Tziddukim would be happy this year

If there were any Tziddukim left, they’d be happy this year. You can read why in a Shavuos piece I wrote for the Forward, here.

A Little More about Snakes

I’m going to add a tidbit of my own to R’ Avi Shafran’s post below. I remember Prof. Robert Liebman’s class, Sociology 241, “The Social Basis of Individual Behavior.” He pointed out during a lecture that each language and culture has different words with different levels of complexity. What regular people call “snow” is subdivided by skiers into six words — and by Inuits into twenty-two different types.

Some things, however, are universal across cultures. The word that drew the most consistent, positive reactions across all cultures, he said, was “mother.” And the word that drew the most negative reaction? “Snake.”

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein & the Haredim

“I am very partial to Rav Lichtenstein’s approach,” said the Lelov hassid to me at the funeral of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z”l a month ago. “Rav Lichtenstein deals with abstractions, in addition to focusing on the text,” he further elucidated. There were quite a few hassidim (to judge by their sartorial taste) at the funeral. In addition, someone whose garb bespoke a haredi Litvishe affiliation responded, when I asked what his connection was with Rav Lichtenstein, “What we appreciate in his shiurim is that rather than trying to be ‘sparkling’ with fireworks, there is yashrus, a straightforward approach that speaks to us.”

They were not the only haredim among the ten thousand, mostly national religious and modern Orthodox, who attended the levaya of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z”l. Rav Lichtenstein is one of those rabbis who are esteemed by people from many different sectors of Jewry.

Some on the liberal end of the Orthodox spectrum attribute to him a harsh rejection of the haredi world. For example, David Weinberg claimed, in his Jerusalem Post tribute the day of the funeral, that Rav Lichtenstein “taught that full involvement in Israeli society and a passion for social justice are key religious … Read More >>

The Limits of Interfaith Dialogue

I recently collaborated with David HaKohen Grosser, publisher of Segulat Yisrael, the Italian Torah journal, to examine the halachic and hashkafic parameters of interfaith dialogue and engagement. Our article appears here, posted on Arutz Sheva.

(The above photo depicts an interfaith gathering this past Lag B’Omer at Domus Galilaeae, hosted by the Neocatechumenal Way, an outreach movement within the Roman Catholic Church focusing on the Catholic formation of adults.)

Because I Chose To Be

On a recent trip to the United States, I was invited for a leil Shabbos meal by the son of a good friend of mine. (You know that you are getting old when it does not seem strange to be invited for a meal by friend’s children.)

The evening’s conversation was wide-ranging, though much centered on why this particular young man felt as soon as he landed at Kennedy Airport at 18 that he would never return to live in his native Israel.

As I was putting on my overcoat to leave, he related that he had once asked his father how it was that he seemed so comfortable with all his children despite their great differences from one another – some are in full-time learning, others in business or klal work; some live in Israel; others in America. His father answered him succinctly: “Because I chose to be.”

That struck me as another example of the great wisdom I have heard from my friend over the past quarter century. As parents, the temptation to live vicariously through our children is constant. If we have had successes in life, we want them to be successful in the same way. … Read More >>

Return Jewish Education to its Rightful Prestige

By Leslie Ginsparg Klein

At Maalot Baltimore, the numbers of students studying to be teachers are down, way down. Twenty years ago, the education courses were full. Today, psychology is full, health sciences are overflowing, but education courses get barely a handful of students. As the years go on, we offer progressively less education courses. There simply is no demand.

And it is not just at Maalot. The Avi Chai foundation ( found that very few college graduates, male or female, have been entering the field of education and this is contributing to a general dearth of qualified teachers for day schools. On top of that, the field of teaching has a high turnover rate. Teachers leave the field for more lucrative and less draining opportunities.

We, as a community, are losing talented teachers. Some never go into education. Others burn out quickly, feeling unappreciated. Our schools are forced to hire teachers with no training or experience, just to have a warm body in the room. We are losing talent to business, law, occupational therapy and high-tech. The Yeshivish schools are losing out on talent to the generally better paying Modern Orthodox institutions, and all schools are … Read More >>

What OU Kashrus Looks Like From the Inside

Last week’s essay on kashrus supervision attracted far more attention than I would have anticipated. I sensed that misinformation abounded about the OU, the people who work in kashrus, and their halachic standards. The comments that came in showed the usual mix. Some people really got the point; others really missed it. Many of the comments provided useful insight about the OU and other agencies, as well as opening sidebar conversations that were fruitful.

