Autonomy Über Alles

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 >>

Mrs. Aardvark Comes Home

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 >>

Holocaust, Holocaust, Holocaust…

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 >>

We Are Not The World

Chanukah is far from most minds these days, understandably. And yet symbols of the societal showdown that yielded its commemoration lie before us.

In a particularly conspicuous “we run and they run” display, the 2012 Summer Olympics—whose roots lie in the ancient Greek games, where religious sacrifices to mythical gods accompanied sporting events—opened mere days before the world-wide celebration of the Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas.

As a large crowd in London wildly cheered displays of physical prowess, a stadium an ocean away— itself usually used for running and throwing and catching—became a point of convergence for a large crowd of Jews intent on honoring Torah and its study. (There were large Siyum HaShas gatherings as well, of course, in Britannia, as well in innumerable locations around the globe.)

The close to 100,000 Jews gathered at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on August 1 were honoring people too: Jewish men who, in a demanding endurance test of their own, had applied themselves to “learning Shas”—studying the entirety of the Babylonian Talmud—over seven and a half years. And their invaluable coaches, the wives and children whose encouragement and personal sacrifices allowed those “Shas Yidden” to run their personal marathons.

If the …

The NY Times and the Siyum of Daf Yomi

In his pre-Siyum Hashas post which reprises his wonderful op ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein makes reference to the coverage of the last Siyum, including a front page article in the New York Times. Alas, although this year’s event was much larger and although learning Daf Hayomi has become a much larger phenomenon, the New York Times did not see fit to give what occurred last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey comparable prominence.

Of course, we should have no claim on where articles are to be placed in the publication that for American Jews is our newspaper of record. But we should expect respectful treatment. Today’s article in the Times is anything but. Written by Sharon Otterman, it is a negative piece and in many ways nasty. The title is “Orthodox Jews Celebrate Cycle of Talmudic Study,” but what appears in print tells us very little about the celebration of the completion of the study of the Talmud by tens of thousands of Jews around the world. What we get starting with the opening paragraph is a complaint about the place of women, both at the stadium and … Read More >>

Friends Don’t Let Friends Write Bunk

It is painful to publicly criticize something written by a dear friend. But improper public words require a public response.

I have known Chanan Gordon for years and deeply admire his passion to bring all Jews closer to their religious heritage. But Ami’s interview of him in a recent issue left me saddened and puzzled.

He pronounces President Obama an “intellectual lightweight,” “arrogant,” possessive of “a grandiose sense of self-importance” and “a sense of entitlement”; and asserts that his reelection would be a “tragedy.” Reb Chanan’s credentials for reaching those conclusions are that he attended Harvard at the same time as Mr. Obama, and “was close to people who were close to him.” They may even have been in one class together.

Reb Chanan considers it somehow iniquitous that, when at Harvard, Mr. Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review but wrote no articles for it. What’s more, he “heard that Obama took pains to recalibrate its ideological disposition.” Also, the man who would become president, Reb Chanan asserts, was “not popular” with others at Harvard.

“Reliable sources” are cited, one contending that Mr. Obama cut off communication with two former financial backers—a sign, in Reb … Read More >>

On The Front Line

Like mosquitoes dive-bombing a rock, a swarm of writers are waging a spirited, ineffectual, attack on human free will.

One observer of the spate of recent books arguing that people are biological automatons, James Atlas, calls the genre a mirror image of the so-called “self-help” literature. These new offerings, he drolly notes, are “Can’t-Help-Yourself books.”

They follow, and complement, the malignant manna of atheist manifestos that dropped from the publishing sky just a few years back. (In fact, one of the new books is by Sam Harris, the author of one of the old ones.) Denying the Creator opens up new vistas of guiltless behavior. Denying our ability to control our actions erases any residual reservoirs of conscience.

Citing advances in neurobiology, the books make the case that our brain chemicals yield who we are and what we do. Choices we make, their authors argue, derive from our nervous systems, not the “I” that each of us feels is part of our soul. We are, in Mr. Harris’ words, “biomechanical puppets.”

