Supporting Him, Supporting You

By Alexandra Fleksher

Just before Shavuos, women in Cleveland, Ohio, got together to attend a panel discussion entitled, “Supporting our Husbands who are Working: Supporting him, Supporting you.” The panelists, in their 20s and 30s, were diverse, representing working women, stay at home moms, wives of men who learned full-time for years, wives of men who never learned in kollel, ba’alos teshuvah, and Bais Yaakov graduates. Their goal was singular: to provide personal insights into what it means to support our husbands who spend most of their day at work in the outside world, yet who make time for Torah study.

Girls are well prepared to marry boys who are learning. From Bais Yaakov to seminary, the ultimate “Torah life” espoused is one that is immersed in the kedusah and growth-oriented atmosphere of the kollel lifestyle. “Good girls” date and marry boys who are in yeshiva and “good boys” are immersed in full-time study. Yet while the highest ideal may be to marry a man with aspirations to learn Torah full-time for as long as possible, the reality is that most of these men do not continue to learn long term. Most leave the precious halls of the beis … Read More >>


America’s Got Chillul Hashem

by Dan Butler

The various news and social media have been crowing about the “modern Orthodox” 12-year-old who appeared last night on AMERICA’S GOT TALENT. This little caricature of the caricature “Jacob”-a painfully embarrassing and seldom funny woman playing a bar mitzvah boy on Saturday Night Live-told a few foul “jokes” to the utter delight( tinged with shock) of the crowd. By any objective standard, neither the kid’s delivery nor his material would have made the grade if he were not a 12-year-old wearing a KIPA. Getting prominent play for how supportive they are, his father- also sporting a yarmulke on stage, and his mother, who could not have appeared more delighted if she were at her son’s medical school graduation, were just so obviously proud. It would have been a cringe- worthy display under any circumstances. But, assuming that they are not just very savvy Gentiles(and bad parents), who just used the device of a yarmulke to get a leg up on the competition, I find their identification as “modern Orthodox” appalling.

I am modern Orthodox.

Want to know what that means in my world? It means we adhere to an age-old tradition with as little compromise … Read More >>

The PCUSA and the Banality of Evil

Most who voted for the PCUSA divestment are not anti-Semitic, but the action itself clearly was. … Read More >>

Driving Lesson

The article below appeared earlier this week in Haaretz (under a more incendiary title).

Back in the day, before contoured bucket seats became de rigueur in cars, the front seat of family vehicles – especially larger ones – was once a couch-like affair that could, and often did, comfortably seat three adults across. The scene: Mr. and Mrs. Weisskopf, citizens of a certain age, are driving somewhere. The missus is upset, and her husband asks what’s wrong.

“Do you remember,” she says, wistfully but with unmistakable resentment, “how we used to sit so near one another on our drives? Look at us! We’re at totally opposite ends of the seat!”

The man is puzzled, as well he might be. “But dear,” he replies, looking across at her, his hands firm on the steering wheel, “I’m driving!”

The chestnut comes to mind upon reading some of the reactions of Reform leaders to the election of Ruby Rivlin to Israel’s presidency.

“He may be open-minded on a variety of issues,” Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who now heads the “religious pluralism” organization Hiddush, pronounced about the president-elect, “but his mind was made up” about Judaism’s definition. He is “the same … Read More >>

It’s Not Your Mother’s Knesset

They davened in Knesset last week for the three bochrim. Men and women, separate. With a mechitzah. Mi k’amcha Yisrael.

Andrew Dice Clay on Josh Orlian

If there’s ever someone you wouldn’t expect to be praised on Cross-Currents, it would have to be Andrew Dice Clay. He was banned for life by MTV and from many radio and television programs for his use of foul language and “politically incorrect humor” — one of the cast members of Saturday Night Live refused to appear during the episode in which he made a guest appearance. In terms of “defining deviancy down” when it comes to language and references in the media, he exceeded even Howard Stern.

But he provides an interesting footnote to the appearance of Josh Orlian on America’s Got Talent, as previously discussed by both Rabbi Adlerstein and myself. In contrast to Howard Stern, who I have since been told has a non-Jewish mother, Andrew Clay Silverstein grew up in a Jewish family in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn.

