Here’s a synopsis of a Jewish dialogue that’s been going on for the past several decades:
Non-Orthodox: You guys are headed for the dustbin of history. Your ossified vision of religion is dying out, while we are the future.
Orthodox: You have it all wrong. Torah observance is what keeps the Jewish people alive… And look, now the data is proving us right. You need to turn back our way.
Non-Orthodox: Sha! You’re being triumphalist.
There’s a little bit more to this nonsense than simple hypocrisy. Yes, the numbers demonstrate that the observant community was right all along. Yes, observing that growth is delightful. But the idea that we’re enjoying the downside, that the assimilation of liberal Jews is part of the excitement, is an exercise in projection. Those who previously touted the decline of Orthodoxy, or who would enjoy seeing it happen today, imagine that we enjoy the turning of the tables against them. That’s not the way it works.
David Brooks’ recent NY Times Op-Ed, “The Orthodox Surge,” was a welcome respite from a steady drumbeat of articles in the general and Jewish media depicting the Orthodox in a bad light. It was an accurate and … Read More >>
A commenter wrote the following:
Dovid2 also wrote the following: “Don’t tell the others also learn the same gemarot, Rambams, and Kethos. They just couldn’t hold the candle to the b’nei yeshiva of any of the above mentioned litvishe Torah centres.”
That too, is, if not a myth, but a common mistake in charedi circles. They define “learning” to mean the type of learning done in the yeshivish world, and then assert that the learning in charedi circles is superior to non charedi circles. With all due respect to him, I’ve seen R. Adlerstein make the same mistake on this blog. The reality is that they’re mistaking quantity for quality, but even beyond that, it’s a question of how you define real learning. I daven in a standard yeshivish shul, and every week I hear divrei Torah from visting roshei yeshivas that are all but gibberish. Unfounded assertions abound, the same themes over and over, antectodes used as proofs, etc. I gain virtually nothing from this. But there is also a Harvard-educated, YU rabi in town to whom people flock, and whenever I hear him I come away with a new insight. By the same token, I gain more … Read More >>
The Baltimore Jewish Times, which previously earned a bad name in the Orthodox community, is trying to rebuild under a new (Orthodox) managing editor, Maayan Jaffe. They have sent free copies to the community to try to regain subscribers. This letter to the editor, which was printed in today’s issue in a reduced form, offered a bit of unsolicited advice:
To the Editor:
I received your recent circular to the local traditionally-Orthodox (“charedi”) community, “The Baltimore Jewish Times Has Changed,” and your March 1 issue, with its cover article “Focus: Feminism.” As a member of the charedi community by personal choice and director of an outreach organization reaching hundreds of thousands of Jews of all kinds, let me put it simply: your marketing needs help.
The average charedi woman in our community holds a college diploma, while her Jewish education vastly exceeds that of her peers in the non-Orthodox rabbinate. Intelligent, articulate, and self-aware, she is likely to work in an administrative or professional position involving extensive contact with those outside our community. She would also be the most likely family member to read the BJT.
Cherry-picked articles make a good promotion. But when you follow up with … Read More >>
One thing I was not prepared to find when I scanned the op-ed page of The New York Times this past Friday was reference to the perennial dilemma of what bracha, or blessing, to make on Crispix, the breakfast cereal whose morsels each consist of one side rice and one side corn. (No authoritative decision was offered; two separate blessings are the recommendation I’ve seen in more reliable sources).
That oddity (for the newspaper, that is; the Crispix question has been revisited numerous times in the Shafran home) was mentioned in the context of an article by columnist David Brooks entitled “The Orthodox Surge.”
