Call For Material to Honor R Hershel Schachter

[Editor's Note: Given the large place that Rav Schachter's thought has contributed to the discussions on the blog, the request to post the request that follows seems eminently reasonable.]

In honor of Rav Schachter’s continued and unflagging ahavah and mesiras nefesh for Torah, Am Yisrael and his talmidim in particular, we are soliciting your personal thoughts, remembrances and anecdotes of Rav Schachter that will be assembled and presented in book form to Rav Schachter personally this Pesach. Your submission can be in long or short form, in any language, and on any topic, but should principally be a message that demonstrates your hakaras hatov to Rav Schachter and the influence and impact that he has had on your life and those around you.

We have already received nearly 50 submissions, but each additional submission adds immeasurably to the whole collection, and we would appreciate if you would take a few moments to provide your own.

Please feel free to send your message to this email ( If possible, please also include some brief biographical information about yourself: if you were a talmid in the Shiur, where you now live, your profession, and any other information you think would … Read More >>

The Second Son

A Pesach-themed piece I penned for the Forward appears here

Chag kasher visame’ach to all Cross-Currents readers, and all of Klal Yisrael!


For Pre-Pesach Insomniacs

My semi-annual machshava shiur (for women, but suitable for all kinds of chromosomal construction) is available for free download as a .wav file, or here as an mp3.

Best Purim Gragger Ever

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Post by 0404.

[Very unfortunate update and postscript. Hat tip to Chaim Saiman]


[from R. Yossi Huttler, Cross-Currents' poet laureate]


if in middle of night I cannot sleep may I disturb Your peace open Your book of remembrance read to You though I know You don’t forget

may I point to where and when I did some good so that I merit mention for some chayim tovim

Much Ado About “Ultra”

The Forward recently published an article of mine about the term “Ultra-Orthodox.” You can read it here .

A response to it, by Professor Samuel Heilman, is here .

And, finally, a rejoinder is here.

Vive la Différence

When MK David Rotem, of the Yisrael Beytenu party, said that the Reform movement is “another Jewish religion,” and then added that the Charedim [which Times of Israel translates as "ultra-Orthodox," but I have little doubt that he used the correct and less inflammatory term "charedim"] could “of course” be considered “also another Jewish religion,” one thing happened: Reform leaders exploded, and got him to “walk back” his remarks.

If you read carefully, he may not have expressed himself well, but there is no significant change between what he said to Army Radio that got him into hot water, and in his “clarification.” What he said the first time was “the Reform are all Jews,” which, given the level of participation by non-Jewish partners in services, we know to be a substantial exaggeration. In his “clarification,” he said “I have never said belonging to the Reform movement makes anyone less Jewish.” Both times, he expressed a completely normative halachic position.

Here’s what didn’t happen: any similar uproar from the chareidim, the “ultra-Orthodox.” No fellow MKs berated him, whether in the plenary, committee room, or outside in the halls. No gedolim released proclamations or contacted the press. His … Read More >>

Phyllis Chesler Supports W4W?

Women For the Wall seems to have caught a leading member of WOW being too honest once again. Phyllis Chesler was a founder of WOW and now is part of the “Original WOW” that refuses to permit peace in the traditional women’s section. Yet here’s what she said on WOW’s Facebook Wall:

WOW Board knows that it has driven away many Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers by their religious practices, non-stop desire for media attention, their willingness to criticize Israel in North America and Europe during the years of the Al Aqsa Intifada.

I wonder what those who said WOW just wants to pray in their own style and don’t want media are saying now. Other than “oh no, she told the truth!”

Yes, Facebook is a time killer. But sometimes you catch important news…

Why I Don’t Write More Often

I should feel complimented that I get email all the time asking why I haven’t commented yet about this or that important story.

The simple answer is that I don’t like to write unless I feel that I have something semi-insightful to add to what is already out there. If Cross-Currents were to become a regular source of news to the community, I would have to quit my day-job.

