A private business owner in Seattle has been told that he will face fines and penalties if he refuses to bake “wedding” cakes for deviant couples in violation of his religious faith. If it’s “racist” to discriminate against deviant couples having a “wedding,” then it’s wrong for a Rabbi to refuse to marry them, as well.
Following the time-honored if somewhat irritating tradition of speechmakers who begin by announcing that they are departing from the scheduled topic, I informed those present that instead of focusing on the media’s coverage of Orthodox Jews, I would make my presentation on cloud seeding.
The venue was Agudath Israel of America’s recent 91st national convention, which took place this past weekend at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in New Jersey, where thousands converged to hear words of inspiration and admonition from some of the Orthodox world’s guiding elders.
And, for some of the attendees, to hear words of lesser gravity from people like me, at various smaller sessions. Still, the Sunday morning one in which I participated, along with Rabbi Labish Becker, the session’s chairman; respected educator Rabbi Aaron Brafman and accomplished attorney Avi Schick; drew close to 500 souls.
A few voices in the back of the hall demanded that I repeat myself, for surely they had misheard. So I did, but, before puzzlement could turn to consternation, I launched into a pretty funny joke. No, I’m not going to repeat it here. If you’re really curious, you can get the CD from firstname.lastname@example.org .
But I will … Read More >>
Sarah Shapiro’s plagiarism suit against Naomi Ragen reached its denouement in the Israeli Supreme Court last week when Ms. Ragen withdrew her appeal of the judgment entered by the Jerusalem District Court in Shapiro’s favor. Withdrawal of the appeal left intact the District Court’s injunction barring Ragen from reprinting her novel Sotah in any language without removing material appropriated from Shapiro’s memoir Growing with My Children.
In return, Shapiro agreed to donate 97,000 shekels – her portion of the damages award against Ragen, after payment of attorney’s fees – to two charity organizations,Yad Eliezer and Yad Sarah.
As is her wont, Ragen claimed vindication by the three-judge panel, despite the fact that she remained without the 233,000 shekels awarded by the District Court to Shapiro and her attorneys, and is still subject to an injunction against reprinting Sotah. If that constitutes victory in Ragen’s view, one wonders what would be defeat.
In any event, Ms. Ragen will be back in court soon defending against another plagiarism action, this one brought by Mrs. Sudy Rosengarten. Rosengarten claims that Ragen interpolated her short story “A Match Made in Heaven” (which was published in the anthology Our Lives I edited by Shapiro) … Read More >>
The other day, waiting to board a bus, I was moved to think about empathy.
Unfortunately, the prod came in the form of the opposite, crass selfishness. A young woman approached the group of us waiting to step up into the vehicle and insinuated herself at the front of the long line. She had no visible physical impairment, made no request for anyone’s permission, offered not even a perfunctory “excuse me.” She seemed entirely oblivious to the fact that other people occupied the universe at the time, some even in her immediate vicinity.
I could read the minds of my fellow future passengers. Their faces telegraphed my own mental reaction: Who does she think she is? How would she like it if someone cut before her in a line? Yes, she would probably reply in puzzlement. “But that’s not what’s happening. I am the one cutting in here, not someone else cutting in before me.” The lady, in other words, was empathy-impaired.
“My sins I recount today,” as the waiter, just released from prison, told Pharaoh. I recall myself as a small boy armed with a magnifying glass on a sunny day, incinerating individual ants out of sheer curiosity. … Read More >>
For months, as the Women For the Wall fought for the right of women to pray at the Wall undisturbed, we have heard from many, even within the Orthodox community, that really W4W should just have ignored the Women Of the Wall. Or as one pulpit Rabbi put it, “The WOW were not proselytizing anyone, they were not trying to win converts, they were not trying to make a revolution.”
Oops. Actually, they were.
