Askanim For Hire?

We need look no further than the parshah we just read to find evidence of the potential for abuse of power. The Netziv takes note of the pasuk (Vayikra 4:22) dealing with the chet of the Nasi. He asks why the word beshgagah / unintentionally is left dangling till the end. Should it not have immediately modified the action of the Nasi? He concludes that the pasuk can/should be read as: When a ruler sins and commits one of the sins that ordinarily we would not expect to be done by anyone even unintentionally….

Such is the power of leadership and authority. Where there is too little, there is anarchy and too much room for the reign of personal subjectivity. Where there is a surfeit of authority, there is room for abuse.

Such abuse can be intentional, but it can be just as potent when unintentional – or someplace in between. For various reasons, parts of the Torah world moved in recent decades to a preference for tighter control by a smaller number of people, often at a great distance from their geographical location, and hence lacking a hands-on awareness of their special circumstances. Some found comfort in this, … Read More >>


Yosef Huttler, z”l

Rabbi Yosef Huttler, Cross-Currents’ poet laureate, took his artistry to a more discriminating audience when he entered the Yeshiva Shel Maaloh a few days ago.

I knew Yossi over a long period of time, beginning with the time he learned Yoreh Deah in our beis medrash. I saw him develop the different facets of his personality: rov, attorney, husband, father, and, in the last few years, long-suffering patient. I saw and appreciated his keen discernment, his understated genius, and his enormous emunah.

I loved his poetry, which would have been sufficient reason to publish it. Yet, there was more to it than that. Rav Herzog, zt”l, explained why the Torah sees itself as shirah, song (Devarim 31:19). Generally, only a physicist can appreciated an esoteric presentation of cutting-edge physics. A dentist might enjoy a good chidush in dentistry; a zookeeper can catch the interest of another zookeeper. People outside particular disciplines will not ordinarily get excited about conversation in those fields.

Music, R. Herzog observed, is different. It speaks a universal language; it has instant appeal to everyone. So does Torah, he said. Everyone can enjoy it, without special preparation.

Interestingly, the word shirah does not only … Read More >>

Pesach Shiur Now Available

A bit more somber than usual. We live in somber times. May Hashem soon bring the geulah we so desperately long for.

Some thoughts on magid from R. Hutner, RSRH, R. Soloveitchik, and the new Beis Shaar.

What We Mean When We Talk About Fire Safety And Jewish Observance

An article I wrote about the blaming of the recent horrific fire in Brooklyn on Sabbath-observance appears in Haaretz here. You may need to register (free of charge) on the site to access it.

May we hear only happy news from all Jewish communities.

The Politics of Adar

The masses were exuberant; champagne bubbling over, shouts of victory and pride, emotions bursting forth with confidence and joyous affirmation of a smashing success. Triumph and euphoria filled the air. But the morning after, fear and trepidation gripped the celebrants, the glee and sense of security dissipating in a fleeting moment.

The ebullience of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic reelection victory soured and fizzled as the White House responded with a snub and startlingly declared the following day that the United States’ (favorable) policy toward the State of Israel pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be reassessed, reflecting an unprecedented blow. Israeli politicians and supporters went scrambling in a damage control effort to salvage the favor and grace of the State’s most powerful ally.

The irony does not stop with the unparalleled White House affront toward a world leader, and the potential pulling of the rug out from under Israeli security concerns, allowing a lone and tiny allied country to be diplomatically devoured by the pack of wolves that constitutes much of the international community vis a vis the State of Israel at the United Nations. The irony cuts much deeper, to the point of the incredulous.

… Read More >>

Finance Minister Moshe Gafni

Dror Feuer, in Globes Magazine of 1/31/15, writes (my translation):

I think I have a good idea for this country: a Charedi Finance Minister. I am utterly serious. I suggest that in any government that may arise, under any constellation and any coalition pieced together, a Charedi Finance Minister should be appointed. I’ll try to convince you why.

But first, I would ask the non-Charedim among you to admit that you chafed at this. The first thing that came to your head, and if not the first then the third, is that a Charedi Finance Minister will steal all the money and give it to Yeshivos, because that’s how they are. Maybe this even comes fully packaged with a visual image. No need to paint it for you, right? You’ve seen this image a million times, you know the type.

