Mishpacha provided the American Torah world an enormous service in its special “sharing the burden” issue. A half dozen articles offered background, statistics, depth and context to perhaps the most difficult times that our Israeli brethren have faced in a half-century. Chazal require us to take active steps to feel the pain of other Jews. I would think that taking the time to read the issue should be mandated in partial fulfillment of that requirement.
Still, some of the answers raised other questions. It should be worthwhile to at least ask them, either to fill in the gaps, or because we must recognize that we have an obligation to understand the pain of less observant Jews, who also feel like aggrieved parties. I will ask some of those questions, not because I have settled on an opposing position, but because I am still searching for greater clarity.
Jonathan Rosenblum’s piece was one of the shortest, but the single most valuable one to me, because it offered a compact summary of the problem, one that I will share with others outside our community. (Full disclosure: He’s a good friend, and I usually value his opinions over my own.) … Read More >>
I was recently privileged to spend the good part of a week on the tree-studded rural campus of my alma mater, Yeshivas Ner Yisroel (the Ner Israel Rabbinical College, according to the sign at its entrance). As always, visiting the place where I studied some forty years ago was an enthralling experience.
There have been changes, to be sure, at Yeshiva Lane, the winding private road that is the yeshiva buildings’ address. What was the main study hall in my day now serves the yeshiva’s high school division; and a magnificent newer beis medrash stands where, in the 1970s, an old house occupied by a faculty member’s family sat on a hill. New housing has risen up for faculty and married kollel students – there is a long waiting list of kollel-fellow families living “in town” (that is to say, Baltimore and its suburb Pikesville) who are anxious to move onto the yeshiva campus. (Kollel fellows who can no longer afford to be engaged in full-time Torah study understand that their campus apartment or townhouse should be offered to a full-time kollel fellow’s family.)
Torah life and study, and children, permeate Yeshiva Lane. Students and staff members walk to … Read More >>
If you’ve followed the news in Israel at all, you probably remember the shooting rampage at an “LGBT Youth Center” in Tel Aviv. [If you don't know the acronym, good for you, and please let me not be the one to inspire you to look it up.] With absolutely no evidence whatsoever, it was immediately assumed that the shooter was charedi, and that it was a hate crime:
“This hate crime needs to be a turning point and to give strength,” [MK Tzipi] Livni told hundreds of Israelis who rallied in Tel Aviv to protest the attack, in which 15 people were also wounded.
Mike Hamel, the head of the Aguda, Israel’s LGBT organization, said such an attack was unprecedented in Israel.
“We have joined the list of ‘civilized’ countries in which hatred is the standard,” he said. “I don’t know whether the incident was directed at youth, but it appears that it was directed at the community. This is baseless hatred that cost us dearly – this is what needs to be understood.”
Hamel said that “elements represented by [Shas leaders] Eli Yishai and Benizri that are fostering hatred are still stronger than the increasingly favorable attitude … Read More >>
Spending time with Natan Sharansky as I did a week ago helps one understand Avrohom Avinu. “Vayakam Avraham mei’al pnei meiso” – Avrohom arose from before his dead. Avraham did not take the loss of his wife in stride. He turned it into an opportunity to propel himself even higher in his avodas Hashem. Listening to Sharansky handle a crowd, you realize how much he gained from the years in the gulag where his captors tried to break him, but during which he instead inflicted irreversible damage on the Soviet system.
Sharansky, as one of the icons of the last half of the twentieth century, can electrify a gathering simply on the strength of his story. I have met him a number of times previously; this was the first time that I saw what adversity had done for him. His mission in the US is not enviable. Prime Minister Netanyahu hand-picked him to defuse an issue that threatens what remains of a face of unity that Jewish allies of Israel show the rest of the world, at a time that Israel must deal with a number of extraordinary threats. The feelings and fervor invested by both sides in the … Read More >>
Flash! As a result of fearless and intelligent intelligence, your intrepid reporter has uncovered an authentically fictive memorandum from the inner sanctum and nerve center of Women of the Wall, presented here exclusively for the faithful readers of this column:
Top-Secret Memorandum to WoW:
We are winning the battle for the Wall, but we must not rest on our laurels. The next major battleground involves not merely our right to wear a Tallis at the Wall, but our right to wear a proper modern Tallis, one that is appropriate for the 21st century. And a modern Tallis is one without those strings — what the ultra-Orthodox call “tzitzis.”
