Persian Diversion

It was a tad early for “Purim Torah,” but on Taanis Esther, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zari responded to a question from an NBC correspondent by insisting that Iran cares deeply for and is entirely protective of its Jews.

Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent assertion in his speech before the U.S. Congress that “Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazis were a Jewish problem,” Mr. Zarif bristled and changed the topic to the Israeli leader’s citation in his speech to Megillas Esther.

“He even distorts his own scripture,” said the Iranian about the Israeli. “If – if you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews.” We needn’t engage Mr. Zarif on the finer points of the Purim story, but the question in the end, of course, isn’t what Achashverosh was or did, but what Iran is and does (and wants to do).

(Mr. Zarif, incidentally, also proudly cited Koresh, as having granted the Jews of his time permission to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash – apparently oblivious to the irony of the fact that the aforementioned edifice was to be … Read More >>

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The Politics of Adar

The masses were exuberant; champagne bubbling over, shouts of victory and pride, emotions bursting forth with confidence and joyous affirmation of a smashing success. Triumph and euphoria filled the air. But the morning after, fear and trepidation gripped the celebrants, the glee and sense of security dissipating in a fleeting moment.

The ebullience of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic reelection victory soured and fizzled as the White House responded with a snub and startlingly declared the following day that the United States’ (favorable) policy toward the State of Israel pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be reassessed, reflecting an unprecedented blow. Israeli politicians and supporters went scrambling in a damage control effort to salvage the favor and grace of the State’s most powerful ally.

The irony does not stop with the unparalleled White House affront toward a world leader, and the potential pulling of the rug out from under Israeli security concerns, allowing a lone and tiny allied country to be diplomatically devoured by the pack of wolves that constitutes much of the international community vis a vis the State of Israel at the United Nations. The irony cuts much deeper, to the point of the incredulous.

… Read More >>

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Finance Minister Moshe Gafni

Dror Feuer, in Globes Magazine of 1/31/15, writes (my translation):

I think I have a good idea for this country: a Charedi Finance Minister. I am utterly serious. I suggest that in any government that may arise, under any constellation and any coalition pieced together, a Charedi Finance Minister should be appointed. I’ll try to convince you why.

But first, I would ask the non-Charedim among you to admit that you chafed at this. The first thing that came to your head, and if not the first then the third, is that a Charedi Finance Minister will steal all the money and give it to Yeshivos, because that’s how they are. Maybe this even comes fully packaged with a visual image. No need to paint it for you, right? You’ve seen this image a million times, you know the type.

Don’t be frightened, this happens to everyone involuntarily, I would almost say naturally. We’ve always wanted to be like all the other nations, no? So here. Anti-Semitism has always been part of the deal. When you think about it, in a world of PC identity politics, sector sensitivities and commando forces on Facebook, the only group in Israel … Read More >>

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Rabbi Riskin and Female Halachic Adjudicators: It Does Not Compute

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s ambitious program to fill Israeli society with female halachic adjudicators just experienced a significant advance, as R. Riskin appointed a woman, Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, to the position of Mahniga Ruhanit (Spiritual Leader) in his city of Efrat. R. Riskin explained that Dr. Rosenfeld will render halachic rulings on questions posed to her, and that there is no bar to women serving as rabbinic judges:

Her sponsor, Rabbi Riskin was very clear about the validity of this role. “The only reason why women cannot be judges is if they are not accepted by the people. When it is clear they are accepted and have halachic knowledge, they can render halachic decisions,” says Rabbi Riskin.

As such, R. Riskin has founded the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership, which aims to create a cohort of female halachic leaders, trained and certified as follows:

Morot Hora’ah: Five-year program training women in the classic rabbinic curriculum of Kashrut, Shabbat, Family Purity, Mourning, and Marriage. This training is complemented by an extensive curriculum of philosophical, social, and psychological training for communal leadership.

Completion of the course and success in written tests leads to Heter Hora’ah – the centuries-old … Read More >>

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The Differences We Make

In Baltimore’s Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, in whose yeshivah gedolah I was fortunate to study in the 1970s, the custom was that each beis medrash bachur would learn during night seder with a high school-age boy. I enjoyed the experience and it probably set me on a path to become a mechanech, in which role I was privileged to serve for nearly two decades.

At least one of my night-seder chavrusos, as it happened, followed me into the field of Jewish education, becoming, as I learned years later, the principal of a middle school in New England and then of a Bais Yaakov in Rockland County, the position he currently occupies.

I had only seen him once since our youths, when I was a rebbi and principal in Providence, Rhode Island, where he had brought a group of students from his school there for a Shabbos. That, though, was more than twenty-five years ago, and so it was a special pleasure to find myself at a meeting not long ago that, as it happened, took place in his home. It was an even greater pleasure to hear what he told me when he took me aside before the meeting began.