I stumbled upon Frank Rich’s swan-song piece as an op-ed writer for the New York Times. He conveyed perfectly what I have thought for a long while – and why I have resisted writing more, even when I could carve out the time. I think he identifies an occupational hazard of many blogsters, particularly those who gain a following

I didn’t like what the relentless production of a newspaper column was doing to my writing. That routine can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion. Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice.

Of course, …

Who, Really, Are the Orthodox?

It’s rare that I simply refer to another article, but “I am Orthodox, and Orthodox is me” speaks for itself. I think the piece is stronger because the writer is both relatively unknown, and a woman. She truly speaks for us all when she says “those stereotypes about ‘the Orthodox’ are talking about me.”

A Note of No Great Consequence

Over the years I have written a few short stories and poems, only one of which I have shared with the public (in a book I published in 1981). I’ve decided to post some of that material on my website,, under the category “fiction.” So far, only one story, for children (sort of), is posted there, but I hope to edit and post others in the near future.

You can find the current posting here . If you have any interest in future fiction postings, please feel free to monitor the “fiction” category on the site every so often.

Agudath Israel Condemns NY Post’s Lack Of “Basic Human Dignity”

The New York Post crossed a line today, even for a paper specializing in the sensational, with its offensive front-page cover and equally offensive coverage of the vicious murder of a young Hassidic father of eight, Menachem Stark, Hy”d.

The paper demonstrated the poorest taste by choosing to focus on anonymous accusations rather than on the human tragedy of a wife and family’s sudden and terrible loss, and on their, and their community’s, grieving. Particularly at a time when Jews have been attacked on New York streets and are regularly vilified by hateful people around the world, the tabloid has demonstrated unprecedented callousness and irresponsibility.

Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect very much from a medium like the Post, but one should, we think, be able to expect some basic human decency in the wake of a family’s terrible personal loss.

Agudath Israel of America and its constituents, along with decent people of all religions and ethnicities, extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Stark’s widow and children.

We, further, commend the New York City Police Department for its active pursuit of leads to Mr. Stark’s murderers, and pray that they be apprehended and brought to justice swiftly.

Cross-Currents Live!

In a manner of speaking. And only if you have Pesach free, and some discretionary funds available, and a spouse who really wants to go.

In other words, if you really want to argue the points of the last umpteen issues of Cross-Currents, you are invited to join the Adlersteins at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, where I will serve BE”H as Scholar in Residence for the upcoming Yom Tov.

The facility, I am told, is top of the line. Despite misgivings about leaving home for Pesach (we haven’t done this in years, but simply can’t fit our crowd into our small home), we have managed in the past to rescue a good deal of ruchniyus amid the opulence. We would welcome fellow travelers.

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.

Poetry For a Yahrzeit

This Shabbos will mark the first yahrzeit of an extraordinary shaper and builder of the Los Angeles Torah community, Rebbetzin Dr. Miriam Huttler. After a childhood in Beis Zhvil of Meah Shearim, she braved U-boats to make the trip to the US with her mother, to join her father who was one of the first major chassidishe personalities in Los Angeles. There were no options back then other than public school and Talmud Torah; despite (or because of) that, she went on to leadership positions at the side of her husband, ybl”c Rabbi Reuven Huttler as Rebbetzin of a shul, founder of a day school for immigrant children, guide of a strong NCSY chapter, and as a bulldog for singles, including innovative ways to get them together decades before those methods were used elsewhere. Along the way, she picked up advanced degrees in psychology from USC and UCLA. Anyone who knew her (and the way she raised children fiercely loyal to Toras Hashem) recognized that her neshamah had never really left Beis Zhvil.

Her son, Rabbi Yossi Huttler, has become a bit of the house poet at Cross-Currents. Publishing his poems, presented here to honor his mother z”l, is … Read More >>

Letter to the Editor of the NY Jewish Week

Below is the text of a self-explanatory letter to the editor of the New York Jewish Week; it is published in this week’s issue of that paper.

December 21, 2013


Rori Picker Neiss (op-ed, December 15) is “shocked” at my response to your reporter, who asked me for the rationale of esteemed rabbinical authorities’ opposition to pre-nuptial agreements focused on a future divorce. I explained that “there is a concern that introducing and focusing on the possible dissolution of a marriage when it is just beginning is not conducive to the health of the marriage.”