In short, we’re at a teachable moment. So I leaned on our own Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer – who just happens to be a rabbinic coordinator for the OU, specializing in cheese. (Maybe that’s why he smiles so much!) He, in turn, did some very informal intelligence-sharing, trying to put things in perspective. This is what he came up with::

Much heated and vibrant discussion was generated by the exchange of Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Mr. Yoel Gross and a host of online commenters regarding the perceived differences and features of OU kashrus protocol and the kashrus protocol of the “heimishe hashgochos”. In truth, there is a great need for both reliable national kashrus agencies as well as for smaller kashrus agencies that service specific kehillos … Read More >>

A World of Wastage

The recent rioting in my home town Baltimore brought two memories to mind. One was the 1968 riots, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. I was fourteen, and while we lived several miles from where that violence transpired, it affected Jewish-owned stores in the inner-city, and it taught those of us who were born after the Second World War that malevolence and mayhem remained, unfortunately, alive and well.

Ostensibly, the recent rioting was a reaction to the death in police custody of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose spinal cord was nearly severed when in custody. Peaceful marches to protest that death were understandable, and in fact took place. (The death was eventually ruled a homicide by Baltimore State’s Attorney.) But then legions of young black men, many of them apparently high schoolers, began taunting and attacking police, setting fires and looting stores. Most telling were the delighted smiles on many looters’ faces, indelibly captured on film. If Mr. Gray was at all in the minds behind the faces, he had been grossly obscured by something else, an ugly anarchistic glee.

The rioters’ small minds weren’t likely capable of appreciating the irony of their actions. Not only the self-evident … Read More >>

A Coalition Scorecard

by Shmuel Winiarz

With UTJ, Shas and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party having inked their agreements with the Likud and Naftali Bennett set to become Israel’s next Education Minister, the coalition of Netanyahu’s 4th government is now clear, and begs the question of what is in store for Klal Yisroel and how will the 20th Knesset differ from the 19th.

UTJ has successfully negotiated the removal of criminal sanctions from the Chareidi enlistment law and has ensured the government will not lend its support to public chilul Shabbos. Whatever the downside (see on), many of our readers will take comfort in this development. Having Moshe Kahlon as the next Finance Minister and his parties’ focus on socio-economic issues also augurs well for Israeli society. Kahlon, the former Minister of Communications, led the “Cellular Revolution” where he opened up the market to competition, thereby drastically reducing prices. Bringing in further free-market oriented reforms and incentivizing entrepreneurship should be his modus operandi. The cost of living crisis is preventing Israelis, particularly young couples, from buying a home and getting ahead, and giving people a hand up and not a handout can do just that.

But beyond the specifics of coalition agreements and … Read More >>

What The Forward Publishes

When I wrote a few tweets about what happened in Baltimore, I expected a few nasty responses — but drew one from a new source, a man calling himself @HeathenHassid. I recognized his name; he was the author of a particularly vitriolic piece in The Forward, one which basically said any Chassid exposed to the secular world will inevitably abandon Chassidism (never mind that he can’t identify even one of his own siblings, who presumably are numerous and were equally exposed, who abandoned it with him).

So I responded, both because I enjoy a good debate and wanted to learn more about him. And when I pointed out to him that by leaving Chassidism for “liberal Judaism,” he was in effect boarding a sinking ship, he had this reply:

@ymenken @AhavatYisraeI What boat? Where did I say I'm Jewish? I left that lifestyle for reality. I'm not a child, I prefer the truth.

— Ari Mandel (@HeathenHassid) May 6, 2015

So The Forward, which refused to publish the work of Orthodox Rabbis who want to help liberal Jews to stay Jewish, was happy to publish the work of an atheist who … Read More >>

Jewish Conservatism and Its Limits

If ever there was a time for American Jewry to consider a course change, it is the present. The current course threatens world Jewry with annihilation and American Jewry with demographic decimation. By their fervent embrace of the Democratic Party, in sickness and health, American Jews have served as the enablers of a nuclear Iran.

Seven million Jews in Israel are likely doomed to live in perpetuity under the shadow of a nuclear bomb due to President Obama’s refusal to countenance military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, despite constant assurances to the contrary. American Jews twice voted for Obama in higher percentages than any other non-black group, despite clear indications he is, in the words of former peace-processor Aaron David Miller, not exactly “in love with the idea of Israel.”

