Federated Blindness

So the Jewish Federations of North America, the massive collected financial might of America’s leading Jewish donors, has left Jerusalem. Their General Assembly only meets in Jerusalem once every five years, so this was a major event. And what have we learned? Primarily, that the system has failed. As Michael Freund, the director of Shavei Israel, wrote: “this GA was reminiscent of the ill-fated RMS Titanic as it steamed straight for an iceberg in the northern Atlantic ocean in April 1912, oblivious to the impending doom.”

Rabbi Yisroel Mayer Kagan, zt”l, of Radin in Poland, is most often called by the name of his work, Chofetz Chaim, on the evil of gossip. Accompanying his tremendous knowledge of Torah, this leader of his generation was known for his profound insight. And with his keen vision, Rabbi Kagan condemned the idea of federated giving. He compared it to the advent of electric lighting in his city, when everyone stopped lighting candles (and backup generators weren’t yet available). As long as there were candles burning, even if one candle went out there was other light. But when the electricity went out, the entire city was plunged into darkness. Similarly, he said, if individuals make decisions, then the most needy charities will somehow get the support that they need. But if everything is handed to the Federations, he explained, then institutions will collapse and individuals will go hungry if the custodians of the coffers do not respond to those appeals.

There is one thing that he didn’t mention: the assumption that the curators would be good at what they do. He didn’t imagine a world in which federations had executives who sat in large executive offices and enjoyed all-expenses-paid executive trips to Israel, at which to demonstrate their collective executive incompetence. In actuality, the leadership of the Federations make the architects of the ObamaCare website look positively brilliant. At the GA, they pushed the wrong issues in the wrong place, and completely ignored the most important and pressing communal priorities on both sides of the Atlantic.

As everyone knows, the most important issue in Israel today is the “peace process,” and the fact that it’s leading nowhere towards peace simply makes discussion more urgent. But it was entirely absent from the GA agenda; JFNA president Jerry Silverman told reporters that since everyone agrees on a two-state solution, it wasn’t worth discussing. J.J. Goldberg dismantled this argument in The Forward:

In fact, this is one of the most fraught and divisive issues on the agenda of organized American Jewry. Beyond substantive questions like settlements and Jerusalem, Diaspora Jewish federations are constantly forced to reexamine the limits of permissible debate within their own walls. The debate over debate is bitter, nationwide and relentless. Jerusalem might have been just the place to discuss it, with the federation movement’s top leadership present and Israel’s leading diplomatic and military minds available.

But it was left out. The closest the assembly came to the topic was a series of how-to sessions on best techniques for defending Israel’s image.

And the most important issue in America? If you haven’t been sleeping for the past two months, you’ve probably heard of the Pew Report, and its devastating analysis of the future of non-Torah-observant Jewry — those best represented by the JFNA. And here I’ll quote Michael Freund again:

If the Jewish federations were serious about confronting this crisis, they should have taken the extraordinary step of reformatting the GA’s schedule in order to focus on the existential emergency at hand.

Instead, in an act of pathetic hubris, they had the gall to add a single session on Monday, with the self-aggrandizing title, “Responding to Pew: How Federations are Successfully Engaging the Next Generation.”

“Successfully”? Who are they kidding? Back in 1990, after the National Jewish Population Survey revealed an intermarriage rate of 52% (which was subsequently the subject of much debate), the Jewish world was stirred into action, vowing to do whatever was necessary to stem the tide of assimilation.

Here we are, more than two decades – and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on bolstering Jewish identity – later, and for all intents and purposes the situation has only worsened as growing numbers of Jews turn their backs on their heritage.

So if the Federations couldn’t be bothered with such trivial issues, to what did they devote their time?

Continue reading → Federated Blindness

In re Limmud: A Rejoinder to Rabbi Cardozo

Torah Judaism has always been defined by belief in binding halacha, based upon the Torah given to Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai and the rabbinical exegesis contained in the Talmud. While there are endless disputes as to the precise contours of the halacha, about its obligatory nature and the sources for its determination there are none.

The halacha is the framework within which each Jew creates his or her individual relationship to G-d. Every Jew has a unique mission in the world and an aspect of G-d that only he — by virtue of his unique combination of strengthens and challenges, singular familial and historical situation — can reveal. But again, it is G-d’s commands that create the framework for the fulfillment of that mission.

