Now that it’s “merely” three weeks since their annual Siyum (celebration upon completing a unit of Torah study), I ought to contribute a few words about the Dirshu organization. Dirshu (which is created and sponsored by Rav Dovid Hoftstedter of Toronto) administers a number of learning programs, in which people around the world study the same texts at the same time. On roughly a monthly basis, they also offer tests, to be sure you have the opportunity to review and remember what you’ve learned. Do well on the test, and you can even get a check, which for Kollel students especially is no small incentive.
I knew about their program, but not that it was personally relevant — until they started a shiur in Mishnah Berurah (perhaps the most commonly used text of practical Jewish law) here in Baltimore, given by Rav Mordechai Frankel. I know and enjoy speaking with Rav Frankel, and the program sounded like a good opportunity to learn Halacha L’Maaseh in greater depth, so I thought, I should try this out. And the story that resulted is compelling enough that I want to share it.
The Chofetz Chaim, author of the Mishnah Berurah, passed away … Read More >>
Jonathan Rosenblum’s article on media manipulation was written before Newt Gingrich stared down CNN’s John King last night. Gingrich received not one, but two standing ovations for denouncing the media’s descent into smear campaigns instead of permitting Republicans to first discuss issues of substance. The audience leapt to its feet, because the only people who fail to recognize the media’s leftist bias are those who share or exceed it. The Associated Press, playing its assigned role, simply omitted the multiple standing ovations from its report, although even a single standing ovation is a rare and notable phenomenon in a candidates’ forum.
The same bias that the media displays against Republicans, it also displays against religion, with the worst treatment reserved for traditional Judeo-Christian religious denominations. The only people who fail to recognize the media’s anti-Charedi bias are those who share or exceed it. The result is that it is foolish to believe even a word of what is written about Charedi Jews. I may have written about this often, but even so, I was fooled.
When I heard the Tanya Rosenblitt story, I knew that there was something more there than met the eye, but I could … Read More >>
A reader sent this in, because the topic was debated here before: The Rabbi in charge of the Shachar units for Charedi soldiers, HaRav Ram Ra’avad, has stepped down, asserting that “the Army permits damage to Yiras Shamayim (fear of Heaven).” In a letter sent to the Shachar soldiers, he said that many things that were designed to protect their religious integrity were not done, and as a result, “I cannot see how I can be part of the management of this program.”
This also comes on the heels of the IDF Spokesperson’s decision to withhold a report on the situation of the 900 Shachar soldiers and their wives. B’Chadrei Chareidim claims that multiple soldiers in Shachar have told them that they face “many” spiritual problems serving in the IDF.
Ami Magazine, though just one year old, has repeatedly proven itself up to the task of presenting “the other side of the story” against an uninformed and often hostile non-Orthodox media. Among the best examples is surely this week’s essay on “Beit Shemesh in Turmoil” by Sam Sokol, an American charedi resident of the city. While I strongly recommend getting a copy, the following quotation corrects the record in a number of critical ways:
As a resident of Beit Shemesh, it is hard for me to maintain my composure and objectivity when reporting on the extremism problem in Ramat Beit Shemesh Beit. While the entire country howls against the Charedim for their complicity in the threats and violence against little girls, and the Prime Minister calls for the law to be applied in defense of these innocent schoolchildren, I seethe when I think of all the American black-hatters who have risked their personal safety and taken time out of their schedules to defend the children with their own physical presence. Indeed, this is not a Charedi issue at all, but an issue of Jewish terrorism practiced by a local fringe group. Though they do not bear arms, their strong-arm … Read More >>
For all the protests to the contrary, recent news articles (and comments right here on Cross-Currents) have demonstrated why Agudath Israel felt the need to warn against confusing the behavior of isolated thugs with the sincere religious convictions of many Orthodox Jews. With alarming speed, the voluntary separation of genders in public spaces has been muddled with spitting on seven-year-old children.
Like it or not, or whether our favorite writer Naomi Ragen has heard of it, it is true in Halacha that a man should not walk behind a woman. Manoach walked after his wife, and for this reason was called an Am HaAretz (ignoramus). You and I and most everyone else might not consider sitting behind a woman to be problematic, but I know many Chassidim do — and I’m not willing to tell them how to observe their religion. Freedom of association and freedom of religion apply to Chassidim too. If they don’t want to sit behind a woman, does that mean they don’t deserve to ride public transportation?
