A Letter to a Troubled Charedi Father

I received an email from a Charedi man with two sons in learning (one in Lakewood), who is very troubled by the current rejection of the draft. It is obvious that he does not count himself among those who do not understand that learning Torah all day requires extreme dedication and personal sacrifice, and is providing a profound service to the Jewish people — including by helping protect it. In other words, his problem is not with those who are successful in learning, but with those who are not. Why are they not in the Army, and why are the Gedolim, at present, making no effort to send them where they belong? This is a point addressed briefly by Rabbi Doron Beckerman in his larger post on the draft issue, but deserves greater elaboration.

This is my reply:

In an ideal world, it is obvious that any charedi boy who is not successful in his studies, and is prepared to go out to work, ought to be doing military service in any situation where everyone else is subject to conscription. That is indeed simple fairness; the IDF is preserving the security of Israel, and those who do not … Read More >>


An Atzeres Tefillah

It is with good reason that the huge gathering in response to the Shaked Committee Report was styled as an atzeres tefillah (a prayer gathering), and not as a protest. Even in moments of high tension, when the Torah community feels under threat, what we say and how we say it matters. The rules of cost-benefit analysis do not cease at fateful times; they become ever more important. And that is why we need the clear da’as of the elders of the generation.

In every chareidi history of American Jewry’s responses to the Holocaust, one event always merits special mention l’gnai (for criticism) – a mass protest called by secular Jewish organizations in the mid-1930s calling for a boycott of German products. Those histories cite credible reports that Hitler, ym”sh, was enraged by the protests and thereby strengthened in his determination to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. (At a later stage, Agudath Israel of America was the only Jewish organization to circumvent the British-declared boycott of Nazi-held territory in order to send packages to starving Jews in Poland and elsewhere.)

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz relates in In Their Shadows a lesson the Chazon Ish taught … Read More >>

A Response to Rabbi Slifkin

Last week, I penned an article articulating why there was a gathering in Manhattan of 50,000 Torah observant Jews who do not wish to see Yeshiva students forcibly drafted into the army.  The gathering was supported by leading Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbonim in America, and the leaders of Shas, Agudah, and Degel HaTorah  in Eretz Yisroel.  I made eight points:

  1. Soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and are playing a holy role.
  2. All of us, who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication, should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being.
  3. It is unfortunate that some do not express their hakaras hatov.
  4. Full-timeTorah study, like nuclear research, is very important.
  5. When there is a “super” milchemes Mitzvah all people have to go to war
  6. There is a debate whether there are two types of wars in halacha or 3 types of wars.
  7. Chareidim hold that there are 3 types and that right now the war situation in Israel is a standard milchemes mitzvah.  Bridegrooms go to war.  Torah scholars, according to the chareidi view, only go out to war in cases of “super” milchemes Mitzvah.
  8. Both sides should work toward better unity.

R. Slifkin chose to attack the article, but not directly on the eight points I made (although he addressed the last one).  Rather he chose to attack the Chareidi point of view, in what could be characterized as a diatribe.  It is easy to create a false straw man and knock it down. I will try to deal with each of Rabbi Slifkin’s responses point by point.
Continue reading → A Response to Rabbi Slifkin

Torah Study and the IDF – A Halachic Overview

Many people, from outside and even from inside the Chareidi community, have questioned the Torah sources regarding Bnei Torah continuing to study rather than serving in the army.  There is no question, of course, that the soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and are playing a holy role.  Certainly, all of us, who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication. should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being.  It is unfortunate that some do not.

The leading Sages of America, Degel HaTorah, Agudah in Eretz Yisroel and the sages of Shas – the Sefardic Torah organization – all signed onto the call to join in the mass gathering in the Wall Street area.  The purpose of the Asifa was to show solidarity with the Torah community in Israel.   The Torah community is facing an unprecedented law in the state of Israel’s history – a law to forcibly draft Yeshiva students into the armed forces, contravening an agreement that was made at the very birth of the country.

This response is an explanation and a historical overview about the confluence of army service and Torah study.   Not everyone, of course, will agree with the explanations and positions set forth here.  However, those that do not agree must realize that they do come from a very different socio-religious milieu than those in the Chareidi world who have been brought up with and raised with a deep appreciation of Torah being the only definition of true Jewish  life.

Serious-minded Chareidi Jews do not merely recite the words of the blessings of the Shma perfunctorily.  No.  When they recite the words, “Ki haim chayeinu – for they are our life – v’orech yameinu and the pathways of our days.” – they mean it, and they mean it as the sole pursuit in life. They view the notion of Zionism as a form of secular nationalism and not as the fulfillment of any religious ideal.

