And Now For Something Completely Different

This is worth posting just because of the “conventional wisdom” that the Charedim are an overwhelmingly serious bunch. That, and the guy’s name is Yankel.


So They Don’t Really Want To Stamp Out Torah, After All

You are going to have to read this excerpt from an article by Dov Lipman, even if he is unpopular with much of our readership, especially since he is only quoting Mishpacha. It appears in today’s Times of Israel. Don’t hug the messenger if you don’t want, but don’t shoot him either.

The Haredi newspaper, Mishpacha, sponsored a poll to determine the attitudes of secular Israelis towards Haredim. They hired one of Israel’s top pollsters, Mina Tzemach, to do the research.

Here are some of the results:

1) 72% of secular Israelis believe that the Haredim do not contribute to the Jewish nature of Israel. 2) 67% believe that the IDF is obligated to provide Haredim who serve with all of their religious needs to make sure that their lifestyle is not impacted negatively by their army service. 3) 82% are willing to hire Haredim to work in their companies. 4) 93% believe that there must be dialogue between the secular and Haredim to preserve unity in Israeli society. 5) 52% feel that Haredim and secular living side by side in the same areas will lead to better relationships between these populations. 6) 77% know Haredim personally and 83% … Read More >>

The Tikvah Yeshiva Fellowships – Exciting New Program

Friday saw the launch of a program that will be exciting to yeshiva men with unfulfilled intellectual leanings, to Klal Yisrael, and to this author, who will be given an opportunity to pay back a debt many decades old.

The Tikvah Fund (TF) announced that it is now accepting candidate applications for the Tikvah Yeshiva Fellowship Program, to be held August 10-17 at the Glen Cove Mansion on Long Island. The program is designed for talmidei yeshivos between the ages of 20-30 who are possessed of enough intellectual curiosity to want to spend a week with some stellar presenters from both the Torah and secular communities, exploring issues of the relationship of the Torah Jew to the betterment of general society.

The Tikvah Fund, in its own words, “ [is]aimed at men and women who wish to influence the intellectual, religious, and political life of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” It leans heavily to classic conservative thinking on political and economic issues. To help create a new generation of Jewish leadership, it organizes seminars and fellowships that bring icons of American intellectual achievement to talented Jewish participants. The current list of presenters at one of … Read More >>

A Letter From a Troubled Charedi Father

Dovid Landesman

My late rebbi, Rav Dov Schwartzman z”l, once told me that the essence of the sin of the spies dispatched by Moshe is that they were motzi dibat ha-aretz in chutz la-aretz [they defamed the Land of Israel at a time when they were outside that land]. I can very well understand those who would contend that there is a substantial difference between motzi dibat ha-aretz and motzi dibat ha-medinah; nevertheless, I am profoundly disturbed by the postings and comments – and even more so by the tone – of those who permanently reside in the Diaspora and choose to analyze the questions and challenges raised by the current draft situation in EY based on hearsay evidence, isolated incidents or the agenda driven reporting of the chareidi and non-chareidi press.

Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the total self-denial characteristic of many elements in the yeshiva world that we – the chareidi world of which I consider myself a member in good standing – may well be at least partially at fault for the success of Yair Lapid and his cohorts. The question of national service is not new and has been festering in Israeli society for … Read More >>

At Least Some Of Us Can All Get Along

I know that I am not alone in feeling that the last few weeks have been particularly trying to yeshiva-educated people who nonetheless recoil from some of its rhetoric, and all of the divisiveness that it has generated. Witnessing a different model helps restore some optimism for the future.

I was privileged to experience a different spirit a week ago when I served as scholar in residence at the BAYT in Thornhill, Ontario. Its physical size would predict that it belongs in Texas, not Toronto. (It is the largest shul in Canada, and I believe the second largest anywhere in North America. Joe Tannenbaum a”h who knew a few things about construction designed it large.) That translates into over 800 member families, nine different minyanim on Shabbos morning. Enough people come together at mincha on Shabbos to rate as an asifa. The building brings together members of a black kollel and a white kollel, who get along with each other and even participate in joint events.

As a visiting speaker, I am sensitive to the varied personalities of communities and shuls. There are places where people will come over and tell you how great you were, even … Read More >>

A Letter to a Troubled Charedi Father

I received an email from a Charedi man with two sons in learning (one in Lakewood), who is very troubled by the current rejection of the draft. It is obvious that he does not count himself among those who do not understand that learning Torah all day requires extreme dedication and personal sacrifice, and is providing a profound service to the Jewish people — including by helping protect it. In other words, his problem is not with those who are successful in learning, but with those who are not. Why are they not in the Army, and why are the Gedolim, at present, making no effort to send them where they belong? This is a point addressed briefly by Rabbi Doron Beckerman in his larger post on the draft issue, but deserves greater elaboration.

