The real losers in the recent Israeli election — in addition to anti-Netanyahu Obama and Herzog— were the Israeli pollsters. The pre-election polls several days before the election (Israeli law wisely does not permit public polling within three days of an election) were far off the mark, showing Herzog/Livni to be at least four seats ahead. To top this off, the exit polls initially declared that the election was too close to call, when in fact it was an overwhelming Netanyahu victory, akin to a landslide.
The pollsters have spent the post–election weeks crying into their matzo-ball soup, trying to explain away why they went wrong: the electorate was undecided until the end; had polling been permitted until election day they would have been more accurate (but what about the exit poll errors?); the campaign was a volatile one, with daily ups and downs.
The miscalculation of the pollsters was for me a delight. It underscored the importance of each individual, and the uniqueness of am Yisroel. Just as the Jewish people are not subject to the ordinary rules of historic logic — we should have evaporated and disappeared millenia ago together with the empires of Assyria … Read More >>
We are excited to announce that applications are now being accepted for this summer’s Tikvah Institute for Yeshiva Men.
Buoyed by a dream last year, we launched a program aimed at some of the best and brightest of the yeshiva world. We were not sure at first whether we would find enough applicants to make the Tikvah Institute worth running. Our optimism paid off, BH. We were swamped with applicants, and acceptance became quite competitive.
It was a diverse bunch when measured by age, geography, learning background, and prior exposure to secular disciplines. What participants shared proved more important. All had spent serious time learning in yeshivos and identified with the yeshiva world. All were bright and intellectually curious. Most importantly for the objectives of the program, all shared the conviction that the Torah speaks to the broader concerns of communities and nations, both Jewish and non-Jewish. While the ordinary avodah of the yeshivah man must focus on mastering more Shas and poskim, applicants looked to bein hazmanim to explore elements of Torah that broaden the mind and prepare one for a life of potential leadership within the Torah community.
We’re ready for the second iteration of … Read More >>
Although blacks constitute approximately 13% of the American population, the FBI reported in 2013 that 38.5% of people arrested for violent crimes were African-Americans.
Statistics like that one, coupled with a largely unsavory urban black culture (not to mention what passes in some circles for black leadership), predisposes many of us to assume the worst about all blacks – or, at very least, to be sympathetic to law enforcement officers in their dealings with black suspects.
And, as a result, many white Americans tend to be wary of claims that black Americans are unfairly singled out by police for arrest, mistreated and even killed without justification.
So when, in 2013, George Zimmerman, a volunteer with a local “Neighborhood Watch” in Sanford, Florida, was acquitted by a jury of shooting to death Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black youth whom Mr. Zimmerman was following (against orders from a dispatcher to not do so) and with whom he got into an altercation, many of us felt that the volunteer’s claim that he killed the youth in self-defense was plausible, if not probable. The subsequent protests over the killing were regarded by many as an indefensible rush to judgment.
And last … Read More >>
It was not the small number of personal interactions with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l that made the greatest impression upon me. To be sure, I could detect greatness, humility, lomdus. But I wasn’t around them long enough for them to change who I was.
It was not even some of his remarkable writing – although I certainly gained from it. His piece arguing for the existence of a morality dwelling outside of Torah texts continues to be the platform of discussion of the subject, which ever side you are on. His long monograph comparing and contrasting arguments for and against secular study remains the seminal modern treatment of the subject. (Scrupulously fair, in my reading he does a better job explaining the latter than the former.) The honesty of a Tradition article a few years ago blew me away. It asks painful questions (and provides no answers) as to whether our romanticized views of marriage and intimacy are really consistent with Torah texts, or the product of our desire to be PC. Even more important to me was his response in a Jewish Action forum about reasons for belief. (Genius that he was, his honesty made him forego an … Read More >>
by Yitzchak Etshalom
The light of our eyes has been extinguished. This was the anguished phrase that kept repeating in my head all morning, since waking to the awful tidings of the untimely passing of Moreinu Harav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l.
“Rav Aharon” will be remembered from many angles, from a multitude of perspectives, by students, Talmidim (those aren’t the same), colleagues, neighbors and co-builders of the magnificent institutions that bear his imprimatur. I am not equal to the task and would prefer the silence of Aharon to the words for Aharon, but a talmid’s obligation is to internalize what his Rebbe has taught him. R. Aharon taught us many, many things, some from the sanctified texts on our shelves, many from arcane texts we never encountered before and, here and there, a few from those lines of Dostoevsky, Spenser and Milton that only he could weave into a Shiur on Avot d’Rabbi Natan or Ramban al haTorah. But he taught us much, much more with the sheer force of his majestic humility.