The situation may be somewhat analogous to the Manhattan Project during World War II.  The top secret project that was to develop the atom bomb required an enormous amount of manpower – manpower that would normally have gone toward the war effort.  The project was top secret and few understood what the Manhattan Project was all about, even the massive number of workers who were building centrifuges to build heavy water extraction plants.  And there were well over 100,000 such workers.  Many of these workers and scientists who labored in the project were constantly subjected to sneers and snide remarks from the average citizenry  – whose boys were across two oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, fighting.

The parallel is obvious.  There was little appreciation for those who toiled at electro-magnetic isotope separation,  thermal diffusion, U-235 production and Plutonium production, instead of going to the army.  There is little appreciation as well for those who toil in Nashim, Nezikin, Kodshim and Moed, instead of fighting in the IDF.  Bring the subject up to someone who was not raised in the bedrock of Torah life and you will invariably get the response, “Oh come on!  They are so different!”

But there is no difference.

The Manhattan Project was crucial in saving hundreds of thousands of American lives.  And, according to Chazal, full time Torah study is crucial in saving the Jewish people.  Let’s take a quick tour through the halachic and historical record.

Continue reading → Torah Study and the IDF – A Halachic Overview

The Devil’s In The Daydreams

One would be forgiven, especially were one an optimist, for imagining that recent reports of the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s donation of $400,000 to a Teheran Jewish hospital might signal something positive about Iran’s current leadership. With Purim within sight, the idea of good news coming out of Persia is an enticing one.

Our theoretical optimist would also likely have been gratified by the words of the hospital’s director, Dr. Ciamak Morsadegh, who said the Iranian leader “is showing that we [Jews], as a religious minority, are part of this country, too.”

But the Iranian leader’s smiles, largesse and (to flashback several months) Rosh Hashana good wishes to the world’s Jews were lopsidedly outweighed by another recent report, this one provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

(MEMRI, the single most valuable news source for happenings in the Arab and Muslim worlds, does not profess or evidence any political stance; it simply translates and makes available speeches, media reports and other information, positive and negative alike, that aren’t otherwise accessible to the English-reading public.)

The report included a video clip and transcript of a broadcast aired on Iran television’s Channel 1 on February 6. … Read More >>

Obama and the (Orthodox) Jews

(The article below appeared earlier this month in Haaretz. I share it here with that paper’s permission.)

The gabbai at the shul I usually attend on Shabbos is something of a comedian. When I was recently called to the Torah, he offered the traditional “Mi Sheberach” and added a blessing for “ha-president” – which he quickly qualified by adding: “Not Obama – the president of the shul.”

I interjected “yes, Obama.” Nearby congregants gasped.

They shouldn’t have. The Mishneh teaches us that Jews should pray for the government, as governments are what prevent people from acting on their worst instincts. For many years, every American Orthodox synagogue included a special prayer for the president and vice president, a practice that, for some reason, has fallen into disuse.

But beyond the Jewish obligation to express hakaras hatov, “acknowledgement of the good,” to the leaders of their lands, I believe that the current occupant of the White House well deserves our special good will.

That is not, I know, the common stance in the Orthodox world. I have been puzzling over that fact for five years.

A registered Republican since I could vote, I shared in the skepticism and concern … Read More >>

Where Are The Red Carpets?

The letter below appears in today’s (Jan 2) New York Times:

To the Editor:

I’m neither an “Israel right or wrong” person nor a supporter of what has come to be called “the Palestinian cause.” But one question keeps coming back to me when I read about objections to decisions by Jewish campus groups not to invite speakers hostile to Israel: Where is the push for Arab campus groups to roll out their red carpets to unabashed defenders of the Jewish state?

(Rabbi) AVI SHAFRAN New York, Dec. 30, 2013

The writer is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.

Too Little Information

At the Sheva Brachos festivities this past summer for the marriage of our youngest daughter, my wife and I heard many wonderful things about our newest son-in-law. Friends and relatives spoke about his impressive Torah scholarship, his modesty, his sterling character. We had already known all that, although it was good to hear all the same. One testimonial, though, particularly impressed me; it was offered by one of the new husband’s brothers-in-law, who, in a short speech, recounted a long-ago lively Shabbos table discussion at his in-laws’ home.

Each member of the family, it seems, had vociferously put forth his or her perspective on some now-forgotten topic. Except, the speaker recounted, for our new son-in-law. When asked by one of the others for his opinion on the matter, the reticent family member’s simple response was: “I don’t have enough information to have one.”

I smiled broadly inside (probably outside too). If only, I mused, more of us were so thoughtful. Instead, our times seem to foster a diametric approach, that all of us must have opinions, with or without the assistance of facts. Call it a Contemporary Commandment: Thou shalt leave no issue uncommented upon.

