The Time of Your Life

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 …

Hidden Light in Gaza?

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 >>

Shameless plug

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!

The Evil Eleventh

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 >>

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 >>