And Now For Something Completely Different

This is worth posting just because of the “conventional wisdom” that the Charedim are an overwhelmingly serious bunch. That, and the guy’s name is Yankel.

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More on the Charedi Draft

I had this as a comment to Rabbi Landesman’s post, but Rabbi Adlerstein encouraged me to elevate it to a post unto itself. He did say that Rabbi Landesman may go “a second round” as well — so let me say now that much as I might wish to continue, it is already known in the Menken house that my study, which is the one room that is my sole responsibility to clean, is also the last to be ready for bedikas chametz. Should Rabbi Landesman wish to have it, I’ll have to surrender the last word.

Nonetheless, what Rabbi Landesman appears to have overlooked is that the problem of the day is neither motzi dibat ha’Aretz nor motzi dibat ha-medinah, but rather, motzi dibat ha-haredim l’dvar HaShem, the bad-mouthing of the Charedim who, on advice of their Gedolim, continue not to go into the Army. Rabbi Landesman seems to level no criticism against those who reside outside our world yet critique it (often in the most bizarre fashion) at every occasion, including the present one — on the contrary, he only seems to find fault with those of us in Chutz L’Aretz who presume to defend the … Read More >>

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A Letter to a Troubled Charedi Father

I received an email from a Charedi man with two sons in learning (one in Lakewood), who is very troubled by the current rejection of the draft. It is obvious that he does not count himself among those who do not understand that learning Torah all day requires extreme dedication and personal sacrifice, and is providing a profound service to the Jewish people — including by helping protect it. In other words, his problem is not with those who are successful in learning, but with those who are not. Why are they not in the Army, and why are the Gedolim, at present, making no effort to send them where they belong? This is a point addressed briefly by Rabbi Doron Beckerman in his larger post on the draft issue, but deserves greater elaboration.

This is my reply:

In an ideal world, it is obvious that any charedi boy who is not successful in his studies, and is prepared to go out to work, ought to be doing military service in any situation where everyone else is subject to conscription. That is indeed simple fairness; the IDF is preserving the security of Israel, and those who do not … Read More >>

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The (Not So) Subtle Racism of the Draft Bill

In describing the effects of the new draft bill one month ago, I considered only the response of what we would call the “core” charedi community — families in which both parents and children consider themselves bound to follow the directives of the Gedolei HaDor. An article in Ami Magazine about Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, considered the leading authority of Sephardic Jewry until his passing in October of last year, alerted me that I had not considered the disproportionate impact that the law will have on the Sephardic community.

What I described was accurate, and is already coming to pass. That could almost be a pun, as my statement that “the budding Torah scholars will very happily choose jail, and be fêted as heroes for doing so,” was proven in the person of Yaakov Yisrael Paz, who was arrested for following the directive of HaRav Shmuel Auerbach shlit”a not to report to an induction center. He was released after ten days, and promptly escorted to an audience with Rav Auerbach himself, carried by a crowd of singing and dancing bochurim happy that one of their friends had sanctified G-d’s name by going to jail for his religious … Read More >>

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The Virtues of Ham-Handed Moderation

As you’ve probably noticed, Cross-Currents has been very active these days. More content from a wider variety of writers, touching on some of the most timely issues of today, means more traffic — and more comments. I think it’s time again to make a comment about comments.

As most of you are aware, I share (and try to do more than my part) in the task of comment moderation. Usually it’s a short task – more recently, that has not been the case.

Responses flowed in to Rabbi Rosenblum’s latest on the Atzeres Tefilah. Initially, he thought to approve them all – until he had the opportunity to review them. At that point, both he and I felt that with entirely too few exceptions, the commenter had missed the point, didn’t know recent Jewish history, and/or was simply looking for an opportunity to bash Charedim. The signal to noise ratio was unacceptably low.

Comments ranged from “Are you really comparing Jewish knesset members with Hitler & Haman?” to “There was also the famous rabbis’ march on Washington. Were these gedolei hador also guilty of angering Hitler, yimach sh’mo, chas v’shalom?” Seriously now.

