Tikvah Fund Institute for Women

It is a woman’s prerogative, they say, to change her mind. The same ought to hold for a women’s program. Happily, the Tikvah Fund, the group that is responsible for the most intellectually stimulating week of the year for me, is exercising that option. After first deciding to defer the special summer program for frum women this year, Tikvah changed its mind. There will indeed be a female counterpart to the now highly competitive men’s program this August, and registration is now open..

“Women, Men and the Future of Marriage in America” would be a great topic to double down on at any time; the recent Supreme Court decision makes it a front-burner topic for all thinking Jews. Like other Tikvah Fund programs for the observant community, the program allows treatment of this topic in a manner unachievable elsewhere. It brings together recognized Torah personalities, icons of the secular world with academic, legal, and media background, committed Torah Jews who can bridge the two worlds, and provides the venue and the time for the participants to pursue issue in depth.

The Torah faculty will be led by Miriam Kosman, a well-known author (including the acclaimed Circle, Arrow, … Read More >>


Reaching for the Truth

All of us can, at most, “Strive for Truth” [It’s a borrowed title], and so I appreciate Rabbi Shafran’s clarification of his position. And to the best of my recollection, there hasn’t been a back & forth discussion/argument of this nature on Cross-Currents in over a decade, much as different authors often disagree. The more one reads Cross-Currents, the more the reader recognizes that the Orthodox are hardly the monolith they are often portrayed to be; a debate of this nature just makes this as explicit as possible, and thus where Rabbi Shafran and I emphatically agree is that this is a positive dialog for several reasons.

I see no reason to depart from Rabbi Shafran’s enumeration of my points, and I’ll let people respond to both articles in the comments below.

1) My point was that there seemed no need for Rabbi Shafran to wander down this road, especially considering the tenuous ground upon which his arguments stand. What is the purpose of demonizing Oren? Instead of being a brilliant historian and dedicated public servant, all of a sudden he’s a right-wing nut job attacking Obama just to sell books, and Kafui Tov for not … Read More >>

I’m Afraid It Is So. Sorry.

My esteemed friend Rabbi Yaakov Menken, below offers kind words about me, for which I thank him; and takes strong issue with my defenses of President Obama’s Israel record against some of the attacks on him by members of the Jewish community – for which I also thank him. I know from e-mails I’ve received that, while I am not alone in my appreciation of the president, neither is Rabbi Menken in his criticism of him. And I think that respectful dialectic is the key to better understanding of issues, in the study of political matters no less than in, lihavdil, the beis medrash.

First off, let me state unequivocally that my defense of the president is not a simple reflection of the obligation we Jews have, in golus, as we are, to respect our governmental leaders. That obligation is indeed real, but it is peripheral to my stance. My position is born of examination of facts and critical thinking. My conclusions might be wrong, but I have only the mind Hashem has granted me to employ.

I also wish to make clear that I write on this issue as an individual, not in my “day job” as an … Read More >>

Say It Isn’t So, Rabbi Shafran

Rabbi Shafran is someone I have admired for decades. His witty, moving, and inspirational biography of the journey of a Jewish convert, Migrant Soul, emerged when I was still a yeshiva student, and when he became Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel, I knew the organization was in good hands, and it has been so. I agree with what he writes most of the time, certainly on issues affecting the charedi community.

One of the few things I can neither agree with — nor even comprehend — is Rabbi Shafran’s service to the Obama Administration as its chief charedi apologist. Time and again, his arguments in this one area seem, to me, to stretch the limits of credulity in search of a way to show that Obama is actually much more pro-Israel, pro-religion, and/or simply pro-common-sense than he so consistently appears to be.

