When I Drifted Off the Path

A piece I wrote for the Forward about my short-lived disillusionment with Judaism when I was 12 years old can be read here.


Pair of Pieces in Haaretz

Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie responded to a piece of mine that appeared recently in Haaretz.

The piece I had written is at http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.626373

and his response at http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.627494

I hope to offer a counter-response in coming days.

Statement from Agudath Israel of America on this morning’s massacre of mispallelim in Har Nof

This morning’s barbaric murder in Har Nof, Jerusalem of four Jews has left all caring people reeling – the tears are pouring this morning and our hearts are full of pain.

This vicious attack on people wearing tallis and tefillin and immersed in tefilla is ugly testimony to the depth of evil faced by Jews in Israel and the world over, in the form of brutal terrorists who revel in the killing of innocents.

The celebration of the murders in Gaza and elsewhere reiterates the despicable nature of those who wish the Holy Land to be Judenrein.

When cold-blooded murderers attack a makom Torah u’tefila in the Eretz Ha’kodesh, it is incumbent upon all of us to strengthen ourselves in Torah and tefila on behalf of our dear brethren in the Eretz Ha’kodesh. Imahem anachnu b’tzara.

We are mispallel that those who were injured in this brutal attack have a refuah shlaimah.

Our hearts go out to the families, particularly the almanos and the 26 innocent yesomim who lost their fathers – true kedoshim, holy men killed because they were Jews, who died with Jewish prayers on their lips.

May the families of the murdered, … Read More >>

Ebola and Metzitza Bipeh

Part of a message from the Medical Society of the State of New York to local physicians reads as follows:

“Strategies to limit the potential for [Ebola] transmission… should be based on the best available medical, scientific and epidemiological evidence; be proportional to the risk; balance the rights of individuals and the community…”

One has to wonder whether strategies to limit the potential of the transmission of other viruses, like New York City’s strategy of regulating ritual circumcision, are similarly “proportional to the risk.”

Or do religious practices for some reason enjoy less protection than secular ones?

The Big Bang Contradicts Physics, not Religion

Pope Francis is in the news today, for having “sided with science” and against creationists — by endorsing the Big Bang Theory. According to these articles, his statement was “revolutionary” and “embraces modern science.”

As far as saying that the universe is billions of years old, or that creatures evolved, this could be true — though even there, he said that it could not have happened without Divine Intervention. When it comes to the Big Bang, however, these articles neatly turn the truth on its head.

Put simply, the Big Bang Theory violates the known laws of physics. This “Big Bang,” a point of energy that formed the universe — from where did it come? How was it formed? How did this energy and matter form, to then explode outwards? There are various conjectures and speculations to explain what might have happened, but what we know about astrophysics and thermodynamics doesn’t involve nothingness exploding into energy and matter.

In fact, the term “Big Bang” was placed upon the theory by a prominent astronomer who, like most of his colleagues, believed in a “steady state” universe with no known beginning. The majority belief in steady state … Read More >>

Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg – CNN Hero, and Mine

In a large mosque in Detroit hangs a plaque honoring Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg. That will give you just an inkling of the Kiddush Hashem that Rabbi G (as he is affectionately called) has created for decades in cities, hospitals, universities, and corporate installations throughout the US and abroad. He has now made the final cut in the annual CNN Heroes competition. Making it to the top ten contenders will itself bolster the image of the frum Jew as people read his amazing accomplishments while viewing his bearded visage crowned with a large black yarmulke.

Like Avraham Avinu whom the Torah describes as “vayakam…me’al pnei meiso,” R Goldberg took the loss of his infant Soro Basya to leukemia as a signal to move on to even greater accomplishment. Coupling his background in the martial arts with his huge reservoir of compassion and empathy, R Goldberg developed a program that teaches children to manage their pain, while giving them a sense of meaning and purpose as they then teach these techniques to others – including corporate executives. He has been featured in dozens of stories on network television and magazines like People. (The most recent coverage was in The … Read More >>

“Personal Torah”

A recent announcement by a respected Conservative rabbi has been trumpeted widely as evidence of his heroism. My take is somewhat different, and was published, to the periodical’s credit, by the Forward. You can read it here

Yom Kippur Shiur Available For Download

My annual Yom Kippur shiur is available for download. It was given earlier today to a gathering of women in Los Angeles, and comes in three sections, for reasons explained, within the shuir. The first is a large part of the Nesivos Shalom’s section Avodas Hashem, reduced to a list of bullet points. The middle section is a hodgepodge of shorter vertlach on Yom Kippur and teshuva. The last part is a maamar of Pachad Yitzchok.

