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.

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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.)

What The Forward Publishes

When I wrote a few tweets about what happened in Baltimore, I expected a few nasty responses — but drew one from a new source, a man calling himself @HeathenHassid. I recognized his name; he was the author of a particularly vitriolic piece in The Forward, one which basically said any Chassid exposed to the secular world will inevitably abandon Chassidism (never mind that he can’t identify even one of his own siblings, who presumably are numerous and were equally exposed, who abandoned it with him).

So I responded, both because I enjoy a good debate and wanted to learn more about him. And when I pointed out to him that by leaving Chassidism for “liberal Judaism,” he was in effect boarding a sinking ship, he had this reply:

@ymenken @AhavatYisraeI What boat? Where did I say I'm Jewish? I left that lifestyle for reality. I'm not a child, I prefer the truth.

— Ari Mandel (@HeathenHassid) May 6, 2015

So The Forward, which refused to publish the work of Orthodox Rabbis who want to help liberal Jews to stay Jewish, was happy to publish the work of an atheist who … Read More >>

Respect for the Dignity of Others

Two weeks ago, I told the story of a father of a close friend who refused to sell a valuable diamond once he found that it was to be set in a wedding ring for an intermarriage.

A few days later, I came across an essay in First Things by Maureen Mullarkey, describing her feelings upon being told by a Jewish jewelry store owner that he would not sell her a particular wedding ring. The reminiscence was triggered by the author’s realization that in today’s more contentious climate she could have protested the denial with “accusations of anti-Christian bigotry,” and likely have had a legal case against the store owner.

Such a reaction, however, never occurred to her or her fiancé, and her description of why serves as a model of respect for the religious beliefs of others.

Mullarkey describes how she and her fiancé went searching for wedding rings in New York City’s diamond district. They found exactly what they were looking for in the showcase of an older jeweler, his forearm tattooed with his identification number from a concentration camp. Her eyes were drawn to simple bands embossed with phrases from Tanach in Hebrew letters. She chose … Read More >>

The Need for RFRA

While Rabbi Shafran outlined so well the failure to protect religious freedom from the gay marriage agenda, the headlines are piling up fast and furious to show us why legislation to protect our rights is so badly needed — and the Obama administration is clearly leading the charge.

In oral arguments in favor of same-sex marriage being a national right, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli explicitly said that as a result, religious universities would be unable to function in accordance with their own beliefs:

Not satisfied with that answer, Justice Alito brought up the Bob Jones case, where the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. He asked if the same would apply to a college or university that opposed same sex marriage.

“You know, I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue,” Verrilli said. “I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It’s going to be an issue.”

And today we read of a criminal investigation of two ministers operating a for-profit wedding chapel, because they can only consecrate the … Read More >>

Challenges to Tranquility

An article of mine about dealing with change appears in a new periodical, “InSight,” published by Rabbi Avraham Mifsud of Detroit. You can read the piece here.

1984?

My rumination for the Forward on the contemporary state of religious rights — like that of citizens to disapprove of relationships — can be read here.

Pesach the Rabbi Served Chametz

After reading many new approaches to Pesach on the part of the Open Orthodox rabbinate, I felt compelled to note some of them and explain the problems. So too for a new Open Orthodox p’sak.

Here is my article about this all, for those who are interested:

A joyous and kosher Pesach to all.

The Seder Is A Mother

The Forward published an essay I wrote about the “maternal” essence of the Pesach Seder. You can read it here.

Pesach Shiur Now Available

A bit more somber than usual. We live in somber times. May Hashem soon bring the geulah we so desperately long for.

Some thoughts on magid from R. Hutner, RSRH, R. Soloveitchik, and the new Beis Shaar.

What We Mean When We Talk About Fire Safety And Jewish Observance

An article I wrote about the blaming of the recent horrific fire in Brooklyn on Sabbath-observance appears in Haaretz here. You may need to register (free of charge) on the site to access it.

May we hear only happy news from all Jewish communities.

Annual Pre-Pesach Shiur For Women

My annual shiur for women on aspects of the treatment of the baalei machshavah of the Haggadah will take place BEH this Wednesday at noon on the third floor of the headquarters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. For security reasons, potential participants need to pre-register if they are thinking of attending. Email mkochba@aol.com. No charge.

As in the past, I hope to post it online later that day.