Don’t be frightened, this happens to everyone involuntarily, I would almost say naturally. We’ve always wanted to be like all the other nations, no? So here. Anti-Semitism has always been part of the deal. When you think about it, in a world of PC identity politics, sector sensitivities and commando forces on Facebook, the only group in Israel … Read More >>

Rabbi Riskin and Female Halachic Adjudicators: It Does Not Compute

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s ambitious program to fill Israeli society with female halachic adjudicators just experienced a significant advance, as R. Riskin appointed a woman, Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, to the position of Mahniga Ruhanit (Spiritual Leader) in his city of Efrat. R. Riskin explained that Dr. Rosenfeld will render halachic rulings on questions posed to her, and that there is no bar to women serving as rabbinic judges:

Her sponsor, Rabbi Riskin was very clear about the validity of this role. “The only reason why women cannot be judges is if they are not accepted by the people. When it is clear they are accepted and have halachic knowledge, they can render halachic decisions,” says Rabbi Riskin.

As such, R. Riskin has founded the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership, which aims to create a cohort of female halachic leaders, trained and certified as follows:

Morot Hora’ah: Five-year program training women in the classic rabbinic curriculum of Kashrut, Shabbat, Family Purity, Mourning, and Marriage. This training is complemented by an extensive curriculum of philosophical, social, and psychological training for communal leadership.

Completion of the course and success in written tests leads to Heter Hora’ah – the centuries-old … Read More >>

The Differences We Make

In Baltimore’s Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, in whose yeshivah gedolah I was fortunate to study in the 1970s, the custom was that each beis medrash bachur would learn during night seder with a high school-age boy. I enjoyed the experience and it probably set me on a path to become a mechanech, in which role I was privileged to serve for nearly two decades.

At least one of my night-seder chavrusos, as it happened, followed me into the field of Jewish education, becoming, as I learned years later, the principal of a middle school in New England and then of a Bais Yaakov in Rockland County, the position he currently occupies.

I had only seen him once since our youths, when I was a rebbi and principal in Providence, Rhode Island, where he had brought a group of students from his school there for a Shabbos. That, though, was more than twenty-five years ago, and so it was a special pleasure to find myself at a meeting not long ago that, as it happened, took place in his home. It was an even greater pleasure to hear what he told me when he took me aside before the meeting began.

… Read More >>

Sounding the Shofar in Adar

“The days of the elections draw nigh,” explained Maran Rosh HaYeshiva [Harav Steinman] Shlit”a, with tears on his cheek. “A person might make petty calculations and miss the moment. He can act correctly, spur others to action, and vote only in order to save Yiddishkeit from those who seek its harm, and to save his household. And that is his duty; that is the mission of the moment. But each person can have in mind that he is going out to make His great Name great. He can think that he is joining a huge community that votes for the sake of the honor of Heaven, the masses who refuse to kneel before the Baal, who do not want a government that wishes to uproot the kingship of Hashem, and they vote for the sake of His Name, with love. By way of a small act and a great thought, one can attain a moment that has none to surpass it, to cause ‘His great Name to be made great and sanctified.’”

Yes, casting a vote has a pragmatic aspect to it. But on a much higher plane, it is an uplifting declarative moment of unswerving loyalty to Hashem. … Read More >>

Mishloach Manos from the Rebbetzin

The “Ayelet HaShachar” organization, which is the arm of the Wolfson Foundation that focuses on raising awareness of Yiddishkeit in small towns and kibbutzim, arranged for Rebbetzins of several leading lights of the Charedi community to deliver Mishloach Manos to the bereaved mothers and widows of IDF soldiers who fell in the recent Tzuk Eitan operation in Gaza.

Among the participants: Rebbetzin Kolodetzky (daughter of R’ Chaim Kanievsky) Rabbanit Yosef (wife of the Rishon Letzion) Rabbanit Yosef (wife of youngest brother R’ Moshe) Rabbanit Lau (wife of the current Chief Rabbi) Rebbetzin Ezrachi (wife of Rav Baruch Mordechai, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yisrael) Rebbetzin Zohar (wife of R’ Uri) Rebbetzin Rabinowitz (wife of Rav of Kotel) Rebbetzins of Ger, Sanz, Erloi, Slonim, Boston.

Here is Rebbetzin Kolodetzky reading her inscription to Mrs. Pomerantz, mother of Daniel Pomerantz HY”D, 21, Golani Brigade.

Lichovod Purim

An article I wrote about how Purim is a celebration of how Divine irony vanquishes mortal iron, appears in the Forward today. You can read it here.

