I’ve encountered two attitudes in our community to cutting edge neuroscience. Many react to it less love than root canal. Its presumptions to offer “natural” explanations for things previously seen as spiritual and mysterious – love, happiness, loyalty – scare off those whose cause for belief is explaining the inexplicable. With less left to be explained, there is less reason to believe.
A second group finds no great challenge in this, or any other science. If it is real, then it is part of G-d’s genius in designing the world. Every phenomenon understood is a peek at the way Hashem runs His world.
Then there is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He goes one step beyond. Not only is there nothing to fear from any scientific inquiry, but he believes that a strong connection to G-d and His teaching will inform science with greater understanding, will offer it insights it could not have without it. This stands out in his recent essay in the New York Times.
Whether you agree or disagree with his argument, his approach to knowledge and the natural world is breathtaking. It is the opposite of the insecurity and isolationism so prevalent, that is … Read More >>
Rabbi Ilan Feldman’s piece continues to dominate in the popularity race of the new issue, both in terms of numbers of downloads, and in the responses come in. One reader, whose identity I do not know, offered a striking parallel from the works of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. Klal Perspectives editor, Rabbi Dovid Goldman, was kind enough to scan it. It is delectable enough to present to our readership, and adds one more reason why I am proud to consider myself to some extent a Hirschian. It is from The Collected Writings, Vol.2, Kislev IV:
There is one other particular danger which is to be feared by a Jewish minority. It is what we would like to call a certain intellectual narrow-mindedness. This danger becomes especially acute the more closely a minority clings to its cause and the more anxious it is to preserve that cause. We have already pointed out that, by virtue of its weak position, a minority depends for its survival on whether it can further and foster within all its members the spirit of the cause it represents. In order to prevail, a minority must be wholly imbued with the truth for which it … Read More >>
Rabbi Jason Wiener is a young rov who has done an outstanding job as the senior Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Hospital Center in Los Angeles. His penchant for serious treatment of halacha is obvious in the great public service he has performed by putting together an extremely useful chibur on issues relating to hospital stays. This monograph was supervised and looked over by some of the most impressive names in psak halacha in Los Angeles. It includes the single best treatment of the use of elevators on Shabbos that I recall seeing.
The kuntrus is available as a free download. The author solicits and encourages feedback, with an eye on the second edition. Contact him at Jason.Weiner@cshs.org
The second volume of Klal Perspectives begins with an issue that examines kiruv: where it is, and where it is going. Some of us thought that this would be a change of pace topic, more upbeat, easily digestible, controvesy-free, and inherently upbeat. It did not quite turn out that way, which is probably a good thing.
Previous issues have sometimes hosted contributions that fairly jumped off the pages, and became platinum favorites. Faigie Twerski’s piece in the Winter 2012 issue, and Rabbi Moshe Weinberger’s in the Spring 2012 issue come to mind. If you are looking for such an article in this issue, you will probably want to immediately print out Rabbi Ilan Feldman’s article. Pass it around to family members, and make it the discussion centerpiece at your Shabbos table.
That is not to say that it will substitute for reading the rest of the issue. To the contrary. Rabbi Feldman’s piece will make the most sense after reading what kiruv professionals write about what they are doing and why. A foreward provides capsule summaries of the articles, to make it easier to decide on the order than you may want to read the rest … Read More >>
All men, claimed Heinrich Heine, the apostate German-Jewish poet, are either Jews or Greeks. For traditional Jews, the very essence of Chanukah is bound up in the struggle between those civilizations. An “art” exhibit in Sweden that utilizes the stolen ashes of Jews murdered at Majdanek helps make the choice easier for all decent human beings.
Chanukah celebrates the successful Jewish resistance to Hellenic culture. Defining the parameters of the clash has not been so easy. To some, Athens vs. Jerusalem meant human reason as opposed to Divine revelation. Matthew Arnold, the British poet and critic, saw Hebraism as concerned with conduct and obedience, especially consciousness of sin. Hellenism, on the other hand, saw things as they really are and celebrated spontaneity of consciousness. (“Hebraism and Hellenism,” 1869). Similarly, Nietzsche also pointed to the importance of the moral impulse. He remarked that the Greeks blame the gods; the Jews blame themselves.
Elsewhere, Arnold came up with what may be the money quote about the difference: Greece, he said, found holiness in beauty. Jews found the beauty of holiness.