There is a simple Mishnah (ahh, we thought that such things existed before R. Aharon showed us how wrong we were…) in Avot that speaks … Read More >>
By Hillel Goldberg
Last Monday morning at the close of davening I received a call from my son, in tears, who told me that Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein had passed away. I told my son about his teacher what his teacher had told me about my father 43 years ago: Blessed is the Judge of Truth, Baruch Dayan Emet. It is one thing to utter that phrase to someone who has lost a loved one. It is something else entirely for someone to utter that phrase to you as you are steeped in grief and shock about the loss of your own father.
And a close rebbe, or Torah teacher, is, says the Torah, like a father. So the circle closes: I had to tell my son about his teacher, who was also his father, what my teacher, who was also my father, told me on that terrible day in 1972 when I learned about the death of my father.
This phrase, Blessed is the Judge of Truth, will have been uttered, by the time this appears, thousands and probably tens of thousands of times, for that was the reach of Rav Lichtenstein. He had thousands of disciples/sons, gathered unself-consciously … Read More >>
I still don’t understand why my friends at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles urged me some time ago to attend a small reception for Avi Shavit and his then-current book, My Promised Land. Even one of my colleagues on this blog recommended going to the reception. The book had succeeded in generating much discussion. Its author, a veteran Haaretz journalist, was amply credentialed to write an update on the Jewish State, its successes, failures, and challenges. In person, he demonstrated that he knew his material, and was personally engaging, fair-minded, and accessible. At the time, participating seemed like a reasonable thing to do.
Over the next months, I slowly read the book. Then I changed my mind.
My Promised Land reads like a tell-all expose – for a nation, rather than an individual. Shavit takes aim at a slew of impressions we grew up with about the vastly outnumbered innocent good guys prevailing over the demonic bad guys. He destroys their innocence – and ours. People liked the book for one of two reasons. Critics of Israel loved it for exposing the warts, bursting the bubbles, and taking Israel down a few notches, gleefully using the material … Read More >>
The controversy surrounding the passage by the Indiana legislature of a RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) should be a great concern to all Torah Jews. Agudath Israel of America played a major role in the passage of a federal RFRA statute in 1993. That legislation gained unanimous passage in the House and the support of 97 senators in the Senate, before being signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Since then 20 states have passed their own RFRA statutes, and another 11 have judicially extended similar protections under their state constitutions. Yet suddenly RFRA statutes are culturally anathema.
The federal RRFA statute came in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the so-called peyote case. Smith effectively reversed Sherbert v. Verner (1963) and its progeny. In the latter case, the Supreme Court ruled that South Carolina could not deny unemployment benefits to a woman whose religious beliefs prevented her from being “available to work” on Saturday. Justice Brennan, one of the Court’s leading liberal lights, enunciated a two-part test for state infringements on the exercise of religion: (1) the state would have to enunciate a “compelling state interest” for the infringement and (2) demonstrate … Read More >>
The “bedikas matzah” (the search for matzah crumbs in the couch and the carpet) is over. Post-Pesach, the vacuum cleaners have been recalled into service, and the boxes of Pesach dishes and utensils have been marched back down to the cellar (or up to the attic), silently passing their chametz counterparts being marched in the opposite direction.
The Sedarim took place and their ethereal light shone. Questions were asked and responses recounted. Divrei Torah were delivered, and, for the fortunate among us, new insights were granted.
And the haftarah on Yom Tov’s final day (in chutz laAretz) was read. Were we listening?
The excerpt from Yeshayahu (10:32-12:6) includes the Navi’s vision of the end of history, when the “wolf will dwell with the lamb” and perfect peace will reign among the world’s human inhabitants as well, for they will all recognize Hashem and His people.
The backdrop for the expression of that vision was the massing outside Yerushalayim of the army of Ashur, intoxicated with its successful conquest of much of Eretz Yisroel. Its king Sancheriv and his henchman Ravshakeh mocked the Jews; brimming with self-confidence, they blustered and blasphemed. But the besieging forces were to meet a … Read More >>
Last night was the yahrtzeit, the anniversary of his passing, of Rav Zvi Elimelech Hertzberg zt”l, my wife’s grandfather. The Hertzbergs were amazing people — they took Holocaust refugees into their homes, treated them like children, and helped them go on to lead productive lives here in America. Someone pointed out to me not long ago that as a result of their efforts, there are hundreds of sincere, active Jews in Baltimore and beyond who otherwise would have been lost.