This week has proven no exception, and it is, for me, a bridge too far. As many have already pointed out, Michael Oren is brilliant, dedicated, loves both Israel and the United States, is an historian with an impeccable record of attention to detail, and, finally, is no “Ally” of Netanyahu — on … Read More >>

Non-Crime of Omission

I have to admit that there was one assertion in Michael Oren’s recent book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” that disturbed me greatly. As I wrote two weeks ago, I found his book’s main points, which he outlined in essays for Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, to be factually incorrect. But I was taken aback by Mr. Oren’s description of how President Obama left Israel off a list of countries the president lauded for aiding Haiti after its devastating earthquake in 2010. That omission – especially considering Israel’s prodigious role in rescue and recovery efforts after that disaster – seemed to contradict my positive judgment of Mr. Obama’s regard for Israel.

On pages 132-133 of his book, Mr. Oren writes how his “foreboding only deepened” when Mr. Obama, on January 15, three days after the earthquake struck, made an official statement in which he announced that American personnel were on the ground in Haiti and that “help continues to flow in” as well from “Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, among others.” Israel’s omission from the list, Mr. Oren writes, made him feel “like I had been … Read More >>

Let’s Not Cry Anti-Semitism

The trail of anti-Semitism is long and bloody; irrational hatred towards the Jewish people permeated Europe, Asia and North Africa back through ancient times. Nonetheless, one should not be overly hasty to fall back upon ancient biases in the modern era.

It does not make sense to resort to charges of anti-Semitism in response to positions and activities against the Jewish state, when there are other reasonable explanations that justify the same positions. Supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and the recent Flotilla trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza, assert that they are motivated by humanitarian concerns for the residents of the Gaza Strip, rather than animus towards Jews or Israel. These motivations include:

The needs of the Gaza population. The lead ship of the flotilla, the Marianne of Gothenberg, carried solar panels and medical equipment as demonstrations of this concern.* The blockade’s violation of the human rights of Gaza residents, and violation of international law The deprivation of “security of food supplies, medical care, education, drinkable water and cultural exchange” (from the website shiptogaza.se). And more fundamentally, the rights of an indigenous population to a homeland – meaning that Israel must end its occupation.

The … Read More >>

Rabbi Weiss: Please Don’t Confuse Form with Substance

Winds of secession are in the air. Rabbi Avi Weiss and his disciple, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, yesterday announced their immediate resignation from the Rabbinical Council of America, and Rabbi Weiss subsequently issued a broad explanation for his new trajectory, presenting his view of the recent history of Orthodoxy and his launching of the Open Orthodox denomination and its rabbinical and educational institutions. (Truth be told, Rabbi Weiss resigned from the RCA many months ago. His announcement of immediate resignation is quite puzzling and appears to be part of a wider plan of action.)

Rabbi Weiss presents Open Orthodoxy as the new manifestation of Modern Orthodoxy, arguing that

Since the early ’90s, Orthodoxy has undergone a number of great shifts. Responding to a precipitous move to the right within Modern Orthodoxy, a plethora of institutions and organizations have emerged. These include the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), Edah, YCT and YM, the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF). In Israel, too, Beit Morasha, Beit Hillel, Ne’emanei Torah Ve’Avodah and others were founded and today women are being ordained (receiving semikha) from Yeshivat Maharat.

Modern Orthodoxy, which 25 years ago faced a significant … Read More >>

The New Jacobinism

Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman

Historians wonder about the difference in outcome between the American Revolution, which resulted in a liberal democracy, and the French Revolution, which resulted in terror and tyranny.

Why was the American revolutionary project so much more successful? Regardless of the answer, we in this country have had great reason to celebrate the American success.

Unfortunately, last Friday the American experiment lurched towards the fanaticism that we associate with the French Revolution.

First, some history: The French Revolution began with the urge towards a more equitable society, in which human dignity and the rights of every man would be respected. In its early stages it produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which, in exalted language, proclaimed that Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. (Ironically, the author of the Declaration later earned the sobriquet: “the angel of death”, as he became one of the prime movers of the Terror.)

But as the revolution went on it fell into a cycle of ever increasing radicalism. A spirit of fanatic intolerance – which history remembers by the name “Jacobinism” – after the Jacobin clubs in which it was nurtured – took hold. Religion … Read More >>

SCOTUS on Same-Gender: What It Means; What It Doesn’t

1) It is not true that five members of the Supreme Court conspired to do an end-run against the will of the public and the sense of the Constitution.