Despite the nervous-making title – when I think “surge,” hurricanes and armies come to mind – the piece was a welcome respite from the sort of coverage of the Orthodox Jewish community more commonly found in the media. Orthodox-related happenings regarded as news fit to print usually consist of actual or alleged criminal acts committed by individuals in the community, or practices the paper’s readers are likely to find socially illiberal or bizarre. Even reportage of wonderfully positive happenings, like the gathering of 90,000 Jews this past summer at MetLife Stadium to celebrate Talmud-study, … Read More >>
The idiom osiyos machkimos/ letters enlighten appears innumerable times in rabbinic literature. It usually means that the one using the phrase has read the original of an argument, and finds it more enlightening than a paraphrase or synopis. Alternatively, it might be an appeal that the reader should study the fuller original form of an argument.
Somewhere along the way, I had a rebbi who used the phrase quite differently. He would urge us to take notes onthe shiur, claiming that the writing of those letters – not the reading of them – would make us wiser.
Decades later, I have no doubt that he was correct. Forcing oneself to turn mental rumination into visible output helps turn cerebral chaos into organized thought, and fixes that thought in our memories.
This may all go the way of the dodo bird. Schools across the country are mandating keyboarding skills by the fourth grade, but dropping cursive – what we used to call handwriting. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal tells the story of move away from the increasingly irrelevant skill of writing cursive (which used to be taught because it does not require lifting the pen … Read More >>
Whenever the secular year closes and a new one begins, one of life’s simple chores is to change the pages of the desk calendar: out with the old, in with the new.
But that is not so simple. To anyone glancing at my desk calendar during this month, it is apparent that this is one chore I do not do well. Year in and year out, I find dozens of creative excuses to postpone this simple task as long as possible. Perhaps it is the reality of time marching ahead and leaving me behind; perhaps all those pages drifting forlornly into the wastebasket elicit the gnawing realization that in the past 12 months I could have accomplished much more. Whatever the reason, I delay, defer, put off, hang back, temporize. But here it is after Purim — time to bite the bullet.
My desk calendar, of course, contains not just one year, but 365 separate pages. A certain melancholy overcomes me as I discard each of those pages, for each one represents a separate entity. Some of them arouse happy memories: February 18, a bris milah. March 12, a bar mitzvah. June 22, a wedding. Throughout, reminders of birthdays … Read More >>
If you’ve noticed a little less dignity, geniality and nobility in the world of late, it may be because we no longer have Reb Yosef Friedenson here with us.
Reb Yosef’s humble bearing, good will and astuteness would have been remarkable in any man. But for a veteran of the Warsaw ghetto and a clutch of concentration camps to have emerged from the cauldron of the Holocaust as so shining a model of calm, forbearance and fortitude is little short of amazing – and something that deeply impressed all who had the privilege of knowing him.
I am among those fortunate souls, and I had the additional honor of working in the same offices as he, at Agudath Israel of America. There were times here and there when he would ask me to do some minor research for him. I tend to overschedule my days and, especially if I’m in a cranky mood, I sometimes feel put upon when asked to do something I hadn’t included on my day’s agenda. But when the asker was Reb Yosef, no matter how grumpy I might have been a moment before, the very sound of his voice, which transmitted his modesty and … Read More >>
Even as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to put together a coalition founder on the issue of inclusion of charedi parties, the acrimonious debate continues. Doubtless, readers have had their fill of both attacks on all things charedi (not just draft exemptions), as well as all kinds of defenses.
The piece that follows is different, both in style and in its source. It doesn’t conclude anything. It just asks questions of charedim. Put simply, it asks charedim to apply the same standard to themselves that they do to others. The same technique could easily be flipped. DL and secular Jews could be similarly asked to look at their own behavior with the same critical eye with which they look upon charedim.
The bottom line is that no possible meeting of the minds ever takes place without each party putting themselves in the position of the other, and trying to understand things from their perspective.
The source is unusual in that is a call for soul-searching coming from within the charedi world. The author learned in Ponovezh, is a Rosh Kollel in Yerushalayim – and is also the Rav of Netzach Yehudah, the charedi army battalion. Furthermore, the original Hebrew version … Read More >>
No need to pass the envelope. To this judge, there is not much of a contest. The clear winner in multiple categories is Torah Live.
