Open Season on Charedim — and Torah

One hopes that readers here are not part of the population that peruses tabloids like the New York Post. If they were, though, they would have seen a recent opinion piece that called Jews “a small minority of the population… granted special privileges” who “wield power disproportionate to their numbers” and whose “behavior violates the law and infringes on the rights of others.” Wielding “considerable political clout,” and “flexing their political muscle,” they represent “a dangerous trend that has been allowed to fester and grow for decades.” Jews also receive “special treatment” by those in power and deny “the civil rights of [crime] victims.” When criticized, the writer explains, Jews simply dismiss their critics as anti-Semites.

Moreover, the piece reports, Jews represent “a demographic tidal wave” and threaten to become “dominant” in the United States. Warning that it is time to head off the coming misfortune, the writer concludes that our “silence is acquiescence.”

Oh, my mistake! It wasn’t “Jews” to whom the writer, an “activist” named Ben Hirsch, was referring, but rather “strictly Orthodox Jews.” Forgive me.

One wonders, though, how Mr. Hirsch manages to convince himself that there’s some qualitative difference between a generic bigot who … Read More >>


Titanic II and Yeridos Hadoros

Yeridos Hadoros translates as “the Decline of Generations”

Rabbi Benjamin Blech had an interesting piece last week at Aish.com on the Costa Concordia disaster. A few years ago, Rabbi Blech served as the scholar-in-residence on a kosher cruise on the magnificent ocean liner. Guests were escorted on a tour of the state of the art ship and its multiple levels of safety devices. At one point on the tour, the guide remarked, “No one will ever have a Titanic experience here.”

The builders of the Titanic famously asserted with even greater hubris that not even G-d Himself could sink it. Yet the Titanic did not survive its maiden voyage, and 1,517 passengers drowned.

In both cases, the ships were brought down, not by failures in technical design, but by the moral failings of those in charge. The owners of theTitanic were eager to claim the record for the fastest transatlantic crossing, and thus settled on a northerly route, at a time of year when that area of the Atlantic was known to be still filled with icebergs. Worse, the telegraph operator received numerous warnings from another ship of a huge iceberg directly in its path. But the telegraph … Read More >>

Praying for Contemporary Captives

It was over a decade ago, in the wake of a spate of terrible terrorist attacks on Jews in Eretz Yisrael, that the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah called upon Jews to recite chapters of Tehillim (they suggested chapters 83, 130, and 142) in shul after davening, followed by the short prayer “Acheinu,” a supplication to G-d to show mercy to His people. Many shuls, to their great credit, to this day still dutifully seize that special merit at the end of their services. None of us can know what dangers that collective credit may have averted, may be averting still.

It occurred to me, though, that recent events might well inspire us—not only those of us Jews who look to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah for guidance, but all good-hearted Jews, charedi, “modern Orthodox,” non-Orthodox, “traditional,” and secular-minded alike—to consider reciting the holy words with special concentration, and the short prayer with an additional, somewhat different, intent.

For we have witnessed of late…

 Reports of verbal and physical attacks on innocent Jews, even children, by other Jews who were, ostensibly, dissatisfied with their marks’ level of modesty.

 The exploitation of media to bring such outrages, and exaggerations of … Read More >>

Shark Feeding Frenzy

When my husband was a flight surgeon on the US Air Force base in Guam, he witnessed a feeding frenzy by sharks. Daily, a huge garbage truck would gingerly back up to the edge of a cliff, and dump the waste into the Pacific. In 40 seconds sharks made mincemeat of the garbage, leaving disposable dishes floating. In another 20 seconds those were also disposed of by sharks. If you can’t go to Guam, you can see a shark feeding frenzy on the Discovery Channel. Or you can follow the current media frenzy against haredim in Israel.

Perhaps this is what Rabbi Chanina had in mind when he stipulated, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for without fear of governmental authorities people would swallow each other alive” (Pirkey Avot 3:2).

Here are examples of the media frenzy.

