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 >>

An Evil Report

My D’var Torah this week made a rare crossover into current events, in a way that I thought appropriate for Cross-Currents.

In this week’s reading we learn about the spies sent to look at the Land of Cana’an. As is clear from the consequences, their evil report, and the Children of Israel’s reaction, became their greatest sin in all their time in the Sinai desert — and it was initiated by “leaders of the Children of Israel” [Num. 13:3]. Even among the Generation of the Desert, those who heard the Voice of G-d at Mt. Sinai, those who set this in motion were on an exalted spiritual level. How could this have happened?

After they went through the land of Cana’an, these great men came home very discouraged. They knew that the Children of Israel had sinned previously, especially with the Golden Calf. They saw that the inhabitants were giants, and it would take open miracles for Israel to be victorious. So they concluded, erroneously, that Israel was no longer worthy of that level of protection — that G-d’s promise was not unconditional, that they would lose.

So what did they do when they returned? Did they go to … Read More >>

Please Pray and Learn

If you don’t know, three Israeli students in a Yeshiva High School were apparently kidnapped on Thursday night. Their names are Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim, and Eyal ben Iris Teshurah.

Please learn and pray for their speedy return.

Children’s Programming

“Nahoul” is a giant bee, or, better, a man in a furry bee costume. He is one of the intended-to-be-lovable characters on “Pioneers of Tomorrow,” a children’s television program produced in Gaza.

In a recent episode, Nahoul encourages a boy from Jenin to attack his Jewish neighbors. “Punch them,” he advises. “Turn their faces into tomatoes.”

“If his neighbors are Jewish or Zionist,” Rawan, the little girl host of the show adds helpfully, “that goes without saying.” Nahoul then advises throwing stones at “the Jews.”

A bit later in the program, another little girl shares her hope to become a policewoman, so that she can “shoot the Jews.”

“All of them?” the host asks with a smile.

“Yes,” the other girl replies.

“Good.”

Nahoul is likely to meet the fate of other cuddly animals – like Farfour the Mouse, a rabbit and a bear – that were previously featured on the program only to suddenly disappear, the show’s little viewers being informed that each character had been “martyred” by Israelis.

The airwaves in Gaza are tightly controlled by Hamas, the de facto government, and “Pioneers of Tomorrow” is part of that violent and hateful group’s effort to educate … Read More >>

Retroactive Prophecy Redux

As I expected, my critique of some recent writing of Rabbi Berel Wein has generated many comments and communications, yeas and nays.

A follow-up explanation can be read here.

Retroactive Prophecy

There exists a mentality, even among some who should know better, like the respected popular historian Rabbi Berel Wein, that any one of us can, and even should, second-guess the attitudes and decisions of Torah luminaries of the past.

In that thinking, for instance, the opposition of many Gedolim in the 1930s and 1940s to the establishment of a Jewish state was a regrettable mistake. After all, the cavalier thinking goes, a state was in the end established, and in many ways it flourishes; so the Gedolim who opposed it must have been wrong. And we should acknowledge their error and impress it upon our children with a nationalistic commemoration of the day on which Israel declared her independence.

None of us, however, can possibly know what the world would be like today had Israel not come into being. What would have happened to the European survivors of the Holocaust who moved to Israel? Would they have languished in the ruins of Europe and eventually disappeared instead? Rebuilt their communities? Emigrated to the West? Would Eretz Yisrael have remained a British mandate, become a part of Jordan, morphed into a new Arab state? Would Jews have been barred from … Read More >>

Punishing American Learning in Israel

Besides the legal changes affecting the funding for the Yeshivos, the Religion Ministry under Bennet has a few tricks up its sleeve that we don’t even know about. I just spoke with a Rosh Yeshiva in Israel whom I know personally to confirm details of this, and who insisted that his name not be used, so he had no reason to exaggerate.

Like college after the end of exams, students from abroad will often exit during the last few days of a yeshiva zman, especially at the end of the winter before Pesach. It is quite routine that if a zman ends on Monday, for example, students will be permitted to fly back home on Saturday night or Sunday.