Well, maybe the Constitution, if you accept Justice Scalia’s remarks. What is certainly true, however, is that to the contrary, SCOTUS mirrored a new reality in public opinion, which came to embrace full marriage rights and recognition for gays. The Court did not impose this; it demonstrated the prediction of the gemara of a time in which leadership would follow rather than lead, where pnei ha-dor ke-penei ha-kelev. This means, according to some, that the dog that seems to be leading by running ahead of the person following at the end of the leash in fact pauses at every fork in the road, looking back to its master for direction. It was the American people whose attitude changed, with a rapidity that startled most of us. Five justices of the High Court, who might have moved more cautiously as they did in the past, were now free to find the will of the people within the Constitution. The people led here, not the Court.

2) It does not mean that … Read More >>

Oren Gets Ornery

It’s axiomatic that diplomats must be, well, diplomatic. That might explain why Michael Oren, a current member of the Knesset (Kulanu) but who served as ambassador of Israel to the United States from 2009 until 2013, kept his disillusionment with President Barack Obama under wraps until now.

In a Wall St. Journal op-ed to promote a new book he’s written, Mr. Oren has accused Mr. Obama of, if not quite in the WSJ headline-writer’s contention, “abandon[ing] Israel,” at least (in Mr. Oren’s actual words) “abandoning the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America.”

A serious charge, though, in its own right.

Mr. Oren acknowledges that “contrary to many of his detractors, Mr. Obama was never anti-Israel” and “significantly strengthened security cooperation with the Jewish State.” The president, moreover, “rushed to help Israel in 2011 when the Carmel forest was devastated by fire.”

Presumably the ex-ambassador appreciates, too, Mr. Obama’s swift and strong warning to Egyptian authorities in 2011 that they had better protect mob-besieged Israeli embassy guards in Cairo. And the president’s informing the Arab world in his 2009 Cairo speech that the U.S.-Israel bond is “unbreakable.” As well as things like the administration’s condemnation of the … Read More >>

Michael Oren’s New Book and the Mendacity of the Media

What, should Cross-Currents be the only one out there not to review Michael Oren’s new book before it even hits the stores? Especially after one of our readers, Stefanie Argamon, was nice enough to get Random House to send me not just one, but two review copies?

While the publisher may have been overly generous in my case, the overall strategy worked. The tell-all memoir by Israel’s former ambassador to the United States has been garnering lots of news stories for its take-downs of both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Michael Oren is now a member of Knesset in a centrist party, and can get away with taking jabs at those with whom he disagreed during his tenure in the diplomatic corps. Those whom he targets in Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide are now scrambling for damage control.

The reviewers to date have been most interested in the political conflicts, giving the readers what they want to hear. I spotted a few pages that I thought would interest our readers, and be ignored by other reviewers. This anecdote as well targets something many of us loves to hate:

Only once, when an op-ed … Read More >>

Thoughtless Jewish Jeers

I’m trying to understand the sort of mindlessness that expressed itself in the jeering of Treasury Secretary Jacob (“Jack”) Lew by some Jews at a recent gathering.

The third Jerusalem Post Annual Conference which took place in Manhattan on June 7 and featured Israeli and American officials and journalists, was convened with the hope of garnering international attention. It succeeded, if only in the widespread reportage of the way some in attendance reacted to Mr. Lew’s measured and accurate words.

Applause ensued when he told the crowd that the U.S. continues to consider Israel’s security a top priority as it negotiates a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities and that “we must never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.”

The Treasury Secretary then explained how the U.S.-led sanctions against Iran were intended to pressure that country to agree to negotiations about limiting and monitoring its nuclear program, and that they succeeded. The first murmurs from the crowd were heard then.

