Do you know about the CD that is causing much grief to yeshiva-trained Americans? There is no mp3 version. It is not a message from Lipa, or Mattisyahu, or a Modern Orthodox subversive. CD here does not stand for compact disk, but for cognitive dissonance. The difference between reality the way we have been taught to accept it, and the way we personally encounter it. Cognitive dissonance is driving more and more of us to an uncomfortable psychic place. We dwell firmly in the charedi world in which we grew up, and in which we raised our children. We fully live the charedi life style, but our hearts are sometimes not so enthusiastic about it, and our minds are increasingly alienated from it. We are victims of repeating memes with which we were bombarded, and then discovering that they are not true.
Some of these memes have come into sharper focus with the legislation of the current Israeli government. One of those, repeated again and again in the charedi press both in Israel and the US, is that the government is composed of rasha’im who are intent on fighting a war to the finish to obliterate Torah.
I … Read More >>
An entire hour of machshavah, delivered on the first day of Chanukah at the Yachad Kolel, without having to endure a single original thought of mine. That’s because it is entirely a collection of ideas from much deeper thinkers. The two halves are built on R Goldvicht, zt”l and Maharal. But there are important cameo appearances by Ramban, Malbim, the Gra, the Bahir, R Hutner, R Dessler, R Soloveitchik, R Yaakov Galinsky, Christopher Hitchens and Matthew Arnold. Except for the last two, an all-star cast.
Addendum: Apparently there are people who would prefer an audio-only version, missing out on a terrific opportunity to watch a bobbing head in front of a paroches for an hour. Bowing to the pressure, it is now available as an mp3 download.
Many Jews are so scarred (rightfully so!) by stories of horrors perpetrated upon us in the name of Christianity, that those stories become a defining part of their reality. Christian hatred of Jews is a given, as real and permanent as gravity. They cannot imagine a world without it. If you are one of those, please stop reading. The rest is not for you.
If you have room in your world view for change in the way some people relate to us, and we to them, you might be interested in learning about salient points of the major document (officially called an apostolic exhortation) that Pope Francis released a short while ago.
Overall, the document is extremely warm and accommodating to Jews and Judaism. It speaks of friendship for a Jewish people that enjoys significance in an irrevocable covenantal relationship with G-d. It owns up to the debt owed to them, and apologizes for their past persecution when done by Christians.
The document includes language important to supporters of Israel looking to defeat the Palestinian and BDS wars against her legitimacy. As I generally eschew political commentary in these pages, I will not write here … Read More >>
I was saddened to learn of the petirah of one of the giants of the American shul rabbinate, Rav Yosef Grunblatt, z”l.
Surely much will be written about him by those who knew him best – his family, students, and mispallelim during the decades he served at the Queens Jewish Center in Forest Hills. I can only share, as an exercise in hakoras hatov, the way he affected my life.
In my much younger days, I was wont to see things in black and white. Right-wing yeshiva people were the good guys; everyone else was a little (or a lot) off. Genuinely frum people avoided areas like philosophy. They left that for “YU people.” Rabbi Grunblatt was the first (but certainly not the last) I encountered who helped me explode that myth, and my life (and that of my own talmidim) is the better for it.
Rabbi Grunblatt, after all, was “seriously” grounded in Torah. He had gone to Torah Vodaas, and loved deeper learning. Yet, by the time I discovered him in my late teens, he was a respected authority on serious philosophy in the Orthodox world. That got me thinking, even before I met him in the … Read More >>
Given her decades-long reputation for bold innovation without looking over her shoulder for approval, I expected her to be tall, large and speak with a commanding voice. I was completely unprepared for what Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom turned out to be in person when I met her earlier today at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.
A breath of fresh air, she was indeed. Anyone who did what an entire culture couldn’t do for decades – create a functioning college for haredim – has to be a breath of fresh air. This powerhouse, however, is a diminutive, soft-spoken, understated woman who speaks uncompromised loyalty to the values of a Torah community (and the legacy of her father, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l) with a smile and a soothing voice.
Twenty-five years ago, a philanthropist handed Rav Ovadiah a blank check to create a modality for haredi women to receive the secular education they needed to earn enough to take their families out of poverty. Her father said, “Not yet,” which she says means that there were not yet enough people to teach the classes in a manner that would not conflict with the Torah concepts with which the young … Read More >>
Knowing too many of the main players in the UK Limmud controversy (and being particularly close with Rabbis Rosenblum and Cardoza) I am going to sit this one out. I agreed with arguments in both of their presentations, as well as disagreed with some. The same holds true of Rabbi Kimche’s. ‘Nuff said.