The inspectors from the Religion Ministry are essentially hired accountants, who come to visit a yeshiva and see how many students they have. But they do not have control over their schedules. An inspector who had visited a yeshiva several times previously, and knew that it was functioning and flourishing, was deliberately instructed to come visit the yeshiva on Sunday, immediately prior to the “official” end of zman but once all the students had been let go. And by taking … Read More >>

The End of the Begin-ing

by Doron Beckerman

The year 1977 witnessed a watershed event in the history of Modern Israel. Chaim Yavin, famed Israeli news anchor, announced the mahapach – the transformation of the political map; the right wing, led by Menachem Begin, had taken hold of government’s reins. A traditionalist, philo-Sephardic attitude permeated the halls of power. A firm commitment to dramatic expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria created facts on the ground. The Charedi parties basked in new-found sunshine and glory days. Money was showered on Yeshivos and limits on draft exemption numbers were abolished. Happy days were here for ideologues of non-Labor Zionist persuasion.

If colossal failures experienced during the Lebanon War (along with the passing of Aliza Begin) spelled the end of PM Begin’s political career, 1990 marked the point at which the bearers of Jabotinsky’s ideology essentially conceded the game. The Gulf War saw Israel subcontract its defense to a world alliance, and Yitzhak Shamir got dragged to the Madrid Conference, setting up the current reality where massive territorial concessions to the Palestinians are the only real show in town. Concomitantly, the traditional hawk-dove dividing began to blur, as every ostensibly conservative Prime Minister gave up progressively … Read More >>

The Death of Free Speech on Campus

Few of us like to be exposed to opinions contrary to our own or to be challenged by facts that challenge our opinions. There is a natural temptation to suppress opinions that do not comport with our own, as Justice Holmes noted: “Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition.”

There are any number of reasons to resist the totalitarian temptation, however. Most of us lack the power to enforce our orthodoxy on others. Some may resist the temptation when they do possess the power out of the recognition that one day in the future others might possess the power to suppress their thought and expression.

Or perhaps we are products of a culture that places a supreme value on the freedom of individuals to form their own opinions and express them as to the proper ends of life and were raised on the quote attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Our founding fathers fashioned a Bill of Rights that gave pride of place to freedom of speech, and which sought to avoid any abridgment of that freedom by government. But as Judge Learned Hand warned, no legal regime is sufficient in and of itself to protect freedom of speech, if its underlying rationale is not embedded deep in the fiber of the people: “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts… Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women, when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”

The evidence mounts that appreciation of the values underlying the First Amendment can no longer be assumed at either the popular or elite level. A recent Rasmussen poll reveals that 55% of Americans agree that the government should be allowed to review candidates’ campaign ads for their accuracy and punish those it deems false; only 31% disagreed. While that result in part reflects the public’s dismal and justified view of the probity of politicians and their campaign propaganda, still the majority seem blissfully unaware that founding fathers viewed the government as the greatest threat to freedom of speech and would have recoiled at the idea of the government as the arbiter of permissible political speech.

PERHAPS EVEN MORE FRIGHTENING is the declining appreciation at the elite level for individual autonomy to think and speak as one wants. Our elites are being educated on campuses governed by speech codes whose underlying premise is that no members of favored “identity groups” should ever suffer any offense. The idea that individuals or groups have a “right” never to feel offended is antithetical to the robust speech that the First Amendment seeks to protect.

Mark Steyn, who is all too familiar with the thought control police from his battles with various Canadian human rights commissions, describes modern universities as “no longer institutions of inquiry but ‘safe spaces’ where delicate flowers of diversity of race, sex, orientation, ‘gender fluidity’ and everything else except diversity of thought have to be protected from exposure to any unsafe ideas. As it happens, the biggest ‘safe space’ on the planet is the Muslim world.”

Muslims have at least partially succeeded in imposing Islamic blasphemy laws on the rest of the world. Consider the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose invitation to speak at the Brandeis commencement was recently rescinded at the urging of Muslim groups and the usual cast of their useful idiots. In the identity-obsessed university culture, Hirsi Ali should hit all the right buttons: She is a woman, black, Somalian-born, an atheist, and crusader for women. Her only problem is that she has focused her energies on the misogyny of Islamic societies – female mutilation, forced consanguine and child marriages, honor killings. She is herself a victim of all but honor killing, and lived under armed guard as a parliamentarian in the Netherlands, after her collaborator on a film on women in Islamic society, Theodore Van Gogh. had his throat slit. That it can be empirically demonstrated that the practices she describes have deep roots in contemporary Islamic societies availed her nothing.