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely is the most recent to demonstrate that she doesn’t believe that Chassidim should have these freedoms. She recently, with her entourage and … Read More >>
I have been too busy to post as often as I wanted, and yet wanted to say something, anything, about the fool who said his “rabbis” told him it was ok to spit at a child because she wasn’t dressed the way he wanted. It’s shocking, it’s appalling, and of course has been used to stir up an anti-charedi media frenzy — as if the men and women who voluntarily separate on public transportation are somehow related to lunatic sikrikim (loosely, fanatics) who listen only to the “rabbis” found in their feeble imaginations.
So it was something of a relief to receive the following in my inbox, from the authoritative source of charedi Rabbinic thought in America, putting to rest once and for all the idea that these thugs have rabbinic backing and sparing me the task of writing something more coherent myself:
Upon consultation with its rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement today:
Reports of recent events in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh are deeply disturbing.
Violence of any sort, whether physical or verbal, by self-appointed “guardians” of modesty is reprehensible. Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decent, moral – Jewish! – … Read More >>
In today’s Jerusalem Post, Naomi Ragen “accused the plaintiff, author Sarah Shapiro of ‘working out of a desire to silence my criticism of the Haredi community’s treatment of women, which I have done for years.’” True to form, the JPost made no effort to present Mrs. Shapiro’s reaction to this claim — in fact, it obtained no comment at all from Mrs. Shapiro or her legal team not quoted from the court documents. But it does raise a question that we must pose to Ms. Ragen:
From: Naomi Ragen [address redacted] To: talkback [domain redacted for less spam] Date: May 24 2008 – 7:45pm
Please be advised and warned that the material containing Ms. Shapiro’s assertions are libelous and publication of this material on Crosscurrents leaves the site and all those associated with it open to legal action for libel.
[Naomi Ragen promotional footer redacted.]
Who, again, is trying to silence people?
The judge determined that the plagiarism legally constitutes “a lingering offense” due to the novel Sotah‘s numerous editions since its initial publication in 1992, and due to its recent republication and ongoing sale in a new edition by St. Martins Press. Thus the Statute of Limitations was found not to apply.
He granted full credibility to an expert report prepared by Professor William Kolbrener of Bar Ilan University, which documents the multiple instances in which Naomi Ragen copied from Shapiro’s work, coupled with a mathematical analysis by statistician Art Levitt, demonstrating that it was virtually impossible for the multiple similarities of wording and instances of identical wording (many of which appear in the same order as in Shapiro’s autobiographical account) to have been a coincidental and random event, as the defense claimed.
Quotes from the Verdict:
All these show that the copying was done with full intent…
Ragen did not prove that Shapiro’s book was not in front of her… rather she admitted both directly and indirectly that Shapiro’s work was in front of her.
Shapiro claims that this caused her much pain and that she is still hurt not only by her work being plagiarized but also … Read More >>
A Jerusalem Court has ruled in favor of Sarah Shapiro, who wrote four years ago about her plagiarism suit against Naomi Ragen. Ragen is the well-known author of Sotah, Jephte’s Daughter, and other works, all of which use fiction to portray Orthodox Jewish life, especially for women, as a stifling existence of “drudgery and subservience” (from one review). This is from a positive review of Sotah on Amazon:
Naomi Regan [sic] reveals the true twisted world of the orthodox Jews. A world that has the same rules no matter where the orthodox Jewish community choses to grow. The crooked interpretation of the bible, chauvinism, disrespect of woman, and primitive way of seeing the reality. The powerless individual who wants to have a taste of a less restricted world facing the horrors of what the society believes is right.
Well, not only is it a work of fiction, describing a world that bears little resemblance to the vibrancy of the Torah community — it’s also plagiarized, having borrowed content from Shapiro’s work, all of which was, of course, both positive and accurate. More to follow.
The Mitzvah of Visiting the Sick, done hilariously wrong. Watch and learn…
Rav Adlerstein’s words are mechayiv me, because I learned for two years in the Mir. That makes it that much harder, though, to attempt to articulate the essence of the Rosh Yeshiva. There’s too much to say, and the words are too inadequate.
It is true that Rav Nosson Tzvi zt”l had Parkinson’s, which made it very difficult for him to walk, to stand, and even to speak. He already had the disease when he became Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva Jerusalem — which, under his guidance, became quite possibly the largest yeshiva in the world. Yet he still interviewed each aspiring bochur personally when possible; I know that I received more of his time and attention than the Chairman of Starbucks and a group of American businessmen — despite his fundraising responsibilities and thousands of existing Talmidim.