Is Rabbi Rosenblum really to … Read More >>

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Purim Torah

If one were trying to prove to the Chareidi community that the new draft bill is not an attempt at coercive social engineering, that it is not motivated by a desire to change Chareidi life, or that there is a real effort to develop understanding and to work for mutual benefit, then one could scarcely imagine a more counterproductive effort than recent pieces attempting to “prove” from Torah sources that the unanimous position of the Gedolim is, in a word, wrong.

The Teshuvah of Reb Moshe zt”l referenced by R’ Yair Hoffman is clear and unambiguous. To claim that R’ Moshe was referring only to “scholars” or “metzuyanim” makes a pretzel from the straight words of his Teshuvah. R’ Moshe says that his words apply to “מי שלומד בישיבה גדולה ועוסק בתורה,” “whomever sits in yeshiva gedolah and involves himself with Torah.” According to R’ Moshe, the Gemara makes no distinction between Zekeinim and Tzurbah MiRabanon, between elders and the young — all are Rabanon, and “רבנן לא צריכי נטירותא” (they need no defense nor to participate in defense) applies to them all. It is his position that one who has a desire to learn Torah and … Read More >>

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Megillas Lester

Haman

“It’s the best Jewish movie I’ve ever seen, and it has no competition” — such was my daughter’s trenchant review of the awesome Megillas Lester. While that isn’t strictly true, of course (there have been children’s movies like “Agent Emes” around for a while, and I’m sure she has seen them), the claims that this movie is “raising the bar” on quality frum entertainment are, for once, no exaggeration at all.

I’m sure this was a major gamble. As much as Emes Productions (who provided financial backing) may claim to specialize in “low budget” films, the acting, animation and production costs were probably far above anything done for our community thus far. I hope it pays off financially, because the result is a very high quality product — keyn yirbu, our community will undoubtedly demand more on this level.

Chananya (CJ) Kramer of Kol Rom Multimedia has been a creative and comedic genius for a long time. When, as a camp counselor, he was assigned the job of waking campers each morning, he put together a brilliant series of mock radio interviews (with himself as all characters) to be played over the camp loudspeakers. And everyone woke … Read More >>

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The “Building” of Children Destroys

Reading the news of the “Million Man Atzeres,” that was the statement of our Sages that came to mind. “The ‘destruction’ of elders builds, [while] the ‘building’ of children destroys” [Megillah 31b].

The Yesh Atid [There is a Future] party has no future, because it does not understand our past. This is why the other quote that came to mind is from a more proletarian source — reading that Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy (of Yesh Atid) said that “thousands of chareidim will be inducted into the IDF and begin doing their part,” the line that came unbidden to my mind was “Oh Mickey, what a pity, you don’t understand!”

It really is a pity. Levy does not understand how the Jewish people managed to survive for 2000 years without a land to call our own, something no other nation in history has done. This was only due to our following the Torah, and the voice of Torah sages in each generation. If they think there is a substitute, they should read the Pew Report and ponder the imminent collapse of heterodox Judaism in America and worldwide. Do they really think that simply by assembling Jews in … Read More >>

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Reb Meir Schuster zt”l

I have to add a few words of personal appreciation for Rabbi Schuster zt”l… just because I don’t know where I would be if not for his influence in my life. By the time I arrived in Israel between my sophomore and junior years of college, I had already considered becoming more observant, but had not stayed with it — and my trip to Israel wasn’t supposed to be about Jewish discovery.

If I was not what people called a “Wall bouncer,” someone whom Rav Schuster discovered at the Kotel, it was because I didn’t even make it to the Wall. By the time I descended from the bus to Jerusalem, Let’s Go guide in hand, I had plans to spend a few nights at a hostel on King George Street. But one of Reb Meir’s Heritage House employees was there, in t-shirt, jeans, ubiquitous sandalim, and Tzitzis. Once he knew I was looking for a place to stay and was, in fact, Jewish, he escorted me to Reb Meir’s free Jewish youth hostel, right there in the Old City.