Similarly, Brown University officials took no steps last October to ensure that former NYPD Superintendent Raymond Kelly would be able to complete a scheduled speech on campus, despite being warned days in advance of planned disruptions and having had their offer to allow expanded time for questions and debate rejected. Kelly incurred the wrath of Muslim groups for the NYPD’s surveillance of mosques for signs terrorist activity. Again, all the evidence that that surveillance had enabled the NYPD to nip numerous terrorist plots in the bud did not earn Kelly the right to be heard – or at least not if Muslim students and townies felt “offended.”

Of course, not all ethnic minorities are treated with the same kid gloves. Few universities have acted to protect Jewish students from the “hurt” of the annual Israel Apartheid Week hate fests, and some have even allowed academic departments and professors to put their imprimatur on those activities via the sponsorship of events and speakers. Jewish students at whom anti-Semitic insults and even threats are hurled have little chance of redress, especially if those hurling the insults are Muslims or other members of favored minorities. The campus as a “safe place” exists only for selected groups.

WHILE CAMPUS ADMINISTRATORS push all sorts of affirmative action quotas for various minorities – except, of course, Asians — the one type of diversity in which they have no interest is precisely that of greatest relevance to their educational mission: ideological diversity. Outside of the hard sciences and engineering faculties, probably no more than 10% of most faculties voted Republican in 2012, and the more elite the university the lower the percentage. The bitter tenure fights over Thomas Pangle at Yale in the late ’70s and Peter Berkowitz at Harvard a decade later — both of whom were enormously popular and widely published teachers, with an interest in classical philosophy — revealed how far the country’s leading universities are, in Berkowitz’s words, from fostering “a spirit of tolerant of dissent [and] keen on competition between rival opinions and ideas.”

Continue reading → The Death of Free Speech on Campus

The Secular Sky Is Falling!

This article appeared under a different title in Haaretz earlier this week and is posted here with the paper’s permission.

Well, it won’t be long now before Israel institutes penalties for watching television on the Sabbath and declares a religious war against the Palestinians. At least that’s what a cursory – or, actually, even a careful – reading of a recent New York Times op-ed might lead one to conclude.

In the piece, Abbas Milani, the head of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University, and Israel Waismel-Manor, a University of Haifa senior lecturer, argue that Iran and Israel might be “trading places,” the former easing into a more secular mode, the latter slouching toward theocracy.

Whether the writers’ take on Iran has any merit isn’t known to me. But their take on Israel is risible, and the evidence they summon shows how clueless even academics can be.

The opinionators contend that the “nonreligious Zionism” advanced by David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s is “under threat” today by “Orthodox parties” that “aspire to transform Israel into a theocracy.”

The irony is intriguing. It was none other than Ben-Gurion who pledged, in a 1947 agreement with the Agudath Israel World … Read More >>

What Do They Really Think About Us?

There are few more ungainly or unattractive positions than that of someone patting his own back. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to offer a call-out to HaMercaz L’Mechkar V’Tikshoret Yehudit (The Center for Jewish Research and Communication), for commissioning a study by Dr. Mina Tzemach of the attitudes of secular Israelis to chareidim and to the Hebrew Mishpacha for devoting an entire supplement to the study in its Pesach issue. The Center seeks, inter alia, to provide chareidi decisionmakers and spokespersons with the necessary factual information about our own community and its relations to the broader Israeli society, just as Dr. Yitzchak Schecter, featured in last week’s English Mishpacha has devoted himself to collecting reliable data about the mental health profile of chareidi Jewry.

