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

Bias Vs. Backbone

A sports team owner’s base racism was all the talk of the world town last week. But a more subtle – and thus more dangerous – prejudice has been on public display, too, of late. It was largely ignored, however, likely because the bias revealed was against charedi Jews.

The opportunity for expressing the bias was the situation in the Monsey-area East Ramapo school district, whose public schools service a largely minority population but where there are many yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs. And a prominent salvo in the recent bias-barrage was fired by New York Times columnist Michael Powell, who pens a column in the paper highlighting people against whom the writer has rendered his personal judgment of guilt.

His villains in an April 7 offering titled “A School Board That Overlooks Its Obligation To Students” were the Orthodox Jewish members of that entity, which is charged with overseeing the workings and government funding of all schools in the district. Of the approximately 30,000 school children in the district, roughly 22,000 are in yeshivos; the remaining 8,000 are in public schools.

Mr. Powell began his piece by lamenting the laying off of assistant principals, art teachers and a band … 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 >>

Social Injustice

The following essay currently appears on the New York Jewish Week website.. (My regular weekly essays appear in the Wednesday edition of Hamodia.)

It was Albert Camus’ insight that bad things often result from ignorance, and that “good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”

He could have been writing of the good souls whose desire for social justice has impelled them to smear members of the East Ramapo School District board for increased public school class size and cuts in school programs and extracurricular activities like sports and music.

A Jewish group, Uri L’Tzedek, is among the critics of the board, and contends that the majority “fervently Orthodox” members of the school board have been unfair to the primarily African-American, Haitian and Hispanic public school student population. In the pages of the New York Jewish Week, a founder of the group, Rabbi Ari Hart, amplified its objections in passionate terms (“East Ramapo’s Children Are Suffering”). Unfortunately, passion is no replacement for understanding.

Rabbi Hart claims to have conducted a “careful review of the facts” and to have spoken to “leaders from the Jewish and non-Jewish community.” But he apparently didn’t speak … 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 >>

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 >>

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 >>

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 >>

Ultra-Cation

It was gratifying to see that a recent essay of mine in the Forward stimulated thoughtful responses.

I had made the case for jettisoning the time-honored (if, to me, less than honorable) term “ultra-Orthodox.” I argued that, like “ultra-conservative” or “ultra-liberal” in domestic politics, the prefix implies extremism, something that isn’t accurate about most charedim.

What best to replace it with is less obvious, as “charedi” is a foreign word, and euphemisms like “fervently Orthodox” insult non-charedi Jews, many of whom are as fervent in their prayer and observances as any charedi Jew (not to mention that some charedi Jews are far from fervent).

I suggested using the unadorned word “Orthodox” to refer to charedim, whose lives, I contended, most resemble those of their forbears.

After all, I argued, self-described “Centrist” and “Modern” and “Open” Orthodox Jews are, well, self-described, with those prefixes of their choices. So why not use “Orthodox” alone, without any modifier, to refer to “black-hatters,” or “yeshivish” folks. (The charedi subset of Chassidim could simply be called Chassidim, a word familiar to English speakers.) Think Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Coke…

One immediate response to my essay came from Samuel Heilman, a Queens College … 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 >>

Much Ado About “Ultra”

The Forward recently published an article of mine about the term “Ultra-Orthodox.” You can read it here .

A response to it, by Professor Samuel Heilman, is here .

And, finally, a rejoinder is here.

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 >>

Unpublished Heroes

I think it’s time I came clean regarding my doubts about Judaism, about everything I was taught by my parents and rabbaim in yeshiva. How can we be sure that the Torah was really given to my ancestors at Sinai? Are its laws really eternal? Is halacha really G-d’s will? Are Jews in fact a special people? And are Orthodox Jews true examples of what a Jew should be?

I came across some very compelling literature that called traditional Jewish beliefs into question, and was disturbed by what I had read, and so I read more, and did a good amount of serious thinking and research.

As to Orthodox Jews themselves, yes, most seem to be fine people, but there have also always been “characters” – people with strange fixations or behavior patterns. And then there are Jews proven or rumored to be… not so nice.

The thought that the “outside” world might provide a more rarified and thoughtful community was an enticing one. And so I began to entertain doubts about Jewish beliefs, my religious identity and my community.

I was 14.

To my relief now, many decades later, there was no Internet then to intensify my … Read More >>

Tempest in a Tefillin-Bag?

Of the slew of recent articles celebrating the idea of girls wearing tefillin two were particularly notable. One, because of how revealing it is of its author’s attitude toward halacha; the second, because it holds the seeds of a worthy lesson.

In Haaretz, feminist Elana Sztokman (upcoming book: “The War on Women in Israel”) asserted that “the crude, sexist responses within Orthodoxy to girls wearing tefillin” only “reflect men’s fears and prejudices.” And that her brand of “religious feminism is not about… women who are angry or provocative.”