This is a cause whose time has come. We must fight for the right to wear our own kind of Tallis, one that is stylish and fashionable — not the kind dictated by the ultras. No longer shall they decree what is, and what is not, acceptable prayer attire.
In addition, we demand custom made Tallises for every individual. We will no longer tolerate the current one-size-fits-all Tallis absurdity. Our feminine self- respect demands individualized Tallises.
Remember several crucial points:
During prayer at the Wall, be sure to hold … Read More >>
A number of years ago I shared the essential thought in the essay below with subscribers to my mailing list at the time. But I believe it’s a thought worth repeating, for the benefit of new readers, and worth re-pondering for the rest of us.
My wife and I recently accompanied our second son to the chuppah. It was an elating experience, understandably, and the sight of the new couple recalled to me the unsettling, if simple, observation of the Netziv.
The Netziv – an acronym meaning “pillar,” by which Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (1817-1893), the famed dean of the Volozhin Yeshiva, is known – noted that the first marriage in history differed in an essential way from all the matrimonial unions that came to follow. Because, according to a widely cited Jewish tradition, Adam and Eve were created as a single entity, a man-woman coupled back to back, with the “forming” of woman described by the Torah more accurately envisioned as a separation. The word often translated “rib” is in fact used elsewhere in the Torah to mean “side,” and so should be understood in the light of that tradition as referring to the woman-side … Read More >>
By Avrohom Gordimer
A current opinion piece in The Jewish Week, authored by two leaders of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), opens with the celebration of an upcoming watershed event in Orthodox society:
Orthodox women are making history in front of our eyes. On June 16, three women will be ordained to serve, in effect, as Orthodox rabbis, given the title of Maharat (an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning leader in legal, spiritual and Torah matters). They will graduate from Yeshivat Maharat in New York City, the first and thus far only women to receive institutional ordination as religious and spiritual leaders in the Orthodox world… Next month’s graduation will mark the first time Orthodox women will be formally and publicly ordained with institutional recognition for the profound role women rabbis can play in Orthodox communities…
Following the celebratory section of the article, it turns negative:
Indeed, the Rabbinical Council of America recently came out with a statement condemning the Maharat graduates: “The RCA views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the school has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community”…This position is … Read More >>
by Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark
[Editor’s Note: Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark, an extremely well-regarded veteran educator in Montreal penned an article in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine that created some confusion among readers. “Unconditional Love Has Its Limits” seemed to be both a contradiction in terms (by making unconditional love very much conditional) as well as quite dangerous in the estimation of professionals who have dealt for many years with off-the-derech (OTD) children.
One day, people will begin writing not only about OTD children, but the related phenomenon of the great number of those children (at least anecdotally) who return to Torah observance. If there is one factor that is important in producing the BOTD (back on the derech) child, it is the unconditional love of his or her family. Professionals warn not to scrimp or be sparing on the love shown to the errant child. Love needs to be unconditional; it is not synonymous with acceptance, which may allow for setting expectations and limits.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is no stranger to these pages. Also a veteran mechanech, he heads up Agudah’s Project YES. His creativity in curricular areas is famous – but he is perhaps most famous for his … Read More >>
Call them what you will — ultra-Orthodox Jews, “fervently Orthodox” Jews, Haredim, black hats. They will soon become the majority of affiliated Jews in the metropolitan New York area, and the religious majority in Israel. The results will be catastrophic.
So begins Forward contributing editor Jay Michaelson’s extraordinary appeal for the development of a New York yevsektsia to thwart, as his piece is entitled, “the creeping Jewish fundamentalism in our midst.”
