If Only

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

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

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

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

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


Agudath Israel statement on arrests in murder of Arab boy

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

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

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

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

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

“No Haredim Enlisting Anymore”

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

Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali in 140 Chars

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

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

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

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

Please, Leave Me Be

by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman

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

Agudath Israel Statement on Today’s Tragic News from Israel

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

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

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

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

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

The PCUSA and the Banality of Evil

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

Driving Lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Dice Clay on Josh Orlian

If there’s ever someone you wouldn’t expect to be praised on Cross-Currents, it would have to be Andrew Dice Clay. He was banned for life by MTV and from many radio and television programs for his use of foul language and “politically incorrect humor” — one of the cast members of Saturday Night Live refused to appear during the episode in which he made a guest appearance. In terms of “defining deviancy down” when it comes to language and references in the media, he exceeded even Howard Stern.

But he provides an interesting footnote to the appearance of Josh Orlian on America’s Got Talent, as previously discussed by both Rabbi Adlerstein and myself. In contrast to Howard Stern, who I have since been told has a non-Jewish mother, Andrew Clay Silverstein grew up in a Jewish family in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn.

On Shabbos I mentioned Josh Orlian’s AGT appearance, and my reaction to it, while speaking at a Kiddush. I was seated across from a corporate entertainer and comedy magician named Avi Frier, who is also the former publisher of the Florida Jewish News. Honestly, I didn’t know the “corporate” part or what … Read More >>

The World Comes Looking for President Obama

Were he capable of admitting, much less learning from, past mistakes, President Obama might now be contemplating the limits of “Don’t do anything stupid” – i.e., avoid all foreign interventions – as a sufficient guide for foreign policy. If you are still the president of the country with primary responsibility for maintaining international order, events in places you would prefer to ignore have a way of coming after you.

Sometimes an ounce of prevention in time can spare the need for incomparably more expensive and less effective interventions later. Had the United States aided Syrian rebels sufficiently when the rebellion against Bashar Assad’s government was still a largely non-jihadist operation, for instance, Syria might not today be a primary training ground for global jihadists or have spawned the ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which is now marching on Baghdad and Shiite holy cities, after having captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

With the capture of Mosul, the ISIS imposed strict sharia law on the city. No more cigarettes or alcohol; thieves to have their hands cut off; and women only permitted to leave their homes in case of emergency. Just in case anyone doubted their seriousness, they executed thousands of captured Iraqi soldiers and other potential opponents in gruesome fashion, including decapitation. No wonder half a million people fled Mosul in advance of their takeover. By seizing nearly $500 million of gold bars from the vaults of the Mosul central bank and the American-supplied equipment left behind by the fleeing Iraqi Army, the ISIS also became overnight the richest and best-armed jihadi force in the world.

FOUAD AJAMI ANALYZES OBAMA’S contribution to the disaster that is today’s Iraq in the Wall Street Journal (“The Men Who Sealed Iraq’s Disaster in a Handshake”). When Barack Obama came into office in 2008, Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of ISIS, had been nearly decimated by the Awakening movement of 90,000 Sunni tribesmen armed by the United States in the surge designed by General David Petraeus – a surge that then Senator Barack Obama denounced as folly.

After the success of the surge, Iraq conducted an election in 2010 in which a non-sectarian, anti-Iranian Sunni-Shiite coalition headed by Ayad Allawi captured the majority of the parliamentary seats. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite with already evident authoritarian tendencies, refused to acknowledge the result and disqualified a number of Allawi’s candidates. And the United States government let him get away with it, brokering a power-sharing agreement that Maliki subsequently ignored.

Continue reading → The World Comes Looking for President Obama

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 >>

Defining Deviancy Down

With Dad’s advice and encouragement, and young man introduced himself as a stand-up comic — and then proceeded to deliver a series of truly filthy jokes… while wearing a kipah. How should we respond to this? … 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 >>

A (for now) Final Post About Jewish Authority

I received much feedback concerning a piece I posted here several weeks ago (here) and a follow-up on my personal website (here), about second-guessing or disparaging the decisions of Jewish religious leaders.

A pertinent Mishneh that I didn’t cite – for the simple, unfortunate reason that I hadn’t remembered it – was part of the page of Talmud studied by Daf Yomi participants shortly thereafter. It is in Rosh Hashana, 25a. And it may well be the single most important statement about the topic.

The Mishneh tells of how Rabban Gamliel accepted two witnesses’ claimed sighting of the new moon (which affects all of the Jewish world’s calendar and holidays) that seemed to fly in the face of all logic, since the new moon was not evident the next night. Rabbi Dosa ben Hyrcanus pointed out the seeming impossibility of the witnesses being correct, and Rabbi Yehoshua, a student of Rabban Gamliel, felt compelled to concur.

Rabbam Gamliel, however, reprimanded his student for that fact and insisted that Rabbi Yehosua appear before him with his staff and coin-purse on the day that, according to Rabbi Dosa and all reason, should have been Yom Kippur. R’ Yehoshua was … Read More >>

Guess Who Came to Dinner?

Did a Frothing Press Help Serve the Truth?

According to those in the know, Mayor Bill de Blasio was to have delivered his greetings and departed with his press entourage before the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow, rose to address the assembled at Agudath Israel’s 92nd annual dinner. Instead, the mayor was running late, Rav Perlow’s speech was moved up, and both hizzoner and his press ended up with front row seats. And in a departure from his norm at the annual dinner, the Novominsker chose to address an urgent Inyana D’Yuma instead of delivering more general remarks.