It is true, of course, at least to a degree, that we are hampered by our biologies, conscribed by inherent limitations in how we act … Read More >>

Think the Internet isn’t all that Dangerous? Think Again.

In the lead-up to the Internet Asifa, Rav Aharon Feldman wrote that the problems associated with the Internet do not begin and end with inappropriate content, and thus filters alone are not a solution. Rather, he explained, the Internet affects the way we think, our ability to focus, and the way that we interact.

As far as I know, HaRav Feldman has not even used e-mail. So how does he know something that Newsweek has now documented after exhaustive studies? “New research says the Internet can make us lonely and depressed — and may even create more extreme forms of mental illness.”

The answer, truthfully, is that this isn’t even a revelation of Rav Feldman’s gifted mind. Only the blind could question Rav Feldman’s statement in this regard… but of course, even a cursory examination of “Orthodox” blogs will remind you that the world is filled with blind pundits. Gedolei Torah have warned us about the Internet for over a decade, and those who wish to mock the Gedolim have demonstrated their own foolishness (not to use any of a number of less charitable adjectives) in their haste to attack. As I put it in 2000, when … Read More >>

Dear Mr. Rahimi

Item: Iran’s vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, took the occasion of an International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking conference in Tehran to tell the assembled that the Talmud and “Zionists” dedicated to it are responsible for the spread of illegal drugs around the world.

Dear Mr. Rahimi,

Oh, great, esteemed vice president of the beneficent, revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, you have exposed us mightily! Revealed us mercilessly! Nailed us good! The raven-eyed maidens of the Hereafter are singing your praises—may you merit to meet them soon!

How did you manage to uncover our plots and machinations? We have tried so very hard to hide our true intentions, to cloak our nefarious plans with a smokescreen of good deeds, religious devotion, and charity. Somehow, though, in your astuteness, you have ferreted out the truth, that our “objective is the destruction of the world” and that “the spread of narcotics in the world emanates from the teachings of the Talmud.”

As it states clearly in Baba Maiseh 1b: “Any Jew who causes a non-Jew to become addicted to an illegal substance is praiseworthy! Adds Rabbi Narish, ‘he can deduct the expenses from his federal income tax.’ Say the … Read More >>


Sneering cynicism. Self-glorification in the guise of advocacy. Ostentatious observance cloaking rank jealousy. “Democracy” in the pursuit of evil ends. Haughtiness pretending to the selfless pursuit of justice and truth.

What do all those things bring to mind?

A) The parsha we read on Shabbos.

B) Much of the “Orthodox Jewish” blogosphere.

Both, you say? You win.

Korach is a good example for our times. Good, that is, in the sense that he perfectly exemplifies the similarly “populist” contemporary congregation that breeds under the rocks of Blogistan.

We deserve to be free from our so-called leaders, Korach announced—and, even without the benefit of an instantaneous electronic soapbox, attracted followers to “the cause.” We are perfectly capable, he declared, to their excited panting, of sitting in judgment over those who claim to have been designated to stand at the helm of the Jewish ship. The entire people are holy, after all. All of us heard the voice of Hashem at Har Sinai. All of us are able to see things for ourselves as they really are, not as our “leaders” tell us they are. Moshe and Aharon were “chosen” to lead us? Please. We know better. Surely you do … Read More >>

“Ethicists” Without Ethics: The Collapse of the Moral High Ground

If you are disturbed by the rapid progress of the homosexual lobby – with even Pres. Obama favoring same-sex marriages – let me tell you: you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

A recent article in the British Journal of Medical Ethics suggests that it should be permissible to kill newborn babies – because they do not have the status of full human beings. Here are their actual words, couched in opaque academese: “After-birth abortions (i.e., killing new-born babies: EF) are matters of moral indifference because newborns, like fetuses, do not have the same moral status as actual persons; and the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant.” Therefore, killing them “should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is permissible, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” (Note the sanctimonious use of the term “moral” by these people who claim to inhabit the moral high ground of society, but who in the name of morality would justify infanticide.)