That fundamentalism is responsible for a variety of vices and sins, claims Michaelson, reciting a litany of real and imagined haredi crimes. He does not make it so clear how those sins impact the lives of non-haredi Jews, but the thought that haredim of various stripes will take over is reason enough for panic. After telling us that he has their well-being in mind, he launches into his action plan:
We are abandoning thousands of our fellow Jews to this hierarchy of power and abuse. We are doing nothing to help them….Demographers tell us that 49% of New York’s Jewish children are Haredi (either Hasidic or “yeshivish”). Especially in light of non-Orthodox disaffiliation, New York Jewry, within a generation, will be fundamentalist, poor, uneducated and … Read More >>
An Open Letter to Allison Josephs
As I am usually a fan of your work at Jew in the City, I am both surprised and a bit dismayed with your latest piece. I feel that you don’t understand the agenda of the Women of the Wall, and have proposed a “solution” that favors the provocateurs over the innocent.
As a group, the Women of the Wall has a radical agenda. As two of the founders describe it:
WOW models to all Jewish women who pray at the Kotel that women can take control over their own religious lives. When haredi women, and haredi men, and haredi children see women leading services, wearing tallitot, and even handling and reading from Torah scrolls, their world view is changed. Like it or not, the sights and sounds of women leading services may initially shock them but then, when they get used to it, it will, it has to, change their world view. Women will no longer be seen as following men when it comes to communal prayer, allowing men to lead, but as individuals who are able to function religiously, on their own, without the “help” of men.
Do you understand, Mrs. Josephs? You are controlled by men, with their misogynist views [another WOW leader] and iron hand [yet another], and they’re going to show you the light. That is why they refuse to pray at Robinson’s Arch, which has all of the same Kedushah… but lacks the ability to impose their Judaism on other women.
The idea that it’s them against the Rabbis is just as false as their claim that all they want to do is pray. Their real problem is you: a woman who is confident, educated, forthright, and Orthodox… and a Ba’alas Teshuvah at that! You know all about feminism and women wanting to chant from a Sefer Torah at the Wall, and yet… you disagree with them, and even say so in writing!
They have me pegged — I’m one of those fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox Rabbi types, one of the rioting charedi men who oppose them. But you? You make no sense to them. You put the lie to everything they are trying to accomplish. You might even be able to reach out to their younger members, who are sincere and really have no idea what the conflict is all about, and be mekarev them [bring them close to Torah]. Their entire agenda is predicated on the idea that people like you don’t exist, that traditional women are subjugated, dependent, and ignorant [again, all their words, not mine].
Continue reading → A Solution Greater than the Problem
A member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America once remarked to me that things would be going splendidly in our world were it not for our propensity to continually shoot ourselves in the foot. What took place at the Kosel on Rosh Chodesh Sivan provides a textbook example.
The enduring image of the Rosh Chodesh davening should have been of thousands upon thousands of religious girls and women davening and reciting Tehillim with intensity, their voices never rising above a whisper. Nowhere in today’s world is such purity to be found as in a gathering of Jewish daughters praying or reciting Tehillim. Even before I reached the Kosel, the sight of so many Bais Yaakov girls brought tears to my eyes.
The images broadcast worldwide should have been of the tiny Women of the Wall (WoW) group totally engulfed in the much, much larger group of religious women praying at the Kosel — numerically batul beshishim.
The idea of filling the area directly in front of the Kosel and almost the entire KoselPlazawith frum women and girls completely flummoxed WoW. When they first got wind of the large numbers of women who would be at the Kosel, they … Read More >>
I really must avoid spicy foods – even my wife’s scrumptious jalapeno pepper-laced cornbread – before retiring at night. The recipe’s great, but for someone approaching 60, it’s a recipe, too, for indigestion-fueled nightmares.
The scene: the Kotel Maaravi, or “Western Wall” in Jerusalem. The time: some future point, may it never arrive, when Anat Hoffman’s vision of the holy place has been realized.
Ms. Hoffman, of course, is the famously melodramatic chairwoman of the feminist group “Women of the Wall,” who has orchestrated countless demonstrations (with adoring media and bevy of cameras in tow) in the form of untraditional prayer services at the holy site; who has reveled in being arrested for her provocations by Israeli police; and who is celebrated by temple clubs and coffee klatches across the United States as the Jewish reincarnation of Rosa Parks. She recently told a Jewish newspaper in California that the Wall should become, in effect, a timeshare. “For six hours a day,” she explained, “the Wall will be a national monument, open to others but not to Orthodox men.”
