A Worthy, Timely Truth

It’s intriguing – to be truthful, depressing – that as we prepare to focus on our galus and its causes we in the Orthodox world are witnessing acrimony born of true chinom, nothingness.

The sort of sentiments and language that are regularly being employed by opponents of the Iran agreement against anyone who isn’t convinced that it is “evil” or “insane” or “dangerous” is deeply wrong. (Maybe there is corresponding rashness from the deal’s supporters. I just haven’t encountered any.)

What seems lost on some is the fact that the issue isn’t “Israel’s security” against (take your pick:) “America’s needs” or “Obama’s worldview” or “hopeless naiveté.” It is “Israel’s security” against “Israel’s security.”

That is to say, whether Israel’s security, along with that of the rest of the free world, is better served by an imperfect agreement (as all agreements must be) or by no agreement. Reasonable, sane, and not evil people can disagree with that. But they cannot – or, at least, should not – heatedly denounce those who see things differently from themselves just because… they see things differently from themselves. That is chinom.

The Gemara teaches that “just as people’s faces all differ, so … Read More >>


Devils and Details

Mere minutes after last Tuesday’s announcement of the nuclear deal struck with Iran – well before anyone could possibly have read its 159 dense pages of highly technical details – the usual suspects were busy weighing in.

Organizations, leaders and politicians with long-standing animus toward President Obama extended their hostility to the deal, which they characterized as a spineless capitulation to a rogue regime. And knee-jerk defenders of Mr. Obama (a group that some imagine includes me, but doesn’t) heralded the agreement as the best thing since bagels.

Over ensuing days, open-minded observers waited patiently until experts had had a chance to carefully absorb the agreement’s terms and render their judgments. Alas, unanimity there wasn’t.

Some found the inspections regimen less than ideal, the sanctions phase-out too lenient, the preservation of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure too frightening, the term of the agreement too short. They warned of how the economic impact of the sanctions’ lifting will allow Iran to finance its non-nuclear murderous mischief throughout the Middle East; and wondered how a nation whose leaders have never paid any homage to honesty can be trusted to not cheat on its pledges.

Others sang the praises of Iran’s agreement to … Read More >>

A Maddening Decision

During the Holocaust, the Nazis continued to divert trains and soldiers from the front lines in order to take more Jews to the ovens.

During intense sanctions, the Iranians continued to divert funds from basic necessities in order to support Hamas, Hezbollah, and other organizations devoted to the murder of infidels, but especially Jews.

It is obvious to everyone, including the Administration, that Hamas and Hezbollah will be major beneficiaries of sanctions relief. The Administration acknowledges this, and says that since the Iranians are doing that anyway, it can’t be worse.

This seems to this observer to be beyond any defensible logic — and a path to the murder of innocents.

Iran continues to call for “Death to Israel” and invests money in the murder of Jews. Netanyahu opposes any form of sanctions relief when that money will be spent upon murdering Jews.

The President has decided that it is Netanyahu who is being unreasonable.

[OK, updated. It has been called to my attention that for assorted reasons (a double-standard high among them), we have to speak more respectfully of this particular President than of all previous presidents (and I, for one, would have still less complimentary things … Read More >>

A Stone’s Throw

During the Islamic month of Ramadan, which is about to end, Muslims are to engage in introspection, fasting and spiritual improvement. Which, according to some, includes doing whatever they can to kill innocent people.

ISIS, for instance, exhorted Muslims to use Ramadan as a time for violence, and, earlier in the Islamic holy month, in apparent response, Islamists launched attacks on three continents. A deliveryman ISIS supporter crashed his truck into an American-owned chemical plant in France, in an attempt to blow it up, and then allegedly decapitated his boss at the scene and placed the murdered man’s head on on the plant’s gate. Mere hours later, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a Kuwait City mosque, killing 27 worshippers and injuring more than two hundred. A mere hour later came an attack on a Tunisian beach, where an Islamist gunman – may we call him a terrorist? – gunned down 39 people without warning.