Letter in NYT

To the Editor:

Dr. Barron H. Lerner concedes that it was proper for medicine to abandon the medical paternalism that had doctors make “life-and-death decisions for patients by themselves,” but he asserts that doctors should be “bolder and more courageous,” seeing “their duty not simply as providing options” but as ensuring “the most appropriate care,” even if that means “saying no to specific demands.”

To be sure, patients and their families need to be well informed about treatments and prognoses. But it is not a doctor’s role to make ultimate decisions for his patients.

Dr. Lerner doesn’t like interventions that have “little or no chance of succeeding.” No one, though, has yet succeeded in surviving life indefinitely. And decisions about when, if ever, to give up on it are the province of patients and their religious advisers, not graduates of medical schools.

(Rabbi) AVI SHAFRAN Director of Public Affairs Agudath Israel of America New York, Sept. 19, 2014

Other letters on the topic can be read here.

Jewish Action – Fall Issue

Ask six frum Jews (of various genders) what they recommend as Elul reading, and you should get about 57 opinions, right? Jewish Action tried this, and the results are published in the Fall issue.

As one of the respondants, I was delighted to see that half of us went with recognized works of major baalei machshavah, which was the route that I described as working best for me. Within that group, only two seforim were chosen by more than one respondant: Sifsei Chaim, and Nesivos Shalom.

This provides a great opportunity for unvarnished self-promotion of my own adaptation of Nesivos Shalom (for those who are just not going to use the Hebrew original, which is the best way to go). Just in case anyone has forgotten.

You can order easily online here or on Amazon. It comes with a great cover.

 

Burdened By The Times?

by Lawrence Reisman

I must confess that I read The New York Times regularly. Outside of the Middle East, I find the coverage to be fairly complete, in line with my biases, and even willing to contradict my preconceived notions now and then. More often than its detractors give it credit for, it will report when the liberal platitudes are simply not working. But enough of defending The Times. When it comes to Israel and the Mideast, I find its biases annoying. Mostly though, I live with them. I can see through what they’re saying, and I have no trouble finding alternative sources of information. So, most of the time, I live with it.

There comes a time when the biases of The Times are too much, even for me. In a recent review of Lawrence Wright’s Thirteen Days in September (about the 1979 Camp David accords), the reviewer started off with the following:

On March 11, 1978, 11 Palestinian militants came ashore in Zodiac boats north of Tel Aviv and set about murdering as many Israelis as they could with guns and grenades. They hijacked a taxi and two buses; 38 were killed, including 13 children. The massacre … Read More >>

How Technological Machers Limit Consumption To Their Kids

This article in the New York Times is not to be missed. Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids have iPads.

The money quote from Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired regarding his five children, aged 6 to 17:

My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules. That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.

Two For Elul

Two poetic images from Cross-Currents’ resident poet, Rabbi Yossi Huttler

Yemei Ratzon(Elul) – Tefilin, Mezuzos, Neshomos

Casings and bodies opened up S/scribe scrutinizing sacred letters within for imperfections and omissions judging the living parchment whether so flawed to be consigned genizah or repairable enough to merit longer life

Altarnate

running to You ensnared by thickets of my own gnarling still deem me worthy even a mere substitute offering

The Israeli Seminary Scandal

We’ve stayed out of it, because we had nothing particularly insightful to add. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, who has been a fearless crusader against abuse in general, does have some special insight, and has been very much involved in the unfolding of the story. A few paragraphs taken from his recent blog post are so critical that they must be spread far and wide:

1) As nashim tzidkaniyos (righteous women) who, at great personal risk, did the right thing to protect others from what had happened to them?

2) As troublemakers and m’saprei lashon ha’ra (gossip-mongers), who ruined the career of Rabbi Meisels and jeopardized the very existence of the seminaries?