Learning from our Past, Building our Future (Part 2):

How Jewish History teaches us to create a positive community for tomorrow

by Leslie Ginsparg Klein

Generations of Jews have grappled with the same issues that face our Jewish community today. Their experiences provide us with suggestions as to how we can create a positive Jewish community today and ensure the commitment of our children. Colonials Jews provided us with two suggestions: education and infrastructure. Two important innovators from the early twentieth century, Sarah Schenirer and Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, give us two more answers.

EDUCATION In late 19th and early 20th century Europe, the Orthodox community found itself losing its youth in shocking numbers. While both boys and girls assimilated, girls were leaving Orthodoxy in even greater proportions. Some members of the community, including an unknown seamstress who would go on to become one of the most famous personages in Jewish history, identified the cause as a lack of quality Jewish education.

In the decades before the founding of Bais Yaakov, the movement for Jewish education for girls, parents not only allowed their daughters to attend Polish elementary schools and high schools beyond the requisite years, but many encouraged the girls’ intellectual pursuits. Some wealthy Orthodox … Read More >>

Friends, Foes, and Charvona

When the afterglow fades, we will still be left with plenty to daven for on Purim. Why, then, do we act so stupidly when help is proffered?

Many of us, this writer included, thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress was moving, inspiring, and effectively spoke to American hearts as much as to Jewish ones. (Apparently some Arab and Iranian ones as well.) We hope that, BEH, he may have had some impact, although the initial reactions lined up according to predictable political and ideological positions. However optimistic we may be, at the end of the day we are still somewhat short of an appearance by Moshiach.

Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing. Jews are leaving Europe in droves, caught between a resurgent right and a steady torrent of Jew-hatred piously chanted in thousands of mosques and madrassas and spread through television and social media . BDS campaigns poison the minds of a next generation of leadership. Jihadists urge the faithful to exterminate the Jews, and we are told to take comfort in the Pew finding that only 22% of the Muslim world supports them. (That is more than the total population of the Axis powers before WWII.) Iran … Read More >>

Dear Alyssa

Dear Alyssa,

Congratulations on winning the Oratory Contest of the Jewish youth movement BBYO. The topic was: “If you could modify any of the Ten Commandments, which would you choose and what would your modification be?”

You chose the fourth, the Sabbath, since “as a Reform Jew” you “do not observe the Sabbath in a traditional way.” Your suggested replacement, in consonance with your belief that “Judaism means something different to everyone,” is: “Be the Jew You Want to Be.”

You explained how “No one likes to be commanded to do anything, and especially not teens,” and that you therefore “practice Judaism in the way that works for” you.

“Judaism,” you wrote, “means something different to everyone. I believe that we should not let the kind of Jew we think we should be get in the way of the kind of Jew we want to be.”

What kind of Jews, though, should we want to be?

I don’t know if your family celebrates Passover. But most affiliated Jewish families, including those belonging to Reform congregations, do mark the holiday, which, you likely know, will arrive in mere weeks. If you have a Seder, it might have a contemporary … Read More >>

Into the Trap

In his comments to my previous post, and in a post of his own, Rabbi Slifkin forcefully advocates for secular studies at High School age, and advocates withholding support from those Avreichim who choose to send their children to Yeshiva Ketanah.

In two places in his responsa (Igros Moshe YD 3 82; YD 4 36:1 [the latter responsum is from 1982]), Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the verse in Psalms (1:1): “Praised is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” He explains that this refers to people who prematurely concern themselves with the future need for parnassah. They take sources from Chazal which state that one may not rely on miracles, and they are superlatively stringent in that regard, to the point of abandoning singular focus on one’s Torah studies during one’s formative years.

In the earlier responsum (YD 3 81), R’ Moshe states that in places where there is no need to establish High Schools (primarily because there is no risk that the children will otherwise attend public school) it is forbidden to establish them. In the next one (YD 3 82), which addressed those in charge of Mesivtos (Yeshiva High Schools), he adds … Read More >>

Connectedness, Neo-Chassidus and The Woman’s Challenge

By Alexandra Fleksher

The Spring 2012 edition of Klal Perspectives addressed the rising concern that Orthodox Jews are feeling a disconnect to G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people. The topic has taken center stage yet again with the recent discussions about neo-Chassidism, particularly in the winter edition of the OU’s Jewish Action. Clearly, many Orthodox Jews are seeking ways to reconnect to their Yiddishkeit and explore new (or old?) avenues to infuse their avodas Hashem with spirituality, meaning and relevance.