Here is revealed, in all it obtuseness and perversity, the moral blindness of the pro-abortion mind-set. Having established that a fetus has no right to life and that pre-birth abortions are permissible, they are now going … Read More >>

The Meat of the Matter

A number of weeks ago, I became aware of an essay contest conceived by The New York Times Magazine’s resident “ethicist”—a columnist, that is, who entertains readers’ questions about moral or ethical quandaries they face. The essay assignment was to make, in 600 words, the strongest ethical case for eating meat.

Sitting in judgment to select the winning essay was a panel of judges that included a writer who is a vociferous vegan; and a philosophy professor, Peter Singer—who has advocated not only for extending greater “rights” to animals but for killing severely handicapped newborn human babies.

With judges like that, I didn’t really entertain any hope of winning, especially with an essentially religious argument, the one I would make. But, hey, I thought, why not give it a whirl? If only to clarify my thoughts for myself.

Believe it or not, my submission in fact didn’t win. More insulting still, the winning essay selected from the 3000 entries, didn’t even present an argument at all, but rather a simple assertion. Its essential point was:

“For me, eating meat is ethical when one does three things. First, you accept the biological reality that death begets … Read More >>

Etiquette and Ethics

This year, the first day of Shavuos fell on a Sunday. Were there any Tzadukim and Baitusim still around today, they would have been happy. Because those rejecters of the mesorah contended that Shavuos should always be on a Sunday.

That is because those groups, who together comprised one of the two major factions of Jews during the time of the Bayis Sheni, asserted that it would be nice to have two consecutive days of rest and feasting: Shabbos and then the single day of Shavuos observed in Eretz Yisroel.

Not that they didn’t claim a textual “basis” for their innovation. The Torah, they pointed out, counts the seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuos from “the day following ‘the Shabbos’”—which, at least on its face, seems to imply that the count begins on a Sunday, rendering Shavuos, invariably, on a Sunday too.

Despite the Tzadukim’s scriptural ammunition, though, the Gemara (Menachos 65b) explains that their motivation was their sense of propriety—it just seemed… proper that Jews be able to enjoy two days in a row of rest.

But Torah is more than the Written Law. Indispensable is the Torah Shebe’al Peh, the Oral Law, to which the Perushim, … Read More >>

Agudath Israel statement on same-sex marriage

In the wake of President Obama’s sharing of his personal feeling that the millennia-old institution of marriage should be redefined in contemporary America, National Jewish Democratic Council chair Marc R. Stanley declared his admiration for the president’s demonstration of “the values of tikkun olam.”

A political group is entitled to its opinion, no less than a president is to his. But to imply that a religious value like “tikkun olam” – and by association, Judaism – is somehow implicated in a position like the one the president articulated, is outrageous, offensive and wrong.

We hereby state, clearly and without qualification, that the Torah forbids homosexual acts, and sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony.

The Orthodox Jewish constituency represented by Agudath Israel of America, as well as countless other Jews who respect the Jewish religious tradition, remain staunch in their opposition to redefining marriage.

Fear the Frum

Were the New Israel Fund a newly landed Martian’s only source of information about Israel, he’d likely imagine the country as a cross between Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

In the extraterrestrial’s mind it would be a place where women are forced to sit in the backs of buses and the sound of their voices prohibited from being heard. A place where religious extremists eschew democratic values and control the government and national discourse.

(Our Martian would be stunned to actually fix his multiple eyes on Tel Aviv’s Rechov Dizengoff—or, for that matter, Jerusalem’s Rechov Ben-Yehuda. He’d be stupefied by the unfettered operation of Reform, Conservative, and Messianic places of worship. The Knesset would utterly blow him away.)

The NIF’s latest Big Lie took the form of a big ad—a full-color full-pager, in fact—in The New York Times and the Forward. Maybe the latter periodical ran the ad gratis, but the Times charges $175,000 for a color page. Even discounted, it cost the NIF a pretty penny.