On Shabbos I mentioned Josh Orlian’s AGT appearance, and my reaction to it, while speaking at a Kiddush. I was seated across from a corporate entertainer and comedy magician named Avi Frier, who is also the former publisher of the Florida Jewish News. Honestly, I didn’t know the “corporate” part or what … Read More >>

AGT or YGK?

Virtually the entire Jewish community was united last week in its concern for Eyal, Naftoli and Gilad. It took a kippah-wearing twelve year-old shocking the judges on America’s Got Talent to give us back the Jewish dissension we can’t seem to do without. Josh Orlian’s debut as a stand-up comedian was only as strong as his act was salacious, which was risqué enough to charm the judges – and set off a fire-storm of disagreement. Should we embrace Josh for making Orthodox Jews so very much a part of the American mainstream, or curse the parents that laughed at his humor, rather than forcing him to wash out his mouth with (kosher) soap?

We should not forget a third option – at least for those who sensed that this was no kiddush Hashem, to put it mildly – which is to pinpoint just what was objectionable about his performance. We are at a teachable moment; the lesson is one that is part of the mission statement of the Jewish people.

Let’s first turn to the counterargument: as off-color as his humor was, it was tepid stuff compared to what American adults – and kids – deal with all the … Read More >>

From The Mouths of Secularists

“…To this very day, if you ask for my religion, I say ‘Orthodox Hebrew’ – in the sense that the church [sic] I’m not attending is that one. If I were to go to a church, that’s the one I would go to. That’s the one I failed. It doesn’t mean I’m something else…”

Those are the words of the famous physicist and Nobel laureate I. I. Rabi (1898-1988), quoted in the book “Rabi, Scientist and Citizen.” He was born into an observant family in Galicia, and was still a baby when his parents immigrated to the United States.

Although he eventually lost his connection to Jewish observance, he confided toward the end of his life that “Sometimes I feel I shouldn’t have dropped it so completely”; and, as his earlier words above testify, he rejected the idea that Judaism could ever be anything other than what it always has been, or that he – or any Jew – could ever be anything other than an Orthodox Jew – whether or not he chose to live like one.

A similar sentiment was voiced several years ago by then-Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, the man elected last week to be … Read More >>

Defining Deviancy Down

With Dad’s advice and encouragement, and young man introduced himself as a stand-up comic — and then proceeded to deliver a series of truly filthy jokes… while wearing a kipah. How should we respond to this? … Read More >>

Marriage: Not to be Taken for Granted

Rachel Ginsberg’s feature “Frayed Beyond Repair” in last week’s Mishpacha about the rise of middle-age divorce among couples married two decades or more — many of whom appeared to have had perfectly stable, functional marriages — probably shocked many readers, especially those, like my wife and I, who do not count any divorced couples among their close friends.

The question I asked myself was: Does “Frayed Beyond Repair” also have anything to teach those for whom the word “divorce” has never crossed their lips, or even entered their thoughts? Can those who attribute everything good that has ever happened to them as adults to one good decision made long ago and can no longer imagine what course their life might have taken without their life partner still learn anything from Mrs. Ginsberg’s account?

I think we probably can. If I took away one lesson from the feature it was: Marriages need nurturing. Just as HaKadosh Baruch Hu is mechadesh the world every moment by infusing it with new energy, as it were, so do we need to continually think about how to mechadesh the partnership upon which everything depends by infusing it with new energy. It’s never a good … Read More >>

A Beautiful Response To Some Odious Suggestions

In the pain we all share in the uncertainty over the Shvuyei Tzion, some have been moved to publish suggestions that are silly, obnoxious, and reprehensible. Unless, of course, they were made by genuine prophets. But we remember what the gemara says about the incidence of prophecy in modern times…

The following by Rav Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim, struck me as particularly well-thought out and expressed:

In the wake of our great pain over the kidnapping of the three innocent teens, a desire has arisen within the Nation to understand why this had happened. The desire to understand is good and upright, but – at the same time – we need the humility and intellect to realize that we do not know everything.

Some claim that this has happened because the government wants to draft Yeshiva students. Others claim that it is on account of anti-religious legislation. But what we should say is: We do not know.

