Following the time-honored if somewhat irritating tradition of speechmakers who begin by announcing that they are departing from the scheduled topic, I informed those present that instead of focusing on the media’s coverage of Orthodox Jews, I would make my presentation on cloud seeding.
The venue was Agudath Israel of America’s recent 91st national convention, which took place this past weekend at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in New Jersey, where thousands converged to hear words of inspiration and admonition from some of the Orthodox world’s guiding elders.
And, for some of the attendees, to hear words of lesser gravity from people like me, at various smaller sessions. Still, the Sunday morning one in which I participated, along with Rabbi Labish Becker, the session’s chairman; respected educator Rabbi Aaron Brafman and accomplished attorney Avi Schick; drew close to 500 souls.
A few voices in the back of the hall demanded that I repeat myself, for surely they had misheard. So I did, but, before puzzlement could turn to consternation, I launched into a pretty funny joke. No, I’m not going to repeat it here. If you’re really curious, you can get the CD from email@example.com .
But I will … Read More >>
Celebrated attorney Alan Dershowitz has petitioned Israeli President Shimon Peres to intervene in what Haaretz characterizes as “the case of the apparent blacklisting of Rabbi Avi Weiss by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.” That is to say, the conclusion of the Rabbinate that Rabbi Weiss’s conversion standards are markedly beneath their own.
Mr. Dershowitz wrote Mr. Peres that the rabbi at issue is “one of the foremost Modern Open Orthodox rabbis in America” (no argument there, although “Open Orthodoxy,” as has been well revealed, is a misnomer) and – the lawyer’s apparent coup de grâce – “one of the strongest advocates anywhere for the State of Israel.”
The attorney goes on to bemoan the “chasm between the Jews of the United States and the religious institutions in Israel” which he characterizes as “baseless religious tyranny.”
As to Mr. Dershowitz’s authority to pronounce on matters religious, some earlier words of his:
“I am… certain that the miraculous stories that form the basis of most religious beliefs are myths. Yet I respect the Bible and enjoy reading and teaching it. Indeed, I find it even more fascinating as a human creation than as a divine revelation. I consider myself a committed … Read More >>
While those of us here south of the border (the Canadian one, that is) were focused on our own local elections, a Chassidic woman candidate in a Montreal borough was busy making history.
Mindy Pollak, a chassidic woman (from the Vizhnitz community) was elected – the first chassidic person to do so – to the Montreal borough council of Outremont, where there have been running tensions for years between non-Jewish residents and the growing number of Orthodox Jews living there. Her opponent, journalist Pierre Lacerte, had supported a borough councilor widely considered anti-chassidic (if not anti-Semitic) in the latter’s attempt to undermine the construction of an eruv and new shuls in the neighborhood. According to one report, supporters of Mr. Lacerte went knocking on doors without mezuzahs, distributing flyers and announcing that “We’re here to talk about the Jews.”
Ms. Pollak’s political ally and friend was, and is, Leila Marshy, a filmmaker of Arab ancestry who describes herself as a “militant Palestinian.”
An article in the Globe and Mail before the recent election quoted Ms. Pollak as saying that “if we focus on what we have in common rather than what divides us, then we can work toward … Read More >>
For months, as the Women For the Wall fought for the right of women to pray at the Wall undisturbed, we have heard from many, even within the Orthodox community, that really W4W should just have ignored the Women Of the Wall. Or as one pulpit Rabbi put it, “The WOW were not proselytizing anyone, they were not trying to win converts, they were not trying to make a revolution.”
Oops. Actually, they were.
These rabbis, from Shlomo Riskin on down, are now left to contemplate their naivete about WOW. Since they ignored WOW founders Rivka Haut and Susan Aranoff, who wrote (many months ago) in the Times of Israel that the reason WOW must remain at the Kosel is because, in reference to religious women (esp. charedim), they will “change their worldview,” now they must deal with the reality of Anat Hoffman admitting that this poorly-hidden agenda was, in fact, their continuous goal. WOW’s leading cheerleader in the press, Judy Maltz of HaAretz, reported the following after Hoffman’s conference call with WOW supporters, in which she defended their recent decision to move (with a ridiculous collection of conditions, but that’s for another article) to Robinson’s Arch:
… Read More >>
A rejoinder to my recent essay on Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and “Open Orthodoxy” was published here . Below is my response to that posting, written in my capacity as Agudath Israel of America’s spokesperson.