And then, when he asserted that Iran’s movement toward a nuclear weapon had been arrested for now, and that an agreement, if one is signed, would thwart the outlaw nation’s suspected designs, the booing began in ugly … Read More >>

Ordination of Insubordination

“We’re going to blink and there’ll be 100 Orthodox women rabbis in America that have been given ordination”. –R. Adam Mintz, professor of Talmud, Yeshivat Maharat

Within the week, three Orthodox-identified rabbinical ordination programs for women granted semicha (ordination) to their graduating classes. (Please see here and here.) While the mainstream organs of Orthodoxy do not recognize or approve of the ordination of women (here are RCA statements about the matter), the reasons for not accepting the legitimacy of semicha for women remain a mystery to some.

Various articles have been published about the topic (please see here for R. Hershel Schachter’s article); I would like to take one approach and provide some elaboration.

Halachic analysis of contemporary rabbinical ordination of women was first put forth by R. Saul Lieberman (please see here for R. Gil Student’s important presentation thereof), who in 1979 expressed his opposition to such on the part of Jewish Theological Seminary.

Although R. Lieberman’s tenure at JTS was the subject of controversy and was certainly not viewed favorably by Orthodox leadership, R. Lieberman was Orthodox and was very well-versed in our topic; his ruling on it is thus quite pivotal and … Read More >>

Who’s In Charge?

Some of us can remember when taking a plane was a pleasant experience, even exhilarating. Those days, of course, are long gone.

It used to be – if “good old days” syndrome hasn’t played with my memory – that only well-dressed and genteel folks flew, and that airport and airline personnel were uniformly polite and helpful. These days, air travel is a largely unpleasant affair. Airports are crowded; cabins, even more so. Seats are too close together, and fellow passengers, as a result, occasionally surly. Professional staffs can be less than congenial. Flight delays are frequent. And then there are the “security measures.”

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the TSA, or Transportation Security Administration, was established, and eventually made part of the DHS, or Department of Homeland Security, also created at that time.

Among the TSA’s 60,000 employees are the people who make passengers take off their shoes (good thing the “shoe bomber” hadn’t swallowed the explosives instead), pass through metal detectors and, in some cases, “pat down” shoeless passengers. They’re the folks who confiscate your water bottles.

And who, it turns out, according to a secret DHS “Red Team” report, managed to miss a good number of … Read More >>

47 Homicides and Counting

Why are so many young black men being murdered in Baltimore, after Freddie Gray? It’s what happens when police know they might be arrested for doing their job. … Read More >>

Bias Ne’eman

By now, with a couple of decades of monitoring media on behalf of Agudath Israel behind me, I really shouldn’t be surprised by examples of journalistic bias. But there are times when I can still be impressed.

As I was by a recent news item from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the service used by Jewish media across the country and around the world. Its opening paragraphs read as follows:

This is how you launch a Hasidic shtetl in 21st-century America.

Step 1. Find a place within reasonable distance of Brooklyn where the land is cheap and underdeveloped.

Step 2. Buy as much property as you can in your target area – if possible, without tipping off locals that you plan to turn it into a Hasidic enclave.

Ensuing “steps,” according to the article, include building “densely clustered homes” and a religious “infrastructure.” And, finally: “Market to the Hasidic community and turn on the lights.”

The writer was referring to a Jewish developer’s purchase of land and construction of homes in the Sullivan County town of Bloomingburg. The article goes on to itemize some of the purchases – a “house with blue shutters,” a “hardware store,” a “pizza shop,” … Read More >>

Rabbinic Dignity – A Contemporary Lesson

After reading about the latest rabbinic “issue”, we do not know what to say. While the rabbi involved has the right to explain himself, and we cannot assume wrongdoing beyond anything which would be admitted or proven, we are left with a feeling of great disquietude and confusion.

Detractors of the rabbi point out the halachic prohibitions of a rav attending a bathhouse in the presence of his students, and defenders of the rabbi point to the absence of proof of actual wrongdoing or criminal activity. Both sides may be correct, yet they may also be missing an important point – a point that can only be appreciated by taking a step back.