While it may have been difficult for him to speak, he made sure we understood every word. When I joined the Yeshiva, I distinctly remember realizing at the first of his shiurim that I attended, about 20 minutes in, that he wasn’t speaking English, but Yiddish — and I still understood him. He also, of course, had much … Read More >>
I just had the opportunity to briefly review the Forward 50, which is their annual list of “Jewish leaders.” Their top “Five Who Mattered” are perhaps indicative of the contents: the head of a major Israel advocacy organization, at least in part “because frankly it’s a field that has been dominated by men;” an Arizona Congresswoman, primarily because she was shot and survived; the new President of the Union for Reform Judaism, with “a long history of activism,” but no mention of the nature of his activism; the new poet laureate of the United States; and finally, a professional baseball player.
While they comment about the paucity of women on the list, they don’t comment on a far more striking absence of Orthodox Jews. While the Forward referred to activism “challenging the hegemony of rabbinic leadership in ultra-Orthodox enclaves,” the only obviously Orthodox Jew I found was notable for his efforts against Sharia law, rather than anyone who could be noted for his contributions to understanding Jewish law.
Their extra person, not Jewish, for the year? Barack Obama. I saw it coming, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon or so blatant.
I was also at a Shiva this week — a member of our community lost his brother, who lived in Israel, after a long illness. Their family is from Iraq, and praying in his home offered the opportunity to both hear the prayers and learn more about the minhagim, customs, of the Sepharadim, Middle-Eastern Jewry.
Baltimore may not be Brooklyn, but there are synagogues that are Belz, Satmar, Lubavitch, Persian, Sephardic and of course many praying in Nusach Ashkenaz, all within a one-mile radius (and I believe that there is a true Minhag Ashkenaz minyan as well). That offers an opportunity of which I think too few of us avail ourselves.
In the Sephardic tradition, Hagbah — holding the Torah up and open for all to see — is done before the Torah reading. The Torah, in a cylindrical wooden case, is removed from the Ark, the case is opened, and the Torah is paraded to the Bimah. The tunes, of course, are elegant and distinctly Middle-Eastern, in a minor key.
German Jewry enters the Amidah of each holiday evening service by singing Kaddish (starting with the verse VaYidaber Moshe… as said on Yom Tov) in a regal … Read More >>
The original founders of the “Jewish Friends of Reform,” in Germany of 1843, invited to join them “all who do not accord any authority or obligatory power to the confused and frequently meaningless rabbinical interpretations and injunctions, all who strive for a form of faith whose enlivening principle is pure Mosaism.” They were supposed to place ethics before ritual.
Not even 200 years later, a national news article on the eve of Yom Kippur is devoted — to our shoes. Specifically, what sort of footwear a Jew might wear, because of “ambivalence” about this ritual. Personally, I’m with Howard Sklamberg, who couldn’t conscience the sight of someone driving up to synagogue on Yom Kippur, and getting out wearing sneakers. He just, unfortunately, went the wrong way in resolving this obvious paradox, giving up the sneakers instead of, apparently, his car.
The article neatly juxtaposes two Jewish clergy, which for these purposes the Chabad Rebbetzin certainly is. The Senior Rabbi of a large Reform Temple is quoted as contemplating the non-leather shoes she would like to go out and buy, if she has time, though only “some” of her heels have been synthetic in the past. Meanwhile, the wife … Read More >>
Here is a short course on how you personally can help destroy the economy. First, find an obscure clause in a federal regulation which legally prohibits something in the business to consumer relationship, although it currently affects no one. Then, find companies to sue because they are unaware of this detail of the regulation, claiming to have been personally damaged.
This is the methodology being employed by a Baltimore County resident, who is suing three bars for having “willfully violated” the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, by having the audacity to print the expiration date of his credit card on his personal sales receipt.
It is correct that to do so violates the act. It is also true, however, that as of the date of its enactment, and to my knowledge even today, the expiration date of a credit card isn’t actually validated — you can try this the next time you do an online transaction, by claiming an arbitrary future expiration date on an otherwise valid card. And even if I am wrong about that, it is certainly, as said by a consumer advocate with the US Public Interest Research Group, “a minor fraud … Read More >>
Two months ago, I posted about comments made by the departing Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate which were openly hostile to observance. I said that this hostility was one contributing factor to why Haredim seem so reluctant to join the military, and closed with the following: “What happens if a soldier leaves a room in which a woman is singing, when commanded by his superiors to be in that room? It’s not at all the same as shopping at Walmart, where it’s a matter of personal preference whether or not to tolerate whatever they happen to play in the background. In the IDF, if you don’t overlook assaults on Jewish law, a soldier can be thrown in jail.”