I am grateful to Dr. Ben Elton, a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, for his rejoinder to my recent posting about that institution and “Open Orthodoxy,” in which I asserted that neither can lay claim to the adjective “Orthodox,” at least not if words are to have meanings.
My gratitude derives from the fact that Dr. Elton’s words help clarify the issue. Although he writes that he is “bemused” by my critique of his invocation of the Wurzburger Rav as an example of Chovevei Torah’s approach, his explanation of his bemusement can allow us to better understand whether that revered Torah personality would indeed approve of the inclusion of non-Orthodox Jewish clergy in training rabbis, which YTC proudly embraced at its recent presidential installation.
Dr. Elton is correct that there was indeed a difference of opinion between the Wurzburger Rav (Rav Yitzchok Dov Halevi Bamberger) and Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch regarding whether the rabbis of the Orthodox community of Frankfurt could remain part of … Read More >>
Under siege by some of his countrymen for seeming to have acknowledged the Holocaust, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tried to walk that Chihuahua back at a forum this week sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society. Asked to clearly state his stand on the issue, he chose to condemn “crimes by the Nazis during World War II [including the killing of] a group of Jewish people.”
Another “defining down” of historical fact also recently appeared, this one emanating from a more respectable source, the New York Times, in a video on its website. The background clip accompanied a print report about Jews who ascend the Har Habayis, or Temple Mount, thereby passively challenging the Muslim authorities to whom Israel has ceded oversight of the ancient Jewish holy site. Those overseers forbid Jews from praying openly there; some of the Jewish visitors, apparently, dare to do so silently.
The second of the two holy Jewish national temples that stood on the mount for centuries, of course, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. It was more than 600 years later, after the Islamic empire spread to the Holy Land, that a small mosque was … Read More >>
The recent “news” story about a bar mitzvah boy in Dallas who celebrated the milestone of obligation to observe the Torah’s laws by entertaining family and guests by dancing on a stage with a bevy of Las Vegas-style showgirls reminded me of an article several years ago in The New York Times about such crass missing of the Jewish point.
It introduced something that has become de rigueur in some bar and bat mitzvah circles, something called “motivators.”
While perhaps not on the level of the Dallas debauchery, what the article described was sad enough. It highlighted the profession of a young non-Jewish gentleman from the Virgin Islands clad in a form-fitting black outfit, who “regularly spends his weekends dancing with 13-year-olds… at bar mitzvahs,” according to the report. His is a “lucrative and competitive” profession – he is a “party motivator.”
Such folks are paid to attend bar mitzvahs and other events to make sure “that young guests are swept up in dancing and games,” according to the article. The Caribbean crooner was described as smiling ecstatically at one bar mitzvah “as he danced to Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez songs with middle school students” … Read More >>
A lengthy piece in the New Republic asserts – or, more accurately, hopes – that “an unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism.” The latter word, of course, is intended to refer to traditional Orthodox Judaism.
Heavy on anecdotes about charedi crazies harassing sympathetic women, the piece, titled “The Feminists of Zion,” details how demographic changes in Israel have brought the decades-old peaceful co-existence of secular and charedi Jews to something of a head. The “once-tiny minority” of charedim “now comprises more than 10% of the population,” it informs. And it warns that “as their numbers have increased, so has their sway over political and civil life.”
That sway has resulted in things like “an increase in modesty signs on public boulevards and gender-segregated sidewalks in Haredi neighborhoods,” not to mention “gender-separated office hours in government-funded medical clinics and de facto gender segregation on publicly subsidized buses,” among other affronts.
In 19th century America, there was much anxiety about the “Yellow Peril,” the pernicious effect that Chinese immigrants were imagined to have on the culture of the union. During the Second World War, the phrase was applied to Japanese Americans (iceberg, Goldberg, what … Read More >>
The teaser e-mail alert from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency read: “Hasidim for Iran”; and the headline of the linked article, about a Neturei Karta member arrested for allegedly spying for Iran, was: “Haredi Israeli charged with spying for Iran.”
