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As I read about states being required to recognize gay marriage, sodomy laws stricken down and bans on adultery repealed, and I see people all over New York City publicly smoking marijuana, I am confronted by the reality that principles are being replaced by permissiveness and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 …

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.

…

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 >>

Greed Is Gross

The carnival of carnage that seems a constant in the Islamic world proceeded tragically apace last week, with a suicide bombing at a gathering in Ibb, Yemen to commemorate Islam’s founder’s birthday. At least 23 people were killed; an Al Qaeda affiliate is the suspected culprit.

Then, over in Afghanistan, at least 26 people attending a wedding party were killed, and 45 wounded, when a rocket struck a house during a firefight between government forces and Taliban insurgents.

But what might rank as the week’s most senseless loss of life took place in a non-Islamic land, China. At least 35 people were killed and 43 injured during a stampede in an area of Shanghai where tens of thousands had gathered to celebrate the advent of a new calendar year.

The cause of that disaster is unclear, but it was reported that shortly before the crowd had grown restless, people in a nearby building had dropped green pieces of paper that looked like American $100 bills.

Now, there’s an awful metaphor for our covetous times. The pursuit of money is nothing new, of course. It has been the engine powering many a civilization, and the rot destroying many a human … Read More >>

Yesh Atid, Elazar Stern, and the religious status quo

About two weeks ago, Binyanei Haummah in Jerusalem hosted a Rabbinic conference regarding the aggressive legislative action taken during the reign of the recently fallen government in matters pertaining to State and religion.

The organization responsible for the gathering (called Libah Yehudit) put out this clip:

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Prominently featured are Yesh Atid MKs Aliza Lavi, who states at a Conservative conference that she cannot go as far as she would like to make changes because she would otherwise lose her legitimacy within the Orthodox world and thus have no political clout; Yair Lapid, who proclaims at a Reform gathering that he will work toward granting the heterodox equal religious footing; and Shai Piron, who retracts his statement that a homosexual couple is not a family and lists his accomplishments on behalf of LGBT recognition in Israel.

The Power of Personal Testimony

by David Mandel

[Editor’s note: This video is groundbreaking in its courage, impact, and ability to make us direct, rather than avert, our glance from yet another problem we have been silent about for too long. It requires no introduction, but David Mandel, one of the most important personalities our community is blessed with in attending to the needs of those who have nowhere else to turn, was kind enough to offer some introductory thoughts.]

Imagine you were mugged and robbed of your most precious jewels. The bodily injury you suffered will heal. The loss of your family’s ancestry represented in your mothers ring and necklace and your fathers watch is irreplaceable. It is causing you emotional torment. It has been in the family four generations.

The mugger is caught. The jewels are not found. He is convicted and sent to jail.

How should you react now? Are you a victim of a mugging? Are you a survivor of a mugging? How long do you remain angry or feel responsible for the loss of an important family history? Was it indeed your fault even if it was not?

Elisheva was the victim of a mugging and … Read More >>

Sisi’s Remarkable Statement

We knew that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has it in for the Muslim Brotherhood, and has taken strong steps to suppress it. We did not expect the president of the most populous Arab country to call for a religious revolution against Muslim extremism, and back it up with specific programs through his religious ministry.

Western media ignored the statement in droves. We shouldn’t.

Speaking before Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, in connection with Mohamed’s upcoming birthday, Sisi said:

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] … Read More >>

Leaf Bag Lesson

An aroma all but absent these days but deeply evocative of childhood to many of us who grew up before pollution laws is the bouquet of burning leaves. Back in the day, we would rake the dry debris of autumn into a pile or put it into a metal trash can (remember those?) and set the leaves aflame. The resultant smoke, at least at somewhat of a distance, was a seasonal perfume, an olfactory hint that the snow days weren’t far off.

Today we put what we’ve raked into very large double-reinforced paper “lawn bags” and leave them for the recycling pickup. (I don’t imagine they put the leaves back on trees, but surely something worthwhile is done with them.)

A few weeks ago, while I was doing the final leaf-raking of the year, the lawn bag I was filling provided me some timely spiritual direction.

I needed the chizuk, and for a reason not unrelated to how distant a memory the scent of burning leaves is, to how many years have elapsed since it would regularly waft through the autumn air.

Having several months ago passed the 60-year life-mark (the “new 40,” as I prefer to imagine … Read More >>

Lessons in Emunah from…Professional Wrestling

UN Condemnations

We often get frustrated by the gross prevalence and utter, unfathomable irrationality of anti-Semitism (commonly also cloaked as anti-Zionism). The above chart says it all.

“If only we could more clearly remind the world of the good that the Jews have brought it; if only the world realized that Judaism is the source of Western moral values; if only the world would understand that Israel is fighting more humanely than any military known to man, defending itself against unprovoked attacks from its malicious neighbors who seek its annihilation…” We can’t understand why the world hates us and cannot see things with a modicum of objectivity. It can be so upsetting.