She dismisses those who have noted that the Shulchan Aruch (technically, the Rama) criticizes women’s wearing of tefillin as just “try[ing] to make their objections rooted in halakha,” and she cites in her favor the halachic authority of the founder of a school described elsewhere as representing the “co-ed, egalitarian ethos of liberal Conservative Judaism.” That authority, Ms. Sztokman announces, has “unravel[led] the halakhic myths… about women and tefillin.”

What’s more, she continues, fealty to the halachic sources about the issue only shows how “some men think about women’s bodies and their roles in society” and “how deeply rooted misogynistic perceptions are in Orthodox life.”

And to think that … Read More >>

Unravelling Tefillin-gate

(The subject of this article has been well covered by other writers in this space, and I apologize if posting it here is the equivalent of a fifth wheel on a cart. But I think it may add some additional food for thought. The piece appeared in Haaretz this week and is offered here with its permission.)

Unlike some in the traditional Orthodox community, I empathize with the young women in two modern Orthodox high schools in New York who asked for and received permission to don tefillin during their school prayer services. They have, after all, seen their mothers wearing the religious objects and simply wish to emulate their parents’ Jewish religious practice. Carrying on the traditions of parents is the essence of mesorah, the “handed-down” legacy of the Jewish past.

None of us has the right to assume that these girls aren’t motivated by a deeply Jewish desire to worship as they have seen their mothers worship. Even as to the mothers’ motivations, I can’t know whether their intention is pure or homage to the contemporary and un-Jewish idea that “men and women have interchangeable roles.” Most of our acts, wrote the powerful thinker Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer … Read More >>

Who, Really, Are the Orthodox?

It’s rare that I simply refer to another article, but “I am Orthodox, and Orthodox is me” speaks for itself. I think the piece is stronger because the writer is both relatively unknown, and a woman. She truly speaks for us all when she says “those stereotypes about ‘the Orthodox’ are talking about me.”

Aggravated Journalism

Hella Winston was surprised that her name appeared at the bottom of the recent New York Post report about the murder of Brooklyn businessman Menachem Stark, indicating her “additional reporting” to the story. She had not written any of the article – and certainly not its tasteless, insensitive headline (which implied that an unlimited number of people surely wished the Chassidic businessman dead) or the article’s incendiary opening words: “The millionaire Hasidic slumlord…”

She had nothing to do, either, with the rest of the ugly piece, which was rife with unnamed “sources” and unsubstantiated innuendo. (It went so far as to dredge the cesspool of a rabidly anti-Orthodox blog to find what it apparently deemed a journalistic gem– an anonymous posting opining that the victim’s “slanted shtreimel on his head gives his crookedness away.”). She had not seen the article before its publication.

Ms. Winston, a sociologist by profession, had simply been contacted by the article’s main writers, she says, and provided them a small piece of information of no great consequence. Needless to say, the Post’s odious offering deeply hurt the murdered man’s wife, children and community. And I have no doubt that Ms. Winston is herself pained … 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 >>

A Lesson From Limmud

Even now that the recent much-celebrated Limmud gathering in the historic cathedral town of Coventry, West Midlands, England has concluded, the celebration continues, at least in many Jewish media.

The popular Jewish event, which attracts people from all segments of the Jewish universe (and some, like the Reverend Patrick Morrow, who led a Limmud session at this year’s, from the non-Jewish one), is always loudly lauded as an opportunity to access a broad gamut of theologies and practices that have Jewish devotees.

But this year’s Limmud conference, at least to the media, was particularly exultation-worthy, as one of the attendees was Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the current chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, the first person holding that position to grace the proceedings with his presence.

Much, unsurprisingly, was made of that first. Rabbi Mirvis was warmly welcomed by those in attendance, and his speech was parsed by the press with the determination of high school teachers seeking puns in Shakespeare, in a quest to find hints of disdain on the rabbi’s part for the religious leaders of the more traditional Orthodox British community, who made clear that the rabbi’s attendance at Limmud was ill-advised.

Aside from celebrating and … Read More >>

The iPhone and the Get

by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

It is well known that the Gedolim of both Eretz Yisroel and America are rightly concerned about the devastating effects of exposure to pornographic images through rapidly developing technologies. And there is no question that even filtered access to the internet has no guarantees that a person may fall or stumble into the abyss. The internet and Smartphones are clearly a game-changer in terms of nisyonos, spiritual challenges to Klal Yisroel.

And as in many other venues in Judaism, organizations have arisen in order to assist in combating this new scourge. In Eretz Yisroel, these organizations are known as Amutahs, roughly equivalent the 501 C3 organization in the United States. Some organizations are of questionable legitimacy, but the vast majority of these organizations are genuine and justifiable.

Not everyone, however, will agree with the approach and mindset of those people who are involved in the day to day running of the organization. In order to gain a more universal legitimacy the people who run such organizations attempt to get letters of approbation and approval from leading Rabbis.

There may be another dynamic as well. Some of the people who run these organizations, well … Read More >>