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


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 >>

ונגש הכהן ודבר על העם

Read with pride the letter of Colonel Ofer Winter, Commander of the storied Givati Brigade, sent to his troops as they massed near Gaza, poised to enter.

[Hat-tip to Harvey Tannenbaum, Efrat]

The Holy Jews of Yerushalayim

by Asher Brander

We have rented their upstairs apartment and they are our super-gracious hosts.

He is a pashute baalabos (a simple working man) – the gabbai of a swift and small shul that runs like clockwork. She hails from Buffalo, grew up on a farm, and has been in Israel for over 50 years; He is a relative new-comer of about 48 years from Glasgow, Scotland – who has shed his kilts, but still sounds the part.

He saw action in the YK war and beyond. On average, during his tour of duty during the war he clocked 2000 kilometers a week looking for Egyptian paratroopers in the Sinai Desert. They got ‘em all.

A few nights ago, I walk into a scene out of the 1950′s – he is in the kitchen – listening to the news by the radio. It is not great news. False rocket fire alarms in Mevasseret and Beit Shemesh. By now, practically the whole country knows the feeling.

Simple and smart, he talks about just opening both our eyes to see the miracles all around us. He means it. I probe and ask what he has in mind:

“If only we learn …

Gratitude and Fortitude — Agudath Israel Statement

As enemy missiles continue to rain on Jewish communities in Eretz Yisroel, and many are intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, it is incumbent on all Jews to feel hakaras hatov, “recognition of the good,” toward the United States of America, which has funded the system over the years of its development. We are reminded, at a time like this, how America has made a major contribution to the defense of Israel, for which we must be deeply grateful.

At the same time, we must remember that Im Hashem lo yishmor ir, shov shokad shomer – “If Hashem will not guard the city, for naught does the guard stand vigilant” (Tehillim, 127) – and that it is therefore to Hashem that we must focus our entreaties with special intensity at this critical time.

Our prayers should include entreaties for the wellbeing of our fellow Jews under attack, as well as for those who are risking their lives to defend them and defeat those who wish us harm.

As has been the practice in many shuls over past years, in response to the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) 83, 130 and 142 after … Read More >>

Thoughts From the Emotional Maelstrom

The past weeks have not been easy, to put it mildly. I cannot recall a similar period in which HKBH placed us on a fast-moving roller-coaster, carrying us to and from such emotional peaks and valleys in so short a space of time. Eighteen days of anxious prayer and the finding of common cause with so many Jews, followed by the let-down of tragic discovery. The bursting of the bubble of national unity by both the words of an inauthentic Yaakov, and the treacherous, murderous actions of Jewish yedei Esav that heaped shame upon our sorrow. The anxiety of waiting under siege from what might rain down from the sky, while brooding over the consequences of what we all expect will be the next moves on the ground – already anticipating the condemnation certain to come from the world community. Like Yaakov Avinu, we are afraid of the prospect of being killed, and vexed by the prospect of having to kill others – but prepared for both.

No profundity here. Just some disjoint observations, mostly from others, about recent events, written half as catharsis, half as informational to anyone who has not come across some of these items.

No …

Hamas Terrorism in 140 Chars

Aiming missiles at my daughter is a symptom of nothing but the desire to murder Jews. #Israel #Hamas #Gaza

— Rabbi Yaakov Menken (@ymenken) July 8, 2014

If Only

To re-read Rachel Fraenkel’s words in a New York Times report that appeared mere hours before the discovery that her son Naftali and his two friends, Hashem yinkom damam, had been murdered is to experience anew the shattering moment that accompanied the first reports of the discovery.

Confiding to a reporter her belief that the kidnapping would “end in a positive way,” she took care to add: “Not that I don’t consider other things. I’m not in denial. If I have to fall apart, I’ll have time to do it later.”

The time, to the anguish and agony of us all, came.

I was on the phone with a colleague discussing an important legal development when I heard a mid-sentence gasp on the other end of the line, and thought I sensed tears. Although no official word had yet been released, my colleague had just received an alarming e-mail and informed me that some news sources were reporting a “development.” Suddenly the legal issue had not the slightest importance.

It was astounding how so many Jews so far removed from one another – geographically and otherwise – came together in hope and tefilla during the weeks the boys were … Read More >>

“No Haredim Enlisting Anymore”

Yair Lapid can provide actions in support of unity, not just words, by working with the Haredi community instead of against it. … Read More >>

Klal Perspectives – Summer 2014

Too long went by without a new issue of Klal Perspectives, a journal that always provoked animated discussion about matters vital to the Orthodox community. The Summer 2014 issue is devoted to the state of boys’ high school chinuch, and marshalls the opinions of some of the most respected names in secondary Torah chinuch in the West.

Why the long delay since the previous issue? Did the editorial board run out of steam? Did the readership lose interest? None of the above. Below you will find a more accurate (although perhaps not more satisfying) explanation in the Foreword to the issue. (I know the guy who wrote it….) Following it are the summaries of the individual contributions.

The editors hope that not only will this issue stimulate vigorous discussion, but that the contributors will be brought though it to closer personal contact. Perhaps, through working together, they might develop practical solutions to some of the problems discussed.

Matters of great worth and significance, says Maharal (Gevuros Hashem, Chapter 30), cannot spring up willy-nilly. They take time to develop. They grow slowly, from darkness to light. While Maharal teaches this in regard to things of great supernal value, the … Read More >>

Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali in 140 Chars

Sometimes it really can be expressed in a single comment to Twitter — in this case, by Rabbi Steven Burg, Eastern Director of the Wiesenthal Center:

The world does not understand that this is not political for Jews. This was deeply personal. We all loved #EyalGiladNaftali

— Rabbi Steven Burg (@stevenburg) June 30, 2014

Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a is said to have remarked that the three boys got a tremendous zechus, merit, because of all the hisorerus and chizuk that happened — throughout all of Klal Yisrael. May the achdus, the unity, stay with us.

The Gift of the Three Kedoshim

Dear Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali:

We are grateful that we do not have to face your families. We would have to say something – and we can’t. Can we tell them that we share their loss? If we feel a huge void, can it compare to the dark, cavernous expanse of their loss?

We cannot really grasp what our world has lost by losing you. We do not have the words to describe it, nor explain it. We might, however, be able to articulate what we have gained, what you left us, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.

Many critics – including friendly critics – of the Jewish State have argued that Israel has turned into a soul-less country. Sometime after the June War, Israeli society went off in all sorts of different directions. A new generation grew up that knew neither the pioneering spirit of Israel’s founders, nor the bubble of bravado that enveloped them after the stunning victory over the Arab armies in 1967. Israel struggled with poverty, absorption of immigrants, the stratification of income. It tired of sending its sons and daughters off to the front to fight barbarians, only to return to homes under siege … Read More >>

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 >>


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 >>