Thoughtless Jewish Jeers

I’m trying to understand the sort of mindlessness that expressed itself in the jeering of Treasury Secretary Jacob (“Jack”) Lew by some Jews at a recent gathering.

The third Jerusalem Post Annual Conference which took place in Manhattan on June 7 and featured Israeli and American officials and journalists, was convened with the hope of garnering international attention. It succeeded, if only in the widespread reportage of the way some in attendance reacted to Mr. Lew’s measured and accurate words.

Applause ensued when he told the crowd that the U.S. continues to consider Israel’s security a top priority as it negotiates a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities and that “we must never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.”

The Treasury Secretary then explained how the U.S.-led sanctions against Iran were intended to pressure that country to agree to negotiations about limiting and monitoring its nuclear program, and that they succeeded. The first murmurs from the crowd were heard then.

And then, when he asserted that Iran’s movement toward a nuclear weapon had been arrested for now, and that an agreement, if one is signed, would thwart the outlaw nation’s suspected designs, the booing began in ugly … Read More >>


Ordination of Insubordination

“We’re going to blink and there’ll be 100 Orthodox women rabbis in America that have been given ordination”. –R. Adam Mintz, professor of Talmud, Yeshivat Maharat

Within the week, three Orthodox-identified rabbinical ordination programs for women granted semicha (ordination) to their graduating classes. (Please see here and here.) While the mainstream organs of Orthodoxy do not recognize or approve of the ordination of women (here are RCA statements about the matter), the reasons for not accepting the legitimacy of semicha for women remain a mystery to some.

Various articles have been published about the topic (please see here for R. Hershel Schachter’s article); I would like to take one approach and provide some elaboration.

Halachic analysis of contemporary rabbinical ordination of women was first put forth by R. Saul Lieberman (please see here for R. Gil Student’s important presentation thereof), who in 1979 expressed his opposition to such on the part of Jewish Theological Seminary.

Although R. Lieberman’s tenure at JTS was the subject of controversy and was certainly not viewed favorably by Orthodox leadership, R. Lieberman was Orthodox and was very well-versed in our topic; his ruling on it is thus quite pivotal and … Read More >>

Who’s In Charge?

Some of us can remember when taking a plane was a pleasant experience, even exhilarating. Those days, of course, are long gone.

It used to be – if “good old days” syndrome hasn’t played with my memory – that only well-dressed and genteel folks flew, and that airport and airline personnel were uniformly polite and helpful. These days, air travel is a largely unpleasant affair. Airports are crowded; cabins, even more so. Seats are too close together, and fellow passengers, as a result, occasionally surly. Professional staffs can be less than congenial. Flight delays are frequent. And then there are the “security measures.”

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the TSA, or Transportation Security Administration, was established, and eventually made part of the DHS, or Department of Homeland Security, also created at that time.

Among the TSA’s 60,000 employees are the people who make passengers take off their shoes (good thing the “shoe bomber” hadn’t swallowed the explosives instead), pass through metal detectors and, in some cases, “pat down” shoeless passengers. They’re the folks who confiscate your water bottles.

And who, it turns out, according to a secret DHS “Red Team” report, managed to miss a good number of … Read More >>

47 Homicides and Counting

Why are so many young black men being murdered in Baltimore, after Freddie Gray? It’s what happens when police know they might be arrested for doing their job. … Read More >>

Knowing Half the Story

The video is horrifying. A bus driver, with just a few kids left on his route, stops at the side of the road. He throws a kid’s bag out the door onto the grass, and orders the kid off — and drives away, with other kids screaming how he can’t leave a child blocks away from home, or simply sobbing in distress.

Unsurprisingly, the school district demanded the driver be fired for this horrific act of cruelty.

Then the bus company released video of its own, showing the lead-up to this incident. Not only was one kid kicking and punching another, but a second, burly eighth-grader used his hockey bag to strike the driver while the bus was on the road. He had jeopardized the life of the driver and every student on that bus. Afterwards, the first kid, who had directed his fists towards another student, kept up a running diatribe against the driver for another mile or so — at which point the driver had had enough, and threw the kid and his bag off the bus.

