Enemies, Real and Imagined

1) Hamas is evil.

2) Israel has a responsibility to protect its citizens.

3) Anti-Israel sentiment is usually simple Jew-hatred in (not very good) disguise.

4) The United States needs to be fully supportive of Israel.

5) It has been.

Some would take issue with that last sentence. They are wrong. And it behooves Klal Yisroel, which is meant to be imbued with the concept of hakaras hatov, to recognize that fact.

Over the past six years, some have come to imagine that the current occupant of the White House is some sort of adversary of Israel.

Anyone, of course, can disagree with President Obama on any or all issues, even, perhaps, to just dislike him for no good reason, as some apparently do. But for those of us who (even though we expected the worst, considering some of the baggage he brought to Pennsylvania Avenue) have carefully observed him, he has proven himself more than worthy of Jewish respect.

Yet he was pounced upon, after his famous 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world for, well, the simple decision to address that world; and for basing the state of Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. What seemed to be … Read More >>


Death of an Icon

I grew up watching Mork. I’ve seen Aladdin. I even, during college, watched him perform live. But I never knew Robin Williams.

He was the consummate entertainer. He just knew how to make us laugh. His improvisation, his off-the-cuff remarks, were brilliantly funny. But we never understood who he really was.

And that was, perhaps, the problem, that which made him so depressed as to bring him to a tragic end.

With his passing, journalists and commentators are talking about mental illness and depression, recognizing the challenges he faced. [UPDATE: And let me make it clear that I am not commenting about most cases, or even necessarily his case, of mental illness or depression. A person with either must seek professional treatment and it is a Mitzvah to do so.]

But I don’t believe that Williams simply had a mental illness. Few are discussing how common depression seems to be among the leading entertainers — or why this is so. While I could of course be wrong in this one case, it is hard to imagine that so many entertainers, upon finding success, coincidentally develop depression.

Someone challenged me, asking whether it is true that so many entertainers are … Read More >>

A New Look at Tehillim 144

Contributed by Doron Beckerman

לְדָוִד בָּרוּךְ ה’ צוּרִי הַמְלַמֵּד יָדַי לַקְרָב אֶצְבְּעוֹתַי לַמִּלְחָמָה:

(1) To David. Blessed is Hashem, my Rock, Who trains my hand for battle, my fingers for war.

[Every victory I accomplish in war does not come from the strength of my hand, for Hashem is He who trains my hand in war (Metzudos). May this strength and prowess be dedicated to the fulfillment of His will. It is solely for this purpose, and not out of vain lust for fame, that I cultivate these skills (Hirsch).]

חַסְדִּי וּמְצוּדָתִי מִשְׂגַּבִּי וּמְפַלְטִי לִי מָגִנִּי וּבוֹ חָסִיתִי הָרוֹדֵד עַמִּי תַחְתָּי:

(2) My loving-kindness [whatever skill and achievement I can call my own is all a generous gift of His loving-kindness (Hirsch)] and my fortress; my tower and my deliverer. My shield, and in Him do I take shelter; He who flattens nations beneath me (Radak).

ה’ מָה אָדָם וַתֵּדָעֵהוּ בֶּן אֱנוֹשׁ וַתְּחַשְּׁבֵהוּ: אָדָם לַהֶבֶל דָּמָה יָמָיו כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר: ה’ הַט שָׁמֶיךָ וְתֵרֵד גַּע בֶּהָרִים וְיֶעֱשָׁנוּ: בְּרוֹק בָּרָק וּתְפִיצֵם שְׁלַח חִצֶּיךָ וּתְהֻמֵּם: שְׁלַח יָדֶיךָ מִמָּרוֹם פְּצֵנִי וְהַצִּילֵנִי מִמַּיִם רַבִּים מִיַּד בְּנֵי נֵכָר: אֲשֶׁר פִּיהֶם דִּבֶּר שָׁוְא וִימִינָם יְמִין שָׁקֶר:

(3-7) Hashem! What is man that You should know … Read More >>

Pain and Gain

Living lives of comfort and ease, it’s difficult for many of us to fulfill the direction of the first siman in the Shulchan Aruch to “be pained and distressed over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh.” Do we experience agony at the fact that the holiest spot in the universe lies in picturesque ruin, trampled daily by the feet of deluded masses? Do we feel sick over the reality that, no matter how nice the weather and the house and the bungalow and the cars, we are in golus?

It’s easier these days, unfortunately. We’re reminded.