Meanwhile, the failure of American Jewry to offer its children any coherent account of why the continued existence of the Jewish people matters, not just for Jews but the entire world, has paved the way for a headlong rush towards oblivion. Four out of five marriages involving non-Orthodox American Jews today are intermarriages, which will lead to rapid demographic decline and highly attenuated identity.

Surveying this scene, Eric …

The (Spiritual) Battle of New Orleans

As the naval gunner fired the cannon, his ship immediately began to sink, for he did not grasp that the cannon was aimed downward…

Aggressively continuing the homosexual entitlement advocacy of several of his fellow graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (see, for example, here and here), Rabbi Gabriel Greenberg, who leads a congregation in the New Orleans area, recently directed his fire toward Louisiana’s Marriage and Conscience Act. In an op-ed in The Times-Picayune, R. Greenberg compared the homosexual community to our oppressed ancestors in ancient Egypt and argued on behalf of homosexual liberation in the name of Orthodox Judaism.

R. Greenberg wrote:

Throughout our Biblical and later rabbinic texts, the experience of oppression in Egypt serves as an imperative reminder to take care of those in our own day and age who endure oppression, who live on the margins of our own society. Commandments such as the following in Deuteronomy 10:19 are common in the Bible: “Remember the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

It is, therefore, quite disconcerting to watch Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s recent foray into the “religious liberty” fight, in his outspoken support for House Bill 707, the “Marriage and Conscience Act.” … Read More >>

Better than the OU?

Food for thought.

In an interview in Mishpacha’s current issue, the co-owner of First Choice baby foods tells of his impetus for starting his business:

I’m a chassidishe guy – I got married at 19. We had a baby, and when we went to the grocery store, my wife took the Beech-nut jar off the shelf – that’s all they had. I said, “Let’s try to get one with a better hechsher. You get water with a hechsher, salt with a hechsher – why not this?”

My opinion may not count. I have been known to buy water without a hechsher. But when faced with the choice of competing hechsherim, I will usually prefer the OU insignia to that of a mom-and-pop outfit.

It’s been decades since I last heard OU kashrus characterized as run by a bunch of modernish rabbis who spend most of the day mixed swimming with their wives who don’t cover their hair, and got semicha through a multiple-choice test. It wasn’t true back then, and it is certainly not true today.

Having had many friends who worked in kashrus, I’ve heard all the stories – the good, the bad, the ugly. I … Read More >>

The Spirit of Conservatism

Defining things by what they aren’t is almost always unsatisfying. Negative definitions can be useful in distancing us from what we need to reject, but they don’t tell us much about the alternatives.

Applied to G-d Himself, the Rambam tells us in Moreh Nevuchim that we have no alternative to negative statements. The shortcomings of our comprehension and of human language do not allow us to speak of what He is, only of what He is not. If we wish to grow close to Him, we will have to focus on manifestations of His essence – Torah and Creation – rather than His essence itself.

For too many Jews who cannot agree on any affirmative set of principles of Judaism, the one definition that works for them is a negative one. Jews don’t believe in Jesus. The spectacular failure of such a belief system needs no elaboration; it is evident in the growing debris from the self-destruction of the non-Orthodox communities of the Diaspora, which too often could come up with no more compelling a definition of Jewishness than a statement of what it isn’t.

It should be vastly unsatisfying, then, that a growing number of Jews have broken … Read More >>

From the Mother of the Meah Shearim Attack Victim

[Sometimes it is good to hear what it feels like from the people closest to the event. Thanks to Dr Moshe Shoshan for the translation.]

It has been a stormy Shabbat for us as we have gone back and forth between a desire to crush and destroy the rioters and the understanding that they represent only a crazy minority in the chareidi community.

They tried to lynch my little boy, who happens to be 21 and an officer in the Givati infantry brigade.

What tears my heart out is the fact that no one came to his defense. Twelve noon, Meah Shearim, a place bustling with life. But no one remembered the mitzvah “לא תעמוד על דם רעיך ” “Stand not idly by as you neighbors blood is spilt.” A mitzvah deoraita.

Men women and children watched the lynching and none of them offered any aid or a place to hide from the hooligans.

I am trying to use this experience to somehow bring change and hope.

I am searching for people from the chareidi world who want to create dialog. I am searching for the silent majority who stood by when son was attacked. I want to give … Read More >>

Tikvah Institute For Yeshiva Men – Second Season

We are excited to announce that applications are now being accepted for this summer’s Tikvah Institute for Yeshiva Men.