… Read More >>

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A Hint of What We Daven For Daily

A wedding took place last week. The bride and groom weren’t members of Klal Yisrael, so it wasn’t a Jewish wedding. And yet, at least in a way, it was.

It took place in a Muslim country that I won’t identify; the authorities there do not look favorably on Jews or on citizens who communicate with Jews, like the groom and his mother, who long ago decided that the Jewish mesorah is true. Long ago, she abandoned the Christianity into which she was born, and has tried mightily, and with some success, to convince her husband, a Hindu, to forsake the idols and rites of his own upbringing and join her in her acceptance of Torah. Talk about a complicated family dynamic.

“Tehilla,” as I’ll call her, has not converted to Judaism. She and her two adult sons are “Bnei Noach,” non-Jews who have accepted the Torah’s truth and who cherish Klal Yisrael.

There are similar non-Jews in Australia, Asia, Europe and here in the United States (a good number of them, for some reason, in the south). Many confront formidable societal obstacles, although Tehilla, considering where she lives, likely faces more than most.

“Tehilla” is an appropriate … Read More >>

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Faithless Ferocity

Earlier this month, a newly-married couple and the wife’s sister, upstanding citizens and model university students, were murdered by a neighbor of the couple’s in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

A heinous crime, to be sure, and it reverberated particularly loudly across the country and around the world. Because the victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were Muslims with Middle-Eastern roots; and the alleged murderer, Craig Stephen Hicks, a middle-aged white man.

The suspected killer turned himself in to authorities and was duly indicted. And while authorities said that their preliminary investigation indicated that a dispute over a parking space in the apartment complex where the victims and the alleged killer lived was the proximate cause of the murders, a multitude of Muslim voices wasted no time seizing on the tragedy as an anti-Muslim hate crime.

Members of the victims’ family were the first to make the charge. One tweeted, “My cousin, his wife and sister in law were murdered for being muslim [sic]. Someone tell me racism/hate crimes don’t exist. #MuslimLivesMatter.”

Personal grief can cloud judgment, and it’s understandable that a relative of the murdered young people might assume religious prejudice motivated their … Read More >>

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Learning from our Past, Building our Future (Part 2):

How Jewish History teaches us to create a positive community for tomorrow

by Leslie Ginsparg Klein

Generations of Jews have grappled with the same issues that face our Jewish community today. Their experiences provide us with suggestions as to how we can create a positive Jewish community today and ensure the commitment of our children. Colonials Jews provided us with two suggestions: education and infrastructure. Two important innovators from the early twentieth century, Sarah Schenirer and Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, give us two more answers.

EDUCATION In late 19th and early 20th century Europe, the Orthodox community found itself losing its youth in shocking numbers. While both boys and girls assimilated, girls were leaving Orthodoxy in even greater proportions. Some members of the community, including an unknown seamstress who would go on to become one of the most famous personages in Jewish history, identified the cause as a lack of quality Jewish education.

In the decades before the founding of Bais Yaakov, the movement for Jewish education for girls, parents not only allowed their daughters to attend Polish elementary schools and high schools beyond the requisite years, but many encouraged the girls’ intellectual pursuits. Some wealthy Orthodox … Read More >>

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Friends, Foes, and Charvona

When the afterglow fades, we will still be left with plenty to daven for on Purim. Why, then, do we act so stupidly when help is proffered?

Many of us, this writer included, thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress was moving, inspiring, and effectively spoke to American hearts as much as to Jewish ones. (Apparently some Arab and Iranian ones as well.) We hope that, BEH, he may have had some impact, although the initial reactions lined up according to predictable political and ideological positions. However optimistic we may be, at the end of the day we are still somewhat short of an appearance by Moshiach.

Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing. Jews are leaving Europe in droves, caught between a resurgent right and a steady torrent of Jew-hatred piously chanted in thousands of mosques and madrassas and spread through television and social media . BDS campaigns poison the minds of a next generation of leadership. Jihadists urge the faithful to exterminate the Jews, and we are told to take comfort in the Pew finding that only 22% of the Muslim world supports them. (That is more than the total population of the Axis powers before WWII.) Iran … Read More >>

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Dear Alyssa

Dear Alyssa,

Congratulations on winning the Oratory Contest of the Jewish youth movement BBYO. The topic was: “If you could modify any of the Ten Commandments, which would you choose and what would your modification be?”