As predictably as was its first reaction, the school district changed its tune. It apologized to the bus … Read More >>

Rabbinic Dignity – A Contemporary Lesson

After reading about the latest rabbinic “issue”, we do not know what to say. While the rabbi involved has the right to explain himself, and we cannot assume wrongdoing beyond anything which would be admitted or proven, we are left with a feeling of great disquietude and confusion.

Detractors of the rabbi point out the halachic prohibitions of a rav attending a bathhouse in the presence of his students, and defenders of the rabbi point to the absence of proof of actual wrongdoing or criminal activity. Both sides may be correct, yet they may also be missing an important point – a point that can only be appreciated by taking a step back.

If an individual retains a highly respected position, and on occasion stakes out unpopular positions, he can be the world’s greatest tzaddik and mentch, but he will nonetheless be subject to vilification. And the reverse is true as well: If an individual has criminal proclivities, especially in the realm of physical relationships, then no matter what type of formal safeguards and parameters are established, it will not help.

Yet we speak here not about any of this, but rather about a more general issue – that … Read More >>

Let’s Please Stick to the Facts: More on the Rabbanut and Rabbi Riskin

Isi Leibler, in a Jerusalem Post op-ed, gave my recent Times of Israel essay a real beating. Here is my reply.

Normal=Wonderful

It’s pretty much impossible to imagine the feelings of Funchu Tamang, a 101-year-old man who was pulled alive from under the rubble of his home a full week after the recent devastating earthquake that ravaged Nepal. But what went through his mind as light met his eyes for the first time in days and he realized that he was being rescued is ideally what should go through our own heads every morning, when we are pulled from the depths of sleep into a new day of life.

That’s what Modeh Ani is for, of course. That short statement of gratitude uttered by every observant Jew upon waking up is meant to focus our thoughts on the fact that, just as some earthquake victims are not rescued, so do some sleepers never awake. And on Chazal’s description of sleep as a taste of death. In a way, no matter how many times we may have arisen, we greet every morning as beneficiaries of techiyas hameisim.

And there are other resurrections, too, that we experience but don’t always fully appreciate. For several weeks this winter, I was homebound and in considerable discomfort with a, baruch Hashem, non-life-threatening but debilitating illness. As … Read More >>

A Different Approach to Internet Safety For Teens

 

I found the approach towards internet safety for teens that the Kiryat Arba/Hebron Ulpana High School for Girls champions refreshing and even inspiring. It is very different from what our haredi schools do in the US, which take fewer chances and concentrate power in the hands of the school and authority figures. The Kiryat Arba approach puts far more trust in the student. It would be wonderful to learn which approach has greater success. (Because the populations are so different, finding out would not necessarily mean that the “better” approach should be exported to the other locale.

Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. The US approach teaches students the need for fences and boundaries, and that sometimes they need to be placed in the hands of others. The Kiryat Arba approach teaches young people to make responsible decisions, and builds their confidence.

Which ever way readers favor, the list of safety rules (beyond the primary stipulation – use of an effective filter – which they do not even count on their list of ten “dibros” of safe surfing is a delight to read. It includes such ideas as keeping sifrei kodesh near the keyboard, as a … Read More >>

The President’s Address at a DC Synagogue

by President Barack Obama

[Editor’s note: Several readers pointed out that the version that was first displayed had been tampered with – something that we were certainly unaware of. The version below is taken from the White House website, and should be accurate (unless the Elders of Zion hacked it without telling us.]

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you. Well, good morning, everybody!

AUDIENCE: Good morning!

THE PRESIDENT: A slightly early Shabbat Shalom. (Laughter.) I want to thank Rabbi Steinlauf for the very kind introduction. And to all the members of the congregation, thank you so much for such an extraordinary and warm welcome.

I want to thank a couple of outstanding members of Congress who are here. Senator Michael Bennet — where did Michael Bennet go? There he is. (Applause.) And Representative Sandy Levin, who is here. (Applause.) I want to thank our special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, for his important work. There he is. (Applause) But as I said, most of all I want to thank the entire congregation of Adas Israel for having me here today.

Earlier this week, I was actually interviewed by one … Read More >>

Tziddukim would be happy this year

If there were any Tziddukim left, they’d be happy this year. You can read why in a Shavuos piece I wrote for the Forward, here.

