingly, the complaints are directed at individuals who aren’t rabbis or teachers or kollel members but … Read More >>
Those of us who read the Jewish Week of New York are certainly familiar with the controversy that has arisen over Gary Rosenblatt’s article three weeks ago strongly attacking Rabbi Aharon Bina, the Rosh Yeshiva of Netiv Aryeh, a Jerusalem yeshiva that caters primarily to students who have graduated Modern Orthodox high schools and have come to Israel to study for a year or two. Rosenblatt’s article has resulted in what apparently is an unprecedented response. In his words, there have been “literally hundreds of comments posted online on our website,” amounting to more than fifty-five printed pages – and that was about a week ago. Here is how I view this matter:
1. The Bina article is but one more example of Rosenblatt’s obsessive bigotry and hatred toward the Orthodox community. There is scarcely an issue of the Jewish Week that does not contain in one way or another at least one or two attacks against Orthodoxy. In the issue in which Rosenblatt describes the Bina controversy there are two other articles hostile to Orthodoxy plus an editorial.
2. When I began to write what became a paid for column in The Jewish Week, I said that … Read More >>
As the Kletzky family began the shiva period and Jews everywhere joined in their mourning, and as millions of persons who are not Jewish felt the pain, there was one notable exception to the universal grief over the murder of young Leiby. That exception was the Jewish Week of New York, a community newspaper that over the years has specialized in targeting Orthodox Jews, depicting us as engulfed in wrongdoing, notably of a financial or sexual nature.
I write a column that is published in the Jewish Week. It is sponsored, meaning that it is paid for, not by me but by persons who believe that my views should have a forum. Admittedly, this is a highly unusual arrangement. In the first column years ago, I explained that my aim was to counteract the flow of negative writing about the Orthodox. Not that I believe that wrongdoing by religious Jews should be defended or covered up; to the contrary, it is obligatory that we do not justify or excuse such wrongdoing or simply act as, “we see no evil.” But it is also wrong to indulge in group libel, to take a community that is enveloped in so much … Read More >>
Unlike other of our handiwork that may have ethical implications – medical advances and design of clothing come to mind – technological innovations inherently are ethically neutral. Much of what we now take for granted is little more than tiny chips that have the capacity to contain an astounding amount of information or to perform complicated tasks in no more than the blink of an eye. How technology is used is another matter.
As a rule, technology that is utilized for visual purposes poses a greater challenge to religious sensibilities than technology that is aural. The ready explanation is that what the eye sees has a significantly greater impact on behavior and attitudes than what is merely heard. This is akin to the familiar Talmudic principle, lo t’hei shmiah gedolah mi-re’ah. Hearing is less reliable than seeing.
This may explain why certain innovations that may be problematic from a religious Jewish standpoint do not evoke strong negative reactions. The cell phone, which is now indispensable to most of us is also a frequent instrumentality for improper midos, as when it interrupts tefila. It is addictive and results in the enormous waste of time or bitul and (along with conventional telephones), it is a great catalyst for lashon hara. However, rabbinical hackles were raised only when cell phones became Internet accessible. Continue reading → The Internet and Rabbinic Bans
As most of us know, Professor Robert Aumann received the Nobel Prize in Economics several days ago. The headline of Haaretz’s story covering the event was: “School told Nobel Prize Winner in economics ‘you’re no good in math, try auto mechanics.’” The first line of the article repeats the point, the only change being that it begins, “at the yeshiva high school where he studied….”
Professor Aumann studied at the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, was outstanding in math, graduated from the high school, continued in the Beth Medrash, and in interviews and speeches he has given credit to the yeshiva for his interest in math. It is nothing short of outrageous that Haaretz could not get this right, although I suspect that its willingness to print something so patently false arose in some measure from its antipathy to yeshivas.
If it is not known, I have been president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School for thirty-three years, and this is a voluntary position.
Four days ago, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the Reform movement, gave what he called a sermon to the delegates attending the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism. This was a long speech and it has already attracted considerable comment because of a connection he makes between opposition to gay marriage and Hitler’s opposition to gays. Much of the speech deals with intermarriage, specifically the need to welcome non-Jewish spouses, perhaps through a “formal ceremony of recognition” that might occur during “a dramatic point in the liturgical cycle.” And then we get the following:
“Rabbi Janet Marder asks non-Jewish spouses to come to the bimah on Yom Kippur morning and then has the congregation stand as she blesses them with the Birkat Kohanim.”
How much longer are we going to play the Am Echad game? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch established the austritt community on far, far less provocation.
There is a potential for conflict in all social relations, and it exists not because people are selfish or foolish or have other shortcomings — although these are factors — but because it is natural for people to look at the world they are in through their pair of eyes and no one else’s and in terms of their own interests. The negation of self-interest may strike us as moral and often it is, yet it is not what we ought to expect and it is not always the moral thing to do. While it is generally preferable to avoid conflict, at times the preference should be in the other direction.
Since conflict is inherent in human relations, with proximity enhancing the prospect of its appearance, the crucial question is how disagreements are handled, whether with a sense of restraint or in a no-holds barred fashion, with the goal being to defeat the other side. Societies invest much in conflict resolution, and for good reason, because there is always the danger that disputes will turn violent or exact other serious costs.