Buoyed by a dream last year, we launched a program aimed at some of the best and brightest of the yeshiva world. We were not sure at first whether we would find enough applicants to make the Tikvah Institute worth running. Our optimism paid off, BH. We were swamped with applicants, and acceptance became quite competitive.

It was a diverse bunch when measured by age, geography, learning background, and prior exposure to secular disciplines. What participants shared proved more important. All had spent serious time learning in yeshivos and identified with the yeshiva world. All were bright and intellectually curious. Most importantly for the objectives of the program, all shared the conviction that the Torah speaks to the broader concerns of communities and nations, both Jewish and non-Jewish. While the ordinary avodah of the yeshivah man must focus on mastering more Shas and poskim, applicants looked to bein hazmanim to explore elements of Torah that broaden the mind and prepare one for a life of potential leadership within the Torah community.

We’re ready for the second iteration of … Read More >>

Reflections of a Non-Talmid

It was not the small number of personal interactions with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l that made the greatest impression upon me. To be sure, I could detect greatness, humility, lomdus. But I wasn’t around them long enough for them to change who I was.

It was not even some of his remarkable writing – although I certainly gained from it. His piece arguing for the existence of a morality dwelling outside of Torah texts continues to be the platform of discussion of the subject, which ever side you are on. His long monograph comparing and contrasting arguments for and against secular study remains the seminal modern treatment of the subject. (Scrupulously fair, in my reading he does a better job explaining the latter than the former.) The honesty of a Tradition article a few years ago blew me away. It asks painful questions (and provides no answers) as to whether our romanticized views of marriage and intimacy are really consistent with Torah texts, or the product of our desire to be PC. Even more important to me was his response in a Jewish Action forum about reasons for belief. (Genius that he was, his honesty made him forego an … Read More >>

Kavah M’or Eineinu

by Yitzchak Etshalom

The light of our eyes has been extinguished. This was the anguished phrase that kept repeating in my head all morning, since waking to the awful tidings of the untimely passing of Moreinu Harav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l.

“Rav Aharon” will be remembered from many angles, from a multitude of perspectives, by students, Talmidim (those aren’t the same), colleagues, neighbors and co-builders of the magnificent institutions that bear his imprimatur. I am not equal to the task and would prefer the silence of Aharon to the words for Aharon, but a talmid’s obligation is to internalize what his Rebbe has taught him. R. Aharon taught us many, many things, some from the sanctified texts on our shelves, many from arcane texts we never encountered before and, here and there, a few from those lines of Dostoevsky, Spenser and Milton that only he could weave into a Shiur on Avot d’Rabbi Natan or Ramban al haTorah. But he taught us much, much more with the sheer force of his majestic humility.

There is a simple Mishnah (ahh, we thought that such things existed before R. Aharon showed us how wrong we were…) in Avot that speaks … Read More >>

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l

By Hillel Goldberg

Last Monday morning at the close of davening I received a call from my son, in tears, who told me that Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein had passed away. I told my son about his teacher what his teacher had told me about my father 43 years ago: Blessed is the Judge of Truth, Baruch Dayan Emet. It is one thing to utter that phrase to someone who has lost a loved one. It is something else entirely for someone to utter that phrase to you as you are steeped in grief and shock about the loss of your own father.

And a close rebbe, or Torah teacher, is, says the Torah, like a father. So the circle closes: I had to tell my son about his teacher, who was also his father, what my teacher, who was also my father, told me on that terrible day in 1972 when I learned about the death of my father.

This phrase, Blessed is the Judge of Truth, will have been uttered, by the time this appears, thousands and probably tens of thousands of times, for that was the reach of Rav Lichtenstein. He had thousands of disciples/sons, gathered unself-consciously … Read More >>

Happy Birthday to a Great Country: Haaretz vs. the Meshech Chochmah

I still don’t understand why my friends at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles urged me some time ago to attend a small reception for Avi Shavit and his then-current book, My Promised Land. Even one of my colleagues on this blog recommended going to the reception. The book had succeeded in generating much discussion. Its author, a veteran Haaretz journalist, was amply credentialed to write an update on the Jewish State, its successes, failures, and challenges. In person, he demonstrated that he knew his material, and was personally engaging, fair-minded, and accessible. At the time, participating seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

Over the next months, I slowly read the book. Then I changed my mind.