It will be less of a challenge, too, to access the sadness of Eicha and our kinos this Tisha B’Av, when (unless we’re wonderfully surprised first by Moshiach’s arrival) we will focus entirely on the churban Beis Hamikdosh and its appalling offspring, the subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.

Because, no matter how one chooses to regard past weeks’ events in Eretz Yisrael, and no matter what may have been accomplished or might yet be, the situation is in fact dire and seemingly hopeless.

Some may take heart in the elimination of terrorists who, in their happiest dreams, and all too often in … Read More >>

Something is Wrong With Gazans

The solution to the long and ongoing war between Hamas and Israel is an obvious one, and it consists of two words: Gazan Spring.

Everyone knows the facts. Hamas, pledged to Israel’s destruction, is the de facto government in Gaza. In the Palestinian parliamentary elections of January, 2006, it won 74 out of 132 seats. Even though the United States and the European Union refused to recognize Hamas’ right to govern any area of the Palestinian Authority, it took control of Gaza and, began to fight with Fatah, its Palestinian rival. Over subsequent years, clashes and truces between the two groups became the recurrent reality. Many hundreds of Palestinians have been killed there by their fellow Palestinians.

Just before the recent spate of violence between Hamas and Israel, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas entered into an agreement with Hamas to form a unity government. That latest attempt to heal the rift between the Palestinian faction that aims to eradicate Israel and the one that professes to back a two-state solution was widely expected to eventually meet the fate of previous, similar Fatah-Hamas pacts, which fell apart as a result of the two groups’ inherently diametric stances.

Now, with Israel’s … Read More >>

Agudath Israel Statement on Recent Global Anti-Semitism

As Israel applies itself to the task of rooting out terrorists in Gaza, and destroying their tunnels and rocket launchers, there have been, as always when Israel acts to defend herself, condemnations of her effort to protect her citizens from an enemy bent on murdering them.

Seizing on the tragic consequences of even as just a war as the one Israel is conducting against Hamas, the condemners vehemently protest Israel’s actions – and, in the time-honored tradition of Jew-hatred, wax violent against Jews, wherever they may be.

And so, we have come to witness over recent weeks hatred and violence directed toward Jewish communities in France and other countries. Such incidents are reminiscent of an earlier, darker time in our history when hatred of Jews was openly and unabashedly expressed both verbally and physically. Witnessing these attacks today is a stark and chilling reminder that the scourge of anti-Semitism remains a malignant reality in the modern world.

Without questioning the sentiments or actions of the French government, or of the other governments involved, the fact that these incidents have primarily taken place in Europe, where just decades ago many “ordinary citizens” were complicit in the persecution and extermination … Read More >>

A New Look at Tehillim 140

Contributed by Doron Beckerman

Psalm 140 May Have Never Been More Apt

למנצח מזמור לדוד: (1) To the conductor. A song of David.

חלצני ה’ מאדם רע מאיש חמסים תנצרני: (2) Extricate me, O Hashem, from a wicked person. Protect me from a man of depravities.

אשר חשבו רעות בלב כל יום יגורו מלחמות: (3) Who scheme evil in their heart; every day they have war within their dwelling places (Rashi).

שננו לשונם כמו נחש חמת עכשוב תחת שפתימו סלה: (4) They sharpen their tongue as a snake; venom of vipers is constantly under their lips (as they foam at the mouth spewing their rhetoric; Radak).

שמרני ה’ מידי רשע מאיש חמסים תנצרני אשר חשבו לדחות פעמי: (5) Keep me, Hashem, from the hand of an evildoer, protect me from a man of depravity; those who scheme to make my steps falter (and fall into their traps; Malbim).

טמנו גאים פח לי וחבלים פרשו רשת ליד מעגל מקשים שתו לי סלה: (6) The haughty have set snares before me, and cords. They have spread out nets on the pathways on which I tread. They have incessantly placed stumbling blocks before me (even after multiple failures, … Read More >>

Rosenblum’s Rule Revisited

Long-time readers are by now familiar with Rosenblum’s Rule: Where Torah Jews are in the majority their attention to issues of Kiddush Hashem declines; when they are in the minority, especially a small minority their intrapersonal behavior improves. I first formulated this rule many years ago while observing a group of kindergarten age kids in Boro Park rush out of class and promptly block all traffic on the street adjacent to their cheder. That was their turf, and they were not going to be deterred by the honking of a line of irritated drivers. One of the research projects I’d like to see the newly formed Center for Jewish Reseach and Communication undertake is a comparative study of the attitudes of those raised in all-chareidi environments to those raised in religiously mixed cities and towns. Until then, Rosenblum’s Rule remains only a hypothesis based on anecdotal observation. But further anecdotal evidence of the positive side of the rule came last Erev Shabbos. My wife and I were in the Galilee for around 24 hours, and decided to visit the Torah community in Carmiel, where I know exactly one person, the son-in-law of a close friend. When I was a … Read More >>

