We cannot see the tens of thousands of mazikin, or “harmers” (often translated as “demons”), that the Talmud teaches surround us always (Berachos 6a). Were they visible, says Abba Binyamin, they would utterly terrify us. The same, of course, is true about the tens of thousands of spores, bacteria and viruses that constantly seek to invade our bodies.
The latter are held off, if we are alive and healthy, by an unbelievably complex biological network we call the immune system.
Langerhans cells on our skin keep tiny potentially lethal invaders out.
The enzyme lysozyme in mucus breaks down the cell walls of malign bacteria, as do tears and saliva.
An astounding menagerie of protein molecules we call antibodies, moreover, is produced by the white blood cells born in the marrow of our bones, each product designed (yes designed; there’s a Designer here) to disable a specific bacteria, virus or toxin. Lymphocytes, one such product of our bone marrow, attack a broad array of the bacterial and viral agents that are capable of causing us great harm.
And the system contains a vital control subsystem governed by the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA), a molecule present on the surface of … Read More >>
With sincere apologies to those who loyally read these pages in search of something new or inspiring, I offer none of those here. Some of the suggestions that follow have been made before; some are boilerplate. Nonetheless, cobbling together a few ideas about what can or should be done by frum Jews in the wake of the Pew Report might help more inspired people launch some other ideas. Here are five, in addition to Thou Shalt Not Be Triumphal with which I closed out Part One.
1) Don’t Starve the Goose If any single element accounts for the deep division between the success of Orthodoxy and the failure of non-Orthodoxy in all its varieties, it is education. (Even Rabbi Wolpe, whom I criticized in the earlier post, takes it for granted that a vivified Conservative Jewry would require a commitment to serious education.) We are all aware of the fault lines within our educational system. We cannot afford, however, not to recognize that on the whole, Torah education is a phenomenal success. Our family life, our elevated repopulation rate would mean little without a system to produce young people loyal to the Torah and its lifestyle.
Alas, both the … Read More >>
My previous post which had nearly an identical title has generated a batch of nice comments, including a number that do not like what I wrote. That’s fine. For the record, nearly all of my close friends are quite conservative in politics, I voted for Ronald Reagan as president and intend to vote for Lhota in a couple of weeks. What I am getting at is that being conservative need not serve as license to embrace the far right and certainly not to distort.
I stand by what I posted previously about the poison that is being fed to too many in our community. This is a dynamic process that needs to be challenged. I have no illusions about the efficacy of the challenge that comes from me. Just the same, it is necessary to speak up, to insist that we be truthful.
There is a departure from the truth in writing about President Obama and Iran. As I noted and as should be obvious but alas isn’t to too many of us, thanks to the position taken by his administration powerful sanctions have been placed on Iran. Nothing remotely like this occurred during either of the Bush administrations. … Read More >>
The other day, waiting to board a bus, I was moved to think about empathy.
Unfortunately, the prod came in the form of the opposite, crass selfishness. A young woman approached the group of us waiting to step up into the vehicle and insinuated herself at the front of the long line. She had no visible physical impairment, made no request for anyone’s permission, offered not even a perfunctory “excuse me.” She seemed entirely oblivious to the fact that other people occupied the universe at the time, some even in her immediate vicinity.
I could read the minds of my fellow future passengers. Their faces telegraphed my own mental reaction: Who does she think she is? How would she like it if someone cut before her in a line? Yes, she would probably reply in puzzlement. “But that’s not what’s happening. I am the one cutting in here, not someone else cutting in before me.” The lady, in other words, was empathy-impaired.
“My sins I recount today,” as the waiter, just released from prison, told Pharaoh. I recall myself as a small boy armed with a magnifying glass on a sunny day, incinerating individual ants out of sheer curiosity. … Read More >>
For months, as the Women For the Wall fought for the right of women to pray at the Wall undisturbed, we have heard from many, even within the Orthodox community, that really W4W should just have ignored the Women Of the Wall. Or as one pulpit Rabbi put it, “The WOW were not proselytizing anyone, they were not trying to win converts, they were not trying to make a revolution.”
Oops. Actually, they were.