Well, yes. But one has to wonder if, say, a “progressive” anti-Zionist Reform Jew had allegedly offered his services to an enemy of Israel he would be similarly described by his religious affiliation. And we certainly (and thankfully) didn’t see headlines back in 2008 about Bernie Madoff reading: “Jew Accused of Bilking Thousands of their Savings.”
The accused spy, who reportedly visited the Iranian Embassy in Berlin in 2011 expressing his wish to replace the Israeli government with one controlled by gentiles and saying he was willing to murder a Zionist, did indeed wear the sort of clothing associated with charedim. And he’d probably call himself one. But just like a psychopath who happens to be a doctor is hardly a representative example of his profession, neither is a charedi who aids a murderous regime (assuming the fellow is guilty as charged) anything more than an outlying grotesquerie.
That seems to fly over some heads, like that of the … Read More >>
Could there possibly be anything else to say about the George Zimmerman trial that hasn’t already been said?
After all, the supporters of Mr. Zimmerman, who killed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida last year, have made clear all along their belief that Mr. Martin assaulted Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, and that the latter shot his alleged assailant in self-defense. Of course, as everyone knows now, the jury found no reason to endorse a different scenario.
And defenders of Mr. Martin have, both before and after the verdict, made their own, different, version of the happening known – that the teenager was an innocent victim of a trigger-happy, racist cop-wannabe who targeted Mr. Martin because of the color of his skin.
Pundits have since tirelessly trumpeted their convictions, either that the verdict was a triumph of justice or a travesty thereof.
But there is indeed something else to say about the case, and it may well be the most important thing to say. And that is: No one alive but George Zimmerman actually knows what happened that night. And so “taking sides” on the subject is the height of ridiculousness.
Somehow, that self-evident fact seems to have … Read More >>
The current crisis in Eretz Yisrael constitutes an extended educational seminar on two topics: what is Torah, and what does it mean to be a student of Torah?
At the outset, let’s dispense with those issues on which there is little or no essential dispute. No one argues that people who aren’t interested or capable of learning full-time must do so anyway. The many programs that have been providing training and placement for thousands of men in the Torah community over the past many years should make this abundantly clear.
There are also those who have little or no interest in learning full-time but perhaps remain enrolled in yeshivah for other reasons, such as to avoid the responsibility to earn a living or the possible stigma associated with leaving the yeshivah. Although this group, whose numbers are not known, is often invoked by supporters of the drafting of bnei Torah, it is disingenuous to do so. The central debate is not over their fate, and pointing to them is simply an attempt to change the subject or tar all bnei Torah with their disrepute.
The essential issue is this: What of the many, many thousands of bochurim and yungeleit who fiercely love Torah, genuinely live Torah, and wish to remain immersed in its full-time study? The conflicting positions on this question are well known. Less appreciated, however, are the beliefs that underpin these positions, which make all the difference in the world.
Here’s what Torah Jews have always believed, and from rich experience, know to be true:
That limud haTorah is the greatest mitzvah and a never-ending one, incumbent, in the Rambam’s words, upon “poor and rich, the healthy and the afflicted, the young and the old and feeble … until the day one dies.” It’s intended to fill every available waking moment of the Jewish man (with accommodation obviously made for attending to one’s material needs). And for good reason, because, as the Chofetz Chaim puts it in explaining the verse (Devarim 32:47) “Ki lo davar reik hu mikem, ki hu chayeichem”: Torah isn’t just one aspect of life, nor even the primary one. Torah is life itself.
That limud haTorah is life’s supreme joy, enthralling in its brilliance and depth, and that the longer and further one explores its vast expanses, the more enraptured he becomes, wanting for naught but to drink deeply of its Divine wisdom forever; that studied properly, it is immeasurably ennobling of one’s character, helping to tame ego and bodily drives alike; that it is a balm for the soul and an elixir for the body, literally good for what ails one; that it is the life force not only of the cosmos, bestowing material and spiritual blessing on all they contain, but of all the other mitzvos as well.