As the Rav of his shul, Rabbi Dovid Katz shlit”a, pointed out last night, Rav Hertzberg would also speak truth to power. He was fired from rabbinic posts for being too honest — until a group of devoted followers created a synagogue, named for his father Avraham zt”l, and set him up as their Rabbi.
At a time when it was extremely unpopular to do so, Rav Hertzberg drew lessons like this one, from this week’s Torah reading. It refers to Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon the High Priest, who went outside what G-d had commanded — and were killed as a result. Reading the passage, one could think that it was a cruel or capricious … Read More >>
by David Mandel
Polio, Tuberculosis, Cancer – each word elicits stark images of masses yearning for a better day. And for each, better days would come. Sanitariums closed in the early 20th Century, Iron Lungs were mothballed in the mid- 20th Century, and today, Cancer research is extending life and the quality of life for millions worldwide.
It may appear jarring to include divorce in the same body of discussion. After all, personal suffering from a life-threatening medical condition can be greatly traumatic and immediately consequential.Nevertheless, emotional trauma has proven to equate with physical trauma as research in recent battlefield conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown. Children in this generation of high conflict divorce suffer greatly emotionally due to their parents’ selfish feud and will require significantly more support than any pharmaceutical can prescribe.
Consider two scenarios.
A 35 year-old father of three children seeks my advice. He and his wife have decided to divorce. He would like to discuss a path that will cause the least amount of disruption and emotional upheaval for his children. I laud him and his wife for their unselfishness and parenting maturity. We explore various options that include their … Read More >>
By Michael J. Broyde
The first step to planning for the future is predicting the likely challenges: Same sex marriage is here, allowing religiously based discrimination is proposed as part of the solution and the very fabric of our secular society is changing. What should we be planning for and what are the challenges?
The always thoughtful Robert J. Avrech, in the most recent issue of Jewish Action (Spring 2012, page 6) makes the following claim:
Homosexual marriage is front and center as Hollywood’s most urgent social movement. But government-endorsed homosexual marriage will inevitably lead to the legalization of Islamic polygamous marriages, which is a straight line to the sharia law—ironically, a mortal threat to homosexuals who are cruelly and systematically persecuted, tortured and murdered under Islamic law.
This paragraph makes a number of important claims, all of which are important in our community deciding upon a course of action. He may be correct that Hollywood’s embrace of gay marriage will ultimately lead to the script ending in a place that will not make liberal writers happy. It might turn out that Islamists will somehow take advantage of the changes in American thinking, and slip in a few … Read More >>
Have you heard the story of the scientist whose area of research was insects’ hearing? He trained a flea to jump on command. In the interest of his research, he pulled off one of the flea’s legs and ordered it to jump. The insect complied, if a bit clumsily because of its handicap. The scientist recorded the data – the delay in the jump, the distance covered, etc., on a chart. After a second amputation, the flea’s response to the command was even less impressive, and the new results were duly entered on the chart. After a third leg was removed, the flea’s jump was greatly compromised, and the chart became host to the new data. Finally, after being deprived of all of its legs, all the flea could do when ordered to jump was buzz about hopelessly on the table.
Solemnly, the scientist consulted his chart, created a formula to reflect his findings, and recorded his conclusion: “Fleas hear with their legs.”
The myopic researcher was brought to mind by a recent article about the work of two French economists, Ruben Durante and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya. The piece, which appeared at MarketWatch, published by Dow Jones & Co., relates … Read More >>
by Rabbi Pesach Lerner
It is common knowledge that in Israel today, there is an ongoing battle for the definition and future of Judaism in the Jewish state. Will Torah standards be preserved, and funding for Torah study be maintained or increased, or, ch”v, will the very meaning of the word “Judaism” – and critical matters such as conversion, marriage, divorce, Shabbos and Kashrus – be watered down to the most liberal of American definitions?
What is far less known is that in addition to increasing Tefillah/prayer and Torah study, there is a bit of hishtadlus activity, requiring little expense and effort, that each of us can do to help, to make a difference.