Actually, the one it cost is Murray Koppelman, as noted in the corner of the ad. Mr. Koppelman, an Upper East Side money manager, is a major supporter of the group—he … Read More >>

Life Beyond Internet

On Monday, Paul Miller, a Senior Editor at a “technology-focused news publication” called The Verge, announced that he was quitting the Internet for a year. He’s switched to a “dumb” phone, and has pledged to neither use the Internet nor ask others to use it for him, if he can.

His reasons for this drastic move are informative. He hopes that “leaving the internet will make me better with my time, vastly more creative, a better friend, a better son and brother… a better Paul.” He said that he was spending an average of over twelve hours each day using some sort of device with an Internet connection, not even including his smartphone.

By separating myself from the constant connectivity, I can see which aspects are truly valuable, which are distractions for me, and which parts are corrupting my very soul. What I worry is that I’m so “adept” at the internet that I’ve found ways to fill every crevice of my life with it, and I’m pretty sure the internet has invaded some places where it doesn’t belong.

This is a profound statement for a person who makes his living as a technology writer, a job … Read More >>

Fourth Generation Software

Having recounted the story in talks and in writing, I apologize if any readers are encountering it here not for the first time. It’s actually my father’s story; in fact, I only heard it from him when I was an adult (and not a particularly young one, at that).

It was the winter of 1941, the first one my father, may he be well, as a 14-year-old, along with his Novhardoker colleagues and rebbe, spent in Siberia, as guests of the Soviet Union. It was a most challenging season for the deportees, as they had no proper clothing for the climate.

As the youngest member of the group, my father, known then as “Simcha Ruzhaner,” after the Polish town of his birth, was assigned to guard a farm a few miles from the kolkhoz, or collective farm, where they were based. The night temperature often dropped to forty degrees below zero, and he had only a small stove by which to keep warm.

One night, he couldn’t shake the chills and realized he was feverish. He managed to hitch his horse and sled together, and set off for the kolkhoz. Not far from the farm, though, he … Read More >>

Identity Theft

Just before Pesach, best-selling novelist Naomi Ragen was socked with the largest plagiarism judgment ever in Israel. District court judge Yosef Shapira ordered her to pay Sarah Shapiro 233,000 shekels for scenes “stolen” from Shapiro’s memoir Growing with My Children for Ragen’s novel Sotah.

Ragen accused Sarah Shapiro of having sued her “out of a desire to silence my criticism of the Haredi community’s treatment of women.” On Israel TV, she derided the verdict as worthy of a “banana republic.”

In a lengthy interview in Yediot Ahronot published over Pesach, Ragen charged that she was the victim of a chareidi conspiracy. Asked how the chareidim had ensnared a highly respected jurist and former military judge with the rank of colonel into their plot, Ragen did not answer directly. Elsewhere in the interview, however, she implied some kind of improper political influence on the judge: “It’s no wonder Shas very much wants this judge to be the next state comptroller.” (I’d be surprised if one Shas MK has ever heard of Ragen.)

Later in the interview, Ragen expressed her wonder that the intelligentsia had not rallied to her cause: “Just as [they] did not initially understand what the mehadrin buses … Read More >>

The Pesach Plan

The group of Novardhoker yeshiva bochurim and their rebbe (and his rebbetzin)—along with a number of families—were packed into the train’s stock cars in the summer of 1941. Since Rav Yehudah Leib Nekritz, zt”l, and his talmidim, then in Soviet-conquered Lithuania, had declined the offer of Russian citizenship, the Soviets were providing them an all-expense-paid trip to Siberia. Occasional pieces of bread and cups of water were also offered at no charge during the weeks of travel. Not to mention the cruise across a lake on a barge to the work camp where my father, may he be well, the youngest of the yeshiva group, and his rebbe and friends, would spend the years of the Second World War.