G-d’s existence is, in philosophical terms, necessary; ours is contingent and depends on our attachment to Him.

BETWEEN TORAH JUDAISM AND THE VARIOUS HETERODOX MOVEMENTS of Jews there is no theological common ground or meeting point. There is no continuum from lesser to greater Jewish practice, for at the theological level the chasm is unbridgeable and absolute.

Both in our eyes and those of our enemies Judaism was always defined by the Law we received … Read More >>

Alan Dershowitz to the Rescue

Celebrated attorney Alan Dershowitz has petitioned Israeli President Shimon Peres to intervene in what Haaretz characterizes as “the case of the apparent blacklisting of Rabbi Avi Weiss by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.” That is to say, the conclusion of the Rabbinate that Rabbi Weiss’s conversion standards are markedly beneath their own.

Mr. Dershowitz wrote Mr. Peres that the rabbi at issue is “one of the foremost Modern Open Orthodox rabbis in America” (no argument there, although “Open Orthodoxy,” as has been well revealed, is a misnomer) and – the lawyer’s apparent coup de grâce – “one of the strongest advocates anywhere for the State of Israel.”

The attorney goes on to bemoan the “chasm between the Jews of the United States and the religious institutions in Israel” which he characterizes as “baseless religious tyranny.”

As to Mr. Dershowitz’s authority to pronounce on matters religious, some earlier words of his:

“I am… certain that the miraculous stories that form the basis of most religious beliefs are myths. Yet I respect the Bible and enjoy reading and teaching it. Indeed, I find it even more fascinating as a human creation than as a divine revelation. I consider myself a committed … Read More >>

The Way We Are

While those of us here south of the border (the Canadian one, that is) were focused on our own local elections, a Chassidic woman candidate in a Montreal borough was busy making history.

Mindy Pollak, a chassidic woman (from the Vizhnitz community) was elected – the first chassidic person to do so – to the Montreal borough council of Outremont, where there have been running tensions for years between non-Jewish residents and the growing number of Orthodox Jews living there. Her opponent, journalist Pierre Lacerte, had supported a borough councilor widely considered anti-chassidic (if not anti-Semitic) in the latter’s attempt to undermine the construction of an eruv and new shuls in the neighborhood. According to one report, supporters of Mr. Lacerte went knocking on doors without mezuzahs, distributing flyers and announcing that “We’re here to talk about the Jews.”

Ms. Pollak’s political ally and friend was, and is, Leila Marshy, a filmmaker of Arab ancestry who describes herself as a “militant Palestinian.”

An article in the Globe and Mail before the recent election quoted Ms. Pollak as saying that “if we focus on what we have in common rather than what divides us, then we can work toward … Read More >>

Naomi Ragen Drops Plagiarism Appeal, Claims Victory

Sarah Shapiro’s plagiarism suit against Naomi Ragen reached its denouement in the Israeli Supreme Court last week when Ms. Ragen withdrew her appeal of the judgment entered by the Jerusalem District Court in Shapiro’s favor. Withdrawal of the appeal left intact the District Court’s injunction barring Ragen from reprinting her novel Sotah in any language without removing material appropriated from Shapiro’s memoir Growing with My Children.

In return, Shapiro agreed to donate 97,000 shekels – her portion of the damages award against Ragen, after payment of attorney’s fees – to two charity organizations,Yad Eliezer and Yad Sarah.

As is her wont, Ragen claimed vindication by the three-judge panel, despite the fact that she remained without the 233,000 shekels awarded by the District Court to Shapiro and her attorneys, and is still subject to an injunction against reprinting Sotah. If that constitutes victory in Ragen’s view, one wonders what would be defeat.

In any event, Ms. Ragen will be back in court soon defending against another plagiarism action, this one brought by Mrs. Sudy Rosengarten. Rosengarten claims that Ragen interpolated her short story “A Match Made in Heaven” (which was published in the anthology Our Lives I edited by Shapiro) … Read More >>

Orthodoxy and Honesty

The essay below was written for, and published by, Haaretz.com. I offer it here with that paper’s permission — and with my apologies to readers who may feel that enough has been written about its subject already.

And with gratitude to Rabbi Pinchas Lipschutz, Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein for having blazed the important trail of revealing what needed to be revealed here.