AIA Statement on Ground Action in Gaza

With the news that a ground invasion of the hornets’ nest known as Gaza is underway, Agudath Israel of America calls on all Jews to pray for the safety of the soldiers and the citizenry of Israel, and to undertake meaningful acts of kindness, charity, Torah-study and special observances to help merit Divine protection of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael, on the front lines and everywhere else.

As has been the practice in many shuls over past years, in response to the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) 83, 130 and 142, followed by the tefila of Acheinu, is recommended. But our every prayer should include entreaties on behalf of our fellow Jews.

May our tefillos be received in mercy by Hakodosh Boroch Hu, and help usher in days of peace and security.

Mr. Obama, Phone (My) Home

I just can’t seem to remember whether President Obama telephoned me last night. It was a busy evening. I had a chasuna, a seder and davened Maariv.

No, I’m quite sure I didn’t get a call from the White House. But the father of murdered Arab teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir did receive one the other day from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which the Israeli leader expressed his deep condolences for what authorities have described as a nationalism-inspired killing, and pledged that the “perpetrators of this horrific crime” would face the full severity of the law. “There is no place for such murderers” in Israeli society, Mr. Netanyahu said.

Asked later by the Jerusalem Post about the call, the father said that he had received dozens of phone calls and couldn’t recall if Mr. Netanyahu had been among the callers. Ishaq Abu Khdeir, a representative of the Arab victim’s family, denied outright that the Prime Minister had telephoned the family. “This is a false claim,” he said.

The family also refused, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, to allow Israeli president Shimon Peres to pay a condolence call in person. When security personnel arrived to prepare … Read More >>

Agudath Israel Statement on Hamas Cease-Fire Rejection

Today’s news brought the report that Hamas has rejected an Egyptian-brokered cease fire, while Israel’s cabinet has expressed its willingness to abide by its terms. Once again, Hamas has shown what it truly is — a terrorist organization bent on wreaking death and destruction, not only upon Israel, but upon its very own people. Its aim is to reject peace and coexistence and its violence is intended to take Israelis and Palestinians further from the negotiating table.

We express our deep appreciation to President Obama for his strong support of Israel during this difficult and desperate time. The U.S.-funded Iron Dome defense system has proven to be invaluable asset and has saved countless lives. The close military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel that has taken place over these past years has clearly played a critical role in assisting Israel in responding to the terrorist threat it faces now and on an ongoing basis. As both Americans and Jews, we are proud that our country remains a stalwart friend of Israel.

In light of Hamas rejectionism, we urge President Obama to strengthen even further American resolve in dealing with the terrorist threat it poses. We should make clear to … Read More >>

The Anti-Eyal, Naftali, and Gil-ad

The mind reels from trying to wrap itself around the fact that fellow Jews could not only have murdered an innocent Arab teenager, but done so by sadistically setting him on fire.

But there is no longer any escaping the fact that the murderers of Mohammed Abu Kdheir were in all likelihood Jewish.

As she has done so frequently in recent weeks, Rachel Fraenkel, still in mourning for her son Naftali, spoke for the almost all Israelis in her message of condolence to Mohammed’s parents: “No mother should ever have to go through what we are going through, and we share the pain of Mohammed’s parents. . . . The shedding of innocent blood is in defiance of all morality, of the Torah, and is against the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country.”

Magnifying the evil of the deed itself is the utter senselessness of it. The perpetrators have thrown their own lives away. If convicted, there is far less chance that they will ever be freed from prison than that the murderers of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, if captured, will one day be released in another … Read More >>

When Waging War is Pursuing Peace

As Pinchas taught us, sometimes an act of violence promotes peace.

At the end of last week’s Torah reading, we are told that one of the leaders of the Tribes of Israel engaged in an immoral act, deliberately violating the Commandments. He did it brazenly, “in your face,” challenging Moshe and all of the Children of Israel. Everyone was crying, but Pinchas knew what he had to do: pick up a spear. And how did G-d respond? Per this week’s reading, He bestowed upon Pinchas His Covenant of Peace.

We have no prophets today, but neither are any necessary to understand that there is no evil in killing barbarians bent upon killing you.

