It’s easy to dismiss the antics of Warrior of the Wall Anat Hoffman. Her guerrilla gatherings of women in vocal prayer services at the Kosel Maaravi, or Western Wall, in defiance of an Israeli Supreme Court decision and in affront to the traditional Jewish men and women who most frequent the prayer site, are legend. That’s largely because Ms. Hoffman, head of “Women of the Wall” and executive director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, makes sure the media are summoned and present to record her activities and detainments, which number eight at last count. She can bank, too, on the support – although some of it is uneasy – from the non-Orthodox American Jewish community.
Even those of us, however, who see danger and disunity in Ms. Hoffman’s goal of “liberating” the Wall from Jewish religious tradition – halacha forbids Jewish men from hearing the voices of women singing or chanting – would do well to realize that not all the women who flock to the activist’s side are political agitators. Some are surely sincere, and deserve our own sincere consideration.
Imagine a woman raised in a Reform or Conservative environment, who read from the Torah … Read More >>
In retrospect, the phenomenon of Internet-trained Rabbis serving in Conservative and Reform congregations was bound to happen.
For decades, the liberal movements have tightly managed their Rabbinic placements. The size of each class at HUC or JTS (plus Ziegler in LA) is limited, and each year’s graduates band together as an informal cartel, setting acceptable starting salaries for congregations of different sizes. While this has made it difficult or impossible for smaller congregations to afford a Rabbi, it has also ensured that the Rabbis are able to quickly repay the roughly $100,000 they spent for five years of training — and make quite a decent living from then on.
I recall over a decade ago that there was some controversy when new, “non-denominational” Rabbinic schools were founded. But now, these “non-movement” schools constitute a movement of their own, churning out new rabbis at an impressive rate. All you have to do is commit two or three hours a week (and $8000), and write a 2000 word paper at the end on “any Jewish topic” to prove you’ve learned something, and that’s it, you’re ready to be called Rabbi. And some of those rabbis are, says the Forward, … Read More >>
As a single young man in 1977, I once found myself in a science museum where I viewed a just released short film that – there’s really no other way to put it – expanded my consciousness. It apparently did the same for many others and remains to this day, despite powerful advances in special effects, an impressive work.
Produced the year I encountered it by husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames, “Powers of Ten” begins with a simple scene, a picnic in a Chicago park. As predicted by the voice-over, though, the camera pulls away from the picnic, at a rate of one power of ten per 10 seconds. The zoom-out continues straight up, so that, in a few seconds, the picnic blanket is but a dot of color against the green expanse of the park, which soon enough, with the camera continuing to soar heavenward, itself shrinks to a speck. Then the viewer sees the outline of Lake Michigan, then North America; the earth’s cloud cover next fills the screen, and then earth itself, which itself quickly recedes into the distance. Eventually we see an image of our solar system and then the galaxy to … Read More >>
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 … Read More >>
Students of Daf Yomi will reach it on the seventh day of Chanukah, “it” being a particularly trenchant mishna in Mesechta Shabbos, considering that the following day, “Zos Chanukah,” is identified in the Jewish mystical tradition as the last echo of the Days of Judgment that began with Rosh Hashana.
It’s easy to overlook this particular passage’s implication, but it’s one that is fundamental to life. On the surface, the mishna (73a) deals simply with categories of forbidden actions on Shabbos, including mocheik, or “erasing,” the sister-melacha of “writing.”
The designation of forbidden actions on the Sabbath is determined by which acts were necessary for the building and use of the mishkan, or desert-tabernacle. Where exactly was writing used? The Talmud (ibid, 103b) explains that the gilded wooden beams used for the structure – which was dismantled and rebuilt repeatedly – were inscribed with letters to indicate which beams were to be placed where. (My sukkah and I’m sure many other sukkos benefit from a similar component-designation system.)
And erasing? Well, that, Rashi on the mishna explains, derives from the need to correct errors when the wrong letters were mistakenly inscribed on beams.
Now think: the builders probably … Read More >>
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 >>
With the storm they call Sandy three weeks gone (though not its repercussions, unfortunately), the rear-view mirror perspective allows us to reflect anew on a Jewish truth: that “natural” disasters are meant to make us think.
Some of the thoughts that have already been contemplated were projected outward, at larger society’s excesses and decadence, seeing the storm as a sign of Divine disapproval of things that the Divine, as taught us by our religious tradition, strongly condemns.
Others have regarded the hurricane as a stimulus for collective Jewish repentance, or, turning even more inward, for their own personal self-improvement, in whatever areas they feel need attention.
Others still have looked at the tempest through the shining lens of the positive things it begat, the outpouring of concern and aid for others that came in its wake. From that perspective, Sandy was an opportunity to recognize the import of our interconnectedness, of the need to feel the pain of others, and to care for their needs.
