Connectedness, Neo-Chassidus and The Woman’s Challenge

By Alexandra Fleksher

The Spring 2012 edition of Klal Perspectives addressed the rising concern that Orthodox Jews are feeling a disconnect to G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people. The topic has taken center stage yet again with the recent discussions about neo-Chassidism, particularly in the winter edition of the OU’s Jewish Action. Clearly, many Orthodox Jews are seeking ways to reconnect to their Yiddishkeit and explore new (or old?) avenues to infuse their avodas Hashem with spirituality, meaning and relevance.

Neo-Chassidism fascinates me. I attended two Modern Orthodox weddings in the New York area since the summer, prior to my exposure to the term “neo-Chassidism.” I immediately observed a number of young men with a particular look I had never seen before. They were not the typical “Tzfat type” with long beards and payos dressed in relaxed, loose-fitted Israeli style clothes. Rather, these young men were wearing modern slim fit suits, trendy shoes and ties, but from the neck up they looked like Breslovers. Their beards were reaching mid-tie, and their payos were just about as long.

Questions ran through my mind. If these boys are in college and are planning to be professionals, would they … Read More >>


Metzitza Bipeh

C-C readers are probably aware of the fact that a tentative agreement was reached yesterday between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and an association of mohelim and Orthodox representatives with regard to the practice of metzitza bipeh.

An article of mine that appeared in Haaretz yesterday on the ostensible tie between the rite and the cold sore virus (which can be dangerous to babies) can be read here.

The Chofetz Chaim Video: The Rosetta Stone

At long last, Hollywood has finally contributed something to Torah. A collection of Fox Movietone newsreels from the silent film days is preserved and housed at the University of South Carolina. One item dating to 1923 preserves footage of Torah personalities attending the first Agudah Knessia Gedolah in Vienna. Remarkably, it includes footage of the Chofetz Chaim himself (of whom photos are rare), as well as other Torah personalities, the sight of which should quicken the heart of any Torah Jew.

Several of those shown perished before the War. Some survived. At least four were martyred by the Nazis.

A century makes a huge difference. Five of the eighteen personalities held doctorates. A good number were Germans, who still constituted a strong, distinct group within Agudah. One of those (Rabbi Leo Jung) was at one point a candidate for the presidency of Yeshiva University.

At least among the non-Chassidim, the couture stands out. Most look quite spiffy and dapper. (As one of my sons remarked, “and that was before Charles Tyrwhitt.”)

The Chofetz Chaim seems uncomfortable with the camera, and Hashgacha helped out. His facial features remain indistinct. Someone tries to cover the lens … Read More >>

A Response to MK Lipman

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, in a guest post on the Emes VeEmunah blog, presents his perspective on Yesh Atid’s efforts toward integrating Charedim into the IDF and the Israeli work force. The post, coming as it does from a position of government authority, deserves some scrutiny. I intersperse some quotes from the post along with my comments.

(1) “Just to clarify, the law says that if the goals are not met, then a full draft will apply to haredim just like the rest of Israeli society with the elite masmidim not having to serve. It doesn’t mention jail. It doesn’t mention arresting yeshiva boys. It says the regular draft will apply. Since for the rest of Israeli society, failure to show up when drafted is a criminal offense, the same would apply to haredim in that situation.”

Well, yes. In other words, the law says that Yeshiva boys beyond those elite masmidim are subject to arrest and prison. I don’t understand what this clarifies. Perhaps it does clarify one issue: There is no mechanism in place for determining who those “elite masmidim” are.

It is also the case that MK Lipman has little to no appreciation of the … Read More >>

Fruitful Conversations About Fruitful Continuity

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner & Rabbi Yaakov Menken

In a recent editorial in The Forward (“Be Fruitful and Multiply — Please?”, Dec. 12), Jane Eisner sets aside the Pew Report’s alarming statistics regarding non-Orthodox intermarriage and assimilation to focus upon fertility, which she terms “an even more fraught issue.” Yet it is unclear why she believes the decline in childbearing to be the dominant cause of the diminution of the non-Orthodox community, nor why begging women to have more children will contribute significantly to a reversal.

[This response was initially accepted for publication in The Forward itself, but subsequently they decided not to print it. We believe this an unfortunate decision both for The Forward and its readership.]