And above all, we have always regarded as our individual and national heroes those who merit remaining in the beis medrash long-term through their and their families’ single-minded determination and surpassing love of Hashem and His Torah. How else to describe those who forego promising careers and material comforts to instead toil in Torah with such intensity that, as Dr. Akiva Tatz wrote of his first months in yeshivah, “I’d come home daily more deeply exhausted than I had been as an intern, if that is possible to imagine … the intellectual level demanded in yeshivah learning makes university study pale into insignificance….”
To be a neheneh miyegi’a kapav, an honest, G-d-fearing working man, punctilious in mitzvah performance and daily Torah study, has always been the lot of most Jews, and a truly noble one it is. But Jews never confused the fulfillment of their individual mission, based on their particular needs and limitations, with the objective truth that the more Torah, the better, and that there can be no greater good fortune — whether it is mine or my Jewish brother’s — than to “sit in Hashem’s house all the days of one’s life.”
Continue reading → Why Can’t They Be Like Me?
In consultation with rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement:
Public remarks attributed in the media to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the outgoing Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of Britain, as well as his comments in a recent pamphlet he published, are dismaying, deeply misguided, and harmful to both Jewish unity and Jewish integrity.
The rabbi bemoans “the world of inward-turning, segregationist Orthodoxy.” He portrays the multitude of Jews who came together to celebrate the Siyum HaShas nearly a year ago – an event that captured the hearts, minds and souls of countless Jews, and the reverent wonder of much of the non-Jewish world – as representative of such an “extreme.”
Rabbi Sacks sees Jews who choose to “embrace Judaism and reject the world” as parts of a phenomenon he calls “worse than dangerous” and “an abdication of the role of Jews and Judaism in the world.”
Rabbi Sacks’ sentiments are not only inaccurate but un-Jewish and uncouth.
Portraying the “ultra-Orthodox” world as detached from awareness of, and interaction with, the larger world betrays an astounding ignorance of reality. Not only are charedim in the workplace and the “outside world,” but … Read More >>
Shabbos Parshas Chukas was the annual “Shabbos of Chizuk,” when leading Rabbis at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College (which is located in Baltimore County, about 5 miles north of the Orthodox neighborhoods of Northwest Baltimore) spend Shabbos in the community, speaking to encourage Torah study and learning. The Rosh Yeshiva [Dean] himself, HRH”G Rav Aharon Feldman, shlit”a, spoke at the Agudath Israel of Baltimore after mincha.
I was surprised that he chose to speak about the situation going on now in Israel, on a Shabbos talk intended to strengthen learning and attachment to the Yeshiva. But the Rosh Yeshiva explained that this discussion is critical. The situation is very serious, and many American Jews don’t understand the extent to which this is so. People think, what is wrong if Orthodox Jews serve in the Army? And what is wrong if they study math and science, like American students do?
The following day, I wrote up my best recollection of the Rosh Yeshiva’s remarks, for his corrections and approval before publication. But even better, the Rosh Yeshiva was invited to deliver an improved and expanded version of his remarks to a larger audience in Toronto, via video. With appreciation … Read More >>
A single mother living in the Midwest with her three young children, she’s deeply unhappy because of the news she received the other day.
Although Cindy does some sales work from her computer at home, her income is insufficient to cover the monthly mortgage payments for her small home and food and clothing for her family. Until now, though, she has managed to make ends meet, with the help of various social safety-net needs-based programs like WIC and food stamps.
Earlier this week, though, Cindy, and hundreds of thousands of others like her, received word that the government is ending those programs. Budgetary concerns were one reason given but the letter Cindy received also noted that she could still qualify for some of the benefits she was receiving if she found and accepted a full-time job. “When citizens like you, Cindy,” the personalized form letter explained, “are a regular part of the workforce, it benefits not only you and your family, but the economy as a whole. And that is something that every loyal citizen should appreciate!”
Well, says Cindy to herself somewhat bitterly, I don’t. The state of the economy is important, but improving it isn’t … Read More >>
My first encounter with the legendary Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, the late president of Agudath Israel of America and the man who hired and mentored me as the organization’s spokesperson, was an unexpected phone call offering praise and criticism.
