So They Don’t Really Want To Stamp Out Torah, After All

You are going to have to read this excerpt from an article by Dov Lipman, even if he is unpopular with much of our readership, especially since he is only quoting Mishpacha. It appears in today’s Times of Israel. Don’t hug the messenger if you don’t want, but don’t shoot him either.

The Haredi newspaper, Mishpacha, sponsored a poll to determine the attitudes of secular Israelis towards Haredim. They hired one of Israel’s top pollsters, Mina Tzemach, to do the research.

Here are some of the results:

1) 72% of secular Israelis believe that the Haredim do not contribute to the Jewish nature of Israel. 2) 67% believe that the IDF is obligated to provide Haredim who serve with all of their religious needs to make sure that their lifestyle is not impacted negatively by their army service. 3) 82% are willing to hire Haredim to work in their companies. 4) 93% believe that there must be dialogue between the secular and Haredim to preserve unity in Israeli society. 5) 52% feel that Haredim and secular living side by side in the same areas will lead to better relationships between these populations. 6) 77% know Haredim personally and 83% … Read More >>

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The Tikvah Yeshiva Fellowships – Exciting New Program

Friday saw the launch of a program that will be exciting to yeshiva men with unfulfilled intellectual leanings, to Klal Yisrael, and to this author, who will be given an opportunity to pay back a debt many decades old.

The Tikvah Fund (TF) announced that it is now accepting candidate applications for the Tikvah Yeshiva Fellowship Program, to be held August 10-17 at the Glen Cove Mansion on Long Island. The program is designed for talmidei yeshivos between the ages of 20-30 who are possessed of enough intellectual curiosity to want to spend a week with some stellar presenters from both the Torah and secular communities, exploring issues of the relationship of the Torah Jew to the betterment of general society.

The Tikvah Fund, in its own words, “ [is]aimed at men and women who wish to influence the intellectual, religious, and political life of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” It leans heavily to classic conservative thinking on political and economic issues. To help create a new generation of Jewish leadership, it organizes seminars and fellowships that bring icons of American intellectual achievement to talented Jewish participants. The current list of presenters at one of … Read More >>

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At Least Some Of Us Can All Get Along

I know that I am not alone in feeling that the last few weeks have been particularly trying to yeshiva-educated people who nonetheless recoil from some of its rhetoric, and all of the divisiveness that it has generated. Witnessing a different model helps restore some optimism for the future.

I was privileged to experience a different spirit a week ago when I served as scholar in residence at the BAYT in Thornhill, Ontario. Its physical size would predict that it belongs in Texas, not Toronto. (It is the largest shul in Canada, and I believe the second largest anywhere in North America. Joe Tannenbaum a”h who knew a few things about construction designed it large.) That translates into over 800 member families, nine different minyanim on Shabbos morning. Enough people come together at mincha on Shabbos to rate as an asifa. The building brings together members of a black kollel and a white kollel, who get along with each other and even participate in joint events.

As a visiting speaker, I am sensitive to the varied personalities of communities and shuls. There are places where people will come over and tell you how great you were, even … Read More >>

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For Pre-Pesach Insomniacs

My semi-annual machshava shiur (for women, but suitable for all kinds of chromosomal construction) is available for free download as a .wav file, or here as an mp3.

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Women and Tefillin: R. Twersky’s Magisterial Approach

[Ultimately, it is not about women or tefillin - it is about the very nature of halachic process. Rabbi Mayer Twersky, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, grandson of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, and Harvard graduate, offers reasoning so compelling that I believe it should not be missed. It was first published on Torahweb.org, and is reproduced here with permission.]

May Orthodox Rabbis Permit Women to Don Tefillin [1]?

I

The Ruling of the Ramo and Modern Reaction

ואם הנשים רוצין להחמיר על עצמן מוחין בידן and if the women wish to act stringently [and don tefillin] we rebuke them (Ramo, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 38:3) Recently, some rabbis have publicized and implemented their view that women wishing to don tefillin should be accommodated, contra Ramo’s ruling. A firestorm of controversy has ensued. But seemingly there is ample justification for their position.