Eisner correctly states that non-Orthodox fertility hovers around 1.7 children per family, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. But Zero Population Growth will not preserve a Jewish community whose children are deserting it. The Pew Survey reports that fifty percent of married Reform Jewish adults have a non-Jewish spouse, and children of intermarriage are much less likely to be raised as Jews. Even beyond that, one-third of young Jewish adults raised as Reform Jews now classify … Read More >>

The Parameters of Polemics

Although one of my recent articles was posted nine days ago, its comments section is still extremely active, with readers energetically debating the article’s main topics as well as the substance of one of the article’s illustrations. Reading between the lines of many of the comments, some fascinating patterns and perspectives can be detected.

What emerges here, and has been specifically articulated by a few commenters, is a focus on the propriety of debating opinions in matters of Torah when those opinions are based on approaches that are fundamentally problematic. Does one briefly state why such opinions are problematic and say no more, lest it appear that one is entertaining the legitimacy of those opinions or is equating them with bona fide and acceptable opinions in matters of Torah, or does one tackle such opinions head-on and demonstrate their internal fallacies?

Historically, the greatest of rabbinic leadership has rebutted not only the general approaches but also the specific content of views that are antithetical to Torah belief. Renowned polemical literature (including peirushei Torah – Torah commentaries) against the Kara’im (Karaites), Maskilim and Reformers comes to mind, in which the offending approaches were not only labeled and demonstrated to … Read More >>

ISIS and Jewish Experience: A Reaction to Atlantic

You don’t need me to tell you that Graeme Wood’s 10,000 word treatment of ISIS in the March Atlantic may prove to be a game-changer. Hard-hitting, detailed, well-researched, it is going to be a lightning rod for commentary and debate. And frum Jews will comprehend it a bit better than most.

No one outdoes the President in misunderstanding ISIS. He did it again today at a high-level three day conference on global terrorism. The folks at ISIS “are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists,” he said. Nothing, says Wood, could be further from the truth. ISIS is all about religion, and a religious leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who has assumed a role not seen in many centuries.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

In other words, the language, aspirations, traditions of Islam saturate the soil over which the blood of those executed daily flows. Westerners don’t get, not just because they are into Pollyanna … Read More >>

Ben Yeshiva: You Need Not Leave – A Yotzei Min Ha-Klal Perspective

I read the new (and fabulous!) edition of Klal Perspectives with great intrigue. Grappling with the transition from ben yeshiva to baal habayis is a very sensitive topic in general, but for those personally undergoing this transition, it is often one of disorientation, frustration, and even trauma and despair.

The solutions presented to enabling a smooth (as possible) transition, and the resolutions for balancing Torah and avodah, are delicate and often pretty touchy, but they make a lot of sense and are welcome and quite necessary. Yet in the end, to an idealistic ben yeshiva, they can reflect a sense of abandonment of his idealism, for if one has been bred and cultivated to embrace Torah excellence and focus on limud ha-Torah as the apex, a prescription that includes an abandonment of his ascent to the peak is an exceedingly hard pill to swallow.

Obviously, one needs to be practical and fulfill his responsibility to provide for his family and himself; the challenge, rather, is the perceived need to basically throw in the towel, say goodbye to the beis medrash and radically change course. Giving up one’s life ambition in Torah is not easy, no matter how important … Read More >>

Creativity Restored: the Mesoras HaRav Chumash

R. Yisroel Salanter, it is said, decried the fact that derush had turned the corpus of Chazal from an instructional form into a plaything for rhetoricians. Every rov found pesukim and midrashim to be infinitely pliable, capable of taking whatever shape he wanted. They became springboards ready to launch any thought that met his fancy. But if Torah texts could mean anything, R. Yisroel lamented, then they effectively meant nothing. If you didn’t like what a rov said about some passage, just saunter down the street and a different rov would likely assure you that the words meant the polar opposite. Whatever lesson – or lessons – HKBH and Chazal had in mind when they wrote what they did were lost to the surrounding static.

Perhaps the conservatism, the cautiousness we observe in new works on Chumash and Chazal are part of a corrective to R. Yisroel’s observation. Perhaps people reasoned that it was more important to showcase the words of the Sages themselves than their own verbal pyrotechnics. Maybe that is why we see lots of works citing lots of other, earlier works, but not very much genuine creativity.

Or so it seems. While studying Netziv, … Read More >>

In Praise of Brainwashing

A reference to a Shabbos seudah as “brainwashing.” An attempt by a flag-draped man to enter a Montreal Jewish day school. And a pre-school morah’s report. All took place recently and, together, helped me better understand something fundamental about life.

The cynical reference to Shabbos was from a woman quoted in a book. Sadly, she had left the Jewish observance of her childhood behind.

“My father was always tired and so was my mother,” she explained to the author. “They were fighting. We were fighting. And so there was not that kind of love and joy that makes the brainwashing really stick.”

