More on the Charedi Draft

I had this as a comment to Rabbi Landesman’s post, but Rabbi Adlerstein encouraged me to elevate it to a post unto itself. He did say that Rabbi Landesman may go “a second round” as well — so let me say now that much as I might wish to continue, it is already known in the Menken house that my study, which is the one room that is my sole responsibility to clean, is also the last to be ready for bedikas chametz. Should Rabbi Landesman wish to have it, I’ll have to surrender the last word.

Nonetheless, what Rabbi Landesman appears to have overlooked is that the problem of the day is neither motzi dibat ha’Aretz nor motzi dibat ha-medinah, but rather, motzi dibat ha-haredim l’dvar HaShem, the bad-mouthing of the Charedim who, on advice of their Gedolim, continue not to go into the Army. Rabbi Landesman seems to level no criticism against those who reside outside our world yet critique it (often in the most bizarre fashion) at every occasion, including the present one — on the contrary, he only seems to find fault with those of us in Chutz L’Aretz who presume to defend the … Read More >>


A Letter to a Troubled Charedi Father

I received an email from a Charedi man with two sons in learning (one in Lakewood), who is very troubled by the current rejection of the draft. It is obvious that he does not count himself among those who do not understand that learning Torah all day requires extreme dedication and personal sacrifice, and is providing a profound service to the Jewish people — including by helping protect it. In other words, his problem is not with those who are successful in learning, but with those who are not. Why are they not in the Army, and why are the Gedolim, at present, making no effort to send them where they belong? This is a point addressed briefly by Rabbi Doron Beckerman in his larger post on the draft issue, but deserves greater elaboration.

This is my reply:

In an ideal world, it is obvious that any charedi boy who is not successful in his studies, and is prepared to go out to work, ought to be doing military service in any situation where everyone else is subject to conscription. That is indeed simple fairness; the IDF is preserving the security of Israel, and those who do not … Read More >>

The (Not So) Subtle Racism of the Draft Bill

In describing the effects of the new draft bill one month ago, I considered only the response of what we would call the “core” charedi community — families in which both parents and children consider themselves bound to follow the directives of the Gedolei HaDor. An article in Ami Magazine about Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, considered the leading authority of Sephardic Jewry until his passing in October of last year, alerted me that I had not considered the disproportionate impact that the law will have on the Sephardic community.

What I described was accurate, and is already coming to pass. That could almost be a pun, as my statement that “the budding Torah scholars will very happily choose jail, and be fêted as heroes for doing so,” was proven in the person of Yaakov Yisrael Paz, who was arrested for following the directive of HaRav Shmuel Auerbach shlit”a not to report to an induction center. He was released after ten days, and promptly escorted to an audience with Rav Auerbach himself, carried by a crowd of singing and dancing bochurim happy that one of their friends had sanctified G-d’s name by going to jail for his religious … Read More >>

More on Drafting Yeshiva Boys

by Rabbi Doron Beckerman

Many of the arguments regarding the hot-button topic of drafting Yeshiva boys unfortunately seem to suffer from profound confusion. In an attempt to clarify the issues as seen from a mainstream Charedi viewpoint, I present a list of questions and the answers as I understand them.

Q: Why don’t Charedim go to the army?

A: Do you mean Charedim, or those studying full-time in Yeshiva or Kollel?

Q: Start with those studying full-time.

A: Because there was always a portion of Klal Yisrael that was dedicated to full-time Torah study and that did not serve in the army.

Q: Is there halachic basis for this exemption?

A: Yes. While it is a matter of debate among the Poskim, the preponderance of Poskim maintain that those studying Torah are exempt. Sources include: R’ Yechiel Michel Tukaczinsky (HaTorah VeHamedinah, 1952); R’ Yitzchak Arieli (Einayim LaMishpat, Bava Basra 7b); R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah IV, 33); R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Sefer Hilchos Medinah II, Sha’ar 3); R’ Moshe Tzvi Neriah (Bnei HaYeshivos Vegiyyusam).

Q: Is part of the calculus that Torah study provides protection to its inhabitants?

A: Yes.