There may be room for an important sidebar conversation, however. Many of us respect the position enunciated decades ago by American gedolei roshei yeshivah that we should not participate in forums with non-Orthodox Jewish clergy. Bnei Torah from YU have every reason not to be bound by that thinking, since Rav Soloveitchik refused to sign (as well as a few others), at least not without one change in the language that was not inserted in time. We should be able, without any trace of insubordination, to at least inquire about the parameters of the ban. To whom does it apply? Are there exceptions to the rule? Will there ever come a time at which the ban should be reexamined, and possibly even relaxed? I believe I know the answer to the first two questions. The third, I believe, is worthwhile at least putting on the … Read More >>
From a recent obituary:
Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor whose pioneering research into how humans interact with technology found that the increasingly screen-saturated, multitasking modern world was not nurturing the ability to concentrate, analyze or feel empathy, died on Saturday near Lake Tahoe. Dr. Nass, who majored in math at Princeton but became a professor of communication at Stanford, spent more than 25 years studying people as they confronted the constantly changing technology of the computer age — how they responded to simulated voices in the 1990s (we trust male voices to give us driving directions); the titillation of 24-hour news networks and smartphone swiping (we are naturally weak for endless streams of blather, whether on a television news crawl or Twitter); and the anxiety of operating (or not) a self-driving vehicle in the fast-arriving future.
One of his most publicized research projects was a 2009 study on multitasking. He and his colleagues presumed that people who frequently juggle computer, phone or television screens, or just different applications, would display some special skill at ignoring irrelevant information, or efficiently switching between tasks, or that they would prove to have a particularly orderly memory.
“We all bet high multitaskers were … Read More >>
Jonathan Sarna says that the RCA should know better. Writing in The Forward, Dr. Sarna, an acclaimed scholar, finds irony in the letter published a few days ago in Haaretz that responded to an earlier piece by Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the new president of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT). In that piece, Rabbi Lopatin decried the attempts of the “ultra-Orthodox” to read him and his colleagues out of the bounds of Orthodoxy. He announced that no one had the right to do that, and that he and his friends were in for the long haul. The letter, signed by over forty rabbis (now over sixty, and none of them particularly associated with “ultra-Orthodoxy”), demonstrated that resistance to the announced program of Open Orthodoxy (OO) and Morethodoxy was not limited to the “extremes” of the Orthodox continuum, but came primarily from the center. The letter cited the belief of the signatories (full disclosure: I was one of them) that no one was agitating to drive them out. By their actions and pronouncements they had walked out and begun essentially a new denomination of neo-Conservatism.
Because it was only a letter, it made no attempt to list all the ways in … Read More >>
What issues could possibly have ignited the firestorm sweeping through the yeshiva community in Israel? A week and a half ago, one point of view was shared with the public in an impassioned presentation in Har Nof. Rabbi Doron Beckerman obtained a write-up of that presentation, and provided a summary of it, which forms the basis of what you will read. Unless you decide that you have no interest in any of the details, in which case I urge you to scroll down to the paragraph in block quotes. That paragraph, the penultimate one in the original document, can stand alone as a level-headed, Torah-true response to a perplexing and tragic part of the current news cycle, even to those who might find parts of the drasha foreign to their thinking and life-style.
R’ Yitzchak Mordechai HaKohen Rubin (RYMR) is the Rav of Kehillas Bnei Torah in Har Nof. He is better known as the author of Mareh Kohein on Hilchos Taharas Hamishpachah and the co-author of Orchos Shabbos and, as you can therefore understand, one of the top-notch poskim in Israel. He is a nephew of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (most well-known for getting his last psak … Read More >>
Rabbi Moshe Grylak’s op-ed in last week’s Mishpacha calmed the frayed nerves of a community with the instant effectiveness of a double espresso on the weary. He owned up to the existence of something tragic and embarrassing happening between the warring factions in Israel’s yeshiva world. He did not try to deny, apologize or minimize the tragedy. But he offered a picture-perfect response to us here in the US: stay out of it. Those who take sides with one Torah luminary against another do not fare well. HKBH does not take lightly blows to the honor of major talmidei chachamim.
No matter that there are other versions of the famous story of the Meshumad (especially the connection to the battle between R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonoson Eybeshutz) that might have better support in the historical record. The take-away from the tale related by R. Grylak is stronger than the story itself. Can any story be more powerful than the unambiguous advice of the Mishnah “Be cautious regarding the coal of the Chachamim…?”