You chose the fourth, the Sabbath, since “as a Reform Jew” you “do not observe the Sabbath in a traditional way.” Your suggested replacement, in consonance with your belief that “Judaism means something different to everyone,” is: “Be the Jew You Want to Be.”

You explained how “No one likes to be commanded to do anything, and especially not teens,” and that you therefore “practice Judaism in the way that works for” you.

“Judaism,” you wrote, “means something different to everyone. I believe that we should not let the kind of Jew we think we should be get in the way of the kind of Jew we want to be.”

What kind of Jews, though, should we want to be?

I don’t know if your family celebrates Passover. But most affiliated Jewish families, including those belonging to Reform congregations, do mark the holiday, which, you likely know, will arrive in mere weeks. If you have a Seder, it might have a contemporary … Read More >>

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Will the Real Dov Lipman Please Stand Up?

Doron Beckerman’s detailed response to Dov Lipman notwithstanding, Lipman’s reaction to recent statements by Benjamin Netanyahu gives rise to more basic questions.

In his guest post to the Emes VeEmunah blog, MK Lipman insisted that the criminal sanctions against yeshiva students were not at all critical to the law, but were simply necessary for the law to pass scrutiny by the Supreme Court:

There was one issue which they took issue with regarding the law. They were against the “criminal sanctions.” …

The Yesh Atid platform did not have this component as part of the law. We knew it would be an issue for the haredi world even if it was just theoretical but there will never be police entering yeshiva dormitories and arresting the boys. So why was it included?

The government attorneys explained that the reason why we were writing a law to begin with was because the Supreme Court demanded that the Knesset pass a law with “equality.” If there was no clause in the law which mentioned the possibility of a full draft if the goals were not met, the law suits which would come on the heels of the law’s passage would … Read More >>

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Sense and Centrifuges

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress is:

a) A bald political move to shore up support for his candidacy in imminent Israeli elections.

b) A misguided attempt to meddle in American partisan politics and embarrass President Obama

c) A straightforward effort to express sincere concerns about the Iranian danger, and the conviction that any negotiations with Iran are inherently misguided.

My guess? A bit of “all of the above.”

There’s no doubt that Mr. Netanyahu’s presenting himself as a prophet before the legislature of the superpower ally of Israel (if not as leader of the Jewish People itself, a mantel he’s been donning of late) will help him in his reelection bid. Or that he has often seized opportunities to express his dislike of Mr. Obama. (Yes, it’s mutual; kamayim hapanim lapanim… “As water reflects a face, so the heart of a man to a man.” – Mishlei, 27:19.)

But only a hardened cynic would assume that Mr. Netanyahu’s concern about Iran is a guise, that his disdain for negotiations isn’t sincere. It surely is.

But is it right?

For those who insist on seeing Mr. Obama as, at best, insufficiently concerned with Jews or Israel, … Read More >>

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Into the Trap

In his comments to my previous post, and in a post of his own, Rabbi Slifkin forcefully advocates for secular studies at High School age, and advocates withholding support from those Avreichim who choose to send their children to Yeshiva Ketanah.

In two places in his responsa (Igros Moshe YD 3 82; YD 4 36:1 [the latter responsum is from 1982]), Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the verse in Psalms (1:1): “Praised is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” He explains that this refers to people who prematurely concern themselves with the future need for parnassah. They take sources from Chazal which state that one may not rely on miracles, and they are superlatively stringent in that regard, to the point of abandoning singular focus on one’s Torah studies during one’s formative years.

In the earlier responsum (YD 3 81), R’ Moshe states that in places where there is no need to establish High Schools (primarily because there is no risk that the children will otherwise attend public school) it is forbidden to establish them. In the next one (YD 3 82), which addressed those in charge of Mesivtos (Yeshiva High Schools), he adds … Read More >>

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Connectedness, Neo-Chassidus and The Woman’s Challenge

By Alexandra Fleksher

The Spring 2012 edition of Klal Perspectives addressed the rising concern that Orthodox Jews are feeling a disconnect to G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people. The topic has taken center stage yet again with the recent discussions about neo-Chassidism, particularly in the winter edition of the OU’s Jewish Action. Clearly, many Orthodox Jews are seeking ways to reconnect to their Yiddishkeit and explore new (or old?) avenues to infuse their avodas Hashem with spirituality, meaning and relevance.

Neo-Chassidism fascinates me. I attended two Modern Orthodox weddings in the New York area since the summer, prior to my exposure to the term “neo-Chassidism.” I immediately observed a number of young men with a particular look I had never seen before. They were not the typical “Tzfat type” with long beards and payos dressed in relaxed, loose-fitted Israeli style clothes. Rather, these young men were wearing modern slim fit suits, trendy shoes and ties, but from the neck up they looked like Breslovers. Their beards were reaching mid-tie, and their payos were just about as long.

