Bright Stars On The Jewish Horizon: The Tikvah Program For Yeshiva Men

We could have called it “Litvish-America’s Got Talent.” For those of us weary of worrying about the problems that plague the Torah community we love, it was a reassuring hug from Heaven.

The seventeen participants (selected from a pool about four times the size) who completed the week-long Tikvah Fund Program for Yeshiva Men demonstrated that the Olam HaTorah possesses young people of exceptional promise who can help lead the next generation of observant Jews. As one of the conveners of the program, I could have drowned in nachas. As a member of an older generation that takes pride in the yeshiva world but is mindful of the road-kill it has left behind at times, spending time in the company of these young men was Paradise Regained.

Less than two years ago, I began speaking to the Tikvah Fund, a Jewish but nondenominational group committed to providing politically and economically conservative leadership for the future. They understood the importance of including the Orthodox, whose demographic importance is now beyond cavil. To their credit, they also understood that the haredi cohort of the Orthodox community could not be left out of any strategic planning. To attract yeshiva participants, … Read More >>


The End is Near

The recent upsurge in anti-Semitism across Western Europe and around the globe, complete with swastikas and “Death to the Jews” chants, is depressing and alarming. It should also, however, be inspiring.

For, once again, we have witnessed how outrage ostensibly over the actions of a sovereign nation, Israel, so quickly and effortlessly festered into full-blown Jew-hatred – not Israel-hatred, not even Israeli-hatred, but Jew-hatred. That curious phenomenon might be discomfiting, but should also make us think.

Can anyone imagine the all-too-real repressive policies of China being laid at the feet of Europeans of Chinese ethnicity, with protesters wildly advocating their extermination?

Can we picture anger over the actual crimes committed by Iran’s leaders being taken out on Iranians living in Europe or the United States, with attacks on their homes and institutions?

Yes, to be sure, there are mindless individuals who, seeing terrorism being committed in the name of Islam, target innocent Muslims as complicit in the inhumanities perpetrated in their religion’s name. But such misguided avengers are generally lone wolves; and, in the end, it is a belief system, not a government, that they wish to attack. They think that being a Muslim automatically makes one a … Read More >>

Your Narcissism is Showing

Rob Schneider, a second-tier celeb, best known for a series of sophomoric comedies, recently tweeted: “To not be outraged at the killing of children to risk your very soul.”

To which I would reply. If the only deaths of children that provoke a response from you are those of children killed in Gaza, but not the hundreds of thousands of black Muslim children killed in Darfur by their co-religionists over the past decade or the 700 Syrian civilians killed in two days recently (or the 170,000 killed over the last three years), it is not the capaciousness of your soul that you display, but the depth of your narcissism and need to be admired as a “good person.”

If the only deaths of children that set your thumbs twittering are those when Jews are involved, then you are an anti-Semite. And please spare me any references to your Jewish father.

If your outrage is devoid of any context – who started the fighting, who deliberately sought the deaths of those children for their own propaganda gains – you are not quite the moral paragon you imagine; you are a dunce and the enabler of the deaths of more children.

… Read More >>

Death of an Icon

I grew up watching Mork. I’ve seen Aladdin. I even, during college, watched him perform live. But I never knew Robin Williams.

He was the consummate entertainer. He just knew how to make us laugh. His improvisation, his off-the-cuff remarks, were brilliantly funny. But we never understood who he really was.

And that was, perhaps, the problem, that which made him so depressed as to bring him to a tragic end.

With his passing, journalists and commentators are talking about mental illness and depression, recognizing the challenges he faced. [UPDATE: And let me make it clear that I am not commenting about most cases, or even necessarily his case, of mental illness or depression. A person with either must seek professional treatment and it is a Mitzvah to do so.]

But I don’t believe that Williams simply had a mental illness. Few are discussing how common depression seems to be among the leading entertainers — or why this is so. While I could of course be wrong in this one case, it is hard to imagine that so many entertainers, upon finding success, coincidentally develop depression.