The attitude of Chazal is perhaps best summed up by Rav Yehuda ha-Levi in Kuzari. Yavan, he said, bore flowers but … Read More >>
A menorah stands atop the yeshiva in Sderot. No ordinary menorah, it is fashioned out of pieces of rocket happily donated by the neighboring communities across the border in Gaza, delivered by airborne express. Attempts to decline the gift having failed, Israel had to resort to a strong return-to-sender message to put the service on hold.
The menorah, however, stands, and will do what it does best next week. Is its message confusing? Is it mixing metaphors, comparing two historical epochs that are fundamentally different? An enigmatic gemara may shed light on this question.
Shabbos 60A tells us about the ban on wearing a hobnailed sandal. Said sandal is held responsible for the tragic deaths of Jews hiding in a cave. Spotting the impression left in the ground by the shoe set off a panicked response, with many killed in the rush for the exit. The incident occurred on Shabbos; therefore the ban applied only to Shabbos.
The superficial understanding of the gemara does not completely satisfy. Sandals don’t kill; panic kills. Why ban the messenger? Isn’t such a ban far-fetched? And if it isn’t, shouldn’t it apply on any day, even if the tragic incident took place … Read More >>
You will not enjoy reading Mourning Under Glass, which is exactly why you should read it. It is not meant to be enjoyed, but to drag you in to where you really do not want to go. You will feel pain, be moved to tears, and have to think the “what if it would have happened to me” questions that we all suppress, lest we descend into madness. You should read it because you will learn things about people dealing with sudden tragedy and its aftermath that you will not learn elsewhere. If you read on, you will have little choice. Guilt will compel you to read the book, so long as a Jewish heart beats within you.
Mourning Under Glass: Reflections On A Son’s Murder chronicles the snuffing out of the life of a precious neshamah in an Arab terror attack, and a full year of his father’s coping with the aftermath. Avraham David Moses was one of the eight kedoshim to perish in the Mercaz HaRav terror attack massacre in Adar2008. Naftoli Moses, Avraham David’s father, takes us on a rare journey into the unthinkable, the baring of a soul still raw and wounded.
People often … Read More >>
Major Orthodox organizations were quick to thank the President for his unequivocal articulation of Israel’s right to defend herself. In the best tradition of hakoras hatov, these messages went out:
We at Agudath Israel of America, and our constituency of Orthodox Jews across the United States, salute your clear and unwavering support of Israel’s security, both in the past and the present.
Your recent public words confirming our nation’s endorsement of Israel’s right to defend herself, and placing responsibility for the current conflict squarely where it belongs, in the lap of Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza, was deeply appreciated.
As were your actions in 2010 committing considerable special aid to Israel for the expansion of the Iron Dome missile interception system, which has played so crucial a role in recent days in preventing loss of innocent life and destruction of property. We join all our fellow Americans and people of good will the world over in expressing our gratitude for your strong leadership and wisdom.
In a time when some other nations, sadly, seem equivocal regarding terrorism, whether waged by individuals or by state actors like the current government in Gaza, the … Read More >>
We are at war. While I have always shied away from purely political posts on Cross-Currents, wartime has its own exigencies. Some of our readers will be hearing from friends and acquaintances critical of Israel’s actions. Some of us have already heard from them. Where is the parity? How do you justify inflicting so much pain and suffering in response to a few oversized firecrackers that only land on the “unpopulated South” of Israel (so claimed a major Muslim talking head in England), or rarely hit their target, or “only” killed three people ר”ל.
Yossi Klein Halevi is uniquely situated among Israeli commentators. His credentials and instincts belong to the left, which he once called home, while his years of living in Israel have moved his political sensibilities a bit further to the right. He is also a wonderful writer, and a traditional Jew. He understands the concerns and assumptions of those on the left, and addresses them effectively, which is something that many of us cannot or will not do.
While some of us may have good talking points with which to respond, I have seen nothing that comes close to the following article, from Friday’s Globe … Read More >>
Almost from the beginning, people spoke about matzah. Indeed, the special hand shmurah baked each year by Rav Shmuel Lazer Stern z”l might as well have been his signature statement with which he announced himself. Each year, he flew to New York to supervise a chaburah that baked them. He had his list of subscribers who seized them with alacrity, even though they cost significantly more than other shmurah. In time, the entire baking became a fund raiser for Tomchei Shabbos of Los Angeles, and the price rose again. Still, people beat a path to the warehouse door to purchase Shmuel Lazer’s matzah, some because of all the hidurim that he imposed on the baking, some because he found a way to make them so incredibly thin and light (typically eleven to a pound, rather than six to eight) that eating the requisite shiur at the seder became a joy, rather than a jaw-breaker.