We in the Torah world are hardly Luddites. But because we are rooted in a strong culture with built-in anchors and protection, we don’t get swept along quite as quickly as others. This means that it often takes time before we awaken to the true import of cultural changes around us.
Many of us still do not grasp how much the shift to visual (as opposed to textual) learning has been for anyone under fifty. Even those of us who are eager to try new techniques find that we can’t compete with the sheer sophistication of what is available in general culture – the stuff to which our students unconsciously compare the best of our presentations.
Dan Roth is a creative genius, nothing less. He has married that genius to the Torah sophistication of a true ben Torah with years in the Mir and semicha. It would be an understatement to call his full library of presentations cutting edge. They are beyond cutting edge. They are so good, that they compete effortlessly with … Read More >>
It’s rare for light to be cast on the origins of a rumor. But a recent revelation about a charge made against Chuck Hagel before his confirmation as Secretary of Defense does that – and might provide us all some illumination too.
(Contrary to what some have surmised, I didn’t and don’t feel there is enough hard information about the now confirmed Defense Secretary on which to make a judgment of his attitude toward Israel. As attacks mounted on nominee Hagel, though, I suggested that Jews should think twice and thrice before attacking a public figure for animus to the Jewish state on the basis of pickings as slim as those gathered to criticize him.
Several people, including some pseudonymic letter-writers to a magazine that published my article, took my suggestion that bandwagons are best inspected before being leaped onto as support of Mr. Hagel. I explicitly wrote, however, that he might well not make a good Defense Secretary, and that I can’t claim to know one way or the other. All that I pointed out was that, despite a maladroit phrase Mr. Hagel once used – for which he apologized – and unsubstantiated claims of a similar sin, … Read More >>
I was on Israel English-language TV last week debating the army draft issue with Yochanan Plessner, the head of the government committee established to make recommendations on the issue in the last Knesset. The moderator began by asking me: “More and more Israelis are asking themselves whether it’s fair that young men like Yochanan Plessner [who served in an elite combat division] should go off at the age of eighteen, risk their lives, endure great hardship, in order to defend us – all of us – while at the same time eighteen year old yeshiva students are exempted from that burden. Rabbi Rosenblum, is that fair?”
I have heard chareidi debaters counter this argument: Well, is it fair that we have to do all the Torah learning for the country?
It’s safe to say that argument has never convinced a single non-chareidi. Not just because of the emotional response – How many yeshiva bochurim are killed in the tents of Torah? – but because it misses a fundamental distinction: Yeshiva bochurim are doing what they most want to do. IDF recruits are acting under legal compulsion
The argument of “equality of burdens,” in short, cannot be easily dismissed, on … Read More >>
An anonymous submission in honor of Purim — Adapted from Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. I p.75
The casual observer of the story of Purim will often overlook and/or misunderstand some of the most crucial aspects of the narrative. Take, for example, the chronology of the story. Although the tale of the Book of Esther is often told inside of a quarter of an hour, the actual story spanned more than nine years.
The Book of Esther famously begins with the feast of Achashverosh, which occurred during the third year of his reign. Our sages reveal (Megilla 12) that Mordechai prohibited the Jewish People from attending this feast. However, this was not due to restraints of the Jewish dietary law, as many assume. Strictly kosher food was available, and one of the two chief butlers at the feast was none other than Mordechai himself (Rashi ibid). Yet, Mordechai prohibited the Jews from attending. The Jewish People did not heed this directive from the generation’s Torah Leader and they attended, facing no repercussions.
Then, nine years later, in the twelfth year of Achashverosh’s reign, Mordechai refused to bow to Haman because of the idol Haman would wear on his neck. … Read More >>
For most of us, two ideas dominate the connection between Purim and Pesach. Some of us remember the Rashi, whose “marbim besimcha” includes both Adar and Nisan. Others pragmatically take note of the kickoff of the serious avodah of preparing for zman cheiruseinu with the PPPPP – the post-Purim, pre-Pesach panic.