All of those ideas are properly considered; what isn’t, though, is claiming that one knows with certitude the “reason” for the destruction and death—or any destruction or death. Making such assertions is the exclusive … Read More >>
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 >>
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 >>
by Shlomie Boehm
Our community is being invited to a party. Valuable party favors will be distributed. There is just one caveat — the community must show up en masse, for ten to fifteen minutes per person. I am talking about the November 6 elections.
Just a few days remain until the 2012 elections, and political fever has gripped the country in a manner unprecedented since perhaps the Civil War. Everywhere you turn people are debating the pros and cons of candidates, frequently with passionate views on both sides of the debate. The presidential race is currently viewed as a dead heat, and many local New York elections, as well as local elections around the country, are similarly a dead heat. Candidates, particularly for State Senate and Assembly positions, as well as candidates running for the United States House of Representatives, are so desperate for every vote that they are happy to meet with even small groups of constituents in the hopes of garnering those one or two elusive votes that may decide their campaigns. Importantly, close elections are wonderful news for bloc constituencies, such as the Orthodox community.
A “bloc constituency” is a group of voters that … Read More >>
In slow but clear Hebrew and with an endearingly wry smile, the elderly Jewish lady recalls a trip to America one summer with her sister. At a bank, she recounts, the teller, a young woman, said to her. “Oh, you have numbers on your arms! Yours ends with a ‘4’ and hers with a ‘5’!” That’s cool!”
The bubbeh’s smile widens and her eyes seem to twinkle as she recounts her response to the girl. “You’re right,” she quietly told her in English. “It’s cool… It’s from another epoch of our life. It’s cool.”
The testimony is offered in a documentary film, “Numbered,” whose US premiere is scheduled for later this month at a Chicago film festival. The film’s focus, however, is not so much on the cluelessness of young Americans but rather on the attitudes of different tattooed survivors to the memory-marks they carry day-in, day-out on their arms. And on the recent trend among some young Israelis who seek to perpetuate a connection to the Holocaust and the Jewish people by tattooing their own arms with numbers borne by concentration camp inmates.
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, such tattooing was introduced … Read More >>
In an opinion piece in the Jewish Week, the three co-authors of the recent study of New York’s Jewish population cheerfully report on why their findings are so promising:
Much has been written about the somewhat surprising results from the “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011.” Probably the most noted developments were the explosive growth of the haredim, the sharp surge in poverty, and the increasing number of non-denominational Jews.…But…we were most struck by the incredible — and expanding — diversity of New York Jewry in so many dimensions.… This diversity is healthy. It makes this community stronger and more interesting. It provides individuals with multiple stimuli and options for Jewish living.…
Along with all this diversity in age, ideology, national origin, culture and social class comes diversity in approaches to life, Jewish life and Jewish engagement.… To some, the sheer diversity translates into polarization and disunity. To us, the diversity poses a remarkable opportunity: to enhance personal and communal creativity, to build patterns of mutual enrichment, to celebrate difference while building bridges across difference. Ultimately we can develop a new model of Jewish collectivity that celebrates diversity while seeking integration
It’s got all the stock buzzwords: “multiple … Read More >>
Olivewood is beautiful. It reminds me of Eretz Yisrael and little carved camels; it has a delicate, calming hue. And silver, well, it is pure and shiny and smooth, and brings sefer Torah ornaments to mind. The esrog boxes made of ornately carved olivewood and elegant, glimmering silver are most fitting containers for holding an objet d’mitzvah. My personal preference, though, is cardboard.
Not any cardboard, that is, but my cardboard, the white heavy-paper stock box in which an esrog of mine, many years ago, was packed when I bought it. These days, the standard-issue boxes tend toward illustrated green affairs. The old-fashioned white ones were more bland, but also better canvases on which a child’s imagination could assert itself.
And so my old esrog box—or at least its panels, re-attached now to a more sturdy modern box, covering up the garish green—is unique. Its sides and top feature a young child’s rendering in colored markers of, respectively, an esrog and lulav; a sukkah; a smiley-face;and (inexplicably but endearingly) a turtle whose shell is a sukkah covered with schach). The artists are now either mothers or “in shidduchim,” but some of us like, on occasion, to time-travel. We look … Read More >>
Please watch… and spread… this video. The US Supreme Court will announce Monday whether they will hear the case of Shalom Rubashkin.
[This is an Ami Magazine "News Commentary" piece -- one of several features I write for the publication.]
An umbrella group of institutions engaged in Jewish-Christian relations and the Anti-Defamation League both issued statements recently that were harshly critical of Rabbi Hershel Schachter, the respected posek (halachic authority), Rosh Yeshiva, and Rosh Kollel at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York. In a dvar Torah posted to the web, Rabbi Schachter had decried missionary activity in Eretz Yisrael and the efforts of some Orthodox-ordained rabbis to affirm Catholic claims to “a covenantal connection” to Eretz Yisrael.