The argument runs as follows. What, in effect, have these rabbis done? To best serve their students/congregants they have, simply, sensitively aligned themselves with the Rambam, et al, whose view, contra Ramo, allows women to don tefillin. Surely, the view of Rambam, et al is valid.

The nominal argument continues. Times have unquestionably changed. We … Read More >>

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Best Purim Gragger Ever

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1″; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));

Post by 0404.

[Very unfortunate update and postscript. Hat tip to Chaim Saiman]

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Adar Blues and the Beit Shemesh Election

The last week or so has not been easy. I can’t recall another state of affairs that left a huge number of Orthodox Jews elated, while another group looked on in sheer dismay. I wondered, as did some of our commenters, whether something could be called a massive Kiddush Hashem when it so dramatically sharpened the pirud levavos between Torah observant Jews.

Had I been in Yerushalayim or New York, I would have attended. How could I not take part in a gathering of so many Torah Jews, united in their love for Torah? And tefillah is always appropriate. HKBH can sort out all of the different requests; mine would have been for a solution to the problem that allows for Torah to thrive, for people to extricate themselves from their poverty and dependence if they wish, for people not to drown financially as this is happening, and for healing the rifts between us.

I would have attended, but it would have been with a heavy heart – as if by kefias sheid. I would have shared some of the fears and pain of the crowd, but utterly rejected some of the slogans and rhetoric. It pains me to … Read More >>

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The Official Unofficial Response to the Unofficial Official Video

Who’s on first?

I would score this as a victory for the team that batted second.

It is thoroughly in good taste.

It also, ironically, leaves no room for the genuine anti-charedi haters. It depicts graphically just how those who choose can easily, if given the chance, transition into roles in the IDF and the workforce, without losing their chitzoniyus or their commitment to halacha.

Enjoy!

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The Rally Clip

[The clip has been removed from YouTube. Kudos to all those responsible, which includes those who realized how toxic the message was, and how counterproductive it was to the stated objectives of the atzeret tefillah. This also includes all those - charedim and non-charedim - who saw a bad thing for what it was, and spoke out. May the organizers of the upcoming American events act as responsibly!]

Sometimes, you just have to tell it like it is.

What is circulating as the “official” clip of the tefilah rally is vile and disgusting.

For all the skepticism that met the rally, the organizers could claim that they had achieved some positive goals. The size of the crowd, its peacefulness and general unity told a story of a remarkable commitment of a people to its Torah. The rally reminded the Israeli public that even in the face of the huge rift that has opened up between haredim and the rest of the country, this was not a community that could be ignored, or that would compromise on what it regarded as its principles. The optimist could hope that one day the rift would be healed, and that all … Read More >>

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“A Next Step” – Round Two

[YA - Dr. Finkelman submitted a long comment that can best be handled by turning it into a post, with my bracketed reactions to him embedded.]

A handful of initial responses.

As for social changes, it is not merely a question of “how much of [changes in the roles of women] we should embrace.” Some things are too pervasive to choose to embrace or not. Gender changes cannot simply be rejected since they are too central to culture.

[YA – I don’t agree at all. We have a pretty good track record rejecting what we need to reject, when we see it as foreign to Torah. We rejected ideas like an eternally-old world, and the superiority of Christianity when they were assumed by the entire cultural surround. All of us live with an abiding sense of authority, even as it has been supplanted by autonomy. We dismiss out of hand the sexual permissiveness that is at least as well established today as the egalitarianism of gender change.

Perhaps you speak here not of attitudinal embrace, but a practical one. Le-maaseh, our wives and daughters do utilize many of the opportunities created by gender change. That does not … Read More >>

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Response To “A Next Step”

Chevra – Let’s try to address your concerns serially. The phenomenal growth of the Orthodox community hardly touches the issue of the korbanos we lost to the heterodox movements. While Orthodoxy grew, that growth hardly matches the literally hundreds of thousands (if not more) for whom the last decades became the terminal point of thousands of years of Jewish lineage. We lived through, and are still living through, a period of shemad – of apostasy, of joining false belief systems. It was not a time of forced shemad, but shemad it was.