Someone challenged me, asking whether it is true that so many entertainers are … Read More >>

Max Steinberg, zt”l, as Rorschach Test

The death of lone soldier Max Steinberg in combat in Gaza served as a Rorschach Test for Jews around the world. In Israel, 30,000 Jews, across the spectrum of Israeli society, took time off to go to Mt. Herzl for his levaya to express their admiration and gratitude to a young man who came to Israel to risk his life to protect theirs.

In the opposite corner, Slate editor Allison Benedikt could barely wait until the last shoveful of dirt had been placed on Max’s grave before portraying his as a dupe of Birthright, which spends “hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support.” Benedikt’s lament over Max’s death picks up where a 2011 reminiscence of her misspent Zionist youth left off. There she describes how her non-Jewish boyfriend, now husband, opened her eyes to evils of modern Israel.

Benedikt is emblematic of disappearing American Jewry. In her adult persona, she can no longer imagine any natural affinity between American Jews and the state of Israel, even though the latter is the only majority Jewish nation and home to the majority, or soon to be … Read More >>

A New Look at Tehillim 144

Contributed by Doron Beckerman

לְדָוִד בָּרוּךְ ה’ צוּרִי הַמְלַמֵּד יָדַי לַקְרָב אֶצְבְּעוֹתַי לַמִּלְחָמָה:

(1) To David. Blessed is Hashem, my Rock, Who trains my hand for battle, my fingers for war.

[Every victory I accomplish in war does not come from the strength of my hand, for Hashem is He who trains my hand in war (Metzudos). May this strength and prowess be dedicated to the fulfillment of His will. It is solely for this purpose, and not out of vain lust for fame, that I cultivate these skills (Hirsch).]

חַסְדִּי וּמְצוּדָתִי מִשְׂגַּבִּי וּמְפַלְטִי לִי מָגִנִּי וּבוֹ חָסִיתִי הָרוֹדֵד עַמִּי תַחְתָּי:

(2) My loving-kindness [whatever skill and achievement I can call my own is all a generous gift of His loving-kindness (Hirsch)] and my fortress; my tower and my deliverer. My shield, and in Him do I take shelter; He who flattens nations beneath me (Radak).

ה’ מָה אָדָם וַתֵּדָעֵהוּ בֶּן אֱנוֹשׁ וַתְּחַשְּׁבֵהוּ: אָדָם לַהֶבֶל דָּמָה יָמָיו כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר: ה’ הַט שָׁמֶיךָ וְתֵרֵד גַּע בֶּהָרִים וְיֶעֱשָׁנוּ: בְּרוֹק בָּרָק וּתְפִיצֵם שְׁלַח חִצֶּיךָ וּתְהֻמֵּם: שְׁלַח יָדֶיךָ מִמָּרוֹם פְּצֵנִי וְהַצִּילֵנִי מִמַּיִם רַבִּים מִיַּד בְּנֵי נֵכָר: אֲשֶׁר פִּיהֶם דִּבֶּר שָׁוְא וִימִינָם יְמִין שָׁקֶר:

(3-7) Hashem! What is man that You should know … Read More >>

Victory is OURS!

The Nation of Israel and Operation Protective Edge Uri Shachter – Deputy Brigade Commander Nachal (Res.)

After almost a month of fighting in the Gaza Strip, with all the reactions, I find it important to clarify to the Nation of Israel that we won, decisively. Both from a military and civilian point of view, we have been victorious. From a military perspective we can begin the victory parades. Hamas is on the ropes, the most they are able to do is poke their heads out of their hidey-holes for a second to declare victory (until it gets struck by the next missile). They are unable to rearm from Egypt (something they were able to do with a free hand during the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood). For years Hamas has been building tunnels beneath our towns to use to attack them and we have been able to destroy all the tunnels. Every military goal Hamas set for itself has failed, on land, in the air and by sea.

So why are we giving them the idea that they won?!

Every contact with the enemy resulted in our overwhelming victory.

Every town we wanted to conquer, we conquered within a … Read More >>

The Punker’s Lesson

A Tisha B’Av-themed piece appearing in the Forward can be read here.

