Agudath Israel Statement on Jonathan Pollard Parole

With much joy and gratitude to Hashem, Agudath Israel of America warmly welcomes the announcement that Jonathan Pollard will be released on parole November 21, 2015.

Agudath Israel has advocated over the course of decades for Mr. Pollard’s release, both on legal and humanitarian grounds. His freedom is long overdue.

We understand that Mr. Pollard wishes to move to Israel and establish residence there. We respectfully call upon President Obama to take whatever executive actions may be necessary to allow for this to happen.

May Yehonasan ben Malka’s health improve, and may he live and thrive for many productive years to come.


A Worthy, Timely Truth

It’s intriguing – to be truthful, depressing – that as we prepare to focus on our galus and its causes we in the Orthodox world are witnessing acrimony born of true chinom, nothingness.

The sort of sentiments and language that are regularly being employed by opponents of the Iran agreement against anyone who isn’t convinced that it is “evil” or “insane” or “dangerous” is deeply wrong. (Maybe there is corresponding rashness from the deal’s supporters. I just haven’t encountered any.)

What seems lost on some is the fact that the issue isn’t “Israel’s security” against (take your pick:) “America’s needs” or “Obama’s worldview” or “hopeless naiveté.” It is “Israel’s security” against “Israel’s security.”

That is to say, whether Israel’s security, along with that of the rest of the free world, is better served by an imperfect agreement (as all agreements must be) or by no agreement. Reasonable, sane, and not evil people can disagree with that. But they cannot – or, at least, should not – heatedly denounce those who see things differently from themselves just because… they see things differently from themselves. That is chinom.

The Gemara teaches that “just as people’s faces all differ, so … Read More >>

Faigy Mayer, o”h

A thought on the untimely and tragic death of Faigy Mayer, o”h, is here.

Wish I Didn’t Have To, But:

Rabbi Herzl Hefter’s Why I ordained women went nearly viral, having been posted everywhere by the Who’s Who of Open Orthodoxy. Unlike other articles that promote the Open Orthodox agenda, this article startlingly attempted to utilize Kabbalistic and Chassidic ideas as a basis for sweeping halachic reform. The article was received and disseminated by Open Orthodox leadership with great excitement.

I felt a need to speak out, and here is what I posted in response. I really did not want to write yet another article about Open Orthodoxy/Neo-Conservatism, but given the circumstances, and in consultation with those wiser than I, it was decided that something had to be said.

Recent Articles on Two Different Kinds of Evolution

A piece I wrote in response to a a review of Marc Shapiro’s most recent book (and, to an extent, to the book itself) can be read here.

And one about my personal reluctance to accept speciation is here.

Widening the Discussion

Last week, Rabbi Dr. David Berger published a bold and provocative critique about Open Orthodoxy. A brief attempted rebuttal of the article on the part of Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld seems to have gained little traction, and appears to have largely backfired, judging by the comments.

This week, Rabbi Harry Maryles likewise posted a serious critique of Open Orthodoxy, which YCT graduate Rabbi Ben Greenberg subsequently attempted to rebut. As this rebuttal attempt was quite elaborate and public (in Times of Israel), and was also posted by the president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, I felt that a response by yours truly would perhaps be of use.

Here is my response, published likewise in Times of Israel.

 

 

The Peril of Pluralism in Israel

A piece I recently wrote about Minister Azoulay’s imprecise comments, and the larger issue of “religious pluralism” in Israel, is in Haaretz here .

Supreme Court Vs. Supreme Being

Some thoughts of mine about the recent Supreme Court decision redefining marriage are posted here.

The Future of Judaism in America: What Would You Say?

Patheos has become the leading portal on the web for thought from the world of religion – the good, the bad, and the ugly. A short while ago, the editors sent a challenge to particular people in their virtual Rolodex:

The early May Pew Research report on religious trends in America has kindled a firestorm of commentary—attacking and defending, challenging and lamenting, gloating and grieving. But is it telling us anything new? In 2010, Patheos conducted a summer-long Future of World Religions conversation in which religion experts, practitioners, leaders, sociologists, and the faithful of many traditions weighed in on the prospects of religious belief.

Now, five years later, Patheos revisits this conversation focusing particularly on the Future of Faith in America. While global religious trends may push the futures of different religious traditions in certain directions, the Pew Report indicates unique trends for the American context with its shifting moral expectations, new definitions of family, and ongoing conflicts regarding personal and religious liberties. Where is faith going in America? What will be the religious landscape in five more years? How will a growing “spiritual but not religious” population or the emerging Atheist movements shape the contours of belief?