Nowhere did R Shachter call supporters of Partnership Minyanim “Adat Korach.” He said that they use a slogan popularized by Adat Korach: we all stood at Sinai; all of us have a vote, and an opinion that counts. R Schachter argues that in weighty matters, only a certain upper tier of talmidei chachamim can offer opinions worth considering.

You describe the leaders of Open Orthodoxy as “observant, learned mevakshei Hashem.” While this has not been my personal experience, let’s grant that description for the sake of argument. It would not change R Shachter’s position in the slightest. OO does not have people acclaimed as talmidei chachamim who … Read More >>

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Rav Schachter’s Bright-Line Rule On Halachic Innovation

By the time you read this, the new issue of Tradition may already have launched a thousand conversations. It contains an important article by Rabbis Aryeh and Dov Frimer that prohibits “partnership minyanim.” At the same time, Tradition’s parent organization, the RCA, collected and released other documents adopting the same position. The authors come from across a continuum of contemporary Orthodoxy, including R Gedalya Dov Schwartz,shlit”a, the Av Beis Din of the RCA, and R Jeremy Wieder of YU (still to be published).

How to respond to the incessant stream of innovations coming from YCT/ Morethodoxy/ Open Orthodoxy (OO) – or whether to respond at all – remains a frequent topic of conversation and disagreement within the ranks of the RCA, the Modern Orthodox rabbinic group. The RCA is far from monolithic. Its members range from somewhat favorable to OO, to indifferent, to strongly hostile. Many among the more traditional members already refer to Open Orthodoxy as neo-Conservatism, believing that with the imminent demise of the Conservative movement, its ideology has found a new home at the far margins of the Orthodox world. At the same time, many of those on the far-left have formed their own … Read More >>

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The Success of Chareidi Kiruv

As much as I enjoy reading Jonathan Rosenblum’s column in Mishpacha each week, I find it painful. Comparing my own poor attempt at communication with the richness of his thought and expression always leaves me feeling inadequate.

Last week was no different. How many people in our community would have thought of introducing a column with a reference to Alain Finkielkraut? Many in our community whose secular (non-)education came through our day schools criticize writers for Mishpacha for using “Artscroll English.” Among them, many surely believe that Finkielkraut must be the inventor of a new condiment for hot dogs.

Jonathan, however, doesn’t pander to the lowest educational common denominator. His writing always attempts to not only stimulate and educate, but also to elevate. There are almost always some subliminal messages thrown in, gently prodding a community to make small changes in its thinking.

To succeed in that, he has to limit what he can say. I am not subject to the same intensity of limitation, so I can take what he says to the next level. Which is what I feel compelled to do in regard to the column at hand.

Jonathan reacted to a … Read More >>

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Whose Memory is a Blessing?

Whoever the “Letters” editor of Hamodia may be, I prefer to think that he/she is more clever than obtuse. It is the only way I could understand the reaction to a reader other than wimpy silliness.

The reader took offense at some reference in the paper’s coverage of the passing of Ariel Sharon. Apparently, the article’s author lost all of his religious bearings, and made reference to the former Prime Minister as z”l – of blessed memory.

What could this author have been thinking? We know that Sharon made no pretense of halachic observance. If he was not frum, there should be no reason why we should find any berachah in his remembrance at all! Therefore, the reader took Hamodia to task: “Even though the writer attempts to describe him as a very proud Jew, it seems to be quite irrelevant when the proud one is actually not practicing what he’s proud of. Hamodia, being an orthodox paper with Torah values should of (sic) not honoured an unorthodox person with this title.”

The reader has a point. When Sharon ignored orders and led his troops across the Suez Canal within striking distance of Cairo, thereby singlehandedly turning the … Read More >>

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Why I Don’t Write More Often

I should feel complimented that I get email all the time asking why I haven’t commented yet about this or that important story.

The simple answer is that I don’t like to write unless I feel that I have something semi-insightful to add to what is already out there. If Cross-Currents were to become a regular source of news to the community, I would have to quit my day-job.