Pain and Gain

Living lives of comfort and ease, it’s difficult for many of us to fulfill the direction of the first siman in the Shulchan Aruch to “be pained and distressed over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh.” Do we experience agony at the fact that the holiest spot in the universe lies in picturesque ruin, trampled daily by the feet of deluded masses? Do we feel sick over the reality that, no matter how nice the weather and the house and the bungalow and the cars, we are in golus?

It’s easier these days, unfortunately. We’re reminded.

It will be less of a challenge, too, to access the sadness of Eicha and our kinos this Tisha B’Av, when (unless we’re wonderfully surprised first by Moshiach’s arrival) we will focus entirely on the churban Beis Hamikdosh and its appalling offspring, the subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.

Because, no matter how one chooses to regard past weeks’ events in Eretz Yisrael, and no matter what may have been accomplished or might yet be, the situation is in fact dire and seemingly hopeless.

Some may take heart in the elimination of terrorists who, in their happiest dreams, and all too often in … Read More >>

A View From the Citizen Trenches

by Harvey Tannenbaum

Shavua Tov to the world.

I looked back at my clock which flashed back to 2002. We drove to Kiryat Arba for the PTA meeting at the Ulpana where our oldest daughter was a high school student. The drive from Efrat was always an extra careful one due to the risks of a terrorist in his car waiting for the Jews on highway 60 during those years. We made our rounds with the teachers to hear the reports of how our daughter was doing in the school year.

We sat with Michal Sar El, one of her teachers, who smiled and had such warmth and excitement to share the ‘status’ of our daughter’s learning in the Ulpana of Kiryat Arba. Michal was Orit’s ‘Israeli literature’ teacher.

On Friday afternoon, we received the news that Benaya Sar El, 26, an officer of Givati brigade was killed during the Kerry/Obama/Dim Son Moon UN/ Bibi cease fire on Friday morning in Gaza. The name rang a bell in our heads, and it was not until our oldest daughter called to confirm that Benaya was her teacher’s son from Kiryat Arba. Benaya was killed by the suicide bomber terrorist who … Read More >>

Acts of Kindness, Great and Small

Over the past month and a half, the unity of the Jews of Israel has been overwhelming. No one would ever hope for the tragic events that have aroused feelings of closeness – the kidnapping of three yeshiva students and Operation Preventive Edge in Gaza – but the tangible desire of Jews to draw closer to one another cannot be denied.

Tens of thousands of Jews, from across the Israeli spectrum, attended the funerals of two “lone” soldiers from America – Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg – whom they did not know personally. And in communities across Israel, Jews are reaching out to one another with acts of chesed, both great and small.

Beit Shemesh, the scene of bitter intra-religious confrontation over the past two years and of a highly divisive mayoral election and subsequent re-run, has proven fertile grounds for various campaigns for unity. All sides of the religious and political divide in Beit Shemesh were eager to put the bitter feelings of the two mayoral campaigns behind. Two “unity” tefillah gatherings for Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach, H”yd, were the first steps towards doing so. The gatherings drew chareidi, national religious, Yerushalmi/chassidiche, and secular women. … Read More >>

Who Believes in Mermaids?

According to the latest CNN poll, 57% of Americans think that Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip are fully justified, while 39% think that Israel’s actions are “too much.” One might interpret those figures optimistically: It is doubtful support for Israel is higher in any other Western country. On the other hand, I would be more than a little dismayed to learn that 39% of Americans believe in mermaids or the tooth fairy, and I fail to see any plausible distinction between that belief and the claim that Israel has been employing excessive force.

But it gets worse. Over half of Democrats are within that 39%. And to judge by their recent statements and actions, it appears that the president and secretary of state are among the believers in mermaids. Fox News caught Secretary of State Kerry in an unguarded moment sarcastically speaking of Palestinian civilian casualties in heavy fighting in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood, “It’s a hell of a pinpoint action, a hell of a pinpoint action.” Once he knew he was back on camera, Kerry quickly reverted to message; Israel has a right to defend itself; he was just reacting to the tragedy of innocent lives lost; … Read More >>

Kerry Opens a Second Front

The two constants of the Obama administration’s foreign policy have both been on ample display in the efforts to force upon Israel a premature ceasefire to the fighting in Gaza. The first constant has been the consistent betrayal of allies – originally Poland and Czechoslovakia – to curry favor with enemies – i.e., Russia. Bernard Lewis long ago described the United States under Obama as “neither trusted by its friends nor feared by its enemies.”