The Siberian summer is oppressive; insects left the exiles at times unrecognizable for their swollen faces. Winter in the taiga, of course, brought challenges of its own, including 40 degree below zero temperatures.

In his short memoir, “Fire Ice Air,” my father recalls that even as the yeshiva exiles arrived in the East, Pesach was already on their minds.

And so, as they worked in the fields, some of the boys squirreled away a few kernels of wheat here … Read More >>

How to Teach Propaganda

Professor Amy Kaplan at the University of Pennsylvania explains to faculty how to inculcate hatred for Israel into the college curriculum — even if the course in question has nothing to do with politics or history. As she makes clear, it is very easy for a professor to not merely “expose young students to new ideas” but to influence as well. This is why students — and their parents — must choose carefully whom they wish to influence their thinking.

Audio courtesy of StandWithUs; video posted by ElderofZion.

Meat and Murder

I have an abiding appreciation of animals. My family has shared living space at one point or another over the years with: a small goat, a large iguana, a beautiful tarantula, an assortment of rodents of various sizes, and scores of tropical fish (the latter our only current pets).

We didn’t choose some of those creatures. Several were Purim gifts from talmidim of mine when I served as a rebbe. The boys meant well and I came, in time, to appreciate each present. The only one we didn’t keep very long was the goat, which repeatedly escaped from our back yard to feast on a neighbor’s lawn. (We sold her—the goat, that is—within a few weeks to a girl who lived on a farm.)

We always treated our animals well—buying and feeding the tarantula the live crickets it craved and making sure the mice and hamsters got their exercise and fresh air. (The untimely demise of that one member of the order rodentia left too long in the sun was entirely an accident, Chana; there is no reason to feel bad.) And I try to be careful, as per the Talmud’s exhortation regarding animals, to feed our fish before … Read More >>

Memories of the Family Dinner

I had not gotten very far in the new issue of Klal Perspectives before being enveloped in warm, fuzzy memories of my childhood. The subject of the issue is changing gender roles in the Orthodox world and its impact on the family – not a subject by itself designed to arouse warm feelings.

In his lead article, Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Baltimore acknowledges that the social trends that have so dramatically changed the family dynamic from what it was fifty years ago are likely here with us for the indefinite future – whether it is women working to provide a second salary to help meet the expenses of a large Orthodox family or functioning as the principal breadwinner while the husband learns in kollel. But he argues that it is not only the family structure that has changed but also to some extent the centrality that family occupied in the lives of our parents. As a modest step to reverse the attitudinal shift, he offers the modest proposal of reemphasizing the family dinner.

I have often asked myself why my parents were successful in ways that few were in the upper-middle class Chicago suburb in which I grew up. … Read More >>

Islamophobia as an Offensive Weapon

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling for the dismissal of New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and the appointment of an outside inspector-general to run the police. CAIR and other “mainstream” Muslim groups have a long-standing grievance with Kelly and the NYPD arising out of a 2007 NYPD Intelligence Report entitled, “Radicalization in the West: the Homegrown Threat,” and the NYPD’s ongoing surveillance of radical Islamic groups, including mosques.

But the immediate club being used to hammer Kelly is his participation in a documentary entitled The Third Jihad. The New York Times has devoted numerous news stories and two editorials so far to The Third Jihad, which is described as “a dark film on U.S. Muslims” and “anti-Islam,” whose producers, The Times implies, seek to advance a pro-Israel agenda.

The Times coverage failed to mention the long roster of authorities interviewed for the film, including the Director of the CIA under President Clinton, James Woolsey, and the first Secretary of Homeland Security Gov. Tom Ridge, and a host of former U.S. government intelligence officials. The title The Third Jihad was provided by the most eminent living historian of Islam, Professor Bernard Lewis.

I wrote a long feature article on The Third Jihad when it first appeared two years ago and interviewed the producer Raphael Shore and narrator Dr. Zuhdi Jasser at length. So I have taken more than a passing in interest in the controversy. Far from being an attack on Islam, the opening lines of the film state clearly: “This is not a film about Islam. It is about the threat of radical Islam. Only a small percentage of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are radical.” Dr. Jasser, a devout Muslim of Syrian descent and former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, is the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He distinguishes between Islam as a private faith and Islam as a political doctrine mandating the imposition of Sharia law world-wide.