I stumbled upon Frank Rich’s swan-song piece as an op-ed writer for the New York Times. He conveyed perfectly what I have thought for a long while – and why I have resisted writing more, even when I could carve out the time. I think he identifies an occupational hazard of many blogsters, particularly those who gain a following

I didn’t like what the relentless production of a newspaper column was doing to my writing. That routine can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion. Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice.

Of course, … Read More >>

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Charedim and The Gap

Apologies for causing an unwarranted adrenalin surge in some of our readers who may be hostile to our Israeli cousins. This will not be an expose about black-hatted people on the dole squandering public funds at upscale clothiers. Most charedim in Israel never heard of The Gap. But then again, most of them don’t know enough about the other gap, the one we are going to talk about. And it does make a catchier title than “Are They All Really Resha’im, Part Two,” which is what the piece is really about.

You may know the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) by its colloquial name, Machon Lev, after the founder of the venerable institution of applied science, Prof. Zev Lev z”l, a former ben-bayis of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky z”l. JCT students combine Torah learning and the pursuit of their academic careers. In other words, it has been mostly avoided by charedim, at least until recently. JCT took a leadership position in not only welcoming charedi students, but in creating special options for them that would respect their sensitivities and needs.

On one particular day, six JCT students were selected to be interviewed by Rabbi Shai Piron, Israel’s … Read More >>

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The Rabbanut and Rabbi Weiss: It’s Not Just A Power Struggle

Believe whatever you want about the Israeli Rabbinate’s rejection of Rabbi Avi Weiss’ testimonial letters, the principle behind the invalidation is sound and important. It applies – and is in fact used – against people on the right in the very same manner. What may be the most important function of the Rabbanut – the protection of yuchsin – is stronger because of it.

A major power struggle rages on before us. On the one hand, the Rabbinate came clean and acknowledged that they had indeed spurned Rabbi Weiss’ declarations of the Jewishness of people known to him, on the basis of what other US rabbis told them about his halachic innovations. On the other are Rabbi Weiss’ natural allies on the left – Open Orthodoxy, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, and YCT in the US, and Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, Maale Gilboa and (surprisingly, at least to me,) Tzohar in Israel. Many of them would like to topple the Rabbinate altogether, seeing it as too right-wing, and replace it with a more user-friendly (sounds good) and halachically liberal (sounds fraught) rabbinate.

Some of the charges are contradictory. Rabbi Weiss’ supporters claim that it is charedim who are out to … Read More >>

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A Father’s Tefilah

The very first time we meet Moshe Rabbenu after his infancy, he “went out to his brothers,” which Chazal understand to mean that “he set his eyes and heart to feel their pain.” I offer the following in that vein. It is an unredacted version of a letter I received by email about a week ago from an old friend. It will be painful for many to read; it will get others angry. I think that the potential gains in some of us feeling the pain of others is worth the risks involved.

Rashi was one of our great commentators in the chumash and other Jewish books which we have been learning for hundreds of years. Today a young boy who received his 1st ‘Tzav Giyus’ or in the rest of the world, outside Israel, it’s called the ‘draft’ notice. The 16 3/4 year old sabra spent the first few weeks after his arrival into this world in Jerusalem classified by the doctors who perform miracles as agents of HKBH, as a ‘pag,’ or in the terms in the rest of the world, a ‘premie.’

The month of his birth was Adar 1, as in 1997, there was as … Read More >>

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Cross-Currents Live!

In a manner of speaking. And only if you have Pesach free, and some discretionary funds available, and a spouse who really wants to go.

In other words, if you really want to argue the points of the last umpteen issues of Cross-Currents, you are invited to join the Adlersteins at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, where I will serve BE”H as Scholar in Residence for the upcoming Yom Tov.

The facility, I am told, is top of the line. Despite misgivings about leaving home for Pesach (we haven’t done this in years, but simply can’t fit our crowd into our small home), we have managed in the past to rescue a good deal of ruchniyus amid the opulence. We would welcome fellow travelers.