The brainwashing.

On the very day that quote appeared in a book review, a man draped in a flag of Quebec tried to enter a chareidi Jewish day school, Yeshiva Gedola, in Montreal, claiming that he wanted to “liberate” its students.

Wisely, the school’s staff did not allow the fellow into the building. One staff member said “When I answered through the intercom, the man told me: ‘I want to talk to the children because they are imprisoned in this school… I want to liberate the children’.”

Liberate the children.

Two people with a similar … Read More >>

Klal Perspectives: New Issue on the Ben-Torah Baal-HaBayis

It wasn’t so long ago that when people spoke about the issues bnei Torah faced in the workplace, they meant how to deal with the power lunch at a treif restaurant, and the hand proffered by a female executive.

Things have changed, and not for the better. We had the vocabulary to deal with the old issues. Various positions emerged; none of them upset existing protocols or deeply-held beliefs.

Not so today. The angst faced by working bnei Torah has no easy antidote. Baalei batim struggle to keep afloat financially, attempting to satisfy the demands of an Orthodox household that far exceed the earning power of most couples. At the same time, the self-image of the ben Torah which had been so inextricably bound up in earlier years with the quantity and quality of learning takes a merciless beating as there just isn’t enough time to go around between responsibilities of earner, husband, father, and community member.

Nothing could work, short of changing the way we have been taught to think for many years. But we are suspicious of such change – rightfully so. We understand the human capacity for rationalization, for developing intellectual castles in … Read More >>

American Libertarianism, Orthodox Libertarianism, and Lessons from Shushan

Lately, I have been haunted with the feeling that the moral stability of American society is quickly and quite substantially crumbling. Although moral norms have very arguably declined over time, such decline seems to be astonishingly accelerated at present. One of my clients recently commented the same to me, and my sense is that there is a broad awareness of acute change in the air, as the standards which have formed much of the base of American society are being rapidly chipped away.

As I read about states being required to recognize gay marriage, sodomy laws stricken down and bans on adultery repealed, and I see people all over New York City publicly smoking marijuana, I am confronted by the reality that principles are being replaced by permissiveness and moral norms are now subjective rather than objective. (Not to mention the many indictments of very public figures, including Orthodox Jews, for crimes of the worst types of unethical and immoral conduct. More on the Orthodox aspect of this discussion later…)

What does Jewish tradition have to say about such a society?

In a deep, brilliant shiur about Purim, Rav Soloveitchik addressed this issue:

The hedonic … Read More >>

Ignore Headlines — and Be a Mensch

In February, 2001, I penned a piece for Moment Magazine that caused quite a ruckus.

I had titled it “Time to Come Home,” and it was addressed to Jews who belonged to Conservative Jewish congregations. I made the case that the Conservative movement’s claim of fealty to halacha was hollow and that the movement essentially took its cues from whatever non-Jewish society felt was acceptable or proper.

The issue of same-sex relationships, I contended, would prove my point. At the time, the movement hadn’t yet rejected the Torah’s clear prohibitions in that area. I predicted that, as the larger societal milieu was coming to embrace such relationships as morally acceptable, the Conservative movement would follow suit in due time.

(It did, of course, rather quickly. In 2006, the movement’s “Committee on Jewish Law and Standards” endorsed a position permitting “commitment ceremonies” between people of the same gender and the ordination as Conservative rabbis of people living openly homosexual lives. But the accuracy of my prediction is not my topic here.)

I pleaded that Conservative Jews who truly respected the concept of halacha should join their Orthodox brothers and sisters, and “come home,” as per the piece’s title.

… Read More >>

Dovid Winiarz – My Brother, My Keeper

By Shmuel Winiarz

It hurts. Deeply. The initial blinding shock has passed, but as the sheloshim approaches, my mind inevitably wanders to thinking about my brother Dovid. I internally reflect on his life story and the calamitous circumstances of his untimely passing. I try to envision the path forward, knowing that it will be without Dovid’s inimitable presence. It may be a trite expression, but life will simply not be the same.

Dovid was an extrovert’s extrovert and his joie de vivre lit up the day of every person whose path happened to intertwine with his. As a result, many people befriended Dovid and felt close to him. To me, Dovid was my big brother, not Orwellian style, but in the truest and best meaning of the term. His relationship with all five of his younger siblings would be aptly described by interpreting Hashomer Achi Anochi not as a rhetorical question but as a statement of sacred responsibility. Dovid always made it his business to be there for us. He lent an empathic ear when needed. He gave select advice and would always make a call or a connection or a take a trip out when a … Read More >>

Gil Tal Obligates All of Us

“Hillel will obligate the poor [to learn Torah]; Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum obligates the rich; and Yosef the evil ones” (Yoma 35b). After Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum, whose father left him one thousand cities and one thousand ships at sea, and nevertheless sat and learned day and night, no one will be able to say that they were so occupied managing their property that they had no time to learn. And after Hillel, no one will be able to say they were too poor to learn. And after Yosef, no one will be able to say they were too beautiful to resist all the blandishments placed before him.