If an individual retains a highly respected position, and on occasion stakes out unpopular positions, he can be the world’s greatest tzaddik and mentch, but he will nonetheless be subject to vilification. And the reverse is true as well: If an individual has criminal proclivities, especially in the realm of physical relationships, then no matter what type of formal safeguards and parameters are established, it will not help.

Yet we speak here not about any of this, but rather about a more general issue – that … Read More >>

In Brief:

A Worthy, Timely Truth

-- 10:30 am

It’s intriguing – to be truthful, depressing – that as we prepare to focus on our galus and its causes we in the Orthodox world are witnessing acrimony born of true chinom, nothingness.

The sort of sentiments and language that are regularly being employed by opponents of the Iran agreement against anyone who isn’t convinced that it is “evil” or “insane” or “dangerous” is deeply wrong. (Maybe there is corresponding rashness from the deal’s supporters. I just haven’t encountered any.)

What seems lost on some is the fact that the issue isn’t “Israel’s security” against (take your pick:) “America’s needs” or “Obama’s worldview” or “hopeless naiveté.” It is “Israel’s security” against “Israel’s security.”

That is to say, whether Israel’s security, along with that of the rest of the free world, is better served by an imperfect agreement (as all agreements must be) or by no agreement. Reasonable, sane, and not evil people can disagree with that. But they cannot – or, at least, should not – heatedly denounce those who see things differently from themselves just because… they see things differently from themselves. That is chinom.

The Gemara teaches that “just as people’s faces all differ, so do their attitudes.” The Kotzker is said to have commented on that truth with a question: “Can you imagine disdaining someone because his face doesn’t resemble yours?”

Think about that. It contains a worthy, and timely, truth.

0 Comments

Faigy Mayer, o”h

-- 12:41 pm

A thought on the untimely and tragic death of Faigy Mayer, o”h, is here.

0 Comments

Wish I Didn’t Have To, But:

-- 11:50 pm

Rabbi Herzl Hefter’s Why I ordained women went nearly viral, having been posted everywhere by the Who’s Who of Open Orthodoxy. Unlike other articles that promote the Open Orthodox agenda, this article startlingly attempted to utilize Kabbalistic and Chassidic ideas as a basis for sweeping halachic reform. The article was received and disseminated by Open Orthodox leadership with great excitement.

I felt a need to speak out, and here is what I posted in response. I really did not want to write yet another article about Open Orthodoxy/Neo-Conservatism, but given the circumstances, and in consultation with those wiser than I, it was decided that something had to be said.

13 Comments

Recent Articles on Two Different Kinds of Evolution

-- 3:25 pm

A piece I wrote in response to a a review of Marc Shapiro’s most recent book (and, to an extent, to the book itself) can be read here.

And one about my personal reluctance to accept speciation is here.

0 Comments

Widening the Discussion

-- 4:19 pm

Last week, Rabbi Dr. David Berger published a bold and provocative critique about Open Orthodoxy. A brief attempted rebuttal of the article on the part of Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld seems to have gained little traction, and appears to have largely backfired, judging by the comments.

This week, Rabbi Harry Maryles likewise posted a serious critique of Open Orthodoxy, which YCT graduate Rabbi Ben Greenberg subsequently attempted to rebut. As this rebuttal attempt was quite elaborate and public (in Times of Israel), and was also posted by the president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, I felt that a response by yours truly would perhaps be of use.

Here is my response, published likewise in Times of Israel.

 

 

55 Comments

The Peril of Pluralism in Israel

-- 8:54 am

A piece I recently wrote about Minister Azoulay’s imprecise comments, and the larger issue of “religious pluralism” in Israel, is in Haaretz here .

0 Comments

Supreme Court Vs. Supreme Being

-- 10:58 am

Some thoughts of mine about the recent Supreme Court decision redefining marriage are posted here.

0 Comments

The Future of Judaism in America: What Would You Say?