There is an organization today with direct impact upon the way both private donations and Israeli government funding are spent – hundreds of millions of dollars – on encouraging immigration, settlement in Israel, and Jewish services in Israel and abroad.
Its decisions affect whether the shlichim sent by the Israel Jewish Agency to communities around the world are observant or not, the type of conversion encouraged by those and other representatives of Israel, the nature of the “Jewish” education provided to thousands in the former … Read More >>
While ancients waxed poetic about dew, most of us city folk only think about it when it fogs our windshields early in the morning. That changes, of course, on the first day of Pesach when we sing its praises in Tefilas Tal and ask HKBH that it should always descend as a blessing.
Determining what that blessing is, however, can be challenging. If you thought that dew – the condensation of water vapor on cooler surfaces – provides plants with water in much the same way as rain does, think again – at least according to contemporary authorities. Tanach and the siddur had much more positive things to say about dew than today’s botanists. The customary wisdom for many years was that dew might provide potable water for survivalists, but did nothing for plants. To the contrary, they claimed. Plants did not and could not assimilate the dew-moisture, while it did promote the growth of plant diseases! In the familiar refrain le-brachah v’lo le-kelalah, we had the latter part figured out, but were clueless about the former.
The Torah, of course, makes no mistakes. There has to be a berachah in tal, even if we don’t understand it. … Read More >>
And so the horse trading begins.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has gotten down to the nitty-gritty business of cobbling together a government coalition. Particularly attractive stallions, thankfully, will be the religious parties, the Prime Minister’s “natural partners,” as he calls them, although, apparently unnaturally, he jettisoned them the last time around. Their being in Bibi’s good graces (for now) is happy news.
What many may not see as happy news is the remarkable fact that, after Likud and the Zionist Union (Hamachaneh Hatzioni), the third largest winner of votes was… the “Joint List” (Hareshima Hameshutefet) – the new Arab party, comprised of four previous Arab parties.
No one is concerned that the Joint List’s 13 seats will make it an attractive partner to a Likud-dominated government – or, for that matter, any government. Nor would the Joint List itself consider being part of either. Its very essence is oppositional.
The genesis of the Joint List, though, holds some irony; and its success, perhaps, something positive.
The impetus for the joining together of the four Arab parties, representing utterly disparate, contradictory, ideologies – communism, feminism, Islamism, and Palestinian nationalism was legislation passed last year raising the electoral threshold from … Read More >>
We need look no further than the parshah we just read to find evidence of the potential for abuse of power. The Netziv takes note of the pasuk (Vayikra 4:22) dealing with the chet of the Nasi. He asks why the word beshgagah / unintentionally is left dangling till the end. Should it not have immediately modified the action of the Nasi? He concludes that the pasuk can/should be read as: When a ruler sins and commits one of the sins that ordinarily we would not expect to be done by anyone even unintentionally….
Such is the power of leadership and authority. Where there is too little, there is anarchy and too much room for the reign of personal subjectivity. Where there is a surfeit of authority, there is room for abuse.
Such abuse can be intentional, but it can be just as potent when unintentional – or someplace in between. For various reasons, parts of the Torah world moved in recent decades to a preference for tighter control by a smaller number of people, often at a great distance from their geographical location, and hence lacking a hands-on awareness of their special circumstances. Some found comfort in this, … Read More >>
Rabbi Yosef Huttler, Cross-Currents’ poet laureate, took his artistry to a more discriminating audience when he entered the Yeshiva Shel Maaloh a few days ago.
I knew Yossi over a long period of time, beginning with the time he learned Yoreh Deah in our beis medrash. I saw him develop the different facets of his personality: rov, attorney, husband, father, and, in the last few years, long-suffering patient. I saw and appreciated his keen discernment, his understated genius, and his enormous emunah.
I loved his poetry, which would have been sufficient reason to publish it. Yet, there was more to it than that. Rav Herzog, zt”l, explained why the Torah sees itself as shirah, song (Devarim 31:19). Generally, only a physicist can appreciated an esoteric presentation of cutting-edge physics. A dentist might enjoy a good chidush in dentistry; a zookeeper can catch the interest of another zookeeper. People outside particular disciplines will not ordinarily get excited about conversation in those fields.
Music, R. Herzog observed, is different. It speaks a universal language; it has instant appeal to everyone. So does Torah, he said. Everyone can enjoy it, without special preparation.
Interestingly, the word shirah does not only … Read More >>