Questions ran through my mind. If these boys are in college and are planning to be professionals, would they … Read More >>

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The Chofetz Chaim Video: The Rosetta Stone

At long last, Hollywood has finally contributed something to Torah. A collection of Fox Movietone newsreels from the silent film days is preserved and housed at the University of South Carolina. One item dating to 1923 preserves footage of Torah personalities attending the first Agudah Knessia Gedolah in Vienna. Remarkably, it includes footage of the Chofetz Chaim himself (of whom photos are rare), as well as other Torah personalities, the sight of which should quicken the heart of any Torah Jew.

Several of those shown perished before the War. Some survived. At least four were martyred by the Nazis.

A century makes a huge difference. Five of the eighteen personalities held doctorates. A good number were Germans, who still constituted a strong, distinct group within Agudah. One of those (Rabbi Leo Jung) was at one point a candidate for the presidency of Yeshiva University.

At least among the non-Chassidim, the couture stands out. Most look quite spiffy and dapper. (As one of my sons remarked, “and that was before Charles Tyrwhitt.”)

The Chofetz Chaim seems uncomfortable with the camera, and Hashgacha helped out. His facial features remain indistinct. Someone tries to cover the lens … Read More >>

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A Response to MK Lipman

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, in a guest post on the Emes VeEmunah blog, presents his perspective on Yesh Atid’s efforts toward integrating Charedim into the IDF and the Israeli work force. The post, coming as it does from a position of government authority, deserves some scrutiny. I intersperse some quotes from the post along with my comments.

(1) “Just to clarify, the law says that if the goals are not met, then a full draft will apply to haredim just like the rest of Israeli society with the elite masmidim not having to serve. It doesn’t mention jail. It doesn’t mention arresting yeshiva boys. It says the regular draft will apply. Since for the rest of Israeli society, failure to show up when drafted is a criminal offense, the same would apply to haredim in that situation.”

Well, yes. In other words, the law says that Yeshiva boys beyond those elite masmidim are subject to arrest and prison. I don’t understand what this clarifies. Perhaps it does clarify one issue: There is no mechanism in place for determining who those “elite masmidim” are.

It is also the case that MK Lipman has little to no appreciation of the … Read More >>

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Fruitful Conversations About Fruitful Continuity

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner & Rabbi Yaakov Menken

In a recent editorial in The Forward (“Be Fruitful and Multiply — Please?”, Dec. 12), Jane Eisner sets aside the Pew Report’s alarming statistics regarding non-Orthodox intermarriage and assimilation to focus upon fertility, which she terms “an even more fraught issue.” Yet it is unclear why she believes the decline in childbearing to be the dominant cause of the diminution of the non-Orthodox community, nor why begging women to have more children will contribute significantly to a reversal.

[This response was initially accepted for publication in The Forward itself, but subsequently they decided not to print it. We believe this an unfortunate decision both for The Forward and its readership.]

Eisner correctly states that non-Orthodox fertility hovers around 1.7 children per family, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. But Zero Population Growth will not preserve a Jewish community whose children are deserting it. The Pew Survey reports that fifty percent of married Reform Jewish adults have a non-Jewish spouse, and children of intermarriage are much less likely to be raised as Jews. Even beyond that, one-third of young Jewish adults raised as Reform Jews now classify … Read More >>

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In Brief:

Challenges to Tranquility

-- 10:36 am

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.

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1984?

-- 10:51 am

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

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Pesach the Rabbi Served Chametz

-- 4:08 pm

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.

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14 Comments

The Seder Is A Mother

-- 9:30 pm

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

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Pesach Shiur Now Available

-- 1:45 am

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.

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

-- 10:33 am

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.

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Annual Pre-Pesach Shiur For Women

-- 9:38 pm

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.

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Who Won?

-- 5:28 pm

Before you dismiss this as naive, ask yourself whether you wouldn’t prefer that more people would write and think this way than what you witnessed during the election.

And whether the accolades to the “Nation” are not in fact consistent with both the thought of Chazal – and recent history.