These rabbis, from Shlomo Riskin on down, are now left to contemplate their naivete about WOW. Since they ignored WOW founders Rivka Haut and Susan Aranoff, who wrote (many months ago) in the Times of Israel that the reason WOW must remain at the Kosel is because, in reference to religious women (esp. charedim), they will “change their worldview,” now they must deal with the reality of Anat Hoffman admitting that this poorly-hidden agenda was, in fact, their continuous goal. WOW’s leading cheerleader in the press, Judy Maltz of HaAretz, reported the following after Hoffman’s conference call with WOW supporters, in which she defended their recent decision to move (with a ridiculous collection of conditions, but that’s for another article) to Robinson’s Arch:
… Read More >>
It’s easy for many of us Orthodox Jews to look down our noses on our fellow members of the tribe who express their Jewishness only on the “High Holidays” and yahrtzeits, to consider them to have missed the point of the Jewish mission. Judaism can’t, after all, be “compartmentalized.” It’s an all-encompassing way of life.
There are, though, even Orthodox Jews, living what seem to be observant Orthodox lives, doing, at least superficially, all the things expected of a religious Jew – eating only foods graced with the best hechsherim and wearing the de rigeuer head-covering of his or her community – who also seem to religiously compartmentalize, who seem to leave G-d behind in shul (if they even think of Him), who seem to not realize that the Creator is as manifest on a Tuesday in July as He is on Yom Kippur.
Which explains how it is that an Orthodox Jew can engage in unethical business practices or abuse a child or a spouse. Or, more mundanely but no less significantly, how one can cut others off in traffic, act rudely, or blog maliciously. Or, for that matter, how he can address his Maker in … Read More >>
A lengthy piece at the online magazine Tablet describes “new Jewish rituals” that “offer comfort to women who have had abortions.” It begins with the story of a woman who, as a young graduate student, terminated two of her pregnancies and years later came to realize that a “spiritual, ritual way” of “marking the decision” to end the lives of her unborn children “would have helped in resolving” uncomfortable feelings she had experienced.
The woman discovered a group, Mayyim Hayyim, that utilizes a mikveh for that express purpose. A liturgical rite, written by three women – a poet, a psychologist and a rabbi – asks the Creator for help “to begin healing from this difficult decision to interrupt the promise of life.”
According to Mayyim Hayyim’s executive director, Carrie Bornstein, “Oftentimes it’s helpful for people to say, ‘I’m going to move to the next stage of my life, whatever that might bring, and I’m not going to let that experience define me or take me over.’ ”
Another “post-abortion ritual” was devised by a graduate student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Yet another is in a book edited by four female Reform rabbis.
Actually, … Read More >>
The recent “news” story about a bar mitzvah boy in Dallas who celebrated the milestone of obligation to observe the Torah’s laws by entertaining family and guests by dancing on a stage with a bevy of Las Vegas-style showgirls reminded me of an article several years ago in The New York Times about such crass missing of the Jewish point.
It introduced something that has become de rigueur in some bar and bat mitzvah circles, something called “motivators.”
While perhaps not on the level of the Dallas debauchery, what the article described was sad enough. It highlighted the profession of a young non-Jewish gentleman from the Virgin Islands clad in a form-fitting black outfit, who “regularly spends his weekends dancing with 13-year-olds… at bar mitzvahs,” according to the report. His is a “lucrative and competitive” profession – he is a “party motivator.”
Such folks are paid to attend bar mitzvahs and other events to make sure “that young guests are swept up in dancing and games,” according to the article. The Caribbean crooner was described as smiling ecstatically at one bar mitzvah “as he danced to Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez songs with middle school students” … Read More >>
A few months ago, Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark, one of the most veteran and respected educators in North America (as well as someone from whom I have gained much), published a Guestlines piece in Mishpacha Magazine entitled “Unconditional Love Has Its Limits,” which predictably generated a good deal of buzz. I return to that piece now in light of a pamphlet on the subject of parenting disenchanted teenagers by Rabbi Uri Zohar, Israel’s most famous ba’al teshuva and a highly respected talmid chacham.