Q: Do Charedim believe that there is no … Read More >>

Lapid Flunks the Leadership Test

Yair Lapid pushed the criminalization provisions in the new draft law through the cabinet. Without those provisions, he told his cabinet colleagues, he could not sell the law to his supporters. Rather than call his bluff and possibly bring the government down in the process, those who opposed criminalization – including Ayelet Shaked, who headed the committee that formulated the law, and Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon — caved and voted for criminalization.

Now, Lapid may be right that he could not have sold his supporters on the draft law without the criminalization provisions, but if so that merely reflects the degree to which he has bound himself by his own demagoguery and failed to lead.

In a similar fashion, Yasir Arafat was likely telling the truth when he told Bill Clinton at Camp David that signing a peace agreement with Israel would be tantamount to a death sentence for him. But that admission reflected the extent to which Arafat had used the Palestinian Authority media and educational system to whip the Palestinian populace into a frenzy of hatred of Israel since the onset of Oslo. He completely failed to educate his followers to the reality that a Palestinian … Read More >>

An Atzeres Tefillah

It is with good reason that the huge gathering in response to the Shaked Committee Report was styled as an atzeres tefillah (a prayer gathering), and not as a protest. Even in moments of high tension, when the Torah community feels under threat, what we say and how we say it matters. The rules of cost-benefit analysis do not cease at fateful times; they become ever more important. And that is why we need the clear da’as of the elders of the generation.

In every chareidi history of American Jewry’s responses to the Holocaust, one event always merits special mention l’gnai (for criticism) – a mass protest called by secular Jewish organizations in the mid-1930s calling for a boycott of German products. Those histories cite credible reports that Hitler, ym”sh, was enraged by the protests and thereby strengthened in his determination to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. (At a later stage, Agudath Israel of America was the only Jewish organization to circumvent the British-declared boycott of Nazi-held territory in order to send packages to starving Jews in Poland and elsewhere.)

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz relates in In Their Shadows a lesson the Chazon Ish taught … Read More >>

Pondering the Prayer Gathering

The article below appeared last week, on March 11, in Haaretz. It is republished here with that paper’s permission.

The weather in Manhattan on Sunday – a few degrees above freezing – wasn’t as pleasant as Jerusalem’s a week earlier. But that didn’t stop an estimated 60,000 Orthodox Jews from turning out to participate in an American counterpart to the mammoth prayer gathering that had filled the Holy City’s streets the week before.

Many American haredim live in communities far removed from New York, and thus couldn’t participate. Still and all, an ocean of black hats stretched about a mile along, fittingly, Water Street, a major thoroughfare at Manhattan’s tip. Traffic reporters were beside themselves, direly warning drivers to abandon all hope of entering lower Manhattan, and reporters in truck buckets high above the crowd shouted down to us earthlings that they couldn’t spy an end to the mass of humanity.

And, as was the case at the Israeli happening, a broad spectrum of haredim was represented.

There were Jewish businessmen and professionals from throughout New York and New Jersey, yeshiva and kollel students from places like Lakewood and Baltimore, chassidim of varied stripes, even including Satmar, a … Read More >>

Purim Torah

If one were trying to prove to the Chareidi community that the new draft bill is not an attempt at coercive social engineering, that it is not motivated by a desire to change Chareidi life, or that there is a real effort to develop understanding and to work for mutual benefit, then one could scarcely imagine a more counterproductive effort than recent pieces attempting to “prove” from Torah sources that the unanimous position of the Gedolim is, in a word, wrong.

The Teshuvah of Reb Moshe zt”l referenced by R’ Yair Hoffman is clear and unambiguous. To claim that R’ Moshe was referring only to “scholars” or “metzuyanim” makes a pretzel from the straight words of his Teshuvah. R’ Moshe says that his words apply to “מי שלומד בישיבה גדולה ועוסק בתורה,” “whomever sits in yeshiva gedolah and involves himself with Torah.” According to R’ Moshe, the Gemara makes no distinction between Zekeinim and Tzurbah MiRabanon, between elders and the young — all are Rabanon, and “רבנן לא צריכי נטירותא” (they need no defense nor to participate in defense) applies to them all. It is his position that one who has a desire to learn Torah and … Read More >>

The Beit Shemesh Elections – One Chareidi Perspective

by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

It seemed to us, the residents of Beit Shemesh, as if the whole world stood still to follow the elections. Politicians from Netanyahu on down all made statements and took sides (strictly on party lines: everyone against the Chareidim). As they put it, the entire future of Beit Shemesh — and of Israel for that matter — depended on the outcome. This was the final hope for Beit Shemesh, they declared. Would it be a forward-looking city welcoming to all, or yet another (backwards, intolerant, impoverished) Chareidi stronghold?