To those offended by my use of the term barbarians, I offer no apology. These are not civilized human beings with the same values as you and me. People who target women and children, hospitals and kindergartens, are barbarians. People who loudly proclaim that they “celebrate death,” are barbarians. People who bring their own children into buildings after a phone call from the IDF warning them that the building is about to be destroyed, are barbarians.

It is clear that Israel is making a … Read More >>

Gratitude and Fortitude — Agudath Israel Statement

As enemy missiles continue to rain on Jewish communities in Eretz Yisroel, and many are intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, it is incumbent on all Jews to feel hakaras hatov, “recognition of the good,” toward the United States of America, which has funded the system over the years of its development. We are reminded, at a time like this, how America has made a major contribution to the defense of Israel, for which we must be deeply grateful.

At the same time, we must remember that Im Hashem lo yishmor ir, shov shokad shomer – “If Hashem will not guard the city, for naught does the guard stand vigilant” (Tehillim, 127) – and that it is therefore to Hashem that we must focus our entreaties with special intensity at this critical time.

Our prayers should include entreaties for the wellbeing of our fellow Jews under attack, as well as for those who are risking their lives to defend them and defeat those who wish us harm.

As has been the practice in many shuls over past years, in response to the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) 83, 130 and 142 after … Read More >>

If Only

To re-read Rachel Fraenkel’s words in a New York Times report that appeared mere hours before the discovery that her son Naftali and his two friends, Hashem yinkom damam, had been murdered is to experience anew the shattering moment that accompanied the first reports of the discovery.

Confiding to a reporter her belief that the kidnapping would “end in a positive way,” she took care to add: “Not that I don’t consider other things. I’m not in denial. If I have to fall apart, I’ll have time to do it later.”

The time, to the anguish and agony of us all, came.

I was on the phone with a colleague discussing an important legal development when I heard a mid-sentence gasp on the other end of the line, and thought I sensed tears. Although no official word had yet been released, my colleague had just received an alarming e-mail and informed me that some news sources were reporting a “development.” Suddenly the legal issue had not the slightest importance.

It was astounding how so many Jews so far removed from one another – geographically and otherwise – came together in hope and tefilla during the weeks the boys were … Read More >>

Agudath Israel statement on arrests in murder of Arab boy

Reports of arrests of members of the Jewish community in connection with the recent murder of an Arab youth, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, should fill us all with revulsion.

The Jewish faith does not tolerate violence other than in self-defense and condemns murder as a grave crime. To take the life of an innocent human being is not only an indefensible, evil act but, here, brings our people down to the level of our most implacable and cruel enemies. It is a chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s name.

The entire Jewish world was plunged into mourning at the news of the three innocent Jewish teens who were murdered several weeks ago by as-yet unapprehended parties. And mourning was, and is, the proper response of individuals to such crimes, not misguided attempts by vigilantes to exact “revenge,” which is the Creator’s to dispense.

May the families of both the murdered Jewish boys and the murdered Arab boy be comforted. And may governmental authorities successfully bring all the murderers to the justice that can be meted out in this world.

We beseech the Creator, the One who “makes peace in His heavens,” to send us the day soon when … Read More >>

“No Haredim Enlisting Anymore”

Yair Lapid can provide actions in support of unity, not just words, by working with the Haredi community instead of against it. … Read More >>

Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali in 140 Chars

Sometimes it really can be expressed in a single comment to Twitter — in this case, by Rabbi Steven Burg, Eastern Director of the Wiesenthal Center:

The world does not understand that this is not political for Jews. This was deeply personal. We all loved #EyalGiladNaftali

— Rabbi Steven Burg (@stevenburg) June 30, 2014

Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a is said to have remarked that the three boys got a tremendous zechus, merit, because of all the hisorerus and chizuk that happened — throughout all of Klal Yisrael. May the achdus, the unity, stay with us.

Please, Leave Me Be

by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman

If you are seeking from me words of comfort and consolation you will not find them. If you are reading this in order for you gain some sort of insightful understanding of the tragic events then I advise you to stop reading. This missive will not be one of comfort and consolation. If you are looking at me as the rabbi who undoubtedly has the proper response and is able to theologically articulate and make sense out of the tragedy, then you will be utterly disappointed. I have no words of comfort. I offer no consolation. I have no insight and no comprehension. I am numbed and I am left wondering and wandering in my grief and my loneliness. I cannot see the ‘good’ in this and I cannot comprehend the ways of the creator and certainly not of some of His creations. I cannot and hope to never be able to understand how a human being can murder three innocent human beings with the justification that they are following the word of their (imaginary) ‘god’? I cannot fathom the level of cruelty and savagery a person must lower themselves to in order to … Read More >>

Agudath Israel Statement on Today’s Tragic News from Israel

Agudath Israel of America joins Jews and civilized people the world over in anguish and agony over the news of the vicious murders of the three boys kidnapped on June 12, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, Hy”d.