It wasn’t just ISIS either. A Hamas-affiliated website, for instance, published an article titled “Resistance During Ramadan – A New Beginning And A Different Flavor,” which explained that “Ever since the first intifada, martyrdom operations, stabbing and shooting attacks have had a special … Read More >>

The Peril of Pluralism in Israel

A piece I recently wrote about Minister Azoulay’s imprecise comments, and the larger issue of “religious pluralism” in Israel, is in Haaretz here .

Sorry. More on Obama and Oren

I find it an odd enterprise to defend a book’s claims by recourse to… the book’s claims (and the congratulatory words of the author’s friend). So I will limit myself to facts, not Mr. Oren’s assertions or impressions. Strongly felt though those impressions may be, the factual record must trump them.

I also wish to state (as I have in my writings on the topic for years) that I don’t deny the president’s antipathy for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which feeling is clearly mutual). It is the president’s concern for Israel qua Israel, not its current leader, that I maintain is rock-solid – and that is, lamentably, all too ignored by many in our community.

Which makes Mr. Oren’s book something of a side issue. But, all the same, I will again address the points Rabbi Menken responded to.

1) I don’t consider Mr. Oren to be evil incarnate, only unreasonably in a snit. And, again, neither his smarts nor his service are the issue. The issue is his judgment of the president (and, I might add, his armchair psychoanalysis of him, one of the book’s loopiest undertakings). As to the Haiti remarks, I think it has been well … Read More >>

Reaching for the Truth

All of us can, at most, “Strive for Truth” [It’s a borrowed title], and so I appreciate Rabbi Shafran’s clarification of his position. And to the best of my recollection, there hasn’t been a back & forth discussion/argument of this nature on Cross-Currents in over a decade, much as different authors often disagree. The more one reads Cross-Currents, the more the reader recognizes that the Orthodox are hardly the monolith they are often portrayed to be; a debate of this nature just makes this as explicit as possible, and thus where Rabbi Shafran and I emphatically agree is that this is a positive dialog for several reasons.

I see no reason to depart from Rabbi Shafran’s enumeration of my points, and I’ll let people respond to both articles in the comments below.

1) My point was that there seemed no need for Rabbi Shafran to wander down this road, especially considering the tenuous ground upon which his arguments stand. What is the purpose of demonizing Oren? Instead of being a brilliant historian and dedicated public servant, all of a sudden he’s a right-wing nut job attacking Obama just to sell books, and Kafui Tov for not … Read More >>

I’m Afraid It Is So. Sorry.

My esteemed friend Rabbi Yaakov Menken, below offers kind words about me, for which I thank him; and takes strong issue with my defenses of President Obama’s Israel record against some of the attacks on him by members of the Jewish community – for which I also thank him. I know from e-mails I’ve received that, while I am not alone in my appreciation of the president, neither is Rabbi Menken in his criticism of him. And I think that respectful dialectic is the key to better understanding of issues, in the study of political matters no less than in, lihavdil, the beis medrash.

First off, let me state unequivocally that my defense of the president is not a simple reflection of the obligation we Jews have, in golus, as we are, to respect our governmental leaders. That obligation is indeed real, but it is peripheral to my stance. My position is born of examination of facts and critical thinking. My conclusions might be wrong, but I have only the mind Hashem has granted me to employ.

I also wish to make clear that I write on this issue as an individual, not in my “day job” as an … Read More >>

Say It Isn’t So, Rabbi Shafran

Rabbi Shafran is someone I have admired for decades. His witty, moving, and inspirational biography of the journey of a Jewish convert, Migrant Soul, emerged when I was still a yeshiva student, and when he became Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel, I knew the organization was in good hands, and it has been so. I agree with what he writes most of the time, certainly on issues affecting the charedi community.

One of the few things I can neither agree with — nor even comprehend — is Rabbi Shafran’s service to the Obama Administration as its chief charedi apologist. Time and again, his arguments in this one area seem, to me, to stretch the limits of credulity in search of a way to show that Obama is actually much more pro-Israel, pro-religion, and/or simply pro-common-sense than he so consistently appears to be.