We may not have to content ourselves with declaring a no-fly zone around this story, which seems to get worse every day. We may … Read More >>
Some of the first stirrings and concerns about the Pew Report appeared right here in Cross-Currents, led by Dr. Marvin Schick. He followed up with conversations with the conveners of the study. Now, he has taken those concerns to a wider public in Tablet Magazine, drawing on his reputation and experience as a serious researcher for decades.
His fans are proud.
With sincere apologies to those who loyally read these pages in search of something new or inspiring, I offer none of those here. Some of the suggestions that follow have been made before; some are boilerplate. Nonetheless, cobbling together a few ideas about what can or should be done by frum Jews in the wake of the Pew Report might help more inspired people launch some other ideas. Here are five, in addition to Thou Shalt Not Be Triumphal with which I closed out Part One.
1) Don’t Starve the Goose If any single element accounts for the deep division between the success of Orthodoxy and the failure of non-Orthodoxy in all its varieties, it is education. (Even Rabbi Wolpe, whom I criticized in the earlier post, takes it for granted that a vivified Conservative Jewry would require a commitment to serious education.) We are all aware of the fault lines within our educational system. We cannot afford, however, not to recognize that on the whole, Torah education is a phenomenal success. Our family life, our elevated repopulation rate would mean little without a system to produce young people loyal to the Torah and its lifestyle.
Alas, both the … Read More >>
While one calendric oddity has grabbed national attention, another one seems to have gone unnoticed. Except on Cross-Currents.
Thanksgivukkah has entered the American vocabulary, for a short period of notoriety. This year will be the first, and likely the last, time that Thanksgiving will be celebrated on Chanukah. The conjunction has tickled people’s imaginations, launched a Facebook page, produced fusion recipes unheard of since the days of Poccayente, and provoked the ire of Colbert. Somehow, in the rush to make turkey-laced latkes, a different mishmash comes and goes without comment. Yesterday marked the major festival of Eid ul-Adha, the Muslim celebration of Akeidas Yishmael. (Their version differs a bit from ours. They claim we tampered with the texts to insert our own favorite son candidate in a lead role.) Is it coincidental that it fell this year in the week that Jews will read of Akeidas Yitzchok? I think not.
The identity of the protagonists is not the only difference in the story. Checking the Quran 37:102, my eye caught a few words, and I wondered if they were significant.
When he grew enough to work with him, he said, “My son, I see in a dream … Read More >>
The best and worst reactions to the Pew Report that I have seen came from outside the Orthodox world. This paragraph in the Washington Post tidily summed things up:
That which is continually diluted will eventually disappear. ‘Being an ethical person’ while central to Judaism, is not uniquely Jewish. ’Fighting for social justice’ while central to Judaism, is not uniquely Jewish. Wearing Tefillin, praying in Hebrew, Torah study, Kashrut, Jewish communal adherence and activities — these things (while not necessarily limited only to Jews) are activities that keep the core of the tradition alive. As Jews have left the latter and profess the former, adherence weakens. It requires a massive, sustained and serious effort to move the etiolated Jews of good conscience to the passionate Jews of ritual involvement.
No argument here. This is perfect acknowledgment of what all of us traditional Jews knew all along. Liberal Judaism fed Jews a diet of tikkun olam served on a bed of Friday night guitar music. It tickled some palates, but left diners gagging for want of spiritual air.
We can hope and pray that responsible people in the heterodox world will be moved to taking brave steps in … Read More >>
Curiously, the text of the original Haaretz article has changed – to their credit. The story about Dr. Malka Schaps, a newly appointed dean at Bar-Ilan, now only claims that she is the only female haredi prof in Israel. The earlier text added that she was perhaps the only one in the world.
I quickly addressed a serious of comments expressing dismay at such a conjecture. I rattled off the names I knew of – Dr. Judith Bleich (Touro), Dr Jean Jofen z”l (NYU), her daughter-in-law Dr Elisheva Carlebach (Columbia), Charlotte Goldberg (Loyola Law School), Dr. Tamar Frankiel (Claremont). I am curious as to whom I missed. Please add additional names through the Comments feature. But let’s keep to their rules, and limit it to professors, i.e. teaching faculty, not haredi women with doctorates alone.
The information might be useful in the future.
People will be speaking for quite a while about the the new Pew report on American Jews, and its depressing outlook for the future of any continuation of Jewish affiliation outside of Orthodoxy. One item, appearing at the end of Chapter Four, took everyone by surprise. Fifteen percent of ultra-Orthodox Jews reported that they attended non-Jewish religious services a few times a year. Huh? Can this really be true. The same figure was reported for Modern Orthodox Jews.