Those “others,” in Chairman Hoffman’s hope, will presumably include not only the group she leads (and which she characterizes as … Read More >>
The thought, a staple in the writings of the celebrated Jewish thinker Rabbi E. E. Dessler (1892-1953), is best known to people unfamiliar with his thought and writings from a famous and evocative paragraph written by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years,” Emerson mused, “how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of G-d which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”
Rav Dessler, who wrote poetry too but was above all a keenly incisive philosophical thinker, explains that there really is no inherent difference between nature and what we call the miraculous. We simply use the word “nature” for the miracles to which we are accustomed, and “miracles” for those we haven’t previously experienced. All there is, in the end, is G-d’s will.
That we are inured to the magnificence of the stars in the sky is unfortunate. We city dwellers can still capture some of the grandeur of Emerson’s “city of G-d” if we journey to less light-polluted places. I recall the shock I felt as a young … Read More >>
When a “movement” has more media appearances than members, do we notice something amiss? When a group claiming to favor prayer calls for dismantling a place of worship, do we smell smoke? And when leaders of an organization demand “Ahavat Yisrael” and then express outright revulsion for all who oppose their agenda, do we finally penetrate the veneer?
This is the tragic saga of the “Women of the Wall,” which portrays itself worldwide as advocating for “women’s rights,” but in Israel is known primarily for dishonoring a Holy Site with political circus – and sowing offense and discord.
They claim to speak for women, but disparage their spirituality. Chair Anat Hoffman referred to traditional prayers at the Wall as “men-only,” discarding those of millions of women annually. Founding member Phyllis Chesler asserted that recognition of their group will “acknowledge women as spiritual and religious beings, capable of non-coerced autonomous, independent, and halachic prayer.” She imagines that traditional women, “forced to obey ultra-misogynist views,” are lacking in all of the above.
But founding and current member Prof. Shulamit Magnus takes the crown. She claims that only women ignorant of Judaism oppose them, and having invented this fact, then declares that … Read More >>
by Moshe Hauer
This week the Jewish world will celebrate the 46th anniversary of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. This miraculous event restored unity to the city that symbolizes Jewish unity, described by the Psalmist as “the city that is united together” (Psalm 122). In fact, King David only established Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after mending the divisions within the Jewish People and gaining their unified support (Samuel II, chapter 5). As such, and with keen awareness of all that continues to divide our People – especially in Yerushalayim – I would like to share three quotes from Rav Avraham Yitzchak haKohein Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Palestine. The quotes present a concept and a strategy of Jewish unity.
The Concept The quote below comes from Rav Kook’s “Ayn Ayoh” commentary to the Aggadaic passages in TB Berachos (64a), and is also found in his “Siddur Olat Riyah” (quote translated by Chanan Morrison). It presents a concept of peace and unity that clearly guided Rav Kook’s communal thinking and activities.
“Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Haninah: Torah scholars increase peace in the world. As it says, “All of Your children … Read More >>
It’s a story I tell a lot, since, well, its point comes up a lot. Blessedly, my audience, at least judging from its response, hadn’t heard it before.
The psychiatrist asks the new patient what the problem is. “I’m dead,” he confides earnestly, “but my family won’t believe me.”
The doctor raises an eyebrow, thinks a moment, and asks the patient what he knows about dead people. After listing a few things – they don’t breathe, their hearts don’t beat – the patient adds, “and they don’t bleed very much.” At which point the psychiatrist pulls out a blade and runs it against patient’s arm, which begins to bleed, profusely.
The patient is aghast and puzzled. He looks up from his wound at the slyly smiling doctor and concedes, “I guess I was wrong.”
“Dead people,” he continues, “do bleed.”
I interrupted the laughter with the sobering suggestion that it’s not only the emotionally compromised victims of delusions, however, who see the world through their own particular lenses. Most of us do, at least if we have strong convictions. And the yields of those sometimes very different lenses are the stuff of conflict.