Rabbi Aisenstark’s goal in writing seems to have been to empower parents to actually parent – to offer guidance and set limits – in an era in which many are so terrified of losing their children that they make that result more likely by giving in to every demand and succumbing to every pouty look.
The Mishpacha cover highlighting Rabbi Aisenstark’s piece read: “Do We Love Our Children More than We Hashem?” That eye-catching blurb was presumably based on the well-known story – cited by Rabbi Aisenstark — of the father of Rabbis Shimon, Mordechai, and Moshe Schwab, who banged his hand down at the Seder table at mention of the Evil Son and proclaimed, “I love … Read More >>
Chumros, or efforts to go beyond the letter of Jewish religious law’s requirements, have gotten a bad name over the years. And it is true, some stringencies can be unwise, even counterproductive. Some are even silly.
I recall a letter to the editor of a now-defunct Jewish magazine whose writer was deeply upset that an advertisement for a dairy product in an earlier issue had run face-to-face with one for a meat product. Many readers, I’m sure, like me, first thought it was meant as a joke. But it wasn’t Purim time and it didn’t carry any indication of wryness or satire. The writer was serious, and, of course, deeply misguided.
But when a stringency is adopted, either by a community or an individual, for a good reason, it should not be resented or mocked. Sometimes a person may feel a need to draw a broader circle than the next guy’s around something prohibited; sometimes a particular era or community will require the adoption of special stringencies. Generally, chumros present themselves in realms like kashrus or the Sabbath, in the form of refraining from eating or doing even something technically permitted. Other stringencies, though, consist of adopting as one’s … Read More >>
A new book, “The Anatomy of Violence,” suggests that “the seeds of sin are brain-based,” at least in a sense. Its author, psychologist Adrian Raine, isn’t speaking of sins like gossip or tax evasion but rather violent crime. And he makes the case that such criminalities may have biological roots, and that “neurocriminology” may provide society with ways of curbing crime.
Both genetic makeup and prenatal environment, Dr. Raine asserts, are factors that can presage a criminal mind. On the most basic level, it has long been clear that there is a correlation between certain “accidents of birth” (or of life) and proclivity to crime. Being born male rather than female, for instance, makes it much more likely that one will become a mugger or murderer. And certain types of damage to the brain have long been observed to yield changes in behavior, sometimes including a proclivity to violence.
Likewise, more mundane things, like an expectant mother’s smoking or consumption of alcohol (not to mention even more severe chemical insults to the brain of a fetus, like exposure to lead or use of other drugs), can contribute to the likelihood of eventual bad behavior on the part of … Read More >>
A number of years ago I shared the essential thought in the essay below with subscribers to my mailing list at the time. But I believe it’s a thought worth repeating, for the benefit of new readers, and worth re-pondering for the rest of us.
My wife and I recently accompanied our second son to the chuppah. It was an elating experience, understandably, and the sight of the new couple recalled to me the unsettling, if simple, observation of the Netziv.
The Netziv – an acronym meaning “pillar,” by which Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (1817-1893), the famed dean of the Volozhin Yeshiva, is known – noted that the first marriage in history differed in an essential way from all the matrimonial unions that came to follow. Because, according to a widely cited Jewish tradition, Adam and Eve were created as a single entity, a man-woman coupled back to back, with the “forming” of woman described by the Torah more accurately envisioned as a separation. The word often translated “rib” is in fact used elsewhere in the Torah to mean “side,” and so should be understood in the light of that tradition as referring to the woman-side … Read More >>
A discomfiting feeling crept over me as I watched the fellow remove his head.
Well, not his head – though that would have been discomfiting too, even more so. This was just a costume head, that of the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster. The scene: a small island of concrete in the middle of lower Broadway in Manhattan, where a moment before, Mr. Monster had been happily (at least his expression seemed to say so) posing with a pair of happy children (their expressions left no doubt), the latter’s parents pointing their phones at the photogenic performer and progeny.