(a)Yair Lapid showed a video in December on Israeli TV, which featured the most extreme peripheral haredim whose behavior is considered outrageous by almost all haredim and ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

(b)The NYTimes has blown out of proportion issues related to controversies in Beit Shemesh, on buses, and at conferences. On December 28 the weekday NYTimes gave wide … Read More >>

Gingrich Schools the Media — and we would do well to listen

Jonathan Rosenblum’s article on media manipulation was written before Newt Gingrich stared down CNN’s John King last night. Gingrich received not one, but two standing ovations for denouncing the media’s descent into smear campaigns instead of permitting Republicans to first discuss issues of substance. The audience leapt to its feet, because the only people who fail to recognize the media’s leftist bias are those who share or exceed it. The Associated Press, playing its assigned role, simply omitted the multiple standing ovations from its report, although even a single standing ovation is a rare and notable phenomenon in a candidates’ forum.

The same bias that the media displays against Republicans, it also displays against religion, with the worst treatment reserved for traditional Judeo-Christian religious denominations. The only people who fail to recognize the media’s anti-Charedi bias are those who share or exceed it. The result is that it is foolish to believe even a word of what is written about Charedi Jews. I may have written about this often, but even so, I was fooled.

When I heard the Tanya Rosenblitt story, I knew that there was something more there than met the eye, but I could … Read More >>

Who’s afraid of Tim Tebow?

by Michael Freund

This past Sunday I got a first-hand glimpse of one of the hottest phenomena in American pop culture and sports.

The venue was Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, the occasion was the first round of the National Football League playoffs.

Just prior to the start of the game between the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons, after the Giants had come onto the field, eight of their players headed toward the end zone, where they did something entirely unexpected.

These hulking and intimidating behemoths, who make their living by strapping on layers of protective body gear and pummelling their opponents, each knelt down on one knee, bowed their heads, and offered a silent prayer.

This act has come to be known as “Tebowing,” after Tim Tebow, the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, whose signature prayerful genuflections have become a popular and internet sensation.

Tebow, who has led his team to some stunning comeback victories, including this past weekend when he tossed an 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime to defeat the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers, is an unabashed fan of his Christian faith. He talks about it in interviews and does not shy away from publicly thanking … Read More >>

My Brothers Do I Seek

I came to full Jewish observance relatively late in life. I was nearly thirty and married when I first walked through the doors of Ohr Somayach. I don’t fully remember the entire process of becoming religious. But certainly the most important element of our decision was exposure to people of a refinement and depth that we had never before encountered.

For the last twenty years, I have been writing biographies of modern Jewish leaders. If one bright thread unites the lives of all the disparate figures whose lives I have researched it is their commitment to the Torah imperative that “the Name of Heaven should be become beloved through you.”

In the 1930s, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, today renowned as one of the premier Jewish thinkers of the century, supported himself in London tutoring young public school students. He instructed one of those young students to drop a coin in the cup of all the numerous beggars along the way. To another, he suggested that he should always go to the upper-deck of the London bus he rode to the lessons. Since he only travelled one stop, perhaps the conductor would not reach him to collect his fare, and … Read More >>

Towards a Fuller Picture

This video, which is titled “How the Charedim Really Look” was sent to me by Rabbi Moshe Taragin, a Ra”m in Yeshivat Har Etzion in the Gush. It needs to be translated.

Whose Problem Is It, Anyway?

by Dovid Kornreich

There is a recurrent theme that I’ve read on Jblogs and newspapers, and it has two parts:

1) Chareidi society somehow engenders extremism and these incidents in Beit Shemesh are its bitter fruit.

2) Neglect by the rest of Chareidi leadership to publicly condemn the extreme acts is a form of acquiescence by silence.

The response to the first charge is that your average chareidi individual living in, let’s say Bayit Vegan or Har Nof, shares very little of the *cultural* values and norms of Mea She’arim Chareidim. The sad reality is that Chareidim are an extremely factionalized and subdivided group, and the divisions are deep and operate on many different levels of which outsiders simply have no appreciation.

True, on religious and political issues vis-a-vis non-Chareidim and especially the non-religious, most Chareidim seem to rally together as a unified group to oppose a common threat. But socially, there is very little meaningful contact between Mea Shea’rim Charedim (and their RBS offshoots) and the rest of the Chareidi population.

So one can’t credibly say that “Chareidi society” engenders violence, extremism, intolerance etc. There is very little *culturally* that unites all Chareidim. And it is the uniquely … Read More >>

Pilloried With Hillary

One of the many downsides of a world that moves as quickly as ours is that many of us feel we must react to events in “real time” rather than after some research and thought. Leon Wieseltier once wisely remarked that the concept of such immediate reaction (he was speaking of blogs) is predicated on the ridiculous idea that our first thoughts are our best thoughts. Reactions, in other words, are one animal; thoughtful judgments, an entirely different genus.