The perils of religious self-definition became amusingly apparent in the recent Pew survey of American Jews. One category of “Jews” was “Jews by affinity” – Americans lacking any Jewish parentage or any Jewish background who simply choose to call themselves Jews; more than one million people so identified themselves. Similarly suspicious are the survey’s self-described “Orthodox,” fully 15% of whom reported that they “regularly attend services” in a non-Jewish place of worship, 24% of whom handle money on the Sabbath and 4% of whom say they erect holiday trees in their homes in December.

In a recent op-ed, Rabbi Asher Lopatin insists that the “Open Orthodox” movement whose flagship institution, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, he now serves as president has every right and reason to call itself Orthodox – indeed … Read More >>

Upon the End of 25 Years of Deception

For months, as the Women For the Wall fought for the right of women to pray at the Wall undisturbed, we have heard from many, even within the Orthodox community, that really W4W should just have ignored the Women Of the Wall. Or as one pulpit Rabbi put it, “The WOW were not proselytizing anyone, they were not trying to win converts, they were not trying to make a revolution.”

Oops. Actually, they were.

These rabbis, from Shlomo Riskin on down, are now left to contemplate their naivete about WOW. Since they ignored WOW founders Rivka Haut and Susan Aranoff, who wrote (many months ago) in the Times of Israel that the reason WOW must remain at the Kosel is because, in reference to religious women (esp. charedim), they will “change their worldview,” now they must deal with the reality of Anat Hoffman admitting that this poorly-hidden agenda was, in fact, their continuous goal. WOW’s leading cheerleader in the press, Judy Maltz of HaAretz, reported the following after Hoffman’s conference call with WOW supporters, in which she defended their recent decision to move (with a ridiculous collection of conditions, but that’s for another article) to Robinson’s Arch:

…

Open “Orthodoxy”?

A rejoinder to my recent essay on Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and “Open Orthodoxy” was published here . Below is my response to that posting, written in my capacity as Agudath Israel of America’s spokesperson.

I am grateful to Dr. Ben Elton, a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, for his rejoinder to my recent posting about that institution and “Open Orthodoxy,” in which I asserted that neither can lay claim to the adjective “Orthodox,” at least not if words are to have meanings.

My gratitude derives from the fact that Dr. Elton’s words help clarify the issue. Although he writes that he is “bemused” by my critique of his invocation of the Wurzburger Rav as an example of Chovevei Torah’s approach, his explanation of his bemusement can allow us to better understand whether that revered Torah personality would indeed approve of the inclusion of non-Orthodox Jewish clergy in training rabbis, which YTC proudly embraced at its recent presidential installation.

Dr. Elton is correct that there was indeed a difference of opinion between the Wurzburger Rav (Rav Yitzchok Dov Halevi Bamberger) and Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch regarding whether the rabbis of the Orthodox community of Frankfurt could remain part of … Read More >>

Defining History Down

Under siege by some of his countrymen for seeming to have acknowledged the Holocaust, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tried to walk that Chihuahua back at a forum this week sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society. Asked to clearly state his stand on the issue, he chose to condemn “crimes by the Nazis during World War II [including the killing of] a group of Jewish people.”

Another “defining down” of historical fact also recently appeared, this one emanating from a more respectable source, the New York Times, in a video on its website. The background clip accompanied a print report about Jews who ascend the Har Habayis, or Temple Mount, thereby passively challenging the Muslim authorities to whom Israel has ceded oversight of the ancient Jewish holy site. Those overseers forbid Jews from praying openly there; some of the Jewish visitors, apparently, dare to do so silently.

The second of the two holy Jewish national temples that stood on the mount for centuries, of course, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. It was more than 600 years later, after the Islamic empire spread to the Holy Land, that a small mosque was … Read More >>

Al Jazeera and the Jews

Even as Al Jazeera America – the new offshoot of the Qatar-based news organization – was making its broadcast debut recently on cable carriers in the United States, its parent organization back on the Arabian peninsula featured a commentary by former Muslim Brotherhood official Gamal Nassar, in which he claimed that the Egyptian military (and currently political) leader Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is a Jew. He didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Mr. Nassar cited an Algerian newspaper (“All the slander that’s fit to sling”?) to the effect that Mr. Al Sisi’s uncle was “a member of the Jewish Haganah organization” and that the nephew “is implementing a Zionist plan to divide Egypt.”