Everything was set up to give student travelers the maximum opportunity to learn more about their Judaism while they … Read More >>

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Vive la Différence

When MK David Rotem, of the Yisrael Beytenu party, said that the Reform movement is “another Jewish religion,” and then added that the Charedim [which Times of Israel translates as "ultra-Orthodox," but I have little doubt that he used the correct and less inflammatory term "charedim"] could “of course” be considered “also another Jewish religion,” one thing happened: Reform leaders exploded, and got him to “walk back” his remarks.

If you read carefully, he may not have expressed himself well, but there is no significant change between what he said to Army Radio that got him into hot water, and in his “clarification.” What he said the first time was “the Reform are all Jews,” which, given the level of participation by non-Jewish partners in services, we know to be a substantial exaggeration. In his “clarification,” he said “I have never said belonging to the Reform movement makes anyone less Jewish.” Both times, he expressed a completely normative halachic position.

Here’s what didn’t happen: any similar uproar from the chareidim, the “ultra-Orthodox.” No fellow MKs berated him, whether in the plenary, committee room, or outside in the halls. No gedolim released proclamations or contacted the press. His … Read More >>

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Phyllis Chesler Supports W4W?

Women For the Wall seems to have caught a leading member of WOW being too honest once again. Phyllis Chesler was a founder of WOW and now is part of the “Original WOW” that refuses to permit peace in the traditional women’s section. Yet here’s what she said on WOW’s Facebook Wall:

WOW Board knows that it has driven away many Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers by their religious practices, non-stop desire for media attention, their willingness to criticize Israel in North America and Europe during the years of the Al Aqsa Intifada.

I wonder what those who said WOW just wants to pray in their own style and don’t want media are saying now. Other than “oh no, she told the truth!”

Yes, Facebook is a time killer. But sometimes you catch important news…

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Who, Really, Are the Orthodox?

It’s rare that I simply refer to another article, but “I am Orthodox, and Orthodox is me” speaks for itself. I think the piece is stronger because the writer is both relatively unknown, and a woman. She truly speaks for us all when she says “those stereotypes about ‘the Orthodox’ are talking about me.”

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Obama and the Orthodox, Revisited

In a recent article in HaAretz, reprinted here on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Avi Shafran offered several explanations why there seems to be an Orthodox “animus” against President Obama. He discounts theories like racism and Obama’s social liberalism before arriving at the one he prefers: a lack of hakaras hatov — gratitude.

I have always greatly respected Rabbi Shafran and his writing, and consider him a personal mentor. And I think it is unquestionably true that some people have made “over the top,” irrational criticisms — not that I feel that these reactions are unique to the Orthodox Jewish community, or unique to our current president. But on balance, I think Rabbi Shafran must revisit not only that social liberalism, but the very areas in which he feels our thanks are due, in order to understand why there is so much negativity about the Obama presidency from Orthodox Jews.

Here’s what I wrote about Obama’s election, in November 2008:

I believe that getting America to the point of electing a black President was one of America’s finest hours.Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein, November 12.

He beat me to it, as I was going to make a similar comment. … Read More >>

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Where is “Moving Traditions” Moving People?

If you’ve been following the saga of the “Women of the Wall” and the “Women for the Wall,” you know that WOW is doing everything it can to bolster its numbers and coverage. W4W has made them into a non-story, by expressing with eloquent silence that far more Israeli women oppose them than stand with them (by a margin of hundreds, if not thousands, to one), and simultaneously completely getting rid of the rambunctious young men who previously did such a great job of playing into WOW’s hands and PR efforts.

Most recently, a group called “Moving Traditions” shipped three teenage American girls off to Israel to join WOW. Needless to say, they knew little of the issues — one of them had not even heard of WOW prior to the contest that earned her a ticket. They were also kept from any contact with women representing the other side of the story, which resulted in W4W leader Ronit Peskin writing an open letter to one participant.

Ms. Peskin posted a comment to the Facebook wall of Moving Traditions, indicating that she had written this letter. Moving Traditions basically laughed off the idea that she might be able … Read More >>

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Opening a Dialogue

When the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, Rav Aharon Feldman shlit”a, called to offer me a review copy of the journal Dialogue, there could only be one answer, of course. But having read it, all I can say is — get it. All the rest is, as they say, commentary [no, no slight intended to the journal by that name]. Each article deserves to be called “required reading” in Jewish thought.