These rabbis, from Shlomo Riskin on down, are now left to contemplate their naivete about WOW. Since they ignored WOW founders Rivka Haut and Susan Aranoff, who wrote (many months ago) in the Times of Israel that the reason WOW must remain at the Kosel is because, in reference to religious women (esp. charedim), they will “change their worldview,” now they must deal with the reality of Anat Hoffman admitting that this poorly-hidden agenda was, in fact, their continuous goal. WOW’s leading cheerleader in the press, Judy Maltz of HaAretz, reported the following after Hoffman’s conference call with WOW supporters, in which she defended their recent decision to move (with a ridiculous collection of conditions, but that’s for another article) to Robinson’s Arch:
… Read More >>
A rejoinder to my recent essay on Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and “Open Orthodoxy” was published here . Below is my response to that posting, written in my capacity as Agudath Israel of America’s spokesperson.
I am grateful to Dr. Ben Elton, a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, for his rejoinder to my recent posting about that institution and “Open Orthodoxy,” in which I asserted that neither can lay claim to the adjective “Orthodox,” at least not if words are to have meanings.
My gratitude derives from the fact that Dr. Elton’s words help clarify the issue. Although he writes that he is “bemused” by my critique of his invocation of the Wurzburger Rav as an example of Chovevei Torah’s approach, his explanation of his bemusement can allow us to better understand whether that revered Torah personality would indeed approve of the inclusion of non-Orthodox Jewish clergy in training rabbis, which YTC proudly embraced at its recent presidential installation.
Dr. Elton is correct that there was indeed a difference of opinion between the Wurzburger Rav (Rav Yitzchok Dov Halevi Bamberger) and Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch regarding whether the rabbis of the Orthodox community of Frankfurt could remain part of … Read More >>
The best and worst reactions to the Pew Report that I have seen came from outside the Orthodox world. This paragraph in the Washington Post tidily summed things up:
That which is continually diluted will eventually disappear. ‘Being an ethical person’ while central to Judaism, is not uniquely Jewish. ’Fighting for social justice’ while central to Judaism, is not uniquely Jewish. Wearing Tefillin, praying in Hebrew, Torah study, Kashrut, Jewish communal adherence and activities — these things (while not necessarily limited only to Jews) are activities that keep the core of the tradition alive. As Jews have left the latter and profess the former, adherence weakens. It requires a massive, sustained and serious effort to move the etiolated Jews of good conscience to the passionate Jews of ritual involvement.
No argument here. This is perfect acknowledgment of what all of us traditional Jews knew all along. Liberal Judaism fed Jews a diet of tikkun olam served on a bed of Friday night guitar music. It tickled some palates, but left diners gagging for want of spiritual air.
We can hope and pray that responsible people in the heterodox world will be moved to taking brave steps in … Read More >>
We English-speaking Orthodox are blessed with an abundance of attractive publications ranging from a daily newspaper to weekly magazines and newspapers. There is much good writing and useful information in these publications and although it is at times a struggle to keep up with the flow and still spend sufficient time on Torah study and other vital needs, it is good to know that our community has reached this stage of development.
What we cannot – or ought not – be proud of is some of the content of these publications. There is too much writing that embraces far right-wing ideology and has reckless disregard of the truth. What I am referring to is not the embrace of conservatism, whether on social or economic issues. Rather, I am referring to writers who seem to regard Rush Limbaugh as their “Rebbe” and who think that the halachic requirement to respect the leaders of our country is something that they can disregard. Here are two recent examples:
“The American president cannot be convinced of the truth; instead he empowers tyrants such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar Assad and, most recently, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani.” (Matzav.com)
“Well, let’s check … Read More >>
I unintentionally shocked a Jewish journalist several months ago. I had invited the non-Orthodox reporter to Agudath Israel of America’s offices to introduce her to the organization’s various divisions and projects, and to some of my colleagues. But later, conversing with her about various issues, something I said – although to me it was entirely unremarkable – seemed to take my guest aback.
She had brought up the topic of abortion rights. I noted that Orthodox Jews don’t regard the issue as one of “rights” but rather of right – that is to say, our obligations to our Creator. Odd as it still seems to me now, my guest reacted as if a new lens on the world had suddenly opened before her. She wasn’t about to suddenly adopt the Orthodox paradigm, I’m quite sure. But she admitted that she hadn’t ever considered its contrarian conceptual source – the idea that we are here on earth not to reach our own conclusions and assert our rights but rather to accept G-d’s will and serve Him. Suddenly, she seemed to understand why the Orthodox approach to a number of contemporary issues was so different from her own and that of … Read More >>
Agudath Israel of America’s recent statement regarding the ostensibly Orthodox “Yeshivat Chovevei Torah” took that institution to task for crossing a particularly bright red line by inviting non-Orthodox Jewish clergy to make presentations at a “roundtable” entitled “Training New Rabbis for a New Generation” at its installation of a new president.
