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.

Children’s Programming

“Nahoul” is a giant bee, or, better, a man in a furry bee costume. He is one of the intended-to-be-lovable characters on “Pioneers of Tomorrow,” a children’s television program produced in Gaza.

In a recent episode, Nahoul encourages a boy from Jenin to attack his Jewish neighbors. “Punch them,” he advises. “Turn their faces into tomatoes.”

“If his neighbors are Jewish or Zionist,” Rawan, the little girl host of the show adds helpfully, “that goes without saying.” Nahoul then advises throwing stones at “the Jews.”

A bit later in the program, another little girl shares her hope to become a policewoman, so that she can “shoot the Jews.”

“All of them?” the host asks with a smile.

“Yes,” the other girl replies.

“Good.”

Nahoul is likely to meet the fate of other cuddly animals – like Farfour the Mouse, a rabbit and a bear – that were previously featured on the program only to suddenly disappear, the show’s little viewers being informed that each character had been “martyred” by Israelis.

The airwaves in Gaza are tightly controlled by Hamas, the de facto government, and “Pioneers of Tomorrow” is part of that violent and hateful group’s effort to educate … Read More >>

More about Dossim

This (the linked article) is terrific coverage of a terrific organization. A must-read.

The “Monsey Summit” – Round Two

After some initial hesitation, I am ready to declare the much-lamented “Monsey Summit” a complete success. Definitely much-lamented. Some lament the bombastic name; others lament the fact that it took place altogether. But much lament and hand-wringing.

For me, it was a bee trap. Ever hang one of those low-tech bee traps outside the sukkah? I have nothing against bees. I respect their industry and utility. I just don’t like them flying kamikaze runs against my guests. So occasionally I hang one of those traps, put in the bait, and wait with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’d rather that all the neighborhood bees flew south for the winter. On the other, I feel pretty useless until one or more takes a wrong turn and flies into the trap, its last stop on the way to Bee Heaven. A trapped bee is evidence of a successful campaign to upgrade the comfort level of the sukkah.

Monsey Summits work the same way. As I wrote previously in what has become a topic of controversy, I walked into the meeting with minimum expectations and two intentions. I believed that people who claim that they are in pain and … Read More >>

Retroactive Prophecy Redux

As I expected, my critique of some recent writing of Rabbi Berel Wein has generated many comments and communications, yeas and nays.

A follow-up explanation can be read here.

Leading the Blind

The results of recent Jewish community surveys are alternately delightful and dismal, exciting and excruciating. The growth of Torah-observant households is a stunning phenomenon, while Jewish sociologist Steven Cohen observed, “the sky is falling for the rest of the population.”

Given this dichotomy and the urgency of the problem, we might imagine that everyone would want to know what it is that we, the Orthodox, are doing right. But apparently we would be wrong. Despite multiple surveys detailing the divergent trajectories of young traditional versus liberal Jews today, we have seen no studies dedicated to understanding our successful formula. Instead, Federations and well-meaning philanthropic foundations continue to invest great sums of money on projects whose claim to promote Jewish continuity is nothing more than conjecture — with predictable results.

As we all know, the Torah community is thriving. In less than a decade, the number of Orthodox Jews grew by over 100,000 in the New York area alone, according to the UJA/Federation survey — over 20%. In Baltimore, a similar survey showed an increase of 50%. Last year’s Pew Survey reported more modest growth nationally, but noted that while 11% of adults 18-29 are Orthodox, the … Read More >>

A Chasidic View of Parnasah

transcribed and edited by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

A Few Introductory Words

The import of the following essay is that throughout Jewish history Torah learning has always been of preeminent important: “and you shall study it day and night.” Yet at the same time, the normative role of the man has been to earn a living to support his family, and only a small elite of scholars has studied full-time. The purpose of this piece is not political. It supports full-time learning when appropriate and takes no position on issues such as government aid to chareidi families and the like. Its purpose is simply to provide a Torah-based and historically informed perspective on a Jewish man’s obligations to learn Torah and to support his family, and on the interplay between these obligations. The essay is based primarily on a shiur by Rabbi Mordechai Zilber, the Stutchiner Rebbe. Rabbi Zilber has been delivering a series of shiurim delineating the path of Hasidism. These have been transcribed, and Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, mara d’asra of Congregation Aish Kodesh, Woodmere, NY, has been giving shiurim based on those transcriptions. The essay below is a rendering of such a shiur combination. The transcription of … Read More >>

Retroactive Prophecy

There exists a mentality, even among some who should know better, like the respected popular historian Rabbi Berel Wein, that any one of us can, and even should, second-guess the attitudes and decisions of Torah luminaries of the past.