… Read More >>

Gay Marriage Decision Interview

I was interviewed by phone on a Jewish cable television program last week about the recent US Supreme Court gay marriage decision. The interview, along with one of a Conservative movement representative, can be heard here.

In Judaism, Love Doesn’t Always Win

In their rejoicing over the recent Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision, various Jewish groups grievously misrepresented Judaism. An essay of mine about the Jewish religious tradition’s true take on homosexuality and the formalization of same-sex unions appears in Haaretz, at

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.663962

You may have to register to access the piece (registration is free). But the paper does not permit me to post the piece here.

I have some further thoughts about the recent decision, and hope to share them here soon.

Agudath Israel Statement on Supreme Court marriage ruling

June 26, 2015

Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement in reaction to today’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that states are constitutionally required to permit and recognize marriages between members of the same gender:

“As we have repeatedly stated, including in the amicus curiae brief we submitted in today’s case, we oppose the redefinition of the bedrock relationship of the human family. The Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. While we do not seek to impose our religious principles on others, it is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage is not a positive step for civilized society.

“Moreover, we are deeply concerned that, as a result of today’s ruling, and as the dissenting Justices have pointed out, members and institutions of traditional communities like the Orthodox Jewish community we represent may incur moral opprobrium and risk tangible negative consequence if they refuse to transgress their beliefs, and even if they simply teach and express their religious views publicly. That prospect is chilling, and should be unacceptable to all people of good will on both sides of this debate.

“We reiterate that we remain … Read More >>

Agudath Israel Statement on Charleston Murders

June 17, 2015

STATEMENT FROM AGUDATH ISRAEL OF AMERICA ON THE MURDERS IN CHARLESTON

The deaths of nine people at the hand of a gunman at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is not only a personal tragedy for the relatives and friends of those who were killed, but yet another in the long list of murderous acts born of religious or racial hatred.

Agudath Israel of America extends its condolences to the families of the worshippers killed, and condemns all such evil acts and the attitudes that lead to them.

Ours is a community that has a long history of having suffered violence against worshippers, most recently in the case of the murderous terrorist attack on the Har Nof, Israel synagogue last November. That makes us all the more sensitive to the pain that was caused in Charleston today.

# # #

R Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l – The Last Word

We gave more space to the petirah and the life of Rav Lichtenstein than anyone else we’ve covered in Cross-Currents, chiefly because we reasoned that our readers knew less about him than they did about others. I thought that we had said just about all that we were going to say – especially after some rather heated exchanges – until I chanced upon a contribution by some of his talmidim a number of years ago, in celebration of his 80th birthday. It was so moving, I had to share it. It will be an appropriate Last Word from those closest to him. It is in Hebrew, with occasional lapses into English. (Subtitles provided for those who have difficulty with that language.)

Our Children are Children Too

A response in the New York Jewish Week to American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who wrote an earlier op-ed in that paper opposing NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to grant some relief to parents of nonpublic school children, can be read here.

There’s a Reason Hashem Invented Capitalism

The real haters won’t be satisfied until all the men close their gemaros. But for others – the majority of Israelis, I am led to believe – if families are self-sufficient and not on the national dole, they will be happy.

Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat is apparently in the latter group. Following his speech at the Temech conference (inspired by Agudath Israel) earlier today for charedi women entrepreneurs, the mayor (himself a successful entrepreneur) had this to say to Eli Kazhdan, the CEO of a company that outsources English-speaking skilled labor to the West:

Eli, you can live in Jerusalem 50 years, but until you come to a Temech event, you don’t really get the feel of what’s happening on this front. For me, these aren’t 600 Haredi women entrepreneurs. These are 600 entrepreneurs, who happen to be Haredi and happen to be women.

[As for Eli (son of Israel Prize recipient and Harvard and Hebrew U prof David Kazhdan) Kazhdan’s outsourcing venture, I’ve got to think about what’s worse when calling Microsoft tech support – trying to figure out what language the person in India is speaking, or having someone yell into the phone, “Mah atah, metumtam?”]

Appraising Children

The teaser headline on a Business Insider article — “The ultimate status symbol for millionaire moms on New York’s Upper East Side is not what you’d expect” — is explained by the piece in what seems a surprisingly positive way .

The status symbol isn’t “a ski home in Aspen” or a “private jet” or “a closet full of Birkin bags” (whatever they may be). It is children. Or in the piece’s rather gauche words, “a whole mess of kids.”