What happened that pit this usually easygoing, peace-loving, heavily-Anglo city against itself in some cataclysmic, no-holds-barred struggle for survival? And why did some consider the outcome an awe-inspiring kiddush Hashem while others called it a disgrace to all the Torah is supposed to hold dear? We all know there are hotheads and troublemakers among us — on both sides of the fence — but in all honesty, I think all of us here know that the vast majority of us are proud of our city and proud of the fact that we live in peace and harmony 99.9% of the time. To most of us Beit Shemesh … Read More >>

Living in Chutz LaAretz and the IDF – A Halachic Overview and Proposal

by Doron Beckerman

My analysis of this issue will be short and succinct, for a reason. If one considers Israel’s current situation to be active milchemes mitzvah, one who lives in chutz la’aretz and is physically able to serve in the IDF is more obligated to do so than those studying Torah in Eretz Yisrael. (Sources are available upon request.)

In that light, I propose the following law, called “The HaAcheichem Law,” which shall consist of two basic clauses:

a) All Jews entering Israel between the age of seventeen and thirty implicitly agree to submit to a draft for up to three years should the IDF determine this to be in their interests.

b) Exception: Those who come to study Torah. Of those, 20% will be free to study here undisturbed, but the other 80% must agree to the same conditions as other Jews. Additionally, all Yeshivos that fall below a 50% draft rate among their students from the Diaspora will no longer be eligible to any government funding.

Torah Study and the IDF – A Halachic Overview

Many people, from outside and even from inside the Chareidi community, have questioned the Torah sources regarding Bnei Torah continuing to study rather than serving in the army.  There is no question, of course, that the soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and are playing a holy role.  Certainly, all of us, who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication. should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being.  It is unfortunate that some do not.

The leading Sages of America, Degel HaTorah, Agudah in Eretz Yisroel and the sages of Shas – the Sefardic Torah organization – all signed onto the call to join in the mass gathering in the Wall Street area.  The purpose of the Asifa was to show solidarity with the Torah community in Israel.   The Torah community is facing an unprecedented law in the state of Israel’s history – a law to forcibly draft Yeshiva students into the armed forces, contravening an agreement that was made at the very birth of the country.

This response is an explanation and a historical overview about the confluence of army service and Torah study.   Not everyone, of course, will agree with the explanations and positions set forth here.  However, those that do not agree must realize that they do come from a very different socio-religious milieu than those in the Chareidi world who have been brought up with and raised with a deep appreciation of Torah being the only definition of true Jewish  life.

Serious-minded Chareidi Jews do not merely recite the words of the blessings of the Shma perfunctorily.  No.  When they recite the words, “Ki haim chayeinu – for they are our life – v’orech yameinu and the pathways of our days.” – they mean it, and they mean it as the sole pursuit in life. They view the notion of Zionism as a form of secular nationalism and not as the fulfillment of any religious ideal.

The situation may be somewhat analogous to the Manhattan Project during World War II.  The top secret project that was to develop the atom bomb required an enormous amount of manpower – manpower that would normally have gone toward the war effort.  The project was top secret and few understood what the Manhattan Project was all about, even the massive number of workers who were building centrifuges to build heavy water extraction plants.  And there were well over 100,000 such workers.  Many of these workers and scientists who labored in the project were constantly subjected to sneers and snide remarks from the average citizenry  – whose boys were across two oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, fighting.