In the process, he noted how the “official Catholic response” to the Zionist movement was a negative one, and how the position of the Vatican to this day is that Jerusalem should be an “international city.” And he noted Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l’s strong opposition to the establishment of religious bonds with Christian clergy—and how “shameful” it is that some claiming to be disciples of “the Rav” have disregarded or misrepresented his words. Rabbi Schachter is recognized as, in the words of the New York Jewish Week, “a leading disciple” of Rab Soloveitchik, whom the paper calls “a towering … Read More >>
The noise, news, deception and demagoguery that emanate from political conventions tend to intoxicate some Americans to break out their own flags and flyers and root loudly for their guy (and against the other guy). Parts of the Jewish community are no different, and excitedly join the fray. Inherent worriers that many of us are (and subject as we are to the Tochacha’s prediction that even the rustling of a leaf will sometimes terrify us), we may feel we’ve spied danger around this or that candidate’s corner.
That is our prerogative, of course, each of us according to his own degree of paranoia (and, as a member of the tribe once famously said, even paranoids have real enemies).
One thing we must take care to avoid, though, is hopping on any of the various bandwagons whose loudspeakers blare that this or that candidate is the enemy of mankind, Satan incarnate, a closet Communist, or a Nazi well-disguised. Our mesorah guides us to treat the leaders (and, presumably, would-be-leaders, for leaders they may yet be) of the countries where we dwell, with deference and honor. We can disagree with policies, of course, and even be critical. But we are … Read More >>
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 >>
Do Greeks in the thousands gather early every morning to study the works of Plato and Aristotle? How many Britons study Shakespeare or John Milton every single day? Last month’s Siyum HaShas before 93,000 daf yomi supporters in MetLife Stadium demonstrated once again that we are a singular people. Several landmarks were reached.
1) It elevated the stature of Torah and Talmud. Millions now realize that Am Yisrael is truly Am HaSefer, and that our devotion to Torah learning is the real secret of our existence.
2) Ninety-three thousand Jews davened Minchah and Maariv together, recited Shema Yisrael together, and danced together in celebration of Talmud — 70 years after the Holocaust. Only a fool could have imagined this in 1945.
3) It affected millions of non-Orthodox Jews, who surely looked on with awe at what they once considered a dying breed of fanatic, benighted Jews who were out of tune with modern life. It made them think twice about who they themselves are and where they are going — and that maybe the Orthodox have a point.
4) It projected Orthodox Judaism as a powerful and dynamic force.
But transcending the impressive number of participants , this represents … Read More >>
With a few predictable exceptions, media coverage of the mammoth recent Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium was remarkably positive.
Yes, the New York Times tried hard to find some woman at the event who felt slighted at being seated separately from the men, or who had boldly undertaken Daf Yomi. But it came up empty. (So it resorted to shlepping into its story a liberal rabbi in Riverdale who delivers a Gemara shiur to women, and cited the grumbling of one of the group’s members, a 70-year-old feminist, who has been “wrestling” with Talmud’s “attitude toward women.”)
Similarly, even before the Siyum, Haaretz tried to force a similar angle into its reportage, focusing on what it called “the female revolution in Talmud study,” and highlighting a group of 30 women whose members, it reported, have completed a Daf Yomi cycle (well, most of them; a third of the group, it was parenthetically noted, joined in the middle of the cycle).
But the agenda-less media were straightforward in apprising the larger public of what was an unprecedented and astounding event: the gathering of some 90,000 Jews in one arena, under threat of inclement weather, to celebrate Torah. Yes, the … Read More >>
From WNYC New York, an outlet that covered the Siyum, and did it very well:
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 … Read More >>
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 >>
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 >>
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 >>
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is widely admired and for many good reasons. I am a member of the chorus and almost always sings his praise. If this piece had been written two days earlier, the qualifying “almost” would not have appeared. Alas, Homer has nodded meaning that a truly wise man has slipped up with his submission, “A New, Ugly Wrinkle in the Tuition Crisis.” We are presented with a scenario of class warfare, the combatants being middle class religious Jews who send their kids to yeshivas and day schools on one side and rabbis, teachers, kollel members and who knows who else on the other side. For sure, there is a tuition crisis and for sure there are people who are angry. But there is no class warfare. There are serious issues that do not have ready solutions and the proof of the pudding is that they have gotten more serious with the passage of time. Here are some thoughts:
There are parents who believe that while they are paying the full tariff there are other parents who are getting off easy. Overwhelmingly, the complaints are directed at individuals who aren’t rabbis or teachers or kollel members but … Read More >>