The Al Jazeera commentator helpfully added that “Whoever reads The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the writings of [the Jews], including those who were writing in the U.S., realizes that this plot was premeditated.”

Maybe it’s not fair to visit the sins of the father – Al Jazeera in Arabia – so to speak, onto the son – Al Jazeera America. The latter organization claims to be “a completely different channel from… all of the other channels in the Al Jazeera Media Network” … Read More >>

The Lessons of Outremont

I hope every Mishpacha reader read and absorbed last week’s cover story about the public relations efforts of chassidic residents of Montreal’s Outremont district, which had implications for Torah Jews far from Montreal.

Outremont’s chassidic residents – a full quarter of the neighborhood – discovered that their neighbors, particularly a local city councilor, were not all enthusiastic about their presence. The traditional response would have been to do nothing, other than mutter about the anti-Semities and pray that matters did not degenerate further.

Nor would such a response have been entirely unjustified. Xenophobia has long been a prominent characteristic of Quebec’s francophone population, and it would be hard to think of a group more likely to arouse suspicions of outsiders faster than strangely garbed, generally non-French-speaking, chassidim.

Blaming the anti-Semitics also benefits one’s psychic health. For one thing, it means that one never has to examine one’s own actions to determine whether they could have in anyway contributed to the animosity displayed. And second, it means that one need not worry about doing anything to change the situation, which is just part of the natural order of things.

Outremont’s chassidim, however, rejected the quietist approach. Aided by an unlikely … Read More >>

Waters of Unlife

A lengthy piece at the online magazine Tablet describes “new Jewish rituals” that “offer comfort to women who have had abortions.” It begins with the story of a woman who, as a young graduate student, terminated two of her pregnancies and years later came to realize that a “spiritual, ritual way” of “marking the decision” to end the lives of her unborn children “would have helped in resolving” uncomfortable feelings she had experienced.

The woman discovered a group, Mayyim Hayyim, that utilizes a mikveh for that express purpose. A liturgical rite, written by three women – a poet, a psychologist and a rabbi – asks the Creator for help “to begin healing from this difficult decision to interrupt the promise of life.”

According to Mayyim Hayyim’s executive director, Carrie Bornstein, “Oftentimes it’s helpful for people to say, ‘I’m going to move to the next stage of my life, whatever that might bring, and I’m not going to let that experience define me or take me over.’ ”

Another “post-abortion ritual” was devised by a graduate student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Yet another is in a book edited by four female Reform rabbis.

Actually, …

Black Peril, White Knights

A lengthy piece in the New Republic asserts – or, more accurately, hopes – that “an unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism.” The latter word, of course, is intended to refer to traditional Orthodox Judaism.

Heavy on anecdotes about charedi crazies harassing sympathetic women, the piece, titled “The Feminists of Zion,” details how demographic changes in Israel have brought the decades-old peaceful co-existence of secular and charedi Jews to something of a head. The “once-tiny minority” of charedim “now comprises more than 10% of the population,” it informs. And it warns that “as their numbers have increased, so has their sway over political and civil life.”

That sway has resulted in things like “an increase in modesty signs on public boulevards and gender-segregated sidewalks in Haredi neighborhoods,” not to mention “gender-separated office hours in government-funded medical clinics and de facto gender segregation on publicly subsidized buses,” among other affronts.

In 19th century America, there was much anxiety about the “Yellow Peril,” the pernicious effect that Chinese immigrants were imagined to have on the culture of the union. During the Second World War, the phrase was applied to Japanese Americans (iceberg, Goldberg, what … Read More >>

A False Choice

A few months ago, Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark, one of the most veteran and respected educators in North America (as well as someone from whom I have gained much), published a Guestlines piece in Mishpacha Magazine entitled “Unconditional Love Has Its Limits,” which predictably generated a good deal of buzz. I return to that piece now in light of a pamphlet on the subject of parenting disenchanted teenagers by Rabbi Uri Zohar, Israel’s most famous ba’al teshuva and a highly respected talmid chacham.

Rabbi Aisenstark’s goal in writing seems to have been to empower parents to actually parent – to offer guidance and set limits – in an era in which many are so terrified of losing their children that they make that result more likely by giving in to every demand and succumbing to every pouty look.