My discomfiture arose from discordance, the jarring contrast between the friendly furry face, now dangling from a hand, and the entertainer’s actual own face, heavily stubbled and sneering. Grumbling and angry, he was clearly not enjoying his job.
It might be a professional hazard. A year or so later, an Elmo in Times Square began shouting anti-Semitic rants (with his head on, so to speak) and blocking traffic before being arrested. Another Cookie Monster in the same area stands accused of shoving a 2-year-old when he deemed his mother’s tip insufficient for his services. (“He was using words that … Read More >>
Some unwarranted criticism that was lobbed last week at several Orthodox writers greatly disturbed this one.
The target of one volley – though the shots widely missed their mark – was Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, one of the preeminent representatives of the charedi world. He was harshly criticized in a magazine editorial for a column he penned in a different magazine wherein he sought a silver lining in the current political disenfranchisement of charedi parties in the Israeli government coalition.
Rabbi Rosenblum suggested that the current situation “affords new opportunities to meet our fellow Jews on the individual level” and that now that they know that “we no longer threaten them” in the political realm, “they may be more open… to getting behind the stereotypes that fuel the animus” against charedim in Israel. “On a one-to-one basis,” he suggested, “we can show them what Torah means to us, what we are prepared to sacrifice for it, and what it might mean for them as well.”
Astonishingly, the writer of those words was pilloried for that sentiment, and misrepresented, too, as having asserted that “the hatred secular Israelis have toward charedim is the fault of the hated rather than the … Read More >>
Amid the ongoing avalanche of political conversions, punditry and testimonials on behalf of redefining marriage was a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times by a professor of biology, David George Haskell.
The professor’s contribution to the effort to bring public pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears two cases concerning the meaning of marriage was to note that some plants, lichen, snails and bees do not mate in ways that we would characterized as male-female pairs. In fact, Dr. Haskell informs us, even apes in the rainforest may form same-sex bonds.
Of course, that hardly constitutes “nature’s case for same-sex marriage,” the title that ran above the professor’s piece. At least not if society wishes to continue to disapprove of things like thievery, murder and cannibalism, all easily spotted in the wild. (There’s a reason, after all, it’s called the wild.)
To be fair, Dr. Haskell’s true target (despite his piece’s misleading title) is only the argument that, as the 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone wrote, marriage should be “founded in nature.”
That’s a straw man, though, and one that might benefit from a lit match. What is or is not “natural,” at least from … Read More >>
[This week’s posting is a shortened version of a piece I wrote a number of years ago. I thought it might merit recirculation. – AS]
A typical offering included a close-up of the deformed face of a Jewish man above the legend “The Scum of Humanity: This Jew says that he is a member of God’s chosen people.” Another displayed a cartoon of a vampire bat with a grotesquely exaggerated nose and a Jewish star on its chest. In yet another, a Jewish butcher was depicted snidely dropping a rat into his meat grinder and, elsewhere in the issue, the punctured necks of handsome German youths were shown bleeding into a bowl held by a Jew more gargoyle than human. At its peak in 1938, print runs of Hitler henchman Julius Streicher’s vile tabloid Der Sturmer ran as high as 2,000,000.
“All our struggles are in vain,” Streicher told a Nazi student organization in 1935, “if the battle against the Jews is not fought to the finish. It is not enough to get the Jews out of Germany. No, they must be destroyed throughout the entire world so that humanity will be free of them.”
We approach the … Read More >>
Like the repeatedly pummeled victim of depraved bullies who decides it might just be best to stay away from the schoolyard during recess, Israel recently opted to not show up to be judged by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body with venerated members like Congo, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Malaysia and Qatar.
The UN body and a number of individual countries, including the United States, pleaded with Israel to not be the first country to refuse to appear for an HRC “Universal Periodic Review.” But the Israeli government, in its chutzpah, decided to just say no to presenting itself for assault yet again by a group that has demonstrated a deep and troubling fixation on one political dispute in a world in which, elsewhere, authorities routinely amputate body parts, blithely murder citizens, incarcerate innocent people without trial and look the other way as human beings are enslaved and sold like sides of beef.