Given the sad factionalizing of the Orthodox community, we think we understand what is going on. Occasionally, someone from the yeshivish community will drop by a Young Israel. And a Modern Orthodox traveller in need of a late shacharis might, from time to time, try out a chassidishe shteibel.
This is as “non-Jewish” (r”l) as it gets. Riddle solved.
Not so funny are the real flaws in the report, some of which resulted in the serious under-reporting of Orthodox strength:
1) The clustering of Orthodox population in specific areas 2) The perhaps tens of thousands (or more) especially outside those areas who are strongly affiliated with Chabad. Those people will not call themselves Orthodox, put belong there for the … Read More >>
According to the information that came with my pre-publication review copy, Yossi Klein Halevi’s (YKH) new book will be released on October 1st.
Many Cross-Currents readers read the history of the founding of the State and its formative years (regardless of their attitude towards it) as Divine Providence made manifest. Books like O, Jerusalem and Six Days of War can be as chronicles of the unexpected Divine ninth-inning save – the classic deus ex machina without the machina. Perhaps this is reason enough to provide Cross-Currents readers with a treatment of this book written especially for them.
Of course, it will only be believers who will sense the hashgacha lurking in the margins of each page, and that is one of the themes of the book. Its subtitle is “The story of the Israeli paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem and divided a nation.” YKH follows individuals whose lives and ideologies branched off in sharply different directions after the heady days of seeming national unity after the June War. In particular, he shows the tension – suspended during the days of the battle, but lurking in the background even then – between the kibbutznikim in the IDF and the Religious … Read More >>
I dislike hawking my own presentations, but I am under pressure from major corporate sponsors.
OK. Minor, non-corporate sponsors. But they are nice people.
Rabbi Ruvain Wolf figured out that anything a rabbi can say in an hour, he can cram into 20 minutes. That way, he gets to put three of them on a in a single evening. The audience gets different perspectives, and less chance to get bored by all the filler. It works; I’ve appeared there (Maayon Yisroel, on LaBrea Ave.) several times before. My good friend Dr Dovid Fox and I, together with Rabbi Wolf (responding to the Litvaks with the last word in chassidus) will be holding forth at 8PM this Tuesday evening, the night before Rosh Hashanah.
A bit more than a week later, I will give the annual Yom Kippur (and Sukkos) shiur for women at the main building of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1399 S Roxbury Dr. That’s Wed. 9/11 at noon. Preregistration necessary. Email email@example.com
[Links are now available.
The Yom Kippur shiur is here. (The last time I tried this, they cut it off because the traffic exceeded their limit. So if that happens to you, please … Read More >>
The “us” are non-Asperger people. For those who live with Asperger Syndrome (AS), much of life is about navigating the strange rules that we “typicals” impose on them. Understanding how they do it might help and inspire some of us in the avodah of the coming days.
Imagine that you had been told for as long as you could remember that you suffered from something called Asperger Syndrome, and this is why people thought and treated you as somewhat – different. Then, one day, they told you that AS no longer existed. They couldn’t confidently tell you why, but they cautioned that the reclassification might – just might – affect the programs and services to which you had previously been entitled. Previously, they thought you were different for one reason. Now they still thought you were different, but for other reasons. Maybe.
This happened on May 22nd of this year, to be precise, when the American Psychiatric Association released the DSM-5, its latest revision of its manual of diagnoses. Previously, AS had been seen as related to, but distinct from, autism. The revision created a new cholent, putting both groups on the same continuum, now to be known … Read More >>
Stay for the concert; get pshat in a gemara. That’s not what I expected from the Itzhak Perlman / Yitzchok Meir Helfgot performance Tuesday evening at the Hollywood Bowl, but it was the way it turned out.
On to a stage reserved for one of the world’s premier orchestras as well as top contemporary performers, Chazan Helfgot strode out in bekeshe and white shirt without tie, exactly as he might have emerged from his home in Boro Park. The handful of support artists from the Los Angeles Philharmonic looked on with bemused admiration as the tenor’s voice (Perlman has compared him to Pavarotti and Placido Domingo) filled the famed shell of the Bowl and the mostly full amphitheater beyond. Where did he learn to sing like that? What was this other-worldly presence doing on a stage that usually serves the likes of Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn and Mahler?
(The program notes filled us in on Helfgot’s background, starting with his birth in Bnei Brak. It included many of his most important performances, including one at Madison Square Garden for something called “Siyum HaShas.”)
Perlman, the Israeli virtuoso violinist, had collaborated with Helfgot a few months ago at … Read More >>
Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” Jews could easily offer a third option: judge the faith of a people by their ability to live with unanswered questions.