Now, there is another way to memorialize the kesher between these events:
[Hat tip to Dovi Adlerstein, Dallas]
A number of years ago, a neighbor of mine, a business professional, shared a secret and a request. He told me that he had been found guilty of a crime – a dishonest financial reporting to the federal government – and was awaiting sentencing. He fully admitted that he had acted wrongly and offered no excuse for what he did. My neighbor is a kind, reasonable, family-oriented and charitable person. I drew on what thespian talents I had cultivated many decades earlier in high school, and feigned not being shocked.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” was all I could say. Then came the request. “Could you write the judge a character reference letter?” he asked.
“Of course,” I answered, without hesitation. My neighbor’s punishment would have great impact on his future, his family and his friends. Here was a good man who did a bad thing. The judge knew about the bad thing; the least I could do was describe the good man.
And so I did, the next day. I’ll never know whether my letter, which acknowledged the crime and sought only to provide an honest assessment of my neighbor as a person, had any effect. He was … Read More >>
After giving it serious and prayerful consideration, and despite the many urgings and importunings from my supporters around the world during this Purim season, I must regretfully announce that I am not a candidate to succeed the recently resigned Pope Benedict. Although I possess a large number of extra yarmulkes of all colors and shapes, including many red ones, I do not feel suited for this role – even though I must admit that people who know me best do find me rather infallible. There are several reasons for this decision:
The ceremony for choosing me would perforce include the traditional white smoke emanating from the Vatican chimney. The doctor has told me to avoid smoke at all costs. All my encyclicals are out of service. My last encyclical is missing one of its eight wheels, thus encumbering me with its slow pace. I tried bi-cycles and tri-cycles, on which I did fairly well, but when I climbed on to the traditional Vatican en-cyclical, I kept falling off — which is worse than falling from grace, and quite demeaning for the papacy, especially with those long robes. As for those long white robes, they would all need to be … Read More >>
What would have surprised Israel’s founding fathers more: the growth of an observant community many believed was destined to disappear in short order, or its intrusion into the very non-hallowed halls of government? The new Knesset has thirty-nine members who consider themselves Torah observant. The previous cabinet already had a majority of members who called themselves shomrei Shabbos. What is an old-time Tel Aviv secularist to think?
The surprises cut both ways. Just when we thought we had thoroughly digested Yair Lapid’s challenge to the Torah community, another member of Yesh Atid offers stirring inaugural address to Knesset. Dr. Ruth Calderon will make us rethink the role Torah study plays in bringing people closer to Yiddishkeit.
Cross-Currents readers did a good job picking apart Yair Lapid’s speech at Kiryat Ono. They flagged his historical inaccuracies and simplifications; they questioned whether he was sincere or pandering. Other readers, however, made a strong case for a very different reaction. However he meant his words, they claimed, they landed on a vulnerable place. Has not the charedi community become strong and secure enough that it cannot enjoy the luxury of giving only on its own terms? Should not it have … Read More >>
[This week’s posting is a shortened version of a piece I wrote a number of years ago. I thought it might merit recirculation. – AS]
A typical offering included a close-up of the deformed face of a Jewish man above the legend “The Scum of Humanity: This Jew says that he is a member of God’s chosen people.” Another displayed a cartoon of a vampire bat with a grotesquely exaggerated nose and a Jewish star on its chest. In yet another, a Jewish butcher was depicted snidely dropping a rat into his meat grinder and, elsewhere in the issue, the punctured necks of handsome German youths were shown bleeding into a bowl held by a Jew more gargoyle than human. At its peak in 1938, print runs of Hitler henchman Julius Streicher’s vile tabloid Der Sturmer ran as high as 2,000,000.