And so, opine we … Read More >>

Why the Radical Politics of WoW’s Leaders Matter

Is it merely a coincidence that so many of Women of the Wall’s leaders have numerous close associations with radical, anti-Israel groups? Or could it be that WoW is a useful vehicle for advancing an anti-Israel narrative that leaves Israel increasingly isolated internationally? Is concealing that agenda the reason why WoW tried to suppress the story of its leaders’ ties to fringe anti-Israel NGOs?

In early November, journalist Rachel Avraham posted a story at Jerusalem Online, the English-language website of Channel Two News, detailing the connections between WoW, vice-chairwoman, Batya Kallus and chairwoman Anat Hoffman and various anti-Israel groups.

As program director for the Moriah Fund, Kallus helps facilitate funding for such groups as Adallah, Ir Amin, Yesh Din, and Mossawa. Adallah rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and has been active in promoting Israel Apartheid Week on North American campuses and in the dissemination of the Goldstone Report accusing Israel of war crimes in Operation Cast Lead. The Goldstone Report cited “evidence” provided by Adallah 38 times.

Yesh Din categorizes Israel as an apartheid state and supported Turkey’s position after the Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israel naval commandos attempting to interdict the Gaza Flotilla … Read More >>

Alan Dershowitz to the Rescue

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 >>

Is Women of the Wall Anti-Israel?

Matzav.com is running an article entitled “EXPOSED: Women of the Wall Linked To Rabidly Anti-Israel Groups,” which it reprinted from Jerusalem Online. But if you go looking for the original article, you won’t find it. It has been taken down. In a comment posted to Matzav, the reporter, Rachel Avraham, doubles down on her accusations against Women of the Wall:

Women of the Wall threatened Jerusalem Online News with legal action, hence why it was removed. This is a routine scare tactic of radical leftists, since they only can tolerate having their own views published and are opposed to dissent. However, all of the facts in the article are documented and have been checked numerous times before publication. I am a serious investigative journalist and would not have published it otherwise. I want to thank Matzav.com for reprinting the article, so the article will be public at this moment. Women of the Wall had the article taken down because they threaten news organizations that don’t publish what they like. Since I proved beyond a doubt to my editor that Women of the Wall representatives lied to him about the accuracy of the article so he would be pressured … Read More >>

The Lessons of Outremont

I hope every Mishpacha reader read and absorbed last week’s cover story about the public relations efforts of chassidic residents of Montreal’s Outremont district, which had implications for Torah Jews far from Montreal.

Outremont’s chassidic residents – a full quarter of the neighborhood – discovered that their neighbors, particularly a local city councilor, were not all enthusiastic about their presence. The traditional response would have been to do nothing, other than mutter about the anti-Semities and pray that matters did not degenerate further.

Nor would such a response have been entirely unjustified. Xenophobia has long been a prominent characteristic of Quebec’s francophone population, and it would be hard to think of a group more likely to arouse suspicions of outsiders faster than strangely garbed, generally non-French-speaking, chassidim.

Blaming the anti-Semitics also benefits one’s psychic health. For one thing, it means that one never has to examine one’s own actions to determine whether they could have in anyway contributed to the animosity displayed. And second, it means that one need not worry about doing anything to change the situation, which is just part of the natural order of things.

Outremont’s chassidim, however, rejected the quietist approach. Aided by an unlikely … Read More >>

Two NYT Pieces Say It All

Two recent articles in the New York Times conveyed as informative a picture of Palestinians and Israel as might be imagined. One, on August 4, profiled the “culture of conflict” nurtured by West Bank Palestinians, focusing on Arab teenagers’ delight in throwing large stones at Israel soldiers and Jewish residents of nearby communities, and younger boys’ games imitating their elders’ activities.

“Children have hobbies,” one teen, Muhammad, is quoted as explaining, “and my hobby is throwing stones.”

When a 17-year-old, arrested for his stone-throwing, was released in June after 16 months in prison, the article reports, “he was welcomed like a war hero with flags and fireworks, women in wedding finery lining the streets to cheer his motorcade.”

The second Times piece, the next day, described how, in its headline’s words, “Doctors in Israel Quietly Tend to Syria’s Wounded.”

Most Syrian patients “come here unconscious with head injuries,” said Dr. Masad Barhoum, the director general of one of the hospitals, the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. “They wake up after a few days or whenever and hear a strange language and see strange people,” he continued. “If they can talk, the first question is, ‘Where am I?’ ”

“I … Read More >>

Women of the Wall: Praying, or Disturbing Prayer?

It is a pleasure to note that two active members of the Women Of the Wall, Susan Silverman and Dahlia Lithwick, have attempted to address several arguments which, they claim, have been made by writers who oppose them, especially the founders of the Women For the Wall (The Kotel is for Us, Too: The Forward, June 14, 2013, also published as Dispelling nine myths about Women of the Wall: HaAretz, June 11, 2013). Dialogue is something which the leaders of W4W, Ronit Peskin and Leah Aharoni, have consistently invited, yet until now they have been rebuffed. Nonetheless, I think it would be premature to call this truly a dialogue between the two groups — and, perhaps predictably, neither HaAretz nor The Forward was interested in publishing a response to the challenges laid down.