Enough time has passed—I hope—for a measured, non-knee-jerk, objective look at events of several weeks ago that were very quickly reacted to by many in the Jewish world. The events comprised a trifecta of sorts of alleged anti-Israel sentiment: a speech by the U.S. Secretary of State; remarks by an American ambassador; and the U.S. Secretary of Defense’s response to a question.

It didn’t help, of course, that a presidential election is looming. Republican candidates led the charge, claiming that the trio of (as they portrayed them) dastardly comments were just proof to their charge that the current administration hates Israel.

The remarks Hillary Clinton reportedly made at a private gathering in Washington were indeed offensive. Ms. Clinton seemed to … Read More >>

Hammering Hammerman

The irrational fear and loathing of believing Christians on the part of non-Orthodox Jews and their utter lack of reticence in expressing that loathing endangers Jews in America. The latest evidence: a screed attacking Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow by one Joshua Hammerman, an “egalitarian” Jewish clergyman and J Street Board member from Connecticut.

Tebow is the NFL player most vocal about his religious faith and most prone to expressing his gratitude to G-d for his on-field successes. Despite unimpressive individual statistics, Tebow has led his team to a succession of dramatic late fourth quarter comebacks, and even introduced a new verb into the lexicon – “Tebowing” – after the prayerful position he occasionally assumes at crucial junctures in the action.

Writing in the New York Federation-funded Jewish Week, Hammerman expressed his fears that the Broncos might win the Super Bowl. “If Tebow wins the Super Bowl,” Hammerman suggested, “it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques… and indiscriminately banishing immigrants.” There is not one shred of evidence connecting Tebow, in word or deed, to any of Hammerman’s list of horrors. The article was out-and-out slander of Tebow based on nothing other … Read More >>

Beit Shemesh from the Inside

Ami Magazine, though just one year old, has repeatedly proven itself up to the task of presenting “the other side of the story” against an uninformed and often hostile non-Orthodox media. Among the best examples is surely this week’s essay on “Beit Shemesh in Turmoil” by Sam Sokol, an American charedi resident of the city. While I strongly recommend getting a copy, the following quotation corrects the record in a number of critical ways:

As a resident of Beit Shemesh, it is hard for me to maintain my composure and objectivity when reporting on the extremism problem in Ramat Beit Shemesh Beit. While the entire country howls against the Charedim for their complicity in the threats and violence against little girls, and the Prime Minister calls for the law to be applied in defense of these innocent schoolchildren, I seethe when I think of all the American black-hatters who have risked their personal safety and taken time out of their schedules to defend the children with their own physical presence. Indeed, this is not a Charedi issue at all, but an issue of Jewish terrorism practiced by a local fringe group. Though they do not bear arms, their strong-arm … Read More >>

They Will Come for You, Too

For all the protests to the contrary, recent news articles (and comments right here on Cross-Currents) have demonstrated why Agudath Israel felt the need to warn against confusing the behavior of isolated thugs with the sincere religious convictions of many Orthodox Jews. With alarming speed, the voluntary separation of genders in public spaces has been muddled with spitting on seven-year-old children.

Like it or not, or whether our favorite writer Naomi Ragen has heard of it, it is true in Halacha that a man should not walk behind a woman. Manoach walked after his wife, and for this reason was called an Am HaAretz (ignoramus). You and I and most everyone else might not consider sitting behind a woman to be problematic, but I know many Chassidim do — and I’m not willing to tell them how to observe their religion. Freedom of association and freedom of religion apply to Chassidim too. If they don’t want to sit behind a woman, does that mean they don’t deserve to ride public transportation?

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely is the most recent to demonstrate that she doesn’t believe that Chassidim should have these freedoms. She recently, with her entourage and … Read More >>

A Much Needed Response

I have been too busy to post as often as I wanted, and yet wanted to say something, anything, about the fool who said his “rabbis” told him it was ok to spit at a child because she wasn’t dressed the way he wanted. It’s shocking, it’s appalling, and of course has been used to stir up an anti-charedi media frenzy — as if the men and women who voluntarily separate on public transportation are somehow related to lunatic sikrikim (loosely, fanatics) who listen only to the “rabbis” found in their feeble imaginations.