It was the mid-1980s, and I was a rebbe, or Jewish studies teacher, in Providence, Rhode Island at the time. Occasionally, though, I indulged my desire to write op-eds, some of which were published by the Providence Journal and various Jewish weeklies.
One article I penned in those days was about the bus-stop burnings that had then been taking place in religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.
Advertisements on the shelters in religious neighborhoods began to display images that were, to put it genteelly, not in synch with the religious sensibilities of the local residents, for whom modesty was a high ideal and women were respected for who they were, not regarded as means of gaining attention for commercial products.
Scores of the offensive-ad shelters were either spray-painted or torched; and, on the other side of the societal divide, a group formed that pledged to burn a synagogue for every burned bus-stop shelter. It was not … Read More >>
Flash! As a result of fearless and intelligent intelligence, your intrepid reporter has uncovered an authentically fictive memorandum from the inner sanctum and nerve center of Women of the Wall, presented here exclusively for the faithful readers of this column:
Top-Secret Memorandum to WoW:
We are winning the battle for the Wall, but we must not rest on our laurels. The next major battleground involves not merely our right to wear a Tallis at the Wall, but our right to wear a proper modern Tallis, one that is appropriate for the 21st century. And a modern Tallis is one without those strings — what the ultra-Orthodox call “tzitzis.”
This is a cause whose time has come. We must fight for the right to wear our own kind of Tallis, one that is stylish and fashionable — not the kind dictated by the ultras. No longer shall they decree what is, and what is not, acceptable prayer attire.
In addition, we demand custom made Tallises for every individual. We will no longer tolerate the current one-size-fits-all Tallis absurdity. Our feminine self- respect demands individualized Tallises.
Remember several crucial points:
During prayer at the Wall, be sure to hold … Read More >>
I really must avoid spicy foods – even my wife’s scrumptious jalapeno pepper-laced cornbread – before retiring at night. The recipe’s great, but for someone approaching 60, it’s a recipe, too, for indigestion-fueled nightmares.
The scene: the Kotel Maaravi, or “Western Wall” in Jerusalem. The time: some future point, may it never arrive, when Anat Hoffman’s vision of the holy place has been realized.
Ms. Hoffman, of course, is the famously melodramatic chairwoman of the feminist group “Women of the Wall,” who has orchestrated countless demonstrations (with adoring media and bevy of cameras in tow) in the form of untraditional prayer services at the holy site; who has reveled in being arrested for her provocations by Israeli police; and who is celebrated by temple clubs and coffee klatches across the United States as the Jewish reincarnation of Rosa Parks. She recently told a Jewish newspaper in California that the Wall should become, in effect, a timeshare. “For six hours a day,” she explained, “the Wall will be a national monument, open to others but not to Orthodox men.”
Those “others,” in Chairman Hoffman’s hope, will presumably include not only the group she leads (and which she characterizes as … Read More >>
It’s a story I tell a lot, since, well, its point comes up a lot. Blessedly, my audience, at least judging from its response, hadn’t heard it before.
The psychiatrist asks the new patient what the problem is. “I’m dead,” he confides earnestly, “but my family won’t believe me.”
The doctor raises an eyebrow, thinks a moment, and asks the patient what he knows about dead people. After listing a few things – they don’t breathe, their hearts don’t beat – the patient adds, “and they don’t bleed very much.” At which point the psychiatrist pulls out a blade and runs it against patient’s arm, which begins to bleed, profusely.
The patient is aghast and puzzled. He looks up from his wound at the slyly smiling doctor and concedes, “I guess I was wrong.”
“Dead people,” he continues, “do bleed.”
I interrupted the laughter with the sobering suggestion that it’s not only the emotionally compromised victims of delusions, however, who see the world through their own particular lenses. Most of us do, at least if we have strong convictions. And the yields of those sometimes very different lenses are the stuff of conflict.
My brief presentation took place … Read More >>
A discomfiting feeling crept over me as I watched the fellow remove his head.