That religious groups are not immune from internal discord and personal disputes is a proposition too obvious to need explication. The added ingredient of ideology or theology to self-interest increases the prospect of serious intra-group and inter-group conflict. This prospect increases in turn the obligation of those who lead religious groups to be careful about the rhetoric they use and the actions they endorse, lest religious and ideological conflict get out of control as true believers believe that their mission is sacred and they must prevail.
The dangers of religious conflict are sadly on display in Williamsburg within the Satmar chassidic group, as followers of rival claimants for dynastic succession are battling it out in synagogue, court and wherever else their twain meets. There has been violence and arrests, and because neither side is particularly blessed with a sense of restraint, what lies ahead is frightening. Continue reading → Satmar v. Satmar
(In line with the suggestion made by one of its readers, I am posting the following from the RJJ Newsletter just out. )
There is at long last heightened awareness of the tuition crises confronting a great and growing number of religious families. After years of silence about the subject, despite powerful evidence that constantly rising tuition begets enormous pain, there is talk that something needs to be done. This is good news, yet before we start celebrating we need to recognize that we are far from being out of the woods, that any effort to provide meaningful relief to families that deserve relief faces long odds.
I have raised the tuition issue for nearly the entirety of my one-third of a century as RJJ’s president. As much as I may want to think or claim otherwise, my advocacy has essentially failed. Torah Umesorah – the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools has been extremely negligent in this area and its once glorious record has been tarnished. Roshei Yeshiva have been occupied with other causes and other issues. Over the years I have been a lone voice protesting against the wrongness of an attitude that makes yeshiva education into a consumer product and the wrongness of an attitude that results in stress and pain in some of the best families that we have.
As this newsletter is being written, I am at the halfway point in a campaign, expressed through a series of full-page messages that are appearing in the Jewish Press that aim to challenge the prevailing notion that basic Torah education is not a communal responsibility. It is telling that Hamodia and Yated Ne’eman, the English-language weeklies that serve the yeshiva world and certain chasidic sectors, turned down these messages because they did not want to go into controversial territory. What we need, in fact, is more discussion and debate and not only about tuition but about a wide range of issues affecting American Orthodoxy.
We have become afraid of controversy, even afraid of disagreement. In my youth, at the Agudah conventions and elsewhere, Gedolei Torah often disagreed with one another and they did not shy away from dealing with subjects that might breed dissent. They also had no problem with laymen taking positions on key issues, including those that were controversial. Without advocacy that is accompanied by a good dose of passion, there is scant prospect that the tuition situation will be improved. Continue reading → Day School Advocacy Campaign
I have a question regarding the disgraceful goings-on within Satmar, including but not limited to the violence that occurred on Simchas Torah when the two rival factions desecrated G-D’s name in the main Satmar shul in Williamsburg. My question is whether I should write about this incident and related matters in my regular Jewish Week column.
The argument against writing is that it is wrong to hang out our dirty linen in public, particularly when every bit of Orthodox wrongdoing is pounced on by those who hate our religion and presented as evidence of Orthodox decadence. On the other hand, writing may – and I admit that this might be a longshot – cause some within Satmar to contemplate changing the way their disputes are handled. As a collateral point, not writing may be regarded as turning a blind eye to something that is substantially wrong.
I hope that those who look at this comment will share their views with me, hopefully in a measured way. I might note that if I do write I will also touch on the wrongfulness of Satmar going to secular courts to settle this and other disputes.
Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary, has written a terrific, must-read article for the latest issue of Commentary. “Jews and the Jewish Birthrate” is chock full of ideas and data that add up to a pessimistic view of the American Jewish prospect. While intermarriage inescapably contributes to this pessimism, Jack’s primary focus is on fertility and related demographic factors. He notes that our median age is “seven years older than other Americans” and that “among Americans of all kinds … Jews have the fewest number of siblings, the smallest household size, and the second lowest number of children under eighteen at home.”
Furthermore, too many of us do not marry. Those who do, as often as not, marry non-Jews. We also marry later and have fewer children than other white Gentiles. In short, as Jews have become more appreciated by their fellow Americans and have made distinctive contributions, we also are moving in the direction of becoming extinct. Since we are certainly among the most avid readers of the New York Times and, I suspect, pay inordinate attention to obituary notices, we should have a good sense of what is happening at that end of the life-cycle. Many more of us are exiting than are entering and with the exception of the Orthodox, the new arrivals are far less likely to be Jewishly connected than those who have departed.
The “cumulative effect” of these developments, Jack writes, “is now being felt and will only become amplified as time goes by. In a community that has long since ceased to replace its natural losses, continued low fertility rates mean that the number of children in the communal pipeline will soon drop sharply, causing a decline over the next decade in enrollments in Jewish schools and other institutions for the young.” He quotes sociologist Bruce Phillips that soon “there will be fewer practitioners of Judaism in the U.S.,” a development that “will at some point become evident in the number and/or size of synagogues and other Jewish institutions.”