The introductory article is a speech given to Israeli generals by Rav Feldman, explaining in detail the Chareidi worldview, its view on Torah learning, and why the idea of a draft or other mandatory service outside yeshiva poses an existential threat. Then a section of five articles, entitled “A Call to Spiritual Arms,” discusses “the seeming dissonance between the external and internal manifestations of Yiddishkeit in our community and its members’ lives.” Rav Feldman discusses those who are “observant” without being truly religious on the inside, a phenomenon otherwise known as “Orthopraxy,” and how to escape it. Eytan Kobre, perhaps best known for his acerbic wit and dismantling of the heterodox in the pages of Mishpacha, here looks inwards at the trends towards Orthodox conspicuous consumption and otherwise … Read More >>

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So, You Thought It Would Never Happen?

A private business owner in Seattle has been told that he will face fines and penalties if he refuses to bake “wedding” cakes for deviant couples in violation of his religious faith. If it’s “racist” to discriminate against deviant couples having a “wedding,” then it’s wrong for a Rabbi to refuse to marry them, as well.

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The Rabbi has no Robes

Earlier this year, I wrote about how easy it now is to become a Reform or Conservative Rabbi, with the advent of $8000 online ordination. An enterprising woman from Detroit has managed to take things to the next level, serving as a Rabbi at a prominent Reform temple having “never trained as a rabbi,” much less receiving ordination.

But here’s the kicker: it took the congregation years to recognize that their “rabbi” had no training. She had become a “rabbinic associate” in 2008 and was expected to begin her studies, which she stated that she had completed last year — an ordination ceremony was held at the temple in May 2012. And they only found out because their board president contacted the institution she claimed to have attended in order to arrange for a second ordination ceremony there at the school — at which point he learned she had never even enrolled.

Perhaps it’s a nitpicking side point, but contrary to what the board president said to the press, the institution whose distance-learning course she was to take is not, in fact, affiliated with the Reform movement at all. ALEPH is the “Alliance for Jewish Renewal,” founded … Read More >>

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Federated Blindness

So the Jewish Federations of North America, the massive collected financial might of America’s leading Jewish donors, has left Jerusalem. Their General Assembly only meets in Jerusalem once every five years, so this was a major event. And what have we learned? Primarily, that the system has failed. As Michael Freund, the director of Shavei Israel, wrote: “this GA was reminiscent of the ill-fated RMS Titanic as it steamed straight for an iceberg in the northern Atlantic ocean in April 1912, oblivious to the impending doom.”

Rabbi Yisroel Mayer Kagan, zt”l, of Radin in Poland, is most often called by the name of his work, Chofetz Chaim, on the evil of gossip. Accompanying his tremendous knowledge of Torah, this leader of his generation was known for his profound insight. And with his keen vision, Rabbi Kagan condemned the idea of federated giving. He compared it to the advent of electric lighting in his city, when everyone stopped lighting candles (and backup generators weren’t yet available). As long as there were candles burning, even if one candle went out there was other light. But when the electricity went out, the entire city was plunged into darkness. Similarly, he said, if individuals make decisions, then the most needy charities will somehow get the support that they need. But if everything is handed to the Federations, he explained, then institutions will collapse and individuals will go hungry if the custodians of the coffers do not respond to those appeals.

There is one thing that he didn’t mention: the assumption that the curators would be good at what they do. He didn’t imagine a world in which federations had executives who sat in large executive offices and enjoyed all-expenses-paid executive trips to Israel, at which to demonstrate their collective executive incompetence. In actuality, the leadership of the Federations make the architects of the ObamaCare website look positively brilliant. At the GA, they pushed the wrong issues in the wrong place, and completely ignored the most important and pressing communal priorities on both sides of the Atlantic.