In that thinking, for instance, the opposition of many Gedolim in the 1930s and 1940s to the establishment of a Jewish state was a regrettable mistake. After all, the cavalier thinking goes, a state was in the end established, and in many ways it flourishes; so the Gedolim who opposed it must have been wrong. And we should acknowledge their error and impress it upon our children with a nationalistic commemoration of the day on which Israel declared her independence.

None of us, however, can possibly know what the world would be like today had Israel not come into being. What would have happened to the European survivors of the Holocaust who moved to Israel? Would they have languished in the ruins of Europe and eventually disappeared instead? Rebuilt their communities? Emigrated to the West? Would Eretz Yisrael have remained a British mandate, become a part of Jordan, morphed into a new Arab state? Would Jews have been barred from … Read More >>

The Assault on Free Speech Creeps Off Campus

Last week we catalogued the assault on free speech on campus in the form of speech codes and pervasive political correctness. The most common reason given for the speech codes by college administrators is to protect members of the university community from a hostile environment. The other reason more often offered by professors and students for preventing anyone with whom they disagree from speaking – from Condoleeza Rice to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Ambassador Michael Oren – is that they are advocates of policies or regimes which the commissars have determined in Marcusian fashion to be “objectively” unjust.

The justification offered by the administrators is more understandable. After all, few parents would want to send their children to live in dorms in which they were constantly subjected to racial or religious epithets, especially at a cost of $60,000 a year or more. But, it should be noted, that the notion that no one should ever be offended is a slippery slope and very much at odds with the values underlying the First Amendment. What happens when one student claims to be offended by another’s citation of Biblical verses condemning his lifestyle? How far are we from having the … Read More >>

Silence – Approaching Chumash Bamidbar

by Jeremy Rosen

In my schooldays one of the favorite punishments of our teachers was to get the whole school, when it got too noisy or out of hand, to remain on silence, sitting or standing, for five minutes. Those five minutes seemed to last for hours but in fact they had the effect of quietening us down, of dampening our rowdiness. But I cannot say that that silence had any positive impact on me.

The next kinds of silence I experienced came when I was a teenager sent off to study in Israel. Prayer time in the Mussar Yeshiva of Beer Yaakov was an amazing experience unlike anything else I had encountered in formal religious settings. There was a complete air of concentration, of commitment to words and ideas in which everything was savored and dwelt on with intention and expectation of encountering God. In that part of the morning and evening prayers just before we recited the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6.4) there was complete silence, a tense, expectant silence and then miraculously every one of the hundred or so voices broke out simultaneously in powerful unison, loudly,”Shema Yisrael.” That silence before the explosion of sound, was not the … Read More >>

The Monsey “Summit” and the Courage to Confront

I had not intended to write about the meeting a week ago Sunday between a group of Jews who left observance, and another group taken from the traditional community. Originally, the participants had all agreed to keep the meeting under wraps. Noise, self-congratulation in the press, grandstanding – these are proven ways of deep-sixing a new, delicate and complex venture. Somehow, the rules got changed, and the word is out. By now, there have been so many varied reports about the “summit” that I must add my voice to those who have already spoken.

It was the non-traditional group that requested the meeting, and it did not prove difficult to find traditional counterparts who were more than willing to participate. Rabbi Eliyahu Fink ably presided over putting the two groups together. The traditional delegates did not volunteer (nor could they, since no one knew about such a meeting), but were asked to join. The meeting was going to be small, confidential (so people could speak openly), and focused.

I agreed to participate, even thought it meant hopping on a red-eye from the West Coast right after Shabbos. Two objectives stood before me. Firstly, the OTD delegates were Jews … Read More >>