The New York Times, predictably, did its own huffing, munificently conceding that the HRC is “not without faults” but asserting all the same that the Middle East’s only stable and free democracy was showing “an unwillingness to undergo the same scrutiny as all other … Read More >>
Well-informed, they say, is well-prepared; and knowledge is power. An exception, though – at least in the judgment of some – seems to be when Jewish women in Israel are contemplating ending their pregnancies.
When an Israeli magazine announced it would bestow an award on a group called Efrat, “pro-choice” advocates (seldom have “scare quotes” been so appropriate) howled in outrage.
Efrat provides women with information about abortion, as well as financial support for mothers-to-be who are under economic pressure to terminate their pregnancies. The group’s detractors characterize it as preying on women at an emotionally vulnerable time.
Efrat, however, does not parade with offensive placards in front of medical facilities like some American groups. Nor does it seek to shame women in any way. Its goal is simply to advance “a woman’s right to free choice,” by providing expectant women who want it with accurate information about medical matters and the development of the lives growing within them; it also offers needy such women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term things like food packages, cribs and strollers. The group claims that, since its founding in 1977, 50,000 babies were born as a result of … Read More >>
Similar advertisements abound, but this one took the cake.
I’ve always been simultaneously amused and saddened by pitches for “high-end timepieces,” more accurately known as overpriced wristwatches.
Amused, because the most intricate Swiss movements consisting of scores, if not hundreds, of near-microscopic moving parts are no better (and often worse) at keeping accurate time than simple quartz or digital watches available for less than a thousandth the price. And saddened, by the thought that there are actually people out there whose self-image is so fragile (and whose understanding of money’s worth is so distorted) that they actually waste large amounts of cash for such status symbols.
Enter now, in the ad I saw, the French luxury goods house Hermès. It is presenting marks—pardon, discerning fashion-conscious folks—with the opportunity to purchase a truly revolutionary timepiece, one that can… make time stand still.
This is not a joke, or at least it’s not being presented inaccurately. The ad copy, in its entirety, reads:
La montre Hermès reinvents time and set it to the tempo of your desires.
Press on the pushbutton and suspend time.
Beneath the dial, time continues to run within the heart of the mechanism.
Another push on … Read More >>
Beyond all the Arab declarations of animus for Israel, beyond Hamas’ firing of rockets from hospitals and schools, beyond its cynical propagandizing of the resultant civilian casualties when those batteries are destroyed by Israeli jets, beyond the Gazan crowds celebrating the extension of Hamas missiles’ ranges to within reach of Israeli population centers, one image may best capture the jihadi mindset: the dragging of a man’s corpse through the streets of Gaza City.
The executed man was an Arab, like the rider to whose motorcycle his body was tied, like the cheering men atop the other bikes in the macabre motorcade. He, along with several others who were likewise summarily murdered, had been accused of “collaborating” with Israel – i.e. with sending information to the Israelis that helped them identify missile sites or the whereabouts of jihadi military leaders.
The gleeful bikers, in the end, are but an unvarnished representation of a society that seems to suck in hatred and violence with its every breath. They reflect the essence of Hamas, the movement that Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi lauds when he speaks to his people, of the West Bank residents who cheered on the rockets launched from Gaza, … Read More >>
Please forgive the “commercial” nature of this posting, but I just wanted to share with Cross-Currents readers that a collection of some of my essays from the past ten years or so has just been published and is available at:
Even if you’ve had enough of my writing yourself already, the volume might make a decent gift for a friend or relative who may not have had exposure to a (hopefully well-written — thanks to my foremost editor, my wife, and others who’ve helped me tweak my stuff) mesorah-based hashkafa.
In any event, I thought you might want to know. And if I was wrong, my apologies!
Is child abuse “more common in the Orthodox Jewish community than it is elsewhere? There are no reliable statistics … but there’s reason to believe the answer to that question might be yes.”