Neo-Chassidism fascinates me. I attended two Modern Orthodox weddings in the New York area since the summer, prior to my exposure to the term “neo-Chassidism.” I immediately observed a number of young men with a particular look I had never seen before. They were not the typical “Tzfat type” with long beards and payos dressed in relaxed, loose-fitted Israeli style clothes. Rather, these young men were wearing modern slim fit suits, trendy shoes and ties, but from the neck up they looked like Breslovers. Their beards were reaching mid-tie, and their payos were just about as long.

Questions ran through my mind. If these boys are in college and are planning to be professionals, would they … Read More >>

Metzitza Bipeh

C-C readers are probably aware of the fact that a tentative agreement was reached yesterday between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and an association of mohelim and Orthodox representatives with regard to the practice of metzitza bipeh.

An article of mine that appeared in Haaretz yesterday on the ostensible tie between the rite and the cold sore virus (which can be dangerous to babies) can be read here.

The Chofetz Chaim Video: The Rosetta Stone

At long last, Hollywood has finally contributed something to Torah. A collection of Fox Movietone newsreels from the silent film days is preserved and housed at the University of South Carolina. One item dating to 1923 preserves footage of Torah personalities attending the first Agudah Knessia Gedolah in Vienna. Remarkably, it includes footage of the Chofetz Chaim himself (of whom photos are rare), as well as other Torah personalities, the sight of which should quicken the heart of any Torah Jew.

Several of those shown perished before the War. Some survived. At least four were martyred by the Nazis.

A century makes a huge difference. Five of the eighteen personalities held doctorates. A good number were Germans, who still constituted a strong, distinct group within Agudah. One of those (Rabbi Leo Jung) was at one point a candidate for the presidency of Yeshiva University.

At least among the non-Chassidim, the couture stands out. Most look quite spiffy and dapper. (As one of my sons remarked, “and that was before Charles Tyrwhitt.”)

The Chofetz Chaim seems uncomfortable with the camera, and Hashgacha helped out. His facial features remain indistinct. Someone tries to cover the lens … Read More >>

A Response to MK Lipman

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, in a guest post on the Emes VeEmunah blog, presents his perspective on Yesh Atid’s efforts toward integrating Charedim into the IDF and the Israeli work force. The post, coming as it does from a position of government authority, deserves some scrutiny. I intersperse some quotes from the post along with my comments.

(1) “Just to clarify, the law says that if the goals are not met, then a full draft will apply to haredim just like the rest of Israeli society with the elite masmidim not having to serve. It doesn’t mention jail. It doesn’t mention arresting yeshiva boys. It says the regular draft will apply. Since for the rest of Israeli society, failure to show up when drafted is a criminal offense, the same would apply to haredim in that situation.”

Well, yes. In other words, the law says that Yeshiva boys beyond those elite masmidim are subject to arrest and prison. I don’t understand what this clarifies. Perhaps it does clarify one issue: There is no mechanism in place for determining who those “elite masmidim” are.

It is also the case that MK Lipman has little to no appreciation of the … Read More >>

Fruitful Conversations About Fruitful Continuity

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner & Rabbi Yaakov Menken

In a recent editorial in The Forward (“Be Fruitful and Multiply — Please?”, Dec. 12), Jane Eisner sets aside the Pew Report’s alarming statistics regarding non-Orthodox intermarriage and assimilation to focus upon fertility, which she terms “an even more fraught issue.” Yet it is unclear why she believes the decline in childbearing to be the dominant cause of the diminution of the non-Orthodox community, nor why begging women to have more children will contribute significantly to a reversal.

[This response was initially accepted for publication in The Forward itself, but subsequently they decided not to print it. We believe this an unfortunate decision both for The Forward and its readership.]

Eisner correctly states that non-Orthodox fertility hovers around 1.7 children per family, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. But Zero Population Growth will not preserve a Jewish community whose children are deserting it. The Pew Survey reports that fifty percent of married Reform Jewish adults have a non-Jewish spouse, and children of intermarriage are much less likely to be raised as Jews. Even beyond that, one-third of young Jewish adults raised as Reform Jews now classify … Read More >>

The Parameters of Polemics

Although one of my recent articles was posted nine days ago, its comments section is still extremely active, with readers energetically debating the article’s main topics as well as the substance of one of the article’s illustrations. Reading between the lines of many of the comments, some fascinating patterns and perspectives can be detected.

What emerges here, and has been specifically articulated by a few commenters, is a focus on the propriety of debating opinions in matters of Torah when those opinions are based on approaches that are fundamentally problematic. Does one briefly state why such opinions are problematic and say no more, lest it appear that one is entertaining the legitimacy of those opinions or is equating them with bona fide and acceptable opinions in matters of Torah, or does one tackle such opinions head-on and demonstrate their internal fallacies?