Rabbi Avi Shafran recently penned a beautiful and brilliant column, When I Drifted Off the Path, in which he described his very short-lived pre-adolescent flirtation with heresy. In order to briefly address the points about anti-Semitism raised in the above paragraphs, I would like to share and draw from one of my own juvenile, inelegant interests: professional wrestling. Tampa, Florida, where I grew up, was once the South’s capital of professional wrestling, and … Read More >>

פרסומי ניסא – Publicizing the Miracle(s)

One of the highlights of Chanukah in Washington Heights is the candlelighting at K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ/”Breuer’s”) and the singing of Maoz Tzur by the KAJ choir between Mincha and Maariv. (Please click here, here and here for videos.) This event, aside from being inherently inspiring, undoubtedly inspires various thoughts and feelings on the part of all who attend.

Here are a few of the things that come to mind each year at this time as I look across KAJ and reflect:

That there is probably no other congregation on earth whose history is so identified with Chanukah. An unswervingly devoted group of about a dozen Orthodox Jews who struggled to preserve Torah in Germany almost a century and a half ago in the face of unprecedented assimilation, hiring a dynamic, unapologetic rav and master spokesman (R. Samson Raphael Hirsch) as its leader and seceding from the religiously-compromised communal structure, to emerge as the primary and leading force of Torah in Western Europe, quickly developing into a major congregation of hundreds of families with an extensive chinuch system, igniting a glorious renewal and … Read More >>

What Can We Do for Them?

I suspect that most of us if asked, “What can we do for those murdered in Kehillat Bnei Torah?” would be hard pressed to answer. We might mention contributing to the families of those slain, but for the pure korbonos themselves, we would be stumped. After all, they are already in the Olam HaEmes far beyond our reach. If pressed, we might come up with learning mishnayos or some other good deed l’ilui nishmasam (for the elevation of their souls), but nothing more than we might do for anyone who passed away.

These various responses, however, fail to take account of the sudden, shocking manner of their deaths, and the worldwide attention that they garnered, first and foremost among Torah observant Jews. In a hesped for Rabbi Moshe Twersky, H”yd, at the end of shiva, his brother Rabbi Meir Twersky distinguished between different forms of dying al Kiddush Hashem. In some cases, an otherwise ordinary and incomplete life might be somehow redeemed by the manner of its ending. But with respect to his brother, he said, the death al Kiddush Hashem, was the natural culmination or fulfillment of a life lived al Kiddush Hashem.

Rabbi Moshe Twersky himself seems …

Candles and Candor

A non-Orthodox writer recently reached out to ask if I would participate in a panel discussion about Chanukah. The other panelists would be non-Orthodox clergy.

While I cherish every opportunity to interact with Jews who live different lives from my own, I had to decline the invitation, as I have had to do on other similar occasions. I explained that my policy with regard to such kind and appreciated invitations is a sort of passive “civil-disobedience” statement of principle, “intended as an alternative to shouting from the rooftops that we don’t accept any model of ‘multiple Judaisms.’ So, instead, [I] opt to not do anything that might send a subtle or subliminal message to the contrary.”

“Sorry,” I added, “Really. But I do deeply appreciate your reaching out on this.”

The extender of the invitation, Abby Pogrebin, was a guest in the Shafran sukkah this past Chol Hamoed. Both my wife and I were impressed with both her good will and her desire to learn more about traditional Jewish life and beliefs. In fact, she is currently writing a series of articles for the secular Jewish paper the Forward on her experiences observing (in both the word’s senses) all … Read More >>

What Is Chanukah?

“מאי חנוכה” – “What is Chanukah?” With these words does the Gemara (Shabbos 21a) commence its presentation of the religious historical underpinnings of Chanukah.

Unfortunately, Chanukah has become the most misunderstood and distorted of Jewish holidays. The secular American Jewish observance of Chanukah is largely manifest as the Festival of Consumerism (along with latkes, dreidels and vague messages of generic religious tolerance); the secular Israeli observance of Chanukah is manifest as the Festival of Might – the Maccabees’ religious devotion and attribution of their success to Hashem has been pretty much sidelined. And among the rabbinate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) has the message of Chanukah likewise become grossly malformed.

As was presented here a while back, one prominent member of the YCT rabbinate equates Chanukah with the legalization of same-sex marriage. And last week, a YCT leader, perplexed by the apparent clash of the message of Chanukah with his open, pluralistic religious orientation, declared that Chazal actually rejected the hashkafah of the Chashmona’im, instead favoring the values of pluralism and openness. Invoking a very radical understanding of Chanukah, we are told:

The rabbis …