So it was something of a relief to receive the following in my inbox, from the authoritative source of charedi Rabbinic thought in America, putting to rest once and for all the idea that these thugs have rabbinic backing and sparing me the task of writing something more coherent myself:

Upon consultation with its rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement today:

Reports of recent events in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh are deeply disturbing.

Violence of any sort, whether physical or verbal, by self-appointed “guardians” of modesty is reprehensible. Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decent, moral – Jewish! – … Read More >>

First, Let’s Calm Down

To judge from the media, both Israeli and international, the status of women in Israel is under an assault of crisis proportions. No less a figure than U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has chimed in that the status of women in Israel reminds her of Tehran. Much of the recent discussion, however, has been overwrought, even hysterical.

The first salvo in the current media campaign came in response to the dismissal of four national religious cadets from the IDF near the completion of a rigorous officers training course after they absented themselves from a female singing performance and refused orders to return. The soldiers never asked that the singers in question stop. No conceivable “right” of any woman was infringed. All the soldiers requested was that the IDF not force them to violate their religious beliefs.

The performance fulfilled no conceivable military purpose; it certainly was not a morale booster for the soldiers who asked to be excused. The dismissal of the four soldiers, in whose training the IDF had invested heavily, did, however, come at the expense of the IDF’s fighting ability.

By refusing to religiously accommodate the soldiers, even at the potential cost of losing some of its finest soldiers, the IDF gave ironic support for one haredi argument for draft deferrals. The haredim argue that Torah learning takes precedence over the IDF’s manpower needs. The IDF now agrees that other values trump the IDF’s military needs – in this case, the value of showing national religious soldiers who is boss and avoiding any offense to women soldiers. The IDF also buttressed one of the major haredi concerns about IDF service for its young – that the IDF will be used as an instrument of socialization towards secular Israeli values.

LAST WEEK, the media was up-in-arms again, albeit only for one or two news cycles, over the news that a group of male students at the Technion had been permitted to use the gym on a male-only basis for one hour a week (at a late hour during which the gym had previously been closed). No women’s group had asked for similar privileges, and the Technion would certainly have granted them had they done so. So the entire issue was over whether separate gyms should ever be tolerated.

Harvard University granted much more extensive separate swimming privileges to Muslim female students a few years ago without much fanfare. Only the presumed religious sensitivities of the male students at the Technion turned the case into a cause célèbre.

Most normal human beings, at least outside the precincts of Ivy League student dorms, still prefer separate toilet and shower facilities. There are certain functions we feel more comfortable performing without the presence of the opposite sex. Gym rats of both sexes generally exercise with minimal attire designed for that purpose. But many would be inhibited from exercising in their preferred attire if they knew that they would have to expose their less than perfect bodies to members of the opposite sex. The proliferation of women-only gyms is not limited to chareidi neighborhoods.

REJECTION OF ANY SEPARATION between the sexes has become a fetish. A considerable body of research demonstrates that both teenage boys and girls learn better in single-sex schools. Yet any attempt to create single-sex public schools will inevitably be greeted treated as an insult to women. Over a decade ago, New York City sought to create an all-girls high school in Harlem. Feminists cried foul. It did not occur to them that the teenage girls attending the school would have been able to walk down the halls for the first time in their lives without being harassed or worse. That case remains for me the classic illustration of rigid ideology trumping the human consequences.

Continue reading → First, Let’s Calm Down

Questions Aren’t Fatal

When, as a teenager, I first read about the Code of Hammurabi, the ancient set of social laws dating from the time of our forefather Avraham, I was greatly troubled.

Elements of the code, instituted by a king of the First Babylonian Dynasty, bear clear similarities to various of the Torah’s laws. What, I asked myself, were laws that would only be given to the Jewish People at Sinai doing inscribed on tall stones centuries earlier?

So naturally, I brought my question, like countless others about science, history and other things, to my rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. He just looked at me in his inimitable, sympathetic way, and posed a question of his own. “And Avi,” he said with deliberation, “just what do you think Avraham Ovinu spent his entire life doing?”

My question, I immediately realized, wasn’t much of one. A fundamental datum about Avraham, I knew but didn’t consider, is that he spent his days tirelessly spreading the word about the Creator of all, and sharing elements of His Torah (whose laws, the Midrash teaches us, were known to, and studied by, our forefathers).