The second constant has been an inexplicable affection for the Muslim Brotherhood, its supporters – Turkey and Qatar, and its offshoots – Hamas. Had the Obama administration had its way there would still be a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Instead of the current Egyptian government closing down Hamas’s smuggling tunnels across the Philadelphi Corridor and fighting Islamic jihadists in the Sinai, Hamas would still be smuggling in rockets and concrete for its offensive tunnels and the Islamic jihadists would be extending their control over the Sinai.

With respect to the betrayal of allies, it would be nearly impossible to overstate the shock in Israel at the proposed ceasefire agreement Kerry put before the Israeli cabinet last Friday. The normally fractious cabinet rejected the … Read More >>

A Different Minority Report on Israel

I get lots of correspondence, but a few paragraphs of something in my inbox today struck me as incisive and worthwhile sharing. It is doubly valuable in light of the opinion poll at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge that showed both black- and Latino-American support for Israel about twice that for the Palestinians.

Sorry to keep drawing parallels of the conflict to the historic experience of my ethnicity, but when I go through this exercise, it really helps me to see how absurd the claims and actions are of the anti-Israel contingent. Bear with me. There are persons of other ethnic minorities who have also turned to their respective historical experiences to come to the same conclusions as I. I read a good one today from “an angry black woman.” There is also this account from someone who is Metis.

For me as a Mexican who descends from people who saw their land truly stolen—not bought as the Zionists did—by people who had no historic, social, genetic or cultural connection to the American Southwest —again, completely unlike the Zionists—I can still stand behind supporting the government of the usurpers enough to embrace it as my … Read More >>

The Berditchiver in Gaza

I cannot reveal my source. All I can say is that it happened as he patrolled late at night in a Beit Hanoun street abandoned by its residents, walking a few paces ahead of the rest of his unit. He saw a figure, standing to the side, shrouded in light. “Sholom alechah, my son,” he said. His voice was redolent with peace and tranquility. My friend instantly realized that this figure was not of this world, and responded, “Sholom alechah, rabi u-mori. I presume that you are Eliyahu ha-Navi?” The figure smiled. “Not quite. They used to call me Levi Yitzchok, and I have been watching the events here with keen interest. I had to come back to revise one of my more famous songs – A Din Toyre Mit G-tt.” He handed my friend a handwritten scrap of paper, and vanished into the night.

Good morning to You, Ribbono shel Olam.

I, Levi Yitzchak, son of Sarah Sosho of Berditchev,

I come to you with a Din Torah from Your people, Yisrael.

What do you want of Your people Yisrael?

For everywhere I look it says, “Say to the People of Israel.”

And every other verse says, … Read More >>

Open Orthodoxy and the Rebirth of the Conservative Movement

by Avrohom Gordimer

Cross-Currents readership is all too familiar with discussion about Open Orthodoxy; every nook and cranny of Open Orthodoxy could be explored with a critical eye through Cross-Currents’ numerous articles on the subject, spanning a lengthy period of time. Once the major issues of Open Orthodoxy had been fully brought to the table, it was decided that our focus and energy should be directed elsewhere, as the Orthodox public assumedly had been presented with enough information about Open Orthodoxy to be well-informed, if not saturated. More discussion about Open Orthodoxy seemed moot, and it was hoped and supposed that Open Orthodox leadership would constructively utilize the criticisms to recalibrate the movement’s trajectory onto a more normative path.

However, we were dead wrong, for as we turned our attention away, the nature and magnitude of the challenges presented by Open Orthodoxy increased beyond imagination. Over the past several months, the intellectual leadership of Open Orthodoxy openly embraced highly problematic positions regarding the origins of Torah She-b’al Peh; Open Orthodox rabbis around the United States engaged in new, more radical types of interfaith and interdenominational endeavors that could make one’s hair stand on end; and much more.