The Zev Farber debacle moved many people to comment: “So Rabbi Farber, YCT’s Yadin Yadin musmach, went far beyond asking questions. He came to conclusions, including some that put him well outside the boundaries of Orthodoxy. We ought to firmly reject his conclusions, and hold accountable those who still refuse to do so. But how do we respond to those questions? Where are the answers that genuine Torah Jews can live with?”
Those are good questions. Before we answer them, we might consider that we have been there before. We’ve been there so often, that living behind an intellectual eight ball might be described as the modal place of residence for Jews over our long history.
We didn’t just clash with our neighbors. They just knew we were wrong, and offered plenty of proof that we were intellectual pygmies and primitives. (No matter that today we consider their proofs silly. That is not the way those arguments were perceived at the time. If a … Read More >>
Heresy, to many Orthodox Jews, is what Trayvon Martin is to some black Americans: something that stirs up fears and concerns that they would rather not think about. The very mention of the word “heresy” unleashes torrents of unwelcome ideas and images. We think of witch-hunts, of confessions under torture, of the burning of Bruno, of the stifling of questions and inquiry. We would like to believe, like our black neighbors would like to think about racism, that heresy is a concern of a bygone era, an historical oddity we have left behind, but not something we need deal with today.
As the controversy surrounding Rabbi Zev Farber’s remarks about the authorship of Chumash heats up, it might be a good idea to examine a few points that commenters to Rabbi Gordimer’s essay have raised.
1) Is it really so important to take a stand about matters of belief? Isn’t what we do far more important?
Time does not permit anything but the briefest of responses. Readers might want to review the introduction of Chovos Halevavos, who makes the argument that if Hashem legislated the way we act for the purpose of instructing and elevating us, He … Read More >>
We write in anguish and frustration, responding to the images that we have seen, and the words that we have heard in recent days. We have heard the Kol Yaakov (voice of Jacob) used far too often to hurl accusations at wide swaths of people replete with extraordinarily inflammatory language and just recently read reports of the negative branding of an entire group of Jews in a public venue. We have also witnessed the Yedei Esav (hands of Esau) used by Jews against soldiers who are laying down their lives to defend our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel.
It is impossible to state how damaging all of this is to the image of the frum Jew – indeed of our Holy Torah itself – in the eyes of countless millions of people, Jew and non-Jew alike. It is terrifying to observe this in the days before Tisha B’Av, as we prepare to cry before Hashem and ask Him to end the exile which exists because of baseless hatred. We recall the words of the Netziv in his introduction to Bereishis. He describes a generation of “chassidim, tzadikim and amalei Torah (righteous and learned people),” who nonetheless were not … Read More >>
Wherein is described a proposal that can alleviate stress, make you happier, and help bring the geulah. Not bad for a Nine Days message.
We’ve been told before that we need to be more accepting, and less judgmental. In our hearts, we know that this is true. Intellectually, we accept the gemara’s take on the loss of Bayis Sheni, and how sinas chinam has taken longer to cure than the violation of the three cardinal sins in the time of Bayis Rishon. We’ve even seen the Netziv’s take on the factionalism at the time of Bayis Sheni, and how small ideological difference – all ostensibly l’shem Shomayim – can turn people into ugly human beings and even murderers.
We still haven’t cured the problem; the structure on top of Har HaBayis is not the one we want to see there.
For decades, we’ve pushed fellow Yidden to identify more with this and with that. Identification with other like-minded Jews was a crucial part of the growth of our community on the ashes of Churban Europe. Identification contributed to the emergence of a rich variety of mosdos chinuch and tefilah, offering people different styles of avodas Hashem, each … Read More >>
“To our chagrin, our aggressive style and the curses and insults that are issued by our own people and media organs are a terrible malady. These things are the cause of tremendous damage in the delicate and complex fabric of relations between the charedim and the secular populace of the State of Israel.”
Those words, penned by Rabbi Moshe Grylak, Mispacha’s editor-in-chief, make worthwhile and bearable the embarrassment of a two-page response to my earlier essay in Cross-Currents. That essay praised Mishpacha for the wealth of information and thought regarding the Yair Lapid measures, but showed where there were some gaps, including Rabbi Grylak’s contribution to that issue.
Rabbi Grylak joins me, and I imagine most readers of Cross-Currents, in mourning the sacrifice of truth on the altar of expediency, whether in Haaretz or in HaPeles. He does, I fear, miss a key point of mine. After a long citation from the original article in which I point out that hyperbole is common to both camps, and therefore not the best way of gauging what is really on people’s minds, Rabbi Grylak acquits himself of the charge of paranoia by pointing out that the voices … Read More >>