This is my reply:

In an ideal world, it is obvious that any charedi boy who is not successful in his studies, and is prepared to go out to work, ought to be doing military service in any situation where everyone else is subject to conscription. That is indeed simple fairness; the IDF is preserving the security of Israel, and those who do not … Read More >>

The (Not So) Subtle Racism of the Draft Bill

In describing the effects of the new draft bill one month ago, I considered only the response of what we would call the “core” charedi community — families in which both parents and children consider themselves bound to follow the directives of the Gedolei HaDor. An article in Ami Magazine about Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, considered the leading authority of Sephardic Jewry until his passing in October of last year, alerted me that I had not considered the disproportionate impact that the law will have on the Sephardic community.

What I described was accurate, and is already coming to pass. That could almost be a pun, as my statement that “the budding Torah scholars will very happily choose jail, and be fêted as heroes for doing so,” was proven in the person of Yaakov Yisrael Paz, who was arrested for following the directive of HaRav Shmuel Auerbach shlit”a not to report to an induction center. He was released after ten days, and promptly escorted to an audience with Rav Auerbach himself, carried by a crowd of singing and dancing bochurim happy that one of their friends had sanctified G-d’s name by going to jail for his religious … Read More >>

A Brief Response to Rabbi Slifkin

The points raised by Rabbi Slifkin deserve a response, albeit not as elaborate as I might have liked, again due to serious time constraints.

1) Rabbi Slifkin notes that my single-sentence summary that there was always a portion of Klal Yisrael that was dedicated to full-time Torah study is “false,” for the Tribe of Levi was dedicated to teaching Torah, not studying it. Rabbi Slifkin would have been on target had I been referring to the Tribe of Levi; I was referring to the Torah scholars themselves – who have always existed in Klal Yisrael and whom it was a sin to draft, as per the sources regarding Avraham (Nedarim 32), Assa and others.

2) Rabbi Slifkin questions the extent or basis of “honorary Levite.” It is clear that the essential basis of the exemption granted to the Levites was not that they taught Torah, for if this were the case, the very next halachah in Rambam would have stated “Not only the Tribe of Levi, but any Torah teacher…” It does not. The common denominator between Levi and the personage in the following halachah is their spiritual idealism, casting off worldly pursuits and … Read More >>

Women and Tefillin: R. Twersky’s Magisterial Approach

[Ultimately, it is not about women or tefillin - it is about the very nature of halachic process. Rabbi Mayer Twersky, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, grandson of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, and Harvard graduate, offers reasoning so compelling that I believe it should not be missed. It was first published on Torahweb.org, and is reproduced here with permission.]

May Orthodox Rabbis Permit Women to Don Tefillin [1]?

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The Ruling of the Ramo and Modern Reaction

ואם הנשים רוצין להחמיר על עצמן מוחין בידן and if the women wish to act stringently [and don tefillin] we rebuke them (Ramo, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 38:3) Recently, some rabbis have publicized and implemented their view that women wishing to don tefillin should be accommodated, contra Ramo’s ruling. A firestorm of controversy has ensued. But seemingly there is ample justification for their position.

The argument runs as follows. What, in effect, have these rabbis done? To best serve their students/congregants they have, simply, sensitively aligned themselves with the Rambam, et al, whose view, contra Ramo, allows women to don tefillin. Surely, the view of Rambam, et al is valid.

The nominal argument continues. Times have unquestionably changed. We … Read More >>

More on Drafting Yeshiva Boys

by Rabbi Doron Beckerman

Many of the arguments regarding the hot-button topic of drafting Yeshiva boys unfortunately seem to suffer from profound confusion. In an attempt to clarify the issues as seen from a mainstream Charedi viewpoint, I present a list of questions and the answers as I understand them.

Q: Why don’t Charedim go to the army?

A: Do you mean Charedim, or those studying full-time in Yeshiva or Kollel?

Q: Start with those studying full-time.

A: Because there was always a portion of Klal Yisrael that was dedicated to full-time Torah study and that did not serve in the army.

Q: Is there halachic basis for this exemption?