A Little More about Snakes

I’m going to add a tidbit of my own to R’ Avi Shafran’s post below. I remember Prof. Robert Liebman’s class, Sociology 241, “The Social Basis of Individual Behavior.” He pointed out during a lecture that each language and culture has different words with different levels of complexity. What regular people call “snow” is subdivided by skiers into six words — and by Inuits into twenty-two different types.

Some things, however, are universal across cultures. The word that drew the most consistent, positive reactions across all cultures, he said, was “mother.” And the word that drew the most negative reaction? “Snake.”

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein & the Haredim

“I am very partial to Rav Lichtenstein’s approach,” said the Lelov hassid to me at the funeral of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z”l a month ago. “Rav Lichtenstein deals with abstractions, in addition to focusing on the text,” he further elucidated. There were quite a few hassidim (to judge by their sartorial taste) at the funeral. In addition, someone whose garb bespoke a haredi Litvishe affiliation responded, when I asked what his connection was with Rav Lichtenstein, “What we appreciate in his shiurim is that rather than trying to be ‘sparkling’ with fireworks, there is yashrus, a straightforward approach that speaks to us.”

They were not the only haredim among the ten thousand, mostly national religious and modern Orthodox, who attended the levaya of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z”l. Rav Lichtenstein is one of those rabbis who are esteemed by people from many different sectors of Jewry.

Some on the liberal end of the Orthodox spectrum attribute to him a harsh rejection of the haredi world. For example, David Weinberg claimed, in his Jerusalem Post tribute the day of the funeral, that Rav Lichtenstein “taught that full involvement in Israeli society and a passion for social justice are key religious … Read More >>

The Limits of Interfaith Dialogue

I recently collaborated with David HaKohen Grosser, publisher of Segulat Yisrael, the Italian Torah journal, to examine the halachic and hashkafic parameters of interfaith dialogue and engagement. Our article appears here, posted on Arutz Sheva.

(The above photo depicts an interfaith gathering this past Lag B’Omer at Domus Galilaeae, hosted by the Neocatechumenal Way, an outreach movement within the Roman Catholic Church focusing on the Catholic formation of adults.)

Because I Chose To Be

On a recent trip to the United States, I was invited for a leil Shabbos meal by the son of a good friend of mine. (You know that you are getting old when it does not seem strange to be invited for a meal by friend’s children.)

The evening’s conversation was wide-ranging, though much centered on why this particular young man felt as soon as he landed at Kennedy Airport at 18 that he would never return to live in his native Israel.

As I was putting on my overcoat to leave, he related that he had once asked his father how it was that he seemed so comfortable with all his children despite their great differences from one another – some are in full-time learning, others in business or klal work; some live in Israel; others in America. His father answered him succinctly: “Because I chose to be.”

That struck me as another example of the great wisdom I have heard from my friend over the past quarter century. As parents, the temptation to live vicariously through our children is constant. If we have had successes in life, we want them to be successful in the same way. … Read More >>

Return Jewish Education to its Rightful Prestige

By Leslie Ginsparg Klein

At Maalot Baltimore, the numbers of students studying to be teachers are down, way down. Twenty years ago, the education courses were full. Today, psychology is full, health sciences are overflowing, but education courses get barely a handful of students. As the years go on, we offer progressively less education courses. There simply is no demand.

And it is not just at Maalot. The Avi Chai foundation (http://avichai.org/) found that very few college graduates, male or female, have been entering the field of education and this is contributing to a general dearth of qualified teachers for day schools. On top of that, the field of teaching has a high turnover rate. Teachers leave the field for more lucrative and less draining opportunities.

We, as a community, are losing talented teachers. Some never go into education. Others burn out quickly, feeling unappreciated. Our schools are forced to hire teachers with no training or experience, just to have a warm body in the room. We are losing talent to business, law, occupational therapy and high-tech. The Yeshivish schools are losing out on talent to the generally better paying Modern Orthodox institutions, and all schools are … Read More >>

What OU Kashrus Looks Like From the Inside

Last week’s essay on kashrus supervision attracted far more attention than I would have anticipated. I sensed that misinformation abounded about the OU, the people who work in kashrus, and their halachic standards. The comments that came in showed the usual mix. Some people really got the point; others really missed it. Many of the comments provided useful insight about the OU and other agencies, as well as opening sidebar conversations that were fruitful.