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Poetry For a Yahrzeit

This Shabbos will mark the first yahrzeit of an extraordinary shaper and builder of the Los Angeles Torah community, Rebbetzin Dr. Miriam Huttler. After a childhood in Beis Zhvil of Meah Shearim, she braved U-boats to make the trip to the US with her mother, to join her father who was one of the first major chassidishe personalities in Los Angeles. There were no options back then other than public school and Talmud Torah; despite (or because of) that, she went on to leadership positions at the side of her husband, ybl”c Rabbi Reuven Huttler as Rebbetzin of a shul, founder of a day school for immigrant children, guide of a strong NCSY chapter, and as a bulldog for singles, including innovative ways to get them together decades before those methods were used elsewhere. Along the way, she picked up advanced degrees in psychology from USC and UCLA. Anyone who knew her (and the way she raised children fiercely loyal to Toras Hashem) recognized that her neshamah had never really left Beis Zhvil.

Her son, Rabbi Yossi Huttler, has become a bit of the house poet at Cross-Currents. Publishing his poems, presented here to honor his mother z”l, is … Read More >>

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Subjective Morality and Its Discontents

For the want of a single word – like the nail of the horse’s shoe – kingdoms can be lost. Israel’s enemies look towards the French version of UN Security Council 242 for the definite article missing in the English version that would imply that Israel should withdraw from all territory occupied in the June 1967 war.

Sometimes, transmigrating a simple word or two can be just as crucial. How many people were enticed by the mistranslation of עלמה in Yeshaya 7:14 as “virgin,” while Mishlei 30:19 shows it to mean something quite different?

A recent mistranslation of a pair of words in an important passage in Rav Kook affords readers an opportunity to closely inspect one of the elements that sets Open Orthodoxy apart from the rest of the Orthodox community, and explains its defection from mesorah itself.

Several writers have responded to Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s “Five Reasons Being an Orthodox Rabbi Compelled Me to Support Gay Marriage.” (Rabbi Yanklowitz is a frequent poster boy for Yeshiva Chovevei Torah.) The best I have seen was penned by frequent Cross-Currents contributor Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer. No need to beat a dead horse, even if it is trying to … Read More >>

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Rabbi Bleich’s New Book, and the Growth of Orthodox Non-Orthodoxy

When I thanked Rabbi Dovid Bleich for the gift of his just-released new book, he remarked, “You’ve probably read everything in it already.” While his intent was self-deprecating, it was really a testimony to the power of his thought, and the utility of The Philosophical Quest: Of Philosophy, Ethics, Law and Halakhah (Maggid Books, 2013). Indeed, I had read most of the chapters, reprints from assorted texts, periodical, and law journals. I had read them not because they were there and I am a Rabbi Bleich groupie, but because I was slated to speak formally or informally on various topics, and Rabbi Bleich was the go-to person who had weighed in convincingly on all of them.

An article on different approaches to identity in both philosophy and halacha became a mini-unit in my spring course at Loyola Law School. A paper I delivered at Pepperdine on the seven Noachide laws and Natural Law drew heavily from a Rabbi Bleich article. Both are included in this new volume.

Many people believe that the issue of an independent moral sensibility outside of the dictates of halacha is one on the issues that divides the yeshivah world from the Modern Orthodox … Read More >>

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Daf Yomi For Kids

It may be the ultimate father-son male bonding tool. Think of it as tossing around a glatt kosher football, but first having to make a brachah on the activity. Daf Yomi 4Kids allows children to share in their fathers’ participation in the immensely popular global learning protocol.

The brainchild of Rabbi Michael Fine, a mechanech in Ottowa, Daf Yomi 4 Kids is a full-color workbook issued once a month. Two pages are devoted to each daf. Typically, they will include some focus on a halacha, factoid, or anecdote from that page, presented in language entirely suited for kids. Additionally, several of the following will appear: simple review questions linked to the page; games related to the content; a new vocabulary word; some mussar point developed from the daf; an elaboration upon some concept touched upon by that day’s learning. It is wonderfully illustrated.

Is this yet another attempt to dumb down the learning of gemara? Will we next see “Bavli For Toddlers?” Hardly. Daf Yomi 4 Kids does not attempt to teach the daf. It does artfully seize upon the inclination of kids to emulate their dads, and to want to participate in something grown-up. Daf Yomi … Read More >>

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Are They All Really Resha’im?

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 >>

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My Chanukah Shiur

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.

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