As everyone knows, the most important issue in Israel today is the “peace process,” and the fact that it’s leading nowhere towards peace simply makes discussion more urgent. But it was entirely absent from the GA agenda; JFNA president Jerry Silverman told reporters that since everyone agrees on a two-state solution, it wasn’t worth discussing. J.J. Goldberg dismantled this argument in The Forward:

In fact, this is one of the most fraught and divisive issues on the agenda of organized American Jewry. Beyond substantive questions like settlements and Jerusalem, Diaspora Jewish federations are constantly forced to reexamine the limits of permissible debate within their own walls. The debate over debate is bitter, nationwide and relentless. Jerusalem might have been just the place to discuss it, with the federation movement’s top leadership present and Israel’s leading diplomatic and military minds available.

But it was left out. The closest the assembly came to the topic was a series of how-to sessions on best techniques for defending Israel’s image.

And the most important issue in America? If you haven’t been sleeping for the past two months, you’ve probably heard of the Pew Report, and its devastating analysis of the future of non-Torah-observant Jewry — those best represented by the JFNA. And here I’ll quote Michael Freund again:

If the Jewish federations were serious about confronting this crisis, they should have taken the extraordinary step of reformatting the GA’s schedule in order to focus on the existential emergency at hand.

Instead, in an act of pathetic hubris, they had the gall to add a single session on Monday, with the self-aggrandizing title, “Responding to Pew: How Federations are Successfully Engaging the Next Generation.”

“Successfully”? Who are they kidding? Back in 1990, after the National Jewish Population Survey revealed an intermarriage rate of 52% (which was subsequently the subject of much debate), the Jewish world was stirred into action, vowing to do whatever was necessary to stem the tide of assimilation.

Here we are, more than two decades – and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on bolstering Jewish identity – later, and for all intents and purposes the situation has only worsened as growing numbers of Jews turn their backs on their heritage.

So if the Federations couldn’t be bothered with such trivial issues, to what did they devote their time?

Continue reading → Federated Blindness

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A Kiddush Hashem Goes Viral

Tablet magazine carries the story of Isaac Theil (which is on the NY Daily News, as well), who was innocently riding home to Brooklyn on the Q train when a young black man (tired from a long day at college, it turns out) fell asleep on his shoulder. For 30 minutes. Theil’s response? “He must have had a long day, let him sleep.” Theil thought nothing of it, got off at his stop and went home.

Not so, the passenger across the way, who thought this was an incredible act of kindness. He or she snapped a photo and posted it to an Internet sharing site, where it became an overnight sensation — nearly 5,000,000 views and counting.

I hope other people are also kind of wondering why this is such a big deal. I’m pretty sure the same has happened to me, and the most I would do is try to move him without waking him. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed to wake somebody up? It’s just that we are told to be careful about gezel shayna, disturbing someone’s sleep.

It reminds me of a letter that was in Ami magazine last week, from a Rabbi … Read More >>

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Is Women of the Wall Anti-Israel?

Matzav.com is running an article entitled “EXPOSED: Women of the Wall Linked To Rabidly Anti-Israel Groups,” which it reprinted from Jerusalem Online. But if you go looking for the original article, you won’t find it. It has been taken down. In a comment posted to Matzav, the reporter, Rachel Avraham, doubles down on her accusations against Women of the Wall:

Women of the Wall threatened Jerusalem Online News with legal action, hence why it was removed. This is a routine scare tactic of radical leftists, since they only can tolerate having their own views published and are opposed to dissent. However, all of the facts in the article are documented and have been checked numerous times before publication. I am a serious investigative journalist and would not have published it otherwise. I want to thank Matzav.com for reprinting the article, so the article will be public at this moment. Women of the Wall had the article taken down because they threaten news organizations that don’t publish what they like. Since I proved beyond a doubt to my editor that Women of the Wall representatives lied to him about the accuracy of the article so he would be pressured … Read More >>

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Upon the End of 25 Years of Deception

For months, as the Women For the Wall fought for the right of women to pray at the Wall undisturbed, we have heard from many, even within the Orthodox community, that really W4W should just have ignored the Women Of the Wall. Or as one pulpit Rabbi put it, “The WOW were not proselytizing anyone, they were not trying to win converts, they were not trying to make a revolution.”

Oops. Actually, they were.