The most eloquent and straightforward defense of YCT came in the form of a posting at “The Times of Israel” by a student of the institution, Dr. Ben Elton.
While graciously “respect[ing]” the “right of the Agudah to object to cross-denominational activity” (even citing Lord Jonathan Sacks in concurrence, as Rabbi Sacks has written that “pluralism and Orthodoxy are mutually exclusive”), Dr. Elton asserts that the Wurzberger Rov (Rav Yitzchok Dov Halevi Bamberger), by taking a different position from that of Rav Shamson Raphael Hirsch on the secession of Orthodox Jews from the larger, government-sanctioned pan-Jewish community in Frankfort, is a model for a more inclusive attitude.
The Wurzberger Rov’s permitting of Frankfort’s Orthodox Jews to remain part of the official Jewish community of the city, Dr. Elton contends, “inevitably meant recognizing the status of [the city’s] non-Orthodox rabbis and institutions, perhaps even paying for their upkeep…”
Unfortunately … Read More >>
The Pew Research Center has become the gold standard for demographic research in the United States. Its just-issued report on American Jews has already attracted much attention and the discussion is certain to increase in the coming weeks and months. It is at one level remarkable that Pew was able to produce this comprehensive study in a little more than a blink of an eye, while the last National Jewish Population Survey took more than a year to conduct and then was a mess.
There is much to be admired in the document produced by Pew. But there are also question marks, many specifically relating to the Orthodox. We are told that we constitute ten percent of American Jews. Almost amazingly, this statistic hasn’t changed much over the past thirty-forty years. The explanation given is the high attrition rate among the Orthodox, an explanation that was valid in 1970 but certainly is no longer valid. The figure is certainly higher than ten percent, especially when we consider fertility rates and what I have reported re enrollment in yeshivas and day schools.
There is no acknowledgement in the Pew report of the hyper-insularity of chassidim and many other … Read More >>
by Avrohom Gordimer
The Open Orthodox rush to reshape traditional Judaism has become incrementally manifest in terms of both practice and belief, with Open Orthodox leadership actively promoting substantial modification of Torah observance and the creation of rituals that are foreign to normative Orthodoxy, while concomitantly asserting that one no longer needs to believe in the faith tenets of Orthodoxy in order for his or her Judaism to be Orthodox. While previous Cross-Currents articles and addressed many of these concerns, Open Orthodoxy has pushed full steam ahead with a new progression of breaches over the past few months, widening the base of those involved and deepening the degree of the changes being made to Orthodoxy. It is critical for the Orthodox public to be aware of this and to understand the underpinnings of these new seismic and startling Open Orthodox efforts to reshape and Reform.
I. Open Orthodox Changes to Practice
“Making it up as you go along” is usually not a recommended approach when doing anything serious. When it comes to Torah, such an approach is fatal. This is exactly what came to mind when viewing the new Ohev Sholom/The National Synagogue 2013 … Read More >>
Under siege by some of his countrymen for seeming to have acknowledged the Holocaust, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tried to walk that Chihuahua back at a forum this week sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society. Asked to clearly state his stand on the issue, he chose to condemn “crimes by the Nazis during World War II [including the killing of] a group of Jewish people.”
Another “defining down” of historical fact also recently appeared, this one emanating from a more respectable source, the New York Times, in a video on its website. The background clip accompanied a print report about Jews who ascend the Har Habayis, or Temple Mount, thereby passively challenging the Muslim authorities to whom Israel has ceded oversight of the ancient Jewish holy site. Those overseers forbid Jews from praying openly there; some of the Jewish visitors, apparently, dare to do so silently.
The second of the two holy Jewish national temples that stood on the mount for centuries, of course, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. It was more than 600 years later, after the Islamic empire spread to the Holy Land, that a small mosque was … Read More >>
According to the information that came with my pre-publication review copy, Yossi Klein Halevi’s (YKH) new book will be released on October 1st.