Did I … Read More >>

Who is Undermining Israeli Democracy?

In order to fully appreciate the absurdity of Court President Dorit Beinisch’s charge that even the most minimal proposed changes in Israel’s method of judicial selection represent an attempt to undermine “the democracy upon which our society rests,” one need only know one fact: Israel’s method of judicial selection is absolutely unique in the democratic world.

No other system gives so much power to sitting Supreme Court justices to choose their future colleagues and successors. Only India among the world’s democracies also gives sitting justices a role in the judicial selection process. Are all the rest, then, not really democratic? Even by Israeli standards that claim of the unique wisdom of our system reflects a remarkable degree of hubris.

IN TRUTH, IT IS THE SUPREME COURT ITSELF that represents the greatest challenge to Israeli democracy. Richard Posner, considered by many the most brilliant living American jurist, defines democracy as “a system of governance in which the key officials stand for election at relatively short intervals and are thus accountable to the citizenry.” Judicial review, in which courts strike down statutes or substitute their policy judgments for those of elected officials or their delegatees, is in inherent tension with representative democracy so defined.

To minimize that tension, Alexander Hamilton argued in The Federalist Papers that the judiciary must remain “the least dangerous branch,” with no power over “the purse or sword.” Retaining the status as “the least dangerous branch,” wrote the great constitutional scholar Alexander Bickel, in his seminal book of that name, requires justices to exercise restrain and avoid entering into the realm of politics and making decisions primarily based on their personal values.

Beinisch’s mentor, former Court President Aharon Barak, completely rejected any such restraint. He abandoned traditional doctrines of judicial restraint – standing and justiciability – famously declaring that “everything is justiciable” including troop deployments in wartime, and permitted any citizen who objected to a particular governmental decision to bring a suit directly to BaGaTz, the Supreme Court sitting as the High Court of Justice. He boldly usurped traditional legislative perogatives – for instance, appointing a commission to consider the issue of road closings on Shabbat nationwide.

As Professor Ruth Gavison and many others have argued, the Israeli Supreme Court determines national “norms” to a degree without parallel in the Western world. Former Court President Moshe Landau accused the Court under Barak of having taken on the role of Platonic guardians, “a role that they are utterly incapable of fulfilling and for which they have no training.”

Barak was untroubled by the tension between the power he claimed for the Court, an unelected and unrepresentative body, and representative democracy precisely because he entertained so little respect for the Israeli people and its elected representatives. A justice, he argued in Judicial Discretion should reflect the values of the “enlightened public,” and admitted that the standard of “enlightenment” would frequently be that of the justice himself. Barak and his acolytes, like Beinisch, primarily conceive of democracy as a “substantive” set of rights, to be determined by judges, often out of whole cloth or by importation from other legal systems, as opposed to a process of selecting the people’s representatives. The doctrine of “substantive democracy,” incidentally, is that which allowed the former Soviet Union to style itself a “socialist republic.”

THOUGH BARAK ATTEMPTED TO PORTRAY the Court as a professional body, deciding technical legal questions, nothing could be farther from the truth. Under his rule, the Court showed little interest in clarifying thorny issues of private law – in such areas as torts and intellectual property. Barak and his successor greatly preferred to act as the final arbiters of every government decision guided only by their own standard of “reasonability.”

The Israeli Supreme Court is the most highly politicized in the world. It is child’s play to juxtapose decisions, often ones decided the same day by the same panel, in ways that make it clear that the results are wholly dependent on the identity of the parties and the politics of the justices. (For my analysis of some particularly egregious examples see “Inconsistent Justice,” Jerusalem Post, January 5, 2001).

As Evelyn Gordon pointed out this week, Court President Beinisch has imposed explicitly political criteria for selection to the Court. Reversing her earlier position on the appointment of Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg, she declared him unfit for the Court on the grounds that he has been depicted as “right-wing” in the media. The jaw drops. Could Beinisch be unaware that she is perceived as “left-wing?” Or does she think that label is irrelevant because it is synonymous with the “enlightened values” that are supposed to guide the Court, according to Barak. Now, as Gordon notes, not only do the three sitting justices themselves wield a veto over any candidate not to their liking, but so does the media, the other remaining bastion of left-wing power.

Continue reading → Who is Undermining Israeli Democracy?