A: Yes. While it is a matter of debate among the Poskim, the preponderance of Poskim maintain that those studying Torah are exempt. Sources include: R’ Yechiel Michel Tukaczinsky (HaTorah VeHamedinah, 1952); R’ Yitzchak Arieli (Einayim LaMishpat, Bava Basra 7b); R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah IV, 33); R’ Eliezer Waldenberg (Sefer Hilchos Medinah II, Sha’ar 3); R’ Moshe Tzvi Neriah (Bnei HaYeshivos Vegiyyusam).

Q: Is part of the calculus that Torah study provides protection to its inhabitants?

A: Yes.

Q: Do Charedim believe that there is no … Read More >>

A New Dialogue in Eretz Yisroel – The Transformative Model

Binyomin Wolf

Both sides on the chareidi draft issue in Eretz Yisroel see the other as an existential threat. The current coalition government apparently thought that they did not need to compromise on the imprisonment issue when they unilaterally negotiated and recently passed their draft bill. On the other hand, the various chareidi communities do not think they need to compromise in their total opposition to the law in any form and believe their show of solidarity on the issue at the Atzeres Tefillah gathering in Yerushalayim backs up that position. All they need to do it wait until the next election and give a majority to any coalition government which agrees to repeal the law.

When both sides look at the other, they feel simultaneously vulnerable and powerful. In reality, this is the perfect opening for leaders on both sides to participate in an open-ended dialogue that, based on past history, has a strong potential to not only enable them to reach a peaceable resolution to the conflict, but to bring them closer together. That framework for conversation is called “transformative mediation.”

The Transformative Model

The chareidi and non-chareidi communities in Eretz Yisroel need some framework … Read More >>

Lapid Flunks the Leadership Test

Yair Lapid pushed the criminalization provisions in the new draft law through the cabinet. Without those provisions, he told his cabinet colleagues, he could not sell the law to his supporters. Rather than call his bluff and possibly bring the government down in the process, those who opposed criminalization – including Ayelet Shaked, who headed the committee that formulated the law, and Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon — caved and voted for criminalization.

Now, Lapid may be right that he could not have sold his supporters on the draft law without the criminalization provisions, but if so that merely reflects the degree to which he has bound himself by his own demagoguery and failed to lead.

In a similar fashion, Yasir Arafat was likely telling the truth when he told Bill Clinton at Camp David that signing a peace agreement with Israel would be tantamount to a death sentence for him. But that admission reflected the extent to which Arafat had used the Palestinian Authority media and educational system to whip the Palestinian populace into a frenzy of hatred of Israel since the onset of Oslo. He completely failed to educate his followers to the reality that a Palestinian … Read More >>

The Virtues of Ham-Handed Moderation

As you’ve probably noticed, Cross-Currents has been very active these days. More content from a wider variety of writers, touching on some of the most timely issues of today, means more traffic — and more comments. I think it’s time again to make a comment about comments.

As most of you are aware, I share (and try to do more than my part) in the task of comment moderation. Usually it’s a short task – more recently, that has not been the case.

Responses flowed in to Rabbi Rosenblum’s latest on the Atzeres Tefilah. Initially, he thought to approve them all – until he had the opportunity to review them. At that point, both he and I felt that with entirely too few exceptions, the commenter had missed the point, didn’t know recent Jewish history, and/or was simply looking for an opportunity to bash Charedim. The signal to noise ratio was unacceptably low.

Comments ranged from “Are you really comparing Jewish knesset members with Hitler & Haman?” to “There was also the famous rabbis’ march on Washington. Were these gedolei hador also guilty of angering Hitler, yimach sh’mo, chas v’shalom?” Seriously now.

Is Rabbi Rosenblum really to … Read More >>

Purim: Respecting the Limits

Avrohom Gordimer

The final hours of my Purim this year were utterly ruined by several incidents of irresponsible drinking. It is time that our communities aggressively tackle this most serious matter head-on. No, I am not advocating the approach of not drinking. I myself, in a very controlled way, imbibe on Purim in a manner that totally fulfills the mitzvah of “Ad d’lo yada” according to the Shulchan Aruch. At that time, during my seudas Purim, I experience the Mishteh and Simchah qualities of Purim, as I focus internally and share divrei Torah about what I believe are the inner meaning of the day and the true significance of Purim drinking. I make sure that drinking concludes two hours before Maariv, that drinking occurs exclusively at the Purim seudah (v. Rambam Hilchos Megillah 2:15 and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 695:2), that the only intoxicating beverage present is wine (v. Rambam ibid.), and that minors only imbibe a very small, monitored amount. These guidelines typically ensure a really inspiring, joyous and outstanding Purim, which my family and guests appreciate and seek to replicate.