We must be very careful, since it is quite possible that in assigning guilt one violates the prohibition of “Ona’at Devarim” (distressing others). As the Gemara in Baba Metzia (58b) says, one may not speak to one who is … Read More >>

A Prediction Fulfilled — Sadly

Exactly one year ago, in a piece entitled “Yair Lapid Sets Back the Clock,” I predicted that Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party would reverse a decade-long trend toward greater chareidi integration in the broader Israeli society. The Marker recently confirmed the accuracy of that prediction with respect to the number of chareidim seeking higher education and enlisting in the IDF.

An unidentified official in the Council on Higher Education termed the registration for the start of the upcoming academic year among chareidim as a “catastrophe.” According to the best estimates of the head of the council, Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, there will be a 20 percent decline from the chareidi registration for the 2013-14 academic year. The decline has been particularly dramatic among male students

The decrease in the number of chareidim registering for academic programs comes at a time when government support — in the form of student loans and grants — for chareidim in academia has greatly expanded. Avraham Feldstein, the director of Kemach, which offers tuition stipends for chareidi students, notes “the absurdity that at the very time the government is investing significant funds to encourage chareidi higher education, it has created a public atmosphere … Read More >>

A (for now) Final Post About Jewish Authority

I received much feedback concerning a piece I posted here several weeks ago (here) and a follow-up on my personal website (here), about second-guessing or disparaging the decisions of Jewish religious leaders.

A pertinent Mishneh that I didn’t cite – for the simple, unfortunate reason that I hadn’t remembered it – was part of the page of Talmud studied by Daf Yomi participants shortly thereafter. It is in Rosh Hashana, 25a. And it may well be the single most important statement about the topic.

The Mishneh tells of how Rabban Gamliel accepted two witnesses’ claimed sighting of the new moon (which affects all of the Jewish world’s calendar and holidays) that seemed to fly in the face of all logic, since the new moon was not evident the next night. Rabbi Dosa ben Hyrcanus pointed out the seeming impossibility of the witnesses being correct, and Rabbi Yehoshua, a student of Rabban Gamliel, felt compelled to concur.

Rabbam Gamliel, however, reprimanded his student for that fact and insisted that Rabbi Yehosua appear before him with his staff and coin-purse on the day that, according to Rabbi Dosa and all reason, should have been Yom Kippur. R’ Yehoshua was … Read More >>

The Agudah Dinner – The More Important Issue

Great attention has been paid to the recent Agudah Dinner, an unusual circumstance arising from the publicity given to the speech of the Novominsker Rebbe and the failure – if that is an appropriate term – of Mayor de Blasio to respond to the Rebbe’s criticism of Open Orthodoxy and the non-Orthodox movements.  We have been treated to a barrage of anti-charedi bigotry, beginning with The Forward and continuing more importantly to Michael Powell of the New York Times who with regularity utilizes his column as a vehicle to attack religious Jews.

There are good reasons to protest Powell’s bigotry, starting with his frequent use of the term “ultra-Orthodox,” a term that I believe is both sociologically inaccurate and fraught with hostility.  It is of note that in writing about other ethnic and religious groups, a number of which have front and center adherents whose extremism dwarfs by a great deal anything that can be found among the Orthodox, the term “ultra” is never applied.  We are once more the chosen people in the New York Times and elsewhere, chosen for contempt and even worse.

But for all of the understandable discussion of what happened or did not happen … Read More >>

Guess Who Came to Dinner?

Did a Frothing Press Help Serve the Truth?

According to those in the know, Mayor Bill de Blasio was to have delivered his greetings and departed with his press entourage before the Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow, rose to address the assembled at Agudath Israel’s 92nd annual dinner. Instead, the mayor was running late, Rav Perlow’s speech was moved up, and both hizzoner and his press ended up with front row seats. And in a departure from his norm at the annual dinner, the Novominsker chose to address an urgent Inyana D’Yuma instead of delivering more general remarks.

To judge from the coverage that resulted, one could be forgiven for thinking that Rav Perlow had ascended the podium and called for open warfare.

The press reached into its bag of stereotypes and pulled out a familiar caricature of “angry” charedim, though the antipodal video is available for all to see. The Forward said that Rav Perlow’s “fiery” speech “stunned” the dinner, and quoted an anonymous “Jewish leader” as claiming the comments of the Rosh Agudath Israel were “divisive,” along with other adjectives which would besmirch the Rebbe’s kavod to even repeat. [What sort of “leader” … Read More >>

Of Peoples… and People

Commuting to and from Manhattan daily on the Staten Island Ferry brings me into the vicinity of many a tourist. The boat sometimes resembles a United Nations General Assembly debate, without the translators.