Naomi Ragen Plagiarism Verdict: Not About “Free Speech”

by William Kolbrener

An alert reader, who goes by the moniker “S.” in the comments, pointed out this article, which appeared on the personal blog of Professor William Kolbrener, of the Department of English at Bar-Ilan University. We thank Prof. Kolbrener for his permission to republish.

Three days ago, on December 11, Judge Joseph Shapira of the Jerusalem District Court ruled, after a four-year legal drama, that Naomi Ragen in her novel Sotah knowingly copied from the work of the author Sarah Shapiro, Growing with My Children.

Though not publicized, I was the literary expert for Sarah Shapiro, the plaintiff, and I provided extensive written testimony which was then subject to cross-examination by Ragen’s lawyers in the Jerusalem court.

In the now widely-publicized decision of ninety-two pages, Justice Shapira wrote according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “that the plagiarism was ‘tantamount to a premeditated act,’ saying that Ragen acted knowingly and copied work created by the plaintiff.”

In an article yesterday in the Jerusalem Post, Ragen, who is a columnist for the paper, accuses Sarah Shapiro of “working out of a desire to silence my criticism of the Haredi [ultra-orthodox] community’s treatment of women, … Read More >>

Dishonesty in the Service of Animus

The seemingly insatiable appetite of the Forward for anti-Orthodox scandal-mongering has claimed its latest prey, Touro College, a “Jewish-oriented institution that reaches out especially to Orthodox students” (never mind that a full 32% of its student body is “minorities,” and that in 2007 the college opened a medical school in Harlem, specifically to improve medical care in that community and increase the number of “minorities” practicing medicine).

According to the paper, the college “came under pointed questioning by curriculum experts after the Forward revealed that it granted academic credits for an online course put together by a pro-Israel advocacy group, ” known as Jerusalem Online U. As one reads further, however, it becomes clear that the course didn’t exactly “[come] under pointed questioning by curriculum experts.” Rather, one Zachary Lockman, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, “reviewed the course syllabus on the Forward’s behalf.”

And what did the good professor find? That “[i]f Touro College has pretentions to be a serious academic institution, this is not a course that students should get credit for.” Zachary Lockman offering expert opinion on the impartiality of an academic course on the Middle East?! This … Read More >>

Is Anybody There?

Remember Terri Schiavo, the “vegetative” Florida woman who, as a result of her husband’s insistence and a court order (over her parents’ objections), was removed from life support and died in 2005?

“Vegetative” patients—people who, due to disease or accident, are unresponsive to stimuli—are considered by many to be less than truly alive.

Last year, though, a group of European scientists employed something called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which shows cellular activity across brain regions, to demonstrate that four patients in a group of 54 diagnosed as vegetative were in fact hearing and thinking—and could actually communicate—answering yes-or-no questions about their lives—through mental effort.

And now, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet has published a study demonstrating that three severely brain-injured people thought to be in an irreversible “vegetative” state showed signs of full consciousness when tested with a relatively inexpensive, widely available method of measuring brain waves. The researchers used a portable electroencephalogram (EEG) machine, which picks up electrical brain activity in the brain’s cortex, or surface layer, through electrodes positioned on a person’s head.

The research team gave 16 “vegetative” people simple instructions, to squeeze their right hands into a fist or … Read More >>

Musings on the Passing of an Isha Gedolah

by Dovid Kornreich

I was waiting until the passing of her Sheloshim to see what the blogworld would have to say about Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky’s life and unique impact on the Chareidi world before I ventured to speak my mind. To my surprise, there was nothing on the web beyond the regular online Jewish news outlet coverage and obituary-type blogposts.

Well, perhaps it is too premature to evaluate the Rebbetzin’s historical impact on Chareidi society so soon after her sudden passing, and perhaps it is inappropriate to first discuss sociology and not first express the depth of the loss of such a woman to us.

But in light of the raging blog-controversy over Open Orthodoxy’s feminist agenda, it seems that a post on the subject is timely, relevant, and important.

It is too important to let the moment pass without taking the opportunity to highlight the deep contrast in the different Orthodox societies’ responses to feminism — which the late Rebbetzin brought subtly into focus.

It is my hope that this seemingly aloof analysis of Rebbetzin Kanievsky’s unique position in Jewish society will be a catalyst to further admiration of Chareidi society, dispel harmful myths, and … Read More >>

The Legacy of Alter Chanoch Jeger, a”h

Two months ago, I spent Shabbos with my friend Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginsburg and his family in Cedarhurst. We were joined by the Ginzburgs’ daughter Ilana and son-in-law Yudi Jeger, and their children Alter Hanoch Henoch, 2 1/2, and Shua, ten months.