3) Or they are not mentioned at all – basically, “Let’s-Not-Spoil-the-Party-by-discussing-sordid-things-like-this.” (In the month of Elul, no less)

My dear friends, we at Project YES feel very strongly that the only responsible position for the leadership and faculty of these seminaries (and all seminaries) is to take option #1.

We propose that option #2 and even #3 are unacceptable as they send a very dangerous message — should current or future students have their boundaries violated, the wisest and safest route for them, would be to remain silent. … Read More >>

Nothing Like a Compliment

As part of my recovery from the removal of a polyp from one of my vocal chords, I’ve been doing a course of voice training to prevent any recurrences. Much of the training in proper speech habits involves reciting a series of nonsense syllables – e.g., boom, bom, bam, bem, beem.

In a recent session, after reciting the above series, my therapist expressed his approval of the manner in which I had avoided straining my vocal chords. I found myself smiling in response to the compliment.

That smile gave me pause. I’m 63 years old, not an infant forming his first syllables. I’ve been regularly engaged in some form of public speaking since my bar mitzvah drashah. And I have not led a life bereft of all forms of positive feedback or felt a desperate craving for such.

Yet here I was smiling to myself at the smallest compliment for properly mouthing five nonsense syllables. My reaction brought home once again the incredible power that lies in even the smallest compliment and how much we should make use of that power.

Responses to the Shidduch Proposal

Besides abandoning CC for two weeks while running the Tikvah Program for Yeshiva Men (reaction coming later) and a few days of decompression at Mammoth, I waited to see if readers of Mishpacha would pick up on the flaws I spotted in the original piece. They didn’t – at least the ones that the magazine agreed to publish. So here are my own quibbles:

1) No one is to blame, but the accolades to Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz understated just how much good he does. It could be that Angelenos, closer to the action, have a better understanding of just how generous he is, how hard he (and his wife) try to help other Jews, and how unassuming he is in the terrific work he does. Readers should know that the description in Mishpacha was not exaggerated. 2) I think that the proposed solution runs the risk of ameliorating one crisis by adding to a different one – one that Mishpacha is less likely to write about. As it is, those encouraged to defer even thinking about parnasah plans during their years of learning often wake up to the cruel realization that they have positioned themselves out of range to … Read More >>

A New Look at Tehillim 144

Contributed by Doron Beckerman

לְדָוִד בָּרוּךְ ה’ צוּרִי הַמְלַמֵּד יָדַי לַקְרָב אֶצְבְּעוֹתַי לַמִּלְחָמָה:

(1) To David. Blessed is Hashem, my Rock, Who trains my hand for battle, my fingers for war.

[Every victory I accomplish in war does not come from the strength of my hand, for Hashem is He who trains my hand in war (Metzudos). May this strength and prowess be dedicated to the fulfillment of His will. It is solely for this purpose, and not out of vain lust for fame, that I cultivate these skills (Hirsch).]

חַסְדִּי וּמְצוּדָתִי מִשְׂגַּבִּי וּמְפַלְטִי לִי מָגִנִּי וּבוֹ חָסִיתִי הָרוֹדֵד עַמִּי תַחְתָּי:

(2) My loving-kindness [whatever skill and achievement I can call my own is all a generous gift of His loving-kindness (Hirsch)] and my fortress; my tower and my deliverer. My shield, and in Him do I take shelter; He who flattens nations beneath me (Radak).

ה’ מָה אָדָם וַתֵּדָעֵהוּ בֶּן אֱנוֹשׁ וַתְּחַשְּׁבֵהוּ: אָדָם לַהֶבֶל דָּמָה יָמָיו כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר: ה’ הַט שָׁמֶיךָ וְתֵרֵד גַּע בֶּהָרִים וְיֶעֱשָׁנוּ: בְּרוֹק בָּרָק וּתְפִיצֵם שְׁלַח חִצֶּיךָ וּתְהֻמֵּם: שְׁלַח יָדֶיךָ מִמָּרוֹם פְּצֵנִי וְהַצִּילֵנִי מִמַּיִם רַבִּים מִיַּד בְּנֵי נֵכָר: אֲשֶׁר פִּיהֶם דִּבֶּר שָׁוְא וִימִינָם יְמִין שָׁקֶר:

(3-7) Hashem! What is man that You should know … Read More >>

The Punker’s Lesson

A Tisha B’Av-themed piece appearing in the Forward can be read here.