This year, several incidents upon which I will not elaborate spoiled everything. While we are all familiar … Read More >>

An Atzeres Tefillah

It is with good reason that the huge gathering in response to the Shaked Committee Report was styled as an atzeres tefillah (a prayer gathering), and not as a protest. Even in moments of high tension, when the Torah community feels under threat, what we say and how we say it matters. The rules of cost-benefit analysis do not cease at fateful times; they become ever more important. And that is why we need the clear da’as of the elders of the generation.

In every chareidi history of American Jewry’s responses to the Holocaust, one event always merits special mention l’gnai (for criticism) – a mass protest called by secular Jewish organizations in the mid-1930s calling for a boycott of German products. Those histories cite credible reports that Hitler, ym”sh, was enraged by the protests and thereby strengthened in his determination to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. (At a later stage, Agudath Israel of America was the only Jewish organization to circumvent the British-declared boycott of Nazi-held territory in order to send packages to starving Jews in Poland and elsewhere.)

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz relates in In Their Shadows a lesson the Chazon Ish taught … Read More >>

Our Soulless Society

Back in 2005, The New York Times asked a number of contemporary thinkers what idea that is taken for granted these days they think will disappear “in the next 35 years.”

Professor Peter Singer, the Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University’s Orwellian-named “Center for Human Values,” responded: “the traditional view of the sanctity of human life.” That view, he explained, will “collapse under pressure from scientific, technological and demographic developments.”

It’s been less than ten years since that prediction but the professor is already being proven a prophet.

The Journal of Medical Ethics is a peer-reviewed academic journal in the field of bioethics, established in 1975. A scholarly paper that appeared in its pages in 2012 has, for some reason, been receiving new attention. It deserves it.

It was titled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” and was written by two academics, members of the philosophy departments of, respectively, the University of Milan and the University of Melbourne.

Its authors’ summary reads, in its entirety, as follows:

“Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that 1) both fetuses and newborns do not have … Read More >>

Pondering the Prayer Gathering

The article below appeared last week, on March 11, in Haaretz. It is republished here with that paper’s permission.

The weather in Manhattan on Sunday – a few degrees above freezing – wasn’t as pleasant as Jerusalem’s a week earlier. But that didn’t stop an estimated 60,000 Orthodox Jews from turning out to participate in an American counterpart to the mammoth prayer gathering that had filled the Holy City’s streets the week before.

Many American haredim live in communities far removed from New York, and thus couldn’t participate. Still and all, an ocean of black hats stretched about a mile along, fittingly, Water Street, a major thoroughfare at Manhattan’s tip. Traffic reporters were beside themselves, direly warning drivers to abandon all hope of entering lower Manhattan, and reporters in truck buckets high above the crowd shouted down to us earthlings that they couldn’t spy an end to the mass of humanity.

And, as was the case at the Israeli happening, a broad spectrum of haredim was represented.

There were Jewish businessmen and professionals from throughout New York and New Jersey, yeshiva and kollel students from places like Lakewood and Baltimore, chassidim of varied stripes, even including Satmar, a … Read More >>

Purim Torah

If one were trying to prove to the Chareidi community that the new draft bill is not an attempt at coercive social engineering, that it is not motivated by a desire to change Chareidi life, or that there is a real effort to develop understanding and to work for mutual benefit, then one could scarcely imagine a more counterproductive effort than recent pieces attempting to “prove” from Torah sources that the unanimous position of the Gedolim is, in a word, wrong.

The Teshuvah of Reb Moshe zt”l referenced by R’ Yair Hoffman is clear and unambiguous. To claim that R’ Moshe was referring only to “scholars” or “metzuyanim” makes a pretzel from the straight words of his Teshuvah. R’ Moshe says that his words apply to “מי שלומד בישיבה גדולה ועוסק בתורה,” “whomever sits in yeshiva gedolah and involves himself with Torah.” According to R’ Moshe, the Gemara makes no distinction between Zekeinim and Tzurbah MiRabanon, between elders and the young — all are Rabanon, and “רבנן לא צריכי נטירותא” (they need no defense nor to participate in defense) applies to them all. It is his position that one who has a desire to learn Torah and … Read More >>

The Beit Shemesh Elections – One Chareidi Perspective

by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

It seemed to us, the residents of Beit Shemesh, as if the whole world stood still to follow the elections. Politicians from Netanyahu on down all made statements and took sides (strictly on party lines: everyone against the Chareidim). As they put it, the entire future of Beit Shemesh — and of Israel for that matter — depended on the outcome. This was the final hope for Beit Shemesh, they declared. Would it be a forward-looking city welcoming to all, or yet another (backwards, intolerant, impoverished) Chareidi stronghold?