The Mishpacha cover highlighting Rabbi Aisenstark’s piece read: “Do We Love Our Children More than We Hashem?” That eye-catching blurb was presumably based on the well-known story – cited by Rabbi Aisenstark — of the father of Rabbis Shimon, Mordechai, and Moshe Schwab, who banged his hand down at the Seder table at mention of the Evil Son and proclaimed, “I love … Read More >>

They’re Not Us

The teaser e-mail alert from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency read: “Hasidim for Iran”; and the headline of the linked article, about a Neturei Karta member arrested for allegedly spying for Iran, was: “Haredi Israeli charged with spying for Iran.”

Well, yes. But one has to wonder if, say, a “progressive” anti-Zionist Reform Jew had allegedly offered his services to an enemy of Israel he would be similarly described by his religious affiliation. And we certainly (and thankfully) didn’t see headlines back in 2008 about Bernie Madoff reading: “Jew Accused of Bilking Thousands of their Savings.”

The accused spy, who reportedly visited the Iranian Embassy in Berlin in 2011 expressing his wish to replace the Israeli government with one controlled by gentiles and saying he was willing to murder a Zionist, did indeed wear the sort of clothing associated with charedim. And he’d probably call himself one. But just like a psychopath who happens to be a doctor is hardly a representative example of his profession, neither is a charedi who aids a murderous regime (assuming the fellow is guilty as charged) anything more than an outlying grotesquerie.

That seems to fly over some heads, like that of the … Read More >>

A Clear Contrast

The media has done a good job presenting the Women of the Wall as a group of innocents, just coming down to the Western Wall to pray. Meanwhile, they say the Women For the Wall are inciting violence and responsible for people shouting and throwing things.

For anyone confused, this video is a must. No comment needed!

Women of the Wall: Praying, or Disturbing Prayer?

It is a pleasure to note that two active members of the Women Of the Wall, Susan Silverman and Dahlia Lithwick, have attempted to address several arguments which, they claim, have been made by writers who oppose them, especially the founders of the Women For the Wall (The Kotel is for Us, Too: The Forward, June 14, 2013, also published as Dispelling nine myths about Women of the Wall: HaAretz, June 11, 2013). Dialogue is something which the leaders of W4W, Ronit Peskin and Leah Aharoni, have consistently invited, yet until now they have been rebuffed. Nonetheless, I think it would be premature to call this truly a dialogue between the two groups — and, perhaps predictably, neither HaAretz nor The Forward was interested in publishing a response to the challenges laid down.

If there is one thing upon which secular and Jewish scholars agree, it is the importance of referring back to primary sources. Whether it comes from Shakespeare, Einstein or Maimonides, that I may quote an idea accurately does not make it mine. If we look again at Silverman and Lithwick’s examples of arguments against them, we find that most of them are well sourced … Read More >>

Why Can’t They Be Like Me?

The current crisis in Eretz Yisrael constitutes an extended educational seminar on two topics: what is Torah, and what does it mean to be a student of Torah?

At the outset, let’s dispense with those issues on which there is little or no essential dispute. No one argues that people who aren’t interested or capable of learning full-time must do so anyway. The many programs that have been providing training and placement for thousands of men in the Torah community over the past many years should make this abundantly clear.

There are also those who have little or no interest in learning full-time but perhaps remain enrolled in yeshivah for other reasons, such as to avoid the responsibility to earn a living or the possible stigma associated with leaving the yeshivah. Although this group, whose numbers are not known, is often invoked by supporters of the drafting of bnei Torah, it is disingenuous to do so. The central debate is not over their fate, and pointing to them is simply an attempt to change the subject or tar all bnei Torah with their disrepute.

The essential issue is this: What of the many, many thousands of bochurim and yungeleit who fiercely love Torah, genuinely live Torah, and wish to remain immersed in its full-time study? The conflicting positions on this question are well known. Less appreciated, however, are the beliefs that underpin these positions, which make all the difference in the world.

Here’s what Torah Jews have always believed, and from rich experience, know to be true:

That limud haTorah is the greatest mitzvah and a never-ending one, incumbent, in the Rambam’s words, upon “poor and rich, the healthy and the afflicted, the young and the old and feeble … until the day one dies.” It’s intended to fill every available waking moment of the Jewish man (with accommodation obviously made for attending to one’s material needs). And for good reason, because, as the Chofetz Chaim puts it in explaining the verse (Devarim 32:47) “Ki lo davar reik hu mikem, ki hu chayeichem”: Torah isn’t just one aspect of life, nor even the primary one. Torah is life itself.