In short, we’re at a teachable moment. So I leaned on our own Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer – who just happens to be a rabbinic coordinator for the OU, specializing in cheese. (Maybe that’s why he smiles so much!) He, in turn, did some very informal intelligence-sharing, trying to put things in perspective. This is what he came up with::

Much heated and vibrant discussion was generated by the exchange of Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Mr. Yoel Gross and a host of online commenters regarding the perceived differences and features of OU kashrus protocol and the kashrus protocol of the “heimishe hashgochos”. In truth, there is a great need for both reliable national kashrus agencies as well as for smaller kashrus agencies that service specific kehillos … Read More >>

A World of Wastage

The recent rioting in my home town Baltimore brought two memories to mind. One was the 1968 riots, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. I was fourteen, and while we lived several miles from where that violence transpired, it affected Jewish-owned stores in the inner-city, and it taught those of us who were born after the Second World War that malevolence and mayhem remained, unfortunately, alive and well.

Ostensibly, the recent rioting was a reaction to the death in police custody of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose spinal cord was nearly severed when in custody. Peaceful marches to protest that death were understandable, and in fact took place. (The death was eventually ruled a homicide by Baltimore State’s Attorney.) But then legions of young black men, many of them apparently high schoolers, began taunting and attacking police, setting fires and looting stores. Most telling were the delighted smiles on many looters’ faces, indelibly captured on film. If Mr. Gray was at all in the minds behind the faces, he had been grossly obscured by something else, an ugly anarchistic glee.

The rioters’ small minds weren’t likely capable of appreciating the irony of their actions. Not only the self-evident … Read More >>

A Coalition Scorecard

by Shmuel Winiarz

With UTJ, Shas and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party having inked their agreements with the Likud and Naftali Bennett set to become Israel’s next Education Minister, the coalition of Netanyahu’s 4th government is now clear, and begs the question of what is in store for Klal Yisroel and how will the 20th Knesset differ from the 19th.

UTJ has successfully negotiated the removal of criminal sanctions from the Chareidi enlistment law and has ensured the government will not lend its support to public chilul Shabbos. Whatever the downside (see on), many of our readers will take comfort in this development. Having Moshe Kahlon as the next Finance Minister and his parties’ focus on socio-economic issues also augurs well for Israeli society. Kahlon, the former Minister of Communications, led the “Cellular Revolution” where he opened up the market to competition, thereby drastically reducing prices. Bringing in further free-market oriented reforms and incentivizing entrepreneurship should be his modus operandi. The cost of living crisis is preventing Israelis, particularly young couples, from buying a home and getting ahead, and giving people a hand up and not a handout can do just that.

But beyond the specifics of coalition agreements and … Read More >>

What The Forward Publishes

When I wrote a few tweets about what happened in Baltimore, I expected a few nasty responses — but drew one from a new source, a man calling himself @HeathenHassid. I recognized his name; he was the author of a particularly vitriolic piece in The Forward, one which basically said any Chassid exposed to the secular world will inevitably abandon Chassidism (never mind that he can’t identify even one of his own siblings, who presumably are numerous and were equally exposed, who abandoned it with him).

So I responded, both because I enjoy a good debate and wanted to learn more about him. And when I pointed out to him that by leaving Chassidism for “liberal Judaism,” he was in effect boarding a sinking ship, he had this reply:

@ymenken @AhavatYisraeI What boat? Where did I say I'm Jewish? I left that lifestyle for reality. I'm not a child, I prefer the truth.

— Ari Mandel (@HeathenHassid) May 6, 2015

So The Forward, which refused to publish the work of Orthodox Rabbis who want to help liberal Jews to stay Jewish, was happy to publish the work of an atheist who … Read More >>

Jewish Conservatism and Its Limits

If ever there was a time for American Jewry to consider a course change, it is the present. The current course threatens world Jewry with annihilation and American Jewry with demographic decimation. By their fervent embrace of the Democratic Party, in sickness and health, American Jews have served as the enablers of a nuclear Iran.

Seven million Jews in Israel are likely doomed to live in perpetuity under the shadow of a nuclear bomb due to President Obama’s refusal to countenance military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, despite constant assurances to the contrary. American Jews twice voted for Obama in higher percentages than any other non-black group, despite clear indications he is, in the words of former peace-processor Aaron David Miller, not exactly “in love with the idea of Israel.”