My brief presentation took place … Read More >>
We routinely turn away contributors of “pure” halacha and hashkafa pieces. Not that our regular contributors undervalue them. To the contrary, I believe that every one of our authors consider pure Torah pieces more valuable than any of our blogging activity. However, we tell ourselves that readers will have no trouble finding a full assortment of quality Torah pieces elsewhere. What we try to do at Cross-Currents is slake the thirst of many – for better or worse – for treatments of applied Torah, or the intersection between Torah thought and the unfolding of events in the world around us.
A review of a new volume of teshuvos would then seem to be out of character for Cross-Currents treatment. It would be that, were it not for their extraordinary author, Rav Asher Weiss, shlit”a. As we shall see, both the scope of his work and the ease with which he addresses the complexities of cutting-edge issues are breaths of fresh air to people who have not given up on a Torah enthusiastically and confidently confronts the world at large.
The personality of the author entirely predicts this work. Rav Weiss is upbeat, optimistic, and accessible. His appeal does not … Read More >>
The Talmud in Eruvin [47b-48a] discusses the unusual case of a lake situated between two villages, such that each end of the lake is within the Sabbath limits of one or the other village. Because the water mixes, and thus someone who goes out and draws water might be removing water from the Sabbath limits of the other village, Rebbe Chiyah says you can’t draw water without an iron wall dividing the lake. The Talmud continues that Rebbe Yosse bar Rebbe Chanina disagrees — and laughs at Rebbe Chiyah.
The Talmud asks… why? Without focusing upon the rest of the story, and the actual reason behind the laughter, it’s interesting to note what the Talmud discounts. “Because his logic goes with a lenient view, he laughs at someone who teaches a more stringent opinion?!” The Talmud finds that inconceivable!
So you might think, as I did, that obviously the rabbis of the Talmud did not understand the blogger mindset. You know, the type of person who will make fun of anything that his shallow mind doesn’t understand? Perhaps the rabbis didn’t know such people!
But then I realized, no, of course not. The Talmud isn’t talking about your average … Read More >>
A discomfiting feeling crept over me as I watched the fellow remove his head.
Well, not his head – though that would have been discomfiting too, even more so. This was just a costume head, that of the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster. The scene: a small island of concrete in the middle of lower Broadway in Manhattan, where a moment before, Mr. Monster had been happily (at least his expression seemed to say so) posing with a pair of happy children (their expressions left no doubt), the latter’s parents pointing their phones at the photogenic performer and progeny.
My discomfiture arose from discordance, the jarring contrast between the friendly furry face, now dangling from a hand, and the entertainer’s actual own face, heavily stubbled and sneering. Grumbling and angry, he was clearly not enjoying his job.
It might be a professional hazard. A year or so later, an Elmo in Times Square began shouting anti-Semitic rants (with his head on, so to speak) and blocking traffic before being arrested. Another Cookie Monster in the same area stands accused of shoving a 2-year-old when he deemed his mother’s tip insufficient for his services. (“He was using words that … Read More >>
Some unwarranted criticism that was lobbed last week at several Orthodox writers greatly disturbed this one.
The target of one volley – though the shots widely missed their mark – was Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, one of the preeminent representatives of the charedi world. He was harshly criticized in a magazine editorial for a column he penned in a different magazine wherein he sought a silver lining in the current political disenfranchisement of charedi parties in the Israeli government coalition.
Rabbi Rosenblum suggested that the current situation “affords new opportunities to meet our fellow Jews on the individual level” and that now that they know that “we no longer threaten them” in the political realm, “they may be more open… to getting behind the stereotypes that fuel the animus” against charedim in Israel. “On a one-to-one basis,” he suggested, “we can show them what Torah means to us, what we are prepared to sacrifice for it, and what it might mean for them as well.”
Astonishingly, the writer of those words was pilloried for that sentiment, and misrepresented, too, as having asserted that “the hatred secular Israelis have toward charedim is the fault of the hated rather than the … Read More >>
I’ve never hidden my disdain for the “Women of the Wall,” and with Anat Hoffman’s new “compromise” proposal to rip down the Mechitzah on a daily basis, that’s not about to change any time soon.