When I hear German or a Slavic language spoken, I can’t help but recall the wry words of the late New York City mayor Ed Koch as he led the Ukrainian Day parade one year. He told the parade’s grand marshal: “You know, if this were the old country this wouldn’t be a parade, it would be a pogrom. I wouldn’t be walking down Fifth Avenue; I would be running… and you would be running after me.”

And I’m reminded, too, of the sentiment of my dear father, may he be well, who spent the war years first fleeing the Nazis and then in a Soviet Siberian labor camp. When I asked him many years ago how he feels when he meets a German non-Jew, he told me that any German “has to prove himself” to be free of the Jew-hatred that came to define his people. My father’s “default” view of a German (or, for that matter, Pole or Ukrainian or Romanian…) is “guilty,” or … Read More >>

An Evil Report

My D’var Torah this week made a rare crossover into current events, in a way that I thought appropriate for Cross-Currents.

In this week’s reading we learn about the spies sent to look at the Land of Cana’an. As is clear from the consequences, their evil report, and the Children of Israel’s reaction, became their greatest sin in all their time in the Sinai desert — and it was initiated by “leaders of the Children of Israel” [Num. 13:3]. Even among the Generation of the Desert, those who heard the Voice of G-d at Mt. Sinai, those who set this in motion were on an exalted spiritual level. How could this have happened?

After they went through the land of Cana’an, these great men came home very discouraged. They knew that the Children of Israel had sinned previously, especially with the Golden Calf. They saw that the inhabitants were giants, and it would take open miracles for Israel to be victorious. So they concluded, erroneously, that Israel was no longer worthy of that level of protection — that G-d’s promise was not unconditional, that they would lose.

So what did they do when they returned? Did they go to … Read More >>

Why Kids’ Clothing Harms Women

Why? Well, I can’t claim it makes sense. My impression is that if you’re The Forward, everything oppresses (Orthodox) women.

As acknowledged by Footsteps, an organization helping people leave the “ultra-” Orthodox community, women are much less likely to leave Torah observance than men (in a TV interview, the head of Footsteps said only one-third of its clients are women). But as demonstrated by Deborah Feldman, Leah Vincent and Frimet Goldberger, they are much more likely to provide fictionalized depictions of their past lives and communities after they do.

Even so, this article is an amazing journey into the realm of illogic. Its basis is a single anonymous phone call to a store in Lakewood selling “trendy” clothing, berating them for advertising depicting a seven or eight-year-old boy dressed according to current fashion — which, in all honesty, outfits him as a Ringling Bros. employee. Be that as it may, the caller was outraged, not amused, and she threatens a boycott if the store won’t stop wasting their money trying to market clown costumes to the Orthodox Jews of Lakewood.

Which, to Frimet Goldberger, “continues a cycle in which women perpetuate their own victimhood.” I wish … Read More >>

Walking to the End

by Yaakov Rosenblatt

One year ago, on June 14, 2013 daredevil Nik Wallenda crossed the Little Colorado River Gorge, in Rocky Mountain, CO, walking high above the span on a two inch cable. The canyon below was 1500 feet deep. The length of the rope was over a quarter mile. The shoes he wore were leather moccasins, hand stitched by his mother. The soft skin let him feel the cable with the bottom of his feet, heel to toe, as he rose and fell with its gentle flow. He carried a balancing rod across his back, weighing 45 lbs. and spanning 12 feet. He shifted the bar from side to side, slightly at first, more and more as the winds picked up. He walked steadily and deliberately and prayed as he walked. A number of times, the strong winds forced him to stop and crouch close to the wire. Gusts, during his journey, were up to 30 MPH.

The remarkable event was sponsored by National Geographic. Shortly after he crossed the span I watched a bit of his feat online. Recently, I watched the entire episode again, slowly. I saw Nik’s father, an experienced ropewalker himself, reassuring his … Read More >>

Dangerous and Defective Products

It isn’t every year that news reports about Agudath Israel of America’s annual dinner make the pages of media like the Forward or The New York Times. This, however, was one such year.