The parallel is obvious.  There was little appreciation for those who toiled at electro-magnetic isotope separation,  thermal diffusion, U-235 production and Plutonium production, instead of going to the army.  There is little appreciation as well for those who toil in Nashim, Nezikin, Kodshim and Moed, instead of fighting in the IDF.  Bring the subject up to someone who was not raised in the bedrock of Torah life and you will invariably get the response, “Oh come on!  They are so different!”

But there is no difference.

The Manhattan Project was crucial in saving hundreds of thousands of American lives.  And, according to Chazal, full time Torah study is crucial in saving the Jewish people.  Let’s take a quick tour through the halachic and historical record.

Continue reading → Torah Study and the IDF – A Halachic Overview

Megillas Lester

Haman

“It’s the best Jewish movie I’ve ever seen, and it has no competition” — such was my daughter’s trenchant review of the awesome Megillas Lester. While that isn’t strictly true, of course (there have been children’s movies like “Agent Emes” around for a while, and I’m sure she has seen them), the claims that this movie is “raising the bar” on quality frum entertainment are, for once, no exaggeration at all.

I’m sure this was a major gamble. As much as Emes Productions (who provided financial backing) may claim to specialize in “low budget” films, the acting, animation and production costs were probably far above anything done for our community thus far. I hope it pays off financially, because the result is a very high quality product — keyn yirbu, our community will undoubtedly demand more on this level.

Chananya (CJ) Kramer of Kol Rom Multimedia has been a creative and comedic genius for a long time. When, as a camp counselor, he was assigned the job of waking campers each morning, he put together a brilliant series of mock radio interviews (with himself as all characters) to be played over the camp loudspeakers. And everyone woke … Read More >>

The “Building” of Children Destroys

Reading the news of the “Million Man Atzeres,” that was the statement of our Sages that came to mind. “The ‘destruction’ of elders builds, [while] the ‘building’ of children destroys” [Megillah 31b].

The Yesh Atid [There is a Future] party has no future, because it does not understand our past. This is why the other quote that came to mind is from a more proletarian source — reading that Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy (of Yesh Atid) said that “thousands of chareidim will be inducted into the IDF and begin doing their part,” the line that came unbidden to my mind was “Oh Mickey, what a pity, you don’t understand!”

It really is a pity. Levy does not understand how the Jewish people managed to survive for 2000 years without a land to call our own, something no other nation in history has done. This was only due to our following the Torah, and the voice of Torah sages in each generation. If they think there is a substitute, they should read the Pew Report and ponder the imminent collapse of heterodox Judaism in America and worldwide. Do they really think that simply by assembling Jews in … Read More >>

On the making of Constitutional Arrangements

by Raphael Davidovich

In the latest attempt to quell the ongoing culture wars in Israel, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni last year gave Law Professor Ruth Gavison a formidable task. Gavison was asked to help prepare “a constitutional arrangement dealing with Israel’s identity” as “a Jewish and Democratic state.” The task is a fascinating one, one I love discussing because it is an area of personal interest for me. But it is a task that should not be fulfilled.

Whenever someone in the Israeli Leadership advocates a new constitutional arrangement, it should be mandatory to reread the history of why Israel presently has no formal constitutional arrangement as most other countries do. The brief history is as follows: The Constituent Assembly charged with the writing of a Constitution for the State of Israel ended its task in 1949, its job undone, and instead became the newborn State’s first Parliament. It would be simple to conclude that the document wasn’t written because of the machinations and political ploys of Ben-Gurion, or this group or that power-hungry faction. It would also be simple to argue that the group couldn’t come to agreement because of the old truism that Jews are argumentative, like that old joke about Ben-Gurion being the Prime Minister of two million prime ministers. But these arguments would be wrong. We need to properly understand what happened, and it says something about Jewry in Israel and throughout the world.

The constituent assembly could not write a constitution because a true constitution can only be a viable document when applied to a group that has certain basic outlooks and principles in common that they wish to codify and establish as axiomatic, virtually unarguable, to future generations of leaders who might be tempted by the need for political expedience to ignore those principles.

To be clear, what Israelis who say they want a Constitutional Arrangement really mean is that they want a two-tier system of laws: One set of Supreme Laws, which usually includes a Bill of Individual Rights, and one set of all other laws passed by the Knesset which would be subservient to that first set. This concept originated in our times with the American Constitution.