This week has proven no exception, and it is, for me, a bridge too far. As many have already pointed out, Michael Oren is brilliant, dedicated, loves both Israel and the United States, is an historian with an impeccable record of attention to detail, and, finally, is no “Ally” of Netanyahu — on … Read More >>

Non-Crime of Omission

I have to admit that there was one assertion in Michael Oren’s recent book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” that disturbed me greatly. As I wrote two weeks ago, I found his book’s main points, which he outlined in essays for Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, to be factually incorrect. But I was taken aback by Mr. Oren’s description of how President Obama left Israel off a list of countries the president lauded for aiding Haiti after its devastating earthquake in 2010. That omission – especially considering Israel’s prodigious role in rescue and recovery efforts after that disaster – seemed to contradict my positive judgment of Mr. Obama’s regard for Israel.

On pages 132-133 of his book, Mr. Oren writes how his “foreboding only deepened” when Mr. Obama, on January 15, three days after the earthquake struck, made an official statement in which he announced that American personnel were on the ground in Haiti and that “help continues to flow in” as well from “Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, among others.” Israel’s omission from the list, Mr. Oren writes, made him feel “like I had been … Read More >>

Let’s Not Cry Anti-Semitism

The trail of anti-Semitism is long and bloody; irrational hatred towards the Jewish people permeated Europe, Asia and North Africa back through ancient times. Nonetheless, one should not be overly hasty to fall back upon ancient biases in the modern era.

It does not make sense to resort to charges of anti-Semitism in response to positions and activities against the Jewish state, when there are other reasonable explanations that justify the same positions. Supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and the recent Flotilla trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza, assert that they are motivated by humanitarian concerns for the residents of the Gaza Strip, rather than animus towards Jews or Israel. These motivations include:

The needs of the Gaza population. The lead ship of the flotilla, the Marianne of Gothenberg, carried solar panels and medical equipment as demonstrations of this concern.* The blockade’s violation of the human rights of Gaza residents, and violation of international law The deprivation of “security of food supplies, medical care, education, drinkable water and cultural exchange” (from the website shiptogaza.se). And more fundamentally, the rights of an indigenous population to a homeland – meaning that Israel must end its occupation.

The … Read More >>

Oren Gets Ornery

It’s axiomatic that diplomats must be, well, diplomatic. That might explain why Michael Oren, a current member of the Knesset (Kulanu) but who served as ambassador of Israel to the United States from 2009 until 2013, kept his disillusionment with President Barack Obama under wraps until now.

In a Wall St. Journal op-ed to promote a new book he’s written, Mr. Oren has accused Mr. Obama of, if not quite in the WSJ headline-writer’s contention, “abandon[ing] Israel,” at least (in Mr. Oren’s actual words) “abandoning the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America.”

A serious charge, though, in its own right.

Mr. Oren acknowledges that “contrary to many of his detractors, Mr. Obama was never anti-Israel” and “significantly strengthened security cooperation with the Jewish State.” The president, moreover, “rushed to help Israel in 2011 when the Carmel forest was devastated by fire.”

Presumably the ex-ambassador appreciates, too, Mr. Obama’s swift and strong warning to Egyptian authorities in 2011 that they had better protect mob-besieged Israeli embassy guards in Cairo. And the president’s informing the Arab world in his 2009 Cairo speech that the U.S.-Israel bond is “unbreakable.” As well as things like the administration’s condemnation of the … Read More >>

Ism Schism

Liberal-minded American Jews rightly regard Pamela Geller, who organized the Garland, Texas cartoon-of Islam’s-founder contest earlier this month, as an irresponsible provocateur. What’s odd is that many of those very same liberal-minded American Jews enthusiastically champion (and generously support) another irresponsible provocateur.

That would be the “Women of the Wall” – the attention-addicted feminist group bent on holding vocal women’s services at the Kosel Maaravi that offend the sensibilities of the traditional Orthodox women and men who most frequent the site and have regularly prayed there in traditional fashion for decades.