The Tzemach survey, as Rabbi Moshe Grylak noted in his far-ranging introductory essay, upended one of the most entrenched myths of the chareidi community – the belief that most secular Jews harbor an irremediable animus towards every chareidi they meet and would be happy to see the chareidi community disappear entirely. Over three-quarters of the “traditional but not observant” and “secular” Jews polled said that they have at least one chareidi acquaintance, and of those 85% have a favorable impression of that person. (Of course, in many of those cases the acquaintance may be a relative – 60% of the traditional and 38% of the secular respondents identified a chareidi relative.)

A full 93% opined that ongoing dialogue between secular Jews is important for the preservation of Israeli society. Remarkably given the vast media attention focused on tensions between chareidim and national religious and secular Jews in Beit Shemesh, 62% said that they would not object to living in mixed neighborhoods together with chareidim and 52% felt that such mixed neighborhoods would foster greater understanding. Over four-fifths said they would hire chareidim as employees.

In response to a somewhat ambiguous question as to whether it is important for the Israeli school system to transmit knowledge of “mesoret Yisrael,” 89% answered affirmatively, and just over half said that the Israeli educational system is not doing enough in this regard. Nearly 70% said that the IDF must provide all the conditions necessary so that chareidi soldiers can preserve their way of life while serving.

I doubt that the tenor of these findings will be a shock to those of us within the chareidi community who have extensive contact with non-religious Israeli Jews – e.g., those in kiruv. More frequently we encounter the mirror image of chareidi attitudes towards secular Israelis – a certain degree of suspicion arising from unfamiliarity, but nothing like ingrained hatred.

Nor have we found among our secular brethren a widespread desire to be relieved once and all from the bonds of Jewish identity. In numerous polls, Israeli Jews have given precedence to their identity as Jews over their identity as Israelis. The 1992 Guttman Institute study, “Beliefs, Observances and Social Interaction Among Israeli Jews,” found that “secular” Israeli Jews are far more likely to observe various religious rituals – fasting on Yom Kippur, not eating chametz on Pesach, lighting Shabbos candles, not eating milk and meat together – than their Reform and Conservative cousins in America. A certain amount of ritual observance – albeit often without scrupulous attention to the halachic details – is part of the civil religion of Israel.

That is not to deny that there are significant and influential pockets of anti-religious and anti-chareidi hatred in Israel. The aforementioned Guttmann study found that those with academic degrees were twice as likely as the average Israeli to describe themselves as completely non-observant. Within the media and government legal system there are entrenched pockets of hostility to chareidim.

But prevalent attitudes in the secular elites do not reflect the general population, and pretending that they do has long served as something of a cop-out on the part of many chareidim. By telling ourselves over and over again that they hate us no matter we do, that their hatred is an immutable expression of the hatred of amei ha’aretz for talmidei chachamim (Are secular Jews of today indistinguishable from the amei ha’aretz of Rabbi Akiva’s day?), we manage to be both a little too easy on ourselves and self-flattering at the same time.

For if their hatred is immutable, we are spared from ever having to ask ourselves in what ways do we contribute to secular perceptions of the chareidi community or considering what messages we are sending them. We are freed from having to consider how we might change the situation employing the secret bequeathed to us by the wisest of men, “K’mayim hapanim lapanim kach lev adam la’adam – As water reflects a face back to a face so one’s heart is reflected back to him by another (Mishlei 27:19).

Continue reading → What Do They Really Think About Us?

Incitement on Memorial Day

Journalist Amnon Levi speaks to Yaron Dekel concerning incitement against the Charedi community due to their failure to stand during the alarm on Yom HaZikaron:

YD: Welcome to the journalist Amnon Levi.

AL: Shalom Yaron.

YD: Let’s talk about one sector that is always portrayed in TV as one who does not respect the siren, and that is the Charedi sector.

AL: Yes, the truth is that for many years I have wanted to talk about this, and even to speak sharply, because in my eyes this is an example of ugly, blunt incitement against the charedim with this topic.

YD: Why?

AL: You see, in truth every year they take photos of the charedim in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem that are not standing at the time of the siren on the Memorial Day for the IDF casualties.

This is ugly. Why? Because, first of all, it’s not at random that they select Memorial Day as the day to take pictures of them there. They also do not stand during the siren on Holocaust Remembrance Day that occurs exactly a week before! Last week as well, during the siren on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the charedim didn’t stand.

The … Read More >>

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.

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