Listening to hespedim last Sunday evening after his untimely petirah just a few hours before, you could have thought that the matzah was one of the significant accomplishments of Rav Shmuel Lazer’s career. You could only think that if you were among the hundreds … Read More >>
No matter how they cast their ballots, many in our community feel confusion, vulnerability and fear in the aftermath of the election. As committed Jews, all feelings of helplessness could and should help our davening. We can contemporize our tefilah directly from the morning’s headlines. Our doubts and anxieties can not only sharpen our focus and kavanah during davening, but we can calm our troubled spirits by reminding ourselves that we are never, ever left without loving assistance and the possibility of a Divine bailout. We can provide our own spiritual stimulus package.
I offer a few thoughts on how a frum Jew who reads and cares might approach the middle section of Shemonah Esrei, the berachos of bakashah/request. Not all the issues relate to the uncertainties of the next political cycle. I have tried to make this exercise as non-partisan as I know how.
אתה חונן לאדם דעת We are terrified by the number of decisions we have to make in our lives. So many things can go wrong. We fear making the wrong choices in the chinuch of our children. We struggle to allocate time properly between our professional lives and our duties to family. By placing … Read More >>
I cried watching this film.
Not just because it is about three daughters who choose to break with the chinuch they received from their parents, from the ways of the Torah. Not just because of the additional irony and tragedy that each one is the daughter of a major figure in the Israeli dati Leumi world. [Warning to potential viewers. The daughters dress at times like dropouts, not like their mothers.]
I cried because so much pain was visible and palpable, because it slides off the celluloid so easily that the viewer is left with no choice but to hold on to it.
It is a disturbing film, for all the questions it raises without answering them. How did it all come to pass? How widespread is the problem? Can it end differently? What possessed the parents to allow their pain and shame to become part of the public domain? Did they do it as a concession to their daughters, or did they hope for an even greater good? Could parents in the haredi world (where dropouts are no less prevalent) bare their souls the same way?
Many things did become clear. The parents were not … Read More >>
A tragedy of epic proportions perhaps lends itself to stories of heroism, courage and altruism. All the more so when Sandy’s after-effects mock the ability of time to begin the process of healing. The opportunities to exhibit selflessness continue, and so, apparently, do the generous responses of so many ordinary good people in New York and New Jersey.
Against a backdrop of general compassionate intercession, the reaction of the frum community sparkles. Here is a vignette that captures much of the age-old capacity of a connected and caring community taking care of its own, even while its doors are open to all others:
So the FEMA people are now going door-to-door asking people what issues they have. The guy said to me – how many people are staying here. I said we had 11 on Friday night. He said the FEMA people are just amazed that everyone In Lawrence who got their power back have families staying with them, some they don’t even know. He said the entire team is mesmerized at how the Jewish community is taking care of their downtrodden. I [Phil Rosen of Lawrence] showed him an email that is copied below. He asked me … Read More >>
Sifrei Torah drying in Brighton Beach
We have just gone through a difficult few days and I would like to go over two important points:
1. Many people , young and old, are hurting now. They need help in cleaning their homes from all the water and the debris. Please encourage your children to stop whatever it is they are doing and offer to help. Whatever is required, please roll up your sleeves and get to work.
2. There are many families in town that have literally been wiped out. We must get them back on their feet. I personally know of many families who have lost everything including every bit of clothing, furniture, etc. They are literally left with the proverbial clothing on their backs. When the campaign begins shortly, chaired by distinguished baalei batim in our community, we ask you to respond generously. This is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity.
We look forward to see only happy endings and beginnings.
Thank you very much,
Rabbi Yaakov Bender
What if women no longer took it for granted that marriage was a good thing? What if they had the freedom to choose whether they wanted a relationship, and for how long? What if women learned to subject matrimony to cost-benefit analyses, and reduced potential husbands to performers of discrete, defined tasks?