It might seem at first thought that Ms. Geller’s stunts are in a category of their own. After all, by snubbing her nose at the Muslim world, she courts violence of the sort that extremists within that world so readily and joyfully embrace. In fact, her Texas event attracted not only a small crowd but two angry and armed Islamists who sought to spill blood but who were, baruch Hashem, killed before they could wreak the havoc of their dreams.

But Ms. Geller isn’t misguided only because of the violent reactions she invites. She is misguided because, put simply and starkly, it’s wrong to provoke people. There … Read More >>

I, You, and He/She: A Conjugation Lesson

The real losers in the recent Israeli election — in addition to anti-Netanyahu Obama and Herzog— were the Israeli pollsters. The pre-election polls several days before the election (Israeli law wisely does not permit public polling within three days of an election) were far off the mark, showing Herzog/Livni to be at least four seats ahead. To top this off, the exit polls initially declared that the election was too close to call, when in fact it was an overwhelming Netanyahu victory, akin to a landslide.

The pollsters have spent the post–election weeks crying into their matzo-ball soup, trying to explain away why they went wrong: the electorate was undecided until the end; had polling been permitted until election day they would have been more accurate (but what about the exit poll errors?); the campaign was a volatile one, with daily ups and downs.

The miscalculation of the pollsters was for me a delight. It underscored the importance of each individual, and the uniqueness of am Yisroel. Just as the Jewish people are not subject to the ordinary rules of historic logic — we should have evaporated and disappeared millenia ago together with the empires of Assyria … Read More >>

You Can Make a Difference!

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner

It is common knowledge that in Israel today, there is an ongoing battle for the definition and future of Judaism in the Jewish state. Will Torah standards be preserved, and funding for Torah study be maintained or increased, or, ch”v, will the very meaning of the word “Judaism” – and critical matters such as conversion, marriage, divorce, Shabbos and Kashrus – be watered down to the most liberal of American definitions?

What is far less known is that in addition to increasing Tefillah/prayer and Torah study, there is a bit of hishtadlus activity, requiring little expense and effort, that each of us can do to help, to make a difference.

There is an organization today with direct impact upon the way both private donations and Israeli government funding are spent – hundreds of millions of dollars – on encouraging immigration, settlement in Israel, and Jewish services in Israel and abroad.

Its decisions affect whether the shlichim sent by the Israel Jewish Agency to communities around the world are observant or not, the type of conversion encouraged by those and other representatives of Israel, the nature of the “Jewish” education provided to thousands in the former … Read More >>

And In Third Place…

And so the horse trading begins.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has gotten down to the nitty-gritty business of cobbling together a government coalition. Particularly attractive stallions, thankfully, will be the religious parties, the Prime Minister’s “natural partners,” as he calls them, although, apparently unnaturally, he jettisoned them the last time around. Their being in Bibi’s good graces (for now) is happy news.

What many may not see as happy news is the remarkable fact that, after Likud and the Zionist Union (Hamachaneh Hatzioni), the third largest winner of votes was… the “Joint List” (Hareshima Hameshutefet) – the new Arab party, comprised of four previous Arab parties.

No one is concerned that the Joint List’s 13 seats will make it an attractive partner to a Likud-dominated government – or, for that matter, any government. Nor would the Joint List itself consider being part of either. Its very essence is oppositional.

The genesis of the Joint List, though, holds some irony; and its success, perhaps, something positive.

The impetus for the joining together of the four Arab parties, representing utterly disparate, contradictory, ideologies – communism, feminism, Islamism, and Palestinian nationalism was legislation passed last year raising the electoral threshold from … Read More >>

Persian Diversion

It was a tad early for “Purim Torah,” but on Taanis Esther, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zari responded to a question from an NBC correspondent by insisting that Iran cares deeply for and is entirely protective of its Jews.

Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent assertion in his speech before the U.S. Congress that “Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazis were a Jewish problem,” Mr. Zarif bristled and changed the topic to the Israeli leader’s citation in his speech to Megillas Esther.

“He even distorts his own scripture,” said the Iranian about the Israeli. “If – if you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews.” We needn’t engage Mr. Zarif on the finer points of the Purim story, but the question in the end, of course, isn’t what Achashverosh was or did, but what Iran is and does (and wants to do).

(Mr. Zarif, incidentally, also proudly cited Koresh, as having granted the Jews of his time permission to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash – apparently oblivious to the irony of the fact that the aforementioned edifice was to be … Read More >>

Finance Minister Moshe Gafni

Dror Feuer, in Globes Magazine of 1/31/15, writes (my translation):

I think I have a good idea for this country: a Charedi Finance Minister. I am utterly serious. I suggest that in any government that may arise, under any constellation and any coalition pieced together, a Charedi Finance Minister should be appointed. I’ll try to convince you why.

But first, I would ask the non-Charedim among you to admit that you chafed at this. The first thing that came to your head, and if not the first then the third, is that a Charedi Finance Minister will steal all the money and give it to Yeshivos, because that’s how they are. Maybe this even comes fully packaged with a visual image. No need to paint it for you, right? You’ve seen this image a million times, you know the type.

Don’t be frightened, this happens to everyone involuntarily, I would almost say naturally. We’ve always wanted to be like all the other nations, no? So here. Anti-Semitism has always been part of the deal. When you think about it, in a world of PC identity politics, sector sensitivities and commando forces on Facebook, the only group in Israel … Read More >>

Will the Real Dov Lipman Please Stand Up?

Doron Beckerman’s detailed response to Dov Lipman notwithstanding, Lipman’s reaction to recent statements by Benjamin Netanyahu gives rise to more basic questions.

In his guest post to the Emes VeEmunah blog, MK Lipman insisted that the criminal sanctions against yeshiva students were not at all critical to the law, but were simply necessary for the law to pass scrutiny by the Supreme Court:

There was one issue which they took issue with regarding the law. They were against the “criminal sanctions.” …

The Yesh Atid platform did not have this component as part of the law. We knew it would be an issue for the haredi world even if it was just theoretical but there will never be police entering yeshiva dormitories and arresting the boys. So why was it included?

The government attorneys explained that the reason why we were writing a law to begin with was because the Supreme Court demanded that the Knesset pass a law with “equality.” If there was no clause in the law which mentioned the possibility of a full draft if the goals were not met, the law suits which would come on the heels of the law’s passage would … Read More >>

Sense and Centrifuges

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress is:

a) A bald political move to shore up support for his candidacy in imminent Israeli elections.

b) A misguided attempt to meddle in American partisan politics and embarrass President Obama

c) A straightforward effort to express sincere concerns about the Iranian danger, and the conviction that any negotiations with Iran are inherently misguided.

My guess? A bit of “all of the above.”

There’s no doubt that Mr. Netanyahu’s presenting himself as a prophet before the legislature of the superpower ally of Israel (if not as leader of the Jewish People itself, a mantel he’s been donning of late) will help him in his reelection bid. Or that he has often seized opportunities to express his dislike of Mr. Obama. (Yes, it’s mutual; kamayim hapanim lapanim… “As water reflects a face, so the heart of a man to a man.” – Mishlei, 27:19.)

But only a hardened cynic would assume that Mr. Netanyahu’s concern about Iran is a guise, that his disdain for negotiations isn’t sincere. It surely is.

But is it right?

For those who insist on seeing Mr. Obama as, at best, insufficiently concerned with Jews or Israel, … Read More >>

A Response to MK Lipman

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, in a guest post on the Emes VeEmunah blog, presents his perspective on Yesh Atid’s efforts toward integrating Charedim into the IDF and the Israeli work force. The post, coming as it does from a position of government authority, deserves some scrutiny. I intersperse some quotes from the post along with my comments.