Many Cross-Currents readers read the history of the founding of the State and its formative years (regardless of their attitude towards it) as Divine Providence made manifest. Books like O, Jerusalem and Six Days of War can be as chronicles of the unexpected Divine ninth-inning save – the classic deus ex machina without the machina. Perhaps this is reason enough to provide Cross-Currents readers with a treatment of this book written especially for them.
Of course, it will only be believers who will sense the hashgacha lurking in the margins of each page, and that is one of the themes of the book. Its subtitle is “The story of the Israeli paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem and divided a nation.” YKH follows individuals whose lives and ideologies branched off in sharply different directions after the heady days of seeming national unity after the June War. In particular, he shows the tension – suspended during the days of the battle, but lurking in the background even then – between the kibbutznikim in the IDF and the Religious … Read More >>
By Dovid Landesman
Many tell me that I am too critical, constantly finding fault [and regrettably it doesn’t take a sophisticated search engine] within the observant community in Eretz Yisrael. Their criticism has had its effect; although I still peruse the blogs, my fingers are reluctant to go to the keyboard to comment or contribute because I am uncomfortable in constantly harping on the shortcomings I perceive. Thus, it is with a great sigh of relief that I pen these words, sharing observations about the perceived state of our people.
Last Thursday night, Erev Yom Kippur, my wife and I drove to the Old City to attend a presentation at the Aish ha-Torah World Center. Our youngest son, who recently completed three years of army service in the Netzach Yehudah brigade, works there and we were curious to see what it was that made him such an enthusiastic supporter of the program. Cognizant of the ever present parking problems near the Old City, we left our car in Sanhedria and hailed a cab to take us to the kotel. We made it as far as French Hill; all roads leading to the Old City were closed so we transferred … Read More >>
“It was all her fault,” the first man, referring to the first woman, told their Creator, establishing the principle of cherchez la femme in the very first week of history.
In a more precise translation of the Hebrew verse in Beraishis, which Jews the world over will be focused on soon as we begin the public reading of the Written Torah anew, what Adam said was: “The woman whom You provided to be with me, it was she who gave me of the tree and I ate.”
No wonder that the rabbis of the Talmud branded Adam, for those words, an ingrate, a “denier [literally, ‘turner-over’] of a favor.”
What is intriguing and may be significant is the word Adam used for “whom,” asher. It is a common word, and can mean either “that” or “who” or “whom.” But it is often contracted to a single letter, shin, appended to the word that follows.
In at least one place where it isn’t so shortened is in the Creator’s words to Moshe Rabbeinu, announcing the production of a second pair of Ten Commandment Tablets, to replace the ones “asher shibarta,” “that you shattered.”
While that phrase may seem to telegraph … Read More >>
I had always thought that I knew the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz (or Mayence), whose poignant prayer-poem “U’nsaneh Tokef” is solemnly recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Several years ago, though, I discovered something about the account that I had overlooked, and was struck by the irony it holds.
The liturgical poem, of course, pictures the scene of the new year’s Divine judgment of all mortals, with the Ultimate Judge opening the book of their deeds, in which “the signature of every man” is inscribed and which “will read itself.” The judgment is pronounced: “who will live and who will die,” and how; who will “live undisturbed, and who in turmoil”; “who will be laid low, and who raised high.” It is a chilling passage to recite – and the haunting melody to which it is traditionally sung only adds to its poignancy, sending chills down any spine connected to a functioning head. And the prayer’s final words, “But repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree,” chanted loudly by the entire congregation, are a font of inspiration to be better in the coming days of the year just arrived.
The story behind the … Read More >>
For more than forty years my office was located in Manhattan near City Hall, most of the time at 350 Broadway. One by one, the old office buildings are being vacated, as they are being converted into luxury residential apartments. I was the last tenant to leave.
I am now in Borough Park where I have lived for seventy years. My office is at the site right in the heart of the neighborhood on 13th Avenue and 50th Street where Yeshiva Etz Chaim once stood. There are benefits to being here, including being close to my home and close to every kind of store that I might need. There are also minor drawbacks, such as an abundance of street noise arising from much honking and other environmental circumstances common in Orthodox neighborhoods.
There is also the experience that I had yesterday. Sound trucks went by frequently, blaring out their messages in Yiddish. Invariably, each message began with the proclamation that “Gedolei Torah say that it is a sacred obligation [chov kadosh] to…” When the messages began, I thought that since we are in the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Great Rabbis were … Read More >>