We are already there, according to some recent books – at least for women who can be financially independent. The only questions, really, are what new configurations the shifting relationships between the genders will take, and whether any of them will make women happy. All this and more in a review essay by Sandra Tsing Loh in the October issue of The Atlantic. As usual, Tsing Loh is cutting edge, brutally honest about herself, and her thinking, from a Torah perspective, tragically outrageous. As usual, her writing may be an excellent bellwether of cultural trends just a few exits ahead on the freeway, trends that will impact the way all of us think, unless we are sealed off hermetically from the greater surround.
Tsing Loh (TL) opens with a one-liner from The Times of London in 1868, in opposing property rights for married women: “The … Read More >>
It was a memorable speech, a moment of truth and clarity after the degredation of the human spirit through the unvarnished evil of Ahmadinejad. The Prime Minister’s presentation before the General Assembly touched on familiar themes: the millennia of continuous Jewish presence in the Land; the miracle of the return and the dividends it has brought mankind; the survival of the Jewish people while its former oppressors have vanished. (One wishes, of course, that he would have mentioned the name of G-d explicitly – as he has in the past.) He spoke with both passion and elegance.
On the other hand, we might wonder why many of us were so delighted and even excited by the address. Other than the red-line cartoon, there was nothing really new in any of his arguments. Why, then, were we so pleased?
One answer may come from a remarkable piece in Pachad Yitzchok (Yom Kippur, Maamar 9). Rav Hutner opines that a key line in parshas Haazinu should, at first glance, “rob us of our tranquility.” Concluding a relatively long section on the sins of Israel and the Divine wrath they will ignite, the pasuk (Devarim 32:26) says, “I have said ‘I … Read More >>
Looking For Merkulis? Those who follow the Daf just might be. The ancient deity appears on :נז. The halacha about the proper bracha to make when coming across this idol is cited in Shulchan Aruch, although the Rama cautions that we are not in the habit of reciting the bracha on seeing objects of pagan veneration.
But, just for the sake of argument, where would you find Merkulis if you were really looking for him?
The Rambam claims to know. In a responsum (#448), Rambam writes that the Yishmaelim used to worship three of the pagan Bad Boys: Pe’or, Kemosh, and Merkulis. Vestiges of those practices carried over, he says, to the Islam of his day. He is quick and emphatic to add that there is no question that whatever the roots of these practices, the Muslims he knew (and hated for their brutal fanaticism) were not idolators (that is the chief point of his responsum) and unquestionably pure monotheists; the old idolatrous practices had morphed into something more innocuous.
So what became of Merkulis? The practice of throwing stones at it remained, Rambam writes, and can still be seen at the Haj in Mecca. Today, however, Muslims claim … Read More >>
I called it “The Longest Day’s Longest Beracha,” which isn’t quite accurate, but I explain right up front why I used that title for a shiur I delivered Thursday evening in Los Angeles. It deals with aspects of the daily davening and a very basic machlokes in the approaches taken by our rishonim in describing HKBH. Anyone curious enough can find it here.
A monastery in Israel is desecrated, almost certainly by nationalist extremists. The Catholic Church turns the heat on whom? Haredim! Sadly, however, I can’t be as critical of the finger-pointers as I would like to be.
The doors of the Trappist monastery at Latrun were set on fire. Graffiti indicated a “price-tag” attack, and also used language about Jesus that I won’t publish. The Israeli reaction was swift and substantial, just as it had been after the recent near-killing of an Arab by a crowd of young Jews in Yerushalayim. The desecration was condemned by the Prime Minister, and others in the government. Chief Rabbi Metzger called it a “heinous deed.” The Internal Security minister did not hesitate to use the word “terror,” and announced the formation of a special police unit to combat it. Many people travelled to the monastery to personally apologize, including Rabbi Dov Lipman of Beit Shemesh, who took brush in hand to help scrub the offensive words from the walls.
Micky Rosenfeld of the National Police told CNN that it was a “criminal incident with nationalistic motives.” Public suspicions turned to a settlement that was recently evacuated forcibly. Yet members of that settlement … Read More >>
For the inspired, the curious, or the just-plain-bored, my Rosh Hashanah machshavah shiur entitled Plan A and Plan B is available for free download. In the old days, I was able to give many shiurim, but my current day job doesn’t allow for it. We do make an exception before yomim tovim, and the Yomim Noraim offering took place earlier today.
It is about an hour long, and includes longer thoughts from R Goldvicht, R Kook, and yibadel lechaim, R Pinchos Friedman. There are also shorter pieces from diverse sources, and one tear-jerker of a story, lifted from R. Lau’s autobiography. The longer thoughts are on the deeper side, and require some background.