What happened that pit this usually easygoing, peace-loving, heavily-Anglo city against itself in some cataclysmic, no-holds-barred struggle for survival? And why did some consider the outcome an awe-inspiring kiddush Hashem while others called it a disgrace to all the Torah is supposed to hold dear? We all know there are hotheads and troublemakers among us — on both sides of the fence — but in all honesty, I think all of us here know that the vast majority of us are proud of our city and proud of the fact that we live in peace and harmony 99.9% of the time. To most of us Beit Shemesh … Read More >>

A Response to Rabbi Slifkin

Last week, I penned an article articulating why there was a gathering in Manhattan of 50,000 Torah observant Jews who do not wish to see Yeshiva students forcibly drafted into the army.  The gathering was supported by leading Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbonim in America, and the leaders of Shas, Agudah, and Degel HaTorah  in Eretz Yisroel.  I made eight points:

  1. Soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and are playing a holy role.
  2. All of us, who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication, should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being.
  3. It is unfortunate that some do not express their hakaras hatov.
  4. Full-timeTorah study, like nuclear research, is very important.
  5. When there is a “super” milchemes Mitzvah all people have to go to war
  6. There is a debate whether there are two types of wars in halacha or 3 types of wars.
  7. Chareidim hold that there are 3 types and that right now the war situation in Israel is a standard milchemes mitzvah.  Bridegrooms go to war.  Torah scholars, according to the chareidi view, only go out to war in cases of “super” milchemes Mitzvah.
  8. Both sides should work toward better unity.

R. Slifkin chose to attack the article, but not directly on the eight points I made (although he addressed the last one).  Rather he chose to attack the Chareidi point of view, in what could be characterized as a diatribe.  It is easy to create a false straw man and knock it down. I will try to deal with each of Rabbi Slifkin’s responses point by point.
Continue reading → A Response to Rabbi Slifkin

A Berdichiver Moment

By Dovid Landesman

One of the more famous stories about R.Levi Yitzchak zt”l recalls his visit to the local marketplace. There he came across a wagon driver wearing tallit and tefillin, busily digigng the wheel of his cart out of the mud in which it was mired. The gabbai who accompanied his master was aghast at the insensitivity of this simple Jew, hastily reciting his morning prayers in such an unsuitable fashion. But R. Levi Yitzchak saw something else. Looking up to heaven, the Rebbe raised his voice and declared: “Ribbono shel olam, what nachat you must have from your children. Even when they are working in the mud, they think only of you!”

I remembered the story as I watched the IDF video of the sailors who had interdicted the Panamanian ship carrying missiles bound for Gaza. In case you missed it, the clip shows the crew of one of the destroyers singing Shalom Aleichim and then listening to Kiddush. Obviously the film was taken on Shabbat and initially I was disturbed by the needless act of chilul Shabbat that it represented. But then I thought, “Wow! Here was the crew of an Israeli destroyer along with members … Read More >>

Torah Study and the IDF – A Halachic Overview

Many people, from outside and even from inside the Chareidi community, have questioned the Torah sources regarding Bnei Torah continuing to study rather than serving in the army.  There is no question, of course, that the soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and are playing a holy role.  Certainly, all of us, who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication. should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being.  It is unfortunate that some do not.

The leading Sages of America, Degel HaTorah, Agudah in Eretz Yisroel and the sages of Shas – the Sefardic Torah organization – all signed onto the call to join in the mass gathering in the Wall Street area.  The purpose of the Asifa was to show solidarity with the Torah community in Israel.   The Torah community is facing an unprecedented law in the state of Israel’s history – a law to forcibly draft Yeshiva students into the armed forces, contravening an agreement that was made at the very birth of the country.

This response is an explanation and a historical overview about the confluence of army service and Torah study.   Not everyone, of course, will agree with the explanations and positions set forth here.  However, those that do not agree must realize that they do come from a very different socio-religious milieu than those in the Chareidi world who have been brought up with and raised with a deep appreciation of Torah being the only definition of true Jewish  life.