That limud haTorah is life’s supreme joy, enthralling in its brilliance and depth, and that the longer and further one explores its vast expanses, the more enraptured he becomes, wanting for naught but to drink deeply of its Divine wisdom forever; that studied properly, it is immeasurably ennobling of one’s character, helping to tame ego and bodily drives alike; that it is a balm for the soul and an elixir for the body, literally good for what ails one; that it is the life force not only of the cosmos, bestowing material and spiritual blessing on all they contain, but of all the other mitzvos as well.

And above all, we have always regarded as our individual and national heroes those who merit remaining in the beis medrash long-term through their and their families’ single-minded determination and surpassing love of Hashem and His Torah. How else to describe those who forego promising careers and material comforts to instead toil in Torah with such intensity that, as Dr. Akiva Tatz wrote of his first months in yeshivah, “I’d come home daily more deeply exhausted than I had been as an intern, if that is possible to imagine … the intellectual level demanded in yeshivah learning makes university study pale into insignificance….”

To be a neheneh miyegi’a kapav, an honest, G-d-fearing working man, punctilious in mitzvah performance and daily Torah study, has always been the lot of most Jews, and a truly noble one it is. But Jews never confused the fulfillment of their individual mission, based on their particular needs and limitations, with the objective truth that the more Torah, the better, and that there can be no greater good fortune — whether it is mine or my Jewish brother’s — than to “sit in Hashem’s house all the days of one’s life.”

Continue reading → Why Can’t They Be Like Me?

Statement from Agudath Israel of America

In consultation with rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement:

Public remarks attributed in the media to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the outgoing Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of Britain, as well as his comments in a recent pamphlet he published, are dismaying, deeply misguided, and harmful to both Jewish unity and Jewish integrity.

The rabbi bemoans “the world of inward-turning, segregationist Orthodoxy.” He portrays the multitude of Jews who came together to celebrate the Siyum HaShas nearly a year ago – an event that captured the hearts, minds and souls of countless Jews, and the reverent wonder of much of the non-Jewish world – as representative of such an “extreme.”

Rabbi Sacks sees Jews who choose to “embrace Judaism and reject the world” as parts of a phenomenon he calls “worse than dangerous” and “an abdication of the role of Jews and Judaism in the world.”

Rabbi Sacks’ sentiments are not only inaccurate but un-Jewish and uncouth.

Portraying the “ultra-Orthodox” world as detached from awareness of, and interaction with, the larger world betrays an astounding ignorance of reality. Not only are charedim in the workplace and the “outside world,” but … Read More >>

Meet Cindy

Meet Cindy.

A single mother living in the Midwest with her three young children, she’s deeply unhappy because of the news she received the other day.

Although Cindy does some sales work from her computer at home, her income is insufficient to cover the monthly mortgage payments for her small home and food and clothing for her family. Until now, though, she has managed to make ends meet, with the help of various social safety-net needs-based programs like WIC and food stamps.

Earlier this week, though, Cindy, and hundreds of thousands of others like her, received word that the government is ending those programs. Budgetary concerns were one reason given but the letter Cindy received also noted that she could still qualify for some of the benefits she was receiving if she found and accepted a full-time job. “When citizens like you, Cindy,” the personalized form letter explained, “are a regular part of the workforce, it benefits not only you and your family, but the economy as a whole. And that is something that every loyal citizen should appreciate!”

Well, says Cindy to herself somewhat bitterly, I don’t. The state of the economy is important, but improving it isn’t … Read More >>

An Apology and a Rebuttal to MK Rabbi Dov Lipman

I erred. Big time.

Two years ago, the confrontation between parents and students in the national religious Orot girls school in Ramat Beit Shemesh and a small subgroup of the “Yerushalmi” community living nearby received saturation coverage in the Israeli media. Grabbing the most attention was a wrenching 13-minute video shown by Channel 2 anchor Yair Lapid, which focused on the trauma suffered by a young student in the school, as a result of being spit and screamed at by those protesting the school.