This led to numerous critical responses, most particularly an excellent Guest Contributor post from Eli Julian. While he is certainly correct that there are many more opportunities for an observant soldier today, he went further, saying that:
It’s very unfortunate that while this is the current reality, old stigmas and prejudices based on outdated facts still persist. The myth that the IDF is the only army in the world that issues a mini-skirt or that it is impossible … Read More >>
I had to scan back in my e-mail to notice the blatant self-promotion in the Forward’s mailing from Friday: “Forward Got It Right,” referring to their coverage of the Crown Heights Pogrom of 1991. Yes they were right, the NY Times was guilty of outright prevarication and the Anti-Defamation League was “temporizing,” but it’s hardly something of which to be proud. The truth was obvious, and as the facts emerged, regarding both the riots and the orders given to police, it helped cement David Dinkins’ place in history as one of the worst mayors NYC had to endure since the heyday of Tammany Hall.
Reading the Forward’s article, it becomes very clear… the Forward being right was indeed newsworthy, but only because it is one of the very rare instances in which the Forward has reported accurately and fairly about charedi Jews. And of course, the Forward went on to endorse the incompetent incumbent because he was both a Democrat and an African-American, against the challenger and eventual victor, Rudy Giuliani, who was better qualified from every angle and proved to be as excellent as Dinkins was awful.
Expect the same from the Forward in the 2012 Presidential … Read More >>
While I don’t read the Baltimore Jewish Times often anymore, someone showed me this week’s issue and I came across an op-ed that I enjoyed reading. Given that the first half is filled with dismissive stereotypes regarding most any level of Jewish observance (though the author, of course, claims to “respect the choice” of “those who like to behave as robots”), the reader might wonder how I could possibly have “enjoyed” it. But if we ever so slightly rephrase the second half of the article, we come upon a stinging but largely accurate description of modern Jewish history:
The committee that revised the principles of Judaism transformed a faithfully maintained horse into a three-humped, spitting camel. A group of rabbis, the Reform Society of Frankfurt, rewrote the Torah that defined Judaism.
At that time, those Reformers should have chosen a new name for their new form of religion, that clearly was closer in philosophy to liberal Protestantism than Judaism. Instead, like the people who, without conscience, moved into the homes of deported Jews during The Holocaust, those who totally redefined Judaism settled into the pulpits of longstanding synagogues, built and nurtured by generations of dedicated Jews.
The good … Read More >>
None of the news articles mention that Naomi (Siegman) Zivotofsky and Alyza Lewin were college friends and classmates, part of an overachieving cadre that also included the Shalem Center’s Yoram & Yael (Julie) Hazony, Dan Polisar, and Evelyn Gordon (who has also written for the JPost, Commentary magazine and others). [I would mention more, but I'm sure I'll forget someone.] So the Zivotofsky’s didn’t need much help getting the attention of the nation’s “go-to” legal team for representation on Jewish issues. But they are involved in a very high-profile dispute with the U.S. State Department, and major Jewish organizations are lining up to file briefs in support of the Zivotofsky case with the Supreme Court.
At issue is the right of Naomi Zivotofsky to insist that the American passport she requested for her son Menachem from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv list “Israel” as his place of birth. He was born in Jerusalem in October 2002, about three weeks after President George W. Bush signed a bill directing the State Department to list “Israel” on the passports of American children born in Jerusalem if their parents requested it.
For more details, see the … Read More >>
Joel Alperson is a highly-respected, prominent person within the Federation world — he was a past national campaign chair for United Jewish Communities, now known as the Jewish Federations of North America. He is not traditionally observant or Orthodox, much less Charedi, but he does seem to know how the winds are blowing in the Jewish world.