Gil Tal, profiled in a recent issue of HaModia’s Inyan Magazine by Rhona Lewis, will obligate all the rest of us. Tal lives on a non-religious moshav near Nahariya, apparently never learned in a yeshiva at any level, and has a job as a manager in a high-tech company in Yokneam, which keeps him away from home eleven hours a day. Yet within less than five years of picking up masechta Berachos, he has finished Shas with the ArtScroll Schottenstein Gemara.

Tal relates that prior to a recent visit to New … Read More >>

Something To Laugh At

Unless you are Yair Lapid, looking back at the failure of your overreach.

Many people, even inside the charedi world, secretly hoped that Yair Lapid’s insistence upon addressing the issue of charedi un- and under-employment would provide the impetus that was not coming from within. Those hopes quickly soured when he demonstrated too much naked hostility to the community, and too little understanding of what could and could not work (no pun intended).

Some apologists for Israeli charedim argued that change, albeit slow, was already upon the community, with more and more people looking for vocational and academic training to support their families. They pointed to the programs and institutions sprouting all over the charedi landscape. Those, they said, would flourish, unless the community would perceive an organized attack on its principles, in which case it would unite in resistance and backlash. While much of Lapid’s program was positive and provided positive and healthy impetus for change, he went too far by pushing for criminalization of draft offenses. He also made some statements that went beyond the goal of getting charedim into the work place, but spoke of integrating charedim within the rest of society by changing … Read More >>

Learning from our Past, Building our Future

How Jewish History teaches us to create a positive community for tomorrow Part I

by Leslie Ginsparg Klein

There is a story told about a Bais Yaakov girl in Poland in the 1930s. She met a local man in the community who criticized her for being Torah observant. You’re so old-fashioned, he said, you must be the only girl in the 20th century who is still so meticulous about religious observance. The Bais Yaakov student answered back to him, I may be the only one in the 20th century, but I won’t be the only one in the 21st century.

Indeed, she was correct. She is far from the only one. The Orthodox community today boasts thousands upon thousands of proud, successful, frum members. In some ways, our community is immensely successful. In other ways, we are struggling. Children are going off-the-derech. They feel removed from the community. There’s friction between different segments of the community. Our community continues to grapple with an age-old question: How do we build and create a positive, healthy, successful community for ourselves and for our children?—This remains our most burning question moving forward. And Jewish history, our past, suggests four answers. The first … Read More >>

We’re Not Kidnappers

A piece I wrote for a Forward blog, in reaction to a mother’s lament over her newly-Orthodox daughter’s described rejection of her parents can be read here.

R Dovid Winiarz z’l

by Meir Goldberg

After the holocaust, the broken survivors of the Nazi concentration camps were gathered and provided for in DP (Displaced Persons) camps. The Klausenberger Rebbe Zt’l acted as both a father and a Rebbe to many of the Jews there, constantly providing them with material and spiritual chizuk.

There was a young man in the DP Camps, who grew up in a religious home who now refused to have anything to do with the Yeshiva that was set up or anyone in the frum community. In spite of all of the pleading and cajoling of his friends, the young man would not respond to them at all. The exasperated bochurim decided to speak to the Rebbe to see if he could impact this fellow. The Rebbe summoned the young man to his temporary residence. The Rebbe said to the man, “I know why you’re​ upset. It’s because they took the best ones and they just left us.” The Rebbe again said, “They took the best ones and they just left us.” The Rebbe held the young man in a tight embrace and together they sobbed and cried and repeated over and over, “They took the best ones … Read More >>

Cross-Currents Enters World Politics

Which is the last thing I wanted or expected. I have avoided commenting on purely political issues, whether domestic or global. I’ve tried to be true to Cross-Current’s original self-imposed mandate of focusing on such issues only insofar as they illuminate Torah life, or where Torah thought can illuminate them. I do plenty of the pure politics and advocacy at my day job, and I try not to mix office and home.

So when I wrote a short while ago about Egyptian President Al-Sisi’s extraordinary remarks at Al-Azhar, my intention was only to draw a parallel between his concern for the image of his faith with what should be our parallel concern. And there I left it.