Unfortunately, the reason for the great valuing of children, the piece depressingly explains further, is that “it’s expensive to raise kids.” Thus, progeny are a way to “flaunt your wealth.”

How sad. Yes, children are expensive to raise and school and clothe and feed. And, yes, they are priceless.

But their immeasurable value doesn’t lie in what they cost.

Knowing Half the Story

The video is horrifying. A bus driver, with just a few kids left on his route, stops at the side of the road. He throws a kid’s bag out the door onto the grass, and orders the kid off — and drives away, with other kids screaming how he can’t leave a child blocks away from home, or simply sobbing in distress.

Unsurprisingly, the school district demanded the driver be fired for this horrific act of cruelty.

Then the bus company released video of its own, showing the lead-up to this incident. Not only was one kid kicking and punching another, but a second, burly eighth-grader used his hockey bag to strike the driver while the bus was on the road. He had jeopardized the life of the driver and every student on that bus. Afterwards, the first kid, who had directed his fists towards another student, kept up a running diatribe against the driver for another mile or so — at which point the driver had had enough, and threw the kid and his bag off the bus.

As predictably as was its first reaction, the school district changed its tune. It apologized to the bus … Read More >>

When Hate (of Israel) Turns To Love

When a group of Israeli students at Harvard secured funding for the Harvard Israel Trek, they opened up the opportunity to fellow students of all backgrounds. Fifty were selected from 300 applicants. One Oliver Marjot, a sophomore medieval history student from Guilford, England, joined expecting the Trek to be a confirmation of his “European certainty of your arrogant oppression.”

That’s not what happened. His eyes opened, his heart turned to verse. Here are excerpts from his poetic mea culpa:

I came to you, Israel, wanting to hate you. To be confirmed in my reasonable European certainty of your arrogant oppression, lounging along the Mediterranean coast, facing West in your vast carelessness and American wealth. I wanted to appreciate your history, but tut over the arrogant folly of your present. I wanted to cross my arms smugly, and shake my head over you, and then leave you to fight your unjust wars. I wanted to take from you. To steal away some spiritual satisfaction, and sigh and pray, and shake my head over your spiritual folly as well.

I didn’t realise you were broken as well as wealthy, fragile as well as strong. I didn’t realise that you suffer … Read More >>

Let’s Please Stick to the Facts: More on the Rabbanut and Rabbi Riskin

Isi Leibler, in a Jerusalem Post op-ed, gave my recent Times of Israel essay a real beating. Here is my reply.

Rabbi Riskin and the Chief Rabbinate – Seeing Both Sides of the Story

The Rabbanut’s announcement that it may not extend Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s tenure as Chief Rabbi of Efrat has been met with blazing guns by supporters of Rabbi Riskin. I addressed this hypersensitive topic in a new essay in Times of Israel. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Rabbanut has a basis for its position, despite the exceedingly nasty attacks by liberal rabbis and accusations of capriciousness regarding the Rabbanut’s stance toward Rabbi Riskin? Please read the essay and think about it.

Tziddukim would be happy this year

If there were any Tziddukim left, they’d be happy this year. You can read why in a Shavuos piece I wrote for the Forward, here.

A Little More about Snakes

I’m going to add a tidbit of my own to R’ Avi Shafran’s post below. I remember Prof. Robert Liebman’s class, Sociology 241, “The Social Basis of Individual Behavior.” He pointed out during a lecture that each language and culture has different words with different levels of complexity. What regular people call “snow” is subdivided by skiers into six words — and by Inuits into twenty-two different types.

Some things, however, are universal across cultures. The word that drew the most consistent, positive reactions across all cultures, he said, was “mother.” And the word that drew the most negative reaction? “Snake.”

Yale Scientists’ Interesting Conclusion

Interesting news reported this morning about a team of Yale paleontologists who applied a set of algorithms to genetic and morphological data and concluded that the ancestor of living snakes had hind legs, complete with toes and ankles.

See here to read about a related observation.

The Limits of Interfaith Dialogue

I recently collaborated with David HaKohen Grosser, publisher of Segulat Yisrael, the Italian Torah journal, to examine the halachic and hashkafic parameters of interfaith dialogue and engagement. Our article appears here, posted on Arutz Sheva.

(The above photo depicts an interfaith gathering this past Lag B’Omer at Domus Galilaeae, hosted by the Neocatechumenal Way, an outreach movement within the Roman Catholic Church focusing on the Catholic formation of adults.)