A woman I’ve known for several years is now heading up a new group called Women For the Wall, for “preserving the sanctity of the Wall.” It’s not just a counter-movement, it’s a group of traditional Jewish women celebrating who they are.
Please check them out, and support the right of the majority to pray undisturbed!
Two weeks ago, we read in Parshas Shemini how on the day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon Hakohein, brought a “strange fire in front of Hashem” and were consumed by a “fire that went forth from before Hashem.” Targum Onkelos translates a “strange fire” as one “not commanded by Hashem.”
Later this summer, we will read of Korach and his followers. Korach made a specifically democratic argument against the “appropriation” of any special role in the Divine service by either Moshe Rabbeinu or his brother, Aharon Hakohein: “For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy. . . “
Nor can there be any question of the sincerity of the followers of Korach. Moshe warned them that only one of those who brought the incense offering would survive, and yet 250 showed up the next morning and placed the incense on their censors. Their evident sincerity did not avail them, and each one perished in the same fashion as Nadav and Avihu.
From these two famous episodes, we learn three things. First, when it comes to Divine service, modern categories, like “rights of religious expression” and “equality,” are misplaced. Hashem … Read More >>
It’s difficult to know whether shock-jock Michael Savage is in fact the actual person whose Bronx-accented ranting emanates daily from radios across the country, or whether that voice belongs to an adopted persona, a cantankerous, rude and hilariously self-aggrandizing misfit who seeks to capitalize on an assortment of angers lurking in the dark corners of listeners’ souls.
Certainly the fact that the former Michael Weiner adopted the name “Savage,” of all things, and that the portly 70-ish fellow introduces his program with abrasive headbanger music more suitable to a pierced punk rocker than a political pontificator would seem to argue for the alter ego case. So would optimism about the human condition: It would be disturbing to know that such an abrasive person was in fact real.
Already disturbing is the fact that the fellow (or his affected persona) has Jewish admirers. Those fans apparently figure that someone who voices fury for terrorists, bashes Israel-bashers and claims to stand up for traditional morals not only can’t be all bad but must be all good. No logic there, of course, but no one ever claimed that fandom is fettered by reason.
And so some Orthodox Jewish admirers of Mr. … Read More >>
The Women of the Wall must be one of the most offensively misnamed groups in history. They don’t represent the Wall, they don’t represent the vast majority of the women who pray there, and they don’t represent sincere prayer.
As she was led off by police, their director, Lesley Sachs, was caught on video shouting out: “to all women from all denominations, there is more than one way to be a Jew!” Her actions were never about joining the others in prayer, but about disrupting them.
MK Michal Rozin said it best: “It’s not a religious issue, it’s a political issue.” Of course, it’s a religious site, and thus the first question should have been whether or not it is appropriate to stage a political protest in a place where others are accustomed to praying in peace.
This is why the proposal from Natan Sharansky, much as it is being celebrated in the press, is actually drawing a more positive reaction from Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz than from the group. According to the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Rabinowitz said that he will not oppose the plan “for the sake of unity and out of … Read More >>
The news is reporting today the passing of HaRav Yaakov Yosef zt”l, the oldest son of ylctv”a Chacham Ovadiah Yosef shlit”a. A student of Yeshivos Porat Yosef, Kol Torah, Kol Yaakov and Merkaz HaRav Kook, he was the Rav of Givat Moshe and Rosh Yeshivas Chazon Yaakov. He was a teacher to tens of thousands; even during his final illness his shiurim were broadcast by radio in Israel so that listeners could learn from him.
Then I also received word, via email, of the passing of Rebbetzin Shaindel Bulman a”h, the wife of Rav Nachman Bulman zt”l. The Bulmans helped to build Torah in Danville, VA, Newport News, VA, Far Rockaway, NY, Migdal HaEmek, and finally in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem. She is the author of A Cup of Tea with the Rebbetzin, and the just released second volume, Another Cup of Tea with the Rebbetzin. Her children, including our writer Rbtzn. Toby Katz, are sitting shiva at her home in Neve Yaakov, while her sister Ruth Weiser is sitting shiva in Teaneck, NJ.