The American Constitutional experiment contained a feature that was novel to the world of political realism at the time, even though nowadays it’s so common that it’s taken for granted; that a State should have an upper tier of Law and a lower tier of law. The higher level of law, with fewer words, usually loftier, dominates; it insists that all other laws passed by the legislature conform to it or be declared null and void. This is specifically what is meant nowadays by people when they speak of a country having a Written Constitution. This is actually sloppy wording, as it leads to such sentences as “England does not have a written constitution”, or “Israel does not have a written constitution.”

The reality is that of course, both England and Israel have written constitutions. What they lack is the legal framework that mandates that some laws be subservient to other laws. Their constitutions are in the laws that set up the government. They have laws that provide for various freedoms, civil and political rights and limitations. They do not set up a hierarchy among those laws, one trumping the other. They adhere to the older principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty, rejected by the US Constitution, that one Parliament cannot limit another. For example, one Parliament cannot pass a law that states that it may not be revoked except by unanimous consent. All laws are equal to each other, even the ones that scholars call “constitutional”.

Why do countries, such as the USA, want a two-tier system? The answer, briefly stated earlier, is that the founding people and founding leaders of a nation want certain laws enshrined at a level that later legislatures or leaders will not be allowed to override because of the political expediencies of the moment.

Now in many countries, including Israel, it is well known that different groups of people have different ideals they believe are worth preserving at all costs. If a nation has several groups of people with conflicting ideals, the differences cannot and should not be resolved at the “Constitutional” level at all! Put another way, if one group that does not have behind it the true political will of the vast majority of the people, tries to take advantage of a propitious moment and attempt to enact certain reforms at the constitutional level, trouble will usually ensue for one of several reasons:
Continue reading → On the making of Constitutional Arrangements

The Anarchy Option

My interest in the recently concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi was roughly equivalent to my interest in the recently concluded International Kennel Club dog show in Chicago. Which is to say, nil.

But a “Jewish” issue that trailed in the snow behind the Sochi shenanigans was amusing. At least, initially. Pondered a bit, it was a reminder of something disturbing.

An ice dancer named Charlie White, who, with his partner, won a gold medal at the competition, was roundly celebrated by the media for his accomplishment, and by the Jewish media for his accomplishment… and Jewishness.

Despite the latter assertion, though, the skater’s mother apparently notified the Detroit Jewish News, the original reporter of Mr. White’s Jewish credentials, that neither she nor her son is a member of the tribe.

After some research, the paper discovered that the gold medal winner’s only Jewish connection was a Jewish stepfather; it apologized for its original reportage.

The Reform movement wouldn’t at present consider Charlie’s connection to the Jewish people sufficient to automatically qualify him as Jewish in its eyes. But it has long accepted a “patrilineal” definition of “Jewishness” – that is to say that, contrary to halacha, it … Read More >>

What the ASA’s Boycott Taught (Reminded) Me

by Rabbi Akiva Males

In the closing months of 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to boycott Israeli universities. This move is part of a much larger effort in the ongoing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement intended to isolate Israel. In the aftermath of this academic boycott, many of Israel’s supporters rightfully voiced our hurt feelings, disappointment, and/or strong disagreement with the ASA’s offensive maneuver.

In January, before my wife and I traveled to visit family in Israel, I read an important article in The NY Jewish Week by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin which reminded me of a crucial yet simple concept. As supporters of Israel, we need to find responsible ways to express our outrage with the ASA. At the same time, we also need to recognize the many American universities who found the strength to resist joining in this boycott.

It is not enough to scream “gevalt” when we have been wounded. We also have to call out “thank you” to those who are our friends, to those who stood up for truth, to those who have refused to have their educational institutions seduced by the all too common siren song of anti-Israeli behavior. We … Read More >>

The Devil’s In The Daydreams

One would be forgiven, especially were one an optimist, for imagining that recent reports of the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s donation of $400,000 to a Teheran Jewish hospital might signal something positive about Iran’s current leadership. With Purim within sight, the idea of good news coming out of Persia is an enticing one.