… Read More >>

Miracles All Around

As I write on Thursday afternoon [July 17] more than 1300 Hamas rockets have been fired at Israel without causing a single fatality. (An Israeli volunteer assisting troops in the South was killed by mortar fire from the Gaza Strip.)

Of course, many of us remember miracles of an even greater magnitude during the first Gulf War when 39 Iraqi Scud missiles – with vastly larger payloads than the Hamas rockets – hit Israel. Yehuda Barkan, at that time one of Israel’s most popular screen stars, had, like Yisro, an “ear” to hear. Though he describes his life at that time as totally involved in the pleasures of the flesh, he could not shake the feeling that something miraculous had occurred.

Thirty-nine Scuds hit Israel, in many cases causing huge damage, and no one was killed directly by the missiles. (That’s how Barkan tells the story today, though I remember that one person was killed – someone who enjoyed riding his motorcycle through the streets of Bnei Brak on Shabbos.) Yet Saddam Hussein fired only one Scud at Saudi Arabia, and killed 25 American servicemen on their base.

Soon after he began to mull over the contrast, Barkan stopped … Read More >>

Glad Not to Be Prime Minister Netanyahu

I am convinced that Israel had no choice but to undertake a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip, and that the time has never been so propitious in terms of what can be achieved by such an operation. “Mowing the grass” for the third time in five and a half years is not sufficient, and will only result in a higher cost later.

That said, I am relieved not to be the one charged with actually making that decision. In the natural order, a ground invasion of Gaza will certainly cost many Jewish lives, perhaps hundreds. Anyone who does not feel the weight of such a decision should not be prime minister of Israel. On the other hand, anyone who cannot make such a decision should not be prime minister of Israel.

No national leader in the world faces as many such decisions weighing the costs of lives now versus those likely to be lost at a future date due to inaction as the prime minister of Israel . Such balancing, which in the nature of things must always be made in a state of uncertainty, is implicated in every prisoner exchange and it is at the heart … Read More >>

An Inversion of Morality

From day one of its existence, the sole raison d’etre of the Hamas quasi-state in Gaza has been to kill Jews, the more the merrier.

Since taking over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas has siphoned off billions of dollars of foreign aid money to build a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels, whose only purpose is to hide rockets to be launched at Israel’s civilian population and to facilitate mass terror attacks in the form of cross border raids on kibbutzim, moshavim and towns close to the border.

All the human energy of the Gaza Strip has gone into the digging of the tunnels, often by hand. The very magnitude of the effort both impresses and depresses, for it is a measure of the hatred of Jews of Hamas and its followers.

Hamas proudly proclaims its goal of reclaiming the entirety of Palestine and killing all the Jews in its Charter. Article VI of the Charter announces that the Islamic Resistance Movement exists to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine. Article VII states that the final resurrection will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and the very trees call out, “There is a Jew … Read More >>

What Max Did For Us

by Asher Brander

As of last Friday, no soldiers had fallen. Now we have 32 korbanos. Hashem Yerachem

In a trip that started out for us with chasunos, we and the whole country are busy with shivas and levayas – even as one can not fail to acknowledge the revealed miracles of this war, B’chasdei Hashem.

There are almost no words of machlokes to be heard. People are packing anything (energy bars, tissues and t-shirts) and everything to send to the soldiers. Tehillim is said across the spectrum. Chassidishe Rebbes are “holding tish” in Gaza.

By now, most have heard the story of Max Steinberg – a free-spirited young man who hesitatingly came to Israel in 2012 on Birthright with his siblings, was touched in a profoundly personal and deep way, decided that this was the country of his calling, fought to get into Golani and fought and died in Gaza on that bloody Sunday this past week where we lost 13 beautiful young men. On Wednesday, among tens of thousands, we attended his funeral.

One wonders: How does a secular young man with almost no Jewish education, who barely knew hebrew, merit to have a funeral with aza … Read More >>

How Not To Deal With Allegations of Impropriety

by Shaya Karlinsky

We have been witness to an increasing number of depressing revelations about Rabbis acting inappropriately towards women they have been counseling or educating. I have no intention of discussing any specific case. I would like to discuss a pattern that is all too common in these cases.