Well, not his head – though that would have been discomfiting too, even more so. This was just a costume head, that of the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster. The scene: a small island of concrete in the middle of lower Broadway in Manhattan, where a moment before, Mr. Monster had been happily (at least his expression seemed to say so) posing with a pair of happy children (their expressions left no doubt), the latter’s parents pointing their phones at the photogenic performer and progeny.
My discomfiture arose from discordance, the jarring contrast between the friendly furry face, now dangling from a hand, and the entertainer’s actual own face, heavily stubbled and sneering. Grumbling and angry, he was clearly not enjoying his job.
It might be a professional hazard. A year or so later, an Elmo in Times Square began shouting anti-Semitic rants (with his head on, so to speak) and blocking traffic before being arrested. Another Cookie Monster in the same area stands accused of shoving a 2-year-old when he deemed his mother’s tip insufficient for his services. (“He was using words that … Read More >>
Some unwarranted criticism that was lobbed last week at several Orthodox writers greatly disturbed this one.
The target of one volley – though the shots widely missed their mark – was Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, one of the preeminent representatives of the charedi world. He was harshly criticized in a magazine editorial for a column he penned in a different magazine wherein he sought a silver lining in the current political disenfranchisement of charedi parties in the Israeli government coalition.
Rabbi Rosenblum suggested that the current situation “affords new opportunities to meet our fellow Jews on the individual level” and that now that they know that “we no longer threaten them” in the political realm, “they may be more open… to getting behind the stereotypes that fuel the animus” against charedim in Israel. “On a one-to-one basis,” he suggested, “we can show them what Torah means to us, what we are prepared to sacrifice for it, and what it might mean for them as well.”
Astonishingly, the writer of those words was pilloried for that sentiment, and misrepresented, too, as having asserted that “the hatred secular Israelis have toward charedim is the fault of the hated rather than the … Read More >>
It’s difficult to know whether shock-jock Michael Savage is in fact the actual person whose Bronx-accented ranting emanates daily from radios across the country, or whether that voice belongs to an adopted persona, a cantankerous, rude and hilariously self-aggrandizing misfit who seeks to capitalize on an assortment of angers lurking in the dark corners of listeners’ souls.
Certainly the fact that the former Michael Weiner adopted the name “Savage,” of all things, and that the portly 70-ish fellow introduces his program with abrasive headbanger music more suitable to a pierced punk rocker than a political pontificator would seem to argue for the alter ego case. So would optimism about the human condition: It would be disturbing to know that such an abrasive person was in fact real.
Already disturbing is the fact that the fellow (or his affected persona) has Jewish admirers. Those fans apparently figure that someone who voices fury for terrorists, bashes Israel-bashers and claims to stand up for traditional morals not only can’t be all bad but must be all good. No logic there, of course, but no one ever claimed that fandom is fettered by reason.
And so some Orthodox Jewish admirers of Mr. … Read More >>
Back in 2009, I was troubled by the reaction of many of my friends to President Obama’s speech in Cairo to the Muslim world.
I had shared the same concerns they had about Mr. Obama during his first campaign for the presidency – his Chicago politics background, his attendance of a church headed by a rabid racist, his association with other distasteful characters, the suddenness of his rise to political prominence. But after his election (which happened somehow, despite my vote for his rival) I tried to focus not on the past but the present. And I found his Cairo speech pleasantly surprising.
That he chose to address the Islamic world in itself did not disturb me. Were I in his position, I reflected, were I a person of color who lived in a Muslim environment as a child and now the leader of a free world plagued by Islamic extremism, I would have made the same choice, seized the golden opportunity to try to reach the Muslim masses with a message of moderation.
And, continuing my thought experiment, I imagined myself saying much what the new president did. He spoke of Islamic culture’s accomplishments, extended a hand of … Read More >>
Amid the ongoing avalanche of political conversions, punditry and testimonials on behalf of redefining marriage was a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times by a professor of biology, David George Haskell.
The professor’s contribution to the effort to bring public pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears two cases concerning the meaning of marriage was to note that some plants, lichen, snails and bees do not mate in ways that we would characterized as male-female pairs. In fact, Dr. Haskell informs us, even apes in the rainforest may form same-sex bonds.