-- 2:31 am

Patheos has become the leading portal on the web for thought from the world of religion – the good, the bad, and the ugly. A short while ago, the editors sent a challenge to particular people in their virtual Rolodex:

The early May Pew Research report on religious trends in America has kindled a firestorm of commentary—attacking and defending, challenging and lamenting, gloating and grieving. But is it telling us anything new? In 2010, Patheos conducted a summer-long Future of World Religions conversation in which religion experts, practitioners, leaders, sociologists, and the faithful of many traditions weighed in on the prospects of religious belief.

Now, five years later, Patheos revisits this conversation focusing particularly on the Future of Faith in America. While global religious trends may push the futures of different religious traditions in certain directions, the Pew Report indicates unique trends for the American context with its shifting moral expectations, new definitions of family, and ongoing conflicts regarding personal and religious liberties. Where is faith going in America? What will be the religious landscape in five more years? How will a growing “spiritual but not religious” population or the emerging Atheist movements shape the contours of belief?

Essays will address such issues as politic alliances, emerging theological shifts, denominational growth and decline, family, technology, leadership challenges, interfaith movements, pop culture, cross-religion influences, and economic shifts.

A number people, including me (I am one of their official bloggers) were asked to address these issues from a Jewish perspective. These people represented a variety of positions and outlooks; I represented G-d’s :-)

It might be interesting to gather your thoughts as to how you would respond, and then compare notes with those whose contributions were published, by reading them here.

6 Comments

Gay Marriage Decision Interview

-- 11:39 pm

I was interviewed by phone on a Jewish cable television program last week about the recent US Supreme Court gay marriage decision. The interview, along with one of a Conservative movement representative, can be heard here.

0 Comments

In Judaism, Love Doesn’t Always Win

-- 3:16 pm

In their rejoicing over the recent Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision, various Jewish groups grievously misrepresented Judaism. An essay of mine about the Jewish religious tradition’s true take on homosexuality and the formalization of same-sex unions appears in Haaretz, at

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.663962

You may have to register to access the piece (registration is free). But the paper does not permit me to post the piece here.

I have some further thoughts about the recent decision, and hope to share them here soon.

0 Comments

Agudath Israel Statement on Supreme Court marriage ruling

-- 2:20 pm

June 26, 2015

Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement in reaction to today’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that states are constitutionally required to permit and recognize marriages between members of the same gender:

“As we have repeatedly stated, including in the amicus curiae brief we submitted in today’s case, we oppose the redefinition of the bedrock relationship of the human family. The Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. While we do not seek to impose our religious principles on others, it is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage is not a positive step for civilized society.

“Moreover, we are deeply concerned that, as a result of today’s ruling, and as the dissenting Justices have pointed out, members and institutions of traditional communities like the Orthodox Jewish community we represent may incur moral opprobrium and risk tangible negative consequence if they refuse to transgress their beliefs, and even if they simply teach and express their religious views publicly. That prospect is chilling, and should be unacceptable to all people of good will on both sides of this debate.

“We reiterate that we remain firm and steadfast in our own religious beliefs, and reject the voices of those in the heterodox Jewish community who claim that same-sex marriage is compatible with Jewish law and tradition. The issue here is not whether all human beings are created in the Divine Image, or whether they have inherent human dignity. Of course they are, of course they do. The issue is whether the Torah sanctions homosexual conduct or recognizes same gender unions. It does not.

“The truths of Torah are eternal, and stand as our beacon even in the face of shifting social mores.”

0 Comments

Agudath Israel Statement on Charleston Murders

-- 2:15 pm

June 17, 2015

STATEMENT FROM AGUDATH ISRAEL OF AMERICA ON THE MURDERS IN CHARLESTON

The deaths of nine people at the hand of a gunman at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is not only a personal tragedy for the relatives and friends of those who were killed, but yet another in the long list of murderous acts born of religious or racial hatred.

Agudath Israel of America extends its condolences to the families of the worshippers killed, and condemns all such evil acts and the attitudes that lead to them.

Ours is a community that has a long history of having suffered violence against worshippers, most recently in the case of the murderous terrorist attack on the Har Nof, Israel synagogue last November. That makes us all the more sensitive to the pain that was caused in Charleston today.

# # #

0 Comments