I had previously read about Alter Hanoch in a powerful article by his grandfather entitled, “It’s not supposed to be like this,” written in response to requests addressed to Rabbi Ginzburg for help in understanding horrible tragedies, especially those involving children. The power of the piece derives from Rabbi Ginzburg’s revelation in the last paragraph that he is writing while sitting in the intensive care unit by the bed of his infant grandson Alter Hanoch, who contracted meningitis within twenty-four hours of birth and has no hope of developing normally.

During my Shabbos in Cedarhurst, Alter Hanoch was attached to an elaborate machine, which rang intermittently. I did not see him open his eyes once. Yudi and Ilana went about attending to Alter Hanoch in a totally matter-of-fact fashion, without any sense of being burdened and no trace of a feeling that they had been dealt the short stick in life. Just a normal kollel couple: he … Read More >>

Running, Racism and Resentment

When I recounted seeing a small group of unusually dressed men in shul last Sunday in Staten Island and realizing that they were trying to catch a minyan before participating in the New York Marathon (which begins in that borough), my daughter asked me if any of them had a chance of winning the race.

“Nah,” I said. “It’ll be a Kenyan.” Four of the New York race’s past ten men’s race winners, after all, hailed from that African country. Actually, make that five now. (Congratulations, Geoffery Mutai.) A fellow Kenyan came in second.

My daughter’s face, I thought, evidenced some surprise, as if I had espoused some rank racism. So I explained that Kenyans seem particularly physically endowed for long-distance running. Kenyans, that is, and Ethiopians (another citizenry with disproportionate wins in marathons) who belong to the lithe and limber Kalenjin tribe.

If believing that different populations have different abilities constitutes racism, I guess I am a racist. But the word’s pejorative meaning is more properly reserved for assigning negative human character traits—like dishonesty, laziness, drunkenness, or untrustworthiness—to particular racial or ethnic groups. People have free will, of course, and every individual should be judged on his … Read More >>

Exercising the Empathy Muscle

Politicians are often subject to derision, often for good reason. Recently, though, a Catholic cleric hurled an unusual and creative insult at local politicos: They are like Jews.

Edward Gilbert, the leader of the Catholic Church in Port of Spain, the capital of the southern Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, made the comparison between elected officials and “the original Jewish people,” explaining that Jews, at least in ancient times, cared only about their own.

“The Jews were compassionate and caring to the people of their nation, to the people of their race…,” Archbishop Gilbert reportedly said during an October 24 religious ceremony commemorating the 225th anniversary of the Roman Catholic presence on Trinidad. Christianity, he proudly asserted, “universalized the concept of love.”

Predictably, the Anti-Defamation League protested the sermon, calling Mr. Gilbert’s statements “a disturbing repackaging of ancient anti-Jewish canards and supersessionist beliefs.” The American Jewish Committee chimed in with chiding of its own, contending that “such prejudicial comments not only reflect personal ignorance, but also ignorance of the teaching of the Catholic Church since Nostra Aetate.” That was a reference to the Vatican II declaration repudiating the centuries-old “deicide” charge against all Jews, stressing the religious bond … Read More >>

The Ugly Side of Idealism

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, P.J. O’Rourke described the mass murder as “an act of idealism.” Not idealism as we colloquially use the term to refer to the ability to place other values over one’s immediate self-interest, but rather “the concept that mankind and society could and should be perfected.” That vision of a perfected society causes O’Rourke’s idealists to ignore the human costs of the coercion required to create their ideal society.

The 9/11 hijackers were driven by an older theological vision of a world-wide caliphate under the harmonious rule of Sharia. But most modern idealists derive their inspiration from the Enlightenment view that unfettered human knowledge is capable of determining, according to O’Rourke, “exactly what humans and their politics and their economics and even their home lives should look like.” Popular historian Paul Johnson, for instance, places the blame for most of the atrocities of the last two centuries on the doorstep of Jean-Jacques Rousseau for teaching that man is naturally good so, naturally, it’s good to force him to be so.

The utopian hope of societal perfection and the desirability of bringing that society into existence holds special allure for intellectuals, for who else is … Read More >>