This horrific act is, in the end, not a crime against Israel or Jews alone, but against humanity – in both senses of the word. It bespeaks the deepest and most revolting inhumanity imaginable, the seizing of innocent, idealistic young people and the casual snuffing out of their lives and futures.

Hamas and its allies, which now include the Palestinian Authority, are ultimately responsible for these premeditated, heinous murders. The hatred and incitement that have characterized so much of the campaign to establish a new Arab state alongside Israel are what have yielded these young lifeless bodies, and all the death and destruction born of Arab terrorism over the years.

There are those who believe that all people are, deep down, good. Hamas and its friends, along with other terrorist groups and rogue nations like Iran, give the lie to that lovely but naïve fantasy.

It is our hope that the nations of the free world and their leaders … Read More >>

The PCUSA and the Banality of Evil

Most who voted for the PCUSA divestment are not anti-Semitic, but the action itself clearly was. … Read More >>

Driving Lesson

The article below appeared earlier this week in Haaretz (under a more incendiary title).

Back in the day, before contoured bucket seats became de rigueur in cars, the front seat of family vehicles – especially larger ones – was once a couch-like affair that could, and often did, comfortably seat three adults across. The scene: Mr. and Mrs. Weisskopf, citizens of a certain age, are driving somewhere. The missus is upset, and her husband asks what’s wrong.

“Do you remember,” she says, wistfully but with unmistakable resentment, “how we used to sit so near one another on our drives? Look at us! We’re at totally opposite ends of the seat!”

The man is puzzled, as well he might be. “But dear,” he replies, looking across at her, his hands firm on the steering wheel, “I’m driving!”

The chestnut comes to mind upon reading some of the reactions of Reform leaders to the election of Ruby Rivlin to Israel’s presidency.

“He may be open-minded on a variety of issues,” Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who now heads the “religious pluralism” organization Hiddush, pronounced about the president-elect, “but his mind was made up” about Judaism’s definition. He is “the same … Read More >>

From The Mouths of Secularists

“…To this very day, if you ask for my religion, I say ‘Orthodox Hebrew’ – in the sense that the church [sic] I’m not attending is that one. If I were to go to a church, that’s the one I would go to. That’s the one I failed. It doesn’t mean I’m something else…”

Those are the words of the famous physicist and Nobel laureate I. I. Rabi (1898-1988), quoted in the book “Rabi, Scientist and Citizen.” He was born into an observant family in Galicia, and was still a baby when his parents immigrated to the United States.

Although he eventually lost his connection to Jewish observance, he confided toward the end of his life that “Sometimes I feel I shouldn’t have dropped it so completely”; and, as his earlier words above testify, he rejected the idea that Judaism could ever be anything other than what it always has been, or that he – or any Jew – could ever be anything other than an Orthodox Jew – whether or not he chose to live like one.

A similar sentiment was voiced several years ago by then-Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, the man elected last week to be … Read More >>

How Prayer Can #BringBackOurBoys

Two recent articles have sought to demean the concept of tefilla at times of crisis like the present one. A response to the critics that I wrote for the Forward can be read here.

A Prediction Fulfilled — Sadly

Exactly one year ago, in a piece entitled “Yair Lapid Sets Back the Clock,” I predicted that Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party would reverse a decade-long trend toward greater chareidi integration in the broader Israeli society. The Marker recently confirmed the accuracy of that prediction with respect to the number of chareidim seeking higher education and enlisting in the IDF.

An unidentified official in the Council on Higher Education termed the registration for the start of the upcoming academic year among chareidim as a “catastrophe.” According to the best estimates of the head of the council, Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, there will be a 20 percent decline from the chareidi registration for the 2013-14 academic year. The decline has been particularly dramatic among male students

The decrease in the number of chareidim registering for academic programs comes at a time when government support — in the form of student loans and grants — for chareidim in academia has greatly expanded. Avraham Feldstein, the director of Kemach, which offers tuition stipends for chareidi students, notes “the absurdity that at the very time the government is investing significant funds to encourage chareidi higher education, it has created a public atmosphere … Read More >>