The article explores the socio-psychological, behavioral and ideological factors that contribute to the disturbing fertility pattern which is in contrast to the high fertility of the Orthodox. Although separately Reform and Conservative affiliation outnumbers by huge margins the number of Orthodox Jews, “among synagogue-affiliated Jews, the Orthodox sector contains more children than either of the other two.”
Apart from the Orthodox whose ranks will continue to grow, although aliyah and abandonment by some of a religious life will limit the gains, is it time to face reality and say that there is little to be done to avoid the inevitable loss of nearly all non-Orthodox Jews? Is it time to throw in the towel, perhaps by deciding that our resources should be directed toward helping Israel? Continue reading → Should We Give Up On American Jewry?
The title of this piece will be echoed in other writing. Forty years ago to this day, on September 15, 1965, Rabbi Moshe Sherer of blessed memory and I went out to Staten Island to meet with Reuben Gross of blessed memory, a noted Orthodox attorney. We discussed the growing independence of Orthodox Jewry and the need to establish a mechanism to give voice to our differences with the mainstream organizations that purported to represent American Jews. Out of this meeting came the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, or COLPA. I was its first president.
COLPA is no more and that is a loss, yet the greater loss by far is in the abandonment of the attitudes and strategies that motivated those of us who were working on behalf of Orthodox Jewry. We were advocates, even fighters, and we weren’t afraid to be militant or unpopular. Our approach was reflected in an article that I wrote called “The New Style of Orthodox Jewry” that was published in the January 1966 issue of Jewish Life, then the publication of the Orthodox Union. We weren’t satisfied with photo ops or visits to the White House or meaningless … Read More >>
The Jewish Press August 24, 2005
Even as most Israelis, including those who strongly supported the withdrawal from Gaza, shed tears and felt and shared the pain of those who were being forced out of their homes and whose communities were being destroyed, there were those who continued to attack these Jews of faith and strength who surely are among the best that Israel has.
The ultra-secular Israeli world that is represented by the journalistic cesspool known as Haaretz did its sadistic best to add to the pain, to add to its long and ignoble record of hatred for Judaism.
I write these words on a plane back from Israel, after a stay of more than a month. Each day I read the English Haaretz, a difficult exercise because without let-up the newspaper denigrated and demonized the Jewish Gazans and, more generally, religious Jewry. In my experience, I cannot think of a single issue of Haaretz that has not carried at least one rabidly anti-religious article or editorial.
Two weeks before the withdrawal began, Haaretz editorialized that the Jews in Gaza were “criminals.” In a follow-up editorial the newspaper suggested that the government show an “iron fist” toward these … Read More >>
Along with other members of my family, I was at the massive Tefila and Tehillim gathering at the Kotel prior to the painful commencement of the withdrawal from Gaza. The event was extraordinary because it brought together perhaps 250,000 or even more religious Jews from all sectors. This was not a political event. Thus, I was surprised to read in the latest Yated Ne’eman (the U.S. edition) that the gathering was “futile” and “fruitless.” Such language which echoes the slant taken by Haaretz and other secularists is shocking when it comes from a newspaper that is rooted in the yeshiva world.
When we daven or say tehillim, even when the focus is on a particular individual or set of circumstances, what we are doing is strengthening our emunah, thereby bringing us closer to G-D and to an acceptance of what He has decreed. The person on whose behalf we are praying or the circumstance that we have in mind serves no more than as the instrumentality for the strengthening of our belief, in much the same way that when we give tzedakah to a poor person, the recipient is no more than the instrumentality for perfecting ourselves by … Read More >>
The title of this post is intended to ask a question, not to provide the answer. I am in Israel for most of the summer and this is an extraordinarily painful time for many, specifically those who identify with Dati Leumi. The obvious reason is the Gaza withdrawal.
Although my affiliation is essentially in the charedi sector, notably the yeshiva world, I have long regarded the Dati Leumi people with whom I have contact as individuals blessed with the highest ideals and values, people who exemplify true Torah modesty and who are extraordinarily sincere and careful in their devotion to mitzvos.
It seems to me that the charedi world, at least in Israel, is uncaring about the open wounds being experienced by many Dati Leumi. Is this deliberate? Or perhaps, it is simply that charedim have other interests and problems.
Again, I am just asking a question.
When the Supreme Court cut the constitutional baby in half and ruled that some Ten Commandment displays are kosher and some are not, the spokesman for the Orthodox Union warmly welcomed the development. Good public relations, but bad Judaism.
What is there to celebrate when four Justices say that any public display of the Ten Commandments violates the First Amendment? What is there to celebrate when in all likelihood, the Supreme Court ruling will mean that most displays will be ruled unconstitutional? What is there to celebrate when we continue to have decisions that are hostile to religion?
I know that the Ten Commandments issue is not per se that important. People do not respect religion because a tablet is installed in a public place. No one’s belief or behavior is affected. As a practical matter it makes small difference whether the Ten Commandments can be posted in a public place.
What concerns me essentially is not what the Supreme Court did but how we as Jews – and particularly Orthodox Jews – look at the matter. Overwhelmingly, American Jews are not only secular, they embrace a brand of secularism that is hostile to religion. This may … Read More >>