It was a moment that was, shall we say, biblical. G-d had made it back into the Democratic platform, in a way that would have pleased the ancient prophets.
The day before, the platform glaringly elided all references to G-d. It proclaimed strong support for Israel as a democratic and Jewish state – which was certainly welcome – but left out important pro-Israel statements that had been fixtures of the last two platforms, including asserting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and labeling Hamas (the progeny of the Muslim Brotherhood now in power in Egypt) as a terrorist organization.
The omissions were noticed, and Democrats scrambled to explain, and later to restore some (but not all!) of language that had been included in the past.
The vote did not go as they anticipated. Listening to the playback, it was clear that leadership thought that the required two-thirds majority would be secured on a voice vote. Indeed, the call for ayes from those in favor of the measure was answered by strong chorus of voices.
But so was the call for nays. Taken by surprise, the session chairman tried twice more, hoping that the delegates had … Read More >>
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s invocation this evening at the Republican National Convention masterfully and elegantly highlighted themes and values that resonate with both Torah Jews and with a probable majority of Americans. In a brief two minutes, he credited G-d and faith for what is great about America. He spoke of a national mission and purpose, embracing the American exceptionalism that so many yearn to see restored. He left room to ask Divine assistance for those in the path of the weather system that threatens to engulf them.
He spoke with pride and confidence, as one who wished to join with all assembled in building a better society, not as a diffident outsider. Convention planners should be complimented for bypassing senior rabbis of other denominations (who grumbled about the choice in advance of the invocation) in favor of one who would have something of substance to say, and still not embarrass them. And Rabbi Soloveichik should be saluted for delivering a kiddush Hashem.
Most significant, however, was Rabbi Soloveichik’s sense of Jewish responsibility, in sharp contrast to a different group of rabbis. Rabbi Soloveichik, with so little time allocated to him, and with the eyes of the world … Read More >>
We don’t practice milah any more than we avoid a BLT because of a fear of contracting trichinosis. (This despite what the Rambam writes in the third chelek of the Moreh. See R Samson Raphael Hirsch’s critique in The Nineteen Letters.) Yet we are all part of the battle to ensure that circumcision will not be banned anywhere. We should equip ourselves with the weapons effective in countering those intent on doing just that. This includes a study published in The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, and summarized in an article in today’s USA Today.
Europeans continue to convince themselves that circumcision confers no benefits – neither medical nor social/cultural/psychosocial – and therefore should be banned as a form of parental abuse of children. Self-termed “intactivists” in the US rail at the horror of it all.
Meanwhile, as the rate of circumcision of newborns declines, there is now data measuring the medical costs to society as the benefits of circumcision are denied to more and more children.
It is not clear whether the blindness of those who insist that it has been proven that there are no medical benefits in circumcision (one of the pillars of … Read More >>
Once again, we invite readers to share ideas on preparing for the Yemai HaDin, by telling us what special preparatory learning they will be going during Elul. This worked very well last year.
We are going to solicit two different responses: 1) What you are learning for general hisorerus and inspiration, and 2) What works you are using to make the davening of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
We hope that this will contribute to the teshuva of the rabbim.
My choices, at least for starters, are 1) Chovos HaLevavos, Sha’ar Cheshbon HaNefesh, and 2) the kuntrus on biur tefilla in the back of Sifsei Chaim
Several different strands are intertwined in trying to ties a noose around bris milah and shechitah on the Continent. They include classic anti-Semitism (which has lost its moral opprobrium), but are not limited to it. A member of Gert Wilder’s party supports a ban on shechita, even though Wilders himself is pro-Israel. The target is the Muslim community. General disdain for all religion also enters the picture. In any event, I had a rare opportunity to speak directly to the German people in an op-ed I coauthored with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, my colleague at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It appeared in today’s edition, in German, in Die Zeit, which is the German equivalent of the New York Times. I have to admit feeling some self-satisfaction in being able to cite the gemara and R. Akiva to the German public.
The last time a Jewish couple celebrating the circumcision (brit milah) of their baby boy had reason to fear a knock at the door from a government agent, Joseph Stalin and his followers controlled the Soviet Union. Thankfully, 2012 Germany is not a Cold War dictatorship but a vibrant democracy, but the recent ruling by a judge in Cologne banning … Read More >>