Ms. Picker Neiss contends that such focus is already introduced, in the traditional ketubah. I don’t know what version of the ketubah she is citing but the time-honored, halachically mandated one contains no mention whatsoever of divorce.

The pledge of support that the ketubah references remains in place in a case of divorce, or of the husband’s death. But that is simply a peripheral implication of the ketubah, which simply lists the husband’s obligations to his wife.

And so to compare the ketubah to the “prenup” used by some today is comparing apples to aufrufs.

Ms. Picker Neiss is entitled to embrace the … Read More >>

What Were They Thinking?

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, whose dispatches are widely reproduced both here in the United States and abroad, reported today on British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis having become the first sitting British chief rabbi to address the annual Limmud conference, a gathering of multi-denominational and non-denominational Jewish leaders and laymen. By attending and being featured as a speaker, the JTA informs us, he was “defying the opposition of prominent haredi Orthodox rabbis in England.”

Fair enough. Those charedi leaders have a longstanding and principled opposition to Orthodox rabbis participating in “multi-denominational” panels, rosters and such, since doing so perforce promotes the notion that all “rabbis are rabbis,” equals in belief and scholarship, and that all self-defined “Judaisms” are part of the Judaism of our ancestors.

But the JTA report puts it thus:

“The critics had said the conference, which draws thousands of participants from all walks of Jewish life, represented a danger to British Jewry by suggesting it was acceptable for observant Jews to associate with less or non-observant Jews.”

How a Jewish news agency can think for even a moment that charedi Jews – with their innumerable and rabbinically-endorsed outreach organizations and efforts, personal friendships and study-partnerships with “less … Read More >>

Daf Yomi For Kids

It may be the ultimate father-son male bonding tool. Think of it as tossing around a glatt kosher football, but first having to make a brachah on the activity. Daf Yomi 4Kids allows children to share in their fathers’ participation in the immensely popular global learning protocol.

The brainchild of Rabbi Michael Fine, a mechanech in Ottowa, Daf Yomi 4 Kids is a full-color workbook issued once a month. Two pages are devoted to each daf. Typically, they will include some focus on a halacha, factoid, or anecdote from that page, presented in language entirely suited for kids. Additionally, several of the following will appear: simple review questions linked to the page; games related to the content; a new vocabulary word; some mussar point developed from the daf; an elaboration upon some concept touched upon by that day’s learning. It is wonderfully illustrated.

Is this yet another attempt to dumb down the learning of gemara? Will we next see “Bavli For Toddlers?” Hardly. Daf Yomi 4 Kids does not attempt to teach the daf. It does artfully seize upon the inclination of kids to emulate their dads, and to want to participate in something grown-up. Daf Yomi … Read More >>

So, You Thought It Would Never Happen?

A private business owner in Seattle has been told that he will face fines and penalties if he refuses to bake “wedding” cakes for deviant couples in violation of his religious faith. If it’s “racist” to discriminate against deviant couples having a “wedding,” then it’s wrong for a Rabbi to refuse to marry them, as well.

My Chanukah Shiur

An entire hour of machshavah, delivered on the first day of Chanukah at the Yachad Kolel, without having to endure a single original thought of mine. That’s because it is entirely a collection of ideas from much deeper thinkers. The two halves are built on R Goldvicht, zt”l and Maharal. But there are important cameo appearances by Ramban, Malbim, the Gra, the Bahir, R Hutner, R Dessler, R Soloveitchik, R Yaakov Galinsky, Christopher Hitchens and Matthew Arnold. Except for the last two, an all-star cast.

Addendum: Apparently there are people who would prefer an audio-only version, missing out on a terrific opportunity to watch a bobbing head in front of a paroches for an hour. Bowing to the pressure, it is now available as an mp3 download.

The Rabbi has no Robes

Earlier this year, I wrote about how easy it now is to become a Reform or Conservative Rabbi, with the advent of $8000 online ordination. An enterprising woman from Detroit has managed to take things to the next level, serving as a Rabbi at a prominent Reform temple having “never trained as a rabbi,” much less receiving ordination.