The reason for the attention was the heartfelt and stirring speech delivered by the Novominsker Rebbe, shlit”a, the Rosh Agudas Yisroel, at the gathering. And the fact that New York City mayor Bill de Blasio chose not to contest the Rebbe’s words.

Really.

Rav Perlow spoke to the issue of organized deviations from the Jewish mesorah, a topic that is timely because of the insistence of the latest such movement on calling itself “Open Orthodoxy,” rather than summoning the courage to find an independent adjective for itself, as did the Conservative and Reform movements of the past.

Over the past century or two, the term “Orthodox” in the Jewish world has been synonymous with full affirmation of the mesorah – including most prominently the historicity of Yetzias Mitzrayim; the fact that the Torah, both Written and Oral, was bequeathed to our ancestors at Har Sinai; and that Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov actually existed – concepts that prominent products or leaders of the “Open Orthodoxy” movement are … Read More >>

Letter in June 5 Wall St. Journal

Shmuly Yanklowitz (“Why This Rabbi Is Swearing Off Kosher Meat,” Houses of Worship, May 30) is entitled to swear off meat if he chooses, but not to pass off his reasons for doing so as having anything to do with Orthodox Judaism.

Jewish religious law prohibits the infliction of avoidable pain on animals, and the vast majority of kosher slaughterhouses, overseen and inspected by both governmental agencies and rabbinic supervisors, are entirely sensitive to that law and its implications.

“Kosher,” however, has nothing to do with health or “ethics.” There are Jewish ethical laws and Jewish ritual laws. Kashrut is entirely in the latter category. And it is simply not “Orthodox” to contend otherwise.

Rabbi Avi Shafran Director of Public Affairs Agudath Israel of America

JFNA Should Not Advocate For Civil Marriage in Israel

There are better ways for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to express unity with Jews in Israel than to join them in short-sighted and counterproductive actions. That, apparently, is exactly what they are about to do if they accept the iREP proposal to limit the Rabbanut’s historic oversight of halachic matters of personal status. By applying a band-aid to a wounded patient in Israel, JFNA may leave Jewish intergroup cooperation here in the US in a comatose state.

JFNA’s board of trustees is slated to vote on June 9th on a proposal by a coalition of non-Orthodox groups to address their dissatisfaction with the Rabbanut’s use of halachic standards in areas of conversion, marriage, and divorce. The iREP proposal (Israel Religious Expressions Platform) reportedly will not call for the undoing of the Rabbanut, but will advocate affirmative steps. It will embrace personal liberties and choice , and as a first step, get behind calling for civil marriage.

There is no question that many Israelis are unhappy with either the Rabbanut’s halachic guidelines or its style of doing business. They bypass the system by a quick trip to Cyprus for a civil ceremony. They will … Read More >>

Learning Torah Is Equal to them All

On Shavuos, many of us will stay awake throughout the night, learning until we daven k’vasikin (pray at dawn). But as we finish our final cup of coffee and pat ourselves on the back, we should acknowledge for a moment that for many this is a weekly practice. And we should ponder, further, how unique this makes our nation.

During my first year in college, a lighthearted op-ed in the town newspaper complained that it was difficult to hire a student babysitter due to frequent breaks and vacations: mid-semester break, Thanksgiving weekend, winter vacation, reading period, post-exam break, and the list goes on. I responded with a letter to the editor, co-signed by my roommates, arguing the importance of independent research and our other efforts outside the classroom.

All of that was true, of course. But as I continued my college career, I slowly learned things covered neither in class nor the student handbook. Rules such as “9 am classes are for freshmen,” “the weekend begins on Thursday evening,” and “you need to be on the field by 4:30″ were as important as any published by the school. Our schedules were augmented by sports, theater, music, the school newspaper, … Read More >>

Freedom, Love and Blintzes

A piece I wrote for the Forward about Shavuos is here .

Chag same’ach!

http://forward.com/articles/198768/shavuot-is-holiday-that-speaks-of-love-and-freedom/?

A Catholic Understanding of the NY Times vs. Rav Yaakov Perlow

Why does it take a Catholic blogger to so aptly describe the NY Times attack on Rav Yaakov Perlow?

Give credit where credit is due.