“All our struggles are in vain,” Streicher told a Nazi student organization in 1935, “if the battle against the Jews is not fought to the finish. It is not enough to get the Jews out of Germany. No, they must be destroyed throughout the entire world so that humanity will be free of them.”
We approach the … Read More >>
After davening the other day and not in the main shul, a couple of fellows — one of them a medical doctor — asked whether I shared their assessment that President Obama is 1) a die-hard fundamentalist Muslim, 2) an anti-Semite and 3) obviously a hater of Israel whose policies are aimed at destroying the Jewish State. They were shocked that I did not share their view. I was not shocked to hear what they had to say because, sadly, such sentiments are increasingly heard within the Orthodox community. We are in the grip of heavy doses of paranoia and heavy doses of hatred. What makes the reality worse is that both the paranoia and the hatred are dynamic. What is being expressed today is more extreme than what had been expressed previously and what is being expressed today is likely to be mild by comparison with what will be said tomorrow.
What I am referring to is not the taking of conservative positions on a host of public issues. It is understandable and, from my perspective, correct that on a range of social issues, religious Jews do not accept liberal positions. It is also understandable, even though I … Read More >>
A recent article in Mishpacha (“Making it Work, January 3, 2013) provided advice to young men on the cusp of leaving kollel and entering the job market. The article was a good beginning in publicizing the need for making vocational guidance available to all.
While any valid advice is better than none at all – which unfortunately is still what many of our young people are provided – the article stopped short of spelling out some realities of the job market. Several Cross-Currents readers submitted reactions to the Mishpacha piece, hoping to continue the discussion. I selected two of them, both by frum professionals who also own many hours of hands-on experience in guiding frum young adults who are entering the job market. Both convey some frustrations and apprehensions that deserve a hearing. Both provided strong reasons for having to remain anonymous if they are going to continue serving the community as mentors. While we generally turn down anonymous submissions, we felt that there was room for an exception here.
The first submission:
Making It Work: A Rejoinder
(1) The article begins by painting a context of a kollel yungerman who now needs to make a parnasah which includes … Read More >>
by Rabbi Meir Goldberg
I wrote this article in December as a response to the Klal Perspectives Kiruv edition, and specifically the article by Rabbi Ilan Feldman. I first sent it out to Kiruv Rabbis via listserves, and after hearing much positive feedback, I submitted a condensed version to Mishpacha Magazine, which was more understandable to those not involved in Kiruv.
I prefer the original since it touches on many important issues relating to Kiruv, and it is more passionate as well.
The older generation of kiruv (Jewish outreach) professionals often waxes poetic of the kiruv glory days, which began sometime after the Six-Day War and ended in the early 90s. Rav Noach Weinberg’s dream of changing the world was, to a large extent, successful: tens of thousands became frum, and so many more were reconnected in some meaningful way to their heritage. Over the last 15 years, the secular Jewish landscape and the kiruv response has changed. As a result, the editors of Klal Perspectives, an online magazine, asked 17 kiruv leaders to write about current outreach efforts, how success is measured, and whether kiruv has run its course due to assimilation and the … Read More >>
Like the repeatedly pummeled victim of depraved bullies who decides it might just be best to stay away from the schoolyard during recess, Israel recently opted to not show up to be judged by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body with venerated members like Congo, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Malaysia and Qatar.
The UN body and a number of individual countries, including the United States, pleaded with Israel to not be the first country to refuse to appear for an HRC “Universal Periodic Review.” But the Israeli government, in its chutzpah, decided to just say no to presenting itself for assault yet again by a group that has demonstrated a deep and troubling fixation on one political dispute in a world in which, elsewhere, authorities routinely amputate body parts, blithely murder citizens, incarcerate innocent people without trial and look the other way as human beings are enslaved and sold like sides of beef.
The New York Times, predictably, did its own huffing, munificently conceding that the HRC is “not without faults” but asserting all the same that the Middle East’s only stable and free democracy was showing “an unwillingness to undergo the same scrutiny as all other … Read More >>