Historically, the greatest of rabbinic leadership has rebutted not only the general approaches but also the specific content of views that are antithetical to Torah belief. Renowned polemical literature (including peirushei Torah – Torah commentaries) against the Kara’im (Karaites), Maskilim and Reformers comes to mind, in which the offending approaches were not only labeled and demonstrated to … Read More >>

ISIS and Jewish Experience: A Reaction to Atlantic

You don’t need me to tell you that Graeme Wood’s 10,000 word treatment of ISIS in the March Atlantic may prove to be a game-changer. Hard-hitting, detailed, well-researched, it is going to be a lightning rod for commentary and debate. And frum Jews will comprehend it a bit better than most.

No one outdoes the President in misunderstanding ISIS. He did it again today at a high-level three day conference on global terrorism. The folks at ISIS “are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists,” he said. Nothing, says Wood, could be further from the truth. ISIS is all about religion, and a religious leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who has assumed a role not seen in many centuries.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

In other words, the language, aspirations, traditions of Islam saturate the soil over which the blood of those executed daily flows. Westerners don’t get, not just because they are into Pollyanna … Read More >>

Ben Yeshiva: You Need Not Leave – A Yotzei Min Ha-Klal Perspective

I read the new (and fabulous!) edition of Klal Perspectives with great intrigue. Grappling with the transition from ben yeshiva to baal habayis is a very sensitive topic in general, but for those personally undergoing this transition, it is often one of disorientation, frustration, and even trauma and despair.

The solutions presented to enabling a smooth (as possible) transition, and the resolutions for balancing Torah and avodah, are delicate and often pretty touchy, but they make a lot of sense and are welcome and quite necessary. Yet in the end, to an idealistic ben yeshiva, they can reflect a sense of abandonment of his idealism, for if one has been bred and cultivated to embrace Torah excellence and focus on limud ha-Torah as the apex, a prescription that includes an abandonment of his ascent to the peak is an exceedingly hard pill to swallow.

Obviously, one needs to be practical and fulfill his responsibility to provide for his family and himself; the challenge, rather, is the perceived need to basically throw in the towel, say goodbye to the beis medrash and radically change course. Giving up one’s life ambition in Torah is not easy, no matter how important … Read More >>

Creativity Restored: the Mesoras HaRav Chumash

R. Yisroel Salanter, it is said, decried the fact that derush had turned the corpus of Chazal from an instructional form into a plaything for rhetoricians. Every rov found pesukim and midrashim to be infinitely pliable, capable of taking whatever shape he wanted. They became springboards ready to launch any thought that met his fancy. But if Torah texts could mean anything, R. Yisroel lamented, then they effectively meant nothing. If you didn’t like what a rov said about some passage, just saunter down the street and a different rov would likely assure you that the words meant the polar opposite. Whatever lesson – or lessons – HKBH and Chazal had in mind when they wrote what they did were lost to the surrounding static.

Perhaps the conservatism, the cautiousness we observe in new works on Chumash and Chazal are part of a corrective to R. Yisroel’s observation. Perhaps people reasoned that it was more important to showcase the words of the Sages themselves than their own verbal pyrotechnics. Maybe that is why we see lots of works citing lots of other, earlier works, but not very much genuine creativity.

Or so it seems. While studying Netziv, … Read More >>

In Praise of Brainwashing

A reference to a Shabbos seudah as “brainwashing.” An attempt by a flag-draped man to enter a Montreal Jewish day school. And a pre-school morah’s report. All took place recently and, together, helped me better understand something fundamental about life.

The cynical reference to Shabbos was from a woman quoted in a book. Sadly, she had left the Jewish observance of her childhood behind.

“My father was always tired and so was my mother,” she explained to the author. “They were fighting. We were fighting. And so there was not that kind of love and joy that makes the brainwashing really stick.”

The brainwashing.

On the very day that quote appeared in a book review, a man draped in a flag of Quebec tried to enter a chareidi Jewish day school, Yeshiva Gedola, in Montreal, claiming that he wanted to “liberate” its students.

Wisely, the school’s staff did not allow the fellow into the building. One staff member said “When I answered through the intercom, the man told me: ‘I want to talk to the children because they are imprisoned in this school… I want to liberate the children’.”

Liberate the children.

Two people with a similar … Read More >>