The confrontation at Orot brought Rabbi Dov Lipman, a relatively recent American immigrant, to public attention for the first time, and helped launch Yair Lapid’s political career. Lapid announced his entry into politics shortly after the video aired. Though Lapid referred to those menacing the girls as “chareidi extremists,” he intoned ominously at the end of his introduction, “Is this what we can expect in the rest of the country?”

As if to bring the point home, the video concluded with an interview with a self-diagnosed “healthy man” (who by his appearance and dress appeared not to be from the “Yerushalmi” community, but a relatively recent ba’al teshuva), who was asked what would be the … Read More >>

Outmaneuvered by Two Young Women

For well over a decade, I ran a media relations office in Jerusalem on behalf of Agudath Israel of America. I used to think I did a pretty good job. Not any more.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been watching from the sidelines as Ronit Peskin and Leah Aharoni have run a multipronged response to the well-oiled publicity machine that is Women of the Wall. Despite spotting WoW a 24-year head start, they have managed in that brief period to completely reset the terms of the public debate. And they have done so while raising families and running their own businesses, and without taking a penny in salaries.

A successful campaign to change public opinion today is not a matter of writing op-eds at a stately pace or putting together a documentary of traditional women speaking about what the Kosel means to them — all of which I once did. It is more like a rapid-play chess game. There is no respite. One has to keep changing tactics in response to shifts on the chessboard. An understanding of modern media and the ability it provides to reach large numbers of people quickly is absolutely essential.

Responses must be …

Crime and Prejudice

My first encounter with the legendary Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, the late president of Agudath Israel of America and the man who hired and mentored me as the organization’s spokesperson, was an unexpected phone call offering praise and criticism.

It was the mid-1980s, and I was a rebbe, or Jewish studies teacher, in Providence, Rhode Island at the time. Occasionally, though, I indulged my desire to write op-eds, some of which were published by the Providence Journal and various Jewish weeklies.

One article I penned in those days was about the bus-stop burnings that had then been taking place in religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.

Advertisements on the shelters in religious neighborhoods began to display images that were, to put it genteelly, not in synch with the religious sensibilities of the local residents, for whom modesty was a high ideal and women were respected for who they were, not regarded as means of gaining attention for commercial products.

Scores of the offensive-ad shelters were either spray-painted or torched; and, on the other side of the societal divide, a group formed that pledged to burn a synagogue for every burned bus-stop shelter. It was not … Read More >>


I was recently privileged to spend the good part of a week on the tree-studded rural campus of my alma mater, Yeshivas Ner Yisroel (the Ner Israel Rabbinical College, according to the sign at its entrance). As always, visiting the place where I studied some forty years ago was an enthralling experience.

There have been changes, to be sure, at Yeshiva Lane, the winding private road that is the yeshiva buildings’ address. What was the main study hall in my day now serves the yeshiva’s high school division; and a magnificent newer beis medrash stands where, in the 1970s, an old house occupied by a faculty member’s family sat on a hill. New housing has risen up for faculty and married kollel students – there is a long waiting list of kollel-fellow families living “in town” (that is to say, Baltimore and its suburb Pikesville) who are anxious to move onto the yeshiva campus. (Kollel fellows who can no longer afford to be engaged in full-time Torah study understand that their campus apartment or townhouse should be offered to a full-time kollel fellow’s family.)

Torah life and study, and children, permeate Yeshiva Lane. Students and staff members walk to … Read More >>

Remember that “Hate Crime”?

If you’ve followed the news in Israel at all, you probably remember the shooting rampage at an “LGBT Youth Center” in Tel Aviv. [If you don't know the acronym, good for you, and please let me not be the one to inspire you to look it up.] With absolutely no evidence whatsoever, it was immediately assumed that the shooter was charedi, and that it was a hate crime:

“This hate crime needs to be a turning point and to give strength,” [MK Tzipi] Livni told hundreds of Israelis who rallied in Tel Aviv to protest the attack, in which 15 people were also wounded.

Mike Hamel, the head of the Aguda, Israel’s LGBT organization, said such an attack was unprecedented in Israel.

“We have joined the list of ‘civilized’ countries in which hatred is the standard,” he said. “I don’t know whether the incident was directed at youth, but it appears that it was directed at the community. This is baseless hatred that cost us dearly – this is what needs to be understood.”

Hamel said that “elements represented by [Shas leaders] Eli Yishai and Benizri that are fostering hatred are still stronger than the increasingly favorable attitude … Read More >>