My Promised Land reads like a tell-all expose – for a nation, rather than an individual. Shavit takes aim at a slew of impressions we grew up with about the vastly outnumbered innocent good guys prevailing over the demonic bad guys. He destroys their innocence – and ours. People liked the book for one of two reasons. Critics of Israel loved it for exposing the warts, bursting the bubbles, and taking Israel down a few notches, gleefully using the material … Read More >>

RFRA Battles and Us

The controversy surrounding the passage by the Indiana legislature of a RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) should be a great concern to all Torah Jews. Agudath Israel of America played a major role in the passage of a federal RFRA statute in 1993. That legislation gained unanimous passage in the House and the support of 97 senators in the Senate, before being signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Since then 20 states have passed their own RFRA statutes, and another 11 have judicially extended similar protections under their state constitutions. Yet suddenly RFRA statutes are culturally anathema.

The federal RRFA statute came in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the so-called peyote case. Smith effectively reversed Sherbert v. Verner (1963) and its progeny. In the latter case, the Supreme Court ruled that South Carolina could not deny unemployment benefits to a woman whose religious beliefs prevented her from being “available to work” on Saturday. Justice Brennan, one of the Court’s leading liberal lights, enunciated a two-part test for state infringements on the exercise of religion: (1) the state would have to enunciate a “compelling state interest” for the infringement and (2) demonstrate … Read More >>

Evtach Vilo Efchad

The “bedikas matzah” (the search for matzah crumbs in the couch and the carpet) is over. Post-Pesach, the vacuum cleaners have been recalled into service, and the boxes of Pesach dishes and utensils have been marched back down to the cellar (or up to the attic), silently passing their chametz counterparts being marched in the opposite direction.

The Sedarim took place and their ethereal light shone. Questions were asked and responses recounted. Divrei Torah were delivered, and, for the fortunate among us, new insights were granted.

And the haftarah on Yom Tov’s final day (in chutz laAretz) was read. Were we listening?

The excerpt from Yeshayahu (10:32-12:6) includes the Navi’s vision of the end of history, when the “wolf will dwell with the lamb” and perfect peace will reign among the world’s human inhabitants as well, for they will all recognize Hashem and His people.

The backdrop for the expression of that vision was the massing outside Yerushalayim of the army of Ashur, intoxicated with its successful conquest of much of Eretz Yisroel. Its king Sancheriv and his henchman Ravshakeh mocked the Jews; brimming with self-confidence, they blustered and blasphemed. But the besieging forces were to meet a … Read More >>

A Foreign Fire

Last night was the yahrtzeit, the anniversary of his passing, of Rav Zvi Elimelech Hertzberg zt”l, my wife’s grandfather. The Hertzbergs were amazing people — they took Holocaust refugees into their homes, treated them like children, and helped them go on to lead productive lives here in America. Someone pointed out to me not long ago that as a result of their efforts, there are hundreds of sincere, active Jews in Baltimore and beyond who otherwise would have been lost.

As the Rav of his shul, Rabbi Dovid Katz shlit”a, pointed out last night, Rav Hertzberg would also speak truth to power. He was fired from rabbinic posts for being too honest — until a group of devoted followers created a synagogue, named for his father Avraham zt”l, and set him up as their Rabbi.

At a time when it was extremely unpopular to do so, Rav Hertzberg drew lessons like this one, from this week’s Torah reading. It refers to Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon the High Priest, who went outside what G-d had commanded — and were killed as a result. Reading the passage, one could think that it was a cruel or capricious … Read More >>

Children Surviving Divorce

by David Mandel

Polio, Tuberculosis, Cancer – each word elicits stark images of masses yearning for ‎a better day. And for each, better days would come. Sanitariums closed in the early 20th Century, Iron Lungs were mothballed in the mid- 20th Century, and today, Cancer research‎ is extending life and the quality of life for millions worldwide.

It may appear jarring to include divorce in the same body of discussion. After all, personal suffering from a life-threatening medical condition can be greatly traumatic and immediately consequential.Nevertheless, emotional trauma has proven to equate with physical trauma as research in recent battlefield conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown. Children in this generation of high conflict divorce ‎suffer greatly emotionally due to their parents’ selfish feud and will require significantly more support than any pharmaceutical can prescribe.

Consider two scenarios.

A 35 year-old father of three children seeks my advice. He and his wife have decided to divorce. He would like to discuss a path that will cause the least amount of disruption and emotional upheaval for his children. I laud him and his wife for their unselfishness and parenting maturity. We explore various options that include their … Read More >>

Challenges to Tranquility

An article of mine about dealing with change appears in a new periodical, “InSight,” published by Rabbi Avraham Mifsud of Detroit. You can read the piece here.