In response to accusations of improper behavior by Rabbis with female students or congregants, lots of well-meaning people come to the defense of the accused. These people will vouch for his tremendous integrity, meticulous observance of all appropriate boundaries in every interaction they ever experienced or witnessed, and the life-changing advice and counseling they or their friends received from the accused. Since, if and when breaches of ethical and Halachic behavior happen, they happen “behind closed doors,” the only way to verify the accusations is for victims to provide detailed testimony of what they claim happened. Frequently, the victims themselves are troubled individuals, or were having some specific emotional crisis which can make them vulnerable to advances from the predator, while compromising their credibility as plaintiffs or witnesses. People can become easily swayed and confused when weighing claims of somewhat unreliable plaintiffs/witnesses against the claims and testimony of obviously … Read More >>

A New Look at Tehillim 140

Contributed by Doron Beckerman

Psalm 140 May Have Never Been More Apt

למנצח מזמור לדוד: (1) To the conductor. A song of David.

חלצני ה’ מאדם רע מאיש חמסים תנצרני: (2) Extricate me, O Hashem, from a wicked person. Protect me from a man of depravities.

אשר חשבו רעות בלב כל יום יגורו מלחמות: (3) Who scheme evil in their heart; every day they have war within their dwelling places (Rashi).

שננו לשונם כמו נחש חמת עכשוב תחת שפתימו סלה: (4) They sharpen their tongue as a snake; venom of vipers is constantly under their lips (as they foam at the mouth spewing their rhetoric; Radak).

שמרני ה’ מידי רשע מאיש חמסים תנצרני אשר חשבו לדחות פעמי: (5) Keep me, Hashem, from the hand of an evildoer, protect me from a man of depravity; those who scheme to make my steps falter (and fall into their traps; Malbim).

טמנו גאים פח לי וחבלים פרשו רשת ליד מעגל מקשים שתו לי סלה: (6) The haughty have set snares before me, and cords. They have spread out nets on the pathways on which I tread. They have incessantly placed stumbling blocks before me (even after multiple failures, … Read More >>

COJs, not OTDs, may be our bigger problem

An article I wrote about “Cultural Orthodox Jews” in the Forward can be read here.

The Anti-Eyal, Naftali, and Gil-ad

The mind reels from trying to wrap itself around the fact that fellow Jews could not only have murdered an innocent Arab teenager, but done so by sadistically setting him on fire.

But there is no longer any escaping the fact that the murderers of Mohammed Abu Kdheir were in all likelihood Jewish.

As she has done so frequently in recent weeks, Rachel Fraenkel, still in mourning for her son Naftali, spoke for the almost all Israelis in her message of condolence to Mohammed’s parents: “No mother should ever have to go through what we are going through, and we share the pain of Mohammed’s parents. . . . The shedding of innocent blood is in defiance of all morality, of the Torah, and is against the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country.”

Magnifying the evil of the deed itself is the utter senselessness of it. The perpetrators have thrown their own lives away. If convicted, there is far less chance that they will ever be freed from prison than that the murderers of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, if captured, will one day be released in another … Read More >>

Some Jewish Thoughts on Understanding Hobby Lobby: Religious Freedom Did Not Really Win or Lose

by Michael Broyde

Introduction

The Supreme Court has spoken again on the place of religion: last week the Supreme Court decided (5-4) that closely held private corporations as well as individuals are not bound by the administrative rules of the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] that mandate contraception be provided as part of one’s Employer’s insurance plan. Furthermore, the Court did not mandate this result on any constitutional grounds, but purely based on the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act and its progeny. In essence, the Supreme Court held that the administrative regulations proposed by HHS violate a prior act of Congress. Although the Court does not say so explicitly, it is fairly clear that not a single justice (and certainly not five) would have any difficulty reaching a different decision if Congress were to change the laws protecting religious freedom.

Understanding the Historical Path of the Law here is Important.

This decision is yet another in a long line of religion cases that has left our law and jurisprudence somewhat confused. Here is a brief review that might help us understand. The First Amendment to the Constitution tells us simply that “Congress shall make no law respecting an … Read More >>