Of course, that hardly constitutes “nature’s case for same-sex marriage,” the title that ran above the professor’s piece. At least not if society wishes to continue to disapprove of things like thievery, murder and cannibalism, all easily spotted in the wild. (There’s a reason, after all, it’s called the wild.)
To be fair, Dr. Haskell’s true target (despite his piece’s misleading title) is only the argument that, as the 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone wrote, marriage should be “founded in nature.”
That’s a straw man, though, and one that might benefit from a lit match. What is or is not “natural,” at least from … Read More >>
Already five years ago, a prominent American rosh yeshiva told me that we might be approaching the end of a miraculous period in which the secular Israeli government became the prime supporter of Torah learning on a scale unprecedented in Jewish history. If the new coalition guidelines are implemented, that moment has arrived.
The incoming government coalition results from a concatenation of long-range political trends and a series of inexplicable blunders by veteran politicians. First, we’ll consider the long-range trends. From 1977 until 2005, the Israeli public was divided primarily over the “peace process,” a trend that became even more pronounced after the signing of the Oslo Accords. Each side was willing to offer the chareidi parties whatever was required to join their coalition to prevail on the issue of paramount importance to them.
Since the failure of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, Israelis have soured on the possibility of peace and concluded that further territorial withdrawals will only result in the creation of another launching pad for rocket and terrorist attacks. That consensus closed the great fissure in Israeli politics. With issues of war and peace dormant, the possibility of new coalitions around other issues arose. Chareidi parties no longer hold the balance of power on the issue of paramount importance to most voters. Indeed for much of the non-chareidi public, the chareidim themselves are the most important issue.
Still, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was eager to retain the traditional alliance between Likud and the chareidi parties, in forming his new government. One does not sever old and reliable allies when the political roadmap ahead is filled with potholes. Unfortunately, the math did not work out. For one thing, Netanyahu made two bad decisions: He did not time new elections to coincide with the height of his popularity, and he decided to merge Likud and Yisrael Beitanu, whose leader, Avigdor Lieberman, immediately found himself under criminal indictment. As a result, Netanyahu ended up with ten less mandates than anticipated.
Second, Shas leader Rabbi Aryeh Deri feared having Bayit Yehudi headed by Naftali Bennett in the coalition, where it would threaten Shas’s control of the state religious establishment. Netanyahu had his own reasons for not wanting Bennett in the cabinet. The result was to drive Bennett’s settler party into the arms of the yuppies of Yesh Atid party, whose leader Yair Lapid has been a persistent critic of the settlement enterprise.
That unlikely pairing could unravel rapidly if President Obama pressures Israel for concessions to the Palestinians in return for American action on Iran. But it held rock firm throughout the drawn out coalition negotiations. The issue upon which Lapid and Bennett found common ground was “equality of service” – shorthand for greater chareidi participation in the IDF or national service. Interestingly, in an interview with Mishpacha during the campaign, Bennett did not once mention “equality of service.” He presented himself as someone who would provide Netanyahu’s “backbone” against negotiations leading to a Palestinian terror state.
Continue reading → Can We Do Anything to Lessen the Hatred?
It’s rare for light to be cast on the origins of a rumor. But a recent revelation about a charge made against Chuck Hagel before his confirmation as Secretary of Defense does that – and might provide us all some illumination too.
(Contrary to what some have surmised, I didn’t and don’t feel there is enough hard information about the now confirmed Defense Secretary on which to make a judgment of his attitude toward Israel. As attacks mounted on nominee Hagel, though, I suggested that Jews should think twice and thrice before attacking a public figure for animus to the Jewish state on the basis of pickings as slim as those gathered to criticize him.
Several people, including some pseudonymic letter-writers to a magazine that published my article, took my suggestion that bandwagons are best inspected before being leaped onto as support of Mr. Hagel. I explicitly wrote, however, that he might well not make a good Defense Secretary, and that I can’t claim to know one way or the other. All that I pointed out was that, despite a maladroit phrase Mr. Hagel once used – for which he apologized – and unsubstantiated claims of a similar sin, … Read More >>