To judge from the coverage that resulted, one could be forgiven for thinking that Rav Perlow had ascended the podium and called for open warfare.

The press reached into its bag of stereotypes and pulled out a familiar caricature of “angry” charedim, though the antipodal video is available for all to see. The Forward said that Rav Perlow’s “fiery” speech “stunned” the dinner, and quoted an anonymous “Jewish leader” as claiming the comments of the Rosh Agudath Israel were “divisive,” along with other adjectives which would besmirch the Rebbe’s kavod to even repeat. [What sort of “leader” … Read More >>

Of Peoples… and People

Commuting to and from Manhattan daily on the Staten Island Ferry brings me into the vicinity of many a tourist. The boat sometimes resembles a United Nations General Assembly debate, without the translators.

When I hear German or a Slavic language spoken, I can’t help but recall the wry words of the late New York City mayor Ed Koch as he led the Ukrainian Day parade one year. He told the parade’s grand marshal: “You know, if this were the old country this wouldn’t be a parade, it would be a pogrom. I wouldn’t be walking down Fifth Avenue; I would be running… and you would be running after me.”

And I’m reminded, too, of the sentiment of my dear father, may he be well, who spent the war years first fleeing the Nazis and then in a Soviet Siberian labor camp. When I asked him many years ago how he feels when he meets a German non-Jew, he told me that any German “has to prove himself” to be free of the Jew-hatred that came to define his people. My father’s “default” view of a German (or, for that matter, Pole or Ukrainian or Romanian…) is “guilty,” or … 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 >>

Dangerous and Defective Products

It isn’t every year that news reports about Agudath Israel of America’s annual dinner make the pages of media like the Forward or The New York Times. This, however, was one such year.

The reason for the attention was the heartfelt and stirring speech delivered by the Novominsker Rebbe, shlit”a, the Rosh Agudas Yisroel, at the gathering. And the fact that New York City mayor Bill de Blasio chose not to contest the Rebbe’s words.

Really.

Rav Perlow spoke to the issue of organized deviations from the Jewish mesorah, a topic that is timely because of the insistence of the latest such movement on calling itself “Open Orthodoxy,” rather than summoning the courage to find an independent adjective for itself, as did the Conservative and Reform movements of the past.

Over the past century or two, the term “Orthodox” in the Jewish world has been synonymous with full affirmation of the mesorah – including most prominently the historicity of Yetzias Mitzrayim; the fact that the Torah, both Written and Oral, was bequeathed to our ancestors at Har Sinai; and that Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov actually existed – concepts that prominent products or leaders of the “Open Orthodoxy” movement are … Read More >>

Letter in June 5 Wall St. Journal

Shmuly Yanklowitz (“Why This Rabbi Is Swearing Off Kosher Meat,” Houses of Worship, May 30) is entitled to swear off meat if he chooses, but not to pass off his reasons for doing so as having anything to do with Orthodox Judaism.

Jewish religious law prohibits the infliction of avoidable pain on animals, and the vast majority of kosher slaughterhouses, overseen and inspected by both governmental agencies and rabbinic supervisors, are entirely sensitive to that law and its implications.

“Kosher,” however, has nothing to do with health or “ethics.” There are Jewish ethical laws and Jewish ritual laws. Kashrut is entirely in the latter category. And it is simply not “Orthodox” to contend otherwise.

Rabbi Avi Shafran Director of Public Affairs Agudath Israel of America

A Catholic Understanding of the NY Times vs. Rav Yaakov Perlow

Why does it take a Catholic blogger to so aptly describe the NY Times attack on Rav Yaakov Perlow?

Give credit where credit is due.

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.

Leading the Blind

The results of recent Jewish community surveys are alternately delightful and dismal, exciting and excruciating. The growth of Torah-observant households is a stunning phenomenon, while Jewish sociologist Steven Cohen observed, “the sky is falling for the rest of the population.”

Given this dichotomy and the urgency of the problem, we might imagine that everyone would want to know what it is that we, the Orthodox, are doing right. But apparently we would be wrong. Despite multiple surveys detailing the divergent trajectories of young traditional versus liberal Jews today, we have seen no studies dedicated to understanding our successful formula. Instead, Federations and well-meaning philanthropic foundations continue to invest great sums of money on projects whose claim to promote Jewish continuity is nothing more than conjecture — with predictable results.

As we all know, the Torah community is thriving. In less than a decade, the number of Orthodox Jews grew by over 100,000 in the New York area alone, according to the UJA/Federation survey — over 20%. In Baltimore, a similar survey showed an increase of 50%. Last year’s Pew Survey reported more modest growth nationally, but noted that while 11% of adults 18-29 are Orthodox, the … Read More >>

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 >>

The Assault on Free Speech Creeps Off Campus

Last week we catalogued the assault on free speech on campus in the form of speech codes and pervasive political correctness. The most common reason given for the speech codes by college administrators is to protect members of the university community from a hostile environment. The other reason more often offered by professors and students for preventing anyone with whom they disagree from speaking – from Condoleeza Rice to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Ambassador Michael Oren – is that they are advocates of policies or regimes which the commissars have determined in Marcusian fashion to be “objectively” unjust.

The justification offered by the administrators is more understandable. After all, few parents would want to send their children to live in dorms in which they were constantly subjected to racial or religious epithets, especially at a cost of $60,000 a year or more. But, it should be noted, that the notion that no one should ever be offended is a slippery slope and very much at odds with the values underlying the First Amendment. What happens when one student claims to be offended by another’s citation of Biblical verses condemning his lifestyle? How far are we from having the … Read More >>