The message from David Benkof, a frum writer for The Daily Caller was therefore quite surprising to me. He had noticed the piece, and the editors were a bit miffed that Western press had ignored what to us seemed like an extremely important statement. Would I, they ask, tweak the piece for publication at The Daily Caller? And could I do it in about an hour or so?

My colleague and mentor Rabbi Abraham Cooper and I then scrambled to … Read More >>

Exodus Exegesis

Some interesting thoughts about Yetzias Mitzrayim that have been bouncing around in my head for a number of years can be read here.

Private Matters

It comes as something of a revelation to many to confront the Rambam’s treatment of kiddush Hashem, or “sanctification of Hashem’s name” for the first time. One definition of the concept in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 5:10 – perhaps its most essential one, has nothing to do with readiness to give up one’s life or to act in a way that presents a good image of a Jew to others.

To be sure, that the Torah commands us to be willing to perish rather than violate certain commandments (or any commandment – even custom – in certain circumstances) is well-known to most Jews with a modicum of Jewish knowledge. And the understanding that living an upstanding life, exemplifying honesty and sterling demeanor, is also a form of kiddush Hashem is likewise widely recognized. The Gemara in Yoma (86a) famously describes various amora’im’s examples of such projection of Jewish personal values, labeling them kiddushei Hashem.

What is surprising is the Rambam’s statement that kiddush Hashem is something that can be accomplished as well entirely in private. In fact, particularly in private.

“Anyone who violates, willingly, without any coercion, any of the precepts of the Torah…” reads the Rambam’s psak, “has … Read More >>

We Owe an Answer

President Reuven Rivlin made an important speech opening a conference on chareidi employment sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee two weeks ago. He began by pointing out that the 20% of the school children in Israel between first and sixth grade are now in chareidi educational frameworks.

The chareidim are no longer a beleaguered minority, their very survival at stake, said the President, but this fact has not yet registered either with the chareidi community or its opponents. We have gone too long without “changing the tape,” as if nothing has changed from the early days of the state, said Rivlin. What is needed now, he argued, is a partnership of equals between chareidim and non-chareidim.

Much of what President Rivlin had to say will be music to chareidi ears. He strongly criticized the 19th Knesset for the discussion of chareidim. He pointed out that efforts at coercion had backfired miserably and only succeeded in triggering a backlash resulting in fewer chareidim in the IDF and lessened chareidi involvement in the economy. “When one group feels that their world and cultural existence is under threat, it will not lead to a breakthrough in the relations, but a withdrawal. I … Read More >>

Remaining Bnei Torah after Kollel

Few issues are of greater significance for the future of the chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael than the status of those young (and not so young) men in transition between kollel and either the workplace or academic/vocational training in preparation for work. The numbers of such men increases from year to year..

The primary impetus for leaving kollel is economic, Low child benefits by Western standards, small kollel stipends, increased tuitions, skyrocketing housing prices for young couples, and the exhaustion of any accumulated wealth from previous generations combine to put most chareidi families under great financial strain, even when the mother works.

Yet even for a family struggling to put food on the table, the decision to leave kollel is often an extremely painful one. First and foremost, there is the dramatically reduced time for Torah learning. Then there is the loss of one’s carefully nurtured identity as a kollel yungerman. A man’s status in the eyes of his wife, his children, his wider family, and the community of Torah learners with which he identifies comes under threat.

There will inevitably be those who try to convince the former yungerman that his departure from kollel is a form of … Read More >>

Interesting Dialogue in Dialogue

Sometimes, you just have to use strong words.

I imagine that was the intention of Rav Aharon Feldman, shlit”a, in a critical conversation that he had with someone described as “the president of one of the largest secular Jewish organizations in America, as he relates the encounter in the new issue of Dialogue. Some gvir told Rav Feldman that the poor bloke (whom we shall refer to as SF, for secular fellow) was in free-fall in the aftermath of Gaza, and needed “urgently to talk to a Rabbi.”

How could it be, asked SF, that a bunch of primitive terrorists could send thousands of rockets into Israel, thwart the full effectiveness of one of the most capable military machines in the world, and then get the world to label Israel as the aggressor for simply attempting to defend herself?

Rav Feldman’s answer must have been devastating to SF’s world view. He cited Devarim 32:21 הם קנאוני בלא אל כעסוני בהבליהם ואני אקניאם בלא עם / They angered Me by believing in a non-god; I will anger them through a non-nation. “Israel is founded on belief in a non-god,” Rav Feldman told him, by which he explains … Read More >>