If there is one thing upon which secular and Jewish scholars agree, it is the importance of referring back to primary sources. Whether it comes from Shakespeare, Einstein or Maimonides, that I may quote an idea accurately does not make it mine. If we look again at Silverman and Lithwick’s examples of arguments against them, we find that most of them are well sourced … Read More >>

Wake Up!

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 >>

Meet Cindy

Meet Cindy.

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 >>

An Apology and a Rebuttal to MK Rabbi Dov Lipman

I erred. Big time.

Two years ago, the confrontation between parents and students in the national religious Orot girls school in Ramat Beit Shemesh and a small subgroup of the “Yerushalmi” community living nearby received saturation coverage in the Israeli media. Grabbing the most attention was a wrenching 13-minute video shown by Channel 2 anchor Yair Lapid, which focused on the trauma suffered by a young student in the school, as a result of being spit and screamed at by those protesting the school.

The confrontation at Orot brought Rabbi Dov Lipman, a relatively recent American immigrant, to public attention for the first time, and helped launch Yair Lapid’s political career. Lapid announced his entry into politics shortly after the video aired. Though Lapid referred to those menacing the girls as “chareidi extremists,” he intoned ominously at the end of his introduction, “Is this what we can expect in the rest of the country?”

As if to bring the point home, the video concluded with an interview with a self-diagnosed “healthy man” (who by his appearance and dress appeared not to be from the “Yerushalmi” community, but a relatively recent ba’al teshuva), who was asked what would be the … Read More >>

Understanding the “Other”

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 >>

Obama Comes Clean

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 >>

Monkeys, Marriage and Morality

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 >>

Can We Do Anything to Lessen the Hatred?

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?

Lies, Statistics and News Reports

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 >>

Principle or Pragmatism?

I was on Israel English-language TV last week debating the army draft issue with Yochanan Plessner, the head of the government committee established to make recommendations on the issue in the last Knesset. The moderator began by asking me: “More and more Israelis are asking themselves whether it’s fair that young men like Yochanan Plessner [who served in an elite combat division] should go off at the age of eighteen, risk their lives, endure great hardship, in order to defend us – all of us – while at the same time eighteen year old yeshiva students are exempted from that burden. Rabbi Rosenblum, is that fair?”

I have heard chareidi debaters counter this argument: Well, is it fair that we have to do all the Torah learning for the country?

It’s safe to say that argument has never convinced a single non-chareidi. Not just because of the emotional response – How many yeshiva bochurim are killed in the tents of Torah? – but because it misses a fundamental distinction: Yeshiva bochurim are doing what they most want to do. IDF recruits are acting under legal compulsion

The argument of “equality of burdens,” in short, cannot be easily dismissed, on … Read More >>

An End to the Occupation

Like the repeatedly pummeled victim of depraved bullies who decides it might just be best to stay away from the schoolyard during recess, Israel recently opted to not show up to be judged by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body with venerated members like Congo, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Malaysia and Qatar.

The UN body and a number of individual countries, including the United States, pleaded with Israel to not be the first country to refuse to appear for an HRC “Universal Periodic Review.” But the Israeli government, in its chutzpah, decided to just say no to presenting itself for assault yet again by a group that has demonstrated a deep and troubling fixation on one political dispute in a world in which, elsewhere, authorities routinely amputate body parts, blithely murder citizens, incarcerate innocent people without trial and look the other way as human beings are enslaved and sold like sides of beef.

The New York Times, predictably, did its own huffing, munificently conceding that the HRC is “not without faults” but asserting all the same that the Middle East’s only stable and free democracy was showing “an unwillingness to undergo the same scrutiny as all other … Read More >>

Prisoners of Preconceptions

Even with protective cover from Senator Charles E. Schumer – as determined a defender of Israel as there ever was – and even speaking only for myself, I hesitate to address the overwrought reaction in some corners to President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. I don’t want to be labeled an anti-Semite too.

Not that there wasn’t or isn’t cause for some concern about Mr. Hagel. He is famously on record as having once referred to AIPAC as the “Jewish lobby,” and in the past questioned the wisdom of too hastily employing military force against Iran. But such things – you might want to sit down – do not an anti-Semite or unconscionable isolationist make.

At least not to reasonable eyes. Unfortunately, some tend to the visceral rather than the rational in such matters, prisoners of their own preconceptions. Despite the clear and ample evidence to the contrary, they just can’t stop pegging the president as less than committed to Israel’s wellbeing, and can be counted on to shoot at anything that moves if Mr. Obama set it into motion. So Mr. Hagel was immediately judged by some as bad for Israel, if for no … Read More >>