From Rav Aviner, question as to who won:

The answer is simple: The Nation, because all of the political parties are good. They all love the Nation of Israel. They all love the Land of Israel. They all love the State of Israel. And they all love the spirit of Israel. But no one possesses all of the truth, all of the justice and all of the integrity. Hashem, in His kindness for His Nation, spread the talents and good qualities among the entire Nation of Israel and among all of the political parties. Everyone is required to find which party has the most positives and the least negatives. No one can claim that his party has it all. And if someone thinks that his party does have it all, he is dangerously close to “Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred.” “Sinat Chinam” is hating for no reason. Then why does he hate? He hates anything which is different. It is forbidden to be different. “Everyone is obligated to be exactly like me. And anyone who is not exactly like me is an enemy of the Nation.” Not true! We are all important. And I will remind you who established the State of Israel – it was the Nation. And who was victorious in the War of Independence – it was the Nation. And who was victorious in all of the wars – it was the Nation. And who built up the Land and transformed it from desolation into a garden of Hashem – it was the Nation. And who absorbed all of the exiles – it was the Nation. And who strengthened the economy- it was the Nation. And who returned the Torah to the Land of Israel – it was the Nation. Everything was done by the entire Nation. Our party is the Nation. If only we could establish one party of all of the Jews from one extreme to another! In the meantime, it is not possible and there are different parties with different opinions. But do not forget: we are one Nation and all of the parties must act with respect towards one another, with love towards one another and with the recognition that we need one another. Then, we will have “Ahavat Chinam – baseless love.” “Fortunate is the Nation for whom this is so” (Tehillim 144:15).

[Thanks to Martin Brody]

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Election Inversion

-- 3:08 am

Here in the US, we’ve come to expect an escalation of dirty campaigning and inattention to facts as campaigns drag on. Ironically, as we get closer to the Israeli election, some truths have emerged in the UTJ (“Gimmel”) election material. A number of commercials were quite good. My favorite:

The subtlety in the contrast between the kollel man and the working man is impressive – as well as the upbeat message that they are united by a common respect for the authority of Torah leadership. More impressive is the takeaway, which would seem to include the tacit message that “working charedi” is not an oxymoron. The fact that UTJ has taken to both YouTube and Facebook to troll for votes is also a concession of sorts. In the desperate hunt for votes, some images of the campaign will be impossible to completely erase after the last ballot box is stuffed – including the likelihood of an increasing role for women in the future.

Of course, the message is a mixed one from its inception. Just a short while ago MK Moshe Gafni insisted that he does not represent working charedim, who are not properly charedi.[Postscript – There is reason to believe that the translation of the interview with Gafni is seriously flawed. See the discussion in the Comments section.]

[Hat tip to Dr. Saul Newman, LA]

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Sounding the Shofar in Adar

-- 7:59 am

“The days of the elections draw nigh,” explained Maran Rosh HaYeshiva [Harav Steinman] Shlit”a, with tears on his cheek. “A person might make petty calculations and miss the moment. He can act correctly, spur others to action, and vote only in order to save Yiddishkeit from those who seek its harm, and to save his household. And that is his duty; that is the mission of the moment. But each person can have in mind that he is going out to make His great Name great. He can think that he is joining a huge community that votes for the sake of the honor of Heaven, the masses who refuse to kneel before the Baal, who do not want a government that wishes to uproot the kingship of Hashem, and they vote for the sake of His Name, with love. By way of a small act and a great thought, one can attain a moment that has none to surpass it, to cause ‘His great Name to be made great and sanctified.'”

Yes, casting a vote has a pragmatic aspect to it. But on a much higher plane, it is an uplifting declarative moment of unswerving loyalty to Hashem. The more this declaration is internalized and amplified, the greater the Kiddush Hashem.

R' Chaim Kanievsky casting his ballot

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18 Comments

Mishloach Manos from the Rebbetzin

-- 1:49 pm

The “Ayelet HaShachar” organization, which is the arm of the Wolfson Foundation that focuses on raising awareness of Yiddishkeit in small towns and kibbutzim, arranged for Rebbetzins of several leading lights of the Charedi community to deliver Mishloach Manos to the bereaved mothers and widows of IDF soldiers who fell in the recent Tzuk Eitan operation in Gaza.

Among the participants:
Rebbetzin Kolodetzky (daughter of R’ Chaim Kanievsky)
Rabbanit Yosef (wife of the Rishon Letzion)
Rabbanit Yosef (wife of youngest brother R’ Moshe)
Rabbanit Lau (wife of the current Chief Rabbi)
Rebbetzin Ezrachi (wife of Rav Baruch Mordechai, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yisrael)
Rebbetzin Zohar (wife of R’ Uri)
Rebbetzin Rabinowitz (wife of Rav of Kotel)
Rebbetzins of Ger, Sanz, Erloi, Slonim, Boston.

Here is Rebbetzin Kolodetzky reading her inscription to Mrs. Pomerantz, mother of Daniel Pomerantz HY”D, 21, Golani Brigade.

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Lichovod Purim

-- 10:29 am

An article I wrote about how Purim is a celebration of how Divine irony vanquishes mortal iron, appears in the Forward today. You can read it here.

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