Our theoretical optimist would also likely have been gratified by the words of the hospital’s director, Dr. Ciamak Morsadegh, who said the Iranian leader “is showing that we [Jews], as a religious minority, are part of this country, too.”

But the Iranian leader’s smiles, largesse and (to flashback several months) Rosh Hashana good wishes to the world’s Jews were lopsidedly outweighed by another recent report, this one provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

(MEMRI, the single most valuable news source for happenings in the Arab and Muslim worlds, does not profess or evidence any political stance; it simply translates and makes available speeches, media reports and other information, positive and negative alike, that aren’t otherwise accessible to the English-reading public.)

The report included a video clip and transcript of a broadcast aired on Iran television’s Channel 1 on February 6. … Read More >>

Reb Meir Schuster zt”l – An Appreciation

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

It is a sad day for the Torah world because of the loss of this great, great man.  Rav Meir Schuster zatzal passed away today after a debilitating illness.  This man was singlehandedly responsible for bringing more people closer to Avinu sh’bashamayim than entire outreach organizations.  Without exaggeration, many tens of thousands of people came to Torah observance because of the actions of this man.

The greatest insight into this man was perhaps a shailah that was presented to Rav Elyashiv zatzal, when Reb Meir had lost his father.  According to the Torah, the period of mourning lasts for three days.  Chazal extended this period to seven days.  Rabbinic extensions of halachos are universally observed in Judaism.  Chazal tell us  (based on Koheles 10:8) regarding Rabbinic enactments – “Kol HaPoretz Geder yeshacheno nachash – anyone who breaks the fence (on a Rabbinic law) deserves that a snake should bite him.”  Yet, here things were different.  Every day that Rabbi Meir Schuster was not at the Kosel, the wailing wall, was a day that Jewish people would not get a chance to be brought to Torah-true Judaism.  Should he sit … Read More >>

Kerry, Halachic Israel, and Safety

 

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com

In the past few months, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has occupied entire floors of hotels in Jerusalem.  In early March, Mr Kerry is expected to present a copy of the so-called framework agreement to Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits Washington to both visit President Barack Obama and address the AIPAC conference of AIPAC.  

The document will propose a peace deal along pre-1967 borders but with land swaps that take account of “demographic changes” on the ground.  The document will attempt to influence the Netanyahu government to give up many different areas of Eretz Yisrael.  It is therefore be an opportune time to review the halachos of what constitutes Eretz Yisrael. It must be stressed that this discussion does not chalilah condone the giving up of parts of Israel. It is merely a discussion of the status of its various parts.

TWO TYPES OF LAND Although the verse in Bereishis (17:8) tells us that Hashem told Avraham, “And I shall give you and your descendants after you…the entire Land of Canaan as an inheritance forever,” one can divide up Eretz Yisrael … Read More >>

Vive la Différence

When MK David Rotem, of the Yisrael Beytenu party, said that the Reform movement is “another Jewish religion,” and then added that the Charedim [which Times of Israel translates as "ultra-Orthodox," but I have little doubt that he used the correct and less inflammatory term "charedim"] could “of course” be considered “also another Jewish religion,” one thing happened: Reform leaders exploded, and got him to “walk back” his remarks.

If you read carefully, he may not have expressed himself well, but there is no significant change between what he said to Army Radio that got him into hot water, and in his “clarification.” What he said the first time was “the Reform are all Jews,” which, given the level of participation by non-Jewish partners in services, we know to be a substantial exaggeration. In his “clarification,” he said “I have never said belonging to the Reform movement makes anyone less Jewish.” Both times, he expressed a completely normative halachic position.

Here’s what didn’t happen: any similar uproar from the chareidim, the “ultra-Orthodox.” No fellow MKs berated him, whether in the plenary, committee room, or outside in the halls. No gedolim released proclamations or contacted the press. His … Read More >>

The Road to Heil

If ever there were a question to inspire ambivalence it might be whether the current push in Israel to outlaw the word “Nazi” and Holocaust-era German symbols is a good idea.