These rabbis, from Shlomo Riskin on down, are now left to contemplate their naivete about WOW. Since they ignored WOW founders Rivka Haut and Susan Aranoff, who wrote (many months ago) in the Times of Israel that the reason WOW must remain at the Kosel is because, in reference to religious women (esp. charedim), they will “change their worldview,” now they must deal with the reality of Anat Hoffman admitting that this poorly-hidden agenda was, in fact, their continuous goal. WOW’s leading cheerleader in the press, Judy Maltz of HaAretz, reported the following after Hoffman’s conference call with WOW supporters, in which she defended their recent decision to move (with a ridiculous collection of conditions, but that’s for another article) to Robinson’s Arch:

… Read More >>

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A Clear Contrast

The media has done a good job presenting the Women of the Wall as a group of innocents, just coming down to the Western Wall to pray. Meanwhile, they say the Women For the Wall are inciting violence and responsible for people shouting and throwing things.

For anyone confused, this video is a must. No comment needed!

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Women of the Wall: Praying, or Disturbing Prayer?

It is a pleasure to note that two active members of the Women Of the Wall, Susan Silverman and Dahlia Lithwick, have attempted to address several arguments which, they claim, have been made by writers who oppose them, especially the founders of the Women For the Wall (The Kotel is for Us, Too: The Forward, June 14, 2013, also published as Dispelling nine myths about Women of the Wall: HaAretz, June 11, 2013). Dialogue is something which the leaders of W4W, Ronit Peskin and Leah Aharoni, have consistently invited, yet until now they have been rebuffed. Nonetheless, I think it would be premature to call this truly a dialogue between the two groups — and, perhaps predictably, neither HaAretz nor The Forward was interested in publishing a response to the challenges laid down.

If there is one thing upon which secular and Jewish scholars agree, it is the importance of referring back to primary sources. Whether it comes from Shakespeare, Einstein or Maimonides, that I may quote an idea accurately does not make it mine. If we look again at Silverman and Lithwick’s examples of arguments against them, we find that most of them are well sourced … Read More >>

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Wake Up!

Shabbos Parshas Chukas was the annual “Shabbos of Chizuk,” when leading Rabbis at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College (which is located in Baltimore County, about 5 miles north of the Orthodox neighborhoods of Northwest Baltimore) spend Shabbos in the community, speaking to encourage Torah study and learning. The Rosh Yeshiva [Dean] himself, HRH”G Rav Aharon Feldman, shlit”a, spoke at the Agudath Israel of Baltimore after mincha.

I was surprised that he chose to speak about the situation going on now in Israel, on a Shabbos talk intended to strengthen learning and attachment to the Yeshiva. But the Rosh Yeshiva explained that this discussion is critical. The situation is very serious, and many American Jews don’t understand the extent to which this is so. People think, what is wrong if Orthodox Jews serve in the Army? And what is wrong if they study math and science, like American students do?

The following day, I wrote up my best recollection of the Rosh Yeshiva’s remarks, for his corrections and approval before publication. But even better, the Rosh Yeshiva was invited to deliver an improved and expanded version of his remarks to a larger audience in Toronto, via video. With appreciation … Read More >>

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Remember that “Hate Crime”?

If you’ve followed the news in Israel at all, you probably remember the shooting rampage at an “LGBT Youth Center” in Tel Aviv. [If you don't know the acronym, good for you, and please let me not be the one to inspire you to look it up.] With absolutely no evidence whatsoever, it was immediately assumed that the shooter was charedi, and that it was a hate crime:

“This hate crime needs to be a turning point and to give strength,” [MK Tzipi] Livni told hundreds of Israelis who rallied in Tel Aviv to protest the attack, in which 15 people were also wounded.

Mike Hamel, the head of the Aguda, Israel’s LGBT organization, said such an attack was unprecedented in Israel.

“We have joined the list of ‘civilized’ countries in which hatred is the standard,” he said. “I don’t know whether the incident was directed at youth, but it appears that it was directed at the community. This is baseless hatred that cost us dearly – this is what needs to be understood.”

Hamel said that “elements represented by [Shas leaders] Eli Yishai and Benizri that are fostering hatred are still stronger than the increasingly favorable attitude … Read More >>

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