Those words, sandwiching an important admission between a sinister question and an unfounded speculation, were written back in 2006 by Robert Kolker in New York magazine.
Mr. Kolker’s “reason to believe” was based on speculation by the New York Jewish Week’s Hella Winston, who has since established herself as someone who views the Orthodox community through heavily jaundiced eyes.
Our hearts must ache with the anguish of victims of abuse, especially children. And it’s natural for people who have met survivors of terrible things to feel deeply for them, and angry at their abusers. But extrapolating from the harrowing accounts of carefully sought-out victims that abuse, which sadly exists in the Orthodox community as it does in all communities, is somehow emblematic of Orthodox life is like visiting Sloan Kettering and concluding that there is a national cancer epidemic raging.
The New York writer went on to offer an even more offensive, even less grounded, conjecture, protectively qualified by the cop-out preface “There are some who … Read More >>
As with a number of evil ideas, physician assisted suicide can be defended without great difficulty. The magic word for making the case is “autonomy”—the right of individuals to make choices about their future (or, here, lack of one).
That is precisely the argument that was made in Oregon, Washington and Montana, states that have legalized assisted suicide (or, as it has been renamed in Newspeak, “death with dignity”).
The same argument was made (and the phrase enshrined) of late in Massachusetts, where voters, by a slim margin rejected the “Death With Dignity Act,” permitting doctors to help patients kill themselves if they are “terminally ill.”
Every life, however, has a terminus. Mortality happens; in fact it’s currently the rule. And so, “terminal illness,” at least philosophically speaking, is a meaningless term. (Halacha recognizes a state of “in the actual process of dying”—goses—but that concept is of no pertinence here; it is forbidden to kill a goses.) One is either alive or one is not. And suicide is either an autonomy-based human right or it isn’t.
It pays to consider some questions here. Why do civilized societies consider a healthy person who wishes to end his life to … Read More >>
A time-travelling housefly, transported back to the mid-1980s and spending a Sunday afternoon lazing high on the wall of an ornate living room in a stately home on the fashionable East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, would behold an unusual sight.
Below him would be a group of Jewish children, ages ranging from around three to eight, each holding a stuffed animal. The matron of the house, a meticulously-dressed lady of a certain age and the manor’s sole permanent resident, would preside, beaming, over the gathering, and ask the children to put their furry companions on chairs arranged around a table brimming with kosher cookies, chips, and candy.
The fly would be witnessing one of Mrs. Dorothy Fox’s “stuffed animal parties” (at which festivities whatever the animals didn’t eat would become fair game for their caretakers). After refreshments, Mrs. Fox, a divorcée of many years and someone whose love for children was joyfully reciprocated by the little ones, would take the crew of kids and creatures for a tour of her back yard, which was graced with statues and other interesting things. Leveraging even her name to please her young visitors, Mrs. Fox would encourage them to edit it … Read More >>
When Palestinian Authority presidential adviser Ziad Al-Bandak paid his respects recently at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the Palestinian’s visit there “a marketing of a false Zionist alleged tragedy.”
A newly appointed Romanian government official, Dan Sova, averred earlier this year that “No Jew suffered on Romanian territory” during World War II. (Tens of thousands of Romanian Jews were killed on Romanian territory, and hundreds of thousands others deported to their deaths. The historian Raul Hilberg concluded that “no country, besides Germany, was involved in massacres of Jews on such a scale.”)
We tend to get exercised by Holocaust denial, and for good reason. The refusal to accept the facts that part of the ostensibly civilized world went on a genocidal murder spree over the years 1938-1945 and that most of the rest of the world didn’t much care implies a certain regret that the genocide failed.
In the end, though, deniers of that historical truth are—at least outside the Arab world—generally marginalized, recognized as either mentally deficient or depraved.
But then there are those, even among our fellow Jews, who are, if not Holocaust deniers, then Holocaust deriders. Like a writer for Tablet, … Read More >>