So far Kelly and his boss N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg have tried to get past the immediate controversy through now familiar public penance rituals expressing “regrets.” It has been left to others, most notably Woolsey and Ridge, to make the substantive case for the NYPD’s anti-terrorist policies. In an op-ed in the New York Daily News (rejected by The Times),the two argue that the NYPD’s undercover terror prevention program, including intelligence gathering within the Muslim community, has been one of the prime tools allowing the NYPD to foil several credible threats arising from within the community. And given that even one successful terror attack in New York City could claims tens of thousands of lives, the NYPD cannot afford to decrease its intelligence gathering activities.

THE TIMES OMITTED ANY discussion of the thesis of The Third Jihad. Dr. Jasser holds up a fifteen-page document, at the beginning of the film, which we eventually learn is a Moslem Brotherhood manifesto for “eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within,” using front groups, mosques, and Islamic centers to achieve that goal. The document in question was uncovered by the FBI in the course of its investigation leading up to the government’s successful prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation terrorist funding case.

Terrorism, intones Jasser, is only one tactic towards the Islamist’s goal of imposing Sharia across the globe – a goal shared by many groups who are not themselves involved in terrorist activity. CAIR, which is specifically mentioned in the document, is one such group. CAIR was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, and the FBI broke off all relations with the group at the time.

Abdul Rahman Alamoudi, the founder of the American Muslim Council, who was invited to speak at an ecumenical service in the National Cathedral after 9/11, is another “moderate” Muslim. He is shown in The Third Jihad boasting, “Either we do it now or we do it in a hundred years, but this country will become a Muslim country.”

Continue reading → Islamophobia as an Offensive Weapon

The Super Bowl Maariv

On the morning of the recent Super Bowl football game, a shul in New Jersey sent out this e-mail to its membership:

There will be a minyan for Maariv at __________ Synagogue (name deliberately omitted) at ten minutes after the beginning of the Super Bowl halftime.

How should one react to this? One could be benevolent , in the spirit of the Berditchever Rebbe who, paraphrasing himself, might have said: “O L-rd, how wondrous is Thy people. Even in the midst of the Super Bowl, they think of Thee!”

Or one could be severe and paraphrase Isaiah 1:12: “Mi bikesh zos miyedchem — who asks this of you, saith the Lo-d, to trample on My holy ground and daven with trivialities in your heart!”

Or one could simply laugh, in the spirit of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “L-rd, what fools these mortals be.”

This is one multiple choice where one could choose all three and still not be entirely wrong.

To be benevolent: This is a praiseworthy attempt to assure a minyan for Maariv. The membership is watching the football game (together with 111 million other people) and unless an accommodation is made, there will be no … Read More >>

Give Gays a Chance

(A slightly edited version of this article appears, under a different title, in the February 24 issue of the Forward)

The recent mini-drama of Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag’s suspension as chief rabbi of his native Amsterdam for signing a document about homosexuality, and his subsequent reinstatement, might well serve as a spur for considering the traditional Jewish attitude on the matter.

Whether homosexuality is fixed or changeable is an open question. There are well-informed people on either side of the issue. Whether the Jewish religious tradition is fixed or changeable, however, is not arguable – at least not for Torah-loyal Jews.

The Torah explicitly prohibits homosexual contact (whether by the homosexually inclined or anyone else). There have been Herculean (and often Bullwinklian) efforts in recent years, even by some nominally “Orthodox” Jews, to cast the Torah’s explicit prohibition of male homosexual activity as meaning something other than what Jewish tradition has understood it to mean for several thousand years. But those millennia in the end are what matter to Jews concerned about what the Torah says to them rather than what they would like the Torah to say.

The Torah does not command hatred of homosexuals or label … Read More >>