Serious-minded Chareidi Jews do not merely recite the words of the blessings of the Shma perfunctorily.  No.  When they recite the words, “Ki haim chayeinu – for they are our life – v’orech yameinu and the pathways of our days.” – they mean it, and they mean it as the sole pursuit in life. They view the notion of Zionism as a form of secular nationalism and not as the fulfillment of any religious ideal.

The situation may be somewhat analogous to the Manhattan Project during World War II.  The top secret project that was to develop the atom bomb required an enormous amount of manpower – manpower that would normally have gone toward the war effort.  The project was top secret and few understood what the Manhattan Project was all about, even the massive number of workers who were building centrifuges to build heavy water extraction plants.  And there were well over 100,000 such workers.  Many of these workers and scientists who labored in the project were constantly subjected to sneers and snide remarks from the average citizenry  – whose boys were across two oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, fighting.

The parallel is obvious.  There was little appreciation for those who toiled at electro-magnetic isotope separation,  thermal diffusion, U-235 production and Plutonium production, instead of going to the army.  There is little appreciation as well for those who toil in Nashim, Nezikin, Kodshim and Moed, instead of fighting in the IDF.  Bring the subject up to someone who was not raised in the bedrock of Torah life and you will invariably get the response, “Oh come on!  They are so different!”

But there is no difference.

The Manhattan Project was crucial in saving hundreds of thousands of American lives.  And, according to Chazal, full time Torah study is crucial in saving the Jewish people.  Let’s take a quick tour through the halachic and historical record.

Continue reading → Torah Study and the IDF – A Halachic Overview

Adar Blues and the Beit Shemesh Election

The last week or so has not been easy. I can’t recall another state of affairs that left a huge number of Orthodox Jews elated, while another group looked on in sheer dismay. I wondered, as did some of our commenters, whether something could be called a massive Kiddush Hashem when it so dramatically sharpened the pirud levavos between Torah observant Jews.

Had I been in Yerushalayim or New York, I would have attended. How could I not take part in a gathering of so many Torah Jews, united in their love for Torah? And tefillah is always appropriate. HKBH can sort out all of the different requests; mine would have been for a solution to the problem that allows for Torah to thrive, for people to extricate themselves from their poverty and dependence if they wish, for people not to drown financially as this is happening, and for healing the rifts between us.

I would have attended, but it would have been with a heavy heart – as if by kefias sheid. I would have shared some of the fears and pain of the crowd, but utterly rejected some of the slogans and rhetoric. It pains me to … Read More >>

Megillas Lester

Haman

“It’s the best Jewish movie I’ve ever seen, and it has no competition” — such was my daughter’s trenchant review of the awesome Megillas Lester. While that isn’t strictly true, of course (there have been children’s movies like “Agent Emes” around for a while, and I’m sure she has seen them), the claims that this movie is “raising the bar” on quality frum entertainment are, for once, no exaggeration at all.

I’m sure this was a major gamble. As much as Emes Productions (who provided financial backing) may claim to specialize in “low budget” films, the acting, animation and production costs were probably far above anything done for our community thus far. I hope it pays off financially, because the result is a very high quality product — keyn yirbu, our community will undoubtedly demand more on this level.

Chananya (CJ) Kramer of Kol Rom Multimedia has been a creative and comedic genius for a long time. When, as a camp counselor, he was assigned the job of waking campers each morning, he put together a brilliant series of mock radio interviews (with himself as all characters) to be played over the camp loudspeakers. And everyone woke … Read More >>

Masquerading As Feminism

On Purim, Jewish men, to varying degrees, imbibe strong drink, and Jewish women do their best to keep them safe and anchored in civilization. The holiday thus may not seem very female-centered. But it is.

Not just because its hero is a heroine and the holy book about the historical event it commemorates is named after her, but because Megillas Esther verily revolves around femininity.

The pliable, preposterous monarch we meet at the Megillah’s start is a poster child (or, perhaps better, poster adolescent) for male chauvinism. His 180-day drinking party, as the Talmud describes it, was a bacchanal of arrested-development “good ol’ boys” acting like louts, and entailed the debasement, and eventual execution, of his queen.

And the next action of the foolhardy king was to organize the antithesis of true respect for women: a beauty contest.

And Achashverosh, of course, ends up being manipulated by a woman, our reticent, modest heroine Esther, and led by her to dispatch the Jews’ mortal enemy, saving her people from his evil plans.

But there’s a good deal more here, too, although it’s a good deal more subtle. Mordechai, the Midrash teaches us, was miraculously able to physically nurse the baby … Read More >>