Meanwhile, the failure of American Jewry to offer its children any coherent account of why the continued existence of the Jewish people matters, not just for Jews but the entire world, has paved the way for a headlong rush towards oblivion. Four out of five marriages involving non-Orthodox American Jews today are intermarriages, which will lead to rapid demographic decline and highly attenuated identity.

Surveying this scene, Eric … Read More >>

The (Spiritual) Battle of New Orleans

As the naval gunner fired the cannon, his ship immediately began to sink, for he did not grasp that the cannon was aimed downward…

Aggressively continuing the homosexual entitlement advocacy of several of his fellow graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (see, for example, here and here), Rabbi Gabriel Greenberg, who leads a congregation in the New Orleans area, recently directed his fire toward Louisiana’s Marriage and Conscience Act. In an op-ed in The Times-Picayune, R. Greenberg compared the homosexual community to our oppressed ancestors in ancient Egypt and argued on behalf of homosexual liberation in the name of Orthodox Judaism.

R. Greenberg wrote:

Throughout our Biblical and later rabbinic texts, the experience of oppression in Egypt serves as an imperative reminder to take care of those in our own day and age who endure oppression, who live on the margins of our own society. Commandments such as the following in Deuteronomy 10:19 are common in the Bible: “Remember the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

It is, therefore, quite disconcerting to watch Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s recent foray into the “religious liberty” fight, in his outspoken support for House Bill 707, the “Marriage and Conscience Act.” … Read More >>

Better than the OU?

Food for thought.

In an interview in Mishpacha’s current issue, the co-owner of First Choice baby foods tells of his impetus for starting his business:

I’m a chassidishe guy – I got married at 19. We had a baby, and when we went to the grocery store, my wife took the Beech-nut jar off the shelf – that’s all they had. I said, “Let’s try to get one with a better hechsher. You get water with a hechsher, salt with a hechsher – why not this?”

My opinion may not count. I have been known to buy water without a hechsher. But when faced with the choice of competing hechsherim, I will usually prefer the OU insignia to that of a mom-and-pop outfit.

It’s been decades since I last heard OU kashrus characterized as run by a bunch of modernish rabbis who spend most of the day mixed swimming with their wives who don’t cover their hair, and got semicha through a multiple-choice test. It wasn’t true back then, and it is certainly not true today.

Having had many friends who worked in kashrus, I’ve heard all the stories – the good, the bad, the ugly. I … Read More >>

The Spirit of Conservatism

Defining things by what they aren’t is almost always unsatisfying. Negative definitions can be useful in distancing us from what we need to reject, but they don’t tell us much about the alternatives.

Applied to G-d Himself, the Rambam tells us in Moreh Nevuchim that we have no alternative to negative statements. The shortcomings of our comprehension and of human language do not allow us to speak of what He is, only of what He is not. If we wish to grow close to Him, we will have to focus on manifestations of His essence – Torah and Creation – rather than His essence itself.

For too many Jews who cannot agree on any affirmative set of principles of Judaism, the one definition that works for them is a negative one. Jews don’t believe in Jesus. The spectacular failure of such a belief system needs no elaboration; it is evident in the growing debris from the self-destruction of the non-Orthodox communities of the Diaspora, which too often could come up with no more compelling a definition of Jewishness than a statement of what it isn’t.

It should be vastly unsatisfying, then, that a growing number of Jews have broken … Read More >>

From the Mother of the Meah Shearim Attack Victim

[Sometimes it is good to hear what it feels like from the people closest to the event. Thanks to Dr Moshe Shoshan for the translation.]

It has been a stormy Shabbat for us as we have gone back and forth between a desire to crush and destroy the rioters and the understanding that they represent only a crazy minority in the chareidi community.

They tried to lynch my little boy, who happens to be 21 and an officer in the Givati infantry brigade.

What tears my heart out is the fact that no one came to his defense. Twelve noon, Meah Shearim, a place bustling with life. But no one remembered the mitzvah “לא תעמוד על דם רעיך ” “Stand not idly by as you neighbors blood is spilt.” A mitzvah deoraita.

Men women and children watched the lynching and none of them offered any aid or a place to hide from the hooligans.

I am trying to use this experience to somehow bring change and hope.

I am searching for people from the chareidi world who want to create dialog. I am searching for the silent majority who stood by when son was attacked. I want to give … Read More >>