(1) “Just to clarify, the law says that if the goals are not met, then a full draft will apply to haredim just like the rest of Israeli society with the elite masmidim not having to serve. It doesn’t mention jail. It doesn’t mention arresting yeshiva boys. It says the regular draft will apply. Since for the rest of Israeli society, failure to show up when drafted is a criminal offense, the same would apply to haredim in that situation.”

Well, yes. In other words, the law says that Yeshiva boys beyond those elite masmidim are subject to arrest and prison. I don’t understand what this clarifies. Perhaps it does clarify one issue: There is no mechanism in place for determining who those “elite masmidim” are.

It is also the case that MK Lipman has little to no appreciation of the … Read More >>

Thanks (I Think), NYT

I can’t say with any certitude that my repeatedly bugging of the New York Times’ public editor (who sent the criticism to a different department — which never responded to me) had anything to do with it. Or that my opinion piece last year (at http://hamodia.com/2014/08/06/ugly-times/ ) did.

But I’m happy to report that the “Times Journeys” offering of a tour to Israel with the theme “The Israeli-Palestinian Conundrum” seems to no longer feature Hanan Ashwari (who David Harris once said “is to truth what smoking is to health”) as one of its resident experts for the tourists. (The come-on is at http://www.nytimes.com/times-journeys/travel/israeli-palestinian-dialogue/ .)

But it never hurts to be a squeaky wheel (and to encourage others to squeak along); sometimes one may get the grease. One thing is certain: every proper hishtadlus is worth the time and trouble.

And thanks, New York Times, if you did, for taking the criticism seriously.

Ignore Headlines — and Be a Mensch

In February, 2001, I penned a piece for Moment Magazine that caused quite a ruckus.

I had titled it “Time to Come Home,” and it was addressed to Jews who belonged to Conservative Jewish congregations. I made the case that the Conservative movement’s claim of fealty to halacha was hollow and that the movement essentially took its cues from whatever non-Jewish society felt was acceptable or proper.

The issue of same-sex relationships, I contended, would prove my point. At the time, the movement hadn’t yet rejected the Torah’s clear prohibitions in that area. I predicted that, as the larger societal milieu was coming to embrace such relationships as morally acceptable, the Conservative movement would follow suit in due time.

(It did, of course, rather quickly. In 2006, the movement’s “Committee on Jewish Law and Standards” endorsed a position permitting “commitment ceremonies” between people of the same gender and the ordination as Conservative rabbis of people living openly homosexual lives. But the accuracy of my prediction is not my topic here.)

I pleaded that Conservative Jews who truly respected the concept of halacha should join their Orthodox brothers and sisters, and “come home,” as per the piece’s title.

… Read More >>

Womens Lib Haredi-Style

An article of mine on an often-ignored aspect of the high poverty/low employment rates of haredim in Israel was published by the Forward this week. The paper chose its own title for the piece, a somewhat misleading one, but, well, so it goes. You can read it here.

Bricks for Bombs

A driver, reportedly shouting an Islamic slogan, rammed a vehicle into pedestrians in the French city of Dijon last Sunday, injuring twelve people.

Understandably, the attack (and several subsequent ones in France) brought back memories of this past autumn’s spate of vehicular terrorist attacks in Israel. Although they seem to have abated in Israel (despite much Palestinian social media encouragement that they continue), the devil’s brew of blood-lust and creativity in some Arab and Muslim hearts continues to boil apace.

Spewed from the cauldron recently was one Yasmin Sha’aban, who, according to the Shin Bet, was planning to carry out a suicide attack in Israel. She intended to receive a permit (“for medical reasons”) to travel from Jenin, where she lived, into Israel proper. There, she hoped to disguise herself as an expectant Jewish woman, with explosives hidden under her clothes, and create as much carnage as she possibly could.

That plot, baruch Hashem, was interrupted by Israeli security forces; Ms. Sha’aban and several compatriots were taken into custody. It turned out that her friends had also planned to bomb a bus carrying soldiers and to kidnap a soldier.

The perennial question returns: How to discourage such … Read More >>