But here’s the kicker: it took the congregation years to recognize that their “rabbi” had no training. She had become a “rabbinic associate” in 2008 and was expected to begin her studies, which she stated that she had completed last year — an ordination ceremony was held at the temple in May 2012. And they only found out because their board president contacted the institution she claimed to have attended in order to arrange for a second ordination ceremony there at the school — at which point he learned she had never even enrolled.

Perhaps it’s a nitpicking side point, but contrary to what the board president said to the press, the institution whose distance-learning course she was to take is not, in fact, affiliated with the Reform movement at all. ALEPH is the “Alliance for Jewish Renewal,” founded … 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 >>

Naomi Ragen Drops Plagiarism Appeal, Claims Victory

Sarah Shapiro’s plagiarism suit against Naomi Ragen reached its denouement in the Israeli Supreme Court last week when Ms. Ragen withdrew her appeal of the judgment entered by the Jerusalem District Court in Shapiro’s favor. Withdrawal of the appeal left intact the District Court’s injunction barring Ragen from reprinting her novel Sotah in any language without removing material appropriated from Shapiro’s memoir Growing with My Children.

In return, Shapiro agreed to donate 97,000 shekels – her portion of the damages award against Ragen, after payment of attorney’s fees – to two charity organizations,Yad Eliezer and Yad Sarah.

As is her wont, Ragen claimed vindication by the three-judge panel, despite the fact that she remained without the 233,000 shekels awarded by the District Court to Shapiro and her attorneys, and is still subject to an injunction against reprinting Sotah. If that constitutes victory in Ragen’s view, one wonders what would be defeat.

In any event, Ms. Ragen will be back in court soon defending against another plagiarism action, this one brought by Mrs. Sudy Rosengarten. Rosengarten claims that Ragen interpolated her short story “A Match Made in Heaven” (which was published in the anthology Our Lives I edited by Shapiro) … Read More >>

A Kiddush Hashem Goes Viral

Tablet magazine carries the story of Isaac Theil (which is on the NY Daily News, as well), who was innocently riding home to Brooklyn on the Q train when a young black man (tired from a long day at college, it turns out) fell asleep on his shoulder. For 30 minutes. Theil’s response? “He must have had a long day, let him sleep.” Theil thought nothing of it, got off at his stop and went home.

Not so, the passenger across the way, who thought this was an incredible act of kindness. He or she snapped a photo and posted it to an Internet sharing site, where it became an overnight sensation — nearly 5,000,000 views and counting.

I hope other people are also kind of wondering why this is such a big deal. I’m pretty sure the same has happened to me, and the most I would do is try to move him without waking him. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed to wake somebody up? It’s just that we are told to be careful about gezel shayna, disturbing someone’s sleep.

It reminds me of a letter that was in Ami magazine last week, from a Rabbi … Read More >>

Times Are Strange

A lengthy op-ed in the New York Times today by one Susan Katz Miller celebrates intermarriage and the raising of children of intermarrieds in both Jewish and non-Jewish traditions. Her family “celebrates Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, Sukkot, Simhat Torah, Hanukkah, Passover and many Shabbats… We also celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.”

Ms. Katz and her Episcopalian husband want their children “to feel equally connected to both sides of their religious ancestry.”

“Perhaps,” she writes, “having been given a love for Judaism and basic Hebrew literacy in childhood, they will choose at some point in their lives to practice Judaism exclusively. That would be good for the Jews. Or perhaps they will choose to be Christians or Buddhists or secular humanists who happen to have an unusual knowledge of and affinity for Judaism. That would also be good for the Jews.”

Neither, however, would be good for the Jews. Ms. Katz, “the granddaughter of a New Orleans rabbi,” was “raised Reform Jewish” by her own “Episcopalian mother and… Jewish father.”

Times, indeed, are strange. Geraldo Rivera and Stella McCartney (Paul’s daughter) are halachically Jewish. But Susan Katz Miller is not.