On the one hand, the word and symbols are often used these days to score political points, to just insult someone with whom the user disagrees or in the ostensible service of humor. Placards of Yitzchak Rabin’s image in a Nazi uniform were brandished in demonstrations before his assassination; and, more recently, religious Jewish children were dressed in concentration camp garb to protest government budget cuts. A long-into-reruns popular American television show included a character, the irascible owner of a food stand, who nom de tv was “the soup Nazi.” Talk about trivialization.

But there’s another hand, too, at least to many minds: Outlawing speech is not something to undertake lightly. And just where does one draw the line between speech that’s just impolite or crude, and speech that is so depraved as to merit being criminalized? Forbidding the shouting of “fire!” in a crowded theater is understandably worthy of penalization; calling someone a soup Nazi, well, somewhat less so.

And then there is the question of … Read More >>

Obama and the Orthodox, Revisited

In a recent article in HaAretz, reprinted here on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Avi Shafran offered several explanations why there seems to be an Orthodox “animus” against President Obama. He discounts theories like racism and Obama’s social liberalism before arriving at the one he prefers: a lack of hakaras hatov — gratitude.

I have always greatly respected Rabbi Shafran and his writing, and consider him a personal mentor. And I think it is unquestionably true that some people have made “over the top,” irrational criticisms — not that I feel that these reactions are unique to the Orthodox Jewish community, or unique to our current president. But on balance, I think Rabbi Shafran must revisit not only that social liberalism, but the very areas in which he feels our thanks are due, in order to understand why there is so much negativity about the Obama presidency from Orthodox Jews.

Here’s what I wrote about Obama’s election, in November 2008:

I believe that getting America to the point of electing a black President was one of America’s finest hours.Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein, November 12.

He beat me to it, as I was going to make a similar comment. … Read More >>

Obama and the (Orthodox) Jews

(The article below appeared earlier this month in Haaretz. I share it here with that paper’s permission.)

The gabbai at the shul I usually attend on Shabbos is something of a comedian. When I was recently called to the Torah, he offered the traditional “Mi Sheberach” and added a blessing for “ha-president” – which he quickly qualified by adding: “Not Obama – the president of the shul.”

I interjected “yes, Obama.” Nearby congregants gasped.

They shouldn’t have. The Mishneh teaches us that Jews should pray for the government, as governments are what prevent people from acting on their worst instincts. For many years, every American Orthodox synagogue included a special prayer for the president and vice president, a practice that, for some reason, has fallen into disuse.

But beyond the Jewish obligation to express hakaras hatov, “acknowledgement of the good,” to the leaders of their lands, I believe that the current occupant of the White House well deserves our special good will.

That is not, I know, the common stance in the Orthodox world. I have been puzzling over that fact for five years.

A registered Republican since I could vote, I shared in the skepticism and concern … Read More >>

Where is “Moving Traditions” Moving People?

If you’ve been following the saga of the “Women of the Wall” and the “Women for the Wall,” you know that WOW is doing everything it can to bolster its numbers and coverage. W4W has made them into a non-story, by expressing with eloquent silence that far more Israeli women oppose them than stand with them (by a margin of hundreds, if not thousands, to one), and simultaneously completely getting rid of the rambunctious young men who previously did such a great job of playing into WOW’s hands and PR efforts.

Most recently, a group called “Moving Traditions” shipped three teenage American girls off to Israel to join WOW. Needless to say, they knew little of the issues — one of them had not even heard of WOW prior to the contest that earned her a ticket. They were also kept from any contact with women representing the other side of the story, which resulted in W4W leader Ronit Peskin writing an open letter to one participant.

Ms. Peskin posted a comment to the Facebook wall of Moving Traditions, indicating that she had written this letter. Moving Traditions basically laughed off the idea that she might be able … Read More >>

Where Are The Red Carpets?

The letter below appears in today’s (Jan 2) New York Times:

To the Editor:

I’m neither an “Israel right or wrong” person nor a supporter of what has come to be called “the Palestinian cause.” But one question keeps coming back to me when I read about objections to decisions by Jewish campus groups not to invite speakers hostile to Israel: Where is the push for Arab campus groups to roll out their red carpets to unabashed defenders of the Jewish state?

(Rabbi) AVI SHAFRAN New York, Dec. 30, 2013

The writer is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.