His op-ed last week is not the first time he’s pointed out where the world of Federated Judaism has gone astray. His op-ed from two years ago, entitled “Don’t fear ‘G-d,’ ‘Torah’ and ‘Judaism’,” also caught my attention. But this, if anything, is still harder-hitting. While I urge you to read his op-ed, “Judaism is more than ‘tikkun olam’,” in full, essential quotes follow — and they are numerous:
Non-Orthodox Judaism is confronted by rising levels of secularism that almost always lead to assimilation — a trend that within a generation or two could render Reform and Conservative Judaism largely irrelevant in North America (and abroad as well). Non-Orthodox Jews’ general discontent with and resulting departure from Jewish life, left alone, stands to bring Reform and Conservative Judaism to a state of obsolescence… we should know by … Read More >>
Last week, as the mercury soared to record highs across much of the United States, electrical demand rose with the temperature as air-conditioning systems ran full blast. Years ago, Baltimore Gas & Electric created a program called Peak Rewards, intended to help reduce demand when it neared capacity. Roughly 453,000 customers (including the Menkens) were given remotely programmable thermostats with free installation — and a catch: when necessary, BGE could shut off our air-conditioning compressors for 50%, 75% or even 100% of each hour during extraordinary situations. And for years, those customers were rewarded with monthly credits on their electricity bills during the summer months, whether or not the system was ever activated.
On Friday, the system was activated — and people reacted as if they’d been coerced rather than given hundreds of dollars to participate in the program. Among the more intemperate [sic] remarks given to the Baltimore Sun: “What outrages me is there’s no alternative for people in special circumstances.”
There was, of course, always an alternative: not participating in the program. I’m not saying that it wasn’t uncomfortable; our upstairs thermostat reported temperatures in the high-80s by 5 pm. But “Peak Rewards” was designed for … Read More >>
The question of why the Haredi community tends to avoid or minimize IDF service is one with multiple facets, one of which is the ongoing hostility of the IDF towards Jewish religious practice. A yeshiva student, in particular, is supposed to take himself away from doing something which, he believes, protects every Jew in every place, and instead place himself into a situation where he is told that all of that is valueless, and his rules, primitive.
In the newest example, the outgoing Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate, Avi Zamir, asserted that requiring female soldiers and officers to dress modestly around their observant comrades was harmful to their dignity. He said that to require women not to sing in their presence was a “pathetic demand.”
What happens if a soldier leaves a room in which a woman is singing, when commanded by his superiors to be in that room? It’s not at all the same as shopping at Walmart, where it’s a matter of personal preference whether or not to tolerate whatever they happen to play in the background. In the IDF, if you don’t overlook assaults on Jewish law, a soldier can be thrown in jail.
Rabbi Natan Slifkin recently posted a response to Rabbi Shafran’s essay from yesterday. Unfortunately, he misrepresents what Rabbi Shafran had to say, which was entirely reasonable — and on target.
Rabbi Shafran said that many scientists are, like all people, subject to bias. He suggests that nowhere is this so evident as it is with evolution, which, to some, has been elevated to the status of an unquestionable article of faith. Try as Rabbi Slifkin might, it’s hard to dispute either of those relatively obvious contentions, forcing him to produce a number of convoluted arguments and even set up a few strawmen along the way.
Rabbi Slifkin takes an obvious indicator of bias and turns it on its head: “it should be pointed out that amongst the ranks of those who do believe in evolution, you will find both atheists and devoutly religious people… but amongst those who declare evolution to be false, you will only find religious people.” Bias is found in the beholder, not the concept, and thus the same facts should rightly be said as follows: “you can find devoutly religious people who do or do not believe in evolution, but to a one, … Read More >>
According to a new book from a Professor at UCLA, the media’s left-wing bias is so overwhelming and pervasive that the few balanced news outlets appear to have a conservative slant. “It’s like concluding that six-three is short just because it is short compared to professional basketball players,” writes Professor Tim Groseclose. He asserts that by a neutral standard, Fox News and the Drudge Report are centrist, with perhaps even a minor left-wing tilt — but due to the steep liberal bias of every other major outlet, “commentators mistake relative bias for absolute bias.” From the article:
Groseclose opens his book quoting a well-known poll in which Washington correspondents declared that they vote Democratic 93 percent to 7 percent, while the nation is split about 50-50. As a result, he says, most reporters write with a liberal filter. “Using objective, social-scientific methods, the filtering prevents us from seeing the world as it actually is. Instead, we see only a distorted version of it. It is as if we see the world through a glass—a glass that magnifies the facts that liberals want us to see and shrinks the facts that conservatives want us to see.”
If … Read More >>
Zev is a friend of mine who works in Kashrus. We had the following IM exchange this morning:
(11:01:26 AM) zev: have you ever found any bugs or crustaceans in the nori sheets you check? (11:01:57 AM) YM: yes, and they were tasty, too!
In short, neither he nor I have found any, while Israeli mashgichim say they have. We all get them from the Far East, so geography isn’t the answer.
If you’ve ever found Seahorse, bug or other sheretz in Nori, we’d like to know. If you can upload a photo, even better!