Daven For the Asir Tziyon

Lt. Hadar Goldin’s chasuna is scheduled to take place before Rosh Hashanah.

Daven for him. Hadar ben Chedva Leah.

Daven for a quick end to the unimaginable pain of his parents and siblings.

Daven to end the tears of a kallah who is waiting

“Of Public Record” – 2

A second offering of interesting quotes from recent days’ media reports can be seen here.

For future such postings, occasionally check out rabbiavishafran.com

A New Look at Tehillim 140

Contributed by Doron Beckerman

Psalm 140 May Have Never Been More Apt

למנצח מזמור לדוד: (1) To the conductor. A song of David.

חלצני ה’ מאדם רע מאיש חמסים תנצרני: (2) Extricate me, O Hashem, from a wicked person. Protect me from a man of depravities.

אשר חשבו רעות בלב כל יום יגורו מלחמות: (3) Who scheme evil in their heart; every day they have war within their dwelling places (Rashi).

שננו לשונם כמו נחש חמת עכשוב תחת שפתימו סלה: (4) They sharpen their tongue as a snake; venom of vipers is constantly under their lips (as they foam at the mouth spewing their rhetoric; Radak).

שמרני ה’ מידי רשע מאיש חמסים תנצרני אשר חשבו לדחות פעמי: (5) Keep me, Hashem, from the hand of an evildoer, protect me from a man of depravity; those who scheme to make my steps falter (and fall into their traps; Malbim).

טמנו גאים פח לי וחבלים פרשו רשת ליד מעגל מקשים שתו לי סלה: (6) The haughty have set snares before me, and cords. They have spread out nets on the pathways on which I tread. They have incessantly placed stumbling blocks before me (even after multiple failures, … Read More >>

Knesset Speaker to the US: Do More to Prevent Civilian Casualties in Iraq

It didn’t really happen this way. But perhaps it should. A reader who must remain anonymous for professional reasons contributed this analysis:

Yesterday, US State department spokesperson, Jan Psaki expressed concern over the high civilian death toll in Gaza during the latest round of hostilities. She said that Israel can do far more to protect civilians than it has done to date. There were no specific suggestions offered, although Israel would certainly welcome any advice on how to further reduce civilian casualties. In addition to warning civilians to evacuate before targeting a specific area, Israel has called off bombing missions with targets already locked in sights, out of fear of harming civilians who at times were deliberately led there by Hamas.

Now, let’s see how the US measures up to Ms. Psaki’s expectations. According to Palestinian sources, 80% of the 248 people killed during the first 10 days of fighting were civilians. That would mean – even if true, which was never the case in the past – 198 civilians were killed in 10 days. While estimates of civilian casualties in Iraq vary greatly depending on the source, the official Iraq War Logs of the US Army … Read More >>

COJs, not OTDs, may be our bigger problem

An article I wrote about “Cultural Orthodox Jews” in the Forward can be read here.

Letter in Today’s NYT

To the Editor:

“A Damaging Distance” (news analysis, Sunday Review, July 13) may well be right that the reduced interaction between Arabs and Israelis is lamentable. But to attribute Israel’s erection of a barrier wall between Palestinian land and Israeli land to “the common wisdom that the two nations needed not greater intimacy but complete separation” ignores something rather important.

The wall was built for one reason: to prevent terrorism. In the three-year period after its erection, only a handful of murderous attacks were carried out in Israel. In the three-year period before it was built, 73 such attacks took place, and 293 Israelis were murdered as a result.

(Rabbi) AVI SHAFRAN Director of Public Affairs Agudath Israel of America New York, July 13, 2014

AIA Statement on Ground Action in Gaza

With the news that a ground invasion of the hornets’ nest known as Gaza is underway, Agudath Israel of America calls on all Jews to pray for the safety of the soldiers and the citizenry of Israel, and to undertake meaningful acts of kindness, charity, Torah-study and special observances to help merit Divine protection of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael, on the front lines and everywhere else.

As has been the practice in many shuls over past years, in response to the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) 83, 130 and 142, followed by the tefila of Acheinu, is recommended. But our every prayer should include entreaties on behalf of our fellow Jews.

May our tefillos be received in mercy by Hakodosh Boroch Hu, and help usher in days of peace and security.